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Title: Conrad in Quest of His Youth - An Extravagance of Temperament
Author: Merrick, Leonard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  CONRAD

  IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH


  AN EXTRAVAGANCE OF TEMPERAMENT


  BY

  LEONARD MERRICK



  MITCHELL KENNERLEY
  NEW YORK AND LONDON
  MCMXI



  COPYRIGHT, 1911
  BY MITCHELL KENNERLY



  CONRAD
  IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH



CHAPTER I

  "How we laughed as we laboured together!
    How well I remember, to-day,
  Our 'outings' in midsummer weather,
    Our winter delights at the play!
  We were not over-nice in our dinners;
    Our 'rooms' were up rickety stairs;
  But if hope be the wealth of beginners,
    By Jove, we were all millionaires!
  Our incomes were very uncertain,
    Our prospects were equally vague;
  Yet the persons I pity who know not the city,
    The beautiful city of Prague!"


If you can imagine the lonely shade of the man who wrote that verse
returning to Literary London--where there is no longer a young man who
could write it, and merely a few greybeards are left still to
understand what it means--I say, if you can imagine this, you may
appreciate the condition of Conrad when he went back to the Quartier
Latin.

Conrad was no less sad, his disappointment was no less bitter, the
society that he had sought so eagerly was no less alien to him.  But
while he commanded bocks for all, and mourned the change that left him
desolate, the melancholy of his mood was a subtler thing--for he
realised that the profoundest change was in himself.

Something should be said of the longings that had brought him back to
the Quarter--longings in one hour tender, and in the next
tempestuous--something hinted of the regretful years during which his
limbs reposed in an official chair while his mind flew out of the
official window to places across the sea where he had been young, and
sanguine, and infinitely glad.  To a score of places it flew, but to
none perhaps so often as Paris, where he had studied art in the days
when he meant to move the world.

Of course the trouble with the man was that he wanted to be nineteen
again, and didn't recognise it.  We do not immediately recognise that
our youth is going from us; it recedes stealthily, like our hair.  For
a long time he had missed the zest, the sparkle, the buoyancy from
life, but for the flatness that distressed him he blamed the Colony
instead of his age.  He confused the emotions of his youth with the
scenes where he had felt them, and yearned to make sentimental
journeys, fancying that to revisit the scenes would be to recover the
emotions.

Because the office rewarded his mental flights ungenerously he was
restrained by one of those little realities which vulgar novelists
observe and which are so out of place in novels--"sordid"
considerations, like ways and means.  Give us lots of Blood, and the
dummy over the dashing highwayman's shoulder!  If you call him a
"cavalier" it's Breezy Romance.

And then his Aunt Tryphena died, and left him everything.

At once he was lord of himself.  Liberated by "everything," he sailed
for Home, and savouring the knowledge that he was free to rove where he
listed, lingered in London.  Some months afterwards--when the crocuses
were perking behind the Park rails, and Piccadilly was abloom with the
first millinery of spring--he travelled to Dover, en route for the Past.

And lilac was everywhere--Paris was all lilac and sunshine.  He drove
to an hotel on the left bank.  To behold it again!  The grotesque clock
under the glass shade, and the clothes pegs that were too large to hang
clothes on, the scarlet édredon that he would throw on the floor before
he got into bed, the sight of these things was sweet to him as the
welcome of a woman is sweet after a passage made on a slow steamer to
reach her side.

He said to the femme de chambre--she was elderly and she was plain;
pretty chambermaids are all employed in farcical comedies; but she was
a femme de chambre, and he felt communicative.  He said, "La dernière
fois que j'étais Paris, j'étais un gamin."  She smiled and gave a
shrug: "Monsieur n'est qu'un enfant aujourd'hui."  What English servant
would have earned that tip? ... Oh, yes!  English servants are all too
truthful.

When he had scattered his things about the room, he strode out to seek
the little restaurant where the dinners had been so good, and the
company had been so witty years before.  Well, it had vanished.
Perhaps he wasn't surprised, but he loitered wistfully in the street
from which the faded sign had gone, and at the flashy establishment
where he dined instead, the plats lacked flavour.

By-and-by he sauntered along the Boul' Mich'.  While he walked he
perceived that he had ceased to look about him, and was again looking
back.  The sigh of names that had been long forgotten was in the
plaintive night, and the air was thick with echoes.  He moved along the
lamp-lit boulevard seeing ghosts, and to right and left the heedless
faces of the fleshly crowd were strange to him.  All strange to him.
This was the first impediment in his road.

"Gay Paree" is gayest in the doggerel of the English music-halls; its
gaiety is declining fast, but its beauty is fadeless.  No city goes to
bed more worldly, and wakes up looking more innocent.  At six o'clock
next day, when they began to beat carpets, and Conrad flung the windows
wide, some of the happiness of the wakened capital's simplicity was
breathed into his heart.  And his fervour, and his purse, overcame the
first impediment.  Within a week of his arrival he had already been
called "Mon cher."

He was called "Mon cher," and other things.  He puffed his "caporal" at
the Café Vachette, and found that he had lost his relish for French
tobacco; he sat among the cards and the dominoes at the Café
d'Harcourt--bought carnations and écrevisses from the pedlars' baskets
for Angèle and Suzanne; and Angèle and Suzanne proved witless compared
with what their mothers had been, and he noted--not without some slight
pride, for we are all patriotic abroad--that though the art of tying a
veil has been granted to French women, the pretty features have been
granted to the English.

It was now that the disappointment fell, now that he cried:--

  "'Oh for one hour of youthful joy!
  Give back my twentieth spring!'"

The ardour of the students left him chilly, the rodomontades of his
compatriots sounded merely stupid.  They were all going to sacrifice
themselves for an ideal, all going to England to paint persistently the
class of work that England did not want.  "No concessions" was their
battle cry.  Youth can never believe that it will live to make
concessions.  Your adept finds nowhere so scathing a critic as your
novice.

O beautiful time when he, too, had imagined he was born with a mission!
Bright morning when he had vapoured with the vainest!  This afternoon
the Rapsodie Anglaise was played to duller ears.  The freaks seemed
joyless, and he said the aspirations were "out of drawing."  He was not
sure that it was of immense importance whether one painted well, or
ill--whether one painted at all.  There were more useful things to be
done in the world.  He did not wish to do them, but he suggested that
they were there.  Then the audience hurled passages from the preface to
"Mademoiselle de Maupin" at him--without acknowledgment--pelting him
with the paragraphs full of shoes and potatoes until he was dizzy, and
perhaps a little shaken.  After all, when one has failed to pluck the
grapes it is easy to proclaim that potatoes are more nourishing.  On
the whole he was scarcely a success in the Quarter--a success of
curiosity at most--and he won no converts to his theory (advanced in
the Soleil D'Or) that the greatest services to modern art were rendered
by the writers of ladies' fashion articles.

"They are the Teachers who make the widest school," he urged.  "Under
their influence the fairest work of Nature takes an added loveliness.
To them we owe the enticements of the tea-gown, the soul-compelling
whisper of the silk petticoat.  What other apostle of Beauty can hope
to shed beauty in every home?  Into how many homes do you suppose your
ballades will go?"  He was chatting to a poet.  But the poet became
diffuse.


Conrad returned to his hotel not wholly dissatisfied with the
impression he had made upon the poet.  In la Rue du Haut-Pavé he had
one or two vigorous thoughts concerning the vanity of versification
which he wished had occurred to him in the cabaret, and when he had lit
the lamp he began to write.  You can know very little about him if you
are surprised to be told that what he wrote was verse.  It was of
course a monody to his Boyhood.


As his age has not been stated, and he had begun to deplore it so much,
it may be as well at this point to say that he was thirty-seven.  A
less venerable figure than you have pictured him, perhaps, despite the
chambermaid.  There were, however, hours when he felt a hundred.

He felt a hundred towards the close of his stay in Paris.  He had
resolved to go back to London, but it had few associations for him, and
he packed his portmanteaux drearily.  On the evening before he crossed,
his thoughts flashed to a little English watering-place where he had
spent a summer when he was still proud of wearing trousers.  He
recalled the moment of his invitation, the thrill of its
unexpectedness.  A nursery, and four children: three of them his
cousins, departing for the seaside next day, in fancy already on the
sands.  And one of the trio had exclaimed--was it Ted who began
it?--one of the trio had exclaimed: "Wouldn't it be jolly if Con could
come too?"  He was "Con."  He was Con hanging over the banisters
breathless five minutes later, for Nina, and 'Gina, and Ted had
descended to the drawing-room tumultuously to prefer a petition to "Ma."

"Ma says there wouldn't be beds enough," they announced with long
faces, mounting the stairs; and then he stammered that he had "expected
there'd be something like that," and they danced round him in a ring,
crying: "We made it up.  You're to come with us if you may--you're to
go home and ask."

The nursery was very clear to him.  He saw the gleeful group on the
threshold again, and the bright pattern of the wall-paper.  He could
see the open window with the radiant sky across the roofs.

So they had all gone to the seaside together--he, and Nina, and 'Gina,
and Ted, in charge of the governess; and the house had turned out to be
a school called "Mowbray Lodge," but the boys were away.  Jack, the
dog, had been lost on the journey--and killed the schoolmaster's
chickens when he was restored.  The rows there used to be with the
master!  Mr. Boultbee, that was his name.  There was a yellow field
blazing with dandelions, Conrad remembered, and behind the shadow of
the fir trees, apples swayed.  He remembered the garden of Rose Villa
next door, and the afternoon when Mary Page kissed her hand over the
fence.  Mary Page!  On a sudden how close it was--all except her
features--her hat trimmed with blue, and her dangling plaits, and the
vibration of the time.  Ted and he were enslaved by her
equally--without bitterness--and used to show each other the
love-letters she wrote to them both after they went home.  And oh! how
they longed to be back, and oh, the plans they made, which never
fructified, for husbanding their pocket-money and taking her by
surprise one brilliant morning!

"Qu'est-ce que vous m'offrez, monsieur?  Payez-moi un bock, hein?"

"No," said Conrad, starting, "run along and play, there's a good
child!"  These memories had come to him at the Bal Bullier, and the
band was banging, and the petticoats were whirling, and a young lady
was asking to be refreshed.



CHAPTER II

She pouted a protest at him, and whisked into the dance.  He observed
that she had graces, and heaved a sigh for the time when it would have
been piquant to brush the pout away.  To-night it would be tasteless.
"Kissing a cocotte is like eating tinned salmon," said Conrad to
himself regretfully, and went to the vestiaire for his overcoat.

The interruption had jarred him, but it was not until the Closerie des
Lilas was a hundred yards behind that he knew he had left the hall for
the purpose of resuming his reverie in comfort.  When he reached the
Boulevard Saint-Michel his interest in the projects of five-and-twenty
years ago was again so keen that he grieved to think they had been
fruitless.  Improving on history, he permitted the boys who were boys
no more to amass the sovereign that they coveted, and, giving his fancy
rein, lived through the glorious day which had never dawned.  He tried
very hard to be fair to Ted after Mary had welcomed them, though to
prevent the conversation becoming a dualogue irked him a good deal.  In
moments he discovered that he was talking to her rather well for his
age, and then he corrected himself with loving artistry.  But he could
seldom find it in his heart to correct Mary, and she said the prettiest
things in the world.  He came back to the present, swimming with
tenderness for the little maiden of his retrospect.  It shocked him to
reflect that she must be about thirty-eight if she lived still, and
might even have a marriageable daughter.  The pathos of the
marriageable daughter indeed overwhelmed him, and, taking a seat at the
Taverne du Panthéon, he pictured himself waking to realise that he was
only twelve years old and that all events subsequent to the epoch had
been a dream.

The October air was bleak when he crossed on the morrow, and the deck
rolled to meet the splashes of the waves.  The idea of revisiting the
watering-place--and the idea had germinated--attracted him less
forcibly as his chair played see-saw with the taffrail, but he
remembered that he had often been advised by advertisements "not to
risk infection from foreigners, when he could winter in sunny Sweetbay,
the fairest spot in England."  The fact that it had a reputation as a
winter resort encouraged him somewhat, and by the time he saw the lamps
of Charing Cross he felt adventurous again.  He also admired a girl on
the platform.  "There's nothing like an Englishwoman for beauty," he
said; and the girl exclaimed: "Oh, I've left my little fur in my grip,
right there!"

He fulfilled his programme the next morning.  The drowsy station of
Sweetbay seemed to him larger than of yore as he glanced about him, but
he did not stop to gather information in the matter.  His bag was in
the fly, and he was rattled to an hotel where the manager appeared
surprised to see him.  Although his sensations on the boat had left him
with no insistent longing for a room with a sea-view, he accepted one
without complaint, and learning that luncheon was being served,
descended to where three despondent-looking visitors were scattered
among an acre of tables.  Evidently people continued to go abroad in
spite of the advice.  However, he had not come to Sweetbay for society.

It was a neat and decorous little town awaiting him when he sallied
forth from the hotel.  Everything was very clean, very tidy.  The
pink-paved sidewalks, bordered by trees, glistened like coral; the snug
villas, enclosed by euonymus hedges trimmed to precision, had a fresh
and wholesome air, an air that made him think of honey soap and good
rice puddings.  He backed before the walls of the Parish Church.  A
play-bill of the Rosery Theatre, near by, seemed an anachronism, and
even as he recalled Sweetbay it had been content with Assembly Rooms.
On a hoarding he saw a poster of the Pier Pavilion--the pavilion was an
innovation too.  In the High Street photographs of some popular actors
had invaded a shop window, and he was struck by the extraordinary
resemblance they bore to one another--all wearing on the brow the frown
of intellectuality, and carefully disordered hair.  The Town Hall was a
landmark.  He murmured Matthew Arnold's line: "Expressive merely of the
impotence of the architect to express anything," but the unparalleled
ugliness of the building warmed him with recollections.  He branched to
the left, as he used to branch to the left when he carried Mary's
bathing shoes, and surrendering himself to sentiment unreservedly now
swung joyously for Eden.

And from this point landmarks flocked thick and fast.  The way began to
climb the hill, the hill began to show the boughs, the boughs began to
veil the road, the road began to woo the lane, the lane began to near
the house, and--like the old woman's pig--Conrad got over the stile.

And "Mowbray Lodge" was still painted on the gate!  It was all so
wonderfully the same for a moment in the shade behind the fir trees--so
wonderfully--that he felt tearful.  The scene had stood so still that
there seemed something unreal in his returning here a man.  Again he
saw the slender columns of the long veranda, and the summer-house on
which the weather-cock still perched.  He looked, and looked wide-eyed,
at a faded door--not green, not blue--and knew suddenly that behind
that door there should be currant bushes and a tangle of nasturtium,
and hens prinking on the path.  His soul embraced the scene.  And
yet--and yet it was not the features which had lived in his mind that
moved him most.  The magic lay in the pervasive hush, and in a gust of
the fir trees' smell, which he had forgotten until it swept him
breathless across the years.

Yes, there seemed something unreal in his standing here a man.  His
spirit was listening--and he knew that it was listening--for calls from
children who had grown to middle-age now; his gaze was waiting--even he
knew that it was waiting--for the rush of childish figures which the
scene should yield.

Presently he sought the space where they had played.  But the Field of
the Cloth of Gold was transformed.  Where the dandelions had spread
their splendour for Mary he saw a market-garden, and the sun that had
made a halo for Mary glittered on glass.  There was a quantity of
glass, there were consequential rows of it, all raising money for
somebody, all reminding the pilgrim that meadows move with the times.
"Well, I suppose it's progress," said Conrad, shaking his head.  But he
missed the dandelions.  He was a Conservative by instinct, though he
was a Liberal by reason.

When he loitered back to the view of Mowbray Lodge, a lady of the age
which it is gallant to call "uncertain" had come out on the veranda.
She had a little shawl over her shoulders, and in her hand she held a
pair of scissors with which she was clipping a palm.  The placid gaze
she lifted to him was not discouraging, and advancing towards her with
a bow he said:--

"Pray forgive me for troubling you, but may I ask if Mr. Boultbee lives
here now?"

"N--no," answered the lady pensively, "no gentleman lives here.  'Mr.
Boultbee'?  I'm afraid I don't know the name.  Are you sure he is still
living in the town?"

"I am sure of nothing," replied Conrad.  "It is so long since my last
visit that I am even doubtful if he is living at all."

She seemed to reflect again and said: "Perhaps they might be able to
tell you at the post-office."

"It really isn't important," he declared, "though I'm obliged by your
suggestion.  To confess the truth, I am more drawn to the garden than
to Mr. Boultbee.  Years ago I spent a summer here, and being in the
neighbourhood again I couldn't resist the temptation to come and dream
over the top rail of your gate."

"Oh--er--would you care to look round the place?" she murmured with a
tentative wave of the scissors.

"I should be charmed," said Conrad, "if I am not intruding."

"Of course you don't see it to advantage now.  Last month--"  She moved
across the lawn beside him, telling the falsehoods with which everybody
who has a garden always dejects a visitor.  He affected that thirst for
knowledge with which everybody who is shown a garden always rewards a
host.

"It's a long time since you were here, I think you said?" she remarked,
pleased by his eagerness.

"It is," said Conrad, in his most Byronic manner, "just a quarter of a
century."  The lady looked startled, and he continued with a sigh,
"Yes, I was then in that exquisitely happy period of life when we just
begin to know that we are happy; you may imagine what memories are
stirring in me:--

  "'I can recall, nay, they are present still,
  Parts of myself, the perfume of my mind,
  Days that seem farther off than Homer's now
  Ere yet the child had loudened to the boy' ...

That poem--Lowell's 'The Cathedral'--flashed into my mind as I came
upon your parish church awhile ago, and

            "'gazed abashed,
  Child of an age that lectures, not creates,'

at its old honours.  I quoted the best part of a stanza to myself in
the street.  I'm afraid that is a habit of mine."

"It must be very nice," said the lady apprehensively; "yes, indeed."

It appeared that she was no more acquainted with Lowell than with Mr.
Boultbee, so gliding to a subject which lay quite near his heart this
afternoon he introduced a third name.

"When I was here last a Dr. Page occupied the villa across the fence,"
he went on.  "He had a daughter.  To be prolix, he had several
daughters, but to me his family consisted of Miss Mary.  We were
engaged.  I won't ask you if they are there still--something warns me
that they are not--but can you, by any chance, give me news of them?"

"I am sorry I cannot," she returned, fluttering.  "There has been no
Dr. Page in Sweetbay--I am almost certain there has been no Dr. Page in
Sweetbay since I settled here.  I am positive there is none now--quite
positive.  There's Dr. Hunt, there's Dr. Tatham--"  She recounted
laboriously the names of all the medical men practising about the town,
while he wondered what she was doing it for.

"I thank you heartily," he said, when she reached the end of the list.

The next moment it became evident that she, in her turn, had a question
to put, for her glance was interrogating him already, and at last she
faltered:--

"Pardon my asking you, but did I understand you to say that you
were--h'm--engaged to the daughter of Dr. Page twenty-five years ago?
Surely when you said you were a child then, it was no figure of speech?"

"No," answered Conrad; "but to be frank with you, it was nothing less
than the thought of her that lured me back to-day.  Let me admit that I
wasn't quite ingenuous when I spoke of--of 'being' in the
neighbourhood; I came deliberately, in fulfilment of a cherished plan.
To me your garden is a tomb--if I may say so without depressing you--it
is the tomb of the Used-to-be.  We were both children, but there are
some things that one never forgets:--

  "'I'm not a chicken; I have seen
    Full many a chill September,
  And though I was a youngster then,
    That girl I well remember.'

Holmes wrote 'gale,' not 'girl,' otherwise he might have been speaking
for me."

"Such constancy is very beautiful," breathed the lady; "I thought--"
She paused, slightly pink.

"But it was unfair," he assured her; "men can be quite as constant as
women--especially to the women they never won."

"Er--perhaps you would like to see the house?" she inquired; "and you
will allow me to offer you some tea before you go?"

"I accept both offers gratefully," said Conrad.

He followed her into the hall, and she conducted him, with little
prefatory murmurs, to such of the apartments as a maiden lady might
modestly display.  Repapered and rearranged they looked quite strange
to him, but the knowledge that he was in Mowbray Lodge averted boredom.

"You find them altered," she said, as they went back to the
drawing-room.

"Improved," said he.

"And the town," she added; "no doubt you find the town improved too?"

"Altered," said Conrad, thinking of the market garden.  "Well, it is
certainly bigger."

"The rapid development of Sweetbay can astonish none who bear in mind
its remarkable combination of climatic advantages, but the sylvan
fairness of the town is not diminished, and it continues to present an
unrivalled example of the 'rus in urbe,'" responded the lady with
surprising fluency.  "Do you take sugar and milk?"

"Ah--thank you," he said.

"Are you making a long stay among us, or----?"

"A very brief one.  Indeed, I thought of returning to-morrow."

"Oh!"  There was a tinge of disappointment in her "Oh."  "I wondered if
you meant to stop.  If you had meant to pass the winter here--  But I
daresay you would have preferred an hotel anyhow?"

"I don't understand," he said, sipping.  "What is it you were going to
be good enough to suggest?"

"It occurred to me that, as the house has so many associations for you,
you might have liked to take it for a short term.  I am trying to let
it furnished during the next few months, and I could leave the
servants.  My cook has been with me now----"

"You would let this house to me?" exclaimed Conrad, thrilling, and saw
such splendid visions that for quite a minute he forgot to attend to
her.

"If the rent is too high--?"  She was regarding him nervously.

"Not at all," he cried, "not at all.  I was simply lost in the
effulgent prospect that you've opened to me."

"Really?"

"It was an inspiration.  How kind of you to mention it."

She deprecated gratitude.  "There would be no children, of course?" she
said, her gaze dwelling among her china.

"Four," he answered promptly.  "That is, the youngest must be about
thirty-five now.  I beg your pardon, but _I_ have had an inspiration,
too, I'm dazzled by the idea of peopling the house with the men and
women who were children here five-and-twenty years ago; I dare swear my
relatives have never set foot in Sweetbay since.  We'll be comrades all
over again--  You know how Time loosens these childish ties--in the
very place, in the very rooms, where we were such comrades then.  Why,
it's the most delightful plan that was ever hatched!"  He hesitated.
"I wonder if they'll come?  How about the trains?  One of my cousins
would have to go up rather often, I expect."

"The railway company has combined with Mother Nature and a spirited
Corporation to render Sweetbay attractive to the jaded Londoner.  The
service is fast and frequent, and well-appointed 'flys' may be
chartered at most reasonable fares," replied his hostess without an
instant's pause.

"How convenient!" said Conrad.  "What more can he want?"

"If you think your friends may need persuasion, I should be pleased to
present you with a copy of a little work of mine to send them.  It
describes all the attractions of the neighbourhood--and it's quite
unlike the usual guide-book.  It is thorough, but chatty.  My aim has
been to inform the visitor in a sprightly way."

"An authoress?" he said warmly.

"Of one book only," she murmured, her face suffused by an unbecoming
blush.

"But of many readers, I'll be bound!  If obstacles arise then, it shall
be your pen that conquers them.  You overwhelm me with kindnesses.  I
really think, though, the address will be magnet enough for the friends
I want.  'Mowbray Lodge, Sweetbay'--how they'll stare!  'Bring your
spades and pails,' I shall write; 'come, and let us all be boys and
girls again.'  The girls have little girls and boys of their own now.
No, don't be afraid of their smashing that soul-stirring Chelsea, my
dear madam--I won't have them.  That's the essence of the contract, the
new generation must be left behind.  There must be we four, and nobody
else--the four who will find their childhood waiting for them here,
just the four who can feel the enchantment of Mowbray Lodge.  So it is
settled?"

"As far as--"  She smoothed her gown.

"Oh, naturally there must be references, and inventories, and all sorts
of tiresome details--and with your permission we will get them over as
soon as possible.  I shall have the pleasure of writing to you
to-morrow.  To whom----"

"Miss Phipps," she intimated.

"And mine is 'Warrener.'  Stay, I have a card.  But, by the way, when
did you propose to let me come in, Miss Phipps?"

"Would next month suit you?" she asked.  "Perhaps you would prefer it
to be early in the month?"

"I wouldn't disorder your arrangements for the world, yet I own that
'early' has a musical ring.  It would be agreeable to arrive before the
colder weather."

"There are places in England where winter's cold blasts seem never to
penetrate, and where birds and flowers go on singing and blooming in
defiance of the calendar," she rejoined.

"Really?" said Conrad.  "Still----"

"And among such places," concluded the lady firmly, "Sweetbay is
pre-eminent....  But you will let me give you another cup of tea?"



CHAPTER III

He could not persuade himself that the invitations evoked enthusiasm,
indeed two of them were declined at the beginning.  Only Nina accepted
at once.  She wrote: "How on earth did you find Sweetbay again--is it
still on the map?  Yes, I will come--and with 'no encumbrances'--but I
won't promise to be rural so long as all that.  If I were you, I would
arrange with the Stores for constant supplies.  Can you depend on the
cook?"

Regina was obviously indignant at the exclusion of her husband.  She
replied that her cousin's remembrance of their childhood was "quite
touching."  This was underlined.  "But though I fully understand that
Toto's presence would spoil your romantic plan, I cannot pretend to
forget that I am now a wife, Conrad."  Conrad was perturbed.  He drove
to Regent's Park and showed the letter to Nina, and she said that her
sister couldn't forget she was a wife, because she had married a remote
relation of Lord Polpero's.

"They have stayed at the 'Abbey,' my dear; at least she tells me they
have as often as she condescends to dine with us--Regent's Park is 'so
far away' from their poky little place in Mayfair!  She can just call
it 'Mayfair' without getting a remonstrance from the postal
authorities.  An 'Abbey' has been too much for her.  Of course Polpero
is a pauper, and the Abbey's a wreck, but I believe she slept with the
family-tree over her bed.  It's about the only tree of Polpero's that
the woodman has spared, but 'Gina feels Norman."

Conrad was still perturbed.  He hastened to appease Regina, and
moderating his desires, implored "Toto" to spare her to him just for a
week or two.  "Toto" said promptly that to spend a couple of months at
Sweetbay was exactly what she needed for her cough.  So she was won,
and there remained only Ted to conquer.

As a young professional man with nothing to do, Ted had naturally been
slow to answer the letter.  Young professional men make a point of
delaying a long time before they answer letters--it shows how busy they
are.  After they have plenty of work on hand they answer more quickly.
When he wrote, he declared that the notion of renewing their boyish
memories in such tranquil quarters appealed to him more forcibly than
he could say, but he was "so terribly hard pressed that he feared he
would get no change until he ran over to Monte Carlo at the end of the
term."  He was at the Bar, waiting for briefs.

Conrad called at his chambers, and bore him off to dinner.  Ted was
fortunately independent of his profession, and his immutable purpose
was to convince people that it was wearing him to death.  In the
restaurant he bent over his melon a brow corrugated by the cares of
imaginary suits; he frowned at his soup through a monacle as if he were
perpending an "Opinion."  But it was a dinner of supreme excellence,
and then they adjourned to the club.  If it had not been Ted's club
too, and socially undistinguished, Conrad might have aspired to greater
favours now.  Invite a man to a club for which he is ineligible
himself, and he will remember you with kindliness no less often than he
drawls, "A fellow was telling me in Brooks's the other day--"  Before
they parted, Ted had consented quite cheerfully--for the later Ted--and
all was well.

So the evening came when Conrad sat in Mowbray Lodge looking forward to
the morrow and the arrival of the train due at twelve fifteen.  And he
looked forward with more eagerness because the evening--strange to
say--was rather melancholy, and the knowledge that he was going to bed
in the room where he had slept as a boy induced a mood totally
different from the mood he had expected of it.  He did not feel a boy
as he sat in the silent house, by a bad light, listening to the rain
patter on the shrubs.  On the contrary he felt increasingly old and
increasingly mournful while the long evening wore away.  The dreary
lamps depressed him, and the sad tick of the clock, and the ceaseless
dripping of the rain sent him to the whisky-bottle.

After breakfast next day he bought lamps--several of them--with duplex
burners.  The roads were a little sloppy, but the sky was blue.  He was
gratified to reflect that his cousins were doubtless blinking in a
black fog; the permanent pleasure of wintering in the country is the
thought of how unhappy our friends must be in town.  In the forlornest
watering-places of the south coast you may notice, on a fine November
morning, people folding newspapers briskly, and looking heavenward with
a twinkle in their eyes.  They are all returning thanks for the
sufferings of their friends in London.

The train due at twelve fifteen wound into view at twelve thirty-five.

They were there!  Nina, alert, a smile on her thin, shrewd face;
Regina, with an air of having travelled under protest; Ted, bowed
beneath the weight of the Law Courts.

"So you've come!"

"At last!  What a loathsome line!"

"Who's looking after the luggage?  Is there a cab to be had?"

"Well, of course.  Do you suppose it's a village?"

"How hot it is!  You must be smothered in those furs, dear?"  This to
Nina from 'Gina.  'Gina was always expensively clothed, and badly
dressed, but she couldn't vie with the Regent's Park sables.  "You must
be half dead," she insisted compassionately; "it's as warm as the
Riviera."

"We boast of it in our advertisements," said Conrad, "but it isn't.
How did you leave Toto and the family?"

He heard that it was a fine day in town too, and secretly resented the
fact.  The party drove away, another "fly" rumbling with the baggage in
their wake.

"The lane!" he exclaimed as he sprang out.  "And it's the same as ever."

"I don't remember it a bit," said all three, gazing about them vaguely.

"The garden!" he displayed it in triumph.

"I fancied it was quite big," said Nina.  "Funny how wee children's
eyes exaggerate, isn't it?"  But she had not really been so wee as all
that.

"The hall, where Boultbee was always ragging us because we didn't wipe
our shoes!"  He had thrown the door open before the maid could run
upstairs.

"Who was Boultbee?" asked Regina.  "What a memory you have!"

They lunched; and they were blithe at luncheon; they discussed a
divorce case in smart circles.  Regina said hurriedly that there was
"another side to the story."  She knew no more about it than she had
read in the papers, but she now moved on the confines of smart circles,
and there are people who can never accustom themselves to advancement,
pecuniary or social.

"Her husband is such a scamp," she explained, "such a scamp.  I don't
defend her, but there's so much that never came out in court.  Dear
Lady Marminger, her mother, was always against the match; she always
felt it would be fatal.  I recollect when we were staying at the Abbey
once--"  She was the most obnoxious variety of snob: the middle-class
woman who has married into the fringe of society.  If she had written
novels, everybody in them who wasn't a duchess would have been a duke.

"One of the cleverest things ever said in the divorce court," Ted began
judicially, "was when Hollburn was cross-examining----"

"Oh, the scamp theory is worn out," struck in Nina.  "When a woman has
married a scamp, her family feel provided with an excuse for everything
odious she does all the rest of her life."

"Was when Hollburn was cross-examining--"  He was not to be put off.

They were Nina, and 'Gina, and Ted, and Conrad welcomed them with both
hands, but he caught himself thinking that for any influence the
surroundings had upon the conversation he might as well have invited
them to Princes'.

He took Ted to see the summer-house when luncheon was over--the
summer-house in which they used to have their conferences when they
were such chums--and Ted was a disappointment.  The summer-house had
withstood the years, but the chum had gone.  He was affecting interest,
and it hurt--it hurt horribly, because he was Ted and they were where
they were.  He was led to Rose Villa, where Mary Page had lived.  The
sound of its name had made their hearts ache once, and the same name
was on the same gate-post, visible to the same eyes.  He passed it by,
telling casual falsehoods about the extent of the practice that he
hadn't made, and when the post was pointed out, he murmured: "Oh, is
it?  By Jove!"--maintained a perfunctory pause for ten seconds, and
broke it with, "Well, as I was saying----"

Afterwards they all sauntered to the esplanade, and Conrad owned to
himself that it was no animated scene.  But the sun shone bright, and
when there is beautiful weather in Sweetbay it almost compensates for
the absence of everything else there.

"Like spring," he observed; "isn't it?  Probably there's a fog in town
by now, or it's beginning to snow.  We're all well out of it."

"Y-e-s," replied Nina.  "You don't find it a little depressing seeing
so many people in bath-chairs, do you?"

"'So many people?'"  Regina was derisive.  "I've only seen seven human
beings since we arrived."

"Still the seven were all in bath-chairs," said Nina.

"One expects to meet people in bath-chairs at the seaside," Conrad
pleaded.

"But not sick people," she said, "here they are conscientious.  It's a
pretty little band-stand; what time does the band play?"

"It'll begin in June, I think," he answered.

"June?" cried Regina.

"It's not the season," he pointed out.  "Of course it's quiet just now."

"I don't wish to cavil," said Ted, with a forbearing smile, "but when
you tell us it is not the season, I am struck by a slight discrepancy
in your statements.  A few minutes ago you told us it was a winter
place."

"Well, so it is, but it's first of all an English place.  You mustn't
ask for bands to discourse in band-stands all the year round, my dear
fellow--such things don't happen....  A 'town band' enlivens the
streets once a week, I believe; I'm not an authority yet--I only came
down yesterday morning, and I've been setting my house in order.
There's a theatre," he added hopefully; "we might drop in to-night, if
you like.  I can't say what is going on there, but we'll ascertain."

