by A. E. W. Mason
Five Englishmen were watching a camp fire in the centre of a forest
clearing in mid-Africa. They did not speak, but sat propped against
logs, smoking. One of the five knocked out the ashes of his pipe upon
the ground; a second, roused by the movement, picked up a fresh billet
of wood with a shiver and threw it on to the fire, and the light for a
moment flung a steady glow upon faces which were set with anxiety. The
man who had picked up the billet looked from one to the other of the
faces, then he turned and gazed behind him into the darkness. The floor
of the clearing was dotted with the embers of dying fires, but now and
again he would hear the crackle of a branch and see a little flame
spirt up and shine upon the barrels of rifles and the black bodies of
the sleeping troops. Round the edge of the clearing the trees rose
massed and dark like a cliff's face. He turned his head upwards.
'Look, Drake!' he cried suddenly, and pointed an arm eastwards. The
man opposite to him took his pipe from his mouth and looked in that
direction. The purple was fading out of the sky, leaving it livid.
'I see,' said Drake shortly, and, replacing his pipe, he rose to his
feet. His four companions looked quickly at each other and the eldest
of them spoke.
'Look here, Drake,' said he, 'I have been thinking about this
business all night, and the more I think of it the less I like it. Of
course, we only did what we were bound to do. We couldn't get behind
that evidence; there was no choice for us; but you're the captain, and
there is a choice for you.'
'No,' replied Drake quietly. 'I too have been thinking about it all
night, and there is no choice for me.'
'But you can delay the execution until we get back.'
'I can't even do that. A week ago there was a village here.'
'It's not the man I am thinking of. I haven't lived my years in
Africa to have any feeling left for scum like that. But also I haven't
lived my years in Africa without coming to know there's one thing above
all others necessary for the white man to do, and that's to keep up the
prestige of the white man. String Gorley up if you like, but not
here—not before these blacks.'
'But that's just what I am going to do,' answered Drake, 'and just
for your reason, too—the prestige of the white man. Every day
something is stolen by these fellows, a rifle, a bayonet,
rations—something. When I find the theft out I have to punish it,
haven't I? Well, how can I punish the black when he thieves, and let
the white man off when he thieves and murders? If I did—well, I don't
think I could strike a harder blow at the white man's prestige.'
'I don't ask you to let him off. Only take him back to the coast.
Let him be hanged there privately.'
'And how many of these blacks would believe that he had been
hanged?' Drake turned away from the group and walked towards a hut
which stood some fifty yards from the camp fire. Three sentries were
guarding the door. Drake pushed the door open, entered, and closed it
behind him. The hut was pitch dark since a board had been nailed across
the only opening.
'Gorley!' he said.
There was a rustling of boughs against the opposite wall, and a
voice answered from close to the ground.
'Damn you, what do you want?'
'Have you anything you wish to say?'
'That depends,' replied Gorley after a short pause, and his voice
changed to an accent of cunning.
'There's no bargain to be made.'
The words were spoken with a sharp precision, and again there was a
rustling of leaves as though Gorley had fallen back upon his bed of
'But you can undo some of the harm,' continued Drake, and at that
Gorley laughed. Drake stopped on the instant, and for a while there was
silence between the pair. A gray beam of light shot through a chink
between the logs, and then another and another until the darkness of
the hut changed to a vaporous twilight. Then of a sudden the notes of a
bugle sounded the reveille. Gorley raised himself upon his elbows and
thrust forward his head. Outside he heard the rattle of arms, the
chatter of voices, all the hum of a camp astir.
'Drake,' he whispered across to the figure standing against the
door, 'there's enough gold dust to make two men rich, but you shall
have it all if you let me go. You can—easily enough. It wouldn't be
difficult for a man to slip away into the forest on the march back if
you gave the nod to the sentries guarding him. All I ask for is a rifle
and a belt of cartridges. I'd shift for myself then.'
He ended abruptly and crouched, listening to the orders shouted to
the troops outside. The men were being ranged in their companies. Then
the companies in succession were marched, halted, wheeled, and halted
again. Gorley traced a plan of their evolutions with his fingers upon
the floor of the hut. The companies were formed into a square.
'Drake,' he began again, and he crawled a little way across the hut;
'Drake, do you hear what I'm saying? There's a fortune for you, mind
you, all of it; and I am the only one who can tell you where it is. I
didn't trust those black fellows—no, no,' and he wagged his head with
an attempt at an insinuating laugh. 'I had it all gathered together,
and I buried it myself at night. You gave me a chance before with
nothing to gain. Give me another; you have everything to gain this
time. Drake, why don't you speak?'
'Because there's no bargain to be made between you and me,' replied
Drake. 'If you tell me where the gold dust's hid, it will be given back
to the people it belonged to, or rather to those of them you left
alive. You can do some good that way by telling me, but you won't save
Steps were heard to approach the hut; there was a rap on the door.
'Well?' asked Drake.
Gorley raised himself from the floor.
'I am not making you rich and letting you kill me too,' he said; and
then, 'Who cares? I'm ready.'
Drake opened the door and stepped out. Gorley swaggered after him.
He stood for a moment on the threshold. Here and there a wisp of fog
ringed a tree-trunk or smoked upon the ground. But for the rest, the
clearing, littered with the charred debris of a native village, lay
bare and desolate in a cold morning light.
'It looks a bit untidy,' said Gorley, with a laugh. Two of the
troopers approached and laid their hands upon his shoulders. At first
he made a movement to shake them off. Then he checked the impulse and
stood quietly while they pinioned him. After they had finished he spat
on the ground, cast a glance at the square and the rope dangling from a
branch above it, and walked easily towards it. The square opened to
receive him and closed up again.
On the march back two of the Englishmen sickened of ague and died.
Six months later a third was killed in a punitive expedition. The
fourth was drowned off Walfisch Bay before another year had elapsed.
Hugh Fielding, while speculating upon certain obscure episodes in
the history of a life otherwise familiar to an applauding public, and
at a loss to understand them, caught eagerly at a simile. Now Fielding
came second to none in his scorn for the simile as an explanation,
possibly because he was so well acquainted with its convenience. 'A
fairy lamp' he would describe it, quite conscious of the irony in his
method of description, 'effective as an ornament upon a table-cloth,
but a poor light to eat your dinner by.'
Nevertheless Fielding hugged this particular simile, applying it as
a sort of skeleton key to the problem of Stephen Drake's career.
He compared Drake's career, or at all events that portion of it
which was closed, to the writing of a book. So many years represent the
accumulation of material, a deliberate accumulation; at a certain date
the book is begun with a settled design, finis being clearly
foreseen from the first word of the preface. But once fairly started
the book throws the writer on one side and takes the lead, drags him,
panting and protesting, after it, flings him down by-ways out of sight
of his main road, tumbles him into people he had no thought of meeting,
and finally stops him dead, Heaven knows where—in front of a blank
wall, most likely, at the end of a cul de sac. He may sit down
then and cry if he likes, but to that point he has come in spite of his
The actual settling down to the work, with the material duly
ticketed at his elbow, in Drake's case Hugh Fielding dated back to a
certain day towards the close of October.
Upon that afternoon the Dunrobin Castle from Cape Town
steamed into Plymouth Harbour, and amongst the passengers one man
stepped from the tender on to the quay and stood there absolutely
alone. No one had gone out to the ship to meet him; no one came forward
now on the quay-side, and it was evident from his indifference to the
bystanders that he expected no one. The more careless of these would
have accounted him a complete stranger to the locality, the more
observant an absentee who had just returned, for while his looks
expressed isolation, one significant gesture proved familiarity with
the environments. As his eyes travelled up the tiers of houses and
glanced along towards the Hoe, they paused now and again and rested
upon any prominent object as though upon a remembered landmark, and
each such recognition he emphasised with a nod of the head.
He turned his back towards the town, directing his glance in a
circle. The afternoon, although toning to dusk, was kept bright by the
scouring of a keen wind, and he noted the guard-ship on his right at
its old moorings, the funnels rising like solid yellow columns from
within a stockade of masts; thence he looked across the water to the
yellowing woods of Mount Edgcumbe, watched for a moment or so the brown
sails of the fishing-smacks dancing a chassez-croisez in the
Sound, and turned back to face the hill-side. A fellow-passenger,
hustled past him by half a dozen importunate children, extricated a
hand to wave, and shouted a cheery 'See you in town, Drake.' Drake
roused himself with a start and took a step in the same direction; he
was confronted by a man in a Norfolk jacket and tweed knickerbockers,
who, standing by, had caught the name.
'Captain Stephen Drake?'
The man mopped a perspiring face.
'I was afraid I had missed you. I should have gone out on the
tender, only I was late. Can you spare me a moment? You have time.'
'Certainly,' answered Drake, with a look of inquiry.
The man in the knickerbockers led the way along the quay until he
came to an angle between an unused derrick and a wall.
'We shall not be disturbed here,' he said, and he drew an oblong
note-book and a cedar-wood pencil from his pocket.
'I begin to understand,' said Drake, with a laugh.
'You can have no objection?'
There was the suavity of the dentist who holds the forceps behind
his back in the tone of the speaker's voice.
'On the contrary, a little notoriety will be helpful to me too.'
That word 'too' jarred on the reporter, suggesting a flippancy which
he felt to be entirely out of place. The feeling, however, was quickly
swallowed up in the satisfaction which he experienced at obtaining so
easily a result which had threatened the need of diplomacy.
'O si sic omnes!' he exclaimed, and made a note of the
quotation upon the top of the open leaf.
'Surely the quotation is rather hackneyed to begin with?' suggested
Drake with a perfectly serious inquisitiveness. The reporter looked at
'We have to consider our readers,' he replied with some asperity.
'By the way, what paper do you represent?'
The reporter hesitated a little.
'The Evening Meteor,' he admitted reluctantly, keeping a
watchful eye upon his questioner. He saw the lips join in a hard line,
and began to wonder whether, after all, the need for diplomacy had
'I begin to appreciate the meaning of journalistic enterprise,' said
Drake. 'Your editor makes a violent attack upon me, and then sends a
member of his staff to interview me the moment I set foot in England.'
'You hardly take the correct view, if I may say so. Our chief when
he made the attacks acted under a sense of responsibility, and he
thought it only fair that you should have the earliest possible
opportunity of making your defence.'
'I beg your pardon,' replied Drake gravely. 'Your chief is the most
considerate of men, and I trust that his equity will leave him a margin
of profit, only I don't seem to feel that I need make any defence. I
have no objection to be interviewed, as I told you, but you must make
it clear that I intend nothing in the way of apology. Is that
The pressman agreed, and made a note of the proviso.
'There is another point. I have seen nothing of the paper
necessarily for the last few weeks. The Meteor has, I suppose,
continued its—crusade, shall we call it?—but on what lines exactly I
am, of course, ignorant. It will be better, consequently, that you
should put questions and I answer them, upon this condition,
however,—that all reference is omitted to any point on which I am
unwilling to speak.'
The reporter demurred, but, seeing that Drake was obdurate, he was
compelled to give way.
'The entire responsibility of the expedition rests with me,' Drake
explained, 'but there were others concerned in it. You might trench
upon private matters which only affect them.'
He watched the questions with the vigilance of a counsel on behalf
of a client undergoing cross-examination, but they were directed solely
to the elucidation of the disputed point whether Drake had or had not,
while a captain in the service of the Matanga Republic, attacked a
settlement of Arab slave-dealers within the zone of a British
Protectorate. The editor of the Meteor believed that he had, and
strenuously believed it—in the interests of his shareholders. Drake,
on the other hand, and the Colonial Office, it should be added, were
dispassionately indifferent to the question, for the very precise
reason that they knew it could never be decided. There were doubts as
to the exact sphere of British influence, and the doubts favoured Drake
for the most part. Insular prehensiveness, at its highest flight, could
do no more than claim Boruwimi as its uttermost limit, and was aware it
would be hard put to it to substantiate the claim. The editor,
nevertheless, persevered, bombarded its citizen readers with warnings
about trade fleeing from lethargic empires, published a cartoon, and
reluctantly took the blackest view of Drake's character and aims.
Drake's march with a handful of men six hundred miles through a
tangled forest had been a handsome exploit, quickening British pride
with the spectacle of an Englishman at the head of it. Civilian blood
tingled in office and shop, claiming affinity with Drake's. It needed
an Englishman to bill-hook a path through that fretwork of branches,
and fall upon his enemy six weeks before he was expected—the true
combination of daring and endurance that stamps the race current coin
across the world! Economy also pleaded for Drake. But for him the
country itself must have burned out the hornets' nest, and the
tax-payer paid, and paid dearly. For there would have been talk of the
expedition beforehand, the force would have found an enemy prepared and
fortified. The hornets could sting too! Whereas Drake had burned them
out before they had time to buzz. He need not have said one word in
exculpation of himself, and that indeed he knew. But he had interests
and ambitions of his own to serve; a hint of them peeped out.
'As to your future plans?' asked the reporter. 'You mean to go back,
'No; London for me, if I can find a corner in it. I hold concessions
'The land needs development, of course.'
'Machinery too; capital most of all.'
At the bookstall upon the platform Drake bought a copy of the
Times, and whilst taking his change he was attracted by a
grayish-green volume prominently displayed upon the white newspapers.
The sobriety of the binding caught his fancy. He picked it up, and read
the gold-lettered title on the back—A Man of Influence. The
stall-keeper recommended the novel; he had read it himself; besides, it
was having a sale. Drake turned to the title-page and glanced at the
author's name—Sidney Mallinson. He flashed into enthusiasm.
'Very well indeed.'
'Has it been published long?'
'Less than three months.'
'I will take it, and everything else by the same author.'
'It is his first book.'
The stall-keeper glanced at his enthusiastic customer, and saw a
sunburnt face, eager as a boy's.
'Oh!' he said doubtfully, 'I don't know whether you will like it.
It's violently modern. Perhaps this,' and he suggested with an
outstretched forefinger a crimson volume explained by its ornamentation
of a couple of assegais bound together with a necklace of teeth. Drake
laughed at the application of the homoeopathic principle to the sale of
'No, I will take this,' he said, and, moving aside from the stall,
stood for a little turning the book over and over in his hands, feeling
its weight and looking incessantly at the title-page, wondering, you
would say, that the author had accomplished so much.
He had grounds for wonder, too. His thoughts went back across the
last ten years, and he remembered Mallinson's clamouring for a
reputation; a name—that had been the essential thing, no matter what
the career in which it was to be won. Work he had classified according
to the opportunities it afforded of public recognition; and his
classification varied from day to day. A cause celebre would
suggest the Bar, a published sermon the Church, a flaming poster
persuade to the stage. In a word, he had looked upon a profession as no
more than a sounding-board.
It had always seemed to Drake that this fervid desire for fame, as a
thing apart in itself, not as a symbol of success won in a cherished
pursuit, argued some quality of weakness in the man, something unstable
which would make for failure. His surprise was increased by an
inability to recollect that Mallinson had ever considered literature as
a means to his end. Long sojourning in the wilderness, moreover, had
given Drake an exaggerated reverence for the printed page. He was
inclined to set Mallinson on a pinnacle, and scourge himself at the
foot of it for his earlier distrust of him. He opened the book again at
the beginning, and let the pages slip across beneath his thumb from
cover to cover; 413 was marked on the top corner of the last; 413 pages
actually written and printed and published; all consecutive too;
something new on each page. He turned to a porter.
'How long have I before the train starts?'
'Five minutes, sir.'
'Where is the telegraph office?'
The office was pointed out to him, and he telegraphed to Mallinson
at the address of his publishers. 'Have just reached England. Dine with
me at eight to-morrow at the Grand Hotel'; and he added after a
moment's pause, 'Bring Conway, if you have not lost sight of
When the train started Drake settled himself to the study of A
Man of Influence. The commentary of the salesman had prepared him
for some measure of perplexity. There would be hinted references and
suggestions, difficult of comprehension to the traveller out of touch
with modern developments. These, however, would only be the ornaments,
but the flesh and blood of the story would be perceptible enough. It
was just, however, this very flesh and blood which eluded him; he could
not fix it in a definite form. He did not hold the key to the author's
Drake's vis-a-vis in the carriage saw him produce the book
with considerable surprise, conscious of an incongruity between the
reader and what he read. His surprise changed to amusement as he
noticed Drake's face betray his perplexity and observed him turn now
and again to the title upon the cover as though doubtful whether he had
not misread it. He gave an audible chuckle.
Drake looked up and across the carriage at a man of about fifty
years of age with a large red face and a close-cropped pointed beard.
The chuckle swelled to a laugh.
'You find that a hard nut to crack?' Drake noticed a thickness in
'I have been some years abroad. I hardly catch its drift,' explained
Drake, and then with an effort at praise:
'It seems a clever satire.'
'Satire!' guffawed the other. 'Well, that's rich! Satire? Why, it's
a manifesto. Gad, sir, it's a creed. I believe in my duty to my senses
and the effectuation of me for ever and ever, Amen. The modern jargon!
Topsy Turvydom! Run the world on the comic opera principle, but be
flaming serious about it. Satire, good Lord!'
He flung himself back on his cushions with a snort of contempt.
'Look you, I'm not a pess—' he checked at the word and then took it
at a run, 'a pessimist, but, as things are going on—well, you have
been out of the country and—and you can't help it, I suppose. You may
laugh! P'raps you haven't got daughters—not that I have either, praise
glory! But nieces, if the father's a fool, wear you out very little
less. Satire, ho! ho!'
The semi-intoxicated uncle of nieces relapsed vindictively into his
corner and closed his eyes. Occasionally Drake would hear a muffled
growl, and, looking in that direction, would see one inflamed eye
peering from a mountain of rugs.
'Satire!' and a husky voice would address the passengers
indiscriminately. 'Satire! and the man's not a day under forty either.'
Drake joined in the laugh and lit his pipe. He was not sensitive to
miscomputations of his years, and felt disinclined to provoke further
outbursts of family confidences.
Instead, he pursued his acquaintance with A Man of Influence,
realising now that he must take him seriously and regard him stamped
with Mallinson's approval, a dominating being. He found the task
difficult. The character insisted upon reminding him of the
nursery-maid's ideal, the dandified breaker of hearts and bender of
wills; an analytical hero too, who traced the sentence through the
thought to the emotion, which originally prompted it; whence his
success and influence. But for his strength, plainly aimed at by the
author, and to be conceded by the reader, if the book was to convince?
Drake compared him to scree and shingle as against solid granite. Lean
on him and you slip!
The plot was the time-worn, imperishable story of the married couple
and the amorous interloper, the Influential Man, of course, figuring as
the latter, and consequently glorified. The husband was pelted with
ridicule from the first chapter to the last, though for what particular
fault Drake could not discover, unless it were for that of being a
husband at all; so that the interloper in robbing him of his wife was
related to have secured not merely the succes d'estime which
accompanies such enviable feats, but the unqualified gratitude of all
married women and most unmarried men.
There were, no doubt, redeeming qualities; Drake gave them full
credit, and perhaps more than they deserved. He noticed a glitter in
the dialogue, whether of foil or gold he refused to consider, and a
lively imagination in the interweaving of the incidents. But altogether
the book left with him a feeling of distaste, which was not allayed by
the perception that he himself was caricatured in the picture of
befooled husband, while Mallinson figured as the successful deceiver.
After all, he thought, Mallinson and he were friends, and he disliked
the mere imagining of such a relationship between them.
Drake summed up his impressions as his hansom turned into the
Bayswater Road. The day was just beginning to break; the stems of the
trees bordering the park were black bars against the pure, colourless
light, and their mingling foliage a frayed black ribbon stretched
across the sky. One might have conceived the picture the original of a
black and white drawing by a pre-Raphaelite artist.
Drake drew in a long breath of the keen, clear air.
'I am glad I asked him to bring Conway,' he said to himself.
Waking up six hours later, Drake looked out upon a brown curtain of
London fog. The lamps were lit at the crossings in Trafalgar
Square—half-a-mile distant they seemed, opaque haloes about a pin's
point of flame, and people passing in the light of them loomed and
vanished like the figures of a galanty-show. From beneath rose the
bustle of the streets, perceptible only to Drake, upon the fourth
floor, as a subterranean rumble. 'London,' he said to himself, 'I live
here,' and laughed unappalled. Listening to the clamour, he remembered
a map, seen somewhere in a railway guide, a map of England with the
foreign cables, tiny spider-threads spun to the four quarters and
thickening to a solid column at Falmouth and Cromer, the world's
arteries, he liked to think, converging to its heart.
The notion of messages flashing hourly along these wires brought to
mind the existence of the Meteor. He sent out for a copy of each
number which had appeared since he had begun his voyage, and commencing
on the task whilst he was still at breakfast, read through every
article written concerning the Boruwimi expedition. He finished the
last in the smoking-room shortly after one o'clock, and rose from his
investigation with every appearance of relief. From the first to the
final paragraph, not so much as a mention of Gorley's name!
The reason for his relief lay in a promise which he had sent to
Gorley's father, that he would suppress the trouble as far as he could;
and Drake liked to keep his promises.
Gorley had come out to Matanga with a cloudy reputation winging
close at his heels. There were rumours of dishonesty in the office of a
private bank in Kent; his name became a sign for silence, and you were
allowed to infer that Gorley's relatives had made good the deficit and
so avoided a criminal prosecution. It was not surprising, then, that
Gorley, on hearing of Drake's intended march to Boruwimi, should wish
to take service under his command. He called upon Drake with that
request, was confronted with the current story, and invited to disprove
it. Gorley read his man shrewdly, and confessed the truth of the charge
without an attempt at mitigation. He asked frankly for a place in the
troop, the lowest, as his chance of redemption, or rather demanded it
as a grace due from man to man. Drake was taken by his manner, noticed
his build, which was tough and wiry, and conceded the request. Nor had
he reason to regret his decision on the march out. Gorley showed
himself alert, and vigilant, a favourite with the blacks, and obedient
to his officers. He was advanced from duty to duty; a week before the
force began its homeward march from Boruwimi he was sent out with a
body of men to forage for provisions. Three days later a solitary negro
rushed into camp, one of the few survivors of his tribe, he said. He
told a story of food freely given, a village plundered and burned for
thanks, of gold-dust stolen and the owners murdered that they might the
better hold their tongues. He signified Gorley as the culprit. Drake,
guided by the negro, marched towards the spot. He met Gorley and his
company half-way between Boruwimi and the village, carried him along
with him, and proved the story true. Against Gorley's troops no charge
could be sustained; they had only obeyed orders. But Gorley he
court-martialled, and the result has been described.
This was the incident which Drake was unwilling to commit to the
discretion of the editor of the Meteor. He had discovered
Gorley's relations in England, and had written to them a full account
of the affair, despatching with his letter a copy of the evidence given
at the court-martial. The reply came from the father, a heart-broken
admission of the justice of Drake's action, and a prayer that, for the
sake of those of the family who still lived, Gorley's crime should be
as far as possible kept secret. Drake gave the promise. So far he had
kept it, he realised, as he tossed aside the last copy of the Meteor.
At eight o'clock Sidney Mallinson arrived. He saw Drake at the top
of the flight of steps in the vestibule, and hesitated, perceiving that
he was alone.
'Hasn't Conway come?' he asked. 'I sent to him.'
'Not yet. It's barely eight.'
They shook hands limply and searched for topics of conversation.
'You look older than you did,' said Mallinson.
'Ah! Ten years, you know. You haven't changed much.'
Drake was looking at a face distinguished by considerable
comeliness. The forehead, however, overhung the features beneath it and
gave to a mouth and chin, which would otherwise have aroused no
criticism, an appearance of irresolution. The one noticeable difference
in Mallinson was the addition of an air of constraint. It was due
partly to a question which had troubled him since he had received the
invitation. Had Drake read A Man of Influence and recognised
'I got your telegram,' he said at length.
'Naturally, or you wouldn't be here.'
The answer was intended to be jocular; it sounded only gauche, as Drake recognised, and the laugh which accompanied it positively
'Shall I put my coat in the cloak-room?' suggested Mallinson.
'Oh yes, do!' replied Drake. He was inclined to look upon the
proposal as an inspiration, and his tone unfortunately betrayed his
When Mallinson returned, he saw Conway entering the hotel. The
latter looked younger by some years than either of his companions, so
that, as the three men stood together at this moment, they might have
been held to represent three separate decades.
'Twenty minutes late, I'm afraid,' said Conway, and he shook Drake's
hand with a genuine cordiality.
'Five,' said Drake, looking at his watch.
'Twenty,' replied Conway. 'A quarter to, was the time Mallinson
'Was it?' asked Mallinson, with a show of surprise. 'I must have
made a mistake.'
It occurred, however, to Drake that the mistake might have been
purposely made from a prevision of the awkwardness of the meeting. The
dinner, prefaced inauspiciously, failed to remove the awkwardness,
since the reticence under which Drake and Mallinson laboured, gradually
spread and enveloped Conway. A forced conversation of a curiously
impersonal sort dragged from course to course. Absolute strangers would
have exhibited less restraint; for the ghost of an old comradeship made
the fourth at the feast and prated to them in exiguous voice of paths
that had diverged. Drake noticed, besides, an undercurrent of
antagonism between Conway and Mallinson. He inquired what each had been
doing during his absence.
'Mallinson,' interposed Conway, 'has been absorbed in the
interesting study of his own personality.'
'I am not certain that pursuit is not preferable to revolving
unsuccessfully through a cycle of professions,' said Mallinson in slow
The flush was upon Conway's cheek now. He set his wine glass
deliberately upon the table and leaned forward on an elbow.
'My dear good Sidney,' he began with elaborate affection, plainly
intended as the sugar coating of an excessively unpleasant pill. Drake
hastily interrupted with an anecdote of African experiences. It sounded
bald and monstrously long, but it served its purpose as peace-maker.
Literary acquisitiveness drew Mallinson on to ask for more of the same
kind. Drake mentioned a race of pigmies and described them, speculating
whether they might be considered the originals of the human race.
'My dear fellow, don't!' said Mallinson; 'I loathe hearing about
them. It's so degrading to us to think we sprang from them.'
The peculiar sensitiveness of a mind ever searching, burrowing in,
and feeding upon itself struck a jarring note upon its healthier
'Why, what on earth does it matter?' asked Drake.
'Ah! Perhaps you wouldn't understand.'
Conway gave a shrug of the shoulder and laughed to Drake across the
table. The latter looked entreaty in reply and courageously started a
different topic. He spoke of their boyhood in the suburb on the heights
six miles to the south of London, and in particular of a certain hill,
Elm-tree Hill they called it, a favourite goal for walks and the spot
where the three had last met on the night before Drake left England.
London had lain beneath it roped with lights.
'The enchanted city,' said Conway, catching back some flavour of
those times. 'It seemed distant as El Dorado, and as desirable.'
Mallinson responded with the gentle smile with which a man
recognises and pities a childishness he has himself outgrown.
Drake ordered port, having great faith in its qualities, as inducive
of a cat-like content and consequent good-fellowship. Mallinson,
however, never touched port; nothing but the lightest of French
burgundies after dinner for him. The party withdrew to the
'By the way, Drake,' asked Mallinson, 'have you anything to do
'I was asked to take you to a sort of party.'
Conway looked up sharply in surprise.
'You were asked to take me!' exclaimed Drake. 'Who asked you?'
'Oh, nobody whom you know.' He hesitated for a second, then added
with studied carelessness, 'A Miss Le Mesurier. Her mother's dead,' he
explained, noticing the look of surprise on Drake's face, 'so she keeps
house for her father. There's an aunt to act as chaperon, but she
doesn't count. I got a note from Miss Le Mesurier just before I came
here asking me to bring you.'
'But what does she know of me?'
'Oh, I may have mentioned your name,' he explained indifferently,
and Conway smiled.
'Besides,' said Conway, 'the Meteor has transformed you into
a public character. One knows of your movements.'
'What I don't see is how Miss Le Mesurier could have known that you
had landed yesterday,' commented Mallinson.
'I was interviewed by the Meteor on Plymouth Quay. You
received the note, you say, this evening. She may have seen the
Drake called to a waiter and ordered him to bring a copy of the
paper. Conway took it and glanced at the first page.
'Yes, here it is.'
He read a few lines to himself, and burst into a laugh.
'Guess how it begins?'
'I know,' said Drake.
'A sovereign you don't.'
Drake laid a sovereign on the table. Conway followed his example.
'It begins,' said Drake, 'with a Latin quotation, O si sic omnes!'
'It begins,' corrected Conway, pocketing the money, 'with very
downright English'; and he read, 'Drake, with the casual indifference
of the hardened filibuster, readily accorded an interview to our
representative on landing from the Dunrobin Castle yesterday
Drake snatched the paper out of Conway's hand, and ran his eye down
the column to see whether his words had been similarly transmuted by
the editorial alchemy. They were printed, however, as they had been
spoken, but interspersed with comments. The editor had contented
himself with stamping his own device upon the coin; he had not tried to
change its metal. Drake tossed the paper on one side. 'The man goes
vitriol-throwing with vinegar,' he said.
Conway picked up the Meteor.
'You are a captain, aren't you?' he asked. 'The omission of the
title presumes you a criminal.'
'I don't object to the omission,' replied Drake. 'I suppose the
title belongs to me by right. But, after all, a captain in Matanga!
There are more honourable titles.'
Mallinson looked at him suddenly, as though some fresh idea had shot
into his brain.
'Well, will you come?' he asked carelessly.
'I hardly feel inclined to move.'
'I didn't imagine you would.' There was evidence of distinct relief
in the brisk tone of Mallinson's voice. He turned to Conway, 'We ought
to be starting, I fancy.'
'I shall stay with Drake,' Conway answered, despondently to Drake's
thinking, and he lapsed into silence after Mallinson's departure,
broken by intervals of ineffective sarcasm concerning women,
ineffectively accentuated by short jerks of laughter. He roused himself
in a while and carried Drake off to his club, where he found Hugh
Fielding pulling his moustache over the Meteor. He introduced
Drake, and left them together.
'I was reading a list of your sins,' said Fielding, and he waved the
Drake laughed in reply.
'The vivisectionists,' said Fielding, 'may cite you as proof of the
painlessness of their work.'
'It is my character that suffers the knife. I fancy the editor would
prefer to call the operation a post-mortem.'
Fielding warmed to his new acquaintance. Whisky and potass helped
them to discover common friends, about whom Fielding supplied
information with a flavour of acid in his talk which commended him to
Drake; it bit without malice. Mallinson's name was mentioned.
'You have read his autobiography?' asked Fielding.
'No; but I have read his novel.'
'That's what I mean. Most men wait till they have achieved a career
before they write their autobiographies. He anticipates his. It's
rather characteristic of the man, I think.'
They drove from the club together in a hansom. Opposite to his rooms
in St. James's Street Fielding got out.
'Good-night,' he said, and took a step towards the door.
A lukewarm curiosity which had been stirring in Drake during the
latter part of the evening prompted him to a question now that he saw
the opportunity to satisfy it disappearing.
'You know the Le Mesuriers?' he asked.
Fielding laughed. 'Already?' he said.
'I don't understand.'
'Then you are not acquainted with the lady?'
'No; that's what I'm asking. What is Miss Le Mesurier like?'
'She is more delightfully surprising than even I had imagined.
Otherwise she's difficult to describe; a bald enumeration of features
would be rank injustice.'
Drake's curiosity responded to the flick.
'One might fit them together with a little trouble,' he suggested.
'The metaphor of a puzzle is not inapt,' replied Fielding, as he
opened his door. 'Good-night!' and he went in.
Half-way down Pall Mall Drake was smitten by a sudden impulse. The
fog had cleared from the streets; he looked up at the sky. The night
was moonless but starlit, and very clear. He lifted the trap, spoke to
the cabman, and in a few minutes was driving southwards across
It was the chance recollection of a phrase dropped by Conway during
dinner which sent him in this untimely scurry to Elm-tree Hill. 'As
distant as El Dorado, and as desirable.' The sentence limned with
precision the impression which London used to produce upon Drake. The
sight of it touched upon some single chord of fancy in a nature
otherwise prosaic, of which the existence was unsuspected by his few
companions and unrealised by himself.
Working in that tower which you could see from the summit of the
Elm-tree Hill topping the sky-line to the west, in order to complete
his education as an engineer before his meagre capital was exhausted,
Drake had enjoyed little opportunity of acquiring knowledge of London;
and those acquaintances of his who travelled thither with their shiny
black bags every morning, seemed to him to know even less than he did.
There were but two points of view from which the town was regarded in
the suburb, and the inhabitants chose this view according to their sex.
