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Title: Stella Maris
Author: Locke, William John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Stella Maris" ***

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STELLA MARIS

By William J. Locke

Illustrated by Frank Wiles

London: John Lane

MCMXIII



[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0009]

[Illustration: 0010]



STELLA MARIS



CHAPTER I


STELLA MARIS--Star of the Sea!

That was not her real name. No one could have christened an inoffensive
babe so absurdly. Her mother had, indeed, through the agency of
godfathers and godmothers, called her Stella after a rich old maiden
aunt, thereby showing her wisdom; for the maiden aunt died gratefully
a year after the child was born, and bequeathed to her a comfortable
fortune. Her father had given her the respectable patronymic of Blount,
which, as all the world knows, or ought to know, is not pronounced as it
is spelled.

It is not pronounced “Maris,” however, as, in view of the many vagaries
of British nomenclature, it might very well be, but “Blunt.” It was
Walter Herold, the fantastic, who tacked on the Maris to her Christian
name, and ran the two words together so that to all and sundry the poor
child became Stellamaris, and to herself a baptismal puzzle, never being
quite certain whether Stella was not a pert diminutive, and whether she
ought to subscribe herself in formal documents as “Stellamaris Blount.”

The invention of this title must not be regarded as the supreme effort
of the imagination of Walter Herold. It would have been obvious to
anybody with a bowing acquaintance with the Latin tongue.

Her name was Stella, and she passed her life by the sea--passed it away
up on top of a cliff on the South coast; passed it in one big, beautiful
room that had big windows south and west; passed it in bed, flat on her
back, with never an outlook on the outside world save sea and sky. And
the curtains of the room were never drawn, and in the darkness a lamp
always shone in the western window; so that Walter Herold, at the foot
of the cliff, one night of storm and dashing spray, seeing the light
burning steadily like a star, may be excused for a bit of confusion of
thought when he gripped his friend John Risca’s arm with one hand and,
pointing with the other, cried:

“Stella Maris! What a name for her!”

And when he saw her the next morning--she was twelve years old at the
time and had worked out only a short term of her long imprisonment--he
called her Stellamaris to her face, and she laughed in a sweet, elfin
way, and Herold being the Great High Favourite of her little court (a
title conferred by herself), she issued an edict that by that style and
quality was it her pleasure henceforth to be designated. John Risca,
in his capacity of Great High Belovedest, obeyed the ukase without
question; and so did His Great High Excellency, her uncle, Sir Oliver
Blount, and Her Most Exquisite Auntship, Lady Blount, his wife and first
cousin to John Risca.

The events in the life of Stella Blount which this chronicle will
attempt to record did not take place when she was a child of twelve. But
we meet her thus, at this age, ruling to a certain extent the lives of
grown-up men and women by means of a charm, a mystery, a personality
essentially gay and frank, yet, owing to the circumstances of her life,
invested with a morbid, almost supernatural atmosphere. The trouble
in the upper part of her spine, pronounced incurable by the faculty,
compelled a position rigidly supine. Her bed, ingeniously castored,
could be wheeled about the great room. Sometimes she lay enthroned
in the centre; more often it was brought up close to one of the two
windows, so that she could look out to sea and feed her fancy on the
waves, and the ships passing up and down the Channel, and the white
sea-gulls flashing their wings in mid air. But only this unvibrating
movement was permitted. For all the splints and ambulance contrivances
in the world, she could not be carried into another room, or into the
pleasant, sloping garden of the Channel House, for a jar would have
been fatal. The one room, full of air and sunlight and sweet odours and
exquisite appointments, was the material kingdom in which she ruled with
sweet autocracy; the welter of sea and sky was her kingdom, too,
the gulls and spring and autumn flights of migratory birds were her
subjects, the merchants and princes traversing the deep in ships, her
tributaries.

But this was a kingdom of Faerie, over which she ruled by the aid of
Ariels and Nereids and other such elemental and intangible ministers.
The latter had a continuous history, dreamy and romantic, episodes of
which she would in rare moments relate to her Great High Belovedest and
her Great High Favourite; but ordinarily the two young men were admitted
only into the material kingdom, where, however, they bent the knee with
curious humility. To them, all she seemed to have of human semblance
was a pair of frail arms, a daintily curved neck, a haunting face, and
a mass of dark hair encircling it on the pillow like a nimbus. The face
was small, delicately featured, but the strong sea air maintained a
tinge of colour in it; her mouth, made for smiles and kisses, justified
in practice its formation; her eyes, large and round and of deepest
brown, sometimes glowed with the laughter of the child, sometimes seemed
to hold in their depths holy mysteries, gleams of things hidden and
divine, unsealed revelations of another world, before which the two
young men, each sensitive in his peculiar fashion, bowed their young
and impressionable heads. When they came down to commonplace, it was her
serene happiness that mystified them. She gave absolute acceptance to
the conditions of her existence, as though no other conditions were
desirable or acceptable. She was delicate joyousness just incarnate and
no more--“the music from the hyacinth bell,” said Herold. In the early
days of his acquaintance with Stellamaris, Herold was young, fresh
from the university, practising every one of the arts with feverish
simultaneousness and mimetic in each; so when he waxed poetical, he made
use of Shelley.

Stella was an orphan, both her parents having died before the obscure
spinal disease manifested itself. To the child they were vague, far-off
memories. In _loco parentium_, and trustees of her fortune, were
the uncle and aunt above mentioned. Sir Oliver, as a young man, had
distinguished himself so far in the colonial service as to obtain his
K.C.M.G. As a man nearing middle age, he had so played the fool with a
governorship as to be recalled and permanently shelved. To the end
of his days Sir Oliver was a man with a grievance. His wife, publicly
siding with him, and privately resentful against him, was a woman with
two grievances. Now, one grievance on one side and two on the other,
instead of making three, according to the rules of arithmetic, made
legion, according to the law of the multiplication of grievances. Even
Herold, the Optimist, introduced by his college friend John Risca into
the intimacies of the household, could not call them a happy couple.
In company they treated each other with chilling courtesy; before the
servants they bickered very slightly; when they wanted to quarrel, they
retired, with true British decorum, to their respective apartments and
quarreled over the house telephone.

There was one spot on the earth, however, which by common consent
they regarded as a sanctuary,--I on whose threshold grievances and
differences and bickerings and curses (his imperial career had given Sir
Oliver an imperial vocabulary) and tears and quarrelings were left
like the earth-stained shoes of the Faithful on the threshold of
a mosque,--and that was the wide sea-chamber of Stellamaris. That
threshold crossed, Sir Oliver became bluff and hearty; on Julia,
Lady Blount, fell a mantle of tender womanhood. They “my-deared” and
“my-darlinged” each other until the very dog (the Lord High
Constable), a Great Dane, of vast affection and courage, but of limited
intelligence, whose post of duty was beside Stella’s couch, would raise
his head for a disgusted second and sniff and snort from his deep lungs.
But dogs are dogs, and in their doggy way see a lot of the world which
is a sealed book to humans, especially to those who pass their lives in
a room on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea.

It was the unwritten law of the house: Stella’s room was sacrosanct. An
invisible spirit guarded the threshold and forbade entrance to anything
evil or mean or sordid or even sorrowful, and had inscribed on the
portal in unseen, but compelling, characters

                   Never harm nor spell nor charm

                   Come our lovely lady nigh.

Whence came the spirit, from Stella Herself or from the divine lingering
in the faulty folks who made her world, who can tell? There never was
an invisible spirit guarding doors and opening hearts, since the
earth began, who had not a human genesis. From man alone, in this
myriad-faceted cosmos, can a compassionate God, in the form of angels
and ministering spirits, he reflected. Perhaps the radiant spirit of
the child herself, triumphing over disastrous circumstances, instilled
a sacred awe in those who surrounded her; perhaps the pathos of her
lifelong condemnation stirred unusual depths of pity. At all events, the
unwritten law was irrefragable. Outside Stella’s door the wicked must
cast their evil thoughts, the gloomy shed their cloak of cloud, and
the wretched unpack their burden of suffering. Whether it was for the
ultimate welfare of Stellamaris to live in this land of illusion is
another matter.

“Save her from knowledge of pain and from suspicion of evil,” John Risca
would cry, when discussing the matter. “Let us make sure of one perfect
flower in this poisonous fungus garden of a world.”

“Great High Belovedest,” Stellamaris would say when they were alone
together, “what about the palace to-day?”

And the light would break upon the young man’s grim face, and he would
tell her of the palace in which he dwelt in the magic city of London.

“I have got a beautiful new Persian carpet,” he would say, “with blues
in it like that band of sea over there, for the marble floor of the
vestibule.”

“I hope it matches the Gobelin tapestry.”

“You couldn’t have chosen it better yourself, Stellamaris.”

The great eyes looked at him in humorous dubiety. He was wearing a faded
mauve shirt and a flagrantly blue tie.

“I am not so sure of your eye for colour, Great High Belovedest, and it
would be a pity to have the beautiful palace spoiled.”

“I assure you that East and West in this instance are blended in perfect
harmony.”

“And how are Lilias and Niphetos?”

Lilias and Niphetos were two imaginary Angora cats, nearly the size of
the Lord High Constable, who generally sat on the newel-posts of the
great marble staircase. They were fed on chickens’ livers and Devonshire
cream.

“Arachne,” he replied gravely, referring to a mythical attendant of
Circassian beauty--“Arachne thought they were suffering from ennui, and
so she brought them some white mice--and what do you think happened?”

“Why, they gobbled them up, of course.”

“That’s where you ‘re wrong, Stellamaris. Those aristocratic cats turned
up their noses at them. They looked at each other pityingly, as if to
say, ‘Does the foolish woman really think we can be amused by white
mice?’”

Stella laughed. “Don’t they ever have any kittens?”

“My dear,” said Risca, “they would die if I suggested such a thing to
them.”

It had been begun long ago, this fabulous history of the palace, and the
beauty and luxury with which he was surrounded; and Stella knew it
all to its tiniest detail--the names of the roses in his gardens, the
pictures on his walls, the shapes and sizes of the ornaments on his
marquetry writing-table; and as her memory was tenacious and he dared
not be caught tripping, his wonder-house gradually crystallized in his
mind to the startling definiteness of a material creation. Its suites
of apartments and corridors, the decoration and furniture of each room,
became as vividly familiar as the dreary abode in which he really had
his being. He could wander about through house and grounds with unerring
certainty of plan. The phantom creatures with whom he had peopled
the domain had become invested with clear-cut personalities; he had
visualized them until he could conjure up their faces at will.

He had begun the building of the dream palace first with the mere object
of amusing a sick child and hiding from her things forlorn and drab;
gradually, in the course of years, it had grown to be almost a refuge
for the man himself. When the child developed into the young girl he
did not undeceive her. More and more was it necessary, if their sweet
comradeship was to last, that he should extend the boundaries of her
Land of Illusion; for the high ambitions which had made him laugh at
poverty remained unsatisfied, the promise of life had been hopelessly
broken, and he saw before him nothing but a stretch of dull, laborious
years unlit by a gleam of joy. Only in the sea-chamber of Stella-maris
was life transformed into a glowing romance. Only there could he inhabit
a palace and walk the sweet, music-haunted, fragrant streets of an
apocalyptic London, where all women were fair and true, and all men were
generous, and all work, even his own slavery at the press, was noble and
inspired by pure ideals.

“What exactly is your work, Belovedest?” she asked one day.

He replied: “I teach the great and good men who are the King’s ministers
of state how to govern the country. I show philanthropists how to spend
their money. I read many books and tell people how beautiful and wise
the books are, so that people should read them and become beautiful and
wise, too. Sometimes I preach to foreign sovereigns on the way in which
their countries should be ruled. I am what is called a journalist,
dear.”

“It must be the most wonderful work in the world,” cried Stella, aglow
with enthusiasm, “and they must pay you lots and lots of money.”

“Lots and lots.”

“And how you must love it--the work, I mean!”

“Every hour spent in the newspaper-office is a dream of delight,” said
Risca.

Walter Herold, who happened to be present during this conversation,
remarked, with a shake of his head, as soon as they had left the room:

“God forgive you, John, for an amazing liar!”

Risca shrugged his round, thick shoulders.

“He will,” said he, “if He has a sense of humour.” Then he turned upon
his friend somewhat roughly. “What would you have me tell the child?”

“My dear fellow,” said Herold, “if you would only give the world at
large some of the imaginative effort you expend in that room, you would
not need to wear your soul to shreds in a newspaper-office.”

“What is the good of telling me that?” growled Risca, the deep lines
of care returning to his dark, loose-featured face. “Don’t I know it
already? It’s just the irony of things. There’s an artist somewhere
about me. If there was n’t, why should I have wanted to write novels
and plays and poetry ever since I was a boy? It’s a question of
outlet. There are women I know who can’t do a blessed thing except write
letters; there they find their artistic outlet. I can find my artistic
outlet only in telling lies to Stella. Would you deny me that?”

“Not at all,” said Herold, with a gay laugh. “The strain of having to
remember another fellow’s lies, in addition to one’s own, is heavy, I
admit, but for friendship’s sake I can bear it. Only the next time
you add on a new wing to that infernal house and fill it with majolica
vases, for Heaven’s sake tell me.”

For Herold, being Risca’s intimate, had, for corroborative purposes,
to be familiar with the dream palace, and when Risca made important
additions or alterations without informing him, was apt to be sore beset
with perplexities during his next interview with Stella-maris. But being
an actor by profession (at the same time being an amateur in all other
arts), he was quick to interpret another man’s dream, and once,
being rather at a loss, improved on his author and interpolated a
billiard-room, much to Risca’s disgust. Where the deuce, he asked, in
angry and childlike seriousness, was there a place for a billiard-room
in his palace? Did n’t he know the whole lay-out of the thing by this
time? It was inexcusable impertinence!

“Then why did n’t you tell me about the music-room?” cried Herold,
hotly, on this particular occasion. “How should I guess that an
unmusical dog like you would want a music-room? In order not to give
you away, I had to invent the billiard-room. A rotten house without a
billiard-room!”

“I suppose you think it’s a commodious mansion, with five
reception-rooms, fourteen bedrooms and baths, hot and cold.”

The two men nearly quarreled.

But no hard words followed the discussion of Risca’s rose-coloured and
woefully ironical description of his work. Herold knew what pains of
hell had got round about the man he loved, and strove to mitigate them
with gaiety and affection. And while the Great High Belovedest and the
Great High Favourite were grappling together with a tragedy not referred
to in speech between them, and as remote from Stella’s purview of life
as the Lupanaria of Hong-Kong, she, with her white hand on the head of
the blue Great Dane, who regarded her with patient, topaz eyes, looked
out from her western window, over the channel, on the gold and crimson
lake and royal purple of the sunset, and built out of the masses of
gloried cloud and streaks of lapis lazuli and daffodil gem a castle of
dreams compared with which poor John Ris-ca’s trumpery palace, with its
Arachnes and Liliases and Niphetoses, was only a vulgar hotel in a new
and perky town.



CHAPTER II

THE judge pronounced sentence: three years’ penal servitude. The
condemned woman, ashen-cheeked, thin-lipped, gave never a glance to right
or left, and disappeared from the dock like a John Risca, the woman’s
husband, who had been sitting at the solicitor’s table, rose, watched
her disappear, and then, the object of all curious eyes, with black brow
and square jaw strode out of the court. Walter Herold, following him,
joined him in the corridor, and took his arm in a protective way and
guided him down the great staircase into the indifferent street. Then he
hailed a cab.

“‘May I come with you?”

Risca nodded assent. It was a comfort to feel by his side something
human in this pandemonium of a world.

“Eighty-four Fenton Square, Westminster.” Herold gave the address of
Risca’s lodgings, and entered the cab. During the journey through the
wide thoroughfares hurrying with London’s afternoon traffic neither
spoke. There are ghastly tragedies in life for which words, however
sympathetic and comprehending, are ludicrously inadequate. Now and then
Herold glanced at the heavy, set face of the man who was dear to him and
cursed below his breath. Of course nothing but morbid pig-headedness in
the first fatal instance had brought him to this disaster. But, after
all, is pig-headedness a crime meriting so overwhelming a punishment?
Why should fortune favour some, like himself, who just danced lightly
upon life, and take a diabolical delight in breaking others upon her
wheel? Was it because John Risca could dance no better than a bull, and,
like a bull, charged through life insensately, with lowered horns and
blundering hoofs? This lunatic marriage, six years ago, when Risca was
three and twenty, with a common landlady’s commoner pretty vixen of a
daughter, he himself had done his best to prevent. He had pleaded with
the tongue of an angel and vituperated in the vocabulary of a bargee. He
might as well have played “Home, Sweet Home,” on the flute or recited
Bishop Ernulphus’s curse to the charging bull. But still, however
unconsidered, honourable marriage ought not of itself to bring down from
heaven the doom of the house of Atreus. This particular union was bound
to be unhappy; but why should it have been Æschylean in its catastrophe?

As Risca uttered no word, Herold, with the ultimate wisdom of despair,
held his peace.

At last they arrived at the old-world, dilapidated square, where Risca
lodged. Children, mostly dirty-faced, those of the well-to-do being
distinguished at this post-tea hour of the afternoon by a circle of
treacle encrusting like gems the circumambient grime about their little
mouths, squabbled shrilly on the pavement. Torn oilcloth and the smell
of the sprats fried the night before last for the landlord’s supper
greeted him who entered the house. Risca, the aristocrat of the
establishment, rented the drawing-room floor. Herold, sensitive artist,
successful actor, appreciated by dramatic authors and managers and the
public as a Meissonier of small parts, and therefore seldom out of an
engagement, who had created for himself a Queen Anne gem of a tiny house
in Kensington, could never enter Risca’s home without a shiver. To him
it was horror incarnate, the last word of unpenurious squalor. There
were material shapes to sit down upon, to sit at, it is true, things
on the walls (_terribilia visu_) to look upon, such as “The Hunter’s
Return,” and early portraits of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort,
and the floor was covered with a red-and-green imitation Oriental
carpet; but there was no furniture, as Herold understood the word,
nothing to soothe or to please. One of the chairs was of moth-eaten
saddle-bag, another of rusty leather. A splotch of grease, the
trace left by a far-distant storm of gravy that had occurred on a
super-imposed white cloth, and a splotch of ink gave variety to a faded
old table-cover. A litter of books and papers and unemptied ash-trays
and pipes and slippers disfigured the room. The place suggested chaos
coated with mildew.

“Ugh!” said Herold, on entering, “it ‘s as cold as charity. Do you mind
if I light the fire?”

It was a raw day in March, and the draughts from the staircase and
windows played spitefully about the furniture. Risca nodded, threw his
hat on a leather couch against the wall, and flung himself into his
writing-chair. Hot or cold, what did it matter to him? What would
anything in the world matter to him in the future? He sat, elbows on
table, his hands clutching his coarse, black hair, his eyes set in a
great agony. And there he stayed for a long time, silent and motionless,
while Herold lit the fire, and, moving noiselessly about the room, gave
to its disarray some semblance of comfort. He was twenty-nine. It was
the end of his career, the end of his life. No mortal man could win
through such devastating shame. It was a bath of vitriol eating through
nerve and fibre to the heart itself. He was a dead man--dead to all
the vital things of life at nine-and-twenty. An added torture was his
powerlessness to feel pity for the woman. For the crime of which she had
been convicted, the satiating of the lust of cruelty, mankind finds
no extenuation. She had taken into her house, as a slut of all work, a
helpless child from an orphanage. Tales had been told in that court at
which men grew physically sick and women fainted. Her counsel’s plea of
insanity had failed. She was as sane as any creature with such a lust
could be. She was condemned to three years’ penal servitude.

It was his wife, the woman whom he, John Risca, had married six years
before, the woman whom, in his passionate, obstinate, growling way, he
had thought he loved. They had been parted for over four years, it is
true, for she had termagant qualities that would have driven away any
partner of her life who had not a morbid craving for Phlegethon as
a perpetual environment; but she bore his name, an honoured one (he
thanked God she had given him no child to bear it, too), and now that
name was held up to the execration of all humanity. For the name’s sake,
when the unimagined horror had first broken over him, he had done his
utmost to shield her. He had met her in the prison, for the first time
since their parting, and she had regarded him with implacable hatred,
though she accepted the legal assistance he provided, as she had
accepted the home from which he had been driven and the half of his poor
earnings.

Murder, clean and final, would have been more easily borne than this,
the deliberate, systematically planned torture of a child. There is some
sort of tragic dignity in murder. It is generally preceded by conflict,
and the instinct of mankind recognizing in conflict, no matter how
squalid and sordid, the essence of drama, very often finds sympathy with
the protagonist of the tragedy, the slayer himself. How otherwise to
account for the petitions for the reprieve of a popular murderer, a
curious phenomenon not to be fully explained by the comforting word
hysteria? But in devilish cruelty, unpreceded by conflict; there is no
drama, there is nothing to touch the imagination; it is perhaps the only
wickedness with which men have no lingering sympathy. It transcends all
others in horror.

“Murder would have been better than this,” he said aloud, opening and
shutting his powerful fists. “My soul has been dragged through a sewer.”

He rose and flung the window open and breathed the raw air with full
lungs. A news-urchin’s cry caused him to look down into the street. The
boy, expectant, held out a paper, and pointed with it to the yellow bill
which he carried apronwise in front of him. On the bill was printed in
large capitals: “The Risca Torture Case. Verdict and Sentence.” Risca
beckoned Herold to the window, and clutched him heavily on the shoulder.

“Look!” said he. “That is to be seen this afternoon in every street in
London. To-night the news will be flashed all round the world. To-morrow
the civilized press will reek with it. Come away!” He dragged Herold
back, and brought down the window with a crash. “It’s blazing hell!” he
said.

“Every man has to pass through it at least once in his life,” said
Herold, glad that the relief of speech had come to his friend. “That is,
if he ‘s to be any good in the world.”

Risca uttered a grim sound in the nature of a mirthless laugh. “ ‘As
gold is tried by the fire, so souls are tried by pain,’ “ he quoted with
a sneer. Was ever a man consoled by such drivelling maxims? And they
are lies. No man can be better for having gone through hell. It blasts
everything that is good in one. Besides, what do you know? You’ve never
been through it.”

Herold, standing by the fire, broke a black mass of coal with the heel
of his boot. The flames sprang up, and in the gathering twilight threw
strange gleams over his thin, eager face.

“I shall, one of these days,” said he--“a very bad hell.”

“Good God! Wallie,” cried Risca, “are you in trouble, too?”

“Not yet,” Herold replied, with a smile, for he saw that the instinct of
friendship, at any rate, had not been consumed. “I ‘ve walked on roses
all my life. That ‘s why I ‘ve never done anything great. But my hell is
before me. How can I escape it?” The smile faded from his face, and he
looked far away into the gray sky. “Sometimes my mother’s Celtic nature
seems to speak and prophesy within me. It tells me that my roses
shall turn into red-hot ploughshares and my soul shall be on fire. The
curtains of the future are opened for an elusive fraction of a second--”
 He broke off suddenly. “I’m talking rot, John. At least it’s not all
rot. I was only thinking that in my bad time I should have a great,
strong friend to stand by my side.”

“If you mean me,” said Risca, “you know I shall. But, in the meanwhile
I pray to God to spare you a hell like mine. Sometimes I wonder,” he
continued after a gloomy pause, “whether this would have happened if I
had stuck by her. I could have seen which way things were tending, and I
would have stepped in. After all, I am strong enough to have borne it.”

“You were talking about murder just now,” said Herold. “If you had
stayed with her, there would have been murder done or something precious
near it.”

Risca sighed. He was a big, burly man, with a heavy, intellectual face,
prematurely furrowed, and a sigh shook his loose frame somewhat oddly.
“I don’t know,” said he, after a lumbering turn or so up and down the
room. “How can any man know? She was impossible enough, but I never
dreamed of such developments. And now that I reflect, I remember signs.
Once we had a little dog--no, I have no right to tell you. Damn it!
man,” he cried fiercely, “I have no right to keep you here in this
revolting atmosphere.” He picked up Herold’s hat. “Go away, Wallie, and
leave me to myself. You ‘re good and kind and all that, but I ‘ve no
right to make your life a burden to you.”

Herold rescued his hat and deliberately put it down. “Oh, yes, you
have,” said he, with smiling seriousness. “You have every right. Have
you ever considered the ethics of friendship? Few people do consider
them nowadays. Existence has grown so complicated that such a simple,
primitive thing as friendship is apt to be neglected in the practical
philosophy of life. Our friendship, John, is something I could no more
tear out of me than I could tear out my heart itself. It’s one of the
few vital, real things--indeed, it’s perhaps the only tremendous thing
in my damfool of a life. I believe in friendship. If a man hath not a
friend, let him quit the stage. Old Bacon had sense: a man has every
right over his friend, every claim upon him, except the right of
betrayal. My purse is yours, your purse is mine. My time is yours, and
yours mine. My joys and sorrows are yours, and yours mine. But a friend
may not supplant a friend either in material ambition or in the love of
a woman. That is the unforgivable sin, high treason against friendship.
Don’t talk folly about having no right.”

He lit with nervous fingers the cigarette he was about to light when he
began his harangue. Risca gripped him by the arm.

“God knows I don’t want you to go. I ‘m pretty tough, and I ‘m not going
to cave in, but it’s God’s comfort to have you here. If I’m not a merry
companion to you, what the devil do you think I am to myself?”

He walked up and down the dreary room, on which the dark of evening
had fallen. At last he paused by his writing-table, and then a sudden
thought flashing on him, he smote his temples with his hands.

“I must send you away, Wallie. It’s necessary. I have my column to write
for The Herald. It must be in by eleven. I had forgotten all about it.
They won’t want my name,--it would damn the paper,--but I suppose
they ‘re counting on the column, and I don’t want to leave them in the
lurch.”

“They don’t want your column this week, at any rate,” said Herold. “Oh,
don’t begin to bellow. I went to see Ferguson yesterday. He’s as kind as
can be, and of course wants you to go on as usual. But no one except a
raving idiot would expect stuff from you to-day. And as for your silly
old column, I’ve written it myself. I suggested it to Ferguson, and he
jumped at it.”

“You wrote my column?” said Risca, in a softened voice.

“Of course I did, and a devilish good column, too. Do you think I can
only paint my face and grin through a horse-collar?”

“What made you think of it? I did n’t.”

“That’s precisely why I did,” said Herold.

Risca sat down, calmer in mood, and lit a pipe. Herold, the sensitive,
accepted this action as an implication of thanks. Risca puffed his
tobacco for a few moments in silence, apparently absorbed in enjoyment
of the fragrant subtleties of the mixture of honeydew and birdseye and
latakia and the suspicion of soolook that gives mystery to a blend. At
last he spoke.

“I shall arrange to keep on that house in Smith Street, and put in a
caretaker, so that she shall have a home when she comes out. What will
happen then, God Almighty knows. Perhaps she will have changed. We need
n’t discuss it. But, at any rate, while I ‘m away, I want you to see
to it for me. It’s a ghastly task, but some one must undertake it. Will
you?”

“Of course,” said Herold. “But what do you mean by being ‘away’?”

“I am going to Australia,” said Risca.

“For how long?”

“For the rest of my life,” said Risca.

Herold leaped from his chair and threw his cigarette into the fire. It
was only John Risca who, without giving warning, would lower his head
and charge at life in that fashion.

“This is madness.”

“It’s my only chance of sanity,” said Risca. “Here I am a dead man. The
flames are too much for me. Perhaps in another country, where I ‘m not
known, some kind of a phoenix called John Smith or Robinson may rise out
of the ashes. Here it can’t. Here the ashes would leave a stench that
would asphyxiate any bird, however fabulous. It’s my one chance--to
begin again.”

“What will you do?”

“The same as here. If I can make a fair living in London, I ought n’t to
starve in Melbourne.”

“It’s monstrous!” cried Herold. “It’s not to be thought of.”

“Just so,” replied Risca. “It’s got to be done.”

Herold glanced at the gloomy face, and threw up his hands in despair.
When John Risca spoke in that stubborn way there was no moving him. He
had taken it into his head to go to Australia, and to Australia he would
go despite all arguments and beseechings. Yet Herold argued and
besought. It was monstrous that a man of John’s brilliant attainments
and deeply rooted ambitions should surrender the position in London
which he had so hardly won. London was generous, London was just; in the
eyes of London he was pure and blameless. Not an editor would refuse him
work, not an acquaintance would refuse him the right hand of fellowship.
The heart of every friend was open to him. As for the agony of his soul,
he would carry that about with him wherever he went. He could not escape
from it by going to the antipodes. It was more likely to be conjured
away in England by the love of those about him.

“I ‘m aware of all that, but I ‘m going to Melbourne,” said Risca,
doggedly. “If I stay here, I’m dead.”

“When do you propose to start?”

“I shall take my ticket to-morrow on the first available boat.”

Herold laid his nervous hand on the other’s burly shoulder.

“Is it fair in this reckless way to spring such a tremendous decision on
those who care for you?”

“Who on God’s earth really cares for me except yourself? It will be a
wrench parting from you, but it has to be.”

“You’ve forgotten Stellamaris,” said Herold.

“I have n’t,” replied Risca, morosely; “but she ‘s only a child. She
looks upon me as a creature out of a fairy-tale. Realities, thank God!
have no place in that room of hers. I ‘ll soon fade out of her mind.”

“Stella is fifteen, not five,” said Herold.

“Age makes no difference, I ‘m not going to see her again,” said he.

“What explanation is to be given her?”

“I ‘ll write the necessary fairy-story.”

“You are not going to see her before you sail?”

“No,” said Risca.

“Then you ‘ll be doing a damnably cowardly thing,” cried Herold, with
flashing eyes.

Risca rose and glared at his friend.

“You fool! Do you suppose I don’t care for her? Do you suppose I would
n’t cut off my hand to save her pain?”

“Then cut off some of your infernal selfishness and save her the pain
she’s going to feel if you don’t bid her good-bye.”

Risca clenched his fists, and turned to the window, and stood with his
back to the room.

“Take care what you ‘re saying. It ‘s dangerous to quarrel with me
to-day.”

“Danger be hanged!” said Herold. “I tell you it will be selfish and
cowardly not to see her.”

There was a long silence. At last Risca wheeled round abruptly.

“I’m neither selfish nor cowardly. You don’t seem to realize what I ‘ve
gone through’. I ‘m not fit to enter her presence. I ‘m polluted. I ‘m
a walking pestilence. I told you my soul had been dragged through a
sewer.”

“Then go and purify it in the sea-wind that blows through Stella’s
window, John,” said Herold, seeing that he had subdued his anger. “I am
not such a fool as to ask you to give up your wretched idea of exile for
the sake of our friendship; but this trivial point, in the name of our
friendship, I ask you to concede to me. Just grant me this, and I ‘ll
let you go to Melbourne or Trincomalee or any other Hades you choose
without worrying you.”

“Why do you insist upon it? How can a sick child’s fancies count to a
man in such a position?”

His dark eyes glowered at Herold from beneath lowering brows. Herold met
the gaze steadily, and with his unclouded vision he saw far deeper into
Risca than Risca saw into him He did not answer the question, for he
penetrated, through the fuliginous vapours whence it proceeded, into the
crystal regions of the man’s spirit. It was he, after a while, who held
Risca with his eyes, and it was all that was beautiful and spiritual
in Risca that was held. And then Herold reached out his hand slowly and
touched him.

“We go down to Southcliff together.”

Risca drew a deep breath.

“Let us go this evening,” said he.

A few hours afterward when the open cab taking them from the station
to the Channel House came by the sharp turn of the road abruptly to the
foot of the cliff, and the gusty southwest wind brought the haunting
smell of the seaweed into his nostrils, and he saw the beacon-light in
the high west window shining like a star, a gossamer feather from the
wings of Peace fell upon the man’s tortured soul.



CHAPTER III

IT will be remembered that Stellamaris was a young person of bountiful
fortune. She had stocks and shares and mortgages and landed property
faithfully administered under a deed of trust. The Channel House and
all that therein was, except Sir Oliver and Lady Blount’s grievances,
belonged to her. She knew it; she had known it almost since infancy.
The sense of ownership in which she had grown up had its effect on her
character, giving her the equipoise of a young reigning princess, calm
and serene in her undisputed position. In her childish days her material
kingdom was limited to the walls of her sea-chamber but as the child
expanded into the young girl, so expanded her conception of the limits
of her kingdom. And with this widening view came gradually and curiously
the consciousness that though her uncle and aunt were exquisitely
honoured and beloved agents who looked to the welfare of her realm,
yet they could not relieve her of certain gracious responsibilities.
Instinctively, and with imperceptible gradations, she began to make
her influence felt in the house itself. But it was an influence in the
spiritual and not material sense of the word; the hovering presence and
not the controlling hand.

When, shortly after the arrival of the two men, Walter Herold went up to
his room, he found a great vase of daffodils on his dressing-table and
a pencilled note from Stella in her unformed handwriting, for one cannot
learn to write copper-plate when one lies forever on the flat of one’s
back.

_Great High Favourite: Here are some daffodils, because they laugh and
dance like you. Stellamaris._

And on his dressing-table John Risca found a mass of snowdrops and a
note:

_Great High Belovedest: A beautiful white silver cloud came to my window
to-day, and I wished I could tear it in half and save you a bit for the
palace. But snowdrops are the nearest things I could think of instead.
Your telegram was a joy. Love. S._

Beside the bowl of flowers was another note:

_I heard the wheels of your chariot, but Her Serene High-and-Mightiness
[her trained nurse] says I am tucked up for the night and can have no
receptions, levees, or interviews. I tell her she will lose her title
and become the Kommon Kat; but she does n’t seem to mind. Oh, it’s just
lovely to feel that you ‘re in the house again. S._

Risca looked round the dainty room, his whenever he chose to occupy it,
and knew how much, especially of late, it held of Stellamaris. It had
been redecorated a short while before, and the colours and the patterns
and all had been her choice and specification.

The castle architect, a young and fervent soul called Wratislaw, a
member of the Art Workers’ Guild, and a friend of Herold’s, who had
settled in Southcliff-on-Sea, and was building, for the sake of a
precarious livelihood, hideous bungalows which made his own heart sick,
but his clients’ hearts rejoice, had been called in to advise. With
Stellamaris, sovereign lady of the house, aged fifteen, he had spent
hours of stupefied and aesthetic delight. He had brought her armfuls of
designs, cartloads of illustrated books; and the result of it all was
that, with certain other redecorations in the house with which for
the moment we have no concern, Risca’s room was transformed from
late-Victorian solidity into early-Georgian elegance. The Adam Brothers
reigned in ceiling and cornice, and the authentic spirit of Sheraton,
thanks to the infatuated enterprise of Wratislaw, pervaded the
furniture. Yet, despite Wratislaw, although through him she had spoken,
the presence of Stellamaris pervaded the room. On the writing-table lay
a leather-covered blotter, with his initials, J. R., stamped in gold. In
desperate answer to a childish question long ago, he had described the
bedspread on his Parian marble bed in the palace as a thing of rosebuds
and crinkly ribbons tied up in true-lovers’ knots. On his bed in
Stella’s house lay a spread exquisitely Louis XV in design.

Risca looked about the room. Yes, everything was Stella. And behold
there was one new thing, essentially Stella, which he had not noticed
before. Surely it had been put there since his last visit.

In her own bedroom had hung since her imprisonment a fine reproduction
of Watt’s “Hope,” and, child though she was, she had divined, in a
child’s unformulative way, the simple yet poignant symbolism of the
blindfold figure seated on this orb of land and sea, with meek head
bowed over a broken lyre, and with ear strained to the vibration of
the one remaining string. She loved the picture, and with unconscious
intuition and without consultation with Wratislaw, who would have
been horrified at its domination of his Adam room, had ordained that a
similar copy should be hung on the wall facing the pillow of her Great
High Belovedest’s bed.

The application of the allegory to his present state of being was
startlingly obvious. Risca knitted a puzzled brow. The new thing was
essentially Stella, yet why had she caused it to be put in his room this
day of all disastrous days? Was it not rather his cousin Julia’s doing?
But such delicate conveyance of sympathy was scarcely Julia’s way.
A sudden dread stabbed him. Had Stella herself heard rumours of the
tragedy? He summoned Herold, who had a prescriptive right to the
adjoining room.

“If any senseless fools have told her, I ‘ll murder them,” he cried.

“The creatures of the sunset told her--at least as much as it was good
for her to know,” said Herold.

“Do you mean that she did it in pure ignorance?”

“In the vulgar acceptance of the word, yes,” smiled Herold. “Do you
think that the human brain is always aware of the working of the divine
spirit?”

“If it’s as you say, it’s uncanny,” said Risca, unconvinced.

Yet when Sir Oliver and Julia both assured him that Stella never doubted
his luxurious happiness, and that the ordering of the picture was due to
no subtle suggestion, he had to believe them.

“You always make the mistake, John, of thinking Stellamaris mortal,”
 said Herold, at the supper-table, for, on receipt of the young men’s
telegram, the Blounts had deferred their dinner to the later hour of
supper. “You are utterly wrong,” said he. “How can she be mortal when
she talks all day to winds and clouds and the sea-children in their cups
of foam? She’s as elemental as Ariel. When she sleeps, she’s really away
on a sea-gull’s back to the Isles of Magic. That’s why she laughs at the
dull, clumsy old world from which she is cut off in her mortal guise.
What are railway-trains and omnibuses to her? What would they be to
you, John, if you could have a sea-gull’s back whenever you wanted to go
anywhere? And she goes to places worth going to, by George! What could
she want with Charing Cross or the Boulevard des Italians? Fancy the
nymph Syrinx at a woman writers’ dinner!”

“I don’t know what you ‘re talking about, Walter,” said Lady Blount,
whose mind was practical.

“Syrinx,” said Sir Oliver, oracularly (he was a little, shrivelled man,
to whose weak face a white moustache and an imperial gave a false air
of distinction)--“Syrinx,” said he, “was a nymph beloved of Pan,--it’s a
common legend in Greek mythology,--and Pan turned her into a reed.”

“And then cut the reed up into Pan-pipes,” cried Herold, eagerly, “and
made immortal music out of them--just as he makes immortal music out of
Stellamaris. You see, John, it all comes to the same thing. Whether you
call her Ariel, or Syrinx, or a Sprite of the Sea, or a Wunderkind whose
original trail of glory-cloud has not faded into the light of common
day, she belongs to the Other People. You must believe in the Other
People, Julia; you can’t help it.”

Lady Blount turned to him severely. Despite her affection for him,
she more than suspected him of a pagan pantheism, which she termed
atheistical. His talk about belief in spirits and hobgoblins irritated
her. She kept a limited intelligence together by means of formulas, as
she kept her scanty reddish-gray hair together by means of a rigid false
front.

“I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost,” she
said, with an air of cutting reproof.

Sir Oliver pushed his plate from him, but not the fraction of a
millimetre beyond that caused by the impatient push sanctioned by good
manners.

“Don’t be a fool, Julia!”

“I don’t see how a Christian woman declaring the elements of her faith
can be a fool,” said Lady Blount, drawing herself up.

“There are times and seasons for everything,” said Sir Oliver. “If you
were having a political argument, and any one asked you whether you
believed in tariff reform, and you glared at him and said, T believe in
Pontius Pilate,’ you’d be professing Christianity, but showing yourself
an idiot.”

“But I don’t believe in Pontius Pilate,” retorted Lady Blount.

“Oh, don’t you?” cried Sir Oliver, in sinister exultation. “Then your
whole historical fabric of the Crucifixion must fall to the ground.”

“I don’t see why you need be irreverent and blasphemous,” said Lady
Blount.

Herold laid his hand on Lady Blount’s and looked at her, with his head
on one side.

“But do you believe in Stellamaris, Julia.”

His smile was so winning, with its touch of mockery, that she grew
mollified.

“I believe she has bewitched all of us,” she said.

Which shows how any woman may be made to eat her words just by a little
kindness.

So the talk went back to Stella and her ways and her oddities, and the
question of faith in Pontius Pilate being necessary for salvation was
forgotten. A maid, Stella’s own maid, came in with a message. Miss
Stella’s compliments, and were Mr. Risca and Mr. Herold having a good
supper? She herself was, about to drink her egg beaten up in sherry, and
would be glad if the gentlemen would take a glass of wine with her.
The young men, accordingly, raised their glasses toward the ceiling and
drank to Stella, in the presence of the maid, and gave her appropriate
messages to take back to her mistress.

[Illustration: 0046]

It was a customary little ceremony, but in Risca’s eyes it never lost
its grace and charm. To-night it seemed to have a deeper significance,
bringing Stella with her elfin charm into the midst of them, and thus
exorcising the spirits of evil that held him in their torturing grip.
He spoke but little at the meal, content to listen to the talk about
Stella, and curiously impatient when the conversation drifted into other
channels. Of his own tragedy no one spoke. On his arrival, Lady Blount,
with unwonted demonstration of affection, had thrown her arms round his
neck, and Sir Oliver had wrung his hand and mumbled the stiff Briton’s
incoherences of sympathy. He had not yet told them of his decision to go
to Australia.

He broke the news later, in the drawing-room, abruptly and apropos of
nothing, as was his manner, firing his bombshell with the defiant air of
one who says, “There, what do you think of it?”

“I’m going to Australia next week, never to come back again,” said he.

There was a discussion. Sir Oliver commended him. The great dependencies
of the empire were the finest field in the world for a young man,
provided he kept himself outside the radius of the venomous blight of
the Colonial Office. To that atrophied branch of the imperial service
the white administrator was merely a pigeon-holed automaton; the native,
black or bronze or yellow, a lion-hearted human creature. All the
murder, riot, rapine, arson, and other heterogeneous devilry that
the latter cared to indulge in proceeded naturally from the noble
indignation of his generous nature. If the sensible man who was
appointed by the Government to rule over this scum of the planet called
out the military and wiped out a few dozen of them for the greater glory
and safety of the empire, the pusillanimous ineptitudes in second-rate
purple and cheap linen of the Colonial Office, for the sake of currying
favour with Labour members and Socialists and Radicals and Methodists
and Anti-vivisectionists and Vegetarians and other miserable
Little-Englanders, denounced him as a Turk, an assassin, a
seventeenth-century Spanish _conquistador_ of the bloodiest type, and
held him up to popular execration, and recalled him, and put him on a
beggarly pension years before he had reached his age limit. He could
tell them stories which seemed (and in truth deserved to be) incredible.

“John,” said Lady Blount, “has heard all this a thousand times,”--as
indeed he had,--“and must be sick to death of it. He is not going out to
Australia as governor-general.”

“Who said he was, my dear?” said Sir Oliver.

“If you did n’t imply it, you were talking nonsense, Oliver,” Lady
Blount retorted.

“Anyhow, Oliver, do you think John is taking a wise step?” Herold
hastily interposed.

“I do,” said he; “a very wise step.”

“I don’t agree with you at all,” said Lady Blount, with a snap of
finality.

“Your remark, my dear,” replied Sir Oliver, “does not impress me in the
least. When did you ever agree with me?”

“Never, my dear Oliver,” said Lady Blount, with the facial smile of
the secretly hostile fencer. “And I thank Heaven for it. I may not be a
brilliant woman, but I am endowed with common sense.”

Sir Oliver looked at her for a moment, with lips parted, as if to
speak; but finding nothing epigrammatic enough to say--and an epigram
alone would have saved the situation--he planted a carefully cut cigar
between the parted lips aforesaid, and deliberately struck a match.

“Your idea, John,” said Lady Blount, aware of victory, “is preposterous.
What would Stella do without you?”

“Yes,” said Sir Oliver, after lighting his cigar; “Stella has to be
considered before everything.”

Risca frowned on the unblushing turncoat. Stella! Stella! Everything
was Stella. Here were three ordinary, sane, grown-up people seriously
putting forward the proposition that he had no right to go and mend his
own broken life in his own fashion because he happened to be the favored
playmate of a little invalid girl!

On the one side was the driving force of Furies of a myriad hell-power,
and on the other the disappointment of Stella Blount. It was ludicrous.
Even Walter Herold, who had a sense of humour, did not see the grotesque
incongruity. Risca frowned upon each in turn--upon three serene faces
smilingly aware of the absurd. Was it worth while trying to convince
them?

“Our dear friends are quite right, John,” said Herold. “What would
become of Stella if you went away?”

“None of you seems to consider what would happen to me if I stayed,”
 said John, in the quiet tone of a man who is talking to charming but
unreasonable children. “It will go to my heart to leave Stella, more
than any of you can realize; but to Australia I go, and there’s an end
of it.”

Lady Blount sighed. What with imperial governments that wrecked the
career of men for shooting a few murderous and fire-raising blacks, and
with lowborn vixens of women who ruined men’s careers in other ways,
life was a desperate puzzle. She was fond of her cousin John Risca. She,
too, before she married Sir Oliver, had borne the name, and the disgrace
that had fallen upon it affected her deeply. It was horrible to think
of John’s wife, locked up that night in the stone cell of a gaol. She
leaned back in her chair in silence while the men talked--Sir Oliver,
by way of giving Risca hints on the conduct of life in Melbourne, was
narrating his experiences of forty years ago in the West Indies--and
stared into the fire. Her face, beneath the front of red hair that
accused so pitifully the reddish gray that was her own, looked very old
and faded. What was a prison like? She shuddered. As governor’s wife,
she had once or twice had occasion to visit a colonial prison. But the
captives were black, and they grinned cheerily; their raiment, save for
the unæsthetic decoration of the black arrow, was not so very different
from that which they wore in a state of freedom; neither were food,
bedding, and surroundings so very different; and the place was flooded
with air and blazing sunshine. She could never realize that it was
a real prison. It might have been a prison of musical comedy. But an
English prison was the real, unimaginable abode of grim, gray horror.
She had heard of the prison taint. She conceived it as a smell--that of
mingled quicklime and the corruption it was to destroy--which lingered
physically forever after about the persons of those who had been
confined within prison-walls. A gaol was a place of eternal twilight,
eternal chill, eternal degradation for the white man or woman; and a
white woman, the wife of one of her own race, was there. It was almost
as if the taint hung about her own lavender-scented self. She shivered,
and drew her chair a few inches nearer the fire.

Was it so preposterous, after all, on John Risca’s part to fly from the
shame into a wider, purer air? Her cry had been unthinking, instinctive,
almost a cry for help. She was growing old and soured and worn by
perpetual conjugal wranglings. John, her kinsman, counted for a great
deal in a life none too rich. John and Stella were nearest to her in the
world--first Stella, naturally, then John. To the woman of over fifty
the man of under thirty is still a boy. For many, years she had nursed
the two together in her heart. And now he was going from her. What
would she, what would Stella, do without him? Her husband’s direct
interpellation aroused her from her reverie.

“Julia, what was the name of the chap we met in St. Kitts who had been
sheep-farming in Queensland?”

They had sailed away from St. Kitts in 1878. Lady Blount reminded
him tartly of the fact while professing her oblivion of the man from
Queensland. They sparred for a few moments. Then she rose wearily and
said she was going to bed. Sir Oliver looked at his watch.

“Nearly twelve. Time for us all to go.”

“As soon as I’ ve written my morning letter to Stellamaris,” said
Herold.

“I must write, too,” said Risca.

For it was a rule of the house that every visitor should write
Stellamaris a note overnight, to be delivered into her hands the first
thing in the morning. The origin of the rule was wrapped in the mists of
history.

So John Risca sat down at Sir Oliver’s study-table in order to indite
his letter to Stellamaris. But for a long time he stared at the white
paper. He, the practised journalist, who could dash off his thousand
words on any subject as fast as pen could travel, no matter what torture
burned his brain, could not find a foolish message for a sick child. At
last he wrote like a school-boy:

_Darling: The flowers were beautiful, and so is the new picture, and I
want to see you early in the morning. I hope you are well. John Risca._

And he had to tear the letter out of its envelope and put it into a
fresh one because he had omitted to add the magic initials “G. H. B.” to
his name. Compared with his usual imaginative feats of correspondence,
this was a poverty-stricken epistle. She would wonder at the change.
Perhaps his demand for an immediate interview would startle her, and
shocks were dangerous. He tore up the letter and envelope, and went to
his own room. It was past two o’clock when he crept downstairs again to
lay his letter on the hall table.

At the sight of him the next morning the color deepened in the delicate
cheeks of Stellamaris, and her dark eyes grew bright. She held out a
welcoming hand.

“Ah, Belovedest, I ‘ve been longing to see you ever since dawn. I woke
up then and could n’t go to sleep again because I was so excited.”

He took the chair by her bedside, and her fingers tapped affectionately
on the back of the great hand that lay on the coverlid.

“I suppose I was excited, too,” said he, “for I was awake at dawn.”

“Did you look out of window?”

“Yes,” said John.

“Then we both saw the light creeping over the sea like a monstrous
ghost. And it all lay so pallid and still,--did n’t it?--as if it were
a sea in a land of death. And then a cheeky little thrush began to
twitter.”

“I heard the thrush,” replied John. “He said, ‘Any old thing! Any old
thing!’ ”

He mimicked the bird’s note. Stella laughed. “That’s just what he
said--as though a sea in a land of death or the English Channel was all
the same to him. I suppose it was.”

“It must be good to be a thrush,” said Risca. “There ‘s a _je m’en
fich’isme_ about his philosophy which must be very consoling.”

“I know what that is in English,” cried Stellamaris. “It is
‘don’t-care-a-damativeness.’ “ Her lips rounded roguishly over the
naughty syllable.

“Where did you learn that?”

“Walter told me.”

“Walter must be clapped into irons, and fed on bread and water, and
seriously spoken to.”

Unconsciously he had drifted into his usual manner of speech with her.
She laughed with a child’s easy gaiety.

“It’s delightful to be wicked, is n’t it?”

“Why?” he asked.

“It must be such an adventure. It must make you hold your breath and
your heart beat.”

John wondered grimly whether a certain doer of wickedness had felt this
ecstatic rapture. She, too, must have seen the gray dawn, but creeping
through prison-bars into her cell. God of Inscrutability! Was it
possible that these two co-watchers of the dawn, both so dominant in his
life, were of the same race of beings? If the one was a woman born of
woman, what in the name of mystery was Stellamaris?

“Don’t look so grave, Great High Belovedest,” she said, squeezing a
finger. “I only spoke in fun. It must really be horrid to be wicked.
When I was littie I had a book about Cruel Frederick--I think it
belonged to grandmama. It had awful pictures, and there were rhymes--

               He tore the wings off little flies,

               And then poked out their little eyes.

And there was a picture of his doing so. I used to think him a
detestable boy. It made me unhappy and kept me awake when I was quite
small, but now I know it’s all nonsense. People don’t do such things, do
they?”

Risca twisted his glum face into a smile, remembering the Unwritten Law.
“Of course not, Stella-maris,” said he. “Cruel Frederick is just as much
of a mythical personage as the Giant Fee-fo-fum, who said:

               I smell the blood of an Englishman,

               And be he alive or be he dead,

               I ‘ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

“Why do people frighten children with stories of ogres and wicked
fairies and all the rest of it, when the real world they live in is so
beautiful?”

“Pure cussedness,” answered John, unable otherwise to give a
satisfactory explanation.

“Cussedness is silly,” said Stellamaris.

There was a little pause. Then she put both her hands on his and pressed
it.

“Oh, it’s lovely to have you here again, Great High Belovedest; and I
have n’t thanked you for your letter. It’s the most heavenly one you’ve
ever written to me.”

It might well have been. He had taken two hours to write it.



CHAPTER IV

THE most heavenly of all letters,” Stellamaris repeated, as Risca made
no reply. “I loved it because it showed me you were very happy.”

“Have you ever doubted it?” he asked.

The Great Dane, the Lord High Constable, who was stretched out on
his side, with relaxed, enormous limbs, on the hearth-rug, lifted his
massive head for a second and glanced at John. Then with a half-grunt,
halfsigh, he dropped his head, and twitched his limbs and went to sleep
again.

“Now and then when you ‘re not looking at me,” said Stellamaris, “there
is a strange look in your eyes: it is when you ‘re not speaking and you
stare out of window without seeming to see anything.”

For a moment Risca was assailed by a temptation to break the Unwritten
Law and tell her something of his misery. She, with her superfine
intelligence, would understand, and her sympathy would be sweet. But he
put the temptation roughly from him.

“I am the happiest fellow in the world, Stellamaris,” said he.

“It would be difficult not to be happy in such a world.”

She pointed out to sea. The blustering wind of the day before had
fallen, and a light breeze shook the tips of the waves to the
morning sunshine, which turned them into diamonds. The sails of the
fishing-fleet of the tiny port flashed merrily against the kindly blue.
On the horizon a great steamer was visible steaming up Channel. The
salt air came in through the open windows. The laughter of fishermen’s
children rose faintly from the beach far below.

“And there’s spring, too, dancing over everything,” she said. “Don’t you
feel it?”

He acknowledged the vernal influence, and, careful lest his eyes should
betray him, talked of the many things she loved. He had not seen her for
a fortnight, so there were the apocryphal doings of Lilias and Niphetos
to record,--Cleopatras of cats, whom age could not wither, and whose
infinite variety custom could not stale,--and there was the approaching
marriage of Arachne with a duke to report. And he told her of his
gay, bright life in London and of the beautiful Belinda Molyneux, an
imaginary Egeria, who sometimes lunched with the queen. The effort of
artistic creation absorbed him, as it always had done, under the spell
of Stellamaris’s shining eyes. The foolish world of his imagination
became real, and for the moment hung like a veil before his actual world
of tragedy. It was in the nature of a shock to him when Stella’s maid
entered and asked him if he could speak to Mr. Herold outside the door..

“Tell him to come in,” said Stellamaris.

“He says he will, Miss, after he has seen Mr. Risca.”

Risca found Herold on the landing.

“Well?”

“Well?” said John.

“What has happened? How did she take it?”

John looked away, and thrust his hands into his pockets.

“I ‘ve not told her yet.”

Walter drew a breath. “But you ‘re going to?”

“Of course,” said John. “Do you think it ‘s so damned easy?”

“You had better be quick, if you ‘re coming back to town with me. I’m
due at rehearsal at twelve.”

“I’ll go and tell her now,” said John.

“Let me just say how d’ ye do to her first. I won’t stay a minute.”

The two men entered the sea-chamber together. Stella welcomed her Great
High Favourite and chatted gaily for a while. Then she commanded him to
sit down.

“I ‘m afraid I can’t stay, Stellamaris. I have to go back to London.”

Stella glanced at the clock. “Your train does n’t go for an hour.” She
was jealously learned in trains.

“I think John wants to talk to you.”

“He has been talking to me quite beautifully for a long time,” said
Stella, “and I want to talk to you.”

“He has something very particular to say, Stellamaris.”

“What is it, Belovedest?” Her eyes sparkled, and she clasped her hands
over her childish bosom. “You are not going to marry Belinda Molyneux?”

“No, dear,” said John; “I’m not going to marry anybody.”

“I’m so glad.” She turned to Herold. “Are you going to get married?”

“No,” smiled Herold.

Stella laughed. “What a relief! People do get married, you know, and I
suppose both of you will have to one of these days, when you get older;
but I don’t like to think of it.”

“I don’t believe I shall ever marry, Stellamaris,” said Herold.

“Why?”

Herold looked out to sea for a wistful instant. “Because one can’t marry
a dream, my dear.”

“I’ve married hundreds,” said Stella, softly.

If they had been alone together, they would have talked dreams and
visions and starshine and moonshine, and their conversation would
have been about as sensible and as satisfactory to each other and as
intelligible to a third party as that of a couple of elves sitting on
adjacent toadstools; but elves don’t talk in the presence of a third
party, even though he be John Risca and Great High Belovedest. And
Stellamaris, recognizing this instinctively, turned her eyes quickly to
Risca.

“And you, dear--will you ever marry?”

“Never, by Heaven!” cried John, with startling fervency.

Stella reached out both her hands to the two men who incorporated the
all in all of her little life, and each man took a hand and kissed it.

“I don’t want to be horrid and selfish,” she said; “but if I lost either
of you, I think it would break my heart.”

The men exchanged glances. John repeated his query: “Do you think it’s
so damned easy?”

“Tell us why you say that, Stellamaris,” said Herold.

John rose suddenly and stood by the west window, which was closed.
Stella’s high bed had been drawn next to the window open to the south.
The room was warm, for a great fire blazed in the tall chimneypiece. He
rose to hide his eyes from Stella, confounding Herold for a marplot. Was
this the way to make his task easier? He heard Stella say in her sweet
contralto:

“Do you imagine it ‘s just for silly foolishness I call you Great High
Belovedest and Great High Favourite? You see, Walter dear, I gave John
his title before I knew you, so I had to make some difference in yours.
But they mean everything to me. I live in the sky such a lot, and it’s
a beautiful life; but I know there ‘s another life in the great world--a
beautiful life, too.” She wrinkled her forehead. “Oh, it ‘s so difficult
to explain! It’s so hard to talk about feelings, because the moment you
begin to talk about them, the feelings become so vague. It’s like trying
to tell any one the shape of a sunset.” She paused for a moment or two;
Herold smiled at her and nodded encouragingly. Presently she went on:
“I ‘ll try to put it this way. Often a gull, you see, comes hovering
outside here and looks in at me, oh, for a long time, with his round,
yellow eyes; and my heart beats, and I love him, for he tells me all
about the sea and sky and clouds, where I’ll never go,--not really,--and
I live the sky life through him, and more than ever since you sent me
that poem--I know it by heart--about the sea-gull. Who wrote it?”

“Swinburne,” said Herold.

“Did he write anything else?”

“One or two other little things,” replied Herold, judiciously. “I ‘ll
copy them out and bring them to you. But go on.”

“Well,” she said, “yesterday afternoon a little bird--I don’t know what
kind of bird it was--came and sat on the window-sill, and turned his
head this way and looked at me, and turned his head that way and looked
at me, and I did n’t move hand or foot, and I said, ‘Cheep, cheep!’ And
he hopped on the bed and stayed there such a long time. And I talked
to him, and he hopped about and looked at me and seemed to tell me all
sorts of wonderful things. But he did n’t somehow, although he came from
the sky, and was a perfect dear. He must have known all about it, but he
did n’t know how to tell me. Now, you and John come from the beautiful
world and tell me wonderful things about it; and I shall never go there
really, but I can live in it through you.”

Constable, the Great Dane, known by this abbreviated title in familiar
life, rose, stretched himself, and went and snuggled his head beneath
John’s arm. John turned, his arm round the hound’s neck.

“But you can live in it through anybody, dear,” said he--“your Uncle
Oliver, your Aunt Julia, or anybody who comes to see you.”

Stellamaris looked at Herold for a characteristically sympathetic
moment, and then at John. She sighed.

“I told you it was hard to explain. But don’t you see, Belovedest? You
and Walter are like my gull. Everybody else is like the little bird. You
know how to tell me and make me live. The others are darlings, but they
don’t seem to know how to do it.”

John scratched his head.

“I see what you mean,” said he.

“I should hope so,” said Herold.

He looked at his watch and jumped to his feet. “Star of the Sea,” said
he, “to talk with you is the most fascinating occupation on earth; but
managers are desperate fellows, and I ‘ll get into boiling water if I
miss my rehearsal.” He turned to John. “I don’t see how you are going to
catch this train.”

“Neither do I,” said John. “I shall go by the one after.”

Herold took his leave, promising to run down for the week-end. Constable
accompanied him to the door in a dignified way, and this ceremony of
politeness accomplished, stalked back to the hearth-rug, where he threw
himself down, his head on his paws, and his faithful eyes fixed on his
mistress. John sat down again by the bedside. There was a short silence
during which Stellamaris smiled at him and he smiled at Stellamaris.

“Does n’t the Great High Belovedest want to smoke?”

“Badly,” said John.

She held out her hand for the pipe and tobacco-pouch. He gave them to
her, and she filled the pipe. For a while he smoked peacefully. From
where he sat all he could see of the outside world was the waste of
sun-kissed waters stretching away and melting into a band of pearly
cloud on the horizon. He might have been out at sea. Possibly this time
next week he would be, and the salt air would be playing, as now, about
his head. But on board that ship would be no spacious sea-chamber like
this, so gracious in its appointments--its old oak and silver, its
bright chintzes, its quiet old engravings, its dainty dressing-table
covered with fairy-like toilet-articles, its blue delft bowls full of
flowers, its atmosphere so dearly English, yet English of the days when
Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into the mere. In no other spot on the
globe could be found such a sea-chamber, with its high bed, on which lay
the sweet, elfin face, half child’s, half woman’s, framed in the soft,
brown hair.

Risca smoked on, and Stellamaris, seeing him disinclined to talk, gazed
happily out to her beloved Channel, and dreamed her dreams. They had
often sat like this for an hour together, both feeling that they were
talking to each other all the time; and often Stella would break the
silence by telling him to listen. At such times, so people said,
an angel was passing. And he would listen, but could not hear. He
remembered Walter Herold once agreeing with her, and saying:

“There’s a special little angel told off to come here every day and
beat his wings about the room so as to clear the air of all troubling
things.”

In no other spot on the globe could be found such a sea-chamber,
wing-swept, spirit-haunted, where pain ceased magically and the burden
of intolerable suffering grew light. No other haven along all the coasts
of the earth was a haven of rest such as this.

And the Furies were driving him from it! But here the Furies ceased from
driving. Here he had delicious ease. Here a pair of ridiculously frail
hands held him a lotus-fed prisoner. He smoked on. At last he resisted
the spell. The whole thing was nonsensical. His pipe, only lightly
packed by the frail hands, went out. He stuffed it in his pocket, and
cleared his throat. He would say then and there what he had come to say.

