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

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: Lady Jim of Curzon Streeet - A Novel
Author: Hume, Fergus
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lady Jim of Curzon Streeet - A Novel" ***

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



Google Books (Harvard University)



Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source: Google Books
        https://books.google.com/books?id=wdoWAAAAYAAJ
        (Harvard University)



Popular Novels by Fergus Hume
=============================

THE SECRET PASSAGE
_The Albany Evening Journal_ says: "Fully as interesting as his former
books, and keeps one guessing to the end. The story begins with the
murder of an old lady, with no apparent cause for the crime, and in
unraveling the mystery the author is very clever in hiding the real
criminal. A pleasing romance runs through the book, which adds to the
interest."

12mo, Cloth bound, $1.25


THE YELLOW HOLLY
_The Philadelphia Public Ledger_ says: "'The Yellow Holly' outdoes any
of his earlier stories. It is one of those tales that the average
reader of fiction of this sort thinks he knows all about after he has
read the first few chapters. Those who have become admirers of Mr.
Hume cannot afford to miss 'The Yellow Holly.'"

12mo, Cloth bound, $1.25


A COIN OF EDWARD VII.
_The Philadelphia Item_ says: "This book is quite up to the level of
the high standard which Mr. Hume has set for himself in 'The Mystery
of a Hansom Cab' and 'The Rainbow Feather.' It is a brilliant,
stirring adventure, showing the author's prodigious inventiveness, his
well of imagination never running dry."

12mo, Cloth bound, $1.25


THE PAGAN'S CUP
_The Nashville American_ says: "The plot is intricate with mystery and
probability neatly dovetailed and the solution is a series of
surprises skillfully retarded to whet the interest of the reader. It
is excellently written and the denouement so skillfully concealed that
one's interest and curiosity are kept on edge till the very last. It
will certainly be a popular book with a very large c lass of readers."

12mo, Cloth bound, $1.25

THE MANDARIN'S FAN
_The Nashville American_ says: "The book is most attractive and
thoroughly novel in plot and construction. The mystery of the curious
fan, and its being the key to such wealth and power is decidedly
original and unique. Nearly every character in the book seems possible
of accusation. It is just the sort of plot in which Hume is at his
best. It is a complex tangle, full of splendid climaxes. Few authors
have a charm equal to that of Mr. Hume's mystery tales."

12mo, Cloth bound, $ 1.25

======================================================================
G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK



LADY JIM of
CURZON STREET

_A Novel_



By
FERGUS HUME

_Author of_

"The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," "A Coin of Edward VII,"
"The Pagan's Cup," "The Yellow Holly," "The Red Window,"
"The Mandarin's Fan," "The Secret Passage," etc.



G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK



Copyright, 1906, BY
G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
-----------
Issued March, 1906



Lady Jim of
   Curzon Street



LADY JIM OF CURZON STREET



CHAPTER I


"We're on the rocks this time, Leah, smashin' for all we're worth. How
we can win clear beats me."

With hands which had never earned a shilling thrust into pockets empty
even of that coin, Jim Kaimes stretched out his long legs and surveyed
his neat boots as he made this cryptic speech. His habit of expressing
himself in a parabolic fashion was confusing to his friends. But five
years of marital squabbling had schooled his wife into ready
comprehension, and she usually responded without comment. On this
occasion, however, the subject under discussion irritated even her
healthy nerves, and she replied irrelevantly.

"Really, Jim, I wish you would talk English."

"Huh! Never knew I was talking Choctaw."

"You might be, for all the sense an ordinary person can make of it."

"Ah-a-a!" said Jim, with the clumsy affection of a bear; "but you're
not an ordinary person, Leah. I'm the common or garden ass, that can't
straighten things. Now you can."

"For want of a husband I suppose I must."

"Come now, Leah. Am I not your husband?"

"Oh yes!" she answered, with a flick of her handkerchief across a pair
of scornful lips: "_my_ husband, not _a_ husband."

"What's the difference?"

"As if I could waste time in explaining. We have more serious matters
to talk about than your want of brains."

"Serious enough," assented the man, sulkily; "but you know how to deal
with trouble, Leah."

"I ought to," retorted his wife, with a shrug, "considering the
experience I have had since marrying you. I wish I hadn't."

"So do I," confessed Jim; then mended his speech with a dim sense of
having overstepped the mark: "No, by Jupiter, I don't mean that. You
an' I get on very well, considerin' each swings on a private hook. You
are not a bad sort, Leah, and I'm a--a--a--well, you know what I am."

"Not a diplomatist, certainly. Isn't this praise a trifle obvious? You
don't mean it, do you?"

She looked at him wistfully, but her candid husband soon stopped any
sentimental illusions she may have momentarily entertained. "Oh yes, I
mean it in a sort of way. An' good temper on both sides will help us
to push through the business quicker."

"You mean the Bankruptcy Court," snapped his wife.

"Perhaps I mean the Divorce Court," was his tart reply, but she was
quite ready with an answer.

"On your own part, then; you can't say a word against me."

"Who said I could? You've got the one virtue that gives its name to
the rest, and think yourself an angel."

"I had your assurance that I was an angel--once."

"No doubt. It's the sort of thing a man has to say to the woman he is
engaged to."

"And never says to the woman he is married to!"

"Marriage isn't all honey, Leah, and----"

"Heavens!" Lady Jim addressed the ceiling; "as if I required telling.
But compared with other women, Jim, I am not----"

"I never said you were," interrupted Kaimes, crossly. "I'd screw your
neck if you went on like other women."

"Upon my word, Jim, I would admire you more if you did attempt
something of that sort."

"Sorry I can't oblige you; but I'm a gentleman and bear an honoured
name."

"An honoured name!"

"Sneerin' won't alter facts, Leah. The name of Kaimes has always been
honoured----"

"Till you dragged it through the mud," interrupted Leah, in her turn.
"The old Duke is all right, and Frith's a kind man, if somewhat dull.
But you--oh heavens! to think that such a Saul should be amongst the
prophets."

Jim, not understanding the scriptural allusion, thought he was being
chaffed, a liberty which his bovine pride resented by two minutes of
sulky silence. Moreover, he dreaded his wife's formidable tongue, the
lash of which could cut through even his tough hide.

"How are we goin' to get through the business at this rate?" was his
next contribution to the conversation. "You don't remember that I've
to meet a fellow at the club to see about a bet. An' I haven't got one
shillin' to rattle against another," declared Jim, pathetically.

"Well," was the sharp reply, "I have to shop this afternoon with but
one miserable sovereign in my purse."

Lord Jim opened his sleepy blue eyes. "I say, you couldn't----?"

"No," said his wife, decisively. "I couldn't and I wouldn't, and I
can't and I shan't. Perhaps you'll read the paper and let me think."

"All right," said Kaimes, reaching for the _Sporting Times_. "I want
to see the bettin' on Podaskas."

"Betting will be your ruin."

"Has been," corrected Jim, chuckling; then reverted to his early
metaphor: "We're on the rocks this time, Leah, and no mistake."

His wife cast a look of scorn on the pink-and-white face she had once
thought handsome. And, indeed, Kaimes was good-looking in a heavy
Saxon way. Tall and muscular, with the strength of a bull and the
manners of a bear, he was precisely the sort of brutal athlete to
attract women. They flocked round him like bees, and gave him more
honey than was good for him. He accepted their endearments with the
complacent vanity of an egotist, and took little trouble to please
even the prettiest, whereupon he was adored the more.

Leah, with her elbows on the breakfast-table, stared at Jim's
well-brushed head bending over the pink sheets, and asked herself, for
the hundredth time, why she had married him. Physically he resembled a
splendid Hercules, but in another sense the likeness was not a
speaking one. He satisfied her eyes, and in no other way gave her
pleasure. When he talked, he babbled vainly about himself and his
doings, to the exclusion of any topic likely to interest other people.
Possessed of that easy good-nature which refuses nothing, which costs
nothing, Jim Kaimes was looked upon as "a good fellow," a title which
covers a multitude of the minor sins. Jim would have been meritorious
as a cave-man, and pre-historically perfect. As a civilised being he
left very much to be desired.

The subject was neither agreeable nor inexhaustible, and Leah rose
with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. Jim looked up.

"Well?" he asked encouragingly.

"Nothing!" said his wife, curtly, and moved to the window.

Here she leaned against the sash and looked at the narrow grey street
which was such a good address to impress tradesmen, and so expensive
to live in. Not that the question of rent troubled the pair. They paid
none, and would have been as much insulted, if visited on quarter-day,
as an Irish tenant. The Duke of Pentland at the time of their marriage
had presented them with the furnished "10, Curzon Street," but
hampered with certain restrictions. They could not sell it, or even
mortgage it, nor could money be raised on the furniture. The Duke paid
all rates and taxes, and saw to all repairs. Beyond dwelling in this
very desirable residence, and calling it publicly their home, Lord and
Lady Jim had no interest in it whatsoever. Both thought it was
ridiculous that they could not turn the Curzon Street house into
money, when they needed ready cash so badly.

And life was so hard to people of their standing and tastes. Leah came
of a bankrupt family, and had brought nothing to Jim but her own
clever, beautiful self. She considered the two thousand a year which
the Duke allowed his second son opulence, until she learned what
delightful things money could buy. Then Jim used a large amount of the
quarterly payments on his own account, and tradesmen would not give
her the delightful things without money. She certainly had bills in
nearly every shop in Bond Street and out of it, but even bills had to
be paid in the long run. The post brought a good many, and brought
also lawyers' letters, not pleasant to read. Between them, this happy
pair had mortgaged their income, and the money they had obtained was
all gone. Now they had no income and many bills. What was to be done?
This problem Jim had set Leah to solve, but clever as she knew herself
to be, the solution was beyond her.

"Can't you borrow, Jim?" she asked, turning gloomily from the window.

"Perhaps a fiver," was the prompt response; "every one's as mean as
mean. I've tried 'em all. And you?"

Leah shook her head.

"Twenty pounds, for all my asking."

"There's your godmother, old Lady Canvey," suggested Jim. "She's as
rich as Dives."

"And, like Dives, won't give a penny to this Lazarus. She smiles, and
talks epigrams, and preaches, but as to helping----" Leah shrugged her
shoulders again.

The action drew her husband's attention to a very magnificent figure
which was loudly admired. Jim had admired it himself before he had got
used to seeing it in the breakfast-room. Now it struck him that this
attraction might be turned into money.

"You're a ripping woman in the way of looks," he said, throwing down
the newspaper; "if you went on the stage--eh?"

"As the fairy queen?" inquired his wife, scornfully: "that's about all
I'm suited for. I know the things I can't do, Jim, and acting is one.
Besides, think of what the Duke would say."

Jim yawned, and lighted a cigarette.

"He can't say more than he has said," he remarked, lazily. "'Sides, I
never go to hear him preach, now."

"No; you send me."

"Why not? The Duke loves a pretty woman. You can twist him round your
little finger."

"I can't twist any money out of him," said Lady Jim, irritably.

"More's the pity. We're on the rocks----"

"You've said that twice already."

"An' I'll say it again and again and again," snapped Jim. "You don't
seem to realise the hole we're in."

"Don't I?" she queried, with an emotion she would never have shown in
society. "I realise that I have one sovereign; and you----?"

"Only a fiver I intend to borrow from a sure man," said Jim; "but I
say, what's to be done?"

"We must go through the court."

"What's the use of that? It'll only settle our debts. We want ready
money. I don't care a straw about the tradesmen. Can't we let this
house?"

"No; the Duke says we can live in it as long as we like, but if we
leave he'll take it back again."

"It's like giving a boy half a crown and telling him not to spend it,"
said Kaimes, looking round. "If we only could! It's a jolly sort of
room this, and we'd get a good rent for the house."

The room was indeed pretty, being decorated in a Pompadour manner. Its
walls were adorned with white paper, sprinkled with bunches of roses
tied with fluttering blue ribbons, and the carpet bore the same dainty
design. The furniture was of white wood, upholstered in brocade, also
diversified with roses and azure streamers. There were many delicate
water-colour pictures, a grate and fire-irons of polished brass, and
electric lights in rose-tinted globes. Even the grey December light
streaming in through the two windows could not make the apartment look
anything but clean, and delicate, and dainty, and delightful. It was
an ideal nest for a young couple. But this one had outlived the
honeymoon, and cared very little for the ideal.

"A very pretty room," said Jim, again; "and you're the prettiest thing
in it, Leah."

She looked at him scornfully, and then glanced around. "I hate all
this frippery" she said contemptuously. "Something more massive would
suit me better."

"Well, you are a kind of Cleopatra, y' know."

If Jim's historical knowledge had been more accurate, he would have
made a better comparison. Cleopatra, according to the latest
discoveries, was small, foxy-haired, and dainty. She would have suited
this Watteau-like room to perfection. But Lady Jim was as tall as any
daughter of the gods, and bore herself after the imperial style of
Juno, Queen of Olympus. Her hair was of a deep red, and she had a
great quantity, as those who saw her pose in charity tableaux knew
very well. Leah possessed the creamy complexion which usually goes
with such hair, and a pair of large blue eyes, out of which her soul
had never peered. They were hard eyes, shallow as those of a bird, and
surveyed the world and its denizens with the inquiring expression of a
cat on the look-out for titbits. Her lips were thin, and covered
admirably white and regular teeth. It was a clever face, and beautiful
in its serene immobility. Those who did not like Lady Jim called her a
cat; but she was more like a sleek, dangerous pantheress, and woe to
the victim who came under her claws. Yet she could purr very prettily
on occasions.

"Well, Jim," she said more graciously, for she was sufficiently a
woman to be pleased with her husband's grudging compliments. "Now that
you have finished saying sweet things, what next?"

"This business. We're on the----"

"Jim, if you say that again I'll leave you to get out of the trouble
yourself. You're my husband. Think of something."

"I can't--unless it's the insurance."

"The insurance," said Leah, thoughtfully; "twenty thousand pounds,
isn't it, Jim?"

Her husband nodded. "Old Jarvey Peel, my godfather, had my life
insured when I was a child, and arranged that his heirs should pay up
the money every year to keep it in force. Then there's accumulations
of sorts. I don't understand these stale things myself, Leah, but I
know that there's over twenty thousand."

"Can't you raise money on it?"

"No; the old man arranged that I should lose it if I tried that game.
Lord," said Jim, with disgust, "if I could have raised money I should
have got rid of it, ages ago."

"But how does it benefit you?" asked his wife, curiously; "if the
money is paid when you are dead, you won't have any fun. But I"--her
eyes gleamed.

"Oh no, you don't," snapped Jim, not at all pleased at this hint;
"you'd like to turn me into cash in that way, I know. But it so
happens that the twenty thousand, and whatever additions may have
come, will be paid to me when I'm sixty. Much fun in that, when I
shan't have teeth to crack nuts."

"You're over thirty now, Jim."

"Thirty-five, and you're only five years younger; so when we get the
cash at sixty there won't be any enjoyment left for either of us."

"Thirty-five from sixty," murmured Lady Jim. "Leaves how much, Jim?"

"Twenty-five," replied Kaimes, after wrinkling his brow and communing
with his none too quick brain. "Beastly long time to wait."

Leah nodded. "There's no chance of your getting it sooner?"

"Not the slightest. I can't get a cent on it, and I can't sell it, and
I can't use it in any way. Jarvey Peel was a silly old ass. Died worth
no end of coin, and didn't leave me a penny."

"But if you died, Jim?"

"Drop it," retorted Kaimes, who did not at all relish the suggestion.

"Well, but supposing you did?" insisted Leah.

"Then I 'spose the money would be paid to you," said Jim, kicking the
hearth-rug with a gloomy face; "but don't you make any mistake, Leah.
I'm goin' to live right on to sixty and handle the money. I can't do
much at that age, but I'll try hard to get through the lot before I
slip off."

"And what about me?"

"Oh, you must look after yourself," said Jim, heartlessly; "but
if you can think of some scheme to get the cash now, I'll give you
half--there now. There's nothing mean about me."

"What's the use of talking rubbish?" said Lady Jim, crossly; "you
won't die."

"Not to oblige you, my dear, so don't think it."

"Then don't let us talk any more of the impossible."

"Is it impossible?" asked Kaimes, cunningly.

Leah looked at him with wide, bright eyes. "What is it?" she asked.

"I might _pretend_ to die, you know," said Jim, looking at her very
directly; "then the cash 'ud be paid to you, and we could share."

"But it's ridiculous," cried Leah, raising her eyebrows; "you would
have to give up your position and disappear."

"Who cares? You know I never stop longer in England than I can help.
As to my position, it's all debts and duns, and squabbling with you.
Oh, I'd give up the whole thing for the money!"

"You never think of me."

"Got enough to do to think of myself," grumbled Kaimes; "'sides, you
don't care for me. As a widow you could have lots of fun on--on,
say--five thousand."

"That's right, Jim, take the lion's share to yourself."

"Well, shouldn't I be paying the largest price for getting the cash?"

Leah shrugged her shoulders again. "There would be very little
sacrifice in it so far as you are concerned," she said. "You've been
three times to South America since we were married, and I presume with
this money you would go there again."

"I'd go out of your life for ever."

"Oh, well," she said coolly; "I could show my respect to your memory
by wearing a widow's dress. I expect I should look rather nice in a
cap."

Lord Jim was rather disgusted. Little as he loved his wife, he
expected her to be devotedly attached to him, and her ready
acquiescence in his disappearance annoyed him greatly.

"You've got no heart."

"How clever of you to guess that! I gave it to you five years ago."

"And took it back before the honeymoon was over."

"Well, you see, Jim, you are so careless a man that I could not think
of leaving the only heart I possess in your hands. Besides, so many
women have given you their hearts that I thought you might confuse the
lot."

Lord Jim did not like this banter, and said so in a few forcible
words. Then he moved to the door, casting a disgusted look at a pile
of bills on Leah's side of the table.

"What about this truck?"

"Oh, we'll pay them out of your insurance," laughed Lady Jim.

"Not much. I'm not going to disappear and give up everything for the
benefit of a lot of measly tradesmen."

"I wish you wouldn't dangle grapes out of my reach," said his wife,
pettishly; "you know it's not to be done."

Jim plunged forward, and, gathering up the mass of papers, threw them
into the fire. "Pay them in this way, then," said he, enraged.

"I wish I could," sighed Leah, wearily, and looked at herself in the
mirror. "Do stop worrying me, Jim. I'm getting to look quite old. Are
you going out?"

"Yes. We've wasted an hour in talking about nothing. We're on the
rocks, I tell you."

"And so," said Lady Jim, calmly, "you end where you began."

Jim looked up to heaven. "And this is a wife!" said he, plaintively.

"And this," she mocked, laying her hand on his shoulder, "is a
probable bankrupt!"

"Not me. I'll clear out first to South America."

"Leave the insurance money to me, Jim," called Leah, as he banged the
door. "Twenty thousand pounds," she soliloquised--"it's worth trying
for. But I might as well cry for the moon"; and she sighed, the sigh
of selfishness, unexpectedly thwarted.



CHAPTER II


Lord And Lady Jim Kaimes were regarded as a most agreeable couple, and
utilised this reputation to live on their friends. The husband was an
admirable shot, a daring and judicious polo-player, and his skill at
cards was as notable as his dexterity in golfing. Consequently, he was
much in request, and benefited largely in free board and lodging. He
was good-looking, which pleased the women, and good-natured, which
satisfied the men. In wrestling and boxing Jim could more than hold
his own, and always paid his gambling debts, even at the cost of
allowing tradesmen to threaten legal proceedings. Thus, according to
modern ideas, he was an honourable man and a good all-round sportsman,
a credit to the British aristocracy and a pleasure to his numerous
friends. "These be thy gods, O Israel!" A clergyman once preached on
this text in Jim's accidental hearing, but Jim did not know what he
meant.

The wife was a general favourite with the men, but women fought
rather shy of her. She thought too much of herself, they said, and
dressed altogether too well; and, moreover, never gave even the most
bitter-tongued female a chance of talking scandal in connection with
the honoured name to which Jim had called her attention. However,
feminine artfulness led one and all to conceal this dislike, and Lady
Jim received as much kissing and as many sweet words and invitations
as her vain, hungry soul desired. She saw through the wiles of her own
sex clearly, and knew that in nine cases out of ten the woman who
kissed would have preferred to bite. But they knew that Lady Jim knew,
and Lady Jim knew that they knew she knew, so everything went well. As
to what was said behind her back Lady Jim cared not a snap of her
fingers, and if any rival dared to attack her openly she was quite
able to use a particularly venomous tongue, the safeguard against
calumny which Nature had given her. And it must be said that she never
went out of her way to harm any one: her position was that of a
passive resister. As she pathetically observed, she was a contented
woman, if only permitted to have her own way.

Certainly the women had cause to complain of Lady Jim's gowns, which
were far beyond the ordinary female intellect in cut and fashion, in
new material and up-to-date trimmings. She added her own ingenuity and
taste to the creations of the dressmaker, and the result was always
such a triumph as to lead the rest of her sex to doubt if Providence
existed. It would have been even more aggravating than it was, had it
been known that Lady Jim paid next to nothing for her gowns, and
advertised the dressmaker instead of settling the bill. But Leah did
not make this fact public. She was content to use her magnificent
figure and good looks, and her popularity in society, to save a lean
purse, and therefore was daily and nightly clad in the purple and fine
linen which wrung envious tears from other women's eyes. Sometimes
Lady Jim, fascinating a society-paper editor, would utilise his
columns and circulation to advertise deserving tradesmen: while from
these, in return, she exacted tangible gratitude in the welcome shape
of gloves, handkerchiefs, scents, and similar needful if expensive
commodities. Lady Jim never signed her name to these literary efforts,
but they drew custom to the shop and filled her wardrobe with what she
wanted at the moment, so she was not ambitious to be known as an
authoress. Even Jim never knew how his wife, as he put it, "contrived
the tip-top"; and privately thought that the age of miracles was not
yet past, when Leah could make something out of nothing.

For five years, more or less, Lady Jim had been clothed as
the lilies of the field, and had been supplied with nutriment
by the lineal descendants of Elijah's ravens; but now things were
coming to a crisis. The long lane down which she had marched as
Solomon-in-all-his-glory was about to take a turning, and Lady Jim did
not relish the new route. It led to second-rate lodgings at home or
abroad, to the lack of frocks and a diminution of other women's envy,
to the loss of a thousand and one luxuries which had become
necessaries, and to a self-denying ordinance of which she did not
approve. Something must be done to prevent the necessity of turning
down this penurious alley, but when Lady Jim set out on her shopping
excursion she did not very well see how she could avoid the almost
inevitable.

Needless to say, Leah had a trifle more in her purse than the one
sovereign she had admitted the existence of to Jim. To be precise, she
possessed ten pounds, and that had to last a week as pocket-money. She
felt very hard up as she stepped into her motor-car and whirled down
the street. Had she possessed the lamp of Aladdin she would have made
its slave bankrupt; and to think that seven days of desiring pretty
things should be supported on ten pounds! The beggar at the gate of
Dives could not have been poorer.

But there was no sign of penury on the surface. The unpaid sables Lady
Jim wore were the best that the animal could give; the fur rug over
her feet had cost enough to keep a poor family for six months in food
and fire, though she, or rather Jim, was being dunned for the payment
of that; the motor-car was one of the best and newest, and Lady Jim
drove it with the reckless speed of a woman who thinks the world was
created so that she should play Juggernaut. Having plenty of courage,
and a love for playing with death, Leah was a daring and skilful
driver. Before now she had swept round a corner with two wheels
beating the air. But she had not as yet crushed any one under the said
wheels, and she ascribed this luck to her peacock's feather. Like all
who have small belief in the Deity, Lady Jim was superstitious in a
small way. Her fetish was a peacock's feather, and so long as she had
one about her, nothing, so she averred, could possibly go wrong. There
was one now thrust into the left-hand lamp of the car, and the panels
were painted with the same feathers, until they resembled the tail of
Juno's favourite bird. Lady Jim might forget to go to church, or to
say her prayers, or to thank God, but she never forgot the necessary
peacock's feather which was to ensure prosperity and safety. She was
reported to make genuflections before a shrine of this sort, but the
report was probably exaggerated. No one knew what kind of a Baal she
worshipped, but it is ridiculous to say that she did not adore at
least one, for she was, in her way, a very religious woman.

Lady Jim raced her car out of Curzon Street, down Park Lane, and into
Piccadilly, where she amused herself with dodging nervous people and
shaving the wheels of vehicles drawn by humble quadrupeds. The
chauffeur sat grimly silent, expecting an almost certain spill, with
the calm of a fatalist. He knew it would come some day, in spite of
his mistress's skilful driving, but he neither worried nor
remonstrated. He was paid for a silent tongue and healthy nerves, and
if his life _was_ insured rather heavily, considering his profession,
that was no one's business but his wife's, and she had already decided
how to spend the insurance money. But the woman need not have been so
sure of such good fortune. Lady Jim did not mind hurting other people,
but she had an uncommonly good notion of how to preserve the only neck
she possessed.

When the car reached Bond Street, Lady Jim, who was as calm as though
she had finished a donkey-ride, stepped down and entered a jeweller's
shop. Lately she had paid a trifle off his bill, and thought herself
entitled to double the gross amount. The jeweller, knowing the Duke of
Pentland had fifty thousand a year, and that Lady Jim was too pretty a
daughter-in-law not to get her own way with so gay an old nobleman,
did not object to his customer's purchases. If Lady Jim could not pay
the Duke would, so she was permitted to take away several objects for
which she had no use. Then she went to select some new hats, and look
at the latest thing in frocks. A call at certain other establishments
resulted in the car being heaped with expensive trifles for Christmas
presents. Afterwards the car whirled into Oxford Street, returned to
Piccadilly, and stopped every now and then like a bird of prey. At
some shops she was received with sickly smiles; at others, which she
favoured for the first time with her custom, with rejoicing grins: but
out of every place Lady Jim walked calmly, with a shopman in the rear
bringing parcels to increase the baggage on the car. She achieved the
whole afternoon's work without once opening her purse. Could
Rothschild have financed things better?

At five o'clock, with lighted lamps and unabated speed, Lady Jim drove
her machine to Berkeley Square, and, leaving the chauffeur to choke
and shiver in the damp fog, walked into a dull-looking house to see
her godmother, Lady Canvey. She wished to ask the advice of that
kindly, shrewd old pagan, and was not at all pleased when she found
the Rev. Lionel Kaimes, trying to lead Lady Canvey in the right way.
He had been trying to guide her heavenward for the last year, but the
bright-eyed old dame still danced along the primrose path with nimble
feet and an appreciation of the agreeable people who were dancing
along with her to perdition.

"Well, my dear," said Lady Canvey, submitting her withered cheek to a
conventional kiss. "Lionel, here, has been speaking of the devil, and
you appear. There's some truth in proverbs, it seems."

"Oh, Lady Canvey," sighed a soft voice at the old pagan's elbow.

"I forgot, Leah, this is my 'Philip you-are-but-mortal' companion. You
have not met her before, and I don't think you'll seek her company
again. She's not quite your sort, my dear, not quite your sort. Joan,
come and show yourself."

In response to this order a slim, tall girl, with a serious face, came
forward shyly, and put out a timid hand. She was plainly dressed in a
black stuff gown, without colour or ornament. Her hands and feet were
slim and small; she had wavy brown hair twisted into a loose knot at
the nape of her neck, and the features of her somewhat pale face were
delicately shaped. On the whole an uncommonly pretty girl, Lady Jim
decided, after taking in all this at a glance, but less seriousness
and brighter smiles would improve her looks. She was like Pygmalion's
statue before the goddess had flushed its cold whiteness with rosy
blood.

"How are you?" asked Leah, nodding in a friendly way, but without
shaking hands. "You are one of Lady Canvey's discoveries, I suppose."

"My discovery," put in Lionel, cheerfully, and with a proud glance at
the white-rose beauty of the girl. "Lady Canvey wanted a companion,
and I brought her----"

"One of Fra Angelico's saints," finished Lady Jim, who was honest
enough to confess inwardly that this ethereal loveliness was most
attractive.

"Quite so," chuckled Lady Canvey, arranging many costly rings on a
pair of knuckly hands. "Lionel knows how I enjoy the company of a
saint."

"You must put up with a sinner for the time being," said Lady Jim,
good-humouredly. "I have come to talk business."

"That means you intend to worry me," grumbled Lady Canvey, with a
sharp glance from under her bushy eyebrows. "I hate being worried and
bored."

"Oh, I shan't bore you."

"Yes, you will. Other people's affairs always bore me. I am not like
his reverence here," and she waved her ebony cane towards the young
curate, who laughed cheerfully.

"I admit there is some lack of resemblance," assented Lady Jim, dryly.

Then she looked from the young man to the old woman. Lionel was her
husband's cousin, and should death make a clean sweep of the Duke, and
Frith and Jim, he would inherit the title and the fifty thousand a
year which Lady Jim coveted. This possibility, which it must be
admitted was sufficiently remote, did not make Leah love the young man
any the more. Besides, he was what she called "goody-goody," which
meant that he had entered the service of his Master for use and not
for show. As the curate of an exacting vicar in a Lambeth parish, he
grubbed amongst the dirty poor, and dispensed soup, soap, shelter, and
salvation. Rarely did Lionel come to the West End, as his task lay
amongst the poor and lowly; but when he did venture into high places
he always called on Lady Canvey, who had an odd kind of affection for
him. "He's misguided, but genuine, my love," said the pagan, "and
moreover, he amuses me!" which last statement amply accounted for the
favour with which the old lady regarded him. Lionel was rather like
Jim, tall and muscular and handsome. But his face had an intelligent
look which Leah had never beheld in the dull visage of her husband,
and his blue eyes had the bright, calm gaze of one whose faith is
certain. He affected the usual clerical garb, but being only
twenty-five, and boyish at that, his face wore a genial, cheerful,
unworried expression, which made most people open their hearts. Like a
doctor, a clergyman must have a good bedside manner, and this Lionel
possessed. Moreover, his heart was kindly, and he was quick to observe
the snubbed and neglected. This feeling drew him towards Joan, who had
retreated, colouring painfully, when Lady Jim substituted a nod for a
handshake. The girl was busy with a silver teapot, egg-shell china,
and hot cakes, and presently handed a cup to the visitor. Lady Jim
took it somewhat absently, and having satisfied herself with Lionel's
looks and personality, turned her eyes on Lady Canvey.

Outwardly the old dame resembled the godmother of a fairy story, and
would have been admirably suited to the pointed cap and scarlet cloak
of a professed witch. Yet the remains of beauty lingered about her
wrinkled face, recalling exciting Crimean days when she had been a
belle. She was small and shrunken and bent, and sometimes her grey
head shook with palsy. But her spirit was still vigorous and her brain
clear, as could be seen by the steadiness of her piercing black eyes,
diamond-bright and clear. She wore a lace cap, a dress of silvery grey
satin, and many jewels costly but old-fashioned. Add to these a white
China-crape shawl and an ebony cane, and behold the portrait of the
lady known as the "cleverest old harridan in town." But that
description was given by an enemy. Lady Canvey had a quick brain and a
sharp tongue, yet her heart was as kindly as that of Lionel. Perhaps
it was this which drew the young and old together.

The room was comfortable, and luxuriously furnished, but with the ugly
taste of the Early Victorian epoch. Lady Canvey, now over eighty,
clung to the decorations and colours which had been fashionable
when she was young, and on stepping into the room Lady Jim felt as
though she had slipped back to the time of the Great Exhibition. The
motor-car outside, and the old lady in the red velvet armchair,
represented widely-severed eras. And even Joan the saint and Lionel
the curate seemed alien to the world Lady Jim inhabited. For that
world closely resembled the one Noah had fled from into the ark, when
the denizens "were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in
marriage"--though, to be sure, marriage nowadays, save as a visible
sign of respectability, was not much considered.

"Well, godmother," said Lady Jim, thinking to curry favour with this
she-Cr[oe]sus by using an approved, if somewhat obsolete, address,
"you are looking well."

"Then I'm a living lie," retorted Lady Canvey, grimly. "How can you
expect me to look well, when Lionel here has been quoting texts for
want of originality?"

"I wanted you to hear the scripture," protested Lionel.

"That's _your_ business," replied Lady Canvey, stirring her tea; "but
I can hear the scriptures read when I please by Joan, who has a much
sweeter voice than you, young man, as I suppose you think"; and she
gave one of her dry chuckles.

The curate reddened, and Joan looked confused. Lady Jim, glancing from
one serious face to the other, drew her own conclusions, and murmured
something about a "sealed fountain." Lady Canvey, not being versed in
biblical imagery, did not understand, but Lionel comprehended on the
instant.

"I am glad to hear that you read your Bible, Lady James," he said
quickly.

Leah hated to be addressed in this stiff manner; yet it seemed
appropriate to the out-of-date room. But she had no desire to quarrel
with her godmother's pet in the presence of that opulent lady, so she
turned the tables on Lionel by looking shocked. "Of course I do. I am
not a pagan."

"Then I must be one," snapped Lady Canvey; "for I wouldn't be you,
Leah Kaimes, for the heaven I don't expect to go to."

"Hush! hush!" said Lionel, pained by this flippancy coming from those
withered lips.

Lady Jim glanced at her opulent beauty in a dim mirror, framed in
tarnished gold, and laughed softly. Her godmother saw the look and was
swift to interpret its meaning.

"I was like that once," she said, in rather a quavering voice, "and
you'll come to be such as I am, only you'll never wear so well. Oh,
what an arm I had!" and she began to weep silently over her lost
beauty.

While Lionel and Joan comforted the poor soul, Leah looked sympathetic
but gave no assistance. She decided that Lady Canvey was in her
dotage, and would be the more easily dealt with on that account. Her
one desire, therefore, was to get rid of the two unnecessary people
and begin operations at once. She hoped by skilful management to come
away with a considerable cheque in Lady Canvey's shaky handwriting.
Those drivelling tears meant a weak will, and that, to one of Leah's
determination, meant money.

"About this business," she began, when the old woman was again her
cheerful, cynical self: "could you spare me ten minutes, godmother?"

"Certainly, my dear. It's all I _can_ spare you."

This was not a promising beginning, but Lady Jim knew she would not
walk off with the spoils without a sharp brush for their gaining. She
looked at Lionel, and then at the girl, whom she was sure in her own
heart the curate loved.

"Have you ever heard Mr. Kaimes talk Chinese metaphysics, Miss
Tallentire?" she asked Joan, having possessed herself of the
companion's surname.

"No," said Joan, opening her violet eyes widely. "I am not clever
enough to understand."

"Ask Mr. Kaimes if he doesn't think you are clever enough."

"Really, Lady James----"

"Lionel," interrupted Lady Canvey, sharply, "go into the conservatory
with Joan. She will show you a new dwarf oak which I lately bought.
Leah will entertain me. And I'm pretty sure," chuckled she, "that I
shall entertain Leah."

"She's going to be nasty," thought Lady Jim, with a charming smile,
and continued to smile until the curate and his unsuspecting companion
went to see the dwarf oak and to talk Chinese metaphysics, which Leah
was certain they would do. Lionel, with a defiant glance at his
cousin, and with a colour which made him look unexpectedly handsome,
followed Joan out of the stuffy room. When the door was closed, and
the fire was unnecessarily poked up, and Lady Canvey was comfortably
settled in her chair, after a word or two about the draughts which no
one but herself could feel in that close atmosphere, Lady Jim waited
patiently for her godmother to begin the battle.

She had not long to wait. Lady Canvey's eyes were bright, and Lady
Canvey's spirit reared like a warhorse to plunge down on Leah. She
sniffed once or twice, and looked sharply at the beautiful, smiling
face. Then she delivered herself of a speech which put Lady Jim's late
behaviour in a nutshell.

"Leah," said Lady Canvey, "you're a born cat."



CHAPTER III


Lady Jim was not at all offended. She made every allowance for the
querulous temper of old age, and still smiled.

"I rather like cats myself," she observed casually. "They know what
they want."

"But they don't always get it, my dear," snapped Lady Canvey; adding
inconsequently, "when the cat's in the dairy, she's after the cream."

"I don't think that's an original remark," said Leah, languidly, and
loosening her furs, for the room really was heated like the
conservatory, in which the lovers talked Chinese metaphysics. "Didn't
George Eliot say something of the sort?"

"I never knew him," retorted Lady Canvey, wilfully dense. "You and
your Chinese metaphysics indeed! I won't have it----"

"Have them," corrected Leah, gently, and unable to resist the
opportunity.

Lady Canvey scowled like the fairy Caraboss, and continued, without
heeding the impertinence, "Joan is the daughter of Lionel's vicar."

"I see, and he intends to be the vicar's son-in-law."

"What is that to you?"

"News!" expressed Lady Jim, serenely. "I never knew such a prig as
Lionel could fall in love."

"His love is the love of an honest man," declared the old dame,
striking her crutch on the carpet.

"I hope so, for the sake of his cloth."

"Chinese metaphysics indeed!" grumbled Lady Canvey. "The poor child
did not know what you meant."

"She certainly seems to be somewhat dull."

"Dull yourself, Leah. She's a sweet-tempered, good, thoughtful girl."

"Oh, I didn't mean to say she was so dull as all those qualities
imply," said Lady Jim, sweetly.

Lady Canvey looked wrathfully round for something to throw at her
visitor's head. But the tea-table was too far away, and the old woman
prized her cups and saucers. Finally she took refuge in a spiteful
speech.

"_She's_ an honest girl."

"I sincerely hope so, seeing she is your companion," replied Leah, not
caring to take up so ridiculous a challenge. "When did you start her?"

"Leah!" Lady Canvey thumped the ground again. "Don't talk slang. If
you wish to know, although I don't think it is any of your business,
Joan Tallentire came to me two months ago, during which time you have
not come to see me."

"I was abroad," apologised Lady Jim, stifling a yawn.

"Gambling at Monte Carlo, I'll be bound."

"I did meet Jim there. He lost heavily on the red. I won, and came
home with enough to see me through the last month."

"Who were you living on abroad?" asked the old woman, contemptuously.

Lady Jim leaned back and placed her muff-chain between two very red
lips.

"Let me think," she murmured, not put out in the least. "Oh, that
little dowdy Australian woman, who is trying to get into society on
her husband's money, asked me to stop at their villa."

"And you did?"

"For four weeks."

"And borrowed money, I'll be bound."

Lady Jim nodded blandly. "You can't expect me to live with pigs for
nothing," she said, with the greatest coolness.

"You'd live with the devil and borrow from him, I believe," cried the
exasperated Lady Canvey, glaring.

"I _do_ live with one," assented her god-daughter; "but he's a
stony-broke devil."

"More modern flowers of speech!"

"I didn't create the language."

"You can help using it."

"No. People wouldn't understand if I talked like Lady Jane Grey or
Elizabeth Fry."

"They were good women."

"But so dull," objected Lady Jim. "Why is it good women are always
dull and dowdy?"

"They are getting ready for the next world," mumbled Lady Canvey,
solemnly.

"Their outfit can't cost much, then," declared Leah, flippantly; "but
aren't we going to talk business? Think of that poor French, sitting
in the motor-car all this time."

"You're sorry for him, I'm sure," said the old woman, ironically.

"Horribly," replied Lady Jim, calmly; "but at least the poor creature
is cooler than I am. This room is stifling."

"Don't call your fellow-sinner a creature, Leah."

"Ah! Even had I not seen Lionel I could guess he had been with you,
godmother. He loves the dirty and disreputable."

"And you love the rich and disreputable."

"That obvious speech is hardly worthy of your reputation," was Lady
Jim's reply. Then she crossed her legs, rested her muff on her knee,
and protested, "I can't wait here much longer----"

"On account of French?"

"No; but I'm going to dine at the Cecil to-night, with a boy in the
Lancers. He's a nice boy."

"And a rich boy?"

"Of course! I don't like boys without money. But this business," she
went on hurriedly. "Jim and I are in a hole."

"You ought to be in gaol," was the angry reply.

"That _would_ be a hole," said Leah, good-humouredly; "but you don't
want to see Jim and me in the bankruptcy court."

"Why should I bother? It's nothing to do with me!"

"I'm your god-daughter."

"You're a heartless cat," said Lady Canvey, angrily, and with her eyes
scintillating like jewels. "It's no use, Leah. I've helped you and
that rascal Jim over and over again. Apply to the Duke."

"Oh, we've done that. He won't give us a penny."

"Then ask some of those nice boys you talk of."

Lady Jim sat very upright in her chair, and a becoming colour
heightened her beauty.

"I don't ask any men for money," she declared; "you know perfectly
well, Lady Canvey, that I am any honest woman."

"And how dull that sounds," chuckled Lady Canvey, turning the tables;
"you should be more original, Leah."

"I don't mind going out to dinner with a man," cried Lady Jim, feeling
herself much aggrieved, "nor do I mind a box at the theatre, or some
gloves or things of that sort, so long as Jim doesn't object.'

"Pooh! Much you care for Jim."

"I do. Jim's got a temper. He told me this very morning he'd screw my
neck if I broke loose."

"Then I respect him for saying it," said Lady Canvey, energetically;
"and I'd respect him still more if he did it."

"That's what I said to him," retorted Leah, grimly. "All the same, I
am straight enough. No one can say a word against me."

"I'm glad to hear it. You have your good points, Leah," observed Lady
Canvey, in a more kindly tone; "but you show your worst side to the
world. Why not turn over a new leaf?"

"I'm just about to do so, and there's bankruptcy on the other side,
unless you help us, dear godmother," she ended coaxingly.

"I won't," was the firm response. "It's like pouring water into a
sieve. I've given you and Jim at least five thousand pounds. Where is
it, I ask--where?"

"We must pay our bills."

"You ought to, but you don't."

"Money will go."

"In ways it shouldn't go," snapped the old woman, feeling herself
mistress of the situation. "Don't talk nonsense to me, Leah. You and
that rascal are a couple of spendthrifts. The Duke, bless him, started
you both with a good home and a good income, and now----"

"Now we're on the rocks, as Jim cleverly puts it," said Leah, who could
not help seeing the humour of the dilemma. "You didn't think Jim was
so original, did you, godmother?"

"Leah, you're impossible!"

"I'm sure I don't know why you should say that," remonstrated Lady
Jim. "I must keep up my position."

"It's not as if you had been expensively brought up," went on Lady
Canvey, unheeding. "Your father was a wasteful pauper, for he got
precious little off that estate of his in Buckinghamshire."

"And what he did get went into his own pocket," said Lady Jim,
supplementing the family history; "but as my mother was dead, and I
was his only daughter, he might have treated me better."

"Geoffrey Wain was like yourself, Leah--a hard-hearted, selfish----"

"Oh, spare me these adjectives," interrupted Lady Jim, rising. "My
father is dead, so there's nothing more to say. If you can't help me,
at least you needn't call me names."

"I beg your pardon," said Lady Canvey, very politely. "As I don't
intend to give you a shilling, I have no right to tell you what I
think of your doings. Will you ring the bell, please? I want Joan."

When Lady Canvey took this tone Leah knew well that the case was
hopeless. In spite of senile weeping, it appeared that the old woman
was not so easily beguiled as might have been expected. There seemed
nothing for it but to leave in silence; but remembering how desperate
was the position, Lady Jim refrained from ringing the bell and made a
last appeal--this time on business grounds.

"If you will give me a thousand pounds for six months," she proposed,
"my husband and I will pay it back with interest."

"And the security, my dear?"

"Our joint names," said Leah, with dignity.

"Ring the bell," was all the answer that Lady Canvey vouchsafed to
this proposal; "and goodnight, my dear."

Lady Jim recognised that she was beaten, and nothing remained, but to
retire with dignity. Pressing the button of the bell, she crossed to
Lady Canvey and kissed her withered cheek with a caressing smile. "I
am so pleased to see you looking so well," she said gently; "but I see
signs of failing in your conversation."

"You won't see any signs of lending," was the grim response. "Oh, here
you are, Joan," as that young lady entered the room with Lionel at her
heels. "Send these people away, and read me a chapter out of that new
novel which came yesterday."

"Goodnight," said Lionel, bending over the old lady, and kissing her
hand with the tenderness of a son.

She twitched it away. "There--there--goodnight. Take Leah to that
miserable creature who is perishing in her motor-car, and don't make
love to her. She is one of those women who are a crown to their
husbands."

Lady Jim did not wait to hear the old woman's chuckle as she fired
this last shot, but swept out of the room, smiling kindly on Miss
Tallentire. The curate followed her, and Leah began to consider what
use she could make of him to farther her plans.

"Let me drive you to Lambeth," she said, while arranging her sables at
the door.

Lionel laughed. "Lambeth would be shocked to see me arrive at my
lodgings in such an up-to-date style," said he, pulling up the collar
of his coat. "No, thank you, Lady James. I'll walk for a time, and
then take a Westminster Bridge 'bus."

"No, you won't," she contradicted, in an imperious tone. "I wish to
talk to you. Come, get in. French, you can go home."

"But the car, my lady?"

"I'll look to that. Do as you're told."

Looking rather apprehensively at the machine, which was humming and
shaking in the bitter cold, French touched his cap and moved away.
Leah stepped lightly in, and beckoned to Lionel with one hand, while
she gripped the steering-wheel with the other.

"Come along."

The curate did not display much eagerness to come. "Is it safe?" he
asked; "you've sent the man away."

"Because I want to talk privately with you. Safe!" she echoed in a
tone of impatient scorn; "I'd drive a car against Edge himself."

"Oh, very well," said Kaimes, carelessly, and placed himself beside
her. He was utterly devoid of fear, and if there was to be a smash, he
was not unprepared to enter the next world. Lady Jim gave the wheel a
twirl, and the car glided through the square under the grey muffling
of the fog. Reckless as she was, Lady Jim had to steer carefully and
move slowly, lest she should run into something, for the fog was a
trifle thicker than it had been during the afternoon. All the same,
her keen eyes could see clearly enough, and she was not at all afraid.
Cool under all circumstances, Lady Jim would have hummed a ditty on
the streaming bridge of a plunging, bucking tramp-steamer, going down
in the bitter North Atlantic weather. Lionel marvelled at her
composure, and wondered if even her dear intellect could grasp the
meaning of death and its hereafter. But Lady Jim was thinking of this
world rather than of the next, and talked of her troubles while
steering the car down Piccadilly.

"Jim and I are in a hole about money," she announced abruptly, for
there was no need to be diplomatic with this simpleton.

"That is not unusual," murmured Lionel.

She laughed and nodded. "No. We have both a wonderful capacity for
getting through cash. Now we've got down to what an American girl
called the bed-rock, and we want help."

"I never knew you when you did not want help," said the curate,
wondering what was best to say; "and in some ways, your want is very
dire."

"Don't preach, Lionel. Money is better than sermons."

"To such as you and Jim, no doubt. But setting aside the spiritual
need, a sermon on your extravagance would do you good."

"I'm afraid not," rejoined Lady Jim, putting on the brake for the St.
James's Street incline; "it would only go in at one ear and out of the
other. When I want sermons I'll come and hear you preach in that dirty
little church of yours. Meantime, you must help to get Jim and me out
of this scrape."

Lionel was annoyed by her reference to his church, but from experience
he knew it was worse than useless to argue with Lady Jim. "I cannot
help you," he said stiffly; "you know my small means."

"Bless the man, I don't mean you to put your hand in your pocket. I am
quite aware that the clergy are better at asking than at giving."

"You have no right to say that," remonstrated Kaimes, warmly. "We help
the poor and needy."

"In that case you have now a chance of practising what you preach."

Lady Jim negotiated Cockspur Street and felt her way along Trafalgar
Square in the hope of hitting Whitehall. Only when the car was buzzing
down that thoroughfare did Lionel speak.

"I am sitting in a most expensive machine," he said, indignantly,
"swathed in a costly rug, and beside a woman with a fortune on her
back in the way of clothes."

"Then you ought to be very happy," said Leah, calmly; "but I'll drop
you at Lambeth soon, and then you can get back to the mud and rags,
which you seem to prefer."

"My meaning is, that if you were poor you could not afford these
luxuries."

"Nonsense. It is only poor people who _can_ afford them. The rich make
their money by self-denial, and wearing clothes which don't fit, in
houses furnished with the riff-raff of auction-rooms. Jim and I have
been brought up to better things."

"To better worldly things," corrected Lionel, bitterly.

"And very pleasant they are, my dear man."

"It is people such as you and your husband who make the poor
discontented," insisted the curate.

"I'm sure I don't see why the poor should be," murmured Lady Jim,
vaguely; "there are lots of shelters and soup-kitchens and workhouses.
And I always put ten shillings into the plate on Hospital Sunday, not
to speak of the way in which I've danced and sung at performances--got
up to help people who don't need the money so much as I do."

"Nero fiddling, while Rome burned."

"Well, and what else could the poor man have done?" retorted Leah.
"There were no fire-brigades in those days, were there?"

Lionel felt helpless. "You don't understand!"

"Oh yes, I do. You mean to be nasty. If I were a vindictive woman I
would drop you into the river, car and all"--they were crossing
Westminster Bridge by this time--"but I always like to be nice. Being
nasty brings wrinkles, and makes one so old. But about our trouble,"
she went on, determined to have her own way. "Lady Canvey won't help
us, and no one else either. There's the Duke----"

"He has done enough for you."

"Not at all," Lady Jim assured him coolly. "He's kept us on bread and
water--that's all."

"Oh!" Lionel was shocked at this ungrateful speech. "And you prefer
_pâté de foie gras_ and champagne?"

"Naturally! Not that I like _pâté de foie gras_. They torture the
geese to get it, I believe, and it seems cruel to eat it."

"You have a tender heart," said Kaimes, sarcastically.

"It has been my ruin. But this trouble----" She harked back again to
the one subject which occupied her thoughts. "Will you see the Duke,
and ask him to give us--say--er--er--well, two thousand pounds?"

"No, I won't. You'll only waste it."

"That's so like you parsons," said Lady Jim snappishly: "we ask for
bread, and you give us a stone."

"Two thousand pounds' worth of bread is a trifle too much to ask for."

"Not at all, I always ask for twice what I hope to get. But here we
are on the other side of the water. I can't take the machine into your
dirty little slums. Get down."

Lionel did so, and stepped on to the pavement. "Thank you for the
drive," said he, lifting his soft hat.

Lady Jim nodded vaguely. "Won't you speak to the Duke?"

Kaimes hesitated. He did not wish to appear churlish; yet it seemed
useless to interfere. "The Duke is very independent," he explained; "I
don't think he'll listen to me."

"Oh yes, he will. You're a parson, and he is old enough to be afraid
of the next world. Tell him we're cleaned out, and get Jim and me a
thousand. And I tell you what," added Leah, generously. "If you do,
I'll give you a ten-pound note for your charities, though I don't
believe in helping paupers myself."

"Yet you ask help on that ground."

"Oh, I mean the unwashed paupers you're so fond of."

Lionel ruminated. "Do you and Jim go down to Firmingham for
Christmas?"

"Yes. It will be horribly dull. The Duke is so fond of that
old-fashioned Dickens Christmas, with its holly and mistletoe rubbish;
but we must keep in with him. What of it?"

"Why not explain your position, and----?"

"Oh, we've explained it a dozen times. But the Duke doesn't seem to
understand. Now, you can put the thing to him nicely."

"Well," said the curate, slowly. "I go to Firmingham at Christmas to
preach, so I'll speak to the Duke."

"You're a brick," cried Lady Jim, holding out her hand. "I'll come and
hear you preach when we're in Firmingham."

"I hope it will do you good," said Lionel, shaking hands. "You think
me a prig, Lady James, but I assure you----"

"I know you do," said Leah, dreading further sermons; "but I must get
home to dress. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," echoed Lionel, hopelessly, and saw the car glide away
into the fog between the lines of blurred lights. "Poor woman!" he
thought, turning towards his lodgings. "How terribly sad her spiritual
position is! I trust she will get home safely, seeing she is so
worldly."

He need not have troubled. Lady Jim reached Curzon Street in safety,
and in very good spirits. Did not a peacock's feather adorn one of the
motor-car lamps?



CHAPTER IV


Firmingham was the smallest of the Duke of Pentland's country seats,
and so cosy, that he invariably held his Christmas revels there, in
preference to dispensing Yule-tide hospitality in more splendid
mansions. Situated in a woody and elevated part of Essex--that county
presumed to be a fog-tormented puddle--the quaint Georgian house was
ideal in itself, and in the repose and charm of its surroundings.

Ugly it probably was when erected, but time had mellowed its glaring
walls of red brick, and nature had draped them with hangings of dark
green ivy. The square, lofty house, with its freestone ornamentation,
its many windows and gigantic porch, stood on a slight rise, a
position which enhanced its noble proportions. On three sides, level
with the ground floor, extended broad greystone terraces, with shallow
steps leading downward to smooth lawns. These, stretching for a
considerable distance, terminated in flower-beds, now devoid of
blossom and colour. And lawns, house, and flower-gardens were girdled
by pines and oaks, sycamore-trees and elms, with noble examples of the
birch, the beech, and cedars, proud and tall. A wide, straight avenue
ran for a quarter of a mile through grim firs to ornate iron gates
swinging between massive stone pillars, surmounted by the ducal arms.
And these same gates gave entrance to a spacious and wild park, as
delightful as that "wood near Athens" where Oberon tricked Titania.

The charming country outside this sacred enclosure appealed to artists
in search of the picturesque. Certainly, the landscape was domestic
and tame, for here nature yielded to the controlling hand of man. But
the pleasant walks, the deep lanes, the ancient villages, and the
comfortable farmhouses, sprinkled thickly for miles, made, in
conjunction, a pretty picture of rural peace and contentment. And the
contentment was genuine, for no better or more considerate landlord
than the Duke existed. He was popular in the neighbourhood, and his
sway almost imperial--a true king of the castle.

Jim and his wife drove from the station in quite a Darby and Joan
style, and, through fear of the Duke, rather than in compliment to the
season, were prepared to enact the parts of man and wife to
perfection. It was rather hard for Leah to say pretty things to Jim in
public, and for Jim to hover anxiously round Leah as a lover-like
husband; but the Duke expected such behaviour, and they were astute
enough not to disappoint him. In his rough tweeds, with jovial looks
and hearty words, Jim was quite the English squire of the story-book,
and shook hands with some of his father's tenants who haunted the
local station in quite the "all-men-are-brothers" style. Leah also
dispensed smiles and nods to marvelling villagers, who stared
open-mouthed at her beauty. But in the comfortable brougham, Jim
folded his arms and lapsed into sulky silence, and Leah yawned and
looked out of the window for want of something better to do. They were
off the stage now, and could take their ease.

Very wintry looked the landscape through which they passed. The
meadow-lands were deep in snow, and gaunt, leafless trees started like
black spectres from the milky ground. Ponds and ditches wore masks of
darkly-green ice, and the frozen road rang like iron under the hoofs
of the horses. A yellowish sky, with the promise of almost immediate
snow, lowered over the starving world, and, for lack of foliage, the
landscape widened to the observing eye. A dull crimson in the west
showed that the sun was sinking in foggy splendour. The shrill voices
of children, singing music-hall songs instead of carols, saluted their
ears.

"Quite like a Christmas card, isn't it, Jim?"

"If it wasn't for the music-hall songs," assented her husband, looking
out of his window. "Wonder if there'll be skatin'."

"I daresay. I hope so. I love skating."

"'Cause you can show off."

"We have each our little vanities, Jim," said Lady Jim, whom hope made
good-humoured. "There's the church--what a pretty old building, and
how well the snow contrasts with the red roof and the ivy!"

"We have to go there on Christmas Day," gloomed Kaimes.

"We must show an example to the lower orders," explained Leah, in her
British-matron tone. "Besides, Lionel preaches."

"How awful! Why has the Duke put him in the bill?"

"Mr. Dane, the vicar, is ill, and asked Lionel to fill the pulpit. The
Duke has nothing to do with it."

"Wish I had," grumbled Jim. "I'd have the sermon cut out."

"You'd have the church turned into a music-hall, I daresay," retorted
his wife, contemptuously. "But you must be as nice as you know how to
Lionel. Remember, he promised to speak to the Duke."

"I'll keep awake during his sermon, but I shan't promise to do more,
Leah. You're runnin' this show."

"Quite so, but I don't want you to spoil it. Lionel has great
influence with the Duke."

"Frightens the old man to death with texts and Tophet, I expect," said
Jim, crossly. "I know these parsons."

"I was not aware that your circle of friends included such respectable
acquaintances."

"Oh, I can hold a candle to a certain person as well as you, Leah. Who
do we meet at Firmingham?"

"The usual dull lot," said Lady Jim, with a yawn. "Frith and his
stupid little wife, who seems to model herself on David Copperfield's
Dora. Then Lady Canvey, with her new companion, is sure to be
present."

"Fancy havin' that death's-head at a Christmas feast. Who else, Leah?"

"That little Russian doctor, Demetrius. We met him at the Embassy, if
you remember. Not the Russian Embassy, but the French. He's out of
favour with the Czar, and dare not leave England in case he should be
sent to Siberia."

"He can practise for it here," said Jim, shivering, "Beastly cold,
isn't it, Leah? What's Demetrius doin' here?"

"Looking after the Duke's health. He says he can cure his gout."

"I hope he will," muttered Kaimes, devoutly. "For if Frith comes along
we shan't get a shillin'!"

"I'm half afraid we shan't get one now," sighed Lady Jim. "Here's the
avenue. What a charming place!"

"I'd let it out on buildin' leases, if I had it," remarked the prosaic
Jim, "an' cut the timber. Lot of money in those trees."

"Don't look into jewellers' windows, Jim. You're not rich enough to
buy the stock."

"Rich! It was as much as I could do to scrape enough together for our
tickets."

"Ah, well," said Leah, reassuringly, as the wheels scrunched the
frozen snow before the great porch, "we needn't spend anything here,
except half a crown for the plate."

"Catch me wastin' money in that way," snapped Kaimes, swinging himself
out to help his wife to alight. "Halloa, here's old Colley, lookin'
like a dean as usual"; and Jim, again assuming his hearty manner and
jovial leer, shook hands with the butler, whom he had known since
Etonian days.

The house-party was composed of hostile elements; consequently,
every one was compelled to adopt a forced air of Christmas peace and
good-will, which rather tried jumpy nerves. The Duke dug up fossilised
cousins to participate in the festive season, and these did not suit
with some fashionable folk, who for various reasons, as they put it,
"had to be nice to the dear old Duke." Mr. Jaffray and his poetic
sister of fifty, who quarrelled incessantly, hardly suited the tastes
of Mrs. Penworthy, as a daughter of the horse-leech and intensely
up-to-date. Nor did Graham, the Little England politician, enjoy the
company of Lord Sargon, a Tory, and a believer in the divine right of
the last legal descendant of the Stuarts. Also, the various young
women and men, who were really nobodies, and fancied themselves
somebodies, found the parts they were expected to take in an
old-fashioned Christmas rather a bore.

"The season of peace and good-will," explained the Duke, after dinner,
when this collection of smartness and do wellness embellished the
great drawing-room. "We must all love one another."

The company assented conventionally, and every one smiled violently on
every one, to the amusement of Lady Canvey. "If this was the Palace of
Truth," she announced, "there would be trouble."

"But the mellowing influence of the time----"

"Just so, Duke. But some people are like certain pears, they won't
mellow--they only become sleepy. And that reminds me," she added,
looking round for Joan. "I'll go to bed soon."

"Not on Christmas Eve," urged the Duke, bending over her chair.
"We intend to keep Yule-tide as our ancestors did--snap-dragon,
the mummers, the Christmas-tree, the carol-singers, and the
ghost-stories."

"Not one of them clever enough to tell a real ghost story," snapped
Lady Canvey, cynically examining faces old and young, made up and
natural.

"Oh, I know a lovely, lovely tale," said Miss Jaffray, who was gowned
girlishly in white, trimmed oddly with ivy, and who looked like a
ruin.

"That will last till to-morrow morning," chimed in her brother, seeing
an opportunity of being nasty; "snap-dragon is more fun. Eh, Lady
Frith--you used to enjoy that once."

"I do so now--dear snap-dragon," said the Marchioness, who
was sentimental and adored her tall lean husband; "but the
Christmas-tree--oh, that is too sweet. Bunny and I met for the first
time under a Christmas-tree, and he fell in love with me. Didn't you,
Bunny?"

It was rather hard on Lord Frith that he should be addressed by this
most inappropriate name. He was as stiff as a Spaniard, sad in his
looks, and spoke little. Although eminently well-bred, and clever in a
political way, he was not a genial personage. In this he differed from
his father, for the Duke was stout and kindly looking, beaming with
good-humour, and quite the style of host who would have figured in Sir
Roger de Coverley's time. Report said that he had been much too gay in
his youth, and that the late Duchess had put up with a great deal.
Lady Canvey could have related stories about the Duke likely to be
much more entertaining than the proposed ghost-tales. But she was fond
of her host, who, like herself, was a link with the remote past, and
never told stories out of school. When she and the Duke got together,
they wagged their old heads over dead and done-with scandals, and
lamented these days of vulgar and blatant sin. But whatever their
pasts may have been, they were an ideal couple in the way of venerable
looks and sweet old age. Quite a Philemon and Baucis of modern times.

Meantime, "Bunny" scowled on his frivolous little wife, and then gave
her a sentimental smile. He was always torn between love and
propriety, for Lady Frith, imitating Dora, as Lady Jim averred, said
the most exasperating things in a sweet treble. He used to lecture her
in private and explain what she should say; but these corrections
always ended in tears on the part of the child-wife, and in complete
surrender on the part of her doting husband. Lady Frith certainly
could play her part in society excellently well on occasions, and was
more shrewd than would have been guessed from her baby face and
infantile manners. But she wanted to be original, and therefore
plagiarised from Dickens' novel. This assumption of an imaginary
character she called "possessing a personality."

Mrs. Penworthy was old wine in a new bottle: that is, she looked
twenty-five, and acted like an experienced coquette of double the age.
Married to a modern Job, called Freddy, whose meekness was proverbial,
she led him about like a pet lamb and taught him a few parlor tricks,
so that people might say, "What an attached couple"; which they did,
tongue in cheek. A sweet look from Mrs. Penworthy warmed Freddy's
heart for four and twenty hours, even though the cost of the merest
glance sometimes ran into double figures. In his hours of leisure,
which were few, he frequently told her that she was an angel; but the
expression did not sound so agreeable on Freddy's lips, as on those of
the half dozen nice boys who constituted her court.

She went everywhere and knew everyone, and did the things she ought
not to have done, with discretion. Freddy thought her a playful
kitten, quite blind to the fact that she had grown rapidly into a cat.
But with smiling looks and sheathed claws, and Freddy's diamonds on
her neck, she was a very pretty cat, and blinked sleepily at those who
admired her, so long as Freddy gave her a silken cushion to rest on
and plenty of cream to drink. Moreover, she only scratched those who
could not scratch back.

"I really think it's awful fun," said Mrs. Penworthy to her
court--"all this sort of thing, you know--holly and snow and----"

"And mistletoe," suggested one of the nice boys.

"Now if you talk like that, Algy, you shan't be spoken to for a week."

"A look is enough for me," whispered the adoring Algy.

"Naughty! What would Freddy say?"

Lady Canvey's sharp ears overheard the banter. "Were I Freddy I know
what I'd say," she murmured grimly; then aloud, to spoil sport, "Is
your husband here, Mrs. Penworthy?"

"Freddy? Oh, dear me, no. He's gone to Paris, or Peru, or--I forget
exactly where--but it's something beginning with a 'P.' Dear Freddy,"
she laid an entirely useless fan on her lips, pensively, "he works so
very, very hard."

"And quite right too," said Lady Canvey, bluntly, "seeing what a
devoted wife he has."

"Ah, you don't know how Freddy tries me, dear Lady Canvey. I _am_
devoted--that I am. But, you see, I took Freddy for better or worse."

"Oh no," corrected the old woman, tartly; "you took the better, and
Freddy took the worse."

Mrs. Penworthy, not being ready with an answer, murmured something
about "jealous old thing," and moved away with her court to where Lord
Sargon was holding forth on his pet craze. "If only our ancient kings
were back," he said, but not too loud, as the Duke might have
disapproved of the disloyalty, "Christmas would be Christmas. In the
good old times of the blessed martyr Charles----"

"The bad old times," contradicted Mr. Graham; "it was then that our
beloved country began to annex places which are useless. Let us give
up everything beyond the Channel, and attend to our own country. Then,
indeed, Christmas will be Christmas."

"And the parish pump will pour forth beer," said Mr. Jaffray,
referring to the badge of the Little Englander.

"Ah, the conduits ran wine in those sweet old days," sighed his
sister, in her poetic vein.

"And people never washed," said a truculent old gentleman given to
sanitation. "What I say is, let every house have a bath-room."

"I say, Jim, is this going to last for ever?" asked Leah, considerably
bored by these intellectual fireworks.

"A week, anyhow," replied Jim, who was feeling happy after a large
dinner; "but if you will come to the Zoo, Leah, you mustn't find fault
with th' animals."

"They are scarcely so interesting."

"Oh! Animals don't talk, I 'spose you mean."

"You do," retorted Lady Jim, calmly. "There's Demetrius!" and she left
her husband in the clutches of Mrs. Penworthy, with a whispered
caution. "Don't let her go too far, Jim. This week we're the
respectable middle-class pair, who live in slate-roofed houses."

Jim did not quite understand, but he vaguely guessed that he was to
keep Mrs. Penworthy at a distance. For some minutes he did this, but
she soon overcame his scruples, and begged him to take her to the
picture gallery. The discreet court did not follow.

Constantine Demetrius was a small, dark, neat man with an ivory
complexion, black hair, a waxed moustache, and a stereotyped smile. He
was dressed perfectly in a foreign fashion, and placed his small feet
together when he made his bow to Lady Jim. His English was much better
than his morals, and perhaps this was why Lady Jim beckoned him to her
side. Demetrius was one of her most ardent admirers, and she had a
vague idea of making use of him. At present she did not see how to
utilise his services, but if ever she required a thoroughly
unscrupulous man, she knew that she would need him. Besides, he was
really a clever doctor, and when Lady Jim was ill, she felt it would
hasten the cure to think she was being attended to for nothing.

"What do you think of all this?" she asked him, when they were snugly
bestowed in a cosy corner.

"It is very English," said the Russian, with a shrug.

"That means very dull!"

Demetrius clicked his heels together and made a bow from the middle of
his body. "At present I cannot say so," said he, gallantly.

"And you wouldn't, if you thought so!"

"Madam, the truth to a ravishing woman----"

"Is like sunshine to a coal-miner: we get it so rarely. By the way,
how is Mademoiselle Aksakoff?"

"She is well."

"And as pretty as ever?"

"I see nothing of beauty but what is before me."

"All the same, you will leave me and marry Mademoiselle Aksakoff."

Demetrius looked at Lady Jim with such fire in his dark eyes that she
felt slightly uncomfortable in spite of her courageous nature. It was
easy to play with the hearts of phlegmatic Englishmen, but to amuse
herself with this fiery Slav was like trifling with a tiger.
Nevertheless, Lady Jim, with a view to future contingencies, allured
him with sweet looks, and tantalised him with half-granted favours.
Katinka Aksakoff, the daughter of a Russian official attached to the
Embassy, loved Demetrius even to the extent of helping him to escape
the lures of the secret police, which would have drawn him to the
Continent, _en route_ for Siberia. Therefore she hated Lady Jim,
because that astute diplomatist kept Demetrius dangling at her skirts
in the bonds of a never-to-be-requited love, on the chance that some
day she might require him. And the Russian knew that Leah Kaimes was a
woman who wanted all for nothing, but, if possible, he intended to
make his own bargain with her. Lady Jim was clever, but Demetrius
thought he could entangle her.

"Monsieur Demetrius," she said after a pause, during which the fire
died out of the Russian's eyes, "if you wanted money----"

"I would get it," said he, determinedly.

"But if you saw no way of getting it?"

"I would make the way."

"You can't make bricks without straw."

"Clever people can," replied Demetrius, dryly.

Lady Jim looked down at her rings.

"Are you clever?" she asked.

"To benefit some people I might be," he said in a low voice.

She stared straight before her, and noted that Lionel was chatting
with Miss Tallentire. As yet the curate had not spoken with the Duke,
so that was a quarter yet to be tried. Nevertheless, Lady Jim had a
shrewd idea, in spite of the comedy being played by herself and Jim,
and of Lionel's pleading, that the Duke would be adamant. It behoved
her to have another string to her bow, and this she could find in
Demetrius. But she did not know yet to what use she could put him. It
was impossible to ask him to sway the Duke, strong as his influence
was with that gouty nobleman. Lady Jim had a good deal of what she
called pride, and did not intend to let Demetrius know her true
position, if she could help it.

Before she could say anything, and really she did not know what to
say, the Duke gave the signal for the commencement of the Christmas
festivities. These were strong in intention, but weak in execution.
The company burnt their fingers over snap-dragon, capered in Sir Roger
de Coverley, tempted the Fates with roasting chestnuts, and finally
adjourned to a large hall, where glittered a splendid Christmas-tree.

Then danced in the mummers, villagers all, tricked out as Robin Hood
and Maid Marian, as the Terrible Turk, Santa Claus, St. George and the
Dragon--a most meek beast--and with hordes of merry, laughing
children. The Christmas-tree dropped its costly, many-coloured fruits
into expectant laps, and a chorus of praise hymned the munificence of
the gratified Duke. Even Lady Jim thanked him for the dainty gold-net
purse which she received, and if she did peep in slyly to see whether
it was lined with a cheque or a bank-note, that was only out of
compliment to her father-in-law's known generosity.

"Santa Claus has not got a banking account," she murmured to her
husband.

Jim, who was scowling at his gift,--a set of sleeve-links enamelled
with the four vices--women, cards, drink, and racing,--growled.

"He's got a dashed lot of impertinence. As if I'd wear these things!"

"No," said Leah, tickled by the implied rebuke, "it doesn't do to wear
your heart on your sleeve--links": a witticism which was entirely lost
on Jim. He was one of the many obtuse swine who trampled on Leah's
pearls.

What with eating and drinking, and professing seasonable sentiments
which certainly did not come from the heart, everyone became bored and
bilious and fractious. Leah surveyed the yawning revellers with a
feeling that Christmas, old style, was a failure.

"You can't arrange an orgy," was her comment to Lady Canvey, "it must
come by chance, to be successful."

"I don't think Pentland intended anything so disreputable," retorted
the old dame, "consequently you are disappointed."

"Bored," Lady Jim assured her. "I suppose it's eating plum pudding
which always makes me dull."

"But not good-natured."

"My digestion has its limits. Good night, godmother; I suppose it's
time for you to be taken to pieces," and having stricken Lady Canvey
dumb with rage, she slipped away to bed, wondering what would happen
before next Christmas.

"Something must be done," she thought, wearily climbing the stairs.
"If Lionel fails with the Duke, Demetrius might----"

Might what? She did not know. But she really did feel that something
might be done with Demetrius.



CHAPTER V


A congregation drawn to the Church of All Angels, by various
inducements, filled it to overflowing the next morning. Some came
because it was Christmas Day, others to hear Lionel Kaimes preach;
many desired to see the ducal party, and one or two presented
themselves in God's house to thank Him for the gift of His Son, sent
to save a dying world. Knowing the Duke's old age impeccability,
nearly all his guests were present and filled three large pews, to the
wondering awe of the villagers and their wives. These last,
especially, were distracted by the splendour of the ladies' dresses,
and the variety of the new fashions. Many laudable imitations of those
marvellous frocks were visible in country lane and village street
before Easter.

Lady Jim and her husband discreetly sat in the body of the church,
some distance from the pulpit, as Leah did not wish to come under the
curate's eye. She thought he was quite capable of preaching at her, in
which case a natural resentment would have led to a quarrel,
prejudicial to the exercise of Lionel's good offices with the Duke.
Moreover, Leah, occupied with her own thoughts, did not want to be
distracted by a sermon of religious platitudes. She stood up and sat
down mechanically, looking too flamboyant to be in harmony with the
simplicity of the building. Tucked into the opening of her
"Incroyable" coat, claret-coloured and with strikingly large buttons,
she wore a cup-shaped nosegay of white and pink orchids. Her hat was
large, with many feathers of the new Titian red, and resembled nothing
in nature. She did not wear jewellery, but the vivid colours of her
dress made up for the absence of gems. There was something tropical
about Leah, and in that chill grey church she glowed like a gorgeous
flower, all splendour and perfume and radiant vitality. Her exuberant
beauty and colour attracted even the attention of Jim. He bent
forward, when the prayer for the King's Majesty was being said:

"I believe you're enjoyin' it," muttered Jim, resentfully.

"H-sh-s-s-s!" breathed Leah, devoutly, and knelt in a saintly attitude
which was far from expressing her real feelings. For the moment she
did not pray herself, or think of the prayer that was being offered.
Her thoughts were busy with bills and duns and Jim's defects, and the
chances that Demetrius might prove useful. And when she did murmur a
prayer, it was one of those which are rarely answered, or, if
answered, turn to the confusion of the suppliant. Plenty of money, no
trouble, much enjoyment, and the destruction of her enemies, were the
elements which composed this remarkable petition. Lady Jim was not
very clear as to whom she was asking, but she had a vague feeling,
which she mistook for religion, that there might be Some One who could
give her what she required. Moreover, it was just as well to be on the
safe side. Yet, even as she tried the experiment, the earthly
superstition asserted itself, and she carefully fingered a peacock's
feather inside her muff. This serving of God and a fetish may seem
ridiculous in a woman of Leah's capacity. Nevertheless, she devoutly
believed that if the unseen Deity did not help her, the seen Baal
would. And after all, was there not a cat of Heine's acquaintance, who
made genuflections before a pink-ribboned flageolet? But cats, as the
poet remarks, are so superstitious. And Leah the pantheress was of the
feline tribe.

Having made herself safe with the Unknown, Lady Jim joined in the
ensuing hymn bravely. She thought the words dreary and the tune
barbarous, but the fervour of her deep contralto voice reached the
Duke's ears, and he gave her an approving glance; so that was
something gained. Leah would have gone through the whole collection of
Ancient and Modern to learn the precise meaning of that look, but she
was satisfied with guessing, and sat down cheerfully to be bored with
the sermon. It occurred to her that the prayer had been heard, and
would probably be granted. But whether by the peacock's feather, or
the Deity of whom Lionel now began to speak, she could not determine.

"And His name shall be called Wonderful"--this was the curate's text,
and he discoursed on it in a simple and impressive way. Speaking of
the birth of Christ, of His teaching and plan of salvation, of His
self-denying life and unwearying kindness, the young man's grave and
tender periods shamed the most inattentive into thoughtfulness. Lionel
was not a born orator, but he was very much in earnest, and preached
with an emphasis which carried undeniable conviction. Mrs. Penworthy
felt suddenly virtuous, and resolved to repeat as much of the sermon
as she could remember to Freddy, so that he might not grumble so much
over what the silly thing called "her extravagance." Even Lady Canvey
wagged her aged head, and thought that she might help a few deserving
paupers, if their needs could be supplied in moderation. Leah herself
was impressed, to the extent of hoping that the Duke would see that it
behoved him to fill the empty pockets of a deserving and pretty
daughter-in-law. Jim would have approved of this sentiment, but all
the time he was fast asleep, and woke up cross when she pinched him to
rise for the Doxology.

Beyond a stray sentence here and there, Leah had not paid much
attention: she had heard it all before, though some of the sentiments
were new, and, as she thought, ridiculous. When the preacher was
fairly started she relapsed into her own thoughts. These being
unpleasant, she permitted her hard eyes to wander round the church.
After a wondering gaze at the extraordinary fashions of the women, and
a patronising examination of the decorations, she caught sight of a
face belonging to a young man on the other side of the aisle. He was
so like Jim that she involuntarily turned to see if her husband still
slumbered placidly by her side. The double was dressed in grey tweeds
and looked almost like a gentleman. He stooped a trifle, in spite of
his square shoulders and stalwart figure, and every now and then
coughed painfully. Apparently he was ill with some pulmonary
complaint, which the freezing atmosphere of the church accentuated.
Leah wondered at the resemblance, and thought of certain traditionary
stories concerning the youthful days of the Duke. But after a second
glance she decided that perhaps there was nothing in it. Jim was of a
pink-and-white, bovine, commonplace type, and there were hundreds
like him in manners and morals and looks. Moreover, she was so weary
of seeing Jim's inane face over the breakfast-cups that she did not
care to gaze at the imitation. Nevertheless, being a woman with the
orthodox share of Eve's curiosity, she resolved to ask questions about
this consumptive double. Mrs. Arthur, the Firmingham housekeeper,
could doubtless tell some story, as she knew much more about the Duke
than had ever appeared, even in the most scurrilous society paper. And
Lady Jim knew how to make her talk.

When the plate circled, Leah quadrupled Jim's half-crown, and he did
not approve when the piece of gold jingled amongst the silver.

"You've been borrowin'," Jim accused her in an angry whisper.

"Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow," sang Leah, without
replying; and put her whole heart and voice into the hymn in the hope
that some of the blessings might trickle her way. And why not, seeing
that she had baited her hook with a sprat to catch the much-needed
mackerel? But it was useless to explain this to Jim. He would not have
understood such lavish fishing.

"It was really too lovely," Mrs. Penworthy assured the Duke at
luncheon. "Mr. Kaimes spoke just the things I feel. And the
decorations--oh, really--so very tasteful. But the mistletoe, Duke. I
don't think there should have been mistletoe round the pulpit."

"Such an immoral plant," chimed in Lady Canvey, with sharp, twinkling
eyes; "and so useless to some people, who can dispense with it as an
excuse. I daresay the Druids were no better than they should have
been."

"They were before my time," said Mrs. Penworthy, very prettily; "and
you must have been quite a child then, dear Lady Canvey."

The sermon affected Lady Frith in another fashion.

"Oh, dear Bunny," she said to her saturnine husband, "what a lovely
way Lionel puts things! Do let us help people. There's Leah, you
know----"

"Exactly," assented Frith, dryly. "I do know, and for that reason I
don't intend to waste money in that direction."

"But Lionel talked of aiding the poor and needy."

"That doesn't include the extravagant and ungrateful," retorted her
lord. "You are an unsophisticated child, Hilda."

"Oh, Bunny, how could you call poor Leah and her husband names? We
must love every one at this season."

"Oh, I'll love them as much as you please; but not to the extent of
supporting them."

Plainly there was nothing to be got out of Frith, as Lady Jim decided
when the Marchioness reported a part of this conversation later in the
day. But she attempted to soften the Marquis by saying things which
she knew the child-wife would babble again to her hard-hearted
husband.

"Jim and I don't want money, dear," she said, kissing Lady Frith; "so
long as Frith is nice to us, we don't care. You have your position to
keep up, and we are nothing. But it was sweet of you to speak."

"Oh no," prattled Hilda, in her childish way. "I want every one to
love me, ever so much."

"I am sure they do. Isn't Frith jealous?"

"As nearly jealous as a perfect man can be."

"I thought perfect men had no imperfection," retorted Lady Jim,
ironically; "but it's all right, dear," another kiss--"we must bear
our cross, as Lionel said this morning. Now I must go to see old Mrs.
Arthur. One must be good to one's inferiors."

The result of this conversation was, that Lady Frith told her husband
of Leah's pointedly correct humbleness; whereat the marquis laughed
shortly. He quite understood Lady Jim's tactics, and was resolved that
they should not succeed. Frith was one of the few men Lady Jim had
never fascinated, and she hated to be under his clear-sighted gaze. If
Hilda could have heard Leah's inward remarks as she proceeded to the
housekeeper's room, she would scarcely have given so favourable a
report.

"Good day, Mrs. Arthur," said Lady Jim, to the old-fashioned dame in
the black silk and lace cap, who rose to drop a prim curtsey. "I have
come to wish you the compliments of the season."

"Thank you, my lady. Won't you be seated?"

Lady Jim selected the most comfortable chair in the quaint small room,
and graciously requested the housekeeper to resume her seat. Then she
asked about Mrs. Arthur's cough, and her sailor son, and her married
daughter, and after various other things in which she did not feel the
least interest. The old woman, much impressed with Leah's
condescension, and not sufficiently clever to see through her arts,
expanded like a winter rose in this aristocratic sunshine. In a few
minutes she was chatting quite at her ease, and with the discursive
garrulousness of old age. This was the unguarded mood Leah desired for
the satisfaction of her curiosity, and having created it by an
appearance of the deepest interest in Mrs. Arthur's domestic
small-beer chronicles, she proceeded to take advantage of the
opportunity.

"The service was delightful this morning," she observed; "the
decorations were charming and the congregation so attentive. I suppose
you know every one in the village, Mrs. Arthur."

"I ought to, my lady. I am Firmingham bred and born."

"And a very good representative of the place," said Leah, kindly. "The
villagers are really quite nice-looking--especially the men."

"If you saw my son----"

"Was he in church this morning?" asked Lady Jim, who knew very well
that the young man was with his ship in Chinese waters. "I saw rather
a handsome young fellow in one of the pews, but he looked ill. Of
course, I thought him handsome," she went on carelessly, and with a
soft laugh: "he was the image of my husband."

Mrs. Arthur looked rather nervous. "There is only one young man
hereabouts who resembles Lord James," she observed, "and I do not
wonder you saw the likeness, my lady. Harold Garth is like Lord James
now, and is such as his Grace was in his youth."

"Oh!" Leah's eyes opened. "Do you mean to say----?"

"Nothing, my lady--nothing"; and Mrs. Arthur's hands fiddled nervously
with the gold chain she wore round her neck. Then, woman-like, she
went on to contradict herself. "Harold Garth has lately returned from
Canada, where he went to farm."

"Garth? I seem to know the name!"

"I don't know who can have mentioned it to you, my lady. He is the
only Garth in the district, and I daresay you never saw him before."

"Well, no; I must admit that I never have. Why?"

"Canada," explained Mrs. Arthur, vaguely. "He has been there for the
last twenty years. He went out to make money, at the age of fifteen."

"And has apparently returned with consumption."

"Yes, poor lad; but the Duke is very kind to him."

Lady Jim laughed meaningly. "Oh, the Duke is very kind to him, is he?
That's so like the Duke. Always thoughtful. Fifteen and twenty--he is
about thirty-five."

"More or less, my lady."

"My husband's age," said Lady Jim, pointedly. "Yes, my lady," assented
Mrs. Arthur, closing her lips firmly.

Leah tried another question. "Why doesn't this young man's family keep
him instead of letting the Duke support him?"

"Harold Garth has no family, my lady. His mother is dead."

"And his father?"

Mrs. Arthur looked down. "I know nothing about his father," she said
in low tones. "Harold is a lonely man, poor soul. He lives at the
Pentland Arms, and Mrs. Kibby, the landlady, is as kind to him as
though he were her own son. And his Grace--bless him--does all he can
to smooth Harold's way to the grave. He sent that foreign doctor
to----"

"Demetrius," said Lady Jim, quickly. "Oh, so Demetrius knows him?"