To the men London was a counting-house, and certainly some miles of
yellow brick mansions and flashing glasshouses testified that the view
was a profitable one. To the women it was the alluringly wicked abode
of society, and they held their hands before their faces when they
mentioned it, to hide their yearning. Occasionally they imagined they
caught a glimpse into it, when a minister from one of the states in the
Balkan Peninsula strayed down to shed a tallow-candle lustre over a
garden party. To both these views Drake had listened with the air of a
man listening to an impertinence, and his attitude towards the former
view showed particularly the strength of the peculiar impression which
London made on him, since he always placed the acquisition of a fortune
as an aim before himself.
He thought of London, in fact, as a countryman might, with all a
countryman's sense of its mystery and romance, intensified in him by
the daily sight of its domes and spires. He saw it clothed by the
changing seasons, now ringed in green, now shrouded in white; on summer
mornings, when it lay clearly defined like a finished model and the sun
sparkled on the vanes, set the long lines of windows ablaze in the
Houses of Parliament, and turned the river into a riband of polished
steel; or, again, when the cupola of St. Paul's and the Clock Tower at
Westminster pierced upwards through a level of fog, as though hung in
the mid-air; or when mists, shredded by a south wind, swirled and
writhed about the rooftops until the city itself seemed to take
fantastic shapes and melt to a substance no more solid than the mists
These pictures, deeply impressed upon him at the moment of actual
vision, remained with Drake during the whole period of his absence,
changing a little, no doubt, as his imagination more and more informed
them, but losing nothing of vividness, rather indeed waxing in it with
the gradual years. One may think of him as he marched on expeditions
against hostile tribes, dwelling upon these recollections as upon the
portrait of an inherited homestead. London, in fact, became to him a
living motive, a determining factor in any choice of action. Whatsoever
ambitions he nourished presumed London as their starting-point. It was
then after all not very singular that on this first night of his return
he should make a pilgrimage to the spot whence he had drawn such vital
impressions. For a long time he stood looking down the grass slope
ragged with brambles and stunted trees, and comprehending the whole
lighted city in his glance.
On the way home his mind, which soon tired of a plunge into
sentiment, reverted to the thought of Miss Le Mesurier, and he
speculated unsuccessfully on the motive which had prompted her to send
him so immediate an invitation. The enigmatic interest which she took
in him, gave to him in fact a very definite interest in her. He
wondered again what she was like. Fielding's description helped to
pique his curiosity. All that he knew of her was her surname, and he
found it impossible to infer a face or even a figure from this grain of
knowledge. By the time he reached the Grand Hotel, he was regretting
that he had not accepted her invitation.
Drake repeated his question to Fielding two days later, after a
dinner with Conway at his club, but in a tone of languid interest.
'Why don't you ask Mallinson?' said Fielding. 'He knows her better
than I do.'
Conway contested the assertion with some heat.
'Besides,' added Drake, 'his imagination may have been at work.
About women, I prefer the estimate of a man of the world.'
The phrase was distasteful to a gentleman whose ambition it was to
live and to be recognised as living within view of, but outside the
world, say just above it in a placid atmosphere of his own creation.
Fielding leaned back in his chair to mete out punishment, joining the
finger-tips with an air of ordering a detailed statement.
'The inhabitants of Sark,' he began, 'were from immemorial times
notable not merely for their predatory instincts, but for the
stay-at-home fashion in which they gave those instincts play. They did
not scour the seas for their victims, neither did they till their
island. There was no need for so much exertion. They lay supine upon
their rocks and waited until a sail appeared above the horizon. Even
then they did not stir till nightfall. But after it was dark, they
lighted bonfires upon suitable promontories, especially towards
Brecqhou and the Gouliot channel, where snags are numerous, and
gathered in their harvest in the morning.
'But,' Drake interrupted, 'what on earth has that to do with—'
'Miss Le Mesurier? A great deal, as you will see if you listen
patiently. Lloyd's at that time had not been invented, and the Sarkese
were consequently unpopular with the trading community, and in the
reign of Henry the—well, the particular Henry is immaterial—an irate
band of merchants sailed from Winchelsea on a trip. They depopulated
Sark in a single night, as they thought. But they were mistaken. One
family escaped their attention,—the Le Mesuriers, who were the
custodians of the silver mines—' At this point Conway broke in with an
impatient laugh. Fielding turned a quiet eye upon him and repeated in
an even voice, 'Who were the custodians of the silver mines, and lived
under the shelter of a little cliff close by the main shaft. When
Helier de Carteret, who, you know,' and he inclined suavely towards
Conway, 'was Seigneur of somewhere or other in Jersey, came a few years
later to colonise Sark, he found the Le Mesuriers in possession, and
while he confiscated the mines, he allowed them to retain their ancient
dignity of custodians.'
'Fudge!' said Conway rudely. Fielding waved a deprecating hand and
'Living where they did, it is not to be wondered at that the Le
Mesuriers became gradually rich, and the De Carterets gradually poor,
so that when the latter family was compelled to place the Seigneurie of
Sark upon the market, the Le Mesuriers were the highest bidders. The Le
Mesuriers thus became Seigneurs of Sark. But with their position they
reversed their conduct, and, instead of taking other people's money out
of mines, they put their own in, with the result that they sustained
embarrassing losses. I mention these details incidentally to show that
Miss Le Mesurier of to-day is directly descended from ancestors of
predatory instincts, who did not go a-hunting for victims, but
unobtrusively attracted them in a passive, lazy way which was none the
Conway's patience was exhausted at this period of the disquisition.
'I never heard such a hotch-potch of nonsense in my life,' he said.
'I admit,' returned Fielding with unruffled complacency, 'that I
aimed at an allegory rather than a pedantic narrative of facts. I was
endeavouring to explain Clarice Le Mesurier on the fashionable
principle of heredity.'
It flashed across Drake that if Fielding had described, though with
some exaggeration, an actual phase of Miss Le Mesurier's character, she
must have been driven to make the first advance towards his
acquaintance by a motive of unusual urgency. The notion, however, did
but flash and flicker out. He had no mental picture of the girl to fix
her within his view; he knew not, in fact, whether she was girl or
woman. She was to him just an abstraction, and Drake was seldom
inclined for the study of abstractions. His curiosity might, perhaps,
have been stronger had Mallinson related to him the way in which he had
been received at the house of the Le Mesuriers after his dinner with
Drake. When he arrived he found the guests staring hard at each other
silently, with the vacant expression which comes of an effort to
understand a recitation in a homely dialect from the north of the
Tweed. He waited in the doorway and suddenly saw Miss Le Mesurier rise
from an embrasure in the window and take half a step towards him. Then
she paused and resumed her seat.
'That's because I come alone,' he thought, and something more than
his vanity was hurt.
The recitation reached its climax. Darby and Joan, quarrelling
through nineteen stanzas as to whether they had been disturbed by a rat
or a mouse, discovered in the twentieth that the animal was a ball of
wool. The company sighed their relief in a murmur of thanks, and
Mallinson crossed the room to the window.
'And Captain Drake?' Clarice asked as she gave him her hand. The
disappointment in her voice irritated him, and he answered with a sharp
'He's not a captain really, you know.'
The girl glanced at him in surprise.
'I mean,' he went on, answering the glance, 'Of course he held the
rank over there. But a captain in Matanga!' He shrugged his shoulders.
'There are more honourable titles.'
'Still I asked you to bring him. You got my note, I suppose?' Her
manner signified a cold request for an explanation.
'I couldn't,' he replied shortly.
'You mean you did not think it worth while to take enough trouble to
'No; that's not the reason. In fact I dined with him to-night, but I
saw that I couldn't bring him here.'
'Well, he's changed.'
'In what way?'
'He has grown so hopelessly bourgeois.'
The epithet was a light to Clarice. She knew it for the superlative
in Mallinson's grammar of abuse. Bourgeois! The term was the palm of a
hand squashed upon a lighted candle; it snuffed you out. Convicted of
bourgeoisie, you ought to tinkle a bell for the rest of your life, or
at the easiest be confined east of Temple Bar. Applied to Drake the
word connoted animosity pure and simple, animosity suddenly conceived
too, for it was not a week since Mallinson had been boasting of his
friendship with the man. What was the reason of that animosity? Clarice
lowered her eyelashes demurely and smiled.
'I fancied he was your friend,' she said with inquiring innocence.
'I believe I remarked that he was changed.' Mallinson looked up at a
corner of the ceiling as he spoke, and the exasperation was more than
ever pronounced in his voice.
'Mr. Drake,' she went on, and she laid the slightest possible
emphasis on the prefix, 'Mr. Drake has travelled among the natives a
good deal, I think you told me?'
'It's funny that that should make a man bourgeois.'
Mallinson became flippant.
'I am not so sure,' he said. 'The natives, I should think, are
essentially bourgeois. They love beads, and that's typical of the
class. Evil communications, you know,' and he laughed, but awkwardly
and without merriment.
'Really?' asked Clarice, looking straight at him with grave eyes.
She seemed to be seriously deliberating the truth of his remark.
Mallinson's laughter stopped short. 'There's my aunt beckoning to you,'
Later in the evening she relented towards him, salving her
disappointment with the flattery of his jealousy. She did not, however,
relinquish on that account her intention to make Stephen Drake's
acquaintance. She merely postponed it, trusting that the tides of
accident would drift them together, as indeed they did, though after a
longer delay than she had anticipated.
The occasion of their meeting was provided by the visit of a French
actress to one of the London theatres. Drake and Conway edged into
their stalls just before the curtain rose on a performance of
Frou-Frou. During the first act the theatre gradually filled, and
when the lights were turned up at its close only one box was empty. It
was upon the first tier next to the stage. A few minutes after the
second act had begun Conway nudged Drake and nodded towards the box.
'You asked what Miss Le Mesurier was like. There's your answer.'
Drake glanced in that direction. He saw a girl in a dress of pink
silk, standing in the front of the box, with her hands upon the ledge
and leaning her head a little forwards beyond it. The glare striking up
from the stage beneath her gave a burnish of copper to her hair and a
warm light to her face. She seemed of a fragile figure and with
features regular and delicate. Drake received a notion of unimpressive
prettiness and turned his attention to the stage. When the lights were
raised again in the auditorium, he noticed that Fielding was in the box
talking to a gentleman with white hair, and that Mallinson was seated
by the side of Miss Le Mesurier. The latter couple were gazing about
the house and apparently discussing the audience,—at all events
conversing with considerable animation. Drake commented upon their
manner and drew the conventional inference.
'Oh dear, no!' answered Conway energetically. 'Of course Mallinson's
aim is apparent enough, poor fellow.' A touch of scorn in the voice,
which rang false, negatived the pity of the phrase. 'But I don't
suppose for an instant that she has realised it. She would be the last
to do so. No, she has a fad in her head about authors just for the
'Oh!' said Drake, turning with some interest to his companion. 'Does
that account for A Man of Influence?'
'Yes,' replied Conway reluctantly, 'I fancy it does.'
'I wondered what set him to writing.'
'He was at the Bar when he met her. I believe she persuaded him to
write the book and give up the Law.'
'She is undertaking a pretty heavy responsibility.'
Conway looked at his friend and laughed.
'I'm afraid you won't find that she takes that view, nor indeed do I
see why she should. Mallinson was doing no good—well, not much
anyway—at the Bar. He has scored by following her advice. So if she
ever had any responsibility, which I don't admit, for there was no
compulsion on him to obey, his luck has already wiped it out.'
'I suppose the white-haired man's her father,' said Drake.
'Yes. There's another sister, but she's at school in Brussels.'
'How did you come across them?'
'Mallinson and I met them one summer when we were taking a holiday
Drake caught the eye of a man who was passing the end of his row of
stalls towards the saloon, and was beckoned out.
'I will join you after the interval,' he said, turning to Conway,
and he saw that his companion was bowing to Miss Le Mesurier.
Miss Le Mesurier in her box noticed Drake's movement, and she asked
Mallinson, 'Who is that speaking to Mr. Conway?'
Mallinson put up his glasses and looked. Clarice read recognition in
a lift of eyebrows, and guessed from his hesitation to answer who it
was that he recognised.
'Well, who is it?'
'Where?' asked Mallinson, assuming an air of perplexity.
'Where you were looking,' said she quietly.
'It's Stephen Drake,' interposed Fielding, and 'Hulloa!' he added in
a voice of surprise as he observed the man whom Drake joined.
'Drake! Stephen Drake!' exclaimed Mr. Le Mesurier, leaning forward
hurriedly. 'Point him out to me, Fielding.'
The latter obeyed, and Mr. Le Mesurier watched Drake until he
disappeared through the doorway, with what seemed to Mallinson a
singular intentness. The father's manner waked him to a suspicion that
he might possibly have mistaken the daughter's motive in seeking
Drake's acquaintance. Was it merely a whim, a fancy, strengthened to
the point of activity by the sight of his name in print? Or was it
something more? Was there some personal connection between Drake and
the Le Mesuriers of which the former was in some way ignorant? He was
still pondering the question when Clarice spoke to him.
'So that was the bourgeois, was it?' she said, bending forwards and
almost whispering the words. Mallinson flushed.
'Was it?' he asked. 'I can't see. I am rather short-sighted.'
'I begin to think you are.'
The sentence was spoken with an ironic sympathy which deepened the
flush upon Mallinson's cheek. A knock at the door offered him escape;
he rose and admitted Conway. Conway was received with politeness by Mr.
Le Mesurier, with cordiality by his daughter.
'I have Drake with me,' said Conway. 'I came to ask permission,
since you invited him to Beaufort Gardens, to introduce him after the
Mr. Le Mesurier started up in his chair.
'Did you ask him to the house?' he asked Clarice abruptly.
'I asked Mr. Mallinson to bring him,' she replied; and then, with
all the appearance of a penitent anxiety, 'Why? Oughtn't I to have done
so?' she asked.
Mr. Le Mesurier cast a suspicious glance at his daughter.
'I am so sorry,' she said; 'I didn't know that—'
'Oh well,' interrupted Mr. Le Mesurier hurriedly, 'there's no reason
that I know of why you shouldn't have asked him, except that it's
surely a trifle unusual, isn't it? You don't know him from Adam.'
'But I assure you, Mr. Le Mesurier,' interposed Conway, 'there's
nothing to be said against Drake.'
'Of course!' replied Mr. Le Mesurier, with a testy laugh at the
other's warmth. 'We know the length of your enthusiasms, my dear
Conway. But I'll grant all you like about Drake. I only say that my
daughter isn't even acquainted with the fellow.'
'It is just that drawback which Mr. Conway proposes to remove,' said
Clarice demurely. 'Of course,' she went on, 'I should never have
thought of inviting him if Mr. Mallinson had not spoken of him so often
as his friend.' She directed her sweetest smile to Mallinson. 'You did,
didn't you? Yes! Mr. Drake had been away from England for so long that
I thought it would be only kind to ask you to bring him. But if I had
known that papa had any objection, I should naturally never have done
it. I am very sorry. Perhaps I am not careful enough.' She ended her
speech in a tone of self-reproach, which had its effect; for her father
was roused by it to expostulate.
'My dear,' he said, 'I never hinted that I had an objection to him.
You are always twisting people's words and imputing wrong meanings to
Mallinson fancied that he detected a note of something more than
mere remonstrance in Mr. Le Mesurier's voice, a consciousness of some
thought in his daughter's mind which he would not openly acknowledge
her to possess. The perception quickened Mallinson's conjecture into a
positive conviction. There was evidently some fact about Drake, some
incident perhaps in his life which brought him into relations with the
Le Mesuriers,—relations ignored by Drake, but known by Mr. Le Mesurier
and suspected by Clarice. Was this fact to Drake's advantage or
discredit? The father's manner indicated rather the latter; but
Mallinson put that aside. It was more than overbalanced by the
daughter's—he sought for a word and chanced on 'forwardness.' His
irritation against her prompted him to hug it, to stamp it on his
thoughts of her with a jeer of 'I have found you out.' On the other
hand, all his knowledge of her cried out against the word. He looked
into the girl's face to resolve his doubts upon the point and found
that she was watching him with some perplexity. A question to Conway
explained the reason why she was puzzled.
'How did you know that I asked Mr. Drake to Beaufort Gardens?' she
'I was present when Mallinson asked him to go.'
'Mr. Mallinson asked him!' she exclaimed, dropping her fan in her
surprise. 'Why, I thought—' She saw the confusion in Mallinson's face
and checked herself suddenly with a little laugh of pure enjoyment. Her
companion's jealousy was more heroical than she had given him credit
for; it had induced him to lie.
To cover his discomfiture Mallinson dived for the fan.
'Oh, don't trouble,' she said, sympathy shaping the words into a
positive entreaty. 'You are so short-sighted, you know. Then you
will bring Mr. Drake,' she turned to Conway as he rose and moved
towards the door. Mr. Le Mesurier had resumed his conversation with
Fielding, and beyond a slight movement of impatience, he gave no sign
that he had heard the words.
'After the next act,' said Conway, and he went out.
Mallinson picked up the fan and laid it upon the ledge of the box.
'I lied to you that evening,' he whispered in a low faltering tone.
'I have no excuse—Can't you guess why I lied?'
There was a feeling behind the words, genuine by the ring of it, and
to feeling Clarice was by nature responsive. Mallinson saw the mischief
die out of her face, the eyelids droop until the lashes touched the
cheek. Then she raised them again, tenderness flowered in her eyes.
'Perhaps,' she said.
She turned from him and watched Conway making his way along the row
of stalls. Drake was already in his seat.
'Then why didn't Mr. Drake come if you asked him?' she said with a
quick change of tone.
'He gave no reason beyond that it was his first night in London.'
Miss Le Mesurier looked again at Drake. His indifference irritated
her and in a measure interested her in spite of herself. She was not
used to indifference, and felt a need to apologise for it to herself.
'Of course,' she reflected, 'he had not seen me then,' and so was
reinstated in her self-esteem. The explanation, however, failed her the
next moment. For Drake, at all events, had seen her now; she had caught
him looking up into the box before Conway left. Yet when Conway
communicated his news, Drake never so much as moved his head in her
direction. The three blows of the mallet had just sounded from behind
the curtain and he sat upright in his seat, his face fixed towards the
stage. Clarice bit her lips and frowned.
'Don't be alarmed. He is really quite interested in you.' She looked
up. Fielding was standing just behind her shoulder. 'He asked me quite
often what you were like.'
'I don't understand you,' said she loftily; and then, 'He might be a
schoolboy at his first pantomime.'
'He gives that kind of impression, I believe, in everything he
Miss Le Mesurier had not made the remark in order to elicit eulogy.
'He looks old, though,' she said, and her voice defied Fielding to
'Responsibility writes with the cyphers of age,' he quoted solemnly.
It was his habit to recite sentences from A Man of Influence
when Mallinson was present, in a tone which never burlesqued but
somehow belittled the work. Mallinson was never able to take definite
offence, but he was none the less invariably galled by it.
'As a matter of fact there is hardly a year to choose between the
ages of Drake, Conway, and you, Mallinson, is there?' asked Fielding.
Mallinson admitted that the statement was correct.
'He has lived a hard life, has anxieties enough now, I don't doubt.
You will find the explanation in that. The only people who remain young
nowadays are actors. They keep the child in them.'
The curtain went up as he spoke. As soon as it was lowered again
Conway hurried Drake out of the stalls and up the staircase to the box.
Clarice welcomed Drake quietly. Mr. Le Mesurier vouchsafed him the
curtest of nods.
'Didn't I see you join Israel Biedermann?' asked Fielding. The name
belonged to a speculator who had lately been raised into prominence by
the clink of his millions.
'Yes,' replied Drake, with a laugh. 'The city makes one acquainted
with strange financiers. I have business with him.'
Mr. Le Mesurier showed symptoms of interest.
'Really?' he said. 'You mean to return to Africa, I suppose.'
'If I can help it, no.'
'You intend to stay in England?' asked Mallinson sharply.
'Yes,' replied Drake. He addressed himself to Miss Le Mesurier. 'You
were kind enough to invite me to your house on the evening I arrived.'
Mr. Le Mesurier's eyebrows went up at the mention of the day.
'Mr. Mallinson had talked of you,' she explained. 'We seemed to know
you already. I saw that you had landed from an interview in the
Meteor, and thought you might have liked to come with your friend.'
The words were spoken indifferently.
'The Meteor?' inquired Mr. Le Mesurier. 'Isn't that the paper
which attacked you, Mr. Drake? You let yourself be interviewed by it? I
didn't know that.'
He glanced keenly at his daughter, and Mallinson intercepted the
look. His conviction was proved certain. There was something concealed,
something maybe worth his knowing.
'The attack was of no importance,' replied Drake, 'but I wanted it
to be known in some quarters that I had landed without losing time.'
'You replied to the attack?'
'Not so much that. I gave the itinerary of the march to Boruwimi.'
Mr. Le Mesurier perceived his daughter's eyes quietly resting upon
him, and checked a movement of impatience, less at the answer than at
his own folly in provoking it. Drake turned to Clarice and was offered
a seat by her side. He realised, now that she was near, talking to him,
that his impression of her, gained from the distance between the box
and the stalls, did her injustice. She seemed now the vignette of a
beautiful woman, missing the stateliness, perhaps, too, the
distinction, but obtaining by very reason of what she missed a
counterbalancing charm, to be appreciated only at close quarters, a
charm of the quiet kind, diffused about her like a light; winsome—that
was the epithet he applied to her, and remained doubtfully content with
it, for there was a gravity too.
Clarice invited him to speak of Matanga, but Drake was reticent on
the subject, through sheer disinclination to talk about himself, a
disinclination which the girl recognised, and gave him credit for,
shooting a comparing glance at Mallinson.
Mr. Le Mesurier, it should be said, remarked this reticence as well,
and it gave him an idea. From Matanga Drake led the conversation back
to London, and they fell to discussing the play.
'You are very interested in it,' she said.
'Yes,' said he, 'I have never seen the play before.'
'I should hardly have thought it would have suited your taste,'
'Why? It's French of course, but you can discount the sentiment.
There is a stratum of truth left, don't you think?'
Mallinson raised pitying shoulders. 'Of the ABC order perhaps,' he
'I am afraid it appeals to me all the more on that account,' Drake
answered, with a genial laugh. 'But what I meant really was truth to
those people—truth to the characters presumed. Consistency is perhaps
the better word. I like to see a play run on simple lines to an end you
can't but foresee. The taste's barbarian, I don't doubt.'
Miss Le Mesurier's lips instinctively pouted a mischievous
'bourgeois' towards Mallinson. He remarked hastily that he thought the
curtain was on the point of rising, and Miss Le Mesurier pushed her
opera-glasses towards him with a serene 'Not yet, I think.' Mallinson
understood the suggestion of her movement and relapsed into a sullen
By the time that Conway and Drake rose to leave the box Mr. Le
Mesurier had thought out his idea. His manner changed of a sudden to
one of great cordiality; he expressed his pleasure at meeting Drake,
and shook him by the hand, but destroyed the effect of his action
through weakly revealing his diplomacy to his daughter by a triumphant
glance at her.
At the close of the performance he met Drake in the vestibule of the
theatre and lingered behind his party. Fielding, Mallinson, and Conway
meanwhile saw Miss Le Mesurier into her carriage.
'What in the world is papa doing?' asked Clarice.
'Exchanging cards with Drake,' replied Fielding. Mallinson turned
his head round quickly and beheld the two gentlemen affably shaking
hands again. Conway bent into the carriage.
'Do you like him?' he asked.
'Oh yes,' she replied indifferently.
'Then I am glad I introduced him to you,' and some emphasis was laid
upon the 'I.'
Mr. Le Mesurier came out to the brougham and the coachman drove off.
'I like that young fellow, Drake,' he said, with a wave of the hand.
'I have asked him to call.'
Clarice did not inform her diplomatic father that unless she had
foreseen his intention she would have undertaken the discharge of that
act of courtesy herself.
Mallinson took a hansom and drove straight from the theatre to his
chambers in South Kensington, Conway walked off in the opposite
direction, so that Drake and Fielding were left to stroll away
together. They walked across Leicester Square towards St. James's
Street, each occupied with his own thoughts. Fielding's were of an
unusually stimulating kind; he foresaw the possibility of a very
diverting comedy, to be played chiefly for his amusement and partly for
Miss Le Mesurier's, by Clarice herself, Drake, and Mallinson. From the
clash of two natures so thoroughly different as those of the two men,
played off against one another with all the delicate manipulation of
Miss Le Mesurier's experienced hand, there was much enjoyment to be
anticipated for the purely disinterested spectator which he intended to
be. Of the probable denouement he formed no conception, and in
fact avoided purposely any temptation to do so. He preferred that the
play should unroll itself in a series of delightful surprises. The one
question which he asked himself at this time was whether Drake might
not decline to act his proper and assigned part. He glanced at him as
they walked along. Drake looked thoughtful, and was certainly silent;
both thought and silence were propitious signs. On the other hand,
Drake had interests in the City, had them at heart too, and, worse
still, had the City itself at heart.
Fielding recollected an answer he had made to Mallinson. The word
'heart' brought it to his mind. Mallinson was jeering at the
journalist's metaphor of the 'throbbing heart' as applied to London.
'The phrase,' Drake had said, 'to me is significant of something more
than cheap phraseology. I know that half a throb could create an
earthquake in Matanga.' What if the man's established interest in this
direction were to suppress his nascent interest in Clarice! Fielding
immediately asked Drake what he thought of Miss Le Mesurier.
'Oh!' said the latter, palpably waking from reflections of quite
another order, 'I liked her,' and he spoke of her looks.
'She has the art of dressing well,' corrected Fielding,
disappointment spurring him to provoke advocacy of the lady. Drake,
however, was indifferent to the correction.
'I like her eyes,' he said.
'She is skilled in the use of them.'
'I didn't notice that. They seemed of the quiet kind.'
'At need she can swing a wrecker's light behind them.'
'I like her hand too. It has the grip of a friend.'
'A friend! Yes. There's the pitfall.'
Drake only laughed. He was not to be persuaded to any strenuous
defence, and Fielding felt inclined to harbour a grudge against him as
needlessly a spoil-sport. Later on, however, when he was in bed it
occurred to him that the play might still be performed, though upon
different lines, and with a plot rather different from what he had
imagined—his plot inverted, in fact. Clarice Le Mesurier, he
remembered, had made the first advance to Drake. What if she for once
in a while were to figure as the pursuer! That alternative would,
perhaps, be the more diverting of the two. He must consult Mrs.
Willoughby as to the effect which Drake's bearing would produce on
women—consult her cautiously, prudence warned him. Mrs. Willoughby, a
cousin and friend of Miss Le Mesurier's, was not of the sort to lend a
helping hand in the game if the girl was to provide the sport—or
indeed in the other event. The one essential thing, however, was that
there should be a comedy, and he must see to it that there was one,
with which reflection he drew the bed-clothes comfortably about him and
went to sleep.
There was, however, one other condition equally essential to his
enjoyment, but so apparently inevitable that he did not stop to
consider it, namely, that Hugh Fielding should be a mere spectator. It
did not occur to him at all that he might be drawn into an unwilling
assumption of a part in his own play.
Mallinson on reaching home unlocked a little oak cabinet which hung
against the wall beside his writing-table, and searched amongst a
litter of newspaper cuttings and incomplete manuscripts. He unearthed
at last a copy of the Meteor, bought between the Grand Hotel and
Beaufort Gardens on the night of Drake's dinner, and, drawing up a
chair to the fire, he read through the interview again. The something
to be known was gradually, he felt, shaping into a definite form; it
had acquired locality this very evening, as he was assured by the
recollection of a certain repressed movement upon Mr. Le Mesurier's
part at the mention of Boruwimi. Could he add to the knowledge by the
help of the interview? Mr. Le Mesurier had not known of its publication
until to-night, and so clearly had not read it; his knowledge was
antedated. But on the other hand it was immediately after the perusal
of the article that Clarice had sent through him her invitation to
Mallinson studied the article line by line, but without result.
He tossed the newspaper back into the cupboard, changed his coat,
and sat down to his writing-table with a feverish impulse to work. He
was unable to conceive it possible that Drake should be unaffected by
Miss Le Mesurier's attractions. The man was energetic, therefore a
dangerous rival. Miss Le Mesurier, besides, seemed bent upon pitting
Drake and himself against each other. Why? he asked. Well, whatever the
reason, he had a chance of winning—more than a chance, he reflected,
remembering a passage of tenderness that evening. His future was
promising, if only he worked. Perhaps Clarice only ranged the two men
opposite to one another in order to stimulate one of them; he reached
an answer to his question 'Why?'
The extravagances of a lover's thoughts have often this much value:
they disclose principles of his nature working at the formation of the
man, and in Mallinson's case they betrayed his habit of drawing the
energy for application from externals, and from no sacred fire within.
He shut his door and worked for a month. At the end of the month,
lying in bed at night and watching a planet visible through his window,
he saw the ray of light between himself and the star divide into two,
and the two beams describe outwards segments of a circle. He turned his
face away for a few moments and then looked at the planet again. The
phenomenon was repeated. He knew it for a trick of tired eyes and a
warning to slacken his labours. On the next afternoon he called at
Beaufort Gardens, and was received warmly by Clarice and her aunt.
There was a suggestion of reproach for his long absence in the
former's voice, and suggestion of reproach from her kindled him. He
explained his plunge under surface on the ground of work. Details were
immediately demanded, the plot of the new novel discussed and praised;
there was flattery too in the diffident criticism of an incident here
and there, and the sweetest foretaste of happiness in the joint
rearrangement of the disputed chapter. Mallinson was lifted on a billow
of confidence. He was of the type which adjusts itself to the opinions
his company may have of him. Praise Mallinson and he deserved praises;
ignore him and he sank like a plummet to depths of insignificance,
conscious of insignificance and of nothing more except a dull rancour
against the person who impressed the knowledge on him. That way Drake
had offended unwittingly at the Grand Hotel; he had recognised no
distinction between the Mallinson of to-day and the Mallinson of ten
Mallinson was asked to dinner on Friday of the next week.
'Really,' said the aunt after his departure, 'he is very clever. I
didn't understand what he said, but he is very clever.'
'Yes,' said Clarice reflectively, 'I suppose—I mean of course he
She spoke in a tone of hesitation which surprised her auditor, for
hitherto Clarice had been very certain as to her impressions on the
At dinner on the following Friday Mallinson was confronted by Conway
and had Mrs. Willoughby upon his right. Mallinson liked Mrs.
Willoughby, the widow of the black hair and blue eyes, now in the mauve
stage of widowhood. She drew him out of the secretiveness within which
he habitually barred himself, and he felt thankful to her for his
prisoner's hour of mid-day airing. Mrs. Willoughby spoke to Clarice,
mentioning a private view of an exhibition of pictures at which she had
'Who was the cavalier?' she added.
'Mr. Drake,' Clarice replied serenely. 'I met him there by
accident.' Mrs. Willoughby looked puzzled, and repeated the name in an
'You don't know him, I think,' Clarice went on. 'He comes here. Papa
asked him to call. Captain Drake, I suppose we ought to call him, but
he has dropped the Captain.'
Mrs. Willoughby started and shot a bewildered glance at Mr. Le
'I like the man very much,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, with a touch of
championship in his voice. 'You should meet him. I am sure you would
like him too.'
Mrs. Willoughby made no answer to the suggestion, and resumed her
dinner in silence, while Conway sang his usual paean of praise. After a
little she turned to Mallinson.
'Do you know this Mr. Drake?'
'Yes, we were boys together in the same suburb before he went to
Africa. It was unfortunately through me that he was asked to this
house. I had mentioned him as a friend of mine at one time, and Miss Le
Mesurier invited me to bring him on the day he reached London.'
'So soon as that! It's funny Clarice never mentioned him to me. You,
of course, told her the date of Mr. Drake's arrival.'
'No, she found that out from an interview in the Meteor.'
'You read it?'
'Yes. So you introduced him to Clarice?'
'No. He did not come that night. Conway brought him up to Mr. Le
Mesurier's box when Frou-Frou was being played a month ago.'
'Never mind, we will talk of something else.'
Mrs. Willoughby had just observed Clarice. She was nodding assent to
the words of her neighbour, but plainly lending an attentive ear to
Mrs. Willoughby's conversation. Mrs. Willoughby spoke of indifferent
subjects until the ladies rose.
When Mallinson, however, entered the drawing-room, he perceived Mrs.
Willoughby's fan motioning him to attendance, and she took up the
thread of her talk at the point where she had dropped it.
'You said unfortunately.'
'Well, you have read the Meteor.'
'You endorse their view?'
'From what I have seen of Drake since his return, yes.'
'But if there's anything in their charges, why doesn't the Colonial
'The Colonial Office!' Mallinson shrugged his shoulders. 'You forget
only natives and Arabs were killed in the Boruwimi expedition, and they
don't count. If he had killed a white man—What's the matter?'
'Nothing,' said Mrs. Willoughby, recovering from a start; 'an idea
occurred to me, that's all.'