Stellamaris turned her head and laughed; and when Stellamaris laughed,
the sea outside and the flowers in the delft bowl laughed, too.

“The angel has been having a good time.”

John cleared his throat again.

“My dear,” said he, and then he stopped short. All the carefully
prepared exordiums went out of his head. How now to break the news to
her he did not know.

“Are you very tired?” she asked.

“Not a bit,” said John.

“Then be a dear, and read me something. Read me ‘Elaine.’ ”

The elevated and sophisticated and very highly educated may learn
with surprise that “The Idylls of the King” still appeal to ingenuous
fifteen. Thank God there are yet remaining also some sentimentalists of
fifty who can read them with pleasure and profit!

“But that is so sad, Stellamaris,” said John. “You don’t want to be sad
this beautiful spring morning.”

Which was a very inconsistent remark to make, seeing that he was about
to dash the young sun from her sky altogether.

“I like being sad sometimes, especially when the world is bright.
And Lancelot was such a dear,”--here spoke ingenuous fifteen,--“and
Elaine--oh, do read it!”

So John, secretly glad of a respite, drew from the bookcase which held
her scrupulously selected and daintily bound library the volume of
Tennyson and read aloud the idyll of Lancelot and Elaine. And the
sea-wind blew about his head and fluttered the brown hair on the pillow,
and the log-fire blazed in the chimney, and the great dog slept, and a
noontide hush was over all things. And Risca read the simple poem with
the heart of the girl of fifteen, and forgot everything else in the
world.

When he had finished, the foolish eyes of both were moist. “The dead
oar’d by the dumb,” with the lily in her hand,--dead for the love of
Lancelot,--affected them both profoundly.

“I think I should die, too, like that, Great High; Belovedest,” said
Stellamaris, “if any one I loved left me.”

“But what Lancelot is going to leave you, dear?” said John.

She shook the thistledown of sadness from her brow and laughed.

“You and Walter are the only Lancelots I’ve got.”

“The devil ‘s in the child to-day,” said Risca to himself.

There was a short pause. Then Stella said:

“Belovedest dear, what was the particular thing that Walter said you had
to tell me?”

“It ‘s of no consequence,” said John. “It will do to-morrow or the day
after.”

Stella started joyously,--as much as the rigid discipline of years would
allow her,--and great gladness lit her face.

“Darling! Are you going to stay here to-day and to-morrow and the next
day?”

“My dear,” said John, “I’ve got to get up to town this morning.”

“You won’t do that,” said Stella. “Look at the clock.”

It was a quarter to one. He had spent the whole morning with her, and
the hours had flown by like minutes.

“Why did n’t you tell me that I ought to be catching my train?”

She regarded him in demure mischief.

“I had no object in making you catch your train.”

And then Her Serene High-and-Mightiness, the nurse (who had been called
in for Stella when first she was put to bed in the sea-chamber, and,
falling under her spell, had stayed on until she had grown as much
involved in the web of her life as Sir Oliver and Lady Julia and
Constable and Herold and Risca), came into the room and decreed the end
of the morning interview.

Risca went down-stairs, his purpose unaccomplished. He walked about the
garden and argued with himself. Now, when a man argues with himself, he,
being only the extraneous eidolon of himself, invariably gets the worst
of the argument, and this makes him angry. John was angry; to such a
point that, coming across Sir Oliver, who had just returned from an
inexplicably disastrous game of golf and began to pour a story of
bunkered gloom into his ear, he gnashed his teeth and tore his hair and
told Sir Oliver to go to the devil with his lugubrious and rotten game,
and dashed away to the solitude of the beach until the luncheon-bell
summoned him back.

“I’m going by the 3:50,” said he at the luncheon-table.

At three o’clock Stella was free to see him again. He went up to her
room distinctly determined to shut his heart against folly. The sun
had crept round toward the west and flooded the head and shoulders of
Stellamaris and the dainty bedspread with pale gold, just as it flooded
the now still and smiling sea. Again paralysis fell upon John. The words
he was to speak were to him, as well as to her, the words of doom, and
he could not utter them. They talked of vain, childish things. Then
Stellamaris’s clock chimed the three-quarters. There are some chimes
that are brutal, others ironic; but Stellamaris’s chimes (the clock was
a gift from John himself) were soft, and pealed a soothing mystery, like
a bell swung in a deep sea-cave.

It was a quarter to four, and he had missed his train once more. Well,
the train could go to--to London, as good a synonym for Tophet as any
other. So he stayed, recklessly surrendering himself to the pale, sunlit
peace of the sea-chamber, till he was dislodged by Lady Blount.

An attempt to catch a six o’clock train was equally unsuccessful. He did
not return to town that night. Why should a sorely bruised man reject
the balm that healed? To-morrow he would be stronger and more serene,
abler to control the driving force of the Furies, and therefore fitted
to announce in gentler wise the decrees of destiny. So Risca went to bed
and slept easier, and the room which Stellamaris had made for him became
the enchanted bower of a Fair Lady of All Mercy.

In their simple human way Sir Oliver and Lady

Blount besought him to stay for his health’s sake in the fresh sea-air;
and when he yielded, they prided themselves, after the manner of humans,
on their own powers of persuasion. One morning Sir Oliver asked him
point-blank:

“When are you going to Australia?”

“I don’t know,” said John. “There ‘s no immediate hurry.”

“I hope, dear,” said Julia, “you ‘ll give up the idea altogether.”

“Have n’t I told you that I’ve made up my mind?” said John, in his gruff
tone of finality.

“When are you going to break the news to Stella?” asked Sir Oliver.

“Now,” said John, who had begun to loathe the mention of the doomful
subject; and he stalked away--the three were strolling in the garden
after breakfast--and went to Stella’s room, and of course made no
mention of it whatsoever.

Then Herold came down for the week-end, and when he heard of Risca’s
pusillanimity he threw back his head and laughed for joy; for he knew
that John would never go to Australia without telling Stellamaris, and
also that if he could not tell Stellamaris in the first madness of his
agony, he would never be able to tell her at all.

And so, in fact, the fantastically absurd prevailed. Before the
Unwritten Law, mainly promulgated and enforced by Risca himself, which
guarded the sea-chamber against pain and sorrow, the driving Furies
slunk with limp wing and nerveless claw. And one day Risca was surprised
at finding himself undriven. Indeed, he was somewhat disconcerted. He
fell into a bad temper. The Furies are highly aristocratic divinities
who don’t worry about Tom, Dick, or Harry, but choose an Orestes at
least for their tormenting; so that, when they give up their pursuit
of a Risca, he may excusably regard it as a personal slight. It was the
morose and gloomy nature of the man.

“I know I ‘m a fool,” he said to Herold, when every one had gone to bed,
“but I can’t help it. Any normal person would regard me as insane if
I told him I was stopped from saving the wreck of my career by
consideration for the temporary comfort of a bedridden chit of a girl
half my age, who is absolutely nothing to me in the world (her uncle
married my first cousin. If that is anything of a family tie, I’m weak
on family feeling); but that’s God’s truth. I’m tied by her to this
accursed country. She just holds me down in the hell of London, and I
can’t wriggle away. It’s senseless, I know it is. Sometimes when I ‘m
away from her, walking on the beach, I feel I ‘d like to throw the whole
of this confounded house into the sea; and then I look up and see the
light in her room, and--I--I just begin to wonder whether she ‘s asleep
and what she’s dreaming of. There ‘s some infernal witchcraft about the
child.”

“There is,” said Herold.

“Rot!” said Risca, his pugnacious instincts awakened by the check on
his dithyrambics. “The whole truth of the matter is that I’m simply a
sentimental fool.”

“All honour to you, John,” said Herold.

“If you talk like that, I ‘ll wring your neck,” said Risca, pausing for
à second in his walk up and down Sir Oliver’s library, and glaring down
at his friend, who reclined on the sofa and regarded him with a smile
exasperatingly wise. “You know I’m a fool, and why can’t you say it? A
man at my time of life! Do you realize that I am twice her age?”

And he went on, inveighing now against the pitifully human conventions
that restrained him from hurting the chit of a child, and now against
the sorcery with which she contrived to invest the chamber wherein she
dwelt.

“And at my age, too, when I ‘ve run the whole gamut of human misery,
the whole discordant thing--_toute la lyre_--when I’ve finished with the
blighting illusion that men call life; when, confound it! I ‘m thirty.”

Sir Oliver, unable to sleep, came into the room in dressing-gown and
slippers. He looked very fragile and broken.

“Here ‘s John,” laughed Herold, “saying that he ‘s thirty, and an old,
withered man, and he ‘s not thirty. He ‘s nine-and-twenty.”

Sir Oliver looked at John, as only age, with awful wistfulness, can
look at youth, and came and laid his hand upon the young man’s broad
shoulders.

“My lad,” said he, “you’ve had a bad time; but you ‘re young. You’ve
the whole of your life before you..Time, my dear boy, is a marvellous
solvent of human perplexity. Once in a new world, once in that
astonishing continent of Australia--”

John threw a half-finished cigar angrily into the fire.

“I’m not going to the damned continent,” said he.



CHAPTER V

THUS it came to pass that, for the sake of Stellamaris, Risca remained
in London and fought with beasts in Fenton Square. Sometimes he got the
better of the beasts, and sometimes the beasts got the better of him. On
the former occasions he celebrated the victory by doing an extra turn of
work; on the latter he sat idly growling at defeat.

At this period of his career he was assistant-editor of a weekly review,
in charge of the book-column of an evening newspaper, the contributor of
a signed weekly article on general subjects to the “Daily Herald,” and
of a weekly London letter to an American syndicate. From this it will
be seen that for a man not yet thirty he had achieved a position in
journalism envied by many who had grown gray-headed in the game. But as
Risca had written three or four novels which had all been rejected by
all the publishers in London, he chose to regard himself as a man foiled
in his ambitions. He saw himself doomed to failure. For him was the
eternal toil of ploughing the sand; the Garden of Delight cultivated by
the happy Blest--such as Fawcus of the club, who boasted of making over
a thousand pounds for every novel he wrote, and of being able to take
as much holiday as he chose--had its gilded gates closed against him
forever. That the man of nine-and-twenty should grow embittered because
he was not accepted by the world as a brilliant novelist is a matter for
the derision of the middle-aged and for the pitying smile of the hoary;
but it is a matter of woeful concern to twenty-nine, especially if
twenty-nine be a young man of a saturnine temperament whom fate has
driven to take himself seriously. In Risca’s life there were misfortunes
the reality of the pain of which was independent of age; others which
were relative, as inseparable from youth as the tears for a bumped head
are inseparable from childhood. Yet to the man they were all equally
absolute. It is only in after-years, when one looks back down the vista,
that one can differentiate.

For all that he ought to have given himself another decade before crying
himself a failure, yet a brilliant young journalist who has not found
a publisher for one of four novels has reasonable excuse for serious
cogitation. There are scores of brilliant young journalists who have
published masterpieces of fiction before they are thirty, and at forty
have gone on their knees and thanked kind, gentle Time for his effacing
fingers; yet the novels have had some quality of the novel warranting
their publication. At any rate, the brilliant young journalists have
believed in them. They have looked upon their Creation and found that
it was good. But Risca, looking on his Creation, found that it was
wood. His people were as wooden as Mr. and Mrs. Ham in a Noah’s Ark; his
scenery was as wooden as the trees and mountain in a toy Swiss
village; his dialogue as wooden as the conversation-blocks used by
the philosophers of Laputa. He had said, in an outburst of wrathful
resentment, that he found his one artistic outlet in aiding to create
Stella’s Land of Illusion; and he was right. He was despairingly
aware of the lack of the quick fancy; the power of visualization; the
sublimated faculty of the child’s make-believe, creating out of trumpery
bits and pieces a glowing world of romance; the keen, instinctive
knowledge of the general motives of human action; the uncanny insight
into the hearts and feelings of beings of a sex, class, or type
different from his own; the gift of evolving from a tiny broken bone of
fact a perfect creature indisputably real, colouring it with the hues of
actuality and breathing into it the breath of life--the lack, indeed, of
all the essential qualities, artistic and therefore usually instinctive,
that go to the making of a novelist. Yet Risca was doggedly determined
to be a novelist and a poet. It was pathetic. How can a man who cannot
distinguish between “God Save the King” and “Yankee Doodle” hope to
write a world-shaking sonata? Risca knew that he was crying for the
moon, and it is only because he cried so hard for it that he deserved
any serious commiseration.

When he did come to death-grapple with the absolute, the beasts above
mentioned, he stood out a tragic young figure, fiercely alone in the
arena, save for Herold.

His name, uncommon and arresting, had one connotation in London--the
Case, the appalling and abominable Case. Even Ferguson of the “Daily
Herald,” who had evinced such sympathy for him at first, shrank from the
name at the head of the weekly column and suggested the temporary use of
a pseudonym. Had it not been for Herold’s intervention, Risca would have
told Ferguson to go to the devil and would have refused to work for his
Philistine paper. He swallowed the insult, which did him no good. He
refused to carry the accursed name into the haunts of men.

“Come to the club, at any rate,” Herold urged. “Every man there is loyal
to you.”

“And every man as he looks at me will have on his retina not a picture
of me, but a picture of what went on in that house in Smith Street.”

“Oh, go and buy a serviceable epidermis,” cried Herold. Argument was
useless.

So Risca worked like a mole at anonymous journalism in his shabby
lodgings where Lilias and Niphetos were suggested only by a mangy tabby
who occasionally prowled into his sitting-room, and Arachne presided,
indeed, but in the cobwebs about the ceiling in the guise which she had
been compelled to take by the angry god when the world was young. Only
when his attendance at the office of the weekly review was necessary,
such as on the day when it went to press, did he mingle with the busy
world.

“If you go on in this way,” said Herold, “you ‘ll soon have as much idea
of what’s going on in London as a lonely dog tied up in a kennel.”

“What does it matter,” growled John, “to any of the besotted fools who
read newspapers, provided I bark loud enough?”

There was one thing going on in London, however, in which he took a grim
interest, and that was the convalescence of the little maid-of-all-work
who had been taken back, a maimed lamb, to the cheerless fold where
she had been reared. Thither he went to make inquiries as soon as he
returned from Southcliff-on-Sea. He found the Orphanage of St. Martha
at Willesden, a poverty-stricken building, a hopeless parallelogram of
dingy, yellow brick, standing within a walled inclosure. There were no
trees or flowers, for the yard was paved. His ring at the front door was
answered by an orphan in a light print dress, her meagre hair clutched
up tight in a knob at the back. He asked for the superintendent and
handed his card. The orphan conducted him to a depressing parlour, and
vanished. Presently appeared a thin, weary woman, dressed in the black
robes of a Sister of Mercy, who, holding the card tight in nervous
fingers, regarded him with an air of mingled fright and defiance.

“Your business?” she asked.

Despite the torture of it all, John could not help smiling. If he had
been armed with a knout, his reception could not have been more hostile.

“I must beg of you to believe,” said he, “that I come as a friend and
not as an enemy.”

She pointed to a straight-backed chair.

“Will you be seated?”

“It is only human,” said he, “to call and see you, and ask after that
unhappy child.”

“She is getting on,” said the Sister superintendent, frostily, “as well
as can be expected.”

“Which means? Please tell me. I am here to know.”

“She will take some time to recover from her injuries, and of course her
nerve is broken.”

“I’m afraid,” said John, “your institution can’t afford many invalid’s
luxuries.”

“None at all,” replied the weary-faced woman. “She gets proper care and
attention, however.”

John drew out a five-pound note. “Can you buy her any little things
with this? When you have spent it, if you will tell me, I ‘ll send you
another.”

“It’s against our rules,” said the Sister, eying the money. “If you like
to give it as a subscription to the general funds, I will accept it.”

“Are you badly off?” asked John.

“We are very slenderly endowed.”

John pushed the note across the small table near which they were
sitting.

“In return,” said he, “I hope you will allow me to send in some jellies
and fruits, or appliances, or whatever may be of pleasure or comfort to
the child.”

“Whatever you send her that is practical shall be applied to her use,”
 said the Sister superintendent.

She was cold, unemotional; no smile, no ghost even of departed smiles,
seemed ever to visit the tired, gray eyes or the corners of the rigid
mouth; coif and face and thin hands were spotless. She did not even
thank him for his forced gift to the orphanage.

“I should like to know,” said John, regarding her beneath frowning
brows, “whether any one here loves the unhappy little wretch.”

“These children,” replied the Sister superintendent, “have naturally a
hard battle to fight when they go from here into the world. They come
mostly from vicious classes. Their training is uniformly kind, but it
has to be austere.”

John rose. “I will bring what things I can think of to-morrow.”

The Sister superintendent rose, too, and bowed icily. “You are at
liberty to do so, Mr. Risca; but I assure you there is no reason for
your putting yourself to the trouble. In the circumstances I can readily
understand your solicitude; but again I say you have no cause for it.”

“Madam,” said he, “I see that I have more cause than ever.”

The next day he drove to the orphanage in a cab, with a hamper of
delicacies and a down pillow. The latter the Sister superintendent
rejected. Generally, it was against the regulations and, particularly,
it was injudicious. Down pillows would not be a factor in Unity Blake’s
after-life.

“Besides,” she remarked, “she is not the only orphan in the infirmary.”

“Why not call it a sick-room or sick-ward instead of that prison term?”
 asked John.

“It’s the name given to it by the governing body,” she replied.

After this John became a regular visitor. Every time he kicked his heels
for ten minutes in the shabby and depressing parlour and every time he
was received with glacial politeness by the Sister superintendent.
By blunt questioning he learned the history of the institution. The
Sisterhood of Saint Martha was an Angelican body with headquarters in
Kent, which existed for meditation and not for philanthropic purposes.
The creation and conduct of the orphanage had been thrust upon the
sisterhood by the will of a member long since deceased. It was unpopular
with the sisterhood, who resented it as an excrescence, but bore it as
an affliction decreed by divine Providence. Among the cloistered inmates
of the Kentish manor-house there was no fanatical impulse towards
Willesden.

They were good, religious women; but they craved retirement, and not
action, for the satisfying of their spiritual needs. Otherwise they
would have joined some other sisterhood in which noble lives are spent
in deeds of charity and love. But there are angels of wrath, angels of
mercy, and mere angels. These were mere angels. The possibility of being
chosen by the Mother Superior to go out into the world again and take
charge of the education, health, and morals of twenty sturdy and squalid
little female orphans lived an abiding terror in their gentle breasts. A
shipwrecked crew casting lots for the next occupant of the kettle could
suffer no greater pangs of apprehension than did the Sisters of Saint
Martha on the imminence of an appointment to the orphanage. They had
taken vows of obedience. The Mother Superior’s selection was final.
The unfortunate nominee had to pack up her slender belongings and go
to Willesden. Being a faulty human being (and none but a faulty,
unpractical, unsympathetic human being can want, in these days of
enlightenment, to shut herself up in a nunnery for the rest of her life,
with the avowed intention of never doing a hand’s turn for any one of
God’s creatures until the day of her death), she invariably regarded
herself as a holy martyr and ruled the poor little devils of orphans for
the greater glory of God (magnified entirely, be it understood, by her
own martyrdom) than for the greater happiness of the poor little devils.

Sister Theophila--in entering into religion the Protestant Sisters
changed the names by which they were known in the world, according to
the time-honoured tradition of an alien church--Sister Theophila, with
the temperament of the recluse, had been thrust into this position
of responsibility against her will. She performed her duties with
scrupulous exactitude and pious resignation. Her ideal of life was the
ascetic, and to this ideal the twenty orphans had to conform. She did
not love the orphans.

Her staff consisted of one matron, a married woman of a much humbler
class than her own. Possibly she might have loved the orphans had
she not seen such a succession of them, and her own work been less
harassing. Twenty female London orphans from disreputable homes are
a tough handful. When you insist on their conformity with the ascetic
ideal, they become tougher. They will not allow themselves to be loved.

“And ungrateful!” exclaimed the matron, one day when she was taking
Risca round the institution. He had expressed to Sister Theophila his
desire to visit it, and she, finding him entirely unsympathetic, had
handed him over to her subordinate. “None of them know what gratitude
is. As soon as they get out of here, they forget everything that has
been done for them; and as for coming back to pay their respects, or
writing a letter even, they never think of it.”

Kitchen, utensils, floors, walls, dormitory, orphans--all were
spotlessly clean, the orphans sluiced and scrubbed from morning to
night; but of things that might give a little hint of the joy of life
there was no sign.

“This is the infirmary,” said the matron, with her hand on the
door-knob.

“I should like to see it,” said John.

They entered. An almost full-grown orphan, doing duty as nurse, rose
from her task of plain sewing and bobbed a curtsy. The room was clean,
comfortless, dark, and cold. Two pictures, prints of the Crucifixion
and the Martyrdom of St. Stephen, hung on the walls. There were three
narrow, hard beds, two of which were occupied. Some grapes on a chair
beside one of them marked the patient in whom he was interested. John
noticed angrily that some flowers which he had sent the day before had
been confiscated.

“This is the gentleman who has been so kind to you,” said the matron.

Unity Blake looked wonderingly into the dark, rugged face of the man who
stood over her and regarded her with mingled pain and pity. They had not
told her his name. This, then, was the unknown benefactor whose image,
like that of some elusive Apollo, Giver of Things Beautiful, had haunted
her poor dreams.

“Can’t you say, ‘Thank you?’ “ said the matron.

“Thank you, sir,” said Unity Blake.

Even in those three words her accent was unmistakably cockney--as
unmistakably cockney as the coarse-featured, snub-nosed, common little
face. In happier, freer conditions she would have done her skimpy hair
up in patent curlers and worn a hat with a purple feather, and joined
heartily in the raucous merriment of her comrades at the pickle-factory.
Here, however, she was lying, poor little devil, thought Risca, warped
from childhood by the ascetic ideal, and wrecked body and spirit by
unutterable cruelty. In her eyes flickered the patient apprehension of
the ill-treated dog.

“I hope you will soon get better,” he said, with sickening knowledge of
that which lay hidden beneath the rough bedclothes.

“Yes, sir,” said Unity.

“It ‘s chiefly her nerves now,” said the matron. “She hollers out of
nights, so she can’t be put into the dormitory.”

“Do you like the things I send you?” asked John.

“Yes, sir.”

“Is there anything special you’d like to have?”

“No, sir.”

But he caught a certain wistfulness in her glance.

“She does n’t want anything at all,” said the matron, and the girl’s
eyelids fluttered. “She’s being spoiled too much as it is already.”

John bent his heavy brows on the woman. She spoke not shrewishly, not
unkindly, merely with lack of love and understanding. He repressed the
bitter retort that rose to his lips. But at the same time a picture rose
before him of another sick-room, a dainty sea-chamber open to sun
and sky, where pillows of down were not forbidden, where flowers and
exquisite colours and shapes gladdened the eye, where Love, great and
warm and fulfilling, hovered over the bed. No gulls with round, yellow
eyes came to the windows of this whitewashed prison with messages
from the world of air and sea; no Exquisite Auntship, no Great High
Favourite, no Lord High Constable, executed their high appointed
functions; no clock with chimes like a bell swung in a sea-cave told
the hours to this orphan child of misery. He realized in an odd way
that Stellamaris, too, was an orphan. And he remembered, from the awful
evidence, that this child was just over fifteen--Stella’s age.
Again rose the picture of the cherished one in her daintily ribboned
dressing-jacket, as filmy and unsubstantial as if made of sea-foam,
with her pure, happy face, her mysterious, brown pools of eyes, her
hair lovingly brushed to caressing softness; and he looked down on Unity
Blake. Man though he was, the bit of clean sail-cloth that did duty as a
nightgown moved his compassion.

He did his best to talk with her awhile; but it was a one-sided
conversation, as the child could reply only in monosyllables. The matron
fidgeted impatiently, and he said good-bye. Her wistful glance followed
him to the door. Outside he turned.

“There is just one thing I want to say to her.”

He left the matron and darted back into the room.

“I’m sure there must be something you would like me to bring you,” he
whispered. “Don’t be afraid. Any mortal thing.”

The child’s lips twitched and she looked nervously from side to side.

“What is it? Tell me.”

“Oh, sir,” she pleaded breathlessly, “might I have some peppermint
bull’s-eyes.”



When Herold returned to his dressing-room after the first act,--the
piece for which he had been rehearsing had started a successful
career,--he found Risca sitting in a straight-backed chair and smoking a
pipe.

“Hallo, John! I did n’t know you were in front. Why did n’t you tell me?
It’s going splendidly, is n’t it?”

He glowed with the actor’s excited delight in an audience’s enthusiastic
reception of a new play. His glow sat rather oddly upon him, for he was
made up as a decrepit old man, with bald wig, and heavy, blue patches
beneath his eyes.

“No, I’m not in front,” said John.

“I see now,” smiled Herold, glancing at his friend’s loose tweed suit.
No clothes morning or evening ever fitted Risca. Herold called him “The
Tailors’ Terror.”

“I want to talk to you, Wallie,” said he.

“Have a drink? No? I sha’ n’t want anything, Perkins,” said he to
the waiting dresser. “Call me when I ‘m on in the second act. I don’t
change,” he explained.

“I know,” said John. “That ‘s why I ‘ve come now.”

“What’s the matter?” Herold asked, sitting in the chair before the
dressing-table, bright with mirrors and electric lights and sticks of
grease paint and silver-topped pots and other paraphernalia.

“Nothing particular. Only hell, just as usual. I saw that child to-day.”

Herold lit a cigarette.

“Have you ever speculated on what becomes of the victims in cases of
this kind?” asked John.

“Not particularly,” said Herold, seeing that John wanted to talk.

“What do you think can become of a human creature in the circumstances
of this poor little wretch? Her childhood is one vista of bleak
ugliness. Never a toy, never a kiss, not even the freedom of the gutter.
Unless you ‘ve been there, you can’t conceive the soul-crushing despair
of that infernal orphanage. She leaves it and goes into the world.
She goes out of a kind of dreary Greek hades into a Christian hell. It
lasted for months. She was too ignorant and spiritless to complain, and
to whom was she to complain? Now she’s sent back again, just like a sick
animal, to hades. Fancy, they would n’t let her have a few flowers in’
the room! It makes me mad to think of it. And when she gets well again,
she ‘ll have to earn her living as a little slave in some squalid
Household. But what’s going to become of that human creature morally and
spiritually? That’s what I want to know.”

“It’s an interesting problem,” said Herold. “She may be either a
benumbed half-idiot or a vicious, vindictive she-brute.”

“Just so,” said John. “That is, if she goes to slave in some squalid
household. But suppose she were transferred to different surroundings
altogether? Suppose she had ease of life, loving care, and all the rest
of it?”

The senile travesty of Herold laughed.

“You want me to say that she may develop into some sort of flower of
womanhood.”

“Do you think she might?” John asked seriously. “My dear fellow,” said
Herold, “there are Heaven knows how many hundred million human beings
on the face of the earth, and every one of them is different from the
others. How can one tell what any particular young woman whom one does
n’t know might or might not do in given circumstances? But if you want
me to say whether I think it right for you to step in and look after the
poor little devil’s future, then I do say it’s right. It ‘s stunning of
you. It’s the very best thing you can do. It will give the poor little
wretch a chance, at any rate, and will give you something outside
yourself to think of.”

“I was going to do it whether you thought it right or not,” said Risca.

Herold laughed again. “For a great, hulking bull of a man you ‘re
sometimes very feminine, John.”

“I wanted to tell you about it, that ‘s all,” said Risca. “I made up my
mind this afternoon. The only thing is what the deuce am I to do with a
child of fifteen in Fenton Square?”

“Is she pretty?”

“Lord, no. Coarse, undersized little cockney, ugly as sin.”

“Anyhow,” said Herold, extinguishing his cigarette in the ash-tray,
“it’s out of the question.” He rose from his chair. “Look here,” he
cried with an air of inspiration, “why not send her down to The Channel
House?”

“I’m not going to shift responsibilities on to other people’s
shoulders,” John growled in his obstinate way. “This child ‘s my
responsibility. I ‘m going to see her through somehow. As to Southcliff,
you must be crazy to suggest it. What’s to prevent her, one fine
day, from getting into Stella’s room and talking? My God! it would be
appalling!”

Herold agreed. He had spoken thoughtlessly.

“I should just think so,” said Risca. “The idea of such a tale of horror
being told in that room--”

The dresser entered. “Miss Mercier has just gone on, sir.”

“Well, just think out something else till I come back,” said Herold. “At
any rate, Fenton Square won’t do.”

He left John to smoke and meditate among the clothes hanging up on pegs
and the framed photographs on the walls and the array of grease paints
on the dressing-table. John walked up and down the narrow space in great
perplexity of mind. Herold was right. He could not introduce Unity Blake
into lodgings, saying that he had adopted her. Landladies would not
stand it. Even if they would, what in the world could he do with her?
Could he move into a house or a flat and persuade a registry-office
to provide him with a paragon of a housekeeper? That would be more
practicable. But, even then, what did he know of the training, moral and
spiritual, necessary for a girl of fifteen? He was not going to employ
her as a servant. On that he was decided. What sort of a position she
should have he did not know; but her floor-scrubbing, dish-scraping days
were over. She should have ease of life and loving care--his own phrase
stuck in his head--especially loving care; and he was the only person in
the world who could see that she got it. She must live under his roof.
That was indisputable. But how? In lodgings or a flat? He went angrily
round and round the vicious circle.

When Herold returned, he dragged him round and round, too, until Perkins
appeared to help him to change for the third act. Then John had to stop.
He clapped on his hat. He must go and work.

“And you have n’t a single suggestion to make?” he asked.

“I have one,” said Herold, fastening his shirt-studs while Perkins was
buttoning his boots. “But it’s so commonplace and unromantic that you ‘d
wreck the dressing-room if I made it.”

“Well, what is it?” He stood, his hand on the door-knob.

“You ‘ve got a maiden aunt somewhere, have n’t you?”

“Oh, don’t talk rot!” said John. “I’m dead serious.”

And he went out and banged the door behind him. He walked the streets
furiously angry with Herold. He had gone to consult him on a baffling
problem. Herold had suggested a maiden aunt as a solution. He had but
one, his mother’s sister. Her name was Gladys. What was a woman of over
fifty doing with such an idiot name? His Aunt Gladys lived at Croydon
and spent her time solving puzzles and following the newspaper accounts
of the doings of the royal family. She knew nothing. He remembered when
he was a boy at school coming home for the holidays cock-a-whoop at
having won the high jump in the school athletics sports. His Aunt
Gladys, while professing great interest, had said, “But what I don’t
understand, dear, is--what do you get on to jump down from?” He had
smiled and explained, but he had felt cold in the pit of his stomach. A
futile lady. His opinion of her had not changed. In these days John was
rather an intolerant fellow.

Chance willed it, however, that when he reached Fenton Square he found
a letter which began “My dearest John” and ended “Your loving Aunt
Gladys.” And it was the letter of a very sweet-natured gentlewoman.

John sat down at his desk to work, but ideas would not come. At last
he lit his pipe, threw himself into a chair in front of the fire, and
smoked till past midnight, with his heavy brows knitted in a tremendous
frown.



CHAPTER VI

THE same frown darkened Risca’s brow the next day as he waited for
admittance at his Aunt Gladys’s door. It was such a futile little door
to such a futile little house; he could have smashed in the former with
a blow of his fist, and he could have jumped into the latter through the
first-floor windows. With his great bulk he felt himself absurdly out
of scale. The tragedy looming huge in his mind was also absurdly out
of scale with his errand. The house was one of a row of twenty
perky, gabled, two-storied little villas, each coyly shrinking to
the farthermost limit of its tiny front garden, and each guarding the
privacy of its interior by means of muslin curtains at the windows, tied
back by ribbons, the resultant triangle of transparency being obscured
by a fat-leafed plant. The terrace bore the name of “Tregarthion
Villas,” and the one inhabited by Miss Lindon was called “The Oaks.” It
was a sham little terrace full of sham little gentilities. John hated
it. What could have induced his mother’s sister to inhabit such a sphere
of flimsiness?

Flimsiness, also, met him inside, when he was shown through a
bamboo-furnished passage into a gimcrack little drawing-room. He tried
several chairs dubiously with his hand, shook his head, and seated
himself on a couch. Everything in the room seemed flimsy and futile.
He had the impression that everything save a sham spinning-wheel and a
half-solved jig-saw puzzle on the little table was draped in muslin and
tied up with pink ribbons. A decrepit black-and-tan terrier, disturbed
in his slumbers in front of the fire, barked violently. A canary in a
cage by the window sang in discordant emulation. John poised his hat and
stick on the curved and slippery satin-covered couch, and they fell with
a clatter to the floor. The frown deepened on his brow. Why had he come
to this distracting abode of mindlessness? He wished he had brought
Herold gyved and manacled. What with the dog and the canary and the
doll’s-house furniture, the sensitive and fastidious one would have gone
mad. He would have gloated over his ravings. It would have served him
right.

The door opened suddenly, the draught blowing down a fan and a
photograph-frame, and Miss Lindon entered.

“My dear John, how good of you to come and see me!”

She was a fat, dumpy woman of fifty, lymphatic and, at first sight,
characterless. She lacked colour. Her eyes were light, but neither blue
nor green nor hazel; her straight hair was of the nondescript hue of
light-brown hair turning gray. Her face was fleshy and sallow, marked by
singularly few lines. She had lived a contented life, unscarred by care
and unruffled by desire. Her dreams of the possibilities of existence
did not pierce beyond the gimcrackeries of Tregarthion Villas. As
for the doings of the great world,--wars, politics, art, social
upheavals,--she bestowed on them, when they were obtruded on her notice,
the same polite and unintelligent interest as she had bestowed on her
nephew’s athletic feats in the days gone by.

However, she smiled very amiably at John, and reached up to kiss him
on both cheeks, her flabby, white hands lightly resting on each
coat-sleeve. Having done this, she caught up the barking dog, who
continued to growl from the soft shelter of arm and bosom with the
vindictiveness of pampered old age.

“Naughty Dandy! I hope you were n’t frightened at him, John. He never
really does bite.”

“What does he do then? Sting?” John asked with gruff sarcasm.

“Oh, no,” said Miss Lindon, round-eyed; “he ‘s quite harmless, I assure
you. Don’t you remember Dandy? But it’s a long time since you ‘ve been
to see me, John. It must be three or four years. What have you been
doing all this time?”

Her complacency irritated him. The canary never ceased his ear-splitting
noise. The canary is a beautiful, gentle bird--stuffed; alive, he is
pestilence made vocal. Risca lost his temper.

“Surely you must know, Aunt Gladys. I ‘ve been wandering through hell
with a pack of little devils at my heels.”

Startled, she lifted up her arms and dropped Dandy, who slithered down
her dress and sought a morose shelter under the table.

“My dear John!” she exclaimed.

“I’m very sorry; I did n’t mean to use strong language,” said he,
putting his hands to his ears. “It’s all that infernal canary.”

“Oh, poor Dickie! Don’t you like to hear Dickie sing? He sings so
beautifully. The gas-man was here the other day and said that, if I
liked, he would enter him for a competition, and he was sure he would
get first prize. But if you don’t like to hear him, dear--though I
really can’t understand why--I can easily make him stop.” She drew a
white napkin from the drawer of the table on which the cage was placed
and threw it over the top. The feathered steam-whistle swallowed his din
in an angry gurgle or two and became silent “Poor Dickie, he thinks it
‘s a snowstorm! What were we talking about, John? Do sit down.”

John resumed his seat on the slippery couch, and Miss Lindon, having
snatched Dandy from his lair, sat by his side, depositing the dog
between them.

“You asked me what I had been doing for the last few years,” said he.

“Ah, yes. That ‘s why I wrote to you yesterday, dear.”

She had written to him, in fact, every month for many years, long,
foolish letters in which everything was futile save the genuine
affection underlying them, and more often than not John had taken
them as read and pitched them into the waste-paper basket. His few
perfunctory replies, however, had been treasured and neatly docketed and
pigeon-holed in the bureau in her bedroom, together with the rest of her
family archives and other precious documents. Among them was a famous
recipe for taking mulberry stains out of satin. That she prized
inordinately.

“I should n’t like to drift apart from dear Ellen’s boy,” she said with
a smile.

“And I should n’t like to lose touch with you, my dear aunt,” said John,
with more graciousness. “And that is why I’ve come to see you to-day.
I’ve had rather a bad time lately.”

“I know--that awful case in the papers.” She shivered. “Don’t let us
talk of it. You must try to forget it. I wrote to you how shocked I was.
I asked you to come and stay with me, and said I would do what I could
to comfort you. I believe in the ties of kinship, my dear, and I did n’t
like to think of you bearing your trouble alone.”

“That was very kind indeed of you,” said John, who had missed the
invitation hidden away in the wilderness of the hastily scanned
sixteen-page letter. He flushed beneath his dark skin, aware of
rudeness. After all, when a lady invites you to her house, it is boorish
to ignore the offered hospitality. It is a slight for which one can
scarcely apologize. But she evidently bore him no malice.

“It was only natural on my part,” she said amiably. “I shall never
forget when poor Flossie died. You remember Flossie, don’t you? She used
to look so pretty, with her blue bow in her hair, and no one will ever
persuade me that she was n’t poisoned by the people next door; they were
dreadful people. I wish I could remember their name; it was something
like Blunks. Anyhow, I was inconsolable, and Mrs. Tawley asked me to
stay with her to get over it. I shall never forget how grateful I
was. I’m sure you ‘re looking quite poorly, John,” she added in her
inconsequent way. “Let me get you a cup of tea. It will do you good.”

John declined. He wanted to accomplish his errand, but the longer he
remained in the company of this lady devoid of the sense of values, the
more absurd did that errand seem. A less obstinate man than he would
have abandoned it, but John had made up his mind to act on Herold’s
suggestion, although he mentally bespattered the suggester with varied
malediction. He rose and, making his way between the flimsy chairs and
tables, stood on the hearth-rug, his hands in his pockets. Unconsciously
he scowled at his placid and smiling aunt, who remained seated on the
couch, her helpless hands loosely folded on her lap.

“Did you ever hear of a child called Unity Blake?”

“Was that the girl--”

“Yes.”

“What an outlandish name! I often wonder how people come to give such
names to children.”

“Never mind her name, my dear aunt,” said John, gruffly. “I want to tell
you about her.”

He told her--he told her all he knew. She listened, horror-stricken,
regarding him with open mouth and streaming eyes.

“And what do you think is my duty?” asked John, abruptly.

Miss Lindon shook her head. “I ‘m sure I don’t know what to advise
you, dear. I ‘ll try to find out some kind Christian people who want a
servant.”

“I don’t want any kind Christian people at all,” said John. “I’m going
to make up in ease and happiness for all the wrongs that humanity has
inflicted on her. I am going to adopt her, educate her, fill her up with
the good things of life.”

“That’s very fine of you, John,” said Miss Lindon. “Some people are
as fond of their adopted children as of their own. I remember Miss
Engleshaw adopted a little child. She was four, if I remember right,
and she used to dress her so prettily. I used to go and help her choose
frocks. Really they were quite expensive. Now I come to think of
it, John, I could help you that way with little Unity. I don’t think
gentlemen have much experience in choosing little girls’ frocks. How old
is she?”

“Nearly sixteen,” said John.

“That’s rather old,” said Miss Lindon, from whose mind this new interest
seemed to have driven the tragic side of the question. “It’s a pity you
could n’t have begun when she was four.”

“It is,” said John.

“Only if you had begun with her at four, you would n’t be wanting to
adopt her now,” said Miss Lindon, with an illuminating flash of logic.

“Quite so,” replied John.

There was a span of silence. John mechanically drew his pipe from his
pocket, eyed it with longing, and replaced it. Miss Lindon took the aged
black-and-tan terrier in her arms and whispered to it in baby language.
She was a million leagues from divining the object of her nephew’s
visit. John looked at her despairingly. Had she not a single grain of
common sense? At last he strode across the room, a Gulliver in a new
Lilliput, and sat down again by her side.

“Look here, ‘Aunt Gladys,” he said desperately, “if I adopt a young
woman of sixteen, I must have another woman in the house--a lady, one
of my own family. I could n’t have people saying horrid things about her
and me.”

Miss Lindon assented to the proposition. John was far too young and
good-looking (“Oh, Lord!” cried John)--yes, he was--to pose as the
father of a pretty, grown-up young woman.

“The poor child is n’t pretty,” said he.

“It does n’t matter,” replied Miss Lindon. “Beauty is only skin deep,
and I ‘ve known plain people who are quite fascinating. There was
Captain Brownlow’s wife--do you remember the Brownlows? Your poor mother
was so fond of them--”

“Yes, yes,” said John, impatiently. “He had wet hands, and used to mess
my face about when I was a kid. I hated it. The question is, however,
whom am I going to get to help me with Unity Blake?”

“Ah, yes, to be sure. Poor little Unity! You must bring her to see me
sometimes. Give me notice, and I ‘ll make her some of my cream-puffs.
Children are always so fond of them. _You_ ought to remember my
cream-puffs.”

“Good heavens!” he cried, with a gesture that set the dog barking.
“There ‘s no question of cream-puffs. Can’t you see what I’m driving at?
I want you to come and keep house for me and help me to look after the
child.”

He rose, and his great form towered so threateningly over her that Dandy
barked at him with a toy terrier’s furious and impotent rage.

“I come and live with you?” gasped Miss Lindon.

[Illustration: 0094]

“Yes,” said John, turning away and lumbering back to the fireplace. The
dog, perceiving that he had struck terror into the heart of his enemy,
dismissed him with a scornful snarl, and curled himself up by the side
of his stupefied mistress.

It was done; the proposal had been made, according to the demands of his
pig-headedness. Now that he had made it, he realized its insanity. He
contrasted this home of flim-flammeries and its lap-dogs and canaries
and old-maidish futilities with his own tobacco-saturated and
paper-littered den; this life of trivialities with his own fighting
career; this incapacity to grasp essentials with his own realization of
the conflict of world-forces. The ludicrous incongruity of a partnership
between the two of them in so fateful a business as the healing of a
human soul appealed to his somewhat dull sense of humour. The whole idea
was preposterous. In his saturnine way he laughed.

“It’s rather a mad notion, is n’t it?”

“I don’t think so at all,” replied Miss Lindon in a most disconcertingly
matter-of-fact tone. “The only thing is that since poor papa died I’ve
had so little to do with gentlemen, and have forgotten their ways.
You see, dear, you have put me quite in a flutter. How do I know, for
instance, what you would like to have for breakfast? Your dear
grandpapa used to have only one egg boiled for two minutes--he was
most particular--and a piece of dry toast; whereas I well remember
Mrs. Brownlow telling me that her husband used to eat a hearty meal of
porridge and eggs and bacon, with an underdone beefsteak to follow. So
you see, dear, I have no rule which I could follow; you would have to
tell me.”

“That’s quite a detail,” said John, rather touched by her unselfish,
if tangential, dealing with the proposal. “The main point is,” said he,
moving a step or two forward, “would you care to come and play propriety
for me and this daughter of misery?”

“Do you really want me to?”

“Naturally, since I ‘ve asked you.”

She rose and came up to him. “My dear boy,” she said with wet eyes, “I
know I’m not a clever woman, and often when clever people like you talk,
I don’t in the least understand what they ‘re talking about; but I did
love your dear mother with all my heart, and I would do anything in the
wide world for her son.”

John took her hand and looked down into her foolish, kind face, which
wore for the moment the dignity of love. “I’m afraid it will mean an
uprooting of all your habits,” said he, in a softened voice.

She smiled. “I can bring them with me,” she said cheerfully. “You won’t
mind Dandy, will you? He’ll soon get used to you. And as for Dickie,”
 she added, with a touch of wistfulness, “I ‘m sure I can find a nice
home for him.”

John put his arm round her shoulder and gave her the kiss of a shy bear.

“My good soul,” he cried, “bring fifty million Dickies if you like.” He
laughed. “There’s nothing like the song of birds for the humanizing of
the cockney child.”

He looked around and beheld the little, gimcrack room with a new vision.
After all, it was as much an expression of her individuality, and as
genuine in the eyes of the high gods, as Herold’s exquisitely furnished
abode was of Herold’s, or the untidy jumble of the room in Fenton Square
was of his own. And all she had to live upon was a hundred and fifty
pounds a year, and no artistic instincts or antecedents whatsoever.

“I feel a brute in asking you to give up this little place now that
you’ve made it so pretty,” he said.

Her face brightened at the praise. “It is pretty, is n’t it?” Then she
sighed as her eyes rested fondly on her possessions. “I suppose it would
be too tiny for us all to live here.”

“I’m afraid it would,” said John. “Besides, we must live in London, on
account of my work.”

“In London?”

Miss Lindon’s heart sank. She had lived in suburbs all her life, and
found Croydon--the Lord knows why--the most delectable of them all. She
had sat under Mr. Moneyfeather of Saint Michael’s for many years--such
a dear, good man who preached such eloquent sermons! You could always
understand him, too, which was a great comfort. And the church was just
round the corner. In London folks had to go to church by omnibus, a most
unpleasant and possibly irreverent prelude to divine worship. Besides,
when you did get to the sacred edifice, you found yourself in a
confusing land where all the clergy, even to the humblest deacon,
were austere and remote strangers, who looked at members of their
congregation with glassy and unsympathetic eyes when they passed them
in the street. Here, in Croydon, on the contrary, when she met Mr.
Moneyfeather in public places, he held her hand and patted it and
inquired affectionately after Dandy’s health. With a London vicar she
could not conceive the possibility of such privileged terms of intimacy.
London, where you did not know your next-door neighbor, and where you
took no interest in the births of babies over the way; where no one
ran in for a gossip in the mornings; where every street was a clashing,
dashing High Street.

But though her face pictured her dismay, she was too generous to
translate it into words. John never guessed her sacrifice.

“We ‘ll go somewhere quiet,” said he, after a while.

“We ‘ll go wherever you like, dear,” replied Miss Lindon, meekly, and
she rang the bell for tea.

The main point decided, they proceeded to discuss the details of the
scheme, the minds of each suffused in a misty wonder. If John had told
the simple lady that she could serve him by taking command of a cavalry
regiment, she would have agreed in her unselfish fashion, but she would
have been not a whit more perplexed at the prospect. As for John he had
the sensation of living in a fantastic dream. A child of six would have
been a more practical ally. In the course of befogged conversation,
however, it was arranged that Miss Lindon should transfer to the new
house her worldly belongings, of which she was to give him an inventory,
including Dandy and Dickie and her maid Phoebe, a most respectable
girl of Baptist upbringing, who had been cruelly jilted by a prosperous
undertaker in the neighborhood, whom, if you had seen him conducting a
funeral, you would have thought as serious and God-fearing a man as the
clergyman himself; which showed how hypocritical men could be, and how
you ought never to trust to appearances. It was also settled that, as
soon as Unity could be rescued from the guardianship of the orphanage
authorities and comfortably installed in a convalescent home by the
seaside, Miss Lindon would journey thither in order to make her ward’s
acquaintance. In the meanwhile John would go house-hunting.

“Walter Herold will help me,” said John.

“That’s your friend who acts, is n’t it?” said Miss Lindon. “I have n’t
any objection to theatres myself. In fact, I often used to go to see
Irving when I was young. You meet quite a nice class of people in the
dress-circle. But I don’t think ladies ought to go on the stage. I hope
Mr. Herold won’t put such an idea into Unity’s head.”

“I don’t think he will,” said John.

“Young girls are sometimes so flighty. My old friend Mrs. Willcox had
a daughter who went on the stage, and she married an actor, and now has
twelve children, and lives in Cheshire. I was hearing about her only the
other day. I suppose Unity will have to be taught music and drawing and
French like any other young lady.”

“We might begin,” replied John, “with more elementary accomplishments.”

“I could teach her botany,” said Miss Lindon, pensively. “I got first
prize for it at school. I still have the book in a cupboard, and I
could read it up. And I’m so glad I have kept my two volumes of pressed
flowers. It’s quite easy to learn, I assure you.”

“I’m afraid, my dear,” said John, “you ‘ll first have to teach her to
eat and drink like a Christian, and blow her nose, and keep her face
clean.”

“Ah, that reminds me. My head’s in a maze, and I can’t think of
everything at once, like some clever people. What kind of soap do
gentlemen use? I ‘ll have to know, so as to supply you with what you
like.”

“Any old stuff that will make a lather,” said John, rising.

“But some soaps are so bad for the skin,” she objected anxiously.

“Vitriol would n’t hurt my rhinoceros hide.”

He laughed, and held out his hand. Further discussion was useless.

Miss Lindon accompanied him to the front gate and watched him stride
down the perky terrace until he disappeared round the corner. Then she
went slowly into the house and uncovered the canary, who blinked at her
in oblique sullenness, and did not respond to her friendly “cheep” and
the scratching of her finger against the rails of his cage. She turned
to Dandy, who, snoring loud, was equally unresponsive. Feeling lonely
and upset, she rang the bell.

“Phoebe,” she said, when the angular and jilted maid appeared, “we are
going to keep house for my nephew, Mr. Risca, and a young lady whom
he has adopted. Will you tell me one thing? Is the lady of the house
supposed to clean the gentlemen’s pipes?”

“My father is a non-smoker, as well as a teetotaler, miss,” replied
Phoebe.

“Dear me!” murmured Miss Lindon. “It’s going to be a great puzzle.”



CHAPTER VII

IT was a puzzle to John as much as to the palpitating lady, and in the
maze of his puzzledom the gleam of humour that visited him during
their interview lost its way. Walter Herold’s eyes, however, twinkled
maliciously when he heard John’s account at once rueful and pig-headed.
Then he grew serious.

“It will be comic opera all the time. It can’t be done.”

“It ‘s going to be done,” said John, obstinately. “There’s nothing else
to do. If I were a rich man, I could work wonders with a scratch in my
cheque-book. I could hire an unexceptionable colonel’s or clergyman’s
widow to do the business. But I’m not. How I’m going to get the house
together, as it is, I don’t know. Besides,” he added, turning with some
savageness on his friend, “if you think it a comic-opera idea, kindly
remember it was you who started it.”

Though Herold was silenced for the moment, to the back of his mind still
clung the first suggestion he had made. It was the common-sense
idea that, given a knowledge of John’s relations with the Southcliff
household, would have occurred to anybody. John had it in his power to
befriend the unhappy child without trying the rash experiment of raising
her social status. Wherein lay the advantage of bringing her up as
a lady? A pampered maid in a luxurious home does not drag out the
existence of a downtrodden slave. Such have been known to smile and
sing, even to bless their stars, and finally to marry a prince in
grocer’s disguise, and to live happy ever afterwards. With John’s
description of the girl’s dog-like eyes in his memory, Herold pictured
her as a devoted handmaiden to Stellamaris, a romantic, mediaeval
appanage of the sea-chamber. What more amazingly exquisite destiny could
await not only one bred in the gutter, but any damsel far more highly
born? Her silence as to the past could be insured under ghastly
penalties which would have no need of imagination for their appeal. That
of course would be an ultimate measure. He felt certain that a couple
of months’ probation in the atmosphere of the Channel House would compel
any human being not a devil incarnate to unthinking obedience to the
Unwritten Law. By following this scheme, Unity would achieve salvation,
Stellamaris acquire a new interest in life, and John himself be saved
not only from financial worries, but from grotesquely figuring in comic
opera. As for Miss Lindon, he felt certain that she would fall down on
her knees and offer up thanksgivings to the God of her grandmothers.

But of this scheme John would hear no word. He bellowed his disapproval
like an angry bull, rushed out, as it were, with lowered head, into the
thick of house-agents, and before Herold could catch him in a milder
humour he had signed the lease of a little house in Kilburn, overlooking
the Paddington Recreation Ground. By the time it was put in order and
decorated, he declared, Unity would be in a fit condition to take up her
abode there with Miss Lindon and himself.

“Where is this convalescent home you ‘re going to send her to?” asked
Herold.

John did not know. A man could not attend to everything at once. But
there were thousands. He would find one. Then, it being the end of the
week, he went down to the Channel House, where, by the midnight train on
Saturday, Herold joined him.

It was Herold who laid John’s rash project before Sir Oliver and Lady
Blount.

“Why in the world,” cried the latter, checking the hospitable flow
of tea from the teapot and poising it in mid air--they were at
breakfast--“why in the world does n’t he send the child to us?”

John, in desperation, went over his arguments. The discussion grew
heated. Sir Oliver, with a twirl of his white moustache, gave him to
understand that to take folks out of the station to which it had pleased
God to call them was an act of impiety to which he, Sir Oliver, would
not be a party. His wife, irritated by her husband’s dictatorial manner,
demurred to the proposition. John had every right to do as he liked. If
you adopted a child, you brought it up as a matter of course in your
own rank in life. Why adopt it? Why not? They bickered as usual. At last
John got up in a fume and went to cool his head in the garden. It was
outrageous that he should never be allowed to mismanage his own affairs.
There was the same quarreling interference when he proposed to go to
Australia. He lit his pipe and puffed at it furiously. After a while
Lady Blount joined him. She declared herself to be on his side; but, as
in most sublunary things, there was a compromise.

“At any rate, my dear John, give your friends a little chance of helping
you,” she said. “If you set your face against Walter’s plan, at least
you can send the child down here to recuperate. Nurse Holroyd will keep
a trained eye on her, and she can play about the garden and on the beach
as much as she likes. I do understand what you ‘re afraid of with regard
to Stella--”

“Oliver and Walter are wooden-headed dolts,” cried John.

She smiled wifely agreement. “There need be no danger, I assure you. We
can give the child a room in the other wing, and forbid her the use of
Stella’s side of the house. Stella’s room will be guarded. You may trust
me. Have I ever failed yet? And Stella need never know of her presence
in the place. After all,” she continued, touching his coat-sleeve, “I
think I am a bit nearer to your life than your Aunt Gladys.”

John laughed at the flash of jealousy.

“If you put it that way, it’s very hard to refuse.”

“Then you ‘ll send her?”

He knocked the ashes out of his pipe against the heel of his boot, thus
hiding the annoyance on his face, but he yielded. “For her convalescence
only.”

The touch on his arm deepened into a squeeze.

“If you had said no, I should have been so hurt, dear.”

“I only want to do what’s decently right,” said he.

“I think you ‘re acting nobly,” she said.

“My dear Julia,” said he, “I’m not going to listen to infatuated
rubbish.”

He cast off her hand somewhat roughly, but continued to walk with her
up and down the terrace, talking intimately of his plans concerning the
adopted child and the psychological problem she presented. No man, in
his vain heart of hearts, really resents a woman calling him a noble
fellow, be she ten years old or his great-great-grandmother. They parted
soon afterward, Lady Blount to prepare herself for church, which Sir
Oliver and she attended with official regularity, and John to worship
in his own way--one equally acceptable, I should imagine, to the
Almighty--in the sea-chamber of Stellamaris.

He found Herold there, in the midst of a dramatic entertainment, with
Stellamaris and Constable for audience. How familiar and unchanging was
the scene! The great, bright room, the wood fire blazing merrily up the
chimney, the huge dog lifting his eyes and stirring his tail in welcome,
and against the background of sea and sky the fairy head on its low
pillow. Stella smiled, put a finger to her lips, and pointed to a chair.

“Go on,” she said to Herold.

“We ‘re in the middle of the first act, just before my exit,” said the
latter.

John became aware, as he listened, that Herold was sketching the piece
in which he was playing, a fragrant comedy full of delicate sentiment
and humour. His own scenes he acted in full, taking all the parts.
Stella lay entranced, and fixed on him glorious eyes of wonder. How
could he do it? At one astonishing moment he was a young girl, at
another her sailor sweetheart, at another a palsied, mumbling old man.
And when, as the old man, he took the weeping girl under his arm
and hobbled away on his stick, leaving the young fellow baffled and
disappointed, it seemed an optical illusion, so vivid was the picture.
He recrossed the room, smiling, the real Walter Herold again; Stella
clapped her hands.

“Is n’t he perfectly lovely!”

“Stunning,” said John, who had often witnessed similar histrionic
exhibitions in that room, and had always been impressed with their
exquisite art. “I wish you could see the real thing, dear.”

Stella glanced out to sea for a moment and glanced back at him.

“I don’t think I do,” she said. “It would be too real.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Herold clapped John on the shoulder. “Can’t you see what a subtle little
artistic soul she has?” he cried enthusiastically. “She has evolved for
herself the fundamental truth, the vital essence of all art--suggestion.
She means that, in order that the proper harmony should be established
between the artist and the person to whom he is making his appeal,
the latter must go a certain way to meet him. He must exercise his
imagination, too, on the same lines. The measure of your appreciation,
say, of Turner, is the length of the imaginative journey you make toward
him. When a thing needs no imaginative effort to get hold of it, it’s
not a work of art. You have n’t got to go half way to the housemaid
to realize a slice of bread and butter. That’s where so-called realism
fails. Stella ‘s’ afraid that if she saw us all in flesh and blood on
the stage, nothing would be left to her imagination. She’s right in
essence.”

Stella smiled on him gratefully. “That ‘s exactly how I feel, but I
could n’t have expressed it. How do you manage to know all these funny
things that go on inside me?”

“I wish I did,” said Herold, with a touch of wistfulness.

“But you do.” She turned to John. “Does n’t he, Belovedest?”

Herold glanced at the clock. “I must run. I promised Sir Oliver to go to
church. We ‘ll have the rest of the play this afternoon.”

“Why don’t you go to church, too?” Stella asked when Herold had gone.

“I ‘m not so good as Walter,” he replied.

“You are,” she cried warmly.

He shook his head. He knew that Herold’s churchgoing was not an act of
great spiritual devotion; for the Southcliff service was dull, and
the vicar, good, limited man, immeasurably duller. It was an act of
characteristic unselfishness: he went so as to be a buffer between
Sir Oliver and his wife, who invariably quarreled during their sedate,
official walk to and from morning service, and on this particular
occasion, with fresh contentious matter imported from the outside, were
likely to hold discourse with each other more than usually acrimonious.

“Walter’s a sort of saint,” said he, “who can hear the music of
the spheres. I can’t. I just jog along the ground and listen to
barrel-organs.”,

They argued the point for a while, then drifted back to Herold’s acting,
thence to the story of the play.

“I wonder what ‘s going to happen,” said Stella-maris. “If Dorothy does
n’t marry her sailor, I shall never get over it.”

John laughed. “Suppose the sailor turns out to be a dark, double-dyed,
awful villain?”

“Oh, he can’t; he’s young and beautiful.”

“Don’t you believe that beautiful people can be villains?”

“No,” said Stella; “it ‘s silly.” She looked for a while out to her
familiar sea, the source of all her inspiration, and her brows were
delicately knitted. “I may as well tell you,” she said at last with
great solemnity, “a conclusion I’ve come to after lots of thought--yes,
dear Belovedest, I lie here and think lots and lots--I don’t believe the
Bible is true.”

“My dear Stella!” he cried, scandalized. He himself did not believe
in the Jonah and whale story or in many other things contained in Holy
Writ, and did not go to church, and was sceptical as to existence of
anthropomorphous angels; but he held the truly British conviction of the
necessity of faith in the young and innocent. Stella having been bred
in the unquestioning calm of Anglican orthodoxy, her atheistical
pronouncement was staggering. “My dear Stella!” he cried. “The Bible not
true?”

She flushed. “Oh, I believe it’s all true as far as it goes,” she
exclaimed quickly. “But it ‘s not true about people to-day. All those
dreadful things that are told in it--the cruelty of Joseph’s brethren,
for instance--did happen; but they happened so long, long ago. People
have had lots and lots of time to grow better. Have n’t they?”

“They certainly have, my dear,” said John.

“And then Christ came to wash away everybody’s sins.”

“He did,” said John.

“So it seems to me we can disregard a great deal of religion. It does
n’t affect us. We are n’t good like the angels, I know,” she remarked
with the seriousness of a young disputant in the school of Duns Scotus;
“but men don’t kill each other, or rob each other, or be cruel to the
weak, and nobody tells horrible lies, do they?”

“I think we ‘ve improved during the last few thousand years,” said John.

“So,” said Stellamaris, continuing her argument, “as the fathers have
no particular sins, they can’t be visited much on the children. And
if there are no wicked people to go to hell, hell must be empty, and
therefore useless. So it’s no good believing in it.”

“Not the slightest good in the world,” said John, fervently.

“And now that everybody loves God,” she went on, “I don’t see what’s the
good of religion. I love you, Great High Belovedest, but there’s no need
for me to get a form of words to say ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you,’ all day
long. One’s heart says it.”

“What ‘s your idea of God, Stella dear?” he asked in a curiously husky
voice.

She beckoned to him. He drew his chair nearer and bent toward her. She
waved her fragile arms bare to the elbow.

“I think we breathe God,” she said.



John Risca went back to Fenton Square and breathed the ghosts of the
night-before-last’s sprats, and he journeyed to the Orphanage of Saint
Martha at Willesden and breathed the prison taint of that abode of
hopelessness, and he wrote hard at night in a tiny room breathing
the hot, electric atmosphere of a newspaper-office; and ever horribly
dominant in his mind was the woman whom once he had held in his arms,
who now performed degrading tasks in shameful outward investiture, and
inwardly lashed at him with malignant hatred through the distorted prism
of her soul, and he breathed the clammy dungeon atmosphere of his own
despair; and sitting at his writing-table one night, after having spent
the day in court listening to the loathsome details of a sickening
murder, a _crime passionnel_, with the shock of which the wide world was
ringing,--his American syndicate insisted on a vivid story, and he had
to earn the journalist’s daily bread,--the ignorant, fanciful words of
Stellamaris flashed through his mind--“I think we breathe God.” He threw
back his head and laughed aloud, and then let it drop upon his arms,
folded over his wet page of copy, and sobbed in a man’s dry-eyed agony
of spirit.