"Yes, my lady. He thinks he can cure him of this consumption. I do not
think so myself" proceeded Mrs. Arthur, garrulously, "for Harold is
booked for death. You can see it in his face. I believe his Grace
wants him to go to a warmer climate."

"What a deep interest the Duke takes in this man!"

Mrs. Arthur looked up suddenly, and a flush dyed her withered cheek.
The eyes of the two women met, and the situation was adjusted without
words. After that interchange of glances Leah knew, as well as if Mrs.
Arthur had explained at length, that Harold had ducal blood in his
veins. "And that is why he is so like Jim," she thought, rising to go.
"I hope the poor fellow will get well," she said aloud; "but really,
he was foolish to venture into that cold church."

"I don't think he minds if he is dead or alive, my lady. He has no
friends."

"Oh yes, the Duke----"

"Certainly his Grace, who is a friend to all," said Mrs. Arthur
loyally.

Lady Jim laughed, and went away. She had learned all she wished to
learn, but, beyond satisfying a passing curiosity, had no desire to
pursue the subject. Still, she thought it would amuse her to ask
Demetrius a few questions concerning this patient, and went in search
of him. Somehow the subject of Harold Garth and his resemblance to Jim
took hold of her imagination, and she could not put it out of her
head. While she was thinking of other matters, the thought of the
strange likeness--now fully accounted for--would slip in, and she
would find herself pondering. Afterwards she declared that this
insistence of a passing thought was the work of Providence, for so she
called the peacock-feather Baal she served.

Demetrius was not in the house, having been called out to see some one
who was ill in the village. So Lionel assured her, and moreover
supplied her with the name of the patient. "It's a young fellow called
Harold Garth," he said gravely; "he foolishly came to church this
morning, and, being already ill, is worse from having ventured out."

"I never heard a parson call going to church foolishness before," said
Lady Jim, surprised that the subject should crop up again in so
unexpected a manner. "Who is Harold Garth?"

"A protége of the Duke's. He has just returned from Canada," said the
curate, simply; "and, curiously enough, he is rather like the Kaimes
family. Perhaps that is why the Duke is so kind to him."

"Perhaps it is," said Leah, wondering how much Lionel guessed. "I
don't think I ever saw him," she added, mendaciously.

"If you did you would mistake him for your husband."

"How awful!" shuddered Leah. "As though one Jim wasn't enough to be
bothered with. But can't we talk of something more interesting--your
sermon, for instance?"

"I trust you found that interesting," said Lionel, smiling.

"Oh yes--it wasn't too long."

"I see"--dryly--"you judge the interest of a sermon by its length."

"Oh no--really, I quite enjoyed your preaching."

"I don't preach that people may enjoy, but that they may think
seriously of what they are."

"I'm sure I think seriously enough, Lionel. Have you spoken to the
Duke? No? I wish you would."

"To-morrow. This is Christmas Day, remember."

"As if I could forget, with all the nonsense that's going on here,"
retorted Lady Jim, glancing superciliously round at the decorations.
"Every one is overdoing the brotherly business. I quite expected my
maid to tell me that she loved me. And I don't see why you shouldn't
ask the Duke to-day. You'll squeeze the money out of him the more
easily while he's got this Christmassy emotion on."

"I don't squeeze money out of people," said Kaimes, stiffly.

"What a large income you must have, then."

"I live within it."

"That's nothing to boast of. I'd live within mine, if I had ten
thousand a year."

"I doubt it," replied Lionel, who could not help laughing at her
coolness; "you'd spend fifty thousand if you had it."

"Rather--if I were the Duchess of Pentland. But there's no chance of
such luck. Frith's too healthy. Do smile again, Lionel--you've got
such nice teeth, and look quite a good sort when you let yourself go."

"What am I to smile at?" asked the curate, with deliberate austerity.

"At me, and on me. I put ten shillings into the plate this morning."

Lionel was a thoroughly good young man, and had a great sense of the
dignity of his cloth and the responsibility of his position. But he
also possessed humour, and could not help retorting after the style of
a certain witty bishop.

"That's the smallest fire insurance I ever heard of," said he,
genially, and moved away, leaving Lady Jim amused.

"I didn't think he had so much fun in him," she thought, making for
the library; "but the speech is too clever to be original"--which
showed that Leah suspected the existence of the witty bishop.

But the word insurance put her mind on Jim's mad idea to pretend death
and cheat the company out of twenty thousand pounds, with
accumulations. Leah devoutly wished that the trick could be managed.
Its success meant a clearance of debt and of Jim, when the millennium
would come, and, as Mrs. Nickleby's admirer put it, "all would be gas
and gaiters." She resolved to have another chat with Jim on the
subject, and meantime went to seek for a novel. After boring herself
with Mrs. Arthur and Lionel, she wished to read away a well-earned
hour of peace.

But this for the moment she was not destined to enjoy. The library was
empty, save for the presence of the last person whom Lady Jim wished
to encounter. When Miss Jaffray looked up from a gigantic volume with
an almost toothless smile, Leah turned to fly. But the old maid
arrested her flight with a joyful shout. She usually did shout, as her
brother was slightly deaf, which deceived her into thinking the entire
human race was likewise afflicted.

"So sweet of you to come here," shouted Miss Jaffray. "I am just dying
for some one to talk to."

If the decision had been left to Lady Jim, she would have gladly
avoided the talk, to bring about this result. But it occurred to her
scheming mind that this dull spinster was wealthy, and might be
cajoled or frightened into lending money. Leah did not specify the
sum, even in her own mind, as she did not know how much more this
virgin soil would yield, if properly worked. Sitting down promptly,
she began to chat on the first subject that came into her head.

"What are you reading so earnestly?" she asked sweetly.

"The _Morte d'Arthur_," said the spinster, fondling the ponderous tome
which her weak knees could hardly support.

"Heavens!" thought Lady Jim, with a charming smile, meaning nothing,
"am I to be bored with another Arthur?"

"The black-letter edition," went on Miss Jaffray, in a loud and
oratorical voice. "Most interesting. So sweet to think of those dear
dead days, when knights went about as troubadours with guitars in
steel armour, dying for queens of beauty."

"Delightful," assented Lady Jim, yawning at the dullness of the
picture; "but"--with a disparaging glance at the lettering--"isn't it
rather like reading a German newspaper? I prefer novels myself."

"So do I, when not in a poetic humour," shouted her companion. "All
the old, old masters of fiction. Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, Wilkie
Collins. I love them all--every one."

"I seem to know those names," ventured Leah, carefully. "What did they
write, Miss Jaffray?"

The spinster gasped. Brought up in a library, she could not understand
this fashionable ignorance, which, truth to say, was partially
assumed. Leah was by no means the ignoramus she made herself out to
be. But, for the sake of business, she thought it judicious to foster
Miss Jaffray's vanity by assuming an inferior position.

"Do you ever read?" asked Miss Jaffray, in the voice of Goliath
challenging the army of Saul.

"Oh yes; society newspapers, and French novels."

"But they are so improper."

"Nothing amusing is improper to my mind," said Lady Jim, calmly; "and
I really did skim through a page or two of Dickens. Horribly dull, I
thought him."

"Oh!" Miss Jaffray gasped again. "He did so much good."

"Perhaps that is why his books are dull. Thoroughly good people are
invariably----" Here she discreetly pulled the reins, as Miss Jaffray,
considering herself good, might not relish the malicious witticism,
presuming she could understand it. "I'll take you as my instructor,
dear Miss Jaffray," added Leah, stifling another yawn. "Do tell me
what to read."

"There's Wilkie Collins's _Armadale_," said the old maid, delighted at
being put into the pulpit; "but you may think me rude for recommending
that."

"Why should I?"

"There's a character in it so like you, in appearance," apologised
Miss Jaffray; "in appearance only, you will understand. I should be
sorry indeed to think that in morals you resembled Miss Gwilt."

"Miss--how much?"

"Gwilt. G-w-i-l-t," spelt the spinster--"the strange name of a strange
woman. She's the character I spoke of. No, really you mightn't like
her. She was--well--er--er--disreputable. Better begin with _The Woman
in White_."

"Oh, I have heard of that. What is it about?"

"A striking resemblance between two women. One is passed off
by her wicked husband as the other, and buried--to get money, you
understand--a kind of fraud."

Leah turned cold and hot. It sounded as though this simple woman
was explaining the contemplated deceit of herself and Jim. "I don't
think I should like that book at all," she said, diplomatically
cunning; "it sounds dull. I would rather read about the naughty
woman--Miss--what's-her-name?"

"It's in yonder bookshelf," said Miss Jaffray, pointing a lean finger
to the end of the room, "along with the rest of the master's novels.
But please don't think that I fancy you resemble Miss Gwilt's moral
character. You certainly have her auburn hair."

"Red hair," corrected Lady Jim, rising. "I'm rather proud of it."

"You ought to be," said the old maid, with simple admiration, and
rising to put away her tome. "I can imagine you a queen of beauty in
the dear old tournaments, with knights at your feet."

"Oh, many are there now, without tournaments," said Leah, with superb
self-confidence; "but I prefer men of higher rank than knights. Though
I will say," she added generously, "that men who have won knighthood
are cleverer than those donkeys who inherit."

All this was Greek to Miss Jaffray, and after putting away her volume
she departed, with a final recommendation about Miss Gwilt. Lady Jim
walked to where Wilkie Collins's novels lined the shelf, and--needless
to say--selected _The Woman in White_.

"I wonder if I can make fact out of fiction?" she asked herself.



CHAPTER VI


It was Jim's custom to saunter into his wife's bedroom, before
descending to make a hearty meal, and complain that he had rested
badly. This was a pleasing fiction, as he slept like a dormouse, and
snored steadily through the hours he allotted to sleep without even a
dream. But on entering for his morning grumble, he was so surprised to
find Leah in her dressing-gown before a brisk fire, with a breakfast
at her elbow and a book open on her lap, that he forgot his egotism.
Jim could scarcely believe his lazy eyes, for he knew well that Leah
was no student.

"What's up?" he asked, after pausing at the door to say "By Jupiter!"
with every appearance of surprise. "Got a headache?"

"If I had, should I cure it with a novel?" asked his wife,
disdainfully.

"Don't know, I'm sure," replied Jim, with the matutinal good-humour of
a healthy animal. "Doctors recommend such rum things nowadays. But it
doesn't matter. I'm off to feed."

"Wait for ten minutes, Jim. I have something to say."

"You're not goin' to read, are you? I can't stand readin' on a empty
stom--well, on nothin'."

"Have you ever heard of _The Woman in White?_" asked Leah,
irrelevantly.

"No; who is she?"

"It's a novel."

"Don't read 'em. Real life's much more fun."

Lady Jim looked at him steadily. "We might turn this"--she touched the
book lightly--"into real life."

"Goin' to make a play of it?" questioned Jim, obtusely.

"Well, you might call it a comedy," she answered. "I certainly do not
want it to be a tragedy--though it might come to that," she ended in a
lower tone.

Jim opened his puzzled blue eyes. "Want of breakfast, I s'pose," he
ruminated, "but I don't know what you're talkin' about."

"I've passed a white night," announced his wife, abruptly.

"What's that?"

"The French expression for a wakeful night."

"But you say it in English, and how can----?"

"It's useless wasting French on a man who understands only the argot
of the _trottoir_."

"You're wastin' it now. A wakeful night--eh? Why didn't you try that
new sedative Demetrius gave you?"

"I didn't want to sleep. This book was too interesting. I wish you to
read it"; and she extended the novel to her husband.

"What!!!" If she had offered poison Jim could not have betrayed more
abhorrence. "Read? You--want--me--to--read?"

"Well, you know words of two syllables, don't you?" she retorted
impatiently. "Take it."

Jim handled the book as though it were a scorpion, turning over a
hundred leaves rapidly. "Love an' diaries, and--oh, bosh!"

"Not at all, unless bosh is your word for common sense. I see a chance
of getting that money."

"What money?"

Leah made an impatient movement. "How dense you are! The insurance
money, of course--the twenty thousand pounds. Suppose you died----"

"Stop it. I told you I wouldn't."

"And you told me that you might pretend to die."

"Oh, I was only talkin'. You don't want me to be buried alive!"

"It wouldn't be much good," said his wife, with a shrug. "We must have
a genuine corpse--like you."

An inkling of her meaning stole into Jim's dull brain, and he sat down
suddenly. "Go on," said he, hoarsely.

"Harold Garth is like you."

"Where the--what the--you saw him?"

"In church yesterday. He's ill with consumption, dying they say.
Demetrius attends him. Supposing--supposing"--her imagination made her
cheeks flush--"supposing--oh, you understand."

The sluggish comprehension of the man grasped her hinted scheme
suddenly, and his eyes lighted up. "Supposing he died and was buried
in place of me, you mean?"

"You don't suppose I mean murder, do you?" she cried, rising to the
height of her tall figure and speaking irritably.

"You would if there was money in it," said Jim, grimly.

"It would be a natural death," went on Leah, rapidly, and pacing the
room to relieve the strain on her nerves. "The poor fellow can't live
long. If he died, and was buried as----"

"No go," contradicted Jim, rising in his turn. "Every one about here
knows of the likeness; for which," he added slowly, "there's a
reason."

"So I learned yesterday from Mrs. Arthur."

Jim was indignant. "Do you mean to tell me----?"

"I mean to tell you that I gathered the truth from what she left
unsaid. You don't suppose that I require words to explain things."

"I don't see how it's to be managed," said Kaimes, reflectively.

"If it could be, would you surrender everything and----?"

"Yes, I would, for a quarter of the money. Then I'd go out of your
life an' to Lima----"

"Lima," said Lady Jim, stopping suddenly. "Why to Lima? You've been
there three times since we married."

"No end of a place, Lima," muttered Jim, feebly.

His wife looked at his colouring face attentively, and laughed in a
short, rasping manner. An idea had occurred to her which she did not
think it necessary to impart to Jim. "When you're legally dead," she
said sharply, "I shall have no control over your life or movements.
All I want to know is, if this business can be managed, will you do
your share by disappearing?"

"Yes; but I don't see how----"

"Read that book, Jim, and you'll understand better. It gave me the
idea, though our plot will be different in many ways."

"Well," said Jim, tucking the novel under his arm, "I'll dip into it."

"Don't let any one see you reading, and replace it in the library
without any one knowing."

"Why should I?"

"You fool," snarled Leah, viciously; "if this thing is to be carried
through safely, no suspicion must rest on either of us. Do you suppose
that I have spoken to this double of yours, or have let any one know
that I have read the book? I don't think it really matters much, as
people are too stupid to see things; but it is just as well to be on
the safe side."

"But I don't see how----" began Kaimes again, and again she cut him
short.

"I do--I do. Demetrius attends this young fellow."

"Oh, and he--Demetrius, I mean----"

"Leave me to deal with him," she said confidently.

Jim flung the book on the floor, and looked at her with clenched
hands. "What is this Demetrius to you?" he asked violently.

"A puppet I can pull the strings of," she retorted; "and be good
enough to remember that you are not in a training-stable."

"If that beastly little Tartar----"

"My dear Jim," said his wife coolly, "if you ask me about Demetrius, I
shall certainly ask you about Lima."

Kaimes was taken aback. "Lima," he stammered, flushing to the roots of
his fair hair. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you can trust me to ask no questions, if you will mind
your own business."

"As you are my wife, Demetrius is my business."

"Think of me as your widow then," she mocked, "and that I can't be
without the aid of Demetrius."

"Why can't you speak plainly?"

"I might ask you the same question, but"--she picked up the novel and
thrust it into Jim's unwilling hands--"I fancy you and I understand
one another pretty well."

"I won't have any man making love to you."

"Very good," said Leah, calmly; "then you must remain a pauper, and my
husband. I'm not going to all this trouble to share you with----"

"Well, with whom?--out with it!"

"I think you can answer that question best, Jim."

"Upon my honour----"

"Pah!" she said with disgust. "Hadn't we better leave honour out of
this shady business we are about to embark in?"

"You really mean to----"

"I really mean to get that twenty thousand pounds!"

"You'll lose me," Jim reminded her uneasily.

Leah made a grimace. "My loss is another's gain," she said
significantly. "Now go away, Jim. I have to dress in my best frock in
order to fascinate Demetrius"; and she vanished into her dressing-room
with a provoking laugh.

Lord Jim said something about Demetrius that involved the use of
unprintable language. Then he slipped the book into the pocket of his
shooting-jacket and lumbered downstairs. In spite of his squabbling
with Leah, and the existence of some one in Lima, he was furiously
jealous of Demetrius, and scowled at the Russian when they met.
Demetrius rather liked that scowl, as he guessed the reason, and took
it as a tribute to his fascinations. If he had known Lady Jim's real
intentions, and that she intended to convert English rather than
French fiction into everyday facts, he might not have smiled so
victoriously over his coffee. But Demetrius made the fatal mistake of
so many clever men: he knew he was clever, and thereby was not what he
fancied himself to be. The true secret of success lies, not in knowing
how clever oneself is, but how stupid other people are.

While Jim was growling over his provender, Miss Tallentire, who had
finished her breakfast, slipped out of the room. She felt strange in
the company of the frumps and fashionables which formed the
house-party. Certainly the frumps were eating in private, and would
not appear till the world was well-aired, and they had been "made-up"
sufficiently well to prevent the younger generation being shocked. But
the fashionable people came to breakfast in public, and Joan found the
talk far above her comprehension. These languid creatures, who ate so
little and talked so much, were like inhabitants of a strange planet,
and it was with great relief that the girl found herself passed over.
Of course, nobody thought of noticing Cinderella in her rags.

As Lady Canvey was being rehabilitated by a skilful maid, and would
not be seen as the world knew her for at least two hours, Joan had
this time to herself. The brightness of the day tempted her to assume
hat and jacket for a morning walk, and she was shortly tripping over
the crisp snow of the avenue. The glorious sunshine, the keen air, the
dazzling whiteness of the snow, and the generally invigorating
influence of this ideal winter morning stirred the current of her
blood to nimbleness. Joan began to sing softly, and could hardly keep
from dancing, so rapidly did her spirits mount skyward. At length, the
place being solitary and she being recklessly young, a sudden impulse
sent her flying like an arrow between the grim firs. Near the gates
she shot directly into the arms of a man, and uttered an ejaculation.
This was hardly to be wondered at, seeing that the arms closed tightly
round her, and a pair of warm lips deepened the colour which exercise
had brought to her cheeks.

"Lionel!" cried Joan; and "Darling!" replied Lionel, which
sufficiently explains the feeling which existed between Lady Canvey's
companion and Lady Canvey's pet.

These two babies, as the old lady called them, had been engaged for
six months, but the fact was not generally known. The clerical parent
of Joan had given his consent, on the understanding that Lionel was to
possess a better income and the best vicarage obtainable before he
made Joan Mrs. Kaimes. The young man had agreed readily enough, as he
did not want to inflict his comparative penury, and poor lodgings, on
the girl he so dearly loved. Joan and he had decided to wait for two
years, and during that time Lionel was to reform Lambeth. He was
attempting to do this with all the vigour of his energetic nature, and
between times made love to Joan. Lady Canvey knew of the engagement,
and would have had the couple married at once, since she could easily
have given Lionel a living, and wished to do so. But the curate was
anxious to become the vicar of Firmingham. The present incumbent was
seriously ill, and in the event of death the Duke had promised that
Lionel should fill the pulpit.

Therefore the lovers waited very happily, and if Firmingham did not
come to them within the decreed two years, they were quite prepared to
marry on the bread and cheese of a hard London life. Meantime, Joan
was seeing a trifle of West End life under Lady Canvey's wing, and her
earnings, as Lady Canvey's companion, were most acceptable to the
hard-worked Mr. Tallentire and his wife. Thus it was that Joan
returned Lionel's kiss, and only released herself from his loving arms
when she remembered they were within sight of the lodge.

"Lionel, how can you?" she said, setting her hat straight.

"How can't I, you mean," he replied, smiling; "do you think I am as
cold as the snow?"

"I don't know if you're as nice," pouted Joan, "or you would have
asked me to walk with you this morning."

"No, dear," he said, gravely: "I could not have taken you to see
Harold Garth. The poor fellow is too ill. But we can walk now. I have
nothing to do, and--Joan, where are you going?"

"Back to the house. I won't be taken for a walk on nothing-to-do
terms."

"You silly child!"

"You cruel boy!"

Then they kissed and made it up in full view of a red-breast, who
cocked his head on one side and wondered why these human beings looked
so pleased. Joan said "Shoo!" and he flew away to tell his wife, while
the couple walked sedately through the gates, and into a world which
their love created for themselves alone.

All the same, their conversation was a trifle prosaic. They read a
letter which Joan had received from her mother about trouble over the
Christmas gifts to the poor of the parish, and discussed this old
woman who lived in a chilly garret, and that old man who dwelt like a
troglodyte in a damp cellar, till the conversation became as sober as
the looks of the village sexton whom they met. And he was a
teetotaller.

But however enthusiastic human nature may be in the talking and doing
of good works, love after all takes precedence of philanthropy, and
shortly they began discussing themselves and their happiness. What
they said does not matter much. Although foolish, it was sweet to
them, and Joan's eyes sparkled like the icicles on the bleak
hedge-rows at the looks her lover gave her. They walked in the
pleasant Land of Tenderness, and down the by-lane of First Love. Joan
had never seen the old French chart of that country, with its quaint
names and odd geography, but neither Lionel nor herself needed its
guidance. They had skimmed through the country before, and knew the
lie of it extremely well.

The pair soared pretty nearly to the gates of their transcendental
heaven, until the strain became too great for mere human effort, and
they folded their wings of thought to drop earthward. That unfailing
timepiece, the human interior, announced the hour of luncheon, and
with some haste they turned homeward.

"I _am_ hungry," said Lionel, ogreishly.

"Don't eat me," laughed Miss Tallentire; "you look as though you
could!"

"You be Red Ridinghood and I the wolf," suggested Lionel.

"No. Do be serious, Lionel! I want you to tell me about this poor man
you saw."

"Garth? Ah, he'll never see another Christmas. Consumption is wasting
him to a shadow. In another three or four months----" Lionel broke off
with a sigh, "Poor man!"

"Can't anything be done?" asked Joan, sympathetically.

"Everything possible is being done, Joan. The Duke is looking after
Garth in every way--you know how kind he is. He even sent Demetrius to
cure him, and if Demetrius can't, no one else can."

"But if he was taken to a warmer climate----"

"The end would only be retarded for a few months," interrupted the
curate. "Demetrius says there is no hope. And I don't think the poor
fellow is sorry to go, Joan. He has no relatives, and few friends. I
fancy he has had a lonely life."

The tears filled Joan's brown eyes. "Poor fellow!" she echoed,
stealing one hand into that of her lover's. "Fancy, if we----"

"I can't fancy it with you by my side. And what is more, I don't
intend to fancy it," said Lionel, hastily. "Please God, you and I have
many happy and useful years before us. How do you like the Firmingham
vicarage, Joan?"

"Oh, it's lovely, and such a sweet church. But I fear it's too good to
be true."

"Perhaps it's not what you want," joked the curate. "If I were the
Duke, now!"

"Ah, that's impossible," she laughed, amused at the idea of being a
duchess; "the very idea frightens me."

"It needn't," Lionel assured her: "you will never be called upon to
wear strawberry leaves, unless the Duke and Frith and Jim all go the
way poor Garth is taking. And then Frith's wife may have a little Lord
Firmingham. I sincerely hope so, as it would never do for Jim to be
the Duke of Pentland."

"You don't like him?"

"Not passionately," said the curate, dryly.

"His wife would make a splendid duchess."

"In looks, I have no doubt. But with fifty thousand a year and a great
position, she and Jim would do good to neither God nor man."

"Lady James Kaimes seems very kind," observed Joan, timidly.

"It's all seeming. Of real, true, self-sacrificing kindness she knows
absolutely nothing."

"But she is so beautiful, Lionel."

"So was Jezebel, I expect."

"Oh, Lionel!"

"Oh, Joan!" he mimicked. "Don't worry your head over Lady Jim. She
will always get on well in this world, though I am very doubtful about
her position in the next. Come," he pointed down the incline of the
lane, "I'll race you to the bottom."

"We might meet some one."

"I don't care--I'm out for a holiday"; and away flew Lionel down the
snowy lane, with his clerical coattails fluttering in the wind.

Joan, girlish and simple and extremely young, sped after him, and with
rosy cheeks arrived at the goal before her lover.

"Come," said the curate, wiping his heated brow, "considering I won
three flat races at the 'varsity, that's not bad, Joan."

"You humbug, as if I didn't see that you let me win.

"I'll be a tyrant after marriage," said Lionel, merrily. "Enjoy your
little day, my love!"

"I am enjoying this day," said Joan, as they walked rapidly towards
the park gates; "but what will Lady Canvey say?"

"Pooh! What does it matter? She was young herself a century ago."

"She's a dear old woman."

"No," contradicted Lionel, critically; "she is old and clever, but I
should not call her a dear. That word suits some one else."

"Me," cried Joan, triumphantly.

"How clever of you to guess that! Hulloa, who is this?"

The gates were opened and a sledge issued, drawn by two black ponies.
In it sat Lady Jim, who was driving, and Dr. Constantine Demetrius.

"What is she up to now?" Lionel asked himself. He was intensely
distrustful of Lady Jim, but he did not explain this to Joan.



CHAPTER VII


The sledge occupied by this well-matched couple might have been used
by Pompadour, in the days when the finances of France were melting in
the furnace of Versailles. The basketwork body of a swan, gilded and
painted and elegantly fragile, rested delicately on slim steel
runners, and glided over the frozen snow in the rear of two spirited
black ponies. These, harnessed in the Russian fashion, with a paucity
of trappings and many tiny silver bells, sprang forward, under Lady
Jim's skilful guidance, as though they were rioting in a spring
meadow. She and her companion were snugly wrapped in an opossum rug,
which Leah, rather vulgarly, despised as a cheap article. Her mink
cloak, with the snowy ermine scarf drawn through the shoulder cape in
the latest fashion, had cost nearly ten times the amount, and Leah
wore it with the proud consciousness that she owed no money for it. It
was an early-winter present from Lady Frith, and she had accepted it
on the generous ground that its cut and rich brown colour became her
better than they would have suited the dowdy, insignificant
Marchioness. But the little woman never knew that Lady Jim's
good-nature had prevailed to this extent. She had thought to give
Leah pleasure.

Demetrius, muffled in Muscovite sables, sat contentedly by this Tauric
Diana, wondering why he had been graciously invited to drive with the
goddess, after a hurried luncheon. The two were tête-à-tête, for the
groom had been dispensed with as out of keeping with the novel
vehicle. The excuse was artistic. Nevertheless, Demetrius suspected
other reasons for the absence of an eavesdropping servant. What these
might be he hoped to hear from Lady Jim.

But as yet she showed no disposition to speak frankly, for the
Russian, in Jim's picturesque speech, was a gentleman to be handled
"with the gloves on." Jim himself had impressed this on Leah, before
he sat down to spell out _The Woman in White_. Needless to say, this
unusual effort to improve what Jim was pleased to term his mind bored
him extremely. "Not a word about racin'," grumbled Jim, skipping page
after page. Still, as Leah pointed out the necessity of poaching on
the domain of fiction, Jim sat at his lesson like a good little boy,
and his wife drove out with her proposed victim. That the irony of
fate might change the victim into a possible tyrant did not occur to
Leah at the moment.

All the same, she was careful not to commit herself too hastily, and
for two miles talked society-journal paragraphs with an assiduity at
once boring and perplexing to Demetrius. Even when the sledge slipped,
silent and ghost-like, over an Arctic waste, and they were alone to
babble secrets to a frosty sky, Leah showed no disposition to come to
the point. She wished Demetrius to question her, and then, by seeing
into his mind, she could be guided as to the most selfishly-successful
way of making up her own. But the doctor guessed her reason for this
diplomatic silence, and knowing what a shameless capacity she had for
word-twisting and for slipping out of untenable positions, he gave her
no opportunity to overlook his hand. It was certainly, as he
reflected, a game of skill, but what the precise style of game might
be Demetrius could not guess. However, one thing was certain; this
game, like all others, was being played for money. On Lady Jim's part,
that is. Demetrius shuffled his cards for the stake of love, and so,
having Leah Kaimes for an antagonist, lost at the outset. A game
between a man and a woman, on amatory grounds, is always unequal. The
one in earnest invariably loses.

"Does this remind you of the steppes?" asked Leah, waving her whip
towards a desert of snow and ice. The polite conversation was still
much in evidence.

"Somewhat, madame; but I cannot remember sledging across any steppe in
such charming company."

"Ah! You have never driven Mademoiselle Aksakoff, then?"

"It is a pleasure yet to come."

"In Russia?"

"Why not? She may induce her father to make my peace with the Czar."

"You would be pleased?"

Demetrius shrugged his spare shoulders, and replied in the evasive
manner which characterised this conversation on the part of both.

"I am well content with England," he remarked calmly. "Many people are
pleasant, and all agreeable. Also, the Duke pays me well--too well,
considering he is my solitary patient."

"I never knew a physician to quarrel with his fees before," laughed
Lady Jim, flicking the ponies lightly; "and you have another patient,
I understand--Mr. Kaimes said something about it."

"The young priest--ah, yes. He was at the gates with that most
adorable young lady, whom I presume he will marry. Your Anglican
priests, like our Greek popes, have that freedom, have they not?"

"You do not answer my question."

"Ah, pardon, madame," said the doctor, with an apologetic smile and
his hands palm to palm. "Yes--it is so. I have another patient, a
peasant--one Harold Garth," he pronounced the name uncommonly clearly.

"How well you speak English, Monsieur Demetrius! So many foreigners
over-emphasise their 'h's', and slur their 'r's.'"

"We Russians have a capacity for tongues. I know five languages."

"Can you tell the truth in any one of them?" asked Lady Jim, rather
rudely; but then she wished to make him lose his temper, in the hope
of breaking down his reserve. But love had not yet blinded Demetrius,
and he became offensively gentle.

"To you, madame, I always speak the truth."

"I take you at your word," said Lady Jim, smartly. "Why did you leave
Russia, Monsieur Demetrius?"

"Madame, I come of a princely family, but for the sake of humanity I
practised my profession in Moscow. A dear friend of mine foolishly
joined the Anarchists, and an order was issued for his arrest.
Fortunately, the official who signed the warrant was my patient, and I
chanced to be with him when the paper was brought for his signature.
He laid it aside for the moment, and I saw my friend's name. I
therefore gave my patient a drug, which made him sleep for twenty-four
hours, so that he could not sign. Meanwhile, my friend escaped--it
matters not how--but he escaped, with my help. Through a rival doctor,
my use of the drug to aid my friend became known, and I was accused of
conspiring also. The governor of Moscow was enraged, and ordered my
arrest in my friend's place. The prospect of Siberia was not pleasant,
so I crossed the frontier after many delightful adventures, with the
recital of which I shall not trouble you. Behold me, therefore, in
your free country, madame, no longer a subject of the Czar, but your
devoted slave."

He told the story, without preamble or excuse, in an unemotional and
level voice, though all the time he wondered why Lady Jim desired to
hear it. She gave him no explanation. "And if you go back to Russia?"
she asked carelessly.

"I fear I shall never go back, madame."

"Who knows? Mademoiselle Aksakoff might----"

"Precisely, madame. She might, and, with small encouragement, she
would. But her gaining of my pardon would assuredly lead to a marriage
of gratitude."

"That would be no sacrifice."

"To many--no. To myself--madame, it is impossible!"

"Can you not make your peace without her influence?"

"Alas, no, madame. The Grand Duke was furious at my share in my
friend's escape. He would give much to capture me, and should I set
foot on the Continent"--he shrugged his shoulders significantly; "but
the Third Section has no power in your land of liberty."

"The Third Section?"

"If it pleases madame better, the secret police. No; unless I marry
Mademoiselle Aksakoff, of whom I admit my unworthiness, I must remain
in exile--but it has many compensations," he added, bowing his head
courteously to Lady Jim's profile.

"Quite so," she assented, scarcely heeding the compliment; then added
thoughtfully, "You are a daring man, Monsieur Demetrius."

"Daring, when necessary, madame. But I confess to a love of ease."

Leah swung her ponies round a curve with careless dexterity. "It is
not probable that any one will invite you to leave your lotus-eating,
monsieur. Thank you for the story."

"It is at your service, madame."

Lady Jim hesitated. "You do not ask me why I requested you to relate
it," she said at last.

"Your wish is a command. A command is never questioned."

"I might wish you to do something that you might question."

"Ah, no--believe me!"

"Don't jump in the dark," said Leah, with a hard little laugh; "by the
way, this woman, for whom you ventured so much----"

"It was a man, madame."

"David and Jonathan in Crim Tartary, I suppose. They say," she gave a
conscious laugh, "that a man would venture farther for a woman than
for one of his own sex. You, I resume, are an exception."

"Madame, one does some things for friendship, but all things for
love."

Leah glanced at the pale face beside her with a smile, and saw that
the dark eyes were full of fire, "You are romantic."

"As is every man, when he loves, madame."

"I understand--Mademoiselle Aksakoff."

"You penetrate my thoughts admirably."

Lady Jim relieved her feelings by using the whip on the obedient
ponies. Demetrius was clever and suspicious; also, as his story
assured her, he was daring, clear-headed, and might be dangerous. If
she gave this man a hold over her, he might be, and probably would be,
unscrupulous enough to use his power. Moreover, Lionel had not yet
asked the Duke, and there was always the chance that the money could
be obtained without the necessity of plotting. Leah had taken the
doctor for this delightful drive with the intention of speaking
plainly; but his skilful use of words made her cautious. She was too
clever a woman to build her tower without reckoning the expense.

Demetrius watched her with keen, questioning eyes and a perfectly
impassive face, but he learned nothing. Lady Jim was quite as Oriental
as himself in masking her emotions. Nevertheless, he guessed that the
interest displayed in his past involved more than the satisfying of an
idle curiosity. She wanted money--he was certain of that. But unless
she intended to sell him to the Third Section, he could not conceive
why she had forced his confidence. The enigma irritated him, though he
paid a silent tribute to the diplomatic powers of this charming
Englishwoman. But, cool and cautious as he was, her next speech nearly
reduced him to the necessity of speaking plainly, although he regarded
candour as a greater sin than making love to another man's wife.

"Now we'll drive home," said Leah, briskly.

"Ah, but no, madame. This is charming."

"And chilly. I am not a Russian, to revel in snow and ice."

"Madame, the fire in our veins prevents our feeling the disagreeables
of nature. I am no phlegmatic Englishman."

"How interesting," said Leah, indifferently. "I wonder if the cattle
will face this snowstorm."

They were driving straight into a chaos of eddying flakes, and meeting
the sting of bitter sleet dashed in their blinking eyes by the wind.
Demetrius bit his lips, and suppressed his fiery nature with an effort
due to years of training. He could have killed this woman with her
contemptuous indifference and impregnable self-possession. As the
ponies plunged, with tossing heads and jingling bells, into that
Arctic hurricane, he wished that the sledge would overturn, so that he
might extort a word of gratitude by saving her life. But Leah's
courage was as high as his own, and her strength greater, so it was
quite probable that she would be able to look after herself. All he
could do was to unflinchingly face the volleying snow, while Lady Jim
dashed through the hostile elements like Semiramis in her war-chariot.
With a turn of her wrist she prevented the frightened ponies dashing
into a thorny hedge, with another turn swung the light vehicle away
from a dangerous ditch, and then lashed the animals into a headlong
gallop, which ended only when they trembled, with smoking flanks and
drooping heads, before the Firmingham porch. And throughout that
furious, rocking, blinding drive Demetrius sat grimly silent. Lady Jim
was disappointed. It would have been more courageous and amusing had
he made love to her in the jaws of death.

"Quite a Russian adventure," she said, tossing the reins to a groom,
and jumped out, all colour and animation. "I hope you were not afraid,
Monsieur Demetrius," she added unjustly.

"For you," he replied significantly.

With a rosy face and a display of white teeth, Leah faced him on the
steps. "There was no need, I assure you. I can look after myself in
every way."

"I can believe that, madame."

"Then why talk nonsense?"

"To amuse you."

"My good man, I don't want amusement, but help."

Demetrius started forward, impulsively. "Command me."

Lady Jim flung her wraps, her whip, her mink cape, and her gloves into
his arms. "Thanks," she said carelessly, and turned towards the
library, leaving her illegal admirer pale with rage.

She stopped laughing at the remembrance of his wrath when she saw
Lionel studying a book near the window. "Well?" she asked, coming
lightly towards him: "any news?"

"Yes; I have seen the Duke!"

"And he--and he----" her voice died away under stress of emotion.

"He will help you!"

Leah's first feeling was one of relief, and she was almost on the
point of expressing gratitude, but a sudden remembrance that aid from
the Duke meant the retention of Jim as a most undesirable husband,
cooled the warm impulse. She recovered her self-command, and was about
to go into figures, when Mrs. Penworthy with a noisy party bustled
into the room, looking rather tousled and flushed.

"We have been playing 'Hunt the Slipper,'" she announced, in her high,
thin voice, "and Algy found mine three times."

Lady Jim, annoyed at the irruption, glanced at Mrs. Penworthy's feet,
which could scarcely have worn the slippers of Cinderella. "I can
quite believe that," she said sweetly, and left the room smiling.

"What does she mean?" asked Algy, obtusely.

Mrs. Penworthy knew perfectly well what was meant, but was too
feminine to explain, save in a way calculated to mislead her courtier.
This could be done by arousing his egotism.

"She means that you are clever to play the game so well," was her
explanation. "I rather think Lady Jim admires you, Algy."

The youth fondled what he called a moustache. "Rippin' woman, Lady
Jim," said he, taking the speech literally.

"Go and tell her so," snapped Mrs. Penworthy, colouring angrily.

"You wouldn't like it."

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," remarked the lady, fervently
hating him for his stupidity, "than to see her dancing on you, as she
does on all men who are foolish enough to make themselves carpets."

"I'm not a carpet."

"No! You're a tame cat."

"Then come and play Puss in the Corner," urged Algy, gaily, and Mrs.
Penworthy consented, as this game had nothing to do with abnormal
slippers.

Leah, pleased at having snubbed Mrs. Penworthy, whom she considered
quite an improper person, went to look for Jim in his room. He was
there, sure enough, lying on the sofa with the novel tossed carelessly
on the floor, and a black pipe between his lips. Evidently he had not
heard the good news.

"Jim," cried Leah, breathlessly, "the Duke will part."

"He has parted," growled Jim, swinging his long legs on to the floor
and producing a cheque. "Look at that."

Lady Jim did. It was for two hundred pounds. "Oh!" She crushed it in
her two hands, as though she were throttling his Grace. "What an
insult!"



CHAPTER VIII


Two hundred pounds. Lady Jim rapidly ran over in her mind such of the
most pressing liabilities as she could recollect, and shuddered at a
total of two thousand. They owed that, and many other debts which, for
the moment, escaped her memory. So far as she could see, nothing
remained but a compulsory journey through the court. Not that she
really minded bankruptcy. Plenty of people, accepted as immaculate by
society, made use of that desirable institution to get a receipt for
past extravagances, on the plea of having lived beyond their incomes.
She and Jim could make the same excuse with perfect truth, and would
doubtless be enabled to make a fresh start. And if a few tradesmen
were ruined, what did it matter? They always overcharged, and it might
be a lesson to them not to worry customers.

No; the bankruptcy court matters very little, but the want of ready
cash mattered a great deal. Leah cared nothing about paying the bills,
but ardently desired to have a re-filled purse and no bother about
such vulgar things as pounds, shillings, and pence. It was perfectly
idiotic of the Duke to be so stingy. If he had come down with a
thousand, she and Jim could have enjoyed themselves abroad for a
couple of months, and meanwhile, he could have paid these troublesome
tradesmen. But two hundred pounds! Did the old fool take them for the
respectable middle-class couple, living in slate-roofed houses, to
which she had alluded? Without Jim's assistance she could get rid of
that trifle in a fortnight.

"I believe your father's brain is softening," she complained crossly.

"I'm not responsible for his crazy arithmetic," retorted Jim, with the
helpful addition of a few adjectives.

But, beyond swearing as much as he dared in her presence, Jim could
offer no assistance, and Leah concluded that, after all, it might be
necessary to trust Demetrius. Her husband, having gained some faint
idea of the novel, had ended in declining to turn fiction into fact.
His remarks were not without shrewdness.

"The chap who writes the story knows what's goin' to happen," said
Jim, when pressed for his opinion, "an' can invent circumstances to
dodge results. But if we start a yarn of this kind on our own, we
don't know what the end 'ull be."

"Oh yes!" protested Leah, very patiently, considering she disagreed
entirely; "you'll disappear, and I shall become a widow with my share
of the twenty thousand."

"An' how long will your share last?" asked Jim, derisively.

"That depends upon my mood. Some time, I expect, seeing that your
death will force me into retirement, and crape is not so very
expensive. And when you get through your lot, Jim, what will you do?"

"That's what I'm askin' you," said Jim, evasively; and continued
hurriedly, lest she should insist upon a disagreeable explanation,
"'Sides, there's my father to be considered."

"Since when have you taken him to your heart?"

"Oh, it's all very well talkin'. But your father's your father, when
all's said an' done. The Duke doesn't think me a saint, but he'd be
sorry to see me die."

"No one wants you to die," she said impatiently.

"That's bunkum, an'--an'--what's the word?"

"Might I suggest 'sophistry'?" said Lady Jim, quite aware that her
reasoning was fallacious.

"Oh, you'll suggest anythin' to get your own way. But what I mean is
that, though I do die, I don't really die."

"How clearly you put things, Jim. Please yourself. We must go back to
town with this money, to be whitewashed"; and eyeing the cheque
contemptuously, she saw that it was unfortunately made payable to Jim.
Her husband stretched for the cheque and slipped it into his waistcoat
pocket.

"I'm goin' to see the Duke m'self," he announced, "an' tell him
everythin'."

"What, about the money we've raised on the income?"

"Every blessed thing," said Kaimes, doggedly; "he's my father, an'
it's his duty to square things."

"He mightn't follow your reasoning," murmured Leah, with one hand on
the mantelpiece and the other holding up her skirts to warm one foot.
"But you can't make a much worse mess of it than Lionel has made. Two
hundred pounds--he must have thought he was asking money for some old
woman. Shall I come with you, Jim?"

"No." He halted at the door to deliver himself of the remark, "You're
like a red rag to a bull."

"Oh, very well. I only thought you'd like me to translate your talk
into something resembling English."

"Don't you fret yourself, I'll make him understand. An' if I do get
things squared," cried Jim, warming at the thought of his heroism in
facing an angry parent, "you'll have to drop spending money, an' live
as other women do."

"Yes, dear James, and you'll live as other men do, won't you?"

"I'll do what I jolly well please. An' why James?"

"There never was a St. Jim, that I ever heard of," mused Leah, turning
pensive eyes on her exasperated husband, "and as you wish to canonise
yourself, of course you must change your name. Yes, James"--she moved
swiftly towards him, and detained him gently by the lapels of his
coat--"from this time forth we'll live in holy matrimony, and pig it
on what's left of the income. Curzon Street given up, Bayswater
remains, and there, James darling, we'll live a life of extremely
plain living and high thinking."

"Don't talk bosh," growled Jim, trying to escape; but she held on.

"No, James, I won't, if you will only raise my intellect to the level
of your own. And think what a delightful existence it will be, James.
A cheap Bayswater dungeon, with three servants and the shopping done
at Whiteley's. I'll turn my dresses and trim my hats and you'll give
up your clubs, to curse in a stuffy drawing-room while you play
bezique with your dear wife, till we go to bed at ten. No more betting
on Podaskas, James; no more whist-drives, or bridge, or any such
expensive naughtinesses. And how nice it will be for you, James, to
flirt with those earnestly-fashionable suburban girls, who are just
half an hour behind the times, and who----" Here Jim rent his garments
from Leah's grasp, and departed in haste with an impolite word. His
wife's humour did not appeal to him in the least, and he banged the
door unnecessarily hard.

Leah returned to warm her toes and laugh till she cried. There was
something excessively amusing in the idea of Jim setting up for a
plaster saint. For once in his dull life he displayed a sense of
humour, and she picked up the discarded novel with a fresh burst of
laughter at the picture of the Bayswater ménage, as drawn by her
fertile fancy. Jim as a middle-class Philistine tickled her even more
than Jim in a stained-glass attitude, with an artificial halo
misfitting his empty head.

But a remembrance of the cheque--payable to Jim--and of her husband's
possible position at the moment, telling clumsy truths to an aggrieved
father, made her serious. Certainly the Duke, pleased to hear his son
speak honestly for once in a life of consistent fibbing, might shed
tears over a hastily-produced cheque-book. Jim's falsehoods, in times
of pressing need, were almost inspired, and it was not impossible that
he might return with the loot. Then, the tradespeople being paid, Leah
decided that she could run up fresh bills to any amount: they would be
all the more eager to give her unlimited credit when they knew that
the Duke was in the background. Decidedly the prospect was not so bad,
and, after all, it might be dangerous to make real-life experiments in
sensational fiction.

These common-sense reflections led Lady Jim to thank the watchful
fetish for governing her tongue during the afternoon. Demetrius could
be nasty when he liked. She was certain of that, and it was just as
well to give him no chance. Some people carried tyranny to a
ridiculous excess, and liked to hear their victims squeal unmeaningly.
Leah did not belong to the squealing species, and vowed a vow that
Demetrius should never have an opportunity of provoking such futile
outcries. As a gleam of good sense warned her of possible danger, she
decided to avoid the Russian, or only to flirt sufficiently to make
him miserable and Jim cross.

Having settled the question in this sensible way, Leah sought her room
to dress for the five o'clock muffin-scramble. She assumed the
prettiest tea-gown she possessed, for the truly feminine purpose of
irritating Demetrius into over-estimating what he had lost. Descending
like a Homeric deity in a cloud--of lace--she went at once to the
library, and restored to its place the text-book of her proposed
fraud. Fortunately, the room was empty, so no one would ever know that
the novel had been read with a view to plagiarism. Not that it
mattered much now, since Jim was proceeding on the lines of "Honesty
is the best policy." Leah hoped fervently that he would succeed, but
felt more than a trifle doubtful. Jim was so new to this
straightforward method of gaining his ends.

The house-party was picnicking in the winter-garden, a delightful
Eden, where tropical plants flourished in defiance of the season. On
its glass roof the hail rattled like small shot, and through its glass
walls could be seen the bleak, wintry landscape, faintly white in the
deepening gloom. These glimpses of the unpleasant increased the sense
of comfort, and over-civilised humanity luxuriated in the warm
atmosphere, as independent of nature's laws as the palm-trees under
which it ate and drank and talked scandal. The frumps nibbled dry
toast and sipped milk; the fashionables devoured dainty sandwiches and
enjoyed the strongest of tea, and both aided digestion with chatter
and laughter. It was the complacent contentment of animals, mumbling a
plentiful meal, and for the moment all spiritual instincts were
governed by material needs.

Mrs. Penworthy's courtiers were feeding their queen, who had a large
appetite for so small a woman. After a full meal she was disposed to
be amiable, even to Freddy, had he been there; but she became
decidedly cross when some of the court deserted her for "that woman,"
as she termed Lady Jim. Leah was feminine enough to enjoy the fallen
expression on Mrs. Penworthy's face, and accepted with marked pleasure
the attentions of those who crowded round her. The sight gave Mrs.
Penworthy a fit of indigestion, which prevented her enjoying a late
dinner. It was hard that her vanity had to content itself with the
banal compliments of the faithful Algy, who tried to be a host in
himself, and was snubbed for his ambition.

"May I present my nephew to you?" asked Lord Sargon, in his thin,
precise voice.

Leah intimated that she would be charmed, and found herself nodding to
a slim, dark young man, clean-shaven and alert. He looked more alive
than the languid youths around her, and she was not surprised when
Sargon explained that Mr. Askew was a naval officer, who had lately
returned from a five years' cruise.

"I thought you hadn't been wrapped up in cotton wool all your life,"
said Lady Jim, when Sargon had removed the attendant youths and the
lieutenant was making himself agreeable in a bluff, briny way.

"Do I look so uncivilised?" he asked, with laughing eyes.

"Highly. You are the nearest approach to pre-historic man I have yet
seen," said she, and thus was unjust to Jim.

"I am sorry----"

"Oh, there's no need to apologise. I daresay Circe found Ulysses very
agreeable."

"Homer says so," answered Askew, who appeared to be well read; "but if
I am Ulysses, you must be Circe."

"I accept the compliment!"

"Is it a compliment?" asked the pre-historic man, daringly.

"Unless meant for one it should not have been said."

"Beg pardon. I'm several kinds of ass. But I did mean it civilly, you
know. Circe was a clever woman, whose magic turned men into outward
semblances of their real characters."

Lady Jim smiled scornfully. "And if my magic could transform these,"
she glanced disparagingly round the place, "what a menagerie it would
be! Pigs, and snakes, and parrots, and----"

"Dogs."

"Of the mongrel kind, Mr. Askew. Do you speak of yourself?"

He nodded laughingly. "Dogs are so devoted!"

"That means you wish to attach yourself to me," said Leah, gravely. "I
might take you at your word--I need a friend; but Ulysses deserted
Circe."

Askew laughed, and gazed admiringly at her beautiful, pensive face.
"We talk parables, I think," he said, with assumed lightness.

"Prehistoric man always did, I understand."

"On the contrary, his speech was direct and blunt!"

"Mine will be now," smiled Lady Jim. "This cup has been empty for five
minutes, and you never offered to----"

The young man took the tiny cup hastily. "But for the publicity of the
place, I would ask you to tread upon my prostrate body."

Leah eyed his lithe, active figure as he went to the bamboo table
presided over by Lady Frith. He was really a delightful sailorman, she
reflected, and quicker than most of his sex to understand the
unspoken. It might be more amusing to drop Demetrius and flirt with
him. But then, his face was too honest, and he might object to being
made use of.

"Men of that kind are so dreadfully in earnest," sighed Leah, with a
sense of irritation; "they think a woman always means what she says."

Askew walked lightly over the mosaic floor with a fresh cup of tea and
a plate of hot cakes. Some man bustled in his way, and he stopped to
avoid an upset of his burden. At the moment, he glanced towards the
Moorish door which admitted triflers into the winter paradise. To Lady
Jim's wonderment, he started, and a look of surprise overspread his
expressive face. Her eyes turned at once in the direction of the
entrance, and she beheld Jim blinking his eyes at the dazzle of light.
He looked heavy and sullen, which hinted that the interview with the
Duke had not been successful. But Leah forgot that momentous question
for the moment, as her quick brain was trying to understand Askew's
look of surprise. Before she could ask herself what he could possibly
know about Jim, he approached with the tea.

"This is nice and hot," he said, placing the plate on the table at her
elbow and offering the cup. "I hope you'll forgive me for neglecting
you."

"On one condition," replied Leah, stirring her tea.

"Consider it fulfilled," was the impetuous answer.

"Why did you look surprised when you saw that gentleman at the door?"

Leah pointedly suppressed the fact that Kaimes was her husband, as, if
there was anything, she would learn it the more easily by pretending
that Jim was a stranger. In fact, should Askew learn that the man who
had startled him was her lawful lord, he might decline to open his
lips. The lieutenant's next words proved the wisdom of her
concealment.

"Oh, Berring," he said, carelessly. "Well, I was surprised to see
Berring so unexpectedly."

"Is his name Berring?" asked Lady Jim, guessing that she was about to
learn something connected with Jim's very shady past.

"Yes; I met him in Lima."

"Lima?"

"In Peru, and that's in South America."

Leah nodded. "I did learn geography at school," she said, setting down
her empty cup; and when Askew coloured at the implied snub, softened
it by asking a friendly question: "You are surprised at meeting
Mr.--er--er--Berring, here?"

"Yes; I said so before. A nice sort of chap, but selfish."

"What a reader of character you are, Mr. Askew!" He looked up eagerly.
"You know him, then."

"A little. Why do you ask?"

The young man stared at the ground, and replied in muffled tones: "I
thought you might have met his wife."

"Mrs. Berring?"

"Of course."

Leah began to laugh. The idea that Jim might be a bigamist had never
struck her before. She had guessed that there was a woman connected
with those frequent journeys to Lima, but that Jim had adopted the
Mormon religion was news. Some women would have been angry, but Leah
had no amatory feelings likely to arouse jealousy, so she was frankly
amused at her husband's duplicity. Also, she was sorry for Mrs.
Berring, who perhaps was silly enough to love Jim.

"Is she a nice woman?" was her next question.

"She's an angel."

"That means, you love her."

"How do you----?"

"Because you are a brick wall I can see through, Mr. Askew. No;
I have never met Mrs. Berring. Why did she throw you over and marry
Mr.--er--Berring?"

Askew looked quite alarmed. "I say you _are_ clever," he remarked.

"Why not? You called me Circe, and I must live up to the name. Well?"

"Well!" echoed Askew, blankly, and their eyes met. He coloured. "No, I
can't tell you," he said quickly, for he guessed her desire.

"Yes, you can, and you will," rejoined Leah, composedly.

Jim was bearing the artillery of Mrs. Penworthy's eyes in his usual
indifferent way, and showed no disposition to seek out his wife.
Probably he would remain for the next hour in the clutches of the
little woman, who was the limpet to Jim's rock. This being so, Leah
began to ask questions which Askew hesitated to answer.

"We hardly know one another," he murmured, embarrassed. "I daren't
tell you, Lady James."

"Ah! Then there's something improper in the matter?"

Askew flushed through his bronzed skin. "Not at all," he said in a
brusque tone. "Señorita Fajardo is all that is good and holy and
pure."

"What bread and butter!" thought Leah, wondering if Jim had stumbled
upon a convent. But she was too wise to quote Byron to this young man,
who apparently was simple enough to regard love as something sacred.

"Fajardo," she repeated. "A Spanish name."

"And a Spanish lady," he said, gloomily. "Lola Fajardo, of the
Estancia, San Jago, near Rosario."

"I thought you said of Lima?"

"No; I met her there. She is in the habit of stopping at Lima with her
aunt. But her true home is at Rosario, in the Santa Fe province of the
Argentine republic. I wonder if Berring brought her to England. She
was madly in love with him."

"She must have been, to marry him."

"Oh, Berring's a good-looking chap, and not bad," said Askew, with the
innate chivalry of a man towards a successful rival. "I suppose they
_did_ marry."

"Oh! Then you are not certain?"

"No; I never even knew if they were engaged. But when I joined my ship
again at Callao, every one said 'marriage'--they were so uncommonly
thick. I must ask Berring."

"I'm sure he'll be delighted to afford you the information you seek,"
was Lady Jim's ironical reply.

"Have you seen Mrs. Berring?" asked the young man, eagerly.

"No; I don't think any Mrs. Berring is stopping here."

"Then perhaps he did not marry Lola, after all," cried Askew, rising
hastily, and with flashing eyes, "unless"--his voice fell--"she is
dead."

Leah yawned. "Really, I don't know," she replied; "you had better ask
Mr. Berring. I see he is passing out of the garden with Mrs.
Penworthy."

"In that case I can't spoil sport," laughed the lieutenant, with an
obvious effort; "but later on."

"Later on, of course," she said, rising. "Here comes your uncle."

Lord Sargon advanced, and, with an apologetic look towards Leah, took
Askew's arm. "I wish to present you to Lady Canvey," he said.

The young man looked towards his charmer. "Will you permit me to leave
you for a time?"

"Certainly. You will find Lady Canvey delightful, and as pre-historic
as you can wish. We may meet after dinner," and, with a nod, she left
the winter garden for the purpose of seeking solitude. She wanted to
think over Jim's iniquities, and to consider what use might be made of
them for her own benefit.

Lady Canvey was delighted to receive Askew, as she liked handsome
young men, especially when they were deferential and attentive, as
this new acquaintance appeared to be. "Though I'm a bad substitute for
Lady Jim," she remarked pleasantly. "Lady Jim?"

"That charming creature with whom you have been talking."

"Yes, of course, Lady Canvey. She is indeed charming."

"But private property. Her husband is the Duke's second son, at
present in the clutches of that little harpy, Mrs. Penworthy. Don't
you make love to Lady Jim, or you'll burn your fingers. I mistrust
red-haired women, myself. But she and Jim match each other capitally.
Their marriage was made in heaven"; and Lady Canvey chuckled.

"Is her husband here?" asked Askew, looking round, anxious to see who
owned Circe-of-the-many-wiles.

"No; he went out with Mrs. Penworthy a quarter of an hour ago."

Askew remembered how Lady Jim had drawn his attention to an outgoing
couple. "Didn't the lady go out with a Mr. Berring?" he gasped.

"No; with Lord Jim Kaimes!"

"And she--his wife--the lady I----" Askew stopped with a groan.

"Try an unmarried woman," advised Lady Canvey, misunderstanding his
emotion. "It's more proper, and less expensive."



CHAPTER IX


Keeping up the necessary Darby-and-Joan comedy, Kaimes strolled into
his wife's dressing-room half an hour before dinner to inquire if she
was ready. Leah had a second-hand view of him in a full-length mirror
before which she posed, while her maid added a few final touches to an
eminently successful frock. From the composed expression of his face
she guessed that he had not yet renewed his acquaintance with Mr.
Askew, and therefore must be ignorant that the free-spoken sailor had
let the cat out of the bag. Lady Jim possessed the animal now, but she
did not intend to reveal her capture until Jim explained how he had
sped with the Duke. A slight nod towards the glass showed her husband
that she was aware of his presence, and the maid continued to use
experienced fingers. But Leah looked so charming, that further trouble
in this way was like adding sugar to honey. Jim stared approvingly,
and, when the maid was dismissed, saw his way to a compliment.

"You have the good points of several women rolled into one, Leah," he
said, with the look of a sultan appraising an odalisque.

"That polite speech means much, coming from a man of your experience,
my dear Jim. What good point of Mrs. Penworthy's have I annexed?"

"You're jealous!"

"Horribly! You are so deeply attached to that bundle of faded
chiffon."

"I don't care two straws for her."

"Appearances are misleading, then. But," added Leah, remembering
Askew's eulogy, "it may be that you prefer something that's good and
holy and pure."

"I don't know why you should say that," grumbled Jim, annoyed at being
credited with such primitive tastes.

"You may know before long," and she laughed at the thought of the
marine bomb-shell which would shortly shatter Jim's complacency.

"I don't know what you're talkin' about," said Kaimes, with unaffected
surprise, "an' I'm confoundedly hungry."

"Ah! Did the Duke's lecture give you an appetite?"

"Leah!" Jim became so serious as to look almost intelligent. "My
father is the best man who ever wore shoe-leather."

"He is usually condemned to cloth boots for gouty feet," murmured
Leah, patting the back of her head. "So you've pulled the wool over
his eyes again?"

"I wish you wouldn't use slang," protested Jim, virtuously.

"I can't pretend to vie with Mrs. Penworthy's purity of speech, my
dear man. How much have you got out of the Duke?"

"Well, he hasn't given me money----"

"Oh!"

"But he's promised----

"Ah!"

"I wish you'd let me speak," cried Kaimes, testily, "My father has
promised to pay all the debts----"

"Good heavens! Is he aware of the amount?"

"Wait, I've not finished. He'll pay the debts, and reduce our income
to a thousand a year till he recoups himself."

"Really! I thought you had seen your father, and not a money-lender.
Have you accepted this most generous offer?"

"Yes, I have," said Jim, sulkily, and kicking a mat out of the way.

"I see. It's to be Bayswater after all, James."

"If you talk like that, I'll go down to dinner without you."

"By all means. You've taken away my appetite."

She laughed in a way calculated to still further infuriate Jim, who
paced the room in a towering passion. Nevertheless, she was seriously
angry. Had the Duke refused all help, it would have been more decent;
but this bargain, which was all on one side, annoyed her beyond
measure. What did the Duke mean by taking _their_ money?

"It seems to me we've got to pay our own debts, then," she said, while
Jim seethed like a whirlpool.

"An' why shouldn't we? It's only fair."

Leah stared, and began to think that Jim was too good for this world.

"I hope you are not going to die," she said, anxiously.

"Not in your way," cried Kaimes, misunderstanding her, "we aren't
going to have any buryin' alive or substituted corpses, an' I'm goin'
to hang on as a respectable member of society."

"I'll come and hear you preach, Jim."

"I'm preachin' now," raged her husband, "an' don't you make any
mistake, Leah. I've told the Duke everythin'."

"How injudicious! He might have had a fit."

"He didn't even blame me," said Jim, breaking down, "an' there were
tears in his eyes."

Leah laughed amazingly long and loud, considering the tightness of her
corset.

"I wish I had been present. Did you cry too, Jim?"

"I jolly well nearly did," said Kaimes, truthfully, if
ungrammatically, "though it's no good explainin' to an icicle like
you. But the pater's goin' to pay the debts, free our income, an' let
the Curzon Street house."

"Better and better. Then we _do_ go to Bayswater?"

"He'll allow us one thousand a year till the debts are wiped off,"
went on Kaimes hurriedly, and wishing to get the explanation over,
"an' we can go abroad for a couple of years."

"You can. I shan't!"

"As my wife, you must."

"As an individual, I shan't," retorted Lady Jim, calmly. She was
getting over her rage now, as she foresaw a very different interview
between herself and Jim before they retired for the night. "It is very
good of you to have settled all this without consulting me. And now
that you have done so, let us go to dinner."

"But I----"

"There's the gong," observed Leah, opening the door, "and I don't like
cold soup."

"You'll have to like lots of things now you didn't like before," said
Jim, as they went down.

"The selection doesn't include you, my good man, so don't be
disappointed."

Jim could have shaken her, and began to understand why the lower
orders indulged in wife-beating. But as they were entering the
drawing-room at this moment, he had to play the part of a devoted
husband. Leah floated radiantly into the brilliantly lighted
apartment, and Jim sought out the oldest and ugliest woman he could
find. When he thought of his wife, beauty sickened him for the time
being. Thus it came about that Miss Jaffray had the pleasure of
shouting into his ear throughout a long and wearisome dinner.

Whether it was the work of the fetish or of Lady Frith, Leah did not
know, but she found herself seated at the table with Askew on her
right hand.

The young man looked flustered, and ill at ease. "I'm so sorry!" he
began apologetically, and, as she thought, tactlessly.

"That you're my neighbour?" she interrupted sweetly. "How unkind!"

"No! But I never knew he was your husband."

"Who? Mr. Berring?"

"Don't make it harder for me," he entreated softly. "I've been calling
myself names ever since we parted."

"You should have left that to me, Mr. Askew."

"There's nothing in it, you know," he stuttered, heedlessly. "Of
course, she never married him."

"I hope not, for the sake of morality," said Lady Jim, lightly, and
thinking that the soup was worse than usual. "However, it doesn't
matter. My husband is a modest man, and sometimes drops his title when
travelling. I daresay, as Mr. Berring, he thought he was free to make
love."

"But he wasn't," protested Askew, with a glance towards the
unconscious Jim, who apparently had not recognised him.

"You should tell him so."

"I intend to--in the smoking room."

Lady Jim looked at him imperiously, and softened her voice to a very
direct whisper. "Don't make trouble," she said, in a somewhat
domineering tone; "that will do no good and much harm. And after all,
married or unmarried, every man has a right to admire a pretty woman."

"But not to make love to her," muttered the young man, with another
vengeful glance.

"I am no casuist," replied Leah, calmly; "and you should be pleased
that things are as they are. You can now return to Lima, or Rosario,
and marry the lady."

"She wouldn't have me!"

"Is she so much in love with Mr. Berring, then?"

"Please don't, Lady James. I can't talk like this to you."

She gave a light laugh. "It seems to me that you are talking;
therefore I repeat my question."

"It might only have been gratitude," he murmured.

"For what?"

"Berring--I mean your husband--saved her from being trampled upon by a
mustang."

"How picturesque, and how suited to Jim's qualifications! And
she----?"

"No, she didn't," interrupted Askew, hurriedly. "I see I have been
mistaken. It was gratitude, not love."

"Of course," said Lady Jim, jeeringly; "a woman always prefers to
exercise the former rather than the latter."

"I wish I'd stopped and tried my luck," muttered the sailor, not
clever enough to interpret this speech.

"It's not too late. Mr. Berring is safely secured, by love and the
law, to my apron-strings, so you can go back and----"

"No; I've just come in for a property of sorts, and the service has
seen the last of me."

"Is Señorita Fajardo in the same predicament as the service?"

"There's a cousin, Lady James----"

"A female cousin, who goes with the property, as a fixture. I quite
understand. You have to marry her, out of gratitude for the money, and
without the discomforting passion of love. The Spanish lady's history
repeats itself, I see."

Askew was rather discomfited. "How quick you are!"

"You can't have had much to do with women," she murmured; "but I hope
you will make no trouble in the smoking-room."

"No; as things are, it's none of my funeral," he observed, grumpily.

"Quite so. I am the chief mourner."

"But I say, Lady James," said the lieutenant, anxiously, "I hope what
I've inadvertently told you won't----"

"Of course not," she assured him, mendaciously; "my husband is most
trustworthy, as you can see by his choice of that ugly old maid as a
dinner companion. You were mistaken."

"I think I must have been," said Askew, with great relief. "Of course,
people talk at Lima, as elsewhere," he ended apologetically.

"Unless South America is inhabited by the deaf and dumb, I suppose
they do."

"You're laughing at me, Lady James."

"I always laugh. It's good for the digestion."

"At everything?"

"At everything."

"Even at love?" he asked timidly.

She shot an amused glance at his colouring face. "Remember you are
engaged to the fixture, Mr. Askew."

"But I say, can't I come and see you in town?"

"I shall be delighted, if you can find your way to Curzon Street."

"You live there?" he asked obtusely.

"In a most respectable manner with my husband, Mr. Berring. I'm known
as Lady Jim of Curzon Street. Most improper, isn't it, when
Berring----?"

"I say, don't," expostulated the young man, quickly. "I'll never
forgive myself for being such a fool. Can I call you Lady Jim?"

He was getting on very fast, and Leah, in the interests of virtue,
deemed it necessary to snub him. "Certainly not. Only people who have
known me fifty years address me so familiarly."

"You must believe in re-incarnation then," he retorted.

This was clever and pleased her. "I was Circe in the days of Homer,
Mr. Askew. But as to my name now, there is another Lady Jim--a horrid
woman who carries tracts and meddles with morals, and dresses in a
piously shabby fashion. So that we may not be mixed up, I am known by
the name of the street I live in. To you I am Lady James Kaimes!"

"And Circe, the sorceress," he murmured.

Leah laughed. "We'll see what sort of animal my magic will turn you
into," she observed, with an encouraging smile.

This was a distinct promise, or at least he construed it as such, for
his eyes brightened, and he glanced at her in a way which assured her
that she was looking her best. He was certainly a delightful boy, she
reflected, if somewhat fickle. But a man who was catholic enough to
marry the fixture, and adore the Spanish lady, and make sudden love to
herself, must be worth feminine appreciation and study. Besides, he
was good-looking, and had money, conjoined with a frank and
unsuspicious nature. Assuredly, he might be useful, if not inclined to
explore the Land of Tenderness too assiduously. But in that case, he
might compromise her in an earnest, pig-headed way, which would be at
once boring, ridiculous, and dangerous. Leah approved of playing with
fire, but she was too careful to risk a personal conflagration. Though
allured by the prospect of tormenting an honest heart, she had not
made up her mind to enjoy the opportunity by the time she left the
dining-room. But a distinctly tigerish glance, sent to her address by
Demetrius, almost inclined her to give young Askew the chance of
making a fool of himself. The Russian had apparently noticed the
embryo flirtation.

"All the better," thought Leah, sailing into the Adamless Eden of the
winter garden; "it will be an additional card to play"--which showed
that Lady Jim was by no means satisfied with the arrangement come to
between her husband and his father.

"A cigarette, dear Lady Jim?" simpered Mrs. Penworthy.

"No, thanks; I leave smoking to women who bait their hooks with
agreeable vices"; and she moved towards Lady Canvey.

It was horribly rude, and Mrs. Penworthy choked back an hysterical
scream.

"Delightful woman, Lady James," said Miss Jaffray.

"Delightful," assented the other, who at the moment would gladly have
mounted the scaffold on a charge of murdering her insolent rival. "I
call her perfectly lovely. Such a perfect complexion, and exquisite
figure, and heavenly eyes, and large hands."

But this piece of spite was wasted, as by this time Lady Jim was
seated by her godmother, assuring that sceptical lady how absolutely
delighted she was to learn that dear Jim had arranged matters with the
dear Duke. "And so sweet of the Duke to tell you," she went on. "I
know how anxious you have been about me.

"Can you wonder at it, my dear, when you are so sweet and gentle and
womanly?" said Lady Canvey, who was quite equal to a war of words.

"You must be thinking of Hilda Frith," replied Lady Jim, calmly. "I
cannot call myself such an angel."

"No; you left that to the sailor-boy you were flirting with."

"Poor boy, he doesn't know how to flirt."

"You'll teach him, my dear," chuckled the old lady.

"Not without fees."

"Humph. His education will cost him a pretty penny."

"Possibly. But I might teach him for love, after the fashion of Miss
Tallentire and Lionel."

"Rubbish! Joan doesn't know how to flirt."

"Or to dress either. I must ask her how the Whiteley sales are getting
on."

"Leah!" said Lady Canvey, with a pained look. "Why have you such a
bitter tongue?"

"I must defend myself somehow. You wouldn't have me scratch and bite,
would you?"

"I would have you be more womanly and lovable, my dear."

"On a thousand a year, and such a husband as I have?"

"Every man is what his wife makes him."

"They generally go to other men's wives to be manufactured. Besides,
so far as Jim is concerned, you can't make a silk purse out of a
certain animal's ear."

"My dear, I am an old woman, and perhaps rather sharp-tongued at
times, but I have a motherly feeling for you. Can't you give up this
wild life, and go abroad to devote yourself to Jim? He has his good
points, my dear, and if you would try and live more amicably with him,
I am sure you would be a happy woman. Then, in a year or so, you could
come back to Curzon Street, with all the debts paid, and your full
income to live on. Believe me"--she laid a withered hand on Leah's
beautiful arm--"I speak for the best, my dear girl."

Leah smiled disdainfully. "Now that the sermon's over, can I pass
round the plate?" she said cruelly.

"Not for me to put money in," said Lady Canvey, with a flush. "I
shan't give you a penny. It is useless talking to you, Leah; your one
idea is money and enjoyment and love of admiration."

"It seems to me that those are three ideas," replied Lady Jim, rising;
"but as our conversation is neither enjoyable nor instructive, I shall
go away." All the same she lingered, and talked in a low tone, with
unexpected emotion. "You blame me, Lady Canvey, for being what I am.
Pray, what chance have I had of being otherwise? I lost my mother when
I was a child; I was brought up by a neglectful and selfish father; I
am married to a husband who has nothing of the man about him, save
those handsome looks, which lured me into a much-regretted marriage.
All my life I have lived with worldly and material people, and your
counsel has been as worldly as that of any one of them. I have never
been shown the difference between right and wrong, and there isn't a
single soul in the world who has a spark of love for me. If my
up-bringing and surroundings had been better, I might be a good
woman--so far as I can be, I _am_ a good woman. I have my moments of
regret--I have my moments when I wish I could be a religious, dowdy
saint. But who will help me out of the mire--who will----?" Here she
broke off, for her emotion was becoming too strong for the publicity
of the place. With a violent effort, which showed the strength and
courage of her nature, she calmed down, and the colour faded from her
face, as did the frown, which gave place to a cynical smile. Annoyed
with herself for having given Lady Canvey a glimpse of her better
nature, she walked away, leaving the old woman surprised and startled,
and, in her own selfish way, truly sorry. There was much truth in what
Leah had said.

But her mask was on again the moment she crossed to the door, and
Demetrius, who was obviously looking for her, saw only the beautiful,
calm woman he knew so well. His face was as agitated as Leah's had
been a few minutes previously.

"Madame, I must see you privately."

"What an extraordinary request, monsieur!"

"Ah, but you will understand----" He threw out his hands expressively.

"No; I am ignorant of the deaf and dumb language."

"Cruel--cruel."

"Silly--silly," she mocked, then glanced round with up-raised
eyebrows; "don't make a scene, monsieur, or I shall begin to believe
that you appreciate our English custom of lingering over the wine."

"Will you let me explain?" entreated the Russian.

"Certainly--to-morrow, at four. Ill be in the picture gallery. Good
night"; and with a friendly nod she moved away.

Demetrius swore softly in Russian, which is a most picturesque
language in many ways. Without a glance, Lady Jim ascended the stairs,
well pleased. Demetrius was losing command of himself, and therefore
would be all the easier to manage, should she require his services.
"I'll have that twenty thousand before spring," she decided.



CHAPTER X


"What is love?" asked Leah, the next day, at twenty minutes past four
of a clear wintry afternoon.

With all his knowledge of five languages, Demetrius could find no
answer, and rose from his knees with the feelings of a man who is
trying to melt an iceberg with a lucifer match. Ever since Lady Jim
arrived to keep her appointment in the picture gallery, he had been
explaining his feelings at length, and in the orthodox attitude of a
mortal worshipping a goddess. He had crossed his "t's" and dotted his
"i's" with the utmost precision. From English he had glided into
French, to plead the attractions of illicit passion: two minutes of
German resulted in sentimental assertions of that passion's
righteousness, and in illustrations of Wertherism; and, immediately
before she asked that impossible question, he had harked back to her
native tongue, to impress upon her the solid British common-sense of
his wooing. Leah listened to this polyglot love-making with the
feeling that she was camping under the tower of Babel. Demetrius might
have been a gramophone, pouring out recitations from the poets, for
all the impression his impassionate rhetoric made on her well-trained
feelings.

"I suppose all these speeches can be classified under the heading of
love," she said unkindly, when his exhaustion gave her an opportunity
of intervening. "But--what is love?"

"I have been trying to explain," stammered the Russian, getting on his
legs dispiritedly.

"Oh, your intentions are of the best. I gather that much; but I am
still waiting for a definition."

"Love is worship," ventured Demetrius, rashly.

"Then why aren't you on your knees?"

"I have been on my knees for fifteen minutes."

"Really! When did you look at your watch?"

"My heart told me."

"Then your heart is a time-keeper, or perhaps a time-server."

"If you will permit me to serve you, my service will be for all time."

"Ah! It seems we are immortal, then?"

"You are," he declared passionately; "every goddess is immortal."

Lady Jim laughed. This war of words was amusing and pretty, but she
wished to arrive at some conclusion which would repay her for spending
an hour in a cold gallery, packed with shockingly bad pictures.

"I am waiting for your definition of love," she said at length.

"I cannot explain the impossible."

"It seems to me that you have been trying to do so. Would you like to
hear how I define love?"

His eyes burned like two menacing stars. "Yes," he muttered in a husky
voice, and holding his passions in leash.

"Love is sacrifice," said Leah, slowly.

"Then I--love you," he burst out. "There is no sacrifice I would not
make for your dear sake."

"Can I believe that?"

"Try me," and he again dropped on his knees.

"Get up," said Lady Jim, brusquely. He did so. "Take a seat!" He did
so. "Look at the floor, and not at me." He did so. "Now then," she
continued, feeling relieved that those fierce eyes were not making her
flesh creep, "do you know what you are, Monsieur Demetrius?"

"A fool," he murmured bitterly, his gaze on the parquetry.

"I quite agree with you," she rejoined promptly. "And why?"

"Because I love you."

"Not at all. Because you don't love Katinka Aksakoff."

"What has that to do with this?" he said gloomily.

"Everything. She is free and I am not; she loves you, and I don't; she
will do you good, I shall do you harm; she can gain your pardon and
make your fortune----"

"And you can make me happy," cried Demetrius, looking up with the air
of one who has found a clinching argument.

"With the crumbs from my husband's table?"

"You don't love him!"

The British-matron portion of Leah revolted against this plain
speaking. She liked sugar-coated speeches. "You have no right to say
that."

"I have no right to make love to you," cried the doctor, rising, "but
I do. Pschutt"--he snapped his fingers--"what care I for that English
pig, your husband? As to that young fool who sat beside you last
night----"

Lady Jim clapped her hands, and jumped up, laughing. "Oh," she cried,
with great enjoyment, "so it was Mr. Askew's attentions that made you
lose your head?"

"But not my heart. I lost that months ago, when I first met you. Ah,
you cruel woman, have I not worshipped and adored you these many days?
Do I not ache here?" he struck his breast passionately. "Have you not
made my life miserable with your looks and smiles and coldness and
beauty?" He seized her hands roughly. "I love you so much that I--even
I, Constantine Demetrius--could kill you--kill you."

She released herself with a cold laugh. "That sounds as though you
were in earnest. But if I could return your love----"

"Ah!" he made a step towards her, trembling and breathing hard.

"One moment." She waved him back, and retreated herself to the window.
"Supposing I could love you--what then?"

"I would--I would----" He flung out his hands with a sob. "What is
your price?" he cried savagely.

"How crudely you put things!" said Lady Jim, coolly. "My price is your
services, to be given blindly, and without question."

"And my reward?"

"Marriage with me."

Demetrius stared, and gazed at her with unaffected amazement. "You
mock me," he said faintly.

"No, I am in earnest. It is true that I am not free now. But," she
looked at him steadily, "you can make me so."

"Murder," whispered Demetrius, looking up and down the long, empty,
chill gallery, and not at the Eve who was tempting him.

Leah blazed out into genuine rage. "What do you mean?" she cried,
stamping her foot. "Not a hair of Jim's head shall be harmed."

"Then how--how----?"

"Sit down and listen," she said, pointing to a chair. "I have a deeper
feeling for you than you think. No; leave my hand alone. We are now
talking business."

"Business," echoed Demetrius, blankly.

Lady Jim nodded composedly. "The pleasure can come later. You have no
money, no title, no position----"

"I can make money," he explained rapidly; "and I can take up again my
title of Prince, which I dropped when I became a doctor. As the wife
of a Russian noble----"

"You will have to make your peace with the Czar to get these things."

"I will do so."

"Through Mademoiselle Askakoff?"

"No; there are other ways. I am not worthy of Katinka----"

"And, therefore, think yourself worthy of me," said Lady Jim, calmly.
"Thank you! There's nothing like being honest."

"But you do not understand----"

"Oh yes, I do. I understand that you can make me a cheap sort of
princess, and in some way can give me money----"

"All that you require--as my wife."

"You must have the lamp of Aladdin, then," said Leah, with a shrug.
"My capacity for spending will try even your finances. But at the
present moment I have not a penny, neither has my husband."

"Well?" asked the doctor, anxiously.

Now that the plunge was made she found less difficulty in speaking
plainly. Leaning towards him, till the perfume of her hair and the
close neighbourhood of her whole gracious person nearly maddened him
into seizing her in his arms, she proceeded rapidly. "My husband's
life is insured for twenty thousand pounds. If you as a doctor can
arrange to satisfy the insurance company of his death, so that we can
get the money, he will disappear, and I, in the eyes of the world,
shall be free to marry you."

"Do you mean that I should give him a drug, and----"

"No; I mean--Harold Garth."

"My peasant patient. Well?"

"How stupid you are," said Lady Jim, with unfeigned irritation. "This
man Garth is very like Jim, and is apparently dying----"

"He can't live another two months."

"Then the matter is easily managed. Can't you see?"

"Yes," replied Demetrius, whose quick brain seized the feasibility of
the scheme at once. "But will your husband give you up?"

Leah nodded, not wishing to be too explicit. "We have arranged that."

"And does he know that his disappearance means our marriage?"

"No! He thinks you are poor, and will do anything for money."

"Ah," said Demetrius, sarcastically. "Then the high-born nobleman does
not credit me with being a gentleman?"

"What does it matter what he thinks?" said Lady Jim, impatiently. "We
needn't trouble about him after he disappears. Can it be managed?"

"Yes, if you will promise to marry me when you are free and in
possession of this money."

She gave him both hands. "I do promise."

He bent down and kissed them, passionately. "Consider it done."

"Without any scandal?"

"Assuredly. Listen! The Duke wishes to save the life of this Garth,
because--he is fond of him."

"Yes, yes; I understand. Go on."

"I say to the Duke that a warm climate will work wonders," continued
Demetrius, dramatically. "He will gladly consent, and with this Garth
I go to----"

"To Nice, or Cannes, or----"

"No," said the doctor, sharply. "If I set foot on the Continent I may
be captured by the secret police. I have no wish to take Garth with me
to Siberia," he added sarcastically. "It is not a warm climate. The
Azores--Madeira--Jamaica--Barbados--any such place, will make him
better."

"I don't want him to be made better," said the other conspirator,
naïvely.

"Leave that to me, madame. Garth will die as Garth, and be buried as
Milor, your husband."

"No, no," said Leah, with a shudder. "I won't have murder."

"You are scrupulous," rejoined Demetrius, with a shrug. "But make your
mind easy. Garth cannot live--he may die on the voyage----

"Or he may live for months."

Demetrius shrugged his shoulders again. "In that case, I may have to
assist nature."

"No," said Leah, again, and very determinedly. "I could never spend
the money with any pleasure if I thought that you--you assisted
nature," she ended faintly, not liking to use a strong word.

The Russian looked at her with silent surprise. He could not
understand why she should be scrupulous in one thing and not in
another. She contemplated a fraud on the insurance company, and
bigamistic marriage with him, so it was impossible to guess why she
should object to the inclusion of a third crime.

"And it would scarcely be murder," said Demetrius, continuing his
train of thought aloud. "He is so ill, this poor Garth, that the
relief of death----"

"Don't," interrupted Leah, who both looked and felt pale. "I won't
have it. Let the poor man die in peace. If he dies otherwise, I shall
refuse to marry you."

"You may do that in any case," said the doctor grimly. "What hold have
I over you?"

"There is no need for you to have any hold," said Lady Jim, wincing,
and feeling that she had indeed delivered herself into the power of
the enemy. "But if you think I will not keep my promise you are
mistaken. I swear to marry you."

"Ah, well," said Demetrius, with a penetrating look. "If you do not
marry me, you cannot marry another, since your husband will always be
alive."

He spoke with slow significance.

"Oh, you make him out to be immortal also," said she, with an uneasy
laugh; then felt the necessity of bringing this interview to a
conclusion. "We must part now. It will not do for us to be seen
talking together."

"I agree," said Demetrius, gravely; "your proposal alters our
relations entirely. In society, I will speak to you little."

Lady Jim nodded, and put her handkerchief to her lips with a feeling
of nausea. Now that her scheme was taking shape, its outlines appeared
rather repulsive. To read of such a plot conceived and detailed by a
dexterous author was amusing and stimulating; to engage in its
execution meant worry, and a fearful ignorance as to what might
happen, should things go awry. The same difference might be supposed
to exist between Aldershot man[oe]uvres and a real battle. Theorising
in criminality was easy; practice would be both difficult and
dangerous.