They spied a framed play-bill in a confectioner's window on the way
back, and stopped to examine it.  Though the piece was familiar to
them, and the names of the company were strange, they crowded before
the play-bill cheerfully until they discovered that it bore an ancient
date.  The theatre, they learnt, was now closed, excepting for an
orchestral concert every Thursday evening.  This was Saturday.

"We'll have a jolly evening at home," said Conrad.

"There isn't a billiard table, I suppose?" inquired Regina; "I'm an
awful swell with the cue.  I make them play every night at the Abbey
when we're there.  Polpero chaffs me about it immensely; he's one of
the old school--sweet, but of the old school.  It's such fun--I chaff
him back.  Toto _roars_."

The inventory had not included a billiard table, but he remembered
after dinner that he had seen a Pier "Pavilion" advertised, and his
guests seemed encouraged when he mentioned it.  Regina said it was fun
to be "bohemian" sometimes.

The place looked less animated still when they sped forth to be
"bohemian."  Its aspect was no longer sedate, it was bereaved.  The
vacant High Street mourned behind its shutters.  At the Quadrant a
forsaken policeman kept a doleful eye on space.

"Everybody must be on the pier," said Conrad.  "As soon as we turn the
corner we shall see the lights."

Their feet sprung echoes in the stricken town as they pressed forward;
and through the gloom that veiled a moaning sea, the pier became
distinguishable.  But no light was on it save the light of a misty
moon, no gas-jet glimmered among the globes on either side.  The
pay-box was black and tenantless; the gates were locked.  Against them
leant a lonely board, announcing a "Refined Entertainment" for the
twenty-second evening of the previous month.  The desolation of the
scene was tragic.

Their return was made in silence, and the first thing happened that
recalled the days of their childhood here: they all went to bed early.

Nina wanted to know if she could be given another room the next
morning.  She remarked that the slowest railways always made the most
fuss, and that a train had been rehearsing outside her window half the
night.  "It rattled and snorted, and clashed and clanked till three
o'clock."  She acknowledged Conrad's regrets and assurances with a
plaintive sigh, and shook her head feebly at her coffee cup.

It was raining.  That it can rain in Sweetbay for a fortnight on end
with no longer intervals than the entr'actes at a fashionable theatre
is not distinctive; the idiocrasy of Sweetbay is that it recommences
raining twenty times a day as if the deluge had bee, hoarded for a
year--it rains as if the heavens had fallen out.  Nina and 'Gina, who
had ventured into the lane "between the showers," were drenched before
they could gain shelter, and they were taciturn when they had changed
their clothes.

The rain was still pelting when Ted went up to town on Monday, and a
vicious wind lashed "sunny Sweetbay" when he came back.  On Tuesday the
ardour of the flood abated, but "the fairest spot in England" was
sodden under a persevering drizzle, and a letter by the evening post
made Regina nervous about the health of her baby.  "Toto seemed a good
deal worried," she said, "and she thought under the circumstances she
ought to be at home."  She departed on Wednesday in a cataract.

"Do you think she's good-looking?" asked Nina.

"She is not good-looking," said Conrad reflectively, "but she's so
convinced that she is that she almost persuades you in moments."

"That's it," Nina assented; "she attitudinises as if she were a beauty.
When they're shown photographs of her with her face bent, men are quite
eager to know her.  Of course the baby's bosh."

"I'll confess that I'm not anxious about the baby myself, I'm afraid
she found it rather slow here.  I got _Punch_ for her at the station,
and a servant went round before breakfast to order a foot-warmer--it's
necessary to give notice when you'll want a foot-warmer--but it was
weak reparation.  You were all very good to come."

"If there were anything to read in the house, I wouldn't mind so much,"
she said, "I mean I wouldn't mind the weather.  If it ever leaves off,
we might go and try to find 'a select library in connection with
Mudie's.'"

"There are heaps of books in the house--I can lend you all the poets."

"I would rather have something to read," she said, "thanks.  Do you
think if we found one, it would be open oftener than once a week?"

"You mustn't misjudge the town by the theatre," he expostulated; "that
the theatre only opens once a week is due to a combination of
circumstances that I don't know anything about, but I am sanguine of
the shops opening every day."

"How long are you saddled with the place for?"  Her tone was
sympathetic.

"I'm not sorry I took it," he answered.  "Of course everything is more
or less a disappointment except the unattainable.  When Columbus
reached the new world at last, the aborigines said, 'Well, what do you
think of Amurrica?'  He said, 'I thought it would be bigger.'  A bird
in the hand is not worth two in the bush; on the contrary, a lark in
the sky is worth two in the pudding.  If you ever scratched those
pretty hands of yours getting a glow-worm out of a hedge, you know
that, when you have brought it home, you wondered why you had given
yourself so much inconvenience to acquire the little impostor.
Possession strains--it depresseth her that gives, and him that takes.
While it was in the hedge, the glow-worm shone no less divine than the
poet's star."

"Where was that?" she said.

"In a fable.  Did you think I meant a star of the music-halls?  They
weren't the fashion in poetry yet.  He was a glorious poet enchanted by
a star of the heavens.  He stretched his arms to it, he sang to it
nightly.  And for his sake the star 'stooped earthward, and became a
woman.'  And then the day came when the woman asked her lover which was
best--'The Star's beam, or the Woman's breast':--

  "'I miss from heaven,' the man replied,
    'A light that drew my spirit to it.'
  And to the man the woman sigh'd,
    'I miss from earth a poet.'"


"M-m, that's rather sensible," admitted Nina, "I like that--I suppose
it can't be really great poetry.  What get on my nerves so in the
poetry of the Really Great are those irritating words that I knew were
coming, like 'porphyry' and 'empyrean,' and 'bower' and 'nymph;' and
then there are the titles--they always sound so dull because I never
know what they mean.  Well, go on talking to me."

About eleven o'clock the downpour ceased, and presently a timid sunbeam
played upon a puddle.  They went out to look for a library at noon.
There was no need for umbrellas.

The librarian was a listless young woman of "superior manners."  When
not occupied among the literature, she assisted in the fancy
department.  While Nina was lingering at the shelves, three other
readers went to the counter, and the first lady said:--

"Good morning.  I want a ... book.  Something--er--rather exciting."

The young woman threw an omniscient glance at the collection, and
plucked.  The lady read the title aloud:--

"Is this rather exciting?"

"Oh yes, madam, that is very exciting."

"Oh."  She ruffled the pages irresolutely.  "It's not very long," she
murmured; "haven't you anything longer?"

The young woman plucked.

"Is this rather exciting?" asked the lady.

The librarian assured her that it was no less exciting than the other
novel.

"Oh," said the lady...  "'The Face in the Drawer.'  Oh ... I'll take
this one then.  You know the address, don't you?  Good morning."

The requirement of the second lady was: "Something pretty ... not too
short ... to last me through the week."  Conrad almost expected to hear
the librarian reply that they had "A very durable line at three-three,"
but she plucked again.

"Shall I like it?" inquired the lady trustfully.

The young woman, listless, but confident, told her that she was
"Certain to like that."

"You're sure?" said the lady.  "Oh, very well then--I'll have it.  Good
day."

The third subscriber was still more free from the vice of favouritism.
She simply stated that she wanted "A nice book to read."  The librarian
handed a book to her, and she accepted it as unquestioningly as if it
had been stamps in a post-office.  In not one of the three cases had
any author's name been mentioned.  There are popular writers, there is
a public besieging the libraries for their work, but the literary
choice of the Nation is bulk for its twopence and the tale admired by
the young woman at the desk.

"I hope you haven't been bored?" said Nina at last, holding out
half-a-dozen volumes to be carried for her.

"Not in the faintest degree," cried Conrad.

But he was exceedingly bored on the morrow when Ted returned to dinner
with elaborate excuses for bringing his visit to a sudden close.  Yes,
the host was bored then; he knew so well while he responded: "What a
nuisance!" and "Of course it can't be helped," that Ted was not in the
least needed in town, only dull in Sweetbay.  They were all to have
gone together to the "Orchestral Concert," and when the barrister
alleged that he felt "too worn out," Conrad was not pressing.  Nina
went with him alone, and they walked some way before they spoke.  She
understood that he was hurt; dimly she understood that he had shown a
stronger affection on his side than they had shown on theirs.

"So the experiment is a failure, Con?" she said.

He sighed.  "I'm afraid there's no other word for it.  It was rather
idiotic of me--I might have known you'd all be hipped."

"Oh, I don't think it's that," she declared; "as a professional man Ted
isn't free."  She was ever ready to disparage Regina, but she had a
soft spot in her shrewdness for Ted.  "Of course," she added after a
moment, "his going means that I shall have to go too; I can't stay with
you by myself, ridiculous as these things are."

"No, I thought of that," he said.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry _you're_
going, Nina.  It's no use trying to persuade him, I suppose?  If you
told him you didn't want to go----"

Every woman is to be touched by oral sentiment, excepting the sentiment
of her lover whom she does not love.  That irritates her to brutality.
Nina wavered:--

"I might," she owned.  "Perhaps he could arrange."

"It would be very nice of you," he said; "and really when you get used
to Sweetbay, you'll find it has a--a certain charm.  Hallo!  What's the
matter here?  Are we too soon?"

They were opposite the theatre, but the building was dark.  His heart
sank; he felt that the stars in their courses were fighting against him.

"It isn't open," said Nina superfluously.

"We must have come too soon," he urged.  "Let's cross over, and see
what time it begins."

For a minute or two they peered at the glum frontage, puzzled, and then
they descried--affixed by its flap to a large door--a small envelope.
It was an official announcement.  On the envelope was written, "No
concert this evening."

They turned away, and moved in reverie towards the sea, which shimmered
within sight.

On the long lamp-blurred stretch of asphalt no one moved.  A mile of
downcast lodging-houses, veiled in gloom, kept hopeless watch over a
blank Parade; in their dim fan-lights the legend of "Apartments" looked
the emblem of despair.  To the right the black pier slumbered silently;
to the left a lugubrious hotel, unpeopled and unlit, imparted to the
view the last symbol of disaster.  On a sudden, spasmodically--in the
wide-spread desolation--the town band burst into the overture to
"Zampa."  It was the jocularity of hysteria at a funeral.  Nina gave a
gulp, and clutched his arm.

"Conrad," she quavered, "let me go home to-morrow, or I shall cry!"

He did not plead with her; he recognised that there was some justice in
her plaint.  He promised that she should go by an early train, and his
kindness cheered her.

She came down to breakfast with her hat on.

She, too, had _Punch_ and a foot-warmer, and again he doubted if they
were adequate to exculpate him.

"Try to bear no malice," he begged on the platform.

"You'll dine with us as soon as you come back, won't you?" she laughed.

"Good-bye, old chap," exclaimed Ted.  He had risen quite vivacious.
"Mind you look me up when you're in town; let me know well ahead, and
I'll manage a spare evening."

"I expect I've left a lot of things behind," said Nina brightly,
bending to the window; "you might tell the servants to send them on."

"Yes, I'll tell them.  Are you sure you don't want any more papers?"

"We're a long time starting, aren't we?" said Ted.

"You're just off," Conrad answered.

It was less than a week since he had loitered on the other side,
impatient for their arrival.  He forced a smile, and stood bareheaded,
and turned from the station with a sigh.

  "'Oh near ones, dear ones! you in whose right hands
    Our own rests calm; whose faithful hearts all day
  Wide open wait till back from distant lands
    Thought, the tired traveller, wends his homeward way!
  Helpmates and hearthmates, gladdeners of gone years'----

_Where are you?_" said Conrad.



CHAPTER IV

He felt very lonely.  Something of the Christmas spirit descended on
him--the true, the unacknowledged Christmas spirit, in which, after we
have directed the last stack of cards, and hurried out aglow with the
last parcel, we sit before the bare mantel-piece, discovering that most
of our acquaintances have become too advanced to observe the season.
We are quite sure it is "advancement," though it looks a little like
stinginess.  He wondered, as he entered the lane, whether the other
child he was remembering would have proved a disappointment too;
wondered if the ache in his heart would be intelligible to her, or if
he would appear to her absurd.  It interested him to wonder.
Conjecturing the disposition of the strange woman whose whereabouts he
did not know, he endued her with many attributes that he admired, and
she moved before his mental vision gradually as a fair and slightly
pathetic figure, prepared to be his confidante.  He fancied she was
unhappy with her husband.  At least the sadness of life had touched her
enough to tinge her sentiment with cynicism, and she had flashes of wit
on rainy days.

It surprised him that he had made no attempt to trace her; his
curiosity was awake.  Many things were more unlikely than that she was
living in the town.  As he passed Rose Villa he was in two minds about
ringing the bell and trying to gather information from the present
occupants.  He would probably have obeyed the impulse, but while he
hesitated the householder came out--a middle-aged little man, with a
sanguine complexion, and gaiters.

Conrad accosted him.  "Excuse me," he began.

The gentleman saluted with his crop.  "'Morning," he said.

"I was looking at your bell with the idea of troubling you with an
inquiry about a 'missing friend.'  May I ask if you happen to know the
address of your predecessor here--Dr. Page?"

"Who?" said the little man briskly.

"Dr. Page."

"No.  Don't know the name.  Took the place of people
called--er--Greames....  Agents might tell you--Chipper and Stokes in
the High Street.  Page?  Doctor?  N-no."  He shook his head.  "Sorry."

"I thank you."

"Not at all.  Neighbours, I think, sir?  For long?"

"No; it's a very temporary pleasure of mine," said Conrad.

"Congratulate you," said the little man.  "If your friend was a doctor,
probably knew better than to stop.  Much misled myself.  Recommended
here for my health.  Most in-_ju_-rious!  Damp, sir, Sweetbay is damp.
They call it a 'humid atmosphere'; 'humid atmosphere' be damned, sir!
Take your clothes off the peg in the morning and wring 'em out.  That's
not a humid atmosphere--it's a death-trap."

"You astonish me," said Conrad.  "I understood the climate was so
salubrious that the inhabitants would all live to be a hundred if they
didn't die of the dulness young."  He lifted his hat.  "I am obliged."

"Pleasure," said the neighbour.  "Er--hope we shall--er, er----"

"I hope so too," smiled Conrad.  "Er--no doubt."

"'Morning," said the gentleman, saluting with his crop.

It was discomfiting to find the occupant of Mary's former home so
completely ignorant of Mary.  Such ignorance, there, on the very
threshold, in view of the sun shutters that had framed her face, seemed
rather callous of him.  As Conrad watched him swagger up the lane, he
resented the usurper's privilege to stretch his gaitered legs on the
hearth to whose history he was so utterly indifferent.

Somehow the drawing-room looked emptier still to Conrad for the
colloquy, when he went indoors.  In the violent disassociation of the
next house from Mary Page, this one seemed suddenly foreign to him;
suddenly he felt that he had committed a fatuous and a mournful act in
taking it.  Sweetbay had meant to him four persons, and of these, three
had fled, and the fourth was lost.  Why should he stay here?  He
thought vaguely of a little dinner at "Odd-and-even's," and a stall at
the Alhambra.  He nearly stretched his arm for the time-table--and all
the while the melancholy that oppressed him urged him to remain and
find Mary.  His mind demanded her more insistently than before.  It was
no longer a whim: it was a strenuous desire.  "After all, it would be a
crazy thing, to go to London for pleasure!" he mused.  "I'll hear what
the agents have to say."

He strolled to their office after luncheon, and a small boy told him
that Mr. Stokes was in.  For once Conrad chafed at the local languor.
The torpid tradesmen, unconcerned whether he bought or not, had amused
him, but the heavy young man who gazed at him with vacant eyes was
irritating.

"Dr. Page?" echoed the young man dully; "Rose Villa?  There was a Dr.
Page in Esselfield, wasn't there?"

"I don't know," said Conrad.  "Perhaps you can tell me.  Where is
Esselfield?"

"That's along the Esselfield Road," said Mr. Stokes with deliberation.
"What do you want to know for?"

"I'm trying to learn the address of a friend who has moved," Conrad
explained, labouredly polite.

"Oh y-e-s."  He paused so long that it seemed doubtful if he would
speak again.  "There was a Dr. Page in Esselfield; I can't say if he's
there still."

"The gentleman I mean was--well, he must be an elderly man," said
Conrad.  He could not remember in the least how Dr. Page had looked; he
wished he knew his Christian name.  "An elderly man.  He had a family.
They used to be at Rose Villa, next door to Mowbray Lodge.  I'm talking
of years ago--a good many years ago....  Perhaps your partner might be
able to assist me?"

"Major Bompas lives at Rose Villa now," said Mr. Stokes.  His tone was
a little firmer, the tone of one who says a helpful thing.

"And he took it of people called 'Greames'; I know all that.  Dr. Page
had the house before the Greames."

"Oh," murmured Mr. Stokes, "did he?  Y-e-s....  No, I couldn't say, I'm
sure.  Mr. Greames lived there before Major Bompas.  Mr. Greames was
there a long while back."

"Dr. Page lived there in--let me think, where are we now?  It must have
been in eighteen seventy-seven."

"Oh Gawd!" said the young man faintly.  For the first time an
expression humanised his countenance, an expression of dismay tempered
with entertainment.  It made Conrad feel prehistoric.  "Eighteen
sev-enty-sev-en?  I'm sure I couldn't tell you who lived there then."
A snigger escaped him.  "There was a Dr. Page at Esselfield," he
repeated; "he may have been at Rose Villa first."

"Is there any place in the town," asked Conrad, with frank disgust,
"where it's possible to see an old directory?"

"I shouldn't think," averred the heavy young man, "that a directory was
published in Sweetbay in 'sev-enty-sev-en."  There was nearly a twinkle
in his eyes.

"Thank you," said Conrad.  "Good afternoon."

He went forth to seek the Esselfield Road incensed as well as
disappointed now.  'Seventy-seven?  Who was this blank-faced dolt to
jeer at 'seventy-seven?  Sweetbay had been an infinitely more
attractive place in 'seventy-seven than it was to-day.  The High Street
bored him as he walked.  Once it had been stimulating, replete with
interest, and now it was unworthy his attention.  He looked at it as a
young girl looks at a married man.  There was a fresh-coloured woman
dandling her baby behind the glass door of a baker's shop as he passed,
and he recognised with a frown that she had not been born in
'seventy-seven.  It was a small matter, but it depressed him more.

The sepulchral window of a monumental mason caught his glance.
Overhead was the inscription, "Established 1852."  He wavered in his
course and entered.  The interior was like a premature graveyard,
ranged with marble tombstones waiting for allotment, and brittle
wreaths lamenting the dissolution of "Beloved" relatives who were still
alive.  There seemed to him something appropriate in pursuing his
investigations among the tombstones.  But though the business had been
established in 1852, the mason himself proved to be very recent.  When
he realised that his interlocutor was not there to give an order, the
sympathetic droop of his bearing evaporated, and he straightened into a
careless soul to whom the mention of 'seventy-seven was almost as
disconcerting as it had been to Mr. Stokes.

The Esselfield Road was thick with mud after the heavy rains.  His long
tramp--for he had learnt that it was necessary to walk--had no
enlivening effect on Conrad's mood, nor was the village cheering when
he reached it.  A few houses were scattered beside a common; some geese
waddled around a pond.  Beyond an inn, a labourer in his cups shouted a
refrain of the London music-halls.

Conrad went into the "bar-parlour" and asked for beer.  In the
sensitiveness to his years which was being so rapidly developed in him
he observed with satisfaction that the untidy proprietress was
middle-aged.  "Yes, there had been a Dr. Page,".  she told him.  "Not
what you might call a regular doctor--he didn't do nothing.  She
believed he had moved into Sweetbay, so as to be near the sea."

"I understood that he moved here from Sweetbay.  An elderly man.  He
had a family," said Conrad with fatigue.

"There was two young gals," she agreed.  "_They_ was always about."

"'About'?" he murmured.

"Picking, and skating, and that.  I used to say they was never at 'ome."

"Oho?" said Conrad.  And added to himself, "The younger children grown
up.  Girls of spirit!"--"When did they leave?" he continued.

"Oh, it must be a long time," she answered.  She turned to a man who
had the air of being her husband.  "'Ow long is it since that Dr. Page
was 'ere, pa?"

"Dr. Page," drawled the man wonderingly.  "Oh, it's a long time ago."

"Yes," she repeated, "it's a long time ago."

"But, roughly, how long?" persisted Conrad.

"W-e-ll, it must be--eight years or more," she said, visibly resenting
an occasion to be definite.

In his soul he groaned; if eight years seemed so remote, what would
they think of twenty-five?  Again he was bowed beneath the sense of
senility.  "You don't happen to know where he settled in Sweetbay?" he
proceeded.

She shook her head, she had no idea at all; neither of the pair had any
idea, so he finished his ale, and paid for some cigars, which there was
of course no need to smoke.

The lamps were winking through the dusk when he drew in sight of
Sweetbay.  At a stationer's he bought a directory of the current year,
and studied it at the counter.  It contained a "Captain Page," and
"John Page, milkman."  He found also "Miss Page, ladies' outfitter,"
and "Mrs. Page, laundress," but there was no "Page" of promise among
the leaves.  He availed himself of the opportunity to inquire again
concerning the likelihood of his discovering an ancient copy of the
work, but at his reference to 'seventy-seven the stationer, too, fell
agape.  It recurred to Conrad that in connection with Mr. Boultbee the
post-office had been suggested.  Physically he was tired by now, but
mentally he was unflagging, and he bent his steps to the general
post-office forthwith.  The clerk who sold the stamps to him "couldn't
say"; she retired, however, to repeat his question to the postmistress,
and it was at this point that the outlook brightened.  The postmistress
was a young and gracious woman in a pink blouse, and she came forward
with a confident smile to inform him that Dr. Page was no longer a
resident of Sweetbay, but had removed to Redhill.  "Redhill?"  He had
not suspected that anyone ever got out there.

"An elderly man.  He had a family," he reiterated with exhaustion.
"Two young girls."

"Oh, yes," she nodded, "that's the same.  Very pretty, tall young
ladies?  _They_ were always in and out."

"Really?" said Conrad.  Mary's sisters began to beckon to him.  "Can
you help me to communicate with Dr. Page?"

"We have the address he left with us--the one we used to forward
letters to; I don't know if he's there still."  She confessed the
limitation of her knowledge with regret.  "It's some years since he
went from Sweetbay."

"Perhaps you would be so merciful as to give me the one you have?  I am
an old friend of Dr. Page's family--very old--and till Providence
directed my steps to you I despaired of finding them again."  He
outlined the difficulties he had encountered, but he had grown
diffident of mentioning 'seventy-seven.

The postmistress laughed quite mirthfully at his recital, which,
encouraged by her appreciation, he falsified sufficiently to make
amusing.  After bidding the clerk turn to a book, she announced to him
that the address was "Home Rest, Peregrine Place," and the assurances
of his gratitude seemed amply to repay her.

Conrad went to bed with much more exhilaration than he had looked for.
The day, after all, had seen something accomplished.  Within his head,
when he punched the pillow, the project of running Dr. Page to earth on
the morrow promised agreeable developments.  At the onset the interview
would be a trifle embarrassing he foresaw, inasmuch as the gentleman on
whom he intruded would certainly have no recollection of his name; but
the ice would break under a few suave references to "My first visit to
the neighbourhood since I was a boy," and "My little playmates of long
ago"--he would put her in the plural, his inquiries could be
concentrated gradually.  If Mary herself were living in Redhill he
might remain there.  He would intimate that he thought of doing so--it
would forefend the suspicion of impetuosity.

The sun was shining when he woke.  The birds chirruped among the fir
trees, and there were echoes of old-time music in his heart while he
brushed his hair--until he fought to draw up a sailor's knot under one
of those "double collars" that have led to so much domestic unhappiness
at the breakfast-table.

He travelled by the South-Eastern and Chatham, but he reached Redhill,
and smelt the tannery as he searched for an exit from the station.  The
salient features of Redhill are the smell of leather, the shrieks of
trains, and the all-night barking of mongrels.  He was directed to
Station Road, and told to "bear to the left."  The townlet seemed to
him to blend the most unpleasant characteristics of Clapham Junction
and Hanley in the Potteries.  He started briskly.  The way was long,
and several times he paused to seek further information.  Occasionally
a carriage passed, the occupants with protesting noses.  By degrees all
the villas and the pavement dropped behind him; the smell of the
tannery was fainter, and the path on either side was bordered by a
hedge.  From the altitude of a butcher's cart a boy in blue encouraged
him with the assurance that Peregrine Place was "straight on."
Presently the way wound, and a terrace of small semi-detached houses
with little front gardens gladdened his view.  As he drew close he saw
"Home Rest" painted on the gate-post at the corner.  Outside, in the
sequestered road, a venerable tenant, with a velvet skull-cap and
silvery hair, was pottering around a camera.  At Conrad's approach he
lifted his head, and regarded him with gentle curiosity.  The sight of
the blue eyes and placid face seemed suddenly familiar to Conrad; he
felt far-off memories stirring in him as his gaze met the old man's
features, and, doffing his hat, he murmured, with the deference that
sat so well upon him:--

"Dr. Page, I think?"

"Heh?" said the old gentleman, inclining the other ear.

"You don't know me," said Conrad wistfully, but in a louder tone.  "We
haven't met since I was a boy, Dr. Page--that's many years ago."

The old gentleman indicated Home Rest impatiently.

"Next door," he snapped, "Dr. Page lives next door!"

Conrad retreated with hasty apologies, feeling considerably foolish.
He would have preferred to stroll awhile before repeating his exordium,
and only the consciousness of being watched by the old gentleman who
had misled him constrained him to unlatch the gate.

A neat servant answered that Dr. Page was not at home.  He was relieved.

"I'll call again," he said.  "When do you expect him to come in?"

"Oh, he's away, sir, he won't be back for two or three days.  Would you
like to see Mrs. Page, sir?"

He had no remembrance of a Mrs. Page, but there was the objection to
travelling fruitlessly, and the thought that a woman would be
susceptible to the prettiness of his visit.  He hesitated--he answered
that he would.  The girl conducted him to a small, cheerless
drawing-room, and returned to say that Mrs. Page would be down in a few
minutes.  There were antimacassars everywhere, and the cold white
mantelpiece exhibited the perpetual porcelain courtship which has never
advanced; the amorous male still smirked inanely, and the simpering
maiden seemed still to hope.  Conrad was much attracted by a large
album that reposed on an occasional table.  He sat tempted to unclasp
it, and had just risen and made a tentative step in its direction when
he heard the doorknob move.

The lady who came in seemed to deprecate her entrance; she was
evidently timid, and she blinked.  He thought at first that she
suffered from some affection of the eyes, but when she spoke, he opined
that the blinking was due entirely to nervousness.

"Mr. Warrener?" she said in a whisper.

"Mrs. Page," he began, "I must crave your pardon for intruding on you
in this fashion.  It's very audacious of me because, even when I tell
you who I am, I daren't suppose that you will recollect me."

Her eyelids fluttered more, and she said:--

"Wo--won't you sit down?"  She wore mittens, and plucked at them.

"Thank you."  Instinctively he lowered his voice, as if he were
speaking to an invalid.  "My excuse is rather unusual--I hope it won't
appear to you preposterous.  When I was a boy, your children and I used
to be bosom friends, and I found myself in Sweetbay the other day for
the first time since.  I needn't tell you that I went to look at the
house, and the desire to--to find them all again was very strong....  I
was fortunate enough to learn that you had moved to Redhill, so I
decided to risk your ridicule, and throw myself on your forbearance."

"Oh, not at all," she faltered.  "I--I'm sure I--"  Her nervousness
seemed increased, rather than diminished, by his address.  There was an
awkward pause.

"I trust Dr. Page and--and my former comrades are all well?"

"Oh, thank you, yes they are all quite well."

He wished that Mary's were not the only name among them he could
recall; "All well!" he said, forcing a hearty note, "All well!  It's
strange to me to think of them as grown-up.  Time--er--brings many
changes, madam?"

"Indeed," she concurred timorously; "as you say!"  But she volunteered
no news, and he began to feel that they were getting on slowly; his
harassed gaze wandered to the china courtship.

"May I ask if they are still with you?" he ventured.

"My eldest daughter is married," she replied.  "The others are ... I
hope very soon.  I--er don't quite understand when it was you knew
them?  While we were in Sweetbay, I think you said?"

"Yes," he answered musingly, "when the daughter who is married was a
little girl, Mrs. Page.  To think that she's a woman and a wife!  Why,
Miss Mary and I were like brother and sister then--how wonderful it
would be to meet her now!"

"My daughter's name is Ursula," she demurred.  She blinked fast.  There
was another pause.

"'Ur--Ursula?'" stammered Conrad, with the precursory sinking of an
awful fear.  "Miss Mary _not_ the eldest? ... But surely at Rose Villa
she was the eldest at home--during that summer, at least?"

"I think there must be some mistake," she quavered; "I have no daughter
'Mary.'  I think there must be some mistake."

"Good heavens!" gasped Conrad.  He was covered with confusion.  "My
dear madam, what can I say to you?  I--I have been most shamefully
deceived.  I knew the family of a Dr. Page in Sweetbay in
'seventy-seven.  I was assured--I was officially misinformed--that they
had removed to Redhill.  This house was mentioned to me as their
residence.  I am abased, I can't sufficiently express my regret.
Possibly--I'll say 'probably'--my informant was led astray by the
sameness of the surname and the profession, but nothing can excuse an
error that has caused you so much annoyance.  Nothing!" he repeated
implacably.  "I can only offer you my profoundest, my most contrite
apologies."

The lady was now blinking so rapidly that it was dazzling to watch her.

"My husband never practised in Sweetbay," the said.  "My husband's name
is 'Napoleon Page.'  We had never seen Sweetbay in 'seventy-seven.  Our
house was not called 'Rose Villa.'  Oh dear no!  I'm afraid there must
be some mistake."

"Obviously," cried Conrad; "it overwhelms me.  I shall severely
reprimand the person who--who is responsible.  Permit me to thank you
for the patience, the infinite courtesy with which you have listened to
my--my totally irrelevant reminiscences.  I--  Pray don't trouble to
ring, madam!"

His cheeks were hot when he gained the step.  He walked towards the
station swiftly, eager to leave "Home Rest" and Redhill far behind.
Long after the train, for which he was obliged to wait, had started,
the incident continued to distress him.  He smarted anew in the
compartment.  He was even denied the unction of feeling he had made a
satisfactory exit, and the certainty that the lady would describe his
later demeanour as "flurried" annoyed him more than he could say in the
presence of his fellow-passengers.  To fall into the mistake was
natural, he argued, but he wished ardently that he had extricated
himself from it with more grace, with more of the leisurely elegance he
could display if the situation were to occur again.

Well, he had done with his search for Mary!  He said he abandoned it in
disgust, and was still firm on the point when he reached Mowbray Lodge.
He began to reconsider packing his portmanteaux.  For two days he made
no further inquiry of anyone, and lingered, as it were, under protest.
Yet in England at least he might spend December amid worse surroundings
than Sweetbay presented now; he owned that.  From the chief
thoroughfares the last speck of mud had long since been removed; the
pink sidewalks shone as spotless as when he trod them in October.  The
air was tender, there was an azure sky, a sunlit sea curled innocently
upon the beach.  Yes, of a truth, he might fare worse.  If it were not
for the dulness, he could scarcely fare better.  On the third
afternoon, as he sauntered through the High Street, it occurred to him
that it could do no harm to announce his failure to the mirthful
postmistress.  He did not pledge himself to resume his efforts, but----
It certainly was very dull, and if he were more explicit she might be
able to give him another hint.

She recognised him at once, and advanced, sparkling as before.

"Did you find your friends, sir?" she asked as he saluted her.

"I did not," said Conrad, "but I intruded on an inoffensive household
who were perfect strangers to me.  The Dr. Page whose address you very
kindly furnished was not my Dr. Page at all."

"Oh dear! how very awkward," she said.  "I am so sorry."

"It was awkward, wasn't it?" he concurred.  "Of course I threw all the
blame on you, so they forgave me, but I'm now quite helpless.  My
friends seem to have vanished as utterly as if Sweetbay had closed over
their heads, and to complete the difficulty this family of spurious
Pages arose since.  I foresee that as often as I make another attempt I
shall be directed to Redhill.  I didn't like to tell you before,
because it makes me sound so old, but the people I mean are the Pages
who lived here in 'seventy-seven.  I beg of you not to jump.  Everybody
jumps--that's why I have grown so nervous of mentioning the date."

Her eyes were full of amusement; she leant her elbows on the counter.

"I wasn't in the office then," she said reflectively.

"Naturally," he returned.  "You must have been in your cradle.  _I_ was
only a little boy.  They were companions of my cherub stage; believe
me, I was rosily young."

"There's a gentleman in the town who might be able to tell you
something," she suggested: "Mr. Irquetson, the vicar of All Saints.  He
has been here thirty years, or more."

"Really?" exclaimed Conrad, and added, "It's a shame to be beaten,
isn't it?"

