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Imperial Palace by Arnold Bennett


Chapter 1. 4 A.M.
Chapter 2. ARRIVALS
Chapter 3. THE MEAT-BUYER
Chapter 4. THE DRIVE
Chapter 5. GRACIE AT SMITHFIELD
Chapter 6. BIRTH OF DAY
Chapter 7. THE HOTEL WAKING UP
Chapter 8. THE NEW LIFE
Chapter 9. CONFERENCE
Chapter 10. LAUNDRY
Chapter 11. SHADES
Chapter 12. DAUGHTER AND FATHER
Chapter 13. GREEN PARROT
Chapter 14. VOLIVIA
Chapter 15. CUISINE
Chapter 16. ESCAPE
Chapter 17. 2 A.M. TO 3 A.M.
Chapter 18. THE VACANT SITUATION
Chapter 19. POWDER AND ROUGE
Chapter 20. THE BOARD
Chapter 21. SHAREHOLDERS
Chapter 22. THE RESOLUTION
Chapter 23. SUSAN
Chapter 24. DOGS
Chapter 25. EARLY MORN
Chapter 26. NERVE-STORM
Chapter 27. CRIME
Chapter 28. COUSIN
Chapter 29. VIOLET'S ARRIVAL
Chapter 30. OFFICIAL INTERVIEW
Chapter 31. BOWELS OF THE HOTEL
Chapter 32. INITIATION
Chapter 33. A FRIEND
Chapter 34. VIOLET AND MAC
Chapter 35. RETURN TO EIGHTH
Chapter 36. MESS LUNCH
Chapter 37. THE NEW MILLIONAIRE
Chapter 38. FALSE REPRIEVE
Chapter 39. HOUSEKEEPERS
Chapter 40. NEGOTIATION
Chapter 41. AN ATTACK
Chapter 42. CERIA AND SIR HENRY
Chapter 43. SABBATH
Chapter 44. THE VAMP
Chapter 45. THE PANJANDRUM'S RETURN
Chapter 46. ANOTHER CONFERENCE
Chapter 47. NEW YEAR'S EVE
Chapter 48. TESSA
Chapter 49. NEW YEAR'S MORNING
Chapter 50. IN THE RAIN
Chapter 51. AFTER THE STORM
Chapter 52. TELEPHONE
Chapter 53. ELECTRONS
Chapter 54. CALIGULA
Chapter 55. ON THE BOULEVARD
Chapter 56. DECLARATION
Chapter 57. THE GLOVE
Chapter 58. THE LOVELY MILKMAID
Chapter 59. TEMPER
Chapter 60. THE CASH-GIRL
Chapter 61. THE HELPMEET
Chapter 62. MELODRAMA
Chapter 63. VIOLET AND CERIA
Chapter 64. HER LETTER
Chapter 65. CERIA'S OFFICE
Chapter 66. HER LETTER
Chapter 67. WORKS
Chapter 68. THE SCENE
Chapter 69. EASY-CHAIR
Chapter 70. THE DUNCANNON AFFAIR
Chapter 71. NIGHT-WORK
Chapter 72. QUEEN ANNE
Chapter 73. THE SUPPER

Chapter 1. 4 A.M.

Evelyn came down by the lift into the great front-hall. One of the clocks there showed seven minutes to four; the other showed six minutes to four. He thought: “I should have had time to shave. This punctuality business is getting to be a mania with me.” He smiled sympathetically, forgivingly, at his own weakness, which the smile transformed into a strength. He had bathed; he had drunk tea; he was correctly dressed, in the informal style which was his—lounge-suit, soft collar, soft hat, light walking-stick, no gloves; but he had not shaved. No matter. There are dark men who must shave every twelve hours; their chins are blue. Evelyn was neither dark nor fair; he might let thirty hours pass without a shave, and nobody but an inquisitive observer would notice the negligence.

The great front-hall was well lighted; but the lamps were islands in the vast dusky spaces; at 2 a.m. the chandeliers—sixteen lamps apiece—which hung in the squares of the panelled ceiling ceased to shower down their spendthrift electricity on the rugs and the concrete floor impressively patterned in huge lozenges of black and white. Behind the long counters to the right of the double revolving doors at the main entrance shone the two illuminated signs, “Reception” and “Enquiries,” always at the same strength day and night. The foyer down the steps, back beyond the hall, had one light. The restaurant down the steps beyond the foyer had one light. The reading-room, cut out of the hall by glass partitions, had no light. The grill-room, which gave on a broad corridor opposite the counters, had several lights; in theory it opened for breakfasts at 6 a.m., but in fact it was never closed, nor its kitchen closed.

Reyer, the young night-manager, in stiff shirt and dinner-jacket, was sitting at the Reception counter, his fair, pale, bored, wistful face bent over a little pile of documents. An Englishman of French extraction, he was turning night into day and day into night in order to learn a job and something about human nature. He would lament, mildly, that he never knew what to call his meals; for with him dinner was breakfast and breakfast dinner; as for lunch, he knew it no more. He had been night-manager for nearly a year; and Evelyn had an eye on him, had hopes of him—and he had hopes of Evelyn.

As Evelyn approached the counter Reyer respectfully rose.

“Morning, Reyer.”

“Good morning, Mr. Orcham. You're up early.”

“Anything on the night-report?” Evelyn asked, ignoring Reyer's remark.

“Nothing much, sir. A lady left suite 341 at three o'clock.”

“Taxi or car?”

“Walked,” said Reyer the laconic.

“Let me see the book.”

Reyer opened a manuscript volume and pushed it across the counter. Evelyn read, without any comment except “Um!” At 10 a.m. the night-report would be placed before him, typewritten, in his private office. He moved away. Near the revolving doors stood Samuel Butcher (referred to, behind his back, as Long Sam), the head night-porter, and a couple of his janissaries, all in blue and gold.

“Well, Sam,” Evelyn greeted the giant cheerfully.

“Morning, sir,” Sam saluted.

The janissaries, not having been accosted, took care not to see Evelyn.

“I gather you haven't had to throw anyone out to-night?” Evelyn waved his cane.

“No, sir.” Sam laughed, proud of the directorial attention. Evelyn pulled out a cigarette. Instantly both the janissaries leapt to different small tables on which were matches. The winner struck a match and held it to Evelyn's cigarette.

“Thanks,” Evelyn murmured, and, puffing, strolled towards the back of the hall, where he glanced at himself in a mighty square column faced with mirror.

2.

No! The nascent beard was completely invisible. Suit correct, stylish. Handkerchief peeping correctly out of the pocket. Necktie—he adjusted the necktie ever so little. Shoes correct—not a crease in them. Well, perhaps the features lacked distinction; the angle of the nose was a bit too acute; the lower lip heavy, somewhat sensual. But what friendly keen brown eyes! What delicate ears! And the chin—how enigmatic! The chin would puzzle any reader of the human countenance. Forty-seven. Did he feel forty-seven? Could he even believe that he was forty-seven? He felt thirty—thirty-one. And the simpleton thought that he looked at most thirty-five. In two and a half years, however, he would be fifty. God! What a prospect! Well, he didn't care one damn how old he was, or looked, so long as he felt ... On the whole, quite a presentable creature. But nobody would glance twice at him in the street. Nobody could possibly guess that he was anyone out of the ordinary. A pity, possibly. Yet what is, is, and must be accepted with philosophy. Nevertheless, he was acquainted with idiots, asses, greenhorns and charlatans whose appearance was so distinguished that they could not enter a restaurant without arousing respectful curiosity. Funny world.

The séance at the mirror lasted three seconds—time to adjust the necktie, no more. He moved off. The clock over the counter showed five minutes to four. Clocks had their moods; they raced, they stood still, in discordance with the mood of the beholder, maliciously intent on exasperating him.

Within recent months Evelyn had hung the walls of the great hall with large, old coloured prints of antique, sunk or broken-up Atlantic liners, and underneath each a smaller photograph of a modern vessel. He glanced at an American print of a French liner of the sixties, paddle and sail. He read the quaint legend beneath: “Length 375 feet. Breadth of beam 46.Depth of hold 33. Burthen 3,500 tons. Horse-power, 1,250.” Burthen. Comic! Yet in her time this ship had been a crack. Under the print was a photograph of the “Ile-de-France.” Yes, this idea of his of marine prints in the hall had been extremely successful. It was aimed at American visitors, who constituted sixty per cent. of the clientele, and it hit them all day and every day. Difficult at certain hours to pass through the great hall without seeing an American gazing entranced at a marine print.

That contrarious clock still showed five minutes to four. Long Sam stood moveless; his janissaries stood moveless; young Reyer sat moveless. The electric lamps burned with the stoical endurance of organisms which have passed beyond time into eternity. The great hall seemed to lie under an enchantment. Its darkened extensions, the foyer and the immeasurable restaurant, seemed to lie under an enchantment. The brighter corridor and grill-room seemed to lie under an enchantment. Diminished men awaited with exhaustless patience the birth of day, as they might have awaited the birth of a child.

Chapter 2. ARRIVALS

Sound and lights of a big car, heard and seen through the glazed frontage of the hall! Revolution of the doors! Long Sam was already outside; his janissaries were outside; the doors were whizzing with the speed of the men's exit. Reyer came round the counter. The enchantment was smashed to bits: phenomenon as swift and unexpected as a street-accident. Evelyn wondered who could be arriving with such a grandiose pother at four o'clock in the morning. But his chief concern was the clock, which now showed three minutes to four. If Jack Cradock did not appear within three minutes the stout, faithful little man would be late for his rendezvous. And it was Jack's business to be not merely on time but before time. Evelyn was uneasy. Uneasily he glanced down the dim vista of the foyer and the restaurant, his back to the doors through which Jack ought to enter. He heard voices: Long Sam's, Reyer's and another's.

He turned, in spite of himself, at the tones of that third voice, polite, but curt, assured, authoritative. Between a felt hat and a huge overcoat he saw a face with which he was not unacquainted, Sir Henry Savott's (baronet). Then he remembered that Sir Henry, passenger by the “Caractacus”—45,000 tons—from New York, had reserved two suites overlooking the park. A small, spry, rather desiccated face, with small, searching eyes, a clipped, iron-grey military moustache, and a bony, imperious chin. Staring curiously about as he talked to Reyer, Sir Henry descried Evelyn, and, unceremoniously leaving Reyer, stepped spryly towards the Director, who advanced to meet him in the middle of the hall. False youthfulness, thought Evelyn, proud of his own comparative youthfulness. The fellow must be fifty-seven, and pretending to be forty-seven—unsuccessfully! The two shook hands with mutual smiles.

“Hope you haven't got up specially to meet us,” said Sir Henry. “Too bad!”

“No,” said Evelyn quietly and carelessly.

The infernal impudence of these spoilt millionaires! To imagine that he, Evelyn, would get up specially to meet anybody on earth!

“I'm glad,” said Sir Henry, who was sorry, hiding all consciousness of a rebuff.

“See. You've come by the 'Caractacus'?”

“Yes. My daughter has driven me and her maid and some of the light stuff up from Southampton. She's the devil's own driver, Gracie is, particularly at night. There are two or three cars behind us. But most of the passengers preferred to have their sleep out on the ship and wait for the boat-train.”

“You're three days late,” said Evelyn.

“Yes,” Sir Henry admitted.

“Funny rumours about that ship,” said Evelyn.

“Yes,” said Sir Henry darkly, in a manner definitely to close the subject of rumours. He was a large shareholder in the company which owned the line.

Evelyn perceived two girls in conversation with an assiduous and impressed Reyer. The young man's deportment was quite good, if a trifle too subservient. One of the girls wore a magnificent leather coat. Doubtless Gracie, celebrated in the illustrated press for her thrilling performances at the wheel at Brooklands. The other, less warmly clad, must be the maid.

Gracie looked suddenly round, and Evelyn saw her face, which however he hardly recognised from the photographs of it in illustrated papers. At a distance of twenty feet he felt the charm of it—vivacious, agreeable, aware of its own power. Perhaps very beautiful, but he could not be sure. Anyhow, the face—and the gestures—of an individuality. Evelyn at once imagined her as a mistress; and as he fenced amiably with the amiable Sir Henry, who he had some reason to believe would one day soon be trying to engage him in high finance, his mind dwelt upon the idea of her as a mistress. He was not an over-sensual man; he was certainly not lascivious. He was guilty of no bad taste in conceiving this girl, whom he now saw for the first time, as a mistress in the privacy of his heart. What goes on in a man's heart is his own affair. And similar thoughts, on meeting young and attractive women, wander in and out of the hearts of the most staid and serious persons, unsuspected by a world of beholders apt to reason too conventionally. Evelyn's was an entirely serious soul, but it had a mortal envelope. He was starved of women. For years women had been his secret preoccupation. He desired intimacy with some entrancing, perfect woman. Not the marital intimacy. No. Never again the marital intimacy. He would make sacrifices for the desired intimacy. But not the supreme sacrifice. Work first, career first, woman second, even were she another Helen.

For nearly twenty years Evelyn had been a widower. Six weeks after his marriage a daily series of inescapable facts had compelled him to admit to himself that his wife was a furiously self-centred neurotic who demanded as a natural right everything in exchange for nothing. An incurable. He had excused her on the ground that she was not to be blamed for her own mental constitution. He had tolerated her because he was of those who will chew whatever they may have bitten off. He had protected himself by the application of the theory that all that happens to a man happens in his own mind and nowhere else, and therefore that he who is master of his own mind is fortified against fate. A dogma; but it suited his case. At the end of three years Adela had died, an unwilling mother with a terrific grievance, in childbed; and the child had not survived her. The whole experience was horrible. Evelyn mourned. His sorrow was also a sigh of transcendent relief. Agonising relief, but relief. Not till the episode was finished did he confess to his mind how frightfully he had suffered and how imperfectly he had been master of his mind. He had never satisfactorily answered the great, humiliating question: “How could I have been such a colossal fool, so blind, so deaf, so utterly mistaken in my estimate of a woman?” He was left with a quiet but tremendous prejudice against marriage. I have had luck this time, he thought. Once is enough. Never again! Never again! He divided wives into those who were an asset and those who were a liability; and his strong inclination was to conclude, in the final judgment, that of all the wives he knew not one was an asset. One or two of them might have the appearance of an asset, yet if you could penetrate to essentials, if you could learn the inner conjugal secrets, was there one who was not a liability? He tried to stand away from himself and see that he was prejudiced, but he could never honestly convict himself of a prejudice in this matter.

He saw the maid and Reyer pass towards the lift like apparitions. He noticed that the pretty but tired maid was well-dressed, probably in clothes that a few months earlier her mistress had been wearing; but that nevertheless every nervous movement and glance of the girl divulged her station. He heard Sir Henry's voice and his own like faint echoes. He saw the janissaries pass towards the lift like apparitions carrying ghostly suit-cases. He saw Miss Savott herself go towards the doors like an apparition, then hesitate and glide towards her father like an apparition. And in those brief seconds the sole reality of his mind was the three years of marriage with Adela, years whose thousand days and a day swept in detail through his memory with the miraculous rapidity of a life re-lived by a drowning man.

“Gracie, this is my friend, Mr. Orcham, the king of his world—I've told you. My daughter.”

And now Gracie was the reality. Instinctively he put one hand to his chin as he raised his hat with the other. Why had he not shaved? The hair on his enigmatic chin seemed half an inch long.

“I do hope you haven't got up specially to meet us,” said Gracie.

Her father's words, but spoken differently! What a rich, low, emotional, sympathetic voice, full of modulations! A voice like shot silk, changing at every syllable!

“No, I didn't,” he replied. “But if I'd known you'd be here so early I certainly might have done. The fact is, I've got up to go with my meat-buyer to Smithfield Market.”

He looked and saw the faithful Cradock standing meekly expectant at the entrance. The dilatory clock at last showed four.

“I must just lock up the car,” said Gracie. “Shan't be two minutes.” She ran off.

“I'm going to bed,” Sir Henry called after her.

“All right, daddy,” she called back, not stopping.

“I'm fortunate enough to be able to sleep whenever I want to!” said Sir Henry to Evelyn. “Useful, eh?”

“Very,” Evelyn agreed.

Wonderful with what naïve satisfaction these millionaires attributed to themselves the characteristics of Napoleon! He accompanied Napoleon to the lift, and stayed for a moment chatting about the hotel. It was as if they were manuvring for places before crossing the line in a yacht race.

2.

When Evelyn returned to the hall Gracie Savott also was returning. She now carried the leather coat on her arm, revealing a beige frock.

“No, no,” she said when he offered to take the coat. “But have you got a gasper?”

“I never smoke anything else,” said Evelyn.

“Neither do I,” said Gracie. “Thanks.”

He thought: “What next?”

The next was that Gracie moved a few feet to a table, Evelyn following, and put the newly lighted cigarette on an ash-tray, opened her bag, and began to titivate her face. She was absorbed in this task, earnest over it; yet she could talk the while. He somehow could not examine her features in detail; but he could see that she had a beautiful figure. What slim ankles! What wrists! Les attaches fines. She had a serious expression, as one engaged on a matter of grave importance. She dabbed; she critically judged the effect of each dab, gazing closely at her face in the hand-mirror. And Evelyn unshaved!

“Has daddy really gone to bed?” she asked, not taking her eyes off the mirror.

“He has.”

“He's a great sleeper before the Lord. I suppose he told you about our cockleshell the 'Caractacus.'“

“Not a word. What about it? We did hear she'd been rolling a bit.”

“Rolling a bit! When we were a day out from New York, she rolled the dining-room windows under water. The fiddles were on the tables, but she threw all the crockery right over the fiddles. I was the only woman at dinner, and there wasn't absolutely a legion of men either. They said that roll smashed seventeen thousand pounds' worth of stuff. I thought she'd never come up again. The second officer told daddy next day that he never thought she'd come up again. It was perfectly thrilling. But she did come up. Everyone says she's the worst roller that ever sailed the seas.”

During this narration Gracie's attention to the mirror did not relax.

“Well,” said Evelyn calmly. “Of course it must have been pretty bad weather to make a big ship like that three days late.”

“Weather!” said Gracie. “The weather was awful, perfectly dreadful. But it wasn't the weather that made her three days late. She split right across. Yes, split right across. The observation-deck. A three-inch split. Anyhow I could put my foot into it. Of course it was roped off. But they showed it to daddy. They had to. And I saw it with him.”

“Do you mean to say—” Evelyn began, incredulous.

“Yes, I do mean to say,” Gracie stopped him. “You ask daddy. Ask anyone who was on board. That's why she's going to be laid up for three months. They talk about 're-conditioning.' But it's the split.”

“But how on earth—?” Evelyn was astounded more than he had ever been astounded.

“Oh! Strain, or something. They saidit was something to do with them putting two new lifts in, and removing a steel cross-beam or whatever they call it. But daddy says don't you believe it. She's too long for her strength, and she won't stand it in any weather worth talking about. Of course she was German built, and the Germans can't build like us. Don't you agree?”

“No. I don't,” said Evelyn, with a smile to soften the contradiction, slightly lifting his shoulders.

“Oh, you don't? That's interesting now.”

Evelyn raised his cane a few inches to greet Jack Cradock, who replied by raising his greenish hard hat.

“Now,” thought Evelyn, somewhere in the midst of the brain-disturbance due to Gracie's amazing news. “This is all very well, but what about Smithfield? She isn't quite a young girl. She must be twenty-five, and she knows that I haven't got up at four o'clock for small-talk with women. Yet she behaves as if I hadn't anything to do except listen to her. She may stay chattering here for half an hour.”

He resented this egotistical thoughtlessness so characteristic of the very rich. At the same time he was keenly enjoying her presence. And he liked her expensive stylishness. The sight of a really smart woman always gave him pleasure. In his restaurant, when he occasionally inspected it as a spy from a corner behind a screen, he always looked first for the fashionable, costly frocks, and the more there were the better he was pleased. He relished, too, the piquancy of the contrast between Gracie's clothes and the rough masculinity of her achievements on Brooklands track in the monstrous cars which Sir Henry had had specially built for her, and her night-driving on the road from Southampton. Only half an hour ago she had probably been steering a big car at a mile a minute on a dark curving road. And here with delicate hands she was finishing the minute renewal of her delicate face. Her finger-nails were stained a bright red.

So the roll from which nobody hoped that the ship would recover, the roll which had broken seventeen thousand pounds' worth of stuff, was merely 'thrilling' to her. And she had put her little foot into the split across the deck. What a sensation that affair ought to cause! What unique copy for the press! Nevertheless, would it cause a sensation? Would the press exploit it? He fancied not. The press would give descriptive columns to the marvels and luxuries of a new giant liner. But did anybody ever read in any paper—even in any anti-capitalistic paper—that a famous vessel rolled, or vibrated, or shook? Never! Never a word in derogation! As for the incredible cross-split, result of incorrect calculations of the designer, no editor would dare to refer to it in print. To do so would damage Atlantic traffic for a whole season—and incidentally damage the hotel business. The four-million-pound crack was protected by the devoted adherence of the press to the dogma that transatlantic liners are perfect. And let no one breathe a word concerning the relation between editors and advertisement-managers.

Miss Savott had kept the leather coat on her arm while doing her face. The face done, and her bag shut again, she dropped the cloak on the small table by her side. Womanish! Proof of a disordered and inconsequent mind. She resumed the cigarette, which had been steadily sending up a vertical wavering wisp of smoke.

“Mr. Orcham,” she said ingratiatingly, intimately, stepping near to him, “will you do something for me? . . .I simply daren't ask you.”

“If I can,” he smiled. (Had experience taught her that she was irresistible?)

“Oh, you can! I've been dying for years to see Smithfield Market in the middle of the night. Would you mind very much taking me with you? I would drive you there. The car's all ready. I didn't lock it up after all.”

Here was his second amazement. These people were incredible—as incredible as the split in the 'Caractacus.' How did she suppose he could transact his business at Smithfield with a smart young woman hanging on to him?

She added, like an imploring child:

“I won't be in the way. I'd be as small as a mouse.”

They read your thoughts.

Not 'as quiet as a mouse.' 'As small as a mouse.' Better. She had a gift for making her own phrases.

“But surely you must be terribly tired. I've had four and a half hours' sleep.”

“Me! Tired! I'm like father—and you—I'm never tired. Besides, I slept my head off on the ship.”

She looked appealingly up at him. Yes, irresistible! And she well knew it!

“Well, if you really aren't too tired, I shall be delighted. And the market is very interesting.”

And in fact he was delighted. There were grave disadvantages, naturally; but he dismissed them from his mind, to make room for the anticipation of being driven by her through the night-streets of London. Sitting by her! He was curious to see one of these expert racing drivers, and especially the fastest woman-driver in the world, at the wheel.

“You're frightfully kind,” said she. “I'll just—”

“How did you know I'm never tired?” he interrupted her.

“I could see it in your shoulders,” she answered. “You aren't, are you?”

“Not often,” he said, proud, thrilled, feverish.

“See it in my shoulders,” he thought. “Odd little creature. Her brain's impish. That's what it is. Well, perhaps she can see it in my shoulders.” Indeed he was proud.

“I'll just fly upstairs one moment. Shan't keep you. Where's the lift?” But she had descried the lift and was gone.

“Reyer,” he called. “Just see Miss Savott to her suite.”

Reyer ran. The lift-man judiciously waited for him.

And Evelyn, Nizam of the immense organism of the hotel, reflected like an ingenuous youth:

“I know everyone thinks I'm very reserved. And perhaps I am. But she's got right through that, into me. And she's the first. She must have taken a liking to me. Here I've only known her about six minutes and she's—” Somewhere within him a point of fire glowed. He advanced rather self-consciously towards the waiting Cradock. And, advancing, he remembered that, on her first disappearance, after saying she would be two minutes, Gracie Savott had been away only half a minute. She was not the sort of girl to keep a man waiting. No!. . . But barely half his own age.

Chapter 3. THE MEAT-BUYER

Jack Cradock's age was fifty-nine. He was short, stoutish, very honest, and very shrewd. His clothes were what is called 'good,' that is to say, of good everlasting cloth well sewed; but they had no style except Jack's style. His income nearly touched a thousand a year. With his savings he bought house-property. No stocks and shares for him. He had as fine an eye for small house-property as for a lamb's carcass. He had always been in the Smithfield trade. His father had been a drover when cattle strolled leisurely to London over roads otherwise empty. He went to bed at eight o'clock, and rose at three—save on Sundays. Daylight London seemed to him rather odd, unnatural.

He had been meat-buyer to the hotel in the years when it was merely a hotel among hotels, before Evelyn took control of it. In those years there existed in the buying departments abuses which irked Jack's honesty. He saw them completely abolished. He saw the hotel develop from a hotel among hotels into the unique hotel, whose sacred name was uttered in a tone different from the tone used for the names of all other hotels. He recognised in Evelyn a fellow-devotee of honesty in a world only passably honest; a man of scrupulous fairness, a man of terrific industry, a man of most various ability and most quiet authority, a real swell. Jack had heard that Evelyn gave lectures on wines to his own wine-waiters, that he tasted every wine before purchase, and chose every brand of cigar himself; and Jack marvelled thereat. He had heard, further, that Evelyn knew everything about vegetables; but Covent Garden, which he regarded as a den of thieves, had no interest for Jack. Apart from potatoes and occasional broad beans and spring onions, he never ate vegetables; salads he could not bear.

Of course Evelyn did not know as much about meat as Jack—who did?—but he knew a lot, and he did not pretend to more knowledge than he possessed. That was what Jack liked in Evelyn: absence of pretence. He adored Evelyn with a deep admiration and a humble, sturdy affection equally deep. Evelyn often asked after his wife, and the boy in the navy.

He was now waiting for his august governor with impatience well concealed. He saw Gracie run off to the lift. He himself had never been in any but the service-lifts. He had never seen the restaurant except when it was empty and the table-tops dark green instead of white, and the chairs packed; but he knew the restaurant-kitchen, and had frequent interviews with the gesticulatory and jolly French chef in the chef's office outside whose door two clerks worked. He had never been in any bedroom. He imagined all manner of strange and even unseemly happenings in the suites. He rarely had glimpses of the hotel's clientele, and his shrewd notion was that he would be antipathetic to it. Still, it wanted the best meat, and he provided the best meat; and that was something. He strove conscientiously to think well of the clientele.

He did not like the look of Miss Gracie Savott. She coincided too closely with what he would describe in his idiom as 'a bit too tasty.' He was aware that women, more correctly ladies, smoked, but he objected to their smoking, especially the young ones; his married daughter, nevertheless a fine and capricious piece, did not smoke, and had she attempted to do so would probably have been dissuaded from persevering by physical violence at the joint hands of her father and her husband. As a boy he had seen ancient hags smoking short clay pipes on the house-steps of large villages. A hag, however, was a hag, and a cutty pipe suited her indrawn lips. But that a fresh young girl, personable, virginal, should brazenly puff tobacco—that was different.

Nor could he approve of Gracie's general demeanour towards the governor. Too bold, too insinuating, too impudent. Hardly decent! Most shocking of all was the spectacle of Gracie daring—daring to paint and powder her saucy face in the presence of the governor. Shameless! And the governor tolerated it! If the governor had not been above all criticism Jack would have ventured in his heart to criticise the demeanour of the governor towards Gracie. Too boyish, too youthful; a hint of the swain about it! Well, the chit was gone now.

2.

The governor strolled slowly down the hall to the doors where Jack stood waiting. A little self-conscious, the governor was, in his walk. Seldom before had Jack seen the governor self-conscious. His confidence in the governor was a great solid rock. He felt a momentary tremor in the rock. It ceased; it was not a tremor; it was imperceptible: he had been mistaken. Yet...

“Morning, Jack. Sorry to keep you. Shan't be a minute.”

“Morning, governor. No hurry, but we ought to be getting along. I have a taxi waiting.” The customary tranquil benevolence of the governor's tone reassured him.

“Just tell me again about that Jebson young man. I want to know exactly before I see him. You said he's only recently come into the business.”

“Yes, sir,” Jack began. “And if you ask me, he thinks he's the emperor of Smithfield. His uncle's a tough 'un, but nothing to young Charlie Jebson. I get on pretty comfortably with everybody in the markets except him. Tries to make out he don't care whether he does business or not. But he can't put that across me. No! And everybody but him knows he can't. His uncle knows it. Ten shilling a stone's the right price for the best Scotch. And Charlie knows that too. But 'ten and six,' he says. 'Ten and two,' I say, wishing to meet him. 'Ten and two! You've got the b. ten and two fever, Cradock,' he says. 'And you've got the b. half-guinea fever.' I says. 'Don't ask me to come back,' I says. 'Because I shan't. I've got my best coat on,' I says. Then he turns on me and gives me a basinful, and I give him one. Nothing doing, governor. And his uncle's afraid of him. It was all over the Market.”

“Well,” said Evelyn, with a faint, mild smile. “We'll give him a miss in future.”

“Yes, governor,” said Jack anxiously. “But supposing he takes it, supposing he accepts of it! Jebsons have the finest Scotch beef in the market. It was Charlie's grandfather as started the Scotch beef trade in Smithfield. And the best Scotch—it's none so easy to come by. Sometimes three days and I don't see a side I fancy—not what you may call the best.”

“Try him with ten and four.”

“Yes, governor, and have all the rest of 'em jumping at me. Besides, I told him ten and two was my last word.”

“That's enough,” said Evelyn. “If you said it you said it, and we shan't go back on you, even if we have to buy Argentine!” He soothingly patted Jack's shoulder.

Jack was more than soothed—he was delighted. This was the rock, and never had it quivered.

“The fact is,” said Jack in an easier tone, “Charlie's got it into his head that I'm making a bit on it. And that's why when you said you'd come up with me one morning and show yourself, I thought it 'ud be a good move. If that won't settle Master Charlie, I don't know what will.”

To himself Jack was thinking: “Well then, why doesn't he come? I could have told him all this in the taxi. And this is the first time I've ever had to tell him anything twice. I'm going to be late.”

“Listen!” said Evelyn, after some more unnecessary talk. “You go on. Take the taxi you've got. I'll follow. I'll ask for Jebsons', and you'll find me somewhere near it. Sir Henry Savott—very important customer and a very important man too, in the City—wants me to take his daughter and show her Smithfield. Bit awkward. Couldn't refuse though. They have a car here. I might get there before you, Jack.” Evelyn laughed.

Jack mistrusted the laugh. He had no suspicion that the paragon of honesty had told him a lie; but he mistrusted the tone of voice as well as the laugh. Something a wee bit funny about it.

“Do you mean that young lady you were talking to, governor?” Jack asked in a voice that vibrated with apprehension.

“Yes, that's the one. Off you go now.”

Jack passed quickly in silence through the revolving doors. He was thunderstruck. He could hardly have been more perturbed if the entire hotel had fallen about his ears. The entire hotel had indeed fallen about his ears. The governor, the pattern, the exemplar, the perfect serious man, taking that prancing hussy into Smithfield Market! Of all places! There was never a woman to be seen in Smithfield before nine o'clock, unless it might be a street-singer with her man going home after giving a show outside the Cock Tavern. The talk to-morrow morning! The jokes he'd have to hear afterwards—and answer with better jokes! Rock? The rock was wobbling from side to side, ready to crash, ready to crush him. He climbed heavily into the taxi, sighing.

Chapter 4. THE DRIVE

For the first ten minutes of waiting Evelyn forgave the girl. During the second ten minutes he grew resentful. It was just like these millionaires to assume that nothing really mattered except their own convenience. Did she suppose that he had risen at three-thirty for the delight of frittering away twelve, sixteen, nineteen irrecoverable minutes of eternity while she lolled around in her precious suite? Monstrous! Worse, he was becoming a marked man to Reyer, Long Sam, and the janissaries. They did not yet know that he was waiting for a girl; but they would know the moment she appeared and went off with him. Worse still, she was destroying the character with which he had privately endowed her. She arrived, smiling. And in an instant he had forgotten the twenty minutes, as one instantly forgets twenty days of bad weather when a fine day dawns.

“Sorry to keep you. Complications,” said she, with composure.

He wondered whether the complications had been caused by a forbidding father.

She had changed her hat, and put on a thin, dark, inconspicuous cloak.

The car was Leviathan. A landaulette body, closed. She opened one of its front-doors, and picked up a pair of loose gloves from the driver's seat. An attendant janissary found himself forestalled, and had to stand unhelpful.

“Open?” she asked, in a tone expecting an affirmative answer.

“Rather.”

“No. I'll do it. This is a one-girl hood. You might just wind down the window on your side.”

In ten seconds the car was open.

“But I'm going to sit by you,” said Evelyn.

She was lowering the glass partition behind the driver's seat.

“Of course,” said she. “But I like it all open so that the wind can blow through.”

By the manner in which she manuvred Leviathan out of the courtyard, which an early cleaner had encumbered with a long gushing hose-pipe, Evelyn knew at once that she was an expert of experts. In a moment they were in Birdcage Walk. In another moment they were out of Birdcage Walk, and slipping into Whitehall. In yet another moment they were in the Strand. It was still night. The sun had not given the faintest announcement to the revolving earth's sombre eastern sky that he was mounting towards the horizon. There was an appreciable amount of traffic. She never hesitated, not for the fraction of a second. Her judgment was instantaneous and infallible. Her accelerations and decelerations, her brakings, could hardly be perceived. Formidable Leviathan was silent. Not a murmur beneath the bonnet. But what speed—in traffic! Evelyn saw the finger of the speedometer rise to forty—forty-two.

“Do you know the way?” he asked.

“I do,” she replied.

Strange that she should know the way to Smithfield.

Suddenly she said:

“What brought you into the hotel business?”

He replied as suddenly:

“The same thing that brought you to motoring. Instinct. I was always fond of handling people, and organising.”

“Always? Do you mean even when you were a boy?”

“Yes, when I was a boy. You know, clubs and things, and field-excursions. I managed the refreshment department at Earl's Court one year. Then through some wine-merchant I got the management of the Wey Hotel at Weybridge. I rebuilt that. Then I had to add two wings to it.”

“But this present show of yours?”

“Oh! Well. They wanted a new manager here, and they sent for me. But I wouldn't leave the Wey. So to get me they bought the Wey.”

“And what happened to the Wey?”

“Nothing. I'm still running it. Going down there this morning. Can't go every day. When you've got the largest luxury-hotel in the world on your hands—”

“The largest?”

“The largest.”

“Have you been to America? I thought in America—”

“Yes. All over America. I expected to learn a bit in America, but I didn't. You mean those '2,000 bedrooms—2,000 bathrooms' affairs. Ever stayed in one? No, of course you haven't. Not your sort. Too wholesale and rough-and-ready. Not what we call luxury-hotels. Rather behind the times. They haven't got past 'period'-furnishing. Tudor style. Jacobean style. Louis Quinze room. And so on. And as for bathrooms—well, they have to come to my 'show' to see bathrooms.”

He spoke as it were ruthlessly, but very simply and quietly. When she spoke she did not turn her head. She seemed to be speaking in a trance. He could examine her profile at his ease. Yes, she was beautiful.

2.

At Ludgate Circus, a white-armed policeman was directing traffic under electric lamps just as in daylight.

“How funny!” she said, swinging round to the left so acutely that Evelyn's shoulder touched hers.

In no time they would reach their destination. For this reason and no other he regretted the high speed. The fresh wind that precedes the dawn invigorated and sharpened all his senses. He recalled Dr. Johnson's remark that he would be content to spend his life driving in a postchaise with a pretty woman. But the pretty woman would not have been driving. This girl was driving. She profoundly knew the job. Evelyn always had a special admiration for anybody who profoundly knew the job. She even knew the streets of commercial and industrial London. Before he was aware of it, the oddest thoughts shot through his mind.

“Her father might object. But I could handle her father. Besides—what a girl! Lovely, and can do something! No one who drives like her could possibly not have the stuff in her. I've never met anybody like her. She likes me. No nonsense about her! What a voice! Her voice is enough. It's like a blooming orchestra, soft and soothing, but so. . . Here! What's this? What's all this. It isn't an hour since I met her. I'm the wildest idiot ever born. Marriage? Never. A mistress? Impossible. Neither she nor any other woman. The head of a 'show,' as she calls it, like mine with a mistress!”

He laughed inwardly, awaking out of a dream. And as he awoke he heard her beautiful voice saying, while her eyes stared straight ahead:

“What I admire in you is that you don't act. I know you must be a pretty biggish sort of a man. Well, father's pretty big—at least I'm always being told so—but father can't help acting the big man, acting what he is. He's always feeling what he is. You're big and so you must know you're big; but you just let it alone. It doesn't worry you into acting the part. I know. I've seen lots of big men.”

“Oh!” murmured Evelyn, cautious, non-committal, and short of the right words. But he was thinking rapidly again:

“And she hadn't met me an hour ago! What a girl! No girl ever said anything as extraordinary as what she's just said. And it's true, what she says. Didn't I see it in her father? I was afraid I might have seemed boastful, the way I talked about me and my 'show.' But apparently she didn't misunderstand me. Most girls would have misunderstood. Really she is a bit out of the ordinary.”

Smithfield Markets with their enclosed lighted avenues shone out twinkling in the near distance, on the other side of a large, dark, irregular open space of ground. Gracie glanced to right and left, decided where she would draw up, and, describing a long, evenly sustained curve, drew up in a quiet corner, slow, slower, slowest—motion expiring without a jar into immobility. She clicked the door and jumped down with not a trace of fatigue after a bedless night nearly ended. Her tongue said nothing, but her demeanour said: “And that's that! That's how I do it!”

“Well,” remarked Evelyn, still in the car. “You said something about me. I'll say something about you. You can drive a car.”

Gracie answered: “I don't drive any more.”

“What do you mean—you don't drive any more?”

“I mean race-track driving. I've given it up. This isn't driving.”

“Had an accident?”

“An accident? No! I've never touched a thing in my life. But I might have done. I thought it wasn't good enough—the risk. So I gave it up. I thought I might as well keep the slate clean.” She smiled ingenuously, smoothing her cloak.

“And what a slate! What a nerve to retire like that!” Evelyn reflected, and said aloud: “You're amazing!” He had again the sensation of the romantic quality of life. He was uplifted high.

“So here we are,” said Gracie, suddenly matter-of-fact.

A policeman strolled into the vicinity.

“Can I leave my car here, officer?” she questioned him briskly, authoritatively.

The policeman paused, peering at her in the dying night.

“Yes, miss.”

“It'll be quite safe?”

“I'll keep an eye on it, miss.”

“Thank you.”

Evelyn, accustomed to take charge of all interviews, parleys, and pow-wows, had to be a silent spectator. As he led her into the Market, he trembled at the prospect of the excitement, secret and overt, which her appearance would cause there.

Chapter 5. GRACIE AT SMITHFIELD

Gracie, though for different reasons, felt perhaps just as nervous as Evelyn himself when they entered the meat-market; but within the first few moments her nervousness was utterly dissolved away in the strong sense of romance which surged into her mind and destroyed everything else therein.

The illimitable interior had four chief colours: bright blue of the painted constructional ironwork, all columns and arches; red-pink-ivories of meat; white of the salesmen's long coats; and yellow of electricity. Hundreds of bays, which might or might not be called shops, lined with thousands of great steel hooks from each of which hung a carcass, salesmen standing at the front of every bay, and far at the back of every bay a sort of shanty-office in which lurked, crouching and peering forth, clerks pen in hand, like devilish accountants of some glittering, chill inferno.

One long avenue of bays stretched endless in front, and others on either hand, producing in the stranger a feeling of infinity. Many people in the avenues, loitering, chatting, chaffing, bickering! And at frequent intervals market-porters bearing carcasses on their leather-protected shoulders, or porters pushing trucks full of carcasses, sped with bent heads feverishly through the avenues, careless of whom they might throw down or maim or kill. An impression of intense, cheerful vitality, contrasting dramatically with the dark somnolence of the streets around! A dream, a vast magic, set in the midst of the prosaic reality of industrial sleep! You were dead; you stepped at one step into the dream; you were alive.

Everything was incredibly clean. The blue paint was shining clean; the carcasses were clean; the white coats of the salesmen were clean; the chins of the salesmen were clean and smooth; many of them showed white, starched collars and fancy neckties under the white coats. Very many of them had magnificent figures, tall, burly, immense, healthy, jolly. None of them had any air of fatigue or drowsiness or unusualness. The hour was twenty minutes to five, and all was as customary as the pavements of Bond Street at twenty minutes to noon. And the badinage between acquaintances, between buyers and sellers, was more picturesque than that of Bond Street. Gracie caught fragments as she passed. “You dirty old tea-leaf.” “Go on, you son of an unmarried woman.”

Gracie was delighted. A world of males, of enormous and solid males. She was the only woman in the prodigious, jostling market. A million males, and one girl. She savoured the contrast between the one and the million, belittling neither. Of course Evelyn and she were marked for inquisition by curious, glinting eyes. They puzzled curiosity. They ought to have been revellers, out to see the night-life of London. But the sedate, reserved Evelyn looked no reveller, nor did she in her simple, dark cloak. But, she thought, they knew a thing or two, did those males! With satisfaction she imagined the free imaginings behind their eyes. She was proud to be the one against the million. Let them think! Let their imaginations work! She felt her power. And never, not even at 100 m.p.h. on the race-track, had she lived more exultantly. She was always demanding life, and seldom getting it. Now she was getting it—the full cup and overflowing.

2.

Withal, at a deeper level than these Dionysiac sensations, was a sensation nobler, which rose up through them. The desire for serious endeavour. At the wheel of a racing-car, built specially for her to her father's order, Gracie had been conscious of a purpose, of a justification. The track involved an austere rule of life; abstinence, regularity, early hours, the care of nerves, bodily fitness. Eight or ten months ago she had exhausted the moral potentialities of racing. Racing held nothing more for her. She had tired of it as a traveller tires of an island, once unknown, which he has explored from end to end. She had abandoned it. Her father had said: “You can't stick to anything.” But her father did not understand.

She had fallen into sloth and self-indulgence, aimless, restless, unhappy. Her formidable engine-power was wasting itself. She had rejoined her smart friends, formed the habit of never wanting to go to bed and never wanting to get up, scattered her father's incalculable affluence with both hands, eaten, drunk, gambled, refused herself no fantastic luxury (Sir Henry being negligently, perhaps cynically, compliant), lived the life furiously. And the life was death. Against his inclination, her father had taken her with him to America. She had had hopes of the opportunities and the energy of America. They were frustrated. In New York she had lived the life still more furiously. And it was worse than death. While in New York Sir Henry had put through one of his favourite transactions: sold his splendid London house at a rich profit. He had a fondness for selling London homes over the heads of himself and Gracie. He had two country-houses; but the country meant little to Gracie, and less to him. Hence, this night, the hotel. The man would reside in hotels for months together.

Gracie had reached the hotel, in the middle of the night, without any clear purpose in mind. She had loved with violence more than once, but never wisely. She had now no attachment—and only one interest: reading. She had suddenly discovered reading. Shakspere had enthralled her. On the Atlantic voyage she had gulped down two plays of Shakspere a day. At present, for her, it was Shakspere or nothing. The phenomenon was beyond her father; but it flattered his paternal vanity, demonstrated to him that he had begotten no common child. First racing, now Shakspere! Something Homeric about Gracie, and she his daughter! Out of Shakspere and other special reading, a project was beginning to shape in the girl's soul, as nebulae coalesce into a star. But it was yet too vague to be formulated. Then the hotel. Then Evelyn Orcham, whose name Sir Henry had casually mentioned to her with candid respect. Then the prospect of fabled Smithfield before dawn. Evelyn had impressed her at the first glance: she did not know why. And she divined that she in turn had impressed him. She admired him the more because he had not leapt at her suggestion of going with him to Smithfield, because for a few moments he had shown obvious reluctance to accept it. Not a man to be swept off his feet. A self-contained, reserved man. Shy. Quiet. Almost taciturn, with transient moods of being confidential, intimate. Mysterious. Dangerous, beneath a conventional deportment. You never knew what might be hidden in the depths of a man like that. Enigmatic. Diffident; but very sure of himself. In short. . . was he married? Had he a hinterland? Well, his eyes didn't look as if he had.

And now she was in Smithfield, and her prophetic vision of it, her hopes of it, had been right. Smithfield had not deceived her. A romantic microcosm of mighty males, with a redoubtable language of their own. A rude, primeval, clean, tonic microcosm, where work was fierce and impassioned. A microcosm where people got up early and thought nothing of getting up early, and strove and haggled and sweated, rejoicing in the purchase and sale of beef and mutton and pork. To get up early and strive, while the dull world was still asleep: this it was that appealed to Gracie. Freshness and sanity of earliest dark cool mornings! She wanted to bathe in Smithfield as in a bath, to drench herself in it, to yield utterly to it. Smithfield was paradise, and a glorious hell.

Chapter 6. BIRTH OF DAY

“Ah! There's Cradock,” said Evelyn. “He's our buyer. I'll introduce him to you. The little man there. The one that's sticking a skewer into that lamb.”

Gracie recognised the man who had been waiting in the great hall of the hotel. Having stuck the skewer into the carcass, Jack pulled it out and put it to his nose. Then, while Evelyn and Gracie watched, he stuck a skewer into the next lamb, and finally left a skewer in each lamb: sign that they were his chosen.

“Chines and ends,” Gracie heard him say, as he scribbled in a note-book.

He saw Evelyn.

“Here we are, Cradock,” said Evelyn. “This is Miss Savott. Knows all about motor-racing. Now she wants to know all about Smithfield.”

Jack clasped her slim hand in his thick one.

“I do think your market is marvellous, Mr. Cradock!” Gracie greeted him, genuine enthusiasm in her emotional low voice. Her clasp tightened on the thick hand, and held it.

“Glad to meet you, miss.”

“It's so big and so clean. I love this blue paint.”

“Glad to hear that, miss. There's some of 'em would sooner have the old green. . . a bit of it over there.” He pointed.

“That's nice too. But I prefer the blue, myself.”

Jack was conquered at once, not by her views on blue and green paint, but by her honest manner, by her beauty, and by the warmth of her trifling, fragile, firm fingers. He thought, “Governor knows what's what. Trust him!” And since the relations of men and women are essentially the same in all classes, and his ideas concerning them had been made robust and magnanimous by many contacts with meat-salesmen of terrific physique, he began privately to wish the governor well in whatever the governor might be about. Anyhow it was none of his business, and the governor could indeed be trusted, had nothing to learn.

“You see those lambs, sir,” he murmured. “I guarantee there isn't ten lambs like them in all London to-day!”

Evelyn nodded. The carcasses were already lifted off their hooks. Gracie saw them put on a huge carving block, and watched a carver in bloody blue divide them with a long razor-knife and a saw. In a moment the operation was performed, and so delicately and elegantly that it had no repulsiveness. The carvers were finished surgeons for Gracie, not butchers.

“That's got to be served, for lunch at the hotel this morning,” said Jack to her. “We hang the beef for five or six days—used to hang it for twelve or fourteen. But you ladies and gentlemen alter your tastes, you see, miss, and we have to follow. You see all that calves' liver there. Not so many years ago, I could buy as much as I wanted at sixpence a pound. Would you believe me, it costs me two shillings these days! All because them Harley Street doctors say it's good for anæmia.” He turned to Evelyn: “That's Charlie Jebson, governor. Next door.” He jerked his head.

“Let's go and talk to him,” said Evelyn, easily.

Mr. Charles Jebson was a very tall man, with a good figure, and dandiacal in dress.

“This is my governor, Mr. Orcham, Charlie. And this is Miss Savott, come to see what we do up here. Mr. Charles Jebson.”

Charles became exceedingly deferential. He shook hands with Gracie like a young peer in swallow-tails determined to ingratiate himself with a chorus-girl. Gracie smiled to herself, thinking: “What a dance I could lead him!”

“You do get up early here, Mr. Jebson,” she said. “When do you sleep?”

“I don't, miss,” he replied, smirking. “At least—well, three or four hours. Make it up Sundays. Perhaps you know the Shaftesbury, in Shaftesbury Avenue. Express lunch and supper counter. That's mine. They call me 'the governor' there, when I go in of a night to tackle the books and keep an eye on things. Not so much time for sleep, you'll freely admit.” Gracie's notion of him was enlarged. White coat before dawn. Restaurateur in the centre of theatre-land at supper-time! A romantic world!

“It's all too marvellous!” she said admiringly.

Charlie showed pride. A procession of four laden porters charged blindly down the avenue, shouting. Gracie received a glancing blow on the shoulder. She spun round, laughing. Jack moved her paternally away to shelter. A nun, hands joined in front, eyes downcast, walked sedately along the avenue, a strange, exotic visitant from another sphere. The spectacle startled Gracie, shaking all her ideals, somehow shaming her.

“Why is she here?” she demanded of Jack with false casualness.

“I couldn't say, miss, for sure. Little Sister of the Poor, or something. Come for what she can get. Food for orphans, I shouldn't be surprised. They're very generous in the Market.” He added discreetly, as Gracie made as if to return to Evelyn, “Governor's got a bit of business with Mr. Jebson.”

“Oh yes.” And she asked him some questions about what she saw.

“Refrigerators,” he said. “Thirty years ago when I first came here there wasn't an ice-box in the place.”

Gracie could overhear parts of the conversation between Charlie and Evelyn. Evelyn laughed faintly. Charlie laughed loudly. It went on.

“I hope we shall be able to continue to do business together, Mr. Jebson,” Evelyn said at length.

“It won't be my fault if we don't, sir,” Charlie deferentially replied.

“That's good,” said Evelyn. “I know there's no beef better than yours. I didn't know you had a restaurant. I've often noticed the Shaftesbury. One night I shall come in. I'm rather interested in restaurants.” He laughed.

“Thank you, sir. It'll be a great honour when you do.”

General handshaking, which left Charlie Jebson well satisfied with the scheme of the universe. The three proceeded along the avenue.

2.

“That'll be all right now, I think,” Gracie heard Evelyn murmur to Jack Cradock. And she recalled what Evelyn had said to her about an instinct for handling people. As it was extremely difficult to walk three abreast in the thronged avenues, Jack, now elated, walked ahead. But sometimes he lagged behind. Everybody knew him. Everybody addressed him as Jack. (The Smithfield world was as much a world of Christian names as Gracie's own.) Nevertheless the affectionate familiarity towards Jack was masked by the respect due to a man who was incapable of being deceived as to the quality of a carcass, who represented the swellest hotel in London, who had a clerk, who spent an average of a hundred pounds sterling a day, and who would take nothing but the best.

Cradock stopped dead, in the rear.

“Hello, Jim. I want a hundred pounds of fat.”

“Two and four,” was the reply.

“That's where you're wrong. Two shillings.”

“And that's where you're wrong.”

“Two and two,” said Jack.

“Oh,” said Jim, with feigned disgust. “I'll give it you for your birthday. I know how hard up you are.”

Jack scribbled in his book and strode after the waiting pair. But a heavy hand was laid on his shoulder.

“Hello, Jack. Not seen you lately. Had a fair holiday?”

“Yes,” said Cradock. “I have had a fair holiday. I'm not like some of you chaps. When I go for a holiday I take my wife.” He hurried on.

“Excuse me, miss,” he apologised to Gracie.

The trio arrived at a large fenced lift.

“Miss Savott might like to go down,” Evelyn suggested.

Cradock spoke to the guardian, and the chains were unfastened.

“If you'll excuse me, governor. I'll see you afterwards.” And to Gracie, with a grin: “I've got a bit to do, and time's getting on. If I don't keep two ton o' meat in stock down at the Imperial Palace the governor would pass me a remark.” With a smile kindly and sardonic, benevolent and yet reserved, Jack Cradock stood at the edge of the deep well as the rough platform, slowly descending, carried the governor and young lady beyond his sight.

“What a lovely man!” said Gracie, appreciative.

“You heard that phrase in America!” was Evelyn's comment.

They smiled at one another. The hubbub and brightness of the vast market vanished away above their heads. The lift shuddered and stopped. They were in silence and gloom. They were in a crypt. And the crypt was a railway station, vaster even than the Market, and seeming still vaster than it was by reason of the lowness of its roof.

“As big?” said the lift-attendant disdainfully in response to an enquiry. “It's a lot bigger than Euston or St. Pancras or King's Cross. If you ask me, it's the longest station in London...No, the meat trains are all come and gone an hour ago.” An engine puffed slowly in the further obscure twilight. “No, that's only some empties.”

Vague, dull sounds echoed under the roof: waggons being hauled to and fro by power-winches, waggons swinging round on turn-tables. Men like pigmies dotted the endless slatternly expanse. The untidy platforms were littered with packages: a crate of live fowls, a case of dead rabbits, a pile of tarpaulins. The pair walked side by side along a platform until they were held up by a chasm through which a waggon was being dragged by a hawser. When the chasm was covered again they walked on, right to the Aldersgate end of the station, whence the Farringdon Road end was completely invisible in the gloom. Neither spoke. Both were self-conscious.

“What are you thinking about?” Gracie asked curtly.

“If you want to know, I was thinking about that split ship of yours. And you?”

Gracie's low, varied voice wavered as she replied:

“I was only thinking of those lambs, when they were in the fields, wagging their silly little tails while they sucked milk in.”

Evelyn saw the gleam of tears in her eyes. He offered no remark. Nervously Gracie pulled her cloak off and put it on her arm.

“It's so hot. I mean I'm so hot,” she said.

She had indeed for a moment thought of the lambs. But the abiding sensation in her mind, in her heart and soul, was the sensation of the forlorn sadness of the deserted dark crypt, called by the unimaginative a railway station, and of the bright, jostling back-chatting world of men suspended over it on a magical system of steel girders. All the accomplishment of adventurous and determined laborious men—men whom her smart girl friends would not look twice at, because of the cut of their coats, or their accent, or their social deportment! She wanted ardently to be a man among men; she felt that she was capable of being a man among men. Her ideals, shaken before, were thrown down and smashed. She liked Evelyn for his sympathetic silence. She persuaded herself that he knew all her thoughts. By a shameless secret act, she tried to strip her mind to him, tear off every rag of decency, expose it to him, nude. And not a word said.

“Ah!” she reflected with a yearning. “His instinct for handling people! Could he handle me? Could he handle me?”...

When they regained the surface, Jack Cradock was waiting for them. She was astounded to see by the market-clocks that the hour was after half-past six. Then something disturbingly went out. A whole row of electric lights in the broad arched roof of the central avenue! New shadows took the place of the old. She glanced at the roof. Grey light showed through its glass. Dawn had begun. Never in Gracie's experience was a dawn so mysterious, so disconcerting, so heartrending. Jack Cradock was very amiable, respectful, self-respecting, and matter-of-fact.

Outside she resumed her dark cloak, tipped the policeman before Evelyn could do so, and slowly climbed into the car. She drove to the hotel slowly, not because of the increased traffic in the lightening streets, but as it were meditatively.

“I might write down my impressions of all that,” she murmured to Evelyn once, half-emerging for an instant from her meditation.

Chapter 7. THE HOTEL WAKING UP

In the courtyard of the hotel a lorry loaded with luggage was grinding and pulsating its way out. The courtyard had dried after its morning souse.

“That's the last of the big luggage for the 'Leviathan',” Evelyn explained, as Gracie brought the car to a standstill in front of the revolving doors and the two janissaries. “Special train leaves Waterloo at 8.20. Passengers hate to have to catch it, but they always do manage to catch it—somehow.”

Gracie made no reply. A chauffeur, who had been leaning against the rail of the luggage-hoist in a corner of the yard, advanced towards the car.

“Good morning, Compton,” Gracie greeted him, as she followed Evelyn out of the car. “How long have you been here?”

“About an hour, miss.”

“Have you had the big stuff sent upstairs?”

“Oh yes, miss.”

“There's the beginning of a rattle in the bonnet here. Have a look at it.”

“Yes, miss. Certainly, miss. Any orders, miss?”

“Not to-day. But I don't know about Sir Henry.”

“No, miss.”

“Better put the car in the hotel garage, and tell them to clean her. If I want her I'll get her out myself. I'm going to bed. You ought to get some sleep, too.”

“Very good, miss.”

In her beautiful voice Evelyn noticed the nonchalance of fatigue. He was glad she was tired, just as earlier he was glad she had not been tired.

On the steps under the marquise she took off her cloak; then preceded Evelyn to the spinning doors.

“There's something at the back of your left shoulder,” said Evelyn, in the doorway.

“What?” She did not turn round.

“A stain. Why! It's blood.”

“Blood?”

“Yes. You must have got it after we came up into the Market again. You weren't wearing your cloak then. You were wearing it before. And you couldn't have got it down in the station.”

“What a detective you are!” she said, still not turning round.

Evelyn saw a deep flush gradually suffuse her neck. How sensitive she was! No doubt she hated the thought of blood on her frock.

“The valet will take it out for you, if your maid can't. They're very good at that, our valets are.”

“At getting out blood-stains?”

“Any stains.” Evelyn gave one of his short laughs, though her tone had rather disturbed him. The blood-stain was obscene upon her. He hated it.

She glanced back, not at Evelyn, but at the janissaries, who, well-trained, averted their eyes. He wished that she would put on her cloak again, and in the same instant she put it on, while her bag slapped against her corsage. Then she entered. On the outer mahogany of the head-porter's desk hung a framed card: “s.s. Leviathan. The special boat-train will leave Waterloo at 8.20a.m.,” followed by the date.

“How many departures by the 'Leviathan' this morning, Sam?” Evelyn asked. Long Sam was half-hidden within his lair.

“Eighteen, sir,” said Sam, consulting a book that lay open on the desk.

''Hm!”

The great hall had much the same nocturnal aspect as when they had left it, but with a new touch of lugubriousness, and a more intense expectancy—expectancy of the day, impatient now and restless. Day had begun in the streets and roads and in St. James's Park, but not in the hall. The fireman was handing to Reyer his time-clock, which checked the performance of his duties more exactly and ruthlessly than any overseer could have done. Reyer, comatose and pale from endless hours of tedium, accepted it negligently.

A high pile of morning newspapers lay on the counter near the still-closed book-and-news shop. Evelyn strode eagerly towards it, and examined paper after paper.

“Not a word,” he called to Gracie.

“Not a word about what?”

“Your split ship. I looked at the posters in Fleet Street. Nothing on them. Of course there wouldn't be. Terrific thing, and yet they can hush it up. And there isn't a newspaper office in London that doesn't know all about it by this time. And you'll see it won't be in the evening papers either.”

Gracie, standing hesitant, said nothing. She was too weary, or too depressed, to be interested any more, even in her complexion. Reaction! But Evelyn felt no fatigue. His imagination was now no longer responsively awake to the fatigue of Gracie. On the contrary he felt extraordinarily alive.

“See,” he said, pointing through glass walls to the grill-room, where a couple of men, attended by two waiters, were already breakfasting, “my hotel's waking up for the day. You're just in time to see my hotel waking up. It's a great moment.”

He loved to watch his hotel waking up. Something dramatic, poignant, in the spectacle of the tremendous monster stirring out of its uneasy slumber.

A youngish woman in a short black frock approached through the dark vista of the restaurant and the foyer. She tripped vivaciously up the first flight of steps, then up the second. She entered the hall.

“Good morning, Miss Maclaren.”

“Good morning, sir.” Bright Scottish accent, but serious.

“Housekeeper,” he murmured to Gracie. “That is to say, one of our housekeepers. We have eight, not counting the head-housekeeper, who's the mother of us all.” Affection in his eager voice.

Gracie stared and said nothing.

“Isn't Miss Brury on duty to-day, Miss Maclaren?” he continued.

“She's unwell, sir.”

“Sorry to hear that. Things are a bit late this morning.”

“Yes, sir. Something wrong with the clocking apparatus. Turnstile wouldn't turn. Mr. Maxon couldn't explain it, but he got it put right.”

“Everyone except heads of departments has to clock in,” Evelyn explained to Gracie. “Thirteen hundred of 'em, not counting the Laundry and the works department—outside.”

“What a swarm!” Gracie spoke at last; there was no answering enthusiasm in her tone, but Evelyn was not dashed. He had forgotten the split ship and the blood-stain. He was the creative artist surveying and displaying his creation—the hotel. He was like a youth.

A procession of girls and women followed Miss Maclaren through the vista of the restaurant and the foyer into the great hall. They wore a blue uniform with brown apron, and carried pails, brooms, brushes and dusters. Some of them swerved off into the corridor leading towards the grill-room. Others began to dust the Enquiries and Reception counters. Others were soon on their knees, in formation, cleaning the immense floor of the hall. Miss Maclaren spoke sharply, curtly, now and then to one or other of them.

“You always have to be at them, but they're a very decent lot,” she murmured as it were apologetically to Evelyn, her hands folded in front of her, nun-like, while surreptitiously she summed up Gracie with hostility.

“Yes,” thought Evelyn, enjoying the scene as though he had never witnessed it before. “The women-guests are fast asleep on their private embroidered pillows upstairs, all in silk pyjamas and nighties, and these women here have cleaned their homes and got breakfasts and washed children and been sworn at probably, some of them, and walked a mile or two through the streets, and put on their overalls, and here they are swilling and dusting like the devil!” And aloud he said to Gracie: “Come and see the restaurant. Won't take a moment.”

They went down steps and down steps. (The earth's surface was level beneath, but the front part of the hotel had been built over a basement; the back part had not.) One lamp still kept watch over the main part of the dead restaurant; but in a far corner was another lamp, and beneath it a fat man was furiously cleaning about a thousand electroplated cruets. Rows of cruets. Trays of cruets. Beyond, a corridor leading to the ball-room in the West Wing.

“Yes,” said Gracie feebly.

They returned.

“Here's the ladies' cloak-room,” said Evelyn, even more animated, and turned aside.

He took her arm and led her in. Room after room. Table after table. Chair after chair. Mirror after mirror. Clock after fancy clock. In the dim twilight of rare lamps the long suite of highly decorated apartments looked larger even than it was. A woman was polishing a mirror.

“It's a wonderful place,” said Gracie politely. “I think I must go to bed, though.”

He escorted her to the lift. Leaving the liftman to wait, she stood back from the ornate cage—such a contrast with the shuddering wooden platform at Smithfield—and glancing up at Evelyn, her eyes and face suddenly as shining and vivacious as his, she said to him in her richest voice, low, emotional, teasing:

“Do you know what you are?”

“What am I?”

“You're a perfect child with a toy!”

What would his co-directors, the heads of departments, the head-housekeeper, Jack Cradock, have thought, to hear him thus familiarly and intimately addressed by a smart chit who was also a stranger?

“Am I? I do believe I am,” he answered, enraptured.

2.

But when the lift had taken her up out of sight, he thought, though lightly: “Who does she think she is, cheeking me, after inviting herself to Smithfield and all that? Never saw her in my life until this morning, and she has the nerve to call me a child!” Nevertheless, her impudent remark did please him. He indeed admitted, proudly, that he was a child—one part of him, which part had carelessly forgotten to grow up.

The mishap with the turnstiles was prominent in his mind. The organisation of the hotel was divided into some thirty departments, and the head of each had a fixed conviction that his department was the corner-stone of the success of the hotel. Evelyn, Machiavellian, impartially supported every one of these convictions, just as he consistently refrained from discouraging the weed of interdepartmental jealousies inevitably sprouting from time to time in the soil of strenuous emulation which he was always fertilising. Thus the head Floors-waiter did not conceal his belief that the room-service was the basis of prosperity; the Restaurant-manager knew that the restaurant was the life-blood of the place; the manager of the grill-room was not less sure that the grill, where at lunch and at supper the number of celebrities and notorieties far surpassed that of the restaurant (though it cost the hotel not a penny for bands), was the chief factor of prosperity; the Audit-manager was aware that without his department the hotel would go to hell in six months; the Bills-manager had no need to emphasise his supremacy; the head of the Reception, who could draw from memory a plan of every room with every piece of furniture in it, and who knew by sight and name and number every guest, and had a file-record of every guest, including the dubious, with particulars of his sojourns, desires, eccentricities, rate of spending, payments—even to dishonoured cheques, who could be welcoming, non-committal, cool, cold and ever tactful in five languages—this marvel had never a doubt as to the identity of the one indispensable individual in the hierarchy of the hotel. And so on.

And there were others—especially those mightinesses the French, Italian and Viennese chefs. Evelyn always remembered the ingenuous, sincere remark of the chief engineer, who passed his existence in the lower entrails of our revolving planet, where daylight was utterly unknown. “You see those things,” the chief engineer had said to a visitor. “If they shut up, the blessed hotel would have to shut right up.” 'Those things' were the boilers, which made the steam, which actuated the engines, which drew the water from the artesian wells, made the electric light and the electric power, heated the halls, restaurants and rooms, froze or chilled perishable food, baked the bread, cooked the meat, boiled the vegetables, cleansed and dried the very air, did everything except roast the game over a wood fire.

Evelyn had admitted, to himself, the claim to pre-eminence of the chief engineer. But now he began to wonder whether the turnstile and clocking-in satrap was not entitled to precedence over even the chief engineer. For if the hotel depended on the engine-hall the engine-hall depended on the presence of its workmen. He smiled at the fanciful thought as he descended by tiled and concrete slopes and narrow iron staircases, glimpsing non-uniformed humble toilers of both sexes in soiled, airless rooms and enclosures, towards the cave of the Staff-manager's second-in-command who watched and permitted or forbade the entrances and exits of thirteen hundred employees.

The cave was a room of irregular shape, full of machines and pigeon-holes and cognate phenomena. The second-in-command, a dignified and authoritative specimen of the middleclass aged fifty or so, sat on one side of a counter. On the other side stood a young woman starting on her day out, dressed and hatted and shod and powdered and rouged for the undoing or delight of some young male: in her working-hours a chamber-maid. Between them, on the counter, lay a dispatch case, on which the girl kept a gloved hand.

“You can't leave with that thing until I've seen inside it,” said authority.

“But why? It's mine.”

“How long have you been here? Not long, eh?”

“A month.”

“Well, when you've been here a month of Sundays you'll have got into your head that nobody can take anything out of here without me seeing what it is.”

“I call it a wicked shame.”

“It may be. But it's the rule of the hotel. Last year I caught a girl slipping out with a pair of sheets where they oughtn't to be.”

“This despatch-case won't hold a pair of sheets,” said the girl. “Anyone can see that.”

Authority made no reply, but glanced inquisitively at a small group of men who were clocking in. The girl sulkily opened the despatch-case. Authority looked into it.

“That necklace yours?”

“Yes.”

“Where did you get it from?”

“A lady gave it me.”

“What floor? What number? What name? Is she still here?”

Question and answer; question and answer.

“Off you go,” said authority, having written down the details on the slip-permit which the girl had handed to him:

“You'll know next time.”

Off the girl went, haughtily. Evelyn felt sorry for her, as he emerged from the doorway where he had been listening to the encounter.

“Good morning, sir.” Authority had suddenly changed to subservience.

“I hear you had some trouble with the turnstiles this morning, Maxon,” said Evelyn benevolently.

“Trouble, sir? Turnstiles?” replied subservience, as if quite at a loss to understand the sinister allusion.

“Yes. Some charwomen were kept waiting.”

“Oh! I see what you mean, sir. That wasn't turnstiles, sir. They've told you wrong. I'll show you what it was.” Subservience sprang round the counter.

The two bent together over a steel contraption, and subservience explained.

“No turnstiles about that, sir. Clocking.”

“Why didn't you let 'em through, for once?” Evelyn asked.

“Well, sir, I thought I should get it right every minute. Only a touch. And it wasn't long. It wasn't above five minutes. And it won't happen again. And if it does happen again, and it's your wish, sir—”

Evelyn changed the subject. After some general chat, whose sole object was to indicate to the excellent Maxon that Maxon enjoyed his special regard, he departed, having first jotted a reminding note for himself. The rule about outgoing packages irked his feeling for decency. But it was absolutely necessary. There was simply no end to the running of a hotel. How would Gracie Savott have behaved if confronted with the rule? A certain liveliness for authority! She was getting into bed now. Nothing had been said as to a further meeting.

3.

When Evelyn returned to the great hall Monsieur Adolphe, the perfectly attired, rosy-cheeked Reception-manager, who was an Alsatian but who had submerged the characteristics of his origin under a cosmopolitanism acquired during twenty-five years of activity in continental and London hotels, was hurrying busily about; for the “Leviathan” departures had begun.

American women, with the drawn, set faces of too-early rising, and great bouquets of flowers, were appearing, followed by placatory men who desired tranquillity even at the price of honour. If husbands and fathers suffered unjustly from wives and daughters, the injustice was at once passed on by husbands and fathers to baggage-porters and other officials. Adolphe's role was to establish an illusion of general loving-kindness. He fulfilled it: that was his life-work. But Evelyn stood always first in his mind, and for Evelyn's sake he cut short the oration of a Chicago millionaire.

“Sir Henry Savott has just telephoned down to enquire what time it would be convenient for you to see him to-day, sir. I've sent the message up to your room.”

“Why did the message come to you, Adolphe?”

“I suppose because you'd been seen once or twice in the hall, and you weren't in your rooms. Excuse me, sir.” Adolphe hastened away into the courtyard, half running.

Day had at length dawned in the great hall, which lived again, after the coma of the interminable night.

“If that fellow Savott really is Napoleon,” Evelyn reflected, “he ought to be fast asleep now, instead of pursuing me with telephone-messages that take everything for granted. How does he know that I've not gone to bed same as he has?” He smiled in anticipation of protracted, fierce, and yet delicately manuvred tussles with Savott. The fight for and against the rumoured hotel-merger was going to start sooner than he had expected. He smiled a second time, because he had firm hold of something that Sir Henry passionately wanted. Great fun! He reflected further: “It'll do that fellow no harm to cool his heels for a day or two.”

Then he went to the counter, and wrote a reply to Sir Henry:

“Mr. Orcham is very sorry to say that he has outside appointments which will keep him away from the hotel all day.” Nothing about to-morrow or the next day? No. More effective to say nothing about to-morrow or the next day. He had the goods, and delay and uncertainty would only inflame the desirer and so impair the desirer's skill in negotiation.

“What number—Sir Henry Savott?” he demanded, looking up across the counter at a clerk. “Page!” he called. “Telephone. Sir Henry Savott, 365.”

Adolphe came in hurrying, explaining with a laugh: “I had to give Senator Gooden an extra shake of the hand because he came to us from another hotel, and I don't want him to go back there ever.”

“Good,” said Evelyn. “I've seen to Sir Henry Savott. You know nothing.”

“Quite, sir,” said Adolphe comprehendingly, and dashed off.

Car after car was now leaving the courtyard for Waterloo. Mowlem, the day head-porter, was at his grandest at the revolving doors. Evelyn ascended, and, looking at his watch, entered his private apartments. 7.45. At 7.45 he breakfasted. There, on the centre-table in the sitting-room, was his breakfast, with the newspapers arranged in what Evelyn had decided was the order of their importance to him. There, on the buffet, the spirit-lamp burned under a silver dish. There, near the door, stood his own man, with a smile of greeting. Evelyn shut the door on the whole world. He had half-an-hour to himself. No mail was ever brought to his rooms. Telephoning was harshly discouraged. Punctuality. Everything in its place. All the angles were right-angles. A logical orderliness. No will but his own functioned in those two rooms. He sat down, sipped at iced water, opened a newspaper, cleared his throat, stretched his legs, tore up the now answered telephone-message from Sir Henry Savott.

“All right, Oldham,” he gave the signal. “Bit colder this morning, eh? Autumn.” His voice was full of happy kindliness.

“Yes, sir,” Oldham agreed, content, and with ceremonious gestures served the bacon and poured out the Costa Rica coffee.

Fresh rolls. Fresh toast. Piles of butter on ice. It was heaven, a heavenly retreat.

“I'll shave after breakfast, Oldham.”

“Yes, sir. I have put out the things.”

“Good.”

Evelyn was secure and at ease. He had many matters on his mind: the clocking-in; the chambermaid—no insult intended; Sir Henry Savott; the relations between Jack Cradock and Charlie Jebson; a hundred others big and little. But they did not trouble him, because he knew he could deal with them all. He loved them. He needed them. They exhilarated him. They were his life. Without them he would have sunk into tedium. His life was perfect. Nobody could interfere with it, nobody disarrange it.

And then the tiny thought sneaked into his mind on tip-toe like a thief: was his life perfect? Yes! It was perfect. And it was full. Was it full? Was no corner of it empty? Did nothing lack? Yes! No! His life lacked nothing. It was balanced. Its equilibrium was stable. Supposing a woman, a beautiful woman, came into that sacrosanct room, as of right, flaunting her right, and began fussing about his health, commenting on his pallor, demanding to look at his tongue, fussing about the flowers and the exact disposition of the flowers, opening a newspaper and leaving it inside out on the floor, complaining of her loneliness in the world, complaining of her dressmaker, asking him whether he thought she looked five years younger than her real age, and, having been answered in the affirmative, asking him whether he really thought she looked five years younger than her real age; asking him whether he loved her, suggesting that he was disappointed in her! And so on and so on.

He knew it all. He had 'been there.' Intolerable! Delicious at rare moments, hell the rest of the time! His life was full. Another drop, and the glass would splash over. He had for years been lightly dreaming of a mistress. Silly! Boyish! A mistress would be a liability, not an asset. His career came first, with his usefulness to society, his duty to shareholders. He was a serious man with a conscience, not a gambler; commerce with women was the equivalent of gambling; it was staking tranquillity of conscience, staking his very soul, against a smile, a kiss, an embrace, the elegance of frocks and jewels. He opened a paper, gazed at the lines of type, and, engaged secretly in the controversy which beyond all others had agitated ambitious and powerful men for thousands of years and never been satisfactorily settled, he could make absolutely no sense of the news. Suddenly it occurred to him that Sir Henry might be wanting to see him, not about the scheme for a merger, but about his excursion with Gracie Savott into the wilds of London in the middle of the night. The girl might have wakened and told her father.

“Another slice, sir?”

“I think I will. I was up rather early. Remind me to shave.”

Chapter 8. THE NEW LIFE

When Gracie entered the drawing-room of her suite, she went straight to the windows and opened them wide, looked at St. James's Park below, along whose avenues men and girls were already hurrying earnestly northward in the direction of the Green Park and Piccadilly; she thirstily drank in large draughts of the foliage-perfumed air, for it seemed to her that she could still smell Smithfield's meat. The flame-tinted new curtains waved their folds high into the room. Naturally Tessa the maid had forgotten the standing instruction to open windows on arrival. After a few cleansing moments Gracie passed into her bedroom. It was dark. She impatiently switched on the electricity. A suitcase, unfastened, lay on the floor, and a jewel-case, shut, on the bed. No other sign of habitation! The dressing-table was bare, save for the customary hotel pin-cushion and small china tray. The curtains had not been opened, nor the blinds raised.

“Tessa!” she called, after opening the window. No answer. She had a qualm of apprehension. She passed into the bathroom. Not a sign of habitation in the bathroom either. It might have been a dehumanised bathroom in a big furniture store. The next door, ajar, led to a smaller bedroom, Tessa's. Gracie pushed against it. Darkness there too. Gracie turned the switch. Tessa was stretched asleep on, not in, the bed. Gracie could see the left wrist which she herself had bandaged two or three hours earlier, and on the bandage was a very faint reddish discoloration. Gracie, who several years earlier after witnessing rather helplessly a motor-accident at Brooklands had qualified for a first-aid certificate, examined the bandage in silence. No danger. The wrist had bled since the bandaging, but was bleeding no longer. Tessa slept undisturbed. Her pretty face was so pale, tragic, and exhausted in sleep that Gracie crept out of the bedroom and softly closed the door in a sudden passion of quasi-maternal pity. The qualm of apprehension recurred.

In the bathroom she threw down her hat and cloak, and pulled off the beige frock. Yes, the blood on the shoulder was very plain. The swift, startling realisation of its origin had alone caused her to blush when Evelyn remarked on it. That blood came not from Smithfield, nor was it the blood of any slain animal. When Gracie had come up to the suite for two minutes before starting for Smithfield she had found Tessa in the maid's bedroom, a vague figure in the unlit gloom, and had summoned her very sharply—sharpness of excitement working above secret fatigue. A sudden alarmed cry from Tessa: “Oh! I've cut myself with the scissors!” A hand knocking against her shoulder in the gloom. How had the girl contrived to injure her wrist, and what was she doing with the scissors in the dark? Gracie, too hurried to pursue the enquiry, had dragged Tessa into the light of the bathroom, found the simple first-aid apparatus without which she never travelled, and bound up the wrist. The wound was somewhat sanguinary, but not at all serious. Tessa was an efficient maid, but apart from the performance of her duties lackadaisical, characterless, and slothful. She could sit idle for hours, not even reading, and when she read she read sentimental drivel. She was older by two years than Gracie, who always regarded her as a junior. A doctor had once pronounced her anæmic. The wrist duly nursed, Gracie had soothed and enheartened Tessa and told her to sit down for a bit; then, after changing hat and cloak, had run out. Thus in the suite had been spent the twenty minutes that Evelyn had spent waiting in the great hall.

Flickers of suspicious surmising had gleamed at intervals in Gracie's mind. She recalled having explained to Tessa, many months ago, a few picturesque details of anatomy learnt in the first-aid course—how there was a certain part of the wrist which, etc., etc.—how an incision upon that part would be just as effective, and assuredly less painful and messy, than an attack on the throat with a razor, etc. Playful teasing. Nothing more. Forgotten as soon as said. Remembered now. Had not Tessa's manner been sometimes strange on board the ship? Had not Gracie sometimes fancied that she might be victimised by an unrequited love—in the style of her novelettes? Absurd. Yet not wholly absurd. No one more capable of a desperate act when roused than your silly, taciturn, lackadaisical anæmic. Gracie was rendered solemn, was snatched momentarily away from self-contemplation, by the idea that she had perhaps for days been terribly close to a mortal tragedy without guessing it...However, Tessa was asleep. The peril of a tragedy, if peril there had been, was over. No wonder that, quitting the bedroom, Gracie had gazed on the maid as a mature mother on a senseless child.

2.

In her own bedroom Gracie knelt down and unpacked the suit-case; then arranged the toilet-table; then undressed completely, turned on the water in the bathroom and bathed. She opened the door of Tessa's room to make sure that the noise of the water had not wakened the girl. Not a sound there. She put on blue silk pyjamas, and surveyed herself, moving to and fro, in the wardrobe mirror. She laid her small, elaborately embroidered travelling pillow on the hotel pillow, lit the bed-lamp, drew the blinds, closed the curtains, got into bed, switched off the lamp. She shut her eyes.

She was intensely conscious of her body, of the silkiness of her pyjamas, of the soft ridges of embroidery in the pillow. Luxurious repose. Extreme exhaustion; not merely physical; emotional. Exhaustion induced by the violence of her sensations and her aspirations in Smithfield Central Market and in the crypt below it. Thoughts of Tessa had receded. Once again she was absorbed in self-contemplation. Despite fatigue, an impulse to initiate immediately her secret project grew in her. It became imperious. She fought it, was beaten. She lit the lamp, hesitated, arose, put on the rich dressing-gown from the foot of the bed, passed into the drawing-room, carrying with her the jewel-case. It was locked—of course. The key was probably in Tessa's bag. She was bound to go back to Tessa's room. Still no sound nor movement there. She found the bag; she found the key-chain. Now, she was no more interested in Tessa.

In the drawing-room she opened the jewel-case, and took from it a morocco manuscript-book, virginal, which she had bought in New York. It had a lock, and the tiny key hung from the lock by a silk thread coloured to match the binding of the gilt-edged book. She sat herself at the desk, with the book opened in front of her, and seized a pen. The moment, she judged, was critical in her life. It might, it should and would, mark the beginning of a new life.

Slowly had been forming in her the resolution to write—to write literature. She had written one or two poems, and torn them up. No doubt they were worthless. But she knew them by heart. And perhaps they were not worthless. She had determined to write a journal of her impressions. She wrote the word 'London,' with the date, and underlined it, her hand trembling slightly from excitement, her mind thrilled by the memory of acute sensations felt in Smithfield. Her sensations seemed marvellous, unique. If only she could put them on paper. Formidable enterprise!

Her eye fell on a three-signal bell-tablet on the desk, 'waiter, valet, maid.' She must have some tea. She pressed the little knob for the waiter. True, she needed tea, but what influenced her as much as the need was a wish to delay the effort of writing the first momentous sentence in the book, the inception of the new life.

When the waiter had received her order he said:

“If you please, miss, there is a telephone-message for Sir Henry; he does not answer the telephone and his bedroom door is locked.”

“What next?” thought Gracie, startled; and asked the waiter in a casual tone:

“What is the message?”

The waiter gave her a telephone-slip. She read: “Mr. Orcham is very sorry to say that he has outside appointments which will keep him away from the hotel all day.” She said to the waiter: “All right. I'll see that Sir Henry gets the message.”

She was alarmed. She knew her father. If he had been suggesting an interview with Mr. Orcham, and this was the reply to the suggestion, there would certainly be an explosion, and trouble between the two men. The Napoleonic Henry Savott was just about the last man to tolerate such a curt message—especially from a hotel-manager! And somehow she could not bear the prospect of trouble between these two powerful individualities. (“Why can't I?” she asked herself.) After she had drunk the celestial tea, she rang up her father in the next suite. Fortunately Napoleon had wakened.

“I say, dad—yes, it's me—do you know you've been fast asleep and they've been trying to get a message to you, from Mr. Orcham. He says he'll let you know as soon as possible later in the day. He's frightfully sorry, but he's just had to go out on very urgent business.” She rang off.

Well, there it was! She'd done it. She had ravelled the skein, and she would have to unravel it. How? She would face the problem later. Such was Gracie's method. Anyhow she would have to communicate with Mr. Orcham. But later. A rush of the most vivid impressions of Smithfield, sensations at Smithfield, swept from her brain down her right arm. She could actually feel their passage. She began to write. She wrote slowly, with difficulty, with erasures. Everything but Smithfield vanished from her mind. The concentration of her mind was positively awful; that is to say, it awed her. The new life had opened for her.

Chapter 9. CONFERENCE

That morning Evelyn called the ten o'clock daily conference of heads of departments in his own office. In the absence of instructions to the contrary, it was held in the office of Mr. Cousin. Emile Cousin, the hotel-manager (whose name was pronounced in the hotel in the English way), was a Frenchman, similar to Evelyn in build, and of about Evelyn's age, but entirely grown up, whereas bits of the boy remained obstinately embedded in Evelyn's adult constitution.

'Director' was Evelyn's official title, short for 'managing director'—the medium of communication between the organism of the hotel and the Board of Directors of the company which owned both the Palace and the Wey. The authority of the Board (of which Evelyn was vice-chairman) stood above Evelyn's in theory, though not in practice.

It was out of a sort of private bravado that Evelyn presided that morning at the conference, which had not seen him for over a week. He had been up extremely early; he had been to Smithfield; he had trotted about the place; he had accomplished all the directorial correspondence; and a full day's work lay before him. But his appointment at the Laundry was not till eleven o'clock. He had, as usual, time in hand, and he would not waste it; he would expend it remuneratively. He was tired. More correctly, he would have been tired if he had permitted himself to be tired. He did not permit. He exulted in the exercise of the function of management, and especially under difficulties. Could any private preoccupation, could any hidden fatigue, impair his activity? To ask was to answer. Nothing could disconcert, embarrass, hamper, frustrate his activity. “You understand,” he would joyously, proudly, say to himself, “nothing!” It was in the moments which made the heaviest demand upon his varied faculties that he lived most keenly; and it was in those moments, too, that his demeanour was lightest.

The room was spacious; it had been enlarged some years earlier by the removal of a wall, and so changed from an oblong into the shape of an L. It had two vases of flowers, and there were plants in a box on the window-sill. (The spacious window framed a view of the picturesque back of a Queen Anne house and the garden thereof.) Evelyn did not particularly want the flowers and the plants. But Miss Cass did.

Miss Cass was Evelyn's personal secretary, aged an eternal thirty, well dressed, with earnest features and decided movements. She had a tremendous sense of Evelyn's importance. She was his mother, his amanuensis, and his slave. She could forge his signature to perfection. Among her seventy and seven duties, two of the chief, for her, were the provision of flowers, and the maintenance of a supply of mineral water on Evelyn's huge, flat desk. She had to make a living, and her salary was good; but the richest reward of her labours came on the infrequent occasions when Evelyn pulled a blossom from a vase and stuck it in his button-hole.

At conferences Evelyn sat behind the desk, with his back to the window; Miss Cass sat on his left at the desk, and Mr. Cousin on his right. The other members of the conference—being, principally, the Reception-manager, the Audit-manager, the Staff-manager, the Banqueting-manager, the chief engineer, the chief Stocktaker, the Bands-and-Cabaret-manager, the Publicity-manager, the Works-manager, and the white-haired head-housekeeper (only woman in the conference, for secretarial Miss Cass was not in the conference but at it)—sat about the room in odd chairs. Two of them were perched like twins each on the arm of an easy-chair. Neither the Restaurant-manager nor the Grill-room manager was in attendance, both having been at work very late. Their statistics, however, were in the hands of Miss Cass. The nationalities represented were Italian, French, Swiss and British, the last being in a minority. Evelyn and the sedate, reserved Mr. Cousin were smoking cigars. The rest—such as smoked—contented themselves with cigarettes. Subtle distinction between seraphim and cherubim in the hierarchy!

“Who's No. 341, 2 and 3?” asked Evelyn, glancing casually at a paper—the typed night-report.

“A Mr. Amersham—Australian,” answered the Reception-manager instantly. “Why, sir?”

“Nothing. I only happened to notice that a lady couldn't persuade herself to leave his rooms till three o'clock this morning. Colonials are always so attractive,” Evelyn continued without a pause, extinguishing several smiles: “Give me yesterday's figures for the restaurant, Miss Cass.”

Miss Cass obeyed. “Ah! Nineteen pounds up on last year, but twenty-one more meals served. So it can't be that people aren't satisfied with the music or the cabaret. Average bill slightly less, and consumption of champagne per head distinctly less than last year. If we go on at this rate our £100,000 stock of wine will last for about fifty years. In fact Prohibition would serve no purpose. Might suggest to Maître Planquet that he ought to season his dishes with a view to inducing thirst.”

Maître Planquet was the chef and grand vizier of the restaurant kitchens, and had been decorated by the French Government with the Academic Palms.

General deferential mirth. Everybody loved the Director's occasional facetiousness. Even Mr. Cousin, who never laughed, would smile his mysterious, scarcely perceptible smile. Everybody was relieved that the Director could joke about those statistics. A discussion broke out, for the most part in imperfect if very fluent English.

“I'd like to see the comparative graphs to-night, Miss Cass,” Evelyn tried to end it, interrupting the wordy Banqueting-manager.

Evelyn knew, and they all knew, that the public tendency towards sobriety at meals could not be checked. The clientèle was a wind which blew where it listed. But there was good comfort in the fact that the clientèle, if increasingly austere, continued to grow in numbers. Evelyn, however, perceived that he could not end the discussion; at any rate he could not end it without a too violent use of his powers. It proceeded. He listened, watchful, and with satisfaction. Most of those men, and the woman, he had trained in their duties. And he had trained all of them in the great principle of loyalty to the hotel. They showed indeed more than loyalty; they showed devotion; they lived devotion.

The majority of them had homes, wives, children, in various parts of London; real enough, no doubt; cherished; perhaps loved. But seen from within the hotel these domestic backgrounds were far distant, dim, shadowy, insubstantial. When the interests of the hotel clashed with the interests of the backgrounds, the backgrounds gave way, eagerly, zealously. The departmental heads had their hours of daily service, but these hours were elastic; that is to say, they would stretch indefinitely—never contract. Urgently summoned back too soon from a holiday, the heads would appear, breathless—and smiling; eager for the unexpected task. One or other of them was continually being tempted to a new and more splendid post; but nobody ever yielded to the temptation unless Evelyn, frankly consulted, advised yielding. (He did occasionally so advise, and the hotels and restaurants of Europe, and some in America, were dotted with important men whose prestige sprang from their service at the Imperial Palace.) There were many posts, but there was only one Imperial Palace on earth. The Palace was their world and their religion; its pre-eminence their creed, its welfare their supreme aim. They respected and adored Evelyn. He was their god. Or, if the Palace was the god, Evelyn was the god-maker, above god.

There they sat, fiercely disputing, some in the correctness of morning-coats, others (who had no contacts with the clientèle), in undandiacal lounge-suits, smoking, gesticulating, wrangling, the Englishmen and Mr. Cousin taciturn, the other foreigners shooting new foreign lights on the enigma of the idiosyncrasies of the British and American clientèle: not one of them advancing a single constructive suggestion for fostering the appetites of the exasperating clientèle And there sat Evelyn, the creator of the modernised Palace, and of the religion of the Palace, and of the corporate spirit of its high-priests; a benevolent expression on his face, but an expression with a trace of affectionate derision in it. He let them rip, not because they were furthering the cult of the god by their noise, but because he enjoyed the grand spectacle of their passion. He deeply felt, then, that he had created something more marvellous than even the hotel. He knew that he was far their superior in brains, enterprise, ingenuity, tact; and this conviction lurked in his steady, good-humoured smile; but he knew also that in strenuous selfless loyalty he was not their superior. After all, the rewarding glory of success was his, not theirs.

2.

The altercation flagged, and, seeing her chance, Mrs. O'Riordan, the head-housekeeper, sixty-two years of age and as slim and natty as a girl in her black artificial silk, killed it with a question. Mrs. O'Riordan, who lived her whole life in two small rooms on the eighth floor, could only simulate an interest in the appetites of the incomprehensible clientele. What occupied her incessant attention was the upholstery of the chairs on which people sat, the carpets which they trod, the rooms in which they slept, the cloak-rooms to which the ladies retired, etc. She ate little, and somewhat despised cookery.

“I haven't got much time,” said Mrs. O'Riordan. “What is going to be done about that mink-fur business?” And her glance said: “You are males. You ought to know. Answer me.”

Mrs. O'Riordan, though she had no disinclination for the society of men, exhibited always a certain slight sex-bias, half-defensive, half-challenging. She was a widowed Yorkshire gentlewoman, had had two Irish military husbands, and still possessed three sons, one of whom regularly sent flowers to her with his best love on her birthday, while the other two, in India, only wrote to her in reply to her rare letters to them. In the solitude of her eyrie on the eighth floor, absorbed morning and night in the direction of her complex department, she sometimes found a minute to regret that neither of her husbands had given her a daughter. She would have liked a girl in those houses in County Meath. Together, she and a daughter would have formed a powerful opposition to the male ascendancy.

“Mink?” asked Evelyn, his tone conveying astonishment that he should be in ignorance of any happening within the hotel.

“I only heard of it myself an hour since,” said Mr. Cousin.

“You were not in your office at half-past twelve last night, Mr. Cousin,” Mrs. O'Riordan addressed the French manager, with a polite implication of reproach for slackness.

“No,” said Mr. Cousin. “I went home at a quarter to twelve.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. O'Riordan drily. “This happened at twelve-thirty.”

She then related to Evelyn how a lady who had been dining with two other ladies had presented a ticket in the ladies' cloak-room, and on receiving a fur in exchange for it had asked for her 'other fur,' alleging positively that she had deposited two furs, the second one a priceless mink, given to her by a deceased friend in Chicago. The head of the cloak-room (who was better acquainted with the secret nature of women than the most experienced man in the universe), while admitting the deposit of several minks that evening by other guests (who had reclaimed them and departed), denied any knowledge of the fur from Chicago. Unfortunately, the ground-floor housekeeper, Miss Brury, was by chance in the cloak-room, and, being the head-attendant's official superior, she had taken charge of the dispute on behalf of the hotel. Unfortunately—because Miss Brury was very tired and nervous after an exhausting day of battle with the stupidity and obstinacy of subordinates and she had been over-candid to the guest, who had surpassed her in candour. The episode had finished with a shocking display of mutual recrimination. Both women had had hysterics. Guests of both sexes had paused at the open door of the cloak-room to listen to the language; and finally the owner of the alleged missing fur had burst through them, and rushed frantically across the hail crying aloud that the hotel was the resort of thieves, that the hotel-staff was in league with thieves, and that she would have the law on the lot of them.

Mrs. O'Riordan concluded:

“Long Sam told me that by the time she reached the doors she was demanding about a million pounds damages. No, she hadn't a car and she wouldn't have a taxi—said she wouldn't, not for a million pounds—another million pounds—be beholden to the hotel for anything...Oh yes, I came downstairs. I was reading. They fetched me—for Alice Brury...No, the two companions of the infuriated lady had left earlier. She'd stayed talking to someone...Miss Brury's in bed today.”

Even Evelyn blenched at this terrible story, unique in the annals of the hotel. It was utterly incredible, but he had to believe it. And it was less incredible than the fact that he had been about, off and on, since four in the morning and yet no rumour of it had reached him. It was not on the night-report. Well, it could not have been on the night-report, whose records did not begin till one o'clock. But Reyer must have heard of the thing. Long Sam also. Suddenly the obvious explanation of the mystery occurred to him. Everybody had been assuming that he was already familiar with the details of the episode, he who always knew everything. And if he kept silence about the horror, what underling would care or dare to refer to it in his presence?

He saw shame on every face in the room. And well might there be shame on every face, for the pride of every person was profoundly humiliated.

“I've just been talking to O'Connor,” said Mr. Cousin, impassible. “He's coming at once. He says he thinks he may have heard of the lady before. He's calling at the Yard.”

O'Connor was the private detective of the hotel.

“I daresay he has,” Evelyn observed. “The woman is almost certainly—well, doesn't matter what she is. She may get away with it. And if we have to pay her her million pounds or the National Debt, of course we shall pay it and look pleasant, and that will be that. It's that scene that matters. You're sure Miss Brury started it, Mrs. O'Riordan?”

“She admits it herself,” answered the Irishwoman. “But when you think of the provocation—”

“There can't be any such thing as provocation in this hotel,” Evelyn interrupted her blandly. “There never has been before, and there mustn't be again. If the customer is Judas Iscariot, he's still the customer till he's safely outside the hotel. That's a principle. The hotel turns the other cheek every time. I'm afraid we shall have to find another job for Miss Brury.”

Murmurs of assent.

“The poor thing says she wouldn't stay on here for anything.”

“Well then,” said Evelyn. “We must struggle on as best we can without her.”

“Yes,” retorted Mrs. O'Riordan, rendered audacious and contrarious by nerves. “It's all very well for you men to talk like that. But if you knew the difficulties—” She glanced at Mr. Semple, the Staff-manager, as if for moral support. But the prudent Mr. Semple gave no response.

“We'll have a chat later,” said Evelyn.