Moreover, she might have to pay a very large price for the privilege
of engaging in this questionable transaction. Demetrius would
certainly exact his bond in genuine Shylock fashion. Needless to say,
she had no intention of marrying him, and trusted to the providence of
the peacock fetish to avoid the necessity though at the moment she saw
no means whereby she could escape fulfilling her promise. This
reflection almost made her draw back. As yet, she was not under the
doctor's thumb, and could extricate herself even at this eleventh hour
by denying everything, should he dare to speak out. But a second
thought of her desperate need of money, a sordid vision of cheap
hotels and ready-made frocks, a shuddering remembrance that the
future, as it now stood, meant limited pocket-money and the
everlasting boredom of Jim's society, turned the scale in favour of
the venture. "Be bold! Be bold!" said the warning of the door in the
old fairy tale, and Leah thought the advice worth taking. But she
forgot the concluding words, "Be not too bold!"

"I leave details to you," she said to her companion, when they had
concluded their nefarious bargain.

"Madame, I relieve you of all responsibility," said Demetrius, now
quite his grave, restrained self. "But, should I tell the Duke that
your husband is suffering from consumption, you will endorse my
statement, I trust."

"Consumption? Jim? Oh, Lord, he's as healthy as a pig."

"He will not be if he takes a certain medicine," said the man, dryly.

Leah had a conscience, though for years it had been persistently
snubbed into holding its peace. After all, Jim _was_ her husband, and
she had no right to sanction tricks being played on his robust health.
"You don't mean----" Her voice died away nervously.

"I mean business," Demetrius flashed out. "I love you, and I mean to
win you. The price that you ask shall be paid."

"Without harm to Jim or this man Garth?"

"I swear it."

"In that case"--Leah extended her hand, to withdraw it suddenly before
the Russian could rain kisses on its soft whiteness. A choking
sensation, new to one of her superb health, made her gasp frantically
after the breath which seemed to be leaving her. With unexpected force
came a new sensation. This abominable playing with the lives and
hearts of men stirred up to vehement protest a hitherto unknown better
self which overwhelmed her with wave upon wave of reproachful shame.
Conscience, uppermost for once in her greedy, selfish, animal life,
stripped the contemplated sin of its allurements, and she recoiled
before an inward vision of the horror her baser nature was creating.
It might prove to her what the monster proved to Frankenstein, and
haunt her with nightmare insistence for the remainder of an unbearable
life.

"So weak, madame?" asked Demetrius, reading the secret handwriting on
the wall like a very Daniel.

The sneer nerved her, and she strove desperately to escape from the
light of heaven into the material darkness, that would not reveal her
sin, unclothed and shameless. "No!" she cried in a loud, ringing
voice. "I--I----" Again the celestial light mercilessly and mercifully
disclosed the inward foulness of that fair-seeming sin, and the sight
beat down her pride and courage into nothingness. "I take it all
back," she stuttered, broken-up and panic-struck. "Forget--don't move
in--in----" Something clicked in her throat, and only by a violent
effort did she repress the climbing hysteria. Incapable of speech, and
only anxious to escape from this extraordinary influence, which
compelled her to face the powers of darkness in their naked horror,
she passed swiftly down the long, echoing gallery. Not till she was
safe in her own room did she halt, to consider why she had fled. Her
brain was now clear, and the actual world resumed its wonted aspect.
Her face was still white, her lips still quivered, her soul was still
shaken by the visitation. But, with a courage worthy of a better
cause, she sat down and fought with her fears, till the colour
returned and the nerves came under control. Yet her material nature
could not grasp that the terrible gift of the interior sight had been
hers for one short moment.

"I'm a fool!" she assured herself harshly.

And she was. For, as the walls of the flesh closed round her soul, to
darken it anew, her good angel, who had wrought the miracle, weeping
for the blind that would not see and the deaf that would not hear,
left her despairingly. Then the powers of darkness soothed her into
such contentment, that she laughed scornfully at her late folly, and
adopted their explanation.

"I'm run down with all this worry," said Lady Jim. "I really need a
tonic."



CHAPTER XI


A triple knock at the door both interrupted Leah's meditations and
annoyed her, as she was far from wishing for company. It could not be
Jim, as he usually banged the panels impatiently, and walked in before
the invitation to enter could be heard through the noise of his
tattoo. Besides, Jim, for obvious reasons, connected with Askew, had
made himself scarce for the last four-and-twenty hours. Should it be a
visitor, Leah resolved to decline conversation, especially with one of
her own sex. But the women of the house-party so rarely ventured into
Lady Jim's sitting-room, that she concluded the disturber to be some
servant with a message. Perhaps Jim had broken his head while skating,
or had made a hole in the ice. If so, his death would greatly simplify
matters.

"Come in," she cried impatiently, and to her surprise, Lionel
presented himself, with a somewhat diffident look. "Oh, it's you,
padre!" Lady Jim had picked up the word from a Sandhurst cadet.
"What's the matter,--anything wrong?"

"What should be wrong?" inquired Kaimes, closing the door and
remaining on the inside.

"Oh, I don't know. I always expect bad news when I see a lawyer's
letter or a parson's face. Well? Has Lady Canvey been converted, or
has Jim gone to that place where the climate forbids skating?"

"Nothing of the sort has happened," said Lionel, dryly. "I have merely
come to chat with you."

"Sit down, then, though I warn you I don't feel companionable."

"You are worried."

"My dear man, when am I anything else but worried, with Jim for a
husband, and the Duke behaving like Shylock at his worst? You and Jim
have made a mess of things."

"I don't know about Jim," said Lionel, resenting this ungrateful
speech, "but I did my best to put matters in the right light."

"Oh, Lord, who wanted a right light? The less light on Jim's and my
affairs the better. A few white lies would have resulted in a larger
sum than that miserable two hundred with which the Duke insulted us."

"I am not in the habit of telling lies, white or black, Lady James."

"I daresay. You parsons are so ridiculously punctilious. As if
diplomatic lies were not as oil on the troubled waters of this world."

"I did not come to discuss this," said Lionel, seeing how utterly
impossible she was, "but to help you in your trouble."

"What trouble?"

"I don't know. I was reading in the library, when a feeling came to me
that I must see you at once--that you needed assistance."

Leah looked rather queer. What could he possibly know of her late
experience? "Telepathy, I suppose."

"Well, that may be the scientific name for the Divine Spirit."

"The what?"

"The Divine Spirit," he repeated, firmly and seriously. "I believe
that the impulse to seek you came from above. You are in danger."

"Am I--of being bored to death?"

"You can't deny that you are in trouble of some sort. I can see it in
your expression."

"My trouble is my own. I share it with no one."

"Then you are in----"

"Pray don't question me," snapped Leah, with a nervous glance around.
This interference of the Unseen with her material affairs was both
weird and uncomfortable. She could not deny the panic that had driven
her headlong from the security of the flesh, and it was remarkable
that Lionel, unsummoned and unsought, should seek her at so critical a
moment. The feeling that he was meddling with what did not concern
him, annoyed her the more. "I wish you would not frighten me," she
cried, with an angry determination to stop this uncanny business.

"Perhaps it is your conscience that is frightening you."

"How dare you say that?"

"Because there is something serious the matter, or I should not have
been called to your assistance."

"I never called you."

"Then your good angel did."

"I don't believe in such things."

"Do you believe in anything?"

"Yes," she said defiantly--"in myself."

"That is a poor help in time of trouble."

"I have managed very well hitherto."

"Can you substantiate that statement, seeing how embarrassed your
worldly affairs are at this moment?"

Lady Jim could find no direct answer. "Parsons have nothing to do with
worldly matters," she muttered, averting her eyes.

"Very true. But if I can offer spiritual consolation----"

"Take it to Lady Canvey. She needs it more than I do."

"I doubt that, or the call would not have come."

"It's a false alarm, padre," she said jeeringly. "I don't want to be
preached at, and you're suffering from indigestion, or softening of
the brain."

"Well, Lady James," said Lionel, rising with a sigh, "your limitations
may lead you to look at the matter in that light. But if I can do
nothing for you, I can only retire, after asking your pardon--as I
do--for my intrusion"; and he made for the door.

Her mood changed with feminine rapidity, and she beckoned imperatively
that he should remain. Disguise it as she would to Kaimes, his sudden
coming on the top of her late puzzling experience drove her to
acknowledge that something outside the material was at work. Leah was
too clever a woman to deny the existence of more things in heaven and
earth than came within the scope of her knowledge.

"It is the duty of you parsons to pry into the secrets of souls, I
suppose," she said, leaning her elbow on the chair arm, and her chin
on her hand. "But what interest can you have in my soul--if I have
one?"

"I, as other servants of the Master, interest myself in all souls."

"That you may save them?"

"Only Christ can do that."

"I may deny His power to do so--I may deny Him."

"And so fall as Peter fell," said Lionel, sadly. "Yet he repented with
bitter weeping."

"I am not a tearful woman," she retorted, and turned to look into the
fire. She did not wish to meet his eyes when she spoke the ensuing
acknowledgment. "You are a good man, Lionel, and--and--you may be able
to help me."

Kaimes resumed his seat. "I hope so; but I can only point the way to a
better Helper, and One more powerful."

She continued to gaze at the burning coals. "I was frightened a few
minutes before you entered," she said abruptly.

"By what?"

"That is the question you must answer. By something which made me see
what a horrid nature I have."

Lionel was silent for a few moments, not quite sure of his speech.

"The Unseen presses closely around us," he remarked at length, "and at
times reveals itself. For instance, a contemplated sin may be
prevented by a spiritual influence informing the intelligence how
terrible the consequences of such a sin may be."

"It was the sin itself rather than its consequence which frightened
me," murmured Leah, so softly that Lionel caught but one word.

"What is that you say about sin?"

Lady Jim's cunning made her shirk confession. "Nothing--oh, nothing,"
she said hurriedly; "only it seems to me that everything pleasant is a
sin in your eyes."

"Dead Sea Fruit," replied Kaimes, earnestly; "fair to the eye, foul to
the taste. If you turn devoutly to the spiritual, the material
pleasures of this world lose their attractiveness."

"Perhaps," she said sceptically; "but many things goody-goody people
of your sort shudder at are attractive. You can't deny that."

"I have no wish to. Satan always supplies us with rose-coloured
spectacles, through which to contemplate his works."

Lady Jim rose and walked up and down the narrow limits of the room,
twisting her hands in a nervous, hesitating way, quite unlike her
usually calm, decisive self. "I wish you would not talk nonsense," she
snapped; "it is absurd to believe in a personal devil."

"And in a possible hell also, I suppose you would say."

"Oh," she said carelessly, "scientists have explained that away."

"And the Inquisition of the middle ages denied that the earth went
round the sun," said Kaimes, grimly; "but I understand that it does."

"Clever, but not convincing. What is the use of talking nursery
theology and cheap science to me? What can you say that is likely to
do me good?"

"The patient must be frank with his physician," hinted Lionel.

"Oh, we always tell the exact truth to doctor and lawyer," said Lady
Jim, scornfully, "because we fear for our bodies and our property. But
who tells the truth to a parson?"

"Those who are convinced of sin."

"In that case I may as well hold my tongue. I am not convinced of
anything, not even if I ought to make you my father confessor."

"I cannot compel your confidence. On the other hand, I cannot help you
unless----"

"Unless! Quite so. Let me think," and turning her back on him, she
went to the window. The early winter gloom was blotting out the
distant landscape, but near at hand the spectral glare of the snow
revealed blackly the figures of homeward-bound skaters. The cold
deadness of so sinister a world did not tend to soothe Leah's
overstrung nerves, and shrouded Nature could give her no counsel. Had
it been a summer's twilight of nightingales and roses, of sleeping
blossoms and murmuring leaves, she would have recovered sufficient
spirit to scoff. But this arctic waste, livid and still in the half
light, reminded her of the frozen hell, in the deadly chills of which
shuddered Dante, the seer. And the virile Saxon word hinted at the
possible, if not at the probable. Of course, it was all very
ridiculous, and her system was out of order. Nevertheless, she felt
that some kindly human comfort and advice might restore her tormented
mind to its usual peace. And whatever she said to Lionel, he would not
dare to repeat. As a cousin, as a gentleman, as a priest, his lips
would be triply sealed. And he might be able to point out a less
dangerous path than that towards which the need of money was driving
her. He was a good fellow, too, and honest enough, in spite of his
superstition. She decided to speak, and came back to her chair. Had
she been less material, she could have heard in the stillness the
rustling wings of a returning angel. Lionel looked at her inquiringly.
She was about to speak hurriedly, lest the good impulse should pass
away, when Jim's tattoo was heard. With a snap Leah closed her lips,
as he lumbered, red-faced, hearty, and essentially fleshy, into the
room. The mere sight of his tangible commonplace made the woman thank
her stars that she had not blundered into hysterical frankness.

"Holloa, Lionel! Holloa, Leah! Sittin' in the twilight an' talkin'
secrets--eh? Mind some light?" He clicked the ivory knob near the
door, and the room sprang into vivid being. "Had a jolly day's skatin.
Y' should ha' come, Leah. No end of a lark. Feel sick?" This polite
question was asked because she shaded her eyes from the glare.

"No; but I can't stand wild bulls charging into a room."

"Might call it a china-shop," chuckled Jim, glancing disparagingly at
the nicknackery. "Nerves slack, I'll bet. Fresh air an' exercise an'
cheerful company is what you want, Leah."

"I'm likely to get the last, with you," she rejoined witheringly, for
the overpowering vitality of the man made her wince.

"Well, Lionel here's--been no catch in th' way of fun, I expect. Seems
to have given you the hump. Goin', old man? All right! I'll cheer her
up. See you at dinner."

The curate nodded and went out. Since Jim's plunge into the middle of
their conversation he had not uttered a word, for the interruption had
jarred on him, as on Lady Jim. Moreover, he departed with an intuitive
feeling that the golden moment had passed. And this was truly the
case. When she next saw him, Leah wondered why she had so nearly made
a fool of herself. And indeed, she was already wondering while Jim,
obviously embarrassed, discoursed in a breezy, blundering way, with an
attempt at connubial fondness.

"Poor old girl," he said, sitting opposite to her, looking fresh and
handsome, and essentially manly. "'Awfully sorry you're chippy. If I'd
known I'd ha' come back to keep you company."

"Are the heavens falling?" asked Leah, listlessly.

Jim, as usual, could not follow this recondite speech. "Don't know
what you're talkin' about," he remarked good-humouredly, and bustling
to the bell. "You're a peg too low, Leah. Tell you what: we'll have
tea here, an' a talk, if you don't mind."

His wife nodded, wondering if he was about to confess his possible
Mormonism. She did not think so, as Jim never confessed anything,
unless it was dragged piecemeal out of him. Her feelings at this
moment did not lean towards cross-examination, so she let him ring the
bell and order tea, without using her too-ready tongue. In fact, she
unbent so far as to make use of him.

"Get me a dose of sal volatile, Jim," she ordered. "There's a bottle
on my dressing-table."

"Poor old girl," said the sympathetic Jim, again, and stumbling into
the next room with eager haste.

Leah smiled to herself. This ready obedience argued a guilty
conscience.

After Jim dosed her, he was tactful enough to hold his tongue and
improve the fire, without clattering the poker and tongs. Then he
pulled down the blinds and drew the curtains, and altered the shades
of the electrics, so that Leah might not be overpowered by the glare.

"It's quite like a new honeymoon," she said, sarcastically. The drug
was doing its renovating work, and her original devil was returning to
a swept and garnished house, with seven other spirits more wicked than
himself.

Jim took the remark seriously, and coloured with pleasure. "I believe
we'd get on rippin'," said he, enthusiastically. "If we only had the
money I believe we'd be as happy as birds."

"They can't be very happy in this cold weather," replied Leah, seeing
plainly that Jim's amiability was owing to a selfish fear of reproval
for his iniquities. "Here's the tea. I don't want any just now, as the
sal volatile is doing me good. You can eat."

"Oh, can't I, just," said Jim, when the footman left and he was
filling himself a cup. "Th' skatin's given me an appetite. 'Sides, I
want to get into form; as I've somethin' serious to say about this
insurance business."

Leah looked up suddenly. "I thought you had given that the go-by."

"No--o--o," drawled her husband, not meeting her eyes. "Course, th'
pater's a good sort an' all that. But his arrangement will give us a
howlin' bad time for the next few years."

"So I told you."

"Well, then," Jim fiddled nervously with a piece of toast, "why not
get the twenty thousand?"

"It could be managed, of course, with some little difficulty."

"Through that Russian Johnny?"

"Demetrius? Yes."

"You've see him, then?"

"To-day. He'll see the thing through."

"What's his price?"

Leah smiled blandly, as she thought of what Jim would say did she
reply honestly to this question. But she did not intend to. It seemed
to her that Jim was driving her towards the very path which Lionel,
unknowingly, wished her to avoid. It was useless to fight against
fate, so she decided, and like many another person, she laid the blame
on those scapegoats, the stars. She was now completely dominated by
the selfish influence of the great god Mammon, and the lesser sin of
lying was swallowed up in the greater one of idolatry.

"He'll want a few thousands, of course," she said mendaciously; "but,
as yet, we have not fixed any sum."

"Hum," muttered Jim, suspiciously. "I thought he'd want something more
than money."

Leah rose indignantly, and proclaimed a virtue that her conscience
assured her she might yet lose. "I am an honest woman, Jim," she said
haughtily, "and, married or unmarried, I should never allow any man to
make love to me."

"Seems to me you do."

"Only to pass away the time. I stop short when----"

"When their hearts are broken," growled her husband. "Upon my soul,
Leah, I'm straighter than you are."

"I doubt that, since you swear by what you haven't got."

Jim rashly became aggressively virtuous. "I've not been a bad sort of
husband to you, Leah."

"I have seen so little of you that it is rather difficult for me to
give an opinion," she said, resting her elbow on the mantelpiece.
"Mrs. Berring may be in a better position to judge of your virtues."

Kaimes turned white with emotion, and he rose from his low chair as
though worked by springs. "It's a lie," he growled hoarsely. "I never
married her."

"Married who?"

"The lady you talk about."

"The lady Mr. Askew talked about, you mean. I merely mention her
name."

"It is not her name. She is Lola Fajardo."

"Of the Estancia, San Jago. So Mr. Askew explained."

"Oh, if you're goin' to make a row----"

"Do I ever make rows?" asked Lady Jim, impatiently.

"You don't care enough about me to raise Cain," said Jim, rather sorry
for himself. "I swear I'd be a different man, if you were a different
woman."

"Every husband in the divorce court witness-box makes the same excuse.
Sit down, Jim, and let us talk over the matter quietly. Your
infidelities have long since converted us from man and wife into a
business firm to earn money."

"But, Leah, I swear----"

"By that soul you know nothing about?" she flashed out contemptuously.
"Talk sense, if you are capable of doing so. You have been trying to
dodge this explanation ever since you met Mr. Askew last night, in the
smoking-room. But now that we've stumbled on an opening, perhaps you
will explain."

"Explain what?"

"All that Mr. Askew did _not_ tell me."

"Oh, he's been makin' somethin' out of nothin', the silly ass,"
protested Jim, sitting down and handling the poker with a fervent wish
that he could use it on the sailor's head. "I met Señorita Fajardo at
Lima, and later at Buenos Ayres. Her brother asked me out to their
estancia in the camp of Argentina, near Rosario, and I stopped there
for a month. Bit of luck came my way, an' I pulled her from under a
beastly mustang, that would have kicked the life out of her. She took
a fancy to me, 'cause I saved her life."

"Is that all?"

"Well, I went again to San Jago, last year----"

"Your third visit to South America since our marriage."

"Yes," said Jim, sullenly; "an' I met Lola--I mean Señorita Fajardo."

"Oh, don't apologise. Lola is a pretty name."

"An' she's a pretty woman, an' I'm flesh an' blood," cried Jim,
getting up to work himself into a rage. "I met her durin' my second
visit, an' went again to the estancia on my third. It was no use
luggin' a title round, for these mouldy hotel-keepers always make a
chap pay for havin' a handle to his name, so I called myself
Berring--James Berring."

"James Berring, bachelor."

"Bachelor, certainly. I haven't married her, and if Askew says I have,
he's a liar."

"And assuredly a marplot," said Leah, dryly, "since he has exploded
your romance. I understood from him that this lady loves you."

"So she does."

"And you love her?"

Jim wriggled. "Oh, go on--go on! Kick a chap when he's down!"

"If I had intended to kick, you would have been black and blue by now,
Mr. James Berring. But you needn't flatter yourself that my feelings
are hurt in any way. You're not worth it."

"Other women think differently."

"Lola Fajardo, for instance."

"Well, I can't help that, can I? If you'd been a different sort of
woman, I'd have----"

"You said that before. Had we not better get to business?"

"What business?"

"The insurance business. I don't care for you, and you show very
plainly that you don't care for me. It is useless for us to struggle
together like a couple of ill-matched dogs in leash. Give me fifteen
thousand of this money, and then you can marry your Lola woman."

Jim turned white again. "You seem jolly anxious to get rid of me."

"Can you wonder if I do? How many women would take this scandalous
matter as quietly as I do?"

"It's not scandalous," said Kaimes, fiercely. "She thinks that I am a
bachelor, and I'm not even engaged to her. I have tried to be true to
you, Leah," declared Jim, pathetically.

His wife shrugged her shoulders. It was rather late in the day for Jim
to talk sentiment, besides being a waste of time. "Well?" she asked,
facing him squarely.

Jim read her purpose in a very flinty face. "I'll do what you want,"
he said weakly.

"Then there's no more to be said," remarked Leah, coldly, moving
towards the door of her bedroom. "Demetrius will explain, if you will
afford him half an hour's private conversation."

"Leah, do you really mean it?"

"I have meant it from the first moment you put the idea into my head,"
she said in a harsh voice. "This underhand love-making of yours only
makes me the more determined."

"But there was no----"

"Don't lie, Jim. A man can no more love two women than he can serve
two masters. Is it to be Lola Fajardo, or myself?"

"I leave it to you, Leah."

"Then I choose the fifteen thousand pounds," she said, and vanished
into the bedroom. Jim took an impulsive step towards the door, but the
sharp click of a turning key showed him that he was locked out for
ever.

That evening Leah talked so gaily, and looked so beautiful, that her
father-in-law was absolutely fascinated. "Is it all right between you
and James?" he asked graciously.

"Yes," Leah assured him; "we understand one another thoroughly."



CHAPTER XII


Leah welcomed the New Year at Firmingham, with the fervent hope that
its bounty would bestow the insurance money, and rid her of an
official husband. It really seemed as though Providence, or the
fetish, was in a benign mood, for Jim caught the worst of colds while
skating. Being confined to an undesired bed, and fed with food
tasteless to a cultivated palate, he lost both flesh and temper.
Demetrius talked gravely of weak lungs, and hinted at inherited
consumption. The Duke was anxious, but scarcely surprised, and
recalled similar cases of a grandmother, two ancestors, and a rackety
uncle. Lady Jim encouraged these pulmonary recollections for obvious
reasons. She and Demetrius winked privately at one another like the
celebrated augurs, when they heard the old man's lamentations. Nature
was acting strictly on the lines of the Russian's proposed medicine,
and there was no need to dose Jim into a sickly likeness of Garth. Day
by day he grew as white-faced, as haggard, and as lean, until he
became alarmed at the anxiety of Providence to forward the schemes of
himself and Leah.

But there was no end to the kindness of an overruling fate. Jim's
illness afforded his wife the opportunity of posing as a sister of
mercy, and she fussed round the patient so ostentatiously, that the
Duke was quite touched. He began to think that Leah was a true
ministering angel, and not the money-wasting doll he had considered
her to be. Jim grinned as Leah measured medicine, and fed him with
gruel, and read him interesting bits from the sporting journals.

"I believe I'm goin' to get well," he chuckled.

"Why so, dear?" asked his wife, who was profuse of adjectives in
private, so that they might slip out the more easily in public.

"You look so uncommon dismal."

"It is necessary to keep up appearances," Leah assured him. "Besides,
this will be the last chance of my doing anything for you. In future,
Lola will soothe your weary pillow"; after which and similar passages
of arms, Jim would curse himself to sleep, and wake up to accuse his
wife of wishing to poison him.

This fortunate illness kept Lady Jim at Firmingham when the
house-party disintegrated. But as the Duke was a twaddling old ass,
and Jim the most trying of patients, Leah looked upon her ten days'
boredom as a kind of Lenten penance. Besides, she had frequent
confabulations with Demetrius, to settle details of the plot. Already
the doctor had explained to the Duke that Garth would die easier in
the tropics, and Funchal had been selected as the most agreeable place
for his demise.

"And then?" asked Lady Jim.

"Your husband must go to Jamaica, to wait events."

"What events?"

"Those which I propose to bring about," retorted Demetrius, who had
his reasons for not explaining himself too fully.

Leah did not question him closely. With a selfish regard for her own
safety, in case anything might leak out, she preferred that the doctor
should arrange matters in his own way. But she obeyed instructions to
the extent of hinting to the Duke that Kingston was the very best
place for dear Jim's weak lungs.

"Will you go with him?" asked Pentland, anxiously.

"Oh no," said Lady Jim, sweetly; "we mustn't make too much fuss over
him, else he'll think he's going to die."

"He might," sighed the Duke. "I had an uncle----" and he described the
sufferings of old Lord George for the tenth time.

Leah comforted him after the manner of one Bildad, a Shuhite. "Oh,
Kingston will do Jim no end of good, my dear Duke. It won't cure one
lung, but it may patch up the other. And then, you know, if he gets
worse, I can always reach him in fourteen days."

"Does Demetrius think he will die?" asked the Duke, piteously.

"He doesn't think poor Jim will ever be so strong as he was," said
Leah, gravely; "but he'll hang on, with care."

"Just like my grandmother," muttered the Duke, and then detailed the
sufferings of a dowager duchess, who couldn't be kept alive beyond the
age of sixty.

"If Jim lives till that age, I shall be content," said Leah.

"Are you thinking of the insurance money?" demanded Pentland, with
sudden anger.

"What insurance money? Oh yes, I think Jim did mention something about
an insurance."

"He gets it if he lives till sixty."

"Really! I don't quite understand, Duke, but I'm sure it's all right."

"I hope so, my dear. Has he made his will?"

"No. Why should he?"

"Because, in the event of his dying, the insurance money should be
left to you. No will means trouble."

Leah had never thought of a will, as it seemed natural that the money
should come to her without the necessity of paying lawyers' bills. But
her quick brain seized the chance of smoothing the way to acquiring
the fortune with as little trouble as possible, and she promptly
cornered the Duke. "_You_ speak to him," she suggested.

And this the Duke did, with the result that a will leaving the money
to Leah was drawn up and signed, after some opposition, by Jim. He did
not at all relish the carrying out of this necessary step. It was too
like preparing a death certificate to please Jim.

However, as a reward for his obedience, Demetrius set him on his legs,
and Jim went to Torquay with the devoted Leah. But when he was settled
in a comfortable hotel as an interesting invalid, and with a
superfluity of pretty girls to soothe him with sympathy, Lady Jim left
him for a round of visits to various country-houses. Now that the Duke
was out of sight, Jim's connubial comforts were out of mind; but Leah
left strict injunctions that he was not to put on flesh. Within the
month, she was to see him start for Jamaica, and impressed upon him
the necessity of looking quite ready to depart for a place where Jim
had no desire to go.

"I don't see why you want to make a holy show of me," grumbled Jim.

"We must make your death appear as plausible as possible."

"But I don't want to look like a livin' skeleton."

"Oh, I don't think Lola will mind," said Leah, cruelly, and started
out to enjoy herself in the best of spirits.

While at Lord Sargon's seat in Shropshire, she met Askew in the
company of the fixture. The young man's betrothed was extremely like a
dairy-maid, and her frocks set Lady Jim's teeth on edge. If she could
combine colours that did not match, she always did so, and her
character was as colourless as her wardrobe was gaudy. Marjory was the
creature's name, and her conversation was the "Pa-pa!" "Mam-ma!" of a
squeaking doll.

"How much are you paying for her?" asked Leah, after satisfying
herself that the young lady was really a woman.

"Five thousand a year," replied the lieutenant, sulkily.

"What a bargain!"

"Don't laugh at me," he implored; "you know there is but one woman in
the world for me."

"So you told me. Lola--what's her name?"

"Some one nearer and dearer than her!" he murmured, with what the
Americans call "goo-goo" eyes, whereat Lady Jim laughed, and allowed
him to fetch and carry, and sit on his hind legs and bark prettily,
like a well-trained lap-dog. It amused her, and kept him on
tenterhooks. The only annoying thing was, that Marjory seemed to care
little for this annexation of her lover. She much preferred a
fox-hunting squire, who talked "stables," and glowered on Askew for
not appreciating the dairy-maid.

In this capture of another woman's man, Leah combined pleasure with
business. She did not wish to spoil Jim's little game with the Spanish
lady, and it would never do for Askew to detail Mr. Berring's past in
a quarter where such betrayal would lead to trouble. By this time the
amorous sailor was the slave of beauty, so Lady Jim was sufficiently
mistress of his will to limit his correspondence. This she did one
evening after dinner, while admiring Marjory's new frock.

"Yellow and green," murmured Leah, when she and Askew filled up a
corner, and watched frantic people playing bridge; "poached egg on
spinach. If you design her gowns, Mr. Askew, I should advise a less
lavish use of primary colours."

"She means well," he muttered, apologetically.

"People who need excuses for existing always do," retorted Lady Jim;
"but she is really a sweetly simple girl, with two ideas, neither of
which includes you, my dear boy. I am sure you will be very happy
together, doing cake-walks."

"Doing cake-walks?"

"That sort of dress always makes me think of South Carolina and the
'old Kentucky home,' you know. They invented cake-walks there, I
believe. But I forgot--you prefer places below the equator."

"I never think of South America," he protested.

"Of course not. The jewel is more attractive than the casket. When did
you last hear from Señorita Fajardo?"

"I never had a letter from her in my life."

"She is cautious, it seems. Are you?"

"I don't write to her, if that is what you mean. I did love
her----"

"What a polite thing to say to me!"

"But I don't any longer. You see, I thought that Berring--your----"

"There's nothing in that," said Lady Jim, quickly. "There never really
was, and if you really love this estancia lady, why not marry her?"

"I am engaged already."

"To me, or to that pretty, vivacious girl over there?"

As Marjory was looking particularly like a wooden Dutch doll at the
moment, Askew reddened.

"I wish you wouldn't say these things, Lady Jim----"

"Lady James!"

"Lady James, then. Marjory can't help herself."

"It seems to me she has--to that intelligent young man with the face
like a sheep and the manners of a costermonger."

"They were boy and girl together."

"And are still, from the infantile look of them. I quite expect to see
their nurse arrive. You know, it won't do," said Leah, gravely; "here
I am making fun of Marjory, and you aren't man enough to stand up for
her."

The young man coloured still deeper, and mumbled something about a
woman's privilege. Shortly he made a lame excuse, and left Leah to
devote himself to Marjory, who was not grateful for the attention.
Leah did not mind. She had learned that Askew did not correspond with
Lola Fajardo, and had no intention of doing so; therefore there was
little likelihood that Jim's fettered past would ever become known at
the Estancia, San Jago. Being really a good-natured woman with her
affections thoroughly under control, Leah half decided to loosen her
apron-strings and let Askew lead his bargain to the altar. But this
she did not do, for two obtrusive reasons, firstly, the fox-hunting
squire and Marjory were made for one another; and secondly, it would
be just as well to keep the sailor under her eye for the next year.
She did not wish him to hark back to Lima, for melodramatic purposes.

After a very pleasant visit, thanks to Askew's infatuation, Lady Jim
returned to Curzon Street. There she found a letter from Demetrius
announcing that he and Garth had sailed for Madeira early in the
previous week, and that it would be as well if Lord James Kaimes
journeyed forthwith to Jamaica. Leah promptly sent an answer to her
accomplice at Funchal, a telegram to Jim, a paragraph to a society
paper, and a lengthy letter of sorrowful forebodings to the Duke. Then
she sat down to wait events, and, meanwhile, considered the situation.

Pentland was all right, thanks to her cajoling. Before she left
Firmingham he had arranged to free the income, to pay the debts, and
to allow her to occupy the Curzon Street house until such time as
Jamaica should kill or cure Jim. That interesting invalid had gone
halves over the cheque, and Leah's purse still contained over fifty
pounds, which would do for the present. But she intended to get a few
hundreds from the Duke, by playing off Jim's sickly looks and her own
lonely condition of grass-widowhood. It was really very satisfactory,
and she found it hard to look miserable, as in duty bound, when
Pentland arrived to see the last of Jim. Leah arranged that the
parting between father and son should be in town. She did not want to
have a bereaved father bothering at Southampton. The journey back to
town after Jim's dispatch would be boring at the best, and her
consolatory powers were not great.

"You look disgustingly fit," said Leah, when Jim was established on
the drawing-room sofa, with a rug and a few unnecessary medicine
bottles, and other sick-room paraphernalia.

"Sorry I can't be more of a corpse," growled the invalid; "but it's
not easy to pretend you're a goner, when y' feel fit to jump over the
moon."

"Try and cough louder," suggested his wife.

"Shan't! It hurts m' throat. Hang it, I've lost three stone. I believe
you want me dead in real earnest."

Lady Jim thought for a moment. "No, I don't," she said, truly enough.
"You haven't treated me over well, and I should have been a different
woman, had you been a different man----"

"Divorce court lingo," said Jim, remembering what she had said at
Firmingham, and with a derisive laugh.

"All the same, I hope you'll have a good time in South America."

"Why not in Jamaica?"

"Because you've got to be thoroughly sick there. Demetrius will come
along later with Garth's corpse, and----"

"Ugh! Drop it! What about the money--my share?"

"I'll get the cash, as soon as you are sent home."

"Me? What for? Ain't I goin' to disappear?"

"Of course," said Leah, impatiently; "but Demetrius has to embalm
your body and bring you home to the family vault."

"I say, don't," cried Jim uneasily; "that's the other Johnny you're
talkin' about. Leah," he looked round cautiously, "I hope Demetrius
won't polish off that poor fellow. He's a sort of relative of mine, y'
know."

"Don't worry your head," said Lady Jim, calmly. "Garth's dying as fast
as he can; he may be dead by this time, for all we know. And don't
think that I would allow Demetrius to be so wicked," she cried, with
virtuous indignation. "I'm not a criminal."

"Oh, Lord!" was all Jim could find to say, as he thought of what they
were doing, and conversation ended for the time being. Leah went to
the theatre and supper at the Savoy that evening, leaving Jim to
practise coughing amongst the useless medicine bottles.

Next day, both Pentland and his eldest son arrived at eleven, and were
informed by a sad-faced wife that her dear husband would travel to
Southampton by the afternoon train. At the sight of Leah's dismal
looks and attentive care, Frith expressed his opinion that women were
protean.

"Never thought you cared so much for Jim," he said bluntly.

"Oh, I don't for a moment say that I think Jim is a good man," was
Leah's artistic reply; "and we've had our tiffs, like other married
people. But Jim's my husband, after all. And he has his good points."

"What are they?"

Lady Jim was not prepared with a catalogue of her husband's
perfections. "Oh, I don't know," she murmured vaguely; "he drinks in
moderation, you know. That's something."

"There's no virtue in resisting a non-existent temptation," said the
Marquis, grimly. "Jim doesn't come of a drinking family."

"Of a consumptive one, I believe," retorted Leah, softly.

Frith was nettled at the implied slight. "Not at all," he said, with
unusual gruffness. "Look at me."

"But that poor Garth----"

"Oh, he--I don't understand--and if you----" Frith coloured as he met
her derisive eyes, and devoted himself to his brother.

Lady Jim left the affectionate trio together, lengthening out their
farewells, and retired, laughing, to her room. It was really amusing
to think that Jim, who was as healthy as a trout in a pond, should be
wept over, and coddled, and pitied, and generally elevated to a
sainthood. The business was serious enough, no doubt; but Leah could
not help seeing the humorous side. She felt unequal to keeping a grave
face while the comedy in the drawing-room was being played, and
therefore did not rejoin her husband till the principal comedians had
departed.

"We are a couple of rotters," said Jim, gloomily, when she appeared.

"Speak for yourself, my dear," she retorted coolly. "Well, and what
did they say?"

"Never you mind. You'd only snigger over a father takin' leave of his
dyin' son."

"Oh! I did not know that the Duke had seen Harold Garth."

"Leah," cried her husband, fiercely, "you're a--never mind. Whatever
you are, I'm another."

"Did the Duke leave a cheque for me?" asked Leah, more business-like
than sympathetic.

Jim banged about among the medicine bottles. "Five hundred."

"Dear man," cried his wife, snatching the cheque from his very
reluctant hand. "I must go and dress for the journey."

"Won't you kiss me, Leah?" quavered Jim, really moved, and quite
forgetting the rascally plot in which he was taking so prominent a
part.

At the door she turned with an expression of withering scorn. "Keep
your kisses for your wife, Mr. Berring!" cried this too-previous
widow, and left him to digest the insult at his leisure.



CHAPTER XIII


The paragraph sent by Leah to her pet editor intimated concisely to
the tuft-hunting world of Tom, Dick, and Harriet, that the suddenly
developed pulmonary complaint of Lord James Kaimes necessitated his
wintering in Jamaica. This intelligence surprised the clubs, as Jim's
hectoring voice and devotion to damp field sport had always suggested
aggressively sound lungs.

"Never knew him to be chippy in his life," growled one man, who
admired Leah as much as he hated Jim for possessing her. "What's his
game this time, I wonder?"

"Perhaps he wants to get away from his wife," hinted a pigeon of Jim's
plucking. "Bit of a tongue, hasn't she?"

"Tongue be hanged! She has both wit and beauty."

The pigeon sniggered, knowing the speaker's devotion to Delilah. "Oh,
Kaimes appreciates those qualities--in another man's wife."

"Scandal! Scandal!" murmured a meek member, blessed with a spouse
whose looks prevented temptation. "Kaimes has dined with us many
times, but I never saw----"

"No; _you_ wouldn't," struck in a sporting baronet, whom Leah snubbed
on every possible occasion. "Jim likes red-haired women."

"Then why doesn't he stick to the one he's legally entitled to?"

"Because she sticks to him. If she'd only syndicate her admirers in
the D. C., Jim 'ud be after her like an Indian mosquito in search of a
new arrival. I'll bet there's some petticoat in this Jamaica
business"; and the sportsman looked round for some one to pander to
his besetting sin--but no one gave him a chance of committing it.

Contradiction and argument arrived with the oldest inhabitant of
Clubland, whose memory was as exasperating as his verbosity. "Wrong!
All wrong," he purred, like the tame cat he had been for half a
century. "Kaimes is really consumptive. I remember his grandmother
dying of tuberculosis. It's in the family, along with gout and water
on the brain."

"Oh, bosh! If Jim was sick, he'd sin more judiciously."

"I never knew that damnation depended upon health," was the retort.
"Take a case in point. During the Great Exhibition----"

Leah's admirer cut short a much-dreaded anecdote. "She'll make a
lovely widow."

"I don't believe in second-hand brides myself," said the horsey man,
venturing an epigram. "'Sides, her tongue--cuts like a knife. Even the
mares shy when she kicks."

"Wit! wit!" explained the admirer, who misread French memoirs. "She is
Madame de Rambouillet--without a history."

"Hum! She hasn't published one yet, but I dare say----"

"Tut! tut!" interrupted the ancient. "Madame de Rambouillet was, and
Lady James is, entirely respectable."

"And the horse is the noblest of all animals," snapped the baronet.

"Maybe, though the beast doesn't improve your morals," and the laugh
was with the oldest inhabitant.

"Wonder if Kaimes will die," pondered the man who saw Leah as a
probable widow and a possible wife.

"Lay you ten to five he won't."

"You will lose; you will most assuredly lose," said the octogenarian.
"Very consumptive family, the Kaimes. And our friend is just the sort
of healthy man to depart suddenly."

"Where to?" asked the pigeon.

"Hu-s-s-sh!" droned the meek member; "that's a serious question."

"To Jim!" finished the racing man, smartly; "but I don't care. Jim,
dead or alive, is equally useless to me."

"Oh! He isn't in your debt, then?"

"Catch me trusting him--not much. But what's the use of talking
obituary notices? Let's bridge."

"If your play is as bad as your grammar, I prefer to stand out," said
Methuselah, and the symposium broke up, in time to prevent bickering
between crabbed age and irreverent youth.

There were many such talks during the nine minutes' wonder of Jim's
unexpected sickness, and it was generally considered that he would
return in spirits of wine to the family vault. Leah did not hear these
encouraging prognostications, so conducive to the entire success of
the plot. She was tolerating life at San Remo, under the hired roof of
a truly great dame, who wished to disentangle her from the golden nets
of ultra-fast society. A grass-widow has to be more careful to keep up
appearances than the genuine crape article, even at the risk of being
bored by highly placed humanity, as dull as stainless. Lady Hengist
and her friends belonged to that seventh heaven where newly rich Peris
and the Mammons who cocker them seek admittance in vain. Social laws
differ from those of nature, inasmuch as the gilded scum does not
invariably rise to the top. Hence the creation of the over-discussed
smart set, which is taken by the suburban reader of back stairs
journalism as representative of the British aristocracy.

Lord Hengist came of an autochthonous family which had been at home
when William the Conqueror raided the ancestral cabin. His wife was
descended from a knight who emigrated from Normandy in 1066, with
apparently several million others, judging by the claims put forward
by those who enter the peerage. This alliance--they were too great to
talk of mere marriage--resulted in two children, not made of ordinary
clay, but compounded of the superlative porcelain sort. Their parents
possessed a genuine mediæval castle, as uncomfortable as the builders
knew how to make it, and which had the rare distinction of possessing
a state-bedroom in which Elizabeth had never slept. The family
archives read like the Book of Numbers, and their ancestors had made
history at opulent wages for the benefit of the Hengist coffers. The
men had sided with the Stewarts and ratted to the Guelphs; the women
bloomed in Lely and Kneller portraits in loosely slipping clothes,
with pastoral accessories; and finally, the present head of the house,
with four seats, two children, a charming wife and a large income,
lived comfortably on the loot of ages. Of all these things Lord and
Lady Hengist were so proud that they had no need to exhibit pride.

Well-born as Leah Kaimes was, the pleasant, if somewhat stately and
stiff, life of these genuine rulers wearied her intensely. Bread
and milk is insipid after a repast of ortolans in aspic, and a
motor-flight is more exhilarating than a donkey-ride. Moreover, it
annoyed her to see how sensibly the Hengists spent their many pounds a
day. They could have had much more fun for the money, had they known
the right shops; but they patronised out-of-date establishments, where
the goods were of an excellent quality, but just five minutes behind
the newest things. Of course, this was Leah's figurative way of saying
that the Hengists came out of the Ark. They always bought the wrong
things at the wrong shops, and had a middle-class eye to the lasting
quality of the goods they purchased. They were clothed rather than
dressed, and being colour-blind, invariably chose garments which
matched abominably with their complexions. In a word, the Hengists
were so commonplace as to be original. Lady Jim could not understand
why they should have been thrust into positions which they could not
fill. It was like bringing cows into the drawing-room.

"It's so hard for me to taste the pleasures of self-denial,"
complained Hengist, one day, as they sauntered on the promenade.

"I don't think it is wise to attempt the extraction of sunbeams from
cucumbers," said Leah, dryly.

"Dean Swift said that, but he was an egotist," replied Hengist, in his
serious way, that reminded Lady Jim of Lionel at his worst. "It is
more blessed to give than to receive, you know."

"Is it, indeed? Who said so?"

"The wisest and most loving of mankind. And it is a true saying. I
assure you, that if I deny myself something I greatly desire, and send
the money which would have purchased the gratification to a charity, I
feel absolutely happy."

"I don't think I ever tried that experiment."

"You will not know true happiness till you do, Lady James."

"Then I must make a bid for Paradise," she answered, privately
thinking that the man talked sad nonsense.

"It's a dreadful thing to be able to have the moon for the asking,"
went on Hengist, reflectively.

"That's your epigrammatic way of putting it, I suppose; but the moon
won't drop from her sphere for me, howl as I may. You are very lucky
to command the planet, Lord Hengist."

"So the world thinks, but it forgets that there is the curse of
satiety."

"Is there? I never knew it existed. I only wish I could cram the
twelve hours of the day with twenty-four of pleasure."

"Have you ever had everything you wished for, Lady James?"

"No!" said Leah, promptly. "I'd have the sun as well as the moon, and
the stars thrown in, if I had my way."

"Only to be bored by the acquisition of the lot."

"Me bored--oh dear no! I am too stupid. It is only clever people like
yourself who suffer from ennui. I only wish I were a Roman empress,
with provinces for a dowry. Those dear women knew how to live."

"But in the majestic pages of Gibbon----"

"Who? Oh, that man who came to think he was the Roman Empire. Now his
work would bore me--I'm not stupid enough to appreciate him."

"Julia"--this was Lady Hengist--"Julia and I read Gibbon during the
honeymoon, and received much instruction."

"Oh, Lord!" said Lady Jim; "as though honeymoons were not disagreeable
enough without that!" The idea made her laugh consumedly. In her
mind's eye she saw this new Paolo and Francesca reading heavy prose in
ten volumes. But Hengist did not even smile--he had absolutely no
sense of humour. Besides, he considered his companion's chatter
painfully frivolous, and sighed to think that she had such a light
nature. Leah, still laughing, glanced sideways. "I shall begin to
think you are discontented, Lord Hengist."

"I am, that I cannot do the good I should like to do. Both Julia and I
wish to benefit mankind."

"The twelve labours of Hercules, with no thanks for their
accomplishment."

"We don't want thanks, but results," said Hengist, austerely; "and we
can commence in a small way. Next summer we intend to invite five
hundred Whitechapel children to the Castle. Will you come and help us
to entertain them, Lady James?"

"Delighted," yawned Leah, for the man spoke like a copy-book; "but I
hope you'll wash them first. It will prevent disease, and give some
new soap a philanthropic advertisement."

Hengist eyed her suspiciously. He was a very, very dull young lord,
large-hearted and unintelligent, who took life so seriously that he
had almost forgotten how to laugh. England clean, England contented,
England happy. He constantly started crusades to bring on a premature
millennium, and earned his reward, after the manner of reformers, by
being abused in halfpenny newspapers as one who attempted to avert
certain revolution, by stuffing the starving with sweets. Lady Jim
thought him a bore and a prig, and too virtuous to be amusing. But
that he and his wife were of use to her, she would not have endured
this presentation of his year-before-last's Tree-of-Knowledge apples.
He never plucked fresh fruit, and his Eve was quite as blind as he in
discerning up-to-date harvests. Still, Hengist was a sort of
bell-wether, leading a flock of prize sheep towards a closely guarded
fold. Leah liked the fun and money and adulation of the smart set, but
she had no notion of being a shut-out Peri from that dull paradise
that the newly rich longed for. Besides, its very dullness gave a
fillip to her enjoyment of the larky amusements of those who could not
enter the sacred ark.

"I am really very fond of children," she said, to do away with the
effect of her last remark. "I wish I had some myself," and she sighed
very prettily. "Hilda Frith is more fortunate than I, with her two
dear babies."

"Both girls. I fancy Frith would like a son and heir."

"I'm sure he would, and both Jim and I would be the very first to
congratulate him."

"Your husband is next in succession?"

"Yes, poor dear! But Frith is strong and healthy, while darling
Jim--oh, I can't bear to talk about it."

This was perfectly true. To invent sentimental domestic histories and
bewail a husband she detested was difficult, even to a woman of Leah's
imagination and tact. But Hengist thought it was very good of her to
talk so generously, and paid her serious compliments till she began to
think that some unpardonable sin had thrown her into the society of
this prosing creature. It was like reading the dictionary, or drinking
Homburg waters, or paying bills. The sight of a friend made her gasp
with relief, after the manner of a pearl-diver rising to take the air.

"Here's Lady Richardson and Sir Billy," she said with a frown, for her
companion's benefit. "So horrid, to interrupt our nice conversation!"

"We can pass them," replied Hengist, decidedly pleased.

"Oh, I don't think so," was Leah's quick reply. "It would look rude;
and then, Fanny Richardson never passes any one who will listen to her
prattle of chiffons. Besides, Billy is a nice boy--quite a little man.
Don't you think so?"

"Too much a man for his years," said her companion, austerely. "I do
not like Chesterfields in their teens. The lad's manners are too
good--much too good."

"Can any child be much too good?"

"In the wrong way of over-artificiality, yes. Sir William----"

"He likes to be called Sir Billy!"

"So flippant. His mother should insist----"

"She! She never insists on anything, except having the newest dye and
the best-cut frock, and a few dozen male ears to pour her babble into.
Billy can do no wrong in her eyes, nor in mine. He is such an admirer
of women."

"And at the age of thirteen," groaned Hengist.

"Come now, even you must have made love to some pretty pastry-cook's
daughter when you were at Eton. There must be some of the old Adam in
you, Lord Hengist."

"I was never an entirely modern child," replied the serious man,
evasively, and with a sad eye on the trim figure of the rapidly
approaching Billy. "To think that he should take dinner pills, and
know the difference between sweet and dry champagne! What will the
next generation be?"

"Boys and girls," said Leah, flippantly. "Good day, Fanny."

The vivacious little fairy who warmly greeted Lady Jim and her solemn
escort was as pretty and fragile and dainty as a Dresden china
shepherdess, and quite a credit to the maid who re-created her every
morning. There was nothing natural about her, save her genuine
adoration of Billy, and that arose from a knowledge that royalty had
made it fashionable to exploit the nursery. Blonde and plump, jimp and
graceful, dressed in perfect taste, and coloured in the latest
fashion, she was popular even with her own discriminating sex. Hengist
thought her a respectable doll, with no particular vices, and did not
object to having her at the Castle. But he disapproved of Billy the
precocious, which was decidedly unfair, as Billy could scarcely help
shaping himself to the mould into which he had been slipped by a
mother who required his assistance to play the pretty comedy of the
widow's only son.

"How are you, Leah darling? So sweet you look, and Lord Hengist too. A
most unexpected meeting, and so delightful," babbled Lady Richardson,
who talked more and said less than any society gramophone. "Billy and
I are just going to Monte Carlo, to plunge on the red. Reggy Lake is
to meet us at the station; such a nice boy--Lancers, you know--a great
chum of Billy's. Won't you come too, Leah, to brighten Billy up? He's
got the hump, poor boy, as his new nerve-tonic doesn't suit him, and
such a lovely, lovely day as it is too. Don't you think so, Lord
Hengist?"

The respectable Hengist's hair bristled at this incoherent
speech, and did not lie down again at the look in Billy's eyes.
Dressed in a particularly smart Eton suit, gloved and silk-hatted and
patent-leather-booted with fashionable accuracy, the boy appraised
Lady Jim's beauty in a calm way, which would have made a captain of
dragoons blush. Behind his graceful, nonchalant, handsome mask of
youth was hidden an old, old man, and in many ways Hengist was his
junior. He certainly blushed when Leah gave him an amused glance, but
this was Billy's way of mashing the sex. He knew the value of youthful
diffidence, backed by mature knowledge.

"Should not your little boy be at school?" asked Hengist, scandalised
into an implied snub.

Sir William looked at the troubled face of his elder with the serenity
of a cherub. "Goin' back nex' week," said he, carefully dropping his
"g's." "Th' little mother wanted me to look after her for a bit."

"Billy can't trust me out of his sight," giggled Lady Richardson.
"He's so afraid I'll give him a second father."

"Not Reggy Lake, anyhow. He's a rotter!"

"What's a rotter, Sir Billy?" asked Lady Jim, enjoying the disgusted
looks of Hengist.

"A fellow who rots."

"What an admirable definition?"

Billy rapidly dropped his left eyelid, and showed a set of white
teeth. "I don't carry coals to _your_ Newcastle," he said
parabolically. "Say, Lady Jim, chuck this chappy, and come to
Charlie's Mount."

The wink and the speech were lost on Hengist, for he was being worried
by Lady Richardson. She danced before him, a pretty figure gowned in
burnt-almond red, and would have distracted his heart with daintiness
but that Julia kept that article in the nursery.

"Do join us, Lord Hengist," she pleaded seductively. "Such fun, when
you know the ropes. Billy can show them to you."

"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings," quoted Hengist, ironically.
"Quite a new reading, Lady Richardson."

"Now you are horrid," said the widow, who did not know in the least
what he meant. "I'll tell your wife. By the way, how is she, and the
darling, darling twins? Twins are too sweet. I wish Billy was a twin."

"One of Sir William is quite sufficient."

"I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about, and it's very
horrid of you to say so. Billy is adored."

"Is he ever whipped?"

Lady Richardson gave a scream. "How barbarous! The man who tried to
whip Billy would have to order his coffin beforehand. Billy can handle
his bunches of fives, I can tell you, Lord Hengist."

"His what?"

"It's Billy's way of putting boxing. You should see him give the
postman's knock! Oh, he _is_ clever! He can drive a motor, too, and
pick out the winner five times out of ten."

"Does he know the kings of England?"

"No; he hasn't been to Court yet, and of course, there's only one. How
funny you are! Well," Lady Richardson put her head on one side like a
coaxing cock-robin, "are you coming with Billy and me? Do, oh do! We
have afternoon tea with Monsieur Aksakoff and his daughter."

"What's that?" asked Leah, overhearing the names; "the Russian man?"

"Stiff sort of fella'!" said young Eton. "Nothin' birdish about him.
Daughter's a clipper, though. Say, little mother, we'd best get. Th'
train won't wait, y' know."

Before he had finished speaking Lady Jim had made up her mind. She had
not heard from Demetrius, and it was not impossible that he had
written to Katinka. In spite of his discouraging love-making he kept
in with her, on the chance that she might be able to procure his
pardon, and in any case she was useful in keeping him posted in the
doings of the Third Section. The girl was so infatuated that she never
saw he was making use of her in this way, and constantly wrote to him
about any official gossip she heard. There was something pathetic in
her devotion and heart-whole love for the man who deceived her. But
Leah did not look at the matter in this way. She knew that Katinka, if
any one, would have news of the doctor, and being anxious to learn how
Garth was progressing towards the grave, she turned to Hengist.

"I think I'll go over," she said in a low voice. "Jim asked me to see
M. Aksakoff on some business. Would Julia mind?"

"Not at all," said Hengist, heartily, and quite deceived. "I would
escort you, only I have some letters to write about the distress in
London."

"Oh, Billy will look after us," said that young gentleman's mother.

"I _have_ driven a team before now," observed Billy, with dignity.

I Hengist gave him a reproving look (which Billy bore very stoically),
and whispered to Leah as they parted, "Don't encourage that lad."

"I don't think he needs much encouragement," said Lady Jim, laughing,
and the two women walked away with Billy between them. Hengist stood
where he was and frowned.

"Charming woman, Lady James," he murmured, gazing after Leah's
amethystine gown; "but that lad--ugh!" He shook his head over young
England up-to-date; then returned to the villa to hear the twins say
the alphabet. Life had its compensations, even for a millionaire peer.



CHAPTER XIV


After the happy-go-lucky fashion of Italian officialism, the train was
detained for some time at Ventimiglia. Lady Richardson, unsettled as a
fly, changed her seat five times, and complained garrulously.

"Captain Lake is so very particular," she explained, producing a
pocket-mirror and a powder-puff to repair possible damages. "He can't
bear to be kept waiting five minutes."

"Then I should make him wait five hours," replied Leah, calmly. "It
doesn't do to spoil men."

"You spoil me," said Sir Billy, audaciously.

"Pooh! You are merely a rascal in the making. I wouldn't hint how we
govern your sex, if you were anything but a grub."

The boy laughed complacently. "I'm a very nice grub."

"Very precocious, at all events. You know much more than is good for
you. Fanny, you should whip him."

"I haven't the heart or the muscle, my dear. The only safe thing will
be to marry a strong man with a bad temper."

"I should jolly well like to see the stepfather who would pitch into
me."

"You will, if you don't behave. Isn't that eyebrow a little crooked,
Billy?" and she fingered it delicately.

"Don't think so; but you have a smudge of powder on your chin."

"So I have. How horrid! There!" dusting it off. "What a comfort you
are to your darling mammy, my own! Kiss me."

Billy brushed her rouge with careful lips, and after a glance to see
that he had not blurred the picture, Lady Richardson put away the
mirror.

"Thank goodness, we're moving again," she prattled. "I do hope Reggy
won't be in a bad temper."

"I'll square that, little mother. Been to the theatres lately, Lady
Jim?"

"No," answered Leah, amused by his man-about-town air. "Is there
anything good on?"

"Awful stuff," announced Billy, with the conviction, of mature
judgment. "Couldn't sit out more than two plays. _The Woman with Three
Husbands_ isn't bad, though. Very French, of course. Saw it four times
before I told the little mother she couldn't face it."

"How alluring! Will you take me?"

Billy was obviously shocked. "No woman should see that piece. I can
stand heaps, but----" an after-me-the-deluge shrug hinted at the
degradation of the drama.

"Yes, poor darling," chimed in his mother; "he was blushing three
inches deep all over when he came home."

"I am glad to hear that Billy can blush at all," murmured Lady Jim.
"How's the betting, William?"

"Tolerable! I pulled off a fiver on Fly-by-Night; but a man in my form
lost a tenner, silly juggins."

"Oh! How old is that man?"

"Sixteen, and thinks he's twenty. Awfully saucy chap though. Went nap
on a girl, and another fella' scooped th' pool."

"Don't they teach English at Eton, Billy?"

The youth was quite undisturbed. "Try to," he assured her; "but
there's no snap about the classical rot they give us. Oh, here we
are."

"And there is Reggy," cried Lady Richardson, craning her dyed head out
of the window like another Jezebel. "How d'y do, Captain Lake? Lovely
day! So sorry we're late. You know Lady James Kaimes?"

"I have that pleasure," said the tall young soldier, saluting. "Very
sorry to hear your husband is ill, Lady James."

"Thanks! But I daresay Jamaica will pull him round, Captain Lake."

"Hope it won't," breathed Billy, at her elbow, as the lift soared.

"Why, you horrid little boy?"

"There'll be a chance for me."

"No, no! You're too much of a general lover, Billy."

"Girls do run a man so hard, nowadays," observed Billy, pathetically.

"It was different in your youth, no doubt. But I am not a girl, and
quite old enough to box the ears of conceited urchins."

"Do!--if you'll let me give you a kiss for a blow."

"What precocious Christianity! You had better apply to that pretty
American girl near the Casino door."

"Miss Mamie Mulrady? Oh, I can get her kisses without fightin'. Not
bad-lookin', is she? Lots of tin, an' as spry as they make 'em.
There's th' little mother an' that rotter chippin' into th' Casino.
Shall we follow, Lady Jim?"

They were stopped on the steps by Miss Mulrady, "who knew both, and
claimed acquaintance through a wholly unnecessary lorgnette. She was a
vivacious Wild West product, who exaggerated the vernacular, because
Europeans expected to find the Californian girl of fiction in real
life. Her exaggerated slang was assumed out of sheer amusement, and
she greatly enjoyed the amazed looks of those who heard her talk good
Anglo-Saxon, which she did, when she escaped from fools to forgather
with wise men.

"How are you, Miss Mulrady?" asked Billy solemnly.

"Keepin' afloat, I guess, but that's about all. The dollars I've lost
buckin' the tiger would have bought me a dozen husbands."

"Foreign ones are cheap, I believe," said Leah, admiring the
prairie-flower's Paris frock more than her republican manner.

"You make me smile. I'm goin' to run tandem with Sir Billy here--me
first and he the wheeler."

"No go," said the boy, quite able to hold his own. "I'm not goin' to
marry a Bret Harte girl."

"Oh, do," replied Miss Mulrady, in the purest of English, and placing
two small gloved hands together. "I'll be a wife and a mother in one."

"What economy!" smiled Lady Jim. "Are you coming into the 'devil's
parlour'?"

"Later. I'm waiting for Mr. Askew."

Leah started. She thought that Askew was safe in Shropshire, making
attempts to civilise the fixture. "Harry Askew?"

"That's so," assented Miss Mulrady, relapsing into her Wild West
vocabulary, and with a keen look. "He called on Mommo an' me, when he
was cruisin' out 'Frisco way. We're negotiatin' a system to break this
old bank."

"You evidently wish to be popularised in a song," said Lady Jim,
languidly. "How long has Mr. Askew been devoting his energies to such
things?" This with an angry reflection that he had not called on her.

"You might reckon it twenty-four hours," said the American, admiring
her pointed brown shoe. "He's here for his health."

"I've heard that excuse before, with regard to Monte Carlo."

"Shouldn't wonder. We ticket our sins best sugar. Sir Billy, come
along an' buy me candy at the stores."

"But your man, Miss Mulrady--the Askew chap?"

"Lady Jim an' I 'ull swap humans. What say?" and she looked at Leah,
mischievously overdoing the slang.

"I never swap what isn't my own property," answered Lady Jim,
considering this offer too Western, and resenting the familiarity to
the extent of walking into the Casino with her head very much in the
air. America could hold her own with the mother-country, and Leah did
not approve.

"She wants to be the whole show an' the box-office," murmured Mamie,
mischievously. "Stay here, Bub."

"I am sorry to refuse a lady," replied Billy, resenting the word; "but
I've put my money on Lady Jim, this trip."

"On the red--hair, you mean. Go bye-bye with your nurse, then. Here's
Mr. Askew, he's older than you."

"And easier to please," snapped the youth, much offended. "You'll
excuse me, Miss Mulrady, but a man can't keep a woman waitin'."

He retired into what Lady Jim called the "devil's parlour" with a
Floreat Etona air, and Miss Mulrady, after a glance at the ears which
she longed to box soundly, turned to receive a breathless apology from
the belated Askew.

"There's a friend of yours gone in to sin for an hour," said she, when
a treaty was concluded.

"I have so many friends--so-called."

"Of the high-toned gilt-edged sort, with red scalps?"

Askew comprehended in a second. "Lady Jim," he stammered; "yes, I
heard that she was at San Remo. What's she doing here?"

"Visitin' the sick an' the poor," said Mamie, shrewdly. "It's what
folks come to Monte for. Guess, she best drop in on you--a sicker man
I never saw, an' you'll be poor enough by th' time we're through with
this old system of yours. I know a bank where th' wild time goes. You
may look all through Bacon without findin' that remark--it's my own.
Let's get."

Thus, with barbaric japes, did the child of nature lead her companion
into the gilded halls of iniquity, and the two jostled the
well-dressed crowd which circulated round the tables. The silence was
that of an arctic night, save for the droning voices of the croupiers,
and at times a hurried whisper of joy or dismay.

"Goin' in for rouge et noir with Lady Jim?" asked Miss Mulrady,
alluding to the hair of Askew and his friend; "or perhaps she's
sportin' on trente et quarante, to suit her years."

"She's under thirty," growled Askew, crossly.

"An' you're under the weather, considerable," retorted the American,
sharply. "Get up steam an' fizzle a bit, can't you?"

"Shall I war-whoop, or dance a horn-pipe?"

"Neither I prefer originality."

"Try the system, then"; and Askew pushed his way through the
Mammon-worshippers to where the roulette ball wheeled its fatal round.

Lady Jim did not play. She had stupidly forgotten her peacock's
feather and could not risk loss with her small capital. But Billy,
having the audacity and luck of innocence, was at hand, so she gave
him five hundred francs to experiment.

"We'll halve the winnings."

"Never take money from a woman," said Billy, gravely; "but I don't
mind a fly. Got any sportin' number?"

"Thirteen, because that's your age. There is Mademoiselle Aksakoff, I
wish to speak to her"; and she moved gracefully towards the tall, pale
girl, while Young Iniquity, with the air of a Vanderbilt, planked her
money on the odd number.

Katinka Aksakoff grew crimson when Lady Jim saluted her, and would
have evaded the meeting if possible. She might have been a nun from
the looks of her, and was garbed in unrelieved black, which Leah
concluded was mourning for unrequited affection. After that fleeting
wave of colour, her thin, oval face grew marble white, and a pair of
dark questioning eyes appeared twice as large and three times as
brilliant as they had been before resting on Lady Jim's gracious
smile.

"So glad to meet you," murmured Leah, as they shook hands in the air.
"Lady Richardson and I have come to tea. Where is your father?"

"He is talking with the German ambassador," replied Katinka, without a
smile, and with Siberian coldness.

"So fortunate. We can chat without interruption."

"I scarcely think we have much to chat about."

"Oh yes," rejoined Lady Jim, with perfect good-humour. "When you learn
how you misjudge me, we shall get on capitally."

"Pardon. I do not understand."

"Probably not, since I have yet to make my explanation. Let us walk on
the terrace, and you can throw me over, to where they shoot the
pigeons, if my conversation displeases you."

"Ah, but it is so strange!"

"And so necessary--to your peace of mind."

"No!" Mademoiselle Aksakoff's face grew scarlet once more, and she
pressed her hand to her heart, as though she felt there a cruel pain.
Perhaps she did, poor soul! But the stoicism of the Slav enabled her
to summon up a wry smile, and to bow her head, as she followed her
brilliant rival. With the excess of an ill-governed, passionate heart
did she hate this woman; but as a Niobe, frozen and cold, did she
appear when they were pacing the terrace. And not one single word of
her companion's sugared speech was she prepared to believe.

Leah's eyes rested appreciatively on the varied beauty of God's work
and man's improvements. The huddled white houses of Monaco crowned its
giant rock, which bulked hugely against the blended azure of sea and
sky. The placid waters ringed its base with foam, and stretched with
sparks and dashes of fire towards an immeasurable horizon. Landward
bunched the red roofs of the town, below arid and precipitous heights,
soaring massively into the radiant and ever-deepening blue. A balmy
wind, like some invisible alchemist, changed the sombre green of the
olive-groves to patches of glittering silver. Near at hand spread the
lustrous foliage of lemon- and orange-trees, nor was wanting the
almond-blossom of the far east. They walked under palms suggestive of
Bedouin life, and, to the well-read, of Heine's sad little song,
immortal and heart-rendingly true. Roses and violets, and flowers of
many shapes and hues, bordered the terrace; the wide sea laughed at
their feet, and behind them rose the palatial structure of the Casino,
gorgeous as the Golden House of Nero. It was Fairyland, and Lady Jim
said so to her sad companion, who was too blinded by love to see
beauty anywhere when the beloved was absent.

"We can talk in French, if you like," said Leah, after she had paid
her tribute to nature.

"In English, I think," replied the Russian girl; "my father wishes me
to speak only your tongue, while we remain in London, so that I may
improve."

"You can't," answered Leah, genuinely complimentary. "Your accent is
much better than a born English person; also your grammar, and your
choice of words."

"We take the trouble to learn your language, whereas you English do
not."

"We're too busy annexing the world to bother about philological
lessons," said Lady Jim, remembering Heine's remark anent the Romans.

"Possibly," assented Katinka, with a chilling smile; "but, interesting
as this conversation is, I do not see its necessity."

"Monsieur Demetrius," began Leah, abruptly, when Mademoiselle raised a
protesting hand.

"We need not speak of him, madame."

"Why not? He is a mutual friend. I know you fancy----"

"I fancy nothing," interrupted the other, haughtily. "Words are not
needed where he is concerned."

"But explanations are. You think that I love Demetrius!"

Katinka flushed painfully, and she put her hand suddenly to her
throat.

"I forbid you to speak," she said, in a stifled voice.

"Nonsense. We are not in Russia, where people kneel down and say
please. Besides, it is necessary for your peace of mind that you
should hear what I have to say."

"You made that remark before, Lady James."

"True, and I make it again, to emphasise my meaning, though I hate
repetition. Demetrius loves you."

"No, no! It is you who----"

"Pish! His heart is yours; his science mine."

"His science!" Mademoiselle Aksakoff looked surprised.

"What else do you think attracted me? I am an English cat, and I have
no lovers. Do you remember La Fontaine's fable?"

"Lady James, be plain with me."

"I am trying to be. You think that I love Demetrius, and that he is
devoted to me. It is not so."

Katinka winced. She did not like such plain speaking, and, moreover,
doubted its truth. "If I could think so, I would----"

"Of course you can think so," said Lady Jim, amiably. "Demetrius is
particularly clever in curing consumptive diseases. For that reason I
conversed with him a great deal. My husband is very ill, and I wanted
the doctor to cure him. If Demetrius thought that my liking for his
society meant anything else, he is an egotist. My advice is, that you
should procure his pardon and marry him."

"There are obstacles in the way."

"I am not one, I assure you."

"Are you speaking honestly?"

"I am!" and the eyes of the two women met. Katinka searched the hard
blue orbs of the great lady with painful intensity, and Leah bore the
scrutiny with the knowledge that her conduct had been, and always
would be, perfectly correct. Had she been the least in love with the
doctor, she would not have dared to submit to that probing, painful
gaze. Women may deceive mere men; they cannot deceive one another,
especially in affairs of the heart. When Katinka withdrew her eyes she
was satisfied that Lady Jim cared nothing for Demetrius. Without
explanation, she burst into rapid and wrathful speech, and Leah's
feminine perspicacity enabled her to guess the unuttered preamble,
which a man would have required to be put into words.

"Why then do you lure him to your feet?" cried the Russian girl, in a
sharp, pained voice. "If you love him not, why torture him, and me? I
know he loves you--I know--I know--oh yes, I know."

"You do not. His love for me--if it can be called so--is the mere
passing fancy of a man for a woman who has been kind to him."

"Too kind," muttered Katinka, vengefully.

"Not at all. But men are so conceited that they think a woman's smile
means a woman's love. You have a golden heart, yet you throw it into
the greedy hands of this selfish egotist----"

"He is not that," gasped the girl.

"Yes, he is, and much worse. Demetrius possesses the selfishness of a
woman and the vanity of a man."

"You reverse the proper order."

"No, I don't. Men are far vainer than women, and women more selfish
than men. I'm selfish myself, therefore I am happy. You are one of
those self-tormenting, self-denying angels, who make men what they
are--vain, greedy, conceited, lord-of-creation beasts. And I insult
the beasts by such a comparison."

"I thought you liked men."

"I use them, and I detest them," retorted Lady Jim, speaking more
plainly than was her custom. "There are good men--I don't deny that,
for I know one at least"--she was thinking of Lionel; "but the
majority--ugh! God help the women like yourself, who give their hearts
into the keeping of such animals!"

"You love your husband, surely."

"We all love our husbands--it's part of the Church Service to love
them. Pah!--I am not here to talk of my marriage, but of yours. You
know now that I don't care for Demetrius, and that I desired his help
merely for my husband's sake."

"Yes. I have wronged you"; and Katinka put out her hand.

Lady Jim took it, rather softened. "You poor child, how foolish you
are! Why not forget Demetrius?"

"I cannot."

"He is not worthy of you."

"Is he not?--ah, you don't know him."

Leah smiled grimly. "I know him much better than you do. However, if
you insist upon putting him on an imaginary pedestal, there is no more
to be said. Have you heard from him lately?"

Mademoiselle Aksakoff was now quite deceived, and looked upon Lady Jim
as her dearest and best friend. "Last week I received a letter from
Funchal," she said eagerly. "Yes; I wrote to him about the chances of
his pardon----"

"Are there any chances?"

"Yes, yes; I assure you--yes. I have a cousin, high in favour with the
Czar, who can procure an immediate pardon. But my father does not wish
me to marry Demetrius----"

"Wise man," murmured Leah.

"And so there is some difficulty. Oh"--she clasped her hands--"if
Constantine would only be guided by me! He comes of a rich family, and
has the title of Prince----"

"So he told me."

"Ah, but did he say how he had parted from his family because of his
advanced ideas? He gave up money and rank, and all that makes life
pleasant, to labour among the poor peasants. Is that not noble?"

"So noble that I have difficulty in thinking M. Demetrius acted so."

"But he did--he did. And my father is angered because of this
self-sacrifice. If Constantine would only return to the rank of life
in which he was born, my father would permit me to marry him, and then
the pardon would speedily be procured. But I plead in vain," she
murmured, with hanging head "he will not listen."

"He may, when he returns," volunteered Lady Jim, kindly.

"But when will that be? If he goes to Jamaica----"

Leah turned suddenly white. "Why to Jamaica?" she asked sharply.

"He wrote that the Duke of Pentland had asked him to go there, to see
after your husband. And you say that----"

"Yes, yes; but this patient Garth, who----"

Katinka looked surprised. "But have you not heard?"

"Heard? I have heard nothing. I do not correspond with M. Demetrius,
my dear. It is now April, and he has been at Funchal since January,
trying to heal that poor man. Has he----?"

"No," said Mademoiselle Aksakoff, quickly. "The man is dead."

"Garth dead?" Lady Jim sat down, with a gasp.

"Yes; so Demetrius wrote last week, and said he would go on to Jamaica
at the Duke's request to see your husband. But you look quite ill."

"I hate to hear of deaths," said Lady Jim, viciously. She certainly
spoke truly with regard to this particular death. In her mind lurked a
dread lest Demetrius had assisted nature, after all.



CHAPTER XV


Monsieur Aksakoff owned a toy villa, pleasantly placed amongst
orange-groves and lemon-gardens, on the outskirts of Fools' Paradise.
Hither, somewhere about the hour of five, trooped a gay party, of
which Katinka was not the least merry. So unaccountable were her
spirits, that the majority judged her to be what the Scotch aptly call
"fey." Lady Jim, in the minority, knew better. A recollection of the
recent interview explained the girl's dancing on a possible grave.

Leah had subjugated one of her own suspicious sex. This is a rare
miracle; rarer still, it had been achieved by truth-telling.
Certainly, with inevitable female reservation, Lady Jim had not told
the whole truth and nothing but the truth; but then, her knowledge did
not include the shibboleth of oath-taking. She did not love
Demetrius--no avowal could have been more honest. Still, his medical
acquirements had scarcely induced the flirtation which Katinka
resented, and in saying so she swerved from the path of rectitude.
Nevertheless, that ingenuous explanation of the illegal apron-string
deceived Mademoiselle Aksakoff into believing that Truth had really
been dragged, unclothed and impeccable, from her well.

The result may be guessed. From cold hostility, Katinka, ignorant of
the golden mean, melted into warm friendship: the sadness of
unrequited love was replaced by the allurements of hope, and the
hitherto dreary unpeopled world became an Arcadia of magical beauty,
through which there ever moved a possible bridegroom. The colour
returned to her wan cheeks, the light to her dark eyes, and in place
of a listless nun the astonished father beheld a dancing, laughing
nymph. Clever as Aksakoff was, he failed to understand the why and the
wherefore of this transformation. Being a diplomatist, he searched for
the magician who had accomplished its wonders; being mere man, he
naturally espied the obvious. The unexpected presence of Demetrius, as
he concluded, was responsible for the breathing of life into this
statue.

Lady Jim guessed his explanation, and was amused by his inquiring
looks. She promised herself the pleasure of making things clear, in
such a way as would compel confidences on his part. These might be
useful in averting the wrath of Demetrius, when he came to know that
his reward was withheld. And Leah was not unreasonable in anticipating
trouble of the worst, seeing that the doctor had already loaded her
with a portion of a debt which she did not intend to pay. Garth was
dead. That part of the task had been accomplished. Now, Katinka
informed her that Demetrius was bound for Jamaica. There he would
arrange for the obliteration of Jim, and return with a substituted
corpse to console the afflicted widow. The widow herself shivered at
the prospect of being honest and tangibly grateful; and, since the
possible was rapidly becoming the probable, began to consider
means of evasion. But it was no easy matter to nullify the bond of a
semi-oriental Shylock.

With a diplomatist, superadded to a father, for an ally, and with
tricky Muscovite politics to play with, Lady Jim fancied that her end
might be obtained. But, although she knew the goal, she could not see
the most direct and least dangerous way to gain it. Her path was
perplexing and perilous, so it was necessary to find a finger-post.
She thought that Aksakoff might stand for such, since he would do much
to neutralise the chance of his daughter's marriage with Demetrius.
But to enlist him on her side, and in her schemes, required a private
conference, and plainer speaking than Lady Jim approved of. However,
as there was no opportunity of private speech for at least one hour,
she had time to construct feasible plans.

Meanwhile, her silence over the teacups was remarkable in so lively a
lady. Certainly, Garth might have died in the orthodox manner, as
ample time had been given for his exit. On the other hand, Demetrius,
eager for his reward, might have--but no; she could not bear to think
of such a horror, and employed her will to deny the possibility.
Nevertheless, strive as she would to banish the thought, it returned
again and again, insistent and terrifying. No wonder Askew was moved
to ask if she felt unwell, and no wonder she protested, with
unnecessary emphasis, that she never felt better in her life.

"I am gathering instruction from the conversation of others," she
assured him, when he urged smelling-salts.

"But you are so extraordinarily pale."

"I have parted with my colour to Mademoiselle Aksakoff. See, she
blooms like an artificial rose."

"Why artificial? Her bloom is natural."

"And her spirits are forced. A hothouse is Nature's corset."

"I don't know what you mean," said Askew, bluntly; "you are a puzzle."

"Which is as much as to say that I am a woman. I wish you would cease
personalities and refill my glass."

This sounded more bacchanalian than it was, for the glass contained
nothing more destructive to the nerves than straw-coloured tea,
prepared, milkless, in the Russian manner, with plenty of sugar and a
squeeze of lemon. Katinka presided over a samovar, and dispensed
caviare sandwiches, so that the meal was entirely Muscovite. Aksakoff,
stiff and pale and lean, precisely dressed and watchful as a cat, paid
diplomatic compliments to Lady Richardson, while Captain Lake laughed
with Katinka. Miss Mulrady had annexed a flattering vicomte who wanted
money in exchange for a name which dated from the Crusades, and Askew
hovered, like the silly moth he was, round Lady Jim's superfine wax
candle. This possible tragedy of singed wings doubly and trebly
assured Katinka of Leah's honesty, for who could love the demi-god
Demetrius and trifle with a nautical butterfly? Thus did she argue,
crediting her once rival and now ally with the infatuation which, in
Fairyland, made Titania clip Bottom in her arms.

"The air of this place suits you," said Lake, wondering at this
bubbling gaiety; "you were pale and sad when we last met,
Mademoiselle."

"I may be the same when we meet again," she replied, refilling Lady
Jim's glass. "What would you? Moods are agreeable."

"Hum! I don't choose April as the most enjoyable month of the year."

Katinka laughed meaningly, and glanced slyly at Lady Richardson. "I
see; you prefer an autumn month--highly coloured and mature."

This was too symbolic for Lake, but some intuition of its meaning
caused him to flush to the roots of his fair hair, and verbally deny
comprehension. "I do not understand."

"No gallant man would," she retorted, and, further enlightened, the
captain's pink became a violent crimson, to the concern of its cause.

"How red you are, Reggy!" cried Lady Richardson. "I hope it isn't
scarlet fever."

"I guess you suffer from that," murmured Mamie, posing her lorgnette.

"Plaît-il?" inquired the bewildered vicomte; but received no reply.
Miss Mulrady's knowledge of French was too limited to permit of
pathological discussions.

"Russian tea," explained Lake, cooling to his ordinary sun-burn.

"Why not one word--indigestion?"

"Indigestion," repeated the soldier, with dry obedience.

"You should really try Billy's new medicine; it has made him very fit.
By the way, where is my darling?"

Lake dodged the quizzical glance of Miss Mulrady, and explained that
Sir Billy had been last seen wrinkling his young brows over the
intricacies of trente et quarante. "Couldn't haul him off; but I
daresay hunger will fetch him to the tea-table."

"Such devotion argues good luck," said Leah, wondering if Billy would
arrive with full pockets.

"Perhaps, Lady James. Most boys are lucky at play."

"And therefore unlucky in love?" inquired Katinka, smiling.

"Children should know nothing of such things," said Aksakoff, stiffly.

"I guess not," cried Mamie; "but Sir Billy is a freak."

"Really, Miss Mulrady," frowned the indignant little mother, "my son
is not so eligible for Barnum's Show as you seem to imagine. He hasn't
got two heads, or an elastic skin, or any of those things which seem
to be so popular in the United States."

"Wouldn't make him more interestin' if he had. He's a moral freak."

"Et moi aussi?" asked the vicomte, whose scant knowledge of
Americanese prevented entire understanding.

"Oh, you haven't got morals of any sort."

"M. de Marville is the more interesting on that account," said Leah,
rousing herself from a two minutes' silence; "a really good young man
should be sealed, as a bore, in a glass case."

"Then why is Mr. Askew at large?"

The sailor laughed. "I fear my past can best answer that question."

"By your tongue? Well?"

"Better leave that well alone," laughed Katinka, gaily. "Besides, only
women have pasts."

"And presents, when the men are generous," said Lady Jim.

"I guess men are always generous, when there's anythin' to be got."

"After meals, there is nothing to be got, save smoking," said the
hostess; "you gentlemen have leave. Captain Lake, will you give me a
cigarette?"

Like many Russian ladies, Mademoiselle Aksakoff adored those fatal
rolls of tobacco wrapped in coffee-coloured paper, and consumed a
great quantity. Lady Richardson, unlike the average Englishwoman,
smoked likewise--that is, she fiddled qualmishly with half a
cigarette, because it looked smart to do what you shouldn't. The
gentlemen also offered incense to the very modern goddess Nicotine,
and shortly Lady Jim was the only person present not committed to this
agreeable vice.

"I am behind the times," she confessed; "but please don't look upon me
as a prude on the prowl. I willingly permit other women to spoil their
teeth and ruin their digestions."

"What a nasty speech!" cried Lady Richardson, offended, especially as
Leah knew it was an effort for her to sin in this way.

"My dear, it is; but then, I feel nasty."

"And look charming," whispered Askew.

"I wonder how many times a day you repeat yourself," she replied
impatiently.

"As often as I recall your face. I can think then of only one
adjective, charming, and one noun, angel."

"What limitations! And the necessary verb?"

"I love you."

"First person singular, as usual, after the manner of the male
egotist. Isn't this rather Lindley-Murray whispering?"

If it was, they had no opportunity of continuing it, for Lady
Richardson drew Leah's attention to the fact that she had lost a
fortune in the Casino. "I depend upon you, dear, for my return fare."

"Billy will pay," conjectured Lady Jim, calmly: "I quite expect he has
broken the bank."

"Not on Mr. Askew's system," cried Mamie; "you couldn't run an
apple-stall on his lines."

"You would suggest improvements," complained Askew, reproachfully.

"Then you admit that they were."

"If fitted properly into the puzzle, and at the proper time. But it's
a mistake to swap horses when crossing a stream."

"Huh!" said Miss Mulrady, in her best Californian style. "I guess the
animals belonged to you. I lost no dollars"; and with a comfortable
sense of her own 'cuteness, she accepted a cigarette from the
attentive vicomte.

