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Title: Fanny Lambert
Author: Stacpoole, H. De Vere (Henry De Vere)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fanny Lambert" ***

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|Transcriber's note:                              |
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|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
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FANNY LAMBERT

A Novel

BY

HENRY DE VERE STACPOOLE

AUTHOR OF "THE CRIMSON AZALEAS"
"THE BLUE LAGOON" ETC., ETC.

[Illustration: Decoration]

R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
18 East 17th Street, New York

T. FISHER UNWIN, LONDON



CONTENTS


PART I

CHAP.                                  PAGE
   I. MR LEAVESLEY                        1

  II. A LOST TYPE                         4

 III. A COUNCIL OF THREE                 12

  IV. HANCOCK & HANCOCK                  26

   V. OMENS                              31

  VI. LAMBERT _v._ BEVAN                 36

 VII. THE BEVAN TEMPER                   41

VIII. AT "THE LAURELS"                   48

  IX. "WHAT TALES ARE THESE?"            62

   X. ASPARAGUS AND CATS                 76


PART II

   I. A REVELATION                       86

  II. THE GOD FROM THE MACHINE          113

 III. TRIBULATIONS OF AN AUNT           125

  IV. THE DAISY CHAIN                   131


PART III

   I. AN ASSIGNATION                    141

  II. THE EMOTIONS OF MR BRIDGEWATER    150

 III. AN OLD MAN'S OUTING               159

  IV. A MEETING                         169

   V. THE ADVENTURES OF BRIDGEWATER     171

  VI. A CONFESSION                      176

 VII. IN GORDON SQUARE                  185


PART IV

   I. "THE ROOST"                       194

  II. MISS MORGAN                       207

 III. A CURE FOR BLINDNESS              223

  IV. TIC-DOULOUREUX                    235

   V. THE AMBASSADOR                    245

  VI. A SURPRISE VISIT                  251

 VII. THE UNEXPLAINED                   263

VIII. RETURN OF THE AMBASSADOR          269


PART V

   I. GOUT                              274

  II. THE RESULT                        283

 III. THE RESULT (_continued_)          299

  IV. "JOURNEY'S END"                   301



FANNY LAMBERT



_PART I_



CHAPTER I

MR LEAVESLEY


"You may take away the things, Belinda," said Mr Leavesley, lighting his
pipe and taking his seat at the easel. "Nobody called this morning, I
suppose?"

"Only the Capting, sir," replied Belinda, piling the tray. "He called at
seven to borry your umbrella."

"Did you give it him?"

"No, sir, Mr Verneede's got it; you lent it to him the night before
last, and he hasn't brought it back."

"Ah, so I did," said Mr Leavesley, squeezing Naples yellow from an
utterly exhausted looking tube. "So I did, so I did; that's the
fifteenth umbrella or so that Verneede has annexed of mine: what does he
_do_ with them, do you think, Belinda?"

"I'm sure _I_ don't know, sir," replied the maid-of-all-work, looking
round the studio as if in search of inspiration, "unless he spouts
them."

"That will do, Belinda," said the owner of the lost umbrellas, turning
to his work, and the servant-maid departed.

It was a large, pleasant studio, furnished with very little affectation,
and its owner was a slight, pleasant-faced youth, happy-go-lucky
looking, with a glitter in his grey eyes suggesting a touch of genius or
insanity in their owner.

He was an orphan blessed with a small competency. His income, to use his
own formula, consisted of a hundred a year and an uncle. During the
first four months or so of the year he spent the hundred pounds, during
the rest of the year he squandered his uncle; that is to say he would
have squandered him only for the fact that Mr James Hancock, of the firm
of Hancock & Hancock, solicitors, was a person most difficult to
"negotiate."

Art, however, was looking up. He had sold several pictures lately. The
morning mists on the road to success were clearing away, leaving to the
view in a prospect distant tremulous and golden the mysterious city of
attainment.

He would have whistled as he worked only that he was smoking.

Through the open windows came the pulse-like sound of the omnibuses in
the King's Road, the sleigh bells of the hansoms, the rattle of the
coster's barrow, and voices.

As he painted, the sounds outside brought before him the vision of the
King's Road, Chelsea, where flaming June was also at work with her
golden brush and palette of violet colours.

He saw in imagination the scarlet pyramids of strawberries in the shops.
The blazing barrow of flowers all a-growing and a-blowing, the late-June
morning crowd, and through the crowd wending its way the figure of a
girl.

He was in love.

In the breast-pocket of his coat (on the heart side) lay a letter he had
received by the early morning post. The handwriting was large and
generous and careless, for no man living could tell the "m's" from the
"w's," or the "t's" from the "l's." It ran somewhat to this effect:


     "THE LAURELS, HIGHGATE.

     "Father is worrying dreadfully, and I want your advice. I think I
     will be in the King's Road to-morrow, and will call on you. Excuse
     this scrawl.--In wild haste,

     "FANNY LAMBERT.

     "How's the picture?"


Occasionally as he painted he touched his coat where the letter lay, as
if to make sure of its presence.

Suddenly he ceased working. There was a step on the stairs, a knock at
the door. Could it be?----



CHAPTER II

A LOST TYPE


"My young friend Leavesley," cried the apparition that had suddenly
framed itself in the doorway; "busy as usual--and how is Art?"

"I don't know. Come in and shut the door; take a seat, take a
cigarette--bother this drapery--well, what have you been doing with
yourself?"

Mr Verneede took neither a seat nor a cigarette. He took his place
behind the painter, and gazed at the work in progress with a critical
air.

He was a fantastic-looking old gentleman, dressed in a tightly-buttoned
frock coat. A figure suggestive of Count d'Orsay gone to the dogs.
Mildewed, washed, and mangled by Fate, and very much faded in the
process.

He said nothing for a moment, and then he said, after a long and
critical survey of the little _genre_ picture on which our artist was
engaged:

"Your work improves, decidedly your work improves, Leavesley--improves,
very much so, very much so, very much so."

The artist said nothing, and the irresponsible critic, placing his hat
on the floor and tightly clasping the umbrella he carried under his left
arm, made a funnel of his hands and gazed through it at the picture.

"Decidedly, decidedly; but might I make a suggestion?"

"Yes, yes."

"Well, now, frankly, the attitude of that man with the axe----"

"Which man with the axe?"

"He in the right-hand corner by the----"

"That's not a man with an axe, that's a lady with a _fan_, you old owl."

"Heavens!" cried Mr Verneede. "How could I have been so deceived, it was
the light. Of course, of course, of course--a lady with a fan, it's
quite obvious now. A lady with a fan--do you find these very small
pictures pay, Leavesley?"

"Yes--no--I don't know. Sit down, like a good fellow; that's right--look
here."

"I attend."

"I'm expecting a young lady to call here to-day."

"A young lady?"

"Yes, and I wish you'd wait and see her."

"I shall be charmed."

"You will when you see her--but it's not that. See here, Verneede, I
want to explain her to you."

"I listen."

"She's quite unlike any one else."

"Ha!"

"I mean in this way, she's so jolly and innocent and altogether good,
that upon my word I wish she wasn't coming here alone."

"You fear to trust yourself----"

"Oh, rubbish! only, it doesn't seem the thing."

"Decidedly not, decidedly not."

"Oh, _rubbish_! she's as safe here as if she were with her
grandfather--what I mean to say is this, she's so innocent of the world
that she does things quite innocently that--that conventional people
don't do, don't you know. She has no mother."

"Poor young thing!"

"And her father, who is one of the jolliest men in the world, lets her
do anything she likes. I wish I had a female of some sort to receive her
here, but I haven't," said Mr Leavesley, looking round the studio as if
in search of the article in question.

"I know of an eminently respectable female," said Mr Verneede
meditatively, "who would fall in with your requirements; unfortunately,
she is not available at a short notice; she lives in Hoxton, as a matter
of fact."

"That's no use, might as well live in the moon. No matter, _you'll_ do,
an excellent substitute like What's-his-name's marmalade."

"May I ask," said Mr Verneede, rather stiffly, as if slightly ruffled
by this last remark, "is this young lady, from a worldly point of view,
an _éligible partie_?"

"Don't know, she's a most lovable girl. I met them in Paris, she and her
father, and travelled back with them. They have a big house up at
Highgate, and an estate somewhere in the country, but, somehow, I fancy
their affairs are involved. Mr Lambert always seems to be going to law
with people. No matter, I want to get some cakes--cakes and tea are the
right sort of things to offer a person--a girl--wine is impossible.
What's the time? After two! Wait here for me, I won't be long."

He took his hat, and left the studio to Mr Verneede.

Verneede was one of those _bizarre_ figures, with whose construction
Nature seems to have had very little to do. What he had been was a
mystery, where he lived was to most people a mystery, and what he lived
on was a mystery to every one. Some tiny income he must have had, but no
man knew from whence it came. Useless and picturesque as an old
fashion-plate, he wandered through life with an umbrella under his arm,
ready to stand at any street corner in the chill east wind or the
broiling sun and listen to any tale told by any man, and give useless
advice or instruction on any subject.

His criticisms were the despair and delight of artists, according to
their liability to be soothed or maddened by the absolutely inane.

For the rest, he was quite harmless, his chiefest vice, after a taste
for beer, a passion for borrowing umbrellas and never returning them.

Mr Verneede seated, immersed in his own weird thoughts and
contemplations, came suddenly to consciousness again with a start.

A dark-haired girl of that lost type which recalls La Cruche Cassée and
the Love-in-April conceptions of Fragonard, exquisitely pretty and
exquisitely dressed, was in the studio. He had not heard her knock, or
perceived her enter. Had she descended through the ceiling or risen from
the floor? was it a real girl, or was it June materialised in a gown of
corn-flower blue, and with wild field poppies in her breast?

"God bless my soul!" said Mr Verneede.

"You were asleep, I think," said the girl. "I'm so sorry to have
disturbed you, but I want to see Mr Leavesley; this _is_ his studio, I
think."

"Oh, certainly, yes, this is his studio, I believe. Pray take a seat.
Ah, yes--dear me, what a strange coincidence----"

"And these are his pictures?" said the girl, looking round her in an
interested way. She had placed a tiny parcel and an impossible parasol
on the table, and was drawing off a suede glove leisurely, as she
glanced around her.

"These are his pictures," answered the old gentleman, "works of
art--very much so, the highest art inspired by the truest genius."

Miss Lambert--for the June-like apparition was Miss Lambert--followed
with her little face the sweep of the old gentleman's arm as he pointed
out the highest art inspired by the truest genius. Rough studies,
canvases turned face to the wall, and one or two small finished
pictures.

Then, realising that he had found an innocent victim, he began to
expatiate on art and on the pictures around them, and she to listen,
innocence attending to ignorance.

"He is very clever, isn't he?" put in Miss Lambert, during a pause in
the exordium.

"A genius, my dear young lady, a genius," said Mr Verneede, looking at
her over his shoulder as he replaced on a high bracket a little picture
he had reached down to show her.

"One of the few living artists who can paint light. I may say that he
paints light with a delicacy and an elegance all his own. _Fiat
Lux_"--the shelf came down with a crash and a cloud of dust--"as the
poet says--pray don't move, I will restore the _débris_--as the poet
says. Now the gem of my young friend Leavesley's collection, in my mind,
is the John the Baptist."

He went to a huge canvas which stood with its face to the wall, seized
it with arms outstretched, and turned it towards the girl.

It was a picture of a semi-nude female after Reubens that the blundering
old gentleman had seized upon.

"Observe the sunlight on the beard," came the voice of the showman from
behind the canvas, "the devotion in the eyes, the--ooch!!"

A pillow caught from the couch by Frank Leavesley who had just entered,
and dexterously thrown, had flattened canvas and showman beneath a cloud
of dust.



CHAPTER III

A COUNCIL OF THREE


"Now, let's all be happy," said Miss Lambert; they had finished tea and
Belinda was removing the things, "for I must be going in a minute, and I
have such a lot of things to say--oh dear me, that reminds me," her
under-lip fell slightly.

"What?" asked Leavesley.

"That I'm perfectly miserable."

"Oh, don't say that----"

"My dear young lady----"

"I mean I _ought_ to be perfectly miserable," said Miss Lambert with a
charming smile, "but somehow I'm not. Do you know, I never am what I
ought to be. When I ought to be happy I'm miserable, and when I ought to
be miserable I'm happy. Father says I was addled at birth, and that I
ought to have been put out of doors on a red-hot shovel as they used to
do long ago in Ireland with the omadlunns, or was it the changelings--no
matter. I wanted to talk to you about father--no, please don't go," to
Verneede, who had made a little movement as if to say "Am I _de trop_?"
"You are both so clever I'm sure you will be able to give me good
advice. He's worrying so."

"Ah!" said Mr Verneede, with the air of a physician at a consultation.
He was in his element, he saw a prospect of unburthening himself of some
of his superfluous advice.

"It's this Action," resumed Fanny, as if she were speaking of a tumour
or carbuncle, "that makes him so bad; I'm getting quite frightened about
him."

"Was that the action he spoke to me about?" asked Leavesley.

"Which?" asked Fanny.

"The one against a bookseller?"

"Oh no, I think that's settled; it's the one against our cousin, Mr
Bevan."

"Ah!"

"It's about the right-of-way--I mean the right of fishing in a stream
down in Buckinghamshire. They've spent ever so much money over it, it's
worrying father to death, but he _won't_ give it up. I thought perhaps
if _you_ spoke to him you might have some influence with him."

"I'd be delighted to do anything," said Leavesley. "What is this man
Bevan like?"

"Frightfully rich, and a beast."

"That's comprehensive anyhow," said Leavesley.

"Most, most--most clear and comprehensive," concurred Mr Verneede.

"I hate him!" said Fanny, her eyes flashing, "and I wish he and his old
fish stream were--boiled."

"That would certainly solve the difficulty," said Leavesley, scratching
the side of his hand meditatively.

"And his beastly old solicitor too," continued the girl, tenderly
lifting a lady-bird, that had somehow got into the studio and on to her
knee, on the point of her finger. "Isn't he beautiful?"

"Most," assented Leavesley, gazing with an artist's delight at the white
tapering finger on which the painted and polished insect was balancing
preparatory to flight.

"Who is his solicitor, by the way?"

"Mr Hancock of Southampton Row."

"Mr Who?"

"Hancock."

"Why, he's my uncle."

"Oh!" cried Fanny, "I _am_ sorry."

"That he's my uncle?"

"No--that I said that----"

"Oh, that doesn't matter. I've often wished him boiled. It's awfully
funny, though, that he should be this man Bevan's solicitor--very."

"I have an idea," said Verneede, leaning forward in his chair and
pressing the points of his fingers together.

"My dear young lady, may I make a suggestion?"

"Yes," said Fanny.

"Two suggestions, I should have said."

"Fire away," cut in Leavesley.

"Well, my dear young lady, if my advice were asked I would first of all
say 'dam the stream.'"

"Verneede!" cried Leavesley. "What are you saying?"

"Father's always damning it," replied Miss Lambert with a laugh, "but it
doesn't seem to do much good."

"My other suggestion," said Verneede, taken aback at the supposed
beaver-like attributes of Mr Lambert, "is this, go in your own person to
the friend of my friend Leavesley. I mean the uncle of my friend. Go to
Mr Hancock, go to him frankly, fearlessly, tell him the tale you have
told us; tell it to him with your own lips, in your own manner, with
your own charm; say to him 'You are killing my father--cease.' Speak to
him in your own way, smile at him----"

"_That's_ not a bad idea," said Miss Lambert, turning to Leavesley, who
was seated mouth open, aghast at this lunatic proposition.

"That's a _splendid_ idea, and I'll _do_ it."

"Say to him 'Cease!'" continued Verneede, speaking in an inspired voice.
"Say to him----"

"Oh, shut up!" cried Leavesley, shaken out of politeness. "Do you know
what you're talking about? Hancock is Bevan's solicitor."

"That's just why I'm going to him," said Miss Lambert.

"But it's against all the rules of everything. I'm not sure that it
wouldn't be considered tampering with--um--Justice."

"It's not a question of justice, it's a question of common-sense," said
Miss Lambert.

"Exactly," said Verneede, "common-sense; if this Mr--er--the uncle of my
friend Leavesley, is endowed with common-sense and a sense of
justice--yes, justice and a feeling for beauty----"

"Oh, do stop!" said Leavesley, the prosaic vision of James Hancock
rising before him.

"What on earth do lawyers know of justice or beauty or----"

"If they don't," replied Fanny, "it's quite time they were taught."

"Quite," concurred Verneede.

When certain chemicals are brought into juxtaposition certain results
result. So it is with brains. Mr Leavesley for a moment sat
contemplating the crazy plan propounded by Mr Verneede. Then he broke
into a laugh. His imagination pictured the interview between Miss
Lambert and his uncle.

"Well, go ahead," he said. "Perhaps you're right; I don't know much
about the law, but, anyhow, it's not a hanging matter. When are you
going?"

"Now," said Miss Lambert, putting on her gloves.

Leavesley looked at his watch.

"You'll scarcely catch him at the office unless you take a cab."

"I'll take a cab. Will you come with me?"

"Yes, rather!"

"Only as far as the door," said Miss Lambert.

"It's like going to the dentist; I always take father with me to the
dentist's as far as the door, for fear I'd run away. Once I'm in I don't
care a bit; it's the going in is the dreadful part."

"I know," said Leavesley, reaching for his hat. "It's like facing the
music, the overture is the worst part."

"I don't think you'd call it music," said Miss Lambert, "if you heard me
at the dentist's when he's working that drill thing--ugh! Come."

They left the studio.

The prospect of having Miss Lambert all alone to himself in a cab made
the heart of Mr Leavesley palpitate, mixed emotions filled his soul.
Blue funk was the basis of these emotions. He was going to propose, so
he told himself, immediately, the instant they were in the cab and the
horse had started. That was all very well as a statement made to
himself: it did not conceal the fact that Miss Lambert was a terribly
difficult girl to propose to. One of those jolly girls who treat one as
a brother are generally the most difficult to deal with when one
approaches them as a lover. But Miss Lambert, besides the fact of her
jollity and her treatment of Mr Leavesley as a brother, had a
personality all her own. She seemed to him a combination of the
practical and the unpractical in about equal proportions, one could
never tell how she would take things.

They walked down the King's Road looking for a cab, Miss Lambert and
Verneede engaged in vivacious conversation, Leavesley silent, engaged in
troubled attempts to think.

I give a few links from the chain of his thoughts just as a specimen.

"Fanny, I love you--no, I can't say that, it's too bald and brutal. Miss
Lambert, I have long wanted to--oh, rubbish! How would it do to take her
hand--I _daren't_--bother!--does she care a button about me? Perhaps it
would be better to put it off till the next time--I'm not going to funk
it--may I call you Fanny?--or Fanny--may I call you Fanny? or Miss
Lambert may I call you Fanny? How would it be to write? No, I'll _do_
it."

They stopped, Mr Verneede had hailed a cab, and Leavesley came out of
his reverie to find a four-wheeler drawing up at the pavement.

"Hullo," he said to Verneede, "what did you call that thing for?"

"To drive in," replied Fanny, whilst Verneede opened the door. "Get in,
I'm in a horrible fright."

"But," said Leavesley, "a four-wheeler--why not a hansom?"

"No, no," said Miss Lambert, getting into the vehicle, "I hate hansoms,
I was thrown out of one once. Besides, this is more _respectable_. Do
get in quick, and tell the man to drive fast; I want to get the agony
over."

"Corner of Southampton Row," cried Leavesley to the driver. He got in,
Verneede shut the door and stood on the pavement, bowing and smiling in
an antiquated way as they drove off.

It was a four-wheeler with pretensions in the form of maroon velveteen
cushions and rubber tyres, a would-be imitation brougham, but the old
growler blood came out in its voice, every window rattled. Driving in
it, one could hear oneself speak, but conversation with a companion to
be intelligible had to be conducted in a mild shout.

"I don't in the least know what I'm going to say to him," cried Miss
Lambert, leaning forward towards her companion--he was seated opposite
to her on the front seat. "I'm so nervous, I can't think."

"Don't go to him."

"I must, now we've taken the cab."

"Let's go somewhere else."

"Where?"

"Anywhere--Madame Tussaud's."

"No, no, I'm _going_. Don't let's talk of it, let's talk of something
pleasant." She opened her purse, turned its meagre contents into her
lap, and examined some bills that were stuffed into a side compartment.

"What's two-and-six, and three shillings, and eighteen pence?"

"Eight shillings, I think," answered Leavesley after a moment's thought.

"Then I've lost a shilling," pouted Miss Lambert, counting her money,
replacing it, and closing the purse with a snap. "No matter, let's think
of something pleasant. Isn't old Mr Verneede sweet?"

"Fanny," said Leavesley, ignoring the saccharine possibilities of Mr
Verneede--"may I call you Fanny?"

"Of course, every one does. I say, is this cabman taking us right?"

"Yes, quite. What I was going to say," weakly and suddenly, "Fanny,
let's go somewhere some day, and have a really good time."

"Where?"

"Up the river--anywhere."

"I'd love to," said Miss Lambert. "I haven't been up the river for ages;
let's have a picnic."

"Yes, let's; what day could you come?"

"Any day--at least some day. Some day next week--only father is going
away next week, and a picnic would be nothing without _him_."

"Suppose you and I and Verneede went for a picnic next week?"

"That would be fun," said the girl; "we can make tea--oh, don't let us
talk of picnics, I feel miserable. Will he _eat_ me, do you think?"

"Who?"

"Mr Hancock."

"Not he--unless he has the gout, he's perfectly savage when he has the
gout--I say?"

"What?"

"You'd better not tell him you know me."

"Why?"

"Oh, because I've been fighting with him lately. I quarrel with him
once in three months or so. If he thought you and I were friends, it
might put his back up."

"I'll be mum," said Miss Lambert.

"I'll wait for you at the corner till you come out," said Leavesley,
"and tell me, Fanny."

"What?"

"You _will_ come for a picnic, won't you?"

"Rather, if I'm alive. I feel like the young lady of Niger--wasn't
it?--who went for a ride on a tiger, just before she saddled it----"

The cab rattled and rumbled them at last into Oxford Street. At the
corner of Southampton Row it stopped. They got out, and Leavesley paid
and dismissed the driver.

"That's the house down there," said he, "No. --. I'll wait for you here;
_don't_ be long."

"I won't be a minute, at least I'll be as short as I can. Now I'm
_going_."

She tripped off, and Leavesley watched her flitting by the grim,
business-like houses. She turned for a second, glanced back, and then
No. -- engulfed her.

Leavesley waited, trying to picture to himself the interview that was
in progress. Trying to fancy what Miss Lambert was saying to Mr James
Hancock, and what Mr James Hancock was saying to Miss Lambert.

Surely no one in London could have suggested such a proceeding except
Verneede, a proceeding so hopelessly insane from a business point of
view.

To call on your adversary's solicitor, and tell him to cease because he
was worrying your father to death!

Besides, Lambert was the man who ought to cease, because it was Lambert
who was the plaintiff.

Punching a man's head, and then telling him to cease!

Mr Leavesley burst into a laugh that caused a passing old lady to hurry
on her way.

He waited. Five minutes passed, ten, fifteen; _what_ was happening?

It was nearly closing time at the office. Twenty minutes passed. Could
James Hancock really have devoured Fanny in a fit of gout and
irritation?

He saw Bridgewater, the old chief clerk, come out and make off down
Southampton Row with a bag in his hand.

Three-quarters of an hour had gone, and Leavesley had taken his watch
out for the twentieth time, when from the doorway of No. -- Fanny
appeared, a glimmer of blue like a butterfly just broken from its
chrysalis.

Leavesley made two steps towards her, then he paused. Immediately after
Fanny came James Hancock, umbrella in hand, and hat on the back of his
head.

He was accompanying her.

Fanny glanced in Leavesley's direction, and then she and her companion
walked away down Southampton Row, Hancock walking with his long stride;
Fanny trotting beside him, neither, apparently, speaking one to the
other.

Leavesley followed full of amazement.

He could tell from his uncle's manner of walking, and from the way he
wore his hat, that he was either irritated or perplexed. He walked
hurriedly, and, viewed from behind, he had the appearance of a physician
who was going to an urgent case.

Much marvelling, the artist followed. He saw Hancock hail a passing
four-wheeler, and open the door. Fanny got in, her companion gave some
directions to the driver, got in after the girl, closed the door, and
the cab drove off.

"Now, what on earth can this mean?" asked Mr Leavesley, taking off his
hat and drawing his hand across his brow.

Disgust at being robbed of Fanny struggled in his mind with a feeling of
pure, unadulterated wonder.



CHAPTER IV

HANCOCK & HANCOCK


Frank Leavesley's uncle, Mr James Hancock of Gordon Square and
Southampton Row, Solicitor, was, in the year of this story, still
unmarried.

The firm of Hancock & Hancock had thrived in Bloomsbury for upwards of a
hundred years. By a judicious exercise of the art of dropping bad
clients and picking up good, and retaining the good when picked up, it
had built for itself a business second to none in the soliciting world
of the Metropolis.

To be a successful solicitor is not so easy a matter as you may
suppose. Take your own case, for instance, and imagine how many men you
would trust with the fact that your wife is in a madhouse and not on a
visit to her aunt; with the reason why your son requires cutting off
with a shilling; why you have to pay so much a month to So-and-so--and
so on. How many men would you trust with your title-deeds, and bonds,
and scrip, even as you would trust yourself?

The art of inspiring confidence combined with the less facile arts of
straight dealing and right living, had placed the Hancocks in the first
rank of their profession, and kept them there for over a hundred years.

James, the last of the race, was in personal appearance typical of his
forebears. Rather tall, thin, with a high colour suggestive of port
wine, and a fidgety manner, you would never have guessed him at first
sight to be one of the keenest business men in London, the depository of
awful secrets, and the instigator and successful leader of legal forlorn
hopes.

His dress was genteel, verging on the shabby, a hideous brown horse-hair
watch guard crossed his waistcoat, and he habitually carried an
umbrella that would have damned the reputation of any struggling
professional man.

His sister kept house for him in Gordon Square. She was just one year
his senior. An acid woman, early-Victorian in her tendencies and get-up,
Patience Hancock, to use the cook's expression, had been "born with the
key of the coal cellar in her pocket." She certainly carried the key of
the wine cellar there, and the keys of the plate pantry, larder, jam
depository, and Tantalus case. Everything lock-upable in the Gordon
Square establishment was locked up, and every month or so she received a
"warning" from one of the domestics under her charge.

The art of setting by the ears and treading on corns came to her by
nature, it was her misfortune, not her fault, for despite her acidity
she had a heart, atrophied from disuse, perhaps, but still a heart.

She treated her brother as though she were twenty years his senior, and
she had prevented him from marrying by subtle arts of her own, exercised
unconsciously, perhaps, but none the less potently. His affair with Miss
Wilkinson, eldest daughter of Alderman Wilkinson, an affair which
occurred twenty years ago, had been withered, or blasted, if you like
the expression better, by Patience Hancock. She had caused no bitter
feelings towards herself in the breast of either of the parties
concerned in this old-time love affair, but all the same she had parted
them.

Two other attempts on the part of James Hancock to mate and have done
with the business failed for no especial reason, and of late years, from
all external signs, he appeared to have come to the determination to
have done with the business without mating.

Patience had almost dismissed the subject from her mind; secure in the
conviction that her brother's heart had jellified and set, she had
almost given up espionage, and had settled down before the prospect of a
comfortable old age with lots of people to bully and a free hand in the
management of her brother and his affairs.

Bridgewater, Hancock's confidential clerk, a man of seventy adorned with
the simplicity of a child of ten, had hitherto been her confidant.

Bridgewater, seduced with a glass of port wine and a biscuit, had helped
materially in the blasting of the Wilkinson affair twenty years before.
He had played the part of spy several times, unconsciously, or partly
so, and to-day he was just the same old blunderer, ready to fall into
any trap set for him by an acute woman.

He adored Patience Hancock for no perceptible earthly reason except that
he had known her in short frocks, and besides this weak-minded adoration
he regarded her as part and parcel of the business, and regarded her
commands as equivalent to the commands of her brother.

Of late years his interviews with Patience had been few, she had no need
for him; and as he sat over his bachelor's fire at nights rubbing his
shins and thinking and dreaming, sometimes across his recollective
faculty would stray the old past, the confidences, the port, and the
face of Patience Hancock all in a pleasant jumble.

He felt that of late years, somehow, his power to please had in some
mysterious manner waned, and, failing a more valid reason, he put it
down to that change in things and people which is the saddest
accompaniment of age.



CHAPTER V

OMENS


One day this late June, or one morning, rather, Miss Hancock's dreams of
the future and her part in it became again troubled.

James Hancock, to use a simile taken from the garden, showed signs of
sprouting. A new hat had come home the night before from the hatter's,
and he had bought a new necktie _himself_. Hitherto he had paid for his
neckties and Patience had bought them, sombre neckties suitable to a
lawyer and a celibate. This thing from Amery and Loders, a thing of
lilac silk suitable enough for a man of twenty, caused Patience to stare
when it appeared at breakfast one morning round the neck of her brother.

But she said nothing, she poured out the tea and watched her brother
opening his letters and reading his newspaper, and munching his toast.
She listened to his remarks on the price of consols and the fall in
Russian bonds, and his grumbles because the "bacon was fried to a
cinder," just as she had watched and listened for the last thirty
years. Then, when he had finished and departed, she rose and went
downstairs to bully the cook and terrorise the maids, which
accomplished, she retired to her own room to dress preparatory to going
out.

The house in Gordon Square had the solidity of structure and the gloom
peculiar to the higher class houses in Bloomsbury. The great
drawing-room had a chandelier that lived in a bag, and sofas and chairs
arrayed in brown holland overalls; there were things in woolwork that
Amelia Sedley might have worked, and abominations of art, deposited by
the early Victorian age, struggled for pride of place with Georgian
artistic attempts. The dining-room was furnished with solid mahogany,
and everything in and about the place seemed solid and constructed with
a view to eternity and the everlasting depression of man.

A week's sojourn in this house explained much of a certain epoch in
English History to the mind of the sojourner; at the termination of the
visit one began to understand dimly the humours of Gillray and the
fidelity to truth of that atmosphere of gloom pervading the pictures of
Hogarth. One understood why, in that epoch, men drank deep, why women
swooned and improved swooning into a fine art, why Society was generally
beastly and brutal, and why great lords sat up all night soaking
themselves with brandy and waiting to see the hangman turn off a couple
of poor wretches in the dawn; also, why men hanged themselves without
waiting for the hangman, alleging for reason "the spleen."

Miss Hancock, having arranged herself to her own satisfaction, took her
parasol from the stand in the hall, and departed on business bent.

She held three books in her hand--the butcher's, the baker's, and the
greengrocer's. She felt in a cheerful mood, as her programme included
and commenced with an attack on the butcher--_Casus Belli_--an
overcharge made on the last leg of mutton but one. Having defeated the
butcher, and tackled the other unfortunates and paid them, she paused
near Mudie's Library as if in thought. Then she made direct for
Southampton Row and the office of her brother, where, as she entered the
outer office, Bridgewater was emerging from the sanctum of his master,
holding clutched to his breast an armful of books and papers.

Bridgewater would have delighted the heart of John Leech. He had a red
and almost perfectly round face; his spectacles were round, his body was
round, his eyes were round, and the expression of his countenance, if I
may be allowed the figure, was round. It was also slightly mazed; he
seemed forever lost in a mild astonishment, the slightest thing out of
the common, heightened this expression of chronic astonishment into one
of acute amazement. A rat in the office, a fall in the funds, a clerk
giving notice to leave, any of these little incidents was sufficient to
wreathe the countenance of Mr Bridgewater with an expression that would
not have been out of place had he been gazing upon the ruins of Pompeii,
or the eruption of Mont Pelée. He had scanty white hair and enormous
feet, and was, despite his bemazed look, a very acute old gentleman in
business hours. The inside of his head was stuffed with facts like a
Whitaker's almanac, and people turned to him for reference as they would
turn to "Pratt's Law of Highways" or "Archbold's Lunacy."

Bridgewater seeing Miss Hancock enter, released somewhat his tight hold
on the books and papers, and they all slithered pell mell on to the
floor. She nodded to him, and, stepping over the papers, tapped with the
handle of her parasol at the door of the inner office. Mr Hancock was
disengaged, and she went in, closing the door behind her carefully as
though fearful of some secret escaping.

She had no secret to communicate, however, and no business to transact,
she only wanted a loan of Bridgewater for an hour to consult him about
the lease of a house at Peckham. (Miss Hancock had money in her own
right.) Having obtained the loan and stropped her brother's temper to a
fine edge, so that he was sharp with the clerks and irritable with the
clients till luncheon time, Miss Hancock took herself off, saying to the
head clerk as she passed out, "I want you to come round to luncheon,
Bridgewater, to consult you about a lease; my brother says he can spare
you. Come at half-past one sharp; Good-day."

"Well to be sure!" said Bridgewater scratching his encyclopædic head,
and gazing in the direction of the doorway through which the lady had
vanished.



CHAPTER VI

LAMBERT _V._ BEVAN


Now the germinal spot of this veracious history consists in the fact
that numbered amongst Mr James Hancock's most prized clients was a young
gentleman of the name of Bevan; the gentleman, in short, whom Miss Fanny
Lambert described as "frightfully rich and a beast."

Mr Charles Maximilian Bevan, to give him his full title, inhabited a set
of chambers in the "Albany," midway between the Piccadilly end and the
end opening upon Vigo Street.

He was a young man of about twenty-three years of age, of a not
unpleasing but rather heavy appearance, absolutely unconscious of the
humour that lay in himself or in the world around him, and possessed of
a fine, furious, old-fashioned temper; a temper that would burst out
over an ill-cooked beef steak or a missing stud, and which vented itself
chiefly upon his valet Strutt. In most of us the port of our ancestors
runs to gout; in Mr Bevan it ran to temper.

He was a bachelor. Hamilton Cox, the author of "The Pillar of Salt,"
once said that the Almighty had appointed Charles Bevan to be a
bachelor, and that he had taken up his appointment. To his friends it
seemed so, and it seemed a pity, for he was an orphan and very wealthy,
and had no unpleasant vices. He possessed Highshot Towers and five
thousand acres of land in the richest part of Buckinghamshire, a moor in
Scotland which he let each autumn to a man from Chicago, and a house in
Mayfair which he also let.

Mr Bevan was not exactly a miser, but he was careful; no cabman ever
received more from him than his legal fare; he studied the city news in
the _Times_ each morning, and Strutt was kept informed as to the price
of Consols by the state of his master's temper, also as to the dividends
declared by the Great Northern, South Eastern, London North Western
Railways, and the Glasgow Gas Works, in all of which concerns Mr Bevan
was a heavy holder.