For a moment Mrs. Willoughby seemed at a loss. Then she said, with a
'If you will know, I was wondering whether your explanation covered
all you meant by “unfortunately.”' She lowered her voice. 'You can be
frank with me.'
Mallinson was diverted by her assurance of sympathy, and launched
out immediately into an elaborate history of the emotions which the
friendliness of Miss Le Mesurier to Drake had set bubbling within him.
Mr. Le Mesurier approached the pair before Mallinson had finished, and
the latter hurriedly broke off.
'Well,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, 'will you meet Mr. Drake, Constance,
at lunch, say on Sunday?'
Mrs. Willoughby stared.
'Do you mean that?'
'Certainly.' Mr. Le Mesurier was defiant. Mrs. Willoughby's stare
changed to a look of thoughtfulness.
'No,' she said, 'I don't think I could.' She moved away. Mallinson
'You know something about Drake,' he exclaimed, 'something which
would help me.'
'That is hardly generous rivalry,' she replied.
'Does he deserve generosity?' he asked, with a trace of cunning in
his expression which Mrs. Willoughby found distasteful.
'If I can help you,' she answered evasively, 'help you honourably, I
will,' and she turned away. Mallinson put out a hand to stop her.
'I need help,' he whispered. 'There is a conspiracy to praise the
man. You heard Conway at dinner. It's the same with every one, from Mr.
Le Mesurier to Fielding.'
'Oh,' she said, her voice kindling to an expression of interest,
'does Mr. Fielding like him? He is fastidious too.' She paused for a
second in deliberation, her eyes searching the floor. Raising them, she
perceived Mr. Le Mesurier coming towards her.
'I claim our privilege,' she said. 'I will lunch on Sunday, and meet
your paragon, after all.'
'I am very glad,' he said impressively. 'Lunch at two.'
Mrs. Willoughby waited until he was out of ear-shot, and turned
again to Mallinson.
'It is best that I should see the man, and know something more of
him than hearsay. Don't you think so?'
A note of apology discounted the explanation. Mallinson understood
that the reference to Fielding was the cause of her change of mind.
'Do you value Fielding's opinion?' he asked.
'Oh, I don't know. On some subjects I think yes. Don't you?'
Mallinson began to wonder immediately whether Fielding's opinions
might not be valuable after all, since Mrs. Willoughby valued them. If
so, the man might be able to throw some light upon other points—for
instance, the perplexing question of Miss Le Mesurier's inclinations.
Mallinson made up his mind to call upon Fielding. He called on the
Sunday morning, and Fielding blandly related to him his history of
Having worked Mallinson to a sufficiently amusing pitch of
indignation, and having hinted his moral that the subjugation of Miss
Le Mesurier would be effected only by the raider, Fielding complacently
dismissed him and repaired to Beaufort Gardens for lunch. He found
Drake upon the doorstep with a hand upon the knocker, and the two
gentlemen exchanged greetings.
'I have just left Mallinson,' said Fielding.
Drake's hand fell from the knocker.
'Tell me!' he said. 'Mallinson perplexes me in many ways. For
instance, he shows me little good-will now—'
'Does that surprise you?' Fielding interjected, with a laugh.
Drake coloured and replied quickly, 'You didn't let me finish. If he
dislikes me, what made him talk about me as his friend to—to the Le
Mesuriers before I returned to England?'
'Your name in print. You verged on—well, notoriety. You may laugh,
but that's the reason. Mallinson's always on the rack of other people's
opinions—judges himself by what he imagines to be their standard of
him. Acquaintanceship with a celebrity lifts him in their eyes, he
thinks, so really in his own.'
Drake remained doubtfully pondering what credit acquaintanceship
with him could confer on any one. He was led back to his old view of
Mallinson as a man tottering on a rickety base.
'Will he do something great?' he asked, his forehead puckered in an
effort to calculate the qualities which make for greatness.
Fielding chuckled quietly, and answered:
'Unlikely, I think. Clever, of course, the man is, but it is never
the work he does that pleases him, but the pose after the work's done.
Drake looked at Fielding curiously.
'That's a criticism which would never have occurred to me.' He
glanced at his watch. 'We have five minutes. Shall we walk round the
Gardens?' Fielding chuckled again and assented. He saw the curtain
rising on his comedy. For five minutes they paced up and down the
pavement, with an interchange of simple questions on Drake's part, and
discriminating answers on Fielding's—answers not wholly to encourage,
but rather to promote a state of doubt, so much more interesting to the
When after the five minutes had elapsed they entered the house, they
found that Mrs. Willoughby had arrived.
Clarice introduced Stephen Drake to Mrs. Willoughby. He saw a woman
apparently in the early twenties, tall, with a broad white forehead,
under masses of unruly black hair, and black eyebrows shadowing eyes of
the colour of sea-shallows on an August morning. The eyes were hard, he
noticed, and the lips pressed together; she bowed to him without a
word. Hostility was evidently to be expected, and Drake wondered at
this, for he knew Mrs. Willoughby to be Clarice's chief friend and
confidante. Mrs. Willoughby fired the first shot of the combat as soon
as they had sat down to lunch. She spoke of unscrupulous cruelty shown
by African explorers, and appealed to Drake for correction, she said,
but her tone implied corroboration.
'I have known cases,' he admitted, 'here and there. You can't always
prevent it. The pioneer in a new country doesn't bring testimonials
with him invariably. In fact, one case of the kind happened under my
own eyes, I might almost say.'
Mrs. Willoughby seemed put out of countenance by Drake's reply. She
had plainly expected a strenuous denial of her statement. Drake caught
a look of reproof which Mr. Le Mesurier directed towards her, and set
it down to his host's courtesy towards his guest. Clarice, however,
noticed the look too.
'Indeed,' she said. 'Tell us about it, Mr. Drake. It will be a
change from our usual frock-coat conversation.'
Mr. Le Mesurier imposed the interdict of paternal authority.
'I think, my dear, stories of that class are, as a rule, a trifle
crude. Eh, Drake?'
Miss Le Mesurier on the instant became personified submission.
'Of course, papa,' she said, 'if you have reason for believing the
story isn't suitable, I wouldn't think of asking Mr. Drake to tell it.'
Mr. Le Mesurier raised his hands in a gesture of despair, and looked
again at Mrs. Willoughby. His glance said, unmistakably, 'Now see what
you've done!' Fielding broke into an open laugh; and Clarice haughtily
asked him to explain the joke, so that the others present might share
in his amusement.
'I will,' said Fielding. 'In fact, I meant you to ask me to. I
laughed, because I notice that whenever you are particularly obedient
to Papa, then you are particularly resolved to have your own way.'
Miss Le Mesurier's foot tapped under the table.
'Of course,' she said, with a withering shrug of her shoulders,
'that's wit, Mr. Fielding.' Repartee was not her strong point.
'No,' he replied, 'merely rudeness. And what's the use of being a
privileged friend of the family if you can't be rude?'
Drake came to the rescue. 'Mr. Le Mesurier is quite right,' said he.
'Incidents of the kind I mentioned are best left untold.'
'I don't doubt it,' said Fielding. 'A man loses all sight of
humanitarian principles the moment he's beyond view of a fireside.'
'Oh, does he?' replied Drake. 'The man by the fireside is apt to
confuse sentiment with humanitarian principles; and sentiment, I admit,
you have to get rid of when you find yourself surrounded with savages.'
'Exactly! You become assimilated with the savages, and retain only
one link between yourself and civilisation.'
'And that link?'
'Is a Maxim gun.'
'My dear fellow, that's nonsense,' Drake answered in some heat.
'It's easy enough to sit here and discuss humanitarian principles, but
you need a pretty accurate knowledge of what they are, and what they
are not, before you begin to apply them recklessly beyond the reach of
civilisation. When I went first to Africa, I stayed for a time at
Pretoria, and from Pretoria I went north in a pioneer company. You want
to have been engaged in an expedition of that kind to quite appreciate
what it means. We were on short rations a good part of the time, with a
fair prospect of absolute starvation ahead, and doing forced marches
all the while. When we camped of an evening, I have seen men who had
eaten nothing since breakfast, and little enough then, just slip the
saddles from the horses, and go fast asleep under the nearest tree,
without bothering about their supper. Then, perhaps, an officer would
shake them up, and they'd have to go collecting brushwood for fires.
That's a pretty bad business in the dark, when you're dead tired with
the day's tramp. You don't much care whether you pick up a snake or a
stick of wood. I remember, too,' and he gave a laugh at the
recollection, 'we used to be allowed about a thimbleful of brandy a
day. Well, I have noticed men walk twenty yards away from the camps to
drink their tot, for fear some one might jog their elbows. And it was
only one mouthful after all—you didn't need to water it. Altogether,
that kind of expedition would be something considerably more than an
average strain upon a man's endurance, if it was led through a friendly
country. But add to your difficulties the continual presence of an
enemy, outnumbering you incalculably, always on the alert for you to
slacken discipline for a second, and remember you are not marching to
safety, but from it. The odds against you are increasing all the time,
and that not for one or two days, but for eighty and a hundred. I can
assure you, one would hear a great deal less of the harmlessness of the
black, if more people had experienced that grisly hour before daybreak,
when they generally make their attacks. Your whole force—it's a mere
handful—stands under arms at attention in the dark—and it can be dark
on the veld, even in the open, on a starlight night. The veld seems to
drink up and absorb the light, as though it was so much water trickling
on the parched ground. There you stand! You have thrown out scouts to
search the country round you, but you know for certain that half of
them are nodding asleep in their saddles. For all you know, you may be
surrounded on all sides. The strain of that hour of waiting grows so
intense that you actually long to see the flash of a scout's rifle, and
so be certain they are coming, or to feel the ground shake under you,
as they stamp their war-dance half a mile away. Their battle chant,
too, makes an uncanny sound, when it swells across the veld in the
night, but, upon my soul, you almost hear it with relief.'
Drake stopped and looked round upon faces fixed intently on his own,
faces which mirrored his own absorption in his theme. There was one
exception, however; Mrs. Willoughby sat back in her chair constraining
herself to an attitude of indifference, and as Drake glanced at her,
her lips seemed to be moving as though with the inward repetition of
some word or phrase. Even Fielding was shaken out of his supermundane
For the first time he saw revealed the real quality in Drake; he saw
visibly active that force of which, although it had lain hitherto
latent, he had always felt the existence and understood why he had made
friends so quickly, and compelled those friends so perpetually to count
with him in their thoughts. It was not so much in the mere words that
Drake expressed this quality as in the spirit which informed, the voice
which launched them, and the looks which gave them point. His face
flashed into mobility, enthusiasm dispelling its set habit of gravity,
sloughing it, Fielding thought, or better still, burning through it as
through a crust of lava; his eyes—eyes which listened, Fielding had
not inaptly described them—now spoke, and spoke vigorously;
enthusiasm, too, rode on his voice, deepening its tones—not enthusiasm
of the febrile kind which sends the speech wavering up and down the
scale, but enthusiasm with sobriety as its dominant note concentrated
into a level flow of sound. His description had all the freshness of an
immediate occurrence. Compared with the ordinary style of reminiscence
it was the rose upon the tree to the dried leaves of a potpourri.
'But,' said Fielding, unconsciously resisting the influence which
Drake exerted, 'I thought you took a whole army of blacks with you on
'Not on the one I speak of. In Matanga a small force of them, yes!
But even they were difficult to manage, and you could not depend upon
them. They would desert at the first opportunity, sell their guns, your
peace-offerings of brass rods, and whatever they could lay their hands
on, and straggle behind in the dusk until they got lost. It was no use
sending back for them in the morning. One would only have found their
bones, and their bones pretty well scoured too. I speak of them as a
class, of course. There were races loyal enough no doubt, the
Zanzibari, for instance. But the difficulty with them was to prevent
them fighting when there was no occasion. In fact the blacks who were
loyal made up for their loyalty by a lack of common-sense.'
'Cause and effect, I should be inclined to call the combination,'
remarked Fielding, 'with the lack of common-sense as the cause.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked her gratitude across the table, and again her
lips moved. Drake chanced to catch her eye, and in spite of herself she
rippled to a laugh. She had been defending herself by a repetition of
the editor's comment of “filibuster.”
But at the same moment that Drake's glance met hers she had just
waked up to the humour of her conduct, and recognised it as a veritable
child's device. She could not but laugh, and, laughing there into the
eyes of the man, she lost her hostility to him. However, Mrs.
Willoughby made an effort to recover it.
'Well, I don't see,' she said to Drake, 'what right you have got to
marching into other people's countries even though they are black.'
'Ah!' Drake answered. 'That's precisely what I call, if I may say
so, the fireside point of view. We obey a law of nature rather than
claim a right. One can discuss the merits of a law of nature
comfortably by a fireside. But out there one realises how academic the
discussion is, one obeys it. The white man has always spread himself
over the country of the black man, and we may take it he always will.
He has the pioneer's hankering after the uttermost corners of the
earth, and in addition to that the desire to prosper. He obeys both
motives; they are of the essence of him. Besides, if it comes to a
question of abstract right, I am not sure we couldn't set up a pretty
good case. After all, a nation holds its country primarily to benefit
itself, no doubt, but also in trust for the world; and the two things
hang together. It benefits itself by observing that trust. Now the
black man seals his country up, he doesn't develop it. In the first
place he doesn't know how to, and in the second, if he did, he would
forget as soon as he could. I suppose that it is impossible to estimate
the extent of the good which the opening of Africa has done for an
overcrowded continent like Europe; and what touches Europe touches the
world, no doubt of that, is there? But I'm preaching,' and he came
abruptly to an end.
'What I don't understand,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, and he voiced a
question the others felt an impulse to ask, 'is, how on earth you are
content to settle down as a business man in the City?'
Drake retired into himself and replied with some diffidence:
'Oh, the change is not as great perhaps as you think, I have always
looked forward to returning here. One has ambitions of a kind.'
'You ought to go into Parliament,' Clarice said.
Drake laughed, thanking her with the laugh. 'It's rather too early
to speak of that.'
Mrs. Willoughby observed that he actually blushed. A blushing
filibuster! There was a contradiction of terms in the phrase, and he
undoubtedly blushed. A question shot through her mind. Did he blush
from modesty, or because Clarice made the suggestion?
Mrs. Willoughby asked Fielding for an answer as he stood by the door
of her brougham, before she drove away from Beaufort Gardens.
'For both reasons, I should say,' he replied.
'You think, then, he's attracted? He hardly showed signs of it,
except that once, and modesty alone might account for that.'
Mrs. Willoughby laid some insistence upon the possibility.
'I should have been inclined to agree with you,' answered Fielding,
'but Drake dragged me round the square before lunch to question me
'That makes for your view, certainly. What did you tell him?'
'I painted the portrait which I thought he wanted, picked out
Mallinson's vices in clear colours and added a few which occurred to me
at the moment. However, Drake closed my mouth with—“He's a hard
'I like the man for that!' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and checked
'Yes, he's honest certainly.'
'But was he right?'
'Quite! Mallinson works very hard; scents danger, I suppose.'
Mrs. Willoughby heaved a sigh of relief.
'There's some chance for him, then. Will he do anything great?'
'That's one of the questions Drake put to me! I think never.'
Mrs. Willoughby accepted the dictum without asking for the reason.
She sat for a moment disconsolately thoughtful. Then she gave a start.
'There's Percy Conway. I had forgotten him!'
'And wisely, I should think. He is just making a back for Drake to
jump from if he will.'
'Yes, I noticed that,' said Mrs. Willoughby, with a sneer at the
folly of the creature. 'He seems to look upon Mallinson and himself as
the two figures which tell the weather in a Swiss clock. When one comes
out of his box the other goes in. I catch your trick, you see,' and her
face relaxed to a smile.
'Only to improve on it in the matter of truth. For you imply a
comparison between Miss Le Mesurier and the weather, and the points of
resemblance are strong.'
Mrs. Willoughby's smile became a laugh. 'I don't hold with you about
Clarice,' she said. 'You don't know her as I do. She can take things
'Intensely so—for five minutes. I have never denied it.'
Mrs. Willoughby did not display her usual alacrity to engage in the
oft-repeated combat as to Miss Le Mesurier's merits. Her face grew
'Does Clarice care for him, you think?'
Fielding was admiring Mrs. Willoughby's eyes at the moment, and
answered absently. 'Conway, you mean?'
'No, no! How wilfully irritating you are! This Mr. Drake, of course.
By the way, I suppose he will get on?' She spoke in a voice which
implied regret for the supposition, and almost appealed for a denial of
'I should think there's no doubt of it. They tell me he has just
sent a force up country in Matanga to locate concessions. You hit
harder than you knew at lunch, for the force carries machine-guns. Oh
yes, he'll get on. He has been seen arm-in-arm with Israel Biedermann
in Throgmorton Street. You must tell that to a city man to realise what
'But do you think Clarice cares for him?'
'Miss Le Mesurier cares for—' he began, and broke off with a
question. 'Do you read Latin?' He was answered with an exasperated
shake of the head. 'Because Miss Le Mesurier always reminds me of an
ode of Horace, Finished, exquisite to the finger-tips, but still
lacking something. Soul, is it? Perhaps that lack makes the perfection.
But what's your objection to Drake?'
Mrs. Willoughby started a little. 'Objection?' she laughed. 'Why? I
never told you that I had one.'
'You told not only me, but every one at lunch—Drake himself
Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtfully at Fielding. 'Well,' she said,
'there is something. I feel inclined to explain it to you. You may be
able to advise me. Not now!' she went on as Fielding bent forward with
a very unusual interest. 'Let me see. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday'—she
ticked off the days upon her fingers. 'Thursday afternoon. Could you
come and see me then?'
'Thanks. Good-bye, and don't forget; five o'clock. I shall be in to
no one else.' And Mrs. Willoughby drove off with the smile again upon
Whether Fielding was correct in limiting Miss Le Mesurier's capacity
for continued seriousness, she was undeniably serious when she called
upon Mrs. Willoughby at half-past one on the following day. There were
dark shadows under her eyes, and the eyes themselves seemed to look
pathetic reproaches at a world which had laid upon her unmerited
distress. Mrs. Willoughby was startled at her appearance, and imagined
some family disaster.
'Why, Clarice, what has happened?' she exclaimed. 'You look as if
you hadn't slept all night.'
Clarice kissed her, and for answer sighed wearifully. Mrs.
Willoughby was immediately relieved. The trouble was due, she realised,
to some new shuffle of Clarice's facile emotions. She returned the
kiss, and refrained from further questions; but, being a practical
woman, she rang the bell and ordered the servant to lay two places for
Clarice sank despondently into the most comfortable chair in the
'Not for me,' she said. 'I am sure I couldn't eat anything.'
'You may as well try, dear,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; and she
crossed to Clarice and unpinned her hat—a little straw hat, with the
daintiest of pink ribbons. She held it in her hand for a moment,
weighing it with a smile which had something of tenderness in it. She
laid a light hand upon the brown hair, touching with a caress the curls
about the forehead. A child's face was turned up to hers with a pretty
appeal of melancholy. Mrs. Willoughby was moved to kiss the girl again.
In spite of a similarity of years, she had an affection almost maternal
for Clarice; and, with an intuition, too, which was almost maternal,
she was able to appreciate the sincerity of the girl's distress, with a
doubtful smile at the gravity of its cause.
Clarice threw her arms about Mrs. Willoughby's neck. 'Oh, Connie,'
she quavered, 'you can't guess what has happened!' The voice threatened
to break into sobs, and there were tears already brimming the eyes.
'Never mind; you shall tell me after lunch.'
At lunch Mrs. Willoughby industriously beguiled her with anecdotes.
She talked of an uncle of Clarice, a Philistine sea-captain with
pronounced opinions upon the advance of woman, ludicrously mimicking
his efforts to adapt a quarter-deck style of denunciation to the
gentler atmosphere of a drawing-room. To sharpen his diatribes the
worthy captain was in the habit of straining ineffectually after
epigrams. Mrs. Willoughby quoted an unsuccessful essay concerning the
novels women favoured. 'A woman with a slice of intellect likes that
sort of garbage for the same reason that a girl with a neat pair of
ankles likes a little mud in the streets.' Clarice was provoked to a
reluctant smile by a mental picture of a violent rubicund face roaring
the words. She was induced to play with a fragment of sole; she ended
by eating the wing of a chicken.
'Now,' said Mrs. Willoughby when she had set Clarice upon a sofa in
front of a cosy fire in her boudoir, 'tell me what all the trouble's
about.' She drew up a low chair and sat down with a hand upon the
'It's about Sid—I mean Mr. Mallinson,' she began. 'He called
yesterday afternoon after you had left. Papa had gone out for a walk,
and aunt was lying down with a sick headache. So I saw him alone. He
said he was glad to get the opportunity of speaking to me by myself,
and he—he—well, he asked me to marry him. He was quite different from
what he usually is, else I might have stopped him before. But he made a
sort of rush at it. I told him that I was very sorry, but I didn't care
for him in that kind of way—at all events yet. And then it was
horrible!' The voice began to break again.
Mrs. Willoughby took hold of Clarice's hand, and the latter nestled
'He got angry and violent, and said that I had persuaded him to give
up his profession, and must have known quite well why he did it, and
that no woman had a right to interfere with a man's life until she was
prepared to accept the responsibility of her interference. I hardly
understood what he said, because he frightened me; but I don't think
that was at all a nice thing to say, do you, Connie?' and her hand
tightened upon her friend's. 'But he said other things too, much worse
than that,—I can't tell you. And at last I felt as if I wanted to
scream. I should have screamed in a minute or two, I know, so I told
him to go away. Then he became silent all at once, and just stood
looking at me—and—and—I think that was worse than being abused. At
last he said “Good-bye,” so sorrowfully, and I knew it would be for
ever, and we shook hands, and he went out into the hall and closed the
door. It seemed to me that the door would never open again.'
The threatened tears began to fall; Mrs. Willoughby, however, did
not interrupt, and Clarice went on.
'So as I heard the front door unlocked to let him out, I opened the
door of the room and went into the hall. Mr. Mallinson was standing on
the first step. He never looked back—he was turning up his
coat-collar—and somehow it all seemed so sad. I felt as if I hadn't a
friend left in the world. So—I—I—I—'
'Well?' asked Mrs. Willoughby quickly.
'I called him back into the room, and asked him if we couldn't be
'What did he answer?'
'That he didn't see how that was possible since he wanted to marry
me. But I said that wouldn't matter as long as he didn't tell me so. I
think men are so inconsiderate, don't you, Connie?' she broke off in a
tone of reproach. 'I can't understand what there is to laugh at. You
wouldn't either if you had seen him then, because he just sat down and
cried, not as you and I do, you know, but with great tears running
through his fingers and heaves of his shoulders. It was heartbreaking.
Then he got up and begged my pardon for what he had said, and that was
the worst of it all. He declared that if he went the rest of his way
alone the journey would be all the easier for the mile I went along
with him, and at that somehow I began to cry too, and—and—that's
Mrs. Willoughby sat silent for a little. 'So you refused him,' she
said thoughtfully, and she bent towards Clarice. 'Is it to be Stephen
Clarice started up from the sofa, and stood looking into the fire.
'What an extraordinary thing that you should ask me that,' she replied
slowly, 'because Mr. Mallinson asked it too.' She paused for a second
or so and went on. 'I have never thought of him in that way, I am sure.
Oh no!' and she roused herself from her attitude of deliberation and
crossed to the window, speaking briskly as she went. 'I had quite a
Mrs. Willoughby looked at her sharply but said nothing, and
presently Clarice turned back into the room as though moved by a sudden
impulse. 'Can I write a note here?' she asked.
'Certainly,' replied Mrs. Willoughby, and she set some envelopes and
paper on the table. Clarice wrote a few lines and tore them up. She
repeated the process on four sheets of note-paper, and as she was
beginning the fifth attempt the door was opened and the servant
announced that Mr. Conway was waiting in the drawing-room. Clarice tore
up the fifth sheet and rose from her chair. 'I can write it when I get
home,' she said.
'Percy Conway!' said Mrs. Willoughby when the door was closed again.
'What a funny thing! He's not in the habit of visiting me.'
'The fact is,' said Clarice, without the least embarrassment, as she
pinned on her hat, 'I asked him to call for me here. You don't mind, do
'Clarice!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby. She stared at the girl,
noticing the traces of tears still visible on her face, and then she
began to laugh.
'Connie!' said Miss Le Mesurier, and her tone showed that she was
hurt. 'You are unsympathetic.'
'I can't help it,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and she laughed yet
louder. 'I can't help it, dear!'
'You can't imagine how lonely I have felt since—'
'Since yesterday,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and her laughter
increased. 'Clarice, you'll be the death of me.'
Clarice stood gazing at her patiently, her face grave with reproach,
until Mrs. Willoughby succeeded in composing herself to a fitting
seriousness. But for all her efforts her mouth worked, and the dimples
appeared and vanished in her cheeks, and a little ripple of laughter
now and again escaped from her lips.
'Really,' said Clarice, 'I am disappointed in you, Connie.'
'I know it was out of place, dear,' said Mrs. Willoughby with
humility, but nevertheless her voice shook as she spoke. Fearing
another access she began, as a resource, to lecture Clarice upon the
impropriety of making appointments with young gentlemen at other
people's houses. The lecture, however, was received with disdain.
'That seems to me still more out of place,' said Clarice.
'Well, we had better go into the drawing-room to Mr. Conway,' said
Clarice was indeed excessively indignant with Mrs. Willoughby, for
she was in the habit herself of treating her feelings with a tender
solicitude, and consequently disliked the want of respect shown to them
by her friend. She betrayed the extent of her indignation by a
proportionately excessive friendliness towards Conway that afternoon.
He was allowed to conduct her to four picture galleries, and a
Panopticon museum of tortures; his offer to refresh her with tea in
Bond Street was shyly accepted, and at parting he was thanked with
effusion, 'for the pleasantest afternoon she had spent for some time.'
On reaching home, however, Miss Le Mesurier immediately wrote out
the note which she had begun in Mrs. Willoughby's boudoir. She wrote it
now without hesitation, as though she had composed the form of its
message while in the company of Conway, and addressed it to Stephen
Drake. She had a question to ask him, she stated, of some importance to
herself. Would he call on Thursday afternoon and answer it? Clarice
read through the note before she sealed up the envelope. The word
importance caught her eye, and she pondered over it for a moment.
She crossed it out finally and substituted interest. Then she
sent her letter to the post. At breakfast on the Thursday morning,
Clarice casually informed her father of Drake's visit. 'I wrote to him,
asking him to call,' she added.
Mr. Le Mesurier looked up from the pages of his Times. 'Why?'
he asked quickly.
'I want him to tell me something.'
The Times crackled in his hands and fluttered to the floor.
He opened his mouth to speak and thought better of it, and repeated the
action more than once. Then he scratched his head with a helpless air,
and picked up his newspaper. 'Silly girl!' he said at last; 'silly
girl!' and relapsed into silence. At the close of breakfast, however,
he made an effort at expostulation. 'You will make the man believe
you're in love with him,' he said, and in fact he could have chanced on
no happier objection to present to her. Clarice flushed to the temples.
Sidney Mallinson, Mrs. Willoughby, and now her father! All three had
made the same suggestion, and the repetition of it vexed her pride.
There were others they might have said it of with more appearance of
truth, she thought: Sidney Mallinson himself, for instance, or even
Percy Conway. But he, Drake! For a moment she felt inclined to
telegraph to him telling him not to come. Then she thought of the
motive which had induced her to send for him. No! She would ask her
question that afternoon, and so have done with him for good. Aloud she
'How ridiculous! I should hardly think he has that sort of conceit.
Anyhow, if he has that impression, I will take care that he does not
carry it away.'
Mr. Le Mesurier did not pursue the argument, but he gave certain
instructions to his butler, and when Drake arrived at the house he was
shown into the library. Mr. Le Mesurier received him.
'Pull up a chair to the fire,' he said with an uneasy geniality. 'I
have something to say to you, Drake. It won't take long.'
Drake laid down his hat and seated himself opposite to Mr. Le
'My daughter told me this morning, quite spontaneously, of course,
that she had asked you to call in order that she might get from you a
certain answer to a certain question, and I thought that I had better
prepare you for what that question will be.' He hesitated in his
speech, searching for the best way to begin his explanation, and he
caught sight of a cigar-box on the mantelshelf above his head.
'By the way, do you smoke?'
'Yes, but I won't just now, thank you.'
'You had better. You can throw it away when I have done. These are
in rather a good condition.'
Mr. Le Mesurier seemed inclined to branch off upon the quality of
different brands, but Drake gave him no assistance. He lit his cigar
and patiently waited, his eyes fixed upon his host. Mr. Le Mesurier
felt driven back upon the actual point of his explanation, and almost
compelled to fine his words down to just the needful quantity.
'Clarice, I believe,' he said brusquely, 'means to ask you how
Gorley died. He was engaged to her.'
Drake did not so much as stir a muscle, even his eyes maintained
their steadiness, and Mr. Le Mesurier drew a breath of relief. 'I am
glad you take it like this,' he went on. 'I was afraid that what I had
to say might have been, well, perhaps a blow to you, and if so the
fault would have been mine; for I encouraged you to come here.'
Drake bent forward and knocked the ash off the end of his cigar.
'Yes,' he asked; 'why did you do that?'
Mr. Le Mesurier looked uncomfortable.
'It is only right that I should be frank with you,' he replied. 'The
mere fact of Gorley's death, apart from its manner, upset Clarice,
more, I confess, than we expected, and made her quite ill for a time.
She is not very strong, you know. So it was deemed best, not only by
me, but by Gorley's family as well, that she should be kept in
ignorance of what had actually happened. We simply told her that Gorley
had died near Boruwimi. But I fancy that she suspected we were
concealing something. Perhaps our avoidance of the subject gave her the
hint, or it may have been Mrs. Willoughby.'
'She is related to the Gorley family as well as to us. It was
through her Clarice first met Gorley,' he explained, and went on. 'Then
you returned to England, and were interviewed in the Meteor.
Clarice read the interview; you had described in it your march to
Boruwimi, and she sent through Mallinson at once an invitation to you.
I only found that out the night you were introduced to us at the
theatre. It made me certain that she had suspicions, and I admit that I
asked you to call in the hope of allaying them. I believed, foolishly
as it seems, that if I was cordial, she would give up any ideas she
might have, that you were connected in any way with Gorley's death.
Afterwards, Drake, I need hardly tell you, I was glad you came here
upon other grounds.' Mr. Le Mesurier leaned forward in his chair and
touched Drake upon the knee. 'It didn't take long for me to conceive a
genuine liking for you, and, of course, I knew all the time that you
had only done your duty.'
Drake made no response whatever to Mr. Le Mesurier's sentiment.
'I understand, then,' he said, 'that Miss Le Mesurier was engaged to
Gorley at the time of his death?'
'Oh dear, no,' exclaimed the other, starting up from his chair. 'You
are aware, I suppose, why Gorley left England?'
Drake nodded assent.
'The engagement was broken off then and there. And Clarice at that
time did not seem to take it much to heart. I was inclined to believe
that the whole affair had been just a girl's whim. Indeed, in spite of
her illness, I am not certain now that that isn't the truth. She may
have had some notion of reforming him. I find Clarice rather difficult
Drake stood up. 'Where is Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.
'Upstairs in the drawing-room.'
He took a step towards the door, and took the step unsteadily. He
stopped for a second, bracing his shoulders; then he walked firmly
across the room. While his hand was on the handle, he heard Mr. Le
'What do you mean to tell her?'
'I hardly understand,' he answered, turning round. 'There surely is
but one thing to say—the truth. She has a right to know that.'
'Has she? The engagement was broken off finally when Gorley left
England. They had nothing more to do with one another, no common
interests, no common future. Has she?'
'It seems to me, yes!'
'We have kept the knowledge from her up till now. No one could blame
you if you kept it from her a little longer.'
The argument smacked of sophistry to Drake. He had an unreasoned
conviction that the girl had a right to learn the truth from him.
'I think I ought to tell her if she asks me.'
'I might forbid you to do it,' grumbled Mr. Le Mesurier.
'Do you?' asked Drake. The question brought Mr. Le Mesurier up
short. It was a direct question, inviting a responsible decision, and
Mr. Le Mesurier was averse by nature to making such decisions out of
hand. If Drake cared for Clarice, he reflected, it was really in
Drake's province to decide the point rather than in his own.
'I don't know enough of you,' he replied, 'to either forbid or give
Drake wondered what the sentence meant.
'In that case I must take my own course,' he said, and he went out
of the room and mounted the stairs.
