Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Valiant Ignorance; vol. 2 of 3 - A Novel in Three Volumes
Author: Dickens, Mary Angela
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 "A Valiant Ignorance; vol. 2 of 3 - A Novel in Three Volumes" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



                          A VALIANT IGNORANCE



                                   A

                           VALIANT IGNORANCE

                                A Novel

                                  BY
                          MARY ANGELA DICKENS

           AUTHOR OF “CROSS CURRENTS,” “A MERE CYPHER,” ETC.

                       “Thy gold is brass!”
                                   PRINCE HOHENSTIEL SCHWANGAU

                          _IN THREE VOLUMES_

                               VOL. II.

                                London

                            MACMILLAN & CO.
                             AND NEW YORK
                                 1894



                          A VALIANT IGNORANCE



CHAPTER I


The oppressive autumn weather continued for the next week and more, but
the atmosphere in the house at Chelsea gradually cleared; at least, the
electrical disturbances which had, as a matter of fact, culminated in
Julian’s departure for the club, subsided. As the days went on, Julian
gradually recovered his spirits. His temper, which had given way so
suddenly and completely under the strain put upon it by the
unprecedented thwarting to which he had been subjected, recovered its
careless easiness. The injured expression of moodiness disappeared
wholly from his face, and his manner resumed its buoyancy.

Nevertheless, the life of the present autumn was by no means the life of
the past spring. Partly, of course, the different framework was
responsible; life, especially at this particular moment, when winter
society was as yet hardly formed, consisted by no means wholly of a
social existence. It was, in fact, distinctly “slack” and heavy on
social lines as compared with the high pressure of the season; and the
introduction into the routine of life of a certain number of hours of
regular work on Julian’s part--the first practical acknowledgement in
the house in Queen Anne Street, that work had anything to do with
life--could not fail to alter the tone to some extent. But there was a
subtle change in Julian himself, which was hardly to be accounted for on
such broad lines. He had recovered his normal mental temperature,
indeed, but the interval of disturbance seemed to have had some
indefinable effect upon him. He had recovered himself--but it was
himself with a difference. It was almost impossible to narrow the
difference into words. To say that he was colder to his mother, or that
he stood deliberately aloof from her, would not have been true. But
there was a touch of independence about his whole personality which was
new to it; a certain suggestion of a separate life and separate
interests, such as must inevitably come to a man sooner or later, which
seemed to tinge his intercourse with her--superficially the same as it
remained--with something of carelessness, and even a hint of unconscious
patronage.

If the change was felt by Mrs. Romayne, she made no sign; or, at least,
entered no protest. After the little explanation which had taken place
in the railway carriage she had utterly ignored the cloud which his
moodiness had created; and she ignored its passing away. When Julian was
at home she was always bright and pleasant; always charmed to have him
with her; always ready to let him go. Her little jokes at his expense in
his new character of a worker were full of tact. Her playful allusions
to her own solitary days were always light and gay. Nevertheless, the
characteristics which the ten weeks of their absence from town had
brought to her face grew and intensified during the ten days that
followed their return. Her eyes grew more restless, her mouth more
sensitive, as though the strained, sharpened look of anxiety which
haunted her face during the hour which preceded Julian’s return, and
during the whole evening, when, as happened several times in the course
of that ten days, he dined out, went deep enough to leave lasting tokens
of its presence. Her questions as to his work, and the new friends, the
new haunts, consequent upon it, seemed to come from her lips--far less
self-confident in expression in these days--almost in spite of herself.
They were always uttered with a playfulness which hardly masked a slight
nervousness underneath; a nervousness which seemed to be a reminiscence
of that first evening.

She was sitting alone in her drawing-room one afternoon towards the end
of the second week of their return; she had a book in her hand, and a
tea-table before her. But she had neither poured herself out any tea,
nor could she be said to be reading. Every two or three minutes her
attention seemed to wander; her eyes would stray vaguely about the room,
and she would rise and move restlessly across it, to give some wholly
unnecessary touch to a drapery or a glass of flowers. Once she had
seated herself at her writing-table to begin a trivial note; but the
impulse had failed to carry her through, and she had returned to her
chair and her book. It was half-past four, and she was expecting
Julian. He had dined out on three consecutive nights, and was doing so
again to-night. And in reply to her laughing protest against “never
seeing him,” he had promised carelessly to come home and have afternoon
tea with her.

The door-bell rang at last, and as the drawing-room door opened she
lifted a smiling face with a gaily approving comment on his punctuality.

“Good boy!” she began. Then she broke off and laughed lightly, though
the brightness of her face suddenly ceased to be genuine.

The figure on the threshold was that of Marston Loring.

“Thank you,” he said; “I am glad you think so!”

“The observation was not intended for you, I’m sorry to tell you,”
returned Mrs. Romayne, as she rose to receive him. “And I’m afraid even
if I applied it to you, you would hardly condescend to accept it. How do
you do? When did you come back? Sit down and let me give you some tea.”

Loring sat down accordingly, with a mute witness in his manner of doing
so to a certain amount of intimacy both with the room and its mistress;
but that touch of admiring deference which had marked his demeanour
during the early stages of his acquaintance with Mrs. Romayne, was still
present with him, and was rendered only the more effective by the
familiarity with which it was now combined.

“Thanks,” he said; “a cup of tea is a capital idea. But I don’t think
it’s quite kind of you to say that I wouldn’t condescend to the epithet,
‘Good boy.’ I should like to have it applied to me of all things. It
would be such a novelty, and so wholly undeserved!”

He spoke in that tone of sardonic daring on which a great deal of his
social reputation rested, and Mrs. Romayne answered with a laugh.

“No doubt it would,” she said, with that very slight and unreal
assumption of reproof with which such a woman invariably treats the
tacit confessions of a man of Loring’s reputation. “You only want the
epithet, then, because you know you don’t deserve it.”

She handed him the tea as she spoke with a shake of her head, and added:

“But tell me, now, when did you come back, and where have you been?”

“I’ve been to the Engadine,” he answered; “why, I don’t know, unless
that for six weeks, at least, of my life I might fully appreciate the
charms of London! I don’t admire glaciers; snow mountains bore me;
altitudes are always more or less wearisome; and society _au naturel_ is
not to be tolerated. I reached town the day before yesterday.”

Marston Loring was faultlessly dressed. It was impossible to associate
his attire with anything but Piccadilly and the best clubs and the best
drawing-rooms. His face, with its half-cynical, half-wearied expression,
was, in its less individual characteristics, one of the typical faces of
the society of the day. His voice and manner, well-bred, callous, and
entirely unenthusiastic, were the voice and manner of that world where
emotion is so entirely out of fashion that its existence as an
ineradicable factor of healthy human nature is hardly acknowledged.

His presence and his cynical, cold-blooded talk seemed to do Mrs.
Romayne good. Her face and manner hardened slightly, as though her
nerves were braced, and something of the pinched, restless look of
anxiety faded.

“It’s very nice of you to come and see us so soon!” she exclaimed with
genuine satisfaction. “Town has really been abominably empty these last
ten days. I suppose we came back rather too soon, but it seemed time
that Julian should get to work. Really, I’ve hardly seen a soul.”

“It is a deadly time of year,” assented Loring, with a quick look at
her, “but I’m grateful to it if it makes my presence welcome to you. Of
course I called at once. I was rather afraid you might be still away.”

“We came back ten days ago,” answered Mrs. Romayne, accepting and
putting aside his little compliment with a mocking gesture, as a form of
words entirely conventional. “Julian has been quite lost without you.
He is looking very well, I think, and is working amazingly.”

The introduction of Julian’s name into the conversation had in neither
case come from Julian’s friend; but this time it appeared to strike
Loring as incumbent upon him to pursue the topic.

“The approving words with which you received me were intended for him, I
suppose,” he said carelessly. “You’re expecting him?”

There was a moment’s pause while Mrs. Romayne turned her head, as if
involuntarily, and listened intently; that haunted look coming suddenly
back into her eyes. The moment passed, and she turned to Loring again
with a quick, self-conscious glance, and an unreal laugh.

“I’m expecting him; yes,” she said. “I’m ridiculous enough to make that
very obvious, I’m afraid! I’m so glad he won’t miss you. He doesn’t
generally come in at this hour. This is a treat--for me!”

She laughed, and Loring said with mock solemnity of interest:

“Indeed!”

“I really had to be quite plaintive this morning,” she went on in the
same tone, “on the subject of not seeing him for four days except at
breakfast! He has made a good many new acquaintances already, it seems,
and has to dine out a good deal.”

“Really!” commented Loring. His tone was quite unmoved, and Mrs. Romayne
did not see the expression in his shrewd, shallow eyes, as she spoke--an
expression of amused curiosity. “He dines at his club, I suppose?” he
enquired indifferently after a moment.

“Yes; or at some ‘other fellow’s’ club,” laughed his mother. “Legal
institutions, I suppose!”

There was a brief silence; one of those silences which come when one
branch of a conversation is felt to be exhausted; and then Loring
finished his tea, put down his cup, and settled himself into a
comfortable attitude.

“I forget whether you were taken with the Ibsen craze last season, Mrs.
Romayne?” he said. “We shall all have to tie wet towels round our
heads--it won’t be becoming, I’m afraid--and give ourselves up to
solitary meditation, I hear! He is to be the thing this winter, they
tell me.”

“Ibsen?” repeated Mrs. Romayne reflectively; obviously searching in her
memory for some ideas to attach to the name, which she was as obviously
conscious of having heard before. “Ibsen? Oh, yes,” with a sudden flash
of inspiration, “oh, yes, of course; that ‘Dolls’ House’ man, that
everybody talked of going to see just at the end of the season.”

The first of those startling pictures of human nastiness which have
since exercised criticism to so great an extent, and which may or may
not be revelations, had taken a wonderful hold upon a certain section of
“society,” and had become, as Mrs. Romayne’s words implied, almost the
fashion in the preceding June. Society is always inclined to be literary
and intellectual, or rather, to an assumption of those qualities, in the
winter. It was with a sense of the absolute duty of priming herself
beforehand that Mrs. Romayne continued, with every appearance of the
deepest interest:

“Ah, no! I’m sorry to say I was never able to spare an evening.
Everybody told me all about it, though. It must have been awfully clever
and interesting. But, you see, just at that time one has so much on
hand! There was that dreadful bazaar, too. By-the-bye, have the Pomeroys
come back yet, do you know, Mr. Loring?”

Mr. Loring believed that they had not, and after a little discussion of
their probable plans, Mrs. Romayne returned to the subject of Ibsen.

“Are they going to bring out a new play of his, did you say?” she said
carelessly.

“So I hear,” answered Loring. “An extraordinary piece of work, with a
tremendous theory in it, of course. The idea is the influence of
heredity.”

Mrs. Romayne started slightly. A strange flash leapt up in her eyes, and
as it died out, quenched as it seemed by iron resolution, it left a
curious expression on her face; it was an expression in which a light
scorn--the normal attitude of the shallow, fashionable woman towards
deep questions of any kind--seemed to be battling indomitably for a
place against something which was hardly to be held at bay, by no means
to be suppressed.

“Heredity!” she said; and the ring of her voice matched the expression
of her face.

“It’s rather an interesting subject,” continued Loring indolently.
Scientific questions in their social aspects were just becoming
fashionable. “It’s wonderful how long we have stopped short at the
inheritance of Roman noses, and violent tempers, and plain facts of that
kind without getting to anything more subtle.”

“Yes; I suppose it is,” answered Mrs. Romayne. There was a hard
restraint in her voice, which Loring took for preoccupation and laid to
the account of her expectation of Julian. She was sitting with her back
to the light, and he could not see the expression of her face.

“It’s awfully consoling, don’t you know,” he went on in the same tone,
“to feel that one can lay all one’s little failings to the account of
some dead and gone ancestor, with a scientific mind. I don’t notice,
by-the-bye, that even the greatest and most enthusiastic scientists show
any tendency to refer their virtues and talents back. I presume they are
always self-developed.”

Mrs. Romayne laughed, as she was obviously intended to do; but her laugh
was rather harsh.

“Do you know, I think scientific men are a dreadful race!” she said.
“They think that they know so much better than everybody else, and that
what they know is so immensely important. As a rule, you know, it’s
about something that they really can’t know anything about, and if they
could, it would be a great deal better not to bother about it.”

She spoke with a confident, conclusive superiority, which is only
possible, perhaps, in that section of society to which knowledge and
brain-power are among the minor and entirely unimportant factors of
life--except when the knowledge is knowledge of the world, and the
brain-power that which has adapted itself to the requirements of
society. But the superiority in her tone rang strained and false. She
seemed to be forcing the attitude on herself even more than on Loring;
and there was a faint ring of defiance in her voice--utterly
inconsistent and incompatible with the words she spoke. The combination
was curiously suggestive of that consuming fear which denies the very
existence of that by which it is created.

Loring, however, was too fully occupied with a cynical appreciation of
the humorous aspect of the wholesale condemnation of learning by crass
ignorance to detect anything beneath the surface. An enigmatical smile
touched his lips.

“There’s a great deal of penetration in what you say,” he said. “Of
course, there would be! But I think you’re a little sweeping, perhaps,
when you say that they don’t really know anything. Take heredity, for
instance; it’s an actual fact, capable of demonstration, that----”

But Loring’s eloquence was broken short off. At that moment the door
opened, and Julian Romayne came into the room.

Mrs. Romayne started to her feet at the sight of him with a strange,
hardly articulate sound, which was almost a gasp of relief, though it
passed unnoticed by either of the two men, as Julian advanced quickly to
Loring.

“How are you, old man?” he said pleasantly. “Awfully glad to see you
back again.”

“This is the reward of merit, you see!” said Mrs. Romayne, as Loring
replied, in the same tone. “You come home to tea with your mother, and
you find a friend! Will you have some tea, sir?”

Her face was still a little odd, and unusual-looking, especially about
the eyes; and the touch which she laid upon Julian, as if to enforce her
words, was strangely clinging and nervous in its quick pressure.

The talk drifted in all sorts of directions after that; all more or less
personal, either to the speakers, or to mutual acquaintances. As the
moments passed, Loring’s eyes were fixed once or twice, with momentary
intentness, on the younger man. That new touch of independence about
Julian did not belong only to his manner with his mother. It was just
perceptible towards the friend whom he had hitherto admired with boyish
enthusiasm.

Loring rose to go at last, and as he did so he turned to Julian.

“If it were not that I don’t like to propose your deserting Mrs.
Romayne,” he said, “I should ask you if you wouldn’t come and keep me
company over a lonely dinner at the club, Julian? I suppose you don’t
want to get rid of him, by any chance?” he continued, turning to Mrs.
Romayne.

Mrs. Romayne and Julian laughed simultaneously; Julian with a little
touch of embarrassment.

“I’m sure my mother has no objection to getting rid of me,” said Julian
rather hastily; “but, unfortunately, I’m engaged.”

“Engaged!” said Loring. “Lucky fellow, to have engagements at this time
of year!”

His tone was a little satirical, and Julian, who was following him out
of the room, flushed slightly. His colour was still considerably deeper
than usual when he dashed upstairs after seeing Loring out, and put his
head in at the drawing-room door.

“I’m afraid I must be off directly, dear,” he said carelessly. “I was
awfully sorry to get in so late, but Allardyce wanted me.”

An hour later, Julian was dining at a restaurant, dining simply, and
dining alone. Having finished his dinner, and smoked a cigarette,
glancing once or twice at his watch as he did so, he took his hat and
coat and strolled out. It was nearly a quarter past eight, and the only
light was, of course, the light of the street-lamps and the gas in the
shop windows.

He passed along Piccadilly, not quickly, but with the deliberate
intention of a man who has a definite destination, until he came to a
certain side-street. Then he turned out of Piccadilly, and slackening
his steps, sauntered slowly up on the right-hand pavement. He had walked
up to the end of the street, casting sundry glances back over his
shoulder as he did so, and was turning once more, as though to saunter
down the street again, when the figure of a woman entered at the
Piccadilly end. As soon as he saw her, Julian threw away his cigar, and
quickening his steps, went to meet her.

The face she raised to his was the face of the girl on whose behalf he
had interfered in Piccadilly ten days before, and her first words were
uttered in the soft, musical voice that had thanked him then.

“Have you been waiting?” she said; “I’m sorry.”

The tone of the few words with which he answered, together with the
expression with which he looked at her, showed as clearly as volumes of
explanation could have done where and how the new Julian was being
developed.

“Only a minute or two,” he said. “A lonely fellow like me doesn’t mind
waiting a few minutes for the chance of a talk, as I’ve told you
before.”

She looked up at him with simple, pitying eyes, and a certain
wistfulness of expression, too.

“It seems so sad!” she said softly. “But you’ll make friends in London
soon, I’m sure. Have you been working very hard to-day?”

“Have you been working very hard, is the more important question?” he
said, turning his eyes away from those candid brown ones, with, to do
him justice, a certain passing shame in his own. “I’m afraid there’s no
need to ask that! You look awfully tired, Clemence!”

She shook her head with a pretty, brisk movement of reassurance.

“Oh, no!” she said, “it’s not been at all a hard day. It never seems
hard, you know, when we don’t have to stay late, unless something goes
wrong in the work-room; and I don’t think that happens very often.”

There was a simple, genuine content in the tone and manner in which the
words were spoken, which, taken in conjunction with the colourlessness
of the face, the tired look about the eyes, and the poor, worn dress,
told a wonderful little story of patience and serenity of spirit.

All that Julian Romayne knew of Clemence Brymer--the brief and very
simple outline of her life as she had told it to him--was comprised in a
few by no means uncommon facts. She was a “hand” in one of the big
millinery establishments, and had worked at the same place for the last
two years. Before that time she had lived from her childhood first with
a married brother, and then, when he died, with his widow and children.
From a certain touch of reserve in her manner of speaking of those
particular years, Julian had gathered that they had been hard ones. The
marriage of the brother’s widow, and her departure to Australia, had
left Clemence alone in London. Her parents, she told Julian, had come
from Cambridgeshire; and one of her faint recollections of her father,
who had died when she was only five years old, was of sitting on his
knee in their little attic room in London, and being told by him about
his country home. Her mother had died when she was a baby; and all her
scanty recollections seemed to centre round the father, who, as she said
simply, had been “a very good man.”

The simple trust and confidence in her face as she raised it to Julian
now was a curious contrast to the nervous, half-frightened uncertainty
of her glance at him on that night in the spring when they had shared
for those two or three minutes the shelter of the same portico. But
paradoxical as it seems at first, both expressions were the outcome, on
different lines, of the same moral characteristic. Clemence, though
there was that about her--as her face testified--which kept her, in all
unconsciousness and innocence, strangely aloof and apart from her world,
had not spent her life in London without learning to know its dangers.
But the very purity which made the glances which she was forced to
encounter in the streets at night a distress to her; which made the very
proximity of an unknown “gentleman” an uneasiness to her; which made
theoretical evil, in short, a terror to her; rendered her singularly
incapable of recognising its existence on any but the baldest lines. Her
confidence was quickly won because, though she was conscious of a world
of evil about her, it was as a something large, and black, and obvious
that she regarded it. Brought into contact with herself, anything
fair-seeming was touched by the whiteness of her own temperament; and,
with such unconscious extraneous aid, the thinnest veil was enough to
hide from her anything behind. Her confidence once won, might be
destroyed, but could hardly be shaken. Something in Julian’s face and
manner had won it for him, and the outline of his circumstances which he
had given her had won him something else--her pity.

Exactly by what motive he had been actuated in his statements to her,
Julian would have found it rather hard to say; as a matter of fact he
never asked himself the question. Before the end of their first walk
together he had presented himself to her as a medical student living
entirely alone in London, having no female friends, or even
acquaintances, and wearying often of the rough masculine companionship
of his fellows. On these grounds he had asked her when they parted at
the end of a little poverty-stricken street near the farther end of the
Hammersmith Road, whether he might meet her now and again and walk home
with her. She had hesitated for an instant, and then had assented, very
simply.

“You haven’t had to work late for four nights now,” she said, as they
turned their backs upon Piccadilly and began to walk steadily in the
opposite direction. “Shall you have to to-morrow night, do you think?”

She lifted her eyes to his face as she spoke, and as he looked down and
met them it would have been clear to an onlooker what was the charm that
those long evening walks possessed for Julian. In the girl’s clear eyes
there was admiration and absolute reliance. In the look with which he
answered them there was conscious superiority and protection.

Just at the moment when he was sore and smarting with a sense of
humiliation and futility; when in his newly-aroused angry discontent all
intercourse with women of his own class had become a farce and an
inanity to him; accident had thrown it into his power to create for
himself, as it were, a world in which all that had suddenly revealed
itself as lacking in his actual life should be lavished upon him. For
his acquaintance of Piccadilly he had absolutely no surroundings, except
such as he chose to give himself. The Julian Romayne of society, the
nonentity, the “figure-head,” as he had muttered angrily to himself, had
no existence for her. It was Julian’s own private Julian, a personality
developed side by side with the sudden and violent re-adjustment of his
conception of his relations with the world, who was looked up to,
listened to, respected, and deferred to during the hour’s walk which lay
between that side-street out of Piccadilly and a certain little street
out of the Hammersmith Road. A vague, undefined craving for pre-eminence
and admiration had risen in him with his realisation of his dependence,
and the reflected nature of the light with which he shone in society. To
a weak nature in which that craving has once stirred it matters little
by what means it is met, so that it is to some extent satisfied.

The walk of to-night was a repetition of the walks that had preceded it;
the talk a little more intimate and a little more personal in tone than
any of its predecessors, as that of each of the latter in its turn had
been.

In the course of the day something had occurred to remind Clemence of
her father and her father’s old home, and in intervals of Julian’s talk
about himself, she told him a good deal about her thoughts of that
little country place; of how there had been Brymers here for generations
and generations.

“You must have been Puritans once,” said Julian, laughing, as he often
laughed, at some little grave turn of her speech as he looked into the
sweet, serious face. Work-girl as she was, she seemed to have acquired
neither the talk nor the voice of her kind. The simple form of her
words, her accent, and her gentle voice, seemed to belong to a past,
quiet and full of a modest dignity of which the London of the nineteenth
century hardly knows. “You would have made an awfully jolly little
Puritan, Clemence!”

“I don’t know,” she said simply; “I was so little when father died. But
he felt it dreadfully, I’ve heard, when he came to London; it nearly
broke his heart.”

“Why did he do it, then?” said Julian lightly.

“He thought he ought,” returned the girl. “You see, there was nothing
to do at Feldbourne--nothing but ploughing, and country things, you
know. And father thought a man ought to do something--that everything
was meant to go on and get better, you know--and that every man ought to
help, ought to work. So, of course, he was obliged to come, you see.”

They had come to the end of the road now, where they always said good
night, and as she spoke she was standing still, looking simply into his
face. He looked at her for a moment with something in his eyes which
seemed to be struggling vaguely into life side by side with the careless
mockery of his “set.”

“He was obliged to come, because he thought he ought,” he said. “Do you
always do what you think you ought, Clemence?”

“I try,” she said simply. “Every one tries, I suppose.”

He laughed--the laugh that was so like his mother’s--but not quite so
freely as usual, and held out his hand.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “Good night, Clemence.”

“Good night,” she said.

He hesitated a moment. He never went to meet her without a firm and
definite intention of sealing their parting with a kiss. But he had
never done so yet, and he did not do it now.

“Good night,” he said again, rather lamely; and then they parted, she
going quickly and quietly down the street, he passing out of it into the
noise and bustle of the Hammersmith Road.

Once there, he paused as though undecided.

“It’s too early to go home,” he said to himself. “I’ll go down to the
club for a bit.”

There were a good many men in the club-room when he entered it half an
hour later--and Julian--quite another young man to the Julian who had
walked to the Hammersmith Road--was discussing the latest society topic
with much animation over a whisky and seltzer, when Loring, to whom he
had nodded at the other end of the room, strolled up to him, cigar in
hand.

“Dinner been a failure?” he enquired.

There was nothing particular about the words; and the tone in which they
were uttered was singularly, almost significantly, devoid of expression.
But there was a keen, satirical expression in his eyes as he fixed them
on Julian.

Julian started slightly at the words, and a curious flash of expression
passed across his face.

“More or less,” he said, with a careless frankness that seemed just a
trifle excessive.

“Who was the man?”

“I don’t think you know him,” said Julian, his carelessness bordering on
defiance.

Loring smiled. His smile was never particularly pleasant, and at this
moment it was unusually cynical.

“I know a good many men, too,” he observed.



CHAPTER II


The slight alteration in Julian of which Marston Loring was conscious,
and a subtly evinced consequence of that alteration--namely, that
intimacy with the son no longer involved of necessity even an
introduction, far less intimacy, at the mother’s house--had no effect
whatever upon Loring’s relation with Mrs. Romayne, unless, indeed, it
might be said to emphasize his position as friend of the house. During
the three weeks which followed immediately upon his first call after his
return to town, he saw at least as much of Mrs. Romayne as he had done
in the course of any previous three weeks since Julian’s first
introduction of him; though the young man was no longer an obvious and
tangible link between them. He dined in Queen Anne Street a few days
after his return, but except on that occasion it chanced that he hardly
ever met Mrs. Romayne and Julian together. He met the latter often
enough at one or other of the clubs, or about town. On the former he
called, as in duty bound, after the dinner, and again and yet again at
short intervals. She had consulted him about a purchase of old oak, with
which she wished to surprise Julian, and the purchase seemed to
necessitate in his eyes frequent consultation. He also happened to meet
her once or twice when she herself was paying calls.

She was always, apparently, pleased to see him. More pronounced,
perhaps, when she met him among other people than when she received him
alone, but still always more or less present, there was a certain eager,
unconscious assertion of something like intimacy with him about her
manner. Marston Loring was quick to observe the new note, and he prided
himself likewise on the caution with which he refused to allow it even
the value he believed it to possess. He caught her quick recognition of
his presence; her tendency to draw him always into the conversation in
which she happened to be engaged; the tacit assumption of mutual
interests and understanding lurking in her voice; and he sifted and
dismissed these things, cynically, as probably meaningless. But astute
as he was, he never thought of them in connection with the constant
references to Julian; the questions as to Julian’s doings; with which
her conversations with him were full. Of these latter he took hardly any
account--except for an occasional sardonic smile. Clever as he thought
himself, there were vast tracts of human nature to which he had no clue,
in the very existence of which he disbelieved; consequently, it was not
surprising that he should now and then mistake cause for effect.

At about noon on a bright, cold October day he got out of a hansom at
twenty-two, Queen Anne Street, with a certain cynical expectancy on his
face. The weeks which had passed since Mrs. Romayne and Julian returned
to town on that close September day had brought on winter, and had
settled winter society fairly into its grooves; and on the previous
evening Marston Loring and Mrs. Romayne had met at a dinner-party. Mrs.
Romayne had been alone. To enquiries made for her son, and regrets at
his absence, she had replied, with a gaiety which became absolutely
feverish as the evening wore on, that he was unfortunately engaged.
Throughout the evening, as though some kind of strain were acting upon
her self-control, all the characteristics of her demeanour towards
Loring had been slightly exaggerated. Loring had detected, before he had
exchanged two sentences with her, that she was not herself; that she was
unstrung and nervous; and arguing on totally false premises he had come
to a totally false conclusion. She had pressed him restlessly about the
commission he was doing for her, and he had twisted it this morning into
an excuse for coming to see her when he knew she would be at home.

“It is an unheard-of hour, I know,” he said, as she rose to receive him
with an exclamation of surprise. “But I want a little more detail, and
one or two measurements, before I can execute your orders
satisfactorily.”

He had seen before she spoke that the weakness of the night before, from
whatever cause it had arisen, had passed away; the lines about her face
were set into a determined, uncompromising cheerfulness, and her voice
as she spoke conveyed the same impression.

“It is more than kind of you, and I am very glad to see you,” she said.
“I’m always glad to see Julian’s friend, you know.” The last words with
a laugh. “You don’t happen to have met him this morning, I suppose?”

