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Title: Where Love Is
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 "Where Love Is" ***

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WHERE LOVE IS

By William J. Locke

New York

Grosset & Dunlap Publishers

Copyright, 1903 By John Lane



“_Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and
hatred therewith_.”

_The Proverbe of Solomon_



WHERE LOVE IS



Chapter I--THE FIRST GLIMPSE


HAVE you dined at Ranelagh lately?” asked Norma Hardacre.

“I have never been there in my life,” replied Jimmie Padgate. “In fact,”
 he added simply, “I am not quite sure whether I know where it is.”

“Yours is the happier state. It is one of the dullest spots in a dull
world.”

“Then why on earth do people go there?”

The enquiry was so genuine that Miss Hardacre relaxed her expression of
handsome boredom and laughed.

“Because we are all like the muttons of Panurge,” she said. “Where one
goes, all go. Why are we here to-night?”

“To enjoy ourselves. How could one do otherwise in Mrs. Deering’s
house?”

“You have known her a long time, I believe,” remarked Norma, taking the
opportunity of directing the conversation to a non-contentious topic.

“Since she was in short frocks. She is a cousin of King’s--that’s the
man who took you down to dinner--” She nodded. “I have known Mr. King
many weary ages.”

“And he has never told me about you!”

“Why should he?”

She looked him full in the face, with the stony calm of the fashionable
young woman accustomed to take excellent care of herself. Her companion
met her stare in whimsical confusion. Even so ingenuous a being as
Jimmie Padgate could not tell a girl he had met for the first time that
she was beautiful, adorable, and graced with divine qualities above all
women, and that intimate acquaintance with her must be the startling
glory of a lifetime.

“If I had known you for ages,” he replied prudently, “I should have
mentioned your name to Morland King.”

“Are you such friends then?”

“Fast friends: we were at school together, and as I was a lonely little
beggar I used to spend many of my holidays with his people. That is how
I knew Mrs. Deering in short frocks.”

“It’s odd, then, that I have n’t met you about before,” said the girl,
giving him a more scrutinising glance than she had hitherto troubled to
bestow upon him. A second afterwards she felt that her remark might have
been in the nature of an indiscretion, for her companion had not at all
the air of a man moving in the smart world to which she belonged. His
dress-suit was old and of lamentable cut; his shirt-cuffs were frayed;
a little bone stud, threatening every moment to slip the button-hole,
precariously secured his shirt-front. His thin, iron-grey hair was
untidy; his moustache was ragged, innocent of wax or tongs or any of
the adventitious aids to masculine adornment. His aspect gave the
impression, if not of poverty, at least of narrow means and humble ways
of life. Although he had sat next her at dinner, she had paid little
attention to him, finding easier entertainment in her conversation with
King on topics of common interest, than in possible argument with a
strange man whom she heard discussing the functions of art and other
such head-splitting matters with his right-hand neighbour. Indeed, her
question about Ranelagh when she found him by her side, later, in the
drawing-room was practically the first she had addressed to him with any
show of interest.

She hastened to repair her maladroit observation by adding before he
could reply,--“That is rather an imbecile thing to say considering the
millions of people in London. But one is apt to talk in an imbecile
manner after a twelve hours’ day of hard racket in the season. Don’t you
think so? One’s stock of ideas gets used up, like the air at the end of
a dance.”

“Not if you keep your soul properly ventilated,” he answered.

The words were, perhaps, not so arresting as the manner in which they
were uttered. Norma Hardacre was startled. A little shutter in the
back of her mind seemed to have flashed open for an elusive second, and
revealed a prospect wide, generous, alive with free-blowing airs.
Then all was dark again before she could realise the vision. She was
disconcerted, and in a much more feminine way than was habitual with her
she glanced at him again. This time she lost sight of the poor, untidy
garments, and found a sudden interest in the man’s kind, careworn face,
and his eyes, wonderfully blue and bright, set far apart in the head,
that seemed to look out on the world with a man’s courage and a child’s
confidence. She was uncomfortably conscious of being in contact with
a personality widely different from that of her usual masculine
associates. This her training and habit of mind caused her to resent;
despising the faint spiritual shock, she took refuge in flippancy.

“I fear our Tobin tubes get choked up in London,” she said with a little
laugh. “Even if they did n’t they are wretched things, which create
draughts; so anyway our souls are free from chills. Look at that
woman over there talking to Captain Orton--every one knows he’s
paymaster-general. A breath of fresh air in Mrs. Chance’s soul would
give it rheumatic fever.”

The abominable slander falling cynically from young lips brought a look
of disapproval into Jimmie Padgate’s eyes.

“Why do you say such things?” he asked. “You know you don’t believe
them.”

“I do believe them,” she replied defiantly. “Why shouldn’t one
believe the bad things one hears of one’s neighbours? It’s a vastly more
entertaining faith than belief in their virtues. Virtue--being its own
reward--is deadly stale to one’s friends and unprofitable to oneself.”

“Cynicism seems cheap to-day,” said Jimmie, with a smile that redeemed
his words from impertinence. “Won’t you give me something of yourself a
little more worth having?”

Norma, who was leaning back in her chair fanning herself languidly,
suddenly bent forward, with curious animation in her cold face.

“I don’t know who you are or what you are,” she exclaimed. “Why should
you want more than the ordinary futilities of after-dinner talk?”

“Because one has only to look at you,” he replied, “to see that it must
be very easy to get. You have beauty-inside as well as outside,
and everybody owes what is beautiful and good in them to their
fellow-creatures.”

“I don’t see why. According to you, women ought to go about like
mediaeval saints.”

“Every woman is a saint in the depths of her heart,” said Jimmie.

“You are an astonishing person,” replied Norma.

The conversation ended there, for Morland King came up with Constance
Deering: he florid, good-looking, perfectly groomed and dressed, the
type of the commonplace, well-fed, affluent Briton; she a pretty,
fragile butterfly of a woman. Jimmie rose and was led off to another
part of the room by his hostess. King dropped into the chair Jimmie had
vacated.

“I see you have been sampling my friend Jimmie Padgate. What do you make
of him?”

“I have just told him he was an astonishing person,” said Norma.

“Dear old Jimmie! He’s the best fellow in the world,” said King,
laughing. “A bit Bohemian and eccentric--artists generally are--”

“Oh, he’s an artist?” inquired Norma.

“He just manages to make a living by it, poor old chap! He has never
come off, somehow.”

“Another neglected genius?”

“I don’t know about that,” replied Morland King in a matter-of-fact way,
not detecting the sneer in the girl’s tone. “I don’t think he’s a great
swell--I’m no judge, you know. But he has had a bad time. Anyway, he
always comes up smiling. The more he gets knocked the more cheerful
he seems to grow. I never met any one like him. The most generous,
simple-minded beggar living.”

“He must be wonderful to make you enthusiastic,” said Norma.

“Look at him now, talking to the Chance woman as if she were an angel of
light.”

Norma glanced across the room and smiled contemptuously.

“She seems to like it. She’s preening herself as if the wings were
already grown. Connie,” she called to her hostess, who was passing by,
“why have you hidden Mr. Padgate from me all this time?”

The butterfly lady laughed. “He is too precious. I can only afford to
give my friends a peep at him now and then. I want to keep him all to
myself.”

She fluttered away. Norma leaned back and hid a yawn with her fan; then,
rousing herself with an effort, made conversation with her companion.
Presently another man came up and King retired.

“How is it getting on?” whispered Mrs. Deering.

“Oh, steady,” he replied with his hands in his pockets.

“Lucky man!”

Morland King shrugged his shoulders. “The only thing against it is papa
and mamma--chiefly mamma. A Gorgon of a woman!”

“You’ll never get a wife to do you more credit than Norma. With that
face I wonder she is n’t a duchess by now. There _was_ a duke once, but
a fair American eagle came and swooped him off under Norma’s nose. You
see, she’s not the sort of girl to give a man much encouragement.”

“Oh, I can’t stand a woman who throws herself at your head,” said King,
emphatically.

“What a funny way men have nowadays of confessing to the tender
passion!” said Mrs. Deering, laughing.

“What would you have a fellow do?” he asked.

“Spout blank verse about the stars and things, like a Shakespearean
hero?”

“It would be prettier, anyhow.”

“Well, if you will have it, I’m about as hard hit as a man ever
was--there!”

“I ‘m delighted to hear it,” said his cousin.

A short while afterwards the dinner-party broke up.

“I don’t know whether you care to mix with utter worldlings like us, Mr.
Padgate,” said Norma, as she bade him good-bye, “but we are always in on
Tuesdays.”

“I’ll tie him hand and foot and bring him,” said King. “Good-night, old
chap. I’m giving Miss Hardacre a lift home in the brougham.”

Before Jimmie could say yes or no, they were gone. He found himself the
last.

“You are certainly not going for another hour, Jimmie,” said Mrs.
Deering, as he came forward to take leave. “You will sit in that chair
and smoke and tell me all about yourself and make me feel good and
pretty.”

“Very well,” he assented, laughing. “Turn me out when it’s time for me
to go.”

It had been the customary formula between them for many years; for
Jimmie Padgate lacked the sense of time and kept eccentric hours, and
although Connie Deering delighted in her rare confidential chats with
him, a woman with a heavy morrow of engagements must go to bed at a
reasonable period of the night. She was a woman in the middle thirties,
a childless widow after a brief and almost forgotten married life, rich,
pleasure-loving, in the inner circle of London society, and possessing
the gayest, kindest, most charitable heart in the world. Her friendship
with Norma Hardacre had been a thing of recent date.

She had cultivated it first on account of her cousin Morland King; she
had ended in enthusiastic admiration.

“It is awfully good of you,” she said, when they were comfortably
settled down to talk, “to waste your time with my unintelligent
conversation.”

“There’s no such thing as unintelligent conversation,” he declared.

“For a man like you there must be.”

“I could hold an intelligent conversation with a rabbit,” said Jimmie.

Norma Hardacre, on arriving home, entered the drawingroom, where her
mother was reading a novel.

“Well?” said Mrs. Hardacre, looking up.

Norma threw her white silk cloak over the back of a chair.

“Connie sent her love to you.”

“Is that all you have to say?” asked her mother, sharply. She was a
faded woman who had once possessed beauty of a cold, severe type; but
the years had pinched and hardened her features, as they had pinched and
hardened her heart. Her eyes were of that steel grey which the light
of laughter seldom softens, and her smile was but a contraction of the
muscles of the lips. Even this perfunctory tribute to politeness which
had greeted Norma’s entrance vanished at the second question.

“Morland King drove me home. What a difference there is between a
private brougham and the beastly things we get from the livery-stable!”

“He has said nothing?”

“Of course not. I should have told you if he had.”

“Whose fault is it?”

Norma made a gesture of impatience. “My fault, if you like. I don’t
lay traps to catch him. I don’t keep him dangling about me, and I don’t
flatter his vanities or make appeal to his senses, I suppose. I can’t do
it.”

“Don’t behave like a fool, Norma,” said Mrs. Hardacre, rapping her book
with a paper-knife. “You have got to marry him. You know you have. Your
father and I are coming to the end of things. You ought to have married
years ago, and when one thinks of the chances you have missed, it makes
one mad. Here have we been pinching and scraping--”

“And borrowing and mortgaging,” Norma interjected, “--to give you a
brilliant position,” Mrs. Hardacre continued, unheeding the
interruption, “and you cast all our efforts in our teeth. It’s sheer
ingratitude. Why you threw over Lord Wyniard I could never make out.”

“You seem to forget that, after all, there is a physical side to
marriage,” said Norma, with a little shudder of disgust.

“I hate indelicacy in young girls,” said Mrs. Hardacre, freezingly. “One
would think you had been brought up in a public house.”

“Then let us avoid indelicate subjects,” retorted Norma, opening the
first book to her hand. “Where is papa?”

“Oh, how should I know?” said Mrs. Hardacre, irritably. There was
silence. Norma pretended to read, but her thoughts, away from
the printed lines, caused her face to harden and her lips to curl
scornfully. She had been used to such scenes with her mother ever since
she had worn a long frock, and that was seven years ago, when she came
out as a young beauty of eighteen. The story of financial embarrassment
had lost its fine edge of persuasion by overtelling. She had almost
ceased to believe in it, and the lingering grain of credence she put
aside with the cynical feeling that it was no great concern of hers, so
long as her usual round of life went on. She had two hundred a year of
her own, all of which she spent in dress, so that in that one
particular at least, if she chose to be economical, she was practically
independent. Money for other wants was generally procurable, with or
without unpleasant dunning of her parents. She lived very little in
their home in Wiltshire, a beautiful and stately young woman of fashion
being a decorative adjunct to smart country-house parties. In London, if
she sighed for a more extensive establishment and a more luxurious style
of living, it was what she always had done. She had hated the furnished
house or flat and the livery-stable carriage ever since her first
season. In the same way she had always considered the omission from
her scheme of life of a yacht and a villa at Cannes and diamonds at
discretion as a culpable oversight on the part of the Creator. But
the sordid makeshift of existence to which she was condemned was not
a matter of yesterday. In spite of the financial embarrassments of the
maternal fable she had noticed no cutting down of customary expenditure.
Her father still played the fool on the stock exchange, her mother still
attired herself elaborately and disdained to eat otherwise than _à la
carte_ at expensive restaurants, and she, Norma, went whithersoever
the smart set drifted her. She had nothing to do with the vulgarity of
financial embarrassments.

As to the question of marriage she was as fully determined as her
mother that she should make a brilliant match. She had had two or three
disappointments--the unwary duke, for instance. On the other hand she
had refused eligibles like Lord Wyniard out of sheer caprice.

The only man who had given her a moment’s stir of the pulses, a moment’s
thought of throwing her cap over the windmills, was a young soldier in
the Indian Staff Corps. But he belonged to her second season, before
she had really seen the world and grasped the inner meaning of life.
Besides, her mother had almost beaten her; and in an encounter between
the dragon who guarded the gold of her daughter’s affections and the
young Siegfried, it was the hero that barely escaped destruction; he
fled to India for his life. Norma lost all sight and count of him for
three years. Then she heard that he had married a schoolfellow of
hers and was a month-old father. It was with feelings of peculiar
satisfaction and sense of deliverance that she sent her congratulations
to him, her love to his wife, and a set of baby shoes to the child. She
had cultivated by this time a helpful sardonic humour.

There was now Morland King, within reasonable distance of a proposal.
Her experience detected the signs, although little of sentimentality
had passed between them. He was young, as marrying men go--a year or two
under forty--of good family, fairly good-looking, very well off, with a
safe seat in Parliament being kept warm for him by a valetudinarian ever
on the point of retirement. Norma meant to accept him. She contemplated
the marriage as coldly and unemotionally as King contemplated the seat
in Parliament. But through the corrupted tissue of her being ran one
pure and virginal thread. She used no lures. She remained chastely
aloof, the arts of seduction being temperamentally repugnant to her.
Knowledge she had of good and evil (a euphemism, generally, for an
exclusive acquaintance with the latter), and she was cynical enough in
her disregard of concealment of her knowledge; but she revolted from
using it to gain any advantage over a man. At this period of her life
she set great store by herself, and though callously determined on
marriage condescended with much disdain to be wooed. Her mother, bred in
a hard school, was not subtle enough to perceive this antithesis. Hence
the constant scenes of which Norma bitterly resented the vulgarity. “We
pride ourselves on being women of the world, mother,” she said, “but
that does n’t prevent our remembering that we are gentlefolk.” Whereat,
on one occasion, Mr. Hardacre, in his flustering, feeble way, had told
Norma not to be rude to her mother, only to draw upon himself the vials
of his wife’s anger.

He came in now, during the silence that had fallen on the two women--a
short, stout, red-faced man, with a bald head, and a weak chin, and
a drooping foxy moustache turning grey. He was bursting with an
interminable tale of scandal that he had picked up at his club--a
respectable institution with an inner coterie of vapid, middle-aged
dullards whose cackle was the terror of half London society. It is
a superstition among good women that man is too noble a creature to
descend to gossip. Ten minutes in the members’ smoking-room of the
Burlington Club would paralyse the most scandal-mongering tabby of Bath,
Cheltenham, or Tunbridge Wells.

“We were sure she was a wrong ‘un from the first,” he explained in a
thick, jerky voice to his listless auditors. “And now it turns out that
she was in thick with poor Billy Withers, you know, and when Billy broke
his neck--that was through another blessed woman--I’ll tell you all
about her by’m bye--when Billy broke his neck, his confounded valet got
hold of Mrs. Jack’s letters, and how she paid for ‘em’s the cream of the
story--”

“We need not have that now, Benjamin,” said Mrs. Hardacre, with a
warning indication that reverence was due to the young.

“Well, of course that’s the end of it,” replied Mr. Hardacre, in some
confusion.

But Norma rose with a laugh of hard mockery.

“The valet entered the service of Lord Wyniard, and now there’s a pretty
little divorce case in the air, with Jack Dugdale as petitioner and
Lord Wyniard as corespondent. Are n’t you sorry, mother, I did n’t marry
Wyniard and reform him, and save society this terrible scandal?”

Turning from her disconcerted parents, Norma pulled back the thick
curtains from the French window and opened one of the doors.

“What are you doing that for?” cried Mrs. Hardacre irritably, as the
cold air of a wet May night swept through the room.

“I’m going to try to ventilate my soul,” said Norma, stepping on to the
balcony.



Chapter II--THE FOOL’S WISDOM

LIKE the inexplicable run on a particular number at the roulette-table,
there often seems to be a run on some particular phenomenon thrown up
by the wheel of daily life. Such a recurrent incident was the meeting of
Norma and Jimmie Padgate during the next few weeks. She met him at Mrs.
Deering’s, she ran across him in the streets. Going to spend a weekend
out of town, she found him on the platform of Paddington Station.
The series of sheer coincidences established between them a certain
familiarity. When next they met, it was in the crush of an emptying
theatre. They found themselves blocked side by side, and they laughed as
their eyes met.

“This seems to have got out of the domain of vulgar chance and become
Destiny,” she said lightly.

“I am indeed favoured by the gods,” he replied.

“You don’t deserve their good will because you have never come to see
me.”

Jimmie replied that he was an old bear who loved to growl selfishly in
his den. Norma retorted with a reference to Constance Deering. In her
house he could growl altruistically.

“She pampers me with honey,” he explained.

“I am afraid you’ll get nothing so Arcadian with us,” she replied, “but
I can provide you with some excellent glucose.”

They were moved a few feet forward by the crowd, and then came to a halt
again.

“This is my ward, Miss Aline Marden,” he said, presenting a pretty
slip of a girl of seventeen, who had hung back shyly during the short
dialogue, and looked with open-eyed admiration at Jimmie’s new friend.
“That is how she would be described in a court of law, but I don’t mind
telling you that really she is my nurse and fostermother.”

The girl blushed at the introduction, and gave him an imperceptible
twitch of the arm. Norma smiled at her graciously and asked her how she
had liked the play.

“It was heavenly,” she said with a little sigh. “Did n’t you think so?”

Norma, who had characterised the piece as the most dismal performance
outside a little Bethel, was preparing a mendacious answer, when a
sudden thinning in the crush brought to her side Mrs. Hardacre, from
whom she had been separated. Mrs. Hardacre inquired querulously for
Morland King, who had gone in search of the carriage. Norma reassured
her as to his ability to find it, and introduced Jimmie and Aline.
Mr. Padgate was Mr. King’s oldest friend. Mrs. Hardacre bowed
disapprovingly, took in with a hard glance the details of Aline’s cheap,
homemade evening frock, and the ready-made cape over her shoulders, and
turned her head away with a sniff. She had been put out of temper the
whole evening by Norma’s glacial treatment of King, and was not disposed
to smile at the nobodies whom it happened to please Norma to patronise.

At last King beckoned to them from the door, and they crushed through
the still waiting crowd to join him. By the time Jimmie Padgate and his
ward had reached the pavement they had driven off.

“Wonder if we can get a cab,” said Jimmie.

“Cab!” cried the girl, taking his arm affectionately. “One would think
you were a millionaire. You can go in a cab if you like, but I’m going
home in a ‘bus. Come along. We’ll get one at Piccadilly Circus.”

She hurried him on girlishly, talking of the play they had just seen. It
was heavenly, she repeated. She had never been in the stalls before.
She wished kind-hearted managers would send them seats every night. Then
suddenly:

“Why did n’t you tell me how beautiful she was?”

“Who, dear?”

“Why, Miss Hardacre. I think she is the loveliest thing I have ever
seen. I could sit and look at her all day long. Why don’t you paint her
portrait--in that wonderful ivory-satin dress she was wearing to-night?
And the diamond star in her hair that made her look like a queen--did
you notice it? Why, Jimmie, you are not paying the slightest attention!”

“My dear, I could repeat verbatim every word you have said,” he replied
soberly. “She is indeed one of the most beautiful of God’s creatures.”

“Then you’ll paint her portrait?”

“Perhaps, deary,” said Jimmie, “perhaps.”

Meanwhile in the brougham King was giving Norma an account of Jimmie’s
guardianship. She had asked him partly out of curiosity, partly to
provide him with a subject of conversation, and partly to annoy her
mother, whose disapproving sniff she had noted with some resentment. And
this in brief is the tale that King told.

Some ten years ago, John Marden, a brother artist of Jimmie Padgate’s,
died penniless, leaving his little girl of seven with the alternative of
fighting her way alone through an unsympathetic world, or of depending
on the charity of his only sister, a drunken shrew of a woman, the wife
of a small apothecary, and the casual mother of a vague and unwashed
family. Common decency made the first alternative impossible. On their
return to the house after the funeral, the aunt announced her intention
of caring for the orphan as her own flesh and blood. Jimmie, who had
taken upon himself the functions of the intestate’s temporary executor,
acquiesced dubiously. The lady, by no means sober, shed copious tears
and a rich perfume of whisky. She called Aline to her motherly
bosom. The child, who had held Jimmie’s hand throughout the mournful
proceedings, for he had been her slave and playfellow for the whole of
her little life, advanced shyly. Her aunt took her in her arms. But the
child, with instinctive repugnance to the smell of spirits, shrank from
her kisses. The shrew arose in the woman; she shook her vindictively,
and gave her three or four resounding slaps on face and shoulders.
Jimmie leaped from his chair, tore the scared little girl from the
vixen’s clutches, and taking her bodily in his arms, strode with her
out of the house, leaving the apothecary and his wife to settle matters
between them. It was only when he had walked down the street and hailed
a cab that he began to consider the situation.

“What on earth am I to do with you?” he asked whimsically.

The small arms tightened round his neck. “Take me to live with you,”
 sobbed the child.

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings we learn wisdom. So be it,”
 said Jimmie, and he drove home with his charge.

As neither aunt nor uncle nor any human being in the wide world claimed
the child, she became mistress of Jimmie’s home from that hour. Her
father’s pictures and household effects were sold off to pay his
creditors, and a little bundle of torn frocks and linen was Aline’s sole
legacy.

“I happened to look in upon him the evening of her arrival,” said King,
by way of conclusion to his story. “In those days he managed with a
charwoman who came only in the mornings, so he was quite alone in
the place with the kid. What do you think I found him doing? Sitting
cross-legged on the model-platform with a great pair of scissors and
needles and thread, cutting down one of his own night garments so as to
fit her, while the kid in a surprising state of _déshabillé_ was
seated on a table, kicking her bare legs and giving him directions. His
explanation was that Miss Marden’s luggage had not yet arrived and she
must be made comfortable for the night! But you never saw anything so
comic in your life.”

He leaned back and laughed at the reminiscence, not unkindly. Mrs.
Hardacre, bored by the unprofitable tale, stared at the dim streets out
of the brougham window. Norma, on friendlier terms with King, the little
human story having perhaps drawn them together, joined in the laugh.

“And now, I suppose, when she grows a bit older, Mr. Padgate will marry
her and she will be a dutiful little wife and they will live happy and
humdrum ever after.”

“I hope he will provide her with some decent rags to put on,” said Mrs.
Hardacre. “Those the child was wearing to-night were fit for a servant
maid.”

“Jimmie would give her his skin if she could wear it,” said Morland,
somewhat tartly.

This expression of feeling gave him, for the first time, a special place
in Norma’s esteem. After all, a woman desires to like the man who in a
few months’ time may be her husband, and hitherto Morland had presented
a negativity of character which had baffled and irritated her. The
positive trait of loyalty to a friend she welcomed instinctively,
although if charged with the emotion she would have repudiated the
accusation. When the carriage stopped at the awning and red strip of
carpet before the house in Eaton Square where a dance awaited her, and
she took leave of him, she returned his handshake with almost a warm
pressure and sent him away, a sanguine lover, to his club.

The next morning Constance Deering, taking her on a round of shopping,
enquired how the romance was proceeding.

“He has had me on probation,” replied Norma, “and has been examining all
my points. I rather think he finds me satisfactory, and is about to make
an offer.”

“What an idyllic pair you are!” laughed her friend.

Norma took the matter seriously.

“The man is perfectly right. He is on the lookout for a woman who can
keep up or perhaps add to his social prestige, who can conduct the
affairs of a large establishment when he enters political life, who
can possibly give him a son to inherit his estate, and who can wear
his family diamonds with distinction--and it does require a woman of
presence to do justice to family diamonds, you know. He looks round
society and sees a girl that may suit him. Naturally he takes his time
and sizes her up. I have learned patience and so I let him size to his
heart’s content. On the other hand, what he can give me falls above the
lower limit of my requirements, and personally I don’t dislike him.”

“Mercy on us!” cried Constance Deering, “the man is head over ears in
love with you!”

“Then I like him all the better for dissembling it so effectually,” said
Norma, “and I hope he’ll go on dissembling to the end of the chapter. I
hate sentiment.” They were walking slowly down Bond Street, and happened
to pause before a picture-dealer’s window, where a print of a couple of
lovers bidding farewell caught Mrs. Deering’s attention.

“I call that pretty,” she said. “Do you hate love too?” Norma twirled
her parasol and moved away, waiting for the other.

“Love, my dear Connie, is an appetite of the lower middle classes.”

“My dear Norma!” the other exclaimed, “I do wish Jimmie Padgate could
hear you!”

Norma started at the name. “What has he got to do with the matter?”

“That’s one of his pictures.”

“Oh, is it?” said Norma, indifferently. But feminine curiosity compelled
a swift parting glance at the print.

“I imagine our guileless friend has a lot to learn,” she added. “A few
truths about the ways of this wicked world would do him good.”

“I promised to go and look round his studio to-morrow morning; will you
come and give him his first lesson?” asked Mrs. Deering, mischievously.

“Certainly not,” replied Norma.

But the destiny she had previously remarked upon seemed to be fulfilling
itself. A day or two afterwards his familiar figure burst upon her at
a Private View in a small picture-gallery. His eyes brightened as she
withdrew from her mother, who was accompanying her, and extended her
hand. .

“Dear me, who would have thought of seeing you here? Do you care for
pictures? Why have n’t you told me? I am so glad.”

“Love of Art did n’t bring me here, I assure you,” replied Norma.

“Then what did?”

Jimmie in his guilelessness had an uncomfortable way of posing
fundamental questions. In that respect he was like a child. Norma smiled
in silent contemplation of the real object of their visit. At first her
mother had tossed the cards of invitation into the waste-paper basket.
It was advertising impudence on the part of the painter man, whom she
had met but once, to take her name in vain on the back of an envelope.
Then hearing accidentally that the painter man had painted the portraits
of many high-born ladies, including that of the Duchess of Wiltshire,
and that the Duchess of Wiltshire herself--their own duchess, who gave
Mrs. Hardacre the tip of her finger to shake and sometimes the tip of a
rasping tongue to meditate upon, whom Mrs. Hardacre had tried any time
these ten years to net for Heddon Court, their place in the country--had
graciously promised to attend the Private View, in her character of Lady
Patroness-in-Chief of the painter man, Mrs. Hardacre had hurried home
and had set the servants’ hall agog in search of the cards. Eventually
they had been discovered in the dust-bin, and she had spent half an hour
in cleansing them with bread-crumbs, much to Norma’s sardonic amusement.
The duchess not having yet arrived, Mrs. Hardacre had fallen back upon
the deaf Dowager Countess of Solway, who was discoursing to her in a
loud voice on her late husband’s method of breeding prize pigs. Norma
had broken away from this exhilarating lecture to greet Jimmie.

He kept his eager eyes upon her, still waiting for an answer to his
question:

“What did?”

Norma, fairly quick-witted, indicated the walls with a little
comprehensive gesture.

“Do you call this simpering, uninspired stuff Art?” she said, begging
the question.

“Oh, it’s not that,” cried Jimmie, falling into the trap. “It’s really
very good of its kind. Amazingly clever. Of course it’s not highly
finished. It’s impressionistic. Look at that sweeping line from the
throat all the way down to the hem of the skirt,” indicating the
picture in front of them and following the curve, painter fashion, with
bent-back thumb; “how many of your fellows in the Academy could get that
so clean and true?”

“I have just met Mr. Porteous, who said he could n’t stay any longer
because such quackery made him sick,” said Norma.

Jimmie glanced round the walls. Porteous, the Royal Academician, was
right. The colour was thin, the modelling flat, the drawing tricky, the
invention poor. A dull soullessness ran through the range of full-length
portraits of women. He realised, with some distress, the clever
insincerity of the painting; but he had known Foljambe, the author of
these coloured crimes, as a fellow-student at the Beaux-Arts in Paris,
and having come to see his work for the first time, could not bear to
judge harshly. It was characteristic of him to expatiate on the only
merit the work possessed.

“Mr. Porteous even said,” continued Norma, “that it was scandalous
such a man should be making thousands when men of genius were making
hundreds. It was taking the bread out of their mouths.”

“I am sorry he said that,” said Jimmie. “I think we ought rather to be
glad that a man of poor talent has been so successful. So many of them
go to the wall.”

“Do you always find the success of your inferior rivals so comforting?”
 asked Norma. “I don’t.” She thought of the depredatory American.

Jimmie pushed his hat to the back of his head--a discoloured Homburg hat
that had seen much wear--and rammed his hands in his pockets.

“It’s horrible to regard oneself and one’s fellow-creatures as so many
ghastly fishes tearing one another to pieces so as to get at the same
piece of offal. That’s what it all comes to, does n’t it?”

The picture of the rapt duke as garbage floating on the tide of London
Society brought with it a certain humourous consolation. That of her own
part in the metaphor did not appear so soothing. Jimmie’s proposition
being, however, incontrovertible, she changed the subject and enquired
after Aline. Why had n’t he brought her?

“I am afraid we should have argued about Foljambe’s painting,” said
Jimmie, with innocent malice.

“And we should have agreed about it,” replied Norma. She talked about
Aline. Morland King had been talebearing. It was refreshing, she
confessed, once in a way to hear good of one’s fellow-creatures: like
getting up at six in the morning in the country and drinking milk fresh
from the cow. It conferred a sense of unaccustomed virtue. The mention
of milk reminded her that she was dying for tea. Was it procurable?

“There’s a roomful of it. Can I take you?” asked Jimmie, eagerly.

She assented. Jimmie piloted her through the chattering crowd. On the
way they passed by Mrs. Hardacre, still devoting the pearls of her
attention to the pigs. She acknowledged his bow distantly and summoned
her daughter to her side.

“What are you _affiche_-ing yourself with that nondescript man for?” she
asked in a cross whisper.

Norma moved away with a shrug, and went with Jimmie into the crowded
tea-room. There, while he was fighting for tea at the buffet, she
fell into a nest of acquaintances. Presently he emerged from the
crush victorious, and, as he poured out the cream for her, became the
unconscious target of sharp feminine glances.

“Who is your friend?” asked one lady, as Jimmie retired with the
cream-jug.

“I will introduce him if you like,” she replied. He reappeared and was
introduced vaguely. Then he stood silent, listening to a jargon he was
at a loss to comprehend. The women spoke in high, hard voices, with
impure vowel sounds and a clipping of final consonants. The conversation
gave him a confused impression of Ascot, a horse, a foreign prince, and
a lady of fashion who was characterised as a “rotter.” Allusion was also
made to a princely restaurant, which Jimmie, taken thither one evening
by King, regarded as a fairy-land of rare and exquisite flavours, and
the opinion was roundly expressed that you could not get anything fit to
eat in the place and that the wines were poison.

Jimmie listened wonderingly. No one seemed disposed to controvert the
statement, which was made by quite a young girl. Indeed one of her
friends murmured that she had had awful filth there a few nights before.
A smartly dressed woman of forty who had drawn away from the general
conversation asked Jimmie if he had been to Cynthia yet. He replied that
he very seldom went to theatres. The lady burst out laughing, and then
seeing the genuine enquiry on his face, checked herself.

“I thought you were trying to pull my leg,” she explained. “I mean
Cynthia, the psychic, the crystal gazer. Why, every one is going crazy
over her. Do you mean to say you have n’t been?”

“Heaven forbid!” said Jimmie.

“You may scoff, but she’s wonderful. Do you know she actually gave me
the straight tip for the Derby? She did n’t mean to, for she does n’t
lay herself out for that sort of thing--but she said, after telling me
a lot of things about myself--things that had really happened--she was
getting tired, I must tell you--‘I see something in your near future--it
is a horse with a white star on its forehead--it has gone--I don’t know
what it means.’ I went to the Derby. I had n’t put a cent on, as I had
been cleaned out at Cairo during the winter and had to retrench. The
first horse that was led out had a white star on his forehead. None of
the others had.. It was St. Damien--a thirty to one chance. I backed him
outright for £300. And now I have £9000 to play with. Don’t tell me
there’s nothing in Cynthia after that.”

The knot of ladies dissolved. Jimmie put Norma’s teacup down and went
slowly back with her to the main room. He was feeling depressed, having
lost his bearings in this unfamiliar world. Suddenly he halted.

“I wish you could pinch me,” he said.

“Why?”

“To test whether I am awake. Have I really heard a sane and educated
lady expressing her belief in the visions of a crystal-gazing
adventuress?”

“You have. She believes firmly. So do heaps of women.”

“I hope to heaven you don’t!” he cried with a sudden intensity.

“What concern can my faith be to you?” she asked.

“I beg your pardon. No concern at all,” he said apologetically. “But I
generally blurt out what is in my mind.”

“And what is in your mind? I am a person you can be quite frank with.”

“I could n’t bear the poem of your life to be sullied by all these
vulgarities,” said Jimmie.

“As I remarked to you the first evening I met you, Mr. Padgate,” she
said, holding out her hand by way of dismissal, “you are an astonishing
person!”

The poem of her life! The phrase worried her before she slept that
night. She shook the buzzing thing away from her impatiently. The poem
of her life! The man was a fool.



Chapter III--A MODERN BETROTHAL

A YOUNG woman bred to a material view of the cosmos and self-trained to
cynical expression of her opinions may thoroughly persuade herself that
marriage is a social bargain in which it would be absurd for sentiment
to have a place, and yet when the hour comes for deciding on so trivial
an engagement, may find herself in an irritatingly unequable frame of
mind. For Norma the hour had all but arrived. Morland King had asked
to see her alone in view of an important conversation. She had made an
appointment for ten o’clock, throwing over her evening’s engagements.
Her parents were entertaining a couple of friends in somebody else’s
box at the opera, and would return in time to save the important
conversation from over-tediousness. She intended to amuse herself
placidly with a novel until King’s arrival.

This was a week or two after her encounter with Jimmie at the
picture-gallery, since which occasion she had neither seen nor heard of
him. He had faded from the surface of a consciousness kept on continued
strain by the thousand incidents and faces of a London season. To Jimmie
the series of meetings had been a phenomenon of infinite import. She had
come like a queen of romance into his homely garden, and her radiance
lingered, making the roses redder and the grass more green. But the
queenly apparition herself had other things to think about, and when she
had grown angry and called him a fool, had dismissed him definitely from
her mind. It was annoying therefore that on this particular evening the
fool phrase should buzz again in her ears.

She threw down her book and went on to the balcony, where, on this close
summer night, she could breathe a little cool air. A clock somewhere in
the house chimed the half-hour. Morland was to come at ten. She longed
for, yet dreaded, his coming; regretted that she had stayed away from
the opera, where, after all, she could have observed the everlasting
human comedy. She had dined early; the evening had been interminable;
she felt nervous, and raged at her weakness. She was tired, out of
harmony with herself, fretfully conscious too of the jarring notes in
a room furnished by uneducated people of sudden wealth. The
Wolff-Salamons, out of the kindness of their shrewd hearts, had offered
the house for the season to the Hard-acres, who had accepted the free
quarters with profuse expressions of gratitude; which, however, did not
prevent Mr. Hardacre from railing at the distance of the house (which
was in Holland Park) from his club, or his wife from deprecating to
her friends her temporary residence in what she was pleased to term the
Ghetto. Nor did the Wolff-Salamons’ generosity mitigate the effect of
their furniture on Norma’s nerves. When Jimmie’s phrase came into her
head with the suddenness of a mosquito, she could bear the room no
longer.

She sat on the balcony and waited for Morland. There at least she was
free from the flaring gold and blue, and the full-length portrait of the
lady of the house, on which with delicate savagery the eminent painter
had catalogued all the shades of her ancestral vulgarity. Perhaps it was
this portrait that had brought back the irony of Jimmie’s tribute. The
poem of her life! She sat with her chin on her palm, thinking bitterly
of circumstance. She had never been happy, had grown to disbelieve in so
absurd and animal a state. It had always been the same, as far back
as she could remember. Her childhood: nurses and governesses--a swift
succession of the latter till she began to regard them as remote from
her inner life as the shop girl or railway guard with whom she came into
casual contact. The life broken by visits abroad to fashionable watering
or gambling places where she wandered lonely and proud, neglected by her
parents, watching with keen eyes and imperturbable face the frivolities,
the vices, the sordidnesses, taking them all in, speculating upon
them, resolving some problems unaided and storing up others for future
elucidation. Her year at the expensive finishing school in Paris where
the smartest daughters of America babbled and chattered of money, money,
till the air seemed unfit for woman to breathe unless it were saturated
with gold dust. As hers was not, came discontent and overweening
ambitions. Yet the purity was not all killed. She remembered her first
large dinner-party. The same Lord Wyniard of the unclean scandal had
taken her down. He was thirty years older than she, and an unsavoury
reputation had reached even her young ears. The man regarded her with
the leer of a satyr. She realised with a shudder for the first time the
meaning of a phrase she had constantly met with in French novels--“_il
la dévêtit de ses yeux_.” His manner was courtly, his air of breeding
perfect; yet he managed to touch her fingers twice, and he sought to
lead her on to dubious topics of conversation. She was frightened.

In the drawing-room, seeing him approach, she lost her head, took
shelter with her mother, and trembling whispered to her, “Don’t let that
man come and talk to me again, mother, he’s a beast.” She was bidden not
to be a fool. The man had a title and twenty thousand a year, and she
had evidently made an impression. A week afterwards her mother invited
a bishop and his wife and Lord Wyniard to dinner, and Lord Wyniard took
Norma down again. And that was her start in the world. She had followed
the preordained course till now, with many adventures indeed by the way,
but none that could justify the haunting phrase--the poem of her life!

Was the man such a fool, after all? Was it even ignorance on his part?
Was it not, rather, wisdom on a lofty plane immeasurably above the
commonplaces of ignorance and knowledge? The questions presented
themselves to her vaguely. She was filled with a strange unrest, a
craving for she knew not what. Yet she would shortly have in her grasp
all--or nearly all--that she had aimed at in life. She counted the tale
of her future possessions--houses, horses, diamonds, and the like. She
seemed to have owned them a thousand years.

The clock in the house chimed ten in a pretentious musical way, which
irritated her nerves. The silence after the last of the ten inexorable
tinkles fell gratefully. Then she realised that in a minute or two
Morland would arrive. Her heart began to beat, and she clasped her hands
together in a nervous suspense of which she had not dreamed herself
capable. A cab turned the corner of the street, approached with
crescendo rattle, and stopped at the house. She saw Morland alight and
reach up to pay the cabman. For a silly moment she had a wild impulse to
cry to him over A Modern Betrothal the balcony to go away and leave her
in peace. She waited until she heard the footman open the front door and
admit him, then bracing herself, she entered the drawing-room, looked
instinctively in a mirror, and sat down.

She met him cordially enough, returned his glance somewhat defiantly.
The sight of him, florid, sleek, faultlessly attired, brought her back
within the every-day sphere of dulled sensation. He held her hand long
enough for him to say, after the first greeting:

“You can guess what I’ve come for, can’t you?”

“I suppose I do,” she admitted in an off-hand way. “You will find
frankness one of my vices. Won’t you sit down?”

She motioned him to a chair, and seating herself on a sofa, prepared to
listen.

“I’ve come to ask you to marry me,” said King.

“Well?” she asked, looking at him steadily.

“I want to know how it strikes you,” he continued after a brief pause.
“I think you know practically all that I can tell you about myself. I
can give you what you want up to about fifteen thousand a year--it will
be more when my mother dies. We’re decent folk--old county family--I can
offer you whatever society you like. You and I have tastes in common,
care for the same things, same sort of people. I’m sound in wind and
limb--never had a day’s illness in my life, so you would n’t have to
look after a cripple. And I’d give the eyes out of my head to have you;
you know that. How does it strike you?”

Norma had averted her glance from him towards the end of his speech,
and leaning back was looking intently at her hands in her lap. For the
moment she felt it impossible to reply. The words that had formulated
themselves in her mind, “I think, Mr. King, the arrangement will be
eminently advantageous to both parties,” were too ludicrous in their
adequacy to the situation. So she merely sat silent and motionless,
regarding her manicured finger-nails, and awaiting another opening. King
changed his seat to the sofa, by her side, and leaned forward.

“If you had been a simpler, more unsophisticated girl, Norma, I should
have begun differently. I thought it would please you if I put sentiment
aside.”

Her head motioned acquiescence.

“But I’m not going to put it aside,” he went on. “It has got its place
in the world, even when a man makes a proposal of marriage. And when I
say I’m in love with you, that I have been in love with you since the
first time I saw you, it’s honest truth.”

“Say you have a regard, a high regard, even,” said Norma, still not
looking at him, “and I’ll believe you.”

“I’m hanged if I will,” said Morland. “I say I’m in love with you.”

Norma suddenly softened. The phrase tickled her ears again--this time
pleasantly. The previous half-hour’s groping in the dark of herself
seemed to have resulted in discovery. She gave him a fleeting smile of
mockery.

“Listen,” she said. “If you will be contented with regard, a high
regard, on my side, I will marry you. I really like you very much. Will
that do?”

“It is all I ask now. The rest will come by and by.”

“I’m not so sure. We had better be perfectly frank with each other from
the start, for we shall respect each other far more. Anyhow, if you
treat me decently, as I am sure you will, you may be satisfied that
I shall carry out my part of the bargain. My bosom friends tell one
another that I am worldly and heartless and all that--but I’ve never
lied seriously or broken a promise in my life.”

“Very well. Let us leave it at that,” said Morland. “I suppose your
people will have no objection?”

“None whatever,” replied Norma, drily.

“When can I announce our engagement?”

“Whenever you like.”

He took two or three reflective steps about the room and reseated
himself on the sofa.

“Norma,” he said softly, bending towards her, “I believe on such
occasions there is a sort of privilege accorded to a fellow--may I?”

She glanced at him, hesitated, then proffered her cheek. He touched it
with his lips.

The ceremony over, there ensued a few minutes of anticlimax. Norma
breathed more freely. There had been no difficulties, no hypocrisies.
The mild approach to rapture on Morland’s part was perhaps, after all,
only a matter of common decency, to be accepted by her as a convention
of the _scène à faire_. So was the kiss. She broke the spell of
awkwardness by rising, crossing the room, and turning off an electric
pendant that illuminated the full-length portrait on the wall.

“We can’t stand Mrs. Wolff-Salamon’s congratulations so soon,” she said
with a laugh.

Conversation again became possible. They discussed arrangements.
King suggested a marriage in the autumn. Norma, with a view to the
prolongation of what appealed to her as a novel and desirable phase of
existence--maidenhood relieved of the hateful duty of husband-hunting
and unclouded by parental disapprobation--pleaded for delay till
Christmas. She argued that in all human probability the Parliamentary
vacancy at Cosford, the safe seat on which Morland reckoned, would occur
in the autumn, and he could not fix the date of an election at his
own good pleasure. He must, besides, devote his entire energy to the
business; time enough when it was over to think of such secondary
matters as weddings, bridal tours, and the setting up of establishments.

“But you have to be considered, Norma,” he said, half convinced.

“My dear Morland,” she replied with a derisive lip, “I should never
dream of coming between you and your public career.”

He reflected a moment. “Why should we not get married at once?”

Norma laughed. “You are positively pastoral! No, my dear Morland, that’s
what the passionate young lover always says to the coy maiden in the
play, but if you will remember, it does n’t seem to work even there.
Besides, you must let me gratify my ambitions. When I was very young,
I vowed I would marry an emperor. Then I toned him down into a prince.
Later, becoming more practical, I dreamed of a peer. Finally I descended
to a Member of Parliament. I can’t marry you before you are a Member.”

“You could have had dozens of ‘em for the asking, I’m sure,” returned
the prospective legislator with a grin. “Take them all round, they’re a
shoddy lot.”

He yielded eventually to Norma’s proposal, alluding, however, with an
air of ruefulness, to the infinite months of waiting he would have to
endure. Tactfully she switched him off the line of sentiment to that
of soberer politics. She put forward the platitude that a Parliamentary
life was one of great interest. Morland did not rise even to this level
of enthusiasm.

“‘Pon my soul, I really don’t know why I’m going in for it. I promised
old Potter years ago that I would come in when he gave up, and the
people down there more or less took it for granted, the duchess
included, and so without having thought much of it one way or the other,
I find myself caught in a net. It will be a horrible bore. The whole of
the session will be one dismal yawn. Never to be certain of sitting down
to one’s dinner in peace and comfort. Never to know when one will have
to rush off at a moment’s notice to take part in a confounded division.
To have shoals of correspondence on subjects one knows nothing of and
cares less for. It will be the life of a sweated tailor. And I, of all
people, who like to take things easy! I’m not quite sure whether I’m an
idiot or a hero.”

He ended in a short laugh and leaned against the mantelpiece, his hands
in his pockets.

“It would be the sweet and pretty thing for me to say,” remarked Norma,
“that in my eyes you will always be heroic.”

“Well, ’pon my soul, I shall be. We ’ll see precious little of one
another.”

“We’ll have all the more chance of prolonging our illusions,” she
replied.

On the whole, however, her conduct towards him was irreproachable. The
thaw from her usual iciness to this comparatively harmless raillery
flattered the lover’s self-esteem. Woman-wise, as every man in the
profundity of his vain heart believes himself to be, he not only
attributed the change to his own powers of seduction, but interpreted as
significant of a yet greater transformation. A man of Morland’s type is
seldom afflicted with a morbid subtlety of perception; and when he has
gained for his own personal use and adornment a woman of singular
distinction, he may be readily pardoned for a slight attack of fatuity.

The idyllic hour was brought to a close by the return of Norma’s
parents. As Norma, shrinking from the vulgarity of the prearranged scene
and intolerable maternal coaching in her part, had not informed them of
her appointment with Morland, alleging as an excuse for not going to the
opera a disinclination to be bored to tears by _Aida_, they were mildly
surprised by his presence in the house at so late an hour. In a few
words he acquainted them with what had taken place. He formally asked
their consent. Mr. Hardacre wrung his hand fervently. Mrs. Hardacre’s
steel-grey eyes glittered welcome into her family. She turned to
her dear child and expressed her heartfelt joy. Norma, submissive
to conventional decencies, suffered herself to be kissed. Mother and
daughter had given up kissing as a habit for some years past, though
they practised it occasionally before strangers. Mr. Hardacre put
his arm around her in a diffident way and patted her back, murmuring
incoherent wishes for her happiness. Everything to be said and done
was effected in a perfectly well-bred manner. Norma spoke very little,
regarding the proceedings with an impersonal air of satiric interest. At
last Mr. Hardacre suggested to Morland a chat over whisky and soda and
a cigar in the library. In unsophisticated circles it is not unusual
at such a conjuncture for a girl’s friends and relations to afford
the lovers some unblushing opportunity of bidding each other a private
farewell. Norma, anticipating any such possible though improbable
departure from sanity on the part of her parents, made good her escape
after shaking hands in an ordinary way with Morland. Mrs. Hardacre
followed her upstairs, eager to learn details, which were eventually
given with some acidity by her daughter, and the two men retired below.

“My boy,” said Mr. Hardacre, as they parted an hour afterwards, “you
will find that Norma has had the training that will make her a damned
fine woman.”



Chapter IV--THE GREAT FROCK EPISODE

JIMMIE PADGATE was the son of a retired commander in the Navy, of
irreproachable birth and breeding, of a breezy impulsive disposition,
and with a pretty talent as an amateur actor. Finding idleness the root
of all boredom, he took to the stage, and during the first week of his
first provincial tour fell in love with the leading lady, a fragile waif
of a woman of vague upbringing. That so delicate a creature should have
to face the miseries of a touring life--the comfortless lodgings,
the ill-cooked food, the damp death-traps of dressing-rooms, the long
circuitous Sunday train-journeys--roused him to furious indignation. He
married her right away, took her incontinently from things theatrical,
and found congenial occupation in adoring her. But the hapless lady
survived her marriage only long enough to see Jimmie safe into short
frocks, and then fell sick and died. The impulsive sailor educated the
boy in his own fashion for a dozen years or so, and then he, in his
turn, died, leaving his son a small inheritance to be administered by
his only brother, an easy-going bachelor in a Government office. This
inheritance sufficed to send Jimmie to Harrow, where he began his
life-long friendship with Morland King, and to the École des Beaux-Arts
in Paris, where he learned many useful things beside the method of
painting pictures. When he returned to London, his uncle handed him over
the hundred or two that remained, and, his duty being accomplished, fell
over a precipice in the Alps, and concerned himself no more about his
nephew. Then Jimmie set to work to earn his living.

When he snatched the child Aline from the embraces of her tipsy aunt and
carried her out into the street, wondering what in the world he should
do with her, he was just under thirty years of age. How he had earned a
livelihood till then and kept himself free from debt he scarcely knew.
When he obtained a fair price for a picture, he deposited a lump sum
with his landlord in respect of rent in advance, another sum with the
keeper of the little restaurant where he ate his meals, and frittered
the rest away among his necessitous friends. In the long intervals
between sales, he either went about penniless or provided himself with
pocket money by black and white or other odd work that comes in the
young artist’s way. His residence at that time consisted in a studio and
a bedroom in Camden Town. His wants were few, his hopes were many. He
loved his art, he loved the world. His optimistic temperament brought
him smiles from all those with whom he came in contact--even from
dealers, when he wasted their time in expounding to them the
commercial value of an unmarketable picture. He was quite happy, quite
irresponsible. When soberer friends reproached him for his hand-to-mouth
way of living, he argued that if he scraped to-day he would probably
spread the butter thick tomorrow, thus securing the average, the golden
mean, which was the ideal of their respectability. As for success,
that elusive will-o’-the-wisp, the man who did not enjoy the humour of
failure never deserved to succeed.

But when he had rescued Aline from the limbo over the small apothecary’s
shop, as thoughtlessly and as gallantly as his father before him had
rescued the delicate lady from the trials of theatrical vagabondage, he
found himself face to face with a perplexing problem. That first night
he had risen from an amorphous bed he had arranged for himself on the
studio floor, and entered his own bedroom on tiptoe, and looked with
pathetic helplessness on the tiny child asleep beneath his bedclothes.
If it had been a boy, he would have had no particular puzzle. A boy
could have been stowed in a corner of the studio, where he could have
learned manners and the fear of God and the way of smiling at adversity.
He would have profited enormously, as Jimmie felt assured, by his
education. But with a girl it was vastly different. An endless vista
of shadowy, dreamy, delicate possibilities perplexed him. He conceived
women as beings ethereal, with a range of exquisite emotions denied
to masculine coarseness. Even the Rue Bonaparte had not destroyed his
illusion, and he still attributed to the fair Maenads of the Bal des
Quatrez’ Arts the lingering fragrance of the original Psyche. Of course
Jimmie was a fool, as ten years afterwards Norma had decided; but this
view of himself not occurring to him, he had to manage according to his
lights. Here was this mysterious embryo goddess entirely dependent on
him. No corner of the studio and rough-and-tumble discipline for her.
She must sleep on down and be covered with silk; the airs of heaven must
not visit her cheek too roughly; the clatter of the brazen world must
not be allowed to deafen her to her own sweet inner harmonies. Jimmie
was sorely perplexed.

His charwoman next morning could throw no light on the riddle. She had
seven children of her own, four of them girls, and they had to get along
the best way they could. She was of opinion that if let alone and just
physicked when she had any complaint, Aline would grow up of her own
accord. Jimmie said that this possibility had not struck him, but
doubtless the lady was right. Could she tell him how many times a day
a little girl ought to be fed and what she was to eat? The charwoman’s
draft upon her own family experiences enlightened Jimmie so far that
he put a sovereign into her hand to provide a dinner for her children.
After that he consulted her no more. It was an expensive process.

Meanwhile it was obvious that a studio and one bedroom would not be
sufficient accommodation, and Jimmie, greatly daring, took a house. He
also engaged a resident housekeeper for himself and a respectable cat
for Aline, and when he had settled down, after having spent every penny
he could scrape together on furniture, began to wonder how he could pay
the rent. A month or two before he would have as soon thought of buying
a palace in Park Lane as renting a house in St. John’s Wood--a cheap,
shabby little house, it is true; but still a house, with drawing-room,
dining-room, bedrooms, and a studio built over the space where once the
garden tried to smile. He wandered through it with a wonderment quite as
childish as that of Aline, who had helped him to buy the furniture. But
how was he ever going to pay the rent?

After a time he ceased asking the question. The ravens that fed Elijah
provided him with the twenty quarterly pieces of gold. Picture-dealers
of every hue and grade supplied him with the wherewithal to live.
In those early days he penetrated most of the murky byways of his
art--alleys he would have passed by with pinched nose a year before,
when an empty pocket and an empty stomach concerned himself alone.
Now, when the money for the last picture had gone, and no more was
forthcoming by way of advance on royalties on plates, and the black and
white market was congested, he did amazing things. He copied old Masters
for a red-faced, beery print-seller in Frith Street, who found some
mysterious market for them. The price can be gauged by the fact that
years afterwards Jimmie recognised one of his own copies in an auction
room, and heard it knocked down as a genuine Velasquez for eleven
shillings and sixpence. He also painted oil landscapes for a dealer
who did an immense trade in this line, selling them to drapers and
fancy-warehousemen, who in their turn retailed them to an art-loving
public, framed in gold, at one and eleven pence three farthings; and the
artist’s rate of payment was five shillings a dozen--panels supplied,
but not the paint. To see Jimmie attack these was the child Aline’s
delight. In after years she wept in a foolish way over the memory. He
would do half a dozen at a time: first dash in the foregrounds, either
meadows or stretches of shore, then wash in bold, stormy skies, then a
bit of water, smooth or rugged according as it was meant to represent
pool or sea; then a few vigorous strokes would put in a ship and a
lighthouse on one panel, a tree and a cow on a second, a woman and a
cottage on a third. And all the time, as he worked at lightning speed,
he would laugh and joke with the child, who sat fascinated by the magic
with which each mysterious mass of daubs and smudges grew into a living
picture under his hand. When his invention was at a loss, he would
call upon her to suggest accessories; and if she cried out “windmill,”
 suddenly there would spring from under the darting brush-point a mill
with flapping sails against the sky. Now and again in his hurry Jimmie
would make a mistake, and Aline would shriek with delight:

“Why, Jimmie, that’s a cow!”

And sure enough, horned and uddered, and with casual tail, a cow was
wandering over the ocean, mildly speculating on the lighthouse. Then
Jimmie would roar with laughter, and he would tether the cow to a buoy
and put in a milkmaid in a boat coming to milk the cow, and at Aline’s
breathless suggestion, a robber with a bow and arrow shooting the
unnatural animal from the lighthouse top. Thus he would waste an hour
elaborating the absurdity, finishing it off beautifully so that it
should be worthy of a place on Aline’s bedroom wall.

The months and years passed, and Jimmie found himself, if not on the
highroad to fortune, at least relieved of the necessity of frequenting
the murky byways aforesaid. He even acquired a little reputation as a
portrait painter, much to his conscientious, but comical despair. “I
am taking people’s money under false pretences,” he would say. “I am an
imaginative painter. I can’t do portraits. Your real portrait painter
can jerk the very soul out of a man and splash it on to his face. I
can’t. Why do they come to me to be photographed, when Brown, Jones,
or Robinson would give them a portrait? Why can’t they buy my
subject-pictures which are good? In taking their money I am a mercenary,
unscrupulous villain!” Indeed, if Aline had not been there to keep him
within the bounds of sanity, his Quixotism might have led him to send
his clients to Brown or Jones, where they could get better value for
their money. But Aline was there, rising gradually from the little child
into girlhood, and growing in grace day by day. After all, the charwoman
seemed to be right. The tender plant, left to itself, thrived, shot up
apparently of its own accord, much to Jimmie’s mystification. It never
occurred to him that he was the all in all of her training--her
mother, father, nurse, teacher, counsellor, example. Everything she was
susceptible of being taught by a human being, he taught her--from the
common rudiments when she was a little child to the deeper things of
literature and history when she was a ripening maiden. Her life was
bound up with his. Her mind took the prevailing colour of his mind as
inevitably as the grasshopper takes the green of grass or the locust the
grey-brown of the sand. But Jimmie in his simple way regarded the girl’s
sweet development as a miracle of spontaneous growth.

Yet Aline on her part instinctively appreciated the child in Jimmie, and
from very early years assumed a quaint attitude of protection in common
every-day matters. From the age of twelve she knew the exact state of
his financial affairs, and gravely deliberated with him over items of
special expenditure; and when she was fourteen she profited by a change
in housekeepers to take upon herself the charge of the household. Her
unlimited knowledge of domestic science was another thing that astounded
Jimmie, who to the end of his days would have cheerfully given two
shillings a pound for potatoes. And thus, while adoring Jimmie and
conscious that she owed him the quickening of the soul within her, she
became undisputed mistress of her small material domain, and regarded
him as a kind of godlike baby.

At last there came a memorable day. According to a custom five or six
years old, Jimmie and Aline were to spend New Year’s Eve with some
friends, the Frewen-Smiths.