"Oh, it is," she agreed; "and he's a very nice gentleman; he'll be glad
to help you if he can."

"Well, I think I'll go to see him; if he has been here thirty years, he
can hardly fail to remember the Dr. Page I'm talking about."  He
glanced at the clock.  "Do you think he's likely to be in now?"

"I should think the morning would be the best time, sir," she answered;
"but you might try--it isn't far.  If you'll wait a second, I'll write
the address down for you."

"You are too good," said Conrad impressively.  His pulses quickened at
the chance.  Instantly the thought of quitting Sweetbay was forgotten.
Again he thanked her, and again she bowed graciously over her pink
blouse as he withdrew.  When he turned at the doors, she was bowing
still.

They swung to behind him, and he wished he had reported himself to her
three days ago.  What amiability!  He had never seen anything to
compare with it in a post-office.  As he strode towards the vicar's, he
was possessed by amazement.  The experience had an air of the ideal, as
everybody will admit.  Probably the mirthful postmistress was the only
member of her calling ever known to exhibit a pleasant countenance to
the public, excepting--  But the Exception merits a paragraph to
herself, and as she has nothing to do with the story, you are
recommended to skip to the next chapter.

Excepting a little lady who once brightened the ancient post-office of
Southampton Row.  The "post-office," have I said?  Rather should I say
she brightened the district with that sunny smile of hers, and the
daily flower freshening her neat little frock.  To watch her, it seemed
she found long hours "in the cage" the very poetry of bread-winning.
Dull matrons from Russell Square, and tired clerks from Guilford Street
alike felt the encouragement of her cheerfulness, and went on their way
refreshed.  One may well believe she was the unwitting cause of many
kindly actions in West Central London, for a crowd was ever at the
counter, and the sourest soul of all on whom she smiled must for a
space have viewed the world with friendlier eyes.  Often I used to
wonder, as I bought a postcard, and waited for the farthing change,
whether it was interest in her duties, or the message of the daily
flower that kept that light of happiness in the girlish face.  When she
vanished, Southampton Row was grey.  They repainted and replanned it;
and built spruce hotels, and pink "mansions," but nothing could make
good the loss.  It was whispered she had left to be married.  All
Bloomsbury must hope that he is kind to her!



CHAPTER V

And after that little tribute, which has been owing for more years than
it exhilarates me to count--and which has been paid with no expense to
anyone who followed my advice--let us overtake Conrad on the doorstep,
where he had just learnt that the vicar was at home.

The Rev. Athol Irquetson was a sombre-eyed priest with a beautiful
voice.  In his zeal, he had studied how to use it--under an eminent
actor; in his discretion, he suppressed the fact--for he knew his
Sweetbay.  He had also a fine faculty for gesture, which his
parishioners found "impressive"--and which they would have found
"theatrical" had they guessed that for years it had been cultivated
daily before a looking-glass.  Why invalidate an instrument?  To
admiring friends he said his gestures "came to him."  They did, by this
time.  He waved Conrad's apologies aside, and motioning towards a seat,
sank slowly into a study-chair himself.  Conrad ardently appreciated
the pose of his hand there, as--a pensive profile supported by his
finger-tips--the vicar asked, in a voice to make converts: "And what
can I do for you?"

Yes, he remembered Dr. Page.  Dr. Page was dead.  But soon it was the
vicar's turn to be appreciative, for the intruder's glance kept
straying to the Canaletto prints that graced the walls, and it was a
rare thing for Mr. Irquetson to have a visitor to whom they spoke.
Those glances warmed his heart, and a digression melted his reserve.

"There are not many," he said; "but I think my small room is the richer
on that account."

"Surely," said Conrad.  "If a picture is worth owning, it is worth a
spacious setting.  A mere millionaire may buy a gallery, but it takes a
man of taste to hang a sketch.  I have always thought that a picture
calls for two artists--one to create it, and the other to prepare his
wall for its reception."

"But how little the second art is understood.  Of course the eye should
be enabled to rest on a picture reposefully.  The custom of massing
pictures in conflicting multitudes is barbarous.  It's like the
compression of flowers into bundles that hide half their loveliness.
The Western mind is slowly learning from the Japanese that a flower
ought to be displayed so that we may appreciate its form.  I have hope
that when they have taught us how a flower should be put in water, they
may proceed to teach us how a picture should be hung."

Quite ten minutes passed in such amenities.

"Yes, Dr. Page died long ago," said the deep voice again; but the
subject was resumed in a manner almost intimate; "his wife was living
in--Malvern, I think.  There was--it was common knowledge at the
time--some domestic unhappiness late in life; or perhaps it would be
more correct to say that it culminated late in life, for, like so many
mighty issues, I believe it originated in a seeming trifle.  He was a
man acutely sensitive to noise, and his wife was decidedly a noisy
woman.  I remember his remarking once that if she but touched a cup it
had a collision with all the china on the table, and that a newspaper
in her hands became an instrument of torture.  No doubt he could have
controlled his irritability, but by all accounts his temper grew
unbearable.  However, the news of his death must have been a blow to
the lady, for he died suddenly soon after they had separated.  Death is
a wondrous peacemaker.  The gravest offence looks smaller in our eyes
when it is too late to condone it."

"Yes," assented Conrad;

  "'And I think, in the lives of most women and men,
    There's a moment when all would go smooth and even,
  If only the dead could find out when
    To come back, and be forgiven.'"


"That is a beautiful thought," said the vicar, "or, speaking more
strictly, I should say it is an ordinary thought beautified.  From one
of Owen Meredith's early poems, isn't it?  But do you remember those
lines of Coventry Patmore's to the dead?

  "'It is not true that Love will do no wrong.
  Poor Child!
  And did you think, when you so cried and smiled,
  How I, in lonely nights, should lie awake,
  And of those words your full avengers make?
  Poor Child, poor Child!
  And now, unless it be
  That sweet amends thrice told are come to thee,
  O God, have Thou no mercy upon me!
  Poor Child!'"


"Oh," exclaimed Conrad, "exquisite!  I used to read Coventry Patmore
all day.  Do you know 'Departure'?--'With _huddled_, unintelligible
phrase!' ... Ah! surely his hope was not vain--the Posterity he
respected will respect him.  But--but," he bubbled, "I am so glad I
came!  My dear sir, you enchant me; your recognition of Owen Meredith
alone would make the interview memorable."

"Ah!" returned Mr. Irquetson, with a whimsical smile, "there was once a
time when I read much poetry--and wrote much verse; and I have a good
memory.  I remember"--his trained gaze took in the name, which he had
forgotten, on the card--"I remember, Mr. Warrener, when I used to pray
to be a poet."

"Do you think prayers are ever answered?" inquired Conrad.  "In my life
I have sent up many prayers, and always with the attempt to persuade
myself that some former prayer had been fulfilled.  But I knew--I knew
in my heart none ever had been.  Things that I have wanted have come to
me, but--I say it with all reverence--at the wrong time, as the means
to buy unlimited toffee comes to a man when he has outgrown his taste
for sweets."

Mr. Irquetson's fine hand wandered across his brow.

"Once," he began conversationally, "I was passing with a friend through
Grosvenor Street.  It was when in the spring the tenant's fancy lightly
turns to coats of paint, and we came to a ladder leaning against a
house that was being redecorated.  In stepping to the outer side of the
ladder, my friend lifted his hat to it; you may know the superstition?
He was a 'Varsity man, a man of considerable attainments.  I said, 'Is
it possible that you believe in that nonsense?'  He said, 'N--no, I
don't exactly believe in it, but I never throw away a chance.'"  On a
sudden his inflexion changed, his utterance was solemn, stirring,
devout: "'I think, sir, that most people _pray_ on my friend's
principle--they don't believe in it, but they never throw away a
chance.'"

He had said it before; the whole thing was too assured, too finished,
for an impromptu, but the effect of that modulation was superb.  All
the artist in Conrad responded to it.

"And when they are sincere?" he questioned, after a pause; "for they
are sometimes.  Your walls remind me how passionately I prayed to be a
painter.  And your own prayers, I take it, came from the soul when you
craved to be a poet."

"But should I have been more useful as a poet?  It wouldn't have
contented me to write--let us say--'The Better Land,' and more minds
are to be influenced by simple sermons than by great poetry.  You
think, perhaps, that as a painter you would have been happier.  But
perhaps you wouldn't.  We are often like little children petitioning
their parents for the dangerous.  I will not suggest that a merciful
God chastises us to demonstrate our error, but many an observant man
must have noticed the truth that what we have desired most strenuously
often proves an affliction to us, while the only sunshine in our lives
is shed by the thing which we prayed might never come to pass."

"Yes," said Conrad, thoughtfully, "I have seen more than one example of
that.  But if we are mere blunderers beseeching in the dark--if we are
like children importuning their parents without discernment, as you
say--isn't the act of prayer futile?  Isn't it even presumptuous?"

Mr. Irquetson raised his head, his eyes looked upward; "No--pray!" he
said, and the melody of his tone gave glory to a commonplace.  "Pray,"
he repeated, and Conrad wanted to kneel to him then, there, on the
study floor.  "One day perhaps you will afford me an opportunity to
make my thoughts on prayer quite clear to you.  Pray--but with fervour,
and with sense.  With humility!  Sir, I cannot reconcile my faith in an
omniscient Creator with the idea that it is necessary to advise Him we
need rain in Rutland ... But I'm withholding the little information
that I am able to give you.  I was about to say that Mrs. Page, so far
as I know, lives still in Malvern--or perhaps it was Matlock; and the
eldest girl----"

"Mary?" interposed Conrad.

"Quite so, 'Mary.'  Mary married some time before her father's death,
and is settled in London, I think.  My wife would know her whereabouts
better than I, she is friendly with a resident who has some fitful
correspondence with Mrs. Bailey."

"'Mrs. Bailey' is the eldest girl's married name?"

"Well, it used to be," replied the clergyman, with another of his
smiles.  "But I was wrong--I should have said 'Mrs. Barchester-Bailey.'
She acquired the 'Barchester' after the ceremony; I cannot supply its
exegesis.  The result of six months in the capital, I suppose, though
it is not everybody who can make such a great name in London in six
months."

"Much may be done in six months; his parents gave Keats to the world in
seven," said Conrad.  "I am infinitely grateful to you for your
kindness."  He rose.  "If Mrs. Irquetson should mention Mrs.
Barchester-Bailey's address to you, and you would have the additional
goodness to let me know it----"

"I will drop you a line to-night--or to-morrow at the latest," declared
the vicar; and he pencilled the direction on the card.

"Good-bye," said Conrad.  "I shall always be your debtor for more than
the address, sir."

"Good-bye," said the vicar, extending his hand; and 'good-bye' as he
pronounced it was a benediction.

Conrad had been so much impressed--so uplifted by the cleric's
manner--that, instead of swinging homeward in high feather at the end
of his difficulties, he proceeded slowly, in serious meditation.  It
was not until the following afternoon when he learnt that Mrs.
Barchester-Bailey's residence was Beau Séjour, Hyperion Terrace, Upper
Tooting, that interest in his project was again keen.  Then there was a
little throb in his pulses; a little tremor stole from the note; he had
annihilated the obstacles of five-and twenty years--it excited him to
realise that he stood so close to her who had been Mary Page.

The "Barchester," however, disturbed him somewhat.  A woman who
reverenced apocryphal hyphens promised less companionship than he had
pictured ... Perhaps the snobbishness was her husband's.  Tooting?  He
had a dim recollection of driving through it once, on his way
somewhere.  Was it to the Derby?

Well, he supposed the correct course would be to write to her and hint
at his return to town.  He wondered whether the signature would waken
memories in her if she perpended it.  Unless it did, the letter was
likely to prove a failure--he could not indite a very stimulating
epistle to a married woman of whom he knew nothing.  Yet to call on her
without writing--?  No, he must stand, or fall, by the signature.  That
would say everything, if it said anything at all ... How stupid, in the
circumstances, "Dear Madam" sounded!

And what a stumbling-block it looked!


"Dear Madam"--he wrote--"Though I cannot hope you will be able to
recall my name, I think you may remember Mowbray Lodge.  I have
regretted very much, during my visit, that Mrs. Page is not my
neighbour.  It would have given me so much pleasure to call on her, and
to meet the family who were such very good comrades of mine in the year
when this house was a school, kept by Mr. Boultbee, and a posse of
children came down for the summer holidays.  Perhaps the names of my
cousins, Nina and 'Gina, may be more familiar to you than my own.  At
least those old-time friends of yours have shared my disappointment.
It is only since they left that I have had the good fortune to hear
your address mentioned.  Will you pardon a stranger writing to express
this vehement interest on the part of people whom you have probably
forgotten?  If I debated the matter for long, my courage would desert
me, and I should leave my cousins to make their own inquiries next
week, when I go back to town.  On the other hand, if you and your
sisters remember us, pray believe that none sends kinder regards to you
all than--

  "Yours truly,
      "CONRAD WARRENER."


"Come, I don't think anybody can take exception to that," mused Conrad.
And he sent it to the post, with a line of thanks to Mr. Irquetson.

On the next evening but one he began to doubt if she meant to reply.
It seemed to him the sort of thing a woman would acknowledge
immediately if she didn't mean to ignore it altogether.  Yet why should
she ignore it?  Silence would be rather uncivil, wouldn't it--a
humiliation needlessly inflicted?  If she had reasons for wishing to
decline his acquaintance, it was quite possible to prevent his
advancing, and to frame an urbane answer at the same time.  Had he said
too much about Nina and 'Gina, appeared too much in the light of an
amanuensis?  Surely she had the wit to understand?

Four or five days passed before he tore open an envelope stamped with
the initials "M.B.B."  The enclosure began "Dear Sir," and his brows
contracted.


"Dear Sir"--he read--"I was very surprised to receive your letter.
What a long time ago, is it not?  It is very nice of you all to
remember us after so long.  I left Sweetbay at the time of my marriage,
and have been living in Tooting some years now.  My mother has removed
to Matlock.  If you or your cousins are ever in the neighbourhood I
shall hope to have a chat over old times.  Please give them my
remembrances, With kind regards--Yours truly,

    "MARY BARCHESTER-BAILEY."


There were only three wrong ways of beginning a response--three blatant
solecisms--and she had chosen one of them when she wrote "Dear Sir."
Conrad was disappointed.  The "fair and slightly pathetic" figure of
his dreams grew fainter; his ideal confidante didn't make these
mistakes.  He put the missive in his pocket, and drew dejectedly at his
pipe.

"Of course I shall go," ran his thoughts, "but I've made rather an ass
of myself, taking such trouble to find her!"



CHAPTER VI

The man to whom he gave his ticket at the station of Balham and Upper
Tooting told him that he could walk to Hyperion Terrace in about ten
minutes.  He perceived that he would reach the house too early if he
proceeded there at once, so he strolled awhile in the opposite
direction.  The pavements were dry, and he was thankful, for he had
seen no cab when he came down the station stairs, and he would have
been chagrined to present himself in muddy boots.

When he estimated that he would arrive at Beau Séjour none too soon to
be welcome, he retraced his steps, and now anticipation warmed his
blood once more.  After all, she was the woman who had been Mary
Page--it was a piece of his boyhood that awaited him.  Indeed he was
repentant that he had cavilled at minor defects.  By dint of inquiries
he found the way to Hyperion Terrace.  It was new, and red, and all
that a man who could call a street "Hyperion Terrace" would naturally
create.

A very small servant, wearing a very pretentious cap, showed him at
once to the drawing-room, where "The Soul's Awakening" met his
distressed view, on a pink and gold wall-paper.  He heard flying
footsteps overhead, sounds of discomposure; there are houses at which a
visitor always arrives too early.  His nerves were tremulous while he
sat alone.  But Mary's home would have pleased him better if it had
been no more than a single room, with a decent etching over a bed
masquerading as a sideboard, and half-a-dozen shilling classics on a
shelf.

"Mr. Warrener?  How d' ye do?"

She advanced towards him with a wide smile, a large and masculine woman
wearing a vivid silk blouse, and an air of having dressed herself in a
hurry.  She wore also--with a droll effort at deception--a string of
"pearls" which, if it had been real, would have been worth more than
the street.  For an instant his heart seemed to drop into his stomach;
and in the next an overwhelming compassion for her swept him.  He could
have shed tears for her, as he took her hand, and remembered that she
had once been a dainty child.

"Mrs. Barchester-Bailey--so good of you to let me call."

"Oh, I'm sure it was very kind of you to come!" she said.  "Won't you
sit down? ... How very odd that you should have been living in Mowbray
Lodge, isn't it?  Quite a coincidence."

"Yes," he said, "yes.  I wanted a place there, and Mowbray Lodge
happened to be to let for a few months.  It was the first time I had
been to Sweetbay since that summer....  Your old house looks just the
same--the outside at least; I've not been in it."

"Really?" she said.  "Yes--does it?"

"Yes....  And the lane looks just the same too, until you get to the
field; and then--then there isn't one.  But perhaps that had vanished
before you left?"

"No, there was no change when I was down there last, but that's a long
while ago!  Horrid old place!  I'm very glad there's nothing to take me
there any more."

"Didn't you like it?" he asked, pained.

"Oh, it was so slow!  I wonder how I put up with it as long as I did.
Didn't you find it slow?  I must have gaiety.  People tell me I'm a
regular gadabout, but--"  She laughed--"one's only young once, Mr.
Warrener; I believe in having a good time while I can.  I say I shall
have plenty of time to be on the shelf by-and-by."

She was very, very plain.  It was while he was thinking how plain she
was, how ruthless the years had been to her, that the sudden pity for
himself engulfed him--the pathetic consciousness that she must be
reflecting how hard the years had been on _him_.

"It can't be difficult for you to have a good time," he returned,
labouredly light.

"Well, I don't think it is," she declared; she tossed her large head,
and rolled colourless eyes at him archly.  "People tell me I've quite
woke Tooting up since I've been here, and I must say I've done my best.
I must _lead_.  I mean to say if I'd been a man I should have liked to
be a great politician, or a great general, you know."

"You could be nothing more potent than Mrs. Barchester-Bailey."

"Oh now that's very sweet of you!" she said.  "But I mean to say I must
_lead_.  I started the Tooting 'Thursdays.'  You mustn't think I'm just
a frivolous little woman who cares for nothing but pleasure--I'm--I'm
very interested in literature too.  At the 'Thursdays' we have literary
discussions.  Next week the subject is Miss Verbena's novels.  Now
which do you think is Miss Verbena's greatest novel?"

He could only assume that she never saw a comic paper.  "I--I'm afraid
I haven't read any of them," he owned.

"Oh!  Oh, you surprise me.  Oh, but you must: they're enormously
clever.  Ettie Verbena is quite my favourite novelist, excepting
perhaps that _dear_ man who writes those immensely clever books that
never offend in any way.  So pure they are, such a true religious
spirit in them!  You know, Mr. Warrener, I'm a curious mixture.  People
tell me that I seem to enjoy myself just as much talking to a very
clever man as when I'm romping through a barn-dance.  And it's true you
know; that is me.  But I suppose you're more interested in stocks and
shares, and things like that, than in books?"

"Well, I--I shouldn't describe myself as widely-read," answered Conrad;
"still books do interest me."

"Oh well, then, you must come on one of my At-Home days next time," she
said graciously; "one of the ladies you'll meet writes for 'Winsome
Words,' and you'll meet several people you'll like."

"I should be charmed," he said.

The servant bustled in, and carried a bamboo table to the hearth.  As
she threw the teacloth over it, a cold wind blew through his hair.

"Do your cousins live in London?" inquired Mrs. Barchester-Bailey, with
the tail of a worried eye on the maid's blunders.

"Yes," he said, "yes, they do.  But I haven't seen them since I came
back.  I'm not sure whether they're in town."

"Are they married?"

"Yes," he said again.  "Oh yes, they're married--both of them."

"Where are they?" she asked; "anywhere this way?"

"No; unfortunately they're a long way off.  That's the drawback to
town, isn't it?  Everybody lives at such a distance from everybody
else."

"Oh, I don't know," she said; "one can get about so quickly nowadays.
What part are they in?"

"Nina lives in Regent's Park," he replied, "where the mists are."

"Oh, really?  Regent's Park?"  She seemed impressed.  "I was wondering
whether she would care to join our Thursday debates--we want to get as
many members as we can.  Two of the ladies come over from Wandsworth,
but from Regent's Park it would be a drag certainly.  Shall I put in
sugar and milk?"

"Please."  He took the cup, and sat down again--and knew that he had
entered on that grade of society where there are no more men and women,
and they all become "ladies" and "gentlemen."

"And the other one--'Gina?" she continued.

He felt very uncomfortable; he wouldn't say "Mayfair."

"'Gina lives further west," he murmured.  "No, I won't have any cake,
thank you."

"Then your cousins are quite high up?" she exclaimed.

"'High up?'"

"They're quite swells?"

"Oh!" he shrugged his shoulders.  "No, I don't think I should call them
that.  Too swell for me, rather, but then I'm half a Colonial, and the
other half a bohemian.  I haven't been Home long--it's all strange to
me; until I came out here to-day I had no idea London could be so
picturesque.  How glorious your Common must be in the summer!"

"So healthy!" she said promptly; "the air is so fine.  We moved here
from the West-end for the children's sake."

"You have children?"

"Oh!" she rolled her eyes again.  "Four, Mr. Warrener.  My eldest boy
is getting quite big--people tell me they wouldn't believe he was mine
at all, but it makes me feel quite old sometimes, to look at him.  I
think it's cruel of children to grow up, don't you?"

He stifled a sad assent.  "Sometimes they grow up still more charming,"
he said.

"Oh, now, that's very sweet of you!  Now really that's very pretty.
But I mean to say I think it's cruel to us when they shoot up so fast.
You're not married yourself yet, eh?"

"No, I hate asking favours."

"What a modest way of putting it!  But you should.  A good wife would
be the making of you, and give you something to think about.  Don't you
know that?"

"I'm sure of it.  A man can have no greater blessing than a good
wife--excepting none," he concluded mentally.  "Shall I be allowed to
see them before I go?"

"The children?  Would you like to?  Dudley is out, but the others are
just going to have tea in the next room.  My husband isn't back from
the city yet, of course.  Oh, the city!  What a hold it does get on you
men.  As if it really mattered whether you made an extra thousand
pounds one month or not!"  A trayful of crockery rattled, and the
footsteps of the little servant thudded through the passage.

"You're quite right," said Conrad.  "What does it matter, when one
comes to think of it?"

"Not but what Herbert's the best of boys," she added.  "If it weren't
that----"  She hesitated, she endeavoured to look confused.  "The fact
is, he's--he's jealous, he's a very jealous man.  Not that he has any
reason to be--not exactly.  Of course I'm awfully fond of him; he's a
dear old silly!  But I mean to say I can't help it when men want to
talk to me--now can I?  If I get half-a-dozen men round me, even though
we're only talking about the simplest thing, he doesn't like it.  Of
course it makes it awfully awkward for me socially."

"It must," responded Conrad; "yes, I can understand that."

"I tell him he should have married a different woman."  She giggled.

"Ah, but how unreasonable of you!" he said.  "Then--if they won't mind
being disturbed--I am really to see your children?"

"Oh, they won't mind at all, but I'm afraid you'll find them very
untidy--they've just been having high jinks."

She led him to them presently, and slammed the door behind her.  It
shook his thoughts to the clergyman's description of Mrs. Page.
Heredity again, perhaps.  Two girls of about twelve or fourteen years
of age and a boy in a pinafore were sitting at a table.  At their
mother and the visitor's entrance, they all took their hands off the
cloth and stared.

"And so this is the family?" cried Conrad, trying to sound
enthusiastic.  "How do you do?  And will you say 'how do you do' to me,
my little man?"

Three limp hands flopped to him in turn, and he stood contemplating the
group, while the lady cooed silly questions to them, and elicited dull,
constrained replies.  They were not attractive children; they were
indeed singularly uninteresting children--even for other people's,
whose virtues seldom strike us vividly.  To Conrad, who failed to allow
sufficiently for their shyness, they appeared stupidity personified.
"Yes," and "No," they answered; and their eyes were round, and their
mouths ajar.  Like all children, from the lower to the middle classes
inclusive, they proclaimed instantaneously the social stratum of their
parents.  With a monosyllable a child will do this.  It is by no means
impossible for a man to exchange remarks with a girl from a show-room,
and at the end of five minutes to be still uncertain to what class she
belongs.  But when the intrusive little cub in the sailor suit romps up
to her, he betrays the listless beauty's entourage with the first
slovenly words he drops.

"Have your cousins any children, Mr. Warrener?"

"Yes," he said, "oh yes, they have three or four each."  He was
speculating what individuality lay concealed behind the vacant fronts.
Their mother had been no older than the eldest when he was sick with
romance for her--oh, positively "romance," although its expression had
been ludicrous in that period.  Was it possible that these meaningless
little girls also had precocity and sweethearts?  Appalling
thought--had Mary been so unpleasant?  Had he idealised a dirty mouth?

"I should like to see them.  I wish Nina and--er--'Gina would come over
one morning to lunch."  Her tone was painfully eager.  "Or I might look
them up.  Do you know their 'days'?"

"No," he murmured, "I can't say I do.  I----"

"Perhaps they'll come with you next time?"

"I hope you'll see them sooner; it's more than likely I go back to
Paris in a day or two--I only left a few weeks ago.  I may remain there
through the year."

"Oh, really?" she exclaimed.  "Then you have no business in London?
Mary," she broke off impatiently, "what is it?  What is Ferdie
fidgeting about for--what does he want?"

"Jam, ma," said the plainer of the girls in a whisper.

"What do you say?  Do speak up, dear."

"Jam, ma," repeated her daughter; "he wants jam on the first piece."

"Well, give him it then.  Only this once, now, darling.  You shouldn't
tease him so, Mary--remember he's a very little boy."

Mary _minor_ leant towards him, and Conrad thought she muttered "Little
pig!"

"Then you have nothing to do in London?" resumed the lady, as he
followed her from the room.

"Quite all that I hoped to do in London I have done this afternoon," he
smiled.  "As a matter of fact, I don't suppose I shall call on anybody
else before I leave."  But he saw clearly that she wanted to know the
women who were "high up," and he was self-reproachful.  Distressed, he
wished that he had made no reference to them in his letter.

"Sha'n't you even go to see your cousins?" she persisted.  "But you say
you're not sure if they're in town?  If they are, any day would suit
me.  If they would drop me a line----"

"No," he said, "I'm not sure; I haven't heard from either of them since
they left Sweetbay."  He was at the point of mentioning Nina's address;
he reminded himself that he had a duty to Nina too.

Yet a moment later he succumbed.  The remembrance of what he had
written, even civility itself, prevented his parrying so keen an aim as
Mrs. Barchester-Bailey's.  He mentioned the address, and he said how
pretty the plain children were, and regretted that her husband was not
in.  He sat smiling at boredom for five minutes longer, and when he
escaped at last he had the reward of knowing that she thought he
admired her very much.  He had owed her that.

As he felt the air in his lungs he thanked heaven.  Well, he would
explain the occurrence to Nina, who would consider him an idiot, and
tell her to expect a speedy visit.  The rest lay with the visitor
herself--with her powers to please.  For his own part, never, never did
he want to see her again.  He walked fast, her image still pursuing
him.  What an exhausting woman!

He dined at his club and wondered if it would be bad taste for so new a
member to make a complaint to the committee.  Afterwards he drifted
into a music-hall, where quailing brutes who had been created to
scamper on four legs were distorted to maintain a smirking brute who
was unworthy to walk on two.  The animals' sufferings diverted the
audience vastly, and the applause sickened Conrad more than the club
dinner.

And though his disappointment at Tooting may sound a very trivial
matter, it continued to depress him.  He was sad, not because one woman
was different from what he had hoped to find her, but because the
difference in the one woman typified so much that seemed pathetic to
him in life.  And to sneer at him as a sentimentalist absorbed by
opal-tinted sorrows blown of indolence, would not be conclusive.  It
is, of course, natural that those of us who have to struggle should set
up the Man of Leisure as a figure to be pelted with precepts--indeed,
we pelt so hard at the silver spoon in his mouth that between the shies
we might well reflect that Ethics is often an _alias_ of Envy--but with
Conrad the leisure was quite recent and the sentiment had ached for
years.  In his case wealth had not formed a temperament, wealth had
simply freed it.

Let us accept him as he was.  My business is to present, not to defend.
Were tales tellable only when the "hero" fulfilled both definitions of
the word, reviewers would have less to do.  If I could draw, a
frontispiece should enlist your sympathies for him: "Conrad and the
Coquette;" for that is Youth--a laughing jilt showing us her heels, and
tempting over her dimpled shoulder as she flies.

This is where you begin to think me insufferably dull.  I see your fair
brow clouding, I can see your beautiful lips shaping to say, "Oh,
bother!"  Be patient with me; we have arrived at a brief interval in
which nothing particular happened.  It is true that soon afterwards
Conrad went to Monte Carlo, but details would not interest you in the
least.  Be gracious to me; yield to the book another finger-tip--I feel
it slipping.  Say, "Poor drivel as it is, a man has written it in the
hope of pleasing me."  For he has indeed.  On many a fine morning I
have plodded when I would rather have sunned myself where the band
played; on many an evening I have wound my feet round the legs of the
table and budged not, when the next room and a new novel--paid for and
unopened--wooed me as with a siren song.  And all to win a smile from
You.

I have thought of you so often, and wanted to know you; you don't
realise how I have longed to meet you--to listen to you, to have you
lift the veil that hides your mind from me.  Sometimes in a crowd I
have fancied I caught a glimpse of you; I can't explain--the poise of
the head, a look in the eyes, there was something that hinted it was
You.  And in a whirlwind of an instant it almost seemed that you would
recognise me; but you said no word--you passed, a secret from me still.
To yourself where you are sitting you are just a charming woman, with
"a local habitation and a name;" but to me you are not Miss or Madam,
not M. or N., you are a Power, and I have sought you by a name you have
not heard--you are my Public.

And O my Lady, I am speaking to you!  I feel your presence in my
senses, though you are far away, and I can't hear your answer.  I do
wrong to speak like this; I may be arraigned for speaking; I have
broken laws for the honour of addressing you--among all the men who
have worshipped you, has one done more?--and I will never offend again.
But in this breathless minute while I dare, I would say: "Remember that
overleaf, and in every line unto the end I shall be picturing _you_,
working for you, trembling lest _you_ frown."  Unto the End.  Forgive
me.  I have sinned, but I exult--it is as if I had touched your hand
across the page.



CHAPTER VII

Conrad drifted from the Riviera with the rest, and lingered through
June in Paris; not on the left bank this time--in the Paris of the
Boulevards and the Bois, where he was a world away from the quarter
where he had run to clasp the illusions of his youth, and stayed to
mourn them.  Although he was finding life pleasant, there were moments
when he looked at the bridges, and felt wistful; but he never crossed
one--he knew now that he could not walk over the Pont Neuf into the
Past.

Nor was it with any definite purpose that he returned to London.
Amusement, agreeable society had lulled that desire to revisit old
scenes.  And his experiments had been such failures: the endeavour to
recapture his fervour as an art-student; the ludicrous attempt to
revive in cynical adults the buoyant comradery of childhood; the
interest in the little girl whom time had turned into the least
interesting of women--it was with a mental blush that he recalled these
follies.  If he thought no less tenderly of his youth, he thought of it
less often; if he was still liable to a sense of bereavement, he was
now idling as conventionally as any other man of his class.

He arrived in London while the sun shone, and told the cabman to drive
to the Carlton, where some Americans whom he liked in Monte Carlo had
talked of staying.  After he had made himself presentable, he descended
to the palm court, and ordered tea, since tea was in evidence, and
glanced round the groups that sipped and chatted.  His Americans were
not there--perhaps they had been faithful to the American hotel.
By-and-by he inquired about them, and learnt that they were unknown.
He was hipped, for they had been companionable, and one of the women
was very pretty.  He felt rather "out of it" among the dawdling groups.

During dinner he asked himself to what theatre he should go.  He
remembered reading recently that a farcical comedy had scored a great
success, and decided to go to see that.  One of his oddities was a
reluctance to inconvenience people by passing in front of them in a
theatre after the curtain had risen, so he didn't dally at the table.
The piece began at a quarter past eight.  He had a cup of coffee, and a
red Grand Marnier, and slid into a hansom.  There would be just time to
smoke a cigarette comfortably during the drive.

Hansoms darted everywhere in the pale evening--a man and a friend, a
man and a girl, a man going to meet a girl.  From Pall Mall the line of
liveries rolled up endlessly, the broughams and landaus flashing
glimpses of coiffures, and jewelled ears, and flowers.  Where a block
occurred in the traffic, a young man, who had paused on the curb, in a
dress-suit that looked rather tight for him, bowed delightedly to the
occupants of a victoria, and they beamed in response.  The encounter
was gratifying on both sides, for the young man had not often occasion
to put on a dress-suit, and his acquaintances had not long acquired a
carriage.  Conrad, who missed the humour of the incident, was again
sensible of loneliness in an atmosphere where everybody seemed to know
someone but himself.  But as he passed a barrow at the corner of a side
street he appreciated the humour of a costermonger shouting, "Liedy, I
can sell you some o' the finest cherries that was ever brought into
this country!"