He was thinking that at least a year was required for the training of a housekeeper, and that Mrs. O'Riordan had referred not long ago to the dearth of really good candidates. Mrs. O'Riordan was in favour of engaging women of her own class, her theory being that gentlewomen could exercise better authority over chambermaids and valets, and also could deal more effectively with peevish and recalcitrant visitors; and Evelyn had agreed with her, had thought that he agreed with her; at any rate he had expressed agreement. Miss Brury was of a lower origin. She had failed to stand the racket. Her failure had seriously smirched the hotel. Would a gentlewoman have done better? Possibly, he thought. But he was by no means sure. Still, he would support Mrs. O'Riordan's desire for gentlewomen on the Floors. Mrs. O'Riordan, invaluable, irreplaceable (not quite, of course, but nearly), showed the independent attitude which comes from the possession of a small private income. He had known himself to accept her ideas against his own judgment. The fact was that she had a certain quality of formidableness...

Delicate situation, this, arising out of the scene and out of the dearth of good candidates. But he had complete confidence in his ability to resolve it. What a damned nuisance women were, gentlewomen as well as their social inferiors! He knew that the Banqueting-manager was boiling up for a commotion with the head-housekeeper about the use of a room near the ball-room. Tact—The telephone bell rang, and Miss Cass answered it.

“S O S from Weybridge, sir,” said Miss Cass to Evelyn.

“Some difficulty with the contractors over the alterations to the restaurant. The work is at a standstill. Mr. Plott would be very much obliged if you could run down there at once, instead of this afternoon. But you can't. You are due at the Laundry at eleven. It's after half-past ten.”

“Why can't I?” said Evelyn instantly. “I could go to the Laundry this afternoon. Tell them I'll be there at three—no, four. And tell Mr. Plott I'm coming to him now. And ask if my car is waiting.”

“It's bound to be, sir. Brench is always early.”

“I'll leave the rest to you, Cousin,” Evelyn murmured to the hotel-manager.

In twenty seconds he was quitting the office, with gay nods and smiles, and a special smile for Mrs. O'Riordan. He was not gravely alarmed about the Wey restaurant. Nor was he flinching from problems at the Palace. Nor was his gaiety assumed. Problems were his meat and drink. He saw in the longish drive to Weybridge an opportunity for full happy reflection. He knew that he would return to the Palace, with detailed solutions whose ingenuity would impress everybody. His life was of enthralling interest to him. No other kind of life could be as interesting. To-morrow, in addition to the General Meetings of the Company, there would be Sir Henry Savott to manipulate. Perhaps if he conferred with Sir Henry in the latter's suite, as he properly might, he would encounter Gracie again. But the figure of Gracie had slipped away, like a ship standing out to sea.

Chapter 10. LAUNDRY

The already famous Imperial Palace Hotel Laundry occupied part of a piece of freehold ground in a broad, tram-enlivened street in Kennington. The part unbuilt upon was a rather wild garden in which were many flowers. Evelyn foresaw the time when the Laundry would have to be enlarged, and the garden would cease to be. But at present the garden flourished and bloomed, and work-girls were taking their tea and bread-and-butter in it under the bright, warm September sun.

The spectacle of the garden and the lolling, lounging tea-spilling work-girls delighted Evelyn on his arrival that afternoon, as it always delighted him. He would point out to visitors the curving flagged paths, the scientifically designed benches, the pond with authentic gold-fish gliding to and fro therein, and the vine. The vine bore grapes, authentic grapes. True, they were small, hard, sour and quite uneatable, but they were grapes, growing in the open air of Kennington, within thirty feet of roaring, red trams. He was perhaps prouder of the garden as a pleasance for work-girls than of the Laundry itself. He had created the Laundry. He had not designed the buildings nor the machinery, nor laid brick on brick nor welded pipe to pipe, nor dug the Artesian wells nor paved the yards. But he had thought the whole place and its efficiency and its spirit into being—against some opposition from his Board of Directors.

It was a success. It drew over half a million gallons of water a week from the exhaustless wells; it often used six thousand gallons of water in an hour. It employed over two hundred immortal souls, chiefly the enigmatic young feminine. It fed these girls. It taught them to sing and to act and to dance and to sew and to make frocks. It kept a doctor and a dentist and a nurse for them. It washed all the linen of the Imperial Palace and the Wey hotels and all the linen that the hotel guests chose to entrust to it. It served also three hundred private customers, and its puce-tinted motor-vans were beginning to be recognised in the streets. It paid ten per cent. on its capital, and, with the aid of the latest ingenuities of American and English machinery, it was estimated to increase the life of linen by one-third. And considering the price of linen...Americans who inspected the Imperial Palace Hotel Laundry said that while there were far larger laundries in the United States, there was no laundry comparable with Evelyn's, either industrially or socially. Evelyn believed them. What he had difficulty in realising was that without his own creative thought and his perseverance in face of obstruction, the Laundry would never have existed. To him it always had the air of a miracle. Such as it was, it was his contribution towards the millennium, towards a heaven on earth.

As he entered the precincts a few of the uniformed girls smiled diffidently to greet him, and he smiled back and waved his stick, and passed into the building. He was a quarter of an hour late, but this lamentable fact did not disturb him. For he had done over four hours' concentrated hard work down at Weybridge. He had telephoned for the architect and for the principal partner of the contracting firm of builders, and they had both obeyed the summons. He and they and the manager of the Wey had measured, argued, eaten together, argued again and measured again, and finally by dint of compromises had satisfactorily emerged from a dilemma which, Evelyn softly maintained, common sense and foresight ought to have been able to avoid. Oh yes, he awarded part of the blame to himself! He had quitted the Wey in triumph. He had left the manager thereof in a state of worshipping relief, and the architect and the contractor in a state of very deferential admiration. He was content with Evelyn Orcham. A hefty fellow, Evelyn Orcham!

The one stain on the bright day was that he had settled nothing in his mind on the way down about the Miss Brury calamity; and on the way up to London he had been too excited by his achievement in the suburb to think about anything else. (Assuredly he was not completely grown up.) However, there was time enough yet to think constructively upon the Miss Brury calamity. He was conscious of endless reserves of energy, and as soon as he had dealt with the simmering trouble at the Laundry he would seize hold of the Palace problem and shake it like a rat!

And there stood Cyril Purkin, the manager of the Laundry, in the doorway leading to the staff dining-room. A short, fairly thin figure; a short but prominent pawky nose; small, cautious, 'downy,' even suspicious eyes; light ruffled hair; and a sturdy, half-defiant demeanour. A Midlander, aged thirty-eight, Evelyn sometimes wondered where the man bought his suits. They were good and well-fitting suits, but they had nothing whatever of a West End cut. The origin of his very neat neckties was similarly a mystery to Evelyn. His foot was small and almost elegant.

Mr. Purkin had begun life as a chemical engineer; he had gone on to soap-making, then laundry management, then soap-making again, then laundry management again. One day, when the foundations of the Imperial Palace Hotel Laundry had hardly been laid, Evelyn had received a letter which began: “Sir—Having been apprised that you are about to inaugurate a laundry on modern lines, I beg respectfully to offer my services as manager. I am at present...” The phrasing of the letter was succinct, the calligraphy very precise, regular and clear, and the signature just as formal as the rest of the writing. The letter attracted Evelyn. How had the man been clever enough to get himself 'apprised' of the advent of a new laundry on modern lines? And how came he to have the wit to write to Evelyn personally? Evelyn's name was never given out as the manager of the Imperial Palace. Mr. Purkin's qualifications proved to be ample; his testimonials were beyond cavil. His talk in conversation was intelligent, independent, very knowledgeable; and he had strong notions concerning the 'welfare' side of laundries, which notions specially appealed to Evelyn. He was engaged. He gave immense satisfaction. His one weakness was that he was the perfect man, utterly expert, utterly reliable, superhuman.

He was still the chemical engineer. He seldom mentioned sheets, chemises, collars, towels, stockings, and such-like common concrete phenomena. He would discourse upon the 'surface tension' of water 'breaking down,' albumen, 'Base Exchange,' centrifugal cleansing, the sequence of waters, 'residual alkalis,' chlorine, warps and woofs, 'efflorescence,' etc., etc. He had established a research department, in which he was the sole worker.

As he deferentially shook hands with the great man his attitude said:

“Of course you are my emperor, but between ourselves I am as good as you, and you know it, and you know also that I have always delivered the goods.”

And yet somewhere behind Mr. Purkin's shrewd little eyes there was something of the defensive as well as of the sturdy defiant, together with a glimmering of an uneasy consciousness that he had not always delivered the goods and that he too was imperfect—though no fault of his own.

“I must really show you this, sir,” said he, introducing Evelyn into the small managerial room where on the desk lay a pile of examination papers. “Question,” he read out, picking up a paper, “Why are white fabrics blued in order to procure a general appearance of whiteness?' Answer: 'White fabrics are blued because there are more yellow rays in the spectrum, and we use blue to counteract the yellow rays.' Wouldn't you say, sir, that that's rather well and tersely put for a girl of sixteen and a half? These exam. papers are useful as an index to character as well as to attainments.”

Evelyn heartily agreed, and for courtesy's sake glanced at the paper.

“I see you've got all the painting finished,” said he. “Looks much better.”

“Ah!” replied Mr. Purkin. “Ah! I must show you one thing that I thought of. An idea I had, and I've carried it out.”

He drew Evelyn into the Laundry itself, walking with short, decided steps. They passed though two large and lofty interiors filled with machines and with uniformed girls (the girls did not all have their tea simultaneously), girls ironing, girls folding, girls carrying, girls sorting, amid steel in movement, beat, moisture, and a general gleaming whiteness. He halted, directing Evelyn's attention to a row of pipes near the ceiling, painted in different colours.

“Red for hot water, blue for cold water, yellow for steam. The three primary colours. When a minor repair is necessary it isn't always easy to tell at a glance everywhere which pipe is which. By this system you can't make a mistake. Costs no more. I thought you'd approve.”

“Brilliant,” said Evelyn. “Brilliant. I congratulate you.” Possibly a trace of derision in Evelyn's benevolent laudatory tone.

“And there's the new drier,” Mr. Purkin continued, and led his chief to a room where two women, one mature, overblown and beautiful, and the other young but as plain as a suet pudding, were working in a temperature of 119 degrees. Evelyn had to admire and marvel again. Nor was that the end of the tour of novelties. Mr. Purkin's ingenuity and his passion for improvements were endless. And as Evelyn went from table to table and from machine to machine and from group to group of girls, busy either individually or in concert, and from pile to growing or lessening pile of linen, and as he sought for the private lives and the characters of girls in the lowered, intent faces of girls, he sardonically thought: “This chap is putting off the fatal moment on purpose. And doing it very well too. Creating all this atmosphere of approval. Damn clever fellow! Pity he isn't clever enough to see that I can see though him.”

But, back in Mr. Purkin's prim, stuffy, excessively neat little office, the Midlander boldly summoned the moment.

“I'm glad you were able to come to-day, sir, because I was getting anxious for you to see for yourself we aren't standing still here. I know you're always interested, very interested, but we like to see you here, all of 'em like to see you. It makes us all feel that we kind of 'belong'...Oh! Upon my word, I was forgetting to tell you that the number of pieces from private customers passed the twenty thousand mark last week—at last. You'll receive the figures to-morrow.”

“Good! Good! You always said it would.”

“But there was another thing I wanted to see you about.”

“Oh!” Evelyn exclaimed, feigning ignorance.

“Yes. About those frilled dress-shirts last Thursday.”

“Oh! That!”

“Yes,” continued Mr. Purkin. “Yes, sir. You may have forgotten, but I can assure that I haven't.”

Now the affair of the frilled shirts was one of those molehills which are really mountains. In a few hours it had swollen itself into a Mont Blanc. A guest who was a public character and who had been staying at the Palace for weeks and spending quite a lot of money, had complained about the ironing of his frilled evening shirts. Mrs. O'Riordan herself had taken the matter up. Mrs. O'Riordan had given her word that the frilled shirts should be ironed to the owner's satisfaction, and at the end of ten days Mrs. O'Riordan had redeemed her word. Triumph for the hotel. Smiles from the guest. And for Mr. Immerson, the hotel's Publicity-manager, material for one or two piquant newspaper paragraphs. On the last day of his sojourn the guest had reached the state of being convinced that his celebrated frilled shirts had never been so perfectly done before. No laundry like the Imperial Palace Hotel Laundry! His desire was to leave the Palace with the largest possible stock of frilled shirts ironed by its Laundry. “Can I rely on having these three shirts back to-night?” he had asked. Of course! Could he doubt it? Was it not a basic principle of the Laundry that all linen consigned in the morning was delivered absolutely without fail the same evening? It was.

But the unique shirts had not been delivered, and the next morning the guest, disillusioned, wounded, inconsolable, had had to depart without them. A child disappointed of a promised toy, a religionist whose faith has been suddenly struck from under him, could not have exhibited more woe than the deceived guest. True, the shirts were sent after him by airmail to Paris and got there first. But inefficiency remained inefficiency and the Laundry's lapse had shocked every housekeeper at the Palace. The foundations of the Palace had for an instant trembled. The unimaginative individuals who snorted that three shirts ought not to be enough to shake the foundations of a nine-storey building simply did not understand that such edifices as the Imperial Palace were not built with hands.

Evelyn had by no means forgotten the affair. A minor purpose of his visit to Kennington had indeed been to get to the bottom of it. He knew that Mr. Purkin guessed this, and that Mr. Purkin knew that Evelyn knew that he guessed. Nevertheless the two men continued to pretend.

“I was under the impression that it had been explained,” said Evelyn. “You had only one girl who specialised in these preposterous shirts, and she was taken ill or something at the very moment when your need of her was most desperate.”

“No, sir,” said Mr. Purkin with brave candour, “the matter has not been explained—to you; at least not satisfactorily. The girl, Rose, was not taken ill. She merely walked out and left us in the lurch. We have the best class of girls here. I remember when laundry staffs had to be recruited from riff-raff. We've altered all that, by improving the conditions. I knew Rose; I thought highly of her; I knew her father, a house-painter, most respectable. And yet she walks out! She'll never walk in again, I may say, not as long as I'm manager here. Naturally I got the shirts done, in a way, next morning. But that's not the point.”

The drama of Mr. Purkin's deep but restrained indignation genuinely affected Evelyn. It seemed to produce vibrations in the physical atmosphere of the office.

“What a man!” thought Evelyn appreciatively. “Such loyalty to the I.P.H.L. is priceless. Of course his sense of proportion's a bit askew; but you can't have everything.” He said aloud, gently: “Why did this Rose walk out?”

“Ah!” replied Mr. Purkin. “I will tell you, sir.” He went to a file-cabinet, and chose a card from two or three hundred cards, and offered it to Evelyn. “That's why she walked out.”

On the card was a chart of the wicked girl's mouth, of her upper jaw and her lower jaw. “Look at it, Mr. Orcham.You see the number of bad teeth on it. I ordered her the dentist. She made an excuse twice—something about her mother's wishes, I'm certain it wasn't the father. As you know better than anyone, every girl who's engaged by me here has to promise she'll allow us to keep her in good health, mother or no mother. On that afternoon I told her I'd made an appointment for her with the dentist for the next morning, and that she positively must keep it. I spoke very quietly. Well, as soon as my back is turned out of this Laundry she walks! Without notice! Of course it was the staff-manageress's business to see to it. But as she had failed twice, I had to take the matter up myself. No alternative. Discipline is discipline. And just look at the charts of that mouth!”

“Quite!” said Evelyn. He was laughing, but not visibly. “Quite!”

“The truth is,” Mr. Purkin continued, “there would have been no bother—I'm sure of it—if only I'd had a little more moral support.”

At this point Mr. Purkin pulled out his cigarette-case and actually offered it to the panjandrum. Probably no other member of the Palace staff, no matter how exalted, with the possible exception of Mr. Cousin, would have ventured upon such a familiarity with Evelyn. But Mr. Purkin was exceedingly if secretly perturbed, and the offering of a cigarette to the great man was his way of trying to conceal his perturbation; it was also a way of demonstrating the Purkinian conviction that he was as good as anybody—even Evelyn.

“Thanks,” said Evelyn, taking a cigarette, not because he did not fear Mr. Purkin's cigarettes, but because he sympathetically understood the manager's motive—or the first part of it. “You mean support from the staff-manageress?”

“I mean Miss—er,” muttered Mr. Purkin, and he blushed. He would have given a vast sum not to blush; but he blushed, this pawky, self-confident, disciplinary Midlander. He had opened his mouth with the intention of boldly saying Miss Violet Powler, the staff-manageress's name; but his organs of speech, basely betraying him, refused their office. A few seconds of restraint ensued.

“Sex!” thought Evelyn. “Sex! Here it is again.”

He did not object to sex as a factor in the problems of a great organism. He rather liked it. And he knew that anyhow it was and must be a factor ever recurring in those problems. He had heard, several months earlier, that an 'affair' was afoot between Mr. Purkin and Violet Powler. How did these rumours get abroad? He could not say. Nobody could say. In the present case a laundry-girl might have seen a gesture or a glance, or caught a tone—nothing, less than nothing—as the manager and the staff-manageress passed together though the busy rooms. The laundry-girl might have mentioned it slily to another laundry-girl. The rumour is born. The rumour spreads with the rapidity of fire, or of an odour, or of influenza. It rises from stratum to stratum of the social structure. Finally it reaches the august ear of Evelyn himself. For it could not be lost; it could not die; and it could not cease to rise till it could rise no higher.

Evelyn had gathered that the affair was a subject for merriment, that people regarded as comic the idea of amorous tenderness between the manager and the staff-manageress of the Laundry. In his own mind he did not accept this view. To him there was something formidable, marvellous, and indeed beautiful in the mystic spectacle of Aphrodite springing from the hot dampness of the Laundry and lodging herself in the disciplinary soul of Cyril Purkin. Nor did be foresee harm to the organism in the marriage of Cyril and Violet.

“I wouldn't say one word against her,” said Mr. Purkin, exerting all his considerable powers of self-control. “I chose her out of scores, and probably a better woman for the job of staff-manageress couldn't be found. But in this matter—and in one or two others similar—I'm bound to admit I've been a bit disappointed. Discipline is the foundation of everything here, and if it isn't enforced, where are you? I'm bound to say I don't quite see...She's inclined to be very set in her views.” He lifted his eyebrows, implying imminent calamity.

“Curse this sex!” thought Evelyn. “She's refused him. Or they've had a row. Or something else has happened. He wants her to go. He'll make her go. He can't bear her here. She's on his nerves. But he's still in love with her, even if he doesn't know it. What a complication! How the devil can you handle it? Curse this sex!”

But he was moved by the sudden disclosure of Mr. Purkin's emotion, and he admired Mr. Purkin's mastery of it. He had never felt more esteem for the man than just then.

Mr. Purkin lit both cigarettes, and the pair talked, without too closely gripping the thorns of the situation.

“Well,” said Evelyn at length gently. “We'd better leave things for a while. If I do get a chance perhaps I might have a chat with Miss Powler—”

“Well, Mr. Orcham, if anybody can do anything you can.” But Mr. Purkin's accents gave a clue to his private opinion that not even Mr. Orcham could do anything.

Soon afterwards Evelyn left, saying that he would 'see.' For the moment he could not 'see.' As he walked away, the last batch of girls was quitting the garden. He got into his car.

“Home.”

Brench touched his hat.

“Wait,” said Evelyn suddenly, and descended from the car.

2.

He had changed his mind. Why postpone the interview with Violet Powler? Was he afraid of bringing the trouble to the stage of a crisis? He was not.

He re-entered the buildings by the 'A' gates, which admitted vans loaded with soiled linen. The linen, having passed through the Laundry and become clean, was basketed and piled into vans which drove out through the 'B' gates. He wandered alone, apparently aimless, in the warm, humid, pale departments, until he recognised the door lettered “Staffmanageress.” It was half open.

Without touching it he glanced in. Miss Violet Powler sat facing the window, her back to the door. She was talking to a young tall woman. A small table separated them, and on this table lay a finished shirt and some coloured threads.

“But Lilian,” Miss Powler was saying. “You know well enough that a red thread means starched; you know that no articles from No. 291 have to be starched, and yet you put a red thread into this one. Why? There must be some explanation, and I want you to tell me what it is.” Her tone was soothing, persuasive.

“But, miss,” said the woman, holding up a red thread, “this isn't a red thread—it's green—not starched.”

“That's a green thread?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Take it to the window and look at it.” The woman obeyed. “Yes, miss. It's green all right,” said she, turning her head and confidently smiling.

Miss Powler paused, and then she began to laugh.

“Very well. Never mind, Lilian. You come and see me before you start work to-morrow, will you?”

Lilian, puzzled, left the room, and Evelyn stood aside for her to pass out.

“Colour-blind, eh?” Evelyn walked straight into the small office laughing. “I happened to hear. Door open. Didn't want to break in. So I waited.”

“Yes, Mr. Orcham. Please excuse me. I hadn't the slightest idea you were at the door. Yes, colour-blind.”

Evelyn put his hat on the small table and sat down. Miss Powler shut the door.

“As a funny coincidence I really think that ought to have the first prize.” Evelyn laughed again, and Miss Powler smiled. “I suppose she's the one woman in the place who ought to be able to be relied on to tell green from red, and she's colour-blind! No, not first prize. No. It deserves a gold medal.” His stick joined in the laughter by tapping on the floor. “Sort of thing you can't possibly foresee, therefore can't guard against, eh? Unless Mr. Purkin decides to institute eye-tests for the staff. But of course those delightful coincidences never happen twice. How's the Dramatic Society getting along?”

Miss Powler sat down at her desk.

It was her way of smiling, her way—at once dignified and modest—of sitting down, and her way of answering his question about the Laundry A.D.S., that suggested to him a wild, absurd, fantastical scheme for killing two birds with one stone.

Miss Powler wore a plain, straight blue frock, quite short. (The hotel rule prescribing black for heads of departments did not obtain in the Laundry.) As she sat down her knees had been visible for an instant. Her brown hair was laid flat, but glossy. Without being pretty, her features were agreeable, and her habitual expression was very agreeable. Her eyes, dark brown, were sedate, with some humour somewhere behind them, waiting a chance to get out. No powder, no paint. An appearance which mingled attractiveness with austerity.

Evelyn had in his office a private card-index of all the Company's principal employees. He rarely forgot anything once learnt, and now he had no difficulty in recalling that Miss Powler lived in Battersea, the daughter of a town-traveller in tinned comestibles—certainly a humble town-traveller. But there are women who when they leave the home lose their origin, just as a woman's hat loses its price when it leaves the shop. Only an expert could say with assurance of a hat on a woman's head in the street whether it cost five guineas or two. Miss Powler might have been the daughter of a humble town-traveller, or of a successful dentist, or even of a solicitor.

“Well,” Evelyn began, “you're the staff-manageress, according to the label on your door, and I must tell you that I think you managed the Lilian member of the staff very nicely. Very nicely.” Miss Powler smiled. “But all cases aren't so simple, are they?”

“They aren't, sir.”

“I've been asking Mr. Purkin about the Rose member. Mrs. O'Riordan, our head-housekeeper at the Palace, was particularly anxious for me to enquire into Rose's case. In fact, between ourselves, that was one of the reasons why I came down here to-day.” Two fibs and a semi-fib! He had not asked Mr. Purkin. Mr. Purkin had started the subject and volunteered all information. Mrs. O'Riordan had shown no anxiety whatever for him to investigate the affair. And the affair was not strictly one of the reasons for his visit, seeing that he had not heard of it until after the visit had been definitely arranged. But the two and a half fibs did not irk Evelyn's conscience. They were diplomatically righteous fibs, good and convincing fibs, designed to prevent possible friction. On a busy day he might tell as many as fifty such fibs: and he had never been found out. Miss Powler gave no sign of constraint or self-consciousness. To all appearance she had no nerves.

“I was sorry to lose Rose,” said Miss Powler. “She was a first-rate fancy ironer. But of course if she hadn't gone of her own accord she'd have had to go all the same. Because she'd never have let the dentist attend to her. She's too fond of her mother for that. She adores her. The mother's rather pretty and really very young. When she was Rose's age she was a chorus-girl in a touring company for six months. She ought to have kept on being a chorus-girl. She certainly wasn't fit to be a mother. Her head's full of the silliest ideas, poor thing! One of her ideas is that dentists pull teeth out for the sake of doing it. Makes them feel proud, she thinks. No use arguing with that sort of a woman. They really believe whatever they want to believe.”

“I know what you mean.”

“She made Rose promise not to see the dentist, said it was slave-driving for an employer to force a girl to see a dentist. And all that. She'll go on the stage, Rose will, and her father won't be able to stop her. I'm very sorry for the girl. Naturally, if Mr. Purkin makes a rule and gives an order, there's nothing more to be said. I quite see his point of view. Yes. I agree with him—I mean about discipline. But I do think you can't improve silly people when they get obstinate. If they can't understand, they can't, and you can't make them. It couldn't be helped, but I always sympathise with the girl in Rose's position. I wish you could have heard her talk about her mother. She never mentioned her father. Always her mother. She worshipped her mother. And yet she gave you the idea too that she was mother to her mother, not her mother's daughter.”

Evelyn had several times before had casual chats with Miss Powler, on Laundry affairs. But now he felt as if he were meeting her for the first time. The interview had all the freshness of a completely new revelation: like the rising of a curtain on a scene whose nature had been almost completely unsuspected. She had said not a word against the disciplinary Mr. Purkin. She had on the contrary supported his authority without reserve. Withal she had somehow left Mr. Purkin stripped of every shred of his moral prestige. She had been responding to the humanity of the Rose problem, while for Mr. Purkin the humanity had had no existence. She had faced the fact of the silliness of Rose's mother, and yet had warmed to the passion of Rose for the foolish creature.

Further, Evelyn now had knowledge in two cases, of her attitude towards women under her control and direction, and there was in it no least evidence of that harsh, almost resentful inflexibility which nearly always characterised such a relation. And her attitude towards himself was either distinguished by a tact approaching the miraculous, or was the natural, unstudied results of a disposition both wise and kindly in an exceptional degree; perhaps she had no need for the use of tact, did not know, practically, what tact was. Evelyn began to think that he had been under-estimating the physical qualities of her face and form. Five minutes earlier he would have described her as comely. But now he was ready to say that she was beautiful—because she must be beautiful, because, being what she was, she could not be other than beautiful. He had to enlarge his definition of feminine beauty in order to make room for her in it. Then her foot. Perhaps large or largeish. But a girl like her ought surely to have something to stand on! And were not small feet absurd, a witness of decadence? Then her ankles. Not slim. Sturdy. Suddenly be remembered the museum at Naples. An excursion which had not revisited his memory for a dozen years. He saw the classical sculptures. Not one of the ideal female figures in those sculptures had been given slim ankles. Every ankle was robust, sturdy; the fashionable darlings of to-day would call them thick. Yes, Miss Powler had classical ankles.

But he would not argue about her ankles, or her feet, or her figure, or her face. In his reckoning of her he could afford to neglect their values. What principally counted was her expression, her demeanour, her tone, the gentle play of her features, and the aura of tranquil benevolence and commonsense which radiated from her individuality. Mr. Purkin was a clumsy simpleton. He had not known how to make her love him. She did not love him. He did not deserve that she should love him. Why in God's name should such a girl love a Mr. Purkin?

Then her accent; a detail, but he considered it. Miss Brury had acquired a West End accent, with all the transmogrified vowel sounds of the West End accent. Miss Powler's accent was not West End. Neither was it East End, nor South. One might properly say that she had no accent. Was she educated? Not possibly in the sense in which Miss Brury was educated. But she was educated in human nature. Her imagination had been educated. And she possessed accomplishments assuredly not possessed by Miss Brury. Could she not dance, act, sing, direct a stage? Was not hers the energy which had vitalised the Imperial Palace Hotel Laundry Amateur Dramatic (and Operatic) Society? It was no exaggeration to say that she was better educated than Miss Brury. Anyhow she would be incapable of Miss Brury's fatal hysteria.

Evelyn rose. Miss Powler rose. He moved. He stopped moving.

“I had another reason for calling to-day,” he said, yielding happily to a strong impulse. (Fourth fib.) “We may soon be needing someone rather like you at the Palace.” He smiled. “I can't say anything more just now. But perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing if you considered whether you would care for a change. Don't answer. Good-bye.”

But her face answered, discreetly, in the affirmative. He departed. He flattered himself that he had discovered the solution of two entirely unrelated problems.

Chapter 11. SHADES

Evelyn's car had not moved three hundred yards from the Laundry before it was stopped by an oncoming car which sinfully swerved across the street, threatening a bonnet-to-bonnet collision. Fortunately this amazing and inexcusable assault took place in a fairly empty space of road. Evelyn did not at first realise what had happened. His chauffeur, grandly conscious of being in the right, and with a strong sex-bias which had persuaded him that women-drivers were capable of any enormity, sat impassive and even silent, prepared to await developments and a policeman.

Evelyn put his head out of his saloon window. The driver of the other car smiled and waved a hand freely. It was Gracie Savott. Gracie backed her car a few feet and then swerved forward again to her proper side and drew up at the kerb. Evelyn, fully sharing for the moment Brench's sex-bias, got down and walked across the street between approaching trams to Gracie's car.

“I've written all my impressions of Smithfield,” she gaily called out to him as he passed in front of her and gained the security of the pavement.

Evelyn was startled by her astonishing performance with the car, and so resentful, that he could hardly bring himself to raise his hat.

“Was it to tell me that that you stopped me?” he asked stiffly. (By heaven, what next?)

“Don't crush me.” She pouted.

“How did you know it was my car?” The second question was softer than the first.

“That's nicer,” she said, smiling.

He thought that her tone was damned intimate. But fairness made him immediately admit to himself that his own brusque tone had set the example of precocious intimacy.

Gracie said:

“I asked the number of your car before I left the hotel. How else? And I was about five minutes in getting it. They told me you'd probably be at the Laundry, and they gave me the address. I had an instinct I might meet you on the way; that was why I asked the number. And a good thing I did!”

Evelyn's resentment was now submerged by a complete bewilderment. Was the girl pursuing him, and if so to what end? His bewilderment in turn was lost in dismay, in alarm for the demi-god Orcham's reputation. What would his staff think of this young woman demanding his whereabouts and the number of his car? What couldthe staff think? He had been first seen with her at 4 a.m. All the upper grades of the staff must have heard that he had escorted her to Smithfield, brought her back, shown her the ground-floor of the hotel at early morn. And now she had been recklessly betraying an urgent desire to chase him, run him to earth, and capture him! She, a girl, a notorious racing-motorist! Him, the sedate, staid panjandrum of the Palace! It was incredible, unthinkable, inconceivable. The whole hotel must be humming like telegraph-wires with the scandalous tidings. Could he re-enter the hotel without self-consciousness?

Clever of her to think of obtaining the number of the car before starting!...Had she really intended to enquire for him at the Laundry? And why? What was her business? And if her business was so cursedly urgent, hadn't she enough ordinary gumption to telephone? She was evidently an adventuress—in the sense that she loved adventure for its own sake. She was a wild girl. Had she not positively invited him, a stranger, to take her to Smithfield?

“Is anything the matter?” he asked.

“Not yet. But I must talk to you.”

“Well?”

“Not here. We can't talk here,” she said. “And not at the hotel either.”

“Certainly not at the hotel,” he silently agreed. And aloud—“Where, then?”

“If you'll get in—”

“But what about my car?”

“Send it home. I'd come with you in your car, but I can't leave mine here in the street, can I?”

Mist was gathering in South London. Dusk was falling. Trams with their ear-shattering roar swept by, looming larger than life in the vagueness of the mist.

Evelyn crossed the road again.

“I shan't want you any more to-night,” he said with an exaggerated nonchalance to Brench.

The imperturbable man touched his cap, and glided away.

“She looks a bit better now. I've had her cleaned,” said Gracie as she curved her own car into a side street in order to turn back eastwards.

She was wearing the leather coat, and loose gloves to match it. She pushed the car along at great speed among the traffic, driving with all the assured skill of which Evelyn had had experience twelve hours earlier in the day. Once again he was at her side. A few minutes ago he had been in the prosaic industrial environment of the hotel Laundry. And now he was under the adventurous hands of this incalculable girl on another earth. He felt as helpless as a piece of flotsam in some swift shadowy tideway of that other earth. His masculinity rebelled, asserted itself. He must somehow get control of the situation.

“Well?” he repeated, uncompromisingly.

“Not yet.” Second time she had used those mysterious words. “I know a place.” Still more mysterious! And there was nothing the matter 'yet'!

Evelyn's thought was: “What has to be will be.”

Philosophical? Worthy of a man? No! Only a pretence of the philosophical. As for Gracie, she uttered not a syllable more. She drove and drove.

In Westminster Bridge Road a large public-house gleamed in the twilight. It had just opened to customers, and Labour was passing through its swing-doors. And through the doors, and through the windows, frosted into a pattern, could be seen glimpses of mahogany and glazed interiors, with counters and bottles and beer-handles and shabby tipplers of both sexes, and barmen in shirt-sleeves rolled up. The public-house stood on a corner. Gracie twisted the car round the corner and stopped it, opposite a protruding sign which said “Shades.”

“Here it is,” said Gracie, with a slight movement towards him which indicated that he was expected to get out of the car.

“Here?” he questioned.

“Yes.”

“Do you know the place?” he questioned further.

“No. But I happened to notice it as I drove down. It calls itself the Prince of Wales's Feathers.”

“Do you mean you want to go in here?”

“Yes. To talk. Why not? We couldn't have a safer place.” Evelyn had never entered a London public-house. He shrugged his shoulders—those shoulders which she had admired. His faculty of amazement was worn out. He descended. Gracie locked the steering. Then she glanced into the body of the car. Nothing there to tempt thieves.

“That ought to be all right,” she murmured.

2.

She stood at the heavy, narrow double doors, expectant that he should open them for her. He pushed hard against one of them. As soon as Gracie had squeezed through the door banged back on Evelyn. Then he had to push it a second time. He too squeezed through, and the door gave a short series of quick bangs, diminuendo.

A small room. A counter in front of them. Shelves full of bottles behind the counter. No barman at the counter. To the left a glazed mahogany partition, very elaborate. A panelled mahogany wall opposite the partition, and another opposite the counter, and advertisements of alcohol across the panels. A very heavily sculptured ceiling. A sanded floor. Along the two panelled walls ran two mahogany benches, with a small round barrel, its top stained in circles, at the angle. A powerful odour of ale. Sound of rough voices, strident or muttering, over the curved summit of the partition.

“Oh! What a horrible lovely place!” said Gracie, sitting down on a bench near the barrel. “But it's exactly what I thought it would be.”

A barman appeared at the counter.

“This is mine,” said Gracie to Evelyn, and to the barman:

“Two light sherries, please.” And to Evelyn: “That right?”

“Right you are, miss,” said the barman with cheerful heartiness, and reached down a bottle from one of the shelves.

Evelyn had been afraid that she might order beer; but she had ordered the only correct, the only possible, thing; sherry had at least an air of decorum; also it was the only wholesome aperitif. The girl knew her way about; he supposed that all these girls did; he supposed it was proper that they should, and although he did not quite like it he strove to broaden his views concerning girls in order to like it. “A bit too much of the oriental attitude about me about young women!” he thought.

“Here you are, sir,” said the barman, addressing Evelyn this time. And Evelyn had to fetch the two full glasses from the counter.

“One and four, sir.”

Evelyn paid.

The counter was wet with sherry. The barman rubbed it hard with a towel that had once been clean. The hearty, hail-fellow-well-met barman in his shirt-sleeves, to say nothing of the dirty towel, made a rude contrast with the manners which obtained at the celebrated Imperial Palace American bar, where the celebrated head-barman was a strict teetotaller with a head like that of a Presbyterian minister and a dispensing knowledge in the head of a hundred and thirteen different cocktails. At the Palace drinks were ceremoniously brought to seated customers by young men in immaculate white jackets—and Evelyn knew the exact sum per dozen debited by the Laundry to the hotel for the washing and getting-up of the white jackets. And no waiter there would venture to name the price of a drink until asked.

“You give me that twopence,” said Gracie, fumbling in her bag, as Evelyn sat down with his change in his hand. “And I'll give you eighteenpence.”

He accepted the suggestion without argument. Why should not girls pay if they chose? As for the particular case of Gracie, she probably spent on herself the equivalent of Evelyn's entire income, which nevertheless yielded a considerable super-tax to the State. Evidently her big baggage had arrived at the Palace, for she was wearing another frock and still another hat. Beneath and above the stern chic of the leather coat was visible the frivolous chic of the frock and the hat.

“Yours!” said Gracie, raising her glass. “You aren't cross, are you?”

“No. Why should I be?”

“I don't know,” said Gracie. “But you look so severe I'm frightened.”

“Take more than that to frighten you,” Evelyn retorted, forcing a grim smile.

“Not a bad sherry this,” he added, enquiring with his brain into the precise sensations of his palate. He was proud that he and no other selected the wines for the Palace. He recalled some good phrases from his formal lectures to the wine-waiters upon their own subject.

“But it is rather a jolly place, isn't it?” said Gracie. “Do come down off the roof to the ground-floor.”

He smiled less grimly. Why not be honest? It was indeed rather a jolly place: strange, exotic, romantic. And he did like the freedoms of the barman, after the retired, artificial, costive politenesses of the Palace service. He saw charm even in the dirty towel. (And she had discovered the place, and had had the enterprise to enter it.) He was seeing London, indigenous London. The Palace was no part of London. Why not for a change yield to the attraction of the moment? Of course if he were caught sitting with a smart young woman in a corner of the Prince of Wales's Feathers in Westminster Bridge Road, his friends or his customers or his heads of departments might lift an eye-brow. But he could not be caught. Moreover the Feathers would be the height of respectability to ninety-nine decent Londoners out of a hundred. And even if it were not respectable—well, Gracie was above respectability. Violet Powler would not be. But Gracie was. She had robust ideas about things. He was bound to admire her robust taste, and her adventurous enterprise. Violet Powler would shrink from the invitation of the Feathers. He himself had shrunk from it. He suffered from masculine timidity and conventionality. Gracie and her sort had something to teach him.

“You know the telephone-message you sent to daddy this morning.” Gracie began her business. “Well, daddy was fast asleep, and it came to me.” She told him quite frankly what she had done. “That's why I wanted to see you.” Here she lit a cigarette, and Evelyn, determined to surpass her, lit a cigar. She explained to him her father's Napoleonic sensitiveness. “I'd like you to do something. I couldn't bear any trouble between you and daddy,” she finished, with eagerness. Her rich, changing voice fell enchantingly on his ear.

What did that mean: couldn't bear any trouble between him and Sir Henry? Did it mean that any such trouble might compromise the relations between her and himself, and that was what she couldn't bear? Odd, flattering, insidious, specious implication! He leaned closer to her:

“What would you like me to do?”

Intimacy was suddenly increased. How was it that they had become so intimate in a dozen hours of spasmodic intercourse? He knew. It was because they had gone off together on a romantic excursion in what was for her the middle of the night. One visit to strange Smithfield before dawn would create more familiarity, demolish more barriers between soul and soul, than ten exquisite dinners exquisitely served within the trammels of a polite code.Never again could they be mere acquaintances.

“Couldn't you ask daddy to dinner to-night—and me? He'd appreciate it frightfully.”

Evelyn was astounded afresh. What on earth would the incredible girl say next? He could not phrase a reply.

Fortunately at this juncture four men entered the bar. They were clad somewhat in the style of Mr. Cyril Purkin, but more flashily. They had glittering watch-chains, jewelled rings, rakish hats and neckties and tie-pins, and assurance. If not prosperous, they looked prosperous. They glanced casually at Eve1yn and Gracie, and glanced away. Men of the world, whom vast experience of the world had carried far beyond the narrow curiosity of hard-working persons—persons who had to look twice at sixpence. Evelyn was decidedly more interested in them than they were interested in him and Gracie. They leaned against the counter, called, “Jock,” “Jock,” and when Jock came they ordered four double whiskies. They were discussing the day's racing. Then they talked about the secret significance of 'acceptances.' They sipped the whiskies.

One of them, the fattest, having sipped, and gazed at his glass, said in a meditative hoarse voice:

“When I've had a drop over night, do you know what I do? I get up early and I go down to my cellar in my nighty, and I draw myself a port-glass of gin, and I drink that and it puts me right. Yes. That puts me right.”

“Well, give me Eno every time,” said another gravely. At length in a murmur Evelyn answered Gracie's suggestion:

“No.”

“No?”

“No. That wouldn't suit my book at all. Your father would misunderstand it.”

A pause.

“He'd think I'd mean what I shouldn't mean,” Evelyn added.

“I see,” said Gracie. “I hadn't thought of that.” She did see. “Well, if daddy asks you to dinner to-night, will you come?” Gracie demanded.

Why shouldn't he? If anybody's pitch was likely to be queered by the invitation and the acceptance thereof, it would be Sir Henry's, not Evelyn's. But what a girl! What an incomprehensible feminine, unfeminine creature!

“Yes,” said Evelyn. “With pleasure. But in the restaurant, not upstairs But he won't ask me?”

“Oh! Won't he? You leave that to me.”

A horn tooted outside.

“That's children playing with the car!” Gracie exclaimed , jumping up and draining her sherry.

Evelyn rose quietly also. He laughed. Gracie laughed. Yes, how thrillingly exotic she seemed in the heavy, frowsy, smoke-laden, fume-poisoned interior! They hurried out like children merrily excited by the prospect of a new escapade. The real children round the car ran off, bounding and shrieking with mischief.

“We may as well go,” Gracie suggested.

“Yes, I ought to be going.”

Near the junction of Bridge Street and Whitehall Evelyn asked Gracie to stop.

“Why?”

“Because I want to get out,” said Evelyn.

“But I'll drive you to the hotel.”

“No, thanks!” Evelyn answered very drily and firmly. And got out. He had no intention of being seen by his door-porters driving up to the Imperial Palace in Gracie's car with Gracie at the wheel. It simply would not do. And Gracie yielded with a sweet, acquiescent, almost humble smile. That was the only way to treat young women. Firmness. Let them be as capricious and arbitrary as they chose; what they really liked was to be compelled to obey.

Having moved forward a couple of score yards, Gracie halted the car again and waited for Evelyn to come up with it

“You're afraid of being seen with me in my car,” she said, smiling not humbly but mischievously, half-resentfully.

“I am.” Evelyn was blunt and careless, but secretly a trifle surprised by the accuracy of her thought-reading.

Gracie drove on. This curt exchange seemed to Evelyn to be further startling proof of intimacy.

He took deep breaths. He was conscious of a much-increased sense of being alive.

Chapter 12. DAUGHTER AND FATHER

Gracie had no sooner entered her sitting-room at the Imperial Palace, leaving the door ajar as she left most doors ajar, than her father pushed open the door and peeped in. She was just dropping her leather coat on to a chair, which was already encumbered with a rug. Sir Henry inferred from the coat that his daughter had been out in the car. He wondered why, but asked no question. The relations between these two were peculiar, yet logical enough, considering their characters. Before he got his title his wife had divorced him, and obtained the custody of the child, then aged seventeen. She obtained also an alimony of five thousand a year. She had tried for ten thousand, and failed. Five thousand or ten thousand: the figure had no practical interest for Henry Savott, but he had fought her ruthlessly.

After three weeks of living with her mother, Gracie had walked into her father's office one day, and said: “Daddy, I understand now.” “Understand what?” “You know.” Henry Savott had looked harshly at her and growled: “Better late than never.” Gracie had then announced that she had not the least intention of living any longer with her mother. “I'm not going to be in anybody's 'custody'! What a word!” Henry Savott had reminded her that she was a minor, and that the decree of the High Court of Justice explicitly put her in her mother's power. Gracie, frequently a realist, had merely laughed. “I'd love to see the Court that could make me live with anybody I don't want to live with. I'm coming to live with you, daddy.”

Henry Savott had been tremendously flattered. His daughter's unsolicited testimonial was the finest gift ever bestowed upon him, and he instantly saw that it would do much to restore his damaged prestige in the social world. He offered objections to Gracie's plan, but not convincingly. His maiden sister, who hated his wife, was induced to take theoretical charge over his household.

Gracie had enjoyed freedom from the very beginning of her new life; for her father was absorbed in his vast financial schemes, and her aunt, a hypochondriac with a magnificent constitution, was absorbed in the complex ritual of the treatment of her imagined diseases. As a rule hypochondriacs live for ever. But Miss Savott proved not to be immortal. She died suddenly, untimely, of a malady whose existence had concealed itself even from the hypochondriac's ferreting morbidness. Attired in black on the evening of the funeral, father and daughter had had one of their short, clear, monosyllabic conversations, the result of which was that Gracie at twenty became the head of Sir Henry's household. The unspoken but perfectly understood undertaking on Sir Henry's part was:

“Don't make a fool of yourself, and I won't make a fool of myself or of you. You leave me alone and I'll leave you alone.” Twenty years earlier such an arrangement would have been regarded as immoral, but the Savotts were of those rather rare persons who look often at the calendar, not to know the day of the month, but to remind themselves of the Annus Domini. And the arrangement, being between two realists, worked. It suited both of them. Both possessed the faculty of not seeing what it might be inconvenient to see. Sir Henry in his old-fashioned way sometimes felt transient qualms; Gracie never.

Sir Henry had an immense admiration for his daughter, and especially for her worldly common sense. He was proud of her racing achievements, which had cost him a lot of money in the building of monstrously engined cars. In every department of expenditure she was an extremely costly child. But he was free; she was free; she was a capable hostess; and domestic extravagance never disturbed him; for he had a sense of proportion.

The miscarriage of a financial operation in the City might well in a day reduce his resources by more than Gracie could possibly squander in twenty years.

Such was their situation, and it explains why Sir Henry hid whatever curiosity he might have felt about the leather coat.

Two books lay on the floor of the littered, luxurious room. Sir Henry picked them up; for though he had learnt that his daughter's enormous untidiness was incurable, his own instinct for order would out.

“The Bible and Shakspere,” he murmured. “Still?”

“The Bible and Shakspere still. And I don't know which is best,” said Gracie.

“Why this surprising passion for the classics?” he twitted her.

“I only like them—that's all,” said Gracie negligently. “I'm just reading the Psalms.”

“Why the Psalms?” he continued to twit the girl, “I should have thought the biography of David would be more in your line—as a contemporary young woman.”

“The Psalms are David's biography,” Gracie replied.

He reflected:

“How does the kid think of these remarks of hers. Something in that. I never thought of it.” He was not an ardent reader.

“Oh!” he said.

“Yes. The finest thing in all the Bible is in the Psalms.”

“Oh!” he repeated, smiling. “What's that? I'd like to hear.”

Gracie quoted with a certain solemnity:

“Be still, and know that I am God.' Be still.“Sombrely contemplative, she gazed at her parent, so dapper, so physically fresh in his age, so earthly, so active in his unending material schemes, so deaf and blind to the spiritual, so regardless of all that was incalculable by an adding machine. He fancied that her eyes were fixed upon his magnificent, regular white teeth, which she had once called cruel, and instinctively he closed his lips on them, thus ceasing to smile.

“Shall I ever get to the bottom of this kid's mind?” he asked himself, puzzled, uneasy, as it were intimidated; but still admiring. He dropped the books on to a table.

2.

Then there was a second swift disconcerting change in Gracie's mood.

“What are you going to do to-night, daddy?”

“I'm going to bed. You know I never do anything the first day, anywhere.”

She seemed not to be listening to him.

“Because,” she continued, “I've just seen Mr. Orcham.”

“I'm waiting to hear from him,” said Sir Henry drily.

“He's only this minute come back into the hotel. Been out all day.”

“How do you know?”

“Don't I say I've just seen him?”

“You seem to be very friendly with him?” Sir Henry quizzed her.

“Oh! I am! He took me to Smithfield Market this morning.”

“He asked you to go to Smithfield with him!”

“No. I asked him to take me.”

“When?”

“After you went off to bed.”

“I hope he didn't think I'd put you up to it,” said Sir Henry, disturbed.

“How could he have thought that? I didn't know he was going to Smithfield until a minute before you went off. I'm glad I asked him. It was most frightfully amusing. And if I'd gone to bed I shouldn't have been able to sleep. It filled in the time perfectly. I was thinking you might invite him to dinner tonight.”

“I invite him to dinner! And in his own hotel! No fear! The last thing I want is for him to think I'm running after him. You can understand that. If he doesn't suggest anything, after my message to him, I shan't suggest anything.”

Gracie said with absolute tranquillity:

“Then you go to bed, and I'll ask him. I like him.” Sir Henry exercised the self-restraint which experience of Gracie had taught him.

“He won't accept.”

“I'll bet ten to one he will.”

“In the restaurant? He won't.”

“Well, we'll see.”

Sir Henry reconsidered the position. If Orcham accepted an invitation from Gracie alone, it would mean that he might be getting wrong notions into his head. If he declined, undesirable complications might ensue. Sir Henry went to the door.

“You ask him for both of us. Nine o'clock. Send a note down. Let me know the reply.” Sir Henry departed without waiting for Gracie to speak.

“Father,” she ran to the door and called out after him in the corridor:

“What's his Christian name?”

She wrote, in her large hand: “Dear Mr. Evelyn Orcham. Father and I would be so glad if you would dine with us tonight in the restaurant. Nine o'clock. Please don't disappoint us. Yours sincerely, G. S.”

She rang for the waiter.

Mrs. O'Riordan, the head-housekeeper, brightly sustaining the cares of her kingdom, entered, in front of the waiter, to pay one of those state-visits which she vouchsafed only to very important guests or very angry guests. She enquired whether Gracie's comfort and satisfaction were complete and without flaw. Gracie, recognising at once a superior member of the hotel-hierarchy, invited Mrs. O'Riordan to sit down. The two had quite a long chat. Then Gracie lavished more than an hour and a half upon her evening toilette, melancholy Tessa helping her as well as a bandaged wrist permitted.

Chapter 13. GREEN PARROT

Evelyn entered the foyer at one minute to nine. Certainly one of his gods was Punctuality, though there were greater gods in his pantheon. When master of his movements he was never late, nor early; his knowledge of the hour, and of the minute of the hour, was almost continuous.

A thin stream of guests was passing from the great hall through the foyer into the restaurant. Other guests were sipping cocktails at the small tables in the foyer; and still others were seated on the sofas, contributing naught to the night's receipts of the foyer, but safeguarding their stomachs. Not a single guest recognised Evelyn; Mr. Cousin would have been recognised and saluted by several of them; Evelyn's personality was more recondite. Only the knowing ones knew that Mr. Cousin, the manager, had a superior.

In the lounge were two cloak-room attendants, knee-breeched and gorgeous, who looked as if they had escaped from the Court of the Prince Regent, two cocktail pages in white and gold, a foyer-waiter dressed as a waiter, and two head-waiters of the restaurant, who stood on the lower stairs to receive diners; for every arriving party was personally conducted to its table and not abandoned by the conductor until the head-waiter of the table had received it into his hands. All these employees were immediately and acutely aware of the unusual presence of Evelyn, but, under standing orders, they ignored it: not an easy feat.

At nine o'clock Sir Henry Savott appeared; he glanced at his watch, and his austere face betrayed a high consciousness that punctuality was the politeness of emperors. He descried Evelyn. The two smiled, mutually approached, shook hands, and as it were took positions for a duel.

“I was just going to telephone up to you, and suggest an appointment for to-morrow,” said Evelyn genially, “when I got your daughter's most kind invitation.”

“Very good of you to accept at such short notice,” said Sir Henry. “Have a cocktail?”

“Yes, thanks,” said Evelyn simply, and indicated an empty table.

“What's the matter with the bar?” asked Sir Henry. “Ihear you've had it redecorated.”

“But Miss—er—Gracie?”

“Gracie has never been known to be less than a quarter of an hour late for lunch or dinner,” said Sir Henry. “Like most women she has a disorderly mind. Not disordered,” he added.

The two males exchanged a complacent, condescending look which relegated the entire female sex to its proper place, and strolled side by side up the stairs, along the broad corridor which led past the grill-room into the American bar.

The cocktail department comprised two large rooms: the first was permitted to ladies; the second, containing the majestic bar, was forbidden to them. By a common impulse Sir Henry and his guest for the evening walked without hesitation into the second room and sat down in a corner. Each waited for the other to open. Neither knew that the mind of the other was preoccupied with one sole image: that of Gracie. Evelyn was thinking: “She said she'd fix it, and she's fixed it.” Sir Henry was thinking: “What's the meaning of this whim for getting this fellow to dinner?...'Be still, and know that I am God.' Good God!” (But naïve pride was mingled with his non-comprehension.)

Sir Henry glanced around with feigned curiosity at the floodlighting, the silvern ceiling, the Joseph's-coat walls decorated in rhomboidal shapes which bar-frequenters described as cubistic or futuristic or both. He did not like it.

“Very original,” he commented. “Charming. I expect it was good for a bit of useful publicity, this was.”

“It was,” said Evelyn. “Change from the traditional British bar, eh?” He saw himself and Gracie incredibly hobnobbing in the Prince of Wales's Feathers in Westminster Bridge Road.

A white-jacketed, black-trousered youth ceremoniously approached.

“Maddix,” Evelyn murmured to him before Sir Henry could speak.

The youth hurried away.

There were four solemn revellers at the bar, and a priest and an acolyte behind it. The ascetic priest was a thin, short, middle-aged man with a semi-bald cranium, a few close-cropped grey hairs, and an enormous dome of a forehead above grey eyes. Leaving the bar and his customers to the care of the acolyte, the priest came tripping with dignity across the room and halted in silence at Evelyn's elbow.

“Well, Maddix, what's your latest? Apollo?” Evelyn asked, hardly smiling.

“The Apollo is quite new, sir. But my latest I've christened Green Parrot. I only really finished it last night.”

“Not on the market yet?”

“Not as you might say, sir.”

“Well, Sir Henry, will you try a Green Parrot?”

“Good evening, Sir Henry,” said Maddix, his tone a mixture of deference and self-respect.

“Why of course it's Maddix!” Sir Henry exclaimed, holding out his hand. “How are you, Maddix? Haven't seen you since God knows when—at the Plaza in New York. You were a very famous figure there.”

Maddix took the offered hand with reserve.

“Yes, sir,” he agreed placidly. “I suppose I was. I suppose I was the best-known barman in New York for twenty years. Prohibition and Mr. Orcham brought me back home.”

“And how are the boys?” Sir Henry enquired.

“Which boys, Sir Henry? The general bar population?”

“No. Your two sons of course.” A swift change transformed the impassive countenance of the legendary world-figure, the formidable man whose demeanour divided the general bar population of the two greatest capitals in history into two groups, the group which ventured to address him as 'Maddix,' with or without familiar additions, and the group which did not venture. The countenance relaxed and showed human emotion.

“Thank you for remembering them, Sir Henry. The eldest is still over there. Fur trade. Seems to be dollars in it. The other one's with me and his mother, here.”

“And what's he doing?”

“Well, Sir Henry, you may think it queer. But I've got a tennis court back of my little house at Fulham, and the boy's gone mad on tennis. He means to be a professional player. His mother isn't very pleased. But I say, 'What can you do—if he's made up his mind?' Between parents and children things aren't what they used to be, are they, Sir Henry?”

“They are not,” the millionaire concurred, thinking of Gracie.

“A Green Parrot then, Sir Henry?”

“I'll risk it.”

“And you, sir?”

Evelyn said:

“Soft.”

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” said Maddix. “I should prefer to mix that Green Parrot myself.” He went away.

“A character!” observed Sir Henry. “How did you manage to get him away from New York?”

“I saw him once or twice when I was over there,” Evelyn answered placidly. “He said he'd like to come home. I believed him. Considering Prohibition! A man who can live for twenty years behind a New York bar and never pick up an American accent—and never use a word of American slang—well, there must be something incurably English about him. I told him I had the finest American bar in the world, and I wanted the finest barman in the world to take charge of it. He came. Of course he gets the salary of an Under-Secretary of State. So he ought to.”

“Not quite the cocktail hour here, is it?” said Sir Henry, again glancing around at the large, half-empty room.

“No. It's too late and too early. But it'll soon be the liqueur hour. Extraordinary how many men prefer to come in here for a drink at the end of a meal. They feel more at home near a bar, even if they don't stand at it.”

2.

Two fat men in lounge-suits wandered in. The first word that Evelyn caught in their self-conscious conversation was the word 'Acceptances.' He knew and cared absolutely nothing about racing; but he had the wit to gather that Acceptances were one of the few human phenomena capable of making all men kin. The talk among the leaners against the bar suddenly rose to loudness. “And I say that gin is the—” he heard, from an affected and disputatious voice. (He would have liked to hear a profound remark concerning women from some other quarter of the room; but he was disappointed.) He thought:

“There was a quality about that wigwam in the Westminster Bridge Road that this place hasn't got. The free-and-easy! This place is too stiff.” And he began to wonder how the Prince of Wales's Feathers' quality could be added to the qualities of the Imperial Palace American bar. “No!” he decided. “Couldn't be done. Wouldn't do, either.” But he regretted its absence from the too correct and august atmosphere of the place.

Then a procession moved from the bar in the direction of Evelyn and Sir Henry: an acolyte solemnly bearing a tray upon which were two small glasses, one green, one yellow, followed by the priestly Maddix. Evelyn took the yellow glass, Sir Henry the green. The acolyte bowed and retired. Maddix stood awaiting in silence the verdict of Sir Henry. Evelyn absurdly wished that Maddix, with rolled-up shirt-sleeves exposing hairy forearms, might have exclaimed freely: “Well, what abaht it, guv'nor?”

Observing that Sir Henry's eyes were on Evelyn's glass, not on his own, Maddix allowed himself to remark:

“Mr. Orcham is not much for cocktails.”

“I'm much more for cocktails than you are, Maddix,” Evelyn said. And to Sir Henry: “Maddix is a strict teetotaller.”

“Then how do you manage to invent these things?” asked Sir Henry, gazing now at the green glass.

“I taste. I never swallow.”

Sir Henry both tasted and swallowed, and putting on the air of a connoisseur, amiably delivered judgment: “Very original. Very good.”

Maddix bowed his gratitude—a bow hardly perceptible; he had divined that to the millionaire all cocktails were more or less the same cocktail. The experience of decades, the inventive imagination of a genuine creator, and some good luck had gone into the conceiving of the Green Parrot cocktail, and the millionaire recked not, sympathised not, understood not! He had been friendly enough about the human offspring of the cocktail genus, but to the miracles of cocktail art God had decreed that he should be insensible. As a fact Maddix did not know more than ten men in London who truly comprehended the great classical principles of the cocktail. Evelyn was one of the ten.

Sir Henry began to talk to Evelyn. Maddix sedately walked away, the artist sardonic because unappreciated by a barbaric public.

Presently Evelyn glanced at his watch.

“Perhaps we ought to go back to the foyer.'

“Lots of time,” said Sir Henry soothingly.

At that moment the whole room, from the bar to the furthest corner, became agitated with a unique agitation, and every masculine face seemed to be saying: “Strange things have happened, but this is the strangest.” Oblivious of the printed notice prominently displayed at the entrance, a woman was intruding. And not merely a woman, but a young woman, a beautiful woman, proud of bearing, clad in a magnificent frock of mauve and pink, and glinting with jewels. And neither apology nor challenge in her mien. Maddix started instinctively into protest at this desecration; then stopped, thinking: “A greater than me is here. Let him deal with the unparalleled outrage.” And yet the outrage was delicious to every beholding male, even to Maddix himself. The woman went straight to Evelyn and Sir Henry, who both rose quickly. Sir Henry at any rate felt that she must be removed at once. Evelyn did not care whether she was removed or not: in the Palace he was above all laws; the one law was his own approval.

“I got tired of waiting for you in the foyer,” the smiling woman greeted them with entirely unresentful charm. “So I asked where you were.”

The two men were like sixth-form boys convicted of an impropriety.

“Been waiting long?” asked Sir Henry.

“Oh no! Not more than an hour. This place is more old-fashioned than I thought it was.” Such was her indication of awareness that she was where she knew she had no right to be. “I think a public-house would be more up-to-date than this. I know I should adore public-houses. Don't you adore them, Mr. Orcham?”

“I'm not very well acquainted with public-houses,” said Evelyn.

“Never been in one?”

“Oh yes. Once.”

“How long ago?”

“Oh! Not very long ago.”

Evelyn saw in her something of the woman who at the banked corners of the Brooklands track had many times staked her life on the accuracy of an instantaneous appraisal of positions, speeds and distances. He perceived that she liked his replies. He admired her tremendously. He was dazzled by her. He knew that she knew he was dazzled by her. Sir Henry also was somewhat overset, and quite incapable of reproaching her for the wilful audacity of her invasion. She had put him in the wrong. She triumphantly led out the two men as though they had been captives to an Amazon. She vanished from the view of the room, and to all the seated, entranced males the room seemed to be suddenly darkened.

Chapter 14. VOLIVIA

In the American bar the hour for cocktails had nearly finished, but guests were still drinking them, though perhaps with more refined gestures, in the foyer; and people were still passing down through the foyer into the restaurant.

Dinner-time at the Imperial Palace, if still not as late as in Venice, Paris, Madrid, was getting later, and nearer and nearer to supper-time. A crowded, confused scene of smart frocks, dowdy frocks, jewels genuine and sham, black coats, white shirts, white table-cloths, silver, steel, glass, coloured chairs, coloured carpets, parquet in the midst, mirrors, melody, and light glinting through the crystal of chandeliers.

A tall and graceful youngish man, with an expression of gentle smiling melancholy on his dark face, greeted Gracie, Sir Henry and Evelyn on the lower steps, and led them to a table on the edge of the empty parquet. Having seated them, he stood with bent, attentive head at Sir Henry's elbow.

“You're doing some business here to-night, Cappone,” said Evelyn, losing the self-consciousness which usually afflicted him on the rare occasions when as a diner he descended those broad steps into the restaurant. Cappone's response was a soft triumphant smile. Sir Henry, always self-conscious at first in a public place, concealed his constraint as well as he could under a Napoleonic brusquerie. Gracie, stared at by a hundred eyes until she sat down, was just as much at her ease as a bride at a wedding. Created by heaven to be a cynosure, rightly convinced that she was the best-dressed woman in the great, glittering, humming room, her spirit floated on waves of admiration as naturally as a goldfish in water. Evelyn, impressed, watched her surreptitiously as she dropped on to the table an inlaid vanity-case which had cost her father a couple of hundred pounds.

“Same girl,” thought Evelyn, “who was hobnobbing with me in a leather coat about two minutes since in the Prince of Wales's Feathers!”

Surely in the wide world that night there could not be anything to beat her! Idle, luxurious rich, but a masterpiece! Maintained in splendour by the highly skilled and expensive labour of others, materially useless to society, she yet justified herself by her mere appearance. And she knew it, and her conscience was clear.

Mr. Cappone having accepted three menus from a man who stood behind him with a tablet in his hand, distributed them among his guests.

“Well now, let's see,” said Sir Henry, applying eye-glasses to his nose, and paused. “Oh! Look here, Cappone, I think we'll leave it all to you.”

“Very well, Sir Henry. Thank you,” said Mr. Cappone, gathering up the menus, and departing with his subaltern.

“That's right, isn't it, Orcham?” Sir Henry questioned.

“You couldn't have done better, Savott,” said Evelyn, curt and confident.

“I suppose he's the head-waiter,” said Gracie, indicating Mr. Cappone.

“Head-waiter!” Evelyn exclaimed, with an intonation somewhat sardonic, laughing drily. “I'm glad he didn't hear you. There are thirty head-waiters in this room. No. Cappone is the manager of the restaurant.” The more Gracie dazzled him, the more was he determined to keep these Savotts in their place. After all, was he not old enough to be the girl's father? It was as if he resented her dominion equally with her ignorance of hotel terminology.

“And all he has to do is to look romantic and be exquisitely polite?” Gracie went on, quite wilfully unaware of her place.

“Yes. That's all,” Evelyn agreed, and paused. “Well, there may be one or two other things he has to do. Settle the menus with the chef. Attend conferences. Watch the graph curves of the average bill every day. Explain satisfactorily the occasional presence of a worm in a lettuce—not so simple, that! Know the names and private histories and weaknesses and vanities and doings of every regular customer. Talk four languages. Keep the peace among his staff over the distribution of the tips. Know exactly how every dish is cooked. Persuade every customer that he has got the best table in the place. Prevent customers who prefer the prix fixe from choosing more expensive things than the price will stand. Find new waiters, because even waiters die and quarrel and so on. That's one of his worries, the waiter question. You can't bring foreigners into the country, and English lads simply refuse to go abroad to finish their education. Cappone says that English waiters would be as good as any, and better in some ways; only there's one thing they can't learn, and it's the most important thing.”

“Ha! What's that?” Sir Henry demanded.

“That the customer is always right, of course. It's that terrible British sense of justice! Well, those are a few of the odd trifles that our graceful friend has to think about, besides looking romantic,” Evelyn ended with a faint sneer. He thought:

“Why am I talking like this? Why have I got the note wrong?”

“It's perfectly thrilling,” said Gracie, with an enchanting, excited, modest smile.

Evelyn said to himself:

“She understands. She has imagination. More than daddy has.”

“Yes, yes,” Sir Henry grunted absently, his inquisitive small eyes prying into the far corners of the restaurant.

“Do tell us some more,” Gracie pleaded, leaning eagerly towards Evelyn across the table, her beautiful face all lighted up.

“About waiters?”

“About anything. Yes, about waiters.” Evelyn's tone had apparently not in the least ruffled her. She was admiring him. She was kissing the rod.

“Well,” said Evelyn. “Cappone says that English waiters look very smart in the street, off duty, but in the restaurant they don't care how they look, whereas his precious Italians look very smart on duty, and don't look like anything on earth in the street. I mean the commis of course, the youths in the long aprons. Not the chefs de rang. English or not, they have to look smart on duty.”

He forced Sir Henry to meet his gaze. These people had got to know the sort of man they'd asked to dinner, and he would teach them. If daddy fancied he was going to buy the Imperial Palace for nineteen and eleven—

Mr. Cappone reappeared, to lay an orchid on the table in front of Gracie, who glanced up at him, and without a spoken word gave the Restaurant-manager such a smile as Evelyn had never before seen. And Mr. Cappone gave her a smile, respectful and yet adoringly masculine, that made Evelyn say to himself: “I couldn't smile like that to save my life.”

“He's a dear,” Gracie murmured, picking up the exotic flower. And to Evelyn: “Go on. Go on.”

But at that moment a waiter arrived with a dish of caviare on a carriage, and another with three tiny glasses on a tray.

“Hello! What's this?” asked Sir Henry, suddenly attentive. “Vodka,” said Evelyn. “I hope it's vodka.” And his tone said: “No doubt you thought it was gin.”

The repast began. They were all hungry. The unique caviare, the invaluable vodka, rapidly worked a miracle in the immortal spirit of Sir Henry. Gracie ate and drank with exclamatory delight. As for Evelyn, his testy mood faded away in fifteen seconds. The table now participated in the festivity of the great room. God reigned. The earth was perfect. No stain upon it, no sorrow, no injustice, no death! And life was worth living. Beauty abounded. Civilisation was at its fullest bloom. There was no yesterday, and there would be no to-morrow. And all because the pickled ovarian parts of a fish, and a liquid distilled from plain rye, were smoothly passing into the alimentary tracts of the three ravenous diners.

2.

Then in the orchestra a drum rolled solemnly, warningly, even menacingly; and everyone looked towards the orchestra, expectant. The orchestra, having for more than an hour drawn out of a series of Hungarian melodies the last wild, melancholy sweetness, began to play Russian dance music. The high curtains at the end of the room moved mysteriously apart, revealing a blaze of light behind. In the midst of this amber radiance stood a dark woman, half-clad or quarter-clad in black and white: costume of an athlete, ceasing abruptly at the arm-pits and the top of the thighs. She was neither beautiful nor slim nor elegant as she stood there, nor was her performer's smile better than good-natured.

“So you've fallen for it,” said Gracie, under the loud applause which welcomed the apparition.

“Fallen for what?” asked Evelyn.

“Cabaret.”

“We've had a cabaret here for two years,” said Evelyn.

It was true, however, that for a very long time the Imperial Palace had set its face against cabaret. The Palace had been above cabaret, was too refined and dignified for cabaret, needed no cabaret, flourishing as it did on its prestige, its food, and the distinction of its clientele. But Evelyn had recognised that the Time-Spirit was irresistible, and cabaret had come to the Palace. Of course not the ordinary run of cabaret. Inconceivable that the Palace cabaret should be that!

Soup and hock were unobtrusively delivered at Sir Henry's table. Waiters on the edges of the room were unobtrusively inserting new tables between tables.

The woman stepped into the centre of the dancing-floor with all the mien of a victor; for, although this was only her third evening; she knew that she was a success. Everybody knew that she was a success. Waiters glanced aside at her as they did their work. In the distances guests were standing up to watch. In two days the tale of Volivia's exhibition of herself had spread like a conflagration through what is called the town—without the help of the press. When she opened Volivia had been nobody. Now, because she had so unmistakably succeeded at the Palace, she could get contracts throughout the entire western world of luxury. Her muscles knew it as they contracted and expanded, making ripples on her olive skin.

She flowed into a dance, which soon developed into a succession of abrupt, short, violent motions. Ugly! Evelyn was witnessing the turn for the first time. He was puzzled. “The public is an enigma,” he thought. “They like it; but what do they like in it? I wouldn't look twice at it myself.” Nevertheless the woman held his gaze. He snatched a glance at Gracie, who was completely absorbed in the spectacle, her vermilion lips apart; at Sir Henry, whose eyes were humid. Then his gaze was dragged back to the dancer. She was now beginning to circle round the floor; faster and faster, in gyrations of the body, stoopings, risings, whirlings: arms uplifted, disclosing the secrets of the arm-pits. In her course, she came close to the tables, so close to Sir Henry's table that Evelyn could have touched her. He saw her rapt face close; he heard her breathing. The sexual, sinister quality of her body frightened and enchanted him. She passed along. His desirous thought was:

“She will be round again in a moment.” He understood then why she was a success, why the rumour of her ran from mouth to mouth through the town. Faster and faster. Someone applauded. Applause everywhere, louder and louder. Waiters stood still. Faster and faster. Her face was seen alternately with her bare back: swift alternations that sight could hardly follow. Louder and louder applause. A kind of trial of endurance between Volivia and the applause. At last she manuvred herself into the centre of the floor, and suddenly dropped on to the hard floor in a violent entrechat. And kept the pose, smiling, her bosom heaving in rapid respirations, her tremendous legs stretched out at right-angles to her torso. And, keeping the pose, ugly as in itself it was, she now appeared graceful, elegant, beautiful and young. The applause roared about the great room, wave of it responding to every invisible wave of conquering sensual sexuality which effused powerfully from her accomplished body.

Sir Henry applauded loudly; Gracie applauded without any reserve. Evelyn wanted to applaud, but he restrained himself; he did not want to be seen applauding—not that anyone would have noticed him in the excited din.

Volivia rose, bowed and retired: Aphrodite, Ariadne, Astarte. The applause persisted. Volivia returned, and, with her, two male dancers, boyish, said by the learned to be her brothers, and by the more learned to be her nephews, or even her sons. They came into the category of the grotesque, dancing on their ankles, on the outer sides of their calves, with their knees seldom unbent. They had a reception whose enthusiasm was little less warm than that of Volivia's. Then Volivia, whose departure from the floor had hardly been observed, returned again, for a final trio or ensemble with the youths. This conclusion was the apogee of the number. Nothing whatever of the anti-climax about it. Call it a tumult, a typhoon, a tangled dervish confusion, so sensational in its mingling of two sexes that diners neglected to dine and forgot to breathe.

“The roof'll be off in a minute,” shouted Sir Henry, furiously clapping, in the deafening clamour. Again Evelyn did not applaud. After the three had retired, Volivia reappeared alone, to accept that which was hers. The curtains joined their folds and hid her. The diners breathed, but did not yet eat. They were sorry that the number was over, but also relieved that it was over.

The next and last number was a clown, who translated the classical tradition of the English music-hall droll into French. He was an artist in the comic, and the diners laughed, but with more amiability than sincerity. And they ate.

Evelyn thought:

“What on earth has Jones Wyatt been thinking about? This clown fellow has been set an impossible task. It's not fair to him. He must come before Volivia, not after. I'll have it altered for the midnight performance.”

“You know, really,” said Sir Henry, while the clown was clowning. “Those boys were better than the girl.” Evelyn nodded carelessly, reflecting: “Does he mean it? Or is he just pretending to be judicial, saving his face for us and for himself too? After the exhibition he's been making of himself!” If Sir Henry was trying to save his face there were others in the restaurant making a similar attempt.

“Where did you pick her up?” Sir Henry continued, as if indifferently curious.

“Prague, I believe. Praha's its new name, isn't it? I have a man always running about the Continent after really good turns. They're not so easy to find.”

“Cost you a lot?”

Evelyn hesitated. He was on the point of saying “Oh! A goodish bit. I don't remember the exact figure.” Just to keep Sir Henry in his place! Then he changed his mind. There was a more effective way of keeping Sir Henry in his place. The way of the facts. “Yes. Volivia and Co. stand us in for eighty pounds a week. The other turn forty or fifty. Bands and cabaret come to not a penny less than twelve hundred a week.” And he added to himself: “Get that into your head, my friend.”

“Bands so much?” Sir Henry gave an excellent imitation of imperturbability.

“Yes.”

“How many bands?”

“Three.”

“One's American?”

“Yes. Here they are.” Evelyn waved towards the bustle and the glitter of new instruments on the bandstand.

“I knew they got biggish money in New York,” said Sir Henry.

“They get biggish money in London,” Evelyn retorted. “Why! I happened to be going out by the Queen Anne entrance the other day, and the whole alley was blocked with cars. I asked the porter about it—he's a waggish sort of a chap. He told me they were the cars of 'the gentlemen of the orchestra'!”

“By Jove!” Sir Henry exclaimed, glancing round. “There's Harry Matcham. The very man I want to see. That big round table.”

“Lord Watlington?”

“Yes. Gracie, I think I'd better step over to him now and fix a date. Excuse me, Orcham—one second.”

Mahomets go to mountains.

During this interlude of chat, Gracie had not uttered one word. Nor had she eaten. She was playing, meditative, with the chain of her vanity-case.

“Step over, daddy,” she said.

“Lord Watlington hasn't had a dinner-party here for quite a long time,” said Evelyn. “Cappone was beginning to think he'd deserted us.” Gracie did not speak. Evelyn went on: “I see Mrs. Penkethman with him, and Lady Devizes and the two Cheddars. Rather Renaissance young men, those Cheddars, don't you think?” Gracie still did not speak. Evelyn went on:

“I don't recognise any of the others.”

“You know,” said Gracie suddenly, looking up into Evelyn's eyes with a soft smile, “that wouldn't do in a drawing-room.”

“What wouldn't do?”

“That Volivia show.”

“No. Scarcely,” Evelyn agreed. “A drawing-room would be a bit too intimate for it. But if it pleases people in a restaurant—well, there you are; it pleases them. Volivia's the biggest cabaret success we've ever had here. Now before the war that turn wouldn't have been respectable. I do believe it would have emptied any restaurant—or filled it with exactly the sort of person we don't want. But we give it now, and the Palace is just as respectable as ever it was. More, even. Look at the people here!”

“It was shameless,” said Gracie.

“Perhaps too shameless,” Evelyn replied. “I admit I should have had my doubts about it if I'd seen it on the first night. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It's audiences that make a show respectable—or not. I've heard our Cabaret-manager say it takes two to settle that point—the show and the audience. But I don't think so. The audience settles it. I'm sure some of these variety artists start out to be—well, questionable.” He was choosing his words so as to avoid abrading Gracie's girlish susceptibilities. He meant 'indecent.' “But sufficient applause, frank, unreserved applause, will make them feel absolutely virtuous with the very same show.”

He was defending his Imperial Palace against the delicious girl who had used the adjective 'shameless.' She had changed now from the invader of the cocktail bar.

“I'm sorry you think it was shameless,” he said.

Gracie smiled at him still more exquisitely and more softly. “I loved it for being shameless,” she said, not with any protest in her rich, dark voice, but persuasively. “Why shouldn't it be shameless? We aren't shameless enough. What's the matter with the flesh anyway? Don't we all know what we are? If I could give a performance like Volivia's, wouldn't I just go on the stage! Nobody should stop me, I tell you that.” Some emphasis in the voice. Then she restrained the emphasis, murmuring: “I'm rather like Volivia. Only she was born to perform, and I wasn't.”

Evelyn was very seriously taken aback, partly by the realisation that he had completely misjudged her attitude, and partly by the extraordinary candour with which she had revealed herself. If she had averted her gaze, if her voice had been uncertain, he would have been less disconcerted. But she had continued to face him boldly, and her tones, though low, had given no sign of any inward tremor. And she had not made a confession, she had made a statement. She was indeed as shameless as Volivia. But how virginally, and how unanswerably!

Evelyn thought:

“I suppose this is the modern girl. I mustn't lose my presence of mind.” He said, trying to copy her serenity: “And yet you say Volivia wouldn't do in a drawing-room! Why not?”

“Simply because in a drawing-room she'd make me feel uncomfortable. If I feel uncomfortable I always know something's wrong. But here I didn't feel a bit uncomfortable. You did, and so did daddy. But not me. Besides, you wouldn't agree that what can't be done in a drawing-room oughtn't to be done at all. A big restaurant's much the same as a bedroom. You see what I mean?”

“Not quite.”

“Well, you will,” said Gracie with gentle assurance. “Aren't you going to ask me to dance?”

“In the middle of dinner?”

“Why not? What a question, from you!”

3.

The Californian “Big Oak Band,” with its self-complacent leader Eleazer Schenk at a green and yellow grand piano, was just emitting its first wild woodland notes; the first professional dancing couple was just taking the floor beneath the patronising glances of the dandiacal, tight-waisted bandsmen; and Sir Henry's wine-waiter was just pouring forth champagne from a magnum bottle. The general gay noise of chatter had increased. For not only at Sir Henry's table, but everywhere up and down the room, great wines after elaborate years of preparation were reaching their final, glorious, secret goal, quickening hearts as well as tickling palates. And under the influence of these superfine golden and ruby and amber liquids, valued at as much as five shillings a glassful, quaffed sometimes in a moment, the immortal tendency to confuse indulgence with happiness was splendidly maintained. The graph-curves of alcohol consumption per head might be downwards, to the grief of the hierarchs of the Imperial Palace; but on this Volivia night the sad decline was certainly arrested for a space. Mr. Cappone and his cohort of head-waiters and humbler aproned commis knew all about that.

“I don't dance,” said Evelyn shortly.

He rarely did dance, and never on his own floor. For him, there would have been something improper in him, Director of the Imperial Palace, deity of thirteen hundred employees, disporting himself on the Palace floor. And further, he had not yet in the least recovered from the shock of Gracie's shattering remarks upon the moral excellence of shamelessness. 'We all know what we are,' etc. There she sat, to the left of him, lovely, radiant, elegant, fabulously expensive, with her soft smile, her gentle, thrilling tone, her clear, candid gaze, her modest demeanour—likening restaurants to bedrooms, and—'we all know what we are'! And he, Evelyn, monarch of the supreme luxury hotel of the world, had ingenuously been thinking that in his vast and varied experience he had nothing to learn about human nature!

“Oh! So you don't dance!” said she most sweetly.

She might, Evelyn reflected, be a bewildering mixture of contradictions, but she was the most enchanting creature he had ever met. She had bowed her glory in instant acquiescence.

“Why do you have American bands here?” she enquired in a new tone, as if conversationally to set him at ease after his curt refusal to dance. Yes, she was the ideal companion. He recalled the obstinacies of his dead wife.

“Because they're the best,” he replied, in relieved, brighter accents. “We're miles behind them in this country. You see, the dance craze started earlier over there than here. They're better disciplined, and they have a better rhythm. They've taught us a lot. An English player who takes his work seriously will give his head to play next to an American for a month. Rather! Of course we get the best even of the Americans, because we give the best treatment, to say nothing of the best advertisement—not direct advertisement. Oh no! Never! The tall fellow with the saxophone—he earns fifty pounds a week. We give them a sitting-room and dressing-rooms, and a valet, and two porters to carry their instruments about. We even press their clothes for them free of charge. They behave like dukes, and we behave to them as if they were dukes. But we wouldn't look at 'em if we could find any English band as good, or nearly as good.”

He had spoken with earnestness, for he was very sensitive on the subject of engaging American bands in a London hotel. Italian and French and Swiss managers, chefs, waiters—yes! They needed no defence. But American bands had to be defended.

“Well, I never knew that,” said Gracie, her voice full of understanding and sympathy. “I thought it was a question of fashion, and pleasing American customers.”

“Not in the least!” said Evelyn with fire. “We make fashions here. We don't follow fashions. And we don't kowtow to Americans or anybody else. The Palace is the Palace.” He laughed. “Excuse me,” he added, lightly apologetic.

“I like to hear you,” said Gracie, and Evelyn felt that she did like to hear his vehemence. She was a girl of quick comprehension.

Sir Henry returned to his table. Gracie immediately rose.

“Mr. Orcham and I are going to have just one dance, daddy,” she said calmly. “You get on with your trout. Then we shall be level again.” And she looked down at seated Evelyn with an expectant, beseeching, marvelously smiling glance.

“But—”

Evelyn checked himself, mastering his amazement at her wanton duplicity. As for shamelessness!...He might have resisted, but for the half-timid supplication in her smile. No! He knew that he could not anyhow have resisted. He was caught. Mixture of contradictions! She was utterly incalculable! He rose in silence, forced a smile in response to hers, and took the hand of the baffling enigma. And no sooner had he taken her hand than he thought: “After all, why shouldn't I dance on my own floor? It isn't as if her father wasn't here.” They embarked upon the sea of the floor, which was very rapidly filled with craft. From time to time in their circumnavigation they passed close by Mr. Eleazar Schenk, who, neglecting his fingers in a tune which they had been playing twice nightly for six or seven months, looked at Evelyn with a glance of condescending and naughty recognition. “I wish that fellow's contract was over,” thought Evelyn, ignoring the glance.

At first neither he nor Gracie spoke. Then Gracie said:

“Are you doing it on purpose?”

“What?”

“Holding me off?” She put the question with a cordial, delicately appealing upturned smile. No criticism in it. A mere half-diffident suggestion.

“Sorry,” said Evelyn, and drew her body nearer to his, so that they were touching, so that in the steps his foot was between her feet.

“You are a fibster,” she said, with the same upturned smile. “You dance beautifully.”

“I don't know any steps except this one,” Evelyn muttered. “It's too monotonous for you.”

“I'm loving it,” said she, and for a moment shut her eyes, as if to exclude all sensations save those of the music and of being in motion with him, enclosed in his arm.

He could feel her legs against his, her body against his, her back against his right hand, and the clasp of her fingers upon his left hand. But there was nothing of Volivia in her contacts, only a delectable, yielding innocence. Or so it appeared to him. He desired not to enjoy the dance, but he was enjoying it. He would have been resentful of her trickery, but he could not summon resentment. He thought: “Is it possible that she has taken a fancy to me? If not, what can be the explanation of her game?” Then he privately withdrew the word 'game.' She was not a flirt, or, if a flirt, she had lifted flirtation to the plane of genius. He was intensely flattered, for, though she had trapped and annoyed him, he admired her tremendously. He admitted to himself that she was the most surprising, wondrous creature he had ever encountered. She was unique. A man cannot be more flattered than by the confiding, devotional acquiescence of a beautiful and stylish younger woman. Yes, her mien was devotional. And all the while he could feel the firmness of her legs under the filmy frock. His emotion was well hidden, but it surpassed anything in his experience.

A voice said behind him:

“Hello, darling!”

“Hello, Nancy darling,” said Gracie.

The much-pictured Nancy Penkethman, dancing with one of the Cheddar brothers. The two couples sailed almost side by side.

“When am I going to see you, darling?” asked Nancy. “I'm perishing to hear all about New York.”

Evelyn could feel upon him the inquisitive peerings of Nancy and one of the Cheddar brothers.

“What's wrong with to-night, darling?” said Gracie. “Up in my rooms. I'm staying here. So's father. Eleven-thirty, say. Bring the others along. We'll have a time.”

“The Lord Harry won't come. He's got a political date with the P.M.”

“Never mind. Bring whoever'll come.”

The two couples separated in diverging curves. (Evelyn's manuvre.)

The Big Oak Band ceased. Dancers clapped, Gracie hesitated. Evelyn loosed his partner. He had been chilled by the fact that Gracie was capable of being wakened out of the ecstasy of the dance by the sight of a friend, and of being at once sufficiently prosaic to arrange a meeting.

“Thank you very much,” he said conventionally.

“I loved it,” Gracie repeated.

“Good band, eh?” Sir Henry greeted them loudly. He had disposed of his trout, and grouse was being served.

“The best,” said Evelyn.

“I say, daddy. Did you order a sweet?”

“No,” Sir Henry replied. “I ordered nothing, and I never do order a sweet.”

“But I want one,” said Gracie.

“Well, have one. The Imperial Palace is yours.”

“What about a soufflé?”

“That will take twenty to twenty-five minutes,” Evelyn put in.

“What does that matter, sweetie?” ('Sweetie'! However, Evelyn knew that in Gracie's universe the word had no more significance than 'darling'; and he let it slip away.) “And while we're waiting couldn't we just go and see the kitchens? I've never seen a hotel kitchen, and I'm crazy about hotels now. 'Crazy'! Pardon!” Gracie laughed, placing her hand on her mouth. “Reminiscence of New York, of course.”

“Crazy about hotels now!” Evelyn repeated in his mind. “That's not a bad notion,” said Sir Henry, obviously attracted by the notion.

Evelyn said that he would have the greatest pleasure in showing them the kitchens. One of his fibs.

Chapter 15. CUISINE

The kitchens of the Imperial Palace restaurant were on the same floor as the restaurant itself, and immediately adjoining it. You passed through an open door, hidden like a guilty secret from all the dining-tables, then up a very short corridor, and at one step you were in another and a different world: a super-heated world of steel glistening and dull, and bare wood, and food in mass raw and cooked, and bustle, and hurrying to and fro, and running to and fro, and calling and even raucous shouting in French and Italian: a world of frenzied industry, whose denizens had leisure and inclination for neither the measured eloquence nor the discreet deferential murmuring nor the correct and starched apparelling of the priests and acolytes of the restaurant. A world of racket, which racket, reverberating among metals and earthenware, rose to the low ceilings and was bounced down again on to the low tables and up again and down again. A world without end, a vista of kitchens one behind the other, beyond the range of vision. The denizens were all clad in white, or what had been white that morning, and wore high white caps, with sometimes a soiled towel for kerchief loosely folded round the neck; professional attire, of which none would have permitted himself to be deprived.

The shock of the introduction into the Dantesque Latin microcosm, of the transition from indolent luxury to feverish labour, was shown in Gracie's features.

“You'll soon get used to it,” said Evelyn, thinking with admiration how sensitive was the puzzling creature. “See here!” He examined a board studded with hooks, near the entrance, and pulled from one of them an oblong of flimsy pink paper. “See?” He pointed to the scrawled word 'soufflé.' “'37.' That's your table.”

“And what's that?” asked Gracie, putting her finger on certain perforated figures.

“'10.12.' That's the time of the order. We stamp it. There's the machine that does it.”

“Good! Good!” ejaculated Sir Henry, tersely.

Evelyn restored the paper to its hook.

“Oh!” cried Gracie, suddenly childlike. “Do let's see the soufflé made.”

“We will!” answered Evelyn eagerly, also childlike in sympathy. But he thought: “Has she come here because she is really interested, or because she wants to persuade me that she is interested?” His mind was peopled with sinister suspicions which, previously squatting in dark corners, had on a sudden sprung upright and into the open. “But what a marvellous figure she makes here in her finery!” he thought.

“Oh!” Gracie cried again, perceiving a tank into which fresh water was spurting. “What's this?”

A cook sprang forward and, seizing a long handle with a net at the end, plunged it into the water and lifted out the net full of struggling fish.

“Des truites,” said he proudly.

“They little know the recent fate of three of their brothers!” said Sir Henry with gaiety.

“How horrible! How can you, father? Put them back, please do.” Gracie had laid a protesting hand on Sir Henry's arm.

The trout were dropped into the water.

Two waiters at the delivery-counter snatched up two loaded trays which had mysteriously been placed there, and hastened off into the other world.

“You're pretty busy here!” said Sir Henry, surveying the noisy scene.

“This is nothing,” Evelyn replied negligently. “You should see the place at a quarter to two when everyone wants lunch at the same moment, and watch the battle at that counter. There'd be sixty cooks here then. This is comparatively a slack time.”

Then approached down the vista a youngish, plump, jolly man, not to be distinguished by his attire from anybody else.

He had heard by the inexplicable telegraph which functions in workshops that the Director was in the kitchen, with guests; and he was hurrying.

“Ah!” said Evelyn. “Here's Planquet, the chef of chefs.”

The man arrived, bowing.

“Let me introduce Maître Planquet,” Evelyn began the ceremonial of presentation.

The master-cook protected himself against the hazards of contact with the extraneous world by a triple system of defence. Outermost came the cushion of his amiable jollity. Next, a cushion of punctilious decorum—obeisances, deferential smiles, handshakings, which expressed his formal sense of a great honour received; for he needed no one to tell him that only visitors of the highest importance would be introduced by the Director himself. Third, and innermost, a steel breastplate forged from the tremendous conviction that the kitchens of the Imperial Palace restaurant were the finest kitchens in the universe, and that he, Planquet, a Frenchman, was the head of the finest kitchens in the universe, and therefore the head of his ancient profession.

When he genially admitted, in response to a suggestion in French from alert Gracie, that he was a Frenchman from the South of France, his tone had in it a note of interrogation, implying: “Surely you did not imagine that any but a Frenchman of the Midi could possibly be the head of my profession?” His tone also indicated a full appreciation of the fact that Gracie was an exceeding pretty woman. Behind the steel breastplate dwelt unseen the inviolable vital spark of that fragment of the divine which was the master's soul.

While Sir Henry vouchsafed to him in the way of preliminary small-talk that he and his daughter and Mr. Orcham were in the middle of dinner in the restaurant, his unregarding, twinkling gaze seemed negligently to recognise that a restaurant, and perhaps many floors of a hotel, might conceivably be existing somewhere beyond the frontier of the kitchens, and that these phenomena were a corollary of the kitchens—but merely a corollary.

“Ah!” said Gracie, over a dishful of many uncooked cutlets, meek and uniform among various dishfuls of the raw material of art. “They have not yet acquired their individualities.”

The master gave her a sudden surprised glance of sympathetic approbation; and Evelyn knew that the master was saying to himself, as Evelyn was saying to himself: “She is no ordinary woman, this!” And for an instant the Director felt jealous of the master, as though none but the Director had the right to perceive that Gracie was no ordinary woman. The master's demeanour changed, and henceforth he spoke to Gracie as to one to whom God had granted understanding. He escorted her to the enormous open fire of wood in front of which a row of once-feathered vertebrates were slowly revolving on a horizontal rod.

“We return always to the old methods, mademoiselle,” said he. “Here in this kitchen we cook by electricity, by gas, by everything you wish, but for the volaille we return always to the old methods. Wood fire.”

The intense heat halted Gracie. The master, however, august showman, walked right into it, seized an iron spoon fit for supping with the devil, and, having scooped up an immense spoonful of the fat which had dripped drop by drop from the roasting birds, poured it tenderly over them, and so again and again. Then he came back with his jolly smile to Gracie, as cool as an explorer returning from the arctic zone.

“Nothing else is worth the old methods,” said he, and made a polite indifferent remark to Sir Henry.

But the next minute he was displaying, further up the vista, a modern machine for whipping cream. And later, ice-making by hand.

“The good method of a hundred years since.” Then, further, far from the frontier, in the very hinterland of the kitchens, was heard a roar of orders. Two loud-speakers suspended from a ceiling over a table!

“Yes,” the master admitted to Gracie's questioning, ironic look. “It is bizarre, it is a little bizarre, this mixture. But what would you, mademoiselle?”

Two shabby young men were working like beavers beneath the loud-speakers and round about, occasionally bawling acknowledgments of receipt of orders to colleagues in some distant county of the master's kingdom.

The party went in and out of rooms hot and rooms cold, rooms large and rooms small, rooms crowded with industry and rooms where one man toiled delicately alone. And the master explained his cuisine to Gracie, as one artist explains an art to another artist who is ignorant but who has instinctive comprehension. Down by a spiral staircase into the bakery and the cakery. Up into an office with intent clerks and typewriters. And everywhere white employees raised eyes for a second to the Director and his wandering charges and the master, and dropped them again to their tasks.

2.

Evelyn, with Sir Henry, was behind the other two. He watched the changing expressions on Gracie's face as she turned, and tried to read them, and could not. Then Sir Henry left him and with an authoritative query drew the master from Gracie's side. Evelyn joined her. They had mysteriously got back to the kitchen of the wood fire and the revolving game—but not the same game was revolving. Gracie approached the huge hearth, beckoning, and he stood close to her.

“What is she going to say?” he thought. He half-expected, after the exposure of the realities of cookery which she had been witnessing, that she would say that never again could she enjoy a meal. She confronted him with a swift movement; then paused, her lips apart. He saw Sir Henry cross-examining the master across the busy, reverberating kitchen. And on the edge of his field of vision be saw Gracie's beauty, and the dazzling smartness of her frock.

“I must work!” she exclaimed, in a rich, passionate whisper. “I must work! This place makes me ashamed. Ashamed. I wish I could put a pinafore on, and work here, with all these men, instead of going back to that awful restaurant full of greedy rotters. Why can't I work? I must begin my life all over again.” Then, more quietly: “Well, I did start some work this morning, after Smithfield. Oh! I told you, didn't I? I swear I will keep it up. Don't you believe me?” Her tone was now wistfully appealing for confidence and encouragement.

“Yes, I believe you. Of course you will keep it up,” said Evelyn, staggered by the astonishing outburst. He recalled that in the morning she had made a vague brief reference to writing. Was writing, then, to be her work?

“There's no 'of course' about it,” she said sadly.

A man strode through the kitchen carrying a pale dish on a tray.

“Oh! My soufflé!” cried Gracie. “It is. I know it is. I'd forgotten all about it, and you never reminded me!”

She almost ran to the master.

“Good-bye, maître! Au revoir. You have been all that is most amiable to us. Thank you. Thank you.”

“But—”

“Thank you again.”

Her tone was definite, imperative.

The master, puzzled, took the proffered highly manicured hand. She was reducing him to his proper social level, after all this pretence about maîtrise. But the master brought his defences into action.

“Too honoured!” he said, with geniality, with deference; and yet the steel breastplate glinted through. The touch of his hand round hers indicated the proud reserve which as the prince of his great world he was entitled to show to no matter whom. And the master consoled his pride further by a Gallic reflection upon the nature of beautiful girls. Toys! Still, Gracie had very much impressed him.