He was a rising architect who had lately won two or three important
competitions and had gradually been extending his scale of living. The
New Year’s Eve party was to be a much more elaborate affair than usual.
Aline had received a beautifully printed card of invitation, with
“Dancing” in the corner. She looked through her slender wardrobe. Not
a frock could she find equal to such a festival. And as she gazed
wistfully at the simple child’s finery laid out upon her bed, a desire
that had dawned vaguely some time before and had week by week broadened
into craving, burst into the full blaze of a necessity. She sat down on
her bed and puckered her young brows, considering the matter in all
its aspects. Then, with her sex’s guilelessness, she went down to the
studio, where Jimmie was painting, and put her arms round his neck. Did
he think she could get a new frock for Mrs. Frewen-Smith’s party?

“My dear child,” said Jimmie in astonishment, “what an idiotic
question!”

“But I want really a nice one,” said Aline, coaxingly.

“Then get one, dear,” said Jimmie, swinging round on his stool, so as to
look at her.

“But I’d like you to give me this one as a present. I don’t want it
to be like the others that I help myself to and you know nothing
about--although they all are presents, if it comes to that--I want you
to give me this one specially.”

Jimmie laid down palette and mahl-stick and brush, and from a
letter-case in his pocket drew out three five-pound notes.

“Will this buy one?”

The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, you are silly, Jimmie,” she
cried. “A quarter of it will do.”

She took one of the notes, kissed him, and ran out of the studio,
leaving Jimmie wondering why the female sex were so prone to weeping.
The next day he saw a strange woman established at the dining-room
table. He learned that it was a dressmaker. For the next week an air of
mystery hung over the place. The girl, in her neat short frock and with
her soft brown hair tied with a ribbon, went about her household duties
as usual; but there was a subdued light in her eyes that Jimmie noticed,
but could not understand. Occasionally he enquired about the new frock.
It was progressing famously, said Aline. It was going to be a most
beautiful frock. He would have seen nothing like it since he was born.

“Vanity, thy name is little girls,” he laughed, pinching her chin.

On the evening of the 31st of December Jimmie, in his well-worn evening
suit, came down to the dining-room, and for the first time in his life
waited for Aline. He sat down by the fire with a book. The cab that had
been ordered drew up outside. It was a remarkable thing for Aline to
be late. After a while the door opened, and a voice said, “I am ready.”
 Jimmie rose, turned round, and for a moment stared stupidly at the sight
that met his eyes. It was Aline certainly, but a new Aline, quite a
different Aline from the little girl he had known hitherto. Her brown
hair was done up in a mysterious manner on the top of her head, and the
tip of a silver-mounted tortoise-shell comb (a present, she afterwards
confessed, from Constance Deering, who was in her secret) peeped
coquettishly from the coils. The fashionably-cut white evening dress
showed her neck and shoulders and pretty round arms, and displayed in a
manner that was a revelation the delicate curves of her young figure. A
little gold locket that Jimmie had given her rose and fell on her bosom.
She met his stare in laughing, blushing defiance, and whisked round so
as to present a side view of the costume. The astonishing thing had a
train.

“God bless my soul!” cried Jimmie. “It never entered my head!”

“What?”

“That you’re a young woman, that you’re grown up, that we’ll have all
the young men in the place falling in love with you, that you’ll be
getting married, and that I’m becoming a decrepit old fogey. Well, God
bless my soul!”

She came up and put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him.

“You think it becoming, don’t you, Jimmie?”

“Becoming! Why, it’s ravishing! It’s irresistible! Do you mean to
say that you got all that, gloves and shoes and everything, out of a
five-pound note?”

She nodded.

“Good Lord!” said Jimmie in astonishment.

In this manner came realisation of the fact that the tiny child he had
undressed and put to sleep in his own bed ten years before had grown
into a woman. The shock brought back some of the old perplexities, and
created for a short while an odd shyness in his dealings with her. He
treated her deferentially, regarded apologetically the mean viands on
which he forced this fresh-winged goddess to dine, went out and wasted
his money on adornments befitting her rank, and behaved with such
pathetic foolishness that Aline, crying and laughing, threatened to
run away and earn her living as a nursery-maid if he did not amend
his conduct. Whereupon there was a very touching scene, and Jimmie’s
undertaking to revert to his previous brutality put their relations
once more on a sound basis; but all the same there stole into Jimmie’s
environment a subtle grace which the sensitive in him was quick to
perceive. Its fragrance revived the tender grace of a departed day,
before he had taken Aline--a day that had ended in a woeful flight to
Paris, where he had arrived just in time to follow through the streets
a poor little funeral procession to a poor little grave-side in the
cemetery of Bagneux. Her name was Sidonie Bourdain, and she was a good
girl and had loved Jimmie with all her heart.

The tender grace was that of March violets. The essence of a maid’s
springtide diffused itself through the house, and springtide began
to bud again in the man’s breast. It was a strange hyperphysical
transfusion of quickening sap. His jesting pictured himself as of a
sudden grown hoary, the potential father of a full-blown woman, two or
three years short of grandfatherdom. But these were words thrown off
from the very lightness of a mood, and vanishing like bubbles in the
air. Deep down worked the craving of the man still young for love
and romance and the sweet message in a woman’s eyes. It was a gentle
madness--utterly unsuspected by its victim--but a madness such as
the god first inflicts upon him whom he desires to drive to love’s
destruction. In the middle of it all, while Aline and himself were
finding a tentative footing on the newly established basis of their
relationship, the ironical deity took him by the hand and led him into
the cold and queenly presence of Norma Hardacre. .

After that Jimmie fell back into his old ways with Aline, and the Great
Frock Episode was closed.



Chapter V--A BROKEN BUTTERFLY

ALINE sat in the studio, the picture of housewifely concern, mending
Jimmie’s socks. It was not the unoffending garments that brought the
expression into her face, but her glance at the old Dutch clock--so
old and crotchety that unless it were tilted to one side it would not
consent to go--whose hands had come with an asthmatic whir to the hour
of eleven. And Jimmie had not yet come down to breakfast. She had called
him an hour ago. His cheery response had been her sanction for putting
the meal into preparation, and now the bacon would be uneatable. She
sighed. Taking care of Jimmie was no light responsibility. Not that he
would complain; far from it. He would eat the bacon raw or calcined if
she set it before him. But that would not be for his good, and hence the
responsibility. In slipping from her grasp and doing the things he ought
not to do, he was an eel or a twelve-year-old schoolboy. Last night,
for instance, instead of finishing off some urgent work for an art
periodical, he had assured her in his superlative manner that it was of
no consequence, and had wasted his evening with her at the Earl’s Court
Exhibition. It had been warm and lovely, and the band and the bright
crowd had set her young pulses throbbing, and they had sat at a little
table, and Jimmie had given her some celestial liquid which she had
sucked through a straw, and altogether, to use her own unsophisticated
dialect, it had been perfectly heavenly. But it was wrong of Jimmie to
have sacrificed himself for her pleasure, and to have deceived her into
accepting it. For at three or four o’clock she had heard him tiptoeing
softly past her door on his way to bed, and the finished work she
had found on his table this morning betrayed his occupation. Even the
consolation of scolding him for oversleep and a spoiled breakfast was
thus denied. She spread out her hand in the sock so as to gauge the
extent of a hole, and, contemplating it, sighed again.

The studio was a vast room distempered in bluish grey, and Aline,
sitting solitary at the far end, in the line of a broad quivering beam
of light that streamed through a lofty window running the whole width
of the north-east side, looked like a little brown saint in a bare
conventual hall. For an ascetic simplicity was the studio’s key-note.
No curtains, draperies, screens, Japaneseries, no artistic scheme of
decoration, no rare toys of furniture filled the place with luxurious
inspiration. Here and there about the walls hung a sketch by a brother
artist; of his own unsold pictures and studies some were hung, others
stacked together on the floor. An old, rusty, leather drawing-room suite
distributed about the studio afforded sitting accommodation. There was
the big easel bearing the subject-picture on which he now was at work,
with a smaller easel carrying the study by its side. On the model-stand
a draped lay figure sprawled grotesquely. A long deal table was the
untidy home of piles of papers, books, colours, brushes, artistic
properties. A smaller table at the end where Aline sat was laid for
breakfast. It was one of Jimmie’s eccentricities to breakfast in the
studio. The dining-room for dinner--he yielded to the convention; for
lunch, perhaps; for breakfast, no. All his intimate life had been
passed in the studio; the prim little drawing-room he scarcely entered
half-a-dozen times in the year.

Aline was contemplating the hole in the sock when the door opened.
She sprang to her feet, advanced a step, and then halted with a little
exclamation.

“Oh, it’s you!”

“Yes. Are you disappointed?” asked the smiling youth who had appeared
instead of the expected Jimmie.

“I can get over it. How are you, Tony?”

Mr. Anthony Merewether gave her the superfluous assurance that he was in
good health. He had the pleasant boyish face and clean-limbed figure of
the young Englishman upon whom cares sit lightly. Aline resumed her work
demurely. The young man seated himself near by.

“How is Jimmie?”

“Whom are you calling ‘Jimmie’?” asked Aline. “Mr. Padgate, if you
please.”

“You call him Jimmie.”

“I’ve called him so ever since I could speak. I think it was one of the
first three words I learned. When you can say the same, you can call him
Jimmie.”

“Well, how is Mr. Padgate?” the snubbed youth asked with due humility.

“You can never tell how a man is before breakfast. Why are n’t you at
work?”

He bowed to her sagacity, and in answer to her question explained the
purport of his visit. He was going to spend the day sketching up the
river. Would she put on her hat and come with him?

“A fine lot of sketching you’d do, if I did,” said Aline.

The young man vowed with fervour that as soon as he had settled down to
a view he would work furiously and would not exchange a remark with her.

“Which would be very amusing for me,” retorted Aline. “No, I can’t come.
I’m far too busy. I’ve got to hunt up a model for the new picture.”

Tony leant back in his chair, dispirited, and began to protest. She
laughed at his woeful face, and half yielding, questioned him about
trains. He overwhelmed her with a rush of figures, then paused to give
her time to recover. His eyes wandered to the breakfast-table, where lay
Jimmie’s unopened correspondence. One letter lay apart from the others.
Tony took it up idly.

“Here’s a letter come to the wrong house.”

“No; it is quite right,” said Aline.

“Who is David Rendell, Esquire?”

“Mr. Rendell is a friend of Jimmie’s, I believe.”

“I have never heard of him. What’s he like?”

“I don’t know. Jimmie never speaks of him,” replied Aline.

“That’s odd.”

The young man threw the letter on the table and returned to the subject
of the outing. She must accompany him. He felt a perfect watercolour
working itself up within him. One of those dreamy bits of backwater. He
had a title for it already, “The Heart of Summer.” The difference her
presence in the punt would make to the picture would be that between
life and deadness.

The girl fluttered a shy, pleased glance at him. But she loved to tease;
besides, had she not but lately awakened to the sweet novelty of her
young womanhood?

“Perhaps Jimmie won’t let me go.”

Tony sprang to his feet. “Jimmie won’t let you go!” he exclaimed in
indignant echo. “Did he ever deny you a pleasure since you were born?”

Her eyes sparkled at his tribute to the adored one’s excellences.
“That’s just where it is, you see, Tony. His very goodness to me won’t
let me do things sometimes.”

The servant hurried in with the breakfast-tray and the news that the
master was coming down. Aline anxiously inspected the bacon. To her
relief it was freshly cooked. In a minute or two a voice humming an air
was heard outside, and Jimmie entered, smilingly content with existence.

“Hallo, Tony, what are you doing here, wasting the morning light? Have
some breakfast? Why haven’t you laid a place for him?”

Tony declined the invitation, and explained his presence. Jimmie rubbed
his hands.

“A day on the river! The very thing for Aline. It will do her good.”

“I did n’t say I was going, Jimmie.”

“Not going? Rubbish. Put on your things and be off at once.”

“How can I until I have given you your breakfast? And then there’s the
model--you would never be able to engage her by yourself. And you must
have her to-morrow.”

“I know I’m helpless, dear, but I can engage a model.”

“And waste your time. Besides, you won’t be able to find the address.”

“There are cab-horses, dear, with unerring instinct.”

“Your breakfast is getting cold, Jimmie,” said Aline, not condescending
to notice the outrage of her economic principles.

Eventually Jimmie had his way. Tony Merewether was summarily dismissed,
but bidden to return in an hour’s time, when Aline would be graciously
pleased to be ready. She poured out Jimmie’s coffee, and sat at the side
of the table, watching him eat. He turned to his letters, picked up the
one addressed to “David Rendell.” Aline noticed a shade of displeasure
cross his face.

“Who is Mr. Rendell, Jimmie?” asked Aline.

“A man I know, dear,” he replied, putting the envelope in his pocket. He
went on with his breakfast meditatively for a few moments, then opened
his other letters. He threw a couple of bills across the table. His face
had regained its serenity.

“See that these ill-mannered people are paid, Aline.”

“What with, dear?”

“Money, my child, money. What!” he exclaimed, noting a familiar
expression on her face. “Are we running short? Send them telegrams to
say we’ll pay next week. Something is bound to come in by then.”

“Mrs. Bullingdon ought to send the cheque for her portrait,” said Aline.

“Of course she will. And there’s something due from Hyam. What a thing
it is to have great expectations! Here’s one from Renshaw,” he said,
opening another letter. “‘Dear Padgate’--Dear Padgate!” He put his hands
on the table and looked across at Aline. “Now, what on earth can I have
done to offend him? I’ve been ‘Dear Jimmie’ for the last twelve years.”

Aline shook her young head pityingly. “Don’t you know yet that it is
always ‘Dear Padgate’ when they want to borrow money of you?”

Jimmie glanced at the letter and then across the table again.

“Dear me,” he said thoughtfully. “Your knowledge of the world at your
tender age is surprising. He does want money. Poor old chap! It is
really quite touching. ‘For the love of God lend me four pounds ten to
carry me on to the end of the quarter.’”

“That’s two months off. Mr. Renshaw will have to be more economical than
usual,” said Aline, drily. “I am afraid he drinks dreadfully, Jimmie.”

“Hush, dear!” he said, becoming grave. “A man’s infirmities are his
infirmities, and we are not called upon to be his judges. How much have
we in the house altogether?” he asked with a sudden return to his bright
manner.

“Ten pounds three and sixpence.”

“Why, that’s a fortune. Of course we can help Renshaw. Wire him his four
pounds ten when you go out.”

“But, Jimmie----” expostulated this royal person’s minister of finance.

“Do what I say, my dear,” said Jimmie, quietly.

That note in his voice always brought about instant submission, fetched
her down from heights of pitying protection to the prostrate humility
of a little girl saying “Yes, Jimmie,” as to a directing providence. She
did not know from which of the two positions, the height or the depth,
she loved him the more. As a matter of fact, the two ranges of emotion
were perfect complements one of the other, the sex in her finding
satisfaction of its two imperious cravings, to shelter and to worship.

The Renshaw incident was closed, locked up as it were in her heart by
the little snap of the “Yes, Jimmie.” One or two other letters were
discussed gaily. The last to be opened was a note from Mrs. Deering.
“Come to lunch on Sunday and bring Aline. I am asking your friend Norma
Hardacre.” Aline clapped her hands. She had been longing to see that
beautiful Miss Hardacre again. Of course Jimmie would go? He smiled.

“Another unconscious sitting for the portrait,” he said. His glance
wandered to a strainer that stood with its face to the wall, at a
further end of the room, and he became absent-minded. Lately he had been
dreaming a boy’s shadowy dreams, too sweet as yet for him to seek to
give them form in his waking hours. A warm touch on his hand brought him
back to diurnal things. It was the coffee-pot held by Aline.

“I have asked you twice if you would have more coffee,” she laughed.

“I suppose I’m the happiest being in existence,” he said irrelevantly.

Aline poured out the coffee. “You have n’t got much to make you happy,
poor dear!” she remarked, when the operation was concluded.

His retort was checked by a violent peal at the front door-bell and a
thundering knock.

“That’s Morland,” cried Jimmie. “He is like the day of doom--always
heralds his approach by an earthquake.”

Morland it was, in riding tweeds, a whip in his hand. He pointed an
upbraiding finger at the half-eaten breakfast. The sloth of these
painters! Aline flew to the loved one’s protection. Jimmie had not gone
to bed till four. The poor dear had to sleep.

“I did n’t get to bed till four, either,” said Morland, with the
healthy, sport-loving man’s contempt for people who require sleep, “but
I was up at eight and was riding in the Park at nine. Then I thought I’d
come up here. I’ve got some news for you.”

Aline escaped. Morland’s air of health and prosperity overpowered her.
She did not dare whisper detraction of him to Jimmie, in whose eyes he
was incomparable, but to Tony Merewether she had made known her wish
that he did not look always so provokingly clean, so eternally satisfied
with himself. All the colour of his mind had gone into his face, was her
uncharitable epigram. Aline, it will be observed, saw no advantage in a
tongue perpetually tipped with honey.

“What is your news?” asked Jimmie, as soon as they were alone.

“I have done it at last,” said Morland. “What?”

“Proposed. I’m engaged. I’m going to be married.” Jimmie’s honest face
beamed pleasure. He wrung Morland’s hand. The best news he had heard for
a long time. When had he taken the plunge into the pool of happiness?

“Last night.”

“And you have come straight to tell me? It is like you. I am touched, it
is good to know you carry me in your heart like that.”

Morland laughed. “My dear old Jimmie--”

“I am so glad. I never suspected anything of the kind. Well, she’s an
amazingly lucky young woman whoever she is. When can I have a timid peep
at the divinity?”

“Whenever you like--why, don’t you know who it is?”

“Lord, no, man; how should I?”

“It’s Norma Hardacre.”

“Norma Hardacre!” The echo came from Jimmie as from a hollow cave, and
was followed by a silence no less cavernous. The world was suddenly
reduced to an empty shell, black, meaningless.

“Yes,” said Morland, with a short laugh. He carefully selected, cut,
and lit a cigar, then turned his back and examined the half-finished
picture. He felt the Briton’s shamefacedness in the novelty of the
position of affianced lover. The echo that in Jimmie’s ears had sounded
so forlorn was to him a mere exclamation of surprise. His solicitude as
to the cigar and his inspection of the picture saved him by lucky chance
from seeing Jimmie’s face, which wore the blank, piteous look of a child
that has had its most cherished possession snatched out of its hand and
thrown into the fire. Such episodes in life cannot be measured by time
as it is reckoned in the physical universe. To Jimmie, standing amid the
chaos of his dreams, indefinite hours seemed to have passed since he had
spoken. For indefinite hours he seemed to grope towards reconstruction.
He lived intensely in the soul’s realm, where time is not, was swept
through infinite phases of emotion; finally awoke to a consciousness
of renunciation, full and generous. Perhaps a minute and a half had
elapsed. He crossed swiftly to Morland and clapped him on the shoulder.

“The woman among all women I could have wished for you.”

His voice quavered a little; but Morland, turning round, saw nothing in
Jimmie’s eyes but the honest gladness he had taken for granted he should
find there. The earnest scrutiny he missed. He laughed again.

“There are not many in London to touch her,” he said in his
self-satisfied way.

“Is there one?”

“You seem more royalist than--well, than Morland King,” said the happy
lover, chuckling at his joke. “I wish I had the artist’s command
of superlatives as you have, Jimmie. It would come in deuced handy
sometimes. Now if, for instance, you wanted to describe the reddest
thing that ever was, you would find some hyperbolic image for it,
whereas I could only say it was damned red. See what I mean?”

“It does n’t matter what you say, but what you feel,” said Jimmie.
“Perhaps we hyperbolic people fritter away emotions in the mere frenzy
of expressing them. The mute man often has deeper feelings.”

“Oh, I’m not going to set up as an unerupted volcano,” laughed Morland.
“I’m only the average man that has got the girl he has set his heart
on--and of course I think her in many ways a paragon, otherwise I should
n’t have set my heart on her. There are plenty to pick from, God knows.
And they let you know it too, by Jove. You’re lucky enough to live out
of what is called Society, so you can’t realise how they shy themselves
at you. Sometimes one has to be simply a brute and dump ‘em down hard.
That’s what I liked about Norma Hardacre. She required no dumping.”

“I should think not,” said Jimmie. “There’s one thing that pleases me
immensely,” Morland remarked, “and that is the fancy she has taken for
you. It’s genuine. I’ve never heard her talk of any one else as she does
of you. She is not given to gush, as you may have observed.”

“It’s a very deep pleasure to me to hear it,” said Jimmie, looking
bravely in the eyes of the happy man. “My opinion of Miss Hardacre I
have told you already.”

Morland waved his cigar as a sign of acceptance of the tribute to the
lady.

“I was thinking of myself,” he said. “There are a good many men I shall
have to drop more or less when I’m married. Norma would n’t have ‘em
in the house. There are others that will have to be on probation. Now I
shouldn’t have liked you to be on probation--to run the risk of my
wife not approving of you--caring to see you--you know what I mean. But
you’re different from anybody else, Jimmie. I’m not given to talking
sentiment--but we’ve grown up together--and somehow, in spite of our
being thrown in different worlds, you have got to be a part of my life.
There!” he concluded with a sigh of relief, putting on his hat and
holding out his hand, “I’ve said it!”

The brightening of Jimmie’s eyes gave token of a heart keenly touched.
Deeply rooted indeed must be the affection that could have impelled
Morland to so unusual a demonstration of feeling. His nature was as
responsive as a harp set in the wind. His counterpart in woman would
have felt the tears well into her eyes. A man is allowed but a breath, a
moisture, that makes the eyes bright. Morland had said the final word of
sentiment; equally, utterly true of himself. Morland was equally a part
of his life. It were folly to discuss the reasons. Loyal friendships
between men are often the divinest of paradoxes.

The touch upon Jimmie’s heart was magnetic. It soothed pain. It set free
a flood of generous emotion, even thanksgiving that he was thus allowed
vicarious joy in infinite perfections. It was vouchsafed him to be happy
in the happiness of two dear to him. This much he said to Morland, with
what intensity of meaning the fortunate lover was a myriad leagues from
suspecting.

“I’ll see you safely mounted,” said Jimmie, opening the studio door.
Then suddenly like a cold wind a memory buffeted him. He shut the door
again.

“I forgot. I have a letter for you. It came this morning.”

Morland took the letter addressed to “David Rendell” which Jimmie drew
from his pocket, and uttered an angry exclamation.

“I thought this infernal business was over and done with.”

He tore open the envelope, read the contents, then tilted his hat to
the back of his head, and sitting down on one of the dilapidated
straight-backed chairs of the leather suite, looked at Jimmie in
great perplexity. In justice to the man it must be said that anger had
vanished.

“I suppose you know what these letters mean that you have been taking in
for me?”

“I have never permitted myself to speculate,” said Jimmie. “You asked me
to do you a very great service. It was a little one. You are not a man
to do anything dishonourable. I concluded you had your reasons, which it
would have been impertinent of me to inquire into.”

“It’s the usual thing,” said Morland, with a self-incriminatory shrug. “A
girl.”

“A love affair was obvious.”

Morland spat out an exclamation of impatient disgust for himself and
rose to his feet.

“Heaven knows how it began--she was poor and lonely--almost a lady--and
she had beauty and manners and that sort of thing above her class.”

“They always have,” said Jimmie, with a pained expression. “You need n’t
tell me the story. It’s about the miserablest on God’s earth, is n’t it
now?”

“I suppose so. Upon my soul, I’m not a beast, Jimmie!”

The unwonted rarefied air of sentiment that he had been breathing for
the last twelve hours had, as it were, intoxicated him. Had the letter
reached him the day before, he would have left the story connected
with it in the cold-storage depository where men are wont to keep such
things. No one would have dreamed of its existence. But now he felt an
exaggerated remorse, a craving for confession, and yet he made the naked
remorseful human’s instinctive clutch at palliatives.

“Upon my soul, I’m not a beast, Jimmie. I swear I loved her at first.
You know what it is. You yourself loved a little girl in Paris--you told
me about it--did n’t you?”

Jimmie set his teeth, and said, “Yes.”

Morland went on.

“Some women have ways with them, you know. They turn you into one of
those toy thermometers--you hold the bulb, and the spirit in it rises
and bubbles. She got hold of me that way--I bubbled, I suppose--it
was n’t her fault, she was sweet and innocent. It was her nature. You
artistic people call the damned thing a temperament, I believe. Anyhow
I was in earnest at the beginning. Then--one always does--I found it was
only a passing fancy.”

“And like a passing cab it has splashed you with mud. How does the
matter stand now?”

“Read this,” said Morland, handing him the letter.

“Dearest,” it ran, “the time is coming when you can be very good to me.
Jenny.” That was all. Jimmie, holding the paper in front of him, looked
up distressfully at Morland.

“‘The time is coming when you can be very good to me.’ How confoundedly
pathetic! Poor little girl! Oh, damn it, Morland, you are going to be
good to her, are n’t you?”

“I’ll do all I can. Of course I’ll do all I can. I tell you I’m not a
beast. Heaps of other men would n’t care a hang about it. They would
tell her to go to the devil. I’m not that’ sort.”

“I know you’re not,” said Jimmie.

Morland lit another cigar with the air of a man whose virtues deserve
some reward.

“The letter can only have one interpretation. Have you known of it?”

“Never dreamed of it.”

“Was there any question of marriage?”

“None whatever. Difference of position and all the rest of it. She quite
understood. In fact, it was like your Quartier Latin affair.”

Jimmie winced. “It was n’t the Quartier Latin--and I was going to marry
her--only she died before--oh, don’t mind me, Morland. What’s going to
be done now?” Morland shrugged his shoulders again, having palliated
himself into a more normal condition. His conscience, to speak by the
book, was clothed and in its right mind.

“It’s infernally hard lines it should come just at this time. You see,
I’ve heaps of things to think about. My position--Parliament--I’m going
to contest Cosford in the autumn. If the constituency gets hold of any
scandal, I’m ruined. You know the Alpine heights of morality of a
British constituency--and there’s always some moral scavenger about. And
then there’s Norma--”

“Yes, there’s Norma,” said Jimmie, seriously.

“It’s unpleasant, you see. If she should know--”

“It would break her heart,” said Jimmie.

Morland started and looked at Jimmie stupidly, his mental faculties
for the second paralysed, incapable of grappling with the idea. Was it
scathing sarcasm or sheer idiocy? Recovering his wits, he realised
that Jimmie was whole-heartedly, childishly sincere. With an effort he
controlled a rebellious risible muscle at the corner of his lip.

“It would give her great pain,” he said in grave acquiescence.

“It’s a miserable business,” said Jimmie.

Morland paced the studio. Suddenly he stopped.

“Should there be any unpleasantness over this, can I rely on your help
to pull me through?”

“You know you can,” said Jimmie.

Morland looked relieved.

“May I write a note?”

Jimmie pointed to a corner of the long deal table.

“You’ll find over there all the materials for mending a broken
butterfly,” he said sadly.



Chapter VI--THE LOVERS

PROUD in the make-believe that he was a fashionable groom, the loafer
holding Morland’s horse touched his ragged hat smartly at his temporary
master’s approach.

“Give him something, Jimmie; I have n’t any change,” cried Morland. He
mounted and rode away, debonair, with a wave of farewell. Jimmie drew
from his pocket the first coin to hand, a florin, and gave it to the
loafer, who came down forthwith from his dreams of high estate to
commonplace earth, and after the manner of his class adjured the Deity
to love the munificent gentleman. The two shillings would bring gladness
into the hearts of his sick wife and starving children. Subject to the
attestation of the Deity, he put forward as a truth the statement that
they had not eaten food for a week. He himself was a hard-working man,
but the profession of holding horses in the quiet roads of St. John’s
Wood was not lucrative.

“You’re telling me lies, I’m afraid,” said Jimmie, “but you look
miserable enough to say anything. Here!” He gave him two more shillings.
The loafer thanked him and made a bee-line for the nearest public-house,
while Jimmie, forgetting for the moment the pitiable aspect that poor
humanity sometimes wears in the persons of the lowly, watched Morland’s
well-set-up figure disappear at the turn of the road. There was no sign
of black care sitting behind that rider. It perched instead on Jimmie’s
shoulders, and there stayed for the rest of the day. In spite of his
staunch trust in Morland’s honour and uprightness, he found it hard to
condone the fault. The parallel which Morland had not too ingenuously
drawn with the far-away passionate episode in his own life had not
seemed just. He had winced, wondered at the failure in tact, rebelled
against the desecration of a memory so exquisitely sad. The moment after
he had forgiven the blundering friend and opened his heart again to
pity. He was no strict moralist, turning his head sanctimoniously aside
at the sight of unwedded lovers. His heart was too big and generous.
But between the romance of illicit love and the commonplace of vulgar
seduction stretched an immeasurable distance. The words of the pathetic
note, however, lingering in his mind, brought with them a redeeming
fragrance. They conjured up the picture of sweet womanhood. They hinted
no reproach; merely a trust which was expected to be fulfilled. To her
Morland was the honourable gentleman all knew; he had promised nothing
that he had not performed, that he would not perform. All day long, as
he sat before his easel, mechanically copying folds of drapery from the
lay figure on the platform, Jimmie strove to exonerate his friend from
the baser fault, and to raise the poor love affair to a plane touched by
diviner rays. But the black care still sat upon his shoulders.

The next morning he rose earlier than usual, and sought Morland at his
house in Sussex Gardens. He found him eating an untroubled breakfast.
Silver dishes, tray, and service were before him. A great flower-stand
filled with Maréchal Niel roses stood in the centre of the table. Fine
pictures hung round the walls. Rare china, old oak chairs, and sideboard
bright with silver bowls--all the harmonious and soothing luxury of a
rich man’s dining-room, gave the impression of ease, of a life apart
from petty cares, petty vices, petty ambitions. A thick carpet sheltered
the ears from the creaking footsteps of indiscretion. Awnings before the
open windows screened the too impertinent light of the morning sun. And
the face and bearing of the owner of the room were in harmony with its
atmosphere. Jimmie reproached himself for the doubts that had caused
his visit. Morland laughed at them. Had he not twice or thrice declared
himself not a beast? Surely Jimmie must trust his oldest friend to have
conducted himself honourably. There was never question of marriage.
There had been no seduction. Could n’t he understand? They had parted
amicably some three months ago, each a little disillusioned. Morland was
generous enough to strip a man’s vanity from himself and stand confessed
as one of whom a superior woman had grown tired. The new development of
the affair revealed yesterday had, he repeated, come upon him like
an unexpected lash. The irony of it, too, in the first flush of his
engagement! Naturally he was remorseful; naturally he would do all that
a man of honour could under the circumstances.

“More is not expected and not wanted. On my word of honour,” said
Morland.

He had been upset, he continued smilingly. The consequences might be
serious--to himself, not so much to Jenny. There were complications
in the matter that might be tightened--not by Jenny--into a devil of
a tangle. Had he not pleaded special urgency when he had first asked
Jimmie to take in the letters under a false name’? It might be a devil
of a tangle, he repeated.

“But till that happens--and please God it may never happen--we may
dismiss the whole thing from our minds,” said Morland, reassuringly.
“Jenny will want for nothing, and want nothing. Do you think if there
were any melodramatic villainy on my conscience I would go and engage
myself to marry Norma Hardacre?”

This was the final argument that sent the black care, desperately
clinging with the points of its claws, into infinite space. Jimmie
smiled again. Morland waved away the uncongenial topic and called for a
small bottle of champagne on ice. A glass apiece, he said, to toast the
engagement. Rightly, champagne was the wine of the morning.

“It is the morning sunshine itself distilled,” said Jimmie, lifting up
his glass.

He went home on the top of an omnibus greatly cheered, convinced that,
whatever had happened, Morland had done no grievous wrong. When Aline
went to the studio to summon him to lunch, she found him busy upon the
sketch portrait of Norma, and humming a tune--a habit of his when work
was proceeding happily under his fingers. She looked over his shoulder
critically.

“That’s very good,” she condescended to remark. “Now that Miss Hardacre
is engaged to Mr. King, why don’t you ask her to come and sit?”

“Do you think it’s a good likeness?” he asked, leaning back and
regarding the picture.

“It is the best likeness you have ever got in a portrait,” replied
Aline, truthfully.

“Then, wisest of infants, what reason could I have for asking Miss
Hardacre to sit? Besides, I don’t want her to know anything about it.”

Aline glowed with inspiration. Why should things the most distantly
connected with somebody else’s marriage so exhilarate the female heart?

“Is it going to be a wedding present, Jimmie?”

“It is a study in indiscretion, my child,” he replied enigmatically.

“You are perfectly horrid.”

“I suppose I am,” he admitted, looking at the portrait with some
wistfulness. “Ugly as sin, and with as much manners as a kangaroo
=--does your feminine wisdom think a woman could ever fall in love with
me?”

She touched caressingly the top of his head where the hair was thinning,
and her feminine wisdom made this astounding answer:

“Why, you are too old, Jimmie dear.”

Too old! He turned and regarded her for a moment in rueful wonder.
Absurd though it was, the statement gave him a shock. He was barely
forty, and here was this full-grown, demure, smiling young woman telling
him he was too old for any of her sex to trouble their heads about him.
His forlorn aspect brought a rush of colour to the girl’s cheeks. She
put her arms round his neck.

“Oh, Jimmie, I have hurt you. I’m sorry. I’m a silly little goose. It’s
a wonder that every woman on earth is n’t in love with you.”

“That is the tone of exaggerated affection, but not of conviction,” he
said. “I am the masculine of what in a woman is termed _passée_. I might
gain the esteem of a person of the opposite sex elderly like myself, but
my gallant exterior can no longer inspire a romantic passion. My day is
over. No, you have not hurt me. The sword of truth pierces, but it does
not hurt.”

Then he broke into his good, sunny laughter, and rose and put his arm
with rough tenderness round her shoulder, as he had done ever since she
could walk.

“You are the youngest thing I have come across for a long time.”

Aline, as she nestled up against him on their way out of the studio, was
thus impressed with a salutary consciousness of her extreme youth.
But this in itself magnified Jimmie’s age. She loved him with a pure
passionate tenderness; no one, she thought, could know him without
loving him; but her ideal of the hero of romance for whom fair ladies
pined away in despairing secret was far different. She was too young
as yet, too little versed in the signs by which the human heart can
be read, to suspect what his playful question implied of sadness,
hopelessness, renunciation.

On Sunday they lunched with Connie Deering. Morland and Norma and old
Colonel Pawley, an ancient acquaintance of every one, were the only
other guests. It was almost a family party, cried Connie, gaily; and it
had been an inspiration, seeing that the invitations had been sent out
before the engagement had taken place. Jimmie and Aline, being the first
arrivals, had their hostess to themselves for a few moments.

“They both think it bad form to show a sign of it, but they are awfully
gone upon each other,” Connie said. “So you must n’t judge Norma by what
she says. All girls like to appear cynical nowadays. It’s the fashion.
But they fall in love in the same silly way, just as they used to.”

“I am glad to hear they are fond of one another,” said Jimmie. “The
deeper their love the happier I shall be.”

The little lady looked at him for a second out of the corner of her eye.

“What an odd thing to say!”

“It ought to be a commonplace thing to feel.”

“In the happiness of others there is always something that is pleasing.
By giving him the lie like that you will make poor Rochefoucauld turn in
his grave.”

“He ought to be kept revolving like Ixion,” said Jimmie. “His maxims are
the Beatitudes of Hell.”

He laughed off the too trenchant edge of his epigram, qualifying it in
his kind way. After all, you must n’t take your cynic too literally. No
doubt a kindly heart beats in the ducal bosom.

“I should like to know your real opinion of the devil,” laughed Mrs.
Deering.

The opportunity for so doing was lost for the moment. The lovers
entered, having driven together from the Park. At the sight of Norma,
Aline twitched Jimmie’s arm with a little gasp of admiration and
Jimmie’s breath came faster. He had not seen her hitherto quite so
coldly, radiantly beautiful. Perhaps it was the great white hat she
wore, a mystery of millinery, chiffon and roses and feathers melting
one with the other into an effect of broad simplicity, that formed an
unsanctified but alluring halo to a queenly head. Perhaps it was the
elaborately simple cream dress, open-worked at neck and arms, that
moulded her ripe figure into especial stateliness. Perhaps, thought
poor Jimmie, it was the proud loveliness into which love was wont to
transfigure princesses.

She received Connie’s kiss and outpouring of welcome with her usual
mocking smile. “If you offer me congratulations, I shall go away,
Connie. I have been smirking for the last hour and a half. We were so
exhausted by playing the sentimental idiots that we did n’t exchange a
word on our way here; though I believe Morland likes it. We saw those
dreadful Fry-Robertsons bearing down upon us. He actually dragged me up
to meet them, as who should say ‘Let us go up and get congratulated.’”

“I don’t see why I should hide my luck under a bushel,” laughed Morland.

“Thank you for the compliment,” said Norma. “But if you won at Monte
Carlo you would n’t pin the banknotes all over your coat and strut about
the street. By the way, Connie, we’re late. Need we apologise?”

“You’re not the last. Colonel Pawley is coming.”

“Oh dear! that old man radiates boredom. How can you stand him, Connie?”

“He’s the sweetest thing on earth,” said her hostess.

Norma laughed a little contemptuously and came forward to greet Aline
and Jimmie. As she did so, her face softened. Jimmie, drawing her aside,
offered his best wishes.

“The happiness of a man whom I have loved like a brother all my life
can’t be indifferent to me. On that account you must forgive my speaking
warmly. May you be very happy.”

“I shall be happy in having such a champion of my husband for a
brother-in-law,” said Norma, lightly.

“A loyal friend of your own, if you will,” said Jimmie.

There was a short pause. Norma ran the tip of her gloved finger down the
leaf of a plant on a stand. They were by the window. A vibration in his
voice vaguely troubled her.

“What do you really mean by ‘loyal’?” she said at last, without looking
at him.

“The word has but one meaning. If I tried to explain further, I should
only appear to be floundering in fatuity.”

“I believe you are the kind that would stick to a woman through thick
and thin, through good repute and ill repute. That’s what you mean. Only
you don’t like to hint that I might at any time become disreputable. I
may. All things are possible in this world.”

“Not that,” said Jimmie. “Perhaps I was unconsciously pleading for
myself. Say you are a queen in your palace. While humbly soliciting
a position in your household, I somewhat grandiloquently submit my
qualifications.”

“What’s all this about?” asked Morland, coming up, having overheard the
last sentence.

“I am pleading for a modest position in Her Majesty’s Household,” said
Jimmie.

“We’ll fit him up with cap and bells,” laughed Morland, “and make him
chief jester, and give him a bladder to whack us over the head with.
He’s fond of doing that when we misbehave ourselves. Then he can get us
out of our scrapes, like the fellow in Dumas--what’s his name--Chicot,
was n’t it?”

Pleased with his jest, he turned to acquaint Connie with Jimmie’s new
dignity. Both the jest and the laugh that greeted it jarred upon Norma.
Jimmie said to her good-humouredly:

“I might be Chicot, the loyal friend, without the cap and bells. I am a
dull dog.”

She looked out of the window and laughed somewhat bitterly.

“I think you are a great deal too good to have anything to do with any
of us.”

“It pleases you to talk arrant nonsense,” said he.

Luncheon was announced. At table Jimmie and Norma were neighbours. Aline
sat between Morland, who was next to Norma, and old Colonel Pawley. As
the latter at first talked to Mrs. Deering, Aline and Morland carried
on a frigid conversation. They had never been friends. To Morland,
naturally, she was merely a little girl of no account, who had often
been annoyingly in the way when he wanted to converse with Jimmie; and
Aline, with a little girl’s keen intuition, had divined more of his real
character than she was aware of, and disliked and distrusted him. Like
a well-brought-up young lady she answered “yes” and “no” politely to
his remarks, but started no fresh topic. At last, to her relief, Colonel
Pawley rescued her from embarrassed silence. To him she had extended
her favour. He was a short fat man, with soft hands and a curious soft
purring voice, and the air rather of a comfortable old lady than of
a warrior who had retired on well-merited laurels. He occupied his
plentiful leisure by painting on silk, which he made into fans for
innumerable lady acquaintances. In his coat-tail pocket invariably
reposed a dainty volume bound in crushed morocco--a copy of little
poems of his own composition--and this, when he was in company with a
sympathetic feminine soul, he would abstract with apoplectic wheezing
and bashfully present. He also played little tunes on the harp. Aline,
with the irreverence of youth, treated him as a kind of human toy.

His first word roused the girl’s spontaneous gaiety. She bubbled over
with banter. The mild old warrior chuckled with her, threw himself
unreservedly into the childish play. Connie whispered to Jimmie:

“I should like to tie a bit of blue ribbon round his neck and turn him
loose in a meadow. I am sure he would frisk.”

Morland exchanged casual remarks with Norma. She answered absently. The
change in Aline from the unsmiling primness wherewith Morland’s society
had cloaked her to sunny merriment with Colonel Pawley was too marked to
escape her attention. In spite of the ludicrousness of the comparison,
she could not help perceiving that the old man who radiated boredom
had a quality of charm unpossessed by Morland, and she felt absurdly
disappointed with her lover. During the last few days she had made
up her mind to like him. Sober forecast of a lifetime spent in the
inevitable intimacy of marriage had forced her to several conclusions.
One, that it was essential to daily comfort that a woman should find the
personality of a husband pleasing rather than antipathetic. With more
ingenuousness than the world would have put to her credit, she had
set herself deliberately to attain this essential ideal. The natural
consequence was a sharply critical attitude and a quickly developing
sensitiveness, whereby, as in a balance of great nicety, the minor
evidences of his character were continually being estimated. Thus,
Morland’s jest before luncheon had jarred upon her. His careless air
of patronage had betrayed a lack of appreciation of something--the word
“spiritual” was not in her vocabulary, or she might have used it--of
something, at all events, in his friend which differentiated him from
the casual artist and which she herself had, not without discomfort,
divined at their first meeting. The remark had appeared to her in bad
taste. Still ruffled, she became all the more critical, and noted with
displeasure his failure to have won a child’s esteem. And yet she felt
a touch of resentment against Jimmie for being the innocent cause of her
discomposure. It gave rise to a little feline impulse to scratch him and
see whether he were not mortal like every one else.

“Do you ever exhibit at the Royal Academy?” she asked suddenly.

“They won’t have me,” said he. “But you send in, don’t you?”

“With heart-breaking regularity. They did have me once.” He sighed. “But
that was many years ago, when the Academy was young and foolish.”

“I have heard they are exceedingly conservative,” said Norma, with the
claws still unsheathed. “Perhaps you work on too original lines.”

But she could draw from him no expression of vanity. He smiled. “I
suppose they don’t think my pictures good enough,” he said simply.

“Jimmie’s work is far too good for that wretched Academy,” said Connie
Deering. “The pictures there always give you a headache. Jimmie’s never
do.”

“I should like to kill the Academy,” Aline broke in sharply, on the
brink of tears. A little tragedy of murdered hopes lurked in her tone.
Then, seeing that she had caused a startled silence, she reddened and
looked at her plate. Jimmie laughed outright.

“Is n’t she bloodthirsty? All the seventy of them weltering in their
gore! Only the other day she said she would like to slaughter the whole
Chinese Empire, because they ate puppies and birds’-nests!”

Connie chimed a frivolous remark in tune with Jimmie. Morland, as
befitted a coming statesman, took up the parable of the march westwards
of the yellow races. Colonel Pawley, who had been through the Taeping
rebellion, was appealed to as an authority on the development of the
Chinaman. He almost blushed, wriggled uncomfortably, and as soon as he
could brought the conversation to the milder topic of Chinese teacups.
Successful, he sighed with relief and told Aline the story of the willow
pattern. The Royal Academy was forgotten. But Norma felt guilty and
ashamed.

Nor was she set more at ease with herself by a careless remark of
Morland’s as Connie’s front door closed behind them an hour or so later.

“I am afraid you rather rubbed it into poor old Jimmie about the
Academy. The little girl looked as if she would like to fly at you. She
is a spoiled little cat.”

“I have noticed she does n’t seem to like you,” answered Norma, sourly.

The drive as far as Grosvenor Place, where Norma proposed to pay a
solitary call, was not as pleasant as he had anticipated. He parted from
her somewhat resentful of an irritable mood, and walked back towards
Sussex Gardens through the Park, reviling the capriciousness of woman.



Chapter VII--A MAD PROPHET

A VIOLENT man, pallid and perspiring, with crazy dark eyes and a
voice hoarse from the effort to make himself heard above the noise of
a hymn-singing group a few yards to the right and of a brazen-throated
atheist on the left, was delivering his soul of its message to
mankind--a confused, disconnected, oft-delivered message, so
inconsequent as to suggest that it had been worn into shreds and tatters
of catch-phrases by process of over-delivery, yet uttered with the
passion of one inspired with a new and amazing gospel.

“I am speaking to you, the working-men, the proletariat, the downtrodden
slaves of the plutocracy, the creators in darkness of the wealth that
the idlers enjoy in dazzling halls of brightness. I do not address the
bourgeoisie rotting in sloth and apathy. They are the parasites of the
rich. They sweat the workers in order to pander to the vices of the
rich. They despise the poor and grovel before the rich. They shrink from
touching the poor man’s hand, but they offer their bodies slavishly to
the kick of the rich man’s foot. It is not in their hands, but in yours,
brother toilers and brother sufferers, that lies the glorious work
of the great social revolution whose sun just rising is tipping the
mountain-tops with its radiant promise of an immortal day. It is
against them and not with them that you have to struggle. In that day
of Armageddon you will find all tailordom, all grocerdom, all
apothecarydom, all attorneydom arrayed in serried ranks around the
accursed standards of plutocracy, of aristocracy, of bureaucracy. Beware
of them. Have naught to do with them on peril of your salvation. The
great social revolution will come not from above, but from below, from
the depths. _De profundis clamavi!_

“From the depths have I cried, O Lord!” He paused, wiped his forehead,
cleared his throat, and went on in the same strain, indifferent to
ribald interjections and the Sunday apathy of his casual audience. The
mere size of the crowd he was addressing seemed to satisfy him. The
number was above the average. A few working-men in the inner ring drank
in the wild utterances with pathetic thirst. The majority listened, half
amused, half attracted by the personality of the speaker. A great many
were captivated by the sonority of the words, the unfaltering roll of
the sentences, the vague associations and impressions called up by
the successive images. It is astonishing what little account our
sociological writers take of the elementary nature of the minds of the
masses; how easily they are amused; how readily they are imposed upon;
how little they are capable of analytical thought; at the same time, how
intellectually vain they are, which is their undoing. The ineptitudes
of the music hall which make the judicious grieve--the satirical
presentment, for instance, of the modern fop, which does not contain
one single salient characteristic of the type, which is the blatant
convention of fifty years back--are greeted with roars of unintelligent
laughter. Books are written, vulgar, fallacious, with a specious
semblance of philosophical profundity, and sell by the hundred thousand.
The masses read their without thought, without even common intelligence.
It is too great an intellectual effort to grasp the ideas so
disingenuously presented; but the readers can understand just enough
to perceive vaguely that they are in touch with the deeper questions of
philosophy, and through sheer vanity delude themselves into the belief
that they are vastly superior people in being able to find pleasure
in literature of such high quality. And the word Mesopotamia is still
blessed in their ears. Nothing but considerations such as these can
explain the popularity of some of the well-known Sunday orators in Hyde
Park. The conductors of the various properly organised mission services
belong naturally to a different category. It is the socialist, the
revivalist, the atheist, the man whose blood and breath seem to have
turned into inexhaustible verbiage, that present the problem.

Some such reflections forced themselves into the not uncharitable mind
of Jimmie as he stood on the outer fringe of the pallid man’s audience
and listened wonderingly to the inspired nonsense. He had left a
delighted Aline to be taken by Colonel Pawley to the Zoological Gardens,
and had strolled down from Bryanston Square to the north side of the
Park. To lounge pleasantly on a Sunday afternoon from group to group
had always been a favourite Sunday pastime, and the pallid man was a
familiar figure. Jimmie had often thought of painting him as the central
character of some historical picture--an expectorated Jonah crying to
Nineveh, or a Flagellant in the time of the plague, with foaming
mouth and bleeding body, calling upon the stricken city to repent. His
artist’s vision could see the hairy, haggard, muscular anatomy beneath
the man’s rusty black garments. He could make a capital picture out of
him.

The man paused only for a few seconds, and again took up his
parable--the battle of the poor and the rich. The flow of words
poured forth, platitude on platitude, in turbid flood, sound and fury
signifying elusively, sometimes the collectivist doctrine, at others the
mere _sans-culotte_ hatred of the aristocrat. Jimmie, speculating on
the impression made by the oratory on the minds of the audience, moved
slightly apart from the crowd. His glance wandering away took in Morland
on his way home, walking sedately on the path towards the Marble Arch.
He ran across the few yards of intervening space and accosted his friend
gaily.

“Come and have a lesson in public speaking, and at the same time hear
the other side of the political question.”

“What! go and stand among that rabble?” cried Morland, aghast.

“You’ll have to stand among worse, so you had better get used to it.
Besides, the man is a delightful fellow, with a face like Habakkuk,
capable of everything. To hear him one would think he were erupting
red-hot lava, whereas really it is molten omelette. Come. Your purple
and fine linen will be a red rag to him.”

Laughing, he dragged the protesting Morland within earshot of the
speaker. Morland listened superciliously for a few moments.

“What possible amusement can you find in this drivel?” he asked.

“It is so devilish pathetic,” said Jimmie, “so human--the infinite
aspiration and the futile accomplishment. Listen.”

The hymn next door had ceased, the atheist was hunting up a reference,
and the words of the pallid man’s peroration resounded startlingly in
the temporary silence:

“In that day when the sovereign people’s will is law, when the
weakest and the strongest shall share alike in the plenteous bounty of
Providence, no longer shall the poor be mangled beneath the Juggernaut
car of wealth, no longer shall your daughters be bound to the rich man’s
chariot-wheels and whirled shrieking into an infamy worse than death, no
longer shall the poor man’s soul burn with hell fire at the rich man’s
desecration of the once pure woman that he loves, no more rottenness,
foulness, stench, iniquity, but the earth shall rest in purity, securely
folded in the angel wings of peace!”

He waved his arms in a gesture of dismissal, turned his back on the
crowd, and sat down exhausted on the little wooden bench that had been
his platform. The crowd gradually moved away, some laughing idly, others
reflectively chewing the cud of their Barmecide meal. Morland pointed a
gold-mounted cane at the late speaker.

“Who and what is this particular brand of damned fool?” Jimmie checked
with a glance a working-man who had issued from the inner ring and was
passing by, and translated Morland’s question into soberer English.

“Him?” replied the working-man. “That’s Daniel Stone, sir. Some people
say he’s cracked, but he always has something good to say and I like
listening to him.”

“What does he do when he is n’t talking?” asked Jimmie. “Snatches a nap
and a mouthful of food, I should say, sir,” said the man, with a
laugh. He caught Jimmie’s responsive smile, touched his cap, like the
downtrodden slave that he was, and went on his way. Jimmie glanced round
for Morland and saw him striding off rapidly. He ran after him.

“What is the hurry?”

“That damned man--”

“Which? The one I was talking to? You surely did n’t object--?”

“Of course not. The other--Daniel Stone--”

“Well, what of him?”

“He’s a dangerous lunatic. I have heard of him. Why the devil did you
want me to make an exhibition of myself among this scum?”

Jimmie stared. Morland broke into a laugh and held out his hand.
“Never mind. The beast got on my nerves with his chariot wheels and his
desecration of maidens and the rest of it. I must be off. Good-bye.”

Jimmie watched him disappear through the gate and turned back towards
the groups. The pallid man was still sitting on his bench; a few
children hung round and scanned him idly. Presently he rose and tucked
his bench under his arm, and walked slowly away from the scene of his
oratory. His burning eyes fixed themselves on Jimmie as he passed by.
Jimmie accosted him.

“I have been greatly interested in your address.”

“I saw you with another of the enemies of mankind. You are a gentleman,
I suppose?”

“I hope so,” said Jimmie, smiling.

“Then I have nothing to do with you,” retorted the man, with an angry
gesture. “I hate you and all your class.”

“But what have we done to you?”

“You have turned my blood into gall and my soul into consuming fire.”

“Let us get out of the dust and sit down under a tree and talk it over.
We may get to understand each other.”

“I have no wish to understand you,” said the man, coldly. “Good-day to
you.”

“Good-day,” said Jimmie, with a smile. “I am sorry you will not let us
be better acquainted.”

He turned to the next group, who were listening to a disproof of God’s
existence. But the atheist was a commonplace thunderer in a bowler
hat, whose utterances fell tame on Jimmie’s ears after those of
the haggard-eyed prophet. He wandered away from the crowd, striking
diagonally across the Park, and when he found comparative shade and
solitude, cast himself on the grass beneath a tree. The personality of
Daniel Stone interested him. He began to speculate on his daily life,
his history. Why should he have vowed undying hatred against his social
superiors? He reminded Jimmie of a character in fiction, and after some
groping the association was recalled. It was the monk in Dumas, the son
of Miladi. He wove an idle romance about the man. Perhaps Stone was
the disinherited of noble blood, thirsting for a senseless vengeance.
Gradually the drowsiness of deep June fell upon him. He went fast
asleep, and when he awoke half an hour afterwards and began to walk
homewards, he thought no more of Daniel Stone.

But on following Sunday afternoons he frequently stood for a while
to listen to the man. It was always the same tale--sound and fury,
signifying nothing. On one occasion he caught Jimmie’s eye, and
denounced him vehemently as an enemy of society. After that, Jimmie,
who was of a peaceful disposition, ceased attending his lectures. He
sympathised with Morland.



Chapter VIII--HER SERENE HIGHNESS

A PRETTY quarrel between a princess and a duchess gave rise to
circumstances in which the destiny of Jimmie was determined, or in
which, to speak with modern metaphor, the germ of his destiny found the
necessary conditions for development. Had it not been for this quarrel,
Jimmie would not have stayed at the Hardacres house; and had he not
been their guest, the events hereafter to be recorded would not have
happened. Such concatenation is there in the scheme of human affairs.

The Duchess of Wiltshire was a mighty personage in the Hardacres’ part
of the county. She made social laws and abrogated them. She gave and she
took away the brevet of county rank. She made and unmade marriages. To
fall under the ban of her displeasure was to be disgraced indeed. She
held a double sway in that the duke, her husband, had delegated to her
his authority in sublunary matters, he being a severe mathematician and
a dry astronomer, who looked at the world out of dull eyes, and regarded
it with indifference as a mass of indistinguishable atoms forming a
nebula, a sort of Milky Way, concerning which philosophic minds had from
time to time theorised. He lived icily remote from society; the duchess,
on the contrary, was warmly interested in its doings. In the county she
reigned absolute; but in London, recognising the fact that there
were other duchesses scattered about Mayfair and Belgravia, she was
high-minded enough to modify her claims to despotic government. She felt
it, however, her duty to decree that her last reception should mark the
end of the London season.

To this reception the Hardacres were always invited.

In previous years they had mounted the great staircase of Wiltshire
House, their names had been called out, the duchess had given them the
tips of her fingers, and the duke, tall, white-haired, ascetic, had let
them touch his hand with the air of a man absently watching ants crawl
over him; they had passed on, mixed with the crowd, and seen their
host and hostess no more. But this year, to Mrs. Hardacre’s thrilling
delight, the duchess gave her quite a friendly squeeze, smiled her
entire approbation of Mrs. Hardacre’s existence, and detained her for a
moment in conversation.

“Don’t forget to come and have a little talk with me later. I have n’t
seen you since dear Norma’s engagement.”

To dear Norma she was equally urbane, called her a lucky girl, and
presented her as a bride-elect to the duke, who murmured a vague formula
of congratulation which he had remembered from early terrestrial days.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, Norma!” said Mrs. Hardacre,
with a lump in her throat, as they passed on. “The dear duchess! I
wonder if I am sufficiently grateful to Providence.”

Norma, although in her heart pleased by the manifestation of ducal
favour, could not let the opportunity for a taunt pass by.

“You can refer to it in your prayers, mother: ‘O God, I thank Thee for
shedding Her Grace upon me.’ Won’t that do, father.”

“Eh, what?” asked Mr. Hardacre, very red in the face, trailing half a
pace behind his wife and daughter.

Norma repeated her form of Thanksgiving.

“Ha! ha! Devilish good! Tell that in the club,” he said in high
good-humour. His wife’s glance suddenly withered him.

“I don’t approve of blasphemy,” she said.

“Towards whom, mother dear?” asked Norma, suavely. “The Almighty or the
duchess?”

“Both,” said Mrs. Hardacre, with a snap.

Mr. Hardacre, seeing in the distance a man to whom he thought he could
sell a horse, escaped from the domestic wrangle. Mother and daughter
wandered through the crowd, greeted by friends, pausing here and there
to exchange a few words, until they came to the door of the music-room,
filled to overflowing, where an operatic singer held the assembly in
well-bred silence. At the door the crush was ten deep. On the outskirts
conversation hummed like an echo of the noise from the suite of rooms
behind. There they were joined by Morland. Mrs. Hardacre told him of the
duchess’s graciousness. He grinned, taking the information with the air
of a man to whom the favour of duchesses bestowed upon his betrothed
is a tribute to his own excellence. He thought she would be pleased, he
said. They must get the old girl to come to the wedding. Mrs. Hardacre
was pained, but she granted young love indulgence for the profanity.
If they only could, she assented, the success of the ceremony would be
assured. Norma turned to Morland with a laugh.

“We shall be married with a vengeance, if it’s sanctified by the
duchess. Do you think a parson is at all necessary?”

He joined in her mirth. She drew him aside.

“Well, what’s the news?”

He accounted, loverwise, for his day.. At last he said:

“I looked in upon Jimmie Padgate this morning. I wanted him to go to
Christie’s and buy a picture or two for me--for us, I ought to say,”
 he added, with a little bow. “He knows more about ‘em than I do. He’s a
happy beggar, you know,” he exclaimed, after a short pause.

“What makes you say so?”

“His perfect conviction that everything is for the best in the best of
all possible worlds. There he was sitting at lunch over the black scrag
end of a boiled mutton bone and a rind of some astonishing-looking
yellow cheese--absolutely happy. And he waved his hand towards it as if
it had been a feast of Lucullus and asked me to share it.”

“Did you?” asked Norma.

“I had n’t time,” said Morland. “I was fearfully busy to-day.”

Norma did not reply. She looked over the heads of the crowd in front
of her towards the music-room whence came the full notes of the singer.
Then she said to him with a little shiver:

“I am glad you are a rich man, Morland.”

“So am I. Otherwise I should not have got you.”

“That’s true enough,” she said. “I pretend to scoff at all this, but I
could n’t live without it.”

“It has its points,” he assented, turning and regarding the brilliant
scene.