When he entered the house the overture was being played, and as he
squeezed towards his chair a faint hope rose of discerning his Monte
Carlo companions among the audience.  He sat down, between a lady with
a moustache and a youth who was trying to cultivate one, and scanned
the profiles that were visible, but there was none he recognised.

The attendants were still busy; in his velvet fauteuil he watched the
arrivals almost as eagerly as the Poor had watched them on the
pavement.  What white backs the women had when they slipped them out of
their cloaks! he wondered if it was safe for them to lean against the
seats.  With what geometrical perfection the hair margined the napes of
their slender necks! how did they do it?

The rising excitement of the overture warned him that it was about to
bang to an end.  His programme had fallen to the floor.  He stooped for
it with the idea of looking at the cast before the lights were lowered.

At this moment the lady in the stall next to him took out her
handkerchief.



CHAPTER VIII

As she did so the curtain went up, and showed a divided scene.  On the
right, the stage represented the office of a matrimonial agent; on the
left, the office of an agent who obtained "reliable evidence for
divorce."  But Conrad was not attending.  The two careers were followed
by the same person under different names--his introductions in the
first capacity led to business in the second.  He explained this soon
after he bustled on, and the audience laughed.  But Conrad did not
hear.  The lady still held her handkerchief, a scrap of lawn and lace
that was scented with chypre--and he had been heaved to Rouen and was
seventeen years old there, by the side of The Woman We Never Forget.

For in the life of every man, whether he will own it or not, there is
at least one unmentioned woman whom he never permanently forgets while
he keeps his faculties.  She may not be the best, or the prettiest, or
even the nicest woman he has loved--not her virtues, but his madness,
graved so deep--and he will take the impression out sometimes when he
has lost his figure and his hair, and when a boy who is storing
experiences on his own account calls him "the governor."  No, her
qualities have as little to do with the matter as the date on her birth
certificate.  A woman isn't her age, or herself; she is what she makes
us feel--like art, and nature, like a musical phrase, or a line of
words, like everything of suggestion and mystery.  The woman her
husband hates and her lover adores, is an equally vivid personality to
both men.  That to herself she is vividly a third character makes no
difference to the view of either of them.

To say that on the few occasions Conrad had smelt chypre during the
last twenty years it had never failed to "remind" him of Mrs.
Adaile--to say this would be to imply that he yielded himself leisurely
to reverie, and it would sound truer than the truth.  But the fact is
that there was nothing voluntary at all in what occurred.  It was a
physical swirl that the smell always caused him, and it left him
vibrant for a few seconds with the very craving, the very sickness of
the time when he had worshipped her.  He often thought of her, even
strummed a song she used to sing, but in such moments as these he was
less conscious of thinking than of feeling.  Normally he looked back at
her, with the reflections of a man; when he smelt chypre he was near
her again, with the tremors of a boy.

Life is less consistent than fiction, even than tolerably bad fiction.
"What perfume do you use?" wrote Maupassant to a correspondent whom he
had not seen, but who had made him curious.  Her answer--if it hadn't
been "none"--would have meant a thousand times more to him than it
would mean to the man in the crowd, but it might very easily have
misled him too.  In fiction, Conrad was dimly aware, Mrs. Adaile and
chypre would never have been associated; it wasn't faint enough, fresh
enough, it wasn't matutinal enough for Mrs. Adaile; to one who had not
seen her it could never be evocative.  Yet--perhaps it had been a
passing fancy, even an experiment--in some days that were immortal to
him chypre had been her scent.

The piece became funny by-and-by, and he began to listen to it, but
though the sensations wakened by the lady's handkerchief subsided, the
memories did no more than doze.  Between the acts, and when he left the
theatre, they beset him with full force.  As he strolled to the club,
he surrendered to them.  He had recalled Mrs. Adaile so often, so often
re-enacted scenes with her, and mocked himself that he had not played
them differently, that the episode seemed to him by no means so remote
as it was; it seemed much closer than many episodes that had happened
since.  It was with a shock in the reading-room that he counted the
years.  Was it possible?  Good heavens! how time flew.  It indicates
the fervour of his mood to say that when he made this reflection it had
to him a sense of novelty.

Then she must be--Again "Good heavens!"  That girl!--for she had been
but a girl, although she was married and he had felt himself a child
beside her.  He remembered the afternoon when she came to the hotel and
he told his people that "the most beautiful woman he had ever seen" had
just arrived.  Well, she figured still as one of the most beautiful
women he had ever seen.  But was that twenty years ago?

What a babe he had been!  And he used to believe himself sapient for
his age....  Well, perhaps in some things!  How stupid he must have
seemed to her for a boy of seventeen!  Yet she used to confide in him
on the terrace.  He could not have seemed so stupid to her after all?
... Innocent.

That night on the terrace--always the terrace, it appeared!--when she
let him hold her hand, and bent her face to him, saying, "A mosquito
has bitten me on the cheek--look."  As if it were yesterday he could
remember how his heart pounded, and the fatuous words he muttered in
his tight throat.  He wished forcefully now that he had had the
courage!  What atom of difference would it make to-day?  Yet he did
wish that he had had the courage.  O imbecile! ... But how exquisite it
all was; if it could only come over again!

There were no more than two men besides himself in the room; one of
them was reading, and the other slept.  The silence was absolute until
a page sped in to bawl the name of a member who wasn't there, and sped
forth to bawl for him somewhere else.  The man who had slept said
"damn" very softly, and turned to sleep on the other side.

Conrad lay back in the deep chair, and let fancy reign.  There were
many gaps, but there were moments that made the calendar unreal.  He
remembered intimately things that she had said to him--oddly enough,
more of the things that he had said to her.  He stared at his
whisky-and-potash, and mentally relived the story.  And this is the
story he relived:--



CHAPTER IX

The boy came to the French windows paint-smeared and tired.  He had
been to Bonsecours, where the monument of Jeanne D'Arc is now, and
tried to make a study of the landscape from the Cemetery.  On the
boat--they had no dream of electric trams then--the immensity of his
failure had filled him with alarm.  A tall, slight woman was standing
in the salon, with her back to him.  She wore a pale coloured
travelling coat, and a hat with a wing in it.  As his step sounded on
the terrace she turned, and he forgot the landscape.  He passed
awkwardly, and was troubled afterwards by the thought that he should
have bowed.

He said to his mother: "The most beautiful woman you've ever seen is
downstairs; I wonder if she means to stay."

"She _is_ staying," answered his mother.  "She's Grice Adaile's
wife--the man who made that speech in the House the other day.  Well,
is Bonsecours worth going to?"

"Rather!" he said.  He was still thinking of the woman's delicate,
wistful face.

He thought of it while he dressed for dinner.  He had thought of
nothing latterly but that he would be studying art in Paris soon, had
wished for nothing but to escape before his parents could withdraw
their consent.  All at once he would have regretted to learn that he
was leaving suddenly.

At table she was opposite him; she sat next to Miss McGuire.  He
perceived that they were friends and was dismayed, for Miss McGuire
considered he had been impertinent to her and no longer spoke to him.
He recognised blankly that the beautiful woman would be told he was a
cub.

If he had done wrong his punishment had overtaken him: Mrs. Adaile
vouchsafed no word to him for days.  Her disapproval humbled him so
much that he used to leave the salon when she was laughing with his
mother and the rest.  He hoped she would observe he was humiliated, and
be stirred with pity; it seemed to him he must awaken her respect by
the course he was adopting.  Incongruously there was an element of
unacknowledged joy in his distress; it was not without its exultation,
to think that Mrs. Adaile was being heartless to him--to feel that she
was making him suffer.

But it was with thanksgiving he heard that Miss McGuire had said she
wished he would apologise; she had forbidden him to address her.  He
followed her from the dining-room, and begged her pardon in the hall.
She replied: "You're a nice boy really; I'm so glad you've said you're
sorry."  He wanted to tell her that he appreciated her kindness, but he
could only falter, and grip her hand.  It discomfited him to know that
he was blushing.

In the afternoon he was sitting on the terrace, with a sketching-block
on his knees, and Mrs. Adaile came out through the windows.  She
sauntered to and fro.  He couldn't lift his eyelids when she
approached, but each time he listened, tense with the frou-frou of her
skirt.  All his consciousness was strung to the question whether she
would stop.

"May I look?" she said.

The sensation was in his chest--he felt as if his chest had gone.  She
stood there, amused by his symptoms, for two or three minutes, and
moved away.  He was incredibly excited, boundlessly happy until he
began to think of the better answers he might have made.  Visions of
the evening and the morrow dazzled him; when he went inside it was not
the same hotel to him, they were not the same rooms.  It does not take
a woman six days to create a world for any man.

By the end of the week he talked to her often and freely.  At the end
of a fortnight:

"I used to be afraid you'd never say anything at all to me," he owned.

"I thought you weren't very nice," she said.

"Miss McGuire told you things about me?"

"She told me as soon as you apologised to her, too.  I was pleased you
did that, even if you weren't in the wrong."

"Wouldn't you ever have taken any notice of me if I hadn't?"

"I did notice you," she smiled.

"Did you?  But 'ever spoken to me,' I mean?"

"I don't know.  We shouldn't have been such good friends as we are.
I've never liked any boy as I like you, Con."

He ached to tell her how infinitely grateful he felt, but he could not
find a word.  They walked up and down together.  Perhaps she
understood.  On a sudden he thought how cruel it was that the end would
come when he went to Paris, or when she went to England.  In that
moment instinct taught the lad as remorselessly as experience teaches
man.  He _knew_ their friendship was the merest incident to her, and
the hurtfulness of the knowledge squeezed his throat.

"If we meet again one day, you'll give me a stiff little bow and pass
by," he blurted.

"Con!" she murmured.  "Why, I've become chummier here with you in a
little while than I am with people I've known at home for years."

Still instinct was heavy in the boy.

He always spent the morning out of doors with his brushes; soon he
found himself restless during the morning, impatient to return to the
hotel.  And he did not know he was in love with her.  It did not occur
to him as possible he could be in love with her.  He had absolutely no
suspicion.

It was still more extraordinary because he had so often thought he was
in love, and gloried in being so; when we are very young, half the
pleasure of being miserable about a girl consists of exciting comment,
and pretending to be offended by it.  Yet no idea of falling in love
with Mrs. Adaile had crossed his mind.  Perhaps it was because she was
married.  Perhaps it was because he was for the first time really in
love.

Through most of the stages the boy went without an inkling of his
complaint.  One day his father said to him, "You've caught it very
badly, Con," and laughed a warning.  The boy was startled.  He went
away bewildered, and asked himself if it was true.  When Mrs. Adaile
sat with him on the terrace that night he was self-conscious and husky.
For once her presence was scarcely welcome.  It rather frightened him,
though he would have died sooner than admit the shameful word to
himself.

Afterwards he did not know how it came to pass, but she used to confide
to him that her husband wasn't very kind to her.  He was in London, and
she sighed when she referred to going home.  Her sighs were very
plaintive, and her self-pity was sincere, but it was nothing to the
pity that overwhelmed the boy.

"People don't guess how unhappy I am," she said to him one evening.

"I wish I were a woman," he muttered; "I can never tell you how sorry I
am for you, and if I were a woman I could put my arms round you, and
you'd know."

It was a beautiful thing to say, but he said it badly, because he felt
it too much to make it effective.  No woman should deride a boy's love.
It is ludicrous, but it is ludicrous only because it is so genuine.  He
has not learnt yet to trick the truth out.  He does not know yet that
before one could make converts to the very truths of God they had to be
presented with art.

"Have you any idea when you'll go?" she inquired.  He was to travel
with a friend, who was visiting in England.

"I may get a letter any day," he answered.

"Are you in a hurry?"

"No."

"I thought you were?"

He was dumb.

"I've been quite loyal to you--I haven't said a word of what I think to
your people when they've talked of you."

"I knew you wouldn't.  It only needs a word to make them back out."

"I wouldn't let you go if _I_ were your mother.  Supposing I did spoil
it all for you?  How you'd hate me!"

"No, I shouldn't," he said.

"Why?  Have you changed your mind, then--don't you want to go after
all?"

"I shouldn't hate you, because I couldn't hate you whatever you did,"
he explained, haltingly.  "Yes, of course I want to go, but--but I
don't want to go yet."

They sat down, and there was a pause.  In the pause, his consciousness
of her presence grew queerly acute, almost painful.

"What's the scent you've got on?" he asked, unsteadily.

"Chypre," she said; "do you like it?"

She played with a ring she wore, and showed it to him.  He touched the
ring--and in a tumult of the spirit was holding her hand.  They sat
silent again.  He knew that he ought to say something, that she was
waiting for him to say something, that his long silence was
ridiculous--and he could think of nothing to say.  He was at once
tremulous with joy and faint with fear--the fear that she would
withdraw her hand before his effort had wrenched out words.

She withdrew it.  He gazed before him blankly.  When he was a man, and
recalled that evening, he wondered whether the atmosphere had seemed so
much a part of his emotions at the time as it did in looking back.  He
wondered whether, in his heartthrobs and his sickness, he had been
acutely conscious of the black shrubs in the moonlight, of all the soft
sounds and odours that stole up on the air.  He thought not.  Yet long
after her features, which he tried to vitalise, were hazy to him, he
could still see clearly the position that the two chairs had occupied,
could have sketched the terrace almost with the accuracy of a plan, and
felt the night air of Rouen in his throat.

Presently she said:

"The head-waiter thinks some people who came from Italy must have
brought the mosquitoes in their luggage."

"Oh?" said the boy.

"I believe this is a mosquito bite on my cheek," she added.  "Look!"

She turned her cheek, and leant forward.  He leant forward too.  Her
face had never been so close to him, his fingers craved its
softness--he only realised that, with courage, he might touch it with a
finger.  And the courage was not there.

"My hand is cold," he said, hoarsely.  And afterwards, too, he used to
wonder whether he had been excusing his cowardice to himself, or to her.

And yet it was with no abashment that he tramped his bedroom later.  It
was with an exaltation that panted for vast solitudes.  The whirl of
the unexpected was in his being.  The marvel of her hand, the marvel
that she had let him hold her hand, uplifted him beyond belief.  And
through all the turbulence of his pulses and his mind there was not a
carnal thought, not an instant's base imagining.  He adored her without
desire, without reflection, without asking what he adored.

When he was alone with her once more during some minutes he tried,
trembling, to examine the ring again.

"No," she said gently; "it's wrong."

And in the next few days nothing happened, one day was like another.

Then the date of his departure was settled.  He looked for her as soon
as he read the news, sought her dismayed because he was to go, and
twice unhappy because on his last evening she would be out.  She was
shopping, and he met her at the corner of la Rue Thiers, where the
horlogerie is.

"I'm going," he said; "and my chum can't stay here!"

"Is it fixed?"  Her eyes were startled.  He had never known her eyes
were quite so blue.

"Yes, he's travelling at night, and won't break the journey.  I'm to be
at the station."

At six in the morning he was to be at the station--the next morning but
one.  The train reaches Rouen at an earlier hour now, but the service
was a tidal one twenty years ago.  When she had scanned the letter
neither of them spoke for--it seemed a long time to him.  They had
crossed the road into the Solférino Garden, and he stood beside her
with his hands thrust in his jacket pockets, staring at the little lake.

"So we shall soon be saying 'good-bye,'" she said at last.

He nodded miserably.  "To-morrow evening about nine o'clock," he said.

"Why so early?"

"Have you forgotten you're going to a dance with Miss McGuire to-morrow
night?  _I_ didn't forget; I thought of it directly I saw the date.
What time shall you begin to dress?"

"You don't know me very well, Con, after all," she murmured.

His heart leapt; he pretended not to understand what she meant.

"Don't I?" he asked; "why not?"

"How could you think I'd go out on your last night here?" she answered.

"You won't go? ... Oh, Mrs. Adaile!"

And as they moved away under the horse-chestnut blossom, it was less
dreadful to him that he was going to leave her.

Why did she do it?  It could not have been to test her power over him;
it could not have been to wound him wantonly.  Who shall say why she
did it!  A woman is often unable to define her motive to herself.  Two
men came into the hotel after dinner--acquaintances both--and she
became engrossed by them, and sent up little peals of laughter, and
seemed to like their admiration, which was presumptuously barefaced.
He sat tongue-tied in a corner, unwittingly providing equal
entertainment for other women in the room.  Though she knew he was
suffering, she threw no glance to him.  And that evening the boy
entered on another stage--the stage of jealousy.

The fires of jealousy are always horrible, and there is none they
ravage more fiercely than the lad whose torture the world finds comic.
There is none, because no man, nor woman, nor young girl in such a
pass, is so totally defenceless as a lad; to none other than a lad,
when his love is outraged, does nature forbid even the resource of
simulated dignity.  His torments are intensified by the knowledge of
his ineptitude.  Always present is the thought that he ought to adopt
an attitude which he is too raw to discover, and he is prostrated in
perceiving that beside his glib rival he looks ridiculous and a lout.

After a clock had struck many times, "She makes herself too cheap,"
Mrs. Van Buren said _sotto voce_, and Madame de Lavardens assented by a
grimace.  The boy overheard, and got up, and wandered away.  A new
misery tightened his throat, and burned behind his eyeballs.  She had
been disdained! his world rocked.  He was degraded, vicariously--for
her sake, degraded that his Ideal should afford these people the
opportunity to disparage her.  Resentment beat in him; he longed to
vindicate, to lay down his life for her--and knew himself a cipher, and
that the tempest in his soul would be thought absurd.  Disdained!  It
was paramount, bitterest.  The humiliation of neglect dwindled; all his
pain, all his consciousness was the hurricane of humiliation that he
felt for _her_.

"If you weren't so young I should think you were trying to insult me,
Conrad.  Please don't speak to me any more," she said next morning,
when he had made tactless, seventeen-year-old reproaches to her.

Her voice and gaze were cold, as if he were a stranger.  She rose and
left him.  The grace of the slender figure had no mercy in it as he
watched.  The sun was streaming, and the birds chirped loud, and he
thought his heart was broken as he watched.  He sat looking the way
that she had gone for long after the terrace was bare.  And heavy hours
passed emptily, and he was still bereft.  And it was his last day here.

Half of it was lost when wretchedness waylaid her at a door.  "I'm
sorry," he gulped.  She bent her head, and moved by him without
speaking.  In the group about the tea-table she was no gentler.  The
glare of sunshine mellowed.  His father claimed him, and talked with
unusual earnestness of ambition and of life; his mother wrapt his arm
about her waist, and was pathetic and confident by turn.  In the
chatter of the salon he heard that Mrs. Adaile was going to the dance.
From herself he had still no word or look.  The flush in the sky faded.
A relentless star peered forth.  And it was his last day here.

She went.  Until the final minutes he could not feel that she would go,
could not believe it until he saw her in the triumphant cruelty of her
ball gown with the lilies at her dazzling breast--saw her giddily with
the long gloves and the fan in her hands.

The room was full of animation, of movement.  The boy sat mute, his
gaze fastened on her face.  The fiacre grated to the curb.  Miss
McGuire asked her if she was ready.  "Yes, I'm ready."  Colonel Van
Buren put the cape about her shoulders.  She turned carelessly, her
hand outstretched: "Well, I'll say 'good-bye,' Con; you've all my good
wishes."  "Good-bye, Mrs. Adaile," he faltered.  His eyes implored her,
but her touch was fleeting.  The fiacre rattled--she had gone.

And upon the hotel fell a profound and deathly silence.  He heard
nothing.  Damp he was, and blind.

He had seen her for the last time.  He kept saying it.  It seemed
unreal--an impossible thing--though the harrowing of it was so actual.
His mind wouldn't seize it, even while the weight of it was grinding
his youth.

For the last time!  Outside, he bit hard upon his nether lip, to check
its silly quivering.  A myriad stars glittered over Rouen now; a breeze
was blowing across the river.  There was a roll of wheels approaching.
Foolish as he knew the hope to be, he waited strained till they rolled
past.  At the piano Miss Digby-Smith was playing Ascher's "Alice."  His
mother joined him, and sat there with him--and scarcely spoke.  She
took his hand.  He thought she didn't guess.

"It's late, Con," she said at last.  "Hadn't you better go to bed?"

"I'm not tired," said the boy.

"You'll come to my room as soon as you're dressed in the morning?"

"You won't be able to go to sleep again."

"I want you to.  Your father's going to the station with you, do you
know?"

"Yes, he told me ... What time"--the indifference of his tone!--"what
time do you think Miss McGuire and--er--Mrs. Adaile will be back?"

"Not for hours yet," she said; "I daresay it will be three or four
o'clock."  She looked away from him.  He thought she didn't guess!

Presently the lights were turned out.  People said "good-night," and
bade him "good-bye."  But for very shame he would have sat alone in the
salon till it was time for him to start--sat there just to see the
woman pass through the hall.

In his bed he listened--he lay in the darkness listening, holding his
breath.  He wanted to hear her come home; to hear her would be
something.  The wind was rising, and alternately it tricked and
terrorised him; he trembled lest a gust should drown the faint stir of
her return.  It was a long, long while that he had listened.  Sleep
pressed upon his eyelids, but he would not yield.  Once it was
mastering him, and he twitched to wide wakefulness in the guilty fear
that he had missed her.

The blustering wind, and the clock of St. Ouen made the only sounds.

He saw the door opening with the dim notion that he was being called
too soon.  For a mere vague moment, which seemed dishonour to him in
the next, he beheld without realising her.  He raised himself slowly on
his elbows, and it thrilled through him that she was moving to his side.

"I've come to say 'good-bye' to you, Con."

"Mrs. Adaile!"  The name was all that he could whisper.  "Oh, Mrs.
Adaile!"

"I've been horrid to you.  Haven't I?"

"No, no," he said strenuously, "it was I; I want to beg your pardon.
Forgive me!  Oh, you do forgive me, don't you?  It's been awful."

Her hands were swift and live; he held them fast.  The ghostliness of
daybreak was in the room.  In the pallor she sat at the edge of the
bed, the ball gown wan, and the faded lilies drooping at her breast.
Being so young, he was shy that his hair was on end and the collar of
his nightshirt crumpled.

"I'm sorry," she said; "I've been sorry all the night."

Her penitence started his tears, and blinking wouldn't keep them back.
He wanted to smear them away, but he didn't want to let go her hands.
He turned his head.  He was ashamed--but less ashamed than he would
have expected--that she should see him blub.

"Don't!" she said, and he had never heard that note before.  "You'll
make me hate myself."

"I love you," he exclaimed, "I love you."

"Sh!  You mustn't say that, Con," she murmured.

"I love you, I love you," cried the boy.

"I know," she said, "I know you do."

And, wonderfully, there was nothing wonderful to his mind that he had
owned it to her.  At the instant there was nothing but perfect peace.

"You've made me so happy," he breathed.

Afterwards that sounded to her a little funny, but as she heard him say
it she thought it only strange and beautiful.  Something tenderer than
liking, something graver came into her gaze as she looked down at him.

"I've not been a nice woman to you, Con," she said.  "One day you'll
think so."

"I shall never think so," he vowed, "never.  I deserved you should
punish me."

But that wasn't what she had meant.  "You will think so."  She nodded.
"Only you won't mind then, because you'll laugh at it all."

"You're cruel," he choked.  "Because I'm not a man you think I can't
love you really.  No man could love you better than I do.  If I could
only tell you what I feel!  I'd die for you, I'd do anything for you.
Oh, Mrs. Adaile, I shall never see you any more--for God's sake let me
kiss you once!"

Quick as her compassion was, the misgiving of a boy was quicker--in the
dizzy second that he saw her bending to him he wondered how he ought to
hold her.  Then her bosom fell upon his breathlessness, and he went to
Heaven against her lips.

"I must go," she said, freeing herself.

"Oh, don't," he begged, "not yet."

"I must; I oughtn't to have come up."

"What shall I do?" he groaned.  "Oh, it's awful to be leaving you!"

"I wish I hadn't made you fond of me," she sighed.

"You didn't; you couldn't help it.  But what shall I do?  My life's no
good to me; I shall be thinking of you, and longing for you when you've
forgotten all about me."

She smoothed the ruffled hair.

"Think of me sometimes when you've got over it," she said; "think of me
when you're going to do anything that isn't worthy of you now."

"I shall be true to you as long as I live," said the boy,
understanding.  "Mrs. Adaile----"

It was odd to her ear that he called her that a moment after she had
been in his arms.  "What?" she asked.

"When you go down to breakfast, _I_ shall be in Paris."

"Yes," she said.

"Shall you read the papers by the window this morning?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Yes--I should be able to know where you were."

"I will then."

"I shall be imagining you all the time....  What shall you do this
evening?"

"Reproach myself," she said.

"No, you mustn't; what for?  Will you think of me?"

"Yes.  After dinner I'll go on the terrace, Con, and I'll sit there
alone, wondering what you're doing, and thinking of--just now.
And--well, perhaps I'll say a little prayer for you.  I _must_ go now.
Say 'good-bye' to me."

"I can't," he gasped, "I can't."

"Con, I must."

"Give me something," he stammered; "give me something you've got on."

She broke off a handful of the flowers they had crushed, and, stooping,
took his strained face between her palms, and kissed him twice--once on
the lips, and, by impulse, on the brow.  Then she opened the door
cautiously.  She smiled back at him, and stole away into the passage.
And in the loneliness she left behind her, the boy lay kissing her
lilies, and sobbing with his great despair.



CHAPTER X

Across twenty years a man made an obeisance to a woman for risking what
she had risked that she might comfort a boy's pain.  Conrad got up from
the club chair and crossed over to the bookcase.  He pulled out the
Post Office Directory--and it sprawled open on the top shelf.  Would he
find the name under "A?" ... "Grice Ewart Adaile, M.P., 62 Norfolk
Street, Park Lane."  And she?  Was she alive? could she be there, so
close to him as that?

He mourned to think how different she must be to-day.  The woman had
changed, and the boy had changed, and though he didn't know it, the
town had changed the most.  The ubiquitous rush and whir of electric
trams, the ceaseless clangour of their bells beating through the brain,
had turned peace into a pandemonium.  Rouen had acquired all the noise
of New York without any of its gaiety.  Telegraph wires and telephone
wires spanned the tops of the churches, and a mesh-work of iron ropes
obscured the sky.

He strolled to Norfolk Street the next afternoon.  There was a half
hope in his mind of finding a carriage at the door waiting to take the
lady for her drive.  If Mrs. Adaile came out--Oh, if Mrs. Adaile came
out he would be well repaid; it would be exciting to recognise her,
although she wouldn't recognise him!

But she did not come out.  The door was shut fast, and no familiar face
happened to gaze pensively over the window boxes.  He was disappointed.
In the evening he went to another theatre.  The hero of the comedy was
supposed to be a man of his own age, and talked about himself as if he
were a centenarian.  He said he was thirty-seven and had "lived his
life," and he called the heroine "Child."  His hair was silvered at the
temples, and he depressed Conrad exceedingly.

The situation of Norfolk Street was so convenient, however, that Conrad
took to passing through it rather often.  And though he was old enough
to know better, he certainly looked young enough to be the hero's son.
One day he found the windows of No. 62 blank behind shutters.  So the
family had left town!  He sauntered on, and hesitated, and went back.
Here was an opportunity to ascertain what he wanted to know.  He rang
the bell, and asked a solemn functionary when Mrs. Adaile was expected
home.

"I can't say, sir," said the man; "Mrs. Adaile is on the Continent."

"Oh," said Conrad, with a heart-prank.  She did live!  He
vacillated--and obeyed a second impulse; "Can you give me Mrs. Adaile's
address?"

The solemn person noted the pearl in the stranger's tie, the silk
lining of the coat he unbuttoned, and the direction in which his hand
was travelling.  Mrs. Adaile was in Ostend.  "Thenk you, sir."  He
named the hotel, and Conrad proceeded to Piccadilly enamoured of
temptation.  How tired he was of London!  In any case he would go away;
why shouldn't he go to Ostend?  He had never been there--and he might
sit next to her at dinner.  It would be an absurdity of course, but----

The hero of thirty-seven with hair silvered at the temples, admonished
him from every hoarding and he took a hansom to avoid his sedate
contemporary's reproof.  Entering the club, he walked through an avenue
of decorators' ladders; the smoking-room was full of paint and pails.
What could be more absurd than to remain in town?

He winced as it occurred to him that Adaile might have been married
twice.  Supposing the "Mrs. Adaile" in Ostend proved to be a stranger,
an unfamiliar person profaning a hallowed name?  How complete a fool he
would feel when he arrived!  But he would not dwell on that
contingency.  "Far fetched," he said.  Even a fate that showered
disappointments as freely as if they were confetti must draw the line
somewhere.

He was among the tourists, and the luggage-thieves at Charing Cross by
ten o'clock next morning.  When he reached Ostend it was a fine
afternoon, and the town was baking.  By comparison London had been
pleasant, so a multitude of Londoners had flocked to Ostend.  With
trepidation he beheld the hotel that sheltered her--what if he were
unable to obtain a room in it?  But no--so far, so good.  Fate was,
perhaps, napping in the heat--a room was to be had.  He washed his face
in No. 17 victoriously, and overlooked the scarlet geraniums, and the
Faience fountain, glistening in a grass plot, and the red-striped
sun-umbrellas that sprouted through the little tables.  Nobody was
visible among the basket chairs.  A starling's twittering in a lilac
bush, was the only voice.  The number of his room chimed with his
mood--a happy coincidence.  To the manager's mind, at least, he was
"seventeen" again.  Again he stood in an hotel bedroom preparing to
join her downstairs!  Had she changed _very_ much?

Presently he wandered into the salon, and lounged round the
reading-room.  Everywhere it was unpromisingly quiet.  A hint of siesta
pervaded the hotel.  Should he go out?  He sauntered through the hall,
but the dazzle of the Plage blistering in the glare made his eyes ache.
He went back to the shade, and ruffled newspapers, and smoked
cigarettes.  A child came into the scorching courtyard that was called
a "garden," and hopped round on one leg, and said to another child,
"Can you do that?"  The starling twittered imperturbably.  Who said
Ostend was gay?

Benighted male! the women weren't asleep, they were all changing their
frocks again.  When he woke he had missed one of the sights of the
day--the "creations" that vie with another between five o'clock and
seven.  A gong was booming.  Only the first gong.  Good!  There was
time for him to dress before the room began to fill.  He sought the
head-waiter, and inquired if a place facing the door could be arranged.
The headwaiter had house property, and two sons at college, but he was
the urbanest of head-waiters.  A novice tips the servants when he
leaves an hotel, and, if he is a generous novice, pays for attention
which he hasn't received; a traveller of experience tips them when he
arrives, and gets the liver wing and a seat by the window.

The second gong was still reverberating when No. 17 descended to
dinner.  The urbanest of head-waiters hovered on the threshold.  For
scrutinising the company Conrad had scarcely time to glance at the
menu.  The doorway was as dazzling as the Plage had been: a
cinematograph of toilettes, a succession of audacities--only clusters
of diamonds seemed to keep some of the bodices up.  Man formed a
shifting background to an exhibition of jewels, a pageant of skirts and
breasts.  Still more gowns.  The humming room was the apotheosis of
Clothes--until the women sat down, and then it was the apotheosis of
Bosom.

She came in late.  She wore white satin, embroidered in silver, and a
"collar" of emeralds.  He recognised her at once.  There was no
hesitation in his mind--he had expected to hesitate--he knew her the
instant she appeared.  She had altered certainly--even pathetically;
the girl of twenty years ago was lost; but in the flash of the moment
the difference in her face startled him less than the difference in her
figure.  A shade too stout.  Yes, a shade too stout for his taste!
And--and _had_ her hair been copper colour in Rouen?

But a pretty woman, nobody could deny it.  She didn't look a day more
than thirty-five--might pass for thirty now the rose glow of the lamps
was on her! ... Well--almost!

Her table was well in view.  She was with another woman--perhaps
younger, a brunette, vivacious--and an elderly man with projecting
teeth, and eyes like a fish.  Adaile?  How grotesque he must have
looked making love!  He had a nose as long as the one in Blake's
portrait of the man who built the Pyramids.  And he used to be unkind
to her!--one could read that he was a cold-blooded, unappreciative
stick....  Now he was talking to her.  On second thoughts, perhaps he
wasn't her husband--he displayed the projecting teeth to her in so many
smiles.  The other woman's husband then!  Quite a good chap in his way,
no doubt.  He was doing them very well in the matter of wine.

Would there be a chance to speak to her to-night?  Abominably hard
lines if he had to wait till to-morrow, but he wanted to find her
alone--in the garden, for preference, in the moonlight....
No--no--thirty-five; but no more, not an hour.  How beautiful she _used
to be_!  She didn't know she was sitting in the room with a man she had
kissed.  Rather an amusing reflection that! ... Scores of men in the
room, though; perhaps she did.  How sick he would have felt to think so
once!  Where was the splendid jealousy he ought to feel this evening?

