One Doubtful Hour
by Ella Hepworth Dixon
ITS OWN REWARD
THE FORTUNE OF
OF PHIL ALTAMORE
WENT TO THE WAR
'THE SWEET O'
TO EUGÉNIE PHILLIPS
MY best thanks are due to the courtesy of the editors of
Pall Mall Magazine,
Ladies' Field, and
The Yellow Book for permission to
reprint these tales, three of which I have rewritten.
ONE DOUBTFUL HOUR
Were it good
To set the exact wealth of all our states
All at one cast? To set so rich a main
On the nice hazard of one doubtful hour?
It were not good: for therein should we read
The very bottom and the soul of hope;
The very list, the very utmost bound
Of all our fortunes.Henry IV.
A MAN and a woman were leaning side by side on the bulwarks of
a Peninsular and Oriental steamer from Bombay. The man had grizzled
hair, kindly eyes, and a skin of that special yellow-brown produced by
years of summers in the Plains. The woman was thin—almost angular.
She was dressed cheaply, but with audacious coquetry, and showed
traces of having once been a pretty pink-and-white girl. She had an
air of having taken the grizzled man in charge.
'Malta!' said the grizzled man with a little sigh of pleasure;
'why, we're almost home!'
'Yes,' murmured the faded girl, 'almost home!'
The great steamer swung round in the harbour of Valetta, and then
the scrooge of the anchor was heard, and in another instant it was
thundering into the green water. Overhead there was a canopy of purest
cobalt-blue. A military tattoo could be heard from the heights above.
A line of scarlet was seen threading up towards a drawbridge. One or
two monster ironclads filled the harbour with their menace. It was an
imposing scene enough. Even the Anglo-Indian ladies stretched on
deck-chairs languidly closed their parasols and stared around them.
The doctor stood ready at the gangway, waiting to get pratique.
'You don't seem to look forward to getting back to England with as
much pleasure and interest as I do,' said Colonel Simpson, smiling
down at her.
How formally he talked, thought Effie Lauder—so unlike the soldiers
she knew. Colonel Simpson, to be sure, was in the Engineers, and
Sappers, as every one knew, were either 'mad, methodist, or married.'
That, perhaps, was what made him so formal in his speech, making him
stare at her slang: that particular military slang which consists in
saying 'What?' at the end of every sentence.... In all other respects
he was delightful, she thought. He was just the right age—forty-three
or four. He was a bachelor, with only one sister, and lately his
father had died and left him a small private income.
'Home,' said Effie, with a laugh which was not quite pleasant,
'isn't always the happiest place. What?'
'I am sorry to hear you say that,' said Colonel Simpson, kindly,
after a pause, in which Effie suddenly realised that she had said the
'I mean,' she broke in hurriedly, 'that I'm awfully fond of my
brother. And after two years with him in India, it was beastly leaving
him, don't you know. I daresay it will be tremendous fun to be back
again at Westsea. I always have a good time there. There's always
plenty going on.'
Miss Lauder felt she had saved the situa- tion. The colonel's eves
wandered off to the frowning limestone bastions of Valetta. 'You must
be a great favourite at West-sea,' he said presently. 'And of course
you are fond of dancing? I like to see girls fond of dancing. It is
natural, is it not?'
'Ye-s,' said Effie, faintly.
Twelve years ago, when she first came out, she had been a good deal
admired in Westsea. But Colonel Lauder had died some ten years ago
now, leaving behind him a widow, two boys, who had already passed for
the army, and three girls. They had nothing particular to live on, but
things were eked out as only the widows of officers know how.
Regularly Effie appeared at the balls—those five-shilling dances
which form the marriage-market of Westsea; and, though Mrs. Lauder
never ceased grumbling, the family, with their lower portion of a
house in Bellevue Crescent, had presented a brave front to the world.
But how tired Effie was of balls! She had been to so many in her life,
had danced so unceasingly in pursuit of an ever-vanishing husband. She
had been trying to look arch, and pretty, and lively, for exactly
twelve years. ... How weary she was of it all! In her heart she did
not care for 'gaiety'; she would like to have stopped at home, in a
snug little sitting-room of her own, doing fancy work by the fire
while her husband read the newspaper. Her smiles would not have been
forced; they would have come naturally enough then. She would like,
above all, she thought, to have had a baby of her own, a baby with
dimpling, creasy wrists, and little feet which kicked. She would like
to have felt a child's fat arms locked round her neck.... It was one
of the eternal ironies of life that, in pursuit of this ideal, she had
been obliged to dance and giggle, and say audacious things for exactly
twelve years. Two or three times, indeed, it had been nearly coming
off. At twenty she had been actually engaged, for a fortnight, to a
captain in a dragoon regi-ment. But the young man had money, his
family had interfered; and Effie had been too proud—and too sure, at
that age, of her popularity and good looks—to insist upon the
marriage. After that her admirers at Westsea had been numerous, but
nothing had come of it all. At twenty-nine, a year or two before she
had gone to India, there had been a nice boy in the Gunners who had
proposed. Freddy was just twenty-three, and full of hope, but he was
ordered to an up-country station in India. Cholera was rife in the
long rains; Freddy was taken ill early one morning, and they fired a
salute over a hastily-dug grave at night-fall. Effie had liked the
boy, but she did not take the incident so seriously as to prevent her
from accepting her brother's invitation to spend a year with him at
Mhow. The finer edge of her sensibilities, by this time, had been
The year's invitation had stretched into two, but at last she had
been obliged to return, under the care of her brother's major's wife,
to home and the sordid economies practised with such vigour and
asperity by Mrs. Lauder. Home! This word meant to Effie a dining-room
floor in a mildewy crescent in Westsea, her mother's bedroom
contiguous to their one living-room, a damp bedroom of her own built
in the garden; an attic for the two little sisters, Rosie and Kate.
There was a sewing-machine which was always buzzing on the days when
she had one of her nervous headaches; a smell of washing arose from
the lower regions. On the drawing-room floor lived Major Harkness,
with his wife and ever-increasing young family.
All this slipped through her mind as she stood, side by side with
Colonel Simpson, gazing at the scarped walls and bastions of Valetta,
the crowd of shipping in the harbour, the swarm of tiny boats
clustering round the great homeward-bound steamer, filled with
gesticulating Maltese proffering strings of sponges to the passengers.
'I have some idea,' said the colonel casually, 'of settling in
London for a year or two—'
'In London!' ejaculated Effie, her heart bounding.
'We Anglo-Indians get very rusty, Miss Lauder. Want a little
contact with the world. We want to be, as they say nowadays, "in the
movement." Now I've heard of a nice house, with a moderate rent, in
the Pen-y-Wern Road, Earl's Court. What do you think of that?'
'A—a little far out, what?' said Effie quickly. 'I mean, of
course, from your clubs. You know what people say in town? The way to
get to Earl's Court is to drive up Cromwell Road until your horses drop
down dead, and there you are, don't you know.'
' It sounds,' said the colonel, 'an expensive place to live in. But
we shall see. You must give me your valuable advice, Miss Lauder. At
first, you know, I'm to stay with my sister in Ryde for a time.'
'The way to Ryde is by Westsea,' said Effie, with a coquettish
glance at her companion, which would have been very effective—ten
years ago. The colonel took out a cigar and lit it with some
deliberation. Some Cingalese merchants, with plaited chignons, had
come on board to sell jewellery, and the Anglo-Indian ladies on the
deck-chairs were awaking from their torpor.
'We've time to drive to San' Antonio,' said the colonel. 'Will you
give me the pleasure of your company, Miss Lauder? Of course I shall
ask your chaperon.'
With or without a chaperon, Miss Lauder was quite ready to drive to
San' Antonio with Colonel Simpson.
In midwinter the white, steep streets of Valetta, eternally bathed
in sunshine, are pleasant enough. The glare of scarlet coats, marching
along the narrow thoroughfares, the women in their black gowns and
quaint black veils, the white, Italian-looking houses, and, outside
the fortifications, the hedges of prickly pear and the sweep of
limestone landscape, make, together, a memorable picture. Yet even
under the blue-fringed awning of the carriage the glare was
formidable. The major's wife refused to move from the carriage when
they reached the gates of the Palace, and so it fell out that the
colonel and Effie passed under the white walls covered with
wine-coloured bougainvillæas, and walked alone, the solitary
occupants of the tropical-looking garden, down the broad central path
fringed with palms and aloes.
The girl was absolutely and entirely happy. She stole little glances
up at the bronzed, rather hard face at her side—a face which was
softened by the kindliness of the eyes. Colonel Simpson was not a
talkative man, but most women felt a sense of rest and security in his
presence. He offered her his arm, smiling, and she took it with a
curious little thrill of pleasure. They leant over the lily-ponds,
with their mysterious green shadows. For a long time neither spoke.
Then they began to talk of England. The colonel dwelt on his plans,
pleased to find a charming woman who was interested in them. Effie
Lauder was so radiantly happy that she seemed transfigured. That
afternoon, at least, she was all sincerity.
'Time to be off, I'm afraid,' said the colonel at last, looking at
his watch, 'if we want to do any shopping. I must show you the shops
in Valetta, Miss Lauder. They are usually most attractive to ladies.'
In the Strada Reale, the major's wife exhibited some signs of
returning animation. Effie Lauder, conscious of empty pockets, looked
in at the jewellers' windows with longing eyes.
'Is that what takes your fancy?' said the colonel, in his kind
voice. He was the sort of man who cannot be with a lady in a shop
without buying her something. The rooms of his friends were covered
with pretty things of his choosing.
'It's awfully sweet,' said Effie, with a sigh. The object
under consideration was a slender gold muff-chain, with a Maltese
cross in crimson enamel attached to it.
'I hope,' said the colonel, after a moment's hesitation, 'that your
mother will not think it a liberty if I ask you to accept that little
trifle as a souvenir of our delightful voyage. I owe you so much,' he
added, 'that it would be but a poor return for the pleasure of your
Effie Lauder drove back to the ship with flushed cheeks and excited
eyes. Round her neck was the colonel's muff-chain.
She wore it, night and day, until the steamer dropped anchor at
THE ball had not yet begun, but the squeaking and scraping of
instruments being hurriedly tuned were audible above the clatter of
With bright, anxious eyes which shifted restlessly, Effie stood
upright by a rout-seat—not daring to sit down, lest she should be
passed over by the young men in scarlet mess-jackets who were eagerly
booking partners. Her heart was beating rather hard beneath her
creased satin bodice, for, incredible as it seemed, no one had yet
asked for her programme, and Effie was aware that, at Westsea,
partners were irrevocably chosen for the evening in that scurrying
twenty minutes before the band struck up. Her meagre black frock,
which was cut audaciously low on the shoulders, cast up grey shadows
under her chin, and accentuated the hollows in her neck. There is a
certain exaggerated standard of liveliness and good looks in demand in
garrison towns. No falling off is permitted in either respect in
popular feminine favourites. Effie Lauder had always been a showy
girl, and she had invariably been described as 'great fun.' She stood
very upright, with her chin in the air, and kept on smiling.
Her glance took in the familiar Assembly Rooms—that large, bare
drabbish hall which had been the scene of her little successes for ten
years, now so curiously full of unfamiliar faces. The military type,
however, remained precisely the same as when she had left for that two
years' sojourn in India. Though most of them were strangers to her
now, the same sort of men elbowed their way hither and thither in
search of showy ladies. The subalterns, for the most part, looked
incredibly young and incredibly pink; there were captains with square
jaws and somewhat roving eyes; majors with drooping moustaches, and
one or two colonels, getting a little grey at the temples, and with a
more reserved manner with the ladies. To Effie, to-night, the crowd
seemed to wear a heartless, pushing aspect.... Surely the men of the
new regiment were not as nice as those she had left behind?
A tubby major—an old admirer—strolled up, jestingly pulled the
flimsy programme from her fingers, inscribed his name opposite number
nineteen, and went off, with a pre-occupied air, in search of a
certain yellow-haired widow. The major was forty-five; he was a
married man, and he had only asked her for the nineteenth dance!...
She tried to look pleased, even when the band struck up with a
sudden blare, and the whole big roomful of people fell, like automata,
into each other's arms, and began to swirl round the room in the
opening valse. She watched Katie and Rose, her two younger sisters, as
they were borne off in the romping dance. The girls, though plain,
were young and fresh, and she herself had sewn with them for a week to
make new frocks of cheap white material. Effie was a good-hearted
woman, and she was delighted that her little sisters should find
partners. Kate and Rose were lively young ladies, whose snub noses
were seen, for the rest of the evening, gyrating round the gaunt
Assembly Rooms over the red shoulders of linesmen and the more sombre
blue uniforms of gunners.
The elder sister kept on smiling, though she was the only dancer
left now, standing up by the rout-seats which lined the room. Her
mother was not there; she was chaperoning the girls herself, so, when
the first rush of couples came pushing against her, she slipped on to
a seat, making one of a row of thin, patient, elderly women with
pinched lips and faded silk gowns.
Effie glanced down at her programme and considered the situation.
One or two men had scrawled some initials opposite dances. Mr.
O'Malley, Army Medical Staff, had asked for numbers nine and ten, and
old General M'Taggart had invited her for a distant polka. But the
whole thing spelt disaster; she had come back to Westsea after a two
years' absence only to find little Katie and Rosie more in demand than
herself, and to taste the humiliation of the chaperons' rout-seat....
At Mhow, on the Bombay side, where ladies were not too numerous, it
had been very different. This was her first crushing sense of
Yet this heroine of a humble, every-day tragedy contrived to look
cheerful. The world—the sniffing, feminine world, particularly—must
not rejoice in her downfall. For if the men had changed since she was
away, the women were precisely the same.... Yet perhaps she would not
have to sit out those eight weary dances until Mr. O'Malley, Army
Medical Staff, claimed her to join in the ball. Some one might turn
up, or, at the worst, she could pretend she was unwell; she could slip
out, put on her waterproof and boots, and run home to Bellevue
Crescent. The vision of her bed, just now, was sufficiently alluring.
They were playing the Washington Post, and to the onlookers on the
rout-seats the spectacle was sufficiently absurd. One or two young
girls looked graceful enough, carrying the thing through with the aid
of their youth and charm; but the appearance of the more mature
performers gave a curiously bacchanalian air to the whole proceeding.
The music was an air to which Effie had often danced at Mhow on
sultry, light nights, when a monster silver moon had shed an
incredible light on the parched landscape.... At Mhow, indeed, there
had always been partners at the balls, if they were not so easily
secured for life.... Why had she come back? It was true that Tom's
wife—who had all the whims and caprices of a young woman possessing
fifteen hundred a year of her own—had got tired of the sister-in-law
from England, and had not scrupled to let her see it; but she felt
that by appealing to her brother's good-nature, by dwelling on the
sordid discomfort, the minor miseries of the Westsea household, she
might have secured a prolonged invitation. She told herself bitterly
that it was humiliating for a woman past thirty not to have a penny of
her own, to be dependent on the caprices of a bad-tempered,
The dance had ceased abruptly, and heated couples—the ladies
smiling somewhat pityingly at Miss Lauder's forlorn state—brushed by
her on their way to the refreshment-room, or to those much-sought-for
chairs placed discreetly down obscure passages.... How well she knew
it all! How often she had been carried off triumphantly by some
temporary admirer who had prosecuted a vague suit in those same
passages, on the same meagre cane chairs! A young woman passed her,
looking up with frankly inviting eyes at the middle-aged man on whose
arm she hung a little.... It was the old, old tragi-comedy; the
degrading, unceasing pursuit of the possible husband....
They had finished the fifth dane in the programme. The next was a
waltz, and the band struck up an oily, lugubrious air, entitled, 'The
Love that is Loved Alway.' The couples swarmed into the room again,
brushing past her callously, as she sat at the end of the rout-seat by
the door. From old habit, or instinct, the girl had taken this
corner-place in order that she could stand up at the end of the
dances, and pretend that she, too, had had a partner. This ingenious
feminine ruse had partly succeeded, but when the waltz had fairly
begun, she was forced to sit down again.
Only three more dances to smile through now, and then Mr. O'Malley,
the red-headed little Irish doctor from Netley Hospital, would claim
her for two whole dances! It was really very nice of Mr. O'Malley; he
had known her three or four years ago, when he was passing his
examinations at Southampton. Now he had a permanent post.... Rapidly
she calculated how much it was worth a year.... Her thoughts passed
on, as the cornets accentuated the trite, commonplace waltz air, and
the room was once more filled with rapidly-whirling figures. Scraps of
foolish talk, answered by the slightly shrill laughter of the girls,
fell on her dull ears as she sat there. How tired, how tired she
felt.... How lovely, in comparison, it had been on the steamier all
the way from India! Effie remembered, with a thrill of pleasure, the
long walks and talks on deck with Colonel Simpson; the afternoon at
San' Antonio; the chain which he had given her, and which she always
Effie felt absolutely sure that he 'meant something,' he had been
so devoted in a quiet, reserved way. If only she could see him again!
'Men forget so quickly,' she said to herself anxiously.... Yet she
found strange comfort in the thought of him; she even did not mind so
much the dismal failure of to-night. What if Colonel Simp- son were
really coming to Westsea! He had said that he would come. She repeated
to herself his deliberate speech at parting: I shall give myself the
pleasure of calling on you and your mother very soon.' Somehow this
phrase seemed to sustain her, for she had begun, suddenly, to feel
rather faint and light-headed. The three girls had had no dinner, only
an egg and some tea before the great business of dressing. She would
have liked a glass of wine and a sandwich, but no one had come near
her, or offered to find her any food.
And then, of a sudden, her heart stood still as she caught sight of
a new arrival in the doorway, a bronzed soldier of forty-five, with a
brown moustache tinged with grey. And, as her heart leapt with a
rebound against her bodice, she realised, for the first time, how much
she cared for this man who had not yet seen her on her lonely
SHE stood up instinctively, and pretended to be pulling at the
ruche at the bottom of her dress. It would never do for Colonel
Simpson when he saw her again to find her filling the dolorous rôle
'I've just stopped dancing,' she explained, with a high laugh, as
he stepped forward and greeted her. 'Where on earth did you fall
from?' she went on with unnecessary vivacity.
'I came from town this evening. I thought I should be sure to find
you here. You must be in so much request, as you are only just home,'
he went on, with an indulgent smile. This middle-aged soldier had the
kindly expression of a man who has no fatuities about women.
' If I am lucky enough to find you disengaged, may I have the
honour of the next dance?'
'Oh, certainly; I can put the other man off,' cried Effie, with
easy mendacity. Her whole manner had altered; already she looked
bright and pert; the smudge of lip-salve was not needed now. Her
cheeks were curiously red as she began to spin round at last with the
dancers. Mr. O'Malley, indeed, and old General M'Taggart with his
lumbago! They, who had kept her waiting so long, might wait themselves
And then the eternal tragi-comedy once more began. The woman, made
desperate with disappointment, snatched at this straw of happiness
like one who is drowning. With worn, cheap smiles and inviting eyes,
she essayed to make herself desirable. She felt giddy and faint with
hunger as they swung round in the waltz; the sudden surprise and
excitement dazed her, and she hardly knew what she was saying.... Yet
how good it was to have him again near her.... She leant heavily on
his arm. Did he feel the same thrill, she wondered, that she
experienced when the colonel's arm slipped round her? How good, and
dear, and nice he was! How different from many of the swaggering young
men who had formed her ideal up to now!... Already, with her quick
feminine imagination, she saw him forming part of her favourite
picture; he was reading the newspaper in a cosy, lamp-lit room, while
she did fancy-work by the fire....
Vaguely she felt that, hungry and tired though she was, she must
keep him amused, interested. True, he had never actually made love to
her, but this, she thought, with her experience of garrison balls, was
merely lack of opportunity, Colonel Simpson was not the sort of man
who would make love to a woman of gentle birth on a steamer.
Whatever happened, she said to herself, she must not let him go. He
was on his way to Ryde, to see a sister from whom he had been parted
for years.... How long would that sister keep him? When would she see
him again? Something definite, it was certain, must be said or done
'I wonder now, what has brought you to Westsea, of all places?'
Effie demanded archly, as they stood at length, breathless, outside
the ring of dancers.
The man looked at her, struck at the change in her face and manner
since he had parted with her on the landing-stage. On the steamer, he
remembered, she had had a certain success. The ladies had been few,
the men numerous; she had not been forced, by competition, to
exaggerate her vivacity and charm. Colonel Simpson, indeed, had
thought her a nice enough woman. What he had liked about her specially
was the fact that she had only had two years of India; she was still
associated, in his mind, with home, and green parsonage gardens, and
the narrow convenances of the upper middle class. What had come
to this Miss Lauder, he wondered? She had, for all the world, the air
of a lean and hungry huntress, and moreover, although he was too
gallant to acknowledge it even to himself, that of a hungry huntress
of men. It was evident that, to-night, the gods were not on the side
of Effie Lauder.
He hesitated before he answered.
'I am on my way to Ryde to see my sister,' he said quietly, 'but it
was a real pleasure to me to be able to stop on my way and catch
another glimpse of you.'
'It's awfully sweet of you to say that!' she declared, with what
struck him as unnecessary gratitude. 'I—I was just wondering if you
would ever turn up,' she went on, a shade too eagerly. 'You men are
all alike. No idea of constancy. What?'
The colonel felt it incumbent on him to press her arm a little and
smile indulgently. Effie's heart began to beat high.
'Let's—go and sit down somewhere, shall we? I'm so awfully tired,'
murmured the young woman.
'Why, yes,' he said kindly, drawing her towards the passages. 'You
must be fatigued. It's past eleven o'clock, and of course you've been
dancing all the evening.'
At the end of the long, drab, barrack-like passage there were two
chairs, a scrap of red carpet, and a shabby palm. A candle guttered in
a Chinese lantern overhead. For a wonder this corner was empty.
Effie sat down with a sigh. By accident or design, their elbows
touched. She felt very happy, though a little light-headed; she had
forgotten now that she was hungry....
'It's awfully nice to see you again,' she muttered, raising a pair
of languishing eyes to his. 'And very, very sweet of you to come,' she
'I was on my way—' began the colonel, but Effie did not seem to
hear him. She was wrapped in a sort of dream.... It had all come
right.... The man that she had waited for, had counted on, had come.
Surely he must care for her, or he would not have travelled so soon to
Westsea in midwinter! Well, all her anxieties, her worries, her
frustrated hopes, would soon be at an end. This night, indeed, was
going to be the one night of her life....
Effie waited a few moments, wondering when he would speak, and how
he would say what he was going to say, remembering, with a smile, how
shy and reserved he had always been. Then, catching sight of herself
in a blurred mirror opposite, she gave a little exultant laugh. The
transient beauty of expression which comes to every woman who is
happy, softened, for an instant, the little hollows in her cheeks and
temples, giving her once more almost the roundness of youth.... It
seemed almost as if she were twenty again, and the prettiest girl in
Westsea. In this very corner, only ten years or so ago, men had fallen
down and worshipped; quarrelling with each other for the privilege of
a dance; waiting humbly until it was her pleasure to go back to the
ballroom.... What if she could carry the whole thing off, settle it
out of hand with one of those frank audacities which a woman, sure of
her beauty and charm, may sometimes permit herself?
She would never forget, she said to herself, that look on the
colonel's face—that mixture of astonishment, disgust, and, yes,
repulsion. But he had saved the situation from being entirely
odious—at any rate for the moment—by his never-failing tact and
charm of manner. With a heart of lead, she kept on smiling, as she
walked down the barrack-like passage on his arm.... Yes, she would
like a sandwich, and something to drink, though the sandwich nearly
choked her when she tried to eat it; and the claret-cup was horribly
sweet. It was just upon twelve now, but the girls, she knew, would
want to stay till two at the very earliest. Making some excuse, she
slipped into the cloak-room.
Colonel Simpson waited some time, thinking Effie would come out
'I must have missed her,' he thought, and then he lighted a cigar
and strolled home to his hotel, wondering, as he stepped along the
misty, rain-driven streets, how he could ever have thought
seriously—even on a homeward-bound steamer—of such a girl as Effie
With trembling hands and scarlet cheeks Effie put on her long cloak,
her buttoned boots, and a knitted pink hood. Then she waited until she
felt sure that he had gone from the door. The trains would not be
running now, but it was only a seven minutes' walk. Once outside she
began to run. A slight drizzle was falling, and the ends of the long
roads, with their stucco terraces and smug gabled villas, were blurred
and vague with sea-mist.
Breathlessly she reached her own door. There were lights upstairs,
in the upper portion of the house, in the rooms occupied by Major
Harkness and his wife and children.... Shadows moved hurriedly across
the blinds. Poor Mrs. Harkness! Effie remembered, in a dull kind of
way, that the doctor's carriage had been often at the door of late.
Perhaps it might be to-night? She tried hard to think of Mrs.
Harkness; anything was better than dwelling on what had happened at
the end of that long drab passage. Though her brain seemed fizzing in
her head, she was conscious of one thing—and that was the finality of
what had occurred to-night.
The one luxury which Effie possessed was a small bedroom to herself,
built in the garden, at the very end of the hall passage. It was
passably damp and cold in winter, but a small gas-stove had been put
in, which she used on cold nights. Effie locked the door, and lit the
She sat down, her teeth chattering with her walk through the wet
streets. Well, at any rate, the little bedroom, where she could be
alone with her trouble, was nicer than the ballroom she had left....
It had been very stupid to-night, she kept repeating to herself, and
she had been hungry and light-headed, and had said something silly to
Colonel Simpson.... Odd, how she had always liked the man; liked him
immensely, all the time on the steamer, and wondered how soon he would
turn up again, and exactly what he would say when he asked her to
marry him? For Effie had never doubted for an instant that this
man—this prince among men—would ask her to be his wife....
Overhead, there were steps moving hurriedly to and fro. A bell rang,
and Effie could hear the doctor going upstairs. Ah, then, it was to be
She stood up, and looked at herself in the glass. Every vestige of
colour had left her cheeks and lips. An earthy-coloured mask with
sunken eyes stared at her from the mirror. She was conscious of
nothing now but a passionate pity for herself; always of a slightly
morbid temperament, she allowed a wave of hypochondriasis to envelop
her. She looked round the little room, with its damp-stained walls
and shabby furniture, seeing a vista of drab years in which she would
be only half alive. The little bed, too, in which she would wake up,
morning after morning, year after year.... How she hated that waking
hour; usually she woke with a start, with a curious foreboding of
something evil.... What if—what if—she went to sleep—and simply did
not wake in the morning?
The doctor was upstairs all night. The grave, questioning light of
a winter dawn was peering through the drawn blinds of the narrow house
as, wearied out, he left the sickroom and came downstairs.
A scared housemaid laid a dirty hand upon his arm. Would the doctor
step along the passage to Miss Effie's room? There was a fearful smell
of gas, and Miss Effie wouldn't answer when she knocked. She couldn't
make her hear. It wasn't like Miss Effie, who was always civil-spoken,
and oh, so kind. Perhaps she was ill, poor young lady, or something
might have happened....