This frothy chatter irritated a lady who was inwardly grappling with
problems of the near future. Askew ventured on more spindrift, only to
be snubbed into seeking the complaisant society of Mamie. This
necessitated a game of general post, for Katinka slipped in rapid
French and boulevard gossip with de Marville, while Lady Richardson
drew Lake once more to her elderly feet. Remained the diplomatist, in
splendid isolation, and his gaze wandered to Lady Jim, who stared
straight before her. She was looking into the next world, where a
reproachful ghost, something resembling Jim, was asking why he had
been butchered to make a woman's holiday. And the living, half
believing the terrible truth implied, gave shuffling answer to the
dead: "Demetrius is to blame----"

So vivid was the vision, so powerful the thought, so guilty the
conscience, that her tongue actually framed this much aloud, before
she became aware that her secret was slipping out. A hasty glance
around assured her that none of the prattlers had overheard; but an
echo of the name at her elbow testified to Monsieur Aksakoff's
excellent hearing. Lady Jim grew chill. What had she said? How much
had he gathered? Instinctively facing a possible danger, she did not
even turn her head or raise her voice, but, almost in the same breath,
concluded the sentence differently: "----if he does not cure Jim."

"Your husband?" asked the diplomatist, politely.

With admirable skill Leah started, as though her reflections had been
unexpectedly interrupted. "You there, M. Aksakoff? I was thinking of
my husband--yes. He is trying to get well in Jamaica, and M.
Demetrius has gone to pull him round. I shall certainly blame him if
he does not cure Jim."

"That is severe, madame. After all, no human being holds the keys of
life and death."

Self-controlled as she was, Lady Jim shuddered. Demetrius certainly
held the key of death, and had used it--for so she began to
believe--in opening for Garth a door into the unknown. However, she
utilised the shudder very dexterously. "Don't talk like that. It makes
me fear lest Jim should never get well. But after all, M. Demetrius is
extraordinarily clever. I told your daughter, only this afternoon, how
I had been attracted to him for Jim's sake, and by his knowledge of
consumption."

"Oh!" Aksakoff looked at her with his pale eyes, and very inquiringly.
It had not occurred to him that the lady was a model wife. "The
medical attainments of M. Demetrius attracted you."

"Naturally! My husband is ill. I wish him to be cured. M. Demetrius
has a European reputation for cure of consumption. We have held many
conversations on the subject, and I feel certain that there is a
chance for poor dear Jim."

"If M. Demetrius becomes his medical attendant?"

"He is," Leah assured him. "The poor creature he was looking after in
Madeira, on behalf of the Duke, is dead, and Katinka informed me that
M. Demetrius had sailed for Jamaica."

Aksakoff frowned. "How does my daughter know that?"

Lady Jim rose to shrug her shoulders, and to seize the opportunity
thus offered to solve her problem by means of a private conversation.

"A charming place you have here," she said, glancing round, and giving
him to understand that the shrug was his answer; "the air is so
balmy."

"You will find it more so without tobacco smoke," said the Russian,
throwing away his cigarette, and, without knowing it, was thus
skilfully entrapped into a duologue by an ostensibly reluctant woman.

"I am so comfortable here," urged Leah, with feigned hesitation.

"So pleased, madame; but your sense of the picturesque will make you
sacrifice ease for a particularly charming view of the Estrelles."

"The proper study of womankind is man," misquoted Lady Jim, accepting
the invitation; "but nature comes as a relief at times. We see so
little of her in society," and she glanced at Lady Richardson's dyed
hair and tinted cheeks.

"You are severe, madame."

"I shall begin to believe so, if you repeat that a third time," she
replied, smiling, and glancing sideways at his face. This she did to
discover, if possible, his intentions. It suddenly occurred to her,
that the diplomatist's insistence meant intrigue on his part. He, like
herself, was playing a game, and Lady Jim, for the sake of the result,
wished to overlook his hand. Had she seen it, which she did not, the
knowledge that people knew more about her domestic affairs than she
would have approved of might have shocked her.

Ivan Aksakoff was not a tricky Russian, nor a diplomatist of repute,
for nothing. Instructions had reached him several times from
headquarters that Demetrius was to be watched while in England, and,
if possible, decoyed into the territory of a less scrupulous nation,
for the purpose of arrest. A drugged official's feelings had been
outraged, a much-wanted Anarchist had escaped through the connivance
of the exile, and a paternal government thought that an enforced trip
to Siberia might cool misplaced friendships for suspected persons.
Several times Aksakoff had tried to induce the Demetrius opossum to
climb down from his tree of refuge, but the suspicious beast refused
to oblige him. Therefore, all that the diplomatist could do was to
keep himself advised of the doctor's doings, in the hope of luring him
to destruction when he was off his guard. He had biblical precedent
for this hope. Shimei, the son of Gera, lulled by long security, had
crossed the forbidden brook Kidron, so why should not Demetrius,
likewise forgetful, cross the Channel?

Stealthy inquiry into the doctor's affairs had led Aksakoff to ask
himself, why the man dangled at Lady Jim's apron-strings. Reports
poured in, fast and thick, that the Curzon Street household was
insolvent, but these did not help the diplomatist overmuch. If Lady
Jim wanted money, she would scarcely ask a penniless exile for the
cash he did not possess. The man was not sufficiently handsome, nor so
superlatively fascinating, that he should gain the love of the most
beautiful woman in London. And, incidentally, Aksakoff learned that
Lady Jim was a modern Lucrece, although she did not profess an ardent
love for her lord and master. Therefore, as neither Mammon nor Cupid
could explain a friendship which was pretty freely discussed in clubs
and drawing-rooms, Aksakoff could not comprehend this particular wile
of woman.

In his endeavour to fathom the meaning, he even went so far as to
question his daughter, knowing that she was as infatuated with
Demetrius as Demetrius was with Lady Kaimes. But Katinka either could
not or would not explain, and for months the diplomatist had been
exasperated by the sight of a genuinely platonic friendship, for which
there seemed to be no reason. Now he learned from one of the parties
to the bond that a husband's sickness, and a friend's skill, were the
elements which composed the intimacy. Such a case, in such a light,
had never before been presented to him, and while sauntering by Lady
Jim's side to view the Estrelles against the sunset, he was trying to
think if the explanation was genuine. To his acute hearing, it did not
sound even plausible.

Nevertheless--and this was Aksakoff's reason for seeking the
interview--some use might be made of the woman to entrap the man. Lady
Jim was badly in need of ready money, and the Russian Government had,
at the time, full coffers. Since there was no love in the question,
this singular lady might, for a round sum, dispense with the doctor's
attendance on her husband. More--if delicately handled, she might
induce Demetrius to show her the sights of Paris. It was difficult to
hint this without shocking the feelings of a great lady and a spotless
woman. Still, if skilfully done, and without too much emphasis, Lady
Jim might gather that her finances could be put in order without much
trouble on her part.

But Aksakoff had another argument which induced him to risk a
scene with outraged virtue. He loved his daughter, and wished her to
marry a highly placed cousin, who would be of political use to his
father-in-law. Unfortunately, Katinka was infatuated--Aksakoff could
find no more appropriate word--with Demetrius. Marriage with a person
wanted by the powerful of St. Petersburg meant a check to the
diplomatist and a handle to his many enemies. The match was not to be
thought of. Yet, if Demetrius would only prove kind, Mademoiselle
Aksakoff would assuredly become his wife, even if she had to achieve
the marriage by elopement. Also, Katinka might be able to procure the
man's pardon, and of this Aksakoff entirely disapproved. Even if the
doctor was whitewashed, he had such socialistic or anarchistic
feelings--it mattered not which--that he would never consent to resume
his title or the large income attached to such resumption. On the
whole, both from a fatherly and a domestic point of view, Aksakoff
felt that this marplot would be safer in a Siberian mine. How to get
him there was the problem.

The solution might come through Lady Jim. If he could only ascertain
her feelings towards Demetrius, and hint that such a lovely woman
should not be worried by sordid money affairs, it was not improbable
that such a satisfactory result would be arrived at. It was a forlorn
hope, but Aksakoff dared it; it was a straw, but he grasped at it--and
now, fully committed to the speculation, he was casting about in his
mind as to a promising beginning. No easy task, for Aksakoff's spies
and Aksakoff's experience assured him that Lady James Kaimes was a
prickly plant, needing care in the handling.

So it will be seen that Leah's intuition had not deceived her, scanty
as was the ground for suspicion. The closer she examined his face by
swift side-glances, the more certain she became that he was playing a
game, and--from her experience of diplomatists--by no means for love.
To vary the metaphor, she and the Russian were about to engage in a
duel, either with foils or swords. Lady Jim did not care which. She
was perfectly assured that, however dexterous her antagonist might be,
she could fence quite as well, if not better. And thus she marched to
the duelling ground, already a victor.



CHAPTER XVI


Silhouetted against a pale purple sky, the dark masses of the
Estrelles floated on a shimmering sea. Nearer and clearer, yet less
sharply defined, etherealised by amethystine hues, and indistinct
through the haze of gloaming, frowned the Grimaldi stronghold, its
mouldering walls, clasping closely packed houses, dominated by a lean
and soaring campanile. Over the cactus hedge, and between bending
palms, could be caught a glimpse of the trim, unromantic modern town,
of the sleepy waters of the bay, and fishing-boats rocking beside
spick-and-span toy yachts, with here and there the picturesque felucca
of Mediterranean commerce, old-fashioned, with oars and lateen sails.
Only Shelley in radiant verse could have described with any approach
to truth this magical dreamland, real yet unreal, under the changing
colours of sunset.

As at the outset of an earlier and less difficult interview, Lady Jim
admired the loveliness of paradise, with ostentatious disregard of her
embarrassed companion. And embarrassed he was, to such a degree that
she marvelled at his choice of a profession in which emotions count as
crimes. This judgment was unfair, for Aksakoff ordinarily commanded
his feelings with the severity of a martinet. But so great were the
stakes for which he proposed to play--his daughter's future and his
political advancement--that he shifted uneasily from one foot to the
other, clasped and unclasped his hands, and betrayed more of the
natural man and anxious father than was consistent with diplomatic
reticence.

Having some idea of this mental confusion, Leah waited for him to make
an almost certain mistake, of which she intended to take full
advantage. She was like a cat watching a mouse-hole, ready to pounce
at an opportune moment. Meanwhile, she held her tongue, which
sufficiently assured Aksakoff of her dangerous capability. He had
never before beheld the ominous miracle of a silent woman, and his
nerves were none the better for this surprising spectacle.

"Demetrius, madame," he finally blundered, and recognised the blunder
as the words left his mouth--"Demetrius is your friend."

The attack was so weak that Lady Jim contemptuously gave him
vantage-ground. "Katinka's lover also, I understand."

"And the Czar's enemy," retorted Aksakoff angrily. "Let us have all
his qualifications at once, madame."

"By all means. Enemy, friend, lover. Well?"

"It is very far from well, as you know, madame. I desire no Siberian
felon for my son-in-law."

"I never knew that M. Demetrius had been to Siberia."

"He will go there yet--to his grave."

"What an odd choice of a cemetery!" said Leah, shrugging; "but I
assure you, M. Aksakoff, that I take no interest in these funeral
arrangements."

"No! Yet report says----"

He was about to blurt out something still more undiplomatic, but that
Lady Jim's pity for his ineptitude made her intervene. "I know what it
says, and of course I deeply sympathise with you."

"Madame!"

"Yes, yes; I comprehend your feelings. It is hard that your own
daughter should defy you, especially as M. Demetrius is merely a
doctor."

"He is a prince in our country," said Aksakoff, furious that she
should take the lead, and at a loss how to regain it.

"A felon also, I understood you to say."

"Let him venture on French soil, and I shall certainly make him one,"
snarled Aksakoff, with unpleasantly glittering eyes. Lady Jim had
scratched him rather dexterously, and the Tartar stood revealed.

She scratched again. "Even if Katinka makes him your son-in-law?"

"That shall never be!" He hesitated, then attempted a bear-hug. "I
will speak plainly, madame----"

"About Katinka and her infatuation? Oh, certainly."

Aksakoff bit his lip. Used as he was to verbal fencing, Leah's
handling of her tongue baffled him. He took refuge in truth-telling.

"Demetrius does not love my daughter," he said bluntly.

"How fortunate for you, and disagreeable for her!"

"He loves an--an--an actress," explained Aksakoff, wondering if her
interest in the man deepened to jealousy.

Apparently it did not. "That would interest Katinka more than it does
me," she assured him; then, affecting the innocence of ignorance, "May
I ask why you chronicle small beer?"

"Demetrius is your intimate friend."

"My husband's medical attendant," she corrected quietly.

"If you remove him to that distance, I confess to an indiscretion.
Shall we return?"

"Without admiring the Estrelles?"

"Madame, the excuse was obvious."

"For what?"

Aksakoff shrugged his shoulders. "For the clearing up of
misunderstandings. You are anxious--so you say--that Demetrius should
cure your husband. My reason for this conversation is, to apologise
for my intention to rob you of his very valuable services. If I can
trap Demetrius--say in Paris--Lord James must content himself with an
inferior doctor."

Leah looked pensive and puzzled. "I comprehend; but why should you
make use of the wrong word?"

"Misunderstanding?" Then, when she nodded, "My ignorance of your
language----"

"Or of my feelings? By this talk of Parisian traps and Siberian
punishment, you assume that I am acquainted with the private affairs
of M. Demetrius."

"It is possible that I have made that mistake," said Aksakoff, dryly.

"As a diplomatist you should never confess as much. It might be that I
may take advantage of your--mistake, to inform M. Demetrius of his
danger."

"I foresaw that possibility, madame. As a dutiful wife, you naturally
wish to keep so clever a doctor in attendance on your husband."

"Of course; but a trip to Siberia would not improve Jim's health."

"There is no need for the mountain to go to Mahomet, madame."

"Pardon me if in this case I think otherwise."

Aksakoff shrugged again. "I admit the reason, seeing that this
particular mountain is married."

"These parables are a trifle wearisome, M. Aksakoff. The air is
chilly, and I wish to return to Lady Richardson. Would you mind
telling me plainly, before we part, why you sought this interview?"

"Assuredly, madame. My daughter loves this man, who does not love her,
and who, by reason of his crime and opinions, is not an eligible
husband. You were with Katinka this afternoon, as you informed me, and
she is now so cheerful that I suspect you must have delivered some
message from Demetrius to so raise her spirits. Or it might be"--he
looked squarely at her, as he added, "that Demetrius is in Monte
Carlo."

"No; your daughter had a letter from him, in which he stated that he
was leaving Madeira for Jamaica. Go on, please."

"Katinka had a letter?" said Aksakoff, with an unpleasant look. "That,
no doubt, accounts for her spirits. Were you Cupid's messenger,
madame?"

Lady Jim smothered a laugh. "No; though I admit that I should like to
see her happy."

"She will never be happy with a man who does not love her. Demetrius
will not come near me, and I cannot explain. Will you oblige me by
taking a message?"

"Why should I?"

"For the sake of retaining him as Lord James's medical attendant."

Leah nodded. "As a wife, I will take your message. What is it?"

"Tell Demetrius that if he will give Katinka to understand that he
will never marry her my gratitude will be stronger than my duty."

"In other words, you will not arrest him."

"So long as he remains in England."

"Where he can't be arrested," laughed Lady Jim. "Well, your message
shall be duly delivered. And I may as well confess, since we are
committed to plain speaking, that M. Demetrius informed me why he had
to leave Russia."

"His confidence will render it easier for you to make a treaty between
us, madame."

"Possibly. But you will understand that I assume the rôle of
peacemaker solely on my husband's account."

"Madame," Aksakoff bent and raised her hand to kiss it; "as a wife you
are far above rubies. Shall we return?"

Leah consented without moving. She had not yet solved her problem.
"One moment. You will give me your word that M. Demetrius will not be
lured to Paris?"

"I give you my word, if the treaty is made, and Katinka is disabused
of her infatuation."

"Which forms part of the treaty," said Leah, lightly. "In the
interests of Jim, I'll do my best; but should he go to Paris----"

"He will assuredly leave it for Siberia, which is much colder and not
so amusing."

"Then I must advise him to be naturalised in England."

"It will be the act of a friend, madame. And also, you might advise
him to beware of this actress."

"Oh, I can't intrude my advice into his strictly private affairs."

"If you wish your husband to be cured, it will be as well to do so,"
Aksakoff recommended. "Mademoiselle Ninette is not to be trusted."

"Ninette? I have seen her--a very charming artiste."

"But unscrupulous."

"Not so much so, I hope, as to betray the man she loves."

"A woman, madam, will do much for money."

"How well you know the sex, monsieur!" said Lady Jim, ironically.

"I have had some experience, madame."

"And have benefited so little that you cannot manage your daughter
without my intervention."

"I confess it. Let me amend my statement by saying that I have had
many experiences and little experience."

"That is a more correct way of putting it," said Leah, gravely; "for I
assure you, M. Aksakoff, that if a woman loves a man, she certainly
will not betray him for money."

"We join issue, madame. The Uranian Aphrodite is not the divinity in
this case, and Aphrodite Pandemos can be bought."

"How classical and confusing! And the price?"

"Two thousand pounds," said Aksakoff, carelessly.

"You should reckon it in francs, seeing that Mademoiselle Ninette is
French. Otherwise she will not understand."

"The jingle of gold is a universal language, madame."

"An agreeable one, at all events. I wish we had more opportunity of
studying it. Well, M. Aksakoff, for Jim's sake, I shall see that M.
Demetrius affords this harpy no opportunity of earning the money."

"And you will pardon my mentioning the harpy's name?"

"We are a man and woman of the world, M. Aksakoff: there is no need to
call spades shovels. I thank you for considering my husband. To lose
the skill of M. Demetrius might result in his death."

"I am happy to have been of service to you, madame, and of course, you
can understand my paternal feelings."

"Assuredly; I shall do my best to make your daughter see reason. A
woman can talk to a woman of such things, you know."

"When she is such a woman as you, madame," said Aksakoff, again
bending over her hand; "and now----"

"Just one hour to catch the train," remarked Leah, with a glance at
the tiny watch set in her bracelet.

In this way Leah solved her problem, and Aksakoff gained his point;
yet, on the face of it, their conversation dealt entirely with the
saving of Demetrius from a Siberian prison, and Katinka and Katinka's
matrimonial salvation. But Lady Jim knew that, if she could lure the
doctor to Paris, she would not longer need to fear a Sabine alliance;
while the diplomatist was satisfied that, for two thousand pounds,
Demetrius would be safely transported to Siberia. Leah, guessing this,
let him think that the money tempted her, though she wondered how he
came to know that she needed cash, and was secretly angered that he
should dare to offer a bribe. But she could not confess her true
reason for wishing the exile of Demetrius without letting Aksakoff
know about the plot; therefore, of the two evils she chose the less.
But she resolved to take no Russian gold. This cynical foreigner
should learn that a strictly virtuous Englishwoman cannot be bought.
It was commendable in these augurs that they did not wink at one
another.

Their reappearance at the tea-table was greeted with shrieks of joy
from Lady Richardson, whose emotions were invariably noisy. "Leah!
Leah!" she cried, overcome by maternal love and pride, "Billy has won
you twelve thousand francs."

"Twelve thousand five hundred," corrected Sir Billy, who was disposing
of tea and cake and sandwiches in a way which argued long abstinence.

"Five hundred pounds," translated Captain Lake.

"Oh, you dear, clever boy!" said Lady Jim, coming rapidly to the table
to kiss her catspaw. "Halves, of course."

Sir Billy shook his head and tried to keep cool, for the kiss rather
upset his dignity. "I am more than repaid," said he gallantly.

"So I should think," murmured Askew, who would have doubled the amount
for a similar attention.

Mamie overheard, and recalled a phrase she had never used before, but
which suited her impersonation of the American girl as--she is not.
"Don't put the banana-peel under your own foot, sonny!"

"What _do_ you mean?" asked the mystified islander.

Miss Mulrady glanced at Lady Jim's back, then winked at Askew to
intimate that she had remarkably good eyesight; also, that kissing
married women led to D.C. cross-examinations; also,--but there was no
end to the many meanings of that wink. Lord Burleigh's head-shake, in
_The Critic_, Act II., scene 1, could not have been more eloquent.

Meanwhile applausive adjectives buzzed round Billy's head. He fought
his trente et quarante battle o'er again, between hasty mouthfuls,
while his mother, thanking Providence for having bestowed on her such
a son, murmured ecstatic asides to Katinka Aksakoff. It was the
apotheosis of the modern child.

Leah counted her gains, placed them safely in one of those wonderful
feminine pockets unknown to man, then gave a passing thought to the
virtuous Hengists.

"We must get back, dear," she warned Lady Richardson. "Katinka,
darling"--this was for Aksakoff's benefit--"do come over and see me.
We have so much to talk about."

"I shall be delighted," replied the girl, flushing with joy, and
really was so. The prospect of unlimited conversations on the subject
of demi-gods, and their ways with a sympathetic friend, allured her
towards an hour of happiness. What was left of Lady Jim's conscience
smote her; she felt almost sorry for her dupe. But, with the
premeditated self-deception of people who rearrange biblical texts for
the palliation of pet sins, she reflected that a fool's paradise for
Katinka was better than no paradise whatsoever.

Monsieur Aksakoff said no more. He and Lady Jim understood one another
perfectly, and it was useless to add touches to a finished picture.
With cordial stiffness he sped his guests on their way through the
town and the glare of the electrics down to the station-lift Mamie and
her supple vicomte shook hands midway; but Askew and Captain Lake
insisted upon seeing the ladies safely into a comfortable compartment.

Billy was disgusted. "One man's enough to run this show," protested
Billy.

"Don't talk American slang," rebuked his mother, and pelted the men
with breathless adieux. "Goodnight, Reggy, so very charming, our day!
Mr. Askew, goodnight--so very amusing! We've had a ripping time."

"And the mother-kettle calls my pot black," Billy breathed to Leah.

She paid no attention. Askew was trying to extort an invitation to San
Remo, with eloquent eyes and persuasive lips. But a recollection of
his four-and-twenty hours in the vicinity without calling, added to a
resentment that he should have experimented with his system in the
unauthorised company of a much too attractive girl, made her ignore
his hints. Moreover, being an ex-sailor and undiplomatic, he would
probably prove so affectionately honest, that the Hengists might--and
if the Hengists did, then "adieu grapes, the vintage is over."
Julia and her serious spouse would never understand the need of a
grass-widow for amusements of this sort. While her Ulysses wandered
they expected her to be a replica of Penelope, that dull woman who was
so fond of speeches and sewing.

"Come to Curzon Street in a fortnight," she advised, and the train
departed, leaving him to muse on the "ars amatoria," as understood in
the navy.

"I hope you have enjoyed yourself, dear," said Lady Richardson,
arranging Billy's tie and kissing Billy's nose, but addressing Leah;
"I'm sure you ought to have. This darling has won you pots."

Lady Jim nodded, rather wearily. The cackle of the hen over her chick
worried her, and she retreated to the most distant corner, bored by
maternal fussiness. This visit had taken her a step farther, but it
was most annoying that success should make her feel uncomfortable.
Aksakoff, misapprehending her reasons as he did, would certainly
assist her materially. But Katinka,--bur-r-r-r! Why couldn't
conscience quit worrying?



CHAPTER XVII


Even the skilful find it no easy matter to drive a kicking, squealing
team. The off-horse must be flicked into decorum, the near leader
soothed, the wheelers, bearing the heat and burden of the day,
encouraged into pulling with a will. Then, a deft hand on tugging
reins, a quick eye for the deviations of the road, some knowledge of
mouths, tender and hard, and manifestations of that will which makes
of vehicle and quadrupeds a coherent whole--these things must be
attributes of the god in the car. Likewise of the "Dea ex machina,"
although Lady Jim was in and not out of the vehicle. Enthroned with
whip and ribbons, she drove a team of five. And in the odd number lay
the difficulty of bringing the car of Destiny to the selected stables.

For by this time, rejecting an overruling Providence other than the
fetish, who was a domestic god and biased, Leah looked upon herself as
her own omnipotent and triumphing Destiny. She would, so she decided,
expunge Jim, utilise Askew and Katinka, obliterate Demetrius, and
assist Muscovite politics through Aksakoff. This team, in harness, and
rendered obedient by blinkers, she controlled with considerable
judgment, and made, single-hearted, for her goal. That the actual
Destiny, whose rôle she affected to play, might upset her
smoothly-running chariot by a judiciously placed and unlooked-for
stone, she never paused to consider. So far as she could see, the
course was clear to the prize--a money-bag, which she would seize as a
victorious widow of the wrong sort.

Askew was the odd animal of the team, the fifth wheel on her chariot,
though he was less like a horse than a troublesome and over-faithful
dog. Notwithstanding her prohibition, he invaded San Remo, played a
most exasperating Patience on a monument along the promenade, and
dodged her angry eyes round convenient street-corners. She could not
go abroad but what he turned up in unexpected quarters, nor could she
remain at home without his appearing, to excuse, on frivolous
pretexts, a wholly unnecessary visit. Luckily, the Hengists approved
of his frank looks and modest manners, else she might have been
compromised. Even in easy-going Italy such cicisbeism was annoying.

Later, Lady Jim returned to London, for that season invented by man,
and left him to kick his heels in cross isolation. But, even before
the Curzon Street house could be warmed, he rang the bell, and
presented himself in the character of a martyr. For the sake of the
future Leah kept him in the team, but she gave him more of the whip
than he liked, and also--ironically--a marked almanack, limiting his
visits. But that she had some liking for him, and much use, she would
have bundled him into the arms of the fixture, with strict orders to
give those same arms a legal right to embrace him for ever. But Askew
himself put an end to that chance of being safely bestowed.

"What will Marjory say if you make my house your hotel?" she asked,
when he appeared on the fifth day of the week for the eighth time, and
at afternoon tea, too, when she, with a hard day's pleasure behind
her, was recruiting for the night's fatigue.

"Nothing," he asserted, sulkily and guiltily; "she has no right to
control my actions."

"That depends upon your feelings towards your future wife."

"She is not my--I mean, we have broken it off."

"What!" Lady Jim was frankly exasperated. She as a married woman, and
he as an engaged man, could platonise to any extent; but he free, and
she shortly to be a widow--what then? She would no more make him her
husband than she would allow Demetrius to lead her to the altar. And
here he was, selfishly placing himself in an eligible position for the
very matrimony she declined to contemplate.

"Marjory and I decided we were not suited," he explained, but timidly,
because her eyes flashed. "She takes half the income, and marries that
fox-hunting ass. I am free with the rest of the money"; he waited for
congratulations which never came. "I thought you would be pleased," he
blundered.

"And pray why should I be pleased?"

"I believed--I fancied--you--you liked me," he stuttered, growing red.

"Tolerably--as an engaged man."

"Then you've been playing with me?" he cried; "you don't love me?"

"Did I ever tell you so?"

"No; but I thought----"

"Your vanity thought! Go on."

"Oh, Leah----"

"Kaimes--which is my married name."

Askew gasped. Her amazing impudence reduced him to staring silence.
She had lured him to her feet with sweet looks and significant smiles
and cooing words, till he had been deceived into thinking that her
passion was as strong and as true as his own. Now she reminded him
that she was--married. "Oh!" he gasped again, and Lady Jim laughed
shortly. Her cat-nature was enjoying this mouse-play.

Visitors had come and gone, and they were alone in the dainty
drawing-room, with an untidy tea-table. Askew, having escorted her
home from Ranelagh, had waited for an hour with stubborn patience for
this solitude of two. His end had been gained, and now--he looked
helplessly round, as though seeking for some third person to explain
if his charmer were a demon or a woman. "Oh!" he said, once more.

"Nearly six," said Leah, consulting her bracelet. "How long do you
intend to stand there saying 'Oh!'?" and she mimicked him.

"Leah!"

"Lady James Kaimes!"

"Not even Lady Jim," he said, clenching his brown hands. "Oh,
you--you----" His voice became inarticulate with sheer anger.

"Pray consider that you are in my house," she reminded him coldly.

"I'll never come here again."

"That is as you choose."

"But I can't live without you."

"How flattering!"

"And I won't"; he came a step nearer the low chair in which she sat,
but her derisive laugh made him pause. "Leah--I--I--love you!" His
voice broke, and he stretched out his arms.

"I saw that ages ago."

"Then why did you----did you?" He stopped, and looked at her with
imploring eyes. "I thought you loved me," he murmured, choking.

"Oh, you thought!" said she, ironically.

"Is it not true? Have I been deceived? No!" he flung out a beseeching
hand; "don't speak--I cannot bear to hear the truth. Let me go--let me
go," he stumbled towards the door, blindly. "You have broken my heart;
but I'll go away--far away--to South America, and--and--oh, my God!"
he leaned against the wall and covered his face with his hands.

Lady Jim might have been in the stalls of a theatre for all the
personal feeling she had hitherto shown. But his last words brought
self uppermost. If he went to South America, he would certainly see
Lola Fajardo, and, possibly, might come face to face with Jim.
Recognition of an admitted corpse would spoil Jim's game and her own.
Askew, for she put herself in his place, would certainly make things
unpleasant, and she did not wish to provide a scandal in high life for
circulating extra editions of newspapers during the silly season.
Besides, he was really a nice boy, and she would miss his good looks
and canine attentions. Both circumstances and inclinations demanded
that she should keep him under her eye. An explanation came to her
while he sobbed at the door--looking very ridiculous, she thought--and
she made use of it, to soothe his sorrow and save herself.

"You silly boy," she began, and the beginning produced an effect she
was far from foreseeing.

"Silly! Yes, I am silly," he admitted between his teeth, and flinging
back his head to regard her with fierce, wet eyes. "I am silly to have
believed in you and in your false affection"; before she could protest
against this language--she had risen to do so--he hurled himself
across the room, and gripped her wrists so tightly that she could have
screamed with pain. "You shan't treat me in this way--do you hear, you
shan't. I'm not going to be whistled to your feet like a dog and then
kicked aside. Married! Yes, you are married, as you were when you
whistled. But hang your husband and damn your husband--he has no claim
on you, other than a legal one. Mine you are, and mine you shall be. I
tell you, Leah"--he shook her in his anger--"that you must leave this
man, and come with me. You must--you must!"--he dragged her hands to
his breast--"you shall!"

"Harry!" She gasped his name in sheer surprise.

"Yes. Harry--the fool, if you will; the man, as you shall find."

"How--how dare you?"

"Because I do dare, and I shall dare more, if you play football with
my heart. Why couldn't you leave me alone? Why couldn't you stick to
the man whose name you bear? Don't struggle, for you shan't be free
till I have had my say out. You made me love you--now I shall make you
love me. You and your society rubbish, and gimcrack rules, and polite
lies, and make-believe of truth! You with--ah-r-r-r!" he shook her
again--"you over-civilised coquette, you Circe-of-many-wiles, you ruin
of honest men! Do you think that I, who am flesh and blood, care for
your lady and gentleman humbug? No, no! I am a man, you a woman, and
we are one; you hear--one. If not, I'll put a bullet in your head and
another through my own. You have fooled many, you shan't fool me.
There!" ha flung her roughly from him; "now you can ring for your
servants, to put me to the door."

With bruised wrists and wide-open eyes Leah stood dumfoundered. Jim,
at his worst, had never been like this. If he had been she would have
truly loved him. At the moment she very nearly loved Askew,
recognising in his outburst that masterful nature which every woman
adores and succumbs to. In spite of her dexterity in playing with
amorous fire, it really seemed as though she was burning her fingers
on this occasion. Naturally, she enjoyed the experience. This
reversion to cave-life thrilled her pulses. Had Leah been capable of
loving anything with a beard she would have then and there fallen at
Askew's feet and implored him to trample on her. But her absolute
ignorance of the strongest of passions, save self-love, snatched the
victory in--what would have been to an ordinary woman--the hour of
defeat.

"Well," she said, admiration struggling with anger, "you are a brute!"

The man, still panting from conflicting passions, acted strangely and
foolishly, as men do at crucial moments. He smoothed his hair,
arranged his tie, and pulled down his waistcoat, not looking at her
but into a near mirror. Yet he saw her astonished face at second hand,
and smiled grimly.

"I can be a brute," said he, ominously quiet; "but you haven't seen me
at my worst yet."

"Good heavens!" This was undoubtedly a man--_the_ man--the dominating
male, the genuine lord of creation, whose animal honesty can rend the
cobweb entanglements of the female sex, and does rend them, when the
bandage of love inopportunely slips. Defiance would not lure him again
to his proper position at her feet; and she was half afraid of the
might her trickiness had evoked. But in woman's weakness lies woman's
strength, and Delilah pulled down the corners of her mouth to
subjugate Samson.

"My poor wrists!" she murmured.

Askew wheeled from the mirror, shied, and winced; but his mouth and
eyebrows were still three straight lines.

"My poor wrists!" reiterated the temptress, moving towards her
pre-historic man; "see--you have bruised them."

He could see that he had; they were under his eyes, under his very
nose, but he threw aside his head, with the modern equivalent of a
word which a cave-man might have used in some such plight. Adam was
weakened into aggressive firmness.

Eve offered a more tempting apple. "If you really loved me"--tears
emphasised the murmur.

"Leah--darling!"

He was again in the toils, and kissing the bruised skin madly, with
feverish lips. "How could I be so cruel?" he mumbled, and slipped to
her victorious feet. "Oh! oh! oh!" in three distinct keys. "Forgive."

"If you will promise not to leave me," she whispered tenderly.

"Never! never! never! never!" a kiss on alternate hands for each word.

Circe's magic having evoked the brute, she knew thoroughly the sort of
animal she had to deal with. Considering that she had no feeling of
love, or even pity, to create fervour, Leah acted admirably. Cooing
like a mother over her babe, and with a seraphic look, she bent above
the tame animal, less to caress him than to make sure that the halter
was round his neck.

"You foolish, hot-headed boy! Do get up and talk sensibly!"

The subjugated obeyed meekly, all the fire out of his veins, and sat
like a whipped schoolboy in a distant chair, which she indicated with
regal indignation. "For," said Leah, as if she were announcing an
entirely new fact, "I am a married woman"; and she slipped behind the
tea-table to prevent further demonstrations.

"As if I didn't know," sighed Askew, disconsolately.

"Then why did you behave so badly, you wicked boy?"

"Because jewellers' windows are tempting."

"Jewellers' windows?"

"You look into them, and see pretty things you can't buy. Naturally, a
fellow wants to smash the glass and----"

"I understand the parable. But a thief has to reckon with the law, and
so has a married woman. You would not like to see me divorced, Harry?"

"I would like to see you my wife," he retorted, evasively and
stubbornly.

"Impossible! I am already a wife. If I eloped with you, what respect
could you have for me?

"I should have whatever you liked, including you."

"Which I don't like, and won't give," said Leah, indignantly. "In you
I looked to find a friend, and I find nothing but ungoverned passion,
that would drag the object of his adoration in the mud. Oh! oh!"--out
came the inevitable handkerchief--"how I have been deceived!"

By this time, the brute, with a penitent tail between its legs, was
beginning to believe itself entirely in the wrong. Lady Jim, seeing
this, became more than ever a tender woman. "I forgive you," she
declared, plaintively, from behind a handkerchief mopping dry eyes;
"this scene will be as though it had never been."

"But my feelings," rebelled the cave-man, sulkily.

"Will always be those of sacred friendship for a much-tried woman."

"How can they be, when----?"

"When you have made such a fool of yourself? Ah, my poor Harry, forget
your folly. Remember only that I forgive you."

"I don't exactly mean that," grumbled poor Harry, scenting
sophistry, but unable to prevent the war being carried into his camp.
"You--well----you see Oh, hang it, Leah, you know that I love you."

"Not with that true love which is at once tender and respectful."

These sentiments were really noble, but somehow the bewildered man was
not in the mood for copy-book philosophy. "You offer me a stone and
call it a beautiful loaf," said he, bitterly, and with heat.

"Another parable! How biblical you are becoming!" said Lady Jim,
desperately weary and with her eye on the clock. "I do not understand,
nor do you, my poor boy."

"I understand that you have made a fool of me," he snapped brusquely.

"Oh no! Nature has been beforehand there," she retorted, beginning to
lose her temper with a man who would explain. "Don't be silly, Harry!
Go home, and think of our future."

"_Our_ future!" He leaped to his feet with a shining face.

Leah regretted the misused pronoun, and began to anticipate renewed
melodrama. But her little tin god, pitying a votary whose nerves were
jangled by stupid honesty, sent a seasonable visitor.

"His Grace the Duke of Pentland," announced a grandiloquent footman,
flinging wide the door.

"Don't look so disgusted!" Leah flung an angry whisper in Askew's
lowering face as she sailed forward to meet her father-in-law. "How
are you, Duke? This is a surprise--a delightful one, of course. I
never expected so pleasant a visitor."

The room was tolerably dim, and the Duke had not the keen sight of his
youth. "Mr.--Mr.----!" hesitated His Grace.

"Mr. Askew," chimed in Lady Jim, glad that the mask of twilight was on
the younger man's very cross face. "He's just going. You know Mr.
Askew, of course, Duke. I met him at Firmingham. Must you really go,
Mr. Askew? So sorry! We may meet at Lady Quain's to-night--I look in
there for half an hour. Good-bye for the present. So kind of you to
see me home from Ranelagh! Very dull, wasn't it?" and, rattling on to
drown any too tender word he might let slip, she hustled him to the
door.

"Our future!" breathed the inconvenient third, opening the gate of
paradise most reluctantly.

"Even the brutes have instincts, if not sense," snapped Lady Jim,
scathingly, and Adam, without Eve, took his solitary way down the
stairs, to be dismissed into a cheerless world by an indifferent
footman.

To prevent interruption, Leah closed the door herself, and switched on
the electrics, before she returned to her untimely visitor.

"Will you be long, Duke?" she asked, again consulting the clock. "I
have to dress for dinner. Mrs. Martin's, you know: a stupid woman with
a bad cook. Such a bore!"

"I wonder you care to see people when Jim's away," said Pentland,
fretfully, and she noted suddenly his aged looks.

Lady Jim felt inclined to retort with the proverb of the absent cat
and the jubilant mice, but she really felt sorry for the old man's
drooping mouth and additional wrinkles.

"I won't see any one, if you like, Duke--I'm sure it's no pleasure to
make conversation without ideas. Do let me ring for hot tea--you look
so tired. Sit down in this chair--and the cushion--there!" She made
him comfortable with genuine womanly sympathy, wondering, meanwhile,
what was ageing him.

"No tea, my dear. I can only wait for a few minutes; my carriage is
below. Tired? Yes, I am very tired; worried, also."

"Nothing wrong, I hope," murmured Leah, sympathetically.

"Jim, my dear--poor Jim! Have you heard about his health lately?"

"Oh yes! Last week I received a few lines, and he said that he felt
ever so much better. His cough is almost gone."

"Ah," said Pentland, sadly; "like all consumptives, he is too
hopeful."

Leah became nervous and anxious. Had Jim been obliterated at last?
"What is it?" she demanded irritably. "Is he--is he?" her tongue could
not form the lying word.

"Worse--yes, much worse," said the Duke, rubbing his forehead and
producing a letter. "This is from Demetrius. We may expect--oh, my
poor son!" and he almost broke down.

"I don't trust these doctors," remarked Lady Jim, skimming the letter
with a feeling that Demetrius was really too imaginative. "They always
shout wolf, when the animal is miles away. Don't worry."

"But you see, Demetrius says that poor Jim may go off at any
moment--and Demetrius is a clever man."

"He may be mistaken. I have heard of surprising recoveries."

Pentland shook his head, and groaned. "Not Jim. I had a conviction
that I should never see him again when we parted in this very room."

"It's absurd!" argued Leah, artfully. "Jim was quite well till he
caught that stupid cold at Firmingham. Why should he go off suddenly?"

"What they call galloping consumption is----"

"I can't believe it. Nothing would surprise me more than to hear of
Jim's death"; and she soothed her conscience with the reflection that
this speech was perfectly true, considering Jim had the strength of a
bull and the appetite of a shark.

"If I lose him----"

"You won't lose him. I'll send a cable to Demetrius, and if Jim is
really so sick, I'll go out and nurse him."

Pentland's face lighted up, and he pressed her hand. "How good of you,
my dear! It will ease my mind; but--" he hesitated--"I never thought
you cared enough about Jim to inconvenience yourself."

"Jim has given me very little reason to care for him," said Leah, with
some bitterness. "If he had been a better husband, I should have been
a different woman"; she used the stale argument tactfully and
regretfully.

"Yes--er--I'm afraid that's true," said the Duke, recalling his son's
peccability; "but he is so ill. Forgive and forget, Leah."

"For your sake, if not for Jim's," she said gracefully. "I'll send the
cable this very night."

And she did. When Pentland, overflowing with outspoken approbation of
her correct conduct, took his leave, she went to her desk and hunted
out a cypher with which Demetrius had supplied her. It would not do to
let the postal authorities know of their schemes, and the cypher was a
particularly intricate one. Leah spent an hour in concocting her
cablegram, and was late for dinner in consequence. But she had a good
appetite, all the same, in spite of the bad food and the dull
conversation. For, on their way to Kingston, Jamaica, were a few lines
in cypher, a translation of which would have been of great interest to
the father-in-law, who thought her so womanly and good.

"Duke wants me to nurse Jim," ran the cypher, when Demetrius used the
key. "Wire that there is no need."

If Jim had really been dying, she would not have altered a single
word.



CHAPTER XVIII


An urchin throws a stone into the horse-pond. Circles; form, not only
in the still water, but in the fluent air, to enring invisibly our
sphere. And who can say to what limit they recede, if limit there be?
So with a carelessly selected, hastily flung word. Had Lady Jim said
_your_ future, Askew, assuming no coupling, would have grumbled
himself back into tame-catism and canine contentment with casual
head-pats. But, _our_ future! The pronoun bulked portentous. Its three
letters encompassed, to the lover's prolific imagination--divorce,
remarriage, a life-long duet and amorous communings in the highest
paradise attainable by those yet moving in time.

Lady Jim, less philological, gave him to understand, that a single
word could by no means embrace such various interpretations. She again
emphasised her matronhood, called Askew's attention to the spotless
reputation he wished to smirch, and intimated that poor Jim's illness
precluded her from thinking of anything save poor Jim's possible
decease. "In which sad case," mourned Leah, "we could renew our
conversation without reproach."

"A widow has no bridesmaids, I believe?" hinted Askew, reflectively.
She hinted back with sweet smiles, "Don't you prefer a quiet wedding?"
And on this adjustment of the situation he built castles, believing
the foundation to be sound. Strangely enough, in so honest a
gentleman, the heartlessness of utilising possibilities connected with
the Kaimes' vault never occurred to him. Which proved, without need of
words, the essential selfishness of the feeling he miscalled love.

On this arrangement Lady Jim frolicked gaily through the remaining
weeks of the season, well content that things were as they were. A
Jamaica cablegram, which--it designedly not being in cypher--she could
and did show to the Duke, informed both that a wifely nurse was
needless. The last word of the communication promised a letter, which
duly arrived. This last also was a public document, Demetrius being
too cunning to detail criminality in black and white. Pentland and
Leah read the letter cheek by jowl. Lord James was a trifle better,
said the script, and if able to outlast the voyage, would return to
England, en route for Algiers. Lady James could then nurse him into
health, say, at Biskra.

"Thank heaven," quavered the Duke, not reading between the lines, as
did his better-informed daughter-in-law. "We'll make a party and go
there for the autumn. Frith will be delighted."

"On Jim's account?" inquired Leah, dryly. "Rather an effort, Duke."

"On my account," rebuked the old man. "Frith knows that if Jim is to
leave us"--his voice faltered and fell--"I should like to see him
depart."

"Why does the prodigal son always banquet on the calf?" mused Lady
Jim, restoring the letter to her pocket.

"My dear, many failings require many excuses."

"So it seems. Selfish people receive more praise for one creditable
action, than do those kind-hearted fools who spend their lives in
self-denial."

"We must encourage the good seed to grow, my dear."

She laughed unpleasantly. "It usually springs up wild oats, with
over-attention!" and she departed to consider the inexplicable growth
of green bay-trees.

Lord Frith had never given his father the slightest trouble; he was a
model son, an admirable husband; his friendships were staunch, and his
life clean--yet Pentland contented himself with perfunctory praise of
these qualities. He expected his eldest son to be a domestic Bayard,
as the unimaginative Marquis had shown no desire to sow the wind. Jim,
on the other hand, left the reaping of his whirlwind to doting
relatives. Devourer of husks with congenial swine, and caring only for
his large, healthy, greedy self, he had never done a kind act or shown
a filial trait. A spendthrift, a rogue in grain, cursed by many men,
blessed by no woman, he--this profligate egotist--was dealt with not
only tenderly, but in a way calculated to assure him that he was a
pearl without price. His notorious failings were covered by the phrase
that "he was his own worst enemy," and the presumed possession of good
qualities, never manifested, entitled him to paternal pity. Leah, an
easy-going sinner herself, was not hard on those who dwelt in glass
houses. But this gilding of Jim's base metal made her gorge rise.

"What's the use of being good?" she moralised, as her brougham sped
towards Curzon Street. "Kindness is looked upon as weakness, and the
more generous one is, the more those who don't know the meaning of the
word sponge and sneer. If you are really bad, sham philanthropists
reclaim you and cocker you up, and praise you loudly if you say 'Hang'
instead of 'Damn!' A sinner repents, and Heaven is a-flutter; a saint
makes one slip, and the world yells hypocrite. A pied person, neither
white nor black, is left alone, as the majority are of that mottled
complexion. To be really good is to be hated; to be extremely bad
means excuses, help, and trumpetings. Frith gets the kicks without
deserving them, and Jim the half-pence he has never earned. Clever
Jim, who has chosen the world's better part."

It will be seen that Leah, being of the world, judged as the world,
and yet with greater discernment. In one way she was right. It is
generally your sinner who gobbles up the cakes and ale. But Lady
Jim--no very ardent Bible student--misread texts, or rather, read her
own material meaning into them. Therefore, although conversant with
green bay-trees--did she not dwell in a grove of such?--her memory did
not recall the axe that might be laid to the roots thereof. The
Seventy-third Psalm might also have assisted her to a better
understanding of undeserved worldly prosperity, had she done other
than gabble it hastily, when it happened to come into the service. But
the fetish which stood to her in place of the Living God did not
encourage spiritual explorations, and Leah saw life as a
comprehensible stretch of time, limited by birth or death. The
hereafter--if any--she could not conceive, knowing only the present as
the real, the actual, and the true. Therefore did she grudge Jim his
undeserved coddlings. Had he lain on a bed of his own making, it would
have been justice--strict justice; but that fools should prepare him a
feather mattress and downy pillow seemed, and really was, intolerable.
Thinking of the Duke's wasted and misplaced affection, Leah plucked
the fruit of her Tree of Knowledge. "Good people need missionaries,"
said Lady Jim.

However, as Jim and she had occupied separate rooms for many a long
day, his featherbedism troubled her little. Also, Askew had been
brought to heel by the promise of future bones. The plot was being
rounded off in far Jamaica without her aid, and what with Sir Billy's
winnings and a moderate cheque cajoled out of the Duke, she had enough
to keep the wolf from the Curzon Street door. On the whole, things
could not be improved, and it only remained to exercise patience. But
of this virtue Leah possessed little, and did not care to expend what
she had in twiddling her thumbs at home. Jim was away, so she could
play--and did. A masked ball at Covent Garden amused her immensely;
the plays condemned by Sir Billy found in her a lenient critic; and
now that Pentland had paid off old bills, she ran up new ones with the
zest of a woman who required nothing. Also, she went to Epsom, and
pulled off a decent sum on a tip breathed into her ear by the racing
baronet, whom she had snubbed into slangy admiration. To Hurlingham
and Richmond she raced a split-new motor-car of the latest pattern,
and exhibited her nerve and skill in the Park. Charity bazaars, Savoy
dinners, bridge parties, Sunday river excursions, and such-like
time-killers beheld her in varied and tasteful frocks, and she also
dined with those friends upon whose cook she could rely. Altogether,
she enjoyed the life of a busy idler, and had that remarkably
agreeable time which magnificent health, comparative wealth, and a
conscience of no importance would give to such a woman. But her head
duly governed her frivolities, and she made no plans for the Cowes
week, although she knew a manageable man with a delightful yacht. The
daily expected decease of Jim had to be considered, and thoughtful
Leah had already designed her mourning. Meanwhile, she babbled of
Biskra to Lady Canvey, and rather overdid it.

"Are you and Jim going on a second honeymoon?" inquired that
suspicious old dame.

"We are," replied Leah, calmly. "How clever of you to guess it!"

"Humph! The poor wretch must be worse than I thought."

"I see; my affection, to your mind, is too obvious."

"The non-existent can never manifest itself," said Lady Canvey, in
scientific English. "Either a miracle has happened to give you a
heart, or Jim is dying, and you are getting ready to dance on his
grave."

Leah coloured with suppressed anger. This plain speaking annoyed her,
and she disliked people who peeped behind the scenes. "Jim and I are
not angels, godmother," she said with dignity; "but we're pals enough
to make me regret his death. My mourning, though you may doubt it,
will be perfectly sincere."

Lady Canvey gave a dry laugh. "See Carlyle on the 'Philosophy of
Clothes.' Well, I shan't pay your bill at Jay's."

"Thanks. I don't ask you to. The total might involve a larger cheque
than you would care to sign."

"I'm sure of that, my dear, seeing your mourning is to be perfectly
sincere."

The impracticable old woman and her god-daughter were alone, else this
snapping might not have occurred. Leah had rather neglected Lady
Canvey of late, because that astute octogenarian had locked up her
cheque-book. But on her way to an "At Home" she had looked in for a
few moments, and sat in the stuffy Victorian room, radiant in a crêpe
ninon frock of Parma violet, elaborately flounced, and with a fichu
and short sleeves. The dress was simple enough, and she wore little
jewellery; but her dazzling neck and shoulders and arms, her glorious
hair and calm strong face, would have made her noticeable even in a
crowd of picked beauties. Lady Canvey, whose ill-humour was mostly
surface-crabbedness, for she preferred losing a friend to withholding
an epigram, could not refrain from grudging compliments. But between
women these rang hollow.

"You look charming to-night, my dear."

"After the storm, the sunshine," said Lady Jim, smiling at such novel
civility. "Well, I appreciate the change. Whatever my faults may be,
godmother, you cannot say that I am disagreeable. I always call, in
spite of your--your--what shall we say?"

"Home-truths! And you call when it suits you. Humph! Perhaps I am a
trifle short-tempered."

"A trifle!"

"Old age has its privileges," Lady Canvey reminded her; "and you can
be so cleverly nasty when you like, that it amuses me to bring the
worst out of you."

"What a doubtful compliment! Do you extract amusement from the
Tallentire girl in the same way?"

"She has no bad in her."

"Quite so, and you never try to bring out the good which does _not_
amuse you. Sunday schools are beneficial rather than entertaining. I
don't see Miss--what's her name?" and Lady Jim glanced round the
room.

"Joan Tallentire," snapped her hostess; "you remember the name well
enough. It's fashionable to have a short memory, I suppose."

"For debts," said Leah, sweetly; "but Miss Tallentire?"

"She is looking after her father's house, as the mother is ill."

"Poor woman! I hope Lionel is not preaching at her, to make her
worse."

"Lionel isn't always in the pulpit. By the way, Leah, he told me that
he had a serious talk with you at Firmingham."

"Did he? Yes! I believe he did give me a dull quarter of an hour.
Something about sin, I fancy it was. Parsons have a monomania on that
subject."

Lady Canvey made an angry noise in her wrinkled throat. "You're
impossible," she pronounced tartly. "Lionel wishes to improve you."

"What about Jim? Charity should commence with his own family."

"Well, my dear, Lionel admires you, and----"

"Oh! He _is_ a man, then. I don't think I ever made running with a
clergyman; it might be rather fun. I suppose Lionel would recite the
Song of Solomon to me--there's lots of love-talk in it. Not very
proper talk, either, I'm told. Perhaps Solomon wrote it for married
women; he had some experience of them, hadn't he? He collected
concubines, didn't he?--just like a stamp-maniac."

"Leah, you're insufferable."

"And impossible!" She rose to go, and arranged the fur-lined Medici
collar of her evening wrap in the dim mirror. "But I'm about to be
punished for my sins. The Duke made me promise to go to this At Home.
Mrs. Saracen, you know--she's one of the submerged Upper Ten, or she
married one of them; I forget which, though I know she has something
to do with a pickle, or a sauce. Very amusing old thing, too. She
gives you a nutshell biography of every one before she introduces."

"What on earth for?"

"Oh, so that you may be warned against people's skeletons. Mrs.
Saracen points out the cupboard and tells you not to open it, and of
course you do."

Lady Canvey chuckled. "Rather clever. And her friends----?"

"Male and female, I believe. She collects people who have done
something."

"In the criminal way?"

"She would, if the law allowed them out of gaol. But at present she
contents herself with freaks. I don't go to middle-class menageries as
a rule, but at the Duke's request I patronise this one."

"Come to-morrow and tell me all about it."

"If you'll promise to be nice."

Her godmother was silent for a moment. "Leah, my dear," she said at
length, taking the gloved hand, "I am sorry we always quarrel when we
meet. I really have a corner in my heart for you, and if you were only
less--less--" Lady Canvey hunted for the right word--"less
exasperating, we should get on excellently."

Lady Jim nodded, squeezed the bony hands, and kissed the wrinkled
cheek.

"Let us make a fresh start," she said gently, for she really felt
sorry. "I'll come every day while Miss Tallentire is absent and tell
you the news."

"That's a good girl. Goodnight. Enjoy yourself, my dear"; and the two
parted better friends than they had been for months.

On her way to Mrs. Saracen, who lived in the wilds of Kensington, Leah
saw herself in the new character of dry-nurse to a spiteful old
harridan, and wondered at her good-nature. Why should she bore herself
with a spent octogenarian, whose sole attraction was the possession of
money, with which she declined to part? Yet Lady Jim had promised
daily visits to this ruin, and what is more, for no reason
discoverable to herself, intended to keep her promise, even though
there was nothing to be gained by such self-denial. The idea that she,
of all people, should do something for nothing, tickled her greatly,
and the street-lamps swinging past the brougham flashed on an amused
face. She was so pleased with discovering virtue in such an unexpected
quarter that she quite forgot to look mournful when her hostess
inquired after Jim's health.

The waist upon which the Honourable Mrs. Saracen had prided herself
somewhere about the middle of the nineteenth century was now a matter
of guess-work. Her stoutness impressed even the unobservant with the
conviction that she had eaten her way through life, and was at present
engaged in digging a not-far-off grave with her teeth. And, for her
age, she had an astonishingly good set, obtrusively genuine. Her
general appearance was in keeping, for she wore her own white hair in
smooth bands, under a Waterloo turban, fearfully and wonderfully made,
and presented a natural face of winter-apple rosiness, scored with
good-humoured wrinkles. As Nature had made her, and Time had aged her,
so she was, growing old healthily, if not gracefully. In an alarming
dress, many-coloured as Joseph's coat, she wheezed like a plethoric
poodle, and rolled in a nautical manner by reason of her bulk. Who
would have guessed at a brain hidden in this ponderous mass of
adipose?

Yet she was a self-made woman, who had acquired a large fortune by the
sale of "Saracen's Sauce." Therefore did current gossip accuse her of
beginning life as a cook. A perfect invention, this, as she was a
gentlewoman who had, intellectually, married beneath her--that is, she
had bought with the sauce money a scampish aristocrat of the Jim
Kaimes type, only less manly. He had long since drank himself into the
family vault, and had left his wife with one son, who was now in the
army. Every one liked Mrs. Saracen, in spite of her eccentricities,
and love of glaring colours, and many a society pauper had reason to
thank her for timely help. And to cap her good qualities, she
professed open pride in the sauce, which appeared on every
middle-class dinner-table throughout the three kingdoms.

"Dear Lady James," she wheezed, wagging two fat hands, like a seal its
flappers, "how good of you to come! You will find some interesting
people here"--she looked round with pride at the collection of lions,
old and young, tame and wild, fat and lean, sham and real. "Now, Mr.
Wallace here--let me present him. Charming man--very outspoken--great
traveller--Zambesi--knows cannibals intimately!" Then, behind
a plump hand, whispered a nutshell biography, "Don't mention his
wife--divorce."

Thus warned, Leah got on excellently with the lean, brown, keen-eyed
man, who confessed to extensive explorations. "Cannibals?--yes, Lady
James, I know a few and love them."

"What strange affection, Mr. Wallace! Why?"

"They ate a man I detested. I fear he disagreed with them in death, as
he always disagreed with me in life."

Lady Jim laughed. "Is there any one here you would like to make a
side-dish of?" she asked, letting her eyes rove.

"No; I am a complete stranger in London. It is the one place I have
not explored. But Mrs. Saracen has told me the past of many here, and
I can give you histories, if you like."

"Go on, then. Only don't give me dates, else the women here might
scratch. I don't know these creatures myself," she went on, with the
calm insolence of a great lady; "to me they are like your Central
African natives."

"I agree, Lady James--only less civilised."

"In what way?"

"Niggers wear no clothes, and, therefore, are more modest."

"I can quite imagine it. That thin lady over there is evidently of
your opinion"; and Leah glanced at a mature damsel who wore just
sufficient clothing to prevent interference by the police.

"Miss Fastine? She's a Naturopath, and is trying to revert to
primitive simplicity."

"With such a figure she might stop short of the Garden of Eden," said
Lady Jim, dryly. "I never heard of a Naturopath. What is it?"

"An American sect, which needs solitude to carry out its theories. The
members sleep in the open, cover themselves with earth when they feel
sick, and advocate the altogether."

"You are joking, Mr. Wallace."

The traveller stifled a laugh. "Upon my word, Lady James, I am in
earnest. The sect really does exist. That stout man talking to Mrs.
Saracen belongs to another queer lot. Calls himself an Osteopath."

"What on earth is that?"

"One who cures by vitalising the nerves."

"I am as wise as I was before. Any more freaks?"

"Yonder is a Christian Scientist. And the man on the left advocates
Mahomedanism as the State religion in England."

"While the dressmakers charge so ruinously, he'll never induce men to
take four wives. And the woman in the red dress?"

"Lady Tansey--a believer in spirits."

"So I should imagine," said Lady Jim, surveying the lady's nose, which
was long and thin and the hue of her gown.

"No, no! I talk of heavenly spirits. Lady Tansey has a large circle of
departed friends, who rap."

"What a bore! As if one didn't get enough of friends in this world,
without worrying them to knock out bad grammar from the next. Really,
Mr. Wallace, I begin to think Mrs. Saracen must keep a lunatic
asylum."

"Oh dear no," he answered, chuckling. "It is the sane people that are
usually shut up."

"Certainly not the disagreeable people," retorted Lady Jim.

"Oh, if you go to those lengths, there would be no society," said
Wallace, with a shrug.

The traveller's cynicism exactly suited Leah's humour at the moment,
and she made him take her in to supper. Meanwhile, Askew, who had not
seen Lady Jim arrive, was watching the grand entrance with a lowering
face. He had called at Curzon Street, and thence had borne a message
for Leah which he was anxious to deliver. Already he had been bored to
distraction with faddists and their whims, and was seriously thinking
of slipping away, when Mrs. Saracen bore down on him for the fourth
time. Before he could object she had him by the arm, and confronted
him with a severe-looking woman, pensive and solitary.

"Do let me introduce you to Miss Galway," she wheezed. "You'll get on
so well with Mr. Askew, dear Miss Galway. He's navy, you know, or has
been--left it--going to be married. And Mr. Askew, if you can talk of
Ph[oe]nician inscriptions to Miss Galway, she'll entertain you for
hours. Quite an authority on Solomon, I believe--very clever,
most intellectual!" Then aside, hastily: "Say nothing about her
brother--jail!"

Poor Askew! Miss Galway proved to be a limpet, and held on to him
desperately, not because he was handsome, but for the sake of the two
ears he possessed, into which she could pour her archæological
triumphs.

She prosed in a manly voice about Hiram of Tyre and the building of
Solomon's Temple, and the probability that its design was copied from
the Shrine of Moloch, and the remains that Zerubbabel must have found
after the Babylonian captivity, until his poor head buzzed like a
saw-mill. In the hope of stopping this endless trickle of nothings he
cajoled her to the supper-room. There, at a small table well-covered,
Lady Jim ate and drank and chatted, light-heartedly, with a
sharp-eyed, sun-dried mummy. She nodded a "How d'y do?" to her sailor,
and smilingly observed his entanglement. Luckily for the preservation
of Askew's temper, a rival archæologist arrived to discuss Hittite
grammar, and he managed to slip away while the male and female
dryasdusts wrangled over the probable origin of the Perizzites.

"You haven't been near me all the evening," complained Leah, when
Wallace received his congé and Askew sat in the seat of the scornful.

"Didn't see you arrive, worse luck. If you'd been dosed with Hivites
and Jebusites and all that truck, as I've been, you'd have a headache,
too."

"It's unusual for you to have a headache."

"And inevitable for me to have a heartache."

"On account of that alphabet woman, I suppose. Why don't you feed?"

"No appetite. But if you'll come along to the Cecil----"

"Certainly not. We've been there much too often of late. People will
talk."

"Let them! What does it matter?"

"Everything matters, when people have tongues and eyes, and envious
natures. Don't be silly. I promised the Duke to stop here for half an
hour. And after all, it's amusing. I never knew such people existed
outside _Punch_. Well--what now?" This because, with sudden
recollection of an oversight, he brought out an envelope.

"This was waiting at Curzon Street," he explained, handing it across,
"and the butler, thinking it might be important asked me to---- Why,
what's the matter, Leah?"

It was his turn to inquire, for, reading while he talked, she had
suddenly whitened. "Don't call me Leah," she snapped, with the
irritation of a shaken woman, then re-read the cablegram, again and
again.

"What is it?--what is it?"

"My husband is--dead!" She crushed the paper into a ball, rose to go,
and dropped back, overwhelmingly faint. "Oh!" she moaned faintly. For
once in her life of shams and sneering and playing with other-world
fires she was moved to genuine emotion.



CHAPTER XIX


Leah's emotion--as she felt--was almost cruelly genuine. It bore the
trademark of sincerity; it made her heart hammer furiously against her
ribs, and drove the blood from her cheeks. Yet she knew that Jim still
lived; that the lying cablegram was but a necessary card to play for
the winning of large stakes. For once, the expected had happened--that
was all. Why then should she exhibit emotions which could not possibly
have been caused by the excuse offered to the public. Her heart
replied with brutal directness, that she had crossed the Old Bailey
Rubicon, and was actually participating in a crime. The last word
shook her out of cotton-wool wrappings into a naked world. Up to the
receipt of the cablegram she could have drawn back. Now, fully
committed to the adventure, she was compelled to tread a perilous
path. A criminal! Yes: she had been one in intention, which mattered
little; she was now criminal in fact, and that meant punishment. Her
imagination conjured up visions of the possible. The judge spoke, the
prison gaped, the bolts shot home, Curzon Street was exchanged for
Wormwood Scrubbs. Ugh! But after all, such queasy thoughts were
unnecessary. If she had broken the eighth commandment, she fully
intended to keep the eleventh and unwritten one, "Thou shalt not be
found out."

The truth to Mrs. Saracen, excusing a hasty departure, served to
circulate the fiction of Jim's death, which the widow wished to be
speedily and widely known. She could not have selected a bell with a
better clapper. Promulgated by the "sauce queen," the sad invention
shortly became town-talk, and, disseminated by myriad tongues, ran
like a prairie fire throughout Society, with a capital letter. A more
weighty bag on the postman's back resulted, and commiserating
platitudes showered on Leah, as thick as the over-quoted leaves of
Vallombrosa. She glanced through many, replied to a few, and
burned--very wisely--the majority. Between-whiles her attention was
given to parcels from Jay's, and considerations of widows' caps, and
the recognition that the feminine uniform of woe clothed with marked
distinction a really beautiful mourner. To women, grief has its
consolations in crape millinery.

Seclusion was necessary in those days of lamentation, but none the
less wearisome. To play the nun, while people scattered to Cowes
and the Continent, chafed the chameleon woman. Some intimate
sympathisers she received, and to these she matched mournful words
with a mournful countenance. With the blinds half down and sal
volatile at hand, in a becoming gown, and using a handkerchief, three
inches black-bordered, to redden the driest of eyes, Lady Jim held
funereal receptions, and spoke in low tones of her late husband's
hitherto unknown good qualities. His palpable evils she cloaked with
the "his-own-worst-enemy" phrase; and mentioned twice that, if not an
angel, he at least had been a man. The visitor addressed made her exit
expressing hopes that Lord James was an angel now, and the door closed
in time to prevent her seeing Leah's enjoyment of the picture thus
cashed on her amused mind. "Jim, an angel!" murmured the widow, wiping
away real tears. "He'd bet on his flying."

With the Duke she played her comedy of sorrow very prettily. Pentland
and Frith arrived in haste, while the Marchioness hurried on
beforehand, to prepare Leah for the interview. But she was already
word-perfect in her part. Aware that Lord Frith would discredit
ostentatious grief, she assumed the position of a shocked rather than
a broken-hearted widow, though she said nothing but what might have
been inscribed on Jim's tombstone. Not a crocodile tear did she shed
under Frith's too-observant eyes, but sat near the Duke, holding his
gouty lean hand, and skilfully impressed the trio with the belief that
she and the deceased had not been so far asunder as was supposed--the
corollary of such impression being that she honestly regretted Jim's
untimely demise. No more could be expected, even from the most
forgiving woman, and no more was demanded by the ducal family.

After these preliminary condolences Pentland suggested that Leah
should come to Firmingham for the funeral. It was necessary to agree
to this, and she did with graceful readiness; only intimating that she
would remain in town, until the remains arrived at Southampton. Even
as she made the stipulation, she wondered how Demetrius had contrived
to transfer Garth's body from Madeira to Jamaica for the deception.

"I thought poor Jim would have been buried where he died," she
remarked tentatively.

The Duke was shocked. "Certainly not. Jim, poor fellow, must rest with
his ancestors. We must look upon his face for the last time."

Leah plucked nervously at her black gown, and wondered if the Russian
was wise in submitting a substituted corpse to family scrutiny. "They
say that death changes people," she ventured uneasily, "and of course,
embalming----"

"Just what I said to Bunny," interrupted Lady Frith, in too vivacious
a tone for the occasion. "We shall hardly know Jim with the soul out
of him."

"My--dear--Hilda!"

"Well, Bunny, you know souls aren't buried."

"They go to a better world, as Jim's has gone," mourned the doting
father.

Frith looked doubtfully at his sister-in-law. The less said about
Jim's destination, the better: therefore did he crush sentiment with
dry business. "I expect Demetrius will arrive with the remains about
the end of the month," said he, in the hardest of voices; "after the
funeral, we can see about the will."

"It leaves everything to Leah," his father informed him.

"Indeed! And what had Jim to leave behind him besides his character?"

"The insurance money."

"Oh--ah--yes. Jarvey Peel's present. Twenty thousand pounds--eh?"

"And accumulations," supplemented Lady Jim; "but need we talk of such
things, now?" and she sighed the conversation back to sentiment.

"Quite so--quite so," quavered the Duke, shaking his head; "terrible
loss to you, my dear--and your natural grief, and--hum-hum----"
Further fossilised phrases escaped his memory.

"I certainly feel for poor Jim," said Leah, with sedate dignity: "he
had his faults, of course; but then, so have I."

"Your kind remembrance of Jim excuses the few you possess," was
Pentland's reply; while Frith, compressing his thin lips, made no
remark.

Indeed, there was no chance, for Hilda clamoured that Leah should come
to her house for beef-tea and consolation. She had never agreed with
her more sceptical husband about the Curzon Street menage, and
credited Lady Jim with the requisite virtues of a genuine widow.

"Your strength must be kept up, dear," she babbled, as though she
expected Leah to faint then and there. "I know exactly how you feel.
Just as I should, if Bunny became an angel. But we must all die, dear
Leah, and death is the gate of life, and----"

"Can't you leave these proverbial condolences to Lionel?" broke in her
exasperated husband.

"Oh, Bunny"--with a wail--"the sacred dead."

"Let the child talk," commanded Pentland; "she expresses my feelings."

Thus encouraged, the child did talk, and Lady Jim listened with a bent
head to original remarks about Time, the great consoler, and meetings
on a golden shore, to part no more, and keeping the loved memory
green, and bowing to the inevitable, and such-like official
utterances, without which no funeral is complete. When Hilda stopped
for want of breath and memory, Leah kissed her with the affection of
one deeply moved, and observed that she was tired. And indeed she
was--bored to death, in fact. So the Marchioness, pleased with her
plagiarised eloquence, took leave tactfully and tearfully on the
Duke's arm. Frith lingered.

"Why don't you laugh?" he said dryly.

"At Hilda in the pulpit? Why should I. She means well."

"Huh! I allude to your demure listening. I do not wish to speak ill of
the dead, and, after all, Jim was my brother. But are you really and
truly sorry?"

"In a way, if you _will_ press for an answer. One can't live five
years with a man without missing him at the breakfast-table."

"Hum! Though you and I pretend otherwise, to console my father, we
know that Jim was no saint."

"Am I?" she asked, shrugging.

"Politeness forbids my answering that question."

"I don't see what politeness has to do with this interview. Have you
remained to make yourself disagreeable?"

"On my honour, no. You're a clever woman, Leah, and as a scamp's wife
you have conducted yourself admirably."

"As I am now the scamp's widow, had that not better have been left
unsaid?"

Frith shrugged in his turn. "I suppose so, since we have agreed to
call black white. But I waited to say that I'll help you in any way
you wish."

Leah was surprised, and touched. She and Frith had never been good
friends. Apparently, he was not such a bad sort after all. But what
was behind this offer? Her ineradicable suspicion of human nature made
her doubt, though she spared him the question. "It is very good of
you," said she, cordially, "but with the insurance money and this
house, which your father says I can retain, I shall do very well.
There is no need for you to open your purse, or your heart."

The Marquis hunched his shoulders and let them drop. "Hum," he
repeated, biting his forefinger; "you will be marrying again?"

"What has that to do with you?" she flashed out, haughtily.

"Well, you bear our family name," he reminded her, "and Demetrius----"

Lady Jim felt qualmish. "Demetrius?" she echoed faintly. What could
Frith possibly have to say about the prime mover in the plot?

"The man is crazy about you," said he, frowning.

"I can't help lunatics being at large," said Leah, reassured as to his
meaning and at once on the defensive. "Have I encouraged him?"

He hastened to protest. "Oh no. As I said before, your conduct as
Jim's wife has been admirable--truly admirable. But I should not like
to see you marry Demetrius."

"Why should you think me willing to do so?"

"I don't, since the man is a foreigner and poor and untitled."

"He can be a prince and wealthy, if he chooses to be reconciled with
the Russian authorities."

"Even then, Leah, do you really like this man?"

"As a clever doctor and an amusing talker--yes. Well?"

Frith, baffled and perplexed, bit his finger again. "He is devoted to
you; they talk of it at the clubs. No, no," hurriedly, as she turned
crimson with indignation; "there's not a word said against you. But
this absurd infatuation--and you a widow; these foreigners go to
ridiculous lengths, so you see----"

"I certainly do not see," interrupted Leah, with conviction. "Did you
offer assistance so that you might meddle?"

"Oh no, no," protested the Marquis, looking shocked; "but you have
behaved so well as Jim's wife----"

"That is the third time you have said so, and I am by no means stupid.
It seems to me," she looked straight at him, "that you believe M.
Demetrius will ask me to marry him."

"Yes, I do think so."

"Will it ease your mind if I say that I have no intention of accepting
any impertinent proposal he may make?"

"It will and it does," said Frith, bluntly. "I should not like to see
you throw yourself away on that man. Should you marry again----"

"It will be entirely my own affair."

"Of course, of course. All the same----"

"Quite so! Good-day, Lord Frith."

He smiled grimly, seeing that she would not permit him to finish a
single sentence. "Am I to take your use of my title as an intimation
that we are to be strangers?"

"To the extent of supervision, yes."

"But you can't manage things unaided."

"That also is my business. As your interference is concerned with M.
Demetrius, and I have set your mind at rest on that point, there is no
more to be said."

"As you please. Still, this Demetrius----"

"Oh, Demetrius," she echoed, enraged by this parrot repetition. "I
never wish to hear his name or set eyes on his face again."

This was true enough. Now that the Russian had served her turn he
could go hang; she had no further use for him, and he could whistle
for his well-earned wages. When Frith, after further interrupted
expostulations, took his leave, Lady Jim sat down, chin on hand, to
consider this town-talk. The love-sick babbling of Demetrius troubled
her little. No scandal could attach to a Diana who never hunted the
noble quarry, man; and Leah was such a known lover of herself that
even scandal refrained from giving her a rival. Still, the Russian was
pertinacious, and could be vindictive; he had fulfilled her bidding
for a certain price, and that price he would assuredly demand. Make
him her second husband she would not. He belonged to Katinka, who
could keep him and welcome. The remembrance of the daughter suggested
the useful father.

Aksakoff, unfettered by honourable prejudices, certainly could help
her, for the attaining of his own ends, if Demetrius became
troublesome. Could she lure him to Paris, his disappearance from her
life would only be a question of days, perhaps hours. But, for the
moment, she did not see how to export her accomplice to Siberia, via
the gay city, without becoming a more active agent than was wise. One
Russian had her--there was no blinking the fact--under his thumb; and
to remove that pressure, in the only way in which it could be removed,
meant the substitution of a similar thumb. She would merely jump from
the frying-pan into the fire--both equally uncomfortable.

On this account, and lest she should exchange King Log for King Stork,
Leah hesitated to enlist Aksakoff s assistance. Luckily, there was no
need to come to an immediate decision. She had three weeks at least to
consider the matter. The funeral, the procuring of the insurance
money, natural grief, for the tricking of the world, and the
regulation period of mourning--she could oppose these obstacles,
should Demetrius press his suit unduly hard. This being so, she flung
off the burden for the time being, although the necessity of settling
the matter, sooner or later, haunted her thoughts. Such insistence of
the disagreeable broke up her rest, and she would waken at dawn, to
plot escape. Chloral, occasionally, aided her to sleep the difficulty
out of her head: but she detested drugs that demand extortionate
repayment for their kindness, and used narcotic discreetly. A week of
these haggard hauntings aged her. Anxiety became apparent in hollow
eyes and colourless cheeks. One day, with outspoken horror, she
discovered an entirely new wrinkle, and noted later that the
unexpected opening of a door caused her nerves to jump. Kind friends
ascribed such things to commendable sorrow for the dead, and Leah
tacitly accepted their comforting and petting on this obvious plea.
But not to regret a thousand Jims would she have risked her beauty;
as, after her tongue--for Leah put brains before looks--it was her
keenest-edged weapon with which to fight the world, and was supremely
powerful to control fools.

Daily the stream of sympathising friends rolled through the dainty
drawing-room, and bore Lady Jim away from comedy grief to more
pleasant shores, where gossip of he and she and the "tertium quid,"
interspersed with millinery discussions and shrewd female handling of
current society events, made things more tolerable. Lady Richardson
babbled herself in, with a box of chocolate from Sir Billy--a
consolation not unpalatable to Leah, who liked Billy and loved sweets.
"Both being acquired tastes," said Lady Jim, but not to the little
mother.

"So thoughtful of him, isn't it?" chattered Lady Richardson, who was
coloured in subdued tints, with a gown to match, for the visit. "The
dear boy! He said to me that we must prevent you from breaking your
heart."

"And prescribes eating," said Leah, humorously. "I never knew Sir
Billy was so young. Thank him for me, Fanny, and tell him that when I
think of taking a second I'll give him a look in."

"Oh, Billy has thought of that already--such a boy as he is. You're
sure to have a badly spelt proposal from him, dear. But seriously
speaking, will you,--oh, of course you will."

"Why should I?--you have not."

"My heart is buried in the grave of Billy's father," murmured Lady
Richardson, pensively.

"Dig it up again."

"Well, there's Reggy Lake, of course; but he's so poor."

"All the more reason that he should propose. You have a good
jointure."

"Settled entirely on myself," said the little woman, shrewdly; then
added romantically, "I must be loved for myself alone."

"Oh!" Lady Jim shrugged. "If you expect miracles!"

"Really, Leah!" Her visitor became pinker than her rouge.

"I mean that men are selfish, dear. They always have their eye on the
cash-box, you know."

"I hope that won't be your fate, darling," was the spiteful reply, for
Lady Richardson always scratched back.

"Oh, my face is my fortune, Fanny. Jim, poor dear spendthrift, has
left me with only a few thousands, which won't last long."

"I should think not, in your hands, dear. But there is Mr. Askew and
Dr. Demetrius--both admire you."

"Admiration does not necessarily mean marriage. And at present I think
more of my loss than of a second husband."

"So sweet of you, and so proper. But you might take a look at the
market. Mr. Trent, now, the South African. He's a millionaire."

"So I should think, from his manners."

"Lord Canvey!"

"Would give me a grandmother-in-law of the worst."

"Sir Jacob Machpelah!"

"The man who has taken his name from Abraham's cemetery? I suppose he
thought it sounded Scotch. No, thanks. My name is Hebrew, but my
tastes are Gentile."

"Johnny Danesbury!"

"A penny doll with a squeak. I want a man."

"Colonel Harrington!"

"He's a brute, without instinct. I begin to think you keep a
matrimonial agency, Fanny."

"It wouldn't pay, were you my only client," retorted Lady Richardson,
still remembering the miracle dig. "No one seems to satisfy you. I
believe you mean to marry Askew, after all. What of him?"

"He's a nice footman, and doesn't ask wages. Aren't these suggestions
rather premature? My heart, like yours, may be in my husband's grave."

"I didn't know he was buried yet," said the little woman, crossly.
"How impossible you are, darling!"

"Always, when people get on my nerves, dear."

"I believe you want some other woman's husband?"

"Oh dear no! I never covet my neighbour's ass."

Shot and shell were flying rather thickly, and seeing no chance of
planting her flag on Leah's bulwarks, Lady Richardson beat a discreet
retreat, with Judas kisses and Parthian shots. "So glad if I have
cheered you up, dear [kiss]! Bear up and don't break your heart [kiss,
kiss]! So sweet your sorrow, and so genuine [kiss, kiss, kiss]!" And
having given several Rowlands for one Oliver, Lady Richardson
departed.

"Cat!" said Lady Jim to the closed door, and settled to munch Billy's
chocolates over Marcel Prévost's _Lettres d'une Femme_.



CHAPTER XX


The supposed remains of Jim Kaimes duly arrived on British ground in
charge of an extraordinarily anxious medical attendant, and Lord
Frith arranged for their transfer to Firmingham. There, Leah was
already established as Niobe, studiously dismal in the jet-trimmed,
crape-flounced equivalent of sackcloth. With the Marchioness, a few
decayed cousins, and many hired mourners, connected closely or
distantly with the family, she assisted the Duke to lament his
Absalom. Therefore, behind lowered blinds, in the twilight atmosphere
of the great house, did officially grief-stricken relations move
warily on tiptoe, speaking in hushed voices, with downcast eyes, of
the deceased and his post-mortem virtues. The apotheosis of the
prodigal son, who had thus quietly come home, made the place about as
cheerful as a mausoleum.

Limiting the solemnity strictly to the family, Lionel was requested to
inter Jim's body, with the rites in which Jim's soul had never
believed. Then, for the first time, did he behold Leah in her new
character, as hitherto a sympathetic letter had excused a personal
interview. Now, face to face, Kaimes considered the advisability, as
clergyman, relative, and friend, to administer presumably needed
consolation. This last straw broke the widow's overladen back. She had
wept with Pentland, mourned with kith and kin, enduring also, for
three dreary weeks, twaddling platitudes, written and spoken, by
meddlesome well-wishers. These exasperating necessities would have
been unendurable, even had Jim been where he deserved to be; but that
she should suffer them, when Jim was rejoicing as Mr. Berring and
expecting his share of the money she thus laboriously earned, nearly
drove her beyond the bounds of decorum. She could have thrown the
novel she was reading at Lionel's head, and barely escaped doing so,
when he appeared in her sitting-room, almost aggressively sympathetic.
But, reflecting that with the funeral would come a cessation of these
aggravations, and mindful that the money was almost in her purse, she
asked him to be seated and prepared to stomach aphorisms.

"How good of you to come!" she sighed conventionally; then added, to
avert, if possible, protracted boredom, "I'm dull company."

"Naturally, Lady James; but I rejoice to see that you are resigned."

"I'm not tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth, if that is what you
mean. I will, if you think Jim worthy of such excesses."

"Hush, hush! He is dead."

"I see evidences of that on all sides of me," replied Leah, tartly.
"Shouldn't you say that he is not lost but gone before? I believe that
is one of the stock phrases of your profession."

Lionel moved uneasily. It was difficult to whitewash Jim, and he could
not invent non-existing virtues on the spur of the moment. "He was
your husband, remember," was his effort to parry this thrust.

"Oh, Lord, don't I know it? Would I put up with all this, else? Did
you come to tell me that Queen Anne is dead?"

"I came to cheer you."

"Go on, then. Tell me a funny story."

The curate looked and felt shocked. "Lady James----"

"Lionel, if you preach I shall scream," cried Leah, developing
whirlwind passion, and rising a veritable Bellona; "or else
I'll--I'll--oh!" she ripped her handkerchief viciously, while sweeping
tempestuously up and down. "I don't know what I'll do, if you play
Job's comforter."

Her cheeks flamed, her eyes sparkled, and her voice leaped an octave
as she flung the last words at him. Lionel started up, surprised at
this sudden anger, and wondered if grief was bringing on hysteria.

"Won't you sit down?" said obtuse man, giving the worst possible
advice to overstrung woman. "A little sal volatile----"

"I'm sick of sitting down, and lying down, and sal volatile, and
listening to humbug, and wearing black, and being bothered. I've
had more trouble over Jim in his death than I ever allowed him to
give me in his life. You say the same silly things every one else
says--you--you parrot! Can't you be original?"

"Death is such an old-established institution that it is difficult to
be original," said Lionel, resuming his chair with a shrug.

"Then I shall talk myself. Yes; I wish to speak plainly, and to you I
intend to speak plainly, since you are the only man I respect."

"Thank you!"

"I daresay you are priggish," went on Lady Jim, finding it a
marvellous relief to speak loudly and without reserve; "but you are
honest in spite of it, and you don't gossip, though you _are_ a
parson. In trouble I shall always come to you, padre."

"You are in trouble now," hinted Kaimes, smiling at her frankness.

"Eh! What? Yes, of course, Jim's dead." She choked over the lie, and
returned to laugh at ease in her chair. "Where has he gone, Lionel?"

"Don't, Lady James! I admit that he had his faults."

"Be honest. He had nothing else but faults."