And as the prophet Elijah, when sore beset, found the Lord neither in
the wind nor in the earthquake nor in the fire, so did John Risca find
Him not in all these daily things through which he had passed. Life
was fierce, inhuman, a devastating medley of blind forces, making human
effort a vain thing, human aspiration a derision, faith in mankind a
grotesque savage Ju-ju superstition. There was no God, no beneficent
influence making order out of chaos; for it was all chaos. Jezebel and
her lusts and cruelties ruled the world--this cloaca of a world. Man
argues ever from particular to general, instinctively flying to the
illogic on which the acceptance of human life is based. To Risca,
at nine and twenty, his pain translated itself into terms of the
world-pain; and so will it happen to all generations of all the sons and
daughters of men.

After a while, as he sat there motionless, he grew aware of something
delicately soft touching his ear and hair. For a moment he had the
absurd fancy that Stellamaris stood beside him with caressing fingers.
It became so insistent that he dallied with it, persuaded himself that
she was there; he would have only to turn to see her in her childish
grace. He heard a sound as of murmured speech. She seemed to whisper of
quiet, far-off things. And then he seemed to hear the words: “The door
is open. Go out into the wide spaces under heaven.” He roused himself
with a start, and, looking about him, perceived that the door of his
sitting-room was indeed ajar, the ill-fitting old lock having slipped,
thus causing a draught, which poured over his head and shoulders. He
rose and clapped on his hat and went down-stairs. A ten-minutes’ trudge
on the pavements would clear his head for the work that had to be
accomplished. But on his doorstep he halted. Away above the housetops on
the other side of the dingy square sailed the full moon, casting a wake
of splendour along the edge of a rack of cloud. And below it swam a
single star.

He caught himself repeating stupidly, “Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.”
 With an impatient shake of the shoulders he went his way through the
narrow streets and emerged upon the broad and quiet thoroughfares
about the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. On Westminster Bridge the
startling silver of the moonlit river brought him to a stand. The same
glory was overspreading the mild sea below the windows of the Channel
House. Perhaps Stella even then lay awake, as she often did of nights,
and was watching it and was “breathing God.” A great longing arose
within him to stand on the beach beneath her window in the wide spaces
under heaven. So he walked on, thinking vaguely of Stellamaris and her
ways and mysteries, and reached his home again in a chastened mood. Like
Elijah, he had found God neither in the wind nor in the earthquake nor
in the fire; but who can tell whether he had not been brought into touch
with something of the divine by the still, small voice that came through
the draught of the crazy door?



CHAPTER VIII

THINGS happened as John and Lady Blount had planned them. Sister
Theophila, having satisfied herself that Unity Blake was not a second
time being thrown to the wolves--Lady Blount herself undertook the
negotiations--surrendered her without many regretful pangs. Unity Blake,
fatalistic child of circumstance, surrendered herself without coherent
thought. World authorities, vague in their nature, but irresistibly
compelling in their force, had governed her life from her earliest
years. The possibility of revolt, of assertion of her own individuality,
was undreamed of in her narrow philosophy. She had the outlook on life
of the slave; not the slave of the mettlesome temperament depicted by
the late Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe and the late Mr. Longfellow, but the
unaspiring deaf-mute of a barbaric harem. It is true that Lady Blount
asked her whether she would like to go away to a nice house by the
seaside, and afterward live for ever and ever with the kind gentleman
who gave her peppermint bull’s-eyes and the kind lady who had visited
her one day, bringing her a pair of woollen mittens, and that Unity,
after the manner of her class, had said, “Yes, ma’am”; but the
consultation of Unity’s wishes had been a pure formality. She had no
idea of what the seaside meant, having never seen the sea or speculated
on its nature. She could form no notion of her future life with the kind
lady and gentleman, save perhaps that the pokers of the establishment
might have other uses than as instruments of chastisement and that, at
any rate, they might be applied cold and not red-hot. If they had taken
her up without a word, and put her in an open coffin, and lowered
her into an open grave, and left her there, Unity would have made no
complaint, having at once no standard whereby to assess the right and
wrong done to her, and no tribunal to which she could appeal higher
than the vague world authorities above mentioned. The instinctive animal
might have clambered out of the pit and wandered about the country-side
in search of food and shelter, but that would have been all. The fervent
human soul would have played but a small part.

So one day the matron came and dressed her in the parody of attire which
she had worn during her lamentable excursion into the world, and men
carried her, a creature of no volition, down-stairs, and put her into
a cab with Lady Blount, and the two journeyed in a train for an hour or
so, Unity lying flat on her back along one side of the carriage, and the
lady sitting opposite, reading a magazine. The jolting of the train hurt
her, but that was not the lady’s fault. Sometimes the lady spoke to her,
and she said, “Yes, ma’am,” and, “No, ma’am,” as she had been taught to
do at the orphanage; but what the lady was saying she did not very well
understand. She grasped, however, the lady’s kindness of intention; and
now and then the lady, looking up from her magazine, smiled and nodded
encouragingly, an unfathomably mysterious proceeding, but curiously
comforting. On the opposite side of the compartment was the most
beautiful picture she had ever seen--lovely ladies in gorgeous raiment
and handsome gentlemen sitting at little lamp-lit tables, eating a
meal which chiefly consisted of scarlet birds; and there were other
gentlemen, not quite so handsome, hovering about with dishes and bottles
of wine; and the pillars of the hall were of pure marble, and the tops
of them gold, and the ceiling was golden, too. In the foreground sat
a peculiarly lovely lady in a red, low-cut frock, and an entrancingly
handsome gentleman, and they were bending over the table and he held
a wine-glass in his hand. Below she read the legend, “Supper at the
Coliseum Hotel.” She could scarcely keep her eyes off the picture. Lady
Blount, noticing her rapt gaze, questioned her, and from her answers it
was obvious that it was only the details that attracted her--the lovely
ladies, the handsome men, the glitter and colour of the preposterously
gaudy scene. The essence of it she did not grasp; her spirit was not
transported into the shoddy fairy-land; her imagination was untouched by
the potentialities of life which to a mind a little, a very little, more
awakened it might, with all its vulgar crudity, have suggested.

After the railway journey she was lifted into another cab, and taken
into a big house with wonderfully soft carpets and pictures on the
walls. They carried her into a pretty room that looked like a bower of
roses,--it had a rose-pattern wall-paper,--and from the window she could
see trees and a great rolling expanse of country. She wondered why the
place had no streets. They undressed her. A maid-servant, so trim and
spruce that she addressed her as “ma’am,” pointed to the heap of poor
garments and asked:

“What are we to do with these, my lady?”

“Bury them,” said Lady Blount.

“Ain’t I never going out again, ma’am?” Unity inquired humbly.

“Of course, child. But we’ll give you some decent clothes,” said Lady
Blount.

They put her in a bath and washed her. The soap smelled so good that
surreptitiously she got hold of the cake and nosed it like a young dog.
They dried her in warm towels, and slipped a night-dress over her meagre
shoulders. It was then, perhaps, that fingering the gossamer thing,
taking up a bunch of stuff in her fist and slowly letting it go, in a
dreamy wonder, she first began to realize that she was on the threshold
of a new life. Not even the soft bed or the delicious chicken-broth that
was brought later eclipsed the effect produced by the night-dress. It
had embroidery and all sorts of blue ribbons--an epoch-making garment.

Some time later, the maid, having drawn the curtains and smoothed her
pillow and tucked her in, said:

“If you want anything in the night, just touch that bell, and I ‘ll come
to you.”

Unity looked at her half comprehendingly. “Ring a bell? I should n’t
dare.”

“Why?”

“It’s only missuses that ring bells.”

“Those are Lady Blount’s orders, anyway,” laughed the maid. “’Ere,” said
Unity, with a beckoning finger. “What are they treating me like this
for?”

So might a succulently fed sailor have suspiciously interrogated one of
a cannibal tribe.

“How else would you want them to treat you?” asked the unpercipient
maid. “You ‘ve come down here to get well, have n’t you?” She bent down
and tied a loosened ribbon in a bow. “I declare if you have n’t got on
one of Miss Stella’s nighties!”

“Who is Miss Stella?” asked Unity.

“Miss Stella?” The maid stared. To be in the Channel House and not know
who Miss Stella was! “Miss Stella?” she repeated blankly. “Why, Miss
Stella, of course.”

The days passed quickly, and in the pure, strong air and under the
generous treatment Unity began to mend. She also began to form a dim
conception of Miss Stella. It was gradually borne in upon her mind that
not only the household, but the whole cosmic scheme, revolved round Miss
Stella. Sometimes they called her by another name, Stellamaris, which
sounded queer, like the names of princesses in the fairy-tales they had
given her to read. Perhaps this Miss Stella was a fairy-princess. Why
not? Thus it came to pass that even in the darkened mind of this child
of wretchedness Stellamaris began to shine with a lambent glow of
mystery.

Now and then the kind gentleman came to visit her, with gifts of
chocolates (as became her new es-tate), which she accepted meekly,
though in her heart she regretted the peppermint bull’s-eyes of fuller
and more satisfying flavour. She learned in course of time that he was
the husband of the woman whose image still brought sweating fright into
her dreams. To save her from waking terror, Lady Blount spent much time
and tact, enlisting her sympathy for John by convincing her that he
himself had received barbarous usage from the same abhorred hands.
Unity, whose habit of mind was to translate conceptions into terms of
the objective, wondered what form of physical torture was applied to
John. She pitied him immensely, but consoled herself by the reflection
that as he was very big and strong, his probable sufferings were not
inordinate. That so big and strong a man, however, should have suffered
unresistingly she could not understand.

“Why did n’t he wipe her over the ‘ed, m’ lady?” she asked simply. The
“m’ lady” was the result of the maid’s instructions.

Lady Blount administered the necessary linguistic corrections, and,
proceeding to the sociological side, informed her that gentlemen never
struck women, no matter how great the provocation. Unity was quick to
apply the proposition personally.

“Then Mr. Risca will never beat me, even if I do wrong?”

“Good Heavens! no, child,” cried Lady Blount, horrified. “Mr. Risca is
as gentle as a kitten. You should see him with Miss Stella.”

“Miss Stella loves him very much, m’ lady?”

“Of course she does.”

“And he loves her, too?”

“Everybody loves her,” said Lady Blount, tenderly. The next time that
John came to Southcliff he found a convalescent Unity. Dressmakers and
other fabricators of feminine raiment had been at work, and she was clad
in blouse and short serge skirt and her scanty, brown hair, instead of
being screwed up in a diminutive bun at the back of her head, was combed
and brushed and secured, after the manner of hair of young persons of
sixteen, with bows of ribbon. She stood gawkily before him, confused in
her own metamorphosis. At the orphanage she had worn the same uniform
from early childhood. During her excursion into the world she had
masqueraded as the grown woman. In the conventional attire of the
English school-girl she did not recognize herself. Her coarse hands,
scarcely refined by illness, hung awkwardly by her side. An appeal for
mercy hovered at the back’ of her dull and patient eyes. Despite the
trim dress and hair, she looked hopelessly unprepossessing, with
her snub nose, wide mouth, weak chin, and bulgy and shiny forehead.
Scragginess, too, had marked her for its own.

“Well, Unity,” said John, “so you ‘re up at last. Have you been in the
garden?”

She made the bob taught at the orphanage.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you ‘re feeling well and strong?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And don’t you think it’s a very lovely place?”

“Yes, sir,” said Unity.

They were always shy in each other’s company, question and answer being
the form of their conversation. John, who could talk all day long to
Stella, felt curiously constrained in the presence of this unfamiliar
type of humanity; and Unity, regarding him at the same time as a god who
had delivered her out of the House of Bondage and as a fellow-victim at
the hands of the Unspeakable, scarcely found breath for the utterance of
her monosyllables.

“Sit down and go on with your work,” said he. He had come upon her
as she sat by the window of her room sewing some household linen. She
obeyed meekly. He watched her busy, skilful fingers for some time.

“Do you like sewing?”

“Yes, sir; can sew beautiful.”

John lounged about the rose-covered room. What could he say next. On
previous visits he had discoursed on their proposed life together, and
she had been singularly unresponsive. He had also plugged her mind full,
as he hoped, of moral precepts which should be of great value hereafter.
But being no original aphorist, he had exhausted his ready-made stock.
He thrust his hands into his pockets and looked out of the window. The
little town of Southcliff lay hidden below the bluff, and all that he
saw was the Sussex weald lit by the May sunshine and rolling lazily
in pasture and woodland into the hazy distance. Within, the monotonous
scrabble of the needle going in and out of stiff material alone broke
the silence.

Presently the maid came in.

“Miss Stella’s compliments, sir, and if you ‘re disengaged, she would
like to speak to you for a minute.”

She had a habit of summoning thus politely, but autocratically, her high
ministers of state.

“I will come to Miss Stella immediately,” said John. He turned to Unity.
“Now that you can get about again, I suppose Lady Blount has told you
not to go to the other side of the house.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you understand why?”

She raised her eyebrows. Having lived under the despotism of the world
authorities, she had never dreamed of questioning the why and wherefore
of any ordinance.

“It ‘s forbidden, sir.”

“No one goes there without express invitation from Miss Stella,” said
John, indiscreetly. “If any one did, I don’t know what would happen to
him.”

He left her with a new idea in her confused little brain. Mr. Risca was
obviously speaking the truth, as he himself had just been summoned by
the mysterious princess. Unity knew that she was very beautiful and
lay all her life on a bed looking out to sea; that she was an angel of
goodness; that she was worshipped by the whole household, even by
the humbler members of the servants’ hall, who had never seen her. A
kitchen-maid summoned into the presence for the first time--it was a
question of the carriage of coal--decked herself out in her trimmest and
cleanest and departed on her errand with the beating heart of one who
approaches royalty. There was a tradition, too, that Miss Stella was
magically endowed with a knowledge of everything that went on in the
house and that nothing was done without her bidding and guidance.
Special flowers in the garden were grown for Miss Stella. Special fowls
in the poultry-yard laid eggs exclusively for Miss Stella. A day was
bright because Miss Stella had requested the sun to shine. Unity knew
all this, and when John went out, her heart began to flutter with a wild
hope. She laid her sewing in her lap and pictured the scene: the maid
would open the door. “Unity, Miss Stella desires to see you.” The
fairy-books said that you kissed a princess’s hand. I think this must
have been Unity Blake’s first day-dream. It was a sign of a spirit’s
emancipation.

The days passed, however, without the dream coming true. But she was
very humble. Why should Miss Stella want to see any one so ugly
and unimportant? Besides, the garden, with its walks and lawns and
shrubberies and great, green trees; the unimagined sea rolling from,
the purple rim far away, to dash itself in spray upon the shingle of
the beach; the almost terrifying freedom; the young animal’s unconscious
exultation in returning health; the feminine, instinctive delight in
tasteful dress; the singular absence of harsh, cold speech; the curious
privilege of satiating her young hunger at every meal--all these new
joys combined to protect her from disappointment. There was Constable,
too. At her first meeting with the great dog in the garden, she
was paralyzed with fright. He stood some way off, watching her with
pricked-up ears; then he walked slowly up to her, and smelled her all
over with awful gravity. She felt his cold nose touch her cheek. She
could not run. Every instant she expected him to open his huge mouth
and devour her. But after an eternity he turned away with a sniff, and
suddenly began to roll on his back, writhing his neck and body in
odd contortions and throwing up his great feet in the air. A gardener
appeared from a shrubbery close by, and Unity made a wild rush for
his protection. The man saw that she was frightened and reassured her.
Constable had only wanted to make certain that she was not a wicked
person come with intent to harm Miss Stella. He was Miss Stella’s own
dog, her bodyguard, who saw to it that no unauthorized person came into
her presence.

“He would be fierce then?” she asked.

The gardener was amused. “He ‘d gobble you up like winking.” He called
the dog, who rose in a dignified way from his gambol.

“Just pat him on the head, and don’t look afraid,” counselled the
gardener.

So Unity, taking courage, did as she was bidden, and Constable,
searching her soul with his wise eyes, admitted her to his friendship.
From that time she looked forward to her casual meetings with the dog,
although she always felt a certain awe at his strength and bulk, even
when he allowed her to be most familiar. And he was invested with a
human significance that also made for reverence. Gambol though he might,
like the friskiest and least responsible of lambs, he filled, in
the workaday hours of life, a post of extraordinary honour and
responsibility. He had his being in that inner shrine of mystery where
the fairy-princess dwelt; he guarded her most sacred body; he was her
most intimate friend and servant. Sometimes, holding the dog’s face
between her hands, she would ask a child’s question.

“What does she talk to you about? Why don’t you tell me?” And she would
whisper messages in his ear. Once she stuck a dandelion in his collar,
and bade him give it to his mistress with her love. Then frightened at
her own temerity, she took it back. The dream did not come true, but
Constable became a very substantial and comforting part of its fabric.

Then there was Walter Herold. He had the faculty of getting through
the deep-encrusted shell of apathy which baffled her other friends. His
quick, laughing eyes and sensitive face compelled confidence. He did not
wrap himself in the gloomy majesty of her protector, nor was he abrupt
and disconcerting like Sir Oliver. The iron repression of her life had
kept her dumb. Even now, when she took the initiative in conversation,
making a statement or asking a question instead of answering one,
instinct jerked her eyes from her interlocutor to space around, as
though in apprehension of the fall of an audacity-avenging thunderbolt.
Ignorant and inarticulate, she now had unjustly a reputation for
sullenness in the household. Keen and sympathetic as were Lady Blount
and the nurse, who had undertaken to give her elementary instruction in
personal and table manners, they could elicit nothing but commonplaces
from the chaotic mind. To Herold alone could the child that she was
chatter freely. She told him of her life at the orphanage, the daily
routine, the squabbles with school-mates. She spoke of her five-months’
inferno.

“But why did n’t you run out into the street and tell the first
policeman you met?”

“I was always ‘fraid of p’licemen. And ‘ow was I to know that was n’t
the regular thing in service? Where I came from, before I went to the
orphanage, everybody used to knock each other about. And sometimes they
used to beat us at the orphanage, but more often they put us in the cell
on bread and water. Most of the girls ‘drather to be licked. When I was
at Smith Street, I thought the cell heaven.” She paused for a moment,
and her eyes hardened evilly. “I’m jolly glad she’s in quod, though.
Will they beat her there?”

“No, my dear,” said Herold; “they ‘re trying to make her good.”

She laughed scornfully. “‘Er good? If I ‘d known then what I know now, I
‘d ‘ave poured scaldin’ water over her. S’welp me!”

“I’m very glad you did n’t, for you and I would n’t be sitting here now
by this beautiful sea.” He put his hand gently on her head. “Do you know
how you can repay all these people who are so kind to you?”

“No,” said Unity.

“By trying to forget everything that happened to you in the past. Don’t
think of it.”

“I must,” she replied in a dull, concentrated tone. “I should like to
have her ‘ere now and cut her throat.” Herold remonstrated, and talked
perhaps more platitudinously than was his wont. When he reported this
interview to John, for it was from Herold that he learned most of the
psychology of Unity Blake, John frowned.

“That’s a bad trait.”

“It will pass,” said Herold. “She has come from the dungeons into the
garden of life. She is for the first time just beginning to realize
herself as a human being. Naturally the savage peeps out. That will be
tamed. She has wonderful latent capacities for good. Already she has
invented a kind of religion with Stel-lamaris as divinity.”

“What does she know about Stella?” John asked roughly.

“Virtually everything,” laughed Herold. “We talk Stella interminably.
When she spoke of throat-cutting, I brought in Stella with great effect.
I made her go down on her knees on the big rock and look up at the
window and say, ‘Princess Stellamaris, I am a bad and wicked girl, and
I am very sorry.’ She looked so penitent, poor little kid, that I kissed
her.”

John laughed half contemptuously and then looked glum. “I can never get
a word out of her.”

“That’s not her fault,” said Herold. “She confuses you, in some way,
with God. And if you stand over her like an early Hebrew Jah in his
most direful aspect, you can’t expect the poor child to chirrup like a
grasshopper.”

“I ‘ll be glad when I get her under my own control,” said John.

And all this time, while she was being deified, Stel-lamaris remained
tranquilly unaware of the existence of her new devotee. The discipline
of the house was so rigid that not a hint or whisper reached the
sea-chamber. Perhaps Constable in his wistful, doggy way may have tried
to convey Unity’s messages, but how can a whine and a shake of the head
and a touch of the paw express such a terribly complicated thing as the
love of one human being for another? If only Unity had let the dandelion
remain, or had slipped a note under his collar, Constable would have
done his best to please. At any rate, as the days went on, he showed
himself more and more gracious to Unity.

Now it happened one Saturday morning that Stella-maris was wearing a
brand-new dressing-jacket. It was a wondrous affair of pale, shot silk
that shimmered like mother-of-pearl, and it had frills and sleeves of
filmy old Buckingham lace. More than ever did she look like some rare
and sweet sea-creature. The jacket had come home during the week, but
though it had been the object of her feminine delight, she had reserved
the great first wearing for Saturday and the eyes of her Great High
Belovedest. Her chances for coquetry were few. She surveyed herself in a
hand-mirror, and saw that she was fair.

“Constable,” she said, “if he does n’t think it perfectly ravishingly
beautiful, I shall die. You think it beautiful, don’t you?”

Constable, thus appealed to, rose from the hearthrug, stretched himself,
and, approaching, laid his head against his mistress’s cheek. Then, a
favourite habit, he put his forepaws on the edge of the bed, and stood
towering over the sacred charge and gazed with wrinkled brow across the
channel, as though scanning the horizon for hostile ships. He had done
this a thou-said times with no mishap. He would as soon have thought
of biting her as of putting a heavy paw on beloved body or limb. But on
this particular occasion the edge of the bed gave treacherous footing.
To steady himself, he shifted his left paw an inch nearer her arm, and
happened to strike the Buckingham lace.

“Down, Constable!” she cried.

He obeyed; but his claw caught in the lace, and away it ripped from the
shoulder.

“Oh, darling, you ‘ve ruined my beautiful jacket!”

Constable wagged his tail, and came up to be petted. A man would have
confounded himself in apologies, and made matters worse. In such a
circumstance the way of the dog may be recommended.

Stella rang the bell. The maid entered. Her Serene High-and-Mightiness
the nurse was summoned. Dismay reigned in the sea-chamber, The dressing
and undressing of Stellamaris was a tragic matter.

“If it ‘s not mended before Mr. Risca comes, my heart will break,” she
said.

The maid took the dressing-jacket and the torn lace down-stairs.
Inspecting them, she found the damage not irreparable. The rents might
be temporarily concealed from the unseeing eyes of man. But it would
take time. She was busy, in the midst of some work for her mistress.
Human nature asserting itself, she dratted Constable. On her way to her
room she glanced out of a window that overlooked the lawn. There, in the
May sunshine, sat Unity, hemming dusters. Now, Unity was made for higher
things of the needle than dusters. She had a genius for needlework. The
maid knew it. In a few moments, therefore, Unity had exchanged the dull
duster for the exquisite and thrilling garment, warm from the sweet body
of the Lady of Mystery herself. The maid brought the necessary battery
of implements with which such delicate repairs are executed, and left an
enraptured orphan on a rustic bench.

Unity set to work. The mending of torn lace is a ticklish affair under
the most prosaic of conditions: when goddesses and fairy-princesses and
Stellamarises are mixed up in it, the occupation absorbs mind and soul.
Unity’s first awakening to the fact of an outside world was effected by
a huge, grayish blue head thrust between her face and her needle. It was
Constable, who had been let loose for his morning frisk. She pushed him
away. Even the most majestic of Great Danes is moist about the jowl.
Suppose he dribbled on the sacred vesture! Marrow-freezing possibility!
She held his head at arm’s length, and bade him begone. But Constable
broke through her puny restraint and sniffed at the dressing-jacket.
He sniffed at it in so insistent and truculent a manner that Unity grew
frightened. She held the dressing-jacket high in the air.

“Just you clear out!” she cried and jerked the arm in an indiscreet
gesture. Whimsical fate decreed that it should slip through her fingers.
It fell on the lawn. She pounced. Constable pounced. He pounced first,
caught the jacket in his mouth, and trotted across the lawn. She
pursued. The trot became a loping gallop. She ran, she called. The
gutter child’s vernacular came to her aid; she called him unrecordable
things. Constable, whose ears had never been so shocked before, galloped
the faster. He bolted into the house, head erect, the body of the jacket
in his mouth, and a forlorn sleeve trailing on the ground. Unity pursued
breathless, in the awful excitement of despair. She had no idea
of place. Here was a horrible dog--he had lapsed utterly from
grace--robbing her of the only thing in her life that had been precious.
Her childish soul was concentrated on the rescue of the holy garment.
Constable darted with scrabbling pads up the stairs. On the landing he
halted for a moment, and, panting, looked down on her at the bottom of.
the flight. She crept up slowly, using hypocritical terms of endearment.
He cocked derisive ears. When she had reached half way, he tossed his
head and loped on down a corridor, up more stairs. In the house not a
soul was stirring, not a sound was heard save the dull thud of the dog’s
pads on the carpet. Outside a cuckoo expressed ironical views on the
situation. Once Unity nearly caught the robber, but he sprang beyond her
grasp.

At last he butted a door open with his head, and vanished. Unity
followed blindly, and stood transfixed a yard or two beyond the
threshold of the room.

It was a vast chamber, apparently all window and blue sky, and on a bed
by a window was a face framed in a mass of brown hair--the face of a
girl with beautiful eyes that looked at you like stars. To Unity it
seemed two or three miles from where she stood to the bedside. Constable
was there already, and he had surrendered the jacket. His tail wagged
slowly, and his head, with cocked ears, was on one side.

“Oh, Constable, it ‘s very good of you, but now you’ve done for my
jacket altogether! Why will you try to be a lady’s maid?”

It was the most exquisite voice in the world. Unity stood spellbound.
She realized that she had unwittingly penetrated into the Holy of
Holies. It was the princess herself.

“Who are you, my dear?” asked Stellamaris.

[Illustration: 0128]

Unity’s heart was beating. Her lips were dry; she licked them. She
made the orphan’s bob. Something stuck in her throat. Her head was in a
whirl.

“Unity, m’ lady,” she gasped.

A peal of little golden bells seemed to dance from corner to corner of
the vast room: it was Stellamaris laughing.

“I’m not ‘my lady.’ Only Aunt Julia is ‘my lady.’ But I’ve never seen
you before, dear. Where do you come from?”

Unity pointed. “Constable--the jacket--I was mending of it.”

Stellamaris at once appreciated the theatrical side of the situation.
She gripped the Great Dane by the dewlap in her fragile fingers.

“Oh, you silly dear Lord High Constable! It ‘s his scent,” she
explained. “Anything he finds in the house that I’ve worn, he always
brings me. Susan has to lock her door against him. You were mending my
lace?”

“In the garden.”

Stella laughed again. “Foolish Constable, I can see it all. What did you
say your name was, my dear?”

“Unity, m’ lady.”

“Then come here, Unity, and let us see whether Constable has utterly
ruined the jacket. I did so want to wear it this afternoon.”

Unity walked the two or three miles to the bedside, and took the jacket,
and held it up for the inspection of four rueful eyes. There were great
wet marks on it, of course, but these would dry. Otherwise no damage
was done, Constable having carried it as tenderly as a retriever does a
partridge.

“How old are you, Unity?” asked Stella.

“Nearly sixteen, m’ lady.”

“So am I. But how clever you must be to mend this! Now, when I try to
sew, I make great big stitches that every one laughs at.” She examined
the repairs that Unity had already executed. “I don’t know when I’ve
seen such beautiful work.”

Unity’s cheeks burned. Her heart was full. She could utter no word of
reply to such graciousness. Tears started into her eyes. Her nose began
to water; she wiped it with the back of her hand.

There was a swish of stiff skirts at the door. Unity turned guiltily and
beheld the nurse. Then, losing her head, she grabbed the dressing-jacket
and bolted like a frightened hare.

“What was that child doing in your room, darling?”

Stellamaris explained more or less to the nurse’s satisfaction.

“But who is she?”

Faithful to the Unwritten Law, the nurse lied.

“Just a little girl from the village who has come in for the day to help
with the sewing.”

“I should like to see her again,” said Stella.

“I’m sorry you can’t, darling.”

“Why?”

“She is going to London for good this afternoon.”

“I’m sorry,” said Stella.

And the word of the lie went forth, and to it were bound the entire
household from Sir Oliver to the kitchen-maid and John and Herold, when
they arrived for the week-end. Herold had no choice but the bondage, but
he sighed. It would have been better, he said, to bind Unity herself to
silence. Any fabric built of lies offended his fine sense. Beauty was
beauty, the highest good; but it must have truth as its foundation.
Beauty reared in falsehood was doomed to perish. The exquisiteness of
the Trianon ended in the tumbrils. The Tuileries fell in the cataclysm
of Sedan. Sometimes Herold played Cassandra, and on such occasions no
one paid any attention to his prophecies. He was disregarded now. For
the rest of her stay at the Channel House, Unity, as far as Stella was
concerned, had vanished into the unknown. No summons came to her from
the sea-chamber; but she had met her goddess face to face for a few
throbbing moments, and she fed on the blissful memory for many a long
day afterwards.



CHAPTER IX

MISS LINDON moved her goods and chattels, together with Dandy, Dickie,
and Phoebe, into the little house at Kilburn. John and Unity followed
with the furniture he had procured on the hire-purchase system for their
respective rooms, and the curtain was rung up on the comic opera.

Herold had vainly tried to guide his friend in the matter of furnishing;
but their ideas being in hopeless conflict, he had given up in despair.
John, by way of proving how far superior his methods were to Her-old’s,
rushed into a vast emporium, selected the insides of two bedrooms and
a library complete (as per advertisement), and the thing was done in
a couple of minutes. He girded triumphantly at Herold, who would have
taken two years. Miss Lindon approved his choice, everything was so
clean and shiny. She especially admired the library carpet (advertised
as Ax-minster), a square of amazing hues, mustard and green and magenta
predominant, the ruins of an earthquake struck by lightning. It gave,
she said, such brightness and colour to the room. To the bedrooms she
herself added the finishing touch and proudly led John up-stairs to
inspect them. He found his bed, wash-stand, toilet-table, and chairs
swathed in muslin and pink ribbon. His heart sank. This was a mania. If
she had owned a dromedary, she would have fitted it out with muslin and
ribbon. He glanced apprehensively at the water-jug; that alone stood in
its modest nudity. Miss Lindon beamed. Was n’t the room more homelike?
He had not the heart to do otherwise than assent.

“There ‘s one thing, my dear Miss Lindon, that John ‘s very particular
about,” said Herold, gravely, when he, in his turn, was shown over the
premises, with pomp and circumstance; “you must n’t put ribbons in his
pyjamas.”

Unity, whose early-discovered gift of the needle was requisitioned
for this household millinery, thought it all mighty fine. It had been
impressed upon her that she was no longer a guest, as at Southcliff, but
an inmate of the house, with a definite position. She had passed from
the legal guardianship of the Sisters of Saint Martha to that of Mr.
Risca. The house was her home, which she shared on equal terms with him
and Miss Lindon. She was no longer to call them “Sir” and “Ma’am.” Miss
Lindon took the child to her warm heart and became “Aunt Gladys.” She
suggested the analogous title for her nephew; but he put his foot down
firmly and declined to be called “Uncle John.” He said it was farcical,
subversive of the tragic dignity of the situation. She yielded
complacently without in the least understanding what he meant.

“But you must have some name, dear,” she pleaded. “Suppose she found
that the house was on fire: it might be burned to the ground before she
could settle how to call you.”

“Oh, let her call me Demosthenes,” he cried in desperation, taking up
his pen,--he had been interrupted in the middle of an article,--“and
also tell Her, my dear aunt, that, fire or no fire, if she comes into
this room while I ‘m writing, I ‘ll make her drink the ink-pot.”

It was eventually decided that to Unity he should be “guardian.” The
sacrosanctity of his library was also theoretically established. Unity,
accustomed to discipline, paid scrupulous observance to the taboo; but
Miss Lindon could never understand it. She would tap very gently at
John’s door, sometimes three or four times before he heard. At his “Come
in,” she would enter, manipulating the door-knob so as to make no noise,
and would creep on tiptoe across the resplendent carpet.

“Now, I’m not going to disturb you, dear. Please go on writing. I only
want to say that I’m ordering some tooth-stuff for Unity, and I don’t
know whether to buy paste or powder.”

“Give her what you use yourself, my dear aunt.”

Then would follow a history of her dentist. Such a gentlemanly man; in
great trouble, too; he had just lost his fourth wife. John glared at
his copy. “Careless fellow!” he growled. Many of his witticisms were at
second hand.

“Indeed he’s not. He’s most careful, I assure you. I would recommend him
to anybody.”

And so forth and so forth, until John would rise and, taking her by
her plump shoulders and luring her across the threshold, lock the door
against her.

“She will drive me into a mad-house,” he complained to Herold. “I want
to murder her and hug her at the same instant.”

In its primitive essentials, however, the comic-opera life was not
impossible to the man of few material demands: he slept in a comfortable
bed, his bath was filled in the mornings, wholesome food, not too
fantastic, was set before him. The austere and practical Phoebe saw
to these important matters. It was in the embroidery of life that the
irresponsible grotesque entered. It took many weeks to persuade Miss
Lindon that it was not her duty, if he was out of an evening, to wait
up until his return. It was for her to look after his well-being. Before
going to bed he might want hot cocoa, or bread and milk, or a cheery
chat. How could he, in loneliness, procure these comforts at three
o’clock in the morning? It was no trouble at all to her to sit up, she
pleaded. When Dandy was ill, she had sat up whole nights together. John
prayed to Heaven to deliver him from illness. Another feature of the
masculine existence that passed her understanding was the systematic
untidiness of the library. Books, papers, pipes, pens, paper-clips, and
what not seemed to have been poured out of a sack, and then kicked in
detail to any chance part of the room. When she restored order out of
chaos, and sat with a complacent smile amid her prim gimcrackeries,
John would be dancing about in a foaming frenzy. Where were his long
envelopes? Where had that dear magpie of a woman secreted them? Her
ingenuity in finding hiding-places amounted to genius. Then in impatient
wrath he would take out drawers and empty their contents on the floor
until the missing objects came to light. Miss Lindon sighed when she
tidied up after him, not at the work to do all over again, but at the
baffling mystery of man.

For a long time Unity regarded the feckless lady with some suspicion,
sniffed at her, so to speak, like a dog confronted with a strange order
of being. For the first time in her young life she had met an elder in
only nominal authority over her. Of Phoebe, stern and Calvinistic,
with soul-searching eye, who by some social topsyturvydom was put into
subjection under her, she lived in mortal terror; but for “Aunt Gladys”
 she had a wondering contempt.

“Unity,” said Miss Lindon one morning, in the early days, “when you’ve
finished writing your copy for your guardian, you had better learn a
chapter. Bring me your Bible, and I ‘ll find one. In my time all young
ladies learned chapters,”--so do orphans still in convents, until
orphans hate chapters with bitter hatred; but this the good lady did not
know,--“and then you might, like a dear girl, run off the hems of the
new sheets on the sewing-machine.”

“I dunno ‘ow to work a sewing-machine.”

“Then tell Phoebe to give you a lesson at once. It’s a most useful
accomplishment. You have such a tremendous lot to learn, my dear.
There’s the piano and French, and embroidery and drawing, and nowadays I
suppose young ladies must learn politics. Perhaps you had better begin.
There ‘s a leading article on free trade--or the Young Turks, I forget
which--in the ‘Daily Telegraph.’ I’m sure it must be very clever. You
had better take away the paper and read it carefully,”--she handed the
paper to the bewildered child,--“and when you ‘ve read it, come and tell
me all about it. It will save me the trouble of going through it, and
so both of us will be benefited. And, Unity dear,” she added as the girl
was leaving the drawingroom, “it’s such a beautiful day, so in an hour’s
time be ready to come out with me. We ‘ll take the omnibus to the Marble
Arch and walk in the park.”

Unity went into the dining-room, where in working-hours she was supposed
to have her being, and stared at her avalanche of duties: her copy and
the one or two easy lessons set by John; the chapter of the Bible; the
instruction on the sewing-machine, involving the tackling of a busy and
irritable Phoebe; the long column of print in the newspaper; and the
preparation of herself for walking abroad--all to be accomplished within
the space of one hour. For the first time in her life she encountered
orders which had not the doomful backing of the world authorities.

The copy and the lessons for her guardian were, however, matters of high
import. They filled her hour. At the end of it she put on her hat. A
ride in an omnibus was still novelty enough to be a high adventure. On
the way to the Marble Arch, Miss Lindon in her amiable way asked how
she had spent her morning, and hoped that she had not been getting into
mischief. Of Bible chapter, sewing-machine, or leader on free trade (or
Young Turks) she appeared to have remembered nothing. The result of
this flabbiness of command was lamentable. The next time Miss Lindon
dismissed her to the execution of certain behests, Unity, after closing
the door behind her, stuck out her tongue. It was ungenteel, it was
ungrateful, it was un-anything-you-like, but the act gave her a thrill
of joy, a new sensation. It was the first definite assertion of her
individuality. The red tongue thus vulgarly flaunted was a banner of
revolt against the world authorities.

It was a long time before she could accustom herself to taking her meals
at the table with Miss Lindon and her guardian. Such table manners as
had been inculcated at the orphanage had been lost in Smith Street, and
the chief point of orphanage etiquette was not to throw food about,
a useless injunction, for obvious reasons. Accordingly, despite her
probationary period at the Channel House, Unity regarded the shining
knives and forks and china and glass with malevolent dislike. The
restrictions on so simple a matter as filling herself with nourishment
were maddening in their complexity. Why could n’t she bite into her hunk
of bread instead of breaking off a mouthful? Why could n’t she take up
her fish in her fingers? Why could n’t she spit out bones without the
futile intermediary of the fork? Why could n’t she wipe the gravy from
her plate with soft crumb? Why could n’t she use her knife for the
consumption of apple tart? And how difficult the art of mastication
with closed lips! She did not revolt. She humbly tried to follow the
never-ending instructions; but their multiplicity confused her, making
her shy and painfully nervous. Drink had a devilish habit of going the
wrong way. It never went the wrong way with her two companions. Unity
wondered why.

Then at the table sat her guardian, gloomy, preoccupied, Olympian in
the eyes of the child; and Aunt Gladys, weaving corrections, polite
instructions, reminiscences, and irrelevant information into an
inextricable tangle of verbiage; while Phoebe hovered about, fixing
her always, no matter what she was doing, with a relentless, glassy eye
which no solecism escaped.

There were also a myriad other external matters which caused her great
perplexity--the correct use of a handkerchief (one’s sleeve was so much
handier when one’s nose watered), a tooth-brush, nail-scissors. The last
she could not understand. Why, then, did God give people teeth to bite
with? The question of speech presented extraordinary difficulties. It
was months before her ear could even distinguish between _O_ and _aow_,
between _a_ and _i_, between _ou_ and _ah_; and the mysteries of the
aspirate became a terror. She grew afraid to speak. Thus her progress in
the graces of polite society was but slow.

John, not fired by enthusiasm, but intent on working out his scheme of
indemnification, gave up an hour or so a day to her mental culture. He
was not an unskilful teacher, but her undeveloped mind had to begin
at the beginning of things. She learned painfully. The great world had
revealed itself to her with blinding suddenness. For months she was
simply stupid.

“How are things shaping?” asked Herold one day. He had been lunching
at Kilburn, and Unity, feeling, that she was expected to be on her
very best behaviour before him, had been more than usually awkward and
ungenteel. This time a fish-bone had stuck in her throat.

John frowned. “You saw. Shapelessly. It’s hopeless.”

“You ‘re absolutely wrong,” said Herold. “There are vast possibilities
in Unity.”

“Not one,” said John.

“Are you trying the right way? Do you remember what the old don said
when he came across two undergraduates vainly persuading the college
tortoise to eat lettuce: ‘Gentlemen, are you quite sure you are trying
at the right end?’ ”

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t you try by the way of the heart?”

John flared up. “You ‘re talking rot. The child has n’t had a harsh word
since she has been here. I’m not honey-tongued as a rule, but to her
I’ve been a female saint with a lily in my hand. And my aunt, with all
her maddening ways, would not hurt the feelings of a black beetle.”

“Quite so,” said Herold. “But all that’s negative. Why can’t you try
something positive? Give Unity love, and you ‘ll be astonished at the
result.”

“Love,” said John, impatiently. “You ‘re a senti-, mentalist.”

This time Herold flared up. “If I am,” he cried, “I thank the good God
who made me. This affectation of despising sentiment, this cant that
a lot of you writing fellows talk, makes me sick. If a bowelless devil
makes a photograph of a leprous crew in a thieves’ kitchen, you say:
‘Ha! Ha! Here ‘s the real thing. There ‘s no foolish sentiment here.
This is LIFE!’ Ugh! Of all the rotten poses of the superior young ass,
this is the rottenest. Everything noble, beautiful, and splendid that
has ever been written, sung, painted, or done since the world began, has
been born in sentiment, has been carried through by sentiment, has been
remembered and reverenced by sentiment. I hate to hear an honest man
like you sneering at sentiment. You yourself took on this job through
sentiment. And now when I tell you in a few simple words, ‘Love
that child whose destiny you ‘ve made yourself responsible for,’ you
pooh-pooh the staring common sense of the proposition and call me a
sentimentalist--by which you mean an infernal fool.”

John, who had bent heavy brows upon him during this harangue, took his
pipe from his mouth.

“It’s you who are feeding the tortoise at the wrong end,” he said
unhumorously. “This is not a matter of sentiment, but of duty. I do
my best to be good to the child. I ‘ll do the utmost I can to make
reparation for what she has suffered. But as for loving her--I suppose
you know what love means? As for loving this poor little slut, with her
arrested development and with the torture the sight of her means to me,
why, my good man, you ‘re talking monkey gibberish!”

Herold lit a cigarette with nervous fingers. The animation in his thin,
sensitive face had not yet died away.

“I’m not talking gibberish,” he replied; “I’m talking sense.”

“Pooh!”--or something like it--said John.

“Well, super-sense, then,” cried Herold, who did not quite know what he
meant, but felt certain that for the instant the term would floor his
adversary. “And you ‘re as blind as an owl. Deep down in that poor
little slut is a spark of the divine fire--love in its purest, the
transcendental flame. I know it ‘s there. I know it as a water-finder
knows there’s water when the twig bends in his hands. Get at it. Find
it. Fan it into a blaze. You ‘ll never regret it all your life long.”

John’s frown deepened. “If you ‘re suggesting the usual asinine romance,
Walter, between ward and guardian--”

Herold caught up his hat.

“Of all the dunderheaded asses! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I
can’t talk to you.”

And in a very rare fury he sped from the house, slamming doors after
him, leaving John foolishly frowning in the middle of the violent
Axminster carpet.



Unity, for all her fingers’ nimbleness with needle and thread, was
clumsy with her hands. Glasses, bowls, vases, whatever she touched,
seemed to be possessed by an imp of spontaneous disruption. Hitherto
her code of morals with regard to breakage had been, first, to hide the
pieces; secondly, to deny guilt if questioned; thirdly, if found out,
to accept punishment with sullen apathy: for chastisement had followed
discovered breakage as inevitably as the night the day. Accordingly when
she broke a bowl of gold-fish in the drawing-room, she obeyed ingrained
tradition. She threw the fish out of the window, mopped up the water,
put a hassock on the wet patch on the carpet, and threw the shards of
the bowl into the dust-bin. Miss Lindon, entering soon afterward, missed
her gold-fish, bought only a few days before from an itinerant vendor
Unity disclaimed knowledge of their whereabouts. Phoebe, being summoned,
took the parts of principal witness, counsel for the prosecution, judge,
and jury all in one. Unity stood convicted. The maid was sent back to
her work. “Now,” thought Unity, “I’m going to catch it,” and she stood
with her eyes on the floor, stubbornly awaiting the decree of doom. An
unaccustomed sound met her ear, and looking up, she beheld the gentle
lady weeping bitterly.

“I should n’t have minded your breaking the bowl, though I should like
to know what has become of the poor little fishes,--they must be real
fish out of water, poor dears! and one of them I called Jacky was just
beginning to know me,--but why did you tell me a story about it?”

Unity, not having the wit to retort truthfully that it seemed the
natural thing to do, maintained a stolid silence.

Miss Lindon, profoundly upset by this depravity, read her a moral
lecture on the sin of lying, in which she quoted the Book of Revelation,
related the story of George Washington and an irrelevant episode in her
far-away childhood, and finally asserting that John would be furiously
angry if he heard of her naughtiness, bade her go and find the
gold-fish, which must be panting their little hearts out. And that was
the last Unity heard of the matter. She thought Aunt Gladys a fool.
Thenceforward she felt cynically indifferent toward accidental breakages
of Aunt Gladys’s property.

But one day during John’s absence she upset a Dresden china
shepherd,--such a brave, saucy shepherd,--that stood on his
writing-desk, and, to her dismay, the head rolled apart from the body.
It was one of his few dainty possessions. She knew that he set an
incomprehensible value on the thing. Even Aunt Gladys touched it with
extraordinary reverence. She turned white with fear. Her guardian was
a far different being from Aunt Gladys. His wrath would be terrible.
Herold was not far wrong in likening John Risca, as conceived by the
child, to a Hebraic Jehovah. His dread majesty overwhelmed her, and she
had not the courage to face his anger. With trembling fingers she stood
the poor decapitated shepherd on his feet and delicately poised the head
on the broken neck. She gazed at him for a moment, his sauciness and
bravery apparently unaffected by the accident, and then she fled, and
endured hours of misery.

The inevitable came to pass, John discovered the breakage, instituted
an elementary court of inquiry, and summoned the delinquent into his
presence.

“Did you break this, Unity?”

“No,” said Unity.

The lie irritated him. He raised his fist in a denunciatory gesture.
With a cry of terror, like a snared rabbit’s, she clapped her hands to
her face and shrank, cowering, to the farther corner of the room.

“My God!” cried John, aghast at the realization of what had happened.
“Did you think I was going to hit you?”

He stood staring at the little, undeveloped, rawboned, quivering
creature. Her assumption of his right to strike her, of his capability
of striking her, of the certainty that he would strike her, held him in
amazed horror. The phantasmagorical to him was the normal to her. He had
to wait a few moments before recovering command of his faculties. Then
he went up to her.

“Unity, my dear--”

He put his arm about her, led her to his writing-chair, and kept his arm
round her when he sat down.

“There, there, my child,” said he, clutching at her side nervously in
his great grasp, “you misunderstood entirely.” In his own horrified
dismay he had forgotten for the moment her wickedness. He could find no
words save incoherences of reassurance. She made no response, but kept
her hands before her face, her finger-tips pressed with little livid
edges of flesh into her forehead. And thus for a long while they
remained.

“I was n’t going to punish you for breaking the figure,” he explained at
last. “You did n’t do it on purpose, did you?”

She shook her head.

“What made me angry was your telling me a lie; but I never dreamed of
hurting you. I would sooner kill myself than hurt you,” he said, with a
shudder. Then, with an intuition that came from the high gods, he added,
“I would just as soon think of hurting Miss Stella, who gave me the
little shepherd you broke.”

To John’s amazement,--for what does a man know of female orphans, or of
female anything, for the matter of that?--Unity tore herself away from
him and, falling in a poor little lump on the floor, burst into a wild
passion of tears and sobs. John, not knowing what else to do, stooped
down and patted her shoulders in an aimless way. Then with a vague
consciousness that she were best alone, he went softly out of the room.

It was thus that, in the unwonted guise of ministering spirits, shame
and remorse came to Unity Blake.



She had broken a sacred idol. He had not been angry. She had told a
lie, and instead of punishing her,--of his horror-stricken motives she
had no idea,--he had held her tight in kind arms and spoken softly. He
had not actually wept, but he had been sorry at her lie, even as Aunt
Gladys had been. Now he, being what to her mind was a kind of fusion of
Jah and Zeus and Odin,--three single deities rolled into one,--was not a
fool. Dimly through the mists of her soul dawned the logical conclusion:
perhaps Aunt Gladys, in her sorrowful and non-avenging attitude towards
her mendacities and other turpitudes, was not a fool either.

The bewildering truth also presented itself that lies, being unnecessary
as a means of self-protection, were contemptible. In the same way she
realized that if folks had no intention of punishing her for destroying
their valuable property, even sacred gifts of fairy-princesses, but,
instead, smiled on her their sweet forgiveness, they must have in
them something of the divine which had hitherto been obscured from her
vision. She had proved to herself that they could not be fools; rather,
then, they were angels. They certainly could not enjoy the destruction
of their belongings; therefore her clumsiness must cause them pain. Now,
why should she inflict pain on people who were doing their utmost to
make her happy? Why?

She began to ask herself questions; and when once an awakening human
soul begins to do that, it goes on indefinitely. Some of the simplest
ones she propounded to Miss Lindon, who returned answers simple
in essence, though perhaps complex in expression; some her growing
experience of life enabled her to answer for herself; some of the more
difficult she reserved for her rare talks with Herold. But although
the awfulness of John’s majesty was mitigated by the investiture of an
archangel’s iridescent and merciful wings, she could never go to him
with her problems. Never again since that memorable occasion did he put
his arm around her; he held her gently aloof as before. But he had put
his arm around her once, and the child’s humility dared not hope for
more.

Thus in a series of shocks, bewildering flashes of truth, followed
by dark spaces of ignorance, was Unity’s development initiated, and,
indeed, continued. Her nature, deadened by the chill years, was
not responsive to the little daily influences by which character is
generally moulded. Only the great things, trivial in themselves, but
great in her little life--for to an ant-hill the probing of a child’s
stick means earthquake, convulsion, and judgment-day cataclysm--only the
great things, definite and arresting, produced perceptible change. But
they left their mark. She was too dull to learn much in the ordinary
routine of lessons; but once a fact or an idea could be made to appeal
to her emotions or her imagination, it was there for all time. Not all
the pains and teaching of her two protectors, for instance, could alter
one inflection of her harsh cockney twang.

But one day after luncheon, Herold being present, Miss Lindon ordered
her to recite “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” which artless poem she had
learned unintelligently by heart, at Miss Lindon’s suggestion, in order
to give pleasure to her guardian. To give him pleasure she would have
learned pages of the army list or worn tin tacks in her boots. After a
month’s vast labour she had accomplished the prodigious task.

Very shy, she repeated the poem in the child’s singsong, and ended up on
the “reef of Norman’s Waow”.

John, not having been made a party to the “surprise” eagerly contrived
by Miss Lindon, nodded, said it was very good, and commended Unity for
a good girl. Herold kicked him surreptitiously, and applauded with much
vigour.

“By Jove!” said he, impelled by queer instinct, “I used to know that. I
wonder if I could recite it, too.”

He rose and began; and as he continued, his wonderful art held the child
spell-bound. The meaningless words resolved themselves into symbols of
vast significance. She saw the little daughter, her cheeks like the
dawn of day, a vision of Stellamaris, and felt the moonless dark of the
stormy night and the hissing snow and the stinging blast, and she
shivered at the awful sight of the skipper frozen at the wheel, and a
hush fell upon her soul as the maiden prayed, and the tears fell fast
from her eyes as the picture of the fisherman finding the maiden fair
lashed to the drifting mast was flashed before her by the actor’s magic.

“Now, Unity dear, don’t you wish you could say it like that?” Aunt
Gladys remarked.

Unity, scarcely hearing, made perfunctory answer; but as soon as she
could, she fled to her bedroom, her ears reverberating with the echoes
of the beautiful voice, and her soul shaken with the poignant drama, and
crudely copying Herold’s gestures and intonations, recited the poem over
and over again.

The result of this was not a sudden passion for romance or histrionics,
but it was remarkable enough. It awoke her sense of vowel sounds and
aspirates. Henceforward she discriminated between “lady” and “lidy,”
 between “no” and “naow,” and although she never acquired a pure accent,
her organs of speech refusing to obey her will, she was acutely aware of
the wrong sounds that escaped from her lips.

As with this, so with other stages of development, both in things
external and things spiritual. Scales had to be torn from her eyes
before she saw; then she saw with piercing vision. Plugs had to be
wrenched from her ears before she heard; then she heard the horns of
Elfland. Her heart had to be plucked from her bosom before she felt;
then her whole being quivered with an undying emotion.

So the weeks and the months passed and grew into years, and Miss Lindon
said that she was a well-behaved and Christian child, and that it was a
pity she was so plain; and Risca, forgetful, after a while, of her agony
of tears and of Herold’s angry diagnosis, retained his opinion that she
was just dull and stupid, though well-meaning, and, having his head full
of other things, took her at last for granted, together with his Aunt
Gladys, as a normal feature in his sometimes irritating, though on the
whole exceedingly comfortable, comic-opera household.



CHAPTER X

ONE evening by the last post John received a letter bearing the prison
stamp and addressed to him under the care of the firm of solicitors who
had defended his wife. It ran:

_I am coming out on Wednesday, the thirteenth. I suppose I shall have
somewhere to go to and not be expected to walk the streets. Louisa Anne
Risca._

That was all--neither _ave_ nor _vale_. It was the only letter she had
written. She knew well enough that the house in Smith Street was being
maintained and that her allowance would be resumed as soon as she
regained her freedom, having been so informed by the solicitors, on
John’s instructions; but a reference to this explicit statement would
haive discounted the snarl. Prison had not chastened her.

John sat back in his writing-chair, the ignoble letter in front of him.
He made a rapid calculation of dates. It was two years and three months
since the trial. She had worked out three fourths of her sentence,
the remaining fourth evidently having been remitted on account of good
conduct, in the ordinary course. Two years and three months! He had
scarcely realized the swift flight of time. Of late his life had been
easier. Distracted London had forgotten the past. He had sought and
found, at his club, the society of his fellow-men. His printed name no
longer struck horror into a reader’s soul. At times he himself almost
forgot. The woman had faded into a shadow in some land beyond the tomb.
But now, a new and grim Alcestis, she had come back to upper earth.
There was nothing trans-Stygian about the two or three cutting lines.
She was alive, luridly alive, and on Wednesday, the thirteenth, she
would be free, a force let loose, for good or evil, in the pleasant
places of the world. At the prospect of the prison doors closing behind
her, however, he felt great relief. At any rate, that horror would soon
be over and done with. The future must take care of itself.

Presently he wrote:

_Dear Louisa:_

_I am unfeignedly thankful to hear your news. I shall be waiting for you
at the gate on the morning of the thirteenth and shall take you to Smith
Street, which you will find quite ready to receive you._

_Yours,_

_John Risca._

Then he went out and posted the letter.

“I ‘m glad you ‘re going to meet her yourself instead of sending a
solicitor’s clerk,” said Herold, when they discussed the matter next
day.

“I’m not one to shirk disagreeable things,” replied John.

“It may touch some human chord in her.”

“I never thought of that,” said John.

“Well, think of it. Think of it as much as you can.”

“‘You may as well use question with the wolf,’” growled John.

“I don’t believe it,” said Herold. “Anyhow, try kindness.”

“Of course I ‘m going to do so,” said John, with the impatience he
usually manifested when accepting a new point of view from Herold. “You
don’t suppose I’m going to stand outside with a club!”



On the appointed day he waited, with a four-wheeled cab, by the prison
gate. The early morning sunshine of midsummer flooded the world with
pale glory, its magic even softening the grim, forbidding walls. A light
southwest wind brought the pure scents of the down from many a sleeping
garden and woodland far away. The quiet earth sang its innocence, for
wickedness was not yet abroad to scream down the song. Even John Risca,
anti-sentimentalist, was stirred. What sweeter welcome, what gladder
message of hope, could greet one issuing into the upper air from the
gloomy depths of Hades? How could such a one help catching at her breath
for joy?

The gate swung open, casting a shadow in the small yard beyond, and in
the middle of the shadow a black, unjoyous figure stood for a moment
irresolute. Then she slowly came out into sunshine and freedom. She was
ashen-coloured, thin-lipped, and not a gleam of pleasure lit her eyes
as they rested with hard remorselessness on the man who advanced with
outstretched hand to meet her. Of the hand she took no notice.

“Is this my cab?”

“Yes,” said John.

She entered. He followed, giving the address to the driver. She sat
looking neither to left nor right, staring stubbornly in front of her.
The sunshine and the scent of summer gardens far away failed to bring
their message. Though it was high summer, she wore the heavy coat which
she had worn in the wintry weather at the time of her trial.

“I am very glad indeed to see you, Louisa,” said John. “‘Unfeignedly
thankful!’” She chewed the literary phrase and spat it out venomously.
“You--liar!”

John winced at the abominable word; but he spoke softly.

“You can’t suppose it has been happiness for me to think of you in
there.”

“What does it matter to me? What the hell are you to me, anyhow?”

“I ‘m your husband in the eyes of the law,” said John, “and I once cared
for you.”

“Oh, stow that!”

“I will. But I want you to believe that I am utterly thankful that
this--this unhappy chapter is closed--”

She interrupted him with a swift and vicious glance.

“‘Unhappy chapter!’ Get off it! You make me sick. Talk English, if you
must talk.”

“Very well,” said he. “I ‘m glad my legal wife is not in gaol. I want
her to believe that I ‘ll do my best to forget it; also, that, as far as
my means allow, she will have comfort and opportunity to try to forget
it, too.”

Not a muscle of her drawn face relaxed.

“I’m not going to have you or any one else fooling round where I live,”
 she said. “I’m not going to be preached to or converted. I ‘ve had
enough of it where I’ve come from. As for you, I hate you. I’ve always
hated you, and if you have any decency, you ‘ll never let me see your
face again.”

“I won’t,” said John, shortly, and with this the edifying conversation
came to an end.

The cab lumbered through the sunny thoroughfares of the great city,
now busy with folks afoot, in trams and omnibuses, going forth to their
labour; and John, looking out of the window, fancied they were all
touched by the glamour of the summer morning. Every human soul save
the woman beside him seemed glad to be alive. She sat rigid, apart from
him--as physically apart as the seat would allow, and apart from the
whole smiling world. She had her being in terrible isolation, hate
incarnate. When by any chance their eyes happened to meet, he turned his
aside swiftly and shivered with unconquerable repulsion.

When the cab drew up at the house in Smith Street, the door was opened,
and a pleasant-faced woman and a man stood smiling in the passage. Mrs.
Risca brushed past them into the dining-room, bright with daintily
laid breakfast table and many flowers. The latter, John, at Herold’s
suggestion, had sent in the evening before.

“You see,” said John, entering, “we ‘ve tried to prepare for you.”

She deigned no glance, but slammed the door.

“Who are those people?”

“A married couple whom I have engaged to live here. The woman, Mrs.
Bence, will do for you. The man goes out to his work during the day.”

“Warder and wardress, eh? They can jolly well clear out. I’m not going
to have ‘em.”

Then John’s patience broke. He brought his fist down on the table with a
crash.

“By heavens,” he cried, “you shall have whomever I put here. You ‘ve
behaved yourself for two years, and you ‘re going on behaving yourself.”
 He flung open the door. “Mrs. Bence, help Mrs. Risca off with her coat
and bring in her breakfast.”

Cowed, she submitted with malevolent meekness. Prison discipline does
not foster the heroic qualities. Mrs. Bence took hat and coat and
disappeared.

“Sit down at the table.”

She obeyed. He laid some money beside her.

“This is your allowance. On the thirteenth of every month you will
receive the same amount from my bankers. If you prefer, after a time, to
live in the country, we may be able to arrange it. In the meanwhile you
must stay here.”

She neither touched the coins nor thanked him. There was a silence hard
and deadly. John stood in the sunshine of the window, bending on her
his heavy brows. Now and then she glanced at him furtively from beneath
lowered eyelids, like a beast subdued, but not tamed. A dominant will
was all that could control her now. He thanked an unusually helpful
Providence that had sent him the Bences in the very nick of his
emergency. Before marriage, Mrs. Bence had been under-attendant at a
county lunatic asylum, and John had heard of her through Wybrow, the
medical superintendent, a club friend, who had helped him before when
the defense had set up the plea of insanity, and whom, with an idea of
trained service in his head, he had again consulted. No more torturing
of Unitys, if he could help it. Wybrow spoke highly of Mrs. Bence and
deplored the ruin of a great career as a controller of she-devils; but
as a cat will after kind, so must she after an honest but impecunious
plumber. John had sought her and come to terms at once. For once in
their courses, he thought grimly, the stars were not fighting against
him. He had not told Herold of this arrangement. Herold had counselled
kindness. The flowers, for instance, would be sure to make their
innocent appeal. Tears could not fail to fill her eyes. Tears of
sentiment in those eyes! Little Herold knew of the world of realities
with which he was at death-grips.

Presently Mrs. Bence came in with coffee, hot rolls, a dish of bacon
and eggs. The fragrant smell awakened the animal instinct of the woman
at the table. She raised her head and followed the descent of dish and
plate. Then a queer noise broke from her throat, and she fell upon the
food. John left her.

Mrs. Bence followed him into the passage and opened the front door.

“I’ve been used to it, sir.”

“She must never guess that,” said he.