The doctor's shoulder, after a few efforts, thrust inward the
flimsy door. There was a rush of gas into the passage. Every nick and
cranny by which air could enter had been carefully filled up. Effie
lay on the bed, silent, inert, still dressed ill her black ball-gown.
The doctor made a brief examination.
'How old was she?' he said, in his professional tone. Already he
used the past tense. He stooped, as he spoke, to pick up something
underneath his foot. It was a slight gold chain, broken in several
places. He found he had trodden too, all unwittingly upon a small
'Ask the doctor to be good enough to step up again for a moment,'
urged a shrill feminine voice on the stair—a voice which added, as if
in reply to some question, 'Yes, it's a girl—a very fine little girl.'
THE DISENCHANTMENT OF DIANA
ABOUT fifteen years ago, when people in London still read
poetry, a young girl was sitting at a writing-table in a room in
Mayfair. She had just written an affectionate letter of refusal, had
carefully sealed it with sea-green wax, and addressed it to William
Forsyth, Esq. Then, with a sudden impulse, she tore it into fragments,
and, leaning her two elbows on the desk, dropped her face into her
upturned palms and stared out at the dull brick stable, topped with a
leaden sky, which formed her daily vision of the outside world.
She was a slim, nervous-looking creature, with the wide, pale eyes
of those who see spiritual things. At three-and-twenty Diana Bethune
thought herself old and experienced. In reality, her innocence was
that of a child, and for the last year or two she had lived under the
slavery of a fixed idea. Diana's strange type of beauty had made her,
at twenty, the fashion in a little set in London; a set in which
famous poets dine, and great painters, who disdain the cheap successes
of the Royal Academy, find inspiration for their work. At one such
dinner-party, a slim white goddess in a sea-green gown, she had sat
opposite the poet Astel Verlase. There had been little speech between
them, for Diana Bethune had been awestruck, and the great Verlase was
of the order of poets who are not altogether unmindful of the
pleasures of the table.
'Ah, did you once see Shelley plain?' she had quoted under her
breath to her neighbour, but Verlase had overheard the whispered
compliment, and from that moment the girl had been under his
influence. His was the kind of reputation which imposes on the
imagination. Even to the unlettered, his name was already part of
English speech. To a young girl enamoured of the writer's craft there
was something almost intimidating in the thought of him; and yet
gradually, after that night, she had become accustomed to the fact
that he was actually interested in her, that he should lend her books,
visit her occasionally in the street in Mayfair where she lived,
and—more marvellous still—write her many letters. An orphan with
enough to live upon, she had only a bookish uncle of whom to ask
advice, and Robert Bethune was every whit as proud as his niece that
the illustrious poet should sit at their table, write her letters, and
take her intellectual training into his hands.
Verlase's next volume contained a sonnet-sequence about a certain
'Lily-maid with wide, calm eyes.' The little set in which the poet
dined when he came to London quickly divined the truth. Tongues wagged
about Diana, the younger poets came and sat at her feet, noting what
the master admired, and piping minor lays about Verlase's Lily Maid.
To them the affair was an idyll, and the existence of the poet's
wife—a dipsomaniac, put away in a Home these many years past—only
added piquancy to a romantic story. That the poet should have lived
more than half a century, and that his love should still be in her
teens, mattered nothing to his disciples, nor did it indeed to Verlase
and Diana themselves. It was obviously the poet, not the man, whom she
worshipped, for personally she had seen little of him. Verlase lived
in Surrey with his children, and it was only now and again that he
came to London to see a publisher, or attend a literary dinner. It
struck her to-day with a strange irony that the man for whom she was
refusing so devoted a lover as Forsyth had hardly been in her actual
presence more than a score of times.
A portrait of the poet stood on the table, just beside her desk. She
looked at it again as she fingered the torn fragments of the letter
she had written to Forsyth. It was a beautiful head, that of Astel
Verlase, with hair already grey, sorrowful eyes, and the full lips of
a voluptuary.... How William Forsyth disliked him, resented his
appropriation of Diana—William Forsyth, who had declared himself her
lover and whose dismissal she had just written and as quickly torn up.
Leaning her little square chin on her hands, she thought of the two
men. There was the writer she worshipped, with his strange eyes,
contradicting his very human lips, his imposing, far-away manner, and
his world-wide fame. To look at him was to realise the intoxicating
thought that she—her insignificant self—had been much to this man
whose name was ever on the lips of the English-speaking world; that
she had inspired the famous sonnet-sequence; that she had become,
indeed, part of his life. It was true that she rarely thought of him
except as the great Verlase: an imposing individuality which had, in
some strange, inexplicable way, become intermixed with her own; never
as a man who might be her husband or her lover. Like all the world,
she knew of the poet's unfortunate marriage, but her curious
attachment was of so vague and spiritual a nature that the thought of
his wife hardly troubled her.
There was no portrait of Forsyth on the table, but she saw him
clearly, just as on that leafy June morning when he had been
introduced to her in the Row; could see his laughing, admiring eyes as
they quickened their pace and galloped their horses, side by side
under the umbrageous trees. Laughter, exercise, and open-air, a sense
of physical well-being—these were the things she associated with her
younger lover. But Diana had only known him a few months, and he had
no such intellectual influence over her as the poet Verlase.
The grey brick wall and the patch of leaden sky held no answer to
her questionings. The girl took up her pen and another sheet of
' Dear William,' she began, and then she threw down her pen with a
sudden burst of laughter. 'William looks ridiculous,' she thought, 'it
suggests Shakespeare—or a coachman! Why do I always laugh when I
think of him? There are so few people who make one feel gay. He is a
dear,' she added thoughtfully, gazing at the blank sheet of
letter-paper, 'and yet I am going to give him the greatest pain a
woman can give the man who loves her. It is im-possible, I can't! He
cares for me so. And I don't know, after all.... Suppose it were the
best thing for every one?' pleaded an inward voice. Her gaze fell on
the photograph at her elbow. The strange eyes seemed to look at her
sternly, rebuking her woman's capriciousness, and exacting a
The girl rose perplexed from the writing-table, and walked to the
fireplace, where she crouched down in a favourite attitude on the
fender-stool, letting the blaze scorch her pale cheek. Yes, she would
write William Forsyth a little letter saying she had been taken by
surprise, and asking for time to think. That, at any rate, would
soften it. She would say nothing definite, nothing which would wound
him, to-day. And she hated herself for this feminine subterfuge, for
Diana was, in ordinary circumstances, transparently truthful. The girl
was still crouching there when the door opened, and the butler
announced, in a deeply deferential and impressive whisper, 'Mr. Astel
The great poet stood in the doorway, a trifle thinner than when she
had last seen him some six weeks ago, but with the grand manner which
imposed so much on every one who was privileged to meet him. Diana
sprang up, blushing with pleasure and excitement, and ran forward,
with both hands outstretched.
The butler retired, discreetly closing the door.
Verlase took both the little hands, hold- ing her with his curious
gaze. Then he slowly raised one of them to his lips. It was
characteristic of the man that he did not bend his head, but drew the
white fingers up to his own level.
' My child!' he murmured. Diana dropped her eyes, and led him to an
armchair by the fire. Then she took her old place again on the
fender-stool, and waited, dutifully, for the great man to speak.
Verlase paused, as if thinking of something painful. Presently he
passed his hand over his forehead, and smiled his rather rare smile.
'My child?' he repeated gravely and questioningly.
Diana leant forward, fascinated by his look.
'Yes,' she said. 'What—is—it?'
'You must come to me now, Diana,' he said. 'It must be so.'
'What? I don't understand,' she stammered, frightened as if some
calamity were about to befall her.
'She is dead,' he said, in a toneless whisper.
'Yes. A month ago now. We won't talk of it. She had, indeed, been
dead to me for more than ten years. The children don't even know of
it. They thought her gone years ago. She was unworthy of
them—unworthy of me.'
'Ah! but how terrible it all sounds,' said the girl, with her
quickly roused sympathy. 'Your wife is dead!'
'My child,' said Verlase, stroking back her pale hair, 'you shall
teach me what a beautiful thing it is to be alive.'
THE musty fly containing Diana and her uncle rumbled up the
It was a bleak March day, with no sign as yet of vernal budding. The
whistling wind swept the pinkish-drab earth of the newly-turned
fields, and against the wide, sad-coloured sky the shivering elms
stretched their naked branches. A stray primrose or two only added to
the desolateness of the scene. As yet, the birds were mute.
From the little Surrey railway station to the home of the poet was
something near a mile. As they neared the house, Diana turned her
head and looked back on to the red roofs of a Surrey village, then to
a sweep of gorseland, and farther on to a line of blue hills which
melted into the vague grey of the horizon. Diana gave a little sigh of
relief. She was one of those women who are sensitive to outward
things. Whatever the house was like, the outlook was superb.
Unfortunately the house, which they lighted on suddenly at a turn of
the road, revealed itself, primarily, as a gabled villa of that
pseudo-Gothic style which sprang up over the land in the mid-Victorian
era, with French windows opening, under an iron verandah, on to a prim
gravelled terrace bordered with narrow, empty flower-beds, a
foreground being supplied by clumps of speckled evergreens.
The poet came out to meet them, with a felt wide-awake in his hand.
It had struck the young girl as a little strange that her lover should
not have been at the station, but Verlase, who limped perceptibly,
pleaded a slight indisposition. Indeed, he looked grayer and older in
the searching outdoor light, for she had seen him only, hitherto,
deceptively illumined by the pink-shaded wax-candles of London
dinner-tables, or in the equally discreet shadows of her own
drawing-room. Nevertheless, she had a little thrill as he pressed her
hand, for did he not look more human, more approachable, with his worn
look, and this background of smug British villadom, so different from
anything she had ever pictured as his home?
There were other faces besides that of the poet: the three children,
who lurked in the little hall, regarding their future step-mother with
curious and somewhat astonished eyes. Ethelred—the boy—a pert lad of
thirteen, gazed with naïve curiosity at the slim young lady who had
undertaken to rule their home. Edgarda, the eldest girl, who was
turned fourteen, had dust-coloured hair dragged back from a
portentous-looking forehead, and already wore spectacles over her
short-sighted eyes. The youngest, Ermyntrud, an unhealthy-looking
child of eleven, eyed Diana with undisguised malice. The future Mrs.
Verlase was fond of children, but she felt instinctively that it would
be a difficult task to ingratiate herself with Ermyntrud.
'Are you going to be our new mother?' said Edgarda solemnly,
advancing and hold- ing out her hand. Diana noticed with surprise
that this self-contained child did not offer to kiss her.
'I—I hope so,' said Diana, blushing.
'I trust we shall be friends,' said Edgarda with some solemnity.
'You will not find me much trouble. The children,' with a disdainful
glance at the two young ones, 'are occasionally tiresome. But I have
studious habits. I have my hours for doing everything,' she continued,
leading Diana into a small room painted with dull sage-green, while
Astel Verlase stopped outside to speak to Mr. Bethune. 'Come and look
at my study. These are my books of reference. Here is a slate, with
the time marked out which I am to give to special subjects. At present
I am studying Plato. My tutor comes at twelve. But father does not
wish me to give so much time to Greek. He would rather I devoted
myself to early English literature. I am preparing a monograph on the
'Ah!' murmured the girl, 'I see you inherit your father's tastes.'
'Father says that my brain capacity is abnormal in so young a
child,' said Edgarda modestly. 'You see I am very young. I have only
just completed my fourteenth year.
'And so clever and studious already!' laughed Diana, amused at the
young girl's solemnity. She bent to kiss her future step-daughter, but
the child pretended not to see her gesture, and turned away.
' I trust we shall in no way interfere with each other's tastes and
intellectual pursuits,' she said, leading Diana out again into the
'I say, are we to call you mother?' demanded Ethelred bluntly,
hanging with all his weight on Diana's arm. It was his special way of
showing his admiration, and he approved of his father's choice.
'Soon, perhaps—and if you will,' said the bride-elect, with a
curious little thrill in her voice. Although the engagement was not yet
announced, Verlase was making preparations for a speedy marriage, and
in Lincoln's Inn many sheets of parchment were being covered with
clerkly writings relating to the 'Lily Maid's' dowry. Robert Bethune
had been a little astonished at the business apti-tude, the curious
display of caution which had been shown on this occasion by the famous
author of the sonnet-sequence. Of this, however, as yet, the girl
An intensely feminine creature, with a strong maternal instinct, the
boy's words made Diana thrill to her finger-tips. And so these strange
children, so soon to be very near to her, would call her by that
tenderest of all names!
'Ermyntrud wants to know if you've brought us any presents?'
continued the boy with a snigger. 'She's an awful little pig, is
Ermyntrud. You ought to have stuffed her with sweets if you want her
to like you.'
'Oh, what a lie!' shouted the younger girl, seizing her brother by
the wrist and twisting it viciously. 'You're a beastly story-teller.
You are, you are, you are!' she screamed, working herself into a
'Criky, what a temper we're in,' said Ethelred derisively, hopping
on one foot to the other, with his hands in his pockets. The girl
ended with a vicious scream, and ran upstairs, where she was heard
banging-to a door.
'She's always like that,' said Ethelred calmly. 'You won't see her
again to-day. She'll sulk, and she won't eat, and then father will get
in a jolly wax with her—and oh, my eye, you must look out for
'Then why put her out, my dear boy,' said Diana kindly, 'if you
know that sort of thing vexes her?'
'Ugh! if you knew how beastly dull it is down here, with father
taking care of his digestion all the time, and Edgarda poking over
those beastly old books, and nothing for a chap to do that's worth
doing—why, you'd like a row now and again, just to enliven things a
'Don't you go to school?' said Diana, who was already feeling
anxious. The vista of her home-life was beginning to look clouded.
'No fear! Father doesn't like schools. We have a tutor. He's got
sandy hair, so we call him "Carrots." He's in love with his
landlady's daughter in the village. We chaff him all the time. He's a
bally fool. Oh, I say, Miss Diana, come and look at my lop-eared
The girl was dragged away.
She was kept out more than an hour in the bleak garden, inspecting
rabbit-hutches. There was the pear-tree, too, in which—according to
Ethelred's unsupported state- ment—he performed prodigious feats of
climbing during the summer months; and the stable, in which stood a
piebald pony, and the small governess-cart which the children were
allowed to drive. There was no stabling for another horse—and riding
was Diana's only passion. Her heart sank. A surly-looking man—half
gardener, half coachman—came out and stared at the two. She was
beginning to feel tired and chilled.
'Where is your father, Ethelred?' she asked, as they turned at last
towards the house. The boy was still hanging with all his weight on
her arm, which was numb with the cold March wind.
'Oh, father's lying down. He always does in the afternoon. I think
he's going to write something quite soon,' said the younger Verlase,
'for he's been so jolly cross the last few days. Do you remember his
last book?' continued the boy confidentially; 'that one with a lot of
rot about a Lily Maid? My eye I didn't we all catch it about then! I
hate poetry—don't you, Miss Diana?'
To which question Miss Bethune was beginning already to feel too
dejected to reply.
At seven o'clock, dinner was served in a dining-room of modest
dimensions, but hung with old tapestries and furnished with Early
English furniture of the severest and most Saxon simplicity. The two
elder children appeared, Edgarda taking the head of the table and
blinking solemnly through her pince-nez. She looked pale and
over-worked, in a dress of cinnamon-brown, fashioned like an
As for the poet, he always looked his best in evening dress, and
Diana's spirits rose again as she sat and gazed at the hero of her
dreams, trying to realise that she was here, under his own roof,
sitting at his table, the companion of his children, about to be what
she had never dreamed possible, and that was—his wife. But Verlase
sat next to her, handsome enough, but with a peevish expression on his
face which she had never seen there. She noticed that, when serving
the soup, he took none himself. What could have annoyed him? Had she
already done something which could vex him? She searched her
conscience, but could think of nothing. She had even dressed herself
in a gown which he had once told her that he liked.
And yet here was Astel Verlase drumming with one hand on the table,
eating nothing, and saying no word. Robert Bethune started a
discussion on a certain new poet whom the reviewers had lately
'I told you, Edgarda,' said the poet, interrupting in an irritable
tone, 'never to allow the servants to forget to place toast on the
table beside my plate. Bread, as you are aware, I cannot touch. If you
suffered in the same way in which I do, you would be more considerate
of your father's health.'
An anxious, agitated parlourmaid hurried forward with the
toast-rack, and Verlase, having helped himself to a dose of patent
digestive medicine in a tablespoon, left the bottle beside his plate
for the rest of the dinner. Mr. Bethune, in his bland way, pretended
to take no notice; Diana blushed all over her face and slender throat,
and gazed at her plate; Ethelred giggled audibly, and was reproved by
an awful look through the shining pince-nez of the child at the head
of the table. Diana felt glad when dinner was over.
The next morning Verlase took the girl upstairs to see the little
sitting-room which was to be hers. Diana gave a comprehensive glance
round the somewhat dingy-apartment, which was decorated in the style
affected by Morris in those days, and then walked quickly to the
window. Below lay the bold sweeping landscape, which had enchanted her
on her way up from the station. There, at least, one's horizon opened
out. Verlase stood beside her, gazing out, too, on the sweeping lines,
the bold colouring of the Surrey hills. The girl slid her hand through
his arm, and leant a little, with a tired gesture, for an instant
against his shoulder. It was the first spontaneous proof of tenderness
she had ever given him. He had always seemed so aloof, so detached, so
unapproachable. But to-day she felt mentally weary, and anxious, in a
way, for masculine sympathy.
From below, in the garden, came the sound of children's wrangling
voices, and for an instant there was a scuffling, whirling vision of a
boy and a girl in high combat. Then the struggling figures disappeared
among the evergreens, and all was quiet again.
'The young life!' murmured the poet indulgently. He slid his arm
round the girl and drew her to him with a peculiar smile. Diana issued
from that embrace with the feelings of a terrified bird. She had not
thought of Verlase as an ardent lover. The girl sat down, avoiding his
eyes. She glanced round the room at the paper, with its meaningless
apples meandering over a sage-green ground, at the faded peacock-blue
curtains, and at the autotypes of simpering virgins which covered the
'I shall have it done up for you, Diana,' said the poet, with a
wave of his hand. 'Choose your style-your favourite colours.'
'I think I should like Empire!' said Diana with a sudden impulse.
'It is gay, don't you think, in a dull world? Why not,' she went on,
gazing at the dolorous draperies, 'have little mirrors with fluted
gilt frames, and a sofa or two with pretty striped brocades?'
Verlase frowned slightly, and murmured something about the
'meretricious in decoration,' but he did not dispute the point, and
it was finally arranged that the poet and his future bride should run
up to town in a couple of days' time and do most of their pre-nuptial
THE Tottenham Court Road on a windy March day is hardly an
ideal place in which to nurse a waning affection. After two hours
spent in different 'emporiums,' Diana began to view these preparations
for her marriage with bewildered dismay. If she could only be alone,
The east wind always affected the great poet's temper, and the wind
was decidedly in the east to-day. As for Diana, she would have none of
the imitation Empire mirrors which were brought out for her
inspection. They were odious, she said, with their glaringly new gilt
frames, and their foolish little eagles perched on a gimcrack vase.
The sitting-room in Surrey seemed a long way off.... After all, would
she ever really live in it? She ended by buying nothing, pleading a
'You are looking fatigued, my poor child,' said Verlase, in his
elderly, weary voice. 'We will drive straight to the Incorporated
Stores in Long Acre. I have some purchases to make there, and we shall
be able to have some lunch.'
Inside the big, dingy building they were jostled by a pushing,
hurrying, semi-genteel crowd—pale, harassed, over-worked clerks,
clergymen's wives, and nondescript people from distant suburbs, who
bent over the counter to give addresses in a whisper: 'Upper Tooting,'
'Hornsey Rise,' 'Kilburn,' and the like. There were perspectives of
plush frames, of gilt clocks, of Brummagem candlesticks, while round
the glass doors, which swung incessantly to and fro, were cheap
photogravures and framed oleographs after Eugène de Blaas. There was a
never-ceasing tramp of ascending and descending feet. The atmosphere
was stale and hot.
The two spent half an hour choosing an oil-stove. By this time there
were black circles round Diana's eyes.
Verlase explained kindly that in future she need not tire herself.
It would be sufficient if she came up to the Stores once in ten days
or so, and spent an hour there. Of course the meat was superior to the
meat they could get in a village butcher's shop, while as to
medicines, everything was made up for the household at the chemical
They sat down at a dingy marble table in the refreshment room.
Diana was too tired to eat. She gazed at the rows of profiles—of men
in shabby overcoats, of women in meagre furs—hastily munching food.
Here and there an anxious-looking hand was raised with a cup of tea or
glass of milk. At the next table a family of children in woollen
comforters were eating noisily. It was a scene of pathetic
respectability, a leaf torn from the pages of half a hundred hopeless,
Diana rose suddenly from the table, leaving her plate untouched.
'I must go home,' she entreated. 'I really don't feel well. It
would be better for me to get back to Park Street. Will you call me a
cab?' she said resolutely, astonished at her own decision. Never, she
thought, had she desired anything so ardently as to escape from this
place, from the man she was with, and to be alone in her own house
with leisure to look her future in the face.
Seeing the girl's distress and altered looks, Verlase made no ado.
At home she would have her maid to look after her, and, as he put her
in the cab and pressed her hand tenderly, he told her that he should
be at the station to-morrow to meet her, should she feel well enough
to take a morning train.
The poet raised his hat, smiled a little sadly, and the cab rumbled
Diana slept soundly that night in her little amber and white
bedroom, and in the morning, with the spring sunshine flooding her
counterpane, the world seemed a gayer place. The weather had changed.
The wind had dropped, and it was a soft spring morning. The maid
brought in a letter with her tea. It was from William Forsyth. He had,
he wrote, been very badly treated of late. He had seen nothing of
her—had heard she was away, but meant to take his chance of finding
her in on his way to the Row that morning. If the gods were kind Diana
would ride with him once again, as they used to do. At any rate he
would be with her at eleven.
At eleven! And it was ten now. She jumped out of bed, calling for
her bath, and feeling unreasonably elated. 'Send round to the stables
and say I shall want Flyaway at eleven; and get out my best habit,'
cried the girl. 'No, not a sailor hat. I hate sailor hats and loose
coats. I want to look smart, very smart; nicer than any one in the
Row this morning. And you'll have to wave my hair, Sarah. It looks
dreadful. I look a frump.'
She was standing, all ready, whip in hand, when Forsyth was
announced. How charming, and young, and gay he looked in his riding
dress, as he stood for an instant framed by the doorway, with his
clean-shaven face showing a ruddy brown against the clear white of his
collar and tie. It must have been something in her eyes which made him
step forward eagerly, after shutting the door and giving a cautious
'How sweet you look,' he said, seizing her wrists and gazing at her
steadily with tender eyes.
She dropped her lids, and murmured something unintelligible, and in
an instant the young man had her in his arms.
'I—I have been making such a mistake,' she said presently in a
repentant voice, gently disengaging herself.
'What about, my darling?'
'Oh, that—that letter I wrote to you. I didn't know then, that
'Didn't you? My other heart! I knew it all along. I was only
waiting. Didn't you know I should wait?'
'Oh, Billy, then! Do you—do you really think we shall get on
'I'm willing to risk it.'
'And we shall know lots of nice people, sha'n't we? Nice, silly,
cosy people, I mean.'
'Oh, not the clever lot, eh?'
'N—no. And we shall be quite poor, sha'n't we, Billy?'
'Nine hundred a year between us. Genteel poverty, mitigated by
Venetian glass and Norwegian silver (wedding presents, sweetheart!)
and a cook whom we shall have trained. As for dresses, a dozen yards
of Indian silk, and my girl looks like a goddess.'
'You're a stupid boy,' said Diana loftily. 'You know absolutely
nothing about domestic economy.'
'I know I love you.'
Below, in the sunshiny Mayfair street, the horses were impatiently
pawing the flags. Diana threw up the window, and a whiff of
intoxicating spring air met their nostrils.
'I forgot,' said the girl suddenly. 'I've got to write a letter.
Billy, I'm supposed to be—to be staying with Mr. Astel Verlase. I'll
tell you all about it some day.'
Forsyth hardly heard her. He was admiring the delicious lines of her
neck, and the little blond curls frothing round her collar, as she sat
there busily scribbling at her desk.
'Have you told him to go to the devil, Di?' said the young man,
lazily watching her through half-closed eyes. He was accustomed to
tease her about imaginary adorers.
'He won't do that,' she said, as a vision crossed her mind of the
Incorporated Stores. Then she folded, stamped, and addressed her
'Now I am ready,' she said. He bent and kissed the flower-like
And the young man and the young girl were assailed by the subtle
odour of spring as they stepped out together into the open air.
ITS OWN REWARD
'Walking, walking still, the feet are weary; the city is
yet far off, a tent is erected by the roadside; say, who is to blame?
THE SÁKHIS OF KABIR.
'AREN'T men beasts!' cried Lily, banging the imitation-ivory
brush in her hand on to the dressing-table. 'I'll pay them out some
day, see if I don't!'
The girl, who did everything with a lavish hand, had turned on the
two gas-lamps over the dressing-table at full tap, and the flaring
lights revealed the strange likeness of the two sisters. They were
young and curiously pretty. Each had an appealing, wistful look—a
look that is often seen on the faces of young girls; a look which asks
of Life its great secret. So obvious was the rôe for which
Nature had intended the two Waltons, that the sight of either of them
evoked a vision of a young mother caressing a little child. The
sisters were of middle height. fair-skinned, and delicately round in
the bust. Lily's mouth had firmer lines; there was more character in
her face, and her eyes, now and again, had a curious expression, a look
which was merely mischievous now, but which might develop, with
increasing years, into a somewhat reckless audacity. These were the
only apparent differences; looks and temperament were nearly
'How are you going to do that?' demanded the younger girl gravely,
from her hunched-up position on the bed. 'Seems to me it'll be hard
enough to earn our own livings.' Their Aunt Charlotte, she reminded
Lily, wanted ten shillings a week for their keep, and to-morrow
morning they must go. It had all been so sudden that neither of them
had had time to realise their position. And yet the father's
bankruptcy, the drapery business in the hands of receivers, and then
his quickly-following death from influenza—only six months after
their mother had succumbed under an operation;—all had paled for Amy
before the catastrophe of Frederick Johnson's desertion. It seemed
ages ago now—and yet it was only three days—that he had written to
say that, owing to changed circumstances, his parents were reluctantly
obliged to withdraw their consent to the match. 'Their consent
indeed!' cried Lily, on reading the letter; 'he means the £s.d. He's a
sweep!' But Amy, womanlike, found excuses for her lover. Indeed, she
talked of him and of their marriage continually.
'Oh, Lily, that white satin with the Honiton lace would have been
sweetly pretty! Poor mother,' she went on with a toneless laugh,
'used to be always saying what pretty brides we'd make—long before
my wedding day was as good as fixed at St. Thomas's. But that's all
'Yes. That's all over,' said Lily, a little brutally. 'But Mr.
Rosenberg is going to help me,' she added, with sudden pink cheeks.