In his life he had rarely been known to give a penny to a beggar man,
yet each year he gave a good many pounds to the Charity Organisation
Society, and the Hospitals, feeling sure that money invested in these
institutions would not be misspent, and might even, perhaps, bear some
shadowy dividend in the life to come.

He had a horror of cardsharpers, poets, foreigners, inferior artists,
and badly dressed people in general--every one, in fact, beyond the pale
of what he was pleased to call "Respectability"--but beyond all these
and above all these, he had a horror of spendthrifts.

The Bevans had always been like that; there had been drinking Bevans,
and fighting Bevans, and foolish Bevans of various descriptions, even
open-handed Bevans, but there had never been a thoroughpaced squandering
Bevan. Very different was it with the Lamberts, whose estate lay
contiguous to that of Bevan, down in Bucks. How the Lamberts had held
together as a family for four hundred years, certain; through the
spacious times of Elizabeth, the questionable time of Charles, the
winter of the Commonwealth; how the ship of Lambert passed entire
between the Scylla of the Cocoa tree and the charybdis of Crockfords;
how it weathered the roaring forties, are question constituting a
problem indissoluble, even when we take into account the known capacity
of the Lamberts for trimming, swashbuckling and good fellowship
generally. A problem, however, upon which the present story will,
perhaps, cast some light.

How jolly Jack Lambert played with Gerald Fiennes till he lost his
house, his horses, his carriages, and his deaf and dumb negro servant.
How with a burst of laughter he staked his wife and won back his negro,
staked both, and retrieved his horses and his carriages, and at five
o'clock of a bright May morning rose from the table having eternally
broken and ruined Fiennes, was a story current in the days when William,
the first of the Bevans, was a sober cloth merchant in Wych Street, and
Charles, the first of the Stuarts, held his pleasant Court at
Windsor--_Carpe Diem_, it was the motto of jolly Jack Lambert. _Festina
Lente_ said William of the cloth-yard.

The houses of Bevan and Lambert had never agreed, brilliancy and dulness
rarely do, they had intermarried, however, with the result that the
present George Lambert and the present Charles Bevan were cousins of a
sort, cousins that had never spoken one to the other, and, moreover, at
the present moment, were engaged, as we know, in active litigation as to
the rights of fishing in an all but fishless stream some twelve feet
broad, which separated the estates and the kinsmen.

Some twelve months previously it appears Strutt being sent down to
Highshot Towers to superintend some alterations, had found in the
gun-room a fishing-rod, and yielding to his cockney instincts, had
fished, catching by some miracle a dilapidated looking jack.

He had promptly been set upon and beaten by a person whom Lambert called
his keeper, and who, according to Strutt, swam the stream like an otter,
hit him in the eye, broke the rod, and vanished with the jack.

So began the memorable action of Bevan _v._ Lambert, which, having been
won in the Queen's Bench by Charles Bevan, was now at the date of our
story, waiting its turn to appear before the Lords Justices of Appeal.
It was stated, such was the animus with which this lawsuit was
conducted, that George Lambert was cutting down timber to defray the
costs of the lawyers, a fallacious statement, for the estate of Lambert
was mortgaged beyond the hope of redemption.



CHAPTER VII

THE BEVAN TEMPER


On a fine morning, two days after Miss Lambert's visit to Mr Hancock, Mr
Bevan entered his sitting-room in the "Albany" dressed for going out. He
wore a tea rose in his buttonhole, and Strutt, who followed his master,
bore in his hands a glossy silk hat far more carefully than if it had
been a baby.

A most comfortably furnished and tastefully upholstered room was this in
which Charles Bevan smoked his one cigar and drank his one whisky and
seltzer before retiring to bed each night; everything spoke of an
orderly and well-regulated mind; of books there were few in bindings
sedate as their subject matter, and they had the air of prisoners rarely
released from the narrow cases that contained them. On the walls hung a
series of Gillray's engravings depicting "the flagitious absurdities of
the French during their occupation of Egypt." On the table reposed the
_Field_, the _Times_, and the _Spectator_ (uncut).

"But what the deuce can he _want_?" said Charles, who was holding an
open letter in his hand. It was a letter from the family lawyer asking
his attendance in Southampton Row at his earliest convenience.

"Maybe," said Strutt, blowing away a speck of dust that had dared to
settle on the hat, "Maybe, sir, it's about the lawsuit."

Bevan put the letter in his pocket, took his hat and stick from the
faithful Strutt and departed.

He made for "Brooks'."

Mr Bevan patronised "Brooks'" and the "Reform."

In the deserted smoking-room of "Brooks'" he sat down to write some
letters, and here followeth the correspondence of a modern Chesterfield.


     "TO J. HOLDSWORTH,
       HAY STREET, PIMLICO.

     "Sir,--The thing you sent for my inspection yesterday is no use.
     I'm not anxious to buy camels. Please do not trouble any more in
     the matter. I wasted half an hour over this yesterday and my time
     is valuable if the time of your groom is not.--Yours truly,

     "C. M. BEVAN."


     "TO MRS NEURAPATH,
       Secretary to Neurapath's Home for
         Lost and Starving Cats, BERMONDSEY.

     "Madam,--In answer to your third demand for a contribution to your
     funds, I write to tell you that it is my fixed rule never to
     contribute to private charities.--Yours, etc.,

     "C. M. BEVAN."


     "TO MESSRS TEITZ;
       Breeches Makers, OXFORD STREET.

     "Sir,--Please send your foreman to see me in the 'Albany' to-morrow
     at ten A.M. The breeches don't fit.--Yours, etc.,

     "C. M. BEVAN."


     "TO MISS PAMELA PURSEHOUSE,
       THE ROOST, ROOKHURST, KENT.

     "My Dearest Pam,--Just a line scribbled in a hurry to say I will be
     down in a few days. I am writing this at 'Brooks''. It's a
     beautiful morning, but I expect it will be a scorching day, like
     yesterday, it's always the way with this beastly climate, one is
     either scorched, or frozen, or drowned. Just as I am writing this,
     old Sir John Blundell has come into the room, he's the most
     terrible bore, mad on roses and can't talk of anything else, he's
     fidgetting about behind me trying to attract my attention, so I
     have to keep on writing and pretending not to see him. I'm sorry
     the buff Orpington cock is dead, was he the one who took the first
     prize? I'll get you another if you let me know where to send. I
     _think_ there are some buff Orpingtons at Highshot but am not sure,
     I don't take any interest in hens--only of course in yours. They
     say hen-farming pays on a big scale, but I don't see where the
     profit can come in. Thank goodness, that old fool Blundell has just
     gone out--now I must stop,--With love, ever yours (etc., etc.),

     "CHARLEY."


The author of this modern Englishman's love letter, having stamped and
deposited his correspondence in the club letter-box, entered the hansom
which had been called for him, and proceeded to his solicitor, James
Hancock, of the firm of Hancock & Hancock, Southampton Row.

When Bevan was shown in, Mr Hancock was seated at his desk table,
writing a letter with a quill pen. He tossed his spectacles up on his
forehead and held out his hand.

"I am sorry to have put you to the inconvenience of calling," said he,
crossing his legs, and playing with a paper knife, "but the fact is, I
have received a communication from the other side, who seem anxious to
bring this affair to a conclusion."

"Oh, do they?" said Charles Bevan.

"The fact is," continued the elder gentleman slapping his knee with the
flat of the paper knife as he spoke, "the fact is, Mr George Lambert is
in very great financial straits, and if the truth were known, I verily
believe the truth would be that he is quite insolvent."

Charles made no reply.

"But he will go on fighting the case, unless we can come to terms, even
though he has to borrow money for the purpose, for he is a very
litigious man this Mr George Lambert, a very litigious man!"

"Well, let him fight," cried Charles; "_I_ ask nothing better."

"Still," said the old lawyer, "I thought it better to lay before you the
suggestion that has come from the other side, and which is simply
this----" He paused, drew a tortoiseshell snuff-box from his pocket, and
took a furious pinch of snuff. "Which is simply this, that each party
pay their own costs, and that the fishing rights be shared equally. We
beat them in the Queen's Bench, but when the matter comes before the
Court of Appeal, who knows but----"

"Pay _what_?" cried Charles Bevan. "Pay my own costs after having fought
so long, and nearly beaten this pirate, this poacher! Show me the
letter containing this proposal, this infamous suggestion."

"Dear me, dear me, my dear sir, pray do not take the matter so
crookedly," cried the man of law lowering his spectacles and beginning
to mend a quill pen in an irritable manner. "There is nothing infamous
in this proposal, and indeed it reached me not through the mediumship of
a letter, but of a young lady. Mr George Lambert's daughter called upon
me in person, a most--er--charming young lady. She gave me to understand
from her conversation--her most artless conversation--that her
unfortunate father is on the brink, the verge, I may say the verge of
ruin. But he himself does not see it, pig-headed man that he is. In fact
she, the young lady herself, does not seem to see it. Dear me, dear me,
their condition makes me shudder."

"When did she call?" asked Bevan.

"Two days ago," blurted out the old lawyer splitting the quill and
nearly cutting his finger with the penknife.

"Why was I not informed sooner of this disgraceful proposition,"
demanded Bevan.

"I declare I have been so busy----" said the other.

"Well, tell George Lambert, I will fight as long as I have teeth to
fight with, and if I lose the action I'll break him anyhow," foamed
Charles who was now in the old-fashioned port-wine temper, which was an
heirloom in the Bevan family. "I'll buy up his mortgages and foreclose,
tell his wretched daughter----"

"Mr Bevan," suddenly interposed the lawyer, "Miss Fanny Lambert is a
most charming lady for whom I have a deep respect--I may say a very deep
respect--the suggestion came from her informally. I doubt indeed if Mr
George Lambert would listen to any proposals for an amicable settlement,
he declares you have treated him, to use his expression--er--not as one
gentleman should treat another."

Charles turned livid.

"Where does this Lambert live now?"

"At present he resides I believe, at his town house 'The Laurels,'
Highgate----. Why! Mr Bevan----"

Charles had risen.

"He said I was not a gentleman, did he? and you listened to him, I
suppose, and agreed with him, and you--no matter, I'll be my own
solicitor, I'll go and see him, and tell him he ought to be ashamed of
tampering with my business people through the medium of his daughter.
Yes, we'll see--'The Laurels' Highgate."

"Mr Bevan, Mr Bevan!" cried old James Hancock in despair.

But Mr Bevan was gone, strutting out like an enraged turkey-cock through
the outer office.

"I am afraid I have but made matters worse, I am afraid I have but made
matters worse," moaned the peace-loving Mr Hancock, rubbing his
shrivelled hands together in an agony of discomfiture, whilst Charles
Bevan hailed a cab outside, determined to have it out man to man with
this cousin who had dared to say that a Bevan had behaved in a
dishonourable manner.



CHAPTER VIII

AT "THE LAURELS"


Up in Highgate an hour later you might have seen a hansom driving about,
pausing here and there to ask of policemen, pedestrians, and others for
"The Laurels."

"There's a' many Laurels," said the milkman, who was also the first
director, and so after awhile Mr Bevan found to his cost.

But at last they found, with the aid of a local directory, the right
one, a spacious house built of red brick seen through an avenue of lime
trees all abuzz with bees.

There was no sign of life in the little gate lodge, and the entrance
gate was pushed back; the orderly eye of Charles Bevan noticed that it
was half off its hinges; also, that the weeds in the avenue were
rampant.

A laburnum had pushed its way through the limes, and a peony, as large
almost as a cabbage, had laid its head on the avenue-way, presenting a
walk-over-me-_I_-don't-care appearance, quite in accordance with the
general aspect of things.

The hansom drew up at the door and the traveller from Southampton Row
flung away his cigar end, alighted, and ran up the three steps leading
to the porch. He rang the bell, and then stood wondering at the
luxuriance of the wisteria that overspread the porch, and contemplating
the hind hocks of the cab-horse which had been fired.

What he was about to do or say when he found himself in the presence of
his enemy was not very clear to the mind of Mr Bevan. What did occur to
him was that George Lambert would have the advantage over him in the
interview, seeing that he would be in his own house--on his own
dunghill, so to speak.

He might have got into the hansom and returned to town, but that would
have been an admission to himself that he had committed a fault, and to
admit themselves in fault, even to themselves, was never a way with the
Bevans.

So he rang and waited, and rang again.

Presently shuffling footsteps sounded from behind the door which opened
some two inches, disclosing a pale, blue eye, part of a nose, and an
uncertain coloured fringe.

"What do you want?" cried a voice through the crack.

"Does Mr George Lambert live here?"

"He does, but he's from home."

"Dear me," murmured Charles, whose curiosity was now greatly aroused by
the neglected aspect of the place and the mysterious personage hidden by
the door. He felt a great desire to penetrate further into the affairs
of his enemy and see what was to be seen.

"Is Miss Lambert in?"

"Yus."

"Then give her my card, please. I would like to speak to her."

The person behind the door undid the chain, satisfied evidently by
Bevan's voice and appearance that he was not a dun or a robber. The door
opened disclosing a servant maid, very young and very dirty.

This ash-cat took the piece of pasteboard, and made a pretence of
reading it, invited Charles to enter, and then closing the door, and
barring it this time as if to keep him in, should he try to escape, led
the way across a rather empty hall to a library.

Here she invited him to sit down upon a chair, having first dusted it
with her apron, and declaring that she would send Miss Fanny to him in
"a minit," vanished, and left him to his meditations.

"Most extraordinary place," said Charles, glancing round at the books in
their cases. "Most extraordinary place I ever entered."

As he looked about him, he heard the youthful servant's voice raised now
to its highest pitch, and calling "Miss Fanny, Miss Fanny, Miss
F-a-a-anny" and dying away as if in back passages.

The library was evidently much inhabited by the Lamberts; it was
pleasantly perfumed with tobacco, and in the grate lay the expiring
embers of a morning fire. The Lamberts were evidently not of the order
of people who extinguish their fires on the first of May. There were
whips and fishing-rods, and a gun or two here and there, and books
everywhere about, besides those on the shelves. The morning paper lay
spread open on the floor, where it had been cast by the last reader, and
on the floor lay other things, which in most houses are to be found on
tables, envelopes crumpled up, letters, and other trifles.

On a little table by the window grew an orange-tree in a flower-pot,
bearing oranges as large as marrow-fat peas; through the half-open
window came wasps in and out, the perfume of mignonette and the murmur
of distant bees.

He came to the window and looked out.

Outside lay the ruins of a garden bathed in the golden light of summer,
the light that


     "Speaks wide and loud
     From deeps blown clean of cloud,
     As though day's heart were proud
     And heaven's were glad."


Beyond lay a paddock in whose centre lay the wraith of a tennis lawn;
the net hung shrivelled between the tottering poles, and close to the
net he saw the forlorn figure of a girl playing what seemed a fantastic
game of tennis all alone.

She would hit the ball into the air and strike it back when it fell; if
it went over the net she would jump after it.

Now appeared the slattern maid, card between finger and thumb, picking
her way like a cat along the tangled garden path in the direction of the
girl.

Mr Bevan turned away from the window and looked at the books lining the
wall, his eye travelling from Humboldt's works to the tooled back of
Milton--he was trying to recollect who Schopenhauer was--when of a
sudden the door opened and an amazingly pretty girl of the old-fashioned
school of beauty entered the room. She was dark, and she came into the
room laughing, yet with a half-frightened air as if fearful of being
caught missing from some old canvas.

"You won't tell," said she as they shook hands like intimate
acquaintances. "If father knew I had asked Mr Hancock, you know what,
he'd kill me; I really believe he would." She put down her tennis
racquet on the table, her hat she had left outside, and evidently in a
hurry, to judge by the delightful disorder of her hair.

Mr Bevan, who was trying to stiffen his lip and appear very formal, had
taken his seat on a low chair which made him feel dwarfed and
ridiculous. He had also, unfortunately, left his hat on the table some
yards away, and so had nothing with which to occupy his hands; he was,
therefore, entirely at the mercy of Miss Lambert, who had taken an
armchair near by, and was now chattering to him with the familiarity,
almost, of a sister.

"It seems so fortunate, you know," said she suddenly, discarding a
discussion about the weather. "It seems so fortunate that idea of mine
of speaking to Mr Hancock. I hate fighting with people, but father
_loves_ it; he'd fight with himself, I think, if he could find no one
else, and still, if you knew him, he's the sweetest-tempered person in
the world, he is, he would do anything for anybody, he would lay his
life down for a friend. But you will know him now, now that that
terrible affair about the fish stream is settled."

Mr Bevan swallowed rapidly and cast frantic glances at his hat. Had
Miss Lambert been of the ordinary type of girl he might possibly have
intimated that the fish stream business was not so settled as she
supposed, but with this sweet-tongued and friendly beauty, it was
impossible. He felt deeply exasperated at the false position in which he
found himself, and was endeavouring to prepare some reply of a
non-committal character when, of a sudden, his eye caught a direful
sight, which for a moment made him forget both fish stream and false
position--the little boot of Miss Lambert peeping from beneath her skirt
was old and broken.

"I would not deny him anything, goodness knows," continued Fanny
Lambert, as if she were talking of a child. "But this action _costs_
such a lot, and there are so many people he could fight cheaply with if
he wants to," she broke into an enchanting little laugh. "I think,
really, it's the expense that makes him think so much of it; he has a
horror of cheap things."

"Cheap things are never much good," conceded Mr Bevan, upon whose mind a
dreadful sort of imbecility had now fallen, his will cried out
frantically to his intellect for help, and received none. Here had he
come to demand explanations, to put his foot down--alas! what is the
will of man beside the beauty of a woman?

"That's what father says," said Fanny. "But as for me, I love them, that
is to say bargains, you know."

The door burst open and a sort of poodle walked in, he was not exactly
Russian and not exactly French, he had points of an Irish water-spaniel.
Bevan gazed at him and marvelled.

Having inspected the pattern of the visitor's trousers, and seeming
therewith content Boy-Boy--such was his name--flung himself on the floor
and into sleep beside his mistress.

"He sleeps all day," said Fanny, "and I wish he wouldn't, for he spends
the whole night barking and rushing after the cats in the garden. Isn't
he just like a door mat, and doesn't he snore?"

"He certainly does."

"I got him for three and sixpence and an old pair of boots from one of
those travelling men who grind scissors and things," said Miss Lambert,
looking lovingly at her bargain. "He was half starved and _so_ thin. He
ate a whole leg of mutton the first day we had him."

"That was very unwise," said Mr Bevan, who always shone on the topic of
dogs or horses; "you should never give dogs much meat."

"He took it," said Fanny. "It was so clever of him, he hid it in the
garden and buried the bone--who is that at the door, is that you,
Susannah?"

"Luncheon is ready, Miss," said the voice of Susannah, who spoke in a
muted tone as if she were announcing some unsavoury fact of which she
was half ashamed.

Charles Bevan rose to go.

"Oh, but you'll stay to luncheon," said Fanny.

"I really--I have an engagement--that is a cab waiting." Then addressing
his remarks to the eyes of Miss Lambert, "I shall be delighted if such a
visitation does not bore you."

"Not a bit--Susannah, hang Mr Bevan's hat up in the hall. Come this
way."

Mr Bevan followed his hostess across the hall to the breakfast-room; as
he followed he heard with a shudder Susannah attempting to hang his hat
on the high hall rack, and the hat falling off and being pursued about
the floor.

Luncheon was laid in a free-handed and large-hearted manner. Three
whitings on a dish of Sheffield plate formed the _piece de résistance_,
there was jam which appeared frankly in a pot pictured with plums, but
in the centre of the table stood a vase of Venetian glass filled with
roses.

As they took their seats Susannah, who had apparently been seized with
an inspiration, appeared conveying a bottle of Böllinger in one hand,
and a bottle of Gold-water in the other.

"I brought them from the cellar, Miss," said the maid with a side glance
at Charles--she was a good-natured-looking girl when not defending the
hall door, but her under jaw seemed like the avenue gate, half off its
hinges, and her intellect to be always oozing away through her half-open
mouth. "They were the best I could find."

"That's right, Susannah," said her mistress; "try if you can get one of
those little bottles of port, the ones with red seals on them and
cobwebs; and close the door."

Mr Bevan opened the champagne and helped himself, Miss Lambert
announcing the fact that she was a teetotaler.

"There is a man in the kitchen," said she, after an apology for the
general disorder of things, and for the whiting which were but
indifferently cooked. "James, you know, and when he is in the kitchen
whilst meals are being prepared Susannah loses her head and often spoils
things. Father generally sends him out to dig in the garden whilst she
is cooking. I didn't send him to-day because he won't take orders from
me, only from father. He says a man cannot serve two masters; he is
always making proverbs and things, his father was a stationer and he has
written poetry. He might have been anything only for his wife, he told
me so the other night. It _does_ seem such a pity."

"Yes," said Charles tentatively, wondering who "James, you know" might
be.

"What is he?"

"He's in the law," said Miss Lambert cautiously, then after a moment's
hesitation, "I don't see why I shouldn't tell you, you are our cousin.
Father had a debt and----"

"You don't mean to say he's----"

"Yes, he has come to take possession as they call it."

Mr Bevan laid down his knife and fork.

"Good gracious!"

"I never cried so much as when he came," said Fanny, stroking the head
of Boy-Boy, who was resting beside her; "it seemed so terrible. I never
knew what a comfort he would turn out; he fetches the coals for Susannah
and pumps the water. It sounds strange to say it, but I don't know what
we should do without him now."

"Oh, you poor child," thought Charles, "how much you must have suffered
at the hands of that pig-headed fool of a father of yours--to think of a
good estate coming to this!"

"Tell me," he said aloud, "how long has that man been here?"

"A week," said Fanny, "but it seems a year."

"Who--er--put him in."

"A Mr Isaacs."

"What was the debt for, Cousin Fanny?"

"We went to Paris."

"I don't----"

"I wanted to go to Paris, and father said I should, but he would have to
think first about the money. Then he went into the library, and took me
on his knee, and smoked a pipe. He always gets money when he sits and
has what he calls a 'good think' and smokes a pipe. So he got the money
and we went to Paris. We had a lovely time!"

"And then," said Bevan with an expression on his face as if he were
listening to a fairy tale which he _had_ to believe, "I suppose Mr
Isaacs applied for his money?"

"He sent most impertinent letters," said Fanny, "and I told father not
to mind them, then James came."

Mr Bevan went on with his luncheon, all his anger against his cousin,
George Lambert, had vanished. Anger is impossible to a sane mind when
the object of that anger turns out to be a lunatic.

He went on with his luncheon; though the whiting were indifferently
cooked, the champagne was excellent, and his hostess exquisite. It was
hard to tell which was more attractive, her face or her voice, for the
voice of Miss Lambert was one of those fatal voices that we hear perhaps
twice in a lifetime, and never forget, perfectly modulated golden,
soothing--maddening.



CHAPTER IX

"WHAT TALES ARE THESE?"


"Now tell me," said Mr Bevan, they were walking in the garden after
luncheon, "tell me, Cousin Fanny"--Miss Lambert, had vanished with the
Böllinger--"don't you think your father is a little
bit--er--extravagant?"

"He may be a bit extravagant," murmured Fanny, plucking a huge daisy and
putting it in her belt. "But then--he is such a dear, and I know he
tries to economise all he can, he sold the carriage and horse only a
month ago, and just look at the garden! he wont go to the expense of a
gardener but does it all himself; it would be disgraceful only it's so
lovely, with all the things running wild; see, here is one of his garden
gloves."

She picked a glove out of a thorn bush and kissed it, and put it in her
pocket.

"He does the garden himself!"

"He and James."

"You don't mean----"

"Mr Isaacs' man, they have dug up a lot of ground over there and planted
asparagus. James was a gardener once, but as I have told you, he had
misfortunes and had to take to the law. He is awfully poor, and his wife
is ill; they live in a little street near Artesian Road, and father has
been to see her; he came with me, and we brought her some wine; I
carried it in a basket. See, is not that a beautiful rose?" she smiled
at the rose, and Charles could not but admire her beauty.

"And then," resumed Fanny, the smile fading as the wind turned the
rose's face away, "father is so unfortunate, all the people he lends
money to won't pay him back, and stocks and shares and things go up and
down, and always the wrong way, so he says, and he gets into such a rage
with the house because he can't mortgage it--it was left in trust for
me--and we _can't_ let it, so we have to live in it."

"Why can you not let it?"

"Because of the ghost."

"Good gracious goodness!" gobbled Charles, taking the cigar from his
mouth. "What nonsense are you talking, Cousin Fanny? Ghost! there are no
such things as ghosts."

"_Aren't_ there?" said Fanny. "I wish you saw our one."

"Do you really mean to try to make me believe----" cried Charles, then
he foundered, tied up in his own vile English.

"We did let it once, a year ago, to a Major Sawyer," said Fanny, and she
smiled down the garden path at some presumably pleasant vision. "It was
in May; we let it to him for three months and went down to Ramsgate to
economise. Major Sawyer moved in on a Friday; I remember that, for the
next day was Saturday, and I shall never forget that Saturday.

"We were sitting at breakfast, when a telegram was brought, it was from
the Major, and it was from the South Kensington Hotel; it said, as well
as I can remember, 'Call without a moment's delay.'"

"Of course we thought 'The Laurels' were burnt down, and you can fancy
the fright we were in, for it's not insured--at least the furniture
isn't."

"Not insured!" groaned Charles.

"No; father says houses never catch fire if they are not insured, and he
wouldn't trust himself not to set it on fire if it _was_ insured, so
it's not insured."

"Go on."

"Let us sit down on this seat. Well, of course we thought we were
ruined, and father was perfectly wild to get up to town and know the
worst, he can't stand suspense. He wanted to take a special train, and
there was a terrible scene at the station; you know we have Irish blood
in us: his mother was Irish, and Fanny Lambert, my great-grandmother,
the one that hung herself, was an Irishwoman. There was a terrible scene
at the station, because they wouldn't take father's cheque for the extra
twenty-five pounds for the special train. 'I tell you I'm _ruined_,'
said father, but the station-master, a horrible little man with
whiskers, said he couldn't help that. Oh! the world is horribly cold and
cruel," said Fanny, drawing closer to her companion, "when one is in a
strange place, where one doesn't know people. Once father gets to know
people he can do anything with them, for every one loves him. The wife
of the hotel-keeper where we stayed in Paris wept when we had to go away
without our luggage."

"I should think so."

"You see we only took half of the money we got from Mr Isaacs to Paris;
we locked half of it up in the bureau in the library for fear we would
spend it, then when the fortnight was up we hadn't enough for the bill.
Father wanted to leave Boy-Boy, but they said they'd sooner keep the
luggage. They were very nice over it, the hotel-keeper and his wife, but
people are horrid when they don't know one.

"Well, we came by a later train, and found Major Sawyer waiting for us
at the South Kensington Hotel. He was such a funny old man with fiery
eyes and white hair that stood up. We did not see Mrs Sawyer, so we
supposed she had been burnt in the fire; but we scarcely had time to
think, for the Major began to abuse father for having let him such a
house.

"I was awfully frightened, and father listened to the abuse quite
meekly, you see he thought Mrs Sawyer was burnt. Then it came out that
there had been no fire, and I saw father lift up his head, and put his
chin out, and I stopped my ears and shut my eyes."

"I suppose he gave it to old Sawyer."

"Didn't he! Mrs Sawyer told me afterwards that the Major had never been
spoken to so before since he left school, and that it had done him a
world of good--poor old thing!"

"But what was it all about--I mean what made him leave the house?"

"Why, the ghost, to be sure. The first night he was in the house he went
poking about looking for burglars, and saw it or heard it, I forget
which; they say he did not stop running till he reached the police
station, and that's nearly a mile away, and he wouldn't come back but
took a cab to the hotel in his pyjamas. But the funny thing is, that
ever since the day father abused him, he has been our best friend; he's
helped us in money matters lots of times, and he always sends us hares
and things when he goes shooting. The ghost always brings us luck when
she can--always."

"You believe in Luck?"

"I believe in everything, so does father."

"And this ghost, it's a 'she' you said, I think?"

"It's Fanny Lambert."

"Oh!"

"My great-grandmother."

"Tell me about her," said Charles, lighting a new cigar and leaning back
luxuriously on the seat.

The seat was under a chestnut tree, before them lay a little
wilderness, sunflowers unburst from the bud, stocks, and clove pinks.

In its centre stood a moss-grown sun-dial bearing this old dial
inscription in Latin, "The hours pass and are numbered." From this
wilderness of a garden came the drone of bees, a dreamy sound that
seemed to refute the motto upon the dial.

"She lived," said Fanny, "a hundred, or maybe two hundred, years ago;
anyhow it was in the time of the Regency--and I wish to goodness I had
lived then."

"Why?"

"Oh, it must have been such fun."

"How do you know about the time of the Regency?"

"I have read about it in the library, there are a lot of old books about
it, and one of them is in handwriting, not in print. You know in those
times the Lamberts lived here at 'The Laurels,' just as we do, that's
what makes the house so old; and the Prince Regent used to drive up here
in a carriage and pair of coal-black horses. He was in love with Mrs
Lambert, and she was in love with him. I don't wonder at her."

"Well, you ought to wonder at her," said Charles in a hectoring voice,
blowing a cloud of smoke at a bumble-bee that had alighted on Fanny's
dress, and was rubbing its hands together as if in satisfaction at the
prosperous times and the plenty of flowers.

"Don't blow smoke at the poor thing. Isn't he fat!--there, he is gone.
Why ought I to wonder at her?"

"Because she was married."

"Why shouldn't she be married?"

"Ahem!" said Charles, clearing his throat.

"Why?"

"I meant to say that she should not have loved the Prince."

"Why not? he was awfully good to them. Do you know George, Fanny's
husband, must have been very like father; he was like him in face, for
we have a miniature of him, but he was like him in other ways, too. He
would sit up at Crockfords--what _was_ Crockfords?"

"A kind of club, I believe."

"He would sit up at Crockfords playing cards all night, and he killed a
man once by hitting him over the head with a poker; the jury said the
man died of apoplexy, but he kept the man's wife and children always
afterwards, and that is just what father would have done."

"I know," said Charles, "at least I can imagine him; but, all the same,
I don't think you know what marriage is."

"Oh yes, I do!"

"What is it, then?"

"It's a blessed state," said Fanny, breaking into a joyous laugh; "at
least I read so in some old book."

"We were talking of the Prince Regent, I think," said Charles rather
stiffly.

"Were we? Oh yes, I remember. Well, they loved each other so much that
the old book said it was a matter of common rumour, whatever that means.
One night at Crockfords Mr Bevan--he was an ancestor of yours--flew into
a frightful temper over some nonsense--a misdeal at cards I think it
was--and called George Lambert a name, an awfully funny name; what was
this it was? let me think----"

"Don't think, don't think, go on with the story," cried Charles in an
agony.

"And George Lambert slapped Mr Bevan's face, and serve him right, too."

"What is that you say?" cried Charles, wattling like a turkey-cock.

"I said serve him right!" cried Fanny, clenching her little fists.

"Look here----" said Charles, then suddenly he became dumb, whilst the
breeze wandered with a rustling sound through the desolate garden,
bearing with it from some distant street the voice of a man crying
"Herrings," as if to remind them that Highgate was no longer the
Highgate of the Regency.

"Well?" said Fanny, still with a trace of defiance in her tone.

"Nothing," answered Charles meekly. "Go on with your story."

Fanny nestled closer to him as if to make up, and went on:

"The Prince was in the room, and every one said he turned pale; some
people said he cried out, 'My God, what an occurrence!' and some people
said he cried out, 'Gentlemen, gentlemen!' And the old Marquis of Bath
dropped his snuff-box, though what that has to do with the story I don't
know.

"At all events, the Prince left immediately, for he had an appointment
to meet Fanny, and have supper with her. He must have said something
nasty to her, for instead of having supper with him, she took a carriage
and drove home here. She seemed greatly distressed; the servants said
she spent the night walking up and down the blue corridor crying out, 'O
that I ever loved such a man!' and 'Who would have thought men were so
cruel!' Then, when her husband came back from fighting a duel with Mr
Bevan, she was gone. All her jewels were gone too; she must have hidden
them somewhere, for they were never found again.

"They found her hanging in a clothes closet quite dead; she had hung
herself with her garters--she must have had a very small neck, I'm sure
I couldn't hang myself with mine--and now she haunts the corridor
beckoning to people to follow her."

"Have you ever seen her?"

"No, but I am sure I have heard her at nights sometimes, when the wind
is high. Father O'Mahony wanted to lay her, but I told father not to let
him, she's said to be so lucky."

"Lucky, indeed, to lose you a good tenant!"

"It was the luckiest thing she ever did, for the hotel was awfully
expensive."

"Why did you not take apartments, then?"

"Oh, they are so lonely and so poky, and landladies rob one so."

"Is your father a Roman Catholic?"

"He is."

"What are you?"

"I am nothing," said Fanny, proclaiming her simple creed with all the
simplicity of childhood, and a smile that surely was reflected on the
Recording Angel's face as he jotted down her reply.

"Does your _father_ know of this state of your mind?" asked Charles in a
horrified voice.

"Yes, and he is always trying to convert me to 'the faith,' as he calls
it. We have long arguments, and I always beat him. When he can find
nothing more to say, he always scratches his dear old head and says,
'Anyhow you're baptised, and that's one comfort,' then we talk of other
things, but he did convert me once."

"How was that?"

"I was in a hurry to try on a frock," said this valuable convert to the
Church; "at least the dressmaker was waiting, so I gave in, but only for
once."

"What do you believe in, then?" asked Charles, glancing fearfully at
the female atheist by his side, who had taken her garden hat from her
head and was swinging it by the ribbon.

"I believe in being good, and I believe in father, and I believe one
ought always to make every one as happy as possible and be kind to
animals. I believe people who ill-treat animals go to hell--at least, I
hope they do."

"Do you believe in heaven?" asked Mr Bevan in a pained voice.

"Of course I do."

"Then you are _not_ an atheist," in a voice of relief.

"Of course I'm not. Who said I was?"

"You did."

"I didn't. I'd sooner die than be an atheist. One came here to dinner
once; he had a red beard, and smoked shag in the drawing-room. Ugh! such
a man!"

"Do you believe in God?"

"I used to, when I was a child. I was always told He would strike me
dead if I told a lie, and then I found that He didn't. It was like the
man who lived in the oven. I was always told that the Black Man who
lived in the oven would run away with me if I stole the jam; and one
day I stole the jam, and opened the oven door and looked in. I was in a
terrible fright, but there wasn't any man there."

"It's very strange," said Charles.