Loring signified, without a hint of sarcasm, that it was more common not
to meet the man one would wish to meet in the Temple than to meet him,
and Mrs. Romayne laughed again.

“I know,” she said. “But one gets an absurd impression that men doing
the same thing in the same place must be always coming across one
another. It’s very ridiculous, of course. You and he have always had a
knack of finding one another out, though. I suppose you are quite one
another’s greatest chums, aren’t you? Is ‘chum’ still the word,
by-the-bye?”

“I believe so,” returned Loring carelessly. “Yes,” he continued in a
different tone, “I don’t know when I’ve taken to any one as I took to
Julian.”

There was a little gesture, half-mocking, half involuntary, which
accepted the words as a personal compliment, and Mrs. Romayne said with
a smile:

“You are a curious pair of friends, too, are you not? Julian”--her voice
in uttering the name seemed to have acquired a new tenderness in the
past month, and lingered over it now, evidently unconsciously and
involuntarily--“Julian is such a boy, and you are--a great deal older
than you ought to be.”

She shook her head at him with a reproving laugh, and he answered in his
most _blasé_ manner:

“I’m a man of the world, you see. I knew it all through and through
before Julian had left school. I hope you wouldn’t have preferred
another boy for his ‘chum’!”

There was a daring and a challenge in his tone which made the question
personal rather to himself than to Julian; but Mrs. Romayne took it from
the other point of view.

“Quite the contrary!” she said quickly. “Another boy would not have been
at all the thing for him. I am delighted to think that his mentor is a
wise one. I rely on you, Mr. Loring, do you know!”

She stopped abruptly. The last words, uttered suddenly and
involuntarily, had seemed curiously charged with a meaning which could
not get itself expressed. She paused an instant and then, half as though
she wished to laugh some impression away, half as though she wished the
words to have significance, she added:

“You’ll remember that, won’t you? Shall we go down and see about the
fittings?”

She rose as she spoke and led the way down to Julian’s room. The room
was already as perfect as might be. Only a great restlessness, an
irrepressible and incessant impulse to give pleasure to its occupant,
could have dictated further improvements; and as Mrs. Romayne talked and
explained, the same restless instinct of service expressed itself in
sundry little involuntary touches to trifles about the room--about
Julian’s chair and his writing-table.

The door-bell rang at length, and her face, over which that new and
weaker expression had stolen, hardened suddenly.

“I’m afraid I must send you away now!” she said, turning to Loring.
“I’ve made an appointment for this morning to get through some bothering
business. You understand now just what I want, though, don’t you?”

“I think so!” answered Loring reflectively. It would have been strange
indeed if he had not understood by this time. “But I’m sorry I must go!”

“I’m sorry too!” said Mrs. Romayne lightly. “I hate business, and it
loses none of its solemnity, I can assure you, when it is transacted by
my connexion, Dennis Falconer. He is my trustee, you know!”

Loring smiled. He did not detect anything behind her words, and it
struck him always as perfectly natural that Mrs. Romayne and her
“connexion” should be somewhat antagonistic. “I should imagine he would
be a rather ponderous man of business!” he said.

The parlour-maid entered at this moment to announce that Mr. Dennis
Falconer was in the drawing-room, and as they left the room Mrs.
Romayne turned again to Loring.

“To tell you the truth I find him rather ponderous at all times!” she
said with a laugh. “Didn’t you say once that altitudes were oppressive?
Well, I must go and be oppressed!”

She held out her hand as she spoke, and then paused.

“Oh, by-the-bye,” she said, “Julian wants you to come and dine one day
next week--only he’s so much engaged. Which day will suit you?”

“Thanks!” answered Loring. “I shall be charmed!” His face was quite
impassive as he spoke, but he was wondering nevertheless whether Julian
had as yet heard of the invitation. From what he had observed lately, he
fancied that Julian had reasons of his own for avoiding home
engagements. “I am engaged on Tuesday and Thursday,” he continued, “but
on any other day I shall be delighted. Did Julian have a successful
evening yesterday?”

Mrs. Romayne had explained to him on the previous night with forced
merriment that her son was “dining with a fellow, he says!”

“Yes, I think so!” she answered lightly. “I don’t know which ‘fellow’ it
was, you know. Well, then, I will send you a note.”

They had moved out into the hall as they talked, and now as she paused
at the foot of the stairs he shook hands again, and went out of the
house as she turned and went up to the drawing-room. Dennis Falconer was
standing waiting by the fire.

“Most punctual of men!” she said airily as they shook hands. “How do you
do?”

Dennis Falconer had by this time had five months of inaction and
ill-health, and the fact that he was heartily weary of both by no means
served to soften the natural tendency of his manner towards reserve and
severity. In settling down to London life for the winter, too, the fact
that he was no longer a new lion gave an added tinge of monotony to
existence for him, honestly unconscious as he was of this truth. The
days went very heavily with him; he was conscious of having come to a
dreary bit of his life’s journey, and he endured it conscientiously--if
with rather self-conscious self-respect. An added gravity and silence
seemed to him under the circumstances by no means to be deprecated.

Under these circumstances the contrast between him and Mrs. Romayne as
they exchanged the trivialities of the situation was inexpressible, and
it was not surprising that they touched almost instantly upon the
business which was the cause of their interview. It was not a long
affair; it turned upon Mrs. Romayne’s desire to have rather more ready
money at her command; and Dennis Falconer, having explained the
situation to her; having stated his views, evidently conscientiously
compelled thereto; and having entered a formal protest against her
instructions; returned to his pocket the notebook to which he had been
referring as if to emphasize the close of the matter. Then he paused.

Mrs. Romayne had drawn a quick, slight breath of relief at his action,
but the breath seemed to suspend itself for an instant on this pause,
and the eyes with which she watched his were very bright and intent.

“As your only near relative,” he began with formal gravity, “and as your
son’s only near relative, I feel myself bound to take this opportunity
of approaching a subject which has been in my thoughts for some time.
Any man of ordinary knowledge and experience of the world, having regard
only to the most ordinary circumstances, would tell you that so large an
allowance as you make your son is not an advisable thing for any young
man.”

Mrs. Romayne had listened with her expression veiled and repressed into
an intent vigilance, and as he finished a dull flush--which was none the
less hot and significant because it had not the vivid intensity of the
angry flush of youth--crept into her face, and her eyes glittered. Her
tone as she spoke witnessed to a strong self-control, and an intense
determination not to abandon her position or to lessen by one jot the
distance she had set between them.

“I am sorry you think so!” she said carelessly.

“I think so, emphatically,” he returned. “I should think so for any
young man. For William Romayne’s son----”

Mrs. Romayne had been gathering up some papers from the table with
light, careless movements; she rose now rather suddenly but still
carelessly. What seemed to him almost shameful callousness quickened
Falconer into what he thought a righteous disregard for all
conventionality.

He too rose, but his movement was no response to hers; rather it seemed
to crush and dominate its suggestion of easy dismissal with the
implacable austerity of a reality not to be put aside. He stood looking
at her, forcing her, by the suddenly asserted superiority of his man’s
determination and mental weight, to meet his grave, condemning eyes.

“Does your son know what his father was?” he said in a low, stern voice.

He had forced down the barrier, he had annihilated the distance, and she
faced him with glittering eyes, that dull flush all over her face, its
mask gone.

“No!” she said, and from her hard, defiant voice, also, all
artificiality had dropped away.

“He knows nothing of his danger; he has no safeguards, and he has money
at his command which would be temptation to any young man. Think what
you are doing!”

For a couple of seconds they confronted one another, separated by no
conventionalities, man and woman, with the common memory of a common
horror between them, holding them together in spite of every obstacle
which temperament and habit, mental and moral, could interpose.

Then with a tremendous effort the woman’s strength reasserted itself,
and by sheer force of her will she thrust away the horrible reality
which he had forced upon her. She laughed.

“I really don’t know what we are talking about!” she said. “I am sure
you mean most kindly as to my spoilt boy’s allowance, but we won’t
trouble to discuss it! So good of you to take the trouble to think of
it--and so unnecessary!”

For a moment Falconer gazed at her almost petrified with amazement and
disgust. His perceptive and imaginative faculties had not developed with
the passing of years; his mental processes were slow; and for all their
ghastly exaggeration he accepted the careless, shallow artificiality of
her tone and manner, and the smiling unfeelingness of the rebuff she had
given him, exactly as they appeared upon the surface. It was some
seconds, even, before he thoroughly realised how ruthlessly and
completely she had imputed to him all the attributes of a meddler; and
as he did so an added distance touched the uncompromising sternness
which had gradually settled down upon his face.

“I beg your pardon!” he said, and the formal, unmeaning words seemed, in
their enforced condescension to her level, to carry with them a lofty
condemnation which was even contempt. “Good day!” he added stiffly; and
then, not seeing, apparently, the hand she extended to him with a hard,
smiling “Good-bye,” he left the room.

Mrs. Romayne’s face remained curiously blanched-looking all the
afternoon, as though she had received some kind of shock. She spent the
afternoon in paying calls, and whenever she returned alone to her
carriage there crept back into her eyes--bright and eager as she talked
and laughed--a certain haunting questioning, not to be driven quite
away by any simulation of gaiety.

As her afternoon’s work drew to a close, her eyes were no longer quite
free from it, even as she made her attractive conversation, and when she
rose to bring her last visit to an end she was looking very tired. She
was just shaking hands with her hostess when Mrs. Halse was announced.

To spare herself one iota of what she considered her social duty--even
when that duty took the form of civility to a woman she disliked--was
not Mrs. Romayne’s way. With exactly the exclamation of pleasure and
surprise which the situation demanded she waited, pleasantly desirous of
exchanging greetings with the new-comer, while Mrs. Halse bore down
vociferously upon the mistress of the house. Mrs. Halse had only very
recently returned to town, and there was all the excitement of novelty
about her appearance. She was a good deal louder even than usual, partly
as the result of this excitement, and partly as the result of absence
from town; and she had also grown considerably stouter. Announcements
of this fact, lamentations, and explanations mingled with her greetings
of her hostess, and were still upon her lips when she turned to Mrs.
Romayne.

“Abominable, isn’t it?” she said, pouring out her words as fast as they
would come, and without waiting for any answers. “Such a trial! I
suppose I shall have to go in for Turkish baths or something horrible of
that sort. And how is everybody? How is that wicked young man of yours,
Mrs. Romayne? I heard of his goings on at the Ponsonbys’! By-the-bye, do
tell him that Hilda Newton is engaged to be married. So good for him! No
doubt he thinks she is pining away. A very good match, too--young
Compton; rich and good-looking; rather a fool, but don’t tell Master
Julian that.”

Master Julian’s mother was smiling so charmingly that it was with some
difficulty that Mrs. Halse, who, with the assistance of Miss Newton, had
guessed the substance of the conversation which had actually taken place
between the mother and son in the railway carriage during their journey
from Norfolk, had some slight difficulty in restraining the
ejaculation, “Cat!”

“Really!” was the suave answer. “Miss Newton is really engaged, and so
well. So glad! Such a charming girl! Yes, I’ll tell Julian, certainly.
His heart will be broken--temporarily. Fortunately his fancies are as
ephemeral as they are numerous. Good-bye! So glad to have seen you.”

She pressed Mrs. Halse’s hand cordially as she spoke, and pursued her
graceful way to the door.

Julian was dining out again that night, and her lonely evening
apparently affected his mother’s nerves. At any rate, Julian received a
message the next morning--a Sunday--to the effect that she had slept
badly and was resting, but would see him at lunch, and at lunch-time
accordingly she appeared.

She laughed at his half-careless, half-affectionate enquiries, calling
herself quite rested and quite well. And after his first enquiries as to
her health, Julian relapsed into rather moody silence--silence with
which his mother had apparently nothing to do. That tone of independence
which had come to him, and which was sometimes hardly perceptible,
could hardly have been more strongly evidenced than by his one or two
spasmodic efforts to pass out of his own life--where something was
evidently not to his liking--into the life they shared.

Such a state of things is always more or less disturbing to the mental
atmosphere; more or less according to the sensitiveness of the person
upon whom it acts; and as Mrs. Romayne sat opposite Julian the furtive
glances which she cast at his moody, preoccupied face became more and
more anxious and restless. A tentative, uncertain tone in her manner of
dealing with him, which had developed during the last month, increased
moment by moment; and her voice and laugh as she chatted to
him--ignoring his indifferent reception of her little bits of
news--became moment by moment more forced and unreal. That her nerves
and her self-control were not so reliable as they had once been was
evident in the fact that she took refuge--as was not unusual with her in
these days--in painful exaggeration.

Her bright little flow of talk stopped at last, however; and Julian
making no attempt to fill the gap, there was total silence. It was
broken again by Mrs. Romayne, and she was talking now, evidently, for
talking’s sake, as though she was no longer capable of weighing her
words; but, in her intense desire to penetrate the vague atmosphere
which she could not challenge, was making her advances blindly.

“I met Mrs. Halse yesterday,” she began gaily. “Did I tell you?
Fortunately I only encountered her for a few moments, or I doubt whether
I should be alive to tell the tale.”

She paused, and Julian smiled absently. They had finished lunch, and he
had risen and strolled to the fire with a cigarette, and he was thinking
vaguely, as her voice broke in upon his meditations--or perhaps rather
feeling than thinking--that his mother was rather artificial. All
society women were artificial, he had thought once or twice lately; and
the word was acquiring a new significance to him.

“She bestowed an immense amount of conversation upon me in the course of
those few minutes!” continued Mrs. Romayne in the sprightly tone which
her son was beginning to hear for the first time as something jarring.
“Amongst other things she told me a little piece of news which will
interest you.”

“Yes?” said Julian indifferently.

A fellow didn’t always want to be entertained, he was saying to himself
irritably; it was a nuisance. His thoughts had wandered completely, and
he was going over a fruitless hour which he had spent alone walking up
and down a certain side-street off Piccadilly, on the previous
evening--an hour which was accountable for his gloomy humour this
morning--when he became aware of his mother’s voice saying with
insistent gaiety:

“Well, sir, aren’t you broken-hearted?”

Julian started and made a futile effort to realise what his mother had
said. The necessity for the effort and its failure proved by no means
soothing to him, and he said rather impatiently:

“I’m awfully sorry, mother, but I’m afraid I didn’t hear.”

“He didn’t hear!” echoed Mrs. Romayne in mock appeal to heaven and
earth to witness the fact. She, too, had made an effort and a failure,
and the result with her was to increase her nervous recklessness. “Five
weeks ago he was ready to eat his poor little mother because she
prevented his proposing to this young woman, and now when I tell him
she’s engaged he doesn’t even hear! Perhaps you’ve forgotten Hilda
Newton’s very existence, my lord! Who is her successor?”

Julian flushed angrily, and his good-looking face took a sullen
expression.

“She’s not likely to have a successor, as you call it,” he said. “A
fellow doesn’t care to have that kind of thing happen twice.”

His mother broke into a thin, nervous laugh.

“You don’t mean to say it rankles still!” she said gaily. “Is this the
reason of your devotion to work and ‘fellows’? You silly old boy, you
ought to be thoroughly glad of your escape by this time! I think I shall
follow Dennis Falconer’s advice, and cut down your allowance to teach
you reason. Shall I?”

The jest, dragged in as it was, had a forced ring about it; perhaps it
bore all-unconscious testimony to the oppressively insistent power of
that haunting questioning of yesterday. But Julian, knowing nothing of
this, was simply conscious of ever-increasing irritation from her voice
and manner.

“I don’t see what business my allowance is of Dennis Falconer’s!” he
said gruffly. And then side by side with his growing sense of his
mother’s artificiality, there grew in him an overmastering desire for
another woman’s presence--a simple presence, to which social subtleties
and affectation were unknown. Why hadn’t Clemence met him yesterday
evening? How could he tell when he would see her again? To-morrow he
could not meet her. Then his reflections paused, as it were, absorbed in
a vague sense of discomfort and discontent, until a fresh thought stole
across them; a thought which presented itself by no means for the first
time that day.

Why should he not go and see her this afternoon? After all, why should
he not? He never had done such a thing, but--did it mean so much as it
seemed to mean? And if it did? Why not?

“I don’t see either,” his mother said; and Julian smiled grimly as he
thought how little she knew the question she was answering. “It’s our
business, isn’t it? And it’s my private business to find you a nice
wife--not yours at all, you understand.” These last words with a laugh.
“She must be pretty, I suppose--good style at any rate--and she must be
rich, and she must have the makings of a good hostess in her. Really, I
think I must begin to look her out. Don’t you think----”

Julian interrupted her. He was hardly conscious that he was doing so; he
had hardly heard her words; but the atmosphere of the perfectly
appointed room, with its artificial mistress, had suddenly become
absolutely intolerable to him, and he had answered his own question
suddenly and recklessly.

“I’m going out, mother,” he said. “I’ve got some calls to make, and it’s
getting late. You won’t go out this afternoon, I know. Good-bye.”

He was gone almost before she had realised that he was going.

To Mrs. Romayne it was a repetition of their first evening at home
together in the autumn. The nervous excitement under which she had been
acting died suddenly away, and she realised what had happened; realised
it, and sat for a moment staring at it, as it were, her hands clenched
on the tablecloth, her face haggard and drawn.

To Julian it was no repetition. It was a new departure, sudden and
unpremeditated, and as he walked away from his mother’s house his face
was alight and eager with excitement and determination.



CHAPTER III


On finding himself condemned to twelve months in London, Dennis Falconer
had debated the question of where he should live at some length; and had
finally decided on returning to some rooms in the neighbourhood of the
Strand, in which he had been wont to establish himself during his
temporary residences in London for the past fifteen years. It was not a
fashionable part of London. Falconer was a richer man now than he had
been fifteen years before, and there were sundry luxuries to be had in
those quarters of London where wealthy bachelors congregate, which were
not recognised so far south of Piccadilly. It was also natural to him to
think twice before he abandoned the idea of living where it was “the
proper thing”--of the hour--to live. But he was known and respected in
his old rooms; he would be received there with deferential delight; he
would be of the first importance in his landlady’s estimation; and these
things, little as he knew it, had a distinct influence on his decision.

The two rooms which he occupied, on the first floor, bore a strong
likeness to the majority of first-floor rooms in the same street,
occupied by single gentlemen. These gentlemen were not, as a rule, of
the class who think it worth while to impress their artistic character
upon the room in which they live; as a whole, indeed, they might have
been said to lack artistic character. Here and there was a more
inveterate smoker, newspaper-reader, or novel-reader, as the case might
be, the sign manual of whose tastes was not to be obliterated. But as a
rule it was the landlady’s taste that reigned supreme and monotonous.

Dennis Falconer’s rooms were no exception to the rule. The furniture was
very comfortable, very solid, and very ugly, in the style of thirty
years ago; an artistic temperament would have modified the whole
appearance of the room, insensibly and necessarily, in the course of a
week. But Falconer was not even conscious that anything was wrong. He
was as nearly devoid of æsthetic sense, even on its broadest lines, as
it is possible for a civilised man to be; and the state of mind which
takes pleasure in the tone of curtains and carpets, and the form of
tables, chairs, or china, was to him incomprehensible, and consequently
a little contemptible.

On a November morning, with an incipient yellow fog hanging about, the
appearance of the room in which breakfast was waiting for him was
calculated to cast a gloom over a temperament never so little open to
such influences; and Dennis Falconer as he opened his bedroom door and
came slowly out, looked as though his mental atmosphere was already
sufficiently heavy. He always breakfasted punctually at nine o’clock,
and he never went to bed before one; it simply never occurred to him to
make any concession to the emptiness of his present life by spending
more than seven hours out of the twenty-four in sleep, even if he had
been physically able to do so. And there were days when the intervening
seventeen hours hung on his hands with an almost unendurable weight. He
had never been a man who readily made friends, and his tendency in this
direction had steadily decreased as he grew older, so that the few men
with whom he was intimate were friends of his early manhood; and, as it
happened, none of these intimates were in England at the moment. He was
absolutely incapable of forming those cheery, unmeaning
acquaintanceships which make the savour of life to so many unoccupied
men. He was one of those men with whom no one thinks of becoming
familiar; who is vaguely supposed either to have a private and select
circle of friends, or to be sufficient for himself; whose demeanour,
correct, self-contained, and a trifle formal, seems to hold the world at
a distance. Consequently his intercourse with his fellow-creatures was
limited by his present life to slight conversation on the topics of the
day at his club, or in various drawing-rooms where he paid grave, stiff
calls, or attended stately functions. Cut off from his own particular
work he had no interests and no pursuits.

It was a dreary life in truth, and it was little wonder that Falconer’s
expression grew rather more austere with every week. The sentiments of
a man of his temperament towards a world in which there seemed so little
place for him, and from which he could derive so little satisfaction,
would inevitably tend towards stern disapproval.

On this particular morning the sense of dreariness was very heavy upon
him. On the previous day he had had an interview with the great doctor
to whose fiat he owed his detention in London. The great doctor had been
indefinite and unsatisfactory; had looked grave and talked vaguely about
troublesome complications and a possible necessity of complete repose.
Falconer had made no sign of discomposure, had taken his leave with his
usual courteous gravity, and had left the consulting-room with a cold
chill at his heart. The cold chill was about it still this morning as he
walked to his window before going to the breakfast-table, and stood
there looking blankly out. What he was really looking at was the
prospect before him if, as the doctor had hinted, he should have to lie
up for a time. A lodging and a nurse, or a hospital; solitude and
confinement in either case.

He sighed heavily, and turning as though with the instinct to turn away
from his troubles, he sat down to the table, poured out his coffee, and
took up the letters lying by his plate. There were only two--one in a
common-looking envelope directed in an illiterate hand, the other in a
clear, characteristic man’s hand, at the sight of which his face
brightened perceptibly.

“Aston,” he said to himself, and opened it quickly.

His friendship for the little doctor, which time had only served to
strengthen, was, perhaps, the most genial sentiment of Dennis Falconer’s
life, and Dr. Aston’s absence in India at this particular period had
been a bitter disappointment to him. He had hoped for some time that the
doctor’s plans--always of a somewhat erratic nature--might bring him
back to London shortly; and as his eyes fell on the first sentence of
the letter a slight sound of intense relief escaped him; an eloquent
testimony to his present loneliness. Dr. Aston began by telling him that
he would be in England before Christmas.

The letter was long and interesting; it abounded in bits of vivid
description and shrewd observation, and its comments on Falconer’s
proceedings were keen and kindly. Its recipient allowed himself to
become absorbed in it to the total neglect of his breakfast, and his
expression was lighter than it had been for weeks when he came upon
these sentences towards the close of the letter:

“By-the-bye, in the ‘latest intelligence’ of London society--all is fish
in the shape of human nature that comes to my net, as you know, and I
study that curious institution carefully whenever I get the chance--I
constantly, nowadays, come across the name of a Mrs. Romayne. ‘The
charming Mrs. Romayne and her good-looking son’ is the usual formula. It
is not by any chance the little woman with whom I got myself and you
into such a terrible fix years and years ago at Nice--William Romayne’s
widow? Is it any relation? I should like to know what became of that
little woman, if you can tell me; she had stuff in her. And whether the
boy has dreed his weird yet?”

Falconer laid down the letter abruptly, and turned to his breakfast, his
face stern and uncompromising. His interview with Mrs. Romayne, now a
fortnight old, had accentuated markedly his grim disapprobation of her;
and the strong feeling of reprobation that stirred him then had so
little subsided that the least touch was enough to re-endow it with
vigorous life.

“Stuff in her!” he muttered, with a world of contempt in the curt
ejaculation. “Stuff in her! If Aston only knew!”

He glanced at the letter again, and a certain disapproval, personal to
the writer, expressed itself in the grave set of his lips as he re-read
the words about Julian; his whole mental and moral attitude was
antagonistic to, and inclined to condemn, what he characterised, now, as
“Aston’s dangerous theories.” He passed with what seemed to him
practical sense from “Aston’s extravagance” to a stern consideration of
the heinousness of such a life and education as Julian’s for a young man
in Julian’s position. Julian’s position, rightly considered, involved in
his eyes a reaping in obscurity, humility, and sombreness of life of the
harvest of shame and disgrace which his father had sown; and that there
was anything inconsistent between this view of the case and his
condemnation of Dr. Aston’s theories he was utterly unaware.

He applied himself to his breakfast, still meditating on Mrs. Romayne
and the probable consequences of her callousness; and then he took up
the other letter and opened it.

At the opening of his last expedition, one of the men attached to it had
met with a disabling accident, and had been sent home. The man had been
with Falconer on a previous expedition, and when the latter returned to
England he had made enquiries about him, and had finally, and with no
little difficulty, traced him out to find him crippled for life, and in
a state of abject poverty. Falconer, according to his narrow and
orthodox lights, as strictly conventional in their way as were Mrs.
Romayne’s in hers, was a good man. The letter he was reading now, from
the wife of this man, was written by a woman by whom he was regarded as
a kind of Providence; to be reverenced indeed, not loved, but to be
reverenced with all her heart. She and her husband had been rescued by
him from despair; all that medical skill could do for the man had been
done at his expense. The pair had been settled by him in a small house
in Camden Town, where Mrs. Dixon, a brisk, capable woman, was to let
lodgings. To this house Falconer had been once or twice to see the
crippled man; and he was not now surprised to receive from the wife the
information--conveyed in a style in which natural loquacity struggled
with awe of her correspondent--that the husband had had one of the bad
attacks of suffering to which he was liable, and that if Mr. Falconer
could spare half an hour, Dixon would “take it very kind with his duty.”

Falconer smiled grimly at the words “if Mr. Falconer could spare half an
hour.” His whole day was practically at Dixon’s disposal. He would go up
to Camden Town that afternoon, he decided; he almost wished he had
thought of going before, and as the thought crossed his mind, the
remembrance of what might possibly be lying in wait for himself in the
not very distant future made him rise abruptly and thrust his letters
into his pocket.

It was about twelve o’clock when he left his rooms and walked slowly
away in the direction of club-land. He usually got through an hour or so
at his club before lunch, reading the papers and so forth. The
threatening fog of three hours earlier had rolled away, and there were
gleams of wintry sunshine about which made walking pleasant. Dr. Aston’s
letter had cheered Falconer considerably; the feeling, too, that he had
a definite occupation for his afternoon, and an occupation which was not
invented, was invigorating; and altogether he was in better spirits than
he had been for many a day. He was walking up Waterloo Place, when his
eyes, which could not forego, even in a London street, their trained
habits of keen, accurate observation, lighted on Marston Loring, who was
coming down Waterloo Place on the opposite side of the road. Loring was
a man Dennis Falconer particularly disliked, and after one disapproving
glance he was looking away, when he saw the other suddenly stop with a
movement--and evidently an exclamation--of surprise and welcome. In the
same instant he became aware that Julian Romayne had turned out of a
side-street, and was greeting his friend apparently with effusion.
Falconer’s brow clouded involuntarily. The instinct of kin was so strong
in him that there was a certain touch of personal feeling, little as he
wished it, in his connection with the Romaynes, which made the thought
of them particularly disagreeable to him; and here, for the second time
to-day, the young man and his mother were forced upon his notice. He
pursued his way up the street, watching Julian grimly, and as he passed,
still on the opposite pavement, the corner where the two young men were
standing, Julian happened to look across, saw him, and made a ready,
courteous gesture of salutation. Falconer returned it stiffly enough,
and walked on.

Julian turned to Loring with a laugh.

“Old bear!” he said; “I wish he’d take himself off to Africa or
somewhere. He’s a regular wet blanket to have about! Well, old fellow,
and what’s the news?”

Julian was looking very fresh, vigorous, and full of life. There was a
curious suggestion about him of alertness which was not without a
certain excitement; and his tone and manner as he spoke were almost
superabundantly frank and loquacious.

Ten days before, Loring had received a note from Mrs. Romayne telling
him that Julian was going for a week’s holiday to Brighton, and that the
alteration in his room must be completed if possible in his absence. “It
is a sudden idea with him, apparently,” she had written; “but do let us
take advantage of it.”