He walked homeward through the parks, breathing in great gulps of the
sweet morning air. He felt that he had been in contact with something
unclean. Not only his soul, but his very body, craved purification.
In the woman he had left he had found no remorse, no repentance, no
sensibility to any human touch.. Prison had broken her courage; but in
its sunless atmosphere of the underground, all the fungoid growths of
her nature had flourished in mildewed exuberance. He shuddered at the
thought of her, a poisonous thing, loathsome in its abnormality. As some
women dwell in an aura of sweet graciousness, so dwelt she in mephitic
fumes of devildom. Implacable hatred, deadly venom, relentless
vengeance, were the constituents of her soul. Relentless vengeance--He
sat for a moment on a bench in Hyde Park, feeling chilled to the bone,
although the perspiration beaded on his forehead. She would not strike
him, of that he was oddly assured. Her way would be to strike at
him through those near and dear to him. In the full sunshine of gay
midsummer, with the trees waving their green and lusty bravery over
his head, and the flower-beds rioting in the joy of the morning, he was
shaken by an unreasoning nightmare terror. He saw the woman creep with
snaky movements into the sea-chamber at Southcliff, and a pair of starry
eyes become wells of awful horror as the murderous thing approached the
bed. And he was held rigid by dream paralysis.

After a second or two--it had seemed many minutes of agony--he sprang to
his feet with what he thought was a great cry, and looked dazedly about
him. A nurse-maid, undistracted from her novelette, and wheeling a
perambulator in which reposed an indifferent infant, passed him by. He
shook himself like a great, rough dog, and went his way, ashamed of his
fears. It was a practical world, he told himself, and he was a match for
any mad-woman.

Unity was watering flowers in the tiny patch of front garden where he
swung through the iron gate. She had grown a little during the last two
years, but still was undeveloped; a healthier colour had come into her
cheeks and a more confident expression into her common, snub-nosed face.
Her movements were less awkward, and as she was eighteen, she wore her
hair done up with a comb and the long skirts appropriate to her age.

She set down her watering-pot and stood at a kind of absurd attention,
her usual attitude in the presence of John.

“Please, guardian,” she said,--she could never rid herself of the
school-child’s exordium,--“have you had your breakfast?”

“No,” said John, realizing for the first time that emptiness of stomach
may have had something to do with his momentary faintness in the park.

“Aunt Gladys has been in such a state,” said Unity. “She has made Phoebe
cook three breakfasts already, and each has been spoiled by being kept
in the oven, and I think now she is cooking the fourth.”

In this announcement rang none of the mischievous mirth of eighteen over
an elder’s harmless foibles. Humour, which had undoubtedly presided at
her birth, for like many another glory-trailing babe, she had crowed
with glee at the haphazard coupling of which she was the result, had
fled for good from her environment ever since the day when, at a very
tender age, she had seen her mother knocked insensible by a drunken
husband and had screamed single-mindedly for unobtainable nourishment.
She had no sense of glorious futility, of the incongruous relativity
of facts. Each fact was absolute. Three breakfasts had been cooked and
spoiled. The fourth was in the cooking. She narrated simply what had
taken place.

“Run and tell Phobe I’m hungry enough to eat all four,” said John.

They entered the house. Unity hurried off on her errand. The meal was
soon served. Miss Lindon, with many inquiries as to the reason for his
early start, which he answered with gruff evasiveness, hovered about
him as he ate, watching him in loving wonder. His big frame needed
much nourishment, and now sheer hunger was being satisfied. To her
acquaintance she spoke of his appetite with as much pride as of his
literary achievements. It was Unity, however, who took charge of the
practical service, removed his plates and poured out his tea, silent,
submissive, and yet with a subtle air of protection. There were certain
offices she would not allow Aunt Gladys or even Phobe to perform for her
guardian. She was jealous, for instance, like a dog, of any one touching
the master’s clothes. This morning, when Miss Lindon absent-mindedly
grasped the handle of the teapot, the faintest gleam of anger appeared
in her eyes, and her lips grew instinctively tense, and with a quick,
authoritative gesture she unloosed the fat, helpless fingers and took
possession of the sacred vessel. John liked her to wait upon him. She
was deft and noiseless; she anticipated his wants in an odd, instinctive
way and seldom made suggestions. Now, of suggestions his aunt was
a living fount. They poured from her all day long. He had a vague
consciousness that Unity, by tactful interposition, dammed the flood,
so that he could go on his way undrenched. For this he felt grateful,
especially this morning when his nerves were on edge. Yet this morning
he felt grateful also to Miss Lindon, and suffered her disconnected
ministrations kindly. To-day the queer home that he had made assumed a
new significance.

When Miss Lindon fluttered out of the room, bound on a suddenly
remembered duty--fresh groundsel for Dickie--John looked up from the
newspaper which Unity had silently folded and laid beside him.

“Come here, my child,” he said, after a few moments’ thought.

She approached and stood dutifully by his chair.

“Unity, I don’t think it right for you to remain in ignorance of
something that has happened. I don’t see how it can really affect you,
but it ‘s better that you should learn it from me than from anybody
else. Do you remember--” he paused--“that woman?”

It was the first reference he had ever made to her. Unity drew a quick,
sharp breath.

“Yes, guardian.”

“She was let out of prison this morning.”

She kept her eyes full on him, and for a while neither spoke.

“I don’t care,” she said at last.

“I thought it might cause you some anxiety.”

“What have I to be afraid of when I’ve got you?” she asked simply.

John twisted round in his chair and reached out his hand--a rare
demonstration of affection--and took hers.

“It’s to assure you, my dear, that you’ve nothing to fear that I ‘ve
told you.”

“She can’t hurt _me_,” said Unity.

“By heaven, she sha’n’t!” he cried, unconsciously wrenching her arm so
that he caused her considerable pain, which she bore without the flicker
of an eyelid. “You ‘re a fine, brave girl, Unity, and I’m proud of you.
And you ‘re a good girl, too. I hope you ‘re happy here; are you?”

“Happy?” Her voice quavered on the word. Her mouth twitched, and the
tears started from her eyes. He smiled on her, one of his rare smiles,
known to few besides Stellamaris, which lit up his heavy features, and
revealed a guardian far different from the inaccessible Olympian.

“Yes, my dear, I hope so. I want you to be happy all your life long.”

She uttered a little sobbing laugh and fell crouching to his feet, still
clinging to his hand, which she rubbed against her cheek. How could she
tell him otherwise?

“I think you are,” said John.

“I ‘ve just remembered I put the groundsel--” began Miss Lindon, coming
into the room. Then she stopped, petrified at the unusual spectacle.

John laughed rather foolishly, and Unity, flushing scarlet, rushed out.

“I was only asking her whether we were treating her nicely,” said John,
rising and stretching his loose limbs.

“What a question to ask the child!”

“Well, she answered it like that, you see,” said John.

“But what a way to answer a simple question! She forgets sometimes that
she is a young lady of eighteen, an age when manners ought to be formed.
But manners,” she continued, hunting about the room, “are not what they
were when I was young. I declare, I sometimes see young women in the
streets with woollen caps and hockey-sticks--”

John took a salad-bowl from the mantelpiece. “Is that Dickie’s
groundsel?”

“Oh, how clever of you! Where did you find it? Dickie has been so angry.
He’s just like a man when his dinner’s late. I don’t mean you. You ‘re a
perfect saint, dear.”

“Which reminds me,” said John, with a laugh, “that I’ve mislaid my halo
and I must go and find it.”

With an exultant sense of comfort he went into his library. The
women-folk of his household had never before seemed so near to him, so
dependent on him, such organic factors of his life. He stood for a long
time on his hearth-rug, scowling terribly, with the air of a wild beast
standing at the entrance to its lair in defiant defence of the female
and whelps within.



CHAPTER XI

JOHN RISCA, at thirty-four, with a ward of twenty, and with the normal
hope of a man’s life withered at the root, regarded himself as an
elderly man. He looked older than his years. Ragged streaks of gray
appeared in his black hair, and the lines deepened on his heavy brow.
There are some men who, no matter what their circumstances may be, never
take themselves happily. To do so is a gift; and it was denied to John
Risca.

Two years had passed since his wife’s release. During the years of their
separation before her imprisonment, she had counted for little in his
thoughts save as a gate barring the way to happiness. She had never
molested him, never stood in the way of his ordinary life. In her prison
she had begun by being a horror haunting his dreams; gradually she
had dwindled into a kind of paralyzed force, had faded into a shadow
incapable of action. But since her return to the living world he had
felt her hatred as an influence, vague, but active, let loose upon
the earth. He dreaded contact with her, however indirect, and through
whatever agency; but contact was inevitable. Whereas formerly she
had been content to live according to the terms of their agreement on
separation, now she made demands. One of them, however, he considered
reasonable. In Smith Street, the scene of her misdeeds, she led the life
of a pariah dog. She was friendless. Her own relatives had cast her off.

The tradespeople round about supplied her reluctantly with necessaries
and refused to exchange words with her when she entered their shops.
Children hooted her in the streets. John, foreseeing unpleasantness, had
offered to find her a home in the country. But this, being town-bred,
she had declined. Let her change her name, she urged, and seek other
London quarter’s. He agreed. She adopted the name of Rawlings and moved
to a flat off the Fulham Road. To the suggestion of a different part
of London altogether she turned a deaf ear. She had lived in that
neighbourhood all her days and would feel lost elsewhere. The common
Londoner has almost the local instinct of a villager. She would also,
she said, be near her mother, who still let lodgings in Brompton.

“If your mother refuses to see you,” said John, when they were
discussing the matter, “I see no reason for your being near her.”

She counselled him, in her vernacular, to mind his own business.

“So long as I don’t come and live next to you, what have you got to do
with it?”

“I certainly am not called upon to protect your mother,” said he. He
smiled grimly, remembering the hard-bitten veteran of a thousand fights
with impecunious and recalcitrant lodgers. She could very well look
after herself.

The Bences, much against her will, though she dared not openly rebel,
accompanied her to the flat. Her installation was expensive. He paid
readily enough. But then came demands for money, insidious enough at
first for his compliance, then monstrous, vindictive. She incurred
reckless debts; not those of a woman who desires to make a show in the
world by covering herself with costly dresses and furs and jewels or by
dashing about in expensive equipages.

That side of life was unfamiliar to her, and class instinct quenched the
imagination to crave it. She had been bred to regard cabs as luxuries
of the idle rich, and it never occurred to her to travel in London
otherwise than by omnibus or rail. Her wilful extravagance was of a
different nature. She ran up bills with the petty tradesmen of the
neighbourhood for articles for which she had no use; for flowers which
she deliberately threw into the dust-bin; for ready-made raiment which
she never wore,--jackets at three pounds, ten and six, and hats at ten
shillings,--cheap jewelry, watches, and trinkets which she stored away
in boxes. There was a gaudy set of furniture with which she bought a
kind of reconciliation with her mother. When county-court summonses came
in, she demanded money from John. When he refused, she posted him the
summonses.

Meanwhile he found that she had struck up acquaintance with some
helter-skelter, though respectable, folks in the flat below. The
discovery pleased him. It is good for no human being, virtuous or
depraved, to sit from month’s end to month’s end in stark loneliness.
She forced him to the threat of revealing her identity to her new
friends if she did not mend her ways. She mended them; but he felt his
hands soiled by the ignoble weapons with which he had to fight.

After that she was quiet for months. Then one rainy afternoon, as he
was walking downward with bent head, he ran into her in Maida Vale, the
broad thoroughfare that merges into Kilburn. She started back with a
quick gasp of fear.

“What are you doing in this part of London?” he asked angrily.

She plucked up courage. “I’m free to walk where I like, and just you
jolly well don’t try to stop me.”’

“You were going to my house.”

“I was n’t. But supposing I was. What have you got to hide from me? My
successor? Some little tuppenny-ha’penny piece of damaged goods you ‘ve
picked up cheap? Think I want to see her? What do you suppose I care?
Just let me pass.”

He thrust aside the wet umbrella which she pushed rudely into his face.

“First tell me what you are doing here. Fulham people don’t come to
Maida Vale just to take a walk in the rain.”

“I was going to see some friends,” she replied sulkily.

A motor-omnibus came surging down toward them. At his hail it stopped.

“Get into that at once, or it will be the worse for you.”

He took her arm in his powerful grip and dragged her to the curb.

“You bullying brute!” she hissed through her thin lips.

But she entered the ‘bus. John watched it until it whizzed into space,
and then retracing his steps, he went home and mounted guard by the
window of his aunt’s gimcrack drawing-room, to the huge delight of
its unsuspecting mistress. But his wife did not double back, as he
anticipated; nor did he see her again in the neighbourhood.

Thenceforward, save for irritating pin-pricks reminding him of her
existence, such as futile revolts against the supervision of the Bences
and occasional demands for money, she ceased to worry him. But since the
day when he caught her about to spy on his home-life, her shadow, like
that of some obscene bird, hovered over him perpetually. What she
had tried to do then she might have already done, she might do in the
future. The horrible sense of insecurity oppressed him: it is that which
ages a man who cannot take himself happily.

Otherwise the two years had passed with no great stir. The recurrence
of seasons alone surprised him now and then into a realization of the
flight of time. He had succeeded to the editorship of the weekly review
of which he had been assistant editor; he had published a little book
on the “Casual Ward of Workhouses,” a despised hash of journalistic
articles which had brought him considerable recognition; leader writers
had quoted him flatteringly, and his publishers clamoured for another
book on a cognate subject; the President of the Local Government Board
had invited him to a discussion of the matter, with a view to possible
legislation; honours fell thick upon him; but, if it had been a shower
of frogs, his disgust could not have been greater. For about the same
time he had published a chunky, doughy novel destined to set the world
aflame, which sold about a couple of hundred copies. He had cursed
all things cursable and uncursable without in any way affecting the
heartless rhythm of life. The world went on serenely, and in his glum
fashion he found himself going on with the world.

Unity mended his socks and poured out his tea day after day, unchanging
in her dull and common scragginess. Neither fine clothes, nor jewels,
nor Aunt Gladys’s maxims could turn her into a young lady. Miss Lindon
sighed, Unity’s inability to purr genteelly at tea-parties, the breath
of female autumn’s being, was the main sorrow in the mild lady’s heart.
She used to dream of the swelling pride with which she might have
listened to Unity playing the “Liederohne Worte” or Stephen Heller or
“The Brook” (such a pretty piece!), before the ladies purring on the
gim-crack chairs. But the dream was poignantly vain. She had striven
with vast goodness to teach Unity to play the piano, and the girl had
honestly tried to learn; but as her brain could not master the mystery
of the various keys, and as her ear was not acute enough to enable her
to sing “Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear,” in tune, the study of music
had to be struck out of her curriculum. And she could not talk to the
faded gentlewomen who came to the house, and to whose houses Miss Lindon
took her. The ordeal always made her perspire, and little beads settled
on her snub nose, and she knew it was not ladylike. Such a thing, said
Miss Lindon, ought never to happen. But it did, in defiance of all
the laws of gentility. So Miss Lindon sighed. But none of these things
wrecked the peace of the home. Uneventful serenity reigned in the little
house at Kilburn.

Walter Herold went on playing his exquisite miniatures of parts, and,
in theatrical terminology, he became very expensive, and prospered
exceedingly in his profession; his relations with John remained
unaltered; Miss Lindon loved him, first because he was John’s intimate,
secondly (and here was a reason which she did not avow) because he
had the gift of making her feel that, despite seven and fifty years of
spinsterhood, she was still the most fascinating of her sex, and thirdly
because he reminded her of poor Captain Featherstone, killed in the Zulu
War, who was such a very clever amateur conjurer, and could act charades
in a way that would make you die of laughing. And Unity came to him with
her problems; and, as they both loved John Risca and Stellamaris, of
whom (a thing undreamed of by John, for he rarely mentioned the fairy
princess’s name to Unity) they talked inordinately, the bond between
them was strengthened by links ever freshly forged. And finally, in
the sea-chamber at Southcliff, Herold maintained his rank of Great High
Favourite, and companioned his august mistress on her fairy vagabondage
along the roads that led no whither in the Land That Never Was.

And Stellamaris herself? She was twenty. John, still Great High
Belovedest, still finding his perfect rest from care, his enchanted
haven, in the great, wide-windowed room looking out to sea, wondered at
the commonplace fact. Not long ago, it seemed to him, she had been but
the fragile wraith of a child, with arms that you might pass through
a signet-ring, and hands no bigger than an acacia-leaf. He had sat but
yesterday full on the bed, without danger to the tiny feet which were
far away from him. And now the little child had passed into the woman.
Thanks to devotion, the world’s learning, the resources of the
civilized earth, the life-giving air of the sea, her malady had scarcely
interfered with bodily growth. And the child’s beauty had not been
fleeting. It had remained, and matured into that of the woman.
Unconsciously John had drifted away from childish things in his long and
precious talks with her.

One day she rebuked him.

“Great High Belovedest,” she said, “you have n’t told me of the palace
and Lilias and Niphetos for months and months. Or is it years?”

He laughed. “It must be years. You don’t realize that you ‘re grown up.”

“So every one says. I often wonder what it really means.”

“You ‘ve developed,” said he.

“How?” she persisted.

“You’ve got longer and broader and--”

She laughed to hide a swift, pink confusion. “I know that, you silly
dear. The doctor’s always taking measurements of me and making funny
calculations--cubing out the contents, as Mr. Wratislaw used to say. I
know I’m enormous. That’s an external matter of yards and feet,”--she
spoke as if her proportions were Brobdingnagian,--“but I ‘m referring to
inner things. How am I different, in myself, from what I was four years
ago?”

John scratched a somewhat puzzled head. How could he explain to her
that of which he himself was not quite certain? In the normal case
the phenomenon of manhood or womanhood, apart from the physical
side,--allowing for the moment that the physical side can be set
apart,--is a matter of a wider experience of life, of a million
observations unconsciously correlated by a fully developed brain. It
implies a differentiation between the facts and fancies of existence.
The adult of twenty-one who takes seriously the make-believe of the
dolls’ house, and, sticking a paper crown on her head, asks you to
recognize her as a queen, is merely an imbecile. The sane adult plays at
mock tea-parties and crowns itself monarch in obedience to a different
set of impulses altogether, either through sheer gaiety of heart,
frankly making unto itself no illusions, or using make-believe as a
symbol of the highest expression of life--videlicet, art--of which the
human mind is capable. And, although we know very well that there are
adults, many of advanced years, whom circumstances have so perverted
that the Alpha and Omega of their lives is the pursuit either of a
little ball or of a verminous animal over the surface of God’s arresting
earth, or else, it may be, a series of conjectures as to the comparative
velocities of unimportant quadrupeds, yet none of them (at loose on
society) would have the lunacy or the depravity to maintain that such
pursuit or conjecture is a vital element in the scheme of existence.
Even these who appear still to dwell in the play-world of the child
have the essential faculty of discrimination. They have, in dull
intervals between round or ride, encountered sorrow and pain and passion
and wickedness and fierce struggle and despair. To them the sordid
tragedies of criminal courts, the bestial poverty of slums, are
commonplaces of knowledge. Any one of them can reel off a dozen
instances of the treachery of false friends, the faithlessness of
women, the corruption of commercial or political life. To them are also
revealed splendours of heroism and self-sacrifice. They have a million
data whence to deduce a serviceable philosophy. They are beyond all
question grown up. But what wider experience of life had Stellamaris
gained in the four years between the ages of sixteen and twenty? What
fresh facts of existence had been presented to her for observation and
correlation? What data had she for that deduction of a philosophy which
marks the adult? Neither harm nor spell nor charm had come the lovely
lady any nearer during the last four years than during those of her
childhood. The Unwritten Law had prevailed as strong as ever. The
routine of the sea-chamber had remained unchanged. Her reading,
jealously selected, had brought her no closer to the sad core of many
human things. The gulls and the waves and the golden sunset clouds were
still her high companions. What did people mean when they said she had
grown up? John continued for some time to scratch a puzzled head.

“Are you not aware of any change in yourself?” he asked.

She reflected for a moment. “No,” she replied seriously. “Of course
I know more. I can speak French and Italian--” Professors of these
tongues, duly hedged about with ceremonial, had for a long time past
attended in the sea-chamber--“and I know lots more of history and
geography and geology and astronomy and zoology--oh, Belovedest dear,
I ‘m dying to see a giraffe! Do you think if he stood on the beach
he could stick his head through the window and look at me? And a
hippopotamus--can’t you bring one in on a string? Or do you think
Constable would bite him?”

John expounded the cases of the giraffe and the hippopotamus with great
gravity. Her eyebrows contracted ever so little, and a spark danced in
her eyes as she waited for the end of the lecture.

“Oh, dear, can’t you see a joke?”

“Joke?”

“Why, yes. Don’t you think I know all about hippopotamuses?”

“Four years ago,” said John, “if I had told you that a wyvern and a
unicorn were coming to tea, you would have believed me. Now you would
n’t. You ‘ve grown up. That’s what I meant.”

“I see,” said Stellamaris.

But she did n’t; for she turned the conversation back to the palace.

“I’m afraid, dear,” said he, “that the cats are dead and Arachne has
married a stock-broker, and I ‘ve been so busy that the palace has run
to seed.”

“I thought she was going to marry a duke,” said Stella, whose memory for
unimportant detail was femininely tenacious.

“The duke was caught by Miss Cassandra P. Wurgles,” said John, once more
launched on the sea of romance.

“What a funny name,” said Stella.

“It’s the kind of name,” he replied, “always given in English fiction to
the heiresses of the Middle West of America.”

“Was she an heiress?”

“Worth billions. After they were married they do say she would n’t let
the duke wipe his razor on anything less valuable than a thousand-dollar
bill.”

“I don’t think that’s quite true,” laughed Stella.

“I don’t know,” said John. “Anyhow, Arachne fell back on a stock-broker
named Maclsaac, and now there’s no one to look after the palace.”

“No one at all?” Her voice was full of pity.

“Not a soul,” said he.

A tragic pause followed this forlorn declaration. “Dear Belovedest,”
 said Stella, very seriously, “I do wish I could come and set it right
for you.”

Their eyes met. John sighed.

“I wish you could,” said he. “There ‘s a fairy wand standing in the
corner which no one but you can touch. It gives every one else an
electric shock that sends them head over heels. But if you could get
it and wave it about the place, you would make all sorts of dead things
come to glorious life, and fill all the garden walks with flowers, and
make the waters live again in the fountains.”

It was the John Risca whom she had always known that spoke, the John
Risca of whom Herold had occasional flashes, so that he could discount
his usual gloomy petulance and love the essential man, the John Risca
whose hand poor dumb, little Unity Blake had laid against her cheek--the
best and purest John Risca, a will-o’-the-wisp gleam to all his nearest
save Stella-maris; but to Stellamaris just the ordinary, commonplace,
unaltering, and unalterable John Risca, the Great High Belovedest of her
earliest memories. He had said things like this a hundred thousand times
before. Yet now the colour rose once more into her cheeks, and a mist
such as might surround a dewdrop veiled her eyes.

“What makes you think I could do all that for you?” she asked.

“I don’t know, my dear,” said John. “You seem to belong to another
world.” He stumbled. “You ‘re just a fairy sort of creature.”

The answer did not satisfy the instinctive innermost whence sprang the
question; but it served. Woman since the beginning of things has had to
content herself with half-answers from man, seeing that she vouchsafes
him scarcely any answers at all. She smiled and stretched out her hand.
John took it in his clumsy fingers. It was whiter than any hand in the
world, veined with the faintest of faint blue.

“Anyhow,” she said, “you ought n’t to have neglected the palace.”

“What was I to do?” he asked whimsically. “You ‘ve been so busy growing
up that you’ve had no time to help me to run it.”

“Oh!” she said. She withdrew her hand. “Oh, Belovedest, how can you say
such a thing!”

“You yourself,” laughed John, “asked whether it was months or years
since we talked of it.”

“I ‘ve never stopped thinking about it,” she protested, and she went on
protesting. But, like the Shakspearian lady, she protested too much.

“You’ve grown up, Stellamaris,” said John.

But how much of the old fairy-tale she still believed in he could
not gauge. He went away, man with the muck-rake that he was, with the
uncomfortable conviction that the roots of her child’s faith survived.

And yet she had grown up, and John, for the life of him, could not
understand it. He was puzzled, because the sweet reverence of the man
for the thing of sea-foam and cloud mystery that she had been to him
all his man’s life could not dream of physiological development. She
was longer and broader; that met the eye. Living in her extraordinary
seclusion from the multitudinous winds of earth, she could feel no
breath of the storms that shake humanity into the myriad moulds of
character. The physical side (other than mere linear and cubical
expansion) apart, there was no possibility of change from childhood
to womanhood. But John counted without his host--Nature, the host who
claims reckoning from us all, kick though we may against her tyrannies;
Nature, with her frank indecencies, her uncompromising, but loving,
realism. The physical side in the development of any human being cannot
be set apart. That passage of every maiden across the ford where brook
and river meet is accomplished without a good, careless man’s knowledge
or conjecture. He kisses her to-day, as he has kissed her since she
toddled with bare legs, and she responds, and it means little more to
her than an acidulated drop. He shall kiss her to-morrow, and she shall
grow as red as any turkey-cock, and cast down her eyes, and go through
all the pretty antics characteristic, since the beginning of time, of a
self-conscious sex. And the man shall go away scratching his head in a
deuce of a puzzle.



Another year passed. Stella was twenty-one. The routine of the Channel
House, of the house at Kil-burn, of the Fulham flat, went on unchanged
and unchanging. Time seems unimportant as a positive agent in human
affairs. It is the solvent of sorrow, but it cannot create joy. From its
benumbing influence no drama seems to spring. It is events--and events,
too, no matter how trivial--that have their roots mysteriously deep in
time that shake the world and make the drama which we call history. And
it was an event, apparently trivial, but sudden, unlooked for, amazing,
that shook the lives whose history is here recorded.

One morning, in obedience to a peremptory telegram from Sir Oliver
Blount, John Risca met him at the Imperial Club. The old man rose from
his seat near the entrance of the smoking-room into which John was
shown, and excitedly wrung both his hands. “My dear boy, you must come
to Southcliff at once.” Two or three times before he had been brought
down post-haste by Sir Oliver, only to find himself needed as a mediator
between husband and wife. He shook himself free.

“Out of the question, Oliver. I ‘m overwhelmed with work. I ‘ve got my
syndicate article to do, and the review goes to press to-night.”

“You don’t understand. It ‘s our darling Stella. This morning she lifted
her head from the pillow.”

“But that’s her death-warrant,” cried John, quickly. “It’s her
life-warrant. The fatal thing we’ve been warned against all these years
is no longer fatal. She can move her head easily, painlessly. Don’t you
see?” The weak old eyes were wet.

“My God!” said John. His breath came fast, and he clapped his great
hand on the other’s lean shoulders. “But that means--great God in
heaven!”.--his voice shook--“what may it not mean?”

“It may mean everything,” said Sir Oliver.

From time to time throughout Stella’s life the great magicians of
science had entered the sea-chamber and departed thence, shaking sad
and certain heads. With proper care, they said, Stellamaris might
live--might live, indeed, until her hair turned white and her young
cheeks shrivelled with age; but of leaving that bed by the window and
going forth into the outer world there was no hope or question. Still,
Nature, the inscrutable, the whimsical, might be cozened by treatment
into working a miracle. At any rate, no harm would be done by trying,
and her guardians would have the consoling assurance that nothing
had been left undone. They prescribed after their high knowledge, and
pocketed their high fees, and went their way. Dr. Ransome, Stella’s
lifelong doctor and worshipper, carried out each great magician’s
orders, and, as prophesied, nothing ever happened either for good or
harm.

But, six months ago, a greater magician than all, one Wilhelm von
Pfeiler of Vienna, who by working miracles on his own account with newly
discovered and stupendous forces had begun to startle scientific Europe,
happened to be in England, and was summoned to the sea-chamber. He was a
dark, silky-bearded man in whose eyes brooded perpetual melancholy. He,
too, shook his head and said “Perhaps.” Ransome, who had seized with
high hopes on the wandering magician, found him vastly depressing. His
“Perhaps” was more mournfully hopeless than the others’ “No.” He spoke
little, for he knew no English, and Ransome’s German, like that of
Stella’s household, was scanty; but Ransome understood him to croak
platitudes about time and youth and growth and nature being factors in
the case. As to his newly discovered treatment, well, it might have some
effect; he was certain of nothing; as yet no sure deductions could be
drawn from his experiments; everything concerning the application of
these new forces was at the empirical stage. So profound a melancholy
rang in his utterances that he left Lady Blount weeping bitterly, and
convinced that he had passed death-sentence on their beloved being. Then
a near-sighted, taciturn young man, a budding magician who had sat at
Von Pfeiler’s feet in Vienna, came down from London with apparatus worth
a hundred times its weight in gold. And nothing happened or seemed about
to happen. Stella called him the gnome.

All this John knew. Like the rest of Stella’s satellites, accustomed for
years to the unhesitating pronouncements of the great specialists and
to their unhealing remedies, he had little faith in Von Pfeiler. The
taciturn young surgeon who had been administering the treatment kept his
own counsel and gave no encouragement to questioners. John had agreed
with Sir Oliver that it was a waste of time and money--a fabulous amount
of money; but the treatment amused Stella, and she liked the gnome, whom
every one else detested, because he loved dogs, and cured Constable,
now growing old and rheumatic, of a stiff leg. So every one suffered the
gnome patiently.

And now the miracle had been worked. Stella had lifted her head from the
pillow. The two men sat tremulous with hope.

“I ‘ve been so upset,” said Sir Oliver, “and so has Julia. We had words.
Why, I don’t know. I love our darling quite as much as she does; but
Julia is trying. Waiter! Get me a brandy and soda. What will you have?
Nothing? I don’t usually drink spirits in the morning, John; but I feel
I need it. I’m getting old and can’t stand shocks.”

“What does Ransome say?”

“He ‘s off his head. Every one ‘s off his head. The very dog is rushing
about like a lunatic. Nearly knocked me down in the garden.”

“And Cassilis?”

Cassilis was the gnome.

“Ransome has telegraphed him to come down at once. But I thought I’d run
up and tell you. We might go together to see him and fetch him back with
us. You ‘ll come, won’t you?”

“Come? Why, of course I’ll come. What do you think I ‘ll do? Stay in
London at such a time and send her a post-card to say I’m glad?”

“You said something about seeing your review through the press.”

“Oh, confound the review! It can go to the devil!” cried John.

London ablaze with revolution would have been a small matter compared
with this world-shaking event, the lifting of a girl’s head.

“It will be such a comfort to me,” said the old man. “I don’t know
what to do. I can’t rest. My mind’s in a maze. It’s like the raising of
Jairus’s daughter.”

“Let us do some telephoning,” said John.

They went out together. John rang up Cassilis. He had been out all the
morning and would not be returning for another hour. John rang up Herold
at a theatre where he knew him to be rehearsing, and gave him the glad
news. They returned to the smoking-room. Sir Oliver drank off his brandy
and soda at one gulp.

“And Stella herself? What does she make of it?”

“The only one not upset in the house. That little girl ‘s an angel,
John.” He blew his nose violently. “It appears she was stretching out
her arm to pat the old dog’s chaps, overreached herself a bit, and
mechanically her head came away from the pillow. She called out to
nurse, ‘Nurse, I ‘ve lifted my head.’ Nurse flew up to her. ‘What do you
mean, darling?’ She showed her. She showed her, by God! Nurse forbade
her to do it any more, and flew down-stairs like a wildcat to tell us.
Then we telephoned to Ran-some. He saw her; she did it for him; then
he came to us white and shaking all over. Naturally I wanted to see the
darling child do it, too. Julia interfered. Stella must n’t do it again
till Cassilis came. Then we had the words. She said I was eaten through
with egotism--I! Now, am I, John?”

Presently Herold dashed, in, aflame with excitement. The story, such as
it was, had to be told anew.

“I ‘ll come with you to Cassilis, and then on to Southcliff.”

“But your rehearsal?” said John.

Herold confounded the rehearsal, even as John had confounded his review.
In the presence of this thrilling wonder, trivialities had no place.

Cassilis received this agitated and unusual deputation without a flicker
of surprise. He was a baldheaded, prematurely old young man, with great,
round spectacles. He gave one the air of an inhuman custodian of awful
secrets.

“I presume you have called with reference to this,” said he, indicating
a telegram which he held in his hand. “I’ve just opened it.”

“Yes,” said Sir Oliver. “Is n’t it wonderful? You must come down with us
at once.”

“It’s very inconvenient for me to leave London.”

“My dear sir, you must throw over every engagement.”

The shadow of a smile passed over the young man’s features.

“If you press the point, I’ll come.”

“But are n’t you astounded at what has occurred? Don’t you understand
Ransome’s message?”

“Perfectly,” said Cassilis. “I ‘ve already written to Dr. von Pfeiler--a
week: ago--detailing the progress and full success of the case.”

“Then you know all about it?” asked John. “Naturally. I’ve been
practising her at it for the last fortnight, though she did n’t realize
what I was doing.”

“Then why on earth did n’t you tell us?”

“I had arranged to tell you to-morrow,” said Cassilis.

“I don’t think you’ve acted rightly, sir,” cried Sir y Oliver.

“Never mind that,” said Herold. “Mr. Cassilis doubtless has his
excellent reasons. The main thing is, Will her cure go beyond this? Will
she get well and strong? Will she be able to walk about God’s earth like
anybody else?”

The little gnome-like man straightened with his toe a rucked corner
of the hearth-rug. He paused deliberately before replying, apparently
unmoved by the anxious eyes bent on him. There was a span of agonized
silence. Then he spoke:

“This time next year she will be leading a woman’s normal life.”

[Illustration: 0180]

The words fell clear-cut on the quiet of the room. The three men uttered
not a word. Cassilis, asking their leave to make some small preparations
for his journey, left them. Then, relieved of his presence, they drew
together and pressed one another’s hands and stood speechless, like
children suddenly brought to the brink of some new wonderland.



CHAPTER XII

Thenceforward a humming confusion reigned in the Channel House. The
story of the miraculous recovery spread through Southcliff. Sir
Oliver and Lady Blount held a little court every day to receive
congratulations. A few privileged well-wishers were admitted to the
sea-chamber, where Stella still lay enthroned by the window. She had not
realized the extent of her fame among the inhabitants until a garrulous
visitor told her that she was one of the pet traditions of the place and
that her great-windowed room at the top of the house on the cliff was
always pointed out with pride to the tourist.

In her mysterious seclusion she had become a local celebrity. This
interest of the little world grouped about the Channel House added a joy
to her anticipation of mingling with it. The affection in which she was
held by butcher and baker, to say nothing of the mayor and corporation,
cemented her faith (in which she had been so jealously bred) in the
delightful perfection of mankind.

Meanwhile she progressed daily towards recovery, very slowly, but with
magical sureness. Cassilis continued his treatment. Queer apparatuses
were fitted to her so that she could go through queer muscular
exercises. She was being put into training, as it were, for life. Every
new stage in her progress was marked by fêtes and rejoicings. The first
time that her bed could be wheeled into a room on the other side of the
house was a solemn occasion. It was July, and the rolling hills, rich in
corn-fields and forest greenery, were flooded with sunlight. The
earth proclaimed its fruitful plenty, and laughed in the joy of its
loveliness.

That which to those with her was a commonplace of beauty stretched
before Stellamaris’s vision as a new and soul-arresting wonder. She had
only elusive, childish memories of the actual earth; for before she had
been laid upon her back never to rise again, she had been a delicate,
invalid child. She had seen thousands of pictures, so that she was at
no intellectual loss to account for the spectacle; but, for all her life
that counted, sea and sky in their myriad changes had been her intimate
conception of the world. And it had been her world--the only world that
her eyes would ever rest upon; and as it had never entered her head
to hope for another, it had sufficed her soul’s needs. Indeed, it
had overwhelmed them with its largess, until, as Herold declared,
she herself had become a creature of cloud and wave. This sudden
presentation of a new and unrealized glory set her heart beating madly;
her cheeks grew white, and tears rolled down them.

“Now, is n’t that a beautiful view?” said Lady Blount.

“Soon we ‘ll hire a motor, until you can buy one for yourself, and go
and explore it all, my dear,” said Sir Oliver.

“Southcliff lies just below there on the left,” said the nurse.

“See that red roof there between the trees? That’s where our old friend
Colonel Dukes lives. Devilish good house; though, if he had taken my
advice when he was building it, it would have been much better.”

“And just over there,” said Lady Blount, pointing-, “is the railway that
takes you to London.”

“You ‘re quite wrong, Julia,” said Sir Oliver; “that’s a bit of the
south coast line. Is n’t it, John?”

“Oliver is right. You can’t see the London line from here,” said John.

They went on talking, but Stella, in a rapture of vision, heeded them
not. Herold, who stood quite close to her, was silent. She held his
hand, and gripped it almost convulsively. John, with rare observation,
noticed that her knuckles were white. Her face was set in an agony
of adoration too poignant for speech. John, curiously sensitive where
Stella was concerned, realized that these two hand in hand were close
together on a plane of feeling too high for the profane. With a little
movement of deprecation which neither Herold nor Stella perceived, he
pushed the others toward the door and, following them out of the room,
closed it behind them.

“Better leave her alone with Walter,” said he.

“Quite so,” said Sir Oliver. “Just what I told you, Julia. We must let
her go slow for a bit and not excite her.”

“I don’t remember you ever saying anything of the kind,” retorted Lady
Blount. “It was Walter.”

“Well, Oliver agreed with him, which comes to the same thing,” said
John, acting peacemaker.

But they wrangled all down the corridor, and when the two men were left
alone, Sir Oliver shook his head.

“A trying woman, John; very trying.”

Meanwhile Stella and Herold remained for a long time in the quiet room
without the utterance of a word. As soon as the others went, her grasp
relaxed. Herold drew a chair gently to her side and waited patiently
for her to speak; for he saw that her soul was at grips with the new
glory of the earth. At last a quivering sigh shook her, and she turned
her wet eyes away from the window and looked at him with a smile.

“Well?” said he.

“I feel that it is all too beautiful.”

“It makes you sad.”

“Yes; vaguely, but exquisitely. How did you guess?”

“Your eyes have been streaming, Stellamaris.”

“Foolish, is n’t it?”

“I suppose it ‘s the finite realizing itself unconsciously before the
infinite. Is it too much for you?”

She shook her head. “I should like to stay here and gaze at this forever
till I drank it all, all in.”

“Have you ever read the life of St. Brigit?” he asked. “There’s one
little episode in it which comes to my mind.”

“Tell me,” said Stella.

“She founded convents, you know, in Ireland. Now, there was one nun
dearly loved by St. Brigit, and she had been blind from birth; and one
evening they were sitting on one of the Wicklow Hills, and St. Brigit
described to her all the beauties of the green valleys below, and the
silver streams and the purple mountains beyond, melting into the happy
sky. And the nun said, ‘Sister, pray to God to work a miracle and give
me sight so that I can see it and glorify Him.’ So St. Brigit prayed,
and God heard her prayer, and the eyes of the nun were opened, and she
looked upon the world, and her senses were ravished by its glory. And
then she fell to weeping and trembling and she sank on her knees before
St. Brigit and said, I have seen, but I beseech thee pray that my sight
be taken again from me, for I fear that in the beauty of the world I may
forget God.’ And St. Brigit prayed again, and God heard her, and the
nun’s sight was taken from her. And they both lifted their voices to
heaven and glorified the Lord.”

Stella sighed when he had ended, and quiet fell upon them. She looked
dreamily out of the window. Herold watched her face, with a pang at his
heart. It was as pure as a little child’s.

“It’s a lovely legend,” she said at last. “But the nun was wrong. The
beauty of this world ought to bring one nearer to God instead of making
one forget Him.”

Herold smiled. “Certainly it ought to,” said he. “Why did you tell me
the story?”

“Because it came into my head.”

“There was some other reason.”

He could not deny, for in her candid eyes he saw assurance; yet he dared
not tell her that which dimmed the crystal of his gladness. He saw the
creature of cloud and foam gasping in the tainted atmosphere of the
world of men; the dewdrop on the star exposed to the blazing sun. What
would happen?

“I am going to get well,” she continued, seeing that he did not answer,
“and walk out soon into the gardens and the streets and see all
the wonderful, wonderful things you and Belovedest have told me of.
And”--she pressed her hands to her bosom--“I can’t contain myself for
joy. And yet, Walter dear, you seem to think I should be better off if I
remained as I am--or was. I can’t understand it.”

“My dear,” said Herold reluctantly, wishing he had never heard of St.
Brigit, “so long as you see God through the beauties and vanities of
the world, as you’ve seen Him through the sea-mists and the dawn and the
sunset, all will be well. But that takes a brave spirit--braver than St.
Brigit’s nun. She feared lest she might see the world, and nothing but
the world, and nothing divine shining through. People who do that lose
their souls.”

“Then you think,” said Stellamaris, wrinkling her smooth brow--“you
think that the blind have the truer vision.”

“Truer than that of the weak, perhaps, but not as true as the strong
spirits who dare see fearlessly.”

“Do you think I am weak or strong?” she asked, with a woman’s relentless
grip on the personal.

“What else but a strong spirit,” he replied half disingenuously, “could
have triumphed, as you have done, over a lifelong death?”

“Death?” She opened her eyes wide. “Death? But I’ve lived every hour of
my life, and it has been utterly happy.”

“The strong spirit, dear,” said Herold.

“Great High Favourite dear, what else could you say?”

She laughed, but the tenderness in her eyes absolved the laugh and the
feminine speech from coquetry.

“I might talk to you as John Knox did to Mary, Queen of Scots.”

Just as life had been translated to the hapless Miss Kilmansegg of the
Golden Leg into terms of gold, so had it been translated to Stella into
terms of beauty. History had been translated, accordingly, into terms
of romance. She had heard, indeed, of Mary Stuart, but as a being of
legendary and unnaughty loveliness. At the stem image of the grave
Calvinist she shrank.

“John Knox was a horrid, croaking raven,” she emphatically declared,
“and nobody could possibly talk like that nowadays.”

Herold laughed and turned the conversation into lighter channels. The
Unwritten Law prevailed over his instinctive impulse to warn her against
the deceptive glamour of the world. Then the hour struck for an item
in the invalid’s routine, and the nurse came in, and Stella was wheeled
back to her high chamber.

Many days of her convalescence after this were marked with red stones.
There was the first day when, carried down-stairs, she presided from her
high couch at a dinner-party given in her honour, the guests being John
Risca and Walter Herold, Wratislaw and the nurse, Dr. Ransome and his
wife, and the gnomeheaded and spectacled Cassilis.

It was a merry party, and towards the end of dinner, when the port went
round, Stella’s own maid coached for the part, at a sign from Sir Oliver
who commanded silence, spoke in a falsetto voice sticking in a nervous
throat the familiar words: “Miss Stella’s compliments, and would the
gentlemen take a glass of wine with her.” And they all rose and drank
and made a great noise, and the tears rolled down John Risca’s cheeks
and fell upon his bulging shirt-front, and Sir Oliver blew his nose
loudly and made a speech.

A great day, too, was her first progress in her wheel-chair about the
grounds of the Channel House. All was wonder and wild delight to the
girl who had never seen, or had seen so long ago that she had forgotten,
the velvet of smooth turf; the glory of roses growing in their heyday
insolence; the alluring shade of leafy chestnuts; the pansies clinging
to dear Mother Earth; the fairy spray of water from a hose-pipe over
thirsty beds; the crisp motion, explaining the mysterious echo of years,
of the grass-mower driven over the lawn; the ivy tapestry of walls; the
bewildering masses of sweet-peas; the apples, small and green though
they were, actually hanging from boughs; the real live fowls, jaunty in
prosperous plumage, so different from the apologetic naked shapes--fowls
hitherto to her, which Morris, the maid, had carved for her meals at
a side table in the sea-chamber, the cabbages brave in crinkled leaf,
unaware of their doom of ultimate hot agglutination, the tender green
bunches of grapes in glass-houses drinking wine from the mother founts
of the sun, the quiet cows on the gently sloping pasture-land.

At last she put her hands over her eyes, and Herold made a sign, and
they wheeled the chair back to the house; and only when they halted in
the wide, cool drawing-room, with windows opening to the south, did she
look at outer things; and then, while all stood by in a hush, she drew
a few convulsive breaths and rested her overwrought spirit on the calm,
familiar sea.

A day of days, too, when, still in glorious summer weather, they hired
an enormous limousine from the great watering-place a few miles off,
and took her all but prone, and incased in the appliances of science,
through the gates of the Channel House into the big world. They drove
over the Sussex Downs, along chalk roads, between crisp grass-lands
dotted with sheep, through villages,--gleams of paradises compact of
thatched roof, rambler roses, blue and white garments hung out on lines
to laugh in the sunshine, flashing new stucco cottages, labelled “County
Police” (a puzzle to Stellamaris), ramshackle shops, with odd wares,
chiefly sweets, exposed in tiny casement windows, old inns flaunting
brave signs, “The Five Alls,” “The Leather Bottell,” away from the road,
with a forecourt containing rude bench and table and trough for horses,
young women, with the cheeks of the fresh, and old women, with the
cheeks of the withered apple, and sun-tanned men, and children of
undreamed-of chubbiness. And to Stellamaris all was a wonderland of joy.

During most of the month of August the rain fell heavily and outdoor
excursions became rare events, and the world as seen from windows was
a gray and dripping spectacle. But Stella, accustomed to the vast
dreariness of wintry seas, found fresh beauties in the rain-swept earth.
The patter of drops on leaves played new and thrilling melodies; a slant
of sunshine across wet grass offered magical harmonies of colour; the
unfamiliar smell of the reeking soil was grateful to her nostrils. And
had she not the captivating indoor life among pleasant rooms in which
she had hitherto dwelt only in fancy? Hopes in the process of fulfilment
gilded the glad days.

She talked unceasingly to those about her of the happy things to come.

“Soon we ‘ll be teaching you to walk,” said John.

She glowed. “That’s going to be the most glorious adventure of my life.”

“I ‘ve never regarded putting one foot before another in that light,” he
said with a laugh. Then suddenly realizing what he had said, he felt a
wave of pity and love surge through his heart. What child of man assured
of a bird’s power of flight would not be thrilled at the prospect of
winging his way through space? It would be indeed a glorious adventure.

“My poor darling!” said he, very tenderly.

As usual, she disclaimed the pity. There was no one happier than herself
in the wide universe.

“But I often have wondered what it would feel like.”

“To walk?”

“Yes. To have the power of moving yourself from one place to another. It
seems so funny. Of course I did walk once, but I’ve forgotten all about
it. They tell me I shall have to learn from the beginning, just like a
little baby.”

“You ‘ll have to learn lots of things from the beginning,” said John,
rather sadly.

“What kind of things?”

“All sorts.”

“Tell me,” she insisted, for ever so small a cloud passed over his face.

“Taking your place as a woman in the whirl of life,” said he.

She turned on him the look of untroubled sapience that proceeds from the
eyes of child saints in early Italian paintings.

“I don’t think that will be very difficult, Beloved-est. I’m not quite
a little ignoramus, and Aunt Julia has taught me manners. I have always
been able to talk to people when sick, and I don’t see why I should be
afraid of them when I’m well. I ‘ve thought quite a lot about it, and
talked to Aunt Julia.”

“And what does she say?”

“She assures me,” she cried gaily, “that I am bound to make a sensation
in society.”

“You ‘ll have all mankind at your feet, dear,” said John. “But,” he
added in a change of tone, “I was referring to more vital things than
success in drawing-rooms.”

She laid her hand lightly on his..

“Do you know, Belovedest, what Walter said some time ago? He said that
if I looked at the world and saw God through it, all would be well.”

“I can add nothing more to that,” said John, and, thinking that Herold
had been warning her of dangers, held his peace for the occasion.

Then there came a day, not long afterward, when she made the speech
which in some form or other he had been expecting and dreading.

“The next glorious adventure will be when you take me over the palace.”

He laughed awkwardly. “I remember telling you that the palace has run to
seed.”

“But you still live in it.”

“No, dear,” said he.

“Oh!” said Stellamaris in a tone of deep disappointment. “Oh, why, why?”

John felt ridiculously unhappy. She believed, after all, in the
incredible fairy-tale.

“Perhaps it was n’t such a gorgeous palace as I made out,” he confessed
lamely. “As the cooks say, my hand was rather heavy with the gold and
marble.” She laughed, to his intense relief. “I have felt since that
there was a little poetic exaggeration somewhere. But it must be a
beautiful place, all the same.” His spirits sank again. “I could walk
about it blindfold, although we have n’t talked of it for so long. Who
is living there now?”

“I ‘ve sold it, dear, to some king of the Cannibal Islands,” he declared
in desperate and ponderous jest. “So there’s no more palace?”

“No more,” said he.

“I ‘m sorry,” said Stellamaris--“so sorry.” She smiled at him, but the
tears came into her eyes. “I was looking forward so to seeing it. You
see, dear, I’ve lived in it for such a long, long time!”

“There are hundreds of wonder-houses for you to see when you get
strong,” said John, by way of consolation, yet hating himself.

“Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle, and so on. Yes,” said Stella,
“but they ‘ve none of them been part of me.”

So he discovered that, at one-and-twenty, on the eve of her entrance
into the world of reality, the being most sacred to him still dwelt in
her Land of Illusion. Two or three frank words would have been enough to
bring down to nothingness the baseless fabric of his castle in the
air, his palace of dreams; but he dreaded the shock of such seismic
convulsion. He had lied for years, putting all that was godlike of his
imperfect humanity into his lies, so as to bring a few hours’ delight
into the life of this fragile creature whom he worshiped, secure in the
conviction that the lies would live for ever and ever as vital truths,
without chance of detection. And now that chance, almost the certainty,
had come.

John Risca’ was a strong man, as men count strength. He faced the
grim issues of life undaunted, and made his own terms. He growled when
wounded, but he bared his teeth and snarled with defiance at his foes.
In a bygone age he would have stood like his Celtic ancestors, doggedly
hacking amid a ring of slain until the curtain of death was drawn before
his blood-shot eyes and he fell, idly smiting the air. In the modern
conflict in which, fortunately, human butchery does not come within the
sphere of the ordinary man’s activities, he could stand with the same
moral constancy. But here, when it was a mere question of tearing a
gossamer veil from before a girl’s eyes, his courage failed him. Such
brute dealing, he argued, might be salutary for common clay; but for
Stellamaris it would be dangerous. Let knowledge of the fact that there
had never been a palace come to her gradually. Already he had prepared
the way. Thus he consoled himself, and, in so doing, felt a mean and
miserable dog.



CHAPTER XIII

STELLA loved the garden, even when autumn came and flowers were rare;
for still there was the gold and russet glory of the trees. Also the
garden was a bit of her Promised Land; the road beyond the gate ran into
the heart of the world. And the open air brought strength. On sunny days
her wheel-chair was brought down and set on a gravel path, and there,
wrapped in furs, she sat, generally alone save for the old hound always
on guard beside her. She read, and dreamed her innocent dreams, and
looked up at the ever-novel canopy of the sky, exulting quietly in her
freedom. Those around her knew her needs and gave her at such times the
familiar solitude which she craved.

“Don’t be left alone, darling, a moment longer than you want,” said Lady
Blount. “Too much of that sort of thing is n’t good for you.”

And Stella, trying to interpret herself, would reply, “I just want to
make friends with nature.”

“I wish I could understand you, dear, like Walter,” said Lady Blount.
“What exactly do you mean?” Stella laughed, and said truthfully that
she did not know. Perhaps, it was that, the sea having taken her to
its heart, she feared lest earth might not be so kindly, and she
sought conciliation. But such flutter-ings of the spirit are not to
be translated into words. A day or two before she had driven through
a glade of blazing beech, carpeted deep brown, and the shadows twisted
themselves into dim shapes, stealing through the mystery of the slender
trunks, and the longing to be left alone among them and hear the message
of the woodland had smitten her like pain.

One morning she sat warmly wrapped up, a fur toque on her head, in the
pale autumn sunshine, with Constable by her side, when a draggled-tailed
woman, carrying a draggled-bodied infant, paused by the front gate,
taking stock of the place in the tramp’s furtive way; and, spying the
gracious figure of the girl at a turn of the gravel path, walked boldly
in. Before she had advanced half-way, Constable, hidden by Stella’s
chair, rose to his feet, his ears cocked, and growled threateningly. The
woman came to a scared halt. Stella looked up and saw her. Quickly she
laid her hand on the dog’s head, and rated him for a silly fellow and
bade him lie down and not move till she gave the order. Constable, like
an old dog who knew his place, but felt bound to protest, grumblingly
obeyed. He had lived for eleven years under the fixed conviction that
though female tramps with babies were permitted by some grotesque
authority to wander on sufferance along the road, they could enter the
gates of the Channel House only under penalty of instant annihilation.
His goddess, however, through some extraordinary caprice ordaining them
to live, the matter was taken out of his hands. Let them live, then, and
see what came of it. It was beyond his comprehension.

“Don’t be afraid,” cried Stella in her clear voice. “The dog won’t hurt
you.”

“Sure, Miss?”

“Quite sure.” She smiled bountiful assurance. The draggled-tailed woman
approached. “What do you want?”

The woman, battered, dirty, and voluble, began the tramp’s tale. She had
started from Dover and was bound for Plymouth, where she was to meet her
husband, a sailor, whose ship would arrive to-morrow. What she had been
doing in Dover, except that she had been in ‘orspital (which did not
account for the child’s movements), she did not state. But she had
slept under hedges since she had started, and had no money, and a kind
gentleman, Gawd bless him! had given her a hunk of bread and cheese
the day before, and that was all the food they had had for twenty-four
hours.

As she talked, Stella’s unaccustomed eyes gradually took in the
scarecrow details of her person: the blowzy hat, with its broken
feathers; the greasy ropes of hair; the unclean rags of raiment; the
broken and shapeless boots; the huddled defilement of the staring,
unwholesome child; and she began to tremble through all her body. For
a while the sense of sight was so overwhelming in its demands that she
lost the sense of hearing. What was this creature of loathsome ugliness
doing in her world of beauty? To what race did she belong? From what
planet had she fallen? For what eccentric reason did she choose to
present this repulsive aspect to mankind?

At last, when her sight was more or less familiarized with the spectacle
of squalor, the significance of the woman’s words came to her as to one
awaking from a dream.

“Not a bit of food has passed my lips since yesterday at twelve o’clock,
Miss, and Gawd strike me dead, Miss, if I ain’t telling the blessed
truth.”

“But why have n’t you bought food?” asked Stella.

The woman stared at her. How could she understand Stellamaris?

“I have n’t a penny in the world, Miss. The day afore yesterday a lady
give me twopence, and I spent it in milk for the child. S’welp me, I
did, Miss.”

“Do you mean to tell me,” said Stella, whose face had grown tense and
white, “that it’s impossible for you to get food for yourself and your
baby?”

“Indeed I do, Miss.”

“That the two of you might die of starvation?”

“We ‘re a-dying of it now, Miss,” said the woman.

God knows that she lied. The tramp’s life is not a path of roses, and it
is not one suitable for the rearing of tender babes, and the fact of its
possibility is a blot on our civilization; but the hard-bitten vagabond
of the highroad has his or her well-defined means of livelihood. This
was a mistress of mumpery.

She had passed the night in the comfortable casual ward of a workhouse
five miles away, and had slept the dead sleep of the animal, and she and
her baby had started the day with a coarse, though sustaining, meal. She
was wandering on and on, aimlessly from workhouse to workhouse, as
she had wandered from infancy, begging a sixpence here, and a plate of
victuals there, impeded in her stray-cat freedom only by the brat in
her arms, yet fiercely fond of it and regardful of its needs. She was
a phenomenon that in our civilization ought not to exist. She was
acquainted with hunger and thirst and privation; she was anything of
misery that you like to describe; but she was not dying or likely to die
of starvation.

The sociology of the tramp, however, was leagues outside the knowledge
of Stellamaris. She looked at the woman in awful horror until her
delicate face seemed to fade into a pair of great God-filled eyes.

“And you have no roof to shelter you from the cold and rain?”

After the manner of her kind the woman assured her that such was the
fact. She put her head on one side, wheedling in the time-honoured way.

“If you would help a poor woman with a shilling or two, kind lady--”

“A shilling or two?” Stella’s voice broke into a cracked falsetto.
“You shall have pounds and pounds. I ‘ll see that you don’t die of
starvation. I have no money to give you,--I’ve scarcely ever seen
any,--but I have thousands of pounds in the house, and you shall have
them all. If I could only walk, I would ask some one to fetch them to
you. But I can’t walk. I’ve never been able to walk all my life. You
see, I ‘m tied here till my maid comes for me. What can I do?” She wrung
her hands, desperately, stirred to the roots of her being.

“Never walked?” said the woman, taken aback, the elementary human fact
appealing more to her dulled senses than the phantasmagorical promise of
wealth. “Lor’! Poor young lady! I ‘d sooner be as I am, Miss, than not
be able to walk. And such a sweet young lady!” Then the gleam of the
divine being spent, she said, “Can’t you call anybody, Miss?”

But there was no need to call anybody; for one of the maids, having
caught sight of the intruder through a window of the house, came flying
down the path, a protecting flutter of apron-strings.

“What do you mean by coming in here? Go away at once! We have nothing to
do with tramps. Be off with you!”

She was breathless, excited, indignant.

“Hold your tongue, Mary!” cried Stella in a tone so unfamiliar that it
petrified the simple maid. “How dare you interfere between me and the
person I am talking to?” It must be remembered that Stella was of mortal
clay. She had her faults, like the rest of us. She was born and bred
a princess, an autocrat, a despot, a tyrant. And here was one of the
white-hot moments of life when the princess was the princess and the
tyrant the tyrant. The new commotion brought the old dog again to his
feet. For the only time in her life she struck him in anger, though
physically he felt it as much as the fall of an autumn leaf.

“Down, Constable, down!” And turning to the maid: “Wheel my chair into
the drawing-room and ask Lady Blount to come to me. You follow us!” she
commanded the tramp.

The bewildered Mary obeyed. The procession was formed: Stella, in her
chair; Mary; Constable, head down, wondering like an old dog at the
queer, newfangled ways of the world; and the bedraggled woman, with her
pallid and staring baby.

The chair was wheeled across the threshold of the drawing-room. The
tramp paused irresolute. Bidden to enter and sit down, she chose a
straight-backed chair near the door. Mary sped to fetch her mistress
to deal with the appalling situation. In a moment or two Lady Blount
hurried in. The woman rose and sketched a vague curtsy.

Lady Blount began:

“My darling Stella--”

But Stella checked her, stretching out passionate hands.

“Aunt Julia, give me two or three thousand pounds at once, please,
please!”

“My dear, what for?” asked the amazed lady.

“To give to this poor woman. She and her baby are dying of starvation.
They are dressed in rags. They have no home. It ‘s dreadful, horrible!
Can you conceive it?”

Lady Blount turned to the woman.

“Go round to the kitchen entrance, and they will give you some food. I
‘ll see you myself later.”

The woman thanked her and blessed her, and disappeared.

“My dearest,” said Lady Blount, gently, “you can’t give such people vast
sums of money.”

“Why not? She has none. We have a lot. How can we live in comfort when
she and her baby are wandering about penniless. They will die. Don’t you
understand? They will die.”

“We can’t provide for them for the rest of their lives, dear.”

“But we must,” she cried. “How can you be so cruel?”

“Cruel? My dearest, if I give her a plate of food, and some milk for the
baby, and send her away with a shilling, she will be hugely delighted. A
woman like that is not a very deserving object for charity.”

Stella’s bosom rose and fell, and she regarded Lady Blount in sudden,
awful surmise.

“Auntie darling, what do you mean? Why are n’t you horrified?”

“She’s only a tramp. Neither she nor the baby is going to die of
starvation. And, darling, you must n’t let folks like that come near
you. Goodness knows what horrible diseases they may be suffering from.”

“But that makes it all the worse. If she is ill, we must help her to get
well.”

“My poor innocent lamb,” said Lady Blount, “there are thousands like
her. They are the dregs of our civilization. We could n’t possibly
keep them all in luxury, could we? Now, don’t be distressed, dear,” she
added, bending down and kissing the girl’s cheek.

“I ‘ll go and have a word with the woman. I ‘ll treat her quite
generously, for your sake, you may be assured.”

She smiled, and went out of the room, leaving Stella crushed beneath an
avalanche of knowledge. Filthy, starving shreds of humanity were common
objects in the beautiful world--so common as to arouse little or no
compassion in the hearts of kind women like the maid Mary and her
Aunt Julia. All they had thought of was of her, Stella, her danger
and possible contamination. Toward the woman they were callous, almost
cruel. What did it mean? Her chivalrous anger died down; reaction came.
She looked about her beautiful world piteously, and then for the first
time in her life she wept tears of bitter sorrow.

They told her afterward of the tramp’s wayward, wandering life, of the
various charities that existed for the regeneration of such people, of
the free hospitals for the sick, of the workhouse system, and they
gave her John Risca’s famous little book to read. Eventually she was
convinced that it was quixotic folly to bestow a fortune on the first
beggar that came along, and she acquitted her aunt of cruelty. But a
cloud hung heavy for a long time over her spirits, and a stain soiled
the beauty of the garden, so that it never more was the perfect
paradise. And, henceforward, when she drove through the streets of the
great watering-place near by, and through the villages which still held
something of their summer enchantment, her eyes were opened to sights of
sorrow and pain to which they had been happily blind before.

Winter came, and the routine of her life went on, despite revolutionary
changes of habit. Her heart had learned not to be affected by the
transition from the prone to the sitting posture. No longer did
beholders realize her as nothing but a head and neck and graceful arms,
and no longer was a dressing-jacket the only garment into which she
could throw her girlish coquetry. Her hair was done up on the top of her
head in the manner prescribed by fashion, and she wore the whole raiment
of womankind.