Norma turned with him. She was glad it was her birthright and her
marriage-right. The vast state ballroom, lit as with full daylight by
rows of electric lampi cunningly hidden behind the cornices and
the ground-glass panels of the ceiling, stately with its Corinthian
pilaster? and classic frieze, its walls adorned with priceless pictures,
notably four full-length cavaliers of Vandyck, smiling down in their
high-bred way upon this assembly of their descendants, its atmosphere
glittering with jewels, radiant with colour, contained all the
magnificence, all the aristocracy, all the ambitions, all the ideals
that she had been trained to worship, to set before her as the lodestars
of her life’s destiny. Here and there from amid the indistinguishable
mass of diamonds, the white flesh of women’s shoulders, the black and
white chequer and brilliant uniforms of men, flashed out the familiar
features of some possessor of an historic name, some woman of
world-famed beauty, some great personage whose name was on the lips of
Europe. There, by the wall, lonely for the moment, stood the Chinese
Ambassador, in loose maroon silk, and horse-tail plumed cap, his yellow,
wizened face rendered more sardonic by the thin drooping grey moustache
and thin grey imperial, looking through horn spectacles, expressionless,
impassive, inhumanly indifferent, at one of the most splendid scenes a
despised civilisation could set before him. There, in the centre of a
group of envious and unembarrassed ladies, an Indian potentate blazed in
diamonds and emeralds, and rolled his dusky eyes on charms which (most
oddly to his Oriental conceptions) belonged to other men. Here a Turk’s
red fez, a Knight of the Garter’s broad blue sash, an ambassador’s
sparkle of stars and orders; and there the sweet, fresh rosebud beauty
of a girl caught for a moment and lost in the moving press. And there,
at the end of the vast, living hall, a dimly seen haggard woman, with
a diamond tiara on her grey hair, surrounded by a little court, of the
elect, sat Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Herren-Rothbeck, sister
to a reigning monarch, and bosom friend, despite the pretty quarrel, of
Her Grace the Duchess of Wiltshire.

The song in the music-room coming to an end, the audience for the most
part rose and pressed into the ballroom. The Hardacres and Morland were
driven forward. There was a long period of desultory conversation with
acquaintances. Morland, proud in the possession of Norma’s-beauty,
remained dutifully attendant, and received congratulations with almost
blushing gratification. Mrs. Hardacre, preoccupied by anticipation of
her promised talk with the duchess, kept casting distracted glances at
the door whereby the great lady would enter. The appearance from a group
of neighbouring people of a pleasant young fellow with a fair moustache
and very thin fair hair, who greeted her cordially, brought her back
to the affairs of the moment. This was the Honourable Charlie Sandys,
a distant relative of the duchess, and her Grand Vizier, Master of the
Horse, Groom of the Chambers, and general right-hand man. He was two and
twenty, and had all the amazing wisdom of that ingenuous age. Morland
shook hands-with him, but being tapped on the arm by the fan of a
friendly dowager, left him to converse alone with Mrs. Hardacre and
Norma. The youth indicated Morland’s retiring figure by a jerk of the
head.

“Parliament--Cosford division.”

“We hope so,” said Mrs. Hardacre. “Must get in. Radical for her
constituency would make duchess buy her coffin. The end of the world for
her. She has a great idea of King. Going to take him up _con amore_. And
when she does take anybody up--well--”

His wave of the hand signified the tremendous consequences.

“She does n’t merely uproot _him_,” said Norma, whose mind now and
then worked with disconcerting swiftness, “but she takes up also the
half-acre where he is planted.”

“Just so,” replied the youth. “Not only him, but his manservant and
maidservant, his ox and his ass and everything that is his. Funny woman,
you know--one of the best, of course, but quaint. Thinks the Member for
Cosford is ordained by Providence to represent her in Parliament.”

He rattled on, highly pleased with himself. Norma cast a malicious
glance at her mother, who perceptibly winced. They were shining in the
duchess’s eyes in a light borrowed from Morland. They were taken up with
the ox and the ass and the remainder of Morland’s live-stock. That was
the reason, then, of the exceptional marks of favour bestowed on them by
Her Grace. Mrs. Hardacre kept the muscles of her lips at the smile, but
her steely eyes grew hard. Norma, on the contrary, was enjoying herself.
Charlie Sandys was unconscious of the little comedy.

“I am glad to see the princess here to-night,” said Mrs. Hardacre, by
way of turning the conversation.

The youth made practically the same reply as he had made at least a
dozen times to the same remark during the course of the evening. He
was an injudicious Groom of the Chambers, being vain of the privileges
attached to his post.

“There has been an awful row, you know,” he said confidentially, looking
round to see that he was not overheard. “They have scarcely made it up
yet.”

“Do tell us about it, Mr. Sandys,” said Norma, smiling upon him.

“It’s rather a joke. Let us get out of the way and I’ll tell you.”

He piloted them through the crush into a corridor, and found them a
vacant seat by some palms.

“It’s all about pictures,” he resumed. “Princess wants to have her
portrait painted in London. Why she should n’t have it made in Germany I
don’t know. Anyhow she comes to duchess for advice. Duchess has taken
up Foljambe, you know--chap that has painted about twenty miles of women
full length--”

“We saw the dear duchess at his Private View,” Mrs. Hardacre
interjected.

“Yes. She runs him for all she’s worth. Told the princess there was
only one man possible for her portrait, and that was Foljambe.
Princess--she’s as hard as nails, you know--inquires his price, knocks
him down half. He agrees. Everything is arranged. Princess to sit
for the portrait when she stays with duchess at Chiltern Towers in
September--”

“Oh, we are going to have the princess down with us?” Mrs. Hardacre grew
more alert.

“Yes. Couldn’t find time to sit now--going next week to
Herren-Rothbeck--coming back in September. Well, it was all settled
nicely--you know the duchess’s way. On Friday, however, she takes the
princess to see Foljambe’s show--for the first time. Just like her.
The princess looks round, drops her lorgnon, cries out, ‘Lieber Gott
in Himmel! The man baints as if he was bainting on de bavement!’ and
utterly refuses to have anything to do with him. I tell you there were
ructions!”

He embraced a knee and leant back, laughing boyishly at the memory of
the battle royal between the high-born dames.

“Then who is going to paint the portrait?” asked Norma.

“That’s what I am supposed to find out,” replied the youth. “But I can’t
get a man to do it cheap enough. One can’t go to a swell R. A. and ask
him to paint a portrait of a princess for eighteen pence.”

Norma had an inspiration.

“Can I recommend a friend of mine?”

“Would he do it?”,

“I think so--if I asked him.”

“By Jove, who is he?” asked the youth, pulling down his shirtcuff for
the purpose of making memoranda.

“Mr. James Padgate, 10 Friary Grove, N. W. He is Mr. King’s most
intimate friend.”

“He can paint all right, can’t he?” asked the youth.

“Beautifully,” replied Norma. “Friary, not Priory,” she corrected,
watching him make the note. She felt the uncommon satisfaction of having
performed a virtuous act; one almost of penance for her cruelty to
him on Sunday week, the memory of which had teased a not over-sensitive
conscience. The scrag end of boiled mutton and the rind of cheese had
also affected her, stirred her pity for the poor optimist, although in
a revulsion of feeling she had shivered at his lot. She had closed her
eyes for a second, and some impish wizardry of the brain had conjured
up a picture of herself sitting down to such a meal, with Jimmie at the
other side of the table. It was horrible. She had turned to fill
her soul with the solid magnificence about her. The pity for Jimmie
lingered, however, as a soothing sensation, and she welcomed the
opportunity of playing Lady Bountiful. She glanced with some malice from
the annotated cuff to her mother’s face, expecting to see the glitter
of disapproval in her eyes. To her astonishment, Mrs. Hard-acre wore an
expression of pleased abstraction.

Charlie Sandys pocketed his gold pencil and retired. He was a young man
with the weight of many affairs on his shoulders.

“That’s a capital idea of yours, Norma,” said Mrs. Hardacre.

“I’m glad you think so,” replied Norma, wonderingly.

“I do. It was most happy. We’ll do all we can to help Morland’s friend.
A most interesting man. And if the princess gives him the commission,
we can ask him down to Heddon to stay with us while he is painting the
picture.”

Norma was puzzled. Hitherto her mother had turned up the nose of
distaste against Mr. Padgate and all his works. Whence this sudden
change? Not from sweet charitableness, that was certain. Hardly from
desire to please Morland. Various solutions ran in her head. Did an
overweening ambition prompt her mother to start forth a rival to the
duchess, as a snapper up of unconsidered painters? Scarcely possible.
Defiance of the duchess? That way madness could only lie; and she was
renowned for the subtle caution of her social enterprises. The little
problem of motive interested her keenly. At last the light flashed upon
her, and she looked at Mrs. Hardacre almost with admiration.

“What a wonderful brain you have, mother!” she cried, half mockingly,
half in earnest. “Fancy your having schemed out all that in three
minutes.”

Enjoyment of this display of worldcraft was still in her eyes when
she came across Morland a little later; but she only told him of her
recommendation of Jimmie to paint the princess’s portrait. He professed
delight. How had she come to think of it?

“I think I must have caught the disease of altruism from Mr. Padgate,”
 she said. Then following up an idle train of thought:

“I suppose you often put work--portraits and things--in his way?”

“I can’t say that I do.”

“Why not? You know hundreds of wealthy people.”

“Jimmie is not a man to be patronised,” said Morland, sententiously,
“and really, you know, I can’t go about touting for commissions for
him.”

“Of course not,” said Norma; “he is far too insignificant a person to
trouble one’s head about.”

Morland looked pained.

“I don’t like to hear you talk in that way about Jimmie,” he said
reproachfully.

The little scornful curl appeared on her lip.

“Don’t you?” was all she vouchsafed to say. Unreasonably irritated,
she turned aside and caught a passing _attache_ of the French Embassy.
Morland, dismissed, sauntered off, and Norma went down to supper
with the young Frenchman, who entertained her for half an hour with a
technical description of his motor-car. And the trouble, he said, to
keep it in order. It needed all the delicate cares of a baby. It was as
variable as a woman.

“I know,” said Norma, stifling a yawn. “_La donna e automobile_.”

On the drive home in the hired brougham, whose obvious hiredom caused
Norma such chafing of spirit, Mrs. Hardacre glowed with triumph, and
while her husband dozed dejectedly opposite, she narrated her good
fortunes. She had had her little chat with the duchess. They had
spoken of Mr. Padgate, Charlie Sandys having run to show her his cuff
immediately. The duchess looked favourably on the proposal. A friend
of Mr. King’s was a recommendation in itself. But the princess, she
asseverated with ducal disregard of metaphor, had her own ideas of art
and would not buy a pig in a poke. They must inspect Mr. Padgate’s work
before there was any question of commission. She would send Charlie
Sandys to them to-morrow to talk over the necessary arrangements.

“I told her,” said Mrs. Hardacre, “that Mr. Padgate was coming to pay us
a visit in any case in September, and suggested that he could drive over
to Chiltern Towers every morning while the princess was honouring him
with sittings, and paint the picture there. And she quite jumped at the
idea.”

“No doubt,” said Norma, drily.

But her dryness had no withering effect on her mother’s exuberance. The
hard woman saw the goal of a life’s ambition within easy reach, and for
the exultant moment softened humanly. She chattered like a school-girl.

“And she took me up to the princess,” she said, “and presented me
as her nearest country neighbour. Was n’t that nice of her? And the
princess is such a sweet woman.”

“Dear, dear!” said Norma. “How wicked people are! Every one says she is
the most vinegarish old cat in Christendom.”



Chapter IX--SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION

FAME and fortune were coming at last. There was no doubt of it in
Jimmie’s optimistic mind. For years they had lagged with desperately
heavy feet, but now they were in sight, slowly approaching, hand in
hand. Jimmie made fantastic preparations to welcome them, and wore his
most radiant smile. In vain did Aline, with her practical young woman’s
view of things, point to the exiguity of the price fixed by Her Serene
Highness. If that was the advent of fortune, she came in very humble
guise, the girl insinuated. Jimmie, with a magnificent sweep of the
hand, dismissed such contemptible considerations as present pounds,
shillings, and pence. He was going to paint the portrait of the sister
of a reigning monarch. Did not Aline see that this might lead to his
painting the portrait of the reigning monarch himself? Would not the
counterfeit presentment of one crowned head attract the attention of
other crowned heads to the successful artist? Did she not see him
then appointed painter in ordinary to all the emperors, kings, queens,
princes, and princesses of Europe? He would star the Continent, make
a royal progress from court to court, disputed for by potentates and
flattered by mighty sovereigns. He grew dithyrambic, a condition
in which Aline regarded him as hopelessly impervious to reason. His
portraits, he said, would adorn halls of state, and the dreams that he
put on canvas, hitherto disregarded by a blind world, would find places
of honour in the Treasure Houses of the Nations. It would be fame for
him and fortune for Aline. She should go attired in silk and shod with
gold. She should have a stall at the theatre whenever she wanted, and a
carriage and pair to fetch her home. She should eat vanilla ices every
night. And then she might marry a prince and live happy ever after.

“I don’t want to marry a prince or any one else, dear,” Aline said once,
bringing visions down into the light of common day. “I just want to go
on staying with you.”

On another occasion she hinted at his possible espousal of a princess.
Again Jimmie dropped from the empyrean, and rubbed his head ruefully.
There was only one princess in the world for him, an enthroned personage
of radiant beauty who now and then took warm pity on him and admitted
him to her friendship, but of whom it were disloyalty worse than all
folly to think of. And yet he could not help his heart leaping at the
sight of her, or the thrill quivering through him when he saw the rare
softness come into her eyes which he and none other had evoked. What he
had to give her he could give to no other woman, no other princess. The
gift was unoffered: it remained in his own keeping, but consecrated to
the divinity. He enshrined it, as many another poor chivalrous wretch
has done, in an exquisite sanctuary, making it the symbol of a vague
sweet religion whose secret observances brought consolation. But of all
this, not a whisper, not a sign to Aline. When she spoke of marriageable
princesses, he explained the rueful rubbing of his head by reference to
his unattractive old fogeydom, and his unfitness for the life of high
society.

But Aline ought to have her prince. The coming fortune would help to
give the girl what was due to her. For himself he cared nothing. Cold
mutton and heel of cheese would satisfy him to the end of his days.
And fame? In quieter moments he shrugged his shoulders. An artist has
a message to deliver to his generation, and how can he deliver it if he
cannot sell his pictures? Let him give out to the world what was best;
in him, and he would be content. Let him but be able to say, “I have
delivered my message,” and that would be fame enough.

These were things of the depths. The surface of his mood was exuberant,
almost childish, delight, tempered with whimsical diffidence in his
power of comporting himself correctly towards such high personages. For
the duchess, who never did things by halves, and was also determined,
as she had said, of not buying a pig in a poke, had conveyed to him
the intimation that Her Serene Highness the Princess of Herren-Rothbeck
would honour him with a visit to his studio on the following Thursday.
Jimmie and Aline held long counsel together. What was the proper way to
receive a Serene Highness? Jimmie had a vague idea of an awning
outside the door and a strip of red baize down the steps and across the
pavement. Tony Merewether, who was called into consultation, suggested,
with the flippancy of youth, a brass band and a chorus of maidens to
strew flowers; whereat Aline turned her back upon him, and Jimmie,
adding pages in fancy dress to hold up the serene train and a major-domo
in a court suit with a wand, encouraged the offender. Aline retired from
so futile a discussion and went on sewing in dignified silence. At last
she condescended to throw out a suggestion.

“If I were you, Jimmie, I should get the princess some portraits to look
at.”

“God bless my soul,” cried Jimmie, putting down his pipe, “I never
thought of it. Tony, my boy, that child with the innocence of the dove
combines the wisdom of the original serpent. My brain reels to think
what I should be without her. We’ll telegraph to all the people that
have sat to me and ask them to send in their portraits by Thursday.”

He crossed the studio and began to rummage among the litter on the long
table. Aline asked him what he was looking for.

“Telegram forms. Why have n’t we got any? Tony, run round the corner to
the post-office, like a good boy, and get some.”

But Aline checked the execution of this maniacal project. Three
portraits would be quite sufficient. Jimmie would have to pick out three
ladies of whom he could best ask such a favour, and write them polite
little notes and offer to send a van in the orthodox way to collect the
pictures. Jimmie bowed before such sagacity, and wrote the letters.

In the course of the week the portraits arrived, and the studio for a
whole day became the undisputed kingdom of Aline and a charwoman. The
long untidy table, so dear to Jimmie, was ruthlessly cleared and set in
dismaying order. The frame-maker was summoned, and the unsold pictures
that had long slumbered sadly on the ground with their faces to the
wall, were dusted and hung in advantageous lights. The square of Persian
carpet, which Jimmie during an unprotected walk through Regent Street
had once bought for Aline’s bedroom, was brought down and spread on the
bare boards of the model-platform. A few cushions were scattered about
the rusty drawing-room suite, and various odds and ends of artists’
properties, bits of drapery, screens, old weapons, were brought to light
and used for purposes of decoration. So that when Jimmie, who had been
banished the house for the day, returned in the evening, he found a
flushed and exhausted damsel awaiting him in a transfigured studio.

“My dear little girl,” he said, touched, “my dear little girl, it’s
beautiful, it’s magical. But you have tired yourself to death. Why did
n’t you let me do all this?”

“You would never have done it yourself, Jimmie. You know you wouldn’t,”
 said Aline. “You would have gone on talking nonsense about red baize
strips and flower-girls and pages--anything to make those about you
laugh and be happy--and you would never have thought of showing off what
you have to its full advantage.”

“I should never have dreamed of robbing your poor little room of its
carpet, dear,” he said.

They went upstairs for their simple evening meal, and returned as usual
to the beloved studio. Aline filled Jimmie’s pipe.

“Do you think I dare smoke in all this magnificence?”

She laughed and struck a match.

“You did not realise what a lot of beautiful pictures you had, did you?”

“They make a brave show,” he said, looking round. “After all, I’m not
entirely sorry they have never been sold. I should not like to part
with them. No, I did not realise how many there were.” In spite of
his cheeriness the last words sounded a note of pathos that caught the
girl’s sensitive ear.

“‘Let us make a tour of inspection,” she said. They went the round,
pausing long before each picture. He said little, contrary to his habit,
for he was wont to descant on his work with playful magniloquence. He
saw the years unfold behind him and disclose the hopes of long ago yet
unfulfilled. What endless months of dreams and thrills and passionate
toil hung profitless upon these walls! Things there were, wrought from
the depths of his radiant faith in man, plucked from the heart of his
suffering, consecrated by the purest visions of his soul. Had Aline been
an older woman, a woman who had loved him, lived with him in a wife’s
intimate communion, instead of being merely the tender-hearted child
of his adoption, she would have wept her heart out. For she, alone of
mortals, would have got behind such imperfections as there were, and
would have seen nothing but a crucifixion of the quivering things torn
out of the life of the beloved man. Only vaguely, elusively did the
girl feel this. But even her half-comprehending sympathy was of great
comfort. She thought no one in the world could paint like Jimmie, and
held in angry contempt a public that could pass him by. She was hotly
his advocate, furious at his rejection by hanging committees, miserably
disappointed when his pictures came back from exhibitions unsold, or
when negotiations with dealers for rights of reproduction fell through.
But she was too young to pierce to the heart of the tragedy; and Jimmie
was too brave and laughter-loving to show his pain. Other forces,
too, had been at work in her development. Recently her mind had been
grappling with the problem of her unpayable debt to him. This silent
pilgrimage round the years brought her thoughts instinctively to herself
and the monstrous burden she had been.

“I have been wondering lately, Jimmie dear,” she said at last, “whether
you would not have been more successful if you had not had all the worry
and expense and responsibility of me.”

“Good Lord!” he cried in simple amazement, “whatever are you talking
of?”

She repeated her apologia, though in less coherent terms. She felt
foolish, as a girl does when a carefully prepared expression of feeling
falls upon ears which, though inexpressibly dear, are nevertheless not
quite comprehending.

“You have had to do pot-boilers,” she said, falling into miserable
bathos, “and I remember the five-shillings-a-dozen landscapes--and you
would have spent all that time on your real work--Oh, don’t you see what
I mean, Jimmie?”

She looked up at him pathetically--she was a slight slip of a girl, and
he was above the medium height. He smiled and took her fresh young face
between his hands.

“My dear,” he said, “you’re the only successful piece of work I’ve
ever turned out in my life. Please allow me to have some artistic
satisfaction--and you have been worth a gold-mine to me.”

Thus each was comforted. Jimmie settled down to his pipe and a book,
Aline sat over her sewing--the articles to which she devoted her
perennial industry were a never solved mystery to him--and they spent a
pleasant evening. The inevitable topic naturally arose in conversation.
They discussed the princess’s visit, the great question--how was she to
be received?

“The best thing you can do,” said the practical Aline, “is to go to Mrs.
Deering to-morrow and get properly coached.”

Jimmie looked at her in admiration.

“You are worth your weight in diamonds,” he said. “I will.”

He carried out his project, and not only did he have the pleasure of
finding Connie at home undisturbed by strange tea-drinking women, but
Norma Hardacre came in soon after his arrival. The two ladies formed
themselves into a committee of advice, and sent Jimmie home with most
definite notions regarding the correct method of receiving Serene
Highnesses. He also brought Aline the news that the committee would
honour him with a visit the following morning, accompanied by Mrs.
Hardacre, who had been pleased to express a desire to see his pictures.

The appointed hour came, and with it the ladies. Mrs. Hardacre’s lips
smiled sweetly at the man who was to be taken up by a duchess and to
paint the portrait of a princess. She declared herself delighted with
the studio and professed admiration for the pictures.

“Are they all really your own, Mr. Padgate?” she asked, turning towards
him, her tortoise-shell lorgnon held sceptre-wise.

“I’m afraid so,” answered Jimmie, with a smile. “Sometimes I wish they
were not so much my own.”

“But I should feel quite proud of them, if I were you,” said the lady,
desirous to please.

Connie broke into a laugh, and explained that Jimmie had implied a
regret that they had found no purchasers. Mrs. Hardacre sniffed. She did
not like being laughed at, especially as she had gone out of her way to
be urbane. This was unfortunate for Jimmie; for though he strove hard to
remove the impression that he had consciously dug a pit of ridicule for
her entrapment, Mrs. Hardacre listened to his remarks with suspicion
and became painfully aware of the shabbiness of his coat. Presently she
regarded one of the portraits--that of a pretty, fluffy-haired woman.

“Dear me,” she remarked somewhat frigidly, “that is Mrs. Marmaduke
Hewson.”

Jimmie, in the simplicity of his heart, was delighted.

“Yes. A most charming lady. Do you know her?”

“Oh, no; I don’t know her, but I know of her.”

Her stress on the preposition signified even deeper and more
far-reaching things than the nod of Lord Burleigh in the play.

“What do you know of her?” asked Jimmie, bluntly. Mrs. Hardacre smiled
frostily, and her lean shoulders moved in an imperceptible shrug.

“Those matters belong to the realm of unhappy gossip, Mr. Padgate; but
I’m afraid the duchess won’t find her portrait attractive.”

“It is really rather a good portrait,” said Jimmie, in puzzled modesty.

“That is the pity of it,” replied Mrs. Hardacre, sweetly. The victim
smiled. “Surely the private character of the subject can have nothing to
do with a person’s judgment of a portrait as a specimen of the painter’s
art. And besides, Mrs. Hewson is as dear and sweet and true a little
woman as I have ever met.”

“You are not the first of your sex that has said so.”

“And I most sincerely hope I shall not be the last,” said Jimmie, with
a little flush and a little flash in his eyes and the politest of little
bows. Whereupon Mrs. Hardacre bit her lip and hated him. Norma, seizing
the opportunity of contributing to the final rout of her mother,
unwittingly did Jimmie some damage.

“We women ought not to have given up fancy work,” she said in her
hardest and most artificial tones. “As we don’t embroider with our
fingers, we embroider with our tongues. You can have no idea what an
elaborate tissue of lies has been woven about that poor little Mrs.
Hewson. I agree with Mr. Padgate. I am sorry you believe them, mother.”

Jimmie’s grateful glance smote her undeserving heart. She had gained
credit under false pretences and felt hypocritical--an unpleasant
feeling, for the assumption of unpossessed virtues was not one of her
faults. She succeeded, however, in rendering her mother furious. In a
very short time Mrs. Hardacre remembered an engagement and went away in
a hansom-cab, refusing the seat in Connie’s carriage, which was put at
her disposal on the condition of her waiting a few moments longer. She
had thanked Jimmie, however, for the pleasure afforded by his delightful
pictures with such politeness when he saw her into the cab, that he did
not for a moment suspect that the lady who had entered the house with
expressions of friendliness had driven away in a rage, with feelings
towards him ludicrously hostile. He returned to the studio at peace
with all womankind; not sorry that Mrs. Hardacre had departed, but only
because courtesy no longer demanded his relegating to the second sphere
of his attention the divine personage of whom he felt himself to be the
slave. No suspicion of Mrs. Hardacre’s spiteful motive in deprecating
the display of his most striking piece of portraiture ever entered his
head. He ran down the studio stairs with the eagerness of a boy released
from the flattering but embarrassing society of his elders and free to
enjoy the companionship of his congeners. And he was childishly eager to
show his pictures to Norma, to hear her verdict, to secure her approval,
so that he should stand in her eyes as a person in some humble way
worthy of the regard that Mor-land said she bestowed on him.

He found his visitors not looking at pictures at all, but talking to
Aline, who rushed to him as soon as he entered the studio.

“Oh, Jimmie--just fancy! Mrs. Deering is going to take me to Horlingham
on Saturday, and is coming upstairs with me to see what I can do in the
way of a frock. You don’t mind, do you?”

Jimmie looked down into the happy young face and laughed a happy laugh.

“Mrs. Deering is an angel from the most exclusive part of heaven,” he
said. And this was one of the rare occasions on which he was guilty of a
double meaning. Had not the angel thus contrived an unlooked-for joy--a
few minutes’ undisturbed communion with his divinity?

The first words that Norma spoke when they were alone were an apology.

“You must not take what my mother said in ill part. She and I have been
bred, I’m afraid, in a hard school.”

“It was very kind of Mrs. Hardacre to warn me of the possibility of the
duchess being prejudiced against me by the exhibition of a particular
portrait. I can’t conceive the possibility myself. But still Mrs.
Hardacre’s intention was kindly.”

Norma turned her head away for a moment. She could not trust herself to
speak, for a stinging sarcasm with just a touch of the hysterical would
have been all she could utter, and she had not the heart to undeceive
him. She shot into the by-path of the gossip concerning Mrs. Hewson.

“Mother believes the stories about her. So do I in the loose sort of
way in which our faith in anything is composed--even in our
fellow-creatures’ failings.”

“You defended her,” said Jimmie.

“You made me do so.”

“I?”

“Either you, because you carry about with you an uncomfortable Palace of
Truth sort of atmosphere, or else the desire to rub it into my mother.”

“Rub what in?” Jimmie was puzzled.

Norma laughed somewhat bitterly. She saw that he was incapable of
understanding the vulgar pettiness of the scheme of motives that
had prompted the utterances of her mother and herself. She could not
explain.

“I think you are born out of your century,” she said.

It was lucky for Jimmie that he was unaware of the passionate tribute
the light words implied. She gave him no time to answer, but carried him
straight to the pictures.

“I had no idea you did such beautiful work,” she said, looking around
her.

Jimmie followed her glance, and the melancholy of the artist laid its
touch for a moment upon him. He sighed.

“They might have been beautiful if I had done what I started out to do.
It is the eternal tragedy of the clipped wings.”

She was oddly responsive to a vibration in his voice, and gave out, like
a passive violin, the harmonic of the struck note.

“Better to have wings that are clipped than to have no wings at all.”

She had never uttered such a sentiment, never thought such a thought in
her life before. Her words sounded unreal in her own ears, and yet she
had a profound sense of their sincerity.

“There is no apteryx among human souls,” said Jimmie, released from the
melancholy fingers. They argued the point in a lighter vein, discussed
individual pictures. Charmed by her sympathy, he spoke freely of his
work, his motives, his past dreams. Had Norma not begun to know him, she
might have wondered at the lack of bitterness in his talk. To this man
of many struggles and many crushing disappointments the world was still
young and sweet, and his faith in the ultimate righteousness of things
undimmed. The simple courage of his attitude towards life moved her
admiration. She felt somewhat humbled in the presence of a spirit
stronger, clearer than any into which chance had hitherto afforded her
a glimpse. And as he talked in his bright, half-earnest, half-humourous
way, it crossed her mind that there was a fair world of thought and
emotion in which she and her like had not set their feet; not the world
entirely of poetic and artistic imaginings, but one where inner things
mattered more than outer circumstance, where it would not be ridiculous
or affected to think of the existence of a soul and its needs and their
true fulfilment.

Hitherto meeting him as an alien in her world, she had regarded him with
a touch of patronising pity. From this she was now free. She saw him for
the first time in harmony with his environment, as the artist sensitive
and responsive, integral with the beautiful creations that hung around
the walls, and still homely and simple, bearing the rubs of time as
bravely and frankly as the old drawing-room suite that furnished
the unpretentious studio. Now it was she who felt herself somewhat
disconcertingly out of her element. The sensation, however, had a
curious charm.

There was one picture that had attracted her from the first. She stood
in front of it moved by its pity and tenderness.

“Tell me about this one,” she said without looking at him. She divined
that it was very near his heart.

In the foreground amid laughing woodland crouched a faun with little
furry ears and stumps of horns, and he was staring in piteous terror at
a vision; and the vision was that of a shivering, outcast woman on a wet
pavement in a sordid street.

“It is the joyous, elemental creature’s first conception of pain,” said
Jimmie, after a few moments’ silence. “You see, life has been to him only
the sunshine, and the earth drenched with colour and music--as the earth
ought to be--and now he sees a world that is coming grey with rain and
misty with tears, and he has the horror of it in his eyes. I am not
given to such moralising in paint,” he added with a smile. “This is a
very early picture.” He looked at it for some time with eyes growing
wistful. “Yes,” he sighed, “I did it many years ago.”

“It has a history then?”

“Yes,” he admitted; and he remembered how the outcast figure in the rain
had symbolised that little funeral procession in Paris and how terribly
grey the world had been.

Norma’s chastened mood had not awed the spirit of mockery within her,
but had rendered it less bitter, and had softened her voice. She waved
her hand towards the crouching faun.

“And that is you?” she asked.

Jimmie caught a kind raillery in her glance, and laughed. Yes, she had
his secret; was the only person who had ever guessed him beneath the
travesty of horns and goat’s feet.

“I like you for laughing,” she said.

“Why?”

“Other painters have shown me their pictures.”

“Which signifies--?”

“That this is one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen,” she
replied.

“But why are you glad that I laughed?” asked Jimmie, in happy puzzledom.

“I have told you, Mr. Padgate, all that I am going to tell you.”

“I accept the inscrutable,” said he.

“Do you believe in the old pagan joy of life?” she asked after a pause.
“I mean, was there, is there such a thing? One has heard of it; in fact
it is a catch phrase that any portentous poseur has on the tip of
his tongue. When one comes to examine it, however, it generally means
champagne and oysters and an unpresentable lady, and it ends with
liver and--and all sorts of things, don’t you know. But you are not a
poseur--I think you are the honestest man I have ever met--and yet you
paint this creature as if you utterly believe in what he typifies.”

“It would go hard with me if I did n’t,” said Jimmie. “I can’t talk to
you in philosophic terms and explain all my reasons, because I have read
very little philosophy. When I do try, my head gets addled. I knew a
chap once who used to devour Berkeley and Kant and all the rest, and
used to write about them, and I used to sit at his feet in a kind of
awed wonder at the tremendousness of his brain. A man called Smith. He
was colossally clever,” he added after a reflective pause. “But I can
only grope after the obvious. Don’t you think the beauty of the world is
obvious?”

“It all depends upon which world,” said Norma.

“Which world? Why, God’s world. It is sweet to draw the breath of life.
I love living; don’t you?”

“I have never thought of it,” she answered. “I should n’t like to die,
it is true, but I don’t know why. Most people seem to spend two-thirds
of their existence in a state of boredom, and the rest in sleep.”

“That is because they reject my poor faun’s inheritance.”

“I have been asking you what that is.”

“The joy and laughter of life. They put it from them.”

“How?”

“They draw the soul’s curtains and light the gas, instead of letting
God’s sunshine stream in.”

Norma turned away from the picture with a laugh.

“That reminds me of the first time I met you. You told me to go and
ventilate my soul. It gave me quite a shock, I assure you. But I have
been trying to follow your precept ever since. Don’t you think I am a
little bit fresher?”

For the moment the girl still lingering in her five-and-twenty hard
years flashed to the surface, adorably warming the cold, finely
sculptured face, and bringing rare laughter into her eyes. Jimmie
marvelled at the infinite sweetness of her, and fed his poor hungry soul
thereon.

“You look like a midsummer morning,” he said unsteadily.

The tone caught her, sobered her; but the colour deepened on her cheek.

“I’ll treasure that as a pretty compliment,” she said. There was a
little space of silence--quite a perilous little space, with various
unsaid things lurking in ambush. Norma broke it first.

“Now I have seen everything, have n’t I? No. There are some on the floor
against the wall.”

Jimmie explained their lack of value, showed her two or three. They were
mostly the wasters from his picture factory, he said. She found in each
a subject for admiration, and Jimmie glowed with pleasure at her praise.
While he was replacing them she moved across the studio.

“And this one?” she asked, with her finger on the top of a strainer. He
looked round and followed swiftly to her side. It was her own portrait
with its face to the wall.

“I am not going to show you that,” he said hurriedly.

“Why not?”

“It’s a crazy thing.”

“I should love to see it.”

“I tell you it’s a crazy thing,” he repeated. “A mad artist’s dream.”

Norma arched her eyebrows. “Aha! That is very like a confession!”

“Of what?”

“The ideal woman?”

“Perhaps,” he said.

“I thought everything was so positive in your scheme of life,” she
remarked teasingly. “Don’t you know?”

“Yes,” said Jimmie, “I know.”

Again the vibration that Jimmie, poorest of actors, could not keep from
his voice, stirred her. She felt the indelicacy of having trodden upon
sanctified ground. She turned away and sat down. They talked of other
matters, somewhat self-consciously. Both welcomed the entrance of Connie
Deering and Aline. The former filled the studio at once with laughing
chatter. She hoped Norma had not turned Jimmie’s hair white with the
dreadful things she must have said.

“I don’t turn a hair, as I’m a mere worldling, but Jimmie is an
unsophisticated child of nature, and is n’t accustomed to you, my dear
Norma.”

She went on to explain that she was Jimmie’s natural protectress, and
that they who harmed him would have to reckon with her. Jimmie flew
gaily to Norma’s defence.

“And this child’s garments?” he asked, indicating Aline, whose face was
irradiated by a vision of splendid attire.

“Don’t meddle with what does n’t concern you,” replied Connie, while
she and the girl exchanged the glances of conspirators.

A short while afterwards the two visitors drove away. For some time
Norma responded somewhat absently to Mrs. Deering’s light talk.

“I am so glad you have taken to Jimmie,” said the latter at last. “Is
n’t he a dear?”

“I remember your saying that before. But is n’t it rather an odd word
to use with reference to him?” said Norma.

“Odd--? But that’s just what he is.”

Norma turned in some resentment on her friend.

“Oh, Connie, how dare we talk patronisingly of a man like that? He’s
worth a thousand of the empty-souled, bridge-playing people we live
among.”

“But that’s just why I call him a dear,” said Mrs. Deering,
uncomprehendingly.

Norma shrugged her shoulders, fell into a silence which she broke by
risking:

“Do you know whom he is in love with?”

“Good gracious, Norma,” cried the little lady, in alarm. “You don’t say
that Jimmie is in love? Oh, it would spoil him. He can’t be!”

“There was one picture--of a woman--which he would not let me see,” said
Norma.

“Well?”

Norma paused for some seconds before she replied:

“He called it ‘a mad artist’s dream.’ I have been wondering whether it
was not better than a sane politician’s reality.”

“What is a sane politician’s reality, dear?” Connie asked, mystified.

“I am,” said Norma.

Then, woman-like, she turned the conversation to the turpitudes of her
dressmaker.



Chapter X--TWO IDYLLS

JIMMIE was trudging along the undulating highroad that leads from
Dieppe to the little village of Berneval, very hot, very dusty, very
thirsty, and very contented. He carried a stick and a little black bag.
His content proceeded from a variety of causes. In the first place it
was a glorious August day, drenched with sunshine and with deep blue
ether; and the smiling plain of Normandy rolled before him, a land of
ripening orchards and lazy pastures. He had been longing for the simple
beauty of sun and sky and green trees, and for the homely sights and
sounds of country things, and now he had his fill. Secondly, Aline was
having a much needed holiday. She had been growing a little pale and
languid, he thought, in London, after a year’s confined administering to
his selfish wants. She was enjoying herself, too, and the few days she
had already spent in the sea air had brought the blood to her cheeks
again. Thirdly, he was free for the moment from everyday cares. A dealer
had fallen from heaven into his studio and paid money down for the
copyright of two of his worst pictures. Fourthly, he had definitely
received the commission for the portrait of the Princess of
Herren-Rothbeck. Her Serene Highness and her tutelary duchess had paid
their visit, expressed themselves delighted with his work (the duchess
especially commending the portrait of the hapless Mrs. Marmaduke
Hewson), and had driven away in a most satisfactory condition of
serenity and graciousness.

Jimmie was happy. What could man want more? In addition to all these
blessings, Norma had written to him from Lord Monzie’s place in Scotland
a letter _à propos_ of nothing, merely expressive of good-will and
friendliness; and he had received it that morning. He had never seen
her handwriting before. Bold, incisive, distinguished, it seemed to
complement his conception of the radiant lady, and in a foolish way he
tried to harmonise the ink-marks with the curves of her proud lips, the
setting of her eyes, and the poise of her queenly head. The dreariness
of a rainy afternoon with all the men and half the women away on the
grouse-moor had been, she said, her excuse for writing. She sketched
various members of the house-party with light, satiric touches;
notably one Theodore Weever, an American, whose sister had married an
impecunious and embarrassing cousin of the Duchess of Wiltshire. He was
building himself a palace in Fifth Avenue, wrote Norma, and had been
buying pictures in Europe to decorate it with; now he was anxious to
purchase a really decorative wife. Morland was expected in a few days,
and she would be glad when he appeared upon the scene. She did not say
why; but Jimmie naturally understood that her heart was yearning for
the presence of the man she loved. “I have very little to say that can
interest you,” she concluded, “but you can say many things to interest
me: this letter is purely selfish, a mere minnow, after all, that I use
as bait.” So Jimmie walked along the dusty road thinking out an answer
that could bring comfort to the Hero pining for her Leander; thinking
also of Aline, and revelling in the sunshine.

He delighted, like a child, in all he saw. He stopped before the red,
gold, and green paradise of an orchard and feasted upon its colour. He
lingered in talk with a tiny girl driving a great brown cow; asked her
its age, how many calves it had had, its name, and whether she were
not afraid it would mistake her for a blade of grass and bite her. The
little girl scoffed at the possibility. She could drive three cows,
and, if it came to that, a bull. “_Ça me connaît, les betes,_” she
said. Whereupon he put a couple of sous in her hand and went on his way.
Presently he sat down on the rough wooden bench in front of a wayside
café and drank cider from an earthenware bowl, and played with a mongrel
puppy belonging to the establishment. When the latter had darted off
to bark amid the cloud of dust and petroleum fumes left by a passing
motor-car, Jimmie, sipping his second bowl of sour cider in great
content, re-read the precious letter, filled his pipe, and reflected
peacefully on the great harmony of things. The hopelessness of his own
love for Norma struck no discord. The Stephen so closely connected with
the life of Saint Catherine of Siena did not love with less hope or more
devotion.

He paid the few coppers for his reckoning, took up his stick and little
black bag, and trudged on refreshed, and as he neared Berneval the
expectation of Aline’s welcome gladdened him. He had rented for the
month a cottage with a straggling piece of ground behind, from an artist
friend whose possession it was. The friend had fixed the figure absurdly
low; the modest living under Aline’s experienced management was cheap,
and the _bonne à tout faire_ cooked divinely for a few halfpence a day.
By a curious coincidence Mr. Anthony Merewether had also pitched
upon Berneval as a summer resting-place. He here Love Is had come on
business, he gave out, and every morning saw him issue from the hotel
by the beach, armed with easel and camp-stool, and the rest of the
landscape-painter’s paraphernalia, and every evening saw him smoking
cigarettes on Jimmie’s veranda. Whether the hours of sunshine saw him
consistently hard at work, Jimmie was inclined to doubt. He certainly
bathed a great deal and ran about with Aline a great deal, and Jimmie
read the pair moral lessons on the evil effects of idleness. But Tony
was a fresh-minded boy; his ingenuous conversation provided Jimmie
with much entertainment, and his presence on their holiday gave him the
satisfaction of feeling that Aline had some one of her own age to play
with.

The ramshackle vehicle, half diligence, half omnibus, that plies
between Berneval and Dieppe, passed him with great cracking of whip and
straining of rusty harness and loud _hue_‘s from the driver, just as he
entered the village. It was late afternoon, and the trim white and green
of the place was bathed in mellow sunshine. The short cut home lay up a
lane and through the churchyard, a cluster of grey slabs around a
little grey church; and many of the slabs bore the story of the pitiless
sea--how Jean-Marie Dulac, many years ago, was drowned at the age of
nineteen, and how Jacques Lemerre perished in a storm; for it has been
from time immemorial a tiny village of fisher-folk and every family has
given of its own to the waves. The pathos of the simple legends on the
stones always touched him as he walked by; and now he paused to decipher
some moss-grown letters of fifty years ago. He stooped, made out the
same sad tale, moralised a little thereon, and rose with a sigh of
relief to greet the sunshine and the fair earth. But the sight that
suddenly met his eyes banished dead fishermen and hungry sea and sunny
tree-tops from his mind. It was a boy and a girl very close together,
his arm about her waist, her head upon his shoulder, walking by the
little church. Their backs were towards him. He stared open-mouthed.

“God bless my soul!” said he, in amazement.

Then he dropped his stick, which clattered upon a gravestone.

The foolish pair started at the sound, assumed a correct attitude with
remarkable swiftness, and turning, recognised Jimmie. Tony Merewether,
who was a fair youth, grew very red and looked sheepish; Aline awaited
events demurely, with downcast eyes. Jimmie pushed his old Homburg hat
to the back of his head, and in two or three strides confronted them. He
tried to look fiercely at Tony. The young man drew himself up.

“I have asked Aline to marry me, sir,” he said frankly. “I was going to
speak to you about it.”

“Good Lord!” said Jimmie, helplessly.

“We can’t marry just yet,” said Tony, “but I hope you will give your
consent.”

Jimmie looked from one to the other.

“Why did n’t you let me know of this state of things before?”

“I have n’t done anything underhand. I thought you guessed,” said Tony.

“And you, Aline?”

She stole a shy glance at him.

“I was n’t quite sure of it until just now,” she replied. And then she
blushed furiously and ran to Jimmie’s arms. “Oh, Jimmie dear, don’t be
cross!”

“Cross, my child?” he said.

The world of tender reproach in his tone touched her. The ready tears
started.

“You are an angel, Jimmie.”

The hand that was on her shoulder patted it comfortingly.

“No, dear, I am a blind elderly idiot. O Lord, Tony, I hope you feel
infernally ashamed of yourself.”

“As Tony says, we sha’n’t be able to get married for a long, long time,”
 said Aline, by way of consolation, “so for years and years we’ll go on
in just the same way.”

“I only ask you to consent to our engagement, sir,” said Tony,
diplomatically. “I am quite willing to wait for Aline as long as you
like.”

The abandonment of Jimmie by Aline had been the subject of the last
half-hour’s discussion between the lovers. The thought of Jimmie alone
and helpless appalled her. She was a horrid selfish wretch, she had
informed Tony, for listening to a word he said. How could Jimmie live
by himself? She shuddered at the dismal chaos of the studio, the gaping
holes in his socks, the impossible meals, the fleecing of him by every
plausible beggar in frock coat or rags, the empty treasury. He needed
more care than a baby. She would marry Tony, some day, because her head
was full of him, and because she had let him kiss her and had found a
peculiar, dreamy happiness during the process, and because she could not
conceive the possibility of marrying any one else. But she was more than
content to leave the date indefinite. Perhaps, in the stretch of aeons
between now and then, something would happen to release her from her
responsibilities. She had made the position luminously clear to Mr.
Merewether before she had consented to be foolish and walk about with
her head on his shoulder.

“No, until Jimmie gets properly suited,” she said, quickly following
Tony’s last remark.

“My dear foolish children,” said Jimmie, “you had better get married as
soon as ever you can keep the wolf from the door. What on earth is the
good of waiting till you are old? Get all the happiness you can out of
your youth, and God bless you.”

The young man bowed his head.

“I will give my life to her.”

Jimmie touched him on the arm, waved his hand around, indicating the
little grey church, the quiet graves.

“This is not the place where a man should say such a thing lightly,” he
said.

“I am not the man to say such a thing lightly in any place,” retorted
the youth, with spirit.

Jimmie nodded approvingly. “My dear,” he said to Aline, “that is the way
I like to hear a man talk.”

He turned and collected the fallen stick and the black bag which he had
deposited by the side of the slab. He had gone into Dieppe that morning
partly for the sake of the walk and partly to purchase some odds and
ends for the house. Aline, not trusting to his memory, had given him a
list of items with directions attached as to the places where he was to
procure them, so that when he came to “pepper,” he should seek it at
a grocery and not at a milliner’s establishment. Now, without saying
a word, he opened the bag and rummaged among its queer contents, which
Aline regarded with some twinges of a tender conscience. She ought to
have gone into Dieppe herself, and made her purchases like a notable
housewife, instead of sending Jimmie and passing the day in selfish
lovemaking. The twinge grew sharper when Jimmie at last fished out a
little cardboard box and put it in her hands.

“At any rate, I can give you an engagement present before Tony,” he said
with a laugh.

It was only an old filigree silver waist-buckle he had picked up at a
curio shop in the town, but it was a gem of infinite value to the girl,
for she knew that Jimmie’s love went with it. She showed it to Tony
Merewether, who admired the workmanship.

“If you can give me anything I shall prize more, you will be a lucky
fellow,” she said in a low voice.

The three strolled quietly towards the cottage, and it was Jimmie’s arm
that Aline clung to, and Mr. Merewether who carried the black bag. That
night, after she had dismissed the young man, she sat a long time with
Jimmie on the veranda, telling him in one shy breath of the wonder that
had suddenly come into her life, and in the next that she would never
leave him until he was rich and famous and able to live by himself.
Jimmie, unguileful in the nature of men and maidens and the ways of
this wicked world, kept on repeating like a refrain his formula of
astonishment:

“It never entered my head, dear, that you two children would fall in
love with one another.”

“You don’t think I ought n’t to have done it, do you, Jimmie?” she said
at last.

He broke into his happy laugh, and kissed her. “If you want to please
me, you’ll go on doing it,” he said.

It was some time after he had gone to bed that sleep came. Yes; Nature,
the dear mother, had spoken, and who could gainsay her? A clean, bright,
healthy English lad, and a clean, bright, healthy English girl had read
truth in each other’s eyes. It was one of the sweet things in the world,
for which we who live in the world should be thankful. The dimly seen
white curtains of his bed became gossamer veils that enveloped him with
beauty. Now, on either side, his inner life was touched by the magic of
romance: the fair dream of these two children, and the love of the other
betrothed pair. It was on happy eyelids that sleep settled at last. And
Aline, too, lay awake, her young cheeks burning at the delicious yet
frightening memory of a kiss in the little churchyard, and her heart
swelling at the thought of the infinite goodness of Jimmie.

Meanwhile, unconscious of these idyllic happenings and romantic
speculations, Norma was enjoying herself in her worldly way at Lord
Monzie’s place in Scotland. Lord Monzie, a dissipated young man who had
lately come into the title, had married a well-to-do young woman in very
smart society. Consequently there was no lack of modern entertainment
in the house. So modern was everything that the host had got down Mr.
Joseph Ascherberg, the financier, to hold a roulette bank every night
against all comers; but he took care that he himself, or his own
confidential man, turned the wheel and spun the marble. Most of the
people had unimaginative nicknames, the extremes of the Submerged
Tenth and the Upper Ten thus curiously meeting. Lord Monzie was called
“Muggins;” his bosom friend, and, as some whispered, his _âme damnée_,
Sir Calthrop Boyle, was alluded to as “The Boiler;” and Ascherberg
responded to the appellation of “Freddy.” There were also modern
conveniences for the gratification of caprices or predilections that
need not be insisted upon. In fact the atmosphere was surcharged with
modernity; so much so that Norma, who would have walked about the
Suburra of Imperial Rome with cynical indifference, gasped a little when
she entered it. One or two things actually shocked her, at which she
wondered greatly. She regarded Mr. Ascherberg with extreme disfavour,
and winced at the women’s conversation when they were cosily free
from men. For the first day or two she held herself somewhat apart,
preferring solitude on sequestered bits of terrace, where she could
read a novel, or look at the grey hills that met the stretch of purple
moorland. But gradually the sweeter tone of mind which she had brought
with her lost its flavour, and having won sixty pounds from Ascherberg,
and having told the feminine coterie what she knew of the Wyniard
affair, she began to breathe the atmosphere without much difficulty. Yet
occasionally she had spasms of revolt. In a corner of the drawing-room
stood a marble copy of the little Laughing Faun in the Louvre, put there
by the late baron, and every time her eye fell upon it, the picture of
another faun arose before her, and with it the memory of a homely man
with bright kind eyes, and she seemed to draw a breath of purer air. But
she called the fancy foolishness and hardened her heart.

Still, had it not been for Theodore Weever, the American man of affairs,
she would probably have found some pretext for an abrupt departure. He
alone was a personality among the characterless, vicious men and women
of the house-party. Short, spare, alert, bald-headed, clean-shaven,
clear-featured, he was of a type apart. Norma, who had a keen
intelligence, divined in him from the first an adversary upon whom she
could sharpen her wit and a companion who would not bore her with dreary
tales of sport or the unprofitable details of his last night’s play. And
from the first Theodore Weever was attracted towards Norma. Their lax
associates, in spite of her engagement to Morland being perfectly well
known and in spite of Morland’s expected arrival, recognised their
pairing with embarrassing frankness, and said appalling things about
them behind their backs. For a few days therefore they found themselves
inseparable. At last their friendship reached the confidential stage.
Mr. Theodore Weever avowed the object of his present visit to England.
He was in search of a decorative wife.

“It ought to be as easy as turning over a book of wallpapers,” said
Norma.

“And as difficult to choose,” said he.

“You must know what scheme of colouring and design you want.”

“Precisely. I don’t find it in the books of stock patterns, either here
or in America. And I’ve ransacked America.”

“Is n’t the line--I believe in commercial circles they call it a
line--is n’t the line of specially selected duchesses for the English
market good enough for you?” she asked with a smile.

He was about to light a cigarette when she began her question. He lit it
and blew out the first few puffs of smoke before he replied. They were
sitting in Norma’s favourite nook on the terrace, where he, solitary
male who had not gone forth with a gun that morning, had been
gratuitously told by an obliging hostess that he would find her.

“The American woman makes a good decorative duchess,” he said in
his incisive tone, “because she has to sweep herself clean of every
tradition she was born with and accept bodily the very much bigger and
more dazzling tradition of your old aristocracy. She can do it, because
she is infinitely sensitive and intelligent. But she is a changed
creature. She has to live up to her duke.”

He puffed for a moment or two at his cigarette.

“Do you see what I am coming to?” he continued. “I am not an English
duke. I am a plain American citizen. No woman in America would make it
her ideal in life to live up to me.”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” interrupted Norma, with a laugh, “but do you
think any Englishwoman would?”

“I do,” he replied. “Not to this insignificant, baldheaded thing that is
I, but to what in the way of position and power I represent. An American
woman would bring her traditions along with her--her superior culture,
her natural right to be enthroned as queen, her expectation that I would
take a back seat in my own house. It is I that would become a sort of
grotesque decoration in the place. Now, I may be grotesque, but I will
not consent to be decorative. I fully intend to be master. I am not
going to be Mrs. Theodore Weever’s husband. I want an Englishwoman to
bring along her traditions. She will be naturally _grande dame_; she
will come to my house, my social world, frankly the wife of Theodore
Weever, and ready to support the dignity, whatever it may be, of
Theodore Weever, just as she would have supported the dignity of Lord So
and So, had she been married to him in England.”

“You will find thousands of English girls who can do that,” said Norma.
“I don’t see your difficulty.”

“She must be decorative,” said Weever.

“And that means?”

“She must be a queenly woman, but one content to be queen consort. Your
queenly woman--with brains--is not so easy to find. I have met only
one in my life who is beyond all my dreams of the ideal. Of course the
inherent malice of things screws her down like one blade of a pair of
scissors to another fellow.”

“Who is the paragon?” asked Norma.

“It wouldn’t be fair on the other fellow to tell you,” said he.

“Is it sheer honesty, or the fear of being cut in half by the pair of
scissors that keeps you from coming between them?”

“I think it’s honesty,” he replied. “If I can guess rightly, the
scissors have n’t so fine an edge on them as to make them dangerous.”

“They may be desperately in love with one another, for all you know.”

“They are delightful worldlings of our own particular world, dear lady,”
 said Weever, with a smile.

Thus was Norma given to understand that the post of decorative queen
consort in Mr. Theodore Weever’s Fifth Avenue palace was at her
disposal. A year ago she might have considered the offer seriously; now
that she felt secure of a brilliant position as Morland’s wife, she was
amused by its frank impudence. She held other laughing conversations
with him on the subject of his search, but too prudent to commit
indiscretions, she gave no hint that she had understood his personal
allusion, and Weever was too shrewd to proceed any further towards his
own undoing. They remained paired, however, to their mutual
satisfaction, until Morland’s arrival, when Theodore Weever took his
departure. In fact, the same carriage that conveyed the American to the
station remained for a necessary half-hour to meet Morland’s train, and
Norma, who dutifully drove down to welcome her affianced, shared the
carriage with the departing guest.

She stood on the platform chatting with him as he leaned out of the
window.

“When shall we see each other again?” she said idly.

“Next month.”

“Where?” she asked, somewhat taken aback by his decided tone.

“I am putting in some time at Chiltern Towers. I had a letter this
morning from the duchess, asking me to come and meet the Princess of
Herren-Rothbeck.”

They looked at each other, and Norma laughed.

“Beware of Her Serene Highness.”

“Oh, I’ve had dealings with her before,” replied Weever. “I reckon I get
my money’s worth. Don’t you fret about me.”

The guard came up and touched his cap.

“We are off now, miss.”

She shook hands with Weever, saying with a laugh, “I hope you will find
that bit of decoration.”

“Don’t you fret about that, either,” he said with a quick, hard glance.
“I’m in no hurry. I can wait.”

The train started, and was soon swallowed by a tunnel a few hundred
yards up the line. Norma patrolled the platform of the little wayside
station waiting for Morland. The place was very still. The only porter
had departed somewhither. The station-master had retired into his
office. The coachman outside the station sat like a well-bred image on
his box, and the occasional clink of the harness, as the horses threw
up their heads, sounded sharp and clear. Nothing around but mountain and
moorland; a short distance in front a ravine with a lazily trickling,
half-dried-up mountain stream. Here and there a clump of larch and fir,
and a rough granite boulder. An overcast sky threw dreariness on the
silent waste. Norma shivered, suddenly struck with a sense of isolation.
She seemed to stand in the same relation with her soul’s horizon as with
the physical universe. The man that had gone had left her with a little
feeling of fear for the future, a little after-taste of bitterness.
The man that was coming would bring her no thrill of joy. As she stood
between a drab sky and a bleak earth, so stood she utterly alone in the
still pause between a past and a future equally unillumined. She longed
for the sun to break out of the heaven, for the sounds of joyous things
to come from plain and mountain; and she longed for light and song in
her heart.

She had been watching for the past few days the proceedings of
a half-recognised, irregular union. The woman was the frivolous,
heartless, almost passionless wife of a casual husband at the other end
of the earth; the man an underbred fellow on the stock exchange. She
ordered him about and called him Tommy. He clothed her in extravagant
finery, and openly showed her his sovereign male’s contempt. Norma had
overheard him tell her to go to the devil and leave him alone, when she
hinted one night, in a whisper that was meant for his ears alone, that
he was drinking overmuch whisky. It was all so sordid, so vulgar--the
bond between them so unsanctified by anything like tenderness, chivalry,
devotion. Norma had felt the revulsion of her sex.

What would be the future? By any chance like this woman’s life? Would
the day come when she would sell herself for a gown and a bracelet,
thrown at her with a man’s contemptuous word? Was marriage very widely
different from such a union? Was not she selling herself? Might not the
man she was waiting for go the way of so many others of his type, drink
and coarsen and tell her to go to the devil?

She longed for the sun, but not a gleam pierced the leaden sky; she
sought in her soul for a ray of light, but none came.

At last with a shriek and a billowing plume of smoke the down train
emerged from the tunnel. Norma set her face in its calm ironic mask and
waited for the train to draw up. Only two passengers alighted, Morland
and his man. Morland came to her with smiling looks and grasped her by
the hand.

“You are looking more beautiful than ever,” he whispered, bringing his
face close to hers.

She started back as if she had been struck. The fumes of brandy were in
his breath. Her hideous forebodings were in process of fulfilment.

“The whole station will hear you,” she said coldly, turning away.

The Imp of Mischance rubbed his hands gleefully at his contrivance.
Morland, a temperate man, had merely felt chilly after an all-night’s
journey, and, more out of idleness than from a desire for alcohol, had
foolishly taken a sip out of his brandy flask a moment or two before,
when he was putting up his hand-bag.

Norma collected herself, summoned with bitter cynicism her common-sense
to her aid, and made smiling amends for her shrewish remark. She
suffered him to kiss her on the drive home, and strove not to despise
herself.



Chapter XI--DANGER

HEDDON COURT had been purchased by a wealthy Hardacre at the beginning
of the nineteenth century, and was exhibited by his grandnephew, the
present occupant, as a gem of Georgian architecture. Mr. Hardacre
had but a vague idea what the definition meant, but it sounded very
impressive. As a matter of fact, it was a Palladian stone building, with
pediments over the windows and severe rustication on the lower
courses. As none of the succeeding Hardacres had any money to devote
to extensions, the building had remained in its original perfection of
formality, and Mr. Hardacre did well to be proud of it. The ground’s had
been laid out in the Italian style; but the tastes and fashions of
over a hundred years had caused the classic architect’s design to be
practically indiscernible. A lawn with trim flower-beds, bounded by an
arc of elm-trees and bordered by a circular carriage drive faced the
south front. Along the east front ran a series of terraces. The highest,
a foot or two below the level of the drawing-room floor, ended on
the north in a porticoed temple, now used as an afternoon lounge, and
incongruously furnished with rugs and frivolous wickerwork chairs and
tables. The next terrace, some eight feet below, was devoted to a tennis
court. A thick hedge of clipped yew and a screen of wire netting hid the
lowest, the most charming of all, which, surrounded on all sides by
a sloping bank and flanked on three sides by tall trees, had been
delicately turfed for a bowling-green and was now used for croquet.