'Mr. Rosenberg!' murmured Amy distrustfully. She had never been
sure why the smart young stockbroker, with his chambers in Jermyn
Street, came out so often to Kilburn. What had he to do with their
little world? True, he paid Lily a good deal of attention; but when a
young man in their circle paid attention to a young woman, it meant
only one thing, domesticity:—and of marriage Amy was pretty certain
that Lily's admirer had said nothing. She remembered how her mother,
up to the last, had always been of opinion that 'that Rosenberg meant
no good, hanging about Lily, keeping better men off, and never coming
to the point.' The late Mrs. Walton, indeed, had objected to Mr.
Rosenberg from every point of view. She disliked him for being a
foreigner, for driving showy ladies in his phaeton in the Park, for
having a permanent stall at the Gaiety, and for going to Paris twice
or thrice a year. 'Why,' she argued, 'couldn't Lily choose some nice
young fellow in Tea at the Kilburn Cinderellas, as Amy had done?'
'Yes, he's been awfully, awfully kind ... I can't
He's taken such an interest in all our affairs; he even made a little
money—thirty pounds or so—on the Stock Exchange for me, with a
five-pound note which I had by me. And he knows all the managers in
London; he's going to get me a part—just a little one, at first, of
course. Perhaps it will have to be in the provinces, to begin with.'
'You want to be an
actress? Oh, Lily, don't. What would
father and mother have said?'
This, then, was the outcome of Lily's surreptitious going to
matinées when she was supposed to be drinking tea at Clapham or
Norwood. Amy herself had never been in a theatre. The girls had been
brought up in strict Dissenting principles.
'Can't help it now,' said the elder girl doggedly. 'Don't make a
fuss.' Then, in a more soothing tone, she urged upon her sister the
need for one of them to make money, painting the sordid monotony of
life in Camden Town with Aunt Charlotte, and Amy's habitual delicacy,
which made her what she called a 'port-wine-and-cod-liver-oil girl.' '
Leave it to me, you young silly,' she wound up, 'to make both our
And Amy, feeling that sleep, just now, was more important than
argument, began to fold up her petticoats methodically, and then,
slipping into bed with a little shiver and a repressed sigh, she
closed her eyelids.
After that there was complete silence. But for a long time Lily
moved restlessly about the room, gathering her personal treasures
together. She had already found what she wanted for the moment—a
cheap lodging for a week in Bloomsbury. The company in which Mr.
Rosenberg had found her a tiny part was starting for the North in ten
days' time. Once started in her theatrical career, she would soon be
able to earn enough for them both. Instinctively, she was sure of her
youth, her good looks, her charm.... All day long she had felt a hot
glow of indignation at Frederick Johnson's treatment of her sister.
She longed to revenge Amy, to see her married to some one richer, more
'gentlemanly' than Fred.... She saw herself a famous actress, rich,
successful, able to dower the younger girl. All their recent troubles,
especially Fred's defection, had roused the defiant note in her
Mechanically she went round collecting the things she meant to take
with her—framed photographs of her father, mother, and sister; a
bronze kitten playing a fiddle; a dried rose kept in a pink silk bag,
given by some youthful sweetheart; some soiled ball-programmes, and,
most precious of all, some twenty photographs, secretly accumulated
one by one, of Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
When she had done, the girl was tired. It was a muggy autumn night,
and the air was close. Crossing to the window, she threw up the sash,
and the dank air streamed into the gas-laden room. A clock, with much
deliberation, struck eleven.
Long after the last stroke had died away the elder girl stood there
listening. What she heard was a low murmur, the aggregation of a
thousand sounds, sinister in its persistency. It was the roar of
LIFE with Aunt Charlotte in Camden Town bore hardly on Amy.
Miss Charlotte Walton was a thin-lipped, thrifty woman, who lived in a
house giving on to a vista of railway arches. There were intermittent
lodgers, as well as a continual fret about the minor domestic
economies. Hardly a day passed, too, without scathing remarks being
made about the absent Lily, who was now in Sunderland, in lodgings
with another 'young lady' of the company, where they were busy
rehearsing the Christmas pantomime. Lily had the fairy queen's part.
Unfortunately, she had only twelve lines: but then her costume was
dazzling. Later on she wrote that she was understudying the 'principal
boy,' and then that she was out of the bill, owing to an obstinate
cold on the chest. Amy wanted to go north at once, but she had no
money, neither could she leave the situation which she had managed to
get—that of under clerk in the office of a newly-floated company,
where from nine in the morning till six at night the young girl sat
addressing envelopes. On three evenings a week she made a hasty meal
at an Aerated Bread Shop and went to have her typewriting lesson.
At home, in the little house in Camden Town, there was waiting for
her, on other nights, her aunt's pinched visage hovering over a teapot
and a herring. If she were ten minutes late there were sour looks.
Often she was too tired to eat. The girl, being delicate, had been
accustomed to abundant, nourishing food—to cups of chocolate,
beef-tea, and basins of arrowroot when she went to bed. Her aunt's
wrath seemed to be especially excited against her because she knew
that her niece, in addition to 'putting on airs about her food,' was
fretting about Frederick Johnson.
Indeed, Amy s 'disappointment' had proved more poignant, and even
more lasting, than she had thought possible. And yet she could
remember the time when the affection had all been on the side of the
man, for Amy, when she met him, was at an age when admiration is more
to a woman than passion; but by the time the approximate date of their
marriage was fixed, it was the girl who enveloped her lover with an
And now, in the grey blurred streets, in crowded fusty omnibuses,
alone at night in her draughty bedroom, she found herself continually
thinking of the young man's sleek head and satisfied smile. She tried
to picture, at all hours of the day and evening, what her lover was
doing.... From half-past nine to half-past six he was, of course, in
the City. She wondered if he still went to the Kilburn Town Hall
dances. Perhaps—she secretly hoped—he played whist instead: he had
talked of joining a small club. On Saturdays he always made one of the
Willesden Harriers. They had paper-chases all the winter long. Once,
when they were engaged, she had met him flying by, in a suburban lane,
the type, to her, of an English athlete.
Starved in body and soul, the young girl clung to the memory of her
one happiness. In all the hundreds of novels she had read, it was
always argued that—for a woman, at least—one love was sufficient for
a lifetime. She brooded on this in wakeful nights, and in the
intervals of addressing prospectuses at the office. The company which
she innocently helped to promote was one for the formation of Happy
Homes in Manitoba; that somewhat intemperate region being represented,
in glowing terms, as especially suitable for young couples about to
marry. Amy sometimes wondered if it would be any use addressing one of
the company's prospectuses to Fred: if he still cared enough for her
to start a new life together in Canada; but this hope was sometimes
doubled with a misgiving, which pulled at her very heart-strings, that
Mr. Frederick Johnson was not one of those adventurous Britons who
make pioneers—that he was, in a word, too fond of his easy City life,
the bargains made over glasses of sherry, the suburban dances, the
runs with the Willesden Harriers....
Meantime, January had come and gone, and for a month there had been
no news of Lily. When the expected letter arrived, Amy hid it. The
envelope bore a strange-looking foreign stamp, which turned out, on
closer inspection, to be that of the principality of Monaco. Lily
wrote in the highest spirits. Her dear little Amy was not to worry
about her. She had been very ill at the lodgings in Sunderland, but
Mr. Rosenberg had come up directly he had heard of it, had had her
removed to the hotel, and had called in the two cleverest doctors in
the town. They had ordered her south, and here she was at the grandest
hotel in Monte Carlo. Adolph had been so good, so devoted; she didn't
know how to thank him. He insisted she shouldn't work for a time;
later on he would get her a part at a London theatre.... She was
confident that it would all come right in the end; that once they got
back to England they would be married. Anyhow, he was very good and
devoted. Lily would never be able to repay him.... They had been to
Nice, where the shops were exquisite; but oh! so dear. She had got all
French clothes now. She was a great success when she went to the
gaming-tables. Adolph liked people to look at her.... And she was
still, and always, her Amy's loving sister—Lily.
This letter marked a turning-point in the younger Walton's life. Up
to now she had imagined that some day the two sisters would live
together; that Lily would become a successful actress, and that she
herself would scrape and save enough to help in a little home. Who
knew? Perhaps some day Fred might have come back to her.... Concealing
the letter from Aunt Charlotte, she went about her business all day
with pinched, dry lips, and lack-lustre eyes. At the office, Amy
addressed quite a tremendous number of 'Happy Home' prospectuses. Work
had to be done, whatever happened. Bread had to be earned. Some earned
it one way, some another. And then, while her pen travelled
mechanically over the long envelopes, there were vague visions of that
strange little place in the South of Europe to which Lily had been
taken—the palms, the terraces hanging over a cobalt sea, the
gaming-tables, and the ladies with outrageous hats.... Amy had seen
pictures of Monte Carlo in illustrated papers, and, more highly
coloured, in the grimy depths of the Underground Railway. ...It
looked so pretty that she had a puritanical feeling that it was not
right to go there.... No, much better go to cold, far-northern
Manitoba, where men took their wives, and earned their bread by the
sweat of their brow.... And yet Lily was always right; she was so
strong, so determined, so resourceful; everybody at home had always
looked up to Lily. And so it was that she felt neither shocked, nor
sore, nor indignant; she had only an overwhelming desire to go and
find comfort, consolation, and protection, as she had so often found
it, in the arms of her lover. And this desire took possession of her
when she had need of all th dignity, the self-repression, the
self-renunciation which she could command.
At lunch-time she could swallow nothing. It was a Saturday, and the
office shut at two. Usually, the child went home, but to-day she was
strangely restless. An omnibus took her towards Kilburn, and then,
mechanically, her steps led past the large shop—now turned into a
Universal Store—past the square, smug-looking house with the garden
where they used to play tennis; then on into the Willesden lanes, for
a secret hope had mastered her. This was the day that the Harriers had
their paper-chase. Perhaps she might catch sight of Fred.
The roads were damp and muddy. Through the bare branches of the elms
was seen here and there a prim gabled villa, with dingy brick walls
shutting in a dank garden. Farther on there were vistas of half-built
terraces, and all the desolation of ragged, unfinished suburbs. She
stopped in front of one of these half-built rows of houses. At one end
of Beaconsfield Terrace there were gaping windows like empty
eye-sockets, yellow planks in place of steps, mounds of brick, and
milk-like pools of lime. Towards No. 15, however, the houses were
finished: some were even occupied.... No. 21—that was to have been
their home, hers and Fred's! How often they had come to look at it
together!... She saw, with a nameless pang, that some one had taken
the house. Yes, there were 'tapestry' curtains, a plant in the
drawing-room window, and, higher up, a baby's fat, vacant face pressed
against a pane....
Amy walked hastily away, her head bent. Life was very hard.
And then, at the turn of the road, the girl's heart began to thump
beneath her jacket. A line of running figures, pink below, white
above, came suddenly in view. Some looked furtively over their
shoulders as they ran, their elbows working to and fro with the
regularity of machines. Surely this one in front was Fred? He was so
quick and strong; he was always the first—was not this his sleek
The Harriers were past in a flash, their rhythmical footfalls hardly
sounding in the mud. They had gone, but there had been nothing to
gladden the girl's longing eyes, or to fill her empty heart. Fred was
not there. It was past seven o'clock when she got home, and the voice
of Aunt Charlotte was raised in loud complaint as she pulled open the
'I can't make tea for you again. I've put three spoons in the pot
already. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you ought. There's your
bloater stone-cold. It's a per-fect sin, wasting good food.'
Amy, exasperated, turned suddenly upon her.
'You'll drive me crazy! You're always at me! Let me go!' shrieked
the young girl, as Aunt Charlotte caught her by the arm. The elder
woman stood amazed, as Amy rushed upstairs and banged her bedroom
door. At any rate, whatever her faults, the child had always been
' The girl's going out of her mind!' said Miss Walton, with a
certain air of triumph. Later on, however, as Amy did not come down
again, her heart softened towards her niece; for all night long she
could hear the distant sound of sobs—of sobs which were carefully
deadened by a meagre pillow.
AMY only went once or twice to the little house in Brompton in
which Lily was installed. It was difficult to avoid her aunt's
questions, and moreover the younger girl would only go when she knew
Mr. Rosenberg was away. Once, when she had trudged, after tea, most of
the way there, she had seen the brougham emerging from the little
garden as she came up to the gate. There was Lily, with her blond hair
artificially waved, and wrapped in a cloak of yellow brocade and
sables. Two semi-bald young men, who had obviously dined, were
laughing as they bent towards her. It was a brief vision of flushed,
complacent faces, of cigarette-smoke, of diamond studs, and fur-lined
wraps half thrown open.
The young girl was so ashamed that she went home again without
making a sign. After that, she would not go to Brompton. Lily had to
meet her at an Aerated Bread Shop or in Kensington Gardens if she
wanted to see her; but she was busy enough in these days, having a
tiny part at a London theatre now. There were pictures of her in those
weekly papers which exploit the chorus-girl, and she appeared as a
'Type of English Beauty' in some of the Regent Street windows.
Sometimes Lily wrote, on heavily-scented paper, with a sprawling gilt
monogram.... Everything was all right, she said, and Adolph was
devoted; only the parents had been horrid about the question of
marriage.... It would be all right in time, and then Amy might come to
her. Meantime, wouldn't she accept a little ermine muff, or one of her
frocks—the least showy of them?
But the younger Walton would accept nothing. She had become, during
the year which followed her sister's journey to Monte Carlo, moody and
desponding. Often she passed a whole evening without speaking. When
she went to bed she sat, escaping from the sordid monotony of real
life, devouring penny novelettes far into the night.
With the next new year her occupation threatened to cease. The
Company for the Promotion of Happy Homes in Manitoba was about to be
wound up, and the young girl had to find work elsewhere. She had
learned typewriting and shorthand by now, and for the next few weeks
Amy's childish face and shining hair were seen lurking in the
entrances to City offices. Eventually she got a temporary engagement.
And soon she had a new anxiety. The early spring, with rumours of
war, brought disaster in the particular market engineered by Mr.
Rosenberg. Things became so bad that he was 'hammered' in the House,
and then there was a sudden flight to Brussels, leaving the Brompton
villa and other luxuries unpaid for. Lily was left behind; and Mr.
Adolph Rosenberg, taking his financial talents to a foreign Bourse,
did not return to London.
Amy flew, now, to the Brompton villa; but she found the place being
sold up, and no trace of Lily. She wrote, however, soon, from
Huddersfield, where she was performing in a successful musical comedy
which had gone on tour. A little later there was a letter from
Bradford. Lily had given up the stage—there was very little chance of
getting on unless you had influence; and she had, as a matter of fact,
accepted the post of housekeeper to an elderly gentleman, a retired
woollen manufacturer, who had a lonely but 'magnificently appointed'
house overlooking the moors.
Every evening now, to Aunt Charlotte's surprise, Amy sat scribbling
letters. Sometimes she tore up everything she had written, but other
times the letters were addressed, stamped, and posted the same night.
A fixed idea had taken possession of her: all might yet be well, she
thought, if she only explained matters to Fred.... She would tell him
everything—how hard she worked, how unhappy she was in the dingy
house in Camden Town, how she was starving for a little sympathy, a
little love.... But no answers came to her letters. Perhaps he had
gone away. Well, she would send post-cards. Some one would read them,
and, in pity's sake, send them on. So Amy wrote now on post-cards. And
every day, as she caught the omnibus to the City, or bent over the
typewriting machine at the office, she hoped against hope for an
answer. He couldn't have forgotten, she argued. They had been so much
to each other; she could remember every one of his ardent phrases, the
very sensation of his caresses.... No, no, it wasn't possible that he
could have forgotten already.... Amy's eyes were sunken and flickering
now; her lips drawn and parched. When the senior clerk spoke roughly
to her—for she was forgetful in these days—she would straightway
dissolve into tears. The senior clerk was disgusted: this was the
result of employing girls in business offices, he said; for his part,
he thought that women should be at home, attending to their household
duties. And then, whistling a popular air, he would change his coat
and hurry off to keep an appointment at a music hall.
One afternoon, while Amy was finishing her last week at the
office, a prosperous-looking young gentleman with a sleek head rapped
at Miss Walton's knocker, and, ringing the bell in addition, was
hurriedly answered by Aunt Charlotte herself. Mr. Frederick Johnson,
who appeared somewhat sheepish and embarrassed, had called to make a
complaint. Of course, he was naturally deeply sorry for all that had
happened in the past, but if this annoyance of letters and post-cards
did not cease, he would have, he declared with some irritation, to
take measures to protect himself. The fact was, that he was—well, he
was a married man now; had taken a house in Elgin Avenue, Harrow Road,
and, as his wife was in delicate health, the doctor had expressly
forbidden her to be annoyed or excited. In a word, Mr. Frederick
Johnson was extremely sorry; but couldn't the past be buried, and Miss
Amy Walton—to whom he wished every happiness—be induced to put it
out of her mind?
A sudden wave of feminine sympathy swept over the grim-featured old
woman. She not only showed Mr. Johnson the door, but added 'a bit of
her mind' to the lover who had behaved so unhandsomnely. But, as it
turned out, it was not the wisest thing to do. A few weeks later, they
were threatened with a summons before a police magistrate, which was
only staved off by Aunt Charlotte's promises that nothing the child
wrote should be posted. The news of Fred Johnson's marriage had no
such sobering effect on the girl as that young gentleman had appeared
to hope. As a matter of fact, she did not believe it, thinking that
Aunt Charlotte had invented the whole thing to annoy her.
There was a perpetual farce kept up about the girl's correspondence.
'Post this letter for me, won't you? I feel too tired to go out
'Yes, my dear. Give it to me.' Amy sank back on the hard cushions.
Her work had stopped, and she had nothing to take her out of doors.
Indeed, she hardly left the sofa now.
And presently, as the elder woman was hurrying along the sordid
streets, she stopped on one of the bridges of the canal, and rested
for a moment, gazing down into the slimy water below. Aunt Charlotte
had softened during their trouble. She sympathised now with the girl
who was with her, the niece who had not 'disgraced' her. She would
see to it that the child had better food; John had always spoiled his
girls ridiculously. Perhaps she ought to have meat twice a day. She
would get her a cutlet for her supper, and some of the iron tonic
which the chemist kept, ready-made, at the shop round the corner. She
had become alarmed now, lest this young creature should not be able to
pull through.... In her hand she still held the letter which Amy had
given her. With a sigh she tore it into fragments, and let them fall,
a fluttering white shower, down into the canal below.
Very quickly all trace of them had disappeared, and soon there was
only the brown, oily expanse of the sluggish, turgid water-way, down
which the barges moved stealthily along to distant midland cities.
But if Aunt Charlotte had nearly given up hope, she was reckoning
without the resources of Lily.
One day in June there drove up, in a four-wheel cab, a handsome,
matronly young lady in deep widow's weeds. Amy, with her pale face and
scared eyes, fell, sobbing hysterically, into her elder sister's arms.
'My poor darling,' cried Lily, 'how seedy you look! You must come
away with me. We'll go to Switzerland, and then to the Riviera. You'll
love Cannes. In a few months you'll be quite well. I always knew best
how to take care of you. My poor Amy, my sweet!'
'Are you—is he dead?' asked Amy, gently touching her sister's
expensive crape-trimmed mantle. Lily, she said to herself
triumphantly, was capable of anything; even of becoming a rich young
'Yes,' she said, gravely. 'Poor Joseph died ten days ago. We were
married shortly before. He has left me everything,' she added. 'He was
very good to me.... Why, you look better already, darling, just seeing
your old Lily again. We'll soon have her as pretty as ever, won't we,
And Aunt Charlotte, who, like all women of the lower middle-class,
was deeply impressed by the appearance of expensive widow's weeds,
busied herself in getting out the best tea-things for this magnificent
'I shall soon find a nice husband for her, once she's got her
beautiful colour back,' rattled on Lily; it's all a question of good
looks, and money—especially money,' added the black-robed lady,
Amy's eyes followed her in wondering admiration round the shabby
little room. Now that Lily had come back, all would be right again.
She wanted nothing else. Life, after all, was sweet.
'Do you ever see anything of Fred?' asked the elder sister
'Fred married,' said Miss Walton, casting an anxious look in the
direction of Amy. 'His wife died when the baby was born.'
'Oh,' said Lily sententiously. 'Well, he was never half good enough
for Amy, but if she has any fancy for him still, why, it can be
arranged,' she added, with the air of a princess.
'Oh, Lily! No, no. Let me go away with you, dear. I've been so
dreadfully lonely, and I want to get well and strong.... Don't let's
ever part again.... Let me go with you.'
A POLITICAL COMEDY
THOUGH an editor, he was human. The radiant vision confronting
him seemed to illuminate the dingy newspaper office; and he
remembered, after she was gone, how clean-cut her profile had
appeared, outlined against the brown bricks of the houses on the
opposite side of the Strand; the curious glance of her
metallic-looking eyes, and even some details of her dress, such as the
sumptuous ermine lining to her loose, half-open coat, and a great
bunch of Neapolitan violets which permeated the atmosphere of the
cheerless little room with their fragrance. Mr. Wentworth Johnson, in
his editorial capacity, was accustomed to lady journalists in pince-nez, and navy serge, and the vision was sufficiently
bewildering. He was an unimaginative Briton, with a short thick neck
and watery blue eyes, and with a somewhat antique collection of
British prejudices embedded under the thatch of his close-cropped,
He objected, in the first place, to the presence of women in
newspaper offices; their place, he used to say, was in the nursery,
not in Fleet Street; and as a rule he got out of seeing them. Was
there not a sub-editor, whose time was supposed to be at the disposal
of lady journalists and women with grievances? It seemed incredible
now, but he had even used an unparliamentary phrase when her card had
been brought up; it must have been his good angel, he thought, who had
whispered that, after all, perhaps he had better see this special
intruder. How graceful, how good-looking she was! The editor of the Evening Planet was perhaps inclined to admire the budding floweret
rather than the opened rose, and he took her for a girl of
three-and-twenty. And the gods laughed softly among themselves as the
lady took a chair opposite the editor.
'I thought,' she said, in a serious and rather sweet voice, in
which there was now and again a little thrill, 'that I might venture
to see you personally.'
The sound of her voice was so charming that he waited, smiling,
until she spoke again. Across the narrow courtyard could be heard the
whirr and thud of the printing machines, turning out the weekly
edition of the Planet. It was a kind of ironical, remorseless
sound, and made a curious accompaniment to their first interview.
'I hear from my friend Lady Winchcliffe that you know her very
well, and might be able to help me '
'Ah! you know Lady Winchcliffe?' said the editor eagerly. Lady
Winchcliffe was a great lady on the Liberal side, to whose parties, at
Winchcliffe House, everybody of importance went. 'Perhaps I have
already had the pleasure—Miss—er?'
'My name is "John Bathurst,"' she said, with a certain reserve,
glancing at the card which she had already sent up, and which was now
lying on the editor's desk with that somewhat misleading cognomen
written thereon in a large, bold, feminine hand-writing.
'That is your
nom-de-guerre?' said the editor, taking his
snubbing nicely, and wondering if her book—for the radiant vision
carried a slender volume in her hand —would prove to be a collection
of neurotic verses?
'I thought it best to take a man's name,' she said shyly, 'because
no woman is listened to if she writes upon public questions—at any
rate, no woman whose name is unknown.... My little book,' she
continued, 'is on the Free Trade question. I am all right in my
statistics; I've been well primed in all that. You've no idea,' she
went on, smiling, 'what I've been through. I've not only spent weeks
in Leeds and Manchester, but I've been to endless dinner-parties
there. They have the strangest way of talking; such a curious accent,
you can hardly understand what they say.'
'Very disinterested of you, I'm sure,' said Mr. Johnson, leaning
back, amused, in the editorial chair. 'And what line do you take?'
'Oh, Free Food for the people—the poor people, you know.'
'Well, I'm afraid the
Planet doesn't quite take that line.
We're Conservative, you see.'
And then, for a minute, he felt vaguely perplexed and annoyed. He
had always hated these 'meddling women,' as he called them in his
blunter moments. As a matter of fact, this preoccupation with politics
bored and scandalised Mr. Wentworth Johnson. He neither understood nor
approved of it. 'Hang it all,' he would say at his club, 'what do the
women want? Haven't they got their kitchens and their nurseries, and
don't they have chairs when we have got to stand up, and—and any
amount of admiration—at any rate while they are young and pretty?'
But, oddly enough, these arguments were not put forward on the
present occasion. To his astonishment, Mr. Wentworth Johnson found
himself curiously anxious to say nothing of which this young
politician might not approve.
But was, after all, the
Evening Planet irrevocably bound to
the Tory cause? It had always been largely a literary paper; it
received no subsidy from the Conservative party. Only the other day,
he remembered an interview he had had with the proprietor, Mr. Julius
Friedeberg, who, having had nothing from the Government which was in
office—not even a beggarly knighthood, as he expressed it—was
turning over in his mind whether he should not take up so popular a
question as the Big Loaf and go boldly over to the Radicals. These
considerations, of course, were not without their effect on the editor
in his manner to John Bathurst. With newspaper proprietors—especially
those like Mr. Julius Friedeberg—a man never knew quite what was
going to happen....
'The Planet doesn't take that line,' she went on in her
emotional voice, 'because it hasn't considered the awful importance of
this question of free food. Think of the children—the little,
starving children, and what it will mean to them? Why, they are only
half alive as it is. I've made my book—it's only a pamphlet, of
course—as picturesque and striking as I knew how. If it is taken
up—if you take it up—it will wake people up to realities—it
will at least make them think.'
'An Austrian lady—wasn't it?—wrote a book against War,' replied
Wentworth Johnson, playing with a paper-knife as he watched her. 'It
made a great sensation. Shortly after, the Tsar called the Hague
Conference together. To-day, we are on the eve of a war between Russia
and Japan. Your feminine ideals are hardly practical.'
'If it were not for women,' said John Bathurst reproachfully,
'there would be no ideals left at all.'
'Well, there is a moment, sometimes, when the public insists on
them,' admitted Mr. Wentworth Johnson, in a strictly neutral and
editorial manner. 'I'll see what can be done. The proprietor of the Planet will be here to-morrow. I'll consult him about your
pamphlet, and see if the paper is going to take a definite line. And I
will see that your book is sent to the proper quarter for review.'
'I'm so glad that I came,' said the lady joyously. She got up,
feeling at home already, and moved forward slowly to the window, gazing
out thoughtfully at the turmoil of the Strand—the ceaseless
procession of crowded omnibuses, the shouting newsboys, the motley
tide of humanity which swept up and down the street. Her air of
leisure, her modishly-fashioned garments, the faint odour which
escaped from her muff, made a curious contrast to the dreary
surroundings, the monotonous bustle of the newspaper office.
Then she turned, stopping suddenly in front of the editorial desk;
and, looking him appealingly in the face, she said abruptly: 'Oh, Mr.
Johnson, I do want to have your opinion on my book. I hardly
liked coming here to-day,' she went on, with an adorably shy little
glance, 'for you know I've never been in a newspaper office before;
but I wished so much that you might read it yourself—that I should
have a real literary opinion on my work.'