It was the dusk of a February afternoon. Drake had found the lamps
lit in Mr. Le Mesurier's library, and the gas was burning in the hall
and on the stairs. But within the drawing-room all the light there was
came from the fire leaping upon the hearth and from the two recessed
windows which faced it. In the farthest of these windows Drake saw Miss
Le Mesurier standing, the outline of her face relieved, as it were,
against a gray panel of twilight. As the door closed, she turned and
took a step into the room. Drake could no longer see more than the
shape of her head and the soft waves of hair crowning it; he could not
distinguish a single feature, but none the less, as she stood facing
him, he felt of a sudden his heart sink within him and his whole
strength race out of his body.
Clarice stood still; and he became possessed with a queer longing
that she would move again, forwards, within the focus of the firelight.
However, she spoke from where she stood.
'You have seen my father.'
Instinctively Drake walked to the fireplace, but she did not follow.
'I have just left him,' he replied. 'He told me what the question
was which you wished me to answer.'
'And forbade you to answer it, I suppose?'
'No. He left the choice to me.'
'Well?' she asked.
'I mean to answer it to the full,' he said. 'I was not aware till a
moment ago that you had been engaged to Gorley.' Then he hesitated.
Clarice was still standing in the shadow, and his desire that she
should move out of it and within the circle of light grew upon him
until it seemed almost as though the sight of her face and the
knowledge of how she was receiving the history of the incident were
necessary conditions of its narration.
'I suppose that is the reason,' he went on, 'which made you ask me
here at first. Why did you never put the question before?'
'Why?' repeated Clarice slowly, as if she was putting the question
to herself. Then she moved slowly towards the fireplace and seated
herself by the side of it, bent forwards towards its glow, her elbows
upon her knees, her hands propping her chin. Drake gave a sigh of
relief, and Clarice glanced at him in surprise, and turned again to the
fire. 'Tell me your story,' she said, and left his question unanswered.
Drake began; but now that his wish was accomplished, of a sudden all
the reality seemed to fade out of the tragic events he was to recount.
His consciousness became in some queer way centred upon the girl who
was listening, to the exclusion of the subject she was listening to. He
was intensely conscious of her face, of its changing expressions, of
the ebb and flow of the blood from time to time flushing her cheeks and
temples, and of the vivid play of lights and shadows upon them as the
flames danced and sank on the hearth. He noticed, too, with an
observation new to him, and quite involuntary, the details of the room
in which he stood, the white panelling of the walls, the engravings in
their frames, the china ranged upon a ledge near to the ceiling. Of
these things his mind took impressions with the minuteness almost of a
camera. They were real to him at this moment, because they formed the
framework and setting of the girl's face and figure.
But Gorley's crime and his expiation of it became by contrast as
remote to his apprehension in point of all connection with Clarice as
they were in point of locality. He could not realise them to himself as
events which had actually happened and in which he had played a part,
and he spoke in the toneless voice of one who relates a fable of which,
through frequent repetition, he is tired. Instinctively, in order to
make the truth of his story palpable, he began to corroborate it with
particulars which he would otherwise have spared his auditor, but with
the same impersonal accent. He told Clarice of the condition of the
village after Gorley's raid, as he first came within view of it: here
the body of a negro stood pinned upright against the wall of his hut by
an assegai fixing his neck; there another was lying charred upon
still-smouldering embers; and as he saw her turn pale and shudder he
almost wondered why.
But in spite of his efforts to appreciate its actuality the incident
grew more unsubstantial the further he progressed in its narration, and
he ended it abruptly.
'Gorley was properly tried,' he said—'his relations testified to
the justice of his trial—and he was executed in accordance with the
Clarice sat motionless after he had ended. Drake watched the flames
sparkle in her gray eyes. At his elbow the clock ticked upon the
mantelshelf spacing the seconds, and the fire was hot upon his limbs.
That dream-world in Africa dissolved to a vapour.
Clarice recalled him to it at last.
'I never imagined,' she said in a low voice, 'that the truth was
anything like this. I shouldn't have asked you if I had. A long time
ago I knew that something was being concealed, but I thought it was an
accident or—well, I couldn't conceive what it was and I grew curious,
I suppose. When you came back to England I thought you might be able to
tell me. Lately, however, I began to fancy that you were concerned in
it some way. You might have sent Mr. ——' she checked herself with the
name unspoken and went on, 'you might have sent him on some fatal
mission or something of that sort. But this! Oh, why did you tell me?'
She took her hands from beneath her chin and clenched them with a
convulsive movement upon her knees. Her memory had gone back to the
days when she and Gorley had been engaged, to their meetings, their
intimate conversations. This man, in whose hand her hands had lain,
whose lips had pressed hers, been pressed by hers, this man had been
convicted of a double crime—dastardly murder and dastardly theft—and
punished for it! Her pride cried out against her knowledge, and cried
out against the man who had vouchsafed the knowledge.
'Why did you tell me?' she repeated, and the words were an
'You wished to know,' he replied doggedly, 'and it seemed to me that
you had the right to know.'
'Right!' she exclaimed, 'right! What right had I to know? What right
had you to tell me?'
She rose to her feet suddenly as she spoke and confronted Drake. He
looked into her eyes steadily, but with a certain perplexity.
'I felt bound to tell you,' he said simply, and his simplicity
appealed to her by its frank recognition of an obligation to her.
'Why,' she asked herself, 'why did he feel bound? Merely because I
wished to know the truth of the matter, or because he himself was
implicated in it as the instrument of Gorley's punishment?' Either
reason was sufficient to appease her. She inclined to the latter; there
were conclusions to be inferred from it which staunched her wounded
Clarice turned away. Drake watched her set a foot upon the rail of
the fender, lay her hand upon the mantelshelf and support her forehead
upon it. After a little she raised her head and spoke with an air of
apologising for him.
'Of course,' she said. 'You could not know that there was anything
between myself and—and him.'
'No; I could not know that. How should I, for I did not know you?
And I am glad that I didn't know.'
Drake spoke with some earnestness, and Clarice looked at him in
'It would have made my duty so much harder to do,' he explained.
With a little cry of irritation Clarice slipped her foot from the
fender and moved from him back to the couch. She had given him the
opportunity to escape from his position and he refused to make use of
it; he seemed indeed unable to perceive it. However, she clung to it
obstinately and repeated it.
'You could not know there was anything between us'; she emphasised
the words deliberately. Drake mistook the intention of the emphasis.
'But was there,' he exclaimed, 'at the time? I didn't think of that,
Miss Le Mesurier—'
'Oh no, no!' she interrupted. 'Not at the time.' The man was
impracticable, and yet his very impracticability aroused in a measure
her admiration. 'So you would have shot him just the same, had you
'Shot him?' asked Drake almost absently.
'Didn't I tell you? I beg your pardon. I didn't shoot him at all. I
Clarice was stunned by the words, and the more because of the dull,
seemingly callous accent with which they were spoken.
'You hanged him!' she whispered, dropping the words one by one, as
though she was striving to weigh them.
'Yes. I have been blamed for it,' he replied with no change of
voice. 'People said I was damaging the prestige of the white man. The
argument bothered me, I confess, but I think they were wrong. I should
have damaged that prestige infinitely more if I had punished him
'Oh, don't!' she cried, with a sharp interruption, and she stared at
him with eyes dilating in horror, almost in fear. 'You can discuss it
like that,—the man I had been engaged to,—you hanged him!'
She ended with a moan of actual pain and covered her face with her
hands. On the instant Drake woke to a full comprehension of all that he
had said, and understood something of the humiliation which it meant to
Clarice was sitting huddled in her chair, her fingers pressed
lightly on her eyes, while now and again a shiver shot through her
'Still I was bound to tell her,' Drake thought. He waited for a
little, wondering whether she would look up, but she made no movement.
An emerald ring upon her finger caught the light and winked at him
maliciously, leering at him, he fancied. There was nothing more for him
to say, and he quietly went out of the room.
The click of the door-handle roused Clarice. She saw that the room
was empty, and, drawing a breath of relief, started out of her chair.
Standing thus she heard Drake's footsteps descending the stairs, and
after a pause the slamming of the hall-door. Then she went to the
fireplace and knelt down close to it, warming her hands at the blaze.
'The degradation of it!' she whispered.
Bit by bit she sought to reconstruct the scene, piecing it together
out of Drake's words; but somehow that scene would not be
reconstructed. She gradually found herself considering Drake's words as
a light thrown upon the man who spoke them, rather than as the
description of an actual incident. The humiliation which she
experienced made her shrink with a certain repulsion from her
recollections of Gorley and dwell instead upon the contrasting tones in
Drake's voice, the contrasting expressions upon his face when he spoke
to her and when he merely narrated his story. In the first instance
gentleness had been the dominant characteristic, in the second
indifference; and that very indifference, while it repelled her,
magnetised her thoughts.
Something indeed of the same process which had caused that
appearance of indifference in Drake was now repeating itself in
Clarice. Drake was superseding Gorley in her mind. She struggled
against the obsession and morbidly strove to picture to herself the
actual execution: the black troops ranged in a clearing before the
smouldering village, looking up at one figure—Gorley's—spinning on a
rope. But even upon that picture Drake's face obtruded. She thrust out
her hands to keep it off, as though it was living and pressing in upon
her; for a moment she tried to conjure up Gorley's face, but it was
blurred—only his form she could see spinning on a rope, and Drake
beneath it, his features clear like an intaglio and firm-set with that
same sense of duty which had forced him sternly to recount to her the
truth that afternoon. She recurred to her recent habit of comparing him
with Mallinson. She had a vision of Mallinson, with the same experience
to relate,—if that were imaginable—fidgeting through evasions,
grasping at any diversion she might throw out for him to play with.
But what if Drake's frankness, outspoken to the point of cruelty,
sprang from an indifference to her? Clarice had seen a good deal of
Drake lately. She caught herself almost smiling at the idea, softening
at its palpable falsity. In a last effort at resistance she fixed her
thoughts on the cruelty, the callousness, in his method of narration,
and began to feel herself on solid ground. She was consequently
inspired to run over all that he had said, in order to make her footing
yet firmer, and at the outset she was brought to a check. Why had she
never questioned him upon the matter before? he had asked. Clarice
stopped and asked the question of herself. At the beginning of their
acquaintance certainly there had always been others by, but afterwards
there had been opportunities enough. But by that time, what with her
father's and Mrs. Willoughby's hostility, she had begun to suspect that
Drake was in some way implicated in the mystery. Was it because she was
afraid to know it for certain that she had refrained? She recalled her
letter to him written last Monday, and how she had crossed out
'importance' and substituted 'interest.' Was this knowledge important
to her, really important, bearing issues in the future? It could only
be important, she realised, if she set great store upon her
acquaintanceship with Drake. Drake, in fact, had achieved something of
a triumph, though quite unknown to himself, for he had compelled
Clarice Le Mesurier to abandon the consideration of his attitude
towards her in favour of a search after the state of her feelings
She was still engaged in the search when the clock struck six, and,
rousing herself brusquely, she rang the bell for the lamps to be
At that moment Mrs. Willoughby had just finished telling to Fielding
the story which Drake had told to Clarice.
'So that's what Drake was referring to on Sunday,' said Fielding.
'Yes,' said Mrs. Willoughby.
'What in the world made you attack him in that way, if you didn't
want Clarice to suspect?'
'The fact was, I was a fool, I suppose. I just put my head down and
charged. But what I want your advice upon is this, ought Clarice to be
told now—before things go further?'
'No, no!' said Fielding. He saw the curtain descending precipitately
upon his comedy before the climax was reached, and he added quite
sincerely, 'I like Drake. I don't see why he shouldn't have a run for
Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtful for a moment, and then she said,
'Very well.' She hesitated for a second: 'I think I like him too.'
This was by no means the last occasion upon which Mrs. Willoughby
thought it prudent to take counsel with Fielding concerning the affairs
of her friend. Nor was Fielding in any degree backward to respond with
his advice. He developed, in fact, an interest in their progress quite
disproportionate to his professed attitude of the spectator in the
stalls. Mrs. Willoughby lived at Knightsbridge, in a little house, of
which the drawing-room overlooked the Park close to the barracks, and
he found it very pleasant to sit there of an afternoon and discuss in a
cosy duet the future of Clarice.
The subject, besides, had the advantage of inexhaustibility. On the
one side Fielding ranged the suitors, or those whom he considered such;
on the other the vagaries of the girl. Playing these forces off not
merely against each other, but against themselves as well—for, as he
pointed out, there was no harmony in the separate camps—he evolved an
infinite number of endless complications. There was consequently no end
to the discussion, not even when Clarice was argued through the
marriage ceremony. For that point Fielding took to represent the one
o'clock in the morning of a carnival ball; then the fun really begins,
though decent people have to go away.
Mrs. Willoughby was, as ever, staunch in her defence, though a
recollection of Clarice's tearful visit with Conway's arrival for a
climax prompted her now and again to laugh in the midst of it.
'You mistake thoughtlessness for tricks,' she said. 'Clarice is only
a child as yet.'
'She has a child's capacity for emotion, I admit,' corrected
Fielding, 'but a woman's knowledge of its use. The combination is
Fielding inquired about Drake, and was told that he had not been
seen lately. 'It looks as if he was declining in favour,' Mrs.
'Not necessarily. The man's busy—there's a company coming out.'
'A solid one?'
'Likely to be, since Drake handles it. I am thinking of taking
Mrs. Willoughby was surprised. Fielding seemed to her the last man
calculated by nature for dabbling in stocks.
'You!' she exclaimed. Fielding nodded assent.
'Then don't do it,' Mrs. Willoughby flashed out vigorously. 'Don't
think of it. Oh, I know those men in the City! Their friends get
ruined, and they—well, I mustn't say anything against them, because my
husband was one of them, poor dear,—but they move into larger offices.
Mr. Drake has been asking you to join him?'
'He hasn't done anything of the sort. I heard of the matter through
quite an independent channel. However, I am not ruined yet, and the
company won't be floated for another four months. And, after all, it's
Mrs. Willoughby became quiet.
'Well,' she said, and she derived some satisfaction from the
thought, 'at all events Clarice has dropped talking about him.'
'That means that it's Mallinson's turn on the roundabout and nothing
'Sidney Mallinson has been refused.'
'On the Sunday we lunched at Beaufort Gardens.'
Fielding was silent for a moment. He was thinking that he had met
Mallinson of late with unusual frequency here at Mrs. Willoughby's
'But are you sure?' he asked.
'Certain; he told me so himself. Clarice told me too the day after.'
Mrs. Willoughby began again to laugh. 'She would have prevented him if
she could, but apparently he tried to take her by storm.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Fielding. 'On the Sunday afternoons you say? Then I
was to blame, I am afraid, for I gave him precisely that advice on the
Sunday morning. Of course, I never thought that he would take it.'
Fielding met Sidney Mallinson again and again at the house in
Knightsbridge. He was invited to dinner, but so was Mallinson, and the
latter had confidential talks with Mrs. Willoughby. He dined with some
friends at the Savoy and went on in a comfortable frame of mind to a
concert; there Mrs. Willoughby joined them, so did Mallinson, and the
couple sat side by side and conversed through a song. 'The height of
bad taste,' commented Fielding in an access of irritation. The fellow
was spoiling his comedy by relinquishing his part. He drew Mallinson
aside as they passed through the hall.
'You seem to see a good deal of Mrs. Willoughby?'
'Yes, we generally pair off together.'
Fielding dropped plump among the coarse sensations of the ordinary
human. He wanted to kick Mallinson, and to kick him hard. He saw with
an anticipatory satisfaction the glasses flying off the supercilious
gentleman's nose, and felt the jar at the end of his boot as it dashed
into the coat-tails. The action would have been too noticeable,
however, and he only said, 'What a very bourgeois thing to do!'
Mallinson's air of complacency vanished as he heard the offensive
term levelled against himself. He did not, however, on that account
change his attitude towards Mrs. Willoughby. Fielding found him at the
house a few days later, and proceeded to sit him out. The contest drove
Fielding to the last pitch of exasperation, for, apart from the
inherent humiliation of the proceeding, Mrs. Willoughby was directly
encouraging Mallinson to stay.
Mallinson at last was suffered to leave, and Mrs. Willoughby,
instead of resuming her seat, walked across to the window and
scrutinised intently the passers-by.
'That creature visits you pretty often, it appears,' said Fielding.
'Does he?' she asked. 'He comes to me for the sake of consolation, I
'And makes love to you for the sake of contrast. He tells me you
generally pair off together when you meet. Pair off!' and he grimaced
the phrase to show how little he minded it. 'It'll be “keeping company"
Mrs. Willoughby gave a little quiet laugh. Her back was towards him,
so that he could not catch her expression, but she seemed to him
culpably indifferent to the complexion which Mallinson had given to
'It's rather funny,' she said, 'though I can't help feeling sorry
'I saw that you were sorry for him,' Fielding interrupted.
'But he pretends,' Mrs. Willoughby went on, ignoring the
interruption with complete unconsciousness—'he pretends to himself
that I am Clarice. He talks to me as if I were. He called me “Clarice"
the other day, and never noticed the mistake, and that's not my name,
is it?' She turned to him quite seriously as she put the question.
'No,' replied Fielding, 'your name's Constance,' and he dwelt upon
the name for a second.
'Yes—Constance,' said Mrs. Willoughby thoughtfully. 'It sounds
rather prim, don't you think?'
'Constance,' Fielding repeated, weighing it deliberately.
'Constance—no, I rather like it.'
'Clarice shortens it to Connie.'
'Does she indeed? Connie—Constance.' Fielding contrasted the two
names, and again, 'Constance—Connie.'
Mrs. Willoughby's mouth began to dimple at the corners.
'Although one laughs,' she proceeded, 'it's really rather serious
about Mr. Mallinson. He told me once the colour of my eyes was—'
'Do you let him talk to you about the colour of your eyes?' Fielding
was really indignant at the supposition.
'He didn't ask my permission,' Mrs. Willoughby said penitently. 'But
it isn't a thing people ought to do. He said they were gray, and they
aren't, are they?' She turned her face towards him.
'Gray? Of course not,' said Fielding, and starting from his chair,
he approached Mrs. Willoughby at the window to make sure.
'Clarice's are, I know, but I am certain mine aren't.' She held up
her face towards the light, and the remark was pitched as a question.
'Yours,' said Fielding, examining them, 'Neptune dipped them in the
sea at six o'clock on an August morning.'
Mrs. Willoughby moved away from the window precipitately. 'So, if
Mr. Mallinson is so fond of Clarice,' she said, 'that he sees her in
everybody one can't help pitying him.'
Mrs. Willoughby, however, for a short time subsequently was not seen
in the company of the discarded lover, and Fielding inferred with
satisfaction that her pity was taking a less active form. He was roused
to a perception that his inference was false one night at the opera.
Mrs. Willoughby was present with Mr. Le Mesurier and Clarice. Percy
Conway he hardly reckoned, counting him at this time, from his constant
attendance, rather as an item of Clarice's toilette; and Fielding took
care to descend the staircase after the performance in close proximity
to the party.
'And how's Mr. Mallinson?' he asked of Mrs. Willoughby, not without
a certain complacency in his voice.
'Oh, poor boy!' she replied with the tenderest sympathy, 'he's in
'Ill?' asked Clarice quickly. 'You don't mean that.'
'Yes. I'm so concerned. He wrote to tell me all about it.'
Fielding looked displeased, and much the same expression was to be
seen on the face of Clarice. Mrs. Willoughby was serenely unconscious
of the effect of her words.
'I heard that he was in bed,' interposed Conway carelessly. 'But
apparently he has got something to console himself with.'
'Yes. He wrote to me about that too,' said Mrs. Willoughby. 'Fancy,
Clarice! He has inherited quite a good income. An uncle or somebody
left it to him.'
Clarice expressed an acid satisfaction at the news. She dropped
behind with Fielding.
'You didn't know that Mr. Mallinson was ill?' she asked. 'Did none
of his friends know except Connie?' and then there was a perceptible
accent of pique in her voice.
Fielding did not answer the question immediately. He had been
brought of a sudden to the vexatious conclusion that Mrs. Willoughby
was a coquette just like the rest of her trivial sex—no better,
indeed, than the girl at his side, whose first anxiety was not as to
whether Mallinson was seriously ill, but why he wrote the information
to Mrs. Willoughby. He felt that Mrs. Willoughby had no right to trifle
with Mallinson. The poor fellow had already suffered his full share of
that kind of experience.
Miss Le Mesurier repeated her question impatiently, and Fielding
suddenly realised that Miss Le Mesurier's pique might prove useful in
setting matters right. He determined to encourage it.
'None that I'm aware of,' he replied. 'Mrs. Willoughby, of course,
would be likely to know first.'
'Haven't you noticed? They have struck up a great friendship
lately—always pair off together, you know.'
Miss Le Mesurier's lips curled at the despicable phrase, but she
blamed Mrs. Willoughby for the fact which it described, not Sidney
Mallinson. His attitude she could understand, and make allowance for;
it had been a despairing act prompted by an instinct of
self-preservation to rid himself of the hopeless thought of her. An
unsuccessful act too, for the poor fellow had broken down. She had no
doubts as to the origin of his illness, and overflowed promptly with
sympathy. Her resentment against Mrs. Willoughby none the less
Driving homewards she asked her, 'Why didn't you tell me before that
Mr. Mallinson was ill?'
'My dear, I never gave a thought to it until I saw Mr. Fielding. The
illness isn't serious,' and Mrs. Willoughby laughed, with peculiar
heartlessness thought Clarice. They were, however, not thinking of the
Mrs. Willoughby, Clarice, and Fielding in consequence suffered some
such change in their relative positions as is apt to take place amongst
the European Powers. Poor Mrs. Willoughby, in the innocent pursuit of
her own ideas, had suddenly roused two former friends into a common
antagonism. These friends, besides, had much the same grounds for
resentment as the Powers usually have, for Mrs. Willoughby's conduct
was a distinct infringement of rights which did not exist. Clarice and
Fielding drew perceptibly nearer to one another; they exchanged
diplomatic pourparlers. Fielding found a great deal to praise in
Mallinson, and Clarice had a word or two to say upon the score of
widows. She was doubtful whether they ought ever to re-marry. Fielding
kept an open mind on the subject, but was willing to discuss it. On the
particular point, however, whether this widow was to marry Mallinson
they were both uncompromisingly agreed, and were only hindered from an
armed demonstration by the suspicion that the sinner to the overawed
would merely laugh at it. On the whole Fielding deemed it best to
address a friendly remonstrance to Mrs. Willoughby in the interests of
Clarice. He suggested that she should see less of Sidney Mallinson.
'But I have no grounds for slamming my door in his face,' she
answered plaintively. 'You see, Clarice has refused him, and really
he's very sweet and polite to me.'
Fielding pointed out with the elaborate calmness of intense
exasperation that there could be no finality in a refusal given by Miss
Le Mesurier. Mrs. Willoughby replied that they had differed before in
their views of Clarice, and that the point he mentioned was one upon
which Mr. Mallinson must be left to judge for himself. 'Exactly,' said
Fielding with emphasis, 'he should be left to judge for himself,' and
was for marching off with colours flying. But Mrs. Willoughby could not
refrain from declaring that the unprecedented interest which Mr.
Fielding took in his friend Mr. Mallinson had raised that friend to a
very different position in her esteem from that which he had held
The combat was renewed more than once, but with no different result,
and upon the same lines. Mrs. Willoughby received his attacks with a
patient humility, and rushed out to catch him a flout as he was
retiring. Finally, however, she shifted her position, and became the
aggressor. She suggested that Fielding was really in love with Clarice,
and trying to gain favour with her by bringing an admirer back to her
feet. Fielding was furious at the suggestion, and indignantly
repudiated it. She ignored the repudiation, and quietly insisted in
pointing out the meanness of such a system of making love. The
unfortunate gentleman's dignity constrained him to listen in silence,
for he felt that he would have spluttered had he opened his lips. The
only course open to him was a retreat with a high head, and he declared
that it was no longer possible for him to continue a discussion which
he had begun as much in her true interests as on behalf of justice and
her particular friend Miss Le Mesurier, and went home. By return of
post he received a pen-and-ink drawing of himself and Clarice 'pairing
off.' He was figured in the costermonger's dress, with his arm tucked
under the girl's, and her hat on his head.
Meanwhile Mallinson was still in bed, completely ignorant of the
battle which had been waged for the possession of him.
Fielding thought more than once of calling at his flat, since his
determination had been sharpened rather than overcome by the victories
of Mrs. Willoughby. He was more than ever convinced that Mallinson
ought to have a fair chance with Miss Le Mesurier—an equal chance with
Drake. The name of Drake made him pause. Miss Le Mesurier knew
everything there was to be known about Mallinson, but there were
certain facts in Drake's history of which she was ignorant. The
question sprang into his mind, 'Could Mallinson have a fair chance
unless she was made acquainted with those facts?' Fielding knew Members
of Parliament who had been returned over the heads of residents in the
constituency because they entered it too late for the electors to
become intimate with their defects. Drake's career might provide an
analogy unless Clarice was told. He argued to convince himself that he
felt she ought to be told, but he could not bring himself to the point
of telling. He decided finally upon an alternative which would, he
imagined, secure his purpose, while relieving him of the
responsibility. He would tell Mallinson of the Gorley episode, for the
rival surely had a right to know. Whether Clarice was to be informed or
not, Mallinson should be allowed to judge.
Fielding assured himself of the justice of his intention for the
space of two days without putting it into execution, but on the third
he chanced to meet Conway, and was given the information that
Mallinson's inherited income amounted to a thousand pounds. The news
decided him. Under these circumstances Mallinson certainly ought to
know. He jumped into a hansom and drove down to South Kensington.
Mallinson was still in bed, but sufficiently recovered to write up
his diary. The book lay upon the counterpane open, but as Fielding was
introduced into the room, its author shut it up and tucked it under his
pillow. It was kept entirely for his own perusal, a voluminous record
of sensations ranging from a headache to a fit of anger, without the
mention of an incident from cover to cover.
'I hear you have had a touch of bronchitis,' said Fielding.
'Something more than a touch, I can tell you. I have been rather
ill. However, I am going to get up to-morrow.'
Fielding found it difficult to come to the point of his visit.
'You must have found it dull.'
'Not very. I can always interest myself. Drake came to see me
'Drake! How did he know? Conway told him, I suppose.'
'No, Miss Le Mesurier told him.'
'Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.
'Yes. Are you surprised?' The question was put with some resentment.
'That she told him? No, I expect she sent him.' A smirk upon the
invalid's face showed he shared the thought.
'By the way,' Fielding continued, 'talking of Miss Le Mesurier, did
you ever meet a man called Gorley?'
'No. There was a Gorley who was engaged to her. Is that the man?'
'Yes. I heard rather a strange story about him. He went out to
Africa, you know.'
Mallinson lifted himself on his elbow.
'Africa,' he said slowly. 'Yes, I heard that. Why do you mention
'Oh, I thought perhaps you might have known the man, that's all.
Fielding spoke with a studied carelessness, looking anywhere except
'Dead,' repeated Mallinson in the same tone, but his heart was
beginning to race, and he lifted himself higher into a sitting
position. 'Gorley was a relation of Mrs. Willoughby, I believe.'
'A kind of cousin.'
There was silence between the men for a second or two. Mallinson was
recalling what Mrs. Willoughby had said that evening at Beaufort
Gardens, when Mr. Le Mesurier pressed her to meet Stephen Drake at
'So Gorley died in Africa,' he remarked. 'Where? Do you know?'
'Yes; at Boruwimi.'
Mallinson started. Fielding glanced at him involuntarily, and their
'A strange story, you said. Suppose you tell it me. It will while
away some of my time.'
Fielding lit a cigarette and related the story. At the end of it
Mallinson lay back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. Once or
twice Fielding spoke to him, but he did not hear. He was not thinking:
the knowledge that the secret to be discovered was his to use was as a
sense in him. He felt it pulsing through his veins and throbbing at his
heart. Mrs. Willoughby was forgotten. It had been after all but a
fictitious fancy which he had conceived for her, a fancy fostered in
the main as balm for his self-respect after his refusal by Clarice.
As soon as he was sufficiently recovered he called upon Miss Le
Mesurier, confident that his hour and opportunity had come. Drake,
however, had reported to Clarice on the condition of Mallinson, and her
sympathy had in consequence to a great extent evaporated. Bronchitis
was not of the ailments which spring from a broken heart, and she was
inclined to hold it as a grievance against him that she had been so
wastefully touched with pity. Her sympathy disappeared altogether when
with little circumlocution he broached the subject of the Boruwimi
expedition, and dropped a mention of Mrs. Willoughby's relative. There
was something at the back of it, he hinted.
Clarice wondered whence he had got his information, but made no
effort to check him. She stood looking out of the window while he
retold her the story of Gorley's death. It became more unreal to her
than ever; for while his account was correctly given, as Mrs.
Willoughby had given it to Fielding, it lacked the uncompromising
details which Drake himself had furnished. Her recollection of these
details made the man who had given them stand out in her thoughts.
'It was a pitiful affair,' Mallinson concluded, 'but I thought you
ought to know.'
Clarice drew a finger down the frame of glass in front of her.
'Mr. Drake thought so too,' she said quietly.
'Drake!' exclaimed Mallinson, utterly bewildered. 'Drake! The man
wouldn't be such a—'
'He was though.'
'Do you mean that he confessed to it?'
'Confess?' she said, turning towards him. 'That is hardly the word.
He told me of his own accord the moment he knew I had been engaged
to—to—' She broke off at the name, and continued, 'and he spared
himself in the telling far less than you have spared him.'
She spoke with a gentle dignity which Mallinson had never known in
her before, and he felt that it raised a more solid barrier between
them than even her refusal had done.
Fielding, meanwhile, waited with an uneasy conscience which no
casuistry would lighten. He threw himself in Mallinson's way time after
time in order to ascertain whether the latter had spoken. Mallinson let
no word of the matter slip from him, and for the rest seemed utterly
despondent. Fielding threw out a feeler at last.
'Of course,' he said, 'you would never repeat what I told you about
Gorley. I forgot to mention that.'
Mallinson flushed. 'Of course not,' he said awkwardly.
Fielding turned on him quickly. 'Then what made you tell Miss Le
Mallinson was too taken aback to deny the accusation. 'Oh, Miss Le
Mesurier,' he replied, 'knew already.'
'She knew? Who told her?'
Fielding drew in his breath and whistled. His first feeling was one
of distinct relief, that after all he had not been the means by which
Clarice had come to her knowledge; his second was one of indignation
against Drake. He realised how a frank admission from Drake would
outweigh in the girl's susceptible nature the fact admitted. 'What on
earth induced him to reveal it?'
'I suppose he is a little more cunning than one took him for. No
doubt he saw the thing would get known sooner or later, and thought the
disclosure had better come from himself.'
Fielding had been leaning to the same opinion, but the moment he
heard it stated, and stated by Mallinson, he felt a certain conviction
that it was wrong. 'I don't believe that,' he said sharply.
He was none the less, however, indignant with Drake. To intermeddle
at all in other people's concerns was averse to his whole theory of
existence. But to intermeddle, and not very creditably, and out of the
most disinterested motives of benevolence and expediency, and then to
fail! All this was nothing short of degrading. He dined that night at
his club, to which Drake had been elected, and lay in wait for him.
Drake, however, did not appear, and at ten o'clock Fielding went round
to his rooms.
Drake was living in chambers on the Embankment, a little to the west
of Hungerford Bridge. As he was shown into the room, Fielding could not
help noticing the plainness of its furniture and adornment. The chairs
were covered with a cheap red cretonne; there was an armchair or two
with the high seat and long elbows, which seemed to have gone astray
from a Peckham drawing-room; an ormolu clock under a glass shade
ornamented the overmantel, and in the way of literature there was one
book in the room—Prescott's Conquest of Peru—and a copy of the
Drake was seated at the table engaged in the study of a map of
Matanga. 'Come in!' he said cordially. Fielding drew up a chair to the
fire. 'Have a drink? The cigars are on the mantelshelf.'
Drake fetched a syphon and a decanter of whisky and mixed two
glasses. He handed one to Fielding, and brought his map to the fire.
'Ah!' said Fielding. 'There's likely to be a rising in Matanga, I
'How will that affect you?'
'Not at all, I think. It may delay things, of course, but it won't
take long, and, besides, it won't touch the interior of the country.
There will be a certain amount of shouting in the capital and round the
coast, perhaps a gun or two fired off, and then they'll settle down
under a new President.'
'But there are a good many Germans there, aren't there? What if they
invite the German Government to interfere?'
'I don't fancy that's probable. The German colonist isn't over fond
of German rule. You see the first thing a German official wants to do
when he catches sight of a black, is to drill him. It's his first and
often his last idea. He wants to see him holding the palm of his hand
against the stripe of an invisible trouser, and the system doesn't
work, because the black clears over the nearest border.'
Fielding laughed and turned to the object of his visit. 'Talking of
Matanga, what in the world made you tell Miss Le Mesurier about
Drake looked up from his map. 'How did you know anything about
Gorley?' he asked.