In this stately paradise, warmed by sunny September weather, Jimmie
had already spent two or three blissful days. His only regret was
the absence of Aline. She had been invited, but for reasons in which
doubtless Tony Merewether had a place, she had declined the invitation.
She gave Jimmie to understand that she had already had her holiday, that
the house could not possibly look after itself any longer, and that
she had no clothes fit to appear in among his grand friends. The last
argument being unanswerable, save by contentions at which the young
woman tossed a superior head, Jimmie had yielded and come down alone.
His regret, however, was tempered by the reflection that Aline was
probably enjoying herself after the manner of betrothed maidens, and it
did not seriously affect his happiness. Either chance or the lady’s own
sweet courtesy towards a guest had caused him to see much of Norma. She
had driven him over to Chiltern Towers, where the sittings had
begun. She had walked with him to Cosford to show him the beautiful
fourteenth-century church with its decorated spire. She had strolled
with him up and down the croquet lawn. She had chatted with him in the
morning-room yesterday for a whole rainy hour after lunch. His head was
full of her beauty and condescension. It was not unnatural that they
should be thrown much together. Morland’s day was taken up by partridges
and electors. Mr. Hardacre, honestly afraid of Jimmie, not knowing
what on earth to talk to him about, and only half comprehending his
conversation, kept out of his way as much as his duties as host would
allow, and Mrs. Hardacre, who, though exceedingly civil, had not
forgotten her defeat in the studio, felt justified in leaving his
entertainment in the hands of others who professed to admire the
creature. These were Norma, Morland, and Connie Deering.

This afternoon they found themselves again alone together, at tea in the
classic temple at the end of the terrace. Mrs. Hardacre and Connie had
driven off to pay a call, and the men were shooting over ducal turnips.
Jimmie had received an invitation to join the shooting-party, but
not having handled a gun since boyish days (and even then Jimmie with
firearms was Morland’s conception of the terror that walketh by day),
and also having an appointment with the princess for a second sitting,
he had declined, and Morland, when he heard of it, had clapped him on
the back and expressed his fervent gratitude.

Jimmie had been narrating his morning’s adventures at Chiltern Towers,
and explaining the point of view from which he was painting the
portrait. It was to be that of the very great lady, with the blood of
the earth’s great rulers in her veins. It was to be half full-length,
just showing the transparent, aristocratic hands set off by rich old
lace at the wrists. A certain acidity of temper betrayed by the pinched
nostrils and thin lips he would try to modify, as it would be out of
keeping with his basic conception. Norma listened, interested more in
the speaker than in the subject, her mind occasionally wandering, as
it had been wont to do of late, to a comparison of ideals. Since that
half-hour’s loneliness on the platform of the little Highland station,
she had passed through many hours of unrest. To-day the mood had again
come upon her. A talk with her mother about the great garden-party they
were giving in two days’ time, to which the princess and the duchess
were coming, had aroused her scorn; a casual phrase of Morland’s in
reference to the election had jarred upon her; a sudden meeting in
Cosford with Theodore Weever, and a laughing reference to the decorative
wife had brought back the little shiver of fear. The only human being
in the world who could settle her mood--and now she felt it
consciously--was this odd, sweet-natured man who seemed, to live in a
beautiful world.

As he talked she listened, and her mind wandered from the subject. She
thought of his life, his surroundings, of the girl whose love affair he
had told her of so tenderly. She took advantage of a pause, occasioned
by the handing of a second cup of tea and the judicious choosing of
cake, to start the new topic.

“I suppose Aline is very happy.”

Jimmie laughed. “What put my little girl into your head?”

“I have been thinking a good deal about her since you wrote of her
engagement. Is it really such an idyll?”

“The love of two sweet, clean young people is always idyllic. It is so
untainted--pure as a mountain spring; There is nothing quite like it in
the world.”

“When are they going to set up house together?”

“Soon, I hope.”

“You will miss her.”

“Of course,” said Jimmie, “enormously. But the thoughts of her happiness
will keep me pleasant company. I shall get on all right. Meanwhile it
is beautiful to see her. She does n’t know that I watch, but I do. It
is sweet to see her eyes brighten and her cheeks flush and to hear
her laughter. It is like stepping for an enchanted moment into a
fairy-tale.”

“I wish I could step into it--just for one enchanted moment,” said
Norma..

“You?” asked Jimmie.

“I have never been in one in my life. I disbelieved in them till you
came like an apostle of fairyland and converted me. Now I want the
consolations of my faith.”

An earnest note in her voice surprised him. She did not meet his eyes.

“I don’t understand you,” he said.

“I thought perhaps you would,” she answered. “You seem to understand
most things.”

“You have your own--happiness.”

He hesitated on the word. A quick glance assured her of his
ingenuousness. She longed to undeceive him, to shriek out her
heartlessness, her contempt for herself and for her life. But pride and
loyalty to Morland restrained her within bounds of sanity. She assented
to his proposition with a gesture of the shapely hand that lay on the
tea-table absently tracing the pattern of the cloth.

“Yes, I have that. But it isn’t the fairyland of those two children. You
yourself say there is nothing like it in the world. You don’t know how
I pine for it sometimes--for the things that are sweet and clean and
untainted and pure as a mountain spring. They don’t come my way. They
never will.”

“You are wrong,” said Jimmie. “Love will bring them all to you--that and
a perfect wedded life and little children.”

For a flash she raised her eyes and looked full into his, and for the
first time the love in the man’s heart surged tumultuously. It rose of a
sudden, without warning, flooding his being, choking him. What it was of
yearning, despair, passion, horror that he saw in her eyes he knew not.
He did not read in them the craving of a starved soul for food. To
him their burning light was a mystery. All that ever reached his
consciousness was that it was a look such as he had never before beheld
in a woman’s face; and against his will and against his reason it acted
like some dark talisman and unlocked floodgates. He clenched the arms of
the wickerwork chair, and bit his lip hard, and stared at the ground.

Norma broke into a hard laugh, and lay back in her chair.

“You must be thinking me a great fool,” she said, in her usual mocking
tones. “When a woman tries to swim in sentiment, she flounders, and
either drowns or has to be lugged ignominiously to shore. She can’t swim
like a man. Thanks for the rescue, Mr. Padgate.”

He looked at her for a moment.

“What do you mean?” he said curtly.

“I’m back on dry land. Oh! it is safer for me. There I am protected by
my little bodyguard of three--the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. I
can’t get on without them.”

Jimmie leaped from his chair and brought his clenched hands down to his
sides in a passionate gesture.

“Stop talking like that, I say!” he cried imperiously.

Then meeting her scared and indignant glance, he bowed somewhat wide of
her.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, in a tone of no great apology, and marched
out of the little temple and along the gravelled walk of the terrace.
Flight, or the loss of self-control, was his only alternative. What she
thought of him he did not care. The sense of increasing distance from
her alone brought security to his soul.

At the further end he met Mrs. Deering just back from her drive.

“Why, what is the matter, Jimmie?” she asked, twirling an idle sunshade
over her pretty head, for the terrace was in deep afternoon shadow.

“Nothing,” he replied, with a ghastly attempt at a smile. “I am going
for a walk before dinner.”

He left her standing, reached the highroad and pounded along it. What a
fool he had been! What a mad fool he had been!

Mrs. Deering, with a puzzled expression on her face, watched him
disappear. She turned and strolled down to Norma, who greeted her with a
satiric smile.

“What have you been doing to Jimmie?” asked Mr. Deering.

“I have been giving him lessons in worldly wisdom.”

“Poor dear! They seem to have disagreed with him.”

Norma shrugged her shoulders. “That’s his affair, not mine.”

“You don’t mean to say that you and Jimmie have quarrelled?” laughed
Connie. “How delightful! I’ve always wanted to quarrel with Jimmie
just for the pleasure, of kissing and making friends. But it has been
impossible. Is it serious?”

“I hope not,” Norma answered; and then after a pause, “Oh, Connie, I’m
afraid I’ve been a positive brute.”

Which evidence of a salutary conviction of her own wrongdoing shows that
Jimmie’s amazing shout of command had not aroused within her any furious
indignation. Indeed, after the first moment of breathless astonishment,
she had expressed an odd, almost amusing thrill of admiration for the
man who had dared address her in that fashion. It was only a small
feminine satisfaction in the knowledge that by going away he would
punish himself for his temerity that had restrained her from summoning
him back. As soon as he was out of call, she reproached herself for
misconduct. She could have strangled the wanton devil that had prompted
her cynical speech. And yet the same devil had saved an embarrassing
situation. Wedded life and little children! If she had spoken what was
trembling oh her lips, how could she have looked the man in the face
again? Her sex was revolting against that very prospect, was clamouring
wildly for she knew not what. She dared not betray herself.

She greeted him smilingly in the drawing-room before dinner, as if
nothing had occurred, and chatted pleasantly with Morland over his day’s
fortunes. Jimmie observed her with a sigh of relief. He had passed the
last two hours greatly agitated; he had trembled lest he had revealed
to her his soul’s secret, and also lest his unmannerlyness had given
unpardonable offence. In any case, now he saw himself forgiven, and
breathed freely. But he remained unusually silent during dinner, and
spent most of the evening in the billiard-room with Mr. Hardacre.

That gentleman, joining the ladies later, fell into conversation with
his daughter.

“How long is Padgate going to stay?” he asked, mopping his forehead with
his handkerchief.

“Till the princess has completed her sittings, I suppose,” said Norma.

“I wish she’d be quick. I don’t know what to do with the fellow. Does
n’t shoot, can’t play billiards worth a cent, and does n’t seem to
know anybody. It’s like talking to a chap that does n’t understand your
language. I’ve just been at it. Happened to say I’d like to go to
Rome again. He fetches a sigh and says so should he. ‘Some of the best
wild-duck shooting in the world,’ I said. He stared at me for a moment
as if I were an escaped lunatic. Now, what on earth should a reasonable
being go to that beastly place for except to shoot wild-duck on the
marshes?”

Norma laughed the little mocking laugh that always irritated her father.

“You need n’t be afraid of not entertaining Mr. Padgate. He must have
enjoyed the conversation hugely.”

“Damme--if the fellow is laughing at me--” he began.

“He would not be the very fine gentleman that he is,” said Norma. “Where
is he now?”

“Morland relieved guard in the billiard-room, when the post came in,”
 growled Mr. Hardacre, who shrank from crossing swords with his daughter,
and indeed with anybody. “He is happy enough with Morland.”

At that particular moment, however, there was not overmuch happiness in
the billiard-room. A letter from Aline had been accompanied by one for
“David Rendell, Esquire” which she had enclosed. Morland read it, and
crushed it angrily into the pocket of his dinner-jacket, and began to
knock the balls about in an aimless way. Jimmie watched him anxiously
and, as he did not speak, unfolded his own letter from Aline. Suddenly
he rose from the divan where he had been sitting and approached the
table.

“There is something here that you ought to know, Morland. A man has been
enquiring for you at my house.”

“Well, why should n’t he?” asked Morland, making a savage shot.

“He enquired for David Rendell.”

Morland threw down his cue.

“Well?”

“I am afraid Aline, who is a miracle of sagacity as a general rule, has
made a mess of it. You mustn’t be angry with my poor little girl. Her
head is full of sweeter things.”

“What has she done?” Morland asked impatiently.

“I’ll read: ‘I told him that Mr. Rendell was a friend of yours, and gave
him your present address. He muttered something about a false name and
went away without thanking me.’”

“Good God!” cried Morland, “what damned fools women are! Did she say
what kind of a man he was?”

Jimmie looked through the letter, and finding the passage, read: “‘An
odd-looking creature, like a mad Methodist parson!’”

Morland uttered an exclamation of anger and apprehension. His brow grew
black, and his florid comely features coarsened into ugliness.

“I thought so. It could n’t have been any one else. He was the only
person who knew. She has given me away nicely. The devil only knows what
will happen.”

Jimmie leant up against the table and folded his arms, and looked at
Morland moving restlessly to and fro and giving vent to his anger.

“Who is this man you seem to be so afraid of?” he asked quietly.

Morland stopped upon the unpleasant word, then shrugged his shoulders.

“Yes, I suppose I am afraid of him. One can’t reckon upon anything that
he might or might not do. He’s like a mad cat. I’ve seen him. So have
you.”

“I?”

“Yes--that socialist maniac you dragged me to hear one Sunday in Hyde
Park.”

“Whew!” said Jimmie. He remembered the look in the orator’s eyes, his
crazy, meaningless words, his fierce refusal to enter into friendly
talk; also Morland’s impatient exclamation and abrupt departure as soon
as they had learned the man’s name.

“He’s as mad as a hatter,” he said. “If he should take it into his head
to come down here and make a row, there will be the deuce to pay,” said
Morland.

Jimmie reflected for a moment. The man, with his wild talk of maidens
lashed to the chariot-wheels of the rich, must have been tortured by the
sense of some personal wrong.

“How does he come into the story?” he asked. “You had better tell me.”

“The usual way. Oh, I wish to God I had never got into this mess! A man
of position is an infernal fool to go rotting about after that sort of
thing. Oh, don’t you see? He had a crazy passion for her, was engaged to
her--he was mad then. When I came along, he had to drop it, and he has
been persecuting her ever since--divided between the desire to marry her
in spite of everything, and to murder me. That’s why I had the assumed
name and false address. I would n’t have let you in for this bother,
but I could n’t go and run the risk of being blackmailed at a confounded
little stationer’s shop up a back street. He has been trying to get on
my track all the time--and now he’s succeeded, thanks to Aline. Why the
devil could n’t she hold her tongue?”

“Because she is an innocent child, who has never dreamed of evil,” said
Jimmie.

Morland walked about the room, agitated, for a few moments, then halted.

“Oh, yes, I know, Jimmie. She is n’t to blame. Besides, the mischief is
done, so it’s no use talking.”

“Were you thinking of any such possibility in the summer when you asked
me to help you?” said Jimmie. Morland cast a quick, hopeful glance at
his friend.

“Something of the sort. One never knows. You were the only man I could
rely on.”

“Does this man know you by sight?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then what are you so afraid of? Look here, my dear old boy,” he
said cheerily, “you are being frighted by false fire. If it is only a
question of dealing with the man when he comes here--that is, supposing
he does come--which is very unlikely, I will tackle him as the only
person who knows anything about David Rendell. I’ll tell him David
Rendell is in Scotland or Honolulu.”

“He is on the track of the false name,” said Morland, uneasily. “Aline
mentions that.”

“He is bound to come to me first,” said Jimmie. “I’ll fix him. We’ll get
on capitally together. There’s a freemasonry between lunatics. Leave it
all to me.”

“Really?” cried Morland, in great eagerness.

“Of course,” said Jimmie. “Let us go upstairs.”

They passed out of the billiard-room in silence. On their way to the
drawing-room Morland murmured in a shamefaced way his apologia. He was
just at the beginning of his electoral campaign. It was his own county.
He was hand in glove with the duchess, sovereign lady of these parts,
and she never forgave a scandal. “Besides,” he added, “to quote your
own words, it would break Norma’s heart.” Also, employing the limited
vocabulary of his class and type, he reiterated the old assurance
that he had not been a beast. He had done all that a man could to make
amends. If Jimmie had not loved him so loyally, he would have seen
something very pitiful in these excuses; but convinced that Morland had
atoned as far as lay in his power for his fault, he trembled for the
happiness of only those dear to him.

Norma met them on the drawing-room landing.

“I was coming down to see what had become of you,” she said.

“I have been the culprit. I restore him to you,” laughed Jimmie. He
entered the room and closed the door. The betrothed pair stood for a
moment in an embarrassed silence. She laid a hesitating hand on his
sleeve.

“Morland--” she said diffidently. “I was really wanting to have a little
talk with you. Somehow we don’t often see one another.”

Morland, surprised at the softness in her voice, led her back to the
billiard-room.



Chapter XII--NORMA’S ENLIGHTENMENT

THE development of the germ of goodness in woman may be measured by
her tendency towards self-sacrifice. Even the most selfish of her sex,
provided she has some rudimentary virtues, hugs close to her bosom some
pet little thorn which she loves to dig into her shrinking flesh. She
enjoys some odd little mortification, some fantastic humiliation, that
is known only to the inner chamber of her soul. Your great-hearted woman
practises Suttee daily, greatly to the consternation of an observant yet
unperceptive husband. Doubtless this characteristic has a sexual basis,
psychological perhaps rather than directly physiological, being an
instinctive assertion of the fundamental principle of passivity, which
in its turn is translated into the need to be held down and subdued.
Thus, if the man does not beat her, she will beat herself; if he is
a fool, she will often apply caustic to her wisdom, so that she may
reverence him; if he is a knave, she will choke her honesty. Side by
side with the assertion of this principle, and indeed often inextricably
confused with it, is the maternal impulse, which by manifold
divergences from its primary manifestation causes women to find a joy,
uncomprehended by men, in pangs of suffering. The higher the type the
stronger the impulse towards this sweet self-martyrdom.

Some such theory alone explains the softer tones in Norma’s voice
when she spoke to Morland. She had passed through two periods of sharp
development--the half-hour in Scotland and the hours she had spent
since her talk with Jimmie that afternoon. She acted blindly, obeying an
imperative voice.

They sat down together on the raised divan. She was dressed in black,
with a bunch of yellow roses at her bosom, and her neck and arms gleamed
white in the shadow cast by the green shades over the billiard-table.
Her face had softened. She was infinitely desirable.

“I have been thinking over our relations, Morland,” she said. “Perhaps I
have been wrong.”

“What do you mean?” he asked in some alarm.

“I told you when you asked me to marry you that it would be wise to put
sentiment aside. You agreed, against your will, and have observed the
convention very loyally. But I have not treated you well. In putting
sentiment aside I was, perhaps, wrong. That is what I wanted to say to
you.”

“Let me see that I understand you, Norma,” said Morland. “You wish that
we should be more like--like ordinary lovers?”

“We might try,” she whispered.

She waited. Heaven knows what she waited for; but it did not come. The
Imp of Mischance again scored his point. The man’s mind was filled with
the thoughts of another woman in her agony and of a crazy avenger coming
with murder in his heart. He took her hand mechanically and raised it
to his lips. Her yielding to the caress told him that he could throw
his arms around her and treat her loverwise; her words told him that he
ought to do so.

Yet he did not. For the moment he was passionless; and to men of
his type is not given the power, possessed by men of imaginative
temperament, of simulating passion. He forced a laugh.

“How do you think we might begin?”

She went on bravely with her self-imposed task of submission.

“I have heard that the man generally takes the initiative.”

He kissed her on the cheek. To do less would have been outrageous.

“I am glad you realise that I am in love with you, at last,” he said.

“Are you sure that you are in love with me?” she asked, the chill that
had fallen upon her after the lack of response to her first whisper
growing colder and colder.

“Of course I am.”

“That is all I wanted to hear. Good-night,” she said in an odd voice.
She rose and put out her hand. Morland opened the door for her to pass
and closed it behind her.

Norma went straight to her room, feeling as though she had been tied by
the heels to a cart-tail and dragged through the mud. Half undressed,
she dismissed her maid summarily. Every place on her body that the
girl’s fingers touched seemed to be a bruise. She went to bed stupefied
with herself.

Meanwhile Morland rang for whisky and soda, and cursed all that
appertained to him, knowing that he had missed an amazing opportunity.
After the way of feeble men, he thought of a hundred things he might
have said and done that would have brought her to his feet. Had he not
been watching patiently, ever since his engagement, for her to put off
her grand airs, and become a woman like the rest of them? He should
have said the many things he had often said to others. Or, if words were
difficult, why in the world had he not kissed her properly after the
manner accepted by women as the infallible argument? He conjured up the
exceeding pleasantness of such an act. He could feel the melting of
her lips, the yielding of her bosom; gradually he worked himself into
a red-hot desire. A sudden resolve took him upstairs. There he learned
that Norma had retired for the night, and returning to his whisky in the
billiard-room, he cursed himself more loudly than before. A hand thrust
into the pocket of his dinner-jacket met the poor girl’s crumpled
letter. Mechanically he took it to the empty grate, and then cursed the
fire for not being lit. When Mr. Hardacre came down for a final game of
billiards, he found his future son-in-law in an irritable temper, and
won an easy game. Rallied upon his lack of form, Morland explained that
the damned election was getting on his nerves.

“Did n’t get on them when you were shooting to-day,” said Mr. Hardacre.

“I made believe that the birds were the beastly voters,” replied
Morland.

Norma had not yet come down the next morning when he started for Cosford
on electioneering business. Nor did he meet her, as he hoped, in the
town, carrying on the work of canvassing which she had begun with great
success. A dry barrister having been sent down to contest the division
in the Liberal interest, was not making much headway in a constituency
devoted to the duchess and other members of the tyrannical classes, and
thus the task of Norma and her fellow-canvassers was an easy one. Today,
however, she did not appear. Morland consoled himself with the assurance
that he would put things right in the evening. After all, it was easy
enough to kiss a woman who had once shown a desire to be made love to.
Every man has his own philosophy of woman. This was Morland’s.

Jimmie also started upon his morning’s pursuits without seeing Norma.
He was somewhat relieved; for he had spent a restless night, dozing off
only to dream grotesque dreams of the mad orator and waking to fight
with beasts that gnawed his vitals. He came down unstrung, a haggard
mockery of himself, and he was glad not to meet her clear eyes. The
three-mile walk to Chiltern Towers refreshed him, his work on the
portrait absorbed his faculties, and his neighbours at the ducal
luncheon-table, to which the duchess in person had invited him,
clear-witted women in the inner world of politics and diplomacy, kept
his attention at straining point. It was only when he walked back to
Heddon Court, although he made a manful attempt to whistle cheerily,
that he felt heavy upon his heart the burden of the night. It was a
languorous September afternoon, and the tired hush of dying summer
had fallen upon the world. The smell of harvest, the sense of golden
fulfilment of life hung on the air. Jimmie swung his stick impatiently,
and filled his lungs with a draught of the mellow warmth.

“The old earth is good. By God, it’s good!” he cried aloud.

Brave words of a resolute optimism; but they did not lighten his burden.

He reached the house. Beneath an umbrella-tent on the front lawn sat
Norma, her hands listlessly holding a closed book on her lap. Jimmie
would have lifted his hat and passed her by, but with, a brightening
face she summoned him. They talked awhile of commonplace things.
Then, after a pause, she asked him, half mockingly, to account for his
behaviour the day before. Why had he rated her in that masterful way?

“I can’t bear you to speak evilly of yourself,” he said.

“Why, since I deserve it?”

“The _you_ that you sometimes take a pleasure in assuming to be
may deserve it. The real you does n’t. And it is the real you that
know--that has given me friendship and is going to marry my dearest
friend. The other you is a phantom of a hollow world in which
circumstances have placed you.”

“I think the phantom is happier than the reality,” said Norma, with a
laugh. “‘The dream is better than the drink.’ The hollow world is the
safer place, after all.”

“Where imagination doth not corrupt and enthusiasms do not break in and
steal,” said Jimmie, with unusual bitterness. “I have seen very little
of it--but you have told me things,” he continued lamely, “and your
being in it and of it seems a profanation. When you wilfully identify
yourself with its ideals, you hurt me; and when I am hurt, I cry out.”

“But why should you care so much about what I am and what I am not?” she
asked in a tone half of genuine enquiry and half of expectancy, wholly
kind and soft..

He dug the point of his stick into the turf and did not raise his eyes.
He knew now what a fool’s game of peril he was playing, and kept himself
in check. Yet his voice trembled as he replied:

“Morland is very dear to me. You, his future wife, have grown dear to
me also. I suppose I have lived rather a simple sort of life and take my
emotions seriously.”

“I hope you thank God for it,” said Norma.

The swift rattle of a carriage turning into the drive broke the talk,
which had grown too personal to be left voluntarily. Jimmie felt
infinitely grateful to the visitors, like a man suddenly saved from a
threatening precipice. Leaving Norma with a bow, he fled into the house
and selecting a book from the library, went onto the terrace. He needed
solitude. Something of which he was unaware was happening. Circumstances
were not the same as when he had first arrived. Then he had looked on
Norma with brave serenity. He was happy, loving her and receiving frank
friendship from her condescending hands. Now it was growing to be a
pain to watch her face, a dread to hear her voice. Sweet intercourse had
become a danger. And a few days had brought about the change. Why? Of
the riot in the woman’s nature he knew nothing. In his blank ignorance,
seeking the cause within himself, he asked, Why?

He crossed the tennis lawn, went through the little opening at the end
of the hedge, and down to the seclusion of the croquet ground. Half-way
along the sloping bank beneath the upper terrace some one had left a
rug. He threw himself upon it, and tried like many another poor fool
to reason down his hunger. But all the sensitive nerves with which
the imaginative man, for his curse or his blessing, is endowed, were
vibrating from head to foot. Her words sang in his ears: “Why should you
care so much about what I am and what I am not?” The real answer burst
passionately from his heart.

He had lain there for about half an hour when a gay little laugh aroused
him.

“You idyllic creature!”

It was Connie Deering, bewitchingly apparelled, a dainty, smiling pale
yellow butterfly, holding as usual an absurd parasol over her head.

“I have been looking for you all over the place,” she remarked. “They
told me you were somewhere about the grounds. May I sit down?”

He made room for her on the rug, and taking the parasol from her hand,
closed it. She settled herself gracefully by his side.

“I repeat I have been looking for you,” she said. “The overpowering
sense of honour done me has deprived me of speech,” replied Jimmie, with
an attempted return to his light-hearted manner.

“Norma is entertaining those dreadful Spencer-Temples,” said Mrs.
Deering, irrelevantly.

“I must have had a premonition of their terrors, for I fled from before
their path,” he said. “After all, poor people, what have they done to be
called names?” he added.

“They are ugly.”

“So am I, yet people don’t run away from me.”

“I saw you run away from them,” she said with a significant nod. “I
was at my bedroom window. They spoiled a most interesting little
conversation.”

Jimmie was startled. He looked at her keenly, but only met laughing
eyes.

“They interrupted me certainly. But I could n’t have inflicted my
society on Miss Hardacre all the afternoon.”

“You would have liked to, wouldn’t you? Jimmie dear,” she said with a
change of tone, “I want to have a talk with you. I’m the oldest woman
friend you have--”

“And by far the sweetest and kindest and prettiest and fascinatingest.”

She tapped his hand with her fingers. “Ssh! I’m serious, awfully
serious. I’ve never been so serious in my life before. I’ve got a duty.
I don’t often have it, but when I do, it’s a terrible matter.”

“You had better go and have it extracted at once, Connie,” he laughed,
determined to keep the talk in a frivolous channel. But the little lady
was determined also.

“Jimmie dear,” she said, holding up her forefinger, “I am afraid you
are running into danger. I want to warn you. An old friend can do that,
can’t she?”

“You can say anything you like to me, Connie. But I don’t know what you
mean.”

He suspected her meaning, however, only too shrewdly, and his heart beat
with apprehension. Had he been fool enough to betray his secret?

“Are n’t you getting just a little too fond of Norma, Jimmie?”

“I could n’t get too fond of her,” he said, “seeing that she is to be
Morland’s wife.”

“That’s just why you must n’t. Come, Jimmie, have n’t you fallen a bit
in love with her?”

“No,” he said with some heat. “Certainly not. How dare I?”

Kindness and teasing were in her eyes.

“My poor dear husband used to say I had the brain of a bird, but I may
have the sharp eyes of a bird as well. Come--not just one little bit in
love?”

She had sought him with the best intentions in the world. She had long
suspected; yesterday and to-day had given her certainty. She would put
him on his guard, talk to him like an elder sister, pour forth upon him
her vast wisdom in affairs of the heart, and finally persuade him-from
his folly to more sensible courses.

“He sha’n’t come to grief over Norma if I can prevent it,” she had said
to herself.

And now, in spite of her altruistic resolve, she could not resist the
pleasure of teasing him. She had done so all her life. Her method
became less elder-sisterly than she had intended. But she was miles from
realising that she touched bare nerves, and that the man was less a man
than a living pain.

“I tell you I’m not in love with her, Connie,” he said. “How could I
dream of loving her? It would be damnable folly.”

“Oh, Jimmie, Jimmie,” she said, enjoying his confusion, “what a
miserably poor liar you make--and what a precious time you would have in
the witness-box if you were a co-respondent! You can’t deceive for nuts.
You had better confess and have done with it.” Then seeing something of
the anguish on his face, she bethought her of the serious aspect of her
mission. “I could not bear you to break your heart over Norma, dear,”
 she said quite softly.

“Don’t madden me, Connie--you don’t know what you are saying,” he
muttered below his breath.

Connie Deering had never heard a man speak in agony of spirit. Her lot
had fallen among pleasant places, where life was a smooth, shaven lawn
and emotions not more violent than the ripples on a piece of ornamental
water. His tone gave her a sudden fright.

“You do love her, then?” she whispered.

“Yes,” said Jimmie, drawing himself up in a tight, awkward heap on
the slope. “My God, yes, I do love, her. I love her with every fibre of
brain and body.”

The words were out. More came. He could not restrain them. He gave up
the attempt, surrendered himself to the drunkenness of his passion,
poured out a torrent of riotous speech. What he said he knew not.
Such divine madness comes to a man but few times in a life. The
sweet-hearted, frivolous woman, sitting there in the trim little
paradise of green, with its velvet turf and trim slopes, and tall mask
of trees, all mellow in the shade of the soft September afternoon,
listened to him with wondering eyes and pale cheeks. It was no longer
Jimmie of the homely face that was talking; he was transfigured. His
very voice had changed its quality.... Did he love her? The word was
inept in its inadequacy. He worshipped her like a Madonna. He adored her
like a queen. He loved her as the man of hot blood loves a woman. Soul
and heart and body clamoured for her. Compared with hers, every other
woman’s beauty was a glow-worm unto lightning. Her voice haunted him
like music heard in sleep. Her presence left a fragrance behind that
clouded his senses like incense. Her beauty twined itself into every
tendril of every woman’s hair he painted, stole into the depths of every
woman’s eyes. It was a divine obsession.

“You must fight against it,” Connie whispered tonelessly.

“Why should I? Who is harmed? Norma? Who will tell her? Not I. If I
choose to fill my life with her splendour, what is that to any one? The
desire of the moth for the star! Who heeds the moth?”

He went on reckless of speech until his passion had spent itself. Then
he could only repeat in a broken way:

“Love her? Heaven knows I love her. My soul is a footstool for her to
rest her feet upon.”

Connie Deering laid her hand on his.

“I’m sorry. Oh, I’m sorry, Jimmie. God bless you, dear.”

He raised the hand to his lips. Neither spoke. He plucked at the grass
by his side; at length he looked up.

“You won’t give me away, will you?” he said with a smile, using her
dialect.

She went on her knees and clasped both his wrists. She said the first
thing that came, as something sacred, into her head.

“I could no more speak of this to any one than of some of my dead
husband’s kisses.”

“I know you are a good true woman, Connie,” he said.

In the silence that followed, Norma, who had come to summon Connie to
tea (the Spencer-Temples having called on their drive past the gates
merely to deliver a message), and hearing the voice behind the hedge had
been compelled against her will to listen--Norma, deadly white, shaken
to the roots of her being, crept across the tennis lawn and fled in
swaying darkness to her room.



Chapter XIII--THE OPTIMIST AT LARGE

CONNIE DEERING walked back to the house with a silent and still
tremulous Jimmie. She had slid her hand through his arm, and now and
then gave it an affectionate pat. Within the limitations of her light,
gay nature she was a sympathetic and loyal woman, and she had loved
Jimmie for many years with the unquestioning fondness that one has for
a beloved and satisfying domestic animal. She had recovered from
the fright his frantic demonstration had caused her, and her easy
temperament had shaken off the little chill of solemnity that had
accompanied her vow of secrecy. But she pitied him with all her kind
heart, and in herself felt agreeably sentimental.

They strolled slowly into the hall, and paused for a moment before
parting.

“When you come to think of it seriously, you won’t consider I have made
too impossible a fool of myself?” he asked with an apologetic smile.

“I promise,” she said affectionately. Then she laughed. Not only
was Jimmie’s smile contagious, but Connie Deering could not face the
pleasant world for more than an hour without laughter.

“I have always said you were a dear, Jimmie, and you are. I almost wish
I could kiss you.”

Jimmie looked around. They were quite unperceived.

“I do quite,” he said, and kissed her on the cheek.

“Now we are really brother and sister,” she said with a flush. “You are
not going to be too unhappy, are you?”

“I? Oh no, not I,” he replied heartily. He repeated this asseveration to
himself while dressing for dinner. Why indeed should he be unhappy? Had
he not looked a few hours before at God’s earth and found that it was
good? Besides, to add to the common stock of the world’s unhappiness
were a crime. “Yes, a crime,” he said aloud, with a vigorous pull at his
white tie. Then he perceived that it was hopelessly mangled, and wished
for Aline, who usually conducted that part of the ceremony of his
toilette.

“It will have to do,” he said cheerfully, as he turned away from the
glass.

Yet, for all his philosophising, he was surprised at the relief that his
wild confession to Connie had afforded him. The burden that had seemed
too heavy for him to bear had now grown magically light. He attributed
the phenomenon to Connie Deering, to the witchery of her sweet sympathy
and the comfort of her sisterly kiss. By the time he had finished
dressing the acute pain of the past two days had vanished, and as
he went down the stairs he accounted himself a happy man. In the
drawing-room he met Norma, and chatted to her almost light-heartedly.
He did not notice the constraint in her manner, her avoidance of his
glance, the little pucker of troubled brows; nor was he aware of her
sigh of relief when the door opened and the servant announced Mr.
Theodore Weever, who with one or two other people were dining at the
house. Mr. and Mrs. Hardacre followed on the American’s heels, and
soon the rest of the party had assembled. Jimmie had no opportunity
for further talk with Norma, who studiously kept apart from him all the
evening, and during dinner devoted herself to subacid conversation with
Morland and to a reckless interchange of cynical banter with Weever.
Jimmie, talking with picturesque fancy about his student days in the Rue
Bonaparte to his neighbour, a frank fox-hunting and sport-loving young
woman, never dreamed of the chaos of thoughts and feelings that whirled
behind the proud face on the opposite side of the table; and Norma,
when her mind now and then worked lucidly, wondered at the strength
and sweetness of the man who could subdue such passion and laugh with a
gaiety so honest and sincere. For herself, Theodore Weever, with his icy
humour that crystallised her own irony into almost deadly wit, was her
sole salvation during the interminable meal. Once Morland, listening
with admiration, whispered in her ear:

“I’ve never heard you in such good form.”

She had to choke down an hysterical impulse of laughter and swallow
a mouthful of champagne. Later, when the women guests had gone, she
slipped up to her room without saying good-night to Morland, and,
dismissing her maid, as she had done the night before, sat for a long
time, holding her head in her hands, vainly seeking to rid it of words
that seemed to have eaten into her brain. And when she thought of
Morland, of last night, of her humiliation, she flushed hot from hair
to feet. She was only five-and-twenty, and the world had not as yet
completed its work of hardening. It was a treacherous and deceitful
world; she had prided herself on being a finished product of
petrifaction, and here she lay, scorched and bewildered, like any soft
and foolish girl who had been suddenly brought too near the flame of
life. Keenly she felt the piteousness of her defeat. In what it exactly
consisted she did not know. She was only conscious of broken pride, the
shattering of the little hard-faced gods in her temple, the tearing up
of the rails upon which she had reckoned to travel to her journey’s end.
Hers was a confused soul state, devoid of immediate purpose. A breach
of her engagement with Morland did not occur to her mind, and Jimmie was
merely an impersonal utterer of volcanic words. She slept but little. In
the morning she found habit by her bedside; she clothed herself therein
and faced the day.

Much was expected of her. The great garden-party was to take place
that afternoon. Her Serene Highness the Princess of Herren-Rothbeck had
signified that she would do Mr. and Mrs. Hardacre the honour of
being present. Her Grace the Duchess of Wiltshire would accompany the
princess. The _ban_ and _arriere-ban_ of the county had been invited,
and the place would be filled with fair women agog to bask in the smiles
of royalty, and ill-tempered men dragged away from their partridges
by ambitious wives. A firm of London caterers had contracted for the
refreshments. A military band would play on the terrace. A clever French
showman whom Providence had sent to cheer the dying hours of the London
season, and had kept during the dead months at a variety theatre, was
coming down with an authentic Guignol. He had promised the choicest
pieces in his repertoire--_la vraie grivoiserie française_--and men
who had got wind of the proposed entertainment winked at one another
wickedly. The garden-party was to be an affair of splendour worthy of
the royal lady who had deigned to shed her serenity upon the county
families assembled; and Mr. Hardacre had raised a special sum of money
to meet the expenses.

“I shall have to go to the Jews, my dear,” he had said to his wife when
they were first discussing ways and means.

“Oh, go to the--Jews then,” said Mrs. Hardacre, almost betrayed, in her
irritation, into an unwifely retort. “What does it matter, what does any
sacrifice matter, when once we have royalty at the house? You are such a
fool, Benjamin.”

He had a singular faculty for arousing the waspishness of his wife; yet,
save on rare occasions, he was the meekest of men in her presence.

“Well, you know best, Eliza,” he said.

“I have n’t been married to you for six-and-twenty years without being
perfectly certain of that,” she replied tartly.

So Mr. Hardacre went to the Jews, and the princess promised to come to
Mrs. Hardacre.

Norma was not the only one that morning who was aroused to a sense of
responsibility. The footman entering Jimmie’s bedroom brought with him
a flat cardboard box neatly addressed in Aline’s handwriting. The box
contained a new shirt, two new collars, a new silk tie, and a pair of
grey suède gloves; also a letter from Aline instructing him as to the
use of these various articles of attire.

“Be sure to wear your frock-coat,” wrote the director of Jimmie’s
conduct. “I wish you had one less than six years old; but I went over it
with benzine and ammonia before I packed it up, so perhaps it won’t be
so bad. And wear your patent-leather evening shoes. They’ll look quite
smart if you’ll tie the laces up tight, and stick the ends in between
the shoe and the sock. Oh, I wish I could come and turn you out
decently! and _please_, Jimmie dear, don’t cut yourself shaving and go
about all day with a ridiculous bit of cotton wool on your dear chin.
Tony says you need n’t wear the frock-coat, but I know better. What
acquaintance has he with princesses and duchesses? And that reminds
me to tell you that Tony--” _et caetera, et caetera,_ in a manner that
brought the kindest smile in the world into Jimmie’s eyes.

He dressed with scrupulous regard to directions, but not in the
frock-coat. He had a morning sitting with the princess at Chiltern
Towers to get through before airing himself in the splendour of benzine
and ammonia. He put on his old tweed jacket and went downstairs. Morland
was the only person as yet in the breakfast-room. He held a morning
paper tight in his hand, and stared through the window, his back to
the door. On Jimmie’s entrance he started round, and Jimmie saw by a
harassed face that something had happened.

“My dear fellow--” he began in alarm.

Morland smoothed out the paper with nervous fingers, and threw it
somewhat ostentatiously on a chair. Then he walked to the table and
poured himself out some tea. The handle of the silver teapot slid in
his grasp, and awkwardly trying to save the pouring flood of liquid, he
dropped the teapot among the cups and saucers. It was a disaster but
one that could have been adequately greeted by a simpler series of
expletives. He cursed vehemently.

“What’s the matter, man?” asked Jimmie.

Morland turned violently upon him.

“The very devil’s the matter. There never was such a mess since the
world began. What an infernal fool I have been! You do well to steer
clear of women.”

“Tell me what’s wrong and I may be able to help you.”

Morland looked at him for a moment in gloomy doubt. Then he shook his
head.

“You can’t help me. I thought you could, but you can’t. It’s a matter
for a lawyer. I must run up to town.”

“And cut the garden-party?”

“That’s where I’m tied,” exclaimed Morland, impatiently. “I ought to
start now, but if I cut the garden-party the duchess would never forgive
me--and by Jove, I may need the duchess more than ever--and I’ve got a
meeting to attend in Cosford this morning to which a lot of people are
coming from a distance.”

“Can’t I interview the lawyer for you?”

“No. I must do it myself.”

The butler entered and looked with grave displeasure at the wreckage on
the tea-tray. While he was repairing the disaster, Morland went back to
the window and Jimmie stood by his side.

“If you fight it through squarely, it will all come right in the end.”

“You don’t mind my not telling you about it?” said Morland, in a low
voice.

“Why should I? In everything there is a time for silence and a time for
speech.”

“You’re right,” said Morland, thrusting his hands into his trousers’
pockets; “but how I am to get through this accursed day in silence I
don’t know.”

They sat down to breakfast. Morland rejected the offer of tea, and
called for a whisky and soda which he nearly drained at a gulp. Mr.
Hardacre came in, and eyed the long glass indulgently.

“Bucking yourself up, eh? Why did n’t you ask for a pint of champagne?”

He opened the newspaper and ran through the pages. Morland watched him
with swift nervous glances, and uttered a little gasp of relief when he
threw it aside and attacked his grilled kidneys. His own meal was
soon over. Explaining that he had papers to work at in the library, he
hurried out of the room.

“Can’t understand a man being so keen on these confounded politics,” his
host remarked to Jimmie across the table. A polite commonplace was all
that could be expected in reply. Politics were engrossing.

“That’s the worst of it,” said Mr. Hardacre. “In the good old days a man
could take his politics like a gentleman; now he has got to go at them
like a damned blaspheming agitator on a tub.”

“Cosford was once a pretty little pocket borough, wasn’t it?” said
Jimmie. “Now Trade’s unfeeling train usurp the privileges of His Grace
of Wiltshire and threaten to dispossess his nominee. Instead of
one simple shepherd recording his pastoral vote we have an educated
electorate daring to exercise their discretion.”

Mr. Hardacre looked at Jimmie askance; he always regarded an allusive
style with suspicion, as if it necessarily harboured revolutionary
theories.

“I hope you’re not one of those--” He checked himself as he was going
to say “low radical fellows.” Politeness forbade. “I hope you are not a
radical, Mr. Padgate?”

“I am sure I don’t quite know,” replied Jimmie, cheerfully.

“Humph!” said Mr. Hardacre, “I believe you are.”

Jimmie laughed; but Mr. Hardacre felt that he held the key to the
eccentric talk of his guest. Jimmie Padgate was a radical; a fearful
wildfowl of unutterable proclivities, to whom all things dreadful were
possible.

“I,” he continued, “am proud to be a Tory of the old school.”

The entrance of the ladies put a stop to the distressful conversation.

Jimmie, whose life during the past few days had been a curious compound
of sunshine and shadow, went about his morning’s work with only
Morland’s troubles weighing upon him. Of their specific nature he had
no notion; he knew they had to do with the unhappy love affair; but
as Morland was going to put matters into the hands of his lawyers, a
satisfactory solution was bound to be discovered. Like all simple-minded
men, he had illimitable faith in the powers of solicitors and
physicians; it was their business to get people out of difficulties, and
if they were capable men they did their business. Deriving much comfort
from this fallacy, he thought as little as might be about the matter. In
fact he quite enjoyed his morning. He sat before his easel at the end
of a high historic gallery, the bright morning light that streamed in
through the windows tempered by judiciously arranged white blinds; and
down the vista were great paintings, and rare onyx tables, and priceless
chairs and statuary, all harmonising with the stately windows and
painted ceiling and polished floor. In front of him, posed in befitting
attitude, sat the royal lady, with her most urbane expression upon
her features, and, that which pleased him most, the picture was just
emerging from the blurred mass of paint, an excellent though somewhat
idealised portrait. So he worked unfalteringly with the artist’s joy in
the consciousness of successful efforts, and his good-humour infected
even his harsh sitter, who now and then showed a wintry gleam of gaiety,
and uttered a guttural word of approbation.

“You shall come to Herren-Rothbeck and baint the bortrait of the brince
my brother,” she said graciously. “Would that blease you?”

“I should just think it would,” said Jimmie.

The princess laughed--a creaking, rusty laugh, but thoroughly well
intentioned. Jimmie glanced at her enquiringly.

“I like you,” she responded. “You are so natural--what you English call
refreshing. A German would have made a ceremonious speech as long as
your mahl-stick.”

“I am afraid I must learn ceremony before I come to court, Madam,” said
Jimmie.

“If you do, you will have forgotten how to baint bor-traits,” said the
princess.

Thus, under the sun of princely favour, was Jimmie proceeding on
the highroad to fortune. Never had the future seemed so bright. His
bombastic jest about being appointed painter in ordinary to the crowned
heads of Europe was actually going to turn out a reality. He lost
himself in daydreams of inexhaustible coffers from which he could toss
gold in lapfuls to Aline. She should indeed walk in silk attire, and set
up housekeeping with Tony in a mansion in Park Lane.

On the front lawn at Heddon Court he met Connie and waved his hat in the
air. She went to him, and, peering into his smiling face, laid, her hand
on his sleeve.

“Whatever has happened? Have you two stepped into each other’s shoes?”

“What on earth do you mean?

“You know--Norma.”

“My dear Connie--” he began.

“Well, it seemed natural. Here are you as happy as an emperor; and there
is Morland come back from Cosford with the look of a hunted criminal.”



Chapter XIV--THE BUBBLE REPUTATION

THE princess had the affability to inform Mrs. Hardacre that it was a
“charming barty,” and Mrs. Hardacre felt that she had not lived in vain.

Henceforth she would be of the innermost circle of the elect of the
county. Exclusive front doors would open respectfully to her. She would
be consulted on matters appertaining to social polity. She would be a
personage. She would also make her neighbour, Lady FitzHubert, sick with
envy. A malignant greenness on that lady’s face she noted with a thrill
of pure happiness, and she smilingly frustrated all her manoeuvres to
get presented to Her Serene Highness. She presented her rival, instead,
to Jimmie.

“My dear Lady FitzHubert, let me introduce Mr. Padgate, who is painting
the dear princess’s portrait. Mr. Padgate is staying with us.”

Whereby Mrs. Hardacre conveyed the impression that Heddon Court and
Chiltern Towers contained just one family party, the members of which
ran in and out of either house indiscriminately. It may be mentioned
that Jimmie did not get on particularly well with Lady FitzHubert. He
even confided afterwards to Connie Deering his suspicion that now and
again members of the aristocracy were lacking in true urbanity.

By declaring the garden-party to be charming the princess only did
justice to the combined efforts of the Hardacres and Providence. The
warm golden weather and the chance of meeting august personages had
brought guests from far and near. The lawns were bright with colour and
resonant with talk. A red-coated band played on the terrace. Between the
items of music, Guignol, housed in the Greek temple, with the portico
for a proscenium, performed his rogueries to the delight of hastily
assembling audiences. Immediately below, a long white-covered table
gleamed with silver tea-urns and china, and all the paraphernalia of
refreshments. At the other end of the lawn sat the august personages
surrounded by the elect.

Among these was Morland. But for him neither blue September skies nor
amiable duchesses had any charm. To the man of easy living had come
the sudden shock of tragedy, and the music and the teacups and the
flatteries seemed parts of a ghastly farce. The paragraph he had read
in the paper that morning obsessed him. The hours had seemed one long
shudder against which he vainly braced his nerves. He had loved the poor
girl in his facile way. The news in itself was enough to bring him face
to face with elementals. But there was another terror added. The chance
word of a laughing woman had put him on the rack of anxiety. Getting out
of the train at Cosford, she had seen the queerest figure of a man step
on to the platform, with the face of Peter the Hermit and the costume of
Mr. Stiggins. Morland’s first impulse had been to retreat precipitately
from Cosford, and take the next train to London, whither he ought to
have gone that morning. The tradition-bred Englishman’s distaste for
craven flight kept him irresolutely hanging round the duchess. He
thought of whispering a private word to Jimmie; but Jimmie was far
away, being introduced here and there, apparently enjoying considerable
popularity. Besides, the whisper would involve the tale of the newspaper
paragraph, and Morland shrank from confiding such news to Jimmie. No one
on earth must know it save his legal adviser, an impersonal instrument
of protection. He did what he had done once during five horrible weeks
at Oxford, when an Abingdon barmaid threatened him with a breach of
promise action. He did nothing and trusted to luck. Happy chance brought
to light the fact that she was already married. Happy chance might save
him again.

Beyond the mere commonplaces of civility he had exchanged no words that
day with Norma. Moved by an irritating feeling of shame coupled with a
certain repugnance of the flesh, he had deliberately avoided her; and
his preoccupation had not allowed him to perceive that the avoidance was
reciprocated. When they happened to meet in their movements among the
guests, they smiled at each other mechanically and went their respective
ways. Once, during the afternoon, Mr. Hardacre, red and fussy, took him
aside.

“I have just heard a couple of infernal old cats talking of Norma and
that fellow Weever. There they are together now. Will you give Norma a
hint, or shall I?”

Morland looked up and saw the pair on the terrace, midway between the
band and the Guignol audience.

“I’m glad she has got somebody to amuse her,” he said, turning away. He
was almost grateful to Weever for taking Norma off his hands.

Meanwhile Jimmie was continuing to find life full of agreeable
surprises. Lady FitzHubert was not the only lady to whom he was
presented as the Mr. Padgate who was painting the princess’s portrait.
Mrs. Hardacre waived the personal grudge, and flourished him
tactfully in the face of the county; and the county accepted him with
unquestioning ingenuousness. He was pointed out as a notability, became
the well-known portrait-painter, the celebrated artist, _the_ James
Padgate, and thus achieved the bubble reputation. A guest who was
surreptitiously reporting the garden-party for the local paper took
eager notes of the personal appearance of the eminent man, and being a
woman of the world, professed familiarity with his works. For the first
time in his life he found himself a person of importance. The fact
of his easy inclusion in the charmed circle cast a glamour over the
crudities of the gala costume designed and furbished up with so much
anxious thought by Aline, and people (who are kindly as a rule when
their attention is diverted from the trivial) looked only at his face
and were attracted to the man himself. Only Lady FitzHubert, who had
private reasons for frigidity, treated him in an unbecoming manner.
Other fair ladies smiled sweetly upon him, and spread abroad tales of
his niceness, and thus helped in the launching of him as a fashionable
portrait-painter upon the gay world.

He had a brief interlude of talk with Norma by the refreshment-table.

“I hope you are not being too much bored by all this,” she said in her
society manner.

“Bored!” he cried. “It’s delightful.”

“What about the hollow world where imagination doth not corrupt and
enthusiasms do not break in and steal?”

“It’s a phantom dust-heap for inept epigrams. I don’t believe it
exists.”

“You mustn’t preach a gospel one day and give it the lie the next,” she
said, half seriously; “for then I won’t know what to believe. You don’t
seem to realise your responsibilities.”

He echoed the last word’ in some surprise. Norma broke into a little
nervous laugh.

“You don’t suppose you can go about without affecting your
fellow-creatures? It is well that you don’t know what a disturbing
element you are.”

She turned her head away and closed her eyes for a second or two, for
the words she had overheard there by the hedge, last evening, rang in
her ears. Perhaps it had been well for Jimmie if he had known. Before he
had time to reply, she recovered herself, and added quickly:

“I am glad you are enjoying yourself.”

“How can I help it when every one is so kind to me?” he said brightly.
“I came down here an obscure painter, a veritable _pictor ignotus_, and
all your friends are as charming to me as if I were the President of
the Royal Academy.” Connie Deering came up with a message for Norma and
carried her off to the house.

“How does Jimmie like being lionised?” she asked on the way.

Norma repeated his last speech.

“He has n’t any idea of the people’s motives.” She added somewhat
hysterically:

“The man is half fool, half angel--”

“And altogether a _man_. Don’t you make any mistake about that,” said
Connie, with a pretty air of finality. “You don’t know as much about him
as I do.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said Norma.

“I am,” said Connie.

Jimmie was wandering away from the refreshment-table when Theodore
Weever stopped him.

“That’s a famous portrait of yours, Mr. Padgate. I saw it to-day after
lunch. I offer you my congratulations.”

Jimmie thanked him, said modestly that he hoped it was a good likeness.

“Too good by a long chalk,” laughed the American. “Her Serene Skinflint
does n’t deserve it. I bet you she beat you down like a market-woman
haggling for fish.”

Jimmie stuck his hands on his hips and laughed.

“You don’t deny it. You should n’t have let her. She is rolling in
money.”

“I am afraid one does n’t bother much with the commercial side of
things,” said Jimmie.

“That’s where you make the mistake. Money is money, and it is better in
one’s own pockets than in anybody else’s. But that’s not what I wanted
to speak to you about. I wonder if you would let me have the pleasure
of calling at your studio some day? I’m collecting a few pictures, and I
should regard it as a privilege to be allowed to look round yours.”

Jimmie, having no visiting cards, scribbled his address on the back of
an envelope. He would be delighted to see Mr. Weever any time he was
passing through London. Weever bowed, and turned to greet a passing
acquaintance, leaving a happy artist. A miracle had happened; the
star of his fortunes had arisen. A week ago it was below the horizon,
shedding a faint, hopeful glimmer in the sky. Now it shone bright
overhead. The days of struggle and disappointment were over. He had come
into his kingdom of recognition. All had happened to-day: the princess’s
promise of another and more illustrious royal portrait; the sudden leap
into fame; the patronage of the American financier. One has to be the
poor artist, with his youth--. one record of desperate endeavour--behind
him, to know what these things mean. The delicate flattery of strange
women, however commonplace or contemptible it may be to the successful,
was a new, rare thing to Jimmie and appeased an unknown hunger. The
prospect of good work done and delivered to the world, without sordid,
heart-breaking bargainings, shimmered before him like a paradise. Old
habit made him long for Aline. How pleased the child would be when she
heard the glad news! He saw the joy on her bright face and heard
her clap her hands together, and he smiled. He would return to her a
conqueror, having won the prizes she had so often wept for--name
and fame and fortune. The band was playing the “Wedding March” from
“Lohengrin.” By chance, as he was no musician, he recognised it.

“Aline shall have a wedding dress from Paris,” he said half aloud, and
he smiled again. The world had never been so beautiful.

He embraced all of it that was visible in a happy, sweeping glance.
Then with the swiftness of lightning the smile on his face changed into
consternation.

For a moment he stood stock still, staring at the sudden figure of a
man. It was Stone, the mad orator of Hyde Park. There was no possibility
of mistaking him at a distance of fifteen or twenty yards. He wore the
same rusty black frock-coat and trousers, the same dirty collar and
narrow black tie, the same shapeless clerical hat. His long neck above
the collar looked raw and scabious like a vulture’s. In his hand he
carried a folded newspaper. He had suddenly emerged upon the end of the
terrace from the front entrance, and was descending the steps that led
down to the tennis lawn. If he walked straight on, he would come to
the group surrounding the princess and the Duchess of Wiltshire. Two or
three people were already eyeing him curiously.

Morland’s strange dread of the man flashed upon Jimmie. He hurried
forward to meet him. Of what he was about to do he had no definite idea.
Perhaps he could head Stone off, take him away from the grounds on the
pretext of listening to his grievances. At any rate, a scandal must be
avoided. As he drew near, he observed Morland, who had been bending down
in conversation with the duchess, rise and unexpectedly recognise Stone.

A manservant bearing a small tray with some teacups ran up to the
extraordinary intruder, who waved him away impatiently. The servant put
down his tray and caught him by the arm.

“You have no business here.”

Stone shook himself free.

“I have. Where is Mr. Rendell? Tell him I have to speak with him.”

“There is no such person here,” said the servant. “Be off!”

Jimmie reached the spot, as a few of the nearer guests were beginning to
take a surprised interest in the altercation. Morland came forward from
behind the duchess’s chair and cast a swift glance at Jimmie.

“If you don’t go, I shall make you,” said the servant, preparing to
execute his threat. The man looked dangerous.

“I must see Mr. David Rendell,” he cried, beginning to struggle.

Jimmie drew the servant away.

“I know this gentleman,” he said quietly. “Mr. Stone, Mr. Rendell is not
here, but if you will come with me, I will listen to you, and tell him
anything you have to say.”

Mr. Hardacre, who had seen the scuffle from a distance, came up in a
fluster.

“What’s all this? What’s all this? Who is this creature? Please go
away.” He began to hustle the man.

“Stop! He’s an acquaintance of Padgate’s,” said Morland, huskily.

There was a short pause. Stone stared around at the well-dressed men
and women, at the seated figures of the princess and the duchess, at the
servant who had picked up the tray, at the band who were still playing
the “Wedding March” from “Lohengrin,” at the red-faced, little,
blustering man, at the beautiful cool setting of green, and the look in
his eyes was that of one who saw none of these things. Morland edged to
Jimmie’s side.

“For God’s sake, get him away,” he said in a low voice.

Jimmie nodded and touched the man’s arm.

“Come,” said he.

“Yes, please take him off! What the dickens does he want?” said Mr.
Hardacre.

Stone turned his burning eyes upon him.

“I have come to find an infamous seducer,” he replied, with a
melodramatic intensity that would have been ludicrous had his face not
been so ghastly. “His name is Rendell.”

There was a shiver of interest in the crowd.

“_Was sagt er?_” the princess whispered to her neighbour.

Jimmie again tried to lead Stone away, but the distraught creature
seemed lost in thought and looked at him fixedly.

“I have seen you before,” he said at last.

“Of course you have,” said Jimmie. “In Hyde Park. Don’t you remember?”

Suddenly, with a wrench of his hands he tore an unmounted photograph
from the folded newspaper and threw it on the ground. His eyes blazed.

“I thought I should find him. One of you is David Rendell. It is not
your real name. That I know. Which of you is it?”

Jimmie had sprung upon the photograph. Instinct rather than the evidence
of sight told him that it was an amateur portrait of himself and Morland
taken one idle afternoon in the studio by young Tony Merewether. It
had hardly lain the fraction of a second on the ground but to Jimmie it
seemed as if the two figures had flashed clear upon the sight of all
the bystanders. He glanced quickly at Morland, who stood quite still now
with stony face and averted eyes. He too had recognised the photograph,
and he cursed himself for a fool for having given it to the girl. He had
had it loose in his pocket; she had pleaded for it; she had no likeness
of him at all. He was paying now for his imprudent folly. Like Jimmie,
he feared lest others should have recognised the photograph. But he
trusted again to chance. Jimmie had undertaken the unpleasant business
and his wit would possibly save the situation.