He felt a curious little thrill all down his back—a thrill which he
had somehow never experienced during his interviews with the pince-nez and the blue serges which came so often on weary and
interminable quests. The appeal was inordinately flattering.
'Ah, how good of you! How can I thank you?' said 'John Bathurst,'
blushing, when he gallantly announced his intention of reading her
book that very night. She looked prettier than ever when she blushed,
'You can thank me,' he said somewhat nervously, 'some other day,
Miss—er—I beg your pardon-"Mr. Bathurst."'
Their eyes met, and they both smiled.
'Let it be like that,' she said. 'Call me "John Bathurst."'
'Very well,' said the editor. Already there was a link between this
beautiful girl and himself. There was a kind of complicity—a guilty
secret to be kept. Mr. Wentworth Johnson racked his brain to find a
reason for detaining his visitor, even for a few minutes more. There
were several people waiting to see him downstairs, for two or three
times during the interview the office-boy had been up with cards; but
yet he fidgeted about, calling her attention to one or two autograph
copies of books by famous authors which were on the bookshelf, and to
a signed photograph which stood on the dingy marble mantelpiece. How
well-bred she looked, he thought, bending a little to look through her
long tortoiseshell lorgnette, with her vaguely expensive air.
And he wondered, though he gave no utterance to his thought, why such
a pretty women should want to write political pamphlets. Pretty women,
he imagined, in his brutal masculine way, had generally something
better to do.
'I'll read the book to-night,' he reiterated, 'and if you can
manage to call in to-morrow I shall be charmed to talk it over with
you. And of course I'll see that it falls into sympathetic hands.'
'Oh, thanks—thanks so much! I can't come to-morrow; but the day
after, would that do? I'm afraid you'll think me all awful nuisance,'
she added, with her enchanting smile; and then, extending her long,
delicate, capable-looking hand, she bade him good-bye, and from her
rustling silk skirts there escaped, as she stepped, head erect, down
the gloomy office staircase, the delicate, yet intoxicating odour of
WHEN she was gone, Mr. Wentworth Johnson walked thoughtfully
back to his desk, answered half-a-dozen letters without thinking much
what he was doing, saw the two or three people who had come about work
or reviews, and finally corrected the proofs of a couple of articles.
Then lie picked up the slender volume. He read on and on. It grew dark
in the office, for the winter day had drawn in; and as he sat there,
the gas-lamps in the Strand began to make blurred splashes of yellow
in the deepening gloom. It was dark when he threw down the book, and
the fire had burnt white in the grate. 'By Jove!' he muttered, 'it's
effective.... It's very effective. Nothing of the Little Englander
about it, either. She's struck the patriotic note, and it's just what
the Radicals, lately, always seem to miss doing. A bit sentimental, of
course—how women do wallow in sentiment!—but she's certainly made
out a case. And what's more, her statistics aren't any more
misleading, as far as one can judge, than statistics usually are.... I
shall certainly see Friedeberg about it to-morrow.'
Two days later Wentworth Johnson sat waiting for her to come. He
felt curiously eager to see her again, wondering what she would say,
now that he had good news to tell her; if she would look him in the
eyes again with her perverse smile, leaving behind her, when she went,
the faint, indefinable odour of iris. Every time the office-boy came
up with a card he started, wondering if she was actually below. But
the morning dragged away, and 'John Bathurst' did not appear. He felt
irritable and exasperated, and he told himself several times that it
was the east wind—the east wind always got on his liver. And it was
doubtless to avoid the inclemency of the streets that Wentworth
Johnson stayed, contrary to his usual custom, at the office all the
afternoon. She might have made a mistake, and thought that he meant the
afternoon: he had been there two days ago when she had called at three
o'clock. It would be preposterous, he reminded himself, to disappoint
The long afternoon wore away. Six o'clock struck, and 'John
Bathurst' had not come. As he finally took up his hat and slipped his
arms into his overcoat, the editor of the Evening Planet told
himself that there were occasions on which it was preposterous to
disappoint a man.
He left the office on foot, thinking he would walk part of the way
home. Piccadilly was blocked with traffic, and at the Circus he had to
wait with a dozen other people till the policeman ordered a halt in
the stream of carriages and omnibuses. One by one the vehicles passed
by, and then there flashed across his gaze a girl's clean-cut profile,
clearly outlined against the dark blue lining of a brougham. The girl
was all in white, with a sparkling jewel in her hair and a great bunch
of La France roses tucked among her laces and furs. It was a
delightful vision, but it did not, somehow, remove our hero's
The carriage moved on. He felt curiously annoyed—his annoyance was
out of all proportion to the simple, commonplace events of the last
two days. A lady had called about a review. Well, they constantly
called about reviews, about a hundred matters connected with a
newspaper. And yet, as he stepped along Piccadilly, his ill temper
increased. 'John Bathurst' was in town, and apparently in perfect
health, yet she had not come to hear his literary opinion on her book.
Literary, political, or not, women were all the same: creatures of
caprice, with perverse smiles and eyes which were made for deceit.
The editor had assumed his stiffest manner when the young author was
an-nounced the next day. He had even allowed her to remain waiting
downstairs in the grimy little anteroom for ten minutes, while he
pretended to revise the proofs of a political article, a piece of
diplomacy on his part which proved to be useless, for not only was
'John Bathurst' as charming as ever when she was finally ushered into
the editorial sanctum, but he found that the corrections made during
the time she had waited had all to be done over again.
'I was sorry you—you did not find it convenient to come
yesterday,' he began, eyeing her a little askance as he played with a
'Ah! I thought I would spare you, Mr. Johnson,' she returned, with
her brilliant smile. 'I didn't really think you would have had time to
read the book.'
' I read it that very afternoon,' he muttered reproachfully. His
stiffness vanished as he looked at her; the little face, with its
appealing look, rising above the dark furs round her throat. He felt
himself wondering how long she would stay, and if he should get on
with her as well as on that first day of their meeting, and if they
would become friends. There must be bewildering, intoxicating
possibilities in a girl who could feel so intensely, who could express
herself so picturesquely as the author of the pamphlet he held in his
hand. A young woman who could write a book like that was not likely to
be conventional in the usual worldly way. He cursed himself for a fool
at having kept her waiting ten minutes downstairs, when he might have
been talk-ing to her, gazing into her strange eyes, bending with her
over her book as it lay on the desk, as they picked out, together, the
passages he meant to have quoted.
And to-day the interview was prolonged. The editor of the
had the best of news to give her. It was the autumn of 1903, when
chaos reigned, even in Government circles, and it was a wise newspaper
which knew its own policy.... And Mr. Julius Friedeberg, once a prop
of the Unionist party, had, after reflection, resolved to follow the
Duke, and throw in the weight of his journal's influence on the side
of Free Food.
To-morrow a strong leader was to appear on the subject, and a
review, with numerous quotations, from John Bathurst's pamphlet.
The whole affair made a mild autumn sensation. Most of the Liberal
papers elected to find extraordinary talent in this young Mr.
Bathurst, who was a recruit worth having in the Free Trade cause. Some
of them insisted that the young man would go far; and it was even
suggested, at the Liberal Clubs, that a safe seat ought to be found
for him, and his election expenses paid. Nevertheless, no one had yet,
strangely enough, met the pamphleteer in the flesh—no one except the
editor of the Planet, who was determined, in spite of all
chaff, to keep him anonymous. On the other hand, the editor could find
out nothing about the personality of 'John Bathurst,' and though he
saw her constantly for the next few weeks, she remained as elusive, as
mysterious as on the first day of their meeting.
The pamphlet had made such a hit, boomed by the Planet, that John
Bathurst had printed it in penny form. It had been largely sold, and
largely distributed for nothing, and people went so far as to say that
it had won a bye-election, towards the end of the month, for the
Liberals. They were discussing this notable victory, in which an
unknown Anglo-Indian, a Colonel Bloodgood, had been the successful
candidate, when Wentworth Johnson made an attempt to penetrate her
'But you are the only man in London who knows who I am!' she said:
'don't you feel proud?'
'Oh, I don't know who you are!' he said, in an injured voice.
She turned away her eyes as she met his insistent masculine glance.
'Ah, no—I forgot,' she said, playing with the little gold charms
at her waist. There was self-reproach in her voice—the self-reproach
of the coquette who is troubled with remorse.
'I only know you are—awfully sweet and charming—and enough to
drive any man crazy,' he muttered, in a thick, troubled voice. He had
played her game all through, he told himself, for he had 'given his
paper dead away,' and there was no end to the chaff at the club. Was
he to have no compensation?
In the pause which followed could be heard the thunder of the
printing machines, turning out the weekly edition of his paper,
suggesting, with its remorseless activity, its monotonous thud, the
inexorableness, the irrevocableness of the printed word.
The narrow, metallic eyes almost closed, and with a little shrug she
answered, 'Don't spoil it all. I—I am only "John Bathurst," a
political pamphleteer, you know, not a woman. I could not come again,'
she added reproachfully, 'if you—if you're going to talk like that.
And how am I going to write that final letter—without your help?'
'I won't talk like that again,' he said humbly. He saw that he had
made a premature move. 'Please come to-morrow,' "John Bathurst,"' he
pleaded, crushing her cool, capable hand for an instant in his.
And 'John Bathurst' came.
A FEW evenings later, Mr. Wentworth Johnson was driving through
the grey London streets in a chariot drawn by doves. Strictly
speaking, his conveyance was only a hansom cab of the old type, with
rattling windows and fusty cushions; but he was on his way to meet the
author of the celebrated pamphlet in her capacity of woman, to meet
her in private life—perhaps (who knew?) to take her in to dinner? For
years he had not felt so strangely elated, so nervous, so little sure
of himself. He wondered if it was the right thing for him to have
asked Lady Winchcliffe to bring them together in society; for he was
somewhat afraid of that lady's malicious smile, and to the last she
had remained obstinate as to the identity of the now famous author.
All that he had been able to find out from his hostess was the fact
that 'John Bathurst' had lived most of her life in India, and had but
She was not in the room when he came upstairs.
'"John Bathurst's" coming,' whispered Lady Winchcliffe; 'you shall
take her in, if you're very good. We're only a small party—eight. But
she's always incorrigibly late. I never knew a woman take longer to
He tried to join in the desultory talk round the fireplace, but his
eyes wandered to the door.
'Colonel and Mrs. Bloodgood,' said the butler suddenly, in an
abrupt voice; and 'John Bathurst,' dressed in something white and soft
and innocent-looking, and followed by a middle-aged man with a crooked
line of sunburn across his forehead, stepped forward into the room.
'Colonel and Mrs. Bloodgood: Colonel-and Mrs. Bloodgood!' And so
she was married—married to the new member of parliament.... Curiously
enough, he had never thought of such a contingency. His radiant vision
was the legal property of a tall, middle-aged, military man, who
looked as if he meant to take care of her.
The rest of the evening was all blurred and confused. He could
remember summoning up a forced smile as he offered Mrs. Bloodgood his
arm to go down to dinner; but the average Briton is not an adept at
masking his feelings, and disappointment and jealousy made him appear
gruff and morose.
Colonel Bloodgood's wife, on the contrary, was more than usually
charming. Her smiling, perverse eyes met those of the editor at every
sentence; there was no end to the pretty things she found to say. It
was he, and he alone, she said, who had got her husband in; if the Planet had not taken up her little book, and made such a feature
of its arguments, the election would never, she declared, have gone
the way that it had. And more than once during the dinner those
smiling eyes shot a look of intelligence at her husband across the
By the time the savouries were at his elbow, Wentworth Johnson had
made up his mind that he would invent some excuse, and leave the house
without rejoining the ladies in the drawing-room.
'What's it all about?' cried Lady Winchcliffe an hour later, when
only the Bloodgoods were left with the cigarettes and the lemon
squashes. 'What have you done to my poor Wentworth Johnson? He was
positively green at dinner.'
'It's some of Jean's devilry,' said the Colonel admiringly, gazing
at his young wife through a cloud of tobacco smoke. 'She's a regular
But 'John Bathurst,' leaning over the table to pick a cigarette out
of the box, protested, in her sweet, serious voice, in which there was
a little thrill:
'I did it all for the Party. What did the
Planet say about
Free Trade, I ask you, before I began to go down to the office? A
little feminine persuasion was needed to induce the paper to make up
its mind,' she murmured, getting up and lighting her cigarette at the
end of her husband's cigar. The two smiled at each other with an air
of comradeship. 'If he's been silly, I really can't help it,' she
concluded calmly, when the cigarette was thoroughly alight; 'one
doesn't go about warning middle-aged editors of evening papers not to
fall in love with one.'
'Oh, the game's never fair when you play,' said Lady Winchcliffe:
'I think it's a great shame.'
Later that night the editor of the
Planet came down the
steps of his club. He was in no better temper, though he had won
several games of billiards and had drunk more than one
whisky-and-soda. No chariot drawn by doves conveyed him homewards. He
had determined to walk; the long tramp through the quiet, deserted
streets might calm his irritated nerves. It was one o'clock when he
put his latchkey into the front door of a red-brick house in Earl's
Court. As he pressed the key the door flew open, pulled by some one
behind, and there appeared in the dark passage the stout figure of a
woman of thirty-five, in an untidy tea-gown. He followed her into the
narrow dining-room, after he had banged and locked the door.
'What on earth are you waiting up for? he said crossly. 'I told you
never to do so. There's nothing a man dislikes so much as his wife
waiting up for him.'
She picked up a little frock at which she had been sewing.
'Don't speak so loud, dear,' said the woman in a tired voice:
'baby's been so fretful. I'm afraid she's not well. It may be another
'Oh, baby's unwell, is she?' he said, in a changed voice. 'Let me
see her.' And together they went upstairs, and bent, with a lighted
candle, over a child's cot.
THE FORTUNE OF FLORA
WHAT was the fortune of Flora? Nobody seemed to know, and what
was more curious, nobody seemed to like to ask; yet it was impossible
for a young couple to be more light-hearted on the eve of the
adventure of matrimony. Laurie, it is true, was at the golden age of
twenty-three, and had never allowed himself to be annoyed by a care or
an unpaid debt in his jocund young life; while to mention that the
bride-elect was an American of five-and-twenty, though she looked (and
called herself) nineteen, is to say that her outlook on the world and
its problems was as cheerful as is consistent with living in the
twentieth century. The problem she had chiefly envisaged for the last
five or six years was that of allying herself, matrimonially, with an
Englishman of good family, and this ambition had been finally
encompassed in the person of the Hon. Laurence Eversley, second son of
Lord Worthing, met, only a few weeks before, on the steamer coming
across. For Laurie's career at Oxford had stopped short of its final
and most important stage, and it had been for painting his Dean's door
what he described as a 'quite wonderful' shade of sealing-wax red,
that he had been requested by the authorities to absent himself
permanently from the banks of the Isis. But if Lady Worthing had been
much incensed with Laurie over this untoward affair, Lord Worthing had
only laughed, quoted the case of Shelley, and taken the classic course
of sending his light-hearted son on a tour, to America. 'Perhaps they
will teach him to "hustle" over there,' he remarked, 'or else he will
pick up a girl with a pile of money.' Like most English people, Lord
Worthing invariably used American locutions when speaking of our
kinsmen over the Atlantic.
'It would be the usual vulgar way out of our difficulties,' her
ladyship had said. She had never been particularly fond of her second
son, all her sympathies being with the eldest, Littlehampton, who was
in the army. 'What, indeed, do you suppose we shall ever do with the
boy? As Liberals, we have no hope of anything from the Government. I
do not think he knows how to work. Yes, I suppose Laurie had
better marry an American heiress. After all, it has become quite a
respectable profession for our sons. Look at the Warminsters. Why, the
mortgage is actually off the place at last.'
So when Laurie had skipped into the drawing-room again some six
months later, and announced his engagement to 'the most exquisite
creature in the world, of fabulous wealth and the most deliciously
unconventional manners,' his parents accepted the situation—and the
prospective daughter-in-law, Miss Flora Dodge—with equanimity.
The wedding was hurried forward. Mr. Dodge, it appeared, could make
but a brief stay on what he insisted on calling 'this side,' so the
ceremony was to take place almost immediately. Lord Worthing, who had
long ago had to get rid of his place in Sussex and the agricultural
land appertaining thereto, occupied a gaunt and somewhat neglected
house in the Cromwell Road, a region which Mr. Cyrus P. Dodge and his
daughter evidently regarded as in the vortex of fashion. And in this
passably forlorn mansion, which Laurie had somewhat profusely
decorated with flowers for the occasion, the betrothal dinner was, at
this moment, taking place.
There they sat, the two young people, side by side, radiant with
their new honours and delighted to be the centre of attraction, the
cynosure of all eyes. For Laurie was by no means the self-conscious
young Englishman who cannot bear a fuss, and who looks upon the
preliminary ceremonies of his wedding day with boredom and horror; on
the contrary, he delighted in the prospect and took a personal
interest in all the details of the coming rites.
'You can't be too careful about a wedding,' declared the
bridegroom; 'the slightest mistake will ruin it. One should have a
sense of decency, and above all, a sense of humour. Do you remember
when Warminster married that peevish Sallie Vanderboken? As they were
coming up the aisle, the choir actually sang "Fight the good fight
with all your might!" I nearly died of suppressed giggling, and I was
He went into the question of the music minutely; he would not have
an ugly parson. No bridesmaid was to be over sixteen, and they were to
have long hair, which was to be worn floating round their young faces.
'It must be quite beautiful and quite gay,' declared Laurie. 'We
will have a sort of bower of apple-blossoms at the chancel. Your white
gown should be semi-opaque and mounted on palest pink. You will look
like a blossom or a shell. You will be quite delicious! We shall both
look charming,' he added, after a little pause. 'Quite young and
radiant, the ideal bride and bridegroom.'
'Why, Laurie, you're just too queer for anything!' declared Miss
Dodge. 'Where do you get your ideas? I guess the girls in Milwaukee
would stare if they could hear you...'
But indeed they were a remarkable young pair. Laurie was slim and
pale, his features and hands a trifle effeminate-looking, but there
was something rat-like in his tenacity and strength, both of which he
was in the habit of carefully hiding under an elaborate air of
dilettanteism. Once, coming out of a theatre, a cad had purposely
hustled him, counting on his pensive expression and his pallor that he
would not retaliate. But Laurie had not neglected the noble art at
Oxford, and the fellow lay sprawling in the mud when our young
gentleman had stalked imperturbably away.... The girl was of a more
solid build, and had all the capability of her nation and sex. Flora
was the new type of American girl, tall, active, and lithe. Canadian
on her mother's side, she had eyes of Northern blue, an abundance of
fair, silky hair, and a complexion of pink and white. She was dressed
to-night in palest diaphanous blue, showing the whole of her beautiful
shoulders; a blue snood was twisted in her hair, and she wore a
priceless pearl necklace fastened round her white throat. It was
impossible to look more elegant, more flower-like, or to exhale a more
subtle air of wealth. The little blue frock had cost fifty guineas,
she had given at least a sovereign for the bunch of real roses she
wore tucked in her belt; her hair was dressed by an artist. The
outside was indeed perfection. This young girl looked like a Greuze,
but she had gone through Vassar with distinction. Only by her accent,
together with her somewhat over-emphasised manner, her curiously
Transatlantic air of deference to all things British, and especially
to all aristocratically British things, did the bride-elect betray the
fact that the fortunate place of her birth was Milwaukee. Like most
Americans, she rarely spoke of money, and she had been
characteristically shocked to hear one or two of Laurie's young
friends—men in the Foot Guards or fashionable actors—announce to all
and sundry that they were 'broke!' Every nation has its standard of
propriety. To the Transatlantic mind, the British absence of reticence
about money embarrassments is little short of indecent.
Laurie had seen to it that the dinner of his betrothal should be as
imposing as possible. Some important people had been asked. Lady
Worthing had on all the family diamonds—jewels which quite brightened
up her somewhat rusty black lace frock—all the plate had been
collected, and with a formidable array of wax candles and a profusion
of flowers, a stranger might have thought that Lord Worthing and his
family enjoyed all the freedom from anxiety which a fat rent-roll
There is no doubt that Mr. Cyrus P. Dodge was impressed. He sat, of
course, by Lady Worthing, and gazed with paternal pride at the
handsome young daughter who was so soon to inhabit the ancestral halls
The talk turned on the sort of house which the young people might
take. Nothing had been settled as yet, and it had been decided that
Laurie and Flora should pay a visit in the Cromwell Road after their
marriage in order to 'look round' and find what they wanted. There was
nothing ambiguous, to be sure, in what they wanted, the comedy of the
situation lay in the fact that each of these young people hoped that
the other one would provide the little house in Queen Anne's Gate
which they both so ardently desired. The paternal mansion in the
Cromwell Road had been painted and decorated some fifteen years ago,
when London was still in the throes of the 'æsthetic' movement; but
time, fog, and smoke had not made the yellow-green pomegranates on the
walls any more delectable, nor added to the meagre attractions of the
sage-coloured serge curtains, on which Lady Worthing, in her bygone
enthusiasm, had embroidered a kind of hybrid apple in worsted.
Flora, gazing round, inquired of her future slave whether 'this
was the latest style in London? She guessed she would like to have the
'Heavens! No,' he cried. 'We must be gay and sane—gay and sane
like they were in the eighteenth century. I will not hang autotypes of
Rossetti on my walls; a few Bartolozzis if you like, and some of the
wonderful women of Rominey and Reynolds. We shall have little striped
papers, of course, and very shiny, crackling chintzes.'
And Flora, who was staying at the Carlton, heaved a private sigh of
relief. You never knew, with these English aristocrats, just what was the latest style. On the whole, the young lady preferred the
appearance of the famous dining-room in Pall Mall. She would just love to have an all-white dining-room.
At the other end of the table, the voices in the little comedy had
taken a more anxious tone. 'Bless the man,' said Laurie's anxious
mother to herself, 'is he never going to say what he will do
for the young people? Who, I wonder, does he think is going to pay the
butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker? And Laurie always wants
such a lot of candlesticks!'
'Our dear children,' suggested Lady Worthing to Mr. Dodge, 'must
start delightfully, with everything pretty and in good taste.'
'That's so,' assented Mr. Dodge, with a paternal smile. 'Though her
mother and I,' he continued, gazing with pride at his lovely daughter,
'why, we just started on ten dollars a week in Milwaukee. We boarded
right in the city. And I don't know as it isn't a good plan for young
folks, anyway. Makes them kind of spry.' And to Lady Worthing's alarm,
she could get nothing definite from him about what he meant to do for
his daughter—and her son.
There was one guest at the dinner on whom none of this little comedy
was lost, and that was Aunt Charlotte, Lady Worthing's eldest sister.
Miss Mitchamore, who sat on Laurie's other hand, was an amused
spectator of the whole intrigue. A spinster of original turn, with a
handsome independence of her own (the two sisters had been
co-heiresses, but Lady Worthing's fortune had long ago been swallowed
up in her husband's embarrassments), Charlotte Mitcha- more had been
a traveller all her life. In the States she had often met the type of
American who was facing her. She knew that though he would let his
daughter dress at Worth's, would cover her in jewels and take suites
of rooms at Ritz's in Paris and at the Carlton in London, he would, in
all probability, make no sort of legal settlement on his child on her
marriage. Even if he were really wealthy—and there was no evidence
that he was—he would be reluctant to make any definite promises as to
income. Sometimes these curious Transatlantic parents were
extraordinarily, fantastically generous. Sometimes they closed their
pockets to prospective sons-in-law, and coolly advised them to earn
their own living. In short, you could not count on them. And Charlotte
Mitchamore, who was fond of Laurie, and had, indeed, been the chief
means of his taking a six months' tour in the United States, wondered
what would be the outcome of this match into which both sides seemed
to be walking blindfold. She had hinted these things to her sister,
but the hints had not been well received. Lady Worthing could not be
brought to see the affair as it really was. For what with
Littlehampton's debts, and the girls fast coming out, it was most
desirable, she urged, that Laurie, poor boy, should be settled
And none of these doubts, it must be owned, assailed the
bridegroom-elect. In all his jocund days, everything had always turned
out all right. Why should not his marriage be as triumphant, as
delightful as all his other experiences? At school, at college, he had
always been a favourite. Laurie, with all his airy carelessness, had
almost forgotten that he had been 'sent down'; or at the worst he only
remembered it as an amusing episode in his career, in which a Don with
a very red face and very white hair, who somehow suggested a
Jack-in-the-Box, had got extraordinarily vexed and tried to say
unpleasant things.... And, after all, it had turned out charmingly,
for he had spent that May and June in London, and then he had gone to
'The great thing is not to be afraid of marrying!' announced
Laurie, as he surveyed the formidable array of presents spread out the
day before his nuptials. 'Why, indeed, should one? Directly you
marry, the whole of society at once takes a perfervid interest in you.
They begin by loading you with presents, and they will probably end by
supporting you, your wife and your family—especially if you have a
large one. Whereas in the most exemplary bachelor or spinster, society
takes no interest whatever. It is better to be charming than to be
good,' added Laurie, pensively; 'and certainly, on the whole, if it
comes to solid help, it is better to be married than to be single.'
THE first blow fell when they were still on their honeymoon in
St. Petersburg, a city which they had chosen because Lord Worthing's
first cousin was Ambassador there. A handsome cheque of Mr. Dodge's
enabled them to enjoy it. They had danced at a ball in the vast,
imposing saloons of the Winter Palace; they had been made the spoiled
children of the British Embassy, where the bride's elegance and her
husband's attractive manners had won them friends among the most
amusing people in the Russian capital. Socially, the young Eversleys
were a decided success. Flora, it must be owned, talked the French
which is considered correct in Milwaukee; but Laurie, on the other
hand, who had an uncanny gift for strange tongues, could boast a flow
of quite Parisian idioms. They had sleighed and shopped in the Nevski
Prospekt; Flora had laid in a formidable stock of turquoises in the
Bazar, and Laurie had spent his mornings in the Hermitage, and his
evenings in giving little dinner and supper parties in the restaurants
on the islands; in short, they had had, as they both avowed, a
beautiful time. Nothing amused Laurie more than to watch the shaggy,
red-bloused, ever-smiling moujik; custom could not stale Flora's
interest in the drovsky-driver's Noah's Ark costume, in his padded
shoulders and waist, his long hair, and his voluminous pleated
pelisse. They had taken a trip to Moscow, had been bumped and banged
over the cobble-paved hills of the Holy City, had got their first
glimpse of the Immemorial East in the sinister, harem-like rooms of
the old Palace in the Kremlin, had wan- dered, astonished, through
those magnificent modern arcades which put anything of tile same kind
in Europe to the blush.
But it was when they were once more back in their pretty rooms in
the Hôtel de France in St. Petersburg that Flora found, among a little
crowd of bouquets from Russian admirers, a letter from Mr. Cyrus P.
Dodge with the post-mark Milwaukee.