"That there wasn't a man there?"

"I was referring," said Charles stiffly, "to such thoughts in the mind
of one so young as you are."

"Oh, I'm as old as the hills," cried Fanny in the voice of a _blasé_
woman of the world, making a grab at a passing moth and then flinging
her hat after it, "as old as the--mercy! what's that?"

"Miss Fanny!" cried the voice of Susannah, who was lowing like a cow
through garden and shrubbery in search of her missing mistress, "Miss
Fah-ny, Miss----"

"That's tea," said Fanny, rising, and leading the way to the house.



CHAPTER X

ASPARAGUS AND CATS


Charles Bevan followed his cousin to the house. His orderly mind could
never have imagined of its own volition a _ménage_ like that of the
Lamberts. He revolted at it, yet felt strangely fascinated. It was like
watching people dancing on a tight rope half cut in two, sailors
feasting and merry-making on a sinking wreck, children plucking flowers
on the crumbling edge of a cliff.

Tea was laid in state in the drawing-room, a lovely old room with
tapestried walls, and windows that opened upon the garden; or at least
that part of it which had been robbed of its roses and converted into a
kitchen-garden during one of George Lambert's economical fits.

"That is the asparagus bed," said Fanny proudly.

It was like a badly-ploughed field, and Charles' eye travelled slowly
over its ridges and hollows.

"Have you a potato bed?" he asked, his mind subconsciously estimating
the size of the Lamberts' Highgate estate on the basis that their potato
crop was in proportion to their asparagus.

"Oh, we buy our potatoes and cabbages and things," said Fanny; "they are
cheap."

"But asparagus takes such a time to grow--four years, I think it is."

"Oh, surely not so long as that?" said the girl, taking her seat at the
tea-table. "Why, oak trees would grow quicker than that; besides, James
said we would have splendid asparagus next spring, and he was a
professed gardener before his misfortunes overtook him. Do you take
sugar?"

"Yes, please," said Charles, wearily dropping into a low chair and
wondering vaguely at the angelic beauty of the girl's face.

"And what, may I ask, were the 'misfortunes' that overtook James?"

"His wife, poor thing, took to drink," said she, with so much
commiseration in her tone that she might have been a disciple of the new
criminology, "and that broke his heart and took all his energy away."

"Do you believe him?"

"Why not? He is a most devoted creature; and he is going to give up the
business he is in and stay on when father pays Mr Isaacs. I hope we will
never part with James."

Susannah, in honour of the guest, had produced the best tea service, a
priceless set of old Sèvres. The tray was painted with Cupidons blowing
trumpets as if in honour of the victory of Susannah over mischance, in
that she had conveyed them upstairs by some miracle unsmashed.

There was half a cake by Buszard; the tea, had it been paid for, would
have cost five shillings a pound, but the milk was sky blue.

As Fanny was cutting up the cake in liberal slices as if for a
children's party, two frightful-looking cats walked into the room with
all the air of bandits. One was jet black and one was brindled; both
looked starved, and each wore its tail with a pump-handle curve after
the fashion of a lion's when marauding.

Fanny regarded them lovingly, and poured out a saucerful of the blue
milk which she placed on the floor.

"Aren't they angels?"

"Well, if you ask me," said Charles Bevan, as if he were giving his
opinion on some object of _vértu_, "I'd say they were more like--the
other things."

"I know they are not _pretty_," said Fanny regretfully, "but they are
faithful. They always come to tea just as if they were invited."

"I wonder your poodle--I mean the dog, lets them in."

"Boy-Boy?--Oh, he only barks at things at night when they can't see him;
he would run from a mouse, he's such a dear old coward. Aren't they
thirsty?"

"Where did you get them? I should think they would be hard to match."

"I didn't get them: they are not ours, they just come in."

"Do you mean to say you let stray cats in like that?"

"_I_ don't let them in, they come in through a hole in the scullery
window."

"Goodness gracious!"

"Sometimes the kitchen is full of cats; they seem to know."

"That fools live here," thought Charles.

"And Susannah spends all her time turning them out--all, of course,
except the black ones."

"Why not the black ones?"

"Because they are lucky; did you not know that? It's frightfully
unlucky to turn a black cat out."

"Why not fill up the hole and stop them from getting in?"

"Susannah has stuffed it up with old stockings and things till she's
weary; they butt it in with their heads."

"Why not have a new pane put in?"

"Father has talked of that, but I have always changed the conversation,
and then he forgets."

"You like cats?"

"I love them."

Charles looked gloomily at the grimalkins.

"Seems to me you must have your food stolen."

"We used to, but Susannah locks everything up now before she goes to
bed."

She inverted the milk jug to show the cats that there was no milk left,
and the intelligent creatures comprehending left the room, the black
leading the way.

"Faithful creatures!" sneered Charles.

"Aren't they! Oh, but, Cousin Charles--I mean Mr----"

"No; call me Cousin Charles."

"--I've given the cats all the milk!"

"No matter," said Charles magnanimously. "The poor beggars wanted it
more than I. I never drink more than one cup of tea; it makes me
nervous."

"How good you are!" she murmured. "You remind me of father."

Charles moved uneasily in his chair.

From somewhere in the distance came the sound of Susannah singing and
cleaning a window, a song like a fetish song interrupted by the sound of
the window being closed to see if it was clean enough, and flung up
again with a jerk, that spoke of dissatisfaction. These sounds of a
sudden ceased.

They were succeeded by the murmur of voices, a footstep, then a tap at
the door, followed by the voice of Susannah requesting her mistress to
step outside for a moment.

"I know what _that_ always means," murmured the girl in a resigned
voice, as she rose from the table and left the room.

Charles Bevan rose from his chair and went to the window.

"These people want protecting," he said to himself frowning at the
asparagus bed. "Irresponsibility when it passes a certain point becomes
absolute lunacy. Fanny and her father ought to be in a lunatic asylum
with their ghosts, and cats, and rubbish, only I don't believe any
lunatic asylum would take them in; they would infect the other patients
and make them worse. Good Heavens! it makes me shudder. They must be on
the verge of the workhouse, making asparagus beds, and drinking
champagne, and flying off to Paris, and feeding every filthy stray cat
with food they must want for themselves. Poor devils--I mean damned
fools. Anyhow, I must be going." The recollection of a certain lady
named Pamela Pursehouse arose coldly in his mind now that Miss Lambert
was absent from the room, and the little "still voice," whatever a still
voice may be, said something about duty.

He determined to flee from temptation directly his hostess returned, but
he reckoned without Fate.

The door opened and Fanny entered with a face full of tragedy.

She closed the door.

"What do you think Susannah has told me?" She spoke in a low voice as
if death were in the house.

"What?"

"James has come in and he has--had too much!"

"You don't mean to say that he is intoxicated?"

"I do," said Fanny with her voice filled with tears.

"How _disgraceful_! I will go down and turn him out." Then he remembered
that he could not very well turn him out considering that he was in
possession.

"For goodness sake don't even hint that to him, or he may go," cried
Fanny in alarm, "for, when he gets like this, he always talks of leaving
at once, because his calling is a disgrace to him, and if he went,
Susannah would follow him."

"But, my dear girl," cried Charles, "how dare that wretched
Susannah--ahem--why, he's a married man, you told me so; surely she
knows _that_."

"Yes, she knows that, but she says she can't help herself."

"_I_ never met such people before!" said Charles, addressing a jade
dragon on the mantelpiece--"I mean," he said, putting his hands in his
trousers' pockets and addressing his boots, "such a person as Susannah."

"Her mother ran away with her father," murmured Fanny in extenuation,
"so I suppose it is in the blood. But I wish we could do something with
James. If he would even go to bed, but he sits by the kitchen fire
crying, and that sets Susannah off. She will be ill for days after this.
He said it was a cigar some one gave him that reminded him of his better
days----"

"Bother his better days!"

"----and he went to try and drown the recollection of them. It is so
stupid of him, he _knows_ how drink flies to his head; you would never
imagine if you could see him now that he has only had two glasses of
beer."

"I will go down to the kitchen and speak to him," said Charles.

"But, Cousin Charles," said Fanny, plucking at his coat, "be sure and
speak gently."

"I will," said Mr Bevan.

"Then I'll go with you," said she.

James, a long ill-weedy looking man, was seated before the kitchen fire
on a chair without a back; Susannah, on hearing their footsteps, darted
into the scullery.

"Now, James, now, James," said Charles Bevan, speaking in a paternal
voice, "what is the meaning of all this? How did you get yourself into
this condition?"

James turned his head and regarded Charles. He made a vain endeavour to
speak and rise from his chair at one and the same time, then he
collapsed and his tears returned anew.

At the sound, Susannah in the scullery threw her apron over her head and
joined in, whilst Fanny looked out of the window and sniffled.

"_I_ never saw such a lot of people!" cried Charles in desperation.
"James, James, be a man."

"How can he," said Fanny, controlling her voice, "when he is in this
terrible state? Cousin Charles, don't you think you could induce him to
go to bed?"

"I think I could," said Charles grimly, "if you show me the way to his
room."



_PART II_



CHAPTER I

A REVELATION


"When will your father come back?" asked Charles as he returned to the
kitchen, having deposited the man of law on his bed and shaken his fist
in his face as a token of what he would get if he rose from it.

"Not till this evening, late," said Fanny.

"Then I must wait till he returns, or till this person recovers himself.
I cannot possibly leave you alone in the house with a tipsy man."

"Oh yes, do stay till father returns. I want you to meet him so much,"
said Fanny, all her grief vanishing in smiles.

"Susannah, we'll have supper at eight."

"Yes, miss."

"I am almost glad," said Fanny, as she tripped up the kitchen stairs
before her cousin, "I am almost glad James took it into his head to get
tipsy, you'd have gone away if he hadn't, without seeing father; it
seems almost like Providence. Mercy! it's six o'clock."

She glanced at the great old hall clock ticking away the moments, even
as it had done when George the Third was king, and Charles took his
watch out to verify the time, but he did not catch the old clock
tripping.

"Now we must think about supper," said Fanny, in a busy voice. "You must
be dying of hunger. What do you like best?"

"But you have not dined, Fanny."

"Oh, we always call dinner 'luncheon,' and have it in the middle of the
day; it saves trouble, and it is less worry." Then, after a moment's
pause: "I wish we had a lobster, but I don't think there is one. I
_know_ there is a beefsteak."

She went to the kitchen stairs.

"Susannah!"

"Yes, miss," answered a dolorous voice from below.

"Have you a lobster in the house?"

"No, miss."

"You have a beefsteak?"

A sound came as of search amongst the plates on the dresser.

"The beefsteak is gone, Miss Fanny."

"Now, _where_ can that beefsteak have gone to?" murmured the girl,
whilst Charles called to mind the criminal countenances of the two
faithful cats, and the business-like manner in which they had left the
room.

"Search again, Susannah."

A frightful crash of crockery came as a reply.

"Susannah!"

"Yes, miss."

"Don't look any more, I will go out and buy something."

"Don't mind me," said Charles. "Anything will do for me; I am used--I
mean----"

"I am not going to have father come back and find you starved to death;
he'd kill me. I'm going out marketing; will you come?"

"With pleasure."

"Then wait till I fetch my hat and a basket."

"May I light a cigar?"

"Yes, smoke everywhere, every one does," and she rushed upstairs for her
hat. A moment later she returned, hat on head, and bearing in her hand
a little basket adorned with blue ribbons: a pound of tea would have
freighted it.

"How on earth is she going to get the dinner into that?" thought her
companion, as he unbarred the hall door and followed her down the steps.

Then they found themselves walking down the weed-grown avenue, the birds
twittering overhead in the light of the warm June evening.

That he should be going "a-marketing" in Highgate accompanied by a
pretty girl with a basket did not, strangely enough, impress Charles
Bevan as being an out-of-the-way occurrence.

He felt as if he had known the Lamberts for years--a good many years. He
no longer contemplated the joyous tragedy of their life wholly as a
spectator; he had become suddenly and without volition one of the
actors, a subordinate actor--a thinking part, one might call it.

The fearful fascination exercised by these people seemed, strange to
say, never so potent as when exercised upon hard-headed people, as
Major Sawyer and many another could have told.

"I love marketing," said Fanny, as they trudged along, "at least buying
things."

"Have you any money?"

"Lots," said Miss Lambert, producing a starved-looking purse.

She opened it and peeped in at the three and sixpence it contained, and
then shut it with a snap as if fearful of their escaping.

"What do you like next best to marketing?" asked Charles in the sedate
voice of a heavy father speaking to his favourite child.

"Opening parcels."

"I don't quite----"

"Oh, you know--strange parcels when they come, or when father brings
them, one never knows what may be in them--chocolate creams or what. I
wonder what father will bring me back this time?"

"Where has he gone to?"

"He has gone to get some money."

"He will be back this evening?"

"Yes, unless he finds it difficult getting the money. If he does, he
won't be home till morning." She spoke as an Indian squaw might speak,
whose father or husband has gone a-hunting, whilst Charles marvelled
vaguely.

"But suppose--he doesn't get any money?"

"Oh, he will get it all right, people are so good to him. Poor, dear Mr
Hancock----"

She stopped suddenly.

"Yes, yes."

"He said we weren't to tell."

She spoke in a secretive voice which greatly inflamed her companion's
curiosity.

"You might tell me, but don't if you don't want to."

"Yes," said Fanny. "I don't think it matters now that you are friends
with us, and we're all the same family. Father's dividends had not come
in, and he lent us the money to pay the bills."

"_What_ bills?"

"The butcher's bill, and Stokes the baker's bill, and the milk bill, and
some others."

"_Hancock_ lent you the money to pay your bills?" cried Charles, feeling
like a person in a dream.

"Yes, old Mr Hancock, your Mr Hancock."

"But he never told me he was a friend of your father's; besides, he is
_my_ solicitor."

"He never saw us before this week."

"Tell me all about it, and how you came to know him so intimately, and
how he paid your bills," commanded Mr Bevan.

There was, just here on the road, a seat dropped incontinently by the
County Council; they sat upon it whilst she told her tale.

"It was the other day. Father had not slept all night thinking of the
action. He came into my bedroom at two in the morning to tell me that if
he lost it before the House of Lords, he would take it before the Queen
in Council. He had been sitting up reading 'Every Man his Own Lawyer.'
Well, next morning a lot of people came asking for their money, the
butcher and all those, and we hadn't any.

"Father said it was all _your_ fault, and he wished he had never seen
the fish stream. I was so frightened by the way he was bothering himself
about everything--for, as a rule, you know he is the most easy-tempered
man in the world as long as he has got his pipe. Well, a friend advised
me to go privately to your lawyer and try to stop the action. So I went
to Mr Hancock.

"At first he seemed very stiff, and glared at me through his spectacles;
but, after a while, as I told him all about ourselves, he stopped
shuffling his feet, and listened with his hand to his ear as if he were
deaf, and he took a smelling bottle out of a drawer of his desk and
snuffed at it, and said, 'Dear me, how very extraordinary!' Then he
called me his 'Poor child!' and asked me had I had any luncheon. I said
'Yes,' though I hadn't--I wasn't hungry. Well, we talked and talked, and
at last he said he would come back with me home, for that our affairs
were in a dreadful condition and we didn't seem to know it. He said he
would come as a friend and try to forget that he was a lawyer.

"Well, he came here with me. Father was upstairs in his bedroom, and I
poked my head in and told him your lawyer wanted to see him in the
drawing-room.

"I didn't tell him it was I who had fetched him, for I knew he would
simply go mad if he thought I had been meddling with the action;
besides, Mr Hancock said I had better not, as he simply called as a
friend.

"Down came father and went into the drawing-room. I was in an awful
fright, too frightened even to listen at the door. I made Susannah
listen after a while, and she said they were talking about roses--I
felt so relieved.

"I sent Susannah in with wine, and Mr Hancock stayed to supper. After
supper they had cigars and punch, and I played to them on the piano, and
father sang Irish songs, and Mr Hancock told us awfully funny stories
all about the law, and said he was a bachelor and envied father because
he had a daughter like me.

"Then he talked about our affairs, and said he would require more punch
before he could understand them; so he had more punch, and father showed
him the housekeeping books, and he looked over them reading them upside
down and every way. Then he wrote out a cheque to pay the books, with
one eye shut, whilst father wrote out bills, you know, to pay the
cheque, and then he kissed me and said good-bye to father and went away
crying."

"But," cried Charles, utterly astounded at this artless revelation of
another man's folly, "old Hancock never made a joke in his life--at
least to _me_--and he's an awful old skinflint and never lent any man a
penny, so they say."

"He made lots of jokes that night, anyhow," said Fanny, "and lent
father over twenty pounds, too; and only yesterday a great bunch of
hothouse flowers came from Covent Garden with his card for me."

"Old fool!" said Charles.

"He is not an old fool, he's a dear old man, and I love him. Come on, or
the shops will be closed."

"You seem to love everything," said Mr Bevan in a rather stiff tone, as
they meandered along near now to the street where shops were.

"I do--at least everything I don't hate."

"Whom do you hate?"

"No one just now. I never hate people for long, it is too much trouble.
I used to hate you before I knew you. I thought you were a man with a
black beard; you see I hadn't seen you."

"But, why on earth did you think I had a black beard?"

"_I_ don't know. I suppose it was because I hate black beards."

"So you don't hate me?"

"No, _indeed_."

"And as every one you don't hate, you---- I say, what a splendid evening
this is! it is just like Italy. I mean, it reminds me of Italy."

"And here are the shops at last," said Fanny, as if the shops had been
travelling to them and had only just arrived.

She stopped at a stationer's window.

"I want to get some envelopes. Come in, won't you?"

She bought a packet of envelopes for fourpence. Charles turned away to
look at some of the gaudily-bound Kebles, Byrons, and Scotts so dear to
the middle-class heart, and before he could turn again she had bought a
little prayer-book with a cross on it for a shilling. The shopman was
besetting her with a new invention in birthday cards when Charles broke
the spell by touching her elbow with the head of his walking stick.

"Don't you think," said he when they were safely in the street, "it is a
mistake buying prayer-books, these shop-keepers are such awful
swindlers?"

"I bought it for Susannah," explained Fanny. "It's a little present for
her after the way James has gone on. Look at this dear monkey."

A barrel organ of the old type was playing by the pavement, making a
sound as if an old man gone idiotic were humming a tune to himself. A
villainous-looking monkey on the organ-top, held out his hand when it
saw Fanny approaching. It knew the world evidently, or at least
physiognomy, which is almost the same thing.

"He takes it just like a man," she cried, as the creature grabbed one of
her pennies and then nearly broke its chain trying to get at her to tear
the rose from her hat. "Look, it knows the people who are fond of it; it
is just like a child."

Charles tore her from the monkey, only for a milliner's shop to suck her
in.

"I must run in here for a moment, it's only about a corset I ordered; I
won't be three minutes."

He waited ten, thinking how strange it was that this girl saw something
attractive in nearly everything--strange cats, monkeys, and even old
Hancock.

At the end of twenty minutes' walking up and down, he approached the
milliner's window and peeped into the shop.

Fanny was conversing with a tall woman, whose frizzled black hair lent
her somehow the appearance of a Frenchwoman.

The Highgate Frenchwoman was dangling something gaudy and flimsy before
Fanny's eyes, and the girl had her purse in her hand.

Charles gave a sigh, and resumed his beat like a policeman.

At last she came out, carrying a tissue-paper parcel.

"Well, have you got your--what you called for?"

"No, it's not ready yet; but I've got the most beautiful--Oh my goodness
me!--how stupid I am!"

"What?"

"I have only three halfpence left, and I have forgotten the eggs and
things for supper."

"Give me your purse, and let me look into it," he said, taking the
little purse and turning away a moment. Then he handed it back to her;
she opened it and peeped in, and there lay a sovereign.

"It's just what father does," she said, looking up in the lamp-light
with a smile that somehow made Mr Bevan's eyes feel misty. "What makes
you so like him in everything you do?" And somehow these words seemed to
the correct Mr Bevan the sweetest he had ever heard.

Then they marketed after the fashion of youth when it finds itself the
possessor of a whole sovereign. Fanny laying out the money as the fancy
took her, and with the lavishness so conspicuously absent in the
dealings of your mere millionaire.

They then returned to "The Laurels," Charles Bevan carrying the parcels.

The dining-room of "The Laurels" was a huge apartment furnished in the
age of heavy dinners, when a knowledge of comparative anatomy and the
wrist of a butcher were necessary ingredients in the composition of a
successful host.

Here Susannah, to drown her sorrows in labour and give honour to the
guest, had laid the supper things on a lavish scale. The Venetian vase,
before-mentioned, stood filled with roses in the centre of the table,
and places were laid for six--all sorts of places. Some of the
unexpected guests were presumably to sup entirely off fish, to judge by
the knives and forks set out for them, and some were evidently to be
denied the luxury of soup. That there was neither soup nor fish mattered
little to Susannah.

The cellar, to judge by the sideboard, had been seized with a spirit of
emulation begotten of the display made by the plate pantry, and had sent
three representatives from each bin. The sideboard also contained the
jam-pot, the bread tray, and butter on a plate: commestables that had
the abject air of poor relations admitted on sufferance, and come to
look on.

Here entered Fanny, followed by Mr Bevan, laden with parcels.

The girl's hat was tilted slightly sideways, her raven hair was in
revolt, and her cheeks flushed with happiness and the excitement of
marketing.

Susannah followed them. She wore a wonderful white apron adorned with
frills and blue ribbons, a birthday present from her mistress, only
brought out on state occasions.

"Three candles only!" said the mistress of the house, glancing at the
table and the three candles burning on it. "That's not enough; fetch a
couple more, and, Susannah, bring the sardine opener."

"Why don't you light the gas?" asked her cousin, putting his parcels
down and glancing at the great chandelier swinging overhead.

"I would, only father has had a fight with the gas company and they've
cut it off. Now let's open the parcels; put the candles nearer."

Mr Bevan's parcels contained a box of sardines, a paysandu ox tongue,
and a basket of peaches; Fanny's, the before-mentioned prayer-book,
envelopes, and in the tissue-paper parcel a light shawl or fichu of
fleecy silk dyed blue.

She cast her hat off, and throwing the fichu round her neck, hopped upon
a chair, candle in hand, and glanced at herself in a great mirror on the
opposite wall.

"It makes me look beautiful!" she cried. "And I have half a mind to keep
it for myself."

"Why--for whom did you buy it, then?"

"For James' wife, Mrs Regan."

"Oh!"

"She is ill, you know, and I am going to see her again to-morrow. I hate
going to see sick people, but father says whenever we see a lame dog we
should put our shoulders to the wheel and help him over the stile, and
she's a lame dog, if ever there was one. That's right, Susannah, put the
candles here, and give me the can opener; I love opening tins, and
there is a little prayer-book I got for you when I was out."

"Thank you, miss," said Susannah in a muffled voice, putting the little
prayer-book under her apron with one hand, and snuffing a candle with
the finger and thumb of the other. "Can I get you anything more, miss?"

"Nothing. Is James all right?"

"He's asleep now, miss," answered the maid, closing her mouth for once
in her life by some miracle of Love, and catching in her breath through
her nose.

"That will do, Susannah," hastily said her mistress, who knew this
symptom of old, and what it foreboded; "I'll ring if I want you. Bring
up the punch things at ten, just as you always bring them."

Susannah left the room making stifled sounds, and Fanny, with Mrs
Regan's fichu about her neck, attacked the sardine tin with the opener.

"Let me," said Charles.

"No, no; you open the champagne, and put the peaches on a plate, and
I'll open the tins. Bring over the bread and butter and jam. I wish we
had some ice for the champagne, but the fishmonger--forgot to send it.
Bother this knife!"

She laboured away, with her cheeks flushed; a lock of black hair
hanging loose lent her a distracted air, and made her so lovely in the
eyes of Charles that he put the bread platter down on top of the butter
plate, so that the butter pat clung to the bottom of the bread platter,
and they had to scrape it off, one holding the platter, one scraping
with the knife, and both hands touching.

"We have had that bread plate ever since I can remember," she said, as
they seated themselves to the feast, "and I wouldn't have anything
happen to it for earths, not that the butter will do it any harm. Isn't
the text on it nice?"

Charles examined the bread platter gravely.

"'Want not,'" he read. He looked in vain for the "Waste not," but that
part of the maxim was hidden by the carved representation of a full ear
of corn.

"It's a very nice--motto. Have some champagne?"

"No thanks, I only drink water, wine flies to my head; I am like James.
I am going to have a peach--have one."

"Thank you, I am eating sardines. You remind me of the old gentleman--he
was short-sighted--who offered me a pinch of snuff once when I was
eating a sole."

Fanny, with her teeth set in the peach, gave a little shriek of
laughter, but Mr Bevan was perfectly grave. Still, for perhaps the first
time in his life, he felt his possibilities as a humorist, and
determined to exploit them.

"Talking about ghosts"--ghosts and mothers-in-law, to the medium
intellect, are always fair game,--"talking about ghosts," said he, "you
said, I think, Cousin Fanny----"

"Call me Fanny," said that lady, who, having eaten her peach, was now
helping herself to sardines. "I hate that word 'cousin,' it sounds so
stiff. What about ghosts?"

"About ghosts," he answered slowly, his new-found sense of humour
suddenly becoming lost. "Oh yes, you said, Fanny, that a ghost was
haunting this house."

"Yes, Fanny Lambert. I told you she hid her jewels before she hung
herself. When people see her she is always beckoning them to follow her.
We found James insensible one night on the landing upstairs; he told us
next morning he had seen her, and she had beckoned him to follow her,
and after that he remembered nothing more."

"A sure sign there were spirits in the house."

"Wasn't it? But why, do you think, does she beckon people?"

"Perhaps she beckons people to show them where the jewels are hidden."

"Oh!" cried Fanny; "_why_ did we never think of that before? Of _course_
that is the reason--and they are worth two hundred thousand pounds. We
must have the panels in the corridor taken down. I'll make father do it
to-morrow. Two hundred thousand pounds: what is that a year?"

"Ten thousand."

"Fancy father with ten thousand a year!" Mr Bevan shuddered. "We can
have a steam yacht, and everything we want. I feel as if I were going
mad," said Miss Lambert, with the air of a person who had often been mad
before and knew the symptoms.

The door opened and Susannah appeared with the punch things. "Susannah,
guess what's happened--never mind, you'll know soon. Have you got the
lemon and the sugar? That is right."

And Miss Lambert, forgetting for a moment fortune, turned her attention
to the manufacturing of punch.

Susannah withdrew, casting her eyes over Fanny and Charles as she went,
and seeming to draw her under-lip after her.

When the door was shut, Miss Lambert looked into the punch bowl to see
if it was clean, and, having turned a huge spider out of it, went to the
sideboard.

"You are not going to make punch in this great thing?"

"I am," said Fanny, returning with a bottle in each hand and one under
her arm.

"Go on," said Charles resignedly. "May I smoke?"

"Of course, smoke. Open me this champagne."

"You are not going to put champagne in punch?"

"Everything is good in punch. Father learned how to make it in Moscow,
when he was dining with the Hussars there. After dinner a huge bowl was
brought in, and everything went in--champagne, whisky, brandy, all the
fruit from the dessert; then they set it on fire, and drank it,
burning."

"Has your father ever made punch like that?"

"No, but now I've got him away, I am going to try."

Pop went the champagne cork, and the golden wine ran creaming into the
bowl.

"Now the brandy."

"But this will be cold punch."

"Yes, it's just as good; milk punch is always cold."

"I'm blest if this is milk punch," said Mr Bevan, as he looked fearfully
into the bowl; "but go on."

"I am going as quick as I can," she replied. Then the whisky went in,
and half a tumblerfull of curaçoa also, the lemon cut in slices and the
peaches that remained.

"I haven't anything more to throw in," said Fanny, casting her eye over
the sardines and the ox tongue. "We ought to have grapes and things; no
matter, stir it up and set it on fire, and see what it tastes like."

"But, my dear child," said the horrified Charles, as he stirred the
seething mixture with the old silver ladle into whose belly a guinea had
been beaten. "You surely don't expect me to drink this fearful stuff? I
thought you were making it for fun."

"You taste it and see, but set it on fire first."

He struck a match.

"It won't catch fire!" he cried. "Knew it wouldn't."

"Well, taste it cold; it smells delicious."

She plucked a rose from the vase and strewed the petals on the surface
of the liquid to help the taste, whilst Mr Bevan ladled some into a
glass.

"It's not bad, 'pon my word it's not bad; the curaçoa seems to blend all
the other flavours together, but it's fearfully strong."

"Wait"--she ran to the sideboard for a bottle of soda water.

"Mix it half and half, and see how it tastes."

"That's better."

"Then we'll take it into the library, it's more comfortable there. You
carry the bowl, and I will bring the candles."

"What are these?" asked Mr Bevan, as he removed some papers from the
library table to make room for the punch bowl.

"Oh, some papers of father's."

"The Rorkes Drift Gold Mines."

"Yes," she said, glancing over his shoulder. "I remember now; those are
the things I am to get a silk dress out of when they go to twenty.
Father is mad over them; he says nothing will stop them when they begin
to move, whatever that means."

"Well, they have moved with a vengeance, for only yesterday I heard they
had gone into liquidation."

"All the good luck seems coming together," said Fanny with a happy sigh,
as Charles went to the window and looked out at the moon, rising in a
cloudless sky over the forsaken garden and ruined tennis ground. "Not
that it matters much if we get those jewels whether the old mines go up
or down; still, no matter how rich one becomes, more money is always
useful."

"Yes, I suppose it is," said he, looking with a troubled but sentimental
face at the moon. "Tell me, Fanny, do you know much about the Stock
Exchange?"

"Oh, heaps."

"What do you know?"

"I know that Brighton A's are called Doras--no, Berthas--no, I think
it's Doras--and Mexican Railways are going to Par, and the Kneedeep
Mines are going to a hundred and fifty, and father has a thousand of
them he got for sixpence a share, and he gave me fifty for myself, but
I'm not to sell them till they go to a hundred. Aren't stockbrokers
nice-looking, and always so well dressed? I saw hundreds of them one day
father left me for a moment in Angel Court whilst he ran in to see his
broker--Oh yes! and the bears are going to catch it at the next
settlement."

"Do you know what 'bears' are?"

"No," said Fanny, "but they're going to catch it whatever they are, for
I heard father say so--Oh, what a moon! I am sure the fairies must be
out to-night."

"You don't mean to say you believe in such rubbish as fairies?"

"Of course I believe in them; not here in Highgate, perhaps, for there
are too many people, but in woods and places."

"But there are no such things, it has been proved over and over again;
_no_ one believes in them nowadays."

"Did you never see the mushrooms growing in rings? Well, how could they
grow like that if they were not planted, and who'd be bothered planting
umbrella mushrooms in rings but the fairies?"

"Does your father believe in them?"

"Never asked him, but of course he does; every one does--even
Susannah."

She went to the table and blew out the candles.

"What are you doing now?"

"Blowing out the lights; it's so much nicer sitting in the moonlight.
Fill your glass and sit down beside me."

"Extraordinary child," thought Mr Bevan, doing as he was bid, whilst she
opened the window wide to "let the moon in."

Other things came too, a night moth and a perfume of decaying leaves,
the souls of last year's sun-flowers and hollyhocks were abroad
to-night; the distant paddock seemed full of cats, to judge by the
sounds that came from it, and bats were flickering in the air. The voice
of Boy-Boy, metallic and rhythmical as the sound of a trip hammer, came
from a distant corner of the garden where he had treed a cat.

"Quick," said Fanny, drawing in her head and pulling her companion by
the arm, "and you'll be in time to see our tortoise."

Charles regarded the quadruped without emotion.

"I don't see the necessity for such frightful haste."

"Still, if you'd been a moment sooner the moonlight would have been on
him; he was shining a moment ago like silver. Do you know what a
tortoise is? it's a sign of age. You and I will be some day like that
tortoise, without any teeth, wheezing and coughing and grubbing along;
and may-be we will look back and think of this night when we were
young--Oh, dear me, I wish I were dead!"

"Why, why, what's the matter now--Fanny?"

"I don't want to grow old," pouted Miss Lambert.

"When two people grow old together," began Mr Bevan in whose brain the
punch was at work, "they do not notice the--that is to say, age really
does not matter. Besides, a woman is only as old as she feels--I mean as
she looks."

The fumes of the punch of a sudden took on themselves a form as of the
pale phantom of Pamela Pursehouse, and the phantom cried, "Begone, flee
from temptation whilst you may."

Before him the concrete form of Miss Lambert sitting in the corner of
the window-seat and bathed in moonlight, said to him, "Hug me."

Her eyes were resting upon him, then she gazed out at the garden and
sighed.

Charles took her hand: it was not withdrawn. "I must be going now," he
said.

She turned from the garden and gazed at him in silence.

A few minutes later, feeling clouds beneath his feet and all sorts of
new sensations around his heart, he was walking down the weed-grown
avenue, Boy-Boy at his heels barking and snarling, satisfied no doubt by
some preternatural instinct that do what he might he would not be
kicked.

Ere he had reached the middle of the avenue he heard a voice calling,
"Cousin Charley!"

"Yes, Fanny."

"Come back soon!"



CHAPTER II

THE GOD FROM THE MACHINE


     "THE LAURELS, 11 P.M.

     "I have been going to write for the last few days, but have been so
     busy. I could go on the picnic to-day if it would suit you I'll
     call at the studio at one o'clock. If you can't come, send me a
     wire. Oh, I forgot to say Mr Hancock came home the other day with
     me and had a long talk with father, and Mr Bevan called to-day and
     was awfully jolly, and I'll tell you all about it when we meet.
     Give my love to Mr Verneede.

     "In haste to catch the post.

     "_P.S._--I'm in such good spirits. F. L."


It was the morning after the day on which Mr Bevan had called at "The
Laurels." Leavesley was in bed, and reading the above, which had come by
the early post, and which Belinda had thrust under his door, together
with a circular and a bill for colours.

"Hurrah!" cried Mr Leavesley, and then "Great Heavens!" He jumped out of
bed, and rummaged wildly in his pockets. He found seven and sixpence in
silver, and a penny and a halfpenny in coppers, a stump of pencil, a
tramway ticket with a hole punched in it, and a Woodbine cigarette
packet containing one cigarette. He placed the money on the
wash-hand-stand, then he sat for a moment on the side of his bed
disconsolate.

The most beautiful day that ever dawned, the most beautiful girl in the
world, a chance of taking her up the river, and seven and six to do it
on!

He curled his toes about. Yesterday, in a fit of righteousness, he had
paid a tailor two pounds ten on account. He contemplated this great
mistake gloomily. Wild ideas of calling on Mark Moses & Sonenshine and
asking for the two pounds ten back crossed his mind, to be instantly
dispelled.