Gracie scurried off towards the frontier, Evelyn following.

“My soufflé! It's gone!”

And indeed a waiter was now disappearing with it over the frontier. The tail of Gracie's brilliant skirt disappeared after him. The whole kitchen was momentarily agitated by the flying spectacle.

When Evelyn and Gracie reached table No. 37, having traversed the staring restaurant in a scarcely dignified dash, the soufflé was already magically deposited on the side-table from which No.37 was served.

Sir Henry did not arrive till quite five minutes later. What remained of the soufflé was then cold. But Sir Henry did not fancy souffles.

“That fellow has a nerve!” thought Evelyn, “pumping the ingenuous Planquet before my face, and behind my back too!”

Chapter 16. ESCAPE

At ten minutes to eleven Evelyn said that urgent work compelled him to leave them. He had not asked Gracie to dance again, and she had given not the slightest sign that she wished him to do so. Time had passed quickly. Evelyn had been relating the somewhat melodramatic professional history of Maître Planquet. Also quite a number of minutes had gone to the business, suddenly undertaken by Gracie, of writing a note and sending it across to Nancy Penkethman and obtaining a reply.

“But you're coming upstairs to my little party later,” she said to Evelyn with a confident inviting smile. “You coming, daddy?” she added negligently to Sir Henry.

“No,” said Sir Henry, promptly, positively and curtly.

Gracie kept her smile waiting for Evelyn's answer. A smile which could not reasonably have been described otherwise than as irresistible. Since the visit to the kitchens her demeanour to the guest had been even more exquisitely agreeable than before. Forgotten, apparently, was the short passionate outburst concerning work!

“I'm afraid I mustn't,” Evelyn said quietly. He had no intention whatever of going to her party, to meet people whom he did not personally know, and of the frivolous, notorious sort, which he had no desire to know. Indeed he had been wondering how a unique girl such as Gracie, and a public power such as Lord Watlington, could have arrived at intimacy with smart, merely ornamental futilities such as Nancy Penkethman, Lady Devizes and the two tall Cheddars. Further, his sense of proportion, of the general plan of a day and of a life, made him hostile to the very idea of these suddenly, capriciously arranged festivities. Still further, he was tired, and he thought that Gracie ought to be tired too.

But he had a far stronger motive for refusing. He emphatically did not want to placard himself too strikingly with a famous girl like Gracie. Already (he recalled again and again) the entire upper-staff of his hotel was certainly aware that he had taken her to Smithfield at an ungodly hour that morning, and that immediately on their return to the Palace he had shown her over parts of the hotel. Also that she had been enquiring for him in the afternoon and had asked for the number of his car. And had he not dined with her that night? Was he not still, in fullest publicity, sitting at her father's table? Had she not danced with him? Had he not exhibited to her the kitchens of Maître Planquet? Impossible that he should add fatuity to indiscretion, and increase tittle-tattle, by going to her infantile party, which probably he would not be permitted to leave till 2 or 3 a.m.! And why should he imperil his next day's work by turning night into day? He was a serious man, admired, loved and feared by other serious men. He hated any form of notoriety for himself. And he would not yield to this bewildering, lovely chit.

“Oh! But you can't say 'No,'“ Gracie protested sweetly.

“Afraid I must,” Evelyn insisted, and rose to depart. “So many thanks for your hospitality,” he said in a formal tone, addressed equally to father and daughter.

“But I've told them you're coming!” said Gracie.

“Whom?”

“Nancy Penkethman. In my note. I've promised you to them.”

Evelyn laughed a little, saying: “A young woman as beautiful as you are is entitled to break any promise. I'm so sorry. Good night. I'm fearfully sorry.”

“I say, Orcham,” Sir Henry stopped him.

“Yes?”

“You aren't forgetting my message to you this morning?”

Evelyn acted shame and alarm.

“Upon my soul I was!” he exclaimed. “Old age! Old age. Do forgive me. You wanted to see me—wasn't it?”

“I'd like to have five minutes some time.”

“You and your five minutes!” thought Evelyn. “Do you imagine I can't see through you?” And aloud: “I'll be delighted if I can be of any use.”

“I'm busy to-morrow morning,” said Sir Henry.

“And my afternoon's full up,” Evelyn instantly retorted; and added, in a tone intentionally sardonic: “Our Annual Meeting.”

“Oh, really! Well, there's no frantic hurry,” said Sir Henry, very calm. “Shall we say day after to-morrow, or the day after that. I shall be here for a few days, might be here for a few weeks.” Evelyn drew out his pocket engagement-book and they fixed a rendezvous.

“It's coming at last,” said Evelyn to himself as he walked away. “As if the man didn't know I knew he knew all about the shareholders' meeting!” He was only sardonic, not apprehensive.

As for Gracie, the girl's smile, at parting, had lost none of its delicious, acquiescent sweetness. She might be erratic, wayward, unpredictable; but she had manners.

Evelyn went straight to his private office, satisfied with his own fortitude, but uncomfortable. He saw a thin line of light under the shut door. Miss Cass, hatted and coated, bag in one hand, was tidying his great desk. He was not expected in his office that night, and in the morning he liked the desk to be absolutely clear, save for a bottle of mineral water and a glass and some flowers.

“Anything urgent?” he demanded.

“No, sir. Nothing.”

The next moment Miss Cass was gone, having shown her usual reluctance to quit work. Three days a week she enjoyed evening-duty till 11 p.m.—for the hidden life of the Palace, never dreamt of by visitors, extended daily over a period of sixteen hours, and more—but Miss Cass would willingly have served every night till eleven o'clock, or even twelve; indeed, she hated to leave her subaltern in command of the Director's sacred welfare.

2.

Evelyn took a cigar out of a box of Partagas in the middle drawer of the desk. Having lit it, he telephoned to the manager's room, and instructed the assistant-manager, M. Cousin not being there, to see what could be done about changing the order of the two turns in the midnight cabaret. Then for some minutes he devoted himself to a cigar worthy of devotion. Then there was a knock at the door, and, without waiting for permission, entered—Gracie. Evelyn was really disturbed, by the thought not of a danger to come, but of a danger past. If Miss Cass had been present at this astounding incursion! If Miss Cass had met Gracie even near the door in the corridor! A beautiful, stylish girl, unannounced, without an appointment, a girl with whom he was already far too closely associated in the minds of the upper-staff, invading the holy of holies after eleven o'clock at night! And to find the secret retreat, she must have made an enquiry. Therefore some member of the staff knew of her visit! Therefore many others of the staff would soon know! Monstrous! Incredible! He had lived dangerously in his time; but among men of business, not in this fashion.

“May I come in?”

“But you are in!” Evelyn smiled humorously.

“Then you don't want to see me?”

“I'm delighted to see you.”

Evelyn was standing. Gracie approached the desk, and sat down opposite to him. Evelyn sat down.

“Now why won't you come to my tiny party?” she began at once. “You aren't working. You're only smoking.”

“Yes, I'm working,” he said. “You know, there's quite a lot of work goes on in this head of mine.”

He was rapidly recovering from the shock of her unlawful irruption. She made an enchanting picture in front of him. Before speaking again she opened her bag, and critically beheld her face in the mirror thereof.

“Do you know—I must tell you,” she said, “I'm sure you would prefer me to be straight with you. I must tell you you're misjudging me.”

“Misjudging you?”

“Yes. Or you wouldn't have said what you did about me being so beautiful I was entitled to break any promise. If I am rather good-looking, I can't help it. And I loathe the idea that good looks 'entitled' a girl to behave in a way that a plain girl wouldn't dare to behave in. I say I loathe it, and I do. I'm not that sort. I do hope you understand.” She was imploring comprehension.

“Yes,” Evelyn admitted sedately. “Quite. I oughtn't to have said it. But I was only joking. I never once thought you were that sort.” He would have preferred that their intimacy should not grow. But there it was, growing like the bean-stalk. And in spite of himself he was helping it to grow. “But I've got something to say, too,” he proceeded. “Why did you make that promise to your friends without asking me? I was there while you were writing the note. You might just as easily have asked me.”

“I might,” she murmured, as it were absently. She was now busy at her face, acting upon her own criticism of it. “I ought. But I didn't. I'm frightfully sorry. It was cheek. But as I've got myself into a hole, you won't leave me in it. You'll just lift me out of it like a perfect dear. Don't be a spoiled darling. It wouldn't suit you.”

Evelyn shook his head, smiling.

“I can't make out why you want me to come,” he said.

“No, of course you can't. That's why you're such a dear. I want you to come because you're wonderful.” Her eyes left the mirror and gazed at him.

“I'm not a bit wonderful,” he said.

“I know you mean that. But you aren't a judge. I'm a judge, and I tell you you're wonderful. And I'm dying to have you at my party.”

“Well,” he thought, “she's an enchantress all right. But not for me. And she can't come it over me. Why the devil should I go to her party if I don't want to? I'm not a friend of hers, and it's no use her pretending I am. I won't go. And I won't and I won't.”

But also he was thinking again, obscurely, that he must in some strange way have made an impression on her. And that she was bringing something new into his life. He was an extremely successful man. He had achieved his ambition. He had a passion for his work. He was at the very top of his world, secure. He had scaled Mount Everest, and there was no higher peak on earth. What else had he to live for, he, still under fifty? But she was bringing something new into his life. He had glimpses of vistas hitherto unnoticed. Was it conceivable that she was in love with him? Or was he a fatuous ass? If the former, what then? No, he was a mere hotel-keeper. True, her father had risen, and he had been an early riser, like Evelyn. But her father, though he had risen from a lower level than Evelyn, was a financier, immensely wealthy—if only on paper. And her father had begotten a daughter who in the last few years had raised him higher even than he was before. Through the magic of his daughter, he consorted on equal terms with the—well, with the smartest individuals in London. Evelyn tried to disdain smartness, but be did not completely succeed in disdaining it. Smartness had prestige for him. And he was a mere hotel-keeper. What absurd nonsense! Yes, absurd nonsense, but there it was! She was a marvellous girl. In two seconds he lived again through the whole of his day with her. Marvellous! He was free to marry. But as a wife, what a hades of a nuisance would the marvellous girl be! Liability; not asset.

“And I've been thinking these ridiculous thoughts for hours!” he said to himself, admitting that his mind was as disorderly as any girl's.

He said lightly to her:

“I hope you aren't really dying. I hope you won't die: because I honestly can't come. I've got an appointment in ten minutes from now. I should love to come, but—” He broke off. “You do believe me, don't you?”

“I'm not sure,” she replied quietly, sadly. “I'm terribly suspicious, I can't help it, but I've a feeling you're treating me the same as you did when we began to dance.”

“Oh! How?”

“Holding me off. I'm more frank than you like, and it makes you afraid.”

Here indeed was candour—candour either brazen or magnificently courageous! He was shaken by the strong, sudden force of a temptation to yield, to go to her party. Why not? He had no appointment; he had nothing to do; and the sense of fatigue had left him. Her candour had expressed the exact truth about him, whether she knew it was the truth or not. He now desired to go to the party, to throw up his hands and say comically: “Come along. Upstairs. The lift! The lift! I can't wait.” It was not that he was the least bit in love with her. If she attracted him, he did not know why. She had beauty, but he was not a man to over-estimate the value of feminine beauty; he had held beauty in his arms. She had brains, or what in a woman passed for brains; but he was alive enough to the defects of her brilliant mental apparatus, and he esteemed that her brain was much inferior to his own. He had, in fact, a certain sex-bias.

Nevertheless he desired to go to her impromptu party. That is to say, he desired to stay in her company, hated to let her out of his sight, feared that if he did he would regret having done so. She intrigued him considerably; and he admired her manners, and keenly savoured her admiration: that was all. But was it not sufficient? The party would assuredly be amusing, and if it was not amusing he could leave it. As for the gossip of the staff, to think twice about such a trifle was childish. Every one of his reasons for refusing her was either false or utterly silly. The trouble perhaps was that he was too proud to go, too proud to withdraw his word and surrender. He had said he could not go, and he would not go—not if he should have to regret his obstinacy for evermore. Why the devil could she not take 'No' for an answer?...Forcing herself into his private office as she had done!

“I must ask you to forgive me,” he said, with a smile as sad as her smile.

“You've been very patient with me,” she sighed, and snapped her bag to, and rose. “Good night.”

“Good night.” He followed her to the door and opened it.

“I'll see you to the lift,” he said. She turned on him, transformed.

“No, please! I couldn't bear that!”

Fury, resentment, anger were in her rich voice. She banged the door, wrenching the handle out of his hand.

What an escape—for him, not for her! But an iron weight seemed to have settled in his stomach. And he was blanketed in a heavy melancholy. He said aloud in the empty, desolated office: “Have I ruined my life? Was this the turning-point?”

Chapter 17. 2 A.M. TO 3 A.M.

Evelyn woke up in a state of some bewilderment. His feet felt cramped. He looked at them and saw that he was still wearing his evening shoes; also his dress-suit; also that many lights were burning; and finally, that instead of being in bed, as he had assumed, he lay on the sofa in the sitting-room of his private suite. Then, gradually passing into full wakefulness, he remembered that he had sunk on the sofa, not to sleep, but to reflect, to clear his thoughts, before getting to bed. He glanced at the clock, which announced twenty minutes to two, and at first he was sceptical as to its reliability; but his watch confirmed the clock. Characteristic of the man of order that he at once wound up his watch!

He rose uncertainly to his cramped feet, and lit a cigarette. He had slept without a dream for nearly two hours and a half; surprising consequence of extreme fatigue! His body appeared to him to be as refreshed and restored as though he had slept the usual six hours. He must now really get to bed.

But his brain was furiously active, engaged in an unending round of thought:

“That damned party is still going on. There were pros and cons, but I ought to have accepted the invitation. I was a fool to refuse. It was nothing after all. Only a little improvised party. Surely I was entitled to refuse. Surely she might have taken No for an answer. Her outburst was inexcusable, and it showed what she's capable of. The damned party is still going on. There were pros and cons, but I ought—”

And so on without end. Revolutions of an enormous fly-wheel in his brain, dangerously too big for his brain, leaving no space therein for such matters large and small as the substitution of Miss Powler for Miss Brury and vice versa, the changing about of the two cabaret turns, the vague Machiavellian menace of Sir Henry Savott, the everlasting problem of the downward curve in expenditure per head of customers in the restaurant, etc.

He glanced around the sitting-room, where everything exactly fitted his personality and everything was in its place; home of tranquillising peace; but now disturbed by a mysterious influence. No peace in the room now. He had held the room to be inviolable; but it had been violated—and by no physical presence. And Evelyn was no longer, as formerly, in accord with the infinite scheme of the universe, with the supreme creative spirit. He had never consciously felt that he had been in such accord. Only now that he was in disaccord did he realise that till then he had been in accord. Disconcerting perceptions! Curse and curse and curse the girl! She carried hell and heaven about with her, portable! She was just not good enough. She continually flouted heaven's first law...No hope of sleep. To get to bed would be absurd and futile. He would go downstairs. To do so might stop the fly-wheel.

He opened the door, extinguished all the lights, shut the door, opened it to be sure that he had extinguished all the lights. The dark room seemed to be full of minatory intimidations: a microcosm of invisible forces hitherto unsuspected. He shut the door on them; but soon he would have to open it again.

Descending a short flight of stairs, he walked along the main corridor of the floor below his own, under the regularly recurring lamps in the ceiling, past the numbered doors, each with a bunch of electric signal bulbs over its lintel. Inhabited rooms, many of them—not all, for it was the slack season—transient homes, nests, retreats of solitaries or of couples. Shut away in darkness, or in darkness mitigated by a bed-lamp. Some sleeping: some lying awake. Pathos behind the closed, blind doors. Not only on that floor, but on all the Floors. Floor below floor. He always felt it on his nocturnal perambulations of the Imperial Palace. And he could never decide whether the solitaries or the couples, the sleepers or the sleepless, were the more pathetic. The unconsciousness of undefended sleep was pathetic. The involuntary vigil was pathetic. Salt of the earth these wealthy residents in the largest and most luxurious luxury hotel on earth, deferentially served by bowing waiters, valets, maids! They pressed magic buttons, and their caprices were instantly gratified. But to Evelyn they were as touching as the piteous figures crouching and shivering in the lamp-lit night on the benches of the Thames Embankment.

He rang for the lift. Up it promptly came, and a pale, sprightly, young uniformed human being in it, who not long since had been a page-boy and was now promoted to the distinguished status of liftman. Night was common day to him; for, as hair grows night and day, so did the service of the Palace function night and day, heedless of sun and moon.

“Evening, Ted.”

“Good evening, sir.”

“Let me see, how many years have you been with us?”

“Six, sir.”

“Excellent! Excellent!...Ground-floor, please.” Evelyn noticed the No. 3 on the lift-well as the cage fell from floor to floor. The third floor was the floor of the party. Renewed disturbance in his brain! “When do you come on day-work?”

“I hope in five weeks, sir.”

''Ah!”

The mirrored lift stopped. The grille slid backwards. Evelyn stepped out.

“Thank you, sir,” said Ted, sat down, and resumed the perusal of thrilling fiction.

The great hall was empty of guests; the scintillating foyer too. The entrance to the ladies' cloak-room glowed with brilliant light. A footman stood at the entrance to the darker gentlemen's cloakroom, and within, at the counter, the head-attendant there was counting out money from a box. And in the still glittering restaurant only one table was effectively occupied—by two men and a woman. All the other tables were oblong or round expanses of bare white cloth. Eight or nine waiters shifted restlessly to and fro. A gigolo and his female colleague—the last remaining on duty of a corps of six—sat at a tiny table apart.

The orchestra, which Evelyn could not see from his peeping place, began to play a waltz, which reverberated somehow mournfully in the vast, nearly deserted interior. The professional dancers rose, attendant, then advanced. The gigolo took the woman from the table of three, his companion took one of the men. The second man stayed at the table and passed the time in paying the bill. The waiter bowed, ceremoniously grateful, as he received back the plate with a note and a pile of silver on it. To Evelyn the waltz seemed interminable, and the two lone couples on the floor the very images of pleasure struggling against fatigue and the burden of the night. The female gigolo was young and elegant; she must get some handsome tips, Evelyn thought. “Tips! My God!” he murmured to himself, recalling that in one week in June the waiters' tips in the restaurant had totalled more than eight hundred pounds. The waiters kept their own accounts, but they were submitted to Cousin, who submitted them now and then to Evelyn.

The orchestra, after threatening never to cease, most startlingly ceased. But at once it burst vivaciously and majestically into “God Save the King.” The three males stood to attention; the women stood still. Then the three guests sat down again at their table, and Evelyn could hear the murmurs of their talk; he could hear also the movements of the departing band. The professional dancers had vanished. The waiters waited. At length the trio of guests left the sick scene of revelry, and came up the steps into the foyer. Evelyn turned his back on them. In a moment the table was emptied. In three more moments every cloth had been snatched off the rows of tables, and every table changed from white to dark green. The two male guests continued to talk in the gentlemen's cloak-room. The woman had disappeared into the ladies' cloak-room apparently for ever. But she came forth. The trio renewed conversation. Never would they go. They went, slowly, reluctantly, up the stairs into the great hall. The restaurant and the foyer were dark now, save for one light in each. The head-attendant of the vestiaire was manipulating switches. The entrance to the ladies' cloak-room was black.

“Ludovico!” Evelyn called to the last black-coated man, taunting the gloom of the restaurant. Ludovico span round, espied, and came hastening.

“Sir?”

“Did Volivia perform first or second in the second cabaret?”

“First, sir. The other turn—clown, I forget his name, sir—refused to appear first.”

“Why?”

Ludovico raised his shoulders.

“All right, thanks. Good night.”

And Ludovico ran down the steps again, and he too vanished. The gentlemen's cloak-room was black and empty. The great hall was silent, the foyer deserted except by Evelyn. The public night-life of the Imperial Palace had finished. But not the private night-life.

Refusing the lift, with a wave of the hand to the liftman, Evelyn began to climb the stairs; but he was arrested by the sight of the gigolo (coat-collar turned up, and a grey muffler wrapped thickly round his neck) and the girl-dancer (with a thin cloak hanging loosely over her frail evening frock). The pair were walking about two yards apart, the woman a little in front of the man: bored, fatigued, weary. For the purpose of symbolising the graceful joy of life he had held her in his arm a dozen times during the long spell of work; but now each displayed candidly a complete indifference to the other; each had had a surfeit of the other. They passed through the melancholy gloom of the foyer, up into the great hall, and at the revolving doors thereof Long Sam negligently saluted them—too negligently, thought captious Evelyn. He followed, aimless, but feeling a sickly interest in them.

Approaching the doors, he acknowledged Long Sam's impressive salute with rather more than the negligence which Long Sam had dispensed to the working dancers—just to punish him! Through the glass Evelyn saw the pair standing under the gigantic marquise, reputed to weigh several tons. They exchanged infrequent monosyllables. The gigolo shivered; not the girl. Then a taxi drove up, with a porter perched on the driver's step. The gigolo opened the taxi and the girl got in. Bang! The taxi curved away and was lost in the darkness.

The gigolo departed on foot. His feet traced a path as devious as a field-path. Fatigue? And he also receded into invisibility. Where did he live? Why did he not drive home, like the girl? What was his private life? And what the girl's? After all, they were not dancing marionettes; they were human beings, with ties of sentiment or duty. What was the old age of a gigolo? There was something desolate in that slow, listless, meandering departure.

2.

“Morbid is the word for me to-night,” thought Evelyn, as he turned towards the hall and nodded amiably to Reyer, the night-manager, who stood behind the Reception-counter as listless as the dancers. His mind was not specially engaged with Gracie; he was afflicted by the conception of all mankind, of the whole mournful earthly adventure. He began a second time to climb the stairs. It was his practice to make at intervals a nocturnal tour of inspection of the hotel; so that the night-staff saw nothing very unusual in his presence and movements.

He walked eastwards the length of the first-floor main corridor all lighted and silent, and observed nothing that was abnormal. Then up one flight of the east staircase, and westwards the length of the second-floor main corridor. At the end of it, he looked into the waiters' service-room. It was lighted but empty. By day it would be manned by two waiters. From midnight till 8 a.m. only two waiters with one valet and one chambermaid were on duty for all the hotel, and they ranged from floor to floor according to demand. Among them they contrived to make good the quiet boast of the Palace that hot and cold dishes and cold and hot drinks could be served in any apartment at any hour of the night; for the grill-room kitchens, unlike the restaurant kitchens, were open all night as well as all day. The sole difference between night and day on the Floors was that in the night, instead of ringing for a waiter, guests had to telephone their orders to the central telephone office, which transmitted them.

Evelyn minutely inspected and tested the impeccably tidy service-room: the telephone to the central switchboard, the telephone phone direct to the bill-office, the gravity-tubes which carried order-checks to the kitchen and bills and cash to the bill-office, the geyser, the double lift with a hot shelf and a cold shelf; the books of bill-forms and order-checks, the ice, the machine for shaving ice to put round oysters, the dry tea, the milk, the mineral waters, the fruit, the bread, the biscuits, the condiments, the crockery, the cocktail jugs, the iced-water jugs, the silver and cutlery all stamped with the number of the floor, the stock-lists hung on the wall, and the electrically controlled clock which also hung on the yellow wall. Nothing wrong. (Once he had memorably discovered fourth-floor silver in the fifth-floor service-room: mystery which disconcerted all the floor-waiters, and which was never solved!) Everything waiting as in a trance for a life-giving summons. He went out of the room content with the organisation every main detail of which he had invented or co-ordinated years ago, and which he was continually watchful to improve.

Back again along the corridor, up another flight of stairs to the third-floor corridor lighted and silent. Room No. 359. Rooms Nos. 360-1. Rooms Nos. 362-3-4. Rooms Nos.365-6-7-8 Not a sound through that door: which was hardly surprising, in view of another quiet boast of the Palace that no noise from a corridor could be heard in a room, and no noise from a room in a corridor. Was she asleep, and in what kind of a night-dress—or would it be pyjamas? Or was her party still drinking, chattering, laughing, smoking, card-playing?

Then in the distance of the interminable corridor he descried two white tables drawn apart from the herd of tables that stood at the door of every service-room. And then both night-waiters emerged from the service-room with dishes, bottles and glasses which they began to dispose on the two tables. Evelyn turned swiftly back, and concealed himself in the bay of a linen-closet. After a few moments he heard the trundling of indiarubber-tyred castors on the carpet of the corridor, the fitting of a pass-key into a door, the opening of a door, more trundling. Then he looked forth. Corridor empty. Door of Nos. 365-6-7-8 half open. Both waiters were doubtless within the suite. He came out of the bay, and walked steadily down the corridor. Blaze of light in the lobby of the suite. Hats and coats on the hat-stand. Animated murmur of voices through the open door between the lobby and the drawing-room. Impossible to distinguish her voice. He went on, and into the service-room, which was in all the disorder of use. The pink order-check book lay on the little desk near the telephone. He examined the last two carbons in it. Suite 365. Time, 1.51. Two bottles 43. (He knew that 43 was Bollinger 1917.) One Mattoni. One China tea. One kummel. One consommé. Six haddock Côte d'Azur. Quite a little banquet before dawn: stirrup cups, no doubt! What a crew of wastrels! What untriumphant, repentant mornings they must have! But he felt excluded by his own act from paradise. He gazed and gazed. A telephone tinkled. He took up the receiver. “421—four, two, one—”

A waiter returned into the cubicle, maintaining at sight of the Director an admirable impassivity.

“Here, Armand. Telephone,” said Evelyn, with equal impassivity. He handed over the receiver and left. The other waiter was disappearing at the other end of the corridor, on his way back to his permanent post on the fourth floor.

Evelyn marched as it were defiantly, but on feet apparently not his own, past No. 365. Door shut. No sound of revelry by night...He would not continue his tour of inspection. He could not go to bed. He descended, flight after flight of the lighted, silent staircase; glimpse after glimpse of lighted and silent corridors, all so subtly alive with mysterious, dubious implications. The great hall had not changed. Reyer leaned patient on his counter, staring at a book. Long Sam and one of his janissaries stood mute and still near the doors. The other janissary was examining the marine prints on the walls. As soon as he saw Evelyn he moved from the wall as though caught in flagrant sin.

“What's it like outside, Sam?” Evelyn called out loudly from the back of the hall.

“Fine, sir. A bit sharp;

Evelyn would have gone for a tranquillising walk, but he hesitated to travel back to the eighth floor for hat and overcoat, and he would not send for them. He spoke to Reyer:

“I suppose there are no overcoats not working around here anywhere?”

“I'm afraid not, sir.”

“All right. Never mind. I only thought I'd go out for a minute or two.”

“Have mine, sir. May be on the small side, mais à la rigueur—” He smiled.

While Evelyn was hesitating, Reyer dashed through a door far behind the counter, and returned with an overcoat and a hat. Long Sam helped Evelyn into the difficult overcoat.

“Not too bad,” said Reyer, flattered, proud, and above all exhilarated by this extraordinary and astonishing break in the terrible monotony of the night.

“Splendid!” said Evelyn, nodding thanks.

A showy, but cheap and flimsy overcoat. No warmth in it. Very different from Evelyn's overcoats. (Unfamiliar things in the pockets.) Well, Reyer was only a young night-manager. Fair salary. But not a sixteen-guinea-overcoat salary. A narrow, strictly economical existence, Reyer's. The hat was too large, at least it was too broad, for Evelyn. Now Evelyn had a broad head, and he believed in the theory that unusual width between the ears indicates sagacity and good judgment. Strange he had not previously noticed the shape of modest Reyer's head! He would keep an eye on Reyer. A janissary span the doors for his exit.

3.

The thoroughfare which separated the Imperial Palace from St. James's Park was ill-lit. Evelyn had tried to persuade Authority to improve the lighting; in vain. But his efforts to establish a cab-rank opposite the hotel had succeeded, after prodigious delays. Two taxis were now on the rank; and there were two motor-cars in the courtyard. The chauffeurs dozed; the taxi-drivers talked and smoked pipes. He crossed the road and leaned his back against the railings of the Park, and looked up at the flood-lit white tower over the centre of the Palace façade.

By that device of the gleaming tower at any rate he had out-flanked the defensive reaction of Authority. The tower was a landmark even from Piccadilly, across two parks; and simple provincials were constantly asking, “What's that thing?” and knowing Londoners replying: “That? That's the Imperial Palace Hotel.” But nowhere on any façade of the hotel did the words 'Imperial Palace' appear. Evelyn would never permit them to appear. He believed deeply in advertising, but not in direct advertising. Direct advertising was not suited to the unique prestige of the Imperial Palace.

In the façade a few windows burned here and there, somehow mournfully. He knew the exact number of guests staying in the hotel that night; but their secrets, misfortunes, anxieties, hopes, despairs, tragedies, he did not know. And he would have liked to know every one of them, to drench himself in the invisible fluid of mortal things. He was depressed. He wanted sympathy, and to be sympathetic, to merge into humanity. But he was alone. He had no close friend, no lovely mistress—save the Imperial Palace. The Palace was his life. And what was the Palace, the majestic and brilliant offspring of his creative imagination and of his organising brain? It had been everything. Now, for the moment, it was naught.

“What a damned fool I am!” he reflected. “Why the devil am I so down? I don't care twopence about the confounded girl. Am I, the hotel-world-famous Evelyn Orcham, to go running around like a boy after a girl? It's undignified. And I don't mind who she is, or what she is! Anyway I've taught her a lesson!”

He withdrew his body from the support of the Park railings, and walked briskly westwards. Restlessness of the trees in the chill wind! Large rectilinear dim shapes of the enormous Barracks (whose piercing early bugles made the sole flaw, in the marvellous tranquillity of the hotel). Then the looming front of Buckingham Palace, the other Palace! And even there, high up, a solitary window burned. Why? What secret did that illuminated square conceal? He felt a sudden constriction of the throat, and after a long pause turned back. Three motor-cars in quick succession hummed and drummed eastwards. Eternal restlessness of trees beyond the railings! He thought he could detect the watery odour of the lake in the Park. The seagulls had revisited it in scores that day. He had seen them circling in flocks over the lake. Very romantic. What a situation for a hotel in the midst of a vast city! He walked as far as Whitehall, too melancholy and dissatisfied even to think connectedly. And at last he re-entered the Palace. One of the taxis had gone, and both the motor-cars. Everything as usual in the great hall. Reyer behind his counter.

“Much obliged,” he said, smiling with factitious cheerfulness, as he gave up the overcoat and the large soft hat.

“Not at all, sir,” answered Reyer, pleased.

“That the night-book?”

Reyer handed the book to him. He read, among other entries:

“Three ladies and two gentlemen left No. 365 at 3.5. One of them was Lady Devizes.”

Evelyn thought: “She's by herself now. Perhaps her maid is undressing her. She must be terribly exhausted, poor little thing.” She was pathetic to him.

“My floor, please,” he said to the liftman, and went to bed. Next morning among the early departures he saw the name of Miss Savott.

Chapter 18. THE VACANT SITUATION

Just before noon, on the morning of Gracie's most unexpected departure, Evelyn was entering the Palace after a business interview in Whitehall. He felt tired, but he had slept, and none but a close student of eyes and of the facial muscles which surround them would have guessed that he was tired. Evelyn could successfully ignore fatigue. Indeed he now took pride in the fact that after two very short nights and one very long and emotionally exhausting day, and with a critical day still in front of him, he had deliberately intensified the critical quality of the latter by adding to his anxieties the inception of a new and delicate task: which task concerned the future of Miss Violet Powler.

As for Gracie, he had learnt that she had left for the Continent by the 9 a.m. train—not the more fashionable 11 a.m train—with the whole of her luggage and a maid whose arm was in a sling. Sir Henry had not seen her off, and was remaining in the hotel. Evelyn surmised that the impulsive girl had chosen the earlier train because in the circumstances it was just as easy for her as the other, if not easier. Doubtless she had said to herself: “I'm up late. I'll stay up, and catch the first train. That will give me two hours less in his ghastly hotel, and two hours more in Paris.” For Paris was certainly her destination. Where else should she go? He surmised further that, if her maid was disabled, Gracie had done her own packing, and the maid's too. He was sure that she was 'that sort.' Also she was the sort that could take pride in ignoring fatigue. A point of resemblance between them! He liked to think of the resemblance. Of course her departure was the result of pique. Well, let it be! He found a sardonic pleasure in her pique. Do her good! His emotions about her were evaporating with extreme rapidity in the fresh air and the common sense of morning. He needed nobody to tell him, for he could tell himself, that no young woman, however enchanting, could make a lasting impression upon the susceptibilities of a wise man old enough to be her father in an acquaintanceship of sixteen or seventeen hours. She had been calmly but firmly ejected from his mind. Nothing of the astounding episode stayed in his mind except inevitable masculine self-satisfaction at a sentimental conquest, and shame for the absurd feelings which had disturbed his soul after her resentful outburst until he finally settled for the night. One might call him a fish, not a warm-blooded man; but such now was his mental condition, pleasing or the reverse.

Passing through the ever-spinning doors into the great hall he gave a benevolent nod to Mowlem, the day hall-porter, who rendered back the salute with equal benevolence and more grandeur.

Mowlem was one of about a dozen members of the staff each of whom considered himself the most important member of the staff—after Evelyn. He was quite as tall as Sam, and broader, but he pretended to no physical prowess. On the very rare occasions when law and order seemed to be in danger in the great hall he had methods subtler than Long Sam's of meeting the situation. American citizens nearly always became his friends. Once, an ex-President of the United States, suffering from the English climate and insomnia, had caused Mowlem to be roused from bed, and the two coevals had spent a large part of a night in intimate converse. Mowlem was understood to be writing, with expert assistance, a book of reminiscences of the Imperial Palace entrance-hall, for a comfortable sum of money.

While crossing the hall, Evelyn heard his own name spoken in a discreet feminine voice behind him.

“Can you give me one minute?” asked Mrs. O'Riordan, who also had been out on an errand.

The head-housekeeper in her street attire looked as smart and as spry as any visitor, and she was modestly but confidently conscious of this momentous fact.

“Two,” said Evelyn, having glanced at the clock.

He moved towards a corner at the end of the Reception counter, and the Irish 'mother' of the Palace followed him.

“I think I've found someone to take Miss Brury's place,” said Mrs. O'Riordan, confidentially murmuring. “She's young, but she's had experience, and—she's a gentlewoman.”

“That's good,” said Evelyn, cautiously, recalling the head housekeeper's theory about the advantage of engaging gentlewomen as floor-housekeepers.

He divined at once that Mrs. O'Riordan was specially anxious to be persuasive. Her grey hair never prevented her from exercising a varied charm, of which charm she was very well aware. As she stood before him, he could plainly see in her, not the widow aged sixty-two, but a vivacious Irish maiden of twenty-five or so. The maiden peeped out of Mrs. O'Riordan's bright eyes, was heard in her lively though subdued voice, and apparent in the slight quick gestures of her gloved hands. At her best, and when she chose, Mrs. O'Riordan had no age. The accent which she had put on the word 'think' was a diplomatic trick, to hide the fact that she had decided positively on the successor to Miss Brury. And the successor was no doubt a protégée of the head-housekeeper's, a favoured aspirant. Assuredly Mrs. O'Riordan had not discovered the exactly right girl by chance in the last twenty-four hours. He foresaw complications, a new situation to be handled; the tentacles of his brain stretched out to seize the situation.

2.

Then he noticed a young woman in converse with Mowlem. A young woman dignified, self-possessed, neat, carefully and pleasingly clad; but at a glance obviously not a gentlewoman. Withal, Mowlem was treating her as a gentlewoman; for the old man had the same demeanour towards everybody. Never would Mowlem have been guilty of the half-disdainful demeanour which on the previous night Long Sam had adopted to the professional dancers. The young woman was Violet Powler, certainly telling Mowlem that she had an appointment with the Director for noon, and enquiring the way to his office.

Evelyn, because he was tired and had a full day's work before him, had boyishly determined to straighten out the Brury affair without any delay, and Miss Cass had received early instructions to get Miss Powler on the telephone at the Laundry. He averted his face from the doors so that Violet should not see him.

“Perhaps you would like to have just a look at her?” Mrs. O'Riordan suggested.

“Yes, I should,” he smiled. “But you can take her references and have everything ready in the meantime. Only don't clinch it. I have someone in mind myself for the job.”

Mrs. O'Riordan did not blench, but that she was somewhat dashed was clear to Evelyn. Inevitably she was dashed.

“Oh, of course,” she said with sweet deference. “If that's it—”

“Not at all!” Evelyn smiled again, and more lightly. “You go on with yours, and we'll see. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if yours is far more suitable than mine.”

“Is she a gentlewoman, may I ask?” Mrs. O'Riordan asked.

Evelyn's eyes quizzed her.

“That depends on what you call a gentlewoman. She's had what I should call a very good education.”

“But her people?”

“Her father's a great traveller.” Evelyn wanted to laugh outright and boldly add: “A town-traveller.” But prudence stayed him.

“Oh!” murmured Mrs. O'Riordan, indicating that she did not feel quite sure about the social status of great travellers, and indeed that there were great travellers and great travellers.

At this moment Evelyn was excusably startled by a most unexpected and strange sight: Sir Henry Savott talking to Violet Powler, three or four yards down the hall, away from the doors. Sir Henry was smiling; Violet Powler was not; but the two had an air of some intimacy. What next? Evelyn kept his nerve.

“Well, I shall be hearing from you,” he said to Mrs. O'Riordan, and departed quietly in the direction of his office.

Naturally he could appoint whomever he liked to a floor-housekeepership in the Palace. And none would cavil. But peace, real peace, had to be maintained, and immense experience had taught him the difficulty of eliminating friction from the relations between women, even gentlewomen! There was nothing he feared more in the organism of the Imperial Palace than secret friction. Moreover he knew what he owed, of respect and fair dealing, to the faithful and brilliant Mrs. O'Riordan. But he was absolutely set on appointing Violet Powler. The idea of doing so was his, and he had an intuition—he who derided intuitions in other people—that it would prove satisfactory. He admitted to himself that he had his work cut out.

Chapter 19. POWDER AND ROUGE

“This interview is unofficial,” said Evelyn.

Violet Powler was sitting opposite to him on the other side of the big desk in the Director's private office. She had loosened her black cloak, and Evelyn saw under it the same blue frock which she had been wearing on the previous afternoon. Her hat was a plain felt. He could see nothing of her below the waist. He remembered that her feet were not small, nor her ankles slim; but he could not recall whether she had high-heeled shoes. As a housekeeper at the Imperial Palace she would have to wear black, and high heels, and he rather thought that the force of public opinion among the housekeepers would corrupt her to make up her face. Those pale pink lips would never do on the Floors of the Palace. If she kept them untinted every floor-housekeeper would say on the quiet to every other floor-housekeeper that poor Violet—what a Christian name! Battersea or Peckham Rye all over!—had been imported from the Laundry, and what could you expect?...No!

He had been inclined yesterday to regard her as beautiful; but now, detached, rendered a little cynical by recent events, he decided that she was not beautiful. Her features were regular. She was personable. It was her facial expression—sensible, sober, calm, kindly, contented—that pleased him. She would have no moods, no caprices. She was certainly not one of your yearners after impossible dreams, your chronic dissatisfied, all ups and downs. Even Mrs. O'Riordan had moods, despite her mature age.

“The matter is in the hands of Mrs. O'Riordan, our head-housekeeper,” Evelyn said further. “I've really nothing to do with it. But I thought I'd better find out first whether you thought the job would suit you. We want a new floor-housekeeper here. There are eight Floors and eight floor-housekeepers.”

He then told Miss Powler what were the duties of a floor-housekeeper. He told her with an occasional faint glint of humour. Her serious face did not once relax; but he fancied that he could detect a faint answering glint in her brown eyes. He was determined to see the glint in her eyes, because he had discovered her as a candidate for floor-housekeepership; as such she was his creation; therefore she simply had to be perfect, and without humour she could not be perfect. (Not that many of the floor-housekeepers had humour. Mrs. O'Riordan generally had, but sometimes hadn't.) Still, he was obliged to admit that Miss Powler's eyes were less promising to-day than yesterday. Yesterday, however, she was at home in her own office. To-day she was in the formidable office of the Director, and might be nervous. Yesterday he had acquitted her of all nerves.

“It really all comes down to a question of human relations,” he finished. “I'm quite sure you could manage the chambermaids excellently. They're the same class as our laundry-maids, and you know them. But the visitors are a very different proposition, and quite as difficult. And partly for the same reason. The supply of chambermaids is not equal to the demand. Neither is the supply of guests.” He almost laughed.

Miss Powler's lips relaxed at the corners into a cautious momentary smile.

“You mean, sir,” said she, gravely, straightening her already straight back, “I've been used to being given in to, and with guests I should have to give in.”

A crude phrase, but it showed that she had got down to essentials.

“Not give in, only seem to give in,” he corrected her. “Say a bedroom's cold because the visitor hasn't had the sense to turn on the radiator. Well you turn it on, and fiddle about with it, and then admit that there was something wrong with it, but you've put it right, and if it isn't right you'll send a man up to see to it. Then just before you leave you say: 'These radiators are rather peculiar'—they aren't—'may I show you how they turn on?' You've won, but the guest thinks she's won. It's always a she. No. That's not fair. It isn't always a she. Mrs. O'Riordan says there's nobody more exasperating than a New York stockbroker all strung up after five days' strenuous business life at sea in a liner.” Violet did smile. “It appears that American men are super-sensitive to the bugle-calls in the mornings. Wellington Barracks next door, you know. Those bugles can't be explained away. They'd wake Pharaoh in his pyramid. I've thought of keeping a graph to show the curve of explosions of temper due to those bugles. Probably about half a dozen a week. Well, you always say that the bugles were unusually loud that morning; you've never heard them so loud before; and that I'm negotiating with the War Office to get them done away with. I'm not of course. But it soothes the awakened, especially if you admit that the bugles are absolutely inexcusable. As they are. Put them in the right, and they'll eat out of your hand, visitors will. If you argue you're lost. So's the hotel. Now I've given you a sort of general idea. What about it?”

“I should like to try,” said Violet with composure. “I often have to do much the same with my laundry-maids.”

Evelyn laughed.

“If I may say so,” Violet added.

“I think you may,” said Evelyn. And to himself: “She's all right. But I'd better not be too funny.” He said in a formal tone: “Then I'll mention you to Mrs. O'Riordan.”

“Thank you, sir. I'm very much obliged to you for thinking of me,” said Violet, with dignified gratitude.

“Of course there would have to be a period of training.”

“Yes, sir. I understand that.”

“But in your case it oughtn't to be long...In your place I wouldn't say a word at the Laundry. Mrs. O'Riordan might have somebody else she prefers.”

“No, sir. Of course.” Violet spoke here without conviction. Her steady face seemed to say: “You aren't going to tell me that this Mrs. O'Riordan will refuse anyone that's been mentioned to her by you.”

Sbe rose to leave, for Evelyn's manner amiably indicated that the interview was over. Evelyn did not move from his chair. Suddenly he decided that he would just touch on a detail which had been intriguing him throughout the interview, but which he had hesitated to bring into the conversation.

“I happened to see you talking to Sir Henry Savott in the hall. Then you know the great man?” He spoke with bright friendliness, socially, as one human being to another, not as a prospective employer to a prospective employee.

“Well, sir. I know him, if you call it knowing. He came up to me—in the hall. My sister was his housekeeper, at a house he had at Claygate—he sold it afterwards. My sister was ill in the house, and as I happened to be free, I was engaged to do her work, for a month. Of course I could see my sister every day, and she kept me right. I could always ask her.” Violet's demeanour was perfectly natural and tranquil, but reserved. She added: “It's a small world; but I've heard it said you meet everyone in the hall of this hotel, sooner or later.” She smiled, looking Evelyn straight in the face.

“But this is very interesting,” said Evelyn, animated. He was intrigued still more; for, like many other people, he had heard all sorts of stories about Sir Henry's domestic life. “Then you do know something of housekeeping?”

“A little, sir. I think I managed it all right. But of course, as I say, I had my sister to tell me things.”

“A large staff?”

“About forty, sir—indoor and outdoor. My sister had charge of everything, indoor and outdoor.”

“Then you had charge of everything?”

“Yes, sir. But my sister was there.”

“Sir Henry entertained a lot?”

“Yes, sir. A very great deal, and often without warning us.” Evelyn opened Miss Powler's dossier, which contained, among other things, her references and testimonials.

“You didn't say anything about this, I see, when you came to us.”

“Oh no, sir.”

“I suppose you didn't count it as a regular engagement.”

“No, sir. And it was so short. But if I had asked him I think Sir Henry would have given me a testimonial.”

“Was Lady Savott there?”

“Oh no, sir.” Just a slight betraying emphasis on the 'no.' “I've never seen her ladyship.”

“Then you left, and your sister took on the work again.”

“Yes, sir, for a bit.”

“She left. No?”

“My sister is dead, sir.”

“Oh!” Evelyn's face showed sympathy. “She was older than you?”

“Yes, sir. Five years. Nearly six.”

“Did she die in the house?”

“No, sir. After she'd left. Sir Henry asked me to go back. But I was very comfortable at the Laundry then. So I didn't go. I don't believe much in chopping and changing.”

“Quite. You know Miss Gracie?”

“Yes, sir.”

“She was living in the house?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

“An extraordinary young lady, isn't she?”

“Yes, sir,” Violet replied with imperturbable blandness; but their eyes somehow exchanged a transient glance of implications—or Evelyn thought so.

2.

Perhaps, he thought, she should not have put any implications into her glance. On the other hand perhaps he himself should not have used the inviting word 'extraordinary' about Miss Gracie. The fact was, that when he liked the person to whom he was talking, he had a tendency to speak too freely. He had often observed this in himself. He admitted that Violet had taken little or no advantage of his friendly social tone. No expansiveness in her short, guarded answers to his inquisition! Discretion itself!

He felt inclined to try to break down her discretion. Not in order to get at secrets, though he divined that there were secrets, but simply for the pleasure of breaking down her discretion. A slight, impish wantonness in him. He checked it. The disclosure about Miss Powler's professional sojourn at Sir Henry's house was very agreeable to him. It would help him in his handling of Mrs. O'Riordan. In his mind he instantly composed the tale which he would relate to Mrs. O'Riordan. She could never withstand its allurement. Large house. House of a millionaire. Staff of forty. Everything managed by Violet, who had taken control at a moment's notice, and had given entire satisfaction. And had said nothing about her success to anyone. He would say nothing about the sister giving counsel in the background. Or he would only casually allude to the sister. He could make an irresistible story, and the more irresistible because of his now-strengthened conviction that Violet was a real 'find,' and would soon prove herself a pearl among Palace floor-housekeepers. Strange glance she had given him in accepting his suggestion that Miss Gracie was an extraordinary young lady!

He rose, gaily. Yes, she had high heels. Excellent. No need to say anything about the heels. And she had her own smartness. She was smart in her world; she evidently gave attention to her clothes. And if she could be smart in her world, why not in the world of the Palace? She would be capable of anything. Later, he would be able gently to tease the beloved Mrs. O'Riordan: “My discovery, Miss Powler! Not yours, mother. Mine!”

Miss Powler went towards the door. Her hand was on the knob.

“You know,” he said, on an impulse, “there'd be one thing, rather important, if you don't mind my mentioning it—”

“Please.”

“If you do come here—powder and rouge.” He waved a hand. The lightness of his tone was meant to soothe her

She flushed ever so little. He had got under her guard at last. The flush amused and pleased him. She had no caprices, no moods, no nerves. Yet the flush!

She was equally different from the girl that Mrs. O'Riordan had once been, and from Gracie Savott. These two had feminine charm. They were designed by heaven to tantalise and puzzle a man, to keep him for ever and ever alert in self-defence, alert against attack. Whereas Miss Powler, sedate, cheerful, kindly, tactful, equable, serious, reserved...But what was feminine charm? It might have a wider definition than he had hitherto imagined. He had read somewhere that every woman without exception had charm. He liked Miss Powler's muscular shoulders, and the way she held them; and her sturdy ankles. “And that Gracie girl liked my shoulders,” he thought. Considered as an enigma, Miss Powler, with her impregnable reserve, was at least on a level with the Gracie girl. Nothing on earth so interesting as the reactions of sex on sex. It was as if Gracie had pulled a veil from his eyes so that he was perceiving the interestingness of all women, for the first time. Revelation.

“Yes, of course, sir,” said Miss Powler. “To tell the truth, I'd thought of that. It would be part of the business.”

“They'd put you up to all that here.”

“Yes, sir. If necessary. But I know something about make-up.”

“Oh?” Evelyn was surprised.

“Well, sir. You see. Our amateur dramatic society. I've had to make up plenty of girls. They love it. And I've had to make up myself too.” The flush disappeared.

“Of course!” Evelyn exclaimed. “I was forgetting that.” And indeed he had totally forgotten it. She had caught him out there. He felt humbled. She might well know a bit more about make-up than any of the housekeepers.

She opened the door.

“It would hardly do at the Laundry,” she said. “I shouldn't like it there. Not but what a lot of the laundry-maids themselves do make up. But here I might like it.”

She smiled. For one second she was a girl at large, not a laundry staff-manageress seeking to improve her position. Evelyn did not shake hands with her. Why not? he asked himself. Well, there was an etiquette in these ceremonials. A Director did not shake hands with a floor-housekeeper. He stood still near the closed door, thinking.

Chapter 20. THE BOARD

The Imperial Palace had a number of private rooms in the neighbourhood of the restaurant, used chiefly for lunches, dinners and suppers, and each named after an English or British sovereign. At twenty minutes past two on the day of Evelyn's interview with Miss Powler, six men sat smoking in the Queen Elizabeth room round a table at which they had lunched—after a Board meeting.

At one end of the table was the West End celebrity and wit, old Dennis Dover; at the other Evelyn. At the sides were two youngish, exceedingly well-groomed men, a much older man, and a middle-aged man. The last was Mr. Levinsohn, unmistakably a Jew, solicitor to the Imperial Palace Hotel Company Limited, and senior partner in the great 'company' firm of Levinsohn and Levinsohn. The other three were Messrs. Lingmell (old), and Dacker and Smiss (the youngish dandiacal pair). Except for Mr. Levinsohn, the company consisted of Directors of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company Limited. The celebrated Dennis Dover was chairman of the Board, Evelyn being vice-chairman and managing-director of the Company. Youngish Dacker in addition to being on the Board worked daily in the Company's offices as Evelyn's representative and buffer. Youngish Smiss also worked daily in the Company's offices, his special charges being the business side of the Wey Hotel and the Works Department in Craven Street off Northumberland Avenue. (“Outpost in the enemy country!” Mr. Dover had once called the Works Department.) Mr. Lingmell did little but attend Board meetings. He was a director because he had always been a director. Twenty-five years earlier he had retired from hard labour with a sufficient fortune gained in the wholesale brandy trade, and he still had the facial characteristics which one would conventionally expect to find in a man who had dealt on a vast scale in brandy because he liked it.

As for Dennis Dover, now past seventy, of huge frame, with a large pallid face, his renown in the West End was due partly to his historic connection with the management of grand opera, partly from his dry and not unkind wit, and partly from his peculiar voice: which was not a voice but only about one-tenth of a voice; it issued from a permanently damaged throat through his fine lips in a hoarse thin murmur. Strangers thought that he was suffering from a bad cold, and that his voice would become normal in a day or two. It had not been normal for several decades. Youngish Dacker, when he first joined the Palace Board and appeared somewhat nervously at his first Board meeting, had happened to have a very sore throat. “Morning, Dacker. Fine December fog to-day, eh?” Dover had greeted him in the hoarse thin murmur. And dandiacal Dacker had replied in a hoarse thin murmur unavoidably just like Dover's: “Good morning, Mr. Dover. Yes, a fine December fog.” Mr. Dover, whose infirmity no one had ever dared to ridicule to his face, had leaned forward to Dacker and murmured with a grim smile: “Young man, men have been shot at dawn for less than that.”

Glancing at his watch and at Evelyn, Mr. Dover benevolently and encouragingly thus addressed Mr. Dacker and Mr. Smiss:

“Now, you lily-livered, have some brandy, for your hour is at hand.”

At half-past two, in the larger banqueting-room, the Board had to confront its judges, the shareholders, at the Annual General Meeting, which meeting was to be followed on this occasion by a Special General Meeting. The youngish men smiled as easily as they could; for indeed they had betrayed apprehensions concerning the special meeting, at which was to be proposed a resolution limiting the voting powers of shareholders Everybody at the table felt apprehensive about the fate of that resolution, but Mr. Dacker and Mr. Smiss alone had failed to conceal anxiety. The fate of the resolution might well involve the fate of the Imperial Palace Hotel itself.

“Obey your venerable chairman, gentlemen,” murmured Dennis Dover, and raised his mighty bulk and filled the glasses of Messrs. Dacker and Smiss with Waterloo brandy (which Mr. Lingmell said was so old as to be indistinguishable from water). “Your alarm does you credit, seeing that you won't have to speechify at the meeting and that you hold no shares worth mentioning, and that if the Palace goes to pot the ancient prestige of the Palace will set forty hotels fighting for your services...To the Resolution! To the Resolution!”

The toast was drunk, but by Evelyn and Mr. Levinsohn in Malvern water; and the Chairman descended cautiously back into his chair.

Mr. Dover had a good right to the position he held in the Company. Not merely was he the largest shareholder. His father, aged fifty odd when Dennis was begotten in the hotel itself, had built the original Palace. He had first called it the Royal Palace, because of its proximity to Buckingham Palace; but in 1876, when Disraeli made Queen Victoria Empress of India, Mr. Dover had loyally changed 'Royal' to 'Imperial.' The name Palace had been copied all over the world. Dennis always maintained that the French use of the word palace as a generic term for large luxury hotels had derived from the reputation of the original Palace for luxury, and was not due to the prevalence of imitative Palace Hotels throughout Europe.

In the late 'fifties the Palace luxury had made it the wonder of the earth. It was then reputed to have a bathroom on every floor; and some people stayed in it in order to see what a bathroom was really like. Then a Crown Prince stayed in it, then a monarch, and Queen Victoria would recommend it to some of her foreign distant cousins. Soon the Palace had established two royal suites. Soon, despite the fact that every hotel-expert in London had condemned it as being too impossibly big, it became too small, and the elder Dover had enlarged it. More than once it had been enlarged, altered, replanned, reconstructed; but the Queen Anne character of its charming façade had always been preserved. The last and greatest and most ruthless of the enlargers was Evelyn. When Evelyn had finished—but he had never finished—all that had survived of the original Palace was the Queen Anne character of the façade; not the façade, only the character.

2.

As a child Dennis Dover had lived under the roof of the Palace, in its most majestic days. The elder Dover had amassed incalculable money under that roof. But he had made a common mistake. He had forgotten that the earth revolves. He had assumed that luxury could go no farther than his luxury had gone. When he died, rich, though not as rich as in the grandest days, the Imperial Palace, with all its unique prestige, was beginning to be a back number. Trustees under the will of the founder had done no better than trustees usually do. Then Dennis Dover had taken command, and the public had been invited to buy the Imperial Palace. The public, ingenuous as ever, and blinded by the glitter of prestige, had bought. The Palace recovered a little, lost ground a little, recovered a little, paid a dividend, passed its dividend, and was on the very edge of being transmogrified into a block of superlative flats, when Dennis Dover had chanced to sojourn at the Wey Hotel and to find Evelyn, then in his thirties.

In ten years Evelyn, starting as an invalided A.S.C. officer towards the end of the war, and spending three-quarters of a million borrowed in instalments with much difficulty on debentures, had, after the formation of a new company, made the Palace for the second time in its career the wonder of the wide world. Twice in its career the prestige of the Palace had thus shot up like a rocket; but Evelyn had no intention that it should ever fall like a rocket.

Such, perhaps too briefly stated, was the history of the Imperial Palace Hotel, whose royal suites, owing to a dearth of royalty, were now occupied by cinema-kings, presidents of republics and similar highnesses.

As the six passed in irregular formation through corridors and downstairs towards the larger banqueting-room (called the Imperial—the smaller banqueting-room was called the Royal) Dennis Dover stepped between Dacker and Smiss, and putting a hand paternally on the nearest shoulder of each of them, and looking down from his superior height at their upturned young faces, squeakily murmured:

“You don't mind me referring to the colour of your livers, boys? Sign of affection.”

They smiled. They knew their own worth; and they hoped that the Chairman knew it and knew also that their interest in the Palace was fanatical, and that they were intensely proud of having been elevated to the Board at a cost to themselves of only a hundred qualifying shares each. What they did not know was that father Dennis Dover loved them the more for their apprehensiveness concerning the Resolution.

The Chairman himself was apprehensive, but he was old enough to be a fatalist; and the risks attending a resolution to be proposed at a meeting of a limited liability company could arouse no emotion in one who would soon be crossing the supreme frontier. Old Lingmell was equally unmoved, but not for the same reasons as father Dennis. He never spent time in thinking about the supreme frontier. His investments were secure, and the earth and the fruits thereof were good enough for him. Mr. Levinsohn felt no emotion either; for him the matter was strictly professional, one among a hundred such matters. As for Evelyn, he felt a certain anxiety; but he was built on a rock, the rock of his creative, organising brain, which the foolishness of no shareholders could damage, which was more valuable than any investments, and which had a world-market waiting to compete for it.

Chapter 21. SHAREHOLDERS

The six men sat in a row behind a long green-topped table at one side of the square-shaped Royal banqueting-hall; and ageing Mr. John Crump, secretary of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company and a member of Evelyn's directorial staff, sat at one end of the table, with minute-books, balance-sheets, the register of shareholders, and—most important of all—a pile of proxies, under his hand. The Chairman and Evelyn were in the middle of the six, who had no documents beyond a sheet or two of rough notes or blank paper. Evelyn discouraged the exhibition of documents in business, and father Dennis, with whom his understanding was always sympathetically perfect, regarded documents as a symptom of a fussy mind.

In front were the shareholders, two or three hundred of them, including a few women, ranged in rows on the brilliant parti-coloured and gilded banqueting chairs, and each holding a copy of the white annual report and accounts.

Those chairs, with the rich pendant chandeliers, were the sole reminder of the original purpose of the spacious chamber. At night, and sometimes at the lunch hour, tables were joined together in lengths, in the shape of an E, or a rake, or a Greek letter, or a horse-shoe; they were white, then, covered with china, plate, cutlery and glass, flower-decked, gleaming, brilliantly convivial; and the people sitting round them, ceremonially clad, grew more and more jolly under the influence of the expensive succulence provided by Maître Planquet, until by the time the speeches had begun and the cohort of waiters, marshalled by Amadeo Ruffo the Banqueting-manager, had vanished away through the service-doors, every banqueter had become the most lovable and righteous person of his or her sex, in every breast all food and drink had been transformed by a magical change into the milk of human kindness, and the world had developed into the best of all possible worlds: with the final result that the attendants in the cloak-room received tips far exceeding the ordinary.

Now, the scene was dramatically different. The rows of shareholders, some stylish some dowdy, some harsh some gentle, some sagacious some silly, some experienced some ingenuous, some greedy some easily satisfied, some avaricious some generous, were all absorbed in the great affair of getting money—the money which paid for banquets. A nondescript, unpicturesque, and infestive lot, thought Evelyn, who knew a number of them by sight and a few by name. Some faces were obviously new, and Evelyn looked at these with suspicion.

Without rising, father Dennis said in his hardly audible hoarse murmur:

“The secretary will kindly read the notice convening the meeting.”

And Mr. John Crump, nervous as always on august occasions, got up and read the notice in a voice rendered loud and defiant by his nervousness.

Then three unpunctual shareholders crept in on guilty tiptoes, and sat down, and chairs scraped on the parquet.

Then father Dennis cumbrously rose.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began in his murmurous squeak.

“We're off!” thought Evelyn, humorously agog.

Yes, they were off, and there would be no surcease until the Resolution was carried or lost by the votes at the special meeting.

Father Dennis never wasted words on shareholders, partly on account of his throat, and partly because he delighted to starve them of words—at the end of a good year—and also to shock them by his casual brevity.

He said, while some shareholders put hands to ears:

“Figures speak louder than loud-speakers. I am sure that you have all studied our figures with that impartial conscientiousness which distinguishes all good shareholders. I need not therefore weary you with information of which you are already in full possession. I will merely remark, as much for my own satisfaction as for yours, that last year was a record year in the Company's history, that our net trading profit after deducting fixed dividend on preference shares, debenture interest and sinking-fund charges, was equivalent to twenty and a half per cent. on our ordinary capital, and that we propose to declare a final dividend making fourteen per cent. per annum, for the year, instead of last year's eleven per cent., and incidentally I will point out that we are allotting £75,000 to our reserve fund, instead of last year's £60,000. I move the adoption of the accounts and the payment of the dividend as recommended, and I call upon Mr. Evelyn Orcham, our managing director and orator, who will be less summary than myself, to second the motion.” With that he subsided into his chair, and glanced sardonically around as if to say: “You can put that in your pipes and smoke it; and go to hell.”

No applause greeted the statement of good tidings. The shareholders had been in possession of the tidings for days. At a banquet they would have loudly applauded a silly and insincere speech which was not worth twopence to their pockets. But to-day their stomachs had not been warmed. And they were shareholders—who take as a right all they can get and whose highest praise is forbearance from criticism.

Evelyn rose. He was not an orator, and speechifying made him nervous. But he always knew just what he wanted to say and he would say it plainly, if too slowly. Now and then he would employ an unusual adjective which tickled him. The sheet of notes which he held in his hand was merely something to hold. He was not positively inimical to shareholders, for they were necessary to his life-work. But he disdained them as a greedy, grasping and soulless crew whose heads were swollen by an utterly false notion of their own moral importance. Nevertheless he used a tone different from the Chairman's. The Chairman was a London figure, and could carry off any tone; and there was a pacifying glint in the Chairman's old eye. Evelyn loved the Chairman's brief pronouncements, which father Dennis called his 'turn.' But part of Evelyn's job as a hotel-manager was to flatter shareholders. Bad might come again, and then shareholders who had been flattered would be easier to handle than shareholders who been treated year after year with cynical curtness. Therefore Evelyn flattered, but with a hidden private cynicism which even exceeded the Chairman's.

2.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “Your hotels”—and his thought was “Your hotels? Good God! They aren't your hotels. You couldn't have started them. You couldn't run them. You don't understand them. You've no idea what wonderful, romantic things they are. You know nothing about them, except a few arithmetical symbols which I choose to offer you and which are beyond your comprehension. You didn't buy shares because you are interested in hotels; only because you believed that you could squeeze a bit of money out of them. Whereas 'your' hotels are my creation. I live for them. I have a passion for them. Without me they would be hotels, common hotels, not the hotels. If I left them, as I could, your precious dividends would diminish and might disappear. 'Your' hotels are mine, and if you denied this I could prove it to you quick enough. Ignoramuses! Is any one of you aware, for instance, that at this moment I am wondering how the devil I can entice my customers in my restaurant and my grill-room to consume more than a dozen and a half champagne per hundred covers? Does any one of you guess that in my opinion an average of one-sixth of a bottle of champagne per person dining or lunching is a shockingly low average—especially considering the qualities of my champagne? Not one of you! Barbarians! Benighted savages! Unworthy of respect! 'Your' hotels!”

In the midst of these lightning reflections he went on aloud to the audience:

“Your hotels, thanks entirely to the willing and generous co-operation which the Board has received from you in supporting us in a policy of large annual expenditure in order to keep your establishments abreast or in front of the times”—(“This sentence is getting out of hand,” he thought. “I'd better kill it.”)—“your hotels, I say, have passed through an extremely difficult year not without credit. I will first of all refer to the difficulties.”

And he did refer to the difficulties: the poorness of the previous London season, the obstinately high price of commodities; the dearth of good service; the austerity of customers; the rapacity of customers, who once asked only for food and drink at meals, then demanded music, then demanded dancing-floors, and now were demanding cabarets; the unwillingness of Americans to come to Europe in the anticipated numbers; the monstrous and crushing absurdity of the licensing laws; the specious attractions of continental resorts; the curse of the motor-car, which had pretty well strangled week-end business to death; and forty other difficulties...until you might have been excused for wondering why the Imperial Palace Hotel had not been forced into so-called 'voluntary' liquidation. The brighter side of the enterprise he glossed over. The arithmetical symbols he touched upon lightly, using the plea that they were self-explanatory to shareholders so intelligent as the shareholders of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company Limited.

“In conclusion,” said he, “I should like to refer to one point. Your hotels, and particularly the Imperial Palace, have been called dear—in their charges. I resent the word, and I think that you will resent it. They are expensive; but dear they are not. We try to give, and I claim that we do give, better value for money than any other hotel in this country. And the proof that the public shares this opinion lies in the undoubted fact that the public is patronising your hotels more and more. The public cannot be deceived for long. Many hotels have attempted to deceive it, and they have failed to do so. We—I mean everybody present when I say 'we'—have not attempted to deceive it. I am sure that you, the shareholders, would never agree to a policy of pretending to the public that your hotels are what they are not. We maintain that they are the most luxurious and efficient in the world, and that their charges are as low as is consistent with the desire for perfection which animates us all. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the patience with which you have listened to my halting remarks—our ironic Chairman ought not to have dubbed me 'orator'—and I have great pleasure in seconding the motion.”

One or two shareholders clapped, but, finding themselves unsupported, ceased abruptly.

2.

“Good old platitudes!” thought Evelyn, as he sat down, relieved at having safely accomplished his speech, and he surreptitiously winked at smiling father Dennis. The meeting was finished, save for questions and formalities. “And these people in front will go home feeling that they've done thing important!” thought Evelyn.

The Chairman asked drily:

“Any questions, ladies and gentlemen?”

A mature lady rose and with a self-possession unusual and perhaps indecorous in a shareholder of her sex asked why in the Profit and Loss account all payments—wages, salaries, washing, licences, advertising, bands, fees, liveries, insurance, stationery, electric light, repairs, renewals, etc., etc., etc., etc.—were lumped together in one huge item. To which the Chairman responded that such was the universal custom in Profit and Loss accounts of limited companies.

The lady's question was a very justifiable one; it jabbed a hole in the beautiful convention which regulates the pacific union between shareholders and Board. Many shareholders would have liked further illumination of the subject. Some knew the right answer. But as the lady wore an eyeglass, a starched white collar and a sailor's-knot tie, she got no help; the subject was not further illuminated, and feminine curiosity, which had thus flouted the sacred immemorial customs of company practice, went unsatisfied.

Then a gentleman apologetically enquired whether Atlantic telephone had had any 'repercussions' upon the business of the hotels. The Chairman answered that so far as he knew the Atlantic telephone had had no 'repercussions'—he mischievously gave the faintest emphasis to the splendid word—but that the managing director might have something to say. Evelyn said that the Atlantic telephone had had no repercussions, but that the shareholders might be interested to learn that in the past year visitors at the Imperial Palace had spent £6,123 in using the Atlantic telephone; that was appreciably more than £100 a week.

There were no other questions from shareholders. What questions indeed could shareholders ask, after a record year, a fourteen per cent. dividend, and an allocation of £75,000 to reserve? The resolution was carried unanimously. Two directors who had to retire were re-elected unanimously. The auditors were reappointed unanimously. And what the official report described next day as a 'hearty' vote of thanks to chairman, directors and staff was carried unanimously. Evelyn's heart lightened, prematurely—a mechanical repercussion. It grew heavy again as the Chairman rose and said:

“The proceedings of the Ordinary General Meeting being now terminated, the Secretary will kindly read the notice convening the Special General Meeting.”

“Now we really are off!” thought Evelyn.

Chapter 22. THE RESOLUTION

In calling upon Evelyn to move the Resolution which was the sole reason for the Special General Meeting, father Dennis hoarsely and squeakily murmured:

“The meeting will I hope pardon me if I refer to a purely personal matter. I am suffering to-day from rather serious throat-trouble, and my medical adviser, in whom I have as much confidence as a sane man can have in a medical adviser insisted that I should make only one speech—and that as short as possible,” he added with a roguish old smile.

Titters of laughter, which were, however, sympathetic. Every year the Chairman thus mentioned his throat, as though the malady had but quite recently supervened.

Evelyn did not wholly regret the sad state of the Chairman's throat, because in practice it raised himself from second-fiddle to first-fiddle at the annual gatherings. Also the nervousness which had beset him in his speech at the Ordinary Meeting was now completely dissipated in exciting emotion. Let none imagine that the moving of a Resolution at a Special General Meeting of the shareholders of a limited liability company cannot be emotional. Liability may be limited by Act of Parliament, but not emotion—neither drama.

The shareholders were fully acquainted with the terms of the startling Resolution, but Evelyn began by reading it in tones which almost justified the Chairman's description of him as an orator. The Resolution provided that instead of having one vote per share, each shareholder should have only one vote per five shares. And further that no shareholder, no matter how large his holding of shares, should have a total of more than ten votes. He pointed out that obviously the Resolution gave an advantage to the small shareholder, since a holder of fifty shares would wield the same voting power as a holder of fifty thousand shares. And he pointed out that, as the Chairman of the Board happened to be the largest shareholder in the Company, the Board could not be accused of an attempt to favour its own individual interests at the expense of any other shareholders.

Then he spoke very vaguely of the possibility of foreign interference in the destinies of the Company. He made no accusation. Oh no! He spoke of a mere possibility—but a possibility against which, if the shareholders in their wisdom agreed, it might be advisable to protect the Company. Were the shareholders prepared to allow the control of a British company to pass out of British hands? If so, well and good. If not, the Resolution was the surest safeguard, the only real safeguard, against such a contingency—a contingency which, he ventured to think, was of a most sinister nature. The shareholders, who were doubtless thoroughly acquainted with all the phenomena of industry and finance, had of course noticed in past months that foreign interests had been ousting British interests in various very important British undertakings. He would not assert that any scheme was definitely afoot for getting control of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company. He would be content to say that in the last couple of years, and especially in the last few months, blocks of shares had changed hands, and transfers had been registered, in a manner calculated to arouse the suspicions, but no more than the suspicions, of a watchful Board. The Board had desired the attendance of their good friend Mr. Levinsohn, who had acted with signal success for many years as solicitor to the Company. He, the speaker, could not pretend to Mr. Levinsohn's unique authority in Company affairs, and Mr. Levinsohn would give the shareholders his valuable views on the subject before them. Confessing that his own feelings as to the proper course to be followed for the welfare of the Company were both clear and deep, and then formally moving the Resolution, Evelyn sat down.

Certainly he had shown some emotion, some sense of the drama of the occasion. But his clear and deep feelings, though he might not have admitted the fact even to himself, were due less to a regard for the welfare of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company than to the risk of his life-work and his career being imperilled by the substitution of any other Board for the Board which while nominally his master was really his tool.

Evelyn's heart knocked against his waistcoat, but its beat was strong and regular. He was nervous again; his glance flitted nervously about the banqueting chamber, in which the sobriety of the green-topped table contrasted so strangely with the glory of the chandeliers, the brightness of the decorated walls and the gaiety of the chairs.

Ruffo peeped cautiously in through the double service-doors and the doors slowly and silently shut him out of sight

Father Dennis's face had an expression of bland, negligent cynicism. Lingmell's bloated, wise features were calm and absorbed in his everlasting dream of fleshly satisfactions. The two old men were still incapable of excitement. The two younger directors were employed in subduing their fever into an imitation of tranquillity. Evelyn understood them, but he doubted whether they understood him. He was too far above them in attainments and position to be fully understood by them. They might work hard; they might display a heroical loyalty; but never could they reach his height, for they had not his qualities. He felt sorry for them; for either their ambitions were humble or their ambitions would be disappointed. The future king of the world of hotels was not on the Imperial Palace Board; perhaps he was hidden somewhere in the upper staff.

The shareholders, stiff on their festive chairs, were grim, unresponsive, waiting, flinty-souled.

2.

Then Mr. Levinsohn stood on his feet. He was impassive, absolutely at ease. Noticeably, unmistakably a Jew, he reeked as little of anti-Semitism as of a few drops of rain. He was above race. He had been elected to the Carlton Club. He knew half the secrets of the City. The demand for his counsel exceeded the supply. The lowest fee charged by his firm for permitting the appearance of its august name on a company prospectus was seven hundred and fifty guineas. The universal City opinion was that he had a subtler and profounder comprehension of the mentality of shareholders than any other man in England. He surveyed the body of Imperial Palace shareholders as an alienist might survey a ward of lunatics in an asylum; his handsome, hard, semi-oriental face was as mysterious as the placid surface of a bottomless ocean.

Mr. Levinsohn said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I shall not detain you long. Need I say that I share the sentiments expressed by your Vice-chairman. At the same time I think that—patriot as he is, and a man of imagination, something of the artist in him, no one can be the great organiser Mr. Orcham is without having a large amount of imagination—he has perhaps not quite sufficiently stressed the strictly practical business side of this proposal.”

Mr. Levinsohn paused, rubbing his blue chin. The attention of the shareholders had been seized instantly. They were wondering what would come next. What! The Company's solicitor criticising the Vice-chairman! But nothing mattered, not even that; for they, the shareholders, were judges and jury; and naught but horse-sense could sway them; and from their verdict there could be no appeal. Evelyn was slightly puzzled; but he said to himself that Mr. Levinsohn was anyhow the first man who publicly at a Company meeting had shown a real understanding of him. Curious, how this middle-aged Jew, speaking in a gentle conversational tone, as careless about the form of his sentences as one individual to others in a lounge, could without any apparent effort or art, put a spell upon those tough shareholders!

Having placated his chin, Mr. Levinsohn proceeded:

“We are all men and women of business here, and we are all patriots, and anxious if possible and fair to ourselves to keep British commercial enterprises in British hands. But patriotism is a burden, and in common justice the burden ought to be equally shared among the citizens. Your shares stand on the Stock Exchange round about thirty-five shillings—in my opinion decidedly below their real value. Supposing a group of foreign interests—say American, purely as an illustration—came along and offered you fifty-five shillings a share, as might well happen. Patriotism might urge you to refuse, but in refusing you would be throwing away something like two and a half million pounds, you, a comparatively small body of citizens. The loss in actual cash would not be shared equally by the electorate, it would fall exclusively on you. Would this be fair? It would not, and I should be rather surprised if your Vice-chairman did not say the same. The suggestion would be monstrous. No reasonable person could make such a demand on you. Let us look facts in the face. You would accept the offer, and you would be right.” (Murmurs of assent from the gilt chairs.) “And another thing. True, the magnificent Imperial Palace and Wey hotels would be lost to British control. But the wealth of Great Britain would have been increased by two and a half million pounds and you would have at your absolute disposal the total purchase money, between six and seven million pounds, for reinvestment in British industry and commerce under British control. It seems to me clear that if the—purely hypothetical—offer were actually made, the truest patriotism and the most far-seeing business sagacity would accept the offer. Your Company might cease to exist, but it is necessary to take a broad view, and in the broad view British industry and commerce as a whole would gain a considerable advantage. Bad business is never good patriotism.”

The first genuine applause of the meeting greeted this aphorism.

“I have nearly finished,” Mr. Levinsohn continued. “But not quite. I have spoken of an offer, purely hypothetical as I say. Can an offer so handsome ever materialise? It never could materialise if the prospective buyers of your undertaking first obtained control of the Imperial Palace Company by quietly getting hold of a majority of the shares, which as things stand would mean a majority vote at a General Meeting. If by this means any prospective buyers first obtained control they would be sellers as well as buyers, and they would sell to themselves at any price they chose to name, and those of you who had kept your shares would find yourselves between the upper and nether millstones. You would get left. The Resolution before the meeting will, if you pass it, prevent this quite possible ramp. For these reasons, if you ask my advice—not otherwise—I should advise you to vote for the Resolution. Let me say that I am entirely disinterested. I hold no shares in your Company, or in any of the many companies which do me the honour to employ my professional services.”

Mr. Levinsohn, having finished in the same conversational tone as he had used at the start, quietly sat down.

No applause. A number of shareholders were whispering to each other in small groups.

“Talk about an artist!” thought Evelyn. “This fellow is a finished artist. I can manage a hotel. But this fellow has shown me that I don't know the first thing about handling shareholders. Makes a good effect first by pretending to disagree with me. Then simply rolls them all up. Damned clever of him not to tell the Board beforehand exactly what line he was going to take!” He would have liked warmly to shake Mr. Levinsohn's hand, which he felt sure was always quite cold.

Mr. Smiss timidly seconded the Resolution.

“Any observations?” asked father Dennis quietly. “The Board will be glad to have the views of shareholders, and to answer any questions.”

3.

A pause. Then a little, scrubby man rose from the front row and, looking round at his fellow shareholders behind him, said ina rasping voice:

“With great respect for the wisdom of the Board, and giving full weight to the opinions which have been so ably expressed by the Vice-chairman and my friend the Company's solicitor, I venture to differ from them as to the advisability of passing this most drastic and even revolutionary Resolution. I may say that I am not without experience in the management of public companies, as my friend Mr. Levinsohn knows. My experience has taught me that ownership ought never to be divorced from control—”

At this point father Dennis pushed a scribbled note along the table to Mr. Levinsohn. “Who is your friend? How many shares does he hold? D.D.” Mr. Levinsohn wrote on the paper and pushed it along to Mr. Crump, the secretary. In a moment father Dennis had the reply: “Dickingham, a solicitor. Probably one of Savott's nominees and speaking for all of them,” in Levinsohn's handwriting; and at the bottom, in Mr. Crump's: “1,500. Bought six months ago.”

Dickingham was continuing: “This Resolution, if carried, would obviously divorce ownership from control.” He turned again to the people behind him: “If you pass the Resolution, you will be entirely in the hands of the Board. Large shareholders will have no power. And it is well known that the average small shareholder always supports his Board. I make no reflection upon the small shareholder. I am one myself, and I make no doubt that there are many here. As a rule the small shareholder is right to support his Board. But the result will be the same, whatever his motives: an autocracy of the Board, an autocracy which will last as long as the Board chooses it shall last. If a similar Resolution to this could be translated into politics—which happily for our national welfare it cannot—and put before the House of Commons as a measure of electoral reform, it would be laughed out of the House by every political party. In fact no political party would dare to introduce such a measure, were such a measure conceivable. I admit that it is not. The principle which has made the Empire what it is is the principle of control going hand in hand with ownership. The Resolution would abolish control by ownership.”

The speaker amplified his arguments at length, and ended: “There is a proverb: 'Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.' I beg you, ladies and gentlemen, to think of all that that wisdom means. I feel that at this moment the fortunes of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company are trembling in the balance.”

Mr. Dickingham was applauded in several parts of the room. Then three other men rose in succession, and, with much less suavity of phrasing than Mr. Dickingham, spoke against the Resolution. Then silence.

Father Dennis lifted himself, and hoarsely squeaked:

“I have the pleasure to put the Resolution. Those in favour—” Many bands were raised. “The Resolution appears to be carried. But of course, if any of you would prefer a poll to be taken—”

“Poll! Poll! Poll!” cried a number of voices, fiercely, savagely. “Poll! Poll!”

Mr. Crump began to finger the pile of proxies by which some dozens or scores of absent shareholders had delegated their voting powers to the Board.

Mr. Dickingham was on his feet:

“Mr. Chairman, if you will permit me to suggest it, I should like to examine the proxies—of course in collaboration with my friend the Company's solicitor.”

“I have not the smallest objection,” squeaked father Dennis magnanimously.

The battle was now joined.

Evelyn drew symmetrical patterns on a piece of paper, continually enlarging them and making them more elaborate and shading them. His absurd heart was still more insistently beating. Mr. Dickingham had said truth: the fortunes of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company were indeed trembling in the balance. Perhaps also Evelyn's own fortunes. The autocrats of a big merger of hotels might or might not invite him to manage the whole lot. But the Palace was the Palace, unique. Anyhow he would not accept a subordinate position, as manager of one hotel, not even were that hotel the Imperial Palace itself. Either he would be autocrat or he would be nothing—he would start life again. He could not bear to look at the group of the two 1awyers and the secretary, examining the proxies, comparing them with the share-register. He could not judge the total strength of the opposition. Nor could anybody else on the Board or off it.

Presently he heard father Dennis say: “Shareholders now kindly substantiate their claims to vote.”

Shareholders approached the table, some diffidently, some defiantly. The assembly was in disorder. Noise of voices, explanatory and argumentative. Mr. Crump had rather more than he could do, but the two lawyers in their professional calm and patience helped him both practically and morally. One by one the shareholders returned to their seats. Then Mr. Dickingham sat down, his face illegible.

Mr. Crump rose and ceremoniously delivered a paper to the Chairman, who showed it to Evelyn and lifted himself again:

“The Resolution is carried, by a majority of 22,111 votes,” he squeaked, and then added with characteristic gratuitousnaughtiness: “Ownership has exercised control.”

“For the last time,” shouted Mr. Dickingham in his rasping tone, springing up.

“An improper observation,” said the Chairman, smiling.

“I am sorry you should think so, sir,” said Mr. Dickingham, pale and furious. “And I will point out to those shareholders who do not know it that you closed the Transfer books a month ago, and I understand will keep them closed until after the confirmatory meeting a fortnight hence. You have thus prevented new genuine holders of shares from voting at this meeting or the next. If it had not been for this piece of sharp practice, probably illegal, your Resolution would have been lost to-day, and well you know it!”

Some uproar. Father Dennis replied with extraordinary mildness:

“The Board followed a perfectly normal procedure in closing the Transfer books. They acted within their rights. And they certainly did their duty. This gentleman”—he indicated Mr. Dickingham to the other shareholders—“is a lawyer. He is therefore aware that this is not the proper place to raise a legal question. There are the Law Courts. May I remind you, ladies and gentlemen, of the statutory Special General Meeting a fortnight hence for the purpose of formally confirming the Resolution which you have been good enough to pass to-day. The proceedings are now terminated.”

4.

Before the room had begun to empty, Mr. Levinsohn came up to the Chairman.

“Good afternoon, Dover,” he said briefly and evenly. “I have another meeting at four o'clock.” He shook hands with father Dennis and with Evelyn, and left, hurrying.

Everybody left. Shareholders could be heard in lively but hushed conversation beyond the open doors at the end of the banqueting-room. Evelyn had glimpses of them taking their hats and coats at the special vestiaire outside. Lingmell departed, with one nod which served for both father Dennis and Evelyn, the thought in his mind being that he had done his duty by the Imperial Palace Hotel Company and was free for a time to devote himself completely to himself. Dacker and Smiss went off at speed, conscientiously to resume at once the round of their important daily work. Mr. Crump gathered together his paraphernalia and, piling it all on the large Register, carried the whole away like a laden tea-tray. Ruffo entered through the service-doors, anxiety on his face. He was responsible for the arrangement of the room for a banquet that evening, and wanted the place to himself and his waiting minions at the earliest possible moment. Nevertheless, seeing Evelyn and father Dennis still together, he disappeared yet again. Evelyn, however, had noticed him and his impatience. Father Dennis and Evelyn had sat side by side without speech. Evelyn slowly tore up his patterned paper into smaller and smaller pieces.

“Rather a lark!” hoarsely murmured Dennis Dover, with a grim, benevolent humorous smile at Evelyn.

“What?”

“Savott wandering about the hotel while all this has been going on. Eh?” He spluttered laughter and touched Evelyn on the arm.

'He knows by this time,” said Evelyn.

“You may bet your shirt he does!” said the old man, giving another shaking laugh.

Evelyn smiled. He reflected that he had been wrong about old Dennis. Old Dennis was not old. And he was not always cynical in his cheerfulness. There was still a free, impulsive, warm youth in that body so aged, so cumbrous, so unwieldy, and so dilapidated. His bleared eyes gazed into Evelyn's eyes with quick sympathy. What could it matter to old father Dennis whether or not the Imperial Palace changed ownership? Nothing. Father Dennis had lived beyond such trifles. But it mattered tremendously to Evelyn, and father Dennis's delight was for Evelyn. He was fondly attached to Evelyn. And Evelyn, realising this exquisite fact anew, felt tears spring to his eyes. He wanted to be by himself—he was so happy, so overcome by the spirit of loving-kindness pouring into him and permeating him from its magic source in the secret and divine place hidden somewhere in father Dennis's coarse mortal envelope.

They rose and left the room together, and before they had reached the vestiaire, Ruffo and his shirt-sleeved corps had rushingly invaded it, carrying tables. Evelyn put the old gentleman into his vast overcoat, walked down the steps with him to the Queen Anne entrance, and helped him into his car.

“We must have that Board meeting to-morrow to elect our chairman,” said Evelyn as he was closing the door of the car.

“I reminded Lingmell,” squeaked father Dennis. “Noon, isn't it? But he won't come. Doesn't matter. There'll be a quorum without the old ruffian.” The car moved.

Evelyn strolled to his private office. Dacker, his alter ego in the affairs of the Palace, was standing at the big desk.

“I was just waiting for you, sir.”

“Want anything?”

“No, sir. I thought you might.”

An even increased devotion in his tone. His features were all joyous exhilaration.

“No. Nothing,” said Evelyn. “I'm going to have my tea upstairs. I'll be down at five again.”

“Yes, sir.” Dacker's smooth face said: “You are entitled to your retreat on this magnificent occasion. In your absence I shall watch over your interests.”

Evelyn went up in the lift to his home, and telephoned:

“Get hold of Oldham, will you, please, and ask him to bring me my tea here. The Darjeeling, tell him. Thanks.”

He dropped into the easiest chair that the Works Department of the Palace could devise and make. A masterpiece of comfort. He picked up the current number of The Economist, his favourite weekly, and began to read it. A pretence! He did not read it. He was too happy to read, or even to think. He yielded his mind utterly to the sensation of happiness, saying to himself that he had never been so happy, never at any previous moment of all his life. The vista of his life in the future stretched beautifully before him. This kind of happiness had no complications. Nobody had the right to violate his retreat, man or woman. His monarchy was as absolute as that of a sultan—sultan without a purdah.

Oldham softly entered with the tea-tray, which he set on a table by Evelyn's side.

“I've brought you some hot ry-vita in case you should fancy it, sir.”

“Thanks, I shall.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Oldham glanced about the ordered room to see that its orderliness was perfect. It was perfect. Then he glanced at his master. Happiness was on Oldham's face too. Proud happiness, not for himself, but for Evelyn. Oldham knew. They all knew. Probably Oldham did not understand just what had occurred. But he knew that something supremely good for Evelyn had occurred. And his devotion was exalted. Evelyn thought:

“What have I done to win all this loyalty? I don't deserve it.”

Chapter 23. SUSAN

The reason why Evelyn altered his rendezvous with Sir Henry Savott, Bart., from a mere encounter in the Directorial private office to a super-intimate dinner in his own living-rooms upstairs was simple. He had chanced, on the morning after the meetings of shareholders, to sit side by side with Savott in the barber's shop of the Imperial Palace. Here, white-robed, in the most modern operating-theatre in London, ensconced in arm-chairs (from Chicago) which by a turn of a handle could be transformed into sofas or beds or stretchers fixed at any desired angle from the perpendicular to the horizontal, cropped, lathered, shaved, laved, anointed, trimmed, rubbed, combed and brushed by forty instruments and decoctions and oily perfumed compounds actuated or administered by electricity or caressing human hands, the two men had simultaneously submitted themselves to similar experiences.

They had begun together; they talked amiably from chair to chair; they heard a fellow-patient enquiring from an operator how in an electric scalp-massage the current passed from the throbbing machine into the skull; they exchanged confidential smiles at such naïveté; they heard the candour of unwitting customers concerning the characteristics of the Imperial Palace and the peculiarities of other visitors; and they exchanged more smiles; they overheard bits of extraordinary feminine conversations through partitions which imperfectly separated the male department from the female, and out of discretion forbore to glance at one another; they discovered that neither of them had ever in his life accepted the services of a manicure, and further that in nearly every detail they had the same tonsorial tastes; they chatted freely about neckties, collars, handkerchiefs and evening waistcoats. And, finishing simultaneously, they had stood up together, recreated, shining, and scented, and beheld themselves in mirrors and seen that they were marvellously fine. The sole difference between them was that whereas Sir Henry paid cash Evelyn only scribbled his initials on a check.

They left the luxurious marble apartment, cronies. There is nothing like a barber's shop for producing rapid intimacy. Yet they had not bared their souls. In the entrance-hall Sir Henry had praised the operators and the installation. And in return Evelyn had said: “I say, supposing we alter our date? Come and dine with me to-night in my secret castle upstairs, if you're free. We shall be more at home there,” And Sir Henry had said: “I'm not free. But I'll get free. Eight-thirty? Would that suit you?”

And Maître Planquet had received special orders; the guardian of the wine-cellars too. And Miss Cass, learning the new arrangement, had of her own accord intimated that it would be a pleasure to instruct the florist about just a few choice flowers.

Thus the two met again in Evelyn's sitting-room at precisely eight-thirty. No uneasy waiting about for women. They were too intimate to feel the need for shaking hands.

“Very nice of you to have me escorted up here,” said Sir Henry, who had found a white-gloved page-boy waiting outside the door of his suite.

“Well,” said Evelyn, “it's a little withdrawn, my castle. Have a glass of sherry?”

“If I might have one of your 'soft' cocktails,” Sir Henry suggested.

“Two,” Evelyn murmured to Oldham, who was in attendance

None but Oldham himself ever served at a meal in that room. A waiter assisted, but he was forbidden by law from appearing in front of the screen which hid the door.

“I see I'm behind the times,” said Evelyn, observing that Sir Henry wore a flower in his smoking-jacket, and he took a flower from a vase and inserted its stalk into his buttonhole. “That's better.”

Sir Henry laughed deprecatingly. Evelyn poked the fire, whose function was exclusively to cheer, not to supplement the radiators. As they stood before the fire, sipping orange-juice, smoking cigarettes, and talking of nothing in particular Evelyn thought:

“After all, why shouldn't I have him up here? Shows him who I am, and that I'm not suspicious of him, don't want to hold him off, as I held off his strange daughter—so she said! Fact is I can handle him better up here than down in my office. He's thinking already I'm going to fall for him. I don't like his teeth, but he's a lot more agreeable to-day than he was yesterday. He's damned civil. Is it all put on for my benefit? No. Couldn't be. There's something about him that rather appeals to me. His tone. His eye. A shade too small, his eye, but—He may be quite all right. And I don't care a curse what his reputation is. Don't I always say you ought to take people as you find them? He may be a thoroughly decent fellow. Well, then! After all, it isn't a sin to want to buy the Imperial Palace. Anybody's entitled to try. And anybody's entitled to lay hold of all the shares he can before he starts to bargain. Childish to bear him a grudge. And if he imagines he can get the better of me—well, we shall see.”

Oldham took the emptied glasses, and Evelyn and his guest sat down to the small round table.

“I really must congratulate you on your castle,” said Sir Henry, glancing round.

“Well,” said Evelyn, “one does what one can to be comfortable. No reason, is there, why I should make any visitor more comfortable than I make myself?”

“You're right.”

It was a man's menu. No caviare. No oysters. No hors d'uvre. Turtle soup. Sole Palace. Pré-salé with two vegetables. No sweet. A savoury. Oldham offered a 1921hock. Sir Henry accepted, but Evelyn noticed that he drank only a mouthful. The same thing happened to the champagne.

“They understand food and drink in your castle,” said Sir Henry.

“As to that,” said Evelyn, “I'll tell you my motto: Plain, and as perfect as you can get it. I hope it hasn't been too plain.”

“Couldn't be,” said Sir Henry tersely. No trace in him of the gourmand whom Evelyn had observed at the dinner in the restaurant.

The meal was finished in less than half an hour—before they had passed beyond small-talk about such trifles as the Stock Exchange, international politics, protection; on all of which, as it seemed to Evelyn, Sir Henry spoke sound, impartial, unsentimental sense. In short, they agreed. Sir Henry tasted port, refused cognac, and drank coffee. Oldham handed Partaga cigars, and, the table having been cleared of all but finger-bowls, ash-trays, and cigars, bowed interrogatively, got a nod from Evelyn, and disappeared, closing the door without a sound.

2.

“Shall we sit by the fire?” Evelyn suggested, after a pause, and said to himself: “It's getting time he began.”

They sat in easy-chairs on opposite sides of the hearth, with a smoker's table between them.

“This is very pleasant,” thought Evelyn; but he felt like an infantryman five minutes before zero-hour. He was of course firmly decided that Sir Henry, and not himself, should be the first to mention business. Sir Henry seemed to be absorbed in the delight of his cigar. He puffed it vigorously, gazed at it as if in ecstasy, and puffed it again. “Tranquillity, the hush before wild weather,” thought Evelyn.

“I saw from the departure list that Miss Gracie has left us,” said Evelyn, feeling the host's duty to keep conversation alive.

“Yes,” said Sir Henry, suddenly vivacious. “Yesterday morning. Gone to Paris with Lady Devizes and one of the Cheddars. Decided it all in a minute, as they do.” He gave a short, dry laugh. “Woke me up to tell me she was off. Girls are a problem,” he added confidentially. “Only thing to do is to leave them alone. At least that's my conclusion. Most of them are fools, if you ask me. But Gracie isn't. How did she strike you, Orcham?”

“Well,” said Evelyn, careful to appear detached and judicial. “I hardly know her. But I should say she's about as far from being a fool as any young woman I ever met. I certainly never met one more intelligent.”

Sir Henry leaned forward: “Quite. But do we want a lot of intelligence in a woman?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose we do. Yes, you're right, we do...We do.” Sir Henry looked at the fire.

“And as for beauty—” Evelyn stopped.

“You know,” said Sir Henry eagerly. “I'm her father and all that. But Gracie really is extraordinary.”

“I can believe it.”

“She's given up motor-racing. Perhaps she was right. But it would have been just the same if she hadn't been right. She's taken to literature now. Writes. Naturally she wouldn't show me anything. Reads nothing but Shakspere and the Bible. Very strong on the Psalms. You'd never guess what she thinks is the finest thing in the Bible. She quotes it to me. 'Be still, and know that I am God.' Forty-sixth Psalm.” Sir Henry laughed nervously. “I'm dashed if I understand just what it means, but you know, it sticks in your mind. Mystical, I reckon.” He sniggered. “I've been thinking about it ever since. What does it mean? It means something to her. I expect you think I'm making a noise like a father.”

The Biblical phrase fell into Evelyn's mind like a lighted torch into a heap of resinous wood. Flames burst forth. The whole heap was on fire. He knew, or rather fancied he knew, what the phrase meant. And whatever it meant, it was the most remarkable sign of Gracie's extraordinariness that had yet been disclosed to him.