If Loring had had his own private notion on the subject of this sudden
idea on Julian’s part he had made no sign to Julian’s mother; he had
paid, in silence, his cynical tribute to the maternal wisdom which had
presumably recognised the fact that if freedom is not granted it will be
snatched.

Three days had now passed since Julian’s return, but it had happened--he
himself could perhaps have told how--that until this Saturday afternoon
he and Loring had not met. There was nothing in his face and manner at
this moment, however, but the most lively, even demonstrative
satisfaction; and without giving Loring time to answer his question he
went on, with an ease and gaiety which were very like, and yet unlike,
his mother.

“Where were you off to? The club? Come and have some lunch with me, do!
I want to tell you how first-rate I think my room. I hear you’ve taken
no end of trouble over it. It was awfully jolly of you, old man!”

“Glad you like it,” returned Loring nonchalantly. “Yes, I think it’s
nice. But it was Mrs. Romayne who took the trouble.”

He was studying Julian keenly, though quite imperceptibly, as he spoke.
The young man’s manner was assumed--of that Loring was quite aware. But
what, exactly, did it hide? What exactly was the secret?

He debated this question calmly with himself throughout the lunch which
they took together a little later on; interposing question and remarks
the while into Julian’s flow of fluent talk and laughter. About
Brighton, in particular, Julian was full of chatter; and as he wound up
a vivacious description of his doings there, Loring commented mentally:

“He hasn’t been to Brighton at all!”

Aloud he said, as genially as nature ever allowed him to speak:

“Well, it’s very jolly to see you back again, my boy. Do you know we’ve
seen next to nothing of one another lately, and I vote we turn over a
new leaf, eh? What are you going to do this afternoon, now?”

He was leaning back in his chair lighting a cigarette as he spoke, and
apparently his attention was wholly claimed by the process; as a matter
of fact, however, he was studying Julian’s face intently, and his sense
of annoyance was not untinged with admiration when not a muscle of that
good-looking face moved. Julian leant back and crossed his legs airily.

“I promised to go to the Eastons’, I’m sorry to say!” he said. “It’s an
awful bore! We might have done a theatre together!”

Now, the Eastons were mutual acquaintances of the two men, but it so
happened that they had taken irremediable offence against Loring over
some detail connected with the bazaar, and it was no longer possible for
him to call upon them. Julian was of course aware of the fact, and
Loring smiled cynically at what he recognised as a very clever move.

“A pity!” he said composedly. “Better luck another time. Well, you’re
not in any hurry, anyway.”

“Not a bit!” assented Julian, cheerfully disposing of himself in a most
comfortable and stationary attitude. But a moment later he sprang to his
feet. “By Jove!” he exclaimed, “I nearly forgot! I’ve got a commission
to do for my mother in Bond Street--shop closes at two. Can I do it?”

A hurried reference to his watch assured him that he would just do it,
and with a hasty farewell he dashed out of the room. Loring did not
propose to accompany him. It was not worth while, he told himself; and
he smiled sardonically as Julian departed.

“I shall find out,” he said to himself. “Of course I shall find out! The
question is, is it worth while to wait, or shall I play my game with
what I know? The attached friend of the boy warning his mother in
time”--he smiled again very unpleasantly--“or the sympathising friend of
the mother having made a terrible discovery! Which is the better pose?
The latter, I think. Yes, the latter! I’ll wait until I’ve made my
discovery.”

He dropped the end of his cigarette into an ash-tray, sat for a moment
more in deep thought, and then rose and strolled slowly away.



CHAPTER IV


Julian, meanwhile, hailed a passing hansom, sprang into it, and told the
man to drive, not to Bond Street but to the Athenæum, Camden Town. There
was an air about him as of one who plumes himself on having done a
clever thing, and as he settled himself for his long drive there was a
curious excitement and radiance in his face. When the cab reached its
destination at last he jumped out and walked rapidly and eagerly away.

It was not a neighbourhood likely to be familiar to a young man about
town, but Julian pursued his way with the certainty of a man who had
followed it several times before. In about ten minutes he turned into a
neat and respectable little street, consisting of two short rows of
small houses with diminutive bow windows to the first-floor rooms.
About half-way down he stopped at a house on the right-hand side and
knocked with a quick, decided touch. He was an object of the deepest
interest as he stood upon the little doorstep to a brisk,
curious-looking woman who was standing in the ground-floor window of the
house opposite, but her opportunity for observation was brief. The door
was opened almost immediately, and with a pleasant greeting to the
woman, who stood aside, he passed her and ran upstairs--a course of
action evidently expected of him. He opened the door of the front room
on the first floor and went eagerly in.

“Here I am!” he cried. “Did you expect me so soon?”

Standing in the middle of the room, as though she had suddenly started
from her chair, with her hands outstretched towards him, was Clemence;
and on the third finger of that thin, left hand there shone a bright
gold ring.

Her face was a delicate rosy red, as though with sudden joy just touched
with shyness, and all the beauty which had been latent in her tired,
work-worn face seemed to have been touched into vivid, almost startling
life, by the hand of a great magician. By contrast with the face she
turned to Julian now, the large eyes deep and glowing, the mouth
trembling a little with tenderness, the face of a month ago, pure and
sweet as it had been, would have looked like the inanimate mask of a
dormant soul. The soul was awake now, quivering with consciousness;
womanhood had come with a purity and beauty beyond any possibility of
girlhood. Looking at her face now, it was easy to see by what means
alone the latent strength of her character might be developed.

He drew her into his arms with an eager, confident touch, and she
yielded to him completely, clinging to him with the colour deepening in
her face as he kissed it boyishly again and again. It was a fortnight
only since he had kissed her first.

“I was watching for you,” she said softly. “I heard your step.”

He laughed exultantly and kissed her again.

“I thought you’d be watching!” he said. “Though I’m earlier than I told
you, do you know? Much earlier! I say, Clemence, how jolly the room
looks!”

It was a small room, furnished and decorated in the simplest and
cheapest style; as great a contrast as could well be imagined to the
rooms to which he was accustomed. But it was very clean and very
comfortable-looking; and there was a homelike, restful atmosphere about
it which might well have radiated from the slender figure in the plain
dress, with that shining wedding-ring and lovely, flushing face. She
smiled, a very sweet, pleased little smile.

“Do you think so really?” she said. “I am so glad. It is that beautiful
basket-chair you sent, and the flowers.” She glanced as she spoke at a
pot of chrysanthemums standing on a little table in the window. Then she
turned to him again, her eyes a little deprecating. “Do you think you
ought to spend so much money?” she said shyly.

Julian laughed, and flung his arm round her, as he surveyed the little
room with a vivid air of proprietorship. Here he was master. Here his
word was law. Here he was in a world of his own making, and his only
fellow-creature was his subject.

“It looks jolly!” he pronounced again as a final dictum. “Now, come and
sit down, Clemence, and tell me what you’ve been doing since yesterday!”
He settled himself into the arm-chair by the fire with a lordly air as
he spoke, adding: “Come and sit on this stool by me, like the sweetest
girl in the world.”

Clemence hesitated, hardly perceptibly. Hers was a nature to which
trivial endearments came strangely, almost painfully. She had not yet
learned to caress in play; and there was an innate, unconscious,
personal dignity about her to which trivial self-abasement was
unnatural. But almost before she was conscious of her reluctance there
swept over her, like a great wave of hot sweetness, the remembrance that
she was his wife! It was her duty to do as he wished. She came softly
across the room, sat down on the stool he had drawn out, and laid her
cheek against his arm.

It was a trivial action, very quietly performed, but it was instinct
with the beauty of absolute self-abnegation; and as if, as her physical
presence touched him, something of her spirit touched him too, a sudden
quiet fell upon the exultant, self-satisfied boy at whose feet she sat.
Not for the first time, by any means, there stole over Julian a vague
uneasiness; a vague realisation of something beyond his ken; something
in the light of which he shrank, unaccountably, from himself. His hand
closed round the woman’s hand lying in his with a touch very different
from the boyish passion of his previous caresses, and for a moment he
did not speak. Then he said slowly and in a low, dreamy voice:

“Clemence, I can’t think why you should ever have loved me!”

The hand in his thrilled slightly, and the head on his shoulder was just
shaken. Clemence could not tell him why she loved him. The bald outline
she could trace as most women can trace it. She could look back upon
her first sense of reliance, her pity, her admiration, her sense of
strange, delightful companionship; but the why and wherefore of it, the
mystery which had given to this young man and no other the key of her
soul, this was to her as a miracle; as, indeed, there is always
something miraculous in it, even when it seems most natural. To account
for love; to say that in this case it is natural, in this case it is
unnatural; is to confess ignorance of the first great attribute of
love--that it is supernatural and divine.

There was another silence, a longer one this time, and the strange spell
sank deeper into Julian’s spirit. He said nothing. It would have been a
relief to him to speak; to reduce to words, or, indeed, to definite
consciousness, the vague trouble that oppressed him; but its outlines
were too large and too vague for him. It was in truth a sense of total
moral insolvency, but he could not understand it as such, having no
moral standpoint. Clemence neither moved nor spoke; her hand lay
motionless in his; her cheek rested against him; her beautiful eyes
looked straight before them with a dreamy, almost awestruck gaze.

At last, with a desperate determination to thrust away so unusual an
oppression, Julian moved slightly and began to talk. He wanted to get
back his sense of superiority, and his voice accordingly took its most
boyish and masterful tone.

“You haven’t told me what you’ve been doing, Clemence?” he said. “Have
you given notice at your bonnet shop as I told you?”

Clemence lifted her head and sat up, clasping her hands lightly on the
arm of his chair.

“No!” she said gently. “I thought I would ask you to think about it
again. I would so much rather go on if you didn’t mind. For one thing,
what could I do all day?” She looked up into his face as she spoke with
deprecating, pleading eyes, which were full of submission, too; and the
submission was very pleasant to Julian.

“I do mind,” he said authoritatively. “I can’t have it, Clemence. I
can’t always see you home, don’t you see, and I won’t have you about at
night alone. Besides, I don’t choose that you should work.”

“But I do so want to!” she said, laying her hand timidly and
beseechingly on his. “It will be so difficult for you to keep us both;
you will overwork yourself, I’m so afraid. Oh, won’t you let me help?
I’ve always worked, you know; it doesn’t hurt me. You don’t want to
forget that you’ve married a work-girl, do you?”

She smiled at him as she spoke, one of her sweet, rare smiles, and he
kissed her impetuously.

“Don’t talk nonsense!” he said imperiously. “I can’t allow it, and
that’s all about it. How do you suppose I could attend to my work when
I’m kept at the hospital in the evening, if I were thinking all the time
of you alone in the streets! No, you must give notice on Monday!”

She looked at him wistfully for a moment. He was condemning her to long
days of idleness, to constant uneasiness and self-reproach on his
behalf, to a certain loss of self-respect. But self-sacrifice was
instinctive with her.

“Very well!” she said simply.

The little victory, the assertion of authority restored Julian’s spirits
completely, and he plunged into discursive talk; more or less
egotistical. It was all, necessarily, founded on falsehood, and it would
have been a delicate question to decide when his talk ceased to be
consciously untruthful, and became the expression of a fictitious Julian
in whom the real Julian absolutely believed.

The afternoon wore on; the winter twilight fell, bringing with it a
slight return of the fog of the morning; two hours had passed before
Julian moved reluctantly, and said that he must go.

“I shall come to-morrow!” he said, taking her face between his hands and
kissing it. “We’ll go out into the country if it’s fine. I wish it were
summer-time! Have you ever seen the river, Clemence?”

“Not in the country,” she said. “It must be nice! How much you’ve seen!
Do you know I often think that you must wish sometimes I was a lady! I
don’t know anything and I haven’t seen anything, and----” she faltered,
and he rose, laughing and drawing her up into his arms.

“Any one can know things,” he said lightly, “and any one can see things.
But no one but you can be Clemence! Do you see? Oh, what a bore it is to
have to go!”

He was lingering, undecidedly, as though a little pressure would have
scattered his resolution to the winds, and seated him once more in the
chair he had just quitted. But, since he had said that he must go, it
never occurred to Clemence to ask him to stay. If it were not his duty
he would never leave her. If it was his duty now, how could she hold him
back!

“To-morrow will come!” she said, looking into his face with a brave
smile.

“I don’t believe you want me to stay!” he returned, half laughing, half
vexed.

“Don’t I?” she said simply, and he caught her in his arms again.

“What a shame!” he said. “There, good-bye! Are you coming to the door?”

She shook her head.

“I’ll stay here,” she said, “and watch you from the window. I see you
farther so. Ah, it’s rather foggy! I’m so sorry! You’ll look up?
Good-bye!”

She lifted her face to his and kissed him tenderly and shyly, and he
left her standing by the window.

Julian ran downstairs, let himself out, and stood for a moment on the
doorstep as he realised the disagreeable nature of the atmosphere. At
the same instant the door of the house opposite opened, and a man came
out, attended to the threshold by a woman. She caught sight of Julian
instantly, and said something to the man, as he stood in the shadow, in
a deferential whisper. Julian shook himself, confounded the fog, and
then glanced up at the window from which the light streamed on his face.
He waved his hand, turned away, and walked rapidly down the street,
pulling up his coat collar as he went.

As he went, Dennis Falconer slowly descended the two steps of that
opposite house, and slowly--very slowly--followed him.



CHAPTER V


“Good-bye! So glad to have seen you! What, dear Mrs. Ponsonby, are you
going to run away too? So kind of you to come out on such an afternoon!
Good-bye!”

It was a Friday afternoon, and Friday was Mrs. Romayne’s “day.” This
particular Friday had been about as unpleasant, atmospherically, as it
is possible for even a November day to be, short of actual dense fog; it
had been very dark, and a drizzling rain--a dirty rain too--had fallen
unceasingly. Under these circumstances it was rather surprising that any
one should have ventured out, even in the most luxurious brougham, than
that Mrs. Romayne’s visitors should have been comparatively few in
number.

The departure of the ladies to whom her farewells had been spoken, and
with whom she had been exchanging social commonplaces for the last
quarter of an hour, left her alone; and as she returned to her chair by
the dainty tea-table and poured herself out a cup of tea, she had
apparently very little expectation of further callers, though it was
only just past five o’clock; for when the door-bell rang a few minutes
later she paused, and a look of surprise crossed her face. She put down
her cup with a little sigh, which was more a concession made to the
dictum of conventionality that callers are a bore than an expression of
real feeling; and then, as the door opened, she rose with a touch of
genuine satisfaction.

“My dear Mrs. Pomeroy!” she exclaimed. “How sweet of you to come out on
such a shocking day! Really, you must have had an intuition of my
forlorn condition, I think! Maud, dear, how are you?”

She had given her left hand to the girl in a familiar, caressing way as
she retained Mrs. Pomeroy’s right hand, and now she drew the elder lady
with charming insistence towards a large, inviting-looking chair,
indicating to the daughter with a pretty gesture that she was to take a
low seat near the table.

“It is an ill wind that blows no one any good!” she continued gaily, as
Mrs. Pomeroy greeted her placidly. “It is really too delightful to get
you all to myself like this! How seldom one gets the chance of a cosy
chat! And how very seldom it comes with the people of all others with
whom one would thoroughly enjoy it! You’ll have some tea, won’t you--oh,
yes, you really must; it is so much more friendly!” She laughed as she
spoke, and turned to the girl sitting demurely on the low seat near her
with a tacit claim on her sympathy and comprehension which was very
fascinating. Miss Pomeroy’s pretty, expressionless lips smiled sweetly,
and her mother, who was always ready to yield to pressure where a cup of
tea was concerned--that soothing beverage being forbidden her by her
medical authorities--answered contentedly:

“Well, thanks, yes! I think I will! One really wants a cup of tea on a
day like this, doesn’t one?” Mrs. Pomeroy had rarely been known to leave
a statement unqualified by a question. “It is really very disagreeable
weather, isn’t it? Not that it seems to trouble you at all.” Mrs.
Pomeroy smiled one of her slow, amiable smiles as she spoke. “I am so
glad to see you looking so much better!”

Mrs. Romayne laughed.

“I am very well indeed, thanks,” she said. “But I’ve not been ill that I
know of, dear Mrs. Pomeroy.”

Mrs. Pomeroy shook her head gently.

“I thought, do you know, when I first came home, that you looked as
though your holiday had been a little too much for you--so many people’s
holiday is a little too much for them, don’t you think? And how is your
boy? Very hard at work, we hear.”

Mrs. Romayne smiled.

Mrs. Pomeroy’s opinion as to her looks had been quite correct; and it
was only within the last fortnight that they had altered for the better.
Within that fortnight her brightness and vivacity had ceased to be--as
they had been for weeks before--wholly artificial; something of the look
of nervous strain had gone out of her eyes, and her face was altogether
less sharpened. Her smile now was genuine; and her voice was strangely
tender and contented.

“Very hard,” she said. “I have had to get used to a great deal of
absence on his part. He has gone down to Brighton to-day, until Monday;
he needs a little fresh air, of course. It is so long since he has been
shut up as he is now.”

“You must miss him very much,” said Mrs. Pomeroy placidly.

Mrs. Romayne did not answer directly, except with a laugh.

“I am almost inclined to envy mothers with daughters,” she said, smiling
at Miss Pomeroy again. “I wonder, now”--a sudden idea had apparently
struck Mrs. Romayne--“I wonder whether you would lend me your daughter
now and then, and I wonder whether she would consent to be lent.”

“I should be delighted,” said Mrs. Pomeroy, with vague amiability, and
an equally vague glance at her daughter. “And I’m sure Maud will be
delighted, too, won’t you, Maud?”

“Delighted!” assented Maud, with pretty promptitude.

“Well, then, we must arrange it some time or other,” declared Mrs.
Romayne gaily. “Perhaps you would come and spend a week with me,
Maud--that would be charming!”

But she did not press the point, letting the subject drop with apparent
carelessness, and talking about other things, always keeping the girl in
the conversation; turning to her now and then with a pleasant, familiar
word, or a gesture which was lightly affectionate. The mother and
daughter had risen to take leave when she said carelessly:

“Oh, by-the-bye, Maud, dear, have you anything to do to-morrow
afternoon? I’ve been bothered into taking two tickets for a matinée, a
charity affair, you know, but they say it will be rather good. It would
be so nice of you to come with me!”

“It will be very nice of you to take me!” was the response. “Thank you
very much!”

A minute or two more passed in the arrangement of the place and hour for
meeting, and then Mrs. Pomeroy drifted blandly out of the room, followed
by her daughter, and Mrs. Romayne was again alone.

She walked to the fireplace this time, and putting one foot on the
fender, stood looking down, her face intent and satisfied.

“Just the right sort of girl!” she said to herself. “Just the right sort
of girl!”

She was wearing the little gold bangle which Julian had given her on her
birthday--the one which Miss Pomeroy had helped him to choose--and she
was turning it on her wrist with tender, contemplative touches. She was
so absorbed in her reflection that she did not hear the servant come
into the room, or notice for the moment that the girl was standing
beside her with a letter. She started at last, and looked up; took the
letter, and opened it carelessly, without looking at it, as the woman
took away the tea-table.

“DEAR COUSIN HERMIA,

     “Unless I hear from you to the contrary, I propose to call on you
     to-morrow (Saturday), at three o’clock, on a matter of grave
     importance.

“Faithfully yours,

“DENNIS FALCONER.”

Mrs. Romayne’s face had changed slightly as she began to read--changed
and hardened--and as she finished she drew the letter through her
fingers with a gesture of mere impatience, which was somehow belied by
the look in her eyes. Something of that strained look had come back into
them. She could not see him to-morrow, she was saying to herself
briefly; she was not going to put off Maud Pomeroy; Dennis Falconer must
fix another time, and she would write him a line at once. She walked
quickly across to her writing table, sat down, drew out a sheet of paper
and took up a pen.

And then she paused.

Ten minutes later her note was written, and on its way to the post, but
it was not directed to Dennis Falconer. It began, “My dear Maud,” and it
told Miss Pomeroy that business had “turned up” which would make it
impossible for Mrs. Romayne to go to the theatre on the following
afternoon, and that she enclosed the tickets hoping that Maud might be
able to use them.

Exactly on the stroke of three on the following afternoon the door-bell
rang. Mrs. Romayne was alone in the drawing-room, apparently lazily and
pleasantly enough occupied with the latest number of the latest society
paper; and as the sound reached her ear her lips hardened into a thin,
straight line, and her eyes flashed for a moment with a look of
antagonism which was almost defiant. Then the servant announced:

“Mr. Falconer!”

Dennis Falconer was looking very pale; there was little colour even in
his lips, and his face was set and stern. He took the hand Mrs. Romayne
held out to him, and replied to her greeting in the briefest possible
phrase, with no softening of a something curiously solemn and inexorable
about his demeanour, though his eyes rested on her for an instant with a
singular expression. He disliked and despised the woman before him, and
yet at that moment he pitied her.

“Sit down!” she said. “I am charmed to see you, though, do you know, you
have chosen an inopportune moment. I had a very pleasant engagement for
this afternoon, and I nearly put you off. So I hope the business is
really very grave.”

Her voice was lightness itself, and that very lightness, with the almost
unusual loquacity with which she had received him, seemed to witness to
the presence in her mind of a recollection which she was determined to
ignore--the recollection of their last interview, in that very room.
There was an air about her of having entrenched herself behind a barrier
which she defied him to pass; of being resolute this time against
surprise, or against any other method of attack.

“It is very grave!” said Falconer, and in contrast with her voice, his
rang with stern heaviness. “I must ask you to prepare yourself for bad
news!”

“Bad news!” she echoed sharply, as her eyes, fixed on his face, grew
suddenly bright and keen. “Oh--money, I suppose?” Her voice jarred a
little, though she spoke very lightly.

“No!” said Falconer.

His tone was absolutely uncompromising. On his unsympathetic and
unimaginative mind the effect of her manner was to obliterate his sense
of pity beneath a consciousness of the retributive justice of the
moment before her.

“Not money?” she said, with a little, unreal laugh. “Well, that’s a
comfort, at any rate.” Her hand had clenched itself suddenly round the
arm of her chair on his monosyllable, and now she paused a moment,
almost as though her breath had failed her, before she said, with
affected carelessness: “And if not--what?”

Her back was towards the light, and Falconer could not see her face.

“I will answer your question, if you will allow me, with another,” he
said. “Have you noticed anything unusual in the course of the past
month--or more--in the conduct of your son?”

In the instant’s dead silence that followed a slight creaking sound made
itself audible and then died away. The clenched hand on the bar of Mrs.
Romayne’s chair had passed slowly round it with such intense pressure as
to produce the sound. Then she answered him, as he had previously
answered her, in a monosyllable.

“No!” she said. There was a desperate effort in her voice at
carelessness, at nonchalance, at astonishment; but it was penetrated
through and through with all her past antagonism towards, and defiance
of, the man before her accentuated into fierce repudiation. Falconer’s
voice, as he answered her, seemed to confront that defiance with
inexorable fate.

“That is almost unfortunate,” he said sternly. “In that case, I fear
that what I have to tell you must fall with double and treble severity,
as coming upon you unawares. Will you not think again? Has he not been
absent from home a good deal? Have his absences been satisfactorily
accounted for? Have you ever proved”--he paused, laying stress upon the
last word--“have you ever proved such accounts, as given by himself,
correct?”

With a valiant effort, the power of which Falconer must have appreciated
had he been able to penetrate beyond the ghastly artificiality of the
result, Mrs. Romayne rallied her forces, and strove to throw his words
back upon him; to defend and entrench herself once and for all with the
only weapon she knew. She broke into a thin, tuneless laugh.

“What an absolutely gruesome catechism!” she cried. “Really, it would
take me weeks of solitary confinement and meditation among the
tombs--isn’t there a book about that, by-the-bye?--before I could
approach it in a duly sepulchral spirit. Do you know, it would be an
absolute relief to me if you could come to the point? I am taking it for
granted, you see, that there is a point, which is no doubt a compliment
which its infinitesimal nature hardly deserves. Produce the poor little
thing, for heaven’s sake!”

“The point is this,” said Falconer grimly and concisely. “Your son’s
life, as you know it, is a lie. He has a sordid version of what is known
as an ‘establishment.’ He is living with a work-girl in Camden Town.”

There was a choked, strangled sound, and Mrs. Romayne’s figure seemed to
shrink together as though every muscle had contracted in one
simultaneous throb. Her face, could Falconer have seen it, was rigid and
blank, except for her eyes. For that first instant she looked as a
patient might look who, having suspected himself of a deadly disease,
having congratulated himself on the subsidence of his symptoms and known
hope, learns from his physician that that subsidence of obvious symptoms
was in itself only a more dangerous symptom still, and that he is indeed
doomed. Her eyes were the eyes of a woman who looks despair full in the
face.

But with no human being who keeps hold of life and reason can the vivid
agony of such a vision endure for more than an instant. It dulls by
reason of its very insupportableness. Time is an empty word where mental
suffering is concerned, and the second-hand of the tall clock in the
corner had traversed its dial only once before a kind of film passed
over those agonised eyes, and Mrs. Romayne spoke in a thin, hoarse
voice. And the man so close to her was conscious of nothing but a short
pause, and was revolted accordingly.

“How do you know?” Even in that moment the instinct of defiance of him
personally could not wholly yield, and lingered in her voice.

“I have an old servant who lives in Camden Town. He is an invalid, and I
occasionally visit him. His wife is a garrulous woman, and thinking that
I have some claim on her gratitude, considers it necessary to inform me
as to all her own and her neighbours’ affairs. Visiting the husband last
Friday week, I found the wife greatly excited and alarmed for the
reputation of the street--in which she lets lodgings--by the appearance
in the house opposite of a couple whose relations to one another had
instantly been suspected by their landlady and her neighbours, though
they passed as newly-made man and wife!”

With a sudden, low cry of inexpressible horror and dismay Mrs. Romayne
sprang to her feet, flinging out her hands as though to keep off
something intolerable to be borne.

“No! no!” she cried breathlessly. “No! no! Not that! Not married? It
would be ruin! Ruin! ruin! No! no!”

Dennis Falconer paused, freezing slowly into what seemed to him surely
justifiable abhorrence of the woman before him. What if he knew in his
heart that such a marriage would indeed mean ruin to a young man? So
bald a trampling down of the moral aspect of the position before the
practical was not decent! It was for a woman--and that woman the young
man’s mother--to be overwhelmed by the moral horror to the exclusion of
every other thought! And it was the practical alone that had drawn any
show of emotion from Mrs. Romayne!

“I am sorry to have agitated you!” he said, and his voice was cold and
cutting as steel. “I have no doubt in my own mind that they are not
married. I had better perhaps continue to give you the facts in order.
Chance led to my seeing the young man in question as he was leaving the
house. I recognised your son. I proceeded to make enquiries. He passes
as a medical student, under the name of Roden. The girl is--or was--a
hand at one of the big millinery establishments. From her affectation of
innocence and simplicity, the woman who has most opportunity of
observing her is inclined to think the very worst of her!”

A quick, hissing breath--an unmistakeable breath of relief--parted Mrs.
Romayne’s white lips. She had sunk down again in her chair and was
grasping it now with both hands as she leant a little forward, trembling
in every limb.

“Then it is not likely--it is not likely that he has married her,” she
said, in a low, rapid tone to herself rather than to Falconer, as it
seemed. “Go on!”

“There is very little more to be said,” returned Falconer icily. “They
have occupied the rooms--that is to say, the girl has occupied them,
visited every day by your son--for three weeks now. The woman has
discovered that they had been somewhere in the country together for a
week previously. You will, of course, be able to recall his absence from
home. Yesterday he took her away into the country again; they are to
return on Monday!”

He stopped; and as though she were no longer conscious of his presence,
Mrs. Romayne’s head was bowed slowly lower, as if under some
irresistible weight, until her forehead rested on her hand, stretched
out still upon the arm of her wide chair.

She lifted her face at last, white and haggard as twenty added years of
life should not have made it, and rose, helping herself feebly with the
arm of her chair, like a woman whose physical strength is broken.
Falconer rose also. He was utterly alienated from her; he was conscious
of only the most distant pity, but he felt that it was incumbent on him
to say something.