The only two men in London who could possibly help him with a loan were,
to use a Boyle-Rochism, in Paris. Mrs Tugwell, his landlady, was at
Margate, and he was in the middle of his tri-monthly squabble with his
uncle. He called up the ghost of his aunt Patience Hancock, and communed
with her just for the sake of self-torture, and the contemplation of the
hopeless.

Then he rang his bell, which Belinda answered.

"Breakfast at once, Belinda."

"Yessir, and here's another letter as hes just come," she poked a square
envelope under the door. Leavesley seized it with a palpitating heart;
it was unstamped, and had evidently been left in by hand.

"This is the God from the Machine," he thought. "There's money in it, I
know. It always happens like this when things are at their worst."

We all have these instincts at times: the contents of an unopened letter
or parcel seem endowed with a voice; who has not guessed the fateful
news in a telegram before he has broken open the envelope, even as
Leavesley guessed the contents of the letter in his hand?

He tore it open and took out a sheet of paper and a pawnbroker's
duplicate. The letter ran:--


     "NO. 150A KING'S ROAD,

     "OVER THE BACON SHOP.

     "DEAR LEAVESLEY,--I am in bed, not suffering from smallpox, croup,
     spinal meningitis, or any wasting or infectious disease. I am in
     bed, my dear Leavesley, simply for want of my trousers. Robed in
     Jones' long ulster, which reacheth to my heels, I took the
     aforesaid garments yester-even after dusk to my uncle. If help does
     not come they will have to take me to the workhouse in a blanket. I
     enclose duplicate. Three and sevenpence would release me and them.


       "'The die is cast
       And this is the last.'


     "From THE CAPTAIN.

     '_P.S_.--If you have no money send me the 'Count of Monte
     Cristo'--you have a copy; or the 'Multi-Millionaire.' I have
     nothing to read but a _Financial News_ of the day before
     yesterday."


Leavesley groaned and laughed, and groaned again. Then he got into his
bath and splashed; as he splashed his spirits rose amazingly.

The Captain's letter had electrified the Bohemian part of his nature;
instead of depressing him it had done the reverse. Here was another poor
devil worse off than himself. Leavesley had six pair of trousers.

The Captain, in parenthesis let me say, has no part in this story. He
wasn't a captain, he was a relic of the South African War, a gentleman
with a taste for drink, amusing, harmless, and amiable. I only introduce
him on account of the telepathic interest of his letter, or rather of
the way in which Leavesley divined its contents.

"Seven and sixpence--I mean seven and sevenpence halfpenny, is not a bit
of use," said the painter to himself when he had finished breakfast, "so
here goes."

He put three and sevenpence in an envelope with the pathetic duplicate,
addressed it to Captain Waring, rang for Belinda; and when that
much-harried maid-of-all-work appeared, told her to take it as soon as
she could to Captain Waring, down the road over the bacon shop, also to
call at Mr Verneede's and ask him to come round at twelve.

Then he reached down a finished picture, wrapped it in brown paper, put
the parcel under his arm and started off.

He took a complication of omnibuses, and arrived in Wardour Street about
half-past nine.

"Mr Fernandez is gone to the country on pizzines," said the Jew-boy
slave of the picture dealer, who came from the interior of the gloomy
shop like a dirty gnome, called forth by the ring of the door bell.

"Oh, d----n!" said Leavesley.

"He's gone on pizzines," replied the other.

"Where's he gone to?"

"Down in the country."

"Look here, I want to sell a picture."

"Mr Fernandez is gone on pizzines."

"Oh, dash Mr Fernandez! Is there no one here I can show the thing to? He
knows me."

"There's only me," said the grimy sphinx.

"Can you buy it?"

"No, I ain't no use for buying. Mr Fernandez is gone on----"

"Oh, go to the devil!"

"This is a nice sort of thing," said Leavesley to himself as he stood in
Wardour Street perspiring. "There's nothing for it now but a frontal
attack on uncle."

He made for Southampton Row, reaching the office at ten o'clock, about
five minutes after James Hancock.

Hancock was dealing with his morning correspondence. A most unbendable
old gentleman he looked as he sat at his table before a pile of letters,
backed by the numerous tin boxes Leavesley knew so well. Boxes marked
"The Gleeson Estate," "Sir H. Tempest, Bart," etc. Boxes that spoke of
wealth and business in mocking tones to the unfortunate artist, who felt
very much as the grasshopper must have felt in the presence of the
industrious ant. Despite this he noticed that his uncle was more
sprucely dressed than usual, and that he had on a lilac satin tie.

Hancock looked at his nephew over his spectacles, then through his
spectacles, then he pushed his spectacles up on his forehead.

"Good morning, uncle."

"Good morning."

"I just looked in," said Leavesley, in a light-hearted way, "as I was
going by, to see how you were."

This was a very bad opening.

"Sit down," said Hancock. "Um--I wasn't aware that there was anything
the matter with me."

"You were complaining of the gout last time."

"Oh, bother the gout!" said the old gentleman, who hated to be reminded
of his infirmity. "It isn't gout--Garrod says it's Rheumatoid
Arthritis."

Leavesley repented of having played the gout gambit.

"--Rheumatoid Arthritis. Well, what are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm painting."

"Are you _selling_?" said Hancock, "that's more to the point."

"Oh yes, I'm selling--mildly."

"Um!"

"I sold two pictures quite recently."

"I always told you," said the lawyer, ignoring the last statement in a
most irritating way, and speaking as if Leavesley were made of glass and
all his affairs were arranged inside him for view like damaged goods in
a shop window--"I always told you painting doesn't pay. If you had come
into the office you might have got on well; but there you are, you've
made your bed, and on it you must lie," then in a voice three shades
gloomier, "on it you must lie."

Leavesley glanced at the office clock, it pointed to quarter past ten,
and Fanny was due at one.

"I had a little business to talk to you about," he said. "Look here,
will you give me a commission?"

"A what?"

"A commission for a picture."

"And five pounds on account," was in his brain, but it did not pass his
tongue.

"A picture?" said Hancock. "What on earth do I want with pictures?"

"Let me paint your portrait."

Hancock made a movement with his hand as if to say "Pish!"

"Well, look here," said Leavesley, with the cynicism of despair, "let me
paint Bridgewater, let me paint the office, whitewash the ceilings, only
give me a show."

"I would not mind the money I have spent on you," said Hancock, ignoring
all this, "the bills I have paid, if, to use your own expression, there
was any show for it; but, as far as I can see, you are like a man in a
quagmire, the only advance you are making, the only advance visible to
mortal eye, is that you are getting deeper into debt;" then two tones
lower, "deeper into debt."

"Well, see here, lend me a fiver," cried Leavesley, now grown desperate
and impudent.

James Hancock put his fingers into the upper pocket of his waistcoat,
and Leavesley's heart made a spring for his throat.

But Mr Hancock did not produce a five-pound note. He produced a small
piece of chamois leather with which he polished his glasses, which he
had taken off, in a reflective manner.

"I'm awfully hard up for the moment, and I have pressing need of it. I
don't want you to give me the money, I'll pay it back."

Mr Hancock put on his glasses again.

"You come to me as one would come to a milch cow, as one would come to a
bank in which he had a large deposit."

He put his hand in his breast-pocket and took out a note-case that
seemed simply bursting with bank-notes.

"Now if I accommodate you with a five-pound note I must know, at least,
what the pressing need is you speak of."

"I want to take a girl up the river, for one thing," answered his
nephew, who could no more tell him a lie about the matter, than he could
steal a note from that plethoric note-case.

James Hancock replaced the case in his pocket and made a motion with his
hands as if to say "that ends everything."

Leavesley rose to go.

"I'd have paid you it back. No matter. I'm going to write a book, and
make money out of it. I'll call it the 'Art of Being an Uncle.'"

Hancock made a motion with his hands that said, "Go away, I want to read
my letters."

"Now, look here," said Leavesley, with his hand on the door handle, and
inspired with another accession of impudence, "if you'd take _ten_
pounds and put it in your pocket, and come with me and her, and have a
jolly good day on the river, wouldn't it be better than sitting in this
stuffy old office making money that is no use to any one--you can only
live once."

"Go away!" said his uncle.

"I'm going. Tell me, if I went round to aunt would she accommodate me,
do you think?"

"Accommodate you to make a fool of yourself with a girl? I hope not, I
sincerely hope not."

"Well, I'll try. Good day."

"Good day."

Leavesley went out, and shut the door. Then he suddenly turned, opened
the door and looked in.

"I say, uncle!"

"Well?" replied the unfortunate Mr Hancock, in a testy voice.

"Did _you_ never make a fool of yourself with a girl?"

The old gentleman grew suddenly so crimson that his nephew shut the door
and bolted. He little guessed how _àpropos_ that question was.



CHAPTER III

TRIBULATIONS OF AN AUNT


He had scarcely gone a hundred yards down Southampton Row, when he heard
his name called.

"Mr Frank!"

He turned. Bridgewater was pursuing him with something in his hand.

"Mr James told me to give you this."

Leavesley took the envelope presented to him, and Bridgewater bolted
back to the office like a fat old rabbit, returning to its burrow.

In the envelope was a sovereign wrapped up in a half sheet of notepaper.

"Well, of all the meannesses!" said the dutiful nephew, pocketing the
coin. "Still, it's decent of the old boy after my cheeking him like
that. I have now one pound four. I'll go now and cheek aunt."

Miss Hancock was in; she had a handkerchief tied round her head, a
duster in her hand; she had just given the cook warning and was in a
debatable temper. She was also in a dusting mood. She had plenty of
servants, yet the inspiration came on her at times to tie a handkerchief
round her head and dust.

"Well?" she said, as she led the way into the dining-room, and continued
an attack she was making on the sideboard with her duster.

Leavesley had scarcely the slightest hope of financial assistance from
this quarter. Patience had given him half-a-crown for a birthday present
once when he was a little boy, and then worried it back from him and
popped it into a missionary box for the Wallibooboo Islanders.

He never forgot that half-crown.

"I've come round to borrow some money from you," he said.

Patience sniffed, and went on with her dusting. Then suddenly she
stopped, and, duster in hand, addressed him.

"Are you never going to do anything for a living? Have you no idea of
the responsibilities of life? What are you going to _do_?"

"I'm going for a holiday in the country if I can scrape up money
enough."

"You won't scrape it up here," said his aunt, continuing her dusting;
then, for she was as inquisitive as a mongoose: "And what part of the
country do you propose to take a holiday in?"

"Sonning-on-Thames."

"And where, may I ask, is Sonning-on-Thames?"

"It's on the Thames. See here, will you lend me five pounds?"

"Five _what_?"

"Pounds."

"What for?"

"To take a girl for a trip to Sonning-on-Thames."

Miss Hancock was sweeping with her duster round a glass arrangement made
to hold flowers, in the convulsion incident on this statement she upset
the thing and smashed it, much to Leavesley's delight.

He made for the door, and stood for a moment with the handle in his
hand.

"I'm awfully sorry. Can I help you to pick it up?"

"Go away," said Miss Hancock, who was on her knees collecting the
fragments of glass; "I want to see nothing more of you. If you are lost
to respectability you might retain at least common decency."

"Decency!"

"Yes, decency."

"I don't know that I've said anything indecent, or that there is
anything indecent in going for a day on the river with a girl. Well, I'm
going----" A luminous idea suddenly struck him. He knew the old maid's
mind, and the terror she had of the bare idea of her brother marrying;
he remembered the spruce appearance of his uncle that morning and the
lavender satin necktie. "I say----"

"Well?"

"Talking of girls, how about uncle and _his_ girl?"

"_What's that you say!_"

"Nothing, nothing; I oughtn't to have said anything about it. Well, I'm
off."

He left the room hurriedly and shut the door, before she could call him
back he was out of the house.

His random remark had hit the target plumb in the centre of the
bull's-eye, and could he have known the agitation and irritation in the
mind of his aunt he would have written off as paid his debt against the
Wallibooboo Islanders.

The river was impossible now, and the whole thing had shrunk to
luncheon at the studio and a visit to Madame Tussaud's or the Tower.

He reached the studio before twelve, and there he found waiting for him
Mr Verneede and the Captain.

The Captain was in his trousers; he had come to show them as a proof of
good faith and incidentally to get a glass of whisky. Leavesley gave him
the whisky and sent him off, then he turned to Verneede.

"The whole thing has bust up. Miss Lambert is coming at one to go up the
river and I have no money. Stoney broke; isn't it the deuce?"

"How very unfortunate!" said Mr Verneede. "How very unfortunate!"

"Unfortunate isn't the name for it."

"Did Miss Lambert write?"

"Yes--Oh, she told me to remember her to you, sent her love to you."

"Ah!"

"I've only got one pound four."

"But surely, my dear Leavesley--one pound four--why, it is quite a
little sum of money."

"It's not enough to go up the river on--three of us."

"Why go up the river?"

"Where else can we go?"

"I have an idea," said Mr Verneede. "May I propound it?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever heard of Epping Forest?"

"Yes."

"Why not go there and spend a day amidst the trees, the greenery, the
blue sky, the----"

"What would it cost?"

"A fractional sum; one takes the train to Woodford."

Leavesley reached for an A.B.C. guide and plunged into details.

"There are hamlets in the forest, where tea may be obtained in cottages
at a reasonable cost----"

"We can just do it, I think," said Leavesley, who had been making
distracted calculations on paper. He darted to the bell and rang it.

"Belinda," he said, when the slave of the bell made answer, "there's a
lady coming here to luncheon, have you anything in the house?"

Belinda, with a far-away look in her eyes, made a mental survey of the
larder, twiddling the door-handle to assist thought.

"There's a pie, sir, and sassiges, and a cold mutton chop. There's half
a chicken----"

"That'll do, and get a salad. I'll run out and get some flowers and a
bottle of claret."



CHAPTER IV

THE DAISY CHAIN


They were seated in a dusty glade near a road, near Woodford, and they
had lost Verneede.

The loss did not seem to affect them. Fanny had picked some daisies and
was making a chain of them. Leavesley was making and smoking cigarettes.

"But what I can't make out," said Leavesley--"This fellow Bevan, you
said he was a beast, and now you seem quite gone on him."

"I'm not," said Fanny indignantly.

"Well, I can only judge from your words."

"I'm _not_!"--pouting.

"Well, there, I won't say any more. He stayed to luncheon, you said?"

"Yes," defiantly, "and tea and supper; why shouldn't he?"

"Oh, I don't see why he shouldn't, only it must have been a visitation.
I should think your father was rather bored."

Fanny said nothing, but went on with her chain.

"What sort of looking fellow is he?"

"He's very nice-looking; at least he's rather fat--you know the sort of
man I mean."

"And awfully rich?"

"Awfully."

Leavesley tore up grass leisurely and viciously.

"Your uncle is awfully rich too, isn't he?" asked Miss Lambert after a
moment's silence.

"Yes; why?"

"I was only thinking."

"What were you only thinking?"

"I was thinking if I had to marry one or the other, which I'd chose."

Leavesley squirmed with pleasure: that was one for Bevan. He
instinctively hated Bevan. He, little knowing the mind of Miss Lambert,
thought this indecision of choice between his uncle and another man an
exquisitely veiled method of describing the other man's undesirability.

"Marry uncle," he said with a laugh. "And then we can all live together
in Gordon Square, uncle, and you, and I, and aunt, and old Verneede. The
house would hold the lot of us."

"And father."

"Of course," said Leavesley, thinking she spoke in fun, "and a few
more--the Captain: you don't know the Captain; he's a treasure, and
would make the menagerie quite complete."

"And we could go for picnics," said Fanny.

"Rather!"

She had finished her daisy-chain, and with a charming and child-like
movement she suddenly leaned forward and threw it round his neck.

"Oh, Fanny," he cried, taking both her little hands in his, "what's the
good of talking nonsense? I _love_ you, and you'll never marry any one
but me."

Fanny began to cry just like a little child, and he crept up to her and
put his arm round her waist.

"I love you, Fanny. Listen, darling, I love you----"

"Don't--don't--don't!" sobbed the girl, nestling closer to him at each
"don't."

"Why?"

"I was thinking just the same."

"What?"

"That I----"

"That you----?"

"_Don't!_"

"That you love me?"

Silence interspersed with sobs, then--

"I don't love you, but I--could----"

"What?"

"Love you--but I mustn't."

Leavesley heaved a deep sigh of content, squeezed her closer and rocked
her slightly. She allowed herself to be nursed like this for a few
heavenly moments; then she broke away from him, pushed him away.

"I mustn't, I mustn't--don't!--do leave me alone--go away." She
increased the distance between them. Tears were on her long black
lashes--lashes tipped with brown--and her eyes were like passion flowers
after rain--to use a simile that has never been used before.

Leavesley had got on his hands and knees to crawl closer towards her,
and the intense seriousness of his face, coupled with the attitude of
his body, quite dispelled Miss Lambert's inclination to weep.

"Don't!" she cried, laughing in a helpless sort of way. "Do sit down,
you look so funny like that."

He collapsed, and they sat opposite to each other like two tailors,
whilst Fanny dried her eyes and finished up her few remaining sobs.

A brake full of trippers passed on the road near by, yelling that
romantic and delightful song


     "Bedelia!
     I wants to steal yer."


"_They're_ happy," said Fanny, listening with a rapt expression as
though she were listening to the music of the heavenly choir. "I wish I
was them."

"Fanny," said her lover, ignoring this comprehensive wish, "why can't
you care for me?"

"I do care for you."

"Yes, but why can't you marry me?"

"We're too poor."

"I'll be making lots of money soon."

"How much?"

"Oh, four or five hundred a year."

"That's not enough," said Fanny with a sigh, "not _nearly_ enough."

Leavesley gazed at the mercenary beauty before him. Had he
miscalculated her? was she after all like other girls, a daughter of the
horse leech?

"I'd marry you to-morrow," resumed she, "if you hadn't a penny--only for
father."

"What about him?"

"I must help him. I must marry a rich man or not marry at all.
There----"

"Do you care for him more than me?"

"Yes."

Leavesley sighed, then he broke out: "But it's dreadful, he never would
ask you to make such a sacrifice----"

"Father?"

"Yes."

"_He!_ why, he doesn't care a button. He believes in people marrying
whoever they like. He'd _like_ me to marry you. He said only the other
day you'd make a good husband because you didn't gamble or drink, and
you had no taste for going to law."

Leavesley's face brightened, he got on his hands and knees again
preparatory to drawing nearer.

"Sit down," said Fanny, drawing away.

"But if you love me," said the lover, collapsing again into the sitting
posture.

"I don't."

"What!"

"Not enough to marry you. I could if I let myself go, but I've just
stopped myself in time. I can't ever marry you."

"But, look here----"

"Yes?"

"Suppose you do marry a rich man, I don't see how it will benefit your
father."

"Won't it! I'll never marry a man who won't help father, and he wants
help. Oh! if you only knew our affairs," said Miss Lambert, picking a
daisy and looking at it, and apparently addressing it, "the hair would
stand up on the top of your head."

"Are they so bad as all that, Fanny?"

"Bad isn't the word," replied Miss Lambert, plucking the petals from the
daisy one by one. "He loves me--he loves me not--he loves me--he loves
me not--he loves me."

"Who?"

"You."

He got on his hands and knees again.

"Sit _down_."

"But, see here, listen to me: are you really serious in what you have
just said?"

"I am."

"Well, promise me one thing: you won't marry any one just yet."

"What do you mean by just yet?"

"Oh, till I have a chance, till I strike oil, till I begin to make a
fortune!"

"How long will that be?" asked Miss Lambert cautiously.

"I don't know," replied the unhappy painter.

"If the Roorkes Drift Mines would only go up to two hundred," said the
girl, plucking another daisy, "I'd marry you; father has a whole
trunkful of them. He got them at sixpence each, and if they went to two
hundred they'd be worth half a million of money."

"Is there any chance, do you think?" asked Leavesley brightening. He
knew something of stock exchange jargon. The Captain was great on stock
exchange matters, when he was not occupied in pawning his clothes and
sending wild messages to his friends for assistance.

"I think so," said Fanny. "Mr Bevan said they were going into
Liqui----something."

"Liquidation."

"Yes--that's it."

Leavesley sighed. An old grey horse cropping the grass near by came and
looked gloomily at the humans, snorted, and resumed his meal.

"What's the time?" asked Miss Lambert, putting on her gloves. Leavesley
looked at his watch.

"Half-past six."

"Gracious! let's go; it will take us hours to get home." She rose to her
feet and shook her dress.

"I wonder where old Mr Verneede can be?" said the girl, looking round as
though to find him lurking amidst the foliage. "It's awful if we've lost
him."

"We have his ticket, too," said Leavesley. "He's very likely gone back
to the station; if we don't find him there I'll leave his ticket with
the station-master."

He rose up, and the daisy-chain round his neck fell all to pieces in
ruin to the ground.

They found Mr Verneede waiting for them at the station, smelling of
beer, and conversing with the station-master on the weather and the
crops.

At Liverpool Street, having seen Miss Lambert into an omnibus (she
refused to be seen home, knowing full well the distance from Highgate to
Chelsea), Leavesley, filled with a great depression of spirits, went
with Verneede and sat in pubs, and smoked clay pipes, and drank beer.

This sorry pastime occupied them till 12.30, when they took leave of
each other in the King's Road, Leavesley miserable, and Verneede
maudlin.

"She sent me her love," said Mr Verneede, clinging to his companion's
hand, and working it like a pump handle. "Bless you--bless you, my
boy--don't take any more--Go--bless you."

When Leavesley looked back he saw Mr Verneede apparently trying to go
home arm-in-arm with a lamp-post.



_PART III_



CHAPTER I

AN ASSIGNATION


So, it would seem from the artless confession of Miss Lambert, that
Patience Hancock had only too much reason for her fears: the lilac silk
necktie had not been bought for the edification of Bridgewater and the
junior clerks.

That the correct James Hancock had fuddled himself with punch, told
droll stories, and lent Mr Lambert twenty pounds, were facts so utterly
at variance with the known character of that gentleman as to be
unbelievable by the people who knew him well.

Not by people well acquainted with human nature, or the fact that a
grain of good-fellowship in the human heart exhibits extraordinary and
radium-like activity under certain conditions: the conditions induced
by punch and beauty and good-fellowship in others, for instance.

One morning, after the day upon which he had refused to assist Frank
Leavesley to "make a fool of himself with a girl," James Hancock arrived
at his office at the usual time, in the usual manner, and, nodding to
Bridgewater as he had nodded to him every morning for the last thirty
years, passed into the inner office and closed the door.

The closing of the door was a new departure; it had generally been left
ajar as an indication that Bridgewater might come in whenever he chose,
to receive instructions and to consult upon the morning letters.

The expression on Bridgewater's face when he heard the closing of the
door was so extraordinarily funny, that one of the younger clerks, who
caught a glimpse of it, hastily stuffed his handkerchief into his mouth
and choked silently behind the lid of his desk.

Quarter of an hour passed, and then the door opened.

"Bridgewater!"

The old gentleman stuck his pen behind his ear and answered the summons.

James Hancock was seated at his desk. On it lay an envelope addressed
in a lady's handwriting; he covered the envelope with a piece of
blotting paper as Bridgewater entered.

"I'm going out this morning, Bridgewater, on some private business."

"Out this morning?" echoed Bridgewater in a tentative tone.

"Yes; I leave you in charge."

"But Purvis, Mr James, Purvis has an appointment with you at twelve."

"Oh, bother Purvis! Tell him to call to-morrow, his affair will wait;
tell him the deed is not drawn and to come again to-morrow."

"How about Isaacs?"

"Solomon Isaacs?"

"Yes, Mr James."

"What time is he coming?"

"Half-past eleven."

"Tell him to come to-morrow."

"I'm afraid he won't. I'm----"

"If he won't," said Mr Hancock with some acerbity, "tell him to go to
the devil. I don't want his business especially--let him find some one
else. Now see here, about these letters."

He went into the morning letters, dictating replies to the more
important ones and leaving the rest to the discretion of his clerk.

"And, Bridgewater," said Mr Hancock, as the senior clerk turned to
depart, "I am expecting a lady to call here at half-past ten or quarter
to eleven: show her in, it's Miss Lambert."

"You have had no word from Mr Charles Bevan, sir, since he called the
other day?"

"Not a word. He is a very hot-headed young man; he inherits the Bevan
temper, the Bevan temper," reiterated James Hancock in a reflective
tone, tapping his snuff-box and taking a leisurely pinch. "I remember
his father John Bevan at Ipswich, during the election, threatening to
horsewhip my father; then when he found he was in the wrong, or rather
that his own rascally solicitor was in the wrong, he apologised very
handsomely and came to us. The family affairs have been in our hands
ever since, as you know, and, though I say it myself, they could not
have been in better."

"May I ask, Mr James, how affairs are with the Lamberts?--a sweetly
pretty young lady is Miss Lambert, and so nice spoken."

"The Lamberts' affairs seem very much involved; but you know,
Bridgewater, I have nothing to do with their affairs. I called to see
Mr Lambert purely as a friend. It would be very unprofessional to call
otherwise. D----n it!" suddenly broke out old Hancock, as if some one
had pricked him with a pin, "a man is not always a business man. I'm
getting on in life. I have money enough and to spare. I've done pretty
much as I liked all my life, and I'll do so to the end; yes, and I'd
break all the laws of professional etiquette one after the other
to-morrow if I chose."

Bridgewater's amazed face was the only amazed part of his anatomy; he
was used to these occasional petulant outbursts, and he looked on them
with equanimity.

Hancock had been threatening to retire from business for the last ten
years, to retire from business and buy a country place and breed horses.
No one knew so well as Bridgewater the impossibility of this and the
extent to which his master was bound up in his business--the business
was his life.

He retired, mumbling something that sounded like an assent, and going to
his desk put the letters in order.

Mr Hancock, left to himself, took a letter from his breast-pocket. It
was addressed in a large careless hand to


     "JAMES HANCOCK, ESQ.

     GORDON SQUARE.


It ran:--


     "DEAR MR HANCOCK,--I'll be delighted to come to-morrow; I haven't
     seen the Zoo for years, not since I was quite small. No, don't
     trouble to come and fetch me, I will call at the office at
     half-past ten or quarter to eleven, that will be simpler.--Yours
     very sincerely,

     "FANNY LAMBERT."


"I'll be hanged if it's simpler," grumbled James Hancock, as he returned
the letter to his pocket. "Why in the name of all that's sacred couldn't
she have let me call?--the clerks will talk so. No matter, let them--I
don't care."

"Miss Lambert," said Bridgewater, opening the door.

Mr Hancock might have thought that Spring herself stood before him in
the open doorway, such a pleasing and perfect vision did Miss Lambert
make. She was attired in a chip hat, and a dress of something light in
texture and lilac in colour, and, from the vivacity of her manner and
the general sprightliness of her appearance, seemed bent upon a day of
pleasure.

"I'm so awfully sorry to be so soon," said Miss Lambert. "It's only
twenty minutes past ten; the clocks have all gone wrong at home. James
broke out again yesterday; he went out and took far, far too much; isn't
it dreadful? I don't know what we are to do with him, and he wound up
the clocks last night, and I believe he has broken them all, at least
they won't go. Father has gone away again; he is down in Sussex paying a
visit to a Miss Pursehouse, we met her in Paris. She asked me to come
too, but I had to refuse because my dressmaker--I mean, Susannah
couldn't be left by herself, she smashes things so. She fell on the
kitchen stairs this morning, bringing the breakfast things up--are you
busy? and are you sure I'm not bothering you or interfering with clients
and things? I arrived here really at ten minutes past ten, and walked up
and down outside till people began to stare at me, so I came in."

"Not a bit busy," said Mr Hancock; "delighted you've come so early. Is
that chair comfortable?"

"Quite, thanks."

"Sure you won't take this easy-chair?"

"No, no; this is a delightful chair. Who is that nice old man who showed
me in?"

"Bridgewater, my chief clerk. Yes, he is a very good sort of man
Bridgewater; he's been with us now a number of years."

"I like him, because he always smiles at me and looks so friendly and so
funny. He's the kind of man one feels one would like to knit something
for; a--muffler or mittens. I will, next Christmas, if he wouldn't be
offended."

"Offended! Good heavens, no, he'd be delighted--perfectly delighted, I'm
sure, perfectly. Come in!"

"A telegram, sir," spoke Bridgewater's voice. He always "sir'd" his
master in the presence of strangers.

"Excuse me," said Mr Hancock, putting on his glasses and opening the
telegram. He read it carefully, frowned, then smiled, and handed it to
Fanny.

"Am I to read it?" said the girl.

"Please."

Fanny read:--

"I relinquish fishing-rights. Make the best terms with Lambert you
can.--BEVAN."

"Isn't it nice of him?" she said without evincing any surprise; "he
told me he would when he called."

"Told you he would?"

"Yes."

"When did you see Mr Bevan?"

"Why, he called--didn't I tell you?--oh no, I forgot--he called, and he
was _awfully_ nice. Quite the nicest man I've met for a long time. He
stayed to luncheon and tea and supper."

"Was your father at home?"

"No."

"I would rather this had not happened," said Mr Hancock in a slightly
pained voice. "Mr Bevan is a gentleman for whom I have great respect,
but considering the absence of your father, the absence of a
host--er--er--conventionalities, um----"

"Oh, he didn't seem to mind," said Fanny; "he knew father was away, and
took us just as we were. He's awfully rich, I suppose, but he was just
as pleasant as if he were poor--came marketing and carried the basket;
and, I declare to goodness, if I had known we had such a jolly cousin
before, I'd have gone and hunted him up myself in the--'Albany,' isn't
it?"

"Mr Bevan lives in the 'Albany,'" said the lawyer. "It is a bachelors'
residence, and scarcely a place--scarcely a place for a--er--lady to
call--no, scarcely a place for a lady to call. However, what's done is
done, and we must make the best of it."

"If I had only thought," said Fanny, who had not been listening to the
humming and hawing of Mr Hancock, "I'd have asked him to come with us
to-day. Gracious! it's just eleven. Shall we go?"

Mr Hancock took his hat and umbrella, opened the door, and they passed
out.



CHAPTER II

THE EMOTIONS OF MR BRIDGEWATER


Mr Bridgewater's emotions, when he saw his principal following the
pretty Miss Lambert, were mixed.

He saw through the whole thing at once: she had come by appointment, and
they were going somewhere together.

Now, on the day when he had called to lunch with Patience Hancock, and
look over the lease of the Peckham House, the Peckham House had not been
once mentioned; the whole conversation, conducted chiefly by Miss
Hancock, concerned the welfare of her brother. She hinted at certain
news, supposed to have been received by her, that a designing woman had
her eye on her treasure; she implored her listener to let her know if he
saw any indication of the truth of these reports. "For you know,
Bridgewater," said she, indicating that the decanter was at his side,
and that he might help himself to his third glass of port, "there is no
fool like an old fool," to which axiom Bridgewater giggled assent.

He promised to keep a "sharp look-out," and inform her of what he saw
from time to time. And it did not require a very sharp look-out to see
what he saw this morning.

As we have indicated, his emotions were mixed. Fanny's face, her
"sweetly pretty face," appealed to him; that she had fascinated Mr
James, he felt sure; that he ought instantly to inform Miss Hancock he
felt certain; that he had a lot of important letters to write and
business to transact with Mr Purvis and Mr Isaacs were facts. Between
these facts and these fancies the old man sat scratching his head with
the stump of his pen, staring at the letters before him, and pretending
to be busy. Born in the age of valentines and sentiment, he had carried
along with him through life a "feeling" for the other sex; to be frank,
the feeling was compounded mainly of shyness, but not altogether. I
doubt if there lives a man in whose life's history there exists not a
woman in some form or other, either living and active in the present, or
dead and a memory--a leaf in amber.

In old Bridgewater's brain there lived, keeping company with other
futilities of youth, a girl. The winters and the springs of forty-five
years had left her just the same, red-cheeked and buxom, commonplace,
pretty, with an undecided mouth, and a crinoline. As he sat cogitating,
this old mental daguerreotype took on fresh colours. He saw the sunlight
on a certain street in Hoxton, and heard the tinkle of a piano, long
gone to limbo, playing a tune that memory had in some mysterious way
bound up with the perfume of wall-flowers.

He remembered a Christmas card that pulled out like a concertina: a
shocking production of art which gave a vista of a garden in filigree
paper leading to a house.

A feeling of tenderness possessed him. Why should he move in a matter
that did not concern him? He determined to remain neutral, and, with the
object of dismissing the matter from his mind, turned to his letters.

But this kindly, though inferior being was dominated by a strong and
active intelligence, and that intelligence existed in the brain of a
woman.

Whilst he made notes and dictated to a clerk, this alien intelligence
was voicing its commands in the sub-conscious portions of his brain. He
began to hesitate in his dictation and to shuffle his feet, to pause and
to dictate nonsense. Then rising and taking his hat, he asked Mr Wolf,
his second in command, to take charge, as he had business which would
keep him away for half an hour--and made for the door. In Southampton
Row he walked twenty yards, retraced his steps, paused, blew his nose in
a huge bandana handkerchief, and then, travelling as if driven by
clockwork well wound up, he made for Gordon Square.

The servant said that Miss Hancock was dressing to go out, and invited
him into the cave-like dining-room. She then closed the door and left
him to the tender mercies of the place.

Decision was not the most noteworthy characteristic of Mr Bridgewater,
nor tact. He stood, consulting the clock on the mantelpiece, yet, had
you asked him, he could not have told you the time. Having come into the
place of his own volition he was now endeavouring to get up volition
enough to enable him to leave.

"Well, Bridgewater?" said a voice. The old man turned. Miss Hancock,
dressed for going out, stood before him.

"Why, I declare, Miss Patience!" said Bridgewater, as if the woman
before him was the very last person on earth he expected to see.

"You have found me just in time, for I was going out. I am in a hurry,
so I won't ask you to sit down. Can I do anything for you?"

Bridgewater rubbed his nose.

"It's about a little matter, Miss Patience."

"Yes?"

"A little matter concerning Mr James."

"Yes?"

"I am afraid--I am afraid, Miss Patience, there is--well--not to put
too fine a point upon it--a lady."

"What is this you say, Bridgewater? But sit down."

"A lady, Miss Patience."

"You've said that before--_what_ lady, and what about her?" The
recollection of Leavesley's words shot up in her brain.

"Dear me, dear me! I wish I hadn't spoken now. I'm sure it's nothing
wrong. I think, very possibly, I have been mistaken."