“Perhaps,” he said, meditative. “Perhaps, we aren't still enough. Never occurred to me before, but perhaps we aren't.” He was astonished at the effect of the phrase on him. He too, after all, did not surely know what the phrase meant, but he felt what it meant, and the spiritual emotion which it aroused in him put the whole of his mind—his ideals, his aims, his principles, his prejudices—into a strange and frightening disorder. Saul, smitten on the way to Damascus! The talk had taken an odd, a disconcerting turn. And through that extraordinary girl with her visits to Smithfield before dawn and her 2 a.m. parties and her flight to Paris—all equally impulsive, improvised and unforeseeable even by herself!

“Well, well!” Sir Henry murmured, as if to indicate that that was that, and no use worrying your head about it! And Evelyn saw that the subject could not profitably be pursued further. Moreover he had a strong instinctive desire not to discuss it. He preferred to let the phrase burn undisturbed in his mind. But, he thought, how could even a Sir Henry switch off from it abruptly to business? Business—after that mighty and menacing command!

In a new, casual tone Sir Henry said: “I met a friend of mine here yesterday morning.”

“Oh?”

“When I say 'friend' I mean I know her. A girl named Violet Powler.”

“Yes,” said Evelyn. “I noticed you talking to her in the hall. She's staff-manageress in my Laundry.”

“So she told me.”

“I'm thinking of taking her on here. What about her?”

“Oh! Nothing. Only she's a first-rater, Violet is.”

“She said she'd been acting for a time as your housekeeper at—I forget where. Claygate, did she say?”

“Yes. It was while her sister was ill. Those two sisters were wonderful. It's a positive fact that inside twenty-four hours Violet had picked up the entire job. I never saw anything like it. Never! I tried to get her back again; but she wouldn't come. I gave up trying.”

“Why wouldn't she? I should have thought it was a much better situation than anything I could offer her.”

“Perhaps it was. But of course I don't know how good your situations are. I know I'd have given her practically any salary she cared to ask. I wouldn't like to say whether Violet or Susan was the best of the two. Susan was the eldest.”

“Died, didn't she?”

“She did,” said Sir Henry quietly. And still in a very quiet pathetic voice, and with gaze averted, he went on: “When I tell you I very nearly married Susan—” He ceased.

“Well!” thought Evelyn, with more than the notorious swiftness of thought: “If Susan actually was anything like Violet, that's the best thing I ever heard about you!”

He was indeed astounded. He saw Violet Powler in a new light, as the sister of an exceedingly opulent Lady Savott; but he could not imagine Susan as stepmother to a Gracie. And yet, why not? If she was anything like Violet, she would have been adequate for that or any other role. He was flatteringly confirmed in his opinion of himself as a judge of individualities.

More ammunition for him in his imminent contest with Mrs. O'Riordan about the selection of Violet Powler as a Palace floor-housekeeper!

“Really!” he breathed sympathetically. He truly felt sympathetic.

As Sir Henry was looking at the hearthrug Evelyn could scrutinise his face at leisure, without rudeness. He saw the Savott reputation in those features. The small eyes with their perforating and yet far-away gaze, the hard jaw, the inhuman regular teeth! (Evelyn's teeth were somewhat irregular, and he thanked God for it.) But there must be, there was, another facet, unnoticed by the world of affairs, to Henry Savott's individuality. He could see it now, in the attitude humble and soft. And even, if under the influence of Savott's confession, he only imagined he saw it, it must still be there: for not merely must Savott have responded to the fineness of Violet's sister, but she in turn must have found fineness in Savott.

“My private affairs,” said Sir Henry, “used to fill a lot of space in the newspapers. So I daresay you know more about them than I do myself.” He glanced up, with a terrible sardonic smile, then lowered his eyes again. “It was before I got free of Lady Savott that I wanted to come to an understanding with Susan. But she was so afraid she'd be mixed up in the divorce proceedings, and I couldn't make her see she wouldn't be, couldn't possibly be. You know if a woman doesn't see a thing for herself you can't reason her into seeing it. No. She wouldn't give even a provisional consent. Didn't like the idea of it. And when I was free it was just too late. I did everything I could to save her life. Everything...She was on my side right enough against Lady Savott. She knew the facts. She'd seen 'em. It was seeing Violet yesterday that brought it all back to me. Funny, I don't know to this day whether Violet knew how things were between her sister and me! I doubt whether Susan ever said a word to a soul. Tremendously reserved; and as for discretion!...Excuse me boring you. It came over me, all of a sudden. Well, well!” Sir Henry gave renewed attention to the Partaga.

Evelyn was flattered once more by the confidence. He was saddened; but his sadness was not unpleasant; it had a quality of beauty. Strange, startling encounter, there in the handsome and comfortable room, after the perfect meal, the perfect wines, and in the middle of the perfect cigar! And flowers in their button-holes! Strange encounter with this dictatorial and ruthless specimen of the top-dog; prince of practitioners of company-mongering, whose schemes might and did imperil the happiness of thousands of under-dogs, and also many middle-dogs! All his wealth and all his power had not sufficed to save him from the fate of being himself, in a different sense, an under-dog too. Well might the man's heart echo with the Psalmist's intimidating 'Be still and know that I am God!' Genuine and affecting sympathy for the survivor of the tragedy drew Evelyn towards Sir Henry. And yet in the very moment of his compassion, he was thinking: “I bet it hasn't prevented him from amusing himself since.”

“Now look here!” said Sir Henry in a voice suddenly strong and perhaps more domineering than he meant it to be. “I've not come here to make a nuisance of myself.”

“Not at all,” Evelyn mildly interjected.

“Yes, yes. A damned nuisance!” Sir Henry stood up and stood straight. “I've come here to try to do a bit of business, anyhow to begin it. You know what it is of course.”

“What I do know,” thought Evelyn, “is that whether you intended it or not, you and I'll never be on a purely business footing again.” He kept silence and waited, merely waving his cigar as a sign of concurrence.

Chapter 24. DOGS

“Now,” said Sir Henry, still standing, with his back to the fire, and perhaps somewhat masterfully, looking down upon Evelyn, who lounged in the easy-chair. “I want you to believe that I have nothing whatever to conceal from you. If I tried to conceal anything from a man like you, I know I shouldn't succeed—for long. You know too much about your business, and you're far too clever. Don't think I'm flattering you. I'm not. And what's more, you must know I'm not. You must know very well that in your own line you're the first man in the world. Now don't you? Honest to God!”

“There are one or two pretty fine men in Germany,” said Evelyn.

“Do you think they are equal to you? Do you?”

Evelyn leaned forward, and with his elbows on his knees let his forearms droop towards the floor.

“Do you wish to make me talk like a conceited ass?” he asked, cigar between teeth.

“No. I wish you to answer a question. Yes, or no?”

All Evelyn's intense natural reserve rose up to prevent him from giving a direct answer.

“How can I tell? How do I know whether the German fellows aren't equal to me? I'm an interested party.”

“Of course you're an interested party. But I'm not asking you what you know. I'm asking you what you think. You have an opinion. What is it?”

“Well, I don't think they are equal to me.”

“Confession is good for the soul,” said Sir Henry, smiling, and making a brilliant display of his teeth.

“I'm not so sure about that,” Evelyn thought. “And why does he use these worn-out phrases? 'Confession is good for the soul!' Good God!”

“Thanks” said Sir Henry. “May I have another cigar?”

Evelyn negligently pointed to the box on the table. Sir Henry picked one, bit the end off—his sharp teeth made a matchless cigar-cutter—and lit the new cigar from the old, violently puffing forth clouds of blue smoke.

“He doesn't know a lot about cigar-smoking,” Evelyn thought. “He's got that cigar too hot right at the start. And he's finished one already, and mine's only half through.”

“Well,” resumed Sir Henry, carefully dropping the end of the old cigar into the fire and turning to Evelyn again, with a benevolent expression. “So far so good. Well, as I say, I'm going to be perfectly open with you. That isn't always my way in big negotiations. But it's my way this time, because I feel it'll be the best way with you. No other reason. No question of moral principle and so on. Candour isn't necessarily the best policy. It often isn't, by Jove. But in this case it is. I reckon myself a very good judge of character. You can appreciate frankness, because you aren't sentimental.”

“That's true,” thought Evelyn, really flattered again. “He is a bit of a judge of character. And he's devilish different tonight from the man who stood me a dinner the night before last.” Evelyn was impressed, and he admitted to himself that his first estimate of Sir Henry had been inadequate. He said nothing; just waited.

“I'll tell you something possibly you don't know. Let me mention a few hotels. For instance, the Majestic in London, your only serious rival, and the Duncannon in London. The Concorde and the Montaigne in Paris. The Minerva at Cannes. The Escurial in Madrid. The Bottecini at San Remo. The Albergo Umberto in Rome.”

“That's eight.”

“Yes. What do you think of them?”

“Not a bad selection,” said Evelyn coldly. “Fairly representative Very fairly.”

His mind passed with extreme rapidity through the list. He was well acquainted with every one of the eight, either from personal knowledge or from reliable report; with its good and its bad characteristics, the nature of its clientele, its efficiencies and inefficiencies, its past, its present and its prospects; also with the percentages of its dividends earned, its dividends actually paid out, or in the alternative its trading loss. And in his mind, assessing all the eight simultaneously and instantaneously, he considered and decided—by no means for the first time—how each of them could be improved. An imposing lot truly; but less imposing to Evelyn than to a layman; as a first-rate virtuoso's piano-playing is less imposing to another first-rate piano virtuoso than to a layman.

And what he would have called 'the conceited ass' in himself reflected upon the immense fuss which would be made of him if he walked into any one of them and presented his card: “Mr. Evelyn Orcham, Managing Director, Imperial Palace Hotel, London.” Of which immense fuss he had on various occasions had experience. For he was a retiring man, though he would never coddle his shyness to the extent of hiding his identity from fellow-managers.

“I now have control of all the eight,” said Sir Henry with lightness, ineffectually trying to pretend that to have obtained the control of eight such hotels was to a person built on his scale a mere trifle of an achievement. “I don't say I've bought them. I've actually bought one—and no doubt you can guess which one—but I have options which will give me control of the other seven at any moment I choose.”

“The Majestic?” said Evelyn, naming the establishment which Sir Henry had bought.

Sir Henry nodded, smiling.

“Not a vast amount of profit-earning there,” said Evelyn.

“On the hotel itself, no. But think of the real estate owned by the company, my friend. Its value has appreciated by a good sixty per cent. in the last fifteen years. And the figure they put it at in their Balance Sheet is grotesquely below the value to-day.”

“Quite. I agree. But you spoke of it as a serious rival to the Palace. It isn't. They haven't even the sense to spend fifteen thousand pounds on replacing their worn-out carpets and curtains. To say nothing of the furniture.”

“I haven't particularly noticed the carpets and curtains,” Sir Henry rather haltingly admitted.

“You will next time you go in there,” Evelyn answered drily. But less drily than he felt. For Savott's announcement had excited in him sensations of admiring wonder. Though the man might show the foibles of a Napoleon he had, too, a true Napoleonic grandeur of conception, and, if he in fact held the boasted options, which he probably did, he certainly had in addition a Napoleonic power to realise his conception. As he stood there on the hearthrug in the comfortable modest room, insulting a fine cigar by smoking it too quickly, he was tossing millions about. And he had had the courage and the originality to love and fight for the daughter of a small town-traveller; and the misfortune to lose her. A few minutes earlier he had been a wistful emblem of tragedy. He was still that emblem, for Evelyn; but he was a great deal more now: he was an emblem of confident, imaginative might.

Evelyn marvelled at him, and pitied him. He wanted to say to him eagerly, “You're a bigger chap than I thought.” And he wanted magically to raise Susan Powler from the dead, so that he might see a cherished woman fold the ruthless giant in her honest arms and kiss away calamity from those ferreting eyes, and by her homeliness reduce a colossus to the human dimensions of a lover. Evelyn was thrilled.

“You've got eight,” said he with feigned cold indifference; and paused. “But you want nine.”

2.

“I want the Imperial Palace,” Sir Henry exclaimed, and could not refrain from a grandiose Napoleonic gesture. “If I can't bring the Imperial Palace into my merger, I'll drop it. I could sell the Majestic at a profit already. I would sell it. And I'd get rid of my options too. I'd clear out of hotels and try something else. I haven't the least desire to mess about with an affair if it's going to be only second-class. Second-c1ass isn't a bit my line. But I'll admit I don't want to clear out of hotels. The luxury hotel, as you've made it, my dear Orcham, seems to me to be the most characteristic of all modem creations. It stands for the age, just as much as the Pyramids did for Egypt. Our age can be proud of it—I mean as an organism. It's marvellous, and there never was anything like it before. The luxury hotel—”

“What about the department-store?” Evelyn interjected.

“I agree,” said Sir Henry quickly. “The department-store is just as characteristic, and original, as the luxury hotel. But as you probably know, I've handled the department-store—both here and in Australia. My department-store merger is a proved success—and half the City prophesied failure for it. Well, that's done. And now I'm in for a hotel-merger. Only, it must be first-class. Splendid! Gorgeous! Something to sing about and write home about! Otherwise I wouldn't give tuppence for it. Of course there've been hotel-mergers already. I expect you know a lot more about my friend Hoster's merger than I do. It's pretty big. I've no dependable information as to how it's doing. But however well it's doing it wouldn't be good enough for me. To my nose it smells of the suburban street and the provincial up from the country and the conducted tour and God knows what else! No, no! The Imperial Palace is the standard for me. And that's why I'm so keen on interesting you in my proposition. Orcham, I'm damnably keen.”

Evelyn was moved by the surprising lyricism of the City man. He was beginning to glimpse the qualities which had lifted up Sir Henry to be a figure in the world of high finance. His imagination was impressed—by the revealed fact that Sir Henry had imagination. He beheld Sir Henry with a satisfaction that was aesthetic. He was even ever so little scared. But he showed none of his emotion.

“I can't quite understand this mania for mergers. It seems to me to mean the destroying of individuality,” he said. Nobody could be more misleading, more mystifying, than Evelyn when his mind was fluid and he had to play for time.

“Destroying of individuality!” cried Sir Henry. “Oh, hang it! I've let the thing out.” He seized the match-box.

“No, Savott!” Evelyn stopped him. “You can do most things in this room, but you aren't allowed to re-light a good cigar.” He stretched his arm, plucked the extinct cigar from his guest's fingers, and threw it into the fire. “Oblige me by taking a fresh one.”

Sir Henry shrugged his shoulders humorously, and obliged, and resumed his talk while lighting the fresh cigar.

“Destroying of individuality!” he repeated, muttering at first with the cigar between his teeth. “You of all people to say that! Look at the present case. It would mean the extension of your individuality. It would give your individuality a scope—a scope—well, you see my idea? I won't say anything about your greatest abilities. But take your efficiency. A merger means the spread of your efficiency; it means the spread of the Imperial Palace standard. Is that nothing? Destruction of individuality! Why! On the contrary! A merger always means increased power and influence for the top-dog. And why is the top-dog the top-dog? Why are you a top-dog?”

“Yes. But what about the under-dog?” Evelyn asked, thinking again the thoughts which had stirred in his mind earlier about top-dogs and under-dogs and middle-dogs.

“It's no use talking about under-dogs,” said Sir Henry, with a transient impatience. “Nothing can stop mergers. They've come, everywhere, in everything. They're still coming, and they'll keep on coming more and more. They're bound to. All big enterprises will get bigger, and small enterprises will be swallowed up or go to hell. Bound to. I'm not a scientist, and I couldn't make a very clear story of evolution. But I've got the hang of it. And what I say is, the merger is evolution. Anyhow, part of it. There it is! It may be a bit rough on a lot of people. But what are you going to do about it? Pull it up with a jerk? You can't. You might as well try to tie a rope to the moon and pull that up. Evolution will go on. Where to? We don't know. At least I don't. Nor care either. All I know is I feel in my bones I've got to go on. Do you suppose I'm taking on this job for money? I've made money. I'm a rich man, very rich. And I want money—want it all the time. I'm interested in money, but I'm much more interested in my instincts. And I'm sure my instincts are right. If they lead me to money, I can't help that. Money's a side-issue. Pleasant enough, of course—but only a side-issue. I'm pushing evolution forward. Somebody has to push it forward, and I'm somebody. What will happen next, after mergers have had a fair show? Who can tell? Not me. It doesn't concern me. Something—call it God or Nature or what you please—something's put certain instincts into my bones, I tell you. I'm not a religionist, but I have a conscience. Yes, I'm conscientious. Sense of duty, somewhere down inside me! And the duty is to use my instincts. Or let them use me. I shouldn't like to say which it is. There might be some bad consequences. Well, let there be! My conscience will be clear. And I know jolly well there'd be some good consequences. And soon!”

“Does he think he's a besom and going to sweep me into a corner?” thought Evelyn, sardonic. But Evelyn was bluffing to himself; for he could feel that he was being swept up by the vigorous besom and already on his way to the corner. The power of the City Napoleon loomed formidably over him. “This fellow's situation precarious?” he thought, recalling sinister rumours concerning the reality of Sir Henry's position. “Rot! His position could never be precarious. And if one situation went to smithereens he'd build another and a better one in about half a minute. Still, that Resolution was a pretty wise precaution.” He had to fight against the impulse to enrol himself as a partisan of Henry Savott.

He said aloud, in a voice that made Sir Henry's seem coarse and rhetorical:

“As we seem to be talking, I may as well tell you that my sentiments about the plight of the under-dog in this evolution of yours are rather strong. In a place like this you get some very melodramatic contrasts, and they make you think. And when I think for instance of you in your suite, or me here, and then of some of the fellows and girls down in the basements, I get a sort of a notion that there must be something wrong somewhere. And your mergers aren't likely to do such a devil of a lot to put it right. The reverse.”

3.

Sir Henry dropped smoothly into an easy-chair opposite Evelyn and when he spoke his restrained tone showed that he had accepted the reproof of Evelyn's quietude.

“And hasn't there always been something wrong? And won't there always be?” he enquired, almost insinuatingly. “When there are no under-dogs the world will have to come to an end, because there won't be anything to improve. Perfection's another name for death, isn't it? And I must just ask you again: What are you going to do about it? About these under-dogs? Mergers mean mass-production and lower prices. What's the matter with this country is that there isn't enough mass-production. Mass-production is the only chance for the under-dog, as far as I can see.”

Sir Henry had spoken slowly and more slowly. He paused. Then began again, very low and very deliberate.

“I'm continually hearing about the soul-destroying monotony of organised labour in these days. One man doing one tiny fraction of a job all day every day. Well, that's part of the penalty of cheap prices. But people forget that cheap prices aren't all penalty. They do have the advantage of raising the purchasing power of the under-dog; therefore raising his standard of life. Do you want to go back to the old methods? Even if you could, you'd only raise prices and lower the standard of life. But you couldn't go back. Because we simply don't go back. And do you want to stand still? Everyone knows you can't stand still. Then you must go forward. More mass-production! And—more machinery! I seem to see that machinery may at last put an end to the under-dog. It may wipe him off the earth by throwing him out of work. Well, somebody has to suffer. Anyhow when he's dead he isn't an under-dog. See here! On the voyage over, this last week, I thought I'd have a look at the innards of the ship. I thought they must be rather like a hotel, and I wanted to pick up all I could in the hotel line. I did pick up some trifles. Of course you know, but I didn't know, that there are no bottle-washers in those big ships. All the washing-up's done by machinery and the drying and everything, and better done than any bottle-washer ever did it or ever could do it.”

“Oh yes!” said Evelyn. “All the big hotels have that machinery. Been in use for years.”

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute.” Sir Henry spoke more loudly, and with some excitement. “There are no miserable bottle-washers any more in the big shows. They're gone. They may have died of starvation, and their families with them. But they're gone. No more monotonous, dirty, greasy, soul-destroying labour for bottle-washers. Now that's all to the good. That's what I call an advance. And lots of other underdogs will follow the bottle-washers. Frightful martyrdoms no doubt for a generation or two. But it can't be helped. There is a chance that mass-production and machinery will abolish the under-dog. There's no other chance. So in the sacred cause of social progress I am determined to bear with fortitude the present and future misfortunes of your under-dogs.” Sir Henry laughed grimly.

“You may be right,” said Evelyn reluctantly. Then, a little ashamed of this assumed reluctance, he added in a more sympathetic tone: “You probably are right. Anyhow it's soothing to the mind to think you are...But I'm afraid I've been leading you off the point.”

“No, no!” Sir Henry amiably smiled. “I led myself. It was I who began about dogs. However, I'll get back. I've nearly finished. I told you I'd be perfectly open with you, and I will. It's a bit unusual for a buyer to be enthusiastic about what he wants to buy. Doesn't help him in bargaining, does it? I can't help that. I'm after the Imperial Palace, and you know why. No one knows better. But the Imperial Palace would be no earthly use to me without Mr. Evelyn Orcham. Without him I wouldn't have it at any price. He is the Imperial Palace. He brought it from ruin to the most brilliant success in the shortest time on record. Of course there are hotels that have started from nothing and succeeded terrifically from the very day they opened. There are at least two in London. And even Mr. Evelyn Orcham couldn't teach much to the fellows that run them. Only they're cheap hotels. Even under-dogs—some under-dogs—stay in them for a day or two without being broke. They aren't luxury hotels, and it's the luxury hotel and nothing else that interests me. I want something I can look at, with women walking around that I can look at, and money flowing out of pockets like water. There's no fun in running a cheap hotel.”

“Oh yes, there is,” Evelyn contradicted.

“Well, naturally there is. I mean not my sort of fun, and your sort of fun. I couldn't bear anything that I had a hand in to be spoken slightingly of. I couldn't bear it! 'Must be funny kind of places,' I've heard people—some of your visitors—say of those cheap hotels; and if I'd been in control of the funny kind of places I should have knocked the people down. Simply that. Because I couldn't have borne it. You don't know me if you think I shouldn't. You understand me—what I mean?”

“Perfectly,” said Evelyn. “I daresay I should feel the same. But I'm not a prize-fighter.”

“Well, I am,” said Sir Henry with emphasis. “Off the point again!” He sniggered; then suddenly became serious: “Now Mr. Evelyn Orcham isn't merely the king of the hotel world. He's boss of the market in hotel-managers. And there aren't any under-bosses. There's nobody but him—for a buyer like me, who won't have anything but the best. He owns the finest article in the market—himself—and he can put his own price on it, without arguing. He's in the strongest position that any seller could be in. You see, I realise all that, and I wouldn't pretend I don't. I want to buy Mr. Evelyn Orcham. Damn it! Of course I want to buy him. He's the foundation-stone and the keystone and everything of my blooming arch. And I'm ready to pay for him. And when I've got him safe, I want to make him the head-god of the greatest hotel-combine that ever was. Nine big luxury hotels! And I want him to put his stamp on all of them, so that everybody can see the brand at a glance. I want everybody in the luxury world to know that every one of those nine belongs to the Orcham group—and nothing more need be said, no questions asked, no doubts raised, no qualms, no fears, apprehensions. 'It's an Orcham hotel. It's dear, but it's worth the money. You know where you are in his shows.' That's how the luxury crew have got to talk among themselves. And that's how they would talk, by God! Why! In London and Madrid and Paris and San Remo and Cannes and Rome we should put every other swell hotel out of business. Right out. We should divide the luxury crew into two sections—those who had the sense and the money to stay in an Orcham, and those who hadn't... Now, Orcham, is it worth your while to take the thing on? Or am I a ranting idiot?”

Evelyn answered at once:

“If you want my candid opinion, I should say that you don't coincide very closely with my idea of a ranting idiot. But it isn't worth my while to take the thing on. You see, I'm very fond of the Imperial Palace. There's a genuine attachment between us. I'm happy here. I'm content. I don't want anything else.”

4.

Sir Henry jumped up from his chair, and began to eat his cigar instead of smoking it.

“Then you will excuse me,” he burst forth, stressing nearly every syllable. “But what I say is you've no right to be happy and content here. How old are you? You can't be fifty. Fancy any man under fifty being happy and content! I'm a long sight older than you; but I'm not happy and I'm not content. And I don't want to be, either. When I'm happy and content I shall be so near to being dead that you wouldn't notice the difference. Why man, if you're happy and content you might as well say you haven't got anything else to live for! And what would you have to live for? You've made this place once, complete. You've exercised your genius on it. You can't go on making it. It's made. All you have to do is to keep it where it is. A touch here and a touch there. No more. And your genius going to waste! Waste! You've realised one ambition, and a jolly good ambition. You've created the finest luxury hotel in the world. Haven't you got any more ambitions? Or are you at the end? Under fifty! Shall you be satisfied to sit down and fold your arms?” He spread out his arms, and then folded them. But folding his arms did nothing to tranquilise his almost fierce excitement.

With a casual air Evelyn remarked:

“There isn't much sitting down and folding of arms about this place.”

Dropping his arms, Sir Henry, cigar between teeth, went back to his chair once again, sat down, and folded his arms anew, but with a comic, apologetic gesture. He stared at Evelyn, faintly smiling.

“Excuse me!” he said, as it were ruefully, and pleadingly. “I really do beg you to excuse me. When I get keen I'm apt to—well, you know. So do I know—curse it!” He showed considerable charm. Indeed for the moment he was irresistible.

“Not at all!” said Evelyn, making no effort to resist, and with a smile quite as charming as his guest's. “Not at all. You're very interesting. A talk is a talk. Do go on.” As a fact he found Sir Henry more than interesting—acutely disturbing. But his reserve was a shield to him. And although upon occasion he could, like Sir Henry, put all his cards on the table, he chose not to do so on this occasion.

“Let me say just one thing more,” Sir Henry said, ingratiating, appealing, astonishingly placid after his fevered eloquence. “Your talents are being wasted here—in my opinion, that is. Are you justified in wasting them? Perhaps you are. I'm merely asking the question. There's still quite a great deal to do in the world. Perhaps luxury hotels aren't the be-all and end-all of life. But they're a factor. And they happen to be your field. And what we want more and more to-day is efficiency. Efficiency is a speciality of yours. Why shouldn't nine luxury hotels set an example of absolutely tiptop efficiency? Any efficiency, particularly when it's spectacular, stimulates all other efficiencies.”

Sir Henry's voice died away. He rose slowly, and held out his hand.

“You aren't going?”

“Yes,” said Sir Henry. “Thanks immensely for a perfect evening. I couldn't have enjoyed an evening more.”

“But—”

“Seems to me I ought to give you a chance to think it over. That's all I ask. For you to think it over. No hurry. I should hate to hurry you. You'll ring me up, or I'll ring you up. I'm not leaving the Palace yet. I don't vanish out of hotels like Gracie. Au revoir. Your hospitality is the sort I can appreciate. Of course being in the Imperial Palace it would be.”

Evelyn shook bands unwillingly. At the door Sir Henry turned.

“And I say,” he murmured with another rueful smile, “I rely on you to forgive all the noise I've made.”

He departed. The door banged.

Evelyn gently threw the last inch of his first evening cigar into the fire.

“A masterly exit,” he thought.

Chapter 25. EARLY MORN

Evelyn had luck that night. He did not possess the Napoleonic gift of sleeping at will and for any willed length of time. Indeed he seldom slept uninterruptedly for more than three hours together, and he praised God when God granted him a total of five and a half hours' sleep in three instalments. He probably did not sleep well because he was not very interested in sleep. What really interested him was waking up, getting up, and satisfying himself by contemplation of the dawn that the ancient earth was revolving as usual. But on just that night it mysteriously happened to him to receive from heaven five hours' unbroken sleep. So that he arose with full mental vigour in the morning twilight and drew the curtains and raised the blinds and beheld glistening roofs and clouds gliding above them from the eternal south-west; and began to reflect upon a new problem, as eagerly curious about it as a child about a new toy.

It was in these earliest morning hours, after a fair night, that Evelyn most pleasantly savoured life. He had leisure then, more time than was necessary for the due performance of what he called his 'chores.' He possessed three dressing-gowns of different thicknesses. Oldham always laid them side by side in an unvarying order on the back of his easy-chair. He chose the one which seemed to him to suit the temperature of the morning. He turned on the electric radiator. Steam-heating was good enough for the visitors to the Palace, but not for its Director. He turned on all the lights, for he liked the fullest illumination, Saying that whatever he was doing he preferred to see clearly what it was.He beheld the room, and the tidiness of the room provided fresh satisfaction every morning. Every morning was the beginning of the world and of his existence. No clothes and no linen were ever left lying in the room. Nothing was out of place: neither the books on the large bed-table, nor the glasses and bottle and weekly papers and cigarette-box on the square table behind the bed, nor the appointments on the dressing-table, nor the pumps and slippers on the floor.

Now, he lit the finest cigarette of the day, and opened windows wide, and, warm in his camel-hair gown, defied the tang of the air of sunrise. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece and the encased watch on the bed-table, and noted with relief and pride that they announced precisely the same minute of the same hour. He considered what suit he would wear, what shirt, what necktie, what handkerchief, what socks, what shoes. He hated anew the prospect of shaving. He drank the celestial juice of two oranges carefully distilled for him overnight by Oldham. He ate half a handful of seedless raisins, also prepared for him by Oldham.

Among the books on the bed-table was an India-paper Bible. He scarcely ever read it, but he liked to feel that in case he wanted to read it the Bible was handy. On this morning he picked up the Bible, found the Psalms, found the Forty-sixth Psalm. Yes. There it was, the memorable sentence: “Be still and know that I am God.” The sentence awed him. It seemed to contain the whole wisdom of thirty centuries of human experience. And he had lived for nearly fifty years in ignorance of it. He repeated and repeated the sentence. But no better than on the previous night could he have defined its significance, even to himself. He strolled into the bathroom, strolled back, leaving the door ajar, took off his dressing-gown, and, with customary conscientiousness, performed blood-stimulating physical exercises on the floor and upright in front of an open window. Then he shut the windows, resumed the dressing gown, and luxuriously, voluptuously, and a little breathlessly reclined in the easy-chair. One chore done!

As a rule at this stage of the day he read periodicals. But now he had no desire to read. He wished to enjoy his mind. He was not given to self-analysis. He would think out his plans, but the originating cause of all his plans had little interest for him. He lived his life by deep impulses into which he never enquired. He rather despised the individuals who were always worrying themselves about themselves. His attitude was God's: I am that I am. To wonder why he was what he was hardly occurred to him. And whither he was going did not trouble him more than whence he had come. He constructed no chart, wrote out no annual balance-sheet. He merely knew, felt, that he had work to do and that he was doing it pretty well and was thereby kept continually busy.

2.

But to-day, in the freshness of the morning and the cherished order of the room, he entered upon some sort of an examination of that unexplored strange creature, Evelyn Orcham. At leisure, and secure from any invasion, he began to reflect, not without mild excitement. He was happy. Henry Savott had feverishly informed him that at his age he had no right to be happy. Nevertheless he was happy. He damned Henry Savott. Still, the man had impressed him. In his daily life Evelyn was more used to bestow wisdom than to receive it. And to have positively explosive instruction flung in his face with violence was to say the least disconcerting.

The younger son of the Chief Customs Inspector of an important East Coast port, Evelyn had been brought up with two extremely taciturn men—his widowed father and his brother. The two men and the boy seldom talked and never argued, even at meals. The two men showed no curiosity about anything, and apparently thought that nothing was worth talking about. Each was an individual island entirely surrounded by spiritual solitude; and the boy became an island. The elder brother entered the Customs service, married a girl who chattered incessantly, and reached in course of time the chief inspectorship of another East Coast port. His children were growing up. He asked no more from life. He never wrote to Evelyn, nor Evelyn to him. Immediately on leaving school Evelyn heard casually of a catering job at a provincial Exhibition, and on the strength of a school reputation as organiser of field-excursions, casually wandered off to get the job, and got it. Nobody either encouraged or discouraged his enterprise of leaving home. He just departed with an exchange of “Ta-ta, ta-ta.” And he never saw his home again. His father died while away on holiday, and at the funeral Evelyn spoke about forty words to his brother, and his brother about twenty words to Evelyn. “Ta-ta, ta-ta,” once more. Withal, the pair were conscious of mutual esteem. Evelyn rose by step and step to the top of his profession. When he arrived at the panjandrumship of the Imperial Palace Hotel he sat down to write the news to his brother. But he desisted and cast the sheet into the waste-paper basket, because he was afraid that his grave and silent brother might reply on a post-card and despise him for breaking the grand family tradition of taciturnity. All he could be sure of about his brother was that he was not dead; for tradition would assuredly have summoned him to a brother's funeral.

Once fairly established in the hotel world, Evelyn of course had to learn the art, and especially the craft, of conversation. He learned it as he might have learned mathematics or juggling or conjuring. He talked, but he remained reserved. He had always been, and he still was, reserved even with the person whom be least mistrusted—himself. At no period of his wonderful ascent had he made many friends.

The career of hotel-management was as absorbing as that of ship-captaincy. There were, in practice, no fixed, regular hours of work for the chief and his immediate subordinates. During twenty hours daily, from 6.30 a.m. to 2 a.m., the big hotel was as it were in full navigation of the high seas; and during the poor brief remnant of the twenty-four the vessel was not in port; she was only hove to. A critical situation was as likely to supervene by night as by day. Evelyn's most intimate friend was old Dennis Dover, and it was he who had late one evening likened a big cosmopolitan hotel to a baby. “You never dare leave it,” father Dennis had said. “The darned thing's always liable to wake up before dawn and cry itself into convulsions if you aren't there.” The Imperial Palace Hotel tolerated no rival interests. Everybody who served it became enslaved to it. The hotel took the place of wife, children, friends, hobbies, sports. Apparent exceptions occurred now and then; not, however, real exceptions. Thus the sardonic middle-aged grill-room chef, Rocco, had begun recently to flirt with golf; but his colleagues prophesied that the affair would be flirtation and no more.

As for Evelyn, he had forsaken sports and pastimes many years ago. And why should Evelyn embarrass himself with a pack of friends when he was happy without them?

But on this particular morning he saw his present as well as his future in the new searchlight directed upon them by Henry Savott. He was the celebrated panjandrum of the Imperial Palace Hotel. He had 'got there.' Good! And in ten years, in twenty? When he was approaching three score and ten, would be have retired-unthinkable—or would he still be the panjandrum of the Imperial Palace Hotel? Would not the livelier of his acquaintances and colleagues then be saying behind his back: “Yes, terrific fellow! Made the place! Perhaps he's been there a bit too long. Thirty years. In a groove. You can't teach him anything now”? Possibly he was already fairly deep in a groove of habit and self-complacency. Was it not true what Savott had said, that a touch here and a touch there should suffice to keep the vast organism of the Imperial Palace in the path of prosperity? Could he, Evelyn, deny that his talent for imaginative efficiency was being to some extent wasted? He sat quiet, and waited for inspiration. Without at all realising it, he was fulfilling the behest of the Psalmist's deity: “Be still and know that I am God.”

He heard a faint whine. It was the sound of the vacuum cleaner which twice a week a chambermaid and a valet between them employed upon his sitting-room. The day had started. The humble were abroad and active. But how came it that he could hear the sound across the bathroom, in a bedroom theoretically impervious to all noise? Ah! He had left the bedroom door ajar. He rose and shut the door. The whine ceased to be audible.

Could he successfully inspire the managers of eight hotels in four different countries with his own spirit, energy, enthusiasm, tact, tireless ingenuity in organisation? He might be able to teach Rome and Madrid. But could he teach Paris and the Riviera; he an Englishman, handicapped, despite his renown, by the fact of being a native of the land which had the worst hotels in Europe? Well, he thought he could. He knew he could. Already he could see how he would have to set about the mighty task: stay in each of the hotels, say nothing, watch, praise, study local conditions, allow for local standards; a touch here and a touch there at first; cautious suggestions; then bolder strokes; a few abrupt dismissals; exchanges of important members of staffs between one hotel and another; promotions, degradations; soft answers; the iron hand; encouragement of the larger harmony through transient violent discords; flittings from city to city; rapid and frequent returns to London to maintain the peace of the Imperial Palace, and to galvanise and electrify the Majestic and the Duncannon into a more and more active reforming energy.

There was the language difficulty. Absurd! He was inventing difficulties. The entire hotel-world was polyglot. And he could speak French admirably. He had learned French as he had learned conversation, and for the same reason. And if he felt any apprehensions about Madrid, which he had seen only once, he could take with him once or twice Adolphe, the chef de reception of the Palace, and the supreme linguist of all the Palace staff.

The projected enterprise of modernising hotels made a fascinating panorama in his mind. It was an enterprise perfectly suited to his faculties. Had he not already conducted two similar enterprises to triumph, in his beloved first-born, the Wey, and then in the Imperial Palace? In both cases had he not performed the miracle of raising the dead; and to what glorious life? In the privacy of his self-esteem he doubted whether there existed on earth another man as fortunately qualified as himself for the realisation of Savott's dream. By the way, it was Savott's dream; not his own. And Savott might well be an excellent man to work with. Savott would understand without too much argument, because he had imagination.

Nevertheless Evelyn hated the visionary project. He shrank from the sight of it, averting his eyes. Why shoulder the weight of ten thousand new anxieties? Why wander homeless? Why leave the adorable habitual comfort of his everlasting home? He feared, tremblingly hesitant. Ha! The groove! Dramatic proof, this hesitation, that he was indeed already sunk in a groove, that in his shelter he shivered at the mere thought of the winds of the world. But supposing that he declined Savott's offer—how would he feel afterwards for the rest of his life? Shamed, remorseful, disappointed, stultified, lethargised? Would he not. know in his heart that he was a coward? Then he perceived a flaw in Savott's grandiose scheme. It was not sufficiently grandiose. The fellow did not know enough. He was missing the finest, the most glaring opportunity in Europe. Deauville! There were only two authentic luxury hotels in Deauville. Savott should have bought options on both of them. The trouble in Deauville was the shortness of the season. But the season ought to be lengthened, could be lengthened. That bright young man Immerson, author and controller of the unique indirect publicity of the Imperial Palace, had once in Evelyn's presence sighed for the chance to do in Deauville what he had done in London and Weybridge. The Deauville people had amazingly succeeded with their hotels, but they had not succeeded in stretching their season. Their imagination lacked breadth and sweep.

3.

A quiet knock. Evelyn got up and walked to the right-hand window. Oldham entered.

“Morning, Oldham,” Evelyn greeted him, but without turning round.

“Morning, sir.”

These two understood each other perfectly—not almost perfectly, but perfectly. Evelyn's attitude towards Oldham was one of affection and appreciation. Oldham's to Evelyn one of affection and devotion. Because of his aversion for physical exercise and his inexhaustible interest in eating, Oldham, who was five years younger than Evelyn, looked five years older, and Evelyn always thought of him as older.

Once, a long time since, they had had a skirmish which might have developed into a calamitous shindy if Evelyn had not the presence of mind to shut his own mouth. Oldham valued that forbearance. It had been reported to Evelyn through the floor-housekeeper, that in a quarrel with a chambermaid about their respective duties Oldham had remarked: “If you think I'm a bloody chambermaid—” Evelyn had been infuriated at such behaviour; less at the language used to a girl by a respectable man of an age to be her father, than at the respectable man's evident unfairness in presuming on the immense advantage of his position as Evelyn's private and confidential servant. Evelyn was very seldom infuriated; one might say never. But he happened to be himself extreme punctilious in his demeanour to all his employees; he had a special detestation of masters who were rude to their servants and Oldham's iniquity had taken him by surprise. Also, Evelyn's fury had taken Oldham by surprise; and Oldham had retorted too soon, before he had recovered from the surprise. The next day Oldham had briefly expressed contrition, and the quarrel was over. They had never had another. The first and last quarrel had seemed to draw them more closely together; both had realised that a rupture would be desolating.

Evelyn had tried for years to put sense into Oldham about eating, outdoor exercise, and personal tidiness. He had failed and had abandoned the efforts. He might have succeeded as regards personal tidiness, if Oldham's gourmandise had not made him too stout to get into Evelyn's cast-off suits. Instead of wearing these perquisites Oldham sold them. As in all other matters Oldham was meticulously tidy, Evelyn had accepted the situation.

“Striped,” said Evelyn, still not turning round. (Each of Evelyn's suits was christened with a short epithet.) “Black-and-white shirt, black tie, black French shoes.” He said nothing about socks because socks had to match the tie.

“Yes, sir...Excuse me, sir,” said Oldham. “Mrs. O'Riordan is unwell and thinks she ought to stay in bed. She would very much obliged if you could go and see her after breakfast. That was the message, sir.” His shocked tone said: “Yes, that's the message, and I give it you, but it's the biggest piece of cheek I ever heard of in this hotel, and I beg to take no responsibility for it. You going to see the housekeeper because she's 'unwell,' as she calls it!”

“All right,” said Evelyn, absently. “Remind me.”

“Yes, sir.”

Evelyn himself perceived not the enormity of the message, but at the back of his brain, behind the circling thoughts concerning his presence and his future, he was somewhat disturbed. He guessed: “It must be about the new floor-housekeeper. She wants to settle that business at once, and I may have some trouble with the old girl.” At last he turned to go into the bathroom. Oldham had switched on the light in the huge wardrobe-cubicle which gave on to the bedroom and which held the whole of Evelyn's attire. The man was handling a pair of trousers.

“Here! Steady!” Evelyn enjoined him. “I told you the striped, not the broad stripe.” When Evelyn had bought a second striped suit the new one had been dubbed 'broad-stripe' to distinguish it from the old one.

“Sorry, sir,” Oldham apologised, after a brief pause for cerebration, in the thick, obscure tone which always indicated that he was secretly worried. Indeed the audacity of Mrs. O'Riordan was still abrading his sensitive nerves so loyal to Evelyn.

Evelyn passed into the bathroom, where Oldham had already made every minute customary preparation for the morning rites. The spectacle of the sacred traditional disposition of the bathroom appealed pleasurably every day to Evelyn's passionate sense of order. Razor, razor-towel, chair, bath-towels, mat, mirror, soaps, height and temperature of water in the bath—each item was arranged strictly in accordance with the changeless daily formula. And he enjoyed the spectacle this morning, but absently.

He was not thinking of Mrs. O'Riordan. He was thinking: “What am I alive for? What is my justification for being alive and working? I cannot keep on creating the Palace. I have created it. The thing is done. I can't do it again.”

For the first time he was addressing to his soul the terrible comprehensive question, which corrodes the very root of content in the existence of millions of less fortunate people, but which had never even presented itself to Evelyn until the previous night:

“Why?”

If Henry Savott's proposition could not furnish the answer to the question, what could? As late as within the last twenty four hours—nay, twelve hours—he had been condemning Savott's scheme as a dastardly and hateful conspiracy to be countered at any cost. Only a minute ago he had been hating it. But now the visionary project was changing its appearance: and in spite of himself he saw in it the chance of salvation—he who but a little earlier would have derided any hypothesis that he needed salvation.

He shaved with cautious tranquillity. He lay long in the warm water; and as he lay a lamp seemed to be ignited in his brain, and it burned up slowly into a steady flame which illuminated the whole of his brain. And it was the figure and symbol of Savott's scheme, and the one veritable answer to that dread conundrum: why was he alive, and why should he go on living? And though he tried to pretend that his brain was dark, he could not, because of the convincing brightness of the lamp. And even when, reluctantly, he withdrew himself from the warm water and with a towel violently rubbed his skin as if he would rub out the flame itself, it still burned unwaveringly. And Evelyn had to carry the lamp into the bedroom. In the bedroom he beheld all his clothes laid out according to formula and with the zealous accuracy of a man who knew why he was alive and had found the reason completely satisfactory.

Then, while he was seated at the mirror tying his cravat, there was a tap on the door and the door opened, and Oldham entered, consternation on his pale, flabby face.

“Mrs. O'Riordan is in the sitting-room, sir,” said Oldham, ashamed, shocked by his own tidings.

“What?”

With admirable presence of mind Evelyn neither turned his gaze from the mirror nor ceased to tie the cravat.

“She wants to see you at once, sir.”

“Who let her into the room?”

“She came in, sir.”

“But I thought she was ill.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What time is it?”

“Twenty minutes to eight, sir.”

“Now, look here, Oldham.” Evelyn swung round on the chair. “Get her out. Use your famous tact. Say I'm late. Say I'm not dressed. Tell her I'll come along and see her in her own room as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” Oldham agreed, doubtfully, and departed.

Evelyn had not been able to extinguish the lamp, but this unparalleled occurrence extinguished it. Scarcely could he believe what he had heard. What! A member of the staff invade his sacred castle, and before breakfast! Such an act was unheard of in all the history of Evelyn's panjandrumship. Nobody dared to come into his castle, save upon special request and as a favour—and never on hotel business. Mrs. O'Riordan must have had one of her rare nerve-storms. But even so—! He was all spruce and ready to leave the bedroom before Oldham returned.

“Well?” he asked, showing anxiety despite an effort to hide it.

“She's gone, sir.”

“Was she dressed?”

“Well, sir, she was dressed, as you might call it.”

“What do you mean?”

“A negleejay, sir.” Oldham departed once more.

Evelyn passed through the now disordered and sloppy-floored bathroom into the sitting-room, which was as clean and bright as a new pin. He rang the bell, sat down to the breakfast table, and opened “The Times.” First he looked at the City page and noted that Imperial Palace shares had risen one-eighth. Good! Then he turned to the obituaries and to the announcements of betrothals, weddings, births, deaths, dinner-parties, receptions; for it was part of his work, as of Cousin's and Adolphe's and Cappone's and Ruffo's, to maintain close familiarity with the daily annals of the great self-advertising world. Then on the sports page his eye caught a paragraph about Woolwich Arsenal Football Club. Then Oldham brought in breakfast.

“I say, Oldham,” he enquired with seeming vivacious interest, “what's this about the Arsenal this season?”

He hoped to get one up on Oldham in the matter of football news, but as usual his hope was disappointed. Oldham had seen the news in another paper, his own, where it was a front-page item. The man's sole distraction was Association Football. As a slim youth he had played centre-half. He seldom attended a match; in fact he attended a match no oftener than he attended his wife, who lived in a Berkshire village. But he always knew all about all teams, players, matches. The desire of his life was to win a £1,000 prize offered by a Sunday paper for twenty-two correct results. He had never got beyond eighteen; and Evelyn prayed that he would stick eternally at eighteen, lest £1,000 in cash might ruin him both as a man and as a valet. Evelyn had no curiosity whatever about Association Football or about Rugby either; he kept a careless attention on Association news solely in order to be able to discuss it intelligently with Oldham, who loved to display his vast knowledge. This morning they talked at some length. But the conversation was a piece of bravado, a horrible and unconvincing make-believe. Both were humiliatingly aware of its false character. Each knew that the other was obsessed, worried, appalled, overset by Mrs. O'Riordan's shocking, incredible invasion in a negligé. Both had been unmanned thereby. But each nevertheless was nobly determined to play the intrepid man in face of insu1ting behaviour and oncoming trouble.

Oldham left. In five minutes he came back, freighted with still worse news.

“Mr. Plimsing is outside, sir,” said he, having carefully shut the doors. “Wishes to see you, sir.”

“What next?” cried Evelyn, pushing away his plate with a gesture betraying serious agitation. Oldham intensified the woe in his visage. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing, sir.”

Evelyn raised his voice slightly: “Well, tell him this. Tell him I can't see him here. Tell him I'll see him in my office at nine o'clock. No. I'll see him here at nine o'clock. And not before. I don't care how urgent his business is. I wonder what's come over the place this morning!”

Mr. Plimsing was the hotel detective; formerly in the C.I.D. department of Scotland Yard.

Chapter 26. NERVE-STORM

“How sweet of you to come!” murmured Mrs. O'Riordan sweetly, as Evelyn entered her sitting-room.

She reclined on a sofa which had been drawn up near the hearth, where a small fire burned. Her slim body was enveloped in a rosy negligé, a magnificent garment. Her head rested on a small white embroidered pillow, under which were three variegated and ribboned cushions. She smiled with a coquettish consciousness of grace, of the exceeding neatness of her grey-white coiffure, of the rouged and powdered finish of her lips and complexion, and of the elegance of her wrists and manicured hands emerging from the lacy sleeves. But the most elegant thing on the sofa was a black cat, curled up on the eiderdown covering her feet. Mrs. O'Riordan's attitude and demeanour combined those of a Madame Récamier and an Olympia, inviting, refusing, teasing, voluptuous, intelligent.

The room was over-full of furniture and knickknacks and flowers. Portraits of men, women and mansions thronged the walls. The room was a boudoir. But in one hand Mrs. O'Riordan held some letters, and at her side, on a pouf, sat a young, pink-faced, short-frocked secretary, notebook open on knees. The Récamier, the Olympia, the odalisque, had been dictating answers to correspondence.

Evelyn's apprehensions momentarily vanished at the warm spectacle of the domestic interior. He thought: “I can deal with this all right.” And he thought what a shame it was that such a woman, such a cunning piece of femininity, should be compelled by fate to knit her brows over business when she ought to be occupied solely with her ageless charm, the attractions of her boudoir, and the responsiveness of men to her fine arts. Monstrous it was that she, whose function in life was obviously to scatter money, should have to earn it, and in order to earn it should be dictating letters at 8.30 a.m. The whole situation was against nature. He had always known, or at any rate guessed, that Mrs. O'Riordan was somewhat ardently feminine; but never before had he had such evidence of her temperament. The sight amounted to a sudden revelation; for he had not been in her sitting-room for years, and not once had he seen her in aught but the strict shining head-housekeeper's black.

He said nothing, waved his hand vaguely as though it held his stick, waited.

“Shoo! Run!” said Mrs. O'Riordan to the little secretary, frowning, rather crossly. In an instant her face had assumed its smile.

“She's wound up; all nerves; a bit hysterical,” thought Evelyn.

The little secretary jumped to her feet, and, with a shy, pleasant glance at Evelyn, obediently hurried out of the room.

“You don't look ill,” said Evelyn. “What's this I hear about you being ill?”

“Pleurisy,” said Mrs. O'Riordan

“Pleurisy?” he exclaimed.

“Oh! If you don't believe me, just look.” She raised her head and shoulders, and with one hand pulled down the negligé at the back, exposing one shoulder-blade and the edge of a white undergarment. “Come nearer and look.” It was a command that she uttered. Evelyn saw the ends of a series of strips of plaster.

“You see how he's plastered me all up.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Constam of course.” Dr. Constam was the young hotel-doctor. “So that when I move, the pleura won't rub. I sent for him before seven o'clock. I had such a sharp pain. It's only a very slight attack, but it is pleurisy.” She lowered her head on to the pillow. “And that's not all. He says there's something funny about my liver. Well, I always knew there was. The gallbladder isn't working properly. But otherwise I feel very well. Only he's told me I must keep as quiet as I can. As if I could!”

“And your idea of keeping quiet is to come down to see me before I'm dressed!” said Evelyn, with a gentle, sardonic smile

“You aren't very sympathetic. Pleurisy's pleurisy, you know. It's nothing yet; but it might be very serious if it wasn't taken in hand at once. I've had it before.”

“Well, you ought to be in bed, then.”

“I am in bed, practically. I'm only lying here while my bed's being made. He says I mustn't eat any fats—that's because of the gall-bladder, or drink any alcohol—or as little as I can. I shall certainly drink some. I came down to see you because I just couldn't wait. I know it was very naughty of me. I know you're God. Mr. Cousin thinks he's God too, but he isn't. Do sit down. I want to talk to you.”

“Very well. But oughtn't you to leave everything till you're better?”

“No, I oughtn't,” said Mrs. O'Riordan. Evelyn was moving about the room, carelessly examining the portraits. “And please do sit down. You fidget me. Please!”

Evelyn sat, at some distance from the sofa, on a chair by the sideboard. Yes, he thought, Mrs. O'Riordan was in a strange, sensitive mood, a mood surprising to him. She had ceased to be an employee. He had ceased to be the Director of the Imperial Palace. He was a man, and she was a woman, and she knew her power and was using it, with a grand impetuous disregard of their relative positions. Despite her alleged maladies, she seemed to be uplifted, and responsive; Evelyn felt uplifted also. He enjoyed his plight. The cat stood up on Mrs. O'Riordan's hidden ankles, yawned, arched its back, and gazed at Evelyn with real contempt.

“Well?” Evelyn calmly encouraged the invalid, folding his hands and crossing one knee over the other. He said to himself that Mrs. O'Riordan would have to look much more like a sick woman than she did before he could behave to her as one. He had, however, quite forgiven her scandalous and untimely invasion of his castle.

“It's about Miss Brury,” said Mrs. O'Riordan, stroking the cat, which had strolled up to her shoulders. “Darling!” (This to the cat.) “She came to see me last night. She wants to be taken back. She cried and I cried, and any woman with any heart would have cried. This notion that men have that women are hard on one another is ridiculous. It's men that are hard on women, and don't we know it! Alice says she hasn't got a penny—gives all she has to her married sister, who has about a thousand children—what a husband!—and she simply daren't ask for another place because everyone will know what happened here. And why shouldn't she come back? Tired to death, and she has to deal with a drunken thief in the cloak-room—”

“Drunken?”

“Yes.”

“You never said that before.”

“Because I didn't think of it. And Miss Brury didn't either. Good-natured women don't think these horrid things of one another. But it occurred to me all of a sudden. And so I sent down to Cappone to find out what that precious party had had to drink. Hock. A bottle and a half of champagne. Three ports, and three Armagnacs. She must have been drunk—or halfdrunk. But some of them hide it so cleverly. So I went to see Cousin immediately. This was last night. He was just leaving, and I kept him over three-quarters of an hour, and glad I am I did too! What annoys me in Mr. Cousin is he's always so calm. It's unnatural—especially in a Frenchman. A Frenchman ought to know that a woman with something on her mind hardly likes talking to a stone wall. Well, Mr. Cousin doesn't seem to know that. He just said Alice couldn't be taken back, and she couldn't and she couldn't and she couldn't. The pain I had got worse and worse. I told him I was very unwell, but do you suppose he cared? No more than you do, Mr. Orcham!”

“I'm very sorry,” said Evelyn.

“Yes. You look as if you are! You wouldn't see me before because you were in your braces, and now you're twiddling yourthumbs and you're 'very sorry.'“ Mrs. O'Riordan laughed with a surprising attractiveness which her remarks belied.

Evelyn, fearing that her gaiety might at any moment turn to hysterical sobbing, smiled with prudence. But he remained in a conditionsecretly uplifted.

2.

“I'm afraid we can't have Miss Brury back at the Palace,” he said.

“Of course you men always agree.”

“But I'll find her another place, if you really want me to.”

“Where?”

“Well, at the Laundry.”

“At the Laundry!”

“Why not?”

“Oh, nothing! Only it's an insult. I haven't trained Alice to iron shirts and pants.”

“She might be staff-manageress. It's an excellent job.”

“Glad to hear it!” said Mrs. O'Riordan, with charming scorn. But in spite of herself she was a little bit dashed by the splendour of the offer. She went on: “Of course when a girl's in a hole, through no fault of her own, and hasn't a penny, you can safely humiliate her, and she's obliged to thank you for humiliating her. Don't I know! I daresay you think I'm being impudent.”

“Not at all,” Evelyn replied blandly. “I like you when you're very ill—like this.”

And he did. Instead of resenting her present lack of self-control, he admired, as never before, the extraordinary self-control which almost continuously for years and years she had managed to maintain in the past. He appreciated, now, the tremendous effort which it must have entailed for her: keeping the peace among a pack of women and girls; mollifying and kowtowing to a pack of hypercritical visitors; trying to prevent the unscrupulous visitors from stealing coat-hangers and ashtrays and even electroplate—for the Palace, like all hotels, was no better than a den of well-dressed thieves; watching over the sewing-repairs; placating the Works Department, especially when trouble arose between the Works carpenters and her own private carpenters who carpentered exclusively within the hotel; pestering and being pestered by the electricians, dictating her wordy letters; passing on complaints about room meals to the grill-room chef; clashing herself against the insensate rock which was Mr. Cousin; getting up early and going to bed late; always, always, being sweetly diplomatic with the panjandrum; and always, always pretending that she allowed nothing to worry her or ever would! She, the Olympia-Récamier on the couch! She was marvellous. Let her break out. Let her be impudent. Let her be as womanish as she chose. She had earned the right to be so. The truth indeed was that brief intercourse with Gracie Savott had somehow given Evelyn a new insight into women and quickened his sympathy for them. Strange, considering the way Gracie had behaved! But it was so.

“Oh! So you like impudence!” She raised her eyebrows seductively, and her clear voice was seductive.

“Yes, when it's yours, mother.”

“Please don't call me mother,” she snapped, in quite another voice, frowning suddenly.

“You darling!” he nearly said as he cajolingly smiled, as to a petulant young beauty. What was wrong with her? Was it merely liver and a touch of pleurisy? Everyone referred to her as mother. She frequently, with pride in her tone, referred to herself as mother. He himself, and several others in the hierarchy, often addressed her as mother. “Sister,” he corrected aloud, while sustaining the smile.

“I hate to be called mother, and if you're so hard on poor Alice Brury I can't understand why you should make such a fuss about chambermaids having to open their bags and things to that brute Maxon. Yes, I got your note. I didn't answer it because I was so angry. Of course it's not nice for girls to have to open their bags. Did you imagine we hadn't thought of it? As a matter of fact I long since started a system of them showing their bags to their housekeeper. But housekeepers can't always be on the spot to O.K. the bags with a bit of chalk. And even if they are, what's to prevent the girls from getting a friend to hand them something on the stairs as they go down? It all seems easy and simple to you; but you're a man and you don't know. Any chambermaid could get the better of you. Chambermaids are awful. They'd leave as soon as look at you. And you have to be after them the whole damn time. Just ask Miss Maclaren. She could tell you a few things. Chambermaids, oh yes! But when it comes to Alice Brury, who's been perfect, you're absolutely flinty, you and your Mr. Cousin!”

Evelyn said:

“But it mustn't be forgotten that the unhappy Alice left us at a moment's notice. I mean without any notice at all.”

“Yes,” cried Mrs. O'Riordan. “And that's what I'm going to do! I'm too young for this place. That's what's the matter with me!”

Her voice had risen sharply. She had been lying on her back. Now she twisted her body a little, laid one cheek on the embroidered pillow, and threw her right arm over her face. The letters slipped from her right hand and floated down to the carpet. The cat jumped after them and they rustled beneath its paws. A strange sound was heard—Mrs. O'Riordan sobbing. Evelyn, in accordance with his habit when he could not decide what to do, did nothing. He was startled.

“She'll get over this,” he thought. “It's the beginning of the end of the nerve-storm. She'll be through in about a minute now. Then she'll be sorry. They're always like that.”

He had never conceived the Imperial Palace without its mother. Probably nobody had. But to his own surprise the conception of the Imperial Palace without its mother at once attracted him. She was charming, efficient, conscientious. Still, she was undeniably sixty-two; and who could go on for ever? Already several times it had occurred to Evelyn that 'if anything happened'—and who could go on for ever?—there was always Miss Maclaren, who was Scottish—better than being English, Welsh or Irish!—had worked on every floor of the hotel in turn, and had carried on quite smoothly in the stead of Mrs. O'Riordan during the mother's last summer holiday. If mother had died, the Imperial Palace would have survived, and if mother chose to retire the Imperial Palace would survive. Emile Cousin at any rate would support the blow with fortitude. The slowly developing antipathy between those two had been causing some mild concern to Evelyn. Nevertheless the retirement of mother, if indeed she really meant to retire, would be a mighty and reverberating event in the domestic life and politics of the Palace.

3.

Mrs. O'Riordan, having ceased to sob, was softly weeping, but she had presence of mind enough to draw a handkerchief from a pocket inside her negligé and dab her eyes. Evelyn saw her gazing at him from under her arm. The eyes were glinting and gleaming at him.

“You might rescue those letters from the cat,” Mrs. O'Riordan murmured.

Evelyn obeyed.

“You're better now, aren't you?” he said, bending over her. “Perhaps you could sleep a little.”

“Better!” she said, with amazing swift brightness and lightness. “I couldn't be better. I was only crying because I'm so happy. I'm much too happy to sleep. Sleep! I wouldn't sleep for anything! I'm going to be married. That was really why I came down to see you this morning—to tell you! I wanted you to be the first to hear about it. But when you walked in here I didn't know just how to begin. You frighten me. You frighten everybody.”

Evelyn moved away, laughing.

“Well, I don't see anything to laugh at,” the mother protested.

“I was only laughing because I'm so happy—in your happiness,” Evelyn retorted. “May one ask who is the favourite of fortune?”

Mrs. O'Riordan sat up and faced her employer.

“Colonel Sir Brian Milligan, Bart.—age sixty-eight, if you don't mind.” She gazed at Evelyn in splendid triumph. “Look at me,” her gaze seemed to say to him. “I'm the future Lady Milligan. And I am too young to be the mother of this hotel. I'm young enough to catch a man and hold him even if I am only a hotel-housekeeper. Any man, except cold-blooded fishes like you and your Frenchman!”

Evelyn's eyes glistened with pleasure. He was proud of mother, enraptured with her conquest. He knew something about Milligan, who was an irregular diner and luncher in the grill-room and had once spent a few nights in the hotel. How clever of her to entrance and enchant this not-unknown figure of a Colonel! And the future Lady Milligan would conscientiously and brilliantly play her part in the affair. She had presided in drawing-rooms before, and she would preside in drawing-rooms again. No more early mornings for her, no business correspondence, organisings, diplomacies, repressions, unnatural deprivations! She would be able to be fully her natural self. She would be petted, spoilt—she would see to that! She would lead the fine old fellow a dance; but so delicately, so deliciously! Do him good too! She who was 'too young' at sixty-two, she who would never be old, would rejuvenate him in spite of himself. Had she not been young enough to invade even Evelyn's castle in her girlish anxiety to announce the tidings? And Evelyn was the first to know!

He secretly chuckled at the thought of the liveliness of the married life of those two, and of the surprises that awaited Sir Brian. Some of the surprises would be exquisite, some not. No! They would all be exquisite, but some would be disturbing. Her nerve-storms would test his masculine calm and authority. She would never go too far. She would always win, while often appearing to lose. She was infernally clever. Had she not been clever enough to hide the growth of the extraordinary idyll from all the world? How she had managed that, Evelyn neither knew nor cared. She had managed it.

“He's rich, isn't he?” he asked.

Mrs. O'Riordan's demure reply was:

“We are very fond of one another. Very fond. I adore him—but don't tell him that when you meet him—and I shall try my hardest to make him happy.”

Evelyn accepted the rebuke.

“You'll succeed,” he said. “It's a certainty.”

“Of course,” she said. “At my age I don't want to be silly and talk about passion. And yet—” She stopped, and smiled innumerable implications. “You know, his father lived to be ninety-eight, and got himself into frightful trouble with a housemaid three years before he died. And Brian's exactly like a boy. D'you know, he writes poetry! Nobody sees it but me and he makes me tear it up. At least he thinks he does. Naturally I keep it. I wouldn't destroy it for anything. I mean of course I do tear up the paper, but I learn it off first. He'd be furious if he knew. He's very passionate, by temperament. I've told you his age. But what's that? Sixty-eight—and a boy!”

“And you're twenty-two,” said Evelyn. “The six is a misprint for a two.”

“You are nice,” she said, with sudden tenderness.

“I feel nice,” said Evelyn. He did. He thought he had never been so happy, never beheld a spectacle so ravishing as the spectacle of the feminine half of this idyll. “When are you going to get married?”

“Ah!” said Mrs. O'Riordan, mother and head-housekeeper of the Imperial Palace Hotel. “That will depend on you. I won't leave you in the lurch.”

Evelyn had an impulse to say:

“You can leave now. You can get married to-morrow. You can begin your honeymoon to-morrow night.” But he checked himself. He would not wound her by implying that a personage so important could be dispensed with as easily as an Alice Brury, could depart and leave no trace of difficulty behind.

He said:

“Now listen to me, bride. This hotel will not be allowed to interfere with your happiness. You make your plans, and this hotel will fit in with them. I know you're the impatient sort.”

“I'm not.”

“Yes, you are. You do all you can to hide it, but if you imagine you've hidden it from me you're wrong.”

“But what shall you do?”

“Oh! Never mind. Something.”

“But I do mind,” she objected plaintively, touchily. “I'm very interested.”

“Of course you are...Well, what about raising Miss Maclaren to the throne?”

“She's rather Scotch and stolid.”

“She may be. But she's a rock.”

“Yes. But she's rather young for the post.”

Evelyn laughed.

“I like that,” said he. “I like that from you, of all people. Here I've been entrusting the entire place to a girl of twenty-two for years and years, and now I'm told Miss Maclaren's too young!” Mrs. O'Riordan gave a pouting, delighted smile. “However, we'll talk it over.” He decided that he would not ask her approval of Violet Powler. Why should he? New appointments were no longer any concern of hers. He would only formally submit the girl to her. “I must go now. Remember what I said, please. The hotel shall fit into your plans. By the way, I suppose I can tell the staff?”

“About me? I wish you would. I'm rather nervous about telling them myself.”

“I'll tell them. And I'll come in and see you later in the day when I'm somewhat calmer, and wish you every happiness. And you do as you're ordered and go to bed.” He went to the door; then paused. “We shall give you a dinner. I mean the heads of departments. Not more than thirty. Quite informal. I shall ask Mr. Dover too.”

“My dear sir,” said Mrs. O'Riordan. “You mustn't. I couldn't bear it. I should feel so—”

“We shall give you a dinner,” Evelyn repeated. “And you'll bear it magnificently. Of course you'll cry. But they'll all love to see you cry. I expect I'm the only person who has seen you cry—and me only this once...I must run.”

Mrs. O'Riordan shook her head.

“Not a dinner,” she weakly murmured.

“Yes, a dinner. I suppose you expect a wedding-present. What would Sir Brian think if we let you go without giving you a wedding-present? Well, there'll be a dinner. No dinner, no present.”

He kissed his hand to her and left. The next instant he returned, into the room, mischievous.

“I say,” he smiled, “it seems you can't keep off your Irish Colonels. Getting quite a habit with you.”

She was fondling the cat, whose purring was clearly audible. She said, with dignity:

“Not at all. Sir Brian was a friend of both my husbands.”

“And no doubt he has a house in County Meath,” Evelyn pursued, not to be dashed.

“And what if he has?” She laughed self-consciously, frowning as well as laughing.

“I knew it,” said Evelyn.

He walked back to his room with the studied sedateness proper to a panjandrum. But he was in the highest spirits.

Chapter 27. CRIME

“Good morning, sir,” said Plimsing, who was waiting outside the gates of Evelyn's castle.

“Morning, Plimsing,” said Evelyn, looking at his watch. “One minute late. Sorry to keep you. Come in. What is it?”

Plimsing raised his left arm. He never lost a fair chance to consult his wrist-watch, which was ornamented with diamonds and the Spanish royal insignia.

“If the trains on the Southern Railway were only a minute late, sir, life would be much simpler for some of us,” said Plimsing, with a courtly Foreign Office air. He lived beyond the Crystal Palace.

Evelyn smiled almost ingratiatingly. Like all respectable people, he was conscious of a desire to stand well with policemen, and when he met them would instinctively suit his demeanour to the occasion.

Not that the hotel-detective was a policeman; nor ever had been. Tall, burly and fair, rosy-cheeked, with a large fair moustache, he had the appearance of a beef-fed British farmer, except that his black suit, including a morning coat, and his gleaming tie-pin showed a little more smartness of style than the agricultural. But he did also resemble a policeman, and in mackintosh overalls and white armlet he would not have seemed out of place conducting the orchestral traffic of Piccadilly Circus on a wet day.

He was still appreciably under fifty. As an officer (detective inspector) of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard he had been allowed, thanks to his fluency in a language which he imagined to be French, to specialise in the protective surveillance of distinguished foreign official visitors to London. Also on similar duty he had accompanied British princes abroad. It was soon after the vicissitudes of the war that Evelyn had put a spell upon him, to the detriment of Scotland Yard, with which, however, Plimsing's relations had remained intimate and very cordial. Outside the hotel Plimsing usually referred to the Imperial Palace as 'my hotel.' He used in professional conversation such words and phrases as 'police-circles,' 'we' (meaning 'we police'), 'subtle individual,' 'one of your super-prostitutes,' 'energetic action,' and 'H.R.H.' How his vigilance for potentates, politicians and princes specially fitted him for the preservation of order and common honesty in a large hotel neither he nor anybody else could have said: certainly not Evelyn; but it gave him a tremendous prestige with visitors, and a lot of prestige even with Evelyn, who had chosen him partly on that account, but more because of his quiet, composed manner and voice, and his twinkling, rather naïve expression. Despite his expression he talked of the worst turpitudes and immoralities of hotel-thieves, men and women, with the bland casualness of a clergyman discussing the weather. Apparently no infamous vagary of human nature could surprise him or in the least degree trouble his calm of a virtuous householder residing in an impeccable suburb somewhere beyond the Crystal Palace. In short, he was as entirely benign as a policeman holding up a hundred motor-cars for the passage of a perambulator.

“What is it?” Evelyn repeated, within the room. They both stood.—

“Rather a busy morning, sir,” Plimsing began, fingering his tie-pin, which carried the British royal insignia. “I happened to be here early on another matter when I received information to the effect that the second-floor valet being called to roomwent in and left his pass-key in the door. This procedure was of course quite contrary to regulations, and I have told him so. When he came out the pass-key was gone. As I said to him, I take a very serious view of this culpable negligence; for, as I need not point out to you, sir, even if the pass-key came back a duplicate of it could have been made in the meantime. I regarded it as so serious that I took the liberty of calling here to tell you at once, as Mr. Cousin was not yet on duty. However, it's all right, sir. Since I saw Oldham I made enquiries, and on the strength of certain information received I telephoned to Scotland Yard, having two individuals in my mind's eye, and they sent an officer in an express car to the Majestic, where both individuals were arrested, and on being searched one man was found to have the pass-key in his left-hand hip-pocket. Smart work, sir, if I may say so, having taken no part in the identification.”

“Very. Most satisfactory,” said Evelyn.

“I may add that I should have gone to the Majestic myself, sir, to take observations; but I was prevented by an Amsterdam diamond merchant, also fifth floor, who was just leaving and could not find a pair of trousers, which he alleged must have been stolen during the night. After some search and a little cross-examination I convinced him that he was wearing them. He was so apologetic that I ventured to ask him if he would let me drive with him to Victoria, as he was going to Paris by the 8.20 Newhaven-Dieppe. He did so, and gave me valuable information about diamonds, of which he had a large quantity on his person, in a receptacle stitched to the back of his necktie, sir. I was glad to know this. He invited me to feel them, which I did.”

2.

“I congratulate you,” said Evelyn, somewhat impatiently. “I'm rather pressed for time. Mrs. O'Riordan is leaving us, and I have to make arrangements.” He gave the enormous news with an intonation as casual as he could assume. He could no longer keep it to himself.

“Ah!” said Plimsing, twinkling. “Going to marry Sir Brian Milligan at last, I presume, sir.”

“Yes,” said Evelyn shortly, with a casualness which did even greater credit to his histrionic powers than his statement of the news. For he was astounded and ashamed by this demonstration of recondite knowledge on the part of the detective. How came it that Plimsing had known so much and he, Evelyn, nothing at all? He wanted to question Plimsing, but from pride he would not. Also Plimsing had completely taken the wind out of his sails.

“I will not detain you, sir,” the detective smoothly proceeded with a diplomatic movement towards the door. “But you will be relieved to know that the matter of the so-called Mrs. de Rassiter is now settled. I shall submit a formal report in due course.”

“Mrs. de Rassiter?”

“The mink-fur lady, sir. She has been identified as a female who was fined for being drunk and disorderly in Soho in the early hours of the day before yesterday morning. I called on Messrs. Murkett and Co., formerly Murkett and Mostlethwaite, the solicitors who sent you that lawyer's letter by messenger about the alleged missing fur. They had also sent in a claim to an insurance company, as I ascertained by enquiry, acting on a hint from my friends at the Yard. Must have got the drink at a night-club in Greek Street, but she probably had had a good deal before leaving here. So I surmised from what I heard of her behaviour before she left. A very shady firm, Murketts, sir. Mostlethwaite's already inside, and Murkett will soon be there too if he isn't careful.”

“'Inside'?”

“Yes, sir. In prison. No one can understand why Murkett hasn't been struck off the rolls. I insisted on seeing Mr. Murkett. I said to him, I said: 'Perhaps you aren't aware that your client's real name is Ebag.' I said no more. Mrs. Ebag left by the 8.20Newhaven-Dieppe this morning, sir. That was why I was so anxious to be there. I wanted to be quite sure. Sorry I couldn't have her arrested, but there had been no time to assemble my evidence. She will come back to London. They always do. They can't keep off, no more than rooks off a cornfield. I didn't want to tell you anything until I could tell you everything. I know how busy you are. But as I was here...Good morning, sir. And I hope I've not detained you.”

“Not at all, Plimsing. You've done excellently.”

“Thank you, sir.” Plimsing raised his left wrist again.

“Then you think the woman was a bit 'on' when she made the row m the cloakroom.”

“I should say so, sir. If she hadn't been she'd never have begun the thing. I soon made up my mind that the coup had not been prepared. Good morning, sir. You won't hear another word from Murketts.”

Plimsing departed, with thoughts of asking for an increase of salary.

Chapter 28. COUSIN

After a minute Evelyn left his castle. On the surface of his mind floated light thoughts about the efficient and stately detective. Had he a wife? Evelyn had learnt less about him than about any of the other principal members of the upper-staff, Plimsing being somehow in a class by himself. If he had a wife, did he address formal speeches to her in the style of his speeches to Evelyn? “Having written and duly delivered my report for the day to Mr. Cousin, Maria, I proceeded, by motor-bus, to Victoria and caught the 6.5., in which I occupied a compartment with three gentlemen, one of whom I knew slightly and exchanged with him a few words about the financial situation in the City,” etc. Or was he a different kind of man at home, who fondled and tousled his fat wife, who told him not to be a silly old fool, and upon request gave him a glass of beer as a preliminary to supper? And was his brain aware that his eyes were humorous and his professional deportment enough to make a cat laugh?

Beneath the light thoughts, graver thoughts. Mystery of an immortal soul! Evelyn was environed by mysteries. Friendly with all his colleagues and subordinates, he knew none of them, except Dennis Dover. He was more like a man on a desert island than the vitalising centre of a vast organisation. Something ought to be done about it. Yes, since the encounters with Gracie Savott, and the great encounter with her father, new perceptions had awakened in him. And beneath these graver thoughts, a thought, one thought, one burning mass of a thought: the thought of Fate's injustice to Miss Alice Brury. He pictured to himself the young woman, full-bosomed, with full lips and large eyes that belied her trained, stiff, formal demeanour and her excellent, earnest, conscientious intentions. There were two Miss Brurys, as there were two Mrs. O'Riordans. Of the latter he had seen both. Of the former he had seen only one, but now he was divining the other.

From sheer devotion to duty Alice Brury had taken a very delicate social situation out of the hands of her inferior, the cloak-room attendant. Why should she be blamed for not guessing that her opponent was semi-intoxicated? To distinguish between the half-drunk and the sober was notoriously a matter of excessive difficulty; experts continually came to quite opposite conclusions in it. Miss Brury had failed in the affair. She had lost her head under the strain, shown signs of hysteria, and—worst sin of all against the steely code of the hotel—raised her voice! Then she had run away, deserted her post, in desperation and despair. In other words, from an inhuman housekeeper she had descended—or was it ascended?—to be a human woman. She was certainly somebody's daughter; she might be somebody's sweetheart. Five minutes' lack of self-control, and her career was in the way to be ruined! Cousin had been adamantine against her readmission into the cosmos of inhumanity. And Cousin was right. Rules were rules. He, Evelyn, could not possibly gainsay Cousin in Cousin's own kingdom. Nevertheless the thing was monstrous, utterly and absolutely monstrous. Evelyn uneasily wondered how many similar affairs, less spectacular, had happened unknown to his almightiness in the secret annals of the hotel...And yet, for personal reasons, he would prefer that Miss Brury should not come back. He had discovered Miss Powler. Miss Powler was his invention, his pet aspirant. He saw in her unlimited potentialities. If Miss Brury came back, Miss Powler could not be admitted; and therefore the problem at the Laundry would remain unsolved. He must talk to Cousin, and, to be fair to Cousin, he must take heed not to have any air of authority in the discussion.

He went downstairs, nodding absently here and there to employees of various grades, and opened the withdrawn door over which gleamed in light the formidable words: “Manager's Office.” An alert, bright, smiling secretary was at her desk in the ante-room, doing something with the mouth of one of the pneumatic tubes through which repair-slips and other notifications were despatched to subterranean dens.

“Good morning, Mr. Orcham.” The secretarial face mystically beamed the tidings that 'mother' was engaged to be married.

With an answering smile, but silently, Evelyn passed her and walked straight into Cousin's private room—an apartment worthy of Cousin's high position. A startled young man sprang up from the managerial chair at the managerial desk, like a jack-in-the-box.

This was Monsieur Pozzi, the assistant-manager of the hotel, a Frenchman, a protégé of Cousin's, with both continental and London experience, and a perfect command of the English language. He had been in the service of the Imperial Palace for about six months, but Evelyn had had little or nothing to do with him. It was understood that he gave plenary satisfaction to his immediate chief. Some notion of his importance was conveyed by the fact that he had received permission to send out his own Christmas cards to the clientele. At that moment he was making a rough sketch of the greeting. Not more than seven or eight of the upper staff had the right to distribute their personal good wishes to the clientele. Pozzi was more than French; he was Parisian, though with some admixture of Italian blood. He was indeed startled by Evelyn's abrupt and unexpected entry, but not a bit perturbed. He smiled; he bowed gracefully; he was grace itself—slim, sinuous, elegant, correct, charming, easy without sauciness, self-respecting without rigidity.

“Mr. Cousin will be here in one minute, sir. He's just having a word with Ruffo.”

“Oh!” said Evelyn, sitting down on the sofa. “What about? Ruffo's here early this morning.”

“Yes, sir. There was no big banquet last night. It's about some little difficulty over extra waiters for to-night.”

“I see,” said Evelyn, rather drily, as one who was aware of occasional slight frictions between Ruffo and the Restaurant-manager over the transfer of first-flight head-waiters from the restaurant to Ruffo's department for very special banquets.

“I wonder, sir,” said Pozzi, at his most attractive, standing dutifully in front of Evelyn on the sofa, “whether I might ask you a great favour.”

“You can ask, my boy,” Evelyn answered, with a sardonic benignity.

“It's this, sir. You probably know that a few of us, Adolphe, Dr. Constam, Major Linklater, and myself, have a little lunch-mess of our own in 156. Rocco has taken to golf, and we are giving him a club, or a set of clubs. There will be a lunch. Mr. Cousin has promised to come, and if youwould kindly come and preside, we should all be very delighted. And I needn't say how flattered Rocco would be.”

“But it would mean that I should have to subscribe towards the clubs.”

“Oh no, sir! We shouldn't dream of such a thing. Mr. Cousin is not subscribing.”

“No,” said Evelyn. “But I am. Here!” He pulled a ten shilling note from his waistcoat pocket.

“Really, sir?”

“Take it,” Evelyn commanded.

Young Pozzi obeyed, blushing. Yes, a blush clearly visible on his olive skin!

“You are a sport, sir,” he exclaimed, almost dancing, with the effusiveness of youth—for he was a mere thirty-one, and young at that. “Thank you ever so much.”

No formalism. No constraint. But freshness, naturalness, youthful vivacity. Evelyn suddenly realised that he lived in a world of constraint. Only sometimes at the daily conference, when a serious question was on the carpet, did even the foreigners drop their subdued formalism—among themselves, never to Evelyn nor to Cousin. The handling of visitors, every one of whom had to be treated as a sultan, had made hushed formalism a habit with them. Evelyn longed for oaths, wild words, exorbitant gestures, even impudence to himself, such as he had had that morning from the future Lady Milligan. He thought:

“This boy is alive. I am not. He is a breath of air in all the stuffiness.”

“What's the date of this orgy?” he asked.

“The eighteenth, sir. Twelve forty-five. Rocco will make a special effort with the menu.”

“Write it down for me, will you?”

Pozzi jumped to the desk, wrote, and handed the slip to the panjandrum, who crushed it into a trouser-pocket, where he could not possibly overlook it.

“That's agreed then,” said Evelyn.

“Bravo! Bravo!” cried Pozzi.

2.

Mr. Cousin walked in, sedate, smiling, reserved. The secretary had warned him of Evelyn's arrival. Pozzi, bowing, walked mercurially out, but not before snatching up his Christmas card sketch from the desk.

“Shall we have the pleasure of seeing you at the Conference this morning?” Cousin asked, with his matchless but implacable courtesy.

“Not unless there's anything urgent.”

“Nothing urgent for the Conference, but I did want to get your instructions about Miss Brury. Mrs. O'Riordan had a long talk with me here last night.”

“Of course,” said Evelyn, “the whole situation is altered now that she's leaving.”

“Leaving? Who?”

“Mrs. O'Riordan. Haven't you heard about her?”

“No,” said Cousin, sitting down on the sofa by Evelyn's side. “She was very amiable last night.”

Inspirited by the discovery of at any rate one person who knew less than himself, Evelyn communicated the news of the engagement. Naïvely he expected signs of commotion in the manager's demeanour, but in an instant be realised his own naïveté.

“Tiens! Tiens!” Cousin murmured calmly, and continued in French: “Well, since six months I have had a little idea that something bizarre was going on in that dear lady. She has had a little air...of another world...I don't know what. Indescribable. Certainly she has temperament...At her age! It is not natural. But what would you? Englishwomen are always incomprehensible. A mixture so curious.” He half closed his eyes. “It is bizarre. But nothing could surprise me. For Sir Brian Milligan—there are men to whom it is necessary that they should complicate their lives. The excellent baronet is perhaps offering himself in this case a complication more serious than he imagines. But what do I know? Between ourselves, my dear director, I avow frankly that I comprehend nothing, but nothing, of the affairs of the heart in this city of London otherwise so sympathetic to me. That is to say, I comprehend as an observer detached, with the brain, but I feel—nothing, but nothing. All that says nothing to me. Madame O'Riordan has indubitably had some luck, and I felicitate her.”

Evelyn was aware of the birth of a sense of intimacy with Mr. Cousin. Nevertheless he was somewhat dashed, in spite of himself.

“As regards her successor, what do you think of Maclaren—as a provisional appointment?” he suggested, abruptly turning the conversation.

“Ah! The Maclaren! Yes. That is quite another thing. She is not English. The Maclaren—one can come to an understanding with her. Yes, yes. It is an idea, that. Happily she is not a femme du monde. Madame O'Riordan has lately had a rage for femmes du monde. True, she is one of them herself. But I do not share her views in the matter. To me it is unnatural that a femme du monde should hold a servile situation. It is against nature. It demands that she should play a role. Artificial. She must think more about her role than about her work. Perhaps among the numerous Russian princesses that one sees now in Paris there are a few capable of persuading themselves to be born again into a state of servitude. But Russians are Russians. An Englishwoman can never be born again. It is the aristocratic race, above all. Madame O'Riordan brought to me a candidate for the position of the poor Brury. Very femme du monde. Oh, very! Niece of a knight who blew his brains out. I did not encourage her.”

“I agree with you,” said Evelyn warmly, changing all his views on the subject in a moment. Not with his brain, but with his heart.

He saw daylight. Everything would be easy. Cousin would begin with a prejudice favourable to Violet Powler because she was not a gentlewoman. There could be no friction. He at once told Cousin about Miss Powler, emphasising her origin, about the delicate position at the Laundry, and about his plans for making an exchange between Miss Brury and Miss Powler. Cousin nodded several times.

“I am glad,” said Cousin, in English, “that you support me against this extraordinary proposal for taking Miss Brury back again. It must happen sometimes that someone must suffer. And Miss Brury has been unfortunate. But to take her back would be impossible unless we were to ignore the interests of the hotel. And your ingenious suggestion would solve the problem. Of course I accept it, without reserve. If you are satisfied—”

“You had better have a look at Miss Powler for yourself.”

“Of course. If you wish it. But I am sure—”

“I will send for her.”

Cousin then seemed to resume his habitual mood of taciturnity, after the astonishing exhibition of communicativeness.

Evelyn hurried away to his office and to Miss Cass. He was uplifted anew, but differently now. He felt that be was somehow climbing out of his groove. Dangerous to put an inexperienced woman into a post so important as that relinquished under stress of emotion by Miss Brury. But danger now attracted him. And Violet. Powler had all the talents. She would succeed. Miss Brury would be saved. Miss Maclaren was acceptable to the Frenchman. Mrs. O'Riordan could not interfere. All things were working together for good. Of course he must see Cyril Purkin and explain. Everything must be done quickly, instantly. Miss Cass had a busy time telephoning to the Laundry-manager to come at one hour, and to Miss Powler to come at another, and telegraphing to Miss Brury to come at still another hour. She reported that all was in order, and that she had so reported to Mr. Cousin. The new heaven and the new earth were in train.

Chapter 29. VIOLET'S ARRIVAL

Another lamp was burning in another brain, Violet Powler's: which with Evelyn's lamp in Evelyn's brain, made two. Violet, all unconscious of what she was doing, had brought her bright but materially invisible lamp into the hotel one morning at five minutes to ten. According to instructions she reported at Mr. Cousin's office. But she saw only the manager's secretary, Mr. Cousin being engaged at a conference. The secretary, name unknown, was an agreeable and vivacious young woman. She shook hands with Violet, seemed to know all about her, and sharply ordered a page-boy, who had come with a cablegram, to escort Violet to her quarters on the eighth floor. Violet, she explained, was first to install herself and then to report for orders to Mrs. O'Riordan, also an inhabitant of the eighth floor.

Violet, despite her common sense, thought that the secretarial demeanour was somewhat casual, having regard to the importance (for Violet) of the occasion. Surely the arrival of a new floor-housekeeper could not be a daily event in the life even of a great hotel!

The secretary, on the other hand, thought that Violet's demeanour was astounding casual, though cordial enough, having regard to the importance of the occasion. Surely it could not be a daily event in any girl's life to walk out of a South London laundry straight to a fine situation in the greatest hotel on earth! But the secretary could not see Violet's lamp.

Violet and the tiny page-boy went up in the lift; the lift-man was very respectful to Violet; the page-boy found her room and having opened the door made as if to leave.

“One moment,” said she. “Which is Mrs. O'Riordan's room?”

The page-boy gave the indication and pointed a white-gloved hand.

“And what's your name?” she asked.

“John Croom, miss.” And he added, grinning, “Jack.”

She smiled, patted his shoulder; he left; and Violet shut and bolted the door of her new home.

It was a smallish room, looking on a courtyard. And the courtyard was a deep well (of which Violet could not see the bottom) whose sides were white tiles inset with tiers of windows. Still, the room was larger than the one she had that morning quitted in her father's little house in Battersea, and it was more elegantly furnished: a sort of bed-sitting-room, with a sofa and a desk and a business-like nest of drawers in the sitting portion of it.

Her simple and recently fretful and pessimistic mother would have deemed it a magnificent apartment. Mrs. Powler had cried at parting, and amid her tears had deplored Violet's facial make-up and expressed the hope that Violet would not be allotted to an attic whose only window was a skylight. Her father, having a rendezvous in Vauxhall, had accompanied Violet a certain distance in a tram. They had said good-bye in the tram, and shabby passengers in the huge squalid vehicle had beheld with inquisitive wonder the kissing of the shabby old man by the rouged and powdered young lady whose smartness cast doubt upon her virtue. But when moisture showed in Violet's eyes the judgment of the passengers was softened and Violet received the benefit of the doubt.

Now she dropped her bag and her gloves and her hat and her thin cloak on the bed. Her luggage had been despatched in advance by the simple device of sticking a card bearing famous initials in the protruding square window of the front room in Renshaw Street. Because she apprehended that the luggage might be delayed, Violet had decided to leave home in what she informed a suspicious mother was to be her working dress and face. But the luggage had reached its destination. It lay in a pile at the foot of the bed.

First she examined critically the interior of the wardrobe, giving it ninety marks out of a possible hundred. Then she examined herself critically in the wardrobe mirror, and gave herself ninety marks out of a hundred. Yes, she would pass. Brown hair, permanently waved. Finger-nails curved in a crescent. Black dress bought ready made at a mighty store in Clapham and altered to fit by Violet herself. Quite stylish. A thin girdle (for keys). New shoes; new stockings. As for her make-up, it made her feel as if she was in the wings waiting to “go on" in Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera—except that the skin under the eyes had not been darkened. She hoped, she was convinced, that her face would successfully stand the scrutiny of seven floor-housekeepers and a head-housekeeper. She was hardly at ease, yet, in her new face; but at any rate it had so far provoked no slightest sign of astonishment or dismay on the faces of the members of the hotel staff. She unfastened the bag and retouched her features here and there. Then she examined the room more closely. Well, it was good in her sight. Wash-basin, h. and c. She turned a tap. The h. was tremendously hot. She sat on the bed, springing up and down. Soft. On the desk was quite a large vase of fresh flowers.

Instantly, as she patted the flowers, the Imperial Palace rose in her esteem to the full height of its reputation. Somebody with imagination had thought of those flowers and of their effect on the arriving, intimidated stranger. Vast as the organisation was, it had not been too vast to think of a trifle of flowers for her comfort. She said to herself that she would be happy in the Imperial Palace.

She had an impulse to unpack her possessions. No! That would not be right. Her duty was to report for duty at once. At the Laundry she would already have done two hours' work. Still, she dawdled hesitant about the room. She would hardly admit to herself that she was afraid, positively afraid, to go forth into the corridor. But she was. The corridor was the corridor to the new life. She went forth into the corridor, and as she did so the lamp in her head suddenly burned with a brighter flame. From the end of the corridor, where her room was, she saw the apparently endless vista of a kingdom. She saw herself the vicereine of the kingdom. And in five seconds she was seeing herself as the head-housekeeper of the Imperial Palace Hotel. Why not? There would be no Cyril Purkin in the Imperial Palace to disquiet and harass her.

Nevertheless she felt really frightened. It seemed impossible to her that she, she, straight out of a laundry, could manage a floor of the Imperial Palace. Pooh! Why not? The job might well be easier than that of managing a couple of hundred or more girls all in one way or another temperamental. And she firmly believed in herself: which fact did nothing to mitigate her fright—stage-fright.

She walked steadily down the deserted corridor, passing number after number until she reached Mrs. O'Riordan's room (unnumbered). The door was ajar. She knocked. No answer. Cautiously she stepped in.

The spectacle of the sitting-room made a most sinister impression upon Violet. The walls were bare. A large number of nails, and a large number of small rectangular patches, showed where pictures had been. The mantelpiece was empty. There were no cushions and no knickknacks anywhere. There was the carpet, the rather plentiful furniture, and nothing else, not even a book. Feeling like a trespasser, she passed into the bedroom, the door to which was wide open. Similar phenomena. The bed had been slept in, but she could see no nightgown nor slippers. The interior of the large wardrobe was exposed, and quite empty. Three trunks of various sorts and sizes, and a wooden packing-case and a shapeless bundle, encumbered the floor. They were labelled: “Mrs. O'Riordan, Cloak-room, Euston Station.” The melancholy of an abandoned home, of a semi-spiritual death, of something that was and is not, pervaded the rooms deprived of their individuality.

Mrs. O'Riordan had gone, and she would not return. Violet had been told that the head-housekeeper would remain for at least another week, during which she was personally to instruct the newcomer in her work. At the beginning of the negotiations for Violet's entry into the Imperial Palace, she had understood that a period of six months, soon afterwards diminished to three months, would be necessary for proper tuition in her duties. Then it had been intimated to her that a young woman with experience such as hers would easily learn the duties in a week of intensive training under Mrs. O'Riordan herself. She had successfully survived the ordeals of a personal catechism by Mrs. O'Riordan and another by Mr. Cousin. Salary and conditions of notice had been arranged, and the contract signed. Everything had marched smoothly according to plan. And now—this! She returned to the sitting-room and sat down on the sofa, uneasy, desolated! Then, as there was a bell handy, she rang it. A plump chambermaid, in early middle-age, appeared.

2.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning, miss.” The chambermaid's attitude, while reserved, was not at all unfriendly. The woman had a fat, good-natured face. Her blue print morning dress showed a stain, and one shoulder-strap of the apron was twisted.

“Do you look after this room—these rooms?”

“Yes, miss.”

“I'm the new floor-housekeeper. My name's Powler, Violet Powler. Will you tell me what yours is?”

“Beatrice, miss.”

“Beatrice what?”

“Mrs. Beatrice Noakes.”

“Been here long?”

“Oh yes, miss. Ever since me poor husband died, 1917.”

“In the war?” Beatrice nodded. “I'm sorry to hear that—I mean about your husband.”

“Yes, miss,” Beatrice said casually. The fact was that her husband had long ceased to have any reality in her memory. Not even his shade haunted it.

“Any children, Mrs. Noakes?”

“Oh no, miss. If I had I shouldn't be here, should I, seeing we sleep in. I've worked on every floor of this hotel, miss,” she went on more vivaciously. “Same as Miss Maclaren. Miss Maclaren used to take me with her whenever she moved.”

“Well that shows she trusted you.”

“Yes, miss. My word! And now she's going to be head-housekeeper—”

“Yes, yes. And you'll still be on this floor.”

“Yes, miss.”

“I think we shall get on.”

“You and Miss Maclaren, miss?”

“Miss Maclaren of course. But I meant you and me. I'm sure you'll be able to tell me all sorts of things I've got to know.”

“Well, miss, I always like to help—when I'm asked. I never put myself forward, if you know what I mean. But when I'm asked, I'm there.” Beatrice smiled helpfully.

“Do you know where Miss Maclaren is?”

“No, miss. She ain't been up here this morning.”

“Is Mrs. O'Riordan coming back?”

“That I couldn't say, miss,” said Beatrice, caution in her voice.

“You've seen her this morning?”

“Mrs. O'Riordan? Oh yes, miss.”

“She didn't say?”

“No, miss.” Still caution.

“Has she asked you to her wedding?”

“Well, miss, no. But I do believe she would have done—just to the church. Just to come in and see her go off like. But it's a great secret, I hear. Nobody knows anything. They want a quiet wedding. I hope it won't be at a Registry Office. But it won't. Because Mrs. O'Riordan's a Roman Catholic. Every Sunday morning she went to Mass, as they call it.”

“I see her luggage is all packed.”

“Yes, miss. Some of it's gone. And I did hear the rest is being sent for to-day some time. You could have knocked me down with a feather when she told me this morning when I brought her tea she had to leave at once. How she packed them trunks between last night and to-day I don't know. I'm quite free to tell you, miss. She only said to me I wasn't to say a word till she'd gone. Well, as she has gone—well, I didn't say a word.”