'Mrs. Willoughby told me. I thought it was decided Miss Le Mesurier
should not be told.'
'Mr. Le Mesurier left the choice to me, and it seemed to me that she
had a right to know.'
Drake paused for a second in reflection. 'It seemed to me—' he
'Well, she hadn't,' snapped Fielding.
'Well, I think she had,' answered Drake quietly, returning to his
'Then you were wrong; she hadn't. The engagement was broken off a
long while ago, and you hadn't a right to tell her unless you want to
marry her yourself.'
Drake raised his head with a jerk and stared at the wall in front of
him fixedly. He made no answer, nor could Fielding distinguish upon his
face any expression which gave a clue to his thoughts. He got up from
his chair, and Drake turned to him. 'I gather from your tone,' he said
in an indifferent voice, 'that Mrs. Willoughby resents my action.'
'My dear fellow, no,' exclaimed Fielding energetically. 'For
Heaven's sake, don't take me for a reflex of Mrs. Willoughby!'
No more plotting for him, he determined. He had planned and
calculated and interfered, all for other people's good, and this was
the thanks he got; to be quietly informed that he hadn't an idea of his
The next afternoon Mrs. Willoughby stopped her phaeton beside him in
Bond Street. She looked very well, he thought, with her clear
complexion,—clear as those clear eyes of hers with just the hint of
azure in the whites of them—wind-whipped now to a rosy warmth.
'May I congratulate you yet?' she asked pleasantly.
Fielding was not to be provoked to renew the combat, and he put the
question aside. 'You remember what you told me the other day about
Gorley,' he said.
'Yes,' she answered, becoming serious.
'Well, Miss Le Mesurier knows.'
'Who told her?' and she leaned forward.
Mrs. Willoughby thought for a moment and then shook her head. 'I
can't. Her father?'
'No; Drake himself.'
She started back in her seat. Then she said, 'Of course, we might
have known that he would,' and the 'we' sealed their reconciliation.
When Fielding had gone, Drake opened the window and stepped out on
'Unless you want to marry her yourself'; the words were stamped upon
his mind in capitals. They formulated to him for the first time the
cause of that unreasoned conviction of his, and formulated it too, as
he realised, with absolute truth. Yes, it was just his desire for
Clarice to which he owed his belief that she had an unquestionable
right to know his responsibility for Gorley's death.
He wanted her, and wanting her, was committed to scrupulous
Drake looked out across the city. At his feet lay the quiet strip of
garden, lawn and bush; beyond, the lamps burning on the parapets of the
Embankment, and beyond them, the river shining in the starlight,
polished and lucent like a slab of black marble, with broad regular
rays upon it of a still deeper blackness, where the massive columns of
Hungerford Bridge cast shadows on the water. An engine puffed and
snorted into the station, leaving its pennant of white smoke in the
air. Through the glass walls of the signal-box above the bridge Drake
could see the men in a blaze of light working at the levers, and from
the Surrey end there came to him a clink, and at that distance a quite
musical clink, of truck against truck as some freight-train was shunted
across the rails. Away to his right the light was burning on
Westminster clock-tower; on Westminster Bridge the lamps of cabs and
carriages darted to and fro like fire-flies. Drake watched two of them
start across in the same direction a few yards apart, saw the one
behind close up, the one in front spirt forward as though each was
straining for the lead. They drew level, then flashed apart, then again
drew level, and so passing and repassing raced into the myriad lights
upon the opposite bank. That bank was visible to him through a tracery
of leafless twigs, for a tree grew in front of his window on the
farther edge of the gardens, and he could see the lights upon its
roadway dancing, twirling, clashing in the clear night, just as they
clashed and twirled and danced in the roadway beneath him, sparks from
a forge, and that forge, London. In their ceaseless motion they seemed
rivulets of fire, and the black sheet of water between them the solid
highway. But even while he looked, a ruby light moved on that highway
out from the pillars of the bridge, and then another and another.
Everywhere was the glitter of lights; fixed, flashing like a star on
the curve, or again growing slowly from a pin's point to an orb, and
then dwindling to a point and vanishing. And on every side, too, Drake
heard the quick beat of horses, and the rattle of wheels struck out not
from silence, but from a dull eternal hum like the hum of a mill, sharp
particular notes emerging incessantly from a monotonous volume of
It was just this aspect and this noise of restless activity which
had always appealed to Drake, and had satisfied him with an assurance
that he was on the road to the fulfilment of his aims. He had achieved
something of his desires, however small. He was in London working at
certain schemes of which he did not doubt the ultimate success. They
were built upon a foundation of knowledge arduously gained and tested.
The rising in Matanga, if it took place, might delay success, but
success would surely come. He might then look forward with confidence
to a seat in that Parliament on which the light was burning, to a share
perhaps finally in its executive.
But to-night he found that there was something wanting in the
contemplation of these aims, something wanting in the very outlook from
his window. He needed Clarice here in his balcony by his side, and he
pictured the shine of her eyes bent towards him in the dark. And the
perception of that need held him in check, gave him a hint of warning
that the thought of her might become as a wedge driven into the
framework of his purposes and splitting them.
He could still draw back, he assured himself. But if he went on and
won! He felt the blood surging through his veins. He might win; there
was just a chance. The Gorley incident had made no real difference in
Clarice's friendliness. When once, indeed, she had grown used to it,
she had seemed almost to express some queer sort of sympathy with him.
Drake closed the window and sat down to calculate the time at which
he would be sufficiently established to make known his suit. He fixed
that time definitely in July. July! The name sounded pleasantly with
its ripple of liquid syllables. Drake found himself repeating it when
he should have been at work. It began to rise to his lips the moment a
date was asked of him, as the only date at all worth mentioning.
Fielding came down to Drake's office in Old Broad Street, in order to
apply for shares in 'Matanga Concessions.'
'You had better wait,' said Drake. 'I will let you know before they
are offered to the public.'
'That will be soon?'
'Not for the moment. There's the possibility of this rising. Let the
country quiet down first!'
'But when do you propose?'
'July? That's a long time to come.'
Drake coloured to the roots of his hair. 'I beg your pardon,' he
said with evident embarrassment; 'much sooner than that of course. I
was thinking of some one else.' He made matters worse by a hurried
correction of 'some one' to 'something.'
Fielding noticed the embarrassment and the correction, and drew
conclusions. They were conclusions, he thought, of which Mrs.
Willoughby should be advised, and he drove to her house accordingly. He
had ceased to feel displeasure at Mrs. Willoughby's conduct, for since
he had studiously refrained from betraying the slightest irritation at
Mallinson's visits, those visits had amazingly diminished.
'Did he happen to mention the date of the month and the time of the
day?' was Mrs. Willoughby's comment.
'It sounds cold-blooded? Hardly, if you knew the man. He looks on
life as a sort of draughtboard. So many definite moves to be made
forward upon definite lines. Then you're crowned king and can move as
you please, backwards if you like, till the end of the game.'
'He will be crowned king in July?'
'So I imagine.'
Meanwhile Drake worked on through March and April, outwardly
untroubled, but inwardly asking himself ever: 'Shall I win? Shall I
win?' The question besieged him. Patient he could be, none more so,
when the end in view was to be gained by present even though gradual
endeavour; but this passive waiting was a lid shut down on him, forcing
his energies inwards to prey upon himself. His impatience, moreover,
was increased by the increasing prospects of his undertaking.
Additional reports had been received from his engineer appraising at a
still higher value the quality of the land. He spoke too of a tract of
country bordering Drake's concession on the north, and advised
application for it. Biedermann, besides, had taken up the project
warmly. The company was to come out early in May; there would be few
shares open to the public, and the revolution had not taken place.
Why should he wait till July after all? Drake felt inclined to argue
the question one Sunday afternoon in London's lilac time, as he walked
across the green park towards Beaufort Gardens. He found Miss Le
Mesurier alone and in a melancholy mood. She was singing weariful
ballads in an undertone as he entered the room, and she rose
dispiritedly to welcome him.
'It's seldom one finds you alone,' he said, and his face showed his
'I don't know,' she replied. 'It seems to me sometimes that I am
always alone, even when people are by,' and her eyelids drooped.
Clarice's sincerity was of the artist's sort implying a
sub-consciousness of an audience. She recognised from the accent upon
the you, that her little speech had not failed of its effect.
She continued more cheerfully: 'Aunt has gone up to Highgate to see
some relations, and papa's asleep in the library.'
'You were singing. I hope you won't stop.'
'I was only passing the time.'
'You will make me think I intrude.'
'I'll prove to you that you don't,' and she went back to the piano.
Drake seated himself at the side of it, facing her and facing the open
window. The window-ledges were ablaze with flowers, and the scent of
them poured into the room on a flood of sunshine.
Clarice was moved by a sudden whim to a change of humour. She sprang
from her dejection to the extreme of good spirits. Her singing proved
it, for she chose a couple of light-hearted French ballads, and sang
them with a dainty humour which matched the daintiness of the words and
music. Her shrugs and pouts, the pretty arching of her eyebrows, the
whimsical note of mockery in her voice, represented her to Drake under
a new aspect, helped to complete her in his thoughts much as her voice,
very sweet and clear for all its small compass, completed in some queer
way the flowers and sunshine. Her manner, however, did more than that;
it gave to him, conscious of a certain stiffness and inflexibility of
temperament, an inner sense of completion anticipated from his hope of
a time when their lives would join. He leaned forward in his chair,
watching the play of her face, the lights and shadows in the curls of
her hair, the nimble touch of her fingers on the keys. Clarice stopped
suddenly. 'You don't sing?'
'I have no accomplishments at all.'
She laughed and began to play one of Chopin's nocturnes. Her fingers
rattled against the ivory on a run up the piano. She stopped and took a
ring from her right hand; Drake noticed that it was the emerald ring
which he had seen winking in the firelight on that evening when she had
covered her face from him. She dropped the ring on the top of the piano
at Drake's side. It spun round once or twice, and then settled down
with a little tinkling whirr upon the rim of its hoop Drake fancied
that the removal of this particular ring was in some inexplicable way
of hopeful augury to him.
Clarice resumed her playing, but as she neared the end of the
nocturne, Drake perceived that there was a growing change, a
declension, in her style. She seemed to lose the spirit of the nocturne
and even her command on the instrument; the firm touch faltered into
indecision, from indecision to absolute unsteadiness; the notes, before
clear and distinct, now slurred into one another with a tremulous
'You are fond of music?' she asked at length, with something of an
'Very,' he replied, 'though it puzzles me. It's like opening a book
written in a language you don't understand. You get a glimpse of a
meaning here and there, but no meaning really. I can't explain what I
feel,' he added, with a laugh. 'I want Mallinson to help me.'
'You admire Mr. Mallinson?' asked Clarice, stopping suddenly.
'Well, one always admires the class of work one can't do oneself,
'That's very generous of you.'
'Why generous?' Drake leaned suddenly forward. His habit of putting
questions abrupt and straight to the point had discomposed Miss Le
Mesurier upon an occasion before. She answered hurriedly. 'I mean—you
spoke as if you meant that class of work was above your own.'
'Oh, there's no basis of comparison.'
Clarice seized the opportunity, and inquired after the prospects of
his work in Matanga.
'The place should do,' said Drake. 'The land's good, there's a river
running through, and I have got picked men to settle on it; all
English, that's the point. But you said generous. I don't see.'
Clarice switched him on the subject of English colonisation. 'It's
necessary to have Englishmen to start it? Why?'
'Oh, well,' said Drake. 'It's easy enough to see, if you can compare
English with the foreign colonies.' He rose from his chair and launched
forth, walking about the room. 'Look at the Germans! There are seven
hundred German colonists, all told, in the German colonies, and each of
them costs the German tax-payer little short of eight hundred a year.
How many of them are in the English colonies? And what's the reason?
Why, they want to have the institutions of the Fatherland ready-made in
five minutes. They need the colonies made before they can prosper in
it. The French are better, but they are spoilt by officialdom. The
Englishman just adapts himself to the conditions, and sets to work to
adapt the conditions to himself too. He strikes a sort of mean, and the
Home Government leaves him alone—leaves him too much alone some say,
and rightly, in cases. There's a distinction to be drawn, and it's
difficult to draw it so far away. It's this, when the colony's made,
then it isn't a bad thing for the Government to keep a fairly tight
hold on it. But in the making it's best left to itself; you can lay a
cable between London and a colony too soon for the good of that colony.
There's no fear of the colonist forgetting the mother country—he may
forget the Home Government, does at times, and then there's a mistake
or two. But that's the defect of the quality.' He checked himself
abruptly. 'But I'm running away from what we were talking about. Yes; I
think we shall do all right in Matanga.'
'You don't mean to go back there yourself?'
'Not to live there. To tell the truth, I think there's a man or two
wanted in England just now, who has had a practical experience of our
colonies.' Drake spoke without the least trace of boastfulness, but in
a tone of quiet self-reliance, and Clarice had a thrill of intuition
that he would not have said so much as that to any one but herself.
Clarice began to play again, this time a waltz tune. Drake came over
to the piano, and stood leaning upon the lid of it; he took up the ring
and turned it over in his fingers. She said thoughtfully:
'I suppose that's true of men as well'; and then, with a hesitating
correction, 'I mean of men like you.'
'Well, that they are best without—help from any one—that they
stand in no need of it.' She spoke quite seriously, with a note almost
'Oh, I don't know that,' he answered, with a laugh. 'It would be a
rash thing to say. Of course a man ought to depend upon himself.'
'Oh, of course,' she agreed, and went on playing.
Drake was still holding the ring, and he said slowly:
'You remember that afternoon I told you about'—he hesitated for a
second—'Gorley?' Clarice looked up in surprise.
'Yes,' she said.
'You were wearing this ring. You hid your face in your hands. It was
the last thing I saw of you.'
She lowered her eyes from his face, and said, with a certain
timidity, 'He gave it to me.'
Drake started and leaned on the piano.
'And you still wear it?' he asked sharply.
She nodded, but without looking at him. Drake rose upright,
straightening himself; for a moment or two he stood looking at her, and
then he walked away towards the window. His hat was lying on a table
close by it.
'But I don't think that I shall again,' she murmured. She heard him
turn quickly round and come back. He stood behind her; she could see
his shadow thrown across the bar of sunlight on the carpet; but he did
not speak. Clarice became anxious that he should, and yet afraid too.
The music began to falter again; once she stopped completely, and let
her fingers rest upon the keys, as though she had no power to lift them
and continue. Then she struck a chord with a loud defiance. If only he
would move, she thought—if only he would come round and stand in front
of her! It would be so much easier to speak, to divert him. So long as
he stood silent and motionless behind her, she felt, in a strange
manner, at his mercy.
She rose from her seat suddenly, and confronted him. There was
challenge in the movement, but none the less her eyes sought the
ground, and, once face to face with him, she stood in an attitude of
'What does that mean?' she heard him ask in a low voice. 'You won't
wear it again.'
She did not answer, but in spite of herself, against her will, she
raised her eyes until they met his. She heard a cry, hoarse and
passionate; she felt herself lifted, caught, and held against him. She
saw his eyes above hers, burning into hers; she felt the pressure of
two lips upon hers, and her own respond obediently.
'Is it true?' The words were whispered into her ear with an accent
of wonder, almost of awe.
'Yes,' she whispered back, compelled to the answer, subservient to
his touch, to his words, and, to the full, conscious of her
subservience. She felt the big breath he drew in answering her
monosyllable. He held her unresisting, passive in his arms, watching
her cheeks fire. She realised, in a kind of detached way, that he was
holding her so that the tips of her toes only touched the floor, and
somehow that seemed of a piece with the rest. Then he set her down, and
stood apart, keeping her hands. 'It's funny,' he said, 'how one goes on
year after year, quite satisfied, knowing nothing of this, meaning not
She caught at the phrase and stammered, 'Perhaps that was wise.'
'It was. For so I met you.'
He released her hands, and she sank into the nearest chair. Drake
walked to the window and stood facing the sunlight, breathing it in.
'Clarice,' she heard him murmur, with a shake of his shoulders like a
great Newfoundland dog; and then the cry of a newspaper boy shouting
the headlines of a special edition rasped into the room.
Drake leaned out of the window. 'Hi!' he called, and tossed a penny
into the street.
'Threepence,' shouted the boy from below.
'It's a penny paper,' cried Drake.
'Threepence. There's a corner in 'em.'
Clarice listened to the argument. Most men, she thought helplessly,
don't buy newspapers the moment they have been accepted, and, at all
events, it is an occasion when they are disposed to throw their money
about. It made no difference of any kind to him.
Drake finally got the better of the bargain, and the paper was
brought up to the room. Clarice saw Drake open it hurriedly, and his
face cloud and harden as he glanced down the column.
'What's the matter?' she asked in a rising voice.
'A rebellion in Matanga,' he said slowly. 'I thought that danger was
averted,' and there was a distinct note of self-reproach in his tone.
Clarice felt her heart beat quicker. She rose from her chair. 'What
does that mean to you?' she asked.
'Delay,' he replied, with the self-reproach yet more accentuated.
'Nothing more, I am sure; but it does mean that.'
He noticed an expression of disappointment upon the girl's face,
and, mistaking it, repeated, 'Nothing more than that, Clarice.' He took
a step towards her. 'Of course I ought not to have spoken to you
yet,—not until everything was settled. I am sorry—of course it will
come out all right, only till then it wasn't fair. I didn't mean
to,—not even when I came this afternoon. But seeing you,—I wasn't
strong enough,—I gave in.'
Clarice felt a pulse of satisfaction, and her lips shaped to a
'Ah, you don't regret it,' he exclaimed, and the look of humiliation
passed from his face. 'Your father's in the library,' he went on; 'I
had better go and tell him. Shall I go alone, or will you come with
'No, you go; I will wait here.'
She stood alone in the centre of the room while Drake went
downstairs, staring fixedly in front of her. Once or twice she set her
hands to her forehead and drew them down her flushed cheeks. Then she
walked to the window. There was something floating on the edge of her
mind, just eluding her. A thought was it, or a phrase? If a phrase, who
had spoken it? She began to remember; it was something Stephen Drake
had said, but about what? And then, in a flash, her recollection
defined it for her. It was about moonlight being absorbed into the
darkness of an African veld, just soaking into it like water into dry
ground. She had a vision of the wide rolling plain, black from sky's
rim to sky's rim, and the moonlight pouring a futile splendour into its
lap. She moved with a quick and almost desperate run to the door,
opened it, and leaned over the balustrade of the staircase. The hall
was empty and no sound of voices came from the library. She stepped
cautiously down the stairs; as she reached the last step the door of
the library opened and Drake appeared on the threshold.
Clarice leaned against the wall, holding her hand to her heart.
'Why, Clarice!' he cried, and started towards her.
'Hush!' She tried to whisper the word, but her voice rose. She
thrust out a hand between herself and Drake, and cast a startled glance
across his shoulder, expecting to see her father come forward smiling
congratulations at her. Drake caught the outstretched hand, and,
setting an arm about her waist, drew her into the library.
'I have not seen Mr. Le Mesurier,' he said; 'he's out, I am afraid.'
The room was empty. Clarice looked round it, doubting her eyes, and
with a sudden revulsion of feeling dropped into a chair by the table
and sat with her face buried in her arms in a flood of tears.
Drake bent over her, stroking her hair with a gentle helpless
movement of his hand and occasionally varying his consolation by a pat
on the shoulders. The puffed sleeves of silk yielding under his touch
gave him a queer impression of the girl's fragility.
'Oh don't, child!' he entreated. 'It's my fault for speaking so
soon. But really there's nothing to fear—nothing. It'll all come out
right—not a doubt of that. You'll see.'
Consolation of this kind did but make the tears flow yet more
freely. Drake perceived the fact and stood aside, wondering perplexedly
at the reason. The sound of each sob jerked at his heart; he began to
walk restlessly about the room. The storm, from its very violence,
however, wore itself quickly out; the sobs became less convulsive, less
frequent. Clarice raised her head from her arms and stared out of the
window opposite, with just now and then a little shiver and heave of
Drake stopped his walk and advanced to her. She anticipated his
speech, turning with a start to face him.
'You haven't seen my father?'
'No; the servant told me he had gone out. But I wrote a note saying
I would call again this evening. It is under your elbow.'
Clarice picked up the crumpled envelope and looked at it absently.
'Stephen,' she said, and she tripped upon the name, 'there's
something I ought to tell you—now. But it's rather difficult.'
Drake walked to the window and stood with his back towards her. She
felt grateful to him for the action, and was a little surprised at the
tact which had prompted it.
'Yes?' he said.
'We are not very well off,' she continued; 'perhaps you know that.'
'Yes,' he interrupted.
'But the position's more complicated than you can know'; she was
speaking carefully, weighing her words. 'Of course you know that I have
a sister younger than myself. She's at school in Brussels. Well, by the
Sark laws, the Seigneurie can't be split up between the members of a
family. I think it's the same with all land there. It must go—what's
the word?—unencumbered to the eldest child. So it must come to me—all
of it. That leaves my sister still to be provided for. Father explained
the whole thing to me. As it is, he has as much as he can do to keep
the Seigneurie up. This house we can't really afford, but father
thought he ought to take it,—well, for my sake, I suppose. So, you
see, whatever money he has he must leave to my sister, and there's
still the Seigneurie for me to keep up.'
'Yes, I understand. You are bound by duty, if you marry, to marry
some one with means. But, Clarice, it won't be long to wait,' and he
turned back from the window into the room.
'But till then—don't you see? Of course I know you will be
successful,' and she laid considerable emphasis on the I.
Drake reflected for a moment. 'You mean there would be trouble
between your father and you. The weight of it would fall on you. He
might distrust me. Yes; after all, why should he not? But still the
thing's done, isn't it?'
Clarice rose from her chair and walked to the grate. A fire was
burning, and she still held Drake's letter in her hand. 'We might keep
it to ourselves,' she said diffidently. She saw Drake's forehead
contract. 'For my sake,' she said softly, laying a hand upon his
sleeve. She lifted a tear-stained face up to his with the prettiest
appeal. 'I know you hate it, but it will spare me so much.'
He said nothing, and she dropped the letter into the fire.
As Drake was leaving the house she heard, through the closed door,
the sound of her father's voice in the hall speaking to him, and felt a
momentary pang of alarm. The next instant, however, she laughed. He
might have broken his word to himself; he would not break it to her.
Drake went home, reckoning up the harm he had done with a feeling of
degradation quite new to him. Not the least part of that harm was the
compromise finally agreed upon. But for the traces of tears upon the
girl's cheeks, he would hardly have agreed to it even in the face of
her appeal. Once alone, however, he saw clearly all—the deception that
it implied—deception which involved the girl, too, as well as himself.
He rose the next day in no more equable frame of mind, and leaving his
office at three o'clock in the afternoon, walked along Cheapside,
Holborn, and Oxford Street, and turned down Bond Street, meaning to
pass an hour in the fencing-rooms half-way down St. James Street. At
the corner of Bruton Street he came face to face with Miss Le Mesurier.
She coloured for an instant, and then came frankly forward and held out
'It's funny meeting you here,' she said, and laughed without the
Drake turned and walked by her side with a puzzled conjecture at the
reason of woman's recuperative powers. Clarice's eyes were as clear,
her forehead as sunny, as though she had clean wiped yesterday from her
consciousness. The conjecture, however, brought the reality of
yesterday only yet more home to him. He stopped in the street and said
abruptly, 'Clarice, I can't.'
She stopped in her turn and drew a little pattern on the pavement
with the point of her umbrella. 'Why?'
A passer-by jostled Drake in the back. Standing there they were
blocking the way. 'Isn't there anywhere we could go? Tea? One drinks
tea at this hour, eh?'
Clarice felt more mistress of herself in the open street, more able
to cope with Drake while they walked in a throng. She remembered enough
of yesterday to avoid even the makeshift solitude of a tea-table in a
public room. 'Let us walk on,' she said. 'Can't you explain as we go? I
She moved forward as she spoke, and Drake kept pace with her,
shortening his strides. The need of doing that, trifle though it was,
increased his sense of responsibility towards her. 'It's so abominably
deceitful, and it's my doing. I should involve you in the deceit.'
Clarice glanced at him sharply. The distress of his voice was
repeated in the expression of her face. There was no doubting that he
'I had better see your father to—day,' he added.
'No,' she replied energetically; and, after a moment's pause,
'There's another way.'
'Let everything be as it was before yesterday. I shall not change.
It will be better for you to be free. Come to me when you are ready.'
She signed to a passing hansom, and it drew up by the curb. She got
into it while Drake stood with brows knitted, revolving the proposal in
his mind. 'But you see it can't be the same,' he said; 'because I
kissed you, didn't I?'
'Yes, you did,' she replied.
The tremble of laughter in her voice made him look up to her face.
The rose deepened in her cheeks, and the laughter rippled out. 'You are
quaint,' she said. 'I will forget—well—what you said, until you are
ready. Till then it's to be just as it was before—only not less. You
are not to stay away'; and without waiting for an answer she lifted the
trap, gave the cabman his order, and drove off. Drake watched the
hansom disappear, and absently retraced his steps down the street. He
stopped once or twice and stared vaguely into the shop-windows. One of
these was a jeweller's, and he turned sharply away from it and
quickened his pace towards the fencing-rooms. How could it be the same,
he asked himself, when the mere sparkle of an emerald ring in a
jeweller's shop-window aroused in him a feeling of distaste?
Towards the end of this week Clarice called upon Mrs. Willoughby,
and seemed for the moment put out on finding that Mallinson and
Fielding were present. Mrs. Willoughby welcomed her all the more warmly
because she was finding it difficult to keep the peace between her two
visitors. She understood Clarice's embarrassment when Percy Conway
arrived close upon her heels. Clarice, however, quietly handed him over
to Mrs. Willoughby, and seated herself beside Mallinson in one of the
windows. 'I see nothing of you now,' she said, and she looked the
reproach of the hardly-used. 'I thought we had agreed to be friends?'
Mallinson sighed wearily. 'I will come and call—some day,' he said
'I have not so many friends that I can afford a loss,' she answered
pathetically; and then, 'Tell me about yourself. What are you doing?'
'No.' Mallinson shook his head.
'I have no incentive—nothing to work for.'
They played out their farce of sham sentiment with a luxurious
earnestness for a little while longer, and then Mallinson went away.
'So he's doing no work?' said Fielding maliciously to Miss Le
Mesurier. He leaned forward as he spoke from the embrasure of the
second window, which was in a line with, and but a few feet apart from,
that at which she was sitting.
Miss Le Mesurier flushed, and asked, 'How did you hear?'
'Both windows are open. Mallinson was leaning out.'
The girl's confusion increased, and with it Fielding's enjoyment. He
repeated, 'So he's doing no work?'
'A thousand a year, don't you know?' said Conway, with a sneer. 'It
would make a man like that lazy.'
'It's not laziness,' exclaimed Clarice indignantly. She was filled
with pity for Mallinson, and experienced, too, a sort of reflex pity
for herself as the inappropriate instrument of his suffering. She was
consequently altogether tuned to tenderness for him. 'It's not laziness
at all. It's—it's—' She cast about for a laudatory explanation.
'Well, what?' Fielding pressed genially.
'It's the artistic temperament,' she exclaimed triumphantly.
Fielding laughed at her vindication, and Miss Le Mesurier walked
across the room and said good-bye to Mrs. Willoughby. Conway rose at
the same time, and the pair left the house together.
'What a liar that man is!' said Fielding.
'What man?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.
'Why, Mallinson. He said he was doing no work because he had no
incentive. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that he is working
'What did Clarice say?'
'What you might expect. She melted into sympathy.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked puzzled. 'Yet she went off with Percy Conway
immediately afterwards,' she said, and then laughed at her
recollections of a previous visit from that gentleman.
'Yes; and absolutely unconscious of the humour of her behaviour,'
said Fielding. 'That's so delightful about her.' He paused for a second
and asked, 'Have you ever been inside a camera obscura? You get a
picture, an impression, very vivid, very accurate, of something that is
actually happening. Then some one pulls a string and you get a totally
different picture, equally vivid, equally accurate, of something else
which is actually happening. There is no trace of the first picture in
the second. Then they open a shutter and you see nothing but a plain
white slab. Somehow I always think of Miss Le Mesurier's mind.'
After leaving Mrs. Willoughby's, Conway and Miss Le Mesurier walked
together in the direction of Beaufort Gardens.
'Do you see much of Mr. Drake?' she asked, after a considerable
'Not as much as one would wish to. He's generally busy.'
'You like him, then?' she asked curiously. 'Why?'
'Don't you? There's an absence of pretension about him. Nothing of
the born-to-command air, but insensibly you find yourself believing in
him, following him. I believe even Fielding finds that as well. When
Drake first came back I used to stand up for him—well, because,
perhaps, I had a reason of my own. I am not sure that I believed all I
said, but I am sure now I should say exactly the same and believe every
word of it.'
He spoke with a quiet conviction which gave solid weight to his
words, owing to its contrast with the flighty enthusiasm which was the
usual characteristic of his eulogies.
'You mentioned Mr. Fielding,' she said.
'Yes; haven't you heard? He's investing in Matanga Concessions, and
largely for him. He's often seen in Drake's office.'
Clarice walked along in silence for some way further. Then she said,
with a distinct irritation in her voice, 'I suppose it all comes from
the fact that Mr. Drake doesn't seem to need any one to rely upon,
or—well—any particular incentive to work.'
Conway glanced at Miss Le Mesurier with a slight surprise. She was
generally given to accept facts without inquiry into their causes. 'I
shouldn't wonder if you are right. Drake, I should think, would find
his incentive in the work itself. Yes; I believe you are right.
It's just his single-mindedness which influences one. There are certain
ideas fixed in his mind, combined into one aim, and he lets nothing
interfere to obscure that aim.'
So he spoke; so, too, Clarice believed, and that picture of
moonlight on the veld became yet more vivid, yet more frequent in her
thoughts. Pondering upon it, her fancy led her to exaggerate Drake into
the likeness of some Egyptian god, that sits with huge hands resting
upon massive knees, and works out its own schemes behind indifferent
eyes. The sight of him, and the sound of commonplace words from his
mouth, would at times make her laugh at the conception and restore her
to her former familiarity with him. But the fancy returned to her, and,
each time, added a fresh layer to the colour of her thoughts. She came
now and again to betray a positive shrinking from him. Drake noticed
it; he noticed something else as well: in the first week of July the
emerald ring reappeared upon her finger.
In the second week Mr. Le Mesurier removed his household gods to
Sark. It was his habit to spend the summer months upon the island, and
to entertain there his friends in succession. He invited both Mrs.
Willoughby and Stephen Drake. The former accepted, the latter, being on
the eve of floating the Matanga Concessions, declined for the present
to Clarice's great relief, but promised to come later. The company was
floated towards the end of the month, and with immediate success. Mr.
Le Mesurier read out at breakfast a letter which he had received from
Drake, announcing that every share had been taken up on the very day of
'Then he is coming,' said Clarice. 'When?'
Mr. Le Mesurier mistook his daughter's anxiety, and smiled
satisfaction at her. 'To-morrow,' he replied; 'but only for three days
at first. There's some new development he speaks of. He will have to
leave again on Saturday for a fortnight.'
Clarice sat thoughtfully for a minute or two. Then she asked: 'Did
you invite Mr. Mallinson this summer?'
Mr. Le Mesurier shuffled his feet under the table. 'No, my dear,' he
said. 'I forgot all about it; and now I don't see that we shall have
'Oh yes,' replied Clarice quickly. 'He might have Mr. Drake's room
during that fortnight. I think we ought to ask him. We always have, and
it will look rather strange if we leave him out this summer. I will get
aunt to write after breakfast.'
Mr. Le Mesurier glanced at Mrs. Willoughby, but made no active
resistance, and Clarice took care that the letter was despatched by
that day's post. On the next day she organised a picnic in Little Sark,
and returned to the Seigneurie at an hour which gave her sufficient
time to dress for dinner, but no margin for welcoming visitors. In
consequence she only saw Drake at the dinner-table. She saw little of
him afterwards, for Mr. Le Mesurier pounced upon him after dinner. 'I
want to introduce you to Burl,' he said. 'He's Parliamentary agent for
the Northern Counties. There's a constituency in Yorkshire where my
brother lives, and I rather think Burl wants a candidate.'
Drake was presented to a gentleman six feet three in his socks,
deep-chested, broad-shouldered, with a square rugged face on the slant
from the forehead to the chin. Mrs. Willoughby said he looked like a
pirate, and rumour made of her simile a fact. It was known that, late
one night in the smoking-room of the Seigneurie, he had owned to
silver-running on the coast of Mexico. Mr. Burl and Drake passed most
of that evening smoking together in the garden. Similarly on the next
day Clarice avoided a private interview with Drake. On the other hand,
however, he made no visible effort to secure one. Mrs. Willoughby
wondered at his reticence, and did more than wonder. She had by this
time espoused his cause, and knowing no half-measures in her
enthusiasms, saw his chances slipping from him, with considerable
irritation. She was consequently provoked to hint her advice to him on
the evening before he was to leave.