"John Bridgewater," said Miss Hancock, "you have known me from my
childhood, you know I hate shuffling, come to the point--there is a
lady--well, I have known it all along, so you need not be afraid to
speak. Just tell me all you know. You are very well aware that no one
cares for Mr James as much as I do. You are very well aware that some
men _need_ protecting. You know very well there is no better-hearted man
in the world than my brother."

"None indeed."

"And you know very well that he is just the man to fall a victim to a
designing woman. Think for a moment. What would a woman see in a man of
his age, except his money."

"Very true; though I'm sure, Miss Patience, no man would make a better
husband for a woman than Mr James."

"Oh, don't talk nonsense! When a man arrives at his age, he is too old
to be made into a husband, but he is not too old to be made into a fool.
Now tell me all you know about this affair. First of all, what is
the--person's name?"

"The person I suspect, Miss Patience, though indeed my suspicions may be
wrong, is a Miss Lambert."

"Surely not any relation of the Highgate Lamberts?"

"The daughter, Miss Patience."

"_That_ broken-down lot! Good heavens! Are you _sure_?"

"Perfectly sure."

"The daughter of the man who is fighting with Mr Bevan about the fish
pond?"

"Stream."

"It's the same. Well, go on."

"Miss Fanny Lambert called some time ago on Mr James. She called in
distress about the action. Mr James interviewed her, and discovered
that her father was in a very bad way, financially speaking. He took
pity on them----"

"Idiot!"

"----and called at Highgate to see Mr Lambert. He became very friendly
with Mr Lambert. Then Miss Fanny Lambert called again."

"What about?"

"I don't know. And to-day, this morning, she called again."

"Called at the office this morning?"

"Yes."

"What did she call for?"

Bridgewater was silent.

"I repeat," said Miss Hancock, speaking as an examiner might speak to a
candidate, "I repeat, what did she call for? You surely must have some
inkling."

"I am afraid she called about nothing. I'm afraid so, very much afraid
so."

"What _do_ you mean?"

"I'm afraid, Miss Patience, it was an assignation."

"How long did she stay?"

"About twenty minutes; but that is not the worst."

"Go on."

"They went out together."

"How long was my brother out with her?"

"He hasn't come back; he has gone for the day--told me to take charge of
the office."

"You mean they went out together like that and you did not follow them
to see where they went?"

"Yes."

"Oh, you _idiot_!"

"How could I, Miss Patience?"

"How could you--yes, that's just it. How could you, when you had such a
chance, let it slip through your fingers?"

"But the office?"

"The office--why, you have left the office to come round here. If you
could leave it to come here, surely you could have left it for a more
important purpose. Well, you may take this from me: soon there will be
no office to leave. It's quite possible that if Mr James makes a fool of
himself, he'll leave business and do what he's always threatening to
do--go in for farming. When a man once begins making a fool of himself,
he goes on doing so, the appetite comes with eating. Well, you had
better go back to the office and remember this for your own sake, for
my sake, for Mr James' sake, keep your eyes open. If you get another
chance, follow them."

Bridgewater left the house walking in a very depressed manner. In Oxford
Street he entered a bar and had a glass of sherry and a biscuit. As he
left the bar, who should he see but James Hancock--James Hancock, and
Fanny side by side. They were looking in at a shop window.



CHAPTER III

AN OLD MAN'S OUTING


On leaving the office, the happy thought had occurred to Fanny of
telegraphing at once to her father apprising him of Charles Bevan's
decision. Accordingly they sought the nearest telegraph office, where
Miss Lambert indited the following despatch:--


     "TO LAMBERT,
        C/O MISS PURSEHOUSE,
          THE ROOST, ROOKHURST.

     "Mr Bevan has stopped the action. Isn't it sweet of him?"


"Any name?" asked the clerk.

"Oh yes," replied Fanny, suddenly remembering that her connection with
the matter ought to be kept dark. "Put Hancock."

Then they sought Oxford Street, where Fanny remembered that she had some
shopping to do.

"I won't be a minute," she said, pausing before a draper's. "Will you
come in, or wait outside?"

Mr Hancock elected to wait outside, and he waited.

It was an unfortunate shop for a man to wait before: there was nothing
in the windows but _lingerie_; the shop on the left of it was a bonnet
shop, and the establishment on the right was a bar.

So he had to wait, standing on the kerbstone, in full view of mankind.
In two minutes three men passed who knew him, and in the middle of the
fourth minute old Sir Henry Tempest, one of his best clients, who was
driving by in a hansom, stopped, got out and button-holed him.

"Just the man I want to see, what a piece of luck! I was going to your
office. See here, that d----d scamp of a Sawyer has sent me in a bill
for sixteen pounds--sixteen pounds for those repairs I spoke to you
about. Why! I'd have got 'em done for six if he had left them to me. But
jump into the cab, and come and have luncheon, and we can talk things
over."

"I can't," said Mr Hancock, "I am waiting for a lady--my sister, she has
just gone into that shop. I'll tell you, I will see you, any time you
like, to-morrow."

"Well, I suppose that must do. But sixteen pounds!--people seem to think
I am made of money. I tell you what, Hancock, the great art in getting
through life is to make yourself out a poor man--go about in an old coat
and hat; you are just as comfortable, and you are not pestered by every
beggar and beast that wants money."

"Decidedly, decidedly--I think you are right," said his listener,
standing now on one foot, now on the other.

"Once you get the reputation of being rich you are ruined--what's the
matter with you?"

"Twinges of gout, twinges of gout. I can't get rid of it."

"Gout? Have you been to a doctor for it?"

"Yes."

"Well, don't mind what he says; try my remedy. Gout, my dear sir, is
incurable with drugs, I've tried 'em. You try hot air baths and
vegetarianism; it cured me. I don't say a _strictly_ vegetarian diet,
but just as little meat as you can take. I get it myself. Hancock, we're
not so young as we were, and the wine and women of our youth revisit us;
yes, the wine and women----"

He stopped. Fanny had just emerged from the shop.

The cabman who drove Sir Henry Tempest that day from Oxford Street to
the Raleigh Club has not yet solved the problem as to "what the old
gent, was laughing about."

"I'm awfully sorry to have kept you such a time," said Fanny, as they
wandered away, "but those shopmen are so stupid. Who was that
nice-looking old gentleman you were talking to?"

"That was Sir Henry Tempest; but he never struck me as being especially
nice-looking. He is not a bad man in his way--but a bore; yes, very
decidedly a bore."

"Come here," said Fanny, from whose facile mind the charms of Sir Henry
Tempest had vanished--"Come here, and I will buy you something." She
turned to a jeweller's shop.

"But, my dear child," said James, "I never wear jewellery--never."

"Oh, I don't mean _really_ to buy you something, I only mean make
belief--window-shopping, you know. I often go out by myself and buy
heaps of things like that, watches and carriages, and all sorts of
things. I enjoy it just as much as if I were buying them really; more, I
think, for I don't get tired of them. Do you know that when I want a
thing and get it I don't want it any more? I often get married like
that."

"Like what?" asked the astonished Mr Hancock.

"Window-shopping. I see sometimes _such_ a nice-looking man in the
street or the park, then I marry him and he's ever so nice; but if I
married him really I'm sure I'd hate him, or at least be tired of him in
a day or two. Now, see here! I will buy you--let me see--let me
see--_that_!" She pointed suddenly to an atrocious carbuncle scarf-pin.
"That, and that watch with the long hand that goes hopping round. You
can have the whole window," said Fanny, suddenly becoming lavishly
generous. "But the scarf-pin would suit you, and the watch would be
useful for--for--well, it looks like a business man's watch."

Mr Hancock sighed. "Say an old man's watch, Fanny--may I call you
Fanny?"

"Of course, if you like. But you're not old, you're quite young; at
least you're just as jolly as if you were. But come, or we will be late
for the Zoo."

"Wait," said Mr Hancock; "there is lots of time for the Zoo. Now look at
the window and buy yourself a present."

"I'll buy that," said Miss Lambert promptly, pointing to a little watch
crusted with brilliants.

Mr Hancock noted the watch and the name and number of the shop, and they
passed on.

Mr Hancock found that progress with such a companion in Oxford Street
was a slow affair. The extraordinary fascination exercised by the shops
upon his charge astonished him; everything seemed to interest her, even
churns. The normal state of her brain seemed only comparable to that of
a person's who is recovering from an illness.

It was after twelve when they reached Mudie's library.

"Now," said Mr Hancock, pausing and resting on his umbrella, "I am
rather perplexed."

"What about?"

"Luncheon. If we take a cab to the Zoo now, we will have to lunch there
or in the neighbourhood. I do not know whether they provide luncheons at
the Zoo or whether there is even a refreshment room there."

"You can buy buns," said Fanny; "at least, I have a dim recollection of
buns when I was there last. We bought them for the bears; but whether
they were meant for people to eat, or only made on purpose for the
animals, I don't know."

"Just so. I think we had better defer our visit till after luncheon;
but, meanwhile, what shall we do? It is now ten minutes past twelve; we
cannot possibly lunch till one. Shall we explore the Museum?"

"Oh! not the Museum," said Fanny; "it always takes my appetite away. I
suppose it's the mummies. I'll tell you what, we will go and have ices
in that café over there."

They crossed to the Vienna Café, and seated themselves at a little
marble table.

"Father and I come here often," said Fanny, "when we are in this part of
the town; we know every one here." She bowed and smiled to the lady who
sits in the little glass counting house, who smiled and bowed in return.
"That was Hermann--the man who went for our ices; and that's Fritz, the
waiter, over there, with the bald head." She caught Fritz's eye, who
smiled and bowed. "I don't see Henri--I suppose he's married; he told us
he was going to get married the last time we were here, to a girl who
keeps the accounts in a café in Soho, somewhere, and I promised him to
send them a wedding present. He was such a nice man, like a Count in
disguise; you know the sort of looking man I mean. What shall I send
him?"

James Hancock ran over all the wedding presents he could remember in his
mind; he thought of clocks, candlesticks, silver-plated mustard pots.

"Send him a--clock."

"Yes, I'll send him a clock. Wait till I ask where they live."

She rose and approached the lady at the counting-house; a brisk
conversation ensued, the lady speaking much with her hands and eyes,
which she raised alternately to heaven.

Fanny came back looking sorrowful. "He's gone," she said; "I never
could have thought it!"

"Why should he not go?"

"Yes, but he went with the spoons and forks and things, and there was no
girl at Soho."

"Never trust those plausible gentlemen who look like Italian Counts,"
said James Hancock, not entirely displeased with the melodramatic news.

"Whom _is_ one to trust?" asked Fanny, with the air of a woman whose
life's illusion is shattered.

James Hancock couldn't quite say. "Trust _me_," rose to his lips, but
the sentiment was not uttered, partly because it would have been too
previous, and partly because Hermann had just placed before him an
enormous ice-cream.

"You are not eating your ice!"

"It's too hot--ah, um--I mean it's too cold," said Mr Hancock, waking
from a moment's reverie. "That is to say, I scarcely ever eat ices." The
fact that a sweet vanilla ice was simply food and drink to the gout was
a dietetic truism he did not care to utter.

"If," said Fanny, with the air of a mother speaking to her child, "if
you don't eat your ice I will never take you shopping with me again.
_Please_ eat it, I feel so greedy eating alone."

Mr Hancock seized a spoon and attacked the formidable structure before
him.

"I hope I'll never grow old," sighed Miss Lambert, as Hermann approached
them with a huge dish of fantastic-looking cakes--cakes crusted with
sugar and chocolate, Moscow Gâteaux simply sodden with rum, and
Merangues filled with cream rich as Devonshire could make it.

"We must all grow old," said Hancock, staring with ghastly eyes at these
atrocities. "But why do you specially fear age? Age has its beauties, it
must come to us all."

"I don't want to grow old," said his companion, "because then I would
not care for sweets any more. Father says the older he grows the less he
cares for sweets, and that every one loses their sweet tooth at fifty. I
hope I'll never lose mine; if I do I'll--get a false one."

Mr Hancock leisurely helped himself to one of the largest and
sweetest-looking of the specimens of "Italian confectionery" before
him; Fanny helped herself to its twin, and there was silence for a
moment.

It is strange that whilst a man may admit his age to a woman he cares
for, by word of mouth, he will do much before he admits it by his
actions.



CHAPTER IV

A MEETING


Of all places in the world the Zoo is, perhaps, the most uninspiring to
your diffident lover, but Mr Hancock was fond of zoology. It was a mild
sort of hobby which he cultivated in his few leisure moments, and he was
not displeased to air his knowledge before his pretty friend, and to
show her that he had a taste for things other than forensic. Accordingly
in the Bird House he began to show off. This was a mistake. If you have
a hobby, conceal it till after marriage. The man with a hobby, once he
lets himself loose upon his pet subject or occupation, always bores. He
is like a man in drink, he does not know the extent of his own
stupidity; lost in his own paradise he is unconscious of the trouble
and weariness he is inflicting on the unfortunates who happen to be his
companions--unlike a man in drink, he is rarely amusing.

There were birds with legs without end, and birds apparently with no
legs at all, nutcracker-billed birds, birds without tails, and things
that seemed simply tails without birds.

Before a long-tailed bird that bore a dim resemblance to himself, Mr
Hancock paused and began to instruct his companion. When he had bored
her sufficiently they passed to the great Ape House, and from there to
the Monkey House.

They had paused to consider the Dog-faced Ape, when Fanny, whose eyes
were wandering about the place, gave a little start and plucked her
companion by the sleeve. "Look," she said, "there's old Mr Bridgewater!"

"Why! God bless my soul, so it is!" cried Hancock. "What the--what
the--what the----"



CHAPTER V

THE ADVENTURES OF BRIDGEWATER


The appearance of shame and conscious guilt that suffused the face and
person of Bridgewater caused the wild idea to rush through his
employer's mind that the old man had, vulgarly speaking, "scooped the
till" and was attempting evasion.

Defaulters bound for America or France do not, however, as a rule, take
the Monkey House at the Zoo _en route_, and the practical mind of James
Hancock rejected the idea at once, and gripped the truth of the matter.
Bridgewater had been following him for the purpose of spying upon him.

The unhappy Bridgewater had indeed been following him.

When, emerging from the bar, he had perceived his quarry he had followed
them at a safe distance. When they went into the Vienna Café he waited;
it seemed to him that he waited three hours: it was, in fact, an hour
and a quarter. For, having finished her ice and its accompaniments,
Fanny had declared that she was quite ready for luncheon, and had
proposed that they should proceed to the meal at once without seeking a
new café.

When they came out, Bridgewater took up the pursuit. They got into a
hansom: he got into another, and ordered the driver to pursue the first
vehicle at a safe distance. He did this from instinct, not as a result
of having read Gaboriau, or the "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

The long wait, the upset of all his usual ways, and the fact that he had
not lunched, coupled with his dread of a hansom--hitherto when he had
moved on wheels it had always been on those of a four-wheeler or
omnibus--conspired to reduce him mentally to the condition of an
over-driven sheep.

They left the part of the town he knew, and passed through streets he
knew not of, streets upon streets, and still the first vehicle pursued
its way with undiminished speed. He felt now a dim certainty that his
employer was going to be married, and now he tried to occupy his
scattered wits in attempting to compute what this frightful cab journey
would cost.

At the Zoo gates the first hansom stopped.

"Pull up," cried Bridgewater, poking his umbrella through the trap.

He alighted a hundred yards from the gates. At the turnstile he paid his
shilling and went in, but Fanny and her companion had vanished as
completely as if the polar bear had swallowed them up.

He wandered away through the gardens aimlessly, but keeping a sharp
look-out. He had never been to the Zoo before, but guessed it was the
Zoo because of the animals. The whole adventure had the complexion of a
nightmare, a complexion not brightened by the melancholy appearance of
the eagles and vultures and the distant roaring and lowing of unknown
beasts.

He saw an elephant advancing towards him swinging its trunk like a
pendulum; to avoid it he took a path that led to the Fish House. His one
desire now was to get out of the gardens and get home. He recognised now
that he had made a serious mistake in entering the gardens at all. To
have returned at once to Miss Hancock with the information that her
brother had simply taken Miss Lambert to the Zoo would have been the
proper and sensible course to have pursued.

Now at any moment he might find himself confronted with the two people
he dreaded to meet. What should he say suppose he met them? What _could_
he say? The anguish of this thought drove him from the Fish House, where
he had taken temporary refuge. He took a path which ended in an
elephant; it was the same elephant he had seen before, but he did not
know it. A side path, which he pursued hastily, brought him to the polar
bear. Here he asked his way to the nearest gate of a young man and
maiden who were gazing at the bear. The young man promptly pointed out a
path; he took it, and found himself at the Monkey House.

He took off his hat and mopped his head with his bandana handkerchief.
Looking round in bewilderment after this refreshing operation he saw
something approaching far worse than an elephant; it was Mr Hancock, and
with Mr Hancock, Fanny, making directly for him.

He did not hesitate a moment in doing the worst thing possible; as an
animal enters a trap, he entered the Monkey House. He would have shut
and bolted the door behind him had such a proceeding been feasible.

Bridgewater had a horror of monkeys; he had always considered the common
organ-grinder's monkey to be the representative of all its kind, and the
last production of nature in frightfulness; but here were monkeys of
every shape, size, and colour, a symphony of monkeys, each "note" more
horrible than the last.

If you have ever studied monkeys and their ways you will know that they
have their likes and dislikes just like men. That some people "appeal"
to them at first sight, and some people do not. Bridgewater did not.
When he saw Fanny entering at the door he retreated to the furthest
limits of the place and pretended to be engaged in contemplation of a
peculiarly sinister-looking ape, upon which, to judge from its
appearance, a schoolboy had been at work with a brushful of blue paint.

The azure and sinister one endured the human's gaze for a few mutterful
moments, and then bursting into loud yells flew at the bars and
attempted to tear them from their sockets; the mandrills shrieked and
chattered, the lemur added his note, and Bridgewater beat a retreat.

It was at this moment that Fanny's wandering gaze caught him.



CHAPTER VI

A CONFESSION


Mr Hancock, asking Fanny to wait for him for a short time, took
Bridgewater by the arm and led him outside.

"Now, Bridgewater, what is the meaning of this? Why have you left the
office? Why have you followed me? What earthly reason had you for doing
such a thing? Speak out, man--are you dumb?"

"I declare to God, Mr James," said the unhappy Bridgewater, "I had no
reason----"

"No reason!--are you mad? Bridgewater, you haven't been--drinking?"

"Drinking!" cried Bridgewater, with what your melodramatist would call a
hollow laugh. "Drinking!--oh yes--drinking? No! No!--don't mind me, Mr
James. Drinking! One blessed glass of sherry, and not a bite have I
had--waiting two hours and more--following you in a cab--three shillings
the fare was--nearly torn in pieces by an ape--following you and hiding
in all sorts of places, and then told I've been drinking. Do I look as
if I had been drinking, Mr James? Am I given to drinking, Mr James? Have
you known me for forty years, Mr James, and have you ever seen me do
such a thing? Answer me that, Mr James----"

"Hush, hush!--don't talk so loud," said Hancock, rather alarmed at the
old man's hysterical manner. "No, you are the last person to do such a
thing, but tell me, all the same, why you followed me."

Bridgewater was dumb. Hungry, thirsty, frightened at being caught
spying, startled by elephants and addled by apes as he was, still his
manhood revolted at the idea of betraying Patience and sheltering
himself at her expense. All the same, he attempted very feminine tactics
in endeavouring to evade a direct reply.

"Drinking! I have been in the office, man and boy, this fifty years and
more come next Michaelmas; it's fifty-one years, fifty-one years next
Michaelmas Day, every day at my place but Sundays and holidays, year
in, year out----"

"Bridgewater," repeated Mr Hancock, "will you answer me the question I
just asked you? Why did you follow me to-day?"

"Oh Lord," said Bridgewater, "I wish I had never seen this day! Follow
you, Mr James? do you think I followed you for pleasure? Why, the
office--God bless my soul! it makes my hair stand on end--no one there
but Wolf to take charge, and I have been away hours and hours. It's
three o'clock now, and here am I miles and miles away; and I ought to
have called at the law courts at 3.20, and there's those bills to file.
It seems all like a horrible nightmare, that it does; it seems----"

"I don't want to know what it seems. You have left your duty and come
away--for what purpose?"

Silence.

"Ah well!" said Hancock, speaking not in the least angrily, "I see there
is a secret of some sort. I regret that a man in whom I have always
placed implicit trust should keep from me a secret that concerns me;
evidently--no matter, I am not curious. Yes, it is three o'clock; it
might be as well for you to return and look after things, though it is
too late for the law courts now."

This tone and manner completely floored Bridgewater. The fountains of
his great deep were broken up, and if Patience Hancock could have seen
the damage done to his confidential reservoir, she would have shuddered.

"I'll tell you the truth, Mr James. It's not my fault--she put me to the
work. I'll tell you the truth. I've been following you and spying upon
you, but it was for your own good, she said----"

"Who said?"

"Miss Patience."

"Miss Patience told you to follow me to-day?"

"Yes."

"But what on earth--how on earth did she know I was--er--coming here?"

"She didn't know."

"Well, how the _devil_ did she tell you to follow me, then?"

"She wanted to know where you were going to."

"But," roared Hancock, whose face had been slowly crimsoning, or
purpling rather, since the mention of his sister's name, "how the
_blazes_ did she know I was going _anywhere_?"

"When I saw you going out of the office with Miss Lambert I ran round
and told her."

"When you saw me going out of the office with Miss Lambert you ran round
and told her!" said Hancock, spacing each word and speaking with such a
change from fire to ice that his listener shivered. "Oh, this is too
good! I pay you a large salary to spy upon me and to run round and tell
my sister my doings. Am I mad, or am I dreaming? And what--what--WHAT
led you, sir, to leave the office and run round and tell my sister?"

"For God's sake, Mr James, don't talk so loud!" said Bridgewater; "the
people are turning round to look at us. I didn't leave the office of my
own accord; it was Miss Patience, who said to me, she said,
'Bridgewater, I trust you for your master's sake to let me know if you
see him with a lady, for,' she said, 'there is a woman who has designs
on him.'"

"Ah!"

"Those were her words. So when I saw you going out with Miss Lambert I
ran round and told her."

"Ah!"

Mr Hancock had fallen from fury into a thoughtful mood: one of the
sharpest brains in London was engaged in unravelling the meaning to get
at the inner-meaning of all this.

"My sister came round to the office some time ago asking me to spare you
for an hour as she wished for your advice about a lease. That, of
course, was all humbug: she wanted you for the purpose of talking about
me?"

"That is true."

"The lease was never mentioned?"

"Not once, Mr James."

"All the conversation was about me and my welfare?"

"That it was."

"Now see here, Bridgewater, cast your memory back. Is this the first
time in your life that my sister has invited you to my house in Gordon
Square to discuss my welfare?"

"No indeed, sir. I've been there before."

"How many times?"

Bridgewater assumed the cast of countenance he always assumed when
engaged in reckoning.

"That's enough," said Hancock, "don't count. Now tell me, when did she
first begin to take you into her confidence--twenty years ago?"

"Yes, Mr James, fully that."

Hancock made a sound like a groan.

"And twenty years ago it was the same tale: 'Protect my brother from a
designing woman.'"

"Why, it was, and that's the truth," said Bridgewater, as if the fact
had just been discovered by him.

"And you did your best, told her all about me and my movements, as far
as you knew them, and mixed and muddled, and made an ass of yourself and
a fool of me----"

"Oh, Mr James!"

"Hold your tongue!--a fool of me. Do you know, John Bridgewater, that
you have been aiding and abetting in a conspiracy--a conspiracy
unpunishable by law, but still a conspiracy--hold your tongue!--you are
innocent of everything but of being a fool; indeed, I ought not to call
any man a fool, for I have been a fool myself, and I ought to have seen
that the one end and aim of my sister's life was to secure her position
as my keeper, and her tenure of my house. You have shown me at one
flash a worm that has crawled through my past, cankering and corroding
all it touched. Money, money, money--that is my sister's creed. I am not
young, Bridgewater, and it seems to me that if instead of living all
these years side by side with this money-grub, I had lived side by side
with a wife, my lot would have been a better one. I might have had
children, grown-up sons now, daughters--things that make an interest for
us in our old age. Between me and all that has come my sister. That
woman has a very strong will. I see many things in the past now, ay,
twenty years ago, that I can explain. Bridgewater, you have done me a
great injury, but you did it for the best, and I forgive you. Half the
people in this world are pawns and chess-pieces, moved about by the men
and women of intellect who form the other half. If you had possessed
eyes to see, you might have seen that the really designing woman against
whom I should have been protected, was the woman with whom you leagued
yourself--my sister."

The expression on Bridgewater's face was so wonderfully funny that
Hancock would have laughed had he not been in such a serious mood.

"However, what's done is done, and there is no use in crying over spilt
milk. You have at least done me a service by your stupidity in following
me to-day, for you have shown me the light. Miss Lambert pleases me, and
if I choose to make her mistress of my house, instead of my sister,
mistress of my house she will be. We will return now to--where I left
Miss Lambert, and we will all go home to Gordon Square and have dinner
with my sister."

"Not me, Mr James," gasped Bridgewater, "I don't feel well."

"Nonsense! you need not fear my sister. She is no longer mistress of my
house; next week she shall pack bag and baggage. Come."

He turned towards the Monkey House, and Bridgewater followed him, so
mazed in his intellect that it would be hard to tell whether monkeys,
men, Fanny Lambert, Patience Hancock, or elephants, were uppermost in
his brain.



CHAPTER VII

IN GORDON SQUARE


It was James Hancock's rule that a dinner should be served every night
at Gordon Square, to which he could invite any one, even a city
alderman.

On this especial day a dinner, even better than usual, was in prospect.
Miss Hancock had a large circle of acquaintances of her own; she
belonged to several anti-societies. As before hinted, she was not
destitute of a certain kindness of heart, and the counterfoils of her
cheque book disclosed not inconsiderable sums subscribed to the Society
for the Total Abolition of Vivisection and Kindred Bodies.

To-day she expected to dinner a person, a gentleman of the female
persuasion--that is to say, a sort of man. Mr Bulders, the person in
question, a member of the Anti-Tobacco League, was a crank of the
crankiest description. He wrote letters to the paper on every
conceivable subject, and in this way had obtained a dim and unholy sort
of notoriety. Fox hunting was his especial detestation, and his grand
hobby was cremation. "Why Fear the Flames?" by Emanuel Bulders, a
pamphlet of fifteen pages, privately printed, reposed in Miss Hancock's
private bookcase. But Mr Bulders has no place in this story; he is dead
and--cremated, let us hope. I shadow him forth as the reason why Miss
Hancock was sitting this evening by the drawing-room fireplace, dressed
in the dress she assumed when she expected visitors, and engaged in
crochet-work.

The clock pointed to half-past six, Bulders was due--over-due, like the
Spanish galleon that was destined never to come into port. She had said
in her note, "Come early, I wish to talk over the last report of the
---- Society, and my brother has little sympathy with such subjects."

Suddenly her trained ear distinguished the sound of her brother's
latchkey in the door below. Some women are strangely like dogs in so far
as regards the senses of hearing and smell.

Patience Hancock, as she sat by the drawing-room fireplace, could tell
that her brother had not entered the house alone. She made out his
voice, and then the voice of Bridgewater. She supposed that James had
brought his clerk home to dinner to talk business matters over, as he
sometimes did; and she was relapsing from the attitude of strained
attention when a sound struck her, hit her, and caused her to drop her
crochet-work and rise to her feet.

She heard the laughter of a girl.

Almost instantly upon the laughter the door opened, and it seemed to
Miss Hancock that a dozen people entered the room.

"This is my sister Patience--Patience, Miss Lambert. We've all come back
to dinner. Sit down, Bridgewater. By the way, Patience, there's a letter
for you; I took it from the postman at the hall door." He handed the
letter; it was from Mr Bulders, excusing himself for not coming to dine,
and alleging for reason a sore throat.

Patience extended a frigid hand to Miss Lambert, who just touched it;
all the girl's light-heartedness and vivacity had vanished for the
moment, Patience Hancock acted upon her like a draught of cold air.

"I think you have heard me mention Miss Lambert's name, Patience. We
have been to the Zoo, the whole three of us. Immensely amusing place
the Zoo--makes one feel quite a boy again. Hey, Bridgewater!"

"I hope you enjoyed it," said Miss Hancock in a perfunctory tone,
glancing at Fanny, who was seated in a huge rocking-chair, the only
really comfortable chair in the room, and then at Bridgewater, who had
taken his seat on the ottoman.

"Pretty well, thanks," said Fanny, speaking in a languid tone. She had
assumed very much the air of a fine lady all of a sudden: she was not
going to be patronised by a solicitor's daughter, and she had divined in
Patience Hancock an enemy. "The Zoo is very much like the world: there
is much to laugh at and much to endure. Taken as a whole, it is not an
unmixed blessing."

James Hancock opened his mouth at these sage utterances, and then shut
it again and turned away to smile. Bridgewater had the bad manners to
scratch his head. Miss Hancock said, "Indeed?"

"Don't you think so?"

"I think the world is exactly what we choose to make it," said Patience
Hancock, quoting Bulders.

"You think _that_?" said Fanny, suddenly forgetting her fine lady
languors. "Well, I wish some one would show me how to make the world
just as I'd choose to make it. Oh, it would be such a world--no poor
people, and no rain, and no misery, and no debts."

"You mean no debtors," said Patience, seizing her opportunity. "It is
the debtors that make debts, just as it is the drunken people who make
drunkenness."

"Yes, I suppose it is," said Fanny, suddenly abandoning her
argumentative tone for one of reverie. "It's the people in the world
that make it so horrid and so nice."

"That's exactly it," said Hancock, who was standing on the hearthrug
listening to these banalities of thought, and contemplating Bridgewater.
"Miss Lambert is a true philosopher. It is the people who make the world
what it is; could we banish the meddlers and spies and traitors"--he
looked fixedly at his sister--"the world would not be an unpleasant
place to live in."

"I hate spies," said Fanny, totally unconscious of the delicate ground
she was stepping upon--"people who poke about into other people's
business, and open letters, and that sort of thing." Miss Hancock
flushed scarlet, and her brother noted the fact. "James opens letters, I
caught him."

"Who is James?" asked Miss Hancock.

"He's our butler," said Fanny, looking imploringly at Mr Hancock as if
to say "Don't tell."

Miss Hancock rose. "May I show you to my room? you would like to remove
your hat."

The dinner was not a success, intellectually speaking. James Hancock's
temper half broke down over the soles, the sauce was not to his liking;
the sweet cakes, ices, and other horrors he had consumed during the day
had induced a mild attack of dyspepsia. His nose was red, and he knew
it; and, worst of all, faint twinges of gout made themselves felt. His
right great toe was saying to him, "Wait till you see what you'll have
to-morrow." Then Boffins, the old butler, tripped on the cat, broke a
dish, and James Hancock's temper flew out.

I have described James Hancock badly, if you have not perceived that he
was a man with a temper. The evil demons in the Merangues and ices, the
irritation caused by Bridgewater's confession, the provoking calmness
of his sister, the uric acid in his blood, and the smash of the broken
dish, all combined of a sudden and were too much for him.

"Damn that cat!" he cried. "Cats, cats, cats! How often have I told
you"--to his sister--"that I will not have my house filled with those
sneaking, prowling beasts? Chase her out; where is she?"

Boffins looked under the table and said "Scat," but nothing "scatted."

"She's gone, Mr James."

"I won't have cats in my house," said Mr James, proceeding with his
dinner and feeling rather ashamed of his outburst. "Dear Lord, Patience,
what do you call this thing?"

"The cook," said Patience, "calls it, I believe, a _vol-au-vent_. What
is wrong with it?"

"What is right with it, you mean. Don't touch it, Miss Lambert, unless
you wish to have a nightmare."

"I think it's delicious," said Fanny, "and I don't mind nightmares.
They're rather fun--when they are over, and you wake up and find
yourself safe in bed."

"Well, you'll have some fun to-night," grunted James. "The person who
cooked this atrocity ought to be made sleep with the person who eats
it."

"James, you need not be _vulgar_," said his sister.

"What's vulgar?"

"Your remark."

"Boffins, fill Miss Lambert's glass--let's change the subject. This
champagne is abominably iced--give me some Burgundy."

"James!"

"Well?"

"Burgundy!"

"Well, what about Burgundy?"

"Surely you remember the gout--the frightful attack you had last time
after Burgundy."

"Gout? I suppose you mean Arthritic Rheumatism? But perhaps you are
right, and Dr Garrod was wrong--let us call it gout. Fill up the glass,
Boffins. Bridgewater, try some Burgundy, and see if it affects your
gout. Boffins, that cat's in the room, I hear it purring. I hear it, I
tell you, sir! where is the beast?"

The beast, as if in answer, poked its head from under the
table-cloth--it was in Miss Lambert's lap.

Altogether the dinner was not a success.

"Your father has known my brother some time?" said Miss Hancock, when
the ladies found themselves alone in the drawing-room after dinner.

"Oh yes, some time now," said Fanny. "They met over some law business.
Father had a dispute with Mr Bevan of Highshot Towers, the place
adjoining ours, you know, down in Buckinghamshire, and Mr Hancock was
very kind--he arbitrated."

"Indeed? that is funny, for he is Mr Bevan's solicitor."

"Is that so? I'm sure I don't know, I never trouble myself about law
business or money matters. I leave all that to father."

They talked on various matters, and before Miss Lambert had been packed
into a specially chartered four-wheeler and driven home with Bridgewater
on the box beside the driver as chaperone, Miss Hancock had come to form
ideas about Miss Lambert such as she had never formed about any other
young lady. Ideas the tenor of which you will perceive later on.



_PART IV_



CHAPTER I

"THE ROOST"


Mr Bevan, since his visit to Highgate, dreamed often at nights of
monstrous asparagus beds, and his friends and acquaintances noticed that
he seemed distrait.

The fact was the mind of this orderly and precise individual had
received a shock; his world of thought had tilted somewhat, owing to a
slight shifting of the poles, and regions hitherto in darkness were
touched with sun.

Go where he would a voice pursued him, turn where he would, a face. Wild
impulses to jump into a cab and drive to "The Laurels," Highgate, as
swiftly as cab could take him were subdued and conquered. Perhaps it
would be happier for some of us if we used less reason in steering our
way through life. Impulsive people are often sneered at, yet, I dare
say that an impulse acted upon will as often make a man's life as mar
it.