MY DEAR LITTLE GIRL (it ran)—I guess you will be sorry to
hear that I have had real bad luck. The New Trust has done for the old
man—for the present. I shall have to pay up all round, and I guess
you'll have to make that cheque I gave you last just as long as you
can. Luckily, you've got some of your father's grit; I can trust my
poor Flora not to sit down and cry over spilt milk. I feel as mad as a
hornet; I just mean to start a new combine against the Trust. You can
bet the old man will hustle, some. There's hardly a cent now, but we
may come up smiling yet. I'm just off to Chicago, on urgent business.
My respects to Lord and Lady Worthing. I think you're a real lucky
girl. They're nice folks, and they'll look after you.
—Your devoted father, CYRUS P. DODGE.
Young Mrs. Eversley folded this characteristic letter carefully,
put it away, and then communicated the contents to her youthful
partner in the adventure of matrimony. Two years older than her
husband, she felt an almost maternal, or at least an elder-sisterly
feeling towards the joyous and irresponsible youth whom she had
undertaken to love, honour, and obey. And Laurie, as she afterwards
told Miss Mitchamore, had behaved like a 'perfect angel.' He was
knocking the top off an egg at breakfast, and his wife was eyeing this
characteristically British performance with awe and admiration, when
she summoned up courage to tell him that, from now onwards, she would
have to look to him and to his family for her maintenance.
Fortunately, as she told herself, a peer of the realm, in England,
must be rich enough to support his children, a theory which showed our
young lady's meagre acquaintance with European family arrangements.
There was just enough of the cheque left to take them back to
London, and one windy and rainy night in February found a four-wheeled
cab loaded with trunks and containing the happy pair drawing up at the
Worthing mansion in the Cromwell Road.
But this, again, proved no abiding-place for this much-tried young
couple. Two of the younger children had developed scarlatina; the
house bristled with starched hospital nurses, the doctor's brougham
stood at the door, and Laurie and his bride had to take refuge in a
neighbouring hotel. Next morning Lady Worthing appeared. She had only
the worst of news to bring. Lord Littlehampton, it appeared, in the
lightness of his heart, had entangled himself in some promise to a
chorus-girl, and this young person, an Amazon of gigantic proportions
and vivid colouring, proposed to resign her claim to his coronet only
on payment of a substantial sum. At all costs, Lady Worthing announced
her intention of raising the money.... As for herself and the
children, they might go to some cheap spot in Normandy or the
Ardennes; and for Laurie, she was convinced that Mr. Cyrus P. Dodge
To say that our poor hero was astounded at the untoward turn which
things had taken is to convey but a faint impression of his feelings.
Here he was, the gayest, the most insouciant of created beings, at
twenty-three, a married man, with a penniless, opulent-looking bride,
and at the odious necessity of finding the wherewithal to live. Could
Fate have played him a crueller trick? There sat his Flora, a lovely,
sumptuous vision in a negligée of Mechlin lace, eating candy
and reading a French novel, while downstairs, in the dingy bureau, the
manager was adding up a bill which Laurie saw no immediate prospect of
But he was not easily depressed, nor did he ever forget his charming
manners. Taking up his hat and cane, lie kissed his wife's fingers,
and remarked carelessly—
'I think I shall go and see Aunt Charlotte. She always has
. She is a quite wonderful woman!' He slipped out, and, for the
first time in his life—for Laurie had heretofore spent most of his
time in hansoms-=-walked from South Kensington to the little house at
the back of Knightsbridge, where Miss Mitchamore occasionally planted
her weary feet.
He found his aunt smoking cigarettes in her morning-room, and
reading a new work on Uganda, a country which she proposed to visit as
soon as the necessary arrangements could be made. Already she had
travelled a good deal in West Africa, and was understood to be on the
friendliest terms with one or two dusky kings. Charlotte Mitcha- more
had something of the outward appearance of an Oxford High Church
curate, and as, on her travels, she usually wore a manly coat and
skimpy skirt of drab tweed, it is possible that those black potentates
had not yet realised that she belonged to the inferior sex.
Aunt Charlotte was sympathetic. She was fond—though not foolishly
fond—of Laurie, and she detested Littlehampton. Also, she thought her
sister a fool.
'What is to be done?' asked Laurie. 'Do, like a dear, have one of
your ideas. You see,' he added, 'I'm only a half-educated boy!
I've got taste, of course, but taste is only a drawback, unless you've
capital to indulge it. That strange beast, the British Public, is
always distrustful of any one who doesn't like what it likes.'
'True,' said Aunt Charlotte. 'The only thing for you to do,' she
added, after a pause, in which she rather deliberately lit another
cigarette, 'is to get some work.'
'Some work!' ejaculated Laurie, with naive surprise; 'how curious
that sounds.... Yet I have heard that work is quite delightful—a sort
of tonic—when once you get used to it! Shall I have to go in the
Twopenny Tube every day, at a quarter to nine, and lunch at an A.B.C.
'Rubbish,' said Aunt Charlotte, 'you're not going to be made a
martyr of. I have foreseen something of this kind,' she went on. 'I
didn't like your marrying without any settlement—so I've just kept my
weather eye open. Take that arm-chair, help yourself to a cigarette,
The conference lasted an hour. Laurie stayed to lunch, and at three
he was whisked away by his aunt in a motorcar.
Meanwhile, at home in the South Kensington hotel, the Honourable
Mrs. Eversley was holding a conference with a person in whom she had
cultivated confidence, and that was herself. Seeing the whole
situation at a glance, she had no illusions left about peers of the
realm and their capability of supporting the various members of their
family.... The girl had thrown away her French novel on Laurie's
departure, and, pushing back the fair hair from her capable-looking
forehead with a gesture which recalled her father, she marched up and
down the shabbily-carpeted room, thinking hard.... Half-an-hour later
she dressed herself quietly in black, drove to the American
Consul-General, and got the information which she desired.
When the young husband and wife met that night they both looked as
pleased as if they had come into a fortune, though each was somewhat
'My child,' said Laurie, helping his wife to hock, 'figure to
yourself that our cares are temporarily at an end. I have got
something to do—a kind of business which I think I can manage. How
charming you look; you must always wear heliotrope and pink when we
They went into lodgings next day—lodgings where Laurie insisted on
pulling down all the oleographs and hanging the walls with a striped,
flowery cretonne. He also brought his Oxford Chippendale furniture,
his prints and books, and a number of white fur rugs. With a pink
azalea bush in full bloom in one corner, the place looked pretty
enough. And here they began married life.
The little comedy which ensued was sufficiently diverting. Laurie,
who had remained quite vague on the subject of his 'work,' used to
leave the house about half-past nine every morning. Directly he had
turned the corner of the street, Flora put on her hat and ran to catch
the omnibus. When they met at dinner, she was becomingly arrayed in
one of her beautiful trousseau gowns, and had assumed an air of
Before Miss Charlotte Mitchamore left for Uganda, she had had many
private interviews with her niece by marriage, of whom, as she
announced to all and sundry, she now thoroughly approved.
MEANWHILE, Laurie's devotion was complete—for he was a kind of
being who, when he once takes up an idea, waxes more and more
enthusiastic, even if that idea is marriage. Yet one wet day, as she
was running along Dover Street under an umbrella, she caught, to her
amazement, a glimpse of her husband in the vestibule of Froufrou's,
the famous milliner's. A handsome woman, in summer finery, was eagerly
talking to him, and she saw him come down with her to the door of the
little brougham which was waiting. Yes, there he stood, laughing and
chatting, at the carriage window, as if he were loth to tear himself
away, while the fine rain beat down on his handsome head. What could
it mean? Laurie professed to be hard at work all day—and certainly
the boy always looked tired enough, when they both sat down, dressed,
to their lodging-house dinner. Flora certainly never imagined that he
had leisure to attend dames of high degree to their dressmakers in
Dover Street.... For the first time since her marriage she felt
uncertain of Laurie.
Young Mrs. Eversley was too
fine, as well as too proud, to
discuss this curious affair with her husband. She determined to be
perfectly amiable as usual, to bide her time, and to see what would
happen next. Laurie was just as gracefully affectionate as of old; his
charming manners had never altered with their adverse fortunes, and
what especially made her profoundly grateful to him was the fact that
he never, by word, look, or tone, reproached her with the failure of
Cyrus P. Dodge to provide her with a jointure. Flora had heard so much
of the avariciousness of Englishmen in respect of dollars, that she
was agreeably surprised, and wrote the most flattering accounts of the
youthful Laurie home to Milwaukee. Mr. Cyrus P. Dodge was too much
occupied in fighting his particular Trust to remember to send any more
cheques to the lodgings occupied by his daughter and son-in-law.
Six months had gone by, and it was now high summer. With the
beginning of July London was feverish with dissipation. The town
seemed speckled with striped awnings and blatant with red baize; all
night there was a ceaseless whirl of cabs, carriages, and motor
broughams, and through the open windows of drawing-rooms came the
monotonous sound of string bands playing the valse of the hour. All
this, however, affected the young Eversleys very little. They accepted
no invitations, for they had determined not to go out while their
prospects remained so uncertain. It was much remarked that Flora even
refused to be presented at Court, although Lady Worthing (now
sojourning with her numerous family at Paramé) had several times
suggested a suitable personage to introduce her daughter-in-law.
It was a sultry evening, and Laurie had not yet returned from his
work. Flora herself was tired out, but the bedroom looked
untidy—Laurie had a way of throwing his clothes about which was most
exasperating—so she set about collecting the scattered garments,
folding them up and putting them away in the chest of drawers. The
little note which falls out of the marital pocket on such occasions
did not fail now. It was small; it had an earl's coronet upon it, and
it contained a few agitated phrases, many of the words being heavily
underlined.... I do not claim for my heroine that she was more than
human. Flora picked it up and read it.
DEAR LAURIE (it ran)-How
could you disappoint me? I
counted on you absolutely; the appointment was for four
o'clock. It is cruel of you, and besides, this is not the first time
it has happened.... Unless you can give me a satisfactory explanation
(for I am not accustomed to be treated like this), I shall go
to Dover Street no more.
The note slipped from her fingers, and she stood absolutely
bewildered, at a loss what to think. Gertrude Gorleston—the famous
Lady Gorleston, a beauty whose reputation was world-wide, and whose
face was almost as familiar in Milwaukee as in London.... Was this
her rival? How could she hope to compete with such a personage? In a
flash, she remembered that it was indeed the countess whom she had
seen that day in Dover Street, with Laurie's sleek head half in, half
out of her carriage door.... Was this how he spent his superfluous
time? And then the difficulties of her situation began to dawn upon
her. She was quite alone in London; owing to their peculiar
circumstances, she had made no friends; there was no one whose advice
she could ask.... If Charlotte Mitchamore had been in England, she
would indeed have gone to her for advice, but Miss Mitchamore by now
was in Uganda.
Meanwhile, the latchkey was heard in the door, and the sound of
Laurie's footstep was audible coming up the stair.... She must decide,
and quickly.... If there was anything of which this astute young
person disapproved it was having a 'scene' with a man, or appearing to
upbraid him. For herself, she was determined always to assume the beau rôle. To appear in the light of a nagging, jealous wife was
odious to her. She would have left him for good if it were necessary,
but reproaches, she held, were feminine and absolutely futile. She
thrust the note back into the pocket of the morning jacket from which
it had fallen, slipped into her prettiest lace tea-gown, and awaited
her erring spouse.
'Why, you look real scared, Laurie!' she cried; 'I guess you're
just too tired for anything. Why, you're as white as a sheet.'
'I've had a shock, dear,' he said, slipping into the nearest chair,
his lips twitching as he spoke. 'Aunt Charlotte—there—there is very
'You don't mean to say she's dead?'
'She died of fever a week after she landed in Africa,' said Laurie
Flora burst into tears. 'She was the best and kindest woman I ever
knew,' she cried, 'my only friend on this side. It's just too
dreadful for anything. Oh my, oh my!' And these two young people, who
were both sincerely attached to Miss Mitchamore, were drawn more
closely together in their grief.
Yet Flora could not altogether forget Lady Gorleston's letter, and
as they sat by the open window, in the summer dusk, after dinner, she
said, as if with a sudden impulse:
'Laurie, what do you do all day?' Her husband looked surprised, but
he answered simply and with perfect courtesy, 'I "create" gowns and
superintend the trying on, at Froufrou's, in Dover Street. It was poor
Aunt Charlotte's quite wonderful inspiration.'
Laurie, to this day, never can understand why his wife threw her
arms round his neck and gave him what she was wont to call 'an
American hug.' 'Oh, you dear! You're just too perfect for anything.
My! Fancy your settling down to that. And say,' she added, as a new
light seemed to illuminate her brain, 'doesn't—er—Lady Gorleston
dress entirely at Froufrou's?'
'She does,' replied Laurie, without any enthusiasm in his voice,
'and a confounded nuisance she is. Always fussing, always having
alterations. She has got it into her head now that I must be at
every fitting.... If not, there's a devil of a row.'
'I see,' said Flora profoundly, with the memory of a certain note
in her mind. '"I counted on you absolutely; the appointment was for
four o'clock...."' Well, thank goodness, she was not a jealous woman.
Meanwhile, she felt in the mood for confidences.
'Well, Laurie, I'm going to tell you something. You thought that we
weren't going to have any holiday this summer, because of—well, you
know why. Now I want to tell you that I've not been idle, either. I've
just been keeping the books and seeing customers at a photographer's
in Baker Street, and here's my half-year's salary, £75. I never shall
forget poor Aunt Charlotte's delight when I told her I'd got a
situation. Why, she just hugged me. Wasn't she a dear?'
'You are a wonderful woman!' declared Laurie with conviction—'a
quite wonderful woman!'
But there were more surprises in store for our young couple. When
Miss Mitchamore's will was opened, it was found that, with the
exception of some legacies for scientific research, she had left the
whole of her comfortable fortune to 'her dear nephew Laurence and his
wife Flora, because they are plucky young people who know how to face
ill-luck, who are not afraid to work, and who don't go about whining.'
The house in Queen Anne's Gate is theirs now, with all its gay and
sane appurtenances. And Flora, who firmly believes in Cyrus P. Dodge
and his ability to circumvent the Trust, exhibits a pathetic
belief—not shared by Laurie, who has, however, hopes of succeeding to
the title—that she will still come into her own phantom fortune.
IT was a somewhat old-fashioned apartment, which had evidently
not been changed since the mid-Victorian epoch, for it had steel
engravings of Landseer's pictures on the crimson walls, prie-Dieu
chairs in Berlin-woolwork, and a bust of Clytie on a tall bookshelf.
One sees many such rooms in great country seats, which descend in
strict entail from father to son. Through the window was revealed a
smudged vista of park lands swathed in white wadding, out of which a
giant oak loomed here and there. A bright fire gave the only light.
A young man, who had the air of being thoroughly at home, had one
foot on the fender, one elbow on the mantelpiece, and a cigarette
between his lips, at which he puffed meditatively while he listened to
the story of the young woman at his side. Bronzed, thick-set,
clean-shaven, and more than a trifle stolid of aspect, he was
precisely the kind of person to whom his intimate friends will always
pour out their difficulties. Moreover, what you told to Frank Chester
did not become the property of the town. He had received so many
unrevealed confidences in his time that he was sometimes called The
The woman at his elbow, though she had the clear eyes and healthy
skin of one who spends her summer days on yachts and her winter days
in the hunting-field, had no pretensions to beauty. She wore her
straight brown hair short, and affected austere collars. Just now she
stood fidgeting with the Dresden shepherds and Japanese ivories on the
mantel-shelf as she made her little confession.
'If I could only get him away from her for a time!' she muttered:
'if I were sure that they wouldn't meet for a year. Peter would forget
her—most men wouldn't remember Venus Anadyomene herself after a few
Why Lord St. Ambrose was called Peter no one ever quite knew, except
that it began at Eton, where there was a consensus of opinion that his
real name of Percival was manifestly unsuited to so popular and
easy-going an individual. At any rate, it was as Peter that he was
always spoken of by the many people who were attached to him, among
whom, I may as well explain at once, was his lawful wife, Mary.
'Eve Mankovich ain't precisely a Venus Anadyomene,' remarked Frank
'Oh, you know what I mean. Don't pretend to be stupid, Frank. She's
much more dangerous than a great beauty. And then I always mistrust
those half-foreign women. They generally have the vices of both
countries, and none of the virtues! And they do dress so exquisitely,'
added Lady St. Ambrose, gazing down rather ruefully at her own British
gown of blue serge, short in the skirt and somewhat antiquated in
regard to cut.
Frank's eyes followed those of his hostess.
'You never did do yourself justice,' said he, 'and a woman can make
anything of herself nowadays. Touching those boots, now—' he added,
with one of his rare smiles.
Lady St. Ambrose laughed, and the two looked at each other as people
look who have a genuine friendship for each other.
'Oh, it's too much bother,' she answered. 'Peter must take me as
the Lord made me, or not at all. Give me a cigarette, Frank, and some
better advice than that.'
'Does he see her often?' inquired Chester, as he struck a match for
the lady's cigarette.
'Not very often, of course, since last season, when Peter, to my
intense surprise, suddenly took to going to evening parties. You know
how much she went out, and what a fuss people made about her. These
half-foreign people have so much more chance than English girls. Her
grandmother was all right, I believe—an Irishwoman of good
family—but her father was a Bulgarian or a Roumanian, or something
queer in the East of Europe. For myself, I thought the thing absurdly
'So did many people,' muttered Frank. 'But is anything more amazing
than these sudden affections which London takes to young persons from
Heaven knows where?'
Lady St. Ambrose sniffed. 'If they were well-bred English girls
London wouldn't look at them,' she said. 'Do you think my Janie will
ever be made a fuss of when she comes out? I shall be lucky if I marry
her to one of those dull boys of Lord Gravesend's.'
'Janie being of the mature age of seven, we will return, for the
present, to Peter,' said Chester. 'How often has he seen her since
'I don't know exactly, but all this autumn he's developed a curious
fondness for running up to town and doing a theatre. Some one saw him
in a box with her at the St. James's. Of course, she had a chaperon
Frank Chester pondered a while, and then, seemingly intent on
kicking back into its place a burning log which threatened to fall on
to the domestic hearth, he said, quietly:
'If I were in your place, Mary, I should ask her down here.'
'Down here!' cried his hostess, aghast. 'Have her here at Mount St.
Ambrose, where they will see each other every day, and all day long?'
'Just so,' said Frank, 'that's the cure for these cases—slight
cases of infatuation, not dangerous to life, but very tiresome while
they last. Let Peter see Mlle. Mankovich every day. That's all the
advice I've got to give,' he added a little curtly, seeing an
obstinate refusal in Lady St. Ambrose's face. 'You can take it or
leave it. I'm sure it's the only way.'
Tea and lamps interrupted any further discussion, and the entrance
of Janie, which partook of the nature of a whirlwind, stopped Mary's
thoughts from dwelling on her conjugal misfortunes for a while.
Muffins were a forbidden article of food to the Honourable Jane, yet
muffins, it seemed, that young lady was determined to have. Her father
made his appearance in the midst of the hubbub raised, and immediately
handed the dish to his child. Lord St. Ambrose was a long,
loose-limbed man, with handsome blue eyes and an altogether inadequate
chin, who had never been known to deny himself—or any one
else—anything. He was a Whig by family tradition, and a Radical
because he honestly wanted every one to have a fair chance. He looked
the pink of good-nature, and wore an ancient shooting-coat and very
His wife, who watched the little scene with a detached air, said
suddenly: 'Peter, I'm thinking of asking that charming Mlle.
Mankovich down for Christmas, and I hope she'll stay on for our ball.
They're so stick-in-the-mud about here. We really want some one fresh
and smart and amusing, don't we?'
Lord St. Ambrose flushed with pleasure. 'Oh yes, certainly, if you
wish it,' he said, trying to appear indifferent. To further this
illusion he reached for the cream-jug, into which he peeped, and,
finding it empty, essayed a pantomime of disgust and disappointment,
which moved his daughter to the most extravagant hilarity.
'I've drunk it all, father! An' I shall be so dreffully ill, an'
I'm perfeckly sure you'll have to send for Dr. Potts!'
'You are a disgrace to an ancient and honoured name,' said Frank,
sternly, 'and no more shall you be god-daughter of mine'; and amid the
squeals and protestations of Janie, who was now formally condemned to
the nursery, these three people were all intensely conscious that a
new phase of the little drama had, by Lady St. Ambrose's sudden
decision, definitely begun.
MLLE. MANKOVICH, when she appeared in these typically English
surroundings, and with an essentially English house-party, aroused
doubts in her hostess's mind as to the wisdom of having taken Frank
Chester's advice. Up to now Lady St. Ambrose had met the girl only in
the rush of the season, had caught glimpses of her—her white
shoulders surrounded by black coats—at evening crushes, where black
coats were rare; had watched her selling useless objects with amazing
success at modish bazaars; and had seen her, a marble-pale personage
with eyes of dark Irish blue, half-hidden by a curtain in some great
lady's box at Covent Garden. For the first time, in the intimacy of
country-house life, Lady St. Ambrose realised how at once alluring and
sympathetic her guest from the remote East of Europe could be, for
Mary was a person who never belittled another woman's attractions once
she was convinced of their potency. Mlle. Mankovich had a fascinating
dash of ugliness; she was of an amazing pallor, and the contour of her
face was a shade too square and flat for beauty; but the pose of her
head, the shape of her shoulders, and her lissom waist were all
It was not that Lady St. Ambrose disliked her: there was something
at once appealing and alluring in her eyes of dark, changing blue,
and her manner was the perfection of dignity. When, in the evening,
her shoulders emerging from a gown of sable gauze or velvet—for Eve
Mankovich never wore anything but black—the girl made her appearance
in the drawing-room just before dinner, she generally succeeded in
'wiping out,' as Frank Chester put it, every other woman in the room,
including the merely pretty and the merely dressy.
'It's personality, I suppose,' explained Frank. 'If you had your
eyes shut, you'd know whether that girl was in the room or not. It's a
rum thing. Look at Janie. She never leaves her.'
To every one's surprise, Janie had at once conceived a violent
affection for the attractive foreigner, and as she was apt to be
exaggerated in all her doings, clung to Mlle. Mankovich most of the
day, and was not to be parted from her. This was all the more strange,
as Frank Chester pointed out, because Mlle. Eve never supplied her
with edibles of any kind. And yet the child, with her high spirits,
her love of bright colours, noise, and gaiety, attached herself to
this girl with her black gown, her sweet, sad face, and her eminently
detached manner. Such a disinterested affection had not been known in
the brief career of the Honourable Janie. It was true that Mlle. Eve
could tell Russian folk-lore stories of the most poignant interest,
and sang strange, Slav songs to the accompaniment of a one-stringed
guzla; but other people, Mary St. Ambrose remembered, had essayed to
entertain Janie with fairy tales and banjoes, and had left that young
person profoundly indifferent.
As for Peter, his wife was the first to see—for she had unusually
keen intuition in these matters—that the devotion, such as it was,
was all on her husband's side.
In no wise did this strange young woman show herself perturbed or
even gratified by her host's attentions. She even had a habit, as Lady
St. Ambrose quickly observed, of gazing through his head while he was
talking earnestly to her; and, though she had a way of sitting apart
with him and holding him in close converse, no one could say that she
had the appearance of discussing topics of a personal nature. Mlle.
Mankovich was the least self-conscious of beings.
As for Frank, as the week went on, his infatuation was manifest.
Personally, he hardly mentioned her, but the whole atmosphere of
Mount St. Ambrose seemed to be by this time permeated with the
presence of Mlle. Mankovich, so that the mere naming of names seemed
somehow unnecessary. And though he did not talk to the girl a quarter
as much as most of the men in the house, he seemed to follow her every
movement, and he pondered over her phrases like one to whom certain
words suggest disquieting visions and unattainable ideals. During that
week Lady St. Ambrose and Frank Chester never discussed the strange
One afternoon, at tea-time, Frank and Mlle. Eve had not come in. It
was not a day for lingering outside, and the other guests
congratulated themselves on being indoors as they warmed themselves at
the big log-fire and helped themselves to hot cakes. Lord St. Ambrose
was obviously fidgety.
'Not fit for a tramp to be out,' he said, glancing at the clock.
'Nice climate we live in—eh, Lady Leavenworth?'
The lady addressed sniffed. 'Your foreign young friend will catch
her death of cold, I should think,' she remarked, with a certain air
of triumph. Her ladyship had a daughter still on her hands, and Frank
Chester was an eminently desirable bachelor.
Lord St. Ambrose frowned and changed the conversation. But every one
had gone upstairs to dress for dinner by the time the two culprits had
'Dear Frank,' whispered Lady St. Ambrose, 'where on earth did you
take Mlle. Mankovich this atrocious day?'
'I can't tell you exactly, Mary,' he said, after a moment's
hesitation. 'At least, not now. You'll know by and by right enough.
It was—something very important. She had to meet some one.'
'To meet some one?' she asked wonderingly. And for the first time,
during their whole lives, something intangible seemed to have stept
between these two.
For her friend and confidant had not answered. 'You, too, Frank!'
murmured Mary St. Ambrose to herself as she went dejectedly upstairs.
THE night of the ball at Mount St. Ambrose brought about the
crisis which every one somehow felt was in the air.
Mary stood at the door, anxious for the success of her party, and
receiving all her guests with that reassuring grip of the hand which
was so characteristic of her. And Mlle. Eve Mankovich—though nothing
would induce her to dance—was indisputably the most attractive woman
present. The girl stood apart, her dark head outlined against a
mantelpiece banked with pink azaleas, with a little crowd of men
surrounding her. She wore black, as usual, much to Janie's distress,
for the child had insisted on helping her friend to dress for the
'Are you in mournin', Mlle. Eve?' demanded the child, as she leaned
on the dressing-table with both her elbows, devouring the fascinating
one with her eyes. 'Why you always wear black?'
'In mourning, Janie?' said Mlle. Mankovich, clasping a row of
pearls round her wonderful throat. 'Yes—I am. I shall wear black
till—well, when you are a big girl, perhaps sooner, you may see me in
white, in rose-colour. I shall wear white when the Morning comes,'
she added softly, bending down to kiss the adoring little face raised
to hers. Before she had finished dressing, a telegram had arrived for
her, and it was with a grave, detached air that she had gone down, in
her glittering black gown, to dinner.
Now she stood rather silent, watching the dancers with a strange
expression on her mobile face. It was as if the skipping, jumping
crowd of country beauties and men in pink was hardly real; the
chatter, the laughter, the blare of the band sounded strange even to
Chester, who was only watching her face with its curiously
Mlle. Mankovich would not dance, and neither did Lord St. Ambrose,
so it was perhaps natural that the two should, towards the end of the
evening, spend a considerable time together in the great winter
garden, which had been made inviting with basket chairs among the
palms and camellias.
She had, indeed, just vacated her chair and re-entered the ballroom,
accompanied by her host, when Frank and Mary came in at the other end.
They sauntered along slowly to where the other two had been sitting,
and, the two chairs being placed intimately near, sat down in them and
began to talk.
'There's a bit of paper under your chair, Frank,' said Lady St.