"No, no! We all have our good points."

"Give me a list of Jim's," she suggested derisively.

"For the moment, I can't think----"

"No; nor you wouldn't if you thought for a century. Jim is as bad as
they make 'em."

"_Was_--if you will abuse him."

"Oh yes, I forgot. Well, then, Jim _was_ bad; and I don't know if you
call telling the truth abuse."

"Of the most virulent sort, on occasions. Are we not all sinners?"

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Humility."

Lionel, amazed by this self-canonisation, became less Aaron the priest
and more Adam the natural man. "You don't call yourself immaculate,
surely," he observed sarcastically.

"Did I?"

"By inference; and if no sinner, you must be saint."

"Ah! I see. Lamp-black or snow-white; grey does not exist. Parsons see
the horizon, the doorstep, but no middle distance. Woman is Lucrece
or Jezebel, with you. I am neither; but a simple woman, as God made
me."

"And as the devil has marred."

"Foh! In this very room, when we spoke last, I scouted that bogie's
existence."

"If you don't believe in evil existing, you can't in good. No devil,
no God, Lady James."

"I never knew that the Deity depended upon Satan for his being," said
Leah, dryly; "and theology doesn't amuse me--it's cobwebs and
spindrift. Talk sense, if you must talk."

Lionel, hoping to lead her by a side-path to further consideration of
her spiritual needs, consented to diverge for the moment. "I'll talk
money, if you call that sense."

"Of course I do; uncommon sense, as there is so little of it. Money?"
She looked at him questioningly.

"The insurance on your late husband's life."

"Oh! Well?" She wondered what he was about to say.

"The Duke asked me to interview the lawyers."

"Very unnecessary. I know all about the twenty thousand pounds. Jim
left it to me, by will."

"You underestimate by ten thousand."

"What! Thirty thousand pounds?" Then, in answer to a nod, "Oh,
you--you must be--be mistaken." Leah was truthfully agitated. Had the
golden goose laid two eggs instead of one?

"No; your husband's life was insured, when he was a child, for twenty
thousand pounds with profits, at an annual premium. Mr. Jarvey Peel
and his executors paid the money to keep the insurance in force----"

"Yes, yes; and the principal was payable to Jim at sixty, or
to any one he might leave it to at death, I, as the widow, take
all--all--all"; she repeated the word three times, in the purring
voice of a cat over cream.

"Exactly," assented the curate, thinking she betrayed over-plainly
horse-leech parentage; "and the extra ten thousand is the accumulation
of an annual bonus of fifteen pounds on every thousand."

"That's three hundred a year," calculated Lady Jim, feverishly.

"Quite so. Jim was thirty-five when he died. So three hundred a year
for thirty-four years comes to ten thousand."

"Two hundred," supplemented Lady Jim, correcting his arithmetic. "Oh,
Lord! Thirty thousand two hundred pounds, and Jim never knew that he
was worth his weight in this gold."

"He never inquired, since the money would not come to him till he
attained the age of sixty."

"It would have been almost double then," commented the lady,
pensively. "What a pity Jim did not live till---- But no; we should
have both been old then, and there would have been no fun. I am
content with thirty thousand--really I am, Lionel. It doesn't do to be
greedy."

"You are not," said the curate, ironically, "else you would have again
mentioned the odd hundreds."

Leah made a ball out of the torn handkerchief and tossed it gaily in
the air. "That will do for lawyers' costs," said she, airily, "though
I hope the bill won't be so extortionate. Thirty thousand pounds!" She
sprang up, with dithyrambic utterance, scarcely refraining from a
war-dance. "Thirty thousand golden sovereigns! Six thousand lovely,
lovely Bank of England notes! Oh, Vanderbilt! Oh----" The sight of her
relative's disgusted face curbed her ecstasy: "You think that my
exultation over this money is vulgar."

"Heartless, at least, since it is the price of your husband's death.
To you, apparently, Jim is more valuable dead than alive."

"I entirely agree with you," confessed Leah, candidly; then added with
impatient anger, "Do you expect me to tell you lies?"

"You might show some grief."

"Heavens! What else have I been doing for the past three weeks?"

"Assuming a virtue which you have not."

"That remark is too clever to be original, my dear man. How impossible
you are! I wear mourning and cry at the right time, and say things I
don't believe about Jim to his father and the rest of them; while to
you, who blame me for behaving decently outside, I speak as I feel,
only to be condemned. What do you expect?"

"To see you exhibit some real grief," said Lionel, who was really
angered by her callous behaviour. "You show more genuine emotion over
this miserable money than over poor Jim."

"Poor Jim," she mocked scornfully; "are you going to cry up his
virtues?"

"He was not so bad as you make him out to be," retorted Lionel,
doggedly.

"Then he must have revealed a side of his nature to you which he never
showed to me," snapped Leah, sharply. "Foh! what's the use of acting
to empty benches? Go downstairs if you want an audience. We are behind
the scenes here."

"Very allegorical and needless. Can't you be more womanly?"

"If I were, the sal volatile yon recommend would be needed, I can tell
you. Being a parson you will not understand; being a man, you cannot.
Womanly! womanly!--does that imply cant and shams? Am I to mourn with
spurious lamentations that selfish profligate, who would have broken
my heart had he ever possessed it? To be womanly is to excuse a man's
faults, to lie down and be trodden upon, to condone unfaithfulness,
and to be grateful for the shreds and patches of an egotistic life.
Never! never!" Her lips twisted scornfully, her nostrils dilated, and
she clenched her hands to restrain an outburst of that wrath which had
consumed her during five years of holy matrimony. Lionel, astonished
by her sudden transition from gay to grave, forbore interruption, and
she declaimed her marital wrongs in a Boadicean vein. "I have read in
that Bible of yours of the casting of pearls before swine. Jim was a
Gadarene pig, who would have rent me had I loved him, as I admit a
wife should love her husband. My coldness, and what you consider my
selfishness, was my sole safeguard against ruin and sorrow and
outrage. You know that I speak the truth--I defy you to say otherwise.
Jim! oh, Jim," she laughed unpleasantly; "Jim--that rag doll of his
family, who is placed on a pedestal and worshipped, as though he were
the golden idol he never was and never could be! I respect the Duke
much more than I ever respected my husband, for he is genuinely blind
to Jim's faults and mourns honestly. But you--you, who knew the man,
and rebuked the man--oh, it would be amusing were it not so shameful."

Her bosom heaved as she hurled this speech at him, with gibe and jeer
and ironic laughter. "I thank God that the man is out of my life," was
her passionate cry. "Yes--I thank God."

"Did you believe in God you would not say that."

"Bah! Theology again."

"And truth."

"Which is not theology and never will be."

"That depends upon belief. The science which treats of God, and of
man's duty to God, cannot be understood by you, who have neither hope
nor faith."

"At least I have charity, the greatest of the three, which you lack."

"Give me an example."

"I credit you with honesty, while you cry me down as a bad woman."

"Pardon me. I do not say that you are bad. Misguided, rather."

"And why--according to your lights? Because I do not put up Jim as a
pig-idol, to worship with crocodile tears?"

She silenced Kaimes for the moment, as there was much truth in her
overstated contention. No decent woman could have loved or honoured
the dead man; and this outspoken condemnation, provable in the main,
was assuredly more honest than pretended laudation and sham sorrow
would have been. Yet the merciless indictment jarred on Lionel's sense
of propriety, righteous as he knew it to be.

"The man is dead," said he, testily; "leave him to God."

Leah held her peace. It annoyed the ordinarily self-possessed woman,
that for one fierce moment emotion should have overleaped judgment.
Reining in her passions, she relapsed into the sober jog-trot
necessary on the rutted road of conventionality. But Lionel's final
speech provoked a laugh. Would his laudation of the dead, she
wondered, change to criticism of the living, did he learn the truth?
Feminine desire for the last word would have blurted out this final
argument, but that an innate masculine discretion recommended silence.
Therefore did she compromise with the laugh, which Lionel,
misunderstanding, resented with the warmth of a generous nature.

"That is positively cruel," said he, indignantly.

"Very human, I think," said Lady Jim, yawning away the reaction.

Following his own line of thought, the curate did not traverse this
statement. "A woman can make of a man what she pleases."

"Possibly; but I had a beast to deal with."

"Can't you think more kindly of him, now that he is gone?"

"No," said Leah, decisively. "I would not say so to every one, but I
do to you, out of respect for your character."

"I am both flattered and grieved. Be lenient, Lady James. Are you so
good yourself, that you can refuse charity to the dead?"

Leah shrugged her shoulders and crossed her feet. "That's a trifle
personal, isn't it?" she asked good-humouredly; "like the rest of this
futile conversation. Well, for the first time and the last, I shall
pay you the compliment of defending myself. To begin with, my friend,
your definition of good and bad depends upon dogma, so we disagree at
the outset."

"Let us take the primary instincts of being, and----"

"Oh, I fear we have not the time to begin with Genesis. What is left
of poor Jim arrives in charge of M. Demetrius within two hours, and I
must prepare myself for the scene there is bound to be. To be brief in
my defence, I can safely say that I am better than most women. I never
gave Jim the chances he gave me of appearing in the divorce court. I
keep my temper, even when most provoked. I don t say nasty things
about those who run me down, and always help those I like. I avoid the
use of slang and of excessively strong drink. I neither smoke, nor
indulge in morphine. I invariably go to church, with half a crown for
the plate; and--and--I think that includes all my virtues. What more
would you have?"

"Unselfishness," responded Lionel, gravely; "egotism is your sin."

"And the world's. I might inquire with the Apostles, and I do inquire,
with all curiosity, 'Who then can be saved?'"

"Those whose merits do not spring from the ego, as do yours. To you,
Lady James, Satan comes in his favourite guise, as an angel of light,
and only the Ithuriel spear of the Holy Spirit can unmask him.
Virtuous! I grant you are--because you pamper self too much to
sacrifice your position and comforts to a love that is willing to lose
the world for love alone. Good-tempered!--why not, with a healthy body
and an equable nature? That you do not gossip is certainly a point in
your favour, although I suspect that this abstinence is again the ego,
which does not permit you to be sufficiently interested in others to
discuss their affairs. You help those you like--feed them, as it were,
with the over-abundant crumbs from your table; in the words of our
Lord I can say, 'Do not even the publicans so?' But would you help
those you hate, and at a sacrifice?"

"Certainly not. Why should I? They would not be even grateful."

"Quite so. You expect a reward for your good deeds."

"In this world. You look for yours in the next."

"No; though I admit that the temptation is strong. I try to serve God
out of love and gratitude."

"Ridiculous, even if true. Such self-abnegation is beyond me."

"Yes, that is what I call being really and truly good."

"I see--that is, I don't see. You are always so impossible."

"Nothing is impossible with God's help, as without it nothing is
possible. Listen, Lady James"; and with his soul on fire to raise her
from the material to the spiritual, Lionel attempted reasonable
argument. For over half an hour did he preach, expound, warn,
demonstrate, quote, deduce, persuade; but at the end of thirty-five
rapid minutes he found her and himself again at the starting point.

Leah listened critically, and even with interest. Hindered by her
limitations from seeing a satisfactory conclusion, she declined the
tournament, and retired to watch her opponent tilt at giants which she
mistook for windmills. Said the inversely deceived Donna Quixota: "How
well you talk, Lionel! Why don't you leave the Church and go in for
Parliament?"

The curate shook the cold water of this douche out of his ears, and
rose, markedly discouraged. "I cannot make you understand," he said
sadly; "only the Holy Spirit can convince you of your need."

"My need of what?"

"Of salvation."

"That would be adding sugar to honey, and I feel very contented with
my honey. Good health, plenty of money, a tolerable position,
and----"

"And you have yet to reckon with God. All these things come from Him,
and all He can take away."

"I don't agree with you."

"Nor will you, until your pride is broken."

"That it never will be," said Leah, superbly.

"So you think in your insolence of beauty and health. But when you
come to die?"

"Well, then, I shall die, and that's all about it."

"What is the glory of the rainbow to the colour-blind?" Lionel asked
himself, and walked to the door. There he paused to deliver himself of
a final warning: "Though you triumph in your own strength, and be at
ease in the palace of sin, yet will the reckoning come. The Most High
God--IS," and he departed.

"Word! words! words!" That was Lady Jim's summing up of the interview.



CHAPTER XXI


In that chilly hour preceding dawn, under the searching grey eye of
earliest morning, the coffin was opened in the presence of Pentland
and his family. The likeness between the lawful son and the unlawful,
even more apparent in death than in life, startled the woman best
prepared to countenance a gross deception. Leah could almost have
imagined this waxen, awful face to be that of Jim; and an emotion of
genuine fear shook her to the soul she had so deliberately burdened.
Moreover, and not without reason, that haunting thought of an
_assisted_ death became appallingly obtrusive before these medicated
remains. Was Demetrius--was she--guilty of----? Her will fought
desperately against the suggested word, and this mental struggle still
further compelled the revelation of elemental feelings. Streaming
tears, trembling hands, furtive glances, testified to truthful
terrors, breaking through calculated pretence. It needed a scornful
look from Frith the sceptic, and an amazed stare on the part of
Demetrius, to assure her that she beheld a corpse of no importance,
save as a substitute for a living double. And even then this ironic
inspection of the false seemed but a gruesome masquerade of Jim's
lying in state, when his turn really came.

The actuality of her feelings afforded a welcome escape from further
harrowings; and she left the room, clinging to the arm of Demetrius,
careless whither he led her. The picture gallery was his goal, since
its seclusion invited no eavesdroppers, and here he experimented with
personally manufactured salts, pungent and rousing. These, it soon
appeared, were scarcely needed. Lady Jim, released from the necessity
of playing a grim comedy, recovered speedily, and with recuperation
came the disposition to flick away the disagreeable.

"What a fool I am!" said Leah, enraged to discover she was but mortal.

"A woman, a woman," murmured Demetrius, cynically complacent.

"But no heroine. Ugh!" she shivered, and huddled in her chair. "I
shall dream of that thing for the next year. It was so like Jim. Ugh!
ugh! Horrible! horrible!"

"Why should the sight of an empty house so startle you, madame?"

"I am in no mood for metaphors. Go away; you will be needed to shut
that thing up."

"My successor the undertaker will do that. I have done my share."

"I only hope you have not overdone it," muttered the woman.

"And the meaning of that remark, madame?"

Leah wanting to know, yet, fearing to know, evaded an answer and
shirked a question. "Leave me for a time," she entreated.

"No--if you will pardon my rudeness. We have much to talk about."

"Cannot you wait till after the funeral?" she said crossly. "It will
look so strange, your remaining here with me."

"Ah, but no, madame. To those who might speak I am but your doctor,
who has brought you here to recover yourself."

"I am perfectly recovered--perfectly."

"In that case we can talk," he insisted.

She yielded, not being yet her old fighting self after the
soul-shaking. It was dangerous to enter upon a contest with flawed
armour, so she temporised. It would be best, she decided, to hear his
story, without committing herself to comments. Later, when her nerves
were steady, she could answer more cautiously the question he was
about to ask at an inopportune moment. Her wary nature declined a
consideration of marriage arrangements, to the extent of fixing a date
for a ceremony in which she did not intend to take part. Still, he
could plead, and she could, and would, procrastinate; therefore would
the victory be with her when this unprepared interview ended.

"Talk on," she said languidly; then added, with a spite created by
shattered nerves, "though I think it very disagreeable of you, to make
me look on that horrid dead thing."

Demetrius was tolerant of feminine irrelevance. "Madame, to avert
possible suspicion, it was necessary."

"Undoubtedly it was necessary," admitted self-contradicting woman.
"But--what a risk!"

"Ah, pardon; in the dark, all cats are grey."

"I know nothing about cats, but the faces of the dead certainly vary,
M. Demetrius. And dangers cannot be explained away by proverbs."

"In this case the danger has explained itself. We are now safe."

The plural struck disagreeably on Leah's ear, and reminded her
somewhat pointedly of the readjusted relations between herself and the
doctor. "_We_ are now safe," she echoed, with reproving emphasis.

"Assuredly," responded Demetrius, wilfully blind. "Monseigneur has
been completely deceived; also M. le Marquis and Madame his wife;
while your tears, my dear friend, have washed away any possible doubts
which, for my part, I do not believe existed."

Again she was faced by positive circumstances, for the Russian's last
words hinted a sarcasm which annoyed her. It might be that, with still
quivering nerves, she looked too anxiously for causes of offence, but
the familiar ease of his manner was unpalatable. A second implied
rebuke would avail as little as had the first, and Leah, mindful of
her dignity, abstained from indicating in words the Rubicon he was not
to cross. Demetrius knew overmuch for her to speak authoritatively, so
it was necessary to permit him the odious intimacy of an accomplice.
But he should pay hereafter for his usurpation of such a position:
that she vowed inwardly, even while smiling on his success. Smiling
was possible now, as the prospect of an inevitable verbal duel braced
her to abnormal self-control.

"Sit down," she commanded abruptly. "I have yet to learn details of
your scheme."

"_Our_ scheme," he reminded her.

"You flatter me, M. Demetrius, since I cannot take credit for your
clever inventions."

"We are all in the same boat, madame."

"You, I, and----?" she glanced at him inquiringly.

"Your husband."

"Can you not grasp the fact that I am a widow? When I have a husband,"
she smiled meaningly, "do you think he will sanction Mr. Berring
rowing in the boat you mention?"

Suspicious people are the easiest to gull, and the smile, rather than
the words, changed the gloomy doubter into a confiding child. Her
enforced diplomacy was gaining her ground already. "My angel! you
mean----"

Leah cleverly shortened a possible rhapsody. "Of course I do. Ah!"
with a sentimental sigh; "what have I done to be so doubted?"

"Never by me, I swear. Believe me, soul of my soul----"

"Hush!" she raised an admonitory finger to check dithyrambic wooings
at an untoward moment. "We are yet in the wood."

"Out of it, while here--yes, here, where you so sweetly promised we
should become one"; his voice sank tenderly.

"After certain preliminaries had been observed, M. Demetrius."

"Say, Constantine."

"As you will, Constantine. I can deny you few things, after what you
have done."

"Yet what you deny is what I desire."

Lady Jim displayed impatience at this headlong haste. "We are not in
Verona, nor will your age permit you to play Romeo to a Juliet of my
temperament. When my husband's body is buried"--she laughed
consciously--"and my months of mourning are ended, then--well,
then--ah, be patient, Constantine."

"Am I not to touch your finger-tips meanwhile?"

"If it is any satisfaction"; and she gave him her hand to mumble,
ruminating meanwhile on this shrinking of giant to dwarf. The
unendurable lasted half a minute; then, "Be sensible, M. Demetrius."

"Ah!" the child sighed for his lost rattle; "you descend from poetry
to prose."

She nodded. "Would you versify explanations?"

"Explanations?"

"Necessary ones. How did you transfer Garth's body to Jamaica?"

The doctor looked piteous. "To think of wasting this golden hour," he
murmured.

"Oh!" The ejaculation was careless, but the instinct was to box a
dullard's ears. "Business before pleasure, M. Demetrius."

"At least, Constantine."

"M. Demetrius," she repeated inflexibly. "We are to marry, well and
good; but beforehand, I must understand my position as a Russian
princess."

The pessimism of the Slav asserted itself in renewed doubts. "I am a
simple doctor, madame."

"Very simple, if you imagine--but that can be discussed later. Come,"
cajolingly to a hesitating and sullen being, "an account of your
adventures must prove amusing. Cheer me up for the funeral."

This extraordinary conclusion staggered a man not easily moved to
amazement. "Mon Dieu!" Then in English: "You were weeping some minutes
ago, madame."

"And I may be weeping some minutes later," she retorted, suppressing
rising irritation. "I ask explanations rather than give them. Tell me
how you managed."

Shrugging away a question relative to female weathercocks, Demetrius
reluctantly obeyed. He desired love-talk, and she hard facts; but
naturally her subject forced his subject out of sight. Man being
romantic, and woman practical, the latter invariably clips the
former's wings, lest he should soar beyond the necessities of her
hour. Moreover, his pinions rendered useless, Demetrius could not
dispute common-sense views. Thus, dexterously managed, did he yield to
a puppet, Fate, the strings of which were pulled by obstinacy and
selfishness, blended into what Leah called firmness. She was an adept
at ticketing her vices virtues.

"That poor Garth"--the doctor mentioned his late patient thus
endearingly throughout the narrative--"died of consumption."

"Of consumption?" Leah put the question she had been shirking for so
long with nervous emphasis, and with short, indrawn breaths.

"Assuredly, and earlier than I expected. There was no need to----"

"I know--I know! Do not put it into words," she fiddled with her
handkerchief, looking up, down, everywhere except at her companion.
"Did he suffer much?" was her inquiring whisper.

"Not at all; he died in his sleep. Pray do not alarm yourself, madame;
the release was a happy and an easy one."

"I am so glad--so relieved," murmured Lady Jim, seeing the spectre
which had long haunted her pillow dissolve into thin air. "You see, I
thought--that is, I fancied----" she hesitated, and passed her tongue
over dry lips.

"The need did not arise," explained the doctor, answering somewhat
contemptuously her unspoken fears; "although I was prepared to---- No,
do not shudder; there is no blood on my hands, nor on yours. We can
marry in peace."

The doubly false prophecy of the last sentence provoked her into
ignoring the entire speech. "Go on--please go on. Garth died a natural
death at Funchal. Well?"

"I did not say that, madame."

"Absurd! Why, your explanation----"

"Is yet to come, if you will accord me a hearing"; whereupon,
accepting an impatient permission, Demetrius slipped into the
undramatic--literally so, for he avoided oratorical snares, the high
colouring of superlatives, and the temptation to dilate on obviously
sensational moments. He might have been reciting the alphabet, so dry
was his deliver of an advisedly barren tale.

One Richard Strange, mariner--so commenced the sober _Odyssey_--owned
and captained a sea-gipsy, prowling on ocean highways and in harbour
byways for the picking up of chance cargoes. As an instinctive
buccaneer, ostensibly law-abiding, he lent himself and his
tramp-steamer to whatever nefarious proposals promised the acquisition
of money at slight risks. Thus fitted for the Russian's requirements,
secret instructions brought him to anchor in Funchal Bay. With him
sailed, for possible restoration to health, a consumptive nephew,
Herne by name, also a factor in an admirably conceived scheme.

"The dead was necessary for the living, and the dead for the dead,"
said Demetrius, paradoxically.

"What do you mean by that?" questioned Lady Jim, very naturally.

"The body of that poor Garth had to be buried in Madeira, madame; yet,
being wanted here, to pass as the corpse of your husband, it was
necessary to arrange for a substitute."

"I understand. Herne was to pass as Garth, and Garth as Jim."

Demetrius assented and proceeded. With his two patients the doctor
lodged at a second-rate hotel, not a stone's-throw from the shore. In
due time Herne died, and Demetrius, at once transferring the body to
Garth's bedroom, induced the surviving consumptive to board the
_Stormy Petrel_--so the sea-gipsy was named--for the purpose of
informing its skipper of his relative's death. Strange, previously
advised, detained the young man, and Demetrius proceeded to bury Herne
under the prisoner's name.

"An easier task than you would think, madame," he explained; "for the
Portuguese landlord confused the names of my patients, owing to his
ignorance of their language."

"But scarcely of their appearance, I should think," observed Lady Jim,
shrewdly.

Demetrius shrugged away the objection. "I cannot say that the landlord
had studied Lavater. To his uninformed eye, two fair young Englishmen
were much alike; and consumption, madame, begets a family likeness in
those it afflicts. I assure you that this Portuguese was as satisfied
that my poor Garth had died, as is Monseigneur convinced that his son
lies in the coffin we inspected."

Leah shuddered for the twentieth time at the mental picture evoked.
"Ugh! What then?"

The doctor informed her placidly. As Garth, under a tombstone suitably
inscribed, the skipper's nephew was buried--the very fact that he had
existed thus being blotted out by a chiselled lie. Then did the
sea-tramp loaf--the word is appropriate--over-seas to Jamaica at a
slow ten knots an hour; with bad luck it would seem to one passenger,
at least.

"He died on board," exclaimed the listener.

"That poor Garth--ah yes; as a child did he fall asleep, to
waken----" Demetrius spread his hands, at a loss to supply further
information. His ideas of a future state were vague.

With an admirably embalmed body on board, the disreputable craft of
Captain Strange slipped her anchors in Kingston Harbour; but no
half-masted ensign intimated her lugubrious cargo. Lord James Kaimes,
forewarned by a cypher letter, rowed out to inspect an eidolon of
himself, as he would one day appear. His nerves being shaken by
enforced invalidism, he did not appreciate the sight. Also, the
medicines of Demetrius, given to induce counterfeit consumption and
lean, sallow looks, made him fear lest this rascally comedy should
deepen into a real tragedy for himself. Those in Kingston with whom he
had made acquaintance were not surprised when Demetrius took him
eastward to the famous Blue Mountains, in the hope that the healing
air would mend his lungs; nor did any one manifest astonishment when,
after a discreet period, news came of his death. Perhaps, if these
sympathisers had seen one James Berring sneak on board the _Stormy
Petrel_, and had beheld that ship rolling south to Buenos Ayres, they
would have expended less pity on his untimely decease. As it was,
while Jim foregathered with the skipper--a man after his own
buccaneering heart--former acquaintances, Government officials, and
local doctors were complimenting Demetrius on the clever way in which
he had embalmed the late James Kaimes' body, with such few scientific
appliances as could be at hand in the Blue Mountains.

"They had no suspicion--these people?" questioned Leah, abruptly.

"I assure you, no, madame. My mummy, you saw it, yourself."

Leah rose, lest her mind's eye should conceive too vivid a picture. "I
shall always see it," she murmured, with loathing. "Ugh! What a fool I
am--what a fool!"

"A woman, a woman. And so, madame, we recommence our conversation."

"It has already lasted too long," she rejoined. "Lord Frith----" Here
she stopped, too discreet to repeat club gossip, which might
strengthen still more the already strong position of Demetrius.

"You were about to observe, madame?"

"Nothing! It is of no moment. You are sure all is safe--sure?"

"As sure as I am that we, you and I, shall be happy."

"Sentiment and business mix about as well as snow and fire," snapped
Leah, yet ridden by a nightmare memory of that dead face; "but this
sailor whose nephew you borrowed?"

"Captain Strange? He will say what I will."

"At a price, no doubt."

"Of the smallest, madame. One thousand pounds."

"Ridiculous! Extortionate!"

"One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs," said Demetrius,
in dry tones; "it would be well not to vex my friend Strange."

"Who wants to vex him? He shall have his money. Anything else?"

"This letter from your late husband"; and Demetrius handed over an
envelope directed in Jim's sprawling hand, and sealed with Jim's
ancestral coat of arms.

"Fool!" was Leah's comment on this carelessness. "Doesn't he know he
is dead, and is about to be buried?" She thrust the letter hastily
into her pocket and was about to hurry away, when she caught a glimpse
of the Russian's darkening face. She paused wisely, to dismiss him
with a compliment. "You have managed splendidly, M. Demetrius."

"Do I not deserve to be called Constantine, now?"

"Yes--no--that is--oh, don't bother"; Lady Jim snatched away the hand
he had captured. "You foreigners never learn sense."

"Are you teaching it to me now?" he asked in a metallic voice.

"I am--if you are clever enough to learn the lesson. See as little of
me as possible, and don't speak to me at all. When Jim--that is, when
Garth--is buried, we shall see."

"But, madame----"

"Quite so. Consider your objections answered."

"They will be answered," said Demetrius, very distinctly, "before the
altar of any church you may select."

A remembrance of his capacity for being dangerous, and an anxious
survey of his narrowing eyes, made her deceptive. She diplomatically
employed feminine strategy, against which no man living can
man[oe]uvre. "You doubt me, Constantine," whispered the she-Judas,
with trembling tenderness; "will not this----?" She bent forward to
drop a butterfly kiss on his forehead, and left him dazed, in the
seventh and most exalted Paradise of Fools.

"Faugh!" said Lady Jim, when shut up in her own room. There she read
the communication from her legally deceased husband. It narrated a
story similar to that detailed by Demetrius, but scarcely so
concisely. Mr. Berring showed a disposition to ramble, and his
excursions ended on every occasion in a command to send half the
insurance money at once--the last two words being aggressively
underlined. He was in the best of health, on his way to Buenos Ayres;
thence would travel to Rosario--"where that woman lives," commented
Leah, tearing off the address and carefully burning Jim's maunderings.
"Half the money--eh? Fifteen thousand pounds! I think not, Mr.
Berring. That captain, too, with his absurd charge, and after all my
trouble! I wonder Demetrius does not claim his share, also."

It would have been cheaper had he done so, since she possessed the
money and he intended to possess her. But he would refuse a cheque and
claim her hand, as she reflected with impotent rage. What a pity she
could not pay him off, and, along with Jim and Strange, dismiss him
into Limbo! She did not exactly know what Limbo was, or where it was,
save that once there these people could not bother her. But with all
the will in the world she could not get out of the apparent cul-de-sac
she had walked into.

"Demetrius wants _me_, and these other beasts my money," she raged
inwardly. "What a mean advantage they all take! Pigs! As though I
worked for nothing. What is to be done? What--what?"

This question was difficult to answer. Jim she could bamboozle with a
small sum, since he could not well betray her without laying himself
open to a charge of conspiracy. But the Russian and the skipper, both
adventurers of the most reckless type, would assuredly demand their
wages. "I shall have to pay that captain," she decided regretfully;
"but Demetrius--insolent little creature!--he shall go to Siberia,
even if I have to kiss him again. Faugh!"

Then she descended to tell the Duke how the sight of poor dear Jim's
face had broken her up entirely. Yet people said that Leah Kaimes had
no sense of humour.



CHAPTER XXII


A sociable undertaker, lacking the indispensable humour of his
brethren, bitterly complained that he rarely inquired after a friend's
health without being suspected of business motives. Ex-lieutenant
Harry Askew found himself in a similar predicament, since his desire
to marry a widow precluded him from offering sympathy. That he should
personally, or by letter, deplore the necessity of crape caps, would
suggest waning affection; while a congratulatory address laid him open
to the charge--which this especial widow would certainly make--of
unseemly dancing on a newly-made grave. With laboured wisdom Askew
dropped between the horns of this dilemma. Paying no visit, writing no
letter, he compromised by leaving a card. In this dexterous avoidance
of impalement Lady Jim read the untold story of his perplexity, and
smiled at the diplomatic evasion.

There being an exception to every rule, the absence which should have
made the Askew heart grow fonder produced an opposite effect. Debarred
from the temple of his goddess, he began to ask himself why he
worshipped, and thereby dug the grave of illicit passion. That such
was now permissible, and even praiseworthy, considering its
consolatory results, only made him a more ardent sexton. The votaries
of Eros can begarland themselves with roses, but Hymen's celebrants
wear chains of approved legal pattern. Was the cultus of the
matrimonial god worth such encumbrances? Thus Askew inquired of his
own pampered self, and, not knowing exactly what his selfishness
desired, obtained but a doubtful response. What else could he expect?
Two-faced Janus is the true god of oracles.

Lady Jim was witty, beautiful, chaste and brilliant--admirable
qualities in a woman, but in a wife, unless informed with love, rather
unattractive. Askew doubted if a composite mate of this glittering,
unwarmed sort would satisfy his somewhat exacting requirements.
Accepting too readily the world's definition, what he and it called
love was actually selfishness, masquerading. He fancied, and with much
reason, that Leah, openly devoted to herself, would not show devotion
to him: that is, she being selfish, and he ditto, genuine happiness
would not and could not spring from this union of like and like.
Moreover, he ignorantly loved--in the world's sense--through his eyes,
and with his lower nature; so it was probable that the legal
possession of irresponsive beauty would pall. To limit a butterfly to
one rose would bore the butterfly, and if the rose were sentient, she
also might feel weary. In this way, and from surface feelings, argued
Askew; but natural limitations prevented comprehension of the true
reason which disinclined him to prosecute his now legal and therefore
uninteresting wooing.

He was a better man than he knew, and this he would have known, had he
paid heed to the intimations of his higher self, when it occasionally
overcame the lower. When the god within overtopped the brute, he had
beheld not so clearly the body as the soul of Lola Fajardo, and had,
for one swift moment, recognised that conjunction with the spirit
would best promote his happiness. A genuine marriage must be
spiritual, and it is the souls, whom God hath joined, which man is
forbidden to put asunder. Askew's introspective self knew that his
allotted wife on this physical plane was Lola, and that to her alone
should love be given. But the lust of the eye demanded Leah Kaimes'
beauty, and feigned a spurious passion to gain possession. Absence
from Lady Jim made him aware that he did not actually love her, and a
feeble struggle of the soul bound in chains of selfishness revealed
that he would do well to seek Lola once more. Hence came the war
between light and darkness, wherein the light so far triumphed that
the young man sought Curzon Street with more self-control than was
desirable in an admitted lover--one, be it known, of the worldly,
material type only. And may all such, for the well-being of the race,
be anathema maranatha!

"I took you to be more original," said Leah, when he entered.

"Original?"

"To the extent of defying conventionality by calling before the
funeral."

"Your grief----"

"Needed consolation. You declined to console."

"I come now."

"At the eleventh and less necessary hour. Besides----" She looked
meaningly towards the window-seat, where a flushed and smiling Katinka
adored with timid conversation and eloquent eyes a rather sour
Demetrius. "Will you have a cup of tea?"

"Thank you," and they moved towards the bamboo table, whence she had
risen to whisper her greeting at the door.

Advisedly it would seem, since she cast a rapid and satisfied glance
at the doctor's lowering face. The set mouth, the narrowing eyes, hard
as jade, betokened jealous rebuke of Leah's condescending to meet the
newcomer as royalty should be met. Reading this index of a mind ill
at ease, Lady Jim resumed her seat, tacitly pleased. She had an end to
gain, and this over-attention to Askew meant the beginning of plots.

It was over a month since the supposed Jim Kaimes had been packed away
in the family vault, and his widow enjoyed the fruits of her labours.
Dr. Demetrius, looking upon the thirty thousand pounds as purchase
money, wished to possess the woman he had thus bought, and objected to
other customers eying his bargain. Hence his jealousy discerned a
rival in Askew, and Lady Jim--aware of this clear-sightedness--was
content that he should so discern. She could neither cajole nor reason
Demetrius into trusting himself in Paris: but the desired result might
be brought about by utilising green-eyed jealousy. The unexpected
meeting of the rivals afforded her an eagerly seized chance of putting
fire to powder. The possible explosion, she hoped, would blow
Demetrius into Siberian wilds. Thus, playing with amorous fire, she
hastened to heap on lavish fuel.

"I am seeing a few friends now," said Lady Jim, ministering to her
visitors' five-o'clock wants. "Mademoiselle Aksakoff and Dr.
Demetrius--you know both, I believe. Lady Richardson may look in
later; also----" Here she checked her tongue. Aksakoff was due in half
an hour; but it would not do to advise Demetrius of that. The chances
were that Katinka, aware of the intended visit, would carry off the
doctor early. Lady Jim devoutly wished that she would. Her
drawing-room was no stage for melodrama.

"Also?" queried the newly arrived.

"Also her son, Sir Billy. Have you met him? Of course! Monte Carlo! I
remember. Isn't he charming--a D'Orsay of the cradle, Brummel in
embryo? I have a mind to marry him, as a pocket-husband."

"Am I to wish you joy?"

Leah looked at him suddenly and understood. This man had risen from
his knees, and the chances were--going by experience--that he would
stroll away. She did not intend to permit that, since he was necessary
to her schemes. Until Demetrius was safely bestowed in Siberia he
would have to be flattered and coerced and ensnared into remaining.
Then he could go and welcome. With freedom and money she wanted no
encumbrances. And it vexes a woman to have a man more earnest than
herself hanging round her skirts. However, this was not the time for
plain speaking, and she answered in this Thalian vein.

"Of course you must wish me joy--in a whisper."

The smiles of Leah, the attitude of Askew, the sibilant indistinct
voices of both, goaded Demetrius. He all but interrupted the tea-table
conference. But since Lady Jim wished to be a princess--she had
conveyed that idea clearly--and as Katinka's aid was necessary to the
recovering of his birthright, he dared not to offend the girl. Jealous
himself, Demetrius knew how easy it would be to arouse the doubts of
another--especially of a woman. He therefore remained seated and
waited developments, while Katinka chatted earnestly.

"I really wish you would be reconciled with my father," said she.

"M. Aksakoff is less willing for such a consummation than I,
mademoiselle."

She disagreed, hurriedly. "You are wrong. My father is willing, but
your enemies are not."

"And my enemies are his enemies?" he inquired dryly.

"Assuredly. But one enemy--Paul Petrovitch--is my friend."

"Your cousin."

Katinka nodded and proceeded with explanations. "He has, as you know,
much influence with the Czar."

That would be used on your behalf, if----" She paused, coloured, and
cast down her eyes.

"If what?"

"If I agreed to marry him."

Thin ice indeed, but Demetrius skated extremely well. "Mademoiselle,"
said he, gravely, "I cut myself off from my princely family, and
surrendered wealth that I might work in the cause of humanity. To
assist a brother worker did I risk exile, with the result you behold.
Why, then, should I demand a sacrifice on your part, to restore that
which I personally do not regret?"

"Believe me, my friend, it would mean no sacrifice. You hinted when
last we met that you were prepared to consider the proposition of
resuming your rank."

"I did--contingent on certain events happening," replied Demetrius,
thinking that if Lady Jim insisted upon being a princess of the
drawing-rooms, he would be forced to yield; "but we can talk of this
in a--well, in a few months. There is no hurry!" recalling the
necessary period of mourning. "No, there is no hurry!" He paused, then
questioned suddenly, "You love Paul Petrovitch?"

"No, no! Ah, no!"

"It would, then, certainly be a sacrifice for you to marry him."

"I would never do that."

"How, then, could you persuade him to use his influence?"

"It is a case of diamond cut diamond," explained Katinka, with the
indifference of a woman to all other honour, save that of the man she
loves. "Paul Petrovitch wishes to marry me. If I agree, he will induce
the Czar to reinstate you in your possessions. When you have made your
peace at St. Petersburg, I could refuse to---- Oh!" she broke off with
a confused laugh, "do not look shocked, M. Demetrius. I but trick him,
as he is prepared to trick me."

"I am far from being shocked," denied the liberal-minded doctor; "to
prevent being bitten, we must bite. But the possible sacrifice----"

"Lies in lending myself to such a trick. I make it for you--for you;
yes, do you not understand?"

Only that stupid animal, a sheep, could have refused comprehension.

"I am not worthy," shuffled Demetrius, hurriedly.

"_I_ think you are," she breathed tenderly. "Will you not permit me to
prove my belief?"

"I shall be honoured, if--in a few months--the time is scarcely ripe
for me to move; and you will understand. In short, when things are
different--your noble offer--we can discuss it later. Believe me"--he
thrilled her with a light touch--"I comprehend the nobility of your
nature. Ah, my friend, do not press me to take advantage of so
glorious a sacrifice."

So stammered Demetrius, his confusion being worse confounded, and
wrapping up refusal in evasive words, meaningless if sugared. Katinka
sighed. Always she pressed her mediatory offer, and always she
declined acceptance. Angry that the proffered gift should be flung
back in her face, she suddenly felt a sense of outrage at his
persistent quibbling. This man must see that she loved him; yet he
trifled with her too obvious passion. There was Lady Jim, of course,
in spite of Lady Jim's readjustment of the situation at Monte Carlo.
Yet, could he, could any man, love this chilly, self-centered
Englishwoman? No! As she knew, Demetrius demanded love for love,
and he certainly would not give all to Lady Jim without receiving
back in kind. Therefore he did not love the woman; therefore he was
heart-whole; and being so, why should he not yield to one who was
ready to suffer all for his sake? She could not understand; but
this she knew--that her self-respect rebelled.

And at the moment, that feeling, swallowing up all others, impelled
her to walk away, without even a backward glance. But she remained
where she was, since her adoration for this unresponsive god
amounted to monomania. She hated to cringe, to cast down her womanly
dignity; but she was forced to do so. Passion proved stronger than
self-respect, than natural shame, than maiden pride. Enthralled by
Venus, as had been Helen of Troy, she was forced to grovel at the feet
of this--as she suspected--ignoble Paris. Would he never smile? Would
he never unbend? She could not say; she did not know. All she felt was
pure unhappiness, and she could have cursed the power which trammelled
her in these nets of undesired love. The gods were sporting, and
Olympus shook with laughter at her mortal sorrow.

"Come--when you need me," said she, and rose.

Demetrius was self-seeking, yet possessed human feelings, and of these
shame was uppermost. The vein of divinity which streaked his clay made
him acknowledge that he was using hardly this flouted worshipper.
Outwardly at least, and with an impetuosity alien to his calculating
character, he wished to make amends.

"Let me come also."

"There is no need," she replied coldly, and crossed to the tea-table.
"You will excuse my departure, Lady James. I have an engagement, Mr.
Askew!" She bowed, and then went silently out of the room.

"Do you follow, doctor?" asked Lady Jim, stepping with him to the
scarcely closed door.

He did not reply directly, but glanced across her shoulder towards the
yawning lieutenant. "Remember," he breathed significantly, and in his
turn departed.

Leah wondered that the feelings which had evoked the word should not
have kept him watchful of her pretty play, and confessed herself
puzzled by his abrupt following of Katinka's trail. But having, as she
knew, aroused his jealousy, there was no need to consider meanings
which would not affect her schemes. Aksakoff was due, and before he
appeared it was necessary to teach Askew the rôle of cat's-paw. He was
to decoy Demetrius to Paris, but of course, she did not mean him to be
aware of his ignoble duties. She returned to rebuke him for yawning
and to propose a remedy.

"What you need is change of scene, if not of society. Now there is
Paris, which you probably know well."

"I do not know it at all," he confessed.

"What a neglected education! I must teach you Paris. Will you be ready
for your first lesson early next week?"

"I do not quite understand."

Lady Jim nodded laughingly. "Which proves that 'our future' is now
split into 'your future' and 'my future.'"

"I am more in the dark than ever," said the amazed listener.

Lady Jim curled her lip contemptuously. "You men need so much
explanation," said she; then, meaningly, "I can still retain you as a
friend, I hope."

"What do you--that is--on what grounds----? You do not comprehend!" He
stuttered, grew red, and writhed over the fire on which she was
grilling him, with much enjoyment to herself.

"Ah, but I do comprehend--very clearly, too. When did the change
come?"

"The--change?"

"Of heart, if you wish me to enter into details."

"There is no change in me," he denied, still red and flurried.

"And no truth either, when you make such a statement!" With a light
laugh she recalled his fierce wooing: "you would not attempt to break
my wrists now."

"I am very, very sorry, that I was rough with yon."

"Quite so, and cannot you see that such sorrow explains everything?"

"Not to me," said Askew, desperately fervent.

Leah clapped her hands gaily. "How very badly you do it! Do not go on
the stage, I beg of you. Well!" she kissed her hand to him, "adieu! I
hope she will be happy."

"Who will be happy?"

"The other woman."

"There is no----" He caught her derisive eyes, and broke down with an
uneasy laugh. "I suppose we have made a mistake."

"_You_ have," she replied, promptly emphasising the pronoun.

"Ah!" His pride was wounded by the implied indifference. "Then you
knew it would come to this?"

"Of course, because I did not choose that it should end otherwise. If
I had chosen, you would still have been----" She glanced smilingly at
her slim feet, then handled the teapot with ostentatious liveliness.
"You can have some cold tea, if you like."

As Askew had intended to drop her, the idea that she was dropping
him--and very readily, too--was wounding to his vanity. "You never
loved me," he declared.

"Did I ever say that I did?"

"Well, no; all the same----"

She clasped her hands over her knee, and smiled indulgently at his
mortified face. "All the same, you are unwise to explain, so we will
change the subject, Mr. Askew."

"Ah! Not even Harry?"

"Not even Leah," she mocked. "Still, you can call me Lady Jim."

"Till you change the name."

"Certainly not for that of Askew. Señorita Fajardo may think
differently, when you propose."

"How do you know I shall?" he asked sulkily, for every word she
uttered fretted his uneasy vanity.

"Because you are a shuttle-cock between two battledores. She sent you
flying to me; I shall speed you back to her."

The young man was almost too mortified to speak. "What a light, vain
fool you make me out to be!"

"No. You are merely a man in the hands of two women--clay in the hands
of accomplished potters. Now," she laid a caressing hand on his arm,
"promise me to go back to Rosario at once."

"No!" snapped Askew, wincing at the touch, and so gave her the very
answer she required.

Her motive in pelting him with hard sentences had been to arouse his
vanity to assert itself in aggressive contradiction; and for three
reasons. Firstly, she did not wish him to make an inconvenient third
in Mr. Berring's wooing of the Spanish lady, lest he should learn much
that it was undesirable for him to know. Secondly, she required him as
her Parisian decoy-duck. And thirdly, it was out of the question that
he should dare to end the flirtation without her leave. A reflection
of these things led her to play skilfully on manly conceit, with the
aforesaid result. She was satisfied when he replied in the negative.
Askew also, since thereby, in his own estimation, he had vindicated
virility, and lacked the insight to see himself her puppet. Having
gained her end, Lady Jim apparently yielded to the lord-of-creation
fiat.

"Well, then, come to Paris with me and Joan Tallentire. We go on
Monday to the Hotel Henri Trois, Champs Élysées. You can come on
Wednesday."

"But I don't think----"

"I am quite sure you don't. Perhaps Thursday will suit you better."

"If you insist."

"I do not, unless on common sense, of which you possess so little."

"How you bully me!" he cried, much vexed by this badgering.

"Of course; we always bully those we love--as friends, that is. Ah,
here is M. Aksakoff. What a surprise!" She rose gracefully and sailed
forward with outstretched hand, "So kind of you to come! You know Mr.
Askew, I think."

The diplomatist bowed, and seated himself near the table, whereat
Askew, devoured by a desire for further confidences, fumed, with
depressed eyebrows and twisted mouth. Lady Jim rang for fresh tea,
listening meanwhile to Aksakoff discussing the safe subject of the
weather. Occasionally she glanced with amusement at her victim, who by
this time did not know his own mind, and certainly was incapable of
analysing his very complicated feelings. She bewildered him; he was
not master of himself in her presence, and alternately quailed and
rebelled under her spells. Flight from Circe was his wisest plan.

"Must you?" inquired Lady Jim, winningly, at the first movement.

"Must what, please," he asked sulkily, settling down again.

"Must you go? I see you must. So sorry. Good-bye."

"I do not want to----"

"To be bored. Naturally; a widow is but dull company. Please do not
leave us in the dark. The button is on the right-hand side of the
door. No; that is wrong!" She rose and switched on the light herself.
"That is better! Don't you think it is? So good of you to come and
cheer me!" Then, dropping her voice, "Paris?"

"I shall cross on Wednesday," he murmured; "then we can resume our
conversation."

"What pleasure you promise me!" she retorted; and, closing the door,
came back to the waiting diplomatist, yawning daintily. "Excuse me, M.
Aksakoff: I have just ended a bad quarter of an hour."

"That young man, madame?"

"The same. He wants to marry me. Shocking, isn't it, seeing that I
scarcely know how to pose as a widow?"

"But natural on his part, surely."

"How nicely you pay compliments! By the way," sliding away from the
subject, "your daughter was here. She has gone off somewhere with your
friend, M. Demetrius."

Aksakoff frowned. "It is kind of you to enlarge my circle of
acquaintance, madame. I presume you desire to speak of this
gentleman?"

Leah raised her eyebrows. "No; why should I?"

"Our conversation at Monte Carlo----"

"Did we converse? So we did! Something about a sunset, wasn't it?"

The diplomatist became unworthy of the name, through sheer irritation.
"Can we not drop our masks, madame?"

"I never knew that we wore such things," said Lady Jim, lightly. "I am
sure I do not. Why should I?"

"But you sent for me."

Leah placed her elbows on the table, and the tips of her fingers
together. "I did, to ask you for some letters to nice people in
Paris."

"Ah!" His face lighted up. "You go to Paris?"

"My good friend, have I not said so? And the letters?"

"I shall be delighted"; Aksakoff was now beginning to understand the
necessity of reading between the remarks. "But are letters necessary?
I hope to be in Paris myself next week."

"How delightful! You will be able to amuse me. Do not look shocked. I
assure you I only wish to drown my grief."

"Of course," assented Aksakoff, dryly; then added, with a significance
she ignored: "Do you go alone to Paris?"

"Oh, dear me, no. Miss Tallentire goes with me. A charming girl who is
engaged to my cousin, the Rev. Lionel Kaimes. We stay for a week at
the Hotel Henri Trois, Champs Élysées. Very quietly, you know, as I am
still mourning."

"As you are still in mourning," corrected her visitor, politely.

"Certainly. You would not have me flaunting colours with poor dear Jim
just dead. I want to be cheered up, and I ask you and Mr. Askew to
cheer me."

"Oh! ah!" Aksakoff wrinkled his brow. "Mr. Askew goes to Paris, also?"

"He said something about it. Such a nuisance, seeing that he
thinks--well, I told you."

"Madame, his thoughts are excusable. But M. Demetrius will be
angered."

"What do you mean?" demanded Lady Jim, imperiously.

Aksakoff's patience was almost exhausted. "We spoke at Monte Carlo,"
he reminded her. "Surely we understand one another."

"Possibly you may. I am quite in the dark. Why should you couple my
name with that of M. Demetrius?"

"Report says that he loves you."

"Oh--report!" She laughed, frankly amused. "If you believe
reports----" Here a shrug and a contemptuous laugh. "Why, reports
leave no one a shred of character. I quite expect that my
enemies--Mrs. Penworthy, for one--will say that Mr. Askew followed me
to Paris, for the purpose of marrying me at the British Embassy."

Aksakoff admired her profoundly. Without committing herself in any way
or for a single instance, she was placing in his hands the thread of
the intrigue. Tacitly acknowledging a diplomatic superior, he followed
her lead. "I trust that Mrs. Penworthy, whom I have the honour to
know, will not spread such a report," he said gravely.

"Oh, but she will. A horrid woman, and scarcely respectable. She has
called in Dr. Demetrius as her medical attendant, and if--as you
say--he admires me, she is sure to make mischief."

"Well," said Aksakoff, reflectively, "I am perfectly sure that if M.
Demetrius heard such gossip, he would----"

"Forbid the banns," finished Leah, hastily and derisively. "Pah! Do
you think, knowing his danger, he would trust himself in Paris? You
are entirely wrong, M. Aksakoff. Our mutual friend left me this very
afternoon to follow your daughter. Let him marry her--now do."

"No," said Aksakoff, setting down his cup. "Until he surrenders
Katinka he is safer in England."

"In that case, please do not let Mrs. Penworthy gossip him into
crossing the Channel."

"For your sake, I will not," said Aksakoff, dryly, and with every
intention of aiding and abetting Mrs. Penworthy. "Will you give me
another cup of tea?"

She supplied him, and their conversation embraced a variety of
subjects. No further mention was made of Demetrius, or of Katinka, or
of Askew, or even of Paris. They quite understood one another, did
these two clever people. When the diplomatist departed he kissed Lady
Jim's hand with courtly warmth.

"You are a charming woman, madame--a truly admirable woman; but"--he
straightened himself, and looked into her eyes--"I should not like to
have you for an enemy."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Lady Jim, artlessly.

"A compliment, madame--believe me, a very high compliment."



++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
CHAPTER XXIII


"Oh, it's lovely, lovely, lovely!" sang Joan Tallentire, clapping her
hands, and whirling dervish-fashion around the room.

A radiant day or so in Paris had acted on her as sunshine acts on a
flower, when the petals expand, the colour deepens, and the perfume
exhales. What observer, casual or close, would have recognised in this
eager-eyed and sparkling girl the timid companion of Lady Canvey? For
weeks she had associated with the octogenarian; many months had she
superintended the well-being of pauper hags in Lambeth slums; and in
the nursing of an ailing mother many precious years had been expended.
No wonder the fire of being burnt low; no marvel that for long the
eyes had lacked lustre and the cheeks colour. It was truly a case of
the old eating the young--stealing by contact, as it were, the
vitality of youth to reanimate waning life.

Now Lady Jim, playing fairy-godmother, had transformed this
Cinderella, and the grub of Lambeth soared a splendid dragon-fly. The
spring, long delayed in its coming, sang in her veins. With
stimulating company, amidst novel surroundings, and with tempting food
for satisfying physical and moral appetites, came the renascent
period. Joan felt the burden of artificial years slip from her
shoulders; her quick blood, responding to its environments, rose to
fever heat. One cloud alone necked the sunshine of pleasure's dawn.

"I wish Lionel was here," she sighed.

"A Pagan in the temple, a Jew in the church," said Lady Jim,
shrugging. "My dear, Paris was invented for clergymen to rail at, not
to enjoy."

"Lionel is not narrow-minded, Lady James. He approves of innocent
amusements."

"Magic-lanterns and penny readings. I fear Paris cannot supply those
dissipations. You can enjoy them under the honeymoon. Meanwhile Mr.
Askew is less exacting and more amusing."

"There is no one like Lionel--no one."

"I grant that, else would the world be innocent and dull."

Joan pursed up her pretty lips and wrinkled a smooth brow. "I don't
understand that," said she, meditatively.

"No," assented Leah, with a slow and somewhat envious look; "you never
will."

"Why not?"

"I could give you fifty reasons, but three will do. You are good and
kind and healthy-minded to excess--an angel, whose white wings flutter
above the mire in which we bipeds grovel. Quite the wife for our
unsophisticated padre. St. Sebastian and St. Cecilia--surely a
marriage arranged in heaven."

Miss Tallentire could not quite follow Leah's flights--not an
infrequent occurrence. Nevertheless, her intuition espied a
compliment.

"Do you really mean that?"

"As I rarely mean anything. Let me be candid for once, since we
converse in the nursery, and say that I respect Lionel and I respect
you."

"I would rather have love," suggested the girl, timidly.

Leah touched her breast with eight finger-tips. "From----" Then in
response to an answering blush: "My dear, I love no one but myself."

"I can't believe that, or you would not have bothered to bring me to
Paris."

"Merely the desire for a new sensation. I assure you, as Lionel
assured me, that all my virtues spring from the Ego."

"What is the Ego?"

"Leah Kaimes in this instance."

"I don't think you are selfish," persisted Joan; "if you really and
truly were, you would not say so."

"Oh, but I should; that is my refined form of self-love. When I cry
aloud my imperfections, I receive some such compliment as you have
paid. Then little god Ego, sitting within my breast, sniffs up the
incense."

"In that case I am selfish, too. I like to be told nice things."

"And to be given nice things, such as---- Well, I expect Lionel, in
spite of clerical propriety, can explain better than I, and," added
Lady Jim, mischievously, "in dumb show. My dear, your Ego is shaped
like a good young padre; you are merged in Lionel--swallowed up, as
some one's rod swallowed up some one else's. I suppose now"--Leah
nursed her knees with clasped hands--"I suppose when you marry St.
Sebastian, you will be wildly happy in a dull country rectory, wearing
twice-turned gowns and last year's hats, and fussing after old women
and grubby village urchins, with your husband's sermons for relaxation
when penny readings pall."

"Quite happy," assented Joan, laughing at the over-coloured
picture--"with Lionel, of course."

"As I say: your Ego is his Ego. Dear!" and Lady Jim dropped two
impulsive kisses on her companion's cheeks. Joan wondered at this
uninvited display of affection, and wondered still more when Leah
turned away with a somewhat bitter laugh. Perhaps, had she guessed the
truth, her sympathy would have extended to this woman, whom self-love
isolated from humanity.

It pleased Leah to pose as this simple maid's providence, and on the
whole she sustained her deity excellently. Many a time did she check
her free-spoken and sharp tongue, lest Joan should feel hurt, or
become precociously enlightened about those sins which are dubbed
idiosyncrasies in society. The amusements provided were primitive and
commonplace, as befitted the retirement of a newly made widow and
uncultured débutante tastes. Drives in the Bois; visits to the
Louvre, to Versailles, to Notre Dame--on the tail of Hugo's
romance--to Père Lachaise; many inspections of many delightful shops,
one concert at least, and the exploration of places which had to do
with the picturesque history of France filtered through Baedeker and
Murray. Leah, unused to bread and milk, thought the majority of these
outings insipid; but Joan enjoyed them immensely, and wondered at
Continental dissipation. Her ignorance credited Leah with loving, and
invariably leading, this Cook's-tourist life when abroad; and that
lady laughed frequently, in the seclusion of her bedroom, at the idea
of being limited to nursery geography. Nevertheless, she did not
undeceive her ingénue; the bloom, if she could prevent it, should
not be brushed too early from this peach. Which reticence and
determination showed that Lady Jim had in her some soul of that
goodness which lives in things evil.

Askew duly arrived forty-eight hours later, so that his meeting with
Leah might appear unexpected. He called daily at the Hotel Henri
Trois, and on a hint from Lady Jim devoted attention to Joan the maid.
Leah herself philandered in a business-like way with M. Aksakoff, who,
strange to say, followed Askew's trail on important business. Lady Jim
enjoyed many interesting conversations with him, dealing with a quiet
obliteration of Demetrius, if he should by any chance walk into the
trap. Joan and her cavalier, good surface readers, did not guess at
the elements working below, and so danced unsuspectingly on a volcano.
The fickle sailor was now lukewarm in his affections, and, as Leah
purposed dropping him gradually as soon as Demetrius was on his way to
Siberia, she was not ill pleased to watch red-hot passion cool to
ashen-grey friendship. Certainly it still remained to withhold him
from seeking a foreign wife over-seas, but she postponed schemes of
prevention pending the disposal of immediate troubles. Sometimes it
occurred to her that Askew, a man of tow like all sailors, might catch
fire from contact with Joan; but, player as she was with the hearts
and brains of men, she cherished sufficient friendship for Lionel to
forgo a possible spoiling of his sober romance. There was little
danger that Miss Tallentire would exchange Church for Navy, but that
the juxtaposition of an artless maid and an inflammable bachelor might
not breed fickleness, Lady Jim wrote a letter. "Why not come over and
escort us back to town?" ran this epistle. "Also, in Paris you will
assuredly find material for a sermon on the wickedness of that great
city Nineveh,--I believe you parsons give Western towns Eastern names,
when you wish to abuse them--to avoid libel actions, maybe." Then
followed the mention of the rope to drag this clerical lover across
Channel. "Do come, if only to see how Joan enjoys the society of Mr.
Askew."

The expected happened on the fifth day of Lady Jim's sojourn in Paris,
when, shortly after noon, Demetrius, obviously disordered in dress and
mind, presented himself in the character of a bolt from the blue.
Luckily, Askew was translating to Joan the Luxor hieroglyphics in the
vicinity of the Place de la Concorde Obelisk, so that she had an hour
to explain away the rumours which had undoubtedly brought him over.
When the sitting-room door clicked behind him--he facing her with
black looks--she drew a deep breath to brace for the fight, and heard,
what he did not, the snick of prison bolts shot home. So far, lured by
the will-o'-the-wisp, jealousy, he had followed recklessly the
dangerous path; now it remained for her to conduct him to the
precipice, over which she and Aksakoff intended he should be thrown. A
trifle of acting was necessary to reassure the venturesome and perhaps
suspicious traveller.

"M. Demetrius! Are you mad?"

"Not Constantine, then." He panted like a spent runner, and his face
twisted in a wry smile.

"What do you mean?"

Demetrius dropped heavily into the nearest chair, and sent angry,
inquiring glances into every corner. "Where is he?"

"Where is who?"

"Oh, madame"--he became sarcastic here--"you know very well, I think."

"I know nothing, save that you are foolish to venture into Paris,
where there is a price on your head. M. Aksakoff is here, too; if he
knew--if he guessed."

"Well, what matter? I have run greater risks for lesser reasons."

"Yet they must be strong ones in the present instance, to make you
enter the bear's den."

"I have one reason for my venture, madame--you; and another--Mr.
Askew; not to speak of a third--this marriage at your Embassy."

"I can understand the first; the second may be explained by wholly
unnecessary jealousy; but the final one--this marriage you speak of?"

"Between yourself and Mr. Askew."

Lady Jim stared, then laughed good-humouredly. "My dear Constantine,
the idea is too ridiculous."

"I have the news on good authority."

"Which is the last authority you should believe. Mr. Askew is
certainly here; but not, I believe, in the character of a bridegroom."

"Mrs. Penworthy----"

"Oh!" Leah's scorn was worthy of the great Sarah. "Mrs.--Penworthy?"

"She told me that you came here; that Mr. Askew followed----"

"Forty-eight hours later. Quite correct."

"And that you intended to marry him at the British Embassy."

"Really! I never knew that Mrs. Penworthy was imaginative."

"It is not true!" His eye probed her.

She did not flinch. "You must be mad to think so."

"It is not true?" he persisted.

"You yourself have denied the truth of it twice. Mr. Askew at this
moment dances round Miss Tallentire's skirts. Would I permit that,
if----? Oh, ridiculous! You men swallow camels."

Her dupe rose to pace the room, and to pour out the anger of many
brooding hours. "It is not true--ah, if I could only be sure of that.
This woman--this Mrs. Penworthy--she swore--swore--that you--that
you----" He choked, flung himself headlong to where she smiled
contemptuous, and seized her hands vehemently. "Swear that it is
false!" He dropped on his knees, almost tearful.

"I do swear," rejoined Leah, disengaging her wrists. "You can take Mr.
Askew back to London if you like. He is engaged to marry a lady in
South America. There is nothing between us--nothing. A flirtation,
yes; banter and pretty smiles, idle nothings and surface
conversations." She smoothed back his hair and smiled playfully. "Am I
marrying Othello?"

"You are so beautiful," he muttered, wavering.

"In your eyes, no doubt. Mr. Askew prefers brunettes south of the
Equator. But!"--she rose suddenly, as though she spurned him--but "I
prefer trust. I am angry--yes, very angry. Oh, that you should doubt
me--doubt me!" Her tragic assertion was admirable.

"I do not--I do not"; and he still grovelled, catching at her dress.

"Your presence here proves otherwise. Mr. Askew, indeed--a general
lover, a volatile sailor with a wife in every port for all I know. Can
you not credit me with more exclusive tastes?"

"He is handsome," muttered the still suspicious doctor, and rose,
brushing his knees mechanically.

"Is he? So you think I am to be won by looks, like a schoolmiss in her
teens"; she looked at his sharp white face, and laughed cruelly. "That
I am engaged to you should prove differently."

He scarcely heeded her. "Swear! Swear!" and his eyes flamed.

Leah, calculating the effect, lost her temper. "I shall in a moment,"
she cried angrily. "The most patient of women--of whom I am not
one--have their limits. Why do you allow jealousy to overrule common
sense, when the position is so plain? You fixed your price and
fulfilled your part of the bargain. Am I, I ask you, free to play you
this trick of a hasty marriage, when you can expose me as privy to a
fraud? You see that I do not mince matters; I speak plainly, do I not?
You have all the winning cards, and can compel me to become your wife,
even if I dissented. Why, then, do you come here on a fool's errand?"

"But I love you so," he protested piteously.

"And love, being blind, makes you stumble into danger. I think you had
better return to England by the night train."

"Am I to leave you with Mr. Askew?"

"Oh, take him with you; I gave you permission before. And pray don't
make scenes--I dislike them."

"Then I am wrong?"

"Faugh! If you doubt my word, perhaps you will take Mr. Askew's. He
will be here soon with Miss Tallentire. I decline to defend a position
which requires no defence."

A shrug ended this speech, and this, in conjunction with the anger
brightening her hard blue eyes, reduced him to profuse apologies.

"But indeed, my soul, you should not be enraged; that I should risk
what I do risk surely proves my love for you."

"You have proved it before by getting me the insurance money," she
replied impatiently; "pray return at once. I can see you in Curzon
Street when I return on Tuesday."

"Then you promise to marry me."

"Yes!" Leah heaved a sigh of exhaustion. "How often do you wish me to
say so? Even if you remain Dr. Demetrius I am bound to become your
wife, seeing that you hold my reputation in your hands. Though of
course," she added sweetly, "I expect to be Princess Constantine
Demetrius."

"I am willing--believe me, I am willing," he stuttered, now quite
positive that Mrs. Penworthy was a liar of the worst. "Aksakoff----"

"What of him?"

"Did you not say that he would aid me to regain my position, if I gave
up Katinka?"

"He said something like that," she rejoined carelessly, and wondering
why at this moment he recalled the proposition. "But I rather fancy
his offer was merely to leave you alone."

Demetrius looked silently at the carpet. Leah watched him with a
doubtful look, on her guard against complications. He looked up
suddenly, and with rather a shamed face. "Certainly I could secure the
services of Mademoiselle Aksakoff," he murmured; "but it seems cruel
to use her influence and then to leave her. She loves me. Ah, yes, she
loves me very truly, and I--I treat her most badly."

"If you think so, why not make amends and marry her?"

"Because I love you, and at great risk I have bought you." He glared
at her savagely. "I refuse to let you go; you are mine--mine."

"I never denied that," said Lady Jim, dryly; "but I really cannot
accompany you to Siberia, and if you remain here----"

"Wait!" He flung up an imperative hand. "I shall see Aksakoff."

This sounded almost too good to be true, and Leah doubted. "No!"

"Yes. Ah, my adored, I know how you feel for my safety"; his voice
took on a caressing tone. "But--it is nothing"; he brushed away
imaginary danger with a rapid gesture. "I shall see him. I shall
plainly surrender Katinka, and then--then, when he knows that we--you
and I--are to marry, he will interest himself with the Czar, on
our--you mark me, my angel--on our behalf."

"It's a mad idea, impracticable. You dare not trust Aksakoff."

"Ah, bah! He will not arrest me publicly--he cannot. The scandal--the
diplomatic storm--the newspapers. No, no!--it is too absurd.
Besides"--he shrugged--"this tender father will repay me if I give his
daughter to understand that we can never marry. He desires her to be
the Countess Paul Petrovitch."

"Hum!" said Lady Jim, rejoicing that the prisoner should thus lock
himself in and pitch the key out of the window. "M. Aksakoff hinted
something of this to me at Monte Carlo."

"Then you can see--then you must understand," Demetrius gesticulated
excitedly. "Should I surrender Mademoiselle--if I write a letter stating
that I do not love, that there can by no means be marriage--Aksakoff will
help me, help you, help us both."

"As Prince and Princess Demetrius. Yes, I see. And yet--the risk."

"There is no risk, publicly. And to snare me in secret--no. I am
wary--oh, most wary; no one can trap me. I swear to you, no one."

"Demetrius," said Leah, as gravely as her delight would let her, "you have
done me a service, which I repay with my hand in marriage. I do not love
you as I ought to, but love may come with the honeymoon. Still, even
now, I have sufficient affection for you to wish for your safety.
Supposing"--she laid an anxious hand on his arm--"supposing M. Aksakoff
played you false, and you were trapped into taking this Siberian
journey--what would I do? Ah, no, my friend; believe me, it is best to
treat with this diplomatist in London. There you are safe; here----"She
shook her head warningly.

She could not have made a speech, as she very well knew, more likely
to provoke Demetrius into remaining in his enemy's camp. He had accepted
her disavowal of Mrs. Penworthy's gossip, and yet, now that she asked
him to go, urged him to depart, even in Askew's company, his incurable
suspicion made him hesitate. "I shall stay here, and see Aksakoff," he
announced doggedly.

"Very good," assented Lady Jim, accepting the fiat. "He is coming to
luncheon; you can speak to him then."

"Why to luncheon?" asked the doctor, sharply.
"Why not?" demanded Leah, up in arms on the instant. "When we are
married, your enemies shall be my enemies; until then, my friends--of
whom M. Aksakoff is one--shall be my own." She became less imperative
in her speech and looks, dropping to a conversational tone. "If you
must know, Katinka asked her father to call while he was in Paris. I
could not do less than ask him to luncheon, could I?"

A less clever woman would have made a less frivolous excuse, and,
despite his cleverness, Demetrius was gulled into accepting the false
as genuinely true.

"You will permit that I go to brush my clothes--to remove the dust of
travel," he asked politely. "I return soon to meet M. Aksakoff."

"Half-past two is the time," said Leah, with a careless glance at the
gimcrack clock on the mantelpiece; "and perhaps it will be safer for you
to meet him in my presence at my table. He can scarcely arrest you there.
One moment," as Demetrius turned to go with a hasty bow. "Mention our
engagement to him privately. I do not wish Miss Tallentire to know, as
she would probably tell Lionel Kaimes, and then the family--very rightly
too--would be shocked."

"You can always depend upon my discretion, madame," murmured the doctor,
bowing over her hand, and brusquely departed with the air of a
conqueror.

Lady Jim rubbed the kiss from her hand with vehemence, and flew to the
window, where she watched as eagerly as Sister Anne on Bluebeard's
castle-top. The dapper little figure emerged from the grand portal, and
strutted victoriously down the street. Leah nodded complacently. He was
now in the toils, and, moreover, was voluntarily binding himself in
bonds. All the better; there could be no compunction on her part in
betraying such a heedless fool. If he would insist upon letting his
jealous heart govern his usually wise head, it was impolitic to prevent
him. With sudden thankfulness Lady Jim fished out of her pocket a ruffled
peacock's feather.

"My luck holds--it holds," said she, kissing the fetish; "you always
bring me luck--dear--dear," and she kissed again.

This religious ceremony ended, the fortunate lady looked again at the
clock. It was five minutes past one. Sitting down at a side-table she
wrote a note, sealed it, and delivered it to an obsequious waiter, with
directions for its delivery at the Russian Embassy. "And lay two extra
places at luncheon," she ordered; "two gentlemen are coming."

In this way M. Aksakoff had the unexpected pleasure of partaking of
Lady Jim's hospitality.



++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
CHAPTER XXIV


Alone and punctual, hungry for mid-day victuals, and eager to impart
newly acquired knowledge, Miss Tallentire returned from studying the
Luxor Obelisk. Her coming upon the hour and solitary state were noted,
but a second-hand rendering of hieroglyphic lore could be dispensed
with by a lady entertaining a more modern-minded guest. Aksakoff, with
a notable sparkle in his eyes--begotten by confidential conversation
with his hostess--rose to welcome the fair interrupter. International
courtesies were exchanged, while Leah, glancing impatiently at the
clock, waited for their conclusion to slip in a question or so.

"Where is Mr. Askew? Why did he not bring you back?"

"He did, Lady James, as far as the lift. He is now writing a letter in
the smoking-room."

"And so will forget that I asked him to luncheon. Please remind him,
dear; or, better, tell the waiter to bring him up. M. Demetrius is
coming also."

"Dr. Demetrius!" Joan paused in her exit. "I did not know that he was
in Paris, Lady James."

"Nor did I until an hour ago. Don't lose time, dear. Mr. Askew may go,
and I particularly wish him to stay."

Lady Jim ushered the girl out hurriedly, judiciously saw to the

Lady Jim ushered the girl out hurriedly, and judiciously saw to
the closing of the door, before turning to meet Aksakoff's inquiring
gaze. "You approve of a full table, madame?"

"There is safety in numbers," she assured him.

"For M. Demetrius?"

Leah resumed her seat with raised eyebrows. "I fear you will think me
dull, M. Aksakoff, but I do not understand."

The diplomatist bowed an apology. He had forgotten that even in
private her comedy was to be played by the book. The conversation of
the next few minutes he foresaw very plainly. She would play round the
reason for their meeting, without coming to grips, mysteriously
conveying her meaning in speeches which she did not mean. Only a
politician of Aksakoff's subtlety would have understood the unsaid
from what she now proceeded to say.

"Besides"--she was continuing the speech interrupted by his bow--"you
promised that no harm should come to the doctor."

"Madame, I renew that promise."

"I hope so; otherwise, I shall regret having consented to this
meeting."

"Yet I understood that M. Demetrius desired it."

"That is no reason why I should consent."

"Possibly not. Still, as a peacemaker----"

"You put me into the Beatitudes, then?"

"Why not, if you achieve your object in reconciling enemies?"

"The signing of the treaty depends upon you, M. Aksakoff."

"Consider it signed--on conditions."

"Which means that it is not signed. H'm! M. Demetrius is anxious, even
willing, to renounce your daughter."

A dull red stained Aksakoff's opaque skin. "How flattering to my
fatherly pride! There is, then"--the hint was delicate--"another?"

Lady Jim retorted in kind. "So you said at Monte Carlo."

"Mademoiselle Ninette? I believe I did. She lured him to Paris, then?"

"How should I know? He has never mentioned the creature's name to me,
nor would he dare to. He came, so he declares, to see me."

"On matters connected with your recent loss, no doubt."

"It is more than probable."

Her avoidance of the necessary topic exasperated him. Sharp words were
on the tip of his tongue, but wisdom withheld them. His accomplice was
not the woman to yield to dominance, and the merest hint of its
exercise might, probably would, engender wrath likely to jeopardise
the almost achieved plot. Money or no money--Aksakoff still ascribed
mercenary reasons--her pride would never bend to the yoke of advice.
To be silent was his second thought, and silent he became. This, it
would seem, was wise, since she began to explain, Aksakoff paying out
liberally the necessary rope that she might hang herself.

"M. Demetrius is unwise to come here. I told him so; yes, I
confess--remember my warning--that I betrayed you. All the same--very
foolishly, I think--he insisted upon an immediate meeting, to recover
his birthright, he says. Can you arrange for the rehabilitation, of
this exiled Esau?"

A faint smile played round the diplomatist's thin lips, "I can!"

"And you will?"

"Assuredly, if M. Demetrius disabuses Katinka of her infatuation."

"That is his affair and yours. No doubt"--she spoke meaningly--"you
will wish to speak to him privately?"

"There is no need, madame, seeing that you are in his confidence, and
in mine. Besides"--very slowly--"we can converse over our tea."

Lady Jim's nerves jumped. "Over tea," she echoed equally slowly--"tea,
after luncheon?"

"It is a Russian custom. M. Demetrius and I are Russians. Still, if
the suggestion appears presumptuous"--he waved his hand with assumed
deprecation--"I withdraw it and apologise."

"No!" She passed her tongue over dry, white lips, and answered
faintly. "You shall have your--tea." Then, rising hurriedly, she made
for the near window on an obvious excuse. "I do not see him coming."

As plainly as though Aksakoff had put it into words did Lady Jim know
that he intended to drug their victim. What would occur if this
plotter succeeded she did not know; what might occur she shivered to
think of, and the thought made her rash. "The police!" she murmured,
turning from the window.

M. Aksakoff joined her, adjusting his pince-nez leisurely, and
proceeded to look up and down the street, two stories below. "I do not
see the police, madame. But what a delightful day! I trust the night
will be equally mild, since I journey to Havre."

"You go to Havre--to-night?" breathed Leah, not yet herself.

"By a moderately late train. My cousin, Count Petrovitch, is there
with his yacht. We have to talk about his possible marriage with my
daughter, before he leaves to-morrow for Kronstadt."

"Oh!" sighed Lady Jim, very white. "How--how--amusing!" and after
misusing the word, she went back to her chair with geographical
thoughts. Paris--Havre--Kronstadt--Siberia; and Demetrius. "Oh!"
sighed she again, with a trembling hand shielding her eyes.

"You are ailing, madame," cried Aksakoff, hastening to her politely.

"Starving!" replied Leah, with a wry smile. "Hush!"

The warning hissed through the chatter of Joan and Askew, who entered,
almost riotously happy. Their exuberant manners and frank speech
brought a wholesome breeze of cleansing honesty into the atmosphere of
stale rascality. The bracing wind blew Lady Jim out of dark chambers
into the day-lit spaces of the commonplace. With the protean
capability of women she flashed as a sun from passing storm-clouds, to
shine on the honest and hungry.

"Thanks awfully for your invitation to luncheon," said Askew.

"Which you forgot."

"Did I ever receive it?" he asked doubtfully.

"Did not my last remark imply the invitation. Remarkable!"

So irrelevant sounded the last word that Aksakoff queried its reason.

"Not that a man should forget an invitation," she explained; "but that
a single meal should escape his greedy memory."

"You make me out to be a gourmet," hinted the invited guest.

"Why not a gourmand? One speaks French in Paris."

"Not invariably, since we now converse in English," said Askew, dryly;
and she approved of the retort. Clearly he was rapidly recovering from
the green-sickness of crude passion.

Meantime Joan instructed Aksakoff in ancient history. "The
hieroglyphics on the Place de la Concorde Obelisk describe the
triumphs of Rameses II., who reigned over Egypt in the fourteenth
century before Christ. Mr. Askew knows him."

"Indeed?" smiled Lady Jim. "Is he stopping in Paris?"

"Miss Tallentire means to say that I know 'of him.'"

"Well, I said so. But my English _is_ faulty."

"Mr. Askew will surely improve it. His knowledge of hieroglyphics----"

"The guide-book's knowledge, Lady James," corrected Askew.

"Hum! Information while you wait--Murray and Baedeker's extract of
history--archeological tabloids."

"What felicitous phrases!"

"Sarcasm! That surely means--convalescence."

"You have been ill then, monsieur"; Aksakoff addressed the colouring
young gentleman.

"Heart-disease," flashed Lady Jim, gaily--"Ah, M. Demetrius!"--and so
did her ex-lover out of a retort. "You know Miss Tallentire--Mr.
Askew; they were at Firmingham, if you remember. And M. Aksakoff, who
will doubtless recall Dr. Demetrius."

"Say Prince Constantine Demetrius, madame.

"You place me too high," said the doctor, bowing stiffly. "Out of
Russia I am but a simple physician."

"And a remarkably clever one, according to this lady."

"Madame flatters. I failed, where I should have succeeded."

Leah murmured a sharp aside, reproving the professional humility which
necessitated an allusion to her loss. A bowing waiter entered before
the doctor's apologetic shrug could be followed by words.

"Madame is served," said the waiter, and the lift lowered five hungry
people to the dining-room.

Says a disciple of Brillat-Savarin, with solemn truth and the
infallible judgment of experience, "Breakfast in Scotland, lunch in
America, and dine in Paris." Circumstances prevented Lady Jim from
dispensing Boston hospitality, but having supervised the ideas of the
Henri-Trois chef, she placed a very dainty and tempting repast before
a quartette almost too hungry to be critical. Nor was wanting wine,
chosen with masculine discretion, to loosen rusty tongues and release
fair thoughts embedded in slow brains. But this latter adjective must
be taken--very appropriately at table--with a grain of salt. None of
those who ate and drank were dull; three of them, indeed, were
much too clever, and the remaining two made up in sparkle what they
lacked in depth. Many good things were eaten and said during that
merry meal, and the corner near the large window bubbled with
laughter. Leah, watching stealthily the courtesy of Aksakoff and his
fellow-countryman, shivered internally at the irony of circumstances.
Paris--Havre--Kronstadt--Siberia: the four names repeated themselves
dolorously in her brain like a street cry. What wonder, then, that the
spectacle of this tragic comedy made her laugh and babble, and smile
and nod, and play to perfection the rôle of an attentive hostess. She
was quite glad that what would prove in all probability to be her
victim's last civilised meal was appetising. Aksakoff professed
himself charmed with her esprit. Here, thought he, were the makings
of an ideal conspirator, and he regretted her nationality. The
Anglo-Saxon nature is so alien to working mole-fashion. Yet, had he
only known the truth, Lady Jim had already proved her willingness to
conspire, if not against a throne, at least for the cheating of a
limited company.

The luncheon was thus pleasant, and not less so the digestive hour,
when the repleted guests assembled in the sitting-room. Anxious to
afford the diplomatist every assistance, Lady Jim gathered the young
people under her wing near the piano at the far end of the apartment.
Joan, who had more of a soul than a memory for music, played scraps,
chatting to right and left while her nimble fingers ran from Mozart to
Chopin and attempted what their owner remembered of Wagner's
creations. Thus the Muscovites, smoking by special permission, were
enabled to exchange views in comparative privacy. To assure complete
secrecy, and with the hole-and-corner instinct of the Slav, they
talked Russian with a bluntness strangely opposed to Lady Jim's
elusive suggestiveness. The situation--to Demetrius, at least--did not
admit of sugared phrases or ambiguous explanations.

"Madame yonder"--he nodded towards Leah--"told you why I desired this
interview."

"Yes!"--Aksakoff handled his cigarette daintily--"but an explanation
from you is necessary."

Demetrius nodded brusquely. "I must mention the name of your
daughter."

"Without doubt, since her welfare is the main object of our meeting."

"Mademoiselle Aksakoff," said Demetrius, coldly, "has done me the
honour to admire me. But that my affections are already engaged, I
should certainly reciprocate."

"You allude to Mademoiselle Ninette?"

A look of surprise flitted across the other's face. "The actress? Why
should you think so?"

"Rumour credits you with being her lover."

"And, as usual, rumour is wrong. Mademoiselle Ninette was assuredly my
patient, but I received my fees in gold, not in kisses. As poor Dr.
Demetrius I I cannot live on love, Ivan Aksakoff."

"Prince Constantine will be able to do so with the lady he mentions."

"I mentioned no lady."

"Ah, pardon!" Aksakoff was foiled. "You accept my apology?"

"None is needed. I intended to tell you the name of the lady, Ivan
Aksakoff; it is madame yonder."

With uplifted eyebrows the diplomatist glanced in the direction of
Leah.

"I heard something in London clubs of your admiration for her,
Constantine Demetrius; even before her husband died it was said that
you had laid yourself at her feet. What a pity you cannot marry her!
An ideal match, my friend; quite ideal, and so useful in promoting a
social understanding between Holy Russia and these islanders."

"We marry in a year," announced the doctor, calmly.

"Ah, no; but pardon me, it is impossible!" Aksakoff, really and truly
startled, dropped his cigarette. That haughty Lady James Kaimes
should---- "It is quite impossible," said he, staring.

"I refer you to the lady herself," insisted Demetrius.

"A-a-a-h!" droned the other, picking up his cigarette to place it in
the ash-tray, and lighting another; "y-e-s!" He stared again at his
companion, then stole a glance at Leah. Apparently her desire to
assist Muscovite politics was not entirely a question of pounds,
shillings, and pence. She was less sordid and more subtle than he had
guessed.

Demetrius, giving him no time to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion,
went on with his explanation. "You will, therefore, understand that my
marriage with your daughter is out of the question."

"Of course," assented Aksakoff, absently, and wondering why Lady Jim
engaged herself to this exile. "Of course," he added more briskly, "I
trust you will permit me to announce this engagement to my daughter."

"Certainly. It will show her that----"

"That you are unworthy of her hand," ended Aksakoff, sharply, for here
the father overleaped the diplomatist.

"Quite so, Ivan Aksakoff, and I hope soon to congratulate the Countess
Petrovitch."

"You are too good, Constantine Demetrius."
"In return for thus arranging your domestic affairs," continued the
doctor, unmoved by the sarcasm, "will you gain my pardon from the
Czar? Can you gain it?" he asked with emphasis.