Mr Bevan was not an impulsive man. It was not for some days after his
visit to "The Laurels" that he carried out his determination to stop the
action once for all. He did not return to "The Laurels." He was engaged
and a man of honour, and as such he determined to fly from temptation.
Accordingly one bright morning he despatched a wire intimating his
arrival by the 3.50 at Ditchingham, having sent which he flung himself
into a hansom and drove to Charing Cross, followed by another hansom
containing Strutt, two portmanteaux, a hunting kit-bag and a bundle of
fishing-rods. An extraordinary accident happened to the train he
travelled by; it arrived at Paddock Wood only three minutes late, making
up for this deficiency, however, by crawling into Ditchingham at 4.10.

On the Ditchingham platform stood two girls. One tall, pale, and
decidedly good-looking despite the _pince-nez_ she wore; the other short
and rather stout, and rather pretty.

The tall girl was Miss Pursehouse; the short was Lulu Morgan, Miss
Pursehouse's companion, an American.

Pamela Pursehouse at this stage of her career was verging on thirty,
the only daughter of the late John Pursehouse of Birmingham, and an
orphan. She was exceedingly rich.

Some months ago she had met Bevan on board Sir Charles Napier's yacht;
they had spent a fortnight cruising about the Balearic Islands and the
Riff coast of Morocco, had been sea-sick together, and bored together,
and finally had, one moonlight night, become engaged. It was a
cold-blooded affair despite the moonlight, and they harboured no
illusions one of the other, and no doubts.

Pamela had a mind of her own. She had attended classes at Mason's
College and had quite a knowledge of Natural History; she also had an
interest in the ways of the working classes, and had written a paper to
prove that, with economy, a man, his wife and five children, could live
on an income of eleven shillings a week, and put by sixpence for a rainy
day; to disprove which she was eternally helping the cottagers round
about with doles of tea on a liberal scale, coal in the winter, and wine
in sickness. When the rainy day came she supplied the sixpence, which
ought to have been in the savings bank, for she was a girl who found
her heart when she forgot her head.

At Marseilles Lady Napier, Pamela, Lulu, and Charles Bevan had left the
yacht and travelled together to Paris; there, after a couple of days, he
had departed for London to look after his affairs. Pamela had remained
in Paris, where, through Lady Napier, she had the _entrée_ of the best
society, and had met many people, including the Lamberts. She had indeed
only returned to England a short time ago.

Outside the station stood a governess cart and the omnibus of the hotel.
Into the governess cart bundled the lovers and Lulu, into the omnibus
Strutt and the luggage. Pamela took the reins and the hog-maned pony
started.

"Hot, isn't it?" said Charles, tilting his hat over his eyes, and
envying Strutt in the cool shelter of the omnibus.

"Think so?" said Pamela. "It's July, you know. Why do men dress always
in summer in such heavy clothes? Seems to me women are much more
sensible in the matter of dress. Now if you were dressed as I am,
instead of in that Harris tweed, you wouldn't feel the heat at all."

Charles tried to imagine himself in a chip hat and lilac cotton gown,
and failed.

"You must have been fried in that train," said Lulu, staring at him with
a pair of large blue eyes, eyes that never seemed to shut.

"Pretty nearly," answered Charles, and the conversation languished.

Rookhurst stands on a hill; it is a village composed of gentlemen's
houses. Country "seats" radiate from it to a distance of some three
miles. Three acres and a house constitute a "seat."

The conservatism of the old Japanese aristocracy pales when considered
beside the conservatism of Rookhurst. In this microcosm there are as
many circles as in the Inferno of Dante, and the circles are nearly as
painful to contemplate.

When Pamela Pursehouse rented "The Roost" and took up residence there
she came unknown and untrumpeted. The parson and several curious old
ladies called upon her, but the seat-holders held aloof, she was not
received. Mrs D'Arcy-Jones--Rookhurst is full of people with
double-barrelled names, those double-barrelled names in which the
second barrel is of inferior metal--Mrs D'Arcy-Jones discovered that
Pamela's father was of Birmingham. Mrs D'Arcy-Johnson found out that he
was in trade, and Mrs D'Arcy Somebody-else that her mother's maiden name
was Jenkins. There was much turning up of noses when poor Pamela's name
was mentioned, till one fine day when all the turned-up noses were
suddenly turned down by the arrival at "The Roost" of the Duchess of
Aviedale, her footman, her maid, her dog, and her companion. Then there
was a rush. People flung decency to the winds in their haste to know the
tradesman's daughter and incidentally get a lick at the Duchess's boots.
But to all callers Pamela was not at home; she had even the rudeness not
to return their visits.

The snobs, beaten back, retired, feeling very much like damaged goods,
and Pamela was left in peace. Her aunt, Miss Jenkins, a sweet-faced and
perfectly inane old lady, lived with her and kept house, and Pamela,
protected by her wing, had all sorts of extraordinary people to visit
her. Sandyman, M.P., the Labour representative, came down for a week-end
once, and smoked shag tobacco in the dining-room and wandered about the
village on Sunday in a Keir-Hardy cap; he also attended the tin chapel,
had a quart of beer at the village pub, and did other disgraceful things
which were all duly reported and set down to Pamela's account in the
D'Arcy-Jones-Johnson notebook.

Pamela liked men, that is to say, men who were original and interesting;
yet she had engaged herself to the most unoriginal man in England: a
fact for which there is no accounting, save on the hypothesis that she
was a woman.

The governess cart having climbed a long, long hill, the hog-maned pony
took to himself wings, and presently, in a cloud of dust, halted.

"The Roost," though a fairly large house, did not boast a
carriage-drive. A gate in a high hedge led to a path through a
rose-garden which was worth all the carriage-drives in existence.

"We have several people staying with us, did I tell you?" said Pamela as
she led the way. "Hamilton-Cox, the man who wrote the 'Pillar of Salt,'
and Wilson--Professor Wilson of Oxford, and--but come on, and I'll
introduce you."

They entered a pleasant hall. The perfume of cigars and the sound of a
man's laughter came from a half-open door on the right. Pamela made for
it, and as Charles Bevan followed he heard a rich Irish voice. "My
friend Stacey, of Castle Stacey, raised one four foot broad across the
face; such a sunflower was never seen by mortal man, I measured it with
my own hands--four foot----"

Bevan suddenly found himself before a man, an immense, good-looking,
priestly-faced man, in his shirt-sleeves, a cigar in his mouth, and a
billiard cue in his hand.

"Mr Charles Bevan, Mr Lambert; Mr Bevan, Professor Wilson; Mr----"

"Why, sure to goodness it's not my cousin, Charles Bevan of the
'Albany'!" cried the big man, effusively clasping the hand of Charles
and gazing at him with the astonished and joyous expression of a man who
meets a dear and long-lost brother.

Mr Bevan intimated that he was that person.

"But, sure to goodness," said the big man, dropping Charles' hand and
scratching his head with a puzzled air, then he turned on his heel:
"Where's my coat?" He found his coat and took from it a pocket-book,
from the pocket-book a telegram and a sheet of paper, whilst Pamela
turned to Professor Wilson and the novelist.

"I got that from your lawyer, Mr Bevan," said he, "some days ago."
Charles read:

"Bevan has stopped action. Isn't it sweet of him?--HANCOCK."

"Yes," said Charles rather stiffly, "I stopped the action, but Hancock
seems to have--been drinking."

"And there's the reply I was going to send, only I forgot it," said
George Lambert, handing the copy of a telegram to Charles.

"Tell Bevan I relinquish all fishing rights. Wish to be friends.--GEORGE
LAMBERT."

"It is very generous of you," said Charles, really touched. "But I can't
have it, we'll divide the rights."

"Come into the garden, my boy," said George, who had now resumed his
coat, linking his arm in that of Charles and leading him out through the
open French window, into the rose-scented garden, "and let's talk things
over. It's the pity of the world we weren't always friends. Damn the
fish stream and all the fish in it! I wish they'd been boiled before
they were spawned. What's the _good_ of fighting? Isn't life too short
for fighting and divisions? Sure, there's a rose as big as a red
cabbage, but you should see the roses at my house in Highgate--and where
did you meet Miss Pursehouse?"

"Oh," said Charles. "I've known her for some time."

"We met her in Paris, Fanny--that's my daughter--and me met her in
Paris. Fanny doesn't care for her much, and wouldn't come with me; but
there's never a woman in the world that really cares for another woman,
unless the other woman is as ugly as sin and a hundred. There's a melon
house for you, but you should see my melon houses in Highgate, the one's
I am going to have built by Arthur Lawrence of Cockspur Street; he's
made a speciality of glass, but he charges cruel. It's the passion of my
life, a garden."

He leaned over the gate leading to the kitchen-garden, and whistled an
old Irish hunting song softly to himself as he contemplated the cabbages
and peas. Charles lit a cigar. He was a fine figure of a man, this
Lambert; one of those large natures in a large frame that dwarf other
individualities when brought in contact with them. Hamilton Cox would
pass in a crowd, and Professor Wilson was not unimpressive, but beside
George Lambert, Hamilton-Cox looked a shrimp, and the Oxford professor
somewhat shrivelled.

"It's the passion of my life," reiterated Fanny Lambert's father,
addressing the cabbages, the marrow fat peas, Charles Bevan, and the
distant woods of Sussex. "And if I'd stuck to it and left horses alone,
a richer man I'd have been this day."

"I say," said Charles, who had been plunged in meditation, "why did
Hancock telegraph to you, I wonder? It wasn't exactly solicitors'
etiquette; the proper course, I think, would have been to communicate
with your lawyers, Messrs Sykes and Fagan."

George Lambert broke into a low, mellow laugh.

"Faith," he said, "I suppose he did communicate with them, and they
answered that they weren't my lawyers any more. I've fought with them,
and that's a fact; and now that we're friends, you and me, I've an idea
of transferring my business to Hancock. I've one or two little suits
pending; and I'm not sure but one of them won't be with Fagan for the
names I called him in his own office before his own clerks. 'I'll have
you indicted for slander,' he says. 'Slander!' said I, 'slander, you old
clothes-bag, have me up for slander, and I'll beat the dust out of your
miserable reputation in any court in the kingdom, ye old
wandering-Jew-come-to-roost,' and with that I left the office, and never
will I set my foot in it again."

"I should think not."

"Never again. He's a red Jew--always beware of red Jews; black Jews are
bad, but red Jews are the devil--bad luck to them! If I'd left Jews
alone, a richer man I'd have been this day. Who's that ringing a bell?
Oh, it's the afternoon tea-bell: let's go in and talk to the old
professor and Miss Pursehouse."

They did not go in, for the Professor and Miss Pursehouse, Lulu Morgan,
and the author of the "Pillar of Salt" were having tea on the lawn.
There were few places pleasanter than the lawn of "The Roost,"
especially on this golden and peaceful summer's evening, through which
the warm south wind brought the cawing of rooks from distant elm trees.

"Have you two finished your business?" asked Pamela, addressing Charles;
"if so, sit down and tell me all the news. I got your note. So sorry you
were bored by old Mr--Blundell--was it?--at the club. Mr Blundell is a
rose-bore, it seems," turning to Hamilton Cox; "he is mad on roses."

"Blundell! what an excellent name for a bore!" said the "Pillar of Salt"
man dreamily, closing his eyes. "I can see him, stout and red-faced
and----"

"Matter of fact, old Blundell isn't stout," cut in Charles, to whom
Hamilton-Cox did not appeal. "He's thin and white."

"_All_ white?"

"No, his face, you know."

"Ah! I had connected him with the idea of red roses. Why is it that in
thinking of roses one always figures them red?"

"Sure, I don't know--I never do."

"I do."

"Well," put in Pamela, "when you escaped from Mr Blundell what did you
do with yourself that day--smoked, I suppose, and went to Tattersal's?"

"No, I was busy."

"What was the business--luncheon?"

"Yes," said Charles Bevan, feeling that he was humorous in his reply,
and feeling rather a sneak, too. "Luncheon was part of the business."

The remembrance of the fried whiting rose before him, backed by a vision
of Susannah holding in one hand a bottle of Böllinger, and in the other
a bottle of Gold-water.



CHAPTER II

MISS MORGAN


It is so easy not to do some things. Bevan, had he acted correctly,
ought to have informed Mr Lambert of his visit to Highgate and all that
therein lay, yet he did not. There was nothing to hide, yet, as Sir
Boyle-Roche might have said, he hid it.

During tea several things occupied his mind very much. The vision of
Fanny Lambert was constantly before him, so was the person of her
father. He could not but acknowledge that Lambert was a most attractive
personage--attractive to men, to women, to children, to dogs,
cats--anything that could see and feel, in fact. Everything seemed to
brighten in his presence. Hamilton-Cox's dictum that if Lambert could be
bottled he would make the most excellent Burgundy, was not far wrong.

Bevan, as he sipped his tea, watched the genial Lambert, and could not
but notice that he paid very marked attention to Pamela, and even more
marked attention to old Miss Jenkins, her aunt.

This did not altogether please him, neither did the fact that Pamela
seemed to enjoy the attentions of this man, who was her diametrical
opposite.

To the profound philosopher who indites these lines it seems that
between men and women in the mass there is very little difference. They
act pretty much the same, except, perhaps, in the presence of mice.
Bevan did very much what a woman would have done in his position: seeing
his true love flirting with some one else, he flirted with some one
else. Lulu Morgan was nearest to him, so he used her.

"I've been in England a twelvemonth," answered Miss Morgan, in reply to
a query, "and I feel beginning to get crusted. They say the old carp in
the pond in Versailles get moss-grown after they've been there a hundred
and fifty years or so, and I feel like that. When I say I've been in
England a twelvemonth, I mean Europe. I've been in England three months,
and the rest abroad. Pamela picked me up in Paris, you'd just gone back
home; Lady Scott introduced me to her. I was looking out for a job. I
came over originally with the Vandervades, then Sadie Vandervade got
married; I was her companion, and I lost the job. Of course I could have
stayed on with old man Vandervade and his wife, but I wanted a job. I'm
like a squirrel, put me in a cage with nothing to do, and I'd die. I
must have a mill to turn, so I froze on to Pamela's offer. I write her
letters, and do her accounts, and interview her tradespeople. I guess
she's getting fat for want of work since I've been her companion. Yes, I
like England, and I like this place; if the people could be scraped out
of it clean, it would be considerably nicer. I went to church last
Sunday to have a good long considerate look at them; they all arrived in
carriages--every one here who has a shay of any description turns it out
to go to church in on Sunday. Well, I went to have a good long look at
them, and such a collection of stuffed images and plug-uglies I never
beheld. I'm vicious about them p'rhaps, for they treated Pamela so mean,
holding off from her when she first came, and then rushing down her
throat when they found she knew a duchess. They'd boil themselves for a
duchess. Say--you know the Lamberts? Isn't Fanny sweet?"

Mr Bevan started in his chair, but Miss Morgan did not notice, engrossed
as she was with her own conversation.

"We met them in Paris; and I don't know which is sweeter, Fanny or her
father. She was to have come down here with him, but she didn't. My, but
she is pretty. And don't the men run after her! there were three men in
Paris raving about her; she'd only known them two days, and they were
near proposing to her. Don't wonder at it, I'd propose to her myself, if
I was a man. But she's a little flirt all the same, and I told her so."

"Excuse me," said Bevan, "but I scarcely think you are justified--that
is--from what I have heard of Miss Lambert, I would scarcely suspect her
of being a--flirt."

"Wouldn't you? Men never suspect a woman of being a flirt till they're
flirted with and done for. Fanny's the worst description of flirt--oh,
I've told her so to her face--for she doesn't mean it; she just leads
men on with her sweetness, and doesn't see they're breaking their hearts
for her. She's a regular trap bated with sugar. How did you escape, Mr
Bevan? You're the only man, I guess, who ever did."

"I haven't the pleasure--er--of Miss Lambert's acquaintance," said
Charles, rather stiffly.

"Well, you're safe, for you are engaged; only for that I'd say 'Don't
have the pleasure of her acquaintance.' What I like about her is that
she makes all the other women so furious; she sucks the men away from
them like a whirlpool. It's a pity she's so rich, for it's simply gilt
thrown away----"

"Is Miss--Miss Lambert rich?"

"Why, certainly; at least I conclude so."

"Did she tell you so?"

"No--but she gives one the impression; they have country houses like
mushrooms all over the place, and she dresses simply just as she
pleases; only really rich people can afford to do that. She went to the
opera in Paris with us in an old horror of a gown that made her look
quite charming. No one notices what she has on; and if she went to
heaven in a coffee-coat they'd let her in, for she'd still be Fanny
Lambert."

"You saw a good deal of her in Paris?"

"Yes, we went about a good deal."

"Tell me," said Mr Bevan very gravely, "you said she was a flirt--did
you really mean that?"

"Why, how interested you are! She is, but not a bad sort of flirt. She's
one of those people all heart--she loves everything and everybody--up to
a certain point."

"Do you think she is in love with any man--beyond a certain point?"

"Can't say," said Miss Morgan, shaking her head sagely; "but when she
does, she'll go the whole hog. The man she'll love she'll love for ever
and ever, and die on his grave, and that sort of thing, you know."

"I believe you are right."

"Why, how do you know? You've never met her."

"I was referring to your description of her. Girls of her impulsive
nature--er--generally do--I mean they are generally warm-hearted and
that sort of thing."

"There's one man I think she has a fancy for," said Miss Morgan, staring
into space with her wide-open blue eyes, "but he's poor as a rat--an
awfully nice fellow, a painter; Mr Lambert fished him up somewhere in a
café. He and Fanny and I and a friend of his went and had dinner at a
little café near the Boul' Miche. Then we got lost--that is to say, I
and Heidenheimer lost sight of Fanny and her friend; and Fanny told me
afterwards she'd had no end of a good time finding her way home; so'd I.
'Twas awfully improper, of course, but no one knew, and it was in
Paris."

"I may be old-fashioned, of course," said Mr Bevan stiffly, "but I think
people can't be too careful, you know--um--how long was Miss Lambert
lost with Mr----"

"Leavesley--that's his name. Oh! she didn't turn up at the hotel till
after eight."

"Did Mr Lambert know?"

"Oh yes, but he wasn't uneasy; he said she was like a bad penny, sure to
turn up all right."

"Good God!"

"What on earth!--why, there was no harm. Leavesley is the best of good
fellows, he looked after her like a grandmother; he worships the very
ground she walks on, and I'd pity the man who would as much as look
twice at Fanny if he was with her."

"Um--Mr Leavesley, as you call him----"

"I don't call him, he calls himself."

"Well, Mr Leavesley may be all right in his way, but I should not care
to see a sister of mine worshipped by one of these sort of people.
Organ-grinders and out-of-elbow artists may be delightful company amidst
their own set, but I confess I am not accustomed to them----"

"That's just your insular prejudice--seems to me I've heard that
expression before, but it will do--Leavesley isn't an organ-grinder. I
can't stand loafers myself, and if a man can't keep up with the
procession, he'd better hang himself; but Leavesley isn't a loafer, and
he'll be at the top of the procession yet, leading the elephant. Oh, he
paints divinely!"

"Miss Lambert, you say, is in love with him?"

"I didn't--I fancy she had a weakness; but maybe it's only a fancy."

"Does he write to her?"

"Don't know--very likely; these artistic people can do things other
people can't. We all went to see the Lamberts off at the Nord, and had
champagne at the buffet; and poor old Fragonard--he was another
worshipper, an artist you know--turned up with a huge big bouquet of
violets for Fanny; we asked him where he'd got them, and he said he'd
stolen them. They don't care a fig for poverty, artists; make a joke of
it you know. Yes, I daresay he writes to Fanny. Heidenheimer writes to
me every week--says he's dying in love with me, and sends poems,
screechingly funny poems, all about nightingales and arrows and hearts.
He's an artist too, and I'd marry him, I believe I would, only we're
both as poor as Lazarus."

"Mr Leavesley is an artist you say?"

"Yes, but he's a genius, but genius doesn't pay--that's to say at
first--afterwards--afterwards it's different. Trading rats for diamonds
in famine time isn't in it with a genius when he gets on the make."

Mr Bevan gazed reflectively at the tips of his shoes. He quite
recognised that these long-haired and out-at-elbowed anomalies y'clept
geniuses had the trick, at times, of making money. A dim sort of wrath
against the whole species possessed him. To a clean, correct, and
level-headed gentleman possessed of broad acres and a huge rent-roll, it
is unpleasant to think that a slovenly, shiftless happy-go-lucky
tatterdemallion may be a clean, correct and level-headed gentleman's,
superior both in brains, fascination, and even in wealth. We can fancy
the correct one subscribing sympathy, if not money, to a society for the
extinction of genius, were not such a body entirely superfluous in the
present condition of human affairs.

"It may be," said Mr Bevan at last, "that those people are very pleasant
and all that, and useful in the world and so on, but I confess I like to
associate with people who cut their hair, and, not to put too fine a
point on it, wash----"

"Oh, Leavesley washes," said Miss Morgan, "he's as clean as a new pin.
And as for cutting his hair, my!--that's what spoils him in my opinion;
why, it's cut to the bone almost, like a convict's. All artists cut
their hair now; it's only Polish piano-players and violinists wear their
hair long."

"Whether they cut their hair 'to the bone' or wear it long is a matter
of indifference," said Mr Bevan. "They're all a lot of bounders, and I'd
be sorry to see a sister of mine married amongst them--very sorry."

Miss Morgan said nothing, the warmth of Mr Bevan on the subject of
Leavesley struck her as being somewhat strange; though she said nothing,
like the parrot, she thought the more, and began to consider Mr Bevan
more attentively and to "turn him over in her mind." Now the fortunate
or unfortunate person whom Miss Morgan distinguished by turning them
over in her mind, generally gave up their secrets in the process
unconsciously, subconsciously, or sometimes even consciously. Those
wide-open blue eyes that seemed always gazing into futurity and distance
saw many happenings of the present invisible to most folk.

Professor Wilson and Hamilton-Cox had wandered away through the garden
discussing Oxford and modern thought. Miss Pursehouse, Lambert, and old
Miss Jenkins were talking and laughing, and seemingly quite happy and
content. Said Miss Morgan, looking round:

"Every one's busy, like the children in the Sunday-school story, and
we've no one to play with; shall we go for a walk in the village, and
I'll show you the church and the pump and the other antiques?"

"Certainly, I'll be delighted," said Charles, rising.

"Then com'long," said Miss Morgan, "Pamela, I'm taking Mr Bevan to show
him the village and the creatures that there abound. If we're not back
by six, send a search-party."

Rookhurst is, perhaps, one of the prettiest and most quaint of English
villages, and the proudest. If communities receive attention from the
Recording Angel, amidst Rookhurst's sins written in that tremendous book
will be found this entry, "It calls itself a town."

"Isn't the village sweet and sleepy?" said Miss Morgan, as she tripped
along beside her companion; "it always reminds me of the dormouse in
'Alice in Wonderland'--always asleep except at tea-time, when it wakes
up--and talks gossip. That's the chemist's shop with the two little red
bottles in the window, isn't it cunning? The old man chemist doesn't
keep any poisons, for he's half blind and's afraid of mixing the
strychnine with the Epsom salts. His wife does the poisoning; she libels
every one indifferently, and she gave out that Pamela was a lunatic and
I was her keeper. She was the butcher's daughter, and she married the
chemist man for his money ten years ago, hoping he'd die right off,
which he didn't. He was seventy with paralysis agitans and a squint, and
the squint's got worse every year, and the paralysis agitans has got
better--serve her right. That's the butcher's with the one leg of mutton
hanging up, and the little pot with a rose-tree in it. He drinks, and
beats his wife, and hunts snakes down the road when he has the
jumps--but he sells very good mutton, and he's civil. Here comes a
queen, look!"

A carriage drawn by a pair of chestnut horses approached and passed
them, revealing a fat and bulbous-faced lady lolling on the cushions,
and seen through a haze of dust.

"A queen?" said Bevan; "she doesn't look like one."

"No? She's the Queen of Snobs; looks as if she'd come out of a
joke-book, doesn't she? and her name is--I forget. She lives in a big
house a mile away. That's a 'pub.' There are seven 'pubs' in this
village, and this is a model village--at least, they call it so; what an
immodel village in England must be, I don't know. There's a tailor lives
in that little house; he preaches in the tin chapel at the cross-roads.
I heard him last Sunday."

"You go to Chapel?"

"No, I'm Church. I heard him as I was passing by--couldn't help it, he
shouts so's you can hear him at 'The Roost' when the wind's blowing that
way--You religious?"

"Not very, I'm afraid."

"Neither'm I. That's the doctor's; he's Church and his wife's Chapel.
She has a sister in a lunatic asylum, and her aunt was sister of the
hair-cutter's first wife, so people despise her and fling it in her
teeth. We can raise some snobs in the States, but they're button
mushrooms to the toadstools you raise in England. Pamela is awfully good
to the doctor's wife just because the other people are nasty to her.
Pamela is grit all through. The parson lives there--a long, thin man,
looks as if he'd been mangled, and they'd forgot to hang him out to dry.
How are you, Mrs Jones? and how are the rheumatics?" Miss Morgan had
paused to address an old lady who stood at the door of a cottage leaning
on a stick.

"That's Mrs Jones; she has more enquiries after her health than any
woman in England. Can you tell why?"

"No."

"Well, she has a sort of rheumatics that the least damp affects, and so
she's the best barometer in this part of the country. She's eighty, and
has been used to weather observation so long, she can tell what's
coming--hail, or snow, or rain to a T. That old man leaning on the gate,
he's Francis, the village lunatic, he's just ninety; fine days he crawls
down to Ditchingham cross-roads to wait for the soldiers coming back
from the Crimea. I call that pathetic, but they only laugh at it here.
He must have waited for them when he was a boy and seen them marching
along, and now he goes and waits for them--makes me feel s'if I could
cry. Here's a shilling for you, Francis; Miss Pamela is knitting you
some socks--good-day--poor old thing! Let's see now, those cottages are
all work-people's, and there's nothing beyond, only the road, and it's
dusty, and I vote to go back. Why, there's that old scamp of a Francis
making a bee-line for the 'Hand in Hand'; n'mind, I won't have to wear
his head in the morning."

Miss Morgan chatted all the way back uninterruptedly, disclosing a more
than comprehensive knowledge of all the affairs of the village in which
she had lived some ten days or less.

At the gate of "The Roost" she stopped suddenly. "My, what a pity!"

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing; only I might have called and seen Mrs Harmer. She has such a
pretty daughter, and I'd have liked you to have seen her, for she's the
image of Fanny Lambert." She stared full at Mr Bevan as she said this,
and there was a something in her tone and a something in her manner, and
a something in her glance that made Charles Bevan lose control of his
facial capillaries and blush.

"Fanny's cooked him," thought the lady of the blue eyes as she retired
to dress for dinner. "But what in the nation did he mean by saying he
did not know her?"

"What the deuce made her say that in such a way?" asked Mr Bevan of
himself as he assumed the clothes laid out for him by the careful
Strutt.



CHAPTER III

A CURE FOR BLINDNESS


"The British thoroughbred is not played out by any means. Look at the
success of imported blood all over the world. Look at Phantom, the
grandsire of Voltaire, and Bay Middleton----" Mr Bevan paused. He was
addressing George Lambert, and suddenly found that he was addressing the
entire dinner-table in one of those hiatuses of conversation in which
every tongue is suddenly held.

"Yes," said Hamilton-Cox, continuing some desultory remarks on
literature, in general, into which this eruption of stud book had
broken; "but you see the old French ballads are for the most part by the
greatest of all poets, Time. Beside those the greatest modern poems seem
gaudy and Burlington Arcady, if I may use the expression. An old
folk-song that has been handed from generation to generation, played on,
so to speak, like an old fiddle by all sorts of hands, gains a sweetness
and richness never imagined by the simple-minded person who wrote it or
invented it.

"You write poems?" asked Miss Morgan.

"My dear lady," sighed Hamilton-Cox, "nobody writes poems nowadays, or
if they do they keep the fact a secret. I have a younger brother who
writes poetry----"

"Thought you said no one wrote it."

"Younger brothers are nobodies. I say I have a younger brother, he
writes most excellent verse--reams of it. Some years ago he would have
been pursued by publishers. Well, only the other day he copied out some
of his most cherished productions and approached a London publisher with
them. He entered the office at five o'clock, and some few minutes later
the people in Piccadilly were asking of each other, 'What's all that row
in Vigo Street?' No, a publisher of to-day would as soon see a burglar
in his office as a poet."

"I never took much stock in poetry," said the practical Miss Morgan.
"I'm like Mr Bevan."

"I can't stand the stuff," said Charles. "_The Boy Stood on the Burning
Deck_, and all that sort of twaddle, makes me ill."

Pamela looked slightly pained. Charles was enjoying his dinner; Burgundy
and Moselle had induced a slight flush to suffuse his countenance. If
you are engaged and a gourmand never let your _fiancée_ see you eat. A
man mad drunk is to the sensitive mind a less revolting picture than a
man "enjoying his food."

"I heard a man once," said Miss Morgan, "he was squiffy----"

"Lulu!"

"Well, he was; and he was reciting _I Stood on the Bridge at Midnight_.
He'd got everything mixed, and had got as far as


     "'I stood on the moon by bridgelight
     As the church was striking the tower--'


when every one laughed, and he sat down--on another man's hat. That's
the sort of poetry I like, something to make you laugh. Gracious! what's
the good of manufacturing misery and letting it loose in little poems
to buzz round and torment people? isn't there enough misery ready made?
Hood's _Song of the Shirt_ always makes me cry."

"Hood," said Professor Wilson, "was a man of another age, a true poet.
He could not have written his _Song of the Shirt_ to-day; the
decadence----"

"Now, excuse me," said Hamilton-Cox, "we have fought that question of
decadence out, you and I. Hood, I admit, could not have written his
_Song of the Shirt_ to-day, simply because shirts are manufactured
wholesale by machinery, and he would have to begin it.
'Whir--whir--whir,' which would not be poetry. Women slave at coats and
waistcoats and other garments nowadays, and you could scarcely write a
song of the waistcoat or a song of the pair of--you understand my point.
Poetry is very false, the matchbox-maker is as deserving of the poet's
attention as the shirt-maker, yet a poem beginning 'Paste, paste, paste'
would be received with laughter, not with tears. You say we are
decadents because we don't encourage poetry. I say we are not, we are
simply more practical--poetry is to all intents and purposes dead----"

"Is it?" said George Lambert. "Is _King Lear_ dead? I was crying over
him last night, but it wasn't at his funeral I was crying. Is old
Suckling dead? I bought a first edition of him some time ago, and the
fact wasn't mentioned or hinted at in the verses. Is Sophocles dead? Old
Maloney at Trinity pounded him into my head, and he's there now alive as
ever; and if I was blind to-morrow, I'd still have the skies over his
plays to look at and the choruses to hear. Ah no, Mr Cox, poetry is not
dead, but they don't write it just now. They don't write it, but it's in
every one's heart waiting to be tapped, only there's no man with an
augur sharp enough and true enough to do the tapping."

Pamela looked pleased.

"I did not know that you were fond of poetry," she said.

"I love it," said Lambert, in a tone that reminded Charles Bevan of
Fanny's tone when she declared her predilection for cats.

"I declare it's delightful," said Professor Wilson, "to find a man of
the world who knows all about horses, and is a good billiard-player,
and all that, confessing a love for poetry."

"Perhaps Mr Lambert is a poet himself," said Hamilton-Cox, with a
suspicion of a sneer, "or has written poetry."

"Poetry! yards of it," answered the accused with a mellow laugh, "when I
was young and--wise. The first poem I ever wrote was all about the moon;
I wrote it when I was eleven, and sent it to a housemaid. Oh, murder!
but the things that we do when we are young."

"Did she read it?"

"She couldn't read; it was in the days before the Board schools and the
higher education of women. She couldn't read, she was forty, and ugly as
sin; and she boxed my ears and told my mother, and my mother told my
father, and he leathered me. He said, 'I'll teach you to write poetry to
housemaids.' But somehow," said Mr Lambert, admiring with one eye the
ruby-tinted light in his glass of port, "somehow, with all his teaching,
I never wrote a poem to a housemaid again."

"That must have been a loss to literature."

"Yes, but it was a gain to housemaids; and as housemaids seem the main
producers of novels and _poems_ nowadays, begad," said Mr Lambert,
"it's, after all, a gain to literature."

"That's one for you, Cox," said Professor Wilson, and Hamilton-Cox
laughed, as he could well afford to do, for his lucubrations brought him
in a good fifteen hundred a year, and his reputation was growing.

On the lawn, under the starlit night after dinner, Bevan had his
_fiancée_ for a moment alone. They sat in creaky basket-work chairs a
good yard apart from each other. The moon was rising over the hills and
deep, dark woods of Sussex, the air was warm and perfumed: it was an
ideal night for love-making.

"When I left you I had some dinner at the Nord," said Mr Bevan, tipping
the ash off his cigar. "The worst dinner I've ever had, I think. Upon my
word, I think it was the worst dinner I ever had. When I got to Dover I
was so tired I turned into the hotel, and came on next morning. What
sort of crossing did you have?"

"Oh, very fine," said Pamela, stifling a yawn, and glancing sideways at
a group of her guests dimly seen in a corner of the garden, but happy,
to judge from the laughter that came from them.

"Are the Napiers back in England yet?"

"No, they are still in Paris."

"What on earth do they want staying there for so long? it must be empty
now."

"Yes, it was emptying fast when we left, wasn't a soul left scarcely. Do
you know, I have a great mind to run over to Ostend for a few weeks. The
Napiers are going there; it's rather fun, I believe."

"I wouldn't. What's the good of going to these foreign places? stay
here."

Pamela was silent, and the inspiriting dialogue ceased.

A great beetle moving through the night across the garden filled the air
with its boom. The group in the corner of the garden still were laughing
and talking; amidst their voices could be distinguished that of
Hamilton-Cox. Mr Cox had not a pleasant voice; it was too highly
pitched, and it jarred on the ear of Mr Bevan and on his soul. His soul
was in an irritable mood. When we speak of the soul we refer to an
unknown quantity, and when we speak of its condition we refer sometimes,
perhaps, to just a touch of liver, or sometimes to an extra glass of
champagne.

"I can't make out what induces you to surround yourself with those sort
of people," said Mr Bevan, casting his cigar-end away and searching for
his cigarette case.

"What sort of people?"

"Oh, that writer man."

"Hamilton-Cox?"

"Yes--is that his name?"

"I am not surrounding myself with Mr Cox; the thing is physically and
physiologically impossible. Do talk sense, Charles."

Charles retired into silence, and Miss Pursehouse yawned again,
sub-audibly. After a few moments--"Where did you pick up the Lamberts?"

"You mean Mr Lambert and his daughter?"

"Has he a daughter?"

"Has he a daughter? Why, Lulu Morgan, when I asked her what you and she
had found to talk about, said Fanny Lambert----"

"It is perfectly immaterial what Miss Morgan said; some of her sayings
are scarcely commendable. I believe she did say something about a Miss
Lambert. When I said 'has he a daughter?' I spoke with a meaning."