“I regret very much that it should have fallen to my lot to break this
to you!” he said, stiffly and awkwardly. “I fear that coming from
me----” He hesitated and paused.

From out the past, confusing, almost numbing him, a vague and ghastly
influence had risen suddenly upon him to strain that strange,
intangible, and awful cord of common knowledge by which he and the woman
before him were bound together, revolt against it or deny its presence
as they might. Under the touch of that influence his last words had come
from him almost involuntarily. He had not known whither they tended; he
could bring them to no conclusion.

Mrs. Romayne looked him in the eyes, holding now to a table by which
she stood, but with no weakness in her ashen face. She seemed to be
concentrating all her force into one final repudiation of him. She
ignored his words as though he had not spoken.

“I will ask you to leave me now!” she said. And her voice, thin and
toneless though it was, left her completely mistress of the situation.

She made no movement to shake hands; he hesitated a moment, then bowed
and left the room.



CHAPTER VI


“It’s a jolly little place enough!”

“I think it’s lovely.”

There was a certain tone of regret, of lingering, reluctant farewell, in
both voices; though in Julian’s case it was light and patronising; in
Clemence’s, dreamy and tender. As Julian spoke he shifted his position
slightly as he leant against the iron railing by which they stood, and
let his eyes wander over the scene before them with condescending
approval.

They were standing on the somewhat embryonic “sea-front” of what a few
years before had been a fishing village, and was now struggling, rather
inefficiently, to become a watering-place. Such season as the place
could boast was entirely confined to the summer months; to the
frequenters of winter resorts it was absolutely unknown; consequently
its intrinsic charms at the moment--in all the lassitude and monotony
left by departed glory--might have been considered conspicuous by their
absence. But it was a glorious winter’s day. A slight sprinkling of snow
had been frozen on the roofs of the somewhat depressed-looking houses
and on the unsightliness of the unfinished sea-front; and brilliant
sunshine, almost warm in spite of the keen, frosty air, was glorifying
alike the deserted little town, the country beyond, and the sparkling,
dancing sea. The frosty, invigorating brightness found a responsive
chord in Julian’s heart this morning; he was not always so susceptible
to such simple, natural influences. He was in a good humour with the
place; he had spent two wholly satisfactory days there--two days,
moreover, which had had much the same influence upon his moral tone as a
change to bracing air and simple, wholesome food would have on a
physique accustomed to dissipation.

His survey ended finally with Clemence’s face. She was standing at his
side looking out over the sea, her eyes intent and full of feeling, her
beautiful face flushed and still, absorbed by the mysterious charm of
the ceaseless movement and trouble of the bright water stretching away
before her.

“What are you looking at, Clemence?” he said, boyishly.

She lifted her eyes to his quite gravely and simply.

“Only the sea,” she said. “It is so beautiful, I feel as if I never
could leave off looking at it. It makes me feel--oh, I can’t tell you,
but it is like something great and strong to take away with one!” She
looked away again. “Oh, I wish, I wish we need not go!” she said with a
little sigh.

“I wish we needn’t,” returned Julian; he had been dimly conscious of
something in her eyes and voice which made her previous words, simple as
they seemed, almost unintelligible to him, and he caught at her last
sentence as containing an idea to which he could respond. “It’s an awful
nuisance, isn’t it? And do you know it is time we started? Never mind.
We’ll come down again soon!”

They stood for another moment; Clemence looking out at the sunny sea,
Julian taking another careless comprehensive view of the whole scene;
and then, as though those last looks had contained their respective
farewells, they turned with one accord and walked away in the direction
of the railway station. And as if in turning her back upon the sunlit
sea she had turned her back also upon something less definite and
tangible, a certain gravity and wistfulness crept gradually over
Clemence’s face as they went; crept over it to settle down into a
sadness most unusual to it as the train carried them quickly away
towards London. Julian, sitting opposite her, was vaguely struck by her
expression.

“Are you awfully sorry to go back, Clemence?” he said.

She started slightly, and looked at him with a faint smile.

“I suppose I am!” she said. “We have been very happy, haven’t we?” There
was a wistful regret in her voice which touched him somehow, and he
answered her demonstratively, with a cheery and enthusiastic augury for
the future. Clemence smiled again; again rather faintly. “I know!” she
said. “I mean I hope so. Only--I don’t know what’s the matter with me! I
feel as if--something were finished!”

Julian broke into a boyish laugh. Her depression was by no means
displeasing to him; it was a tribute to his importance, to her
dependence on him; and the necessity for “cheering her up” implied the
exercise of that superiority and authority in which he delighted.

“Why, what a dear little goose you are, Clemence!” he said, leaning
forward to take her hands in his. “A ‘Friday to Monday’ can’t last for
ever, you know, but it can be repeated again and again. Why, I shall be
up every day--every single day, I promise you. I shouldn’t wonder if I
found I could spend the evening with you to-morrow! Won’t that console
you?”

She did not answer him, but she took one of his hands in hers and
pressed it to her cheek. His consolation had hardly touched that strange
oppression which weighed upon her; and Julian, in high feather, and
quite unaware that only his voice was heard by her, his words passing
her by unheeded, had been talking at great length about all the
happiness before them, when she said, in a hesitating, far-away voice:

“Could you--could you come home with me this afternoon?”

Julian paused a moment. The question was hardly the response his words
had demanded. Then he said decisively:

“Quite impossible, I am sorry to say. I would if I could, you know,
dear, but it’s quite impossible!”

She gave his hand a little quick pressure.

“I know, of course!” she murmured gently. She paused a moment, and then
said in a low voice, rather irrelevantly as it seemed: “Julian”--his
name still came rather hesitatingly from her lips--“do you think--do you
like Mrs. Jackson?”

Mrs. Jackson was the name of the woman whose rooms Julian had taken for
her, and he started slightly at the question.

“She’s not a bad sort,” he said, with rather startled consideration. “At
least, she seems all right. Isn’t she nice to you, Clemence? Don’t you
like the rooms?”

“Oh, yes! yes!” she said quickly, almost as though she reproached
herself for saying anything that could suggest to him even a shadow of
discontent on her part. “I like them so very, very much. It is only--I
don’t know what exactly. Somehow, I don’t think Mrs. Jackson is quite a
nice woman.” She had spoken the last words hesitatingly and with
difficulty, almost as though they came from her against her will.

Julian glanced at her quickly.

“What makes you think that, Clemence?” he said, with judicial
masterfulness. “Have you any reason, I mean?”

But Clemence was hardly able to define, even in her own pure mind, what
it was that jarred upon her in her landlady’s manner; and to Julian she
was utterly unable to put her feelings into words. Her hasty disclaimer
and her hesitating beginnings and falterings, however, served to remove
the misgiving which had stirred him lest some knowledge of his own real
life should have come to the woman’s knowledge. He was the readier to
let himself be reassured and to dismiss the subject in that the train
was slackening speed for the last time before reaching London, and he
intended to move into a first-class smoking carriage at the approaching
station. Julian was well aware of the risks of discovery involved in
these journeys with Clemence; and though he faced them nonchalantly
enough, he used wits with which no one who knew him only in his
capacities of man about town and budding barrister would have credited
him, to reduce them to a minimum. To be seen emerging from a third-class
carriage at Victoria Station was a wholly unnecessary risk to run, and
he avoided it accordingly.

“You mustn’t be fanciful, Clemmie,” he said, now in a lordly and airy
fashion. “I’ve no doubt Mrs. Jackson is a very jolly woman, as a matter
of fact. Look here, dear, would you mind if I went and had a smoke now?
It isn’t much further, you know, and one mustn’t smoke in hospital, you
see!”

Clemence was very pale when he joined her on the platform at
Victoria--joined her after a quick glance round to see whether he must
prepare himself for an encounter with an acquaintance; and she did not
speak, only looked up at him with a grave, steady smile which made her
face sadder than before. His announcement of his intention of putting
her into a hansom drew from her an absolutely horrified protest. She
would go in an omnibus, she told him hurriedly, or in the Underground!
She had never been in a cab! It would cost so much! But when he
overruled her, a little impatiently--it was not yet dark, and he did not
wish to remain longer than was necessary with her in Victoria
Station--she submitted timidly, with a sudden slight flushing of her
cheeks.

“A four-wheeler, Julian!” she murmured pleadingly, as they emerged into
the station yard. With a lofty smile at what he supposed to be
nervousness on her part, he signified assent with a little condescending
gesture, and stopped before a waiting cab.

“Here you are,” he said. “Jump in!”

She got in obediently, and as he shut the door she turned to him through
the open window.

“Good-bye, Julian!” she said, in a low, sweet voice.

“Good-bye!” he said cheerily, smiling at her. Her face in its dingy
frame looked whiter, sweeter, and more steadfast than ever, and it made
a curiously sudden and distinct impression on Julian’s mental retina.
Then the cab turned lumberingly round, and he moved smartly away. He did
not see that as the cab turned, that sweet, white face appeared at the
other window and followed him with wide, wistful eyes until the moving
life of London parted them.

Julian was on his way to the club. He had a vague disinclination to the
thought of going home; the house in Chelsea was always more or less
distasteful to him now, and he had no intention of going thither before
it was necessary. It was nearly dark by the time his destination was
reached, and as his hansom drew up a few yards from the club entrance he
could only see that the way was stopped by a carriage from which two
ladies and a gentleman had just emerged. It was the younger of the two
ladies who glanced in his direction, and said, in a pretty, uninterested
voice:

“Isn’t that Mr. Romayne?”

Marston Loring was the man addressed, and he shot a keen, considering
glance at the speaker--Miss Pomeroy. The fact that her eyes had noticed
Julian when his quick ones had not, trivial as it was, was not without
its significance to the man whose stock-in-trade, so to speak, was
founded on clever estimate and appreciation of trifles. Was Miss Pomeroy
not so entirely unobservant a nonentity as she was supposed to be, he
asked himself, not for the first time; or was there another reason for
her quickness in this instance?

“So it is!” he said. “Hullo, old fellow!”

Julian came eagerly up to the group as it paused for him on the club
steps, and shook hands in his pleasantest manner with Mrs. Pomeroy.

“I do believe it’s a ladies’ afternoon!” he exclaimed gaily. “What luck
for me! How do you do?” shaking hands with Miss Pomeroy. “I’d actually
forgotten all about it, and I’ve only just come up from Brighton!
Loring, you must ask me to join your party, old man! Tell him so, Miss
Pomeroy, please!”

Whether strict veracity is to be imputed to a young man who professes
unbounded satisfaction at finding fashionable “ladies’ teas” in full
swing at his club when he has just come off a journey is perhaps
doubtful; but Julian threw himself into the spirit of the moment with a
frank gaiety and enthusiasm which was not to be surpassed. The greater
number of the ladies who were sipping club tea as if it were a hitherto
untasted nectar, and gazing at club furniture as though it were
provision for the comfort of some strange animal, were acquaintances of
his; and as he moved about among them his passage seemed to be marked by
merrier laughs, a quicker fire of the jokes of the moment, and brighter
faces than prevailed elsewhere. He was enjoying himself so thoroughly,
apparently, that he was unable to tear himself away, and when he left
the club at last, he sprang into a hansom, and told the driver to “put
the horse along.” He and his mother were dining out together, and he had
left himself barely sufficient time to dress.

He ran up the steps, flinging the driver his fare, let himself in with
his latchkey, and proceeded to his room up two steps at a time. When he
emerged thence, twenty minutes later, in evening dress, he was
congratulating himself on having “done the trick capitally, and well up
to time.”

He was a little surprised, therefore, as he came downstairs, to find his
mother’s maid waiting for him outside the drawing-room door with the
information that Mrs. Romayne was already in the carriage; and he ran
hastily downstairs, put on his overcoat, and proceeded to join her.

“I’m awfully sorry, dear,” he said, with eager apology. “I thought it
was earlier. The fact is, I was awfully late getting in. I found
‘ladies’ teas’ going on at the club--so awfully stupid of me to
forget--you might have liked to go--and it was rather good fun. How are
you, dear?”

He had let himself into the brougham as he spoke, had shut the door, and
seated himself by the figure he could only dimly see sitting rather back
in the corner so that little or no light fell on the face. He had kissed
his mother, hardly stemming the flood of his eloquence for the purpose;
and he now hardly waited for her word or two of reply before he plunged
once more into eager, amusing talk. He did not give his mother time to
do more than answer monosyllabically, and it followed that her silence
did not strike him. He sprang out, when the carriage stopped, to give
her his hand, but before he had given his instructions to the coachman,
and followed her into the house, she had disappeared into the ladies’
cloak-room. Consequently it was not until she came to him as he waited
to follow her into the drawing-room that he really saw her. As his eyes
rested on the figure coming towards him, he suddenly saw, not it, but a
sweet, white face with wistful eyes looking at him from out of a dingy
frame.



CHAPTER VII


Always excellently dressed, Mrs. Romayne’s appearance at that moment was
brilliant; almost excessively brilliant it seemed for a small
dinner-party. Her frock was of the most pronounced type of full-dress,
and she wore diamonds; not many, but so disposed, as was her
reddish-brown hair, as to make the greatest possible effect. But the
detail which had caught her son’s experienced eye, and which had brought
before him by some unaccountable law of contrast that other woman’s
face, lay in the fact that to-night for the first time his mother was
slightly “made up.” The colour on her cheeks, the bright effectiveness
of her eyes, was the result of art. It made her look haggard, Julian
decided with careless, indifferent distaste; and then he was following
her into the room.

She had hardly paused to speak to him; apparently she imagined that they
were late.

They were widely separated at dinner, and were not thrown together, as
it happened, during the whole evening. But Mrs. Romayne’s personality
was a factor in the party not to be ignored that night; she was
delightful, everybody said. It was a very select little dinner, and
society romps went on afterwards; romps to which Mrs. Romayne
contributed her full share. And to Julian that newly acquired sense of
his mother’s artificiality was accentuated as the evening passed on into
something like repugnance; a repugnance which, when he was seated with
her at last in the brougham and driving home, produced in him a strong
disinclination to rouse himself to an assumption of vivacity, and made
him occupy himself with his own thoughts so exclusively that he never
noticed that his mother uttered not a single word.

“Good night, mother!” he said absently, as they stood together in the
hall. He was stooping to kiss her when she stopped him with a slight,
peremptory gesture.

“I want to speak to you!” she said. Her voice was tense and a little
hoarse. Without another word, without so much as glancing at him, she
passed him and led the way to his smoking-room; turned up the lamp with
a quick, hard gesture, and then turned and faced him.

All the colour had faded from Julian’s face, and he had followed her
slowly. With the first sound of her voice the conviction had come to him
that he was discovered. There were certain weaknesses in him hitherto
undeveloped by the circumstances of his life, but radical factors in his
character. Morally speaking he was a coward. His hour had come, and he
was afraid to meet it. He came just inside the door and stood leaning
against the writing-table, confronting his mother, but neither looking
at her nor speaking.

“Tell me where you have been since Friday!” she said, low and
peremptorily; and then she stopped herself abruptly, putting out her
hand as though to prevent him from speaking, as a spasm of pain
distorted her face. “No!” she said in a hoarse, breathless way. “No,
don’t! You’ll tell me a lie. Don’t! I know!”

She had put out her hand and was steadying herself by the high oak
mantelpiece--part of her recent present to Julian--but her face was
rigid and set, and her eyes, full of a strange, indefinable agony, which
she seemed to be all the while holding desperately at bay, never left
the pale, downcast, almost sullen face opposite her.

With a determined wrench and setting in motion of all his faculties,
Julian pulled himself together so far as to take refuge in that sure
resort of the deficient in moral courage--an assumption of jaunty and
light-hearted non-comprehension. Perhaps he had never in his life been
more like his mother than he was at that moment as he threw back his
head and answered, with an affected gaiety which was somewhat hollow and
unsuccessful:

“What do you know, dear? You’re coming it rather strong, aren’t you?”

“I know that you have been living with a common work-girl somewhere in
Camden Town for a month or more!”

The words were spoken in the same hoarse voice which rang now, low as it
was, with an intolerable disgust. But its expression seemed to affect
Julian not at all. The words themselves were occupying all his
perception. A quick frown of consideration appeared on his forehead, as
though some relief or reprieve had come to him, bringing with it
possibilities the skilful turning to account of which called into play
his mental faculties, and in so doing strung up his nerve. He dropped
his artificiality of manner, and seemed to brace himself to meet the
emergency in which he found himself. The situation had evidently
suddenly altered its character for him. He was no longer cowed by it.

There was a pause--a pause in which Mrs. Romayne’s eyes seemed to dilate
and contract, and dilate again under the suffering to which she allowed
expression in neither tone nor gesture; and then there came from Julian
four awkward, hardly audible words, jerked out rather than spoken, with
long pauses intervening:

“How do you know?”

A short, sharp breath came from Mrs. Romayne, and then she said, with
cold decisiveness, though it seemed that nothing would take that
hoarseness from her voice:

“It matters very little how I know. That I know by one chance; that
some one else may know by another; some one else again by another--the
details in each case, when the chances are innumerable, are nothing!
Have you lived all this time in London not to know that discovery is
inevitable--to wonder ‘how’ when it comes?”

There was a bitterness, a keenness of scorn in her voice which stung him
like a lash, and he answered hotly:

“After all, mother, we are not living in Arcadia! We don’t talk about
these things, and I’m awfully sorry, I’m sure, that this should have
come to your knowledge; I’m awfully sorry to offend you. But, hang it
all, I’m not worse than lots of fellows about!”

His tone had gathered confidence and defiance as he went on, and it
seemed to shake her a little. Her hold on the mantelpiece tightened, and
she spoke quickly and rather nervously.

“It’s very likely,” she said. “I don’t want to argue the principle with
you. Young men have their own ideas, I know; but how many young
men--drop out? How many young men, with good positions, good chances,
somehow or other get into bad odour; get to be not received--or, if they
are received, it is with certain reservations--through this kind of
thing? Oh, of course I don’t say it’s inevitable. There are lots of men
about, as you say! But it’s an awful risk. In the case of a young man
like you, with no title to the position you hold in society but
your--your personality, don’t you see, it is a double and treble risk.
It is playing with edged tools; it is holding a knife to your own
throat. You would go under so horribly easily.”

She paused abruptly, as though the image before her eyes were too
terrible to her to be pursued further, and tried to moisten her dry
lips, on which the touch of paint had cracked now, showing how white
they were beneath. The ghastliness of the incongruity between her manner
and the superficialities of which she spoke was indescribable. Julian
did not speak; he was moving one foot to and fro slowly over the carpet,
at which he gazed immovably, and his mother went on almost immediately:

“You must give it up, Julian,” she said incisively. “I will do anything
that is necessary in the way of money; I don’t want to be hard upon
you. Anything the girl wants you shall have; but you must break with her
at once.”

She paused again, but still Julian did not speak; still he did not raise
his eyes. She went on with a growing insistence in her voice which went
hand in hand with a growing agony of appeal:

“If you don’t see the necessity now, you must believe me when I tell you
that you will--you will. Look, dear! your life is surely not so dull
that you need run after such distraction as that! You shall marry if you
want to. You shall marry any one you like. But you must--you must give
this up. Julian----” She stopped for a moment, and her voice grew thin,
almost faint, as she pressed so heavily on the carving by which she held
that her hand was bruised and blackened. “Julian, I am not telling you
what it has been to me to know that you have deceived me. I am not going
to try and make you feel--I don’t want you to feel it, dear--what it has
been to me to go over your home-life of the last few weeks and know
that you have lied to me at every turn--to me, who have only wanted to
make you happy. I won’t reproach you. Perhaps young men think it a kind
of right--a kind of right----” She repeated the sentence, unfinished as
it was, as though it contained an idea to which she clung. “It is not
for my sake--to spare my feelings, that I tell you you must give it up.
It is for your own. Julian, my boy, you must believe me.”

Her words, quivering with entreaty, died away; her eyes, full of
supplication, were fixed on his; and Julian spoke--spoke without lifting
his eyes from the ground.

“Suppose I married her?” he said in a low, shamefaced voice.

“What!” The monosyllable rang out sharp and vibrating, and Mrs. Romayne,
all softness or relaxation struck from her face and figure in one sudden
bracing of every muscle, stood staring at him out of eyes alive with
horror.

“Suppose--I married--her!”

“Supposing that--I will tell you! You would have to keep her and
yourself! You would have no more of my money, and you would never be
acknowledged in my house again!” Her low voice was like fine, cold
steel, and she paused. Then quite suddenly, as though the horror kept at
bay in her eyes had leapt up and mastered her in an instant, she flung
out her hands wildly, crying: “Julian, Julian! You are not married? Tell
me, tell me you are not married?”

And Julian, white to the very lips, said low and hurriedly:

“No!”

There was a long silence. With a choked, hysterical cry, Mrs. Romayne
dropped into a chair near her, and covered her face with her hands.
Julian drew out his pocket-handkerchief and mechanically wiped his
forehead. At last he began, in a nervous, uneven voice:

“Mother, look here, I--you don’t quite understand me! I--she--it’s--it’s
not the kind of girl you think!” He stopped and drew his hand
desperately before his eyes. That innocent, white face, in its dingy
frame, what did it want before his eyes now? How could he get on if he
kept looking at it? “She--we--it was my fault! Mother, look here, I
ought!”

Mrs. Romayne took her hands away from her face and clenched them
together.

“You shall not,” she said in a low, steady voice.

“She--she--was an awfully good girl, don’t you know. She’s not--of
course she’s not one of our sort, but--she would learn. Mother, after
all, why not? Nothing else can--can make it right!”

“Nothing else can ruin you completely!” was the steady answer. “You
shall never do it if I can prevent it. I have told you what I would do;
think it well over. Think what it would mean to you to have not one
farthing but what you can earn! To be cut by every one who knows you! To
be without a chance of any kind! I told you that if you married I would
disown you! Now I tell you something else! Break off this miserable
connection and you shall have, as I said, anything in reason to give the
girl in compensation once and for all. Refuse to do so and I will cut
off your allowance until you come to your senses!”

“Mother!” he cried fiercely. “By Heaven, mother!”

“You can take your choice!” was the unmoved answer.

Her face was sharp and haggard; the artificial colour stood out on it in
great patches, throwing into relief the vivid pallor beneath. She had
thrown aside her cloak as though the physical oppression was unbearable
to her, and the contrast between her face and her gorgeous dress with
its glittering ornaments was horrible.

A smothered oath broke from the young man, and lifting his right hand,
he began to rub it slowly up and down the back of his head as an
expression of heavy, fierce cogitation settled down upon his face. To
his unutterable surprise, as he made the gesture, there stole over his
mother’s face an expression of such deadly terror as he had never before
seen. He stopped involuntarily, and she staggered to her feet, holding
out two quivering, imploring hands. For the first time in his life
Julian was using a gesture habitual in his dead father; for the first
time in his life, looking into her son’s face, Mrs. Romayne saw there
the face of William Romayne.

“My boy!” she gasped. “My boy. Don’t do that! Don’t look like that, for
Heaven’s sake! For Heaven’s sake!”

She swayed for a moment to and fro, and then fell heavily forward into
his arms.



CHAPTER VIII


A bitter east wind, which was taking sufficiently depressing effect upon
all London, was dealing with peculiar grimness with Redburn Street,
Camden Town. The neat little houses in that dreary grey dryness looked
sordidly wretched; there was something deserted and hopeless about them.
No one was to be seen, except that at a first-floor window about
half-way down a woman’s figure was standing; and as Dennis Falconer
turned into the street his footsteps rang with heavy distinctness on the
glaring pavement. He strode slowly and steadily along, and his solitary
figure, as it stood out with that peculiar sharpness of outline which is
a characteristic production of east wind, harmonised absolutely with the
sombreness of the background. His face was full of sombre purpose, grave
and stern.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon of Wednesday--two days after
Julian’s return home. On the morning of the preceding day Julian and his
mother had had a second interview, which had ended in his giving a
sullen and reluctant assent to her demands; and in the evening Dennis
Falconer had received from Mrs. Romayne a brief, almost peremptory note,
begging him to come to her. He had gone to Queen Anne Street
accordingly, severely unsympathetic, but also severely reliable, early
on Wednesday morning.

He had found Mrs. Romayne in a feverish agony of agitation beyond even
the power of her will to conceal or wholly to control. Her voice,
painfully thin and sharp; her gestures restless, nervous, irritable; her
utterance hard and rapid; had all testified to a strained, tense
excitement before which all her artificiality was utterly submerged, and
in which Falconer himself was obviously regarded by her solely as the
one instrument at hand to her necessity. Her whole soul seemed to be set
upon the immediate termination of “the affair,” as she called it. It
affected her evidently in only one way, she looked at it from only one
point of view: as something to be finished up, put away, buried out of
sight. It was the thought of delay in the doing of this, only, that
appeared to torture her; of the affair itself with all its terrible
significance, its inevitable consequences, she had, as far as Falconer
could divine, no adequate conception. The girl must be bought off; must
be sent away; must be sent right out of the country, in case--and here
came the one agonised sense of a possible consequence which Falconer
could detect--in case Julian should marry her after all!

It was evidently the haunting terror of such a contingency which had
driven her to send for Falconer. It was obvious, though she seemed to be
striving hard to conceal it even from herself, that she could not trust
her son; that she could find no rest in the promise she had wrung from
him. What she had to say to Falconer was, in effect, that some one else
must see the girl; the arrangement to be surely effected must be brought
about by a third person who would set about the business promptly and
act decidedly. It was this service which she wanted of Falconer, and
Falconer, after a moment’s grave self-communing, agreed to render it. He
was as far removed from sympathy with her in this her hard, agonised
reality as he had been from the artificial woman of the previous months,
or from the real woman of eighteen years before. He considered her point
of view in the present instance absolutely revolting in her. But no man
could question the practical sense of what she said, or the advisability
of the course she proposed, and his conception of his obligations as her
sole male relative and trustee was too intimately intertwined with his
sense of duty and self-respect to allow him to entertain, even for a
moment, the possibility of refusing to act for her. He had stood by her
side, impelled by that sense of duty, gravely reliable, and
unsympathetic, eighteen years before. The irony of fate decreed that it
was for him, and for him only, to act for her now. To him it was simply
the stern dictate of moral necessity to be obeyed as such.

Accordingly he had received her instructions, offering now and again a
grim, practical suggestion, with a stern air of businesslike reserve;
had undertaken--being at the bottom of her opinion as to the
desirability of instant measures--to see “the girl” that same afternoon;
and he was walking down Redburn Street now, in the pitiless east wind,
to carry that undertaking into effect.

He reached the house, knocked, and asked briefly for Mrs. Roden. The
landlady, whose sentiments towards her lodgers had developed rapidly in
consequence of the enquiries which Falconer had felt it his duty to
make, received his words with a sniff expressive of contempt; and then
informed him, with a stare of insolent curiosity, that “she” was
“hupstairs,” and led the way thither; evidently urged to that act of
civility solely by a hope of finding out something. She was a coarse,
vulgar-looking woman, with small red eyes, which glittered expectantly
as she flung the door open and announced, in a loud and denunciatory
voice, “‘Ere’s a gentleman!”

But if she had hoped for startling revelations she was disappointed.
Dennis Falconer advanced into the room with stern composure; the figure
in the window turned quickly but quietly to meet him; and Mrs. Jackson
was obliged to shut the door upon the two.

Clemence was looking very pale. The vague shadow which had fallen upon
her as she journeyed up to London two days before had deepened into a
wistful, questioning sadness. She had not seen Julian since she parted
from him at Victoria Station. On the previous day she had received a
note from him which told her that “work” kept him from her for that day,
but that he would come as soon as he was able. There was nothing to
distress or alarm her in the fact itself; more than once before a
similar disappointment had come to her; and even though the second day
brought her no letter, the blank merely meant, as she assured herself
hour by hour, that she would see him before the day was done. But strive
against it as she might, and did, she had spent the past twenty-four
hours weighed down by a sense of trouble utterly undefined; utterly, as
it seemed to her, without reason. She had borne her burden with mute
patience, reproaching herself as for ingratitude and an inordinate
desire for active happiness, and struggling bravely to conquer it; but
neither arguing about it nor denying it, as a less simple and
straightforward nature would have done. And now the appearance of
Falconer seemed suddenly to focus and define her vague distress. The
sudden conviction that Julian was ill, and that this gentleman had come
from him to tell her so, held her still and silent in a pang of cruel
realisation and anticipation.