"I can and will."

"My title, my money----"

"Both shall be restored. And of course," added Aksakoff, with a keen
glance, "you will no longer work in what you term the sacred cause of
humanity."

Demetrius waved his hand gloomily. "Dreams of youth--desires for the
impossible. I am aware," he added bitterly, "that individuality in a
bureaucratic administration is looked upon as a crime."

"Can you wonder at it? If one wheel refuses to fit in with another,
the machine will not work. We are all parts of a mighty engine----"

"Which crushes the poor and the weak."

"What matter, since you, Constantine Demetrius, are neither poor nor
weak?"

"My sympathy----"

"A most dangerous word, current only in that Utopia you dreamed of. It
is not in the Russian dictionary."

Demetrius turned on the scoffer a glittering eye. "It will be, some
day," said he, slowly.

"My friend"--Aksakoff shook the ash from his cigarette--"if you
propose to edit dictionaries you must remain Dr. Demetrius--in exile."

"I gladly would," rejoined the other, heartily; "only----" His voice
died away, as he looked towards Lady Jim.

The diplomatist laughed. "There is always a woman. Ah, these dear
ladies, how practical they are! In their hands we are wax, which they
mould after the honey is squeezed out"; he laughed again, then
resumed, business-like: "You will write to my daughter and place the
truth of this engagement beyond question."

"To-morrow, Ivan Aksakoff, when I am in London. And needless to say, I
shall always profoundly respect Mademoiselle your daughter."

"You mean the Countess Petrovitch."

"If you can so far bend her to your ambition," retorted Demetrius.
"You promise, then, to right me with the Czar?"

Aksakoff nodded and laughed cynically. "You are already Prince
Constantine Demetrius, rich, honoured, and--unsympathetic."
The doctor winced at the last word, but shook hands on the agreement.
Lady Jim glanced across the room with Judas and his kiss in her mind.
That the cap fitted her, also, she did not consider for the moment.

"Coffee! Coffee!" cried the pianist, rising. "Just what I want."

"It is tea on this occasion," replied Leah, and went over to take
charge of the tray brought in by a smiling waiter.

"Tea?" Joan echoed the word in an amazed voice, and tripped like a
fairy towards a comfortable low chair. "Who ever heard of tea in the
middle of the day?"

"Australian colonists in the back blocks," explained Askew, sauntering
to assist in arranging a harlequin set of cups. "They drink tea at all
hours."

"In Russia, also," remarked Lady Jim, jingling the saucers. "This is a
concession to the prejudices of our foreign guests"; and she laughed
amiably at the Muscovites.

Demetrius bowed and smiled, twisting his waxed moustache with admiring
glances at Leah's red hair. He was far from suspecting a snare, and
that Aksakoff should have a finger and thumb in his waistcoat-pocket
did not seem remarkable. But Lady Jim--nervously on the alert--guessed
that the diplomatist was fiddling with something of a narcotic nature.
Also, his significant glance at her, at the teacups, at Demetrius,
hinted at her duty. She fulfilled it with a spasm of fear, well masked
by frivolity.

"Joan, I have dropped my handkerchief--near the piano, I think. Will
you please look for it?"

Miss Tallentire rose, to be anticipated, as Leah guessed she would be,
by two attentive gentlemen. "Allow me!" "Permit me, mademoiselle!" and
with Askew, Demetrius crossed for the search, while Lady Jim ran on
lightly:

"It might be on the floor near you, Joan. What a nuisance! How stupid
of me!"

Then Joan looked on the carpet--Leah also, the latter straining her
ears to hear the almost inaudible. The faint tinkle of a pellet
dropped into a cup sounded to her guilty soul like a clap of thunder.

"Here it is," cried Joan, fishing under the table, and picking up what
Lady Jim had purposely dropped.

"Thanks awfully, dear. Mr. Askew, M. Demetrius, do not trouble.
Give me the teapot, Joan. Ah!" she babbled on, while filling the
cups--"What a pity we have not glasses, so that you could drink the
tea in your own fashion, M. Demetrius. M. Aksakoff, we did so enjoy
the novelty at your Monte Carlo villa. Still, here is a lemon; slice
it, Joan, dear. Do sit down, doctor. M. Aksakoff, you can be waiter."

"Allow me," cried Askew, half rising.

"Sit where you are," said Leah, sharply; "you'll upset the table. M.
Aksakoff!"

"With pleasure, madame"; and he obliged her with stiff cordiality.

Leah wiped her lips, which were dry, and stole a stealthy glance at
the cup which he handed to the doctor. It was of a deep blue colour.
"Augh!" she breathed, as he set it to his lips.

"You are wearied with your duties, madame," conjectured Aksakoff,
sipping with gusto; "and I, alas, can relieve you only by acting as
waiter."

"You are a guest now," she rejoined, with a nervous laugh; "is the tea
to your liking?"

"Most delightful tea," said Demetrius, courteously.

"You compliment the decoction too highly. Tea on the Continent is like
rain in the Sahara. I except Russia, of course," she ended, smiling.

"You will find us English in many ways, when you visit Moscow,
madame."

Leah looked inquisitively at Aksakoff, who spoke, guessing that he was
in possession of the truth, and wondering what he thought of the
engagement. The man's face betrayed nothing, however, and her gaze
travelled to Demetrius. He was sitting perfectly still, and his eyes
looked dull, as though the fire of life was dwindling within. Meeting
her smile, he roused himself with a jerk and an apology.

"I feel sleepy--the heat, no doubt," he murmured.

"I can't say that I feel scorching," said Askew, glancing through the
window at a grey sky.

"You are used to the tropics; M. Demetrius is not," observed Aksakoff.

Joan laughed. "You remind me of a horrid story my brother told me. An
old Anglo-Indian was being cremated at Woking, and said that it was
the first time he had felt warm in England."

"A horrid story indeed," murmured Lady Jim, with her eyes on the
expressionless face of Demetrius. "You shouldn't tell it, dear." Then
she rose hurriedly: "Are you quite well, M. Demetrius?"

"Oh yes--quite"; the doctor's voice droned into an inarticulate mumble
and his head fell forward.

"Oh! Mr. Askew--M. Aksakoff--what it the matter? His eyes are closed;
his breathing--just listen!"

"Kind of fit, perhaps," said Askew, rising to shake Demetrius, and so
extorted a cry from the kind-hearted hostess.

"Don't--the man is ill! Oh, how dreadful! Loosen his collar--open the
window. I wonder if he needs a doctor," and she stepped to the
electric button of the bell.

"There might be one in the hotel," said Aksakoff, as Joan and Askew
obeyed her directions. And from the tone of his voice she knew that
there was one in the hotel. "It really seems to be a kind of fit,"
said Aksakoff, looking at the now unconscious man. "Yet he appeared to
be quite well a few minutes ago."

Leah did not hear. She was already at the door issuing hurried
instructions to a waiter, whose smile had vanished. When she came back
the two men had placed Demetrius on the sofa, where he lay breathing
heavily, his face white and his lips purple; not a pleasant sight by
any means, as Askew thought.

"Had not you ladies better retire?" he suggested.

"No, no!" they cried in one breath. "We must help."

"Only the doctor can do that--if there is one," said Aksakoff,
observing his handiwork on the sofa with a critical eye.

Then, at the tail of a triple rap, entered the fat proprietor of the
Henri Trois, scared in looks and importantly fussy in manner. Behind
him glided a spick-and-span man, not unlike Demetrius, and
unmistakably Tartar.

"Dr. Helfmann happened to be luncheoning," explained M. Gravier,
"fortunately. What is the matter, madame?"

Helfmann soon explained that. He felt the pulse of the patient, laid a
gentle hand on a weakly-beating heart, and turned up the purple
eyelids. Askew and Aksakoff stood aside with the proprietor. Lady Jim
and Joan bent forward with pale faces and clasped hands, anxious for
the verdict.

"A kind of fit," explained the doctor; "he will be insensible for
two--three hours."

"In my hotel? Ach!--the scandal!" cried Gravier, spreading his fat
hands in dismay.

"Is it really a fit?" asked Lady Jim, paying no attention.

"Madame"--the doctor faced her coldly--"to speak technically would not
enlighten you. I can bring this gentleman back to his senses; but I
think--with your permission," added he, bowing, "that if you will
permit me to take him in a cab to a chemist's shop where I can procure
the drug I require, it will save time. And in this case"--he glanced
calmly at the unconscious man--"time means life."

"Ugh!" said Askew. "Take him away at once."

"If you think it is better," murmured Lady Jim, not daring to meet the
victorious eye of the diplomatist.

"Of course," rejoined Askew, brusquely. "You and Miss Tallentire can
do nothing, and the sight is not a pleasant one."

"Joan"; Lady Jim drew the girl away, and passed with her into the
bedroom adjoining. There behind a closed door they listened to the
sound of a body being removed. The scraping of feet, the heavy
breathing of ladened men, the bumping and humping of something soft
(horrible suggestion)--they could hear these intimations of removal
very plainly. Leah sat on the bed with tightly clasped hands between
slack knees. "Augh!" said Leah.

"It is all right, Lady James," said Joan, petting her. "Poor M.
Demetrius will soon be all right. I wonder what made him ill?"

"I wonder," echoed Lady Jim, and wondered very truly. She could not
understand what drug Aksakoff had used to reduce Demetrius so rapidly
to unconsciousness. And not another word was spoken for ten minutes.

"They have driven away in a fiacre," announced Miss Tallentire, from
the window.

"Who have driven?"

"That doctor and M. Demetrius."

"Not M. Aksakoff?"

Before her question could be answered a sharp knock came to the door,
and Aksakoff presented himself when it was opened.

"All is well, dear ladies," said he, blandly. "Dr. Helfmann has gone
with our sick friend. Mr. Askew follows to see that all is well."

"Askew follows?" said Lady Jim, with a sharp glance; "but why----?"

The diplomatist still smiled. "He has a kind heart, that young Mr.
Askew, and so----" he shrugged, then bowed to Joan. "I compliment you,
mademoiselle, on your courage. You also, madame. And now, all being
well, I must take my leave"; he kissed Lady Jim's hand. "I shall see
you again in London, as to-night I journey to Havre."

He went out, and Leah again heard four names as though a ghostly
porter was calling them at a ghostly junction.

"Paris, Havre, Kronstadt, Siberia," said the ghostly porter.

"Ugh!" said Lady Jim.



CHAPTER XXV


Joan was less surprised than a better informed lady when no word of
the sick man's progress came to hand. Aksakoff was presumably at
Havre, and Askew, having missed the fiacre, and called uselessly at a
chemist's shop indicated by Helfmann, clamoured for information.
Unacquainted with the address of Demetrius, no information could be
given by Lady Jim; but she proffered a suggestion to keep the budding
philanthropist quiet.

"He might be in an hospital."

"He might! Ill go the round."

"Do!" she assented cordially, and quite easy in her mind about this
needle-in-a-haystack search.

So Askew, wisely acting immediately on an impulse that could not last,
set forth on his quest, only to drift across the path of an old
shipmate. The meeting led to cocktails at the American Bar, and the
consumption of these involved the calling-up of a past, which made
the ex-navy man long to nose the out-trail once more. That his friend
who did business in great waters should know of a clean-built
schooner-yacht for sale at a ridiculously low price was natural. And
equally natural was Askew's determination to cross the Channel that
very day, lest the desirable vessel should be snapped up. Thus it came
about that he presented himself to Leah, prior to an immediate
departure, without recurring to the quest. Lady Jim, however, could
not forbear a taunt.

"And your philanthropic search?" she inquired.

Askew coloured, laughed, and shrugged.

"Demetrius is no kith or kin of mine," was his excuse, "and wouldn't
do as much for me, I doubt. 'Sides, he's probably on his legs by now,
and will come skipping along to see you."

"If he does I shall advise him of your charity."

"No, don't," urged the youth, coolly. "He'll be giving me a
testimonial."

Leah laughed good-humouredly. "Well, good-bye," and she shook hands.
"Thanks for your company. Joan has enjoyed it immensely."

"And you?"

"Ah!" with a sigh and a twinkle, "think what I have lost."

"Meaning me?"

"Meaning you, man of lightning moods. Philanthropy, love--ten minutes
of each. Shall I see you in London?"

"Oh--er--yes. But if I can annex this schooner at a fair price, I'm
thinking of a cruise."

"In Pacific waters?"

He grew red and uneasy, shifting from one foot to the other. "I
might."

"That means, you will. H'm! The first case I ever knew of a man being
off with the new love and on with the old. But"--she held up a
finger--"I claim a visit before you go."

Askew seized her hand. "I promise!" Then, coaxingly: "We are friends!"

"Parting friends, and I have already shaken hands with you twice. _Au
revoir_, till Curzon Street," and nodding him God-speed, she retired
to consider possibilities of preventing a speedy departure. Poor
woman! No sooner had she cleared away one obstacle than another bulked
in the path. And these, unfortunately, she could not leap over or go
round. They had to be removed by toilsome pick-and-shovel work.

"What a mercy Demetrius is disposed of!" said Lady Jim, to her mirror.
"Two new wrinkles. I shan't give that silly boy the chance of adding a
third."

On the morning of departure from Paris Leah received a letter from
Demetrius, which she showed to Joan, almost as soon as the train
steamed out of the Gard du Nord. A week of talk in Paris, and five
years' study in England, had instructed Miss Tallentire insufficiently
in the French tongue; therefore did she wilt away at the sight of the
epistle. Lady Jim translated.

"He is still ill in some hotel"--she was careful not to give the
address--"but better, much better. Later he proposes to go to Russia."

"I thought he was an exile," said Joan, doubtfully.

"He is. I think the folly of risking his liberty in St. Petersburg is
apparent. But he hopes to cajole the Czar into granting his pardon.
M'm!" Leah packed away the letter in her dressing-bag. "I daresay we
shall hear of him next in Siberia."

Joan opened a pair of horrified eyes. "Lady James!"

"Oh, it's a charming place, they say, and not at all so disagreeable
as people make out. The climate is much more delightful than our own,
dear, and the society really intellectual. The Russians send all their
clever people there, you know. I am sure Dr. Demetrius will be very
comfortable."

"Exile to Siberia! It sounds horrible."

"Yes--sounds, but isn't. You have been reading Tolstoy and seeing
melodramas, my dear."

"I thought Dr. Demetrius loved you," said Joan, suddenly.

"Oh, he did; the man was a perfect nuisance. But, you see, I did not
love him."

"No, no! Of course you would not. I never meant that. As poor dear
Lord James's wife you could not."

"And as poor dear Lord James's widow, I can, only I don't."

Miss Tallentire was still confused. "You must think me dreadfully
rude--oh, dreadfully," she murmured, regretting an unintentional
insinuation.

"I think you dreadfully innocent, and dreadfully sweet," said Leah,
kissing the flushed face. "I'm talking like that horrid Mulrady girl.
Where do these Americans pick up their adjectives?"

Even while chatting, and while the train tore through a bleak
landscape almost blotted out with rain, Leah wondered who had written
the letter. Not Demetrius, certainly, although the calligraphy would
have caused an expert to commit perjury. Aksakoff was more clever with
tongue than pen, so Leah fell back on Helfmann as a possible forger.
Assuredly she did not believe that he was a medical man, and his
fortunate presence at the needed hour argued a carefully laid plot.
The fiacre probably drove to St. Lazare, and thence Helfmann had no
doubt personally conducted his patient to Havre to be shipped on board
the Petrovitch yacht. Now the boat was kicking her way through the
grey northern seas, and Demetrius, in possession of his senses, was
looking forward to a forced passage across the Urals. An unpleasant
journey at this time of the year, but needful for men who wanted more
than was good for them. And, thank God, this particular man was out of
her life for ever. While offering up the hasty prayer Lady Jim touched
the peacock's feather, tucked away in her pocket, and felt that life
really was worth living, when one knew how to dispose of disagreeable
people.

Perhaps the prayer addressed to a Deity other than the fetish made the
domestic god sulky, but he, or it, certainly did not expedite Leah's
journey to Curzon Street. For two weary days wind and rain, stormy
waves and over-cautious officials, detained the travellers in Calais.
A hurricane that would have done credit to the South Seas made the
Channel impassible, and the waves that Britannia is supposed to rule
rebelled furiously against her white cliffs. Leah, inconceivably
bored, watched the gusty hours through streaming panes, and wondered
if the gale extended to the Mediterranean. If so, the ducal yacht with
Frith and his father on board must be having a pitch-and-toss time
of the worst. The Duke was no hardened mariner, and uncomfortable
motions prolonged to excess might make a man of his age so ill that he
would---- Here Leah's vivid imagination produced a shudder. She did
not wish the kindly old Duke to die of exhaustion; not that she cared
overmuch for him, but Frith succeeding to unlimited money-bags would
be less easy to manage in the important matter of occasional cheques.
The insurance money would not last for ever with one of her tastes,
and after all--since this greedy Captain Strange would insist upon his
dues--she had only twenty-nine thousand pounds. Then Jim would want
ready money, and his demands--she knew him of old--would probably be
shameless. Of course, seeing that, on the face of it, he was involved
deeper than she was in a shady conspiracy, he could be told to mind
his own business and marry Señorita Fajardo, if desirous of being kept
like a gentleman. But to avoid unnecessary trouble it was probable
that she would have to send him a trifle. How dreadful it was to think
that a single shilling of that hardly-earned money should slip through
her fingers; but the harpies had to be appeased or driven away. She
could not achieve the last, therefore her purse-strings would have to
be unloosened. Already the pockets of Strange gaped hungrily, and it
was her hard fate to fill them.

"So absurd!" grumbled Lady Jim, as the wind whimpered and the rain
lashed the glass, "in the middle ages one could have hired a nice
bravo to put him out of the way, and there would not have been even
funeral expenses. I must pay, I suppose, but I'll see if the beast
will not take the money by instalments. There is always the chance
that he might be drowned between payments--and I hope he will be," she
ended devoutly.

In this amiable frame of mind she arrived at Curzon Street, after
sending Joan, brimful of Continental experiences, to the less
fashionable district of Lambeth. The house looked cosy, the servants
were attentive, the insurance money swelled her bank account, and,
best of all, Demetrius was posting towards Siberia. On the whole
things were tolerable--it was not Leah's custom to indulge in
superlatives--so she decided to remain for a week or two in London,
prior to being bored at Firmingham, where the Marchioness awaited the
home-coming of the yachting party. After her late efforts in the cause
of politics Lady Jim felt that she really could not stand Hilda's
artificial childishness without an intermezzo of amusement.

But fun of any sort was hard to find, since her widowhood and the
emptiness of town precluded indulgence. Piccadilly and the Park, St.
James's Street and Pall Mall, were as barren of pleasure and a
fashionable population as that Siberia towards which Demetrius
unwillingly journeyed. Even Lady Canvey had moved out of the Early
Victorian room into more modern surroundings at Nice. Askew certainly
paid his promised visit, but he proved to be dull, thinking more of
the yacht than the woman. The technical terms he employed in
describing his purchase made Lady Jim yawn, and she decided that, like
all men, he was unutterably selfish. However, she was sufficiently
kind-hearted--and diplomatic--to show him the pseudo letter, and
translate it for his benefit.

"Told you so," said he, when in possession of misleading facts: "the
beggar's all right--be on his legs in a jiffy."

"Thanks to your care."

"Don't rub it into a fellow, Lady Jim!"

"Lady James!"

"Lady James it is, though it seems to me that we are to be merely
acquaintances."

"Most of my friends are acquaintances."

"But I want this acquaintance to be a friend."

"What an exacting nature! Well"--with a sigh--"I suppose as you have
loved and I have lost, we can be friends till you marry."

"Why not after?"

"Dear Mr. Askew, a bachelor selects his own friends, a wife chooses
those of her husband. Meantime, you are a nice boy, if somewhat
fickle, and I like you sufficiently to let you go. When does this ship
of yours go south?"

"Schooner, Lady Jim--schooner-yacht; two hundred tons Lloyd's
measurement and----"

"You explained that before."

"Did I? Yes, of course. Well, she is a beauty."

"Ah! The same term was applied to me once and by a man who said that
he would love me for ever."

"I don't believe I was ever so crude," retorted Askew, bluntly; "you
don't tell a lady that she is a beauty, though you might say it to a
shopgirl."

"Really! I don't know any people of that class. You do, apparently."

The young man grew red and wriggled like a speared eel, thinking how
very like a woman she was. She did not want him, and she did want him;
she told him to go, and wished him to stop; she pardoned his
fickleness, yet kept it in mind. "Ah, you bundle of contradictions!"

"Why not say a woman? One word explains your three."

"I like to be verbose," said Askew, sulkily.

"You always are--first about me, and then about this ship thing. I
suppose the Fajardo woman will be the next."

"Don't speak of her like that."

"Why not? She is my rival. I should be more than mortal if I forgave
her, and less than a woman if I did not say nasty things about her."

"Say them about me, then."

"I have been doing my best, and really, you take a ragging very well.
There, poor boy"--she patted his cheek--"I shan't tease you any more.
When do you sail?"

"In three weeks."

"For Buenos Ayres?"

"Of course."

"Oh true and eager lover! Dine with me next Thursday, and we can talk
about her."

"You'll be nasty."

"About the ship? Oh, no!"

"I thought you meant Lola."

"Perhaps I did; both ship and woman are 'hers,' you know. Next
Thursday?"

"I shall be delighted."

"You look it. Do try and conceal your emotions better."

Askew laughed, and took up his hat. She was more like a mosquito than
a human being, and he made for the door, weary of being stung. "I
would rather be your friend than your husband, Lady Jim," he said
coolly.

"What a compliment, seeing what husbands are! I ought to know."

"Oh, pardon me--I forgot," he stuttered, much confused.

She shook her head at him gravely. "What a child in arms you are!"

To this last piece of impertinence Askew would have replied rather
sharply, thereby proving the truth of her remark, but that the door
was blocked by a tall lean man.

"M. Aksakoff!" announced the footman, behind the newcomer.

"Good-day, Lady James. Good-day, M. Aksakoff, and good-bye."

Leah, when alone with the diplomatist, felt her heart leap at the
solemnity of his looks. She fancied that he might have come to tell
her of the doctor's escape. In reality, Aksakoff was wondering how he
could pay her two thousand pounds without turning the arranged comedy
into a drama. Feeling his way, he allowed her the first word.

"You will stop to luncheon," said Lady Jim, amiably.

"I trespass too much on your hospitality, dear madame. You must have
had enough of me at our last luncheon in Paris."

"Oh, I have forgotten all about Paris"; and she gave him a look which
intimated that he also should feign forgetfulness.

"Ah, no; but pardon me, I came to inquire about M. Demetrius."

"Why from me? I know nothing. Wait--I do know something. He wrote me a
letter saying he was better and intended to go to Russia."

"Probably to see Petrovitch about his pardon. I wish I had seen him
before he left Paris"; and the diplomatist smiled when the letter was
mentioned.

"Did you not see him?"

Aksakoff raised his eyebrows. "But it was impossible, madame," he
explained, without even a wink. "Dr. Helfmann took him away in the
fiacre and I departed for Havre. I did not return to Paris."

"I see; your business at Havre detained you."

"Longer than I expected," said the diplomatist, taking his cue. "You
see, madame, I was forced to repeat my conversation with M. Demetrius
to my cousin the Count. I expect that he wrote to Paris, and told M.
Demetrius to come to Havre for a conversation."

"Without knowing his address? How clever!"

Aksakoff laughed. "You have me there, madame."

"I really don't know what you mean. How is Katinka?"

"She is at Brussels. In good health, I believe."

"Does she know that M. Demetrius has gone to St. Petersburg?"

"Possibly. He had to write announcing his engagement to you."

If he expected Lady Jim to be taken aback by this abrupt speech, he
was mistaken in the woman, whose aplomb he should have known. She
merely laughed and dropped out a ready lie with slow amusement. "Ah,
my dear M. Aksakoff, clever linguists as you Russians are, your
comprehension of the English language is limited--very, very limited.
M. Demetrius should have known, that in our tongue, one word may have
several meanings. See--a diocese. See--to perceive by the eye."

"Your illustration is felicitous, madame. I understand, then, that M.
Demetrius translated 'No' as 'Yes'!"

"Oh, he was by no means so stupid as that. The man bothered me with
attentions for months, and was quite a nuisance. I nearly spoke to
poor dear Jim about his smirking, grinning compliments. He talked of
me in clubs and followed everywhere, sighing like a furnace--if a
furnace ever does sigh. I speak on Shakespeare's authority. To
keep the creature quiet I said something which he apparently
misconstrued--a sop to Cerberus, a cake to a child. You understand."

"I think so. There was no engagement."

"None at all. How impertinent of him to suggest such a thing, when my
husband is scarcely cold in his grave! But I pardon him on account of
his ignorance of our language, which undoubtedly led him into error.
When I see him again I shall explain myself in a way which he will
probably find disagreeable."

Aksakoff smiled imperceptibly. "M. Demetrius is much to blame, madame,
for not having given more attention to your English grammar. I go to
St. Petersburg myself in a week. Perhaps you will give me some message
to him."

"No! The man is a fool, and I never wish to hear about him again."

"Your command shall be obeyed. From this moment his name shall never
be mentioned by me"; and he mentally admired the clever way in which
she had wriggled out of an untenable situation. But the object of his
visit had still to be approached, and at this moment an inspiration
how to approach it came opportunely. The mention of poor dear Jim
suggested lines upon which he might proceed with safety. "I come on a
serious errand, madame," said he, softly.

"Yes!" she did not know what he meant, and under the circumstances did
not intend to inquire. To advance under the guns of masked batteries
was never Leah's mode of campaigning.

"Your husband--pardon, your late husband--played bridge," said the
diplomatist, so crudely as to render himself unworthy of the name.

"I believe he did."

"Assuredly; and with me on occasions. Twelve months ago we were a
party of five at Torquay."

"I believe Jim did go there sometimes. Go on."

"It is hard to go on, madame," said Aksakoff, with feigned
nervousness, "as I have a confession to make."

"I grant you absolution beforehand."

"You are too good. Then I can repay you by handing over the money."

"What money?"

"My losses at bridge. Yes; with your husband and others I played a
great deal--unfortunately for my pockets."

She noticed the misused plural and smiled. "Most people made that
remark grammatically, when they played with Jim. So you lost?"

"Two thousand pounds."

The exact sum he had mentioned at Monte Carlo. At once she saw that he
wished to pay wages on a sufficiently plausible pretext. The money
would have been useful to pay Strange and Jim, so that she could keep
her thirty thousand pounds intact; but, strangely enough in so
unscrupulous a woman, she could not make up her mind to finger such
dirty gold.

"Death pays all debts," she said quietly.

"On the part of the corpse, assuredly. But those who live have to
reckon with the executors."

"In that case you had better see the Marquis of Frith. He is poor
Jim's executor."

"Ah, no, madame; be kind. I should have paid this money before, but my
salary did not permit. What would M. le Marquis say if I confessed
that I delayed so long to pay a debt of honour?"

"What does it matter, so long as you do pay?"

"It matters much amongst men," said Aksakoff, stiffly. "But you, a
woman, and a clever woman," he added with emphasis, "will understand.
I pray you, madame, to take my cheque for the full amount, and permit
my mind to be at rest."

Lady Jim, priding herself on performing a hard penance for her late
rascality, shook her head. "No," said she, seriously; "I am quite sure
that Jim, who was often in a hole himself, would not have been hard on
you. Had he lived the money would have been a godsend to him--I admit
that; but I really cannot take payment of any gambling debts. It would
not be right," she finished virtuously.

Aksakoff was less surprised than she anticipated. Her refusal of this
money assured him that the story of the engagement was true, and that
Leah had rid herself of an undesirable suitor, who had power to compel
completion of a forced contract. What power Demetrius had over her
Aksakoff could not guess, but the whole circumstances showed that her
desire had been for the obliteration of the man, and not to earn two
thousand pounds. But nothing of this appeared on his calm face.

"Pray take the cheque, madame," he urged, and held it under her nose.

"No, no!" She pushed back her chair from that too alluring bait. "I
cannot take it, and I shall say nothing about it. Stay"--she took the
fluttering paper from his hand and rose. "You have paid me on Jim's
behalf--is that not so?"

"Yes"; Aksakoff watched her, wondering at this right-about-face.

"Then"--she approached the fire and flung in the cheque--"the debt is
paid, and you are free."

"Ah, but no."

"I say, yes." Lady Jim approached him with outstretched hands, and a
smile which had won her many things. "You are my friend and not my
debtor. Is it not so?"

He kissed those extended hands. "Madame, a hard-working and poor
official thanks you. My services now and ever are at your command."

With the thought that Demetrius might return unexpectedly from
Siberia, she thanked him. "I may have to remind you of that some day."

"When and where you will, madame!" His pale eyes lighted up with
enthusiastic fire. "Were you my wife, I should be an ambassador."

"You may be some day. Madame Aksakoff has talents."

"Madame Aksakoff is--Madame Aksakoff; and you, are----"

"Well, what?" she demanded, smiling.

"An angel."

"How weak!"

"All language is weak, when used to describe such a woman as you,
madame. I take my leave. Your servant!"

"And my friend?"

"To the death, madame!"

He went out as stiff and solemn as ever, with the conviction that he
had parted from Jezebel's cousin-german. Nevertheless, he admired her
prodigiously, especially as he intended to put into his own pockets
the two thousand pounds she had so tactfully earned, and so foolishly
rejected. The bureaucracy would never hear of her folly, and it would
be a pity to return money which a poor official could bank against
evil days. Not that Aksakoff expected these. The capture of Demetrius,
without publicity, and so cleverly achieved, would gain him infinite
credit as an efficient servant of the Czar. "A charming and astute
woman," he thought gratefully, when ruminating on certain advancement.
"But dangerous," added Prudence.

Leah went about for the next seven days with her head in the air, and
with a contempt for those people who found renunciation difficult. She
could renounce, with ease: had she not refused a large sum of money
because she felt that it was wrong to take it? What self-denial! She
felt aggressively virtuous, and but for the circumstances would have
liked to trumpet her perfections in the street. That she did not do so
was further self-denial and a flattering conscience, with which
Providence had nothing to do, assured her that she was a pearl amongst
women. Now that Demetrius was out of sight she calmly put him out of
mind, and began to think how she could prevent Askew from spoiling
Jim's nefarious courting of the Spanish lady. There was no way, so far
as she could see, since the sailor's love had grown cold, and she had
no bonds in which to bind him. But she trusted to that luck which the
fetish always sent her way, and sure enough the luck came, but some
weeks later. Beforehand the fetish, still annoyed by her prayer to
another god, sent her a reminder that it could be disagreeable. A bolt
from the blue came in the shape of a telegram from Firmingham.

"Come to me at once," wired the Marchioness. "Yacht lost off Brest.
Duke and Frith and most of crew drowned. Come."

"She might have spared the last word," said Leah, staring and stunned.



CHAPTER XXVI


Lady Jim boarded a special train to Firmingham in a royal rage, the
more riotous for necessary suppression. After the shock of the
unexpected had passed, she gave a flitting thought of pity to her
drowned relatives, and reverted hastily to selfish considerations.
Solitude permitting the play of temper, she punished the fetish, by
flinging its outward and visible sign of a peacock's feather from the
compartment which witnessed the unmasking. That her Baal should have
played her such a trick was intolerable, and still more intolerable
the thought that circumstances muzzled her. For the first time in her
victorious life Leah Kaimes dealt with a fixed decree, against which
there was no appeal.

What could she do? Nothing! To make chaos of a continent would not
have relieved her feelings, and there was nothing to wreck in the
limited space of the carriage. Unable to sit still, she threw herself
from seat to seat, feeling like a caged tiger, with the added savagery
of a trained intellect. Unlike the beast, she had the use of speech to
vent her wrath, but this she did not utilise from a conviction that no
words would do justice to the situation. A Texan mule-driver's
vocabulary would have fallen short of her requirements. Her impotent
anger was like that of a dog leaping and slavering against an
offending but unreachable moon.

And the facts--the hard ironic facts, which she could not do away
with, scheme as she might! Those inflexible actualities buzzed in her
brain, until repetition took the rhythm of the droning wheels
underfoot. Pentland was dead, along with his son and heir; Hilda, a
widow with two girl babies, who did not count in the succession; Jim
was wiped out of social existence, and by her own act. Remained
Lionel, the curate, the prig, her one honest man--the Duke of
Pentland. Leah could have screamed in the face of this crushing truth.

A title at the best, fifty thousand a year, three country seats, a
town house, spacious and crammed with beautiful things, and a Scotch
moor with an adorable shooting-box. This was the heritage of the new
peer! "Of a milk-and-water parson," raged Lady Jim, unjustly, "who
will waste everything in charity, and turn the houses into pigsties
for the unclean. Oh, Lord, to think that such a clerical ass should
get the inside runnings!" This latter phrase she had picked up from
Miss Mulrady, and at the moment it seemed expressive.

The position would not bear thinking about; yet she had to think,
appealing betweenwhiles to the gods-of-things-as-they-are for reasons
to justify such shabby treatment. What had she done, that they should
be so disagreeable? It was enough to make a truly virtuous woman, as
she assuredly could call herself, dance a can-can in Piccadilly. Then
she desisted for a few moments from calling the Unseen bad names to
lament over her own short-sightedness. To think that she should have
sold Jim's birthright for thirty thousand pounds! It was not even one
year's income of the Pentland estates. She would have been a Duchess,
too; not that she personally cared for rank, but with a higher
position she could have trampled the more easily on her enemies. A
thought of these flashing into her mind made her clench her fists and
grit her teeth. How they would rejoice, the beasts, to think what she
had missed, and by how short a period she had missed it! If they had
only one neck, as Caligula desired for his enemies, how she would have
enjoyed a chop at it!

"Oh!" cried Leah, banging the cushions and choking in the dust thus
raised--"if I could only bring Jim back!"

It was a kindly wish, as she desired him to enjoy the good things that
had fallen into his sham grave. But there did not seem much chance of
achieving the impossible. Jim was dead and buried, and the interment
had been legally sanctified by her tears. If he came to life it would
be difficult to explain how a corpse in his name came to occupy a
niche in the Kaimes vault. Also, inquiry might lead to the production
of a Siberian exile. If Demetrius told the truth--which he assuredly
would do in the face of a betrayal he must guess was her work--there
would be no place for her in Society, and she would starve, a social
Peri at the gates of a forbidden Paradise. No! Think as she would--and
think she did till her brain ached--things had to remain as she had
foolishly arranged them. It was a galling thought to think that none
but she who suffered was responsible. She could not even lay the blame
on the stars; but she could and did on the fetish. It was something of
a relief to have thrown its peacock manifestation out of the window.

Two hours in the railway carriage tamed her unruly nerves into some
sort of submission, and partially schooled her into accepting the
inevitable. To make the best of it, to rob the new Duke shamelessly of
money and the Curzon Street house, on the plea of disinheritance, were
the results at which she arrived. By the time Firmingham appeared
through the carriage windows she had ceased to kick against the
pricks. The mask was on her face when the train stopped, and it
was a quiet and demure lady who alighted at the station. Even the
sister-in-law who entered the great house to console the Marchioness
was as sympathetic as the most exacting could have required.

She suppressed a groan when she passed through the doors of the lordly
mansion that was really and truly her own, but managed by a steady
exercise of her strong will to greet Colley with great calmness. The
butler intimated that Lady Frith wept incessantly in her boudoir, and
that the Duke----

"What?" queried Leah, sharply, adding more grammatically, "Who?"

"His Grace the Duke, my lady. He is in the study."

"Mr. Lionel Kaimes?"

"As was, my lady. His Grace came down last night."

"Augh! Why wasn't there an accident on the line?" muttered she, who
longed to announce herself as a genuine duchess and could not.

"I beg pardon, my lady!"

"Oh--er--I'll go to my room, Colley. Tell his Grace I shall see him in
an hour."

When she had changed her dress for one heavier with crape, as a sign
of additional grief, and had lain for a miserable forty minutes
without closing an eye, and had swallowed a much-needed dose of sal
volatile, and had relieved her feelings by scolding an unoffending
maid, she went before the footlights to play her most difficult and
unpalatable part. The former nobody, seated at his predecessor's desk,
rose, looking pale and careworn.

"A terrible thing," said the new Duke, giving his hand gravely.

"Awful. I can scarcely believe it. Is it really true?" and she had a
passing hope that it might not be, seeing she could not benefit.

"Only too true, unfortunately."

"For those two, I suppose you mean. You're all right."

"A square peg in a round hole, I fear," he sighed. "I would give much
that both had survived."

"How unnatural!" commented Lady Jim, with a grimace. "But you always
were eccentric. People won't mind that, now you are a duke. But I am
sorry--really--for them, I mean. Such an awful thing to be cut off
before you've made your arrangements for an agreeable reception in the
next world. What a mercy they went together--for company, you know;
and they say drowning is really quite nice after the first choking is
over."

Lionel looked at her sternly, but felt helpless. She played with the
solemn issues of life and death as a child with a bauble. Would
nothing touch her heart? Would nothing make her serious? The flippancy
jarred on his overstrung nerves. "Please do not talk like that," said
he, harshly and emphatically. "Please do not."

"I am only trying to cheer you up," she answered, opening her eyes
wide, and with a faint smile softening her hard mouth. "I really
cried--you mustn't think me hard-hearted; really, I cried when I heard
of the accident. I suppose it was an accident?"

"I should call it the act of God."

"Oh!" Leah could find no very pertinent reply, and glided dexterously
into another subject, to prevent religious instruction. "I came down
to see poor Hilda, as she wanted me so badly. But I thought it best to
learn details from you first. We must spare the poor thing's feelings,
you know, Lionel," ended Lady Jim, thoughtfully.

His face brightened. "I am glad you call me that," said he, earnestly,
"for I confess it is difficult for me to respond to my title."

"You'll get used to it," she assured him. "I suppose you will drop the
parson now?"

"Certainly not. I am still my Master's servant. He has merely raised
me to a higher and more responsible position in His household."

"Raised your wages also," murmured Leah, shrugging. "I beg your
pardon, Lionel, I should not have said that."

"You should not, indeed," was the pained response.

"It's a kind of hysteria," apologised Lady Jim, almost at a loss for
an excuse, "like that man who botanised on his mother's grave, you
know. Besides, people who really feel, laugh awfully when sorrow
comes. And Jim's death took most of my tears--poor dear Jim! I daresay
you think that I am unfeeling; but I'm not--really and truly, I'm not.
What with these dear things dying so unexpectedly, and my own feeling
of widowhood, and condolences from people who will say the wrong
thing, I feel broken-hearted."

Lionel smiled grimly at this incoherent and wholly false explanation.

"You have a strange way of showing grief, Lady James."

"Don't be nasty, now that you are up in the world. I'll be quite
different with Hilda, poor soul, though I must be natural with you. It
is a compliment, if you only look at it in the right way, which of
course, with your priggishness, you won't. And you needn't use that
cheap title of mine, just to remind me how nearly I've missed being
called by a more expensive one. I suppose Joan will be your duchess.
Do you think she will fill the position!"

"Admirably."

"How curt! There is still a lot of the parson about you, Lionel."

"And ever will be."

"World without end, I suppose. Hysteria again, Duke, so don't look
shocked. Give me details."

The young man looked again at this wonderful being. For many months he
had known the impossibility of altering Leah's view of things seen and
unseen. The most sacred subjects seemed to appeal to her sense of
humour, and no solemnity could banish the ever-ready smile from her
lips. In reality he was unjust in thinking thus. Lady Jim, considering
her losses and the ironic position she occupied, only kept herself
from shrieking out the truth by giving vent to ill-timed frivolities.
Her greatest relief would have been to tell this prig that he was a
supplanter. Hysteria, said she, was the excuse for unnatural
merriment, and truly hysteria it was, although she could not swear to
it. Unaware of all this turmoil in the mind of the mourner in motley,
Lionel positively thought that troubles had rendered her distraught,
and so passed over her incongruities.

"The yacht was on her homeward way," he explained, in the eminently
laboured fashion of a landsman when dealing with ships. "During that
storm a week ago she went down off Brest--Cape Brest."

"Struck on a reef?"

"No; she sprang a leak, and the boats were stove in, so no one could
be saved in that way. By clinging to a spar the steward reached shore.
He alone survived"; and Lionel covered his face to indulge in a silent
prayer for those who had perished.

Lady Jim was more practical according to her lights. "Why did you only
hear this week-old news yesterday?"

"The steward, the survivor, was ill with fever: also he was wounded in
the head,--against the rock, I suppose. The yacht was seen to founder
far off shore, but no one at Brest knew her name. When the steward
came to himself the other day, he explained, and the news was
telegraphed to the Duke's lawyers, who sent for me. I expect we shall
not learn full details till this steward arrives. He is now on his way
to London."

"And the Duke--Frith?"

"Their bodies are in the depths with the ship and those who formed her
crew. Peace be to their souls!"

"You needn't worry about that," said Leah, tartly, and paying her
tribute to the dead. "I am quite sure that the Duke and Frith have
gone to that heaven you're always talking about. It is awful," she
added pensively, and with a shudder; "but talking only makes it worse.
I'll go and see Hilda, poor dear."

Lionel followed her to the door. "Lady James, let me beg of you to
keep the--er--hysteria in check."

"Of course," she assured him, giving her hand frankly; "I always adapt
my mood to my company. It would be useless for one woman to waste
hysteria on another--both know too much about it. I'll be nice--oh,
you can be sure of that. I'm not a bad sort, my good man."

"Sometimes I think you are a very decent sort, Lady James."

"And on other occasions?" she questioned, unmoved.

"Don't ask me."

"I won't. You can't explain, and will only fib. Parsons can't keep
back an answer, whether they know anything of the matter in hand or
not. But I'll be good to that poor baby-woman--indeed I will."

And indeed she was, swinging round to the opposite extreme, with the
protean adaptability of her nature. Besides, after the interview with
the new Duke she felt able to command her feelings better. It is only
possible to act perfectly when the emotions are under control, as Lady
Jim found; and if she said what she did not mean, and acted as she did
not feel, well, that was the fault of the circumstances into which her
treacherous fetish had thrown her. But at heart she really had some
pity for this useless doll of a woman, who sobbed in her arms.

"Don't cry, dear," said Leah, ardently, beginning to console; "you
know how I feel for you. I also have lost a husband." Owing to
circumstances she rather choked over this lie, but it came out pretty
readily.

"I shall never--never lift up my head again," sobbed the latest widow.

"Oh, yes, you will, dear," replied the earlier one, cheerfully: "look
at me!"

Hilda shook her head and declined to look. "Frith wasn't Jim," said
she.

"And he wasn't my husband, either. You feel Frith's death and I feel
Jim's. We each have our own sorrow, and time alone will help us to
forget the dear departed."

"Leah"--Hilda sobbed more violently than ever--"I shall never--never
forget. Never--never--never--never!"

"I didn't mean forget exactly," murmured Leah, who had been more
candid than she intended; "but time will soothe us, and we shall all
meet on a happier shore."

"I hope so--I hope so"; the Marchioness clasped her hands devoutly and
raised her eyes. "I can see our three dear ones meeting now."

"I wish I could," said Lady Jim, truthfully, and she felt that the
meeting of the Kaimes family in heaven would be a sight worth
witnessing. Of course Jim was alive, but even if he were dead, she did
not think that Hilda's vision could possibly become fact. The Duke,
who had turned angel in his old age, and Frith, who was always pious,
had a chance certainly; but Jim, when his turn came, would probably
not be of the party.

However, the business of consoling a sore heart had to be attended to,
and Leah dosed Hilda with all the platitudes which the Marchioness had
used during a similar and earlier event. And Lady Jim was so admirable
an actress that she really deceived herself into thinking that her
stage-play was real life. Her eloquence, her attentions, her hoverings
like a guardian angel over Hilda, her bringing in the children--that
was a master-stroke--and her general zeal in drying a mourner's tears,
were truly wonderful. By the time she left the Marchioness, sitting up
with "his children" on her lap, soothed and comforted, and grateful
for Leah's kindness, poor Lady Jim felt quite exhausted.

"I do hope there will be a decent dinner," she soliloquised, in the
seclusion of her own room. "I can't stand much more of this without
food."

Through the troubles of death and the joys of birth, the worry of weak
minds and the scheming of strong ones, ever moves the solid business
of life connected with eating and sleeping. Therefore the Firmingham
cook, being a hired servant, was sufficiently master of his emotions
to send up a really tempting repast. The new Duke and the disinherited
Duchess partook of this meal in a small room without attendance.
Wishing to talk family matters, they did not desire eavesdropping
footmen. Besides, Hilda remained in her own apartment, nourishing her
emotions with red lavender, and calling at intervals for "Bunny" to
come back. Lady Jim paid several visits to the poor little soul during
the evening, and each time was successful in cheering her up; but it
was trying work, as again and again she had to begin from the
beginning. No wonder she looked harassed when seated opposite to her
host. Lionel thanked her gratefully, and with reason, for Hilda had
eulogised Leah and her work of mercy.

"I knew you would prove yourself a true woman," said he, pouring her
out a glass of champagne.

"Oh, Lord!" said Lady Jim, sipping the wine, and wondered what he
would say could he see into her mind. "Give me some of that
vol-au-vent, Lionel. It is really very good."

The man felt slightly disappointed. "You can eat?"

"Do you require me to tell you that?" she asked lightly. "I have
enjoyed every course. Eat--I should think so. You don't want me to
faint, as Hilda has been doing."

"But your feelings"

"Oh, they are well under control, now. And after all"--Leah paused
with a fork half-way to her mouth--"it's best to be sensible even when
things smash. If I had come down to howl about the house, where would
you have been?"

"I really cannot understand your nature."

Lady Jim nodded. "Same here. I never know what I shall do under given
circumstances, save keep my poor wits about me. We're strange beasts,
Lionel--strange beasts."

He disagreed, mindful of her Good Samaritan kindness. "You make
yourself out to be worse than you are, Lady James."

"Don't you make any such mistake. I never seek cheap praise by crying
down my virtues. Were you my father-confessor--which you are not--and
I religious--which I have no inclination to be--I should shock you
into Hilda's state. Poor little thing, what an undisciplined mind she
has, and how she does work for those tyrants the emotions! I think you
had better send for Joan: she is used to women who run wild."

"You put things unpleasantly," said he, uneasily.

"And truthfully. Answer my question, please."

"Joan arrives to-morrow with her mother."

"I am glad," Leah assured him fervently. "Too many female cooks can
never spoil the funeral broth. The more women you have in a mourning
house the better. We like to weep in company and to talk obituary
notices. That is, other women do. I fancy I have a dash of the man in
me, and this sort of undertaker rejoicing gives me the creeps."

Lionel secretly agreed with her, although he disapproved of the mode
of expression. Ostentatious grief he disliked, as most men do, and
discussing funeral emotions threadbare was not to his healthy liking.
Therefore did he talk business with Lady Jim. It was necessary to
distract his attention, she said, and so set about plundering the
heir. By the time coffee arrived Lionel had promised her the Curzon
Street house as a gift, and had agreed to pay all debts as the late
Duke had arranged. Also, untruthfully assured by Leah that her
temporal prosperity had suffered by the untimely demise of Jim, he
promised to pay a quarterly thousand a year for the rest of her life.

"Yes," said Lionel, emphatically, "even if you marry, Lady James."

"I have no intention of marrying yet," said Leah, who was busy with
Kümmel. She really felt that the consoling of a tearful widow required
Kümmel.

"I thought that Mr. Askew admired you."

"He admires a new schooner he has bought, and some woman in South
America. Oh, Mr. Askew has a catholic mind, I can tell you."

"Dr. Demetrius!"

"He has gone to Russia, I believe, on business connected with his
pardon. Didn't Joan tell you how he was taken ill in Paris?"

"Yes; what a strange thing!"

"Oh, I don't know. He once told me that he inherited fits--mother's
side. It was very rude of him to have one in my rooms, but some men
are so inconsiderate."

"He loves you."

"Or loved me--which?"

"Present tense, I fancy. Will you marry him?"

"Will I marry the Emperor of China, you mean. No, thanks; I have no
wish to live in a country of bounce and bombs. And I never could read
those novels written by men with unpronounceable names. Besides, I
can't bear dapper little men with waxed moustaches. I only tolerated
Dr. Demetrius because he was useful to Jim."

"A great friend of your husband's, I believe."

"Do you? Does one generally make a friend of one's doctor?"

"The man was certainly credited with being your friend. And more, he
talked openly of his love for you."

"What bad taste! I don't see how you can hold me responsible. He did
love me, I believe--at least, he pestered me with attentions. It's a
mercy he has gone to Si--I mean to Russia. I hope he'll stay there,
and be eaten up by white bears like those poor brats Elisha was so
spiteful to. As to marrying"--her eyes twinkled--"it won't be easy to
replace poor Jim. He was such a good husband."

"You never said that when he was alive."

"Of course not: he would have taken advantage of the compliment. But
Jim wasn't bad on the whole. He left me alone, at all events. Perhaps
his successor will bother me to show public affection: as if I
would--or could, for the matter of that."

"Lady James, do you love any one but yourself?"

"You and Joan--dear little innocent glass-case dolls that you are.
Yes; you may blush and smile, but I am really in earnest. You were
always so rude to me that I knew you to be genuine."

"Oh!" Lionel exhibited shocked surprise. "I hope I was never rude."

"Horribly, on all occasions. If you had not been, I never should have
believed that you were genuine. When people mean what they say, and
don't want anything from one, they are always rude; it's a kind of
trademark. I am sure Socrates was a man you could always trust and
would never have invited to dinner. You're something like him, only
you don't ask questions and are better-looking. I always consider you
the one honest man in a world of rogues, and if you were not engaged
to Joan, I should marry you."

Lionel coloured still deeper and laughed in an embarrassed fashion. "I
might have something to say to that."

"Not at all. Didn't you hear me say that I should have married you.
What could you or any man do against me?" and she laughed with an
insolent pride in her beauty and powers. "By the way," she added, "I
have to run up to town to-morrow on business. Do you mind?"

"Not at all. Joan and her mother will be here. Do exactly what you
please, Lady James."

"Call me Leah, now that you are the head of the family," she murmured,
and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

He threw back his head and met her eyes, with a boyish blush. "Leah!"
he breathed. "Very well, then--Leah."

Lady Jim tapped his smooth cheek indulgently. "You foolish thing," she
said, kindly; "if it was worth my while, I could----" Leaving the
sentence unfinished and Lionel furious, she left the room. That
she--this hardened coquette of the world, should dare to think he
would forget the sweetest and best of girls. Let her sing the song of
the sirens as she might, he would never--no, never, prove false to
Joan. But honest as were these thoughts, Lionel was but a man, when
all was said and done, and the touch on his shoulder, the look in her
eyes, the cooing murmur of her voice, made him wince, and not
unpleasantly. Well was it for the young man that Leah did not choose
to try her wiles, else he might have been lured towards that pit the
edges of which are wreathed with roses. Had his future Duchess been
any other than Joan the simple, a perverse spirit might have led Lady
Jim to indulge in some perilous amusement; but she liked the girl, and
honestly respected Lionel. Therefore did the lover scoff at her magic
arts, strong only in escaping temptation. Had Leah put forth her
powers---- "Silly little donkey," she thought, climbing the stairs,
"as if I couldn't do what I liked. It would be a hard battle, but I
could--I could--I could,--only I shan't," she finished. "Joan is a
dear girl, and I am the most worried woman in the world."

She made the latter part of this final remark again, when she conned a
brusque and somewhat imperative letter which had arrived by the
evening post. It came from one Richard Strange, and purported to be
written from a third-rate Strand hotel. This uncivilised communication
intimated that the aforesaid Strange would be obliged--this
underlined--if her ladyship would afford him an immediate interview.

"M'm," commented Leah, glancing suspiciously at the underlined word,
"he isn't sure of his money, and means to be nasty if he doesn't get
it. Well"--she heaved a sigh--"he must be paid, I suppose, the
blackmailing beast. And the whole sum down, I expect. Time payments
won't be acceptable to a man who writes in this fashion."

She wrote an artful letter, stating that Dr. Demetrius had spoken of
his travels with a Captain Strange, and, solely because she wished
to hear of poor Mr. Garth, who had been a protégé of her late
father-in-law, she made an appointment at 10, Curzon Street, for five
the next evening. This epistle, which did not recognise existing facts
and could be shown to the whole world without betraying anything
underhand, she sent off at once. If possible, she would have shirked
meeting a man she more than suspected of being a brute. But to
vanquish danger one must meet it, as she very well knew.

"And if he wants more than his thousand," thought Lady Jim, again on
her way to the widowed Marchioness, "he'll find that I am quite equal
to deal with him, and with a dozen like him, if need be. A thousand
pounds! Oh, Lord! The greedy wretch!"

Then she spread her wings as a ministering angel.



CHAPTER XXVII


"No!" rasped the lean man, and his eyes hardened like those of a cat
with her claws out; "you figure it out, ma'am, in your own way very
prettily, I don't deny. But my Pisgah-sight's got to be took, you bet.
Guess we'll do th' view in a bunch, an' toss fur lots."

Leah smiled vaguely, because she was not sure of her ground, and
required a translator badly. Jim had been abstruse on occasions, but
this seafaring person spoke the shibboleth of a shifting population to
excess. Never having met one of this breed before, she did not know
how to handle him. Captain Strange was not a Muscovite diplomatist,
who would call black white, or even grey, to please her; and,
moreover, he appeared to be extraordinarily unsympathetic in the
presence of lovely woman. The magic of sex had worked weakly hitherto,
and this brusque visitor gave her to understand that he was not to be
cajoled into make-believe conversation. He required, and declared
emphatically that he did require, an unvarnished statement of facts,
to be argued exhaustively, so that he might know--as he tersely put
it--where he dropped anchor.

"You don't chuck orange-peel my way, ma'am," said the mariner, and
intended to clinch his assertion by spitting. But the sight of the
carpet pulled him back to civilisation.

The friend of Demetrius, owner and captain of the _Stormy Petrel_,
presented himself as a tall, small-boned man, with no superfluous
flesh on his frame-work, and with a jaw as hard--from bullying
underlings--and as blue--from close shaving--as were his eyes. The
tint of these, added to the blackness of curling hair, combined with
the racy vernacular which he flung fairly in her face, inclined Lady
Jim to class him as an Irish-American. But from the discourteous way
in which he spoke--as they never would have spoken in dear dirty
Dublin--and from his habit of interjecting slang words chosen from the
domestic speech of the Five Nations, she was puzzled to fix his
nationality accurately. As a matter of private history, and this she
discovered later, he was entirely cosmopolitan, and, out of sheer
contrariety, owed allegiance to no particular flag. Not a bad-looking
freebooter, Leah decided, with his regular features, and well-shaped
head, and white teeth, and ruddy clean-shaven face; but dangerous, was
her second and wiser thought. She was right. The man of many lands was
also of many minds, but at the back of them all lay the unalterable
determination to ride rough-shod over any one who would submit. As
Lady Jim also held to the same theory of individualism, it was not
unlikely that a brisk encounter might ensue, and for this she was
quite prepared. Meantime, she decided that he was picturesque, and, in
his rough blue clothes, with a red neck-tie and barbaric gold rings in
his ears, and a general air of "you-be-damnedness," would have amused
her as a new figure from the underworld, but that the large issues of
the conversation induced seriousness.

"I don't understand you, and I am sure you do not understand me," was
her observation, after digesting the orange-peel parable.

"Let it go at that, ma'am. But I reckon I kin make m'self as clear as
any man, livin' or dead, when dollars are in th' pool. Now you"--he
shook a large brown finger--"you, ma'am, give me taffy."

"What is taffy?"

"What you might call sugar--best brand, an' no sand in it, anyhow.
I've struck heaps of the female in my time, and it's all taffy with
them, till they annex the outfit, an' then y' kin go hang, I guess";
he fixed her with a true quarter-deck eye. "I surmise as you're tryin'
t' play Sally Waters low down. Not much--oh, no. I should smile
considerable to think as any gilded female got th' bulge on me. Go
slow, ma'am. Make no haste when the fat's afire, ses Isaiah. Beckon he
knew things, did thet prophet."

Leah smiled again at this Wild West outburst. "You are a free child of
nature, Captain Strange."

"Taffy agin. I'm a man, you bet, same along as your husband."

"I should think you and he would get on together extremely well," said
Lady Jim, dryly. "But don't you think you could contrive to be a
little less rude?"

"Why, bless y', this is civil fur me."

"How your crew must love you!"

"I'd boot 'em round the ship if they didn't," snapped Strange, very
ferociously. "They've got t' love me up t' the level of workin' their
insides out, else I'd lay out every man jack in his little wooden
overcoat."

"What a sweet nature you have! Are you married?"

"Got a wife o' sorts," said the mariner, indifferently, "an' two kids
of th' best." His eyes softened. "Now, ma'am, you could talk t' me fur
a millennium 'bout them little nippers."

The last word was pure Whitechapel, and Leah wondered if that parish
could claim this buccaneer. But time was too valuable to go into his
private history, so she replied gently, quick to perceive that there
was a flaw in his armour, "On another occasion I shall be delighted to
talk nursery, Captain Strange; but the millennium has not yet arrived
in Curzon Street."

"Y've got me there, I don't deny," cried Strange, hardening. "Now this
here racket, as I've sailed long-sides t' fix up----"

"It will be fixed up, as you call it, at once," said Lady Jim,
sharply. "The matter is very simple."

"Is it now? Lay on th' paint, ma'am."

She passed over this insolence very wisely. "You were kind to that
poor Mr. Garth," she explained, calmly. "And, besides, took Dr.
Demetrius to my husband in Jamaica. For these services I am willing to
give you one thousand pounds--in gold, if you like"; she thought the
metal might tempt him into closing with the offer, but it did not.

"Shucks, ma'am, shucks! You've bin talkin' paint an' putty fur th'
las' hour an' more. T'ain't no good nohow--not a bit, seein' as I'm
being paid fur cold-drawn kidnappin' of your husband, so as y might
loot a company of sorts."

Leah winced at this rude blast of speech, which blew to shreds the
verbal draperies with which she was trying to clothe naked and
unpleasant facts. "I object to the word kidnap. Lord James went with
you of his own accord."

"You kin lay to that, ma'am, an' mighty spry wos he in lightin' out of
these gilded halls int' the free an' wild. Kidnappin' it ain't, if y'
come t' th' bone, so I climb down slick. Oh, there ain't no meanness
'bout me, ma'am. Prove me wrong, an' I go pious right along."

"As you are apparently pious now, Captain Strange, there may be a
chance of our arriving at an understanding."

He nodded. "If as how you'll talk down t' th' bed-rock level of what
we've bin doin', ma'am."

Leah winced again, not liking to run with this ruffian in iniquitous
harness. "You want a thousand pounds?"

"Well," drawled the captain, "y' might say fairer than thet."

"Which means that you intend to ask for what you won't get."

"Huh! Guess thet'll be as right as pie, when I open out."

"You can open out now," said Lady Jim, coolly.

Her antagonist admired this bluffing to the extent of slapping his
thigh, and chuckling like a blackbird over a worm. "You're a dandy one
t' deal with, fur sure, an' a woman at that. My word"--this was
Australian--"if my missus hed bin your sort, ma'am, I'd ha' bin
walkin' a liner as a golden-barred skipper. You kin freeze on t' thet,
straight."

Lady Jim laughed, not ill pleased. Aksakoff had paid her some such
compliment, and it was interesting to see the diverse ways in which
the same idea can be expressed. "Go on," said she, nodding her thanks.

"Don't waste chin-music, neither," mused the captain. "Want's t' git
at my cards afore she shows her own."

"You are in the right so far, Captain Strange"

"Talks book English like print. If she ain't a queen of dimins an'
hearts I'm----"

"I have no doubt you will be some day," interposed Leah, before he
could get the word out; "but until you are, suppose you--er--open
out."

"Touchin' the passage money, as you might call it in a high-falutin'
way, ma'am?"

"Passage money for my husband?"

"An' fur a double of his, as negotiated the Noo Jerusalem on th'
v'yge," nodded the captain, extending his long legs. "Then there's th'
man we planted at Funchal."

"Your nephew--buried in place of Mr. Garth."

"Nephew! Oh, he wasn't any relative o' mine."

"Dr. Demetrius informed me that he was."

"Huh! Guess he wos filled up with thet idear by me. Yes, ma'am, I
reckoned t' make more dollars by supplyin' a nevy as a corp. But he
wos a pick-up, bless y', racketin' off chain, withouter friend, wife,
or kid, till I help plant him in Madeira."

"Will inquiries be made about him?" she asked, carelessly.

"Y' make me smile some, ma'am. Why, I picked up a stray dog o'
purpose."

"H'm!" said Leah, lying back comfortably; "it would have been better
for your pocket had you withheld this information until you cashed my
cheque. It will make a difference."

"Goin' t' cut int' th' thousand?" asked Strange, blandly.

"He was not your nephew, remember," she retorted. The mariner stared
and chuckled. "Donner und Blitz!"

"I know German, if you prefer to talk in that tongue."

He recovered with another stare. "I reckon y've hed a board-school
eddication all along th' line. I swear in any lingo handy----"

"So I hear," she informed him swiftly.

"But I don't stock furrein chin-chin nowhow. An' now, ma'am"--he
expanded his chest and puffed out his cheeks--"I'll trouble y' t' han'
over ten thousand dollars."

"What's that in English?"

"Two thousand pounds." Evidently Strange had gone to considerable
trouble in calculating his blackmail.

"And if you do not get it?"

"Then I guess you'll be sent up."

Leah laughed scornfully. "I understand: unless I submit to extortion
you will tell this story about your supposed nephew and Mr. Garth."

"I'll rip out everything" the captain assured her without flinching;
"an' t' th' nearest copper"--the last word, she observed, was popular
cockney.

"Be careful," she warned him; "our police make capital out of
rascality."

The sailor choked and his eyes bulged. "Ras--ras--rascality?"

"Blackmail, in plain English, Captain Strange."

"Naow don't git me riz," Strange implored her. "I'm a holy terror
with m' hair off."

"Oh, we can tame wild beasts in this country."

"But if I tell----"

"Tell what?"

"Damn!" breathed the astonished man; then almost shrieked an
explanation: "Why, thet Dr. Demetrius brought Garth as a corp t'
Kingston, an' yanked your husband int' the Blue Mountains t' sham
death. Aye; he did, y' bet. An' thet Berrin'--Lord James, y' call him
in your cussed fine way--come aboard my barkey, while the corp as wos
called by his name lighted out fur th' old country, so thet y' might
run rings round a company of sorts."

"How interesting! And what has it all to do with me?"

"My stars!" Strange rose to stamp the more freely.

"Sit down, please," said Lady Jim, sweetly. "I do not allow people of
your class to show their manners in my drawing-room."

"It should be a prison with you in it," he raged. "What a brute you
are! Because you think that I am under your thumb, you not only attempt
blackmail, but add insult."

"I'll make things hum, I kin tell y'. I'll bust up this conspiracy."

"What conspiracy?" asked Leah, stubbornly.

Strange made for the door with a nautical roll. "You kin arsk th'
nearest copper. I'll give him details, never fear."

"Close the door after you, please," said Lady Jim, as he wrenched it
open fiercely.

The captain immediately banged it again with a naughty word, and
turned to behold her opening a book. "Cold-drawn cheek of th' mos'
freezing style," murmured the almost stupefied man. "Oh, my country,
t'aint no wonder he took leg-bail. If I wos married t' her I'd larrup
her every day an' twice on Sundays."

"Not gone yet?" inquired Leah, glancing over the top of her book. "Oh,
please do! I dislike hearing an illiterate person muttering."

"Lord keep me fro' murder," gasped Strange, piously. "Say, ma'am,
ain't you afeared?"

"Awfully! And as there are several policemen within call----"

"Bring 'em up--bring 'em all up, right along."

"I will, if you do not go away"; and she reached for the bell.

"Snakes! Y' mus' hev a card up your sleeve."

"Perhaps I have."

"Or y' may be bluffin'."

"Perhaps I am. Don't you think it would be better if you sat down and
talked pleasantly?"

"If I'd a wife like you," commenced the captain, obeying, "I'd----"

"I am quite sure you would. Bullies like you always enjoy
wife-beating."

"I ain't a bully"; he wiped his face with a flaunting red bandana
handkerchief, breathing heavily.

"Yes, you are, and a coward, who thought to frighten me. Now I am
about to frighten you."

"Huh!" Strange laughed scornfully. "There ain't man, woman, or kid kin
make me sing small. Though I don't deny," he added gracefully, "as
you'd make Old Nick squirm."

"Thanks, but I am rather tired of costermonger compliments. Come to
business. You accuse me of being mixed up in a conspiracy?"

"Well, an' ain't it true?"

"As gospel, between ourselves. To the world it is a lie."

"I bet you can't prove 'tis so," sneered the sailor.

"Proof is not required. Denial is."

"Not when I'm in th' witness-box."

"Not when you're in the dock, you mean, my good man."

Her visitor grew purple. "Me--in th' dock!" he thundered.

"Lower your voice, please, or I shall order my servants to turn you
out. Yes--in the dock, your natural place. This conspiracy of yours."

"Engineered for your little game, mind," he gasped.

"Not at all. I have nothing to do with it"; her hard eyes held him as
he blankly considered her astonishing impudence. "You tell me that Dr.
Demetrius buried a man at Funchal in place of Mr. Garth, and then,
when Mr. Garth died on board your ship, sent home his body as that of
my husband. As Mr. Garth and my husband resembled one another closely,
I can see how I and the family were mistaken when we beheld the
substituted corpse. But I do not understand why my husband should have
consented to this, no more than I understand how you dare accuse me of
conspiring."

"But I do, you bet, ma'am. You played low down on a company."

"Where is your proof?"

"You've got the dollars."

She played a bold stroke. "Ignorant that the money was paid under
false pretences. It shall be given back."

Strange turned white and jumped up. "My share!" he cried.

"I know nothing of your share. Apparently, Dr. Demetrius, who happened
to--to--er--admire me, kidnapped my husband in order that I might
think myself free to marry him,--a thing," said Lady Jim, with scorn,
"which could never--never have occurred. It seems that my husband was
taken away by you and Dr. Demetrius against his will. I shall
communicate with him, now that I know he is alive. Oh, I assure you,
search shall be made, Captain Strange, and the money--every
penny--shall be paid back to the defrauded insurance company. As for
you--blackmailing hound and bully and coward, the law shall punish
you"; and she, daring greatly, was again about to touch the bell.

Several times during this clever explanation Strange had gasped and
sworn softly, almost helpless with rage. But by the time she ended his
anger had cooled, and he was regarding her with profound admiration.
Her astonishing boldness, her dexterous turning of facts into fiction
and fiction into facts, and the unbroken nerve which she displayed
when at bay, commanded his respect. Unknowingly he fell into line with
M. Aksakoff, and rendered homage to superior wickedness.

"Don't shoot, colonel, I'll climb down," said he, collapsing.

Lady Jim, knowing the old 'possum story, laughed and withdrew her
hand, secretly relieved that he had not dared her to press the button.
"Ah, now you talk reason, Captain Strange."

"You bet I'm goin' to," he retorted bluntly. "Y've played your hand
fur all you're worth, an' mighty prettily bluffed it is. But I
guess"--he swung back in his chair largely--"I guess I hold the ace."

"You do?" She eyed him uneasily, for he appeared to be much cooler
than she approved of. "And the ace?"

"Your husband."

"Jim!" Leah started forward, grasping the arms of her chair.

"Huh!" grunted Strange. "I thought you gilded bummers were allays
lords an' ladies t' one another."

"Jim!" she repeated blankly. "Jim!"

"You bet. Kidnappin' wos th' word I used, an' kidnappin' it is. Thet
there Berrin', your husband, sailin' under false colours, come along
with me to Buenos Ayres--there's no denying thet. But"--here the
freebooter winked significantly--"he didn't git set ashore there. Oh
no, not much, you bet. I gummed on t' him as m' ace till I landed
stakes. He don't mind, bless y'--likes the life wonderful. We've bin
gavortin' round Pacific waters fur months, till the dollars ran low.
Then I brought the barkey nor'ard with him under hatches, and
naow"--he stretched out a huge paw--"y' kin pass along thet ten
thousand."

Her brain was working so hard that she scarcely heard half the speech.
At the back of it she began to see possibilities. "My husband is in
England, then?"

"Within reach, anyhow, and with my first mate hangin' on t' him. Maybe
the barkey anchors in a French port. Might be Spanish fur choice, if
y' like--there's no knowin'. But he's within hail, same as them
coppers of yours. The ace, ma'am, the ace. Y' might put in a day
arskin' me why I let him go at ten thousand dollars. Th' hull shoot is
worth heaps an' heaps more."

Leah watched his face closely. "Worth five thousand pounds, perhaps?"

"Well," he drawled, equally watchful; "I shouldn't mind goin' nap on
that, all things being on th' square. Naow if----"

"Wait! Wait, I tell you!" She clasped her hands across her forehead
and paced the room with slow steps, which did not betray the nervous
hurry of her overwrought brain.

Strange watched her, as a naturalist might watch an entirely new
animal. Clever and hard as he was in his bullying way, he felt
instinctively that he had little chance of getting the better of this
woman, unless--as he phrased it--he kept his tail up. "She's the
dandiest devil I ever sot eyes on," was his admiring verdict. "Golly,
wot a flyer! Huh!"

Lady Jim, twisting her hands distressfully, strolled slowly up and
down, with bent head and thoughtful looks. At times she would halt and
reflect deeply; then her face would brighten as she resumed her
prowling. Sometimes she glanced at Strange, sitting like a graven
image in his chair, and occasionally she peered into any near mirror
as if to seek inspiration from her own wicked eyes. For ten minutes
amidst a petrifying silence she behaved thus; then, having solved part
of her problem--the solution of the other part depended upon Strange's
consent--she returned to face him.

"Do you mind imprisonment?" she asked casually.

The sailor jumped. "Goin' t' begin agin?" he demanded irritably.

"Answer my question. Do you mind imprisonment?"

"I do an' I don't, accordin' to th' dollars. Give it a name."

"Five thousand pounds."

"Twenty-five thousand, States currency," mused the captain. "Y wish me
t' sample one of your gaols fur thet."

She nodded. "On charges of conspiracy and blackmail."

Strange jumped again. "My gun! D'y' intend t' advertise th' circus?"

"I intend to have my husband set free to enjoy his own. Since you have
kidnapped him, you shall confess and suffer--for five thousand
pounds."

"Leavin' you out, ma'am?"

"Oh, I had nothing to do with it, nor had my poor husband. You and Dr.
Demetrius are the rascals."

"Huh! An' what'll y' pay the Doc.?"

"Nothing," she said serenely: "the Russian Government is paying him."

"Whew!" Strange whistled with a stare; "they've got him at las'."

"If you mean the Russian authorities, yes."

"Poor chap! He wasn't bad fur a foreiner. I kind o' froze on t' him
somehow. But this catchy-catchy biznai ain't none o' mine, so let him
slide." He shook his head vigorously. "Slide it is. An' this noo game
o' yours, ma'am?"

Bending forward, until her mouth was almost at his right ear, she
explained a very pretty scheme, which would oust Lionel and restore
Jim's birthright, without inculpating her.

Strange listened calmly, and nodded heavy approval at intervals. All
the time admiration deepened in his hard eyes, but this did not
prevent him bargaining. "Yes," said he, balancing his hat carefully.
"It kin be done. Six thousand, ain't it!"

"Five thousand."

"Six!" he insisted.

So much was at stake that Leah yielded. She could afford to do so,
with fifty thousand a year in prospect. "Six, then--to be paid when
you leave prison."

"Huh! An' when might that be?"

"How should I know?" said Lady Jim, crossly, for the strain on her
nerves was great. "Ask some lawyer."

"Blackmail an' conspiracy," murmured Strange, reflectively. "Sounds
like a few years of oakum-pickin', don't it? Not as I intend to give
my opinion on these British gaols. Sing-sing's good enough fur me."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Never you mind, ma'am. But if the dollars ain't planked down----"

"They will be. Can't you trust me, man?"

"I guess not. You're what I call a holy terror, an' no mistake.
Firmingham, y' said--Firmingham." He nodded. "I've nailed it."

"When will you go down?"

"Arter I've seen thet land-shark 'bout the kind of poppy-cock th'
bloomin' judge ull talk. Go slow, ma'am; y' git along with your share,
an' I'll do mine. So long!"

Leah did not like to grasp the tarry hand extended, but out of
diplomacy she was forced to touch the pitch which was defiling her. "I
can depend upon you, Captain Strange."

He nodded. "Y' kin let it go at thet. So long, agin. An' if I'd
married you," he added, with genuine emotion, "cuss me if I wouldn't
hev bin runnin' the U.S.A. in th' Presidential Chair."

Leah digested this compliment at her leisure.



CHAPTER XXVIII


After that momentous interview Lady Jim realised the truth of
Strange's scriptural quotation, although he had translated it into his
own lax vernacular. Unfortunately, hearing it after the event, she
could not take Isaiah's advice, and had too hastily condemned the
fetish. She would have given much for the recovery of that precise
peacock's feather, for, having freely thrown it away, it was doubtful
to her superstitious mind if the luck would hold. Certainly she had
arranged judiciously for Jim's return to civilisation, and the
unscrupulous captain appeared willing to earn wages as a scapegoat;
but there was always the unforeseen to be reckoned with. A chance
word, a chance discovery, a too minute inquiry--these might wreck
the whole scheme, and she would reap a whirlwind, stormy enough
to sweep her out of a social paradise into the bleak desert of
Sinners-found-out. A most uncomfortable locality.

She did what she could, poor woman, to propitiate her Baal. A new
peacock's feather was procured, and she apologised for her want of
faith. Also she experimented with the new symbol. Would a particular
costume arrive at a certain hour? Would some very doubtful stock which
she held turn honest? Would Captain Strange, after consulting a
lawyer, still hold to his nefarious bargain? The test proved
satisfactory, for her Baal, apparently amenable to apology, worked
excellently through the new semblance of his deity. The dress duly
arrived within the fixed time; the shares rose rapidly, and enabled
her to sell at a profit which she did not deserve; finally, a grubby
note from Strange assured her without detail that he was on his way to
Firmingham. It would seem that the prospect of picking oakum for a
livelihood appealed to him, at the agreed price.

Pending the explosion of the mine to which Strange was about to apply
a match, Leah possessed her soul in patience. Three days did she wait,
and they were days of purgatory. For obvious reasons she did not
return to Firmingham, but wrote to Lionel stating that she had
received a terrible shock--nature not mentioned--and intended to
consult the family solicitors about the same. She thus made herself
safe about the sailor's visit, in case any one might wonder why he had
come to her in the first instance. And in the letter she told the
truth for once, since she paid a visit to Lincoln's Inn Fields. An
explanation of her errand startled the suave head of a justly
celebrated legal firm. On recovering from pardonable amazement he gave
his client the full value of her six-and-eightpence.

"Kidnapping," explained Mr. Hall, to a tearful listener--for Lady Jim
thought that the circumstances demanded emotion--"is not in itself a
serious offence, and really applies only to persons under fourteen
years of age. In the case of an adult like Lord James this sailor
would be punished with--er--maybe two years' imprisonment. He might
even be let off with a heavy fine."

Leah's face fell considerably. She would have to pay that fine, and
did not relish parting with more money. "How interesting!" she
murmured vaguely, and waited for further information.

"Blackmail, however," pursued the lawyer, emphatically, "is a very
grave offence, and can be punished with five years' imprisonment,
involving penal servitude."

"That would be better," agreed Lady Jim, thinking that Strange at hard
labour would earn one thousand a year and have an extra thousand over
when his term was ended. A profitable imprisonment for him, truly, she
reflected, and extremely costly for her.

"Then again, Lady James, if the offence s committed by letter,
sentence for life can be passed."

"Oh, he didn't write," she said hastily, and congratulated herself
that Strange had not done so, since, even for so many thousands, he
would not be inclined to remain a prisoner for ever; "but perhaps Mr.
Kaimes may receive a letter. The man hinted that he would try in that
quarter, seeing that I would not yield to his extortion."

"You should have had him arrested."

"I had not my wits about me. He would have shot me had I summoned the
servants."

"Bless me, Lady James, had he a weapon?"

"A revolver," she replied, unscrupulously; "so you can see how I--a
poor weak woman--was intimidated."

"That will add to his sentence," said Mr. Hall, upon which she wished
she had checked her imagination. It would be foolish to push Strange
into a corner, for as yet she could not reckon the exact power of his
greed. However, she could not unsay what she had said, and nothing
remained but to pray to the fetish and hope for the best.

"The Duke must be warned," went on Mr. Hall.

"Who?" asked Leah, just as sharply as she had asked Colley.

"The new Duke--I beg your pardon, for, of course, if this story is
true, Lord James is the Duke of Pentland."

"You doubt the story, then?"

Hall raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "I cannot give an opinion
until I have seen this man and sifted his statements." He paused and
looked at her inquiringly. "I presume, Lady James, that this man
closely resembles your husband?"

"What man? Oh, Garth--yes. You may guess how closely, when the late
Duke, Lord Frith, and myself were all deceived. Certainly the likeness
was well known in Firmingham. There were reasons," she added with
hesitation--"family reasons."

"Oh--er--quite so." Mr. Hall, who knew something of the Adamite side
of his late Grace, coughed away a laugh. "I can see how the mistake
arose, Lady James. Natural enough--oh, dear me--natural enough."

"Why do you not give me my proper title?" she asked haughtily.

"Pardon me, but the truth of this man's wild story has yet to be
proved. May I ask a few needful questions?"

A wave of her hand signified that he might, and she submitted to a
tolerably stiff examination. Being prepared with artless answers to
every question, she emerged triumphantly from the ordeal, and when in
possession of _her_ facts, Mr. Hall subscribed to the wickedness of
Demetrius and Strange. "A pair of villains, my dear lady. The one
sinned for love and the other from avarice; astonishing whither those
passions lead us--astonishing. Well, well, we must hope. I trust, for
your ladyship's sake, that the story is true."

"So do I," wept Leah, producing her handkerchief. "Not for the
sake of the title or the money, dear Mr. Hall, but because my poor
husband---- Oh----" here she skilfully broke down, for want of
something to say.

"Pray calm yourself, Lady James. Let us hope that in a few days I
shall be able to address you as the Duchess of Pentland."

"Give me back my husband--I ask no more," was her magnanimous reply.

And while driving to Curzon Street she reflected how very magnanimous
it really was, seeing that she had no wish for Jim's company. To be
tied to that log again was scarcely worth the income. Besides, Jim,
who had no sense of decency, would assuredly laugh his loudest at the
thought of her unnecessary trouble. He would not even thank her for
giving him his rights, although he must know that it was sorely
against the grain for her to put up with his boring society. But in
spite of Jim's probable ingratitude, she would behave as his wife--as
the lenient woman she felt herself to be. Certainly her common sense
recognised that he was returning from his sham grave with gifts in his
hands, but of those she was the giver. And, seeing that she could
betray his share in the conspiracy without inculpating herself, Leah
foresaw the possession of limitless power to enforce obedience. That
power she resolved to utilise for the purpose of getting her own
unfettered way, and all the money she required for contemplated
extravagances. Also, she intended to stop Jim's illicit flirtations.
Now that he was a peer of the realm he would have "to purge and live
cleanly," after the fashion of one Sir John Falstaff, Knight.

"We owe that much to society," thought Leah, virtuously, and
considered the rumoured doings of black sheep who would be cast out of
the Mayfair fold were their housetops removed. That the shifting of
the Curzon Street mansion tiles might also be attended with danger she
did not pause to consider.

On the ensuing afternoon Askew arrived to say farewell; but, as
circumstances were too embarrassing to permit of her taking any
interest in other people's affairs, she declined to see him.
Nevertheless, he urged a personal interview, on the plea that he would
be absent for months. She yielded very unwillingly, as her nerves
clamoured for some outward sign of emotion, which by the rules of
society she would be obliged to suppress.

"I know I shall be horribly rude," murmured Lady Jim, when the footman
left the room to introduce the visitor; "but he has brought it on
himself"--which excuse she considered ample for ensuing impoliteness.

Askew, with mistaken consideration, entered the drawing-room almost on
tiptoe, and proceeded forthwith to condole with her in stage whispers.
She soon put a stop to this artificial sympathy. Further reference to
life beyond the grave she could not and would not stand, as she told
him crisply.

"Don't talk funeral, unless you wish to see me wreck the room. I have
had months of crying and crape and condoling."

"But the sad circumstances----"

"Are such that I did not wish to see you," she retorted, finishing his
sentences for him as usual, after her old fashion. "I feel so scratchy
that I declined your visit out of sheer pity. But you would insist, so
don't blame me if I am disagreeable."

"You can never be disagreeable," said Askew, soothingly.

"Can't I? You wait ten minutes and see."

"I think I had better go, Lady Jim."

"For your own sake, I think you had. Good-bye."

Askew still kept his seat. "I only wish to say that I am very--very
sorry for your terrible loss."

"Lady Frith's terrible loss, you mean. Go and see her, if you want to
play the hired mourner."

"Ah, poor Lady Frith----"

"Now don't begin about her," snapped Leah, viciously.

"But you must be sorry----"

"I am--for myself. I have been dosed with the post-mortem virtues
of those three Kaimes men until I feel that only wicked people are
truly agreeable. I regret the Duke, who was a nice old sinner turned
saint, and I lament Lord Frith for his goodness and sweetness of
disposition--there."

"I never heard that Lord Frith had a sweet disposition."

"He hadn't; but I'm only saying the kind of things you expect me to
say."

"Oh!" Askew looked shocked. "Have the--er--bodies been found?"

"I don't think so; but you can ask the executors who look after these
things. Any more questions?"

"No; only I am sorry----"

"You said that before. You are sorry, I am sorry, we are sorry. I
think that conjugation exhausts the subject. Let us talk of your
yacht, Mr. Askew."

"She's all right," he murmured, confused. It was difficult to
comprehend this woman, who so lightly dropped a family sorrow to take
on a subject which he knew interested her but little.

"And when do you sail?"

"To-morrow or next day. I came to say good-bye."

"Oh!" said Leah, carelessly. "I fancied you came to sympathise.
Well"--she rose and extended her hand--"good-bye."

Askew clasped her hand coldly, wondering how he ever came to love so
heartless a woman. As Jim was returning in glory and had not seen
Señorita Fajardo since his reported death, Leah felt that she could
safely dismiss this boy, to go where he would. Besides, she was
beginning to find him a bore. He took things much too seriously, and
was by no means so good-looking as she had imagined. All the same,
after the manner of woman, who wants to have her pie and eat it, she
by no means approved of his readiness to depart.

"You don't seem to care much," she said reproachfully, and felt quite
ill-used.

Askew coloured boyishly. "I am not broken-hearted, certainly."

"I do not believe that you have a heart."

"You are right--it is at Rosario."