  "'Dead as the bulrushes round little Moses
  On the old banks of the Nile!'"


He made his coffee last till the party got up, and then followed them
to the salon.  The salon did not keep them--they drifted to the hall.
They disappeared.  The hall was a bevy of women who had been upstairs
to put on hats, and were desiring to be taken to the Kursaal.  "Poppa"
was in constant demand.  Conrad observed that all the family men seemed
inclined to loll where they were, and that all the unaccompanied men
made sprightly departures.  In the concert-room he found her again, but
he didn't find his opportunity.  To be sure, he had hardly expected one
there.  Still he felt rather hipped the last thing at night as he sat
among a crowd, and the popping of champagne corks, in a buffet where
the casks were utilised as seats, and the ladies' toilettes were as
gorgeous--and as modest--as the ladies' toilettes in the hotel.

In the morning he met her coming back from the sands with an enormous
sunshade, in the "early bath" costume; and he met her later wearing a
picture hat in the "after bath" costume: also he saw her in the costume
she put on when _déjeuner_ was over--and still she was unapproachable.
If she proved too elusive, he'd be tempted to swim after her next day
and try his luck in the water.  But could he be sentimental with his
hair dripping?  And even in Ostend it wouldn't be--Oh, in the wrong key
altogether!

She was scribbling on a picture postcard at one of the little writing
tables, and there was nobody else there.

"May I remind Mrs. Adaile that I have had the happiness of being
presented to her?"

She turned her head, and there was approval in the lady's gaze.  There
was, however, not a scintilla of recognition in it.

"My name is Warrener," he said.

"Oh yes," she murmured; "I'm so short-sighted----how d'ye do?"  But he
saw that she was twenty years away from knowing who he was.

"This is tremendously nice of you," he exclaimed; "I was afraid you
wouldn't remember me."

"How absurd!" she said perfunctorily.  "Why shouldn't I?  We met
at----?"

"But so long ago.  I _was_ afraid, really.  I've been warning myself
that you couldn't be expected to remember--and yet I knew I should be
so pained if you forgot."

She made a little amiable movement of her hands.  He understood it to
signify that his doubts had done injustice to them both.  Inwardly he
laughed.

"Is your husband in Ostend, Mrs. Adaile?"

"No," she said, "no, he's in the Tyrol--Innsbruck.  I'm here with my
sister and my brother-in-law.  You know them, don't you?"

"No, I've never had the pleasure.  They weren't with you there."

"Ah, no," she said, "no, they weren't....  Ostend is very dull this
year, don't you think?"

"I've found it very exciting; I saw you yesterday at dinner, and I've
been trying to meet your eyes ever since."

"Really?" said the lady.  She allowed him to meet them, and looked
away, her expression vacillating between a pucker and a smile.

"My courage wasn't equal to risking a snub from you publicly, and you
were never alone.  You balked me last night, you escaped me this
morning, and you drove me to desperation this afternoon.  I ought to
have known you wouldn't forget, but I always had misgivings, hadn't I?"

"Had you?" she said.  The pucker was getting the upper hand.  She
played with the postcard.

"Confess!" said Conrad.

"I remember you perfectly," she insisted with transparent hypocrisy,
"but just for the moment I'm fogged where it was we met."

"Will it help me if I mention Normandy?"

"Normandy?" she echoed vaguely.

"Rouen--the Hôtel Britannique--a boy who was called 'Con.'"

"Con?" she cried.  And the smile had things all its own way with her;
for an instant the spirit of his youth flashed so close that he nearly
captured it.  "You are 'Con?'"

"Still," he affirmed earnestly.  "And you are still--Mrs. Adaile."

"You are Con," she repeated, wondering, "that boy!  And did you
remember me directly you saw me last night?"

"No--I've remembered you all the time."

"Ah," she laughed reproval, "what a long while ago that makes it
seem!--the boy never told me pretty falsehoods."

"The boy never told you half the truth; he was a very backward boy."

"If we are to be friends you mustn't run him down, Mr. Warrener," she
said; "I was very fond of Con....  'Rouen!' Have you ever been there
since?"

"No; I was abroad for years--out of Europe, I mean."

"You were going to be an artist?"

"I hoped to be."

"Aren't you?"

"No; I haven't the artist's temperament--I'm too constant."

She regarded the postcard on the table again, and he did justice to her
eyelashes.

"Ostend is going down dreadfully, isn't it?" she remarked.  "All the
ridiculous people who have just got titles have brought them here.
We're leaving on Thursday."

He sighed.

"Don't be foolish," she said, not too flippantly.

"Ah," said Conrad now, "what a long while ago that makes it seem!--the
boy was not told he was foolish."

"No one could be so unkind to him--and he wasn't."

"You'll make me jealous of that boy before you've done.  Don't you
believe you could?"

"I don't know what you mean," she declared.

"You used to take _him_ seriously."

"Oh yes, we were capital friends."

"Did he deserve your friendship more than I?"

"You're absurd," she smiled.  Her eyes were as blue as they had been in
the Solférino Garden.  He looked into them, wishing he could feel the
despair that had been his that radiant morning.

"Is a wretched boy you only knew for a few weeks to be privileged above
a man who has thought of you for years?"  Within an ace he had said
"for twenty years," but the blunder was nipped in time.

"You mean 'hours,'" she said.  "We dined last night at eight
o'clock--it's just four now."

"You don't believe me--you think I'm making the most of a happy
accident?  What if I gave you a conclusive, an overwhelming proof?"

"A proof of what?"

"Of what?  That I am constancy itself!  Supposing I told you that my
only reason for coming here was to see you again.  What would you say
to that?"

"I hope I should answer quite politely," she murmured.

"Ah, you didn't doubt me once!" he exclaimed with grave reproach.

"You didn't tell such tarra-diddles once," she urged.

"I came here simply and solely to see you.  Look at me.  Will you give
me your hand?--I want to repeat it solemnly."  She glanced at the door,
and yielded him her hand.  It was very soft and agreeable to hold; he
continued with no undue haste: "Now, holding your hand, and with my
eyes meeting yours, I say that I came here to see you--for no one, and
nothing else--that I had no idea of coming to the place till I knew you
were here.  That isn't all!" he detained her hand gently.  "For an age
I have been trying to see you.  I knew none of your friends--it was
awfully difficult for me.  Could I call upon you and begin 'Once upon a
time?'  Should I write to you?  You might read my note in the wrong
mood.  Oh, I tell you I racked my brains!  That isn't all!"--her hand
had been retreating again.  "The day before yesterday as I passed your
house--No. 62; you have window boxes, the flowers are calceolarias and
marguerites this season--the day before yesterday as I passed, I saw
the shutters were closed.  I rang the bell.  I deceived your servant, I
led him to imagine you--you would be glad to welcome me.  I wormed your
address from him and threw myself onto the boat rejoicing.  That isn't
all----"

She drew the hand free, nevertheless, and realising that it wasn't
coming back to him yet, he concluded, "But it is enough to show you
that you've been cruel."

At this moment they were interrupted, and she said, "Oh, let me--Mr.
Warrener, my sister, Lady Bletchworth."

"How d' ye do," said Lady Bletchworth.  "Ostend is very dull this year,
don't you think?"

"I've just said that," Mrs. Adaile told her.

"It doesn't matter," said Lady Bletchworth.  "It's a very good opening
remark, and I make it to everybody."

"Won't you put me up to the correct answer?" asked Conrad; "I've only
just come, and I should like to catch the tone."

"Most of them say, 'Oh, my _dear_!'" she replied; "but our latest
novelty is, '_South_end!  What?'"

"Mr. Warrener's people and I used to be very chummy ages ago," said
Mrs. Adaile.  "I am afraid to inquire, Mr. Warrener?"

"No," he said, "I--I am alone."

"He was quite nice in those days," she added to her sister.

"What has spoilt you, Mr. Warrener?"

"I find my world so sceptical, Lady Bletchworth."

"Not here," she said; "they can even believe Ostend is smart.  Can you
do a sum?  If 'it takes three generations to make a gentleman,' how
many shops does it take to make a knight?"

"One: England," said Conrad.

"I don't believe he's spoilt after all, Joan," said Lady Bletchworth.
"There's hope for him yet."

"It's much too early to say _that_," murmured Mrs. Adaile.  But the
glance she cast at him was not discouraging.



CHAPTER XI

The rest of the afternoon promised nothing, so Conrad bought "Le
Marquis de Priola" to kill time.  It passed away so peacefully that he
was surprised when he found it was dead.

After dinner he saw the two women on a lounge, and they moved their
skirts for him, and commented on the visitors.  There was the Earl of
Armoury, wearing a stud as big as a brooch, and a Malmaison the size of
a saucer.  He made grimaces like Arthur Roberts, and when he sang "Pip,
pip! the Lodger and the Twins," Society found him as funny as Harry
Randall.  As everybody knows, the Duke of Merstham married Flossie
Coburg from the music halls; the heir had inherited his mother's gift.
"The best of it," said Lady Bletchworth, "is that his mother herself
has become too prim for words since she has been respectable.  She asks
bishops to dinner, and does her hair in plain bands.  Heredity is her
cross!  Oh," she went on, "you'll meet all the world and his
wife--Ostend-sibly.  A man brought his wife to the hotel last week, and
when he went upstairs to bed she wasn't there.  After he had searched
high and low for her he went to the bureau, and asked the clerk if he
could tell him where she was.  The clerk hadn't an idea, but said that
a married lady came to him a little while ago in a fix--she didn't know
the number of her room, and she had forgotten the name of her husband.
Please don't smile, I was terribly shocked myself."

Conrad didn't say that the story was not original, and had been told
about town six months before.

Then Lord Bletchworth drifted to them, and was tedious.  Lord
Bletchworth twaddled ponderously.  He considered there was a lot of
disgraceful bosh being printed about the Service, and the Country at
large, in the papers just now.  My dear sir, an Englishman who had the
interests of England at heart would hold his tongue while she slid down
hill, and silently watch her bump to the bottom.  That wasn't how he
put it, but it was the gist of what he said.  He added that the battle
of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton, and he seemed
as satisfied with Waterloo as if it were situated in the Transvaal.

However, he had his uses--he walked with his wife when they went to the
Kursaal, and left Conrad with Mrs. Adaile.

"How quiet you've become," she said.

"I am asking myself what to say to you."

"Do you find me so hard to talk to?"

"I find you so hard to convince."

"Why try to convince me?"

"Why did I come to Ostend?"

"Oh, that was a pretty tale," she said.  "It wasn't true, really, was
it?"

"You know it was true.  I've looked forward to meeting you again for
years.  I can't tell you how fond I was of you.  You're the only woman
I've ever cared for."

"You were a child."

"And now I'm a man--doesn't that show, doesn't it prove?  Is it nothing
to think of a woman so long as I've thought of you?  What other man
could say to you what _I_ can say?"

"But you _mustn't_ say it," she smiled--it cannot be written that she
"forbade."

"Is your life so full," he asked, "that you have no room for my love?"

"Mr. Warrener, but really----"

"You hurt me," he said.  "What have I done since we parted, to become
'Mr. Warrener' to you?"

"Are we going to sit on the terrace," said Lord Bletchworth, looking
back, "or are we going inside?  Mr. Warrener, you play, perhaps?"

"No," said Conrad, "I haven't played here.  I don't care much about it
anyhow."

"Let's sit down outside," said Lady Bletchworth.  "It's so hot in
there."

On the terrace it was very agreeable.  The orchestra did not sound too
insistent, and they found chairs where they could watch the people
promenade without being inconvenienced by them.  Extremes meet, and
Ostend is their meeting-place.  Only a light railing divides the
fashionable world, and the half world from the world that works.  On
one side plod a humble flock of wearied trippers, who have had tea "As
nice as mother makes it," in a sweltering shop at the back of the town.
Among the shell pin-cushions, the franc souvenirs, they have had tea.
All the evening they pass and repass with flagging feet, wishing they
had chosen Margate.  On the other side, women who were born in the same
class trail Paquin's gowns.  On the necks of some there are flowers
that have cost as much as a tripper's holiday; a diamond in an ear is
worth more than the price of a tripper's home.  And Maggie from
Dalston, with three tired children clinging to her ten-and-sixpenny
skirt, gazes across that slender rail, and thinks.  And her thoughts
might be unpleasant to hear.

A really extraordinary thing was that no one but Conrad seemed aware
that the railing bisected two worlds and a half.  As for Conrad his
reflections engrossed him so much that he quite forgot to attend to
Mrs. Adaile.  Only when he chanced to notice she was looking pensive in
the starlight did it occur to him that he was ignoring a situation by
which he ought to be thrilled.

For here they were.  The stars were twinkling, the waves were
murmuring, the lady was waiting.  It was true her sister and
Bletchworth were in the way, but even allowing for their presence this
should mean emotion.  Where was it?  On the terrace while he made small
talk, and on the Plage when they strolled back, and as he smoked his
last cigar that night in the garden, the question in Conrad's mind was
insistently "Where is the emotion?"

Because she was still an attractive woman, and he perceived it.  He was
even making love to her--to _her_, to Mrs. Adaile!--and she was not
adamant.  What had happened to him?  Where were his transports, the
spiritual whirlwinds, where was everything that he had travelled to
recover?

She had a whim to do fancy work in the salon next day during the hour
when the women changed their déjeuner dresses for the
five-o'clock-to-seven costumes.  He had met her as she was passing his
door--their rooms were in the same passage--and they had gone
downstairs together.

"You've told me nothing of your life since we used to know each other,"
he said, playing with a thimble.

"What would you like me to tell you?"

"You used to tell me a good deal--if I am privileged to remember it."

"I'm afraid I did.  How I must have bored you!  It was rather a shame.
But I was in my egotistical stage, and you listened with such big
eyes--Con."

"Thank you," said Conrad.  "But I wasn't bored.  And you weren't an
egotist--you were the sweetest woman I've ever met.  I was awfully
sorry for you--so sorry!  Only a cub's sympathy, but you've had none
truer from anyone."

"You were a nice boy--I've thought about you sometimes.  Are the
scissors there?  Do look."

"If a woman knows when she is really loved, you should have thought
about me very often," he answered, giving them to her.  "Are you
happier than you were?"

"Let us say I don't worry so much about being unhappy.  I suppose it
amounts to the same thing."  She sighed--and smiled.  "Would you do
this leaf green, or yellow?"

"I shouldn't do it at all," he said.  "Put it down and talk to me.  I
remember once when you were telling me your troubles, you cried.  It
was one afternoon on the terrace; you had on a pale blue frock, and a
big floppy hat.  I'd have given my life to kiss you at that moment."

"You mustn't say these things to me," she faltered.  She said it more
gravely than on the Plage; she was not smiling now, and she lowered her
eyes--he knew that he might seize her hands.

"I've waited for you so long," he exclaimed.  "Joan, be kind to me!"

But his heart did not thud in her silence.  He held her hands fast; the
doyley she was making had fallen to the couch.

At last she murmured, still looking down, "How can you care for me?
We've only just met."

"I've cared for you ever since.  If you knew how I worshipped you--if
you knew what I suffered when you were vexed with me!  That night you
sat talking to those men, and the next morning when you were
offended--I remember what I felt as if it were a month ago.  I remember
what you said as you turned away, and how I sat watching, praying that
you'd come back.  And then I waited at the door, and begged your
pardon, and you wouldn't forgive me.  I've relived it all so often.  I
did love you, darling, I did, I did! ... It sounds idiotic: there was a
song of yours, 'To-day, to-day our dream is over--To-day the waking
cold and grey'; I learnt to strum the refrain there to--to make me feel
nearer to you when I had gone.  Since I've been a man I've strummed
that refrain a hundred times, and longed for you--I was strumming it
years after you had forgotten you ever sang it.  I've thought about you
sometimes till my boyhood has been alive in me, trembling.  If Faust's
chance could have come to me in any year since we parted, I'd have said
'Let me be seventeen again in Rouen.'"

"The past is always beautiful.  I made you very wretched, though."

"But you liked me a little.  Heaven knows why I--I was a fool.  Still
you did."

"Perhaps it was because you were a 'fool' that I was foolish.  That's
all over."  She drew her hands from his clasp.

"It isn't over," he said.  "You sha'n't say it's over.  The present may
be as beautiful as the past."

She shook her head; "Can we work miracles?  Can I make myself a girl
again, or you a boy?"

"Yes, if you've not forgotten what you felt for me.  If the memories
are not all mine, you can even do that.  You see I'm a fool still; I--I
half hoped that you'd remember....  Joan, 'you were not once so wise!'"

"Ah!" she said.  "If I were younger now--or if you had been older
then--who knows?"

"Could you sing that song still?" he asked.  "Listen."  He opened the
piano, and played a few bars.  "Can you?"

"Oh!"  She forced a laugh.  "It was too long ago.  And what a song
besides!"

"Try," he pleaded.  "Try it!"

"I can't remember the words," she murmured

"The words?--

  'You tell me, Love, that I'll forget you--
  I own it, in our last "good-bye,"'

I'd be so grateful.  Please!"

"How does it go on?"

"It goes on--

  'Our dream has been too sweet to let you
  Remember that I spoke a lie.'"


"Oh yes," she said, coming forward.  She hummed.  "Let me see!--

  'I know the years will crowd above you,
  I know despair must fade away;
  But here and now I know I love you,
  I love you--and we part--to-day.'

Is that it?"

"That's it; and then there's what I was playing--

  'To-day, to-day our dream is over,
  To-day the waking, cold and grey.'"


She nodded; "Yes, yes--

  'What care I Time will--'

something, what is it?--

  'The throes that rend my heart to-day?'

Well, I'll try, but I'm sure I sha'n't be able to.  I haven't heard it
for years."

Then she sat down, and began it; and he shut his eyes and tried to
think he was seventeen and she was twenty.

The music stopped short.  "I knew it would be a failure!  It's gone.
It was too long ago," she repeated.

"It was yesterday!" he cried, and caught her in his arms as she got up.

For a second she held him back from her, regarding him curiously.
Regret, tenderness, irony were mingled in the gaze she bent on him.
Like him she mourned for what had perished; like him she sought to
delude herself that it bloomed anew....  "It's absurd," she said, and
drooped to him with a kiss.

As they moved apart, both were disappointed.  The man thought, "I have
spoilt my memory of her kiss to me in Rouen."

"I adore you," he said mechanically.

The woman's smile was enigmatic as she left him.



CHAPTER XII

"Are you heartless?" he continued; "have you no pity for me?"

It was the next evening.  They were sitting among the basket chairs and
the dinner dresses in the garden, and there was no one inconveniently
near.  Lady Bletchworth had gone inside a few minutes before.  A warm
breeze bore strains of Chopin to them from the _Kursaal_; the little
fountain plashed languidly, and a full moon had been assisting Conrad
to deceive himself.

"I am not heartless," returned Mrs. Adaile, "I am sensible.  And--there
are a thousand reasons."

"For one thing?"

"For one thing....  I don't want romance--I want comedy.  I want to
laugh with you, my dear Con, not to be serious."

This was difficult to answer, for he could not offer to laugh at his
grand passion.  He sighed.

"Besides," she went on, "I couldn't make you happy.  It isn't in my
power--you don't really care for me.  You are in love with a memory,
not with me.  I'm no longer the woman you fell in love with.  I've
changed.  Really I didn't know how much I had changed till you came
here, I must like you very much to want to talk to you--because you
make me feel elderly, you do indeed."

"You're unjust," he exclaimed--and he was genuinely distressed.  "Not
care for you?  You don't believe it, you can't believe that.  I swear
to you----"

"No, don't," she said.  "I can imagine all you would say.  Haven't I
listened to you?  Haven't I even ... tried to make illusions for
myself?  You talk of what you felt for me, not of what you feel.  You
don't know it, but you rave to me about what I was, not about what I
am.  You remember the hat and the frock I had on twenty years ago--can
you tell me what I wore last night?"

"Is such constancy nothing?" he cried hastily.

"It would be irresistible," she said, "if you could find the girl that
you've been constant to.  But she doesn't live, Con--she's gone.  _I_
am such a different person from the girl you've looked for that--that
I've even felt a tiny bit jealous sometimes of your rhapsodies to me
about her.  Well?  I'm being quite frank with you, you see.  It's
pathetic, I think.  There have been moments when I've listened to you
and felt a little pained because you seemed to forget all about me....
I am hurting you?"

"You hurt me," said Conrad, "because for the first time I realise you
_are_ different from the girl I've looked for.  Till now I've felt that
I was with her again."

"That's nice of you, but it isn't true.  Oh, I like you for saying it,
of course....  If you had felt it really----"

"Go on."

"No, what for?  I should only make you unhappier."

"You want comedy?" he demurred; "you have said the saddest things a
woman ever said to me!"

She raised a white shoulder--with a laugh; "I never get what I want!"

"It should have taught you to feel for me, but you are not 'wondrous
kind.'"

"Oh, I am more to be pitied than you are!  What have I got in my life?
Friends?  Yes--to play bridge with.  My husband?  He delivers speeches
on local option, and climbs mountains.  Both make me deadly tired.  I
used to go in for music--'God save the King' is the only tune he knows
when he hears it, and he only knows that because the men take their
hats off.  I was interested in my house at the beginning--after you've
quarrelled in your house every day for years it doesn't absorb you to
make the mantelpiece look pretty.  I wanted a child--well, my sister
has seven! ... Voilà my autobiography up to date."

"There is to-morrow," said Conrad, moved.

"To-morrow you must give me the comedy," she smiled; "and the morning
after, I go to the Highlands--and big men will shoot little birds, and
think it's 'sport.'  Did you ever see a sparrow die?  I watched one
once.  It was human.  Like a child! ... Come on, come on, let's go out!"

And behold another woman!  She had been wise, and dejected him; now she
was unwise, to make amends.  Behold a myriad women in one.  Before half
an hour had passed she had told him her philosophy was a puff ball,
that she had prated reason only to be reasoned with.  And she told him
so without a word about it--said so by the modulation of her voice
while they talked trifles.

And Conrad?  Conrad had been scrambling to the point of friendship, and
he slipped back to folly.  Conrad strove to forget that discomfiting
phrase, "You are in love with a memory, not with me."  It made the
folly so difficult.

He could not succeed in forgetting it.  It was in his mind next day,
coldly a fact.  Yes, he was making love to Mrs. Adaile because she was
Mrs. Adaile, not because she was a charming woman.  He knew that if
they hadn't met before he came to Ostend, he might have admired her,
tried to know her, grown to like her, but that he would never have said
to her what he had said.  Nor wished to say it.

Yet there was the regnant truth that it was she.  She had the
fascination of sharing with him his dearest, his sweetest remembrances;
the radiance of the past still tinged her--in her keeping lay the
wonder of his youth.

So they ate Neapolitan ices in the morning, and she brought down the
doyley in the afternoon, and they listened to Chopin again in the
evening.

It was the last evening.  The Bletchworths and she were leaving early
on the morrow, and he was unlikely to be alone with her again before
she went.

"I wish you weren't going," he said.  "How horribly I shall miss you!
I sha'n't stop here.  Why aren't you going to Homburg, instead of to
people in Scotland?  Then we might have met again."

"Are you going to Homburg to be 'cured'?"

"I think I shall go there.  Or to Antwerp.  Yes, I shall go to Antwerp
first.  I was there when I was a boy.  I was happy in Antwerp."

"How funny you are," she said involuntarily.

"I've never found anyone much entertained by me.  How?"

"You'll go to Antwerp, of all places in the world, because you liked it
when you were a boy!  Antwerp will disappoint you--too."

"You could always stab deep with a monosyllable," he said, "but you
used to have more mercy."

"I'm sorry I have deteriorated," said the lady rather stiffly.

She leant back in her chair, and a minute passed in silence.  She gave
her attention to the orchestra, tapping time with the tip of a shoe.

"Does it amuse you to say cruel things to me?" asked Conrad.  "If it
does, by all means say what you like."

"I don't understand you."  She drooped disdainful eyelids.

"What you said was unworthy of you.  You know it was."

"I really forget what I did say.  Please talk about something else.
What is it they are playing?"

They were playing _Cavalleria_ now, so he scorned to reply to this
otherwise than by a look.

"I asked you a question," she said in tones of ice.

"I beg your pardon," he answered hastily.  "They are playing
_Cavalleria Rusticana_.  An opera.  Written by a young Italian.  His
name is Mascagni."

"You are rude!" she exclaimed.

"I am human, Joan.  You hurt me!"

Then her sister and Bletchworth reappeared.  "Perhaps you know a good
hotel?" Conrad was saying.

"An hotel where?" inquired Lady Bletchworth.

"Mr. Warrener is going to Homburg; I tell him everybody says it's
deadly dull there this year," murmured Mrs. Adaile.

It was deadly dull in Ostend, too, during the next hour.  Both women
were rather quiet, and Bletchworth was exceptionally wearisome.  But
for the fact that it was the farewell evening Conrad would have seen
friends among the company and gone to greet them.

However, at last the orchestra finished, and they all got up.  A
leisurely crowd was flocking to the exit, and--perhaps it was the
crowd, perhaps it was Lady Bletchworth--Conrad and Mrs. Adaile were
separated from the others for satisfactory seconds.

"Won't you forgive me?" he whispered.

Even a crowd has merits--her hand rested on his arm an instant.

"It must be fate," he said; "I always offend you just when we're going
to part.  Do you remember?"

She nodded.  "I remember."  Her glance was very pretty in the moonshine.

"This won't be our last talk together?" he begged.  "What are you going
to do when we go in?"

"I suppose we shall sit in the garden."

"But--everybody?"

"I expect so....  Don't let's keep behind!  Walk with Lily."  She
addressed her brother-in-law, and Conrad sauntered beside Lady
Bletchworth.

The windows of the Villa this, and the Villa that, were thrown wide
behind the mass of blooms.  In the crimson dusk of lamp-shades there
was the glint of a white gown, the glow of a cigarette point among
cushions, a bubble of laughter.  Every minute a dim interior flashed to
brightness--someone returned and switched on the light, a woman took
off her hat before the mirror.  Through one window came the jingle of
money on a card table; through another shouts--Paulette Fleury was
singing to friends one of the songs that she had not sung at the Empire
in London.  To the left, the track of moonlight on the sea kept pace
with Conrad.

It was more agreeable in the garden than on the terrace at the onset.
Already it had an air of intimacy, the artificial enclosure, with its
tesselated paving, and its affectation of rusticity; already he was on
good terms with it.  Curiously enough, such hotel gardens, misnamed as
they are, have a knack of making a visitor feel at home, of endearing
themselves to him, more quickly than acres of lawns and elms.

Lady Bletchworth wanted a brandy-and-soda, and Conrad had one, too;
Mrs. Adaile and Bletchworth drank champagne.  Presently they referred
to the shooting-box, to the people they expected to see there.  Almost
for the first time Conrad was blankly sensible of inhabiting a
different sphere; he hoped they wouldn't ask him if he knew any of the
people they were mentioning.  He got very near to his youth in that
moment; there was a revival of his boyhood's dumb constraint....  How
odd it was! they were all sitting together like this, and after
to-night he was never likely to meet her.  Front doors between them.
'Gina, of course, might be useful; but how stupid of him not to have
got into the right set in town when he came back from the Colony!  He
supposed it wouldn't have been difficult, with the money.  Londoners
boasted that everything the world yielded was to be bought in London,
and it was true--even to dignities and reputations.

"Well, I am forced to admit that I don't know what women go to the
moors for," said Bletchworth.  "You don't take the sport seriously, and
therefore you are out of place.  What do you say, Mr. Warrener?"

"Well, I can hardly say anything," owned Conrad; "I _don't_ go to the
moors."

"But if you did, you wouldn't prefer a grouse to a woman, I'm sure?"
asked Lady Bletchworth.

"A man does not go to the moors to talk to women," insisted her
husband.  "That is my point.  Women always want to flirt just as the
birds are rising.  Women are very desirable at a dance, but when it
comes to birds, or it comes to cricket, when it comes to anything
important, I say, reluctantly, they can't be serious.  That is my
point--you don't take the thing seriously.  Now, at the Eton and
Harrow, were you earnest about it; had you got the matter at heart?
No, no; all you wanted to do was to walk about, and to have lunch."

"A lot of boys playing ball!" she said.  "And then they take up all the
lawn besides.  So selfish of them!"

"Ah!" said Bletchworth warningly, "that is the tone that is going to do
the harm, that is the tone we have to guard against.  What has made us
what we are?  What has given England the place she holds?  I protest, I
protest absolutely against irresponsible--er--comment.  The foreign
ideas that are creeping into papers that have always had
my--er--approval will sap the country's manhood if we don't make a
stand.  Joan--I am sure Joan agrees with me?"

She was leaning back absently, trifling with a porte-bonheur on her
wrist; the blue fire of the diamonds was ablaze.  It caught Conrad's
glance; from her wrist his gaze travelled to her eyes.  They told him,
"I'm so bored."

"Yes, indeed," she assented, "you're quite right."  It would have been
evident to anyone but Bletchworth that she had not heard what he said.

There were fewer people in the garden by this time.  In the knowledge
that the evening was nearly over, a wave of sentiment stirred Conrad.
Even her message of comprehension did nothing to subdue his annoyance.
What likelihood remained of a tête-à-tête?  The evening from first to
last had been wasted in stupidities.

Presently another group went inside, presently there was no one left
but themselves.  Finally Lady Bletchworth yawned.  He wished fervently
that she had yawned an hour ago.

"I think it's time we all went to bed," she said.  "You've laid down
the law quite enough, Charlie.  Shall we see you in the morning, Mr.
Warrener?"

"Oh yes," he said, "of course.  What time is the boat?"

"I don't know--ten something, isn't it?  Well, I'll say 'good night.'
I wish we were staying on, really I do--I shall have a racking headache
to-morrow evening.  Are you ready, Joan?"

"Quite," said Mrs. Adaile; "_I_ have a headache now."

He was hopeless until she let him see her slip the porte-bonheur into
her chair before she rose.

"Good night, Mr. Warrener."

"Good night, Mrs. Adaile," he said.

When he was alone he sat down again, and waited for her return; her
manoeuvre might fail, someone return with her--the bracelet must be
lying where she had "dropped" it.

More than five minutes crept by before a step sounded.  He turned
eagerly, and with dismay beheld Lord Armoury approaching.  The intruder
gaped at the view, and stood hesitating, with his hands in his pockets.
It was an instant of the keenest suspense.  Would he withdraw?  No, he
lounged forward.  He threw himself into the very chair, and stretched
his legs across another.

Conrad muttered an anathema on him.

"Eh?" said Lord Armoury.

"I didn't speak," said Conrad frigidly.

The young man took out a cigarette, and opened his match-box.  It was
empty.

"Got a light?" he inquired.

"I'm sorry I haven't," said Conrad, momentarily encouraged.

"Rotten show!" said the Earl; "where's a waiter?"  He contemplated his
cigarette with a semi-intoxicated frown, and transferred his feet to
the table.  It was apparent that he meant to stop although he could not
smoke.  With his change of position he was liable to come in contact
with the bracelet, and Conrad watched him nervously, but he did not
seem to be discommoded by it.

"Seen Paulette?" he asked.

"No."  The "no" of a man who is not to be drawn into conversation.

"Pauly's a bit of _all_ right," affirmed the Earl, undeterred.  "I
don't pretend to be up to all the patter, but--wot _ho_!"

Speechlessly Conrad hoped the lady wouldn't come back yet.

"Three hundred a week she refused for a return engagement at the
Empire--told me so herself to-night.  That's Pauly!  Got the hump.
What's three hundred to Pauly?  I told 'em how she'd catch on before
she went over.  Don't I know?"  He winked profoundly.  "Look here,
you'll see an artist in October at the Syndicate halls, that's--wot
_ho_!  She's going to knock 'em.  Between ourselves she's got some new
'business,' that--well, it's great!  Never been tried.  I saw her when
she was doing the last turn at the South London.  I said to George,
'Cocky, that's a winner!'  Robey couldn't see it.  _I_ saw it; I can
put my finger on the talent every time.  She's going to make Marie sit
up, my boy--she's another Marie Lloyd.  Don't I _know_?  I've got the
judgment.  I can spot 'em with one peeper! ... Isn't there a waiter in
this damned hotel?  I could do with a tiddley.  Where's a bell?"

"It's no use ringing," said Conrad, "nobody ever comes.  It wants
someone to go in and stir them up."

But now Mrs. Adaile reappeared.

"Oh!" she murmured.  And then, "I've dropped a bracelet somewhere; I
came down to look for it.  Good evening, Lord Armoury."

"A bracelet?" echoed Conrad with concern.

"Good evening, Mrs. Adaile--a bracelet?  Crumbs!" said Armoury.

"Yes, isn't it a nuisance!  I don't know how I could have lost it--I
suppose the clasp was loose.  I had it on out here."

"Let me help you," said Conrad.  In an undertone he added, "Don't find
it yet.  Let's look further off.  Oh my dearest, it was so sweet of
you!  I'm in such a rage, I'm so wretched."

"Where were you sitting, Mrs. Adaile?" asked Armoury, peering about.

"Over here, over there, I don't know," she said hurriedly....  "Is it
still in the chair?" she whispered.