John, when he first saw her reclining in her invalid chair, dressed in
a soft gray ninon gown, a gleam of silk stocking peeping between the
hem and a dainty-shoe, hung back for a second or two from a feeling of
shyness. It was a shock to find that Stella had feet like anybody
else, and very prettily shaped, adorable little feet. It seemed almost
indelicate to look at them, as it would be to inspect too curiously the
end of a mermaid’s tail. She held out both hands to greet him, laughing
and blushing.

“How do you like me?” she asked.

The lights of the drawing-room were dim, and the firelight danced
caressingly over her young beauty.

“I ‘ve never seen anything so lovely,” said John, looking at her in
stupid admiration until her eyes dropped in confusion.

“I did n’t mean me, you silly Belovedest. I meant my new dress, my
general get-up. Don’t you think it’s pretty?”

“I do,” said John, fervently.

But what cared he, or what would have cared any man worth the name of
man, for the details of her feminine upholstery, when the revelation of
her complete deliciousness burst upon him? It was then that he realized
her as woman. It was from that moment that she haunted his dreams not as
Stellamaris, star of the sea, child of cloud and mystery, but as a sweet
and palpitating wonder in a marvel of flesh and blood.

Despite dangers, and through the stress of tradition, the Unwritten
Law still prevailed. The episode of the tramp caused her to ask many
questions; but they answered them discreetly. Even when she grew strong
enough to take her active share in the world’s doings her life
would still be a sheltered one. Knowledge would come gradually and
unconsciously. Why wantonly give her the shocks of pain? But even a
guarded house and garden could not be the sanctuary of the sea-chamber.
Breaths of evil and sighs of sorrowful things come on the winds of the
earth into most of the habitations of man. The newsboy alone flings into
every household his reeking record of sin. This last did not penetrate
into the sea-chamber; but lying about the rooms, it could not escape a
girl’s natural curiosity.

“Young ladies don’t read newspapers, dear,” said Lady Blount, asking
Heaven’s forgiveness for her lie.

“Why?” A natural question.

“They contain accounts of things which are not fit reading for young
girls.”

Stella pondered over this reason for some time; but one day she said:

“I am no longer a young girl. I am a grown-up woman. I want to know what
the world is like. I hear every one talking of parliament and politics
and foreign countries, and I am ignorant of it all, my dear Exquisite
Auntship. I have a right to know everything about life. You must let me
read the newspapers.”

“Well, wait just a little, dearest,” said Lady Blount.

And the next time John Risca and Walter Herold came down, she took
counsel of them, and they reluctantly agreed that no longer could
the old régime of the Unwritten Law be enforced. Stella must have her
newspaper. Thenceforward, every morning, the portentous package of “The
Times” (none of your sensational half-penny shockers!) was laid upon
Stella’s lap, and she read, poor child, the foreign news, and the
leaders, and all the solemn and harmless and unimportant matters in big
print until she yawned her pretty head off, in vast disappointment with
newspapers. It all seemed to her ingenuous mind such a wordy fuss about
nothing. Still, she read conscientiously about tariff reform and naval
armaments and female suffrage and the pronouncements of the German
Emperor and home rule for Ireland, in the puzzled assurance that thereby
she was fitting herself for her future place in the great world.

But one day Lady Blount, going into the pleasant morning room where
Stella now usually had her being, found her sitting with tragic face,
staring out of the window, the decorous “Times” lying a tousled,
crumpled mass on the floor. She was alarmed.

“Darling, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, it’s hateful! It’s unthinkable! Why did n’t you tell me that such
things happened nowadays?”

“What things?”

Stella pointed to the outraged organ of British respectability.

“A day or two ago--it ‘s all true that ‘s in the newspaper, is n’t
it? It’s not made up? It all happens?--a day or two ago, while we
were laughing here, a man took a knife and killed his wife and three
children. It’s incredible that there can be such monsters in the world.”

“My darling, when you know a little more,” faltered Lady Blount, “you
will learn that there are abnormal people who do these dreadful things
and get reported in the newspapers. But they have nothing to do with us.
You must n’t be frightened. We never come across them. Our life is quite
different.”

“But what does that matter?” cried the girl, with agonized eyes. “They
exist. They are among us, whether we happen to meet them or not. They
are like the tramps.”

The world-worn woman, lined and faded, her red hair turned almost gray
now, put her arms around the girl, and sought physically to bring the
comfort that her intelligence was not acute enough to convey in speech.
Stella hid her face against the kind bosom and sobbed.

“Auntie dear, I’m frightened, so frightened!”

“Of what, darling?”

“Of ugliness and wickedness and horror.”

“Nothing of that, dear, can ever come our way. It does n’t come the way
of decent folk. People like us don’t have anything to do with that side
of life.”

Stella still sobbed. The words brought no conviction. Lady Blount
continued her unenlightened consolation. Let the precious ostrich stick
her head in a bush, and that which she could not see could by no chance
happen.

“But men are out there--” she waved her arm vaguely--“who kill women and
little children.”

“But we never meet the men,” cried poor Lady Blount, insistently. “Our
lives are free from all that.”

She preached her narrow gospel. There was a class of beings in the
world who did all kinds of ferocious, criminal, cruel, mean, and vulgar
things; but they were a class apart. In the world in which she herself
and Stella and John and Walter dwelt all was beauty and refinement.
Stella dried her eyes. At one-and-twenty one cannot weep forever. She
allowed herself to be half persuaded of the truth of her Aunt Julia’s
sophistries. But the little, impish devil who stage-manages the comedies
of life arranged a day or two afterward a sardonic situation.

It was the mildest of December mornings. Old Autumn humped a brave and
kindly shoulder against Winter’s onrush. A faint south-west wind crept
warmly over the Channel, and sweet odours came from the moist, unsmitten
earth. A pale sun clothed the nakedness of the elms and chestnuts in
the garden, and brightened to early spring beauty the laurels and firs.
Stella, with Constable near by, sat in the sunshine, by the ivy-clad
north-eastern front of the old Channel House, and her chair was beneath
the window of the morning-room. Now that she could sit upright, she
had learned to use her hands in many ways. She could knit. She was
knitting now, vaguely and tremulously hoping that the result might be a
winter waistcoat for her Great High Belovedest, intent on her counting,
one, two, three, four, pearl one, when suddenly voices in altercation
broke upon her ear.

It was merely an unhappy, ignoble quarrel such as for many years had
marred that house of sweet-seeming. Fierce hatred and uncharitableness
were unchained and sped their clamorous and disastrous way. Bitter words
uttered in strident and unnatural tones wounded the quiet air. The
woman lost her dignity in vain recrimination. The man snarled savage
and common oaths. Suddenly the door slammed violently, and there was the
silence of death. The scene had lasted only a few moments. Sir Oliver,
in his foolish anger, had evidently followed his wife into the morning
room and left her abruptly. But the few moments were enough for Stella,
who had heard everything. Her heart seemed frost-bitten, and her blood
turned to ice.

The cruel, vulgar, and hideous things of life were not the appanages of
a class apart. They entered into her own narrowed world. Her beautiful
world! Her hateful, horrible terror of a world!



CHAPTER XIV

IN midwinter the shadow that hung over John gathered into storm-cloud.

Miss Lindon, in pathetic despair, had abandoned her notion of turning
Unity into a young lady of young-ladylike accomplishments. She could
perform whatever marvels of exquisite sewing Miss Lindon could imagine,
but there her proficiency in the elegances came to an end. The girl’s
tastes, Miss Lindon lamented, were so plebeian! She would sooner make
puddings than afternoon calls; she would sooner sweep and dust and
polish than read instructive or entertaining literature. In her
child-of-the-people’s practical way, she had ousted Miss Lindon from the
management of the household, thereby coming into conflict with the stern
Phobe, no longer feared, who hitherto had carried out, according to her
own fancy, the kind lady’s nebulous directions. Miss Lindon sighed,
and surrendered her keys, inwardly thankful to be relieved of crushing
responsibilities. She had never known how to order dinner for John. If,
after agonized searching, she had decided on lamb, and sweet peas and
grouse and asparagus, it was only to be told that some or all of them
were out of season. And she could never check the laundry-list, so
eternally mysterious were the garments worn by man.

Unity was a born economist. As soon as she took over the seals of
office, she abolished the easy and expensive system of tradesmen calling
for orders. She herself marketed, and that was her great joy. Every
day she took her market-bag and busied herself among the shops in the
Kilburn High Road, choosing her meat with an uncanny sureness of vision,
knocking extortionate pennies off the prices of vegetables, and
seeing generally that she had good value for her money. Miss Lindon,
accompanying her on one or two of these excursions, was shocked and
scared at her temerity. How dared she talk like that to the greengrocer?
Unity replied that she would talk to him until he did n’t know himself
if he gave her any more of his nonsense. She was n’t going to allow her
guardian to be robbed by any of them, not she; she was up to all their
tricks.

“I suppose you thought that was a good lettuce, Auntie?”

“I am no judge, dear,” said Miss Lindon; “but surely you ought n’t to
have hurt his feelings by saying that its proper place was the dust-bin,
and not a respectable shop.”

“He understands me all right,” laughed Unity.

All the tradesmen did, and they respected the shrewdness of the
businesslike little plebeian, whom they recognized and treated as one of
their own class; and Unity saved her beloved guardian many shillings a
week, which was a matter of proud gratification. She held her head high
nowadays. She had found herself.

Once chatting casually with Herold, John said with the air of Sir
Oracle:

“Unity has got quite a strong character.”

Herold laughed. “Did n’t I tell you so nearly three years ago? You would
n’t believe me.”

“You talked some nonsense about love,” growled John.

“Well, have n’t you given it to her in your bearish way? What would you
do in this house without her? You’d be utterly miserable.”

“I suppose I should,” said John. “But I wish you would get out of the
infernal habit of always being in the right.”

One afternoon--it was the Saturday before Christmas--Unity took the
market-bag and went out to do her shopping. Evening had fallen on a
thin, black fog. The busy thoroughfare was a bewildering fusion of flare
and gloom. The Christmas crowd, eager to purchase or to gladden their
eyes with good things unpurchaseable, thronged the pavements--an
ordinary, crowd of middle-class folk, careless of the foggy air,
enjoying the Christmas promise in shops almost vulgarly replete. A
hundred rosetted carcasses in a butcher’s shop where ten hung the day
before is marvel enough to attract the comfortable loiterer, and the
happy butcher’s “Buy! Buy!” as he stands in a blaze of light sharpening
his knife, is an attraction peculiarly fascinating. What with the stream
entering and issuing from shops, the wedges of loiterers glued to shop
windows, the two main currents of saunter-ers, progress was difficult.
In the murky roadway motor-omnibuses and carts flashed mysteriously by
in endless traffic. All was uproar and ant-heap confusion.

Unity, resolute, squat little figure, made her purchases, and, having
made them, lingered, joyously in the throbbing street, her hereditary
element. She was never so happy as when rubbing shoulders with her kind.
The whistling shop-boy and the giggling work-girl were her congeners.
For the sake of her guardian and Aunt Gladys she never spoke to such
ungenteel persons, but in their swiftly passing company she had a sense
of comfort and comradeship. Often she went out without knowing why. The
street called her.

The sights and sounds of it provided an ever-changing, ever-exciting
drama. A street accident, a fallen horse, a drunken man, held her
fascinated. And tonight the abnormal life of the street afforded an
extra thrill of exhilaration; there was so much to see. At last she
found her progress blocked by a crowd hanging about a confectioner’s
window. She wormed her way through, and was rewarded by the enthralling
spectacle of a huge clock-work figure of Father Christmas, who drew
from his wallet the shop’s special plum-pudding at ninepence-halfpenny
a pound. It was mighty fine, and Unity never heeded the tossing and
buffeting of the admiring crowd..The light shone hard on the ring
of pink faces framed by the blackness beyond. Then eager sight-seers
jostled her into the background.

Suddenly she felt a sharp and awful pain in her side. She shrieked aloud
and turned. The baffling figure of a woman in black hurrying into the
maw of the darkness met her eyes before the startled crowd closed about
her. She put her hand instinctively to the tortured spot, and drew out
from her flesh a long hat-pin; then she fainted.

An assistant in the shop, coming out to know the cause of the hubbub,
recognized her and had her brought indoors. The policeman on the beat
soon shouldered his way in. They put poor Unity on a shutter, covered
her with rugs, and, followed by a tail of idlers, bore her to the house.

John came home soon afterwards and found an agitated Aunt Gladys in
process of being reassured by a kindly doctor that Unity was not dead.
The wound, though ugly and painful, was little more than flesh deep.
The hat-pin had glanced off a corset bone and penetrated obliquely.
Straightly driven, however, it would have been a deadly thrust. Of the
murderous intent there could hardly be any doubt. A sergeant of police
was also waiting for John; but John let him wait, and rushed in his
bull-like way upstairs.

Unity, who had long since recovered consciousness, lay in bed, her wound
tended, a cheerful fire lit, and Phoebe in attendance. John dismissed
the latter with a gesture and flung himself on his knees by the head of
the bed.

“‘My God! child, what has happened?”

For all the difference of surroundings,--the pretty room and fine
linen,--the common little face on the pillow was singularly like that
which he had seen in the orphanage infirmary. But there was a deeper
trust in the girl’s eyes, for they were lit with a flash of joy at his
great distress.

She recounted simply what had occurred.

“You saw the woman disappear?”

“I think so. It was all so quick.”

It was a woman’s stab. What man would use a hat-pin? And there could be
only one woman alive who would stab Unity.

“Did you recognize her?”

His voice was hoarse, and his rugged face full of pain. She regarded him
steadily.

“No, Guardian.”

“It was not--she?”

“No,” said Unity.

“Are you sure?”

Unity clenched her hands and turned away, and her eyes grew hard.

“If it was, I should have known her.”

John rose to his feet and stood over her, his arms folded, and looked
at her from beneath his heavy brows. Unity met his gaze. And so they
remained for a second or two, and each knew that the other knew who had
dealt the blow.

“It was n’t her,” said Unity.

The words were stamped with finality. John, meeting the girl’s set
gaze, had a glimpse of rocky strata far beneath. No process of question
invented by man would induce her to unsay the words.

“There’s a police sergeant downstairs,” said he.

“I did n’t see no woman either,” said Unity, significantly.

And John did not notice her unusual relapse into orphanage speech.

Soon afterward he left her and joined the sergeant in the hall. The
policeman asked the stereotyped questions. John replied that Miss
Blake--it was, as far as he knew, the first time he had given Unity her
full style and title, and the name sounded odd in his ears--that Miss
Blake had seen nothing of her assailant and could give no information
whatever.

“You suspect nobody?”

“Nobody at all,” said John, decisively. “You need n’t trouble to pursue
the matter any further, for the wound luckily is trifling, and in any
case I should not prosecute.”

“As you please, sir,” said the Sergeant.

“Good evening, and thank you,” said John.

“This is the hat-pin, sir.”

“You can leave it with me,” said John.

He went into his study and examined the thing. It was of common make,
the head being a ball of black glass. A million such are sold in cheap
shops.

He had no doubt as to the owner. She had spied upon him craftily, bided
her time, and had then struck. He had not seen her since the day they
had met in Maida Vale and he had unceremoniously packed her home,
and for the last few months she had not molested him. Now came this
unforeseen, dastardly attack.

He rang for Phobe, gave a message for Miss Lindon, and went out with an
ugly look on his face. A taxicab whirled him swiftly across London to
Amelia Mansions in the Fulham Road. Mrs. Bence answered his ring.
He stepped into the hall, and in his blundering way strode down the
passage. The woman checked him.

“Mrs. Rawlings is n’t in, sir. She is with Mrs. Oscraft, the lady
down-stairs.”

He turned abruptly.

“Has she been out this afternoon?”

“She went out to lunch with Mrs. Oscraft and came back with her an hour
ago.”

He drew the hat-pin from the inside of his overcoat, where he had stuck
it. “Do you recognize this?”

The woman looked puzzled. “No, sir,” she said. “Mrs. Rawlings has n’t
any like it?”

Mrs. Bence inspected the pin. “No, I’m sure. If she had, I would have
known.” She saw the trouble in his face. “What has happened, sir?”

He told her briefly. The woman knitted a perplexed brow.

“I don’t see how it could have been her, sir,” she said. “She’s nearly
always with Mrs. Oscraft, and very seldom goes out by herself, and
to-day, as I ‘ve said, she went out and came back with her. And I’m sure
she has n’t had a hat-pin like that in use.”

“What exactly is this Mrs. Oscraft?” he asked. Mrs. Bence added to his
vague knowledge. Her husband was a book-maker, very often absent from
home, having to frequent race-meetings and taverns and other such
resorts of his trade. She had many friends, male and female, of the same
kidney, a crew rowdy and vulgar, but otherwise harmless. She and Mrs.
Rawlings had become inseparable.

“I ‘ll go down and see her,” said John.

Mrs. Oscraft, an overblown blonde, floppily attired, opened the door of
her flat.

“Hello! Who are you?” she asked.

He explained that he was the husband of Mrs. Rawlings.

“So you are. She ‘s got a portrait of you. Besides, I ‘ve seen you here.
She ‘s in the drawingroom. Come along in and have a whisky and soda or a
glass of champagne.”

He declined. “I owe you a thousand apologies for intruding,” said he,
“but if you would answer me just one question, I should be greatly
obliged.”

“Fire away,” said the lady. “Won’t you really come in?”

“No, thank you,” said John. “Will you tell me where my wife has been
this afternoon?”

“With me all the time,” said Mrs. Oscraft, promptly. “We ‘ve been doing
Christmas shopping in Kensington High Street, and only just got back.”

“She did n’t go near Kilburn?”

“Lord bless you, no!” said the lady. “Look here, would you like to see
her?”

“No,” said John. He apologized again, and bade her good evening. He
descended the stone stairs with a bewildered feeling that he had made a
fool of himself; and Mrs. Oscraft, as soon as the door was shut, put her
thumb to her nose and twiddled her fingers in the traditional gesture of
derision.

John went away sore and angry, like a bull that, charging at a man,
unexpectedly butts up against a stone wall. He had no reason for
disbelieving Mrs. Oscraft, and the hat-pin was not his wife’s. Yet
who but his wife could have been the aggressor? It might have been an
accident. It might have been a man--such cases are not uncommon--with
the stabbing and cutting mania. Unity’s fleeting glimpse of the woman
in black might have been a trick of shadow in the lamplit fog. Yet in
the deed he felt the hand of the revengeful and cruel woman. He was
baffled.

On his way home he called on Herold, whom he found at dinner.

“I shall never know a moment’s peace of mind,” he said gloomily, after
they had discussed the matter, “until she is put under restraint. If
she did n’t do it, as you make out--” Herold held to the theory that a
person could not be in two places, Kensington and Kilbum, at the same
time--“she is quite capable of it.”

“It’s a mercy,” said Herold, “that you did not see her and tax her with
the offence, and so put the idea into her head.”

“I believe she did it all the same,” said John, obstinately.

“But why should Mrs. Oscraft have lied? Mrs. Bence saw them go out and
come in together. You can’t suppose the other woman was an accomplice.
It’s absurd.”

“I know it is,” said John. “But the absurd often turns up in a
churchwarden’s unhumorous kit of reality in this Bedlam of a world.”

They argued until it was time for Herold to go to his theatre, when John
went home and ate a belated dinner in such a black mood that Miss Lindon
dared not question him.

And that was the end of the matter. Unity’s wound healed after a few
days, and sturdily refusing Phoebe’s protection on her walks abroad,
she resumed her marketing in the Kilburn High Road. John called on the
district inspector of police and obtained the ready promise that folks
running amuck with hatpins should be summarily arrested and that his
house and ward should be placed under special supervision.

It was characteristic of the terms of dumb confidence on which John and
Unity lived together that neither of them referred again to the possible
perpetrator of the outrage. When she became aware that the policemen in
this district always kept her respectfully in sight and, on passing her,
saluted, she knew that her guardian had so ordained things. One day in
the New Year she entered his study, and stood at attention.

“Please, Guardian, may I have half-a-crown?”

He fished the coin out of his trousers’ pocket and handed it to her.

“I don’t want it for myself,” she said.

She had her allowance for pin-money, which she was too proud to exceed.
As a matter of fact, she hoarded her pennies in the top of an old
coffee-pot and out of her savings bought not only finery for herself,
but startling birthday and Christmas presents for her guardian and Aunt
Gladys. It was astonishing what Unity could do with elevenpence three
farthings.

John, knowing her ways, smiled.

“What do you want it for, then?”

“I’m going to give it to my best policeman,” she said, and marched out
of the room.

That was her only acknowledgement of her appreciation of the measures he
had taken to ensure her safety. He understood, and, when telling Herold
of the incident, called her, after the loose way of man, “a rum kid.” Of
the obvious he was aware, and it pleased him; but subtler manifestations
escaped his notice. It never occurred to him that it was more than a
pleasing accident of domestic life when, on letting himself into the
house with his latch-key, he should find Unity, drab and stolid, her
cheeks and snub nose and prominent forehead shining in the unladylike
way deplored by Miss Lindon, as if polished with yellow soap, and her
skimpy hair bunched up ungracefully, with patient, unchanging eyes,
awaiting him in the little hall, her hands already outstretched to take
hat and stick and to help him off with his overcoat. Yet ninety-nine
times out of a hundred it happened. He did not notice the orderly
confusion wrought by the ingenuity of sleepless nights out of the
chaos of his study. Wishes--just the poor, commonplace little wishes
of household life--what could poor, commonplace little Unity, with her
limited soul-horizon, do more for him? wishes vaguely formulated in
his mind he found quickly and effectively realized, and worried,
hard-working, honest man that he was, he took the practical comforts
sometimes as a matter of course, now and then with a careless word of
thanks, and never dreamed--how could he?--of the passionate endeavour
whereby these poor, commonplace little things came to pass.

There can be as much beautiful expenditure of soul--as beautiful in
the eyes of God, to whom, as to any philosopher with a working idea of
infinity, the fall of a rose-petal must be as important as the fall of
an empire--in the warming of a man’s slippers before the fire by the
woman who loves him as in all the heroisms of all the Joans of Arc and
the Charlotte Cordays and the window-breaking, policeman-scratching,
forcibly fed female martyrs of modern London that have ever existed. It
is a proposition as incontrovertible as any elementary theorem of Euclid
you please; but so essentially unphilosophic is man, to say nothing of
woman,--for a man would sooner break stones, play bridge, go bankrupt,
slaughter his wife and family, or wear a straw hat with a frock-coat
than brace his mind to think--that this self-evident truth passes him by
unrecognized, unperceived, unguessed.

The volcanic forces of life--essentially such as act and react
between man and woman--lie hidden deep down in the soul’s unknown and
unsuspected cauldron, and their outward manifestations are only here and
there a puff of smoke so fine and blue that it merges at once into the
caressing air. The good, easy man plants his vines on the mountain-side.
The sky is serene, the sun fills his grapes with joyousness. Then comes
eruption, and the smiling slope is smitten into the grin of a black
death’s-head.



CHAPTER XV

WINTER came and melted into spring. Physically Stella had progressed
beyond all hopes. Like the Lady in “The Sensitive Plant,” she walked
a ruling grace about the garden of the Channel House, and nursed the
daffodils and narcissi and tulips with tender hands. In these she took
a passionate joy curiously exceeding that in other revelations of the
great world. Indeed, during most of the winter, she had shrunk from
mingling with humanity. Her zest for the new life had been dulled. She
found excuses for not going beyond the garden gate, and of her own free
will did not seek the society of those dear to her. The windows of her
sea-chamber once more afforded her the accustomed outlook, and the gulls
wheeling high in the wintry gusts again became her companions.

The Blounts let her have her way,--was she not autocrat?--putting down
her hesitations and cravings for solitude to a young girl’s delicate
whimsies of which they could not divine the motive; for she, who had
once been expansive, now had grown strangely reticent. Even Herold, who
used to accompany her into the Land That Never Was, did not gain her
confidence. Into those mystic regions she could admit him freely; but
the Threatening Land that lay beyond the threshold of her sea-chamber a
heart-gripping shyness forced her to tread alone.

“Life has frightened you,” he said one day.

“How do you know that?” she asked, with a quick glance.

He smiled.

“You are like an Æolian harp set in the wind, my dear.”

“Only you can hear it.”

“Every one hears it.”

She shook her head.

“No; only you.”

“That’s as may be,” he said, with a laugh. “Anyhow, something has
frightened you. What is it?”

Stella rose--she had learned to walk; the hours of her exercises had
been the gayest in her day--and touched him lightly with her fingers on
the shoulder, and went and stood by the great window of the drawing-room
and looked out at her sky and sea. The Great High Favourite, with his
uncanny insight, had read her truly. Womanlike, she did not know whether
to resent his surprising of her innermost secret or to love him for it.
She was understood; that was balm. Yet what right had he to understand?
The question was a drop of gall. The pure spirit of her flew to the
chosen companion of her dreams; something--the nature of which she was
unaware--sex-instinct--forbade too close an intimacy in things real and
tangible. And there was a touch of resentment, too, in an outer circle
of her mind. Why had he given her no warning of the Threatening Land? He
had allowed her to step ignorantly upon its thorns, and her feet still
bled.

Herold turned in his chair and glanced at her slim figure framed by the
window. Then he went softly to her side.

“Stellamaris, you are dearer to me than anything on God’s earth. Tell me
what frightens you. Maybe I can help you.”

But Stella shook her head. She had been accustomed from childhood to
lavish terms of endearment from her little band of intimates, and her
woman’s nature was as yet not enough awakened to catch the new and
subtle appeal. A girl’s pride froze her. The wounds that he had allowed
her to receive she would cure by herself. She touched his hand, however,
to show that she appreciated his affection. The touch sent a thrill to
his heart.

“Stella, dear!” he whispered.

Then, as a note struck on a piano causes the harmonic on the violin to
vibrate, so did his tone stir a chord in the girl’s nature, occasioning
an absurd little flutter of trepidation. She laughed, and threw wide the
folding-doors that opened upon the lawn.

“Don’t let us talk of bogies on such a beautiful day. I want to show you
my crocuses.”

It was her sovereign pleasure to break off the conversation. He dared
not press her. She took him out among her crocuses and daffodils, and
became the Stella he had always known, with the exception that now she
dwelt in a spring flower’s bloom instead of in a bit of silver in
the flying scud. They talked eternal verities concerning the souls of
flowers.

After this unsatisfactory and, to, a certain extent, baffling
visit, Herold went back to London with a heartache, which induced an
unaccustomed moodiness. At the theatre that night, Miss Leonora Gurney
took him to task. Now, Miss Gurney (Mrs. Hetherington in private life;
she had divorced the disreputable Hetherington years ago, and had not
remarried) was a very important and captivating person. She was a woman
of genius, a favourite of the London public, a figure of society,
in management on her own account, wherein she showed shrewd business
ability, and very much in love with Walter Herold, wherein she showed
much of the weakness of Eve. This season Herold was her leading man.

To say that Herold had wrapped himself up in his Joseph’s garment (not
the one of many colours, but the other one equally famous) during all
his stage career would be mendacious folly. Many a ball had come to him
at the bound, and he had returned it gaily. He had laughed an honest way
through innumerable love-affairs--things of the moment, things of
the fancy, things of no importance whatsoever. Many maidens, and some
matrons, had wept for him, but none bitterly. He had established a
reputation for lack of seriousness in matters of the heart. His bright,
blue eyes would flash at you, and his low, musical voice would murmur
no matter what, even were it the Lord’s Prayer backward, and you caught
your breath, and lost your head, and were perfectly ready to say if
he asked you, and sometimes even if he did n’t ask you: “Take me, I am
yours.” But whatever he did, he never rose to the passionate height,
or sank to the unromantic depth, of the situation. Which things were a
mystery.

To qualify what might appear to be a sweeping proposition, it may be
stated that there are certain phases in certain women’s lives when
they make straight for the mystery surrounding a man, as moth does for
candle, and singe their wings in so doing. Thus singed were the chaste
and charming wings of Leonora Gurney. Herold, no more aware of an aura
of mystery than of a halo, received the lady’s advances in his frank,
laughing way. She had the raven hair, dark, blue eyes, and white skin
of an Irish ancestry. She was exceedingly attractive. She played her
love-scenes with him--his part in the piece was that of a broken-down
solicitor’s clerk who entertained an angel unawares--with an artistic
sympathy that is the rare joy of the actor, when he feels, like one who
has the perfect partner in a waltz, that he merges his own individuality
into a divine union. At the end of the third act the curtain came down
on the angel bending over his chair, her hand in his. It remained there,
a warm and human thing, and her breath was on his cheek, for a
long time, while the curtain went up and down. It was by no means
disagreeable to hold Leonora’s hand and feel her breath on his cheek,
after the common emotion of the swinging scene. Hundreds of men would
have given their ears to have done the same without any swinging scene
at all.

Herold certainly took the lady by the tips of her fingers and adventured
with her into the Land of Tenderness--the _Pays du Tendre_ of the old
French romanticists. How could mortal man help it? The theatre and the
theatrical world clacked with gossip. The unapproachable Leonora, the
elusive Herold: it was brilliant high-comedy marriage. Already those
not bound by romance criticized the possibilities of a joint management.
Could he always play lead to her? Was not his scope, exquisite in it
though he was, too limited? She was the Juliet of her generation. Would
he be content to play the Apothecary? Sooner or later there would be
the devil to pay. To the onlookers who see most of the game and to the
overhearers who hear ever so much more, the affair between the two was
a concluded matter; but the parties to the supposed contract still
wandered in the sweet pastures of the indefinite. And this was through
no fault of the lady. She did her best, as far as lay in the power of
modest woman, to lead him to the precise highroad; but Herold remained
as elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp.

“You ‘re not very responsive to-night, Walter,” she said during a wait
in the first act, which they generally spent on the stairs leading from
stage to dressing-rooms.

In the intimate world of the theatre the use of the Christian name is a
commonplace signifying nothing; but a trick of voice may make it signify
a great deal. Herold, sensitive, caught her tone and bit his lip.

“The actor’s Monday slackness,” said he.

“Where have you been week-ending?”

“Nowhere in particular.”

“And you refused Lady Luxmore’s invitation, knowing that I was to be
there, in order to go nowhere in particular?”

“The floor of that house is littered with duchesses,” said he. “Its
untidiness gets on my nerves.”

“That’s too flippant, Walter. Why not say at once that you went to
Southcliff?”

“That’s nowhere in particular,” said he. “It’s my second home.”

“And you come back from it as merry as a young gentleman in a Hauptmann
play. You are barely civil.”

“My dear Leonora!” he protested.

She looked him straight in the eye and shook her head.

“Barely civil. What have I done to you?”

“You have always shown yourself to be the sweetest of women,” said he.

“Then why not treat me as such?”

She stood near him on the narrow stair, alluring, reproachful, menacing,
yet ready to be submissive. Despite her make-up, her proud beauty shone
replendent. If she had been a wise woman, she would have let him answer
the challenge. But a woman in love is an idiot; Heaven forbid that she
should be otherwise! So is a man, for the matter of that; but he obeys
an elementary instinct of self-protection. Woman essentially disobedient
(_cf. Rex Mitndi vs. Eve_) does not. Hence storms and tempests and
cataclysms. Seeing him hesitate, she added jealously:

“I believe there is more attraction in the shadow-child at Southcliff
than I have been led to suppose.” A man of the world, he ignored the
challenge, and turned off the innuendo with a laugh.

“Who can say what is shadow and what is substance here below? Kant will
tell you that nothing exists save as an idea in our minds.”

“I don’t seem to exist in yours at all.”

“There you wrong me,” he cried.

They fenced as they had fenced before; but on her mention of
Stellamaris, Herold had closed against her the outer court of his heart
into which she had stepped, and, looking at her, had become frozenly
aware that the dark Irish eyes, and the raven hair on a stately head,
and the curved, promising lips, and the queenly figure, and the genius
and rich womanhood of which these were the investiture of flesh, meant
to him nothing and less than nothing. The woman read her sentence in his
eyes, and abruptly left him, and stood in the wings until her entrance.
And Herold, manlike, gave her no thought; for his head was in a whirl,
and his heart afire, with a new and consuming knowledge. The splendour
of all the Leonora Gurneys, of all the splendid women of the earth,
faded into a pale glimmer before the starry eyes of one girl.

As a wonder-child, as a thing of sea-foam and sunset cloud, she had
crept into his soul and had taken up therein her everlasting habitation.
She was the very music of his being, an indissoluble essence of himself.
He wondered, as men untouched by love do wonder, why no woman had done
more than stir the surface of emotion. Now he knew. He had loved her in
her exquisite ideality with a love that was more than love. Now, in her
magical transformation, he loved her with love itself.

Stella Maris, star of the sea! Stella Herold, star of that which is
greater than all the multitudinous seas of earth, the soul of a man!

He dreamed his dreams, and gave that evening an exceedingly bad
performance.



Soon afterwards, with drums playing and colours flying, Stella came
with her retinue to London. She had rooms in a magnificent hostelry,
a magnificent hired motor-car to transport her, and as magnificent
raiment, chosen by her own delicate self, as any young woman could
desire. But despite all this magnificence, she wept over many a lost
illusion. Where were the music-haunted streets, the golden pavements,
the gorgeous castles, the joyous throngs of which John, years ago, had
fed the swift imagination of the child?

On their way from Victoria’ Station they passed through St. James’s
Park.

“That’s Buckingham Palace,” said Sir Oliver, with more pride than if he
owned it.

“That?”

Her heart sank like a stone dropped down a well: That dingy,
black barrack the stately home of the king? And when they swung up
Constitution Hill and lined up in the traffic by Hyde Park Corner,
“This,” said Sir Oliver, “is Piccadilly.”

What she had expected, poor child, to find in Piccadilly, she scarcely
knew; but from infancy, the name had a sweet and mystic significance.
It connoted beauty and grandeur; it was associated in her mind with silk
and gold and marble. It was what a street in the New Jerusalem might
have been had John of Patmos had the training of a star reporter. Poor
Piccadilly! To the Englishman the most beauteous, the most seductive,
the fullest of meaning of all the thoroughfares of the cities of the
world, to the disillusioned girl it was only a dismal, clattering,
shrieking ravine. Why had they lied to her? She could not understand.

The first evening she was overstrained, and went to bed early; but the
next night they took her to see the play in which Herold was acting.

“I ‘ll bring her round between the acts,” said John to Herold, during a
discussion of the adventure.

“You ‘ll do nothing of the sort,” said Herold.

“It will interest her tremendously to go behind.”

“And see all the tinsel and make-believe? What a fool you are, John!”

“Well, anyhow, we ‘ll come and see you in your dressing-room,” said
John, who recognized some reason in his friend’s objection. “We can get
round without crossing the stage.”

Herold put his hands on John’s great shoulders.

“My dear John,” said he, “I love my profession very dearly, but there’s
one thing in it which I loathe, and that is having to paint my face.”

He said no more; but John understood, though he thought it somewhat
finicking of Herold to shrink from meeting Stella in his make-up. He
had seen him talk thus to dames and damsels of the most exalted station
without a shadow of false shame.

So Stella went to the play without peeping behind the scenes; and then,
indeed, she once more lived in her Land of Illusion. The hushed house,
spectral in the dim light, seemed part of a dream-world. On the stage,
life real and vibrating passed before her enraptured eyes. During the
first part of the play she squeezed John’s hand tight, and during the
intervals said very little. She did not question the means by which
Herold transformed himself into the broken-down solicitor’s clerk.
He was the solicitor’s clerk, and no longer Herold. His love for
the beautiful woman, at first so hopeless, wrung her heart. Then the
response of the woman set her pulses throbbing. The third act, an
admirable piece of crescendo, reached a height of passion which held her
tense. Love the Conqueror, the almighty, spread his compelling pinions
over the breathless house. It was a revelation. She had never suspected
the existence of such a tumultuous phenomenon. Love she had heard of,
the love of Prince Charming for Princess Rose; but it had meant no more
to her than the loves of butterflies. This was different. It explained
things she had not understood in music. It opened up the world that had
lain hidden beyond the crimson of her sunsets.

When the curtain came down on the end of the great love-scene she was
too much overwrought to applaud. She sat pale, shaken, limp, with only
one great desire--that all surroundings would vanish and that she could
find herself by her window looking out over the moonlit sea. There, she
felt, she could weep her heart out; here her eyes were intolerably dry.

Sir Oliver rose and stretched himself at the back of the box.

“Devilish good! Splendid! Never thought Walter could touch it. Miss
Gurney, too, immense. Puts one in mind of Adelaide Neilson. Best Juliet
there has ever been. Before your time, John. Jolly good job, however,
people don’t go on like that in real life.”

Stella turned her head quickly.

“What do you mean, Uncle?”

“People go a bit quieter, my dear,” he laughed.

“Gad! If that sort of thing became popular, it would tear us all to
bits.”

He went out to smoke, dragging John with him. Stella put a wistful
little gloved hand on Lady Blount’s knee.

“Is that true, Auntie?”

Lady Blount sighed. Such storms of emotion had not come her way. She
looked backward over the dreary vista of sixty barren years. One such
hour of madness, and what a difference in her memories!

“I can’t tell you, darling. Perhaps not, if two people love each other
very, very dearly; but they must do that--and love is n’t given to every
one.”

An ingenuous question rose to the girl’s lips, but it died there,
poisoned by the remembrance of vile words of hatred. Instead, she asked:

“How many people, then, love like those two in the play?”

“About one in a million,” replied Lady Blount.

And Stella, with the young girl’s sweet and natural wonder whether she
might possibly be one of the million, felt the hot blood rise to neck
and cheek. Ashamed, she held her fan before her face and, leaning over
the front of the box, watched the shimmering stalls.

The play over, they drove home in the magnificent motor-car. Supper
awaited them in their sitting-room, where Herold was to join them later.
Stella lay back on the luxurious seat, nestling by Lady Blount, languid,
with closed eyes. The others, thinking that she was physically fatigued,
said little. They did not realize the soul-shaking effect of the
revelation of human passion on their pure star of the sea. It was not
given them to divine the tempest--such a one, perhaps, as that which
rocks the bee on its flower, though a storm all the same--that raged
beneath the mask of the delicate face. They thought she was fatigued,
and because they loved her they did not weary her with speech.

She was indeed tired, desperately tired, by the time they arrived at the
hotel. She could scarcely walk up the steps. John supported her to the
lift. When they reached their landing, he took her bodily in his arms
and carried her down the corridor, Sir Oliver and Lady Blount hurrying
on in front, so as to open the sitting-room door and turn on the lights.
Stella’s head lay on John’s shoulder, an arm, for security’s sake,
instinctively round his neck. The way was long, the lift serving the
wing wherein their apartments were situated being out of working order,
and John lingered on the delicious journey.

“Poor darling! We ‘ve exhausted you,” he whispered.

She shook her head and smiled wanly. “It was wonderful.” And after
a second she said: “And this is wonderful, too. How strong you are,
Beloved-est.”

“Do you like me to carry you?”

She opened her eyes and they looked dreamily into his. He laughed, and
bent his head, and kissed her. He had kissed her thousands of times
before, but this time her soft lips met his for an instant, and when
they parted, her eyes closed again, and she lay back very white in his
arms. And John, too, was shaken, and held the delicate body very tight
against him and quickened his pace.

He laid her gently on a couch in the sitting-room. Lady Blount was all
for her going then and there to bed; but she pleaded for a sight of
Herold. He came in a few moments afterwards. She roused herself, thanked
him in her gracious way for the evening of delight.

“To-morrow, dear, I ‘ll tell you all about it. I am just a little bit
dazed now.”

“Has it been a great adventure?” he asked, with a laugh.

Involuntarily she glanced at John and saw his eyes fixed on her. She
flushed slightly.

“Perhaps the greatest of all,” she said.

The men walked together the common part of their homeward journey. John
slipped his arm through his friend’s, a rare demonstration of affection.

“Wallie, old man,” said he, “I ‘m in hell again. I ‘ve got to get out. I
must n’t see any more of Stella.”

“Why not?”

“Just that. I must get out of her life somehow. Things have changed.
It’s too horrible to think of.” Herold shook himself free and halted.

“My God!” he cried, “you?”

John threw up his arms in a gesture of despair. “Can I help it? It is
n’t given to man to help these things.”

“And Stella?”

“I must get out of her life,” said John.

“It will be difficult.”

“What can you suggest?”

“Nothing,” said Herold--“nothing now.”

They moved on, and walked in dead silence to the parting of their ways.



CHAPTER XVI

THE making and the executing of a good resolution are two entirely
different actions. The former is a process as instantaneous as you
please--one born of passion, heaven-sent inspiration, alcohol, or New
Year hysteria; the latter one of practical handling conditioned by the
entanglement of a thousand circumstances. If a man carried out with
lightning rapidity every good resolution he formed, he would inevitably
make marmalade of his affairs, and clog therein the feet and bodies of
many innocent people as though they were wasps. With evil resolutions it
is another matter. You want to play the devil, and the sooner and more
completely you do it, the nearer do you approximate to your ideal. But
it is very dangerous to do good, and involves a vast amount of weary
thought and trouble.

It was all very well for John Risca to resolve to go out of the life
of Stellamaris, but how could he do so without committing the manifest
absurdity of taking a ticket for equatorial Africa? He was beset by
forbidding circumstances. There was his work; there was Unity; there was
his aunt; there was Stellamaris herself; and, chief of all, there was
the baleful figure of the woman who went about with murderous hatpins.
Thus in an ironical way did history repeat herself. Six years before
he was all for flying to the antipodes on account of his wife, and was
restrained by consideration of Stellamaris; and now, when it would
be the heroical proceeding to fly to the ends of the earth from
Stellamaris, he was restrained by considerations in which his wife was a
most important factor.

He lay stark awake all night, wondering how he could carry out his
resolve. At dawn he came to the only sane conclusion. He could not carry
it out at all, at least in no desperate or brutal fashion. When he got
up and faced the daylight world, he scorned himself for a fool. The soft
clinging of her lips had transmuted the worship of years into the fine
gold of love. That was true, maddeningly true. His being was aflame with
the new and wondrous thing. But Stellamaris? To her the kiss that she
gave had been one of gratitude, affection, trust, weariness. She had
lain in his arms and had felt safe and sheltered, and so had kissed him,
the Great High Belovedest of her childhood. To her the kiss had meant
nothing. How could it? How could passion touch the creature of sea-foam
and cloud? And even allowing such an extravagant possibility, how could
he, great, rough, elderly, ugly bear that he was, inspire such a
feeling in a young girl’s heart? He a romantic figure! He, with the
pachydermatous mug that offended his eyes as he shaved! He denounced the
monstrous insolence of his overnight fancy. He would keep tight grip on
himself. She should never know. As far as the infinitely precious one
was concerned, all would be well. So argued the human ostrich.

After his morning’s work at the office of the weekly review, he went
to the Carlton, where the party of intimates had arranged to lunch. He
arrived early, but found Herold, who was earlier, waiting in the palm
court.

“Look here, old man,” said he as he sat down by his side, “forget the
fool nonsense I talked last night.”

“Did n’t you mean it?” asked Herold.

“Yes,” said John, bluntly. “I did n’t sleep a wink. But forget it all
the same. Things have got to go on outwardly just as they are.”

“As you like,” said Herold. He lit a cigarette, and after a whiff or
two, added: “I must repeat what I hinted at and what you seemed to reply
to. What about Stella?”

“It’s absurd to think of her suspecting,” said John.

Herold’s nervous fingers snapped the cigarette in two.

“She must never suspect,” said he.

“Do you think I’m a devil?” said John.

“No. You ‘re a good fellow. Who knows it better than I? But you ‘re
passionate and impulsive. You must be on your guard--not for the next
two or three days, but for ever and ever.”

“All right,” said John. “Now put the matter out of your mind.”

Herold nodded, squeezed the burning end of his broken cigarette into an
ash-tray, and lit another.

“You ‘re looking fagged out, Wallie,” said John, after a while. “What
have you been doing?”

“Nothing in particular. This part is rather trying, and I’ve not had
a holiday for a couple of years. I want one rather badly. I don’t
complain,” he added, with a smile, glad to get away from the torturing
talk of Stellamaris. “During the two years I ‘ve been working, scores
of better actors than I have n’t been able to get an engagement. I’m
a spoilt child of fortune. My time will come, I suppose, when they no
longer want me.”

The talk drifted to the precariousness of the actor’s calling. Even men
in demand from every management found a difficulty in making a living.
Herold instanced Brownlow, one of the few _jeunes premiers_ of the
stage, who had slaved every day for a year, and having been in four or
five successive failures, found himself, at the end of it, the recipient
of three months’ salary. Six weeks’ slavery at rehearsal for nothing,
and a two weeks’ run! The system ought to be changed. John agreed, as he
had agreed to the same argument a thousand times before.

“But I don’t like to see you so pulled down,” said he, affectionately.

Herold smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He, too, had not slept; but
he did not inform John of the fact. It was a significant aspect of their
friendship, if not of their respective temperaments, that John received
few of Herold’s confidences. The essential sympathizers among men are
mute as to their own cares. Divine selfishness or a pride equally noble
seals their lips. John Risca, with a cut finger, would have held it up
for the commiseration of Herold, cursing heft and blade, and everything
cursable connected with the knife; but Herold, with a broken heart,
would have held his smiling peace.

For a moment he was convinced of John’s faith in Stella’s ignorance; but
only for a moment. When she entered the palm court with Sir Oliver and
Lady Blount, and he saw her eyes, dewy with a new happiness, rest on
John, he felt that, awakened or unawakened, Stellamaris loved not
him, Herold, but his friend. And when she came up to him in her frank,
gracious way, and let her gloved little hand linger in his, he laughed
and praised her radiance with a jest, and not one of the four dreamed of
the pain in the man’s heart.

They took their seats in the gay and crowded restaurant.

“This is really a palace!” cried Stella, in great delight. “Why can’t
every place be as beautiful as this?”

She had recovered from the emotional fatigue of the night before,
having slept the sound sleep of happy girlhood, and awakened to the shy
consciousness of impending change. The pink of health was in her cheeks.

Sir Oliver replied to her question.

“It takes a deuce of a lot of money to run such a concern.”

“But why has n’t every one got money?”

“That’s what these confounded socialist fellows are asking,” replied Sir
Oliver, helping himself largely to anchovies and mayonnaise of egg.

But Stella scarcely heard. She remembered the tramp who had not a penny
and the misery that had met her eyes during her rides abroad, and a
momentary shadow fell on her.

“I think there ‘s a great deal to be said for the socialists,” remarked
Lady Julia.

Sir Oliver laid down his fork and stared less at his wife than at the
blasphemy.

“There ‘s nothing to be said for ‘em; nothing at all.”

“You ‘ll admit the uneven distribution of wealth,” said Lady Blount,
drawing herself up. She was rather proud of the phrase.

“Lazy dogs--all to get and nothing to do. You ought to be ashamed of
yourself, Julia.”

“Oh, darlings, don’t get cross with me!” cried Stella, in distress. The
observance of the Unwritten Law had imperceptibly grown less strict as
the influence of the sea-chamber had waned, and the poor quarrelsome
pair were not at their old pains to hide their differences. “I never
meant to talk socialism.”

“My precious dove!” cried Sir Oliver, “who in the world said you did? It
was your aunt.”

“I believe it’s John who is at the bottom of it, because he ‘s wearing a
red tie,” Herold interposed, with a laugh. “Oh, John, where did you find
it?”

“I think it suits him beautifully,” declared Stella, quick to follow
the red herring of a cravat. “It ‘s when he wears mauve or light blue or
green striped with yellow that he goes wrong. Belovedest,--” she turned
to him tenderly; she was placed between him and Sir Oliver,--“now that
I am like everybody else,”--her favorite euphemism,--“do let me choose
your ties for you.”

“Of course, dear; of course,” said John, who had been eating _hors
d’ouvre_ in glum silence. “Who is there with taste like you?”

It would be entrancingly delectable to wear ties chosen by Stellamaris.
Why, it would be coiling her sweet thoughts about his neck! This
concession at least was harmless. Then suddenly he remembered that for
the last two or three years Unity had taken charge of such details of
his wardrobe, and he had sufficient glimmering of insight into feminine
nature to know that between Unity with her domestic rights and a tigress
with cubs there was remarkably little difference. How was he to abrogate
one of her privileges? The gadfly question worried him. With such
trumpery concerns are the deepest emotions of human life complicated. He
who does not recognize them has no sense of values.

The conjugal wrangle having been checked, the meal proceeded gaily
enough. Stella spoke of the play and praised Herold’s acting, but with
curious shyness avoided discussion of the theme. Herold noticed her
adroit detours. He also noticed, with a sensitive man’s pain, many other
little things indicative of the awakening of Stellamaris. Once he saw
her lay her hand impulsively on John’s, as she had been wont to do
since her childhood, and draw it quickly away, while a flush, like a
rose-edged fairy cloud, came and went in her cheek. He also caught her
glancing covertly at John, her brow knitted in a tiny frown, as though
she wondered at his unusual silence.

When the party broke up, John leaving early, owing to pressure of work
at the office, she said:

“I shall see you to-night, of course?”

“I’m afraid not. I have to see the review through the press.”

Her face fell piteously.

“Oh, Belovedest!” she cried. “And I can’t have Walter, because he’s tied
to his theatre.”

But the disappointment was on account of John, not on account of Herold.

“You ‘ll have Walter most of the afternoon,” remarked Lady Blount.

Stella laughed. “But I want everybody always,” she said disingenuously.

It had been arranged that while Sir Oliver should go to his longed-for
and seldom-used club, and Lady Blount visit certain cronies, Herold
should take Stella to the Zoological Gardens.

She turned to John.

“Are you quite sure you can’t come too, dear?”

He shook his head. “A newspaper office is a remorseless machine--just
like a theatre. I must work.”

“I’m beginning to be frightfully jealous of work,” she said, with a
laugh.

“It ‘s the noblest thing a man can do,” said Sir Oliver.

At the zoo, Stella found a world of wonder, which drove disappointment
from her mind, and in her childlike gaiety and enthusiasm Herold forgot
his heartache for a while. Sufficient for the moment was the joy of
her exquisite presence, of her animated cheeks and dancing eyes, of
her beautiful voice rippling into exclamations of rapture at monkey or
secretary-bird or hippopotamus.

“These are springbok,” said Herold, in front of an inclosure.

Stella’s brows knitted themselves into their customary network of
perplexity.

“But I ‘ve read that men go out to shoot springboks.”

“I’m afraid they do,” said Herold.

“Men deliberately kill these beautiful, harmless things, with their
melting eyes?” Her own filled with moisture. “Oh, Walter! How can men
be so vile?” She knelt on the ground, and spoke to one, which poked its
sensitive nose through the railing. “Oh, you dear! Oh, you perfectly
lovely dear!”

Then she rose and took Herold by the arm, and a little shiver ran
through her shoulders. “I suppose men kill everything. I ‘ve found out
they even kill one another. Would you or John kill creatures that did
you no harm?”

She looked at him straight, with the searching candour of a spotless
soul.

“I’ve shot birds which were afterwards eaten,” he replied uncomfortably.
“You see, dear, you eat partridges and pheasants, don’t you? Well, they
have to be killed, just like sheep or oxen. Often in South Africa men’s
lives depend on the supply of springbok meat they can obtain.”

“And does John shoot little birds?”

“John has n’t had the opportunity of going about to shooting parties.
All his life he has had to work too hard.”

“I’m glad,” said Stella, curtly, and for a while she walked on in
silence, and poor Herold felt like an unhanged wallower in innocent
gore.

At last she said, “Are n’t there any lions and tigers?”

“Of course.”

“Why have n’t we seen them?”

“They roar dreadfully, and they’re rather fierce and terrible,
Stellamaris.”

“Are you afraid of them?”

He noted the feminine, quasi-logical touch of scorn, and laughed with a
wry face.

“They ‘re behind bars, dear. But I thought they might possibly frighten
you.”

“Frighten me? Let us go and see them.”

So, seeing that Stellamaris was a young woman of intrepid and imperious
disposition, Herold dutifully took her to the Great Cat’s House, where
again the child in her was enraptured by the splendour of the striped
and tawny brutes. She lingered in front of the lion’s cage. The
four-o’clock meal was over. The lioness lay asleep in the corner, but
her mate sat up, with his head near to the bars, an enormous, cleaned
bone between his paws. The absurd and useless animal had struck a
photographic pose at which Herold, with a more sophisticated companion,
would have laughed. But Stellamaris took the lion too seriously. He
fulfilled all her dreams of a lion. She looked in breathless admiration
at the lion, and the lion, choke-full of food, regarded her with grave
benevolence. Again she pressed Herold’s arm.

“How noble! How kingly!”

He assented. The lion was certainly doing his best to warrant the
impression.

“He is just like John,” said Stellamaris.

“Something,” said Herold, leading her out into the fresh air and
sunshine.

“That fearless, royal look,” said Stella--“don’t, you think so?”

Before replying, he took her to a shady bench’, where they both sat
down.

“John’s the finest and the best and the bravest fellow in the world,”
 said he, loyally.

Her eyes shone. She put out her gloved little hand in her familiar,
caressing way and pressed his gently. Her maidenhood did not glow at the
sisterly touch.

“I ‘m so happy, my Great High Favourite, dear,” she said.

“Why? Why now more than usual?” He smiled wistfully.

The sky was blue, and the trees were heavy with leafage, and she had
just seen the king of beasts in his most kingly aspect, and he reminded
her of the man she loved, and her heart was young and innocent. Herold
once more became her chosen companion in the Land That Never Was. She
dropped her voice to a whisper, for staring people strolled along the
path ten yards away. Besides, there are times when the sound of one’s
own voice is embarrassing.

“You love John, don’t you, dear? You love him dearly, dearly, dearly, as
he deserves to be loved?”

“I would lay down my life for him,” said Herold, gravely.

She gripped his hand. “I know. He would do the same for you. Do you
think, Walter dear--” she paused and lowered her eyelids, “do you think
there’s a more splendid man than John in the world?”

“I am his friend, Stellamaris, and I’m prejudiced,--Love is blind, you
know,--but I don’t think so.”

She leaned back in her seat and meditated. Then she said:

“I wish you and I were sitting by my window. You and I understand each
other, but I miss the sea. You and I and the sea understand one another
better. Can’t you see it this lovely afternoon? It ‘s quite calm, but
there ‘s a little kissing breath of wind, which makes it dance and
sparkle in the sun. It ‘s laughing with gladness. Trees are beautiful,
but they don’t laugh.”

“They whisper eternal things,” said Herold. “What?”

“The rhythm of life--fulfilment, as now, winter’s decay, and the
everlasting rebirth of spring.”

“They don’t tell me that. I don’t understand their language,” replied
Stella. “To-day I want the sea, just with you--just you and I and the
sea.”

“And then you think I should understand all that the pink sea-shell that
is you is trying to tell me?” She laughed. “I could tell the sea, and
the sea could tell you.”

_Secret de Polichitielle!_ Had she not been telling him all the time,
as implicitly as maidenhood could tell man, of the great and wonderful
adventure of her soul? He was exquisitely near,--that he knew,--nearer,
indeed, to the roots of her being than the leonine hero of her dreams.
He alone of mortals was privileged to receive and treasure the overflow
of her heart. With him as joint trustee was the eternal ocean. He winced
at the irony of it all.

Presently she asked:

“Have you ever loved any one?”

He answered as he had done years before:

“I have loved dreams.”

She retorted in his own words:

“One can’t marry a dream.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“You will love some one some day, and then you will want to marry her,”
 she continued, with her direct simplicity. “And when you do, you ‘ll
come and tell me, dear, for I shall understand.”

“I ‘ll tell you, Stellamaris,” he promised. Then he sprang to his feet.
The pain had grown intolerable, “We have n’t seen the giraffes,” said
he.

The child in her once more came to the surface. “I ‘ve longed to see a
giraffe all my life,” she cried, and she accompanied him blissfully.

After leaving her at the hotel, Herold went home and suffered the
torments of a soul on fire. Tragedy lay ahead. Stellamaris, star of the
sea, steadfast as a star--he knew her. Love had come to her not in the
fluttering Cupid guise in which he visits most of the sweet maidens
among mortals, but in the strong, godlike essence in which alone he dare
approach the great ones. The sea-foam and mist formed but a garment
for this creature of infinite sky and eternal sea. They but shrouded or
touched to glamour the elemental strength.

She had given her love to John Risca, her Great High Belovedest. God
knows what dreams she had woven about him; the man’s fine loyalty
asserted his friend’s worthiness of any woman’s dreams. The only, and
the hideous, consideration was the fact of John being tied for life to
the unspeakable. Himself and the pain of his love he put aside. What
were the unimportant sufferings of a thousand such as he compared with
one pang that might shoot through the bosom of Stellamaris? What could
be done to avert the tragedy? His faith in John Risca was absolute. But
John had shut his eyes to the glory shimmering in front of them. His
eyes must be opened. Stellamaris must be told. All foundations of the
Unwritten Law would have to be swept away, and she would survey in
terror the piteous wreckage of the whole fabric of her life.

How could he save her? How could he save her from inevitable pain?



CHAPTER XVII

THE next morning Stella was putting on her hat, a foamy thing of white
tulle and pink roses, before her mirror, when an audacious thought came
dancing into her head. It dizzied her for a moment, and took away her
breath. With throbbing heart, she stood looking into her own wide eyes,
which were filled with delicious excitement.

It would be a great adventure. Why should she not embark on it? She
was free till luncheon, her uncle and aunt having gone out on their own
errands and left her to the rest they supposed she needed. But she
felt strong, pulsatingly strong. She looked out of the window. The June
sunshine allured her. Why should she sit indoors on such a morning?
There was not the faintest shadow of a reason. But how should she reach
her destination? Her mind worked swiftly. Sir Oliver had set out on
foot, bound for Bond Street and Piccadilly. Lady Blount had declared
her intention to renew the joys of her youth, and go about in a hansom,
which had been procured for her with some difficulty by the magnificent
commissionnaire. The motor was at Stella’s service. She had only
to order it, and it would come to the front door and carry her
whithersoever she desired.

It would be a wild adventure to feel herself alone and independent in
this welter of London, and then, more thrilling still, to burst in upon
her Great High Belovedest, not in his palace,--that, alas! he had given,
up,--but in his Great High Mansion at Kilburn.

Where Kilburn was she had not the remotest idea; but it was somewhere in
Fairy-land. The chauffeur would know; he seemed to know everything.
The temptation overpowered her. She yielded. Orders were given to a
bewildered and protesting maid. What would Lady Blount say?

“That ‘s a matter between Lady Blount and myself,” said Stella.

“Can’t I come with you, miss?”

“I am going alone, Morris.” She had the gracious, but imperative, way
of princesses. Morris dared argue no more. She attended her mistress to
the door of the motor, and saw her driven away in prodigious state.

It was a glorious adventure. How could she have spoiled it by allowing
the protection of a prosaic serving-maid? Hitherto she had not strayed
alone beyond the confines of the gardens of the Channel House. Now she
had the thrill of the first mariner who lost sight of land. She was on
an unknown sea, bound for a port of dreams. Of the port she knew nothing
definite. Since the dispersion of the apocryphal palace household, John
had told her little of his domestic life. The old habit of deception had
been too strong, and her other intimates had entered into the conspiracy
of silence. Why trouble her with accounts of his Aunt Gladys, of whom
she had never heard; of Unity, of whom it were best that she should not
hear; of the poor, little, economical establishment,--Unity at the Lead,
watching the pennies--which, together with the one in Fulham, was all
that his means allowed him to maintain? All her life he had been to
Stellamaris the prince eating off gold plate. _Cui bono_, to whose
advantage and to what end, should he break the illusion and confess to
chipped earthenware? Although she now recognized (to her sadness) the
palace story as overlapping the fable, and set Lilias and Niphetos side,
by side with the cat Bast and the dog Anubis in the shrine of myth, yet
her ingenuous fancy still pictured Risca as the writer of compelling
utterances which caused ministers of state to clutch their salaries
with trembling fingers and potentates to quake on their thrones. And
she still imagined a fitting environment for such a magnifico. On his
private life during the week, outside his work, she scarcely speculated.
For her it was spent at Southcliff from Saturday to Monday. It was
difficult to realize that Southcliff was not the world.

The car sped like an Arabian-Nights carpet through wide thoroughfares
thronged with traffic, up the wider, more peaceful, and leafy Maida
Vale, passing broad avenues to right and left, and then, making a sudden
turn, halted before the shabbiest of a row of shabby, detached little
villas. The chauffeur descended, and opened the door of the car.

“Why have you stopped here?”

“It’s the address you gave me, miss.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure, miss,” smiled the chauffeur. “Fair-mount, Ossington Road,
Kilburn, London, NorthWest.”

Fairmont had been to her a mount of beauty on the summit of which
stretched the abode of her Beloved-est. The chauffeur, still
smiling,--for who could talk sour-faced to Stellamaris?--pointed to the
gate.

“There it is written, miss,--‘Fairmont.’ ”

She alighted, tears very near her eyes, and passing through the
gates and tiny front garden, rang the bell. The door was opened by
a common-looking, undersized girl of about her own age, dressed in a
tartan blouse and a brown stuff skirt. Her nose was snub, her mouth
wide, her forehead bulged, and her skimpy hair was buckled up tight with
combs on the top of her head. There was a moment’s breathless silence
as the two girls stared at each other. At last Unity’s face broke into
a miracle of gladness, which transfigured her plain features. She
retreated a step or two along the passage.