"Then I advise you to go after it, lest it should get mixed up with
other men's hearts."

"Lola is no flirt," cried Askew, loyally.

"Then she must be altogether too good for this world. Good-bye! Bring
Mrs. Askew to see me when you return."

"I fear you would be bored with her," said he, sore and sarcastic.

"Probably. Married women are not interesting, except to people like
you and Jim, who persistently break the tenth commandment."

"I know one married woman who----"

"Who has just said good-bye to you, and repeats it," snapped Lady Jim,
seeing he was about to be rude.

"Oh, very well, then, good-bye," said Askew, going out in a rage with
her and with himself. And so they parted.

Leah returned smiling to her seat, delighted that she made him lose
his temper, as by doing so she had recovered her own. It was so
satisfactory to a deserted woman to think that a man whose love had
cooled should go away uncomfortable. "And what a mercy he is gone,"
said Lady Jim, settling to read fashions. "I hope he'll stop in
America with that Lola creature for the rest of his silly life. I
suppose he won't turn over this page of his book of life, but tear it
out." And in this she was perfectly right. He did.

Towards five o'clock Lionel arrived. Although she had no intimation of
his coming, she quite expected to see him, and was prepared to make
any necessary scene. The young clergyman looked white and excited,
entering the room so rapidly that the footman had hardly time to
announce the title that he was losing.

Lady Jim, recognising a crisis, came forward rapidly with studied
emotion. "You know all--all," she said in a choking voice, and caught
his hands.

He was taken aback. "Yes, if you mean that your husband lives."

"It is true, then--it is true"; she tottered to the sofa, and cast
herself down with passionate emotion. "Say that it is true!"

"I think so. But how do you know?"

Leah sat up with a puzzled look. "Did you not get my letter saying
that I had had a shock, and intended to consult Mr. Hall?"

"Yes; but you did not explain."

"I could not, seeing the position it places you in."

"Never mind me. If Jim is alive, he takes the title. So this man came
to you."

"He did, and tried to extort money. Because I refused he hinted that
he would buy your silence. I never thought that he would dare to go to
Firmingham; but when you entered, a look told me all. But can you
believe this story--it seems incredible?"

"The police do not think so," said Lionel, grimly.

Lady Jim dropped on to the sofa again. "The police!"

"Of course. This scoundrel came to Firmingham, and said that if I gave
him three thousand pounds he would keep Jim away from England so that
I could enjoy the title. I learned the truth about this conspiracy of
Dr. Demetrius, and then had Captain Strange arrested. To-day a
policeman brought him to London. He is in prison."

"Serve him right, the brute. Did he not tell you how he threatened
me?"

"No; I never guessed that he had come to you."

"But he did, and said that if I gave him two thousand pounds he would
bring Jim back. Failing me, he tried you at a higher price. I should
have had him arrested, Mr. Hall says, but I could not. I was
bewildered--quite bewildered. It seems incredible. Oh, Lionel,"--she
laid her hand imploringly on his sleeve--"surely Demetrius did not
behave so vilely!"

"I fear that he did. The man, as every one in London knows, was madly
in love with you."

"I never encouraged him--really I didn't."

"No," said Lionel, bluntly. "I do not think he was rich enough for you
to encourage."

"How can you think so badly of me?"

"Because you are all self--you admitted that long ago. To do you
justice, I think you were a good wife to Jim."

"I _am_ a good wife. Don't make me out to be the widow I am not. Of
course, this story must be false," she ended, helplessly.

"I think not--it is too circumstantial. And moreover, this man, who
appears to be illiterate, could not invent such a tale. Plainly the
Russian, who seemed to be clever, conspired to get rid of Jim, so that
you might be induced to marry him."

"As though I would ever do such a thing! I told you at Firmingham that
I had no intention of marrying. I daresay Jim and I will come together
again, and be very happy."

"I hope so--I trust so," said Lionel, with solemn emphasis. "Remember,
God is giving you another chance."

"I made very good use of the last one," she retorted sullenly. "Jim
was always to blame, and not I. I suppose this insurance money will
have to be given back."

"Certainly. You can hardly complain of that, seeing the income you
will now receive."

"Jim will, you mean. I expect he'll turn out a screw now that he is
rich. Your spendthrifts are always old misers. And I don't see why you
should be nasty. I'm sure I have had a miserable time."

"You will have a happy one now," he said, relenting.

"With Jim?" she cried derisively. "How optimistic you are!"

"Surely I have a right to be, when God is so good to you."

"God," she echoed, vaguely, and thinking of the obliging fetish. "Oh
yes, of course. I'm awfully thankful. The insurance money would not
have lasted for ever, and I might not have found so manageable a
husband as Jim. Things will be jolly now."

Lionel groaned. "Is that as high as you can rise?" he asked,
rebukingly.

"Oh, Lord, what do you want me to say?" cried Leah, with the
causeless anger of the overwrought. "I can't think of pious proverbs
when I am like this. What with supposed deaths and real deaths, and
nothing but funerals to amuse one, I don't know if I am on my head or
my heels. There, that's vulgar, and you needn't look disgusted if it
is. I feel vulgar. I could run out and howl up and down Curzon
Street like a Whitechapel woman in a tantrum. And if you preach,--if
you--you---- Oh, what fools men are!"

She choked, rolled in her chair, ripped a handkerchief, and kicked
away a foot-stool.

The curate--as he was once more--saw how she tried to fight down the
hysteria, and wisely refrained from speech. A single word might cause
the primitive emotions to burst with volcanic force through the
imposed customs of civilisation. Considering the joyful news of Jim
Kaimes' resurrection and the trouble of the attempted blackmail, it
was natural that she should suddenly betray feminine weakness. She was
but a woman when all was said and done. Leah would have repudiated
this conclusion with scorn, as she had small regard for her sex; but a
woman she was at the moment, unstrung, foolish, wild with dread that
the unforeseen might happen. Lionel moved silently to the door. In a
moment she was at his side, reaching him with the bound of a
pantheress.

"Don't be angry," she panted, laying her hand on his arm; "but you do
worry me so, and if you knew--if you really knew----" She gasped and
bit her lip, to prevent an unguarded tongue blurting out the whole.

"There, there!" He patted her hand, and she could have slapped him for
the caress, which revealed his knowledge of her weakness. "It's all
right--all right. Be calm! There, there!"

"Oh, Lord, what tact!" and so disgusted was she with the stupidity of
the man that her nerves relaxed "I say, Lionel," with an artificial
laugh, "aren't you sorry for yourself?"

"Not in the least," he replied promptly. "I am no Jacob to usurp the
heritage of Esau. High or low, we can all serve God in our degrees.
Ask Jim to make me vicar of Firmingham."

"I will, if you promise not to preach."

"How would you have me earn my salary, then?" he asked humorously, and
glad that she appeared more composed. "Now I advise you to lie down."

"Yes," she assented submissively; "I will lie down. And you?"

"I go at once to see Mr. Hall, about getting Jim set free. Good-bye,
Duchess"; and in a moment he was gone, anxious to escape further
irresponsible speech.

"Duchess!" echoed Leah, staring at the closed door. "Duchess!"

It was all right then, so far as Lionel was concerned, seeing that he
gave her the title which Mr. Hall withheld. He at least believed in
the wonderful story of Strange. With Lionel on her side things would
be bound to come out all right. Still, although the trees were
thinning, she was not yet out of the wood. The green light of safety
had not yet been substituted for the red danger signal.

"I am aching all over," said Leah, addressing her reflection in the
mirror; "there's a twist of nerves between my eyes, and I could scream
the house down. But I shan't!" She flung away from the glass, gripping
her courage with both hands. "I'll be calm, and easy in my mind, till
Jim comes back. When the worst is over, I shall collapse--I know I
shall. Till then--till then--Oh, God"--the weakness she declined to
recognise broke forth in prayer--"give me grit and pluck to fight
through to the end."

So she prayed, but not to the fetish. In this uplifted moment Leah
felt that Lionel's Deity was not a myth, but a terrible reality.



CHAPTER XXIX


Then did "Rumour, painted full of tongues," enter into Lady Jim's
strictly private life and depart with half-truths for the bewildering
of gossips. In some marvellous way the news leaked out, as news will,
despite careful caulking of the human vessels containing it. Lord
James Kaimes, ran the babble, had been kidnapped by his medical
attendant, who, substituting an illegal corpse for that of the husband
he wished to supplant, had plotted to secure the wife. This was the
tune, correct enough; then came its variations. The hurdy-gurdy of
society ground out wonderful twiddles and twists of false notes,
distorting the original theme into a melody Leah herself would not
have recognised. Not that she heard any of the _fiortura_. Prudence
counselled a retreat to Firmingham pending the home-coming of Jim, and
thither, very wisely, she went. At this crisis of her fortunes Lady
Jim felt that she required the countenance of all truly respectable
people, however dull, and therefore sheltered like a maltreated chick
under Hilda Frith's wing. To console the widowed and orphaned was her
obvious excuse,--so obvious, indeed, that she declined to make it.
Thus did she escape questions about the one engrossing topic of
drawing-room, club, and public-house bar.

Every one, from the lowest to the highest, talked exhaustively, and
the newspapers, cheap and costly, printed scandal with alluring
recklessness. Out of London E.C. issued halfpenny journals with lurid
headings over incomplete histories of the plot, invented on unsound
premises. These transparent fictions began with the Russian's
snake-in-the-grass intrusion into the happy home of an attached
couple, and ended with a political cry for the exclusion of such
immoral aliens from the Island of the Blest, which is England. The
more expensive small-beer chronicles refused to believe that so
fantastic an occurrence could have happened in these enlightened
days of police-courts and publicity; but, nevertheless, supplied
middle-class breakfast-tables with equally doubtful data, out of which
to weave romances of the minor peerage. "The triangle of Dumas the
younger," cried one scribe, with a fine disregard for meaning and
metaphor, "must never be sounded in our dear Motherland!" A sufficient
sample this of the stuff supplied. But, since the silly season
prevailed when reporters, one and all, were credited with March-hare
madness, such incongruities were pardoned, and the public gaped to
swallow full-sized camels.

The clubs buzzed like hives at swarming time, for their members
wondered at Jim's adventure; wondered, also, how "so knowing a
Johnny"--so they put it--"could allow himself to be diddled by a
measly little foreign beast." All were agog for the hero's appearance,
and curious friends thirsted for a first-hand account of the enforced
Odyssey. Many speculated as to the probability of Jim being sobered by
untoward experience into becoming a truly respectable Duke, and a few
made original observations anent a much-quoted leopard and his
unchangeable spots. In this way was the statement that men are not
born gossips contradicted, for the Eveless Edens of St. James's
Street, Pall Mall, and Piccadilly resembled a village sewing-class in
mid-career.

The drawing-rooms, as was natural, interested themselves chiefly in
Leah, and chafed that she should become an unexpected Duchess.
Hitherto Lady Jim's skilful man[oe]uvring had saved her reputation,
but, as animals fall upon the wounded of their kind, so did the pack
of hounds she had never hunted with fling itself forward, full-voiced
and open-mouthed. Rejoicing women cried her sins on the housetop with
surprising details. She must have encouraged Dr. Demetrius shamefully,
else he never would have gone to such lengths, though why he should do
so for such a woman it was impossible to understand. They had never
admired her, said the pure-minded, and had always suspected her of
being no better than she should be. Poor Mr. Askew, too: had she not
put an end to a family matrimonial arrangement by her arts; had she
not inveigled him to Paris in the hope that he would marry her in
haste to repent at leisure? Certainly, aware of her character before
it was too late, he had sailed to the South Pole or the North Pole, or
to somewhere she could not follow, as she was certainly dying to do.
Her vanity was insatiable. She had flirted quite indecently with Sir
Billy Richardson, though he was but an infant lately breeched. Julia
Hengist had only snatched her lord from the claws of this harpy by the
merest, the very merest, chance. And the money she wasted! Oh! Why,
the bailiffs had twice and thrice been in the Curzon Street house.
Also, she was so lucky at bridge that she assuredly must cheat, and it
showed what a blackleg she was, that no one had ever caught her
cheating. Then her dresses were ridiculous for a woman with her poor
husband's income. She had ruined him completely--that was why he ran
away, in a dying condition. And the money had not gone to discharge
lawful debts; she never paid anything, therefore she must have spent
the cash on some secret vice, which she certainly must have, since she
always posed as being so very correct. She ought to be cut; she ought
to be in gaol; whipping was too good for her; put her in a pillory and
throw stones at her. And let such a creature be anathema maranatha for
ever and ever and ever, Amen.

But for all this throwing of stones by ladies who were without sin,
Leah had her supporters in some, who must have been wicked, since they
declined to condemn her wholesale on hearsay evidence. These pointed
out that she had behaved admirably, when Jim's supposed death had been
reported. The late Marquis of Frith was himself deceived by the
likeness of the corpse to his brother, though of course there were
family reasons for such a likeness. Also, the old Duke had paid the
Curzon Street debts, which so good a man would not have done had they
been of a questionable character. And the very respectable Hengists,
kind things, spoke highly of Lady Jim's patience under trying domestic
difficulties caused by an unfaithful husband. Besides, Leah--poor,
dear, persecuted woman--was now the Duchess of Pentland, and could do
no wrong. She was a misunderstood angel. Hilda Frith doted on her, and
every one knew how very, very particular Hilda Frith was. To decry
a woman who had suffered so much, and who had so nobly borne
suffering, was a crime--worse, was a blunder, seeing that the latest
Duchess would assuredly sway society, to bless or damn at her good
pleasure. The peerage--the immaculate peerage of Great Britain and
Ireland--would stand or fall by Leah Pentland, as a perfect example of
what a titled woman should be.

In this way raged the war of tongues, while Lionel, in Mr. Hall's
company, and with the assistance of Scotland Yard officials, sought
for the missing prodigal. Strange, playing the game with
characteristic stubbornness, refused to indicate the whereabouts of
his victim's floating prison, and, as the _Stormy Petrel_ under a new
coat of paint, with readjusted rigging and bearing a prettier but
unknown name, could not be found in any shipping list, there appeared
little prospect of finding the kidnapped. The telegraph wires sizzled
in the air and under the sea, with messages to home and foreign ports;
bills with Jim's portrait and a most flattering description were
scattered broadcast; a reward large enough to tempt Mammon himself was
offered in every journal, and in many languages; and the journals
themselves denounced the police authorities--who were merely mortal,
poor scapegoats--for not producing a mislaid nobleman in five minutes.
It was an enjoyable time for armchair critics, who, on insufficient
evidence, knew exactly what should be done, and blamed the police,
confronted with hard facts, for not doing it.

As to the culprit, he might have been Nero, Judas Iscariot, and
Captain Dreyfus rolled into one, from the obliquity which was heaped
upon him. Since he refused to produce his prisoner, inquisitive people
were frantic with annoyance. One enthusiast even suggested that
torture should be used to make him speak; another considered that so
recalcitrant a brute should be starved into submission; a third that
he should be offered a free pardon on condition that he sent back a
regretted Duke to his lonely wife. But Strange, chuckling over the
storm he had raised, hugged his secret close. Hall, the ducal lawyer,
knew what his terms were, and if Hall did not choose to accede he
would have to remain without an aristocratic client.

Hall, however, had no notion of losing the money with which the
accession of Lord James Kaimes to a wealthy title would probably fill
his pockets. Still, Strange's terms were too preposterous to consider
for one moment. He had to consider them for a fortnight, all the same,
and finding that they did not vary, he came down to consult Lady Jim,
after a lengthy interview with the Rev. Lionel Kaimes at Lambeth.

Even though Jim had risen from the dead, Leah had not laid aside her
mourning. Indeed, she added fresh crape to show her grief for the
recent deaths, and greeted the lawyer with the air of one to whom life
is a burden. And so it was to her, at the moment. The funereal
atmosphere of the great house, the delicacy of her position until Jim
returned to tell her that all was safe, and the constant boredom of
listening to Hilda's wordy lamentations--these things wore her out,
and Mr. Hall noted that she looked fatigued.

"Natural, very natural," thought Mr. Hall, unfortunately aloud.

"What is natural?" asked Leah, seeing his eyes on her.

The man's parchment cheeks reddened. "I beg your pardon, Duchess. I
did not intend to speak aloud; a trick of mine, when I am interested.
Bad habit--bad habit. I was thinking that you looked weary--natural,
very natural."

"Weary!" Leah placed her elbows on the table which stood between them.
"I tell you what, Mr. Hall: unless you bring my husband back soon, I
shall take to drink."

"My--dear--Duchess."

"Well, and don't men take to drink when they are worried? What better
can a poor woman do than imitate the lords of creation? You are so
inconsistent. What about my particular lord? Has that beast spoken
out?"

"No. He refuses to speak save on his own terms, which are, I may say,
preposterous--extremely so."

Leah thought of the price to be paid for the imprisonment Strange was
now undergoing, and smiled dryly. "He is the kind of man who would ask
for the sun--and get it," she added, as an afterthought.

"Whether he gets it is for you to determine, Duchess."

"Oh!" She looked at him sharply. "Am I to arbitrate?"

"Quite so--quite so. A very well-chosen word--arbitrate." He chuckled
heartily, and adjusted his pince-nez.

"And the joke, Mr. Hall?"

"It might almost be one, Duchess, so preposterous is the demand of
this man. He refuses to reveal the whereabouts of his Grace,
unless--prepare yourself for a surprise--unless he is set free. Now
then, Duchess"--Mr. Hall threw himself back in his chair, and flung
open his frock-coat--"is that not pre--pos--ter--ous?"

"I can't see it myself," replied Leah, coolly. "He seems to be a very
sensible man."

"But--but--he ought to be punished."

"I fear he would not agree with you there. Is this what you have come
to see me about?"

"Yes. All attempts to find the Duke have been made in vain: the
resources of civilisation are exhausted. Only one thing remains--to
accede to the prisoner's terms. I saw the Reverend Lionel Kaimes, and
he agrees not to prosecute. Now I come to you----"

"To ask me not to prosecute?"

"Exactly--exactly. The man attempted to blackmail you and the Reverend
Mr. Kaimes. If neither one of you will prosecute, the magistrate will
be obliged to dismiss the case for want of evidence. And then----"

"Then Captain Strange--that is his name, isn't it?--will send Jim
back."

"I question it--I question it. Once free, he may again attempt to
blackmail--that is, he may refuse to surrender his prisoner without
money being paid."

"I do not agree with you," said Leah, mendaciously. "The man has had a
fright, and will not trust himself again into the lion's mouth.
Besides, even if he did try to blackmail, we could refuse, and he
can't keep my husband for ever on board his dirty little boat. A
prisoner who cannot be ransomed would be expensive to keep. Jim has an
enormous appetite."

Hall smiled at the aristocratic jest. "True--true; you put the case
concisely--very concisely, I may say. The question is, whether it is
right to set the man free, and trust to an honour which I fear he does
not possess."

Leah thought for a few minutes, playing her part to perfection. "It
appears that Captain Strange, very wisely, will not open his mouth so
long as he is shut up. If set free he promises to be amenable to
reason. Of two evils I choose the least, as Mr. Kaimes has done."

"That means you will not prosecute?"

"Yes. Let the man go, and probably my husband will arrive within the
week. How can it be done?"

"Very easily. To-morrow, or the next day, Strange can be brought
before the magistrate; but as neither you nor Mr. Kaimes will appear,
the charge will be dismissed."

"And then?"

"Then, my dear Duchess, he will vanish into the world, and we shall
have to trust to the honour of an admitted blackmailer. It is really a
terrible dilemma," cried the lawyer, dismally, "and forms such an evil
precedent--oh, a most deadly blow at justice, I assure you."

"Not at all," contradicted Leah, coolly; "we can say that Captain
Strange turned King's evidence."

"But, my dear Duchess"

"What's the use of talking?" she snapped impolitely. "I have told you
what to do. Go and do it."

"Really----"

"Pardon me if I am rude, but I am not fit to talk"; and she hurried
out of the room, glad that she had settled the matter thus. Hall
departed to London, reflecting that the rudeness of the Duchess was
quite explicable under the circumstances, but resenting it all the
same. To punish her he had a great mind to delay the return of the
Duke, until his good sense, or his avarice, told him that this would
be a costly price to pay for a petty revenge.

In this way Captain Strange triumphed, as most people can, by simply
holding his tongue. As no evidence was forthcoming, when he presented
himself before the magistrate, he could not be committed for trial,
and after a few formalities walked out of the dingy court a free man.
Hall followed him as quickly as was consistent with the dignity of a
Lincoln's Inn Fields solicitor, but stepped into the open air to find
his bird had flown. Nor did inquiries at the third-rate Strand hotel
result in an interview. The buccaneer, warned of possible danger,
never reappeared to claim the carpet-bag which held a few shirts and
oddments. He disappeared, apparently into the air, as did Macbeth's
fortune-tellers. Hall was vexed, as he had intended Strange should be
shadowed by detectives. Of this the astute sailor might have been
aware, as he gave no chance to the bloodhounds of the law. "And we
have to depend upon his honour about restoring the Duke," thought
Hall, with anguish. It might have eased his mind had he known that the
dependence was really to be placed on six thousand pounds being paid
within a stated period. But of that he was ignorant, and Leah did not
think it necessary to comfort her legal adviser in any way.

Indeed, she needed comfort herself sorely, for when a week passed and
Jim did not reappear, she began to think that Strange was contriving
some new villainy. Perhaps he was about to put up his price, and Leah
was determined not to ransom Jim at any greater sum than that she had
already agreed to. The newspapers were filled with astonished
paragraphs about the inexplicable conduct of the authorities in
connection with Strange's acquittal, and some kind friend sent the
most spiteful of these to the waiting wife. Leah did not read the
opinions of cranks set forth in inferior English and was much more
taken up with a letter from Katinka Aksakoff. It was not easy to
answer such a letter, yet she would be compelled to reply.

Mademoiselle Aksakoff wrote indignantly, saying that she did not
believe the statements of the papers concerning the conspiracy of
Constantine Demetrius. She denied that such a noble man would act in
so base a way, and reminded Leah of their conversation on the terrace
at Monte Carlo. "You then said that you did not love him," complained
the letter, "and insisted that he did not love you. But if he
kidnapped your husband, so that you might be free to marry him, he
must love you and you have lied. But I cannot believe that you would
break my heart in this way, nor can I credit so honourable a man with
such conduct." Katinka then went on to say that Demetrius had not been
seen since he crossed to Paris. Where was he? Did Lady Jim know? If
so, let her tell the writer, or else--then the epistle ended with a
vague threat about hunting out Demetrius and learning the truth. "And
when I do," ran the final line, "your conscience will tell you if we
are to be friends or foes." This challenge--as it truly was--came from
Paris, where Katinka was stopping at the Russian Embassy. It had been
registered, to ensure delivery.

A most unpleasant letter. Leah felt inclined to tear it up, but some
instinct told her that Katinka Aksakoff was a persistent girl, with
much obstinacy in her character. If no reply came she would probably
hasten to Firmingham for an interview, and Lady Jim did not care about
having the second honeymoon of herself and her restored husband spoilt
by the scene which would surely take place. After destroying several
sheets of note-paper she produced a concise reply, saying as little as
ever she could. Nevertheless, she was forced to say much she would
have preferred left unsaid. Captain Strange, said Lady Jim's reply,
declared that Demetrius had so conspired. But he had been set free and
had disappeared. What he said might be true, or might not. Nothing
could be known for certain unless Lord James returned, and up to the
date of the letter he had not put in an appearance. Demetrius
certainly had come to Paris--not to see the writer, but to interview
M. Aksakoff about a possible pardon. At the Henri Trois Hotel the
doctor had been seized with a fit, and a Dr. Helfmann had taken charge
of him. "Since then," wrote Lady Jim, "I have not seen him. However, I
enclose a letter which he sent me on the day I left Paris. It would
seem that he has gone to Russia."

"And I hope Katinka will follow him there," said Leah, after adding
a few Judas words of endearment. "Aksakoff might keep her on his
Volga estate. She'll only make mischief if she comes to England. I'll
warn her father of that"; and she did, for M. Aksakoff received a
letter, which hinted that his daughter might prove to be a possible
fire-brand. And so the matter, for the time being, ended.

But Jim had not yet arrived. Seven days passed, and the eighth night
since the buccaneer's release closed in. Leah felt the strain
terribly, and hardly ate or slept. Hilda did what she could to cheer
her up, but, not knowing the whole truth, could do very little. Lady
Jim declined to take drugs, as her last experience of these had shown
her how they aged people, though that might have been her fancy. All
she could do, and did do, was to keep a tight rein on her emotions,
and beyond looking pale, and a trifle haggard, no one could have told
that she was in any way disturbed. Joan was a great comfort to her in
those days of strain, and so was Lionel, with his prophecies that all
would yet be well. But Leah had no one to whom she could tell the
whole shocking truth, and it was desperately trying to a woman, whose
nervous system was almost wrecked, to hold her tongue. These still
waters were running very deep.

She found a certain relief in motion, and while Hilda wept and wailed
that the bodies of her dear husband and his father had never been cast
ashore for Christian burial, Leah's motor-car tore round the country
through storm and sunshine. She would not even take a chauffeur, but
engineered the machine herself. Providence, or the fetish that stood
to her in place of it, watched over her escapades. She met with no
accident, not even the most trivial, although in her reckless driving
she did her best to reduce the car to match-wood. Like a witch on a
broomstick she flew round the country, frantic and insistent, as
though she sought the enjoyment of some wizard Sabbath. The motor
flung mile after mile behind, with a buzz and a hum, and the speed of
a destroyer buffeting a rough sea. Leah, with her hand on the levers,
swooped down narrow lanes, spun furiously along the King's highway,
crashed through scared villages, and raced the setting sun to the
verge of the astonished lands. It was the extreme danger of these
flights which delighted and strengthened her; and if she had a large
bill to pay for breaking every known law in the county policemen's
note-books, it was easy for the Duchess of Pentland to pay for such
frolics. The thrill, the dash, the knowledge of power, the governance
of a flying bomb-shell--these things were worth double, treble,
quadruple the money. She was inebriated with danger, exalted by the
constant nearness of death, and, like a she-Satan, defiantly
self-sufficient, scorned both God and man. Of woman, needless to say,
she took no account whatsoever.

Then came one memorable night, riotously wild with wind and rain. With
gleaming lamps, at top speed, facing the wrath of conflicting elements
battling under a stormy sky, she drove her machine roaring up the
avenue. A quick turn of the hand and she stayed it, fuming and
whirring like a live thing, before the porch. Contrary to custom, the
door was open. Against the light she saw Lionel, and in a moment
guessed the inevitable. Leaving the chauffeur to attend to the
monster, this Mrs. Frankenstein sprang up the steps and dragged Lionel
under the glare of the electric lamp. A look into his face redoubled
the beat of her heart. There, sure enough, she saw what she expected
to see.

"Take me to him," she breathed, still retaining her grip on his arm.

"But are you quite prepared? He is in the library, and----"

Leah flung the curate away so forcibly that he staggered against the
wall. She was out of the hall, she was at the library door, she was in
the library itself, and all in two quick-drawn breaths.

"Hulloa, Leah," said a well-known voice, in a well-known manner.

She did not answer, but stared with a bloodless face, possessed
entirely by the devil of hysteria. Then she dropped, without a cry or
a word. Like a blood-mare, she had held out to the winning-post, and
thus paid the price of victory.



CHAPTER XXX


There are periods in the growth of a tree when the sap, unable to
circulate freely, coagulates into knots and protuberances. Leah had
heard some empirical dabbler in science say as much, and recognised it
as a truthful symbol of her existence for the twelve months following
Jim's return. There was certainly a knot in her life, for somehow, in
an unaccountable way, things seemed to be at a standstill. Before
intermeddling with criminal matters she had indulged her senses in
every possible way, and now that she had receded within the legal
limits of action, she was prepared to indulge them again. To her
surprise, they did not respond, and she discovered that the nursery
stage of enjoyment had been passed. That intermezzo of fierce
endeavour, of scheming and fighting, of dancing on the edge of a
precipice, and of wandering in perilous ways, had ruined her for
untroubled days and comfortable nights. While battling with desperate
fortunes she had detested the storm and necessary stress of the
encounter; now she longed to set her forces in array once more and
dare the worst. The salt had lost its savour, and her vitiated palate
demanded pepper--red pepper, hot and biting--to flavour the good
things ready for her eating at life's banquet.

But Leah found, as many had done before her, that desire is better
than success, that there is more zest in striving than in attaining.
She had longed for ample funds, and since she possessed full control
of the Pentland income this longing was almost, but not quite,
satisfied. Nevertheless, her soul was hungry still. She bought
everything she fancied, and scarcely cast a look on her most costly
and attractive purchases. She travelled with the luxurious
surroundings of a queen, and only felt bored; she stopped at home, and
yawned incessantly twice round the clock. She would have willingly
remunerated the inventor of a new pleasure, but like Xerxes, she could
not find so imaginative a man. It was truly lamentable to think that
she should possess the moon she had cried for, only to find it was but
a used-up world.

Jim, on the contrary, flourished healthily under his strawberry
leaves, and this best-of-all-possible-world satisfaction added to his
wife's exasperation. Daily he grew stouter and more plethoric, daily
he made the same stupid observations, and daily he indulged in the
gross material pleasures dear to his infinitesimal soul, which was
being smothered in superabundant flesh.

"You are like a pig removed into a new sty," his wife scornfully
informed him.

"Not a bad sty," answered the Duke, looking round the room.

"Good enough for middle-class people, but not for us, Jim. We are
desperately poor as Duke and Duchess."

"That's so, Leah; but you spend most of the income."

"I have a right to. Don't forget what I have done for you."

"You give me no chance," said her husband, bitterly. "Every time we
have a row you mention things that needn't be mentioned. And after
all, Leah, you got me back for your own convenience."

"I am not so sure of that. I wish now that I had kept the thirty
thousand which we had to pay back, and had let you remain where you
were."

"On board Strange's odd-job steamer? It wasn't so bad, though I was
chained by the leg. I learnt a lot about engines there; used to watch
'em when she was bumping through hurricanes. They were triple
expansion, too. It was fun to watch the old Scotch engineer with his
hand on the throttle-valve, and hear him curse when the screw leaped
sky-high to race like a motor. I've had worse times--much worse."

He spoke with more animation than usual, and Leah sympathised with his
enthusiasm. She also would have enjoyed herself on a rotten hulk with
doubtful engines and an hourly chance of going down into the great
green seas; the excitement would have been intense, and the death a
clean one. Perhaps Jim had forgotten the softer emotions of man when
the tramp stormed north with every rivet in her hull straining for
dispersion. She wondered. "I suppose you missed Señorita Fajardo
then?"

"No; curiously enough, I didn't. There was too much fun in thinkin'
what would come next to bother about her. I'm a bit of a philosopher,
Leah, an' when I can't get cake I chew bread. Now I've got the cake
I'm enjoyin' it."

"And eating too much of it. Look how stout yon are getting."

"Respectable men always get stout when they grow old."

"You are not old."

"I'm a bit elderly. Somehow I don't enjoy larks so much as I used to,"
mused Jim, thoughtfully--"sign of age, I suppose. But I daresay I'll
get some sort of fun out of life, an' maybe will need old Jarvey
Peel's money at sixty. It'll be more than thirty thousand by then."

"Less the six thousand you paid Strange," said his Duchess, cruelly.

Jim winced. "Bit of a pull, that--hey! Nice fancy price I've had to
pay for your fun, Leah."

"It was to bring you back."

"To make you a Duchess, you mean."

"One would think you were middle class to hear you talk of titles in
that respectful way. Who bothers about such things nowadays? I have
been bored to death since Strange's blackmail turned you into a pauper
Duke."

Her husband made a grimace at this very plain speaking. "I wish you
wouldn't talk like that, Leah. Hang it, I thought you really loved me
when you fainted on my return."

"All acting, my good man," she assured him, annoyed by his recalling
that twelve-month-old weakness. "I had to impress the family somehow."

"Then you don't love me?" said Jim, slowly.

"What a question to ask after nearly seven years of married life."

"But I'm respectable now," urged Jim, setting forth the contents of
the new page he had turned over. "I don't race or bet overmuch, an'
never look at a pretty woman. I go to church, an' sit in the Lords,
an' take the chair at charity dinners, an'----"

"You do that last because you love eating. All the charity funds are
spent on the victuals, and the poor get about a penny in the collected
pounds. Oh, you are quite a model, Jim, and so dull."

This is but a sample of the few conversations the ducal pair allowed
themselves, for they did not foregather with any enthusiasm. For
propriety's sake the Duke and Duchess of Pentland were seen together
at the few functions they could attend during the months of mourning;
their home life was outwardly harmonious, and the crying down of a
grass-widow which had been heard during those weeks of suspense
following Strange's arrest had changed to crying up, when it was seen
how very correctly the new Duchess behaved. Therefore they saw one
another only officially, save on rare occasions. Leah found Jim dull,
as she had frankly told him, and he winced always at his wife's
tongue, which had lost none of its cutting power. Even his stupid
brain grasped the fact that she was changed, though in what way he
could not exactly say. She was certainly restless, and his bovine
contentment with things-as-they-are could not understand this phase.
Also she was dissatisfied, although she had secured all she had wanted
by almost a miracle.

"Rum creatures, women," soliloquised the philosopher, sauntering to
his club. "If you gave 'em the solar system to play with they'd howl
for the universe," which was a high flight for Jim to take in the way
of metaphor.

Leah sometimes thought that the long period of mourning might have
darkened her outlook on life. She and Jim were forced by a
ridiculously particular world to live quietly, and she could not
indulge herself to the full. A constant succession of black dresses
palled on one fond of colours, and custom forbade her filling the
various ducal residences with amusing people, who in any case were
almost impossible to find. Then, as Leah stated, they were really
poor, considering the title. What with regiments of servants and the
stately mansions which housed them, the horses and carriages, and
motors, and rents and taxes, and unnecessary personal expenditure, and
equally unnecessary charities, it was truly difficult to make two
aristocratic ends meet. The Duchess of Pentland had to contrive and
arrange almost as much as had Lady Jim. From two thousand a year to
twenty-five times that amount seems a large jump, but the title
nullified the value of the estates. Leah ardently prayed that the
fetish would increase the incoming and decrease the outgoing, but her
Baal seemed to think that it had done enough, even for so devout a
woman. "Am I never going to have a good time?" wailed Leah. Later she
found that the wail was unnecessary, for the fetish pitied his
worshipper and granted her prayer. Coal of the best quality was found
on a Welsh property of the Kaimes family, and Hall prophesied that in
a year or two the ducal income would be doubled. Leah took heart at
this sign of grace, as one really could manage pretty well on one
hundred thousand a year. But a pound a minute was Leah's idea of a
moderate income, and then she would have grumbled that each hour only
brought her in sixty sovereigns. However, she decided to spend what
she had and what was coming along from the coal to the last farthing,
and arranged when the year of sorrow was ended--as it now was--to take
her place in the very gayest of society. She would be presented again
this season according to custom, and then would see about exhausting
the most advanced pleasures of a civilisation that could not do enough
for one of her greedy appetite. This she told to Lady Canvey.

"That is a mistake," rejoined the sagacious octogenarian, who was a
year older in body and a year younger in brain. "If you exhaust
everything in this world, nothing will be left for you but to try the
next. And I don't think you are quite prepared for that, my dear."

"Perhaps not. I never set up for being a saint."

"No. That is a pleasure you have not yet exhausted. Why not try it?"

"Because I am no hypocrite. What is the use of pretending to be
goody-goody, when you are not?"

"Saints are holy, not goody-goody."

"It's the same thing."

"It might be with you, certainly. But you are not the sort to be
canonised."

"Well, I don't know. A sinner is the raw material out of which a saint
is manufactured. You can't be really good, unless you have been really
very bad."

"That is useful information," said Lady Canvey, dryly; "and very
encouraging to people like yourself. You might make an attempt at
being Saint Leah or Saint Jezebel."

"Lady Canvey!"

"Oh," the old dame chuckled, "then you do know something of
Scripture."

"Yes, but I don't quote it to annoy other people."

"Your tongue is quite clever enough to do without such aid, my dear.
And don't lose your temper--I am only talking for your good."

"Disagreeable conversations are always prefaced by that remark. Yes?"

"I was thinking you might begin on your saintly career by endowing a
church with this coal money. They build churches very cheap nowadays.
You can have one of red brick, and----"

"There are too many churches, and too few worshippers," interrupted
the Duchess, with a shrug; "besides, I propose to endow myself with
the coal money. I daresay I shall give fifty pounds or so to Lionel
for his paupers."

"You must not ruin yourself, my dear," said Lady Canvey, with
affectionate spite. "I thought that Lionel, as a married man, and the
Vicar of Firmingham, had nothing to do with paupers. There are none in
the parish there--at least, there were none in Pentland's time," she
ended with emphasis.

"I suppose you mean to hint that Jim is stopping his charities and
putting on the screw. Don't distress yourself, godmother; everything
is as it was, save that our tenants and villagers are more gorged and
much more impudent. Lionel doesn't appreciate the godliness of his
heritage, because his parishioners pay their rents regularly and come
to church without the whip. They are so pious that his occupation is
gone."

"That would not suit an energetic Christian like Lionel."

"It doesn't. He and Joan take pleasure trips into the Lambeth slums
and ask seedy ruffians to stay with them in the country. What with
converted burglars and wives who assure you they haven't been beaten
for weeks, the place is quite a Whitechapel Paradise. Lionel preaches
to the ruffians, and Joan listens to the wives with whole skins. I
believe they join forces to wash the children. Oh, they have
rollicking times at Firmingham Vicarage, I assure you."

"Very meritorious times," said Lady Canvey, reprovingly--"quite like
the primitive Christian Church."

"Less clean, I fancy, and more ungrammatical," murmured Leah.

"Don't mock, my dear. Lionel is a noble man."

"I quite agree with you, and without mockery. Jim is also a noble man,
in a different sense, if you will forgive the pun."

"It is unworthy of your wit."

"I cannot always be pyrotechnical. You need flint and steel to strike
fire, and I find no flints amongst the idiots I have to entertain. Do
you know, godmother,"--Leah stared into the fire--"I often wish that
Lionel had remained the Duke."

"And your husband had been really a corpse? How like you!"

"Well," said the Duchess, cheerfully. "Jim might have been of some use
if his,--what do you call those things?--oh, yes,--if his vortices had
combined with other elements to grow into plants and sheep and cows,
and generally do the sort of things which vortices are supposed to do.
But as a Duke he is a failure."

"I don't exactly know what you mean by your heathen talk of vortices,"
snapped Lady Canvey. "Dust we are, and unto dust shall we return."

"Not Jim," protested Leah: "he would return to mud. He just looks as
though he were made of sticky, clayey, stodgy mud."

"It is not original to abuse your husband."

"I know that; but you are too old-fashioned to admire originality."

Lady Canvey thumped with her stick vigorously. "Do not be so
desperately sharp, Leah; you make my head ache. By the way, I have
news for you about that nice boy you treated so badly."

"I have treated so many nice boys badly. Billy Richardson, Algy
Turner, Harry Askew----"

"The last. He is to be married."

"I knew that a year ago. He left before Jim came home to make some
Spanish creature his wife."

"Miss Mamie Mulrady does not sound like a Spanish name."

"That girl! You don't say so?" Leah looked genuinely surprised. "I
suppose Señorita Fajardo would not have him. Perhaps she is waiting
for Mr. Berring."

"Who is he?"

"Oh--er--a friend of mine"; she put up her muff to hide a smile.

"I know that U.S.A. heiress--a nice girl if she did not affect the
Wild West of which she knows absolutely nothing. No doubt she thinks
it chic to let Europeans hear the American eagle scream in the
vernacular. Fancy!--and to Askew! A good match for him. I suppose he
will call pounds, shillings and pence collectively dollars now that he
is brother to George Washington."

"I don't think so. Mrs. Askew will probably be more English than the
English."

"She might easily be that, since the English are mostly aliens
nowadays. Well, I must go. Good-bye. I have enjoyed my hour. I always
do with you, godmother. Such a clever tongue!"

"I am not leaving you any money, my dear."

"Please don't. Your grandson is finding that opera-dancer expensive.
Give Canvey your savings, and his lady-love will dance professionally
on your grave."

"I am glad cats don't talk," said the old woman, addressing no one in
particular. "One is quite enough."

"Ah, they do talk then," laughed Leah, and having got the last word
slipped away before Lady Canvey could rally her forces.

The Duchess, well wrapped up in expensive furs, stepped into the
crisp air, thinking of Askew and his triple dip into the matrimonial
lucky-bag. Lola Fajardo, Marjory the fixture, and Mamie Mulrady, not
to speak of herself, whom he would have married had she cared to call
herself by his unpretentious name. Certainly he was a man unfettered
by prejudices in love affairs. Dark or fair, tall or short, and of any
nationality, he adored them all in an entirely respectable fashion
which included a ring and a parson.

"Though I don't believe the silly boy knows what love is," thought
Leah, passing into Piccadilly--she was walking for exercise towards
the Park; "but people of that ignorant sort always seem to land on
their feet, like the cats Lady Canvey spoke of. I have landed very
comfortably myself. I wonder why I can't love any one. How is it that
no man can stir me into experience of the grand passion?"

Lately Leah had taken to analysing herself with fatal results. It
seemed to her that she was shallow, since nothing in the world made
any difference to her, or could make her feel. If Jim had dropped dead
of the apoplectic fit which was waiting for him, she would merely have
shrugged her shoulders; had the old Duke come back to claim the title,
she would have had small regret in surrendering it. Everything seemed
trivial and dull and vulgar. A remark made by Lionel occurred vividly
to her at this moment. "You will never be truly happy," he had said,
"until you are truly sorrowful." It was an unintentional epigram on
the vicar's part, as he was dense, like all the Kaimes family; but it
was clever enough to be true. Only--and here was the hopelessness of
her life--she saw no chance of becoming sorrowful in any degree, since
her indifference nullified deep feelings of any sort.

"I suppose I shall have to run in this society circus till I die," she
thought drearily. "What a clown's destiny!"

The mention of one lover naturally recalled the name of another, and
by the time she passed Apsley House thoughts of Demetrius were running
in her head. Not a word had she heard of him since his enforced
journey to Siberia, via Paris, Havre, and Kronstadt. Katinka Aksakoff
might have supplied information, only that Katinka, for reasons which
Leah guessed rather than knew, had disappeared some nine months ago.
According to M. Aksakoff, she was ruralising on his Volga estates, and
her health forbade an exciting life. The Duchess did not quite believe
this smooth explanation; and yet, at times, she fancied that the
diplomatist might have taken her advice regarding the shepherding of
an infatuated child.

It was, then, by one of those curious coincidences perfectly
explicable to the psychological mind, that the man himself glided to
her side. He looked as tall and lean as ever, but his eyes were less
direct in their gaze, and he did not seem to exercise his former
self-control. Leah and he had met but rarely during the past year,
owing to her retirement consequent on mourning observances, and when
they did meet each had avoided mention of that memorable afternoon in
Paris. But when he crossed Leah's path thus unexpectedly, and when her
head was filled with Demetrius and with the woman Demetrius did _not_
love, she resolved to learn the worst or the best. After greeting, she
began to speak with unconventional abruptness.

"Where is your daughter, M. Aksakoff?"

"On my Volga estate," he replied nervously; and from his averted eyes
she made sure he was lying badly.

"In Siberia, you mean."

He turned with a start. "How do you know that?"

"I am right, then?"

Aksakoff clasped and unclasped two restless hands over the knob of
his cane. "I really cannot say. I do not know why you should make that
observation, after I have informed you of my daughter's whereabouts."

"I make it because I am a woman, and being such, I know that Katinka's
love for that waxed-moustache creature will lead her--perhaps has led
her--even into Siberian wilds."

Aksakoff stopped under the Achilles Statue and probed her mind with
his eyes. "Do you really think so?"

"I do. Does my thought confirm facts?"

He resumed his walk with a troubled face. "I will be frank with you,
madame, since we both know that Constantine Demetrius left Paris on
that afternoon _en route_ to Siberia."

"I know nothing of the sort," contradicted Leah, sharply.

"Yet you have just admitted that the man is in Siberia."

The Duchess laughed carelessly. "All Russians go as naturally to
Siberia as cockneys to Margate. It's a kind of Bank Holiday with them,
I suppose. Why not be frank with me?"

"Madame, I rather think that I should ask you that question."
"I never answer questions," said Leah, coolly; "it saves a lot of
trouble. But I make statements, and one is that Demetrius and the
woman who loves him are in Siberia."

"Do you really think so?" said the diplomatist, repeating himself.

"I _do_ think so; but surely you know?"

Aksakoff shook his head. "Katinka refused to marry her cousin
Petrovitch, after the disappearance of Demetrius. She questioned me
continually about him, and showed me the letter and enclosure which
you had sent. A very diplomatic letter, if I may say so. I, of course,
denied that I knew anything. She appeared to be satisfied; yet nine
months ago she left my house--left this country----"

"To rusticate on your Volga estates."

"That was my excuse for her disappearance, and I beg of you, madame,
to accept that excuse in society, for the sake of her good name and
mine." She nodded, and he went on gravely: "I confess to you, madame,
that I do not know where she is. You suggest Siberia; it is possible."

"I fancy so, seeing she is infatuated with the man. But how could she
possibly learn that he was there?" Leah asked this question a trifle
nervously, for there seemed to be something menacing in this strange
behaviour of Katinka.

"Very easily. You sent her the letter supposed to have been written by
Constantine Demetrius in Paris."

"What letter is that?" she asked obstinately.

The Russian's eyes flashed. "You must know, madame, and you do know,
that the letter was forged for your safety."

The Duchess stopped abruptly, and became as ice in manner and speech.
"You talk very strangely M. Aksakoff. My safety was never in danger,
so far as I know. Your anxiety makes you indiscreet, and thinking so,
I pardon the indiscretion."

Aksakoff, knowing that she would continue to feign ignorance, even in
the face of aggressive facts, apologised with a bow, since it mattered
very little. "In that forged letter"--he was determined to stick to
the word--"was the name of Helfmann."

"Dr. Helfmann," she corrected.

"I gave him that degree, madame," said Aksakoff, dryly. "Helfmann is
one of our secret police."

"Then you had no business to introduce such a creature into my rooms,"
said Leah, angrily.

"Pardon, the crime is twelve months old. To proceed. Katinka knew the
real business of this man, and may have learned the truth, or enough
of it, to make her journey to Siberia. Tomsk--yes, Tomsk!" He leaned
his stick on the ground, his hands on the stick, and stared vaguely at
the leafless trees. "Assuredly Tomsk."

"Is Dr. Demetrius there?"

Aksakoff nodded vaguely. "I wish you a good day, madame," said he, and
turned away abruptly without raising his hat. The omission of a usual
courtesy either betrayed his absence of mind, or showed what he truly
thought of the Duchess of Pentland.

Leah, having a tender conscience, chose to assign the latter reason,
and resolved to cut the man if he should dare to speak to her again.
"But what can you expect from the Russian bear?" she said, resuming
her walk.

It ended in Curzon Street. She and Jim rented the ducal residence to a
wealthy American, and retained the smaller mansion, on the plea that
their happiest days had been spent there. This excuse was, of course,
a lie, but every one believed it, and said how touching it was to see
that a Duke and a Duchess could be so human. And, after all, Leah
really did like the cot of her humble days. It was pleasant to think
that she had been "Lady Jim of Curzon Street," and had taken her title
in that way, just like a peer in his own right. Sometimes she
regretted that she was simply a Duchess, and not Lady Jim as of old.
Then she had enjoyed life; now she found it excruciatingly dull. And
it was all the fault of Demetrius, who had taught her more exciting
methods of passing time than by killing it.

When in the drawing-room she recalled the conversation with Aksakoff,
and began to think that there were troublesome days ahead. If Katinka
had learned the truth through Helfmann, she was assuredly hovering
round Tomsk in the hope of aiding Demetrius to escape. Should she be
successful, as so determined girl might easily be, the man would
return to this Island of Refuge breathing out vengeance of the direst.
Leah had often contemplated a possible escape, followed by a certain
return, and the contemplation invariably produced a shudder. Now that
there seemed to be some ground that the man who knew all and would
tell all might come to England, she was conscious of rising spirits.
The feeling puzzled her.

"I ought to be shaking in my shoes," she reflected, "but I feel rather
pleased than otherwise. I am spoilt for a life of cotton-wool and
policemen at every corner. Danger is the sole thing which amuses me.
That must be the explanation of my feeling jolly. I expect the heroes
and heroines of cheap novels feel the same when they settle to a dull
marriage after pages of hair-breadth escapes."

She was perfectly right. Leah Pentland was a bad woman mainly because
she had been looked after too carefully. It required upheavals to
bring the possible best out of her. She had behaved unscrupulously and
basely in dealing with the insurance fraud, because that was the sole
adventure which had come her way. But had the adventure been heroic
and noble, she would have enjoyed it quite as much and would have
struggled quite as bravely. The reckless way in which she pulled the
whiskers of Death, when throned on her motor-car, was characteristic
of the woman. Given danger, and she blossomed into a heroine, good or
bad as circumstances served. At heart she was no vapid society woman,
and her fiery pursuit of aimless pleasures merely showed her restless
and masculine temperament. Danger braced her. At times, during her
first taste of it, she had certainly given way from overstrained
nerves; but now she was steeled to the worst that could happen,
blooded to the open trail, baptised in unholy fire. If Katinka and
Demetrius returned to London to give battle she was certain,
absolutely certain, that she could beat them single-handed. Katinka
she felt was the more dangerous of the two. Well, let her come, let
him come, and victory be to the self-confident. Leah was so sure of
her triumph that she did not even cast a thought to her hard-worked
fetish. All the same, she kept the peacock's feather constantly in her
pocket.

"Jim," said the Duchess that night, after a _tête-à-tête_ dinner, when
the pair reached the coffee stage, "let us sell up, drop our rank, and
go to Canada."

The Duke stared, as well he might. "Good Lord!"

"Pooh! Why do you not say damn, as I feel inclined to do?"

Jim still stared with infantile blue eyes. "You say such queer
things," he objected, fishing for a cigar.

"I should like to do them. Oh, why wasn't I born a real live man. I
should have lived--lived--lived."

"Well," said Jim, stolidly clipping his weed, "you live now, don't
you?"

"In a satin-lined, rose-wood jewel-box, if you call that living."

"I see what you mean," confessed the Duke, lighting up. "Same here. I
was ever so much jollier aboard that dirty tramp. I slugged one
of the crew--a Finn, he was--a hulking Finn, who thought I was a
world-crawler, an' no man. They carried him away in bits," finished
Jim, with the battle-light in his blue eyes.

Leah looked at him curiously. "Jim, I really believe that we might
understand one another. You and I are meant to be pals, and not a
conventional man and wife. If you were only a backwoodsman I should
adore you."

"An' do the washin', an' the scrubbing and the cookin'? I fancy I see
you puttin' your back into that sort of work, Leah. Honey-pots are
more in your line."

"I am as sick of honey-pots as you are. All this dressing and
undressing, and court functions, and paltry pigeon-shooting, and
skating at Prince's on sham ice, and yachting at Cowes in a floating
hotel--oh, Lord, how it bores me!"

"You're always bored," grunted her husband, unsympathetically.
"Can you wonder at it, when I have to go round and round and round in
a decorated ring like a trick-pony? If I were a woman it would be
satisfactory, no doubt."

"Well," said Jim, obtusely, "ain't you a woman?"

Leah sprang from her chair and flung out her arms with a deep chest
breath. "I am a man," she announced, in resonant contralto tones. "I
feel like one, anyhow. Didn't some one say there was no sense in this
grown-up business. Well, I am like that. Up to the time you went after
Lola Fajardo I did enjoy things all round, but somehow I feel as
though the bottom had dropped out of creation."

"Drop Lola Fajardo also, then," growled the Duke, colouring. "I never
went near her."

"Because you couldn't. The serpent in the bamboo--eh, Jim?"

"I don't care anything for her now."

Leah looked at him steadily. "I am glad of that, because you belong to
me--to me."

"And much you think of me!"

"I think you are extremely selfish, and desperately weak with even
ugly women, and quite a brute when you don't get your own pretty way,
and--in short, you are a man, a glorious lord of creation."
"Oh, drop rottin'."

"I am not rotting, as you delicately put it. Like myself, this sugary
civilisation has spoiled you. If you had to earn your bread I should
respect you, Jim. I might even love you. Yes"--she considered for a
moment--"I daresay it might come to that."

Jim was growing bewildered. "What does all this mean?" was his very
natural interrogation.

His wife bewildered him still more by acting in a way which made him
gasp. She walked round the table, and, standing at his back, placed
her arms round his neck. "I'll tell you, Jim. I have just found out by
my very own self that you and I are cave-people pitchforked into the
wrong century. We live ten thousand years too late--just think of
it--ten thousand years of life and death. Let us go back to the mud,
Jim, and take up the life where we left it when you were killed,
spearing that mammoth."

"Leah!" His head was thrown back, and his eyes stared upward in alarm.

"I know what you think, but I am as sane as you are, and ten times
cleverer. No"; she loosened her arms from his neck and locked them
behind her. "Look at me, Jim. Am I a doll?"

The startled Duke wheeled his chair and stared at her brilliant eyes,
no longer hard and cold, at her stately figure, her splendid red hair,
her clearly cut face flushed and animated. "You're a rippin' fine
woman," said he, his sluggish pulses stirred.

"So you think--so the world thinks. Yet I have to live in a wadded box
like a wax doll. I want to get out of that box--it stifles me, chokes
me. I am sick of the tents of Shem, and wish to house under those of
Esau. You and I will take the privilege of rank and be eccentric. As
pals we'll get on much better than as a Mayfair man and wife of the
wrong sort, beyond the borders of this horrid civilisation that is.
Buy a yacht, Jim--a tramp hulk with those triple expansion engines you
told me about, and let us make for the South Seas. There's a clear
path down Channel. Let us explore, let us venture into the Naked Lands
and exploit the fringes of the empire. I want to live--to live, you
understand. Oh," she cried almost fiercely, "can't you understand?"

"No," said Jim, truthfully, and as stolid as ever; "you have your rank
to think of, and my name."

The fire died out of Leah's eyes, the colour from her face, the ring
from her voice; even her figure seemed to dwindle from that of a
tragedy queen into a conventional Belgravian wife. Then she laughed
shortly, and in a way which Jim did not approve of in his Duchess.

"I beg your pardon, Pentland," said Leah, using his title to mark the
far recoil. "I took you for a man: you are nothing but a society
gramophone."

Jim would have resented this contemptuous description, but that she
gave him no time to formulate an idea in his slow-thinking brain. With
swift steps she left the room and ascended to her boudoir; there,
after locking the door, with a strength which disordered the lock, she
flung herself face downward on the sofa, and cried quietly,
passionately, with that suppressed anger and grief and rage which
rends the body and brain so terribly. Jim could not, would not
understand. He was what he always had been--the sole Gadarene pig into
which a devilkin had not entered.

"Can I never put fire into that clay?" sobbed Leah, savagely.

Only God could have done that, and she did not believe in God. But the
fetish was in her pocket.



CHAPTER XXXI



Leah made no farther attempt to decivilise Jim. He was too engrossed
in Egyptian flesh-pots to set out for the Promised Land of splendid
adventure and Elizabethan enterprise. In his clay there did lurk a
spark of that Promethean fire which, melting meaner aims into one
passionate purpose to explore the world and exploit the world, has
made England great. Unfortunately, it could not be fanned into
anything resembling a flame. The cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, and
the garlic of civilisation appealed to him insistently, and even if he
did betake himself to roaming unfenced wastes, he certainly would not
number a wife amongst his luggage. Moreover--and this she knew by
instinct--his basic qualities were markedly those of the homing kind.
This being so, a few months of tent and road would be used by him as a
relish to increased appreciation of the cedar chambers and painted
halls wherein his cradle had been rocked. It was clearly impossible to
make a silken purse out of this particular sow's ear, so Jim drowsed
very contentedly beside the fire, while his wife, out of sheer ennui,
chased Piccadilly butterflies, or sat in her ducal niche to be bored
with social adoration.

But one thing rendered life endurable to Leah Pentland at this
juncture, and that was her coming opportunity to exhaust the
enjoyable. Now that the days of compulsory sorrow were ended she had
plenty to do, and ample funds for the doing. At Firmingham the new
king and queen celebrated Christmas, new style, with celebrants who
were but doubtfully informed as to the why and wherefore of the
festival. Certainly, Jim and his Comus-rout invaded church on the
holy-day, and yawned impatiently through liturgy and sermon; but this
was a concession to county prejudices. Leah would tolerate no Santa
Claus tree, no Druidical decorations, and no modernised mumming of the
Middle Ages. These out-of-date enjoyments were replaced by political
and poetical tableaux, by amateur renderings of smart French and
dismal Russian plays, and by the kitchen lancers when riotous
cake-walks palled. Imported musicians, in an incorrect foreign
uniform, played Greig's melodies, Tschaikowsky's weird sound-poems,
and that nerve-exhausting music of the present by Herr Wagner which
has now arrived at its future. For the uncouth carol of innocent
Victorian days was substituted Sousa's clanging marches, comic songs,
clean but inane, and catchy airs from the newest vaudeville, miscalled
musical-comedy. Out-of-door sports included skating on artificial
ice--since it was a green Christmas--motor-car races, attempts at golf
and polo-playing, riding, driving, and sauntering flirtations, while
bridge circulated the guests' money at odd moments. It was truly
wonderful to see how completely these nominal Christians had
substituted a heathen festival of some sort for the orthodox pleasures
of tradition. The participants in the orgie were all smart and all
_blasés_, perfectly dressed and triumphantly selfish. With that
careful avoidance of spoken appreciation which marks the modern
trifler, they took leave of the Duchess with the remark that her
notion of what Yule-tide should be was not half bad. A week of dull
Sundays, so to speak, had been got through capitally.

"Nothing frumpish about the thing," pronounced Mrs. Penworthy, who had
been asked to gratify Jim, and who had been found woefully wanting in
snap. "Every one was quite up to scratch. Leah Pentland did simply
ripping off her own."

The little woman was not talking an unknown language, for the latest
successor to Algy understood her excellently well. She spoke the
gibberish of those in a hurry, which she had taken some pains to
acquire. The very few words in the dictionary used by the fashionable
were dropped into the melting-pot, and came out in ungrammatical lumps
of misused adjectives and verbs with a paucity of pronouns and
prepositions. Mrs. Penworthy, whose sense of humour was strong, had
proposed that Lionel should translate the Bible into this time-saving
vernacular, so that its spiritual meaning could be arrived at by those
who thought the verse of Milton and the prose of Bacon starchy.

"Wouldn't hear of it," said she, to Algy's latest successor, while
munching American sweets in the up-going train. "Told him it would be
spiffing to fetch the psalms up to mark, but he didn't catch on
somehow. Wonder the Duchess can stand him, with his horrid
correctness. She's fond of doing herself well."

"Thought the Duchess had rather a shoppin' face," replied the man,
meaning that his hostess had looked worried.

"Don't knew why she should. Got heaps of cake to chew. Might be she
missed Demetrius."

"Wheresey hang out?"

"Don't know. Went prancing off on his own. Got a puff?"

The inheritor of Algy's shoes provided the lady with a cigarette.
"Fancied she cottoned to th' Askew chap," he remarked, striking a
match.

"Sure she did--oh, rather! Aksakoff let on to me 'bout the boy jumping
Paris to get fixed--British Embassy fixings, you know. Leah Pentland
didn't bring it off somehow. Lucky for her, seeing Jim wasn't a goner.
We really could not have received her," ended Mrs. Penworthy; then,
aware that she had lapsed into decent English, corrected her mistake:
"Mean we couldn't have let her chip into our game."

"Like th' Duchess?" inquired her companion, languidly.

"Don't know, quite. Saucy and swagger and all that. Freezes a
bit--what? Talks like a book, you know. Awfully expensive rattle."

The man nodded. "Thought she wasn't up to dick. Daresay she'll spin
along on her own freely, when the hump's off."

"Hump? She hasn't got the hump, or the needle either."

"Very saucy hump," insisted the male linguist--"quite birdish. Sorry
the old Duke an' Frith hopped, maybe."

"How very unnatural!" sighed Mrs. Penworthy, reverting to English in
her disgust. "Quite too awf'l to think how luck hooks on to her.
Really makes one wish to be a bad woman, to see how she lands the
salmon," she finished more creditably.

Algy's latest successor was right, for once in his life of mistakes.
Leah was not entirely her own brilliant self, notwithstanding that
successful inauguration of the new era. The early excitement
consequent on the conversation with Aksakoff had died away, and again
she felt the old haunting fear of the possible. But this absurd mood,
she hoped, would pass away when the test came. Facing her enemies,
male and female, she would doubtless fight like a cornered rat, and
would conquer from sheer determination not to be beaten. Nevertheless,
this period of suspense was trying to one who had no listener, and who
could not talk herself into heroics by mere monologues. A confidant
was necessary only to the weaker part of her character, since her
deepest feelings advised her that pure strength must needs be
solitary. She was an oak, not an ivy, and unknowingly agreed with
Emerson as to the vitiating effects of comfortable circumstances.
"Cast the bantling on the rocks," sang the Seer of Concord, and Leah
indubitably squirmed thereon, as Jim had informed her in his simple
way in a conversation now--apparently--some centuries old.

"Every month's a year now," sighed Leah, wearily.

However, pending a possible fight for her social throne, the Duchess
made the very best of the passing hour. After the pagan entertainment
of the winter solstice, she endured the gorging Christianity of a few
belated country-houses, whose inhabitants were still eating in honour
of a Birth which had taken place some two thousand years ago, as a
Book they seldom read assured them. She went alone to these Vitellian
feasts, as Jim was off the chain until such time as he would be needed
to play Duke during the season. The aristocratic prodigal's
reformation was but skin-deep, and the late whitewash soon wore off to
show the unchanged black fleece, since he began with the zeal of a
newly uniformed subaltern to poach on various matrimonial manors. Mrs.
Penworthy he had naturally grown tired of, as she preferred syndicates
to partnerships, so he placed his tried affections on Lady Sandal, who
was horsey and doggy and tremendously expensive on account of her
betting craze. She and Jim talked kennels and stables, discussing
their very unplatonic loves between times, and found each other
kindred guttersnipes of the earthly, sensual kind. Leah, speedily
informed by a feminine sidewind of this new amusement of Jim's
four-and-twenty leisure hours, did not object, or even hint her
knowledge of his backsliding. It kept him out of her way, and Lord
Sandal, a Nero with limitations, who dwelt in a superlative glass
house, was not likely to submit his wife's latest sin to the fierce
light which beats upon the divorce court witness-box. Nothing could be
more satisfactory to a woman who wanted complete freedom, and Leah
again thanked the agreeable fetish for making straight her very
crooked paths.

But all this time the sword dangled over Leah's head, and its menace
became so insupportable that she wished the single hair would give
way, to decide brusquely for hit or miss. Her desire was gratified on
the very night when she made her curtsey to the Sovereigns. Having
created an immense impression, the Duchess, with eyes as radiant as
the family diamonds crowning her imperial head, returned at midnight
to her home in the company of a purring husband. Jim really felt that
Leah had upheld the family name with her insolent beauty, and
moreover, was quite the grandest-looking woman in London, or out of
it. When they arrived in their own drawing-room, and she had emerged a
royal court butterfly from the chrysalis of her cloak, he turned
abruptly and took her in his arms with the hug of a bear.

"Leah," he murmured hoarsely--"oh, Leah!" and kissed her fair on the
mouth with the kiss of Pan.

But only once did he exercise that connubial privilege, for she
released herself roughly with a sense of intolerable outrage. "Isn't
it rather late in the day?" she asked, scornful and angry.

"'Pon my word, Leah, I'd be a good husband to you if you would only
let me."

"Oh, as an over-married Turk I am sure you would be admirable. I know
you disapprove of monogamy."

"What the deuce is that?"

"Something that the Church encourages and society shirks. The Sandal
woman can explain the objection."

Jim winced at her knowledge of his latest love. "You said that I
belonged to you," he reminded her sulkily.

"Officially. May I ask the reason for this sudden devotion?"

"You look so rippin'."

"Thanks for the belated compliment. I am aware that your love is
dependent upon the eye."

"An' what else should it be dependent upon?"

"The heart may have something to do with it, you know--or rather, you
do not know. Since our conversation when I asked you to buy a yacht I
have given up trying to educate you in the affections."

"I'll buy a yacht now--a dozen yachts, to please you."

"Oh," said the Duchess, with a cold smile; "so that Epsom-Newmarket
woman has been nasty."

Jim uttered a bad word under his breath, and flung out of the room in
a pet. "I'll play at the club till all's blue," he called out while
banging the door, and a minute later she heard the butler whistle for
a hansom.

The deserted wife was perfectly aware that Jim's sudden admiration
arose from pride of proprietorship, and objected to be cajoled into
righteous matrimonial principles on such terms. As it was scarcely one
o'clock she seated herself to consider if it would be worth while to
lift her uxorious pig out of the mire he loved. A footman with a
salver interrupted these creditable meditations.

"A lady called twice to see your Grace this evening," said the man,
presenting a visiting-card, "and has now called again."

The Duchess lifted her eyebrows as she lifted the card. "At this
hour?"

"The lady says her business is important, your Grace."

"What business----?" here her eyes fell on the card, and a swift
alteration of expression changed her into a different and harder
woman. "Ask Mademoiselle Aksakoff to join me here," she ordered
abruptly.

The sword had not yet dropped, but the hair could not suspend it much
longer. Katinka was in England, in London, in her house. And
Demetrius? What of him? Why had he not come also? Leah asked herself
these questions with brutal directness, resolved to shirk nothing of
the imminent danger. After the first dash of dismay her nerves braced
themselves for the ordeal, and she advanced to greet Mademoiselle
Aksakoff with a conventional smile, meaning nothing and yet
everything. This gave place to an amazed look when she beheld the
haggard antagonist with whom she had to cross swords.

"My--dear--girl! What have you been doing with yourself?"

She might well ask. Katinka was no longer the demure nun, but a
fierce, goaded creature of the feline tribe. Dressed quietly in
unrelieved black, hatted, cloaked, and gloved, she presented the
appearance of one sorely tried in the fiery furnace of affliction, and
less lucky than Daniel's brethren. That thin worn face, those hollow
eyes, the wry mouth, the dark hair plentifully bestreaked with
grey--she was demoralised, uncanny, and aggressively cruel. In a flash
the Duchess knew that this untimely visitor knew the truth, and was
prepared to do battle. No quarter would be given by Katinka Aksakoff,
and Leah, with a deep breath, braced herself for an Armageddon duel.
The contrast between the dowdy Russian girl and the magnificently
arrayed woman lay entirely in the garb; otherwise they were cats of
the wildest. Their faces took on a marked resemblance; a stealthy,
cunning, sly, guarded expression effaced their ordinary looks. If
Katinka's eyes gleamed dangerously, so did those of Leah; if Leah held
herself like a pantheress about to spring, so did Katinka. In that
splendid room two pre-historic creatures were about to fight over the
male. Here indeed was woman, the female of man. Civilisation was
nowhere.

"You know why I have come?" asked Katinka, in a voice as hard as her
eyes, and those might have been fashioned of granite.

Leah, with flattened ears, so to speak, professed ignorance. She did
not intend to criticise until fully aware of facts. A shake of her
head conveyed the denial and brought forth one bitter word.

"Liar!"

The Duchess glanced towards the door, remembering that the servants
had not yet retired and might be within earshot.

"Would you mind speaking in a lower tone?" she suggested between her
teeth, for the insult struck home.

"Sit down," ordered Katinka, imperiously.

"I prefer to stand," retorted her antagonist, fighting for the inch.

Mademoiselle Aksakoff advanced one step and her eyes probed those of
the Duchess. Without words the situation was adjusted, and in Leah's
favour, for the Russian suddenly sat down with a quick, indrawn
breath. By that action the woman who had done the wrong knew that she
was the stronger of the two, and a tyrannical instinct to bully the
weak rose hotly in her breast.

"What do you mean by coming at this late hour and misbehaving?" she
demanded harshly.

"You know well what I mean."

"Pardon me, I never profess to understand the vagaries of a madwoman."

At this brutal speech Katinka's hand shot into her pocket, but Leah
did not move.

"A weapon?" she asked sneeringly; "that would be quite in keeping with
your blatant nationality. Foreigners are so fond of the melodramatic."

The girl withdrew her hand quietly. "You are too poor a creature to
kill, Lady James."

Leah smiled at the old title, and passed the remark with a
contemptuous shrug.

"Later on, perhaps--who knows?"

"Who indeed? It is impossible to foresee what an hysterical lunatic
will do. Do you propose to shoot or stab me, or to blow me up? I
understand that bombs are favoured in your happy country."

The crude hostility of the speech was plainly intended to infuriate
the Slav-woman, but it missed the mark aimed at. Katinka looked at the
mocker gravely.

"How afraid you are!"

Leah shrugged again; the remark was too futile to be commented upon.

"Yes, you are," went on the other, a trifle roused; "else you would
have me turned out by your servants."

"Later on, perhaps--who knows?" repeated the Duchess, using the girl's
own words; then continued soothingly, "No; I shall not call the
servants and make a scandal, since your father is my friend."

"Your accomplice, Lady James."

"What an unpleasant word, and how very unsuitable!"

"For what you did in Paris."

"I did nothing in Paris to deserve such a word. Perhaps you mean
something else. You foreigners know the grammar of English, but rarely
the meaning of words. I remarked the same defect in your father."

"I have no father."

"Indeed, I have not yet heard of his death."

"Your misunderstanding of my meaning is pretence."

"Ignorance, I assure you. And as it grows late and I am tired, may I
ask you to explain your business?"

"I can do so in one word--Demetrius." Katinka rose to give full force
of expression to the name, and her voice rose with the utterance.

Leah remained perfectly calm, and indulged in badinage. "Demetrius? Oh
yes, that horrid little man with the waxed moustache: a doctor or a
chemist, wasn't he?"

"Your lover!"

"Oh no. I have no use for that sort of person; if I had I should
certainly not pick one out of the gutter. Demetrius? Yes," she went on
musingly, but watchful of her enemy, "I had almost forgotten him. He
went to St. Petersburg, didn't he? And you loved him, I remember. A
queer choice I thought at the time. Well, have you married him?"

"It grows late and you are tired," mocked Katinka, successfully
keeping her temper, and thereby disappointing the Duchess; "we had
better not waste time."

Leah yawned. "It seems to me that we have been doing nothing else
since you came in."

"Demetrius is in England."

"Really! How very interesting! As doctor or Prince?"

"As an escaped Siberian felon."

"No!" Leah's face assumed a skilful expression of mingled pity and
horror. "Poor little man! He was mad to go to Russia. I thought so
when I read his letter, which I sent you."

"The forged letter."

"Don't be silly; one would think you were on the stage."

Katinka bit her lip to prevent furious speech, and locked her arms
behind her as though she feared lest temper should engender violence.
Leah noted her expression, however, and retreated towards the bell.

"You are talking nonsense," she said coldly, "and much as I respect
your father, I shall certainly summon, the servants to put you out
unless you go at once."

"I shall not go, and you shall not order your servants to put me out,"
cried Katinka, fiercely. "I defy you to press the button of the bell."

With a feeling that the girl had scored on this occasion Leah withdrew
her hand, making the usual excuse: "For your father's sake I spare you
the indignity."

"I repeat that I have no father."

"And I repeat that I am tired. What do you want?"

"You must arrange with me to see Constantine."

"Who is Constantine?"

"You know."

"I do not."

"You do."

Their eyes met, and this time Leah won the victory over a woman
obviously worn out.

"Constantine is Demetrius," explained the Russian, in a fatigued voice
and closing her eyes. "Oh, my God!" She dropped into her seat with a
low wail and covered her face.

Leah heard the clock strike the half-hour through the sobs of her
visitor. She was absolutely sure that Katinka was at her mercy, and
wished to dismiss her, beaten and crushed. But first it was necessary
to learn why Demetrius had not come also. Leah moved swiftly towards
the broken creature, and laid a firm hand on her heaving shoulder.

"My dear----"

She got no further. With the elusive spring of a wild animal Katinka
flung off the hand, reared, and struck out. The blow fell fairly on
Leah's mouth, and she found herself mopping up the blood of a
deeply-cut lip before she had any clear idea of what had taken place.

"Oh, you liar, you beast, you devil!" cried the Russian, with the
savagery of a Kalmuck tent-woman. "I could kill you--kill you."

"Mad," mumbled Leah, with the lace handkerchief to her lips.

"I am sane," retorted the other, swiftly. "I know all. You lured
Constantine to Paris; you sold him to my father to hide your
iniquity. I saw Helfmann the spy; do you hear--the spy! I bribed him;
it took months to bribe him, but in the end I bought the truth. My
father--shame to my father--drugged Constantine at your table, and
Helfmann as a sham doctor took him to Havre, to Kronstadt, to Moscow.
The Grand Duke Sergius"--here she spat when mentioning the hated
name--"yes, he, that beast of beasts, sent him to Siberia for life;
ar-r-r--for life! do you hear, Judas, Jezebel, animal that you are! I
followed there; I followed the man I loved----"

"And who did not love you," muttered the Duchess, rocking with the
pain of her swollen and bleeding lips. She had seated herself by this
time, and did not seek to stem the torrents of insults.

"And why?" Katinka flung back her head and her nostrils dilated.
"Because you stole his heart that he might do your evil bidding. But
he loves me now--with all his heart and soul he loves me now. I went
to Tomsk to aid his escape; I followed to Sakhalin. I waited and
waited, eating my heart out. Oh, my heart!" she laid her hand on her
breast; "oh, my breaking heart! We escaped--he did--I did; we escaped.
Do you hear, you who sold him? There were months of terror and sorrow
and cruel cold. But God was good; He was kinder than man, more
merciful than you, who damned a soul to that frozen hell. God--the
good God, whom I adore and worship," she fell on her knees, striking
her hands together--"He aided us to reach the waiting ship of Strange,
and----"

"Strange!" Leah rose, shaken and sick. "Strange!"

Katinka leaped up to face her. "The man you bribed with six thousand
pounds to take your sin on his soul. I know all about your wickedness;
Strange knows; Constantine knows. We will tell the world what we know;
and you, shamed, disgraced, beaten, hounded out of your world--ah,
down will you fall--fall--unless----"

"Unless?" Leah, gripping a chair and swaying, looked up. "Unless?"

"You come to Southend to see Constantine."

"I refuse."

"Then I tell everything. I go to your husband." Leah, in spite of her
pain, laughed at the idea. "I go to your police. I tell----"

"Stop, I shall come, since you insist upon it."

"I do--Constantine likewise. He is ill--very ill; his eyes are blinded
by the glare of the snows whither you sent him; he is--oh, my poor
angel, my patient saint!--he is----" Stopping abruptly, she looked
with an evil eye at the woman she had so shamefully marked. "I will
leave you to see the wreck you have made of him. You will come?"

The Duchess nodded. "But I can explain all," she mumbled.

"Explain it, then, to Constantine," said her enemy, contemptuously. "I
go now. Meet me to-morrow at Liverpool Street Station--at the barrier.
We can go to Southend by the five o'clock train. Constantine is on
board Strange's ship, which lies off Southend."

"Ah! Then you mean to----"

"Carry you away? No; you are not worth it."

Leah's indomitable courage, quelled for the moment, blazed up
fiercely. She forgot her pain, her disfigured mouth, and faced Katinka
in a blind rage. "You--you----" she clenched her hands, and panted
like a spent runner. "You have said all; I agree to all."

The Russian looked at the wounded mouth with a cruel, calm smile, then
sauntered deliberately to the door. There she smiled still more
serenely, pointed a mocking finger at her enemy's wry mouth, and
slipped away without a word, and almost without a sound.

Leah sprang to the mirror. Had this woman marred her beauty? The mouth
was swollen, the lips still bleeding; there were wounds within and
without, and a rather loose tooth. Leah could have howled aloud at the
shame, the humiliation of her defeat. That she should be struck,
beaten, mastered--she of all women; she--she! "Ar-r-r! Augh!" she
cried, but softly, mindful of danger. Then the thought came to her
that she would have to account for her damaged mouth, and with the
thought came enlightenment. Passing quickly out of the room, she
ascended the stairs rapidly to her room. Half-way up she stumbled and
fell. The footman, hearing the fall, ran up and lifted her. He saw
that her mouth was bleeding. Natural enough--oh, perfectly natural!
"It's them beastly long trains," explained the footman in the servants'
hall.



CHAPTER XXXII


"Never knew you to tumble before, Leah," grumbled the Duke, next
morning, when admitted into his wife's bedroom.

"Accidents will happen," murmured the Duchess, rather lamely, and too
much shaken to be original. "I can't talk, Jim--my mouth is still
sore."

"What can you expect if you go a mucker? An' th' season's startin',
too. You'll not be able to show with that swellin'."

"A week at Firmingham will put me right. Katinka Aksakoff is coming
down also."

"Heard she looked in last night. What made her call at so late an
hour?"

"She's worried about her father," lied Leah, prepared for the
question.

"Had an almighty row with him over that bounder doctor, I expect."

Leah nodded languidly. "M. Aksakoff has gone to Southend. I take his
daughter with me there, to make peace."

"Southend? There's a hole! What's he doin' in that roost?"

"How should I know? I'll reconcile the two if I can, and Katinka can
be my companion at Firmingham."

"Dull company," confessed Jim, candidly; "she never could flirt."

"That will be no drawback," said his wife, dryly. "Go away, please."

"What lie am I to tell 'bout your sickness?"

"Tell the truth, by way of a novelty; or if you prefer a lie, say that
I have appendicitis. One must be fashionable, even in diseases."

"All right," said Jim, too obtuse to note the irony. "Sorry you're so
ill. You've made an awf'l mess of yourself: women will wear such
confounded trains. Goo'bye at present. I'll look in at Firmingham
durin' your week of penance"; and, talking himself out of the room,
Jim went about his ordinary nefarious occupations, feeling that he had
behaved as a husband should.

The Duchess turned wearily on her pillows and winced. Not with pain,
for her mouth, though still swollen, was much less tender. It was the
prospect before her that hurt. In the evening a difficult interview
had to be got through somehow, and her brain began to forecast the
probable result. If Katinka could be believed it would scarcely prove
to be a pleasant one. Demetrius apparently intended to punish her by
blackening an unsoiled character. "Such a nasty, revengeful spirit,"
thought Leah, feeling ill-used and depressed.

But, after all, what could the man say likely to incriminate her,
seeing that she had moved amongst the pitfalls of the plot as
delicately as Agag? Demetrius had conceived and executed the entire
scheme, and what he could say would only fit in neatly with Strange's
confession, which the public already knew and condemned. Her hand
could not be traced either in his Parisian journey or in the drugging
of the tea. How was she to know that Helfmann was a police spy, or
that the letter assuring her of the doctor's intended return to Russia
had been deftly forged? Her surface behaviour, at least, was perfectly
honest, and would bear even the scrutiny of an interviewer. She could,
taking a broad view of unpleasant circumstances, defy the creature;
but nevertheless felt instinctively that it would be unwise to dare
him to do his worst. Such a plotting, narrow-minded, sneaking beast
would ruin himself to ruin her, and mud, if thrown persistently, was
apt to stick even to the whitest robe. What a shame that this animal
should so persecute her! How hard on a kind-hearted woman, whose sin,
as he called it, was merely an error of judgment. By the time Leah
finished her reflections her frame of mind was one of much-injured
innocence.

Later in the day, when driving to Liverpool Street Station to keep her
hated appointment, Leah half decided to call on Aksakoff. But second
thoughts assured her that his intervention was quite out of the
question. Were Demetrius to be arrested in British waters the Radical
press would howl, and nasty meddling politicians would ask unnecessary
questions in the Commons. It would be wiser, after all, to fight alone
and to the bitter end. If Demetrius thought she would give in,
Demetrius was entirely mistaken. He had yet to learn that she could be
as nasty as hitherto she had been nice. But he was horridly
ungrateful, as all men were. In this way did the arch-plotter salve
her conscience and compose her mind.

It was darkish when the brougham arrived at the station, and Leah,
glancing about under the electric lamps, saw Katinka waiting at the
ticket-barrier. For the benefit of an inquisitive maid and an
observant groom she addressed her gaily, though it was not easy to
speak with still aching lips.

"You _are_ punctual," said the Duchess, pressing an unwilling hand
with ostentatious warmth. "Excuse my speaking much. I fell on the
stairs last night after you left and hurt my mouth."

"I commiserate with you, madame," replied Katinka, sarcastically.

"So good of you. I hope M. Aksakoff will not expect me to chatter."

"My father?" echoed the girl, staring.

"He's at Southend, isn't he?" said Leah, impatiently; "at least, you
told me so last night. I have instructed my maid to go on to
Firmingham, while we travel straight to Southend. Such a cockney
place, isn't it? Then we can get back--oh, about what time?"

"Say eleven o'clock," returned the Russian, grimly. She now saw
through the clever comedy which was being played.

"You understand, Marie," said Leah, turning to her maid, who was all
ears and eyes; "see that the brougham is sent in time. Come with me,
dear--there's a reserved compartment--at least, I ordered one. Curl,
go and look."

Thus prattling to deceive her domestics, Leah adjusted a very thick
veil, which hid from the public a face whose expression was quite at
variance with her sweet nothings. When the two entered the carriage
and the train was moving slowly out of the station, Katinka burst into
a harsh laugh.

"I congratulate you, Lady James; you should have been a conspirator."

"So your dear father told me. Compliments run in your family,
apparently. Surely you do not blame me for putting things right with
my servants. They might think it queer, otherwise, and one cannot be
too careful with such creatures."

"I fail to see what good your exceedingly clever explanations will do.
Constantine intends to speak out."

"What about?" asked Leah, chafing, and throwing up her veil to manage
the girl more easily with her dominating eyes.

Katinka, always fiery, and with slack nerves after her Siberian
experiences, almost lost what temper she had left. "Need we keep on
your comedy, madame?"

"I'm sure I do not know what you mean. One would think that I wished
to deceive people, the way you talk. And after what I have done for
you, too--it's most ungrateful."

"And pray what have you done, Lady James?"

"Don't call me Lady James; your stupid mistakes get on my nerves.
Done? Why, I pretended to fall on the stair to excuse the state of my
mouth. Had I been a nasty, spiteful creature such as you are, I should
have given you in charge for assault."

"Give me in charge now," sneered the girl.

"I might. Don't drive me into a corner."

"You are inconsistent. If you have done nothing wrong, how can I
drive you into the corner you speak of?"

"Because you are a monomaniac," retorted the Duchess, angrily; "you
seem to think that I am the cause of the doctor's exile. I, of all
people, who would not hurt a fly."

"You would hurt a dozen flies if anything was to be gained," snapped
the other, irritably. "You betrayed my Constantine."