Drake shook his head and replied frankly: 'One can be too previous.
I made that mistake once before, and I don't mean to repeat it.'
He remained silent for a moment or two, and added: 'I think I'll
tell you about it, Mrs. Willoughby. You have guessed some part of the
story, and you are Clarice's friend, and mine too, I believe.'
With an impulsiveness rare in him, which however served to rivet him
yet more firmly in Mrs. Willoughby's esteem, he confided to her the
history of his proposal and its lame result. 'So you see,' he
concluded, 'I am not likely to risk a repetition of the incident.'
'But,' said she, 'surely there's no risk now?'
'Very likely, but there is just a little. This next fortnight will,
I think, make everything secure, but I must wait that fortnight.'
'Well, I believe you are unwise.' Drake turned to her quickly.
'Mr. Mallinson takes your place for the fortnight. Of course I don't
know. Clarice has given up confiding in me. But I really think you are
Drake sat staring in front of him. He was considering Mallinson's
visit in conjunction with the reappearance of the emerald ring upon
Miss Le Mesurier's finger. 'All the same,' he said at length, 'I shall
The reason for this hesitation he explained more fully to Clarice
herself some half an hour afterwards. He found her standing by herself
upon the terrace. She started nervously as he approached, and it seemed
to him that her whole figure stiffened to a posture of defence. She
said nothing, however, and for a while they stood side by side looking
seawards across the breadth of the island. The ground stretched away
broken into little hollows and little hills,—downs in vignette. A
cheery yellow light streamed from the windows of a cottage in a dip of
the grass; the slates of a roof glistened from a group of sycamores
like a mirror in a dark frame; the whole island lay bared to the
moonlight. Towards the edge of it the land rose upwards to a ridge, but
there was a cleft in the ridge opposite to where they stood, and
through the cleft they looked downwards to the sea.
Clarice spoke of the moonbeams broken into sparkles by the ripple of
'Like a shoal of silver coins,' said Drake.
'Wouldn't you like to hear them clink?' she asked petulantly.
Then he said: 'Miss Le Mesurier'—and the change in his voice made
the girl turn swiftly to face him—'I leave Sark to-morrow morning by
the early boat, so I thought I would say good-bye to you to-night.'
'But you are coming back,' she said quickly; 'I shall see you, of
course, when you come back. What takes you away?'
'There's some land in Matanga which bounds my concession on the
north, and I want to get hold of it. It's, I believe, quite as good,
and may be better, than mine, and I know that some people are after it.
It wouldn't help me if another company was to be started; and as the
President of the Matanga Republic is on his way to England, I thought
that I had better go out to Madeira, catch his steamer there, and
secure a concession of it before he reaches England.'
Clarice gave a laugh. 'Then we are to expect you in a fortnight?'
'Yes, in a fortnight,' and he laid a significance upon the word
which Clarice did not mistake. It was spoken with an accent of
But indeed she needed no emphasis to fix it in her mind. The word
besieged her; she caught herself uttering it, and while she uttered it
the time itself seemed to have slipped by. She had but to say 'No' at
the end of the fortnight, she assured herself, and she knew that she
would only have to say it once. But the memory of that Sunday afternoon
in Beaufort Gardens lay upon her like a load crushing all the comfort
out of her knowledge.
Drake caught his steamer at Southampton, and the President at
Madeira. He was received warmly as an old acquaintance, warily as a
negotiator. However, he extracted the concession as the boat passed up
Southampton Water, and disembarked with a signed memorandum in his
pocket. At Southampton post-office he received a bundle of letters
which had been forwarded to him from his chambers in London. He slipped
them into his coat, and went at once on board the Guernsey steamer. At
Guernsey, the next morning, he embarked on the little boat which runs
between Guernsey and Sark. The sun was a golden fire upon the water;
the race of the tides no more than a ripple. The island stuck out its
great knees into the sea and lolled in the heat. Half-way across Drake
bethought him of the letters. He took them out and glanced over the
envelopes. One was in Clarice's handwriting. It announced to him her
engagement with Sidney Mallinson.
Of Drake's arrival at the Seigneurie Mrs. Willoughby wrote some
account to Hugh Fielding, who was taking the waters for no ailment
whatever at Marienbad. 'I was surprised to see him,' she wrote,
'because Clarice told me that she had written to him. Clarice was
running down the stairs when he came into the hall. She stopped
suddenly as she caught sight of him, clutched at the balustrade,
slipped a heel upon the edge of the step, and with a cry pitched
straight into his arms at the bottom. Mr. Mallinson came out of the
library while he was holding her. Clarice was not hurt, however, and
Mr. Drake set her down. “I didn't pass through London,” he said, and he
seemed to be apologising. “My letters were forwarded to Southampton,
and I only opened them on the Sark steamer.” Then he congratulated them
both. I spoke to Mr. Drake the same evening on the terrace here,
foolishly hinting the feminine consolation that he was well free from a
girl of Clarice's fickleness. He was in arms on the instant. One gets
at truth only by experiment, and through repeated mistakes. Why except
women's hearts from the same law? I give his opinion, not his words. He
doesn't talk of “women's hearts.” You know his trick of suggesting when
it comes to talk of the feelings. I slid into a worse blunder and
sympathised with him. He replied that it didn't make the difference to
him which I might think. I felt as if a stream of ice-water had been
turned down my back on Christmas Day. However, he went on in a sort of
shame-faced style, like a schoolboy caught talking sentiment. “One owes
her a debt for having cared for her, and the debt remains.” He stayed
out his visit and left this morning. He goes to Switzerland, and asked
for your address. His is The Bear, Grindelwald. Write to him
there; better, join him. He talks of going out to Matanga later in the
year for a few months. So there's the end of the business, or rather
one hopes so. I used to hope that Clarice would wake up some morning
into a real woman and find herself—isn't that the phrase? I hope the
reverse now; that she and her husband will philander along to the close
of the chapter. But I prefer your word,—to the close of the “comedy,”
say. It implies something artificial. Mallinson and Clarice give me
that impression,—as of Watteau figures mincing a gavotte, and made
more unreal by the juxtaposition of a man. Let's hope they will never
perceive the flimsiness of their pretty bows and ribbons! But I think
of your one o'clock in the morning of the masquerade ball, and frankly
I am afraid. I look at the three without—well, with as little
prejudice as weak woman may. Mallinson, you know him—always on the
artist's see-saw between exaltation and despair. Doesn't that make for
shiftiness generally? Clarice I don't understand; but I incline to your
idea of her as at the mercy of every momentary emotion, and the more
for what has happened this week. Since her engagement she seems to have
lost her fear of Stephen Drake. She has been all unexpressed sympathy.
And Drake? There's the danger, I am sure—a danger not of the usual
kind. Had he been unscrupulous he might have ridden roughshod over
Clarice long before now. But he's too scrupulous for that. I think that
he misses greatness as we understand it, through excess of scruple. But
there's that saying of his about a debt incurred to Clarice by the man
caring for her. Well, convince him that he can pay it by any sacrifice;
won't he pay it? Convince him that it would benefit her if he lay in
the mud; wouldn't he do it? I don't know. I made a little prayer
yesterday night, grotesque enough, but very sincere, that there might
be no fifth act of tragedy to make a discord of your comedy.'
Fielding received Mrs. Willoughby's command to join Drake with a
grin at her conception of him as fit company for a gentleman
disappointed in his love-affairs. He nevertheless obeyed it, and
travelling to Grindelwald found Drake waiting him on the platform with
the hands of an oakum-picker, and a face toned uniformly to the colour
of a ripe pippin. 'You have been climbing mountains, I suppose?' asked
'Yes,' nodded Drake.
'Well, don't ask me to join you. It produces a style of conversation
I don't like.'
Drake laughed, and protested that nothing was further from his
intention. Certain letters, however, which Fielding wrote to Mrs.
Willoughby during this period proved that he did join him, and more
than once. The two men returned to London half-way through September.
On the journey from Dover to Charing Cross Drake asked whether Mrs.
Willoughby was in town. He was informed that at the moment she was
visiting in Scotland, but she was expected to pass through London at
the end of a fortnight. Drake wrote a note to her address asking her to
spare him a few moments when she came south, and receiving a cordial
assent with the statement of the most favourable hour, walked across
one evening to Knightsbridge. Mrs. Willoughby remarked a certain
constraint in his manner, and awaited tentacle questions concerning
Sidney Mallinson and Clarice. She said: 'You look well. You have
enjoyed your holiday.'
'I had an amusing companion.'
'You have given him some spark of your activity,' and the sentence
was pitched to convey thanks.
'Then you have seen him?' Drake's embarrassment became more
pronounced. He paused for a second and then rose and walked across the
room. 'You know, I suppose,' he resumed, 'that I am going out to
Matanga in a month.'
'I heard something of that from Mr. Fielding,' she said gently.
'Yes,' he said, with a change in his voice to brisk cheerfulness.
'It seemed to me that I ought to go. Our interests there are rather
large now. I consulted my fellow-directors, and they agreed with me.'
The sudden disappearance of the constraint which had marked him
surprised Mrs. Willoughby. 'But can you leave London?' she asked.
'Oh yes; I have made arrangements for that,' he replied. 'I have got
Burl to look after things here.'
'Yes; it's rather funny,' said Drake, with a laugh. 'He came to ask
me whether I was disposed to take up politics. There was a constituency
in Yorkshire he could arrange for me to stand for—Bentbridge. Do you
'I have been there. Mr. Le Mesurier has a brother just outside the
town. It was there, I believe, that he became acquainted with Mr.
'So I gathered. Well, I wanted the question left open for a bit.
Then Burl made another proposal. He said they wanted a paper in the
district. There were some people ready to back the idea, but they
didn't have quite enough capital. Burl wanted me to provide the rest.
He didn't get it, but he nearly did, and it struck me that he was just
the man I wanted. So after he had had his say, I had mine, and he has
thrown up politics and joined me.' Drake ended his story with a laugh,
and added, 'I think I am lucky to have got hold of him.'
'Then you don't mean to go away for good?' exclaimed Mrs.
'Oh dear no! What on earth made you think that? But I will be away a
year, I think,—and—and, that's just the point.' His embarrassment
returned as suddenly as it had left him.
'I don't understand.'
'Well, I had an idea of persuading Fielding to go with me.' He
blurted the proposal brusquely. 'He's interested, you see, in the
success of the colony, and—well, altogether, I didn't think it would
be a bad thing.'
Mrs. Willoughby walked to the window and looked out of it for a few
seconds. 'What does Mr. Fielding say?' she asked.
'I haven't broached the subject to him yet. I thought I wouldn't
before—' He stopped and made no effort to finish the sentence.
'It's a year,' she said slowly, lengthening out the word. 'Yes, only
a year,' said he briskly, and Mrs. Willoughby smiled in spite of
herself. She thought of the new air of alertness which Fielding had
worn since his return from Switzerland. She came back to Drake and held
out her hand to him. 'You think very wisely for your friends,' she
'It's an inspiriting business to see a community in the making,' he
answered; 'especially when there's money to help it to make itself
He wished her good-bye and moved to the door. As he opened it he
said, 'By the way, is the date of the marriage fixed?' but without
turning towards her.
She said, 'Yes, the 8th of December,' and she saw his shoulders
brace, and the weight of his body come backwards from the ball of the
foot on to the heel.
'Ah! I shall be in Africa by then,' he said.
It was in fact near upon the end of February that the river-steamer
plying between the settlement and the coast of Matanga brought to Drake
and Fielding an announcement that the marriage had taken place. There
were letters for both the men, and they carried them out to a grass
knoll on the edge of the forest some quarter of a mile away from the
little village of tin huts which shone in the sunshine like a tidy
kitchen, as Fielding was used to say. Drake read his through, and said
to Fielding, 'You have a letter from Mrs. Willoughby?'
Fielding looked him in the face. 'Yes,' he said slowly, and putting
the letter in his pocket, buttoned it up. Drake understood alike from
his tone and action what news the letter conveyed, and made no further
inquiry. He fell instead to talking of some machinery which the boat
had brought up along with the letters. The letter, indeed, was written
in a vein which made it impossible for Fielding to follow the usual
habit of reading Mrs. Willoughby's letters aloud to his companion. 'The
wedding,' she wrote, 'lacked nothing but a costumier and a composer.
The bride and bridegroom should have been in fancy dress, and a new
Gounod was needed to compose the wedding-march of a marionette. One
might have taken the ceremony seriously as an artistic whole under
Mrs. Willoughby continued to keep Fielding informed of the progress
or the married couple, and in May hinted at dissensions. The hint
Fielding let slip one day to Drake. Drake, however, received the news
with apparent indifference, and indeed returned to England in September
with Fielding without having so much as referred to the subject.
During the month which followed his return, he preserved the same
appearance of indifference, seeming, indeed, thoroughly engrossed in
working off arrears of business. The fact, however, of this dissension
was thrust before his notice one evening when he dined with Mr. Le
Mesurier, and that gentleman dealt out extravagant praise to the French
for recognising that the marriages of the children are matters which
solely concern the parents.
'We English,' said he with a shrug of contempt at the fatuity of his
countrymen, 'men and women, or rather boys and girls, choose for
ourselves, and what's the result nine times out of ten? Well, it's the
custom, and it's no use for a man by himself trying to alter it.'
Drake was familiar with Mr. Le Mesurier's habit of shifting
responsibilities, and while he said nothing at the moment, called upon
Mrs. Willoughby the next day and questioned her openly. Mrs. Willoughby
admitted that there were disagreements, but believed them not to be
'The first year,' she said, 'is as a rule a trying time. There are
illusions to be sloughed. People may come out all the stronger in the
end.' Mrs. Willoughby generalised to conceal the little hopefulness she
felt in regard to the particular instance.
'I ask,' continued Drake, 'because I thought money might be at the
bottom of it. In that case something perhaps might be done. Mrs.
Mallinson would be troubled, I believe, by a need to economise.'
'Oh no,' she returned. 'There's no trouble of that kind. You see,
Mr. Le Mesurier sold the Seigneurie, for one thing—'
'Sold it!' exclaimed Drake. 'Why, I was told that it was strictly
entailed from father to child.'
'In one respect it is. It can't be charged with annuities. But any
one who owns it can sell it outright. Mr. Le Mesurier always intended
to sell it if Clarice married a man only moderately well off.'
Drake rose from his chair and walked once or twice quickly across
'He should have told his daughter that,' he said slowly.
Mrs. Willoughby glanced at him in surprise.
'Well, of course he did.'
'Oh no, he didn't,' said Drake quickly. 'You remember, I told you at
Sark why she wanted our engagement to be kept secret.'
'Because your position wasn't altogether assured. You didn't mention
'No, I thought you would understand. She believed an engagement
between us would cause trouble with her father, just because it was
necessary for her to marry a man who could keep up the Seigneurie.'
Mrs. Willoughby started. 'Clarice told you that!' she said, staring
'Yes,' he replied simply. 'So you see she didn't know.'
Mrs. Willoughby sank back into her chair. She had heard Mr. Le
Mesurier announce his intention more than once in Clarice's presence.
However, she fancied that no particular good would be done by informing
him of the girl's deception, and she dropped the subject.
'What about Conway?' asked Drake.
'He still walks up and down London. I fancy he is secretary to
Drake hesitated for a second. 'Does he go there very much?'
'A good deal, I fancy,' she replied. 'But you mustn't think the
disagreement is really serious. There is no cause outside themselves.
Have you called?'
'No; I go down to Bentbridge to-morrow. I must call when I get
'Then you are going to stand for Parliament?' she exclaimed. 'I am
'Yes; they expect an election in July, I believe. You see, now that
Fielding has been made a director and has settled down to work, I have
got more time. In fact, one feels rather lonely at nights.'
Mrs. Willoughby was willing to hear more concerning Fielding's
merits. She promptly set herself to belittle the importance of his
position and work for the sake of hearing them upheld, and she was not
'It's easy enough to laugh at finance, and fashionable into the
bargain,' he said. 'But here's the truth of the matter. Money does
to-day what was the work of the sword a century or so ago, and, as far
as I can see, does it better. To my thinking, it should be held in
quite as high esteem. You can put it aside and let it rust if you like,
but other nations won't follow your good example. Then the time comes
when you must use it, and you find the only men you've got to handle it
are the men you can't trust—the bandit instead of the trained soldier.
No! Put the best men you can find to finance, I say,' and with that he
'Why doesn't he drop them altogether?' asked Fielding with
considerable irritation when Mrs. Willoughby informed him of Drake's
intention to renew his acquaintance with the Mallinsons.
'It would only make matters worse if he did,' replied she. 'Clarice
would be certain to count any falling off of her friends as a new
grievance against her husband.'
'He is willing to take his place as one.'
'He will find it singularly uninteresting. Friendship between a man
and a woman!'
He shrugged his shoulders; then he laughed to himself. Mrs.
Willoughby got up nervously from her chair and walked to the opposite
end of the room.
'These things,' continued Fielding in a perfectly complacent and
unconscious tone, 'are best understood by their symbols.'
Mrs. Willoughby swung round. 'Symbols?' she asked curiously.
Fielding took a seat and leaned back comfortably. 'The feelings and
emotions,' he began, 'have symbols in the visible world. Of these
symbols the greater number are flowers. I won't trouble you with an
enumeration of them, for in the first place I couldn't give it, and in
the second, Shakespeare has provided a fairly comprehensive list. And
by nature I am averse to challenging comparisons. There are, however,
feelings of which the symbols are not flowers, and amongst them we must
reckon friendship between man and woman. Passion, we know, has its
passion flower, but the friendship I am speaking of has its symbol
too'—he paused impressively—'and that symbol is cold boiled mutton.'
Mrs. Willoughby laughed awkwardly. 'What nonsense!' she said.
'A mere jeu d'esprit, I admit,' said he, and he waved his
hand to signify that he could be equally witty every day in the week if
he chose. His satisfaction, indeed, blinded him to the fact that his
speech might be construed as uncommonly near to a proposal of marriage.
He thought, with a cast back to his old dilettante spirit, that it
would be amusing to repeat it, especially to a woman of the sentimental
kind—Clarice Mallinson, for instance. He pictured the look of injury
in her eyes and laughed again.
Clarice was indeed even more disappointed than Mrs. Willoughby
imagined. She had looked forward to her marriage, and had indeed been
persuaded to look forward to it, as to the smiting of a rock in her
husband's nature whence a magical spring of inspiration should flow
perennially. 'The future owes us a great deal,' Mallinson had said. 'It
does indeed,' Clarice had replied in her most sentimental tones. Only
she made the mistake of believing that the date of her marriage was the
time appointed for payment. Instead of that spontaneous flow of
inspiration, she had beneath her eyes a process of arduous work, which
was not limited to a special portion of the day, like the work of a
business man, and which, in the case of a man with Mallinson's
temperament, inevitably produced an incessant fretfulness with his
surroundings. Now, since this work was done not in an office but at
home, the burden of that fretfulness fell altogether upon Clarice.
She took to reading the Morte d'Arthur. Fielding found her
with the book in her hand when he called, and commented on her choice.
'There's no romance in the world nowadays,' she replied.
'But there has been,' he replied cheerfully; 'lots.'
Clarice professed not to understand his meaning. He proceeded to
tick off upon his ringers those particular instances in which he knew
her to have had a share, and mentioned the names of the gentlemen. He
omitted Drake's, however, and Clarice noticed the omission. For the
rest she listened quite patiently until he came to an end. Then she
asked gravely, 'Do you think that is quite a nice way to talk to a
'No,' he admitted frankly, 'I don't.' For a few minutes the
This was, however, Fielding's first visit since his home-coming, and
Clarice yielded to certain promptings of curiosity.
'I hardly expected you would be persuaded to go out to Africa, even
by—any one,' she concluded lamely.
'Neither did I,' he replied.
'Did you enjoy it?' she asked.
'I went out a Remus, I return a Romulus.'
There were points in Clarice's behaviour which never failed to
excite Fielding's admiration. Amongst these was a habit she possessed
of staring steadily into the speaker's face with all the appearance of
complete absence of mind whenever an allusion was made which she did
not understand, and then continuing the conversation as though the
allusion had never been made. 'Of course you had a companion,' she
Fielding agreed that he had.
'I have not seen him,' she added.
'No.' Clarice was driven to name the companion. 'You seem to have
struck up a great friendship with Mr. Drake. I should hardly have
thought that you would have found much in common.'
'Arcades ambo, don't you know?'
Clarice did not know, and being by this time exasperated, she showed
that she did not. Fielding explained blandly, 'We both drive the same
pigs to the same market.'
Clarice laughed shortly, and stroked the cover of her Morte
d'Arthur. 'I suppose that's just what friendship means nowadays?'
'Between man and man—yes. Between woman and woman it's different,
and it's, of course, different too between man and woman. But perhaps
that's best to be understood by means of its symbol,' and he worked up
to his climax of cold boiled mutton with complete satisfaction.
'I gather, then, that you see nothing of Mrs. Willoughby now,' said
Clarice quietly as soon as he had stopped. Fielding was for the moment
taken aback. It seemed to him that the point of view was unfair.
'Widows,' he replied with great sententiousness,—'widows are
different,' and he took his leave without explaining wherein the
difference lay. He wondered, however, if Clarice's point of view had
occurred to Mrs. Willoughby.
Fielding's visit, and in particular his teasing reticence as to his
stay in Matanga, had the effect of recalling Clarice's thoughts to the
subject of Stephen Drake. She recalled her old impression of him as one
self-centred and self-sufficing, a man to whom nothing outside himself
would make any tangible difference; but she recalled it without a trace
of the apprehension with which it had been previously coupled. She
began indeed to dwell upon that idea of him as upon something restful,
and the idea was still prominent in her mind when, a little more than a
week afterwards, Drake galloped up to her one morning as she was
crossing the Park.
'I have been meaning to call, Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'but the
fact is, I have had no time. I only got back from Bentbridge last
Clarice received a sudden and yet expected impression of freshness
from him. 'Papa told me you were going to stand,' she replied. 'You
stayed with my uncle, Captain Le Mesurier, didn't you?'
'Yes. Funnily enough, I have met him before, although I didn't know
his name. He travelled in the carriage with me from Plymouth to London
when I first landed in England.'
Clarice wondered what made him pause for a moment in the middle of
the sentence. 'Your chances are promising?' she asked.
'I can't say yet. I have a Radical lord against me. Burl says
there's no opponent more dangerous. It will be a close fight, I think.'
He threw back his head and opened his chest. His voice rang with a
vigorous enjoyment in the anticipation of a strenuous contest.
'So you are glad to get back to London,' she said.
'Rather. I feel at home here, and only here—even in January.' He
looked across the Park with a laugh. It stretched away vacant and dull
in the gray cheerlessness of a winter's morning. 'The place fascinates
me; it turns me into a child, especially at night. I like the glitter
of shops and gas-lamps, and the throng of people in the light of them.
One understands what the Roman citizen felt. I like driving about the
streets in a hansom. There are some one never gets tired of Oxford
Street, for instance, and the turn out of Leicester Square into
Coventry Street, with the blaze of Piccadilly Circus ahead. One hears
that poets starve in London, and are happy; I can believe it. Well, I
am keeping you from the shops, and myself from business.'
He shook hands with her and mounted his horse.
'You have not yet seen my husband,' she said, and she felt that she
forced herself to speak the word.
'Not yet. I must look him up. You live in Regent's Park, don't you?'
'Close by. Will you come some evening and dine?'
The invitation was accepted, and Drake rode off. He rode well,
Clarice noticed, and his horse was finely limbed and perfectly groomed.
The perception of these details had its effect. She stood looking after
him, then she turned slowly and made her way homewards across the Park.
Two of her acquaintances passed her and lifted their hats, but she took
no notice of them; she did not see them. A picture was fixed in her
mind—a picture of a rolling plain, black as midnight, exhaling
blackness, so that the air itself was black for some feet above the
ground; and into this cool and quiet darkness the moonbeams plunged out
of a fiery sky and were lost. They dropped, she fancied, after their
long flight, to their appointed haven of repose.
The street door of her house gave on to a garden. Clarice walked
along the pathway in front of the house towards the door of the hall.
As she passed her husband's study windows she glanced in. He was
standing in front of the fireplace, tearing across some sheets of
manuscript. Clarice hurried forwards. He was always tearing up
manuscript. While she was upstairs taking off her hat she heard his
door open and his voice complaining to the servants about some papers
which had been mislaid. She felt inclined to take the servants' part.
After all, what was a man doing in the house all day? There was a
dragging shuffle of his slippers upon the floor of the hall. The sound
jarred on her. She pinned on her hat again, ran downstairs, gave orders
that she would not be in for lunch, and drove at once to Mrs.
Willoughby's. She arrived in a state little short of hysterical.
'Connie,' she cried, almost before the servant who announced her was
out of the room, 'I know you don't like me, but oh, I'm so unhappy!'
Mrs. Willoughby softened at sight of her evident distress. 'Why,
what's the matter?' she asked, and made her sit down beside her on the
'It's awful,' she said, and repeated, 'it's awful.'
'Yes, child, but what is?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.
'All is—I mean everything is,' sobbed Clarice.
Mrs. Willoughby recognised that though the correction amended the
grammar, it did not simplify the meaning. She pressed for something
'Don't be irritable, Connie,' quavered Clarice, 'because that's just
what Sidney is—and always. It's so difficult to make you understand.
But he's just a lot of wires, and they keep twanging all day. He
nags—there's no other word for it—he nags about everything—the
servants, his publishers, the dinner, and—oh!—oh!—why can't he wear
boots in the morning?'
The point of the question was lost on Mrs. Willoughby. She began to
expostulate with Clarice for magnifying trifles.
'Of course,' replied Clarice, sitting up suddenly—she had been half
lying on the sofa in Mrs. Willoughby's arms—'I know they are trifles;
I know that. But make every day full of them, every day repeat them!
Oh, it's awful! I wonder I don't break down!' She turned again to Mrs.
Willoughby, lapsing from vehemence to melancholy as the notion occurred
to her. 'Connie, I believe I shall—break down altogether. You know I'm
not very strong.' She put her arms about Mrs. Willoughby, and clung to
her in the intensity of her self-compassion. 'You can't imagine the
strain it is. And if that wasn't enough, his mother comes up from
Clapham and lectures me. I wouldn't mind that, only she's not very safe
about her h's, and she stops to dinner and talks about the nobility
she's had cooks from, to impress the servants. It's so humiliating, to
be lectured by any one like that.'
Mrs. Willoughby scented a fact. 'But what does she lecture you
about? The dinner?' she asked, with an irrelevant recollection of
Drake's impression of Clarice as one little adapted for housewifely
duties, and not rightly to be troubled by them.
'Oh no. She says I don't give Sidney the help he expected from me.
But what more can I do? He has got me. Sidney says the same, too. He
told me that he had never had so much difficulty to work properly as
since we were married. And when his work doesn't succeed I know he
blames me for it. Oh, Connie! is it my fault? I think we had
better get divorced—and I—I—c-c-can go into a convent, and never do
anybody any more harm.'
Clarice glanced as she spoke down the neatest of morning frocks, and
the mental picture which she straightway had of herself in a
white-washed cell with iron bars, clad in shapeless black, her chin
swathed, her face under eaves of starched linen, induced an access of
For all her sympathy Mrs. Willoughby was forced to bite her lips.
Clarice, however, was not in the mood to observe the effect which her
words produced on others. She continued: 'It's much the best thing to
do, because whatever I did it would always be the same. I could never
make him content. Connie, if you only knew the strain of it all! He's
always wanting to be something different. One day a clerk, with a nice
quiet routine, another a soldier, another a ——' she hesitated, and
gave Constance an extra squeeze—'a colonist, and fire off Maxim guns.
If you could only see him! He sits in front of the fire, with his
glasses on, and talks about the roaring world of things.'
This time Mrs. Willoughby really laughed. She turned the laugh into
a cough, and cleared her throat emphatically once or twice. Clarice sat
up and looked at her reproachfully, then she said, 'I know it's absurd.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry myself, b-b-but I usually cry. And
then in his books he's—he's always his own hero.' With that Clarice
reached at once the climax of her distress and the supreme charge of
her indictment. The rest was but sighs and sobs and disconnected
phrases. Finally she fell asleep; later she was caressed into eating
lunch, taken for a drive, and sent home subsequently greatly mollified
Mrs. Willoughby refrained from tendering advice that afternoon.
There was nothing sufficiently tangible in the story which she had
heard. In fact the only thing really tangible was the girl's distress
in telling it, and that Mrs. Willoughby attributed to some dispute
between her and Sidney that morning. She could not know that Clarice's
outburst had been preceded by that chance meeting in the Park with
Stephen Drake, for Clarice had made no allusion to it of any kind. She
felt, besides, that advice in any case would be of little use. The
couple had to work out their own salvation, and time and experience
alone could help them. Events seemed to justify Mrs. Willoughby's
reticence, for the winter blossomed into spring, the spring flowered
into summer, and the Mallinson household remained to the external view
Drake's visits to Bentbridge increased in frequency as the prospect
of the general election became more real. A snap vote in the House of
Commons on a minor question of administrative expenditure decided the
matter suddenly towards the end of June. The Government determined on a
dissolution. Fielding took Clarice Mallinson into dinner at Mr. Le
Mesurier's house on the day after the date of the dissolution was
fixed. He noticed that she looked worn. There were shadows about her
eyes, her colour had lost its freshness, and there was a melancholy
droop about the corners of her mouth. Fielding suggested the
advisability of a change.
'I'm to have one,' said she. 'I'm going down to stay with my uncle
at Bentbridge in a week's time.'
'At Bentbridge?' asked Fielding sharply. 'For the election.'
She saw his lips tighten. 'My husband goes with me,' she replied
quickly and stopped, flushing as she realised that she had meant and
conveyed an apology.
'I should have thought that the Continent would have been more
advisable as a change.'
'The Continent! I don't want to travel far. I am so tired.' She
spoke in a tone of weariness which touched Fielding in spite of
himself. He looked at her more closely. 'Yes,' he said gently, 'you
look very tired. You have been doing too much.'
'No, it isn't that,' she replied. 'One thinks of things, that's
all.' She bent her head and was silent for a little, tracing a pattern
on the table-cloth with a finger absently. Then she added in a low
voice, 'I suppose few women ever think at all until after they are
The voice was low, and Fielding was conscious of something new in
the tone of it, a deeper vibration, a sincerity different in kind from
that surface frankness which he had always known in her. He wondered
whether she had struck down from her pinchbeck sentimentality into
something that rang solid in the depths of her nature. He looked at her
again, her eyes were turned to his. With the shadows about them, they
looked bigger, darker, more piteously appealing. She was no less a
child to him, the child looked out of her eyes, sounded in the
commonplace sentiment she had spoken, and the air of originality with
which she had spoken it. But the child seemed beginning to learn the
lesson of womanhood, and from the one mistress which could teach it
'But why think then?' he asked lightly. 'It ruins a complexion no
less than before. Or does a complexion cease to count? Look!' He leaned
forward. A pink carnation was in a glass in front of him, already
withering from the heat. He touched the faded tips of the petals. 'That
is the colour which conies from thinking.'
Clarice lifted her shoulders with more of sadness than impatience in
the gesture. 'You believe,' she said, 'no woman at all has a right to
dare to think.'
'I notice,' he answered with the same levity, 'that the woman who
thinks generally thinks of what she ought not to.'
Later, in the drawing-room, he looked for her again, and looked
unsuccessfully. The window, however, was open, and he advanced to it.
Clarice was on the balcony alone, her elbows on the rail, a hand on
either side of her cheek. Something in her attitude made him almost
'Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'you will probably think me intrusive,
but do you think your visit really wise?' Clarice turned towards him
quickly with something of defiance in her manner. 'You are tired,' he
went on, 'you want rest. Well, an election isn't a very restful time,
even for the onlooker.'
Clarice did not reply for a moment, and when she did she replied
with an impulsive frankness, to which his friendly tone had prompted
her. 'To tell you the truth, I am not anxious to go. I don't want to,
but Sidney wants to.'
'You don't believe me.'
'Of course I do.' He left her on the balcony, and went in search of
Mallinson. 'So you go to Bentbridge for the election,' he said.
'Yes,' replied the other, lighting up. 'I am looking forward to it
like a schoolboy to a football match. The prospect of activity
exhilarates me—bodily activity, don't you know—a town humming with
Fielding cut him short. 'My dear fellow, you're a damned fool,' he
Stephen Drake had decided to stay during the period of the election
at a hotel in the centre of the town, rather than to accept an
invitation from Captain Le Mesurier, who lived some miles beyond the
outskirts. He travelled down to Bentbridge on the day that the
dissolution was announced, and during the journey Mr. Burl gave him
much sage advice.