“Everyone seems to trust you, Beatrice.” Beatrice smiled happily. “I'm very much obliged.” Violet rose from the sofa.

“Anything I can do, miss—”

“Thank you, Beatrice.”

The room was less desolate, its melancholy diminished. As soon as Beatrice had shut the door, Violet took up the telephone and, composing her voice, asked to be put on to Mr. Cousin's secretary. She heard an answering enquiry within ten seconds, and said:

“I thought I ought to report that Mrs. O'Riordan had left before I got up here. Violet Powler speaking, in Mrs. Riordan's room. She's gone away.”

“Gone?” Serious astonishment in her tone. “But she can't have gone. She must have just gone out for something. She'll be back again soon.”

“I don't think so,” said Violet, and described in detail the state of Mrs. O'Riordan's late home. She finished: “There's nobody up here for me to refer to. Miss Maclaren isn't anywhere about. Will you please tell Mr. Cousin?”

“It's all frightfully queer,” said the thin secretarial voice. “I can't disturb Mr. Cousin just now. Listen. If you'll wait where you are I'll give you a ring in a minute or two.” A note of sympathetic intimacy in the voice.

“Thanks very much. I say. Do you mind telling me your name? I shan't feel so strange when I've got to know a few names.”

An amiable comprehending laugh in the telephone. “Yes, of course. Tilton.” The voice spelt the name. “Christian name same as yours.”

“What? Violet? Really!” Violet's tone seemed to indicate a pleased surprise that there should be another Violet in the whole world.

“No!” The voice laughed. “I knew I should catch you, Miss Powler. Marian.”

And Violet laughed saying: “How nice!” Violet's full name was Violet Marian Powler. Miss Marian Tilton had seen it in the formal contract.

“When you have a moment, come down here and see me. Any time. And I'll show you the upper-staff file and go over some of the names with you. Au revoir, Miss Powler.”

Violet thought that she might be making a friend. Already she was beginning to relish her social environment. But with caution. At their previous brief encounters she had suspected that the second Marian might conceivably be a little too dashing and worldly for her personal taste. Still, she felt capable of being dashing and worldly too, if necessary. She was absorbing, as through the pores of her skin, the atoms of the Imperial Palace atmosphere. Every moment she learnt something, and every moment she grew more at ease. Marian Tilton. Beatrice Noakes. Beings that belonged to two different orders; but both friendly and both ready to be helpful and to assume that she Violet, was all right. And there was no more Cyril Purkin, who couldn't keep away from her and couldn't bear her. Intense relief in that thought! Cyril's one kiss had cured her of him for ever and ever; though it had been a kiss sober and respectful enough.

The mysterious vanishing of Mrs. O'Riordan was shaping into a first-class sensation. And she was the discoverer of the vanishing. And what of it? Mrs. O'Riordan was leaving, anyhow. Well, she had left. And Violet was glad that she had left. Why? Because there must be something rather queer about a lady who in such a high position could play such a trick in such a place as the Imperial Palace. Mrs. O'Riordan gone, they could all as it were make a fresh start on a clean page. And further, Mrs. O'Riordan's flight seemed somehow to humanise the formidable, frightening, inhuman organism of the Imperial Palace. Funny, human things happened there, as they happened in laundries. One touch of nature...etc. Trite! But how true!

She glanced round the room. And the room had now almost entirely lost its melancholy of a home deserted by a mistress whom it would never see again. She wondered what Miss Maclaren would make of it, and what Miss Maclaren was like; for she had not yet met Miss Maclaren. The tinkle of the telephone bell gave her a shock.

“That Miss Powler? Miss Cass speaking.” A voice drier than that of Marian. Voice of one higher than Marian Tilton in the company of cherubim and seraphim. “Mr. Orcham says please will you come down and see him immediately.” Authority in the voice.

So Marian had telephoned to Miss Cass. And Miss Cass had imparted the strange news to her master, and her master had deemed it stupendous enough to justify him in sending for Violet to come to him immediately!

“Thank you, Miss Cass. I'll come at once.”

And now, as she quitted the room, Violet was really all in a flutter. She had not seen Mr. Orcham since the interview at which he had so oddly hinted about rouge and powder. She remembered her blush at that interview. She felt as though she would never forget it. Everything had moved very harmoniously, step by step, since the interview. Cyril Purkin had quietly and urbanely told her that Mr. Orcham wanted her at the Palace, and that therefore he, Mr. Purkin, could of course offer no objection to her leaving the Laundry. For one week she had given instruction in the management of laundry-girls to her successor, Miss Brury, who had begun with condescension and ended with gratitude almost meek. And no sign from Mr. Orcham. But she surmised, felt, knew, was absolutely sure, that the unseen hand of Mr. Orcham had guided events. And now she had arrived in her new situation, and within half an hour the great invisible Mr. Orcham had summoned her, because of her astounding discovery! A very different place, this, from the homely Laundry!

She walked along the corridor and saw the lift. Ought she, now a member of the staff, to dare to use the lift? Or was there a staff-lift? She had heard of such things. Yes, she chid herself for being all in a flutter. She rang the lift-bell and waited, and up came the lift out of immeasurable depth, as promptly as though she were the Marchioness of Renshaw and staying in the hotel. The bony-faced, sallow lift-man gave her a decorous smile of recognition as he slid back the grille; He knew who she was and what she was.

“Ground-floor, please.”

“Yes, miss,” the man compliantly answered, feeling in his heart, so acutely sensitised to the varying influences of individualities, that here was a polite, self-possessed, firm young lady who would certainly stand no kind of familiarity.

Chapter 30. OFFICIAL INTERVIEW

“Good morning, Miss Powler. Welcome to the Imperial Palace.”

This was Evelyn's greeting to Violet when she entered Evelyn's outer office, where apparently he was just finishing a conversation with the authoritative Miss Cass, who sat at her desk and beheld the incomer with a firm impartial glance. He offered his hand, not to a floor-housekeeper, but merely to a new and possibly nervous member of the great Palace commonwealth of which he was president.

“Good morning, sir. Thank you, I'm sure. You sent for me, sir.” Violet had expected to be nervous, but she was nervous beyond her fears; so much so that quite involuntarily she averted her face as she shook hands. “Good morning, Miss Cass,” she murmured, as quite involuntarily she caught Miss Cass's glance.

“Good morning, Miss Powler,” Miss Cass responded, in a strong, almost peremptory voice, but nevertheless with a cheerful and not unfriendly smile, and bent at once over her desk, as one who had in train mighty matters which must not suffer delay. Violet had encountered Miss Cass only once before.

“Come in, will you,” said Evelyn, and when they were in his room and the door shut, and he was pulling a cigarette out of his case, he said curtly: “Sit down,” and smiled at her.

Curious that she should feel more diffident now than at any of their previous meetings. She was ashamed of herself. Evelyn, his back turned to Violet for a moment, dropped a match into an ash-tray on his desk and puffed smoke, as it were meditatively. By all his movements Violet realised afresh and more clearly that he was a gentleman. So different from Cyril Purkin, whose every gesture and tone demonstrated continuously a total lack of distinction. And she thought: “And I'm not a lady, either, and could I ever be?” Distinction could not be acquired.

“Funny about Mrs. O'Riordan,” he said, suddenly facing Violet, and laughing easily. “You don't know the explanation, but I do. And I may as well tell you. We were going to give her a staff-dinner to-morrow night. She always said she could never go through with a dinner and hear her health proposed, and wedded happiness—you know she's going to be married. I didn't believe her, and I insisted on the dinner. Well, I was wrong. She left a note for me this morning. Here it is.” He touched a letter which lay on the desk. “She's run away from the dinner. That's all. I'm sorry. But these brides—! It doesn't matter of course in the least, dinner or no dinner. Still, I'm sorry. Miss Maclaren gets her job—Mrs. O'Riordan's—and she'll take over at once, anyhow this afternoon. I've telephoned her and I've told her something about you, and I think you'll like her. And of course she'll be on your floor. You'll pick up your work in a couple of days. Miss Brury was doing ground-floor when she left us, but Mr. Cousin is starting you on Eighth—easier for you to learn there. But of course we do move our housekeepers up and down. You'll know how to handle customers—I think I told you—and you know all about linen and how to deal with maids. It's all much simpler than it sounds. Some sense is all that's required. You trust yourself to Miss Maclaren, and if she isn't about, just act on your own. You're bound to be all right. Only don't worry Mr. Cousin. Ever heard of the chain of responsibility? Well, we're all links in the chain. Miss Maclaren is the next link above you, and Mr. Cousin's above her, and I'm above Mr. Cousin, and the Board's above me. But remember, you can't skip links. Mr. Cousin can go to the Board only through me, and you can go to Mr. Cousin only through Miss Maclaren. It's a necessary arrangement in a big place like this. Is that clear?”

“Quite, sir.”

“How do you feel—on your first morning?”

“Well, sir, I'm rather nervous.”

“You don't look it a bit, and so long as you don't look it, it doesn't matter. In fact it's rather a good thing to be nervous.”

Violet thought that there was wisdom in this last remark. But otherwise she was somewhat critical of the panjandrum. He seemed to her to be taking things very lightly. How could she learn her job—the job of housekeeping for an entire floor of the immense Imperial Palace—in a couple of days? The notion was frivolous. (And yet simultaneously, as she criticised, she had a conviction that she indeed could learn the job in a couple of days. All housekeeping was in essence alike. And of luxurious housekeeping she had had some experience at Sir Henry Savott's, where the figures of the housekeeping-books had so startled her in the first week that she could never forget them.)

The panjandrum seemed, too, to assume that his domestic machine worked and would work by itself. He probably knew nothing about the detail of housekeeping. In fine, he was a man, and a man inclined to be prematurely airy and gay. Perhaps superficial! Her nervousness did not in the least hamper her strongly developed critical faculty, which faculty however she always hid away from view, like a possession semi-sacred, occult, too precious for any exposure to the public gaze. Few of her equals or her superiors had even guessed the existence of that sharp, acid faculty.

2.

“Is there anything you want to ask me?” Evelyn suggested. Violet reflected. “No, sir...No, sir. I only hope I—er—my dress and so on—I hope it will do.” She looked younger, girlish, confused, quite charming in her sudden constraint. There was a hardly perceptible change of bodily pose, nothing more than the disclosure of an impulse towards a change of pose, to the end that he might see her more completely. .

It was naught. Evelyn glanced at her anew.

“I'll tell you more about that when you stand up,” he said.

She faintly smiled, dropped her eyes, maidenly, modest; hating herself for her attitude, her feelings. Staff-manageress of a laundry, floor-housekeeper in a large fashionable hotel—and lacked the wit not to be girlish and silly! She scorned herself ferociously. Where was her self-reliance, to say nothing of her self-esteem? Weak as water: that was what she was. She would have given a lot to be back at the Laundry, nicely firm with the girls there, nicely untouchable to Mr. Purkin.

“I hope you'll succeed here,” Evelyn went on. “Because I'm responsible for your coming here. I think you will succeed. I'm sure you will. Not my business to engage floor-housekeepers, you know. I never interfere. But when I was down at the Laundry that day, you remember, we were rather in a quandary, and it occurred to me you might be the very person we needed. Yes, and I think you are.”

“I shall try to be, sir,” she answered conventionally, uncertainly, searing herself with invisible, inaudible criticism.

He must be taking her for a ninny. How could he take her for the same girl who had favourably impressed him at the Laundry? He couldn't.

Evelyn said:

“There's a woman up on your floor who might be rather useful to you if you get on the right side of her. Bertha—Bertha something. Noakes, is it? I'll find out. Quite a friend of mine. Used to be on my floor. We shift her about whenever we're in difficulties. She's up there now because Mrs. O'Riordan was doing head-housekeeper and floor-housekeeper as well; and not in the best health either.”

“Do you mean Beatrice Noakes, sir?”

“Beatrice. Beatrice. Of course. I simply can't remember names. So you've come across her already?”

Violet related the Beatrice episode, and in doing so scraped together some self-confidence.

“I can see that Heaven is watching over you,” said Evelyn. “You won't let me down.”

“Let you down, sir?”

“Nothing, nothing. Mrs. O'Riordan told me she wouldn't leave me in the lurch. Only she did. However, all things work together for good.”

“It's absolutely certain that I shan't leave you in the lurch, sir,” said a new Violet Powler.

“No, you won't. I say, I should be glad if you'd just see this afternoon to Miss Maclaren being fixed up nice and cosy in her rooms. She'll never do it for herself, anyhow until there's nothing else wants doing anywhere on the floor. And she'll object to you bothering about it. Say it's an instruction from me. That'll settle it. Have some flowers put in the room, in both rooms.”

“Yes, sir,” said Violet eagerly, warmly.

A pause. Violet stood up.

“Yes,” said Evelyn, examining her appearance as though she was a mannequin. “I should think you'd do very well. But ask Miss Maclaren. I shall be surprised if, before you're much older, one of 'em doesn't ask you what lipstick you use.” He was sardonic, teasing.

“Thank you, sir.” Violet moved to leave him.

“Here. One moment.” He stopped her. “I have to go down into the engine-room. You'd better come with me. You ought to see the real part of the place. Besides, it makes conversation with customers. It's an idea I had only yesterday. For the floor-housekeepers. What can they know of Floors who only the Floors know? There's a great deal more in this hotel than meets the eye. And it ought to meet the eye of important young women like you.”

Chapter 31. BOWELS OF THE HOTEL

Violet went down with Evelyn into the unknown, first through a door to a staircase of bare stone, then along a narrow corridor, then down a slope which was ridged to prevent slipping, then by turns and twists until she had quite lost the sense of direction. The two walked side by side when space permitted; sometimes Evelyn without hesitation stepped in front of her, sometimes he pressed himself against a wall courteously to let her precede him as a woman should precede a man. Once or twice a graceless menial employee passed them unrecognised and unrecognising.

They were in the Imperial Palace, but it was another Imperial Palace: no bright paint, no gilt, no decorations, no attempt to please the eye, little or no daylight, electric lamps but no lamp-shades; another world in which appearances had no importance and were indeed neglected.

She glimpsed a large open space, a room lacking a fourth wall, in which a number of girls in overalls were bending over big wicker-baskets of soiled linen, separating, transferring, sorting. In semi-obscurity they had something of an air of dimly-tinted phantoms; they were absorbed; they did not look up or away. The spectacle vaguely recalled the Laundry; but the Laundry had no basement; everything was light in the Laundry. Here she had the sensation of being underground, though in fact she was hardly yet underground. Of course she had a feeling for the romantic; the word itself, however, was hardly in her vocabulary—at any rate for use.

She was still rather awed by the strangeness of her sudden magic removal from the environment of the lowly, commonplace Laundry to the enormous and majestic environment of the Imperial Palace. Here she was, walking with the supreme ruler of the bewildering hotel, almost as an equal—did he not make way for her?—the man who was above everybody, the man who could say even to Mr. Cousin “Come,” and he would come. Hardly credible! And the change had arisen out of the supreme ruler happening to overhear her talking to a colourblind girl! She was awed, yes, but she was proud.

“I can't be quite ordinary,” she thought, with that false humility which people assume even to themselves. For she knew very well that she was far from ordinary. She had a fairly accurate idea of her unusual worth, being as free from conceit as from any form of inferiority complex.

“Here!” said Evelyn, stopping. “We may as well look in here.” She saw, painted in black on a brownish yellow wall the words, “Audit Department. Mr. Exshaw,” and a pointing arrow. They entered a very large low room divided by glass partitions into various enclosures, with a long passage and doors into each enclosure. Numbers of male clerks at desks strewn with prodigious account-books. All the clerks absorbed, bent, like the linen-girls.

“Mr. Exshaw in?” Evelyn called out loud.

“Yes, sir,” said someone.

They walked to the end of the corridor. Violet thought that she would have been frightened to death to venture alone into this new world. She needed protection. And she had it, the mightiest possible protection. She was as safe as a child in its cot. A transient, pleasant surmise: was it Mr. Orcham who had ordered flowers for her bedroom? Absurd. And yet—had he not told her to put flowers in Miss Maclaren's rooms? He might—he just might have.

Evelyn strode into the final enclosure—more spacious than the others. A big, high desk, at which stood a short, spectacled, grey-haired man, a pen behind his ear, the biggest account-book she had ever seen in front of him, minutely ruled horizontally and vertically.

“Morning, Exshaw.”

The man seemed to wake out of a trance (pretence, thought Violet critically), and as he gazed at the visitors his eyes hardened

“Ah! Good morning, Mr. Orcham.” It was as if the man had said: “On careful inspection I realise that you are a gentleman named Orcham and my chief.”

“Got a moment?”

“As many as you wish, sir.” With a dignity that threw doubt on the statement.

“This is Miss Powler, one of our housekeepers,” said Evelyn lightly.

Violet bowed. Mr. Exshaw gave a start, then curtly nodded. “I've come to the conclusion that it will be a good thing for the floor-housekeepers to get some kind of a notion of the more or less secret works of this place.” Evelyn went on. “Miss Powler is the first to come. You may expect a few more visits. Don't you think it's rather a scheme? Widen their horizons, eh?” Evelyn laughed; more correctly, he sniggered.

“Well, sir,” Mr. Exshaw answered, having judicially pondered, “we do think now and then that if the Floors knew about the way we straighten things out for them down here it might be good for their souls. Which floor?” he demanded of Violet.

“Eighth,” said Violet, low.

Mr. Exshaw peered at her through his spectacles, apparently saying to himself: “So this specimen is a floor-housekeeper. Interesting to see. What next I wonder!” And the Floors seemed to be a very long way off—phenomena heard of, written about, checked, reprimanded, but invisible and materially non-existent.

“Ah! Eighth!” said Mr. Exshaw at length, aloud. “Eighth is a wonderful floor for breakages. There must be somebody up there who plays hockey with tumblers. Breakages in the restaurant cost us a hundred pounds a week, but the percentage on Eighth I should say is higher. I don't mean they cost the hotel a hundred a week, because we only pay a quarter, but the waste's there. You got the special memo day before yesterday, Miss—er?”

“This is Miss Powler's first day here,” Evelyn put in, before Violet could speak.

“Ah!” said Mr. Exshaw, more benevolently, for he was a just man. He rapped on the glass behind him, and a youth rushed in. “Bring me N here,” said Mr. Exshaw to the youth.

N proved to be a heavy, red-bound book of account.

“You might like to see, Miss—er. Restaurant. Grill.” He turned pages over. “Floors. First. Sixth. Eighth, yes. Here you are. Here's the analysis of breakages on Eighth, week by week. Here's last week.”

Violet obediently looked, but she could see nothing save a dance of numerals. She had a ridiculous sense of shame on behalf of the eighth floor. Her wandering gaze saw that the window offered a fine view of a white-tiled blank wall about six feet off, and that Mr. Exshaw's spectacles were steel-rimmed.

“Yes,” said the ninny in her. Yet she was not unused to vast statistical volumes at the Laundry, nor to male clerks bending over the same. But at the Imperial Palace the scale of things was more grandiose.

“You'd be very clever if you grasped all this in a month of Sundays, Miss—er,” said Mr. Exshaw kindly.

She thought he was perhaps a nice man, if a trifle self-important in the presence of the panjandrum whom he ignored. The next minute he shut the book with a slam.

“I suppose she can see everything, sir?” he surprisingly addressed the panjandrum.

“Certainly,” said Evelyn, “so far as I'm concerned. It's up to you.”

“She might like to see how the floor order-slips are analysed.”

“Oh, I should!” said the ninny.

Thereafter, as the accountancy mechanism not only of order-slips, but bills, of estimates (estimate of £41,000 for next year's linen renewals), wages (Mr. Exshaw skimmed rapidly over the wages), staff-meals, graphs, and forty other categories, passed before her, Violet felt herself in a daze, a maze and a nightmare. And she marvelled at the brain of Mr. Exshaw, head-demon of the unparalleled cave.

“I think you can't carry any more, young lady,” he said triumphantly.

Violet, weak, smiled. “Thank you very much, Mr. Exshaw,” she said, beholden.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Exshaw brightly.

Violet and her protector were hardly out of the room before Mr. Exshaw resumed the huge book on which be was engaged when they had disturbed him. Evelyn stuck his head back into the enclosure.

“Mrs. O'Riordan has left us,” said he, delivering a tit-bit of hotel news.

“So I hear, sir,” said Mr. Exshaw casually, without looking up.

When they were safely out of the cave, Violet said:

“It is wonderful. I should call it exciting.”

“It is, isn't it?” said Evelyn.

She thought he liked her nervous animation. He glanced at her quite appreciatively, humanly. Very different from Cyril Purkin! She felt happy, if agitated.

“I'd no idea—” she softly exclaimed.

“No, you hadn't,' he said, quite ruthlessly. “But you'll soon be getting an idea. That's what you're down here for. Exshaw was in this place before I came on the scene. Nobody in the hotel knows his job better.”

Some hardness in his voice. One moment he was smiling at her appreciatively; the next moment his tone seemed to be warning her: “We may as well look the fact in the face—you are an ignorant simpleton here. You'll learn, but you don't realise how much you have to learn, and I don't expect you to realise it.”

Where now was the admired shepherdess of laundry-hoydens; and where the composed, quietly imperative daughter of Renshaw Street from whom two parents drew solace, harmony and moral strength? Still, Mr. Orcham was protecting her. There was more beneath his lightness than she had imagined. And yet had she not always, since the career-turning interview, divined everything of force that there was beneath his lightness? She said to herself that she would not mind being admonished, corrected by him, because he was a just man. She could look up to him.

She could never have looked up to Cyril Purkin, though she admitted Cyril's excellence—his conscientiousness, his devotion to duty, his industry, his clear head. If she had married Cyril, what a secret disaster! A narrow man. Never laughed, or, if he did, always at something silly. He exhibited more self-confidence than he felt. Married to her, he would have appeared to rule her, whereas in reality she would have ruled him, and they would both have known it, and Cyril would have resented it as though the fault was hers, and she would always have had the sensation of not being supported. For many years at home she had been the supporter, and she desired relief. With Cyril she would have had no relief.

Now Mr. Orcham, on the contrary, exhibited less self-confidence than he felt. In thought she was beginning to make a hero of Mr. Orcham. She needed a hero, had never had one. Probably she would not run across him once a month, if at all. But that would not interfere with the gradual process of hero-creation. His image would be set within her brain in the full light of the lamp of passionate ardour, assiduity and endeavour which burned there.

2.

“Might look in at the printing-shop,” Evelyn suggested as they resumed the pilgrimage together. It was close by. More males, but of the artisan type, not the clerkly. All absorbed. Several machines, worked by hand. Piles of cards and sheets. Evelyn took off a card as it emerged from a machine.

“Breakfast menu for the grill to-morrow morning. For the Floors too.”

“Oh yes,” Violet said. She could think of nothing else to say. She was tremendously anxious to seem intelligent. But how could she seem intelligent?

“Here's a notice to the floor-waiters,” said Evelyn, picking up a sheet from a small pile. “It will be stuck on the walls of the service rooms to-night. Isn't striking enough, perhaps.”

Only one old man, a compositor setting up a special programme for a banquet, saluted Evelyn, who spoke to nobody. Violet surprised one or two male glances at herself. She would have preferred that Mr. Orcham should explain her in the printing-shop as he had done in the audit-office. But Mr. Orcham didn't. They left the printing-shop.

“Does the hotel do all its own printing?” Violet questioned “Rather!” said Evelyn. “And it manufactures its own beds; and its own silversmiths repair its own silver and electroplate and so on. Here! You'd better just glance at the Stocks Department.”

Much of the Stocks Department had no daylight, but the darker chambers were illuminated, irradiated, by the energy of the enthusiasm and loquacity of the manager, Mr. Stairforth, to whom Evelyn carefully presented his eighth-floor housekeeper. Mr. Stairforth, like Mr. Exshaw, was grey in the service of the Palace. Withal he had remained a boy. So intense was his pride in Stocks that he delighted to receive callers. And he delighted to send subordinates to and fro to fetch things for the practical illustration of his remarks to callers. He talked incessantly, and with extreme clarity and rapidity. He could not stand still. He could not refrain from imparting knowledge. He was eager with Violet, seeing in her a virgin subject. He drew the pair urgently from room to room, pouring out statistics in a quenchless stream. He never hesitated for a figure.

“Here's the stationery. £3,250's worth. Specially made paper. Our own water mark. Look! Here's a time-sheet.” He held it up against an electric lamp. “See? Time-sheets are the most indispensable things in the hotel. Every five minutes has to be accounted for here. Now fancy goods. We give away twenty thousand fans a year. That's only one item. So on and so on. Now the glass.”

He was leading them into a huge and horrid cavern. He administered to Violet colossal figures about glass. Also he explained in detail how glass was transported. Cocktail glasses Yes. Cocktails were the most profitable trade in the hotel. Mr. Orcham would agree. Nineteen bars in the hotel, but of course mainly service-bars. Still, bars. Mr. Stairforth knew everything, everything. He had a million compartments in his head, and could open any one of them and expose its contents in the tenth of a second. On! On! China, now. The Palace carried that day £21,150's worth of china and glass. Electroplate. Countless shelves of it. Innumerable repetitions of one article. Cruets, for instance. Coffee spoons, for instance. 297 coffee spoons missing in four months. £161's worth of silver lost in four months.

On! On Yes, here was the silversmiths' repair shop. You saw how they bent them back into shape. Very ingenious. And the re-plating. Yes, yes. Now the linen. 40,000 serviettes, 24,000 chamber-towels. 24,000 table-cloths. 5,730 sheets. Varied from week to week of course. Pity she couldn't see the wine stocks; but they were chiefly at Craven Street. £322,000's worth of wines, including £50,000's worth reserves in France. £5,000's worth of cigars. Curious that cigars matured best in a room with a south-east aspect. A big cigar took eighteen months to mature, a little one only six months. On! On!

Evelyn looked at his watch.

“You must go. You must go. I quite understand, Mr. Orcham. Quite. You haven't begun to see things, Miss Powler. But any time you can come down, I shall be at your disposal. I think that all housekeepers, and others, ought to visit the Stocks Department. Valuable knowledge. Yes. Valuable. Good-bye. So glad you came. Not at all. Not at all. Delighted. I love people to be interested as you've been.”

“That man,” said Evelyn in the corridor, “that man has seventeen children and seventeen grandchildren. At least seventeen was the last I heard. It may be eighteen by this time. He must be getting on.”

3.

He conducted her through more corridors and then down a very steep, narrow, steel staircase. Increasing warmth. An odour of warm oil. Rumblings of machinery in motion. Violet saw from above an interior that recalled a glimpse which she had once had of the engine-room of a Margate steamer; but this interior was very much larger. A broad man came to meet the visitors at the foot of the steel staircase.

“Good morning, sir. I was beginning to think something had turned up to stop you from coming.”

“No!” said Evelyn. “I should have telephoned you in that case. This is Miss Powler.” He explained Violet and her presence there. “Mr. Ickeringway,” he said to Violet. “Our chief engineer. We robbed the Navy of him.”

Mr. Ickeringway cordially pressed Violet's hand in a hand broad to match his body. A man of fifty, neat in navy blue, with grey hair, a loud voice, a calm pale face, and an expression on it of authoritative and slightly humorous fortitude.

“If you could see the new well now, sir. It's just the moment.” He turned to Violet: “Yes, miss, I'm a naval man. We've a staff down here of sixty-eight, and all but three of 'em are naval men too.”

He led them across the great engine-hall to an enclosure where were three frightening steel-rimmed and brick-lined holes, with thin shafts running down them into Australia.

“Five hundred feet deep, miss,” said Mr. Ickeringway, and then suddenly began a discussion with the panjandrum, who bent his head towards the chief engineer's. Violet gazed around, and saw clumps of machinery here and there, some moveless, some whizzing, clicking, sizzling; also a few of the sixty-eight visibly wandering around on inspections, or stationary at some job.

By this time the ex-staff-manageress of the Laundry (whose small engine-room Cyril Purkin had never encouraged her to see) was incapable of receiving any but vague impressions of semi-stupefied amazement. She had ceased to try to follow intelligently the procession of wonders, or even to try to seem intelligent. She did not listen to the conversation between the two men. She heard Mr. Orcham finish it with the words:

“That's understood then. You can go right ahead.”

“Better look at this, miss,” Mr. Ickeringway woke her. “It's the new artesian well. Electric pump. It blows the water from the bottom straight up on to the roof. You wouldn't think we use 22,000 gallons of water an hour in the Palace. But that's it. 22,000. And soft water. This is about the only hotel in London that has soft water. Because we don't depend on public supply.”

“Of course,” said Evelyn. “We couldn't have had all this—” he waved an imaginary cane in the direction of the open hall—“if we hadn't built our new wings. All this is under the new last wing. Wouldn't have been room for it under the old part of the building.” .

“Now you'd better begin with the boilers, miss,” said the chief engineer, and drew the party out towards the mammoth row of boilers, from which ran a series of thick serpentine hosepipes. “If anything happened to these, miss—well! Nine fires. Oil-fed. Twenty-five tons of oil a day. Equal to fifty of coal. Yes. And here's the turbine. 4,500 revs., miss, and you can hardly hear it. It's bedded in springs so it won't vibrate the hotel down.”

Suddenly there was a terrific roar. Violet started violently. She thought that the entire hall was about to blow up and blow the hotel into the air. Evelyn's hand was strongly on her arm.

“It's all right. It's all right!” he protectively soothed

And she was in fact tranquillised instantly. So that she felt safe amid mysterious perils and called herself a baby and an idiot.

“They're only testing the new semi-Diesel,” said the chief engineer casually, and pointed to where two pigmy men in beige overalls were perched on a huge dark active mass of a machine. The roar died away. Violet was led on from machine to machine, comprehending the purpose of none.

She heard the chief engineer say:

“There isn't much of a load on now. There'll be more at one o'clock, and a lot more in the evening. We get through a lot of current. Well, there are twenty-nine electric lifts. And a thousand horse-power of electric motors. And about six thousand light-units a day we get through. Come and see where we wash all the air for the public rooms and corridors, and ozonise it, and warm it in winter and cool it in summer.”

On, on! The brine-bath, twenty-eight tons of brine. The icemaking apparatus (reached by a slope upwards). Seven tons of ice a day. Violet gazed.

“You'd better not stay in here,” Evelyn cautioned her. He was benevolently protecting her again. “So liable to catch cold in these sudden changes of temperature. I shouldn't like you to be laid up the first day.” He smiled. She smiled weakly, unintelligently.

Back into the engine-hall.

“And you do all your own repairs here, don't you, Ickeringway?” said Evelyn, as if prompting the chief engineer in the recital of the catalogue of marvels.

“We do, miss. All. I think we may say that this is a se1f-containing unit, same as a ship, but a bit more.” Violet addressed another glance of flabbergasted admiration to Mr. Orcham and Mr. Ickeringway. She saw that Mr. Orcham was passionately proud of his establishment, and she thought it was nice of him, and so man-like and so child-like, to be so innocent in his glorious pride.

4.

A few minutes later Evelyn looked at his watch. The chief engineer, in common with all the other heads of departments, knew the proper response to that gesture.

“A wonderful fellow, that,” said Evelyn, at the top of the steel staircase. “I've never seen him excited. Never. And his men would do anything for him. They simply worship him. I don't quite know why.”

“Yes,” thought Violet. “And you simply worship all your heads of departments. You're so proud of them you can't keep it to yourself. And of course they wouldn't do anything for you! Oh no! Naturally they wouldn't!”

Silence in the long, narrow, squalid corridor. No rumour or vibration of any machinery. A workman passed, halting close against the wall to leave room for the two visitors from the luxury world. Then another. In the silence Violet soon regained her poise. She was touched as much by Mr. Orcham's simple pride in his heads of departments as by his calm protectiveness over her. There were tears of emotional sympathy in the eyes of her soul, if not a trace of feeling in the eyes of her serene face.

“It makes you think,” she murmured.

“What? All that? You haven't seen half. Not half...yes. You could understand anyone wanting to buy this place,” he said.

“Oh yes!” she agreed eagerly. “I suppose you get lots of offers.”

“I don't get lots, but I get one now and then.” He spoke carelessly, as if such matters had no importance.

“I remember somebody thinking of trying to buy it a long time ago.”

“Oh!” Evelyn's tone sharpened into astonishment and curiosity. “Who was that?”

“Sir Henry Savott. He told my sister once, and she told me. She said to me: 'He hasn't finished with his department-stores business, but he's thinking about something else—hotels. Imperial Palace and so on.' I remember the very words.” Instantly Violet had an idea that she might be breaking a confidence. But she did not care. She exulted in her wrongdoing, if wrongdoing it was. She wanted to interest him, and he would certainly be interested. The information might even in some unguessable way be useful to him. And her sister was dead.

“Oh!” said Evelyn very lightly. “Indeed!” As if he considered that Sir Henry had a nerve to think of buying the Imperial Palace.

“But I expect he gave up the idea,” Violet added.

“And when was this?” Evelyn asked.

“I couldn't say, sir, now. Years since.” Evelyn said no more.

When by the swinging-door marked “Private” they had re-entered the decorated and gaudy world of mirrors and gilt and luxury and uniformed attendants, Violet stopped resolutely at the lift, which she recognised as her lift by the features of the attendant.

“Thank you very much, sir. About those flowers for Miss Maclaren's rooms, sir, that you said I was to see to. Can you tell me how I get them? Where? I oughtn't to ask Miss Maclaren, ought I?” She half smiled.

“No,” Evelyn replied, with an almost snubbing frigidity. “You'd better not ask me things like that. You go upstairs and find out. You'll have far more important things than that to find out. I count on you to fall on your feet. The Floors are in a bit of a mess, I mean as regards supervising. So I count on you.”

“Sorry, sir,” said Violet, meekly accepting the rebuke.

She pressed the rebuke to her bosom, like a saint an arrow. He was right. She had been wrong. Imagine a floor-housekeeper worrying the Director with a silly question about flowers! Obviously it was her business to fall on her feet—part of her duty. She had been presuming upon his benevolence towards her. He waved a hand negligently.

“Good-morning, sir. Thank you again.”

As the lift ascended she reflected: “I'd better keep as quiet as possible about all this sightseeing this morning. I don't want to start with a lot of jealousies. I'd better pretend it was nothing, but he just told me to come and I went, and they'll all have to go. It's a pity I was the first to go. That'll make them jealous—without anything else.”

Still, at the bottom of her soul she was not displeased that her yet unknown colleagues should be jealous of her relations with Mr. Orcham. Relations! The thought recurred: Would she ever see him again? What about the chain of authority? Now she had to learn her job in a couple of days or so. She decided that she could. She resolved that she would. The lamp blazed up in her brain with fresh ardour. And she felt joyously inspired to terrific deeds.

Chapter 32. INITIATION

On the eighth floor, her own, Violet saw a fairly young woman in black talking to Beatrice Noakes in the doorway of the head-housekeeper's room. The fairly young woman in black, catching sight of Violet, immediately stepped out into the corridor, at the same time dismissing Beatrice.

“You're Miss Powler?” she called, while Violet was still twenty feet away.

“Yes.”

“My name's Maclaren, and I suppose I'm head-housekeeper now. I've been asking for you everywhere.” The accent was Scottish, the voice bright, but obviously that of a woman both fatigued and harassed.

“Sorry,” said Violet. “Mr. Orcham sent for me.”

“Just come in here a moment, will you? I've only got five minutes. I must go back to Fourth.” Miss Maclaren shut the door, and the two stood close together in the half-dismantled room.

“What did Mr. Orcham want?”

Violet explained that she was the discoverer of Mrs. O'Riordan's flight, and related the circumstances preceding the telephonic summons to the Director's office. She finished: “He said as I was down there he'd show me some things in the basement, so I should know.”

“Oh!” murmured Miss Maclaren negligently.

Looking at her closely, Violet at once put eight or ten years on to her first estimate of Miss Maclaren's age; the new head-housekeeper had wrinkles and a rather worn expression. Her powder was not very well distributed.

She seems inclined to be decent,” thought Violet. “But she's disturbed. As she's my boss I'd better be a bit careful.' And aloud, with pleasant animation: “I should be so glad if you'd just tell me what I have to do.”

“You have to inspect all the rooms that are unoccupied or empty for the time being. First of all you turn on all the lights, whether it's daylight or not, to see they're in order. Try the curtains. See all the taps are right and don't drip. And the locks right everywhere, and everything clean. Bed-linen has to be changed every two days. But some visitors want it changed every day. And you have to watch the chambermaids and—”

“I've talked to one, as I said.”

“Beatrice, I expect. She's good. But she thinks she's Mr. Cousin.” Miss Maclaren's tone hardened. “She'll want to run you, instead of you running her.”

“I think I can see to that,” Violet put in with a smile.

“Never give them an inch—I mean the maids. Not an inch. And don't give them half a minute in the mornings. They have to sign on at half-past six. And every second morning you have to be on duty at half-past six to see them sign on, on both Eighth and Seventh. Miss Prentiss—she's Seventh—does it on the other morning. In turns, you see. I may as well tell you the hours now. You have half a day a week off, and every second week-end—from Saturday at three, about, till Monday morning. You have four hours off every day—if you're lucky. When you have early morning duty, 6.30, you finish at nine at night. On the other days you begin at nine in the morning and finish at midnight. Of course they're long hours.”

“Oh! That's all right,” Violet responded, with an enthusiasm which she did not quite feel.

She had not known the hours. Mr. Cousin had said nothing about them. Nor had Mrs. O'Riordan. Miss Brury might have given her information during the week they had spent together at the Laundry; but Miss Brury had plainly indicated an unwillingness to talk about the Imperial Palace. She even affected not to know that Violet had been engaged for the hotel. Violet now calculated that her hours would be between sixty and seventy a week, whereas at the Laundry they had been fifty-five a week. Also at the hotel she would have only three clear evenings off in a fortnight. No more evening rehearsals of the Dramatic Society, and other fun! She feared for the future of the Dramatic Society, whose members she had left in a state of forlorn depression. In spite of this, the lamp still burned brightly in her brain.

“And then,” Miss Maclaren proceeded, “you have to be ready to go into any room instantly, if any visitor asks for the housekeeper, to settle any trouble.”

“Yes,” said Violet. “I remember Mr. Orcham telling me about that when he first sent for me. I daresay I can manage it. I've had to do it before.” She related her sojourn as temporary housekeeper at a large place in the country. “Do I have any keys?” she enquired.

“You have a pass-key to the rooms and duplicate keys of the linen-closets. That's all. Now you'd better begin now with—let me see—my head's all in a whirl.” Miss Maclaren put her hands over her eyes. “Mrs. O'Riordan leaving like this. I'd no idea of it, Miss Powler. Not a notion.”

“It must be frightfully trying. Mr. Orcham told me that I must first of all see to your rooms here.”

“Oh! That doesn't matter,” snapped Miss Maclaren. “There's lots of things more important than that.”

“But if he finds out I haven't done it,” Violet smiled. “I might be in trouble—right at the start. He seemed very anxious for it to be done. But of course I know I take my orders from you.”

“Oh! Very well!” Miss Maclaren impatiently yielded. “But I do wish Mr. Orcham wouldn't try to run everything himself. He always does.” She smiled with a sort of dismal comic resignation. “Let him have his own way. I'm on Fourth now. I'll give instructions for all my things to be sent up immediately. And you do what you like with them. I've no time. There's been an oak and wicker bedstead simply broken to bits on Fifth. Some actress. She must have done it herself in one of her tantrums. But of course nobody's done it! Mr. Cousin's secretary just tells me in her casual way Mrs. O'Riordan's gone, and Mr. Orcham telephones me himself and says I'm to take charge as quick as I can, and the first thing I have is this bedstead affair. It's worth £40at least. If I was Mr. Cousin I should ask her royal highness to leave to-day, but he won't, I know he won't, because she's supposed to be a great actress and good publicity. You'd hardly believe it, but she's making a fuss because a new bedstead hasn't been brought in at once! That'll just show you the kind of thing a housekeeper has to face. Has your luggage come?”

“Yes. It's here.”

“Have you unpacked?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, while you're waiting for my things you go and get straight yourself.”

Violet gave three little nods of obedient assent. The two had not even shaken hands, but Violet was already feeling sympathetic towards her superior. She thought: “I'll let her see she can depend on me.” She had the sensation of having been in the hotel for days.

Miss Maclaren hurried off. Not a word about her return. Not a word about meals. Not a word as to whether that night Violet would be on duty till nine o'clock or till midnight. As soon as she was gone Violet went to her own room and rang the bell, and then, having pulled open all the drawers and cupboard-doors, instantly began to unpack; she had found in the top middle drawer of the desk a lot of empty forms for hotel linen and for laundry.

2.

“Oh! Can I help you to unpack, miss?” said an eager voice, Beatrice's.

Violet was bending over a trunk on the bed. Beatrice seemed fatter than before. Plump was a slightly inadequate description of her. And she was certainly more eager. The tidings of the definite departure of the head-housekeeper had spread through the entire hotel, exciting its life, and giving to everybody a quite unaccustomed zest.

“No thank you, Beatrice. But I'll tell you what you can do.”

“Yes, miss.”

“And at once. Go and do out Miss Maclaren's rooms, as quick as you can.”

“Miss Maclaren is on Fourth, miss.”

“She's coming up here. I meant Mrs. O'Riordan's rooms. What's the number of them?”

“Oh, I see, miss. They've no number.”

“Well, go and do them out now. And put Mrs. O'Riordan's trunks and things out into the corridor.”

“I misdoubt if I can move the big one by myself, miss. And chambermaids aren't supposed—”

“Well, then, get someone to help you. Get a waiter.”

“Oh, miss, not a waiter. I daren't. Us and the valets are about equal as you may say. But a waiter. If I got giving order-messages to the waiters I should have old Mr. Perosi down on me like half-a-ton of coal.”

“Who's Mr. Perosi?”

“He's the head-waiter for all the Floors, miss. And he's terrible particular. Mrs. O'Riordan and him once had some words, an' it was just like the hotel being on fire. Mr. Orcham had to settle that, he had. Of course

“Then get a valet to help you.”

''Well, miss—”

“How many valets are there on this floor?”

“Two, miss. What I was going to say, miss, one's pressing a suit urgent at this very moment, and the other's off.”

“And the other maids? How many are there of you up here?”

“Four, miss. And forty rooms. Besides all the bits of sewing we have to do for visitors. Of course there's more rooms on the other floors. But here you see there's more store-rooms and the carpenter's shop, besides the head-housekeeper's rooms, and the lampshade room. There's more maids on the lower floor, but forty bedrooms among three of us!..And things are a bit messed up to-day. Miss Prentiss didn't see us sign on this morning, and you know what young girls is, miss. I've been telling 'em. They were fearful late this morning. But of course, miss, if you—”

“Come along, Beatrice. Come along,” said Violet, stopping the spate once more, and preceded her down the corridor to Mrs. O'Riordan's late home, and into the bedroom thereof.

She thought, reflecting on what Miss Maclaren had said:

'This Beatrice just isn't going to run me, anyway.” And aloud, gaily: “Now take that outside, and take that outside. And I'll take this.” Three of the lighter articles of baggage were thus deposited in the corridor. “Now come back. Take that end of this trunk. I'll take the other.”

“Yes, miss.”

When all the baggage was in the corridor Violet said, a little breathless, but very happy:

“Now you get your brushes and things and do these rooms out, and come and tell me as soon as they're finished.”

“Yes, miss.”

“You'll easily do them before your dinner. When is your dinner-time?”

“Twelve o'clock, miss. And if we're late—”

“But you won't be late.”

“No, miss. I was only saying if we are late we're likely to lose on it. There's two relays. I'm in the first this week. When I first came here the food—well, you couldn't eat it. But it's better now. Though they do say it only costs the management one-and-six a day a head of us. You see our dining-room's down in the upper basement. Same as yours, miss. The floor-housekeepers have a table in the room next to ours. The page-boys eat in there too. It's just been redecorated. It ain't very easy to find, miss. But they'll tell you at the lift.”

“I daresay they will,” Violet agreed, departing, and Beatrice waddled away in search of utensils.

To Violet, the woman was now rather a different creature from the relatively cautious, reconnoitring Beatrice whom she had talked to at their previous interview. Decent still, and inclined to be obliging, and assuredly cheerful; but too desirous of imposing herself. Violet knew the type well. No means of silencing that type. It would chatter even if it was drowning at sea in a gale of wind. Violet leaned now to Miss Maclaren's general estimate of chambermaids. Give them an inch...Still, there was an expression on the florid face of Beatrice that pleased her. She divined that the key to the handling of Beatrice was a resolute and unfluctuating cheerfulness. In regard to Miss Maclaren, she hesitated as to method. She suspected that Miss Maclaren was a worrier, whose bright voice was intended to indicate that she was for ever bearing up in great and unfair ordeals; a fixed believer in the injustice of destiny towards herself. Here Miss Maclaren had been promoted to the sublime situation of head-housekeeper at the Imperial Palace Hotel, and yet she was finding sorrow and grievance in good fortune! Violet surmised that the plant of Miss Maclaren's existence would best flourish in an atmosphere of brave gloom, watered occasionally with tears. But Violet could seldom weep. Arid she despised tearfulness in others. Her instinct was nearly always to be bland and smiling. Withal she decided that Miss Maclaren was able, conscientious, industrious, and to be relied upon, which was something, if not everything.

“I've got to be damn careful,” said Violet to herself in warning. Nobody had ever heard her use an improper word, except the late Susan. (The sisters would now and then luxuriate in frightful swearing matches, for fun, to give colour to grey life.) Now Violet had no one to swear with; so, infrequently, she indulged in solitary, silent swearing, to the same end.

As, with rapid judgment of the suitability of particular drawers and cupboards for particular articles, she made continual dashes from the bedside to the wardrobe, dressing-table or desk, distributing her attire and possessions, none could have guessed that her mind was dwelling upon the imagined figure of Mr. Orcham. It was. Sometimes she could see his face quite plainly. She liked his funny teeth, and his warm eyes, and the way he held his head up and walked more on his toes than on his heels. (A bit stealthy, somehow.) But his chin puzzled her, and his nose stuck out too much. He was always changing. Now stiff and curt, now flexible and acquiescent. There were moments when you'd think he was going to be positively intimate; and then no, he was as straight as a poker again. Fearfully well dressed, but quietly. She was sure that he preferred girls to look smart. He must be mildly interested in women. She knew nothing about him, in that department, save that he was a widower. He was one of your mysterious bland persons. (She liked blandness, and practised it naturally, without effort.) Something of the child in him. And something of the woman in him. Not what you'd call so frightfully masculine. Yet he was.

And you couldn't guess from the way he behaved that he was a terrific swell. Yet you could. Of course she didn't know very much about terrific swells. Perhaps they were all like that. No, it couldn't be so. Because Sir Henry Savott wasn't like that, and he was a terrific swell, and some of his friends who came to Claygate were swells too, and they weren't like Mr. Orcham, either. Well, perhaps one or two of them might have been. But not like Mr. Orcham after all. She'd never met anyone like Mr. Orcham. Yes, she judged for the second time that day, he was a gentleman. Here was the thought that brightened her lamp. She would never see him, because you couldn't miss links in the chain of responsibility. But a large part of her inspiration to work was the desire to be worthy of his choice. He had chosen her—he said so. He had chosen her; he, the head of the whole hotel. Difficult not to forget that he was as high up as he certainly was—there was something equal about him. He might be stiff, but he never looked down on you. The way he would stand aside for you, and open doors for you—not always, but sometimes—it made you almost think you were a lady. Of course she was a lady, but she knew what she meant.

3.

She had purposely left her door open. She heard a trundling, squeaking sound in the corridor, and peeped out. A valet in sleeves of shiny black pushing a luggage-carrier.

“These Miss Maclaren's things?”

“Yes, miss.”

“All right. You know the rooms?”

“Yes, miss.”

“You're from Fourth?” She enjoyed saying 'Fourth.'

“Yes, miss.”

Little more than three-quarters of an hour had passed. Evidently Miss Maclaren had the gift of getting things done with speed. Violet continued her unpacking until she heard the trundling sound again. Then she hurried to the head-housekeeper's rooms. They were finished. Praise was due, thought Violet.

“You've been pretty quick, Beatrice.”

“Thank you, miss. I think you'll find everything's clean. Of course when we—”

“What are these keys?”

Four keys, one large and three small, lay prominent on an arm of the sofa.

“Miss Maclaren's sent them up, miss. They're your pass-key and the keys of the linen-closets.”

“Good.” Violet at once attached them to the key-chain on her girdle.

“I suppose I'd better undo some of these things, miss. It doesn't matter about my dinner.” Beatrice pointed to a couple of trunks and some small bags and an umbrella and a lot of cloaks and oddments reposing right in the middle of the doorway leading towards the bedroom.

Violet looked at the clock near the ceiling over the fireplace. “It does matter about your dinner, Beatrice. I shan't be late for mine and I won't have you being late for yours. Off you go! You'll just be in time.”

“Oh! If it's like that, miss!” Beatrice smiled richly. “I was only going to tell you—”

“Tell me afterwards, when you come up.”

“But you won't be up, miss.”

“Well, when I do come up then.”

Beatrice went out, smiling still against rebuff. And the moment Beatrice was gone Violet seized on the cloaks. Poor garments. No style. A shabby pinkish transparent mackintosh. A shabby umbrella. A good, warm, heavy rug, which Violet immediately laid on the sofa. Two large photographs of two serried bands of young men—one band in football kit—with wide white margins in black frames. Two smaller photographs, an old man and an old woman, similarly framed. And another photograph of a tiny country cottage with low hills behind, framed in straw with bows. Miss Maclaren's relatives? Miss Maclaren's birthplace? One cushion. Two vases. Ten books. Violet hung the two large photographs on either side of the hearth, and the portraits on either side of the door; and she put the vases and the cottage with hills on the mantelpiece, and the cushion on the easy-chair. The room became inhabited, took on some faint similitude of a home.

Then she dragged the trunks and the bags into the bedroom. She opened the smallest of the bags. Toilet. Brushes, toothbrush, sponge in a bag, pin-cushion, etc. She disposed the articles on the dressing-table and the lavatory basin. One of the trunks was not completely shut. She opened it—and closed it. No! Sacrilege! She would have been glad to empty the trunks and the other bags; but she dared not. Prying! She must be damn careful. However, she hung up the cloaks and the mackintosh in the enormous wardrobe, and propped up the umbrella in a corner. Well, Miss Maclaren probably wouldn't mind her things being unpacked for her. She wasn't that sort. But Miss Maclaren just might mind. You never knew!

“My God! The flowers!”

She had forgotten them. She had meant to enquire from Beatrice about the machinery for getting flowers. “It slipped my memory, miss”: a phrase familiar to her in the Laundry. She hated it. How did you get flowers? She might telephone down to the other Marian. No. That would be a sign of weakness. Stocks Department? She might telephone down to Mr. Stairforth, the breathless talker. No. She daren't. Besides, though there must be a stock of flowers somewhere, she had noticed no stock of flowers in Mr. Stairforth's dark realm. She felt helpless. She felt alone on the floor. She looked around. There were two glass vases of flowers, one on the window-sill: but the blossoms were obviously faded and forlorn beyond revival. She ran into her own room and returned thence with the large vase of flowers. Quite enough in it for two vases. She threw the dead flowers into the waste-paper basket, emptied the vases at the lavatory-basin, refilled them, and divided the flowers and arranged them in the vases, one in each room. They made a most respectable display. She ran back towards her own room with the empty vases, her keys swinging and rattling very cheerfully, and was accosted by a pale waiter emerging from one of the rooms.

“You are asked for here, miss,” said the waiter briefly, in a foreign accent, without enquiring who or what she was.

“Me? I'm the new floor-housekeeper.”

“Yes.”

“Who is it?”

“I do not know quite. I have been three days away ill.”

“Is it a lady?”

“No. A gentleman.”

“Very well. I'm coming.”

She went on to her bedroom with the vase. She was rather frightened. Her major duties were commencing. She fingered her pass-key. Supposing she couldn't fit it into the door...An angry or a dissatisfied customer? Tact, tact!

Chapter 33. A FRIEND

The door, she saw as soon as she stood close to it, bore three numbers, and she assumed therefore that it opened into a suite of three rooms and that the single occupant was a person of wealth. One of her unformulated definitions of a person of wealth was a traveller who could afford a private sitting-room in a hotel—any hotel, not merely an expensive hotel such as the Imperial Palace. A hotel private sitting-room seemed to her to be the very symbol and illustration of fabulous luxury. As for three rooms, what could a visitor want with three rooms. “How silly of me!” she thought suddenly. “Of course! The bathroom is one of the rooms!”

Happily the key fitted itself without any fuss into the lock. She was extremely nervous as she turned the key, pushed open the door, and withdrew the key. Never in her life had she seen a visitor's bedroom in any hotel. Her summit of luxury had been a bedroom in a rather good boarding-house at Ramsgate. She had witnessed various wonders of the Imperial Palace, but its guest-rooms were absolutely unknown to her. And yet she was floor-housekeeper on Eighth. Uncanny situation! 'Uncanny' was the only word for it. The visitor might expose her ignorance by his first question, his first demand. And the customer might be a very strange type of man, might even be a foreigner. She guessed that these big cosmopolitan luxury hotels were inhabited by all sorts of strange, haughty individuals. For a moment again she almost wished herself back in the homely vaporous security of the Laundry, ordering girls about and keeping an invisible wall between herself and Mr. Cyril Purkin.

In front of her was a tiny lobby or hall. Hats and coats clustered on a hatstand—sufficient of them for several men. A half—opened door ahead showed a bathroom. There were doors on either side, both shut. She tapped on one. No answer. She opened it. Bedroom. Then she tapped on the other one.

“Come in!” An authoritative male voice, muffled by the thickness of the door.

Her heart announced an increased activity. Yes, she was frightened. As she opened the door she might have been a soldier going over the top in the Great War. A gentleman was standing expectant in the middle of the room, hands in pockets. For one second, in her perturbation, Violet did not recognise him. Then the figure and the rather wizened face with its small eyes resolved themselves for her into those of Sir Henry Savott. She had a feeling of thankfulness. At any rate this was no overbearing stranger. She knew Sir Henry and a lot about him and his idiosyncrasies. Had she not served him for a month and seen him both bland and stern? Also he had been remarkably polite to her in the entrance-hall of the Imperial Palace not long since. She was indeed relieved.

Sir Henry's features relaxed into a smile astonished and welcoming. He had ceased to be the consciously great man which he had always been in the big house at Claygate during her stay there. He moved towards her with hand outstretched; the hand clasped hers with warmth; and at the same time he exclaimed:

“Now what—what in the name of coincidence is the meaning of this? How are you? I'm delighted to see a familiar face.” All in one breath.

Violet explained what she was.

“This is my first day here,” she said. Somewhat excited by the encounter, she had an impulse to add: “And this is the first room I've seen, and you're the first visitor who has sent for me, and I hardly know where I am yet.” But a natural prudence silenced her. Instead, she added: “What can I do for you, Sir Henry?” in a rather formal tone. An instinctive sense of propriety always prompted her to keep herplace and to encourage other people to keep theirs. Sir Henry, however, in his cordiality, apparently desired not to be formal. He sat down.

“Do sit down,” he said.

“I'm all right, thank you, Sir Henry,” Violet answered firmly, but very nicely. She was not going to be caught by any waiter or other chance entrant sitting down in the room of a male visitor, and especially on her first day. No! Moreover, if such a freedom was not forbidden by the hotel code, well, it ought to be!

She had never been aware of much sympathy with Sir Henry. He had characteristics which she disliked. His quick, sharp gestures and movements, designed—she often thought—to deceive people as to his age. His bristly moustache, which in her opinion ought either to be allowed to grow a little more or to be completely suppressed. His chin, which was ugly and sinister. His teeth, which seemed always hungry. And his glance, inquisitive and suspicious. If she trusted him, it was not without reluctance.

Still, her sister Susan, while reserved about him—even to Violet—had certainly both trusted and liked him. He had meant a deal to Susan; and he had invariably treated Susan well. As indeed he had treated Violet herself. Violet had nothing definable against him; and, further, she had followed Susan in sympathising with him in his conjugal difficulties. And now, as she stood primly before him, she felt sorry for him. And neither he nor anybody else could have guessed why.

It was because the sitting-room was so small. (The bedroom too was small.) After the immense spacious interiors of the house at Claygate, it seemed a perfect shame to Violet that the great opulent man should have to content himself, or should content himself, with rooms relatively so tiny. As a fact, neither of his rooms here was much larger than her own. She was disappointed in the size of the rooms at the amazing Imperial Palace.

“Well, Miss Powler,” said Sir Henry. “I'm genuinely glad to see you here. I seem to remember Mr. Orcham mentioning to me that there was some idea of your coming here. I'm glad because I'm quite sure you were thrown away at that Laundry. This is just the place for you.”

('Miss Powler.' At Claygate he had always called Susan 'Susan' and Violet 'Violet,' except in the presence of the servants.)

“You're very kind, Sir Henry,” Violet responded. “But I've a great deal to learn.”

“Not you. You were first-rate at my house. You know all about maids and valets and so on. And you know exactly how to treat guests. You've got nothing to learn, really, except—what shall I say?—the geography of the hotel. And a few tuppenny-halfpenny rules.”

“It's understood it takes six months or more to train a housekeeper here, Sir Henry,” said Violet. But she was impressed by his instant grasp of essentials, and, flattered, she felt inclined to agree with his estimate of the situation.

“Not for a woman like you,” said he, positive and slightly impatient. “A fool couldn't be trained in six months or six years. But you have intelligence, and you know it. You're bound to have a successful career. Of course”—he raised a finger—“accidents do happen. I don't think for a moment they will, but you can't be sure. I'm convinced you'll rise high in this place. But if anything should happen, I want you to know that in some other hotels, anyhow one—and there may be more—what I say goes. And if ever you want a change, you just send me one line, one line, and I'll fix it. Oh yes! I'll do it for my own sake, and glad to!”

“It's very kind of you, Sir Henry. Very kind. But I hope I shan't—I don't think—”

“Neither do I. I'm only saying 'if.' And there's something else—you don't mind me giving you a tip, do you?”

Violet shook her head and smiled. Assuredly Sir Henry was strengthening her belief in herself. And he was indeed kind. Assuredly she felt uplifted once more.

“I suppose you don't know any French?” Sir Henry resumed. “No. I know you don't, because I remember once when I had Monsieur Messein down at Claygate and there was some mix-up in his bedroom, Miss Gracie had to interpret.”

“No, Sir Henry. I did begin to learn French at the South-West London Polytechnic, but I forgot it all as soon as I left there.”

“Well, take my tip and learn French. In this new business of yours here it'll be of the greatest use to you. Wouldn't be much good in an ordinary English hotel, of course. But this is a cosmopolitan show where you get all sorts of clients. It would give you a sort of a standing, you see. In France and so on housekeepers and cashiers and reception-clerks—they're often women—can speak English, have to; but in England, even in London, how often do you see a housekeeper who can talk anything but English? Scarcely ever. I undertake to say there isn't one housekeeper in the I.P. can speak French. Of course you always hear that English is the international language. It may be. It is. But not in the luxury world, and the luxury world's your world, you know. Think it over, will you?”

“Oh, I will, Sir Henry,” Violet replied, enthusiastic, but—as it were—dreamily enthusiastic.

She was dreamy in the suddenly induced marvellous vision of herself as a young woman able to gabble away in French to foreigners who could not speak English. “Give her a sort of standing!” It would. In her vision she could hear Miss Maclaren saying on other floors in her lowland-Scottish accent: “Better send for Miss Powler. Where's Miss Powler? Miss Powler can talk French. Miss Powler will see the lady—or the gentleman.” It would be wonderful. Too wonderful to be true! She wanted to begin to learn French the next minute. The lamp burned still brighter in her brain. Mr. Orcham could talk French, she was sure. He would be impressed if he knew that she could talk French too. Mr. Cousin was French. What fun it would be if, one day when she had to go down and, see Mr. Cousin, she started the interview right off in French! What a difference between the old Violet in the Laundry, and the new French-chattering Violet in Sir Henry's luxury world!

But she was a practical girl, and she emerged from her dream into realisation.

“It might be rather hard for me to do it here, Sir Henry,”she said. “The hours are pretty long, and perhaps I couldn't get out.”

“Hard? Here? Couldn't get out? What do you want to get out for? Why, there must be scores of people in this place who talk French better than they talk English! And some of them would be glad to teach you. You could easily come to an arrangement. Simplest thing in the world. A little enterprise needed; that's all.”

“I shall,” said Violet positively, her brown eyes lighted up. “I'm very much obliged, Sir Henry.”

2.

He had spoken benevolently, persuasively, even coaxingly. She felt more sympathetic towards him than she had ever felt. Why was he so good-natured? Possibly because she happened to be Susan's sister. Surely he would not have shown the same interest in any other housekeeper! He couldn't. Of course she had served in his house, run his house. But ages ago, and not for long. The reason for his interest must be Susan. Anyhow he was full of common sense. And he certainly did grasp a situation. Violet admired common sense and grasp more than anything else. He had opened her eyes, that he had!

In her admiration she grew nearly at ease with him. Her association with him in the past helped her to forget now that he was a millionaire, a big public figure, whose name and whose photograph were constantly in the newspapers. She saw in front of her not a legend but a human being, who wanted a floor-housekeeper to look after some ordinary matter for him in his rooms. It might be the starching of his shirts. (Though it was the effect of life in the Laundry that turned her thoughts first to shirts, she did recall that he used to be a bit particular about his shirts.) And in advising her he had not tried to come the bigwig over her. Not a trace of 'side.' No indication whatever of the difference in class which separated them. He was just friendly and decent, in a nice kind of fatherly style. And yet not quite fatherly. No. Just as a friendly decent man to a decent self-respecting woman much younger than himself.

In her heart she apologised to him for her reservations concerning him. The small, intimate sitting-room had a very agreeable, reassuring atmosphere. Her simple father and mother would have been proud to overhear that interview. And Mr. Orcham would have admitted that she was falling on her feet.

“I'd like something done about this desk,” said Sir Henry, suddenly rising and going to the window, beneath which was a small knee-hole desk, painted green to match the general tint of the room.

“Yes, Sir Henry.” Violet braced herself to receive orders. Even her voice was braced.

“It's too small for me.”

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

“I want a larger one.”

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

“And I want it changed as quick as you can.”

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

The benevolent paternal human being was transformed into the millionaire autocrat; but there was still some benevolence in his tone, abrupt and commanding as it had become.

He continued:

“I was down on the third floor. I had a larger desk there. I've been out of London for a bit since I met you in the hall that day. I got back yesterday, and I moved up here yesterday evening...Pretty view from here, isn't there?” He stared out of the window across St. James's Park and the Green Park towards Piccadilly, all lying under a mist-veiled autumn sun. “It was really because of the view I decided to come up to this floor. You see, on the third floor you're just level with the tops of the trees, and you can't see a thing. I like a view. Space. I can't do with being shut in. See the new Devonshire House there? Then there's another thing. Say what you like about sound-proof rooms, it's always quietest on the top floor. Now about this desk. You see, my secretary, or one of 'em, has to be able to work at it sometimes. There were two desks in my room downstairs.”

“I expect it was a larger room, Sir Henry.”

“It certainly was. These rooms are too narrow for their length. Still, I prefer this room of the two. Only I want a larger desk. Understand?”

“Yes, Sir Henry. I'll get it as quickly as I can. But the head-housekeeper's had some trouble downstairs, and as I told you, I don't know a thing here yet. This is a question of geography.” She faintly smiled.

“Quite, quite,” Sir Henry amiably concurred. “But I want a larger desk and the sooner the better.” His voice hardened. It was as if he took away with one hand what he had given with the other; as if he had said: “I don't care about your head-housekeeper and her troubles, and it's no affair of mine that you don't know a thing. I want my desk.”

“I'll go right now.”

“That's a good girl.”

This appellation startled Violet ever so little. She moved towards the door.

“Just a minute. You remember Jim?”

“Jim, Sir Henry? I'm afraid I don't.”

“Yes, you do. He was second footman at Claygate.”

“Oh yes!” But she did not remember Jim. Even in her one month at Claygate she had witnessed several changes of footmen.

“Well, I made him my valet. He's here with me now. He was taken ill in the night on the journey, and I've sent him to bed. I wish you'd go and see for yourself what's the matter with him. And then report to me. If he's going to be really ill I must get a temporary. I only want to know how I stand.”

“Yes, Sir Henry.” She was somewhat cooled, critical. At first she had thought that the great man was anxious for his valet. Then she thought that the great man was concerned only for himself.

“I'll stay here and wait,” said the great man, warningly.

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

Violet hurried out. How to procure the larger desk? Having procured it, how to get the change effected? How to discover where this Jim was lodged? She would not ask. Sir Henry would not know. He would probably retort: “Oh! Don't ask me.” Yet on the whole, for a first encounter with a visitor in her capacity of floor-housekeeper, the meeting had passed off very well. And Violet was happy, and still uplifted, and still held a higher opinion than before of Sir Henry Savott. What a world was this Imperial Palace world of rich, bewildering novelty and romantic surprises! And she was on her mettle.

Chapter 34. VIOLET AND MAC

“What's this?” Miss Maclaren demanded, with chill civility, of the waiter who brought into her newly acquired sitting-room a small tray containing a pot of tea, a jug of hot water, milk, sugar, and two cups and saucers.

“Two teas,” answered the waiter. It was the same man who had given to Violet the message from Sir Henry Savott.

“I didn't say two 'dry' teas,” said Miss Maclaren in a hard, uncompromising tone, drier than the driest tea could be. “Please take this away, and let me have it all on a larger tray, the one Mrs. O'Riordan always had, and her tea-pot, and plenty of bread-and-butter, and cakes, and some black-currant jam. And I'm in a hurry, please.”

In silence the waiter withdrew with the tray.

“That's just like them,” Miss Maclaren explained her grievance to Violet, whom she had invited to take tea with her. “However, I believe in beginning as you mean to go on. He knew perfectly well. The floor-housekeepers have their tea downstairs where they have their other meals. Only if they want tea upstairs they can have it in their bedrooms. But it's what we call a 'dry' tea. Nothing to eat with it, you know. But the head-housekeeper is at liberty to have whatever she wants, and she's served by a floor-waiter, same as a visitor. Mrs. O'Riordan always had that, and I shall. He was only trying it on. He hasn't been here very long, and he's ill half the time, or pretends to be. Still, he ought surely to have seen enough of me to know I'm not the sort of person to try things on with. He soon will know—I'll attend to that! Don't you think I'm right?”

“Rather!” Violet agreed.

She saw in Miss Maclaren a person who loved authority, who was very jealous of her authority, newly acquired with the room, but who felt the need at first of a little moral support in the exercise of the same. As one who had until the previous day exercised a great deal of authority over more than two hundred women and girls, Violet regarded herself as nearly the moral equal of Miss Maclaren, and she felt that Miss Maclaren so regarded her. But she was privately critical of Miss Maclaren's method. Stony was the word to apply to it. No allowances made. Violet usually managed to put herself in the place of a wrong-doer; which enabled her often to read the wrong-doer's thoughts and thus gave her a considerable advantage in handing the wrong-doer. It was because she was reading Miss Maclaren's thoughts that she had replied with such sympathy, “Rather!”

“You must have had some lively times down at the Laundry now and then,” said Miss Maclaren.

“You may depend I had!” said Violet, with a troubled expression feigning dark memories of the lively times. She added:

“But of course it must be much more difficult here—especially for you, with eight floors to keep an eye on and so many different sorts of people too. We'd no foreigners at the Laundry anyhow.” The benevolent, deceitful little piece had here said exactly the right thing to the brave martyr of the Floors. Miss Maclaren despised and mistrusted all the foreigners on the staff, except perhaps Mr. Cousin, whose impregnable blandness appealed much more to her than to the somewhat temperamental Mrs. O'Riordan.

The sun was low in the sky. Not a ray of it came through the window. The flame of the small autumn fire showed brighter in the first onset of the dusk. The sofa was drawn close at an angle across the hearth. Miss Maclaren sat in a corner of it, without leaning back. Violet sat on the pouf. The two black-robed creatures, prim with office, soon lost some of their primness in a chiefly physical sensation of nascent intimacy. Violet opened her bag and boldly employed her lipstick.

“What lipstick do you fancy, dear?” asked Miss Maclaren.

(Mr. Orcham was uncanny.)

“Michel,” said Violet, pausing in her work. “It's a kind of an imitation of Tanger, you know. But I think it's better. Not what you'd call cheap, but it lasts for ages. If you ask me, I think the most expensive is the cheapest.”

“Yes?” said Miss Maclaren doubtfully. “I don't know what mine is, really. But I know it's about finished. Mrs. O'Riordan always had Chanel.”

“Yes. That's one that lasts for ages, too.”

Then the waiter arrived with another and a superior tray, laden apparently with the whole contents of a Bond Street tea-shop and a superior tea-service and superior china. He hesitated.

“Shall he put it on here?” Violet suggested, rising from the pouf.

“Yes.”

Violet sat down by Miss Maclaren's side. Intimacy was increasing.

“Thank you,” said Miss Maclaren, less harshly, to the waiter, who stood expectant with a pad of order-slips in his hand.

“Will you sign, please, miss?” The waiter spoke with marked deference.

“Oh!” Miss Maclaren exclaimed, caught. She had forgotten that only 'dry' teas required no signature. She signed the check, having first scrutinised it. Glancing over the tray, she added to the waiter in the most friendly manner, “Yes, this will be all I want. Thank you very much.”

“Thank you, miss.” The waiter left.

“He's learnt his lesson,” said Miss Maclaren, but with no bitterness; rather with a smile. The magnificent spectacle of the tray had mollified her. She picked up a petit four and ate it at once. Then another. Her mouth half-full, she mumbled to Violet: “Milk? Sugar?”

Violet had one lump, Miss Maclaren three. Miss Maclaren was of those who enjoy their tea. Further, she had a sweet tooth—when sweets were gratis. This immense and crushing weight of the Imperial Palace seemed to slip from her responsible shoulders The look on her worn, well-shaped face gradually changed; the wrinkles were smoothed out; even Violet's demeanour changed in sympathy with Miss Maclaren's.

“It must be rather fun, being head-housekeeper,” she ventured.

“Well, I suppose it is, dear,” said Miss Maclaren, who at that moment was defining a head-housekeeper as a personage who could have what she chose for tea. “I mean—it is and it isn't. Now Mr. Cousin asked me down for lunch to-day, and Mr. Orcham was there too. Naturally, I couldn't refuse, though really I hadn't a minute and they must have known it. Wasn't as if they had much to tell me that was useful. No. Just talk. It's extraordinary the amount of time men waste. I could have had my lunch in five minutes. Do you know, I was there over an hour. It was in Mr. Cousin's room. I suppose they just wanted to be friendly.”

“And so they ought!” Violet put in. “But it was nice of them.” She wondered if she would ever be invited to lunch with the swells. Never.

“Oh, it was,” said Miss Maclaren, who scarcely tried to conceal a justifiable pride in the event. “And my word they do have meals, those two.” The greedy woman was speaking. “Mr. Cousin didn't say a lot, but Mr. Orcham did, and they were both full of Mrs. O'Riordan. Mr. Orcham's made up his mind she shan't have her wedding-present. He said he told her if she didn't come to the dinner she wouldn't get any present. And she did say she would come. So he's sending the plate back to the silversmith's, and he says he's going to return all the subscriptions. That means ten shillings I never expected to see again. Oh! He was very light and jolly about it. But he meant it. You could see that. And when he means a thing he does mean it, Mr. Orcham does. She oughtn't to have run off like that. No! I must say I was very surprised. I should never I have thought it of her.”

“I should think not indeed!” said Violet. “But I think just before weddings women do get into a state. I've noticed it.”

“Really?” Miss Maclaren casually murmured. “Still, she shouldn't have done it.” She lifted her shoulders censoriously, poured out more tea, ate bread-and-butter, ate jam, ate more cakes.

2.

There was a tap on the door. Mrs. O'Riordan's fluffy little school-gir1ish secretary entered, notebook in hand.

“In half an hour, Agatha,” said Miss Maclaren, turning her head, grandly. The secretary nodded and vanished.

“Have another of these little cakes—petty fours as they call them,” Miss Maclaren hospitably suggested.

“No, thanks. I can't eat any more.”

“You haven't had any jam. Do have some.”

Violet smiled and moved her head slowly from side to side.

“Another cup of tea?”

Violet nodded her head.

Having poured out two more cups, Miss Maclaren took for herself more bread-and-butter, more jam, and more little cakes. She ate very quickly.

“No use leaving anything for them,” said she, seizing as it were sadly the last bit of food on the tray. “The cakes that are no more!” her glance at the empty plates seemed to say. But her demeanour had become quite animated, even gay. She was a completely changed woman: happy in the satiating of her passion. She liked eating; she had authority to order what she wanted; she had got it; and she had consumed it. She leaned back.

“Very nice of you to arrange these rooms for me, Violet,” she said; and added: “They christened me 'Mac' in this place. But I'm not going to have any 'Macs' now—except of course when I'm alone with someone, like this.”

“No,” said Violet. “It wouldn't do, would it? I should have unpacked your trunks too; but I thought perhaps I'd better not. People prefer to do that themselves.”

“I've done it,” said Miss Maclaren.

'You are quick,” said Violet, who was really impressed by this despatch.

“Oh! That doesn't take me long!” said Miss Maclaren. “I've done it too often. But hanging pictures and so on. No. I never seem to have a moment for that. Downstairs my pictures never were hung. And if you hadn't hung them here, I don't know when they would have been done.” Her gaze was apparently set on one of the vases of flowers. But she said no word about Violet's flowers. Evidently she was a woman, rare, who could look at flowers without seeing them.

“And what have you been doing on your first day? I've had to leave you to yourself.” Miss Maclaren laughed.

Violet answered:

“I'd better make my report, hadn't I?”

She told about Sir Henry Savott's urgent demand for a new desk.

“Savott? What number?” Violet gave the number of the suite. “But that was occupied by a Mr.—I forget his name, only it wasn't Savott; a Canadian.”

“Sir Henry came in last night, he told me.”

“I'm sure he isn't on the floor-list,” said Miss Maclaren.

“That must be her ladyship again. She must have had the slip from the Reception Office—and forgotten it. Other things tooccupy her mind!” Miss Maclaren both sardonically enjoyed and severely disapproved Mrs. O'Riordan's negligence. “You see, she was doing floor-housekeeper up here as well as head-housekeeper. You'd have thought she could manage it, wouldn't you? Well, what about the desk?” Violet related that a valet had advised her to go to the carpenter's shop.

“And did you go?”

“No, I sent for the head-carpenter. The valet said there was some spare furniture in his shop.”

“Now that's right,” said Miss Maclaren. “Send for them. Never go to them unless you can't possibly help it.”

“Well, there wasn't a desk—at least not one large enough. And Sir Henry wanted it green. I went to the shop myself to see.”

“So you didn't get one?”

“Yes, I did. I don't know whether I did right or not, but I looked in all the empty rooms and I found a large desk in 847. So I exchanged that one for the one in Sir Henry's room. Was that right?”

“Yes, it was,” said Miss Maclaren. “But the desk in 847 isn't green.”

“It has some green lines picked out on it.”

“So it has,” Miss Maclaren agreed, after reflection. “How did you get the desks shifted?”

“I just asked the valet if he'd get it done for me, and he did.”

“Which valet was it?”

“Don't know his name. Red hair.”

“Oh! He did?”

“Yes. I think the carpenters helped. I left them to do it and went away. When I came up from lunch it was done. I was very late for lunch. It took me about ten minutes to find where the place was. The housekeepers' table was empty. But there were two page-boys eating in the same room.”

“Well, dear, that wasn't so bad for a first day. I don't believe in page-boys having their meals in the same room as the floor-housekeepers. I've often thought of it. It's not nice. And I mean to get that altered if I can. What else? Anything?”

The conversation, vivacious enough, and deeply interesting to both women, burrowed down into recondite details of administration. Violet absorbed new knowledge through her pores. She mentioned the illness of Sir Henry's servant, Jim.

“I went to see him. He said he knew he'd got bronchitis, and I thought he had too. So I sent for Dr. Constam.”

“Who told you about Dr. Constam?”

“Marian Tilton. That's her name, isn't it? Mr. Cousin's secretary. I telephoned down to her. She's very obliging.”

“Yes. I suppose she is,” Miss Maclaren concurred. “But don't you go and say too much to her. She's the worst gossip in the hotel. I'm always very careful with her. What did the doctor say?”

“Oh! It was bronchitis. But only a touch.”

“He wouldn't have said it was only a touch if it had been a visitor on any of the floors,” observed Miss Maclaren.

“Wouldn't he? But I really think it was only a touch this time. I've been to see the man since. I knew him, you see, before. I knew Sir Henry Savott too.”

Violet hesitated for a moment, but the hesitation ended by her telling pretty fully the story of her brief connection with the Savott household at Claygate. Miss Maclaren listened with both ears, and did not cease to question until she had learnt more of Susan Powler's illness and death than anybody outside the Powler family. Intimacy was still further increased. The very room was warm with intimacy. Tones of voice sank lower. Inflections and glances and gestures acquired a new freedom and variety.

“Then you must know a lot about our business,” said Miss Maclaren, at the close of the talk. “I wish I'd known this morning. I shouldn't have been so nervous for you. Mr. Cousin or Mr. Orcham might have told me, I think.” The head-housekeeper's respect for her subordinate had increased as much as the intimacy. After all there was a glamour about managing a large country mansion for a celebrity that even the Imperial Palace could not offer. Silence fell for a moment.

Violet was thinking:

“I'm glad I told her. She might have heard one day and it wouldn't have done for her to think I hadn't been open with her. She's a nice old sort. No trouble about keeping in with her if you go about it right. She's fussy, but she's a great worker, and she knows her job and she'll see that I do mine.”

Then the telephone-bell tinkled in the room. Miss Maclaren jumped with a nervous start to answer it.

“Oh, dear!” she murmured, with resignation. “Can't people leave me alone while I'm having my tea?”

3.

In the telephone dialogue, Miss Maclaren said little, listening much more than she talked. Violet heard only such phrases as:

“Oh! Quite satisfactory, sir. She's...Very well, sir...To-night? Yes, to-morrow morning would be better. Certainly, sir. I'll arrange it...Oh yes, sir. I can manage.” Miss Maclaren hung up the receiver, sighed, and returned to the sofa.

“I'm sorry, Violet, but the orders are that you are to go down to Third to-morrow morning, and take over there. It was Mr. Cousin speaking. I do think it would have been better for you to stay up here with me for a bit, while you're getting into it. But that's the order. He didn't give any reason. But I should like to know whether I'm head-housekeeper or not. It ought to be my business to decide what housekeeper is to be on what door. Miss Venables is doing Third and Fourth at present, and she might just as well go on doing them both, until you're settled down. I thought we'd settled it all at that lunch of theirs. I told them there was no need to have eight housekeepers. Waste of money, I told them. I can easily do Eighth myself, same as Mrs. O'Riordan had to do for a week and more. But I do wish you could have stayed with me. I'm so sorry, dear.”

“So am I—Mac,” Violet replied, using the diminutive with a certain constraint for the first time.

And she was rather more than sorry. She was upset. These mysterious powers downstairs! They said go, and you went. No reason given. They ordered, and you obeyed, blindly. You weren't a human being. You were a robot. You had to exercise judgment, tact, take responsibilities, be smart, powder your face. But you were a robot. Supposing she'd been doing wrong over the desk, as she might have been doing! What trouble! Taking on herself to change furniture without authority! But she was a robot nevertheless. Nothing like this could have happened at the Laundry. Cyril Purkin had been above her, technically, but he was always a bit timid, apologetic, and full of explanations whenever he encroached on her territory. Third floor! It was a foreign land to her. It was like Canada. Fancy having to emigrate to Canada at less than a day's notice. And she was unpacked and fixed on Eighth! And she felt at home there. To her, Eighth was the nicest and the cosiest floor in the hotel. No other floor could be half as nice.

She felt helplessly involved in a terrific and ruthless machine. And why was she being moved? Why? Miss Maclaren thought there was no sense in it, and so there couldn't be any sense in it.With Miss Maclaren the interests of the hotel would have come first. She would have sacrificed herself and Violet and anybody to the interests of the hotel. That was certain. You could feel in Miss Maclaren a tremendous loyalty and devotion to the hotel. Well, if Miss Maclaren couldn't see the point of the move there just wasn't a point. Surely Mr. Orcham had had nothing to do with the order. No, it was just a whim of that strange Frenchman. Already Violet was beginning to catch the head-housekeeper's prejudice against foreigners.

“Agatha will be here in a minute,” said Miss Maclaren, glancing at the clock. “I must dictate some letters. I'm not very good at it. Did you have to do any dictating at the Laundry, dear?”

“Oh no! Mr. Purkin did all that.”

“He was a bit curt in his letters to Mrs. O'Riordan,” said Miss Maclaren.

“Yes, I daresay,” said Violet. “But I don't think he means to be,” she smiled.

And Mac smiled quite suddenly.

“No. I'm sure he doesn't,” said she, as if suddenly persuaded to revise her opinion of Mr. Purkin as a business correspondent. “And talking of the Laundry,” she went on, “the linen will be coming in about seven—you know when it leaves the Laundry—I wish you'd see that it's checked carefully, and I want you to look right through the linen-closets, and see if everything's arranged for the best and report to me, will you?”

“I will,” said Violet, with enthusiastic, consciously comforting willingness, conveying the idea that her special delight would be to do what was asked of her.

“Let me see now,” said Miss Maclaren. “This will be your late night. Midnight, you go off. Have you had any time off to-day?”

“I've had plenty of time when there wasn't anything to do.”

“You ought to have gone out,” said Miss Maclaren, who seldom took the trouble to go out herself. “I'd like us to have another quiet chat to-night. Come along here about half-past eleven. I'll expect you. But be sure to tell the night-waiter and the valet and the maid where you're to be found. In case. You never know.”

Agatha tapped and entered. Miss Maclaren frowned instinctively, preparing herself to shoulder again the full burden of the Imperial Palace.

“You've brought that correspondence I asked you for with the Works Department?”

“Yes, Miss Maclaren.”

Violet dined in the society of Miss Prentiss and Miss Venables. There were no page-boys. Later she went through the linen-closets. She was humorously surprised to discover herself highly critical of the laundry work. She admitted defects which, if they had been brought to her notice by the hotel staff, she would never have admitted in the Laundry. By eleven-thirty she was almost reconciled to the emigration order. Mac and she gossiped till nearly one o'clock in the morning, hedonistically heedless of the clock. At parting they kissed: a prim kiss. Mac said that Violet must come up for tea again the next day—not for mere pleasure, certainly not, but to receive any advice or information which she might need for the proper conduct of Third.

“Have you packed at all, you poor dear?” Mac enquired.

“No. I shan't think of it till morning.”

“That's right. And don't you go down a minute before nine o'clock. That's your time on Third.”

Violet walked slowly through the long narrow corridor, in which all the lights save three had been extinguished. No sound. No sign of human existence, except a pair of shoes on doormats here and there. Ghostly. Weird. Light showed through the half-open door of the waiters' service-room. A man in a dressing-gown emerged from a room nearly opposite Violet's, dropped a letter into the letter-shoot, and disappeared back into his room. And in the strange solitude of her home-for-one-night, Violet undressed slowly and meditatively. She smiled to herself. On the whole she was very well pleased with her debut.

“What a hell of an exciting day!” she remarked aloud.

Chapter 35. RETURN TO EIGHTH

The next morning Violet, already installed and at work on Third, went into one of the principal suites there. It was empty, and her business was to inspect. Third was a territory very different from Eighth. Its main corridor was broader, more deeply carpeted, more richly decorated, its ceiling loftier. The corridor alone sufficed to establish in every heart the conviction that wealth abounded and that no price could be too high for tranquillity and the perfection of silent and luxurious service. Even a vacuum-cleaner, at work on the crimson carpet, seem to purr like a tiger tamed and domesticated to the uses of the lords of the earth. And the menials of the staff moving upon humble tasks seemed to apologise to the invisible lords for their own miserable existence.

The suite was planned similarly to that of Sir Henry Savott on Eighth, but on a vaster scale: a large entrance-hall, a large bathroom full of gadgets unknown on Eighth, a huge bedroom on one side and a huge sitting-room on the other. Brocaded upholstery everywhere, multiplicity of lamps, multiplicity of cushions, multiplicity of occasional tables; everywhere a yielding, acquiescent softness.

Everything that the caprice of infinite power might demand, and yet emptiness, a total absence of individuality, of humanity. A feeling in the rooms of expectancy, awaiting with everlasting patience the arrival of life-giving, imperious, exacting lords of the earth. In the bedroom, twin-beds covered with silk till the lords should come, destined to receive upon their resilient springs and their pillows the delicate sensitive bodies of lord and lady fresh perfumed from the bath. Thereon they would deign to recline, repose, slumber, perhaps snore. Strange thought!

The blinds were up, the heavy double curtains drawn apart. Violet looked out of the windows, opened them, saw the trees which obstructed Sir Henry Savott's view, tested every lamp—there were thirty-seven—tested every tap, every gadget, pulled down the blinds, pulled the curtains together, opened every drawer and every cupboard, tried every key and knob and bolt, passed a hand along ledges to discover dust, bending down in order to descry dust on glass-tops of tables. And made notes.

A tap in the bathroom which obstinately dripped. In the sitting-room a lamp whose filament had 'gone.' A curtain-hook which had escaped from its ring. Flowers required. Small stain on a white linen cover of one of the pedestals in the bedroom. And a large dark stain on the bedroom carpet, very noticeable and ugly. Also a drawer unlined with paper in the chief wardrobe, and only eight coat-hangers in the wardrobe—not enough. Quite a list! She knew the machinery for remedying every defect except the stain on the immense carpet in the bedroom. Neither lord nor lady could hope to be able to sleep peacefully in a bedroom with a stained carpet. The physical side of the complex enterprise of living which these lords and ladies had invented was indeed extremely difficult for themselves and extremely arduous for their attendants. From the bedroom Violet heard voices in the entrance-hall. An arriving visitor. She saw through the open door a dapper and diplomatic reception clerk, and Sir Henry Savott.

“Yes,” Sir Henry was saying. “I'll come back at once to my old rooms. I've nothing to complain of upstairs, and the outlook is much finer there; but it's all too small. I find I can't manage. So if you don't mind I'll come back here this afternoon. About five. Not before.”

“Certainly, Sir Henry. Certainly.”

“I shall have to leave all the moving to your people, without superintendence. My man's ill.” The two went into the sitting-room, and Violet heard further the voice of Sir Henry: “Now as regards this desk. There's a desk in my sitting-room upstairs that I should prefer to this one. Can it be brought down?”

“Certainly, Sir Henry. Certainly.”

Then the two came to the bedroom. Violet was a little nervous. She prepared a discreet smile for Sir Henry. But Sir Henry did not smile. He merely nodded perfunctorily.

“I want one of these beds taken out. It's only in the way. I had it removed before, but of course it's been brought back again”

“Certainly, Sir Henry. Naturally.”

“Thank you.”

The two retreated.

“That will do, thanks. I'll just look round,” Violet heard Sir Henry say to the clerk. After which the entrance-door closed and Sir Henry reappeared in the bedroom, smiling and friendly.

“So you're down here now, Violet,” he said, offering no explanation of his previous stiff formality.

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

“Well, I'm glad I've seen you. I didn't come across you again yesterday, and I did want to thank you for looking after Jim so well. He's better. And he was very pleased to see you, very pleased. I went along to have a look at him this morning.”

“Oh yes!” Violet murmured.

“And there was another thing. You succeeded brilliantly in the affair of the desk, and I was much obliged. Have you got charge here to-day?”

“Yes, Sir Henry.”

“Well, that relieves my mind. I know I shall be safe. Goodbye for the present.” And off he hurried.

To Violet it was all very odd. And the stained carpet troubled her. She went to the corridor service-telephone and was lucky to get Miss Maclaren in her own room. She wanted counsel from Mac, who at once reassured her as to the carpet.

“It's a really bad stain?” asked Mac.

“Frightful.”

“People are careless. How big is it?”

“About a foot square at least.”

“All right. Don't bother. I'll see to it.”

“But can it be done before five?”

“Of course. Look under one of the corners of the carpet. Doesn't matter which. You'll see a tab with a number on it. Give me the number.”

Whereupon the neophyte of the Imperial Palace learnt that every carpet in the Palace had its exact duplicate, in size and shape, at the Works Department in Craven Street, and that an exchange could be effected in a couple of hours at most. Violet was impressed by the reckless grandeur of the domestic machine.

“And I say, Violet,” continued Mac. “There's just come up another order. You are to come back to Eighth this afternoon. I don't know why. But I expect it's struck them at last that what I said to them about your being up here with me for a bit was only common sense. I'm so glad.”

“So am I,” Violet replied, too astonished and disturbed to respond adequately to Mac's gladness. Those mysterious powers down below were more mysterious than ever. To them you were no better than chessmen on a chessboard. And you had no better right to question them than the chessmen the chess-players.

2.

The tone of sincerity which Miss Maclaren had used in the phrase “I'm so glad” remained warmly in Violet's mind. It was clear that the head-housekeeper really did want to make a friend of her. Apparently Mac had few friends or none on the staff. Miss Venables and Miss Prentiss had shown reserve in their references to her at lunch on the previous day. Violet guessed that while they neither liked nor disliked their new superior they were perhaps preparing themselves to be restive under what they feared might prove to be a too strict and exacting régime. Why has she taken to me?” Violet thought. “There's no contrast between us. We're much the same.” Yet she well knew that they differed in at least one important aspect. Both of them conscientious and industrious, Mac was victimised by a tendency to harassed gloom, but Violet was animated by a tendency to cheerfulness. Violet had a desire always to lift Mac out of a pit of depression, and she was aware that the satisfaction of the desire would demand a slightly wearisome continuous moral effort on her part. She felt sorry for Mac, more sorry for her than fond of her. And in some strange way she felt sorry also for Sir Henry Savott; felt as though she ought to remain on Third until he was entirely comfortable there, until she had assured herself that all his requirements, whatever they might be, had been fulfilled. She had a personal relation to Sir Henry, and nobody on the staff could understand his temperament as she understood it. At bottom, beneath all his imperious demeanour, he was a bit helpless, was Sir Henry.

Coming out of Sir Henry's suite, she met Mr. Perosi, the head of all the floor-waiters, the jealous commander of twenty-five or thirty men. A tall, broad, heavy, grey-haired fellow (French despite his name), whose weight pressed too hard on his feet, which were generally tired and sore.

“Excuse me, Mr. Perosi—you are Mr. Perosi, aren't you?” The middle-aged functionary, stopping, slowly nodded his head and gave Violet the faintest fatigued sardonic smile. “I don't know a thing yet about flowers here. And I want some for this suite. What do I do?”

“You telephone down to the flower-shop. You know the flower-shop?”

“Never heard of it.”

“It's on the right in the corridor between the hall and the grill-room. They always have carnations and roses. And if you want any special flowers for a visitor at any time, you can always get them. A visitor orders a bouquet of orchids at midnight—well any time after eight o'clock you telephone to the manager's office. They have a key of the shop there when it's closed, and whoever is on duty opens the shop and sends you up orchids—or anything else. Of course in the ordinary way all flowers are taken out of the sitting-rooms at seven in the morning every morning, and the vases put into the corridor and they go down to the flower-shop to be examined. They're back again before nine, changed or freshened, you see. Bedroom flowers are changed when the visitors have left their rooms. It is very simple, Miss Powler.”

“Oh!” Violet exclaimed eagerly. “You are kind. I was wondering how it was all arranged. Thanks very much. Sorry to trouble you.” She thought, pleased: “He knows my name.” Mr. Perosi's glance became benevolent, paternal.

“If you want to know anything else, come and ask me. Fourth is the floor to find me. End of the corridor.” He pointed.

“There was something else, but I oughtn't—”

“What?” Perosi was suddenly harsh.

“I hardly like to ask you. But I've decided to try to learn French. I suppose there are plenty of Frenchmen on your staff, Mr. Perosi. I only thought—”

“I'm French,” said Perosi in his perfect colloquial English. “My father was born in Milan, but I'm French. So you wish to learn French? That is good. I will see. Come to me to-night. I will see.”

“You are kind. But I'm returning to Eighth this afternoon.”

“And then? What does that matter? Telephone to me.” He passed on his way.

“Why don't they like him?” Violet thought, meaning the other housekeepers. “He's a dear.”

A sensation of happiness flowed into her, but it did not quite destroy the vague unease which had been set up by the incomprehensible order to go back to Eighth.

Chapter 36. MESS LUNCH

A very small room, so small that the telephone had to be precariously perched on the window-sill. Photographs of seductive, acquiescent, provocative and lightly clad girls on the walls; also two photographs in a different style, on either side of the long, low window—portraits respectively of Maître Planquet, chef of the restaurant kitchens, and of Commendatore Rocco, chef of the grill kitchens. The latter was a new addition to the walls. An oval table, relatively large, occupied most of the room. Indeed there was no other furniture except chairs and a small sideboard well stocked with bottles.

Seated at the table were Adolphe, the rosy-cheeked Reception-manager; Major Linklater, a tall, thin, retired army-officer whose business it was to fly about in aeroplanes and meet customers on liners at Southampton, Cherbourg and Plymouth, and know them and all concerning them; Immerson, the young, slim publicity-manager, whose dandyism of attire rivalled even that of Mr. Dacker and Mr. Smiss (the youthful members of the Board); Pozzi, the assistant-manager; and Commendatore Rocco.

The Commendatore, sole member of the staff with an honorific title, dominated the table. A big man and a grim man, he was dressed professionally in gleaming stainless white, and had a white cap on his mighty head. The Commendatore, chief guest of the mess on this great occasion, spoke little or not at all. When he did speak he used Italian to Adolphe (who could chatter colloquially in most civilised languages) and French to the others. His voice was deep, nearly a growl; and his soul was deeper. Perhaps even he himself had never plumbed his soul quite to the bottom. He had a sardonic, observant eye. He noticed his portrait hung on an equality with Maître Planquet's, and made no remark thereon. But he thought: “And not too soon!” Not that the Commendatore was jealous of the wider reputation of Maître Planquet! No. He merely desired due recognition of the fact that Maître Planquet was not the only chef in the Imperial Palace. The Commendatore was much older than the Maître. He was a relative of the once-famous Rocco of the Grand Babylon Hotel, but never mentioned the fact. His career had included several of the supreme restaurants, and the kitchen of a deceased Rothschild. He had refused a startlingly munificent offer from New York, with a memorable aside to a friend: “Ce sont des barbares, les New-Yorkais.” He had been a known chef when Maître Planquet was an infant, and in the privacy of his mind he regarded the Maître as a promising youngster to whom he could teach a thing or two if he chose and if the youngster would learn. He had never done anything save cook or superintend cooking and play “manila,” called by the Commendatore “maniglia,” a card-game which he preferred because it could be played by any number of gamblers from two to five; his principal subordinates took care to learn it. But now he had yielded to golf while the world wondered. A new and very special club in a pliant case was propped against the wall in a corner of the room, ready for presentation to the Commendatore.