"Yes," whispered Conrad.  "Are you sorry you're going from me?"

"A little."

"To leave you like this," he sighed, "it's awful.  Joan----"

"Well?"

"Let me come to your room to say 'good-bye.'"

She started.

"Hallo!  Have you got it?" exclaimed Armoury.

"No," she said, "I--I thought I had."

"Joan?"

"I daren't," she faltered.  "My maid----"

"Come and say 'good-bye' to _me_, then.  Do!"

"Find it!" she said agitatedly--"he'll guess."

"What's that?" cried Conrad.  "Here it is--why, in one of our chairs!
May I--?"  He fastened the bracelet on her wrist.  "Make me happy.
Come to me," he begged.  "Will you?  Number seventeen."

Her fingers touched his hand.

"I'm so immensely grateful to you both," she said serenely.

"Lucky for her we were here!" the intruder remarked when she had gone.
"One of the servants might have pinched it by the morning."

"Yes, I suppose it was as well we were here," said Conrad amiably.  "If
it hadn't been for you, I should have turned in before this."  He
dropped back into his seat, resigning himself to tedium a little longer.

He lolled there discreetly, making civil responses--and gradually he
realised that Flossie Coburg's son was not wholly to be blamed for the
tedium; he recognised that there was a dulness of his own spirit.
While he countenanced the garrulity of a fool, his thoughts were with
scenes of twenty years before, and sadly the man strove to revive in
his heart the idolatry and illusions of the boy.  Oh, for the
enchantment of the summer when he had called her "Mrs. Adaile!" ... If
he could only keep remembering it was the same woman!  But never had
she seemed so different to him as in these minutes--never had he
desired so little as now when she had promised all.

The ground floor of the hotel was partially dark when he crossed it; a
purposeless waiter hovered in obscurity.  Upstairs, along the passage,
the tan and black rows of boots, shapely on boot-trees, indicated that
most of the visitors had retired.  A drowsy lady's-maid put forth an
expectant face, and withdrew it wearily.  Conrad felt about the wall
for the electric button, which seemed always in a different spot, and
found it.  Then he closed his door as completely as was possible
without turning the knob.

As he put down his watch he saw that it was late, but he knew that it
was not yet late enough, and his movements were leisurely.  He wanted a
cigarette--the more because he had deprived himself of one outside by
saying that he had no match, but he was reluctant to give the odour of
tobacco to the room.  A superfluous grace, perhaps, now that most women
smoked?  Still he was reluctant.  He threw down his cigarette-case,
too, and the rest of the things that had been in his pockets....

He looked at himself ruminatingly in the mirror, and brushed his
moustache.

One of the lights hung above the pillow--it was convenient to read by.
Presently it occurred to him that nearly two acts of "Le Marquis de
Priola" remained to divert him.  He put forth his arm for it, and,
stretching, reached it.  He turned the leaves....  _Une dame viendra de
deux à trois_.  Ah yes, this was as far as he had read.

The effort to give his attention to the play grew gradually less.
Mournfulness faded, and in the next scene his interest was alert.  Once
he laughed.  His thoughts were no longer with the boy who had lain
wakeful through a night just to hear her footstep in the hall.

The wind was rising, and intermittently it tricked and irritated him.
The blustering wind, and the chiming of a clock made the only sounds.

Again the clock rang out.  This time he counted the strokes with
annoyance.  He yawned.  His interest was wandering from the play now.
It began to seem to him that Priola talked too much.  What was keeping
her--had she repented her promise?  He tossed the book aside, and lay
watching the door.

After he had watched it for nearly half-an-hour it was gently opened,
and swiftly closed, and Mrs. Adaile stood on the threshold.  She paused
there diffidently, with downcast eyes.  She wore a long clinging robe
of crêpe de chine, veiled partly by a stole of Venetian point.  The
sleeves of the deep toned lace, dividing at the shoulders, drooped from
her like wings.  One daring touch of colour, the flame of nasturtium,
at her breast threw into dazzling relief the gleaming whiteness of her
skin, the burnished gold of her hair.  She paused, awaiting doubtless
the words of welcome, of encouragement, that would vanquish her
timidity.  But Conrad slept.  A respiration too loud to be thought
rapture, and too faint to be called a snore, smote the lady's hearing.
Startled, she looked up; forked lightning flashed at him from her
indignant eyes.  But, tranquil, Conrad slept.

What an offence!  Wasn't it enough to enrage the sweetest of women?
Put yourself--I mean it was unpardonable!

For a second she seemed about to escape even more surreptitiously than
she had entered; and then a smile, half sad, half whimsical, twitched
her lips.  A sense of humour--how much it spares us, how far it goes in
life!  A little pathetic that often a sense of humour wins affection,
and the noble qualities get nothing but a dull respect.  She looked at
a pencil-case on the table, and stood tempted, her fingers at her
mouth.  Dared she do it!  She would not have roused him for a
coronet--and the creak of a board, even the scratching of the lead,
might be fatal.  She wavered.  She moved towards the pencil slowly,
stealthily, inch by inch.

The table was gained.  There was nothing to write on.  A paper-covered
volume lay to her hand; with infinite precaution she tore the
title-page.  Tremulously she scribbled, holding her breath.  Where to
leave the message, where to put it so that it couldn't be overlooked?
Again she hesitated.  Conrad slept sound, a glance assured her of it.
Again she ventured.  An instant her gaze dwelt upon him, still with
that smile half mirthful and half melancholy on her face.  She nodded,
wide-eyed--and on the tips of her toes crept out unheard, unseen.

When Conrad woke, a servant was admitting the sunshine through the
window; his coffee steamed by his side.  As he sat up--and almost
before memory thudded in him--his view met the front page of "Le
Marquis de Priola" pinned to the bed-curtain.  He rolled towards it
haggardly.  On it was written:--

"_Dreamer_!  Good-bye.  There is no way back to Rouen."



CHAPTER XIII

"I must say I was very happy on the stage," sighed the Countess of
Darlington, lifting the teapot.

The Earl of Armoury's mother threw up her eyes.  A shapeless, waddling
woman, the duchess, with a sanctimonious voice.  There were elderly
gentlemen who, remembering Flossie's agility with a tambourine at the
old Pavilion, felt reformation to be a sad affair when they looked at
her.

"Not 'happy,'" she said piously, "dazzled--only dazzled, dear Lady
Darlington.  Ladies like you and I can't be happy on the stage.  It
goes against the grain with you and I."

Lady Darlington pouted.  She was provokingly pretty when she pouted.
She had pouted at Darlington on the day he met her.

"But I _was_ happy," she declared.

"You weren't satisfied in your heart; I'm sure you always felt there
was better work to be done?"

"Oh yes, but I hoped to get leading parts in time."

"I mean purer work," explained the duchess, wincing, "social, helpful
work."

Lady Darlington laughed.  She was prettier still when she laughed.  She
had laughed at Darlington on the day he proposed.

"No, really not," she said frankly, "I never thought about it for a
moment.  Do you know, Duchess, I've always wanted to ask you--didn't
you ache to go back to it after you married?"

"Oh never," exclaimed the duchess; "I was grateful to Providence for
letting me get away from it all.  Circumstances made me go into the
business, but I was never a pro--I mean to say a 'professional'--by
nature.  My father, the captain, died when I was quite a child, and I
had my dear mother to support."

"M'yes," murmured Lady Darlington, looking at the ceiling.  "You were
before my time, but of course I've heard....  Perhaps if I had been in
the music-halls _I_ should have been glad to get away from it all," she
added; "I was in the theatres, you know."

"The 'smalls,' I think--I mean to say the 'minor provincial towns?'"
said the duchess a shade tartly; "one of Jenkinson's Number II.
companies, wasn't it?"

"Lots of people considered it was better than the Number I.," returned
Lady Darlington with pride, "and the _Rotherham Advertiser_ said a
voice of such diapason as mine wasn't often heard in musical comedy."

"Such what as yours?"

"Diapason.  Won't you have some muffin?"

"They always serve me out so," said the duchess, "but I _will_ have
just a mossel."  She regarded her hostess anxiously; "I hope you aren't
going to be mad?" she said.

"I am mad," admitted Rosalind--her name was Rosalind--"mad with the
longing for auld lang syne.  If I weren't crazy I shouldn't own it,
because you can't enter into my feelings a bit, but you're the only
woman I meet who ought to be able to understand them.  Long?  Sometimes
for a treat I tell the servants I'm not at home to anyone, and I shut
myself up and long the tears into my eyes!"

"You cry for the stage?  Oh, but, my dear Lady Darlington, you mustn't
give way, you must be firm with yourself.  Think, just think, what an
example you'd be setting if you took to it again!  In our position we
have the Country to consider.  The middle classes say 'What's good
enough for the Aristocracy must be good enough for us.'  We have to
consider our influence on those in a humbler sphere."

"I'm not going to take to it again," said Rosalind.  "How can I?
Besides, I don't want so much to act--I've no ambition except to be
jolly--it's the life I ache for.  I'm dull, dull, dull!  I want to be
among the people I remember.  My heart turns back to Dixie.  I wouldn't
say 'thank you' to be with actors and actresses in London, in the
West-End; they're only imitations of the Lords and Ladies that bore me.
I want to be on the road with a Number II. crowd--yes, and a Number
III. crowd for preference.  I want to arrive in a hole-and-corner town
on a Sunday night, and have supper in lodgings, and see stout in a jug
again, and call the landlady 'Ma.'  Oh, how soul-stirring it would be
to call a landlady 'Ma!'"

"Lodgings?  Look at your drawing-room, with Louis Cans furniture!" said
the duchess admonishingly.  "You can't be serious?"

"Serious?  I'm pathetic!  Of course I should find I had been spoilt for
it--the pleasure wouldn't last; the stout would taste sour soon, and I
should find the landlady impudent, and the lodgings dirty; I daresay I
should wish myself back in St. James' Square before I had been away a
month.  But I don't want to give up St. James' Square--I only want a
week-end sometimes as a tonic.  That's all I want, just week-ends.  If
I could be Rosalind Heath again from Saturday to Monday sometimes, I'd
be Lady Darlington all the rest of the year cheerfully enough."

This was the moment when her Idea was born.  As the idea had
consequences, it is noteworthy that this was the moment.  If she could
be Rosalind Heath again from Saturday to Monday!  She had never debated
the possibility; but why not--why not even for a week?  She couldn't
call herself "Rosalind Heath" again, because everybody in Theatre Land
knew that Rosalind Heath had married the Earl of Darlington, but who
among a lowly band of players would know her face?  She had not been a
star.  All she needed for the freak was a confidante.  What had become
of Tattie Lascelles?

Lady Darlington blushed with self-reproach.  That she should have to
question what had become of Tattie!  She sat, after the duchess had
departed, remembering days when she and Tattie had been bosom friends.
They had shared hopes and lodgings; they had told each other their
peccadilloes, and even their salaries.  And now she didn't know where
Tattie was?  Could St. James' Square have made her heartless?  How had
their correspondence died? ... Ah yes, in Tattie's last letter ages ago
she had asked for the sum of five pounds "just for a fortnight."  But
how monstrous of Tattie to feel constrained because she hadn't sent it
back!  Who had expected it?

On the seventeenth day of December, when Darlington, looking a
ridiculous object, had boomed away in a new car, of which he was
inordinately proud, Rosalind stole guiltily into a news-agent's.  She
would not meet her lord again for a month.  Her beautiful eyes
sparkled, and her cheeks were flushed.  She tendered two pennies to a
vulgar man, smoking a clay pipe behind the counter, and asked for the
_Stage_.  To the happily constituted there can seem nothing calculated
to kindle the emotions in the act of buying a twopenny paper in a
squalid shop, but Rosalind had a temperament, and temperaments play
queer tricks.  (See Conrad's.)  The tender grace of a day that was dead
hallowed the damp copy of a journal in which she had formerly
advertised that she was "Resting;" the touch of vanished hands sent
little thrills to her heart as her gaze embraced familiar names.

She went back to the drawing-room fire, and read them diligently.  Dusk
and a footman crept in before she discovered Miss Tattie Lascelles, but
that artist's announcement leapt to her with the electric light.  Miss
Tattie Lascelles informed the kingdom that she was specially engaged to
create the part of "Delicia Potts" in the maritime musical farce
entitled _Little Miss Kiss-And-Tell_, on Blithepoint Pier.  The date
chosen for this perfectly unimportant production was Monday, December
22nd.  Then Rosalind, who was to go to the Marrables in Leicestershire
for Christmas, wrote Lady Marrable a note of grieved excuse, and
scribbled a letter to Tattie, which began, "Take two bedrooms in
Blithepoint, and don't breathe a word to a soul till you see me."

And though the happily constituted may be sceptical again, she felt
more joyous than she had done for five illustrious years.

Blithepoint is about thirty-three miles by rail from Sweetbay.  It is a
grey, bleak place, with the plainest female population in England.  On
three hundred days of the year the wind is due east, but on the other
sixty-five it is southeast, and then the residents go about saying what
"lovely weather they're having."  Blithepoint is much larger than
Sweetbay, and more fashionable.  It is also nearly as dull.  Nobody is
aware how much can be spent on being deadly dull until he has stayed in
a Blithepoint hotel.  Rosalind was a shade uneasy in the thought that
someone among the visitors might recognise her; she knew that at
Christmas eccentric Londoners occasionally went down there, and wished
afterwards they had been economical and gone to Egypt.  But she didn't
falter.

She ran away on Sunday the 21st.  She had put on her simplest costume,
and her portmanteau told no tales.  To make-believe to the fullest
extent, she travelled in a third-class compartment.  Already she was
greatly excited.  As the train crawled out of Victoria she could have
clapped her hands.

When she arrived it was eight o'clock, and a bitter evening.  The
scramble for luggage kept her shivering on the platform for ten
minutes, and then a fly bumped her through the shuttered town.  It was
the hour of local dissipation; on one side of the favourite
thoroughfare the blades of Blithepoint paraded jauntily, crying "Pip,
pip" to stolid-faced young women on the other, who took no notice of
them.  Lady Darlington, reckless for sensations, envied these
"roysterers" who could feel devilish gay so innocently.

The cab shaved a corner, and rattled into a neighbourhood of obscure
apartment-houses.  Her mutinous heart warmed with sentiment, and she
forgot how cold her pretty feet were.  The cab stopped.  She saw the
blind of the ground-floor window dragged aside; an impetuous figure
appeared, and vanished.  The street-door was pulled wide, and a girl
with a cloud of hair, and a string of barbaric beads dangling to the
waist, flew down the steps and hugged her.

"You trump!  You've really come!"

"You duck!  How jolly to see you!"

"'Ere, two bob, missie," said the flyman, "when you've done canoodling."

They ran into the parlour, and laughed at each other in the gaslight.

"Take your things off," said Tattie: "let me help you.  I hope you'll
like the diggings.  I wrote to the swellest address I could hear of,
when I got your letter."

"But you shouldn't have.  What for?"

"Well, for you."

"I wanted everything just as it used to be.  That was it."

"How funny!  But I don't suppose these will strike you as very swagger
after what you've got at home."

"They don't."

"Won't they be good enough?"

"They're heavenly.  Oh, Tattie, how good it is to be back!  Did anybody
bring in my trunk?  'In the Shade of the Palm,' and a Vocal Folio on
the piano!  And professional photographs on the shelf!  Oh, let me see
the photographs!  'To Mrs. Cheney from Miss Bijou Chamberlain--wishing
you a Merry Christmas.'  Who is she?"

"She was here last week--a Variety artist.  She seems to have been
comfortable, as she gave the landlady her photograph.  Are you ready
for supper?"

"Stout?"

"Of course."

"In a jug?"

"Well, I thought after what you had come from I had better order
Guinness."

For a moment Rosalind looked downcast.  "Ah well, never mind," she
said; "we'll have it in a jug to-morrow."

They drew their chairs to the ham-and-beef, and the landlady brought in
the Guinness.

"Good evening, Ma," said Rosalind, with youth in her bosom.

"Good evening, my dear," said Mrs. Cheney.  "You'll be glad of your
supper, I daresay, after your journey?"  She put comestibles on the
table in three paper bags.  "I was meaning to tell you, Miss Lascelles,
that if you'd like a bit of something hot in the evening when you come
back from the show, you can have it.  I'm not one to fuss about hotting
something up.  Sundays we let the fire out, but in the week you can
have it and welcome."

"Good business!" said Miss Lascelles.  "In some places you 'get it hot'
if you ask for it."

"By rights some places shouldn't take professionals," returned Mrs.
Cheney.  "I've 'eard many tales.  Miss Chamberlain--her on the
mantelpiece--was telling me that where she was in Brighton they
wouldn't allow her to have her uncle in to see her.  Such a quiet,
ladylike gal, too!"

"Can such things be?" cried Rosalind.  "Is a poor girl to be cut off
from her own flesh and blood because she's in diggings?"

"Ah, I don't wonder at your asking!" said Mrs. Cheney.  "Not, mind
you," she added, "but what letting lodgings over a number of years
makes one a bit suspicious of uncles.  I've known a gentleman brought
to these very rooms after the show on three different Monday evenings
as the uncle of three different young ladies.  And dreadful taken aback
he was when he see me each time!"

"I'm afraid those were flighty girls," said Rosalind severely.

"Untruthful they was," said Mrs. Cheney, "and so I told 'em.  I say
nothing about visitors, I'm not that evil-minded.  So long as the lady
pays a bit extra for the gas, and the gentleman don't slam the door
when he goes, I like to think well of everyone.  But I 'ate lies."

She drew the cork, and retired; and Rosalind said, "Well, what about
the show, Tat?  What sort of part have you got?"

"The part's rather good," said Miss Lascelles.

"Hurrah!  What screw?"

"Rotten--thirty-five shillings.  I had to take what I could get; I've
been 'out' a long time.  They're paying awful salaries in this crowd;
the chorus only get about fifteen bob, I believe--they're half of them
novices."

"I say!  Whose crowd is it?"

"It's a Syndicate; nobody ever heard of it before.  And the Tenor has
such a cold he could hardly speak at the dress-rehearsal last
night--goodness knows how he's going to sing to-morrow."

"Who is your principal woman?"

"She has backed out; they've put somebody else into the part at the
last minute.  And the scenery has still to come down--it's a bit of a
muddle all round.  I wish I could have got into a better thing, but I
was so hard up--you ought to have seen where I was lodging!  I tried to
get 'shopped' last month as an Extra.  That speaks!"

"An Extra?  No?  Tat! why didn't you write to me?" exclaimed Rosalind
reproachfully.

"Oh, I don't know.  I heard the 'great' Miss Hayward wanted thirty
Extra-ladies to go on in the ball scene.  It was twenty-five bob a
week--she wanted picked women--it would just have done me.  Lil Rayburn
lent me her little squirrel coat and a black velvet hat.  I tell you I
looked a treat when I went down!  There were three hundred and forty
girls waiting; we were sent across the stage thirty at the time.  The
great Hayward sat in the stalls, with her pince-nez up.  'You!' she
said, pointing; 'the one in the squirrel coat!'  So I went to her.  'I
think you'll do,' she drawled; 'you know what the money is?'
'Twenty-five, Miss Hayward,' I said, 'isn't it?'  'No, a guinea,' she
said, 'it doesn't matter to _you_.'  'Thank you,'  I said, 'I've got to
keep myself out of _my_ salary--_I_ haven't got a man, and a flat!'
Potter, the agent, was in an awful stew--'Oh, you shouldn't have spoken
to Miss Hayward like that!'  'To _hell_!' I said."

"Cat!" cried Rosalind.  "Because you were well-dressed?"

"Yes; and if I had gone shabby, she wouldn't have noticed me at all....
You know I've been in the Variety business since you saw me?"

"The music-halls!  You haven't?"

"Straight!  I was one of the Four Sisters Tarantelle.  Jolly good
money--I got five pounds a week when we worked two shows a night; I
never got less than three ten.  I can't get it on the stage."

"Why did you give them up?  But the tips are very heavy, aren't they?"

"They weren't heavy for _me_, I didn't tip anybody except the dresser.
Chloe made the engagements, so Chloe could pay the tips.  Trust this
child!  What does make you sick in that business is the comedians, with
the red noses and the umbrellas--they're always after you.  There was a
little brute in one show--his wife was in the bill, too; she did
sentimental ballads.  Well! how he could let her travel _I_ don't know.
It _was_ her last week, but she wasn't fit to be working so long, we
almost expected any night----  And there he was after me all the time!
'I shall write to you, Tattie--I see you go to Balham, and Walham Green
next week!'  'Who gave you leave to call me "Tattie?"' I said; 'you low
cur, I wish I was a man, to give you a good hiding!'  I did pity his
wife.  She never spoke to me--she used to pass me in the wings with her
head turned away; I suppose she thought I was as bad as _he_ was.  I
said to her one evening when she was ill, 'Can I get you anything,
Miss----'  I forget what her name was.  'No, I thank you, Miss
Tarantelle,' she said--like that; wouldn't look at me!  I _was_ so
sorry for her.  Poor little woman, what a life!"

Rosalind shuddered.  After a pause, she said:--

"You're well out of it, dear."

"Except for the money.  I expect I'll go back to it as soon as I can.
I had a contract for a year--they wanted the option of renewing for
another year."

"_They_ were to have the option?"

"Yes--all on their side; I didn't think it was good enough to sign
that.  So I said I'd like to, but I was going to be married at the end
of the summer."

"You weren't really?"

"Not much!  No marriage for me--not in the Profession anyhow!--but lots
of them think a contract doesn't bind you any more if you marry.  Lil
Rayburn put me up to that dodge.  She lent me her song when the
Tarantelles wanted me--it was a great concession: her big success!
Whenever she doesn't want to sign an option and is afraid to refuse
point-blank, she looks bashful and says she's going to be married at
the end of the summer.  She has been going to be married 'at the end of
the summer' for the last nine years!"  They turned to the fire, and lit
cigarettes--Rosalind's; she had remembered to put a hundred in her
trunk.

  "'What is the use of loving a girl
  If the girl don't love _you_?'"

hummed Tattie.  The song was just published.  "They _are_ fine
cigarettes!

  'What is the use of loving a girl
  When you know she don't want yer _to_?'

Of course, you have the best of everything now.  It does seem curious."

"My having the best of everything?"

"No, your wanting the worst.

  'What if she's fair beyond all compare,
  And what if her eyes are blue----'

Fancy living in your style, and coming to rooms like these for fun!"

"Oh, Tattie," said Rosalind, "that's just what I did come for!  I
haven't any fun at home."

"But I thought in Society they had no end of a good time?"

"So they do, in a way, but it's the wrong way for me--I never rehearsed
for it, I'm not easy in the part; I wasn't meant for high-class comedy.
And I miss you--I've no pal now."

"_I_'ve missed _you_, I can tell you!  Oh, the tour after you left,
wasn't that damn dull!  The girl I lived with was so 'off'--common.
Well, you can tell _I'm_ a perfect lady--I just said 'damn'--but I
usedn't to, did I?  Remember?  Good-hearted girl, but she was so horrid
at table.  And under that silk blouse--all anyhow!  Not that I like to
see a girl with too smart underlinen, I always think it looks fishy;
but hers was--well, if she had been run over one day when we were out,
I'd have been ashamed to own her!"

"Let's go and look up some of the Company, shall we?" said Rosalind.
"What name had I better have?"

"What's the matter with 'Heath?'  There are plenty of 'Miss Heaths'
about."

"Yes, but you're sure to let the 'Rosalind' slip, and that will give me
away.  Introduce me as 'Miss Daintree.'  Do you know where any of the
women are staying?"

"We'll find them on the pier.  We always make for the pier on Sunday
evenings when there's a concert; it's something to do.  I suppose I'm
to say you're in the Profession?"

"I'm an actress out of an engagement," assented Rosalind, throwing her
cigarette in the fender.  "Make haste, or we shall be too late!"

The boards of _Little Miss Kiss-and-Tell_ were big outside the pier.
At the turnstile Miss Lascelles nodded towards them, saying, "In the
Company."  The man answered, "All right, Miss; come in through the
gate, then."  At the pay-box of the theatre she showed her card,
saying, "Can you oblige me with a couple of seats?"  The business
manager answered, "With pleasure, my dear."

The gas-stoves glowed redly, and the theatre was much better warmed
than the majority of theatres in London.  They sat down in the third
row of the stalls, and listened to a dispirited soprano who was
supposed to be singing "The Holy City."  She was not really singing
"The Holy City;" from beginning to end she articulated not a word save
"Jerusalem."  She simply kept her mouth ajar and wailed the air; but
she was successful.

There were only about twenty people in the crimson velvet seats, and
most of these were _Kiss-and-Tell_ people.  The others were very young
men, in caps, who bore the sacred music on Sunday evening for the sake
of an advance view of the girls who were to perform on Monday.  The
very young men watched the arrivals with much interest, and if the
ladies in the stalls were unattractive, it was said in a Blithepoint
club on Sunday night that the piece on the pier to-morrow was no good.

When the dispirited soprano had finished, the actresses applauded her
warmly, in the hope of cheering her up; and the sixpenny balcony
rattled its umbrellas, in the hope of getting a song more than it had
paid for.  Then one of the actresses murmured to Miss Lascelles, "How
badly she holds herself, doesn't she?" and Miss Lascelles presented
"Miss Daintree."

Rosalind soon discovered that nobody was sanguine of _Little Miss
Kiss-and-Tell_ being well received, and--having forgotten something of
the world she was revisiting--it surprised her to note the
light-heartedness of the professionals, who tottered on the brink of
disaster.  They were all pitiably poor, they were likely to fall out of
employment at the worst time of year; but they said gaily, "Oh well,
let's hope for the best!  It may be all right at night.  It's no use
looking on the black side of things."  And most of them were totally
dependent on their salaries, though that was not the belief of the very
young men who endured "The Holy City."

Only Miss Jinman, a large, elderly lady who spoke in a bass voice, was
pessimistic.  Years ago she had sung in parts of dignity, and hectored
first-rate touring companies; to-day she was engaged for an amorous old
woman in Turkish trousers, whom the low comedian was to pelt with
insults as often as she came on the stage.

"I don't think the piece will last a month," she said to Rosalind, in
her lugubrious bass.  "It isn't amusing at all.  Vulgar, very vulgar!
I may be too critical; I'm used to such high-class things, as you
know--my notices as 'Buttercup' were immense--but I call it a 'rotter.'
I see a frost, a killing frost, my dear!  I keep my opinion to
myself"--she was disseminating it with gusto--"I don't want to give the
others the hump, but I see us all out of a shop till the spring comes."

"Oh, you're always croaking, Miss Jinman," snapped a black-eyed girl
with golden hair.  "Give us a chance, do!"

"A chance?" returned Miss Jinman heavily.  "Chit, you have no chance.
It's only kindness to tell you so."

"Thanks for being so kind!" said the girl.  She had not been long on
the stage.  Her married sister kept "Dining Rooms" in Holloway, and
less than a year ago the "artiste" had served as waitress there and
been ordered to "'Urry up with that there Yorkshire-pudden."

"You will never do any better than you're doing," affirmed Miss Jinman.
"And I could say as much to others present if I hadn't too much
consideration for their feelings.  To more than one!" she added
significantly.  "Look at _me_, with all my experience!  And _I_ am
clever, and _I_ can sing; my notices as 'Buttercup' were immense.  And
where am I now?  On a pier with amateurs--amateurs and novices.  I
don't know what the Profession is coming to--it's a very different
thing to what it was when _I_ was in my prime!"

"I expect most things have woke up a bit since then," said the
golden-haired brunette; "the bringing in of railways must have made
such a difference."

"Small-part people were taught to respect the principals," said Miss
Jinman sternly.  "Minxes kept their places."

"It's a pity you couldn't keep yours," said the dark one with the
golden locks.  But harmony was restored during the next selection by
the band.

There was a little sleet blowing when the audience straggled homeward.
The lights of the Belle Vue Hotel were not put out yet, and carelessly,
Miss Jinman observed that the people inside must be warmer than _she_
was.  Rosalind took the hint.  It is only in the lowest ranks of the
theatrical profession that the ladies refresh themselves in bars; a
second-rate provincial actress would wither the person who invited her;
but Miss Jinman and Miss Lascelles had adapted their manners to their
company, and it was a very humble Company indeed.  So they went into
the Lounge, and sat down.

Another professional lady came in, and inquired generously, "Are you
drinking, girls?"

Miss Lascelles said, "Yes, we've got port wine."

"Serve you right," said the other lady, with a pretty wit.

Though she was on the high road to Prague, Lady Darlington was relieved
to see that the clock pointed to five minutes to ten.  When the Lounge
closed, the party shook hands with her heartily, and hoped they would
meet her again in the morning.  Distressingly ill-bred of them to drink
port in a smoky bar--not at all the sort of thing I can ask you to
condone.  But some of the sirens who had lolled in velvet fauteuils
were financing on coppers until the first week's treasury was paid, and
tea and bread-and-butter was all they had had to support their internal
economies during the day.  How amused the very young men in the stalls
would be at my simplicity in believing it!



CHAPTER XIV

Since the last chapter went away to be typewritten I, myself, have been
in the theatre on Blithepoint Pier.  A pantomime was being performed.
The seat I was in yielded me a view of more than I had paid to look at;
I could see the Prompt entrance, which is the place where they signal
for the sunset and the moonbeams and where the players come to peep at
the doings on the stage.  Last night a young woman came there.  She
wore a brief, blue skirt, and a silver crown, and for the nonce an
unlovely wrap hung over her whitened back and bosom, since you may get
rheumatism in the Prompt entrance, as well as moonbeams.  Before the
footlights two comic men were bawling a duet; I knew they were comic
because they had made their faces so repulsive; and the spirit moving
her, the woman broke into lazy dance steps to the refrain.  In the
glare, and the distance she was pretty.  As I watched, I felt
instinctively for the hand of Rosalind; I knew the craving that was in
her blood, and turned to meet her gaze.  If she had been there, I think
she would have liked me.  I said, "Those who saw that would understand
Rosalind; the tawdry figure dancing in the draught says everything!"
That was why I brought the picture at home, to show it to you ... but
somehow, all at once, I doubt whether you will understand any better
than you did.

However I beg you to believe that on the morrow Rosalind accompanied
Tattie Lascelles to a rehearsal with infinite zest.  She had no right
to accompany her, but a discussion was in progress when they arrived,
and she passed unchallenged.  Mr. Omee, the local manager, who stood in
the pit, was talking to Mr. Quisby, the travelling manager, who stood
on the stage.  It appeared that owing to the pressure of Christmas
traffic, the railway company had failed to dispatch the scenery.

"Well, but who has been to the station?  What do they say?"

"I tell you the fools at this end don't know anything about it."

"What the bleak Helvellyn's the good of bringing the piece without any
scenery?"

"Isn't there any scenery in your theatre?"

"I've told you what cloth you can have, my boy.  That's the best we can
do."

"It's no use offering us Hyde Park Corner when we want a blooming
mosque! ... Well, let's have a look at it!"

Mr. Omee shouted for "Bates."

There was a lull, and then from unseen heights a voice announced that
Bates had just "stepped outside."

Mr. Omee ramped in the pit.

The shouts for "Bates" were resumed--the rafters rang with the name of
"Bates"--and after some minutes a discomfited working man slouched onto
the stage, to be received with a volley of abuse.  He was understood to
retort that he was unable to be in two places at once, and parties who
expected it might find someone else to do the work, that was the
straight tip.  Those nearest to him also learnt that he had a poor
opinion of the job at its blessed best.

"Let's have that Hyde Park cloth," commanded Mr. Omee.  "Come on, look
alive, man--hurry up!"

"What _I_ want to know," grunted the low comedian, "is 'ow I'm to get
that wheeze of mine into that song.  That's what's bothering me."

"What song?" inquired Miss Lascelles.

"What song!  Why, 'All the Winners.'  I was going to say the
Blithepoint football team was 'all the winners' in the match on
Saturday, and now I'm told that Sweetbay beat 'em.  My luck again!
That queers my wheeze."

"Why not say," suggested Rosalind, "that the _next time_ Sweetbay is
rash enough to play them, Blithepoint will be all the winners?"

"Wot ho!" said the low comedian, brightening.  He added promptly, "Of
course that's what I was thinking of doing!  But I must see if I can
get all that cackle into the tune.  Where's the conductor of the
blooming band?"

Presently the cloth was displayed.  It was no faithful representation
of Hyde Park Corner, but it was still less like a mosque, and the
players stood about, and sneered, and muttered contemptuous criticisms.
Miss Jinman said that in all her experience she had never known such
disgraceful mismanagement before.  She was to figure in her Turkish
trousers in this scene, and she pointed morosely to the omnibuses
painted outside the hospital.

"Clear the stage, please!" cried Mr. Quisby.  "We'll just run through
Miss Vavasour's scenes.  Come on, Miss Vavasour--we don't want to be
here all day!"  He told her this indignantly, as if the delay in
lowering the cloth were directly attributable to her.  She was the girl
who had been suddenly promoted to the leading part.