'Keep the arguments for buildings; they're in place there.
Mass-meetings in the open air want something different. Many a good man
has lost his seat from not observing that rule. In the open air pitch
out a fact or two—not too many—or a couple of round sums of figures
first of all, just to give them confidence in you, and then go straight
for your opponent. No rapier play—it's lost then—but crack him on the
top-knot with a bludgeon. They'll want to hear his skull ring before
they'll believe that you have touched him. Phrases! Those are the
things to get you in, not arguments. Pin a label on his coat-tails.
You'll see them laugh as he squirms round to pull it off. And, mind
you, there'll be no walking over, you'll want all you know. The man's a
Radical and a Lord! The combination satisfies their democratic
judgments and their snobbish instincts at the same time. People forget
to count the snob in the democrat, but he's there all the same, as in
most Englishmen. A veneer of snobbishness over solid independence.
That's our characteristic. Lord Cranston! Can't you hear their tongues
licking it? Luckily, there are things against him. He's a carpet-bagger
like yourself, and he's been more than once separated from his wife.
His fault, too—once it was an opera dancer. I've got up the facts. He
only joined his wife again a few months ago—probably for the purpose
of this election.'
Mr. Burl pulled out a pocket-book, and began to turn over the leaves
in search of the damning details, when Drake interrupted him. 'You
don't expect me to discuss the man's private life?'
'My dear Drake, do be practical. It's no use being finicking. The
essential thing is to win the seat.'
'Whatever the price?'
'Look here; I am not asking you to do anything so crude as to make
platform speeches about the man's disgraceful conduct to his wife.' Mr.
Burl assumed the look of a Rhadamanthus. 'But'—and again he relaxed
into the tactician—'you might take a strong social line on morals
generally, and the domestic hearth, and that sort of thing.' He looked
critically at Drake. 'You're one of the few chaps I know who look as if
they could do that and make people believe they really mean it.'
He finally discredited his advice by adding impressibly, 'You
needn't go into the instance at all, you know. They'll understand what
you're alluding to, never fear'; and Drake flatly refused to dance into
Parliament to that tune, however persuasively Mr. Burl played upon the
The hotel at which Drake put up was situated in a short broad street
which ran from the Market Square. From the balcony of his sitting-room
on the first floor he could see the market sheds at the end of the
street to his left. The opposite end was closed in by the Town Hall,
which was built upon an ancient gate of the town. From Drake's windows
you got a glimpse through the archway of green fields and trees. Almost
facing him was a second hotel on the opposite side of the street, the
'Yellow Boar.' It was tricked out, he noticed, with the colours of his
opponent. While he was standing at the window an open carriage turned
out of the market-place, and drove up to the 'Yellow Boar.' Lord
Cranston got down from it, and a lady. The candidate was of a short and
slight build; a pencil—line of black moustache crossed a pallid and
indecisive face, and he seemed a year or two more than thirty. The lady
looked the younger, and was certainly the taller of the two. Drake was
impressed by her face, which bore womanly gentleness, stamped on
features of a marked intellectuality. The couple disappeared into the
hall, and appeared again in a large room with big windows upon the
first floor. From where he stood Drake could see every corner of the
room. Lord and Lady Cranston, the land-lord informed him, were staying
at the 'Yellow Boar.' The two candidates overlooked each other.
In this street, morning and evening, they met for a moment or two,
and took a breath of friendly intercourse. Drake was introduced to Lady
Cranston, but she would have none of the truce. To her he was the
enemy, and to be treated as such consistently, with a heart-and-soul
hostility, until he confessed himself beaten. Drake liked her all the
better for her attitude. Meanwhile he made headway in the constituency.
He was in earnest, with a big theme to descant upon—the responsibility
of the constituency to the empire. His fervour brought it home to his
audiences as a fact; he set the recognition of that responsibility
forwards as the prime duty of the citizen, sneering at the parochial
notion of politics. Mr. Burl shook his head over Drake's method of
fighting the battle, and hinted more than once at the necessity of that
lecture upon morals. Drake not only refused to reconsider it, but
flatly forbade Mr. Burl to allude to the subject in any speech which he
might make. Burl shrugged his shoulders and confided his doubts to
Captain Le Mesurier. Said the Captain, 'I think he's wise; a speech
might offend. What's wanted is an epigram—a good stinging epigram. We
could set it about, and, if it's sharp enough, no need to fear it won't
travel.' He paused dubiously. 'After all, though, it's a bit unfair on
Cranston. Hang it, I've been a married man myself,' and he chuckled in
unregenerate enjoyment. 'However, the seat's got to be won. Let's think
of an epigram,' and he scratched his head and slapped his thigh. It was
the Captain's way of thinking. The satisfactory epigram would not
emerge. He could fashion nothing better as a description of Cranston
than, 'A refreshment-room sandwich; two great chunks of sin and a
little slice of repentance between.' Mr. Burl condemned it as crude,
and for the moment the epigram was dropped.
The Mallinsons arrived a week after the contest had begun. Captain
Le Mesurier welcomed Clarice with boisterous effusion, and her husband
with quarter-deck dignity. 'You look ill,' he said to Clarice. 'It's
your husband worrying you. Ah, I know, I know! Those writing chaps!'
To Mallinson, however, he suddenly showed excessive friendliness,
and took the opportunity of saying to him loudly in a full room,
'There's something I must tell you. I know it'll make you laugh. It
does me whenever I think of it. You know Drake? Well, we travelled up
from Plymouth together when he came back from Africa. He bought your
book at the bookstall, and sat opposite me reading it. What was it
called? I know, A Man of Influence. You should have seen Drake's
face. Lord, he couldn't make head or tail of it. How should he? I asked
him what he thought of it, and imagine what he answered! You can't,
though. It's the funniest thing I ever heard. He said it was a very
clever satire. Satire! Good Lord, I almost rolled off the seat. It is
funny, isn't it?'
Mallinson, with a wry face, agreed that the story was funny.
'I knew you would think so,' pursued the Captain relentlessly.
'Everybody does I have told it to, and that's everybody I know. Satire!
Lord help us!' and he shook with laughter and clapped Mallinson in the
small of the back.
Mallinson felt the fool that he was intended to look, with the
result that his dormant resentment against Drake sprang again into
activity. That resentment became intensified, as the date of the
election drew nearer, by an unconfessed jealousy. They both made
speeches, but Mallinson chiefly at the smaller meetings. And when they
stood upon the same platform he was continually forced to compare the
difference in the acclamation with which their speeches were severally
received. As a matter of fact, Drake spoke from a fire of conviction,
and the conviction not merely burnt through his words, but minted them
for him, gave him spontaneously the short homely phrase which sank his
meaning into the minds of his hearers. Mallinson took refuge in a
criticism of Drake's speeches from the standpoint of literary polish.
He recast them in his thoughts, turning this sentence more deftly,
whittling that repartee to a finer point. The process consoled him for
Drake's misreckoning of his purpose in the matter of A Man of
Influence, since it pointed to a certain lack of delicacy, say at
once to crassness in the man's intellect.
Mallinson began immediately to imagine himself in Drake's position,
the candidate for whom brass bands played, and hats went spinning into
the air. And it needed no conscious effort for one so agile in
egotistical leaps to spring thence to the fancy that Drake was a kind
of vicarious substitute for himself, doing his work, too, not without
Ten days before the polling-day Fielding ran down from town, and
attended a meeting at the Town Hall, at which both Drake and Mallinson
were to speak. He sat on the platform by Clarice's side and paid some
attention to her manner during the evening. He noticed the colour mount
in her cheeks and her eyes kindle, as on first entering the room she
looked down upon the crowded floor. The chairs had been removed, and
the audience stood packed beneath the flaring gas-jets—artificers for
the most part, their white faces smeared and stained with the grime of
their factories. The roar of applause as Drake rose by the table
swelled up to three cheers in consonance, and a subsequent singing of
'For he's a jolly good fellow' stirred even Fielding to enthusiasm. He
noted that feeling of enthusiasm as strange in himself, and had a
thought in consequence that such scenes were hardly of the kind to help
Clarice to the rest she needed. The hall for a moment became a sea of
tossing handkerchiefs. He took a glance at Clarice. She sat bent
forward with parted lips and a bosom that heaved. Fielding turned on
his cold-water tap of flippancy.
'It's a bad omen,' said he, with a nod towards the waving
handkerchiefs. 'They hang out flags of surrender.'
'Hardly,' she replied, with a smile. 'I can't recognise that the
flags are white'; and she added, 'I should like it less if they were.
These men are the workers.'
'The workers.' Fielding could hear Drake uttering the word in just
the same tone, and his compassion for Clarice deepened. Why? he asked
himself. The girl was undergoing not a jot more punishment than a not
over-rigid political justice would have meted out to her. The question
inexplicably raised to view a pair of the clearest blue eyes, laughing
from between the blackest of eyelashes. He promptly turned his
attention to the speaker at the table.
Drake commenced that night with an apology. It was necessary that he
should speak about himself. An utterly baseless story had, within the
last few days, and doubtless with a view to this election, been revived
by the London evening paper which originally made it. He regretted also
to notice that his opponent had accepted the story, and was making use
of it to prejudice him in the eyes of the electors. Accordingly he felt
bound to put the facts simply and briefly before his audience, although
the indifference of the Colonial Office to what, if true, was a crime
committed by an Englishman on English soil, and against practically
English subjects, in effect acquitted him of the charge.
Drake thereupon proceeded to describe his march to Boruwimi. The
story, modestly recited in simple nervous English, did more to forward
his candidature than all the political speeches he could have made
during a twelvemonth. It came pat at the right time, when arguments
were growing stale. His listeners hung upon the words; in the intense
silence Fielding could feel the sympathy between speaker and audience
flowing to and fro between them like a current. Drake instinctively
lowered his voice; it thrilled through the hall the more convincingly.
There was a perceptible sway of heads forwards, which started at the
back and ran from line to line towards the platform like a quick ripple
across a smooth sea. It was as though this crowded pack of men and
women was drawn to move towards the speaker, where indeed there was no
room at all to move.
And in truth the subject was one to stir the blood. Drake prefaced
his account by a description of the geography of Boruwimi; he instanced
briefly the iniquities of the Arab slave-dealers whom he was attacking.
Thereupon he contrasted the numbers of his little force with the horde
of his enemies, and dwelt for a second upon their skill as marksmen; so
that his auditors, following him as he hewed his path through the
tangle of an untrodden forest, felt that each obstacle he stopped at
might mean not merely failure to the expedition, but death to all who
shared in it. Success and life were one and the same thing, and the
condition of that thing was speed. He must fall upon the Arabs
unawares, like a bolt from the blue. They forgot that he who led that
expedition was speaking to them now; they were with him in the obscure
depths of the undergrowth, surging against gigantic barriers of fallen
tree-trunks, twenty, thirty feet high; they were marching behind him,
like him at grips with nature in a six-weeks' struggle of life and
death; and when finally he burst into the clearing on the river's bank
the ripple went backwards across the hall, and a cheer of relief rang
out, as though their lives, too, were saved.
Upon Fielding the relation produced a somewhat peculiar effect. He
was fascinated, not so much by the incident described or by the
earnestness of the man who described it,—for with both he was
familiar,—but by the strangeness of the conditions under which it was
told—this story of Africa, before these serried rows of white eager
faces, in this stifling hall, where the gaslight struggled with the
waning day. From the raised platform on which he sat he could see
through the open windows away across green fields to where the sun was
setting in a clear sky behind quiet Yorkshire wolds. The combination of
circumstances made the episode bizarre to him; he was, in fact, paying
an unconscious tribute to the orator's vividness.
Clarice paid the same tribute, but she phrased it differently, and
the difference was significant. She said, 'Isn't it strange that he
should be here—in a frock-coat? I half thought the room would
dissolve and we should find ourselves at Boruwimi.' Fielding started.
Coming from her lips the name sounded strange; yet she spoke it without
the least hesitation. For the moment it had plainly one association in
her thoughts, and only one. It sounded as though every recollection of
Gorley had vanished from her mind. 'Oh, he must get in!' she whispered,
clasping her hands upon her knees.
After Drake had concluded, Mallinson moved a resolution. He spoke
fluently, Fielding remarked, and with a finished phrasing. The very
finish, however, imparted an academic effect; he was, besides, hampered
by the speech which had preceded his. The audience began to shuffle
restlessly; they were capping a rich Burgundy with vin ordinaire, and found the liquor tasteless to the palate. Fielding perceived from
certain movements at his side that Clarice shared in the general
restlessness. She gave an audible sigh of relief and patted her hands
with the most perfunctory applause when her husband sat down. 'You are
staying with Mr. Drake at the Three Nuns?' she asked, turning to
'Only till to-morrow. I leave by the night-train.'
'Oh, you are going back!'
'Yes. You see Drake and Burl are both here. Somebody must keep the
shop open, if it's only to politely put the customers off.' He
interpreted the look of surprise upon Mrs. Mallinson's face. 'Yes, I
have been gradually sucked into the whirlpool,' and he laughed with a
nod towards Drake.
She turned to him with her eyes shining. 'And you are proud of it.'
Fielding smiled indulgently. 'That's a woman's thought.'
'But you don't deny it's truth.'
Clarice said nothing more until the meeting had terminated and the
party was in the street. They walked from the Town Hall to Drake's
hotel, Clarice and Fielding a few paces behind the rest. The first
words which she spoke showed to him that her thoughts had not altered
their drift. 'Yes, you have changed,' she said, and implied
unmistakably, 'for the better.'
'You only mean,' laughed Fielding, 'that I have given up provoking
'No, no,' she said. 'Besides, you evidently haven't given that up.'
'Then in what way?'
'I shall offend you.'
'I can hardly think so.'
'Well, you were becoming a kind of—'
To a gentleman whose ambition it had been to combine the hermit's
indifference to social obligations with an indulgence in social
festivities, the blow was a cruel one; and the more cruel because he
realised that Clarice's criticism contained a grain of truth. He hit
back cruelly. 'Drake tells me he thinks of taking a place here. I
suppose he means to marry.'
'I believe he does,' replied Clarice promptly. 'Mrs. Willoughby.'
Fielding stopped and apostrophised the stars. 'That is perfectly
untrue,' he said. He walked on again as soon as he perceived that he
had stopped, adding, with a grumble, 'I pity the woman who marries
'Why?' asked Clarice in a tone of complete surprise, as though the
idea was incomprehensible to her, and she repeated insistently, 'Why?'
'Well,' he said, inventing a reason, 'I think he would never stand
in actual need of her.' Clarice drew a sharp breath—a sigh of longing,
it seemed to her companion, as for something desirable beyond all
blessings. He continued in the tone of argument, 'And she would come to
know that. Surely she would feel it.'
'Yes, but feel proud of it perhaps,' replied Clarice, 'proud of him
just for that reason. All her woman's tricks she would know useless to
move him. Nothing she could do would make him swerve. Oh yes, she would
feel proud—proud of him and proud of herself because he stooped to
choose her.' She corrected the ardency of her voice of a sudden; it
dropped towards indifference. 'At all events I can imagine that
They were within fifty yards of the hotel, and walked silently the
rest of the way. At the door, however, she said, turning weary eyes
upon Fielding, 'And think! The repose of it for her.'
'Ah, here you are!' The robustious voice of Captain Le Mesurier
sounded from the hall. 'Look here,' to Fielding, 'we are going to take
you back with us. Drake won't come. He's tired—so we don't miss him.'
Fielding protested vainly that he would crowd the waggonette.
Besides, he had business matters to discuss with Drake before he left
'Well, you can talk them over to-morrow. You don't go until
to-morrow night. And as to crowding the waggonette, I have ordered a
trap here; so you can drive it back again to-night, if you like, from
Garples. Otherwise we'll be happy to put you up. You must come; we want
to talk to you particularly. Mallinson will drive his wife in the trap,
so there'll be plenty of room.'
The party in the waggonette consisted of Captain Le Mesurier, Burl,
Fielding, and five country gentlemen belonging to the district.
Clarice, riding some yards behind them through the dark fragrant lanes,
saw eight glowing cigars draw together in a bunch. The cigars were
fixed points of red light for a little. Then they danced as though
heads were wagging, retired this side and that and set to partners. A
minute more and the figure was repeated: cigars to the centre, dance,
retire, set to partners. A laugh from the Captain sounded as though he
laughed from duty, and Mr. Burl was heard to say, 'Not too subtle, old
man, you know.' At the third repetition the Captain bellowed
satisfaction from a full heart, and Mr. Burl cried, 'Capital!' The
country gentlemen could be understood to agree in the commendation.
Whence it was to be inferred that the dance of the cigars was to have a
practical result upon the election.
Clarice, however, paid no great attention to the proceedings in the
waggonette. She was almost oblivious to the husband at her side. The
night was about her, cool with soft odours, wrapping her in solitude.
Love at last veritably possessed her, so she believed; it had invaded
her last citadel to-night. That it sat throned on ruins she had no eyes
to see. It sat throned in quiescence, and that was enough. Clarice, in
fact, was in that compressed fever-heat of the mushroom passions which
takes on the semblance of intense and penetrating calm. And her very
consciousness of this calm seemed to ally her to Drake, to give to them
both something in common. She was troubled by no plans for the future;
she had no regret for anything which had happened in the past. The
vague questions which had stirred her—why had she been afraid of
him?—was the failure of her marriage her fault?—for these questions
she had no room. She did not think at all, she only felt that her heart
was anchored to a rock.
Given a driver who is at once inexperienced and short-sighted, a
fresh horse harnessed to a light dog-cart, a dark night and a narrow
gateway, and the result may be forecast without much rashness.
Mallinson upset his wife and the cart just within the entrance to
Garples. Luckily the drive was bordered by thick shrubs of laurel, so
that Clarice was only shaken and dazed. She sat in the middle of a bush
vaguely reflecting that her heart was anchored to a rock and yet her
husband had spilled her out of a dog-cart. Between the incident and her
state of mind immediately preceding it, she recognised an incongruity
which she merely felt to be in some way significant. Fielding and
Captain Le Mesurier picked her out of the bush before she had time to
examine into its significance. All she said was, 'It's so like him.'
'Yes, hang the fellow!' said the Captain, and under his breath he
launched imprecations at all 'those writer chaps.'
Mallinson raised himself from a bed of mould upon the opposite side
of the drive and apologised. Captain Le Mesurier bluntly cut short the
apology. 'Why didn't you say you couldn't drive? I can't. Who's ashamed
of it? You might have broken your wife's neck.'
'I might, and my own too,' replied Mallinson in a tone not a whit
Captain Le Mesurier raised his eyes to the heavens with the
apoplectic look which comes of an intense desire to swear, and the
repressive presence of ladies. 'Will you kindly sit on the horse's head
until you are told to get up? I want the groom to help here,' he said,
as soon as he found words tolerable to feminine ears. A groom was
already occupying the position designated, but he rose with alacrity
and Mallinson silently took his place and sat there until the harness
Fielding's visit, however, had another consequence beyond the
upsetting of a gig. A few days later an epigram was circulating through
the constituency. The squires passed it on with a smack of the tongue;
it had a flavour, to their thinking, which was of the town. The epigram
was this: 'Lord Cranston lives a business life of vice, with rare
holidays of repentance, but being a dutiful husband he always takes his
wife with him on his holidays.' From the squires it descended through
the grades of society. Lord Cranston, at the close of a speech, was
invited to mention the precise date at which he intended to end his
holidays. Believing that the question sprang out of an objection to a
do-nothing aristocracy, he answered with emphatic earnestness, 'The
moment I am returned for Bentbridge.' The shout of laughter which
greeted the remark he attributed at first to political opposition.
Subsequently, however, a sympathiser explained to him delicately the
true meaning of the question, and, as a counter-move, Lord Cranston
made a violent attack upon 'Empire building plus finance.' He drew
distinctions between governing men and making money.
Drake accepted the distinctions as obvious platitudes, but failed to
see that the capacity for one could not coexist with the capacity for
the other. He asserted, on the contrary, that money was not as a rule
made without the exercise of tact, and some aptitude for the management
of men. He was, consequently, not disinclined to believe that
money-making afforded a good preliminary lesson in the art of
government. Lord Cranston's argument, in fact, did little more then
alienate a few of his own supporters, who, having raised themselves to
affluence, felt quite capable of doing the same for the nation.
On the night of the polling-day Captain Le Mesurier brought his
house-party into Bentbridge to dine with Drake, and after dinner the
ladies remained in the room overlooking the street, while the gentlemen
repaired to the Town Hall, where the votes were being counted. It
seemed to Clarice as she gazed down that all the seven thousand
electors had gathered to hear the result announced. The street was
paved with heads as with black cobble-stones. Occasionally some one
would look up and direct now a cheer, now a shout of derision towards
the 'Three Nuns' or the 'Yellow Boar.' But the rooms of both candidates
were darkened, and the attention of the crowd was for the most part
riveted upon the red blinds of the Town Hall.
For Clarice, the time limped by on crutches. She barely heard the
desultory conversation about her: she felt as if her life was beating
itself out against those red windows. A clock in the market-place
chimed the hour of nine: she counted the strokes, with a sense of
wonder when they stopped. She seemed to have been waiting for a
Across the street she could see the glimmer of a light summer dress
in Lord Cranston's apartment. It moved restlessly backwards and
forwards from one window to the other: now it shone out in the balcony
above the street: now it retired into the darkness of the room. Clarice
gauged Lady Cranston's impatience by her own, and experienced a
fellow-feeling of sympathy. 'During this suspense,' she thought, 'you
and I ought to be together.' As the thought flashed into her mind, her
husband spoke to her. She set a hand before her eyes and did not answer
him. She realised that she had been thinking of herself as Drake's
wife. On the instant every force within her seemed to concentrate and
fuse into one passionate longing. 'If only that were true!' She felt
the longing throb through every vein: she acknowledged it: she
expressed it clearly to herself. If only that were true! And then in a
second the longing was displaced by an equally passionate regret.
'It might have been,' she thought.
Again her husband spoke to her. She turned towards him almost
fiercely, and saw that he was offering her a shawl. She steadied her
voice to decline it, and turned back again to the window. But now as
she looked across the street, she was filled with a new and very bitter
envy. The woman over there had the right to suffer for her suspense.
At last the clock doled out ten strokes with a grudging
deliberation, and less than five minutes later the shadow of a man was
seen upon one of the red blinds. In the street below the people surged
forward: there was a running flash of white as their heads were thrown
back and their faces upturned to the Hall; and the shouts and cries
swelled to a Babel, tearing the air. The blind was withdrawn, the
window thrown open: Clarice could see people pressing forward in the
room. They looked in the glare of yellow light like black ninepins. A
gleam of bright scarlet shot out from amongst them, and the Mayor
stepped on to the balcony above the archway. The tumult died rapidly to
absolute silence, a silence deeper than the silence of desolate places,
because one saw the crowd and one's ears were still tingling with the
echo of its shouts. It was as though all sound, all motion had been
arrested by some enchantment, and in the midst of that silence one word
was launched down the street.
The announcement of the numbers was lost in the sudden renewal of
conflicting shouts. Clarice made no effort to ascertain them. That one
word 'Drake' filled the world for her. The very noise in the street
came to her ears with a dull muffled sound as though it had travelled
across a wide space, and it seemed no more than an undertone to the
She saw Stephen Drake come forward and give place to his opponent,
and after a little the street began to clear. The number thirty-five,
incessantly repeated by the retiring crowd, penetrated to her mind and
informed her of the actual majority. In about half an hour a little
stream of people trickled from the porch of the Town Hall, and,
gathering in volume, flowed into a narrow passage which led to the
Conservative Club, a few yards to the right of the hotel. Clarice
caught a glimpse of Drake's face at the head of the procession as he
passed under a gas-lamp above the mouth of the passage, and was
surprised by its expression of despondency. A fear sprang up in her
mind that some mistake had been made in the announcement, but the fear
was dispelled by the tone of her uncle's voice as he shouted an
invitation to some one across the street to join them at the Club. It
was a tone of boisterous exultation. There could be no doubt that Drake
had been elected, and she wondered at the cause of his dejection.
A few minutes later a second stream flowed along the opposite
pavement towards the Liberal Club in the Market Square, and drew most
of the remaining loiterers into its current. The noise and bustle grew
fainter and died away: the lights were extinguished in the houses, and
only one small group, clustering excitedly about the passage, relieved
the quarter of its native sleepiness.
Clarice turned with a certain reluctance into the room. It was
empty, and the voices of her companions rose from the hall below. She
did not follow them, however. There was time enough, for the party
could not leave until Captain Le Mesurier returned from the
Conservative Club. She went back to her post. Through the open window
opposite to her she perceived the glimmer of a light dress in the dark
of the room, but it was motionless now, a fixed patch of white. Clarice
experienced a revulsion of pity for Lady Cranston. 'What must be her
thoughts?' she asked herself.
She remained at the window until the party from the Club emerged
again from the passage and turned towards the hotel.
Clarice heard her husband's voice asking where Drake was, and what
in the world was the matter with him. Captain Le Mesurier replied, and
the reply rang boisterously. 'He's behind. He's a bit unstrung, I
fancy, and reason enough too, after all his work, eh? You see, Drake's
not in the habit of taking holidays,' and the Captain grew hilarious
over his allusion.
Across the street Clarice saw the light dress flutter and move
abruptly. It was evident that Lady Cranston had heard and understood
Drake followed some few minutes later, and alone. He walked slowly
to the hotel with an air of utter weariness, as though the springs of
his activity had been broken. A moment after, he had entered it; she
heard him ascending the staircase, and she drew instinctively close
within the curtains. He pushed open the door, walked forward into the
embrasure of the window, and stood within a foot of Clarice, apparently
gazing into the street. A pale light from the gas-lamp over the front
door flickered upon his face. It was haggard and drawn, the lips were
pressed closely together, the eyelids shut tightly over the eyes—a
white mask of pain. Or was this the real face, Clarice wondered, and
that which he showed to the world the mask?
She was almost afraid to move; she even held her breath.
Suddenly the echoes of the street were reawakened. Drake roused
himself and opened his eyes. A small group of people strolled out of
the market-place and stopped in front of the 'Yellow Boar.' There was
interchange of farewells, a voice said encouragingly, 'Better luck next
time,' and one man entered the hotel.
In the room opposite a match flared up and Lady Cranston lit the
gas. She stood for a moment underneath the chandelier, in the full
light, listening. Then she walked quickly to the mirror above the
mantelpiece and appeared to dry her eyes and cheeks with her
handkerchief. She turned to the door almost guiltily, just as it
opened. Lord Cranston advanced into the room, and his wife moved
towards him. The whole scene, every movement, every corner of the room
was visible to Clarice like a scene on the stage of a theatre; it was
visible also to Drake.
Clarice could note the disconsolate attitude of Lord Cranston, the
smile of tenderness upon his wife's face. She saw Lady Cranston set her
arms gently about his neck, and her lips move, and then a low hoarse
cry burst from Drake at her side.
It sounded to her articulate with all the anguish and all the
suffering of which she had ever heard. There was a harsh note of irony
in it too, which deepened its sadness. It seemed almost an
acknowledgment of defeat in the actual moment of victory—a recognition
that after all his opponent had really won.
The cry was a revelation to Clarice; it struck her like a blow, and
she started under it, so that the rings of the curtain rattled upon the
Drake bent sharply towards her; she caught a gleam of his eyes in
the darkness. Then with a catch of his breath he started back. Clarice
heard the click of a match-box, the scraping of a lucifer, and Drake
held the lighted match above his head.
'You!' he said.
Clarice moved out from the curtain and confronted him. She did not
answer, and he did not speak again. Clarice was in no doubt as to the
meaning of his cry. His eyes even in that unsteady light told it to her
only too clearly.
And this was the man whom she had believed to stand in no need of a
woman's companionship. The thought at the actual moment of its
occurrence sent a strange thrill of disappointment through her; she had
built up her pride in him so confidently upon this notion of his
independence. And having built up her pride, she had lived in it, using
this very notion as her excuse and justification. She ran no risk, she
The name was shouted impatiently from the hall, and came to them
quite audibly through the half-opened door. But neither she nor Drake
seemed to hear it. They stood looking silently into each other's eyes.
At last she began to speak, and as she spoke, her sense of
disappointment diminished and died. She became conscious again of the
suffering which his cry had confessed. The contrast between this one
outburst and his ordinary self-control enforced its meaning upon her.
It seemed still to be ringing in her ears, stretched out to a
continuous note, and her voice gradually took a tone as of one pleading
'I did not know,' she said. 'I always thought of you as—' and she
gave a queer little laugh, 'as driving about London in hansoms, and
working quite contentedly. I never imagined that you cared at
all—really, I mean, as I know now. Even right at the beginning—that
afternoon in Beaufort Gardens, I never imagined that. Indeed, I was
afraid of you.'
'Afraid!' Drake echoed the word with an accent of wonderment.
'Yes, yes, afraid. I believed that I should mean so little to you,
that I should be of no use or help to you. And that's
Drake straightened his shoulders with a jerk as Clarice uttered the
word. He became aware of the tell-tale look in his eyes, and lowered
them from the girl's face to the ground.
'You mustn't fancy,' he began in a hesitating tone. 'You mustn't
misunderstand. I was thinking what men owe to women—that's all—that's
all, indeed—and how vilely they repay it. That way, like Cranston'—he
nodded in the direction of the house across the street—'or worse—or
worse,' he clung to the word on a lift of his voice, as though he found
some protection in it, as though he appealed to Clarice to agree with
and second him, 'or worse.'
The match burned down to his fingers, and he dropped it on the floor
and set his foot on it. Once in the darkness he repeated 'or worse,'
with a note almost of despair, and then he was silent. Clarice simply
waited. She stood, feeling the darkness throb about her, listening to
the sharp irregular breathing which told her where Drake stood. In a
few moments he stirred, and she stretched out her hands towards him.
But again she heard the click of a match-box, and again the thin flame
of light flared up in the room.
Her name was shouted up a second time. There was a sound of quicker
footsteps upon the stairs, the door was flung back, and Sidney
Mallinson entered the room. Drake lighted the gas.
'We have been waiting for you,' said Mallinson to his wife. 'I
couldn't think where you had got to,' and he glanced from her to Drake.
'I have been here all the time,' she said with a certain defiance.
Mallinson turned and walked down the stairs again, without as much
as a word to Drake. Clarice followed him, and after her came Drake.
'Ah, here you are!' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'Now we're ready.
Drake, you are coming back with us?'
'You said you would at the Town Hall. So I have had your bag packed,
and put in the waggonette.'
'Very well,' he assented; and the party went outside the hotel.
'Now, how shall we go?' asked the Captain. 'Mallinson, you of course
in the waggonette,' and he chuckled with a cheery maliciousness.
'Clarice, will you get in?'
'No!' she said with an involuntary vehemence. The idea of driving
back wedged in amongst a number of people, listening to their chatter,
and forced to take her share in it, became suddenly repugnant to her.
'I would rather drive in the trap, if I might.'
'Very well! But who is to drive you?' Captain Le Mesurier turned to
Drake. 'You can drive, of course.'
Drake replied absently. 'I have driven the coach from Johannesburg
to Pretoria, ten mules and a couple of ponies, and a man beside you
swinging a sixty-foot lash.'
Captain Le Mesurier laughed out. 'Then there'll be no upset
to-night. Come along.'
The guests took their seats, while Drake stood on the pavement.
'Come along, Drake,' shouted the Captain from the box seat of the
Drake roused himself with a start. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, and
he went to the side of the dog-cart. He drew back when he saw Clarice
already in it, and looked from cart to waggonette. 'I am so sorry,' he
said in a low voice. 'I was not listening, I am afraid.'
He mounted beside her, whipped up the horse, and drove ahead of the
waggonette. They passed out of the town into the open country. Behind
them the sounds of wheels grew fainter and fainter and died away. In
front the road gleamed through the night like a white riband; the
hedgerows flung out a homely scent of honeysuckle and wild roses;
above, the stars rode in a clear sky. To Clarice this was the perfect
hour of her life. All her speculations had dropped from her; she had
but one thought, that this man driving her cared for her, as she cared
for him. It was, in truth, more than a thought; she felt it as a glory
about her. Accidentally, as the trap swung round a bend of the road,
she leaned her weight upon his arm and she felt the muscles brace
beneath his sleeve. The sensation confirmed her thought, and she
repeated her action deliberately and more than once. She had but one
wish, that this drive should never end, that they should go forward
always side by side through a starlit night, in a stillness unbroken by
the sound of voices. And that wish was more a belief than a wish.