The light, as she moved, had fallen full upon her face, and as he saw it
a certain shock passed through Dennis Falconer. He had seen her figure,
and even her face in the distance more than once, but he had never
before seen it with any distinctness, and for the first instant the
simplicity and purity of its beauty, with the expression deepened by the
strange shadow through which the past two days had led her, clashed
almost painfully with that idea of “the girl” which had grown, during
his conversation with Mrs. Romayne, into a kind of fact for him. The
next moment, however, he had reconciled appearances and realities, as he
conceived them, with the grim reflection that there is no vice so
vicious as that which wears an innocent face; and in doing so had
quenched what might have been perception beneath a weight of narrow
truism.

No greeting of any kind passed between them. All Clemence’s faculties
were absorbed in her dread. Falconer was busied with the process of
reconciliation. The strange little silence was broken eventually by
Falconer, and he spoke with the unbending sternness and distance which
that process and its conclusion had naturally accentuated.

“I am here as the representative of Julian Roden’s nearest relative and
guardian,” he said. It had been arranged between himself and Mrs.
Romayne, on the suggestion of the latter, that “the girl,” if she did
not already know it, should be kept in ignorance of Julian’s real name.

The statement was slightly over-coloured, since Julian was of age, and
his mother was no longer his guardian in any legal sense; but to stern
moralists of Falconer’s type, to whom the pretty little falsenesses of
life are wholly to be condemned, a slight misstatement in such a case is
frequently permissible. The brief, uncompromising words had seemed to
him to set the key of the interview beyond mistake. He was consequently
slightly taken aback by their effect.

Every trace of colour died out of Clemence’s face, and two great dilated
eyes gazed at him for an instant in dumb agony before she whispered:

“He’s not--dead?”

Falconer made a slight, almost contemptuous, negative gesture. He had no
intention of being imposed upon by theatrical arts, and as Clemence, her
self-control shattered by the sudden relief, turned instinctively away,
and pressed her face down on the arm with which she had caught at the
curtain for support, he went on with immoveable sternness:

“My business has to do with his life, not his death. The main point is
very simple, and I will put it to you at once. Absolute ruin lies before
him. Is he or is he not to embrace it?”

He saw her start, and she lifted her face quickly, and turned it to him
all quivering and unstrung from her recent suffering, and quite white.

“He is in trouble!” she cried, low and breathlessly. “Oh, what is it?
What has happened?”

Dennis Falconer’s patience was approaching its limits, and he spoke
curtly and conclusively.

“I think we may dispense with this kind of thing,” he said. “It can
serve no purpose, as everything is known. I come now from his mother
with full power to act for her----”

He was interrupted. A burning colour, the colour of such paralysing
surprise as can take in hardly the bare statement, much less the
consequent developements and inferences, had rushed suddenly over
Clemence’s face, dyeing her very throat.

“His mother!” she exclaimed. “His mother!” Her tone dropped as she
repeated the words into a strange, uncertain murmur, in which
incredulity, acceptance--as a kind of experiment--and something that was
almost fear, were inextricably blended.

The fear alone caught Falconer’s ear. His lips were parted to resume his
speech with grim decisiveness in the conviction that she understood at
last that nothing was to be gained by trifling with him, when she said,
as though he had had nothing to do with her previous words:

“Go on, please.”

He looked at her again, and was struck by a new look in her face, as he
had been struck by a new tone in her voice. She was evidently going to
drop all theatricalities, he told himself.

“Perhaps you were not aware that he is, practically, under the control
of his mother,” he said. “That is to say, he is dependent on her for
every penny he spends. It is quite out of the question that he should
make money at the bar--by his own profession, that is to say--for two or
three years at least. Consequently the cutting off of the allowance made
him by Mrs. ---- Roden will mean for him absolute penury.”

She was staring at him; staring at him out of two wide, intense brown
eyes; with such a helpless bewilderment in her face that she seemed to
be quite dazed. She put her hand to her head as he paused with a
feeble, uncertain gesture; but she did not speak, and Falconer went on
severely:

“I conclude that he has not represented these facts to you as they
stand. They are facts, nevertheless. You will, therefore, understand
that, his allowance withdrawn, he will be entirely without the means of
supporting you. You may possibly consider that some shifty means might
be found which, by putting him in possession of small sums of money,
would enable him for a time to defy his mother. Let me point out to you
something of what such a course would involve. Julian Roden is a young
man with a good position in society--I mean he is accustomed to be made
much of by men and women who are his equals; he has chances and
opportunities of which he intends, no doubt, to avail himself. All this,
in taking such a step, he would throw away for ever. Social intercourse,
future career, would go with his income at his mother’s word. Now, I
will ask you only how long you could hope to depend on him in such
circumstances; how long it would be before his only feeling for the
woman whom he had allowed to drag him down and to destroy all his hopes
in life would degenerate into sheer repugnance; and for how long he
would care to keep her?”

He paused, and after a moment’s dead silence Clemence spoke in a weak,
eager, almost desperate voice:

“There must be some mistake! It--it can’t be--the same!”

The words seemed to Falconer a mere miserable subterfuge, and he
answered very sternly:

“There is not the faintest possibility of mistake. Julian Roden has
owned the whole affair to his mother, who taxed him with it on her
discovery----”

“Oh, wait a minute! Wait a minute!”

There was a ring of such intolerable pain, such shame and anguish, in
the voice, that Falconer’s attention, heavy and prejudiced as it was,
was arrested by it. Dimly and uncertainly, and for the first time, the
girl before him appeared to him, not simply as a representative of a
degraded sisterhood, but as a woman. He looked at her for a moment, as
she stood with her face buried in her hands, quivering from head to
foot, with a severe kind of pity.

“I will tell you, as briefly as may be, what I am charged to say,” he
said gravely, but not ungently. “Mrs. ---- Roden is determined to break
off her son’s disgraceful connection with you at the cost of any
suffering to herself or to him. She is willing to believe that her son
is to be considered in some sort as the more guilty party of the two in
having acted as the tempter, and she has no wish to deal otherwise than
generously by you. But there are conditions.”

He paused again. Over the slender, bowed woman’s figure before him there
had gradually crept, as he spoke, a stillness like the stillness of
death; and now, as he waited for her to speak, Clemence slowly lifted
her head and looked at him; looked at him with dull, sunken eyes, which
seemed the only living points in a face out of which all life and
expression seemed to have been crushed by a rigid, haggard mask.

“Conditions?” she repeated.

Her voice was hollow, and had a monotonous, far-away sound, and the
word seemed to have no meaning for her.

A sense of vague discomfort took possession of Dennis Falconer. A dim
sense that he was not being met as he had expected--as he had a right to
expect--disturbed and annoyed him. He had no idea that what he was
chiefly discomposed by was a hazy consciousness that a touch of
unconscionable respect for the woman who, as he believed, was utterly
unworthy of respect, was mingling with his already sufficiently
unorthodox sense of pity; but he entrenched himself in a triple armour
of stiffness.

“The conditions are these,” he said. “You will give your written word,
as under penalties for having obtained money by false pretences, to
leave England on a given date and by a given route, and not to return to
England within the next ten years. Mrs. ---- Roden in return will pay
you the sum of five hundred pounds. If you refuse these terms, and Roden
submits to his mother, you will simply be the poorer by five hundred
pounds. If you induce him to defy his mother, the consequences I have
already described to you will inevitably ensue.”

He waited for her answer, steadily fortifying himself against being
surprised at anything she might say; but no answer came. That strange,
stricken face was still turned full towards him, but he had an uneasy
sense that he was not seen by the great, dull, dark eyes. He felt, too,
that as she stood there with her hands tightly clasped together, she was
not thinking even remotely of the choice he had set before her, though
he knew that she had heard his words and understood them. It was with an
instinctive desire to rouse her, to bring back some expression to her
face, that he said, with an awkward gentleness which was quite
involuntary:

“There is no need for you to decide hastily. You understand the
alternative thoroughly, no doubt. I will leave you my address, and you
can write me your answer.”

He felt in his pocket for his card-case, and the movement seemed to
rouse her. She stopped him with a slight motion of her hand.

“There’s no need,” she said. As though the act of speaking had brought
her back from somewhere far away, and as though the claims of the moment
were gradually becoming present to her, she paused as if to gather
force, and to close upon herself a certain strangely fine reserve, which
seemed at once to hedge her about and hold her aloof from the man to
whom she spoke; and then she spoke very quietly. “I don’t want any
money. If it is better that he should be free of me, he shall be free.
That’s all.”

“You are making a mistake!” returned Falconer quickly. There was
something about the dignity of her manner which made him feel curiously
impotent and small, as though in the presence of an unknown power
greater than himself, and the sense increased the touch of irritation he
had already experienced. His tone was no longer coldly stern; it was
insistent and annoyed. “You should consider your future. If you accept
Mrs. Roden’s offer and leave England with a small capital you will have
a chance of beginning life again. The step you have lately taken may be
your first step on the downward path--I conclude that it is. You should
reflect how difficult it is to pause there. With a little money you may
establish yourself in a respectable business, and in the course of time
you may even redeem your unfortunate past.”

Not a muscle of the still, pale face moved. It seemed to have grown
strangely older and stronger in the course of the short interview, and
it listened to him with an air of courteous patience which seemed to set
an impassable distance between them. The perfect steadiness of her voice
as she replied was the steadiness not of composure but of reserve.

“It is quite impossible!” she said.

“Then I am sorry to have to say that I consider you both foolish and
ungrateful!” said Falconer with increasing severity. “You put it
entirely out of our power to do anything for you. Am I to understand
that you refuse to leave England?”

“I don’t know. I must think!” Still the same distant, unmoved patience.

“You will do well to think,” was Falconer’s reply, “and to put away from
you in doing so a false pride, which is entirely misplaced. I will give
you twenty-four hours for consideration, and to-morrow afternoon I will
call and see you again.” On second thoughts it had occurred to Falconer
that it would be a false step to give her his name and address. “I shall
hope to find that you have come to a sensible decision.”

He paused a moment, and she made a slight gesture of acquiescence,
rather as though his words were indifferent to her than in any token of
assent to what he said. He added a stiff, formal “Good afternoon!” and
as her lips moved mechanically as if to frame the words in answer, he
turned and left the room.

As though his presence and his words had been so mere a drop in the deep
waters of suffering which held her that his withdrawal affected her not
at all, Clemence stood for the moment just as he left her, hardly
conscious, as it seemed, that he was gone. Then, as though the sense
that she was alone had come to her gradually, she dropped feebly into a
chair, and let her face fall heavily forward upon the table.



CHAPTER IX


The hand crept round the clock, the swift November twilight fell, and
still she did not move; only her clasped hands stretched themselves out
as if in prayer. She was not praying though. The attitude was
instinctive and unconscious; a blind, mute appeal. She was simply
stunned. The room grew darker and darker until its only light was a ray
from the street-lamp outside falling straight across the bowed head; and
then there was a ring at the bell and a slow step upon the stairs.
Clemence knew the step well, though she had never before heard it fall
like that. As it fell upon her ear now, a strong shiver ran all through
her, and her hands were drawn sharply to cover her face. The door was
opened, and her face was pressed down still more tightly.

“Clemence! What, all in the dark? Why, Clemence----” The masterful,
rather aggressively cheerful young voice stopped abruptly, and Julian
Romayne stood still against the door he had closed behind him,
listening; listening to a low, pitiful sound, which seemed to fill the
very air--the sound of a woman’s heart-broken crying. At the first tone
of his voice great, scalding tears had started to Clemence’s eyes
suddenly and without warning; a low, choking sob had shaken her from
head to foot, and she was crying now with the hopeless abandonment of
suddenly loosened grief.

There was a moment during which the only sound in the room was the sound
of her quivering sobs. Julian stood quite still; on the first instant
there leapt into his face such a look of fierce, vindictive anger as
absolutely transformed it. The look faded slowly into a kind of bitter
background, and a hard sullenness settled itself upon it--settled with
some difficulty as it seemed, for his lips twitched a little. Then he
advanced into the room and broke the silence, and the roughness in his
tone seemed to defy something within himself. He made no attempt to
light the gas. The lamp outside made it possible to move about, and
apparently he did not care for further illumination.

“Come, Clemence,” he said, “what’s the matter?”

He had not approached her; on the contrary, he was on the other side of
the room looking down at her across the lodging-house table. She did not
raise her head or move as she replied; indeed, the choked, broken words
were rather the expression of the mingled shame and pity with which she
was crushed than a definite answer to his words.

“Oh! Julian! Julian! Julian!”

Apparently the tone of her voice affected him in spite of himself, for
his face twitched again, and he spoke more harshly still.

“What’s the matter, I say?”

She stretched her hands out to him across the table, still without
lifting her face, in an unconscious gesture of appeal.

“Oh, don’t!” she cried beseechingly and piteously. “Don’t, dear! Don’t
pretend any more. I--I know!”

The hands thrust deep down into Julian’s pockets were clenched
fiercely, and his teeth were set together, as a look rose in his eyes
which they had never held before.

“My mother?” he said.

She answered only with a slight shivering gesture, but it was enough.
With his young face white to the lips with passionate resentment, Julian
turned brusquely away and took two blind strides to the window, with a
muttered oath.

There was a long silence. Julian stood at the window, staring blankly
out into the darkness with hard eyes. Clemence was indeed, as she
believed herself to be, his wife. How it had come about, how he had
drifted into anything so far from his vague thoughts in his first
meetings with her, he could not have said. What it was that had shaped
and moulded his intention into something so much purer and more manly
than his own nature, he only now and then felt faintly and indefinitely
when he touched it, as he could touch it rarely and densely, in the
woman from whose higher nature it emanated. He had married her with that
reckless carelessness for the future which seems almost abnormal, but
which is not an uncommon characteristic of weakness; and now he was
quite incapable of facing and enduring the legitimate consequences of
his action. He had lied to his mother to save himself from the heavier
penalty with which she threatened him, and his suggestion as to the
possibility of his marrying the girl she believed him to have ruined,
had been a miserable, consciously degraded attempt at cutting the
Gordian knot. He had lied to his mother again, deliberately and without
compunction, at their second interview, giving her a promise which he
knew to be an empty form, in his word to break with the girl who was his
wife. He had come to Clemence to-day, intending to arrange for that
temporary suspension of intercourse with her, which was inevitable as a
blind to his mother, by telling her that he was obliged to go abroad
immediately for an indefinite period.

Now as he stood there in the dark little room, with his eyes fixed on
the solitary gas-lamp outside, he was gradually realising that it was
all over. His mother had sent, had possibly come herself, to Clemence,
he supposed, and Clemence had, of course, declared herself his wife.
His plans were all upset. His carefully made calculations were no longer
of any avail. It was all over. His brain gradually ceased to busy
itself; he was staring darkly at penury, humiliation, ostracism--not
thinking of them or feeling them, but just contemplating them with a
stupid, mental gaze.

Gradually a sense of his surroundings began to return to him. He became
conscious that it was a street-lamp at which he was looking; that there
was a dark little street before him; that there was a dim room behind
him; and then from that room a low sound came to him--faint, exhausted,
long-drawn sobs, as of a woman who has wept herself into quiet. He began
to listen for them and count them involuntarily. Then they began to hurt
him; each one seemed to stick something into his heart. At last he
walked across almost mechanically, and laid his hand tentatively on her
shoulder.

“It’s all right, Clemence!” he said huskily. “It’s all right, dear.
After all, you know, you are my wife all right!” He was conscious of a
vague idea that it was the supposition he had allowed that had cut her
so cruelly.

There was another moment’s pause, and then Clemence slowly lifted her
head and looked at him for the first time. Her face was white and
exhausted-looking with her tears, and her eyes, luminous and
inexpressibly mournful, seemed to look through the pale, good-looking
young features above her into the poor cramped soul they hid.

“I?” she said. “What does it matter about me, Julian? It’s you! Oh, my
dear, my dear, it’s you!”

“It--it’s awkward!” returned Julian gloomily; his consciousness of the
prospect before him seemed to quicken and writhe at what he supposed to
be her realisation of it. “It’s loss of everything practically, of
course. One will be cut right and left, and where money is to come
from----”

He was interrupted by a low cry. Clemence had drawn a little back as
though to see him better, and was looking up at him with her delicate
eyebrows drawn together in intense, painful perplexity and wonder.

“Oh, Julian!” she said, and her low voice had for the first time a ring
of reproach in it. “Oh, Julian, it isn’t that, dear! It isn’t that! What
does that matter?”

“What does it matter?” echoed Julian with an angry laugh. Her words, in
the total want of comprehension, the total incapacity for sympathy with
his position, to which they witnessed, seemed to him to throw into
sudden, glaring relief the class distinction which lay between them; and
the sense of it came upon him, jarring and overwhelming, like an earnest
of all he had done for himself. “It matters a good deal, let me tell
you, Clemence. It matters--as you can’t understand, you know! It matters
just everything!”

“But--compared!” she said in a low, quick tone, a bright, pained light
in her eyes. “I know--I know, of course, that there is a great deal I
can’t understand. But--compared!”

“Compared with what, in Heaven’s name?” said Julian angrily.

“Compared with--yourself, Julian!” she cried, laying a tender, clinging
touch on his arm. “Compared with your own truth! Oh, don’t you know it’s
that, it’s only that that has been so dreadful to me--that made me feel
as if my heart was breaking! It’s thinking that you’ve been false, dear!
That you’ve said what’s not true, acted what’s not true! Oh, it’s that
that I can’t bear for you, my dear, my dear!”

He stood looking down, not at her face, but at the worn, trembling hand
holding his in such a clasp of love and shame--shame for him as he
vaguely felt; suspended between wrath and a certain cold, creeping
feeling which he could not analyse, but which seemed to be gradually
turning him into a horrible shadow. It was an involuntary, unwilling
concession to this feeling, as one might throw a sop to an on-coming,
all-threatening monster, that he muttered awkwardly:

“I--I’m sorry I deceived you, Clemence.”

“Deceived me!” There was an emphasis on the pronoun which seemed to lift
her far above him in its absolute, unconscious, self-abnegation. “Me!
Oh, it isn’t that! It doesn’t matter who it is or how many people it
is! It’s the thing itself. It’s the meaning to yourself, and--and Heaven
above! Julian, dear, you believe in Heaven above, don’t you?” Clemence’s
creed was very simple; the attitude of the spirit which “Heaven above”
had given her was not an affair of many words. “You know it’s oneself
that matters. It isn’t what one has or the friends one has that make the
difference--they’re not anything really. It’s oneself!”

She paused a moment, but he did not speak. He was still looking heavily
down at the hand on his arm, and she went on again, her voice trembling
with earnestness.

“Julian, there’s that at the bottom of everything in all kinds of life!
It doesn’t matter whether one’s rich or poor, it doesn’t matter whether
people think well of us--we can’t always make them, and we can’t all be
rich. But we can all be good, dear. Heaven means us all to be good,
don’t you think? Oh, if it didn’t, if it wasn’t that that mattered most
of all down at the bottom, what would the world come to be like? And why
should anybody go on living!”

Julian Romayne was very young. Far down in his nature; in that awful
inextricable tangle which, because it is so awful and so far beyond his
reach, man struggles so insanely to reduce to his poor little level, to
define, and label, and explain away, but which remains in spite of him a
mystery of God; there was that strange affinity for noble thoughts and
things which is the sign manual of His part in man, never wholly
withdrawn by its Creator from the earth. It is in the young that that
instinctive affinity is most easily reached and touched; and the simple,
ignorant, unworldly words--words which could have touched in Julian no
reasoning powers--were the medium which reached it now. Clemence had
reached it more than once or twice before, and its feeble stirring in
response had quickened it, and rendered it, in some poor and
infinitesimal degree, sensitive to her touch.

He drew his arm sharply from those clinging, pleading hands, and turned
away, leaning his arm on the mantelpiece so that she could not see his
face. That cold, creeping feeling which seemed to sap all his reality
had stolen over his whole personality, and he was held numb and
paralysed in the clutch of an all-dominating question. Was it really as
she said? His own life, his own world had faded into shadows as of a
very dream. Strange, distorted shapes, conceptions so new to him that
they wore a weird and ghostly air of unreality, seemed to be rising
round him, pressing him into nothingness. Was it as she said? He did not
speak, and after a moment Clemence went on; very tenderly, very
delicately, as though in her intense sympathy and feeling for the
suffering she ascribed to him by intuition, she dreaded to hurt him
further; diffidently and with difficulty, because she was so little used
to clothing in words all that to her was most real and vital in life.

“You--you must think of the future, dear. I know--I know that you can
hardly bear to look at the past, but it--it is past! It hasn’t been you,
really! I know it can’t have been! And--it will wear out of your life at
last, dear, by--by truth. You will tell your mother that we are
married”--a scarlet, agonising colour dyed her face for an
instant--“perhaps you have told her already? And perhaps, perhaps she
will forgive you! If not--why if not, perhaps the--the pain will help to
wear it out, my dearest.”

Her voice and the expression of the sweet, white face she lifted to him
had changed subtly as she spoke. Her great pity and sorrow for him had
developed a strange, new phase in her love for him. It had become
tenderer, deeper. She had lost her reverence for him, but her love had
triumphed over the loss, and through the pain and victory it had won
higher ground, and become the love of sympathy and consolation.

But Julian hardly heard her last words. His attention had stopped, as it
were, at those preceding them:

“You will tell your mother that we are married!”

Had Clemence not told, then? Was it possible that she had not mentioned
it; that his mother did not know even now; that there was still hope?

The thought arrested the current of his thoughts in an instant. The
possibilities the thought suggested; all the tangible, definite
advantages it held; swept over those faintly quickened perceptions in a
sudden wave of excitement, numbing them on the instant. The things which
had been realities to him as long as he had had any consciousness, took
to themselves substance once again and pressed about him. Life and the
world resumed their normal complexion, and he lifted his head quickly
and turned.

“Do you mean--have you seen my mother? Whom have you seen? Do you mean
that you have said nothing?”

There was a pause as Clemence looked at him for a moment confused and
startled, it seemed, by his manner. There was a wonderful, unconscious
touch of dignity in her gentle manner as she answered:

“I never thought of it!”

“Was it my mother?”

“No; a gentleman.”

Julian moved abruptly with a low exclamation, and began to walk rapidly
up and down the little room absorbed in eager thought. Clemence watched
him with a puzzled, surprised look in her eyes, and a little touch of
reserve creeping over her face. At last he stopped suddenly and began
to speak, looking anywhere but on her face.

“Look here, Clemence, I’m afraid this sounds an awfully blackguardly
thing to suggest, but you’ll see it’s necessary. It won’t do for me to
tell my mother just yet. To tell you the truth she is frightfully set
against my marrying. I am done for all round as soon as she knows, and
it would be just cutting our own throats to tell her--yet, you know. You
see,” he went on hurriedly, evidently anxious to prevent her speaking,
“you see, as I am I’ve got very good prospects. In a few years, if all
goes well, I shall be making heaps of money at the bar--a fellow that is
well known, you know, can always get on--and then it will be all right
and simple. Meanwhile, you see, I have plenty of money, and we can be
together almost as much as we like, quietly, you know. Whereas if we
burst it all up now we shall just starve and be out of it all our lives.
Don’t you see?”

He stopped awkwardly, but for the moment he had no answer. Clemence had
listened to him, the expression of her face changing from wonder to
incredulity, from incredulity to agony, from agony to the look of a
creature stricken to death. She lifted her hand in the silence slowly
and heavily to her head. Julian saw the gesture, though he could not see
her face, and its heaviness somehow increased his discomfort.

“You see it’s only common sense!” he said impatiently.

“You mean that you want to go on living a double life--that you don’t
want, don’t mean to try, to do right!” The voice was not like the voice
of the Clemence he knew. It was low, distinct, and stern, and she spoke
very slowly.

“I mean that I don’t want to ruin myself out of hand!” he said harshly.
“Don’t be foolish, Clemence!”

“Ruin!” she said in the same tone. “You don’t know what real ruin means!
I don’t know how to make you understand; I’m not clever enough. But I
can tell you just this! I would rather die than have it as you say. For
your sake, not for my own only, I would rather die. Until your mother
knows the truth I won’t even see you or speak to you again. As to
taking a penny of your money, I would starve first.”

Her tone, vibrating with intensity of meaning, was quite low. She was
not declaiming or protesting. She was simply making her stand at a
proposition so terrible to her that it had carried her beyond the bounds
of emotion. For the moment Julian was startled and aghast.

“You don’t mean that!” he said. “Clemence, that’s nonsense!”

“It’s truth!” she said steadily. “You must choose!”

She was standing facing him, her slight figure erect and straight as he
had never seen it. Her face was white as death, and set into strange,
fine lines quite new to it; all the softness about her mouth was being
gradually pressed out as the latent strength developed, as it seemed,
with every breath she drew. It was as though the crisis, in its sudden
demand upon her forces, was transforming her as she grappled with it;
transforming her into a woman before whom Julian felt himself shrink
into utter contemptibility. He took the only means he knew to reassert
himself, and lost his temper deliberately.

“Well, then, I do choose!” he cried violently. “You’re a foolish girl,
who doesn’t understand, Clemence, and by-and-by you’ll own I was right!
As to not taking my money, that’s absurd, you know! You must! But I’m
not going to ruin both of us for absurd fancies!”

He stopped, hoping she would answer and give him some advantage, but she
stood silent, gazing at him with stern, searching eyes, as though she
were trying in vain to reconcile the man before her with the man she
loved. Julian felt her gaze though he could not see it, and he went on
hotly, trying, as it were, to gather round him the rags of his old
authority and superiority.

“You don’t suppose, Clemence,” he said, “that I propose this because I
like it? It’s not a nice thing for a man to propose to his wife, I can
tell you. I should have hoped you would have understood that. But after
all it’s only for a time, and it won’t make any real difference to
you--things will be just as they have been. And if you can’t feel about
it as I do, you must remember it’s because you’ve got a great deal to
learn still, and you must believe that what I say is right. Anyway,
you’re my wife, you know, and you’re bound to obey me!”

“I’m bound to obey you in all things that it’s right you should ask. But
I’m not bound to do what would be dragging you down and me too. I can’t
make you do what’s right; it wouldn’t do you any good for me to tell
your mother; but until you do, it will be as I said.”

“Then it’s you who part us,” he cried passionately. “You don’t love me,
Clemence! You can’t ever have loved me!”

There was a moment’s pause, and then her answer came in a strange, still
voice.

“I do love you!” she said. “I love you so that I would give my life to
blot out what you’ve said!”

A dead silence--a silence in which Julian Romayne seemed to feel
something pulling and straining at his heart-strings. Then with a
reckless, desperate effort he tore himself away from its influence and
spoke.

“It can’t be helped, then,” he said fiercely and defiantly. “You must
go your own way until you come to your senses! Some day, perhaps, you’ll
be grateful to me for refusing to make fools of us! I wouldn’t have
believed it of you, Clemence! You make me almost sorry that I ever saw
you. Now, look here; I’ve put it to you from every point of view; I’ve
tried as hard as ever I can to make you understand, and if you won’t,
you won’t! As to the money, of course, I can’t hear of your not taking
that. I shall send you so much regularly every month--it won’t be very
much either, but it’ll be enough to keep you--and, of course, you’ll
have to spend it. But you need not be afraid that I shall want to see
you again until you come to a more sensible frame of mind.”

He waited, but again there was no answer, and again some influence from
her still presence discomfited him, and made him hurry on.

“I’m going now!” he said roughly. “Good-bye, Clemence!” He made a
movement as though to go, without a tenderer farewell, but quite
suddenly his heart failed him. He turned again and took her into his
arms impulsively and tenderly. “Clemmie!” he said brokenly. “I
say--Clemmie!”