“Miss Stella! Miss Stella!” she gasped, and as Stella, still more amazed
and bewildered, said nothing, she drew nearer. “It is Miss Stella, is
n’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” Stella answered. She paused; then, recovering herself, went on
rather hurriedly: “I ‘ve seen you before. You are the girl who came once
into my room--I remember--Constable tore my jacket--you were mending
it--”

“Yes, miss,” said the other, forgetful, in the sudden excitement of
again seeing her goddess face to face, of the precepts of gentility in
which Miss Lindon had trained her.

“It all comes back, though it was long, long ago--ever so many years
ago. Your name is Unity.”

“Yes, Miss Stella.”

“But what in the world are you doing here?”

“Mr. Risca is my guardian. I keep house for him--I and Aunt Gladys.”

“Aunt Gladys?”

“Mr. Risca’s aunt, Miss Stella.” It was sweet to pronounce the beautiful
name.

Stella’s knees grew weak, and she leaned against the wall. Here were
mysteries of which John had left her in ignorance. She felt guilty of
unwarrantable intrusion. The joy of her adventure was blotted out. The
shabby villa; the poverty-stricken passage; the glimpse through an open
door into a gimcrack parlour, all bamboo and ribbons; Unity, the little
sewing-girl who was John’s ward; the unheard of Aunt Gladys--all was
shock, sending dreams into limbo, startling an unready mind into a
whirling chaos of conjecture. Too late she realized that, had he wanted
her there, he would have invited her. He would be vexed at her coming.
Her cheeks burned.

“Is he at home?” she faltered.

She heard with incredible relief that he had gone into town on business.
Miss Lindon happening to be in bed with a slight cold, the duties of
hospitality devolved on Unity.

“Won’t you come in and sit down for a minute, Miss Stella?”

“I am afraid I must n’t.”

“Oh, why? Do come.”

Unity stretched out her hand timidly. The gesture and the pleading in
the girl’s eyes made a strong appeal. Youth also called to youth.

“Just for a minute. It would make me so happy.”

Stella could not refuse. They entered the little drawing-room. Stella
had never seen such a funny, prim room before. She sat down on the
slippery sofa. Unity fixed on her the eyes of a spaniel brought into the
presence of a long-lost mistress.

“I think you ‘re even more beautiful than when I saw you before,” she
said, abruptly.

Somewhat confused, Stella smiled. “I am well now, like other people, so
that’s perhaps why I look better.”

“When I heard of it, I cried with joy.”

“You, my dear? Why?”

“I ‘d been thinking of you all the time--all the time.”

And Stella had never given a thought to Unity, though dramatic incidents
at the Channel House had not been so frequent that the sight of Unity
had not, brought back to her mind the circumstances of the episode.
Stay, had she remembered all the circumstances?

“My dear,” she said, moved by the girl’s almost passionate sincerity, “I
remember you well. I wanted you so much to come back and talk to me,
and I asked for you; but they told me that you went away that afternoon.
What were you doing at the Channel House?”

“I had been ill, and my guardian asked her ladyship to let me stay there
for a bit.”

“But they told me,” cried Stella, the missing circumstance coming in a
flash, “that you were a village girl who had been brought in for a day’s
sewing.”

Unity flushed brick-red, realizing her indiscretion. She knew well
enough now why she had been forbidden the sea-chamber.

“I was a noisy, horrid, badly-brought-up child,” she said, “and they
were afraid I should worry you. That was why,” she said, with a slight
air of defiance.

Stella was not convinced; the story lacked the ring of truth that
characterized Unity’s other statements. She felt that for some unknown
reason they had lied to her, and that in order to bear them out Unity
was lying. Her loyalty and delicacy forbade her questioning Unity
further.

“If you were horrid, you would n’t have remembered me all this time,”
 she said, with a smile.

“That ‘s just how you looked when I called you ‘my lady,’ “ said Unity.
“How do you think one could forget you? Besides, Mr. Herold is always
talking about you.”

Stella opened her eyes. “Do you know Mr. Herold, too?”

“Of course. He’s my guardian’s dearest friend.”

Stella’s heart sank lower. Her Great High Favourite, too, was in this
conspiracy of concealment.

“Does--does your guardian ever speak of me?”

“Why should he?” asked Unity.

The queer retort puzzled Stella.

The other, seeing the implied question in her glance, continued: “I
should n’t dare to ask him. He’s too great and wonderful.” Again the
transfiguring light swept over her coarse features. “It ‘s beautiful of
him to let me do things for him.”

“What do you do?”

“I look after his clothes, mend and darn and buy things for him, and
I dust his books and see that he has what he likes to eat and, oh,
hundreds of things--just so that he sha’n’t have any worry at all.”

A new pain began to creep round Stella’s heart, one she had never felt
before, one that frightened her.

“Tell me some more,” she said.

And Unity, her tongue loosened as it was with no one else in the world
save Walter Herold, talked of the trivial round of her days and the
Olympian majesty of John Risca.

“You must love him very much,” said Stella.

A glow came into her patient eyes as she nodded and fixed them on
Stellamaris; and then a tear started.

“Does n’t everybody love him?”

She rose abruptly. “Would you like me to show you his room, Miss
Stella--the room he works in?”

Stella rose, too. “He might not like it,” she said.

This was a point of view incomprehensible to Unity. Even the all-great
master must bow to the sanctification brought into the house by Stella’s
feet. She said softly:

“He worships the ground you tread on. Don’t you know that?”

Stella flushed, and evaded the question.

“You think that if I’m afraid to go into his room, I don’t care for him?
It is n’t that. I--I love him more than anything else in the world. I--”
 she stopped short, and the flush deepened, for she realized what she was
saying. “It is something I can’t quite explain to you,” she continued,
after a pause. “In fact, I ought n’t to stay any longer.”

Despite unregenerate Fatima temptation, despite a girl’s romantic desire
to see the table at which the dear one writes his immortal prose, she
could pry no further into her Great Belovedest’s home. She had pried too
much already for her peace of mind.

She put out her hand. Unity took it, and, holding it, looked up into her
face. She was squat and undersized; Stella was slim and tall.

“I thought I should never see you again,” she said, in a low voice.

“I hope now we shall see each other often,” replied Stella, and drawn
toward the girl by the magnetism of her love, she kissed her on both
cheeks.

But she drove away in the magnificent limousine very heavy-hearted, out
of tune with life. She seemed to be living in an atmosphere of lies,
from which her candid soul passionately revolted. She met them at every
turn. Once more the world became the Threatening Land full of hidden
ugliness, only awaiting opportunity to be revealed. The glamour of
the last day or two in London had gone. When John Risca, truly her
belovedest, when Walter Herold, whom in her simplicity she had regarded
all her life less as a man than as a kind of Adonaïs spirit, when all,
all she loved had lied to her persistently for years, to whom and to
what could she pin her faith? Who would guide her through this land of
which she was so ignorant, this land so thickly set with cruel traps?

John was poor and struggling and lived in a shabby little house. Had she
known it, the fact would have made him all the dearer. But why had he
given her to believe that he lived in fantastic luxury? Why had he lied?
Why had he not told her of Unity--Unity who was so interwoven in his
life, Unity who looked after his very clothes? A sudden thought smote
her, and a scalding wave of shame lapped her from head to foot. She had
proposed to buy his ties. She hated herself for the proposal, and she
hated herself for starting on this lamentable adventure of indiscretion.
She became aware that the new, frightening pain that had crept round her
heart was jealousy, and she hated herself for the ignoble passion. She
felt it like a stain upon her.

A slight smirch upon a gown of gray (such as most of us wear) escapes
notice; but on a robe of white it stands out in hideous accusation.

The butterfly that had left the hotel so gaily returned with sorry wings
from, which the gossamer had been rubbed. She crept into her bedroom,
where Lady Blount, coming in a while later, found her lying somewhat
feverish on the bed. At the sight of her aunt, she sprang up to make
instant and spirited confession.

“Do you know what I ‘ve done this morning? I thought I would give John
a surprise and I took the car to Kilburn. He was not at home, but I saw
the girl Unity, his ward.”

Lady Blount looked at her in terrible dismay.

“My darling, you ought n’t to have done it.”

“I know, Auntie. And when you see John, will you tell him how sorry I
am, and give him my apologies.”

“Apologies?”

“Yes. It was ill-breeding on my part. He has a perfect right to keep
his home affairs to himself, and I should not have intruded. You must
apologize for me.”

It was a very proud and dignified Stella that spoke, a spot of red
burning on each cheek, and her slim figure held very erect.

“I hope, my darling,” said Lady Blount, longing to ask a more direct
question--“I hope that girl was n’t rude to you.”

“Unity rude?” Stella: knitted her brow. The idea was ludicrous. “On the
contrary, like the rest of you, she is far too fond of me. I don’t know
why; it ‘s very odd. And she is devoted body and soul to John. She has a
fine, great, generous nature.”

The stain of jealousy should be wiped away, if she could possibly manage
it.

“I believe she is a very good girl, though I have n’t seen her--”

“Since she stayed at Southcliff?” said Stella with steady eyes.

“I--I was just going to say so,” Lady Blount stammered. The situation
was perplexing. “And John does n’t often speak of her.” She made rather
a failure of a smile. “And what did the two of you talk about?”

The bitter knowledge of good and evil was coming fast to Stellamaris.
A little while ago her innocence would have taken the question at its
face-value; now, perhaps for the first time in her life to suspect
disingenuousness, she penetrated to the poor little diplomacy lying
beneath.

“Chiefly of John and myself--of nothing very particular,” she replied.
“I did n’t stay long.”

She saw the repression of Lady Blount’s sigh of relief. Swiftly she drew
her deductions. They were all concealing something from her, and the
fact of their concealment proved it to be something shameful and
abominable. Her bosom rose in revolt against the world. Lift but a
corner of the fairest thing in life, and you found the ugliness below.

She sat on the bed by the foot-rail, and rested her throbbing head on
her hand.

“Your little escapade has upset you, darling,” said Lady Blount, weakly;
“but it was nothing very serious, after all. If John’s furious when
he hears of it, it ‘ll only be because he was not there to welcome you
himself.”

“I ‘m not afraid of John being furious, Auntie,” said Stella. “It ‘s not
that at all. You don’t understand.”

“I don’t think I do, dear,” said poor Lady Blount. She sat down beside
the girl and put a loving arm round her. “Tell me what it is.”

But this was more than Stella could do. To speak would be to accuse and
reproach, and she could not accuse or reproach any of her dear ones.
Yet she needed the comfort like any other young and suffering soul. She
surrendered to the elder woman’s caress, feeling very weary.

“Perhaps I ‘m not as strong as I thought I was, Auntie,” she said.

The confession stirred all the mothering instincts in Lady Blount. With
physical things she could grapple. She tended her with her thin, deft
hands and persuaded her to lie down.

“My poor lamb, London is too much for you. Never mind. We ‘re going home
to-morrow.”

“I shall never want to leave home again,” said Stella.

It was half-past one. Sir Oliver was lunching and spending the afternoon
at his club. A tray was brought to Stella’s bed, and Lady Blount pecked
at a flustered woman’s meal in the sitting-room.

“What about John and the pictures, darling?” she asked when she rejoined
Stella. It had been arranged for John to call for them at three o’clock
and take them to the Royal Academy.

“I don’t think I feel equal to it,” said Stella, truly. She was not
yet quite “like every one else.” Her sensitive nature also shrank from
meeting John. Before him she would shrivel up with shame. “You go with
him, Auntie; I ‘ll rest here and read.”

On the stroke of three came John, who, having been detained on his
business in town, had not gone home for luncheon. It was therefore from
Lady Blount that he heard of Stella’s adventure. He listened with his
heavy frown, moving restlessly about the room, his hands in his pockets.

“I would give a thousand pounds for it not to have happened,” said he.

“It’s done now. We must make the best of it.”

“Unity was discreet? Are you sure?”

“Quite sure.”

He walked about for a while in silence.

“Perhaps it’s just as well Stella should know so much,” he conceded,
“though I would rather she had learned it differently. I suppose she was
somewhat upset?”

“She’s still delicate,” said Lady Blount, “and she’s all
sensitiveness--always has been, as you know. I have made her lie down.”

He swung round sharply.

“She’s not ill?” he asked.

“No, not ill; but exertion easily tires her. And she’s afraid you ‘ll
be angry with her, and miserable because she thinks she did an ill-bred
thing in intruding on your privacy. She ‘s deeply ashamed; she feels
acutely. She’s not like other girls. We’ve got to realize it. She wants
me to apologize to you--”

“Stella apologize to me! Stella!” he shouted in amazement and
indignation. “We ‘ll soon see about that!”

He strode toward the door leading into Stella’s room. Lady Blount
checked him.

“Don’t, John. I would n’t see her now.”

“Do you think I ‘d leave her a minute to suffer fear and misery and
shame?”

“You exaggerate, dear.”

“Those were your words. No, Julia. I must set this right.”

Stellamaris suffering, afraid of him, miserable, and ashamed! As well
say Stella beaten, Stella thumb-screwed, Stella thrown to wolves! It was
intolerable. He forgot his resolutions.

With rough gentleness he thrust Lady Blount aside and, opening the door,
slightly ajar, caught sight of Stella lying, wrapper-clad, upon the bed.
He entered in his impetuous fashion and slammed the door behind him.

“Darling, don’t worry. Julia has told me. It ‘s only you that could have
had the beautiful idea of coming to see me. I love you for it, and I
could kick myself for not being at home.”

Instinctively and unthinkingly, as if he had been in the sea-chamber,
he sat down heavily beside her and took her two hands. Her brown eyes
looked piteously into his.

“Stella, darling, it ‘s I that must ask for forgiveness for not having
prepared you. Years ago, when you were little, I began the silly story
of the palace to amuse and interest you; and I had a lot of troubles,
dear, and it helped me to bear them to come to you and live with you in
a fairy-tale. And then it was so hard to undeceive you when I found you
believed it. I tried--you must remember.”

“Yes, dear,” she said, feeling very weak and foolishly comforted by the
nervous grasp of his great hands. “Yes, I remember.”

“You were there on your bed by the window,” he continued, “and every one
thought you would never rise from it. So what was the good of telling
you just the weary prose of life? What place could it have in the poetry
of yours? And I was selfish, Stella darling; I used to come to you for
something sweet and pure and lovely that the wide wide world could n’t
give me. And I got it, and it sent me away strong for the battle; and I
‘ve had to fight, dear--to fight hard sometimes. And when you got
well and came out into the world, I felt it was necessary to tell you
something more about myself--that there never had been a palace; that
I was just a poor, hard-working journalist; that I had adopted a little
girl called Unity, whose life had not been of the happiest; that she
and an old aunt of mine kept house for me: but our old life went on so
smoothly, and I still got the help and courage and faith I needed
from you, that I put off telling you from week to week. That’s the
explanation, darling. And now I’m glad, more than glad, you came to-day.
Don’t you believe me?”

“Yes, Belovedest,” she sighed. “I believe you.”

He went on, finding in her presence his old power of artistic
expression. In the overwhelming desire to bring back the laughter to
those wonderful eyes that met his he forgot prudence, forgot the fact
that he was making a passionate appeal. He was pleading her cause with
happiness, not his own. It was the purest in the love of the man that
spoke. Again he wound up by claiming her faith. And again, this time
with soft, melting eyes, she said, “Yes, Belovedest, I believe you.”

What else could she say, poor child? Here was her hero among men
belittling himself just for her glorification. Here was his strong,
beloved face wrought into an intensity of pleading. Here he was
using tones of his deep voice that made every chord in her vibrate.
Cloud-compeller, he cleared her overcast horizon to radiance. Is there
a woman breathing, be she never so cynical, who, in the sunshine of her
heart, does not believe in the sun?

She laughed and drew his hands to her face. “So you think I ‘ve been
making mountains out of molehills?”

“Out of molecules,” said he.

She laughed one of her adorable, childish little laughs. But the woman
whispered, “Forgive me, Be-lovedest.”

Time has invented but one proof of forgiveness in such a case, and
eternity will not find a substitute. Obeying the everlasting law, he
proved his forgiveness; but he mastered himself sufficiently to draw
back the moment their lips had touched. He rose to his feet.

“Now we ‘re quite happy, are n’t we?”

A little murmur signified assent. Then she sat up, and swung her legs
daintily over the side of the bed, and, flushed, happy, and adorably
dishevelled, looked at him.

[Illustration: 0260]

“And now,” she cried gaily, “if you ‘ll let me put on my frock, I ‘ll
come with you and auntie to see the pictures.”

He remonstrated. She was tired out; she must rest. But she stood up and
faced him.

“I want to be happy to-day. Tiredness does n’t count. I shall be at the
Channel House to-morrow, and I can rest for a month.”

She put her hand on his shoulder and led him to the door. In the next
room Lady Blount was anxiously awaiting him. He took her lean shoulders
in his bear’s hug.

“All right, Julia. She’s perfectly happy, and she’s coming with us to
the Royal Academy.”

So once more that day was the limousine ordered to the hotel entrance,
and once more Stellamaris entered it with a sense of high, but now
delectably safe, adventure, this time helped in by John as tenderly as
though she were a thing of spun glass and moonbeams. And they drove away
joyously to see one of the most beautiful, but at the same time, one of
the saddest sights of the world--the aspiring, yet fettered, souls,
the unrealized dreams, the agonized hopes, individually concrete, of
thousands of God’s elect on this imperfect earth.

John Risca, absorbed in the laughter he had brought back to precious
eyes, did not see a thin-lipped woman dressed in black slip behind one
of the porphyry columns of the portico as they drove out. And the woman
meant that he should not see, as she had meant it hundreds of times
before during the last six years. Had he done so, there would have been
an end to the intense, relentless, and diabolically patient purpose of
her life.



CHAPTER XVIII

CONSTABLE, dragging the feet of an old hound, mounted the stairs behind
Stellamaris and followed her into the sea-chamber, and to the south
window, whither she went instinctively to gaze out over her beloved
sea, now gray and choppy, as the sky was overcast and a fresh breeze was
blowing. He had been the most unhappy dog alive, they told her, during
her absence. Since his dim, far-away puppy-hood not a day had passed
without his spending hours in her company. She had been the reason of
his existence. The essential one gone, there was nothing to live for; so
at first he had wandered round in a bewildered way looking for her,
and then, not finding her, he had refused food and pined, and, had she
stayed away much longer, would have died of a broken heart, after the
manner of deep-natured dogs. When she arrived, he was at the gate
to meet her. At her magical appearance he tried to prance as in his
youthful days, and lashed the whip of his tail against the iron railings
so that it bled. Sobered by age, he had not had what Stella used to call
a “bluggy” tail (the disability of his race) for years. But as prancing
and tail-lashing and whinnying do not accord with the muscles and wind
of an old dog, and as his heart was full, he had lain down at her feet,
his snout beyond his paws, trembling all through his great bulk. And it
was only after she had knelt on the ground beside him, thereby blocking
the path to Sir Oliver and Lady, Blount, to say nothing of Morris, the
maid, and Simmons, the gardener, and the hand luggage, and had caressed
and kissed him, that he had found strength to stagger to his feet and
make way for his fellow-humans. After that he had not left her for a
second. Who could tell but that she might vanish again into thin air,
this time not to be reincarnated? Descartes, who said that the lower
animals were automata, could never have known the wonder of a dog’s
love.

Constable followed Stella to the window and snuggled his great head into
the curve of her waist. Her arm, soft and precious, drooped about
his neck. Constable and the sea and herself had been secret-sharing
companions since the world was young. So she stood for a long time by
the open window, drinking in the salt of the sea-breeze, and communing,
in her ‘own way, with the elemental spirit of the waters. Presently she
turned with a sigh, bent down, and took the old hound’s slobbering chaps
between her hands and looked into his patient eyes.

“Are you glad I’m back, dear High Constable darling? Very glad? Not
gladder than I am, dear. No; you can’t be. You’ve never been to London.
Oh, you would hate it. It pretends to be a beautiful place, but it
is n’t. It ‘s a sham, dear. I’m sure you ‘ve never heard of a whited
sepulchre; but that’s what it is. And London’s the world, my precious,
and the world is n’t a bit like what you and I were led to expect. It
‘s full of ugliness and wickedness, and nobody can get at the truth of
anything.” Still fondling him, she sat on the window-seat. “Yes; you and
I are very much better off here. If you went abroad, you ‘d be such a
miserable Constable. You would, darling.” She looked tragically at him,
and he, responsive to the doleful tones of her voice, regarded her in
mournful sympathy.

Then she laughed, and kissed him between the eyes.

“But I do so want to be happy. I ‘ll tell you a secret--oh, a great,
great secret--that no one knows.” She lifted the velvet flap of his
ear and whispered something below her breath, which Constable must have
understood, for he laid his cheek against hers; and so they stayed until
Morris, intent on unpacking, disturbed their peace.

Then came a day or two of rest during which she strove to reconcile
the irreconcilable,--her dreams in the sea-chamber and the realities
outside,--using her newly found love for talisman. And just as she was
trying to forget the ugliness of the world, a domestic incident cast her
back into gloom and doubt.

One morning she entered the morning-room on a scene of tragedy. Sir
Oliver stood with his back to the fire, looking weakly fierce and
twirling his white moustache; Lady Blount sat stern and upright in
a chair. A bulky policeman, bare-headed, stood at attention in the
corner,--there is something terrifically intimate about an unhelmeted
policeman,--while, in front of them all, a kitchen-maid in a pink cotton
dress sobbed bitterly into a smudgy apron.

Stella paused astonished on the threshold. “Why--” she began.

“My dear,” said Sir Oliver, “will you kindly leave us?”

But Stella; advanced into the room. “What is Mr. Withers doing here?”

Mr. Withers was the policeman, and a valued acquaintance of Stellamaris.

“Go away, darling,” said Lady Blount. “This has nothing to do with you.”

But Stella had been accustomed to rule in that house. Anything that
happened in it was her concern. Besides, she would have ugly things
hidden away from her no longer; and here was obviously an ugly thing.

“No, my dears,” she said in her clear voice; “I must stay. Tell me, why
is Eliza crying?”

“She’s a wicked thief,” said Lady Blount.

Then Stella caught sight of a couple of rings and a brooch and a
five-pound note lying on a table.

“Did she steal those?”

Sir Oliver explained. The articles had been stolen during their absence
in town. He had applied to the police, with the result that the theft
had been traced to Eliza.

So that was a thief--that miserable, broad-faced girl. Stella looked at
her with fearful curiosity. She had heard of thieves and conceived them
to be desperate outcasts herding in the sunless alleys of great cities,
their hideous faces pitted with crime, as with smallpox; she never
imagined that they came into sheltered homes.

“What is Mr. Withers going to do with her?”

“Take her to prison,” said Sir Oliver, whereat the culprit wailed
louder.

“What is prison?” asked Stella.

“A place where they lock you up for months, sometimes for years, in
a stone cell, and make you sleep on a plank bed, and you have to pick
oakum all day long, and are known by a number, and--er--”

“Please, Oliver!” remonstrated Lady Blount.

“I want to know, Auntie,” said Stella, a gracious, white-clad figure
standing in the midst of them. She turned to the policeman.

“Are you going to take her to prison?”

“If Sir Oliver charges her, miss.”

“Of course I ‘m going to charge her,” cried Sir Oliver. “It ‘s my duty.”
 He drew himself up. “I should be failing in it if I did n’t.”

“Then it depends on you, Uncle, whether she is locked up or goes free?”

“That’s so, miss,” replied the policeman. “I can’t arrest her unless
some one charges her.”

“What do you say, Auntie?”

“It ‘s very painful, dear. That is why I did n’t want you to come in.
But people who do these things have to be punished.”

“But why have they to be punished?” Stella asked, feeling curiously calm
and remote from them all.

“They must be made examples of, dear. They must n’t be let loose on
society,” said Sir Oliver. “It’s a duty to one’s country, a duty to
one’s neighbours. I ‘m afraid you don’t understand, Stella. I implore
you to leave this matter in our hands.”

It was strange how the girl whom they had reared in blank ignorance of
life remained supreme arbiter of the situation. She said:

“You are afraid that if she were set free, she would rob somebody else?”

“Of course she would,” said Sir Oliver, testily.

“Would you, Eliza?” asked Stellamaris.

Thus appealed to, the guilty little wretch threw herself on the ground,
in horrible abasement, at Stella’s feet.

“Oh, Miss Stella, don’t let them put me in prison! For God’s sake! don’t
let them put me in prison! I ‘ll never do it again. I swear I won’t.
Save me, Miss Stella!”--She clutched the white skirts--“Don’t let them
send me to prison.”

She continued in terrified reiteration. Stella felt an icicle in her
bosom in place of a heart. She had never before seen humanity lowered to
the depths.

“Why did you do it?”

The crouching thing did not know. The drawer of the dressing-table had
been left unlocked. She had been tempted. It was the first time she had
stole anything. She would never do it again. And then she cried again,
“Don’t let them send me to prison!”

“Julia, can’t you prevent her making such a noise?” said Sir Oliver.

The bulky policeman, desiring to carry out Sir Oliver’s wishes, came
forward and laid his hand on the girl’s shoulder. She screamed. Stella
touched him on the arm, and he stood up straight. Then she opened the
door.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Withers, for your trouble; but we are not
going to have this girl put in prison.”

The kitchen-maid lay a huddled, sobbing mass on the floor.

“You ‘re doing a very foolish thing, Stella,” said Sir Oliver.

“You had much better let your uncle and me deal with this,” said Lady
Blount.

“My dears,” said Stella, very white, very dispassionate, cold steel from
head to foot, “if you put this girl in prison, I shall go mad. All
the things you have taught me would have no meaning. We say every day,
‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against
us.’ ”

“But, my darling child, that’s quite different,” said Sir Oliver. “That
‘s a form of words referring to spiritual things. This is practical
life.”

“Is that true, Auntie?”

“No, dear, not quite. It’s most difficult to know how to act,” replied
Lady Blount, resting her weary old head on her hand. “Do as you like,
child. What you do can’t be wrong.”

Stella turned to the policeman, who had been looking from one to the
other and wondering from whom he should take his final instructions.

“We sha’n’t need you any more, Mr. Withers.”

“Very good, miss.”

He saluted and went away. Stella shook the girl by the arm.

“Get up,” she commanded, “and go to your room. Don’t speak. I can’t bear
it. Go.”

The maid picked herself up and rushed out of the room. Stella confronted
the two old people. The morning sun streamed through the casement
window, and the light fell full on Sir Oliver’s wrinkled old face
and spare form, and Stella, through the semi-military jauntiness and
aristocratic air of command produced by the thin features and white
moustache and imperial, saw, as by means of X-rays, all the weakness,
the foolishness, the pomposity, the vanity, that lay beneath. And yet
she knew that he loved her more dearly than any one in the world. She
looked at her aunt, and, in the awful flash of revelation that at times
sweeps through the young soul, she knew her to be a woman of little
intelligence, of narrow judgment, of limited sympathies; and yet, she,
too, loved her more dearly than any one in the world. Over them, she,
Stella, had achieved a tranquil victory. Ashamed and hurt to her inmost
heart by the stabbing consciousness of the humiliation she must have
brought on these two poor ones so dear to her, she had not a word
to say. Nor could they speak a word. There was a tense silence. Then
reaction came. All the love of a lifetime flooded Stella’s heart, and
she threw herself by the side of Lady Blount and, her head in the old
woman’s lap, burst into a passion of tears. Sir Oliver, with a palsied
gesture of his hand, left the women to themselves.

Once more poor Lady Blount, with her commonplace little platitudes,
preaching obedience to the law, tried to comfort Stellamaris, whose
intelligence had been scrupulously trained to the understanding of
nothing but obedience to the spirit. And once more Stellamaris went away
uncomforted. Guilt must be punished--a proposition which she found
it hard to accept; but, accepted as a basis of argument, was it
not punishment enough to reduce a human being to such grovelling
degradation? Did not the declared intention of sending that wretched
girl to prison imply pitilessness? Thenceforward hardness and suspicion
began to creep into Stella’s judgments. Dreams of evil began to haunt
her sleep, and brooding by her window, she began to lose the consolation
of the sea.

Three week-ends passed, and John did not come to the Channel House,
making varied excuses for his defection. He wrote cheerily enough, but
Stella, with poor human longing for the magic word that would set her
heart beating, found a lack of something, she scarce knew what, in his
letters. Her own, once so spontaneous, so sparkling with bubbles of
fancy, grew constrained and self-conscious. John seemed to be eluding
her. One of the Sundays Herold came down. The Blounts told him of the
episode of the kitchen-maid and of the way in which Stella had taken the
law into her own hands.

“I never imagined she had such a spirit,” Sir Oliver declared. “Egad!
she stood up against us all like a little reigning princess.”

“But she broke down afterward, poor darling!” said Lady Blount.

Herold tried to question Stella on the subject, but met with no
response.

“Let us talk of pleasant things,” she pleaded.

He went away sorrowful, knowing the conflict in her soul--knowing, too,
that the strong soul has to fight its battles unaided.

Meanwhile Stella put on a smiling face to the world,--for, after all,
the world smiled on her,--and she was gentle with Sir Oliver and Lady
Blount. She mingled in such social life as the neighbourhood afforded--a
luncheon party, a garden party, where young men fell at her feet in
polite adoration, and young women put their arms round her waist and
talked to her of hats. She liked them all well enough, but shyly
evaded intimacy. They belonged to a race of beings with whom she was
unfamiliar, having passed their lives in a different spiritual sphere.
They frightened her ever so little; why, she did not know, for her
unused power of self-analysis was not sufficiently strong to enable her
to realize the instinctive shrinking from those, strangers to her,
who had been drenched from childhood in the mysterious and dreadful
knowledge of evil. She met them only on the common ground of youth and
talked of superficial things, fearing to inquire more deeply into their
thoughts and lives.

“I love to see her enjoying herself,” said Lady Blount.

Sir Oliver rubbed his hands, and agreed for once with his wife.

“There’s nothing like a little harmless gaiety for a girl,” said he.
“She has been shut up with us old fogies too long.”

“She’s beginning to realize now,” said Lady Blount, “the happiness that
lies before her in the new condition of things.”



ONE day when Stella was returning, unattended, from a small shopping
excursion in the village, a thin-lipped woman in black crossed the
road just before the turn that led to the gate to the Channel House and
accosted her.

“Miss Blount?”

“Yes,” said Stella, coming to a halt.

She had noticed the woman for some little time walking on the opposite
side of the way, and had been struck by a catlike stealthiness in her
gait. Now, face to face with the woman, she met a pair of pale-green,
almost expressionless eyes fixed on her with an odd relentlessness. The
woman’s lips were twisted into the convention of a smile.

“Could I have the pleasure of a few words with you?”

“Certainly,” said Stella. “Will you come into the house with me? We are
almost there.”

“If you will excuse me, Miss Blount,” said the woman, holding up a
deprecating hand,--she was well-gloved and was dressed like a lady,--“I
would rather not go in with you. I have my reasons. I must speak with
you entirely in private. If we go round here, there is a comfortable
seat.”

Near the point at which they were standing the road up the cliff
diverged into two forks. The upper fork led to the gate of the Channel
House. The lower one was a pathway round the breast of the cliff. The
woman pointed to the latter. Stella hesitated.

“What have you so private to tell me that we can’t talk in the garden?”

“It’s something about John Risca,” said the woman with the thin lips.

Stella put her hand to her heart. “John--Mr. Risca? What is the matter?
Has anything happened to him?”

“Oh, he’s in perfect health. Don’t be alarmed. I only don’t want us to
be interrupted by Sir Oliver or Lady Blount. Do come with me. I assure
you it’s something quite important.”

She moved in the direction of the lone path, and

Stella, drawn against her will, followed. They, reached the seat. Below
sank sheer cliff to the rocks on the shore. Above sheer cliff rose to
the crest on which stood the Channel House. The sea sparkled in the
sunshine. In the far distance a great steamer, her two funnels plumed
with gray, sped majestically down Channel. The woman looked about her
with nervous swiftness. They were out of sight of human creature. Then
she turned, and the cold face changed, and Stella shrank from its sudden
malignity. The woman clutched the girl by her arm.

“Now, my lady, do you know who I am?”

“No,” said Stella, shrinking back terrified, and striving to wrench
herself free.

“I am John Risca’s wife.”

Stella looked at her for an agonized moment, then, as white as paper,
collapsed on the seat, the woman still gripping her arm.

“John--married--you--his wife!” she stammered incoherently.

Louisa Risca bent down and scrutinized the white face.

“Do you mean to say you did n’t know?”

Stella shook her head in frightened negation. Her ignorance was obvious,
even to the criminal woman now on the point of carrying out the fixed
idea of years. Gradually the grasp on her arm relaxed, and the woman
stood upright.

“You did n’t know he was a rotter, did you?”

The word smote Stellamaris like a foul thing. She shivered. Mrs. Risca
kept her eyes fixed on her for a few seconds until, as it were, some
inspired thought flashed into them a gleam of joy.

“It ‘s jolly lucky for you that you did n’t know. There ‘s a nice little
drop from here down to the rocks. I ‘ve been here often before.”

Stella sprang to her feet and thrust her hands against the woman’s
breast. .

“Let me pass! Let me pass!” she cried wildly.

‘But the woman barred the downward path. A few steps beyond the bench it
narrowed quickly upward until it merged into the cliff-side.

“I’m not going to. You’ve got to stay here,” said Mrs. Risca, seizing
Stella’s wrists in a grip in which the girl’s frail strength was
powerless. “If you struggle and make a fuss, you ‘ll have us both
chucked over. Don’t be silly.”

Then Stella, calling to her aid her pride and courage, drew herself up
and looked the evil woman in the face.

“Very well. Say what you have to say. I will listen to you.”

“That ‘s sensible,” said Mrs. Risca, dropping her wrists. “I don’t see
why you should have gone on so. I only wanted to speak to you for your
good and your happiness. You sit down there, and I ‘ll sit here, and we
‘ll have a nice, long talk about John.”

Stella sat on the extreme upper edge of the bench, Mrs. Risca on the
lower, and smiled on her victim, who drew a convulsive breath.

“He has been making love to you, has n’t he?” she asked, enjoying the
flicker of pain that passed over the delicate features.

“Go on, if I must hear,” said Stella.

“And all the while he’s been a married man, and I’m his shamefully
neglected and deserted wife.”

“How am I to know that you ‘re his wife?” said Stella.

“I thought you’d ask that, so I’ve brought proof.”

She drew two papers from a little bag slung over her arm, and handed one
to Stella. It was a certified copy of the marriage-certificate. Stella
glanced over it. Ignorant as she was in things of the world, she
recognized the genuineness of the official document. Her eyes were too
dazed, however, to appreciate the date. She passed the slip of blue
paper back without a word.

“Here’s something else.”

Mrs. Risca gave her a discoloured letter, one which she had kept, Heaven
knows why, perhaps in the vague hope that it might one day be turned
into an instrument against her husband. It was an old, old, violently
passionate love-letter. Stella’s eyes met a few flaming words in John’s
unmistakable handwriting, and with a shudder she threw the letter, like
something unclean, away from her. Mrs. Risca picked it up from the path
and restored it, with the marriage-certificate, to her bag.

“He ‘s a pretty fellow, is n’t he? Fancy his kidding you all the time
that he was a single man. And you believed him and thought him such a
noble gentleman. Oh, he can come the noble gentleman when he likes. I
know him. I ‘m his wife. He wants to be taken for a rough diamond, he
does. And he’s never tired of showing you what a diamond he is. And
for all his rough diamondness, he ‘s as vain as a peacock. Have n’t you
noticed it, darling?”

She paused, and smiled horribly on Stellamaris. Stellamaris, from whose
brown pools of eyes all trans-lucency had gone, looked at her steadily.
The girl’s face was pinched into a haggard mask.

“I don’t think you need tell me any more. Will you please let me go.”

“I have n’t nearly finished, darling,” replied Mrs. Risca, finding a
keener and purer delight in this vista of exquisite torture that in the
half-confessed intention of throwing the innocent interloper over the
cliff. “I want to be your friend and warn you against our dear John. He
‘s the kind of male brute, dear, that any silly young girl falls in love
with. I know I did. He has a way of putting his great arms around you
and hugging you, so that your senses are all in a whirl and you think
him some godlike animal.”

Stella shuddered through all her frame at a memory hitherto holy, and
clenched her teeth so that no cry could escape. But the woman gloated
over the setting of the jaw and the tense silence.

“That ‘s John, my pretty pet. And he likes us young. He took me young,
and because I would n’t hear of anything but marriage, he married me,
and then threw me over, and deserted me, and brought me into terrible
trouble, and all that he or any one else may say against me is a lie.
Oh! I know all about you. This is n’t the first time I’ve been to
Southcliff. And as soon as you could get up and go about,--he knew all
along that you would n’t lie on your back forever--trust him,--he comes
and makes love to you and kisses you, does n’t he? And he can’t marry
you, because he’s already married.”

Stella rose, and straightened her slim figure, and threw up her delicate
head.

“I have heard enough. I order you to let me pass.” But the woman laughed
at the childish imperiousness. She knew herself to be of wiry physical
strength. To catch up that light body and send it hurtling into space
would be as easy as kicking a Yorkshire terrier over the edge of a pier.
She had once done that.

“You ‘d make your fortune as a tragedy queen. Why don’t you ask Mr.
Herold to get you on the stage? Sit down again, darling, and don’t be a
little fool. I’ve got lots more to tell you.”

“I prefer to stand,” said Stella.

“It does n’t matter to me whether you stand or sit, my precious pet,”
 said Mrs. Risca. “I only want to tell you all about your dearly beloved
John. Oh, he ‘s a daisy! They ‘ll tell you all sorts of things about
me--about me and Unity--”

“Unity?” cried Stella, taken off her guard.

“Yes, darling. You went and saw her the other day, did n’t you? Oh, no
matter how I know. I only mention it to let you see that I ‘m telling
the truth. They ‘ll tell you all sorts of things about me and her; but
they ‘re all lying. What do you think of our friend John’s relations
with Unity?”

“Mr. Risca is Unity’s guardian,” said Stella in a cold voice.

The woman laughed again. “You little fool! She’s his mistress.”

Unity again, with the baffling mystery surrounding her! The woman
spoke directly, as if in complete revelation. Yet Stella was still in
darkness, and the uncontrollable feminine groped toward the light.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” she said haughtily.

“You mean to tell me you don’t understand what a man’s mistress is?”

It took her a few moments to appreciate the virginal innocence of the
white and rigid thing in woman’s guise. When she did appreciate it, she
laughed aloud.

“You pretty lamb, don’t you know what a wife is?”

Stella stood, the cliff above her, the cliff below, midway between her
sky and her beloved and dancing sea, a hard-eyed statue. The supreme and
deliciously unexpected moment of the criminal woman’s life had come. She
rose and held Stellamaris with her pale-green eyes, and in a few brutal
words she scorched her soul.



CHAPTER XIX

A WHISTLING youth who lumbered up the path saved Stellamaris. There was
nothing about him suggestive of the dragon-slaying and princess-rescuing
hero of the fairy-tale, nor did he at any time thereafter dream that he
had played the part of one; but at the sight of him the she-dragon fled,
her ultimate purpose unfulfilled. Stella sank quivering on the bench.
The knight-errant touched his cloth cap, and, unaccustomed to the
company of princesses, lounged in awkward self-consciousness a few yards
away, with his hands in his pockets and pretended to admire the
view. Stella, aware of deliverance from physical danger, drank in the
unutterable comfort of his presence. After a while he turned and was
moving off, when a cry from her checked him.

“Please don’t go!”

He advanced a step or two. “Is anything the matter, miss?”

She reflected for a moment. “I came over rather faint,” she said. “I
don’t know whether I can get down to the house alone.” She was too proud
to confess to fear of the evil woman. .

The youth offered help. He could easily carry her home. To have carried
the mysterious lady of the Channel House would make him the envy of the
village. Such aid, however, she declined.

“Shall I tell them at the house, miss?”

She sprang to unsteady feet.

“No, don’t do that! See, I can walk. You go in front, and if I want you,
I ‘ll tell you.”

The youth, somewhat disappointed, lounged ahead, and Stella followed,
with shaking knees; so had she progressed during her early lessons in
the art of walking. At the turn of the path Stella held her breath,
dreading to come upon the woman; but no woman was in sight. She walked
more freely. At last they reached the gate of the Channel House, which
the youth held open for her. She thanked him, and once within the
familiar shelter of the garden she sped into the house and up the stairs
into her room, where she fell exhausted on the bed.

The sensation of physical peril was gone,--of that she felt only the
weakness of reaction,--but the woman had scorched her soul, shrivelled
her brain, burnt up the fount of tears. The elfin child of sea-foam and
cloud lay a flaming horror.

They found her there, and saw that she was suffering, and tended her
lovingly, with many anxious inquiries; but she could not speak. The
touch of ministering hands was torture, almost defilement. All humanity
seemed to be unclean. Dr. Ransome, summoned in haste, diagnosed fever,
a touch of the sun, and prescribed sedatives. For aught she cared,
he might have diagnosed a fractured limb. Of objective things she was
barely aware. Figures moved around her like the nightmare shapes of a
dream, all abhorrent. She heard their voices dimly. If only they would
go! If only they would leave her alone!

Her High-and-Mightiness, the nurse, long since relieved of her
occupation, was telegraphed for from London. She came and bent over the
familiar bed and put her hand on the hot forehead. But Stella withdrew
from the once-cooling touch, and closed her ears to the gentle words,
for they seemed to be the touch and the words of the woman with the
pale, cruel eyes and the thin lips. All night long she could not sleep,
tormented by the presence of the watcher in the room. Outside the night
was dark, and a fine rain fell. Within, the lamp of Stellamaris burned
in the western window of the sea-chamber. For the first time in her life
she longed for the blackness; but she could not speak to the watching
shape, and she clenched her teeth. Her brain, on fire, conceived the
notion that she was caught in one of the Cities of the Plain, and far
above her floated a little, dazzling, white cloud, which mockingly
invited her to mount on its back and soar with it into the infinite
blue.

After the dawn had broken, she fell asleep exhausted, and the sun was
high when she awoke.

The nurse, who had been watching her, bent down.

“Are you feeling better, dear?”

She smiled at the well-known face.

“Yes, High-and-Mightiness,” she said. They were the first words she had
spoken since the day before.

She raised her head, and suddenly memory awoke, too, and the horror
swooped down upon her like a vast-winged, evil bird. She sank again on
the pillow and hid her eyes with her hand.

“The light too strong, dear?”

Stella nodded. Words and shapes were now clearly defined. The nurse took
her temperature. It was virtually normal.

“It must have been a touch of the sun, darling, as the doctor said,”
 remarked the nurse. “But, thank heavens! you ‘re better. You gave us all
such a fright.”

“I’m sorry,” said Stella. “It was n’t my fault.”



IT was a new and baffling Stellamaris that entered the world again.
She went about the house silent and preoccupied. Joy was quenched in her
eyes, and her features hardened. The lifelong terms of endearment from
the two old people met with no response. Their morning and evening
kisses she endured passively. They had become to her as strangers,
having gradually undergone a curious metamorphosis from the Great High
Excellency and Most Exquisite Auntship of her childhood into a
certain Sir Oliver and Lady Blount, personages of bone and flesh of an
abominable world, in whom she could place no trust.

One evening before going up-stairs, she picked up a French novel which
Sir Oliver had left in the drawing-room.

“Don’t read that, Stella dear,” said Lady Blount.

“Why?” asked Stella.

“I don’t think it’s suitable for young girls.”

“Is it unclean?”

“My darling, what an extraordinary word!” said Lady Blount.

“Is it unclean?” Stella persisted.

“It deals with a certain side of life that is not wholesome for young
girls to dwell upon.”

“You have n’t answered my question, Auntie.”

“The fact that your uncle and I have read it is an answer, dear,” said
Lady Blount, with some dignity.

“Then I will read it, too,” said Stella.

She took it up to her room and opened it in the middle; but after a few
pages her cheeks grew hot and her heart cold, and she threw the book far
out of the window.

It was a foul, corrupt world, and all the inhabitants thereof save
herself gazed upon its foulness, and took part in its corruption, not
only without a shudder, but positively with zest. In the sane lucidity
of her mind, humanity was scarcely less intolerable than in the
nightmare of her day and night of horror.

To perform an act of ethical judgment, no matter how rough and
elementary, one must have a standard. The fact, too, of ethical judgment
being inherent in the conditions of human existence, implies faultiness
in those conditions. In an ideal state of being, such as the evangelical
heaven, where there is no faultiness, there can be no possible process
of judgment, and thereby no standard whereby to measure right and wrong.
If a dweller about the Throne were to visit the earth, and even limit
his visit to Cheltenham or a New England township, the record of his
impressions would be, from our point of view, both grotesque and unjust.
He would have no standard, save the infinite purity of the Godhead (and
an infinite standard is a contradiction in terms) whereby to measure
human actions. He would be a lost and horrified seraph. His opinions
would not be a criticism, but an utterly valueless denunciation of life.

Stellamaris, for all the imperfections inseparable from humanity, had
been a dweller about the Throne in her mystical Land of Illusion. Evil,
or the whisper of evil, or the thought of evil, had, by the Unwritten
Law, never been allowed to enter the sea-chamber. She issued therefrom,
like the unfortunate seraph, without a standard. Her impressions of life
(from our worldly point of view) were grotesque and unjust. John was
condemned by her unheard. Like the seraph, she was lost and horrified.
But, unlike the seraph--and here lies the tragedy, for no one of us
would break his heart over the horrification of a seraph, as he has only
to fly back whence he came to be perfectly happy--unlike the seraph,
Stellamaris was just poor human clay, and she could not fly back to her
Land of Illusion, because it did not exist. It was her fate to lead the
common life of imperfect mortals, feeling the common human physical
and spiritual pangs, with all the delicate tendrils of her nature
inextricably intertwined in human things, and to focus the myriad
sensations afforded by the bewildering panorama of life from the false
and futile point of view of the seraph. In consequence, she suffered
agonies inconceivable--agonies all the more torturing because she could
not turn for alleviation to any human being. She shrank from contact
with her kind, wandered lonely in the garden, save for the attendance of
the old dog, and sat for hours by the window of the sea-chamber looking
with yearning eyes at sea and sky.

But no more could sea and sky, cloud and sunset, foam and mist, take
Stellamaris into their communion. She had put on mortality, and they had
cast her out from their elemental sphere. The sea-gulls flashed their
wings in the sun and circled up the cliff and hovered at her window,
fixing her with their round, yellow eyes, but they were no longer the
interpreting angels of wind and wave. The glory of all the mysteries had
faded into the light of common day, and the memory of them was only
the confused and unrecallable tangle of a dream. And Stellamaris cried
passionately in her heart for the days when she had not set foot in
the world of men, and when she lived somewhere out there in the salt
sea-spray, and felt her soul flooded with happiness great and exquisite.
But such days could never dawn again. She, too, had become bone and
flesh of an abominable world.

Herold came down again, and found her white and pinched, with dark lines
beneath her eyes. She scarcely spoke, replied in monosyllables, only
made such appearances as the conventions of life demanded, and craftily
avoided meeting him alone. She was no longer Stellamaris.

“What ‘s the matter with her, for pity’s sake?” asked Herold.

“She has not yet got over that touch of the sun,” said Sir Oliver.

“This has nothing to do with the sun,” Herold declared.

Lady Blount sighed. “Perhaps it ‘s a phase. Young girls often pass
through it, though earlier. But Stella is different.”

Herold saw that they did not understand, and, knowing their limitations,
felt that even if they were enlightened, they would do more harm than
good. As soon as he returned to town he tracked John to his office. John
looked up from proof-sheets.

“Just back? I nearly ran down yesterday. I should have done so if I had
n’t promised my aunt to go to church with her.”

“You’ve quite taken to church-going lately,” said Herold, dryly.

John laughed. “It pleases the old soul.”

“And keeps you in Kilburn,” said Herold.

“It might be something worse,” John growled. Then he banged the table
with his fist. “Can you realize what it means to keep away from her? I
think of her all day long, and I can’t sleep at night for thinking of
her. It ‘s idiotic, weak, disgraceful, wicked, any damned thing you
like, but it’s so.” And he glowered up into Herold’s face. “I am eating
myself out for her.”

“What about Stella?” Herold asked.

“That you can tell me. You’ve just come from her. I don’t know. I ‘ve
kept away scrupulously enough, Heaven knows, and my letters are just
footling things. But I’ve not heard from her for over a week. I waylay
the postman and look over my letters like a silly ass of a boy.”

“Have you told her about your marriage?”

“Not yet.”

Herold drew a deep breath and turned away and pretended to study a proof
of the contents-bill of the next number of the Review that was pinned
against the wall. He had come there to ask that question. He had half
expected and wholly hoped for an answer in the affirmative. Stella’s
knowledge might have accounted for her metamorphosis.

“She must be told at once,” he said, returning to the table.

“Why?”

“Because she loves you. You fool!” he exclaimed, “have n’t I seen it?
Has n’t she all but told me so herself? And she has told you, in some
sort of way, only you have made up your mind not to listen. Let me put
matters plain before you. She says good-bye to you here in London,
and goes home full of happiness and looks forward to your coming down
invested in a new halo, and to your letters,--you know what sort of
letters a man writes to the woman he loves,--and instead of all that
you never go near her and you write her footling notes. What do you
imagine she’s thinking and feeling? What do you think any ordinary
decent girl would think and feel in the circumstances?”

“Stella is n’t an ordinary girl,” said John, leaning back in his
writing-chair and looking at Herold from beneath his heavy brows.

“For that reason she thinks and feels a thousand times more acutely.
She’s ill, she’s changed, she’s the shadow of herself,” he went on
fiercely, “and it’s all through you.”

He broke off and, as John said nothing, he put both hands on the table
and leaned over and looked into John’s eyes.

“I ‘ll tell you another thing. The whole lot of us have caused her
endless misery. We ‘ve fed her all her life on lies. God knows how I
hated them! Her coming out in the world has been a gradual discovery
of them. She has had shock after shock. She has n’t told me,--she’s too
proud,--but I know, I can read it in her face, in her eyes, in the tone
of her voice. And now she’s going through the biggest disillusion of
all--you.”

“Do you mean,” said John, frowning heavily, “that she thinks I’m a
blackguard because I seem--you put the phrase in my head by talking of
the ordinary young woman--because I seem to have thrown her over?”

“She’s wondering whether you are a lie, like most other things. And it’s
killing her.”

“What am I to do?”

“Tell her straight. You ought to have done so from the first.”

“If she feels it as deeply as you say, it might kill her outright.”

“It won’t,” said Herold. “She ‘s made of metal too fine. But even if it
did, it were better so, for she would die knowing you to be an honest
man.”

John put his elbows on the table and tugged at his hair with his big
fingers. He could not resent Herold’s fiery speech, for he felt that he
spoke with the tongue of an archangel. Presently he raised a suffering
face.

“You ‘re right, Wallie. It has got to be done; but I feel as if I’m
taking a knife to her.”

He rose and pushed away the pile of proofs. “All this,” said he, “is
going to the devil. I ‘ve got to work through it over and over again,
because I can’t concentrate my mind on anything.” He walked about the
room and then came down with both hands on Herold’s shoulders.

“For God’s sake, Wallie, tell me that you understand how it has all come
about! Heaven knows she has had the purest and the highest I’ve had to
give her. I ‘m a rough, selfish brute, but for all those years she stood
to me for something superhuman, a bit of God fallen on the earth, if you
like. And then she came out in woman’s form and walked about among us--I
could n’t help it. Say that you understand.”

“I can quite understand you falling in love with her,” said Herold,
quietly.

“And you ‘ll help to set me right with her--as far as this damnable
matter can be set right?”

“You two are dearer to me than anything in life,” said Herold. “There is
nothing too difficult for me to undertake for you; but whether I succeed
is another question.”

“I wish I were like you,” said John. He shook him with rough tenderness
and turned away. “God! It is n’t the first time I’ve wished it.”

“In what way like me?”

“You’ve kept your old, high ideals. She’s still to you Stellamaris--the
bit of God. You have n’t wanted to drag her down to--to flesh and
blood--as I have.”

Herold grew white to the lips and took up his hat and stick. “Never
mind about me,” he said, steadying his voice. “I don’t count. She’s all
that matters. What are you going to do? See her or write?”

“I ‘ll write,” said John.

Herold went out, carrying with him the memory of words he had spoken to
John many years before--words of which afterwards he had been ashamed,
for no man likes to think that he has spoken foolishly, but words which
now had come true: “I have walked on, roses all my life; but my hell is
before me... my roses shall turn into red-hot ploughshares, and my
soul shall be on fire.” And he remembered how he had spoken of the
unforgivable sin--high treason against friendship. But in one respect
his words had not come true. He had said that in his evil hour he would
have a great, strong friend to stand by his side. He was walking over
the ploughshares alone. And that evening, in their wait on the stairs
during the first act, in retort to some jesting reply, Leonora Gurney
said:

“I believe you ‘re the chilliest-natured and most heartless thing that
ever walked the earth, and how you can play that love-scene in the third
act will always be a mystery to me.”

“Perhaps that’s the very reason I can play it,” said Herold.

His heart wrung in a vice, John wrote the letter to Stellamaris. He was
“killing the thing he loved.” Good men, and even some bad ones, who have
done it, do not like to dwell upon the memory. He posted the letter on
his way home from the office. It dropped into the letter-box with the
dull thud of the first clod of earth thrown upon a coffin. At dinner
Miss Lindon talked in her usual discursive way on the warm weather and
sun-spots and the curious phenomenon observable on the countenance of
a pious curate friend of her youth, who had spots, not sun-spots, but
birth-marks, on brow, chin, and cheeks, making a perfect sign of the
cross. But the dear fellow unfortunately was afflicted with a red tip
to his nose, wherefore a profane uncle--“your great-uncle Randolph,
dear”--used to call him the five of diamonds.

“But he was a great gambler--your uncle, I mean. I remember his once
losing thirty shillings at whist at a sitting.”

To all of which irrelevant chatter John made replies equally irrelevant.
And Unity dumbly watched him. She had been at great pains to prepare a
savoury dish that he loved. He, ordinarily of Gargantuan appetite, as
befitted the great-framed man that he was, scarcely touched it. Unity
was distressed.

“Is n’t it all right, Guardian?” she asked.

“Yes, dear; delicious.”

Yet he did not eat, and Unity knew that his heart was not in his food.
It was elsewhere. He was unhappy. He had been unhappy for some time. Two
lines had come between the corners of his lips and his chin, and
there was a queer, pained look in his eyes. A far lesser-hearted and
weaker-brained thing in petticoats than Unity would have known that John
loved the radiant princess of Wonderland. Unity dreamed of it--the love
between her king and her princess. Of herself she scarcely thought. Her
humility--not without its pride and beauty--placed her far beneath them
both. Her king was suffering. The feminine in her put aside such
reasons as would have occurred to the unintuitive male--business cares,
disappointed ambition, internal pain, or discomfort. He was suffering;
he went about with a mountain of care on his brow that made her heart
ache; he answered remarks at random; he had no appetite for the dish he
adored--lamb-chops _en casserole_, which she had learned to make from
a recipe in “The Daily Mirror.” He was pining away for love of
Stellamaris.

So deeply engaged was Unity with these thoughts that it was not until
she had switched on the light in her bedroom and was preparing to
undress that she remembered, with a pang of dismay, that the Olympian
tobacco box (old pewter, a present years ago from Herold), one of her
own peculiar and precious cares, was empty. She went down-stairs to the
store-cupboard, where she hoarded the tobacco and, with it in her hand,
she proceeded to the study, and opened the door softly.

Her guardian, her king of men, her beginning and end of existence, sat
in his writing-chair, his head bowed on his arms, folded on the table.
A blank sheet of paper lay on the blotter. She saw that his great
shoulders shook. As he did not hear her enter, she stole on tiptoe to
the table, and laid the packet of tobacco on the corner. She tiptoed
back to the door, and turned and stayed there for a moment, watching
him, soul-racked with futile longing to bring him comfort.

She caught muffled words. She knew in her heart that nothing she could
do would be of any avail. In an instinctive gesture she stretched out
her hands piteously toward the bowed head and went out of the room,
noiselessly closing the door behind her.

That night, she cried as she had never cried before, not even when hot
irons had seared her flesh.

An hour or so afterwards John Risca put out the lights in his study and
went up-stairs to bed. He could not sleep, and he thought, after the
poor, but human, manner of men, not so much of the killing of the thing
he loved, as of the unimaginable, intolerable blank in his own life when
the thing he loved should be killed.

In the morning he said to himself, “She has got my letter,” and fell
into a frenzy of speculation.

That day he watched the post for an answer, and the next day and the
next and the next; but no answer came. For the irony of fate had so
ordained that, as with the other unanswered letters, Stellamaris,
her finger-tips quivering with shame and horror at contact with the
envelope, had destroyed it unopened.



CHAPTER XX

UNITY watched the beloved being as only a woman can watch man or a
sailor can watch sea and sky. To each, signs and portents are vital
matters. She noted every shadow on his face, every deepening line, every
trick of his eyes, every mouthful that he ate, and the very working of
his throat as he swallowed. She noted the handwriting on envelopes and
unfinished manuscript, the ashes knocked out of pipes, the amount
of evening whisky consumed, and the morning muddle of pillow and
bedclothes. She was alive to his every footstep in the house. She knew,
without entering the study, whether he was working, or sitting morose in
his old leather arm-chair, or pacing the room. She knew whether he slept
or was restless of nights.

One day she made a discovery, and in consequence took the first
opportunity of private use of the telephone, and rang up Herold. She
was anxious about her guardian. Could she see Herold as soon as possible
without Aunt Gladys or guardian knowing? They arranged a meeting just
inside the park, by the Marble Arch.

Herold, who knew Unity to be a young woman of practical common sense,
had readily assented to her proposal, and in considerable perturbation
of mind started from his home in Kensington. He arrived punctually at
the Marble Arch end of the park, but found her already there, a patient,
undistinguished little figure in her tartan blouse and nondescript hat
adorned with impossible roses. The latter article of attire was her
best hat. She had bought it already trimmed for seven-and-six, which had
seemed a reckless expenditure of her guardian’s money.

She was sitting on a bench of the broad carriage-drive, watching with
a London child’s interest, despite her preoccupation, the gorgeous
equipages, carriages, and automobiles transporting the loveliest ladies
(save one) in the world, ravishingly raimented, from one strange haunt
of joyousness to another. For it was half-past three of the clock on
a beautiful day in the height of the London season, and, as everybody
knows, Hyde Park is a royal park, and along that stretch of road from
Hyde Park Corner to the marble arch no cart or omnibus or hackney cab or
pretentious taxi is allowed under penalty of instant annihilation.
Only the splendour (in eyes such as Unity’s) of pluto-cratically owned
vehicles meets the enraptured vision. Pedestrian fashion, however, does
not haunt that end of the road, which is mostly given up to nurse-maids
and drab members of the proletariat; but the flowerbeds make
compensation by blazing with colour, and the plane-trees wave their
greenery over everything.

Herold raised his hat, shook hands, and sat down by Unity’s side.

“It _was_ good of you to come, Mr. Herold. I scarcely dared ask you,
but--”

“What’s gone wrong?” he asked, with a smile.

She began her tale: how her guardian neither ate nor slept, how he tore
up page after page of copy,--he who used to write straight ahead; she
found the pieces in the waste paper basket,--how he was growing gloomy
and haggard and ill. Her woman’s mind laid pathetic stress on these
outward and visible signs.

“You must have noticed the difference in him, Mr. Herold,” she said
tearfully.

He nodded. John took trouble badly, which was one of the reasons
that endeared Herold to him. In some aspects he was nothing but a
Pantagruelian infant; but it was no use discoursing on this to Unity.

“He feels things very deeply,” he said instead.

“Would n’t you, if you loved Miss Stella, and never saw or heard from
her?”

“I should,” said he, with a smile.

“And she loves him. I know it. And she feels deeply, too.”

He acquiesced. “She, too, is very unhappy.”

“And they ‘re separated forever because they can’t marry?”

“That is so, Unity,” said he.

“Why can’t he get rid of her--the other woman I mean?” cried Unity,
fiercely.

“She has given him no grounds for divorce.”

Unity twisted her handkerchief in her hands. “I suppose there comes a
time,” she said, “when people can’t stand any more suffering, and they
break down or do something dreadful.”

“Your guardian is too strong for that,” replied Herold.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” The mothering instinct spoke. “That ‘s
what I ‘ve come to ask you about. I’m frightened.”

[Illustration: 0294]

She turned on him a miserable, scared face and told him of her
discovery. She had gone into her guardian’s study that morning in order
to tidy up, and had seen that he had left the key in the lock of his
private drawer, with the rest of the bunch hanging from it. She had
opened the drawer and found, lying on top of some documents one of which
was a sealed envelope endorsed “My Will,” a loaded revolver and a case
of cartridges. She knew that the revolver was loaded because she had
examined it. Then, hearing his step, she had shut the drawer, and gone
on with her dusting. He had entered, locked the drawer, put the bunch in
his pocket, and gone out without a word.

Herold looked grave. More in order to gain time for reflection than to
administer a moral lesson, he said:

“You should n’t have searched his private drawer, Unity.”

“I’d search anything, if only I could find a way of helping him,” she
replied impetuously. “When I see him suffer and can’t do anything for
him, I feel crazy. I can’t sleep sometimes, and stand outside his door
in the middle of the night. It does n’t matter whether I ought n’t to
have done it or not,” she cried with an awkward and impatient gesture;
“I did it, and I found what I found. What I want to know is, Why should
my guardian make his will and keep a loaded revolver in his room unless
he thought that--that he was going to die?”