They ascended the slope and came out upon an open moor. It stretched
around them, dark with heather as far as they could see. The night
covered it like a tent. It seemed the platform of the world. Clarice
suddenly recollected her old image of the veld, and she laughed at the
recollection as one laughs at some queer fancy one has held in
Across the moor the wind blew freshly into their faces. Drake
quickened the horse's paces, and Clarice imagined a lyrical note in the
ringing beat of its hooves. The road dipped towards a valley. A stream
wound along the bed of it, and as they reached the crest of the moor
they could see below them the stars mirrored in the stream. Upon one of
the banks a factory was built, and its six tiers of windows were so
many golden spots of light like the flames of candles. Drake stopped
the trap and sat watching the factory.
'Night and day,' he said, 'night and day. There is no end to it. It
is the law.'
He spoke not so much dispiritedly, but rather as though he was
teaching himself a lesson which he must needs surely get by heart. He
lifted the reins and drove down the hill, past the factory and along
the valley to the gates of Garples. There he stopped the trap again.
For a moment Clarice fancied that the gates must be shut, but as she
bent forward and looked across Drake, she saw that they were open. She
turned her eyes to her companion. He was sitting bolt upright with an
unfamiliar expression of irresolution upon his face, and he was
doubtfully drawing the lash of the whip to and fro across the horse's
Clarice felt that her life was in the balance. 'Yes,' she whispered.
'No!' Drake almost shouted the word. He turned the horse through the
gates and drove in a gallop to the door of the house. Clarice heard him
draw a deep breath of relief as he jumped to the ground. As he was
pulling off his gloves in the hall, Clarice brushed past him and ran
quickly up the stairs. He was roused from his reverie by the arrival of
the rest of the party.
Clarice sent word downstairs that she was tired and would not appear
But an hour later Sidney Mallinson found her seated by the open
window. She had not even taken off her hat or gloves. Once or twice he
seemed on the point of speaking, but she faced him steadily and her
manner even invited his questions. Mallinson turned away with the
questions unasked. But he lay long awake that night, thinking; and his
resentment against Drake gained new fuel from his thoughts. The
frankness of his wife's admiration for Drake had before this awakened
his suspicions, and the suspicions had become certain knowledge. He
guessed, too, that to some degree Drake returned his wife's
inclination, and he began immediately on that account to set a higher
value upon the possession of her than he had lately done.
Once Clarice heard him laugh aloud harshly. He was thinking of the
relationship in which he had set Drake to himself in that first novel
which he had written. Actually the relationship was reversed. 'No, not
yet,' he said to himself. But it would be, unless he could hit upon
some plan. The day was breaking when his plan came to him.
The next morning Drake's seat at the breakfast table was empty.
'He caught the early train from Bentbridge,' Captain Le Mesurier
explained. 'Business, I suppose. He told me last thing yesterday night
that he had to go.'
Clarice coloured and lowered her eyes to her plate. Mallinson
noticed her embarrassment, and took it for evidence of some secret
understanding between her and Drake. He became yet more firmly resolved
to put his idea into action.
'You are not in a hurry,' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'You had better
stay the week out.'
Mallinson saw his wife raise her head quickly as though she was
about to object, and immediately accepted the invitation. Parliament
would not meet for three weeks, he reckoned, since there were still the
county members to be elected.
Clarice spent the week in defining the relationship in which she and
Drake were henceforth to stand towards each other. They were to be
animated by a stern spirit of duty,—by the same spirit, in fact, which
had compelled Drake to court-martial Gorley in Africa, and subsequently
to detail the episode to her. Duty was to keep them apart. She came to
think of duty as a row of footlights across which they could from time
to time look into each other's eyes.
Clarice felt that there was something very reassuring and protective
in this notion of duty. It justified her in buying a copy of
Frou-Frou, which lay upon the bookstall at Bentbridge railway
station, and in studying it continuously all the way from Bentbridge to
London. She was impelled to purchase it by a recollection that Drake
had first been introduced to her at a performance of that play, and his
criticisms returned to her thoughts as she read the dialogue. The play
had seemed true to him, the disaster inevitable—given the particular
characters, and she bore the qualification particularly in mind. There
was a difference between Frou-Frou and a woman animated by a
sense of duty; a difference of kind, rather than of degree. Sidney
Mallinson remarked the book which she was reading, but he made no
The next morning he paid a long call upon the editor of the
Meanwhile, Drake was devoting himself to the business of the Matanga
Company, with an assiduity unusual even for him. Fielding discovered
that he seldom left the city before ten at night, and felt it incumbent
to expostulate with him. 'You can't go on like this for much longer,
you know. You had better take a rest. There's no need for all this
'There is,' replied Drake. 'I want to clear off arrears, because I
am not sure that I oughtn't to go out again to Matanga. You see I can
do it quite easily. Parliament meets in a fortnight to vote supplies.
It will adjourn, it's thought, three weeks later. I could leave England
in September, and get back easily in time for the regular sessions.'
'But why should you go at all?' asked Fielding. 'You haven't been
back a year as it is.'
'I know,' said Drake slowly. 'But it seems to me that it would
inspire confidence, and that sort of thing, if one of us were out there
as much as possible. You see, thanks to you and Burl, I can leave
everything here quite safely,' and he returned to his desk as though
the discussion was ended.
A week later he received an invitation to dinner from Mr. Le
Mesurier, and the invitation was so worded that he could find no
becoming excuse to decline it. The dinner was given, the note stated,
in order to celebrate his victory at Bentbridge. Fielding and he went
together, and when they arrived, they found Mallinson taking off his
coat in the hall.
'Where have you been all this time?' asked Fielding. 'I haven't seen
'At Clapham,' replied Mallinson.
'I don't know it.'
'It's a suburb to the south-west.'
'My mother lives there.'
'I am very sorry.'
The words might have been intended to convey either an apology, or
an expression of sympathy with his mother. Mallinson preferred to take
them in the former sense. 'I took my wife down there,' he continued.
'She wanted more quiet than one can get in London.'
Fielding noticed, however, that Clapham quiet had not materially
benefited Mrs. Mallinson. He commented on her worn appearance to Mrs.
Willoughby, when they were seated at the dinner-table.
'She has been staying, she tells me, with her husband's people,'
replied Mrs. Willoughby. 'I fancy she finds them trying.'
Clarice was placed next to Drake, upon the opposite side to Mrs.
Willoughby, and out of ear-shot, and was endeavouring to talk to him
indifferently. 'You never take a holiday, I suppose. Where are you
going this year?' she asked.
'To Matanga,' said Drake.
'Matanga! Oh no.' The words slipped from her lips before she was
able to check them.
'I think that my place is there,' returned Drake, 'at all events for
the moment. I shall go as soon as the House rises.'
'I thought you didn't mean to leave London again.'
'One gets over ideas of that kind. After all, my interests lie in
Matanga, and one gets a kind of affection for the place which makes
The recantation was uttered with sufficient awkwardness. But Clarice
was too engrossed in her own thoughts to notice his embarrassment. 'Do
you remember when I first met you?' she asked. 'It was at a performance
'I remember quite well,' said he. 'I was rather struck with the
'I have been reading it lately.'
Drake started at the significant tone in which the words were
spoken. 'Really?' he said, with an uneasy laugh. 'What impressed me was
that scene at Venice, where Gilberte and De Valreas read over the list
of plays in the Paris newspapers, and realise what they have thrown
away, and for how little. It seemed to me the saddest scene I had ever
'Yes,' interposed Clarice quickly. 'But because Paris and its
theatres meant so much to them. I remember what you said, that
everything in the play seemed so true just to those characters,
Gilberte and De Valreas.'
She glanced at him as she uttered the last name. Drake understood
that she was drawing a distinction between him and the fashionable
lounger of the play.
'Besides,' she went on, dropping her voice, 'Gilberte left a child
behind her. Her unhappiness turned on that.'
'In a way, no doubt, but the loss of friends, station, home, counts
for something—for enough to destroy her liking for De Valreas at all
'For De Valreas!' insisted Clarice. 'He was not worth the
sacrifice.' She paused for a moment, and then continued diffidently.
'There's something else; I hardly like to tell you it. You wouldn't
notice it from seeing the play. I didn't; but it came to me when I read
the book. I think the play's absolutely untrue, yes, even to those
characters, in one respect.'
'And what's that?' asked Drake.
Clarice glanced round. Her neighbours, she perceived, were talking.
Mrs. Willoughby was too far off to hear. She dropped her voice to a yet
lower key and said, 'They make the husband kill the lover in the duel.
It's always the end in books and plays; but really the opposite of that
Drake leant back in his chair and stared at her. 'What do you mean?'
'Hush!' she said warningly, and turning away she spoke for a little
to the man on the other side of her. Then she turned back. 'I mean,'
she said, 'if two people really care for one another, their love would
triumph over everything—everything. De Valreas would have killed the
husband.' She spoke with an intense conviction of the truth of what she
'But, my dear child!' replied Drake. 'You—oh, you don't really
'I do,' she answered. 'You see, there are so few people who really
care for one another. If you find two who do, I am sure they would
conquer, whatever stood in the way.'
The conversation was interrupted, to Drake's relief, by Captain Le
Mesurier. He rose from the corner of the table to propose the health of
the guest of the evening. He said that he was proud to be represented
in Parliament by a man of Stephen Drake's calibre. If there was
anything of which he was prouder, it was the way in which the election
had been fought at Bentbridge. That election was the triumph not merely
of a man or a cause, but of a method; and that method was honesty and
fair-play. 'We never indulged in personalities,' he continued, with
shameless sincerity. 'I have always myself been very strong on that
point. Fight of course for all you're worth, but never indulge in
personalities. It's a good rule. It's a rule that helped Stephen Drake
to win his seat. We followed it. We left the lies for the opponent to
tell, and he told them. But we never did and never will indulge in
The Captain subsided to a gentle rapping of forks and spoons upon
the table, while Fielding said pointedly, 'Yes, Captain, you deserve
your holidays,' and he emphasised the word. The Captain caught the
allusion and laughed heartily. It was evident that he saw no
inconsistency between the epigram and his professed method of
contesting an election.
Drake replied shortly, and the ladies retired. Mallinson moved round
the table, and seated himself in the chair which Clarice had left.
'Do you think of speaking at all during this session?' he asked.
'I am not quite sure,' replied Drake; 'but I rather think I shall on
the colonial vote. You see there's first-class wheat-growing land in
Africa, quite near to the west coast. We import practically all that we
use in England. Well, why shouldn't we import it from our own
dominions? Besides, the route would be so much safer in times of war,
unless, of course, we were at war with France. Ships could slip up the
coast of Africa, across the bay and into Plymouth with much less risk
than if they have to sail from the Argentines or some place like that.
I believe, if the Colonial Office could be induced to move in the
matter, the idea might be carried out. What do you think?'
Mallinson carelessly assented and returned to his seat.
For the remainder of the evening Drake avoided Clarice. As he was
taking his leave, however, she came up to him. He shook her by the hand
and she whispered one word to him, 'Matanga.' Drake could not mistake
the note of longing in her voice, and as he drove to his chambers the
temptation with which he had wrestled at the gates of Garples assailed
him again, and with double force. He had but to speak, he knew, and she
would come. The loneliness of his rooms made the struggle yet harder,
yet more doubtful. He pictured to himself what he had never had, a
home, and he located that home in Matanga. The arid plain blossomed in
his imagination, for he saw the weariness die out of Clarice's face.
He tossed restlessly through the night, until one thought emerged
from the turmoil of his ideas, fashioned itself into a fact, and stood
framed there before his eyes. He held the future of Clarice in the
hollow of his hand. Her fate rested upon his decision, and he must
Drake rose and walked out on to the balcony, as the dawn was
breaking over London. A white mist was crawling above the Thames; he
could see a glimpse of the water here and there as the mist shredded.
He turned to the west and looked towards Westminster, recollecting how
his name and purposes had centred there as though drawn by a magnet.
But in that clear morning light they seemed unreal and purposeless. One
immediate responsibility invaded him, and, contrasted with that, his
ambitions dwindled into vanities. He filled no place, he realised,
which would be vacant unless he occupied it. He had to decide for
Clarice and solely for her.
Drake took up his hat and walked out of London to Elm Tree Hill.
There, gazing down upon its spires asparkle in the early sunlight,
while the city gradually awoke and the hum of its stirring began to
swell through the air, he came to his decision. Clarice belonged to
London; he did not. In Matanga she would be content—for how long? The
roughness, the absence of her kind and class, the makeshift air of
transition, would soon destroy its charm of novelty. Every instinct
would draw her back to London, and the way would be barred, whilst for
him Matanga was a province in which every capacity he possessed could
find employment and exercise. He would leave England for Matanga when
this short session was over; he would resign his seat and settle there
for good. For if he stayed in London, every step which he took, every
advance which he made, would only add to Clarice's miseries.
Thus he decided, and walked back with his mind at rest, without
regret for the loss of his ambitions, without, indeed, any real
consciousness of the sacrifice which he had it in his thoughts to make.
Thus he decided, but as he left his office on the afternoon of the
day whereon he was to make his speech in the House of Commons, Fielding
rushed up to him with a copy of the Meteor.
'Look!' he said, and pointed to an article. Drake took the paper and
read the article through. His face darkened as he read. The article had
a headline which puzzled Drake for a moment. It was entitled The
Drabious Duke, and it proceeded to set out the episode of Gorley's
court-martial and execution. The facts, Drake recognised, were not
exaggerated, but the sting lay in the suggestion with which it
'We have no doubt,' the leader-writer stated, 'that both the
court-martial and execution were in accordance with the letter of the
law, but, since Mr. Stephen Drake is now one of the legislators of this
country, we feel it our duty to submit two facts for the consideration
of our readers. In the first place we would call attention to the
secrecy in which the incident has been carefully shrouded. In the
second, Gorley undoubtedly secured a considerable quantity of
gold-dust. Now, it is perfectly well known that the Government of
Matanga pays a commission on all gold-dust brought down to the coast.
We have gone into the matter carefully, and we positively assert that
no commission whatever was paid in any such plunder during the two
months which followed Mr. Drake's return from Boruwimi. What, then,
became of it? We ask our readers to weigh these two facts
dispassionately, and we feel justified in adding that Mr. Drake would
have been quite within his rights in showing clemency to Gorley, or in
bringing him back to undergo a regular trial. However, he preferred to
execute him on the spot.'
'He makes me out a thief and a murderer,' said Drake. 'I wonder
where he got the story from?'
Fielding answered slowly, 'I am afraid that I can throw some light
on that. I told Mallinson some time ago, before he was married.'
'Mallinson!' exclaimed Drake, stopping in the street. 'Oh, you think
the article comes from him?' Then he turned to Fielding. 'And how did
you know of it?'
'Well,' said Fielding with some hesitation, 'Mrs. Willoughby told
'We neither of us, of course, knew you very well then. Mrs.
Willoughby had only just met you, and she didn't feel quite certain
that Clarice ought to be kept in ignorance of the matter, so she asked
'Quite so,' answered Drake. 'I understand. You thought Clarice ought
to be informed, and you were right. I told her of the matter myself.'
'No,' exclaimed Fielding; 'I'll tell you the whole truth while I am
about it. I advised Mrs. Willoughby to say nothing, but I behaved like
a damned cad, and told Mallinson myself afterwards. I had quite another
reason for telling him.'
'Oh, never mind!' broke in Drake. 'The question is, what's to be
'You must sue the paper!'
'Of course. I was thinking whether I couldn't mention the matter
to-night in the House of Commons. You see it has got into the papers
that I mean to speak, and perhaps I ought to make use of the
Fielding jumped at the idea. 'By Jove, yes,' he said. 'I should
think, in fact, the directors of the Company will rather expect it.'
They walked together until they reached the corner of Parliament
Street; there they stopped.
'I am awfully sorry, Drake,' said Fielding. 'I behaved like a
Drake again cut him short. 'Oh, I don't see that. The thing looked
fishy, I don't doubt, and you weren't bound to me in any way.
Good-bye,' and he held out his hand with a cordial smile.
'Good-bye,' said Fielding, and they separated.
On reaching his flat Drake was informed that a lady was waiting to
see him. He crossed the passage and opened the door of his
sitting-room. Mrs. Mallinson was standing by the window.
She turned quickly as the door closed and took a step towards the
centre of the room. Drake perceived that she had a copy of the
Meteor in her hand. 'You have seen this?' she asked.
'Yes.' He remained by the door with his hand on the knob.
'And you guessed who wrote it?'
'I have been told.' He answered her coldly and quietly.
'I know what you think,' she replied. 'But it's not true. I never
told him the story. He knew it long ago—before you went back to
Matanga—before I married him.' Her voice took a pleading tone. 'You
will believe that, won't you?'
'It never occurred to me that you had told him. I know, in fact, who
did. But even if you had—well, you had the right to tell him.' Clarice
gave a stamp of impatience. 'He is your husband.'
'My husband!' she interrupted, and she tore the newspaper across and
dropped it on to the floor. 'My husband! Ah, I wouldn't have believed
that even he could have done a thing so mean. And, to add to the
meanness of it, he went away yesterday, for a week. I know why, now; he
dared not face me.' Then of a sudden her voice softened. 'But it's my
fault too, in a way,' she went on. 'He knew the story a long time ago,
and never used it. I don't suppose he would have used it now, if I
hadn't—since your election—let him see—' She broke off the sentence,
and took a step nearer to Drake. 'Stephen, I meant to let him see.'
Drake drew himself up against the door. It would be no longer of any
service to her, he thought, if he left England and returned to Matanga.
Something more trenchant was needed.
He reflected again that he filled no place which another could not
fill, and the reflection took a wider meaning than it had done before.
'Yes,' he said; 'it's very awkward that it should all come out just
Clarice stared at him in perplexity. 'Awkward that it should all
come out,' she repeated vaguely; and then, with an accent of relief,
'You mean that it will injure the Company?'
'Not so much that. The Company can run without me—quite well now—I
am certain of it.' He spoke as though he was endeavouring to assure
himself of what he said.
'But it won't hurt you, really,' she exclaimed. 'You can disprove
the charges, and of course you must, I know you hesitate—for my
sake—to bring an action and expose the writer. But you must, and I
don't think,' she lowered her eyes to the ground, 'you would hurt me by
doing that.' For a moment she was silent. Drake made no answer, and she
raised her eyes again to his face. 'You can disprove it—oh, of
course,' she said, with a little anxious laugh.
'That depends,' he answered slowly, 'upon how much the Meteor
Clarice drew back and caught at the table to steady herself. Once or
twice she pressed her hand across her forehead. 'Oh, don't stand like
that,' she burst out, 'as if it was all true.'
'But they can't prove it's true,' exclaimed Drake, with a trace of
cunning in his voice. 'No; they can't prove it's true.'
'But is it?' Clarice stood in front of him, her hands clenched.
Drake dropped his eyes from her face, raised them again, and again
lowered them. 'Is it?' she repeated, and her voice rose to the tone of
'Yes,' and he answered her in a whisper.
Clarice recoiled from him with a cry of disgust. She noticed that he
drew a long breath—of relief, it seemed—like the criminal when his
crime is at last brought home to him. 'Then all that story,' she began,
'you told me at Beaufort Gardens about—about Boruwimi was just meant
to deceive me. You talked about duty! Duty compelled you! You would
have hanged Gorley just the same had you known that he had been engaged
to me.' She began to laugh hysterically. 'It was all duty,—duty from
beginning to end, and I believed you. Heaven help me, I came to honour
you for it. And in reality it was a lie!' She lashed the words at him,
but he stood patiently, and made no rejoinder. 'I always wondered why
you told me the story,' she continued. 'You felt that I had a right to
know, I remember. And you felt bound to tell me. It's clear enough now
why you felt bound. You had found out, I suppose, that my husband
knew—' She stopped suddenly, as though some new thought had flashed
into her mind. 'And I came here to give up everything—just for your
sake. Oh, suppose that I hadn't found you out!'
She stooped and picked up from the floor the torn pages of the
Meteor. She folded them carefully and then moved towards the door.
Drake opened it and stood aside.
Clarice went out, called a hansom and drove home. When she arrived
there she ordered tea to be brought to the drawing-room and sat down
and again read the article in the Meteor. When the tea was
brought, she ordered it to be taken into Sidney's study. She walked
restlessly about that room, as though she was trying to habituate
herself to it. A green shade lay upon the writing-table, which her
husband was accustomed to wear over his eyes. She took it up, looked at
it for a little, and then threw it down again with an air of weariness
and distaste. A few minutes later Percy Conway called and was admitted.
Fielding opened his newspaper the next morning with unusual
eagerness, and, turning to the Parliamentary reports, glanced down
column after column in search of Drake's speech. The absence of it
threw him into some consternation. He tossed the newspaper on to the
breakfast-table and rose from his seat. As he moved, however, he caught
sight of Drake's name at the beginning of a leader, and he read the
leader through. It dealt with the accusation of the Meteor, and
expressed considerable surprise that Drake had not seized the
opportunity of denying it in the House of Commons. It was mentioned
that Drake had not been seen there at any time during the course of the
Fielding jumped to the conclusion that he had met with an accident,
and set out for his chambers on the instant. He found Drake quietly
eating his breakfast. Only half the table, however, was laid for the
meal; the other half was littered with papers and correspondence, while
a pile of stamped letters stood on one corner. 'I was expecting you,'
said Drake quietly.
'Why, what on earth has happened?' asked Fielding. 'Why didn't you
speak last night?'
'I thought it would be the wisest plan to leave the matter alone.'
'But you can't,' exclaimed Fielding. 'Read this!' and he handed to
him the newspaper. 'You can't leave it alone.'
'I can, and shall,' replied Drake, and he returned to his breakfast.
'But, my dear fellow, you can't understand what that means! Read the
leader, then.' Drake glanced quickly down it. 'Now, do you understand?
It means utter ruin, utter disgrace, unless you answer this charge, and
answer it at once. You will have created a false enough impression
already.' Drake, however, made no response beyond a shrug of his
shoulders. 'But, good Lord, man,' continued Fielding, 'your name's at
stake. You can't sit quiet as if this was an irresponsible piece of
paragraph-writing. You would have to resign your seat in Parliament,
your connection with the Matanga Company—everything. You couldn't
possibly live in England.'
'Do you think I haven't counted up precisely what inaction is going
to cost me?' interrupted Drake. 'Look here!' and he took a couple of
letters from the pile and handed them to Fielding. One was addressed to
the whip of his party, and the other to the directors of the Matanga
Concessions. 'And I leave Charing Cross at ten o'clock this morning.'
Fielding looked at his watch; it was half-past nine. 'Then you mean
to run away?' he gasped. 'But, in Heaven's name, why?'
'For an obvious reason. Yesterday I believed that I could meet the
charge. But something has happened since then, and I know now that I
Fielding started back. 'Do you mean to tell me, as man to man, that
the accusation's true.'
'As man to man,' repeated Drake steadily, 'I tell you that it is
Fielding stared at him for a minute. Then he said, 'Drake, you're a
'We haven't much time,' said Drake, 'and I would like to say
something to you about the future of the Matanga settlement. You will
take my place, I suppose. You can, and ought to'; and he entered at
once into details on administration.
The advice, however, was lost upon Fielding. Once he interrupted
Drake. 'How many white men were with you on the Boruwimi expedition?'
'Four,' answered Drake, and he gave the names. 'They are dead,
though. Two died of fever on the way back; one was killed in a
subsequent expedition, and the fourth was drowned about eighteen months
ago off Walfisch Bay.' A noise of portmanteaux being dragged along the
passage penetrated through the closed door. Drake looked at his watch,
and started to his feet. 'I must be off,' he said; 'I am late as it is.
You might do something for me, and that is to post these letters.'
'But, man, you are not really going?'
Drake for answer put on his hat and took up his stick. 'Good-bye,'
'But, look here! Do you ask me to believe that you would have been
giving me all this advice, if you had really done what that infernal
paper makes you out to have done?'
'I'll give you a final piece of advice too. Give up philandering and
With that he opened the door and went out, and a few seconds later
Fielding heard the sound of his cab-wheels rattle on the pavement.
Drake, on reaching Charing Cross, found that he had more time to
spare than he had reckoned. He was walking slowly along the train in
search of an empty compartment when, from a window a few paces ahead of
him, a face flashed out, and as suddenly withdrew. The face was
Conway's, and Drake felt that the sudden withdrawal meant a distinct
desire to avoid recognition. He set the desire down to the unrepulsed
attack of the Meteor, and since he had no inclination to force
his company upon Conway, he turned on his heel and moved towards the
other end of the train. He was just opposite the archway of the
booking-office when a woman, heavily veiled and of a slight figure,
came out of it. At the sight of Drake she came to a dead stop, and so
attracted his attention. Then she quickly turned her back to him,
walked to the bookstall, and slipped round the side of it into the
waiting-room. Drake wheeled about again. Conway's head was stretched
out of the window; and he was gazing towards the bookstall.
Drake was in no doubt as to who the woman was, and he felt his heart
turn to stone. He walked quickly back until he reached Conway's
compartment. It was empty save for him, but there was a reserved label
in the window.
'Holloa!' said Conway, awkwardly enough. 'Are you going by this
train? You had better find a seat if you are.'
'But I'm not,' said Drake; 'I thought of going, but I have changed
my mind.' He leaned against the door of the carriage chatting
incessantly to Conway, with an eye upon the waiting-room. Once he saw
the woman appear at the door, but she retired again. Meanwhile Conway's
embarrassment increased. He said 'Good-bye' to Drake at least
half-a-dozen times, but on each occasion Drake had something new to say
to him. At last the whistle sounded and the train began to move. 'I
say,' cried Drake, running along by the carriage. 'My luggage is in the
van. You might bring it back with you from Dover, if you will,' and he
stood watching the train until it disappeared under the shed.
Then he walked into the waiting-room. He saw Clarice seated in a
corner, and went straight to her. She noticed that his face was white
and set, and she rose with some instinct of defiance. 'I owe you an
apology,' he said abruptly. 'The Meteor is untrue from the first
word to the last. I mean to stay in London, and fight it; yesterday
afternoon I told you lies.'
'Why?' she asked.
'Sheer lunacy,' said he; and he got into a cab and drove to the
offices of his solicitor.
Meanwhile Fielding picked up the pile of letters from the table in
Drake's chambers and went down into the street. He paused for a moment
or two at the pillar-box weighing the letters in his hand. Then he
slipped them into his pocket and hurried to Mrs. Willoughby's.
Mrs. Willoughby was moving restlessly about the drawing-room as he
was shown in. She turned impulsively towards him, holding out both
hands. 'I so hoped you would come,' she said. 'Well? You have seen
'What does he mean to do?' she asked anxiously, taking from a chair
a copy of the Meteor.
'Nothing,' replied Fielding. 'He resigns his seat; he gives up his
directorship; he is leaving England.'
Mrs. Willoughby's first look was of sheer incredulity. 'It's
impossible!' she exclaimed.
'I have just returned from his chambers. He has started from Charing
Mrs. Willoughby sat down in the window-seat, and her look of
incredulity gradually changed to one of comprehension. 'And he took
such delight in London,' she said, with a break in her voice; 'just
like a schoolboy.'
Fielding nodded gloomily. 'I did my best to dissuade him,' he said.
'I practically told him he was a coward to run away. But you know the
man. He had made up his mind not to face the charge. And yet I can't
believe it's true.'
'Believe it!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, with a hint of something
dangerously near to scorn in her voice.
'I know, I know,' answered Fielding. 'Still Drake pleads guilty. He
sacrifices everything, an established position, unusual
prospects—everything, by pleading guilty. You see, that's the point.
He has every imaginable inducement to make him face the accusation,
even if he has only the merest chance of winning, and yet he runs away.
He runs away—Drake does. There's only one inference—'
'For the world to draw,' interrupted Mrs. Willoughby; 'and doubtless
he meant the world to draw it. But you and I should know him better.'
'Yes,' Fielding admitted. 'Yes.' He began to walk about the room.
'But what's the reason? Drake's action, if this statement is a libel,
is the action of a madman.'
'A madman? Yes! Don Quixote was mad even in his century,' replied
Mrs. Willoughby. 'I can give you the reason. Clarice was with him
'Yesterday?' said Fielding. 'Why, I walked home with Drake from the
'But you didn't go in with him.'
'No; I left him alone to arrange his speech. He meant to mention
this very charge.'
Mrs. Willoughby started to her feet. 'Then that settles it,' she
said. 'Clarice was waiting for him in his rooms. Oh, if you had only
gone in with him! You remember what I wrote to you, that he would lie
in the mud if he thought it would save her. Well, that is what he has
done. Clarice came here this very morning and told me what had
happened. She went to his chambers, determined never to return to her
husband, prepared to sacrifice—I give you her words, not mine—to
sacrifice herself, her name, and for his sake. But when she showed him
the Meteor her suspicions were aroused by his manner, and she
forced the truth out of him.'
Fielding gave a short, contemptuous laugh. 'Forced the truth out of
him! She actually told you that?'
'And what's more, she believes it. Oh the waste, the waste of a man
like that upon a doll like her. I suppose there's nothing to be done?'
'Nothing; if he won't defend himself, our defence won't carry any
weight,' he went on, with a change of tone. 'But I don't see what real
good he does, even to her. She goes back to her husband now, but next
month or next year there'll be somebody else.'
'Yes,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; 'but I hardly fancy Stephen Drake
would consider that. I believe he would feel that he had no right to
speculate on what may not happen. He would just see this one clear,
definite, immediate thing to do, and simply do it.' She spoke the
sentence with a slow emphasis upon each word, and Fielding moved
uneasily. It seemed to strike an accusation at him. He braced himself
to make the same confession to Mrs. Willoughby which he had made that
afternoon before to Drake. But, before he could speak it, Mrs.
Willoughby put to him a question. 'Tell me, did he seem to mind much?'
'No,' Fielding answered with an air of relief. His confession was
deferred, if only for a minute. 'He seemed cheerful enough. The last
thing he did,' and he paused for a second, 'was to give me advice about
the management of the Matanga Company.'
'That's so like him,' she said gently. Then she looked up with a
start of interest. 'You are going to take his place?' she asked.
'He said I ought to. I know more about it than the other directors.
Of course they mayn't appoint me, but I expect they will.' Mrs.
Willoughby was silent. She moved away from the window and stood by the
fireplace. Fielding crossed to her. 'Drake gave me one other piece of
advice,' he said hesitatingly,—'not about business. It concerned me
and just one other person.' He pitched the remark in an interrogative
Mrs. Willoughby glanced quickly towards him with just the hint of a
smile dimpling about the corners of her lips. Fielding found it very
difficult to go on, but there was one clear, definite, immediate thing
for him to do as well, he said. 'Before I act on it there is something
I ought to tell you.' He paused for a second, and the trouble in his
voice perplexed Mrs. Willoughby. 'Whom do you think Mallinson got his
knowledge about Gorley from?'
Mrs. Willoughby took a step forward. 'Whom? Why,' and she gave a
little anxious laugh, 'from Clarice, of course.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked at him for a moment in silence. Then she drew
back again. 'You told him?' she asked with a quiet wonder. 'Yes,'
Fielding nodded. 'But I only told you,' she said, 'because I wanted
your advice. What made you tell him? There must have been some reason,
some good reason, some necessity.'
'No; there was no necessity, no good reason, no reason at all,'
Fielding replied doggedly. 'I told him because—' he stopped abruptly;
the reason seemed too pitiful for him even to relate.
'Well, because?' asked Mrs. Willoughby. There was a note of hardness
in the utterance. Fielding raised his eyes and glanced at her face. 'It
comes too late,' he said unconsciously, and he was thinking of Drake's
'The reason!' she insisted, taking no notice of the sentence. 'The
'I told Mallinson at the time when I was always meeting him here.'
Mrs. Willoughby gave a start. 'And because of that?' she cried.
'Yes,' said he. 'I thought the knowledge might give him a fairer,'
he changed the word, 'a better, chance with Clarice.'
'Oh, how mean!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, not so much in anger as
in absolute disappointment. She turned away from him, and stood for a
little looking out of the window. Then she said, 'Good-bye.'
And Fielding took his hat and left the house. He went down to the
office, and was told that Drake wanted to see him.
'Drake!' he exclaimed. He pushed open the door of Drake's private
office, and the latter looked up from his papers.
'You called me a damned liar this morning,' he said, 'and you were
Fielding dropped into a chair. 'What do you mean?'
'That there's not a word of truth in the Meteor's charges,
and I am prosecuting the editor. Did you post those letters?'
Fielding pulled them out of his pocket and threw them on to the
table. 'Thanks,' said Drake, 'that's fortunate.'
Fielding did not inquire into the cause of Drake's change of
purpose, and it was some while before he understood it. For Mrs.
Willoughby held no further discussions with him in the drawing-room at