Such was the mess (a mess without a name) and its guest. Two other guests had yet to arrive. Mr. Orcham and Mr. Cousin, and two empty chairs seemed to be growing impatient for their arrival. A couple of waiters circled restlessly around the table, showing their expertise by not getting in each other's way. From time to time the Commendatore growled to them an imperious enquiry, which they respectfully answered. The Commendatore, beneath his sardonic calm, was somewhat nervous for the plenary success of the repast which he had composed and supervised with the nicest captious attention down below. Cocktails were being sipped.

At half-past twelve Evelyn entered, smiling. Everybody stood.

“I'm not late,” said he. “But I'm not used to these early hours.”

The mess lunch was always at twelve-thirty, partly because that was the continental hour for lunch, and partly because it fitted in with the duties of the staff better than the English hour. Evelyn took his seat at the head of the table, and the others resumed their chairs.

“Where's my friend Cousin?” he asked.

“Coming, sir—we hope,” said Major Linklater.

“Damn that hammering,” said Evelyn. “I must stop it.” He rose.

“That's what we all say,” said the Major.

The Imperial Palace was in a continuous state of structural improvement, and a band of workmen were busy on a roof just below the level of the window. But before Evelyn could reach the window, the noise ceased as by magic. Workmen's dinner hour.

“You have only to rise, sir,” laughed Adolphe.

“I'm sure Mr. Cousin won't mind if we start—will he, Pozzi?”

“Certainly not, sir.”

The meal began at once.

“Ah!” said Evelyn. “Hot hors d'uvre! So you're going on with that idea of yours, Commendatore. I've not had this one before.”

The Commendatore replied:

“My director, no one has had this before. I invent six new ones every day. Another two days, and it will be a month since I began. That will make one hundred and eighty-six new combinations. That is work, if I may dare to say so. I have been reserving this one expressly for to-day.” He ate reflectively, critically, appreciatively, as though listening with attention to a new poem or piece of concerted music. “Yes, truly it is not bad. The mushrooms, prepared like this...It is necessary to drink sherry with it. As for me, I never touch sherry; but sherry should go with it.”

All the lunchers eagerly lauded the novel dish. Sherry was served. Evelyn forbade the wine-waiter with a gesture.

“Vittel,” he murmured. And aloud to the Commendatore:

'We don't get these in the restaurant.”

The glance of the Commendatore signified: “Of course you do not. The restaurant is only the restaurant, but the grill is the grill.” His growling tongue said: “My director, if once you would come to the grill—”

“I will. Demain, sans faute,” Evelyn answered.

“I shall be too honoured, my director. Lunch?”

“Lunch.”

“I shall give myself the pleasure of occupying myself with it specially.”

On the rare occasions when he did not lunch privately, Evelyn lunched in a corner of the restaurant. He realised that he would be well advised to divide his patronage less unequally.

2.

The Commendatore had the same thought, and his tone, though formally submissive, did not hide the thought and was not meant to hide it. He glanced as it were stealthily about him. Publicity men, managerial men, reception men, even the Director himself: what were they? Naught! He, Rocco, was the sole artist and creator in the room. He alone really understood. The others, kindly, and clever enough in their way, were savages. La haute cuisine. He dreamed. Golf—not serious, a game, a diversion. La haute cuisine. Not fifty people in the world were equipped by education and natural taste to comprehend it. Planquet might comprehend that hors d'uvre. Yes, possibly the youngster would comprehend it. Yes, he must admit that the youngster would. The Director comprehended wines, cigars. That he knew, though it was almost incredible that an Englishman should comprehend any wine but champagne. And even champagne...With their mania for extra sec! It was time the Director patronised the grill. Not to do so amounted to an insult. But he, Rocco, was truly too benevolent. He might retire, for in Italy he would be a rich man. Or he could choose between a dozen high situations. But after all, the Imperial Palace—there were not two of them! And Rocco was extremely flattered that day. The artist despised, but the man admired, the chic of his hosts; he in white, they in black. And golf! Very smart, golf. The entry into society, into the beau monde. He, son of a small rice-grower!

The telephone-bell rang. Pozzi jumped to it and listened; then sat down.

“Mr. Cousin is detained,” said he, and after a moment added: “Sir Henry Savott.”

“What about Savott?” Evelyn questioned.

“It is he who is detaining Mr. Cousin.”

Evelyn rose and stepped across to the telephone himself.

“Manager's office, please...that you, Cousin? Orcham speaking. You have Sir Henry Savott with you. I only wanted to tell you this. There is no accommodation on Eighth. You understand?...Yes. Right.”

Nobody understood what the instruction implied. It made them all think, uneasily, but agreeably too; the suggestion of a skirmish between the Director and an important visitor was always exciting. Even Adolphe, who knew everything about visitors, was at a loss to understand the instruction. Evelyn sat down again, and in a gay tone immediately addressed Adolphe:

“Well, Adolphe, how are you getting on with that novel I lent you?” Evelyn read a large number of books—nobody knew when—and he talked of what he read. The novel was the latest example of the fashionable, brilliant, daring variety, which had been recommended for suppression by the godly and which not to have read amounted to a social solecism.

“I finished it last night, sir,” said Adolphe. “I should call it mild. The chapter in the underground bakehouse between the girl and the baker nude down to the waist is not bad, but I'm afraid they wouldn't think much of its realism in Czecho-Slovakia.” Everybody laughed, for Czecho-Slovakia was one of Adolphe's weaknesses.

“Now don't boast, Adolphe,” said Major Linklater. “You aren't a Czecho-Slovakian. You wish to heaven you were.”

“I very nearly was,” Adolphe innocently retorted.

“Yes, we've heard that story about a million times,” said Major Linklater. “So spare us, my beamish boy.”

“I wish somebody would tell me the meaning of that word 'beamish',” Adolphe retorted. “It isn't in the dictionary.”

“And it never will be,” said the Major. “It would set any dictionary on fire, and there'd be a smell of sulphur. You have to be English and you have to have your name put down for it when you're eight years old, and then perhaps the high-priest will vouchsafe to you its meaning when you're eighteen. Otherwise you haven't an earthly. Tell us about the bakehouse scene.”

After Adolphe had picturesquely and boldly described the bakehouse scene, which had been discussed at hundreds of dinner-tables, in and out of the Imperial Palace, Major Linklater went on, to Evelyn:

“May I have that book, sir, after Adolphe? I should love to know what Adolphe thinks would be thought mild in Czecho-Slovakia.”

“I'll make a present of it to the mess,” said Evelyn. “Then you can talk bawdy and everyone can join in.”

“Dr. Johnson,” murmured young Dr. Constam.

“Noble sir!” exclaimed Major Linklater. “Gentlemen! The health of the noble Director.”

There was some applause, actual clapping of hands, amid which the next dish was introduced into the room—a John Dory fish, cooked and sauced from an absolutely original recipe of the only creative artist present.

“Serve me first,” the Commendatore gruffly told the waiter.

“I am not very sure of this dish.” He tasted.

“That goes,” he growled with relief, and glanced at the Director, who tasted.

“This is quite new to me,” said the Director.

“Yes, my director,” said the Commendatore, grimly triumphant. “And to the world.”

“First time on any stage!” said Major Linklater. “Gentlemen, we drink to the success of the Commendatore's novelty.”

Suddenly, after a lot more benevolent badinage, young Dr. Constam said in his quiet, cheerful, modest voice:

“I have a piece of really stupendous news.”

“Don't hesitate,” Evelyn encouraged him.

“Perosi has at last fallen.”

“Down the lift-well?” Adolphe surmised.

“For a woman.” Dr. Constam looked round as if to say:

“Beat that if you can!”

“What! Old flatfoot?”

“The same. I think his relations with our glittering bevy of housekeepers have always been very correct. But distant. Oh yes, distant. Well, I happened to meet him this morning, and it's a positive fact that he began all on his own talking about the new housekeeper—I forget her name.”

“Didn't know there was a new housekeeper,” Major Linklater said.

“No. You're always a month or so behind the times,” said Adolphe. “If the Palace was burnt down you wouldn't hear of it till it'd been rebuilt. Well, who is she?”

“Her name is Powler,” said Evelyn.

“Well,” Dr. Constam continued. “As I say, he began talking about her. Said she was very agreeable and serious. And she wants to learn French, and he's going to give her lessons himself.”

“No bakehouse scenes, I hope.” Adolphe laughed.

Young Immerson, sitting next to him, pressed his foot hard on Adolphe's toe.

“He used to be a schoolmaster,” said Evelyn calmly. “Commendatore, tell me something about this most distinguished sauce, will you?”

All were subtly aware of a certain constraint. And the conversation faltered and lost its gaiety until after the fish had been removed. Not a word more as to Perosi, or as to Violet Powler. Then young Pozzi looked at his watch.

“Your chief doesn't seem to be coming,” said Evelyn.

“Doesn't look like it...Will you make the presentation, sir?”

“Most assuredly not,” said Evelyn. “This is a hotel-staff affair. If Mr. Cousin isn't here, you're his second-in-command, and you must perform the ceremony.”

At which Pozzi, with a graceful timidity which delighted Evelyn, went to the corner, seized the golf-club and handed it in its case to the Commendatore with ten halting words in Italian. The Commendatore had to pretend to be surprised, and the company had to pretend that the great golfer of the immediate future would be Commendatore Rocco and that the sequel would play hell with the grill-kitchens and ruin the whole hotel.

“I think I may add one thing,” said Evelyn. “Rocco has the ideal temperament for a good golfer. It's like a rock. Gentlemen, fill your glasses.” They all stood. Even Rocco, disproving Evelyn's statement as to the rockiness of his temperament, stood, from sheer nervousness.

The ceremony was finished, and the meal finished very quietly afterwards. Mr. Cousin had failed to appear. Men looked at their watches. Staff-lunches had to be rapid at the Imperial Palace. Soon all, except Evelyn and Immerson, had gone—Rocco first, with his magnificent club, his pride as a creative artist, and his dream of triumph over eighteen holes.

The two laggards were standing, while Immerson held a gold lighter to Evelyn's cigarette.

“Can you spare me a minute, sir?” Immerson suggested with his customary deference.

3.

Evelyn nodded. The senior of the waiters had already departed; the other was in the tiny service-room which adjoined the mess-room. Immerson happened to be one of Evelyn's young pets, perhaps the chief among them. He was a quiet fellow who spoke, when he did speak, in a low, restrained voice. At the luncheon he had said hardly a word. He had been at the Imperial Palace only three years, and was still a few months under thirty. He had come out of the blue to see Evelyn. When Evelyn had enquired what had decided him to leave general advertising in order to specialise in hotel advertising, he had answered: “My Christian names, sir. An omen. A signpost.” His Christian names by chance were “Frederick Gordon”—name of one of the pioneers of the modern British hotel world. When Evelyn had asked him what were his leading ideas about the hotel business from his point of view he had answered: “It's no use waiting for business to come in You have to go out and get it. And you won't get it by display-ads of the kind you're putting now in London dailies. Londoners don't use London hotels, except their restaurants, and even if your restaurant is full your hotel won't pay if your bedrooms are empty.”

Immerson was engaged, on salary plus commission. He stopped all the Palace's newspaper advertising in London, and was running campaigns in the provinces and abroad for the inculcation of a theory that London, the world's centre, was a jolly and bright city, and for depreciating the attractions of the Riviera and other resorts. He ran also columns of gossip in many provincial papers, and in these columns the words “Imperial Palace” constantly appeared, as though by accident. He never paid for space in a newspaper.

He had seized with enthusiasm upon Evelyn's scheme for establishing an “Imperial Palace” bureau in New York, and had improved on it by persuading non-competing luxury hotels throughout Europe and in Egypt to co-operate in sharing the advantages and the expense thereof. His recent visit to the United States had been a very brilliant success. Incidentally, one of its results was to multiply the functions of Major Linklater, the hotel's official welcomer to England's shores. Evelyn's final verdict on Immerson was that the young man had more, and more original and more audacious, imagination than any other person on the staff. “This boy,” Evelyn had said to himself, “must be co-opted to the Board as soon as Lingmell has the grace to retire—if not sooner.”

“Forgive me,” Immerson began, leaning against the mess-table. “No doubt you have noticed the drop in North Atlantic shares these last few days.”

North Atlantic was the illustrious company which owned the fleet of liners all of whose names ended in “us.”

“I have not,” Evelyn answered. “Why should I? Because transatlantic liners are called 'floating hotels'?”

“They fell several shillings yesterday, and they're falling still more to-day. And to-morrow they'll probably go down with a bump.”

“Why?”

“The 'Daily Mercury' is coming out to-morrow with a terrific stunt about that splitting of one of the decks on the 'Caractacus'. They've been collecting all the details, and they've found a woman who had her thigh broken in a lurch of the ship during the voyage. The Company has paid her handsomely to hold her tongue, but some women can't rely on themselves to do that.” Immerson gave a faint smile. “The 'Daily Mercury' is bound to lose some steamer advertising, but it doesn't carry much, and it reckons that what it loses on the swings it will make on the roundabouts. Anyhow the story'll be a great story. It's quite possible that traffic will be affected.”

“Not for long.”

“No. But even a month is too long for us. If traffic's affected we shall be affected. You see—forgive me for reminding you, sir—the 'Caractacus' is German built, and there are several other German-built ships on the New York services. They'll all be affected, especially as the 'Caractacus' is laid up for what's called reconditioning. The 'Mercury' will go on the anti-German lay. I've been to the North Atlantic people this morning and offered them a few hints on how to react. And I'm going again this afternoon, if you approve, sir. I think I can get something in one of to-morrow's papers, the 'Echo'—it has a bigger circulation than even the 'Mercury'.”

“You go right on,” said Evelyn. “I leave it to you.”

“Thank you, sir. But I haven't come to the point yet.”

“Oh?”

“No, sir. From what I hear, our friend Sir Henry Savott is at the bottom of all this. He's a very large shareholder in North Atlantic, and my private information is that one reason for the fall in the shares is that he's been unloading heavily. He'll buy in again when the fall has reached its limit, and he might make a couple of hundred thousand over the thing in the end...No, not that much; but quite a lot.”

“Is he a director of North Atlantic?”

“Oh no, sir. If he had been he daren't have done it. No! He's far too clever to be a director. But I daresay he has a director or two in his pocket.”

“Well,” said Evelyn, masking an excusable agitation. “It's all very interesting—very interesting indeed. When you say that Savott is at the bottom of it, do you mean he's at the bottom of the 'Mercury' stunt as well?”

“Nothing would surprise me less, sir,” Immerson replied with characteristic caution.

“I must go now,” said Evelyn, not because he was due for another appointment, but because he wanted to be alone.

“Pardon me for detaining you, sir,” Immerson deferentially apologised.

The other waiter returned, and the next moment the two waiters, busy clearing the table in the room now deserted by their betters, were freely discussing in French the alluring details of the bakehouse chapter.

Chapter 37. THE NEW MILLIONAIRE

The next night Evelyn, with time to spare after a busy forenoon and afternoon of varied diplomatic and administrative toil, was putting on a dinner-jacket at leisure in his bedroom. He had in his mind a surfeit of matter for meditation.

Having returned to the Imperial Palace from an excursion as to which Evelyn knew nothing except that it had included Paris, Sir Henry Savott had suggested a second interview and had invited him to dinner. Evelyn had found an excuse for insisting that the meeting should occur in the same place as the first one, his own dunghill or castle. He would not give up the advantage of the ground which he had chosen.

Sir Henry's proposal had occupied his thoughts for days. He had pretended to himself that he had come to no decision, even a tentative decision, about it. But the pretence was a failure. He had tried, in vain, to discover good reasons for declining the proposal without any further discussion. He had talked it over with Dennis Dover, and the throaty old man had obviously felt the attraction of the offer. It was an offer which appealed to his imagination, as to Evelyn's. It was a grandiose, glittering offer. It might have drawbacks, pitfalls, snares; acceptance of it would necessarily be preceded by a terrific battle of terms and conditions; but father Dennis had made plain his view that it ought not to be turned down out of hand. Evelyn agreed; impossible for him to disagree. The temptations of the offer, to Evelyn, were tremendous, and the more he reflected upon them, the more tremendous they seemed and were. Evelyn was like a man who hesitates and fears to admit that he is in love with a beautiful, dangerous woman; yet well knows that he is in her power.

Also father Dennis had said: “I can't live for ever. What will happen to my shares if I die? My grand-nephew will happen to them, because nobody else can happen to them.”

Of course, by the Resolution passed at the Special Meeting and very soon to be formally ratified, the Board of Directors would still have control of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company, and could in theory ride over any shareholder, however large. But in practice it might be difficult to do so. The moral factor in the situation would count. At best, that notorious grand-nephew, old Dennis being dead, could not be refused a seat on the Board; and a director who is the largest shareholder in a concern can hardly be ignored. Anything might occur; trouble would assuredly occur. Whereas if the Imperial Palace became merely the leading item in a vast merger, the incalculable grand-nephew would be deprived of his paramount importance. There were other pointers to an acceptance of Sir Henry's proposal, and not the least of them was Evelyn's secret instinct and inclination growing daily within him.

And then had come young Immerson's tidings, followed by the highly sensational stunt article in the “Daily Mercury,” which had reverberated throughout London, and was a chief topic of conversation; and North Atlantic shares had had a fall as sensational as the article, though later in the day they had risen again somewhat. Could Evelyn bring himself to have dealings with the man who, he was convinced, was primarily responsible for the stunt and the fall? The notion revolted him. Accustomed to rapid and definitive judgments, he was for once embarrassed by genuine irresolution. In twenty minutes he would be face to face with Sir Henry, and he had not decided what attitude to adopt. His mental discomfort was extreme.

And there was something else, more strange. The affair of Violet Powler. He had heard—and not by chance—that Savott had moved from the Third to the Eighth floor. Cousin had told him of the change as a phenomenon quite extraordinary, inexplicable. Why should a millionaire leave the rich spaciousness of Third for the small rooms of Eighth? Savott's specified reasons—the better view and the greater tranquility—had appeared to Cousin remarkably insufficient. Evelyn had feigned to regard them as sufficient and had dismissed the caprice as trifling. But in fact he had been perturbed by it. Savott had spoken with appreciation of Violet. Violet had the excellences of her sister. Savott had nearly married the sister, on his own admission. He knew that Violet was entering the service of the Imperial Palace. Evelyn had the absurd suspicion that Savott, having somehow learnt on his arrival that Violet was to be stationed on Eighth, had gone up there with the intention of renewing relations with her, of reconsidering her. Yes, an absurd suspicion. But, entertaining it, Evelyn had deviously arranged that Violet should descend to Third. Then Savott had returned to Third. The suspicion ceased to be absurd, and grew into a positive certainty...And why should not Savott seek to renew relations with Violet? Violet was well able to take care of herself. Beyond any doubt she was not at all the sort of young woman to be deceived by even the cleverest speciousness. As old Perosi had said, she was 'serious.' But Evelyn did not like the look of the thing. Violet was safe. Savott might be perfectly honest. He, Evelyn, had no interest in Violet except as, in a sense, a protégée. He simply did not like the look of the thing. It annoyed him. It outraged him. He would not allow Savott to play any games in his hotel. Never! He had control of the situation, and he would exercise his control.

So he had restored Violet to Eighth, and had instructed Cousin to inform Savott that there was now no accommodation on Eighth. Not that he knew that Savott had been suggesting to Cousin a return to Eighth. Cousin had volunteered nothing about the nature of the interview with Savott. And Evelyn had not questioned Cousin. Either he was too proud to question his manager, or he feared to receive an answer which might entirely demolish his theory of the inwardness of Savott's odd peregrinations. He would not have Violet on the same floor as her former employer, and he had no wish to argue the point. The point was decided. Funny! It was all extremely funny, a lark, a regular game. Evelyn laughed aloud: a harsh, sinister laugh. He had had an impulse to ask Oldham whether Oldham was acquainted with Savott's valet. But, again, pride had stopped him.

2.

At this very moment Oldham entered the bedroom. The flabby face of the stoutish, unkempt man was transfigured by some mighty emotion. Evelyn noticed this, but he ignored it in a sudden determination to let pride go and question Oldham.

“Do you know Sir Henry Savott's valet?” he demanded at once.

Oldham was dashed, as by an unexpected obstacle.

“Well, sir, I know him. He's been ill.”

“Yes, so I heard.”

“I don't really know him. As you may see, sir, when I tell you he's never told me his surname. But we've had one or two chats. He being a valet, and me too.”

“Ever talked to him about our housekeepers?”

“Well, sir, we may have mentioned it.”

“He asked you?”

“Now I come to think of it, I believe he did speak about the new one—Miss Powler. Just in the way of talk.”

“Did you tell him anything?”

“No, sir. I couldn't. I didn't know anything, except she'd come from the Laundry. Seems she used to be with Sir Henry, sir. He told me that. Else I doubt if I should have remembered it. Yes, and he asked me what floor she was on, and I told him. Then when I saw him day before yesterday—was it?—and he was up and about, and Miss Powler had been moved to Third, he happened to ask me what floor she'd been moved to.”

“And you told him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well,” said Evelyn stiffly, in a tone somewhat censorious. “I wish you wouldn't gossip about hotel affairs to visitors' servants.” He knew that the reproach was unfair, but he would not admit to himself that it was unfair.

“Sorry, sir,” Oldham apologised, but with a strange, surprising, defiant stiffness far surpassing Evelyn's stiffness.

“That's all. What do you want? I didn't ring.”

“No, sir. The fact is I've just heard something, and I thought you might like to know. Sorry if it's inconvenient.” Oldham was wounded. He made a move to retire.

“What is it?”

“Well, sir. It's like this. I've won that thousand pounds. I've had a letter this minute.”

“What thousand pounds?”

“Football Results Competition, sir. It'll be in next Sunday's paper. I have to call and see them myself to get the cheque. And they want me to be photographed.”

“I congratulate you,” said Evelyn with a charming sympathetic smile. “It's the best piece of news I've heard for a long time.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Oldham, quickly mollified, but still sturdily—man to man, not as valet to master.

Evelyn had lied. It was not the best piece of news he had heard for a long time; it was the worst. He divined instantly that he would lose Oldham. He was overset by a feeling that Oldham was necessary to him, that existence without Oldham would be impossible. A marvellous, an incredible thing had happened in the life of Oldham. The man was vibrating with heavenly joy. Evelyn, as his friend, ought to have shared the joy. He did not. He hardly made an attempt to enter into Oldham's unique sensations. He even resented Oldham's astounding luck, simply because one consequence of the luck meant that he, Evelyn, would be for a period incommoded.

“So I expect you'll be leaving?” he said, and waited for the reply as for the death-sentence from a judge.

“I won't leave you till it suits you, sir,” Oldham replied. “Certainly not. You've always been very kind to me, sir, and I'd like to be—” He stopped, realising that for a valet, even a wealthy valet, to offer to be very kind to his employer would be a too daring sin against established convention.

Yes, the fellow would leave. He had evidently decided to leave. It would be nothing to him to break the lien that had bound him and his master together in daily, intimate habit and intercourse. Servants were all alike, incapable of gratitude. And they were all children. Now you would have taken Oldham for a sensible man. But was he? How could he be, if a thousand pounds was enough to induce him to abandon a secure livelihood? The truth was that when a sum of money passed a certain figure servants ceased to be able to estimate its value. As Central African natives could not count beyond ten, so 'they' could not count beyond, say, a hundred or a couple of hundred. To Oldham a thousand pounds was as good as a million, as good as ten millions; it was infinity—and therefore inexhaustible. And Oldham was drunk with bliss.

“That's very good of you, Oldham,” said Evelyn. “But of course you must tell me when. Got any plans?”

“Well, sir, I was thinking I might do worse than buy a little tobacconist's business. You see them advertised. I saw one the other day on sale for two hundred pounds cash. Camberwell. Camberwell's a very nice part, don't you think so, sir?”

“Yes, I think it is.”

The usual thing. Tobacconist's business! Why a tobacconist's business? Did Oldham know anything about tobacco, and buying and selling, and dealing with customers, and so on and so on? He did not. He just pictured himself standing behind a counter and smoking a cigarette or a pipe or even a cigar, and handing out packets of cigarettes and matches and pipes and an occasional cigar, and raking in money all the time and chatting in a worldly, benevolent, easy fashion with customers. The ideal life for the Oldhams of the earth! Simpletons! Fools! Blasted fools! Within a year the man's capital would be halved. Within two years he wouldn't have a cent. He would be on the streets, seeking a situation in the cushiony sort of job that he was now so idiotically preparing to quit! Could you believe it of a man such as Oldham? Well, you could. It was exactly what you ought to expect.

“Excellent!” said Evelyn, amiably and without conviction. “But be careful how you buy. You'd better consult me before you do anything. Or better still, talk to someone down in the audit office. You'd need an expert to go into the figures. I've heard some funny tales about this business-buying business. There are swindlers who make a regular trade of it.”

“Oh!” said Oldham, magnificently self-confident in his opulence. “I shall be careful. I think I may say you know me, sir. But I'm much obliged to you, sir, and when the time comes I shall ask your advice.”

Nincompoop! Noodle! Folie des grandeurs!

Then Evelyn softened, little by little. The man was entitled to his own life. He was entitled to leave if it suited him to leave. And as for the gratitude which masters are continually expecting, and not receiving, from their servants—what about Evelyn's gratitude due to Oldham for efficient and faithful service during years and years? Did Evelyn feel it? He did not. He felt resentment. He strove to conquer his resentment, and to some small extent he succeeded. After all, Oldham was not a thief, nor a slacker, nor incompetent. He was a fortunate man, thanks to his encyclopædic knowledge of form in Association Football. Evelyn dismissed him with a gentle pat on the shoulder, which delighted Oldham and confirmed him in his new creed that all men are equal. Evelyn smiled, but far down beneath the smile he was extremely perturbed and pessimistic. He cursed these newspapers which would increase their already vast circulations by appealing to the gambling instincts of the populace.

Chapter 38. FALSE REPRIEVE

“You taught me something that honestly I didn't know about cigars,” said Sir Henry at a quarter to ten that evening, as he lit one of Evelyn's cigars after the second dinner in Evelyn's fortress. He added, looking meditatively at the bright end of the cigar: “But I'm certain to forget. I always light a cigar about five times. It's a habit, and I shall never get over it.” He laughed carelessly.

“You didn't forget last time, once I'd made my protest,” said Evelyn.

“Didn't I?” Sir Henry's tone indicated that really he couldn't recall what he had done or not done, and that anyhow the matter, to him, had no importance.

Gracie had remarked to Evelyn that while her father was a great man, he had the weakness of acting the great man. But during the dinner the great man had indulged in no histrionics. He had talked simply, unaffectedly, about the lighter side of his short stay in Paris, spoken of Gracie, and of the two Cheddar brothers, one of whom was also in Paris, of the big spectacular revues there specialising in naked women, and of his own inability to 'follow' a French play.

But now Evelyn's critical faculty pounced upon Sir Henry's demeanour in the cigar incident as probably a proof that Gracie had been right. He decided that what Sir Henry had really said was: “I am a great man, a unique man, and if I choose to relight a cigar, it's correct because I do it. I can afford to treat a cigar as I please, and I shan't risk any prestige by my oddness. I'm Sir Henry Savott, I am.” And Evelyn in his heart rather condescended towards the conscious performer in Sir Henry.

Still, the millionaire had again proved himself an agreeable and diverting companion, sometimes charmingly ingenuous, and rarely coarse. He had said not a single word as to the proposed hotel-merger: to Evelyn's relief. For until the end of the meal the coveted panjandrum of the coveted Imperial Palace had not fully regained his self-possession. But now the would-be retail tobacconist had quitted the sitting-room for the last time, and with such a perfect affectionate deference in his final murmur to the master that Evelyn had reinstated him in esteem and liking, and the waking nightmare was dissolved, its obsession vanished away, and Evelyn's sense of proportion restored. He was in a proper condition to face the great man with assurance, and use wile against wile. As before, the great man would have to begin.

The great man did begin, on a topic which both he and his host had so far avoided. The first phenomenon was a smile, followed by a hardly audible laugh. Evelyn glanced at him interrogatively.

“I was just thinking about the 'Caractacus' fireworks in the 'Mercury' this morning. I suppose you saw it?”

“Yes,” said Evelyn drily. “It was what they call 'brought to my notice.' I also saw the North Atlantic reply this afternoon in the 'Echo.' What they said about the split being caused by structural alterations of their own to make room for extra lifts was rather effective, I thought. It gives their architect away, but it sounds true, and if it's true it does save the reputation of the ship as originally built.”

“The reply was very clever,” said Sir Henry.

“Yes,” thought Evelyn, “and if I told you it had been put together by one of the fellows on my staff here you might be a bit startled.”

“Only,” Sir Henry went on, “it came out about two hours too late. The North Atlantic market had gone to pieces before noon. The shares recovered a trifle this afternoon, but not much. They've had a tousling.”

He rose, and walked slowly to and fro in the warm, curtained room; then stood with his back against the damask draperies of the window, and at that distance from Evelyn grew confidential:

“The 'Mercury' people came to see me about the thing last week. They wanted my evidence. I refused to tell them anything, naturally. But of course I had to be careful. If I'd shut my mouth absolutely they'd have used that to support their story, me being a very large holder of North Atlantics. So I pretended to be very open—and didn't give away anything that isn't known to at least five hundred people. You know, the comfort of those crack hell-for-leather liners is one of the most ridiculous legends ever invented by our reptile press. When I say 'reptile' I'm saying it in a Parliamentary sense. The papers aren't bribed. They don't keep the legend alive for money. The biggest steamer advertisement is nothing to a big daily. No. They keep it alive because it sounds so nice. Good copy. Symbol of luxury, and everybody wants to read about luxury. But even in good weather those rushers positively shake half the time. It isn't a mere vibration. It's like having electric massage all day, including at meals. And in bad weather they're no better than 12,000 tonners. Not as good. Some of 'em roll till sometimes the only way to keep yourself upright is to lie flat on the deck. They're liable to throw piles of plates across the dining-saloon, and chuck you all over your cabin. They drop from under you until you think your stomach's above your head. I mean in bad weather. The food isn't too awful, considering they have to serve five or six hundred people at once. But nobody can feed five or six hundred at once on really good food. It can't be done. And the prices are insane. I paid £1,000 for my suite last time I came over. And there was a bigger ass than me on board. He paid thirteen hundred. And the tips! All for 27knots! Well, I prefer 18 or 19 knots. I'll never do it again.”

A pause. Evelyn said:

“On New Year's Eve here I shall serve a thousand people at once, and the food will not be too awful. It'll be the best there is.”

“Ah!” murmured Sir Henry. “But you are you.”

“You try it—on New Year's Eve.”

“I will,” said Sir Henry. “I'll make a pointof trying it.”

He returned to his chair, smoking his cigar with conscious restraint.

“I don't mind telling you,” he continued in a lower tone, dreamy, “as soon as the 'Mercury' people had been to see me I began to sell my North Atlantics. I sold a big packet, and I kept on selling 'em.”

“And now you'll buy back,” said Evelyn sardonically.

“And now I shall buy back,” Sir Henry agreed. “I bought a lot this morning at rock bottom, and a lot more this afternoon a bit higher, and I'm ready for more to-morrow. I shall clear quite a lump of money on the 'Mercury' stunt. Well, one must live...And why not?”

Evelyn repeated in his mind: “And why not?”

The fact was that Savott had 'dropped from under' Evelyn's feet. The great man had been perfectly open. He had frankly confessed. No! 'Confess' was the wrong word. There had been nothing to confess. Confession implied sin. The great man had not sinned. He had behaved as any speculative investor would behave. He had not broken the code. The code was intact. It might be, as Immerson had suggested, that he was at the bottom of the 'Mercury' stunt. But that was a supposition and could never be proved. And even if he had been at the bottom of it, what then? He had not departed from the truth. The details were indisputable. The deck had split. Indeed, by smashing the age-long Fleet Street sentimental conspiracy of hush-hush about Atlantic liners, the great man, assuming what might be termed his guilt, had done good. Evelyn hated any policy of hush-hush in anything. And yet he was of pure English blood: that is to say, he had in him, so far as he knew, no tincture of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, French, German, Italian, American nor Jewish.

2.

“By the way,” said Sir Henry. “I had a long talk with your man Cousin yesterday. In the end I asked him to lunch.”

“What's he going to say now?” Evelyn thought. Having been twice down to Weybridge and once to the Laundry and attended a long Board meeting, he had not seen Cousin for more than a couple of minutes in the two days, and he knew nothing of the nature of the interview which had prevented Cousin from attending the luncheon given to the Commendatore.

Sir Henry proceeded:

“I heard by accident that Cousin had been connected with the Concorde in Paris and the Minerva at Cannes—”

“Yes, he was manager of the Minerva for a time,” Evelyn interjected.

“So he said. Well, as both the Concorde and the Minerva are included in my proposed team, it struck me it might be useful to get some independent views about them. So I did.”

“I hope you were satisfied,” said Evelyn, and thought:

“Here I go again! Wrong again! I imagined he was manuvring with Cousin to get back to Eighth. And he wasn't at all. This suspiciousness is growing on me. If I let it, I shall soon be as suspicious as a millionaire.”

“On the whole,” Sir Henry replied, “I was very well satisfied with the look of things. You don't mind me talking to him, do you?”

“Certainly not,” said Evelyn. “Why shouldn't you?”

“I needn't tell you I didn't ask him anything about this place. No.”

Evelyn thought: “It would have been just the same if you had.” He said nothing.

Sir Henry was restless. He sat back; then demanded suddenly:

“Well, what's your decision about my proposal, Orcham?” There it was at last! The question, unexpected at that moment, hit him like a stone.

“Decision?” He repeated the word hesitatingly. “Why! I don't even know what the proposal is yet. You don't expect me to say Yes or No to a mere idea, do you?” He gazed fairly at the father of Gracie classing him as a wild, impulsive creature, for all his astuteness. Was that the way the princes of finance allowed their minds to skip from hilltop to hilltop across the landscape? Something the matter with him! He peered more boldly into Sir Henry's little, shrewd eyes, striving as it were to pierce through them into the crafty brain behind; but striving vainly. He could not even define the general expression on the man's face. It seemed a candid expression. But was it? The ruthless teeth were hidden as Sir Henry pursed his lips.

“You misunderstand me,” said the financier with a smile quite gentle. “All I meant was: Have you decided to examine my proposition? Or not. If not, I won't trouble you any further. If yes, I'll put the entire scheme before you within the next day or two. All the figures and calculations. And a definite offer as to price for Imperial Palace shares, and also of course as to the terms of the contract with you personally.”

Having said this, he faintly hummed a fragment of Auld Lang Syne, evidently inspired by Evelyn's reference to the New Year's Eve banquet, and inspected the burning stump of his cigar.

Evelyn had the sensation of having been reprieved; from a sentence passed not by the financier but by himself. But he knew that the sensation was false. There was no real reprieve. He knew that a decision to examine the proposition was the equivalent of a decision to sell the Imperial Palace to Savott's merger. Once the two parties began to bargain, an agreement would be ultimately certain. Nothing could stop it. Savott had a powerful supporter; that supporter was Evelyn himself. Evelyn could not seriously resist the glittering temptation which Savott dangled in front of him. One Evelyn did indeed resist, but another Evelyn was entranced by the resplendency of the promise of the future, and the first Evelyn could not for long resist unaided. It seemed to the composite Evelyn that he shut his eyes and jumped from a great height.

“Of course,” he said, in an even tone. “Of course we shall be charmed to examine the proposal. Let us know when you're ready.” He felt relieved now: a man who knows the worst.

“Good! I will,” said Sir Henry cheerfully, showing his perfect teeth.

And Evelyn was whispering to himself: “My God! My God! If anyone had foretold this to me a month ago I should have—My God! My God!” A fuse had been lighted before dinner and it had gone on slowly and silently burning during dinner and after dinner, and now—the sudden explosion!

“I say,” said Sir Henry. “There was one thing I wanted to mention to you. Nothing to do with this. About that girl Violet Powler.”

“Yes?” Evelyn muttered, alert and hostile.

“You've only got to say no, and you can forget I've spoken. I'll forget too. I'm buying a new house. I shall want a housekeeper. Don't shoot me, I know she's in your employ, and to lose her might be rather inconvenient for you. I admit she's one in a thousand. But I knew her first. And she knows me. Now would you mind if I made her an offer of the job of housekeeper at my new house? I won't breathe it if you object. And in any case I wouldn't try to over-persuade her. No! I'd say: 'There it is, miss. Take it or leave it.' You see I'm being quite open. Perhaps I'm asking too much. Perhaps it isn't fair. I just mention it—that's all.” Savott's face was the very mirror of candour and goodwill. This Savott could surely not be the cunning coarse Savott with whom and his daughter Evelyn had dined one night in the restaurant.

“My dear fellow,” Evelyn exclaimed. “Naturally you must ask her. I wouldn't dream of standing in the girl's way.”

A little later the two men parted, all smiles and handclasps and cordial friendliness. They might have been sworn brothers.

“Delightful castle!” said Sir Henry, quietly enthusiastic, glancing round the room. “I love it. And once more—you're really very kind. I appreciate it. Good night.”

3.

Evelyn put out the lamps in the castle; and in the light of the low fire and of the corridor lamp through the wide-open doors two glasses on the table glinted mysteriously. He shut the inner door on the hot interior wherein as it seemed to him a decisive and intimidating event had occurred. This event filled his mind, but the ether of the thought of it was suffused with the ether of the thought of Savott's intentions towards Violet Powler. Evelyn had to descend to his office, and in doing so he made one of his periodical peregrinations of the hotel, walking slowly along corridors and down flights of stairs, eschewing lifts.

He saw his hotel now with a different vision, as though he had left it and come back and found it a strange land and himself a stranger in it. If he had not laughed at his own feeling he might have fallen from sentiment into sentimentality.

He had covered about a quarter of a mile of carpet, and glanced at scores of baffling numbered doors, and seen no sign of life in the nocturnal coma of the place except the swift ascent of an illuminated lift behind a steel grille, and had reached the fourth floor, when a trifling event happened such as can happen only in the multiple existence of a large hotel. He heard a door open behind him and a low shriek. He turned and saw a young, dark woman, a white bath-towel wrapped round her body, which was dripping with water.

“Fire!” she breathed, scarcely audible, hoarse in her terror. He stepped very quickly in front of her through the doorway. Instantly he had passed from out of the vast, vague anonymity of the hotel into an inhabited, circumscribed home. Garments flung and hung on a hat-stand; a short umbrella on the floor. Before him, the open door of a bathroom full of steam, and bright in the steam a great blaze arising from the glass-topped table which stood in the same spot in every bathroom. The flame, a couple of feet high, waved in a draught set up between the open window of the bathroom and the open door of the suite. The origin of the conflagration was a spirit-lamp, and its fuel a newspaper or several newspapers.

He seized the spirit-lamp, very hot to the touch, and flung itwith a single movement into the bath, which was half full of steaming soapy water. It sizzled for a fraction of a second and sank into the depths. Then he snatched at a face-towel and crushed the burning newspaper to extinction. A moment, and the danger was over. There never had been any danger, for the paper would have burnt itself out harmlessly on the glass of the table.

“All right now,” he said with the calm of a consciously superior being, to the young woman who was cowering in the lobby as if to hide her bodily shame.

But Evelyn had no mercy on her bodily shame. Young women careless enough to let spirit-lamps ignite newspapers must accept all the consequences of their silly acts. This one was a beautiful thing, scarcely emerged from girlhood. (He must find out about her.) The ample bath-towel hung precariously on her, reminding him of the tantalising cover-designs of certain French, German and American illustrated weeklies in which the pose of a woman in an entirely inadequate garment has been caught at the very instant when the flimsy attire is giving way under strain to reveal that which ought not to be revealed. An instant later, and the last poor remnant of decency would be gone.

In a few seconds this very young woman had somewhat accustomed herself to the immodesty of her predicament.

“I was having a hot bath,” she weakly murmured.

“So I see.”

“And I got out to open the window because I was afraid I might faint—”

“You aren't all alone in here?” Evelyn questioned.

“No. My husband is there. But he's asleep and nothing would ever waken him.”

Her husband! What was she doing with a husband at her age? Something shocking about it. Some fat man old enough to be her father, no doubt. Always in the Imperial Palace there were such couples, respectable and disgusting.

“Well, don't take cold,” Evelyn advised the wife curtly, and quitted the excessive intimacy of the lobby for the somnolent desert of the corridor, shutting the door behind him She had offered no thanks. He had given her no chance to express gratitude.

Perosi was padding as fast as he could towards him.

“I thought I heard a scream, sir,” said the ageing big man, alarmed and rather breathless.

“You did. But you've got very good ears. It's all over. Spirit-lamp in the bathroom in 415. I've put it right. Hysterical woman. The usual thing. Who are they?”

“I can't remember the name exactly. It's a queer name. The lady seems to be English. But the gentleman is a Roumanian.”

“He would be,” thought Evelyn, and said aloud: “Well, you needn't trouble any more. I've seen to it.”

“Thank you, sir.” Perosi, tranquillised, faced about to return to his cubicle-office at the end of the corridor. Then Evelyn saw Violet Powler standing hesitant at the door of Perosi's cubicle. She saw Evelyn, but did not move. Perosi faced about again.

“I wish to tell you, sir,” said he to Evelyn. “I'm giving lessons in French to Miss Powler. She is very anxious to learn. I told Dr. Constam yesterday morning and Mr. Pozzi this afternoon. There's no secret about it. I hope you approve, sir.”

“Of course, Perosi. By the way, I want a word with Miss Powler. Miss Powler!”...He called aloud. And to Perosi:

“Thank you, Perosi.”

The old stickler for propriety, the upholder of the full strictness of the hotel code, the watcher of reputations and prerogatives, especially his own, having put himself right with the panjandrum, bowed and shuffled away towards his little room, while Violet Powler obediently came forward, and Evelyn waited for her in the deep silence of the long corridor bordered on both sides by withdrawn homes of a night.

In the light falling on her from above Evelyn noticed for the first time that her cheek-bones were set just a trifle higher than the average. Her head was certainly broader than the average. Her eyes, far apart, almost exactly matched her hair in colour. True, her lips were rather thin, but then her mouth was wide—a sign of benevolence. She walked well; no trace of anxiety, diffidence, self-consciousness in her gait. Was she distinguished, or did he imagine it? He had once by chance seen her mother, an ordinary, somewhat plaintive woman of the lower middle-class. Could the daughter of such a woman have distinction? Improbable. She was a puzzle to him...She showed no curiosity as to the cause of Perosi's alarm. For her evidently, that affair was finished and therefore had no further interest. Confident, yet modest. Reserved, yet curiously candid. Anyhow, though she was a newcomer in the world of the Imperial Palace, two important men were already competing for her, fighting for her: Savott and himself. He realised that, and in one part of his mind was amused at the thought.

“Yes, sir?”

An expression on her face of impartial but benevolent consideration—ready to deal with whatever question he might confront her with.

“I hear you're learning French,” he said. “It's a very good idea. And you haven't lost time over beginning.”

If she was taking her lesson, this must be her evening off—from nine o'clock. Therefore she must have been on duty at 6.30a.m. The hour was now getting late, but she seemed quite fresh, and her make-up could not have been more than an hour old. He observed the nice finish of her finger-nails, for she had clasped her hands in front of her at the level of her waist.

She smiled faintly, and said nothing, only lifting her head half an inch or so.

“This will save me the trouble of sending for you. I had something I wanted to tell you.” The benevolence of his tone equalled the benevolence of her look.

“Yes, sir?”

“I've been seeing Sir Henry Savott to-night. Sir Henry has bought or is just buying a new house, and he asked me whether I should object if he offered you the post of housekeeper. He said of course you'd worked for him already—before you worked for us. I said I shouldn't dream of standing in your way. You're absolutely free. Under your contract we can give you notice and you can give us notice. A month, isn't it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes. A month. Well, that's how it stands. I thought I would let you know—in fact ought to let you know—what you may expect, and that you're under no sort of obligation to me, to us, beyond the terms of your contract. If we thought we ought to dismiss you, naturally we should dismiss you. Not that we've the least notion of doing that. Far from it. But we should feel ourselves at liberty to do it. And just the same you're at liberty to dismiss us.” He smiled broadly at the last words, and Violet smiled too.

She answered:

“Thank you, sir. It's a thing that will need a lot of thinking over.

“Yes. Good night.” Evelyn turned briskly to go back along the corridor the way he had come.

“Good night, sir.”

“And no doubt now she'll proceed with her French lesson, as if nothing had happened!” he thought.

4.

He was shocked. He was hurt. Had he not been behaving to her in a style marvelously magnanimous? Had he not been exhibiting the very ideal and perfection of human justice? Had he not been pluming himself on a superfine and needless generosity? Most employers, if not all other employers, though some of them might have accorded the formal permission to Savott to approach the employee, would have sung a different tune to the employee herself. They would have said: “We don't expect you to leave us like this. You've just come. We've taken you into the first hotel in the world. You ought to regard yourself as extremely fortunate. We can't have our staff playing fast and loose. Sir Henry Savott ought never to have made such an extraordinary suggestion. Now he has made it we look to you to realise that you have a moral duty to us, and we hope—” etc., etc. But he, Evelyn, had been incredibly benign. And what does the girl say in reply to his benignity? “It's a thing that will need a lot of thinking over.” And walks off. Yes, he was hurt. He was very disappointed in his pet housekeeper, his discovery, his protégée.

But there was the other man in Evelyn, the man who gloried in the godlike judicial quality of his mind. This man said: “I must be fair. She had something to hire out, and I hired it. In hiring her I didn't confer a favour on her. I hired her, not for her advantage, but for the advantage of the Palace. If I hadn't thought she would be a splendid asset to the Palace I should have left her where she was at the Laundry. The change may be a grand thing for her, but that wasn't why I engaged her. The notion of a moral duty on her part is simply preposterous. It makes me think of the sickening attitude people take up to their servants in private houses. The girl's absolutely entitled to give the question 'a lot of thinking over,' and to decide solely in her own interests, and to ignore my interests. Savott could certainly pay her a much better salary than we could, and in his house she wouldn't have anybody over her—except him. And he wouldn't worry her. No chain of responsibility there. The truth is she'd be an idiot not to jump at Savott's offer.”

Nevertheless, he was hurt. And would the affair end with housekeepership? Might it not...She was Susan's sister.

Well, and why should it end with housekeepership?

Evelyn descended to his office depressed. He lit a cigar and tried to find his whereabouts in the confusing darkness of circumstance. If the hotel-merger came to fruition, he would be in the plight of a man with one darling child who marries into a numerous family of very miscellaneous children. He was about to lose his domestic prop, Oldham. And probably he was about to lose the pearl of housekeepers. Of course it didn't matter, really. Yet it mattered, somehow. Still, there was one gleam: she had refused Savott once when she was at the Laundry.

Chapter 39. HOUSEKEEPERS

When Violet returned to her room on Eighth she found an unstamped letter conspicuously placed on the desk. The envelope bore at the back the words “Imperial Palace.” Hence the missive must be from somebody within the hotel. The handwriting of the address seemed not unfamiliar. Thus she reflected before opening the letter. It was quite a long letter: both sides of a large single sheet of notepaper. Of course she looked first at the signature: “Hy. Savott.” The letter began:

“Dear Miss Powler,” and contained an offer of a situation as housekeeper of a shortly-to-be-acquired house in Mayfair. The salary suggested was large. The writer said that he had obtained the permission of Mr. Evelyn Orcham to approach her about the matter. The tone of the letter was urbane, friendly, faultless: tone of an equal, not of a superior.

She felt flattered. Mr. Orcham's original statement had extremely surprised her, and the letter intensified her surprise. Yet within her was a sensation of calm self-confidence which diminished her surprise. After all was she not, with her proved and admitted efficiency (which no false modesty inclined her to doubt), a fine proposition for any wealthy householder? She had done the job satisfactorily years ago, and she knew herself capable of doing it again satisfactorily.

As for leaving the Imperial Palace so soon after entering it, Mr. Orcham's own fair words had reassured her on that point. The hotel had the right to safeguard its interests, and similarly she had the right to safeguard hers. Moreover, she was hardly satisfied with the post of floor-housekeeper. Though the hours were very long, and Violet missed the old freedom of her evenings, there was not enough work to do, and the work lacked responsibility, made insufficient demands on her powers. And she had been somewhat offended by the apparently causeless shifting from floor to floor. She could not take exception to it; nevertheless it had offended her. On the whole Sir Henry's offer tempted her. And how quiet he had been in making it! Just like him! Deliberately she withheld herself from coming to a decision, even to a provisional decision. She glanced at her watch, slipped the letter into a drawer and locked the drawer, and left the room. She had a rendezvous with Mac.

The moment she put her head into Mac's room she became aware of some disturbance in the social atmosphere—unseen lightning which played under the ceiling, unheard thunder in the distance of the corners. Three prim, tense, constrained black-frocked figures were there: Miss Maclaren sitting on the sofa; Miss Venables and Miss Prentiss standing, one on the hearthrug, the other near the desk.

“Oh, sorry! I didn't—” Violet murmured, and was withdrawing when Miss Maclaren stopped her.

“Come in, dear. Come in, please!” Mac implored her, and Mac's Scotch accent was much more marked than usual.

Violet obeyed that and shut the door. Now there were four black-frocked figures in the room, figures of women who seemed to be up and about at all hours of the late night and of the early morning, who existed in and solely for the Imperial Palace, breathed the Palace, ate and drank the Palace, and who had learnt the art of dispensing with sleep. Violet thought she was different from the other three, but already she was less different from them than she thought.

“Venables thinks she's overworked here,” said Mac.

“Yes, I do,” said Miss Venables.

She was a woman of thirty-six or seven, dark, plump, of average height; neat enough, but a bit careless about her complexion. She had a thin gold chain round her thick neck. Her hair was plastered down, rather like a young man's. Her body, while not actually trembling, appeared to be mysteriously moving beneath her dress. Her large hands were clasped in front of her, her head was slightly raised, thrown back, and turned to one side: a characteristic attitude with her when in a state of emotion. Violet had a habit of clasping her hands. They were clasped now; but as soon as she noticed Miss Venables' hands she unclasped her own, saying to herself that she must lose that housekeeper's trick.

“What do you think, Violet?” asked Mac. “What's your opinion?”

But before Violet could reply Miss Venables went on in her carefully cultivated voice:

“At least I don't say I'm overworked—so long as I'm left alone to do my work as I've always done it. I don't even mind doing both Third and Fourth for a time, to oblige the management. I always gave satisfaction to Mrs. O'Riordan, and she wasn't easy to please either.”

Violet kept quiet. She had come to a conclusion about Miss Venables in the first three days. Miss Venables hid a fundamental commonness beneath that tone of fine manners which she had deliberately acquired and which ruffled Violet by its pretence. She was a worker; she was conscientious; but she happened to be afflicted by a sense of her perfection so strong that any criticism, even an implied criticism, offended her. And she was continuously on the watch for the slightest implication of the slightest criticism.

“Well,” said Miss Prentiss. “I think we're overworked, and I don't care who knows it.”

Older than her companion in revolt, Miss Prentiss, tall, erect, gaunt as a telegraph-pole, and with as much human juice in her as a telegraph-pole, was capable of being very sweet in response to sweetness, but she was never more than aridly sweet. Violet had come to a conclusion about Miss Prentiss also. Miss Prentiss, not a bad worker if in the vein, was a secretive woman with a taste for scandal arising from suppressed sex-instinct. An accomplished mistress of the dark hint, she could talk faster than any woman in Violet's experience (which was considerable). On the other hand she had a sustained power of taciturnity when silence suited her. Violet thought that both she and Miss Venables were quite decent creatures. Of the two Miss Prentiss had the better style, a style better also than Mac's.

“Well, what do you say, Violet?”

“I think our hours are long,” Violet at last answered. “But I shouldn't say we were overworked.”

“Oh! Wouldn't you!” Miss Venables exclaimed. “Well, wait till you've been here a bit longer. You forget that we've all been trying to help you, Miss Powler—Mac particularly. You're such great friends. But you wait till you've been here a bit longer.”

“Yes.” Miss Prentiss turned on Violet. “You've got friends here. Mr. Orcham brought you. Don't think we don't know all about it.”

“Mr. Orcham isn't a friend of mine,” said Violet warmly. “I scarcely know him. He asked me to come here and I came.”

“Yes,” said Miss Prentiss. “And I suppose he didn't take you down to the basement and show you everything there himself.”

“But I told you that,” said Violet.

“It doesn't matter who told us.”

“But he's going to take all of you down to the basement.”

“Well, he hasn't begun yet, anyhow. And I suppose you weren't hobnobbing with him in the corridor down on Fourth ten minutes ago either.”

Violet was certainly shocked by this revelation of the speed at which interesting news could travel from floor to floor in the vastness of the Palace. And she was very much more severely shocked as Miss Prentiss proceeded:

“And then Sir Henry Savott. Who was it who was carrying on with him up here on Eighth? They sent you down to Third to stop it. And he follows you down to Third! And they have to send you back to Eighth, to stop it again.”

Violet was angry, as well as astounded. At first she could not speak. Then she began to speak, but controlling herself, ceased on the first syllable.

“Miss Prentiss,” said Mac with protesting dignity, “you ought to be ashamed!”

“Well, I'm not then,” said Miss Prentiss, facing Mac. “It's the talk of the hotel...And I wish to say again that I shall give in my notice to-morrow morning.” She spoke with a soft, fierce, mincing disdain.

“And so shall I,” added Miss Venables, in her loftiest Mayfair accents. “That's what we came to tell you. We told you when we came in. And we tell you again. There's plenty of places waiting for girls like us. So you needn't think, Miss Maclaren! Good night.”

“Good night,” said Miss Prentiss.

The farewells were directed solely to Miss Maclaren. Miss Prentiss closed the door in the same manner as—Violet had noticed—she deposited her knife and fork on her plate in the restaurant, soundlessly.

2.

Violet was being very brave, when she saw that Mac had begun to cry, whereupon she began to cry herself, at first against her will and sparingly, then plenteously and with abandonment. It was that phrase 'carrying on with him' that had perturbed Violet. Monstrous, utterly unfounded slur! And then the odious insinuation that she had been sent down to Third by a watchful all-knowing management in order to separate her from Sir Henry, and sent back to Eighth with the same intent! She was revolted. She felt as though a pail of slops had been thrown at her, as though she could never be clean again. Mac's sobbing sympathy for her in the frightful slander was very touching, and it alone would have sufficed to undo her self-control.

She sat down on the sofa close by Mac. There were two sleepless black-frocked creatures in the room now, and they were united in a close embrace, Mac's arms flung passionately round Violet's neck. No longer were they key-rattling housekeepers, sternly devoted to duty, but weak girls martyrised by hard destiny and the injustice of fate.

“What am I to do? Tell me what I am to do?” Mac sniffed uncertainly. “Here I'm appointed head-housekeeper, and the first thing is two of my staff give notice! What will Mr. Cousin say?”

Violet stopped crying, almost with a jerk, as she realised that Mac's grief was not for her, Violet, but for herself. She gently freed her neck from the encircling arms, and stood up.

“Where are the tea-things?” she asked. “In the bedroom?”

Mac nodded, being unable now to articulate.

“I'll make some.”

Violet went straight into the bedroom, switched on the electricity, and lit the spirit-lamp which was on the glass shelf above the lavatory-basin. After a moment Mac appeared all wet in the doorway.

“I've got that indigestion again,” said she.

“Nerves,” said Violet soothingly. “Some tea will put it right. You don't have to do anything, my dear.” She filled the flat saucepan and ledged it over the blue flame. “Where's the tea-canister? They're only jealous of you. Mr. Cousin will understand. And I'm quite sure Mr. Orcham will.”

“I only told those women about some things they hadn't done, this afternoon. I was very careful with them, but I had to tell them off a bit, hadn't I? They've been against me ever since I was appointed. Dead against me. I've felt it all the time.”

“Well of course! They're jealous!”

“Have they said anything to you about their being jealous, either of them?”

“Not they!” Violet exclaimed. “They knew what they'd get if they did.”

“D'ye mean they thought one of them ought to have been given the post, instead of me?”

“I shouldn't be surprised,” said Violet. “And if one of 'em had got the job, wouldn't the other one have been jealous all the same! Wouldn't she just! I think Prentiss was the worst. Do you remember what you said to me the other day?” Violet had now covered the saucepan and put the teapot on the lid to get warm.

“What?”

“You said there were too many housekeepers in this hotel. So there are. If you tell Mr. Cousin you think one housekeeper ought to be enough for every two floors, and that anyhow you'd like to try it, and you don't want any fresh ones to take the place of that pair—if you tell him that he'll see the point quick enough. And so will Mr. Orcham. You take it from me, Mac.”

“D'ye really think so?”

“Of course I do. They know how jealous girls are! Blast the canister! Why the hell won't it open?”

Never before had Mac heard bad language from the lips of her Violet. But she did not flinch.

“And how nasty they were to you!” said Mac, at last perceiving, in her relief at the suggested policy, that Violet too had something of a grievance against Miss Venables and Miss Prentiss. “Such nonsense! Disgusting, that's what it is! Makes you feel perfectly sick! At least it does me—I don't know how you feel.”

“Oh! That's nothing, all that,” said Violet with a stiff smile. “But I should like to know what put the idea into their heads.”

“They just made it up. I mean Prentiss did.”

Violet, however, surmised that Prentiss had indeed heard some murmur descended from on high, and that she had given the true, humiliating explanation of the tactics of the management in jumping her from floor to floor. And she was staggered. The real explanation she did not suspect for one moment. She acquitted Mr. Orcham of any share in the shifting, and attributed it entirely to the foreignness of Mr. Cousin. But on what conceivable ground could even Mr. Cousin have accused her in his French mind of 'carrying on'?

“Of course I shall leave,” she said calmly. “What else is there to do?”

And then Mac, losing the last fragment of her Lowland phlegm, dropped on her knees at the feet of Violet and convulsively clasped her legs.

“Don't leave me!” she implored, pressing her face against Violet's skirt “That would be three. And where should I be then? I never liked anyone as much as I like you. You simply can't leave me. I'll see you through all right. Violet! Violet!”

The appeal was irresistible. Strange that, as Violet yielded emotionally to its power, in the same instant she saw clearly that for her own sake she must not leave, could not leave. If she left and went to Sir Henry Savott as his housekeeper—sinister word—the Imperial Palace would hum from top to bottom with the scandal of her shame. Everybody would say that the correctness of the suspicion against her of 'carrying on' had been only too horribly proved. She would not herself hear those mischievous tongues, but she would know that they were at work. And she could not tolerate the knowledge. Whereas if she stayed, the scandal would die away. She resolved to write a refusal to Sir Henry.

“Very well, dear,” she said quietly to Mac, and lifted Mac up.

The water boiled. The tea was borne into the sitting-room. They drank side by side, and were tranquillised.

“That's a clever idea of yours about what I ought to say to Mr. Cousin, dear,” said Mac. “You're awfully clever. You are a dear.” Her Scotch accent had somewhat subsided.

The clock showed past midnight.

Chapter 40. NEGOTIATION

The scene of the supreme encounter concerning the merger had been laid by Evelyn in his private office. Old Dennis Dover and Evelyn himself sat side by side at the large desk, their backs to the window. Sir Henry Savott, also at the desk, faced them. There was nobody else in the room. These three alone were fighting over the terms upon which the Imperial Palace (with the satellite Wey Hotel) should add its indispensable prestige and power to Sir Henry's projected group. The desk was littered with papers—statistics, balance-sheets, valuations, estimates, reports, and mere jottings, scribbled by one or other of the three as the discussion proceeded. Ashtrays were laden with cigarette and cigar ends; the air was full of smoke.

The conference had begun at eleven-thirty, and now the small clock on the mantelpiece apologetically showed three minutes to two. In the two hours and a half nobody had entered, no telephone bell had rung; Evelyn had taken his precautions for absolute tranquillity. At intervals each of the three men had glanced covertly at the relentless clock. It never stopped, and sometimes it had seemed to move its hands with a most unnatural speed. The three, especially Dennis Dover, had hoped that agreement on the main point at issue would surely be reached by half-past one; then surely at twenty to two; then surely at ten to two. Disappointment followed disappointment. But every instant of the grand altercation appeared to be crucial. No one, therefore, dared to suggest a break for lunch. All three feared that to adjourn might be to lose valuable ground won at such expenditure of finesse, cunning diplomacy, and sheer brainwork.

Savott was tirelessly energetic, vivacious, good-humoured. Evelyn was tirelessly wary, watchful and bland. But in the old man fatigue had engendered both taciturnity and obstinacy. Father Dennis, exhausted, would die rather than be the first to propose a dangerous armistice. Not much more than a decade between him and Savott, and yet they seemed to belong to different generations, not only physically, but in outlook and in mental methods.

“Listen!” said Savott brightly, in a new tone, as though he were starting the third and last movement, the allegro, of a sonata. He lit a new cigarette. “Listen! I quite admit you're trying to meet me on minor but not unimportant points. I'll make it £2 10s a share, to be paid in either cash, Orcham shares, or Orcham debentures convertible into Orcham shares.”

The altercation was as to the price at which the Merger was to buy or otherwise take over the ordinary shares of the Imperial Palace Hotel Company. Savott had already christened the Merger the “Orcham Company,” and he insistently repeated the magical word so flattering to Evelyn. One of his subtle devices in negotiation.

Father Dennis shook his grim head.

“No! Not quite good enough!” Father Dennis murmured hoarsely in his invalid throat.

“I'm afraid not,” said Evelyn blandly in support of his Chairman.

Savott raised his arms, not in surrender, but as a sign that futile stalemate had been achieved in the great game. Then the door slowly opened, with no warning knock. Two waiters entered, one after the other, each pushing a wheeled table loaded with food and drink and the apparatus of a meal.

“Aha!” Savott exclaimed, jumping up.

The aged eyes of Dennis Dover gleamed hungrily and thirstily. Evelyn smiled the smile of a master of tactics. Foreseeing the possibility of a protracted sitting, he had ordained that, if the secret conference was still in session at two o'clock, at two o'clock precisely refreshments should be brought in without any preliminaries of permission asked and granted. He had chosen in detail the food and the drink, including Dennis Dover's favourite cocktail, caviare, Derby Round, and Russian salad. There the refreshments were, alluring, irresistible; a magnificent fact to be faced, and faced immediately.

“Fall to!” said Evelyn.

“Fall to!” said father Dennis.

“You are unique, Orcham!” said Savott, candidly admiring.

“He is unique!” growled and squeaked father Dennis.

“Open one of those windows—wide,” said Evelyn to a waiter. And when the window was wide open he said to the waiters: “You can both go. We will help ourselves.”

The trio were alone again together.

“Aha!” Savott repeated himself, drinking a cocktail after he had passed one deferentially to father Dennis, who, grumbling as often before at the discomfort of the Palace chairs, rose to take the glass.

All three men were now standing up, stretching their arms and legs, walking to and fro in the freshness of the new air from the window, glancing at Miss Cass's horticultural window-boxes, pecking here and pecking there with forks, offering plates to one another, drinking, munching not without noise. Documents were hidden under plates and glasses. In three minutes father Dennis was beginning to be rejuvenated and also mellowed. With his immense, unwieldy and yet noble bulk, his age, his experience of the world, he unconsciously assumed dominion over his companions. Evelyn saw Savott transformed swiftly from the canny, astute negotiator into the avid gourmand of the dinner-table in the restaurant weeks earlier. As for Evelyn himself, he could not hide his satisfaction, and he made no effort to do so.

“If you think I can stand that hurricane in the small of my back, you've been misinformed,” croaked father Dennis, his mouth full, after a few minutes.

Evelyn closed the window.

“Now let's see how far we've got?” said Savott, dropping into an easy-chair, crossing his legs, and lighting a cigar before he had quite finished with a peach.

“Yes,” Evelyn agreed. “Let's see how far we've got.”

“Yes,” said father Dennis, “let's look on the bright side for a change.”

The will to reach agreement by compromise was stirring.

“Your salary as Managing Director is settled,” Savott addressed Evelyn.

“My salary is settled,” said Evelyn.

“I think you have reason to be satisfied with it,” said Savott, smiling.

“Quite,” said Evelyn.

The salary was indeed very high. Evelyn's earnings would be nearly doubled.

“And the term? You still insist on a twelve years' contract? Ten is more usual, you know. I should prefer ten, as a matter of form. Of course I expect your contract to run for twenty years, thirty. But as a—”

Evelyn interrupted the sentence with a shake of the bead and a lifting of the broad shoulders.

“Twelve,” said he, smiling very amiably.

“All right. All right!” Savott laughed.

Evelyn's private reason for demanding a twelve-year contract was that it would carry him in security past the age of sixty. He had an idea of retiring at sixty; or, if his vitality forbade such a step, then of buying a smallish hotel in an English seaside resort and proving to the world that the existence of a truly first-class hotel in an English seaside resort was not an impossibility.

“And the constitution of the first Orcham Board of Directors is agreed?” Savott proceeded.

“It is,” said father Dennis. “But it's understood that after serving as Chairman of this fabulous Merger for one year I shall step down and leave the throne to be fought for by rival pretenders.”

“That's a detail, Mr. Dover,” said Savott.

“It isn't a detail at all,” said father Dennis. “For me it's the most important point in the whole damned conspiracy to bleed innocent travellers. Even now, instead of presiding over mergers, I ought to be in bed surrounded by my devoted grandchildren.” He added with a squeak: “Only I haven't any grandchildren.”

The other two laughed.

“Next,” Savott went on, “I agree that my valuations of the Majestic and the Duncannon and the continental hotels are to be approved by your valuers. Orcham agrees to make a tour at once of all the hotels, and the entire arrangement is to be subject to his being satisfied. I've shown you my scheme for raising capital and underwriting it, and I agree to produce to you as soon as possible my contracts for this purpose with the three City houses I've told you of.”

Savott continued from item to item. Father Dennis and Evelyn listened and nodded when necessary. There was no discord.

“I fancy that's all,” Savott finished, content with the orderly clearness of his résumé of the plan, with his strong grasp of all the statistics, and with his accomplishment as a negotiator and deviser.

Mind alone is creative. Sir Henry Savott had now all but thought his Merger into existence. One more touch, and the vast design would magically appear, visible, concrete, complete, the wonder of the world.

2.

“It isn't all,” growled father Dennis.

“No. It isn't all,” said Savott. “Naturally. Let's come back to the price of Imperial Palace shares. I've quoted you £2 10s. Now seriously, what about it?”

Father Dennis shook his ancient head, and glanced at Evelyn, who also gave a negative sign.

“You really mustn't make it too difficult for the Orcham Company to pay a dividend,” smiled Henry Savott.

“We have to think of our shareholders,” said father Dennis. “And we haven't got to think of anything else. If you consider our price too high—”

“I do,” said Savott.

“Then it's for you to say so plainly and definitely, and the scheme's on the scrap-heap.”

“But your own valuations of your own property don't justify—”

“Valuations! Valuations! And our reserves, in cash and gilt-edged?”

“I'm not forgetting them.”

“But you're forgetting that we're selling you something that can't be valued,” father Dennis squeakily continued. “If you weren't forgetting that you surely wouldn't talk about valuations. We're selling you the very sine qua non of your scheme. What is the scheme without the Imperial Palace and Orcham? You'd never have thought of it without them. What the Merger must have is our prestige. Take that away and it's worth exactly elevenpence three farthings.”

“I quite agree,” said Savott lightly, even submissively. “And wasn't I the first to say so? But I should like you to remember this. If I'd got hold of a majority or anywhere near a majority of Palace shares, as I meant to do, only you scotched me by altering the voting power of your shares while my head was turned the other way—what would have happened? I should have been able to name my own price for your shares, and what I'd lost on the shares I should have made on the Merger, and more.”

“Certainly,” father Dennis hoarsely whispered. “There's no argument about that. But we did alter the voting power, thereby putting you gently into the soup, my friend. If this and if that, you would have been able to name your own price. But as there don't happen to be any ifs, we can name our price. And it's a price the Merger can well afford to pay. It isn't as if we hadn't come down a bit. Our price is £2 15s.”

“That's your lowest?”

“Our lowest.”

“Well, I'm sorry. My last word is £2 10s.” said Sir Henry genially, and as he spoke he began to collect his papers together on the desk. A deciding gesture.

Evelyn gazed at him, met his hard, steely eyes. There was no compromise in them; nor in his teeth. The gourmand had quitted the body of Sir Henry Savott. His tiny eyes were two brass tacks, and the Imperial Palace had at last come down to those brass tacks. The battle was finished. The opposing armies would both have to retire.

“I'm sorry,” Sir Henry repeated meditatively. “Yes, I'm very sorry. I'm more disappointed than I can say. I must apologise to you for putting you to so much trouble for nothing. I don't complain, mind you. Not in the least. You know your own business best. Only I've got a sort of a notion of my business too. We differ, and there's no more to be said. But you'll find yourselves wrong about one thing. I shall go on with my Merger. Nothing is indispensable, not even the Imperial Palace. I've set my heart on a merger. I've never set my heart on anything and failed to get it. I'll carry the Merger through, and I'll give you the fight of your life, whatever it costs me. There must be another Orcham lying about somewhere in the world. I'll find him.”

“Bravo!” Evelyn exclaimed, touched to admiration for the man's passionate, exalted demeanour. Savott was once more the poet who had divulged himself at the opening dinner in Evelyn's castle.

But Evelyn was very deeply depressed, realising now fully for the first time how powerfully the great scheme of the Merger had appealed to his instincts. And in his disappointment he felt that he had nothing to live for. And he was desolated by the thought that all their work, all Savott's creative faculty, all father Dennis's broadminded caution, all his own watchful mastery of detail, had come to naught. Naught! He sympathised with Savott as much as with father Dennis and himself. And he questioned the wisdom of father Dennis's rather abrupt handling of the climax of the fray. Still, he was rigidly loyal to father Dennis. They were intimate friends. They understood one another. They trusted one another absolutely. And after all the Merger would have been at best a dangerous and chancy enterprise!

Sir Henry Savott at this depressing juncture behaved with an infinite discreet propriety. Many men would have dawdled, would have exasperated affliction by futile remarks. Sir Henry, having pulled his papers from beneath plates, stowed them all into a despatch-case, said “Good afternoon” very simply and amicably, and moved briskly to the door. He was indeed a man, thought Evelyn. And the rumours of his precarious position as a high financier were indeed silly. Somehow Evelyn felt ashamed, for all three of them.

Having opened the door, Sir Henry startlingly halted and faced the enemy.

“Split the difference,” he snapped harshly.

Evelyn's heart jumped. Father Dennis looked at Evelyn, and Evelyn at father Dennis. Evelyn saw a look of persistent obstinacy in the old man's furrowed face. He withstood the look and smiled. A mighty demon had rushingly entered into him and assumed control of all his faculties.

“It's a deal,” said the demon, with quiet assurance.

“Oh, very well!” father Dennis whispered pleasantly, having yielded to Evelyn's astonishing sudden domination.

The Imperial Palace was sold.

Evelyn and father Dennis were the masters of the Imperial Palace Board, and the Board was the autocrat of the Company; and all minor outstanding difficulties between the Company and the Merger were easily capable of settlement. In six words the Imperial Palace had been sold.

3.

Dropping his despatch-case conveniently near the door, Sir Henry Savott returned to the desk. The three shook hands, not unsentimentally. Conscious of the sentimentality, and determined to correct it, father Dennis stood up and growled, “Damn it all!” and went to one of the wheeled tables and poured out three liqueur brandies with his infirm hand, spilling some priceless liquid. And Evelyn, who never in any circumstances took either spirits or liqueurs, said, “Damn it all!” and gazed at the brandy and slowly drank. They all three drank together. Having committed this sublime folly, Evelyn smacked his lips. Old Dover and he were more occupied with one another than with Sir Henry Savott. Had they been attentive they would have noticed moisture in his little eyes. Sir Henry had not staked millions, but millions somehow had been staked. He had staked the value of years of mole-tunnelling, and of a week of the delicatest diplomacy and bargaining. He had staged a rupture, and acted it with convincing realism. He had acted to the last second. He knew that if he had not gone to the door and given his opponents time for regret, he would not have managed to squeeze out of them the concession of half the difference; and he had decided that beyond half the difference he would not and could not yield. Further, he had staked his belief in himself. Still further, he had secured the five hundred thousand pounds which was the least personal profit that he expected to make out of the whole transaction. Sir Henry had lived through intolerable years in a quarter of an hour. Old Dover was indifferent to the scheme's success or failure. Evelyn would very quickly have reconciled himself to its failure. But to Sir Henry the fruition of the scheme was necessary, both morally and financially. None save himself knew, and few genuinely suspected, that his career had arrived at a point when a failure might ruin it—at any rate temporarily. Well, he had succeeded. Multitudinous risks and perils yet lay before him. But he had triumphed so far, and for the future he had an equal confidence in himself and in Evelyn Orcham. He had won, and he would win. Hence the emotional moisture in his tiny eyes: phenomenon which his late opponents, now his allies, had been too self-absorbed to observe. The moisture quickly vanished.

“My car's been waiting two hours, and even chauffeurs have to eat,” squeaked father Dennis. “Good-bye. Seems to me I look like being the biggest shareholder even in your new Company, Savott.” He gave a sardonic, masterful grin as he strode cumbrously from the scene of battle.

“By the way,” said Sir Henry to Evelyn, with an affectation of nonchalance concerning the upshot of the mighty encounter. “That Powler girl declined my offer.”

“Oh yes!” Evelyn answered. “So I heard.”

“Did she tell you then?”

“No. But she told my head-housekeeper she should stay here, and the thing got about. Things do, you know. This place is a regular whispering-gallery.” He laughed easily. But he was uneasily thinking of a phrase used by Savott at the height of the battle: “I've never set my heart on anything and failed to get it.”

A little later Sir Henry quietly departed, and Evelyn was alone in his office amid a disorder of dirty crockery, electroplate and glass. After a crisis he always liked solitude. He walked slowly about the room, smoking one of the non-nicotine cigarettes which he kept specially for use when he had indulged unduly in cigars. He smiled to himself. The deed was done. Nothing but some incredible mischance of destiny could prevent him from becoming in a few months the absolute autocrat of the most grandiose chain of luxury hotels in the world. The Imperial Palace Company would be wound up. Hence the Board of Directors of the Imperial Palace would cease to be. Either the youthful Dacker or the youthful Smiss would be elected to the Board of the new big Company.

There would not be room for both of them: continental interests must be considered. But which of them: Dacker or Smiss? He was inclined to nominate Dacker, with whom he was in closer personal relations. Smiss, however, would be invaluable on the Board when it had to deal with the works' departments of its hotels: and he spoke more foreign languages than Dacker. What did it matter? These young men must take the rough with the smooth; and anyhow the one who lost a directorship could be compensated in forty ways. He, Evelyn, would henceforth have the distribution of an enormous patronage!

Suddenly he thought, with a qualm:

“Am I equal to the job? I wonder. Everybody believes in me. But do I believe in myself?” Yes, a qualm; a momentary sensation of all-gone-ness beneath the heart!

Suddenly he thought:

“That fellow Savott's been a bit obscure about his underwriting after all. I suppose it'll be all right. I bet anything Harry Matcham Lord Watlington's really at the back of it. Those City houses don't often stand by themselves.”

Suddenly he thought:

“Why did the fellow choose that moment to tell me he'd missed fire with the Powler woman? I expect it was just a subconscious nervous reaction from the strain. He's been working hard, the fellow has, these days. So have I.”

As a fact Evelyn, absorbed in the complex skirmishing preliminary to the great battle over the price to be paid for Imperial Palace shares, had almost forgotten the existence of his protégée from the Laundry. He had heard that she was not going to desert the hotel, but he had heard as in a dream. And for him Violet was a shade. What difference could it make to the huge “Orcham” Company whether a mere floor-housekeeper of one of its hotels, be she never so admirable, stayed or departed? A detail! A trifling detail! The entire perspective of life was altered now. Evelyn dropped the cigarette-end, and impulsively left the room, passing through Miss Cass's secretarial office.

4.

“Anything urgent for me?” he demanded.

“No, sir. There's only the—”

“Is it urgent?”

“No, sir.”

“Then we'll let it simmer.”

Did she look at him in a strange way, or was he imagining the strangeness? In either case she knew. She was necessarily aware of the negotiations, and she would have guessed the result from Savott's demeanour as be went out, if not from father Dennis's, if not from his own. Astonishing, the faculty of that brisk, self-possessed woman for divination! Often her knowledge of secrets had surprised him. In displaying her knowledge she always skilfully assumed that he must know that she knew. But he trusted her. She was a tomb for secrets. But was she a tomb? Was he justified in trusting her?

Why had he grown suspicious? Beyond the outer door a waiter was waiting.

“May I take away the things, sir?”

“You may.”

He would stroll round his hotel—one of his hotels! He always enjoyed these strolls, and sometimes they were rather useful. But a few yards down the side-corridor he met Ceria, the Grill-room-manager, emerging from Cousin's managerial office.

“Well, Ceria,” he greeted the young man. “What are you doing here at this hour? I always understood you spent the afternoon in the bosom of your family at Hampstead.”

Ceria smiled. He was a little younger than Cappone, the Restaurant-manager, and his smile, wistful, innocent, appealing, was judged to be more enchanting than even that of Cappone. Ceria counted among Evelyn's finest selections. He had made the grill-room the regular resort of the newspaper-magnates, the film-kings and the theatrical stars of London. At lunch the place was now crowded. At dinner it was fairly full. At supper it was very full. No self-respecting actress could dispense with two or three appearances a week for supper in the Palace Grill. To be seen frequently there, to be on terms of intimacy with Ceria, was the final proof of success. The one trouble about Ceria was the pronunciation of his name. The film-kings unanimously pronounced it “Seeria.” The more learned and cosmopolitan pronounced it “Cheeria,” save a few daring wags among them who called him “Cheerio.” Only the highest highbrows pronounced it in the Italian way. Ceria had the same wonder-working smile for all of them: the smile of perfect health and almost perfect happiness. Ignoring Evelyn's question, Ceria said, excited:

“My Feras have arrived, sir.”

“Your what?”

“The fish from the Lake of Geneva. By aeroplane. Caught this morning. On my dinner menu to-night.”

Evelyn remembered hearing of the Fera enterprise.

“Have you told Immerson?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

Immerson would make something of the Feras in his weekly gossip paragraphs.

“I congratulate you,” said Evelyn. “It's a great stunt.”

“Mr. Immerson calls them my 'flying fish,' sir.”

Ceria laughed with joy. He would have talked at length on the piquant subject of the day; but Evelyn left him with a nod. What the devil did fish matter? One dish, one night, in one restaurant, in one of his hotels. Still, he had his eye on Ceria. The grill-room was very firmly established in renown, and under Ceria was an older man, a Frenchman, who could well carry on the great work. Whereas Ceria, shifted to the Majestic, might marvellously vitalise the semi-comatose Majestic restaurant.

Evelyn strolled on into the great entrance-hall. There were the mirrored columns, the ceiling lights, the coloured prints of old steamships and the photographs of modern steamships underneath them, the sofas, the easy-chairs, the little tables, an underling at the Reception counter, another at the Enquiries counter, with their eternally illuminated signs, pageboy entering in a book the times of the tell-tale signal board which told the story of every ring of every visitor's bell on the Floors above, the newspaper-stand deserted, large old Mowlem, the hall-porter, splendid and dignified in his cubicle between the revolving doors! Odd: the Palace existed exactly as usual, not witting that it had been sold, that the old order had changed into the new!

He turned to the right, down into the foyer, which was empty. The last of the dilatory lunchers had gone. The bands-men were carrying away from the restaurant their lighter instruments and their music. Waiters were setting the tables for the afternoon thé dansant. The gentlemen's cloak-room was empty and had only one attendant. The glass-walled reading-room was quite empty. The hotel was at its deadest. Evelyn stayed a few moments, humming to himself the extraordinary fact that nobody guessed at the tremendous revolution. He strolled back to the entrance-hall. And there was Sir Henry Savott conversing earnestly with the portly Mowlem! Evelyn watched the interview. What chicane now? It was curious that on the very slightest evidence he would instantly begin to suspect Savott of chicane, plots, manuvres. Yet he liked and sincerely admired the man. He had learnt to like him, and had been compelled to admire him. Never had Evelyn been presented with so clear a statement of involved facts and figures as Savott had laid before him and old Dover concerning the proposed merger. And Savott had prepared the array of statistics himself. Savott said that he had done it with his own brain and hand, and Evelyn believed him.

Evelyn thought:

“Supposing in a year or two's time the fellow starts hankypankying with the 'Orcham' shares, in the vein of his performance with North Atlantic!”

And then he thought with affection and pleasure of Dennis Dover, who had so “decently” followed his perhaps too arbitrary lead in closing the share bargain. Moreover, father Dennis might have got cash or debentures for his huge holding of shares in the Imperial Palace Company. But, because he loved Evelyn, he had decided from the first to stand by Evelyn, and to exchange his Palace shares for shares in the new Merger Company, the Orcham Company. Loyalty! Evelyn was touched. Evelyn would make the new Company a success, if only for the sake of father Dennis.

He saw Sir Henry nod to old Mowlem and then push his way, with the aid of a janissary outside, through the revolving doors. Evelyn strolled to the hall-porter's cubicle.

“Sir Henry in any difficulty, Mowlem?” he enquired.

“No, sir. Mr. Adolphe didn't happen to be at the Reception, so Sir Henry came to me. He's leaving us later in the afternoon.”

Evelyn saw Sir Henry's automobile curve away into Birdcage Walk.

“Oh! Where is he going to?” Evelyn asked. And said to himself: “What's the meaning of this? He didn't tell me anything about leaving.”

“Sir Henry didn't say, sir. Only told me to have his luggage down at five.'

“Well, Mowlem, I shall be leaving myself for a while in a day or two.”

“For long, sir?”

“No, not for long. It depends.”

“Continent, sir?”

“Yes.”

“When you come back, sir, I should like a chat with you, if you can spare me a moment.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, sir. Of course you know I always said I should retire at sixty. And I'm sixty next month.”

“Now, Mowlem, Mowlem!” Evelyn protested, with a sadness which he really felt. “You may have said you were going to retire. But I never said you were. What does Mr. Cousin say?”

“To tell you the truth, sir, I haven't mentioned the matter to Mr. Cousin.” Evelyn heard in the important functionary's patriarchal, stately tone a reminder that he, Mowlem, had been in the service of the Palace years and years before Mr. Cousin had ever been heard of, that compared to himself Mr. Cousin was a mushroom, and that Mowlem judged himself entitled to deal direct with Mr. Cousin's superior.

“Mr. Cousin won't let you go. He thinks too highly of you,” said Evelyn benevolently.

“Well, sir,” Mowlem replied with dignity, “we shall see. Sixty is sixty. Times change.” He gazed at Evelyn steadily.

Then Jim Savott's valet, pale after his illness, appeared in the hall, questing for the hall-porter. Evelyn walked away.

“Mowlem knows,” thought Evelyn.

Somehow he felt guilty. And he still felt guilty, self-conscious, when, half a minute afterwards, he entered Cousin's office and said, with a painful effort to be casual:

“Well, Cousin. C'est fait”

Chapter 41. AN ATTACK

One night, a week or two later, Violet was taking her French lesson from old Perosi, but in the waiters' service-room on Eighth. Miss Maclaren had gone downstairs to talk direct with Ceria, the Grill-room-manager, about certain questions which had arisen concerning the Floors night-menus. Violet was on late duty that evening. Miss Maclaren seemed to dislike giving permission even to her dear friend and prop, Vi, to leave Eighth during her own absence; and Miss Maclaren being again dyspeptically indisposed, was hardly in a condition to be argued with. Hence Perosi, who now treated Violet very paternally and benevolently indeed, had with unique and august condescension offered to desert Fourth, his proper home, and come up to Eighth for the purpose of the lesson. He knew that the lesson might at any moment be interrupted by some trifling emergency on Sixth, Seventh or Eighth; but he was majestically ready to accept the risk; the fact was that the ponderous man enjoyed his role of tutor.

In the still warmth of the little service-room, from which the floor-waiter had been ejected before his evening spell of duty was over, both Perosi and Violet—but Violet first—heard an unusual stir at the steel gates of the neighbouring lift. The door of the service-room was kept always ajar. They both went into the corridor. An excited page-boy had stepped out of the lift. Within the lift were Ted, the liftman, who had just 'come on,' and Ceria himself. Also Miss Maclaren. Pale, perspiring, agonised, Miss Maclaren sat on the cushioned bench of the lift, and Ceria was supporting her in his arms.

“Qu'est-ce qu'elle a? Qu'est-ce qu'elle a?” Perosi demanded.

“Elle a eu une attaque,” Ceria replied, in his Italian accent.

Despite her tuition, Violet understood only the last word.

“She must be carried to her bedroom,” said Violet quickly. It was obvious that Miss Maclaren suffered acute pain.

The bell in the lift rang several times impatiently, and a tiny light glowed yellow on the signal-box: 'Ground-floor.' The bell continued to ring. At a gesture from Ceria, Ted took the moaning woman round her knees, and Ceria took her under the arms, and between them they moved her out of the lift. Ceria was already somewhat breathless, for alone without aid he had carried her from his little office to the lift.

“Keep her head lower, Mr. Ceria,” Violet suggested.

“Take the lift down, kid,” said Ted to the page-boy, glancing back. Thrilled by his responsibility, the white-gloved dwarf obeyed.

The procession of Mac's body passed along the corridor, Violet in front, Perosi muttering behind. Violet ran into Mac's room, left the entrance-door open, left the bedroom-door open, turned down the bed-clothes with two rapid movements. In half a minute Mac lay panting and writhing in pain on the bed; the liftman had reluctantly departed.

“I'll telephone for Dr. Constam,” said Violet. “Where does he live? I suppose he doesn't happen to be in the hotel?”

“The doctor is coming,” Ceria answered with a sad, sympathetic and yet proud smile. “I said to them to telephone for him before I came up. He is in the hotel. Santa Maria!” His wistful eyes said: “I had forgotten nothing. This is Imperial Palace staffwork.” He added aloud: “I think it was the doctor who was ringing for the lift.”

It was. Going to the door, Violet met Dr. Constam entering. The young man nodded.

“In here?” he asked quietly, and strode into the bedroom. He nodded to Ceria.

“Right, Ceria.”

Ceria left, also reluctantly. Violet and Dr. Constam were alone together in the bedroom. The doctor was now the expert in charge. He bent over the bed to examine.

“Shall I sponge her face for her?” Violet asked.

“No. Wait a minute.”

Violet discreetly moved away from the bedside, and thoughts scurried through her mind. Miss Maclaren was very ill. Climax of her dyspepsia. Why were dyspeptics always greedy? The hotel had ceased to exist. Hotel duties had lost all their importance. The martyr to hotel duties was very ill. How startlingly rapid were changes! Mrs. O'Riordan was married—Lady Milligan. She had forfeited her wedding-present. She was gone, without trace, and for ever. Alice Brury was at the Laundry. Violet had left the Laundry. Venables and Prentiss were soon to leave the Palace. Violet felt as though she had lived in the hotel for many months, instead of merely a few weeks. She was learning French. The interrupted French lesson had passed clean out of her head. Mr. Orcham was away on the Continent. The hotel was functioning as smoothly as usual. Nevertheless his absence was mysteriously felt. Mac herself had remarked that very morning on the strange effect produced upon the mind by Mr. Orcham's absence. Violet had felt it, though she had not been accustomed to seeing him. Mac was very ill. Violet wanted to do something for the sufferer, but she was helpless. Where was Perosi? He had vanished.

“Get me some water, only a sip, will you?” said Dr. Constam.

Violet was quick. He poured the sip down Mac's throat.

“Where's the telephone?”

“In the sitting-room. Can I 'phone for you, doctor?”

“No.” The doctor was brusque but quite courteous.

Violet, gently caressing Mac's brow, heard him telephoning. She gathered that he was calling up a hospital. His tone at the telephone was authoritative. He seemed to hold the hospital, all the hospitals in London, under his sway.

“It's extremely urgent,” she heard him say. “You'd better send an ambulance. No. The motor-ambulance. Yes, at once. I'll be ready.” He came back into the bedroom, and said to Violet: “There's a nurse in 538. She can't be very busy. Go and fetch her—yourself. Tell her I sent you. And bring her along.”

“Yes, doctor. Is this something serious?” she whispered from the door.

“It's serious. But exactly what it is I'm not sure yet. Colon anyhow. Run. And then get a stretcher.” He spoke in a scarcely audible murmur.

Violet ran. Perosi was standing outside.

2.

“Mr. Perosi,” she threw at him. “The doctor wants a stretcher.” No more than that. She left him to procure the stretcher.

When she returned with the nurse, who was much too deliberate and detached for Violet's taste, Perosi was manuvring a stretcher through the door into the sitting-room.

“Come on, nurse,” said Dr. Constam, in the doorway between the rooms. “We've got to get this young woman here downstairs. An ambulance is coming. You,” he addressed Violet, “go and ring for the lift. And keep it. Don't bring the stretcher in,” he addressed Perosi. “We should never get it out again with the patient in it.”

Violet hurried to the lift-well, and rang, rang. She waited, waited. At last she heard the lift crawling upward. Then a new procession. The laden stretcher, its burden well covered, Dr. Constam at the foot, Perosi at the head, the nurse by the side. At the lift, Ted took a hand. The lift had just space for the stretcher. Ted closed the steel gates. Doctor and nurse were within. The lift sank away. With it, Mac sank away out of the life of the hotel. The swiftness of the transformation of the service life of Eighth was positively frightening. Mac had disappeared. It was almost as if she had been erased, deleted. Violet and old Perosi exchanged a long, solemn look.

More than once, Violet, who had returned to Miss Maclaren's rooms—for no purpose that she could define, was rung up by various departments of the hotel for definite, authentic information as to the sick woman. Clearly Mac had anxious friends in the organism of the Palace. Clearly news of the disaster had spread through the vast building with the usual extreme rapidity of evil tidings. Violet answered every enquiry with a quiet reassurance. She never did and never could luxuriate in a calamity. Her instinct was invariably to minimise trouble. Nevertheless she was very troubled. The telephone calls in themselves had the effect of making her think that she had under-estimated the gravity of the event.

She was not aware that the spectacular passage of the stretcher through the great hall had created a tremendous impression. In the Imperial Palace, as in all hotels, cases of serious illness or death were whenever possible smothered up. Visitors in hotels object strongly to any reminder that disease exists and that death happens. Therefore sick bodies and dead bodies are removed surreptitiously, by secret exits. But the urgency of that night's case had permitted no compliance with the customary etiquette. At the revolving doors the stretcher with its bearers, compelled to wait for the dilatory ambulance, had even got itself entangled with departing and arriving revellers from and to the restaurant and grill-room. Nothing to wonder at, then, in the enormity of the sensation.

Violet was deeply disturbed in two ways: in her grief for Mac's perilous misfortune, and in her anxieties about the housekeeping of the hotel. Mac would at best be absent for weeks; she might never return; at any moment during the night or next day or the day after the telephone might announce the decease of poor old Mac. In the meantime, who would temporarily be charged with the control of the housekeeping? Assuredly Venables or Prentiss; for the other floor-housekeepers had neither the experience nor the moral weight necessary to sustain them in the arduous job. And Violet was alarmed at the prospect of being subjected to the rule of either of these ladies who were now her foes and whom no ideal of magnanimity would prevent from being tyrannical and absurd. She longed for the soft, masterful presence of Mr. Orcham, who was equal to every occasion.

Quite apart from Mac's tragic disappearance, the vanishing of Mr. Orcham had disquieted Violet; it had disquieted all the staff except the lowest menials. Official information as to its cause had not been vouchsafed, or at any rate had not percolated down to the stratum of floor-housekeepers. But the newspapers had given immense front-page prominence to rumours of a great hotel-merger; so much so that the foundations of the Palace seemed to tremble under the feet of the staff, and even floor-housekeepers had taken to scanning the financial columns of their favourite dailies. Mr. Orcham's name had suddenly become familiar to citizens, astonished by the abrupt revelation of the importance of someone whom they had never heard of. But not his photograph, for despite pressing demands from journalists nobody in the hotel could furnish a portrait of the panjandrum—the reason being that no portrait existed. Then one morning the staff had been thrilled by the appearance of a lifelike photograph in a picture-paper. It had been obtained in Cannes, by a long-distance lens, unknown to the victim, and it had been transmitted by telegraph: proof enough of the news-value of the panjandrum's face. And surely the rumour that the august and unique Imperial Palace might deign to merge into anything whatever was sufficient to give an inestimable news-value to the likeness of its Director.

3.

Violet had a desire to talk to somebody. She was arguing with herself whether she might seek out old Perosi, when there was a tap at Mac's door. Instantaneously the door opened, and Mr. Cousin imperturbably entered. Violet jumped up from her chair. And well she might, for not once hitherto had she seen Mr. Cousin on Eighth, or heard of him being there! The truth was that, unlike Evelyn, Cousin was not fond of perambulating the Floors. He preferred to exercise the function of management from his office, to be the Mahomet to whom mountains came. Even when he did visit the Floors he would not ascend higher than Seventh. The former Mrs. O'Riordan had been subtly antipathetic to him, and because of this he had lost the habit of Eighth, habit which he had not yet resumed.

Mr. Cousin smiled blandly.

“I am glad you are here, Miss Powler,” he said. “I wanted to see you.”

“Yes, sir.”

He sat down. The hour was close on midnight, but Mr. Cousin's perfect dress-suit, shirt, collar and cravat were as fresh as though he had just put them on. In the daytime he had sartorial equals, perhaps superiors; but at night he was unrivalled.

“Please sit down,” said he. Violet obeyed. “It is very sad, this. I hear that you were present.”

“When Miss Maclaren was brought up? Yes, sir.”

“Tell me about it.”

Violet told. She thought that he listened with negligence.

“Everything is in order on the Floors?”

“So far as I know, sir,” Violet replied. “But of course I don't know about all the Floors.”

“For the future, at least until Miss Maclaren has recovered, it will be your business to know everything about all the Floors. I must have someone in control, someone who is responsible. And you will be good enough to take Miss Maclaren's place for the present. Provisional, of course.” Violet was extremely surprised, and yet the realistic core of her mind was not surprised. She knew her capacity, but would admit it with reluctance, and only in a crisis.