Ambrose. 'Pick it up. I do hate an untidy conservatory. How often have
I told McTaggart I will have everything in perfect order!'
Chester bent down, routed under his chair, and tossed a piece of
folded paper on to his hostess's lap.
'If it's a billet-doux, you'd better take the responsibility of
finding out. Sentiment ain't in my line,' he said.
'But—it's a cheque!' muttered Lady St. Ambrose. 'I wonder—oh,
Frank!' She handed it to him without a word.
It was a cheque for £1000, made payable to Eve Mankovich, and
signed by Lord St. Ambrose.
'It is just as I feared,' she said, after a moment's silence. 'This
woman—oh, it is infamous!'
To her surprise, Frank flushed up as if his own honour had been
'Don't judge her hastily, for God's sake!... I know it can be
explained, but I have not the right to tell you. I have sworn to
secrecy. I will fetch Mlle. Mankovich, Mary, and she will tell you
herself.... Come into your own little room. We can't talk here, people
will overhear us. Come.'
Mary St. Ambrose stood, dazed, by the fire in the homely little
old-fashioned room. with its unromantic, mid-Victorian surroundings,
clutching in her hand the tell-tale cheque, when Frank appeared with
Lady St. Ambrose raised her honest, dog-like eyes, and surveyed the
alluring creature who stood, perfectly composed, before her.
'I think, mademoiselle,' she said coldly, handing her the cheque,
'that you dropped something just now in the conservatory.'
A wonderful smile lit up the strange girl's face as she came
forward, and, without a trace of embarrassment, took the incriminating
slip of paper from her hostess's hand.
'Ah, but I am stupid,' she said, softly; 'I dropped the cheque.
To-night I am as one distracted.... There is so much to do; I have to
think of everything. Ah, Lady Ambrose, this is your husband's
contribution to my fund—your good, your noble, your generous
husband's gift. It is for my people—for my people!' she cried,
pressing the piece of paper to her lips. 'Listen, dear Lady St.
Ambrose, you are a sweet, a generous woman, and you will understand.
I start for Rhodopia to-morrow morning. The time is ripe, the hour is
at hand. The rising is all prepared—all that we wanted was money....
And, mon Dieu, what has not been given me for the cause while
I am here in England! How many English Liberals have given—but with a
generosity—to our fund!... Some have promised to come and fight—have
they not, Mr. Chester?' she added, with a smile. 'It is January now,
but when the first leaves uncurl in the valleys, then will the men of
Rhodopia rise against the Ottoman. English money we have, and
Bulgarian sympathy to back us. My father was killed in the lines
before Plevna, three months after I was born. Do you think we Slavs
ever forget? I have worked for this rising ever since I was a
child—in Petersburg, where I was brought up, in Paris, in England....
Rhodopia will yet be a free Slav nation. It is for these dreams, look
you, that it is worth while to be alive!'
Lady St. Ambrose made an impulsive movement forward, put out her
hand, with perfect loyalty, to her strange guest:
'My dear, I wish you
bon voyage and good luck!' she said,
with a voice full of emotion.
The girl bent low over her hostess's hand and kissed it.
'To-morrow morning, quite early, I must start,' she said. 'I shall
be very sorry to go. It is restful, it is home-like here,' she added.
'Out yonder there will be blood and tears.... The telegram I had
to-night was in cypher. It was from Boris Sarafoff. The man I went to
meet the other day, dear Lady St. Ambrose, was a special agent of the
Macedonian Committee. We are in close connection, of course, with both
Bulgaria and Macedonia.... Rhodopia, my beautiful, unhappy country,
will yet be a free nation.... Good-bye, God bless you, dear people.'
Eve Mankovich and Frank Chester clasped hands in the doorway like
two loyal friends who understand each other.
'When the leaves uncurl in the valleys, Mr. Chester?' she said,
And Frank nodded.
Left alone in the little smug, mid-Victorian room, Mary St. Ambrose
stood looking thoughtfully into the fire. 'It's all a piece of
folly,' she said to herself. 'They won't succeed. And yet it's a
piece of divine folly.'... And Frank was going, too. Yes, Frank would
go. He was just one of those stolid, silent, obstinate creatures who,
once they make up their minds, would push through a stone wall.... And
Peter? She wondered, in a dazed sort of way, what he would be like
after Mlle. Mankovich's departure. This girl, with her strange eyes,
her sombre gowns, and her disquieting dreams, had somehow made their
smug, contented, jog-trot life seem ridiculous.... Out yonder, in the
near East, one had a vision of clashing swords, of bloody sunsets, of
triumphant dawns.... Here, in this fat midland shire, in a park
swathed in mist, in a mansion handed down in orderly succession from
father to son, what did they know of these mad heroisms, of these
She looked around the little room, which spoke so eloquently of tame
conventions and uninspired ideals.... The bust of Clytie, with its
puerile prettiness; the Landseer pictures, in which stags and dogs
were depicted with the expression of human beings; the prie-Dieu
chairs in Berlin-woolwork, on which no one had ever been known to
'She will go away, and she will never come back,' thought Mary. 'I
wonder if Peter will be unhappy.... And Frank? Well, I have lost my
friend Frank too!'
THE KIDNAPPING OF PHIL ALTAMORE
I DON'T say that I altogether approved of the kidnapping of
Phil Altamore, yet who shall say that this somewhat desperate
adventure was not justified in the end? The way of it was this.
The English Quay in St. Petersburg on a September afternoon is, so
far as Society is concerned, a tolerably deserted spot. Therefore,
when I beheld Mrs. Jack Ormesby—Mrs. Jack, whom I suspected to be in
Norway, in the Mediterranean, or even in Alaska—driving along at
break-neck speed in a shabby droshky past the Winter Palace, I must
confess to feeling, in addition to enraptured, a trifle surprised. It
was, however, the business of Her Britannic Majesty's Embassy not to
be surprised at anything—especially at what happened in Russia.
Meanwhile the lady was making desperate efforts to attract the
coachman's attention. I ran after her, shouting in Russian to the
fellow, and at length he pulled up.
'Thanks awfully, Kenneth,' said Mrs. Jack, in her deep-toned,
enthusiastic voice, as composedly as if she had met me the day before.
'These Noah's Ark creatures seem to be imbeciles. They don't
understand French, German, or English—nor even that primitive method
of communication, a violent dig in the back with a parasol.'
'Their backs are stuffed, dear lady. You mustn't expect them to
feel anything there,' said I. 'But where on earth did you drop from?'
'I didn't drop from earth. I came by water. There's the yacht,'
explained the lady, waving towards a dazzling white craft moored out
in mid-Neva. 'I've kidnapped a boy, Kenneth.'
'The deuce you have!' said I. 'How old? In long clothes? And are
you going to adopt him?'
'Well, I'm almost old enough to be this child's mother. He's
I whistled thoughtfully.
'Twenty-two, dear lady! That's rather a different matter, eh? Won't
there be some other woman, as well as the young gentleman's mamma, who
may reasonably object?'
'That's just it,' nodded Mrs. Ormesby. 'There is a young woman—a
dreadful young woman, and he was to have been married to her this very
morning at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. Have you ever noticed,
Kenneth,' she went on, impressively, 'that most of the insane,
ridiculous marriages—marriages which have Disaster written across
them from the very beginning—are celebrated at St.
'Most marriages are ridiculous,' said I, with a shrug, 'if you
think about them candidly. Why was this one going to be worse than the
'Ah, you don't understand,' sighed Mrs. Jack. 'But get in, and tell
him to drive anywhere I can buy the boy some collars.'
There is very little room in a Russian droshky for two, and we must
have looked tolerably confidential as we sped along the Quay and
through the great square towards the Nevski Prospekt.
'Well,' said I, admiring the lady's handsome profile (I've always
regretted not having seen more of Joan since Jack Ormesby died), 'go
on. Confess your crime. The secrecy of the Chancellerie shall engulf
it for ever. The Chief's away in Finland—fishing on the Lakes. I'm in
charge at present.'
'It's Phil Altamore, the poet,' said my charming companion. 'A boy
of genius. Another Shelley!'
'And you're afraid of another Harriet Westbrook?' I inquired.
Somehow or other, the thing was beginning to bore me. I knew of old
that Mrs. Jack was essentially a woman of emotions and caprices, but,
hang it all! a man prefers those emotions and caprices to be concerned
'I've no official information about the young gentleman,' said I,
in my most ambassadorial manner. 'But now I think of it, some of the
weekly papers have been booming him a bit of late. But he hasn't left
Oxford yet, has he?'
'He left,' she said, 'when he was just twenty-one. The air of the
place was too damp. It didn't agree with him.'
'Sounds uncommonly like bein' sent down.'
Mrs. Ormesby sniffed.
'But how did you bring it off?' I asked. anxious to change the
conversation. 'In what manner did you tear him from the arms of his
'Well, Kenneth, you see it was like this. Poor dear Phil, I could
see, was in despair. This Rosalba girl—or rather woman, for the
creature's ten years older than he is—got hold of him when he was all
infant—an infant of nineteen. The Altamores, who are Suffolk people,
you know, sent Phil over to Paris to rub him up a bit, and she
captured him in the Quartier Latin, where they met in one of those
amazing studios. She said she had been a governess, a companion. I
fancy she was singing English songs at some of the cafés chantants
'Ah, the lady is a singer?'
'She thinks she is! Well, some sort of promise was extorted from
this unfortunate boy three years ago; and this year Miss Rosalba—that
is the preposterous name by which she calls herself—has come to
England, descended on Philip, and demanded his hand. Naturally the
poor boy, who has been rather spoilt in London, had forgotten all
'That was awkward,' I murmured; 'one should at least cultivate a
memory for one's matrimonial engagements.'
'Don't talk rubbish, Kenneth. Of course he remembered the
engagement, poor little wretch. It was the woman he had forgotten.'
'Naturally,' said I. 'But tell me, was he willingly abducted?'
'Not at all. He didn't know an abduction was taking place! The boy
had been coming to me nearly every day. As things closed round him, I
could see how the whole affair was preying on his mind. His people, of
course, were furious. Phil is the eldest son, they have a lovely
place, and his mother had, I believe, an excellent match in hand for
him.... One night he told me the whole story of this dreadful
entanglement. He even brought her one day to see me. She is quite
'And you advised him, of course, to break the thing off, and offer
the lady a handsome sum down?'
'He wouldn't hear of it. He said it would be odious, dishonourable.
The marriage was settled, the wedding-day fixed. So I took the affair
into my own hands. I had arranged to go a cruise on the White Witch,
and the yacht lay at Tilbury, victualled, manned, the captain aboard,
ready to start. I told Phil I was going away for some months to the
Mediterranean. I begged him to come down to Tilbury and dine on the
yacht the night before we started. It was to be a little farewell
'And he came?'
'While we were at dinner, the captain had orders to slip anchor,
and run down the river. We never stopped till we got to Kronstadt this
'That was smart,' said I; 'but I suppose you know you can be had up
for abducting an infant?'
'Rubbish!' snapped Mrs. Jack. 'He's twenty-two.'
'Where is Altamore now?' I demanded.
'In the white saloon, without a collar, reading Andersen's
Tales,' replied his hostess, with conscious pride.
'He must feel depressed, poor devil. You couldn't imprison a man
more effectually than by depriving him of a clean collar.'
'Oh, Phil's not like commonplace men. The dear boy! He wouldn't
notice if he had a collar on or not. Why, he wanted to come with me
just now. As a matter of fact, he can't land, for he hasn't got a
pass- port. They made a great to-do at Kron-stadt. Collars are a mere
Nevertheless, his abductress, when I had convoyed her into the
smartest men's haberdasher's on the Nevski, was considerably exercised
to find the exact shape and size to suit her poet. But helping a
charming woman to choose articles of wearing apparel for another young
man palls after twenty minutes or so. I was glad when we got out.
'Of course you'll come back and dine on the White Witch,' said Mrs.
Jack. 'I've got one or two pleasant people on board, and I want to
introduce you to Philip. We're just out there, by the Nikolai Bridge.'
We were whirled back. Petersburg, I was glad to see, was looking its
best. The Winter Palace, though imposing enough, is not, in the early
autumn, a particularly cheerful-looking habitation, with all its
windows economically smeared with white-wash, to exclude the light and
air. Yet, now, in the September sunset, as I pointed it out to my
traveller, it had a magnificence which, though temporary, was
impressive enough. As we stepped into the yacht's steam-launch at the
foot of the Nikolai Bridge, that one stone and iron structure among
the many rough log-bridges which cross the big river, it was a
brilliantly coloured scene—more suggestive of the gorgeous East than
of the frozen North—which met my English traveller's eyes.
As we steamed out into mid-stream and looked back at the city, Mrs.
Jack grew enthusiastic. The Winter Palace had turned a deep rose, the
whiter buildings had taken on a pinkish hue, and the glittering
monster golden dome of St. Isaac's was ablaze in the sunset. On the
farther shore there were the gilt and green towers of the Fortress of
St. Peter and St. Paul. There was colour, vivid colour everywhere.
Every house had its coating of pink or yellow, its roof of red or
'It's magnificent!' she said, pausing at the top of the gangway and
turning to look at the brilliant spectacle.
As we stood there, a pale boy, with long, lankish hair and sensitive
lips, glided out from a doorway, and slipped his hand into Mrs.
Jack's. She held it fast, in a protecting and maternal way. I guessed
at once it was the future Shelley.
'This, Kenneth,' said the lady with pride, 'this is Mr. Philip
ON closer acquaintance, Mr. Philip Altamore revealed himself as
one of the most silent individuals I have met in the course of a
tolerably wide experience of men. His silence, however, was imposing
enough; more imposing, somehow, than the elaborate eloquence of other
people. He simply said nothing at all. His eyes followed Mrs. Jack all
over the ship. It was obvious that he regarded her as his guardian
angel; he had the air of gratitude towards his abductress which a
woman shows to a man who has saved her life.... The name of Rosie
Rosalba never passed his lips. He seemed like a creature who is
recovering from a dangerous illness. He had the eyes of a beautiful
woman—a woman in a Burne-Jones picture—and he had, in addition, the
fantastic, caressing ways of a child. I loathe effeminate men, yet
there was something curiously pathetic about this boy which made you
like him in spite of everything.
Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking that Mrs. Jack had got
herself and her poet into a tight corner. After all, he was of age,
and if he had promised to marry somebody, why, short of her being his
own grandmother, he was morally bound to do so. As an Embassy
official, I declined to have anything to do with the matter. All I
could do was to fix it up about his missing passport with the Chief of
Police. Moreover, it annoyed me to see Mrs. Jack—Mrs. Jack, who used
to have at least a liking for me, two years ago, at Carlsbad—taking
such an interest in this lanky-haired youth. I couldn't help chaffing
her all that week, when I was made to do courier, and trot the whole
party round to do the sights. There are strangely constituted persons,
it would seem, who like going over palaces; and for these Petersburg
must be a veritable Paradise. Mrs. Ormesby was one of these. She
spared me nothing. Good Lord! the amount of ground we must have
travelled that week; miles of the Winter Palace and miles of the
'Better let 'em marry, and fight it out like the rest of them,'
said I, one afternoon in the Hermitage, when she had been bewailing
the curious apathy of her poet.
'Impossible!' she cried; 'now I've kidnapped him, I'm going to
carry the thing through.'
'It's all a mistake, dear lady. A happy poet! Who ever heard of
such a thing? It's unnatural. You're taking the man's bread out of his
mouth. What on earth is he to write about, if he's quite comfortable
like you and me, and other reasonable mortals? Besides, if he doesn't
make a preposterous marriage, like most other poets, where do the
biographers come in? Think of the many estimable middle-class
gentlemen who have supported wives and families entirely on
the—er—the little moral eccentricities of Byron and of Shelley?'
But Mrs. Jack was getting angry. 'Don't be a fool, Kenneth. I'm
half afraid, when he wakes up out of his dream, that the boy will go
back, and do what he calls the "honourable" thing.'
'Or she might follow him here?' I suggested airily. I was getting
rather sick of Mr. Philip's amorous affairs.
'The gods forbid!' cried she, marching, with a true Briton's
delight, towards the famous Sir Joshua in one of the smaller rooms of
Nevertheless, it was this absolutely unforeseen catastrophe which
came to pass.
Naturally enough, Mrs. Ormesby wanted to meet some Russians, but
natives are not easy to catch in Petersburg in September. They are apt
to be at Aix-les-Bains, at Marienbad, at Trouville; anywhere, in
short, except in their own country. The Princess Kalitsine, however,
was at her country house, within reach, and a judiciously worded note
brought her to town to spend a few days with our English party. Sonia,
to be sure, has Anglomania in a marked degree. She drives a
high-stepping cob in an English dogcart, wears London tailor's
clothes, and a stiff sailor hat slanting over her long, grey-green
eyes, those Slav eyes which are so enchanting to the initiated. The
Princess and Mrs. Jack got on at once, or pretended to, after the
manner of well-bred women, which, after all, comes to the same thing
in the end. One or two young men were available also, though I was not
so sure whether they would be such a success as the Princess Sonia. You
can generally rely on the Eternal Feminine for social purposes. Who
was it that declared that Woman has no country?
Well, one night I was to give these people dinner in a music-garden
in the Islands, a suburb of Petersburg, where you can drive for an
hour or more through woods of silver birch, past the summer palaces of
princes and the wooden châlets of merchants; over little bridges, past
gardens laid out in English fashion, or ornamented with coloured
drolls after the Swedish mode, and be amid green trees all the time.
The place is dotted with restaurants and cafés, where the gilded youth
of Petersburg make merry of a night, and where the Russian gipsies
dance their wild dances, and sing their queer, half-sad songs.
Everything seemed propitious. The night was fine and wonderfully
warm. The gardens, to be sure, were a trifle dull and empty, for your
Russian prefers rather to sup than to dine al fresco; and,
till eleven or so, I did not expect many people to be there.
I gave them a Russian dinner; vodki and caviare, soup with pasties
and sour cream, and cigarettes served between the courses.
Even Philip Altamore woke up a bit. The Princess had taken an
immense fancy to the boy Sonia is learned about the Eliza- bethan
period, and will quote you sonnets of Spenser by the yard), and those
two, after dinner, wandered away to hear the Russian part-songs. Mrs.
Jack did not want to hear them; she said it was quite enough to see
the performers—in the distance. It is true that to eyes accustomed to
the open-air music halls of Paris the scene must have looked odd
enough. On a huge cavernous open-air stage, lighted by wan electric
lights, there was placed a circle of singularly ill-favoured ladies.
One and all were dressed in nun-like gowns of sombre black wool, which
enveloped them from neck to wrist, nor had they pandered to the public
by adding fictitious roses to their pale faces, or gold to their
'Good gracious!' said Mrs. Jack, 'do they hire the inmates of
charitable institutions out here to sing at music halls?' They were
performing, I could hear, a mournful Russian part-song, and the
principal singer, who was habited in a high black silk dress, was
struggling in vain to rouse the enthusiasm of the audience. As usual,
they were listened to by rows of bored and pale-faced citizens, who
neither clapped nor applauded.
'When it is over, the audience will go on sitting there, in
absolute silence, waiting for further developments,' I hastened to
explain. 'In point of solemnity (at any rate in public and when he is
sober) your Russian is an Oriental.'
'Must be a trifle discouraging for the artists,' murmured the lady.
I took a chair nearer.
'You have made me very happy coming to-night like this, Mrs. Jack,'
I began in my most impressive manner.
'Oh, it's been charming.... And it seems so far, so very far, from
'Beastly hole!' said I, taking the shapely hand that hung nearest
my chair, and kissing its soft suede covering, gently, respectfully,
in Russian fashion. When I raised my eyes slowly to see how the lady
received my homage, I was mortified to see that she was totally
oblivious of the whole tender proceeding. Her eyes were fixed in an
incredulous stare, her lips were slightly parted. I looked in the
direction in which she was gazing, and saw two unmistakable
Englishwomen bearing straight down upon us.
'My Heavens! It's Rosie Rosalba!' gasped Mrs. Jack.
IT was an odious moment. If there's one thing that makes a man
feel deucedly nervous, it is the possibility of an encounter between
two irate women.
All this time Miss Rosalba was descending inexorably upon us, an
avenging figure, a bride in search of a bridegroom who has been rapt
from her encircling arms.
Miss Rosie Rosalba was long and lean, with a bright natural colour,
and unnaturally bright hair. I don't say she wasn't good-looking. Mrs.
Jack always maintained that she was hideous. She was dressed in showy
shop-clothes, wore a gigantic hat with many feathers, and had the air
of a young woman who has pushed, shoved, and fended for herself with
varying fortune since she was fifteen. Her companion was a nondescript
little woman of fifty or thereabouts.
I hardly dared look. I certainly didn't want to listen to what
followed. The injured young lady was voluble, and I was conscious that
she was demanding of Mrs. Jack (naturally enough, poor girl) what she
had done with the bridegroom-elect, and how, after the banns had been
put up and the wedding-day fixed, she had had the face to spirit him
away? The young lady, moreover, laid stress on the trouble she had
had, the expense she had been put to in following up the trail,
tracking them to Petersburg, and the difficulty she had experienced in
reaching the White Witch, and finding out our whereabouts that very
evening. But above all, she demanded, as her right, the young poet.
Mrs. Jack's coolness was nothing short of amazing, considering that
she was clearly in the wrong. Sitting comfortably in her chair, with
the girl raving and fuming over her, she merely urged, in her deep,
sympathetic voice, the inadvisability of such a marriage, and even
pointed out, with considerable tact, how it would put an end to Miss
Rosalba's own interesting artistic career.
But even this neat point had no effect on our young lady. The
crisis, to be sure, was brought about by the sudden apparition of
Philip and the Princess Kalitsine, who were walking towards us down
the gravel path, their heads close together. They made the prettiest
picture:—the beautiful pale blonde Princess in her trailing lace
skirts and her shady straw hat; Philip, looking more animated than I
had ever seen him before, with one hand laid lightly on her arm as he
quoted a favourite line of poetry.
Miss Rosalba rushed forward and seized his arm.
'Philip!' she cried, 'my Philip!'
Great poet or not (and afterwards he became very famous), I shall
always maintain that Philip Altamore at this juncture looked a bit of
a fool. There he stood, silent as usual, gazing at the three women's
faces who surrounded him. I, perhaps, was the only one who saw that he
seemed to move instinctively towards the Princess.
It was then that Miss Rosalba turned and suddenly met the calm
scrutiny of our Russian guest.
'Mon Dieu!' said Sonia, 'cette petite Rosa.' What
brings you here, of all places?' she went on in English, and in a
voice of unmistakable disgust.
It was quite evident to all of us that Miss Rosalba's high colour
was natural, for it had faded quite away and left her cheeks a
drabbish-white. That she was taken by surprise, as well as
frightened, was perfectly obvious.
And then, to the dismay of our little group, Miss Rosalba began to
sob. Some Russians were gathering round. We were in for a disagreeable
scene. There was only one thing to be done, or the story would be all
over Petersburg. Although I had vowed a hundred times not to be mixed
up in this idiotic affair, I was constrained to take the girl apart,
tell her who I was, and invite her to come to the Embassy next day,
when some arrangement might be come to. Then I put the two women into
a droshky and bade the driver take them to the hotel at which they
were staying. It was evident, however, that Miss Rosalba was quite at
home in Petersburg.
The Princess Kalitsine drove back with the much-disputed poet to the
Quay. She had been invited to sleep on board that night.
'It's the very devil,' said I to Mrs Jack, as we tucked ourselves
into a droshky. 'The Princess and Miss Rosalba seem to know each
other, and Sonia isn't keen on claiming the acquaintance. What can it
'The Princess Kalitsine,' said Mrs Jack with conviction, 'will tell
me to-morrow morning. It's something damaging to that young woman's
character, and she wouldn't say it before Phil—or you.'
'That's likely enough,' said I. 'Sonia's such a good sort.'
But after all, as it was I who was deputed to settle this
disagreeable affair, the ladies took me into their confidence.
'As for this young person,' said the Princess Kalitsine at our
council of war in the cabin, 'I may as well tell you, my dear friends,
that I had to dismiss her from my service some five or six years ago.'
'She was the English governess to my baby Xenia. I have a husband—
enfin, the Prince is not too austere. This little Rosa was quite
impossible to have in the house. There was my brother, too. You know
Vladimir, Kenneth—how impressionable he is, and how he adores les
Anglaises? In England, of course, your husbands, your brothers,
they are perfect, are they not? With us, we must take precautions.'
'Phew!' said I. 'Have you any proofs?'
'Proofs? I have every proof. Letters from this girl—attempts at
'That pretty well settles the matter,' said I, 'though she may
turn nasty, still.'
'Offer her,' said Mrs. Jack, 'at least five hundred pounds. I'm
sure his mother will give it cheerfully.' And this was what was
finally settled when we had talked the affair over at length. But Phil
Altamore had to be told. I don't know whether it was timorousness or
diplomacy, but we both, with hearty accord, begged the Princess Sonia
to tell the whole story to Phil.
'At any rate,' said Mrs. Jack, when the Princess had left the
cabin, 'if she tells Phil the truth, he won't even want to marry the
'Well, he ain't talkative,' I said thoughtfully. 'I wonder what the
deuce he does want?'
'At present,' she said delightedly, 'he seems to want to see a good
deal of that charming Sonia Kalitsine.'
'A Russian Princess may be worse for him, in the end, than an
'But he can't marry her,' said Mrs. Jack triumphantly, as we both
emerged on deck, and saw the Princess and Altamore pacing the
milky-white boards in close confabulation. Was she telling him the
unpleasant story, I wondered, or rather, with feminine tact,
arranging it so as not to wound his masculine egotism?
When the time came for the momentous interview at the Embassy, I
found that I had, in Miss Rosie Rosalba, an uncommonly sharp young
person to deal with. It was a bit awkward, to be sure (and I wouldn't
trust the Third Secretary), that Her Majesty's chargé d'affaires
in a great European capital should be arguing with and cajoling a
dismissed nursery-governess. She did not attempt to deny the Princess
Sonia's version of her past history, but maintained, impudently
enough, that it had nothing to do with Phil Altamore's promise of
marriage. Heaven knows what shifty attorney she had consulted before
she started, but Miss Rosalba talked glibly enough of letting all
London know how Mrs. Ormesby had stolen her lover away from her.
'I call it kidnapping, and nothing else,' she declared.
'So do I,' I replied suavely. 'You've described the case exactly.
Only, as the victim of the outrage doesn't seem to want to be given
up, let me implore you, my dear young lady, to accept this little
cheque for £500, and let the matter be settled. If the Princess
Kalitsine,' I added, 'gave her evidence in a court of law, you would
never get any damages from an English jury. Five hundred pounds, on
the other hand, will not only amply repay any expenses you may have
been put to, but will be useful in your career. You will allow me,
will you not, to send and book your passage on the steamer to Hull
This, indeed, was a course which I urgently pressed, as the Chief
was coming back at once from the Lakes. Some important despatches had
arrived from London, and he would be back to-morrow morning. What,
indeed, was I to do, when the Chief appeared, with Miss Rosie Rosalba?