Jimmie did not hesitate. A man is as God made him, heart and brain. To
his impulsive imagination the photograph would be proof positive for the
world that one of the two was the infamous seducer. It did not occur to
him to brazen the man out, to send him about his business; wherein
lies the pathos of simple-mindedness. The decisive moment had come. To
Morland exposure would mean loss of career, and, as he conceived
it, loss of Norma; and to the beloved woman it would mean misery and
heartbreak. So he committed an heroic folly.

“Well, I _am_ Rendell,” he said in a loud voice. “What then?”

Heedless of shocked whisperings and confused voices, among which rose a
virtuously indignant “Great heavens!” from Mrs. Hardacre, he moved away
quickly towards the slope, motioning Stone to follow. But Stone remained
where he stood, and pointed at Jimmie with lean, outstretched finger,
and lifted up his voice in crazy rhetoric, which was heard above
the “Wedding March.” No one tried to stop him. It was too odd, too
interesting, too dramatic.

“The world shall know the tale of your lust, and the sun shall not go
down upon your iniquity. Under false promises you betrayed the sweetest
flower in God’s garden. Basely you taunted her in her hour of need.
Murder and suicide are on your head. There is the record for all who
wish to read it. Read it,” he cried, flinging the newspaper at Mrs.
Hardacre’s feet. “Read how she killed her newborn babe, the child of
this devil, and then hanged herself.”

Jimmie came two or three steps forward.

“Stop this mad foolery,” he cried.

Stone glared at him for a fraction of a second, thrust his hand into the
breast-pocket of his frock-coat, drew out a revolver, and shot him.

Jimmie staggered as a streak of fire passed through him, and swung
round. The women shrieked and rushed together behind the princess and
the duchess, who remained calmly seated. The men with one impulse sprang
forward to seize the madman; but as he leaped aside and threatened his
assailants with his revolver, they hung back. The band stopped short in
the middle of a bar.

Norma and Connie Deering and one or two others who had been in the
house, unaware of the commotion of the last few minutes, ran out on the
terrace as they heard the shot and the sudden cessation of the band.
They saw the crowd of frightened, nervous people below, and the
grotesque figure in his rusty black pointing the pistol. And they saw
Jimmie march up to him, and in a dead silence they heard him say:

“Give me that revolver. What is a silly fool like you doing with
fire-arms? You could n’t hit a haystack at a yard’s distance. Give it to
me, I say.”

The man’s arm was outstretched, and the pistol was aimed point-blank at
Jimmie. Connie Deering gripped Norma’s arm, and Norma, feeling faint,
grew white to the lips.

“Give it to me,” said Jimmie again.

The man wavered, his arm drooped slightly; with the action of one
who takes a dangerous thing from a child, Jimmie quietly wrenched the
revolver from his grasp.

Norma gave a gasp of relief and began to laugh foolishly. Connie clapped
her hands in excitement.

“Did n’t I tell you he was a man? By heavens, the only one in the lot!”

Jimmie pointed towards the terrace steps.

“Go!” he said.

But there was a rush now to seize the disarmed Stone, the red coats
of the bandsmen mingling with the black of the guests. Jimmie, with a
curious flame through his shoulder and a swimming in his head, swerved
aside. Morland ran up, with a white face.

“My God! He has hit you. I thought he had missed.”

“No,” said Jimmie, smiling at the reeling scene. “I’m all right. Keep
the photograph. It was silly to give one’s photograph away. I always was
a fool.”

Morland pocketed the unmounted print. He tried to utter a word of
thanks, but the eyes of the scared and scandalised crowd a few steps
away were upon them, and many were listening. For a moment during the
madman’s crazy indictment of Jimmie--for the horrible facts were only
too true--he had had the generous impulse to come forward and at all
costs save his friend; but he had hesitated. The shot had been fired.
The dramatic little scene had followed. To proclaim Jimmie’s innocence
and his own guilt now would be an anticlimax. It was too late. He would
take another opportunity of exonerating Jimmie. So he stood helpless
before him, and Jimmie, feeling fainter and fainter, protested that he
was not hurt.

They stood a bit apart from the rest. By this time men and women had
flocked from all quarters, and practically the whole party had assembled
on the tennis lawn. Norma still stood with Connie on the terrace, her
hand on her heart. A small group clustered round a man who had picked
up the newspaper and was reading aloud the ghastly paragraph marked by
Stone in blue pencil. The Hard-acres were wringing their hands before
a stony-faced princess and an indignant duchess, who announced their
intention of immediate departure. Every one told every one else the
facts he or she had managed to gather. Human nature and the morbidly
stimulated imagination of naturally unimaginative people invented
atrocious details. Jimmie’s new-born fame as a painter was quickly
merged into hideous notoriety. His star must have been Lucifer, so swift
was its fall.

Mr. Hardacre left his wife’s side, and dragged Morland a step or two
away, and whispered excitedly:

“What a scandal! What a hell of a scandal! Before royalty, too. It will
be the death of us. The damned fellow must go. You must clear him out of
the house!”

“He’s hit. Look at him,” exclaimed Morland.

Jimmie heard his host’s whisper in a dream. It seemed a hoarse voice
very, very far off. He laughed in an idiotic way, waved his hand to the
gyrating crowd, and stumbled a few yards towards the slope. The world
swam into darkness and he fell heavily on his face.

Then, to the amazement of the county, Norma with a ringing cry rushed
down the slope, and threw herself beside Jimmie’s body and put his head
on her lap. And there she stayed until they dragged her away, uttering
the queer whimpering exclamations of a woman suddenly stricken with
great terror. She thought Jimmie was dead.



Chapter XV--MRS. HARDACRE LAUGHS

THEY took Jimmie into the house, and Norma, looking neither to right
nor left, walked by the side of those carrying him, the front of her
embroidered dress smeared with blood. Every time her hands came in
contact with the delicate fabric, they left a fresh smear. Of this she
was unconscious. She was unconscious too, save in a dull way, of the
staring crowd; but she held her head high, and when Morland spoke to her
by the drawing-room window through which they passed, she listened to
what he had to say, bowed slightly, and went on.

“It is only a flesh wound. If it had been the lung, he would have spat
blood. I don’t think it is serious.”

He spoke in a curiously apologetic tone, as if anxious to exculpate
himself from complicity in the attempted murder.. He was horribly
frightened. Two deaths laid in one day at a man’s door are enough. The
possibility of a third was intolerable. The sense of the unheroic part
he had just played was beginning to creep over him like a chilling mist.
The consequences of confession, the only means whereby Jimmie could be
rehabilitated, loomed in front of him more and more disastrous. It would
be presenting himself to the world as a coward as well as a knave.
That prospect, too, frightened him. Lastly, there was Norma, white,
terror-stricken, metamorphosed in a second into a creature of primitive
emotions. Like the other shocks of that unhallowed day, her revelation
of unsuspected passions brought him face to face with the unfamiliar;
and to the average sensual man the unfamiliar brings with it an
atmosphere of the uncanny, the influence to be feared. His attitude,
therefore, when he addressed her was ludicrously humble.

She bowed and passed on. By this time she knew that Jimmie was not dead.
Morland’s words even reassured her. Her breath came hard through
her delicate nostrils, and her bosom heaved up and down beneath the
open-work bodice with painful quickness. Only a few were allowed to stay
in the dining-room, Morland, Mr. Hardacre, Theodore Weever on behalf of
the duchess, and one or two others, while the Cosford doctor, who had
been invited to the garden-party, made his examination. Norma went
through into the hall. At the bottom of the stairs she met Connie in
piteous distress.

“Oh, my poor dear, my poor dear, we did n’t know! I have just heard all
about it. It is terrible!”

Norma put up her hand beseechingly.

“Don’t, Connie dear; don’t talk of it. I can’t bear it. I must be alone.
Send me up word what the doctor says.” She went to her room, sat there
and waited. Presently her maid entered with the message from Mrs.
Deering. The doctor’s report was favourable--the wound not in any way
dangerous, the bullet easily extractable. They had carried the patient
to his bedroom, and Mrs. Deering had wired for Miss Marden to come down
by the first train. Norma dismissed the maid, and tried, in a miserable
wonder, to realise all that had happened.

A woman accustomed to many emotions can almost always hold herself in
check, if she be of strong will. Experience has taught her the
meaning and the danger of those swift rushes of the blood that lead to
unreasoning outburst. She is forewarned, forearmed, and can resist or
not as occasion demands. But even she is sometimes taken unawares.
How much the more likely to give way is the woman who has never felt
passionate emotion in her life before. The premonitory symptoms fail to
convey the sense of danger to her inexperienced mind. Before the
will has time to act she is swept on by a new force, bewildering,
irresistible. It becomes an ecstatic madness of joy or grief, and to the
otherwise rational being her actions are of no account. This curse
of quick responsiveness afflicts men to a less degree. If the first
chapters of Genesis could be brought up to date, woman would be endowed,
not with an extra rib, but with an extra nerve.

Now that she knew the shooting of Jimmie to be an affair of no great
seriousness, her heart sickened at the thought of her wild exhibition of
feeling. She heard the sniggering and ridicule in every carriage-load
of homeward-bound guests. From the wife of the scrubby curate to the
Princess of Herren-Rothbeck, her name was rolled like a delicate morsel
on the tongue of every woman in the county. And the inference they could
not fail to draw from her action was true--miserably true. But she had
only become poignantly aware of things at the moment when she saw the
lean haggard man in rusty black covering Jimmie with the revolver. Then
all the unrest of soul which she had striven to allay with her mockery,
all the disquieting visions of sweet places to which she had scornfully
blinded her eyes, all the burning words of passion whose clear echoing
had wrapped her body in hateful fever the night before, converged like
electric currents into one steady light radiant with significance. Two
minutes afterwards, when Jimmie fell, civilisation slipped from her like
a loose garment, and primitive woman threw herself by his side. But now,
reclothed, she shivered at the memory.

The door opened suddenly, and Mrs. Hardacre entered. There was battle
in every line of the hard face and in every movement of the thin, stiff
figure. Norma rose from the window where she had been sitting and faced
her mother defiantly.

“I know what you are going to say to me. Don’t you think you might wait
a little? It will keep.”

“It won’t. Sit down,” said Mrs. Hardacre between her teeth.

“I prefer to stand for the moment,” said Norma.

Mrs. Hardacre lost her self-control.

“Are we to send you to a madhouse? What do you mean by your blazing
folly? Before the whole county--before the duchess--before the princess!
Do you know what I have had to go through the last half-hour? Do you
know that we may never set foot in Chiltern Towers again? Do you know
we are the scandal and the laughing-stock of the county? As if one thing
was n’t sufficient--for you to crown it by behaving like a hysterical
school-girl! Do you know what interpretation every scandal-mongering
tabby in the place is putting on your insane conduct?”

“Oh, yes,” said Norma, looking at her mother stonily; “and for once in
their spiteful lives they are quite right.”

“What do you mean?” gasped Mrs. Hardacre.

“I think my meaning is obvious.”

“That man--that painter man dressed like a secondhand
clothes-dealer--that--that beast?”

Mrs. Hardacre could scarcely trust her senses. The true solution of her
daughter’s extraordinary behaviour had never crossed her most desperate
imaginings. But then she had not had much time for quiet speculatien.
The speeding of her hurriedly departing guests had usurped all the wits
of the poor lady.

“You have indeed given us a dramatic entertainment, dear Mrs. Hardacre,”
 Lady FitzHubert had said with a sympathetic smile. “And poor Norma has
supplied the curtain. I hope she won’t take it too much to heart.”

And Mrs. Hardacre, livid with rage, had had no weapon wherewith to
strike her adversary who thus took triumphant vengeance. It had been
a half-hour of grievous humiliation. The fount and origin thereof was
lying unconscious with a bullet through his shoulder. The subsidiary
stream, so to speak, was in her room safe and sound. Human nature,
for which she is not deserving of over-blame, had driven Mrs. Hardacre
thither. At least she could vent some of her pent-up fury upon her
outrageous daughter, who, from Mrs. Hardacre’s point of view, indeed
owed an explanation of her action and deserved maternal censure. This
she was more than prepared to administer. But when she heard Norma
calmly say that Lady FitzHubert and the other delighted wreakers of
private revenges were entirely in the right, she gasped with amazement.

“That beast!” she repeated with a rising intonation. Norma gave her
habitual shrug of the shoulders. With her proud, erect bearing, it was a
gesture not ungraceful.

“Considering what I have just admitted, mother, perhaps it would be in
better taste not to use such language.”

“I don’t understand your admitting it. I don’t know what on earth you
mean,” said Mrs. Hardacre.

There was a short pause, during which she scanned her daughter’s face
anxiously as if waiting to see a gleam of reason dawn on it. Norma
reflected for a moment. Should she speak or not? She decided to speak.
Brutal frankness had ever been her best weapon against her mother. It
would probably prevent future wrangling.

“I am sorry I have n’t made my meaning clear,” she said, resuming
her seat by the window; “and I don’t know whether I can make it much
clearer. Anyhow, I’ll try, mother. I used to think that love was either
a school-girl sentimentality, a fiction of the poets, or else the sort
of thing that lands married women who don’t know how to take care of
themselves in the divorce court. I find it is n’t. That’s all.”

Mrs. Hardacre ran up to the window and faced Norma. “And Morland?”

“It won’t break his heart.”

“What won’t?”

“The breaking off of our engagement.”

Mrs. Hardacre looked at her daughter in a paralysis of bewilderment.

“The madhouse is the only place for you.”

“Perhaps it is. Anyway I can’t marry a man when I care for his intimate
friend--and when the intimate friend cares for me. Somehow it’s not
quite decent. Even you, mother, can see that.”

“So you and the intimate friend have arranged it all between you?”

“Oh, no. He does n’t know that I care, and he does n’t know that I
know that he cares. I’ll say that over again if you like. It is quite
accurately expressed. And you know I’m not in the habit of lying.”

“And you propose to marry----”

“I don’t propose to do anything,” interrupted Norma, quickly. “I at
least can wait till he asks me. And now, mother, I’ve had rather a bad
time--don’t you think we might stop?”

“It seems to me, my dear Norma, we are only just beginning,” said Mrs.
Hardacre.

Norma rose with nervous impatience.

“O heavens, mother,” she said, in the full deep notes of her voice,
which were only sounded at rare moments of feeling, “can’t you see that
I’m in earnest? This man is like no one else I have ever met. I have
grown to need him. Do you know what that means? With him I am a changed
woman--as God made me, I suppose; natural, fresh, real--” Mrs. Hardacre
sat in Norma’s vacated chair by the window and stared at her, as she
moved about the room. “I somehow feel that I am a woman, after all. I
have got something higher than myself that I can fall at the feet of,
and that’s what every woman craves when she’s decent. As for marrying
him--I’m not fit to marry him. There is n’t any one living who is.
That’s an end of it, mother. I can’t say anything more.”

“And do you propose to go on seeing this person when he recovers?” asked
Mrs. Hardacre.

“Why not?”

“I really can’t argue with you,” said her mother, mystified. “If you
had told me this rubbish yesterday, I should have thought you touched in
your wits. To-day it is midsummer madness.”

“Why to-day?” asked Norma.

“The man has shown himself to be such a horrible beast. Of course,
if you think confessing to having seduced a girl under infamous
circumstances and driven her by his brutality to child-murder and
suicide, and blazoning the whole thing out at a fashionable garden-party
and getting himself shot for his pains, are idyllic virtues, nothing
more can be said. It’s a case, as I remarked, for a madhouse.” Norma
came and stood before her mother, her brows knitted in perplexity.

“Perhaps I am going crazy--I really don’t understand what you are
talking about.”

Mrs. Hardacre leant forward in her chair and drew a long breath. A gleam
of intelligence came into her eyes as she looked at Norma.

“Do you mean to say you don’t know what the row was about before the man
fired the shot?”

“No,” said Norma, blankly.

Her mother fell back in her chair and laughed. It was the first moment
of enjoyment she had experienced since Stone’s black figure had
appeared on the terrace. Reaction from strain caused the laughter to
ring somewhat sharply. Norma regarded her with an anxious frown.

“Please tell me exactly what you mean.”

“My dear child--it’s too funny. I thought you would have been too clever
to be taken in by a man like this. I see, you’ve been imagining him a
Galahad--a sort of spotless prophet--though what use you can have
for such persons I can’t make out. Well, this is what happened.”
 Embellishing the story here and there with little spiteful adornments,
she described with fair accuracy, however, the scene that had occurred.
Norma listened stonily.

“This is true?” she asked when her mother had finished.

“Ask any one who was there--your father--Morland.”

“I can’t believe it. He is not that sort of man.”

“Is n’t he? I knew he was the first time I set eyes on him. Perhaps
another time you’ll allow me to have some sense--of course, if it is
immaterial to you whether a man is a brute--What are you ringing the
bell for?”

“I am going to ask Morland to come up here.”

The maid appeared, received Norma’s message, and retired. Norma sat by
her little writing-table, with her head turned away from her mother, and
there was silence between them till the maid returned.

“Mr. King has just driven off to catch the train, miss. He left a note
for you.”

Mrs. Hardacre listened with contracted brow. When the maid retired, she
bent forward anxiously.

“What does he say?”

“You can read it, mother,” replied Norma, wearily. She held out the
note. Mrs. Hardacre came forward and took it from her hand and sat down
again.

It ran:

_“Dear Norma,--I think it best to run up to town on this afternoon’s
business. I have only just time to catch the train at Cosford, so you
will forgive my not saying good-bye to you more ceremoniously. Take care
of poor Jimmie._

_“Yours affectionately,_

_“Morland.”_

“Poor Jimmie, indeed!” said Mrs. Hardacre, somewhat relieved at finding
the note contained no reference to the part played by Norma. “It’s
very good of Morland, but I wish he would not mix himself up in this
scandal.”

“I can’t see what less he could do than look after his friend’s
interests,” said Norma.

“I wish the man had been shot or hanged before he came down here,” said
Mrs. Hardacre, vindictively. “That’s the worst of associating with such
riff-raff. One never knows what they will do. It will teach you not
to pick people out of the gutter and set them in a drawing-room.” Mrs.
Hardacre rose. She did not often have the opportunity of triumphing over
her daughter. She crossed the room and paused for a moment by Norma,
who sat motionless with her chin in her hand, apparently too dismayed to
retort.

“I am glad to see symptoms of sanity,” she remarked.

Norma brought down her hand hard upon the table and leaped to her feet
and faced her mother.

“I tell you, it’s impossible! Impossible! He is not that kind of man.
It is some horrible mistake. I will ask him myself. I will get the truth
from his own lips.”

“You shall certainly do nothing of the kind,” cried her mother; and in
order to have the last word she went out and slammed the door behind
her.

Norma sat by the window again. The red September sun was setting, and
bathed downs and trees in warm light, and glinted on the spire of a
little village church a mile away. Everything it touched was at peace,
save the bowed head of the girl, clasped with white fingers which still
retained the dull brown marks of blood. Could she believe the revolting
story? A woman so driven to desperation must have been cruelly handled.
Her sex rose up against the destroyer. Her social training had caused
her to regard with cynical indifference ordinary breaches of what
is popularly termed the moral law. In the fast, idle set which she
generally frequented it was as ordinary for a man to neigh after his
neighbour’s wife as to try to win his friend’s money; as unsurprising
for him to keep a mistress as a stud of race-horses; the crime was to
marry her. But it was not customary, even in smart society, to drive
women to murder their new-born babes and kill themselves. A callous
brutality suggested itself, and the contemplation of it touched
humanity, sex, essential things. Could she believe the story? She
shuddered.

The dressing-gong sounded through the house. Her maid entered, drew the
curtains, and lit the gas; then was dismissed. Norma would not go down
to dinner. A little food and drink in her own room would be all that she
could swallow.

Later, Connie Deering, who had changed her dress, tapped at the door
and was bidden to enter. A quantity of powder vainly strove to hide the
traces of recent tears on her pretty face. She was a swollen-featured,
piteous little butterfly.

“How is he?” asked Norma.

“Better, much better. They have taken out the bullet. There is no
danger, and he has recovered consciousness. I almost wish he hadn’t. Oh,
Norma dear--”

She broke down and sat on the bed and sobbed. Norma came up and laid her
hand on her shoulder.

“Surely you don’t believe this ghastly story?”

The fair head nodded above the handkerchief. A voice came from-below it.

“I must--it’s horrible--Jimmie, of all men! I thought his life was so
sweet and clean--almost like a good woman’s--I can’t understand it. If
he is as bad as this, what must other men be like? I feel as if I shall
never be able to look a man in the face again.”

“But why should you take it for granted that he has done this?” asked
Norma, tonelessly.

Mrs. Deering raised her face and looked at her friend in blue-eyed
dismay.

“I did n’t take it for granted. He told me so himself. Otherwise do you
think I should have believed it?”

“He told you so himself! When?”

“A short while ago. I went into his room. I could n’t help it--I felt as
if I should have gone mad if I didn’t know the truth. Parsons was there
with him. She said I could come in. He smiled at me in his old way, and
that smile is enough to make any woman fall in love with him. ‘You’ve
been crying, Connie,’ he said. ‘That’s very foolish of you.’ So I began
to cry more. You would have cried if you had heard him. I asked him how
he was feeling. He said he had never felt so well in his life. Then
I blurted it out. I know I was a beast, but it was more than I could
stand. ‘Tell me that this madman’s story was all lies.’ He looked at me
queerly, waited for a second or two, and then moved his head. ‘It’s
all true,’ he said, ‘all true.’ ‘But you must have some explanation!’
I cried. He shut his eyes as if he were tired and said I must take the
facts as they were. Then Parsons came up and said I mustn’t excite him,
and sent me out of the room. But I did n’t want to hear any more. I had
heard enough, had n’t I?”

Norma, as she listened to the little lady’s tale, felt her heart grow
cold and heavy. Doubt was no longer possible. The man himself had
spoken. He had not even pleaded extenuating circumstances; had merely
admitted the plain, brutal facts. He had gone under a feigned name,
seduced an honest girl, abandoned her, driven her to tragedy. It was all
too simple to need explanation.

“But what are we to do, dear?” cried Connie, as Norma made no remark,
but stood motionless and silent.

“I think we had better drop his acquaintance,” she replied with bitter
irony.

Connie flinched at the tone, being a tender-natured woman. She retorted
with some spirit:

“I don’t believe you have any heart at all, Norma. And I thought you
cared for him.”

“You thought I cared for him?” Norma repeated slowly and cuttingly while
her eyes hardened. “What right had you to form such an opinion?”

“People can form any opinions they like, my dear,” said Connie. “That
was mine. And on the terrace this afternoon you know you cared. If ever
a woman gave herself away over a man, it was Norma Hardacre.”

“It was n’t Norma Hardacre, I assure you. It was a despicable fool whom
I will ask you to forget. My mother was for putting it into a madhouse.
She was quite right. Anyhow it has ceased to exist and I am the real
Norma Hardacre again. Humanity is afflicted, it seems, periodically with
a peculiar disease. It turns men into beasts and women into idiots. I
have quite recovered, my dear Connie, and if you’ll kindly go down
and ask them to keep dinner back for five minutes, I’ll dress and come
down.”

She rang the bell for her maid. Connie rose from the bed. She longed to
make some appeal to the other’s softer nature for her own sake, as she
had held Jimmie very dear and felt the need of sympathy in her trouble
and disillusion.

But knowing that from the rock of that cynical mood no water would gush
forth for any one’s magic, she recognised the inefficacy of her own
guileless arts, and forbore to exercise them. She sighed for answer.
By chance her glance fell upon Norma’s skirt. Human instinct, not
altogether feminine, seized upon the trivial.

“Why, whatever have you been doing to your dress?”

Norma looked down, and for the first time noticed the disfiguring smears
of blood.

“I must have spilt something,” she said, turning away quickly, and
beginning to unfasten the hooks and eyes of her neckband.

“I hope it will come out,” said Connie. “It’s such a pretty frock.”

As soon as she was alone, Norma looked at the stains with unutterable
repulsion. She tore off the dress feverishly and threw it into a corner.
When her maid entered in response to her summons, she pointed to the
shapeless heap of crêpe and embroidery.

“Take that away and burn it,” she said.



Chapter XVI--IN THE WILDERNESS

NORMA went down to dinner resolved to present a scornful front to
public opinion. She found the effort taxed her strength. During the
night her courage deserted her. The cold glitter of triumph in her
mother’s eyes had been intolerable. Her father, generally regarded with
contemptuous indifference, had goaded her beyond endurance with his
futile upbraiding. Aline had arrived, white-faced and questioning,
and had established herself by Jimmie’s bedside. Norma shrank from the
ordeal of the daily meeting with her and the explanation that would
inevitably come. She dreaded the return of Morland, uncertain of her own
intentions. As she tossed about on her pillow, she loathed the idea of
the marriage. Innermost sex had spoken for one passionate moment, and
its message still vibrated. She knew that time might dull the memory;
she knew that her will might one day triumph over such things as sex and
sentiment; but she must have a breathing space, a period of struggle, of
reflection, above all, of disassociation from present surroundings. If
she sold herself, it must be in the accustomed cold atmosphere of
brain and heart. Not now, when her head burned and flaming swords were
piercing her through and through. And last, and chief of all her dreads,
was the wounded man now sleeping beneath that roof. Father, mother,
Aline, Morland--these, torture though it were, she could still steel
her nerves to meet; but him, never. He had done what no other man in the
wide world had done. He had awakened the sleeping, sacredest inmost of
her, and he had dealt it a deadly wound. If she could have consumed him
and all the memories surrounding him with fire, as she had consumed the
garment stained with his blood, she would have done so in these hours of
misery. And fierce among the bewildering conflict of emotions that
raged through the long night was one that filled her with overwhelming
disgust--a horrible, almost grotesque jealousy of the dead girl.

In the morning, exhausted, she resolved on immediate flight. In the
little village of Penwyrn on the Cornish coast, her aunt Janet Hardacre
led a remote, Quakerish existence. The reply to a telegram before she
left her room assured Norma of a welcome. By eleven o’clock she had
left Heddon Court and was speeding westwards without a word to Jimmie or
Aline.

Morland returned in the afternoon, and after a whisky and soda to brace
his nerves, at once sought Jimmie, who roused himself with an effort to
greet his visitor.

“Getting on famously, I hear,” said Morland, with forced airiness. “So
glad. We’ll have you on your feet in a day or two.”

“I hope to be able, to travel back to London to-morrow.”

“To-morrow?”

“Yes,” said Jimmie, with a curious smile. “I fear I have outstayed my
welcome.”

“Not a bit of it,” said Morland, seating himself at the foot of the bed.
“We’ll put all that right. But you will give one a little time, won’t
you? You mustn’t think you’ve been altogether left. I ran up to town
at once to see my solicitors--not my usual people, you know, but some
others, devilish smart fellows at this sort of thing. They’ll see that
nothing gets into the beastly papers.”

“I don’t see that it matters much,” said Jimmie. “Why, of course it
does. I’m not going to let you take the whole blame. I could n’t come
forward yesterday, it was all so sudden. The scandal would have rotted
my election altogether. But you shall be cleared--at any rate in the
eyes of this household. I came down with the intention of telling Norma,
but she has bolted to Cornwall. Upset, I suppose. However, as soon as
she comes back--”

“Let things be as they are,” interrupted Jimmie, closing his eyes for a
moment wearily, for he had been suffering much bodily pain. “When I
said I was David Rendell, I meant it. I can go on acting the part. It’s
pretty easy.”

“Impossible, my dear old chap,” said Morland, with an air of heartiness.
“You went into the affair with your eyes shut. You didn’t know it was
such a horrible mess.”

“All the more reason for Norma to remain ignorant. It was for her sake
as well as yours.”

A peculiar tenderness in Jimmie’s tone caused Morland, not usually
perceptive, to look at him sharply.

“You are very keen upon Norma,” he remarked.

Jimmie closed his eyes again, and smiled. He was very weak and tired.
The pain of his wound and a certain mental agitation had kept him awake
all night, and just before Morland entered he had been dropping off
to sleep for the first time. An unconquerable drowsiness induced
irresponsibility of speech.

“‘The desire of the moth for the star,’” he murmured.

Morland slid from the bed to his feet, and with his hands in his pockets
gazed in astonishment at his friend.

An entirely novel state of affairs dawned upon him which required a
few moments to bring into focus. The ghastly tragedy for which he was
responsible, presenting itself luridly at every instant of the night and
day, had hidden from his reminiscent vision Norma’s rush down the slope.
and her scared tending of the unconscious man. Jimmie’s words
brought back the scene with unpleasant vividness and provided the
interpretation. When he saw this clearly, he was the most amazed man in
the three kingdoms. That Jimmie should have conceived and nourished
a silly, romantic passion for Norma, although he had never interested
himself sufficiently in Jimmie’s private affairs to suspect it, was
humorously comprehensible. Ludicrously incomprehensible, however, was
a reciprocation of the sentiment on the part of Norma. In spite of
remorse, in spite of anxiety, in spite of the struggle between cowardice
and manhood, his uppermost sensation at that moment was one of lacerated
vanity. He had been hoodwinked, befooled, deceived. His own familiar
friend had betrayed him; the woman he was about to honour with his name
had set him at naught. He tingled with anger and sense of wrong.

The sick man opened his eyes drowsily, and seeing Mor-land’s gaze full
upon him, started into wakefulness. He motioned him to come nearer.

“If you marry Norma--” he began.

“If I marry her!” cried Morland. “Of course I’m going to marry her. I’ll
see any other man damned before he marries her! She’s the only woman
in the world I’ve ever set my mind on, and no matter what happens, I’m
going to marry her. There are no damned if’s about it.”

“Yes, there are,” Jimmie retorted weakly. “I was going to preach, but
I’m too tired. You’ll have to be especially good to her--to make up.”

“For what?”

“For the wrong done to the other.”

Morland was silent. He went up to the window and stared out across the
lawns and tugged at his moustache. The reproach stung him, and he felt
that Jimmie was ungenerous. After all, he had only done what thousands
of other men had done with impunity. The consequences had been enough to
drive him mad, but they had been the hideous accident of a temperament
for which he had not been responsible.

“You surely don’t believe all that mad fool said yesterday?” he muttered
without turning round.

“The promise of marriage?”

“It’s a crazy invention. There never was any question of marriage. I
told you so months ago. I did everything in my power.”

“I’m glad,” said Jimmie.

Morland made no reply, but continued to stare out of the window and
meditate upon the many injuries that fate had done him. He arraigned
himself before the bar of his wounded vanity. He had broken the moral
law and deserved a certain penalty. The magnanimous verdict received
the applause of an admiring self. He was willing to undergo an adequate
punishment--the imposition of a fine and the hard labour of setting
devious things straight. But the alternative sentence to which he saw
himself condemned--on the one hand, the ruin of his political career,
his social position, and his marriage with Norma, to all of which he
clung with a newly found passion, and on the other, ignoble shelter
behind an innocent man who had done him a great wrong--he rebelled
against with all his average, sensual Briton’s sense of justice. It was
grossly unfair. If there had been a spiritual “Times,” he would have
written to it.

The opening of the door caused him to turn round with a start. It was
Aline, anxious and pale from an all-night sitting by Jimmie’s bedside,
but holding her slim body erect, and wearing the uncompromising air of
a mother who has found her child evilly entreated at the hands of
strangers. She glanced at the bed and at Morland; then she put her
finger to her lip, and pointed at Jimmie, who lay fast asleep. Morland
nodded and went on tiptoe out of the room. Aline looked round, and being
a sensitive young person, shivered. She threw open the window wide, as
if to rid the place of his influence. Jimmie stirred slightly. She bent
down and kissed his hair.

During the dark and troubled time that followed, Morland fell away from
Jimmie like the bosom friend of a mediaeval artist stricken with the
Black Death. At first, common decency impelled him to send the tainted
one affectionate messages, invitations to trust him awhile longer, and
enlarged, with the crudity of his mental habit, on the noble aspects of
Jimmie’s sacrifice. But after Jimmie left the Hardacres’ house, which
happened as soon as he could bear the journey, Morland shrank from
meeting him face to face; and when public exposure came, the messages
and the invitations and the protestations ceased, and Jimmie was left
in loneliness upon a pinnacle of infamy. Mor-land, in the futile hope
of the weak-willed man that he could, by some astonishing chance, sail a
middle course, did indeed give himself peculiar pains to keep the story
out of the newspapers, and his ill-success was due to other causes than
his own lack of effort. It was a tale too picturesque to be wasted
in these days of sensation-hunger. The fact of the dénouement of
the tragedy having taken place in the presence of royalty lent it a
theatrical glamour. A sardonic press filled an Athenian public with what
it lusted after. Indeed, who shall say with authority that the actual
dramas re-enacted before our courts and reported in our newspapers
have not their value in splashing with sudden colour the drab lives of
thousands? May it not be better for the dulled soul to be occasionally
arrested by the contemplation of furious passions than to feed
contentedly like a pig beside the slaughtered body of its fellow?

Be that as it may. The press paid no heed to Morland or the smart
fellows of solicitors whom he employed. It published as many details as
it could discover or invent. For the tragical business did not end with
the scene on the Hardacres’ lawn. There was an inquest on the dead girl.
There was the trial of Daniel Stone for attempted murder. The full glare
of publicity shed itself upon the sordid history. In the one case the
jury gave a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity; in the other
the prisoner was found to be insane and was sent to an asylum. These
were matters of no great public interest. But letters to the dead girl
in a disguised handwriting were discovered, and Stone gave his crazy
evidence, and a story of heartless seduction under solemn promise of
marriage and of abandonment with cynical offer of money was established,
and the fashionable portrait-painter, who was supposed to be the hero
of the tale, awoke one morning and found himself infamous. The thing,
instead of remaining a mere police-court commonplace, became a society
scandal. Exaggeration was inevitable, not only of facts but of the
reprobation a virtuous community pronounces on the specially pilloried
wrongdoer. The scapegoat in its essential significance is by no means a
thing of legendary history. It exists still, and owes its existence to
an ineradicable instinct in human nature. The reprobation aforesaid is
due not entirely to hypocrisy, as the social satirist would have it,
but in a great measure to an unreasoning impulse towards expiation of
offences by horrified condemnation of some notorious other. Thus it
came to pass that upon Jimmie’s head were put all the iniquities of the
people and all their transgressions in all their sins, and he was led
away into the social wilderness. After that, the world forgot him. He
had been obscure enough before he burst for a day into the blaze of
royal patronage; but now blackest darkness swallowed him up. Only Aline
remained by his side.

Morland wrote to Jimmie once after the exposure. As he had been the
cause, said he, of the probable ruin of Jimmie’s professional prospects,
it was only right that he should endeavour to make some compensation. It
was, besides, a privilege of their life-long friendship. He enclosed a
cheque for two thousand pounds. Jimmie returned it.

“My dear Morland,” he wrote in answer, “loyalty can only be repaid by
loyalty, love by love. If I accepted money, it would dishonour both
yourself and me. It is true that I took upon me a greater burden than I
was aware of. The world, if it knew the facts, would, as you say, call
me a quixotic fool. But if I took your money it would have the right to
call me a mercenary knave. I have always suffered fools gladly,
myself the greatest. I can go on doing so. Meanwhile you can make full
compensation in the only way possible. Devote your life and energies
to the happiness of the woman you are about to marry.” This was a stern
letter for Jimmie to write. After he had posted it he reproached himself
for not having put in a kind word.



Chapter XVII--THE INCURABLE MALADY

I’ll never let you inside the house again until you go down on your
knees and beg Jimmie’s pardon,” cried Aline.

She stood, a slim incarnation of outraged womanhood, with her hand on
the knob of the open door. A scared but stubborn youth hesitated on the
threshold. Few men, least of all lovers, like being turned out.

“I don’t believe you care a hang for me!” he said.

“I don’t,” she retorted bravely, but with tremulous lip. “Not a hang, as
you call it. I dislike you exceedingly and I don’t want to see you any
more. I’ll never speak to anybody who believes such things of Jimmie.”

“But, my good child,” expostulated Tony Merewether, “they are facts; he
never has denied them.”

“He could if he liked.”

“How do you know?”

“How do I know?” Aline repeated scornfully. “That just shows how far we
are apart. There’s not the slightest reason for talking any more. You
have insulted Jimmie and you are going on insulting him. I can’t stand
by this door forever. I want you to go.”

“Oh, very well, I’ll go,” said the young fellow. “But you’ve behaved
damnably to me, Aline--simply damnably.” He strode down the passage
and slammed the front door behind him. Aline turned back into the prim
little drawingroom where the interview had taken place, and after an
attempt to remain composed and dignified, suddenly broke into tears. She
could struggle no more against the cruelty of man and the hopelessness
of life. It had been a stormy interview. Tony Merewether had come, as
her natural protector, to insist upon immediate marriage. A small legacy
recently bequeathed to him would enable them to marry with reasonable
prudence. Why should they wait? Aline pleaded for time. How could she
leave her beloved Jimmie in his blackest hour?

“It’s just because I don’t think it quite right for you to live here any
longer, that I want you to come away at once,” Tony had said.

“Not right to live here? What on earth do you mean?” The luckless lover
tried to explain. Aline regarded him icily, and in his confusion and
discomfiture he lost the careful wrappings which he had prepared for his
words.

“You think that Jimmie is not a fit person for me to associate with?”
 she had asked in a dangerous tone.

“Yes, since you choose to put it that way,” he had replied, nettled.
He believed that women liked a man of spirit and generally yielded to
a show of masterfulness. He was very young. Taking up his parable with
greater confidence, he showed her the social and moral necessity of
immediate recourse to his respectable protection. Naturally he admired
her loyalty, he signified, with a magnanimous wave of the hand; but
there were certain things girls did not quite comprehend; a man’s
judgment had to be trusted. He invited her to surrender entirely to his
wisdom. The end of it all was his ignominious dismissal. She would not
see him until he had begged Jimmie’s pardon on his knees.

But now she buried her face in the sofa-cushions and sobbed. It was her
first poignant disillusion. Tony, whom she loved with all her heart, was
just like everybody else, incapable of pure faith, ready to believe the
worst. He was cruel, uncharitable. She would never speak to him
again. And the sweet shy dream of her young life was over. It was very
tragical.

Jimmie’s step coming up the studio stairs caused her to spring from the
sofa and frantically dry her eyes before the mirror. The steps advanced
along the passage, and soon Jimmie’s head appeared at the door.

“Where have you hidden ‘the little watercolour box?” he asked cheerily.

“In the cupboard. On the second shelf,” she replied, without turning
round.

He caught sight of the reflection of a tear-stained face, and came and
stood by her side.

“Why, you’ve been crying!”

“I suppose I have,” she admitted with affectionate defiance, looking up
into his face. “Why should n’t I, if I like? It’s not a crime.”

“It’s worse--it’s a blunder,” he quoted with a smile. “It can’t do any
one any good, and it makes your pretty nose red. That will spoil your
good looks.”

“I wish it would. My looks will never matter to anybody,” she said
desperately.

He put his arm round her shoulders, just as he had done since she could
remember.

“What has happened to distress you--more than usual?” he added.

She was silent for a moment, and hung her head.

“I’ve broken off with Tony,” she said in a low voice.

“You’ll mend it up with Tony at once, my dear.”

“I’ll never marry him,” declared Aline.

“You’ll write and tell him that you’ll marry him at the very first
opportunity. There are reasons why you should, Aline, grave reasons.”

“You wouldn’t have me marry any one I dislike intensely?” she flashed.

“Wouldn’t you do it to please me, even though you hated him violently?
I have been going to speak to you about this. It’s high time you were
married, dear, and I particularly wish it. So make friends with Tony as
soon as ever you can.”

“I never want to see Tony again--until he has gone on his bended knees
to you,” said Aline, with a quivering lip. “I don’t want to breathe the
same air with any one who does n’t think of you as I do.”

This was the first allusion that the girl had made to unhappy things,
since they had become common knowledge a month ago. She had conveyed to
him by increased tenderness and devotion that she loved him all the more
for his suffering, and it had been easy for him to perceive that the
main facts of the story were not unknown to her. But hitherto there had
been absolute silence on the part of each. He had been greatly
puzzled as to the proper course he should take. An interview with Tony
Merewether that morning had decided him. It had been short, coldly
courteous on the young fellow’s side, who merely asked and obtained
consent to marry Aline forthwith, and wistfully dignified on Jimmie’s.

He sat down on the arm of a chair and took her hand, deeply moved by her
passionate faith in him.

“Listen, dear. I am a dishonoured man and it is n’t right that you
should live with me any longer. Tony, dear good fellow, is no more to
blame for what he thinks of me than the crazy wronged man who shot me.
But the only way for you to make him think better is to marry him. No,
don’t interrupt. Stand quietly and let me talk to you. I’ve been making
plans and I should be tremendously upset if there was any difficulty.
I’m going to give up the house and studio.”

Aline regarded him in frightened amazement, and then looked round as
if the familiar walls and furniture were in danger of incontinent
disappearance.

“What?” she gasped.

“I shall give it up and wander about painting abroad, so it’s absolutely
necessary that you should marry Tony. Otherwise I don’t know what on
earth I should do with you.”

He swung her hand and looked smilingly into her eyes.

“You see I really am in a hurry to get rid of you,” he added.

Aline gazed at him for a long time, gradually recovering from her
stupefaction. Then she withdrew her hand from his clasp and laughed.

“You are talking unadulterated rubbish, Jimmie,” she said.

Upon this declaration she took her stand, and no protest or argument
could move her. She withstood triumphantly a siege of several days.
Jimmie tried to exert his quasiparental authority. But the submissive
little girl, who had always yielded when Jimmie claimed obedience, had
given place to a calmly inflexible woman. Jimmie swore that he would not
commit the crime of spoiling her life’s happiness. She replied, with a
toss of her head and a pang of her heart, that her life’s happiness had
nothing to do with Tony Merewether, and that if it did, the crime would
lie at his door and not at Jimmie’s.

“As for leaving you alone in the wide world, I would just as soon think
of deserting a new-born baby in the street,” she said. “You are not fit
to be by yourself. And whether you like it or not, Jimmie, I must stay
and look after you.”

At last, by the underhand methods which women often employ for the
greater comfort of men, she cajoled him into an admission. The plan of
giving up the house had, as its sole object, the forcing of her hand.
Victorious, she allowed herself to shed tears over his goodness. Just
for her miserable sake he had proposed to turn himself into a homeless
wanderer over the face of Europe.

“Do tell me, Jimmie,” she said, “how it feels to be an angel!”

He laughed in his old bright way.

“Very uncomfortable when a tyrannical young woman cuts your wings off.”

“But I do it for your good, Jimmie,” she retorted. “If I did n’t, you
would be flying about helplessly.”

Thus the clouds that lay around them were lit with tender jesting.
During this passage through the darkness he never faltered, serene in
his faith, having found triumphant vindication thereof in the devotion
of Aline. That he had made a sacrifice greater than any human being had
a right to demand of another, he knew full well; he had been driven on
to more perilous reefs than he had contemplated; the man whom he had
imagined Morland to be would have thrown all planks of safety to the
waves in order to rescue him. He felt acutely the pain of his shipwreck;
but he did not glorify himself as a martyr: he was satisfied that it was
for the worshipped woman’s happiness, and that in itself was a reward.
His catholic sympathy even found extenuating circumstances in Morland’s
conduct. Once when Aline inveighed against his desertion, he said in the
grave manner in which he delivered himself of his moral maxims:

“We ought never to judge a human being’s actions until we know his
motives.”

Aline thought the actions were quite sufficient for a working
philosophy, but she did not say so. Jimmie half guessed the motives and
judged leniently. Though he had lost much that made life sweet to him,
his heart remained unchanged, his laugh rang true through the house; and
were it not for the loneliness and the dismal blight in her own little
soul, Aline would not have realised that any calamitous event had
happened.

One other of Jimmie’s friends maintained relations with him. This was
Connie Deering. She had gone abroad soon after the disaster, and moved
by various feelings for which she rather forbade her impulsive self to
account, had written one or two oddly expressed letters. In the first
one she had touched lightly upon the difficult subject. She would not
have believed a word of it, if she had not heard it from his own lips.
If he would write to her and say that it was all a lie, she would accept
his word implicitly. He was either a god or a devil--a remark that
filled Jimmie with considerable alarm. A shrewd brain was inside the
pretty butterfly head. In his reply he ignored the question, an example
which Connie followed in her second letter. This consisted mainly in a
rambling account of the beauty of Stresa and the comforts and excellent
cuisine of the hotel by the lake; but a postscript informed him that
Norma was travelling about with her for an indefinite period, and that
she had heard nothing of Morland, who having easily won his election
was now probably busy with the beginning of the autumn session. Jimmie,
unversed in the postscriptal ways of women, accepted the information as
merely the literal statement of facts. A wiser man would have grasped
the delicate implication that the relations between the affianced pair
were so strained that an interval of separation had seemed desirable.

The unshaken faith of the man in the ultimate righteousness of things
kept him serene; but the young girl who had no special faith, save in
the perfect righteousness of Jimmie and the dastardly unrighteousness of
the world in general and of Mr. Anthony Merewether in particular, found
it difficult to live in these high altitudes of philosophy. Indeed she
was a very miserable little girl when Jimmie was not by, and pined,
and cried her heart out, and grew thin and pale and sharp-tempered,
and filled her guardian with much concern. At last Jimmie took heroic
measures. Without Aline’s knowledge he summoned Tony Merewether to an
interview. The young man came. Jimmie received him in the studio, begged
him to take a seat, and rang the bell. The middle-aged housekeeper ran
down in some perturbation at the unusual summons, for it was Jimmie’s
habit to shout up the stairs, generally to Aline, for anything he
wanted. She received his instructions. Miss Aline would oblige him by
coming down at once. During the interval of waiting he talked to
Mr. Merewether of indifferent things, flattering himself on a sudden
development of the diplomatic faculty. Aline ran into the room, and
stopped short at the sight of the young man, uttering a little cry of
indignant surprise. Jimmie cleared his throat, but the oration that
he had prepared was never delivered. Aline marched straight up to the
offending lover.

“I don’t see you on your knees,” she said.

Tony, who was entirely unexpectant of this uncompromising attitude,
having taken it for granted that by some means or other the way had been
made smooth for him, retorted somewhat sharply:

“You’re not likely to.”

“Then I wonder,” said Aline, “at your audacity in coming to this house.”
 She turned and marched back to the door, her little figure very erect
and her dark eyes blazing. Jimmie intercepted her.

“Tony came at my request, my child.”

For the first and only time in her life she cast a look of anger upon
Jimmie.

“Let me pass, please,” she said, like an outraged princess; and waving
Jimmie aside, she made the exit of offended majesty.

The two men looked stupidly at each other. Their position was
ignominious.

“I did it for the best, my boy,” said Jimmie, taking up a pipe which
he began to fill mechanically. He was just the kind creature of happier
days. The young fellow’s heart was touched. After a minute’s silence he
committed a passionate indiscretion.

“I wish to God you would tell me there is something hidden beneath this
ghastly story, and that it’s quite different from what it appears to
be!”

Jimmie drew himself up and looked the young man between the eyes.

“That’s a question I discuss with no human being,” said he.

“I beg your pardon,” said Tony Merewether, in sincere apology. “I would
not have taken such a liberty if it had n’t been a matter of life and
death for me. Perhaps you think I ought to do more or less as Aline asks
me; but she is too precious to purchase with an infernal lie. I’m hanged
if I’ll do it, and I don’t think you’re the man to misunderstand my
frankness.”

Jimmie had lit his pipe during the foregoing speech. He drew two or
three meditative puffs.

“Have as little to do with lies, my boy, as ever you can,” said he. “And
cheer up, all is sure to come right in the end.”

He was sunk in reflection for a long time after the young man had gone,
and again for a long time after Aline had done remorseful penance
for her loss of temper. Then he went out for a walk and brought back
something in his pocket. At dinner-time he was unusually preoccupied.
When the meal was over, he fished up a black bottle from beneath
the table, and going to the sideboard, came back with a couple of
wineglasses. Aline watched him as though he were performing some rite in
black magic.

“This is rich fruity port,” said he, filling the glasses. “Evans, the
grocer, told me I should get nothing like it at the price in London. You
are to drink it. It will do you good.”

Aline, still penitent, obeyed meekly.

“How could you be so extravagant, Jimmie?” she said in mild protest. “It
must have cost quite three shillings.”

“And sixpence,” said Jimmie, unabashed. He lifted up his glass. “Now
here’s to our _Wanderjahr_, or as much of it as we can run to.”

“Whatever do you mean, Jimmie?”

“I mean my dear,” said he, “that we are going to take a knapsack, a
tambourine and a flute, and appropriate ribbons for our costumes, and
beg our way through southern Europe.”

He explained and developed his plan, the result of his meditations,
in his laughing picturesque way. They were doing nothing but eating
expensive fog in November London. A diet of sunshine and garlic would
be cheaper. They would walk under the olive-trees and drift about on
lagoons, and whisper with dead ages in the moonlit gloom of crumbling
palaces. They would go over hills on donkeys. They would steep their
souls in Perugino, Del Sarto, Giorgione. They would teach the gaunt
Italian flea to respect British Keating’s powder. They would fraternise
with the beautiful maidens of Arles and sit on the top of Giotto’s
Campanile. They would do all kinds of impossible things. Afford it? Of
course they could. Had he not received his just dues from the princess
and sold two pictures a week or two ago? At this point he fell thinking
for a couple of dreamy minutes.

“I meant to give you a carriage, dear,” he said at last in mild apology.
“I’m afraid it will have to be a third-class one.”

“A fourth or fifth would be good enough for me,” cried Aline. “Or I
could walk all the way with you. Don’t I know you have planned it out
just for my sake?”

“Rubbish, my dear,” said Jimmie, holding the precious wine to the light.
“I’m taking you because I don’t see how I can leave you behind. You have
no idea what an abominable nuisance you’ll be.”

Aline laughed a joyous laugh which did Jimmie good to hear, and came
behind his chair and put her arms about his neck, behaving foolishly as
a young girl penetrated with the sense of the loved one’s goodness is
privileged to do. What she said is of infinitesimal importance, but it
lifted care from Jimmie’s heart and made him as happy as a child. Like
two children, they discussed the project; and Aline fetching from
the top shelf of the bookcase in Jimmie’s bedroom a forlorn, dusty,
yellow-paged Continental Bradshaw, twenty years old, they looked up
phantom trains that had long ceased running, speculated on the merits
of dead-and-gone hotels, and plunged into the fairyland of anachronistic
information.

A few days were enough for Jimmie’s simple arrangements; and then began
the pilgrimage of these two, each bearing a burden, a heart-ache, a pain
from which there was no escaping, but each bearing it with a certain
splendour of courage that made life beautiful to the other. For the girl
suffered keenly, as Jimmie knew. She had given a passionate heart for
good and all to the handsome young fellow who had refused to bow the
knee to the man whom he had every reason to consider a blackguard. They
had come together, youth to youth, as naturally as two young birds in
the first mating-season; but, fortunately or unfortunately for Aline,
she was not a bird, but a human being of unalterable affections and
indomitable character. She had the glorious faith, _quia incredibile_,
in Jimmie, and rather than swerve aside from it she would have walked
on knife edges all the rest of her days. So she scorned the pain, and
scorned herself for feeling it when she saw the serenity with which he
bore his cross. Dimly she felt that if the truth were known he would
stand forth heroically, not infamously. She had revered him as a child
does its father; but in that sweet and pure relationship of theirs, she
had also watched him with the minute, jealous solicitude that a mother
devotes to an only child who is incapable of looking after itself.
Nothing in his character had escaped her. She knew both his strength
and his enchanting weaknesses. To her trained eyes, he was all but
transparent; and of late her quickened vision had read in letters of
fire across his heart, “The desire of the moth for the star.”

So they travelled through the world, hand in hand, as it were, and drank
together of its beauty. They were memorable journeyings. Sleeping-cars
and palatial hotels and the luxuries of modern travel were not for them.
Aline, who knew that Jimmie, as far as he himself was concerned, would
have slept upon wood quite as cheerfully as upon feathers, but for
her sake would have royally commanded down, held the purse-strings and
dictated the expenditure. They had long, wonderful third-class journeys,
stopping at every wayside station, at each having some picturesque
change of company in the ever-crowded, evil-smelling, wooden-seated
compartment. She laughed at Jimmie’s fears as to her discomfort;
protested with energetic sincerity that this was the only way in the
world to travel with enjoyment. It was a never-failing interest to see
Jimmie disarm the suspicion of peasants by his sympathetic knowledge of
their interests, to listen to his arguments with the chance-met curé,
perspiring and polite, or the mild young soldier in a brass helmet a
size too big for him. In France she understood what they were saying,
and maintained a proper protectorate over Jimmie by means of a rough and
ready acquaintance with the vernacular. But in Italy she was dumb, could
only regard Jimmie in open-mouthed astonishment and admiration. He
spoke Italian. She had known him all her life and never suspected this
accomplishment. It required some tact to keep him in his proper position
as interpreter and restrain him from acting on his own initiative. In
the towns they put up at little humble hostelries in by-streets and in
country-places at rough inns, eating rude fare and drinking sour wine
with great content. The more they economised the longer would the
idyllic vagabondage last.

Through southern France and northern Italy they wandered without fixed
plans, going from place to place as humour seized them, seeking the
sunshine. At last it seemed to be their normal existence. London with
its pain and its passion grew remote like the remembered anguish of a
dream. Few communications reached them. The local newspaper gave them
all the tidings they needed of the great world. It was a life free
from vexation. The decaying splendour of the larger cities with their
treasure-houses of painting and sculpture and their majestic palaces
profoundly stirred the young girl’s imagination and widened her
conceptions and sympathies. But she loved best to arrive by a crazy,
old-world diligence at some little townlet built on a sunny hillside,
whose crumbling walls were the haunts of lizards and birds and strange
wild-flowers; and having rested and eaten at the dark little _albergo_,
smelling of wine and garlic and all Italian smells, to saunter out with
Jimmie through the narrow, ill-paved, clattering streets alive with
brown children and dark-eyed mothers, and men sitting on doorsteps
violently gesticulating and screaming over the game of _morra_, and to
explore the impossible place from end to end. A step or two when they
desired it would bring them to the sudden peace of the mediaeval church,
with its memories of Romanesque tradition and faint stirrings of
Gothic curiously reflecting the faith of its builders; the rough,
weather-beaten casket of one flawless gem of art, a Virgin smiling
over the child on her lap at many generations of worshippers, superbly
eternal and yet quaintly woman. And then they would pass out of the
chilly streets and down the declivitous pathways below the town and sit
together on the hillside, in a sun-baked spot sheltered from the wind.
This Aline, vaguely conscious of the Infinite, called “hanging on the
edge of Nowhere.”

One day, on such a hillside Jimmie had been painting three brown-faced
children whom he had cajoled into posing for him, while Aline looked on
dreamily. The urchins, dismissed with a few halfpennies, bowed polite
thanks, the two boys taking off their caps with the air of ragged
princes, and scampered away like rabbits out of sight.

“There!” cried Jimmie, throwing down his brush and holding out the
little panel at arm’s length. “I have never done anything so good in all
my life! Have n’t I got it? Is n’t it better than ten cathedralfuls of
sermons? Is n’t it the quintessence of happiness, the perfect trust in
the sweet earth to yield them its goodness? Could any one after seeing
that dare say the world was only a dank and dismal prison where men do
nothing but sit and hear each other groan? Look at it, Aline. What do
you think of it?”

“It’s just lovely, Jimmie,” said Aline.

“If I painted a pink hippopotamus standing on its head, you would say it
was lovely. Why did n’t you tell me that arm was out of drawing?”

He took up his brush and made the necessary correction. Aline laughed.

“Do you know one of the few things I can remember my father saying was
about you?”

“God bless my soul,” said Jimmie. “I had almost forgotten you ever had a
father--dear old chap! What did he say?”

“I remember him telling you that one day you would die of incurable
optimism. For years I used to think it was some horrible disease, and I
used to whisper in my prayers, ‘O God, please cure Jimmie of optimism,’
and sometimes lie awake at nights thinking of it.”

“Well, do you think your prayer has been answered?” asked Jimmie,
amused.

She shifted herself a little nearer him and put her hand on his knee.

“Thank goodness, no. You’ve got it as bad as ever--and I believe I’ve
caught it.” Then, between a sob and a laugh, she added:

“Oh, Jimmie dear, your stupid old head could never tell you what you
have done for me since we have been abroad. If I had stayed at home I
think I should have died of--of--of malignant pessimism. You will never,
never, never understand.”

“And will you ever understand what you have done for me, my child?” said
Jimmie, gravely. “We won’t talk about these things. They are best in our
hearts.”



Chapter XVIII--A RUDDERLESS SHIP

THAT autumn pressed heavily upon Mrs. Hardacre. Norma’s engagement,
without being broken off, was indefinitely suspended, and Norma, by
going abroad with Mrs. Deering immediately on her return from Cornwall,
had placed herself beyond reach of maternal influence. It is true
that Mrs. Hardacre wrote many letters; but as Norma’s replies mainly
consisted of a line or two on a picture post-card, it is to be doubted
whether she ever read them. Mrs. Hardacre began to feel helpless.
Morland could give her little assistance. He shrugged his shoulders at
her appeals. He was perfectly determined to marry Norma, but trusted to
time to restore her common-sense and lead her into the path of reason.
Nothing that he could do would be of any avail. Mrs. Hardacre urged him
to join the ladies on the Continent and bring matters to a crisis. He
replied that an election was crisis enough for one man in a year, and
furthermore the autumn session necessitated his attendance in the House.
He was quite satisfied, he told her stolidly, with things as they
were, and in the meantime was actually finding an interest in his new
political life. But Mrs. Hardacre shared neither his satisfaction nor
his interest, a mother’s point of view being so different from that of a
lover.

As if the loss of ducal favour and filial obedience were not enough for
the distraught lady, her husband one morning threw a business letter
upon the table, and with petulant curses on the heads of outside
brokers, incoherently explained that he was ruined. They were liars and
knaves and thieves, he sputtered. He would drag them all into the police
court, he would write to the “Times,” he would go and horsewhip the
blackguards. Damme if he would n’t!

“I wish the blackguards could horsewhip you,” remarked his wife, grimly.
“Have you sufficient brains to realise what an unutterable fool you have
been?”

If he did not realise it by the end of the week, it was not Mrs.
Hardacre’s fault. She reduced the unhappy man to craven submission
and surreptitious nipping of old brandy in order to keep up the feeble
spirit that remained in him, and took the direction of affairs into her
own hands. They were not ruined, but a considerable sum of money had
been lost through semi-idiotic speculation, and for a time strict
economy was necessary. By Christmas the establishment in the country
was broken up, a tenant luckily found for Heddon Court, and a small
furnished house taken in Devonshire Place. These arrangements gave Mrs.
Hardacre much occupation, but they did not tend to soften her character.
When Norma came home, sympathetically inclined and honestly desirous to
smooth down asperities--for she appreciated the aggravating folly of her
father--she found her advances coldly repulsed.