Her arms were round his neck pressing him closely and more closely, with
a desperate, agonised pressure, and a long, clinging kiss was on his
cheek.

“Don’t keep me waiting long,” she whispered hoarsely. “You will do it at
last. I know, I know you will. But--don’t keep me waiting long!”

She released him and drew herself gently out of his arms, and Julian
turned and stumbled out of the room and down the stairs, the most
consciously contemptible young man in London, and with no strength to
act upon his consciousness.



CHAPTER X


“You admire it, Mrs. Romayne? It strikes you as true? Ah, but that is
very charming of you!”

A confused babel of voices--that curious, indefinable sound which is
shrill, though its shrillness would be most difficult to trace; harsh,
though it arises from the voices of well-bred men and women; and
absolutely unmeaning--was filling the two rooms from end to end; and the
soft light diffused by cleverly arranged lamps fell upon groups of
smartly dressed women and men equally correct in their attire on male
lines. It was about five o’clock, not a pleasant time on a gusty, sleety
November afternoon if Nature is allowed to have her own way; but inside
these rooms it was impossible to do anything but ignore nature; the air
was so soft and warm--faintly scented, too, with flowers--and the
colour so rich and delicate. The rooms themselves were a curious hybrid
between the fashionable and the artistic; that is to say, they were not
arranged according to any conventional tenets, and there were various
really beautiful hangings, “bits” of old brass, “bits” of old oak, and
“bits” of old china about. But all these, though very cleverly arranged,
were distinctly “posed.” The larger of the two rooms was obviously a
studio; rather too obviously, perhaps, since the fact was impressed by a
certain superabundance of artistic prettinesses. Charming little
arrangements in hangings, palms, or what not, “composed” at every turn
with the constantly shifting groups. The unconventionalism, in short,
was as carefully arranged as was the attitude of the host of the hour as
he stood leaning against a large easel, mysteriously curtained, talking
to Mrs. Romayne. He was a painter, and a clever painter; he had married
a clever wife, and as a result of the working of their respective brains
towards the same goal he had become the fashion. “Everybody” went to
“the Stormont-Eades’ affairs,” whether the affair in question was a
little dinner, a little “evening,” or a little tea-party--Mrs.
Stormont-Eade always affixed the diminutive; consequently everybody was
obliged to go; a fact which if carefully thought out, will lead to some
rather curious conclusions. And the little tea-parties, particularly in
the winter, were considered particularly desirable functions. One of
these tea-parties was going on now.

Mr. Stormont-Eade himself was a tall, good-looking man who had nearly
succeeded, by dint of careful attention to his good points, in conveying
the impression that he was a handsome man. He had fine eyes, really
remarkably fine, as he was well aware, when they were earnest, and they
were looking now with a deep intensity of meaning, which was their
normal expression, into Mrs. Romayne’s face; his mouth was not so
admirable except when he smiled, and consequently his thin lips were
slightly curved; his figure was too thin, and the touch of
picturesqueness about his pose and about his velvet coat redeemed it;
but his closely-curling hair was cut short and trim, and showed the
excellent shape of his head to the best advantage. He had come up to
Mrs. Romayne only a minute or two before at the conclusion of a song; a
very little very fashionable music was always a feature of the
Stormont-Eades’ entertainments, and “good people”--the phrase in this
connection representing clever professionals possessed of the social
ambition of the day--were glad to sing or play for them; and she had
begun to speak of a little picture of his which was one of the themes of
the moment.

Mrs. Romayne was dressed from head to foot in carefully harmonised
shades of green--green was the colour of the season--with a good deal of
soft black fur about it. Her bonnet became her to perfection; her face
was so animated that in the soft light a certain haggard sharpness of
contour was hardly perceptible. Her smiles and laughs as she exchanged
greetings and chat were always ready; if they left her eyes quite
untouched, her attention was apparently as free and disengaged as were
the gay little gestures with which she emphasized her talk. There was
absolutely nothing about her which could have suggested to the ordinary
observer anything beyond the surface of finished society woman which she
was presenting so brightly to the world. But on the previous evening she
had had a note from Falconer, written immediately after his interview
with “the girl,” telling her only that he was to have a second
interview, and would see her on the following day. That day was now
drawing to a close, and she had as yet heard nothing further.

“It enchanted me!” she said now. “But then your things always do enchant
me, you know! By-the-bye, people say that you are going to do a big
picture. I hope that is not so? Little bits are so much more
fascinating.”

Mr. Stormont-Eade smiled--the tender, comprehending smile that was one
of his charms.

“No, it is not true,” he said. “One is so fettered with a large work,
but little things represent the inspiration, the feeling of the moment.
If they have any value, it lies in that.” They had a distinct financial
value, though it is doubtful whether the dealers would have recognised
the source.

“Ah, the feeling of the moment!” said Mrs. Romayne with pretty fervour.
“That is what one so seldom gets, isn’t it? And it is so delightful!”

Then she broke off with a charming smile to shake hands with Mrs. Halse,
brought by the constant shifting of the groups into her vicinity. Mrs.
Romayne was an excellent listener, and reputed a good talker, though she
had probably never said a witty or a clever thing in her life; but she
was never exclusive; she was always, so to speak, more or less in touch
with the whole room, and ready to extend her circle.

“I’ve been making for you for hours,” she said gaily. “Ah!” The word was
an exclamation of pleased surprise as she suddenly became aware of a
girl’s figure behind Mrs. Halse; a girl’s figure much better dressed
than had been its wont, and very erect, with a latent touch of triumph
and excitement on the pretty face. It was Miss Hilda Newton.

“I did not know you were in London,” went on Mrs. Romayne, holding out
her hand with gracious cordiality.

“She is staying with me on most important business,” said Mrs. Halse.
Mrs. Halse had accommodated herself to her increasing portliness by this
time, and had apparently thought it necessary to increase the exuberance
of her manner proportionately. Her voice, and the laugh with which she
spoke, were equally loud. “Trousseau, you must know. She is to be
married directly after Christmas. And when I heard it I wrote and said
she’d better come straight to me, and then I could see that she got the
right things. Of course, as she’s to live in town, she must have the
right things, you know.”

“Of course,” assented Mrs. Romayne gaily and airily. “And you are very
busy?”

The last words were addressed to Hilda Newton, whose hand Mrs. Romayne
still held. There was a curious mixture of resentment, defiance, and
triumph in the girl’s face as she confronted the suave, smiling
countenance of the elder woman, which just touched her voice as she
answered:

“Very busy indeed!”

She was conscious of a desire so to frame her answer as to suggest the
position in society which was to be hers on her marriage, but she could
think of no words in which to do it.

“And where is Master Julian?” broke in Mrs. Halse. Delicacy and tact had
never been more than names with her; as her fibre, mental and physical,
coarsened, she was beginning to think it quite unnecessary to maintain
even a bowing acquaintance with these qualities; and her strident voice
expressed a great deal that Hilda Newton would like to have expressed.
“He must be made to come and offer his congratulations--or perhaps Hilda
will compound with him for a particularly handsome wedding-present. He
knows Talbot Compton, of course? Otherwise, they must be introduced.”

“He is not here this afternoon, I’m sorry to say,” returned his mother,
smiling. Mr. Stormont-Eade, if he could have recognised “the feeling of
the moment” in this particular crisis, might have learnt a lesson on
several points. “He has turned into a tremendously hard worker, you
know. An astonishing fact, isn’t it? I tell him he has secret intentions
of taking the bench by storm.”

She was laughing and looking idly away across the room, when quite
suddenly she stopped. Just inside the doorway, shaking hands with Mrs.
Stormont-Eade, and having evidently just arrived, was Dennis Falconer,
and as she caught sight of him there flashed into her eyes, through all
the superficial brightness of her face, something which was like nothing
but a sheer agony of hunger. It came in an instant, and it was gone in
an instant. As he turned away from his hostess and caught her eye, she
made him a light gesture and smile of greeting, and turned again to Mrs.
Halse; and Mrs. Halse was not even conscious of a pause.

“It’s almost too astonishing, don’t you know!” said that vociferous lady
with a laugh. “I don’t half believe in these sudden transformations. If
I were you I should make him produce his work every night for
inspection. It’s my belief he is getting into mischief. These
hard-working young men are such frauds!”

She laughed loudly, and at that moment accident brought Falconer, on his
way across the room, to a standstill a few paces from her. He had
evidently intended to pass the little group, but Mrs. Halse frustrated
his intention. With a peremptory gesture she claimed his attention, and
as he drew nearer, she said boisterously:

“Now, don’t you agree with me, Mr. Falconer? Aren’t these good,
hard-working boys the greatest scamps going?”

Falconer was looking very severe and impassive; he shook hands with Mrs.
Halse, and then turned perforce to Mrs. Romayne, taking her hand with an
almost solemn gravity, which contrasted sharply with the careless gaiety
with which she extended it.

“I didn’t expect to see you this afternoon,” she said lightly. “Stupid
of me, though; every one comes to the Stormont-Eades’.”

“I did not expect to meet you,” he answered sternly. “I have called at
Queen Anne Street.”

He had been astounded at not finding her at home. He was distinctly of
opinion that afternoon teas were not for a woman who should be sitting
in sackcloth and ashes, and the sight of her had shocked not only his
sense of propriety, but some deeper sense of the reality of the crisis
at which he was assisting. Perhaps Mrs. Romayne understood that her
presence at the “little tea-party” scandalised him, for there was a
strange, bitter smile on her lips before she turned to Mrs. Halse, and
said, with a rather hard, strained ring in her gay voice:

“You’ll get no support from my cousin, I assure you, Mrs. Halse. He was
a most praiseworthy----”

Her voice was drowned in a ringing chord on the piano, and as the
prelude to a song filled the room, she made a mocking gesture
expressive of the impossibility of making herself heard; and turning her
face towards the singer, as she stood by Falconer’s side, she composed
herself to listen. Her face grew rather set and fixed in its lines of
animated attention as the song went on, and when it ceased, her comments
were of the indefinitely delighted order. She made them very easily and
brightly, however, and then she turned carelessly to Falconer.

“Are you thinking of staying long?” she said lightly. “I rather want to
talk to you, do you know--this unfortunate man is my man of business,
you must know, Mrs. Halse--and I thought perhaps that I could drive you
somewhere.”

“I shall be happy to go whenever you like,” was the grave answer.

Mrs. Romayne laughed lightly.

“Oh, I don’t want to take you away immediately!” she said. “You’ve only
just come, I’m afraid. In a little while!”

She smiled and nodded to him, and to Mrs. Halse and Miss Newton, and
moved away to speak to some other people.

About a quarter of an hour later Falconer, who was a somewhat grim
ornament to society in the interval, saw her coming smiling towards him.

“Ready?” she said. “That’s very nice of you! Suppose we go, then?”

He followed her out of the room and down the stairs, her flow of
comments and laughter never ceasing; put her into her carriage, and got
in himself.

“Home!” she said sharply to the coachman. The door banged, they rolled
away into the darkness and the wet, and her voice stopped suddenly.

They rolled along for a few minutes in total silence. Shut up alone with
her like that, the isolation and quiet following so suddenly on the
crowd and noise of a moment before, Falconer’s only conscious feeling
was one of almost stupid discomfort. Her sudden silence, too, had an
indefinable but very unpleasant effect upon him. At last he said with
awkward displeasure:

“I was going to write to you! I----”

She lifted her hand quickly and stopped him.

“When we get in!” she said in a quick, tense voice. “You can come in?
It is just six. It need not take long.”

“I am quite at your service.”

She leant back in her corner with a sharp breath of relief, and neither
moved nor spoke again until the carriage drew up at her own door.

She opened the door with a latchkey, and moved quickly across the hall
to the foot of the stairs, motioning to Falconer to follow her. Then she
stopped abruptly and turned. A servant was just crossing the hall to the
dining-room, where the preliminary preparation for a dinner-party could
be seen.

“Is Mr. Julian in?” said Mrs. Romayne sharply.

“Not yet, ma’am.”

“If he should come in before I go to dress, tell him that I am engaged.”

She turned again and went on to the drawing-room.

“Now!” she said in a breathless peremptory monosyllable, facing Falconer
as he shut the door. She did not attempt to sit down herself or to
invite Falconer to do so. All her senses seemed to be absorbed in the
desperate anxiety with which her face was sharp and haggard. She looked
ten years older than she had looked in Mr. Stormont-Eade’s studio.
Falconer answered her directly with no preliminary formalities.

“I saw the--the young woman yesterday,” he began; “but I was unable to
bring about any arrangement. I gave her twenty-four hours for
consideration, and this afternoon I called to see her again.”

“Yes, yes!”

“I found that she had left the house this morning, leaving no address.”

“Left!” The erect, tense figure confronting him staggered back a step as
though a heavy blow had fallen upon it, and Mrs. Romayne caught
desperately at the back of a chair. “Left--and you don’t know where she
is? You’ve settled nothing? We’ve no hold over her!”

The words had come from her in hoarse, gasping sentences, each one
growing in intensity until the last vibrated with an agony of very
despair, but Falconer’s face grew grimmer as he listened. How it was he
could not have told, but a strange, uncomfortable remembrance of the
girl he had seen on the previous day, which had haunted him at more or
less inopportune moments ever since, seemed to rise now and accentuate
all his usual antagonism to the woman who was talking of her.

“I think you need not distress yourself,” he said stiffly. “Perhaps I
had better tell you at once that your son knows no more of her
whereabouts than we do.”

The drawn look of despair relaxed on Mrs. Romayne’s face; relaxed into
an agony of questioning doubt.

“Doesn’t know?” she said sharply. “Julian doesn’t know?”

“The landlady of the house,” continued Falconer, “a very unpleasant and
loquacious woman, was eager to inform me that on the arrival of your son
yesterday afternoon, about an hour after I saw the young woman, there
was a quarrel between them and that he left the house in anger. To-day,
very shortly before my arrival, he returned and was astonished to find
that the young woman was gone. He demanded her address, and was furious
to find that it was not known. I think there is no room for doubt that
the young woman has left him!”

The colour was coming back to Mrs. Romayne’s face slowly and in burning
patches, and her clutch on the chair was almost convulsive.

“Left him!” she said under her breath. “Left him!” There was a moment’s
pause, and then she said in a harsh, high-pitched, concentrated tone:
“Do you mean--for good? Why? Why should she?”

“I am sorry to have to say it to you,” said Falconer slowly, “but I fear
the case against your son is even blacker than it appears on the
surface. I think it more than possible that he deceived the young
woman.”

The slowly-formed conviction--and it became conviction only as he spoke
the words--was the result of that vague and disturbing impression made
on Falconer on the preceding day by “the young woman.” It had worked
slowly and almost without consciousness on his part, but it had refused
to die out, and it had attained the only fruition possible to it in his
last words.

“And you believe that she is really gone? That there is nothing more to
fear from her?”

It was the same absorbed, intent tone, and her eyes, fixed eagerly on
Falconer now, were hard and glittering. The terrible significance of his
words, with all the weight of tragedy they held, seemed to have passed
her by, to have no existence for her. It was as though the sense in her
which should have responded to it was numbed or non-existent. And
Falconer, scandalised and revolted, replied sternly:

“I think you need have no anxiety on that score. She has disappeared of
her own free will, and your son, upon reflection, will probably be glad
to accept so easy a solution of what he doubtless recognises by this
time as a troublesome complication.” There was a rigid and utterly
antipathetic condemnation of Julian in his voice; he had judged the
young man, and sentenced him as vicious to the core, and for all his
experience, he held too rigidly to his narrow conception to consider the
possible effect upon youth and passion of so sudden and total a
thwarting. “My only fear,” he continued, “is that serious injustice has
been done. The young woman is by no means the kind of young woman I was
led to believe her. I have grave doubts as to whether it was not our
duty to enforce a marriage upon your son, instead of negativing the
suggestion.”

The words were probably rather more than he would have been prepared to
stand to had they been put to a practical issue, and he had spoken them,
though he hardly knew it, more from a severe desire to arouse what he
called in his own mind “some decent feeling” in the woman to whom he
spoke, than from any other reason. From that point of view they failed
completely. It was a bright light of triumph that flashed into Mrs.
Romayne’s eyes as she said quickly, and in an eager, vibrating tone,
which seemed less an answer to him personally than to the bare fact to
which he had given words:

“Fortunately there is no more fear of that.”

The tall clock standing in a corner of the room chimed the
three-quarters as she spoke, and she started as she heard it.

“It is a quarter to seven,” she said. “And I have people to dinner. You
have nothing else to tell me, have you? Nothing to advise?”

“Nothing,” was the grim answer.

“You do not think--would it be a good thing, do you think, to have the
girl traced so that we could always be sure?”

“You need take no further trouble in the matter, in my opinion. If you
should observe anything in your son’s conduct to revive your uneasiness,
the question must, of course, be reconsidered. You will observe him
closely, no doubt.”

There was a moment’s curiously dead silence, and then it was broken by a
strange half-laugh.

“No doubt!” said Mrs. Romayne. “No doubt!”

Another pause, and then she turned and glanced at the clock.

“I must go,” she said. “Thank you.”

She held out her hand, and he just touched it as though conventionality
alone compelled him.

“I have considered myself bound in duty in the matter,” he said stiffly.
“Good night!”

No touch of artificiality returned to her manner even in dismissing him.
It remained hard and practical. Her intense absorption in the subject of
their interview did not yield by so much as a hair’s breadth, and she
remained absolutely impervious to any thought of the man before her. His
slight, cold touch of her hand, the sternness of his obvious
condemnation of her, were evidently absolutely unobserved by her.

“Good night!” she returned; and as he left her without another word, she
crossed the room rapidly and went upstairs to dress for dinner.

The dinner-party of that evening was unanimously declared by the guests
to be quite the most delightful Mrs. Romayne had ever given. The dinner,
the flowers, all the arrangements, were perfection, of course; but even
when this is the case the “go” of a dinner-party may be a variable or
even a non-existent quality; and it was the “go” of this particular
occasion that was so remarkable. All the component parts of the party
seemed to be animated and fused into one harmonious whole by the spirits
of the hostess and host. Mrs. Romayne was so charming, so bright, so
full of vivacity; Julian, who put in his appearance only just before the
announcement of dinner, was so boyish, so lively, so ingenuous. He was a
little pale when he first appeared, and the lady he took down to dinner
reproached him with working too hard; but as the evening wore on he
gained colour. The relations between himself and his mother had always
been quite one of the features of Mrs. Romayne’s entertainments, but
those relations had never been more charmingly accentuated than they
were to-night.

Until he came gaily in among her guests that evening, Julian and his
mother had not met since that second interview which had prompted her
summons to Falconer. Julian had dined out on both the intervening
evenings, and it was easily to be arranged under these circumstances,
if either of the pair so willed it, that forty-eight hours should go by
without their coming in contact with one another. And an onlooker aware
of the circumstances of their last meeting, and watching the mother and
son through the evening now, might have reflected that the laws of
heredity seldom operate exclusively through one parent.

“Good night, dear Mrs. Romayne! Such a delightful evening! How I do envy
you that dear boy of yours! It’s the greatest pleasure to see you two
together.”

The speaker was a good-natured old lady, and she had thought it no harm
to put into words what her fellow-guests had only thought. She was the
last departure, and Mrs. Romayne followed her to the top of the stairs,
with a laughing deprecation of the words which was very fascinating, and
then turned back into the drawing-room with another “good night,” as
Julian prepared to attend the old lady to her carriage.

The hall door shut with a bang, and then there was a moment’s pause. The
mother in the drawing-room above, and the son in the hall below, stood
for an instant motionless. A subtle change had come over Mrs. Romayne’s
face the instant she found herself alone. It had sharpened slightly, and
an eager, haggard anticipation was striving to express itself in her
eyes, only to be resolutely veiled. But to Julian’s face as he stood
with his hand still resting on the hall door there came a great and
sudden alteration. All the light and gaiety died out of it before a
wild, fierce expression of rebellion and distaste, repressed almost
instantly by a pale, sullen look of determination. He moved, and Mrs.
Romayne, hearing his step, moved slightly also; he came up the stairs,
and as he came he seemed to force back into his face the easy smile it
had worn all the evening.

“It’s been a great success, hasn’t it, dear?” he said lightly as he
crossed the drawing-room threshold.

“A great success!” she said in the same tone--though in her case it rang
a little thin.

An instant’s silence followed, and then she laid her hand airily on his
arm. Her lips were white and dry with agitation, and she knew it; she
wondered desperately whether her voice rang as unnaturally in Julian’s
ears as it did in her own, as she said with what she meant for perfect
ease:

“Dear boy, let us say our final words upon that wretched business
to-night and wake up clear of it to-morrow. May I be happy about you?
That’s all there is to be said, isn’t it?”

She tried to smile, but she knew the effort was a ghastly failure, and
again she wondered whether Julian saw. She need not have feared! Julian
was busy with his own histrionic difficulties, and had neither sight nor
hearing for her.

“You may be quite happy, little mother!” he said, and the frank
tenderness of his tone and manner were only very slightly
over-accentuated. “I’ve made up my mind to do as you wish, and I won’t
make such a fool of myself again!”

They were standing close together, looking each into the other’s face,
and he patted her hand as it lay on his arm as he finished. Yet between
them, parting them as seas of ice could not have parted them, there lay
a shadow beneath which love itself survives only as the cruellest form
of torture; the shadow of the unspoken with its chill, unmoveable dead
weight against which no man or woman can prevail.

The hand on Julian’s arm trembled a little. The terrible presence, which
is never recognised except by those to whom its chill is as the chill of
death, was making itself vaguely felt about his mother’s heart. She let
her eyes stray from his face with a painful, tremulous movement, and her
fingers tightened round his arm.

“It is all over?” she murmured in a low voice. “It is all over, really?”

As her self-command failed her his seemed to strengthen. He patted her
hand again reassuringly, and said, confidently:

“Yes, dear, indeed! I’ve only got to beg your pardon, and I do that with
all my heart.”

He stooped and kissed her tenderly, and as he did so she seemed to rally
her forces with a tremendous effort. She returned his kiss with a
pretty, effusive embrace, though her lips were as cold as ice.

“I grant it freely,” she said. “And if I’ve felt obliged to be--well,
shall we say rather autocratic?--for once in a way, you must forgive me,
too, eh?”

But the unspoken, terrible reality as it is, was to be touched by no
such ghastly travesty. Julian’s laugh was only a firmer echo of his
mother’s gay artificiality of tone, but as she heard it her lips turned
whiter still.

“That’s of course,” he said. “Of course.”

“Then it’s all settled!” she responded gaily. “We’ll draw a veil over
the past from to-night, and behave better in the future. Good night,
dear boy!” She kissed him again, patted him lightly on the shoulder and
moved away. On the threshold she stopped, turned, and blew him a kiss
over her shoulder. “Forgiveness and oblivion from to-night,” she said;
and there was a strange, defiant gaiety in her voice.

With another smile and a nod she went upstairs, and as she went her face
grew lined and drawn, like the face of an old woman, and the defiance
that had lurked in her voice stared out of her eyes, half-wild and
reckless.



CHAPTER XI


It was a bright spring day; one of those days on which the freshness and
renewal of life which only spring knows, and for the sake of which even
the cold monotony of winter is endurable, seem to be in the very air,
and to radiate with the light itself. Even in London, where nature’s
broadest effects, only, can be felt, there was a sense of exuberance
which was almost excitement. The sun shone with a brightness which
seemed to shed oblivion over past darkness. The air was quickening and
stirring with vague and limitless possibilities.

It is rather a notable arrangement which makes the quickening of life in
one of the least natural systems in the world, London society,
simultaneous with nature’s great awakening. It presents a suggestion of
combined travesty, patronage, and unconscious testimony to that affinity
between man and nature which nothing can wholly destroy, which, if
worked out with a certain amount of latitude to a fantastic imagination,
will have a rather bewildering effect upon the focus of things in
general. But it is nevertheless a fact that on this particular day in
May very many of the impulses stirring in nature had their strangely
distorted counterparts in the impulses of society. Society, like nature,
had discarded its winter garments, its winter habits; society, like
nature, was restless with fresh beginnings, fresh hopes, fresh
tendencies. The resemblance lay on the surface; the contrast was farther
to seek.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and a certain section of
society--a gathering, at least, very fairly representative of a certain
section--was surging in a good-tempered, aimless, demoralised way in a
very fashionable church in Kensington. Some of the demoralisation was
due to the occasion--a smart wedding--but the gaiety and the general air
of readiness to be pleased which prevailed were as certainly the
outcome of the wider spirit of the hour as were the smart spring gowns
and the quantities of spring flowers carried or worn by the women. The
bridal party had left the church and a general exodus was in progress;
progress rendered rather slow by reason of the difficulties attendant on
the bringing together of carriages and owners, and involving a
considerable crush inside the church door. In the middle of this crush,
allowing himself to be pushed and drifted along towards the door, was a
man who was apparently too fully occupied in casting keen, comprehensive
and reconnoitring looks about him, and in returning the gestures of
greeting and welcome which returned his glances on all sides, to take
much heed as to the manner or direction of the movement imposed upon him
by the moving crowd. It was Marston Loring, and as he finally emerged
into the air he was lightly clapped on the shoulder by Lord Garstin,
who, a few yards in front of him during their compressed passage out of
the building, had waited for him on the pavement.

“Glad to see you back, Loring!” he said. “Heard last night of your
arrival. How are you?”

“Not sorry to be back,” returned Loring nonchalantly, as he shook hands.
“I’ve come to the conclusion, though, in the course of the last
half-hour, that six months is a mere nothing!”

“Are you walking round to the house?” asked Lord Garstin. “So am I. Let
me have your news as we go.”

Marston Loring had spent the winter at the Cape. His departure had been
alluded to among his smart acquaintances as “a sudden affair” more or
less indefinitely connected in their minds with that “business” of which
Loring was understood to be a devotee. To Loring himself it had been by
no means a sudden thing. That is to say, the necessity for it had been
gradually growing up about him in his professional life much against his
will, though it had reached a crisis somewhat unexpectedly. He had been
absent six months, and this was, practically, his social reappearance;
but looking at him as he turned into the street with Lord Garstin, it
would have been difficult to believe that he had been away at all; far
less that he had passed through any striking experiences of men and
life. His keen, cynical, unpleasant face was entirely unaltered; his
manner was perfectly calm and unmoved. If he had his observations to
make on his return, if the result of those observations was rather
exciting than indifferent to him, interest and emotion were still
entirely outside his pose.

The talk between the two men, however, as they passed along the streets
was such talk as passes when one of the two is occupied in picking up
dropped threads, and the other is well calculated, and well satisfied,
to help him in the process. In his heart of hearts--if such a spot could
have been reached in him--Lord Garstin would probably have confessed to
little personal liking for Loring; his cordiality was the result of
considerably involved workings of social politics. Just at this moment
in particular, with the prestige fresh upon him of sundry smart magazine
articles on Cape affairs which he had sent home from time to time, and
which had been a good deal talked about, Marston Loring was distinctly
a man to be noticed and encouraged.

Details connected with the wedding at which they had just assisted were
naturally the first topics that presented themselves. It was Hilda
Newton’s wedding; she had been married with much circumstance from Mrs.
Halse’s house; and, before Loring left England, it had been said that
she was to be married at Christmas at her own home in Yorkshire. About a
month before the day fixed for the wedding, however, the aunt with whom
she lived had died; the wedding had perforce been postponed, and when it
became possible to consider another date, Mrs. Halse--in the absence of
any near relation to the bride-elect--had taken the matter in hand.

“A very nice affair she’s made of it!” commented the elder man, as he
finished his explanation, interspersed with discursive items of news of
all sorts appertaining to society and its doings. “A little loud, of
course; that goes without saying; and, really, nowadays it’s rather the
thing! A pretty girl in her way, Mrs. Compton. And talking of pretty
girls, Maud Pomeroy looked well. They’ve been at Cannes since the end of
January; only just back, like yourself.”

“So I heard,” answered Loring indifferently. “By-the-bye, I didn’t see
the Romaynes. Aren’t they in town? I’ve not had time to look any one up
yet, of course, but I thought I should see Julian to-day.”