"I did nothing of the sort, as he will understand when he hears what I
have to say."

"Hearing and believing are two different things, Lady James."

Leah shrugged away the speech. "Of course, you are prejudiced, because
Demetrius loves me."

Mademoiselle Aksakoff fetched a long, deep breath. "Do not try me too
far."

"Do you intend to assault me again?"

"No; I even apologise for the blow. I told Constantine this morning of
my interview, and he said that I was wrong. It is for him to deal you
justice and punishment."

"Punishment! Justice!" Leah laughed aloud in sheer rage at her
inability to parry these insults. "And for what, pray?"

"Constantine will tell you."

"In that case I do not wish a second-hand judgment from you."

The two glared at one another, venomous and defiant. As usual, the
younger woman's eyes fell first, and she retreated to the furthermost
corner of the carriage, while Leah, pulling down her veil, tried to
face this most disagreeable situation. Not another word did they
exchange until the ducal servants branched off at Shenfield Junction,
and they had to be publicly amiable. Then, again, silence reigned
until their destination was reached. By that time Leah was more her
old insolent self, and disposed to be unpleasant.

"Will yon drive or walk?" asked Katinka, coldly, when they alighted on
the Southend platform.

"Walk, of course. I do not mind at all being recognised, since I have
come to see your father on board this yacht."

"Captain Strange would be flattered by your description."

The Duchess laughed contemptuously as they stepped into the street. "I
am scarcely responsible for M. Aksakoff's notion of a yacht.
Foreigners are so ignorant."

"They are not so clever as Englishmen--or Englishwomen."

"Except in trickery and blackmail, where they surpass them," retorted
Leah, her petty rage insisting on having the last word.

Katinka permitted her the gratification, and they walked the whole
length of the High Street in grim silence.

At a rude quay jutting from the beach of the lower town they boarded a
disreputable boat, rowed by two pirates and steered by a third. The
night was starry but moonless, comparatively calm, and noticeably
chilly. Leah shivered as the boat made for a vivid green riding-light,
which shone, an emerald star, no great distance from the shore. But
her shiver might have been an admission of dread. Katinka took it to
be so, and smiled in a gratified way as her enemy climbed the side of
the steamer, which was a veritable gypsy of the sea, untidy, dirty,
and decidedly questionable in honest eyes. Strange did the honours,
loud-tongued and raucous.

"Guess it do my eyes good to see your Grace," was his welcome.

"Hold your tongue, and don't use my title," she replied furiously.

Strange's milk of human kindness turned sour on the instant. "I ain't
high-falutin' enough, I s'pose. Pity I ain't a dandy skipper of sorts,
all hair-oil an' giddy gold tags."

Leah turned her back without deigning a reply, and looked inquiringly
at Katinka. The girl, with an enigmatic smile on her wan face, led the
way down some greasy stairs, into a stuffy state-room, and opened the
narrow door of a side-cabin. Leah entered and heard the lock click
behind her. Evidently Mademoiselle Aksakoff did not think it judicious
to remain.

"But I daresay her ear is at the key-hole," thought the Duchess,
contemptuously. She was trying to preserve her self-respect by heaping
obloquy on her rival, but scarcely succeeded as well as she desired.
Then she said "Ugh!" twice and with emphasis.

The interjections were not meant for the girl's possible
eavesdropping, but to show Leah's disgust at the close atmosphere of
the cabin. It was a nauseous, musky, sickly odour, which reminded her
only too vividly of the monkey-house at the Zoo. Neither light nor air
entered the den, save through the round port-hole over the bunk, which
was unscrewed. But even the briny sea-breeze blowing softly could not
do away with that thick, tainted atmosphere which had provoked the
visitor's exclamations. With her handkerchief to her mouth Leah's eyes
strove to become accustomed to the faint light. She saw dimly a heap
of blankets, but no form was visible beneath, and no face was to be
seen. Possible trickery occurred to her, until a voice came heavily
through the fetid gloom. Then, in spite of its odd, strangled sound,
she felt instinctively that Demetrius was buried somewhere under the
clothes.

"You will excuse the absence of a lamp, madame. My eyes are half
blinded with the snow-glare, and very tender."

"How strangely you speak!" remarked Leah, involuntarily.

"A sore throat," was the hoarse reply. "Siberia, as madame must be
aware, is not a summer climate." The wheezy sound ended in a kind of
piping whistle.

"I am sorry you have suffered," said the Duchess, at a loss what to
say. "Ugh, the smell!" she thought, seating herself on a locker, and
feeling almost too sick to control her faculties.

"Madame is too good."

A dangerous pause ensued, while Leah wondered what was about to
happen. The man assuredly was Demetrius, and Demetrius was assuredly
extremely ill. It was within the bounds of possibility that he might
spring up and kill her. The thought did not trouble her overmuch. So
dangerous a business had to be faced undauntedly, and she kept down
her womanly weakness with masculine strength. During those slow
minutes she could hear the lapping of the waters, on which the vessel
rocked; hear also the laboured breathing of the sick man. This stopped
for a moment, and then did she hear her own easy breaths. Demetrius
evidently heard them also, and had paused to listen. He laughed
weakly, softly, clucking like a fowl.

"Madame is very brave."

"I'm frightened to death," she assured him, to excite his pity.

"Your breathing tells me otherwise. I am certain, madame, that your
pulse beats regularly, and that your nerves are entirely in order."

"Is this a consultation?" she asked coolly.

"It is the farewell of two who loved," murmured the hard, thick voice,
muffled by the blankets. "That is, madame, of one who loved and of one
who did not; and therein, as M. Heine truly remarks, lies the tragedy
of existence."

"Demetrius--Constantine." Leah felt that she must come to the point
and get rapidly through the interview, if only to escape from the
sickening atmosphere. "Katinka accuses me of betraying you."

"Well, madame?"

"I did not. I swear I did not."

"Indeed? Mademoiselle Aksakoff is doubtless mistaken."

"In a way. She wishes to save her father from blame."

"As a good daughter should. Will you explain further, madame?"

"Certainly. I came, of my own free will, to explain. Katinka told me
how ill you were, and I could not bear to think you should die
believing me to be dishonourable."

"Madame speaks hopefully of my dying. It would please her, perhaps?"

"No. What do you take me for? I never loved you as you wished to be
loved; but if M. Aksakoff had not interfered, and we had married, I
should have come to love you."

"You speak of what might have been."

"I suppose so. Circumstances are altered. Marriage is out of the
question."

"Assuredly, and I am scarcely fit for a bridegroom."

"What is the matter with you?" asked Leah, anxiously.

Demetrius passed over the question. "Besides, Captain Strange informed
me that your husband has returned. Madame was doubtless pleased at
that marvellous resurrection, so cleverly managed."

"No," said Leah, honestly enough. "I was not; but circumstances made
it imperative that Jim should return."

"And for me to travel in Siberia?"

"Blame M. Aksakoff, blame M. Aksakoff," she insisted. "I am innocent."

"Be pleased to observe, madame, that as yet I have brought no
accusation against you."

"Katinka acted as your mouthpiece."

"You have not my authority to say that."

"Then I gather that you do not blame me for your exile?"

"How can I with any truth, madame, seeing that yon accuse M.
Aksakoff?"

"I do," said Leah, resolutely.

"In that case I regret that Mademoiselle struck the wrong person."

"You know that she struck me?"

"I was informed of it this morning, and express my regret that she
acted so foolishly. Did the blow hurt you?"

"It was most painful. I feel it still."

"Your lip is cut, then?"

"Both lips--inside, luckily, so there will be no visible scars. But
even now a very little would make them bleed."

Such was the profound egotism of her nature that she expected further
sympathy from the man she had reduced to such a condition. But the
doctor's stock of polite phrases appeared to be exhausted. In place of
a compliment came a hoarse chuckle, like the cry of an early starling.
"You appear to approve," said Leah, ironically.

"Pardon; I mentioned before that Mademoiselle, in my humble opinion,
was wrong."

"She was very wrong. I am not accustomed to deal with wild beasts."

"Spare me, madame; I owe her so much."

"I owe her nothing except revenge for striking me. But I excuse that
because she is ignorant of the truth."

"I am also ignorant, madame."

"You shall hear it now--yes, the absolute truth."

Again came the raucous sound, which might have been a laugh or a
groan--Leah could not tell which.

"The truth," murmured the sick man; adding, after a significant pause,
"I am waiting, madame."

"I went to Paris with Miss Tallentire," explained the Duchess,
beginning anywhere in her hurry, "and Mr. Askew followed."

"Followed you?"

"Certainly not. I always detested the boy--so conceited. He admired
Miss Tallentire, and his liking for me was the passing fancy of a
shallow nature. To arouse your jealousy, M. Aksakoff put it about that
Mr. Askew intended to marry me in Paris. The gossip--and it was merely
gossip--came to Mrs. Penworthy's ears. That woman hated me then, and
hates me now. To make mischief she told you. You came over to Paris.
There, you remember what took place."

"Not at our final meeting. My last memory of your face is seeing it
across the tea-table."

"You had a fit of some kind, and M. Aksakoff called up a Dr. Helfmann,
who took you away in a cab to be cured. Then I received a letter from
you, stating that you were going to Russia. As I fancied you might
have settled with M. Aksakoff about your pardon, of course I quite
believed it, and--and--I think that is all."

"Did you not know that the letter was forged?"

"No!"

"That the so-called Dr. Helfmann was a spy?"

"No!"

"That the coffee--or rather, that the tea was drugged?"

"No. How could I possibly know that M. Aksakoff was using me as his
tool? If the tea--it _was_ tea--well, if he put anything into the
tea, I did not see him do it. It was M. Aksakoff who gave you into Dr.
Helfmann's charge, when you were insensible. Now, am I to blame?"

"Your explanation is eminently satisfactory, madame."

"And you believe me?"

"It would be impolite to doubt a lady."

Leah was nonplussed. She was manufacturing conversation, and his
comments were trivial, if not ironical, as she shrewdly suspected. She
could not quite arrive at his real meaning. He avoided answering
leading questions, and would neither accept not decline her
asseverations.

"I have no more to say," she remarked, with an air of one washing her
hands of the whole affair.

Again a deadly silence ensued; again she heard the heavy breathing of
the creature hidden under the heaped blankets; again sounded the
drowsy lapping of the water and the faint sigh of the wind. This time
she resolved to make him speak, so that she might learn precisely what
he thought. But the moments passed and no speech came. Finally it did
come, in the unemotional voice of one who speaks in his sleep. He
discoursed on a subject about which she had no desire to hear.

"Paris--Havre--Kronstadt!" said the slow, drawling, monotonous tone,
"and then the weary journey across the Urals. Oh, the cold and the
snows and the bitter storms of Siberia! Chains and hunger, dirt and
rags; and always--always--the hopeless future. None loved me; none
lifted me up; none spoke words of kindness. Loneliness and sorrow and
the constant torment of painful memories."

The voice died away in a sob. Leah, desperately anxious to defend
herself still further, would have spoken. But her mouth was dry; her
lips ached; tremors thrilled her body as the nerves twittered, jumped,
and quivered. Over the low bunk she could see the rocking stars as the
vessel swung to her anchor. What glimmer of light there was revealed
faintly the piled blankets, and nothing more. The face was veiled by
almost material shadows. And again, drearily and heavily, rose the
thick, muddy voice, without variance in its tones, without the music
of feeling. It might have been, and probably was, a voice from the
tomb, as it surged sluggishly through the fetid gloom.

"St. Petersburg," announced the toneless voice, "Moscow, and the
farce of a trial. The waving of a white-gloved hand, and a courtly
bow, to dismiss me into pain and darkness and to a living grave.
Nijni-Novgorod, and Mother Volga, who takes us convicts to her
breast."

Here came the dry chanting of a weird song which made the listener's
flesh creep, and her guilty soul quail. Then again, slowly, wearily,
Demetrius began to name the stations of his cross on the way to the
calvary of a final prison. "Kazan, Pianybor, Perm, the bleak Urals,
that prison wall of the exile; Ekaterinburg, Tiumen, the doorstep to
the barren cell. Borka, Dobrouna, Oshalka"--the rough Russian names
grated on Leah's ears;--"Yevlevoi and the slow-flowing river, the
prison barge, the black bread, the bitter, biting, burning cold;
Tobolsk, with its deathly mists and clammy darkness of Egypt; the
Charity Song--the weary, weary Miloserdnaya!" He sang another line or
two in a cracked voice, and broke out more humanly: "Then the warm
sunshine like the smile of the good God, and days of those gentle
winds we shall never breathe more. The flowers and the winds, the
sunshine and the laughing children. Samarof, Sourgout, Narym"; he
paused to gather strength for the crying of a name which issued with a
sob of heartfelt agony: "Tomsk--oh, Tomsk! Those long, long days of
waiting for what was to be; the horrible mercies of the unjust. Kyrie
eleison! Christe eleison! Kyrie eleison!" She saw the convulsive
movements of the blankets, and knew that he was making the sign of the
cross. After the crying to God and His Son came the protest against
the cruelty of man. "The weary prison of Tomsk; the road--the long,
horrible road to the ice-bound coast. Sakhalin, the island of pain,
the hell of the innocent, and a human soul lost. Christe eleison! A
loving, sinning soul for which Thou didst die, lost--lost--lost!"

Leah's nerves ached and shook and shuddered as the account of the vile
journey welled forth smoothly like thick oil. With fixed eyes and
fascinated ears she took in the terrible Odyssey. After another
sobbing pause--the broken creature was crying bitterly--the voice
recommenced, droning on one note until Leah felt that she could have
screamed if only to vary the sound.

Demetrius spoke of the barren wastes of Sakhalin in the Gulf of
Ochotsk, where the freezing straits of Neviski run between mainland
and island. He told of obdurate Cossacks, of cruel gaolers, of the
treacherous Gilyak natives, who prevent the escape of the mortal
damned. A note of emotion crept into the voice, and in its level tones
she discerned a faint hope. A smuggled letter, and the assurance that
help was at hand; a corrupted warder, a bribed soldier, a black
starless night, and a desperate escape over deserts of snow. Then came
heart-rending relations of a drifting boat, of suffering and
starvation and cold which burnt to the bone. Leah heard of a brave
woman--"my love--my love," said the voice tenderly--toiling with a
bought Japanese fisherman to bring the tiny shallop to a haven beyond
the grip of the merciless Muscovite. The weird tale took her through
La Perouse Straits, northward amongst the Kurile Islands, and into the
naked lands of Kamchatka. Here again, as she gathered, the fugitives
were in danger of recapture; but they fled still further north through
the bitter cold, and under a bleak sunless sky, to herd with the
Koriaks. The tormented voice droned ever on about these filthy
savages, fish-eaters, and hunters of the unclean; it shuddered through
accounts of loathsome diseases, and of smoky defiled huts like the
hells of Swedenborg. And the man wailed always, ever and again, of the
danger of being retaken, of terrible suspense, of shattered nerves,
and of the eternal strength of a pure woman's love. The tale ended
with painful outbursts of joy at the sight of Strange's tramp standing
towards the inhospitable Siberian coast.

"Peace, plenty, warmth, food, safety, kindness, hope, love!" chanted
the voice, broken up into almost musical gratitude. Then a pause of
infinite meaning, ended by a dry clucking chuckle. "And I lived that I
might see you," breathed the man she had cast into the hell he had
described. Leah's hair bristled at the roots. The speech was so
terribly significant. But her soul still fought against the inevitable
punishment, whatever that might be.

"Not my fault," she panted eagerly; "horrible, horrible--but not my
fault! Oh, believe--believe me, Constantine."

"You have asserted your innocence before," murmured the sick man,
ironically; "and now----"

"Now?" her heart almost stood still, so intensely did she listen.

"We must part for ever."

"But you--you----"

"I devote what remains of my life to the woman who has saved me--to
the angel who drew me out of the frozen deeps of hell."

"And--and you--you will say--nothing?"

"This boat leaves here to-night for a place which need not be
mentioned. I go out of your life for ever, and silent."

"Oh, thank you--thank you!"

"For what, madame, since you assure me of your innocence?"

Leah felt awkward. She had said too much. "Katinka is so prejudiced
that I thought--I thought----"

Her voice died away. The lie would not come forth in the presence of
this dying wretch.

"You thought she would be jealous. Ah, no, madame." Demetrius paused
and clucked again like a brooding hen. "She permits you to kiss me
with a last kiss."

"No!" Leah half rose, and fell again, recoiling with a cry of terror
at the prospect of setting the final seal on her treachery, as did
Judas in the Garden.

"I beg of you, my first love. One kiss to dismiss me into the
silence--to close my mouth for ever and ever."

So he did doubt her; he did not believe. All her lies were discounted;
all his conversation was merely ironical and make-believe. He held her
in a vice, and release would come only when she submitted to a
revolting caress.

"I will not--I dare not," she stammered, shrinking against the wall in
an agony of physical fear from an object which a guilty imagination
revealed as loathsome to sight and touch; "you--you have no right
to----"

"The right of love," said the weary voice.

"You have no proof."

"The cypher letters"; and a lean hand held out a packet, drawn from
under the discoloured blankets.

"For one kiss, madame--for one kiss."

"Ugh!" groaned Leah, and snatched eagerly.

Packet and hand disappeared swiftly, and the voice whistled in a
jeering manner. "One kiss, madame, one kiss."

She still fought. "My mouth is sore. I am----"

"One kiss--one kiss--the last and the best; or--or----"

Leah, writhing against the wall, gasped soundlessly. In that last word
there was the sound of a terrible threat. It was the knell of
respectability, of ease and luxury, and of all that makes life worth
living. A single caress would buy the evidence; a touch of her mouth,
and she would be free for ever and ever and ever.

"One kiss, then," she muttered; and with all her soul crying
strenuously against the horror, she tottered forward. "One"; her lips
sought the place where a mouth might be supposed to be waiting. Two
arms flew up and gripped her.

She could not scream, for the arms dragged her down, belted her like
iron bands. Her mouth was on his, his lips were on hers. She writhed,
silent and agonised, in the horrible caress, in the abominable
embrace, trying to free herself in vain. Demetrius placed his lean
hand on the back of her head and absolutely ground her mouth against
his own. She could feel the wounds break and bleed, sanctifying the
kiss of Judas.

His arms relaxed, she flung backward, and the long-withheld scream
broke forth shrill and vehement. As if in answer to that terrible
summons, Katinka tore open the door and entered with a smoky paraffin
lamp. With one hand the girl thrust the shaking, sobbing woman
forward, with the other held the lamp towards the face peering out of
the blankets.

"Oh, my God!" shrieked Leah, and sprang from the cabin, pursued by the
cackling of broken laughter.

She made for the deck--for the side--for anywhere, to be out of the
sight of that face; that face which would haunt her till she died.
Strange, in silence, handed her, sobbing and whimpering, down the
black side, where the boat received her. She dropped in a heap, and
beside her dropped from Katinka's hand a packet of letters. Above from
an open port-hole came clucking, cackling, chuckling laughter,
insanely gleeful, and the silent stars of God shone over land and sea.



CHAPTER XXXIII


So Leah won after all. She went out with a definite purpose, and
returned with that purpose achieved; yet not fully, since what
she desired had been flung to her as a bone to a dog. In the
panic-stricken flight from the field she carried with her the spoils
of victory and something less desirable. The price of her good name,
the security of her position, the entire triumph--these, as she well
knew, had been gained by shameful self-surrender. Indeed, it could
scarcely be called a victory, seeing that she had succumbed to the
masterful brutality of her enemy. Nevertheless--and she derived
comfort from the thought--it could not be termed a defeat. Her social
glory yet flamed unextinguished; her character could not be smirched,
and she could yet hold up her head to flout the found-out of her sex.
But something bitter spoiled the flavour of these sweets. She had lost
her belief in the fetish; its spell of good luck was broken; her nerve
was gone, and with it self-respect. All she desired was to hide
herself amongst familiar surroundings, that their very familiarity
might fence in her quailing soul from impossible danger. And that the
danger could be so described by her intellect revealed a demoralised
will.

The cypher letters attesting her share in the conspiracy she destroyed
by fire. They were genuinely those she had written, and the number was
correct, so, when their ashes floated up the chimney, Leah drew the
long, deep, relieved breath of one whose chains have been struck off.
Yet, even at the moment of release, she shuddered to the core of her
being. The ghost of a futile crime was laid, but the ghost might
return. Demetrius had truly parted with all tangible evidence, and his
unsubstantiated story would be whiffed away as too romantic for
belief. Moreover, M. Aksakoff, for the sake of his own good name, and
that of his Government, would swear to her innocence of this gross
intrigue. She was safe--absolutely, entirely, and wholly safe. The
world would never know how she had capered on the verge of an abyss,
or how nearly she had missed her footing. But something--her
conscience probably--told her that an unseen Judge was summing up her
delinquencies; that she was being weighed in the balance and would be
found wanting, even though her kingdom did not pass from her. This
Judge, impartial, terribly quiet, severely righteous, might have been
God; and He was God, although she refused recognition. Her tormented
soul inspired her with the dread of an all-seeing and condemning eye;
but she resolutely declined to admit the Maker, the Judge, or the
Unseen in any way. Shadows should not frighten her, for these were not
of the eating, drinking, merry-making world. All the same, shadows,
elusive and unexpected, did strike terror to her guilty heart, and she
reluctantly knew herself to be a broken woman. In those earlier hours
of safety this knowledge was very insistent.

The week of her retirement passed pleasantly enough. She doctored her
bruised lips, mended their torn skin, and argued occasionally with her
shameful soul. The quiet life of silent hours in the midst of
civilised balms partially restored her courage, but not as entirely as
she could wish. Piecing her broken nerves together as best she could,
she strove to remount the pinnacle of supreme and self-sufficient
egotism whence she had fallen. But Humpty-Dumpty could not be set up
again, try as she might to replace him. During those brooding hours
Leah recovered much, but not all. The week's end found her cured of
the skin-deep blow, and outwardly the same insolent, radiant beauty of
an adoring world. But she knew herself to be a changed being; the
pantheress had become a hare, although less innocent. The sword of her
tongue was still sharp, but the shield of self-righteousness was
broken, and a keen-eyed antagonist sufficiently assertive could have
reduced her to the same moral pulp that the interview with Demetrius
had left her. Woe to the vanquished indeed! What remained but that she
should receive the wooden foil of retirement from Destiny and leave
the arena for ever. Her soul protested against this tame submission,
so with indomitable courage she braced herself to further battle. With
the world, that is, not with Demetrius. His abominable kiss had sapped
her forces. She could face social enemies, she could defy the Eternal,
she could encounter the fiends of hell, but not the man who had flung
her into the dust--who had trailed her, and was still trailing her, at
his chariot wheels. Certainly he had steamed into the unknown, and she
would never behold him more. But his black influence remained and made
itself felt at untoward moments.

Jim paid his promised visit almost at the end of her seclusion, and
was disposed to be disagreeable on the plea that his wife had lied
unnecessarily. Being truthful himself, when there was nothing to be
gained by swerving from the path of rectitude, Jim abhorred a wasted
fib, and proceeded to condemn Leah for shooting an aimless arrow from
her mental quiver. It was the most pensive hour of the summer twilight
when Jim began his sermon, and he preached in his wife's sitting-room.
Darby sat beside Joan, who lay languidly on a sofa. What a perfect and
touching picture of connubial felicity! If only a reporter of
backstair gossip had been present to describe this middle-class
domesticity of these great leaders of fashion, Brixton might have
learned an edifying lesson from Belgravia.

"Now I do call it hard on a fellow," complained the Duke--"jolly
hard--that you can't talk straight, Leah."

"If I did you would scarcely feel flattered. What is it now?"

"Aksakoff! Says he was never near Southend. Swore till all was blue
that he'd never set eyes on that girl for months an' months."

"A sad deprivation for so affectionate a father."

"Well, then, he wants to know where she is."

"How should I know?" replied the Duchess, indifferently. "She chose to
remain at Southend, and I returned here alone."

"What were you doin' at Southend?"

"That is my business, Jim!"

"Mine also. You said something that wasn't true."

"Really? The Accuser of the Brethren in the pulpit with a vengeance!"

The Duke stared. "I don't know what you mean."

"I am quite sure you don't. Stop talking, please. I am too ill to be
worried."

"Rats," said Jim, elegantly; "you look like a picture.*

"Then permit me the privilege of one, and do not ask for replies."

The Duke strolled to the window in a huff, and surveyed his property
with sulky looks. Leah sat up on her sofa and pondered as to how much
she should say and how much leave unsaid. Jim had always been under
the impression that Demetrius had done his dirty work for money, and
the truth would not probably strike him as amusing. Leah could easily
have conceived and told a pretty fairy tale, as she was always
resourceful in the way of fiction; but the sight of his pink, fatuous
face filled her with rage. Why should he be a beast with women, and
she a vestal with men? Was not sauce for the gander sauce for the
goose also? She determined to tell him the whole brutal affair, with
certain reservations concerning the betrayal of Demetrius. Jim had few
moral scruples, but what he had would be averse to the betrayal of an
accomplice, however dangerous. Yes; she would tell him enough to annoy
him, and shake him out of his aggravating complacency. Also she wanted
some one in whom to confide. But how to bring up the subject again
without pandering to her husband's desire to be master?

He gave her the chance immediately. Like a bulldog, Jim never let go
of anything he had once gripped. Into his thick head had crept some
idea of a mystery, connected with Southend and with his wife's visit
thereto. Therefore he stared out of the window until he thought she
was more amenable to reason, and then came back to his seat with the
old question.

"Why did you go to Southend?" he asked, doggedly.

Leah, not yet ready, fenced. "I told you why I went."

"No, you didn't. Aksakoff says----"

"Of course he does. Did you ever know a diplomatist who told the
truth?"

"Huh! That comes well from you, considering."

"I never knew that white lies were political privileges. Besides,
Aksakoff is too ashamed of Katinka to tell the truth."

"What's she been doin'?" asked the Duke, alertly. He had the soul of a
knitter in the sun for gossip.

"Rescuing Demetrius," answered Leah, curtly.

"What!!!" Jim turned white and purple and red and green like a
rainbow, and spluttered at the mouth. His wife, eyeing him coldly, did
not think this exhibition of genuine fear a pretty sight. "He'll--why,
he'll--tell," gasped Jim, gulping down an extremely serviceable word,
which better fitted his feelings than surroundings.

"Of course."

"It's a question of money, I suppose."

"No, it isn't."

"But you told me----"

"What I chose to tell you. I always do."

Was there ever such a trying woman? Jim gulped down another
out-of-place oath, and strode noisily up and down the room. He halted
at intervals to tell his wife precisely what he thought of her. As the
room was isolated, and there was no danger of eavesdropping servants,
he indulged in a raised voice and a flow of language which revealed
his very limited vocabulary. Leah, with her chin on her knuckles and a
round elbow on the sofa cushion, listened unmoved, and looked as
though she were having her photograph taken. Jim might have been
executing his dance before a graven image for all the emotion she
showed.

"I've had enough of this," shouted his Grace, maddened by a disdainful
silence. "Just you explain, or I'll--why, hang it, I'll forget that I
am a gentleman."

"It seems to me that you have forgotten."

"Oh! You would drive a saint mad."

"Lionel is perfectly sane, and he is the sole saint I have met."

"Ain't you afraid of my striking you?" demanded Jim's bulldog nature.

"Horribly afraid. Can't you see how I tremble?"

Poor Jim. He was quite at the end of his resources. Mrs. Penworthy
always quailed, when he was in his tantrums; Lady Sandal fought fairly
and squarely, slang for slang: but this calm, smiling she-fiend only
sat like a dummy, waiting for him to do what she very well knew he
would never dare to do.

"I wonder if you're a woman," groaned the Duke, returning beaten and
baffled and completely exhausted to his chair.

"I wonder, too, seeing what you have made me put up with."

"Come, now, I've always treated you well."

"And other women better."

"What other women?" growled Jim, on his guard.

"You know very well."

"I don't. I know nothin', not even why you're bullyraggin' me. I
swear," cried Jim, pathetically, to the ceiling, "that it's
uncommonly hard for a cheery chap like me to be tied to a woman
who--who--who----" Here words failed him, and he gasped.

"Go on. I admire your descriptions of my personality. They are so
extraordinarily vivid and true."

"Who ain't what she ought to be."

Leah's opportunity to break the ice had come, and locking her hands
together, she gazed pensively at the Duke, who wriggled uneasily on
his seat. "How did you guess, Jim?"

"Guess what?" demanded the tormented man.

"That I am not what I ought to be."

The Duke stared aghast. "Then you ain't t" he shouted.

"Dr. Demetrius might say so."

"Leah!" He sprang up with clenched fists and his face took on a
direfully black expression, which rejoiced her heart.

"Jim, I believe--really, I believe that you have some love for me
after all."

"Oh, hang your fine talk. Demetrius?"

"I have kissed him."

"He dared to kiss you?"

"I dared to kiss him."

"You devil!" He suddenly raised his fist. Leah never winced, although
he towered over her with his mouth working and his eyes animal in
their unconsidering passion. It was impossible to strike, although his
heart cried out that she ought to die. With an oath--it came out
savagely this time--the fist dropped. "I'll have a divorce," muttered
Jim, and plunged for the door.

"Because I kissed a man. Nonsense."

"Kissin' doesn't stop at kissin'."

"Not with you, perhaps."

"Leah!" he turned and reclosed the door, which his rage had wrenched
open. "I know you've got a beastly tongue, and all that; but I could
have sworn that you were as pure as my mother."

"Well, and so you can."

"What? After you confessin' that you kissed Demetrius?"

"Ugh!" Leah shuddered, as a picture after the style of Wiertz rose to
her mind's eye. "I kissed a thing which was once Demetrius."

"Is he dead, then?"

"Better if he were. Ugh! That kiss was the most horrible thing I ever
had to do in my life."

"Why did you do it, then?"

"I was forced to," she said faintly, and nausea made her place a
handkerchief suddenly to her lips.

The Duke returned for the third time to his seat and looked into her
changing face with round inquiring eyes. "There's somethin' in this I
don't catch on to," he muttered; then, with gruff tenderness, and a
timid caress from which Leah did not shrink, "What is it, old girl?"

The Duchess laughed. It was amusing to find her husband playing the
spring bachelor. "I believe you love me," said she, recovering her
colour.

"You know I do, only you keep me at arm's length."

"Have I not cause?"

"You wouldn't have, if you behaved as a fellow's wife should," said
the Duke, bluntly. "Drop skirtin' round the bush and plunge in."

Leah admired and respected him in this peremptory mood, and for once
showed no disposition to use her sharp tongue. Instinct told her that
she had at length reached the end of Jim's tether, and that her
easy-going bulldog was inclined to curl his lips. Therefore did she
relate picturesquely and half-truthfully all her doings since the
beginning of things in the gallery. For the time being her story broke
off with the return of his Grace.

Jim listened with praiseworthy self-control. He certainly growled and
scowled at the relation of that early loss, which had bound Demetrius
to the service of the woman who betrayed him; but her artless
confession robbed the butterfly caress of half its iniquity. Sometimes
he grunted admiration of her pluck during the perils of his absence,
and grinned when she detailed the melodramatic interview with Strange.
Most of the time his eyes searched her face to make certain that she
was telling the truth. He believed she was, although she kept back the
precise way in which Demetrius had departed for Siberia. But she laid
enough of this particular blame on Aksakoff's back to make Jim swear.

"The mean, dirty, foreign hound," cursed Jim, between his teeth. "I
don't pretend to be an angel, but if I'd dropped to that----" he shook
his fist with a scarlet face. "An' to think Aksakoff should dare to
make use of your room--the rotten cur. I'll tell him what I think."

"Better not, Jim. Let sleeping dogs lie."

"Sleepin' mongrels," muttered the Duke. "All right; but don't you ever
speak to him again. Do you hear?"

He blared out the order in a regimental manner, and Leah nodded.

"Yes, dear," she said meekly, "we must draw the line somewhere."

Jim nodded and gloomed, and rumbled something about Aksakoff that
certainly was not a benediction. Then he harked back to his leading
question, which had not yet been answered. "Why did you go to
Southend?"

"Katinka, who had rescued Demetrius from Sakhalin Island, made me go
to see him. I had to obey, else there might have been trouble. The man
was ill on board Strange's steamer."

"Strange? Thought we paid the cad."

"We did." Leah frowned at the recollection of the sum. "But he had
some liking for Demetrius, and helped him to escape, worse luck."

"Come now, don't say that. Siberia----" Jim shuddered. "Beastly place,
Siberia."

"Nonsense. The climate is quite decent if you make up your mind. I
don't believe those convict creatures suffer so much as they say."

She told the lie without sign of emotion, but all the same felt an
inward qualm at the memory of the doctor's terrible narrative.

The Duke chewed his moustache meditatively. "An' you saw Demetrius?"

"Ugh!" Leah covered her face and rocked. "To live with that in my
thoughts, and to think that I kissed It."

"Why did you?" demanded Jim, furiously.

"To get the cypher letters connected with the insurance plot," she
replied, looking up; then detailed with necessary suppressions the
greater and least repulsive part of her nauseous visit to the tramp
steamer. The story sounded by no means pretty, and all her courage was
necessary to enable her to arrive at finis.

When she did the Duke sprang up in a pelting rage. "My wife to be
treated like that!"

"Oh, the treatment was not so bad," lied the Duchess, easily. "Of
course, my mouth was sore with the fall on the stairs, but I managed
to touch the lips of that--that---- Ugh! ugh!"

"I'll go to Southend to-morrow," announced the Duke, frowning. "I
can't thrash Demetrius, poor devil, but I'll hammer the life out of
that second-hand skipper."

"You won't find the boat there, Jim. I made inquiries, and learnt that
it left, as Demetrius said it would, shortly after my visit. And we
are quite safe. That kiss----"

"Leave the kissin' alone," cried Jim, turning on her fiercely. "Of
course, I see you couldn't quite help it; but----"

"No 'but' at all," contradicted Leah, sharply. "If I hadn't bought
back those cypher letters in that way the whole story might have come
out. And then, Jim--well, you know."

"I do--I do." Jim groaned and dropped on the sofa beside her. "Oh,
what fools we were to go into that insurance business!"

"It was my fault, dear. Don't worry. Demetrius will die soon, and
Strange has his blackmail. We are entirely safe."

"Katinka?"

"Oh," said the Duchess, with a flippancy she was far from feeling, "I
suppose shell sit by the grave of that man for the rest of her days."

"You're sure he's dyin'?"

"Yes!" She turned pale, and her voice quavered. "Such an object could
not possibly live. It would be a--a--sin."

"What's his trouble?"

"I don't know--I can't say. I don't want to say. It's--it's too
beastly for words. Ugh! He looked--looked--oh!" Leah's mouth worked
like a rebuked child, and she burst into tears--into real womanly
tears of shame and terror and outraged modesty. "That horrible
kiss--oh, that horrible kiss!" she wailed, pinching his shoulder in
her hysterical emotion.

"Poor old girl," said Jim, softly, and put his arm round her.

For once she appreciated marital sympathy, and learned that woman was
not made to live alone. Leaning her cheek thankfully against the rough
tweed of his coat, she sobbed vehemently, a frightened and crushed
creature. Jim felt that he was a married man after all, and
administered gruff consolation. It worried him to see this
high-spirited woman break down so utterly. "There, there," said he,
tenderly; "it's all right, old girl. You've got me."

"Thank God," murmured the beaten atheist.

Jim thought she must be going out of her mind. "What's that?" That she
should thank a God she did not believe in, and for a husband whom
hitherto she had always scorned, quite frightened him.

"What's that, Leah?" he asked again.

"Thank God for you," sobbed the Duchess, brokenly.

"Oh, my aunt," muttered the startled husband; then proceeded to fresh
consolation: "Well, then, I'll break the head of any bounder who dares
to say a word against you."

"Yes; but I'm afraid we're wicked, Jim."

"Other people are as bad," said the Duke, stoutly, "though I don't
suppose we'd get a Sunday School prize. 'Course it ain't much good
racin' in blinkers. We're a bad lot, the pair of us. I've behaved like
a rotter, and worse, while you're like something I can't think of.
Seems to me, Leah, we've been runnin' awf'ly crooked. Let's make a
fresh start from scratch, and go straight for the future. Tandem, y'
know," suggested Jim; "I'll be wheeler, as usual."

"We must make the best of things, I suppose," whimpered Leah, drying
her eyes, and still too much unstrung to realise her regeneration.

"That's about it. We'll give sin a rest for a bit. I'll chuck that
woman, and be your husband. I swear, Leah, I'll be a Methodist parson
sort of husband."

"No, don't," said the Duchess, alarmed. "It's a mistake to overdo
things."

Jim laughed, and she laughed.

"Well, I don't suppose I could keep on that game for long," said her
husband; "but I mean that I'll be awf'ly square, an' footle after you
round the town. It's th' sort of thing good husbands do, y' know. Give
us a kiss, old girl, an' we'll begin our married life all over again."

Leah obeyed very contentedly, and nestled in Jim's strong arms like an
innocent schoolgirl. She felt worn-out and tired, and drowsy from
excess of emotion; felt also that here was a much-desired haven for a
worried woman. "Dear old Jim!" she sighed, and Jim kissed her again.

The light was dying out of the sunset sky, and the room filled with
pale warm shadows. The reconciled pair sat silently on the sofa in the
gathering darkness, locked in a close embrace. The remorseful Jim felt
that they were prisoners in the same dock, and anxiously paved a
certain place with the very best intentions. Leah went to sleep,
thanks to a less tender conscience.

To the world these two were the prosperous and happy Duke and Duchess
of Pentland; to themselves, a misguided couple driven to do wrong by
circumstances; but to God--what did they appear in God's sight?
Remorse is not repentance, and remorse was the sole feeling of which
they were capable. Leah's sleep was the slumber of the worn-out; Jim's
self-promised reformation the result of shame. Shallow beings,
miserable creatures, they could not plumb the depth of their
wrong-doing. To them, sins were faults, and they were governed less by
the Sermon on the Mount than by the laws of society. Indeed, it is
questionable if either one of them was aware that such a sermon had
been preached; but both knew to a hair how far they could go without
being ostracised.

Jim was the better of the two, for the cold, brutal story told by his
wife made him hot with the public-school shame of having done things
which no fellow could do. The drastic codes of Eton and Harrow and
Rugby and Winchester came to his mind, and he saw how he had sinned
against the primitive laws of honour. Without oaths, he swore to lead
a better and cleaner life with Leah to help him. He would be
charitable and a good landlord, and take the chair at public
dinners, and speak in the Lords, and chuck Lady Sandal--who was too
expensive--and drop gambling to a certain extent, and not swear more
than necessary, and--and--do what a man in his high position ought to
do.

It will thus be seen that poor Jim's ideas of reformation were crude.
He felt this himself, poor man, in his narrow brain; and like the
child he really was, looked down to ask his clever wife's advice. He
had no time to consider the irony of the thing, even if it had
occurred to him, for discovering that Leah was sound asleep, he
wondered hugely. From the placid expression of her face it was very
plain that her crimes had not followed her into Dreamland. Jim
whistled softly, marvelling that she could slumber so immediately
after what she had told him. Laying her gently back on the sofa, he
summoned her maid, and went about his own business. This was to begin
reformation without loss of time.

"I must help Leah to be good," said the new broom.

But first he had to reform himself, and set about the first step, or
what he conceived to be the first step, with the enthusiasm of the
very bad person made uncomfortable by remorse. The vicar of Firmingham
received a visit from his patron just as he was about to enjoy a
well-earned dinner.

"Lionel," said the Duke, nervously, "I'm comin' to communion in a
month. Could you get me whitewashed in that time?"

Lionel stared, and looked upward. Strange to say the heavens did not
fall.



CHAPTER XXXIV


Were a purblind generation convinced of the invaluable blessings of
sorrow, trouble would be robbed of its sting. Ignorance and fear make
the unenlightened bemoan their burdens, or shirk bearing them, as they
should be borne, with the strength of hope. Chastening is the gift of
the eternal love, and those happy few who know this submit with joy to
the improving rod. But worrying is not submission, nor is grumbling a
recognition of curative effects. To be manful, to be daring, to be so
entirely wise from the learning of the lesson as to extract the sweet
from the bitter, thus do we prove ourselves worthy of that suffering
which God bestows in mercy and in pity. Troubles, if rightly
understood, deepen the most shallow character, purify the most soiled
soul. They begin in woe but they end in joy. When the lesson is
learned, then comes the holiday--or more precisely, the holy-day--of
peace and gladness.

Jim, in his simple way, understood that out of apparent evil great
good had come to himself and Leah. Never before had they understood
each other so well; never before had they forgathered with less
friction. The Duke's reformation was as genuine as his embryonic soul
was capable of making it. He felt desperately ashamed of himself at
the communion table, and shame of self, provided the physical ego be
not considered, is the beginning of repentance, which leads to hope,
which brings pardon and solace to the uneasy, sinful heart. Jim did
not become a saint by any manner of means, but he tried by fits and
starts to be a better man, and so, with true though faltering zeal,
advanced towards the light. And it was much gained that so once
self-satisfied a man should acknowledge himself to be at all in need
of improvement. The recalled code of schoolboy honour helped him to
amend the less drastic rules of the society man. Could Jim have only
gone still farther back, and remembered helpful nursery prayers and
childish faith, he might have seen even more clearly how to utilise
his mistakes. But he was yet a spirit in embryo, and his receptive
powers were not great.

Leah did not keep pace with her husband on the upward path. When the
danger was brought to naught, and her nerves became more normal, she
forgot everything with the alacrity of a hardened heart. The wind of
the Spirit had but troubled the surface of her nature; its depths
remained undisturbed. Within a fortnight her dear devil of egotism
returned, and she tore out of her book of life the disagreeable page,
which she declined to read for the second time. Certainly she retained
so much grace and memory as not to laugh at Jim's efforts to be good,
and she was less ready than of yore to see and comment upon his
obvious failings. But she secretly wondered that he should try to be
pious, when there was no worldly advantage to be gained by such
dullness. Besides, Jim, with the zeal of the newly converted, began to
preach in a stammering, shamefaced way about the duties they owed to
themselves in particular and to society at large. He even looked up
_Noblesse oblige_ at the tail-end of the dictionary, and quoted the
platitude to Leah. On that occasion she had laughed consumedly; but,
truth to say, Jim's sermons bored her immensely. She preferred those
of Lionel, who, as a professional guide to glory, knew his business,
whereas poor dear Jim was hopelessly muddled.

Therefore, while the Duke laboriously tried to be good, and succeeded
but doubtfully, Leah was coquetting deliriously with the world, the
flesh, and the many agreeable devils of her acquaintance. She improved
her former extravagances into something worse, and revenged herself
for being agreeable to Jim by letting both friends and enemies have
the full benefit of her witty, cruel tongue. The few who did not come
under its lash were in ecstasies at her sparkling conversation, and
the many who did made themselves pronouncedly pleasant out of mortal
fear. Leah danced and sang through the season with the insolent glee
of a woman who knows her position to be unassailable. Jim wondered at
her short memory, and tried to refresh it; but that she would not
endure, and declined even to hear the name of Demetrius. Moreover, as
M. Aksakoff had been translated to Copenhagen, there was no need to
smooth matters over between him and the Duke. Everything was safe,
everything was ripping, and she felt that her latest _pas de seul_ was
being executed on firm ground. She had skipped in the very nick of
time from that dangerous old mount which had erupted so feebly.

And no one could say but what she did her best to be amiable. Late in
the season she met and congratulated Mr. and Mrs. Askew; she told Lady
Richardson how she admired her courage--underlined--in marrying that
handsome pauper, Captain Lake; and forgivingly did she condole with
Mrs. Penworthy, when the unexpected death of Freddy, from overwork,
left that evergreen hack a widow whom no admirer wished to marry. Lady
Canvey was most tenderly considered, and Wallace, the globe-trotting
cynic, on Leah's introduction, amused the stay-at-home old lady by
special command. The sedate Hengists thought even more of the Duchess
than they had done of Lady Jim, and she was often asked to bore
herself in their protective company. She gave Sir Billy Richardson a
smiling time at one of the ducal seats, and invited Joan Kaimes to
Curzon Street for a week of shopping and frivolity. Also bazaars and
charity concerts, and meetings about the unemployed aristocracy, took
up her attention. The fashionable congregation of an exclusive church
beheld her regularly in its midst, and heard the audible admission
that she was a miserable sinner--a most touching confession for a
truly good Duchess to make. Then she befriended a bishop, who was not
too straight-laced, and induced him to preach a scientific sermon in
Lionel's church, of which Lionel, very nastily, did not approve. Oh,
it was a merry time, when the grapes were ripe and the first-fruits of
her ducal harvest were being gathered in. The Duchess of Pentland won
golden opinions even from the censorious. Things could not have been
better managed by the discarded fetish, and Leah admitted that in this
respectable orgy the birthday of her life had come.

During this meteoric career it surprised every one that she should
choose to retire suddenly. Fashion clamoured at her closed doors;
society journals wondered and lamented; individual friends expressed
themselves puzzled; and in print and conversation the freak of a
Duchess who chose to disappear was freely discussed. It was as
though the noonday sun should set unexpectedly. Leah's radiant orb had
blazed triumphantly for a few months, paling the lesser stars of
society, and then--had vanished. The Duke, when applied to for an
explanation, stated that she had gone abroad, because her health
was--hum--hum--hum. She crossed the Channel alone, too, which looked
odd. People began to talk and to invent reasons to explain the
inexplicable. But not even the most daring hinted at a connubial
disagreement. Jim would have stopped any such rumour at once with high
words. Not that it could arise, seeing that he thanked God publicly
every Sunday for possessing a wife whose price was far above rubies.
But whatever had happened, whatever might be the reason, it was
indisputable that the beautiful and wealthy and clever and popular
Duchess of Pentland had retired from the world in her heyday of social
success.

Lionel was the first to hear of her when she returned unexpectedly to
Firmingham, after a month's sojourn on the Continent. One day in the
chilly grey autumn weather he received a note asking him to call at
four o'clock, and went unthinkingly to pass through what he afterwards
remembered as the most painful hour of his life. He fancied, when
setting out, that Leah merely wished to see him about the Duke. It
might be that Jim, with the Old Adam leaven still working within, had
broken out again, and that Lionel was summoned to call the sinner a
second time to repentance. But the Duke, as he gathered from old
Colley, was vegetating at Hengist Castle. It was impossible that the
Old Adam could emerge from his penitential cell in so respectable and
moral a neighbourhood.

Leah received her cousin in the sitting-room of her Lady Jim days,
where they had twice talked seriously. Later on it appeared that she
had a special reason for selecting an apartment sanctified by the
vicar's endeavour to improve her into a moderately presentable angel.
It was a charming and tastefully decorated room, and the Duchess was
as tastefully decorated and as charming as her surroundings. She sat
in a deep chair by a brisk fire, dressed with that perfect choice of
colour and material which always distinguished her. The delicate blue
of her frock, and a selection of certain filigree silver ornaments,
matched marvellously with her splendid red hair and sapphire eyes.
Lionel noted an unusual pallor, but thought that he had never seen,
her look more lovely. Apparently she had been reading, for she dropped
her handkerchief over an open book on the small table at her elbow
when she rose to shake hands. He mechanically wondered at the trivial
action, and learned its significance later.

"So very kind of you to come, Lionel," said the Duchess, pressing his
hand cordially. "I know how busy you are with your parishioners."

"You are one of them," smiled the clergyman.

"At odd moments, certainly; but we globe-trot for our places of
worship nowadays. Sit down"; she indicated a convenient chair opposite
her own. "Now tell me the news of your small world. Is Joan quite
well?"

"Could not be better, considering the circumstances."

"I am so glad; when do you expect the happy event?"

"In a month, please God."

Leah looked pensively into the fire. "I hope it will be a boy."

"I shall be more than content with a girl. Why a boy particularly?"

"Why not, when an heir is so important? You succeed Jim, and a new
Marquis of Frith----"

"My dear Duchess, you and the Duke are young. There is little chance
of my succeeding. I may be congratulating you some day."

"No," cried Leah, almost fiercely; "such a thing can never be, thank
God."

Lionel stared. "Why 'thank God'?"

"Oh--er--I hardly know; of course, I should hate to be pestered with
children. The nursery is an obsolete institution here, and will remain
so, unless"--she hesitated--"unless Jim marries again."

"Duchess!"

"Why not Leah?"

"If it will please you. But why talk of Jim's marrying again, when you
are in the best of health and spirits?"

She shrugged indifferently. "One never knows, I might go first."

"I sincerely trust not."

"Does that imply that you wish me to be a real widow, after posing as
a sham one?"

"Of course not; but you talk so strangely."

"And so honestly. Remember, I have always paid you the compliment of
being plain even to rudeness."

Lionel tried to read her face, but in vain, and could not arrive at
the meaning of her apparently aimless conversation. The slanting rays
of sunset made a radiant glory round her as she half sat, half
reclined in the chair, and her beauty could bear even that merciless
test. Youth, health, money, charm, loveliness--with these desirable
blessings at her command, what else could she want?

"I do not quite understand," said the perplexed man.

"Understand what?" she asked absently; then became more alive to his
question. "Oh, my chatter. You will, before we part. I am no sphinx to
propose riddles."

"Every woman is a sphinx."

"Without a secret; that is why you men find us so difficult to
comprehend."

"I confess to the difficulty at this moment."

"What a complex mind I must have! Yet I am a very ordinary butterfly
of fashion; something with wings, at all events, though not entirely
an angel."

Her visitor laughed. "Am I to pay you a compliment, or rebuke you for
frivolity?"

"You can do both or either; the sweet first will counterbalance the
bitter last. But I sicken of compliments."

"Even when genuine?"

"They never are. Men say things they don't mean to women out of
traditional reverence for the exploded idea of the weaker vessel. When
you meet a child your first thought is to give it sweets; when you
talk with us the same thought is translated into polite lies. And we
never believe you--never," Leah assured him. "Plain or beautiful, vain
or humble, we price the words directly. In no case have I found them
to be of value."

"You make us out to be fools."

"One must be truthful at times. Of course, I always except you,
Lionel, as you are more man than parson."

"Cannot I be both?"

"Oh, yes, when miracles occur. Lately I heard of a parson who laboured
solitary and freezing amongst the snows of Labrador for a poor eighty
pounds a year. He was emphatically a man."

"And a parson," supplemented the vicar; "so, you see, miracles do
occur."

A warm colour crept into Leah's cheeks, and she looked piercingly at
her companion. "Do they? Nowadays, I mean. I am not using a mere
phrase, believe me. Honestly now, could those Gospel miracles occur in
this twentieth century?"

Lionel mused, and considered a careful reply. "Our Master was given
the Spirit without measure as a man because He was the Son of the Most
High; by that wisdom did He work His marvels. But the Apostles, in His
power, also prevailed over the apparently natural, showing signs and
wonders to the glory of the Risen Lord and His Father. 'With faith ye
can do all things,' said the blessed Jesus Himself. Yes, Leah, I
reverently believe that with purity, faith, and a humble trust in the
Father by the merits of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Ghost,
miracles could take place to-day."

"Then why don't they?" she asked abruptly.

The vicar, sighing, dropped into the high-pitched sing-song of the
pulpit. "A faithless and perverse generation----"

"A scientific generation, you mean. I don't believe--I can't
believe--and I won't believe. Prove the power of your Master. You have
faith; you are good; you----"

"No, no! You go too fast. I assuredly try to be good, but I am sadly
wanting in many ways. I have faith, but how weak, how faltering. Who
am I, to claim that the Lord should select me to reveal His strength
unto men? I can work no miracle, Leah. Would to God that I could, if
only to convince you!"

"Would to God that you could!" she echoed with something like a groan,
and the faint flush disappeared, like the dying out of a hope.

"Why do you, a sceptic, ask about these things?"

Leah, possessed by the spirit of the perverse, laughed maliciously.
"Jim is trying to be good; why should not I try also, since a wife is
bound to follow her husband, according to St. Paul, who by the way was
a bachelor? But," her mood shifted, "Jim has a tin-pot sort of faith
which is better than nothing. I have not, and so, like your
unbelieving Jews, require a sign."

Lionel became professionally interested, descrying intimations of a
changed heart. "I believe that you will yet find the Kingdom," he said
hopefully.

"Don't you make any such mistake," she retorted. "I have not yet set
out to find it, and never will, unless I see some of those wonders
about which you talk so glibly."

"But, believe me----"

"I do, though not to the extent of Bible magic. You hypnotise yourself
into crediting the impossible. I wish you could hypnotise me. Oh, I
wish--I wish--I wish!" she ended passionately.

"Faith is not hypnotism," argued Lionel; the word grated on his ear.

"It is--it is--it is!" Leah was vehement in her denial. "Science can
explain everything. Why do you come here to prate of miracles, when
you know in your own heart that such things never were and never can
be?"

"They were and they can be and they will be, while Christ reigneth,"
asserted the vicar, firmly; "nothing is impossible to God."

"Then call upon Him, and work your marvel."

"I am not worthy."

"You are not able, rather," and she taunted him as did Elijah the
priests of Baal, their god.

Kaimes wondered at her restless moods, and wondered still more when
she abruptly left the serious subject they were discussing--and on her
own initiative--to talk most frivolously.

"I have heard you preach," went on this weathercock, "and I am no more
to be persuaded than was Agrippa. You and your shadows"--she whiffed
these away. "Pouf! Let us talk of real things"; and a toss of her head
dismissed the spiritual for the purely temporal. "I had such a ripping
time this season," rattled on the nature set upon pomps and vanities.

"Leah, Leah! How can you?"

"Change so rapidly? Oh, my good man, I am a twirl-ma-gee woman, ever
seeking variety. Religious conversation is neither amusing nor
convincing. It's much more fun to talk of one's friends and abuse
their failings."

"I decline to join in," said Lionel, dryly, and feeling nonplussed.

"Because you have no sense of humour. What a dull time of it Joan must
have, poor child!"

"She does not complain," he objected stiffly.

"Oh, Lord, what is the use of complaining! I never whimper about Jim,
though his goodness is even duller than his badness. 'I have tried
George drunk, I have tried George sober'"--she was quoting an epigram
of Charles II.--"'and there is nothing in George.'"

"You are unnecessarily personal," rebuked Kaimes, annoyed.

"That's right. Tramp on your little corns and you howl."

He intimated that he desired to leave. "My time is valuable."

"Oh, I know yon are a millionaire of seconds and hours. How
disagreeable you are, when I want to be amused!"

"You have just informed me that I am dull," he reminded her pointedly.

"So you are; all honest men are dull. Why, I don't know, unless it is
that honesty and wit match as ill as beauty and brains. Now don't look
at your watch again. I have something to tell you that will make your
clerical hair stand on end."

What could one do with such a whirlwind woman? The vicar replaced his
watch and shrugged resignedly. She was what she had always been,
freakish and uncertain; but on this occasion more so than usual. An
April lady, whimsical and irresponsible, decidedly rude, and
aggravatingly amusing. But Kaimes instinctively felt that at the back
of these volleying drifts of smalltalk lurked something serious, which
she feared to handle. Hoping that in time it might be manifested to
his intelligence, he waited patiently, while Leah scrambled on
verbosely in her gabble of nothings.

"You need a London month to pull you together. Dull country, dull man;
dull man, awful bore. Get a parish in the West End; you'll have
howling larks converting Dives and Jezebel of the drawing-room."

"I do not look upon conversion as a lark."

"I do, especially with Jim. Oh, Lord, to think that he of all people
should turn goody-goody. You are pleased, of course; the sight of the
lost black sheep trotting home to fodder to the fold is----"

"I really cannot listen to this talk," said Lionel, rising quickly.

"Yes, you can. I'll shock you more before I've done."

Kaimes resumed his seat blankly. "But your reason?"

Leah jumped up as her visitor sat down, and addressed nothing in
particular.

"He asks for reason, and from a woman," she exclaimed. "So like that
lame Lord Esbrook; he always asks what he should not and what he is
never likely to get."

"Reason from women?"

"And from men, who have still less to spare. But that's his way. Have
you met Lord Esbrook? Such a funny walk as he has. Dot and carry
one--wooden leg, you know; dot and carry one--just like this only much
worse"; and Leah limped the length of the room, mimicking an
extraordinary gait so cleverly that Lionel laughed openly.

"Though you shouldn't mock at people's infirmities," he coughed.

"Why not? Esbrook's a holy show, and with the spite of the cripple, he
spares no one's feelings. He's the cracked black pot snarling at the
kettles he can never hope to be, with his dot and carry one, dot and
carry one"; and back she came swinging and grunting with provoking
cleverness.

In her gyrations--it seemed from her imitations that Lord Esbrook
gyrated--she overturned the table upon which rested the covered book.
Leah pounced to pick up the volume, as did Kaimes, out of courtesy.
When he had set the table on its legs he could scarcely refrain from
glancing casually at the book. It's exterior was familiar.

"The Bible!" exclaimed an amazed man.

Leah flung herself into the chair, laughing noisily. "Oh, what a
face!" she mocked, pointing a jeering finger. "Look at yourself, do."

"Were--you--reading the Bible?" asked the vicar, too astonished to
note the poor attempt she made to force humour.

"Why not?" said she, defiantly, but with flushes and quick breaths.

"You only mock."

"The opportunity is so alluring," was her reply. "There's such an
awful lot of rot in that history of the Jews. And hundreds of
impossibilities. Here!" She seized the Bible and rapidly swept the
pages. "What was I reading when you entered?" The thin leaves flew and
flickered beneath her fingers. "Oh yes! Something quite too absurd in
Matthew."

"St. Matthew."

"Mister St. Matthew, if you will. There"; she presented the book; "you
read so beautifully--really you do, without flattery."

"I will not read for you to mock."

Her face flashed into crude anger. "Read," she commanded harshly.

The vicar would have declined again, but that his eye fell on the
verses she had indicated. A memory of their earlier conversation,
coupled with her unnecessary vehemence, made him obey without further
hesitation. It might be that here was the key to the problem of her
jerky speech. His mellow voice rose like the music of a solemn bell,
and the glorious words rolled majestically through the room.

"_When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed
Him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord,
if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand,
and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his
leprosy was cleansed_."

"And immediately his leprosy was cleansed," breathed the Duchess,
gripping the arms of her chair to lean forward. "Why not 'her'
leprosy?"

Lionel laid down the sacred volume. "It was a man who came to ask
mercy of our Lord," said he, obtusely.

Leah threw herself back in the chair with the pettish cry of a
misunderstood child. "Oh, you fool!"

Something in her voice startled him; yet he was far from gathering her
meaning. "What is it?" he demanded, entirely bewildered.

There was no light in her eyes now; from luminous sapphires they had
become pebbles, dull orbs of lapis-lazuli. When she spoke her voice
creaked and wheezed "If your Master lived to-day, I would go to
Palestine!" she said, looking very directly at him.

"What on earth for?" he asked blankly.

"Can you not understand?"

Her look was that of Medusa, and flickering lights came and went in
her half-lifeless eyes. Their glare, rather than the toneless notes of
her voice, made him faintly understand. The chosen passage out of St.
Matthew, taken in conjunction with her earlier chatter of miracles,
and her late reference to Palestine, engendered in his brain a
horrible, a terrible, an impossible thought. And yet----

"What are you talking about?" he asked harshly.

The cry of a soul on fire broke on his ears. "You brute, when I suffer
so! Does it need words?"

"Does what need words?"

She dashed her hand on the open page of the Bible. "This--this!"

"Augh!" He rose and sat down, with cold hands and a white face. The
meaning of what she meant crashed like the blow of a bludgeon, and his
brain spun to the shock "Leah!" he heard himself say, in a far-away
voice like a telephone whisper. Then he stopped to stare at the quiet
woman who sat upright, with rigid features and tightly clasped hands.
"Leah," he muttered again, and some indefinable feeling made his hair
crisp at the roots.

"Yes!" That was all she said, and her lips hardly moved in the saying.

Kaimes looked aimlessly round the room, and noted the pattern of the
window-curtains. Only the whistling of the coals, spouting smoke and
jetting flame, broke the stillness. His eyes returned to her face,
fair and stainless. "Impos--s--sible!" he jerked, his voice entirely
beyond control. "Im----" then his nerves vibrated and his skin crept.

"Three doctors in London, five doctors abroad, assured me that it is
not impossible--unfortunately."

They were like two pale ghosts sitting in the shadows. Said one ghost
to the other: "But have you--are you a----?" His tongue refused to
form either terrible word.

Leah unexpectedly flung up her arms with a scream, then brought two
shaking hands across her mouth to stifle that wild note of human pain.
Right and left, up and down, did she look, as though to be certain
that no one was within earshot but the vicar. "It will never do to let
the servants hear," said the rapid action. Lionel's benumbed brain
could not yet take in wholly the appalling truth--if truth it was. The
leper dropped her hands and looked at him heavily.

"You lying devil," said Leah, slowly.

"What? what? what?" babbled Kaimes, incoherently.

She groaned and rocked with hands palm to palm between her knee. "I
will, be thou clean; I will, be thou clean." Over and over again did
she moan the words, till they bored into the listener's brain.

"God have mercy!" murmured the man, trying to be a man. The creeping
paralysis of the horror almost struck him dumb. But he managed by a
violent effort to wet his lips with a stiff tongue, and made it form
certain words: "Are you sure of this?"

"Three doctors," went on the Duchess, rocking and droning as Demetrius
did aforetime--"three doctors, five doctors, eight doctors in all.
They said the same thing--ugh!--such a beastly thing! It was the
truth, though. Doctors never lie like parsons. And that Book with its
falsehoods--that----" She lunged forward without rising, and grabbing
the Bible pitched it into the fire. Lionel snatched it from the
flames; Leah struck it from his hands; and then ensued a silent
struggle, uncanny, savage, in which some leaves were torn. All at once
she relaxed her grip and lay back crying quietly. "It's a shame, a
shame!" she wept softly; "just when everything was going on so well.
And it can't be cured; all the money in the world can't cure me. I
must die--in bits"; her voice soared shrilly, and she crouched, as
though being beaten. "Ugh! That kiss, that beastly kiss!"

"Leah, how did you get this disease?"

The woman took no notice, but sprang up, as though moved by springs,
flinging wide her arms, and looking upward in wild rebellion. "I
won't die--I won't. I refuse to give in--I refuse"; she tore up and
down the room, speaking in angry undertones, as one always mindful of
possible listeners. "I have always had my own way!" was her whispered
argument--"always--always; why can't I have it now? There can be
nothing up there; no, no--there can't be. If He does exist He would
not have let me go so long on my own. I am strong--I have never met
any one stronger. I must win--I have always won. I will win!" her
voice rose tyrannically. "I am myself; who can be stronger than
myself? And yet this thing"--a strong shudder shook her into
weakness--"this vile--vile---- Ugh! ugh! I believe there must be
Something. Can you tell me, you--you who assume to know the secrets of
the stars?"

She lurched forward in a frenzy of deadly fear, cannoned against
Lionel, and dragged him down into his chair, clasping his knees, and
knocking her forehead against them. "Where is your Master?" she
whimpered. "Tell Him I'm sorry--really I am sorry. He may cure me
then, as He cured that man long ago. Gentle Jesus--the children call
Him so; He can't be cruel to me--to me. He can't be cruel to any one,
so they say--ah, they say, they say; but how do I know? It's not true,
it isn't true, and yet if it was--if it---- Lionel----" She broke off
with the squall of a terrified child, hiding her eyes pitifully. "I'll
be good--I'll be good, if only--only He will do this! It's a little
thing--oh, a very little thing. And you said that He could--that He,
your Master, I mean. Oh! oh! oh!" With sobbing breath she unwound her
arms and fell back beating the carpet with open palms. Murmurings went
rhythmically with the padding sound. "I want to be clean; I want to be
clean; I want to be clean."

Kaimes tried to lift her. "Let me summon help."

With a bound she was on her feet, pushing him back. "Do that and I
kill you," she panted, clenching her hands and facing him furiously.
"No one knows but these doctors--yes, and Katinka, and that fiend
Demetrius. Strange also. If I had Strange here"-- she hammered with
closed fists on the vicar's shoulders--"I would cut him into bits; I
would blind him somehow; I would--I would--oh, what would I not do?
Why couldn't he leave that infected beast to die in Siberia? Oh,
the--the--the----" She poured forth a torrent of words, which made the
listener grow hot and cold with shame. Then again she collapsed as the
chill of a deadly fear struck at her heart. "I don't want to die--I
don't want to die!" and against the wall she rocked with arms held
crosswise over her eyes, swinging, ever swinging.

The scene was like a nightmare; but by this time Lionel had the grip
of his emotions. "Leah," he said firmly, and advancing close to the
writhing creature, "you must tell your husband; you must----"

Out came her arms with a circular swing, and struck him fair across
the eyes. "Jim doesn't know; Jim must never know."

He was almost blinded, but persisted. "Leah, something must be done."

Her voice sank, and with it her rage. "Something must be done," said
she, faintly--"something shall be done, and--soon."

"What do you mean?" he asked, half under his breath, and half catching
at her intention.

She took no notice. "Sit down, please!" said Leah, quietly, and Kaimes
obeyed, since to summon assistance would only be to precipitate a
still more dreadful scene. The Duchess looked into the mirror and
arranged her hair; also she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, and
smoothed her wrist-cuffs. When she did speak it was in the smooth
voice of a society hostess asking a visitor if he took sugar in his
tea. "I have made a fool of myself, Lionel. But you must admit that I
am rather severely tried just now."

"Oh, you poor soul!" His tone and look were pitiful.

"Reserve your sympathy till you hear what I have to say. But first
tell me honestly, can Christ cure me?"

"Yes--if it is His Will."

"Then let Him."

"You must have Faith."

"Faith in what?"

"In His power and Will to heal."

"How can I believe, when I do not believe?"

"He died for you on the Cross."

"He did not. That was purely a political matter because the Jews
feared the Romans. I have read Strauss; I have read Renan; the four
Gospels also: you can't puzzle me. He was a good man, a very good
man--quite a saint, if you will. But--the Son of God?" She shook her
head with a hard frown of disbelief.

Lionel was at his wit's end. "Then you cannot be cured?"

"No"; she looked at him steadily, an awful smile curving the corners
of her mouth. "I thought you would fail me at the last."

"But how can I----?"

"You can't, so there's no more to be said." She sat down with a little
sigh. "Dear me, how very hot this room is! Would you mind opening the
window?"

Kaimes did not move. "Leah, go to bed, and let me send for one of
those doctors you consulted."

"Useless! useless!" She waved him aside calmly. "They have spoken. I
know the worst; I am prepared to face the worst. Are you? Hold your
tongue," she added peremptorily, as he opened his mouth. "Listen!"

From beginning to end did she relate the whole fraud--the sham death,
the stolen money, the betrayal, and the punishment of the kiss. Her
voice was perfectly calm, her posture easy, and her self-control
admirable. The listener grew white and red, became nervous and angry,
quivered with disgust, recoiled with loathing, as she unfolded the
brutal tale of her sin and treachery. Leah spared him no detail,
however painful; she even made herself out to be worse than she really
was--if that were possible. From the buying of Demetrius by that
butterfly kiss in the picture-gallery, to the revenge of Demetrius in
that stuffy cabin, when she struggled in the arms of one who had been
what she now was, she related the whole without a blush, without a
tremor, in a quiet, level voice, unmoved, and utterly shameless. The
horror of her position seemed to remove her from the region of human
emotions and morals. It was the unveiling of original evil.

Lionel did not interrupt, but closed his eyes with a sick feeling as
she drew to the end.

"I first noticed that something was wrong when my hands burned as I
washed them. I thought nothing of it at the time; but the feeling
became so painful that I saw my doctor. He said--well, you can guess
what he said. I consulted another, and another: the same diagnosis. I
went abroad, but the doctors in Germany and France told me the same
thing. I knew it was true. I felt in my heart it was true. Ugh!" She
paused. "There is no cure--none, none." Then she finished, with a
nervous titter, "Pleasant for me, isn't it?"

"Don't!" gasped the vicar, leaning his head on his hand, and much too
qualmish to speak.

"Oh, you needn't look like that. I have to suffer, not you. I kept
wondering how I got the beastly thing, and although I fancied it might
be that kiss, I could not be quite sure. Katinka enlightened me--she
was always a good-natured girl. After the death of that little
reptile, she returned to England and watched me. Seeing that I went to
doctors--she must have watched very closely--and then abroad, she
wrote a letter--such a nasty, spiteful letter. But I always thought
Katinka was a cat. Would you like to----?"

"No, no; I have heard enough."

"And you call yourself a man--pooh! You must hear. I learned from the
letter that Demetrius contracted the--the--well, what he suffered
from, amongst the natives of Kamchatka. He intended first to show me
up; but when that horrid girl told him how she had hurt my mouth, he
knew that by a kiss he could--ahr-r-r! He was a doctor, you see, and
the skin being broken, it was easy for him, knowing what he did, to do
what he wanted--the brute! That was why he kissed so hard, and----"

"Stop! stop!"

"It is beastly, isn't it? That's all, I think."

She was examining her finger-nails when next Lionel stole a glance at
her. He scarcely knew what to say. Her treachery and the result of her
treachery were both abominable. That a beautiful woman, gently born
and bred, should sin so vilely seemed incredible. For beautiful she
was, sitting there calmly under the uplifted sword of Azrael, the
Angel of Death; and vile she confessed herself to be. Yet he could
hardly accept either the physical degradation or the moral turpitude.

"You may be mistaken, after all," he stammered vaguely.

"Because I am not an object," she replied, with a shrug. "How like a
child you are to require proof! I don't intend to become an object, I
can tell you."

"But if there is no cure----"

"There is another way. Of course, it is disagreeable, but what is one
to do in such straits?"

The vicar guessed her meaning, and violently threw off the weakness
with which her story had infected his manhood. "I forbid you to heap
crime upon crime," said he, firmly and insistently.

"I shall do what I like. Do not dictate to me, if you please."

"But God----"

"I don't believe in God."

"You do; you must. Does not this shameful punishment which has
overtaken you in the hour of triumph declare the anger of a great and
terrible God."

"No!" Her expression was mulish.

"Woman! woman! Kneel and ask for mercy."

"I won't ask for mercy when I'm being treated so badly. Never! never!
Just when things were going so smoothly, too; the money coming in by
the bushel, and Demetrius out of the way. I call it a shame; it's
mean, spiteful, cruel. I intended to have such a jolly time, and
now--now----" Her voice faltered and broke.

She swung with a groan to one side of the chair, hiding her face and
breathing heavily. That deadly fear of the inevitable would grip her,
do what she would.

"Leah"--Kaimes' voice shook a trifle--"God is very good to you."

Her eyes stared at him bleakly. "Very good?"

"We are put into this world, not for the pampering of the flesh, but
that we may learn through trouble how to become more spiritual. Our
souls are of God, and to God they must return, rising through much
tribulation to His necessary perfection. Sorrows are sent for the
flesh to bear; not as punishments, but as lessons to be learned. Of
our vices, says St. Augustine, we can frame a ladder to ascend
heavenward, if we but tread them beneath our feet. This you have never
known."

"And I do not know it now."

"From your dreadful trouble will come the knowledge; in this way alone
can humility come. God, out of loving pity for your unbending pride,
which prevents the Holy Spirit from entering your heart, has beaten
you to your knees. On your knees, then, ask for mercy, for light, for
purification of your unclean soul. God's staff, which He gives to all
in life's pilgrimage, has changed into a rod. He gave you all things,
and you used His gifts to glorify the flesh. Now in His infinite love
has He sent trouble----"

"I've brought that upon myself."

"For your amendment it was permitted that you should do so. Out of
your pleasant vices have you made whips to lash yourself. The wages of
sin is death; you have sinned, and the wages--oh, Leah, Leah, bitterly
cruel as it may seem to you, I rejoice that the wages should be so
paid."

"You are a Job's comforter, I must say," said the Duchess, sullenly.

"Because I can see how this tribulation of the flesh can save your
soul alive. God might have struck you dead in your wickedness, and
with justice, for your wilful sin. Instead of doing so, He has given
you a lingering disease, that you should be brought to acknowledge His
power and also have time to repent."

"There is nothing to repent of."

"Shame! shame! Even from a worldly point of view you have sinned
grossly; how much blacker, then, are your deeds in God's sight! But
they can be made white; the past can be wiped out by sincere sorrow."

Leah twisted her hands above her head with a cry of impotent rage.
"How can I repent, when I do not even feel sorry?"

"You will not ask Christ to help you. Repentance is a gift, as is
Faith. He will give both, and His undying Love, if you will but
confess your sin."

"I have done so--to you."

"Who am powerless. Confess it to Christ; weep as did Mary at His
wounded feet. Hard as is your heart, He will melt it; soiled as is
your soul, He will cleanse it. Now--now, when human aid is vain, now
is the appointed time. Repent and be saved!"

"If I try to, will He--will He cure met"

"That question I cannot, dare not answer. His mercy is infinite."

"You say that to me, knowing what I suffer."

"I say it to you who suffer. In no other way could the Spirit have
brought you to the mercy-seat."

"He has not brought me now," she persisted obstinately.

Lionel fell on his knees and caught her restless hands.

"Oh, your poor, sinful soul, for which Christ died!" he cried
passionately; "to whom can you go but to God? Doctors cannot cure you;
He can, if it be His will. He may even make your flesh clean."

"Ah! And that question you declined to answer a minute or two back.
Besides, you denied that miracles could take place."

"I did not. No one ever came in vain to our Blessed Lord, when He
walked the earth some two thousand years ago. As was His power then,
so is it now. He loved in those days, He loves now. Sitting on God's
right hand, He is ready to succour the vilest. His arm is not
shortened, His pity is not exhausted. In mercy He may even cure you of
this dreadful disease, as He cured the afflicted man we read of. Only
acknowledge that God is mightier than you are; only bow to the rod,
only admit your sin, only cry for pardon."

"If He will cure me----" she began, wavering.

"That you must leave to His love and wisdom. Cure you He may; permit
you to suffer, He may see fit. But save your soul, He can. That much I
can swear to."

"I want this horrible thing cured," she cried passionately.

"To continue in your sins? To soil your soul anew?"

"No! no! If I repent----"

"Repentance includes submission. God may not see fit to cure you; it
may be your punishment--and I think it is--to bear this woeful cross,
which if rightly borne may lead you to the light of lights. The flesh!
The flesh! You but think of the flesh, of the passing world, of the
vanities of life, of the enjoyment of the senses. From these things
God would lead you away to contemplate spiritual realities, and the
appointed path has been made known. Bear your cross--oh, my dear, bear
your cross, and endure to the end that you may be saved. Terrible as
it may seem, this evil, whence good will arise, has removed you from
temptation. If you live secluded----"

"Dying piecemeal," she cried, in a frenzy of anger, and wrenched away
her hands. "No, no; I will not live. I will die--die. At least I can
do that."

"As did Judas! Leah, if you cannot bear your punishment in the flesh,
how will you endure it in the spirit? Live for Christ, and what
matters the world?"

"Everything! everything! I know what I am; I do not know what I may
be. Here--in this tangible world--we are safe--safe!"

"From God? Can you say that, when His hand has struck you down? I tell
you, poor sinner, that thus does He show His mercy. As is your crime,
so must be your punishment. But Christ can pardon your iniquities, and
Christ will, if you only plead for mercy and for grace."

Leah rose, crimson with rage. "You'll drive me mad. I don't want your
spiritual life, your next world of shadows and moonshine. Give me
life--life--life!"

The cry of the flesh was so insistent, so futile, so blind in its
desire, that Lionel shuddered. Still on his knees, he began a fervent
prayer. The miserable woman walked rebelliously up and down the room,
fighting against the conviction now slowly being driven home to her
understanding, that He whom she had mocked and defied was indeed the
Most High God. But she still fought against a submission she knew well
would have to be made. Beg for mercy she would not: her heart could
not feel, her intelligence could not grasp. But, somehow, she knew. A
dreadful thing had reduced her to impotence, and the ego could not
battle against the Something it had hitherto flouted, but now
furiously admitted might exist.

There remained but one thing to do, but one dark way to take. Do it
and take it she would. But Lionel more than suspected her intention.
Lionel would thwart her, and she would be compelled to live--live on,
an object of disgust and pity. "No! no!" was her inward cry, as the
imploring voice of the vicar rose and fell, and died away in a last
tremulous Amen. For the last time, therefore, did she set her wits to
plot for the ego.

"Lionel," said she, hesitatingly, "will you send for Jim?"

The vicar's face lighted up. He saw in this request what she meant him
to see, a sign of yielding. "You will let me tell him?"

Leah nodded. "There is a doctor in Vienna," she whispered, inventing
recklessly with the cunning of one driven to bay; "he has found out a
cure, I hear. If Jim will take me over----"

"I'll telegraph to Hengist Castle at once," cried Kaimes, making for
the door impetuously.

"And come back to dinner," said she, following, "I can't pass the
evening alone."

"I shall come."

"But you won't frighten me any more with this religious talk?"

Lionel pressed her hand sadly. "I have done what I could, Leah. Only
the Holy Spirit can bring home conviction to your heart. Try and
pray."

"Yes," assented the Duchess, submissively; "it is all that is left."

"Then the better part, which cannot be taken away, is left."

He went away quite deceived, since she had suggested the Viennese
physician so calmly. He thought that she still hoped desperately, and
for all he knew the hope might be fulfilled, seeing the present-day
resources of science. Certainly he never dreamed how she had
hoodwinked him, and so sped on his errand of mercy, leaving behind him
a woman too broken to exult in the success of her final piece of
trickery.

It was all over. Man could do nothing; God would do nothing. As
Demetrius had been smitten for the crime she had induced him to
commit, so was she being punished for the evil she had called into
being. Lionel had talked nonsense, of course; but he left behind him a
feeling in her mind that the God he worshipped did exist. How the
belief had come into her heart, she could not say; but it was
certainly there. Try as she might, with all the strength of her
brilliant intellect, she knew that never again could she be an
atheist. God existed to her comprehension at last. But the
newly-conceived Deity was not the Father of love and light. Rather did
He appear an omnipotent tyrant, who had driven her to bad courses by
giving her tastes she was unable to satisfy, and who now punished her
for acting as the nature He had given her dictated. She was like a
mouse in the claws of a cat, and could no more escape than could the
tormented little beast. Only to the height of acknowledging that
Something much stronger than herself existed could she rise; and her
submission was as that of Caliban to Prospero. Wrenched violently from
the egotistic wrappings of her soul, she--the true self, the immortal
spirit--stood naked and shamed, yet defiant. She submitted, because
only submission was left. But all her flesh shouted furiously against
its victor.

Then, again, as the tormented soul strove to overcome the lower
material self, did she recall Lionel's words. God was love, he
declared, and in love had God broken her shield of self, snapped her
sword of desire. Certainly, now that this world could do nothing for
her, she would be forced to seek the other. There she might learn how
to rise from darkness into light. That the spiritual existed she was
now reluctantly convinced; that a study of its meaning would bring her
peace she could not be certain. Of course, it was early days yet. She
had gained a great step by the admission that God reigned, even though
He had proved it to her so cruelly. It might be that by endless
striving she would learn something of His love before Death ended her
intolerable sufferings. God ordered her to fly; was it worth while to
trust to Him for wings?

The struggle of the soul wavering between hell and heaven might have
ended in the victory of the latter, and Leah might have consented with
bitter tears to bear the cross laid upon her shrinking shoulders. But
while wearily pacing the room a chance glance showed her in the mirror
that beauty of which she had been, and was, so proud. Leaning her arms
on the mantelpiece, she examined every detail lovingly and long. Could
she bear to see that gradually disappear? Could she accept life as a
Thing and not as a Being? Those blue eyes would grow dull and animal;
that glorious hair would drop off; that complexion of cream and roses
would--would---- Ugh! ugh!

"No! no! no!" The rebellious cry of the flesh ascended to the stars.
"It must never be--never."

All that she knew herself to be revolted against the slow wasting
agony that would most surely come, to reduce that splendour of her
beautiful body to the dust, dishonoured and shamed. To save herself
from such infamy it but needed an overdose of chloral. Then in the
pride of her loveliness she would pass away painlessly, without
disfigurement, triumphant in a minor degree, at least. With all the
indomitable strength of a will that had been only thwarted by Him who
had created that will, did she resolve to snatch this one poor
laurel-leaf from the Almighty Victor. Turning from the mirror, she
felt that her mind was steeled, that Self was not entirely defeated.
After all, her unconquerable will would win.

"To-night," she whispered to her shivering soul, "when I go to bed. An
overdose of chloral, and then, when I awaken----" She stopped, with
the chills of death at her heart. "Oh," was her despairing admission;
"You are the stronger!"

It was the cry of the flesh making sullen submission. In vain did the
soul piteously beg that its tabernacle might yet hold it a little
while, for the purging of its sin. The flesh would not hear. Beaten,
conquered, shamed, tormented, its petty triumph could yet be obtained
in this hour of defeat. And the terrified soul, sobbing unheeded,
waited for the rapidly approaching hour which would send it forth
disembodied--whither?



CHAPTER XXXV


"We regret to announce to our readers the unexpected demise of the
Duchess of Pentland at Firmingham, Essex. According to the Rev. Lionel
Kaimes, who dined with her Grace on the evening of her death, she was
in the very best of health and spirits. The unfortunate lady retired
at a comparatively early hour, and was found dead in the morning by
her maid. A brief examination proved that death was due to an overdose
of chloral, which her Grace was in the habit of taking when suffering
from sleeplessness. The Duke of Pentland, who was expected at
Firmingham, arrived shortly after the painful discovery, to be greeted
by the disastrous intelligence.

"The loss of this highly popular lady will be greatly felt in high
circles. Her beauty and wit were exceptional, and only to be surpassed
by her truly kind heart. It may be well said that she lived to make
others happy. To the unfortunate her purse was always open, and to the
afflicted her soothing presence was a welcome relief. Again and again
did she sacrifice herself in the cause of charity; and in many ways
unknown to the public did she do good by stealth. Her graceful
presence will be much missed at various great functions during the
coming winter season; but it is the poor and needy who will most
keenly feel the loss of one whose large heart was ever ready to aid
them in trouble.

"Much commiseration is expressed for the Duke of Pentland, who was
most tenderly attached to his beautiful consort. A brilliant star has
disappeared from the social firmament; but what is more lamentable, a
noble, religious, charitable lady has gone, leaving a place which can
never be filled. The funeral, which will take place at Firmingham next
Tuesday, will doubtless be largely attended by those who loved her and
knew her worth. The world can ill spare such a one, who illustrated in
her conduct and qualities the highest attributes of womanhood. She was
a great lady, a true, tender woman, a sincere friend, and a model
wife. What words could better befit her untimely grave than that
eulogy on Dorcas set forth in the Acts: 'This woman was full of good
works and almsdeeds which she did'?"



FINIS





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lady Jim of Curzon Streeet - A Novel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home