Her eyes filled with tears. Herold, alarmed by her news and touched by
her devotion, took her cheap-gloved hand and pressed it. Occupants of
the dazzling equipages stared at the elegantly attired gentleman and the
dowdy little girl love-making on the public seat. He tried to reassure
her.

“Every man with folks depending on him makes a will, so we can dismiss
that; and I know heaps of men who keep revolvers.”

“But why should the will be dated two days ago?” asked Unity.

“Was it?”

“The date was written on the envelope, with ‘My Will’ and his name.”

“In all probability,” said Herold, “the cloud that has come between him
and Stellamaris has made him decide to make a fresh will. I know he made
one some years ago.”

“But why the revolver?”

“He spoke to me, also some years ago, about getting one. There had been
one or two burglaries and an ugly murder--don’t you remember?--in the
neighbourhood. He must have got it then.”

“It looks too new,” said Unity.

“Those things keep new for ever so long, if they ‘re not used,” he
argued.

“Then you think there ‘s no danger?” she askeds with both her hands on
his wrist.

“Not at present,” he said, with a smile. “Look after him as closely
as you can and keep up your brave little heart, or we ‘ll have you too
going about with hollow eyes and gaunt cheeks, and we can’t afford it.”

“Me?” She sniffed derisively. “I’m as tough as a horse. And what do I
matter?”

“Your guardian would have a pretty poor time of it if he had only Aunt
Gladys to look after him.”

The shadow of a grin flickered over Unity’s face.

“I suppose he would,” she said.

She went away half-comforted. She had shared her terrifying secret with
Herold, which was a good and consoling thing; but she had not been
quite convinced by his easy arguments. And Herold went away entirely
unconvinced. He knew John as no one, not even Unity, who had made him
the passionate study of her life, could know him. It was his peculiarity
to pursue his right-headed ideas with far less obstinacy than his
wrong-headed ones. In the former case he had a child’s (and sometimes
a naughty child’s) hesitations, and was amenable to argument; but when
bent on a course of folly, he charged blindly, and could be stopped
only with great difficulty. Herold walked through the park in anxious
thought, and, at a loose end for an hour or two, took a taxi to the club
to which both he and John belonged. Avoiding the lounge and its cheery
talk, he mounted to the deserted morning-room, and, having ordered tea,
settled down to an evening newspaper, the pages of which he stared at,
but did not read.

Presently, to his surprise, John, who had avoided the club for some
little time, burly and gloomy, entered the room.

“I thought I’d come in for a quiet talk with somebody; but there’s that
ass Simmons down-stairs. He makes me sick.”

Simmons was the wit and brilliant raconteur of the club.

“You can have a quiet talk with me, if I’m good enough,” said Herold.
“I ‘ve been wanting to see you. What line are you going to take in the
‘Review’ on this latest freak of the censor?”

The prohibition of a famous Continental play had aroused the usual storm
in the theatrical and journalistic world. Every one who wrote turned his
back on the harmless and ridiculously situated man, and in cuttlefish
fashion squirted ink at him. But John Risca took no interest in the
question, and stated the fact with unnecessary violence. He, on his
side, had wanted to see Herold. He had taken his advice and written to
Stella and had received no reply. More than a week had passed. The whole
thing was driving him mad.

Herold made a proposal which had been vaguely in his head for some days,
and to which Unity’s communication had given definiteness.

“Come away with me on a sea-voyage--a couple of months--South Africa,
anywhere you like. I’m tired out. As for the piece, it’s near the end of
the run, and it ‘ll hurt no one if I go out and let Brooke play my part.
I have n’t had a holiday for two years. It would be an act of charity.
You can get away; no man is indispensable, and you can afford it. If you
stay here, you ‘ll lose your balance and very likely commit some act of
idiotic folly. By our return, time will have done its soothing work, and
the relations between Stella and yourself will have been readjusted.”

Such was the substance of that which for a solid hour he strove to nail
into John’s armour-clad mind. His efforts were vain. In the first place,
John was not going to accept such a quixotic sacrifice of professional
interests from any man, even from Herold; secondly, he could n’t get
away from London, and did n’t want to; thirdly, if he were being driven
mad within a journey of an hour or so from Stellamaris, he would become
a raving maniac if he were separated from her by half the length of the
earth; fourthly, he was in perfect health and perfect command of his
faculties, and the only meaning he could attach to Her-old’s insinuation
regarding idiotic folly was that he might forget himself so far as to
go down to South-cliff and make a scene with Stellamaris, thereby acting
with insensate cruelty toward her: all of which was ludicrous, and it
was insulting on Herold’s part to make such a suggestion.

Herold called him a fool and said that he did not mean that at all.

“Then what did you mean?”

“When a man loses control over himself and lets himself be obsessed by
a fixed idea, his brain ‘s not right, and he’s capable of anything. The
only chance for him is change of scene and interests, and that’s why
I’ve been imploring you to come away with me.”

“And that’s why I’m going to do nothing of the kind,” said John, rising
and looking down upon his friend with blood-shot eyes. “I’m pretty
miserable, I own. Lots of men are, and they have to keep their mouths
shut, because they have n’t any one before whom they ‘re not ashamed to
let off steam. I’ve got you. I’ve had you all my man’s life. I’ve told
you everything. Somehow I’ve not been ashamed to tell you things I
would n’t dream of breathing to any other man living. There ‘s a kind of
woman, I believe, whom I might have talked to as I do to you. I’ve
not met her, so I’ve got into the habit of coming to you with whatever
worries me; and you ‘ve never failed me. And I’ve come to you now. But
there are limits beyond which even a friend like you has no right to
go. You’ve no right to tell me I’m going out of my mind and to warn me
against behaving like the inmate of a lunatic asylum. You’ve no right. I
resent it. I’m not going to stand it.”

Herold’s reply was checked by the creaking of the door and the entrance
of the bent figure of an old member, a county court judge who, on his
way to a writing-table by the window, nodded courteously to the two
younger men and remarked that it was a fine day.

“I suppose most people would call it so,” said John.

“Don’t you?”

“I hate it,” cried John. “I wish it would rain. I wish it would rain
like the devil. I would give my ears for a pea-soup fog. Sunshine is too
blightingly ironical in this country.”

The old judge lifted his eyebrows. “The metaphysics of meteorology are
beyond me,” he said, with a smile and a bow, and sat down to write.

John lingered for a second or two by the side of his friend, tracing
the pattern of the Turkey carpet with the toe of his boot; then he swung
round abruptly.

“Excuse me,” said he. “I ‘ve got to look at Baxter’s imbecile article in
‘The Contemporary.’ ”

He went to the table where the current magazines and reviews were tidily
displayed, and Herold, sitting in an arm-chair some distance away, with
his back to the table, pondered over the discussion that had just taken
place. But for the rumble and clatter of London that came through the
open windows, the ceaseless choric ode to all the drama of the vast
city, there was silence in the spacious room, broken only by the
scratching of the old judge’s quill pen. Herold resumed his aimless
skimming of the evening newspaper. What further appeal could he make to
John in his contradictory and violent mood?

At last the old judge, having scribbled his note, got up and left the
room. Herold turned and found himself alone. John had gone without drum
or trumpet. In the lounge down-stairs there was no John, and in the hall
the porter told him that Mr. Risca had left the club.

He went home to his actor’s six o’clock dinner, and found a letter from
Lady Blount imploring him to come to Southcliff at once. Stella was
getting worse day by day. Sir Oliver and she were in despair, Dr.
Ransome was at his wits’ ends. In a woman’s frantic helplessness she
adjured him to come and work a miracle. Now, it so happened that on the
early afternoon of the next day he had a very important appointment.
It was a question of his going into nominal management in the autumn.
Suitable pieces, a theatre, and financial backers, obscure but vital
elements in theatrical business, had been found, and it was with these
last that the morrow’s all-important interview was to take place. He
turned up the railway time-table, and saw that by leaving London by the
first train in the morning, and probably skipping lunch, he could
spend a couple of hours in Southcliff and get back in time for his
engagement. He telegraphed to Lady Blount, dined, and went to the
theatre. For perhaps the first time in his pleasant life he was
overwhelmed that evening by the sense of the futility of his work, which
every artist, actor, painter, and poet is doomed to feel at times.
The painted faces of his colleagues, the vain canvas of the sets, the
stereotyped words, gestures, inflections, repeated without variation for
more than the two hundredth time, the whole elaborate make-believe of
life that at once is, and is not, the theatre,--all this oppressed him,
filled him with shame iand disgust. It had no meaning. It was an idle
show. He had given to inanity a life that might have been devoted to the
pursuit of noble ideals.

Folks are apt to imagine that, when the pains of the actual world get
round about an artist’s soul, the supreme moment has arrived for him to
deliver himself in immortal utterances. This is untrue. He does n’t so
deliver himself. On the contrary, he cuts up his canvas, smashes his
piano, and kicks his manuscript about the room. What interpretation
of life, however celestially inspired, can have the all-annihilating
poignancy of life itself? Your poet may write an immortal lyric by the
death-bed of his mistress; but it is a proof that he did not care a
brass farthing for the lady: he is expressing the grief that he might
have felt if he had loved her. For the suffering artist, at grips with
the great realities, art is only a trumpery matter. It is only when
he is getting, or has got, better, that he composes his masterpieces
working

                   ... the world to sympathy

               With hopes and fears it heeded not.

So Herold, instinctively obeying the common law, as all poor humans
in one way or another have to do, grew heartsick at the vanity of his
calling, and, after a mechanically perfect performance, wondered how an
honest man could live such a life of shameless fraud.

After a night and dawn of rain the sun shone from a blue sky when he
reached the Channel House next morning. Sir Oliver and Lady Blount
received him in the dining-room. They looked very old and careworn.
Like Constable, they had nothing to live for save Stellamaris; and now
Stellamaris, stricken by an obscure but mortal malady, was dying before
their eyes. So, antiphonally, and at first with singularly little
bickering, they told Herold their story of despair. It added little
to his knowledge. The symptoms of which he was already aware had
intensified; that was all. But the two guardians had altered their
opinion as to the cause. Sir Oliver ruefully discarded the theory of
the touch of the sun, and his wife now realized that the state of
Stellamaris was not merely the morbid phase through which most maidens
are supposed to pass. Dr. Ransome, with intuition none too miraculous,
had emitted the theory that she had something on her mind. “But what
could the poor darling innocent child have on her mind?” cried Sir
Oliver.

“What, indeed,” echoed Lady Blount, “unless her mind is affected?”

“Don’t be a fool, Julia,” said Sir Oliver.

“I’m not such a fool as you think, Oliver. Stella has n’t lived a normal
life, and who knows but what the change of the last year may have done
harm? Dr. Ransome himself said that if we could cure the mind, we could
cure the body, and advised us to take her abroad so that she could be
distracted by fresh scenes.”

“He hinted nothing about insanity. You ought to be ashamed of yourself,”
 said Sir Oliver, with querulous asperity.

Then Herold saw that the truth must be told.

“Has it never struck you that John may be the cause of it all?”

Sir Oliver jerked himself round in his chair. “John? What do you mean?”

“Why, I wrote to John at the same time that I did to you,” said Lady
Blount, “begging him to come down in almost the same words; for you
know, dear Walter, I ‘m not a clever woman and can’t say the same thing
in two different ways. She does n’t know I did so, for she’s so strange
and won’t talk to any one alone, if she can help it. I thought John
and you might succeed in getting something out of her. But John has n’t
replied at all. I can’t understand it.”

“Does n’t that bear out what I say?” asked Herold.

“But John--what do you mean?” Sir Oliver repeated.

“Yes, dear, what do you mean? Of course John has behaved in an
extraordinary way lately. He has n’t been to see us for ever so
long. But the dear fellow has explained. He is overwhelmed with
work, especially at week-ends. He writes me charming letters, and he
corresponds regularly with Stella. I don’t see--“.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Julia, let Walter put in a word!” cried
Sir Oliver, rising and throwing his cigarette-end into the bank of
flowering-plants that filled the summer fireplace, a domestic outrage
that always irritated Lady Blount, and even now caused her to wince and
dart an angry glance at the perpetrator. “Go on. Tell us what you mean.”

“Has it never occurred to you that Stella and John may have fallen
in love with each other--with the ghastly barrier of the wife between
them?”

The two old people looked at him wide-eyed and drooping-mouthed. That
Stellamaris, their fragile, impalpable child of mystery, more precious
to them than a child of their own bodies, over whom they might have
quarrelled--that Stellamaris should be a grown woman, capable of a grown
woman’s passions, was a proposition bewilderingly preposterous. Sir
Oliver found speech first.

“Stella in love with John? It ‘s absurd; it’s ludicrous. Why, bless
my soul! you might just as well say she was in love with-me! It’s
nonsense--ridiculous nonsense.”

He walked up and down beside the dining-room table, with arms
outstretched, shaking his thin hands in protest.

Lady Blount, her elbow resting on the table, looked at Walter.

“The barrier of the wife? Who could have told her?”

“John himself.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know.”

Sir Oliver brought himself to an abrupt standstill by the side of his
wife.

“He ought n’t to have done anything of the kind. Such things are not fit
for her to hear.”

“That’s the dreadful mistake we’ve made all along, my dear Oliver,” said
Herold, sadly; and he disclosed to them probabilities of which they had
not dreamed.

Lady Blount began to cry silently, and her husband laid his hand on her
shoulder. She put up her own and clasped it. They looked very forlorn,
robbed of the darling they loved. The new Stellamaris was alien to their
conservatism. They did not know her. They were lost. Like children they
clasped hands, and their hearts were united at last in common dismay.

Herold turned and looked out of the window. Presently he said:

“She ‘s in the garden. I ‘ll go and talk to her, if she will let me.”

“Do, Walter dear. Try to make her speak. It’s that awful silence that we
can’t bear.”

“She has always been devilish fond of you,” said Sir Oliver.

Herold went out and came upon her, escorted by Constable, in a
path bordered on each side by Canterbury bells and fox-gloves and
sweet-william. She drew herself up as he approached, and looked at him
like some wraith or White Lady caught in the daylight, with no gleam
of welcome in her glance. The old dog, however, pushed by her to greet
Herold, whom he held in vast approbation. Then, aware of being relieved
from duty, he wandered down the path, where he lay down and, like a
kindly elder, suffered the frisky impudence of a stray kitten of the
household.

“I suppose they ‘ve sent for you because they think I am ill,” Stella
began suspiciously.

“You are ill, dearest,” he replied in a quiet voice, “and it’s causing
us all very deep grief.”

“I’m not ill,” she retorted. “But every one’s worrying me. I wish you
would tell them to leave me alone.”

He took a nerveless, unresponsive hand and put it to his lips.
“Stellamaris, Stella darling, don’t you know how we all love you? How we
would give everything, life itself, to make you happy?”

She withdrew her hand. “Don’t talk of happiness. It’s a delusion.”

“Every living thing can be happy after its kind,” said Herold. “Look at
this great bumble-bee swinging in the campanula.”

“You were n’t sent here to talk to me about bumble-bees,” she said with
an air of defiance.

“No. I came to speak to you about John.”

It was a thrust of the scalpel. It hurt him cruelly to deal it, but it
had to be dealt. He closely watched its effect. Her wan face grew even
whiter, and her lips grew white, and she held herself rigid. Her eyes
were hard.

“I forbid you to mention his name to me.”

“I must disobey you. No, my dearest,” said he, gently barring the path,
“you must listen. John is as unhappy and as ill as you yourself. He is
suffering greatly. I don’t know what to do with him. He ‘s going on like
a madman. You must not be unjust.”

“I ‘m not unjust. I know the truth at last, and I judge accordingly.”

“You are hard, Stella. Perhaps that’s the first unkind word anybody has
ever spoken to you--and I’ve got to speak it, worse luck! John would
have told you long ago of the unhappy things in his life if he had
thought they could possibly concern you. As soon as he found that they
might do so, he told you frankly.”

“He has told me nothing,” said Stella, icily.

“He wrote to you about his marriage over a week ago.”

“I did n’t read the letter. I never read his letters. I don’t take them
out of the envelopes. I destroy them.”

Herold stared in amazement. “Then how,” he cried, “do you know what you
call the truth? What do you know?”

“He married a woman who is still alive. I know a great deal more,” she
added, ingenuous still in her cold disdain.

“More?” His brain worked against baffling conjecture. Who could have
told her? Suddenly his-eyes caught the shadow of tragedy. He made a
step forward and closed his hands on her arms, and even then he felt
the shock and pain of their fragility. In London, a short time ago, they
were round and delicately full.

“Stellamaris darling, tell me. It is I, Walter, who have loved you all
your life, and to whom you have always told everything. Something none
of us know has happened. What is it?”

She swayed back from him, and half closed her eyes.

“Let me go,” she said faintly. “Such things are not to be spoken of.
They are not to be thought of. They only come in horrible dreams one
can’t help.”

He put an arm round her instinctively to save her from falling.

“Who told you? You must speak.”

She wrenched herself free and stood rigid again.

“She told me, his wife herself.”

“His wife!” His head reeled.

“His deserted wife, a woman with green eyes and thin lips. I suppose you
know her. She came down here to tell me.”

“My God!” cried Herold. “My God in heaven!”

And for the first time Stella saw a man in white, shaking anger, showing
his teeth and shaking his fists.

“When was it?”

She told him. He controlled the riot within him and questioned her
further, almost hectoringly, masterfully, and she replied like a woman
compelled to obey, yet flinging her answers defiantly. And he went on
unrelenting, fighting not her, but the devil that had got possession of
her, until she told him all, even the final horror, as far as he could
wring confession from her virgin fierceness; for, in the white-hot
passion of his anger he had challenged her knowledge of evil almost as
directly as the woman had done.

“And you believe her?” he cried. “You, Stellamaris, believe that
murderous thing of infamy, when you ‘ve known John Risca and his love
and his tenderness all your life? You believe it possible--John and
Unity? Good God! It ‘s monstrous! It ‘s hellish!”

He planted himself on the path before her, hands on hips, his sensitive
face set, his blue eyes aflame, and looked at her as no man or woman
had ever yet looked at Stellamaris. And she met his look, and her eyes,
despite the battle her proud soul was fighting, lost their hardness, and
new light flashed into them, as though they had changed from agate to
diamond.

“She loves him, body and soul,” she said. “I ought to have recognized it
in London. I did n’t know the meaning of things then. I do now.”

“Yes, she does love him; she loves him as I love you,”--and, unrealized
by him, there came into his voice the vibrating notes of passion that
had stirred Stellamaris to the depths at the theatre,--“with every
quivering fibre, heart and spirit, body and soul.” He flung both hands
before his face,--these were words of madness,--and went on hurriedly:
“She loves him as John loves you, as the great souls of the earth can
love, without thought of hope, just because they love.”

She looked at him, and he looked at her, and they stood, as they had
been standing all the time, in the pathway, between the gay borders of
flowers; and the sky was blue overhead, and the noonday sun caressed the
ivy and lichens on the Georgian front of the Channel House, which basked
peacefully on the farther side of the lawn. The kitten had frisked away
with feline inconsequence, and Constable sprawled stiffly asleep on the
gravel, like a dead dog.

“You say you love me like that?” said Stellamaris.

“You command love. Unity herself loves you like that,” replied Herold,
loyally.

“What reason should she have for loving me? She should be jealous of
me, as I was of her. And who is she? Who is Unity?” she asked with an
imperious little stamp. “I ‘ve been lied to about her for many years.
She too lied. Will you explain her? If she’s not what that woman said,
what is she?”

“I ‘ll tell-you,” he said.

He spared her nothing. It was not the hour for glossing over unpleasant
things. Let her judge out of the fullness of knowledge. At his tale of
the torturing--he gave her the details--she shrank back, covering her
eyes and uttered a sobbing cry.

“It ‘s too horrible! I can’t bear it; I can’t believe it.”

He waited a while to give her time for recovery.

“It’s true,” said he.

“I don’t believe it,” she cried, facing him again. “The woman warned me
against lies that were being told about her--lies to screen Unity.”

“It ‘s true,” he repeated. “If you want proofs, I could get you the
newspaper reports of the trial. She was put into prison for three years.
Then John swore that Unity should never suffer again, and, by way of
reparation, adopted her as his own daughter. He came like a god and
lifted her from misery to happiness. That ‘s why she loves him, as you
say, body and soul.”

“And he loves her.”

Her tone staggered him. “He loves her as a father loves a daughter.”

“And she as a woman loves a lover. I’m no longer a child. I know what I
‘m talking about.”

Then he saw how deep the poison had gone. It was a ghastly travesty of
Stellamaris that spoke.

“You are talking wickedness, Stellamaris,” he said sternly. “Go on your
knees and pray to God for forgiveness.”

She threw back her head. “There is n’t a God, or He would not allow such
foulness and horror to be on His earth. I believe in nothing. I believe
nobody. I would just as soon believe that woman as you. At least she did
n’t pretend to be good. She rejoiced in her vileness. She hid nothing,
as every one else hides things. And now--” her voice dropped to a’ tone
of great weariness--“don’t you think you’ve tortured me enough?”

The word was a sword through his heart. He stretched out reproachful
hands.

“Stella, dearest, dearest--”

“Forgive me,” she said. “Sometimes I hardly know what I’m saying.”

“If you would only trust me!”

She shook her head sadly.

“I can trust no one, not even you. Let me go now.”

He saw that she was at the end of her strength. Any concession that she
might make now would be for him a Pyrrhic victory. And it was true that
he had tortured her--tortured her, as his whole being asserted, for her
soul’s welfare. But he could probe her no further.

They walked in silence toward the house. Constable, as soon as they
had passed, rose and followed them. It is for the greater happiness of
big-hearted dogs that they do not understand all things human.

At the foot of the staircase leading to Stella’s wing they parted.

“Stella, darling,” said he, taking her hand, “if you will believe
nothing else, believe this: all our hearts are breaking for you.”

She looked at him for a long, odd moment, with the diamond glitter in
her eyes.

“Mine is broken,” she said.

He stood and watched her wearily mounting the stairs until she
disappeared at the turn of the landing, the old hound scrabbling up
behind her.



CHAPTER XXI

HEROLD caught his train. He had accomplished his mission; Stella had
spoken. In a few words he had enlightened Stella’s unhappy guardians.

“Be gentle with her,” he had recommended. “Don’t try to force her
confidence. Don’t let Ransome feel her pulse too often or give her
physic. Talk about the tropics, and try to stimulate her interest and
make her think she would like to go on a sea-voyage. Or, if you can get
hold of a lost baby, stick it in the garden where she can find it.”

He had talked bravely to the old people, who would have cut off each
other’s heads--and their own, for the matter of that--to bring back the
Stellamaris of a year ago. They clung to him pathetically. If he had
counselled them to shut Stella in a room and read the minor prophets
aloud to her, they would have obeyed him with unquestioning meekness.
With a smile on his lips, he had put heart into them. Lady Blount had
kissed him, and Sir Oliver, watery-eyed, had wrung his hand.

In the empty carriage of the train he gave way, as your highly strung,
sensitive man must do, if he would avoid disaster. He did not think.
To think implies an active process. But thoughts came tumultuous, and
without a struggle he let them assail him. He felt that if he attempted
to put into logical order the intricacies of passionate emotion in which
he and John and Stella and Unity were involved, if he attempted to
gage the effect on all their lives of this new horror brought therein
by the murderous devil-woman, if he allowed himself to think of Stella’s
challenge, “You say you love me like that?” he would go mad. Let the
burning thoughts sear his brain as they listed; his sanity demanded
passive surrender.

At Victoria Station he collected his wits so as to deal with
the commonplace routine of life. He looked at the clock, rapidly
calculating. He would have time to go home, bolt some food and drink,
and go off to keep his appointment with the men of money. He drove to
his house in Kensington in a taxicab, and, telling the driver to wait,
let himself in with his latchkey. His man met him in the hall.

“A lady waiting to see you, sir.”

“I have no time to see ladies. Tell her I’m very sorry, and bring me a
sandwich and a whisky and soda.”

He thought she was some persistent actress in search of an engagement.
Such phenomena are not infrequent in the overcrowded theatrical world.

“It ‘s a Miss Blake, sir, Mr. Risca’s ward. She telephoned this morning,
and asked when you would be likely to be in--”

“Miss Blake?”

He stood amazed. What was Unity doing in his house? It was only
yesterday that he had seen her. What had happened?

“Where is she?”

“In the library, sir.”

He ran up the stairs. As he entered the room, Unity rose from the
straight-backed chair in which she had been sitting and rushed to meet
him. She was an eager and anxious Unity, still wearing the tartan
blouse, but not the gorgeous hat of yesterday. A purple tam-o’-shanter
hastily secured by a glass-headed pin, had taken the place of that
extravagant creation.

“Oh, Mr. Herold, do you know anything about guardian?”

The eagerness faded from her face as she saw the perplexity on his.

“What do you mean, dear?”

“He went out last night about seven o’clock, and has n’t come back
since.” She wrung her hands. “I thought you might be able to tell me
something.”

He could only look at her in blank dismay, and question her as to John’s
latest known movements. There was very little to tell.

“He had an appointment in town after lunch, which was the last time I
saw him. I heard him come in about a quarter to seven and go straight
into his study--”

“He left me about half-past five--at the club,” said Herold. “He was all
nerves and crazy-headedness. He almost quarrelled with me. He said he
had n’t slept for weeks.”

“He has n’t,” said Unity. “That’s what makes me so frightened.”

“Well, go on.”

“I heard him come in. I was in the kitchen helping Phoebe. A few minutes
afterward I heard him walk down the passage--you know his quick, heavy
tread--and go out again, slamming the street door. We waited dinner for
ever so long, and he did n’t come. And then it was bedtime. Aunt Gladys
was n’t anxious, because nothing that guardian did now would surprise
her. She’s like that, you know. And I did n’t think very much about it
at first, because he’s always irregular. But when it came to two and
three and four o’clock in the morning--I can never go to sleep till I
hear him come in, you know,” she explained simply--“then I was terribly
anxious--”

“Why did n’t you ring me up during the night?” Herold asked.

“I thought of it; but I did n’t like to disturb you. I did early this
morning, but your servant said you had already gone down to Southcliff.
Oh, I was so hoping,” she sighed, “that he had gone to Southcliff, too!
There was a letter waiting for him--”

“Good Lord!” cried Herold, with a flash of memory, “so there was! From
Lady Blount.”

“Do you know what was in it?” she asked quickly. “Lady Blount told
me. She said that Stellamaris was very ill, going to die,--an alarming
letter,--and begged him to go down at once.”

“And he went out, but he did n’t go down,” said Unity.

Their eyes met, and the same fear froze them. “Did you look--”

“No; how could I? The drawer was locked.”

“It must be broken open,” said Herold.

The man-servant came in to ask whether he should pay and dismiss the
waiting driver of the taxi.

“Yes,” said Herold, after a moment’s reflection. “And, Ripley, you might
telephone to Mr. Bowers of Temple Chambers and say that I’m detained;
that I don’t know whether I ‘ll be able to come at all.”

It was impossible to transact business beneath this lowering cloud of
tragedy. The men of money could wait till John was found, dead or alive.
Suddenly he remembered that a taxicab was the one thing necessary. He
recalled Ripley.

“Let the cab wait.” He turned to Unity as soon as the man had closed the
door.

“It must be broken open, and at once. I ‘ll come with you and do it. I
‘ll take the responsibility.”

“Yes,” said Unity. “Let us know the worst.”

“I ‘ll go and fetch a couple of bunches of keys. We may find one to
fit.”

He went out and soon afterward returned, the keys jingling in his
pocket. Ripley was at the hall telephone as they passed.

“I ‘m going up to Mr. Risca’s,” said Herold.

In a few moments they were speeding across London. Unity sat very tense,
her red hands clenched together till the knuckles showed white.

“The house first, and then Scotland Yard,” he said.

“We must know first,” she assented.

He glanced at her admiringly.

“You ‘re one of the bravest girls I ‘ve ever met.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “It is n’t a time for playing the fool and
going into hysterics,” she said bluntly.

Many girls of her mongrel origin would have broken down under the
strain, shed wild tears, uttered incoherences of terror. Not so Unity.
“She is the kind that walks through fire,” thought Herold.

They spoke little. He grew sick with anxiety. Lady Blount’s letter had
been the determining cause of John’s flight from home. Of this there
could be no question. It had not been a sane man who raved at him
yesterday. He was primed for any act of madness. The letter was the
spark. Stella ill, fading away to a ghost and as silent as one, victim
to an obscure and wasting disease that baffled them all; Stella dying
before their eyes--the unhappy picture of the beloved was poignant in
its artlessness. It would have stirred to grief any friend of
Stellamaris. What emotions, then, had it not aroused in the breast of
the man who loved her desperately, and whose very love had brought her
to this pitch of suffering, to this imminence of dissolution? And the
appeal for help, for the immediate presence of the rock and tower of
strength of the household, with what ironic force had that battered at
the disordered brain? There were only three courses for a man situated
like Risca, and gifted or afflicted with Risca’s headstrong and gloomy
temperament, to pursue: to surrender to the appeal, which he had not
done; to find his friend and bid him stand by while he cursed the day he
was born and the God who made him and the devil-ruled welter of infamy
which called itself a world, which likewise he had not done; or, in a
paroxysm of despair and remorse, to fling himself beyond reach of human
touch and seek a refuge for himself in the darkness. The conclusion that
he had taken this last course forced itself with diabolical logic on
Herold’s mind. The very key to the door of darkness had lain ready to
his hand, hidden in the study drawer. Before the eyes of the imaginative
man, strung tight almost to breaking-point by the morning’s emotions,
flashed vivid pictures of tragic happenings--so vivid that they could
not but be true: the reading of the letter; John standing by the study
table; the letter dropping from his hands, which, in familiar gesture,
went to the crisp, grizzly hair; the bloodshot eyes,--he had noted them
yesterday,--the heavy jaw momentarily hanging loose, then snapping tight
with a grating of the teeth; the unlocking of the drawer; the snatching
up of the evil, glittering thing; the exit along the passage, with “his
quick, heavy tread.”

Did he remember to lock the drawer again? The vision was elusive. The
question became insistent.

“Did you try the drawer?” he asked suddenly.

“No,” said Unity.

It was unlocked. He felt sure that it was unlocked. He recalled the
moving picture, bade it stay while he concentrated his soul on the
drawer. And one instant it was shut, and another it did not seem flush
with the framing-table and a crack, a sixteenth of an inch, was visible.

He strove to carry on the vision beyond the house-door; but in vain. He
saw John Risca going out grim into the soft and clouded summer evening,
and then the figure disappeared into lucent but impenetrable space.

Unity gripped his hand. Her common little face was like marble.

“Supposing he’s dead!”

“I won’t suppose such a thing,” said Herold.

“You must. Why not face things?”

“All right. Let us face them.”

“Supposing he’s dead. Do you think he ‘s wicked?”

“Certainly not. Do you?”

“You know I don’t,” said Unity.

“Of course I know,” said Herold.

“I could die for her myself, and I’m not a man,” said Unity.

“Is n’t it best, however, to live for those one loves, even at the cost
of suffering?”

“Not if you can do them good by dying.”

“Supposing he ‘s dead,” asked Herold,--clean direct souls can ask each
other such questions,--“what will you do?”

Her grip grew fierce as she turned up to him her snub-nosed little
cockney face. “There ‘ll be no need for me to kill myself. I ‘ll die all
right. Don’t make any mistake about that.”

“But supposing he is alive, and supposing the barrier were removed--I
mean, supposing the woman--you know whom--were no longer there, and he
married--what would you do?”

“What would you?”

“I?”

“You don’t think you can fool me,” said Unity. “You love Miss Stella as
much as he does.”

“How do you know?”

Unity flung her hand to the outer air. “How do I know that’s an
omnibus?”

“You ‘re right, my dear, I do love her. You ‘re one of the few human
beings in this world who know what love means, and I ‘ve told you what
I ‘ve told to no one living. But if she married John to-morrow, I would
strangle everything wrong in me and devote my life to watching over
their happiness.”

“Don’t you think I’d do the same?”

“I know you would.”

“Then what ‘s the good of asking me what I ‘d do?” said Unity.

“Talk like this helps.”

Unity sought his hand again.

“It does,” she said gently.

There was silence for a while. The white, wall-inclosed houses of Maida
Vale, gay in the sunshine, flashed by them. She gripped his hand harder.

“But supposing he ‘s dead, supposing he ‘s dead.”

“Let us suppose nothing, my dear,” said Herold.

The cab stopped at Fairmont, Ossington Road. Herold gave Unity his hand
to alight, and together they went through the tiny front garden, now
bright with geraniums and petunias and pansies, into the house.

Miss Lindon, who had been watching all day for John by the drawing-room
window, greeted them in the passage, her eyes red, and her cap askew on
her white hair.

“Oh, Mr. Herold, have you found him? Where is he? I ‘m sure he ‘s been
run over by a motor-omnibus,” she continued, on learning that Herold
brought no news. “The way they whizz upon you when you ‘re not looking
is so bewildering. The old days of horses were bad enough, although I do
remember his poor father being upset out of a rowing-boat at Ramsgate.”

“You may be quite sure, dear Miss Lindon,” said Herold, gently, “that
John has n’t met with a street accident. The police would have told us
long ago.”

“But what could have happened to him? I know I ‘ve thought of
everything.”

“Very likely he went down to spend the night in the East End, so as to
write a descriptive article for the review,” said Herold. “You have n’t
thought of that.”

Miss Lindon admitted she had not, but tearfully held to the
motor-omnibus theory. He tried to reassure her. Unity clenched her
teeth, half mad with anxiety to get to the fateful drawer. At last
Herold led the dear but delaying lady into the drawing-room.

“I am going to examine John’s papers. Very likely I shall find something
to put me on the track. You don’t mind if I go in alone--with Unity to
tell me where things are?”

“I’m sure, if you really try, you ‘ll find him. You are so clever,” she
replied.

He kissed her hand and left her sitting by the window, the tears running
down her cheeks. In the passage Unity caught him by the hand.

“Come along!”

They ran down the passage into the study and locked the door.

“Which is the drawer?”

“The writing-table--the one to the right.”

Herold flew to it and tried it. His vision had been false: it was
locked. He sat down in John’s worn leather writing-chair and pulled out
his bunches of keys. One after another he tried them. Some were too
large, others too small. Now and then one fitted into the keyhole and
turned slightly in the wards.

“It ‘s coming.”

“Yes--no.”

“Let me try; it won’t do.”

The perspiration streamed upon their faces, and their fingers shook.
Sometimes the tried keys slid back into the bunch, and all had to be
tried over again. A piano organ which had been playing maddeningly in
front of the house ceased suddenly, and there was the silence of
death in the room, broken only by the rattle of the keys and the tense
breathing of the two.

At last they assured themselves that none of the keys would fit. They
tried to wrench the drawer open by the handles, but the workmanship
was stout. It was clattering discord. They searched the room for some
instrument to pick or break open the lock. They rummaged among unlocked
drawers filled with papers, old letters, bits of sealing-wax, forgotten
pipes thrown together haphazard after the fashion of an untidy man. They
found many rusty keys, which they tried in vain.

“We must break it open,” said Herold.

He sent Unity for a screw-driver, and during her short absence looked
through the papers in the baskets on the table; but they gave no clue.
Unity returned, and locked the door again behind her. Once more they
wrenched and jerked the drawer, and this time it gave sufficiently for
the edge of the screw-driver to be inserted. And at last the woodwork
broke away from the lock and the drawer flew open, and there lay the
bright revolver on the sealed envelope just as Unity had described.

Herold sank into the writing-chair, and Unity steadied herself, her
hands behind her, against the table.

They regarded each other for a while, pale, panting, breathless.

“Thank God!” he whispered.

“Yes, thank God!”

So they remained, recovering from their almost intolerable relief. John
Risca had not killed himself. It was a conclusion logical enough. The
probability was that he was alive. But where? What had become of him?
With what frenzied intention had he fled from the house?

Presently Unity drew up her squat little figure and closed the mutilated
drawer.

“Can she have anything to do with it?” she asked, looking at him
steadily.

“She?”

“Yes.”

There was no need of explanation. “She” was the incarnation in woman of
all evil. He rose from the chair, putting his hand to his forehead. He
had not thought of her in connection with John’s disappearance; judged
in the light of the morning’s revelation, the connection was more than
possible. Of no ingenuity of fiendishness was the woman incapable.

“What made you think of her?”

“How can I help thinking of her?” said Unity.

“It is the she-devil,” he cried excitedly. “She has been at work
already. My God! I have it!” He smote his palm with the fist of the
other hand. “She has told him.”

“What?”

“She went down to Southcliff and saw Stellamaris. She poisoned her ears
with hideous things. She was going to throw her over the cliff.”

Unity, a queer light behind her patient eyes, crept up close to him, and
an ugly look accentuated the coarseness of her features.

“She dared? She dared to speak to my precious one? What did she say?
Tell me.”

“She told her she was John’s deserted wife, and that you--” he hesitated
for a moment, and saw that he was not dealing with a young girl, but
with a tragic woman--“and that you were his mistress.”

Unity closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed the horror. Then she
looked at him again.

“And what else?”

“She gave to her innocent soul to understand what a mistress was. She
taunted her and jeered at her. She had her at her mercy.”

“When did you learn this?”

“This morning, from Stellamaris herself. I told her the whole truth from
beginning to end, but, God help her! her soul is so poisoned that she
does n’t know whether to believe the woman or me.”

“If he knew that--if he knew that,” said Unity, slowly, “he would murder
her.”

“Would to God she were murdered!” cried Herold in a shrill voice. “Would
to God she were dead! She should be killed outright like a wild beast.
But not by him, oh, not by him! It would be whirling catastrophe and
chaos.” He walked wildly and uttered senseless things. Then he halted.
“But why should he know? Why should she tell him? Why should she invite
her own destruction? No, she can’t have told him.” He took her by her
shoulders. “Unity, he must never know. He would kill her. It’s a hanging
matter. It’s unthinkable. Swear you will never tell him.”

“I ‘ll never tell him,” said Unity.

“He must be saved,” continued Herold, on the same note, his sensitive
face pinched and his eyes eager. “And she must be saved. All this is
killing them both both of those who matter all the world to you and me.
This thing of infamy is standing between them and blasting their lives.
She will live, and they will be destroyed.”

“If she were dead, would they come together?” asked Unity.

“Why not? What’s to prevent them? Time and love would clear up clouds.
But she--the unutterable--she will live. She will work in the dark, as
she did that night when she stabbed you.”

“I’m not thinking of that,” said Unity.

“But I am.” He waved her disclaimer aside, not appreciating for the
moment how immeasurably was she lifted above the plane of personal
desire for vengeance. “I am,” he repeated. “She is walking murder. She
meant to murder you. She meant to murder Stellamaris. Think of it!” He
threw out his arms in a wide gesture. “There’s a path down there--round
the face of the cliff--”

“I know it,” said Unity. “There ‘s a bench. I used to sit there.”

“She lured her there. You know--it’s sheer above and sheer below and
rocks beneath. She played with her, cat and mouse, would have thrown her
over, dashed her down, Unity--dashed that precious, beautiful body down
on to the rocks! But she did n’t. God sent somebody to save her--to save
her life that time. But she failed. She will try again. She will work
her devilishness against her--against him--against you.”

“I tell you, I don’t care what she does to me,” she interrupted
roughly. “What the hell does it matter what she does to me?”--It was the
aboriginal gutter transcendentalized that spoke--‘“Leave me and her out
of it. I ‘ve nothing against her. I ‘m not a silly fool. If it had n’t
been for her, I should n’t be here living like a lady. I ain’t a
lady, but I’m supposed to be one. And I should n’t have known him, and
I should n’t have loved him. And I should n’t have known my precious
one--and I should n’t have known you. I should have scrubbed floors and
washed up plates in a lodging-house--all I was fit for. I ‘ve nothing
against her--nothing. She can do what she likes with me; but with him
and her--” She broke off on the up-note.

“Yes, you and I don’t matter. We can put our foot on the neck of our own
little devils, can’t we?”

Somehow he found his hands round Unity’s cheeks and his eyes looking
into hers; she suffered the nervous clasp gladly, knowing, in her pure
girl’s heart, that he was a good man, that he loved Stellamaris as she
loved John, and that he loved John as she loved Stellamaris. Brother
and sister, in a spiritual relation singularly perfect in this imperfect
world, they stood, the gentleman of birth and breeding, the artist, the
finely fibred man of wide’ culture, and Unity Blake, whose mother had
died of drink in a slum in Notting Hill Gate a year after her father had
died in prison, and of whom Miss Lindon despaired of ever making a lady.

There came a twisting of the door handle. They fell apart. Then came a
tapping at the door. Heroic! turned the key and opened. It was Phoebe,
elderly and gaunt. She clasped her hands tight in front of her.

“Oh, sir! oh, sir!” she said.

“What’s the matter?”

“Master--he’s found. Your servant has just telephoned. Mr. Risca ‘s met
with an accident and is at your house, and will you please go there at
once?”



THEY found him lying on the sofa, a pitiable object, the whole of his
head from the back of his neck to his eyebrows swathed in bandages. His
clothes were mere limp and discoloured wrappings. They looked as though
they had been wet through, for the red of his tie had run into his
shirt-front and collar. The coarse black sprouts on pallid cheek and
upper lip gave him an appearance of indescribable grime. His eyes were
sunken and feverish.

Unity uttered a little cry as she saw him, but checked it quickly, and
threw herself on her knees by his side.

“Thank God you ‘re alive!”

He put his hand on her head.

“I ‘m all right,” he said faintly; “but you should n’t have come. That
‘s why I did n’t go straight home. I did n’t want to frighten you. I ‘m
a ghastly sight, and I should have scared your aunt out of her wits.”

“But how, in Heaven’s name, man,” said Herold, “did you get into this
state?”

“Something hit me over the head, and I spent the night in rain and
sea-water on the rocks.”

“On the rocks? Where? At Southcliff?”

“Yes,” said John, “at Southcliff. I was a fool to go down, but I ‘ve
been a fool all my life, so a bit more folly does n’t matter.” He closed
his eyes. “Give me a drink, Wallie--some brandy.”

Herold went into the dining-room, which adjoined the library, and
returned with decanter, syphon, and glasses. He poured out a brandy and
soda for John and watched him drink it; then he realized that he, too,
would be the better for stimulant. With an abstemious man’s idea of
taking brandy as medicine, he poured out for himself an extravagant
dose, mixed a little soda-water with it, and gulped it down.

“That ‘ll do me good,” said John; but on saying it he fell to shivering,
despite the heat of the summer afternoon.

“You ‘ve caught a chill,” cried Unity. She counselled home and bed at
once.

“Not yet,” he murmured. “It was all I could do to get here. Let me rest
for a couple of hours. I shall be all right. I’m not going to bed,”
 he declared with sudden irritability; “I ‘ve never gone to bed in the
daytime in my life. I’ve never been ill, and I’m not going to be ill
now. I’m only stiff and tired.”

“You ‘ll go to bed here right away,” said Herold.

John protested. Herold insisted.

“Those infernal clothes--you must get them off at once,” said he. John
being physically weak, his natural obstinacy gave way. Unity saw the
sense of the suggestion; but it was giving trouble.

“Not a bit,” said Herold. “There ‘s a spare bedroom. John can have mine,
which is aired. Mrs. Ripley will see to it.”

He went out to give the necessary orders. Unity busied herself with
unlacing and taking off the stiffened boots. Herold returned, beckoned
to Unity, and whispered that he had telephoned for a doctor. Then he
said to John:

“How are you feeling, dear old man?”

“My head’s queer, devilish queer. Something fell on it last night and
knocked me out of time. It was raining, and I was sheltering under the
cliff on the beach, the other side of the path, where you can see the
lights of the house, when down came the thing. I must have recovered
just before dawn, for I remember staggering about in a dazed way. I must
have taken the road round the cliff, thinking it the upper road, and
missed my footing and fallen down. I came to about nine this morning, on
the rocks, the tide washing over my legs. I ‘m black and blue all over.
Wonder I did n’t break my neck. But I ‘m tough.”

“Thank God you ‘re alive!” said Unity again.

He passed his hands over his eyes. “Yes. You must have thought all
manner of things, dear. I did n’t realize till Ripley told me that I
had n’t let you know. I went out, meaning to catch the 7:15 and come
back by the last train. But this thing knocked all memory out of me. I’m
sorry.”

Herold looked in bewilderment at the stricken giant. Even now he had not
accounted for the lunatic and almost tragic adventure. What was he doing
on the beach in the rain? What were the happenings subsequent to his
recovering consciousness at nine o’clock?

“Does it worry you to talk?” he asked.

“No. It did at first--I mean this morning. But I’m all right now--nearly
all right. I’d like to tell you. I picked myself up, all over blood,
a devil of a mess, and crawled to the doctor’s--not Ransome; the other
chap, Theed. He ‘s the nearest; and, besides, I did n’t want to go to
Ransome. I don’t think any one saw me. Theed took me in and fixed me up
and dried my clothes. Of course he wanted to drag me to the Channel
House, but I would n’t let him. I made him swear not to tell them. I
don’t want them to know. Neither of you must say anything. He also tried
to fit me out. But, you know, he ‘s about five foot nothing; it was
absurd. As soon as I could manage it, he stuck me in a train, much
against his will, and I came on here. That ‘s all.”

“If only I had known!” said Herold. “I was down there all the morning.”

“You?”

“I had a letter from Julia, summoning me.”

“So had I.” He closed his eyes again for a moment. Then he asked, “How
is Stella?”

“I had a long talk with her. I may have straightened things out a bit.
She ‘ll come round. There’s no cause for worry for the present. Julia
is a good soul, but she has no sense of proportion, and where Stella is
concerned she exaggerates.”

When a man has had rocks fall on his head, and again has fallen on his
head upon rocks, it is best to soothe what is left of his mind. And
after Walter had partly soothed it,--a very difficult matter, first,
because it was in a troubled and despairing state, and, secondly,
because, John, never having taken Unity into his confidence, references
had to be veiled,--he satisfied the need of another brandy and soda.
Then Ripley came in to announce that the room was ready.

“Ripley and I will see to him,” said Herold to Unity. “You had better go
and fetch him a change of clothes and things he may want.”

“May n’t I wait till the doctor comes?” she pleaded. “Of course, my
dear. There ‘s no hurry,” said Herold.

The two men helped Risca to his feet, and, taking him to the bedroom,
undressed him, clothed him in warm pyjamas, and put him into the bed,
where a hot-water bottle diffused grateful heat. Herold had seen the
livid bruises on his great, muscular limbs.

“Any one but you,” said he, with forced cheeriness, “would have been
smashed to bits, like an egg.”

“I tell you I’m tough,” John growled. “It’s only to please you that I
submit to this silly foolery of going to bed.”

As soon as Ripley was dismissed, he called Herold to his side.

“I would like to tell you everything, Wallie. I could n’t in the other
room. Unity, poor child, knows nothing at all about things. Naturally.
I had been worried all the afternoon. I thought I saw her--you
know--hanging about outside the office. It was just before I met you at
the club. I did n’t tell you,--perhaps I ought to,--but that was why
I was so upset. But you ‘ll forgive me. You ‘ve always forgiven me.
Anyway, I thought I saw her. It was just a flash, for she, if it was
she, was swallowed up in the traffic of Fleet Street. After leaving the
club, I went back to the office--verification in proofs of something
in Baxter’s article. I found odds and ends to do. Then I went home, and
Julia’s letter lay on my table. I’ve been off my head of late, Wallie.
For the matter of that, I’m still off it. I’ve hardly slept for weeks. I
found Julia’s letter. I looked at my watch. There was just time to catch
the 7:15. I ran out, jumped into a taxi, and caught it just as it
was starting. But as I passed by a third-class carriage,--in fact, I
realized it only after I had gone several yards beyond; one rushes, you
know,--I seemed to see her face--those thin lips and cold eyes--framed
in the window. The guard pitched me into a carriage. I looked out for
her at all the stations. At Tring Bay the usual crowd got out. I did
n’t see her. No one like her got out at Southcliff. What ‘s the matter,
Wallie?” He broke off suddenly.

“Nothing, man; nothing,” said Herold, turning away and fumbling for his
cigarette-case.

“You looked as if you had seen a ghost. It was I who saw the ghost.”
 He laughed. And the laugh, coming from the haggard face below the
brow-reaching white bandage, was horrible.

“Your brain was playing you tricks,” said Herold. “You got to
Southcliff. What happened?”

“I felt a fool,” said John. “Can’t you see what a fool a man feels when
he knows he has played the fool?”

Bit by bit he revealed himself. At the gate of the Channel House he
reflected. He had not the courage to enter. Stella would be up and
about. He resolved to wait until she went to bed. He wandered down
to the beach. The rain began to fall, fine, almost imperceptible.
The beacon-light in the west window threw a vanishing shaft into the
darkness.

“We saw it once--don’t you remember?--years ago when you gave her the
name--Stellamaris. I sat like a fool and watched the window. How long I
don’t know. My God! Wallie, you don’t know what it is to be shaken and
racked by the want of a woman--”

“By love for a woman, you mean,” said Herold.

“It ‘s the same thing. At last I saw her. She stood defiant in the
light. She had changed. I cried out toward her like an idiot,”--the
rugged, grim half face visible beneath the bandage was grotesque, a
parody of passion,--“and I stayed there, watching, after she had gone
away. How long I don’t know. It was impossible to ring at the door and
see Oliver and Julia.”

He laughed again. “You must have some sense of humour, my dear man.
Fancy Oliver and Julia! What could I have said to them? What could they
have said to me? I sat staring up at her window. The rain was falling.
Everything was still. It was night. You know how quiet everything is
there. Then I seemed to hear footsteps and I turned, and a kind of
shape--a woman’s--disappeared. I know I was off my head, but I began to
think. I had a funny experience once--I ‘ve never told you. It was the
day she came out of prison. I sat down in St. James’s Park and fell half
asleep,--that sort of dog sleep one has when one’s tired,--and I
thought I saw her going for Stella--Stella in her bed at the Channel
House--going to strangle her. This came into my mind, and then
something hit me,--a chunk of overhanging cliff loosened by the rain, I
suppose,--and, as I ‘ve told you, it knocked me out. But it’s devilish
odd that she should be mixed up in it.”

“As I said, your brain was playing you tricks,” said Herold, outwardly
calm; but within himself he shuddered. The woman was like a foul spirit
hovering unseen about those he loved.

Presently the doctor, a young man with a cheery face, came in and made
his examination. There was no serious damage done. The only thing
to fear was the chill. If the patient’s temperature went down in the
morning, he could quite safely be moved to his own home. For the present
rest was imperative, immediate sleep desirable. He wrote a prescription,
and with pleasant words went away. Then Unity, summoned to the room,
heard the doctor’s comforting opinion.

“I ‘ll be with you to-morrow,” said John.

“You don’t mind leaving him to Mrs. Ripley and me just for one night?”
 asked Herold.

“He ‘s always safe with you,” Unity replied, her eyes fixed not on him,
but on John Risca. “Good-bye, Guardian dear.”

John drew an arm from beneath the bedclothes and put it round her thin
shoulders. “Good-by, dear. Forgive me for giving you such a fright, and
make my peace with auntie. You ‘ll be coming back with my things, won’t
you?”

“Of course; but you ‘ll be asleep then.”

“I should n’t wonder,” said John.

She made him cover up his arm again and tucked the bedclothes snugly
about him, her finger-tips lingering by his cheeks.

“I ‘ll leave you, too. Try and get to sleep,” said Herold.

They went together out of the room and back to the library.

“Has he said anything more?”

He stood before her trembling all over.

“What is the matter?”

He burst into an uncontrollable cry. “It ‘s that hellish woman again!
He saw her spying on him outside his office, he saw her in a railway
carriage on the train he took. Because she disappeared each time, he
thinks it was an hallucination; and somehow he was aware of her presence
just before the piece of rock came down.”

Unity’s face beneath the skimpy hair and rubbishy tam-o’-shanter was
white and strained.

“She threw it. I knew she threw it.”

“So do I. He saw her. She disappeared as she did that night in the fog.
A woman like that is n’t human. She has the power of disappearing at
will. You can’t measure her cunning.”

“What did he go down for?”

He told her. Unity’s lips twitched.

“And he sat there in the rain just looking at her window?”

She put out her hand. “Good-bye, Mr. Herold. When you see Miss
Stellamaris, you ‘ll tell her I’m a good girl--in that way, you
know--and that I love her. She has been a kind of beautiful angel
to me--has always been with me. It’s funny; I can’t explain. But you
understand. If you’d only let her see that, I’d be so happy--and perhaps
she’d be happier.”

“I ‘ll do my utmost,” said Herold.

He accompanied her down-stairs, and when she had gone, he returned to
the library and walked about. The horror of the woman was upon him.
He drank another brandy and soda. After a while Ripley came in with
a soiled card on a tray. He looked at it stupidly--“Mr. Edwin
Travers”--and nodded.

“Shall I show the gentleman up?”

He nodded again, thinking of the woman.

When the visitor came in he vaguely recognized him as a broken-down
actor, a colleague of early days. As in a dream he bade the man sit
down, and gave him cigarettes and drink, and heard with his outer ears
an interminable tale of misfortune. At the end of it he went to his desk
and wrote out a cheque, which he handed to his guest.

“I can’t thank you, old man. I don’t know how to. But as soon as I can
get an engagement--hello, old man,” he cried, glancing at the cheque,
“you’ve made a funny mistake--the name!”

Herold took the slip of paper, and saw that he had made the sum payable
not to Edwin Travers, but to Louisa Risca. It was a shock, causing
him to brace his faculties. He wrote out another cheque, and the man
departed.

He went softly into John’s room and found him sleeping peacefully.

Soon afterward Ripley announced that dinner was ready. It was past six
o’clock.

“Great Heavens!” he cried aloud, “I’ve got to play to-night.”

After a hurried wash he went into the dining-room and sat down at the
table, but the sight and smell of food revolted him. He swallowed a few
mouthfuls of soup; the rest of the dinner he could not touch. The horror
of the woman had seized him again. He drank some wine, pushed back his
chair, and threw down his table-napkin.

“I don’t want anything else. I ‘m going for a walk. I ‘ll see you later
at the theatre.”

The old-fashioned Kensington street, with its double line of Queen Anne
houses slumbering in the afternoon sunshine, was a mellow blur before
his eyes. Whither he was going he knew: what he was going to do he knew
not. The rigid self-control of the day, relaxed at times, but always
kept within grip, had at last escaped him. Want of food and the
unaccustomed drink had brought about an abnormal state of mind. He was
aware of direction, aware, too, of the shadow-shapes of men and women
passing him by, of traffic in the roadway. He walked straight,
alert, his gait and general demeanour unaffected, his outer senses
automatically alive. He walked down the narrow, shady Church Street,
and paused for a moment or two by the summer greenery of Kensington
Churchyard until there was an opportunity of crossing the High Street,
now at the height of its traffic. He strode westward past the great
shops, a lithe man in the full vigour of his manhood. Here and’ there
a woman lingering in front of displays of millinery recognized the
well-known actor and nudged her companion.

The horror within him had grown to a consuming thing of flame. Instead
of the quiet thoroughfares down which he turned, he saw picture after
shuddering picture--the woman and Stellamaris, the woman and John
Risca. She attacked soul as well as body. The pictures took the forms of
horrible grotesques. Within, his mind worked amazingly, like a machine
escaped from human control and running with blind relentlessness. He had
said years ago that he would pass through his hell-fire. He was passing
through it now.

The destroyer must be kept from destroying or be destroyed. Which of
these should be accomplished through his agency? One or the other. Of
one thing he was certain, with an odd, undoubting certainty: that he
would find her, and finding her, that he would let loose upon her the
wrath of God. She should be chained up forever or he would strangle her.
Shivering thrills diabolically delicious ran through him at the thought.
Supposing he strangled her as he would a mad cat? That were better.
She would be out of the world. He would be fulfilling his destiny of
sacrifice. For the woman he loved and for the man he loved why should
he not do this thing? What but a legal quibble could call it murder?
Stellamaris’s words rang in his ears: “You say you love me like that?”

“Yes, I love you like that. I love you like that,” he cried below his
breath as he walked on.

He knew where she lived, the name by which she passed. John had told
him many times. There were few things in John’s life he did not know. He
knew of the Bences, of Mrs. Oscraft, the fluffy-haired woman who lived
in the flat below. Amelia Mansions, he was aware, were in the Fulham
Road. But when he reached that thoroughfare, he stood dazed and
irresolute, realizing that he did not know which way to turn. A passing
postman gave him the necessary information. The trivial contact with
the commonplace restored in a measure his mental balance. He went on. By
Brompton Cemetery he felt sick and faint and clung for a minute or two
to the railings. He had eaten nothing since early morning, and then only
a scrap of bacon and toast; he had drunk brandy and wine, and he had
lived through the day in which the maddening stress of a lifetime had
been concentrated.

One or two passers-by stared at him, for he was as white as a sheet.
A comfortable, elderly woman, some small shop-keeper’s wife, addressed
him. Was he ill? Could she do anything for him? The questioning was
a lash. He drew himself up, smiled, raised his hat, thanked her
courteously. It was nothing. He went on, loathing himself as men do when
the flesh fails beneath the whip of the spirit.

He was well now, his mind clear. He was going to the woman. He would
save those he loved. If it were necessary to kill her, he would kill
her. On that point his brain worked with startling clarity. If he did
not kill her, she would be eventually killed by John; for John, he
argued, could not remain in ignorance forever. If John killed her, he
would be hanged. Much better that he, Walter Herold, whom Stellamaris
did not love, should be hanged than John--much better. And what the
deuce did it matter to anybody whether he were hanged or not? He laughed
at the elementary logic of the proposition. The solution of all the
infernally intricate problems of life is, if people only dared face
it, one of childish simplicity. It was laughable. Walter Herold laughed
aloud in the Fulham Road.

It was so easy, so uncomplicated. He would see her. He would do what he
had to do. Then he would take a taxi-cab to the theatre. He must play
to-night. Of course he would. There was no reason why he should n’t.
Only he hoped that Leonora Gurney would n’t worry him. He would manage
to avoid her during that confounded wait in the first act, when she
always tried to get him to talk. He would play the part all right. He
was a man and not a stalk of wet straw. After the performance he would
give himself up. No one would be inconvenienced. He would ask the
authorities to hurry on matters and give him a short shrift and a long
rope; but the length of the rope did n’t matter these days, when they
just broke your neck. There was no one dependent on him. His brothers
and sisters, many years his seniors,--he had not seen them since he was
a child,--had all gone after their father’s death to an uncle in New
Zealand. They were there still. The mother, who had remained with him,
the Benjamin, in England, had died while he was at Cambridge. He was
free from family-ties. And women? He was free, too. There had only been
one woman in his life, the child of cloud and sea foam.

Stellamaris, star of the sea, now dragged through the mire of mortal
things! She should go back. She should go back to her firmament, shining
down upon, and worshipped by, the man she loved. And he, God!--he should
be spared the’ terrifying agony of it.

Thus worked the brain which Walter Herold told himself was crystal
clear.

It was clear enough, however, to follow the post-man’s directions. He
took the turning indicated and found the red-brick block, with the name
“Amelia Mansions” carved in stone over the entrance door. The by-street
seemed to be densely populated. He went into the entrance-hall and
mechanically looked at the list of names. Mrs. Rawlings’s name was
followed by No. 7. He mounted the stairs. On the landing of No. 7 there
were a couple of policemen, and the flat door was open, and the length
of the passage was visible. Herold was about to enter when they stopped
him.

“You can’t go in, sir.”

“I want Mrs. Rawlings.”

“No one can go in.”

He stood confused, bewildered. An-elderly, buxom, woman, with a
horrified face, who just then happened to come out of a room near the
doorway, saw him and came forward.

“You are Mr. Herold,” she asked.

“Yes; I want to see Mrs. Rawlings.”

“It ‘s all right, constable,” she said in a curiously cracked voice.
“Let this gentleman pass. Come in, sir. I am Mrs. Bence.”

He entered the passage. She spoke words to him the import of which he
did not catch. His brain was perplexed by the guard of policemen and the
open flat. She led him a short distance down the passage. He stumbled
over a packed kit-bag. She threw open a door. He crossed the threshold
of a vulgarly furnished drawing-room, the electric lights turned on
despite the daylight of the July evening. There were four figures in
the room. Standing and scribbling in note-books were two men, one in the
uniform of a sergeant of police, the other in a frock-coat, obviously
a medical man. On the floor were two women, both dead. One was John
Risca’s wife, and the other was Unity. And near by them lay a new,
bright revolver.



CHAPTER XXIII

IN after-time Herold’s memory of that disastrous night and the
succeeding days was that of a peculiarly lucid nightmare in which he
seemed to have acted without volition or consciousness of motive.
He ate, dressed, drove through the streets on unhappy missions, gave
orders, directions, consoled, like an automaton, and sometimes slept
exhaustedly. So it seemed to him, looking back. He spared John the first
night of misery. The man with his bandaged head slept like a log, and
Herold did not wake him. All that could be done he himself had done. It
was better for John to gather strength in sleep to face the tragedy on
the morrow. And when the morrow came, and Herold broke the news to him,
the big man gave way under the shock, and became gentle, and obeyed
Herold like a child. Thereafter, for many days, he sat for the hour
together with his old aunt, curiously dependent on her; and she, through
her deep affection for him, grew singularly silent and practical.