"I am glad to hear that."

"What I meant was, that it would have been much better for him to have
brought his daughter down here with him."

"Do you mean to insinuate that she is--unable to take care of herself in
town?"

"I mean to insinuate nothing, but according to my old-fashioned
ideas----"

"Go on, this is interesting," said Miss Pursehouse, who guessed what was
coming.

"According to my old-fashioned ideas it is scarcely the thing for a man,
a married man, to pay a visit----"

"You mean it's improper for me to have Mr Lambert staying here as a
guest?" "Improper was not the word I used."

"Oh, nonsense! you meant it. Well, I think I am the best judge of my own
propriety, and I see nothing improper in the transaction. My aunt is
here, Lulu Morgan is here, you are here, Professor Wilson is here,
there's a poet coming to-morrow--I suppose that's improper too. I do
wish you would be sensible; besides, Mr Lambert is not a married man,
he is a widower."

"Does he know that you are engaged?"

"Sure, I don't know. I don't go about with a placard with 'I am engaged'
written on it on my back. Why do you ask?"

"Well--um--if a stranger had been here at tea to-day he would scarcely
have thought that the engaged couple----"

"Go on, this is delightful; it's absolutely bank-holidayish--the engaged
couple--go on."

"Were you and I."

"You mean you and _me_?"

"Yes."

"The behaviour of 'engaged couples' in decent society is, I believe,
pretty much the same as our behaviour has been, and I hope will be. How
would you have it? Would you like to walk about, I clinging to your arm,
and you playing a mouth-organ? Ought we to exchange hats with each
other? Shall I call you Choly and put ice down your neck at dinner?
Ought we to hire a brake and go on a bean feast? I wish you would
instruct me. I hate to appear _gauche_, and I hate not to do the correct
thing."

"Vulgarity is always painful to me," said Mr Bevan, "but senseless
vulgarity is doubly so."

"Thanks, your compliments are charming."

"I was not complimenting you, I simply----"

"I know, simply hinting that I was senseless and vulgar."

"I never----"

"I know. Shall we change the subject--what's all this?"

"Please come and help us," said Miss Morgan, coming up. "We've got the
astronomical telescope, and we can't make head or tail of it."

Miss Pursehouse rose and approached the group surrounding an
astronomical telescope that stood on the lawn. It was trained on the
moon, and Hamilton-Cox, with a hand over one eye and the other eye at
the eyepiece, was making an observation.

"Sometimes I can see stars, and sometimes nothing. I can't see the moon
at all."

"Shut the other eye," said Lambert.

"Perhaps," said Miss Pursehouse, "if you remove the cap from the
telescope you will be able to see better. A very simple thing sometimes
cures blindness."



CHAPTER IV

TIC-DOULOUREUX


Mr Bevan found no chance for a _tête-à-tête_ with his _fiancée_ again
that night, perhaps because he did not seek one; he was not in the
humour for love-making. He felt--to use the good old nursery term that
applies so often, so very often, to grown-ups--"fractious."

He retired to his bedroom at half-past eleven, and was sitting with an
unlit cigarette in his mouth, staring at the wood-fire brightly burning
in his grate, when a knock came to the door and Lambert appeared.

"I just dropped in to say good-night. Am I disturbing you?"

"Not a bit; sit down and have a cigarette."

Mr Lambert helped himself to a Marcovitch from a box on the table, drew
up an easy-chair to the fire and sank into it with a sigh.

"It seems funny," said he in a meditative tone, "that I should be
sitting here smoking and yarning with you to-night, and only yesterday,
so to speak, we were fighting like bull-dogs; but we're friends now, and
you must come and see me when you're back in town. You live in the
'Albany'? I had rooms there once, years ago--years ago. Lord! what a
change has come over London since the days when Evans' was stuffed of a
night with all manner of people--the rows and ructions I remember! The
things that went on. One night in Evans' I remember an old gentleman
coming in and ordering a chop, and no sooner had he put on his
spectacles and settled down to it with a smile all over his face, than
Bob O'Grady, of the 10th--Black O'Grady--who'd been watching him--he was
drunk as a lord--rose up and said, ''Scuse me,' he said, and took the
chop by the shank-bone and flung it on the stage. A man could take his
whack in those days, and be none the worse for it; but men are
different, somehow, now, and they go in for tea and muffins and nerves
just as the women used to, when I was twenty; and the women, begad, are
the best men now'days. Look at Miss Pursehouse! as charming as a woman
and as clever as a man. Look at this house of hers! One would think a
man owned it, everything is so well done: brandies and sodas at your
elbows, matches all over the place, and electric bells and a telephone.
That's the sort of woman for me--not that I'm not fond of the
old-fashioned sort of woman too. Fanny, my daughter--I must introduce
you to her--is as old-fashioned as they make 'em. Screeches if she sees
a rat, and knows nothing of woman's rights or the higher education of
females, and is always ready to turn on the water-works, bless her
heart! ready and willing to cry over anything you may put before her
that's got the ghost of a cry in it. But, bless you! what's the good of
talking about old-fashioned or modern women? From Hecuba down, they're
all the same--born to deceive us and make our lives happy."

"Can't see how a woman that deceives a man can make him happy."

"My dear fellow, sure, what's happiness but illusion, and what's
illusion but deception, and talking about deception, aren't men--the
blackguards!--just as bad at deceiving as women?"

Mr Bevan made no reply to this; he shifted uneasily in his chair.

"You live at Highgate?" he said.

Lambert woke up from a reverie he had fallen into with a start.

"Yes, bad luck to it! I've got a house there I can't get rid of, and,
talking of old-fashioned things, it's an old-fashioned house. There
aren't any electric bells, and if there were you'd as likely as not ring
up the ghost. For there's a ghost there, sure enough; she nearly
frightened the gizzard out of my butler James."

He leaned back luxuriously in his chair, blowing cigarette rings at the
fire, whilst Charles Bevan mentally recalled the vision of "My butler
James."

He could not but admit that Lambert carried his poverty exceedingly
well, and with a much better grace than that with which many men carry
their wealth. The impression that Fanny Lambert had made upon him was
not effaced in any way by the impression made upon him by her father.
Lambert was not an impossible man. Wildly extravagant he might be, and
reckless to the verge of lunacy, but he was a gentleman; and in saying
the word "gentleman," my dear sir or madam I do not refer to birth.
There lives many a hideous bounder who yet can fling his
great-great-great-grandfather at your head, and many a noble-minded
gentleman, the present or past existence of whose father is demonstrable
only by the logic of physiology.

Lambert went off to his room at twelve, and Mr Bevan passed a broken
night. He dreamt of lawyers and sunflowers. He dreamt that he saw old
Francis, the village lunatic, waiting at the cross-roads; and when he
asked him what he was waiting for, Francis replied that he was waiting
to see his (Mr Bevan's) marriage procession go by: a dream which was
scarcely a hopeful omen, considering the object of the old man's daily
vigil as revealed by Lulu Morgan.

He came down to breakfast late. His hostess did not appear, and Miss
Morgan announced that her friend was suffering from tic-douloureux.

"'S far as I can make out, it's like having the grippe in one eye. I've
physicked her with Bile Beans and Perry Davis, and I've sent for some
Antikamnia. If she's not better by luncheon I'll send for the doctor."

She was not down by luncheon. After that meal, Charles, strolling across
the hall to the billiard-room, felt something pluck at his sleeve. It
was Miss Morgan.

"I want to speak to you alone for a minute," said she. "Come into the
garden; there's no one there."

He followed her, much wondering, and they passed down a shady path till
they lost sight of the house.

"Pamela's worried," said Lulu, "and I want to talk to you about her----"

"Why, what can be----"

"We've been sitting up all night, she and I, and we've been discussing
things, you 'specially."

"Thank you----"

"Now, don't you be mad, for Pamela's vury fond of you, and I like you,
for you're a right good sort; but, see here, Pamela thinks she's made a
mistake."

A queer new feeling entered Mr Bevan's mind, peeped round and passed
through it, so to speak--a feeling of relief--or more strictly speaking,
release.

"Indeed?"

"She thinks you have both made a mistake, and--you know----"

"The fact is, she doesn't want to marry me; why not say it at once? or,
rather, why doesn't she say so to me frankly, instead of deputing
another person to do so?"

"There's a letter," said Miss Morgan, producing one from her pocket.
"She wrote it and told me to give it to you; it's eight pages long, and
all sorts of things in it--she's very fond of you--keep it and read it.
But I tell you one line that's in it, she says she will always feel as a
sister to you, or be a sister to you, or words to that effect--that's
fatal--once a girl says that she's said the last word."

"I don't think she ever cared for me, really," said Mr Bevan--"let us
sit down on this seat--no, I don't think she really ever cared for me."

"What _made_ you two get engaged"

"Why should we not?"

"Because you're too much alike; you are both rich, and both steady and
well-balanced, you know, and that sort of thing. Likes ought never to
get married. Dear--dear--dear--what a pity----"

"What?"

"I was only thinking of all the love-making there's wasted in the world.
Now I know so many girls who would suit you to a T. I'll tell you of
one, if you like----"

"Thank you, I--um----"

"I was thinking of Fanny Lambert," said Miss Morgan in a dreamy voice.
"The girl I told you of yesterday----"

Now, Mr Bevan was the last man in the world--as I daresay you
perceive--to discuss his feelings with any one. But Miss Morgan had a
patent method of her own for extracting confidences, of making people
talk out, as she would have expressed it herself.

"I said to you yesterday that I had never met Miss Lambert: I had
reasons connected with some law business for saying so--as a matter of
fact, I have met her--once."

"Oh, that's quite enough. If you've met Fanny Lambert once, you have met
her for ever. Does she like you?--I don't ask you do you like her, for,
of course, you do."

"I think--she does."

"You mustn't think--women hate men that think, they like them to be
sure. If a man was only bold enough he could marry any woman on earth."

"Is that your opinion?"

"'Tis, and my opinion is worth having. What a woman wants most is some
one to make up her mind for her. Go and make Fanny's mind up for her;
you and she are just suited."

"In what way?"

"To begin with, you're rich and she's poor."

"You said yesterday that she was rich."

"Yes, but Pamela told me last night the Lamberts are simply stone-broke.
Mr Lambert told her all his affairs, his estates are all encumbered. She
says he's just like a child, and wants protecting; so he is, and so's
Fanny; they're both a pair of children, and you are just the man to keep
Fanny straight, and make her life happy and buy her beautiful clothes
and diamonds. Why, she'll be the rage of London, Fanny will, if she's
only properly staged--and she's a dear and a good woman, and would make
any man happy. My!"

Mr Bevan had taken Miss Morgan's hand in his and squeezed it.

"Thank you for saying all that," said he. "Few women praise another
woman. I shall leave here by this evening's train, of course; I cannot
stay here any longer. I will think over what course I will pursue."

"For heaven's sake, don't think, or you'll find her snapped up; I have a
prevision that you will. Go and say to Fanny 'marry me.' I _do_ want to
see her settled, she's not like me, that can rough it, and she's just
the girl to fling herself away on some rubbish."

"I will see," said Mr Bevan. "I frankly confess that Miss Lambert--of
course, this is between you and me--that Miss Lambert has made me think
a good deal about her, but these things are not done in a moment."

"Aren't they? I tell you love-making is just like making pancakes, if
you don't do them quick they're done for. You just remember this, that
many a man has proposed to a girl the first time he's met her and been
accepted. Women like it, it's so different from the other thing--and,
look here, kiss her first and ask her afterwards. Have two or three
glasses of champagne--you've just got the steady brain that can stand
it--and it will liven you up. I'm an old stager."

"I will write to Miss Pursehouse from London to-morrow."

"Dear me! I don't believe you've been listening to a word I've been
saying. Well, go your own gate, as the old woman said to the cow that
_would_ burst through the hedge and tumbled into the chalk-pit and broke
its leg. What you going to do with that letter?"

"I will read it in the train."



CHAPTER V

THE AMBASSADOR


It never rains but it pours. It was pouring just now with Leavesley.

The morning after the excursion to Epping Forest he had written a long
letter to Fanny: a business-like letter, explanatory of his prospects in
life.

He had exhibited in this year's Academy; he had exhibited in the New
gallery--more, he had sold the Academy picture for forty pounds. He had
a hundred a year of his own, which, as he sagaciously pointed out, was
"something." If Fanny would only wait a year, give him something to hope
for, something to live for, something to work for. Three pages of
business-like statements ending with a fourth page of raving
declarations of love. The letter of a lunatic, as all love-letters more
or less are.

He had posted this and waited for a reply, but none had come. He little
knew that his letter and a bill for potatoes were behind a plate on the
kitchen dresser at "The Laurels," stuffed there by Susannah in a fit of
abstraction, also the outcome of the troubles of love.

On top of this all sorts of minor worries fell upon him. Mark Moses and
Sonenshine, stimulated by the two pounds ten paid on account, were
bombarding him with requests for more. A colour-man was also active and
troublesome, and a bootmaker lived on the stairs.

Belinda, vice-president of the institution during Mrs Tugwell's sojourn
at Margate, was "cutting up shines," cooking disgracefully, not cleaning
boots, giving "lip" when remonstrated with, and otherwise revelling in
her little brief authority. A man who had all but commissioned a
portrait of a bull-dog sent word to say that the sittings couldn't take
place as the dog was dead.

Then a cat had slipped into his bedroom and kittened on his best suit
of clothes; and Fernandez, the picture dealer to whom he had taken the
John the Baptist on the top of a four-wheeler, had offered him five
pounds ten for it; and, worst of all, driven by necessity, he had not
haggled, but had taken the five pounds ten, thus for ever ruining
himself with Fernandez, who had been quite prepared to pay fifteen.

The Captain, who had suddenly come in for a windfall of eighty pounds,
was going on like a millionaire--haunting the studio half-tipsy, profuse
with offers of assistance and drinks, and, to cap all, the weather was
torrid. The only consolation was Verneede, who would listen for hours to
the praises of Miss Lambert, nodding his head like a Chinese mandarin
and smoking Leavesley's cigarettes.

"I don't know what to do," said the unhappy young man, during one of
these conferences, "I don't know what to do. It's so unlike her."

"Write again."

"Not I--at least, how can I? If she won't answer _that_ letter there's
no use in writing any more."

"Call."

"I'm not going to creep round like a dog that has been beaten."

"True."

"She may be ill, for all I know. How do I know that she is not ill?"

"Illness, my dear Leavesley, is one of those things----"

"I know--but the question is, how am I to find out?"

"Could you not apply to their family physician? I should go to him,
frankly----"

"But I don't know who their doctor is--do talk sense. See here! could
_you_ call and ask--ask did she get home all right, and that sort of
thing?"

"Most certainly, with pleasure, if it would relieve your feelings.
Anything--anything I can do, my dear Leavesley, in an emergency like
this you can count on me to do."

"You needn't mention my name."

"I shall carefully abstain."

"Unless she asks, you know."

"Certainly, unless she asks."

"Armbruster came in this morning, he's going to America. He's got on to
a big firm for book illustrating; he wanted me to go with him and try
my luck--offered to pay the expenses. You might hint, perhaps, if the
subject turns up, that you think I am going to America."

"Certainly."

"When can you go?"

"Any time."

"You might go now, for I'm awfully anxious to hear if she is all right.
What's the time? Two--yes--if you go now you will get there about four."

"Highgate?"

"Yes--'The Laurels,' John's Road. Have you any money?"

"Unfortunately I am rather unprovided with the necessary----"

"Wait."

Leavesley went to a little jug on the mantel and turned the contents of
it into his hand.

"Here's five shillings; will that be enough?"

"Ample."

"Now go, like a good fellow, and do come back here straight."

"As an arrow."

"Don't say anything about my letter."

"Not a word, not a word."

Mr Verneede departed, and the painter went on with his painting,
feeling very much as Noah must have felt when the dove flew out of the
Ark.

Mr Verneede first made straight for his lodgings. He inhabited a
top-floor back in Maple Street, a little street leading out of the
King's Road.

Here he blacked his boots, put bear's grease on his hair, and assumed a
frock-coat a shade more respectable than the one he usually wore. Then,
with his coat tightly buttoned, his best hat on his head, and his
umbrella under his arm, he made off on his errand revolving in his
wonderful mind the forthcoming interview. To assist thought, he turned
into the four-ale bar of the "Spotted Dog." Here stood a woman with a
baby in her arms, a regular customer, who was explaining domestic
troubles to the sympathetic barmaid. Seeing Verneede seated with his ale
before him, she included him in her audience. Half an hour later the old
gentleman, having given much advice on the rearing of babies and
management of husbands, emerged from the "Spotted Dog" slightly flushed
and entirely happy.

It seemed so much pleasanter and cooler to enter a public house than an
omnibus, that the "King's Arms," where the omnibuses stood, swallowed
him easily. Here an anarchistical house-painter, who was destructing the
British Empire, included him in his remarks; and it was, somehow, nearly
five o'clock before he left the "King's Arms" more flushed and most
entirely happy, and took an omnibus for Hammersmith.

At nine o'clock he was wandering about Hammersmith asking people to
direct him to "The Hollies" in James' Road; at eleven he was criticising
the London County Council in a bar-room somewhere in Shepherd's Bush,
but it might have been in Paris or Berlin, Vienna or Madrid, for all
_he_ knew or cared.



CHAPTER VI

A SURPRISE VISIT


Verneede having departed on his mission, Leavesley resumed his work with
a feeling of relief.

He had done something. There is nothing that strains the mind so much
as sitting waiting with hands folded, so to speak, doing nothing.

When Noah closed the trap-door of the Ark having let forth the dove, he
no doubt followed its flight with his mind's eye--here flitting over
wastes of water, here perched on the island he desired.

Even so Leavesley, as he worked, followed the flight of Verneede towards
the object of his desires.

Leavesley was one of those unhappy people who meet their pleasures and
their troubles half-way. He was an imaginative man, moving in a most
unimaginative world, and as a result he was always knocking his nose
against the concrete. Needless to say, his forecasts were nearly always
wrong. If he opened a letter thinking it contained a bill, it, ten to
one, enclosed a theatre ticket or a cheque, and if he expected a cheque,
fifty to one he received a bill.

This temperament, however, sometimes has its advantages, for he was
sitting now quite contentedly painting and getting on with his picture,
whilst Mr Verneede was sitting quite contentedly in the bar of the
"Spotted Dog."

He was also smoking furiously with all the windows shut. To the artistic
temperament at times comes moods, when it shuts all the windows,
excluding noise and air, lights the foulest old pipe it can find, and,
to use a good old public school term, "fugs."

Suddenly he stopped work, half-sprang to his feet, palette in one hand,
pipe in the other. A footstep was on the landing, a girl's footstep--it
was _her_!

The door opened, and his aunt stood before him.

Since the other night when Fanny had dined with them, Miss Hancock had
been much exercised in her mind.

How on earth had Leavesley known of the affair? Had he referred to Fanny
when he made that mysterious remark about his uncle and a girl, or was
there _another_ girl? She had an axiom that when a man once begins to
make a fool of himself he doesn't know where to stop; she had also a
strong dash of her nephew's imaginative temperament. Fanny had troubled
her at first; seraglios were now rising in her mental landscape. She had
an intuition that her brother had broken the ice as regards the other
sex, and a dreadful fear that now he had broken the ice he was going to
bathe.

"Whew!" said Miss Hancock, waving her parasol before her to dispel the
clouds of smoke.

"Aunt!"

"For goodness sake, open the window. Open something--achu!--do you
_live_ in this atmosphere?"

Leavesley opened wide the windows, tapped the ashes of his pipe out on a
sill, and turned to his aunt, who had taken her seat in an uncomfortable
manner on a most comfortable armchair.

"This is an unexpected pleasure!"

Miss Hancock made no reply. It was the first time she had been in the
studio, the first time she had been in any studio.

She noticed the dust and the litter. The place was, in fact,
extraordinarily untidy, for Belinda, engaged just now in the fascination
of a policeman, had scarcely time even for such ordinary household
duties as making beds without turning the mattresses, and flinging eggs
into frying pans full of hot grease.

As fate would have it, or curiosity rather, Belinda at this moment
entered the studio, attired in a sprigged cotton gown four inches
shorter in front than behind as if to display to their full a pair of
wonderful feet shod in list slippers. Her front hair was bound in
Hindes' hair-binders tight down to her head, displaying a protruberant
forehead that seemed to have been polished. It was the only thing
polished about Belinda, and she made a not altogether pleasing picture
as she slunk into the studio to "look for something," but in reality to
take stock of the visitor.

It would have been much happier for her if she had stayed away.

She was slinking out again when Miss Hancock, who had been following her
every movement, said:

"Stop, please!"

Belinda, with her hand on the door handle, faced round.

"Are you the servant here?"

"Yus"--sulkily.

"And I suppose you are paid to keep this room in order. Where's your
mistress?"

"She's in Margate," cut in Leavesley.

"Stop twiddling that door handle," said Miss Hancock, entirely ignoring
Leavesley, "and attend to what I'm saying. If you are paid to keep this
room in order you are defrauding your mistress, and girls who defraud
their mistresses end in something worse. Go, get a duster."

The feelings of Cruiser, when he first came under the hands of Mr Rarey,
may have been comparable to the feelings of Belinda before this
servant-tamer.

She recognised a mistress, but she did not give in at once. She stood
looking sulkily from Leavesley to his aunt, and from his aunt to
Leavesley.

Miss Hancock had no legal power over her, it was all moral.

"Go, get a duster and a broom," cried Miss Hancock, stamping her foot.

One second more the animal stood in mute rebellion, then it went off and
got the duster and the broom.

"Take up that strip of carpet," commanded Mr Leavesley's aunt, when the
duster and the broom returned in the hands of the animal. "Whew! Throw
it outside the door and beat it in the back garden, if you have such a
thing--burn it if you haven't. Give me the duster. Now sweep the floor,
whilst I do these shelves; Frank, put those books in a heap. Whew! does
no one ever clean this place? Ha! what are you doing sweeping under the
couch? Pull out that couch. Mercy!!!"

Under the couch there was a heap of miscellaneous things--empty
cigarette tins, an empty beer bottle, an empty whisky bottle, half a
pack of cards, a dress tie, a glove, "The Three Musketeers," and an old
waistcoat--_and_ dust, mounds of dust.

Miss Hancock looked at this. Like the coster who looked back along the
City road to see the way strewn with cabbages, lettuces, and onions
which had leaked from his faulty barrow, language was quite inadequate
to express her feelings.

"Go, get a dust-pan," she said at last, "and a basket. Be quick about
it. Mercy!!!"

By the time the place was in order, Belinda, to Leavesley's
astonishment, had become transformed from a sulky-looking slattern to a
semi-respectable-looking servant girl.

"That will do," said Miss Hancock in a magisterial voice, when the last
consignment of rubbish had been removed. "Now, you can go."

As the boar sharpens its tusks against a tree preparatory to using them
to carve human flesh, so had Miss Hancock sharpened the tusks of her
temper upon Belinda.

"No thanks, I don't want any tea," she said, replying to Leavesley's
invitation. "I've come to ask you for an explanation."

"What of?"

"What you said the other day."

"What did I say the other day?"

"About your uncle."

"About my uncle?" he replied, wrinkling his forehead. He couldn't for
the life of him think what she was driving at; he had quite forgotten
his Parthian remark about the "girl," the thing had no root in his
mind--a bubble made of words that had risen to the surface of his mind,
burst, and been forgotten.

Miss Hancock had her own way of dealing with hypocrites. "Well, we will
say no more about your uncle. How about Miss Lambert?"

Leavesley made a little spring from his chair, as if some one had stuck
a pin into him, and changed colour violently.

"How--what do you know about Miss Lambert?----"

"I know all about it," said Miss Hancock grimly. She was so very clever
that she had got hold of the wrong end of the stick entirely, as very
clever people sometimes do. If she had come to him frankly she would
have found out that he was Fanny's lover, and not James Hancock's
confidant and go-between, as she now felt sure he was.

Unhappy Leavesley! his love affair with Fanny seemed destined to be
mulled by every one who had a hand in it.

"If you know all about it," he said sulkily, "that ends the matter."

"Unfortunately it doesn't."

"What do you mean?"

"It's dreadful," said Miss Hancock, apparently addressing a tobacco jar
that stood on the table, "it's dreadful to watch a man consciously and
deliberately making a fool of himself--to sit by and watch it, and not
be able to move a hand."

Of course he thought she referred to himself, but he was so accustomed
to hear his aunt calling people fools that her remarks did not ruffle
him.

"But what I can't understand is this," he said. "Who _told_ you about
Fanny--I mean Miss Lambert?"

"Fanny!" said the lady with a sniff. "You call her Fanny?"

"Of course."

"Of _course_!"

"Why not?"

"Why _not_!"

"Yes."

"The world has altered since I was a girl, that's all." Then with deep
sarcasm--"Does your uncle know that you call her Fanny?"

"Of course not; I've never told him."

Miss Hancock stared at him stonily, then she spoke. "Are _you_ in love
with her too?" she asked.

"What do you mean by 'too'?"

"Frank Leavesley, don't shuffle and prevaricate. Are you in love with
her?"

"Of course I am; every one who meets her must love her. I believe old
Verneede is in love with her. Love with her! I'd lay my life down for
her, but it's hopeless--hopeless----"

"I trust so indeed," replied Miss Hancock.

For a minute he thought his aunt must be a little bit mad: this was more
than her ordinary contrariness; then he went back to his original
question.

"I want to know who told you about this."

"Bridgewater, for one," replied Miss Hancock.

"Bridgewater!"

"Yes, Bridgewater."

"But he knows nothing about it," cried Leavesley. "He couldn't have told
you."

"He told me everything--Miss Lambert's visit to the Zoological Gardens,
her----"

"You may as well be exact whilst you are about it; it wasn't the
Zoological Gardens, it was Epping Forest."

"Frank Leavesley, a lie is bad enough, but a silly lie is much worse.
Miss Lambert herself told me it was the Zoological Gardens; perhaps she
has been to Epping Forest as well; perhaps next it will be a visit to
Paris. _I_ wash my hands of the affair."

"You have seen Miss Lambert?"

"No matter what I have seen. I have seen enough to make me open my
eyes--and shut them again."

Leavesley was now fuming about the studio. What on earth had possessed
Bridgewater? How on earth had he found out about the affair, and how had
he come to twist Epping Forest into the Zoological Gardens?

"----_and_ shut them again," resumed Miss Hancock. "However, it is none
of my business, but if there is such a thing as honour you ought, in my
humble opinion, to go to your uncle and tell him the state of your
feelings towards Miss Lambert."

"I'll go," said Leavesley--"go to the office to-day; and if uncle
chooses to keep that antiquated liar of a Bridgewater in his service any
longer after what I tell him, it will be his own look-out."

Miss Hancock had not reckoned on this, she looked uncomfortable.

"Bridgewater is an honourable man, who has acted for the best."

"I know," said Leavesley. "Now, I must go out; I have some business.
Are you sure you won't have some tea?"

"No tea, thank you," replied Miss Hancock, rising to depart.



CHAPTER VII

THE UNEXPLAINED


It was just as well she refused the tea, for there was no one to make
it. She had hypnotised Belinda, and Belinda coming out of the hypnotic
state was having hysterical convulsions in the kitchen, assisted by the
charwoman.

"Belinda," cried Leavesley down the kitchen stairs, he had rung his bell
vainly, "are you there?"

"She's hill, sir," replied a hoarse voice, "I'm a-lookin' arter her."

"Oh, well, if a Mr Verneede calls, will you ask him to wait for me? I'll
be back soon."

"Yessir."

He left the house and proceeded as fast as omnibuses could take him to
Southampton Row.

Bridgewater was out, but Mr Wolf, the second in command, ushered him
into Hancock's room.

"Well," said Hancock, who was writing a letter--"Oh, it's you. Sit down,
sit down for a minute."

He went on with his letter, and Leavesley took his seat and sat in a
simmering state listening to the squeaking of the quill pen, and framing
in his mind indictments against Bridgewater.

If he had been in a state of mind to absorb details he might have
noticed that his uncle was looking younger and brighter. But the
youthfulness or brightness of Mr Hancock were indifferent to him
absorbed as he was with his own thoughts.

"Well," said Hancock, finishing his letter with a flourish and leaning
back in his chair.

"Aunt came to see me to-day," said Leavesley, "and I came on here at
once. It's most disgraceful."

"What?"

"Bridgewater. You've got a man in your office who is not to be trusted,
a mischief-making old----"

"Dear me, what's all this? A man in the office not to be trusted? To
whom do you refer?"

"Bridgewater."

"Bridgewater?"

"Yes."

"What has he been doing?"

"Doing! He has been sneaking round to my aunt telling tales about a
lady; that's what he has been doing."

"What lady?"

"A Miss Lambert. He told her she had been to the Zoological Gardens
with----"

Hancock raised his hand. "Don't go on," he said, "I know it all."

"You know it all?"

"Yes, and I have given Bridgewater a right good dressing down--meddling
old stupid!"

Leavesley was greatly taken back at this.

"It's not his fault," continued Hancock. "It's your aunt's fault; she
put him on to spy. However, it's rather a delicate subject, and we won't
pursue it, but"--suddenly and in a friendly tone--"I take it very kindly
of you to come round and tell me this."

"I thought I'd better come," said the young man; "besides, the thing
put me in such a wax. Of course, if he was egged on by aunt, it's not so
much his fault."

"I take it very kindly of you, and we'll say no more about it." He
lapsed into meditation, and Leavesley sat filled with a vague feeling of
surprise.

Every one seemed a little out of the ordinary to-day. Why on earth did
his uncle take this news so very kindly?

"I've been thinking," said Hancock suddenly--then abruptly: "How are you
financially, now?"

"Oh, pretty bad. I had to sell a picture of John the Baptist for five
pounds the other day; it was worth twenty."

"When your mother married your father," said Hancock, leaning back in
his chair, "she flew in the face of her family. He was penniless and a
painter."

"I don't want to hear anything against my father," said Leavesley
tartly. "Yes, he was penniless and a painter, and she married him, and
I'm glad she did. She loved him, that was quite enough."

"If you will excuse me," said Hancock, "I was going to say nothing
against your father. I think a love-match--er--um--well, no matter. I am
only stating the facts. She flew in the face of her family, and as a
result the money that might have been hers, went to your aunt."

"And a nice use she makes of it."

"The hundred a year left you by your parents," resumed the lawyer,
ignoring this reply, "is, I admit, a pittance. I offered you, however,
as the head of the family, and feeling that your mother had not received
exactly justice, I offered you the choice of a profession. I offered to
take you into this office. You refused, preferring to be a painter. Now,
I am not stingy, but I have seen much of the world, and in my
experience, the less money a young man has in starting in life, the more
likely is he to arrive at the top of the tree. You have, however, now
started; I have been making enquiries, and you seem to be working, and I
am pleased with you for two things. Firstly, when you came to me the
other day for money for a--foolish purpose you didn't lie over the
matter and say you wanted the money for your landlady, as nine out of
ten young men would have done. Secondly, for coming to me to-day and
apprising me of the unpleasant intelligence, to which we will not again
refer. I appreciate loyalty."

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out his note-case.

"What's your present liabilities?"

"Oh, I owe about ten pounds."

"Sure that's all?"

"Of course, I'd tell you if it was more; it's somewhere about that."

Hancock took a five-pound note and a ten-pound note out of the
note-case, looked at them both, and then put the ten-pound note back.

"I'm going to lend you five pounds," he said. "It will serve for present
expenses, and I expect you to pay me it back before the end of the
week." He held out the note.

"You had better keep it," said his nephew, "for there's not the remotest
chance of my paying you before the end of the week."

"Take the note," said Hancock testily, "and don't keep me holding it out
all day; you don't know what may happen in the course of a week. Take
the note."

"Well, I'll take it if you _will_ have it so; and I'll pay you back some
time if I don't this week."

"Now good day," said Hancock. "I'm busy."



CHAPTER VIII

RETURN OF THE AMBASSADOR


He left the office feeling depressed. Spent anger generally leaves
depression behind it.

Hancock's admission that his mother had been treated harshly by her
family, though a well-known fact to him, did not decrease his gloom. He
considered the thousands that ought to have fallen to her share, that
had fallen to the share of Patience instead. For a second a wild hatred
of the Hancocks and all their ways filled his breast, and he felt an
inclination to take the five-pound note from his pocket, roll it into a
ball, and fling it into the gutter. Not being a lunatic, he didn't. He
went and dined instead, though it was only a little after five, and
having dined he went back to the studio.

Verneede had not yet returned. At ten o'clock Verneede had not yet
returned. Midnight struck.

"Can he be staying there the night?" thought Leavesley, who had gone to
bed with a novel and a pipe and an ear, so to say, on every footstep
ascending the stairs.

People often stayed the night at the Lamberts' drinking punch and
playing cards; he had done so himself once.

He woke at seven and dressed, and at eight he was standing before the
house of Verneede in Maple Street.

"Hin!" said the landlady, "I should think he was hin; and thankful he
ought to be he's not hin the police station."

"Good gracious, what has happened?"

"Woke us up at two in the mornin' hangin' like a coal sack over the
railin's; might a-tumbled into the airy and broke his neck. Disgraceful,
I call it!"

"May I go up and see him?"

"Yus, you can go up--he's in the top floor back--trouble enough we had
to get him there."

Leavesley went up to the top floor back. The unfortunate Verneede was in
bed, trying to remember things. He had brought his umbrella home safely,
but in the pockets of his clothes, after diligent search in the grey
dawn, he had been able to discover only one halfpenny. To make up for
this deficiency, his head was swelled up till it felt like a pumpkin.

"Good gracious, Verneede," cried Leavesley, staring at him, "what on
earth has happened to you?

"A fit, I think," said Verneede.

"Did you go to Highgate?"

"Of course--of course; pray, my dear Leavesley, hand me the washing
jug."

He began to drink from the jug.

"Stop!" said Leavesley, "you'll burst!"

"I'm better now," said Mr Verneede, placing the jug, half empty, on the
floor, and passing his hand across his brow.

"Then go on and tell me all about it."

Verneede had no recollection of anything at all save a few more or less
unpleasant incidents. He remembered the "Spotted Dog," the "King's
Arms"; he remembered streets; he remembered being turned out of
somewhere.

"Tell you about what?"

"Good gracious--about the Lamberts, of course. What time did you get
there?"

"Half-past two, I think."

"You couldn't; you only left the studio at two."

"Half-past four, I mean; yes, it was half-past four."

"When did you leave?"

Verneede scratched his head.

"Six."

"You saw Miss Lambert?"