The manager of the theatre lounged from the pit into the stalls, where
Rosalind sat now too.  He chewed his cigar, and there was gloom on his
face.  This should have been a week of large receipts, but the outlook
was unpromising.

Miss Vavasour was rendered additionally nervous by the fact that she
had not had time to learn the lines.  She advanced constrainedly, and
said in a timid voice--

"'We are alone at last!  Oh rapture!'"

"Speak up, my dear!" said Mr. Quisby.  "Say it as if you meant it.
'Rapture!'  Do a bit of a caper there, be _fetching_!"

"'We are alone at last!'" repeated Miss Vavasour, with a mechanical
jump.  "'Oh rapture!'"

"Oh rats!" said the manager of the theatre.  He turned to
Rosalind--"Can she sing?" he asked.

"She sings even better than she acts," said Rosalind innocently.

"Good Lord!" groaned the manager.  "Well, what are they waiting for
now?"

It was the cue for an embrace, and Miss Vavasour was hanging forward to
be clasped in the Tenor's arms, but the Tenor had a request to make--

"Mr. Quisby," he said, disregarding her, "I think it would be better if
somebody read my part.  I don't know how I shall get through to-night
as it is--my cold is so severe."

"Oh, my sufferings!" muttered the manager of the theatre.  "Now the
Tenor's got a cold.  This is going to be a great draw, this show is!"

"Don't you think you could just 'walk through' the 'business,' my boy?"
Mr. Quisby asked.  "The girl's a bit uneasy in the love scenes--she'll
be all over the shop to-night if she don't know what you're going to
do."

"I am really very ill," insisted the Tenor feebly; "I'm not fit to
rehearse, I ought to be in bed."

"Oh, all right then," answered Mr. Quisby.  He beckoned to the
prompter.  "Here, read the lines--give Miss Vavasour her cues.  Do get
on, Miss Vavasour, we shall be in the theatre till Doomsday if you
don't wake up!  'We are alone at last'--go back, please."

"'We are alone at last.  Oh rapture!'" faltered Miss Vavasour for the
third time, with the mechanical jump.

"That's marked 'Kiss,'" said the prompter.  He was a slovenly man with
a dirty face.

"I know it is," snapped Miss Vavasour.  "Do let's get to the next line!"

"I was 'elping yer," said the prompter, aggrieved.  "If yer don't want
no 'elp, sye so!"  He read, "'My Prize!  My Pearlikins!'"

"'Sometimes,'" continued Miss Vavasour, simulating maiden modesty.  "'I
wonder if it's all a dream.  _Why_ do you love me?  You might have
married Delicia, who has millions--_I_ am a very poor girl.'"

"You're a very poor actress too," said Mr. Omee under his breath.

"'Why do I love yer, sweetheart?'" mumbled the prompter.  "'Your
question reminds me of what the apple-blossom said to the moon.'"

"Band cue!" shouted Mr. Quisby.  "Have you got that, there in the
orchestra?--'The Apple-blossom and the Moon,' song!  Go on,
Mr.--er--Song over.  Get on with the lines."

"Excuse me!" exclaimed the Tenor, reappearing.  "That's a cue for the
limelight.  I don't think it has been marked; I didn't get it at the
dress rehearsal."

"Oh yes, it is marked," declared the prompter; "_I_ marked it."  He
referred resentfully to the typescript.  "'Moonlight'!  There it is, in
its proper plice."

"Its proper place is _on me_," said the Tenor.

"Well, we'll see it's all right to-night," said Mr. Quisby, with
impatience.  "If you're so ill, you had better get home and rest your
voice, hadn't you?"

"I should be only too glad to be at home," rejoined the Tenor stiffly.
"I just called attention to the matter for the sake of the scene....
Interests of the Show at heart!"

"Where do I speak from now, Mr. Quisby?" murmured Miss Vavasour.

"You're on the balcony, my dear--up left.  'And now ta-ta, my Romeo'!
Get on with it, get on!"

"One moment, Miss Vavasour!" put in the Tenor, coming back.  "You
mustn't speak too soon, there; I expect an encore!  Take your cue from
me."

She nodded helplessly.  "'And now ta-ta, my Romeo.'"

"''T is not the nightingale, let's have a lark!'" read the prompter.
"'Come out to supper!----

'For thou art as glorious to this night, being o'er my 'ead----'"

"Come to cues!" said Mr. Quisby, stamping.

  "'When 'e bestrides the liezy-piecing clouds,
  And siles upon the bosom of the air,'"

gabbled the prompter.

"'Bosom of the air'!" bellowed Mr. Quisby.  "Pick up your cues, Miss
Vavasour, for Gawd's sake!"

"I beg your pardon, I didn't hear it, Mr. Quisby," she stammered.

"Well, then, listen, my girl!  What do you suppose we're here for?
'Bosom of the air'--caper down centre.  Lightly--_lightly_!  Great
Scot! not like that.  You come down like a sack o' coals."

"The girl has no experience," remarked Miss Jinman in a deep undertone
to all about her.

"Go back," shouted Mr. Quisby.  "'Bosom of the air,' now again!  What
have you to say as you run down?"

"I forget," she whimpered.

"What's the line, Mr.--er--you?"

"I--I'm just looking to see," said the prompter.

"Looking to see?" yelled Mr. Quisby, furiously, throwing up his arms.
"Upon my life and soul it's maddening!  What's your business, what are
you engaged as, what is it you're supposed to be?  _Are_ you the
prompter, or are you not?  Good -- ------ is it asking too much of a
man with the book in his hand to follow the lines?  I've got the whole
weight of the production on me, I've done the work of twenty men, I'm
wearing myself out--and nobody takes the trouble to study a part, or to
read the 'scrip!  Ladies and gentlemen, the ensanguined rehearsal is
dismissed, while the prompter looks for the line!"

"'Supper?  Oh, it will be a merry evening!' read the prompter, sulkily.

"Very well then!  Now, Miss Vavasour! let's have it."

"I think it's v-v-very hard on me," said Miss Vavasour, beginning to
cry; "I've only had the p-part three days."

"Come, come, do your best!  You've nothing to cry about, I've been very
patient with you.  'Supper?  Oh, it _will_ be a merry evening!'  Trip
down _pretty_; speak as you come."

"_Very_ hard on me," she sobbed; "I think it's m-m-most unfeeling!"

"Bring me a chair!" called Mr. Quisby to no one in particular.  "Look
here, my girl, I'm going to see you do it if we have to stop on the
stage till the doors open.  Understand?  If I keep you here till the
curtain rises, I'll see you do it!  'Bosom of the air!'  Now take it up
sharp."

"A bit of _all_ right, keeping the Company 'ere to see a novice taught
her business, I _don't_ think," grumbled the low comedian.

Miss Vavasour, still sobbing, drooped to where the balcony was to be
imagined.  She sniffed violently, and, with an effort at sprightly
grace, scuttled down the stage again.

"'Supper?  Oh, it _will_ be a merry evening!' she quavered.

"It'll be a merry evening to-morrow--about sixpence in the house!"
growled the manager of the theatre.  He caught Rosalind's eye.  "Are
the rest of you as good as this, my dear?" he said bitterly.

"Oh yes," said cheerful Rosalind, "I think you'll like us all!"

Presently Miss Lascelles wanted to see where she was to dress, and with
a heartful of memories Rosalind explored with her.  The pencilled lists
of names on most of the doors were lengthy, but Miss Lascelles was to
share a room with no one but Miss Vavasour this week, so she was
jubilant, and had been in no hurry to annex a gas-burner.  As a rule
the ladies scamper on Monday morning to secure the best places.

The room was very comfortably furnished.

"Oh my!" said Miss Lascelles, enraptured.

"Oh dear!" said Lady Darlington, disappointed.  "Why, there's a full
length mirror!  Where's the single washstand for five people?  Where's
the one chair, broken?  Why, you've got two rugs!  This is a blow,
Tattie!"

Miss Lascelles was doing coon steps before the mirror.  "Is the
rehearsal hateful enough for you?"

"It's a dream of delight," said Rosalind.

But even she was rather tired of it when it finished at five o'clock.

It was nearly half-past five when they reached their lodging, and they
were glad to hear from Mrs. Cheney that "the kittle was on the bile."
At a quarter to seven Miss Lascelles had to hurry to the theatre again.

Rosalind went later.  The wind had risen, and on the pier she had to
fight against it.  The lamps streaked a heaving sea.  The little wooden
theatre was fairly full, and a few Christmas trippers in the balcony
were comporting themselves with less decorum than prevails in
Blithepoint as a rule.  Knowing what she knew of affairs behind the
curtain, Rosalind heard the whistles with misgiving.  She feared that
if the whistlers found the entertainment meagre, they were likely to
create entertainment for themselves.

However, they listened to the opening chorus with polite attention.  It
was surprising how attractive many of the chorus ladies had become.
They represented the seamen of the Battleship _Deadly Oyster_, and wore
sailors' jackets and trousers made of silk--or a material that passed
for it.  Some of the seamen also wore paste necklaces.  They sang that
there was "No life so jolly as Jack's," and when one watched their
saucy gambols, and remembered that they were actually paid to be there,
it looked as if there could be no life so jolly as a chorus girl's.

As it happened, the first to provoke dissatisfaction was the Tenor.  He
had been refused permission to beg indulgence for his cold, but
resolving that the Audience should understand that they were not
hearing him to advantage, he kept laying his hand on his chest, with an
air of suffering.  It made him a depressing figure; and when he
exclaimed, "'Beware, my temper's hot!'" a humourist in the balcony
cried, "How's your poultice?"

A man in the pit said "Hush!" but several persons giggled, and the
humourist was stimulated to further witticisms.  Other humourists began
to envy him his successes; as the piece proceeded, the interruptions
were frequent.  Once the low comedian attempted a repartee, but it came
too late in the evening to turn the scale; the malcontents had grown
spiteful, and as a rejoinder he was hissed.  His companions stared at
one another haggardly.  "Behind," they stood quaking, dreading the cues
that would recall them to the stage.

At every exit they came off gasping, "The brutes! the pigs!  Oh, what a
_wicked_ house it is!"

The "house" would have been astonished at the emotion displayed, at the
"extraordinary sensitiveness of such people."  To the Stalls there were
"Just a few noisy young fellows upstairs who made jokes."  Indeed it
seemed a long time between the jokes to the Stalls; they wore an air of
superior detachment, but they were secretly amused.  Only Rosalind
understood.  Rosalind felt faint.

Miss Lascelles had been accepted by the Balcony while they were still
good humoured, and she was among those who escaped contumely; but Miss
Jinman's record availed her little.  Derisive cheers greeted her every
entrance, and a lifetime on the boards could not save her from the
sickness of the senses which attacks a player who is being "guyed."  As
for Miss Vavasour, she trembled as if she had ague when a youth
mimicked her high notes in her solo, and on her bloodless face, while
she sang, the make-up stood out in patches, like paint on the cheeks of
a corpse.  At the conclusion of the song she clung hysterically to
Tattie Lascelles in the wings.

When the end was reached, the Audience rose murmuring that it was a
"silly piece," and "not worth going to"--they "shouldn't think it would
be a success!"  No one but Rosalind suspected the despair that was
hidden by the curtain.

She made her way to the stage-door.  Tedious as the performance had
been, a number of young men had preceded her, and were assembling to
address the chorus ladies when they came out.  (Thirty were waiting
there that night when the Chorus came out at last.)  An old woman--a
dresser--was hurrying in with two glasses containing whisky from the
refreshment room.  One of the young men asked her jauntily if she would
take a message for him to "the sixth girl on the right."  She said she
was in a hurry, and pushed the door open.  As the door-keeper wasn't
there, to be obstructive, Rosalind followed her inside.

Many of the players were in the flaring passage.  They had not begun to
doff their costumes yet; they were lingering in groups, a tinselled,
nerveless crowd with harassed eyes.  Miss Vavasour sat crying on a
clothes hamper; Miss Jinman was waiting weakly for her whisky.  As it
appeared, her gaze fell on the huddled girl; "Here, have half of this,
child!" she said gently.  The brunette with golden hair exclaimed, "No,
no, take yours, Miss Jinman; Queenie can have half of mine!"  Everybody
kept casting anxious glances in the direction of the stage, where
voices could be heard disputing.

"Poor old Tat!" murmured Rosalind.

Now Miss Lascelles, as we know, had had less than the majority to
unhinge her, but so infectious was the atmosphere, so easily swayed are
some of these "extraordinarily sensitive" people of the theatre, that
as Rosalind's arm was slipped round her waist, she immediately burst
into tears, and sobbed as if her heart would break.

"Cheer up," said Rosalind.  "It'll go all right after a few more
rehearsals."

"I shall be b-better directly," gulped Miss Lascelles.  "D-don't mind
me.  I'm a fool, but I can't help it; I'm broke up!"

"We're all of us broke up," groaned Miss Jinman.  "Did you ever see
such a house as it was?  In all my experience I never saw anything like
it!  What were they saying as they came out?  Do you think we shall go
on, my dear?"

"_I_ sha'n't be kept, anyhow," wailed Miss Vavasour.  "Mr. Quisby's
been bullying me as if it was all my fault.  I shall be out of a shop
again!  And I did hope I was settled till the spring--I don't know what
I shall do, I'm sure!"

"Where is he?" inquired Rosalind.

"That's him, quarrelling with Mr. Omee there," said Miss Lascelles.
"Mr. Omee says he won't let the piece go on to-morrow night."

"Not go on?"

"They say he says so," put in the demi-blonde.  "That's all gas--he'd
have to shut the theatre; he won't do that."

"If you ask _me_," said the low comedian, taking part in the conference
gloomily, "it puts the kybosh on the tour.  We may as well pack up our
props, and git.  There's no good health for _Miss Kiss-and-Tell_ after
to-night's show."

"Git?" demanded Miss Jinman, "Git where?  I shall have my rights; I've
got a contract."

"Take it to your Uncle's!" said the low comedian.  "See what he'll lend
you on it.  If you ask me, the Syndicate's a wrong 'un.  If we strike
it lucky, we'll get our fares; and if we don't strike it lucky, we can
travel on our luggage.  I see it sticking out a foot!"

A shudder ran through the players.  They gathered about him dumbly.

"We can all claim a fortnight's salary in lieu of notice," asserted
Miss Jinman, rallying.  "That's the Law.  It's the Rule of the
Profession."

The company perked up a little.  They turned their eyes to Miss Jinman.

"So I've been led to believe," said the low comedian.  "And in such
circs the pros always get it, I _don't_ think!  Claim?  Oh, we can
claim!  We'll all get fat claiming, won't we?  You're better off to
claim from the Post Office than from a Syndicate--at all events you do
know where St. Martin's le Grand _is_."

The company collapsed.

"The long and the short of it," he continued, "is that we're out with a
stumour of a piece.  _Why_ didn't it go?  Is there anything wrong with
_us_?  No! a jolly clever crowd, if you ask _me_.  The piece has got no
stamina--" "stamina" was not the word he used--"that's what's the
matter; and that 'Iyde Park Corner cloth settled us.  I'll lay anyone
'ere ten to one that the tour dries up, and the Syndicate does a guy.
'Oo's Quisby?"

"Quisby?" they gasped.  "'Who's Quisby?'"

"Quisby!" repeated the low comedian emphatically; "I say, 'Oo's Quisby?
I'll lay anybody 'ere ten to one that Quisby calls us to-morrow to say
he ain't responsible.  Now?  I wish all Syndicates were in 'ell."

The dispute between the powers had ended, and suddenly the prompter's
voice rang through the passage.  He bawled, "Everybody on the stige,
please!  Principals and Chorus are wanted on the stige!"

The eyes met for a moment, and then the players trooped away, with
sinking hearts.  The cold, bare stage was in shadow, for the floats and
battens had been extinguished, and the only light was shed by a single
burner of the T-piece.  By the T-piece Mr. Quisby stood, his back to
the dark emptiness of the auditorium.  The prompter was still heard
calling in the distance;--

"Everybody on the stige, please!  Principals and Chorus on the stige!"

Shivering, they flocked there, some in their plumes and spangles,
others already in their shabby street clothes; many were in a state of
transition--the faces daubed with grease, the undergarments and naked
necks revealed by hasty ulsters.  Nobody spoke.  When the last comer
had scrambled to the crowd, all looked at Mr. Quisby.  The suspense
that held them mute was pitiable.

Outside, the thirty young men had collected to accost the merry chorus
girls.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Mr. Quisby, "there will be no performance
to-morrow."  He forced a hearty air.  "I'm going to talk to you like a
pal.  Things look a bit rocky, but we must hope for the best.  I won't
disguise from you that there may be no tour.  Now you all know as much
as _I_ do--there _may_ be no tour.  Whether there is, or not, I've no
doubt we shall all get what's due to us.  I hope we shall, I'm
sure--God knows _I_ can't afford to lose what they owe me!"  He made a
slight pause, to let this sink.  "As soon as I hear from London what
the Management intends to do, we'll put our heads together again.  You
worked nobly to-night, nobly--one and all!  Some of you ought to be in
London, getting your thirty, and forty, quid a week!  If the thing's a
frost, it won't be the fault of the artists, and I mean to let the
Management know it!"

"What Management?" cried the low comedian.  "'Ave _you_ left off being
manager all of a sudden?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, as you're all aware, the Management is a
Syndicate," Mr. Quisby proceeded with difficulty.  "If this was _my_
crowd, I should talk very different.  Do you know what I should say if
this was my crowd?  I should say, 'Between you and I, I'm a bit
doubtful of the piece--that's straight!--but I've got a first-class
company of artists, and by George I mean to keep 'em!'  I should say,
'If I can't pull this piece together, then I'll cast the whole blessed
crowd for another!'  That's what I should say if _I_ was manager.  But
I'm not.  No, I'm one of you.  We're all in the same boat.  I'm engaged
at a salary, like yourselves.  Still"--he smeared the perspiration
round his lying lips--"still it's always darkest before dawn.  There's
a silver lining to every cloud, and we may find as good fish in the sea
as ever came out of it.  Mr. Omee won't have the piece, and--er--you're
all to clear your props out of the theatre first thing in the morning;
but there are plenty of other theatres in the kingdom!  We must stick
together.  Where there's a will, there's a way!  We must stick
together, like Englishmen in the hour of trouble all the world over,
and--er, er--be loyal to the show!  Ladies and gentlemen--Boys and
girls!--Mr. Omee is waiting to see me in his office.  That's all."

"Well, he couldn't have spoken any fairer," many of the poor, wretched
women said to one another as they lagged through the forsaken streets.



CHAPTER XV

Indeed it was Mr. Omee whom the Company censured--Mr. Omee who had been
inhuman enough to banish a worthless performance from his theatre.
"Never," said Miss Jinman, "in all her experience had she known artists
to be so grossly insulted."  Mr. Quisby's position might be ambiguous,
Mr. Quisby might be shirking his responsibilities; not to put too fine
a point upon it, Mr. Quisby might be a rogue.  But he had paid them
compliments--and Mr. Omee had shut his doors against them.  Mr. Omee
was the innocent person whom they execrated and reviled.

In the quarter where the "professional apartments" of Blithepoint are
most numerous, the landladies looked anxious in the morning.  On every
doorstep in Corporation Road, and half way down Alfreton Terrace, the
news was known by nine o'clock.  The lodgers were obliged to fence with
searching questions at breakfast, and many of the houris heating
curling-tongs in the parlour-fire were told that it would "save trouble
if they got in their dinner themselves."

Towards midday the Company straggled off the pier with baskets and
parcels, and the baggageman was busy collecting the clothes-hampers.
The boards of _Little Miss Kiss-and-Tell_ had gone from the turnstiles,
and later, bill-stickers came along and splashed up advertisements of a
stopgap.  The rejected comedians stood on the Parade and eyed the work
morosely.  They had hoped the theatre would have to be closed.  Miss
Jinman said, "It was very strange, to say the least; she didn't
understand how the bills had been printed since last night!  It looked
to _her_ as if Mr. Omee had been _playing them false from the start_!"

Then striking proof of Mr. Omee's perfidy was forthcoming, his brutal
nature was revealed to the full--he offered to make the stranded
performers by whom he had lost money, a present of their fares if they
liked to return to their homes.  "Ah," said the Chorus, "_that_ shows
what a dirty trick he served us!"  "He has exposed his hand _there_,"
said Miss Jinman; "_wants to get us out of the town_!"

And Mr. Quisby, who meant to pay them nothing, but was endeavouring to
make use of them in Slocombe-on-the-Swamp the following week before he
decamped, told them there was a reviving prospect of a three months'
tour.

So not more than a third of the Company profited by Mr. Omee's
generosity, and the others warned them that they were being very unwise.

And by this time the tidings of the disaster had spread from
Corporation Road and Alfreton Terrace as far as the Grand Hotel, where
it provided languid amusement, and the plight of the players was known
to all the visitors on the Front.  Including Conrad.

But it was not until Friday, December 26th, that one of those incidents
which may occur to anybody associated him with the matter.

It had been misty since morning, and towards the close of day the fog
deepened.  When he left a house where he had been lunching with a man,
he took the wrong turning.  So far as he was able to see at all, he saw
that he had blundered into a neighbourhood which was strange to him.  A
humble neighbourhood, apparently, with nothing of a watering-place
about it.  This being Boxing-day, the little shops to which he came
were shuttered, and owing to the weather, few people were abroad.  He
wandered amid dim desertion.  Then as he paused, hesitating, two girls
emerged suddenly from the fog, and stopped before him.

"Oh!" exclaimed one of them, "could you tell us where Gandy's the
greengrocer's is?"

"I am so sorry," said Conrad, "I can't.  Can you direct me to the
Parade?"

She answered absurdly that he was "coming away from it," though he was
standing still.  "It's over there," she said; "you go down there, and
take the first on the left, and keep straight on.  You can't miss it."

"I _have_ missed it," demurred Conrad.  "Thank you for rescuing me.  I
wish I could direct you to Gandy's the greengrocer's in return."

The other girl had not spoken yet, but now she said--

"Oh, never mind, thanks, we shall find it; they say it's quite near.
But it's too dark to make out the names."

It was also too dark to make out her features, but her voice was
delicious, and if the fog didn't flatter her, she was dowered with the
eyes that he most ardently admired.  He was all at once sensible of a
keen interest in the whereabouts of the greengrocer's.

"That seems to be a shop at the corner; I'll go over and see what it
is!" he said promptly.  But it was a general dealer's, and he came back
not displeased.

"Bother!  We _must_ find it!" cried the first girl.

"May I come and help you?" he asked.

"Oh, you can come if you like," she said; and added as a pure
concession to formality, "It's awf'ly kind of you."

So they all proceeded through the fog.

"It's such a nuisance everything being shut to-day," the first girl
went on.  "That's why we want Gandy's--they say Gandy's live there, and
might oblige us.  We can ring 'em up."

"Fruit?" he inquired.

"No," she said; "flowers--violets.  We want some for the concert
to-night.  Are you going?"

"Certainly I am," said Conrad.  "What concert?  I haven't heard about
it?"

"Oh well, it was only settled this morning.  We're giving a concert at
the Victoria Hall--_The Little Miss Kiss-and-Tell_ Company.  It's to
help us all.  Mr. Quisby--our manager--only let me know just now.  I'm
going to sing a 'flower-song,' and I want some 'button-holes' to throw
among the Audience; I can't do the song without."

"Throw one to me," said Conrad.

"I will," she promised.  "We ought to get some people in, as it's bank
holiday, don't you think so?  And if the show 'goes,' we can have the
hall again to-morrow.  The tickets are only sixpence and a shilling.
Did you see us on the pier?"

"No," he said, "I wasn't here then--I was just too late.  How many
tickets can you let me have?"

"Oh, you'll get them at the door! we haven't got any.  You'll really
come, won't you?"

"I'll come if I miss my dinner to get there," he vowed.  "Where _is_
Victoria Hall?"

"It's--I don't know the name of the street.  It's near the station.
Anybody'll tell you.  We begin at eight o'clock."

This was all very well, but the Girl of the Voice had not spoken again,
and he wished she would say something.

"Shall I hear you sing, too?" he asked, looking across at her.  He
looked across at her just as they approached a lamp-post, and his most
sanguine hopes were realised.  He found her adorable.

"No, _I_ am not in the programme," said Rosalind.

"Here's a policeman!" cried Miss Lascelles.  "Can you tell us where
Gandy's the greengrocer's is?" she begged again.

The constable did not know, and, official though useless, took a long
time to say so.  More intelligently he remarked that it was "Nasty
weather for Boxing-day," and Conrad gave him a half-crown.  The next
instant they deciphered the name of "Gandy" themselves.

"What a stupid policeman!" exclaimed Rosalind, pouting.  She pulled the
bell, and glanced at Conrad.  Conrad happened to be glancing at her.
"Your troubles are nearly over," she said with a smile.

"I am not impatient," owned Conrad.

There were descending footsteps, and a woman opened the door.

He said ingratiatingly, "I am sorry to disturb you, but we're trying to
get some flowers.  Can you let me have some?"

"Flowers?" said the woman.  She had a vacant stare.

"A few bunches of violets," Rosalind explained.

"Y-e-s," murmured the woman.  She made a long pause.  "We 'aven't got
no flowers now," she said.  "N--no.  I'm sorry we can't oblige you."

"Can you tell us where we can get some?" put in Miss Lascelles sharply.

"No----no, I couldn't say, I'm sure," faltered the woman....  "There's
Peters' opperzite--p'raps _they_ might be able to oblige you."

"Do you know where there's a florist's?" questioned Conrad.

"Florist's?"  She shook her head.  "N--no, I can't say as I do--not one
as is likely to be open to-day."

"Let's try Peters'!" they said; and scurried across the road.

Here they pulled without effect; the bell yielded to them immoderately,
but no tinkle came.  They regarded one another, discouraged.

"You had better leave us to our fate," sighed Rosalind.

"Are you dismissing me?"  His tone was reproachful.

"Releasing you," she said, in her best St. James' manner.

"My chains are flowers," said he ornately.

"I wish you'd give 'em to me!" said Tattie Lascelles.

"You shall have them before we part.  Ladies, I have an inspiration!
You know the way to the Parade--let's go down there and get a fly.
Then we've nothing more to do--the responsibility's the flyman's.
We'll take him by the hour, and make him drive us about Blithepoint
till we find a florist's.  Is it carried?"

"Unanimously!" cried Rosalind.  "Right about face, quick march!"

And there was a belated fly dozing by the pier.  When the man had
recovered from his astonishment at being hailed, he grew quite brisk,
and developed ideas.  He suggested "Mitchell's," and drove them to a
fashionable florist's in the Mall.  Nothing could have been happier.
Mr. Mitchell accepted their apologies, and lit the gas as amiably as if
bank-holidays were of no importance.  Bountifully he brought forward
his best for them, and his best was as beauteous as it was expensive.

The warm, perfumed air was agreeable after the fog, and Rosalind among
the azaleas was divine.  (There are few keener pleasures than taking
out a nice woman, and spending money on her; and it is unnecessary that
one should go out fond of the woman--it's so easy to get fond of her in
the process.)  "Oh no, really!" she protested--and she meant it, for
Miss Lascelles was already laden--"No, none for me, really!"

"Just these," pleaded Conrad; "they're so pretty--it's a shame to leave
them behind."  He put them in her hands.

"I'd like you to see some roses I've got here, sir," said the
proprietor; "it's not often you can see roses like those."

"Exquisite," assented Conrad....  "And just a few roses, won't you?"

"Well one, then," she said succumbing.

"We'll have some roses!" commanded Conrad magnificently.  "And those
look nice--those lilies-of-the-valley.  You might give us some
lilies-of-the-valley, will you?"

"I'll have nothing else," she told him in her first undertone.  The
woman's first undertone is so sweet.

"A few?" he entreated.  "You _ought_ to wear lilies-of-the-valley!  I
wish you were going to sing to-night."

"Do you?"

"I shall see you there, sha'n't I?"

She nodded.  "Yes, I shall be in 'front.'"

"I'm so glad I met you!"

He thought of taking them in to the hotel to tea, but her companion's
toilette had been very hasty.

The fly was as fragrant as a flower show when they drove away.  She
buried her fair face in the blossoms he had given to her.  It's
permissible, but it may stir the man's imagination.  It stirred
Conrad's; he had rarely wanted a kiss from a woman so much.  In the
scented dusk, as their gaze met, her eyes were luminous--like stars.

The fly rattled into Corporation Road, and he wondered whether she was
going to ask him if he would 'come in.'  The fly stopped.

"Au revoir," he said.  "Victoria Hall?  I have the name right?"

"Won't you come and help us put the flowers in water?" she suggested.

It was of interest to see her without a hat.  When she took off her
coat he was captivated.  He stayed about ten minutes, and the other
girl didn't go out of the room.  Both went to the door with him when he
left.

"Eight o'clock, then?" he said.

"Eight o'clock."

"Whom shall I ask for if I don't see you?"

"'Miss Daintree;' but you're sure to see me."

"You won't be late?"

"No, I shall be there when it begins.  Good-bye--and thanks!"

"Oh!--Good-bye."

He saw her smile to him again from the step--and the cab turned.

"What a lark!  I say, isn't he mashed on you!  Do you like his
moustache?  Hasn't he got lovely teeth?" exclaimed Tattie in the
passage.

"Y-e-s....  He's rather nice," said Rosalind.



CHAPTER XVI

Eight o'clock had just struck when Conrad arrived at the slum where he
was to spend the evening.  The exterior of the hall had no sanguine
air.  Four opaque gas globes glimmered over a narrow entrance, and, in
the obscurity, a written appeal affixed by wafers was barely legible.
He made it out to be:

  "Help the Poor _Kiss-and-Tell Girls_.
  Stranded in the Town through No Fault of their Own.
  Show your Sympathy by Patronising us."


Behind a portière a disreputable-looking man, wearing a queer overcoat,
sat at a small table with tickets.  He asked, "Sixpence, or a
shilling?" and Conrad said, "A shilling," and the man said, "Front row."

There was a piano on a shallow platform.  In lieu of footlights, some
pots of ferns had been disposed at wide intervals.  There was no
curtain, but a screen, behind which giggles were audible, turned a
corner of the hall into the most limited of artists' rooms.  Those
artists who were not making their toilettes, sat quietly among the
audience.  Perhaps two hundred chairs were ranged across the hall, and
about fifty of them were occupied.  One of them was occupied by
Rosalind.

"Good evening," she said.

"Good evening," said Conrad.  "May I sit down?"

"These are the shilling ones," said she.  "Oh, of course, if you
_have_!  I'm afraid we're leading you into awful extravagance? ... It
isn't very full?"

"No, I'm sorry.  I wish I could have sent some people.  Have you got
another concert to-morrow?"

"They're talking about it--they've got the hall very cheap."

"I might take some tickets, and see what I can do with them.  I suppose
that would be a good plan, wouldn't it?"

"Perhaps," said Rosalind, doubtfully.

"Why 'perhaps?'  I thought it was to help you all?"

"Yes," she answered.  "Oh, it's meant to."

"There's a reservation in your manner," he said, "that--  What's the
use of our being such old friends if you don't confide in me?"

"Ah, I didn't think of that," she laughed.  "Well, did you see the man
with a coat?"

"I saw him with aversion."

"I thought it would please you!  That's the manager, Mr. Quisby."

"Your manager, do you mean?"

"I'm telling you--the manager of the Company that came to grief.  The
girls are supposed to have got this up for themselves; but you may have
noticed that you paid your shilling to Mr. Quisby."

"A--ah!" said Conrad.  "There seems a weak spot in the business
arrangements.  Well, what do you propose?"

A youth in a very shabby tweed suit came on to the platform.  He sat
down at the piano, and rattled the introduction to the well-known music
hall song entitled _My Little Baby Boy_.  On bounced the golden-haired
brunette.  She wore a skirt to the knees, and had made up her face as
if for the glare of a theatre.  Her appearance lowered the concert to
the level of a penny gaff.  Several women of the shop-keeping class,
hitherto sympathetic, murmured "Oh!" and tightened their mouths.

"Isn't the costume a mistake?" whispered Conrad.

"Do you think so?  How would you have dressed her?"

"Well," said Conrad, "a long frock."

"Mm.  What sort of frock?"

"Well, I should have made her look quiet, and very--er----"

"Respectable.  I know! ... Go on."

"I should have said, 'Be pale, and pathetic!'

"That's right, I wanted them to; but they've all got themselves up
wrong, except my friend Miss Lascelles.  Sh!"

The vocalist's blackened eyelids drooped to the paper that she held;--

  "'Some folks want power and riches, and really will not
        be denied,
  And when they've accomplished their object, they are
        very far from satisfied;
  A fig for your wealth and your power, for riches I care
        not a jot;
  Contented am I--yes! and happy--I'm quite satisfied
        with my lot.'"


"Inappropriate," said Rosalind under her breath, "isn't it?"

The vocalist looked up again, for now she knew the words;--

  "'I'm not tired of England, I've no wish to roam,
  There's a little six-roomed house that's my home, sweet home;
  My house is my castle--who is my pride and joy?
  Why! his Royal Highness the King of the Castle, my little baby boy.'"