Lord Garstin paused a moment before he answered.

“They were there,” he said. “I saw them come in. You’ll see them at the
house, no doubt. The little woman’s been invisible for two or three
days; ill--rather bad, somebody said.”

“Ill!” echoed Loring; and there was a genuine surprise in his tone which
no information yet bestowed upon him had evoked. “Really!” He paused a
moment, and then said, with his own peculiar smile: “And how is Julian?
Does the hard-working line hold out?”

Lord Garstin smiled, more pleasantly than Loring had done, and shrugged
his shoulders.

“Pretty well, I suppose,” he said. “I met his chief the other night,
and he was not enthusiastic. He’s a nice boy, though. You’re a great
chum of his, aren’t you, Loring?” Loring nodded. “Then let me give you a
hint to have an eye to his proceedings at the club. Cards are all very
well, you know, but a boy like that should be moderate. You might be
able to talk to him about it. I gave his mother a hint a few weeks ago.
She’s a nice little woman. See what you can do, will you? I’ve got an
idea that the foolish fellow doesn’t play only at the club.”

They were close to Mrs. Halse’s house as Lord Garstin finished, and his
last words were spoken quickly and significantly. Loring answered only
by a slight movement of his eyebrows, and then they were in the hall,
being swept on by a seething crowd to pay their respects to the hostess
and the bride.

“Loring, old man! How are you?”

Loring and Lord Garstin had been thrown together again after offering
their congratulations, and they were standing side by side. Julian
Romayne was close beside them, having come up from behind through the
crowd unperceived, his hand eagerly, even demonstratively,
outstretched.

Thinking things over in private later on, Marston Loring thought with a
cynical smile that if he had not previously realised his six months’
absence, he might have done so when young Romayne’s voice fell on his
ear. The change in it, though subtle, was so marked--to the man who had
not heard it in course of transition--that it seemed to place years
rather than months between their last meeting and the present, and it
amply prepared Loring for what he saw when he turned round.

All alteration in manner and appearance consists rather in the
accentuation or modification of original characteristics than in the
developement of fresh ones; consequently it is very seldom noticed by a
casual observer when intercourse is unbroken. To Lord Garstin and to
dozens of his other acquaintances, Julian Romayne was still a “nice
boy,” just as his good-looking features were still the young features of
a year ago. To Loring the difference in face was as perceptible as was
the difference in the young man’s whole personality, and the key-note
of the difference lay in the absence of genuineness in both; in the
deliberate assumption in the present of what had been natural and
uncalculated in the past. Julian’s face had grown thinner and harder,
and the boyish smile which was in consequence no longer perfectly
harmonious was a trifle over-accentuated; while the bright, ingenuous
glance of his eyes had grown extraordinarily like his mother. His manner
was the gay, young manner which had gained him so many friends, with
just that touch of exaggeration added to it which artificiality gives.

His cordiality as he wrung Loring’s hand was rather--like the
demonstrative welcome in his voice--admirably adjusted to meet the
requirements of the moment than an expression of the man himself. He was
very carefully dressed, with a particularly dainty flower in his
buttonhole.

“Back again at last, old fellow!” he said buoyantly. “By Jove, what an
age it is since you went! And have you had a good time? When did you
reach home? Tell us all about it! You’ve no idea how glad I am to have
him back, Lord Garstin!” he added, greeting the elder man with a boyish,
half-laughing apology for his exuberance which was very effective. His
manner to Lord Garstin was as charming as ever; rather more so, indeed,
as its frank deference had acquired a polish derived from sundry little
artistic touches such as only calculation and intention can bestow.

“You seem to have managed very well without me!” returned Loring, with
good-humoured satire. “The world seems to have used you pretty fairly,
I’m glad to see! I’ve only been back about forty-eight hours or I should
have looked you up, of course. I hope Mrs. Romayne is here?”

“I hope she is better?” said Lord Garstin, with genuine concern. “We
have all been desolated over her illness!”

Julian, who had nodded lightly to Loring, turned to Lord Garstin with a
bright, affectionate laugh--also very like his mother’s--and to Loring’s
quick and alert perception an added touch of artificiality became
apparent in his manner as he said:

“It has been desolating, hasn’t it? It’s very good of you to say so,
though! Thanks, I am delighted to say she is all right again. We had a
terrific encounter as to whether she should or should not come to the
affair, and she carried the day.”

“Being perfectly restored to health she didn’t see the force of allowing
herself to be shut up and coddled by a silly boy.”

The light, high-pitched voice, somewhat thin, as was the characteristic
laugh with which the words were spoken, came from directly behind
Julian, and as Loring, who had seen her coming, stepped forward to meet
her, Mrs. Romayne, with a passing shake of her son’s arm, stretched out
her hand with graceful cordiality.

“Welcome back, Mr. Loring,” she said. “I thought your first visit would
have been to this good-for-nothing boy, but I am very glad to meet you
here all the same. Lord Garstin,” she continued, as she turned to shake
hands, “I believe you were enquiring after my health? I can’t allow good
breath to be wasted in that way! I assure you it has been much ado about
nothing, and I am perfectly, ridiculously well!”

She laughed as she finished, but a certain strained insistence had grown
in her tone as she spoke, as though her desire to impress the fact she
stated was strong enough to undermine her control of her voice.

But Loring, looking at her, was too fully occupied in criticising her
appearance to notice the tone of her voice. There must have been some
society fraud at the bottom of her reported illness, he decided, and
that was why she was so anxious to pass it over; for certainly he had
never seen her look better. She was admirably dressed, and she was very
slightly and skilfully “made up”; a condition new to him in her, and one
of which Marston Loring emphatically approved in women past their first
youth. He told himself, moreover, that either his impression of her had
been fainter than the reality, or else she had actually gained in what
he could only define to himself--and define roughly and inadequately as
he was well aware--as “grip.” There was the faintest flavour of nerve
and concentration behind her admirable society manner, which gave it a
wonderful piquancy in the eyes of her observer; a flavour which was
evidently quite unconscious and involuntary, and had its origin in
ingrain character. Loring admired power--of a certain class--in women.

In his interest in her expression, and his mental comments on
it--determined, as they could not fail to be, by his own character--he
was deceived by her cleverly arranged colouring into ignoring the almost
painful thinness of her face; nor did he understand how hollow and
sunken those glittering eyes would have been less cleverly treated.

She replied gaily to Lord Garstin’s gallant reception of her assurance,
and then turned again to Loring with an easy interested question on his
voyage.

“You are not the only returned traveller to-day!” she said, as he
answered her. “By-the-bye, Julian, I was on the way to send you into the
other room. There is some one there you will like to see!”

She smiled significantly up at him, patting his arm as she spoke, and
Julian answered with boyish eagerness.

“In the other room?” he said. “Well, perhaps I ought just to say how do
you do, you know, oughtn’t I? Loring, old fellow, we shall meet again,
of course? What are you going to do afterwards? We might go down to the
club together? And he must come and dine with us, mustn’t he, mother?
Suppose you arrange it!” And with a comprehensive gesture and another,
“I’ll just say how do you do, I think!” he disappeared in the crowd.

Mrs. Romayne turned with a shrug of her shoulders and a pretty
expressive grimace to the two men.

“Poor boy!” she laughed. “What a thing it is to be young! And what a
tantalising spectacle a wedding must be under the circumstances! A
pretty wedding, wasn’t it?”

“An ugly wedding would be rather a refreshing change, don’t you think?”
suggested Loring. “One has seen a good many pretty ones, if you come to
think of it!”

“You’re not in the least changed by six months in Africa,” returned Mrs.
Romayne, shaking her head at him prettily. “Now, tell me, really, have
you had a good time out there?”

The question was friendly and interested after a society fashion, but
the interest was entirely on the surface, and the little talk that
followed about Loring’s experiences was joined in as a matter of course
by Lord Garstin. It lasted until Mrs. Romayne said lightly:

“And now, I suppose, I ought to follow Julian’s example and ‘just say
how do you do, don’t you know!’ I have only seen Mrs. Pomeroy in the
distance as yet.”

She nodded, and moved away, stopping constantly on her way through the
rooms to exchange scraps of conversation until she came to where Mrs.
Pomeroy, amiable, inert, and smiling as though she had been sitting
there for the last three months, was holding a small court. She welcomed
Mrs. Romayne as she had welcomed all comers.

“So glad to see you,” she said placidly. “Such a long time! And how are
you?”

“So immensely pleased to have you back again,” said Mrs. Romayne
enthusiastically; there was a ring of genuineness in her voice which the
fashionable exaggeration of her speech hardly warranted. “And you
really only arrived yesterday? Miss Newton--Mrs. Compton, I mean--was
in a dreadful state of mind the other day lest her bridesmaid should
fail her. And how is Maud? How sweet she looked! Quite the prettiest of
the six. Where is she?”

“She was here just now,” returned Maud’s mother, as though that were
quite a satisfactory answer to the question, and then as an afterthought
she added vaguely: “I think she went to have an ice; your son took her.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Romayne, smiling. “Then there is one perfectly happy
person in the house!”

Mrs. Pomeroy only smiled with vague blandness; evidently the relations
between the Romaynes and the Pomeroys had developed extensively before
the departure of the latter for Cannes; and as evidently they were quite
undisturbing to Miss Pomeroy’s mother.

“The bridesmaids’ dresses were very nice, I think,” she said, with
amiable irrelevancy. “I was afraid they sounded trying. But it has been
very pleasant altogether, hasn’t it? I wish we were going to stay in
town. We had a shocking crossing.”

A keen attention had sprung into Mrs. Romayne’s eyes, and for an instant
it seemed as though all the society gaiety died from her face, leaving
exposed the hard, almost fiercely determined, foundation on which it was
imposed. Then the foundation disappeared again.

“To stay in town!” she echoed lightly. “Why, are you not going to stay
in town, dear Mrs. Pomeroy?”

“Unfortunately not,” was the answer. “My sister who lives in
Devonshire--I think you have heard me speak of her?--is ill, and has
begged me to go and see her. So we are going for a week or ten days, I
am sorry to say.”

“I am sorry to hear,” said Mrs. Romayne, with pretty concern. “Just at
the beginning of the season, too. It’s rather hard on poor Maud, isn’t
it?”

“Yes, it is hard on poor Maud, isn’t it?” was the undisturbed response.

There was a moment’s pause, and then under her paint a burning colour
crept up to the very roots of Mrs. Romayne’s hair, and her eyes shone.

“My dear Mrs. Pomeroy,” she began gaily, but speaking rather quickly,
too, and in a higher pitch than was usual with her, “don’t you remember,
months ago, promising to lend me Maud for a little while? This is the
very opportunity. Of course,” she lowered her voice a little, “I
wouldn’t propose it if you did not know quite as well as I do how the
land lies. But, as I think we two old mothers are of one mind on that
point, I shan’t scruple. Let Maud come to me, if she will, while you are
in Devonshire. Oh, of course it needn’t mean anything--it’s an old
promise, you know, and she and I are great friends on our own account.
Talk of the angels!” she went on gaily, nodding towards a slim, white
figure coming towards them with Julian in its immediate wake.

Maud Pomeroy was looking as pretty and as proper as she had looked every
day since she had emerged from the school-room, but there was a little
flush on her face which was not habitual to her. She returned Mrs.
Romayne’s greeting with the grateful cordiality so pretty from a girl
to an older woman, evinced as was her wont more by manner than by
speech; and indeed Mrs. Romayne gave her little time for speech.

“Your mother has been telling me of this dreadful Devonshire business!”
she said. “And I’ve had what I flatter myself is a happy thought! I want
you to come to me, Maud, dear, while your mother is away. You know you
promised ages ago to let yourself be lent to me for a little while, and
this is the very opportunity, isn’t it?”

It would not have been “the thing” under the circumstances that any one
of the trio should glance at Julian; consequently no one noticed the
curious flash of expression that passed across his face as his mother
spoke. Maud Pomeroy hesitated and looked dutifully at her mother.

“It’s very kind of Mrs. Romayne, Maud, dear, isn’t it?” said Mrs.
Pomeroy with noncommittal amiability.

“It is sweet of her,” responded Maud prettily.

“Well, then, do let us consider it settled. I shall enjoy it of all
things. When do you go, dear Mrs. Pomeroy? To-morrow week? Oh, it will
be too tantalising to whisk Maud away when she had just begun to enjoy
herself; wouldn’t it, Maud?”

Miss Pomeroy hesitated again, and the colour on her cheeks deepened by
just a shade. She did not glance at her mother this time.

“Thank you very much,” she said at last. “But shan’t I be a nuisance to
you?”

There was just the touch of charmingly conventional demur in her tone
which made her submission seem, as all her actions seemed, the result of
a gentle, easily influenced temperament. Mrs. Romayne assured her
merrily that she would indeed be a terrible nuisance, but that she
herself would do her best to bear it, and then rose, her eyes very
bright.

“I must run away now,” she said. “I’m so delighted that we’ve settled
it. Let me know when to expect you, then, dear. Good-bye, Mrs. Pomeroy;
I’ll take every care of your child and return her when you want
her--only don’t let it be too soon! I needn’t take you away, sir,” she
continued, turning to Julian. He had been standing by ever since that
flash had passed over his face with an expression of eager interest in
the discussion. “I dare say you’re not in any hurry. No, you need not
even come downstairs with me. I see Mr. Loring. He’ll take care of me,
I’m sure.”

Mr. Loring, who was within hearing, as the tone of the words
implied--indeed, they were more than half addressed to him--came up
promptly.

“For how long may I have that privilege?” he said.

She explained to him lightly as he shook hands with Mrs. Pomeroy and her
daughter, and then with another farewell and a pretty, affectionate “_Au
revoir!_” to Julian, she turned away with him.

He put her into her carriage and she held out her hand with a gesture of
thanks and farewell.

“Thanks,” she said; her tone and manner alike were very friendly and
familiar in the exaggerated style which had certainly grown on her; and
they seemed to imply something beyond the superficial interest to which
she had kept, perforce, in her society intercourse with him. “It is so
pleasant to see you again! When will you come to see me quietly? Before
you are hard at work, you know! To-morrow, now? To-morrow happens to be
a free day with me. Come to tea. Good bye!”



CHAPTER XII


Ten minutes after Mrs. Romayne’s departure Julian was standing before
Mrs. Pomeroy, his whole demeanour typical of the man who lingers,
knowing that he should linger no longer.

“What a nuisance appointments are!” he said, with a boyish frankness of
discontent which was irresistible. “I wish I could stay a little longer,
but I know I oughtn’t.” He laughed quite ruefully, and fixed a pair of
ardent eyes on Miss Pomeroy’s demurely averted face. “It’s been such an
awfully jolly affair, hasn’t it? And it’s so awfully jolly to have you
in town again”--this, with delightful deference, to Mrs. Pomeroy. “Well,
I really must go, you know! Good-bye! Perhaps you won’t be staying very
much longer?”

“If you stay here bemoaning yourself very much longer we shall probably
leave before you do!” suggested Miss Pomeroy, with the rather faint
smile which was the only sign of amusement she ever gave, and which
always accompanied her own mild witticisms. Julian turned to her
eagerly.

“Now, that’s awfully unkind!” he said. “You won’t bully me like that in
Queen Anne Street, will you?” The term “bullying” was so profoundly
inapplicable to Miss Pomeroy’s words that its use suggested a certain
amount of arrangement rather than absolute spontaneity about Julian’s
speech. But exaggeration was the fashion, and not to be commented on.
“Come in a very kind frame of mind, won’t you?” he went on pleadingly.

“Am I a very violent person?” the girl answered, with the same smile.
“Good-bye!” She held out her hand as she spoke, and Julian took it with
laughing reluctance.

“You are an absolutely heartless person,” he said daringly, “to dismiss
me like this! However, I suppose you are right. If you didn’t dismiss
me I probably shouldn’t go, and I really ought, you know!”

“You’ve told us that before; now do it!” was the answer. “Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” returned Julian, with mock meekness. He shook hands again,
which seemed hardly necessary, and then he turned away.

But the necessity which enforced his departure had apparently slackened
its pressure on him by the time he actually left the house. As he walked
away down the street there was no sign about him of that haste which
should characterise a man who has lingered to the risking of an
appointment, or who has, indeed, any engagement in immediate prospect.
The bride and bridegroom had already left, and people were beginning to
go, and until he reached the end of the street in which was Mrs. Halse’s
house, he was passed every instant by carriages to whose occupants his
hat had to be smilingly lifted. Then he turned into a main thoroughfare,
and hailed a hansom--still not in the least like a man in a hurry. He
gave the cabman an address in the Temple, and was driven away.

His face as he went would have been a curious study to any onlooker
possessed of the key to its expression; to any onlooker who could have
detected the constant struggle for dominance between something that
seemed to lie behind its new artificiality and that artificiality
itself, evidently maintained under an instinctive sense of the chances
of observation. It was not until he turned his key in the lock of a set
of chambers in the Temple that the boyish vivacity died wholly out of
his face; he went into his room--he shared the chambers with another
embryo barrister--shutting the door behind him; and as he did so he
seemed to have shut in, not the light-hearted young fellow who had paid
the cabman in the street below, but another man altogether. No one
looking at him now could doubt that this was the real Julian Romayne of
to-day, as certainly as that light-hearted young fellow had been the
real Julian Romayne of a year ago. This was a man with a hard, angry
face; a face on which the anger stood revealed, not as the expression of
the moment, but as the normal expression of a mind always sore, always
at war, always fiercely implacable.

The room was plainly, almost barely furnished, and there was no trace of
any of the luxury that surrounded him in Queen Anne Street. His smart,
carefully got-up figure looked absolutely incongruous among such unusual
surroundings, as he crossed to the window, and flinging himself down in
a shabby easy-chair, lighted a cigarette. He threw his cigarette-case on
the table, and then drew out of the breast-pocket of his coat a couple
of letters.

He had read them before, evidently, but as evidently they had lost none
of their interest for him. He read them both through attentively, and as
he did so there came to his mouth a set which his mother, could she have
seen it, would have recognised instantly; which any one, indeed, must
have recognised who had ever seen his dead father. Both the letters
dealt with money matters; one was from a bookmaker, the other from a
broker whose name was far from bearing an unblemished character in the
City; and both referred to large sums of money recently made on the
turf and on the Stock Exchange by Julian Romayne.

He flung the last on the table as he finished it, and there was an
expression in his eyes of reckless, rebellious triumph not good to see.

“It’s a good haul!” he said, half aloud. “A good haul! Now, with what
I’ve got already----” He rose and went across to the writing-table,
unlocked a drawer, and taking out various papers, began to make rapid
calculations.

Then--his eyes hard and intent on his work--he stretched out his hand
and felt in the drawer for another paper. He took out an envelope, and
drew out the letter it contained without glancing at it. A folded paper
fell out as he did so, and as though the slight sound had roused him, he
glanced at it quickly, and from it to the open letter in his hand.
Apparently it was not the letter to which he had intended to refer, for
his face changed suddenly and completely.

“I can’t take your money. Try and understand that I can’t!--Clemence.”

His fingers tightened upon the thin sheet of paper until the knuckles
whitened, and the eager calculation vanished utterly from his face,
overwhelmed as it seemed by the fierce tumult of warring passions that
struggled now in every line. Impotent anger which was the more violent
for something within itself which was not anger; reckless defiance; a
wild, raging desperation behind all, which was nearly hatred; all these
emotions were faintly shadowed forth on his face as he stared down at
the few simple words. All these emotions had been surging in his heart
during the six months that were gone, and it was their unceasing strife
and tumult which was rousing into life the new Julian Romayne, latent
for so many years.

It was to that which was least broadly painted on his face that all
these passionate forces owed their life. As with a wild animal wounded
by a dart, and feeling that dart--lodged in his side--pricking and
piercing him, who plunges wildly hither and thither, chafing and
striving in blind, brute fashion to rid himself of the sensation he
cannot understand; and in his very efforts presses in the cause of his
pain, increases his sufferings, and again redoubles his struggles and
his fury, not knowing that he is his own tormentor; so it had been, in a
sense, with Julian Romayne during the last six months. The dart in his
case was double-edged; its edges were the strange, weak reality of his
love for Clemence, and a stinging sense of shame. It had lodged in that
almost inanimate better part of his nature. He had left that little room
in Camden Town smarting and wincing under it, and it had never ceased to
prick him since. Scarcely less blind and ignorant under such
circumstances than “a beast having no understanding” in his total want
of all principle, except the principles of worldly wisdom, with his
utterly dormant moral perception--his morality, such as it was, being
the merest matter of habit and conventionality--the effect on him of the
smart was first the developement in him of a blind, unreasoning
resentment; and then, as anger proved of no avail, a passionate rousing
and rising of all his latent forces in repudiation of his discomfort.

To charge upon some one else the difficulties which he had created for
himself, to provide some object against which his blind sense of wrath
and rebellion could pit itself, was a primary instinct with such a
nature as Julian’s, so situated, and that object was ready to his hand.
The first article in the faith of the new Julian Romayne was the belief
that he had been forced into his present position by his mother; that he
had been parted from his wife by his mother; that he had been covered
with humiliation by his mother. Every fresh stab, every movement of
revolt, as that two-edged dart pressed itself deeper into his
consciousness with every struggle he made for freedom, added something
to the account he held against her; increased the bitterness of his
resentment against her and brought it one degree nearer to hatred. His
love for her, in spite of its charm of expression, had been the merest
boyish sentiment; with no roots deeper than those afforded by easy
companionship and apparent indulgence; founded on habit and expediency
rather than on respect. Real devotion would have seemed out of place in
the atmosphere of affectation and superficiality in which he had been
reared, and he had known only its travesty. On this, the first real
conflict between his will and hers, that travesty showed itself for what
it was, and shrivelled into nothingness. To free himself from her
control, became the one object and desire of his life. In doing this,
and in doing this only, to his distorted perceptions, lay release from
the stinging, goading misery of his present life, and to do this one
means only was adequate--money. With money at his command the victory,
as he conceived it, would be his. Some centre, some mainspring had
necessarily to grow up in the confused strivings and blind, desperate
impulses of a newly-awakened nature, and gradually that centre had
declared itself in an unreasoning determination to make money.

But there were in Julian Romayne tendencies, latent, or nearly so,
throughout his youth and early manhood; manifested during those easy,
untempted periods only in a slight superficiality, a slight want of
perception as to the boundary line between truth and falsehood; but
radical factors in his being. In the shock and jar of the mental
struggle and quickening involved in the continued presence in his
consciousness of that remorseless dart, these tendencies leapt into
over-stimulated life and grew, strengthened, and developed, with the
unnatural rapidity of such life, until his whole character seemed to be
over-shadowed by them. In Julian Romayne’s being, woven in and out with
the threads which had hitherto seemed so pliable and colourless; those
threads of all shades, from pure white to dark grey, which make up
character in every man; were sundry grim black threads--threads such as
are only to be plucked out when the very heart’s blood of the man has
spent itself in the struggle, and when in that struggle he has come very
near to God. It may be that the sins of the fathers are indeed visited
on the children in this sense; in the dictation of the form taken by
that struggle with evil which is every man’s portion; and sometimes--for
purposes of which no man may presume to judge--in the exceptional agony
of that struggle. Julian Romayne, the son of a liar and thief, and,
moreover, of a woman whose morality was the morality of conventionality
and nothing more, had an instinctive faculty for, an instinctive
inclination towards, dishonesty of word and deed. Such a twist of his
moral consciousness as had been predicted for him, a little child of
five years old, by Dr. Aston, had lain dormant among the possibilities
of his being throughout the nineteen years that intervened. It was this
inheritance which, in the sudden upheaval of his moral nature, had
awakened, asserted itself, and seized, as it were, the first place in
his nature.

Throughout his boyhood, easy as it had been, untouched by any strong
passion or desire, he had lied now and again, naturally and
instinctively. He had lied to save himself trouble, to save himself some
slight reproach--as he had lied to his mother on the subject of his
visit to Alexandria, to save himself from the confession of having
forgotten her commission. He had lied to Clemence from first to last,
and the first prick of that dart, which was now his constant companion,
had touched him when he first felt shame for those lies. But there was a
reckless, calculating deception about his life now which went deeper
and meant more. He lied to his mother with every word and action, and
with the unreasoning cruelty of his mental attitude towards her--there
is nothing towards which a man can be so heartless as the object to
which he has transferred his own wrong-doing--he hugged his deception of
her, and revelled in the sense of independence and power it gave him.
The endless deception which the fundamental falsity of his present life
necessitated, radiated on every side. To please his mother, as he told
himself with an ugly smile, he had flirted with Miss Pomeroy in the
early part of the winter until--a certain distance in her manner to him
melting--he had hailed her departure for Cannes as a blessed reprieve.
He had flirted with her this afternoon at Mrs. Halse’s, excited by the
news contained in the two letters he had since re-read, reckless in the
prospect of release they brought nearer to him, and with a certain
delight in the daring defiance of consequences. He had lied to Lord
Garstin when that good-natured mentor had let fall a warning word as to
the “bad form” of gambling; he lied to his coach when his frequent
absences were commented on.

In that desperate craving for money, in which all the passion of his
life was centering itself, dishonesty of deed was the natural and
inevitable corollary of dishonesty of word. The possession of money was
his one object in life; his conscience as to the means by which that
money was to be obtained he deliberately put into abeyance for the time
being. He had become possessed in the course of the last six months of
some thousands, not one of which had been earned by honest work; much of
which had come to him by more than questionable means.

That two-edged dart must have been finely tempered that it never seemed
to blunt! The dormant life in that higher part of him, to which it had
penetrated, must have been life indeed, that it should throb and quiver
stronger and stronger, side by side with all that was lowest and worst
in him, making the struggle grow always fiercer, and goading him on and
on. The dart owed its edge, the life its growing sensitiveness, to a
touch which lay always on Julian’s consciousness, haunting him night and
day. Not to be driven away or obliterated; not to be crowded out of his
soul by any stress of evil passion; a white light on the soiled, tangled
web of his life, which shone steadily in the strength of a power no
struggle of his could touch; was the thought of Clemence. Clemence, who
had trusted him; Clemence, hoping, longing, loving him, as he knew in
every wretched fibre; Clemence, for whose presence he longed at times
with a heart-sickness of longing which reacted in a very orgy of
passionate bitterness. He had received a note from her a few days after
her disappearance, telling him in a few simple words that she had got
work; that she relied on him not to drive her out of it by trying to see
her, until he “was ready,” as she phrased it. Again and again a reckless
impulse to see her, and force his will upon her, had seized him, but
something had always held him back. Again and again he had sent her
money, always to have it returned to him with a little line of hope or
patience. In the reception of those notes; in the writhing love, and
longing, and shame they stirred in him, the dart went home and tortured
him indeed.

He crushed the sheet of common note-paper almost fiercely in his hand
now, and thrust it away to the back of the drawer from which it had
come. He caught up the paper which had fallen from it--the cheque he had
sent her three days before--and tore it savagely into fragments. Then he
swept the papers on which he had been busy unheedingly into a drawer,
locked it sharply, and rose, white to the very lips.

“It can’t be long now,” he muttered. “It shan’t be! Men make their piles
in a day--in an hour; why should not I? It shan’t be long!”

He stood for a moment, his hand clenched, his features compressed, his
eyes full of a sullen fire. Then he turned sharply away and left the
room.

There was no trace of any fire about him, however, except the harmless
irradiation of youth and good spirits, when he opened the door of his
mother’s drawing-room a few minutes before their dinner-hour. He had
spent the intervening hour at his club, the most lightly good-natured,
and thoroughly easy-going and irresponsible young man there, and there
was precisely the same character about him now as he crossed the room to
his mother.



CHAPTER XIII


There had been a slight, sudden movement as Julian opened the door, as
though Mrs. Romayne had changed her attitude quickly. She was leaning
forward now, looking at an illustrated paper, but the cushions behind
her were tumbled and crushed, as if she had been leaning back on them,
and leaning heavily. She was wearing a tea-gown, and she seemed to keep
her face rather carefully in shadow.