In her unimaginative placidity lay her strength. She mourned for Unity
as for her own flesh and blood; but the catastrophe did not shake her
even mind, and when John laid his head in her lap and sobbed, all that
was beautiful in the woman flowed through the comforting tips of her
helpless fingers.

From Herold he learned the unsuspected reason of Unity’s crime and
sacrifice; and from Unity, too, for a poor little pencil scrawl found
in her pocket and addressed to him told him of her love and of her
intention to clear the way for his happiness. And when the inquest was
over and Unity’s body was brought to Kilburn and laid in its coffin in
her little room, he watched by it in dumb stupor of anguish.

Herold roused him now and then. Action--nominal action at least--had
to be taken by him as surviving protagonist of the tragedy. The morning
after the deed the newspapers shrieked the news, giving names in full,
raking up memories of the hideous case. They dug, not deep for motive,
and found long-smouldering vengeance. Unity was blackened. John
responded to Herold’s lash. This must not be. Unity must not go to her
grave in public dishonour; truth must be told. So at the inquest, John
wild, uncouth, with great strips of sticking-plaster on his head, told
truth, and gave a romantic story to a hungry press. It was hateful to
lay bare the inmost sacredness and the inmost suffering of his soul to
the world’s cold and curious gaze, but it had to be done. Unity’s name
was cleared. When he sat down by Herold’s side, the latter grasped his
hand, and it was clammy and cold, and he shook throughout his great
frame.

Then Herold, driven to mechanical action, as it seemed to him afterward,
by a compelling force, dragged John to an inquiry into the evil woman’s
life. It was Mrs. Oscraft, the full-blown, blowzy bookmaker’s wife, the
woman’s intimate associate for many years, who gave the necessary clue.
Horrified by the discovery of the identity of her friend and by the
revelation of further iniquities, she lost her head when the men sternly
questioned her. She had used her intimacy with Mrs. Risca to cover from
her own husband an intrigue of many years’ standing. In return, Mrs.
Risca had confessed to an intrigue of her own, and demanded, and readily
obtained, Mrs. Oscraft’s protection. The women worked together. They
were inseparable in their outgoings and incomings, but abroad each went
her separate way. That was why, ignorant of the truth, Mrs. Oscraft had
lied loyally when John Risca had burst into her flat long ago. She had
thought she was merely shielding her fellow-sinner from the wrath of a
jealous husband. Thus for years, with her cunning, Mrs. Risca had thrown
dust in the eyes both of her friend and of the feared and hated wardress
whom John had set over her. Under the double cloak she had used her
hours of liberty to carry out the set, relentless purpose of her life.
To spy on him with exquisite craft had been her secret passion, to
strike when the time came the very meaning of her criminal existence.

“And for the last two or three years she gave no trouble and was as
gentle as a lamb, so how could I suspect?” Mrs. Bence lamented.

“It ‘s all over,” said John, stupidly; “it’s all over. Nothing matters
now.”

To Herold, in after-time, the memories of these days were as those of
the doings of another man in his outer semblance. His essential self
had been the crazy being who had marched through the mellow Kensington
streets with fantastic dreams of murder in his head. At the sight of
Unity and the woman lying ghastly on the floor something seemed to snap
in his brain, and all the cloudy essence that was he vanished, and a
perfect mechanism took its place. When John with wearisome reiteration
said: “God bless you, Wallie! God knows what I should have done without
you,” it was hard to realize that he had done anything deserving thanks.
He was inclined to regard himself--when he had a fugitive moment to
regard, himself--with abhorrence. He had talked; Unity had acted. And
deep down in his soul, only once afterwards in his life to be confessed,
dwelt an awful remorse for his responsibility in the matter of Unity’s
death. But in simple fact no man in times of great convulsion knows
himself. He looks back on the man who acted and wonders. The man,
surviving the wreck of earthquake, if he be weak, lies prone and calls
on God and man to help him; if he be strong, he devotes the intensity of
his faculties to the work of rescue, of clearing up debris, of temporary
reconstruction, and has no time for self-analysis. It is in reality the
essential man in his vigour and courage and nobility and disdain who
acts, and the bruised and shattered about him who profit by his help
look rightly upon him as a god.

It was only after John had visited the house of death, where, according
to law, the bodies both of slayer and slain had to lie, and had seen the
pinched, common face, swathed in decent linen, of the girl who for his
sake had charged her soul with murder and taken her own life, and after
he had driven away, stunned with grief and carrying with him, at his
feet in the taxi-cab, the useless kit-bag packed by the poor child
with Heaven knows what idea of its getting to its destination, and had
staggered to the comfort of the foolish old lady’s outstretched arms
and received her benediction, futilely spoken, divinely unspoken--it
was only then that, raising haggard eyes, all the more haggard under the
brow-reaching bandage he still wore, he asked the question:

“What about Stella? She is bound to learn.”

“I wrote to her last night,” said Herold. “I prepared her for the shock
as best I could.”

A gleam of rational thought flitted across John Risca’s mind.

“You remembered her at such a time, with all you had to do? You ‘re a
wonderful man, Wallie. No one else would have done it.”

“Are you in a fit state of mind,” said Herold, “to understand what
has happened? I tried to tell you this morning,”--as he had done
fitfully,--“but it was no use. You grasped nothing.”

“Go on now,” said John. “I ‘m listening.”

So Herold, amid the fripperies of Miss Lindon’s drawing-room, told the
story of his summons to the Channel House some time ago--Good God!--He
caught himself up sharply--it was only yesterday! and of his talk with
Stellamaris in the garden, and of her encounter with the evil woman, and
of the poison that had crept to the roots of Stella’s being.

John shivered, and clenched impotent fists. Stella left alone on the
cliff-edge with that murderous hag! Stella’s ears polluted by that
infamous tale! If only he had known it! Why did she hide it from him?

It was well the murderess was dead, but, merciful Heaven, at what a
price!

“Listen,” said Herold, gravely, checking his outburst; and he told of
his meetings with Unity,--it was essential that John should know,--of
her almost mystical worship of Stellamaris, of their discovery of the
revolver--

“Poor child!” cried John, “I bought it soon after I went to Kilburn. I
took it out the other day and played with a temptation I knew I should
n’t succumb to. I should never have had the pluck.”

Herold continued, telling him all he knew--all save that of which he
stood self-accused, and which for the present was a matter between him
and his Maker. And Miss Lindon, fondling on her lap a wheezy pug, the
successor to the Dandy of former days who had been gathered to his
fathers long ago, listened in placid, bewilderment to the strange story
of love and crime.

“I ‘m sure I don’t understand how people think of such things, let alone
do them,” she sighed.

“You must accept the fact, dear Miss Lindon,” said Herold, gently.

“God’s will be done,” she murmured, which in the circumstances was
as relevant a thing as the poor lady could have uttered. But John sat
hunched up in a bamboo chair that creaked under his weight, and scarcely
spoke a word. He felt very unimportant by the side of Unity--Unity with
whose strong, passionate soul he had dwelt in blind ignorance. And Unity
was dead, lying stark and white in the alien house.

After a long silence he roused himself.

“You wrote to Stella, you said?”

“Yes,” replied Herold.

“What will happen to her?”

“I don’t know.”

John groaned. “If only I had protected her as I ought to have done! If
only I had protected both of them!”

He relapsed again into silence, burying his face in his hands. Presently
Miss Lindon put the pug tenderly on the ground, rose, and stood by his
chair.

“My poor boy,” she said, “do you love her so much?”

“She’s dead,” said John.

Herold shook him by the shoulder. “Nonsense, man. Pull yourself
together.”

John raised a drawn face.

“What did you ask? I was thinking about Unity.”



That day, the day after the tragedy, Stellamaris faced life, in its
nakedness, stripped, so it appeared to her, of every rag of mystery.

She had breakfasted as usual in her room, bathed and dressed, and looked
wistfully over her disowning sea. Then, as she was preparing to
go downstairs, Morris had brought in Herold’s letter, scribbled so
nervously and shakenly that at first she was at a loss to decipher it.
Gradually it became terribly clear: Unity was dead; the woman was dead;
Unity had killed the woman and then killed herself.

“Details of everything but the truth will be given in the morning
papers,” Herold wrote; “but you must know the truth from the first--as
I know it. Unity has given her life to save those she loved--you and
John--from the woman. She has laid down her life for you. Never forget
that as long as you live.”

She sat for some moments quite still, paralyzed by the new horror that
had sprung from this false, flower-decked earth to shake her by the
throat. The world was terrifyingly relentless. She read the awful words
again. Bit by bit feeling returned. Her flesh was constricted in a cold
and finely wrought net. She grew faint, put her hand to her brow and
found it damp. She stumbled to her bed by the great west window and
threw herself down. Constable, lying on the hearth-rug, staggered to his
feet and thrust his old head on her bosom and regarded her with mournful
and inquiring eyes. She caressed him mechanically. Suddenly she sprang
up as a swift memory smote her. Once she lay there by the window, and
the dog was there by the bed, and there by the door stood the ungainly
figure of a girl of her own age. Was it possible that that ungainly
child whom she had seen and talked to then, whom a few weeks ago she had
kissed, could have committed this deed of blood? She rose again to her
feet, pushed the old dog aside blindly, and hid her eyes from the light
of day. The girl was human, utterly human at those two meetings. Of what
unknown, devastating forces, were human beings, then, composed?

She took up the letter again. “Unity has given her life to save those
she loved--you and John--from the woman. She has laid down her life for
you. Never forget that as long as you live.”

Walter Herold said that. It must be true. Through all of yesterday’s
welter of misery, after he had left her, she had clung despairingly
to him. There was no God, but there was Walter Herold. Her pride had
dismissed him with profession of disbelief, but in her heart she had
believed him. Not that she had pardoned John Risca, not that she had
recovered her faith in him, not that she had believed in Unity. Her
virginal soul, tainted by the woman, had shrunk from thoughts of the
pair; but despite her fierce determination to believe in neither God
nor man, she had been compelled to believe in Herold. She had stood up
against him and fought with him and had bitten and rent him, and he had
conquered, and she had felt maddenedly angered, triumphantly glad. The
whole world could be as false as hell, but in it there was one clear
spirit speaking truth.

She went to the southern window, rested her elbows on the sill, and
pressed the finger-tips of both hands against her forehead. The soft
south-west wind, bringing the salt from the dancing sea, played about
her hair. Unity had laid down her life to save those she loved. So had
Christ done--given his life for humanity. But Christ had not killed a
human being, no matter how murderous, and had not taken his own life.
No, no; she must not mix up things irreconcilable. She faced the room
again. What did people do when they killed? What were the common,
practical steps that they took to gain their ends? Her mind suddenly
grew vague. Herold had spoken of newspapers. She must see them; she
must know everything. Life was deadly conflict, and knowledge the only
weapon. For a few seconds she stood in the middle of the room, her
young bosom heaving, her dark eyes wide with the diamond glints in their
depths. Life was a deadly conflict. She would fight, she would conquer.
Others miserably weaker than herself survived. Pride and race and
splendid purity of soul sheathed her in cold armour. A jingle, separated
from context, came into her mind, and in many ways it was a child’s
mind:

               Then spake Sir Thomas Howard,

               “ ‘Fore God, I am no coward.”

“‘Fore God, I am no coward,” she repeated, and with her delicate head
erect she went out and down the stairs and entered the dining-room.

There she found Sir Oliver and Lady Blount sitting at a neglected
breakfast. The old faces strove pitifully to smile. Stella kissed them
in turn, and with her hand lingering on the old man’s arm, she gave him
Herold’s letter.

“Is it in the newspapers?” she asked.

“What, what, my dear?” said Sir Oliver, adjusting his glasses on his
nose with fumbling fingers.

She looked from one to the other. Then her eyes fell on the morning
papers lying on the table. They were folded so that a great head-line
stared hideously.

“Oh, darling, don’t read it--for Heaven’s sake do n’t read it,” cried
Lady Blount, clutching the nearer newspaper.

But Stella took up the other. “I must, dearest,” she said very gently.
“Walter has written to me; but he could not tell me everything.”

She moved to the window that overlooked the pleasant garden, and with
steady eyes read the vulgar and soul-withering report, while the two old
people, head to head, puzzled out Herold’s scrawl.

When she had finished, she laid the paper quietly at the foot of
the table and came and stood between them, revolted by the callous
publication of names, almost physically sickened by the realistic
picture of the scene, her head whirling. She caught hold of the back of
Sir Oliver’s chair.

“The newspaper lies,” she said, “but it does n’t know any better. Walter
tells us why she did it.”

Sir Oliver, elbow on table, held the letter in his shaking grasp. It
dropped, and his head sank on his hand.

“It’s too horrible!” he said in a weak voice. “I don’t understand
anything at all about it. I don’t understand what Walter means. And all
that old beastly story revived. It’s damnable!”

He looked quite broken, his querulous self-assertion gone. Lady Blount,
too, gave way, and stretched out an imploring and pathetic arm, which,
as Stella moved a step or two toward her, fell around the slim, standing
figure. She laid her cheek against Stella and cried miserably.

“O my darling, my precious one, if we could only spare you all this!
Walter should n’t have written. O my darling, what are we to do! What
are we to do!”

And then Stellamaris saw once more that Great High Excellency and Most
Exquisite Auntship, for all their love of her, were of the weak ones
of the world, and she looked down with a new and life-giving feeling of
pity upon the bowed gray heads.

[Illustration: 0350]

Once,--was it yesterday or weeks or months or years ago? She could not
tell,--but once, to her later pain and remorse, she had commanded,
and they had obeyed; now she knew that she had to comfort, protect,
determine. And in a bewildering flash came the revelation that knowledge
was a weapon not only to fight her own way through the evil of the
world, but to defend the defenceless.

“I wish Walter was here,” she whispered, her hand against the withered,
wet cheek.

“Why Walter, dear?”

“He is strong and true,” said Stellamaris.

“Why not John, darling?”

Yes, why not John? Stella drew a sharp breath. Sir Oliver saved her an
answer.

“John has enough to look to, poor chap. He has got everything about his
ears. Stella’s right. We want Walter. He’s young. He’s a good fellow, is
Walter. I must be getting old, my dear,--” He raised his face, and, with
a sudden forlorn hope of dignity, twirled his white moustache,--“A
year ago I should n’t have wanted Walter or anybody. It ‘s only you, my
child, that your aunt and I are thinking of. We’ve tried to do our duty
by you, have n’t we, Julia? And God knows we love you. You ‘re the only
thing in the world left to us. It is n’t our fault that you are
drawn into this ghastliness. It is n’t, God knows it is n’t. Only, my
dear,”--there was a catch in his voice,--“you ‘re not able to bear it.
For us old folks who have knocked about the world--well, we ‘re used
to--to this sort of thing. I ‘ve had to send men to the gallows in my
time--once twenty men to be shot. The paltry fellows at the Colonial
Office did n’t see things as I did, but that’s another matter. We ‘re
used to these things, dear; we ‘re hardened--”

“If I have got to live in the world, dear Excellency,” said Stella,
feeling that there were some sort of flood-gates between the tumultuous
flow of her being and the still waters of pity in which for the moment
her consciousness acted, “it seems that I must get used to it, like
every one else.”

“But what shall we do, darling?” cried Lady Blount, clinging
pathetically to the child of sea foam, from whom all knowledge of the
perilous world had been hidden.

“Anything but worry Walter to come down here.”

“I thought you wanted him?”

“I do,” said Stella, with her hand on her bosom; “but that is only
selfishness. He is needed more in London. I think we ought to go up and
see if we can help in any way.”

“Go up to London!” echoed Sir Oliver.

“Yes, if you ‘ll take me, Uncle dear.”

The old man looked at his wife, who looked helplessly at him. Through
the open window came the late, mellow notes of a thrush and the sunshine
that flooded the summer garden.

“I am going to send Walter a telegram,” said Stella, moving gently away.

She left the room with the newly awakened consciousness that she was
absolute mistress of her destiny. Love, devotion, service, anything
she might require from the two old people, were hers for the
claiming--anything in the world but guidance and help. She stood alone
before the dragons of a world, no longer the vague Threatening Land,
but a world of fierce passions and bloody deeds. Herold’s words flamed
before her: “Unity had given her life for those she loved.” Had she,
Stellamaris, a spirit so much weaker than Unity’s?

She advanced an eager step or two along the garden walk, clenching her
delicate fists, and the fiery dragons retreated backward. She could
give, too, as well as Unity, her life if need be. If that was not
required, at least whatever could be demanded of her for those she
loved. Again she read the letter. Underlying it was tenderest anxiety
lest she should be stricken down by the ghastly knowledge. With
the personal motive, the intense and omnipotent motive of her sex,
unconsciously dominating her, she murmured half articulately:

“He thinks I’m a weak child. I ‘ll show him that I am a woman. He shall
see that I’m not afraid of life.”

So when Walter Herold went home late that night,--the theatre being out
of the question, he had stayed at Kilburn until John had been persuaded
to go to bed,--he found a telegram from Stellamaris.

“Coming to London to see if I can be of any help. My dear love to John
in his terrible trouble. Tell me when I had better come.”

The next day, when they met before the inquest, he showed the telegram
to John, who, after glancing at it, thrust it back into his hand with a
deprecating gesture.

“No; let her stay there. What is she to do in this wilderness of
horror?”

“I have already written,” said Herold.

“To keep away?”

“To come.”

“You know best,” said John, hopelessly. “At any rate the news has n’t
killed her. I feared it would. I had long letters from Oliver and Julia
this morning.”

“What do they say?”

John put his hand to his head. “I forget,” said he.



CHAPTER XXIV

OUTSIDE the house in Kilbum were stationed a hearse and two carriages,
stared at by a knot of idlers. Within was felt the pervasive presence
of a noiselessly moving, black-attired man of oiled tongue. Up-stairs in
the little room rested on its trestles the flower-covered coffin wherein
all that remained of Unity lay. The blinds of the gimcrack drawing-room
were lowered, and the company sat waiting--John, Miss Lindon, and
Herold, Sir Oliver, Lady Blount, and Stellamaris.

Although Stella had been in London for a day or two, this was the first
time that John had seen her since the riotous June day when he had waved
farewell to the train carrying her back to Southcliff. He had gone to
the front gate to meet her in his ill-fitting, outgrown frock-coat,
sticking-plaster still hiding the wounds on his scalp, and his heavy
face white and drawn. She, in her black dress, looked a startling
lily enveloped by night; her great eyes had softened from diamond into
starshine. Behind her came the old people, attendant ghosts. John folded
her hand in his.

“Stella dear, how good of you to come!”

She said in a low voice:

“It is to ask forgiveness from you and her.”

He bowed over her hand. She passed into the house, where Miss Lindon
received her.

“My dear,” she said, holding Stella’s hand. “I think our poor darling
will go to her grave very happy. She was always talking of you, ever
since she came to live here, and if you wonder what has become of the
beautiful lilies you sent, it’s because I have put them inside with her,
knowing that there’s where she would wish them to be. And now you ‘ve
come yourself, and I’m sure she would n’t ask for more.”

The weak mouth, set in the full, foolish face crowned with white hair,
worked dolorously. Stella, with a sudden movement, threw her arm
round her neck and broke into uncontrollable sobbing. A soul pure and
beautiful beyond question spoke to Stella-maris in simple words and
in silly yet exquisite sentiment. She clung very close,--why, the
unsuspecting and innocent lady never guessed,--but it made her broad
bosom swell with an emotion hitherto unknown to have a girl lay her head
there and sob and seem to find comfort; and, as she clung, the lingering
poison of the evil woman melted forever from Stella’s heart, and she
knew that the place whereon she stood, where Unity and she had talked,
that gimcrack, tawdry, bamboo drawing-room, was holy ground.

She had come, poor child, full of her fierce and jealous maiden
pride--she was only twenty, and life had been revealed to her of late as
a tumultuous conflict of men with devils,--she had come highly wrought
for battles with the Apollyons that straddled across the path; she had
come with high hopes of bringing help to the faint-hearted, solace to
the afflicted, of proving to her tiny world that she was the help-giver
instead of the help-seeker; she had come on the wings of conquest; and
she fluttered down like a tired bird to the surrender of herself on
the bosom of the simplest and, in the eyes of men, the least important
creature on God’s earth.

She drew gently away and dried her eyes, and while

Miss Lindon spoke a few words to Lady Blount, she went somewhat shyly up
to John.

“You should have let me know Miss Lindon long ago,” she said.

“I should have done many things long ago,” he replied. “But I myself
have known my aunt only the last few days.”

She regarded him somewhat incredulously.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s true. The last few days have taught me all kinds
of things. I never knew what she was”--he made a vague gesture--“until
it was too late. I think, Stella dear, I have gone through life with my
heart shut.”

“Except to me,” said Stellamaris.

“That’s different,” he said, with a turn of his great shoulders.

He left her abruptly and joined the group of the three elders by the
window. She came to Herold, who had been standing with his back against
the empty fire-place.

“You must be very tired.”

He saw her brows knit in their familiar little fairy wrinkles as she
anxiously scanned his face. Indeed, he was very weary, and his eyes and
cheeks showed it.

“There has been a lot not only to do, but to feel of late,” he said.

She put out a timid hand and touched his sleeve.

“You must n’t do and feel too much, or you ‘ll break down.”

“Why should I, if you have n’t?” he asked with a faint smile.

“I think it cowardly to break down when one ought to be strong,” she
said.

“Are you afraid of my being a coward, Stella?”

She uttered a little cry, and her touch became a grasp.

“You! Oh, no! You? You ‘ve _been_ strong. There ‘s no need for you to
do any more. You ‘ve got to live your own life and not that of other
people--”

“The only life left to me,” he said in a low voice, “is that of those
dear to me.”

John lumbered up gloomily. “You must persuade him to take a rest,
Stella. He has been driving himself to death.” He laid a heavy hand
on his friend. “God knows what I should have done without him all this
time. Wait,” he said suddenly, with the other hand uplifted.

And all were silent when to a scuffle of feet succeeded a measured tramp
of steps descending the stairs. The bearers passed along the passage by
the door of the drawing-room. Unity was going forth on her last journey
through the familiar Kilburn streets.

The little crowd on the pavement had swelled. The case and all about it
had been manna to hungry July reporters, and all the world knew of Unity
and judged her this way and that, according to individual prejudice.
But the male part of the crowd uncovered as the coffin and afterward the
little group of mourners passed through. John and Miss Lindon and Lady
Blount went in the first carriage; Stella, Sir Oliver, and Herold in
the second. Sir Oliver, as is the way of Sir Olivers all the world over,
spoke of funerals he had attended in years and latitudes both remote.
Poor Roddy Greenwood--best fellow that ever lived--it was in Berbice,
Demerara--God bless his soul, it was in ‘68--he had left him at six in
the morning after a night’s loo--good game loo; no one ever played it
these days--and he had followed him to his grave that day before sunset.
Then there was Freddy Nicol--they brought it in accidental because he
was cleaning his gun--there were the rags and oil and things about him;
but it was odd, devilish odd, that it should have happened the day after
Kitty Green married that fellow What ‘s-his-name? Tutf tut! he would
remember it in a minute. Now, what the Dickens was the name of the
fellow Kitty Green married? But as Kitty Green and her obscure and
unremembered spouse were young in the days when Sir Oliver was young,
and at the best and happiest were both wrinkled, uninteresting ancients,
the baffling question did not stir the pulses of his hearers.

“Anyhow,” said Sir Oliver, summing up, “death is a devilish funny
business. I ‘ve seen lots of it.”

“And you who have seen so much of it, dear,” said Stellamaris, very
seriously, “what do you think of death?”

“I ‘ve told you, my child; I ‘ve told you. It ‘s devilish
funny--odd--here to-day and gone to-morrow. Devilish funny.”

They arrived at the cemetery. In the bare mortuary chapel Stella knelt
and heard for the first time in her life the beautiful words of the
service for the burial of the dead. And there in front of her, covered
with poor, vain flowers, was the coffin containing the clay of one whom
man with his opportunist laws against murder and self-slaughter was
powerless to judge. At the appointed time they went out into the summer
air and walked in forlorn procession behind the hearse, through the
startling city in whose tenements of stone and marble no mortal could
dwell; in which there was no fevered strife as in the cities of men;
in which all the inhabitants slept far beneath their stately domes or
humble monoliths, at peace with mankind, themselves, and God. And green
grass grew between the graves, and sweet flowers bloomed and seemed to
say, “Why weep, since we are here?” But for the faint grinding of the
hearse wheels on the gravelled path and the steps of the followers all
was still. Stellamaris clung to Herold’s arm.

“I can’t believe they are all dead,” she whispered. “The whole place
seems alive. I think they are waiting for Unity. They will take her by
the hand and make her one of themselves.”

“And bow down before her,” said Herold. “It is only the dead that know
the great souls that pass from the earth.”

They reached the graveside. The surpliced chaplain stood a pace or
two apart. The dismal men in black deposited the coffin by the yellow,
upturned earth. The group of six gathered close together. The July
sunshine streamed down, casting a queer projection of shadow from the
coffin-end.

“Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is
full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth
as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.”

Stella heard the chaplain’s voice as in a dream. The rattle of the
earth on the coffin-lid--“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust
to dust”--roused her with a shock. Below, deep in the grave, lay
Unity--Unity, who had taken a human life, and had taken her own for the
sake of those she loved; Unity, who in the approach to her murderous and
suicidal end was all but unfathomable to her; Unity, whom she had read
and thought enough to know to be condemned by the general judgment of
mankind. There, in that oak coffin, lay all that remained of the common
little girl, with the lilies she herself had sent on her bosom. The
lilies she had seen, pure white, with their pistils of golden hope; the
dead white face she had not seen. Yet her lilies were looking into the
dead face, and the dead face was near the lilies, down there, underneath
the baffling, oaken coffin-lid.... She became aware of words sharp and
clear cutting the still air.

“Who shall change our vile body that it may be like unto his glorious
body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue
all things to Himself.... I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me,
Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even
so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours.”

Stellamaris stood tense until the end. A great peace had fallen upon
her. “Blessed are those that die in the Lord.” The simple words held
a mystic significance. They reiterated themselves in her brain. Young,
emotional, inexperienced, overwhelmed by the shattering collapse of
the exquisite, cloud-capped towers of her faith, she found in them an
unquestioned truth. By that grave-side, in the sacred presence of
the dead, not only of “the dear sister here departed,” but of the
inhabitants of all the gleaming stone and marble tenements around, there
could be no lying; such was the unargued conviction of her candid soul.
A voice, coming not from the commonplace, white-robed man, but from the
blue vault of heaven, proclaimed that Unity had died in the Lord and
that she was blessed. The message was one of unutterable consolation.
Unity had died in the Lord. The comforting acceptance of the message
indicated the restoration of Stella’s faith in God.

The mind of the child-woman is a warp of innocence shot with the woof of
knowledge, and the resultant fabric is a thing no man born can seize
and put upon canvas, and, for the matter of that, no woman, when she has
ceased to be a child.

John stood for a while looking down into the grave, and gently dropped a
wreath which he held in his hand. Then he turned gloomily away, and the
others followed him, and the grave-diggers’ spadefuls of earth rattled
down on the coffin with a sound of dreadful finality.



STELLA’s heart had softened toward John. Herold had told her how he had
nearly come by his death on the rocks below the Channel House. It had
moved her to the depths. And now she saw that he was bowed down with
grief for Unity. All resentment against him had died. She recovered her
faith, not perhaps in the wonder of the Great High Belovedest of the
past, but in the integrity of the suffering man. When they reached and
had re-entered the house, she took an opportunity of being alone with
him. The two elder ladies were up-stairs, and Walter and Sir Oliver had
gone out to smoke in the little front garden. Then she said with shy
gentleness:

“This must be very desolate for you, dear. Won’t Miss Lindon and you
come down with us to South-cliff? I have fallen in love with her. I
wonder whether I dare ask her. The sea air would do her good.”

“She would be delighted, I’m sure; but would you like me to come, too?”
 he said, bending his heavy brows.

“Of course,” replied Stella. She flushed slightly and lowered her eyes.

“I’m afraid I’m not a very gay companion, Stella. In fact, I don’t think
I ever was one--except in the days when I used to tell you fairy-tales
about the palace--”

“Oh, don’t!” She could not restrain the quick little cry and gesture.
“We must n’t talk about that any more. We ‘ve got the future to think
of. Reconstruction--is n’t that what they call it? We have got to look
at things as they are, and laugh sometimes.”

“I feel,” said he, “as though I could never laugh again.”

“Yet Unity meant to make you happy and not miserable,” said Stella.

“I know,” said he, “and that’s the devil of it.”

He paused for a moment, his hands thrust deep in I his trousers’
pockets, and his heel on the fender. At last he said: “It would be the
best thing in the world for the dear old lady. And God knows it will be
good for me. So if you ‘ll have us for a week or two, we ‘ll be glad to
get away from here.”

“I ‘ll ask Miss Lindon when she comes down.”

And Miss Lindon, coming down soon afterwards with Lady Blount, received
and accepted the invitation. Sir Oliver, summoned from the garden,
expressed his approval.

“My boy,” said he, “we’ve been perfectly wretched without you. Make him
put in a long time with us, Miss Lindon. We three old folks will join
forces.”

Stella slipped out by the front door and stood by Herold, who was
leaning over the gate. Of course he too must come to the Channel House.
He smiled rather wearily and shook his head.

“Not just now, dear,” said he. “I have a week’s business to do in
London, settling my autumn arrangements--I’m going into management, you
know--and then I must run away for a bit--abroad somewhere, a little
mild climbing in Switzerland, perhaps.”

Stella’s face fell. “Going abroad?” she echoed. “For how long?”

“A month or so, if I can manage it. I want a rest rather badly.”

“Of course you do; but I was hoping,” she faltered, “that you could find
rest at Southcliff.”

“It’s good of you, dear,” said he, “to think of me. For Heaven knows
how; many years I’ve looked upon the Channel House as a second home; you
can never realize what it has meant to me. But I need a complete change,
a sort of medicine I must take, no matter how nasty it may be. Besides,”
 he added with a smile, “you will have John now.”

“John is John, and you are you,” said Stella. There was a little pause.
Then after a glance at his tired face, she said in a low voice: “You
‘re right, Walter; you must go away and get strong again. I spoke very
selfishly. I ‘ve not been accustomed to think much of other people.”

“Stellamaris dear,” he said, “if I thought I could serve you by staying,
I would stay. But there’s nothing for me to do, is there? The--the what
shall I say--the veil between John and you has been cut in twain, as it
were, by a flaming sword. Perhaps Unity did it. But there’s no veil now.
The only thing that has to be done is to bring back the sunshine into
John’s life. That’s for you to do, not for me.”

She looked at him queerly. Her face was so white, her dress so black.
The only gleam about her was in her eyes.

“I know that,” she said. “But who is going to bring back the sunshine
into your life?”

He leaned against the wooden gate and gripped the top bar tight. What
did she mean? Was she a woman or, after all, only the old fancied child
of sea-foam and cloud?

“When I can eat like a pig and sleep like a dog,” he said lightly, “and
feel physically fit, I shall be all right.” He smiled, and took her
black-gloved hand. “And when I see the roses in your cheeks and hear you
laugh as you used to laugh--that fascinating little laugh like a peal of
low silver bells--that I ‘ll be the Princess Stellamaris’s court jester
again.”

She smiled wanly. “You were; never court jester; you were Great High
Favourite.” She sighed. “How far off those childish days are!”

“They ‘ll return as soon as you ‘re happy.”

“Life is too full of pain for me to find happiness in superficial
things,” said Stella.

For all his wretchedness he could have laughed, with a man’s sweet pity,
at the tone of conviction in her philosophic but childish utterance.

“You must look for it and find it in the deep things,” said he.

She made no reply, but stood thoughtfully by his side, and drew with her
fingers little lines in the summer dust on the upper surface of the bar
of the gate.

“There ‘s something silly I want to say to you, Walter,” she murmured
at last, “and I don’t quite know how to say it. It ‘s about the sea.
I think you can understand. You always used to. Our long talks--you
remember? Since all this has happened, the sea seems to have no meaning
for me.”

“It will all come back, dear,” said Herold, “with your faith in God and
the essential beauty of the world.”

“But what is the essential beauty of the world?”

“My dear,” he laughed, “you must n’t ask a poor man such conundrums and
expect an instantaneous answer. I should say roughly it was strength and
sacrifice and love.” He took a cigarette from his case and lit it. “You
‘ll find the comfort of the sea again. I think it will have quite a new
meaning for you, a deeper meaning, when you sit by it with the man whom
you love and who loves you, as you know he loves you, and all the past
has become sacred, and there’s no longer a shadow between you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure. You see, Stellamaris dear,” he added after a second or two,
“you don’t need me any longer. Your happiness, as well as John’s
happiness, is in your own hands. I can go away with an easy mind. And
when I come back--”

“Yes? And when you come back?”

Pain started through his eyes. When he came back? What would be left
for him? His art, his ambitions? What were they? A child’s vain toys
cumbering his feet. His soul was set on the slip of pale girlhood,
startlingly black and white, with her mass of soft hair beneath the
plain, black hat, and her great pools of eyes, no longer agates
or diamonds, but aglow with remote flames, who, in poor common
earth-liness, stood by his side, but in maddening reality was pinnacled
on inaccessible heights by the love between her and the man they both
loved. He felt that the pure had an unsuspected power of torture.

“When I come back? Well--” he broke off lamely. And they looked at each
other without speaking until they became aware of a human presence. They
turned and saw John, his huge bulk in the frame of the doorway, watching
them dully beneath his heavy brows.



AT the Channel House Stella’s health began to mend. The black shadows
disappeared from beneath her eyes, and her lips caught the lost trick
of a smile. She no longer wandered desolate about house and garden, but
sought the companionship of those about her. The old folks discussed and
wrangled over the change.

“One would have thought,” said Lady Blount, “that this terrible affair
would have crushed her altogether.”

“Any one who did n’t know her might have thought so,” replied Sir
Oliver; “but I ‘ve watched her. I sized her up long ago. It ‘s
astonishing how little you know of her, Julia. She has lots of
pluck--the right stuff in her. And now John ‘s free and he ‘s down here.
What more can she want?”

“Poor fellow! He does n’t seem to be much the happier for it.”

“You don’t expect him to go about grinning as if nothing had happened,
do you?” said Sir Oliver. “Can’t you understand that the man has had a
devil of a shock? He ‘ll get over it one of these days.”

“I don’t want him to grin; but I’d like him to look a little more
cheerful,” said Lady Blount.

But cheerfulness and John Risca were strangers. Even when he and
Stellamaris were alone together, looking at the moonlit sea from the
terrace outside the drawing-room windows, or in the sunshine of the
sweet cliff garden, the cloud did not lift from his brow. Unless they
talked of Unity,--and it relieved his heart to do so, and Stellamaris
loved to listen to the brave little chronicles of her life,--long
silences marked their intercourse. To get back to the old plane was
impossible. They could find no new one on which to meet. She gave him
all her pity, for he was a man who had suffered greatly, and in a way it
was she herself who had brought the suffering on him. Her heart ached
to say or do something that would rekindle the old light in his rugged
face; but an unconquerable shyness held her back. If he had thrown his
great arm around her and held her tight and uttered broken words of
love, pity would have flamed passionate in surrender. If he had pleaded
for comfort, pity would have melted warm over his soul. But he made no
appeal. Both were burningly aware that Unity had died so that they
could be free, no barrier between them. Yet barrier there seemed to be,
invisible, inscrutable.

Once Sir Oliver, who had joined them in the garden, asked:

“What are your plans for the future, my boy?”

“Plans? I have none. Just the same old round of work.”

“I mean your domestic arrangements.”

“I ‘ll go on living with my old aunt. We ‘re a queer couple, I suppose,
but we understand each other.”

“Humph!” grunted Sir Oliver, and he went away to tie up a drooping rose.

They walked on in dead silence, which was broken at last by John, who
made a remark as to Constable’s growing infirmities.

So the visit came to an end without a word having been said, and John
went back to his desolate house, physically rested and able to take up
the routine of his working life. Herold in Switzerland wrote letters
about snows and glaciers and crystal air. The calm tenor of existence
was resumed at the Channel House. Incidentally Stella found an
occupation. Old Dr. Ransome, in casual talk, mentioned a case of great
poverty and sickness in the village. Stella, followed by Morris
bearing baskets of luxuries, presented herself at the poor house in the
character of Lady Bountiful. At the sight that met her eyes she wept and
went away sorrowful, and then it dawned upon her inexperienced soul
that gifts costing her nothing, although they had their use, might be
supplemented by something vastly more efficacious. She consulted the
hard-worked district nurse, and, visiting the house again, learned how
to tend the sick woman and wash the babies and bring cleanliness and air
and comfort into the miserable place. And having made in this way the
discovery that all through her life she had accepted service from all
and sundry and had never done a hand’s turn for anybody, she plunged
with young shame and enthusiasm into the new work.

Afraid lest convalescence on the part of the patient would throw her
back into idleness, she ingenuously asked the nurse if there were other
poor people in Southcliff who needed help. The nurse smiled. Even at
Southcliff there was enough work among the poor and needy for every day
in the week the whole year round.

“I ‘m glad,” said Stellamaris. Then she checked herself. “No, I
can’t be. I ‘m dreadfully sorry.” The little lines of complexity knit
themselves on her brow. “It ‘s a confusing world, is n’t it?”

The state of mind of Stellamaris at this period may be best described
as one of suspended judgment. It was a confusing world. She could not
pronounce a more definite opinion. The Land of Illusion was a lost
Atlantis of which not a speck remained. On the other hand, the world was
no longer the mere abode of sin and ugliness and horror to which she
had gradually awakened. Unity had taught her that. What, then, was this
mysterious complication of life in which she found herself involved? It
no longer frightened her. It interested her curiously.

“Excellency dear,” she said one day, “are there any books about life?”

He stared at her, covering his non-comprehension with the usual military
twirl of his moustache.

“Millions. What kind of life?”

“Life itself. The meaning of it.”

“Religious books? I’m afraid they ‘re not in my line, my dear.”

“I don’t think it ‘s religious books I want,” said Stella.

“Philosophy, then. Kant, Schopenhauer,--um--er,”--he hooked a name from
the depths of his memory--“Bain, and all those fellows. I could never
make head or tail of them myself, so I don’t suppose you could, dear.”

“Did you say Kant? I think I’ve seen a book of his in the library.”

She pulled down a dusty volume of the “Critique of Pure Reason” from a
top shelf and puzzled her young brains over it. It seemed to be dealing
with vital questions, but, like Sir Oliver, she was hopelessly befogged.
She asked the old doctor. He had a glimmering of her meaning. “The best
book in the world, my dear,”--he waved a hand,--“is life itself.”

“But I can’t read it without a dictionary, Doctor,” she objected.

“Your heart, my child,” said he.

This was pretty, but not satisfactory. “Walter could tell me,” she said
to herself, and forthwith wrote him a long letter.

She lived in a state not only of suspended judgment, but also of
suspended emotion. The latter hung in the more delicate balance. Her
maidenhood realized it vaguely. She had half expected John to speak
of his love for her; at the same time she had dreaded the moment of
declaration; and, at the same time also, she had felt that beneath the
shadow of the wings of death it behoved mortal passion to lie still and
veiled. The anguish of the weeks preceding the tragedy had passed away.
She had no pain save that of yearning pity for an agonized world. The
old people in their dependence on her and in the pathos of their limited
vision once more became inexpressibly dear. The childish titles
were invested in a new beauty. Her pretty labours in sorrow-stricken
cottages, amateurish as they were, held a profound significance. Unlike
the thousands of sweet English girls up and down the land who are bred
in the practice of philanthropy and think no more of it than of its
concomitant tennis-parties and flirtations, she had come upon it
unawares, and it had all the thrill of a discovery. It was one littie
piece fitted certainly into the baffling puzzle of life.

John came down again for the week-end. Stella found him gentle, less
gloomy, but oddly remote from her--remoter even than when he lay
crushed beneath the tragedy. Now and again she caught him looking at her
wistfully, whereupon she turned her eyes away in a distress which
she could not explain. Gradually she became aware that the Great High
Belovedest of the past had vanished into nothingness, with so many other
illusory things. The awakening kiss that he had given her as he carried
her in his arms faded into the far-off dreamland. On the Sunday night
they lingered in the drawing-room for a moment after the old people had
retired to bed.

“I must be going back by the early train in the morning, and sha’n’t see
you,” said he, “so I ‘ll say good-by now.”

“I’m sorry, dear.” She put out her hand. “I hope the little change has
done you good.”

For answer he bent down and touched her forehead with his lips. Then he
held the door open for her to pass out.

“God bless you, dear,” said he.

She went up-stairs, feeling in a half-scared way that something, she
knew not what, had happened, and she cried herself to sleep.



CHAPTER XXV,

IT was a sullen night in mid-August, following a breathless day and an
angry sunset that had shed a copper-coloured glow above a bank of cloud.
The great windows of the drawing-room of the Channel House were flung
open wide, and on the terrace beneath the starless heaven sat the little
group of intimates, which now included the placid lady of the little
Kilburn house. Walter Herold, who had returned from Switzerland tanned
and strong, told his adventures to Sir Oliver and Dr. Ransome, while
John and Stella, a little way apart, listened idly. Lady Blount and Miss
Lindon murmured irrelevancies concerning the curates of long ago and the
present price of beef. They had many points at which the curves of their
natures touched, such as mathematicians, with unique spasm of romance,
call points of osculation.

But for the voices all was still. From below, at the base of the cliff,
came the lazy lapping of the sea against the rocks. Outside the glow of
light cast by the illuminated drawing-room the world was pitch black.
The air grew more and more oppressive.

“I think there’s going to be thunder,” said Lady Blount.

“I hope not,” said Miss Lindon. “I know John thinks it foolish, but I’m
terribly afraid of thunder.”

“So does Sir Oliver; but I don’t care. Whenever there’s a thunder-storm,
I go up to my room and put my head under the bedclothes until it ‘s
over.”

“Now is n’t that remarkable, my dear,” said Miss Lindon--“I do exactly
the same! I draw down the blinds, and hide scissors away in a drawer,
and throw a woollen shawl over the steel fender, and then I put my head
under the blankets. My Aunt Margery, I remember, invariably used to go
and sit in the coal-cellar. But she was a strong-minded woman, and would
put her foot on a black beetle as soon as look at it. I hope I’m fond
of most of God’s creatures, but a black beetle frightens me out of my
wits.”

“What do you think of thunder-storms, Stella?” John asked, knocking the
ashes out of his pipe.

“I’m rather frightened,” she confessed. “Not because I think they ‘ll
hurt me.” She paused and sighed. “I never could understand them.”

“What do you mean by understanding a thunderstorm?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “You either understand things or you
don’t.”

Herold broke in to spare her further explanation. “There was a splendid
one the week before last in the mountains--a real _Walpurgisnacht_. It
seemed as though hell had broken loose.”

He described it in his vivid way. The elderly ladies looked at the
glimmer of white shirt-front and the glowing cigarette-end by which
alone he was revealed, and wondered at the heroical, or, as it seemed in
the unconfessed depths of their souls, the God-defying qualities of male
humanity. A few resounding splashes fell from the sky. The party rose
hurriedly.

“Gad! we ‘re in for it,” cried Sir Oliver. “Let us get indoors.”

A flash of lightning rent the southern sky, and a clap of thunder broke
over the Channel, and the rain came down like a waterspout. In the
drawing-room Lady Blount put her hand before her eyes.

“You must all forgive me. I can’t stand it. I must go up-stairs.
Besides, it ‘s late, very near bedtime, My dear Miss Lindon, shall we
go?”

The two old ladies, after hasty good nights, retired to the protection
of their respective bedclothes. A great wind arose and swept through
the room, blowing over a vase of flowers on the piano. Dr. Ran-some, who
happened to be standing near, mopped up the water with his handkerchief.
Herold sprang to the window and shut it. Stella was by his side. Another
flash sped through the blackness, and the thunder followed. They drew
near together and waited for the next.

Sir Oliver hospitably pushed John and the old doctor toward the
drawing-room door. “There are drinks in the library. It ‘ll be cosier
there, on the other side of the house, away from this confounded racket.
Come along, Walter. Stella, darling, you had better go to bed. It ‘s the
best place for little girls in a thunder-storm.”

She turned, the breadth of the drawing-room separating Walter Herold and
herself from the others.

“I ‘ll stay up a little longer and look at it, dear Excellency,” she
said, with a smile. “I ‘ll come into the library later and tell you all
good night.”

At this announcement, and Stellamaris’s announcements had ever been
sovereign decrees, John and Dr. Ransome, standing by the open door,
obeyed the courteous wave of Sir Oliver’s hand. The old man waited for
Herold, who advanced a pace or two.

“I suppose you ‘re dying for whisky and soda,” said Stella, resignedly.

He stopped short. “Not in the least. I would far rather look at
this,”--he flung a hand toward the window,--“if you would let me.”

“Only for five minutes, Favourite, dear; then I ‘ll send you away.”

Sir Oliver went out, shutting the door behind him. Herold and
Stellamaris were alone in the spacious room. There came another flash
and the thunder peal, and the rain spattered hard on the stone terrace.

“Why should n’t we sit down?” he asked, and drew a small settee to the
window.

She stood, expectant of the lightning. It came and lit up a suddenly
tempestuous sea. With her eyes straining at the blackness, she said in a
low, voice:

“Turn out the lights. This is all that matters.” He went to the door,
snapped the electric switches, and the darkness was so absolute that he
waited for the next flash to see his way across the room. They sat
down together side by side. A flash of vehement and reiterated radiance
revealed a God’s wrath of spindrift scattered from mountainous waves
that tossed in the middle distance the three-masted skeleton of a ship,
and blasted the chalk-cliffed promontory to the west into a leprous
tongue. They watched in silence for a long, long time. Save for the
lightning, pitch blackness enveloped them. The rain swished heavily
against the windows, and the surf roared on the rocks below. After
a livid revelation of elemental welter and the deafening crash of
cataclysm, she clutched his arm. When the peal had rolled away into an
angry rumble, he whispered:

“Are you frightened?”

“No,” she replied, also below her breath, “not frightened. It excites
me, it makes me feel, it makes me think. I seem to be understanding
things I never Understood before. Don’t let us speak.”

To remove impression of rebuke, her hand slid down his arm, found his
hand, and held it. Neither spoke. After a while he scanned her face
by the lightning. It was set, as though she saw a vision, her eyes
gleaming, her lips parted. At the thunderclap her grasp involuntarily
tightened. Again and again her face was startlingly visible. Herold’s
mind went back down the years. He had seen that rapt expression times
without number when she lay by the window of her sea-chamber and looked
out into the mysteries of sea and sky; and times without number she
had held his hand while her spirit, as he had loved fantastically to
believe, went forth to dance with her sisters of the foam or to walk
secure through the gates of the sunset. And he had loved to believe,
too, that his own spirit, in some blind, attendant way, though lagging
far behind, followed hers over the borders of the Land That Never Was.
Sensitive to her moods, he felt now a strange excitement. She had become
once more the Stellamaris of the cloudless and mystical years. The
sea that had rejected her had again claimed her for its own, and was
delivering into her keeping mysteries such as it had withheld from
her even then; for she had found no message in the war of elements,
mysteries deep and magnificent. He returned her tense pressure, and
followed her spirit out into the vastness.

The storm grew fiercer. Every few moments spasms of livid daylight rent
the darkness and dazzlingly illuminated the eager faces of the pair, the
window-jambs and transoms, the terrace, the howling waste beyond, the
skeleton ship tossing grimly, the promontory, the pitch black of the
sky; and the thunder burst in awful detonations over their heads.
Unconsciously and instinctively Stellamaris had drawn nearer to him, and
her arm rested against his. After a long time, in the stillness of the
dark, he spoke like one in a dream:

“The terrible splendour of life, that is the secret--the terrible
splendour.”

She awoke almost with a shock, and, turning round, shook him by the
lapel of his coat.

“How did you know, Walter? How did you know?”

Her voice quavered; he felt that she was trembling. A flash showed her
straining her eyes into his face. They waited for the thunderclap during
a second of intensity.

“What?” he asked.

“Those words. Those very words had just come to me, the meaning of
everything--The terrible splendour of life. How did you know?”

“It was our souls that were going together through the storm.”

She released him, and withdrew a little.

“Did you know all that I was thinking?”

“Or all that the sea was telling you?”

“Did you feel that, too?” she asked breathlessly.

“I think so,” he replied.

“It was strange,” she said. “I hardly knew that I was here. I seemed to
be away in the midst of it all, but I don’t think I lost consciousness.
I had adventures--curious adventures.” She paused abruptly, then she
continued: “They seemed to be definite then, but they are all a blur
now. It was a kind of battle between man and evil forces, and I think I
felt a voice speaking through it, and saying that the splendour of man
would never be subdued; and the impression I ‘ve got is, that I saw
something, whether it was a shape or a scene I don’t know, but something
great and grand and fierce and heroic, and the voice told me it was
life. The only thing I have clear is the words, ‘the terrible splendour
of life,’ the words you plucked out of me.”

“It is the great secret,” he said.

“Yes.”

There was another silence. The storm began to pass gradually away.
The lightning became rarer, and the intervals longer between flash and
thunder.

“It is beginning to be clear,” she said at last. “All that has troubled
me. All that you guessed I was feeling, and that I told you of only when
you compelled me. You have been right. Once--do you remember?--you said
that if I saw God through the beauty and the vanity of the world all
would be well.”

“I ought to have told you to see Him through the pain of the world,”
 said Herold.

“You have told me that, in other words, ever since; and I was deaf.”

“Not I, dear,” said Herold.

“Yes, you. Now I understand.” She drew a deep breath. “Now, I
understand. It’s like an open book. That woman--Unity--wait,” she
paused, and put her two hands to her head in the darkness. “I have a
glimmer of a memory--it’s so illusive. It seems that I saw Unity just
now. I understand all that she was, all that she meant.” A flash showed
the sea. “Yes, I was out there,” she cried excitedly, and pointed. “Just
out there.” Darkness engulfed them. “I forget,” she faltered, “I
forget.”

“But the sea has taken you back at last, Stellamaris,” said Herold.

She seized his hand and held it during the peal. Then she cried in a
tone of sudden terror:

“Walter!”

“Yes?”

“What you said--your prophesy--the comfort of the sea--the deeper
meaning--”

He leaped to his feet.

“Don’t think anything more of it. They were just foolish words to
comfort you. You and I seem to have been on the Edge of Beyond and
looked over, and we ‘re not quite normal. We must get down now to
practical things. I ‘m just what I always was, dear, a fantastic person
who rode with you into fairyland. I am still. Nothing more.”

“Are you quite sure?” suddenly asked a deep voice out of the blackness
of the room.

Stella with a little cry of fright sprang to Herold for protection. For
a second or two they were still. In their exaltation the question seemed
to come from some vast depth of the abysm of time. Their hearts beat
fast, and they clung together, listening, and there was not a sound.
Then the lightning played its dancing daylight about the room, and they
saw John Risca standing by the door. They sprang apart.

In another moment the room was flooded with electric light. The
drawing-room, for all its beauty, looked mean and unimportant.
The lights showed up glaringly an old Florentine tapestry over the
chimney-piece. It seemed to have singularly little relation to life. It
jarred impertinently.

“I came in to find Walter,” said John; “I did n’t think Stella was
still up. It’s late. You did n’t hear me. I’m sorry I inadvertently
overheard.”

“There ‘s nothing, my dear John, that you could not have heard,” said
Herold.

John came forward in his lumbering way.

“I know that, Walter.”

For a minute or two no one spoke. The three stood stock-still, their
hearts thumping. Outside, the rain fell pitilessly on the flags of the
terrace, and the waning storm flashed and growled. John’s burning eyes
looked at Herold beneath heavy, knitted brows. At last he said:

“You love Stella. You have loved her always. You never told me.”

“That is not so,” said Herold. “You have found us in a foolishly false
position. A thunder-storm is an emotional piece of business. My old
intimacy with Stella has its privileges. I ‘ll leave you. Stella will
speak for herself.”

John stretched out a detaining arm. “No, my friend; stay. We three must
have a talk together. It was bound to come sooner or later. Let it be
now.” He spoke quietly, with dignity and authority. “There is nothing
for us to talk about,” said Her-old,--Stellamaris stood clutching the
back of an armchair, and looking from one man to the other,--“the words
you overheard ought to tell you that. And in answer to your question, I
can say that I am quite sure.”

“You lie,” said John, quietly. “You lie out of the loyalty of your
heart--” he raised his great hand to check the other’s outburst--“God
Almighty in Heaven knows I’m not accusing you. If ever man had deep and
devoted and unselfish love from another, I’ve had it from you. And I
have it still. It’s a matter not of reproach, but of reparation.”

“Don’t you think,” said Herold, “we might continue this extraordinary
conversation in the library--by ourselves?”

“No,” said John in the obstinate tone that Herold had known for many
years. “You and I are two men, and Stella is a woman, and a hell-mess
just like that--” he pointed to the tempest--“has upset our lives. It’s
time to put them to rights again.”

“I don’t know what you ‘re talking about,” said Herold. “It ‘s a pity
you have chosen to-night. Things are a bit abnormal. Let us go to bed,
and talk to-morrow, if you like, in the light of common sense.”

John folded his arms. “I’m going to talk to-night. I want you calmly to
consider the position.”

“I do,” said Herold. “Stop,”---as John was about, to interrupt,--“let me
speak.”

“Yes,” said Stella, breaking silence for the first time; “let Walter
speak.”

But she stood apart, fascinated by this strange duel, as her primitive
ancestress might have done when two males fought for her with
flint-headed axes.

“What I feel as regards Stella is neither here nor there. I ‘ve never
told her that I loved her. I ‘ve never told you. Both you and she have
told me that you love each other. That was enough for me. I joined with
Unity in seeking to remove the obstacle in the path of your happiness.
If Unity had not forestalled me, I--well, God knows what I should have
done! I left you asleep that evening, and went, half crazy, to the flat,
and there I found what I found. But, anyhow, Unity committed murder and
suicide to set the two of you free. If you want strong, blatant words,
there you have them. A girl, one of God’s chosen, has laid down her life
for the two of you.” He stood between them and threw up his hands. “Take
each other. It is a sacrament.”

Stella, her arms still on the back of the chair, hung her head and
stared downward. John cast a quick glance at her and then, a thing which
he rarely did, drew his great frame up to its full height and challenged
his friend.

“If you don’t love her, she loves you. I know.”

Herold said:

“You two belong to each other.”

“Then Stella must decide,” said John.

She threw out a flutter of delicate fingers and covered her face. “No,
no!” she gasped.

The lightning flickered mildly in the well-lit room, and the eventual
thunder reverberated in distant anger.

John again came close to Herold. “This may be an extraordinary
conversation, but it has to be. If Stella loved me, do you think she
would stand like that?”

Stella dropped to her knees, her face and arms huddled against the
chair.

“My dear old man, I ‘ve learned many things of late. I can’t tell you
exactly. I’m not good at that sort of thing. But Unity has been too big
for me.”

Stella raised a white face.

“What do you mean? Say exactly what you mean.”

“I mean--oh, God knows what I mean.” He strode blindly across the
room, returned, and faced the two, still near together. “Can’t you
understand?” he cried, with a wide gesture. “I’m infinitesimal sand
beneath that child’s feet. I’m a blind mole in comparison with her
transcendent vision. I ‘m in the dust. Oh, God!” He turned away.

Stella rose, and, clasping hands to her bosom, went to him.

“Belovedest, for Christ’s sake, what is the end of all this?”

He halted and took her hands.

“Not shadows, not lies. Once I thought--indeed, I knew--you loved me.
That was when you were an ignorant child. You loved some one you thought
was me. Now your eyes are opened. You have passed through flames.
Knowledge has come to you. You see me as I am, and your love has gone. I
know, too, what I am. Unity has taught me. You can’t--you don’t love me,
Stella. That I know. I’ve known it ever since that day when we put her
into her grave.”

Herold came between them imploringly. “My dear man--my dear fellow--what
is the use of this wild talk? You two love each other. Unity gave her
life for the two of you. If you two don’t come together, it ‘s all
overwhelming, blasting irony. I could n’t believe in God after it. It
would be hellishly cynical. Stella, in God’s name, tell him that you
are bound by Unity’s sacrifice--that you love him and will marry him and
make his life happy!”

Stella, very pale, looked at John. “If you want me, I will marry you,”
 she said in a clear voice.

John waved her aside. “I will not take you, my dear,” said he.

Spurned sex winced involuntarily.

“If you have stopped caring for me--”

“I stopped caring? I? Merciful God, I’ve never loved you so much. But
you love a better man. What’s the good of saying the same things over
and over again? But I ‘ll tell you this, both of you, that if Unity had
not given her life, and if I had been free, I should have fought for you
and had you despite everything. That ‘s my accursed nature. But Unity
has not died in vain, and it’s because of that child’s death, the beauty
and heroism of it, that I’m able to stand here and tear my heart out
and throw it away. Don’t make any mistake,”--he turned fiercely on
Herold,--“it’s not I who am giving her up. It’s Unity.”

“Very well,” said Herold. “Let us put it at that. It’s your point of
view. You also force me to speak. It would be grotesque to keep silence
any longer. Yes, I do love her. She is the beginning and end of life
to me. If she had lain on her back all her days, I should never have
married another woman. There! You have it now.”

The two men’s eyes held each other for a space. Stellamaris looked
at the pair with a fearful admiration. They were men. Herold she had
divined and known long ago; this, on his part, was only the supreme
fulfilment of promise. But John Risca, who had passed through the
illusion and disillusion of her soul, stood before her in new strength,
a great and moving figure.

At last John drew a deep breath, turned to Stellamaris very gently, and
smiled.

“And you?”

The smile sent swift pain through her heart. She made a step or two, and
fell sobbing on his breast.

“O Belovedest, I am sorry! You have guessed right. Forgive me!”

He caressed the bowed head tenderly for an instant, then releasing
himself, he clapped his hand on Her-old’s shoulder and shook it with
rough affection.

“I ‘m going to bed,” said he. He moved to the door. There he paused
to nod a good night; but at sight of them both looking sadly at him he
walked back a couple of paces.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m at peace with myself for the first time for
years. There ‘s lots of happiness in the world left.” He smiled again.
“Enough for the three of us--and for Unity.”

He left them, and went to bed in the room which Stellamaris had
furnished for him long ago, and fell into the sleep of the man who
has found rest at last in the calm and certain knowledge of spiritual
things. Unity had not died in vain. And Stellamaris, sitting once more
by Herold’s side in the wide bay of the window, and talking with him in
a hushed voice of the wondrous things that had come to pass, knew that
John Risca had spoken a great truth. It had been God’s will that so
should the terrible splendour of the world be made manifest.

Herold asked for the million-billionth time in the history of mankind:

“When did you first find that you loved me?”

She replied, perhaps more truly than most maidens:

“There was never a time when I did n’t love you. I mean--I don’t quite
know what I mean,” she said confusedly. “You see, I ‘ve lived a strange
life, dear,” she went on. “You seem to have been a part of me ever since
I can remember what is worth remembering. You have always understood
things that went on inside me almost before I could tell them to you. I
always wanted you to explain foolishness that I could n’t speak of to
any one else.”

“That’s very beautiful,” Herold interrupted, “but love is a different
matter. When did the real love come to you?”

“I think it was that morning in the garden when you almost whipped me,”
 said Stella. She started an inch or two away from him. “And I ‘m sure
you knew it,” she said.

And he remembered, as he had often remembered in his great struggle,
her eyes, turning from agates to diamonds and her words, “Do you love me
like that?”

“Heaven knows, Stellamaris dear; I did not mean to betray myself.”

She laughed the enigmatic laugh of a woman’s contentment, and Herold was
too wise to ask why.

They spoke of deepest things. “There is something I must tell you,” said
he, “which up to now I have had to keep secret, and it is right that you
should know.”

And he told Her the story of Unity and himself--the revolver, their
talk of the evil woman, their parting words, his crazed adventure
through the sunny streets.

She listened, Her body leaning forward, her hands clasped on her knee.
When he had finished, she sat without change of attitude.

“You did that so that another man could marry the woman you loved. Unity
did that so that the man she loved could marry another woman. John came
in to-night to sacrifice himself and give us both happiness. The three
of you have done terrible and splendid things. I am the only one of us
four who has done nothing.”

Herold rose, took a nervous pace or two. What she said needed more than
a lover’s sophistical reassurance. He could speak a thousand words of
comfort; but he knew that her soul required a supreme answer, a clue to
the dark labyrinth through which she had worked. What could he say? He
looked through the window, and suddenly saw that which to him was an
inspiration. He threw the folding-doors wide. It had stopped raining
long ago, though neither had noticed.

“Come out on the terrace,” said he.

She followed him into the gusty air. The sea still roared resentfully at
the late disturbance of its quiet. The southwest wind that Had brought
up the storm had driven the great rack of black cloud above the horizon,
and there below the rack was a band of dark but cloudless sky, and in it
one star hung serene. Herold pointed to it.

“What have you done, dear?” His voice broke in a catch of exultation,
and his usually nimble wit failed to grasp the lunatic falsity of the
analogy. “You have done what that has done--come through the storm pure
and steadfast.”

“Not I, dear,” she said, “but my faith in the God we breathe.”

“No; you yourself.” He put his arm around her, and all his love spoke.
“You. The living mystery of beauty that is you.” He whispered into her
lips. “You--Stellamaris--Star of the Sea.”


THE END





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