“What is the good of saying you are sorry for me,” Mrs. Hardacre asked
snappishly, “when you refuse to do the one thing that can mend matters?”

Then followed the old, old story which Norma had heard so often in days
past, but now barbed with a new moral and adorned with new realism.
Norma listened wearily, surprised at her own lack of retort. When the
familiar homily came to an end, her reply was almost meek:

“Give me a little longer time to think over it.”

“You had better cut it as short as possible,” said Mrs. Hardacre, “or
you may find yourself too late. As it is, you are going off. What have
you been doing to yourself? You look thirty.”

“I feel fifty,” said Norma.

“You had better go and have your face massaged, or you’ll soon not be
fit to be, seen.”

“I think I want a course of soul massage,” answered Norma, with a hard
little laugh.

But when she was alone in her own room, she looked anxiously at her face
in the glass. Her mother had confirmed certain dismal imaginings. She
had grown thinner, older looking; tiny lines were just perceptible at
the corners of eyes and lips and across the forehead. The fresh bloom of
youth was fading from her skin. She was certainly going off. She had not
been a happy woman since her precipitate flight to Cornwall. The present
discovery added anxiety to depression.

A day or two afterwards Mrs. Hardacre returned to the unedifying attack.
Had Norma written to Morland to inform him of her arrival? Norma replied
that she had no inordinate longing to see Morland. Mrs. Hardacre
used language that only hardened and soured women of fashion who are
beginning to feel the pinch of poverty dare use nowadays. It is far more
virulent than a fishwife’s, for every phrase touches a jangling nerve
and every gibe tears a delicate fibre, whereas Billingsgate merely
shocks and belabours. Norma bore it in silence for some time, and then
went away quivering from head to foot. A new and what seemed a horrible
gift had been bestowed upon her--the power to feel. Once a sarcastic
smile, a scornful glance, a withering retort would have carried her in
triumph from her mother’s presence. Secure in her own callous serenity,
she would have given scarcely a further thought to the quarrel. Now
things had inexplicably changed. Her mother’s stabs hurt. Some curious
living growth within her was wrung with pain. She could only grope
humbled and broken to her room and stare at nothing, wishing she could
cry like other women.

No wonder she looked old, when the spirit had left her and taken with
it the cold, proud setting of the features that had given her beauty
its peculiar stamp. Dimly she realised the disintegration. When a nature
which has taken a colossal vanity for strength and has relied thereon
unquestioningly for protection against a perilous world, once loses
grip of that sublime mainstay, it is impossible for it to take firm hold
again. It must content itself with lesser planks or flounder helplessly,
fearful of imminent shipwreck. Norma, during those autumn months, had
found her strength vanity. The fact in rude, symbolic form was brought
home to her a short time after her return.

It was a bright Sunday afternoon, when, on her way to pay a call in
Kensington, she had dismissed her cab at Lancaster Gate and was walking
through Kensington Gardens. Half-way a familiar figure met her eye. It
was her own maid sitting on a bench with a man by her side. The girl was
wearing a cheap long jacket over an elaborate dress, absurdly light
for the time of year. It caught Norma’s attention, and then suddenly it
flashed upon her that it was the dress she had given to be burned months
ago. She walked on, aching with a sense of the futility of grandiose
determinations. She had consigned the garment stained with Jimmie’s
blood contemptuously to the flames. It was incongruously whole in
Kensington Gardens. She had cast her love for Jimmie out of her heart in
the same spirit of comedic tragedy. Forlorn and bedraggled it was still
there, mockingly refusing to be reduced to its proper dust and ashes.
Her strength had not availed her to cast it out. Her strength was a vain
thing. Yet being forlorn and bedraggled the love was as hateful as
the unconsumed garment. It haunted her like an unpurged offence.
The newspaper details had made it reek disgustfully. At times Connie
Deering’s half faith filled her with an extravagant hope that these
sordid horrors which had sullied the one pure and beautiful thing that
had come into her life were nothing but a ghastly mistake; that it was,
as Connie suggested, a dark mystery from which if Jimmie chose he could
emerge clean. But then her judgment, trained from childhood to look
below the surface of even smiling things and find them foul, rebelled.
The man had proclaimed himself, written himself down a villain. It was
in black and white. And not only a villain--that might be excusable--but
a hypocritical canting villain, which was the unforgivable sin. Every
woman has a Holy Ghost of sorts within her.

Norma did not write to Morland. She dreaded renewal of relations, and
yet she had not the courage to cut him finally adrift. The thought of
withered spinsterhood beneath her father’s roof was a dismaying vision.
Marriage was as essential as ever to the scheme of her future. Why not
with Morland? Her mother’s words, though spoken as with the tongues of
asps, were those of wisdom.

All that she could bring to a husband was her beauty, her superb
presence, her air of royalty. These gone, her chances were as illusory
as those of the pinched and faded gentlewomen who tittle-tattled at
Cosford tea-parties. Another year, and at the present rate of decay
her beauty would have vanished into the limbo of last year’s snows. She
exaggerated; but what young woman of six-and-twenty placed as she has
not looked tremulously in her mirror and seen feet of crows and
heaven knows what imaginary fowls that prey upon female charms? At
six-and-thirty she smiles with wistful, longing regret at the remembered
image. Yet youth, happily, is not cognisant of youth’s absurdities.
It takes itself tragically. Thus did Norma. Her dowry of beauty was
dwindling. She must marry within the year. Sometimes she wished that
Theodore Weever, who had not yet discovered his decorative wife and had
managed to find himself at various places which she had visited abroad,
would come like a Paladin and deliver her from her distress and carry
her off to his castle in Fifth Avenue. He would at least interest her as
a human being, which Morland, with all his solid British qualities,
had never succeeded in doing. But Theodore Weever had not spoken. He
retained the imperturbability of the bald marble bust of himself that
he had taken her to see in a Parisian sculptor’s studio. There only
remained Morland. But for some reason, for which she could not account,
he seemed the last man on earth she desired to marry. When she had
written to him, soon after her flight to Cornwall, to beg for a
postponement of the wedding, giving him the-very vaguest reasons for her
request, he had assented with a cheerfulness ill befitting an impatient
lover. It would be impertinence, he wrote, for him to enquire further
into her reasons. She was too much a woman of the world to act without
due consideration, and provided that he could look forward to the
very great happiness of one day calling her his wife, he was perfectly
satisfied with whatever she chose to arrange. The absence of becoming
fervour, in spite of her desire to postpone the dreaded day, produced
a feeling of irritated disappointment. None of us, least of all women,
invariably like to be taken at our word. If Morland lay so little value
upon her as that, he might just as well give her up altogether. She
replied impulsively, suggesting a rupture of the engagement. Morland,
longing for time to raise him from the abasement in which he grovelled,
had welcomed the proposal to defer the marriage; but as he smarted at
the same time under a sense of wrong--had he not been betrayed by
his own familiar friend and the woman he loved?--he now unequivocally
refused to accept her suggestion. He had made up his mind to marry her.
He had made all his arrangements for marrying her. The check he
had experienced had stimulated a desire which only through unhappy
circumstances had languished for a brief season. He persuaded himself
that he was more in love with her than ever. At all costs, in his
stupid, dogged way, he determined to marry her. He told her so bluntly.
He merely awaited her good pleasure. Norma accepted the situation and
thought, by going abroad, to leave it at home to take care of itself. It
might die of inanition. Something miraculous might happen to transform
it entirely. She returned and found it alive and quite undeveloped.
It grinned at her with a leer which she loathed from the depths of her
soul; and the more Mrs. Hardacre pointed at it the more it leered, and
the greater became the loathing.

At last Mrs. Hardacre took matters into her own hands and summoned
Morland to London. “Norma is in a green, depressed state,” she wrote,
“and I think your proper place is by her side. I imagine she regrets her
foolishness in postponing the marriage and is ashamed to confess it. A
few words with you face to face would bring her back to her old self.
Women have these idiotic ways, my dear Morland, and men being so much
stronger and saner must make generous allowances. I confidently expect
you.”

Morland’s vanity, spurred by this letter, brought him in a couple of
days to London.

“My dear Morland, this is a surprise,” cried Mrs. Hardacre
dissemblingly, as he entered the drawing-room, “we were only just
talking of you. I’ll ring for another cup.”

She moved to the bell by the side of the fireplace, and Norma and
Morland shook hands with the conventional words of greeting.

“I hope you’ve had a good time abroad?”

“Oh, yes. The usual thing, the usual places, the usual people, the usual
food. In fact, a highly successful pursuit of the usual. I’ve invented a
verb--‘to usualise.’ I suppose you’ve been usualising too?”

The sudden sight of him had braced her, and instinctively she had
adopted her old, cool manner as defensive armour. Her reply pleased
him. There was something pungent in her speech, irreconcilable in her
attitude, which other women did not possess. He was not physiognomist or
even perceptive enough to notice the subtle change in her expression. He
noted, as he remarked to her later, that she was “a bit off colour,” but
he attributed it to the muggy weather, and never dreamed of regarding
her otherwise than as radically the same woman who had engaged herself
to many him in the summer. To him she was still the beautiful shrew
whose taming appealed to masculine instincts. The brown hair sweeping
up in a wave from the forehead, the finely chiselled sensitive features,
the clear brown eyes, the mocking lips, the superb poise of the head,
the stately figure perfectly set off in the dark blue tailor-made dress,
all combined to impress him with a realisation of the queenliness of the
presence that had grown somewhat shadowy of late to his unimaginative
mental vision.

“And how do you like Parliament?” she asked casually, when the teacup
had been brought and handed to him filled.

“I find it remarkably interesting,” he replied sententiously. “It is
dull at times, of course, but no man can sit on those green benches and
not feel he is helping to shape the destinies of a colossal Empire.”

“Is that what you really feel--or is it what you say when you are
responding for the House of Commons at a public dinner?” asked Norma.

Morland hesitated for a moment between huffiness and indulgence. In
spite of his former gibes at the stale unprofitableness of parliamentary
life, he had always had the stolid Briton’s reverence for our
Institutions, and now that he was actually a legislator, his traditions
led him to take himself seriously.

“I have become a very keen politician, I assure you,” he answered. “If
you saw the amount of work that falls on me, you would be astonished. If
it were n’t for Manisty--that’s my secretary, you know--I don’t see how
I could get through it.”

“I always wonder,” said Mrs. Hardacre, “how members manage to find time
for anything. They work like galley-slaves for nothing at all. I regard
them as simply sacrificing themselves for the public good.”

“A member of Parliament is the noblest work of God. Don’t, mother.
Please leave us our illusions.”

“What are they?” asked Morland. “One is that there are a few decently
selfish people left in an age of altruists,” said Norma.

She talked for the sake of talking, careless of the stupid poverty of
her epigram. Morland, as the healthy country gentleman alternating
with the commonplace man about town, was a passable type enough, though
failing to excite exuberant admiration. But Morland, with his narrow
range of sympathies and pathetic ignorance of the thought of the day,
posing solemnly as a trustee of the British Empire, aroused a scorn
which she dare not express in words.

“I don’t know that we are all altruists,” replied Morland,
good-temperedly. “If we are good little members of Parliament, we may
be rewarded with baronetcies and things. But one has to play the game
thoroughly. It’s worth it, is n’t it, even from your point of view,
Norma?”

“You’re just the class of man the government does best in rewarding,”
 remarked Mrs. Hardacre, with her wintry smile that was meant to be
conciliatory. “A man of birth and position upholds the dignity of a
title and is a credit to his party.”

Morland laughingly observed that it was early in the day to be thinking
of parliamentary honours. He had not even made his maiden speech. As
Norma remained silent, the conversation languished. Presently Mrs.
Hardacre rose.

“I have no doubt you two want to have a talk together. Won’t you stay
and dine with us, Morland?”

He glanced at Norma, but failing to read an endorsement of the
invitation in her face, made an excuse for declining.

“Then I will say good-bye and leave you. I would n’t stand any nonsense
if I were you,” she added in a whisper through the door which he held
open for her.

He sauntered up to the fireplace and stood on the hearth-rug, his hands
in his pockets. Norma, looking at him from her easy-chair, wondered at
a certain ignobility that she detected for the first time beneath his
bluff, prosperous air. In spite of birth and breeding he looked common.

“Well?” he said. “We had better have it out at once. What is it to be? I
must have an answer sooner or later.”

“Can’t it be later?”

“If you insist upon it. I’m not going to hold a pistol to your head,
my dear girl. Only you must admit that I’ve treated you with every
consideration. I have n’t worried you. You took it into your head to put
off our marriage. I felt you had your reasons and I raised no objection.
But we can’t go on like this forever, you know.”

“Why not?” asked Norma.

“Human nature. I am in love with you, and want to marry you.”

“But supposing I am not in love with you, Morland. I’ve never pretended
to be, have I?”

“We need n’t go over old ground. I accepted all that at the beginning.
The present state of affairs is that we are engaged; when are we going
to be married?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Norma, desperately. “I have n’t thought of it
seriously. I know I have behaved like a beast to you--you must forgive
me. At times it has seemed as though I was not the right sort to marry
and bring children into the world. I should loathe it!”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Morland, in a tone he meant to be soothing.
“Besides--”

“I know what you are going to say--or at any rate what you would like
to say. It’s scarcely decent to talk of such things. But I have n’t been
brought up in a nunnery. I wish to God I had been. At all events, I am
frank. I would loathe it--all that side of it. Could n’t we suppress
that side? Oh, yes, I am going to speak of it--it has been on my mind
for months,” she burst out, as Morland made a quick step towards her.

He did not allow her to continue. With his hand on the arm of her chair,
he bent down over her.

“You are talking wild nonsense,” he said; and she flushed red and did
not meet his eyes. “When a man marries, he marries in the proper sense
of the term, unless he is an outrageous imbecile. There is to be no
question of that sort of thing. I thought you knew your world better.
I want you--you yourself. Don’t you understand that?” Norma put out her
hand to push him away. He seized it in his. She snatched it from him.

“Let me get up,” she said, waving him off. She brushed past him, as she
rose.

“We can’t go on talking. What I’ve said has made it impossible. Let us
change the subject. How long are you going to stay in town?”

“I’m not going to change the subject,” said Morland, rather brutally.
“I’m far too much interested in it. Hang it all, Norma, you do owe me
something.”

“What do I owe you? What?” she asked with a sudden flash in her eyes.

“You are a woman of common-sense. I leave you to guess. You admit you
have n’t treated me properly. You have nothing to complain of as far as
I am concerned. Now, have you?”

“How do I know? No. I suppose not, as things go. Once I did try to--to
feel more like other women--and to make some amends. I told you that
perhaps we were making a mistake in excluding sentiment. If you had
chosen, you could have--I don’t know--made me care for you, perhaps.
But you didn’t choose. You treated me as if I were a fool. Very likely I
was.”

“When was that?” asked Morland, with a touch of sarcasm. “I certainly
don’t remember.”

“It was the last night we had any talk together--in the billiard-room.
The night before--before the garden-party.” He turned away with an
involuntary exclamation of anger. He remembered now, tragic events
having put the incident out of his mind. He was caught in a trap.

“I did n’t think you meant it,” he said, hurrying to the base excuse.
“Women sometimes consider it their duty to say such things--to act a
little comedy, out of kindness. Some fellows expect it. I thought it
would be more decent to let you see that I did n’t.”

There was a short silence. Norma stood in the centre of the room, biting
her lip, her head moving slightly from side to side; she was seeking
to formulate her thoughts in conventional terms. Her cheek grew a shade
paler.

“Listen,” she said at length. “I am anything bad you like to call me.
But I’m not a woman who cajoles men. And I’m not a liar. I’m far too
cynical to lie. Truth is much more deadly. I hate lying. That’s the main
reason why I broke with a man I cared for more than for any other man I
have ever met--because he lied. You know whom I mean.”

He faced her with a conscious effort. Even at this moment of strain and
anger, Norma was struck again with the lurking air of ignobility on his
face; but she only remembered it afterwards. He brazened it out.

“Jimmie Padgate, I suppose.”

“I can’t forgive him for lying.”

“I don’t see how he lied. He faced the music, at any rate, like a man,”
 said Morland, compelled by a remnant of common decency to defend Jimmie.

“All his pose beforehand was a lie--unless the disclosures afterwards
were lies--”

“What do you mean?” asked Morland, sharply.

“Oh, never mind. We have not met to discuss the matter. I don’t know why
I referred to it.”

She paused for a moment. She had begun her tirade at a white heat.
Suddenly she had cooled down, and felt lassitude in mind and limbs. An
effort brought her to a lame conclusion.

“You accused me of acting a comedy. I was n’t acting. I was perfectly
sincere. I have been absolutely frank with you from the hour you
proposed to me.”

“Well, I’m sorry for having misunderstood you. I beg your pardon,” said
Morland. They took up the conversation from the starting-point, but
listlessly, dispiritedly. The reference to Jimmie had awakened the
ever-living remorse in Morland’s not entirely callous soul. The man did
suffer, at times acutely. And now to act the conscious comedy in the
face of Norma’s expressed abhorrence was a difficult and tiring task.
Unwittingly he grew gentler; and Norma, her anger spent, weakly yielded
to the change of tone.

“We have settled nothing, after all our talk,” he said at last, looking
at his watch. “Don’t you think we had better fix it up now? Society
expects us to get married. What will people say? Come--what about
Easter?”

Norma passed her hand wearily over her eyes.

“I oughtn’t to marry you at all. I should loathe it, as I said. I should
never get to care for you in that way. You see I am honest. Let us break
off the engagement.”

“Well, look here,” said Morland, not unkindly, “let us compromise. I’ll
come back in three days’ time. You’ll either say it’s off altogether or
we’ll be married at Easter. Will that do?”

“Very well,” said Norma.

When Mrs. Hardacre came for news of the interview, Norma told her of the
arrangement.

“Which is it going to be?” she asked.

Norma set her teeth. “I can’t marry him,” she said.

But the proud spirit of Norma Hardacre was broken. The three days’
Inferno that Mrs. Hardacre created in the house drove the girl to
desperation. Her father came to her one day with the tears running
down his puffy cheeks. Unknown to her mother he had borrowed money from
Morland, which he had lost on the Stock Exchange. Norma looked in her
mirror, and found herself old, ugly, hag-ridden. Anything was preferable
to the torture and degradation of her home. The next time that Morland
called he stayed to dinner, and the wedding was definitely fixed for
Easter.



Chapter XIX--ABANA AND PHARPAR


O you know, Miss Hardacre, that I once had a wife?” said Theodore
Weever, suddenly.

It was after dinner at the Wolff-Salamons’, who, it may be remembered,
had lent their house to the Hardacres in the summer.

“I was not aware of it,” said Norma, wondering at the irrelevance of the
remark, for they had just been discussing the great painter’s merciless
portrait of their hostess, which simpered vulgarly at them from the
wall. They were sitting on a sofa in a corner of the room.

“Yes,” said Weever. “She died young. She came from a New England
village, and played old-fashioned tunes on the piano, and believed in
God.”

Not a flicker passed over his smooth waxen face or a gleam of sentiment
appeared in his pale steady eyes. Norma glanced round at the little
assembly, mainly composed of fleshy company promoters, who, as far as
decency allowed, continued among themselves the conversation that had
circulated over the wine downstairs, and their women-kind, who adopted
the slangy manners of smart society and talked “bridge” to such men as
would listen to them. Then she glanced back at Weever.

“I don’t want any more wives of that sort,” he went on. “I’ve outgrown
them. I have no use for them. They would wilt like a snow anemone in
this kind of atmosphere.”

“Is it your favourite atmosphere, then?” Norma asked, by way of saying
something.

“More or less. Perhaps I like it not quite so mephitic--You are racking
your brains to know why I’m telling you about my wife. I’ll explain. In
a little churchyard in Connecticut is a coffin, and in that coffin is
what a man who is going to ask a woman to marry him ought to give her. I
could never give a quiet-eyed New England girl anything again. At my age
she would bore me to death. But I could give the woman who is accustomed
to hot-houses a perfectly regulated temperature.”

Norma looked at the imperturbable face, half touched by his unsuspected
humanity, half angered by his assurance.

“Are you by any chance making me a formal demand in marriage?” she
asked.

“I am.”

“And at last you have found some one who would meet your requirements
for the decorative wife?”

“I found her last summer in Scotland,” replied Weever, with a little
bow. “My countrymen have a habit of finding quickly what they want. They
generally get it. I could n’t in this particular instance, as you were
engaged to another man.”

“I am still engaged,” said Norma.

“I beg your pardon. I heard the engagement was broken off.”

“Not at all. In fact only yesterday was it settled that we should be
married at Easter.”

“Having gone so far on a false assumption,” remarked Weever, placidly,
“may I go without rudeness a step farther? I do not dream of asking you
to throw over King--if my heart were not in Connecticut, I might--but
I’ll say this, if you will allow me, Miss Hardacre: I don’t believe you
will ever marry Morland King. I have a presentiment that you’re going to
marry me--chiefly because I’ve planned it, and my plans mostly come
out straight. Anyway you are the only woman in the world I should ever
marry, and if at any time there should be a chance for me, a word,
a hint, a message through the telephone to buy you a pug dog--or
anything--would bring me devotedly to your feet. Don’t forget it.”

It was impossible to be angry with a bloodless thing that spoke like
a machine. It was also unnecessary to use the conventional terms of
regretful gratitude in which maidens in their mercy wrap refusals.

“I’ll remember it with pleasure, if you like,” she said with a
half-smile. “But tell me why you don’t think I shall marry Mr. King. I
don’t believe in your presentiments.”

She caught his eye, and they remained for some seconds looking hard at
each other. She saw that he had his well-defined reasons.

“You can tell me exactly what is in your mind,” she said slowly; “you
and I seem to understand each other.”

“If you understand me, what is the use of compromising speech, my dear
lady?”

“You don’t believe in Morland?”

“As a statesman I can’t say that I do,” replied Weever, with the
puckering of the faint lines round his eyes that passed for a smile.
“That is what astonishes me in your English political life--the little
one need talk and the little one need do. In America the politician is
the orator. He must move in an atmosphere of words half a mile thick.
Wherever he goes he must scream himself hoarse. But here--”

Norma touched his arm with her fan.

“We were not discussing American and English institutions,” she
interrupted, “but matters which interest me a little more. You don’t
believe in Morland as a man? I want to know, as they are supposed to say
in your country. I disregard your hint, as you may perceive. I am also
indelicate in pressing you to speak unfavourably of the man I’m engaged
to. Of course, having made me an offer, you would regard it as caddish
to say anything against him. But supposing I absolve you from anything
of the kind by putting you on a peculiar plane of friendship?”

“Then I should say I was honoured above all mortals,” replied Weever,
inscrutably, “and ask you to tell me as a friend what has become of the
artist--the man who got shot--Padgate.”

The unexpected allusion was a shock. It brought back a hateful scene. It
awoke a multitude of feelings. Its relevance was a startling puzzle. She
strove by hardening her eyes not to betray herself.

“I’ve quite lost sight of him,” she answered in a matter of-fact tone.
“His little adventure was n’t a pleasant one.”

“I don’t believe he had any little adventure at all,” said Weever,
coolly.

“What do you mean?” Norma started, and the colour came into her face.

“That of all the idiots let loose in a cynical, unimaginative world,
Padgate is the greatest I have yet struck. If I were a hundredth part
such an idiot, I should be a better and a happier man. It’s getting
late. I’m afraid I must be moving.”

He rose, and Norma rose with him.

“I wish you would n’t speak in riddles. Can’t you tell me plainly what
you mean?”

“No, I can’t,” he said abruptly. “I have said quite enough. Good-night.
And remember,” he added, shaking hands with her, “remember what I told
you about myself.”

Only after he had gone did it flash upon her that she had not put to
him the vital question--what had Padgate to do with his disbelief
in Morland? As is the way with people pondering over conundrums, the
ridiculously simple solution did not occur to her. She spent many days
in profitless speculation. Weever prophesied that the marriage would not
take place. When pressed for a reason, he brought in the name of Jimmie
Padgate. Obviously the latter was to stand between Morland and herself.
But in what capacity? As a lover? Had Weever rightly interpreted her
insane act on the day of the garden-party, and assumed that she was
still in love with the detested creature? The thought made her grow hot
and cold from head to foot. Why was he an idiot? Because he did not
take advantage of her public confession? or was it because he stood
in Weever’s eyes as a wronged and heroic man? This in the depths of her
heart she had been yearning for months to believe. Connie Deering almost
believed it. About the facts once so brutally plain, so vulgarly devoid
of mystery, a mysterious cloud had gathered and was thickening with
time. Reflection brought assurance that Theodore Weever regarded
Jimmie as innocent; and if ever a man viewed human affairs in the dry,
relentless light of reason, it was the inscrutable, bloodless American.

His offer of marriage she put aside from her thoughts. Morland was the
irrevocably accepted. It was February. Easter falling early, the wedding
would take place in a little over a month. In a cold, dispassionate
way, she interested herself in the usual preparations. Peace reigned
in Devonshire Place. And yet Norma despised herself, feeling the
degradation of the woman who sells her body.

During the session she saw little of Morland. For this she thanked God,
the duchess, and the electors of Cosford. The sense of freedom caused
her to repent of her contemptuous attitude towards his political
aspirations. To encourage and foster them would be to her very great
advantage. She adopted this policy, much to the edification of Morland,
who felt the strengthening of a common bond of interest. He regularly
balloted for seats in the Ladies’ Gallery, and condemned her to sit for
hours behind the grating and listen to uninspiring debates. He came to
her with the gossip of the lobbies. He made plans for their future life
together. They would make politics a feature of their house. It would be
a rallying-place for the new Tory wing, in which Morland after a dinner
at the Carlton Club when his health was proposed in flattering terms,
had found himself enlisted. Norma was to bring back the glories of the
_salon_.

“When it gets too thick,” he said once laughingly, ashamed of these
wanderings into the ideal, “we can go off into the country and shoot and
have some decent people down and amuse ourselves rationally.”

Yet, in spite of absorbing political toys, his complete subjugation of
Norma, and the smiling aspect of life, a sense of utter wretchedness
weighed upon the soul of this half-developed man. He could not shake it
off. It haunted him as he sat stolid and stupefied in his place below
the gangway. It dulled all sensation of pleasure when he kissed the
lips which Norma, resigned now to everything, surrendered to him at his
pleasure. It took the sparkle out of his champagne, the joy out of his
life. Now that he had asserted himself as the victorious male who had
won the female that he coveted, the sense of wrong inflicted on him grew
less and the consciousness of his own shame grew greater. In his shallow
way he had loved Jimmie dearly. He also had the well-bred Englishman’s
conventional sense of honour. Accusing conscience wrote him down an
unutterable knave.

One day in March, as he was proceeding citywards to see his solicitors
on some question relating to marriage settlements, his carriage was
blocked for some minutes in Oxford Street. Looking idly out of the near
side window, he saw a familiar figure emerge from a doorway in a narrow
passage come down to the pavement, and stand for a few moments in
anxious thought, jostled by the passers-by. He looked thin and ill and
worried. The lines by the sides of his drooping moustache had deepened.
Jimmie, never spruce in his attire, now seemed outrageously shabby.
Certain men who dress well are quick, like women, to notice these
things. Morland’s keen glance took in the discoloured brown boots and
the frayed hem of trousers, the weather stains on the old tweed suit,
the greasiness of the red tie, the irregular mark of perspiration on the
band of the old Homburg hat. An impulse to spring out of the carriage
and greet him was struggling with sheer shame, when Jimmie suddenly
threw up his head--an old trick of his whose familiarity brought a pang
to the man watching him--and crossed the road, disappearing among the
traffic behind the brougham. Morland gazed meditatively at the little
passage. Suddenly he was aware of the three brass balls and the name of
Attenborough. In a moment he was on the pavement and, after a hurried
word to his coachman, in pursuit of Jimmie. But the traffic had
swallowed Jimmie up. It was impossible to track him. Morland returned to
his brougham and drove on.

There was only one explanation of what he had seen. Jimmie was reduced
to poverty, to pawning his belongings in order to live. The scandal had
killed the sale of his pictures. No more ladies would sit to him for
their portraits. No more dealers would purchase works on the strength
of his name. Jimmie was ill, poor, down at heel, and it was all his,
Morland’s, fault, his very grievous fault. In a dim, futile way he
wished he were a Roman Catholic, so that he could go to a priest,
confess, and receive absolution. The idea of confession obsessed him
in this chastened mood. By lunch-time he had resolved to tell Norma
everything and abide by her verdict. At any rate, if he married her, he
would not do so under false pretences. He would feel happier with
the load of lies off his mind. At half-past four he left the House of
Commons to transact its business without him as best it could, and drove
to Devonshire Place. As he neared the door, his courage began to fail.
He remembered Norma’s passionate outburst against lying, and shrank from
the withering words that she might speak. The situation, however, had to
be faced.

The maid who opened the front door informed him that Norma was out, but
that Mrs. Hardacre was at home. He was shown upstairs into the empty
drawing-room, and while he waited there, a solution of his difficulty
occurred to him. He caught at it eagerly, as he had caught at
compromises and palliatives all his life. For he was a man of half-sins,
half-virtues, half-loves, and half-repentances. His spiritual attitude
was that of Naaman.

Mrs. Hardacre greeted him with smiles of welcome, and regrets at Norma’s
absence. If only he had sent a message, Norma would have given up her
unimportant engagement. She would be greatly disappointed. The House
took up so much of his time, and Norma prized the brief snatches she
could obtain of his company. All of which, though obviously insincere,
none the less flattered Morland’s vanity.

“Perhaps it is as well that Norma is away,” said he, “for I want to have
a little talk with you. Can you give me five minutes?”

“Fifty, my dear Morland,” replied Mrs. Hardacre, graciously. “Will you
have some tea?”

He declined. It was too serious a matter for the accompaniment of
clattering teaspoons. Mrs. Hardacre sat in an armchair with her back
to the light--the curtains had not yet been drawn--and Morland sat near
her, looking at the fire.

“I have something on my mind,” he began. “You, as Norma’s mother, ought
to know. It’s about my friend Jimmie Padgate.”

Mrs. Hardacre put out a lean hand.

“I would rather not hear it. I’m not uncharitable, but I wish none of us
had ever set eyes on the man. He came near ruining us all.”

“He seems to have ruined himself. He’s ill, poor, in dreadful low water.
I caught a sight of him this morning. The poor old chap was almost in
rags.”

“It’s very unpleasant for Mr. Padgate, but it fails to strike me as
pathetic. He has only got his deserts.”

“That’s where the point lies,” said Morland. “He does n’t deserve it. I
do. I am the only person to blame in the whole infernal business.”

“You?” cried Mrs. Hardacre, her grey eyes glittering with sudden
interest. “What had you to do with it?”

“Well, everything. Jimmie never set eyes on the girl in his life. He
took all the blame to shield me. If he had n’t done so, there would have
been the devil to pay. That’s how it stands.”

Mrs. Hardacre gave a little gasp.

“My dear Morland, you amaze me. You positively shock me. Really, don’t
you think in mentioning the matter to me there is some--indelicacy?”

“You are a woman of the world,” said Morland, bluntly, “and you know
that men don’t lead the lives of monks just because they happen to be
unmarried.”

“Of course I know it,” said Mrs. Hardacre, composing herself to
sweetness. “One knows many things of which it is hardly necessary or
desirable to talk. Of course I think it shocking and disreputable of
you. But it’s all over and done with. If that was on your mind, wipe it
off and let us say no more about it.”

“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” said Morland, rising and leaning
against the mantel-piece. “What is done is done. Meanwhile another man
is suffering for it, while I go about prospering.”

“But surely that is a matter between Mr. Padgate and yourself. How can
it possibly concern us?”

As Morland had not looked at the case from that point of view, he
silently inspected it with a puzzled brow.

“I can’t help feeling a bit of a brute, you know,” he said at length.
“I meant at first to let him off--to make a clean breast of it--but it
wasn’t feasible. You know how difficult these things are when they get
put off. Then, of course, I thought I could make it up to Jimmie in
other ways.”

“Why, so you can,” said Mrs. Hardacre, with the elaborate pretence of
a little yawn, as if the subject had ceased to interest her. “You could
afford it.”

“Money is no good. He won’t touch a penny. I have offered.”

“Then, my dear Morland, you have done your best. If a man is idiot
enough to saddle himself with other people’s responsibilities and
refuses to be helped when he breaks down under them, you must let him go
his own way. Really I haven’t got any sympathy for him.”

Morland, having warmed himself sufficiently and feeling curiously
comforted by Mrs. Hardacre’s wise words, sat down again near her and
leant forward with his arms on his knees.

“Do you think Norma would take the same view?” he asked. After all, in
spite of certain eccentricities inseparable from an unbalanced sex, she
had as much fundamental common-sense as her mother. The latter looked at
him sharply.

“What has Norma got to do with it?”

“I was wondering whether I ought to tell her,” said he.

Mrs. Hardacre started bolt upright in her chair. This time her interest
was genuine. Nothing but her long training in a world of petty strife
kept the sudden fright out of her eyes and voice.

“Tell Norma? Whatever for?”

“I thought it would be more decent,” said Morland, rather feebly.

“It would be sheer lunacy!” cried the lady, appalled at the certain
catastrophe that such a proceeding would cause. Did not the demented
creature see that the whole affair was in unstable equilibrium? A touch,
let alone a shock like this, would bring it toppling down, never to
be set up again by any prayers, remonstrances, ravings, curses,
thumbscrews, or racks the ingenuity of an outraged mother could devise.

“It would be utter imbecility,” she continued. “My dear man, don’t you
think one mad Don Quixote in a romance is enough? What on earth would
you, Norma, or any one else gain by telling her? She is as happy
as possible now, buying her trousseau and making all the wedding
arrangements. Why spoil her happiness? I think it exceedingly
inconsiderate of you--not to say selfish--I do really.”

“Hardly that. It was an idea of doing penance,” said Morland.

“If that is all,” said Mrs. Hardacre, relaxing into a bantering tone, as
she joyfully noted the lack of conviction in his manner, “I’ll make you
a hair shirt, and I’ll promise it shall be scratchy--untanned pigskin
with the bristles on, if you like. Be as uncomfortable, my dear
Morland, as ever you choose--wear a frock-coat with a bowler hat or dine
_tête-à-tête_ with Mr. Hardacre, but do leave other folks to pass their
lives in peace and quiet.”

Morland threw himself back and laughed, and Mrs. Hardacre knew she had
won what she paradoxically called a moral victory. They discussed the
question for a few moments longer, and then Morland rose to take his
leave.

“It’s awfully good of you to look at things in this broadminded way,”
 he said, with the air of a man whom an indulgent lady has pardoned for a
small peccadillo. “Awfully good of you.”

“There is no other sane way of looking at them,” replied Mrs. Hardacre.
“Won’t you wait and see Norma?”

“I must get back to the House,” replied Morland, consulting his watch.
“There may be a division before the dinner-hour.”

He smoked a great cigar on his way to Westminster, and enjoyed it
thoroughly. Mrs. Hardacre was quite right. He had done his best. If
Jimmie was too high and mighty to accept the only compensation possible,
he was not to blame. The matter was over and done with. It would be
idiotic to tell Norma.

Meanwhile, having made confession and received absolution, he felt
spiritually refreshed.



Chapter XX--ALINE PREPARES FOR BATTLE

THE look of illness that Morland had noticed upon Jimmie’s face was due
to the fact that he had been ill. Italian townlets nestling on hillsides
are picturesque, but they are not always healthy. A touch of fever had
laid him on his back for a week, and caused the local doctor to order
him to England. He had arrived in a limp condition, much to the anxiety
of Aline, who had expected to see the roses return to his cheek as soon
as their slender baggage had passed the custom-house. He was shabbily
dressed because he had fallen on evil times, and had no money to waste
on personal vanities. The four guineas which Aline had put aside out of
their limited resources to buy him a new suit he had meanly abstracted
from the housekeeping drawer, and had devoted, with the surreptitious
help of the servant, to purchasing necessary articles of attire for
Aline. He was looking worried because he had forgotten in which of the
cheap Oxford Street restaurants he had promised to meet that young lady.
When he remembered, the cloud passed from his face and he darted across
the road behind Morland’s brougham. He found Aline seated primly at
a little marble table on which were a glass of milk and a lump of
amorphous pastry for herself, and a plate of cold beef and a small
bottle of Bass for Jimmie. It was too early for the regular crowd of
lunetiers--only half-past twelve--and the slim, erect little figure
looked oddly alone in the almost empty restaurant.

Jimmie nodded in a general, kindly way at the idle waitresses about the
buffet, and marched down the room with a quick step, his eyes beaming.
He sat down with some clatter opposite Aline, and took two cheques, a
bank-note and a handful of gold and silver from his pocket, and dumped
them noisily on the table.

“There, my child. Seven pounds ten. Twenty-five guineas. Five pounds.
And eight pounds three-and-six-pence. Exit wolf at the door, howling,
with his tail between his legs.”

Aline looked at the wealth with knitted brow.

“Can I take this?” she asked, lifting up the five-pound note.

Jimmie pushed the pile towards her. “Take it all, my dear. What on earth
should I do with it? Besides, it’s all your doing.”

“Because I made you go and dun those horrid dealers? And even now Hyam
has only given you half. It was fifty guineas--Oh, Jimmie! Do you mean
to say you forgot? Now, what did you tell him? Did you produce the
agreement?”

Jimmie looked at her ruefully.

“I’m afraid I forgot the wretched agreement. I went in and twirled my
moustache fiercely, and said ‘Mr. Hyam, I want my money.’”

Aline laughed. “And you took him by the throat. I know. Oh, you foolish
person!”

“Well, he asked me if twenty-five would be enough--and it’s a lot of
money, you know, dear--and I thought if I did n’t say ‘yes,’ he would
n’t give me anything. In business affairs one has to be diplomatic.”

“I’ll have to take Hyam in hand myself,” said Aline, decisively. “Well,
he’ll have to pay up some day. Then there’s Blathwayt & Co.,--and
Tilney--that’s quite right--but where did you get all that gold from,
Jimmie?”

“Oh, that was somebody else,” he said vaguely. Then turning to the
waitress, who had sauntered up to open the bottle of Bass, he pointed at
Aline’s lunch.

“Do you mind taking away that eccentric pie-thing and bringing the most
nutritious dish you have in the establishment?”

“But, Jimmie, this is a Bath bun. It’s delicious,” protested Aline.

“My dear child, growing girls cannot be fed like bears on buns. Ah,
here,” he said to the waitress who showed him the little wooden-handled
frame containing the tariff, “bring this young lady some galantine of
chicken.”

Aline, who in her secret heart loved the “eccentric pie-thing” beyond
all other dainties, and trembled at the stupendous charge, possibly
ninepence or a shilling, that would be made for the galantine, yielded,
after the manner of women, because she knew it would please Jimmie. But
accustomed to his diplomatic methods, she felt that a red herring--or a
galantine--had been drawn across the track.

“Who was the somebody else?” she asked.

He nodded and drank a draught of beer and wiped the froth from his
moustache. Something unusual in his personal appearance suddenly caught
her attention. His watch-chain was dangling loose from the buttonhole of
his waistcoat.

“Your watch!” she gasped.

Dissimulation being vain, Jimmie confessed.

“You told me this morning, my dear, that if we didn’t get fifty pounds
to-day we were ruined. You spoke alarmingly of the workhouse. My debt
collecting amounted to thirty-eight pounds fifteen. I tried hard to work
the obdurate bosom up to eleven pounds five, but he would only give me
eight.”

“You don’t mean to say you have sold your beautiful gold watch for eight
pounds?” cried the girl, turning as pale as the milk in front of her.

It had been a present from a wealthy stockbroker who had been delighted
with his portrait painted by Jimmie a couple of years ago, and it was
thick and heavy and the pride of Aline’s existence. It invested Jimmie
with an air of solidity, worldly substantiality; and it was the only
timekeeper they had ever had in the house which properly executed its
functions. Now he had sold it! Was there ever so exasperating a man?
He was worse than Moses with his green spectacles. But Jimmie reassured
her. He had only pawned the watch at Attenborough’s over the way.

“Then give me the ticket, do, or you’ll lose it, Jimmie.”

He meekly obeyed. Aline began her galantine with a sigh of relief, and
condescended to laugh at Jimmie’s account of his exploits. But when the
meal was ended, she insisted on redeeming the precious watch, and much
happier in knowing it safe in his pocket, she carried him off to a
ready-made tailor’s, where she ordered him a beautiful thin overcoat for
thirty shillings, a neat blue serge suit for three pounds ten, handing
over in payment the five-pound note she had abstracted from his
gleanings, and a new hat, for which she paid from a mysterious
private store of her own. These matters having been arranged to her
satisfaction, she made up for her hectoring ways by nestling against him
on top of the homeward-bound omnibus and telling him what a delightful,
lovely morning they had spent.

Thus it will be seen that Jimmie, aided by Aline’s stout little heart,
was battling more than usual against adversity. Aline had many schemes.
Why should she not obtain some lucrative employment? Jimmie made a wry
face at the phrase and protested vehemently against the suggestion.
A hulking varlet like him to let her wear her fingers to the bone by
addressing envelopes at twopence a million? He would sooner return to
the five-shillings-a-dozen oil paintings; he would go round the streets
at dawn and play “ghost” to pavement artists; he would take in washing!
The idea of the street-pictures caught his fancy. He expatiated upon its
advantages. Five pitches, say at two shillings a pitch, that would be
ten shillings a day--three pounds a week. A most business-like plan, to
say nothing of the education in art it would be to the public! He had
his own fantastical way of dealing with the petty cares of life. As for
Aline working, he would not hear of it. Though they lived now from hand
to mouth, they were always fed. He had faith in the ravens.

But all the fantasy and the faith could not subdue Aline’s passionate
rebellion against Jimmie’s ostracism. She was very young, very feminine;
she had not his wide outlook, his generous sympathies, his disdain of
trivial, ignoble things, his independence of soul. The world was arrayed
against Jimmie. Society was persecuting him with monstrous injustice.
She hated his oppressors, longed fiercely for an opportunity of
vindicating his honour. It was sometimes more than she could bear--to
think of his straitened means, the absence of sitters, the lowered
prices he obtained, the hours of unremitting toil he spent at his easel
and drawing-table. During their travels she had not realised what the
scandal would mean to him professionally. Now her heart rose in hot
revolt and thirsted for battle in Jimmie’s cause.

Her heart had never been hotter than one morning when, the gem of his
finished Italian studies having been rejected by the committee of
a minor exhibition, she went down to the studio to give vent to her
indignation. At breakfast Jimmie had laughed and kissed her and told
her not to drop tears into his coffee. He would send the picture to
the Academy, where it would be hung on the line and make him famous.
He refused to be downhearted and talked buoyantly of other things.
But Aline felt that it was only for her sake that he hid his bitter
disappointment, and an hour later she could bear the strain of silence
no longer.

The door of the studio was open. The girl’s footstep was soft, and, not
hearing it, he did not turn as she entered. For a few seconds she stood
watching him; feeling shy, embarrassed, an intruder upon unexpected
sacred things. Jimmie’s mind was far away from minor exhibitions. He was
sitting on his painting-stool, chin in hand, looking at a picture on
the easel. On his face was unutterable pain, in his eyes an agony of
longing. Aline caught her breath, frightened at the revelation. The eyes
of the painted Norma smiled steadfastly into his. The horrible irony
of it smote the girl. Another catch at the breath became a choking sob.
Jimmie started, and as if a magic hand had passed across his features,
the pain vanished, and Aline saw the homely face again with its look
of wistful kindness. Overwrought, she broke into a passion of weeping.
Jimmie put his arms about her and soothed her. What did the rejection of
a picture matter? It was part of the game of painting. She must be his
own brave little girl and smile at the rubs of fortune. But Aline
shook the head buried on his shoulder, and stretched out a hand blindly
towards the portrait. “It’s that. I can’t bear it.”

An impossible thought shot through him. He drew away from her and caught
her wrists somewhat roughly, and tried to look at her; but she bowed her
head.

“What do you mean, my child?” he asked curtly, with bent brows.

Women are lightning-witted in their interpretation of Such questions.
The blood flooded her face, and her tears dried suddenly and she met
his glance straight.

“Do you think I’m jealous? Do you suppose I have n’t known? I can’t bear
you to suffer. I can’t bear her not to believe in you. I can’t bear her
not to love you.”

Jimmie let go her wrists and stood before her full of grateful
tenderness, quite at a loss for words. He looked whimsically at the
flushed, defiant little face; he shook her by the shoulder and turned
away.

“My valiant tin soldier,” he said.

It was an old name for her, dating from nursery days, when they thought
and talked according to the gospel of Hans Christian Andersen.

No more passed between them. But thenceforward

Jimmie put the finishing touches to the portrait openly, Instead of
painting at it when he knew he should be undisturbed. The wedding was
drawing near. The date had been announced in the papers, and Jimmie
had put a cross against it in his diary. If only Norma would accept
the portrait as a wedding-present, he would feel happier. But how to
approach her he did not know. In her pure eyes, he was well aware, he
must appear the basest of men, and things proceeding from him would bear
a taint of the unspeakable. Yet he hungered for her acceptance. It
was the most perfect picture he had painted or could ever paint. The
divinest part of him had gone to the making of it. It held in its
passionate simplicity the man’s soul, as the Monna Lisa in its
mysterious complexity holds Leonardo’s. Of material symbols of things
spiritual he could not give her more. But how to give?

Connie Deering settled the question by coming to the studio one morning,
a bewildering vision of millinery and smiles and kindness.

“You have persistently refused, you wicked bear, to come and see me
since my return to London, so I have no choice but to walk into your
den. If it had n’t been for Aline, beyond an occasional ‘Dear Connie, I
am very well. The weather is unusually warm for the time of year. Yours
sincerely, J. P.’, I should n’t know whether you were alive or dead. I
hope you’re ashamed of yourself.”

This was the little lady’s exordium, to which she tactfully gave Jimmie
no time to reply. She stayed for an hour. The disastrous topic was
avoided. But Jimmie felt that she forbore to judge him for his supposed
offence, and learned to his great happiness that Norma had asked after
his welfare, and would without doubt deign in her divine graciousness
to accept the portrait. She looked thoughtfully at the picture for some
time, and then laid a light touch on his arm.

“How you must love her, Jimmie!” she said in a low voice. “I have n’t
forgotten.”

“I wish you would,” he answered gravely. “I oughtn’t to have said what
I did. I don’t remember what I did say. I lost my head and raved.
Every man has his hour of madness, and that was mine--all through your
witchery. And yet somehow it seemed as if I were pouring it all out to
her.”

Connie Deering perceptibly winced. Plucking up courage, she began:

“I wish a man would--”

“My dear Connie,” Jimmie interrupted kindly, “there are hundreds of men
in London who are sighing themselves hoarse for you. But you are such a
hard-hearted butterfly.”

Her lips twitched. “Not so hard-hearted as you think, my good Jimmie,”
 she retorted.

A moment later she was all inconsequence and jest. On parting he took
both her white-gloved little hands.

“You can’t realise the joy it has been to me to see you, Connie,” he
said. “It has been like a ray of sunlight through prison bars.”

After a private talk with Aline she drove straight to Devonshire Place,
and on the way dabbed her eyes with the inconsiderable bit of chiffon
called a handkerchief which she carried in her gold chain purse. She saw
Norma alone for a moment before lunch, and told her of her visit.

“I don’t care what he has done,” she declared desperately. “I am
not going to let it make a difference any longer. He’s the same dear
creature I have known all my life, and I don’t believe he has done
anything at all. If there’s a sinner in that horrible business, it is
n’t Jimmie!”

Norma looked out of the window at the bleak March day.

“That is what Theodore Weever said,” she answered tonelessly.

“Then why don’t you give Jimmie the benefit of the doubt?”

“It is better that I should n’t.”

“Why, dear?”

“You are a sweet little soul, Connie,” said Norma, her eyes still fixed
on the grey sky. “But you may do more harm than good. I am better as I
am. I have benumbed myself into a decent state of insensibility and I
don’t want to feel anything ever again as long as I live.”

The door opened, and Mrs. Hardacre appeared on the threshold. Connie
bent forward and whispered quickly into Norma’s ear:

“One would think you were afraid to believe in Jimmie.”

She swung round, flushed, femininely excited at having seized the unfair
moment for dealing a stab.

“I hope I _have_ made her feel,” she thought, as she fluttered forward
to greet Mrs. Hardacre.

She succeeded perhaps beyond her hope. A sharp glance showed her Norma
still staring out of window, but staring now with an odd look of fear
and pain. Her kind heart repented. .

“Forgive me if I hurt you,” she said on their way downstairs to lunch.

“What does it matter?” Norma answered by way of pardon.

But the shrewd thrust mattered exceedingly. After Connie had gone, the
wound ached, and Norma found that her boast of having benumbed herself
was a vain word. In the night she lay awake, frightened at the reaction
that was taking place. Theodore Weever had shaken her more than she had
realised. Connie Deering proclaimed the same faith. She felt that she
too would have to accept it--against argument, against reason, against
fact. She would have to accept it wholly, implicitly; and she dreaded
the act of faith. Her marriage with Morland was fixed for that day week,
and she was agonisingly aware that she loved another man with all her
heart.

The next day she received a hurried note from Connie Deering:

_“Do come in for half an hour for tea on Sunday. I have a beautiful
wedding-present to show you which I hope you’ll like, as great pains
have been spent over it. And I want to have a last little chat with
you.”_

She promised unreflectingly, seeing no snare. But as she walked
to Bryanston Square on Sunday afternoon, more of a presentiment, a
foreboding of evil, than a suspicion fixed itself upon her mind, and she
wished she had not agreed to come. She was shown into the drawing-room,
and there, beside a gilt-framed picture over which a cloth was thrown,
with her great brown eyes meeting her defiantly, stood Aline.



Chapter XXI--THE MOTH MEETS THE STAR

THUS had Aline, her heart hot for battle in Jimmie’s cause, contrived
with Connie Deering as subsidiary conspirator. She had lain awake most
of the night, thinking of the approaching interview, composing speeches,
elaborating arguments, defining her attitude. Her plan of campaign was
based on the assumption of immediate hostilities. She had pictured
a scornful lady moved to sudden anger at seeing herself trapped, and
haughtily refusing to discuss overtures of peace. It was to be war
from the first, until she had brought her adversary low; and when the
door-handle rattled and the door opened to admit Norma, every nerve
in her young body grew tense, and her heart beat like the clapper of a
bell.

Norma entered, looked for a moment in smiling surprise at Aline, came
quickly forward, and moved by a sudden impulse, a yearning for love,
sweetness, freshness, peace--she knew not what--she put her arms round
the girl and kissed her.

“My dear Aline, how sweet it is to see you again!” The poor little girl
stood helpless. The bottom was knocked out of her half-childish plan of
campaign. There was no scornful lady, no haughty words, no hostilities.
She fell to crying. What else could she do?

“There, there! Don’t cry, dear,” said Norma soothingly, almost as
helpless. Seating herself on a low chair and drawing Aline to her side,
she looked up at the piteous face.

“Why should you cry, dear?”

“I did n’t know you would be so good to me,” answered Aline, wiping her
eyes.

“Why should n’t I be good to you? What reason could I have for not being
glad to see you?”

“I don’t know,” said the girl, with a touch of bitterness. “Things are
so different now.”

Norma sighed for answer and thought of her premonition. She was aware
that Connie had deliberately planned this interview, but could find
no resentment in her heart. The reproach implied in Aline’s words she
accepted humbly. She was at once too spiritless for anger, and too much
excited by the girl’s presence for regret at having come. Her eye
fell upon the picture leaning against the chair-back, and a conjecture
swiftly passed through her mind.

“Mrs. Deering asked me to come and look at a wedding-present,” she said
with a smile.

“Did she tell you from whom?” asked Aline, thrusting her handkerchief
into her pocket. She had found her nerve again.

“No.”

“It’s from Jimmie.”

“Is it that over there?”

Aline caught and misinterpreted an unsteadiness of voice. She threw
herself on her knees by Norma’s side.

“You won’t refuse it, Miss Hardacre. Oh, say you won’t refuse it. Jimmie
began it ever so long ago. He put everything into it. It would break
his heart if you refused it--the heart of the best and beautifullest and
tenderest and most wonderful man God ever made.”

Norma touched with her gloved fingers a wisp of hair straying over the
girl’s forehead.

“How do you know he is all that?”

“How do I know? How do I know the sun shines and the rain falls? It’s
just so.”

“You have faith, my child,” said Norma, oddly.

“It isn’t faith. It’s knowledge. You all believe Jimmie has done
something horrible. He has n’t. I know he hasn’t. He couldn’t. He
couldn’t harm a living creature by word or deed. I know he never did it.
If I had thought so for one moment, I should have loathed myself so that
I would have gone out and killed myself. I know very little about it. I
did n’t read the newspapers--it’s hideous--it’s horrible--Jimmie would
as soon think of torturing a child. It’s not in his nature. He is all
love and sweetness and chivalry. If you say he has taken the blame on
himself for some great generous purpose--yes. That’s Jimmie. That’s
Jimmie all over. It’s cruel--it’s monstrous for any one who knows him to
think otherwise.”

She had risen from her knees half-way through her passionate speech, and
moved about in front of Norma, wringing her hands. She ended in a sob
and turned away. Norma lay back in her chair, pale and agitated. The
cynical worldling with his piercing vision into men and the pure,
ignorant child had arrived at the same conclusion, not after months of
thought, but instantly, intuitively. She could make the girl no answer.
Aline began again.

“He could n’t. You know he could n’t. It’s something glorious and
beautiful he has done and not anything shameful.”

She went on, with little pauses, hurling her short, breath less
sentences across the space that separated her from Norma, forgetful of
everything save the wrong done to Jimmie. At last Norma rose and went to
her.

“Hush, dear!” she said. “There are some things I mustn’t talk about.
I daren’t. You are too young to understand. Mr. Padgate has sent me a
wedding-present. Tell him how gladly I accept it and how I shall value
it. Let me see the picture.”

Aline, her slight bosom still heaving with the after-storm of emotion,
said nothing, but drew the cloth from the canvas. Norma started back
in-surprise. She had not anticipated seeing her own portrait.

“Oh, but it is beautiful!” she cried involuntarily.

“Yes--more than beautiful,” said Aline, and mechanically she moved the
chair into the full light of the window.

Norma looked at the picture for a long time, stepped back and looked at
herself in the mirror of the overmantel, and returned to the picture.
And as she looked the soul behind the picture spoke to her. The message
delivered, she glanced at Aline.

“It is not I, that woman. I wish to God it were.” She put her hands
up to her face, and took a step or two across the room, and repeated a
little wildly, “I wish to God it were!”

“It is very, very like you,” said Aline softly, recovering her girl’s
worship of the other’s stately beauty.

Norma caught her by the arm and pointed at the portrait.

“Can’t you see the difference?”

But the soul behind the picture had not spoken to Aline. There was love
hovering around the pictured woman’s lips; happy tenderness and
trust and promise mingled in her eyes; in so far as the shadow of a
flower-like woman’s passion could strain her features, so were her
features strained. Yet she looked out of the canvas a proud, queenly
woman, capable of heroisms and lofty sacrifice. She was one who
loved deeply and demanded love in return. She was warm of the flesh,
infinitely pure of the spirit. The face was the face of Norma, but the
soul was that of the dream-woman who had come and sat in the sitter’s
chair and communed with Jimmie as he painted her. And Norma heard her
voice. It was an indictment of her life, a judgment and a sentence.

“I am glad you can’t, dear,” she said to Aline, regaining her balance.
“Tell him I shall prize it above all my wedding-gifts.”

They talked quietly, for a while about Jimmie’s affairs, the pilgrimage
through southern France and northern Italy, his illness, his work. His
poverty Aline was too proud to mention.

“And you, my dear?” asked Norma, kindly.

“I?”

“What about yourself? You are not looking as happy as you were. My dear
child,” she said, bending forward earnestly, “do you know that no one
has ever come to me with their troubles in all my life--not once. I’m
beginning to feel I should be happier if some one did. You have had
yours---I have heard just a little. You see we all have them and we
might help each other.”

“You have no troubles, Miss Hardacre,” said Aline? touched. “You are
going to be married in a week’s time.”

“And you?”

“Never,” said Aline. “Never.”

Suddenly she poured her disastrous little love-story into Norma’s ears.
It was a wonderful new comfort to the child, this tender magic of the
womanly sympathy. Oh! she loved him, of course she loved him, and he
loved her; that was the piteous part of it. If Miss Hardacre only knew
what it was to have the heart-ache! It was dreadful. And there was no
hope.

“And is that all?” asked Norma, when she had lowered the curtain on her
tragedy. “You are eating out your heart for him and won’t see him just
because he won’t believe in Jimmie? Listen. I feel sure that he will
soon believe in Jimmie. He must. And then you’ll be entirely happy.”

When the girl’s grateful arms suddenly flung themselves about her, Norma
was further on the road to happiness than she had ever travelled before.
She yielded herself to the moment’s exquisite charm. Behind her whirled
a tumult of longing, shame, struggling faith, nameless suspicion. Before
her loomed a shivering dread. The actual moment was an isle of enchanted
peace.

The clock on a table at the far end of the room chiming six brought
her back to the workaday world. She must go home. Morland was coming to
dinner; also one or two Cosford people, who had already arrived in town
in view of the wedding. She would have to dress with some elaborateness.
Her heart grew heavy and cold at the prospect of the dreary party. She
rose, looked again at the picture in the fading light. Moved by the
irresistible, she turned to Aline.

“I should like to see him--to thank him--before---before Wednesday. Do
you think he would come?”

Aline blushed guiltily. “Jimmie is in the house now,” she said.

“Downstairs?”

“Yes.”

For a moment irresolute, she looked vacantly into the girl’s pleading
eyes. An odd darkness encompassed her and she saw nothing. The
announcement was a shock of crisis. Dimly she knew that she trod the
brink of folly and peril. But she had been caught unawares, and she
longed stupidly, achingly, for the sight of his face. The words of
Aline, eager in defence of her beloved, seemed far away.

“Of course he does n’t know you are here. He was to call for me at a
quarter to six, and I heard the front door open a little while ago. I
brought the picture in a cab, and he is under the impression that Mrs.
Deering will ask you to--will do what I have done. Jimmie is perfectly
innocent, Miss Hardacre. He had not the remotest idea I was to meet
you--not the remotest.”

Norma recovered herself sufficiently to say with a faint smile:

“So this has been a conspiracy between you and Connie Deering?”