“But surely,” she said, excited. “Miss Venables or Miss Prentiss. They...I...All of them have been here longer than I have, much longer.”

“That is possible,” said Mr. Cousin with tranquillity. “But Miss Venables and Miss Prentiss are leaving. And having regard to their conduct, I do not wish to add to their responsibilities. As for the others...No.” He waved a hand and benevolently smiled. “It is you alone who are indicated.”

He did not say that from several visitors he had heard praise of Miss Powler's cheerfulness, obligingness, tactfulness, helpfulness, efficiency.

“Very well. Thank you, sir,” said Violet quietly. What else was there to say? If you refused the responsibility you said “No” at once. If you accepted it you said “Very well” and “Thank you,” and the matter was ended. Certainly you did not indulge in any silly, insincere self-depreciation.

“In case you need help or advice, come to me. Naturally you will have difficulties, but—” He waved his hand again.

“But about allotting the Floors, sir? I expect that Miss Maclaren has spoken to you about her new plan—”

“That will be as you decide,” Mr. Cousin interrupted her.

He rose. She rose. Then he amazed her by holding out his hand. She took it. They both smiled.

“What hospital is Miss Maclaren in, sir?”

“St. James's,” said Mr. Cousin. “You see, we have endowed more than one bed there with the surplus from our Breakages Fund. They were very crowded, but of course they wished to oblige us. Good night, Miss Powler.”

He bowed, just perceptibly. Gallic chivalry! Then he said, leaving: “It may interest you to know that Mr. Orcham has just been telephoning to me from Cannes. So I told him about Miss Maclaren, and that I had decided to put you in temporary charge. He approved. Good night again.”

Violet wondered what might be the tremendously important business which could draw these two great personages together on the telephone wire so late in the evening. She was not aware that every evening Evelyn enquired by telephone after the health of the Palace, as a man enquires nightly after the health of a mistress from whom he has been compelled to absent himself.

For some minutes the fact that Miss Maclaren was very ill was entirely submerged in her mind by the fact of her incredible, frightening, almost stupefying appointment as temporary head-housekeeper in the finest luxury hotel in the world. The post had been Lady Milligan's. It was now hers. Her parents would be amazed and delighted. No! They would be delighted, but not amazed. They would say: “Of course! Quite natural. Just what was to be expected!” Because their belief in her gifts and her character was a religion with them. It was utterly complete, so complete that it seemed silly, touching. Poor things!

Then the light wastefully burning in Mac's bedroom caught her attention. She passed into the bedroom. The bed lay in disorder The eiderdown had slid to the floor. She tidied the bed, shook the pillow into shape, and covered everything, including the eiderdown, with the counterpane. And having arranged the bed, she arranged the room. Mac, though a fanatic for tidiness in the rooms of visitors, was strangely negligent of her own room. She would even leave her flowers to wither up in their vases.

Melancholy martyr, the victim of fate. She had occupied the highest post of its kind over the whole earth, and probably the best paid in Europe. She had climbed till she could climb no further. And had her happiness been thereby increased? It had been diminished, considerably. The change had destroyed her peace of mind, her sleep, her self-confidence; and intensified her already exaggerated conscientiousness. Nature had not meant her for supreme authority. And now in a moment she had been swept away. And doubtless in the hospital ward her last thoughts before submitting to the anæsthetic, and her first thoughts on awaking from it, would take the form of foolish worrying anxiety as to the housekeeping of the Palace. Violet felt heavy with sympathetic woe.

She heard movements in the sitting-room. Venables appeared in the doorway between the rooms, and Venables too was charged with woe.

4.

“I did knock,” said Venables, as usual defending herself before she had been attacked, “but nobody answered. Mac's gone?”

Violet reflected: “As if she didn't know perfectly well Mac's gone!” She said: “Oh! An hour ago at least.”

“I thought I'd better come up and see. I didn't really know what had happened. I suppose it's appendicitis?”

“Can't say.”

“But it must be.”

“Perhaps it is. Only Dr. Constam told me he didn't know. He's gone with her to the hospital.”

“You were here all the time?”

“Yes.”

The colloquy showed constraint on both sides; for these words were the first to be exchanged between the two floor-housekeepers since the fearsome scene in Mac's sitting-room days and days earlier.

“Gwen and I have been wondering how this place is to be carried on.”

Violet reflected: “Yes; and that's what you've come up to find out.” She said: “I think you had better take over Sixth and Fifth. I'll see to this floor and Seventh. I'll speak to Prentiss tomorrow.”

“Oh, indeed!” Venables sniffed, and her dark head began to tremble.

“Yes.”

“But who'll be in charge?”

“Mr. Cousin says I am to be.”

“So you've been down to see him already?” Fierce but restrained resentment in Venables' tone.

“No, I haven't. He came up here to see me about it.”

A long pause.

Venables said, with a ferocious sarcasm, but carefully ladylike:

“May I use the telephone, please?”

“Of course. Why do you ask such a question?” Violet managed to smile.

Venables stepped back into the sitting-room. Violet heard her say:

“I want you to get up then, dear. Slip something on. I want you to come here at once, as quick as you can, dear.” Her voice trembled, as her head had been trembling, with terrible emotion.

Violet sat down at the foot of the bed; and the waves of Venables' excitement seemed to rush in a continuous torrential, invisible stream through the door and break against Violet's resisting temper. An awful silence. Violet felt as if she were awaiting the explosive thunder of the crack of doom.

Then, after an immeasurable period, Prentiss appeared.

“I thought you were never coming, dear!” Violet heard Venables say. The exalted, trustful, vibrating emphasis that Venables laid on that word “dear”! The two housekeepers came just within the bedroom and stood together, allies defensive and offensive. Prentiss wore a purple dressing-gown pinned at the neck, and bedroom slippers on her bare feet. Her greying thin hair was in disarray. By contrast with the other two in their primly correct housekeeper frocks she had an abandoned, indecent air.

“Do sit down,” suggested the alert, watchful Violet.

They did not sit down.

“Now, Powler,” said Venables, “will you please tell Prentiss what you've told me.” Then turning to Prentiss: “I want you to hear from her what she told me, dear.”

“About Mr. Cousin?”

“If you don't mind.”

Violet complied.

“Well!” the tall, telegraph-pole woman murmured horrified, outraged, under her breath.

“I can't help it,” Violet mildly protested. “Mr. Cousin came up himself and gave me my orders. I don't give orders. I take them.”

“You soon started giving orders to me!” Venables exclaimed. She clasped her hands and, lifting her head, turned it to one side, shaking.

“But I didn't give you any order,” Violet pleaded, as pleasantly and persuasively as she could. “I only said I thought you'd better take over Fifth and Sixth. If you've anything against that, let me hear it for goodness' sake!”

“Is it an order or isn't it?” Venables persisted, apparently determined to drink the bitterness of her cup to the last drop.

“Have you got any other suggestion?”

“Is it an order or isn't it?” Venables demanded a second time.

“I don't call it an order,” said Violet. “But of course if you prefer to call it an order I can't stop you, can I?”

“Well!” Prentiss muttered. “Venables has been here six years and I've been here seven, and have you been here seven weeks?” Her voice rose a little, but only a little.

In all the annals of the Imperial Palace, and of the Royal Palace before it, there had never been a conflict so acute as this one. The conflicts between Sir Henry Savott on one side and father Dennis and Evelyn on the other, conflicts involving immense sums of money, were social trifles to it. The mortally injured pair had lost the freshness of their youth in the service of the Palace; and Miss Prentiss had seen the oncoming of middle-age declare itself in that service. The Imperial Palace was their home, their landscape, their climate, their atmosphere, their habit. They knew the Palace through and through, though they had never seen its deep foundations as Violet had disgracefully been privileged to see them. On Mrs. O'Riordan's desertion each of them had expected to be raised to her throne. Why not? Had they not the seniority of years, if not of service? Were they not efficient? Had a black mark ever been notched against them, until their defence of dignity under the monstrous assault of Maclaren? Maclaren was not a lady, couldn't be if she tried. Whereas Prentiss was admittedly a lady, and Venables, by the mere power of thought, had created herself a lady.

And who was Powler? A laundry-woman! Introduced into the hotel by Mr. Orcham, and soon caught trying to captivate Sir Henry Savott! And the laundry-woman, an inexperienced neophyte, ignorant of the A B C of hotels, was raised over their heads by the foreigner Mr. Cousin! And there on the bed sat the laundry-woman triumphant, with her energetic youth, with her unwrinkled complexion, with her damnable complacency! The situation was intolerably unfair. It was more than human nature could stand. Justice had ceased from the earth. God was no more in heaven. If holy hatred could have killed, Violet would have died on the spot.

As for Violet, she did worse than hate; she disdained. She could have informed the rebels why they had been passed over. It was because, with all their experience and their efficiency, they lacked charm in the handling of visitors and in their relations with the staff. Mrs. O'Riordan could assume charm like a new frock. And because they lacked tact. And because they were for ever conveying to others their sense of their own importance and breeding and sinless perfection. And because, in the end, in the encounter with Mac, they had tried to break the chain of authority, than which, to Mr. Orcham, nothing was more sacred. They had committed the supreme crime. Violet had an obscure feeling that she ought to sympathise with them, to be sorry for them. But she could not be sorry for them. No! She disdained them. And she didn't care. She was in no way to blame. In her inexperience she had imagined that in the sublime and august Imperial Palace, synonym of Paradise, the horrors of warfare were impossible, inconceivable. Innocent! She now comprehended that there was as much human nature in the Imperial Palace as anywhere else, even more than in the Laundry. She saw in the flesh before her the great fact that human nature will out. She was intimidated, but no one should guess that she was intimidated. “I won't speak. I won't give them a chance,” she said to herself.

“I should like to know what Mr. Orcham would say to this,” Prentiss remarked coldly.

Violet explained that Mr. Orcham had approved by telephone.

Suddenly Prentiss flared:

“Then it isn't Mr. Cousin! It isn't Mr. Cousin after all. Mr. Orcham brought you here and you're his pet. Yes, he brings you here and he pushes you up all the time. And why? Why, I should like to know.” Prentiss nearly forgot that she was a lady and had had a governess all to herself once.

“I shan't speak,” Violet repeated privately, feeling as if she were holding back a tiger by a bit of thin string.

Prentiss had started, and Prentiss continued, and in five minutes of destructive, eloquent diatribe, she had torn Violet's character to pieces and thrown the pieces on the floor by the bedside.

“I shan't speak,” Violet still said to herself. She pitied Prentiss and Venables; but her pity was contemptuous.

“I don't know what you mean to do, my dear,” said Prentiss lovingly to Venables. “But tomorrow morning I shall walk out of this place.”

“So shall I, dear,” Venables responded in her society tone; and took the thin, veined hand of her companion.

“Well,” said Violet with detachment. “You can settle that with Mr. Cousin.”

The outraged pair, exemplars of dignity both of them, drew away. The entrance-door closed on them. They deserved what Violet was incapable of bestowing—compassion. In an ideal world Violet would have cast herself down at their feet, kissed Prentiss's bedroom slippers. But she only smiled. She only said to herself, pleased with her self-control: “I didn't speak. I didn't give them a chance.” But a moment later she began to use the most dreadful language, and in the sitting-room she lit one of Mac's cigarettes.

Chapter 42. CERIA AND SIR HENRY

“Who is he, that one?” murmured the boyish-faced Ceria, in French, to his second-in-command. He had been chatting with two regular guests who always sat at a table in a far corner of the Imperial Palace grill-room; and when he returned towards the middle of his kingdom he saw that table No. 33 was occupied by three men, only two of whom he recognised. One of the two was chairman of a British film company, the other an owner of eight or ten minor but large cinema theatres in the suburbs. Ceria was aware that 33 had been booked for the film chairman. The second-in-command was aware that Ceria, though the scarcely perceptible indicative jerk of his head had been very vague, could be directing attention to nobody but the stranger who sat between the pair of habitués at 33. The second-in-command, shrugging his shoulders to signify that he could not answer the question, beckoned to a headwaiter and repeated to him Ceria's enquiry.

“That one? He ought to be Sir Henry Savott,” said the head-waiter, proud of his knowledge, and pretending to be astonished at such ignorance on the part of his superiors.

Ceria lifted his eyebrows. He knew everything about Sir Henry Savott except the gentleman's physical appearance. Everybody on the upper staff had learnt the surpassing importance of Sir Henry in the recent secret history of the Imperial Palace.

In the restaurant of course he was a fairly familiar if infrequent figure, and received sedulous personal service from Cappone himself. But herein was no reason why he should be famous in the grill-room. The grill-room and the restaurant were two different worlds. Just as there were patrons of the restaurant to whom it never occurred to enter the grill-room, so there were patrons of the grill-room who would not dream of entering the restaurant—partly because of the band, which in artistically performing high-class music interfered with conversation, partly because the general atmosphere of the grill-room was less prim than that of the restaurant, and partly because they met their friends in the grill-room and would not be likely to meet them in the restaurant.

The restaurant catered for a few truly smart people and a crowd of well-dressed and well-behaved nonentities to whom smartness was an ideal. The grill-room catered for active leaders of commercial, industrial, theatrical, cinematographic and journalistic society. In the clientèle of the grill-room there was a much larger proportion of names and faces known to newspaper-readers than in the clientèle of the restaurant. And quite probably the wealth in the grill-room, per man, exceeded the wealth in the restaurant. (One regular luncher in the former was reputed to have made twenty millions in thirty years of ordering the labours of other individuals.) The restaurant was the haunt of persons who existed as beautifully as they knew how. The grill-room was the haunt of persons accustomed to command, who did things or got them done, who specialised in neither manners nor attire (except a star-actress and a fashionable chorus-girl or so), who dared the Atlantic six or seven times a year, who greeted one another with broad gestures across half-a-dozen tables, and who began to look at their watches about a quarter-past two.

Ceria moved towards 33 in the execution of his social duties, but on the way thither he was stopped twice by visitors, and once by a head-waiter who needed guidance in a delicate situation.

The hour was 1.30 and the grill-room, which Ceria conducted as well as an orchestra consisting mainly of soloists can be conducted, had scarcely one empty table. The company had arrived from various parts of London, in many cases at some cost of time and convenience, for the site of the Imperial Palace was better suited to butterflies than to bees; but fashion and Ceria had made it popular with bees, who have their own snobbishness, who will pay for it, and who had persuaded themselves that they could not afford to lunch elsewhere than under Ceria. The noise of chatter was at least as loud as might have been the sound of music; but happily it was chatter and not music, it was evenly distributed, and as it proceeded from the lunchers it did not dominate them. A strange and exciting spectacle, the grill-room. The restaurant was a mile off, the Floors ten miles off.

2.

At length Ceria reached 33. Youthful, with a modest smile and a most misleading air of diffidence (like others on the staff he had formed his deportment on that of Mr. Orcham), he gave the greeting of welcome to his two acquaintances, and bowed deferentially to Sir Henry Savott.

“If you don't know Sir Henry Savott, Ceria, you soon will do,” said the chairman of the film company, with a Scotch accent. He laughed significantly, as one who had nothing to learn about the intimate connection between Sir Henry and the Imperial Palace.

“Glad to know you, Ceria,” said Sir Henry, and benevolently offered his hand.

“I've never had the pleasure of seeing you here before, Sir Henry. But I know you well by sight.” Thus spoke the charming and diplomatic liar. “I hope you like your new house. One hears that it is very wonderful.”

While he felt flattered, Sir Henry reflected: “This fellow knows his job.” He said aloud that his new house might be worse. Then, in the ensuing pause, he added: “How are the New Year's Eve arrangements getting on? We shall be in next year before we know where we are.”

Ceria replied, with a show of proud enthusiasm:

“I believe that nearly every table in the restaurant has been booked already. Mr. Cousin told me yesterday that before Christmas comes he will be refusing very many applications. Mr. Cappone said several hundreds. It will be a record New Year's Eve for the Imperial Palace. Last year was a record too.”

“That's fine. I haven't reserved a table yet, but I shall do. You might tell Cappone, if you don't mind,” said Sir Henry, who had not forgotten Evelyn's boast.

“Certainly, sir,” agreed Ceria, with a new kind of a smile which said to Sir Henry: “This will help you to understand that there is only one Imperial Palace.”

“But surely you aren't going to turn people away,” Sir Henry went on with bright, friendly astonishment and deprecation.

“What are we to do, sir? There was some suggestion of using the ball-room as another restaurant, and clearing the tables at half-past twelve; but of course it could not be done. People will want to eat and drink till two o'clock at least, and people will want to begin to dance at midnight.”

“But there is this room,” said Sir Henry. “Tables here for three hundred and more. But perhaps this room is to be used.”

“Good idea!” the Scottish chairman interjected. “Have a separate function here, and I'll give you the first showing of my new forty-minute film.” The notion excited him. First film ever exhibited in the Imperial Palace! Unique publicity! Etc.

Ceria shook his head sorrowfully, for he envied Cappone on New Year's Eve and on no other night. “We must keep this room for those who do not like New Year's Eve dinners and suppers. And then, our visitors who are staying in the hotel! Impossible! Quite impossible!”

“Yes, yes,” Sir Henry concurred.

The chairman was dashed, and began to fidget his very solid body.

“My maxim,” said the owner of cinemas, “is the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. You could fill this room with a special festivity. Could you fill it with your old fogeys, and if you could, would they spend as much money?”

“No, sir, I hardly expect to fill it, and they would not spend half as much. You,” he glanced at Sir Henry, with forlorn hopefulness, “you would perhaps speak to Mr. Cousin, sir.”

Sir Henry said nothing in reply.

A moment later Ceria left the table, somewhat meditative. Always he felt himself an exile from the renowned Palace New Year's Eve celebrations, during which the grill-room lived desolate hours enlivened by merely sedate “souvenirs.” He would have given a very great deal to be the autocrat of a New Year festivity of his own, complete with orchestra, cinema, balloons, streamers, missiles, caps, toy-instruments, incandescent puddings and all.

Chapter 43. SABBATH

Violet was occupying Miss Maclaren's sitting-room, partly as a sign of authority, but much more because in her position of acting head-housekeeper, she had frequent need of a room for interviews. That she did not use the bedroom also was a tactful admission of the temporary nature of her seat on the high throne of the former Mrs. O'Riordan. Her rule had so far been marked by no untoward incident. Miss Prentiss and Miss Venables, while working out their notice under Violet's general instruction, kept themselves to themselves and as invisible as might be. Their desperate resolve to depart instantly and leave the Palace in a fix had been abandoned without a word said on the morning after Miss Maclaren's seizure and Violet's outrageous rise to power.

Violet had refrained from any direct criticism of their performances, preferring tranquillity to an ideal perfection. Agatha, the head-housekeeper's pink-faced, fluffy little secretary, had acted as go-between; Agatha had a very convenient faculty of being passionately loyal to the occupant of the throne, no matter who the occupant was. Miss Cass, Evelyn's grand secretary, had been fairly sympathetic to Violet, though the absence of her master had given her too much freedom and a somewhat extravagant sense of her own importance in the world of the hotel. Miss Tilton, Mr. Cousin's secretary, had been very helpful, in her dashing way; the friendship between her and Violet, based on identity of one Christian name, was progressing. Beatrice Noakes, the fat chambermaid on Eighth, had been extremely helpful, if extremely loquacious. Peace had been achieved and maintained.

It was Sunday. Sunday is more acutely Sabbatical in fashionable hotel than anywhere else in London, save a few homes which still keep their islet-heads bravely raised above a flowing tide of irreligion. Visitors to the Imperial Palace considered it incorrect to be seen in London on Sunday—at any rate until the evening. Many left on Saturday for the weekend, but kept their rooms, with a noble disregard of expense. Many slipped inconspicuously away early on Sunday morning for a day's golf or perilous motoring. Some stayed in bed. Ceria's grill-room was a melancholy desert at the lunch hour. The restaurant was scarcely a third full—of apologetic persons or persons who had no shame. The entrance-hall and the foyer had a thick moral atmosphere which seemed to deaden footfalls and reduce pace. The mere aspect of the reading-room rendered it inviolate. The staff was more than decimated. Apparently none of the visitors, and none of the staff except a few Latins who attended early Mass, had any preoccupation concerning the infinite, the mystery of the grave, the dread consequence of sin, the menace of a flouted deity. Self-righteousness was notably diminished, almost swallowed up in tedium. The afternoon was terrible. But in the evening, in the vast restaurant, with jazz, Hungarian rhapsodies, jugglers, dancers, and caviare, bisque, and multi-coloured alcohol, the Palace did appreciably recover its weekday animation and geniality. Monday indeed began on Sunday night.

In the head-housekeeper's sitting-room sat Violet, wearing not her raven duty-frock, but a frock of bright hues and a hat that suited. She was less a head-housekeeper than a prosperous daughter about to go forth and dazzle her simple parents' home. She might have gone earlier; but the imponderable weight of housekeeping responsibility had hugged her down. And she was also a student of conversational French. The lesson was just finished; the benevolent and fatherly Perosi had stood up to leave. He was leaving with regret. His pupil's progress flattered him, and he enjoyed her calm, sensible, matter-of-fact and smiling society. The two were genuinely attached to one another. Perosi had two satisfactions in his heart. Though in such condition of health as might have excused him from the office, he had been to Mass at 8 a.m. And this lesson had been the first lesson to be conducted entirely in French. The time of the next lesson was being arranged when a knock at the door disturbed the seclusion.

“Come in,” Violet called instantly in a loud, clear voice. For, though Perosi was old and Violet young and both of them were reputable beyond slur, it was well that the appearances of respectability should fully corroborate the fact thereof, and a moment's delay might have damaged the appearances.

2.

Ceria came in, boyish, diffident, gentle. He began:

“Bon jour, mademoiselle, comment allez-vous?” (For he had heard of the French lessons, and his brain worked very swiftly.)

And Violet, despite her amazement at seeing him, answered in a sort of dream, very nervously, but correctly:

“Trés bien, monsieur, je vous remercie. Et vous-même?”

Perosi was enchanted. It was nothing to him that the lesson had happened to contain those very phrases. The girl had understood French from an unexpected visitor (what a dreadful Italian accent the young man had!), and, keeping her presence of mind admirably, had replied in French!

But Perosi concealed his enchantment, and easily. He had a grievance against the innocent Ceria. His greeting of the Grill-room manager was stiff, reserved and plainly inimical. The grievance had arisen thus. Two visitors on Eighth had complained to Miss Maclaren about breakfast-dishes theoretically hot being in practice cold. Miss Maclaren had passed on the complaint to Perosi, perhaps rather clumsily. Perosi knew the cause of the trouble: a defect in the electric hot-plate in the service-lift, which defect an electrician had not contrived at once to cure. Ceria was known to be ultimately responsible for the floor-meals, and one of the visitors had spoken to Ceria. Perosi was convinced that, on the evening of her seizure, Ceria had sent for Miss Maclaren in order to discuss the matter with her. Perosi could not tolerate such a proceeding, which was a blow to his cherished prestige and a sin against the cardinal principle of the chain of authority. The service of meals on the Floors was his affair, and no other person's affair. His notorious passive antipathy to all the housekeepers (with the sole exception of Violet) sprang from, and was fed by, real or fancied interference by housekeepers in his exclusive domain. He held that Ceria's going behind his back to criticise him in private confabulation with Miss Maclaren was a monstrous act. Therefore was his demeanour towards Ceria hostile. One result was that the gloomy air of Sunday seemed to have penetrated into the room with the entrance of Ceria.

But no sooner had Perosi's face declared hostility to Ceria than he saw a disturbed expression on Violet's face. He thought, alarmed: “I have represented myself to this most sympathetic young woman as a man full of general kindliness. I must on no account destroy the character which I have created for myself in her eyes. More than anything I wish to stand well with her.” And he began with much Latin subtlety to change his attitude. And as he changed it, so did his hidden feelings change towards Ceria, and so was Violet reassured. The air of Sunday was gradually dissipated.

“I came to enquire the latest news about Miss Maclaren,” Ceria was saying.

“Do sit down,” said Violet. “I called yesterday at the hospital to leave some flowers, but I was not allowed to see her. But Dr. Constam telephoned me this morning that if they could do without a second operation she would very likely pull through. If they must have another operation he wouldn't prophesy. Anyhow, the poor thing is holding her own for the present.”

“Did he tell you exactly what it is?” Ceria asked.

“He didn't. They hardly ever do, you know.” Violet smiled sadly. “I think she will pull through. People generally pull through, don't they? Do sit down, Mr. Ceria. Won't you sit down again, Mr. Perosi?” She felt as if she was presiding at a reception.

“But you are going out,” said Ceria, sitting down.

“Not the slightest hurry.”

Perosi looked at his watch.

“I must go down to Fourth,” said he. “Thank you.” On his way to the door he stopped and addressed Ceria very blandly. “You were the first to see Miss Maclaren. Comment ça est-il arrivé? Personne n'en satl rien—à ce qu'il parait.”

Ceria out of politeness to Violet answered in English, shaking his head:

“She telephoned that she wanted to see me. I asked her to come down to my office. She had the attack as she came in. Very severe pain, I should say. I helped her to sit on a chair. She would have fallen off if I had not held her. Then I carried her to the lift. That was all. I know no more than anybody else.”

“She didn't speak?”

“She could not.”

“She did not say why she came to see you?” Perosi daringly probed.

Ceria shook his head again: “Nothing. I cannot guess what she wanted.”

Impossible for even Perosi not to credit the young man's sincerity. The old man was perfectly satisfied, and once more in the full bloom of his benevolence. He said, in a new tone suddenly and quite dramatically warm:

“Ceria, my friend, I hear you are thinking of organising a New Year's Eve celebration in the grill-room to accommodate visitors who have not succeeded in obtaining tables in the restaurant. It is a fine idea, that! At New Year's Eve there is little to do on the Floors. If I can help you in the service, dispose of me.”

Violet was thrilled by this startling announcement, which after the rather laboured and melancholy exchanges on the subject of Miss Maclaren's illness sounded a sort of trumpet-note of inspiring enthusiasm. Not often did the old man show enthusiasm concerning anything. Violet had heard the widespread news of the unprecedented demand for tables in the restaurant on the great night; but not a word had reached her of the scheme for bringing the grill-room into the geography of the mighty feast. She knew nothing of the grill-room, had never seen it.

As for Ceria, he was still more startled than his hostess. He had not mentioned Sir Henry Savott's casual suggestion to any member of the staff, nor at a daily conference, for the reason that he had regarded it as too impossible to be worth discussion. Sir Henry Savott had apparently not been ready to stand sponsor for it. And assuredly, Mr. Cousin would not for a moment consider it. And now Ceria amazingly learnt that somehow the scheme had got abroad in the hotel. And the scheme blossomed magnificently afresh from the shrivelled seed in his mind. He pictured in a flash the entire splendid fête in his grill-room, and himself in charge of it, and his very friendly rival Cappone outshone, not in size, but by sheer force of chic and inventive novelty; and paragraphs about it in Mr. Immerson's weekly gossip columns. His eye shone; his cheeks flamed.

“Have you heard of it then?” he hesitatingly asked.

“I heard,” said Perosi.

“How?”

Perosi gave a shrug. “I seem to have heard,” he said vaguely.

He enjoyed being mysterious. The truth was that the cinema-owner, present at the lunch two days earlier, had mentioned it, with ornamental additions and exaggerations, to Perosi on the previous night during the service of an intimate dinner in the suite which he was occupying in the Palace for a week of some secret negotiation. Perosi had mistakenly understood that the thing was as good as settled; whereas the fact was that Mr. Cousin himself was in complete ignorance of Sir Henry Savott's fanciful notion. Sir Henry, when in the creative mood, was capable of throwing off half-a-dozen such coruscating sparks in half a day.

Now Ceria, the centre of the scheme, could not possibly appear to be less well informed about it than Perosi, who had only 'heard' of it.

“It will be discussed at the conference to-morrow morning,” he said, as one who was at the heart of the matter, deciding on the instant to introduce it at the conference himself. He took Perosi's offer as a significant omen. Perosi, though a minor deity in the pantheon of the Palace, had a prestige beyond his rank. He was accepted by his superiors as a serious and sagacious person. Both Mr. Orcham and Mr. Cousin listened with respect to his opinion, whether they had sought it or not. He had had great experience of hotel work; and before Ceria had dawned on the Palace, Perosi had been a valued head-waiter in the grill-room. But for lack of ambition, lack of personal style, and a certain superficial surliness of manner, he might have risen very high in the Palace.

What puzzled Ceria was that Mr. Cousin, the scheme having as it seemed been on the carpet for two days, had not summoned him into the managerial office. He guessed that it must be Sir Henry who had mentioned the wonderful idea, his own, to Mr. Cousin. And an idea of Sir Henry's was not one to be lightly cast aside.

Perosi departed, in full lustre.

3.

Violet wondered why Ceria outstayed Perosi. He had received the information about Mac which he had come for. And Mr. and Mrs. Powler, at home in Renshaw Street on the south side of the Thames, would grow impatient for the arrival of their marvellous daughter. Still, Violet, if she had had a magic power to choose between sending Ceria away and keeping him, would have kept him yet awhile. She liked him. She liked his presence, the innocent, diffident, unworldly look on his face. She was attracted to him, not as a male, but as a human being. So sensible, so ingenuous, so agreeable to behold! Similarly she liked old Perosi. So grim, so benign. She liked people. She liked to know about them and to understand them. This was only her second meeting with Ceria. At the first, she had immediately appreciated his concern for the stricken Mac (though there was something nonchalant in it), and the discretion of his disappearance from Mac's room when he could no longer be useful. She liked to hear him talk his very correct and fluent English, in which every sound was subtly foreign: so that he could not have said even 'knife' without betraying his foreign birth.

Of course his foreignness was a vague barrier dividing them. Foreign, full of mystery, he would always be. But she did not object to the barrier, because she had no wish for intimacy with him. To enjoy his acquaintance was sufficient for her. What did not present itself to her mind was the fact that, just as Ceria was foreign to her, so was she foreign to him. Exotic, elusive. They chatted about nothing, Sundayishly. Their talk was simple, and it was cheerful. But for Violet, beneath the flow of the conversation, there was an undercurrent of sadness for the tragic plight of Mac. She fancied that she could detect the same sadness beneath the social tone of Ceria's sentences.

She was wrong. Ceria was certainly preoccupied, but not with the fate of Miss Maclaren. His mind was busy upon the dream of the possibilities of a New Year's Eve fête in his grill-room. Violet had a very imperfect conception of the importance of New Year's Eve in the corporate life of the Imperial Palace. She had never seen a fashionable, luxurious New Year's Eve fête, and never imagined one. She was perhaps aware, from rumours and glimpses, that tremendous preparations were afoot, and that the entire hotel was slowly gathering its energies together for a grand climacteric of display designed orgiastically to receive the New Year into the infinite succession of years. But as regards the esoteric spirit of the effort, she belonged to an ignorant and uninitiated laity.

“You are going out,” said Ceria suddenly, without rising, and as though he had not made this surprising discovery before.

“Not yet,” she replied. “Are you generally here on Sunday afternoons? I thought that—”

“I am never here on Sunday afternoons, and not often on Sunday evenings. But my mother and my sisters went away this morning to the Riviera. They would have gone to Italy, our home, but there might have been complications for the return. They are not naturalised British subjects like I am. My eldest sister has been unwell.”

“I'm sorry to hear that.”

“Not ill. Unwell. It is the damp climate. They have gone for a month. My house is empty. You understand—the sadness of an empty home. I could not tolerate it alone. After lunch I stayed here. Laisser aller!” He smiled plaintively, as it were appealing for sympathetic comprehension.

“What a pity you did not call earlier then!” Violet smiled. “I might have given you some tea.”

He thanked her deprecatingly. Mac's illness was the pretext for his call; no more. He had called because he had lost three women endeared to him by habit of life; he was accustomed to the companionship of women, this deferential functionary of whom his patrons thought that the grill-room was his sole and everlasting world; and in the arid desert of the hotel on Sunday afternoon he had sought an oasis—a woman's room. He had liked Violet for the calm efficiency of her reception of Miss Maclaren's tortured body. He had liked her soothing presence. Her expression and her gestures had remained in his memory. And now he liked a new expression on her face, an expression—which he did not know was characteristic—of kindly alacrity to observe and consider sympathetically any phenomenon that might offer itself to her cognisance. He was offering himself to her cognisance. And her smile was responsive.

“Do you live near here?” she asked. “I suppose you do, because of getting home at nights.”

He told her exactly where his home lay: a little beyond Hampstead. With an increasing naïve eagerness he described his home, his mother, his elder sister and his younger sister, his garden, the tennis-court—with not enough space at the ends for truly scientific back-line play. He was so graphic in his mild fervour that Violet saw his home and the old lady and the two girls. Did the ladies feel exiled in North London? Did they not long for Italy? Not a bit. They were devoted to London. They loved the English and the English character and ways. There was no tedium in London. Both Emilia and Daria spoke English better than himself, Ceria. The old lady spoke a little English. But at home they spoke nothing but Italian. They had an Italian maid-cook, and the cuisine was strictly Italian. The English were wonderful. The English domestic cuisine, however...Well, they had experienced it in a boarding house at Brixton for a few weeks. The stream of home-detail slackened, trickled. Ceria rose.

“I must go. May I telephone you for news of Miss Maclaren to-morrow?”

Violet nodded.

“I do hope your New Year's Eve dinner will be arranged,” she said politely, not quite realising how much the fête meant to him.

“Ah yes!” he sighed, with Latin pessimism. Then brightly:

“I was so glad that Perosi favoured it. Perosi is listened to here in the Palace. He is a historical monument. If when he sees Mr. Cousin he should chance to say a word—it would have influence.”

“Really?”

“Yes, yes. I have noticed before.”

“I shall tell him he must. I shall tell him.” Violet's tone was confident, almost imperious, the tone of a woman who knows her feminine power. She rose. She seemed to be suddenly inspired with enthusiasm for Ceria's scheme. “I shall tell him to-night when I come back.”

“How nice of you!” Ceria's eyes shone. So did Violet's.

A quarter of a minute after his departure she was following him down the lighted corridor. She ran into her bedroom at the end, switched on the electricity, put on her coat, snatched her bag, examined her face, switched off the electricity. She was out of the hotel. She walked quickly, past the dim groves and water of St. James's Park, past Queen Anne houses, the Abbey, hospitals, grandiose Government offices, to the corner of the Embankment and Westminster Bridge, and sprang on to a tram with the right illuminated sign on its forehead. Buildings were smaller, roads wider and straighter, motorcars fewer, costumes and suits less smart. The tram slid roaring by the Laundry, and the Laundry touchingly recalled to her what seemed like her distant youth. Cyril Purkin was no doubt in his little house there. South London was another world, the world, again, of her far-distant youth. Condescending to it, she yet loved it, because she knew every yard of it and it was her home.

The tram stopped. She jumped down. Tiny houses on the broad thoroughfare. She walked a little under the recurrent glare of the street-lamps; then turned to the left, then to the right. Tiniest houses, some lit, some dark, some with names, some without. She halted at a low wooden gate opening into a front-garden as big as a counterpane. One projecting window; slits of light at the edges of the three blinds. A light over the door. The moon is not farther from the earth than Violet was then from the Imperial Palace. She rang the tinkling old bell briskly. She tapped on the door. Her father would as usual say something faintly sardonic about her artificial complexion. Her mother would remark on her new gloves. How slow were these parents! The door opened. Her mother! Her mother kissed her as she stood on the doorstep, looking with strange enquiry at this new daughter. How narrow and stuffy and old was the lobby! Her father in his old creased housejacket appeared at the door of the sitting-room.

“I must positively be back at the old Pally by ten o'clock, children,” she exclaimed.

It was her father who had somewhat derisively attached the diminutive “Pally” to the greatest luxury hotel in the world. South London had to maintain its self-respect.

Chapter 44. THE VAMP

Violet found a mild and soothing satisfaction in the short Sunday evening visit to her home; but as she waved a good night to her parents standing side by side in the front doorway, her father puffing at his pipe, the thought in her dutiful daughterly mind was:

“Well, that's done!”

Her father and mother were not really interested in the Palace, and her father's comments on the things she told him showed no comprehension of either their importance or their significance. Her mother was inquisitive about the details of Miss Maclaren's seizure, but to Violet her curiosity seemed morbid and her prejudice against hospitals almost childish. Both parents had been much more interested in the life of the Laundry, probably because they saw it from the street several times a week. What really did interest them was the daily functioning of the little home: the enormities of the charwoman who 'came in' for half a day on alternate days, the caprices of the kitchen range, the inexplicable peeling of paint on the back-door, the new wireless in the next house, the kittening of the cat. They assumed that Violet would be eager for every tiniest morsel of house-gossip.

Her father had of course never been inside the Palace, had never dreamed of going inside, could not conceive of any circumstances which might lead to his going inside. Her mother had never even seen the hotel, or, if she had long ago seen it, had not noticed it. She spoke of making a trip to look at it, as she might have spoken of a trip to New York. The hotel was far beyond their range. Violet was miraculously rising in the hotel. The hotel, for them, was a place existing solely in order that Violet might rise in it.

As for Violet, this excursion into South London—she had made several before—was the first to awaken her fully to the quick growth of her affection for the Palace. As she journeyed eastward in the tram she was positively impatient to be back on the Floors with all their endless small surprises and anxieties; quite ready to be immersed again in a sea of trouble—what some people would call trouble but she wouldn't. And in particular she was impatient to talk to Mr. Perosi. She had convinced herself that by talking to Perosi she might help to help the Palace towards a greater glory on New Year's Eve. Her sole reason for returning to the hotel not later than ten o'clock was information received from Perosi himself that he would be leaving the hotel at that hour on a visit to a friend at the Majestic. Strictly, she had been entitled to a week-end off, but a truly earnest temporary head-housekeeper could not think of absenting herself for so long a period from the supervision of the huge organism—especially as she had had word from Mr. Cousin that her salary would be raised during the term of her high office. But for the desire to have an interview with Perosi, however, she would not have returned till midnight.

Mr. Maxon, the Staff-manager's second-in-command, was fussing about restlessly in the dark staff-entrance, though nobody was clocking-in and nobody was clocking-out. Naturally Mr. Maxon did not expect a head-housekeeper to clock-in. On the contrary he very amiably opened the wicket for her and expressed his view that the night was fine, with which Violet very amiably agreed. It occurred to her that her father would have made an excellent assistant Staff-manager. She enquired of Mr. Maxon whether Mr. Perosi had left the hotel. He had not. But she met Perosi, strangely clad in a fawn-coloured lounge-suit and a brown overcoat and softhat to match, in the main basement-corridor, he having descended in a service-lift. She stopped him. They were alone in the stony corridor.

“I'm so glad I've caught you,” she said, with a calm, gentle smile. She had intended that smile to be captivating, but at the moment of composing the smile she was too proud, or too honest, to use the wile which she had contemplated. She was disappointed with herself. She thought: “Why can't I do it? Why am I so stiff?”

For she had set her mind on 'vamping'—there was no other word—the benevolent grim old gentleman, on demonstrating the influence over him which she believed she possessed. According to Ceria, Perosi's opinions about hotel-policy had weight. Ceria desired that the weight of Perosi's opinions should turn the scale in favour of a special New Year's Eve fête in the grill-room, and had she not said to Ceria, of Perosi:

“I shall tell him he must”? Her instinct was to help Ceria. Ceria was a child, and she wanted to give him a toy. Ceria was so charming, so innocent, so diffident, so pathetic, so bereft of his womenkind. Ceria would have to sleep through Christmas and the New Year in his desolate home. He deserved compensation, and Violet was determined that if she could bring it about he should have the dazzling compensation of a fête in his grill-room.

“Qu'est-ce que c'est? Vous me le direz en français,” said the French master, quizzically, rather alarmingly. His experience of housekeepers had endowed him with a sort of second-sight; and by nature he was suspicious.

Violet shook her head to the command to say her say in French. Perosi knew that he was ordering the impossible of his pupil.

“You remember what you said to Mr. Ceria this afternoon in my room about that scheme for a New Year's Eve dinner in the grill-room?” Perosi nodded cautiously. “Well, after you left he talked about it. He seems frightfully keen on it, but he's afraid they'll turn it down. Now I was just thinking—everybody in this place knows what influence you have here, and I was just thinking that if you did get a chance to put in a word to Mr. Cousin, perhaps you might...You see what I mean. It's only an idea that crossed my mind. And everybody does know your influence. I've often heard of it.”

Not a very clever speech, she thought. Lame! And the last sentence was a gross and deliberate exaggeration. But she smiled again, looking up at the man with an appeal in her eyes.

2.

Perosi's gaunt face softened. She thought: “After all I'm doing this fairly well.”

Perosi had feared some request for a favour the granting of which might upset the strictness of the ritual of his branch of the Floors-service. You never knew with these women, even the most sensible of them! Instead, Violet had flattered him. It was true that he had influence. He was nobody. He was only the head-floors-waiter. But he had influence with the mighty—and incidentally his post of head-floors-waiter was an exceedingly important one, if you looked at it properly! Perhaps none more important under Mr. Cousin!

“No!” he said gently, hardening his face again. “I shall not speak to Mr. Cousin.”

“Oh!” Violet exclaimed timidly. She really did feel like a sweet young girl at the mercy of a stern and powerful male.

“But,” Perosi went on, relenting with grim roguishness. “I shall speak to Mr. Orcham.”

“Mr. Orcham! But—”

“Mr. Orcham has telegraphed from Boulogne that he will be here to-night. Victoria 10.47. I've only heard this minute. If they'd let me know early, I should not have changed my clothes. Now I must change back again, because when Mr. Orcham returns after an absence I take his orders myself. So I shall not go to the Majestic. I take just a little walk to the river and back, to breathe. That is why I go out earlier than I said. I shall see Mr. Orcham in his room, and if I can I shall say a word. He likes me to take his orders myself—I mean for a meal, if he is hungry. I shall certainly see him.”

“That's splendid!” said Violet. “And it's very nice of you.” She smiled gratefully, admiringly: final gesture of the vamp successful.

Perosi went off, buttoning his overcoat and turning up the collar.

But Violet was vaguely disturbed by the news of Mr. Orcham's imminent arrival. Mr. Orcham was great and terrible. He had been terrible about Venables and Prentiss. Still, he had confirmed her astonishing appointment as temporary head-housekeeper. He was a man about whom nothing could be prophesied. Violet had a notion that the mice might have played more harmoniously if the cat had not returned so soon.

Chapter 45. THE PANJANDRUM'S RETURN

Evelyn, at a quarter before midnight, had been in his castle for thirty-five minutes. His mood was that of a returned traveller for whom work and anxieties have been accumulating during his absence. He was relieved and even glad to be back, but he shrank from the consequences of being back; he shirked the burden awaiting his broad shoulders. Also he was self-conscious as a supreme ruler re-entering a kingdom which has been left in charge of inferior beings. He had desired to meet nobody of importance until Monday morning. The prospect of effusive, deferential greetings from this person and from that as he came through the revolving doors into the great hall, answering enquiries about his health and his journey, responding suitably to expressions of pleasure at the sight of him, listening to hints of urgent matters which would immediately demand his notice, making polite enquiries about the health and the doings and the happiness of other people—the prospect of all this was more than he felt himself able to bear.

Call it weakness, cowardice, what you please, the panjandrum had chosen to re-enter his kingdom by the staff-entrance, to the intense astonishment of Mr. Maxon, who of course had attributed the caprice to every motive except the right foolish one. He had driven to the hotel quite alone, impatiently abandoning Oldham and baggage at Victoria. He had ascended to Seventh partly by a service-lift and partly by walking.

But even so, sneaking into his own house like a thief, he had not been able to avoid being somehow enveloped in the intangible blanket-folds of the hotel atmosphere. On the way up he had caught two or three bars of the orchestra far distant in the restaurant. Same old routine, hackneyed, desolating: so it seemed to him. People would be dancing and guzzling in the restaurant on the night of judgment and doom. But that must be the new Paris-American band which Jones-Wyatt, the Bands-and-Cabaret-manager, had engaged. Well, he did not very much like it. He could not possibly judge it with fairness, but his inclination was not to approve it, not to approve anything. He was in a hypercritical state of mind. Certain phenomena at the staff-entrance and in the basement-corridor had ruffled him, though he had said nothing about them to Maxon. He had passed unseen along the main corridor of Seventh, opened his door, slipped inside his castle, shut the door. He was safe. None would dare to disturb him. Yes, Perosi would dare to disturb. He knew the ritual on these rare occasions. Perosi regarded himself as a privileged person. And Perosi had dared to disturb him. He had to be pleasant and chatty with Perosi. He would not eat. No, not even the least snack. He had dined on the train from Folkestone. To placate Perosi, to save Perosi's gnarled face, he had asked for a liqueur brandy and hot water.

Serving the beverage with marvellous quickness, Perosi had shown an exasperating tendency to fall into hotel-gossip. Evelyn had bravely and nobly smiled, while attempting to check the tendency. Perosi had remarked that he had been very interested to hear of the project of a separate New Year's Eve festivity in the grill-room. Then it was that Evelyn had performed a miracle of self-control and deceitfulness. One of his fibs without words. Neither by telephone nor by letter on his journeyings had he been vouchsafed one single syllable about this astounding project of a separate New Year's Eve festivity in the grill-room. Nevertheless he had replied mildly and casually to Perosi:

“Yes, yes,” as if he had been familiar with the project for weeks, as if he himself had invented the project. And Perosi, hoodwinked, and perceiving that the moment was inopportune for a friendly discussion, had left the room. “I'm a bit tired, Perosi,” Evelyn had said. “Good night. Thank you.”

Then Evelyn had heard baggage being thudded into his bedroom through the bedroom door. By now every member of the staff would be apprised of his advent. There was Maxon. Before he had reached Seventh everybody would have learnt that the panjandrum had come—and by what strange entrance! He had sat awhile lounging in his soft travelling-suit, thinking of all his hotel-inspections, on the whole satisfactory, in various cities, and of the suddenly decided tiresome journey and the rough Channel voyage. He had meant to sleep one night in Boulogne, a sympathetic port, just for change and rest. But when the train stopped at the harbour station he had felt that after all he could not tolerate a night in Boulogne, and his consequent counter-orders and orders had considerably overset the exhausted Oldham. And it was not true that he had dined in the Pullman crowded with peevish passengers. He had only pretended to dine. The Channel, following many days of fatigue, had somewhat seriously deranged him, and indeed was partly responsible for his captious, sensitive temper.

Having finished the soothing brandy and water, he bent down and unlaced his brown boots, which for hours had been slightly incommoding him. Then, restless, he went into the bathroom. The bedroom door was open. He stared at Oldham stooping, straightening himself, sorting clothes, handling them gently, almost lovingly. Oldham knew well that there would be no respite for a valet until every garment and belonging was in its proper place and the trunk and the two suit-cases hidden away. A valet was not entitled to be fatigued by journeys, deranged by the Channel. A valet had to be superhuman. And Oldham really did seem to be superhuman in those moments. The truth was that on the journey he had made a tranquillising decision, a decision not uninfluenced by the loss of sixty pounds odd, all unknown to Evelyn, in a Paris tripot.

“I suppose, sir,” he said, as it were dreamily, with his back to Evelyn. “I suppose you wouldn't care for me to withdraw my notice?”

Suggestion startling to Evelyn, among whose chief worries was the horrid thought of having to replace Oldham and train his successor...Silence...Oldham secretly trembled at his own boldness. Evelyn ought to have felt comforted. But he did not. Instead, he reflected bitterly: “Inconstant ass! Coward! He's afraid. And he doesn't know his own mind. Why the devil should I let him withdraw his notice? Fancies himself as a retail tobacconist, and then funks it! But I might have guessed he'd give in when it came to the point!”

When the silence had continued for a few minutes, he said very drily:

“We'll talk about that to-morrow. I shall have to think it over.” He added, commandingly: “Be as quick as you can. I want to go to bed.”

“Yes, sir.”

2.

Evelyn returned to the sitting-room, wearing pumps, and murmuring inaudibly to himself. A breath-taking sight confronted him: two letters lying on the centre-table. He was outraged by the sight, which strained to the snapping point his already exacerbated nerves. It was a rigid rule of the Palace that no correspondence should in any circumstances be delivered in his private rooms, which were held by him to be sacred. His office was the only proper place for correspondence, and for any documents relating to business. Also, he had determined not to touch business until the next day. He desired, and would positively have, nothing but peace. He impulsively opened the door and called out:

“Oldham!”

“Yes, sir.” In response the man came as far as the bathroom.

“Who has put these letters here?” Evelyn's tone was very curt and imperious. Yet he admitted to himself that obviously Oldham was not in a position to answer the question.

“I really couldn't say, sir,” said Oldham, placatory because he now wanted more and more to keep his situation.

“They have been put here since I went into the bedroom to speak to you. Someone must have brought them here.” Evelyn knew even as he made it that this was a silly remark.

“Yes, sir.”

“You don't know who did it?”

“No, sir.”

“Well go, and find out—at once.”

“Very good, sir,” said Oldham, thinking to himself: “He's just told me to hurry up with the unpacking and here he pushes me off to do something else! What a life!” But he still wanted to keep his situation.

Evelyn firmly decided that he would not read the letters. No! He would send them downstairs to his office unopened and deal with them in the ordinary course the next morning. Then, glancing at one of the envelopes, he recognised the handwriting of Sir Henry Savott, and had a qualm. What could be wrong? He rather violently tore at the envelope. “My dear Orcham. This is to tell you that my friend Mr. Oliver Oxford, managing director of the Carlyle Oxford British Films Company, has an idea to suggest to you for the proposed New Year's Eve affair in your grill-room. Please listen to him. I think it was I who first thought of a special affair in the grill-room for New Year's Eve. Oxford is a friend of mine. Yours.”

Curse the fellow! Trying to interfere with the management of the Palace! And all because, the hotel-merger being practically arranged, he was now turning to film-mergers. Evidently for reasons of his own the fellow was anxious to oblige this Oxford person. Of all the impudence! He, Evelyn, would show Savott what was what! The other envelope was large and of an ornamental nature. It bore on its face the words:

“Carlyle Oxford British.” Extraordinary, despicable, how these English film companies would imitate American companies, even in their titles! But Carlyle, Evelyn knew, was an American. He read the second letter. What a signature of self-conscious flourishes! The letter afforded to Evelyn the virginity of an absolutely new kind of silent film, of which Carlyle Oxford British had the highest hopes, and in which they had an unparalleled confidence, for use in the Palace Grillroom on New Year's Eve, if Evelyn cared to avail himself of it. And would Evelyn come and see the film in the private theatre of Carlyle Oxford British in Lisle Street, at any time convenient to himself?

What was this grill-room scheme? It appeared to be very much in the air. First old Perosi. Then Savott. Then this Oxford—no doubt a Hebrew. Evelyn was clearly the only person in the world who knew nothing about it. He lit a cigarette. Why did not Oldham come back? What was the nincompoop up to? Surely it was a simple enough thing to find out who had introduced correspondence into the sitting-room! Evelyn went to the telephone, and demanded Mr. Cousin. He had no wish to speak to Mr. Cousin. He wanted to know whether Mr. Cousin was on duty. Mr. Cousin was not supposed to be on duty on Sunday nights; but Evelyn thought that the Manager, aware that his Director was returning, might have had the grace to be available. The telephone answer was that Mr. Cousin was away till Monday. Naturally! There was always something subtly independent about Cousin. Evelyn had been in search of a grievance. He found it. Then he telephoned to his secretary, Miss Cass. He knew that Miss Cass was on holiday for the week-end, but still he thought that the girl might by some magic have contrived to be present to welcome him. The reply from the hotel-exchange was that the Director's office was closed. Another grievance.

At last Oldham came back, flurried. He had failed in his mission. Perosi, a waiter, a valet, the liftman, several pages, a chambermaid: he had carried out a thorough investigation, and all these people denied any complicity in the mysterious delivery of letters into the castle. Evelyn had a gleam of light.

“Find out if a Mr. Oliver Oxford is staying here.”

“Very good, sir.” In a quarter of a minute Oldham conveyed the answer. Mr. Oliver Oxford was staying in the Palace. Suite 743. Quite near to Evelyn's castle. He guessed the solution of the enigma. Mr. O.O., having heard of Evelyn's arrival, had written the letter and delivered both letters himself. No doubt he had knocked, received no answer, and stepped impudently into the room. Evelyn noticed that Savott's letter was dated several days earlier, and had probably been waiting to be used in the presumptuous Hebrew's own good time.

The image of Violet Powler swam into his mind, possibly drawn there by a subconscious yearning to be tranquillised. He was accustomed to think of Miss Powler as a tranquillising creature; he had never forgotten, and he never recalled without pleasure, the scene at the Laundry when she had handled so gently the colour-blind woman. All the floors were now in charge of the inexperienced Miss Powler, with his approval. An audacious experiment. But during his absence had he received from Cousin any criticisms, any complaints, of her performance? Not one. Had Cousin shown the least misgiving as to her capacity? No. Cousin's letters and his nightly telephoning had been salted with hints of the inadequacy of other members of the upper staff; but Miss Powler's efficiency had not once been arraigned. He looked at the clock. Three minutes to twelve. He picked up the telephone, then hesitated. If this was an early night for her she would be gone to bed, but if not there were still three minutes before, according to rules, she was entitled to leave duty. He asked the Exchange for her. In a moment he heard her voice.

“Mr. Orcham?”

“Speaking. I've just returned, Miss Powler. I didn't want to trouble you at this time of the night, but I was rather anxious to have the latest news about Miss Maclaren. How is she to-day?”

“Not out of danger yet, sir.”

“Oh! Sorry to hear that! I was hoping—” He stopped.

“It's rather a long story, sir.”

“I say,” said Evelyn in a tone more colloquial, “I wonder if you'd mind very much coming down now and telling me. I'm in my room—not my office.”

“Certainly, sir.”

Why had he invited her to come down to him, especially as he really had little to learn about Miss Maclaren's illness? Well, her voice had soothed him. It was like a balm to his sore nerves. It was the most soothing (yet firm) voice within his memory of women's voices. His wife; Mrs. O'Riordan, a wonderful old girl, extremely capable, but no consoler for a weary man; Miss Maclaren, always consciously bearing a weight of responsibility; Miss Cass, devoted enough and pleasant enough, but steely; Venables, Prentiss and others, nobodies who invariably by their prim voices raised a barrier between themselves and him. Ah! Cousin might stick to his lawful rights; Miss Cass might gad away for the week-end; but his favourite, Miss Powler, his discovery, his candidate—she was at her post! He might have known it. Miss Powler was not an employee to be fussy and exacting about hours. Not she! A tap at the door.

3.

She came into the room, quietly smiling. Her appearance startled him; for instead of the regulation housekeeper's black, she was wearing a bright-coloured frock. The psychological effect on Evelyn of this simple frock was considerable. It pulled him from his chair, impelled him a few steps across the room and thrust forward his right arm.

“Excuse my dress, please. I've just been home to see mother and father,” she said as they shook hands.

“It's a very nice dress,” he said, and pointed to a chair. “Do sit down. It's you who must excuse me, sending for you like this. Now tell me the whole story.”

She sat. He said to himself that she was surprisingly changed—for the better. Her expression had the same placid benevolence, but she had gained tremendously in ease of manner, in worldliness. She must have been continuously learning from visitors. He had thought before that she might be anybody's daughter. He thought now that she might be anybody's daughter-except a small town-traveller's; she might be a peer's daughter, or an artist's, or a stockbroker's. Of course she had not quite Lady Milligan's style; but a quality was hers which the Yorkshire gentlewoman lacked: poise. At a heavy expense of nervous energy, Lady Milligan gallantly kept a semblance of poise—not the real thing; and at intervals she lost even the semblance. Whereas Miss Powler could be genuinely calm for ever and ever at no expense of spirit.

Violet related briefly the tragic tale of Mac from beginning to end.

“Um!” was Evelyn's only comment, but he put a lot of sympathy into it. He took a cigarette. Then it struck him that he ought to offer Miss Powler a cigarette. But he offered the cigarette to the bright frock. At any rate, if Violet had been in official black he would not have dreamt of such an approach. He made it solely for the sake of his own good opinion of himself as a polite man. He was sure that she would refuse the cigarette, and that she did not smoke. She was not the sort of girl who smokes; nor the sort of girl who, if she smokes, would care to smoke in the presence of her employer.

“Won't you have a cigarette?”

“Thank you,” said Violet.

He was startled, for the second time. He had to hold a match for her. The interview modulated into a new key.

“What's your idea about this scheme for a special New Year's Eve dinner in the grill-room?” he asked, rather impulsively: partly because the scheme was like a bluebottle in his mind, and partly to cover a slight self-consciousness, concerning the cigarette. He thought, and he was bound to think:

“Supposing anyone came in and saw her and me smoking together, and her in that frock, and the time after midnight, especially as I sneaked into the hotel. Of course no one will come in, but supposing—”

Violet made no reply.

“You've heard of it?” he said.

“Yes, I have heard of it.” She looked at him through the smoke and gave a smile.

“Who told you?” he was on the point of saying; but he did not utter the words. No decent employer ought to put such an ambiguous question to an employee; it would have had the air of an invitation to tell tales.

“I don't know anything about those things,” Violet went on cautiously. To her there seemed to be a faint note of hostility to the scheme in Mr. Orcham's voice. “This scheme!” Had his tone been different she might have hinted at Mr. Ceria's passionate eagerness for the scheme, might have shown some sympathy for Mr. Ceria's cause. “I'm quite a beginner here. I don't know half enough about the Floors yet, and as for anything else—” She smiled again, lightly, as one who is confident of being fully understood. Then she said: “I expect they're waiting for you to settle it. I'm sure everybody's glad you've come back. We've all been rather lost without you. Mr. Cousin was saying only the day before yesterday he hoped you'd be back soon.”

“You've been seeing Mr. Cousin pretty often?”

“Not seeing him. On the telephone. I've had to ask him about dozens of things. He's been very kind to me. No one could have been nicer.”

“Well,” said Evelyn. “Mr. Cousin's the man you have to deal with, not me, you know.”

“Yes, I do know.”

Evelyn reflected that never before had any housekeeper spoken as Miss Powler spoke of Cousin. All the other house-keepers had been wrong. Cousin was a good fellow, and he had been quite justified in not upsetting his own arrangements for the sake of being available on the chance of Evelyn wanting to see him. Evelyn was a fine judge of tact. His opinion that Miss Powler had an unusual measure of tact was confirmed. So they had all of them missed the presence of the panjandrum! The panjandrum was soothed—either by the cigarette or by the tact.

He threw the cigarette into the fire, two-thirds smoked. Violet was smoking hers very slowly. He was impatient for her to finish. He had a desire to make some enquiries about her experiences as head-housekeeper. But he thought that to talk professional shop with her when he had invited her down to get news of Miss Maclaren would be taking an improper advantage of the occasion. Still, conversation had to be maintained, and his social duty was to maintain it.

“Heard anything about your old home?” he asked.

“My old home? Oh! You mean the Laundry?” She laughed outright. “No. Except that Miss Brury is getting on splendidly. Mr. Purkin came up to see Mr. Cousin, and I happened to meet him. He told me so himself.”

“Excellent! Excellent! I had an idea she would. That change we made is working out very well.” A pleasant appreciative innuendo in his voice that she, Violet, was giving satisfaction.

“I'm so glad you think so, sir.”

The first time she had said 'sir' in the interview.

There was another lull in the talk; he began to feel agreeably sleepy; but he could not dismiss her until her cigarette was consumed. Fortunately he happened to hit on a new topic.

“How is the French getting on?”

“Very slowly,” she replied. “But Mr. Perosi is a very good teacher.”

“And does the very good teacher think that progress is slow, or is that only your own idea?”

“He says it's pretty quick, considering. But to me it does seem terribly slow. Really!”

“I know the trouble I had,” Evelyn mused aloud. “And even now, when I'm said to be mighty fluent, I often think I've done no more than scratch the surface of the infernal language. If you ask me, French is the most difficult language in the world—except English.”

They went on talking. Evelyn reflected. Beneath the current of conversation he had been thinking that whatever might occur on the Floors he would keep this girl in her present post, for she was a born lubricator, the enemy of all friction. He had a mazy dream, if the dangerously sick woman ever came back, of allotting a pension to Miss Maclaren so that she should not stand in the way of Miss Powler. But the mention of French started another dream. He had found a lot of friction at the Minerva Hotel at Cannes, even in the slack, wet pre-Christmas season. Why not transfer Miss Powler to Cannes as soon as her French grew to be practically serviceable? She would go, if asked. She was not one to jib at a new experience. Another hazardous experiment; but wherein lay the advantage of being supreme autocrat of a luxury hotel merger if you could not try hazardous experiments? He would be told that nobody had ever heard of an English house-keeper in a French hotel, that she could not possibly “shake down” with a French staff, etc. Nonsense! And anyhow, she would shake down with the clientèle, which was ninety-five per cent. British and American. To the clientèle she would be balm, a rock of refuge, an oasis, an all-comprehending angel, everything that was sympathetic.

And yet—no! The Imperial Palace had first call, and it could not spare her.

She rose, and carefully dropped the cigarette-end into the fire. As she gave him an interrogative glance he rose too.

“Well,” be said. “It's late. I mustn't keep you.”

“Well,” she said, with urbanity but also with sturdy affirmation of a hard fact. “Our hours are very long.”

Her eyes met his. “Stomach that, my boy!” he said to himself. He nodded, as it were casually, but he was somewhat dashed by the direct blow. He said to himself: “I admire her for that.”

“Thank you so much,” she said.

He took her hand nonchalantly, but with a fake nonchalance.

“You're very kind and I do appreciate it,” she added.

There was such an undeferential sincerity of goodwill and gratitude in her voice and smile that he was secretly overcome. No housekeeper, no member of the female staff, had ever used that tone to him. None, except Mrs. O'Riordan, had thrown down the barrier of status, of official rank, as Violet did then. And though there had been no barrier between him and Mrs. O'Riordan, though Mrs. O'Riordan could charm and blandish with the best, there had always been something formidable, daunting, in her social demeanour towards him, even at its sweetest and most alluring. He privately glowed with pleasure at Violet's unstudied humanity. He felt that he could look happily and confidently at the future. The manipulation of a chain of vast hotels seemed easier than before. He was enheartened.

Oldham stepped into the sitting-room through the bathroom door.

“I beg pardon, sir,” said Oldham clumsily, though he had done nothing which needed to be pardoned.

“Just in time,” Evelyn reflected, thinking of the cigarette. A near shave! His attitude to Oldham in the bedroom had been unreasonable, if not unjust. Hence he felt a grudge against Oldham, and had an impulse to continue in unreason and injustice. But the simple goodwill of Violet had aroused and enlivened his own goodwill. Also he would not for worlds have displayed himself to Violet as less than the perfect employer and man. The truth was that he was affected precisely as old Perosi had been affected in the afternoon.

“What is it, Oldham? Come in,” he said benevolently.

“I've finished all the unpacking, sir. Is there anything else, sir?”

“No, thanks,” said Evelyn. “Thanks very much. Sorry to have kept you up.”

“Thank you, sir. Good night, sir. Good night, miss.”

Oldham departed. Violet departed. Evelyn went to bed joyous. Miss Powler must certainly have approved his demeanour to Oldham.

Chapter 46. ANOTHER CONFERENCE

The next morning Evelyn reigned afresh in the directorial office; and Reggie Dacker, his dandiacal fellow-director (usually referred to as the 'alter ego' of the panjandrum), and Miss Cass, his authoritative secretary, were with him and under his law. Despite untimely wintry weather, he was cheerful, brisk, and quite in the mood for reigning. Before going to bed he had told the night floor-waiter not to call him. He had had a very good night, and within two minutes of waking up he felt equal to running a hundred luxury hotels.

Towards Oldham he had been benevolent, telling him that of course he could withdraw his notice if he chose, and that indeed in the panjandrum's opinion he would be wise to choose. The relation between the two was at once restored to its former perfection, and both of them were relieved and delighted, and both of them tried, without complete success, to hide their feelings. He had breakfasted with deliberate sloth, dawdling, chatting to Oldham, wasting time.

He had telephoned an amiable greeting to Cousin, saying that he, Evelyn, must see to his own business first, but would put in an appearance at the daily conference if possible. In his heart he had no expectation of attending. Why should he attend? If he had not hastened his arrival by three days the Conference would have proceeded that Monday morning satisfactorily without him. Cousin had mentioned in his characteristically aloof tone that the project for a special New Year's Eve fête in the grill-room would be brought forward, as Ceria had asked for its discussion. To which Evelyn had replied with detachment that he knew nothing about it. To which Cousin had brightly retorted that he knew nothing about it either, but that it seemed to be somehow in the air. Whereupon receivers were hung up.

There were two piles of documents and letters for the panjandrum's august notice: Reggie Dacker's and Miss Cass's. Dacker's of course had precedence. But Miss Cass had a robust notion of the importance of her pile. In a pause due to Dacker's failure to find a paper, she pushed a letter under Evelyn's eyes.

“This is urgent, sir,” said she firmly, in a low voice.

Evelyn did not read the letter. He glanced up at her as she stood over him.

“It depends what you call urgent,” said he. “Seeing that I wasn't expected back till Wednesday night, nothing can be urgent tillThursday morning. Supposing I hadn't been here to-day?” One of his theories about women was that they lacked the sense of proportion and were incapable of distinguishing between one urgency and another. One of Miss Cass's theories about men was that they lacked the sense of actuality and were incapable of seeing things as they were. What was the point (thought Miss Cass) of supposing that he wasn't there? He wasthere. He might as usefully have supposed that the hotel had been burnt down. She took back the paper, but she had no resentment, because the panjandrum was in a heavenly temper after all (not that his temper was ever bad—she admitted), and most men, even panjandrums, were children and queer in the head.

Dacker discovered his document and passed it across the desk. Evelyn studied it very attentively. It concerned a matter which in Evelyn's opinion far transcended all other matters in urgency and intrinsic importance. Compared to that matter, projects for fêtes, disturbing graphs showing the curves of individual consumption by visitors, estimates for alterations and decorations, even the merging of luxury hotels into one grand homogeneous enterprise, were trifles. Evelyn had begun a very elaborate fighting campaign for the reform of the licensing laws of his country. For months he had been engaged on the preliminary organisation of the campaign. He was just returned, now, from a continental tour of towns whose citizens bought and drank in the way of alcohol what they pleased, when they pleased, where they pleased. The contrast between the Continent and Britain was utterly exasperating to a British publican. And Evelyn, if not a publican, but the manager of the greatest luxury hotel on earth, was treated by the licensing laws exactly as if he was the landlord of the lowest drinking den in Limehouse. He could not allow to be served, in the public rooms, the most ordinary and respectable beverages before a certain hour or after a certain hour, and both hours were preposterous. Not five times in a year was there a case of offensive inebriation at the Imperial Palace. And yet his head-waiters were forced to walk round his restaurant and his grill-room at a given moment and submit themselves and him to the indignity of telling visitors of irreproachable manners and social standing that they must order their alcohol then or never. The situation was monstrous, and would have been incredible did it not exist. The wonder was that any high-class hotel could keep its doors open. The wonder was that a revolution, with glass-breaking, arson, and the overthrow of Governments, had not occurred. :

Why had Britain fought and won the war if the sequel was to be the abolition of natural liberties which obtained in Britain before the said war, and which still obtained throughout the Continent? Etc., etc. It was laughable. But it was also ruinous, humiliating and intolerable. Admittedly the head of the hotel world, he held it to be his duty—and many other hotel-keepers held it to be his duty—to lead the movement for reform. And he was leading it, with all the subterranean, subtle ingenuities of which he was capable.

Members of Parliament, journalists, publicists, powers in the City were being regimented for the campaign. And he talked to them! By God! He talked to them! Perhaps too vehemently, with an excessive exaggeration. He loved to set side by side those two phrases, 'lowest drinking den' and 'greatest luxury hotel.' He enjoyed the melodrama of their contrast. His excuse was that he felt very deeply on the subject. Nobody had convincingly answered his arguments, the arguments of the hotel world, and nobody could. On all other subjects Evelyn could be as detached, as judicial, as Cousin himself. But on the subject of the licensing laws—well, his business acquaintances and his principal subordinates would say to one another that if you wanted to have fun and witness a real firework display you had only to start Mr. Orcham on the licensing laws. The movement which he was leading had had a lot to do with the appointment of a Governmental Licensing Commission. The Commission marked a forward step. Evelyn, however, was extremely dissatisfied with the choice of its members.

On this Monday morning he was busy with Reggie Dacker on some details of the campaign, and the document which Dacker had ultimately produced related to it. And yet suddenly, worried by a teasing thought, and possibly amazed by tiny pricks of his directorial conscience, he broke off the discussion with Dacker and said:

“Excuse me for three minutes, will you, my boy? I must just—” And, demanding a leaf of foolscap from the assiduous Miss Cass, he wrote out in his clear hand a short memorandum.

“Put this in an envelope and take it to Mr. Cousin yourself—at once, please,” he said, as he folded the leaf in four.

“But the Conference won't be finished,” Miss Cass demurred.

“I hope it won't,” said Evelyn with a genuinely cheerful laugh.

2.

And so Miss Cass, bearing the foolscap envelope, passed down the corridor, and opened the door (in a rather dark corner) over which burned night and day the electric sign “Manager's Office,” and went in. Miss Tilton, Mr. Cousin's secretary, was not at her desk, at which sat idly a page-boy ready to answer the telephone. He smiled timidly at Miss Cass, who gave him a nod.

Even before she opened the inner door into Mr. Cousin's private room she heard the sound of vivacious, argumentative conversation The room was full of men and smoke. Mr. Cousin presided at his desk, a desk large but not as large as Evelyn's; and by his side sat young Pozzi, his second-in-command. At the end of the table was Marian Tilton, with notebook, just as Miss Cass sat with notebook at the end of her principal's desk. Indeed, in various ways the disposition of Mr. Cousin's room showed the influence of Evelyn. A dozen or fifteen men, and Violet Powler (serene and receptive), all heads of departments, constituted the Conference: an attendance somewhat fuller than usual. Evidently the chief protagonists were Ceria, Immerson, the publicity head, Ruffo, the Banqueting-manager, and Jones-Wyatt, the Bands-and-Cabaret-manager. And evidently the topic was the proposed special New Year's Eve fête in the grill-room.

Amadeo Ruffo had been arguing against it, and one of his reasons was that Jones-Wyatt could probably not provide a first-rate band for only one night. Jones-Wyatt, a fullbodied, youngish man well versed in the musical, music-hall, theatrical and operatic worlds, had been half-heartedly opposing the scheme. But Ruffo's sinister suggestion had in a moment changed his attitude. Of course he could provide a band, and a first-rate band. They might leave the band to him; he would answer for it. He did, however, object to the cinema proposition, because the broad, square columns which supported the ceiling of the grill-room would prevent a good twenty-five per cent. of the revellers from seeing the screen in its entirety. (Nobody else had thought of this snag.) His idea was that the entertainment should be exclusively musical, and of the highest character, with a quartet of seasonable carollers and perhaps a soprano: which artists would be fully audible if not visible.

Immerson, in his soft, earnest tones, had espoused this idea. Immerson was strongly in favour of the general scheme, partly for its exciting novelty, but more because it would spread out before him fresh vistas of piquant publicity. Cappone, the Restaurant-manager, in the secrecy of his mind, did not approve the grill-room scheme, which, he feared, might impair the glory of his own fête in the restaurant, but loyalty to his colleague deterred him from expressing himself.

Those two marvellous smilers, Cappone and Ceria, smiled upon one another at intervals in touching amity. Several men were talking at once as Miss Cass appeared. Even the disinterested burst out now and then in loud, impulsive monosyllables. Keenness and animation were the note of the polemic. All genuinely and fervently desired to increase the prestige of the Imperial Palace, but some in one way and some in another. The scene had heat without hostility. Sir Henry Savott would have been flattered and delighted could he have witnessed the various liveliness of which a casual sentence from his mouth so richly furnished with teeth was the origin.

On the whole, feeling supported the scheme. Again and again the master-argument for it had been stated: namely, first, that about two hundred would-be roysterers had received printed forms expressing regret that every table in the restaurant had been booked; and, secondly, that it would be a pity to waste these ladies and gentlemen if they could be utilised.

Mr. Cousin was calm and impartial. He certainly was not averse to the scheme; nor was Pozzi. And Mr. Cousin considered that, as the panjandrum on the telephone had vouchsafed no opinion, still less a command, he was free to come to a decision on his own responsibility. During Evelyn's absence, he had grown accustomed to making decisions without reference, and at least twice when Mr. Dacker, whose telephoning to Evelyn sometimes clashed with his—when Mr. Dacker had disagreed with him, the 'alter ego' had yielded.

As for Miss Cass, she invaded the Conference with perfect assurance. She and her notebook had attended many conferences. She came now as a sort of papal envoy—slightly irritated because she did not know what message on what subject she was carrying. She was on familiar terms with everyone in the room, but as she walked briskly round the edges of the Conference to the back of Mr. Cousin's desk, she ignored everyone except Marian Tilton, to whom she gave the nod and feminine smile of superiority. She offered the foolscap envelope to Mr. Cousin:

“Mr. Orcham asked me to give you this.”

Mr. Cousin opened the envelope, and before reading its contents murmured to Miss Cass, who was turning away:

“Better wait a moment.”

Then he carefully perused the message.

“I think I will read this to you just as it is—it's from Mr. Orcham,” Mr. Cousin addressed the suddenly still Conference.

And he read:

“I can think of a number of reasons both for and against the very interesting proposal for arranging for a New Year's Eve festivity in the grill-room. But there is one reason which in my opinion outweighs all others and which ought to settle the point. The grill-room has always been a place free from every rule except that of good manners. At any time of day or evening anyone can enter it in any dress, and order any meal, which will be charged either à la carteor at a prix fixe according to the judgment of the manager. No formalities are observed. The grill-room has a very large clientèle which is aware of this state of things and counts on it. It is universally known as a restaurant of relaxation, where food of the finest sort can be eaten at ease and in quietness. Thousands of customers look on it as a retreat upon which they can rely. It is open every night of the year. No holiday or fête has even been allowed to disturb its normal course. What would its habitués think if one night its character were to be altered, and a definite menu and hour imposed upon them, with various unavoidable rules affecting dress, etc., and the introduction of music and a formal entertainment? Any such alteration would be a blow to the particular reputation of the grill-room. It would cause disappointment and possibly some resentment. Confidence in the stability of the policy of the grill-room would unquestionably be undermined. Which would be, I think, a rather serious matter.—EVELYN ORCHAM.”

Silence followed. The Director had spoken. He had issued no ukase. He had not employed his authority like a hammer. But he had uttered that formidable word: Policy. And he had advanced an argument which not one of his subordinates had thought of—or at any rate spoken of. Nobody in the Conference surmised in that dramatic moment that the panjandrum was as human as any of themselves. None knew that the incursion of Sir Henry Savott into the politics of the Palace had abraded Evelyn's most delicate susceptibilities, and that he had been shocked to get the first word of a proposed terrific innovation from a quite minor, if valued, person—old Perosi; and that these two things together had affected the whole trend of his thinking. The Conference could judge only of the final expression of the directorial reflections, and the final expression was so phrased as to permit of no answer.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Cousin, turning for an instant to Miss Cass behind him. In the redoubtable hush Miss Cass, diminished and yet very proud of her master's moral force, and taking some share of it to herself, left the Conference chamber.

“Well, my friends—” said Mr. Cousin, reserved, detached, apparently indifferent. But he offered nothing else to the Conference save a faint bland and undecipherable smile.

The Conference saw Ceria rise from his seat and slowly and silently walk out. The young man gave one glance at Miss Powler.

“If you will excuse me,” said Miss Powler to Mr. Cousin. And she too walked out. No other person in the room moved or spoke. The hush produced by the panjandrum's communication was protracted by the solemn, startling exit of Ceria; for all realised, with a sentiment akin to awe, that tragedy had been nearer than they thought. All were intimidated— and especially the emotional Italians—by the lamentable ravaged figure of the manager of the grill-room. Tears came into the eyes of the bright and worldly Marian Tilton. Miss Cass had escaped in the nick of time.

3.

Violet followed Ceria at a distance of twenty feet or so, into the great entrance-hall, across it, down the broad corridor leading to the empty grill-room, past the doors of the grill-room, into a narrow transverse corridor beyond, at the end of which was Ceria's office.

Ceria vanished into the office, leaving the door ajar. She knocked softly at the door. No answer. She went cautiously in. The room was less than small; it was tiny; but it was an office, a piece of private territory, and Ceria would now and then mention it with a certain complacency of importance: “My office.” Violet, however, had never heard of it, did not know what the room was till she saw it. Ceria was seated at a tiny table-desk, elbows on the blotting-pad, chin supported by the palms of the hands, staring at a Milanese sheet-calendar hung on the wall. He heard a slight cough, and sprang up, collecting himself in order to be manly, and summoning a fairly deceptive counterfeit of his famous smile. He was pale.

“I beg your pardon. Please,” he murmured weakly.

Violet did not know how to begin. Her wish was to soothe him and uplift him out of the despair which had been so alarmingly apparent on his wistful face as he walked out of Mr. Cousin's room. She had feared lest he might faint or do something silly—and no woman near to tend him! You never knew with these delicate, impressible foreigners. (As a fact she had formed an entirely wrong idea of the Latin temperament.) She could not bluntly say: “You shouldn't take it too hard.” Or something like that. She said, in a tone as commonplace as she could produce:

“About the special Floors-menu for to-morrow, Mr. Ceria. Could I have a copy of it to-day? It's useful to me to know beforehand what it is...If I'm not disturbing you too much.”

Ceria, with the approval of Mr. Cousin, had recently introduced a special short menu for meals in the private rooms. Upon request a special fixed price was made for it. The object of the device was to tempt visitors away from the full menus which contained dishes not easy to serve satisfactorily on the floors. Both menus were offered to the hungry, but visitors were quickly learning to choose from the special one because it simplified the plaguy task of choosing.

“Yes, certainly,” Ceria answered with forced animation “Please sit down. Have this chair. I'll find it. I'll find it.” He ferreted in a drawer in the table.

Violet did not sit down. Ceria failed to find the menu. Obviously he was not searching with any method in the untidiness of the drawer. After a moment he stopped, as if trying to reflect. His eye met Violet's.

“You ought to go home as early as you can this afternoon and do a bit of hard work in your beautiful garden,” said Violet impulsively.

In her expression and in her voice Ceria saw and heard the benevolent purpose of her intrusion. He hesitated, fumbling for the right course to take. His eyes moistened. Violet thought “How could I suggest his going back to that empty house, with nobody but a servant there?”

At length he said:

“At this season...one cannot work in the garden. What can one do in the garden?”

“How stupid of me!” Violet exclaimed. She really felt stupid. She knew nothing of gardens.

“And it is nearly dark at four o'clock,” Ceria added.

Another detail that Violet had most stupidly forgotten.

“But,” said Ceria, “I will go for a drive in my little car. I adore driving in the dark. I will go a long distance.” His smile became genuine, though it was forlorn, touching.

“How many days is it since you first thought of the fête in your grill-room?” Violet asked gently. “Not many.”

Ceria raised his eyebrows in assent.

“No. Not many.”

“Well, you are no worse off now than you were then,” said Violet.

“You are a very kind philosopher,” Ceria murmured. “Yes, you are very kind. I understand you. It is a lesson.”

“No, no!” Violet protested. “Please excuse me. I only thought of it.”

Ceria timidly extended his hand. Violet's hand advanced of its own accord. Ceria took it, and kissed it. To him the action was quite natural. But it thrilled Violet. Nobody had ever kissed her hand before, except in the make-believe of the amateur comic-opera stage.

Ceria relinquished her hand. And not a second too soon. For the face of Miss Venables appeared, as it were furtively, in the doorway. Instantly Ceria resumed control of himself.

“Come in, Miss Venables.”

The older woman nodded indifferently to Violet, then ignored her for Ceria.

“I'm leaving this afternoon, Mr. Ceria,” said she. “And I could not go without saying good-bye.” Her heavy, prim voice was as usual charged with a martyr's melancholy; but the intense glance of her dark eyes showed that Ceria's wistful smile could make its victims anywhere and everywhere.

“Well, thank you, Mr. Ceria,” Violet broke prosaically in. “Perhaps you could send that menu up to me. Or I will send down for it.”

“You shall have it at once,” said Ceria, in a style as prosaic as Violet's. He had nothing to learn from her or anyone about the use of vocal tone and facial muscles. None could have guessed, now, that five minutes earlier he had felt as if he were Violet's weak, clinging, passionately grateful child.

4.

Violet left quickly, without further notice of Miss Venables. Ceria took two steps to the door, and, behind Miss Venables' back, re-established intimate communication with Violet by one transient look. Violet crossed once more the entrance-hall with its ceaseless foot-traffic and quiet stir of visitors and officials and murmured colloquys and down-sittings and uprisings. And she ascended away out of all that wordliness in the lift, happy, jingling some keys and talking to the lift-man about weather, which he seldom or never had the opportunity to see in autumn and winter. And while talking she thought of Ceria as her grateful child, talented, brilliant, all-conquering—and pathetic.

Then she stepped from the lift into the withdrawn world of Eighth, where thick carpet dulled every sound of the corridor and shaded lamps gave a discreet mystery to hushed life. Afar off she saw the figures of two chambermaids—Beatrice Noakes and another—and a valet and a waiter gathered in a group. Eighth was their universe, of which each smallest phenomenon was familiar. For them the entrance-hall and the public rooms had no existence. The valet held in his hand a leaden weight attached to a long cord: apparatus by which he had just been clearing an obstruction in the letter-shoot caused by some too bulky envelope—a delicate operation more exciting to the personnel of the floor than any event in managerial offices.

At sight of the temporary head-housekeeper the group dissolved. The valet disappeared silently into his brushing-and-cleaning room, the waiter into his kitchen-and-pantry, a chambermaid, using a pass-key, into a bedroom. Only Beatrice Noakes was left. She moved towards the door of the head-housekeeper's sitting-room and confidently awaited Violet.

“There's a lamp-stand broken in 06, miss,” she said earnestly.

“But you've told me about that once, Beaty,” Violet answered, laughing.

“Oh! Have I? So I have, miss. Better twice than not at all, they do say. Yes, miss. I hear Miss Prentiss has gone, miss. And I know her trunks is gone. They're labelled for Gleneagles, miss.”

“I wonder how you hear of all these things, Beaty,” said Violet. “It's very clever of you.” She smiled; but she felt disappointed and a little grieved.

Prentiss had gone without a good-bye, even a good-bye of mere ceremony. Since the scene on the night of Mac's seizure, the well-bred Prentiss had spoken with her only in the way of work. Good breeding might have prompted her to some formal alleviation of the feud. But no! She had departed for the new northern post which, thanks to Palace prestige, she had obtained without any difficulty. She would never again be seen in the Palace. And how she would try to impose her unquestioned gentility upon Gleneagles, and how, after a few days, she would tear the good name of the Palace management into fragments!

“And what's the news to-day about Miss Maclaren, miss? I suppose you'll have been hearing?”

“A bit better. She's eaten part of an omelette.”

“Well, that is wonderful news, miss. An omelette! Do you think I might go and see her? Me and Daisy was saying last night as perhaps I might. Just to show like, if you know what I mean.”

“She'd be very pleased. But you oughtn't to stay more than ten minutes.”

“Oh no, miss! Such an idea wouldn't enter my head. I've got a wrist-watch and I should wear it, and I should look at it when I went in and...Miss Venables hasn't gone yet, miss

“I know,” Violet interrupted the flow. She realised now that Mrs. Noakes had mentioned the broken lamp-stand only in order to start one of her grand miscellaneous gossipings, for which she lived. “I've seen Miss Venables, downstairs.”

“Oh! I'm so glad she's seen you, miss,” said Beatrice, with exaggerated relief in her voice, thereby informing Violet that the female floor-staffs had been keeping careful watch on the great housekeepers' feud, and lusciously speculating as to whether any of the parties concerned would relent at the last moment either from human kindliness or from a sense of social decency.

“Let me come past,” said Violet quickly. “I've got plenty to do, if you haven't.”

Beatrice stood aside from the doorway and Violet entered her sitting-room and shut the door and sat down, but not to any task. She was pleased that Beatrice, misinterpreting her words, had assumed a reconciliation between Venables and herself. But she felt disturbed. Would Venables come and say goodbye, or would she not? The question filled her mind, so that she could not settle to desk-work, nor even to a round of room inspections, nor even to telephoning. She was entirely innocent, and yet she had a sensation of guilt.

Little secretary Agatha burst schoolgirlishly into the room, a question on her lips: “Anything urgent you want me to do?” Violet shook her head.

“Better go and get your lunch, if it isn't too early,” said Violet.

Agatha glanced at the clock.

“Five minutes,” said she, and went away again.

Violet rose and moved to the window, and stared at the lofty roofs of the ugliest building in London. Why couldn't people be friends? Why was the lovable Ceria lonely and sad? Why did Prentiss harden her heart? Would Venables harden her heart? Why was the world what it was, when it might so easily be different?...Violet looked at the clock. Nearly one hour had amazingly slipped by since she had come into her room; and a score of jobs remained undone. She must go down to lunch. She hoped that by this time Venables would have lunched and left the housekeepers' refectory. She could not have borne to meet Venables in the presence of others. She had been through that experience too often.

5.

There was a knock at the door. Venables primly entered. Violet was both relieved and affrighted. Her heart asserted its beat. She waited, cautious.

Venables said:

“I thought I'd tell you. They've just telephoned up that Mrs. Oulsnam has come.”

“Oh, thank you very much for letting me know, Venables. I suppose she'll come to see me. I was just going down to lunch.”

Mrs. Oulsnam had left the Majestic in order to come to the Palace, and Venables was replacing her at the Majestic. This was another of Evelyn's ingenious changes. Through the intermediation of Mr. Dacker the transaction had been carried out with the nicest regard for the pride of Miss Venables, who had received a letter from the Majestic management to the effect that it had heard that she was leaving the Imperial Palace, and that if she cared to call, etc. Evelyn now of course in fact if not in theory controlled the Majestic. But no one referred to the reality of the situation existing between the two hotels. Everyone pretended—and Venables more convincingly than anyone—that the Majestic had sought for Venables on her notorious housekeeping merits. As for the interests of the Palace, Mrs. Oulsnam produced an excellent reference. Miss Prentiss's post was not to be refilled; for Violet had worked out Miss Maclaren's plan for the reduction of the Palace Floors staff.

“Not at all,” said Venables.

“I do hope you'll be happy at the Majestic,” Violet exclaimed, with a sudden outpouring of goodwill which surprised even herself. Her features relaxed and her mood was lightened by the mysterious lifting of an obscure oppression.

“Oh, thank you, Powler. I feel sure I shall. You know the Majestic is going to be very much livened up. I heard yesterday they are to make a new carpet for the restaurant there at our works. But I expect you know all about that already.”

“No, I don't,” said Violet, fibbing in order to flatter Venables' superior knowledge.

“And here's my keys,” said Venables. Violet accepted the bunch.

A pause.

“Well,” said Venables, “I suppose I must be saying goodbye.”

She held out her hand. Violet gave it one little squeeze. In doing so she squeezed some tears out of Venables' eyes.

“I know it wasn't your fault. You couldn't help it,” said Venables in a broken voice.

Violet might have replied: “Couldn't help what?” But instead she replied: “I knew you knew. It's all right.”

Venables said:

“But I've never been treated like that before. Never. And you must admit it was very humiliating, dear.”

“I'm sure it was,” Violet agreed. “But it was for such a short time. It wasn't worth while appointing you head-housekeeper for such a short time as that. And you haven't been humiliated for long, have you?”

Not a word about Prentiss.

Venables brought her head forward and kissed Violet, and Violet returned the kiss and saw Venables' face very close. What a ruin, that complexion! Without doubt the old thing was feeling deeply her severance from the Palace, where she had served for so many years. And the poor old thing had now to face a new career in strange surroundings! “And,” thought Violet, “she'll go on being a hotel-housekeeper until she's old. And what then? And so shall I go on being a hotel-housekeeper till I'm old. One of these days I shall be as old as she is; and what then, for me too?” She could hardly prevent herself from crying, though she did not really believe that she would ever be as old and withered and desiccated as Venables. She was mournful. But she was happy. Venables went off with the subdued self-contemplating smile of one who has righteously performed his duty to society, recognising virtue in a junior colleague, increasing the sum of kindness, and with resigned courage fronting a hard world.

Chapter 47. NEW YEAR'S EVE

A quarter to nine on New Year's Eve. Although the festive dinner in the restaurant of the Palace was scheduled to begin at 8.30, a continuous procession of automobiles and taxi-cabs was entering the courtyard of the hotel, hooting to stimulate the dilatory in front, curving under the vast marquise, setting down bright women and sombre men, and curving away again back into Birdcage Walk, whose breadth was narrowed by double lines of parked cars. And high above the building, unseen from the region of the marquise, rose the flood-lit tower of the Palace, informing the West End by an admixture of red rays in its customary white that the occasion was special. Mowlem, the head-day-hall-porter, was himself active on the steps outside the portals with a corps of janissaries larger than usual, directing and speeding traffic, bowing to his numerous acquaintances among the visitors, and disseminating goodwill and good wishes in the keen air. The crowded scene in the entrance-hall, viewed from without, was brilliantly appetising, and an unanswerable proof that Britain was not yet quite the impecunious back-number which newspapers of all political parties had got into the habit of proclaiming her to be.

A car stopped, and Mowlem gave to the chauffeur a special word of dignified intimacy. And when the occupant descended from the car Mowlem saluted him with a special bow of courtly benevolence.

“A Happy New Year, sir, if not too early.”

“Thanks. Same to you.”

The arrival was Evelyn. He had chosen the main entrance, preferably to the Queen Anne entrance, because on grand occasions such as the present he enjoyed seeing his organization in the full press of work. He was still young enough in hotel management to be thrilled by the long lines of automobiles and by the whizzing of the doors and by the restless glitter of the thronged hall, down which he quickly passed, unrecognised, towards his private office. He beheld the display and saw that it was good.

Now the Imperial Palace dinner was not the only New Year's Eve hotel-banquet on that night. There were of course dozens, hundreds, of others up and down the land. But for Evelyn there was only one other: that of the Wey Hotel, Evelyn's first love and charge. Every year he saw the soup served at the Wey banquet. The Wey being a residential hotel, and almost in the provinces, its meals took place much earlier than those at the Palace. Evelyn had duly seen the soup served, and even the fish; and he had given to Mr. Plott, the Wey manager, the impression that really he would have liked better to usher in the New Year at the Wey, but that the more complex organism of the Palace was in urgent need of his watchful supervision, and so he must regretfully leave the Wey celebration to Mr. Plott's very adequate sole control. And the exigent Mr. Plott had been quite satisfied. Evelyn would say to old Dennis Dover that it would have been more than his place was worth not to make an appearance at the Wey on New Year's Eve.

Having titivated himself anew in his office, he travelled by devious service-corridors to the service-door of the grill-room; for he had a quarter of an hour in hand. He had received full reports of the Conference at which his communication to Cousin had had the effect of causing a stricken Ceria so dramatically to leave the room, and he felt therefore that he owed a state visit to Ceria,

As for Ceria, his kingdom was a grand sight to him that evening; for, surprisingly, every table was occupied or had been booked. The clothes of the diners exhibited all varieties of taste, from pull-overs and plus-fours to silken low-cuts, pearls, orchids and white ties. No sign of the seasonal fête except crackers and bits of holly (no mistletoe). Plenty of gaiety, plenty of champagne, and no music at all. A large number of celebrities and notorieties who demonstrated by their presence that they preferred a decent, simple Bohemianism to the elaborate formalities of the great affair in Cappone's restaurant. Ceria felt very flattered, and happiness radiated from his wistful, smiling face as he walked from table to table bowing and greeting. Indeed Ceria would not have exchanged places with the more important Cappone. He would have liked Cappone to see his array of the famous; for he was sure that for every 'somebody' that Cappone could show, he could show half a dozen.

At a table laid for three persons, half-hidden by a column, sat a young woman alone, in morning frock. She was reading a newspaper as she drank soup. Ceria stopped in front of her.

“Is everything as you wish, Miss Savott?” he earnestly enquired. The girl glanced up from the paper and nodded, smiling; and Ceria bowed and withdrew. The next moment he descried the panjandrum and went deferentially to meet him.

“Well, Ceria,” Evelyn murmured with much content and approval in his voice, “I congratulate you. You couldn't have done better than this if you'd had a dozen bands and the whole New Year rigmarole. You couldn't have done as well, because a band takes up a deuce of a lot of valuable room. Now could you?”

“No, sir. You are quite right.”

“You'll beat your record to-night.”

“I shall, sir,” agreed the delighted Ceria.

Evelyn thought:

“He's just like a child.”

The pair made a leisurely tour of the room, talking together and ignoring guests. They passed close by the table where the young woman sat so strangely alone. Her eyes did not leave the paper, and Evelyn did not glance aside, and Ceria was too obsessed by the general glorious aspect of his grill-room to give a thought to the interest which his chief might be expected to feel in any individual customer, however eminent the name. A minute later Evelyn left, by the service-door. Ceria then noticed a page-boy in converse with the solitary girl. As he arrived again at the table the girl was rising to go.

“You can have this table now,” she said to Ceria. “My friends evidently aren't coming.” He did not know that she had not been expecting friends, having naughtily secured a table for three in order to get ample space for herself. She dropped a form on the table for the waiter.

2.

In the foyer, which was now steadily losing more people to the restaurant than it was receiving from the entrance-hall, Evelyn could see nothing of Sir Henry Savott, who (as it had been finally arranged) was to be his guest for the evening. But the man could not yet be accused of unpunctuality; it still wanted one minute to nine o'clock, the hour of their rendezvous. What Evelyn did see was Cappone, the Restaurant-manager, talking with a rather troubled expression to Lord Watlington, and Mrs. Penkethman standing a foot or two away and carefully not listening. Evelyn divined at once from Mrs. Penkethman's dissociation of herself from the masculine colloquy that some difficulty had arisen, and he accordingly moved away, preferring to leave the conduct of Cappone's business entirely to Cappone. But Lord Watlington, still more familiarly known to his friends and the world as Harry Matcham—though two years had passed since his 'public services' had lifted him into the peerage—had caught sight of Evelyn, and totally ignoring both his lovely partner and Cappone, walked up to him, followed at a little distance by Mrs. Penkethman, while the astute Cappone descended abruptly into the restaurant.