“Rather an amusing party, wasn’t it?” she said lightly, looking up as he
came in. “Everybody goes to that woman’s. I can’t imagine why. Well, and
is there any news, sir?”

“I’m afraid not,” returned Julian gaily. “I’ve spent an hour at the club
to try and pick up some crumbs for you, but there was nothing going.”

The manner of each to the other was precisely the same, now that they
were alone together, as it had been when they addressed one another
incidentally in the course of general conversation. The very familiarity
between them had a flavour of artificiality about it, and that flavour
was mainly given, strangely enough, by Mrs. Romayne rather than by
Julian. It was her manner, not his, that lacked ease and overdid the
spontaneity. They chatted brightly about men and things, but she never
asked him a single personal question, though at any incidental allusion
let fall by him as to his doings a faint contraction of the muscles
about her eyes gave her a hungry, concentrated look, as of a creature
catching at a crumb. It seemed to be in a great measure that tendency to
keen intentness of expression which had so greatly altered her face.

“You see I’ve been lazy!” she said lightly, indicating her dress with a
slight gesture as they sat down to dinner. They were going out in the
evening, and she usually dressed before dinner on such occasions. “I
really couldn’t be bothered to dress before!”

The lamplight was full on her face now, and Julian, his attention drawn
to her by the words, saw that she looked frightfully haggard and worn
under her paint and her little air of gaiety. Paint had ceased to be an
appendage of full dress with her since her three days’ illness. The
combination added a touch of repulsion to his feeling towards her. But
his tone as he answered her was the tone of affectionate concern,
over-elaborated by the merest shade only.

“You’ve not over-tired yourself, I hope, dear?” he said. “I don’t
believe you ought to go out again to-night, do you know!”

Mrs. Romayne’s thin fingers were tearing fiercely at the
pocket-handkerchief in her lap as he spoke, and her eyes were bright
with pain. It seemed as though her ears had caught that subtle shade of
over-elaboration, though they must have been quick indeed to do so. But
she answered, almost before he had finished speaking, in a rather
high-pitched tone of eager determination.

“Silliest of boys,” she said; “the topic is threadbare. I am quite well!
Oh, it is very evident that my retiring to bed for a day or two is an
unparalleled event, or you would not be quite so slow in grasping the
fact that it is possible to recover after such a terrific crisis! Now,
do promise not to talk any more about what you don’t in the least
understand!”

The merriment of her tone was fictitious, even to Julian’s unheeding
ear, but he took it up with a mental shrug of his shoulders. It was not
his fault, he told himself, if she would overdo herself for the sake of
a little excitement.

He told himself the same thing, carelessly enough, when he put her into
her carriage two or three hours later. It was early; Mrs. Romayne had
declared the party to be insufferably dull and had stayed only half an
hour, during which time she had been as vivacious and attractive as
usual. But towards the end her eyes had become feverishly bright, and
Julian, as he took her out, could feel that she was trembling from head
to foot.

“Are you coming home?” she said to him.

“Well, if you don’t mind, dear, I was thinking of going to look up
Loring at the club.”

A breath of relief parted Mrs. Romayne’s lips, and she answered hastily.
Apparently she had no desire for her son’s company on her way home.

“Go, by all means!” she said. “Of course I don’t mind!”

She pulled up the window almost abruptly, nodding to him with a smile,
the singular ghastliness of which was, presumably, referable to some
effect of gaslight. Then as the carriage rolled away she sank back and
let her face relax into an expression of utter weariness, with a little
gasping catch of her breath as of deadly physical exhaustion.

His words about Loring had been a mere figure of speech on Julian’s
part, but he did intend to go to the club, and he carried his intention
into effect. He glanced round the smoking-room as he went in to see if
Loring was there, but the fact that he was not visible in no way
affected his serenity. He was so altered from the boy of a twelvemonth
before, and his intercourse with Loring had been so completely suspended
during the period of his developement, that their friendship seemed now
to belong to some previous phase of his existence; it was his sense that
he had passed utterly out of touch with the man with whom he had once
been intimate, together with a conviction that Loring’s keen perceptions
would be by no means a desirable factor in his surroundings at the
moment, that had dictated his demonstration of delight at Loring’s
reappearance. An outward show of enthusiasm was a very effective blind,
in his opinion.

His manner was regulated on the same principle on Loring’s appearance in
the smoking-room about half an hour later. He was on his way to the
card-room, and he was anything but pleased at the frustration of his
plans in that direction; but his reception of Loring indicated, rather,
that he had spent the last half-hour in watching for him.

“Here you are at last, old man!” he cried. “I thought you’d turn up some
time or other! What became of you this afternoon? I never saw you after
you disappeared with my mother.”

The two men had met close to the door, and they were still standing,
Loring, as _blasé_ and imperturbable-looking as usual, with his
observant eyes on Julian’s face.

“I didn’t care to spoil sport!” he returned with a significant smile.
“You seemed to be particularly well employed!”

Julian laughed--the conscious, not ill-pleased laugh which belonged to
his part. Such contingencies were all incidental to the situation.

“Oh, come, old boy,” he said deprecatingly. Then he laughed again, and
added: “I suppose my mother said something to you?”

“No!” returned Loring quietly. “I happen to have eyes, you see!”

“Don’t make magnifying glasses of them, then!” was the laughing retort.
“Now then, there are several fellows here who have been asking for you.”

But as Julian glanced round he became aware that the room chanced to be
almost empty. Loring understood at the same time that he had wished to
make the conversation general and impersonal, and a slight smile touched
his lips.

Marston Loring had various reasons of his own for not intending to allow
himself to be eluded by Julian Romayne. The change in the young man
alone would have excited his curiosity; and sundry details which had
already come to his knowledge, notably one across which he had stumbled
in the City that morning, had quickened that curiosity. His suspicions
of the preceding autumn, that there was something behind Julian’s life
as it appeared on the surface, were by no means forgotten by him. His
departure for Africa had taken him out of the way of the crisis, but he
more than half suspected that a crisis there had been. The connection
between the present and the past, and the means by which it could be
most advantageously applied to the furtherance of his own ends, were the
problems he had set himself to solve.

“We’re rather in luck!” he said. “We can have a quiet chat together.”

He established himself lazily and comfortably as he spoke, as Julian
with much apparent satisfaction flung himself into another chair, and
took out his cigar-case.

Julian’s questions followed one another thick and fast. His interest in
his friend’s life during the last six months seemed to be inexhaustible
in its intelligence and sympathy. He had a great deal to tell, too; and
he told it so fluently and gaily as almost to disguise the fact that the
allusions to his own doings were of the most superficial type. But at
last there was a pause. Julian was pulling out his watch, and saying
something about going home, when Loring lighted a fresh cigar and opened
the proceedings--as he conceived them.

“I heard of you in the City this morning!” he said nonchalantly.

There was no pause in the movement with which Julian returned his watch
to his pocket; nothing, absolutely, to betray the fact that the words
were a surprise to him. Yet they were a surprise, and an exceedingly
unpleasant one. His transactions in the City he had arranged to keep
secret; that their nature should become known was eminently
undesirable, and he had decided that the fact itself would be
inconsistent with his pose before the world. That Loring should be the
man to unearth them was exceptionally unfortunate.

“Did you?” he said lightly; “and who was saying what of me in the
City--a vague locality, by-the-bye.”

“The introduction of your name was accidental--accidents will happen,
you know, even in Adams’s office. Is that a definite locality enough to
please you?”

Julian burst into a boyish laugh and flung himself back in his chair; he
carried his cigar to his lips as he did so, not noticing apparently that
it had gone out. Loring noticed it, however.

“What a fellow you are, Loring!” he cried. “You’ve not been in England
three days before you unearth a poor chap’s most private little games! I
say, you’ll keep it dark, won’t you? I wouldn’t have it come round to my
mother, you know! She’s so awfully generous to me, and it might hurt her
feelings.”

There was an ingenuous frankness and confidence in his voice which gave
to the whole affair the aspect of a youthful escapade. Loring smiled as
he answered:

“I wouldn’t have a hand in hurting Mrs. Romayne’s feelings for the
world.” He paused a moment, and then added carelessly, as if the whole
transaction was the merest matter of course: “Been doing much?”

Julian shook his head.

“No, of course not,” he said lightly. “Only a little occasional lark,
don’t you know. I leave the big things to clever fellows like you.
By-the-bye, Loring, I’d no idea you did anything in that way.”

Loring puffed slowly at his cigar before he answered.

“I’m an old hand,” he said nonchalantly. “I wait for certainties, my
boy!” He paused again. “To tell you the truth,” he said slowly,
fastening a keen, cleverly-veiled gaze on Julian’s face, “I did not ask
the question altogether idly. It occurred to me that if you had made
anything worth mentioning you might be on the look-out for a means
of--well, we’ll put it mildly and say--increasing it.”

There was considerable meaning in Loring’s voice, careless as it was.
Julian became very still, and into his eyes there crept an eager, hungry
light which harmonised ill with the fixed nonchalance of the rest of his
features as he answered with a laugh:

“I don’t know the fellow who could refuse to admit that soft
impeachment! We’re all in the same boat as far as that goes, I take it.
You haven’t got a good thing up your sleeve, old man, have you?”

Loring smiled ambiguously.

“Most ‘good things’ would come to an untimely end if every one with a
finger in them spread them abroad, my boy!” he observed. “Since it can’t
concern you personally--if you’ve no capital--we’ll say no more about
it.”

A certain amount of Loring’s practice dealt with financial affairs; he
was no mean authority on City matters, and there was something about his
manner indescribably provocative. Julian leaned forward with a movement
of irrepressible eagerness.

“Is it really a good thing?” he said. He spoke with a quick, low-toned
directness which put aside the fencing of the previous dialogue, and
replied not to what Loring had said, but to what he had implied. Loring
looked him full in the face and answered laconically and significantly:

“Rather!”

The hungry light was burning fiercely in Julian’s eyes, and he turned
his face away from Loring and began to fidget with an ash-tray lying on
the table by him.

“Capital?” he said. “What do you call capital, now?”

“Oh, anything between ten thousand and five-and-twenty thousand,” said
Loring carelessly.

There was a silence. Julian’s brain was working feverishly, and Loring
was well content to let it work. At last Julian began to speak in a low,
rapid tone, with the air of one who has made up his mind to frank
confidence. He had intended to keep Loring at arm’s length; he had
decided now to play a bolder game, and use him.

“Look here, Loring,” he said, “I may as well make a clean breast of it!
I have gone a bit farther than I said. You see, as I told you, my
mother’s most awfully generous, and I wouldn’t let a hint of this get to
her for the world; but a man doesn’t like to feel that he’s dependent on
his mother for everything, don’t you know--especially if he’s thinking
of marrying. You know what it is when one once begins to feel the money
come in! I’ve gone on, you see--as lots of fellows do--and I’ve got a
tidy little pile. Of course I’m very keen on making it more
before--well, before I propose, don’t you know! And if you can give me a
lift up I shall be eternally obliged.”

He stopped, and Loring smoked for a minute or two in silence. At last he
said slowly:

“I understand! It’s natural, of course. Well, I don’t stand alone in the
affair, to tell you the truth. There’s another man to be consulted. But
I’ll talk the matter over with him, and if I can manage to get you in
you may be sure I will. You shall have a line in a day or two, or I’ll
see you again.” Loring dropped the end of his cigar into the ash-tray
and rose.



CHAPTER XIV


The clock in Mrs. Romayne’s drawing-room chimed the half-hour--half-past
four--and Mrs. Romayne glanced up as she heard it. She was alone,
sitting at her writing-table answering invitations. She was looking
better than she had looked on the preceding day--less haggard, and
physically stronger.

She answered and put aside the last invitation-card, and then she drew
out a letter in a straight, clear, girl’s writing. It was signed:
“Affectionately yours, Maud Pomeroy,” and it bore reference to Miss
Pomeroy’s prospective visit to her. Mrs. Romayne glanced through it, the
vigour of her face seeming to accentuate as she did so, and then
proceeded to write a few cordial, affectionate lines in answer. She was
just directing the envelope when a servant came in with tea.

Mrs. Romayne rose.

“Send these letters to the post,” she said.

She glanced at the clock again as she spoke, and at that moment the
front-door bell rang.

Left alone, Mrs. Romayne moved quickly to the looking-glass, and took an
anxious, critical look at herself; it was as though she had learnt to
distrust her appearance. The inspection, however, proved satisfactory,
apparently; and as she turned quickly away as she heard steps upon the
stairs, there was a self-dependence and sense of power in the bright,
expectant keenness of her eyes.

“Mr. Loring!” announced the servant, and Mr. Loring followed his name
into the room.

“I am very glad to see you,” said Mrs. Romayne, advancing to meet him.
“This is a much better way of welcoming a friend than our meeting
yesterday. I think I shall celebrate the occasion by saying not at home
to any one else. Julian will be in, perhaps, and he will like to have
you to himself. Not at home, Dawson,” she added in conclusion.

There was a verve and brightness about her manner which was not exactly
its usual vivacity, and which faintly suggested the presence of some
kind of special excitement in her mind.

Loring’s perceptions were in a state of rather abnormal acuteness; the
situation had meanings for him, which had braced up his forces not
inconsiderably. He detected that inward excitement about Mrs. Romayne
instantly, and he was convinced also, though he could hardly have given
a reason for the conviction, that there was not the smallest chance of
Julian’s appearance. Both circumstances he reckoned as points in his
favour in the game he was going to play.

“It’s very charming of you,” he said. “Do you know this is the first
time I have really felt that coming back to London means--something.”

He took the chair she had indicated to him on the other side of the
little tea-table as he spoke, and there was nothing lame or unfinished
about the words spoken as he spoke them. His eyes were fixed upon Mrs.
Romayne, but she was pouring out tea with so intent a look on her face
as almost to suggest preoccupation. She did not look up, nor did the
tone of his voice reach her, except superficially, apparently, for she
replied with a pleasant, friendly laugh.

“I should hope it did mean ‘something,’ indeed,” she said. “Friends
should count for ‘something,’ surely, especially when they have really
taken the trouble to miss you very much. Have you had such an unusually
fascinating time in Africa, then?”

She handed him a cup of tea, and as he rose to take it from her, he
answered:

“Well, not exactly that. I’m afraid I don’t believe in fascinating
times, you know. Perhaps I am too much of a pessimist.”

He spoke with that tone of personal revelation and confidence which is
always more or less attractive to a woman, coming from a man; and Mrs.
Romayne responded with the gentle loftiness of sympathy which the
position demanded.

“I’ve often been afraid you felt like that,” she said. “And it is really
quite wrong of you, don’t you know. You ought to be such a particularly
well-satisfied person! I suppose you are horribly ambitious? Now, tell
me, has your business gone off as well as you hoped? I have been so
interested in your delightful articles!”

“Does anything go off as well as one had hoped?” was the reply, spoken
with a cynical smile, indeed, but with a certain daring deprecation of
her disapproval, which was not unattractive. “No, I ought not to carp,”
he continued quickly. “I have every reason to be satisfied.”

His tone implied considerably more in the way of success and latent
possibilities about his present position than the words themselves
conveyed; and Mrs. Romayne answered with cordial, delicately-expressed
congratulations, which drifted into a species of general questionings as
to his doings, less directly personal, but implying that he might count
on her sympathy if he chose to confide in her in greater detail. This
was no part of Loring’s plan, however. He led by almost imperceptible
degrees away from the subject, and before very long they were talking
London gossip as though he had never been away, the only perceptible
result of his absence evincing itself in the touch of additional
intimacy which his return seemed to have given their relations,
necessarily at Mrs. Romayne’s instigation.

The talk touched here and there, and by-and-by an enquiry from Loring
after a mutual friend elicited a crisper laugh than usual, and an
expressive movement of the eyebrows, from Mrs. Romayne.

“Haven’t you heard?” she said. “Oh, it’s an old story now, of course!
Well, they don’t come to town this season, I believe. Lady Ashton
suffers from--neuralgia!”

She laughed again, and then in response to a cynical and incredulously
interrogative ejaculation from Loring, she clasped her hands lightly on
her knee and went on with the animation of a woman who has a good story
to tell and enjoys telling it.

“She contracted the complaint, they say, in a poky little church in
Kensington into which Gladys Ashton strolled one morning and got herself
married. Oh, dear no! Her mother wasn’t there! That’s one of the points
of the affair. And Lord Rochdale wasn’t there either.”

“Gladys Ashton jilted Rochdale after all!”

“After all!” assented Mrs. Romayne gaily. “After all that poor woman’s
trouble, after the quite pathetic way in which she has slaved to catch
him, she gets a letter from the ungrateful girl--at an afternoon tea,
too, heaps of people there--to say that she is Mrs. Bob Stewart.
Baccarat Bob you wretched men at the clubs call him, don’t you?”

“That was enough to induce convulsions, let alone neuralgia,” commented
Loring.

They both laughed, and the laugh was succeeded by a moment’s silence.
Then Loring said casually:

“What has become of your cousin, Falconer, among other people,
by-the-bye? I don’t hear anything of him, and his grim presence was
hardly to be overlooked. Have you any little escapade of his to reveal,
now?”

Mrs. Romayne laughed a little harshly.

“Unfortunately not,” she said. “His absence is due to the most
characteristically orthodox causes. He was ill about three months ago.
He went into a hospital sort of place--one of those new things--and he
was rather bad. Now he’s somewhere or other recovering. I fancy he won’t
be in London again yet.”

Loring received the news with a comment as indifferent as his question
had been, and then there fell a second silence. Loring’s eyes, very keen
and calculating, were fixed upon the carpet; on Mrs. Romayne’s face was
an accentuation of the intent, preoccupied look which had lain behind
all her previous gaiety. The two faces suggested curiously that the man
and woman alike felt individually and each irrespective of the other
that something in the shape of a prologue was over, and that the real
interest of the interview might begin.

The silence was broken by Mrs. Romayne; she pushed the tea-table further
from her and leaned back in her chair, as she said casually:

“Did you and Julian meet at the club last night?”

Loring followed her example and took an easier and more careless pose.

“Yes!” he said. “We had an hour’s talk together. I was very glad I had
looked in. I hardly expected to find him there!”

Mrs. Romayne laughed, and the sound was rather forced. “Oh,” she said
lightly, “he is a tremendous clubbist! All young men go through the
phase, don’t you think?” She paused a moment, and her voice sounded as
though her breath was coming rather quickly as she said carelessly:

“You find him a good deal altered, I dare say? Six months”--she paused;
her breath was troublesome--“six months makes such a difference at his
time of life!” she finished.

Loring looked at her. He had long ago decided that when a woman was
“made up” it was of very little use to direct observation to anything
but her eyes.

“Yes!” he said reflectively, as though debating a question already
existing in his mind, and answering it for the first time. “He is
altered! I suppose--yes, I suppose six months must make a difference!”

A sharp breath as at a sudden stab of pain had parted Mrs. Romayne’s
lips at his first words, and he saw a hard, defiant brightness come
into her eyes.

“I was very glad to see--well, may one allude to what one could not help
seeing yesterday?” he went on in another and much lighter tone.

“One may allude to it confidentially!” returned Mrs. Romayne, and her
tone was rather high-pitched and uneven. “Not otherwise, I am sorry to
say--at present! Did Julian say anything about it?” Her tone as she
asked the question was carelessness itself, but her fingers were tightly
clenched round her handkerchief as she waited for the answer.

“A word or two!” returned Loring. “I inferred that it was only a
question of time. Has it been going on long?”

“All the winter!” she answered, and again there was that little forced
laugh. “You see, unfortunately, ‘she’ has been away! I had hoped that it
would have come off before she went away, but it didn’t!”

She stopped rather abruptly; and Loring, watching her keenly, said:

“You think it is time he should marry?”

“I think--well, yes, I suppose I do! Don’t you agree with me? You young
men are so apt to get into mischief, you know!”

“I suppose I can hardly deny the general principle,” answered Loring
with a slight smile, “though it is some time since I have been a young
man in any practical sense! But as to Julian, I hardly know----”

“But you must know!” returned Mrs. Romayne quickly, and with an affected
laugh. “And you must know, in the first place, that I’m relying on you
for a good deal of co-operation--oh, of course, not in these delicate
affairs!”

A certain shade of attention--just that attention which might become
gravely or gaily sympathetic according to the demand made upon
him--appeared in Loring’s manner. He replied to her last words with a
gesture of mock deprecation which answered the tone in which they were
spoken; but a quiet, reliable interest touched his voice as he spoke,
which seemed to respond rather to the possibilities of the situation.

“You have only to command me!” he said.

There was a hungry intentness about Mrs. Romayne’s mouth now, and about
her clenched hand, which only a tremendous effort and the sacrifice of
all reality of tone could have kept out of her voice.

“To tell you the truth,” she said lightly, “there was rather a
catastrophe in the autumn; a girl, you know, silly boy--the usual thing!
I fancy it has upset him a good deal in every way, and there is nothing
like marriage for settling a young man down after such an affair!”

She paused as though--while her confidence in her statement, and the
point of view from which she had presented the matter stood in no need
of confirmation--she yet craved to hear it subscribed to by another
voice. And Loring nodded with grave, attentive assent.

“Quite so!” he said sententiously.

“Now, of course,” she continued, “of course a woman can’t know all the
ins and outs of a young man’s life, even when she’s his mother. It’s out
of the question; and to be very frank with you”--there was something
painful now about the lightness of her tone--“his mother had to be
rather autocratic, and the boy didn’t much like it. Consequently I can’t
feel sure that--well, that she knows even as much as she might about his
affairs, now! That’s why I’m confiding in you in this expansive way! I
want you to look after him for me!”

Loring changed his position, and nodded again gravely and
comprehendingly.

“I understand!” he said slowly. “I understand!” The statement was true
in far wider sense than Mrs. Romayne could be aware of. There was a
moment’s silence, during which he seemed to deliberate deeply on the
facts presented to him, watched intently by Mrs. Romayne; and then he
roused himself, as it were. “I won’t say that your confidence in me
gives me great pleasure,” he said, “because I hope you know that. I will
simply say that I will do all I can!”

The words were admirably spoken, with a gentleness and consideration of
tone and manner which were all the more striking from their contrast
with his usual demeanour; and they carried an impression of strength
and sympathy such as no woman could have resisted. A strange spasm as
of intense relief passed across Mrs. Romayne’s face, and for the moment
she did not speak. Then she said low and hurriedly:

“I have heard that he plays, and it--it worries me! A boy will often
listen to a friend whom he respects, and--and--I rely on you.”

“I consider myself honoured!”

A pause followed, and then Loring continued with an easy seriousness
which was very reassuring:

“I am very glad to know all this, for it gives me a key, without which I
might have blundered considerably! To return confidence for confidence,
and to assure you that I really have some power to help you, I will say
that I made a little discovery about Julian yesterday which perplexed me
a good deal. I shall know now how to act. If he must speculate----”

He was interrupted. The daintily coloured face before him changed
suddenly and terribly; a ghastly reality that lay behind that expression
of carelessness seemed on the instant to crash through all veils and
masks as Mrs. Romayne rose to her feet with a hoarse cry, her face
drawn and working, her hands stretched out as though to ward off
something unendurably horrible.

“No!” she gasped, and she was absolutely fighting and struggling for
breath, as though something clutched at her throat. “Not that! oh, good
heavens, not that! You must stop it! You must prevent it. He must not!
He must not! Do you hear me? He must not!”

There are some natures which not even contact with throbbing, vibrating
reality can touch or thrill, and Loring, surprised, indeed, had risen
also, cynical, imperturbable, and cool-headed as usual.

“By Jove!” he said to himself critically. “Who would have thought she
had it in her?” The choked, agonised voice stopped abruptly, and he met
her eyes, wild and fierce in their desperate command, and said quickly
and soothingly:

“I will do anything you wish, I assure you! You have only to speak! I am
grieved beyond all words to have distressed you so! I had no idea----”

A hoarse laugh broke from Mrs. Romayne, and she turned away with a
strange gesture almost as though it were herself she derided, and Loring
was forgotten by her, clasping her hands fiercely over her face. Loring
paused a moment and then went on smoothly:

“There is nothing to disturb you, I assure you, in what I was going to
say. Most young men have a turn for dabbling in speculation at some time
or other, and though I know some ladies have a horror of it, I don’t
think you would find that there is much foundation for that horror.” He
stopped somewhat abruptly. He had suddenly remembered that he was
speaking to the widow of William Romayne, of whose final collapse he
knew the outline. He looked at the woman before him with her hidden
face, her figure rigid and tense from head to foot, and thought to
himself callously how curious these survivals of emotion were. She did
not move or speak, and he went on with a tone of delicate sympathy:

“No doubt, if you really think it well to stop it with a high hand, it
can be done! I ought to say that I have rather broken confidence in
revealing Julian’s doings, as he is very anxious that you should not
think him dissatisfied or ungrateful, and did not wish you to hear of
them.” A shiver shook the bowed figure from head to foot. “I’m afraid I
thought more of reassuring you than of him! I thought that if you knew
that he and I were in the same affair, and that he would act solely on
my advice, you would, perhaps, feel happier about him!”

But the answer he wanted, the answer which would have enabled him to
continue his reassurances on the purely personal line, was not
forthcoming. Mrs. Romayne neither spoke nor moved. He had no intention
of risking his position by foolhardiness, so he adjusted his line of
argument to the darkness in which her silence left him.

“As I said, however,” he continued gently, “if you prefer to talk to him
on the subject, and ask him to give it up, no doubt he will do so rather
than distress you! And if you lay your commands on me to that effect, I
will certainly refuse to go any further with him! But may I say that I
think you would be wiser to let things take their course? It is not a
good thing to thwart a young man in the frame of mind you have hinted at
as being Julian’s at present. If you can conquer your horror of the
idea, I am sure you will be better satisfied in the end!”

There was a dead silence. At last Mrs. Romayne raised her head slowly,
not turning her face towards Loring, but looking straight before her, as
though utterly oblivious of his personal presence. There was a strange,
fleeting dignity about her drawn face, with its wide, ghastly eyes; the
dignity which comes from horror confronted.

“Take their course!” she said in a still, far-away voice. She paused a
moment, and then went on in the same tone. “You think this
is--inevitable?” The last word came with a strange ring.

“I think that any attempt at its prevention would be most undesirable,”
said Loring. “It might lead--of course, it is not very likely, but still
it is possible--to private speculations on Master Julian’s part!”

“Very well, then!” There was a curious, hard steadiness in her tone, as
of one who perforce concedes a point to an adversary, and braces every
nerve afresh to face the new situation thus created.

“That is like you!” exclaimed Loring admiringly. The tone of her voice
had passed him by. “You will be glad, I know! Now, let me say again how
awfully sorry I am to have distressed you, and then I’ll go. You’ll be
glad to get rid of me!”

She did not seem to hear the words, but as his voice ceased, she turned
her face slowly towards him with a vague, uncertain look upon it, as
though her consciousness was struggling back to him, and the life he
represented, across a great gulf. She looked at him a moment, and then
that dignity, and a strange pathos which that groping look had
possessed, gave way before a ghastly smile.

“I’m afraid I’ve been making myself most ridiculous!” she said, and
there was a difficult, uncertain sprightliness about her weak voice. “So
awfully sorry! I’m rather absurd about speculation. Old memories with
which I needn’t bore you! You’ll look after my boy, then? Thanks!” She
held out her hand as she spoke with a little affected gesture, but as he
placed his hand in it her fingers closed with an icy clutch. “And now,
do you know, I must send you away! Too bad, isn’t it? But there is such
a thing as dressing for dinner.”

“Quite so,” returned Loring gaily. “It is very good of you to have been
bothered with me so long! Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” she answered. “You’ll report progress, of course?”

“Certainly! We’re a pair of conspirators, are we not?”

When Mrs. Romayne came down to dinner that night her face was as haggard
as though the interval intervening had held for her another three days’
illness. But the hard determination in her eyes was more intense than
ever.

                            END OF VOL. II


     F. M. EVANS AND CO., LIMITED, PRINTERS, CRYSTAL PALACE, S.E.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Valiant Ignorance; vol. 2 of 3 - A Novel in Three Volumes" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home