Aline caught consent in the tone, and ignored the question.

“Shall I send him up to you?” she asked breathlessly.

“Yes,” said Norma.

There was a girl’s glad cry, a girl’s impulsive kiss, and Norma was left
alone in the room. She had yielded. In a few moments he would be with
her--the man who had said, “Her voice haunts me like music heard in
sleep... I worship her like a Madonna... I love her as the man of hot
blood loves a woman... My soul is a footstool for her to rest her feet
upon,” and other flaming words of unforgettable passion; the man for
whom one instant of her life had been elemental sex; the man whose love
had transfigured her on canvas into the wonder among women that she
might have been; the man standing in a slough of infamy, whose rising
vapours wreathed themselves into a halo about his head. She clenched her
hands and set her teeth, wrestling with herself.

“My God! What kind of a fool am I becoming?” she breathed.

Training, the habit of the mask, came to her aid. Jimmie, entering,
saw only the royal lady who had looked kindly upon him in the golden
September days. She came to meet him frankly, as one meets an old
friend. A new vision revealed to her the heart that leapt into his eyes,
as they rested upon her. Mistress of herself, she hardened her own, but
smiled and spoke softly.

“It is great good fortune you have come, so that I can thank you,” she
said. “But how can I ever thank you--for that?”

“It is a small gift enough,” said Jimmie. “Your acceptance is more than
thanks.”

“I shall prize it dearly. It is like nothing that can be bought. It is
something out of yourself you are giving me.”

“If you look at it in that light,” said he, “I am happy indeed.”

With a common instinct they went up to the portrait and regarded it side
by side. Conventional words passed. He enquired after Morland.

“You have n’t seen him for a long time?” she asked hesitatingly.

“Not for a long time.”

“You must have been very lonely.”

“I have had Aline--and Connie Deering--and my work.”

“Are they sufficient for you?”

“Any human love a man gets he can make fill his life. It’s like the
grain of mustard-seed.”

Norma felt a thrill of admiration. Not a tone in his voice betrayed
complaint, reproach, or bitterness. Instead, he sounded the note of
thanksgiving for the love bestowed upon him, of faith in the perfect
ordering of the world. She glanced at him, and felt that she had wronged
him. No matter what was the solution of the mystery, she knew him to be
a sweet-souled man, wonderfully steadfast.

“Your old way,” she replied with a smile, sitting down and motioning him
to a chair beside her. “Do you remember that we first met in this very
room? You have not changed. Have I?”

“No,” he said gravely, “you were always beautiful, without and within.
I told you that then, if you remember. Perhaps, now, you are a little
truer to yourself.”

“Do you think so?” she asked, somewhat bitterly.

“Perhaps it is the approach of your great happiness,” blundered Jimmie,
in perfect conviction. She was silent. “It has been more to me than I
can say,” he went on, “to see you once again--as you are, before your
marriage. I wish you many blessings--all that love can bring you.”

“Do you think love is necessary for married happiness?”

“Without it marriage must be a horror,” said Jimmie. For a moment she
was on the brink of harsh laughter. Did he sincerely believe she was
in love with Morland? She could have hurled the question at him. Will
checked the rising hysteria and turned it into other channels.

“Why have you never married? You must have loved somebody once.”

It was a relief to hurt him. The dusk was gathering in the room, and she
could scarcely see his face. A Sunday stillness filled the quiet square
outside. The hour had its dangers.

“My having loved a woman does not necessarily imply that I could have
married her,” said Jimmie.

The evasion irritated her mood, awoke a longing to make him speak. She
drew her chair nearer, bent forward, so that the brim of her great hat
almost brushed his forehead and the fragrance of her overspread him.

“Do you remember a picture you would n’t show me in your studio? You
called it a mad painter’s dream. You said it was the Ideal Woman.”

“_You_ said so,” replied Jimmie.

“I should like to see it.”

“It is mine no longer to show you,” said Jimmie.

“I think you must have loved that woman very deeply.” She was tempting
him as she had tempted no man before, feeling a cruel, senseless joy in
it. His voice vibrated.

“Yes. I loved her infinitely.”

“What was she like?”

“Like all the splendid flowers of the earth melted into one rose,” said
Jimmie.

“I wish some one had ever said that about me,” she whispered.

“Many must have thought it.”

“She must be a happy woman to be loved by you.”

“By me? Who am I that I could bring happiness to a woman? I have never
told her.”

“Why not?” she whispered. “Do you suppose you can love a woman without
her knowing it?”

“In what way can the star be cognisant of the moth’s desire?” said
Jimmie, going back to the refrain of his love.

“You a moth and she a star! You are a man and she is but a trumpery bit
of female flesh that on a word would throw herself into your arms.”

“No,” said Jimmie, hoarsely. “No, you don’t know what you are saying.”

The temptation to goad him was irresistible.

“We are all of us alike, all of us. Tell her.”

“I dare n’t.”

“Tell me who she is.”

She looked at him full, with meaning in her eyes, which glowed like deep
moons in the dusk. He brought all his courage into his glance. He was
the master. She turned away her head in confusion, reading his love, his
strength, his loyalty. A lesser man loving her would have thrown honour
to the winds. A curious reverence of him filled her. She felt a small
thing beside him. All doubts vanished forever. Her faith in him was as
crystal clear as Aline’s.

“I have no right to mention her name,” he said after a pause.

Norma leaned back in her chair and passed her handkerchief across her
lips.

“Would you do anything in the world she asked you?” she murmured.

“I would go through hell for her,” said Jimmie.

There was another span of silence, tense and painful. Jimmie broke it by
saying:

“Why should you concern yourself about my fantastic affairs? They merely
belong to dreamland--to the twilight and the stillness. They have no
existence in the living world.”

“If I thought so, should I be sitting in the twilight and the stillness
listening to you?” she asked. “Or even if I did, may I not enter into
dreamland too for a few little minutes before the gates are closed to
me forever? Why should you want to shut me out of it? Do you think much
love has come my way? Yours are the only lips I have ever heard speak of
it.”

“Morland loves you,” said Jimmie, tremulously.

The door opened. The electric light was switched on, showing two pale,
passion-drawn faces, and Connie Deering brought her sweet gaiety into
the room.

“If I had known you two were sitting in the dark like this, I should
have come up earlier. Is n’t it nice, Norma, to have Jimmie back again?”

The spell was broken. Norma gave an anxious look at the clock and fled,
after hurried farewells.

The mistress of the house arched her pretty eyebrows as she returned to
Jimmie.

“_Eh bien?_”

“Connie--” He cleared his throat. “You have kept my secret?”

“Loyally,” she said. “Have you?”

“I have done my best. God knows I have done my best.”

He sat down, took up a book and began to turn the leaves idly. Connie
knelt down before the fire and put on a fresh log. This done, she came
to his side. He took her hand and looked up into her face.

“I have n’t thanked you, Connie. I do with all my heart.”

She smiled at him with an odd wistfulness.

“You once thanked me in a very pretty manner,” she said. “I think I
deserve it again.”



Chapter XXII--CATASTROPHE

CONNIE DEERING was dining that Sunday evening with some friends at the
Carlton, an engagement which had caused her to decline an invitation to
the Hardacres’. The prospect, however, for once did not appeal to her
pleasure-loving soul. She sighed as she stepped into her brougham, and
wished as she drove along that she were sitting at home in the tea-gown
and tranquillity harmonious with a subdued frame of mind. Problems
worried her. What had passed between Norma and Jimmie? Ordinary delicacy
had forbidden her questioning, and Jimmie had admitted her no further
into his confidence. In that she was disappointed. When a sentimental
woman asks for a kiss, she expects something more. She was also half
ashamed of herself for asking him to kiss her. A waspish little voice
within proclaimed that it was not so much for Jimmie’s sake as for her
own; that her lifelong fondness for Jimmie had unconsciously slid on
to the rails that lead to absurdity. She drew her satin cloak tightly
around her as if to suffocate the imp, and returned to her speculation.
Something had happened--of that there was no doubt--something serious,
agitating. It could be read on both their faces. Had she, who alone knew
the hearts of each, done right in bringing them together? What had been
her object? Even if a marriage between them had not been too ludicrous
for contemplation, it would not have been fair towards her cousin
Morland to encourage this intrigue. She vowed she had been a little fool
to meddle with such gunpowdery matters. And yet she had acted in all
innocence for Jimmie’s sake. It was right for Norma to be friends with
him again. It was monstrous he should suffer. If he could not marry the
woman he loved, at least he could have the happiness of knowing himself
no longer a blackened wretch in her eyes. But then, Norma had taken it
into her head to love him too. Had she done right? Her thoughts
flew round in a vicious circle of irritatingly small circumference,
occasionally flying off on the tangent of the solicited kiss.

The first person she met in the vestibule of the Carlton was Theodore
Weever. They exchanged greetings, discovered they belonged to the same
party. She had come across him frequently of late in the houses that
Norma and herself had as common ground. In a general way she liked him;
since Norma had told her of his view of the scandal, he had risen high
in her estimation; but to-night he seemed to be a link in the drama that
perplexed her, and she shrank from him, as from something uncanny. He
sat next her at table. His first words were of Jimmie.

“I was buying pictures yesterday from a friend of yours--Padgate.”

In her pleasure Connie forgot her nervousness.

“Why, he never told me.”

“He could scarcely have had time unless he telephoned or telegraphed.”

“He was at my house this afternoon,” she explained.

He carefully peppered his oysters, then turned his imperturbable face
towards her.

“So was Miss Hardacre.”

“How do you know that?” she cried, startled.

“I was calling in Devonshire Place. Her mother told me. I am not
necromantic.”

His swift uniting of the two names perturbed her. She swallowed her
oysters unreflectingly, thus missing one of her little pleasures in
life, for she adored oysters.

“Which pictures did you buy?” she asked.

“The one I coveted was not for sale. It was a portrait of Miss Hardacre.
I don’t think he meant me to see it, but I came upon him unawares. Have
you seen it?” They discussed the portrait for a while. Connie repeated
her former question. Weever replied that he had bought the picture
of the faun looking at the vision of things to come, and the rejected
Italian study. Connie expressed her gladness. They contained Jimmie’s
best work.

“Very fine,” Weever admitted, “but just failing in finish. Nothing like
the portrait.”

There was an interval. Connie exchanged remarks with old Colonel
Pawley, her right-hand neighbour, who expatiated on the impossibility
of consuming Bortsch soup with satisfaction outside Russia. The soup
removed, Weever resumed the conversation.

“Have you read your Lamartine thoroughly? I have. I was sentimental
once. He says somewhere, _Aimer pour être aimé, c’est de l’homme; mais
aimer pour aimer, c’est presque de Tange_. I remember where it comes
from. It was said of Cecco in ‘Graziella.’ Our friend Padgate reminds
me of Cecco. Do you care much about your cousin Morland King, Mrs.
Deering?”

Connie, entirely disconcerted by his manner, looked at him beseechingly.

“Why do you ask me that?”

“Because he is one of the _dramatis persona_ in a pretty little comedy
on which the curtain is not yet rung down.”

She greatly dared. “Are you too in the caste?”

Theodore Weever deliberately helped himself to fish before replying.
Then with equal deliberation he stared into her flushed and puzzled
face.

“I hope so. A leading part, perhaps, if you are the clever and
conscientious woman I take you to be.”

“What part has my cousin Morland played?” she asked.

“I must leave you the very simple task of guessing,” said Weever; and
he took advantage of her consternation to converse with his left-hand
neighbour.

“I have painted a peculiarly successful fan, dear Mrs. Deering,” said
Colonel Pawley, in his purring voice. “A wedding-present for our dear
Miss Hardacre. I have never been so much pleased with anything before. I
should like you to see it. When may I come and show it you?”

“The wedding is fixed for two o’clock on Wednesday,” said Connie,
answering like a woman in a dream. The bright room, the crowd of diners,
the music, the voice of the old man by her side, all faded from her
senses, eclipsed by the ghastly light that dawned upon her. Only one
meaning could be attached to Weever’s insinuations. A touch on the
arm brought her back to her surroundings with a start. It was Colonel
Pawley.

“I hope there is nothing--” he began, in a tone of great concern.

“No, nothing. Really nothing. Do forgive me,” she interrupted in
confusion. “You were telling me something. Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry.”

“It was about the fan,” said Colonel Pawley, sadly.

“A fan?”

“Yes, for dear Miss Hardacre--a wedding-present.”

She listened to a repetition of the previous remarks and to a
description of the painting, and this time replied coherently. She would
be delighted to see both the fan and himself to-morrow morning. The kind
old man launched into a prothalamion. The happy couple were a splendidly
matched pair--Norma the perfect type of aristocratic English beauty;
Morland a representative specimen of the British gentleman, the
safeguard of the empire, a man, a thorough good fellow, incapable
of dishonour, a landed proprietor. He had sketched out a little
wedding-song which he would like to present with the fan. Might he show
that, too, to Mrs. Deering?

It was a dreadful dinner. On each side the distressing topic hemmed
her in. In vain she tried to make her old friend talk of travel or
gastronomy or the comforts of his club; perverse fate brought him always
back to Norma’s wedding. She was forced to listen, for to Weever she
dared not address a remark. She longed for escape, for solitude wherein
to envisage her dismay. No suspicion of Morland’s complicity in the
scandal had crossed her mind. Even now it seemed preposterous for a man
of honour to have so acted towards his dearest and most loyal friend,
to say nothing of the unhappy things that had gone before. Suddenly,
towards the end of dinner, she revolted. She turned to Weever.

“I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Of what, dear lady?”

“Of what you have told me about Morland and Jimmie Padgate.”

“I have told you nothing--absolutely nothing,” he replied in his
expressionless way. “Please remember that. I don’t go about libelling my
acquaintances.”

“I shall go and ask Morland straight,” she said with spirit.

“_Au succès_,” said Weever.

Dinner over, the little party went into the lounge. The screened
light fell pleasantly on palms and pretty dresses, and made the place
reposeful after the glare of the dining-room, whose red and white and
gold still gleamed through the door above the steps. The red-coated band
played a seductive, almost digestive air. A circle of comfortable chairs
reserved by the host, invited the contented diner to languorous ease and
restful gossip. It was the part of a Carlton dinner that Connie usually
enjoyed the most. She still took her pleasures whole-heartedly, wherein
lay much of her charm. The world, as Jimmie once told her, had not
rubbed the dust off her wings. But to-night the sweet after-dinner hour
was filled with fears and agitations, and while the party was settling
down, she begged release from her host on the score of headache, and
made her escape.

She would carry out her threat to Weever. She would see Morland before
she slept, and ask him to free her from this intolerable suspicion.
She was a loyal, simple woman, for all her inconsequent ways and close
experience of the insincerities of life; devoted to her friends, a
champion of their causes; loving to believe the best, disturbed beyond
due measure at being forced to believe the worst. Jimmie had most of her
heart, more of it than she dared confess. But there were places in it
both for Norma and for Morland. The latter was her cousin. She had known
him all her life. To believe him to have played this sorry part in what
it pleased Theodore Weever to call a pretty comedy was very real pain to
the little lady. Her headache was no pretence. No spirit of curiosity or
interference drove her to the Hardacres’, where she knew she would find
Morland; rather a desire to rid herself of a nightmare. Granted the
possibility of baseness on Morland’s part, all the dark places in
the lamentable business became light. That was the maddening part of
Weever’s solution. And would it apply to the puzzle of the afternoon?
Had Norma known? Had Jimmie told her? The pair had been agitated enough
for anything to have happened. Theodore Weever, too, had calmly avowed
himself an actor in the comedy. What part was he playing? She shivered
at the conjecture. He looked like a pale mummy, she thought confusedly,
holding in his dull eyes the inscrutable wisdom of the Sphinx.
Meanwhile the horses were proceeding at a funereal pace. She pulled the
checkstring and bade the coachman drive faster.

The scene that met her eyes when the servant showed her into the
Hardacres’ drawing-room was unexpected. Instead of the ordinary
after-dinner gathering, only Mr. and Mrs. Hardacre and Morland were
in the room. The master of the house, very red, very puffy, sat in an
armchair before the fire, tugging at his mean little red moustache. Mrs.
Hardacre, her face haggard with anxiety, stood apart with Morland, whose
heavy features wore an expression of worry, apology, and indignation
curiously blended. On a clear space of carpet a couple of yards from
the door lay some strings of large pearls. Connie looked from one to
the other of the three people who had evidently been interrupted in the
midst of an anxious discussion. Here, again, something had happened.

Mrs. Hardacre shook hands with her mechanically. Mr. Hardacre apologised
for not rising. That infernal gout again, he explained, pointing to the
slashed slipper of a foot resting on a hassock. Norma had made it worse.
He had been infernally upset.

“Norma?” Connie turned and looked inquiringly at the other two.

“Oh, an awful scene,” said Morland, gloomily. “I wish to heaven you had
been here. You might have done something.”

“Perhaps you might bring her to her senses now, though I doubt it. I
think she has gone crazy,” said Mrs. Hardacre.

“But what has occurred?”

“She declares she won’t marry me, that’s all. There’s my wedding-present
on the floor. Tore it from her neck as she made her exit. I don’t know
what’s going to happen!”

“Where is she now?”

“Up in her room smashing the rest of her wedding-presents, I suppose,”
 said Mrs. Hardacre.

“Eh, what? Can’t do that. All locked up downstairs in the library,” came
from the chair by the fire.

“Oh, don’t make idiotic remarks, Benjamin,” snapped his wife, viciously.

The air was electric with irritation. Connie, a peacemaker at heart,
forgot her mission in the face of the new development of affairs, and
spoke soothingly. Norma could not break off the engagement three days
before the wedding. Such things were not done. She would come round. It
was merely an attack of nerves. They refused to be comforted.

“God knows what it is,” said Morland. “I thought things were perfectly
square between us. She was n’t cordial before dinner, I’ll admit; but
she let me put those beads round her neck. I asked her to wear them all
the evening, as there were only the four of us.”

“The Spencer-Temples sent an excuse this afternoon,” Mrs. Hardacre
explained.

“She agreed,” Morland continued. “She wore them through dinner. Then
everything any one of us said seemed to get on her nerves. I talked
about the House. She withered me up with sarcasm. We talked about the
wedding. She begged us, for God’s sake, to talk of something else. We
tried, so as to pacify her. But of course it was hardly possible. I said
I had met Lord Monzie yesterday--told me he and his wife were coming on
Wednesday. She asked whether Ascherberg and the rest of Monzie’s crew
of money-lenders, harlots, and fools were coming too. I defended
Monzie. He’s a friend of mine and a very decent sort. She shrugged her
shoulders. You know her way. Mrs. Hardacre changed the subject. After
dinner I saw her alone for a bit in the drawing-room. She asked me to
take back the pearls. Said they were throttling her. Had n’t we
better reconsider the whole matter? There was still time. That was the
beginning of it. Mr. and Mrs. Hardacre came up. We did all we knew.
Used every argument. People invited. Bishop to perform ceremony. Duchess
actually coming. Society expected us. The scandal. Her infernally bad
treatment of myself. No good. Whatever we said only made her worse.
Ended up with a diatribe against society. She was sick of its lies and
its rottenness. She was going to have no more of it. She would breathe
fresh pure air.

“The Lord knows what she did n’t say. All of us came in for it. Said
shocking things about her mother. Said I did n’t love her, had never
loved her. A loveless marriage was horrible. Of course I am in love with
her. You all know that. I said so. She would n’t listen. Went on with
her harangue. We could n’t stop her. She would n’t marry me for all the
bishops and duchesses in the world. At last I lost my temper and said it
was my intention to marry her, and marry me she should. Don’t you think
I was quite right? She lost hers, I suppose, tore off the pearls, made
a sort of peroration, declaring she would sooner die than commit the
infamy of marrying me--and that’s the end of it.”

He threw out his hands in desperation and turned away. His account
of events from his point of view was accurate. To him, as to Norma’s
parents, her final revolt appeared the arbitrary act of unreason. They
still smarted resentfully under her lashes, incapable of realising the
sins for which they were flagellated.

If she had remained at home that afternoon and continued to practise
insensibility, she would probably have-followed the line of least
resistance during the evening. Or, on the other hand, if she could
have been alone, a night’s fevered sleeplessness would have caused dull
reaction in the morning. The cold contempt for things outside her, which
had served for strength, was now gone, leaving a helpless woman to be
swayed by passion or led spiritless by convention. The heroic in her
needed the double spur. Passion shook her; miserable bondage, claiming
her, drove her to rebellion. She rose to sublime heights, undreamed of
in her earth-bound philosophy.

She had gone into the street after her interview with Jimmie, white,
palpitating, torn. Though the man had spoken tremulous words, it was
the unspoken, the wave of longing and all unspeakable things in whose
heaving bosom they had been caught, that mattered. The Garden of
Enchantment had thrown wide its gates; she had been admitted within its
infinitely reaching vistas, and flowers of the spirit had bared their
hearts before her eyes. Dressing, she strove to kill the memory,
to deafen her ears to the haunting music, to clear her brain of the
intoxication. A thing hardly a woman, hardly a coherent entity, but half
marble, half-consuming fire, stood before Morland, as he clasped the
pearl necklace around her throat. The touch of it against her skin
caused a shudder. Up to then sensation had blotted out thought. But now
the brain worked with startling lucidity. There was yet time to escape
from the thraldom. The Idea gathered strength from every word and
incident during the meal. The commonness, sordidness, emptiness of the
life behind and around and before her were revealed in the unpitying
searchlight of an awakened soul.

She pleaded with Morland for release. The necklace choked her. She
unclasped it. He refused to take it back. She was his. He loved her. Her
conduct was an outrage on his affections. She dared him to an expression
of passionate feeling. He failed miserably, and her anger grew.
Unhappily he spoke of an outrage upon Society. She fastened on the
phrase. His affection and Society! One was worth the other. Society--the
Mumbo Jumbo--the grotesque false god to which women were offered up in
senseless sacrifice! Her mother instanced the bishop and the duchess
as avatars of the divinity. Norma poured scorn on the hierarchy. Mrs.
Hardacre implored her daughter by her love for her not to humiliate her
thus in the world’s eyes. She struck the falsest of notes. Norma turned
on her, superb, dramatic, holding the three in speechless dismay. Love!
what love had been given her that she should return? She had grown
honest. The gods of that house were no longer her gods. They were paltry
and dishonoured, shams and hypocrisies. Once she worshipped them. To
that she had been trained from her cradle. Her nurses dangled the shams
before her eyes. The women who taught her bent fawning knees before the
shrines of the false gods. A mother’s love? what had she learned from
her mother? To simper and harden her heart. That the envy of other
simpering hardened women was the ultimate good. That the dazzling end of
a young girl’s career was to capture some man of rank and fortune--that
when she was married her lofty duty was to wear smarter clothes, give
smarter parties, and to inveigle to her house by any base and despicable
means smarter people than her friends. What had she learned from her
mother? To let men of infamous lives leer at her because they had title
or fortune. To pay court to shameless women in the hope of getting to
know still more shameless men who might dishonour her with their name.
She had never been young--never, never, with a young girl’s freshness
of heart. She spoke venom and was praised for wit. She was the finished
product of a vapid world. Her whole existence had been an intricate
elaboration of shams--miserable, empty, despicable futilities. How dared
her mother stand before her and talk of love?

Then a quick angry scene, a crisp thud of the pearls on the floor, a
stormy exit--and that, as Morland said, was the end of it. The three
were left staring at each other in angry bewilderment.

In the face of this disaster Connie could not find it in her heart to
reproach Morland, still less to hint at Theodore Weever’s insinuation.
Rather did she reproach herself for being the cause of the catastrophe,
and she was smitten with a sense of guilt when Mrs. Hardacre turned upon
her accusingly.

“She had tea with you, did n’t she? Did you notice anything wrong?”

“She didn’t seem quite herself--was nervous and strange,” said Connie,
diplomatically. “I think I had better go up and talk to her,” she added
after an anxious pause.

“Yes, do, for God’s sake, Connie,” said Morland.

She nodded, smiled the ghost of her bright smile, and, glad of escape,
went upstairs. The three sat in gloomy silence, broken only by Mr.
Hardacre’s maledictions on his gout. It was a bitter hour for them.

In a few moments Connie burst into the room, with a letter in her hand.
She looked scared.

“We can’t find her. She’s not in the house.”

“Not in the house!” shrieked Mrs. Hardacre.

Morland brought his hand down heavily on the piano.

“I heard the front door slam half an hour ago!”

“This is addressed to you, Mrs. Hardacre. It was stuck in her
looking-glass.”

Mrs. Hardacre opened the note with shaky fingers. It ran:

_“I mean what I say. I had better leave you all, at least till after
Wednesday. My stopping here would be more than you or I could stand.”_

Mr. Hardacre staggered with a gasp of pain to his feet, and his weak
eyes glared savagely out of his puffy red face.

“Damme, she must come back! If she does n’t sleep here to-night, I’ll
cut her off. I won’t have anything more to do with her. She has got to
come back.”

“All right. Go and tell her, then,” retorted his wife. “Where do you
suppose you are going to find her?”

“Oh, she is sure to have gone to my house,” said Connie. “But suppose
she has n’t,” said Morland, anxiously. “She was in such a state that
anything is possible.”

“Come with me if you like. The brougham is here.”

“And you go too, Eliza, and bring her home with you, d’ ye hear?” cried
Mr. Hardacre. “If you don’t, she’ll never set foot in my house again.
I’m damned if she shall!”

His wife looked at him queerly for a moment; then she meekly answered:

“Very well, Benjamin.”

Once only during their long married life had she flouted him when he had
spoken to her like that. Then in ungovernable fury he had thrown a boot
at her head.

Mr. Hardacre glared at Morland and Connie, and scrambled cursing into
his chair.



Chapter XXIII--NORMA’S HOUR

SOMETHING had happened--something mysterious, quickening; a pulsation
of the inmost harmonies of life. Its tremendous significance Jimmie
dared not conjecture. It was to be interpreted by the wisdom of the
simplest, yet that interpretation he put aside. It staggered reason. It
was enough for them to have met together in an unimagined intimacy of
emotion, to have shared the throb of this spiritual happening.

She was to be married in three days. He set the fact as a block to
further investigation of the mystery. On this side his loyalty
suffered no taint; their relations had but received, in some sense,
sanctification. Beyond the barrier lay shame and dishonour. The two were
to be married; therefore they loved. He disciplined a disordered mind
with a logic of his own invention. It was a logic that entirely begged
the question. Remembered words of Norma, “Do you think much love has
come my way? Yours are the only lips I have ever heard speak of it,”
 fell outside his premises. They clamoured for explanation. So did the
rich tremor of her voice. So did the lamentable lack of conviction in
his reply. To these things he closed his intelligence. They belonged to
the interpretation that staggered reason, that threatened to turn his
fundamental conceptions into chaos. And past incidents came before him.
During those last days in Wiltshire he had seen that her life lacked
completion. That memory, too, disturbed his discipline. Fanatically he
practised it, proving to himself that ice was hot and that the sun shone
at midnight. She was happy in her love for Morland. She was happy
in Morland’s love for her. She had not identified with herself the
imaginary woman of his adoration. She had not drunk in the outpouring
of his passion. Her breath had not fallen warm upon his cheek. And
the quickening of a wonderful birth had no reference to emotions and
cravings quite different, intangible, inexpressible, existent in a
far-away spirit land.

He was strangely silent during their homeward journey in the omnibus and
the simple evening meal, and Aline, sensitive to his mood, choked down
the eager questions that rose to her lips. It was only after supper in
the studio, when she lit the spill for Jimmie’s pipe--her economical
soul deprecating waste in matches--that she ventured to say softly:

“I am afraid you’ll miss the picture, Jimmie dear.”

He waited until the pipe was alight, and breathed out a puff of smoke
with a sigh.

“Our happiness is made up of the things we miss,” he said.

“That’s a paradox, and I don’t believe it,” said Aline.

“Everything in life is a paradox,” he remarked, thinking of his logic.
He relapsed into his perplexed silence. Aline settled herself in her
usual chair with her workbasket and her eternal sewing. This evening she
was recuffing his shirts. Presently she held up a cuff.

“See. I’m determined to make you smart and fashionable. I don’t care
what you say. These are square.”

“Are n’t you putting a round man into a square cuff, my dear?” he asked.

She laughed. “Why should you be round? You are smart and rectangular.
When you’re tidied up--don’t you know you are exceedingly good-looking,
almost military?” She was delighted to get him back to foolish talk. His
preoccupation had disturbed her. Like Connie Deering, she was femininely
conscious that something out of the ordinary had passed between Norma
and Jimmie, and apprehension as to her dear one’s peace of mind had
filled her with many imaginings. He returned a smiling answer. She
bestirred herself to amuse. Had he remarked the man in the omnibus? His
nose cut it into two compartments. What would he do if he had such a
nose? Jimmie felt that he had been selfish and fell into the child’s
humour. He said that he would blow it. They discussed the subject of
noses. He quoted Tristram Shandy. Did she remember him reading to her
“Slawkenbergius’s Tale”?

“The silliest story I ever heard in my life!” cried Aline. “It had
neither head nor tail.”

“That is the beauty of it,” said Jimmie. “It is all nose.”

“No. The only story about a nose that is worth anything,” Aline declared
with conviction of her age and sex, “is ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’” She
paused as a thought passed swiftly through her mind. “Do you know, if
you had a nose like that, you would remind me of Cyrano?”

“Why, I don’t go about blustering and carving my fellow-citizens into
mincemeat.”

“No. But you--” She began unreflectingly, then she stopped short in
confusion. Cyrano, Roxana, Christian; Jimmie, Norma, Morland--the
parallel was of an embarrassing nicety. She lost her head, reddened, saw
that Jimmie had filled the gap.

“I don’t care,” she cried. “You _are_ like him. It’s splendid, but it’s
senseless. You are worth a million of the other man, and she knows it as
well as I do.”

She vindictively stitched at the cuff. Jimmie made no reply, but lay
back smoking his pipe. Aline recovered and grew remorseful. She had
destroyed with an idiotic word the little atmosphere of gaiety she had
succeeded in creating. She pricked her finger several times At last she
rose and knelt by his side.

“I’m sorry, Jimmie. Don’t be vexed with me.”

He looked at her, wrinkling his forehead half humorously, half sadly,
and patted her cheek.

“No, dear,” he said. “But I think Slawkenbergius’s the better tale.
Shall I read it you again?”

“Oh, no, Jimmie,” cried the girl, half crying, half laughing. “Please
don’t, for heaven’s sake. I’ve not been as naughty as that!”

She resumed her sewing. They talked of daily things. Theodore Weever’s
purchases. The faun--he was sorry to lose it after its companionship for
all these years. He would paint a replica--but it would not be the same
thing. Other times, other feelings. Gradually the conversation grew
spasmodic, dwindled. Jimmie brooded over his mystery, and Aline stitched
in silence.

The whirr of the front door-bell aroused them. Aline put down her work.

“It’s Renshaw,” said Jimmie.

Renshaw, a broken-down, out-at-heels, drunken black-and-white artist,
once of amazing talent, was almost the only member of a large Bohemian
coterie who continued to regard Jimmie as at home to his friends on
Sunday evenings. Jimmie bore with the decayed man, and helped him on his
way, and was pained when Aline insisted upon opening the windows after
his departure. Renshaw had been a subject of contention between them for
years.

“He has only come to drink whisky and borrow money. Luckily we have n’t
any whisky in the house,” said Aline.

“We can give him beer, my child. And if the man is in need of half a
crown, God forbid we should deny it him. Has Hannah come home yet?”

“I don’t think so. It is n’t ten o’clock.”

“Then let him in, dear,” said Jimmie, finally.

Aline went upstairs with some unwillingness. She disapproved entirely of
Renshaw. She devoutly hoped the man was sober. As she opened the front
door, the sharp sound of a turning cab met her ears, and the cloaked
tall figure of a woman met her astonished eyes.

“Miss Hardacre!”

“Yes, dear. Won’t you let me in?”

The girl drew aside quickly, and Norma passed into the hall.

“You?” cried Aline. “I don’t understand.”

“Never mind. Is Mr.--is Jimmie at home?”

“Jimmie!” The girl’s heart leaped at the name. She stared wide-eyed at
Norma, whose features she could scarcely discern by the pin-point of gas
in the hall-lamp. “Yes. He is in the studio.”

“Can I see him? Alone? Do you mind?”

In dumb astonishment Aline took the visitor to the head of the stairs,
half lit by the streak of light from Norma’s Hour the open studio door.
Norma paused, beat forward, and kissed her on the cheek.

“I know my way,” she whispered.

Jimmie heard the rustle of skirts that were not Aline’s, and springing
to his feet, hurried towards the door. But before he could reach it
Norma entered and stood before him. Her long dark silk evening cloak
was open at the throat, showing glimpses of white bare neck. Its high
standing collar set off the stately poise of her head. She wore the
diamond star in her hair. To the wondering man who gazed at her she was
a vision of radiant beauty. They held each other’s eyes for a second or
two; and the first dazzling glory in which she seemed to stand having
faded, Jimmie read in her face that desperate things had come to pass.
He caught her hands as she came swiftly forward. “Why are you here? My
God, why are you here?”

“I could stand it no longer,” she said breathlessly. “I am not going to
marry Morland. I have cut myself adrift. They all know it. I told them
so this evening. The horror of it was unbearable. I have done with it
forever and ever.”

“The horror of it?” echoed Jimmie. “Don’t you think it a horror for two
people to marry who have never even pretended to love each other? You
said so this afternoon.”

He released her hands and turned aside. Even the deep exulting sense of
what her presence there must mean could not mitigate a terrible dismay.
The interpretation that staggered reason was the true and only one. He
had been living in a dream, among shadow-shapes which he himself had
cast upon the wall. Even now he could not grasp completely the extent of
his heroical self-deception.

“There has never been any love between you and Morland? It has been
a cold-blooded question of a marriage of convenience? I thought so
differently.”

“Since when?” she asked. “Since this afternoon?”

“No--not since this afternoon.”

“If it had n’t been for you, I should have married him. You made it
impossible. You taught me things. You made me hate myself and my mean
ambitions. That was why I hesitated--put it off till Easter. If I
had n’t seen you this afternoon I should have gone through with it on
Wednesday. When I got home I could n’t face it. He put some pearls--a
wedding-present--round my neck. They seemed like dead fingers choking
out my soul. At last it grew horrible. I said things I don’t remember
now. I could n’t stay in the house. It suffocated me. It would have sent
me mad. I think a cab whirled me through the streets. I don’t know. I
have burnt my ships.”

She stopped, panting, with her hands on her bosom. His exultation grew,
and fear with it. He was like a child trembling before a joy too great
to be realised, frightened lest it should vanish. He said without
looking at her:

“Why have you come here?”

“Where else should I go? Unless--” She halted on the word.

“Unless what?”

She broke into an impatient cry.

“Oh, can’t you speak? Do you want me to say everything? There is no need
for you to be silent any longer.” She faced him. “Who was the woman--the
picture woman we spoke of this afternoon?”

“You,” he said. “You. Who else?” There was a quiver of silence. Then he
caught her to him. He spoke foolish words. Their lips met, and passion
held them.

“Had I anywhere else to go?” she whispered; and he said, “No.”

She released herself, somewhat pale and shaken. Jimmie, scarcely knowing
what he did, took off her cloak and threw it on the long deal table.
The sudden fresh chill on arms and neck made her realise that they were
bare. It was his doing. She blushed. A delicious sense of shyness crept
over her. It soon passed. But evanescent though it was, it remained long
in her memory.

Jimmie took her in his arms again. He said:

“You madden me. I have loved you so long. I am like a parched soul by a
pool of Paradise.”

He took her by the hand, led her to his chair near the stove, and knelt
by her side. She looked at him, the edges of her white teeth together,
her lips parted. She was living the moment that counts for years in a
woman’s life. She can only live it once. Great joy or endless shame may
come afterwards, but this moment shall ever be to her comfort or her
despair.

He asked her how she had known.

“You told me so.”

“When?”

“At Heddon. Do you think I shall ever forget your words?” She laughed
divinely at the puzzledom on his face. “No. You were too loyal to tell
me--but you told Connie Deering. Hush! Don’t start. Connie did not
betray you. She is the staunchest soul breathing. You and she were on
the slope by the croquet lawn--do you remember? There was a hedge of
clipped yew above--”

“And you overheard?”

She laughed again, happily, at his look of distress. “I should be
rather pleased--now--if I were you,” she said in the softer and deeper
tones of her voice.

A few moments later he said, “You must give me back the portrait. I
shall burn it.”

“Why?”

“You are a million times more beautiful, more adorable.” He asked her
when she had begun to think of him--the eternal, childlike question. She
met his lover’s gaze steadily. Frankness was her great virtue.

“It seems now that I have cared for you since the first day. You soon
came into my life, but I did n’t know how much you represented. Then I
heard you speaking to Connie. That mattered a great deal. When that man
shot you, I knew that I loved you. I thought you were dead. I rushed
down the slope and propped you up against my knees--and I thought I
should go mad with agony.”

“I never heard of that,” said Jimmie in a low voice.

He became suddenly thoughtful, rose to his feet and regarded her with a
changed expression, like that of a man awakened from a dream.

“What is going to be the end of this?” he asked. Norma, for once
unperceptive and replying to a small preoccupation of her own, flushed
to her hair.

“I know Connie well enough to look her up and ask her for hospitality.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” said Jimmie. “We have been like children
and had our hour of joy, without thinking of anything else. Now we must
be grown-up people. After what has passed between us, I could only ask
you to be my wife.”

“I came here for you to ask me,” she said.

“I have no right to do so, dear. I bear a dishonoured name. The wonder
and wild desire of you made me forget.”

She looked at him strangely, her lips working in the shadow of her old
smile of mockery.

“That proves to me that it is your name and not yourself that is
dishonoured. If it had been yourself, you would not have forgotten.”

Jimmie drew himself up, and there was a touch of haughtiness in his
manner that Norma in her woman’s way noted swiftly. In spite of his
homeliness there was the undefinable spirit of the great gentleman in
Jimmie.

“I am dishonoured. The matter was public property. I discuss it with no
one, least of all with you.”

“Very well,” she said. “Let it never be mentioned again between us. I
range myself with Aline. I shall believe what I like. You can’t prevent
my doing that, can you? I choose to believe you are the one thing God
made in which I can find happiness. That’s enough for me, and it ought
to be enough for you.”

Jimmie put his hand on her shoulder, deeply moved.

“My dearest, you must n’t say things like that.” He repeated the words,
“You mustn’t say things like that.” Then he was conscious of the warm
softness on which his hand rested. She raised her arm and touched his
fingers. It was a moment of deep temptation. He resisted, drew his hand
away gently.

“There is another reason why it cannot be,” he said. “You belong to
a world of wealth and luxury, I have been in poverty all my life. God
forbid I should complain. I have never done so. But it is a life of
struggle for daily bread. Aline and I are used to it. We laugh. We often
dine with Duke Humphrey. We make believe like the marchioness. What the
discipline of life and a sort of gipsy faith in Providence have made
us regard as a jest, would be to you a sordid shift, an intolerable
ugliness stripping life of its beauty--”

“Oh, hush!” she pleaded.

“No, I must talk and you must listen,” he said with a certain masterful
dignity. “Look at you now, in the exquisite loveliness of your dress,
with that diamond star in your hair, with that queenly presence of
yours. Do you fit in with all this? Your place is in great houses, among
historic pictures, rare carpets, furniture that is invested with the
charm of an artist’s touch. The chair you are sitting in--the leather
is split and the springs are broken.” He was walking now backwards
and forwards across the studio, fulfilling his task bravely, scarcely
trusting himself to look at her. “Your place,” he continued, “is among
the great ones of the earth--princes, ambassadors, men of genius. Here
are but the little folk: even should they come, as they used to do:
homely men with rough ways and their wives--sweet simple women with a
baby and a frock a year, God help them! I can’t ask you to share this
life with me, my dear. I should be a scoundrel if I did. As it is, I
have fallen below myself in letting you know that I love you. You must
forgive me. A man is, after all, a man, whether he be beggar or prince.
You must go back into your world and forget it all. The passion-flower
cannot thrive in the hedge with the dog-rose, my dearest. It will pine
and fade. We must end it all. Don’t you see? You don’t know what poverty
means. Even decent poverty like ours. Look--the men you know have valets
to dress them--when you came Aline was sewing new cuffs on my shirts. I
don’t suppose you ever knew that such things were done. Mere existence
is a matter of ever anxious detail. I am a careless fellow, I am a
selfish brute, like most men, and give over to the women folk around me
the thousand harassing considerations of ways and means for every day in
every year. But I see more than they think. Aline can tell you. I dare
n’t, my dear, ask you to share this life with me. I dare n’t, I dare
n’t.”

He came to a stop in front of her; saw her leaning over the arm of the
chair away from him, her face covered by her hands. Her white shoulders
twitched in little convulsive movements.

“Why, my dear--my dear--” he said in a bewilderment of distress; and
kneeling by her, he took her wrists and drew them to him. The palms of
her hands and her cheeks were wet with miserable tears.

“What must you think of me? What futile, feeble creature must you think
me? Heaven knows I’m degraded enough--but not to that level. Do you
suppose I ever thought you a rich man? Oh, you have hurt me--flayed me
alive. I did n’t deserve it! I would follow you in rags barefoot through
the world. What does it matter so long as it is you that I follow?”

What could mortal man do but take the wounded woman of his idolatry
into his arms? The single-hearted creature, aghast at the havoc he had
wrought, bitterly reproached himself for want of faith in the perfect
being. He had committed a horrible crime, plunged daggers, stab after
stab, into that radiant bosom. She sobbed in his embrace--a little
longer than was strictly necessary. Tears and sobs were a wonder to her,
who since early childhood had never known the woman’s relief of weeping.
It came upon her first as a wondrous new-found emotion; when his strong
arms were about her, as an unutterably sweet solace. And the man’s voice
in her ears was all that has nearly been said but never been quite said
in music.

Presently she drew herself away from him.

“Do you think I am such a fool that I can’t sew?”

He sank back on his heels. She rose, helping herself to rise by a hand
on his arm, an action wonderfully sweet in its intimacy, and crossed
over to Aline’s cane-bottomed, armless easy-chair. She plucked the shirt
from the basket on the top of which Aline had thrust it, groped among
the wilderness of spools, tape, bits of ribbon, scissors, needle-cases,
patterns and year-old draper’s bills for a thimble, found the needle
sticking in the work, and began to sew with a little air of defiance.
Jimmie looked on, ravished. He drew nearer.

“God bless my soul,” he said. “Do you mean to say you can do that?”

There was nothing she could not do in this hour of exaltation. She had
found herself--simple woman with simple man. It was her hour. Her feet
trod the roots of life; her head touched the stars.

“Sit in your chair and smoke, and let us see what it will be like,” she
commanded.

He obeyed. But whether it was tobacco or gunpowder in his old briarwood
pipe he could not have told. The poor wretch was mazed with happiness.

“Poor little Aline is all by herself upstairs,” said Norma, after a
while.

“Heaven forgive me,” cried Jimmie, starting up. “I had n’t thought about
her!”

Chapter XXIV--MRS. HARDACRE FORGETS

WHILE this tragical comedy of the domestic felicities was being
enacted, Connie Deering’s brougham containing three agitated, silent,
human beings was rapidly approaching the scene.

They had made certain of finding Norma at Bryanston Square. The news
that she had not arrived disquieted them. Morland anxiously suggested
the police. They had a hurried colloquy, Morland and Connie standing
on the pavement, Mrs. Hardacre inside the carriage, thrusting her head
through the window. Connie falteringly confessed to the meeting of
Jimmie and Norma in the afternoon. Something serious had evidently
passed between them.

Morland broke into an oath. “By God! That’s where she’s gone. Damn him!”

“We must get her away at all costs,” said Mrs. Hardacre, tensely.

“I am afraid it is my fault,” said Connie.

“Of course it is,” Mrs. Hardacre replied brutally. “The best you can do
is to help us to rescue her.”

They started. The brougham was small, the air heavy, their quest
distasteful, its result doubtful. The sense of fretfulness became acute.
Mrs.

Hardacre gave vent to her maternal feelings. When she touched on the
vile seducer of her daughter’s affections, Connie turned upon her almost
shrewishly.

“This is my carriage, and I am not going to hear my dearest friend
abused in it.”

Morland sat silent and worried. When they stopped at the house, he said:

“I think I shall stay outside.”

Connie, angry with him for having damned Jimmie, bent forward.

“Are you afraid of facing Jimmie?” she said with a little note of
contempt.

“Certainly not,” he replied viciously.

A few moments later Aline ran into the studio with a scared face.

“Jimmie!”

He went up to her, and she whispered into his ear; then he turned to
Norma.

“Your mother and Connie and Morland are upstairs. I don’t suppose you
are anxious to see them. May I tell them what has happened?”

Norma rose and joined him in the centre of the studio. “I would sooner
tell them myself. Can they come down here?”

“If you wish it.”

He gave the order to Aline. Before going, she took him by the arm and
swiftly glancing at Norma, asked eagerly:

“What has happened?”

“The wonder of wonders, dear,” said Jimmie.

With a glad cry she ran upstairs and brought down the visitors, who were
waiting in the hall.

Jimmie stood by the open door to receive them. Norma retired to the far
end of the studio. She held her head high, and felt astonishingly
cool and self-possessed. Mrs. Hardacre entered first, and without
condescending to look at Jimmie marched straight up to her daughter.
Then came Connie and Aline, the girl excited, her arm round her friend’s
waist. Morland, on entering, drew Jimmie aside.

“So you’ve bested me,” he said in an angry whisper. “You held the cards,
I know. I did n’t think you would use them. I wish you joy.”

A sudden flash of pain and indignation lit Jimmie’s eyes.

“Good God, man! Have you sunk so low as to accuse me of that? _Me?_”

He turned away. Morland caught him by the sleeve.

“I say--” he began.

But Jimmie shook him off and went to the side of Norma, who was
listening to her mother’s opening attack. It was shrill and bitter. When
she paused, Norma said stonily:

“I am not going home with you to-night, mother. I sleep at Connie’s. She
will not refuse me a bed.”

“Your father means what he says.”

“So do I, mother. I can manage pretty well without your protection till
I am married. Then I sha’n’t need it.”

“Pray whom are you going to marry?” asked Mrs. Hardacre, acidly.

“I should think it was obvious,” said Norma. “Mr. Padgate has done me
the very great honour to ask me to be his wife. I have agreed. I am over
age and a free agent, so there’s nothing more to be said, mother.”

Mrs. Hardacre refused to take the announcement seriously. Her thin lips
worked into a smile.

“This is sheer folly, my dear Norma. Over age or not we can’t allow you
to disgrace yourself and us--”

“We have never had such honour conferred on us in all our lives,” said
Norma.

Mrs. Hardacre shrugged her shoulders pityingly.

“Among sane folks it would be a disgrace and a scandal. Even Mr. Padgate
would scarcely take advantage of a fit of hysterical folly.” She turned
to Jimmie. “I assure you she is hardly responsible for her actions.
You are aware what you would be guilty of in bringing her into
this--this--?” She paused for a word and waved her hand around.

“Hovel?” suggested Jimmie, grimly. “Yes. I am aware of it. Miss
Hardacre must not consider herself bound by anything she has said
to-night.”

Connie Deering, who had come up waiting for a chance to speak, her
forget-me-not eyes curiously hard and dangerous, broke in quickly:

“Why did you say _even_ Mr. Padgate, Mrs. Hardacre?”

“Mr. Padgate has a reputation--” said Mrs. Hardacre, with an expressive
gesture.

“Jimmie--”

He checked his advocate. “Please, no more.”

“I should think not, indeed! Are you coming, Norma?”

“You had better go,” said Jimmie, softly. “Why quarrel with your
parents? To-morrow, a week, a month hence you can tell me your wishes. I
set you quite free.” Norma made, a movement of impatience.

“Don’t make me say things I should regret--I am not going to change my
mind. No, mother, I am not coming.” Morland had not said a word, but
stood in the background, hating himself. Only Connie’s taunt had
caused him to enter this maddeningly false position. He knew that his
accusation, though he believed it true at the time, was false and base.
Jimmie was true gold. He had not betrayed him. Connie, when Jimmie had
checked her, went across to Morland.

“Do _you_ believe that Jimmie deserves his reputation?” she said for his
ears alone.

“I don’t know,” he answered moodily, kicking at a hassock.

“I do know,” she said, “and it’s damnable.”

A quick glance exchanged completed her assurance. He saw that she knew,
and despised him. For a few moments he lost consciousness of externals
in alarmed contemplation of this new thing--a self openly despised by
one of his equals. Mrs. Hardacre’s voice aroused him. She was saying her
final words to Norma.

“I leave you. When you are in the gutter with this person, don’t come to
ask me for help. You can _encanailler_ yourself as much as you like, for
all I care. This adventurer--”

Jimmie interposed in his grand manner.

“Pray remember, Mrs. Hardacre, that for the moment you are my guest.”

“Your guest!” For the second time that evening she had been rebuked. Her
eyes glittered with spite and fury. She lost control. “Your guest! If
I went to rescue my daughter from a house of ill fame, should I regard
myself as a guest of the keeper? How dare you? How do I know what does
n’t go on in this house? That girl over there--”

Norma sprang forward and gripped her by the arm.

“Mother!”

She shook herself free. “How do I know? How _do_ you know? The man’s
name stinks over England. No decent woman has anything to do with him.
Have you forgotten last autumn? That beastly affair? If you choose to
succeed the other woman--”

“Oh, damn it!” burst out Morland, suddenly. “This is more than I can
stand. Have you forgotten what I told you a week ago?”

The venomous woman was brought to a full stop. She stared helplessly at
Morland, drawing quick panting breaths. She had forgotten that he was in
the room.

The cynicism was too gross even for him. There are limits to every man’s
baseness and cowardice. Moreover, his secret was known. To proclaim it
himself was a more heroic escape than to let it be revealed with killing
contempt by another. The two forces converged suddenly, and found their
resultant in his outburst. It was characteristic of him that there
should be two motives, though which one was the stronger it were hard to
say--most likely revolt at the cynicism, for he was not a depraved man.
Norma looked swiftly from one to the other. “What did you tell my mother
a week ago?”

Jimmie picked up Morland’s crush-hat that lay on the table and thrust it
into his hand.

“Oh, that’s enough, my dear good fellow. Don’t talk about those horrible
things. Mrs. Hardacre would like to be going. You had better see her
home. Good-night.” He pushed him, as he spoke, gently towards Mrs.
Hardacre, who was already moving towards the door. But Norma came up.

“I insist upon knowing,” she said.

“No, no,” said Jimmie, in an agitated voice. “Let the dead past bury
its dead. Don’t rake up old horrors.” Morland cleared himself away from
Jimmie.

“My God! You are a good man. I’ve been an infernal blackguard. Everybody
had better know. If Jimmie hadn’t taken it upon himself, that madman
would have shot me. He would have hit the right man. I wish to heaven he
had.”

Norma grew white.

“And this is what you told my mother?”

“I thought I ought to,” said Morland, looking away from the anxious
faces around him.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” said Jimmie, in a low voice. He was bent
like a guilty person.

Norma went to the door and opened it.

“Kindly see my mother into a cab.”

“Please take the brougham,” said Connie. “Norma and I will take a cab
later.”

Morland made a movement as if to speak to Jimmie. Norma intercepted him,
waved her hand towards her mother, who stood motionless.

“Go. Please go,” she said in a constrained voice. “Take the brougham.
She will catch cold while you are whistling for a cab--and you will be
the sooner gone.”

Mrs. Hardacre, stunned by the utter disaster that she had brought about,
mechanically obeyed Morland’s gesture and passed through the open door,
without looking at her daughter. As Morland passed her, he plucked up a
little courage.

“We both lied for your sake,” he said; which might have been an apology
or a tribute. Norma gave no sign that she had heard him.

Jimmie followed them upstairs and opened the front door. He put out his
hand to Morland, who took it and said “Good-night” in a shamefaced way.
Mrs. Hardacre stepped into the brougham like a somnambulist. Morland did
not accompany her. He had seen enough of Mrs. Hardacre for the rest of
his life.

When Jimmie went down to the studio, he saw Norma and Connie bending
over a chair in the far corner. Aline had fainted.

They administered what restoratives were to hand--water and Connie’s
smelling-salts--and took the girl up to her bedroom, where she was left
in charge of Mrs. Deering. Jimmie and Norma returned to the studio. The
preoccupation of tending Aline, whose joy in the utter vindication of
her splendid faith had been too sudden a strain upon an overwrought
nervous system, had been welcomed almost as a relief to the emotional
tenseness. They had not spoken of the things that were uppermost.

They sat down in their former places, without exchanging a remark.
Jimmie took up his pipe from the table by his side, and knocked the
ashes into the ash-tray and blew through it to clear it. Then he began
to fill it from his old tobacco-pouch, clumsy as all covered pouches are
and rough with faded clumps of moss-roses and forget-me-nots worked by
Aline years before.

“Why don’t you go on with the sewing?” he said.

She waited a second or two before answering, and when she spoke did not
trust herself to look at him.

“I ought to say something, I know,” she said in a low voice. “But there
are things one can’t talk of, only feel.”

“We never need talk of them,” said Jimmie. “They are over and done with.
Old, forgotten, far-off things now.”

“Are they? You don’t understand. They will always remain. They make up
your life. You are too big for such as me altogether. By rights I should
be on my knees before you. Thank God, I did n’t wait until I learned all
this, but came to you in faith. I feel poor enough to hug that to myself
as a virtue.”

“I am very glad you believed in me,” said Jimmie, laying down the unlit
pipe which he had been fondling. “I would n’t be human if I did n’t--but
you must n’t exaggerate. Exposure would have ruined Morland’s
career, and I thought it would go near breaking your heart. To me, an
insignificant devil, what did it matter?”

“Did n’t my love for you matter? Did n’t all that you have suffered
matter? Oh, don’t minimise what you have done. I am afraid of you. Your
thoughts are not my thoughts, and your ways not my ways. You will always
be among the stars while I am crawling about the earth.”

Jimmie rose hurriedly and fell at her feet, and took both her hands and
placed them against his cheeks.

“My dear,” he said, moved to his depths. “My dear. My wonderful,
worshipped, God-sent dear. You are wrong--utterly wrong. I am only a
poor fool of a man, as you will soon find out, whose one merit is to
love you. I would sell my body and my soul for you. If I made a little
sacrifice for the love of you, what have you done tonight for me--the
sacrifice of all the splendour and grace of life?”

“The lies and the rottenness,” said Norma, with a shiver. “Did you
comprehend my mother?”

He took her hands from his face and kissed her fingers.

“Dear, those are the unhappy, far-off things. Let us forget them. They
never happened. Only one thing in the world has ever happened. You have
come to me, Norma,” he said softly, speaking her name for the first
tremulous time, “Norma!”

Their eyes met, and then their lips. The world stood still for a space.
She sighed and looked at him.

“You will have to teach me many things,” she said. “You will have to
begin at the very beginning.”



Chapter XXV--THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT

EVERY one knew that the marriage arranged between Morland King and
Norma Hardacre would not take place. It was announced in the “Times”
 and “Morning Post” on the Tuesday morning; those bidden to the wedding
received hurried messages, and a day or two later the wedding-gifts were
returned to the senders, who stored them up for some happier pair. But
the new engagement upon which Norma had entered remained a secret.
Norma herself did not desire to complete the banquet of gossip she
had afforded society, and Mrs. Hardacre was not anxious to fill to
overflowing the cup of her own humiliation. The stricken lady maintained
a discreet reserve. The lovers had quarrelled, Norma had broken off
the match and would not be going out for some time. She even defied
the duchess, who commanded an explicit statement of reasons. Her grace
retorted severely that she ought to have brought her daughter up better,
and signified that this was the second time Norma had behaved with
scandalous want of consideration for her august convenience. “She shall
not have the opportunity of doing it again. I dislike being mixed up
in scandals,” said the duchess; and Mrs. Hardacre saw the gates of
Wiltshire House and Chiltern Towers closed to her forever. But of the
impossible painter wretch she spoke not a word, hoping desperately
that in some mysterious fashion the God of her fathers would avert this
crowning disgrace from them and would lead Norma forth again into the
paths of decency and virtue. As for her husband, he stormily refused to
speak or hear the outcast’s name. He had done with her. She should never
sleep again beneath the roof she had dishonoured. He would not allow her
a penny. He would cut her out of his will. She had dragged him in the
mud, and by heaven! she could go to the devil! It took much to rouse
the passions of the feeble, mean-faced little man; but once they were
roused, he had the snarling tenacity of the fox. Mrs. Hardacre did not
tell him of Morland’s confession and the rehabilitation of his rival.
The memory of her stunning humiliation brought on a feeling akin
to physical nausea. She strove to bury it deep down in her
sub-consciousness, beneath all the other unhallowed memories. There were
none quite so rank. On the other hand, her husband’s vilification of the
detested creature was a source of consolation which she had no desire
to choke. Why should she deny herself this comfort. The supreme joy of
vitriol throwing was not countenanced in her social sphere. At odd times
she regretted that she was a lady.

While the black fog of depression darkened Devonshire Place, in
neighbouring parts of London the days were radiant. A thousand suns
glorified the heavens and the breaths of a thousand springs perfumed the
air. It was a period of exaggeration, unreality, a page out of a fairy
tale lived and relived. Norma abandoned herself to the intoxication,
heedless of the fog in Devonshire Place, and the decent grey of the
world elsewhere. She refused to think or speculate. Rose veils shrouded
the future; the present was a fantasy of delight. For material things,
food, shelter, raiment, she had no concern. Connie fed and housed her,
making her the thrice welcome guest, the beloved sister. From
society she withdrew altogether. Visitors paid calls, odd people were
entertained at meals, the routine of a wealthy woman’s establishment
proceeded in its ordinary course, and Norma’s presence in the house
remained unknown and unsuspected. She was there in hiding. The world was
given to understand that she was in Cornwall. Even common life had thus
its air of romance and mystery. Being as it were a fugitive, she had
no engagements. There was a glorious incongruity in the position. She
regarded the beginnings of the London season with the amused detachment
of a disembodied spirit revisiting the scenes of which it once made
a part. Morning, afternoon, and evening she was free--an exhilarating
novelty. Nobody wanted to see her save Jimmie; save him she wanted to
see nobody.

They met every day--sometimes in the sitting-room on the ground floor
which Connie had set apart for her guest’s exclusive use, and sometimes
in Jimmie’s studio. Now and then, when the weather was fine, they walked
together in sweet places unfrequented by the fashionable world, Regent’s
Park and Hampstead Heath, fresh woods and pastures new to Norma, who
had heard of the heath vaguely as an undesirable common where the
lower orders wore each other’s hats and shied at cocoanuts. Its smiling
loneliness and April beauty, seen perhaps through the artist’s eyes,
enchanted her. Jimmie pointed out its undulations; like a bosom, said
he, swelling with the first breaths of pure air on its release from
London.