His lordship was a man of forty-eight, of average height, but somewhat more than average girth, exceedingly dark, with coal-black hair and eyes. He bore some resemblance to his friend Sir Henry Savott. Indeed the imperfectly informed now and then confused the one with the other. Savott was dark, but Lord Watlington was darker. Savott's face was very broad between the ears, but Lord Watlington's was broader. Savott's gaze was piercing, but Lord Watlington's was more piercing. And further, Savott was a triumphant financier, but Lord Watlington was a man of wealth, wealth absolute, wealth realisable, not potential wealth dependent upon the turn of markets or the success of flotations.

Lord Watlington never touched enterprises which gambled upon the capricious tastes of the public. Thus he had a few days earlier rejected a wonderful offer from Savott to go into the cinema business. He had refused many temptations to acquire controlling interests in newspapers because (he argued) they were at the mercy of the big advertisers and the big advertisers were at the mercy of the uncertainties of trade and international politics. Instead of owning newspapers he owned mills which sold paper to newspapers. Instead of buying or building architectural structures, he bought ground-rents, that is, freeholds, and gave the risks of building to others. He was the largest shareholder in a large insurance company; ditto in a British subsidiary of a foreign bank; he was chairman of a very important Investment Trust Company. He was nothing if not gilt-edged. He had made his fortune and his position by the exercise of judgment, by his necromantic vision of the future, which after all was not vision but only an accurate weighing of probabilities, by his instinctive regard for essentials and his instinctive contempt for inessentials; and by nothing else.

Among various gifts Lord Watlington had the gift of creation. When a transatlantic liner was fully booked up he could create a suite in it for himself. When a fashionable first-night was sold out, he could create a box in it for himself within two hours of the rise of the curtain. From pride and on principle he never asked for accommodation in advance anywhere. Similarly he never carried money. Often he would borrow money for munificent tips—it was always repaid by cheque with a secretarial letter of thanks the next day.

In the previous week a slight coolness had supervened between him and Savott, who had playfully said to him: “Now, Harry, don't behave like a spoiled beauty.” He did not like the remark, which had enlightened him as to the secret attitude of his friends towards his idiosyncrasies.

On the afternoon of this New Year's Eve, Mrs. Penkethman had expressed a desire to attend the fête at the Palace. Harry had shown unwillingness, but when Mrs. Penkethman had added darkly and with resignation that no table could be had, Harry had immediately promised to take her. He had telephoned on the instant to Cappone, who had replied hopefully that, while no table was presently available, some table was almost sure to be cancelled, and he would have the greatest pleasure in reserving it for his lordship. His lordship had arrived with the beautiful Nancy, and lo! not a table had been cancelled. He, Harry Matcham Lord Watlington, could not be accommodated! He had not quite contrived to mask his sentiments. Incredulity was succeeded by indignation, and indignation by anger. He saw himself publicly humiliated in the eyes of Nancy. He was furious. To save his repute he would willingly have burnt down the Imperial Palace (which was amply insured in his own company, which had reinsured a large part of the huge risk in New York). Nevertheless in his frightful and unique quandary Lord Watlington accosted Evelyn with the airiest seductive nonchalance; for he was an actor of genius.

“Let me make you acquainted with the most beautiful woman in London,” he said, introducing Mrs. Penkethman. And then he explained his trouble, and said that he and Mrs. Penkethman must go elsewhere, and looked at Evelyn as though he confidently expected him to work a miracle. Evelyn enjoyed the spectacle for a few moments; it was as exquisitely agreeable to him as the flavour of a fine cigar. He knew by hearsay the fable of Lord Watlington. He cared naught for the presumed financial relations between Lord Watlington and Savott, author of the great hotel-merger. To inflict a horrible suspense upon Lord Watlington delighted the unchristian, too human panjandrum. Then he said:

“Nothing is simpler. I have a table, and if Mrs. Penkethman and you will dine with me I shall be charmed.”

Lord Watlington protested, and accepted. He had won. He was still Lord Watlington. He could still support the glance of Mrs. Penkethman.

Then Sir Henry Savott appeared on the stairs leading down from the entrance-hall, and handed his hat and coat with studied negligence to a powdered, silk-calved footman.

“Don't tell me,” Savott exclaimed. “I know I'm late. Three minutes. It's your traffic outside that did it”

“You aren't late, my dear fellow,” said Evelyn. “Every clock in the hotel is wrong. Lord Watlington and Mrs. Penkethman are joining us. Shall we go in?”

Both Harry Matcham and Henry Savott, behaving with nobility, utterly forgot the coolness which had been somewhat marring their business alliance.

Vast curtains had been drawn between the foyer and the restaurant, leaving room for only two persons at a time to pass down the six steps to the restaurant floor. An attendant was taking tickets from the entrants, but of course no tickets were demanded from Evelyn and his guests, who descended with sovereign freedom into the noisy, crowded, multi-coloured arena of the banquet. Few noticed the appearance of the three celebrities and of the panjandrum of the tremendous scene; for in the main the revellers were merely the well-to-do, who could afford three guineas a head for dinner (exclusive of wines). The exclusive smart were hardly represented on that night at the Imperial Palace, and the merely well-to-do are not familiar with the faces of celebrities; it needs the smart to recognise the smart.

3.

Lord Watlington comprehended, as in the wake of Evelyn the party wound its way to a table in a corner, why Cappone's attitude to him had been so immovably non possumus. The tables were packed so close together that not another could have been inserted among them. The waiters performed marvels of self-insinuation, though with all their skill they were continually kicking against chair-legs and thus annoying scores of diners, who looked round offended at the falsely-unconscious disturbers. The whole of the space usually reserved for dancing was filled with serried tables, and an annex of the restaurant, usually separated by a glazed partition which had been removed for this night only, was filled with serried tables.

On the site of part of the partition a gorgeous bandstand had been upraised. The band was playing fortissimo, but its majestic strains had to fight a battle against the din of shouted small-talk from one thousand pairs of lips; neither the music nor the small-talk could be heard sufficiently well to enable umpires to have reached a clear decision as to the result of the contest. Moreover the sense of hearing was impaired by the appeal to the eyes of flowers, silken decorations, Chinese lanterns, variegated frocks, glinting jewels, coiffures, vermilion mouths, shining eyes, suspended bunches of tinted balloons, and a huge clock with illuminated hands and roman figures.

Disorder seemed to rule; but beneath disorder was order, and the secret sign of it was the intent, absorbed faces of the industrious waiters who grimly toiled on in the one sure hope that the moment of surcease would come when the last course had been served, and the last bottle opened, and the last tip collected. Some of them already saw in a prophetic vision the restaurant dark and empty, the tables turned from white tops to green and the chairs piled in a series of scraggy heaps.

And round and round, bowing, smiling, placating, flattering, moved the young Cappone, apparently unaware of the heavy load of supreme responsibility which lay on his shoulders.

At the directorial table, for which Evelyn had ordered two extra covers before leaving the foyer, Mrs. Penkethman was put into the best seat, with her back to the corner and a full view of the panorama of the restaurant; Evelyn was on her left, Henry Savott on her right, while Lord Watlington had to be content with a view of Nancy and the two converging walls which framed her. The beautiful creature wore a very simple dark frock, to show that she did not take the fête very seriously, was indeed condescending to it. (On the popular night of New Year's Eve the world of the Imperial Palace was not her world; the majority of her friends were away either in country-houses or on the Continent.) But she carried a few trinkets, a bag, and a cigarette case whose richness would have suited the smartest entertainment that any expert (such as herself) in smartness could devise. She alone in the group was completely at ease and happy, her appetite for pleasure being unappeasable. She lived for pleasure; the pursuit of pleasure was her vocation, and the diversions which she called pleasures never cloyed on that robust palate. Also she had three men, and every important men, to herself.

Evelyn felt a little nervous; for the origin of the dinner was his desire to justify his boast to Savott that the Palace could and would serve a thousand absolutely first-rate meals simultaneously; his ridiculous conscience had prevented him from giving special orders in regard to his own table; and in spite of his Palatial confidence he was visited by qualms of fear lest something, some detail, might fail in perfection. Withal, he would accept the risk. Savott was slightly displeased because he had been anticipating the thoroughly intimate tête-à-tête to which Evelyn had invited him. Lord Watlington was disappointed partly because he had won a table only by favour and not by force, and partly because he had been anticipating a thoroughly intimate tête-à-tête with Nancy, who had remained in town to solace Harry's compulsory loneliness. All these three males had to be soothed, smoothed, enlivened, sweetened, guided into a mood of self-complacency, freed from cares and corroding worm-preoccupations.

Nancy was the queen, and the queen knew her business. Harry Matcham, who was not facile in sincere praise, though he would fling insincere praise about in trowelfuls, always said that she was the soothingest woman in London—he did not really believe that she was the most beautiful woman in London. Nancy knew that a bad first quarter of an hour might easily discompose a party for a whole evening; she knew that great and successful men were apt to be conscienceless in the matter of social amenities, and that in particular they chatted or kept glumly silent according to their caprice of the moment: she knew that any conversation is better than muteness or reluctant, sparse monosyllables; and she knew that in the game of small-talk personalities are always trumps. Therefore, no sooner were the four chairs occupied than she softly burst out in her soothing voice, to Sir Henry:

“And where is my darling Gracie to-night? Do you know, she's very naughty. I haven't heard from her for weeks, and she writes such amusing letters—when she does write.”

“Do you think I've heard from her, any more than you?” said Sir Henry, with an ironic smi1e. “I suppose she's in Paris. On the other hand she may be somewhere all by herself in the country near Paris. Last news I had she was writing a book.”

“A novel of course,” said Lord Watlington, also with irony.

“No,” said Evelyn, “I don't think it's a novel. She did say 5ornething to me about it, but I forget what. Sort of journal of impressions, I fancy.”

“Yes, you're right,” Savott agreed, startled by this inside knowledge of Evelyn's.

“Well, anyway it won't be like anything else,” said Lord Watlington. “She has more brains than any other woman I ever met—yes, my dear” (to Nancy) —“and you may rely on her to write down absolutely anything that comes into her head. You'd better see the proofs, Henry.”

“I should have to bribe the printers then, Harry. Gracie would die before she'd show them.”

“I always see Nancy's,” said Lord Watlington. “I've kept her out of trouble more than once. I can't imagine why she keeps on writing.”

“Who? Me?” asked Mrs. Penkethman plaintively.

“Yes, you!” Lord Watlington repeated with emphasis.

“Yes, you!” repeated Savott with emphasis.

Nancy divined that the two men were a little jealous of one another in regard to her. Alone with her, each of them was gentle enough as a rule. But both together, each seemed anxious to demonstrate to the other that his status with her entitled him to be rough.

“But I must write. I have to,” she said still more plaintively, enveloping both of them in the same tender, appealing, wistfully smiling glance. “You're my friend, aren't you, Mr. Orcham?”

“Count on me, Mrs. Penkethman.”

Nancy contributed, and sometimes she actually wrote, a weekly column of society gossip to the “Sunday Mercury.” The newspaper paid not for the column but for the signature, than which none could be smarter. Nancy got nearly all her meals free and half her frocks and hats; she had the run of at least a dozen country-houses; she had further an allowance of five thousand a year (not from her divorced husband). So that, being thus in a chronic condition of penury, she 'simply had' as she said, to write. Moreover, it was the correct smart thing to write a column of society gossip in a Sunday paper. If a smart young woman did not write such a column, the sole reason must be that she lacked the wits to write it. And Nancy, for all her sweet tenderness of demeanour, had wits.

4.

Sir Henry Savott changed the subject with the abruptness of a waiter changing one plate for another. The soup interested him, being a novelty and a very delicate novelty. At the first spoonful he stopped, impressed, thoughtful, curious, as to its ingredients. He praised the soup. It was entitled on the menu-card 'Potage Gracieux.' Nobody at the table, not even Evelyn, was aware that the name was Maître Planquet's subtle tribute to the charm exercised by Miss Savott during her visit to the kitchens many weeks earlier. Maître Planquet had made enquiries about the identity and station of Gracie.

“Gracie ought by rights to try this,” said Sir Henry, all unknowing, after his brief laudation addressed to Evelyn. Already he was beginning to be confident that Evelyn's boast as to the quality of the dinner which the Palace could serve to a thousand people at once would be justified. Already the gourmand in him was gaining ground; and, the soup finished, he anticipated the fish with eager hope.

Evelyn was thinking of Gracie, who had not been in his mind for a long time, thinking of her with appreciation. She had said that she would write a book, and she was writing, had written it. She was not of those who dream of authorship, start a book, drop it and relapse into futility. She had character. Yes, he was as much impressed by the news of Gracie as her father had been impressed by the 'Potage Gracieux.'

“That, I venture to think, is a unique hock,” Evelyn remarked as the wine-waiter filled the glasses. “Anyone who prefers champagne will kindly say the word. But that—isa hock.”

Sir Henry tasted.

“It is,” said he, after a moment's cerebration.

Evelyn felt sympathetic towards Sir Henry's gourmandise. There was satisfaction in feeding a man who, though he somewhat deteriorated into grossness at a fine meal, could passionately distinguish between a first-rate dish and a second-rate. Evelyn had long since quite forgiven Savott for attempting to interfere in the policy of the grill-room.

Lord Watlington had left half his soup. Also he had asked for a whisky-and-soda. Mrs. Penkethman had refused soup. Instead of soup she had taken a cigarette. “Barbarians,” thought Evelyn, of the peer and the lady. He was glad that he had not offered to the barbarians the barbarism of cocktails. And he was glad to think that Nancy had probably been (what she would have called) dying for a cocktail, while too well-bred and modest to demand one.

At the end of the fish the sight and taste of food and the quaffing of wine had accomplished their effect of stimulating the goodwill proper to the grandiose occasion. Not only Evelyn's table, but all the tables as far as the eye could reach across the vistas of white circles and squares, had loosed themselves into loquacity and open joyousness. The noise of the band was yielding ground to the human din. Tongues had been reinforced against the band by gifts from the management of whistles, rattles, and other instruments of music, crackers, and toy-balloons susceptible to explosion by puncture. Coloured balls were being thrown about between tables. Coloured streamers were being cast like long fishing-lines, coiling round the bodies of dignified men and elegant women, who in their gaiety found no offence in such entanglements. Perfect strangers merrily saluted and teased and slanged one another. Adults and the minds of adults diminished into children and child-minds. Dignity gave way to impudence.

And Sir Henry Savott continued steadily to eat and drink, and Nancy to smoke, while Lord Watlington was so far affected by his surroundings as to accept a second whisky-and-soda. Evelyn ate and drank little. His was the ultimate responsibility for the success of the fête; he was above Cappone, who perambulated watchfully to and fro, and above Cousin, who appeared first in one corner and then in another, also watchful. Maitre Planquet himself, in white cap and suit, peeped forth slily from the end of the corridor which led to the kitchens, to observe the sweet influences of his rich viands.

The hands of the great illuminated clock moved lazily on towards the minute which would mark the solemn inception of the New Year with its good resolutions and its bills. And despite the unseen labours of engineers deep down below in the subterranean halls tending the machinery which changed and washed and warmed and cooled the air of the glittering restaurant, the restaurant grew hotter and hotter. And no one cared. And as the crackers cracked, producing jewellery, wise mottoes, prophecies of destiny, and paper caps, the last supplemented by splendid caps, genuine caps, distributed by girls from baskets, there supervened the crisis which always arises at such a juncture. Elegant women donned the splendid caps without the least hesitation or self-consciousness. Would the men, even after having parted with their dignity? The men could not. The terrible fear of looking asinine prevented them from putting on caps. Then a V.C. of a man put on a cap, and felt himself an ass for no more than a moment. Another man put on a cap, and he was cheered by his shouting companions. Male craniums surmounted by caps soon dotted the room. Evelyn's table was encumbered with caps, as the floor was littered with knotted streamers and little balls and the wreckage of toy-balloons and crackers. Nancy Penkethman, capped, motioned to Evelyn to assume a cap. Smiling, he shook his head. Sir Henry Savott was invited similarly and refused.

“Harry!” said Nancy. Lord Watlington shook his head.

“Harry!” Nancy repeated. She was the queen, and the time had arrived for her to prove the reality of her power, which hitherto out of the instinct to acquiesce she had forborne to use.

Lord Watlington sheepishly put on a cap, and immediately he had done so his sheepishness left him. It was a magnificent cap, solidly constructed in the shape of a helmet, with an authentic blue feather in it. And Sir Henry Savott donned a cap. The fête was a success.

Nancy Penkethman relinquished her queenliness and her momentarily shrewish tone, and resumed the role of trustful acquiescence and subtle flattery.

“You look like winning—over this meal,” said Sir Henry to Evelyn, in reference to Evelyn's old claim.

“I hope you'll think so after the savoury,” Evelyn replied.

He alone at the table was capless. With him, Nancy had not insisted. She guessed that he was dreaming, preoccupied, absorbed by his dream. He felt sure, now, that the festivity could not fail. Nay, he felt sure that somehow in his gossip columns Immerson would make it the most marvellous New Year's Eve in all the history of London luxury hotels. But he was dreaming of more than the triumph of the festivity. He was dreaming of the future triumph of the gigantic merger of luxury hotels, of which he was the autocrat and the godfather. Both Sir Henry and Lord Watlington were indulging in the sweetness of the same dream.

Sir Henry was thinking, as he surveyed the riotous scene and digested the sumptuous food, and as he glanced furtively at the quiet, unassuming, laconic man who in his fancy rode the whirlwind and directed the storm:

“This fellow is the goods. He can't possibly let us down.”

And the brain of Lord Watlington, who had never before condescended to a New Year's Eve public fête, was busily at work reconstructing for himself the intricate and immense organisation which underlay the glowing surface of the show. And he was thinking

“There's a damn sight more in this fellow than some people might suppose, to look at him.”

In 'some people' Lord Watlington in fact included himself. He too had visions of a sensational triumph for the Merger, and thereby was made glad, for he was the chief of the plutocrats who in secret were lending their financial prestige and credit to Savott's scheme; and though he had ten times as much wealth as he could spend, he would have regarded the loss of a single penny of it as a heartrending and humiliating calamity.

The speech of none of the three men gave the slightest clue to his reflections. The table was talking incessantly, but the talk had no subject, scarcely a topic, unless it were the oddities of other revellers.

Evelyn was awakened from his reverie by the sight of a human being wandering, staring, searching with his eyes, among the tables. He knew from the human being's uniform that he was a telephone-man. There should have been nothing surprising in the sight of a telephone-man searching the restaurant. But this man's face was tragic in its alarm and apprehension. His face was enough to ruin the mirth of any festivity. Evelyn thought “This simply won't do.” Abruptly he rose from the table, and as the man happened to come nearer he peremptorily beckoned, and the man saw the gesture.

“What is it?” Evelyn murmured as the man bent respectfully towards him.

“There's a young lady very ill upstairs, sir, and I was looking for Dr. Constam. They said he was here, but I can't see him. And I can't see Mr. Cousin either.”

“Very ill, you say?”

“Yes, sir. Very ill.”

“What number?”

“365, sir.”

“What?”

“365, sir,” the man repeated louder.

The table was of course listening.

“I'll attend to it,” said Evelyn.

“365. That's one of my old numbers,” said Sir Henry Savott, who had overheard the number.

“Are you staying here, Henry?” Lord Watlington asked.

“No, Harry. I'm in my new house.”

“Will you kind people excuse me for a minute?” Evelyn asked. “I'm sorry, but—”

They excused him. He left the table, thinking: “Though why the devil I should attend to it I don't know.” On his way out he had to pass by the band, the volume of whose sound shook his poise as the weight of a cyclonic wind might have shaken it.

Chapter 48. TESSA

On his way to the third floor Evelyn in reply to a question learnt from the liftman that Dr. Constam had after all preceded him to No. 365. Evidently the doctor had been told by someone other than the telephone-man that his presence was urgently required up there; and the probability was that he had left the restaurant before the excited and confused searcher had begun to look for him. But the liftman could not say who were the occupants of No. 365; he was a stranger to that particular lift; on New Year's Eve many individuals were doing other individuals' work.

Evelyn knocked at the door of No. 365, one of the six or eight finest suites in the Palace. No answer. He entered. There seemed to be no sign at all of very grave illness in No. 365: no sound, no stir. The door of the lighted sitting-room was open. He went in.

Violet Powler was standing in the embrasure of one of the windows, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of an invisible St. James's Park. Neither curtains nor blinds had been drawn. The temporary head-housekeeper turned and saw Evelyn.

“Good evening, sir,” she greeted him, with placid formality. She was no longer the young woman who had smoked a cigarette in his castle on the night of his homecoming from the Continent. Indeed in the interval he had not seen her, though he had several times thought of her with satisfaction, approval, and confidence. He was about to demand somewhat abruptly by what remissness of a chambermaid the blinds had been left up and the curtains open, but Violet's steady glance moved him to control the hasty impulse.

“Someone very ill here, I understand. I looked in myself because both Mr. Cousin and Mr. Pozzi have their hands full.”

“Yes, sir. The doctor is in there, and I'm waiting to see if I can do anything else.” She pointed to a bedroom-door.

“Who's staying here?”

“Miss Savott.”

“Miss Savott—not Sir Henry Savott's—”

“Yes, sir...It's a miscarriage, sir,” she added, laconic.

The situation called for further exercise of self-control. The introductory tidings were in themselves astounding. Gracie in the hotel, and her father unaware! Why had the talk at the dinner-table turned at once on Gracie? And why had he himself taken the extraordinary course of enquiring into the affair personally? Could these questions be convincingly answered with the word 'coincidence'? Or were there in the universe forces, mysterious correspondences, telepathies, whose existence he had hitherto always rather disdainfully refused to credit? He still refused to credit their existence with his reason; but now, primeval instincts, powerful and authentic, fought within him against the scepticism of reason, and he was as perturbed as though he had seen a ghost.

“You don't mean to say that Miss Savott's here and she's—” Even as he uttered these words he charged himself with clumsy phrasing; but really for a moment he was somewhat overset: first an astonishing announcement, and then, right on the top of it, a staggering announcement! And on New Year's Eve! With what affrighting suddenness had he not been swept from the world of light pleasure into a world whose fundamentals were crude pain and disaster!

“Oh no, sir,” said Violet calmly, unsmiling. “It's a—friend of hers that she brought with her. I don't know the name.”

He had a tremendous sensation of relief, tempered by a dreadful private admission that he had made an unspeakable ass of himself.

Sound of pass-key in the outer door. Glimpse of a chamber-maid outside A lady advanced very quickly into the sitting-room. She wore a scanty evening frock, lilac-coloured, and a conspicuous, gleaming necklace of large crimson stones. Clearly she had come straight from the world of light pleasure.

“Yes?” Evelyn murmured.

“I'm dining in the same party as Dr. Constam,” said the reveIler, authoritatively, but in no accent of the West End or Oxford. “He asked me to follow him as soon as I could. I'm a nurse. Where is the patient?”

Violet made a step towards the bedroom-door; but the reveller reached it first, opened it, shut it, vanished into the sinister unknown of the bedroom: all in a few seconds.

“You don't expect to see them in party frocks, do you?' said Evelyn with a short laugh to cover his nervous diffidence. “But I suppose they're entitled to wear them just as much as other women.”

Violet gave a transient, reserved smile.

“When did this thing begin?” he enquired.

The head-housekeeper related that she had been summoned on the telephone by Miss Savott herself about half an hour earlier; but she suspected that the 'thing' had begun some little time before the summons. She had come downstairs instantly. She had felt helpless, and Miss Savott too. Of course Miss Savott and herself knew each other of old. The difficulty had been to get hold of the doctor. Miss Savott was much disturbed at first, but later she had grown perfectly calm and clear-headed. She knew something about nursing; and so did Violet; but what could they do till the doctor arrived? When he did arrive he said that there was no need for the head-housekeeper to remain in the bedroom. The head-housekeeper had gathered that the two ladies had had a bad crossing, and that that was perhaps the cause of the terrible trouble.

“It's amazing what pranks women will play with themselves,” said Evelyn, scandalised and sardonic. “Fancy a woman—! When was the birth expected, do you know?”

“I think the lady is over six months gone.”

“And them crossing the Channel on a rough day in the middle of winter!”

A silence.

The head-housekeeper noticed that the Director's eye was on the windows She said:

“The chambermaid told me she had drawn the curtains as usual, but Miss Savott had undrawn them again. Said she liked to see the lights. That must have been before the trouble started.”

Another silence. Then Evelyn said benevolently:

“I'm surprised to find you on duty to-night, Miss Powler. How is it?”

“Well,” said Violet, “it's not one of my evenings, and Miss Ducker—she's the newest, sir: Sixth—really did want to go to a party at Hammersmith, so I let her go. I'm easier in my mind if I'm here on the spot.”

“You shouldn't be. You must get over that.”

Evelyn offered this advice in a somewhat peremptory tone. He remembered the time in his experience when he was continuously uneasy during any absence from whatever organisation he happened to be in control of. He had conquered the weakness. She must conquer it. As head-housekeeper she had the right of priority over all her staff to a night off on New Year's Eve, and for the sake of discipline she ought to have exercised it. What about her lonely old parents with nobody to let the New Year in for them? And he would have preferred her not to address him as 'sir.' He had thought that the joint cigarette-smoking had ended that. Perhaps in the presence of other members of the staff it might be well for her to say 'sir'; but when they were by themselves...How could he give her the hint? Then he said, more gently:

“I think we might sit down.” And he sat down. Violet hesitated. “Sit down,” he repeated, but still gently. She sat.

She had shocked his masculine sensitiveness by the calmness of the use of the words 'miscarriage' and 'six months gone.' What could or should she, unmarried, know of such things? Her sister had not been married either. Absurd! As manageress of a big laundry staff, as head-housekeeper of a big place like the Palace with its very mixed assortment of humanity, she must be familiar with all manner of strange and dubious phenomena. Indeed nothing could be hid from her. The contents of the minds of such women simply would not bear investigation. What could such women have to learn about the secret nature of mankind? He would bet that she knew far more than he did: she knew appalling things. And not a sign of the knowledge of them on her tranquil, virtuous face!

“I don't know a lot about miscarriages,” he said, after a long silence (thinking audaciously: “I may as well talk to her in her own language"), “but it seems to me that that doctor of ours can't get on with his work without some—er—apparatus that he hasn't got in there. He didn't bring anything with him, I suppose?”

“No, sir. When he came I don't think he even knew what was the matter.”

“Well, it's all very odd to an amateur like me.” And he thought: “Why am I staying here? I can't be of any help. It must be just sheer curiosity that's keeping me here.”

Young Dr. Constam burst into the sitting-room.

“Oh, good evening!” he exclaimed, startled to see Evelyn. He was laughing. He said nothing else until he had carefully shut the door. Then he looked at Violet.

“It's no more a miscarriage than my boot. Everything's absolutely normal so far as that goes. Nothing but an attack of indigestion. I thought you ladies could never surprise me any more, but I was wrong. The creature puts out to sea, feels queer, fills herself up with champagne and God knows what. Train journey and so on. She gets here all right, and then as soon as the tension is loosed and she has time to think about herself she has rather acute indigestion. Pains in the tummy. Must be a miscarriage! Miscarriage be blowed! I tell you I told her I couldn't help laughing at her. That did her good.” He laughed unfeelingly, almost harshly. “Here I am eating my New Year's dinner, and I have to rush upstairs because a girl's got the collywobbles. The biscuit is hers, and I hope she'll have twins. I'm just going to find something to soothe her precious alimentary tract. Shan't be two minutes. No earthly need for you to stay, Miss Powler. Nurse is undressing her properly.”

“I say,” Evelyn stopped the young man as he was going out.

“Yes?”

“Who is she?”

“Ask me another, sir.” He was gone.

Violet had obediently risen to leave. Like Evelyn, she was more relieved than she could show. But, also like Evelyn, she had a sense of disappointment, of having been shamefully cheated of an anti-climax. Comedy had replaced tragedy; and in spite of themselves, in spite of their relief, they both instinctively regretted the change. There was something magnificent in dire tragedy, in the terror of it, in the necessity which it laid upon everybody to behave nobly and efficiently. But comedy demanded naught from their higher selves. All they had to do now was to fade ingloriously away.

“I'm so glad,” said Violet feebly.

“Yes.”

“Good night, sir.”

“Good night.”

Violet went. Evelyn stayed. He was determined to see Gracie Savott. He was there, and he would remain. He cared not a fig for his party below. Dr. Constam returned, hurrying into the bedroom with a bottle and a spoon. The stylish nurse appeared and departed quickly, ignoring the presence of the panjandrum.

Then Evelyn heard faint rumours of an argument in the next room. The doctor's voice. Another voice, no doubt Gracie's, though he did not surely recognise it. Then the doctor reappeared, smiling grimly to himself. He glanced at his watch and at the clock over the mantelpiece.

“Au revoir,” he said to Evelyn, in the masonic tone of one man to another when the vagaries of women are concerned.

Evelyn waved a hand, as if it were holding his stick.

“I must look a bit odd, sitting here,” he thought. But he stayed.

2.

The length of the eventless interval tried his patience. But he would not budge. He could hear automobiles hooting in Birdcage Walk. Till then his preoccupied ear had not caught a single exterior sound. The bedroom-door began to open. At last! The door remained half open for several seconds. Then it opened farther. He heard Gracie's voice, now quite recognisable, talking to her friend. He prepared a smile to receive her. Gracie appeared. She was now untidy, almost unkempt, in her traveling pull-over and short tweed skirt. As soon as he saw the expression on her face he dismissed the smile from his own. Gracie was still sternly excited. She did not in the first instant perceive Evelyn. Evidently she had been expecting the room to be empty.

“Oh!” she gasped, taken aback.

“I just came up to see how things were,” he said, rising.

“That was very kind of you,” she said absently, and she shook hands absently. “I wish that doctor of yours had been as kind—I suppose he's told you what's happened.”

“Why!” Evelyn said, nodding an affirmative to the question. He spoke soothingly, cautiously, as he shut the bedroom-door, which she had forgotten. “He hasn't been unkind, has he?”

“Yes, he has been unkind, very unkind,” Gracie answered with emphasis. And while she spoke Evelyn recalled from the past the rich, changing tones of that voice. “He laughed. That's what your doctor did. Laughed. That was all he could do. Doctors are awful, especially when they're young. Cruel. They don't seem to have any imagination.”

“But everything's all right, isn't it?” Evelyn said, even more cautiously. He thought: “She'll want some handling.”

And he contrasted her impetuous, agitated vehemence with what Violet's demeanour would have been in Gracie's place. He wished for one moment that he had not stayed. Nevertheless he was admiring Gracie, her exuberant vitality, her passion—one might almost say her exaltation. She showed no restraint in his presence. The freedom of her behaviour could only be explained on the assumption that they were intimate. Evelyn accepted the assumption. It was based not on their excursion to Smithfield together, nor on their incursion into the Prince of Wales's Feathers. To Evelyn at any rate it was based on the angry resentment in her voice at their last parting, when he had offered to escort her from his office to the lift, and she had suddenly turned on him like an infuriated tigress, saying, “No, Please! I couldn't bear that!” She could not possibly have forgotten her rudeness in that encounter. Yet she was now behaving as though nothing unpleasant had happened between them.

“Everything's all right,” she agreed impatiently. “But that's not the point. That poor girl's going to have a baby. Which is something, I hope, in a girl's life. She thought she was in for a horrible mess. I thought so too. How could she tell it wasn't that, much less me?...Last May it was—she'd been making love. She's been carrying that baby for over six months. Fancy what it means, all that. Night and day. Well, of course you can't. But I can. I've seen it all the time. I tell you it's simply terrific. And then she thinks she's going to lose the baby. All that trouble for nothing! Wasted in a most frightful mess! Can't you feel it? Can't you feel the awfulness of it? Couldn't the doctor feel it? She was mistaken. She wasn't going to lose the baby. But her agony—yes, agony—was just as real to her as though she had been going to lose it. And this doctor of yours merely laughs at her! Jokes! What does he think a woman is? He doesn't know the first thing about being a doctor. Any fool who's passed his examinations can tell the difference between a miscarriage and a bad attack of tummy-ache. But it takes a man to feel. And that doctor can't. He isn't a man. He's a—there's no word for him...Teases her about some champagne she'd had, on the top of some peaches and some seasickness medicine! Well, if you want to know, it was I who gave her the champagne, and I gave her the peaches. It isn't as if I hadn't had her examined before we started. My French doctor saw her. He said she was in splendid health. Never seen anyone better, he said, and it was perfectly safe for her to travel, and if she did have a bit of a shaking up it wouldn't do her any harm. And the voyage wasn't really so bad. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad, though it was rather worse than we expected, I admit. And she was quite all right till she had the champagne on the train. Even here she walked by herself to the lift. She was so much all right that I went down to the grill-room to eat something. But as soon as I'd gone her nerves went queer and the pains began. She rang and I was fetched. I can understand it well enough.”

“Yes, yes,” Evelyn agreed, appeasingly. He felt as guilty as if he had been Dr. Constam. “Who is this young lady?”

Gracie hesitated.

“Tessa,” she answered in a low tone.

“Tessa?”

“Yes, Tessa Tye, my maid.”

“I don't think I've seen her.”

“Of course you've seen her. She came into the hotel with me that morning when you were standing in the hall. Very pretty. And rather smart too. Don't you remember. She's pretty enough for any man to remember.”

“Oh yes,” Evelyn did remember. A lackadaisical and self-conscious creature. Pretty? Yes. But he wouldn't have said very pretty. He was thunderstruck. He said: “Married?...Or not?”

“Why do you say 'or not'? Why shouldn't she be married? Can't maids be married? Can't they have their own lives like other people? However, she isn't married, as it happens. That's why I made up my mind to look after her. It may interest you to know—I haven't told anyone else—to know that when we got here that first morning she tried to commit suicide. Opening a vein with a pair of scissors. Yes, that was how she felt then. That was why I kept you waiting before you took me to Smithfield. Oh, I didn't find out till later what it was she'd been up to. I thought it was an accident with the scissors. But I got it out of her in the end, when I noticed her body and it was staring me in the face! I couldn't believe it at first—you never do...Some half-English, half-Belgian rotter she'd fallen in love with in Paris. She fell for him and then he ran away. She didn't know his address. I doubt if she knew his real name. She carried that baby to New York with me and back again. And I hadn't guessed—it wasn't till after we'd gone to Paris again from here that she confessed. I wasn't going to throw her over then. No! What I had to do was to put some self-respect into her. I took her to St. Cloud. It suited me, because I wanted to be quiet to write my book. A little hotel there. Only one bathroom for the two of us. I called her a friend of mine, Mrs. Tye. I could see her growing before my eyes. We made no bones about it. We went around for walks just as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. And so it is. When we left St. Cloud you could see how she was half a mile off. Some of them must have noticed it in the hall downstairs this afternoon, though she was wearing a big cloak. She's been maiding me just the same. It wouldn't have done for her to be idle. And the doctor, I mean the French one, said it would do her all the good in the world to work—stoop, run about—you know. And she's a different girl. It's set her up. She used to be anæmic and namby-pamby. All that's gone. It'll be the making of her.”

“But why have you brought her here to London?”

“I brought her because I had to come about my book. And I thought we should be as safe here in a big hotel as anywhere.” Gracie paused on a self-conscious half-smile. “I couldn't leave her behind. She'd have fretted to death by herself. And I don't quite see why my business should be held up because she's going to have a baby. She's got to take the rough with the smooth, the same as the rest of us. Don't think I coddle her. I shall be coddling her in about ten weeks' time, I expect. But not yet. We shall only be here for a few days. I've made all the arrangements at St. Cloud.” Gracie tossed her head as it were defiantly, and sat down.

Evelyn, agitated, astounded, admiring, very respectful, walked to and fro in the room. He could not express his sensations. “Not now. Not yet,” he kept saying to himself.

“Does your father know?” he asked, in a voice artificially negligent.

“No. Of course he doesn't know. Why?”

“Well, he's dining with me at this moment. That's all.”

“Here? In the hotel?”

“In the restaurant. Him, and your friend Mrs. Penkethman and Lord Watlington.”

“But I heard from him at Christmas. I thought he was going to the Bahamas for a holiday.”

“He may be. But he's dining with me to-night. I left them to come up here.”

“Does he know I'm here?”

“He does not.”

“Is he staying here in the hotel?” She seemed to be really apprehensive.

“No, he's in the new house, so he told me.”

“And I haven't seen it.” Genuine relief in her tone. “Well, he must be frightfully taken with the new house. This is the first New Year he's spent in London for years. If I'd known he was to be in London I shouldn't have—”

The bedroom-door opened—was pulled open from the other side. Evelyn was near the window, and Gracie's face, as she looked at him, was turned a little away from the door. Tessa entered. Evelyn saw her first, and before Tessa saw him. She was wearing a peignoir, splendid enough to be one of Gracie's. It was boldly tied above the waist. No concealment of her condition. But a shameless display of it. The central character of the piece was indeed superbly enormous. Pale, worn, pretty face. Tousled bright hair. Thin bust. And then the swelling curves of approaching motherhood. Evelyn was thrilled. Tears came suddenly into his eyes. He blushed. “'Interesting' is the right word for it,” he thought, thrilled again and again. He exulted in the girl's appearance; at the same time it put a deep solemnity into him. All this in a fraction of a second.

“Tessa!” cried Gracie, outraged. She had followed the direction of Evelyn's acutely perturbed glance. “What in God's name are you doing? Go back to bed this instant and keep warm.”

Tessa had now seen Evelyn. She gave a faint cry of alarm and vanished. Gracie jumped up and shut the door with a bang. The large room with its plenteous and ornate furniture, and its dozen electric lights, was emptied of a capital presence, impressive, foolish and pitiful.

“Fools girls are!” Gracie exclaimed, and went on quickly: “Well, I think you'd better go back to your dinner now. And mind, don't say a word to father. He'd go in right off at the deep end. You don't know father.”

“Very well. I don't,” said Evelyn. He thought: “What separate lives they lead! And her mother—somewhere in the background.” They shook hands. “Good night. I think you're wonderful. This is the greatest story I ever heard.” What he appreciated as much as anything else in her recital was its breathtaking matter-of-factness.

She said:

“Everyone's wonderful when it comes to the point.”

Chapter 49. NEW YEAR'S MORNING

As, in the restaurant, Evelyn with difficulty made his way back towards the table of which he was the host, he saw from the intent faces of Lord Watlington and Sir Henry Savott that these two were engaged in some sort of recriminatory argument, while Nancy Penkethman was glancing aside as if trying to dissociate herself from the affray. The rather simple-minded Nancy, however, was not a very good actress. Her expression betrayed a certain constraint. Yet it betrayed also a certain satisfaction, which sprang from her intuitional knowledge of the pleasing fact that she herself was the prime cause, though of course not the occasion, of the discord.

“So glad to see you again!” she greeted Evelyn charmingly, and at the same time bestowed upon Harry and Henry in equal proportions a charmingly mischievous smile.

“I'm extremely sorry to have been so long,” said Evelyn, feeling that he had not arrived a moment too soon. “I really couldn't help it. You know, you never do know what will happen next in a hotel.”

The demeanour of the other two men changed instantly from the bellicose to the perfectly peaceful. And indeed their material interests and their prestige were too closely interwoven to permit of anything worse than a tiff occurring between them; assuredly no woman on earth could have estranged them, for each of them had a hard realistic sense of the relative unimportance of women, beautiful or plain, in the world of their ideals.

“We were beginning to suspect a fire had broken out somewhere upstairs, and you were keeping it dark for the sake of business,” said Lord Watlington with a laugh; and Evelyn laughed.

“No,” he said shortly. “It wasn't a fire.” He perceived now the risks which he ran in concealing from Savott the presence of Gracie in the hotel. Savott and he were working together in the enormous enterprise of the Merger and on a basis of the utmost candour. Sometimes they even used their Christian names to one another. Supposing that Savott were to discover Evelyn's uncandid reticence concerning Gracie, and their cards-on-the-table friendship were to be imperilled! Pooh! Savott could discover nothing. Gracie would be off again in a day or two. Moreover, it was no part of Evelyn's duty to be aware of the identity of every visitor in the largest luxury hotel on earth. Withal, Gracie evidently suffered from a characteristic girlish deficiency in the sense of danger. Pooh! Dissension between father and daughter could not conceivably bring about dissension between Savott and himself...Why, if Gracie seriously wished to avoid her father, had she chosen to come to just the Imperial Palace? Her stated reason for doing so was not very credible.

Evelyn's thoughts ran on in this vein. But absolutely no clue to them could be seen in his bearing. He was a master of duplicity when circumstances demanded it.

The restaurant, if as noisy as ever, was less crowded. A ceaseless procession of revellers was passing out in obedience to a large, painted, pointing hand and a notice which said: “Ballroom. Attractions.”

“I think now is the moment for us to go and see these mysterious 'attractions',” Evelyn suggested. “It will be midnight before we know where we are, and by midnight we simply must be here again.”

“But your dinner, darling!” said Nancy Penkethman, all of whose acquaintances were her darlings. “You haven't eaten a mouthful.”

“No, I haven't,” Evelyn concurred. “Unless soup, fish, and entrée are worthy to be called a mouthful. But there'll be some supper after Auld Lang Syne.”

Nancy having lighted a new cigarette, they rose and went, Nancy and Evelyn in front. The high financiers behind were now fondly Henrying and Harrying. Henry's flushed organism was engaged in the true business of a gourmand at the end of a good luscious meal. Harry, as usual with him, had eaten little, but he had honoured the approach of the New Year with a fair number of whiskies.

The broad corridor leading to the ballroom section of the public apartments was full of jostling people, men and women, in the same condition as Harry and Henry: relaxed, released into a careless and quasi-shameless jollity, with neckties somewhat disarranged, frocks somewhat disarranged, splendid comic hats awry, ill-controlled mouths, loose smiles and laughs, loud tongues. Evelyn could feel their bodies, male and female, against his, see their faces very close: humanity in the mass, odorous, multitudinous, flippant, saucy, brazen, free of social discipline. The too populous corridor was like a suffocating tunnel made light and brilliant by pale toilettes, rouge, exposed flesh, and jewels.

The party reached a large ante-room, round whose walls had been ranged a series of concave and convex mirrors which, distorting everything, changed beauty into the horribly grotesque, dignity into ridicule, decency into the obscene. The reflections excited high mirth and salvos of hysterical shrieks. This, the first of the attractions, was an immense success of humour.

Next, the ballroom, which, with space for two hundred couples to dance, contained only seventy or eighty persons, who watched a stage-spectacle of three youths throwing crimson, glittering Indian clubs at one another apparently with intent to kill. But the flying, revolving clubs seemed to have a magic life and volition of their own; they flew into hands, criss-crossed in parabolic curves, lodged themselves incredibly between arms and torsos, dropped unerringly into pockets. They could make no mistakes; they were tireless on their unending shuttle journeys to and fro; the youths alone gave signs of effort and strain beneath their stage-smiles. The spectacle was a dazzling exhibition of dexterity on the part of the clubs, assisted by the three youths. But the sparse audience, while applauding at intervals, did not increase.

The third and greatest attraction was in a third room beyond. This room was so jammed with spectators that Evelyn's foursome could not get into it at all. They had difficulty even in maintaining a position at the wide doors. Guffaws, giggles, shouts rose out of the dense floor of heads like invisible raucous birds. The heat was tropic. At the end of the room, on a dais, Punch, popping up and down in a small oblong of a proscenium, was exhibiting his domestic and conjugal existence with Judy, policemen, maids, and executioners. Murders were being committed at express speed; the law was derided; and Toby watched the farcical tragedies with canine indifference.

Nancy, pouting, complained that she could see nothing. Suddenly Lord Watlington picked her up by her slim waist, and perched her on his shoulders—a feat which persons in the vicinity warmly applauded with cheers. Nancy laughed like a schoolgirl. The drama went on and on; and still on; repeating itself. Nobody was bored for a moment: everybody was passionately interested in the fate of wooden puppets.

Then, just behind the foursome, a matchless organ-voice, triumphing easily over the din, cried solemnly, warningly, imperatively: “Ladies and gentlemen. A quarter to midnight.” It was the voice of the renowned chief toast-master of the Imperial Palace, in a red coat and knee-breeches. Lord Watlington deposited Nancy on the parquet; otherwise the admonition was ignored. But in a moment the curtain fell on the career of Punch, and at once the room began to empty. The foursome were shoved backwards with violence.

“What are you laughing at?” Nancy asked Evelyn as she smoothed down her skirts; she feared that something was amiss with her attire or her face.

“Punch and Judy of course,” Evelyn reassured her.

It was not the truth. He was laughing, quietly to himself, at the thought of the mistake of Tessa and Gracie about Tessa's condition. Suddenly it had struck him as extraordinarily funny. He sympathised with Dr. Constam's unrepressed mirth. It was the funniest thing he had ever come across. And Gracie might say what she chose in protest. It was really funny. But to savour its funniness your sense of humour had to be robust. The pilgrimage back to the restaurant was a retreat from Moscow; people fell by the way; insecure possessions were torn off in the mêlée and some of them never seen again.

2.

In the restaurant as, breathless, the party struggled to their table and dropped into chairs, the great clock showed five minutes to midnight. Theatre chorus-girls dressed as ballet-dancers were entering; they carried clusters of balloons high on the ends of long sticks, and men stood on chairs to take balloons; explosions resounded. Processions of trumpeters trumpeting, and of beef-eaters not eating beef, entered the restaurant with excessive pomp. The band played “Tipperary.” The colour, the noise, the heat were all increased. Every light went out, except the festooned Chinese lanterns and the illuminated dial of the great clock. In the dusk the last loiterers scrambled to their places.

The minute-hand of the great clock crept up to the hour-hand until the two joined on XII. The band was stilled. The chief toast-master, in front of the lower storeys of the clock, raised his mighty arm. The revellers obediently stood to their feet. The band resumed, in a new strain. Nancy crossed her thin bare arms. The three men hesitated, shamefaced. Then Nancy's right hand took Evelyn's left, and then eight hands were clasped in the traditional fashion. And every revelling hand at every table was joined to another, and soon arms were moving up and down to the rhythm of the music. The three men hated the ceremony. Only Nancy in her simplicity enjoyed it. She sang first; Sir Henry Savott then sang loudly; Evelyn hummed; Lord Watlington remained obstinately mum in the sheltering dusk. Gradually the revellers lost their shamed self-consciousness, and sang and wagged their arms with a will.

The waiters around the room, and the two black-robed girls behind a control desk in a corner, had no share in the grave rite. Serious, preoccupied by their duties, they were cut off from revelling humanity. The advent of New Years was naught to them.

The ageless song ended. The lights blindingly went up. The band jumped gloriously into the feverish waltz from “The Meistersingers.” The waiters started into life. The revellers shook hands and exchanged fervent good wishes. Seven minutes had passed, but the hands of the great clock had not budged. They marked an everlasting midnight. They would not venture into the New Year. Time stood still.

A young man in a wondrous white waistcoat advanced smiling and victorious towards Evelyn's table. He bowed indiscriminately to the party.

“Well, sir?” he addressed Evelyn.

“All my congratulations. Not a single hitch. A Happy New Year,” said Evelyn.

It was the Bands-and-Cabaret-manager, Jones-Wyatt, who had been responsible for all the complex arrangements except those connected with food and drink.

“Thank you, sir. Same to you.” He bowed and retired, content.

A little later Lord Watlington made an abrupt sign to Nancy Penkethman, who submissively rose.

“Well, my dear host,” said Lord Watlington very urbanely and smilingly expansive. “It's all been extremely impressive. I admire your organisation as much as I like your hospitality. Ever so many thanks. You'll excuse me if I go. I can't stand up against late hours.”

“So sweet of you, Mr. Orcham,” said Nancy, clinging to Evelyn's hand. “I've simply loved it. I never had such a New Year's Eve before. Thank you ten million times.”

“Very good of you to come,” said Evelyn lamely.

“Bye-bye, Henry.”

“Bye-bye, Harry.”

Henry put a chaste kiss on Nancy's cheek. The departing pair were gone. When Harry decided to go he always acted on the decision with ruthless promptitude.

Then Henry went, offering the same excuse as Harry.

Evelyn was alone in the renewed multitudinous champagne orgy of the restaurant. But within less than a minute Sir Henry Savott returned, rather bustling. He would have passed as perfectly sober had he not been a trifle too sure that he was perfectly sober.

“I say, Evelyn,” he said brusquely, “what day are you going back to Paris? You are going, aren't you?”

“Yes. But I can't settle the date till I hear that the Concorde manager—what's the name, Laugier?— has got over his attack of flu and can answer questions.”

“I can tell you that now,” said Sir Henry. “He was back at work to-day. A fellow told me before I came here to-night, who'd seen him this morning at the Concorde.”

“Oh! Well, then, I may go as soon as I've wired him and got his answer. I'll telephone you.”

“I'll see you before you start?”

“Certainly.”

Sir Henry departed for the second time that New Year's morning. Evelyn could explain his return only on the supposition that he had preferred to keep out of the entrance-hall until Nancy and Harry were clear away.

Cappone, as fresh as dawn, arrived at the table and suggested that the panjandrum had insufficiently eaten. Cappone could watch over the eating of a thousand guests, and not least of the panjandrum's. Evelyn agreed to consider a couple of kidneys, which Cappone, having received congratulations from his chief on the complete smoothness of the jollity of the grand revel, went off into the kitchen to order personally from Maître Planquet.

The revel could not die. It was now more vivacious than ever. With the kind consent of the Licensing Authority, champagne and other alcohol was still being generously served and quaffed. And a fair proportion of guests, having convinced themselves that the New Year's Eve dinner was finished, were starting the New Year well with a New Year's morning supper. When the kidneys were eaten, however, a few craven roysterers were already leaving, and a deserted table here and there showed plain white. The great clock was now more than an hour late...

She was a unique young woman, was Gracie. Her phrase, 'I had to put some self-respect into her,' stuck in Evelyn's mind. She evidently had a sense of fundamentals. She had done, was doing, a marvellous work with the silly, tragic Tessa. He thought of the two of them up there in suite 365—and the unborn. He pictured the luxuriant embossed figure of the foolish Tessa, one instant in the bedroom-doorway. If it could suddenly appear in the midst of the hot, wild-fire revel presided over by Bacchus, Pan, Venus, and all the gods of luxury—what a sensation, what a menacing reminder of the inexorableness of life!

Why had Gracie chosen the Imperial Palace? She had a sense of fundamentals, yes; but there were streaks of folly in her wisdom. He felt obscurely that she was a girl capable of enormities which might be magnificent, but they would be enormities all the same. She frightened his deep prudence.

He rose and strolled through the deafening chatter and clatter and tinkling towards the kitchen, still in full-heated activity, there to bestow upon Maître Planquet and three important sub-chefs a reward which could not be measured in money. When he slowly re-entered the restaurant a refreshed orchestra had just replaced an orchestra which had blown and scraped and drummed itself dry. The orchestras—he had been forgetting them! After a moment he went downstairs to the band-lounge, a nondescript, large room where a score of aristocratic, exhausted toilers in evening dress, whose earnest efforts were requited with five hundred pounds a week from the Imperial Palace treasury, lounged in easy-chairs and on sofas, and languidly smoked cigarettes and imbibed drinks served to them by their own waiter and valet. None but the conductor seemed to recognise Evelyn in the haze.

“Boys, here's the boss!” said the conductor succinctly, after he had condescended to the panjandrum's hand. “Wish him a Happy New Year.” The musicians lifted themselves reluctantly from the chairs and sofas, and in turn condescended to the panjandrum's outstretched hand, and drank in eagerly the sweetness of his prepared phrases...Duty done! The panjandrum thought of the grill-room and wistful Ceria. To the grillroom then, via a couple of service-bars, a glass and cutlery reserve, down more stone steps—and there his accustomed ear could catch the faint whir of a dynamo deep in the earth's entrails—up steps, up more steps, along a narrow stone corridor, bang into the mirrored resplendence of the great entrance-hall, across which a stream of coated and cloaked and subdued revellers had by this time set outwards. In the grill-room corridor he met Ceria himself. Exchange of good wishes.

“You finished?”

“Nearly, sir.” Ceria pointed through the glazed wall. The interior of the grill-room was an expanse of plain white tables; only three or four tables were occupied; there were twice as many waiters as guests.

“Well, you've had a good evening.”

“Wonderful, sir.”

“Going to have a look at the restaurant, eh?”

Ceria unwillingly admitted that this was so. They went back together to the foyer and glanced through the curtains. A pallid and fatigued page-boy accosted Ceria with a message. Ceria's appreciation of the rich, variegated, intemperate scene was indifferent.

“Noisy,” said he with his wistful smile, and dismissed it.

The great clock was now nearly two hours late: it seemed to dwell with serene self-approval in the eternal stillness of divine perfection. The pair had to move aside from the opening between the curtains to give room for a group of departing roysterers.

Evelyn thought of Violet Powler, nun-like and secluded far aloft in her bedroom on Eighth, probably asleep. Ceria bade him good night. Yet another ten minutes and the panjandrum was standing behind the Reception counter in the hall, talking to Reyer. He talked to the deferential Reyer for a long time. They watched the brilliant outgoing stream dwindle and dwindle, then increase in a sudden spate, and dwindle again. Now was the harvest of the cloak-rooms. Evelyn heard, from beyond the ever-revolving doors, the hooting of cars; he could see their lights flashing.

He thought:

“Why the devil did that girl choose this place to come to? It couldn't have been because she had a notion she might perhaps come across me again here, could it? She never apologised to me for her damnable rudeness about her party.”

As for himself, he wished to see her again, but not his should be the first move towards a meeting. Never! He would die rather. More and more revellers carried forth their uneasy consciences into the chill night air to confront the New Year and imagine good resolutions and the turning over of new leaves. The fête was done.

Chapter 50. IN THE RAIN

“You remember you promised to go one night to that Shaftesbury Express lunch-and-supper-counter place. Have you been?”

Rather an abrupt stand-and-deliver sort of an opening for a telephone conversation at 10 p.m., thought Evelyn, startled. He was alone in his office, smoking a cigar and drinking mineral water.

“What on earth place do you mean?” he parried, quite intimately responding to Gracie's tone. The talk between them on the previous evening had somehow re-established their intimacy of Smithfield and the Prince of Wales's Feathers. But he knew very well what place she meant. He had forgotten Charlie Jebson's proud announcement of his position as a restaurateur. She had not forgotten it. Nor, probably, he said to himself sardonically, had she forgotten the fine masculine figure of young Charlie Jebson.

“Oh, dear! What a memory!” came the reply, and Evelyn heard her light laugh. She recalled the incident to him.

“Oh yes!” he said. “I do remember something of the kind.”

“Well, have you been?”

“No. It's never crossed my mind from that day to this.” He thought: “I bet anything she wants me to take her there tonight!”

“Well, don't you think you ought to go? A promise is a promise.”

“But surely it was you that promised to go,” he fibbed.

“Now don't pretend!” came the rich voice, very firmly. It might have been a kindly reproof from an elder sister! To her he was evidently no panjandrum; and he enjoyed not being a panjandrum. “You know as well as I do it was you who promised.”

“Well, one of these days I will go,” he said vaguely.

“That's just the same as saying you haven't the slightest intention of ever going. I should like to go to-night. Let's go.” Cajolery in the tone. “Are you in evening dress?”

“I am not,” he said. “I was in evening dress till pretty nearly three o'clock this morning, and I'm taking a night off, if you've no objection.”

“That's splendid,” came the voice, eagerness in it. “It will be a night off. If you'd been in your glad rags, we could hardly have gone. An Express counter isn't quite a suitable atmosphere for a boiled shirt. Shall I come down?”

“But listen—”

“No, I won't listen,” came the voice. “Because I know exactly what you'd say if I let you. That's perfectly all right. You and daddy are so thick in these days, it's perfectly all right for your highness to be seen with me anywhere at any hour. And you needn't worry about not telling daddy that last night you knew I was here. If he gets to hear you can easily say you only found out to-day. Be a man. And don't be so damned dignified.”

The young voice was allaying all his unspoken qualms and fears. The exhortation to shed his damned dignity was a challenge to him which his courage was bound to accept.

“It would be a bit of a lark,” he said, with a laugh.

“I'm coming down this minute,” the voice answered. “Where are you?”

“In my office. But look here. Is your car handy? Mine is not.”

“Car!” the voice exclaimed. “We can't arrive at an Express counter in Shaftesbury Avenue in a car. It simply isn't done. We'll go in a taxi, of course.”

“I'll be in the entrance-hall. Try not to keep me waiting more than a couple of hours.”

Evelyn picked up his hat, muffler, and overcoat from the chair where he had thrown them. He tied the muffler twice round his neck, raised the collar of his overcoat, stuck his hat on one side, shoved his ungloved hands into his deep pockets, and went forth for the bit of a lark. He felt uplifted, and found the hall by contrast more than half dead after the late strain of the New Year's Eve fête. A sparse attendance in the restaurant. Even the distant band sounded as if it might shortly expire in a sigh. At the doors Long Sam, the head night-porter, was yawning in the lax ennui of the day after.

“Taxi please, Sam.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sam Butcher, quickened. “Taxi,” he repeated to a janissary. “Lively.”

The doors spun, the janissary dashed out, stumbling on the steps.

“If I'm wanted, Sam,” said Evelyn to Sam. “I'm going out with Miss Savott to Jebson's restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue. I don't expect to be more than an hour at the outside.”

After all, why attempt to conceal the lark? The name of Savott was now illustrious in the hotel. Why not be grandly, audaciously open about the lark? At the same moment Gracie appeared, uplifted too, and hurrying. All in three or four minutes the lark had been conceived and brought to birth. Astonishing. Frightening. But jolly. You never knew what would happen next with that incalculable girl.

“D'ye mean that little place close by the cinema?” the taxidriver asked, and when told by Evelyn that that little place was indeed the place meant he gave an “Oh!” whose tone indicated that as a man of the world he had ceased to be startled at the vagaries of people of fashion. At the same time he lifted his eyebrows to indicate a mild, weary criticism of people of fashion who would leave an Imperial Palace in order to visit an Express counter near a cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue.

The conversation in the bumping, danger-affronting taxi was constrained, did not flow easily. Gracie said that Tessa was perfectly well again, and was packing for departure the next morning.

“It does her good to bestir herself a bit,” said Gracie.

“I believe that is the theory,” said Evelyn.

“It's the practice—with Tessa,” said Gracie.

The Express Counter was very small: a long high counter running down one side of a narrow room, ending with a partition at the farther extremity; on the other side of the room three or four tiny tables, with a couple of chairs apiece. A profusion of electricity. Not a soul visible, except a blonde lady of thirty odd, dressed in black, with a thin gold necklet and a gold wrist-watch. She might have passed for a floor-housekeeper of the Imperial Palace.

“C'est très sympathique,” said Gracie at once. “I love the lampshades.”

“Yes,” Evelyn said, accepting her verdict cheerfully. “Shall we sit here?” He put his hand on a chair at one of the tiny tables.

“No,” said Gracie. “We must sit at the bar. I adore a bar.” They took high chairs at the bar, and lodged their feet comfortably on a brass rail provided for customers of stature less than two yards and a half. Gracie loosed her leather coat. Evelyn did not even take off his hat; there was no accommodation for it.

“Now,” said Evelyn to the bar-woman. “What do you serve here, please?”

“Well, sir. We serve the finest sandwiches in London. Salads. Oysters. And the finest chops and steaks in London—but only at lunch-time—I mean the chops and steaks. And cheeses of course—any hour.” Having examined and assessed and placed her customers, she waved a bare forearm towards a range of sandwiches imprisoned in glass on a shelf behind her.

“I doubt if I've ever had the finest sandwiches in London,” said Evelyn, putting his hat on the counter.

“I think oysters,” said Gracie, “and stout.”

“Stout? At night? Disturb my sleep,” said Evelyn.

“And what if it does?” Gracie murmured, lighting a cigarette. “Stout is such fun, and all fun has to be paid for.”

“Two dozen oysters and two stouts, please,” said Evelyn, acquiescent. And in that instant of abandonment to adventure, it seemed to him that he really did not care whether his sleep would be disturbed or not.

“Two dozen Whits and two draught stouts,” the bar-woman called to someone hidden beyond the partition. “Very mild to-night,” she added, to her customers.

“Ye-es,” Evelyn said. He was not an expert in the art of small-talk across counters.

“Windy,” said Gracie. “Gusty.”

“Well,” said the bar-woman, glancing at the leather coat, “if you're motoring that doesn't matter—unless of course it's a touring car.”

“I was thinking of the sea.”

“Oh! Channel to-morrow morning. Yes, I suppose so. I've never been over myself, that is, I mean since I was a baby-in-arms. I began my travelling early, I did, and left it off early too.” All three laughed. “They do say there's nothing like travelling for sharpening your wits. But what I say is a bar's pretty good in that line.” They all laughed again.

'Express' was a fit adjective for the Shaftesbury. The bar-woman disappeared and returned immediately with two foamy stouts. And the next minute a well-dressed man appeared with two plates of oysters and the proper accompaniments thereto. He thanked the customers for accepting them, then vanished, and the bar-woman retired to sit on a stool at the end of the counter nearest the noisy Avenue. Peace and pleasantness within the bright Shaftesbury. Evelyn was happy and excited, as he might have been in a foreign town. He thought, and not for the first time: “What a rut I live in!”

“I'm not hungry,” he murmured confidentially.

“Neither am I,” Gracie murmured. “But not one of these oysters is going to be left. If you'd only ordered a dozen between us I should have asked for more.”

She blew away some of the foam from her stout, exposing the deep, dark liquid beneath, and drank, and wiped her mouth gingerly with a coloured paper napkin taken from a pile of napkins laid handy. They went on murmuring confidentially. Anybody out of hearing might have thought that they were exchanging emotional secrets charged with terrific importance, instead of remarks about the excellence of the oysters, the freshness of the brown bread-and-butter, and the sweet velvet of the stout. The adventure was delicious, bizarre, romantic. Evelyn so felt it, and he knew that the incalculable Gracie so felt it.

He thought: “I wish I could get past her defences. There's no getting near her”—though their knees almost touched in front of the counter. “She must have a sort of a liking for me, otherwise she wouldn't run after me the way she does. She's very curt and domineering. She's infernally independent. She's an egotist, can't be anything else. And yet—Tessa! She isn't being very egotistical over Tessa. She's taking risks there. But that may be egotism too. Wants to flatter herself she's making a grand gesture, defying convention, being herself, going around with a maid as big as a barrel, and so on and so on. 'Maid': that's good.”

He was telling himself that his estimate of Gracie was absolutely impartial, realistic, perhaps cynical. As she was not looking at him—she seemed determined not to meet his eyes—he could look at her. Benevolent expression, or the reverse? Who could say? All he could be sure of was that she had distinction and pride. Her clothes were distinguished; her untidiness was distinguished; she ate, and she drank stout, with distinction. And with distinction in her curved fingers she raised an oyster off its shell, slipped it into her mouth. Whence this distinction? Was it from the curves of the fingers, the hands, the arms, the body—the slow, reflective movements of the jaws as she munched? No, he was no nearer the core of her mystery. He was checked by her barricades. Nobody ever comprehended anybody; and certainly he refused the ridiculous notion that women were more mysterious than men. She was cogitating about something—God knew what! Why in heaven's name had she lured him out? To eat oysters and drink stout, covering her cogitations with a thin layer of murmurous banalities? It would serve her tantalising beauty right if he abducted her, seduced her by force, and then said casually: “There now! You can go back to your cogitations again. You've got something to think about now.”

He murmured: “I suppose as you're leaving to-morrow you've finished the business with your publisher to-day?”

“Yes,” she said. “That's all right.”

“Well,” he said, “there's one thing. With your name on the title-page the book's bound to make a stir in the world.”

She raised her face and looked him solemnly in the eyes.

“My name won't be on the title-page.”

“No? Why not?”

“Surely you don't imagine,” she murmured. “Surely you don't imagine for a moment I'd let my book be helped by the name of a racing motorist and my father's name and the name of a girl who knows all the smart people in London! Because if you do you're wrong. My book will have to stand by itself—or fall. I shall take a pseudonym. That's what I came over about. My publisher was making a fuss over that very point...He's given in. So it's all right.” Her tone had more than solemnity; it was religious; it vibrated with the formidableness of mystical passion.

Evelyn was daunted, apologetic, admiring; he had a thrill. “You're perfectly right!” he murmured gravely, and in his tone too there was emotion.

Gracie smiled; a divine warm stillness in her smile, and a magic power in it lifting him up. For an instant he held the key to the enigma...It slipped from him.

“I knew you'd know what I mean,” she said. “Some people simply don't know the language you're talking. It's just jabber to them.” Then she turned towards the distant bar-worn who was reading a paper-bound novel, and asked loudly “Can you tell us what time Mr. Jebson will be here night?”

The bar-woman rose and walked half-way along the length of the counter before calling out:

“Jim, what time will Mr. Jebson come in to-night, d'y know?”

And the answering baritone voice from beyond the partition; “The governor won't be along to-night. He telephoned.”

“Can my husband or me do anything?” the bar-woman amiably enquired.

“No, thanks,” said Gracie. “It's nothing. Only we know Jebson, and we thought if he happened to be here—”

Evelyn was glad that Charlie Jebson had telephoned. He did not desire the presence of the imposingly masculine Charles complicating the situation. And how could Gracie swing so abruptly from her book to Charlie Jebson? There was a lamenting disappointment, rather desolate, in her 'No, thanks,' to the bar-woman. No wonder the key had slipped from him! True, they had come to the Shaftesbury to see Mr. Charles Jebson. Nevertheless Gracie's transition from her book to Charlie was too swift not to irk Evelyn's sensitiveness.

“Well,” said she after a few moments. “I've finished my oysters, and”—she stopped to drink the remainder of the stout—“I've finished my stout.”

“You'd like to go?”

“We may as well. But you've not finished yours.”

“Can't,” said Evelyn.

The bar-woman approached them, novel in hand this time, and Evelyn paid the bill, which was very modest compared with the scale of charges for no better oysters and no better stout at the Imperial Palace.

“Thank you,” said the bar-woman indifferently. As the bell of the cash-register rang she added: “What name shall I say to Mr. Jebson?”

Evelyn shook his head with a faint deprecating smile:

“Doesn't matter.”

“Oh, darling!” Gracie protested benevolently. “I'm sure Mr. Jebson would be delighted to know you've called.” And to the woman: “Mr. Orcham, of the Imperial Palace Hotel.” The bar-woman, suddenly excited, had a sharp, simpering attack of self-consciousness. She was no longer the experience-worn, life-weary, detached, disdainful spectator of life. Ten or fifteen years dropped from her age in an instant. She became an ingenuous schoolgirl, bridling, smirking from innocent pride in the august identity of her customer. Evidently she had heard of Mr. Orcham, and of his importance in the meat-trade, from the proprietor of the Shaftesbury Express Counter. Her husband peeped out from behind the partition.

“Mr. Jebson will be very proud, and very sorry to have missed you, sir. Good night. Good night, madam.”

2.

Evelyn felt foolish as they left the room. He also felt rather resentful against Gracie for having called him 'darling' in front of the bar-woman. In Gracie's world 'darling' had no meaning, except in so far as it constituted some sort of assurance that the user of it did not regard the person addressed as absolutely repulsive and hateful. But the bar-woman was certain to misunderstand it. However, Evelyn would not argue the matter critically. The society, at a bar, of girls such as Gracie had its obvious disadvantages, which the fatalistic philosopher would accept in a lofty spirit of resignation. And at worst 'darling,' considered as an epithet, was less offensive than the 'sweetie' which on a previous occasion she had applied to him. He silently swallowed the rising poison of his resentment.

As they emerged on to the pavement two taxis drew up, and nine strong, full-bodied men miraculously emerged from them, occupying the pavement with their hearty, free masculinity unencumbered by women.

“We'll take one of these,” said Evelyn.

“Can't we walk?”

“Of course, darling.” That was his sole comment on her improper use of a word. Gracie ignored it.

The squad of men one by one entered Mr. Charles Jebson's establishment. The dead hour between nine-thirty and ten-thirty was ending. The bar-woman would need all her high faculties of domination, diplomatic retort, and express serving; for the nine were every one of them evidently experts in bars—not simple, diffident amateurs like Evelyn.

“It's going to snow,” said Evelyn. “Oh no!”

“It is snowing,” said Evelyn.

“Is it? Well, never mind. I love walking in a snow-storm. Don't you?”

“Yes. But you'll get your feet wet.”

“I can change.”

“So can I.”

They walked briskly side by side. At short intervals down the Avenue taxis were waiting in long lines for the emptying of theatres, and in the cross streets waited files of motor-cars. Small snowflakes dallied and gambolled with one another in the dark air, reluctant to reach the ground. Gracie's hat began to whiten. At Piccadilly Circus Evelyn led Gracie down steps into the vast warm roundness of the populous Underground station, and then led her up steps again into bleak Lower Regent Street.

“It's raining,” said Evelyn.

“Let it,” said Gracie, cautiously unwilling this time to contradict him. “It's magnificent.” She quickened her pace. “Think of a hot bath.”

Then silence. Evelyn agreed with Gracie that to walk in the blusterous weather was indeed magnificent; in the wind and the rain driven against his face by the wind he experienced sensations of triumphant vitality such as perhaps he had not had for years; but he said nothing, and his silence was grim. He felt cruel towards Gracie, striding along, her leather coat now and then grazing his thick winter tweed. Well, she could indeed stride along—even in her silly fragile high heels, which no doubt she would never wear again after this soaking. At last he could tolerate the silence no more.

“You were disappointed at our Mr. Jebson not being on view, weren't you?” He was openly sardonic.

“I think I was,” Gracie answered with acquiescent candour.

“You've remembered him ever since Smithfield, haven't you?”

“I certainly have.” Some resistance in her tone.

“Just tell me. What was there in him that was so interesting to you? I must say I didn't find him terribly interesting. Just a well-set-up sort of a—brute.” Evelyn chose the last word to annoy her; he who never quarrelled, who maintained always that social friction was unanswerable proof that somebody had been clumsy—he was aware of a desire to force her into an ugly and perhaps violent altercation. Not because she ordered him about and imposed her caprices upon him. Nor because she had called him 'darling' at the counter and all Smithfield would soon know that she had called him 'darling.' But solely because she had actively shown interest in the young butcher: phenomenon of sentiment which seriously offended him—while he sneered at it. She, beautiful, elegant, intelligent, intellectual, civilised, a masterpiece of an age of decadence—she to keep fondly in her mind for many weeks the image of a tall, powerful, coarsely handsome, self-complacent dandy of a tradesman whom she had seen for not more than a couple of minutes! And so brazen about her interest too!

She said calmly:

“Well-set-up 'brutes' aren't so terrifically plentiful, you know. And a brute is so soothing to the nerves. And this particular brute is a worker. He's getting something done, like we are. I loved his Express Counter. I could see his individuality all over it. Wholesome. And him getting up at 3 a.m. to go to Smithfield, and then looking after his lovely Express Counter last thing at night. She was funny, that starchy, wrinkled creature behind the counter! It makes me smile, how jealous all men are. Anyhow, I've never met one that wasn't.”

Devilish girl! With that single word 'jealous' she had rendered a quarrel impossible. He had his dignity to take care of. He acted a pleasant, easy laugh.

“I was only asking,” he said, acting gentleness.

“And I was only answering,” she said, very amiably.

And she turned her head and looked up at him through the rain with a charming glance that he felt rather than clearly saw in the murk. Danger was past, resentment dissipated. He was happy; his spirit was lifted; and for no logical reason.

“Oh!” she cried, pointing. “That's marvellous, especially on a night like this. I do admire you for that. You're a poet.” She pointed.

They had come out on the top of the Duke of York's Steps, into the full force of the south-west rain-bearing wind. Not a soul on the Steps. Automobiles flitting in both directions along the Mall below them. Lamps on both sides of the Mall obscured at moments by the swishing branches of trees. Beyond, the dark forest of St. James's Park, with a gleam of the lake. And beyond the forest, high in the invisible firmament, the flood-lit tower of the Imperial Palace poking itself brilliantly up to the skies. There was nothing in all London, then, but that commanding great column of white light.

The emotional accents of Gracie's rich voice moved Evelyn. If she was thrilled by the tower, he was thrilled by her thrill as well as by the tower. The rain on their cheeks came straight from heaven.

As, after skirting St. James's Park, they reached Birdcage Walk, Evelyn's damnable habit of foresight asserted itself. He foresaw that, all dripping wet as they were, they could not stop talking in the hall of the Palace. It would be too absurd, and too conspicuous. Therefore everything that had to be said must be said before entering the hotel.

'You're really leaving to-morrow morning?”

“Yes.”

“There'll be some rough going in the Channel.”

“Oh no! It must have been blowing up for this when we came over. It will blow itself out to-night. Besides, who cares?”

“I may possibly be down to see you off,” he said. “What time?”

“Please don't!” she said firmly. “I loathe being seen off. Monsieur Adolphe seeing me off is just as much as I can do with.”

“I understand. I should be the same myself,” Evelyn concurred.

Within the next few days he too would be going to Paris; but she did not know this, and he did not tell her. To meet her in Paris might, assuredly would, complicate his existence, and he could not tolerate that. The Hotel de la Concorde, not young tyrannic women, was his business in Paris.

With what a sense of triumph, of tingling warm health, they entered the great, still, mirrored hall. Long Sam glanced at them.

“Wet, sir,” said he. But he was too discreet to show any curiosity as to their reason for arriving on foot and not in a taxi, on a night so wild.

Crossing the hall they left a trail of drops of water behind them. And in the lift they made little pools. As the lift climbed up towards Third, the liftman looked enquiringly at Evelyn, who nodded. The lift stopped.

“Well, au revoir,” said Evelyn. “You mentioned a hot bath.” He smiled. She smiled. They stood together for a moment at the lift-door. They were parting. He did not know her address at St. Cloud. He might not see her again for months, years, if ever. It was not he himself, but some volition not his, that said:

“I should rather like to hear how Tessa goes on. You might send me a line.”

She nodded, suddenly pulling off her hat, which was sodden; so was much of her hair. She had quite the air of a child, then—delicious. They shook hands. She walked off to her rooms. Evelyn re-entered the lift to go up to Seventh and a hot bath.

“Well, I'm damned!” he breathed. He felt relief.

Chapter 51. AFTER THE STORM

A few days later, on the special “Golden Arrow” steamer, Evelyn experienced a surprise and a thrill. The New Year gale had nearly but not quite blown itself out, and after an average comfortable voyage the ship was nosing cautiously through the narrows of Calais port, past flags and marine signals and quidnuncs and amateur fishermen whose skirts were lifted at times by a gusty breeze. Although the boat was not crowded, a large group of travellers had packed themselves tightly round the spot where the gangway was to be, apparently lest the boat might start back for Dover with themselves still on board.

Evelyn sat reading in a sheltered deck-chair. He had a fine sense of freedom. He was alone. He had nobody to look after, because he had nobody to look after him. For Oldham had been left behind. Oldham and the Continent were mutually antipathetic. Oldham feared the sea and despised foreign tongues, and so far as he was concerned the recent tour in France and Italy had not been wholly successful. A holiday being overdue to him, he was exiled for a week or more to Berkshire and the society of his wife. The good-bye to Evelyn at Victoria had been wistful rather than buoyant. As for Evelyn, it seemed to him, in those moments which Oldham's presence would have rendered so anxious with a hundred cares, that he had not a care in the world. His debarkation was already organised; and for passengers by the “Golden Arrow” service the Calais custom-house did not exist. When he felt the very faint bump which indicated that the vessel was alongside the quay, he rose slowly, surveyed his three suit-cases ranged together on the deck, dropped the pocket 'Eothen' into his pocket, and surveyed superiorly, with a deplorable spiritual pride, the mass of his fellow-sinners who from mere stupidity were inconveniencing themselves for no reason whatever.

Having duly confided his baggage to an instructed porter, he strolled to the rail, aft, and from there watched the foolish urgency of travellers down the sloping gangway to the quay.

He said to himself, boyish:

“I have my seat in the train, like all the rest of us; there are no customs; the ship is on time; I will be the last passenger to leave this ship.” Yes, he felt boyish.

Had it not been for this infantile resolution, he might have missed the surprise and the thrill. The stream of descending passengers had thinned; the hand of the official at the bottom of the gangway was full of landing tickets; and Evelyn was on the point of leaving the rail when the surprise and the thrill happened to him. He saw Gracie on the gangway. Her face was half-turned towards the ship, and she held by the hand big Tessa Tye, leading her with every precaution down the steep slope. The two of them safe at length on the quay, Gracie took Tessa's arm, solicitously, even tenderly, and the slim girl and the spreading, ungainly expectant mother walked slowly towards the train, whose engine was sending up a thin wisp of steam in the far distance. He was thrilled. The expression of watchful motherliness on the face of the girl, the expression of trust on the pinched pale face of the expectant mother, offered a contrast and a harmony which made the most touching sight that Evelyn had ever seen. “That girl is magnificent,” he said to himself, and not for the first time. He knew that he had witnessed something unforgettable. Withal, he had lost the sense of freedom.

He had sworn to be the last passenger to leave the ship, and he was. His seat chanced to be in the nearest coach of the train. The young women were not in that coach. He superintended the stowing of his baggage, tipped the porter, and then, scarcely witting, jumped down to the platform and walked along the endless train, glancing at every window. He reached the last coach, the coach at the head of the train. There was Gracie at the end of the last passenger coach, talking to an attendant, who by much physical force was closing a case for her.

“Good afternoon,” Evelyn called.

She turned, standing high above him in the doorway. “Well, well! How nice!” she smiled.

“Can I do anything?”

“Not a thing. Thanks frightfully!” She laughed easily.

“Everything's all right?”

“Perfect. We waited four days at the Lord Warden for the weather. I shouldn't have waited. But Tessa was really a bit alarmed at the look of the sea. Dover's a very interesting place. I'd no idea!...And you?”

“Hotel business in Paris. Your esteemed father's business. You staying in Paris to-night?”

“Oh no! Straight on to St. Cloud. I wouldn't have to begin all over again to-morrow for anything on earth. I suppose you'll honour the Concorde?”

“No. The Montaigne. And if it isn't one of the two best hotels in Paris it soon will be.” They both smiled.

Officials on the platform were becoming restless, and the windy air was very bleak.

“I'd better be getting back to my seat,” said Evelyn. “Au revoir.”

2.

Gracie leaned her head out of the doorway, smiled again, waved a hand as he hurried away. Enchanting spectacle: young, beautiful, graceful, distinguished, mother to a mother! Enchanting! Faultless! In the warmth of his corner at the other end of the train, a table all to himself, he disposed his chilled limbs and his minor belongings for the journey. Not a word had been said about meeting again. Every passenger on the “Golden Arrow” is served with lunch where he sits. Evelyn did not move. He might have stumbled through the length of the shaking train to pay a visit to Gracie en route, but he refrained because of the intimidating prospect of having to talk to the expectant mother as well as to Gracie. He read little; he did not doze. He did not think. He just existed in a haze of vague meditation. Coffee. Cigar. Dusk. Darkness. Bill-paying. The industrial lamps and flares of Creil. Swift-sliding twinkles of squalid suburban stations. Weariness. A tunnel. Gare du Nord. He looked at his watch. The train was punctual. Confusion on the echoing platform of the Gare du Nord. Everyone for himself. Sauve qui peut. Hostile and greedy glances of porters.

Evelyn had one glimpse of a known face: that of one of the Cheddar brothers. Tall, physically as splendid an animal as Charlie Jebson, and with features more refined; indeed aristocratic. Sort of Renaissance prince. Evelyn envied him, and despised himself for envying him. Of course he was at the station to meet Gracie, to take charge of her. Of course she had telegraphed to him. In the jostling crowd a uniformed man, with “Montaigne” gilded on his forehead, discovered Evelyn, and Evelyn yielded himself up like a parcel to the ceremonious care of the uniform. As he trudged along the stone-cold platform, miles of it, he looked out for Gracie. She had gone, vanished into France.

Chapter 52. TELEPHONE

Two afternoons later Evelyn was scrutinising sheets of figures in the private office of Monsieur Laugier, directeur of the Hotel de la Concorde, Place de la Concorde. Although his chief business was the Concorde, he had chosen to stay at the Montaigne, partly because in London he had quite sufficient of the disadvantages of sleeping where he worked, and partly because on his previous visit to Paris he had stayed at the Concorde, and he now wished to get the general atmosphere night and morning of the Montaigne.

The directorial apartment was on the mezzanine floor of the courtyard of the magnificent old building which only thirty-five years earlier had begun its rise from the status of a lovely but chilly palace or ministry to that of a luxury hotel with steam-heating, lifts, electric bells, and baths numerous enough to lave the limbs of the General Staff of a whole army.

The luxury, however, had not extended itself to the directorial room, which was small, low-ceilinged, lighted by two bulbs only, and warmed by an anthracite stove of excessive power. The narrow window was shut tight and curtained. The sole ventilation was obtained by means of a draught under the heavy gilded door. The temperature was torrid. In strange contrast with the antique, sombre, soiled, ornately panelled walls, the elaborate cornice, and the curious parquet of blackened oak, was an assemblage of office furniture of the very newest style; last mechanical, practical ingenuity of Chicago gadgets refashioned in the last chic of Parisian design, wilfully audacious in shape, insolently flouting every tradition, rioting in the unexpected, steely, glassy, flimsy. M. Laugier's desk was as large as Evelyn's in Birdcage Walk, and far more glittering; it had apparently about a thousand drawers, and one turn of a handle, as M. Laugier had shown to Evelyn, would simultaneously lock every drawer. The slope of the easy-chairs could be modified without sound or effort, to suit the idiosyncrasy of any sitter. The cabinets had the intricacy of Chinese puzzles. The files would snap and cling to documents with the ferocity of tigers.

And in the midst, at the end of the desk, sat Henri Laugier, fat as an operatic soprano, with the abdomen of a self-contemplating Buddha, dressed, in black, as loosely as the ease-loving landlord of a country inn; black hair, seamed slack face, intensely black eyes, long black moustache, black beardlet, low collar, flowing black tie, podgy hands and short fingers stained by the nicotine of countless cigarettes; the latest of the cigarettes drooped precarious from a corner of the directorial pallid lips. Laugier had the reputation of being a unique 'figure' in the continental hotel-world; and perhaps he presumed upon his reputation, part of which resided in the pliocene, immortal black straw hat, which he wore day and evening, summer and winter; this straw hat now lay on a chair exclusively allotted to it as a chair is allotted to a privileged cat. M. Laugier came from Carcassone, and was proud of his origin. His eyes were said to be absolutely fatal to women, even at long range, and none who had fallen to him ever forgot him. A stout old lady still at intervals arrived with a grandchild or so to see him at the hour of the aperitif; her boast, not clearly established, was that she had been his first mistress.

Evelyn and M. Laugier conversed now in French now in English as they pored over the serried columns whose nines were like fives, fives like nines, and sevens like nothing in the history of British arithmetic. Evelyn thought: “Is this man really my subordinate, and am I really supposed to be in control of all his slippery and enigmatic foreignness?” M. Laugier certainly treated him as a superior, but with an exquisite, soft, forbearance such as he might have used to a noble and powerful savage. The Orcham Merger seemed a less simple enterprise here than when it was under discussion with Sir Henry Savott at the Imperial Palace.

2.

The telephone faintly rang. M. Laugier clasped the oddly shaped French instrument in his lazy, caressing fingers.

“Allo! Allo!” He listened with an intent yet dreamy smile. “It is for you, mon cher directeur,” he said, and pushed the instrument across the corner of the desk towards Evelyn, who said to himself:

“It's that girl!”

“Allo! Allo!” Evelyn addressed the transmitter. “Excuse me, mon cher directeur,” he apologised to M. Laugier.

“I beg you, please,” said M. Laugier, spreading his arms in deprecation of Evelyn's apology.

“Mr. Orcham?” the voice from the telephone enquired.

It was that girl.

“Yes,” he replied, with primness—for he had no intention of allowing Laugier to suspect from either tone or phrase that it was a woman who had rung him up.

“I've had a deuce of time getting you. You told me you would be staying at the Montaigne.”

“That is quite correct,” said Evelyn.

“But you're at the Concorde.”

“Yes. And very busy,” said Evelyn.

“Shall you be busy to-night?”

“Yes, I shall,” said Evelyn.

“How late?”

“Afraid I can't say.”

“Couldn't you get out of it?”

“I could not,” said Evelyn with careful coldness, more than ever determined that M. Laugier should gather nothing as to the nature of the conversation from the side of it to which he was listening. Conceive the old man (not that he was really old) aware that his grave but younger superior, in the midst of a highly technical interview, was arguing with a young woman about a proposed rendezvous! The notion horrified sedate Evelyn.

“Couldn't you manage to be free by ten o'clock?”

“Sorry. Impossible,” said Evelyn with dignity.

“Then ten-thirty.”

“I might try,” said Evelyn calmly, after a pause.

“Why are you so cross with me?”

“I'm not at all cross,” said Evelyn.

“You're very stiff.”

“Where are you?” he asked in a new tone, apparently ignoring the criticism.

“In a call-box.”

“Well, you see, I'm not. Do you understand?” said Evelyn grimly, and he heard Gracie's quick, rich laugh of comprehension.

“You mean you aren't alone?”

“Yes,” said Evelyn.

“Well now, what about to-night? Ten-thirty? I must see you. It's rather urgent. I had to come in to Paris to-day, and I must go back to St. Cloud some time to-night, but it doesn't matter much what time. Where can we meet?”

She had throughout been assuming his readiness to meet her provided only the hour could be arranged. The impudent assumption both amazed and pleased him. She looked like being a serious nuisance. But her voice in the telephone was so attractive, even seductive, alluring. And she knew it was, curse her! She was using it unscrupulously. (He enjoyed thinking this against her.) Then he remembered her expression, her gestures, her walk, as she had convoyed Tessa up the platform of the marine station at Calais on the previous day. She was a magnificent girl, and often had he privately admitted her grand quality. He felt proud as he listened to her cajoling, wonderful voice. She—she so chic, intelligent, magnificent—was running after him! Oh yes! He fancied himself!...Coxcomb! And worse names than coxcomb did he apply to himself. But there it was. She was running after him! “It's rather urgent.” What was rather urgent? An excuse. She was running after him. Rather marvellous, say what you choose!

“Well,” she questioned again, impatient. “Where?”

“The Montaigne,” he suggested.

“Oh no! That won't do. I loathe your Montaigne. It's just something chipped off Park Avenue. Listen! You know the rue Scribe?”

“I do,” he answered impassively.

“I'll be there in a car, on the Opera side.”

“Very well,” he agreed.

“Ten-thirty, mind!”

“Yes. Good-bye.”

“Who's with you?” She was adding the feminine postscript. Impertinent enquiry!

“The director,” said Evelyn, more coldly. He would not utter Laugier's name in Laugier's presence.

“Of the Concorde?”

“Precisely.”

“Oh! Laugier. Isn't he a dear? Give him my love.”

“I will. Good-bye!” He replaced the telephone in front of M. Laugier.

Assignation with a woman hidden in a car in the rue Scribe, Opera side. It was a bit astounding, after all! A bit romantic! The impulse to vaunt came over him, irresistible. Laugier should be made to appreciate with what tranquil severity he, Evelyn, could talk to a beautiful, wealthy, and headstrong young girl.

“She sends you her love,” he said, with a casual smile. “Miss—”

“Mademoiselle Gracie?” Laugier interrupted eagerly.

Evelyn nodded, taken aback and forlorn.

“I imagined to myself that it was her voice when she spoke first.” M. Laugier gazed meditatively at the glassy desk. “Ah! La belle creature! La belle creature!” It was as if he saw her mirrored in the desk-top. Then he gazed at Evelyn long, a thousand flattering, mischievous implications in his deathdealing dark eyes which no illness and no slow convalescence could quench.

“Eh bien, mon cher directeur,” said Evelyn, fingering a sheet of paper.

“Eh bien, mon cher directeur,” said Laugier. “Revenons à nos moutons.” A wisp of a glistening black lock had fallen over the pale forehead.

In the airless soporific warmth of the little room Evelyn the man of business inexorably resumed his investigation.

Chapter 53. ELECTRONS

When Evelyn reached the rue Scribe at one minute before half-past ten, having left too early a very friendly dinner with the manager of the Hotel Montaigne, there was no car waiting on the Opera side of the broad rue Scribe, and comparatively little traffic to confuse a watcher for a car containing a particular person. No stream of vehicles. No policeman. Cars passed at intervals of a few seconds. In the near distance motor-buses rumbled and great trams screeched and rattled over points. The huge edifice of the Opera, dwarfing all the houses, piled itself up into the velvet starlit sky; a few windows gleamed yellow in the hinder parts of the building. Evelyn stood waiting opposite the entrance to one of the courtyards, in or out of which walked occasionally some vague human being on some mysterious errand. An operatic performance was going forward somewhere in the complex immensity of the Opera; but it was hidden, soundless, immeasurably far off, like a secret and esoteric ceremonial, attended by adepts and withdrawn from the profane city into another world. Evelyn was alone. He felt alone. Waiting for a woman in a foreign capital! He thought:

“Is this dignified? Something furtive and illicit about it.” What could it mean? What did it presage? Still, it was certainly romantic, at his age—and hers. La belle creature, Laugier had called her, with enthusiasm. What did that signify in the mouth of a Laugier? One objective only could be applied to the belle creature, and Evelyn had several times applied it: incalculable. He anticipated her arrival with the excited interest of a reader awaiting the next instalment of a sensational serial.

But she did not arrive. One minute after the half-hour. Two minutes. Three minutes. And every second of them had been a minute. The man of passionate punctuality glanced at a dim clock affixed to a lamp-post. He unbuttoned his long overcoat to glance at his watch in the gloom. He walked nearer to the lamp-post and glanced again. He was cold, and rebuttoned his overcoat. Was he in the right street? He crossed the street to examine the street-sign, though he had already examined it once. Then he recrossed, quickly, lest the car might come while he was absent from the arranged side. He grew more and more nervous. He was humiliated. Twenty-five minutes to eleven. She was capable of being half an hour late. 'They' did it on purpose: at least such was the masculine theory, and there was a lot in it. At that moment, in Paris itself, hundreds of men might be waiting, waiting, and saying to themselves bitterly:

“She is doing it on purpose.”

A car slackened speed, swerving towards the pavement. No. It could not be hers. It stopped, with the saloon-door exactly opposite to him: pretty feat of brake-manipulation. He saw a figure in the dark interior of the saloon. No resemblance to Gracie. Then a light was switched on within, and Gracie sat suddenly revealed to him, radiant, opulent in a low evening frock which a loosened, effulgent cloak hardly concealed. 'They' were insensitive to cold, especially on a cold night.

The chauffeur had descended and was holding the saloon-door open for him.

“I'm frightfully punctual,” said Gracie, leaning forward.

Her lovely face was serious, unsmiling.

“You are indeed,” said Evelyn, raising his gibus.

“Do get in.”

He got in, crushing his hat against the top of the door. Nervousness. The chauffeur shut the door, and then stationed himself attendant with his back to the car. Evelyn subsided into soft cushions, straightened his hat; he could detect her perfume, feel the richness of the stuff of her cloak on his hand. Out went the light. The next instalment of the sensational serial had apparently started. But not with words. Gracie said nothing, and Evelyn could think of nothing to say, so constrained was he—and no doubt she too. The interior of the car was the most private, the most secure room in all Paris.

“And now?” said he at length. After all he was a man, and the older, and for the sake of his own opinion of himself he must assume an air of taking charge of the situation.

“Well, darling,” said Gracie. “You haven't shaken hands.” He groped for her hand and held it, without squeezing it. “It's much too early to do anything yet. What about going into the Opera for an hour? They're doing 'Le Chevalier à la Rose.”

“So I noticed,” said Evelyn. “But we shall never be able to get seats, at this time of night, shall we?”

“Don't let that trouble you,” she replied. “You leave it to me, and you'll see.”

“I should love it,” he said, insincerely but rather convincingly.

“It's the best of all the modern operas,” she said. “Of course you've seen it.”

“Yes. I saw it in Naples. The boy chevalier, what's-his-name, was played by an aged dame with bow-legs. It finished at two in the morning.”

Laughing nervously, Gracie leaned across Evelyn and knocked at the window.

“Front of the Opera,” she instructed the chauffeur, in French.

Fifteen seconds, and Evelyn was handing her out of the car. She gave a brief order to the chauffeur. She was carrying a book as well as her bag. They climbed the steps of the façade and through gilded gates entered the vast marmoreal and gilded vestibule. At the Control, she drew a ticket from her bag and presented it. She had bought a box in advance.

“You've won,” said Evelyn.

She lowered the corners of her mouth and half closed her eyes as she laughed in mild, sardonic enjoyment of her trick on him. Constraint was suddenly gone, intimacy established, the old intimacy of Smithfield.

At sight of the ticket, and of Gracie's frock and cloak, functionaries on the cyclopean marble and onyx staircase of honour took on the demeanour of chamberlains of Louis Quatorze, and the pair were wafted onward from smile to servile smile. Furlongs of unyielding marble to walk! An old, cringing, importunate woman, with hair ribboned like a young girl's, introduced them into the box, and her harpy-fingers closed rapaciously and ungratefully on a ten-franc note from Evelyn.

The box was like a drawing-room of the 'seventies, not refurbished nor cleaned since the 'seventies. The folds of its brocaded curtains seemed to be stiff with the dust of Napoleon III. Loud, elaborate, concealed music was heard, but the drawing-room had apparently no connection with any phenomena external to it. It was sufficient to itself. Glimpse of a fraction of a distant stage with small, moving, singing figures.

2.

The pair strolled indifferently across the drawing-room, at the end of which a gilt and velveted parapet protected the unwary from the risk of falling into the stalls. They sat down in ornate armchairs of gold and white; in front of them, below them and around them was the auditorium, with a side view of the stage; and deep down a den of crowded musicians fiddling and blowing away for life under an excited and ardent conductor. After the spendthrift spaciousness of the approach the auditorium appeared small and inconsiderable. But it was built of solid gold, and its tiers were supported by golden Herculean naked women, carved in the fearful symmetry of Titan's daughters, with breasts that might have nonchalantly suckled monsters of insatiable voracity; scores of these ageless brazen nymphs, smiling fixedly as they had smiled for half a century and more.

And everywhere, amid the stupendous gold sculptures and ornamentations, covering the floor, crowding the tiers to the topmost, sat midgets: the audience, inelegant, shabby, sombre, assisting at the secret and esoteric ceremonial hidden within the heart of the huge encircling opera-house. And of the ceremonial the stage-spectacle was scarcely the most important part. Those of the midgets who watched it did so with indifference. Which indifference was repeated on the stage by the performers whom custom had withered and use staled. Only when some disaster threatened did one