It was late when I boarded the White Witch, and found Mrs. Jack and
her guests playing poker in the saloon. Two, how-ever, were missing.
'She's taken the money, and she's going back to England to-morrow,'
I gasped, sinking on to a divan and mopping my brow.
'So you've settled it, Kenneth? Good. We'll leave to-morrow for
Stockholm,' declared Mrs. Jack. 'And never any more do I interfere in
any one's love affairs.
'You're going to-morrow?' I said in dismay. 'And where do I come
'Get leave and come after us. I can't stay in St. Petersburg any
longer. There's been nothing but worry and bother here.'
'Seems to me,' I said gloomily (for I detest ingratitude in woman),
'that you're taking your worry and bother with you. Where's Altamore?'
I added impressively.
'Reading Aglavaine et Sélysette to the Princess Sonia!'
laughed Mrs. Jack. 'And we're not going to take him with us. He's
going on a visit to the Kalitsine's country place.'
Hang the boy! I thought. As if it wasn't bad enough to have Mrs.
Jack maundering about him, now I should hear about him all the winter
from the Princess Kalitsine and her set.... Well, well, if I got leave
to go to Stockholm, who knows what might happen? If Mrs. Jack said
'yes,' who knows if I mightn't have a rise in the diplomatic service,
and even get Athens or Copenhagen?
Next day, before the yacht sailed, there was a little gathering by
the Nikolai Bridge to see the Princess and her guest off. Our last
view of Philip Altamore was typical, indeed, of that young man's
The Princess Sonia's three-horsed carriage, with its gay-coloured
rosettes and trappings, its magnificent coachman in his voluminous
robe and his low-crowned hat, was waiting on the Quay to drive them
down to the Kalitsine's country place. Seated by the side of his
lovely hostess, screened from the September sun by her rose-coloured
parasol, he was finally whirled away in a cloud of fluttering ribbons,
in a sea of tempestuous petticoats.
WHEN PURFLEET WENT TO THE WAR
IT was admitted on all hands that Purfleet was a good sort, and
that Lady Purfleet, as far as that went, was a good sort also; why
they did not get on better their genially tolerant world could never
quite make out. Jack and Bibi, the two children, if occasionally a
trifle outspoken with their parents, were pronounced jolly little
chaps, especially Bibi, the girl, whose fat legs, aureole of flaming
hair, and caustic remarks on men and things made the joy of the
Purfleets' immediate circle. On the whole, this young lady—a Cockney
by birth—preferred London and the staircase of the Purfleets' house
in Curzon Street as a field of observation from which to view the
human comedy. At Valeham Royal, as she very justly observed, there
were either no people at all for her to criticise or to ingratiate
herself with, or else, from October to December, a succession of
middle-week visitors who were grumpy and preoccupied at breakfast, who
disappeared in checks of fearful and wonderful size all day, and who
talked of nothing but the poor, sleek, bleeding birds which were
heaped up in the gun-room towards evening.
In Curzon Street, on the other hand, what endless surprises in the
way of new acquaintances did not the possession of a pretty and modish
mother ensure! What a procession of beautiful young men, with shining
boots, and Russian violets in their coats, mounted the narrow London
staircase, and, if one could evade one's nurse effectually, what joys
might not a foggy London afternoon contain! Though her whole heart was
given to her father, Bibi was aware that, as an item of London
society, the tall, long-backed mother, who wore her clothes so
superbly, was much the more shining social success of the two. And the
child, with her modern and almost morbid love of approbation, was a
small piece chipped off the solid block of Lady Purfleet's egotism. So
this winter, when, like the last, Valeham Royal was shut up, and the
master of the house was away with the local Yeomanry in South Africa,
Bibi attached herself passionately to two or three of the wearers of
shiny boots and Russian violets, to whom she would confide alarming
details of her father's martial prowess.
Finding herself alone in the boudoir with a new admirer, a small,
short-sighted man with a pink face and a pince-nez, Bibi, who was
busily constructing a fort with the aid of some tin tacks, held forth:
'Father's at the war. He's fighting ever so hard! Father killed a
Boer, all his own self, with his pistol.'
'How interesting,' murmured the little man, adjusting his pince-nez
and surveying the daughter of so patriotic a sire.
'An' I know what. I b'lieve father's killed thousands of 'em. Could
you kill a Boer?' demanded the child, with much interest.
'Dear me! I don't know, I'm sure. I never tried,' tittered the
'Why didn't you go to the war?' asked Bibi presently, bending over
her fort, and hammering with a fat fist. 'You oughter gone.
Jack would have gone, only they won't have boys. An' you're not a boy,
although you look so funny and pink. You oughter gone to the
'Bibi!' murmured Lady Purfleet. appearing in the doorway, a vision
of white lace and dark furs; 'what rubbish are you talking? Say
good-night to the Duke, and run upstairs to the nursery.' And
presently Bibi was borne, expostulating violently, away.
One may as well say at once that Lady Purfleet, always a little
bored and detached, except when it was a question of her own looks,
favoured none of these swains beyond bounds. She had to have her
little court, a sufficiency of adorers to swing incense before her
loveliness, a phalanx of solid worshippers to show that she was
courted among women: this much she owed to herself. Venetia Purfleet
had always been a beauty, and she had hardly known a time, even when
she was in the schoolroom, when the spectacle of swaying censers had
not met her approving gaze. For the rest, she was a good-hearted
woman, and, if she had not lived in the vapidest set in town, she
might have developed long ago into a real human being. Whether she
ever succeeded in doing so we shall presently see.
Although she had not given many outward manifestations of anxiety,
it is certain that Lady Purfleet had felt her husband's absence. They
had parted, it is true, without emotion on either side. Only the week
before he sailed he had made, as she remembered with a smile, a
ridiculous fuss about some man or other; whether it was Lord Parkhurst
or Jimmie Chorley she couldn't quite remember, but, at any rate, the
thing was quite absurd, and she wasn't going to be dictated to as to
whom she should receive or whom she should not. Nevertheless, she had
thought of her husband often since then, just as she saw him last, in
his unbecoming khaki, detraining his troops at Southampton, his face
rather set and white beneath his slouch hat and feathers....
And what things had happened since then! Purfleet had been at
Paardeberg, and in Ian Hamilton's march. He had got through his attack
of enteric with marvellous rapidity, and all this autumn he had been
one of those in hot pursuit of Christian de Wet. He did not write
often—he had never been much of a letter-writer—and Lady Purfleet,
on her side, was apt to conduct her correspondence by means of the
And so things stood when Lady Purfleet first met Adrian Venn.
LOOKED at from the strictly impartial point of view, Sir Adrian
Venn was not much more attractive than her absent husband, but then,
as it was sagely observed in society, the Governor of the Semilina
Islands had not the disadvantage of being Lady Purfleet's legitimate
lord. Then, again, he was only to be in England for a short time
longer (he had already spent ten months of his year's absence), and
every one knows how an approaching departure hastens to a crisis
affairs of this delicate and precarious nature. Sir Adrian was a man
of forty-two, who was understood to have had a past of a devastating,
if somewhat sentimental, nature. With the broad, well-developed brow
and longish hair of the typical literary person, he tempered this
untoward appearance to the world of Mayfair by dressing admirably, and
retaining a certain indolence of manner acquired by ten years in the
Tropics. Some twelve months ago he had published a little volume
entitled On the Reefs, a little volume which had pleased the
critics, and also, by some curious chance, had reached a considerable
circulation among people in society.
It was patent that the author had not only suffered deeply, but had
solaced himself with cultivating the most amiable of styles. This cri du coeur from the Pacific became the rage. When a young man
was in doubt if he might present anything more compromising than a
bouquet to the temporary lady of his heart, he solved the difficulty
by walking into Bumpus's and despatching a copy of On the Reefs
. It is true that the book in itself was almost as much a declaration
of passion as a diamond chain would have been, but that, no doubt,
added to its vogue. When Jimmie Chorley had felt uncommonly
sentimental, one day after a pensive, wet afternoon with Lady
Purfleet. he, on the recommendation of a man at the club who was
understood to read books, had sent the languorous volume to Curzon
Street. And Lady Purfleet had at once declared herself of the cult of
It was Bibi, to be sure, who first annexed this minor celebrity. At
no more romantic a place than a modish restaurant did Lady Purfleet
and her admirer first meet.
It was a dismal enough November day outside, but Prince's was
crowded with pretty women in wide-opened ermine collars, and with
gardenias thrust in their toques. Bibi, who had insisted on being
taken out to lunch, was chaperoning her mother and two adoring young
gentlemen at a small table; but the child, who had her own ideas of
how she should amuse herself, presently got up and wandered round to
where Mrs. Levada, an old favourite of hers, was entertaining a little
party of five men and one woman.
Bibi, at ease as usual, took the chair proffered her by the most
distinguished-looking person of the party, and at once entered into
'My name's Bibi,' she announced; 'wot's yours?'
'Adrian Venn,' said the stranger, smiling amiably on this queer
baby with the Venetian curls and the brown saucer-eyes.
'Gi' me a bit of your pear!' she demanded, stretching out a fat
hand. 'Oh, tha-anks! That's my muvver, over there. Isn't she
pretty?—the one by the window.'
Sir Adrian Venn looked across the room with the eyes of a
'I congratulate you on your choice of a parent,' he said, with much
'Oh! you are funny,' declared Bibi, screwing up her
shoulders. 'Well, I like father best. He's at the war, you know. Those are stupid boys lunching with us. That's the Duke of Rochdale,
that funny little pink man. I like Jimmie Chorley best. So does
muvver. He sends me lots of sweets.'
'There seems to be some competition,' murmured Venin to his
hostess. 'And I don't wonder.... Would it be possible to be presented
to this beautiful lady?'
'Why, my dear man, she's probably dying to know you,' declared Mrs.
Levada. 'She adores your book. Come over with me now. Bibi, you are
the only unaffected person left in London. Be careful, above all
things, never to become conventional. But, in the meantime, I can see
by the expression in your mother's eye that you are shortly destined
to the chaste seclusion of the nursery.'
And so, with Bibi hanging amicably on his arm, the author of
the Reefs was piloted across and introduced to Lady Purfleet.
Generally somewhat stolid and expressionless, Venetia exhibited the
unusual spectacle of a pretty flush of excitement when Venn's name was
mentioned to her. His eyes never left her face. Only a few words
seemed to pass, but before they said good-bye he had been asked to
Curzon Street. He called the next day, and after that, as Mrs. Levada
declared, you could not go to the house without treading on the
distinguished young Governor of the Semilina Islands.
IT looked, at the first blush, as if Curzon Street was to prove
as perilous an experience for the Governor as his palm-bedecked rock
in the Pacific. For, unlike every one else in London, he and Lady
Purfleet took each other quite seriously. Venn soon seemed to have
some curious influence over Lady Purfleet. Women, it is true, were
easily taken in by him, and he had at his fingers' ends all the
resources of the literary poseur. Accustomed to the limited
vocabulary of the smart young men in London, Venetia was carried away
by his grave eloquence; his rather deliberate manner, his searched-for
phrases, impressed her strangely. And to a man who had spent ten years
on an island in the Pacific, it was not to be wondered at that Lady
Purfleet—exquisitely modern, with her superficial air of intelligence
and the atmosphere of high fashion which she carried always with
her—as an astral body is said to surround a physical one—it was
small wonder that this beautiful woman carried him off his feet.
And so one day in early December the inevitable crisis came.
Up to now Lady Purfleet had had no difficulty in keeping her admirer
well in hand, but time was passing, the day loomed out when His
Excellency would have to go back to his Islands. Dark, fatal,
melancholy, Sir Adrian leant with his arm on the mantelpiece in Lady
Purfleet's boudoir and gazed steadily at her. His passion, at any
rate, had grown to be something real, and the woman whom he held with
his eyes suddenly realised this at last.
She moved uneasily in her low chair. It was strange, she thought,
how this man had always imposed himself upon her, and how much more
difficult he was to 'manage' than any of her younger admirers. Jimmie,
Lord Parkhurst, the Duke of Rochdale, it is true, were all men under
twenty-eight, and it is only under eight and after twenty-eight that
the male creature is generally unmanageable....
Venn knew when to be silent, and he chose to be silent at this
crisis. His eyes turned moodily on to the fire. There was a long
pause, during which there was no sound but a cinder dropping on the
hearth and the patter of rain outside.
Ever since they had come up from lunch he had been urging her to fix
a day when she would come and have tea at his rooms. A small
collection of water-colours, which he had himself painted, of the
islands, and a chapter of his new book, which he was to read to her,
formed the excuse. It would be so sweet, he urged, to see her in his
And gradually his will, his intense desire, seemed to impose itself
upon her. As women do, she deceived herself, trifled with the
truth.... What harm would there be, after all? It would just be to go
to his rooms.... How she would love to see all his pretty things, to
realise the surroundings in which he lived—and wrote. At last she
'If I looked in to-morrow, about four,' she said softly, 'would you
Sir Adrian flushed up. Then he bent over her hand and kissed her on
the wrist. 'I shall not go out,' he murmured. 'I can send to Covent
Garden and fill the place with flowers. It will be exquisite to sit
and dream about you all the day.'
But the gods had decreed—perhaps in the interests of English
literature—that the amatory experiences of Sir Adrian Venn should
never be those of commoner and less sensitive souls.... This day,
indeed, was destined to be a day of many emotions....
The pregnant silence which followed was broken by the raucous voice
of a newsboy shouting the war news up and down the dusky, quiet
street. They could hear the front door opened and closed, eager talk,
the children chattering and tramping on the stairs.
'The evening paper, my lady,' said the butler, advancing
respectfully with something pink on a silver tray. 'Wonderful news
about his lordship, my lady.'
As Lady Purfleet came forward and took the newspaper, sounds of
whooping were heard on the stairs, and the martial tramping of little
feet. Then the door was flung open, and Jack and Bibi, draped in Union
Jacks, and blowing tin trumpets, marched in. The boy was waving a
sixpenny sword, and Bibi was suffocating with suppressed excitement.
'Oh, muvver!' panted the child, flinging her fat arms round Lady
Purfleet's neck, 'it says—father's a—a—hero!'
Venetia had grown quite white, and she stumbled a little as she
rushed to the window, newspaper in hand. It was a brief telegram from
Lord Roberts, announcing a brilliant little feat of arms of the
Imperial Yeomanry. Quite an insignificant band of them had held a
small town against the raiding Boers at immense odds. Lord Purfleet,
who was in command, had ridden out with a dozen men and captured a
pom-pom on an adjacent kopje. He had held the town for four days until
reinforcements had arrived. All South Africa was ringing with the
plucky and brilliant feat. Unfortunately, Purfleet, riding back from
his captured kopje, had been wounded in the arm by an explosive
His wife dropped the paper. She felt sick and faint. Her eyes
dropped to the hand which Adrian Venn had held, to the wrist which he
had dared to caress....
'All right, mother!' said the voice of Jack, which sounded far
away; 'don't faint, dear. Father's all right; it's only his arm
, don't you see, dearest.'
'Oh, I do love father so, more'n ever now he's a hero!'
sighed Bibi, who had the true feminine worship of success.
Sir Adrian stood there, at a loss what to say, what face to put upon
this untoward situation.... What, after all, would this exquisite
creature do? What would be her decision? He could hardly leave the
house suddenly at this crisis which was half joyful, half harrowing
for Lord Purfleet's wife, who, with all her faults, had the
aristocrat's pride in the prowess of her masculine belongings. Though
she did not speak to or look at him, Sir Adrian felt instinctively
that everything had altered between them. Was it to be temporary, or
A carriage stopped at the door, and in a minute Mrs. Levada was
'It's too wonderful!' exclaimed the lady; 'I always thought
Purfleet would do something plucky. And the poor dear is wounded! Of
course you'll go to him, Venetia?'
'Go—to him?' repeated Lady Purfleet, who had sunk down into an
'My dear, everybody's been out, at least to Cape Town, who's had
their husband or son wounded. It's been a perfect procession of women.
Of course you'll catch the next steamer,' said Mrs. Levada decisively,
her glance taking in the reproachful, worn face of Venn. A woman
realises these dangerous situations instinctively. She made up her
mind to urge Lady Purfleet to catch the Wednesday steamer.
'Yes, I shall go,' said Venetia. 'To-morrow, did you say? I suppose
I can catch the mail at Plymouth.... Would you mind, Sir Adrian,
helping me with Bradshaw?'
To this day Adrian Venn wonders how even the most beautiful and
sensitive-looking women can manage to be so brutal....
In a few minutes all the turmoil, the change, the shifting skies of
a long journey were already parting them. Vague grey spaces, tossing
waves, and infinite stretches of ocean seemed to be between them....
The lovely little room in which they sat, warm, scented, pale with
exquisite brocades and glinting with gilded furniture, was only a
temporary spot where he, Adrian Venn, was poring over the railway
time-table to find a train which would part him for ever from this
beloved woman.... He could already hear the shrill whistle of the
express which would take her westwards; in imagin-ation he could see
the great three-funnelled steamer belching out smoke as it swept down
Channel towards the far South....
'There is a train at 3.55 to-morrow, Lady Purfleet,' he said
For an instant their eyes met.
'That will do. I daresay my maid will get me ready in time,' she
murmured, dropping her eyes under his insistent gaze.
'At 3.55, then. Will you permit me to be at the station?' he said
deferentially, as he took his hat.
'The whole of my family will probably be there,' she answered, with
an attempt at a smile; 'all sorts of cousins and aunts. We're
terribly devoted—on occasions like this. I'm afraid I must say
good-bye. And you won't be here when I—when we get home?'
'I shall be in the Pacific.'
He filled his eyes with her before he turned to go, trying to etch
her likeness definitely on his brain.... It would have to suffice for
so long, that last look. It was all that he was to have to carry into
exile—into exile at the other side of the world.
'THE WORLD'S SLOW STAIN'
'I'M going to marry a man who jilted me ten years ago.'
She stood up, facing him, instinctively taking the attitude in which
she had been told, often enough, that she looked best. A woman of
thirty—perhaps over—who was vaguely supposed to be twenty-six, Adela
Buller was getting a little hard-looking now, but she wore her clothes
with an air. She had on a simple, well-made dress, but the effect was
spoiled by the quantity of rings which covered her fingers; rings with
little hearts depending from them, rings with mysterious inscriptions,
and rings of strange design.
Gilbert Vincent gazed at the two little plump hands resting on the
empty chair facing him, and smiled a dubious smile. He had a fat,
white face, which expressed nothing in repose. When he smiled, people
had a brief vision of unclean things.
'It's a subtle form of revenge,' he said, after a constrained
pause. 'Though I didn't know you wanted to marry.'
'Well, I do.'
'Why? I thought you had come to the conclusion that it was much
more agreeable not to be tied; to let us all adore you. For you know
we are all devoted...' said Vincent, in the soft, half-amused
voice in which, in his capacity of successful dramatist, he was
permitted to make the most outrageous statements. 'I am sure,' he went
on, with a curiously un-English movement of his small white hands, 'if
I were a woman, nowadays, I should think so.'
'Yes, you're all devoted enough,' admitted Adela, with candour. She
never took the trouble to be anything but candid with Gilbert Vincent.
She had known him too long. 'But, all the same, one doesn't care to afficher oneself too much.'
'Oh, as for that, who cares much about anything? You don't mean to
tell me you're going to turn prudish?'
'I was a nice girl once. It's a hundred years ago; but I was
'Were you ever "nice"?' said Vincent. 'A nice girl like one reads
of in books? I can't believe you ever belonged to that variety of the
Adela laughed a rather unpleasant laugh. 'No, I don't think I was
ever a bore,' she said, crossing to the mantelpiece and taking up a
Japanese ivory, which she twisted about and examined on all sides as
she spoke. 'But I was a good girl, with deep feelings, and ideals, and
all that sort of thing.... I—I imagined that men were ... decent, you
know, and that the women who were treated unfairly were the
exceptions, and that it was their own fault, generally, if they were.
I did not know that women were stuffed with idiotic theories from
their very childhood, and that all my life I should suffer, suffer,
suffer, for what I had been taught then. We are not told,' she went on
with rising excitement, 'what life is, what it all means, or how to
play the game. We are like children to whom a pack of cards is thrown,
and who are set down to play a strange game with men who are confirmed
gamblers. The rules are never told us, so that we blunder helplessly
along, and unless we cheat out- rageously, or mark the cards, there's
small chance of our winning. And what's so funny is, that most "good"
men like us to be like that, ignorant, silly, helpless—even cheats.
They think it pretty.'
'I believe you're right,' said Vincent, with languid surprise. This
was a new phase of Adela Buller, of whom he always had vague visions,
in which he saw her forming one of quartette suppers at the Carlton,
of hearing of her 'running over to Paris' (she had been especially
fond, of late years, of that particular form of dissipation so dear to
the Londoner), of seeing her, in an exaggerated 1840 gown which
slipped off her white shoulders, reciting suggestive little poems in
French to a small audience of young men.
He got up, and, leaning one elbow on the mantelpiece, watched her
with a new curiosity. Her eyes were strangely bright—had she been
putting belladonna into them again, he wondered? He could see the
pulse in her wrist beating furiously against the dark blue vein....
Vincent hoped devoutly she was not going to have a crise de nerfs
. What excellent 'copy' she would make; what a capital type she
would be on the stage; the young lady who is for ever hovering on the
brink, but who has 'kept straight' all the same. Really, he must make
an exhaustive study of Adela.
'Poor little girl!' he said softly, watching her as she tried to
balance the fat Japanese divinity on his head. 'And so you're going to
take your revenge by marrying him. Well, it's not a bad way, either.
Who was the fool the other night at the club who was saying that your
modern woman wasn't complex at all—only hysterical? By Jove, and
who's the lucky beggar?'
'Anthony Mellingham. He wrote from Mexico. I haven't seen him, you
know, for seven or eight years. He's made some money, I believe, and
apparently he's got remorse! It seems curious now, how I loved that
man—ten years ago.'
'Then all's for the best in the best of all possible worlds,' said
Vincent, with his dubious smile. 'When are you going to see him?
'Oh no, to-morrow morning. I look so worn at night.... But in a
cotton frock, in the morning, with my hair done rather neatly....
That's how they like to come back and find a woman, don't they?' said
Adela, with the drawl which had become habitual to her. There was a
world of weariness, of disillusionment in her tone.
'Well, he's a lucky man,' repeated Gilbert, taking her dimpled hand
and giving it a lengthened pressure.
'Don't do that—it bores me.'
'What am I to give you for a wedding present? Another ring?'
'Oh, anything. No, not a ring. I—I—hate them. I'm never going to
wear rings any more.
'Except the fatal one,' said Vincent, retreating. 'By the bye,' he
asked, exhibiting his curious smile on the first step of the
staircase, turning back as he did so to take in every detail of the
pretty woman he was leaving, 'what's he like?'
'Fairish; rather good-looking, rather stupid.'
'Oh, then it's the fellow you did in that novel you wrote?'
'What, that idiotic thing? Oh, I don't know! I've forgotten all
about it,' said Adela peevishly. 'I only wrote the thing because I
was—miserable. And nobody would have bought it, only it was a
one-and-sixpenny book printed the wrong way up.'
'It had a success,' said the dramatist, in the strictly indifferent
tone of one artist to another.
'Have I ever had a success?' said Adela wearily.'
'Curious girl, but only one of a new species,' said Vincent to
himself as he made his way down the Kensington street. 'She's all
right, I daresay, but she wouldn't like us to think so.... She calls
it "dull" of a woman not to have had emotional experiences, and
wouldn't thank you if you altered your conversation to spare her
blushes.... Yet she can be very sweet, very attractive; and she is
curiously feminine—for a modern type. She knows enough to be très
femme when she wants to be really charming. And, by Jove, she can be charming! It's extraordinary how fond one can be of her—at
times, and in certain moods.... I wonder,' he asked himself, as he
stopped to light a cigar, 'if it is possible I shall feel it if Adela
really were to marry?'
ADELA BULLER sat waiting for her lover. Every now and then she
got up, fidgeting about, now to throw into a drawer some audacious
French novel which challenged the eye with its yellow cover, now to
put into the background the signed photograph of a famous comedian,
again to slightly lower the blind which let in the glaring July
sunshine, and then to give one final look into the glass.
Adela had an artistic sense of the eternal fitness of things. She
looked her part to perfection. Her face had undergone careful massage
at the hands of her maid, so that, for the moment, the cheeks had
regained something of the roundness, the freshness of youth, and she
had insisted on Sarah brushing out the artificial waves of her hair.
The lilac cotton gown showed, without insisting on, the plump lines of
her figure; her pretty hands were absolutely bare.
'Mr. Mellingham,' said the servant, and Anthony entered, revealing
himself, after these ten years, as a not ill-looking man of
thirty-six, burnt almost to bronze colour, so that he made a somewhat
incongruous appearance in his brand-new London clothes. For the rest,
his blue eyes were placed slightly too close together, and there was a
curious mixture of sensuality and caution in his face. The latter
quality had become accentuated in the course of eight years' knocking
about in Mexico. Both tendencies had always existed deep down in his
nature, and had accounted for the everyday tragedy of his having loved
Adela, and yet having ridden away.
He stepped forward, glancing tentatively round the room.
'Adela!' he said, putting his arms round her, and turning her face
upwards so that their lips could meet.
Heavens! How horrible it was, she thought.... He had so completely
passed out of her life during the last eight years, that this embrace
seemed well-nigh as outrageous as that of a stranger. As he kissed
her, she remembered the caresses, the passionate words of other
men.... How many—how many had there been since they had seen each
other? It could never be the same again; she was not the same woman;
Time had besmirched her, year by year, with his horrible, corroding
finger. Ah, if she could only have died then—when Tony went away.
'Why, you're looking as young and pretty as when I left,' he
declared, his spirits rising. 'Hanged if I don't think you're
better-looking. And you have cared about me a little bit all this
time, Adela?' he went on anxiously. 'You haven't let any of those
other fellows snap you up?'
'Marry me, do you mean?'
'Why, of course.'
'N—no. I must have been a young person of exemplary fidelity,' she
said, smiling. 'For no one, as far as I remember, has even wanted to
'Oh, that's all rot—a pretty girl like you, too. But you were
always so horribly proud. How jolly it is in London, with the Park,
and the theatres, and all that sort of thing. I say, we'll have some
fun together, won't we? And then, at the end of the month, we'll get
turned off in proper style, and then we can go to Scotland. Hang it,
Adela, I've waited long enough.'
They looked at each other, and the ludicrousness of his phrase made
them both laugh. Anthony Mellingham felt more comfortable. Adela had
been looking so serious—although uncommonly pretty—ever since he had
arrived. He had marvelled how little she had changed. Well, girls
weren't like men; they hadn't got to rough it, they didn't lead the
lives that men did.... Nowadays, girls, when they were hipped or
disappointed, took up bridge or started a hat-shop. He won-dered if
Adela had started a hat-shop?