Most of all she loved to drive up to St. John’s Wood after dinner and
burst upon him unexpectedly. The new Bohemian freedom of it all was a
part of the queer delicious life. She laughed in anticipation at his cry
of delighted welcome. When she heard it, her eyes grew soft. To lift
her veil and hang back her head to receive his kiss on her lips was
an ever-new sensation. The intimacy had a bewildering sweetness. To
complete it she threw aside gloves and jacket and unpinned her hat, a
battered gilt Empire mirror over the long table serving her to guide the
necessary touches to her hair. Although she did not repeat the little
comedy of the shirt which had been inspired by the exaltation of a rare
moment, yet she sat in Aline’s chair, now called her own, and knitted at
a silk tie she was making for him. She had learned the art from her aunt
in Cornwall, and she brought the materials in a little black silk bag
slung to her wrist. The housewifely avocation fitted in with the fairy
tale. Jimmie smoked and talked, the most responsive and least tiring of
companions. His allusive speech, that of the imaginative and cultured
man, in itself brought her into a world different from the one she had
left. His simplicity, his ignorance of the ways of women, his delight
at the little discoveries she allowed him to make, gave it a touch
of Arcadia. In passionate moments there was the unfamiliar, poetic,
rhapsodic in his utterance which turned the world into a corner of
heaven. And so the magic hours passed.

“I do believe I have found a soul,” she remarked on one of these
evenings, “and that’s why I must be so immoderately happy. I’m like a
child with a new toy.”

She was unconscious of the instinctive, pitiless analysis of herself;
and Jimmie, drunk with the wonder of her, did not heed the warning.

Of their future life together they only spoke as happy lovers in the
rosy mist shed about them by the veil. They dwelt in the glamour of the
fairy tale, where the princess who marries the shepherd lives not
only happy ever afterwards, but also delicately dressed and daintily
environed, her chief occupation being to tie silk bows round the lambs’
necks, and to serve to her husband the whitest of bread and the whitest
of cheese with the whitest of hands. Their forecast of the future might
have been an Idyll of Theocritus.

“You will be the inspiration of all my pictures, dear,” said Jimmie.

“I will sit for you as a model, if I am good enough.”

“Good enough!” Language crumbled into meaningless vocables before her
infinite perfection. “I have had a little talent. You will give me
genius.”

“I will also give you your dinner.” She laughed adorably. “Do you know
Connie told me I must learn to cook. I had my first lesson this morning
in her kitchen--a most poetic way of doing sweetbreads. Do you like
sweetbreads?”

“Now I come to think of it, I do. Enormously. I wonder why Aline never
has them.”

“We’ll have some--our first lunch--at home.”

“And you will cook them?” cried the enraptured man.

She nodded. “In a most becoming white apron. You’ll see.”

“You’ll be like a goddess taking her turn preparing the daily ambrosia
for Olympus!” said Jimmie.

On another occasion they spoke of summer holidays. They would take a
little cottage in the country. It would have honeysuckle over the porch,
and beds of mignonette under the windows, and an old-fashioned garden
full of stocks and hollyhocks and sunflowers. There would be doves and
bees. They would go out early and come home with the dew on their feet.
They would drink warm milk from the cow. They would go a hay-making.
Norma’s idea of the pastoral pathetically resembled that of the Petit
Trianon.

The magic of the present with its sincerity of passionate worship on the
part of the man, and its satisfaction of a soul’s hunger on the part
of the woman, was in itself enough to blind their eyes to the possible
prose of the future. Another interest, one of the sweetest of outside
interests that can bind two lovers together, helped to fix their serious
thoughts to the immediate hour. Side by side with their romance grew up
another, vitally interwoven with it for a spell and now springing clear
into independent life. The two children Aline and Tony Merewether had
found each other again, and the fresh beauty of their young loves lit
the deeper passion of the older pair with the light of spring sunrise.
In precious little moments of confidence Aline opened to Norma her
heart’s dewy happiness, and what Norma in delicate honour could divulge
she told to Jimmie, who in his turn had his little tale to bear. More
and more was existence like the last page of a fairy book.

The reconciliation of the younger folk had been a very simple matter. It
was the doing of Connie Deering. The morning after Morland’s confession
she summoned Tony Merewether to an interview. He arrived wondering. She
asked him point blank:

“Are you still in love with Aline Marden or have you forgotten all about
her?”

The young fellow declared his undying affection.

“Are you aware that you have treated her shamefully?” she said severely.

“I am the most miserable dog unhung,” exclaimed the youth. He certainly
looked miserable, thin, and worried. He gave his view of the position.
Connie’s heart went out to him.

“Suppose I told you that everything was cleared up and you could go to
Aline with a light conscience?”

“I should go crazy with happiness!” he cried, springing to his feet.

“Aline deserves a sane husband. She is one in a thousand.”

“She is one in twenty thousand million!”

“There she goes, hand in hand with Jimmie Padgate. It’s to tell you that
I’ve asked you to come. I hope you’ll let them both know you’re aware of
it.”

Satisfied that he was worthy of her confidence, she told him briefly
what had occurred.

“And now what are you going to do?” she asked, smiling.

“Do? I’ll go on my knees. I’ll grovel at his feet. I’ll ask him to make
me a door-mat. I’ll do any mortal thing Aline tells me.”

“Well, go now and do your penance and be happy,” Connie said, holding
out her hand.

“I don’t know how I can thank you, Mrs. Deering,” he cried. “You are the
most gracious woman that ever lived!”

A few moments later an impassioned youth was speeding in a hansom cab
to Friary Grove. But Connie, with the memory of his clear-cut, radiant
young face haunting her, sighed. Chance decreed that the very moment
should bring her a letter from Jimmie, written that morning, full of
his wonder and gratitude. She sighed again, pathetically, foolishly,
unreasonably feeling left out in the cold.

“I wonder whether it would do me good to cry,” she said, half aloud. But
the footman entering with the announcement that the carriage which was
to take her to her dressmaker was at the door, settled the question. She
had to content herself with sighs.

Tony Merewether did not go on his knees, as Aline had ordained; but he
made his apology in so frank and manly a way that Jimmie forgave him at
once. Besides, said he, what had he to forgive?

“I feel like Didymus,” said Tony.

Jimmie laughed as he clapped him on the shoulder and pushed him out of
the studio.

“You had better cultivate the feeling. He became a saint eventually.
Aline will help to make you one.”

If plain indication of another’s infirmities can tend to qualify him for
canonisation, Aline certainly justified Jimmie’s statement. She did not
confer her pardon so readily on the doubting disciple. His offence had
been too rank. It was not merely a question of his saying a _credo_
and then taking her into his arms. She exacted much penance before she
permitted this blissful consummation. He had to woo and protest and
humble himself exceedingly. But when she had reduced him to a proper
state of penitence, she gave him plenary absolution and yielded to
his kiss, as she had been yearning to do since the beginning of the
interview. After that she settled down to her infinite delight. Nothing
was lacking in the new rapturous scheme of existence. The glory of
Jimmie was vindicated. Tony had come back to her. The bars to their
marriage had vanished. Not only was Tony a man of substance with the
legacy of eight thousand pounds that had been left him, and therefore
able to support as many wives as the Grand Turk, but Jimmie no longer
had to be provided for. The wonder of wonders had happened; she could
surrender her precious charge with a free conscience and a heart
bursting with gratitude.

Thus the happiness of each pair of lovers caught a reflection from that
of the other, and its colour was rendered ever so little fictitious,
unreal. The light of spring sunrise, exquisite though it is, invests
things with a glamour which the light of noon dispels. The spectacle of
the young romance unfolding itself before the eyes of Jimmie and
Norma completed their delicious sense of the idyllic; but the illusive
atmosphere thus created caused them to view their own romance
in slightly false perspective. Essentially it was a drama of
conflict--themselves against the pettinesses and uglinesses of the
world; apparently it was a pastoral among spring flowers.

Another cause that contributed to Norma’s unconcern for the future was
her exaggerated sense of the man’s loftiness of soul. Instead of viewing
him as a lovable creature capable of the chivalrous and the heroic
and afforded by a happy fate an opportunity of displaying these
qualities--for the opportunity makes the hero as much as it does the
thief--she grovelled whole-sexedly before an impossible idol imbued with
impossible divinity. While knitting silk ties and devising with him the
preparation of foodstuffs (which she did not realise he would not be
able to afford) she was conscious of a grace in the trifling, all the
more precious because of these little earthly things midway between the
empyrean and the abyss which they respectively inhabited. In the deeply
human love of each was a touch of the fantastic. To Jimmie she was the
Princess of Wonderland, the rare Lady of Dreams; to Norma he appeared
little less than a god.

She was talking one evening with Connie Deering in a somewhat exalted
strain of her own unworthiness and Jimmie’s condescension, when the
little lady broke into an unwonted expression of impatience.

“My dear child, every foolish woman is a valet to her hero. You would
like to clean his boots, wouldn’t you?”

“My dear Connie,” cried Norma, alarmed, “whatever is the matter?”

“I think you two had better get married as quickly as possible. It is
getting on one’s nerves.”

Norma stiffened. “I am sorry--” she began.

Connie interrupted her. “Don’t be silly. There’s nothing for you to be
sorry about.” She brightened and laughed, realising the construction
Norma had put upon her words. “I am only advising you for your good.
I had half an hour’s solitary imprisonment with Theodore Weever this
afternoon. He always takes it out of me. It’s like having a bath with an
electric eel. He called this afternoon to get news of you.”

“Of me?” asked Norma serenely, settling herself in the depths of her
chair.

“He is like an eel,” Connie exclaimed with a shiver. “He’s the
coldest-blooded thing I’ve ever come across. I told you about the dinner
at the Carlton, did n’t I? It appears that he reckoned on my doing just
what I rushed off to do. It makes me so angry!” she cried with feminine
emphasis on the last word. “Of course he did n’t tell me so brutally--he
has a horrid snake-like method of insinuation. He had counted on my
getting at the truth which he had guessed and so stopping the marriage.
‘I’m a true prophet,’ he said. ‘I knew that marriage would never come
off.’”

“So he told me,” said Norma. “Do you know, there must be some goodness
in him to have perceived the goodness in Jimmie.”

“I believe he’s a disembodied spirit without either goodness or
badness--a sort of non-moral monster.” Connie was given to hyperbole in
her likes and dislikes. She continued her tale. He had come to ask her
advice. Now that Miss Hardacre was free, did Mrs. Deering think he
might press his suit with advantage? His stay in Europe was drawing to
a close. He would like to take back with him to New York either Miss
Hardacre or a definite refusal.

“‘You certainly cannot take back Miss Hardacre,’ I said, ‘because she is
going to marry Jimmie Padgate.’ I thought this would annihilate him. But
do you think he moved a muscle? Not he.”

“What did he say?” asked Norma, lazily amused.

“‘This is getting somewhat monotonous,’” replied Connie.

Norma laughed. “Nothing else?”

“He began to talk about theatres. He has the most disconcerting way of
changing the conversation. But on leaving he sent his congratulations
to you, and said that you were always to remember that you were the wife
specially designed for him by Providence.”

“You dear thing,” said Norma, “and did that get on your nerves?”

“Would n’t it get on yours?”

Norma shook her head. “I have n’t any nerves for things to get on.
People don’t have nerves when they’re happy.”

“And are you happy, really, really happy?”

“I am deliciously happy,” said Norma.

She went to bed laughing at the discomfiture of Weever and the
remoteness of him and of the days last summer when she first met him
among the Monzies’ disreputable crowd. He belonged to a former state
of existence. Jimmie’s portrait, which had been put for two or three
reasons in her bedroom, caught her attention. She looked at it with
a dreamy smile for a long time, and then turned to the glass. Made
curiously happy by what she saw there, she kissed her fingers to the
portrait.

“He is the better prophet,” she said.

But Connie’s advice as to the desirability of a speedy marriage remained
in her mind. Jimmie with characteristic diffidence had not yet suggested
definite arrangements. She was gifted with so much insight as to
apprehend the reasons for his lack of initiative. His very worship of
her, his overwhelming sense of goddess-conferred boon in her every smile
and condescension, precluded the asking of favours. So far it was she
who had arranged their daily life. It was she who had established the
custom of the studio visits, and she had taken off her hat and had
inaugurated the comedy of the domestic felicities of her own accord. She
treasured this worship in her heart as a priceless thing, all the
more exquisite because it lay by the side of the knowledge of her own
unworthiness. The sacrifice of maidenly modesty in proposing instead
of coyly yielding was at once a delicious penance for hypocritical
assumption of superiority, and a salve to her pride as a beautiful and
desirable woman. It was with a glorious sureness of relation, therefore,
that she asked him the next day if he had thought of a date for their
marriage.

“There is no reason for a long engagement that I can see,” she added,
with a blush which she felt, and was tremulously happy at feeling.

“I was waiting for you to say, dear,” he replied, his arm around her. “I
dared not ask.”

She laughed the deep laugh of a woman’s happiness.

“I knew you would say that,” she murmured. “Let it be some time next
month.”



Chapter XXVI--EARTH AGAIN

ONE day Norma received a polite intimation from her bankers that
her account was overdrawn. This had happened before but on previous
occasions she had obtained from her father an advance on her allowance
and the unpleasant void at the bank had been filled. Now she realised
with dismay that the allowance had been cut off, and that no money could
come into her possession until the payment of the half-yearly dividend
from the concern in which her small private fortune was invested. She
looked in her purse and found five shillings. On this she would have
to live for three weeks. Her money was in the hands of trustees, wisely
tied up by the worldly aunt from whom she had inherited it, so that she
could not touch the capital. While she was contemplating the absurdity
of the position, the maid brought up a parcel from a draper’s on which
there was three and eleven pence halfpenny to pay. She surrendered four
of her shillings, and disconsolately regarded the miserable one that
remained. The position had grown even more preposterous. She actually
needed money. She had not even the amount of a cab-fare to Friary Grove.
She would not have it for three weeks.

Preposterous or not, the fact was plain, and demanded serious
consideration. She would have to borrow. The repayment of the loan and
the overdraft would reduce the half-yearly dividend. A goodly part of
the remainder would be required to meet an outstanding milliners’ bill,
not included in the bridal trousseau for which her father was to pay.
The sum in simple arithmetic frightened her.

“I am poverty-stricken,” she said to Connie, to whom she confided her
difficulties.

Connie blotted the cheque that was to provide for immediate wants, and
laughed sympathetically.

“You’ll have to learn to be economical, dear. I believe it’s quite
easy.”

“You mean I must go in omnibuses and things?” said Norma, vaguely.

“And not order so many hats and gowns.”

“I see,” said Norma, folding up the cheque.

With money again in her pocket, she felt lighter of heart, but she knew
that she had stepped for a moment out of fairyland into the grey world
of reality. The first experience was unpleasant. It left a haunting
dread which made her cling closer to Jimmie in the embrace of their next
meeting. It was a relief to get back into the Garden of Enchantment and
leave sordid things outside. Wilfully she kept the conversation from
serious discussion of their marriage.

When next she had occasion to go to the studio, she remembered the
necessity of economy, and took the St. John’s Wood omnibus. As a general
rule the travellers between Baker Street station and the Swiss Cottage
are of a superior class, being mostly the well-to-do residents in
the neighbourhood and their visitors; but, by an unlucky chance, this
particular omnibus was crowded, and Norma found herself wedged between
a labouring man redolent of stale beer and bad tobacco, and a fat Jewish
lady highly flavoured with musk. A youth getting out awkwardly knocked
her hat awry with his elbow. It began to rain--a smart April shower.
The wet umbrella of a new arrival dripped on her dress while he stood
waiting for a place to be made for him opposite. The omnibus stopped at
a shelterless corner, the nearest point to Friary Grove. She descended
to pitiless rain and streaming pavements and a five minutes’ walk, for
all of which her umbrella and shoes were inadequate. She vowed miserably
a life-long detestation of omnibuses. She would never enter one again.
Cabs were the only possible conveyances for people who could not afford
to keep their carriage. She fought down the dread that she might not
be able to afford cabs. The Almighty, who had obviously intended her to
drive in cabs, would certainly see that His intentions were carried out.

She arrived at the studio, wet, bedraggled, and angry; but Jimmie’s
exaggerated concern disarmed her. It could not have been less had she
wandered for miles and been drenched to the skin and chilled to the
bone. He sent Aline to fetch her daintiest slippers to replace the
damp shoes, established the storm-driven sufferer in the big leathern
armchair with cushions at her back and hassocks at her feet, made a
roaring fire and insisted on her swallowing cherry brandy, a bottle of
which he kept in the house in case of illness. In the unwonted luxury of
being loved and petted and foolishly fussed over, Norma again forgot
her troubles. Jimmie consoled the specific grievance by saying
magniloquently that omnibuses were the engines of the devil and vehicles
of the wrath to come. With a drugged economic conscience she went home
in a cab. But the conscience awoke later, somewhat suffering, and she
recognised that her exasperated vow had been vain. Jimmie was a poor
man. She recalled to mind his words on the night of their engagement,
and apprehended their significance. The trivial incident of the omnibus
was a key. The abandonment of cabs and carriages meant the surrender of
countless luxuries that went therewith. Her own two hundred a year would
not greatly raise the scale of living. She was to be a poor man’s wife;
would have to wear cheap dresses, eat plain food, keep household books
in which pennies were accounted for; hers would be the humdrum existence
of the less prosperous middle class. The first pang of doubt frightened
her for a while and left her ashamed. Noble revolt followed. Had she not
renounced the pomps and vanities of a world which she scorned? Had not
this wonderful baptism of love brought New Birth? She had been reborn,
a braver, purer woman; she had been initiated into life’s deeper
mysteries; her soul had been filled with joy. Of what count were
externals?

The next evening Connie Deering gave a small dinner-party in honour
of the two engagements. Old Colonel Pawley, charged under pain of her
perpetual displeasure not to reveal the secret of Norma’s whereabouts,
was invited to balance the sexes. He was delighted to hear of Norma’s
romantic marriage.

“I can still present the fan,” he said, rubbing his soft palms together;
“but I’m afraid I shall have to write a fresh set of verses.”

“You had better give Norma a cookery-book,” laughed Connie.

“I have a beautiful one of my own in manuscript which no publisher will
take up,” sighed Colonel Pawley.

Norma, who had been wont to speak with drastic contempt of the amiable
old warrior, welcomed him so cordially that he was confused. He was not
accustomed to exuberant demonstrations of friendship from the beautiful
Miss Hardacre. At dinner, sitting next her, he enjoyed himself
enormously. Instead of freezing his geniality with sarcastic remarks,
she lured him on to the gossip in which his heart delighted. When Connie
rallied her, later, on her flirtation with the old man, she laughed.

“Remember I’ve been a prisoner here. He’s one of the familiar faces from
outside.”

Although jestingly, she had spoken with her usual frankness, and her
confession was more deeply significant than she was aware at the time.
She had welcomed Colonel Pawley not for what he was, but for what he
represented. As soon as she was alone she realised the moral lapse, and
rebuked herself severely. She was sentimental enough to hang by a ribbon
around her neck the simple engagement ring which Jimmie had given her,
and to sleep with it as a talisman against evil thoughts.

She spent the following evening at the studio, heroically enduring
the discomforts of the detested omnibus. When she descended she drew
a breath of relief, but felt the glow that comes from virtuous
achievement. Jimmie was informed of this practice in the art of economy.
He regarded her wistfully. There were times when he too fought with
doubts,--not of her loyalty, but of his own honesty in bringing her down
into his humble sphere. Even now, accustomed as he was to the adored
sight of her there, he could not but note the contrast between herself
and her surroundings. She brought with her in every detail of her
person, in every detail of her dress, in every detail of her manner, an
atmosphere of a dainty, luxurious life pathetically incongruous with
the shabby little house. He had not even the wherewithal to call in
decorators and upholsterers and make the little house less shabby. So
when she spoke of practising economy, he looked at her wistfully.

“Your eyes are open, dear, are n’t they?” he said. “You really do
realise what a sacrifice you are making in marrying me?”

“By not marrying you,” she replied, “I should have gained the world and
lost my own soul. Now I am doing the reverse.”’

He kissed her finger-tips lover-wise. “I am afraid I must be the devil’s
advocate, and say that the loss and gain need not be so absolutely
differentiated. I want you to be happy. My God! I want you to be happy,”
 he burst out with sudden passion, “and if you found that things were
infinitely worse than what you had expected, that you had married me in
awful ignorance--”

She covered his lips with the palm of her hand.

“Don’t go on. You pain me. You make me despise myself. I have counted
the cost, such as it is. Did I not tell you from the first that I would
go with you in rags and barefoot through the world? Could woman say
more? Don’t you believe me?”

“Yes, I believe you,” he replied, bowing his head. “You are a
great-hearted woman.”

She unfastened her hat, skewered it through with the pins, and gave it
him to put down.

“I remember my Solomon,” she said, trying to laugh lightly, for there
had been a faint but disconcerting sense of effort in her protestation.
“‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and
hatred there with.’ Besides, you forget another important matter. I am
now a homeless, penniless outcast. I am not sacrificing anything. It is
very kind of you to offer to take me in and shelter me.”

“These are sophistries,” said Jimmie, with a laugh. “You gave up all on
my account.”

“But I am really penniless,” she said, ignoring his argument. “_Anch’ io
son pittore_. I too have felt the pinch of poverty.”

“You?”

She revealed her financial position--the overdraft at the bank, the
shilling between herself and starvation. Were it not for Connie, she
would have to sing in the streets. She alluded thoughtlessly, with her
class’s notions as to the value of money, to her “miserable two hundred
a year.”

“Two hundred a year!” cried Jimmie. “Why, that’s a fortune!”

His tone struck a sudden chill through her. He genuinely regarded the
paltry sum as untold riches. She struggled desperately down to his point
of view.

“Perhaps it may come in useful for us,” she said lamely. “I should think
it will! Why did n’t you tell me before?”

“Have you never thought I might have a little of my own?” she asked with
a touch of her old hardness.

“No,” said Jimmie. “Of course not.”

“I don’t see any ‘of course’ in the matter. The ordinary man would have
speculated--it would have been natural--almost common-sense.”

Jimmie threw up his hands deprecatingly.

“I have been too much dazzled by the glorious gift of yourself to think
of anything else you might bring. I am an impossible creature, as you
will find out. I ought to have considered the practical side.”

“Oh! I am very glad you did n’t!” she exclaimed. “Heaven forbid you
should have the mercenary ideas of the average man. It is beautiful to
have thought of me only.”

“I am afraid I was thinking of myself, my dear,” said he. “I must get
out of the way of it, and think of the two of us. Now let us be severely
business-like. You have taken a load off my mind. There are a thousand
things you can surround yourself with that I imagined you would lack.”
 He took her two hands and swung them backwards and forwards. “Now I
shan’t regard myself as such a criminal in asking you to marry me.”

“Do you think two hundred a year a fortune, Jimmie?” she asked.

“To the Rothschilds and Vanderbilts perhaps not--but everything is
relative.”

“Everything?”

Her heart spoke suddenly, demanding relief. Their eyes met.

“No, dear,” he said. “One thing at least is absolute.” An interlude of
conviction succeeded doubt. She felt that she had never loved him so
much as at that moment. It was more with the quickly lit passion of the
awakened woman than with the ardour of a girl that she clasped her hands
round his head and drew it down to their kiss. She had an awful need of
the assurance of the absolute.

It nerved her to face a discussion on ways and means with Aline,
whom Jimmie at her request summoned from demure sewing in her little
drawing-room.

“You are right,” she had said, referring to his former remark. “We ought
to be severely business-like. I must begin to learn things. You don’t
know how hopelessly ignorant I am.”

Aline came down to give the first lesson in elementary housekeeping. She
brought with her a pile of little black books which she spread out
at the end of the long table. The two girls sat side by side. Jimmie
hovered about them for a while, but was soon dismissed by Aline to a
distant part of the studio, where, having nothing wherewith to occupy
himself, he proceeded to make a charcoal sketch of the two intent faces.

Aline, proud at being able to display her housewifely knowledge before
appreciative eyes, opened her books, and expounded them with a charming
business air. These were the receipts for the last twelve months; these
the general disbursements. They were balanced to a halfpenny.

“Of course anything I can’t account for, I put down to the item
‘Jimmie,’” she said naively. “He _will_ go to the money-drawer and help
himself without letting me know. Is n’t it tiresome of him?”

Norma smiled absently, wrinkling her brows over the unfamiliar figures.
She had no grasp of the relation the amounts of the various items bore
to one another, but they all seemed exceedingly small.

“I suppose it’s necessary to make up this annual balance?” she asked.

“Of course. Otherwise you would n’t know how much you could apportion to
each item. Jimmie says it’s nonsense to keep books; but if you listen to
Jimmie, you ‘ll have the brokers in in a month.”

“Brokers?”

Aline laughed at her perplexed look. “Yes, to seize the furniture in
payment of debt.”

The main financial facts having been stated, Aline came to detail. These
were the weekly books from the various tradesmen. She showed a typical
week’s expenditure.

“What about the fishmonger?” asked Norma, noting an obvious omission.

“Fish is too expensive to have regularly,” Aline explained, “and so
I don’t have an account. When I buy any, I pay for it at once, in the
shop.”

“When _you_ buy it?”

“Why, yes. You’ll find it much better to go and choose things for
yourself than let them call for orders. Then you can get exactly what
you want, instead of what suits the tradesman’s convenience. You see,
I go to the butcher and look round, and say ‘I want a piece of that
joint,’ and of course he does as he’s told. It seems horrid to any one
not accustomed to it to go into a butcher’s shop, I know; but really
it’s not unpleasant, and it’s quite amusing.”

“But why should n’t your housekeeper do the marketing?”

“Oh, she does sometimes,” Aline admitted; “but Hannah is n’t a good
buyer. She can’t _judge_ meat and things, you know, and she is apt to be
wasteful over vegetables.”

“You don’t bring the--the meat and things--home with you in a basket, do
you?” asked Norma, with a nervous laugh.

Jimmie, interested in his sketch, had not listened to the conversation,
which had been carried on in a low tone. The last words, however,
pitched higher, caught his ear. He jumped to his feet.

“Norma carry home meat in a basket! Good God! What on earth has the
child been telling you?”

“I never said anything of the kind, Jimmie,” cried Aline, indignantly.
“You needn’t bring home anything unless you like; our tradesmen are most
obliging.”

Norma pushed back her chair from the table and rose and again laughed
nervously.

“I am afraid I can’t learn all the science of domestic economy in
one lesson. I must do it by degrees.” She passed her hand across her
forehead. “I’m not used to figures, you see.”

Jimmie looked reproachfully at Aline. “Those horrid little black books!”
 he exclaimed. “They are enough to give any one a headache. For heaven’s
sake, have nothing to do with them, dear.”

“But the brokers will come in,” said Norma, with an uncertain catch in
her voice.

“They are Aline’s pet hobgoblins,” laughed Jimmie. “My dear child,”
 pointing to the books, “please take those depressing records of wasted
hours away.”

When they were alone, he said to Norma very tenderly, “I am afraid my
little girl has frightened you.”

She started at the keenness of his perception and flushed.

“No--not frightened.”

“She is so proud of the way she runs her little kingdom here,” he said;
“so proud to show you how it is done. You must forgive her. She is only
a child, my dearest, and forgets that these household delights of hers
may come as shocks to you. I shall not allow you to have these worries
that she loves to concern her head about.”

“Then who will have them?” she asked, with her hand on the lapel of his
jacket. “You? That would be absurd. If I am your wife, I must keep your
house.”

“My dear,” said Jimmie, kissing her, “if we love each other, there will
be no possibility of worries. I believe in God in a sort of way, and He
has not given you to me to curse and wither your life.”

“You could only bless and sanctify it,” she murmured.

“Not I, dear; but our love.”

Soothed, she raised a smiling face.

“But still, I’ll have to keep house. Do you think I would let you go to
the butcher’s? What would Aline say if you made such a proposal?”

“She would peremptorily forbid him to take my orders,” he replied,
laughing.

“I am sure I should,” she said.

It was growing late. She glanced at the wheezy tilted old Dutch clock
in the corner, and spoke of departure. She reflected for a moment on the
means of home-getting. To her lowered spirits the omnibus loomed like a
lumbering torture-chamber. The consolation of a cab seemed cowardice. An
inspiration occurred to her. She would walk; perhaps he would accompany
her to Bryanston Square. He was enraptured at the suggestion. But could
she manage the distance?

“I should like to try. I am a good walker--and when we are outside,” she
added softly, “we can talk a little of other matters.”

It was a mild spring night, and the quiet stars shone benignantly upon
them as they walked arm in arm, and talked of “other matters.” As she
had needed a little while before the assurance of the absolute, so now
she craved the spirituality of the man himself, the inner light of faith
in the world’s beauty, the sweetness, the courage--all that indefinable
something in him which raised him, and could alone raise her, above the
terrifying things of earth. She clung to his arm in a pathos of yearning
for him to lead her upward and teach her the things of the spirit. Only
thus lay her salvation.

He, clean, simple soul, lost in the splendour of their love, expounding,
as it chanced, his guileless philosophy of life and his somewhat
childishly pagan religious convictions, was far from suspecting
the battle into which he was being called to champion the side of
righteousness. He went to sleep that night the most blissfully happy of
men. Norma lay awake, a miserable woman.



Chapter XXVII--A DINNER OF HERBS

SHE loved him. Of that there was no doubt. To her he was the man of
men. The half angel, half fool of her original conception had melted
into an heroic figure capable of infinite tendernesses. The lingering
barbaric woman in her thrilled at the memory of him contemptuously
facing death before the madman’s revolver. Her higher nature was awed at
the perfect heroism of his sacrifice. She knelt at his feet, recognising
the loftier soul. Sex was stirred to the depths when his arms were
about her and his kiss was on her lips. In lighter relations he was the
perfect companion. For all her vacillation, let that be remembered: she
loved him. All of her that was worth the giving he had in its plenitude.

The days which followed her initiation into domestic economy were days
of alternating fear and shame and scornful resolution. She lost grip of
herself. The proud beauty curving a contumelious lip at the puppet
show of life was a creature of the past. Set the proudest and most
self-sufficing of women naked in what assembly you please, and she
will crouch, helpless, paralysed, in the furthest corner. Some such
denudation of the moral woman had occurred in the case of Norma
Hardacre. The old garments were stripped from her. She was bewildered,
terrified, no longer endowed with personality.

Sometimes despising herself and resolved to perform her manifest duty,
she sought other lessons from Aline. They ended invariably in dismay.
Once she learned that Jimmie had never had a banking account. The
money was kept in a drawer of which Jimmie and Aline had each a key.
On occasions the drawer had been empty. Another lesson taught her that
certain shops in the neighbourhood were to be avoided as being too
expensive; that cream was regarded as a luxury, and asparagus as
an impossible extravagance. Every new fact in the economy of a poor
household caused her to shiver with apprehension. All was so trivial,
so contemptibly unimportant, and yet it grew to be a sordid barrier
baffling her love. She loathed the base weakness of her nature. It was
degrading to feel such repulsion.

One evening Connie Deering was going to a Foreign Office reception, and
came down an enchanting vision in a new gown from Paquin and exhibited
herself to Norma.

“I think it’s rather a success. Don’t you?”

Norma assented somewhat listlessly, but to please her friend inspected
the creation and listened to her chatter. She was feeling lonely and
dispirited. At Aline’s entreaty she had persuaded Jimmie to go with Tony
Merewether to the Langham Sketch Club, thus showing himself, for the
first time since the scandal, among his old associates. For her altruism
she paid the penalty of a dull evening. Their visits to each other were
her sole occupation now, all that was left in life to interest her. In
moments of solitude she began to feel the appalling narrowness of the
circle in which she was caged. Reading tired instead of refreshing her.
She had been accustomed to men and women rather than to books’, to
the sight of many faces, to the constant change of scene. When she
speculated on employment for future solitary hours, she thought ruefully
of recuffing shirts.

Connie apologised for leaving her, hoped she would manage to amuse
herself. Norma, who had made strenuous efforts to hide the traces of
tumult, returned a smiling answer. Connie, quite deceived, put an arm
round her waist and said suddenly in her bright, teasing way:

“Now don’t you wish you were coming too?”

Norma, staggered at the point-blank question, was mistress enough of
herself to observe the decencies of reply, but when Connie had gone, she
sat down on the sofa and stared in front of her. She did wish she were
going with Connie. She had been wishing vaguely, half-consciously all
the evening. Now the wish was the pain of craving. It came upon her like
the craving of the alcoholic subject for drink--this sudden longing for
the glitter, the excitement, the whirl of the life she had renounced.
Her indictment of it seemed unreal, the confused memory of a brain-sick
mood. It was her world. She had not cut herself free. All the fibres of
her body seemed to be rooted in it, and she was being drawn thither
by irresistible desire. The many, many people, the diamonds, the
brilliance, the flattery, the envy, the very atmosphere heavy with many
perfumes--she saw and felt it all; panted for it, yearned for it. That
never, never again would she take up her birthright was impossible. That
she should stand forevermore in the humble street outside the gates of
that dazzling, wonderful, kaleidoscopic world was unthinkable.

She remembered her talk with Morland at the Duchess of Wiltshire’s
reception at the end of the last season, her shiver at the idea of a
life of poverty; was it a premonition? She remembered the blessed sense
of security when she had looked round the splendid scene and felt that
she and it were indissoluble parts of the same scheme of things. A
crust and heel of cheese as Jimmie’s wife had crossed her mind then as a
grotesque fantasy; the air of that brilliant gathering was the breath of
her being.

But now the grotesque fancy was to be the reality; the other was to
become the shadow of a dream. No yearning or panting could restore it.
The impossible was the inevitable. The unthinkable was the commonplace.
She had made her choice deliberately, irrevocably. She had lost the
whole world to gain her own soul. In the despair of her mood she
questioned the worth of the sacrifice. The finality of the choice
oppressed her. If at this eleventh hour she could still have the
opportunity of the heroic--if still the gates of the world were open to
her, she would have had a stimulus to continued nobility. The world and
the passionate love for the perfect man--which would she choose? Her
exaltation would still have swept her to the greater choice. Of, this
she was desperately aware. But the gates were shut. She had already
chosen. The heroic moment had gone. The acceptance of conditions was now
mere uninspired duty. She gave way to unreason.

“O God! Why cannot I have both--my own love and my own life?”

The tears she shed calmed her.

The next day she felt ill from the strain, paying the highly bred
woman’s penalty of nervous break-down. Connie Deering noted the circles
beneath her eyes and the pinched nostrils. Norma casually mentioned a
night’s neuralgia. It would pass off during the day. She refused to be
doctored. She would pay a visit to Jimmie before lunch. The fresh air
would do her good.

“The fresh air and Jimmie,” laughed her friend. “You are the most
beautifully in love young woman I have ever met.”

Norma started on her visit, walking fast. At Baker Street station it
began to rain. She took the penitential omnibus; but her thoughts were
too anxious to concern themselves with its discomforts. Besides, it was
almost empty. The night had brought counsel. She would go to Jimmie and
be her true self, frank and unsparing. With a touch of her old scorn she
had resolved to confess unreservedly all the meanness and cowardice
of which she had of late been guilty. She would bare to him the soon
spotted soul and crave his cleansing. He would understand, pardon, and
purify. Perhaps, when he knew all, he would be able to devise some new
scheme of existence. At any rate, she would no longer receive his kisses
with a lie in her heart. She loved him too ardently. He should know what
she was, what were her needs, her limitations. The meeting would be
a crisis in their lives. Out of it would come reconstruction on some
unshakable basis. Up to a certain point she reasoned; beyond it, the
pathetic unreason of a woman drifted rudderless.

It had stopped raining when she left the omnibus and started on the
short walk from the corner to Friary Grove. At the familiar gate her
heart already seemed lighter; she opened it, mounted the front steps,
and rang. The middle-aged servant, minus cap and with thin untidy hair,
in a soiled print dress, her sleeves rolled up to the elbow exposing red
coarse arms, was the first shock to Norma when the door opened.

“Both, the Master and Miss Aline are out, Miss,” said Hannah, with a
good-natured smile. “He has gone into town on business, and Miss Aline,
went out a little while ago with her young man. But they’ll be back for
lunch. Won’t you come in and wait, Miss?”

Norma, vaguely resenting the familiar address of the servant and her
slatternly appearance, hesitated for a moment before deciding to enter.
Hannah showed her into the drawing-room and retired. It was a small dark
room looking on to the back. Part of it had been cut off when the
house had been altered, so as to construct the studio staircase, which
contained one of the original windows. Norma felt strangely ill at
ease in the room. The prim, cheap furniture, the threadbare carpet,
the flimsy girlish contrivances at decoration, gave the place an air of
shabby gentility. The gilt mirror was starred with spots and had a crack
across the corner. Some of Jimmie’s socks and underwear lay on the table
for mending. They were much darned, and fresh holes could not fail to
meet the eye that rested but momentarily on the pile. To mend these
would in the future be her duty. She took up an undervest shrinkingly
and shook it out; then folded it again and closed her eyes.... She could
not wait there: the gloom depressed her. The studio would be brighter
and more familiar. She went downstairs. Nothing in the room she knew so
well was changed, yet it seemed to wear a different aspect. The homely
charm had vanished. Here, too, shabbiness and poverty stared at her. The
morning light streaming through the great high window showed pitilessly
the cracks and stains and missing buttons of the old leathern suite, and
the ragged holes in the squares of old carpet laid upon the boards. It
was a mere bleak workshop, not a room for human habitation. The pictures
on the walls and easels ceased to possess decorative or even intimate
value. The large picture of the faun that had exercised so great an
influence upon her had been despatched to its purchaser, and in its
place was a hopeless gap.

She sat down in her accustomed chair, and once more strove to realise
the future. There would be children who would need her care. On herself
would all the sordid burdens fall. She saw herself a soured woman, worn
with the struggle to make ends meet, working with her hands at menial
tasks. The joy of Life! She laughed mirthlessly.

She rose, walked restlessly about the studio, longing for Jimmie to
come and exorcise the devils that possessed her. A little sharp cry of
distress escaped her lips. The place echoed like a vault, and she felt
awfully alone. In her nervous tension she could bear it no longer. She
went up the stairs again into the bare hall. On the pegs hung two or
three discoloured hats and an old coat. Scarce knowing whither she went,
she entered the dining-room. Luncheon had been laid. A freak of destiny
had reproduced the meal of which Morland had spoken at Wiltshire House
and of which last night had revived the memory: a scrag end of cold
boiled mutton, blackened and shapeless, with the hard suet round about
it; a dried-up heel of yellow American cheese; the half of a cottage
loaf. The table-cloth--it was Friday--was stained with a week’s meals.
It was coarse in texture, old and thin and darned. The enamel on the
plates was cracked, the hundred tiny fissures showing up dark brown.
The plate on the forks had worn off in places, disclosing the yellowish
metal beneath. The tumblers were thick and common, of glass scarcely
transparent. She stared helplessly at the table. Never in her life had
she seen such preparations for a meal. To the woman always daintily fed,
daintily environed, it seemed squalor unspeakable.

She shrank back into the hall, pressed her hands to her eyes, looked
round, as if to search for some refuge. The stairs met her eye. She
had never seen what lay above the ground floor--except once, on the
memorable evening when Aline had fainted. Suddenly madness seized
her--an insane craving to spy out the whole nakedness of the house. The
worn stair-carpet ended at the first landing. Then bare boards. The door
of the bathroom was wide open. She peeked in. The ceiling was blackened
with gas; the bath cracked and stained; the appointments as bare as
those in a workhouse. Her glance fell upon a battered tin dish holding
an uncompromising cube of yellow soap with hard sharp edges. She
withdrew her head and shut the door hurriedly. Another door stood ajar.
She pushed it open and entered. It was the front bedroom--inhabited by
Jimmie. The thought that it would be her own, which a fortnight before
might have clothed her in delicious confusion, chilled her to the
bone. Bare boards again; a strip of oil-cloth by the narrow cheap iron
bedstead; a painted deal table with a little mirror and the humblest of
toilette equipments laid upon it; a painted deal chest of drawers with
white handles; a painted deal wash-stand; a great triangular bit broken
out of the mouth of the ewer.

It was poverty--grinding, sordid, squalid poverty. From the one
dishevelled, slatternly, middle-aged servant to the cheap paper
peeling off the wall in the bedrooms, all she had seen was poverty. The
gathering terror of it burst like a thunderstorm above her head. Her
courage failed her utterly. Like a creature distracted, she rushed
downstairs and fled from the house. She walked homewards with an
instinctive sense of direction. Afterwards she had little memory of the
portion of the road she traversed on foot. She moved in a shuddering
nightmare. All the love in the world could not shed a glamour over the
nakedness of the existence that had now been revealed to her in its
entire crudity. She could not face it. Other women of gentle birth had
forsaken all and followed the men they loved; they had loved peasants
and had led great-heartedly the peasant’s life. They had qualities
of soul that she lacked. Hideously base, despicably cowardly she knew
herself to be. It was her nature. She could not alter. The world of
graceful living was her world. In the other she would die. He had warned
her. The gipsy faith in Providence had made him regard as a jest what
would be to her a sordid shift, an intolerable ugliness, stripping life
of its beauty. The passion-flower could not thrive in the hedge with the
dog-rose. It was true--mercilessly true. The craving of last night awoke
afresh, imperiously insistent. She walked blindly, tripped, and nearly
fell. A subconscious self hailed a passing hansom and gave the address.

What would become of her she knew not. She thought wildly of suicide as
the only possible escape. From her own world she was outcast. Its gates
were barred with gold and opened but to golden keys. She was penniless.
In this other world she would die. Love could not prevent her starving
on its diet of herbs. She clung to life, to the stalled ox, and recked
little of the hatred; but at the banquet she no longer had a seat. She
had said she would follow him in rags and barefoot over the earth. She
had not fingered the rags when she had made the senseless vow; she had
not tried her tender feet on the stones. She could have shrieked with
terror at the prospect. There was no way out but death.

The Garden of Enchantment faded from her mind like a forgotten dream.
The sweet Arcadian make-believe alone rose up in ironical mockery, a
scathing memory which seemed to flay the living heart of her. She sat
huddled together in a corner of the cab, tortured and desperate.
On either hand hung the doom of death. In the one case it would be
lingering: the soul would die first; the man she loved would be tied to
a living corpse; she would be a devastating curse to him instead of
a blessing. In the other she could leave him in the fulness of their
unsullied love. The years that the locust hath eaten would not stretch
an impassable waste between them. In his sorrow there would be the
imperishable sense of beauty. And for herself the quick end were better.

She was aroused to consciousness of external things by a husky voice
addressing her from somewhere above her head. The cab had stopped at
Connie’s house in Bryanston Square. She descended, handed to the man the
first coin in her purse that her fingers happened to grasp. He looked at
it, said that he was sorry he had not change for a sovereign. She
waved her hand vaguely, deaf to his words. The cabman, with a clear
conscience, whipped up his horse smartly and drove off.

A figure on the doorstep raised his hat.

“How delightful of you to arrive at the very moment, Miss Hardacre! I am
summoned back to America. I sail to-morrow. I was calling on the chance
of being able to bid you good-bye.”

Norma collected her scattered wits and recognised Theodore Weever. She
looked at him full in the eyes.

Her lips were parted; her breath came fast. He stretched out his hand
to press the electric button, so as to gain admittance to the house. She
touched his arm, restraining his action, and still stared at him.

“Wait,” she said at last. “I have something to say to you.”

“I am honoured,” he replied in his imperturbable way.

“Have you found your decorative wife, Mr. Weever?”

A sudden light shone lambently in his pale, expressionless blue eyes.

“Am I to understand that I can find her on Mrs. Deering’s doorstep?”

“If you look hard enough,” said Norma.

He took her hand and shook it with the air of a man concluding a
bargain.

“I felt sure of it,” he said. “I intended from the first to marry you.
I shall ever be your most devoted servant.’”

“I make one condition,” she said.

“Name it.”

“You don’t enter this house, and I sail with you to-morrow.”

“Certainly.”

“What train shall I catch and from what station shall I start?”

“The ten o’clock from Waterloo.”

She rang the bell.

“May I trouble you to book my passage?”

“It will be my happiness.”

“_Au revoir_,” she said, holding out her hand.

He raised his hat and walked away briskly. The door opened, and Norma
entered the house.



Chapter XXVIII--THE WORD OF ALINE

WHAT she wrote to him is no great matter.

Her letter, which he opened on coming down to breakfast the next
morning, filled many pages. It was a rhapsody of passionate love and
self-abasement, with frantic appeals for forgiveness. In its cowardice
there was something horribly piteous. Jimmie read it beneath the high
north window of the studio, his back turned towards Aline, who was
seated at the breakfast-table at the other end. For a long, long while
he stood there, quite still, holding the letter in his hand. Aline, in
wonder, stole up quietly and touched his arm. When he turned, she saw
that his face was ashen-grey, like a dead man’s.

The shock left its mark upon him. Physically it accomplished the work of
ten years, wiping the youth from his face and setting in its stead the
seal of middle age. It is common enough for grief or illness to lay its
hand on the face of a woman no longer young and shrivel up her beauty
like a leaf and set her free, old and withered. But with a man, who has
no such beauty to be marred, the case is rare.

For a week he remained silent. The two women who loved him waited in
patience until the time should come for their comforting to be of use.
From the very first morning he let no change appear in his habits,
but set his palette as usual and went on with the new picture that was
nearing completion. In the afternoon he went for a walk. Aline, going
down to the studio, happened to look at his morning’s work. For a moment
she was puzzled by what she saw, for she was familiar with his
methods. Gradually the solution dawned upon her. He had been painting
meaninglessly, incoherently, putting in splotches of colour that had
no relation to the tone of the picture, crudely accentuating outlines,
daubing here, there, and anywhere with an aimless brush. It was the work
of a child or a drunken man. Aline cast herself on the model-platform
and cried till she could cry no more. When he came back, he took a
turpentine rag and obliterated the whole picture. For days he worked
incessantly, trying in vain to repaint. Nothing would come right. The
elementary technique of his art seemed to have left him. Aline strove to
get him away. He resisted. He had to do his day’s work, he said.

“But you’re not well, dear,” she urged. “You will kill yourself if you
go on like this.”

“I’ve never heard of work killing a man,” he answered. Then after a
pause, “No. It’s not work that kills.”

At last the sleep that had failed him returned, and he awoke one morning
free from the daze in the brain against which he had been obstinately
struggling. He rose and faced the world again with clear eyes. When
Aline entered the studio to summon him to lunch, she found him painting
at the unhappy picture with his accustomed sureness of touch. He leaned
back and surveyed his handiwork.

“It’s going to be magnificent, is n’t it? What a blessing I wiped out
the first attempt!”

“Yes, this is ever so much better, Jimmie,” the girl replied, with tears
very near her eyes. But her heart swelled with happy relief. The aching
strain of the past week was over. She had dreaded break-down, illness,
and permanent paralysis of his faculties. The man she knew and loved had
seemed to be dead and his place taken by a vacant-eyed simulacrum. Now
he had come to life again, and his first words sounded the eternal chord
of hope and faith.

From that day onwards he gave no sign of pain or preoccupation. Only the
stamp of middle age upon his face betrayed the suffering through which
he had passed. He concerned himself about Aline’s marriage. Arrangements
had been made for it to take place on the same day as that of their
elders--a day, however, that Norma had never fixed. The recent
catastrophe had caused its indefinite postponement. Aline declared
herself to be in the same position as before, the responsibility of the
beloved’s welfare being again thrust upon her shoulders. She pleaded
with her lover for delay, and young Merewether, disappointed though he
was, acquiesced with good grace. At last Jimmie called them before
him, and waving his old briar-root pipe, as he spoke, delivered his
ultimatum.

“My dear children,” said he, standing up before them, as they sat
together on the rusty sofa, “you have the two greatest and most glorious
things in a great and glorious world, youth and love. Don’t despise
the one and waste the other. Get all the beauty you can out of life and
you’ll shed it on other people. You’ll shed it on me. That’s why I want
you to marry as soon as ever you are ready. You’ll let me come and look
at you sometimes, and if you are happy together, as God grant you will
be, that will be my great happiness--the greatest I think that earth has
in store for me. I have stood between you long enough--all that is over.
I shall miss my little girl, Tony. I should be an inhuman monster if I
didn’t. But I should be a monster never before imagined by a disordered
brain if I found any pleasure in having her here to look after me when
she ought to be living her life in fulness. And that’s the very end of
the matter. I speak selfishly. I can’t help it. I have a great longing
for joy around me once more. Go upstairs and settle everything finally
between you.”

When they had gone, he sighed. “Yes,” he said to himself, “a great
longing for joy--and the sound of the steps of little children.” Then he
laughed, calling himself a fool, and went on with his painting.

A day or two afterwards Connie Deering, who had been a frequent visitor
since Norma’s flight, walked into the studio while Jimmie was working.

“Don’t let me disturb you. Please go on,” she cried in her bright, airy
way. “If you don’t, I’ll disappear. I’ve only come for a gossip.”

Jimmie drew a chair near the easel and resumed his brush. She
congratulated him on the picture. It was shaping beautifully. She had
been talking about it last night to Lord Hyston, who had promised to
call at the studio to inspect it. Lord Hyston was a well-known buyer of
modern work.

“He is stocking a castle in Wales, which he never goes, near, with acres
of paint,” she said encouragingly. “So I. don’t see why you should n’t
have a look in.”

“Is there a family ghost in the castle?”

“I believe there are two!”

“That’s a blessing,” said Jimmie. “Some one, at any rate, will look at
the pictures.”

She watched him in silence for a minute or two. Then she came to the
important topic.

“So the two children have made up their minds at last.”

“Yes, they are to be married on the twenty-eighth of May.”

“Poor young things,” said Connie.

“Why poor?”

“I don’t know,” she said ‘with a sigh. “The subject of marriage always
makes me sad nowadays. I am growing old and pessimistic.”

“You are bewilderingly youthful,” replied Jimmie.

“Do you know how old I am?”

“I have forgotten how to do subtraction,” he said, thinking of his own
age.

“Yes. Of course you know. It’s awful. And Aline is--what--seventeen?”

“Eighteen.”

“You’ll be dreadfully lonely without her.”

“Lonely? Oh, no. I have my thoughts--and my memories.”

She looked at him fleetingly.

“I should have thought you would wish to escape from memories, Jimmie.”

“Why should I?”

“‘The sorrow’s crown of sorrows.’”

“I don’t believe in it,” he said, turning towards her. “What has been
has been. A joy that once has been is imperishable. Remembering happier
things is a sorrow’s crown of consolation. Thank God! I have had them to
remember.”

“Do you think she is finding consolation in memories?” She spoke with
sudden heat, for Norma’s conduct had filled her heart with blazing
indignation.

“I hope so,” said Jimmie dreamily, after a pause. “But she has not so
many as I. She loved me deeply. She had her hour--but I had my day.”

“If I were you, I should want never to think of her again.”

“Not if you were I, my dear Connie,” he said gently. “If either of us
was in the wrong, it was not she.”

“Rubbish,” said Mrs. Deering.

“No. It is the truth. She was made for kings’ palaces and not for this
sort of thing. I knew it was impossible from the first--but the joy
and wonder of it all blinded my eyes. She gave me the immortal part of
herself. It is mine for all eternity. I wrote to her a day or two ago--I
was not able at first. I could not sleep, you know; something seemed to
have gone wrong with my head.”

“You wrote to her?”

“To tell her not to be unhappy for my sake.”

“And you have forgiven her entirely?”

“Since our love is unchanged, how could I do otherwise?”

“But she has gone and thrown herself into the arms of another man--and
such a man!” said Connie, brusquely. A quiver of pain passed over his
face.

“Those are things of the flesh that the discipline of life teaches a man
to subdue. I think I am man enough for that. The others are things of
the spirit. If ever woman loved a man, she loved me. I thank God,” he
added in a low voice, “that she realised the impossibility before we
were married.”

“So do I; devoutly,” said Connie.

“It would have made all the difference.”

“Precisely,” said Connie.

“She would have been chained hand and foot to an intolerable existence.
She would have fretted and pined. Her life would have been an infinite
burden. Heaven’s mercy saved her.”

“I was n’t looking at it from her point of view at all,” exclaimed
Connie.

“Hers is the only one from which one can look at it,” he answered
gravely.

When she bade him good-bye some ten minutes later, she did not withdraw
the hand which he held. Her forget-me-not eyes grew pleading, and her
voice trembled a little.

“I wish I could comfort you, Jimmie--not only now, but in the lonely
years to come. But remember, dear, there is nothing on earth I would n’t
give you or do for you--nothing on earth.”

It was not till long afterwards that he fully comprehended the
meaning of her words; and then she herself prettily vouchsafed the
interpretation. For immediate answer he kissed her on the cheek in the
brotherly fashion in which he had kissed her twice before.

“What greater comfort,” said he, “can I have than to hear you say that?
I am a truly enviable man, Connie. Love and affection are showered upon
me in full measure. Life is very, very sweet.”

The next two or three weeks brought pleasant surprises which
strengthened his conviction. One by one old friends sought him out,
and, some heartily, others shamefacedly, extended to him the hand of
brotherhood. His evening at the Langham Sketch Club had inaugurated the
new order of things. The Frewen-Smiths, whose New Year party had marked
the epoch between child and woman in Aline’s life, invited the two
outcasts to dinner, and pointedly signified that they were the honoured
guests. Brother artists looked in casually on Sunday evenings. Their
wives called upon Aline, offering congratulations and wedding-gifts. A
lady whose portrait he had painted, and at whose house he had visited,
commissioned him to paint the portraits of her two children. The
ostracism had been removed. How this had been effected Jimmie could not
conjecture; and Tony Merewether and Connie Deering, who were the persons
primarily and independently responsible, did not enlighten him. By
Aline’s wedding-day all the old circle had gathered round him, and a
whisper of the true story had been heard in Wiltshire House.

Thus the world began to smile upon him, as if to make amends for the
anguish it could not remedy. He took the smile as a proof of the world’s
essential goodness. The great glory that for a day had made his life a
blaze of splendour had faded; the sun in his heaven had been eternally
eclipsed. But the lesser glory of the moon and stars remained undimmed;
the tenderness of twilight lost no tone of its beauty. He stood unshaken
in his faith, unchanged in himself--the strong, wise man looking upon
the earth and the fulness thereof with the unclouded eyes of a child.

The man whom he had most loved, the woman he had most worshipped, had
each failed him, had each brought upon him bitter and abiding sorrow.
They had passed like dead folks out of his daily life. Yet each retained
in his heart the once inhabited chambers. They were dear ghosts. His
incurable optimism in this wise brought about its consolation. For
optimism involves courage of a serene quality. Aline, with her swift
perception of him, had the opportunity of flashing this into an epigram.
There was a little gathering in the studio, and the talk ran on personal
bravery. Some one started the question: What would the perfectly brave
man do if attacked unarmed by a man-eating tiger?

“I know what Jimmie would do,” she cried. “He would try to pat the beast
on the head.”

There was laughter over the girl’s unchallenged championship, but those
who had ears to hear found the saying true.

The night before the wedding the two sat up very late, spending their
last hours together, and Aline sat like a child on Jimmie’s knee
and sobbed on his breast. The lover seemed a far-away abstraction, a
malevolent force rather than a personality, that was tearing her away
from the soil in which her life was rooted. Jimmie stroked her hair
and spoke brave words. But he had not realised till then the wrench of
parting. Till then, perhaps, neither had realised the strength of the
bond between them. They were both fervent natures, who felt intensely,
and their mutual affection had been a vital part of their lives. If
bright and gallant youth had not flashed across the girl’s path and,
after the human way, had not caught her wondering maidenhood in strong
young arms; if deeper and more tragic passion had not swept away the
mature man, it is probable that this rare, pure love of theirs might
have insensibly changed into the greater need one of the other, and the
morrow’s bells might have rung for these two. But as it was, no such
impulse stirred their exquisite relationship. They were father and
daughter without the barrier of paternity; brother and sister without
the ties of consanguinity; lovers without the lovers’ throb; intimate,
passionate friends with the sweet and subtle magic of the sex’s
difference.

“I can’t bear leaving you,” she moaned. “I can’t bear leaving the dear
beautiful life. I’ll think of you every second of every minute of every
hour sitting here all alone, alone. I don’t want to go. If you say the
word now, I’ll remain and it shall be as it has been for ever and ever.”

“I shall miss you--terribly, my dear,” said he. “But I’ll be the gainer
in the end. You’ll give me Tony as a sort of younger brother. I am
getting to be an old man, darling--and soon I shall find the need of
_les jeunes_ in my painting life. You can’t understand that yet. Tony
will bring around me the younger generation with new enthusiasms and
fresh impulses. It is to my very great good, dear. And if God gives you
children, I’ll be the only grandfather they’ll ever have, poor things,
and I’d like to have a child about me again. I have experience. I have
washed your chubby face and hands, _moi qui vous parle_, and undressed
you and put you to bed, my young lady who is about to be married.”

“Oh, Jimmie, I remember it--and I had to tell you how to do everything.”

“It seems the day before yesterday,” said Jimmie. “_Eheu fugaces!_”

The next day when she in her wedding-dress (a present from Connie
Deering) walked down the aisle on her husband’s arm and stole a shy
glance at him, radiant, full of the promise and the pride of manhood,
and met the glad love in his eyes, she forgot all else in the throbbing
joy of her young life’s completion. It was only afterwards when she was
changing her dress, with Connie Deering’s assistance, in her own little
room, that she became again conscience-stricken.

“You _will_ look after Jimmie while I am away, _won’t_ you?” she asked
tragically--they were going to the Isle of Wight for their honeymoon.

“I would look after him altogether if he would let me,” said Connie, in
an abrupt, emotional little outburst.

Aline drew a quick breath.

“What do you mean?”

Connie threw the simple travelling-hat, whose feathers she was daintily
touching, upon the bed.

“What do you think I mean?” she laughed nervously. “I’m not an old
woman. I’m as lonely as Jimmie will be--and--”

“What?”

“Oh!---only I’ve found out that I love Jimmie as much as a silly woman
can love anybody, if it’s any satisfaction to you to know it--and
you may be quite sure I’ll see that no harm comes to him during your
honeymoon, dear.”

The ensuing conversation nearly caused the bride to miss her train. But
no bride ever left her girlhood’s room more luminously happy. On the
threshold she turned and threw her arms round Connie Deering’s neck.

“I’ll arrange it all when I come back,” she whispered.

And Aline kept her word.



THE END





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