"Yes."

"Look here, Verneede, you were all right when you got there, I hope?"

"Perfectly, absolutely."

"What did you talk about?"

"We talked of various topics."

"Did you mention my name?"

"Ah yes," said Verneede, "I told her what you said."

"What?"

"About your going to Australia."

"America, you owl," cried Leavesley.

"America, I mean--America, of course--America."

"What did she say?"

"She said--she hoped you'd have a fine voyage, that the weather would be
fine, in short, or words to that effect."

Leavesley sighed.

"Was that all she said?"

"Absolutely."

"Did you say anything about the letter I wrote her?"

"Yes; I remembered that."

"But I told you _not_."

"It escaped me," said Verneede weakly.

"What did she say?"

"She said it didn't matter; at least that is what I gathered from her."

"How do you mean gathered from her?"

"From her manner."

Leavesley sighed again, and Verneede leaned back on his pillow. He did
not know in the least whether he had been at Lamberts' or not--he hoped
he hadn't.



_PART V_



CHAPTER I

GOUT


Since her visit to Leavesley Miss Hancock felt certain that her system
of petty espionage had been discovered: the question remained as to what
course her brother would take. He had as yet said nothing.

One fact stood before her very plainly: his infatuation for Miss
Lambert. She had examined Fanny very attentively, and despite the fact
that she had plotted and planned for years to keep her brother single,
had he at that moment entered the room with the news that he was engaged
to be married to George Lambert's daughter, she would have received it
not altogether as a blow. In her lifelong opposition to his marrying,
she had always figured his possible wife as a woman who would oust her,
but Fanny was totally unlike all other girls she had ever met--very
different from Miss Wilkinson and the other middle-class young women,
with minds of their own, from whom she had fortunately or unfortunately
guarded her brother. There were new possibilities about Fanny. She was
so soft and so charmingly irresponsible that the idea of hectoring,
ordering, directing and generally sitting upon her was equivalent to the
idea of a new pleasure in life. To order, to put straight, to admonish
were functions as necessary to Miss Hancock's being as excretion or
respiration; a careless housemaid to correct, or a shiftless friend to
advise, called these functions into play; and the process, however it
affected the housemaid or the friend, left Miss Hancock a healthier and
happier woman.

The Almighty, who, however we may look at the fact, made the fly to be
the intimate companion of the spider, seemed in the construction of Miss
Lambert to have had the vital requirements of Miss Hancock decidedly in
view.

She had almost begun to form plans as to Fanny's dress allowance, in the
event of her marriage--how it should be spent; her hair, how it should
be dressed; and her life, how it should be generally made a
conglomeration of petty miseries.

On the night before the day Bevan left for Sussex Mr Hancock and his
great toe had a conversation. What his right great toe said to Mr
Hancock that night I will report very shortly for the benefit of elderly
gentlemen in general; Anacreon has said the thing much better in verse,
but verse is out of date. Said the right great toe of Mr Hancock in a
monologue punctuated with the stabs of a stiletto:

"How old are you? Sixty-three? (stab), that's what you say, but you know
very well you were born sixty-five years and six months ago. Wake up
(stab, stab), you must not go to sleep. Sixty-five--five years more and
you will be seventy; fifteen years more and you'll be _eighty_, and you
are in love (stab, stab, stab). _I'll_ teach you to eat sweet cakes and
ice creams; I'll (stab) teach you to drink Burgundy. And you dared to
call me Arthritic Rheumatism the other night, you (stab) dared! Now, go
to sleep (stab, stab) ... wake up again, I want to speak to you," etc.,
etc., etc.

Gout talks to one very like a woman: you cannot reply to it, it simply
talks on.

At eight o'clock next morning, when Miss Hancock left her room, Boffins
informed her that her brother was ill and wished to see her.

"I'm all right," said James, who was lying in bed with the sheets up to
his nose, "I'm all right--for heaven's sake, don't fidget with that
window blind--I want my letters brought up; shan't go to the office
to-day. You can send round and tell Bridgewater to call, and send for
Carter, I've got a touch of this Arthritic Rheumatism (ow!)--do ask that
servant to make less row on the stairs. No, don't want any breakfast."

"Well, Hancock," said Dr Carter, when he arrived, "got it again--whew!
There's a foot! What have you been eating?"

"Nothing," groaned the patient; "it's worry has done it, I believe."

"Now, don't talk nonsense. What have you been eating and drinking?"

"Well, I believe I had an ice-cream some days ago, and--a cake."

"An ice-cream, and a cake, and a glass of port--come, confess your
sins."

"No, a glass of Burgundy."

"An ice-cream, and a cake, and a glass of Burgundy--well, you can commit
suicide if you choose, but I can only warn you of this that if you wish
to commit suicide in a _most unpleasant manner_ you'll do such a thing
again."

"Dash it, Carter--oh, Lord! go gently, don't touch it there! What's the
good of being alive? I remember the days when I could drink a whole
bottle of port without turning a hair."

"I know--but you're not as young as you were then, Hancock."

"Oh, do say something original--say I'm getting old, and have done with
it!"

"It's not your age so much as your diathesis," said the pitiless Carter.
"It's unfortunate for you, but there you are. You might be worse, every
man is born with a disease. Yours is gout--you might be worse. Suppose
you had aneurism? Now, here's a prescription; get it made up at once.
Thank goodness, you can stand colchicum."

"How long will it be before I'm all right?"

"A week, at least."

"Oh Lord!"

"There, you are grumbling. Remember, my dear fellow, that living is a
business as well as lawyering. Take life easy, and forget the office for
a few days."

"I wasn't thinking of the office--give me that writing-case over there;
I must write a letter."

When Bridgewater arrived half an hour later, he found his master
laboriously addressing an envelope.

"Take that and post it, Bridgewater." Bridgewater took it and placed it
in his pocket without looking at the address upon it, and having
reported on the morning letters, and received advice as to dealing with
one or two matters, ambled off on his errand.

That evening at five o'clock, when Patience brought him up a cup of tea
and the evening newspaper, James, considerably eased by the colchicum
and pills of Dr Carter, said: "Put the tea on the table there, and sit
down, Patience. I wish to speak to you."

Patience sat down, took her knitting from her apron pocket, and began to
knit.

"I have written a letter to-day to Miss Lambert."

"Oh!"

"An important letter, a vitally important letter to me."

"You mean, James, that you have written a letter of proposal--that you
intend, in short, to marry Miss Lambert?"

"That is precisely my meaning."

"Humph!"

"Does the idea displease you?"

"Yes, and no."

"Please explain what you mean by 'yes' and 'no'; the expression lacks
lucidity, to say the least of it."

"I mean that it would be much better for you to remain as you are; but
if you do intend to commit yourself in this way, well--Miss Lambert is
at least a lady."

The keen eye of James examined his sister's face as she spoke, and he
knew that what she said she meant. Despite all his tall talk to
Bridgewater about sending his sister packing her influence upon him was
very strong; thirty years of diffidence to her opinion in the minor
details of life had not passed without leaving their effect upon his
will; besides he, as a business man, had great admiration for her
astuteness and power of dealing with things. Active opposition to his
matrimonial plans would not have altered them, but it would have made
him unhappy.

"I am glad you think that," he said. "Give me the tea."

"Mind," said Miss Hancock, as she handed the beverage, "I wash my hands
of the matter; I think it distinctly unwise, considering your age,
considering her age, considering everything."

"Well, all that lies with me. You will be civil and kind to her,
Patience?"

"It is not my habit to be unkind to any one. You have written, you say,
to her to-day; you wrote without consulting me--the step is taken, and
you must abide by it. I hope it will be for your happiness, James."

He was watching her intently, and was satisfied.

"I wish," he said, putting the cup down on the table beside the bed, "I
wish you knew her better."

"I will call upon her," said Miss Hancock, counting her stitches; "she
left her parasol behind her last night, I will take it back to her----"

"No, don't, for goodness sake!" said James, the Lambert _ménage_ rising
before him, and also a vague dread that his sister, despite her
appearance and words of goodwill--or rather semi-goodwill--might be
traitorously disposed at heart. "At least--I don't know--I suppose it
would be the right thing to do."

"I am not especially anxious to call," said Miss Hancock, who had quite
made up her mind to journey to Highgate on the morrow and spy out the
land of the Lamberts for herself. "In fact, the only possible day I
could call would be to-morrow before noon. I have a meeting in Sloane
Square to attend at five, and on Wednesday I have three engagements, two
on Thursday; Friday I have to spend the day with Aunt Catherine at
Windsor, where I will remain over Sunday."

"Well, call to-morrow and bring her back her parasol--oh, _damn_!"

"James!"

"Oh Lord! I thought some one had shot a bullet into my foot. Give me the
medicine, quick, and send round for Carter. I must have some opium, or
I won't sleep a wink."

Miss Hancock administered the dose, and retired downstairs, when she
sent a message to Dr Carter and ordered the lilac parasol of Miss
Lambert to be wrapped in paper. Then she sent a message to the livery
stables to order the hired brougham, which she employed several times a
week, to be in attendance at 9.30 the following morning, to drive her to
Highgate.

But next morning her brother was so bad that she could not leave him.
But she called one morning later on.



CHAPTER II

THE RESULT


The Lamberts as a rule took things easy in the morning. Breakfast was at
any time that was suitable to the convenience and appetite of each
individual; the things were generally cleared away by half-past eleven
or twelve, a matter of half an hour lost in the forenoon made little
difference in the revolution of their day.

At half-past ten on the morning of Miss Hancock's descent upon her,
Fanny was seated at the breakfast-table. It was a glorious day, filled
with the warmth of summer, the scent of roses, and the songs of birds. A
letter from her father lay beside her on the table; it had arrived by
the morning's post, and contained great news--good news, too, yet the
goodness of it was not entirely reflected in her face.

The worries of life were weighing on Miss Lambert; James Hancock's
unanswered letter was not the least of these. She had laughed on
receiving it, then she had cried. She had written three or four letters
in answer to it, beginning, "Dear Mr Hancock," "My dear Mr Hancock,"
"_Please_ do not think me horrid," etc.; but it was no use, each was a
distinct refusal, yet each seemed either too cold or too warm. "If I
send this," said she, "it will hurt him horribly, and he has been so
kind. Oh dear! why will men be so stupid, they are so nice if they'd
only not worry one to marry them. If I send _this_ it will only make
him think that I will 'have him in the end,' as Susannah says. I wish I
were a man."

Besides love troubles household worries had their place. James had gone
very much to pieces morally in the last few days. He had taken
diligently to drink, the writing and quoting of poetry, and the pawning
of unconsidered trifles; between the bouts, in those fits of remorse,
which may be likened to the Fata Morgana of true repentance, he had
expended his energy on all sorts of household duties not required of
him: winding up clocks to their destruction, smashing china, and
scattering coals all over the place in attempts to convey over-full
scuttles to wrong rooms and in the face of gravity. The effect upon
Susannah of these eccentricities can be best described by the fact that
she lived now most of her time with her apron over her head. Housework
under these circumstances became a matter of some difficulty.

It wanted some twenty minutes to eleven when the "brougham with
celluloid fittings," containing Miss Hancock, drove up the drive and
stopped before "The Laurels."

Miss Hancock stepped out and up the steps, noticing to the minutest
detail the neglect before and around her.

She gave her own characteristic knock--sharp, decided, and
business-like; she would also have given her own characteristic ring,
but that the bell failed to respond, the pull produced half a foot of
wire but no sound, and the knob, when she dropped it, dangled wearily as
if to say, "Now see what you've done! N'matter, _I_ don't care."

She waited a little and knocked again; this time came footsteps and the
sound of bars coming down and bolts being unshot, the door opened two
inches on the chain, and the same pale blue eye and undecided-coloured
fringe that had appeared to Mr Bevan, appeared to the now incensed Miss
Hancock.

Just as the rabbit peeping from its burrow sees the stoat and recognises
its old ancestral enemy, so Susannah, in Miss Hancock, beheld the Foe of
herself and all her tribe.

"Is Miss Lambert at home?" asked the visitor sharply.

"Yus, she's in."

"Then open the door, I wish to see her."

Susannah banged the door to, not to exclude the newcomer, but simply to
release the chain. Then she opened it again wide, as if to let in an
elephant.

Susannah had not presented a particularly spruce appearance on the day
when Mr Bevan called and we first met her, but this morning she was
simply--awful.

A lock of hair like a bight of half-unravelled cable hung down behind
her ear, her old print dress was indescribable, and she had, apparently,
some one else's slippers on. She had also the weary air of a person who
had been watching in a sick room all the night.

Miss Hancock took this figure in with one snapshot glance; also the hall
untidied, the floor undusted, the dust-pan and brush laid on the stairs,
a trap for the unwary to step on; the grandfather's clock pointing to
quarter to six, and many other things which I have not seen or noticed,
but which were clear to Miss Hancock, just as nebulæ and stars which,
looking in the direction of I cannot see, are clear to the two-foot
reflecting telescope of the Yerkes observatory.

Susannah escorted the sniffing visitor into the library, dusted with
her apron the very same chair she had dusted for Mr Bevan, said, "I'll
tell Miss Fanny," and left the room, closing the door with a snap that
spoke, not volumes, but just simply words.

The night before, after the other members of the household had retired,
James had taken it into his head to sit up in the library over the
remains of the fire left by Fanny. The room, as a consequence, reeked of
stale tobacco, a tumbler stood on the table convenient to the armchair.
Needless to say, the tumbler was empty.

Miss Hancock looked around her at the books, at the carpet, at the
general litter. She came to the mantelpiece and touched it, looked at
the tip of her gloved finger to assay the quantity of dust to the square
millimetre, said, "Pah!" and sat down in the armchair. A _Pink Un_ of
George Lambert's lay invitingly near her on the table; she picked it up,
glanced at the title, read a joke, turned purple, and dropped the
raciest of all racing papers just as Fanny, fresh and charming, but
somewhat bewildered-looking, entered the room.

Fanny felt sure that this visit of Miss Hancock's had something to do
with the letter of her brother's. She was relieved when her visitor,
after extending a hand emotionless and chill as the fin of a turtle,
said:

"I had some business in Highgate, so I thought I would take the
opportunity of returning your parasol, which you left behind you the
other night."

"Thanks awfully," said Fanny; "it's awfully good of you to take the
trouble. Please excuse the untidiness; we are in a great upset for--the
painters are coming in. Won't you come into the breakfast-room? There's
a fire there; it's not cold, I know, but I always think a fire is so
bright."

She led the way to the breakfast-room, her visitor following, anxious to
see as much as she could of the inner working of the Lambert household.

She gave a little start at the sight of the breakfast things not
removed, and another start at sight of the provender laid out for one
small person. The remains of a round of beef graced one end of the
board, and a haddock that, had it been let grow, would assuredly have
ended its life in the form of a whale, the other; there was also jam and
other things, including some shortbread on a plate.

"Have you had breakfast?" asked Fanny in a hospitable tone of voice.

"I breakfasted at quarter to eight," said Miss Hancock with a scarcely
perceptible emphasis on the "I."

"I know we're awfully late as a rule," said Fanny, as they sat down near
the window, in and out of which the wasps were coming, and through which
the sun shone, laying a burning square on the carpet, "but I hate early
breakfast. When I breakfast at eight I feel a hundred years old by
twelve. Did you ever notice how awfully long mornings are?"

"My mornings," said Miss Hancock, laying a scarcely perceptible accent
on the "my," "are all too short; an hour lost in the morning is never
regained. You cannot expect servants to be active and diligent without
you set them the example. We are placed, I think, in a very responsible
position with regard to our servants: as we make them so they are."

"Do you think so?" said Fanny, trying to consider what part she possibly
could have had in the construction of James and the helpmeet Susannah.

"I am sure of it. If we are idle or lazy ourselves they imitate us; they
are like children, and we should treat them as such. I ring the bell at
half-past five every morning for the maids, and I expect them to be down
by six."

"What time do you get up?"

"Half-past seven."

"Then," said Fanny, laughing, "you don't set them--I mean they set you
the example, for they are up before you."

"I spoke figuratively," said Miss Hancock rather stiffly, and eyeing the
handmaiden who had just appeared at the door to remove the things.

"Give the fish to the cats, Susannah," said her mistress, "and be sure
to take the bones out; one nearly choked," she said, resuming her
conversation with her visitor, "the other morning."

"Hum!" said Miss Hancock, unenthusiastic on the subject of choking cats.
"Do you always feed your animals on--good food?"

"Yes, of course."

"You are very young, and, of course, it is no affair of mine, but I
think in housekeeping--having first of all regard to waste--one ought to
consider how many poor people are starving. I send all my scraps to the
St Mark's Refuge Home, an excellent institution."

"I used to give a lot of food away," said Fanny, "but I found it didn't
pay, people didn't want it. We had a barrel of beer that no one drank,
so I gave a tramp a jugful once, and he made a mark somewhere on the
house, and after that twenty or thirty tramps a day called. We couldn't
find the mark, so father had to have the whole lower part of the house
lime-washed, and the gate pillars. After that he said no more food was
to be given away, or beer."

"There are poor and poor. To give beer to a tramp is in my opinion a
distinctly wicked act; it is simply feeding the flames of drunkenness,
as Mr Bulders says. You have heard of Mr Bulders?"

"N--no."

"I must introduce you. I hope you will like him, he is a great friend of
ours. Your Christian name is Fanny, I believe. May I call you Fanny?"

"Yes," said Fanny. "How queer it is, nobody knows me for--I mean,
everybody always asks me that before I have known them for more----"

"Everybody?"

"Yes."

"Gentlemen, my dear child, surely not?"

"Yes, they do."

Miss Hancock said nothing, but sat for a moment in silence gloating over
the girl before her. Here was a gold-mine of pure correction--the
metaphor is mixed perhaps, but you will understand it. Then she said:
"And do you permit it?"

"Oh, _I_ don't care."

"But I fancy, your father----" Miss Hancock paused.

"Oh, father doesn't mind; every one has called me Fanny since I was so
high."

"Yes, but, my dear girl, you are no longer a _child_. Fathers are
indulgent, and sometimes blind to what the world thinks; consider, when
you come to marry, when you come to have a husband----"

"Oh, I hope it'll be a long time before I come to that," said Fanny, in
a tone of voice as if general service or the workhouse were the topic of
discussion.

Miss Hancock took a rather deep inspiration, and was dumb for a moment.

"I understood my brother to say that he had written to you on a subject
touching your welfare and his happiness?"

Fanny flushed all over her face and neck. Only a little child or a very
young girl can blush like that--a blush that passes almost as quickly as
it comes, and is, perhaps, of all emotional expressions the most natural
and charming.

"I did have a letter," she faltered, "and I have tried to answer it, am
going to answer it--I am so sorry----"

"I don't see the necessity of being sorry," said the elder lady. "One
does not answer a letter of that description flippantly and by the next
post; my brother will quite understand and appreciate the cause of
delay."

"Oh, but it's not the _delay_ I'm sorry for, it's the--it's the having
to say that--I can't say what he wants me to say."

Miss Hancock raised her eyebrows. Miss Lambert's English was enough to
raise a grammarian from the grave, but it was not at the English that
Miss Hancock evinced surprise.

James Hancock was not as old to his sister as he appeared to the rest
of the world, though she knew his age to a day and had quoted it as an
argument against his marriage; she did not appreciate the fact that he
looked every day of his age, and even perhaps a few days over.

It is a pathetic and sometimes beautiful--and sometimes ugly--fact that
we are blind to much in the people we live with and grow up with. Joan
sees Darby very much as she saw him thirty years ago, and to Miss
Hancock her younger brother was her younger brother; and her younger
brother, to a woman, is never old. Besides being in the "prime of life,"
James was clever; besides being clever, he was rich, very rich. What
more could a girl want?

"You mean," said Patience, "that you cannot accept his proposition."

"N--no--that is, I'd _like_ to, but I can't."

"If you 'liked' to do it, I do not see what is to prevent you."

"Oh, it's not that sort of liking. I mean I'd like to like him, I do
like him, but not in the way he wants."

"It is no affair of mine," said Miss Hancock, "not in the least, but I
would urge you not to be too hasty in your reply. Think over it, weigh
the matter judicially before you decide upon what, after all, is the
most important decision a young girl is ever called upon to make."

"I hate myself," broke out Fanny, who had been listening with bent head,
and finger tracing the pattern on the cloth of the table beside her. "I
hate myself. People are always doing me kindnesses and I am always
acting like a beast, so it seems to me, but how can I help it?" lifting
her head suddenly with a bright smile. "If I were to marry them all, I'd
have about fifty husbands, now--_more!_--so what am I to do?"

Miss Hancock sniffed; she had never been in the same position herself,
so could give no advice from experience. The question rather irritated
her, and a smart lecture rose to her lips on the impropriety and
immodesty of girls allowing people of the other sex to "care for them,"
etc., etc., but the lecture did not pass her lips.

Since entering the house of the Lamberts the demon of Order had swelled
Jinnee-like in her breast, and the seven devils of spring cleaning,
each of whose right hands is a cake of soap, and whose left hands are
scrubbing-brushes, arose and ramped. The whole place and the people
therein, from the bell-pull to the cats'-breakfast-destined haddock,
from Susannah to her mistress, exercised a fascination upon Miss Hancock
beyond the power of words to describe. She had measured Susannah from
her sand-coloured hair to her slipshod feet, gauged her capacity for
work and her moral ineptitude, and had already dismissed her, in her
mind; as for the rest of the business, the ordering of Fanny and of her
father, whom she divined, the setting of the house to rights and the
righting of all the Lamberts' affairs, mundane and extra-mundane--this,
she felt, would be a work, which accomplished, she could say, "I have
not lived in vain." All this might be lost by a lecture misplaced.

"Of course you will please yourself," she said. "I would only say do
nothing rashly; and in whatever way you decide, I hope you will always
be our friend. You are very young to have the cares of a house and the
ordering of servants thrust upon you, and any assistance or advice I
can give you, I should be very glad to give."

"Thanks _so_ much!"

"I would be very glad to call some day and have a good long chat with
you; my experience in housekeeping might be of assistance."

"I should be _delighted_," gasped Fanny, who felt like a bird in the net
of the fowler, and whose soul was filled with one wild longing--the
longing to escape.

"What day shall we say?"

"Monday--no, not Monday, I have an engagement. Tuesday--I am not sure
about Tuesday. Suppose--suppose I write?"

"I am disengaged all next week; any day you please to appoint I shall be
glad to come. What a large garden you have!"

"Would you like to come round it?"

"Yes; I will wait till you put on your hat."

"Oh, I scarcely ever wear a hat in the garden. If you come this way we
can go out through the side door."

They wandered around the garden, Miss Hancock making notes in her own
mind. As they passed the kitchen window, a face gazed out, a beery,
leery face, behind which could be seen the pale phantom of Susannah. The
face was gazing at Miss Hancock with an expression of amused and
critical impudence that caused that lady to pause and snort.

"Did you see that man looking from the window?" she asked.

"Yes," said Fanny in an agony, "it must have been the plumber; he came
this morning to mend the stove. Oh, here is your carriage waiting; _so_
glad you called. Yes, I'll write."



CHAPTER III

THE RESULT--(_continued_)


Miss Lambert ran back to the house. She made a bee-line for the library,
sat down at the writing-table, seized a pen and a sheet of paper, and
began writing as if inspired. This is what she wrote, in part:


     "MY DEAR MR HANCOCK,--I have written several letters to you in
     reply to yours, but I tore them up simply because I found it so
     difficult to express what I wanted to say.... I can never, never,
     marry you; I don't think I shall ever marry any one, at least, not
     for a long time ... deeply, deeply respect you, and father says you
     are the best man he ever met. Why not let us always be friends?...
     It's a horrible world, and there are so few people who are really
     nice in it ... you will quite understand ... etc."

Four pages of this signed,

    "Always your sincere friend,

     "FANNY LAMBERT."


Now we have seen that Miss Hancock had endeavoured as far as in her lay
to help along her brother's interests with Miss Lambert. Yet on the
receipt of the above letter the conviction entered the mind of James
Hancock, never to be evicted, that his sister had, vulgarly speaking,
"dished" the affair, and, moreover, that she had done so wittingly and
of malice prepense.

Having gummed and stamped the envelope she went out herself and posted
it.

When she came back she found Leavesley waiting for her.



CHAPTER IV

"JOURNEY'S END"


For some days past, ever since Verneede's fiasco in fact, Leavesley had
been very much down in the mouth.

There is a tide in the affairs of man that when it reaches its lowest
ebb usually takes a turn. The tide had been out with Leavesley for some
time, and acres of desolate mud spoke nothing of the rolling breakers
that were coming in.

The first roller had arrived by the first post on this very morning. It
was a letter from his uncle.


     "GORDON SQUARE.

     "DEAR FRANK,--I am in bed with a bad foot, or I would ask you to
     call and see me.

     "I want that five pounds back. I made a will some years ago, by
     which you benefited to the extent of two thousand pounds; I am
     destroying that will, and drafting another.

     "It's this way. I don't intend to die just yet, and you may as well
     have the two thousand now, when it will be of use to you. Call on
     Bridgewater, he will hand you shares to the amount in the Great
     Western Railway. Take my advice and don't sell them, they are going
     to rise, but of course, as to this you are your own master.--Your
     affectionate uncle,

     "JAMES HANCOCK."


"Two thousand pounds!" yelled Leavesley, "Belinda!" (he had heard her
foot on the stairs).

"Yessir."

"I've been left two thousand pounds." Belinda passed on her avocations;
she thought it was another of Mr Leavesley's jokes.

He ate a tremendous breakfast without knowing what he was eating, and in
the middle of it the second roller came in.

It was a telegram.

He felt certain it was from Hancock revoking his legacy. It was from
Miss Lambert.


     "Only just found your letter. Please call this morning. Good news
     to tell you."


"Fanny!" cried Leavesley, as he stood before her in the drawing-room of
"The Laurels" (she had just entered the room, having returned from
posting her letter).

"Think--I've got two thousand pounds this morning!"

"Mercy!" cried Miss Lambert. "Where did you get it from?"

"Uncle."

"Mr Hancock?"

"Yes; he was going to have left me it in his will, but he's given me it
instead."

"How good of him!" said Fanny. She was about to say something else, but
she stopped.

"That's my good news," continued Leavesley. "What's yours?"

"Mine? Oh--just think! Father's engaged to be married."

"To be married?"

"Yes, to a Miss Pursehouse; she's _awfully_ rich."

He did not for a moment grasp the importance of this piece of
intelligence. Then it broke on him. Now that Fanny's father was provided
for, she would be free to marry any one she liked.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I was nearly heart-broken," mumbled Leavesley into Fanny's hair--they
were seated on the couch--"when you didn't reply."

"The letter was on the kitchen dresser all the time," replied Fanny in
a happy and dreamy voice, "behind a plate."

"And then when old Verneede called, and you seemed so indifferent--at
least, he said you did."

"Who said I did?"

"Verneede; when he called here that day."

"He never called here."

"_Verneede_ never called here?"

"Never in his life."

"He said he did, and he saw you, and told you I was going to Australia,
and you didn't care."

"Oh, what a horrid, wicked story! He never came here."

"He must have been dreaming then," said Leavesley, who began to see how
matters stood as regards the veracity of Verneede. "No matter, I don't
care now. Hold me tighter, Fanny."

       *       *       *       *       *

Till some one discovers the art of printing kisses, asterisks must
serve.

"But," said Leavesley after an interval of sweet silence, "what I can't
make out is how Bridgewater found out about you and me."

"Bridgewater!"

"Yes; he told my aunt all about us, and our going to Epping Forest: only
the old fool said we went to the Zoo."

Fanny was silent. Then she said in a perplexed voice: "I want to tell
you something. I did go to the Zoo."

"When?"

"The other day."

"Who with?"

"Guess!"

"Not--not Bevan?"

"No," said Fanny, "with your uncle."

Leavesley laughed.

"What a joke! Are you really in earnest?"

"Yes; he wrote to ask if I'd like to go, and I went. We met Mr
Bridgewater."

"Oh, that accounts for it; he's mixed me and uncle up together--he must
be going mad. Every one seems a little mad lately, uncle
especially--taking you to the Zoo, and giving me two thousand,
and--and--no matter, kiss me again."

       *       *       *       *       *       *

"Now," said Fanny, suddenly jumping up, "I must see after the house.
Father wired this morning that he was bringing Miss Pursehouse here
to-day to see the place, and I must get it tidy. Who's there?"

"Miss Fanny," said Susannah, opening the door an inch. Miss Lambert left
the room hurriedly and closed the door. There was something in
Susannah's voice that told her "something had happened."

"He's downstairs in the library."

"Oh, my goodness!" murmured Fanny with a frown; visions of Mr Hancock in
all the positions of love-making rose before her. "_Why_ didn't you say
I was out?"

"I did, miss, and he said he'd wait."

Fanny went downstairs and into the library, and there before her stood
Mr Bevan on the hearthrug.

Her face brightened wonderfully.

"I _am_ so glad--when did you come? Guess who I thought it was? I
thought it was Mr Hancock."

"Hancock?" said Charles, who had held her outstretched hand just a
moment longer than was absolutely necessary. "Oh, that affair is all
over. I stopped the action--by the way, I believe old Hancock's cracked;
sent your father a most extraordinary wire, saying I was--what was it he
said?--a duck, I think."

"Where have you seen father?"

"Why, I was staying in the same house with him down in Sussex for a
day."

"At Miss Pursehouse's?"

"Yes."

"How awfully funny! Did he tell you?"

"What?"

"That he's engaged to be married to Miss Pursehouse. I had the letter
this morning--oh, of course he couldn't have told you, for he only
proposed yesterday afternoon. He wrote in an awful hurry, just a line to
say he's 'engaged and done for.' Isn't he funny? There was another man
after her, and father says he has 'cut him out.' Do tell me all about
them; did you see the other man? and what did you think of father--isn't
he a dear?"

"Yes," said Mr Bevan abstractedly. He was flabbergasted with the news
and irritated, although he was not in love, and never had been in love,
with Miss Pursehouse, still, it was distinctly unpleasant to think that
he had been "cut out."

"I thought he seemed fond of her in Paris," continued Fanny, "but one
never can tell. I'm glad he got the telegram all right. It was I that
sent it. I was going to the Zoo with Mr Hancock----"

"I beg your pardon?" said Mr Bevan.

"I was going to the Zoo with Mr Hancock. Oh, I have such a lot to tell
you, but promise me first you'll never tell."

"Yes."

"Well--guess what's happened?"

"Can't think."

"Well, Mr Hancock proposed to me--but you won't tell, will you?"

Mr Bevan gasped.

"_Hancock!_"

"Yes; he wrote such a funny, queer little letter. It made me cry."

"_Hancock!_"

"Yes, but you've promised never to tell. Every one seems to have been
proposing to me in the last three months, and I wish they'd stop--I wish
they'd stop," said Miss Lambert, half-talking to herself and half to
Bevan, half-laughing and half-crying all at the same time; "it's got on
my nerves. James will be the next--it's like the influenza, it seems in
the air----"

"I came to-day," said Mr Bevan with awful and preternatural gravity, "to
speak to you, Fanny--to tell you that ever since I saw you first, I
have thought of nobody else----"

"Oh, stop," said Fanny, "stop, stop--oh, this is too bad! I never
thought _you_ would do it. I thought I had one f-f-friend."

"_Don't_ cry; Fanny, listen to me."

"I can't help it, it's too awful."

"Fanny!"

"Yes, Charles?"

"Dry your eyes, and tell me this; am I so very dreadful? Don't you think
if you tried you could care for me? I know I'm not clever and all
that--look up." He took her hand, and she let him hold it.

Then she spoke these hope-destroying words:

"If I h--hadn't met _him_, I believe I--I--I'd have married you--if
you'd asked me."

"Oh, my God!--it's all up then," said Bevan.

"We're both so poor," said Fanny, "that you needn't envy us, dear Cousin
Charles; all we've got in the world is our love for each other."

"He's a painter, is he not?"

"Yes," said Fanny, peeping up; "but how did you know?"

"Miss Morgan, that American girl, told me something about him." Mr Bevan
stood silent for a moment, and then went on: "Look here, Fanny, just
think this matter over and tell me your mind. I'll put my case before
you. You like me, I think?"

"Yes, I _do_."

"Well, I am not so very old, and I am rich; between one thing and
another I have about eight thousand a year. We might be very happy
together--don't interrupt me, I am just stating my case--money means a
lot in this world; it's not everything, I admit--there are some men
richer than I, that I would be sorry to see any girl married to. Well,
on the other hand, there is this other man; he may be awfully jolly, and
all that sort of thing, but he's poor--very poor, from what I can
gather. Before you kick me over, think of the future--think well."

"Do you know," said Fanny, "that if you had come yesterday, and had
asked me to marry you, I believe I would have said 'yes,' and then we
would have been always miserable. I would have married you for your
money; not for myself, but to help father. But you see now that he is
going to be married to Miss Pursehouse _she'll_ take care of him."

"He is not married to her yet," said Charles, thinking of Lulu Morgan's
words, and cursing himself for having let days slip by, for he could
have called yesterday, or the day before, but for indecision--that most
fatal of all elements in human affairs.

"No, but he will marry her, for when father makes up his mind to do a
thing he always does it."

"So then," he said, "you have made up your mind irrevocably not to have
anything to do with me?"

"I must, I must--Oh dear, I wish I were _dead_. I will always be your
friend--I will always be a sister to you."

"Don't--don't say anything more about it, please. You can't help
yourself--it's fate."

"You're not angry with me?"

"No--let us talk of other things. How are you getting on, has that man
been giving any more trouble?"

"James--oh, he's been dreadful. His wife has run away from their
lodgings; and now he says she was not his wife at all, and Susannah is
breaking her heart, for she can't bring him to the point. When she
suggests marriage he does all his things up in a bundle and says he's
going to Australia. I'll get father to turn him out when he comes
back."

"Let me," said Charles, who felt an imperative desire to kick some
one--himself, if possible--that being out of the question--James.

"No," said Fanny, as he rose and took his hat preparatory to departing,
"for she'd follow him, and I'd be left alone. Who is this?"

A hansom cab was crashing up the gravel drive.

"It's father--and Miss Pursehouse."

"Who do you say?" cried Bevan.

"Miss Pursehouse."

"Fanny!" cried Mr Bevan in desperation.

"Yes?"

"Don't let them in here, don't let them see me."

"Then quick," said Fanny, not knowing the truth of the matter, but
guessing that Charles as a rejected lover had his feelings, and
preferred not to meet her father.

She led him across the hall and down some steps, then pushed him into a
passage, which, being pursued, led to the kitchen, whence through the
scullery flight might be effected by the back entry of "The Laurels."





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