Well, bygones must be bygones; he had come back now, having made
enough out there to live comfortably at home. What he wanted, he told
himself, was a nice little place in Dorsetshire or Sussex, where he
could get a bit of hunting in the winter, and of which Adela, who was
always a handy girl, with lots of notions about things, could do the
honours to the few friends he still possessed in England. If he had
behaved badly all those years ago, he was sorry for it, especially as
his eye dwelt agreeably on the rounded lines of Adela's figure, on her
soft blonde hair, and her little bare plump hands. By Jove! she was
just the nice-looking, amiable, simple-minded little woman he wanted.
There had been a girl on the steamer, coming home, who had reminded
him immensely of Adela. She might have been ten years younger, but
there was no essential difference. He and she, he remembered with a
smile, had had an uncommonly good time together.
Before Anthony left, which was not till after luncheon, they had
made half a hundred projects; but what struck Adela as the strangest,
most unlikely project of all, was that the wedding was to take place
at the end of the month.
ALL the rooms in the little house in Kensington were filled to
overflowing. It had been an early wedding, and the young couple were
to catch the two o'clock train to Edinburgh. The rooms were stifling,
and through the open door of the microscopic dining-room came a potent
mingling of odours, comprising, among others, those of hothouse
flowers, of champagne, of anchovy sandwiches, and of heated humanity,
together with a brief vision of black coats struggling round a buffet,
the rest of the room being filled with the pale, clear tones of
women's summer dresses. Viewed from above, the headgear of the ladies
resembled a flower-bed in full bloom. The drawing-room was chiefly
filled with aunts and cousins of the bride (for Anthony Mellingham had
no relations, and he had so far lost sight of his old friends that
Gilbert Vincent had been, somewhat unwillingly, forced to officiate as
best man)—aunts and cousins who surged tearfully round that
self-possessed young lady, pressing damp kisses on a cheek which had
been touched ever so slightly with powder. The bridegroom was
downstairs drinking champagne with all and sundry, in radiant spirits,
and wearing already the checked suit in which he was to travel.
Adela's little boudoir was too high up to be made use of in the scurry
of a wedding, and so the copper lamps, the silver-plated bacon-dishes,
and the etchings after Leader, which always loom so largely in
marriage offerings, were set out in the little room at the end of the
Gilbert Vincent, his face pale with a pallor which was
uncanny-looking, paced the little room upstairs in which he had spent
so many hours of his life. He had often enough waited there for
Adela, for she was of the order of unpunctual women, and he was
waiting for her now.
Though he had professed himself amused, even delighted, with Miss
Buller's prospective husband during the many theatre and river parties
which had been got up during the last month, he felt curiously injured
to-day, when she was at last separated from him for good.... Indeed,
Vincent hardly realised it now. How could Adela Buller do anything so
trite as to turn British matron? The thing was preposterous—it was
worse, it was inartistic. He had been accustomed to drop in when he
liked and read her scenes from his new plays (he was a man who was
curiously dependent on feminine sympathy), even to make love to her
when he felt so inclined, and here was Adela the legal property of a
blundering, idiotic British Philistine, who stared when he propounded
one of his elaborate aphorisms. Well, anyhow, she had promised to see
him for a few moments alone, on her way upstairs to put on her
travelling-dress. Deuce take her, why didn't she come? In a minute, he
must jump into a hansom and drive to Euston, where he was to see to
the tickets and procure for the bridal pair a carriage to themselves.
There was the rustling of a silk train, and Adela was in the room.
'It is good of you. I—I wanted to see you, before you went,
Adela,' he murmured, detaining her with both hands.
'Well, what is it?'
'I daresay it's ridiculous, but I feel quite sentimental.'
'You sentimental! O Heavens!' She brushed past him to the
looking-glass, where she began to fumble with the diamond pin which
fastened her bridal veil.
'It is ridiculous,' admitted Vincent, with a wave of his
white hands, 'but these things occur. You're—you're not going to
throw me over altogether?' he went on, surprised, himself, at the
agitation in his voice. 'You won't give me up?'
'Give you up?'—with a shrug. 'How do you mean? We have been
'Friends!' said the man. She resented his sneer.
'Listen, once for all, Gilbert. You and I say good-bye to-day for
good. I'm not going to see you, I'm not going to see any of the set
I've been in for the last few years. I hate, I loathe the whole
worldly lot.... For Heaven's sake, give me a chance.... I—I—oh,
don't speak to me any more as long as I live.'
He had a vision of her disappearing up the narrow little staircase,
a foam of white tulle and shimmering satin. Then he looked round the
room. Presently he smiled his singularly unpleasant smile. What had he
agitated himself about this particular woman for?... All that she had
said to him just now meant nothing—except exasperated nerves.... She
was essentially a comedian, and she evidently thought it part of her rôle as bride to talk in such a fashion on her wedding day....
Sooner or later, she would come back to him; he would sit in her
boudoir, read her a scene from his new play, make love to her when he
felt inclined.... But the husband? Well, he had better know at once
that he hadn't married a Philistine, that he would never be able to
turn Adela, after all these years, into the conventional British wife.
Why, she was not only clever, she was something of an artist. There
was that bitter little story of hers which he had helped her to write,
in which she had hit off Mellingham to the life; now that he knew
Anthony, he saw how merciless the character-drawing was. And of
course, like all amateurs, and most women-novelists, she had drawn on
her own experience.... Vincent smiled as he remembered how well some
of those love scenes, the 'riding away' of the lover, and the
subsequent career of the heroine had been done.... His eye fell on a
row of narrow booklets. A Man of Pleasure, by Andrew Burn;
there it was. It struck him suddenly, what a dramatic effect you could
get by making a young husband read his bride's version of his life....
If Vincent could only be there to see! Well, the sooner Mr. Anthony
Mellingham knew, the better. He slipped the thin little calico-covered
novelette into his pocket, and, running downstairs, made his way to
The Scotch express flew northwards, bearing the married pair in a
carriage by themselves. The blue cushions were littered with yellow
leather bags, with newspapers, with tea-baskets, while, carefully
wrapped in a Scotch plaid, Adela lay dozing with her back to Anthony.
He took out his watch. Not ten o'clock yet; it would be a whole hour
before they arrived in Edinburgh. No wonder Adela was tired out, he
thought; there was that idiotic fussation of the morning—all the
excitement, and all those people staring at her. And Adela, as he
remembered, had always been rather a shy, modest little woman....
Knowing she didn't mind smoke, he lit a cigarette, and, leaning back
on the cushions, congratulated himself on his having 'done the right
thing' by her, after all.... Perhaps she had taken him a bit too
seriously, all those years ago; at any rate, it was hardly his fault
that he had been obliged to leave England. Adela hadn't a penny of her
own, and he possessed, at the time of their love affair, exactly three
hundred a year.... Well, it had all come right now. He thought of his
banking account with complacence, and determined that there was
literally nothing on earth to prevent their being as jolly a couple as
he knew of.
There was a yawning yellow bag in front of him, containing silver
flasks, even-ing newspapers, and novels. He dipped his hand in, and
drew one out. A small, narrow volume, bound in calico, printed,
according to the fashion of a few years ago, in a sort of column. A
Man of Pleasure, by Andrew Burn. Who was the author? He had never
heard of him. Oh, by Jove, this was the book that Vincent had slipped
into his bag at the station, telling him it was A1. Well, Vincent was
a dramatist, or a literary chap of sorts, and he ought to know.
Anthony Mellingham opened the book and began to read. The train
rattled northwards, shaking the occupants of the carriage from side to
side like inanimate objects. Adela did not move. The yellow lamplight
fell straight on to Mellingham's curly yellow hair. Any one who had
been watching him as he read on and on would have seen, first a
perceptible creasing up of the line between his brows; then that his
face had deepened into a copper colour through the bronze; finally,
that his mouth seemed to have transformed itself into an ugly slit. He
wore no moustache, so that the expression of the lips was plainly
visible. The happy bridegroom seemed to have aged ten years in that
The monotonous thud and whirl of the flying train made a strange
accompaniment to his reading. No one, he saw at a glance, could have
written the book but the sleeping woman opposite him. His very words
had been repeated, and there was even a love scene—the one in which
they had said farewell—which she had described with curious fidelity:
yes, there was the boat-house at Wargrave, filled with cool, green
twilight, the flopping of the river against the boats, the rain which
fell in a white sheet outside. And he, Anthony Mellingham, the 'Man of
Pleasure' of the book, had been carefully painted as an insufferable
cad and egoist.
And she had married him.
The express stopped with a jerk on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Adela
sat up, startled. Opposite her was her husband, with his changed face.
The book fell from his hand. In an instant she had guessed the whole
odious situation. Her face grew haggard, the deep circles which
fatigue had scooped round her eyes were accentuated by the vertical
rays from the carriage lamp. There was something faded yet hard,
weary yet worldly, in the whole woman's personality.
Husband and wife gazed steadily at each other without a word. No
word was needed, for in that look there passed, like a sword-thrust,
the vision of an eternal rancour.
'I suppose we shall be able to get something decent to eat?' said
the bride, pretending to yawn.
He turned his eyes away as he answered: 'I believe Vincent
telegraphed to the Palace about supper.'
'THE SWEET O' THE YEAR'
INDOORS, in the austere northern light of the studio, one
hardly realised that the trees on the boulevard were all a-flutter in
their pale green garments; that outside, all over Paris, the amazing
fairy-tale of spring was being told. The only vernal sound which the
painter could hear as he worked was the monotonous cooing of a pair of
ringdoves, whose cage hung at the end of the passage, at an open door
which gave on a strip of sun-flooded court. Intermittently he could
hear, too, the shuffling of a pair of feet—feet which pottered about
in the aimless way of the old and tired. The familiar sound brought up
a vision of Virginie, the woman who swept out the studio, kept the
models from the door, and made him an excellent tisane when he
was out of sorts. Yes, Virginie certainly had her uses, although she
was old, and shrivelled, and unsightly. The young man hummed a
love-song of Chaminade's as he stepped away from his picture, screwing
up his eyes the better to judge of the values. Poor, bent old
Virginie, with the failing memory, the parchment skin, and the
formless lips! He was sorry for women, especially for old women. Being
a Frenchman, he had an innately tender regard for the sex.
'The world is made for men,' he said to himself; 'tiens, I
am glad I was born a man.'
And all the while Virginie, busy among her pots and pans at the end
of the passage, was thinking about her master. She was proud of his
talent, of his success, above all, of his youth and good looks. She
rejoiced that, although M. Georges was barely thirty, he was already hors concours at the Salon, that he could afford so big a studio.
The young men made more money nowadays.... Why, it was a finer atelier
than he used to have—the greatest painter of his day in
France, the famous Victor Gérault.
The stove had not yet been lighted, and, in spite of the sunshine
outside, it was chilly in the kitchen, where Virginie was scouring the
pans. At seventy-five, after a lifetime of anxiety and of toil, of
rising at the dawn, of scrubbing, cleaning, cooking, washing—at
seventy-five one has no longer much warmth in one's veins. And then
the tepid spring sunshine only made her feel dizzy; she had a cough
which troubled her, and queer pains in her bones.... 'Maybe,' she
nodded to herself, 'that it is not for long that I am here. Poor M.
An imperious ring at the outer bell made her hurry to the door. Her
face fell as she encountered a fantastic hat loaded with lilac, a pair
of handsome eyes, and a triumphant smile. She began to grumble.
'M. Georges was at home, yes. But he was busy. He was hard at work
on a picture. The background of a portrait which must be finished this
week. Could not mademoiselle call again?'
'Ah, but he will see me,' declared the Lilac Hat, pushing by, and
leaving a pungent odour of chypre behind her as she passed, with her
rustling silk linings and her over-powering air of femininity. Virginie
shuffled after her to the studio door.
'Mlle. Rose,' she announced.
The young man threw down his palette and brushes, and turned, his
As Virginie went back alone down the narrow passage, there was a
moment's silence in the atelier, broken, at last, by the murmur of
soft, happy voices.
'Tas de saletés,' grumbled Virginie, 'she'll not let him do
any more work to-day.' A strange spasm of jealousy seized her. The
little incident—though she had witnessed it once or twice
before—seemed to accentuate to-day her own senility, her failing
powers, her rapid detachment from life. It reminded her, too, of
things that had occurred half a century ago.... Suddenly the old woman
felt a lump in her throat, a curious, choking sensation. She stepped
to the window and pushed it open.
Outside a light easterly wind was shaking an almond-tree in full
blossom, making a fluttering pink cloud against the clear April sky.
The ringdoves in their wicker cage were cooing in an amorous
Presently, with her heavy step, she turned into the cupboard which
served her for a bedroom. In one corner stood a locked box, dusty with
disuse, at which she fumbled nervously with a rusty key. Then, with
palsied, trembling fingers, she drew out a yellowish packet of
letters, tied with a ribbon which had once, possibly, been
The door of the studio was flung open, and the swish of silken
petticoats and a girl's high-pitched laugh announced that Mlle. Rose
was taking her departure.... It seemed to Virginie's listening ears as
if M. Georges, on this radiant spring afternoon, could not bear to let
her go. 'Dearest,' she could hear him urging, 'won't you dine with me
to-night? Say you will! Voisin's at seven, and afterwards we'll drive
in the Bois. See, it's going to be an exquisite evening! You must send
a telegram to the theatre to say you are ill and cannot dance.'
'Yes, yes,' answered the childish voice. 'To say that I am ill. It
will be delicious! I shall put on my pink dress, and my little toque
with the pink roses. You can't imagine how charming it is, the little
toque. And do you like my hair done like a madonna or like a nymph?'
And Virginie, half blotted out already in the twilight of her meagre
bedroom, could hear the young man's answer, and the delighted,
bewildered tones of his voice: 'Yes, parted, like a madonna. You must
wear pink roses, and pink shoes, and bring that great feather fan—'
'I'll have my hair waved!' came the triumphant, satisfied answer.
'Good-bye, dearest. In an hour I'll be back. Don't forget me while I
She heard him accompany the young girl to the cab which was waiting
at the door, and noted his light step as he strode back to the studio,
humming a valse air as he went. How restless M. Georges seemed this
after-noon.... She could hear him walking about the atelier, turning
over this canvas and that, cleaning up an old palette.
When she came in with a load of wood, and knelt down, with
difficulty, before the fireplace, he had flung himself on to the sofa
and had lit a cigarette.
'I thought I had better make up the fire,' said Virginie, on her
knees at the hearth. 'I supposed that monsieur would make as much use
of the light as he could. But monsieur will probably not do any more
'N—no,' said Georges from the sofa. 'Probably not.'
'It's always the way; once a man is interrupted at his work, the
day's gone. I've seen enough of it in my time, I can tell you...'
grumbled Virginie, pulling down the iron screen over the fire with a
'Always the same old story, eh, Virginie?' came a contented voice
from the sofa.
'Always!' muttered the old servant.
'Lazy brutes, we artists, aren't we? Well, don't be hard on
women.... Why,' he added, in a teasing voice, after a moment's pause,
'I shouldn't wonder if you were a pretty woman once?'
She had risen, with difficulty, from the floor, and stood facing
him, with colourless eyes and gnarled hands.
'A pretty woman!' she muttered wistfully; and then, in a more
defiant tone, 'Well, monsieur has often seen my portrait!'
ma pauvre vieille?' said Georges, with
languid interest. He was choosing another cigarette as he spoke. 'And
where have I seen this wonderful likeness?'
'Why, in the Luxembourg Gallery, M. Georges. They say it will be in
the Louvre in a year. Ah, I did not always sweep studios and open
doors. I was pretty once, M. Georges! I was a model. He chose
me for his "Psyche."'
'The "Psyche"!' The picture which, it was known, was to be hung in
the Louvre as pendant to Ingres' 'La Source'! Could it be possible,
and did not life contain such ironical tragedies as this?
The Master had painted Virginie in that world-famous picture, and
he, the Master's youngest pupil, had let her drudge and toil in his
kitchen, all unwittingly, for years.... He sprang from the sofa, and
laying his hands on her shrunken shoulders, murmured reproachfully,
'And you never told me all this time?'
'Ah, that is all more than fifty years ago now—more than fifty
years. Dame! One forgets. My memory isn't what it was.... My
head feels dizzy this weather, and I don't remember things as I used
to.... Yes, yes, I was a very pretty girl, Monsieur Georges. At
fifteen, down in Auvergne, there was a miller's son who—'
'Tell me about Victor Gérault,' urged Georges quietly, leading her
to the sofa. The young man made her sit down, and then, with the
filial courtesy of a Frenchman, he knelt, smiling, before her.
Agitated and pale, she passed her hand across her forehead. 'Yes,
yes, the Master. Let me think; yes, he was always very fond of me,
was M. Victor. He always said I was a very pretty girl. It was my
hands especially that he thought so beautiful,' she added, with a
sudden tone of vanity.
'Your hands, Virginie?' said Georges gravely, taking her withered
and knotted fingers in his.
'Ah, they are spoiled with hard work now, M. Georges. Ah,
Dieu! When one is already seventy-five, and has had a life of
anxiety and of toil.... When one has risen at the dawn for fifty
years, when one has scrubbed and swept, and worked and washed, for
half a century, why, look you, it is impossible to have pretty hands,
is it not, M. Georges?'
'Ma pauvre vieille,' said the young man tenderly.
'Everything passes and is forgotten,' said Virginie, nodding her
head, and blinking a little at the bright firelight. The logs had
caught now, and the flames were leaping up the chimney. How good it
was to sit on the sofa once more, just like a lady, and have her dear
M. Georges kneeling there, smiling, with a question in his eyes.
Presently she began fumbling in her pocket. 'There is something,' she
began nervously, 'which I should like you to have. You've always been
so good to me, M. Georges.'
'My poor Virginie! It's you who've always spoiled me; nursed me
when I was ill—looked after me like a mother.'
Carefully drawing a packet of yellowish letters from her pocket, she
handed them to him with a shaking hand.
'Yes, yes, I should like you to have them, to take care of them
after I am dead. Who is to keep them? And then you, too, are an
artist. Who knows if, some day, you may be as great as him?'
'As great as whom?' asked Georges, smiling indulgently as he took
the discoloured packet and untied the faded pink ribbon. They were
dingy folded sheets of paper, which had once been fastened by wafers,
and which bore the dates of April and May 1847. Running his eye across
some of the yellow pages, covered with faded ink, he glanced at the
signature. 'Why, they are priceless!' he cried. 'Love-letters from
Victor Gérault? Where, in Heaven's name, did you get them, Virginie?'
'But they are mine!' she said eagerly. 'Yes, yes, M. Victor wrote
them to me. Ah, but I did not always sweep studios and open doors....
I was pretty once, M. Georges. I was his model. He chose me for his
"Psyche." M. Victor was very fond of me.... Dame! that is all
more than fifty years ago now,' she muttered, stooping, with the
patient humility of the poor, to pick up some of the yellow sheets
which had fallen to the ground.
He knelt down, too, and helped to collect the letters.
'But read them, M. Georges!' A rosy flush of belated feminine pride
had crept over her shrunken cheeks. 'He used to say the most beautiful
things; hie used to write the most lovely letters.... Tiens,
you think because I am only an old woman now—nothing but a wrinkled,
ugly old woman—that I have never been loved? You read what he used to
say, and you will see that I too—'
The young man began to read aloud the letter he held in his hand. It
was an intimate revelation of the heart of him whom the younger
generation called the Master.
'PARIS, May 1, 1847.—I want to tell you again how your eyes haunt
me, and how I delight in your beauty....'
She stood there timidly, as he read aloud, with her seamed face,
and her little, faded eyes fixed on her master. A white cap was tied
beneath her shrivelled chin; a loose camisole covered her shrunken
chest; a meagre petticoat revealed her bony ankles.
'Your beauty, which is so strangely complex, for it has not only a
child's sweetness, but a woman's seduction. Ay, you are indeed an
'Yes, yes. Indeed an exquisite creature!' repeated Virginie. 'That
is just like M. Victor.'
He raised his eyes and looked at the familiar figure of Virginie....
All at once the bent, unsightly form seemed invested with the
sweetness, the purity, the dignity of the young girl; round her head,
with its sparse white hair, there rested, for an instant, the aureole
of the woman who is beloved.
'I was like a man asleep, and you, Virginie, have awakened me.
Whether you wish it or no, you will be for ever my inspiration, my
dream, my reward.'
A feeble smile of satisfied vanity flickered over the old woman's
face. She nodded her head as he went on reading, her knotted hands
twisted nervously together. Time, with his corroding finger, had
seared and branded her out of all semblance of a woman. She
represented nothing but the long, the inexorable degradation of life.
'Nothing will ever make me forget the unearthly beauty of your
face, nor the hours we have passed together.'
The young man laid the letter down. His eyes had filled with tears;
he could hardly see the words.
'And so the Master—loved you?' he said gravely, with a touch of
deference in his voice. 'Tell me about it, Virginie—'
'Yes, I must try and recollect how it used to be, M. Georges.' And
then, after a pause, she went on querulously, 'I can't remember things
as I used to, and it's all such a long, long time ago.... But I can
recollect the time when I first stood for the "Psyche"! Ah, it was a
shabby little studio he had, up at Montmartre, for, look you, the
young men didn't make so much money fifty years ago; they hadn't such
fine ateliers as this, I can tell you.... Nor dressed-up young ladies
like that (nodding at the door) coming in to see them. No, no,
M. Victor was poor. He had quarrelled with his family because he
wished to be a painter.... All the same, it was gay enough in that
studio up at Montmartre! we used to have a dish of macaroni, a bottle
of thin red wine—but—we were happy!'
'Happy with Victor Gérault,' said the young man wonderingly. 'That
must have been an experience indeed!'
'Then came the day of his success at the Salon,' went on the old
woman, getting animated and excited. 'I tell you, there has never been
anything like it. You young men don't know. There are so many clever
'You mean so few people with genius!' said Georges sadly.
Like all the disciples of Gérault, he had heard the legend of the
'Psyche.' No one could get near it at the Salon; there were crowds in
front of it all day long. People still read the critiques which Alfred
de Musset and Théophile Gautier had written, in contemporary journals,
about this masterpiece, in which there had been revived some of the
sincerity, the fervour, and the inexpressible grace of the
Renaissance.... And the strange, the inexorable irony of life had
decreed that the model of the 'Psyche,' withered out of all semblance
of a woman, should stand there before him, in the meagre dress of the
humble; worn out, at last, in his service; the scourer of his kitchen,
the meek servitor of his caprices.... And those shrunken arms and
throat, that attenuated body, had made the fame, perhaps the
immortality, of a great painter!
How strange, he thought, that Gérault—that great, unhappy
man—should have left her to come to want. Yet the story was simple
enough. On the day of his success had come a reconciliation with his
family, and with it the last of the young people's happiness. With the
strain and the excitement of his work and his sudden success, the
health of Gérault had broken down, and he had been hurried away by his
parents to their château in Touraine. Before he returned to Paris,
they had arranged a marriage for him—one on which his mother had set
her heart. Virginie had not disputed the arrangement. It was right, it
was natural, she said, that he should marry.... She had had all the
curious humility, the astounding courage of the poor. The girl had
left Paris for a time, and had refused to see him again.
'But I have heard that he was never happy with his wife?' said
Georges, with a movement of impatience.
'It may be, I do not know,' she answered simply. 'I never saw him
again. Tiens! when one is a woman, and one has been very, very
happy, and—and—it is all over—one has to learn to forget. I left
Paris for many years. Now and again I heard from him, but after a
little while that ceased. Life is like that.... It is hard for women.
One is very happy, and then, pouf! it is all over, and one must
ask no questions! One must not ask why.... And women live long, M.
Georges. In spite of their sorrows, they live long....'
Emotional and easily moved, the young man gave way to a charming
impulse. Bending down, he took her fingers and demanded deferentially,
'May I salute the hand, madame, that the Master delighted to honour?'
An impatient, agitated ring at the bell made them start. 'Sit
here,' he said kindly; 'I will go.'
In another instant there had burst into the room a radiant
apparition in pink. With her flower-crowned head, her tumultuous silk
skirts, and the great bunch of real roses thrust in her belt, the
young dancer seemed the very incarnation of wayward, alluring youth.
'Do I look nice, dear?' she demanded breathlessly, throwing off her
'Superb!' said the young man, seizing her two wrists and devouring
her with his eyes.
The two young people, absorbed in each other, had forgotten the
presence of Virginie.
'Have I made myself beautiful enough?' she asked, patting her hair.
'You see, as I passed the coiffeur's, I popped in my head and
said, "For Heaven's sake, be amiable, come and do my hair, Alphonse!
It's an affair of state—everything depends on it." And he said, "
Bien, mademoiselle, count upon me!" and he took up his
curling-tongs and flew after me. I told him I was going to dine with
the most adorable of his sex....'
'Oh!' answered Georges, with a movement of impatience.
'And then, just as I was dressed,' she chattered on, taking no
notice, 'in came Marcel, with these roses. Lovely, aren't they? But I
had to bundle him out. He's always in the way when he isn't wanted.
Came to congratulate me on my success in the piece last night, talked
a lot of nonsense, and said you were hopelessly in love with me. As if
I wanted Marcel to tell me that! And, Georges dear,' she went on,
laughing, 'I'm dying of hunger. That's another symptom. It is absurd;
one has either no appetite at all or else one feels absolutely
starving. Let's go, let's go at once. I want to make the most of my
holiday. Dinner first, très-cher; and then a drive in the
Bois! I feel so sentimental already—I shall adore that drive in the
Bois. Come, Georges, make haste—help me on again with my coat. Be
very careful with the sleeves....'
She bent her head, for a moment, with a cat-like caress, on his
shoulder, as he carefully patted and tucked the rosy gauze into the
coat-sleeves. As he stood, with this exquisite young girl in his arms,
he could see the bent figure of the old studio-sweeper as she passed,
mumbling and nodding, out of the room, to be swallowed up in the vague
shadows of the passage.
'Sapristi! mais ce n'est pas amusant—la vie!' he thought; but in
another moment, with the ferocious egotism of youth—and especially of
youth in love—he had almost forgotten her.
By and by, when the studio had been empty some time, and even the
odour of chypre had evaporated, Virginie crept back again and began
painfully putting things to rights. It must all look straight and tidy
for M. Georges, she told herself, when he came back.... Outside, there
was already something of the cold serenity of evening in the still,
primrose-coloured sky. The ringdoves were silent, huddled together in
their wicker cage, their beaks tucked beneath their wings. Across the
courtyard a fresh but hoarse young voice could be heard singing a
light song of the quarter.
Virginie looked around. M. Georges had taken the letters and placed
them in the drawer of an inlaid cabinet. But presently. as she stooped
about, picking up brushes and painting rags, she found a length of
It was the ribbon which had tied the precious love-letters—the
ribbon which had once been rose-coloured.
'They will not want that,' she muttered, and she thrust it into her
With sundown it was becoming cold. The fire had gone out, the big
room wa growing glacial, and it was filled, too, with vague and
'Yes, the old feel chilly in April,' she mumbled, gathering her
little shawl round her shoulders—'dame, the old feel chilly
in the spring.'