When she had shrilled the chorus times without number she withdrew, and
Conrad said,

"Can't we go and sit further back where we can talk?  Look at all those
chairs over there."

"If you like.  What do you think of her?"

"She can't sing."

"Oh, that's a detail.  But she doesn't _work_ the song."

"How do you mean?"

"Didn't you feel what she ought to do?  Well, of course you wouldn't!
'His Royal Highness the King' line ought to bring the house down.
Wouldn't _I_ make it 'go!'"

"Show me," he begged.  "There's nobody looking."

So in the corner that they had found, she hummed the bars, and showed
him.

"Oh, aren't you clever!" he exclaimed.  "What a pretty voice you have!
Perhaps you're--er--fond of babies?"

"If you mean 'have I got any children?' no, I haven't.  That was an
actress, not a mother.  I've no ring on--did you think I was married?"

"Well, you looked so very devoted, I wondered for a moment."

"Are _you_?"

"Suddenly," said Conrad, gazing at her.

"'Suddenly'--what?"

"Devoted."

"I meant 'married,'" she explained.

"I?" he said.  "Good heavens!"

"Don't be so astonished!--such a thing has happened to men."

"Yes, but I'm not a marrying man."

"I think most men say they aren't marrying men till they say, 'Will you
marry me?'  It's a pity they change their mind so often."

"I have pitied them myself."

"Them?" she said.  "The girls, you mean!  A man begins to be in love
much sooner than a woman, but he finishes much sooner too."

"Well, that's why marriage was invented," said Conrad.  "The man brings
the fervour, and the woman brings the faithfulness.  You can't combine
better qualities."

"Yes, and what about his fervour afterwards?  He wants to go and be in
love all over again.  Haven't I seen?  In this profession, travelling
about, a girl often meets a good fellow; I don't say he's often
rich--the ones who mean well are generally hard up.  Perhaps he's a
clerk, or something, in the town.  He's taken with her from the
'front,' and gets to know her.  Then he waits for her at the stage door
every evening, and sees her home, and makes her talk 'shop'--he always
makes her talk 'shop,' that's the fascination to him.  After she goes
away, he writes to her, and by-and-by perhaps they marry.  They do
sometimes.  Of course she's to leave the stage; he generally asks for
that--the kind of man I'm talking about.  Well, what's the result?"

"She's sorry she gave it up."

"No, she isn't.  There are exceptions--don't I know it! but in most
cases she's only too thankful to give it up.  There's no glamour about
it for the girl--_she_ has lived all that out; the 'little six-roomed
house and home sweet home' is the only ambition she has left.  It's the
man who finds the marriage dull.  He was in love with being in love
with an actress.  He liked waiting for that smile over the
footlights--about the middle of the first verse of her solo; it
flattered him to know he was the one man in all the audience who was
going to talk to her directly.  When they're married she's just an
ordinary girl--like Miss Smith, and Miss Brown, and the other girls he
knew.  The fairy has lost her wings.  She's a very good little wife
perhaps, but just a drab little mortal.  He says, 'How romantic it used
to be when she was a fairy!'--and goes fairy-catching outside another
stage-door."

"Poor little mortal!"

"Men want romances.  When you find them out, the most unlikely men are
romantic; but when you find them out, nine hundred and ninety women in
a thousand are domesticated."

"Are _you_?"

"There are the other ten," laughed Rosalind....  "And I'm not talking
of society women--of course I don't know anything about them; I'm
talking of every-day women, and us.  Look at my friend!  I suppose
you'd take her for a bohemian through and through?  She has had to earn
her living in the Profession since she was sixteen, and she's slangy,
and she'd shock your sort of woman out of her wits.  Marriage is the
last thing she thinks of now.  But let a man she liked come along!
She'd marry him on two pounds a week, and go through fire and water for
him, and thank heaven for the joy of hanging up the washing in her own
back yard."

Miss Lascelles, with a hint of coon steps, was singing--

  "'What is the use of loving a girl
  When you know she don't want yer _to_?'"


"I shouldn't have thought it," said Conrad.  "She doesn't suggest
domesticity in back yards."

"Does she suggest a boarding-school for young ladies?"

His eyebrows asked a question.

"There was a time when Tattie was among little girls who walked two and
two in Kensington."

"Really?  Do you know that hurts, rather?  I'm sorry."

"_I_'m sorry," sighed Rosalind.  "But her heart's sweet," she added;
"it's only the bloom that has gone."  She smiled.  "Clap your hands!
She's my pal--you've got to applaud her."

"She's very good," he said, applauding.  "I thought she was going to do
a flower song?  But I like that one.  Isn't it pretty?  I like the way
it goes."

"Yes, rag-time--all against the beat.  _Don't_ hum it out of tune!" she
said plaintively.  "She's going to do the flower song next.
By-the-bye, I may have to introduce you to some of the girls.  What
shall I call you?"

"My _name_," Conrad answered deferentially, "is 'Warrener.'"

She bent her head;

"Thank you," said Lady Darlington.

When the concert was over he walked with her as far as Mrs. Cheney's.
Tattie of course was with them.  At the foot of the steps Tattie shook
hands with him and went indoors, and he remained a minute saying 'good
night' to Rosalind.  The other girl might well have heard all they
said, but the minute had charm to him because the other girl had left
them.  It implied something.  And underneath, to both these
shuttlecocks of temperament, there was another charm, not defined
yet--to be savoured in the first moments of solitude--the charm of
recapturing a mood of years ago.  At a doorstep, late: "You look
tired?"  "Oh, it's nothing."  A pause.  "I shall see you to-morrow?"
"Yes, come in to tea."  A whiff of the fragrance of his youth, a touch
of the sentimentality of her girlhood, idealised Corporation Road as
they parted in the fog.

"I wish it were to-morrow! ... Good night."

"Do you? ... Good night."

The old tune was not classical, but it was pretty.



CHAPTER XVII

"I want something substantial," said Conrad gravely, shaking his head.
"For the follow, say a Chateaubriand."

Two days had passed, and in his mind a new and disquieting thought had
risen--the thought that Rosalind couldn't pay for enough to eat.

Truly she was paying for a great deal to eat, conjuring steaks and
puddings on to the tables of a dozen lodgings, and inventing strange
stories to account for her having half-sovereigns to lend.  But Conrad
could not know that.  He only knew that the necessities of the
_Kiss-and-Tell_ Company were more urgent than he had understood; and he
felt very sorry for all the girls, but his heart bled for Lady
Bountiful.

"A Chateaubriand," he repeated firmly.  It was nourishing.  "And pommes
soufflées....  No?  Well, I'll leave the potatoes to you.  With a
chestnut purée, eh?  And let us have nice sweets.  Don't give me the
table d'hôte sweets--special.  What about peaches? ... Well, send for
the best fruit you can get--you've plenty of time.  Where's the
wine-list?  A quarter to two.  That table in the corner--for three
persons."

There is one place in Blithepoint where the chef can cook, though he
shirks pommes soufflées.  You go downstairs to it--unless you choose
the hotel entrance--and it was in the restaurant downstairs that Conrad
ordered the luncheon on Monday.  He meant to say things at luncheon.
But when Rosalind and Tattie arrived, there was a bomb-shell with the
hors d'oeuvres.

"Mr. Quisby has bolted!" they cried, taking their seats.

"Bolted?" he echoed.  "How do you know?"

"Queenie Vavasour and Miss Jinman have been to his rooms this morning.
They went to tell him they must have some money.  He has gone, he went
last night--with our concert sixpences."

"I say!" exclaimed Conrad.  He was by this time almost a member of the
Company.  "What are we all going to do?"

"It's a nice fix," continued Rosalind, reproachfully.  "I told you this
would happen, I never thought he'd be able to take us on anywhere
else--never for a moment.  Didn't I warn you?"

"You did," said Conrad.  "Oh!  I admit it.  Will you have a sardine,
or----?  Miss Lascelles, let me give you some of the pretty ones with
the red and yellow."

"I told you all along," repeated Rosalind, "that girls could do nothing
for themselves in a matter like that; that it needed a man to take it
up.  Now, didn't I say so?"

"You said so several times.  But you didn't suggest what I should do.
I couldn't menace him with a revolver."

"Men are so lazy!" she smiled.

"You may smile," said Conrad reprovingly, "but it's very serious for
us.  We are all out of an engagement."

"Yes," she agreed.  "And goodness only knows when you'll get one again!"

"That's sheer spite--you're jealous of my talent.  Miss Lascelles, tell
her I can't be out of an engagement long."

"With all his experience?" cried Tattie.  "His notices as 'Buttercup'
were immense!"

"Poor Miss Jinman!" sighed Rosalind; "I'm sorry for that old woman."
She nodded at Conrad.  "You should see her this morning!"

"I want to see her," he declared, "or rather, I want one of you to see
her for me.  You know we've all got to stick together in this thing,
and----"

"And 'be loyal to the show!'" said Tattie.

"No, but joking aside, I want you girls to help me straighten things
out.  I was going to talk to you about it anyhow.  Now tell me--what do
they all want?"

"I suppose they all want a 'shop,'" Tattie answered.

"I can't give them a 'shop'--I'm not in the business--but I might send
them home with a few of the Best in their pockets.  How would that do?"

They lifted their heads, and looked at him; and the waiter put the soup
on the table.

"Did you mean it?" murmured Rosalind when the waiter had turned his
back.

"Well, of course.  Now this looks very good; let's enjoy our lunch!  We
seem to be getting on a bit, so we needn't worry.  Don't you think you
ought to take your jacket off--you'll be cold when you go out?"

"No, I've loosened it," she said.  "But--er--do you know I'd rather you
didn't do that?  I--I think they could all manage without."

"Now, why interfere?" said Conrad peevishly.  "This is my department.
You have bungled hopelessly yourself.  By your own showing you
distrusted the man--and you let him escape, instead of patrolling his
doorstep like a bright young woman.  Then when _I_ bring intelligence
to bear on the matter, and we're all happy, you must cut in and throw
cold water on the scheme.  Take your soup and be good."

"Isn't it nice?" said Tattie.

"Now that's a sensible remark.  I turn to _you_--we won't be interfered
with.  Suppose you help me, Miss Lascelles?  Will you be Santa Claus in
Corporation Road for me?"

"Oh," she faltered.  "You had better go yourself."

"I?" gasped Conrad; "I wouldn't do it for a million--they'd thank me,
some people have got no tact."

"They'd cry over you," she said, with tears in her own voice.  "You
don't know what it is you're doing.  They aren't used to men who--
You're a trump!"

"Oh, pickles," he said.  "Where's that waiter?  I say, we're all being
awfully solemn; I thought this was going to be a jolly party?  Miss
Daintree----"

"Mr. Warrener?"

"Please talk."

"I'm going to talk later on," she said.  "I'm going to talk like a
mother to you."

"Won't you talk like yourself in the meanwhile?  I don't want anything
better."

Then she talked like herself; and the plates were changed, and the hour
was pleasurable.  It was a very uncommon hour, because her friend was
so nice.  The pretty girl's friend is nearly always an infliction, and
makes mischief afterwards because she hasn't been sufficiently admired.
It was such a pleasurable hour that Conrad knew a pang of regret in
reflecting that there would be few more like it--Rosalind, no doubt,
would flee from Blithepoint as soon as the other women.  Would he meet
her again?  Of course she would drift into another Company; meet
another man in another town.  Damn!

"I'm going to miss that girl," he mused, "and know she's flirting with
somebody else while I'm remembering her!"

"'The world,'" he exclaimed, indulging his weakness for quotation, "'is
a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those who feel!'"  And
neither Rosalind nor Tattie found it needful to inquire to which
category he was assigning himself; there may be sentimental seconds
even over a chateaubriand.  He added, "Let me fill up that glass for
you--you've nothing there but froth."

It was more than half-past three when the waiter abased himself in
letting them out, and as they turned along the Parade, Tattie
recollected that she had "promised to be with Miss Vavasour at four."
They all stopped for a minute, and Conrad tried to look as if he didn't
want her to go.  However she went, and he and Rosalind sauntered on
without her.

"What shall we do?" he said.  "Shall we go and hear the band?"

"There isn't one in the afternoon this time of year."

"Not in the band-stand, but I think there is on the pier.  The
band-stand is retained chiefly as a rendezvous, I believe.  When he
says 'Where will you meet me this evening?' she always says 'Opposite
the band-stand.'"

Rosalind replied, "How do you know?"

"I gather it.  Pensive figures watch the clock, and look up and down.
They all turn hopefully when they hear you, and scowl at you as you
come in sight.  I passed once in the evening; I felt myself such a
general disappointment that I always walk on the other side now."

The man at the turnstiles told them that the orchestra was playing in
the theatre; and as they drew close they heard it, but for some little
time they could find no way inside.  No charge was made for admission
to the theatre in the afternoon, and only the entrance to the balcony
was open.  They saw nobody to guide them.  There were no other
footsteps on the pier; there was no sound but the plaintive music that
they couldn't reach.  They wandered round and round the terrace, trying
locked doors.

The tide was out, and the sheen of the smooth wet sand was violet under
a paling sky.  Little white waves were hurrying, and in the faded
distance the star of the lightship gleamed and hid.

Through the window of an unexpected office they spied the girl who sold
the stall tickets in the evening.  "Oh, yes!" she said, and ran out to
show them where to go.

Only two or three figures inhabited the roomy balcony.  Below, the body
of the house was soulless, shrouded in white wrappers.  Faint daylight
touched the auditorium wanly, but gas jets yellowed the faces of the
orchestra.  In the narrow line of glare amid the emptiness, they played.

Rosalind and Conrad sat down in the last row, and spoke in low voices.
He knew that the impression of the scene was going to linger with him
after she had gone.

In a few minutes she whispered, "Let's go on the terrace again," and
they crept to the door.

"We couldn't talk in there," she said....  "Look here! what you were
saying to Tattie: I want you to tell me straight, I don't know anything
about you--can you afford to do all that?"

"Oh yes," he said; "that's all right."

"But really?  Tell me the truth.  How well off are you?"

"Oh, well! ... I'm very well off."

"Because if you're going to miss the money, there's another way out,
that's why.  I shouldn't forgive myself if I put you in a hole; I bar
that sort of thing.  Lunch and flowers are all very well, but the
other's rather steep."

"I sha'n't miss the money."

"Honour bright?"

"Honour bright!"

"Oh well, then!  It's awfully good of you, I sha'n't forget it," she
said.  "'Warrener' is really your name, isn't it?"

"I thought you understood that at the time."

"Yes," she said, "I did.  I only wondered for a moment--I'm sorry."

"Oh, it's nothing," he answered....  "You know what I want you to tell
me?"

"What?"

"About yourself.  What can I do for you?"

"Oh, you needn't count me or Tattie.  We don't want anything."

"That's all bosh.  But you don't come in with the rest--I want to do
more than that for you.  Treat me as a pal.  You're on the rocks, and
I'm not; I've been there, and I know what it means.  Let me give you a
hundred to set you right."

"You want to give me a hundred pounds?"  She threw back her astonished
face at him--she was all white throat and eyes.  "D' ye like me so
much?"

"Damnably!" said Conrad.

The music had stopped, and now the bandsmen came hurrying past them.
They stood looking shoreward, in a pause.  On the dusk of the Parade
the chain of electric globes quivered into light.

"It's rather rough on you," she murmured.  "Isn't it?  I've always
drawn the line.  It's no good."

"I didn't think it was.  I shouldn't have told you if you hadn't asked
me.  I know; if a man cared about you, you'd expect him to want to
marry you."

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Oh, why not?  Only I'm one of the men who aren't designed for
husbands.  I could make a beautiful lover--while it lasted; a very
staunch friend--to a man, or a woman--all my life; but everybody has
his limitations.  Women are just the same.  There are women who are
made to be daughters--they're perfect as daughters; but they should
never marry.  There are women who're meant for mothers.  _They_ should
never marry--I mean they make very poor wives.  Not many of us are
first-class all round.  Still that's nothing to do with it.  I haven't
asked you for anything, and I'm not going to.  If you had
been--different, well, for my own sake, I should have been very glad!
I never played 'Faust,' though, everybody's morality begins
somewhere--it's just my luck that I've got fond of a girl who _isn't_
'different.'  But there it is!  We needn't talk about it.  Put that
aside, and let me help you as if I were your brother.  I don't feel
like your brother, but you can trust me just as much.  I quite
understand.  I'm not vain enough to suppose you like me, but I quite
understand that it would be 'no use' if you did."

She looked beyond him pensively, and pensively she hummed:--

  "'What is the use of loving a girl
  If the girl don't love you?
  What is the use of loving a girl
  When you know she don't want yer _to_?'"


"Don't do that," said Conrad.  "I'm trying to talk to you like a chum.
If you sing that song, I shall kiss you."

"Well, what do you want me to say?" she asked, strolling on.

"I don't want you to say anything.  You'll get the money for the others
in the morning, and I'll send you the hundred during the day."

"You're not to!" she exclaimed.  "I don't need it, I swear I don't.
You're not to send Tattie or me a shilling.  If you do, I'll send it
back."

"Why?"

"Because I don't need it, that's why."

"No it isn't.  It's because you don't believe what I've said.  My dear
girl, I don't suppose I shall ever see you again after you leave here.
When do you go?"

"We go to-morrow."

"You and Tattie?  I mean 'Miss Lascelles'?"

"Oh, 'Tattie' doesn't hurt.  Yes, she's going to stay--we're going to
be together for a little while."

"Where?  Don't you want me to ask?"

"London," she said.

"Have you got any people there?"

"No....  The only relation that counts is in the country now.  Now
mind!  You're not to send anything for us two, or you'll offend me.
Whatever you send will go to the others, all of it."

"Have it your own way," he said quietly.

They walked once round the terrace without speaking.

"Are you angry?" she asked.

"You've hurt rather.  You've pitched it back at me.  I don't mean the
beastly money, but the intention.  I think you might have trusted me.
On my honour, I'd have taken no advantage of it!"

After another pause, she said:

"I'm a fool to tell you, but I can't help it....  I'm not on the stage
any more, I'm not hard up; I'm--married."

"Married?"

"I've been married five years."

"Good Lord!" he said.  "Well--  Not on the stage?  What are you doing
here then?"

"I wasn't acting; I only came down to be in it all again.  I--" her
smile was wistful, "I was 'trying back'; I wanted to feel as I used to
feel--I was dull."

He nodded comprehension; "Oh yes!  I've done a lot of 'trying back'
myself....  Do you care for him?"

She gave the faintest shrug.

"I wish you weren't going away," he sighed.  "I shall often see you
again?"

"We're the only people left on the pier," said Rosalind.  "Don't you
think we're having more than our twopenn'orth?"

"I shall go to town on Wednesday," he told her, as they turned homeward.

"Shall you?"

"You haven't answered what I asked you."

"I don't know," she said.  "Besides you'll soon forget that you wanted
to."

"If I don't forget?"

"Well--  You may write to me."

"Where?"

"I'll post you a line before I leave," she promised.  "We shall leave
as early as we can--as soon as we've done your business for you; I
sha'n't see you before I go.  By-the-bye, I don't know if you're
staying at the hotel where we lunched?--there'll be letters for you
from the Company to-morrow, too."

"No, I'm at the Grand," he said.  "My Christian name is 'Conrad.'"

It seemed a very short distance to Corporation Road.  It seemed untrue
that it was only four days since he had stood at the door with her for
the first time.  They went up the steps, and she did not turn the knob.

"Are you coming in?" she murmured.  "I daresay Tattie is back."

"Do you know I think I'd rather say 'au revoir' to you alone."

"Au revoir," she said.  Her hand was formal.  He was rather chilled.

"You mean to post me that line?" he questioned.

She nodded.  And then in the darkness of the doorway, she laughed, and
began to hum the song that he had warned her not to sing.



CHAPTER XVIII

He found the evening very long.  He was restless.  The memory of her
kiss was exquisite, but it did not make for repose.  It seemed to him
intolerably stupid that he was boring himself in the billiard-room of
the Grand when Corporation Road was so near.  Still she had taken leave
of him--if he went he might be unwelcome to her, she might be
disappointing to him.

Early next afternoon he received the line she had promised.  It arrived
with letters from the Company.  They were such deeply grateful letters
that they hurt him a little when he read them, but he guessed which was
hers, and he opened that one first.  Mixed with the pleasure with which
he opened it there was the curiosity, even the--he would have refused
to acknowledge it--even the slight touch of apprehension with which a
man who likes a woman better than he knows her always opens her first
letter.

He smiled--he heard her speaking.

"If you ever write, the address is 'Miss Tattie Lascelles, c/o Madame
Hermiance, 42 bis Great Titchfield Street, W.'  You understand?  You
aren't to put my name on the outside envelope at all.  Blithepoint is
blessing you.--R.D."

If he ever wrote, did she say?  By his halidom he was going to write
immediately!  His impulse was to beg her to dine with him, but probably
she would find it easier to meet him during the day.  Luncheon then.
But where?  The choice of a restaurant bothered him--she might be
afraid of acquaintances seeing her.  He bethought himself of the Café
Anonyme in Soho, and entreated her to lunch with him on Thursday at two
o'clock.  As a postscript he scribbled, "You won't say you can't, will
you?  If I don't hear from you, I shall be waiting for you at the
door."  To enable her to reply, though he prayed that no reply would
come, he added that he should stay at the Carlton.

He was glad to leave Blithepoint; when the woman one liked there has
gone, a place is always distressing.  In the train it was agreeable to
reflect that she had read his note by this time.  Again he imagined her
as she read it--looking down, looking up, putting it in her pocket.
The little Café Anonyme had been a good idea.  They would do their best
for him there, and their soles à la Marguery were unequalled in London.
The private rooms, too, were not unhomely, they hit the happy
medium--there was no riot of red velvet and gilding, nor were there rag
roses hanging askew in dusty glass epergnes.  It would have been
unappreciative--it would have been an insult--to ask Rosalind to be
made love to in a vulgar room.

He wandered about the Carlton after dinner until the last post was
delivered, and was relieved to find there was nothing for him.  He was
sure that if she hadn't meant to go, she would have declined at once.
She wouldn't raise his hopes only to dash them to the parquetry as the
clock was preparing to strike; she wouldn't be thoughtless, unfeeling.
Oh no, she wasn't like that!

And there was no letter on Thursday either, and he sallied to Soho with
delight.

The exterior of the Café Anonyme when he reached it looked to him a
shade less ingenuous than it had been, but upstairs all was well.  The
view of the grim houses opposite was screened by lace, firelight
flashed on the Dutch hearth cheerfully, and the little white table, set
for tête-à-tête, invited confidences.  He forced his attention upon the
menu, and lounged back into the street.  It was a fine day for London.
The sky was funereal, and the pavements were muddy, but there was no
rain falling.  He loitered before the restaurant happily, and glanced
at his watch.  At five minutes to two, expectation began to swell.

At two o'clock he couldn't hold back a smile--at any instant now her
face might irradiate the blank.  He wondered which way she would come,
and if she would drive, or walk.  He could see for some distance, both
to right and left, and his only regret was that he couldn't see both
ways at once.  He kept turning his head, fearful that he might miss a
second's joy.

There was a leaping moment in which a figure suggested her as it hove
in sight.  The girl proved offensively plain, and he was furious with
her as she passed.  Somehow he did not rebound from the mistake--it was
the first fall in the temperature; the girl had killed his elation.  He
watched now eagerly, but he repressed no smile.

She was late.  Oh, of course she would come, but the fish would be
spoilt.  Rather stupid of her!  There was nothing more irritating than
to have a careful luncheon ruined because a woman took twenty minutes
to tie her veil.  A melancholy church clock boomed the quarter.  He
began to feel that he was looking a fool, traversing these twelve
paving-stones.  He was annoyed with her--he should be at no pains to
conceal it!

Constantly hansoms rattled into view, with disappointing people in
them.  There appeared to him discouragement in the gaze of the portier
now, and a pair of loafers outside the public-house at the corner were
taking interest in him....  He supposed she _would_ come?  Into the
tension of his mood there entered the first sick qualm of doubt.

And the church clock boomed again.  Hope was breathing its last in him.
Annoyance had melted into despair--he longed for her too intensely to
be reproachful if she came.  He would rejoice over her, he would
unbutton her gloves, he would say how pretty her frock was, and that
the chef was delighted to have been given more time!

Five-and-twenty minutes to three! ... Well, he had better see what he
had to pay; it was no use hoping any longer.  Well, just five
minutes!--the last stake.  If she weren't here then, she wouldn't come
at all; she wouldn't expect him to wait at the door all day....  "At
the door!"--his heart stopped--the words bore suddenly a new
significance.  In Blithepoint "at the door" might have meant at the
door of her lodgings.  Could it be possible she had misunderstood--had
she thought he would be on the doorstep in Great Titchfield Street?
No! how could she? she had told him she was married.  But the address
was Tattie's--yes, she might have thought so!  Good heavens! had _she_
been waiting there for _him_?  Perspiration broke out on him.  What was
he to do?  Look at the time!--she had given him up long ago, she had
gone away! ... Oh, how could she have thought it? he had named the
restaurant! ... Still it was very odd she hadn't come.  He must find
her, he must explain!  But--but--but she was a married woman, he
couldn't go and peal the bell and ask for her.  Wait a moment, what had
she said?  Was she to stay with Tattie, or was Tattie to stay with her?
... Anyhow Tattie _was_ there.  Yes, he _could_ go--he could go there
and ask for Tattie!  His head was spinning.  What the devil had become
of all the cabs?

Two minutes later the portier had blown his whistle, and Soho was
behind.

The pace was reckless, but to Conrad's fevered stare even the omnibuses
seemed to mock his hansom.  Alternately he threw bribes and
objurgations through the trap.  Where was Great Titchfield Street
hidden?  Were they making a tour of the West End slums?  The cab jerked
to a stoppage at last, and he leapt out, and hesitated.  Nothing but
shops confronted him.  Had he forgotten the number--wasn't it "42 bis?"
The next moment he saw the name, painted over a window--"Madame
Hermiance, French Laundress."

It was very warm inside.  Three girls, and a moist loosely clothed
woman, whose opulent bosom was partially concealed, stood at work
behind a long table.  It fluttered with aerial frills and scraps of
pink tissue paper; one of the girls was folding things up, and making
them look pretty.  He said, "Bonjour, madame," and the woman said,
"Good afternoon, sare."

"Miss Lascelles, is she staying here?  Is she in?"

"Oh no, sare, she is gone."

"Gone?" ejaculated Conrad.

"She did lodge 'ere," added the laundress; "I let 'er a room upstairs;
but she go away--she get an engagement.  You mean an actress, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes," he said, "I know all about the engagement, but she came
back.  She came back the day before yesterday, didn't she?"

"Mais non, monsieur."  She shook her head.  "She is not come back."

"Damn," he faltered.  "Er--but there was a letter sent here for her--it
must have been delivered yesterday morning.  What has become of the
letter?"

"Ah, letters?"  She banged an iron about a shirt with double cuffs;
perturbed as he was, he shuddered to see the havoc she was wreaking.

"Mees Lascelles 'as writ me a post carte--she ask if 'er letters come,
I send 'em on.  I zink she gives up ze _théâtre_, I zink she takes a
situation wiz a lady of title.  Julie!" she called; "zat letter zat
come yesterday for Mees Lascelles, it go to ze post, hein?"

"J'-n'-sais-_pas_!" called Julie.  She sent a button flying off a
waistcoat without turning a hair.

"Ameliarran?"

"Yes'm?"

"Ze letter for Mees Lascelles, where ees it?"

"There yer are!" replied "Ameliar Ann."  She was sewing a red cotton
hieroglyphic into a customer's "tying bow"--near one of the ends.  Her
nod indicated a shelf piled with packages, and Conrad perceived his
letter lying neglected among the washing.

"Ah," said Madame Hermiance.  "Alors, I post it to-night myself."

"But this is no trifling matter," exclaimed Conrad, trembling with
rage.  "Miss Lascelles may lose a very large salary through this.
That's a business letter--from an impresario.  It should have been
forwarded without delay."

"Tiens!" said Madame Hermiance calmly.  "Julie! pack up ze collars."

He tramped across the shop, and the three girls' heads turned to the
left.  This much was certain: Rosalind had said that she and Tattie
would be together.  Sheer babble, that about the situation!  If the
note reached Tattie at once, there was hope yet.  He strode back, and
the three girls' heads turned to the right.

"Madame!"

"Monsieur?"

"I must apologise for occupying your time, but----"

"Ça ne fait rien," said the laundress.  "Julie! pack up ze shirts."

"But I want you to do me a kindness--I want you to be good enough to
send the letter to Miss Lascelles now, by a messenger.  I suppose it
won't take very long?"

"Mais, monsieur, I 'ave nobody to send."

"Well, but my dear lady," he said--and talked to her persuasively of
paying for the service and the hansom that was outside.

"Alors!" said Madame Hermiance.

Expectancy bubbled in him anew.  He would scrawl a line explaining what
he had suffered, beseeching Rosalind to meet him still!  Would Madame
have the kindness to provide him with an envelope?

It was provided.

And a sheet of note-paper? he was abased by the trouble he was causing
her.

Alas! her note-paper was not in the shop, but she could offer him a
price-list--it was very long, and the back was blank.

This was no moment to finick; the case was urgent.  He put his foot on
a laundry basket, and the price-list on his knee; and at the back of
"Blouses," "Bodices" and "White petticoats from 6d," he pencilled his
appeal.

When "Ameliarran" had cast off her apron, he promised her a sovereign
to buy feathers.  She was given the post-card bearing the address, and
he let her depart without a question.  It was evident now that Rosalind
had withheld her address very deliberately; to ascertain where she
lived wouldn't be playing the game!  But would the appeal find her at
home?  She might be shopping, visiting, taking an aimless, fatal walk!
Hope tottered in him again.  The girls who remained eyed him
sympathetically; he was conscious that they placed no credence in his
narrative of the impresario, and he withdrew to wait where he would be
less interesting.

The street was not picturesque; for the scene of a lover's impatience
it might be called "preposterous."  The narrow pavements were so busy
that he was forced to choose the narrow road; and the road was made
narrower by stalls of vegetables and tin pots.  "Ameliarran," he had
heard, might accomplish her mission in half an hour.  He escaped from
the marketing, and lit a cigar in a grey thoroughfare of comparative
seclusion.

"Would she be at home?"  When he turned back he braced himself to meet
the crisis.  He had consulted his watch frequently, but he had not
returned before "Ameliarran" might be expected.  Nevertheless he was
too soon.  He withdrew again, and fumed once more among the cabbages
and pans.

The next time he was not too soon.  He found her in the shop, and she
had a note for him.  From Rosalind, or Tattie?  Rosalind! he knew the
writing.  Let the girls gape! he wasn't going outside to read it among
the vegetables.  He opened it with elaborate listlessness.  She had not
protracted his pain while she framed graceful messages.  Her response
consisted of eight words; but they sufficed:

"Wait at the laundry.  Throwing on my hat."

He doubled the girl's sovereign, and drove no bargain with her
mistress.  But the laundry cooped him now.  He closed the door, and
loitered gratefully on the step.  Yes, indeed, he would wait; in the
sweetness of relief he was scarcely impatient.  A little drizzle was in
the air, but he did not heed it.  The day, and the morrow, and a
hundred days broke into smiles before him.  And while he lingered
there--on the laundress's step, in the squalid street, under the
rain--Conrad suddenly awoke to the exhilaration that sparkled in him,
was startled by its freshness.  He realised that fizzing in his pulses
and his mind was the zest, the buoyancy that he had mourned as dead.
It was here, alive!  He reviewed with gusto his emotions of the
afternoon, the hope, the suspense, the desperation--the quiver of
rejoicing.  It had been good! he had lived and felt this afternoon; he
would not have abated those emotions by a jot!  The immoral truth was
clear to him, he had made his great discovery--that a man is young as
often as he falls in love.  That Rosalind had beauty, was an
irrelevance.  Again, to her lover a woman _is_ what she makes _him
feel_.  Whether she is fair or ill-favoured, whether she is worthy or
worthless, whether she is formed like Venus, or clasps him in arms as
thin as penholders, to him she is supreme, and while he adores her he
is Young.

The rain was pattering more smartly, and he waited under his umbrella.
Exultation was in his heart, her promise was in his pocket, ten years
of his age had been shed behind the door.  And at this point it may be
discreet of us to take leave of Conrad--as Rosalind's cab comes
jingling round the corner.



THE END



      *      *      *      *      *



_BY LEONARD MERRICK_

  THE POSITION OF PEGGY
  CONRAD IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH
  THE MAN WHO UNDERSTOOD WOMEN: STORIES
  WHISPERS ABOUT WOMEN: STORIES
  LYNCH'S DAUGHTER
  THE MAN WHO WAS GOOD
  THIS STAGE OF FOOLS
  CYNTHIA
  ONE MAN'S VIEW
  THE ACTOR MANAGER
  THE WORLDLINGS
  WHEN LOVE FLIES OUT O' THE WINDOW
  THE QUAINT COMPANIONS

_Several of Mr. Merrick's books are at present unpublished in America.
Mitchell Kennerley will publish new volumes from time to time._





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