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Appearances by May Sinclair

I

All afternoon since three o'clock he had sat cooling his heels in a corner of the hotel veranda. And all afternoon he had been a spectacle of interest to the beautiful cosmopolitan creature who watched him from her seat under the palm tree in the corresponding corner.

She had two men with her, and when she was not occupied with one or both of them she turned her splendid eyes, gaily or solemnly, on Oscar Thesiger. And every time she turned them Thesiger in his corner darkened and flushed and bit his moustache and twirled it, while his eyes answered hers as he believed they meant him to answer. Oscar Thesiger was not a cosmopolitan himself for nothing.

And all the time while he looked at her he was thinking, thinking very miserably, of little Vera Walters.

She had refused him yesterday evening without giving any reason.

Her cruelty (if it wasn't cruelty he'd like to know what it was) remained unexplained, incomprehensible to Oscar Thesiger.

For, if she didn't mean to marry him, why on earth had they asked him to go abroad with them? Why had they dragged him about with them for five weeks, up and down the Riviera? Why was he there now, cooling his heels in the veranda of the Hôtel Méditerranée, Cannes? That was where the cruelty, the infernal cruelty came in.

And her reasons—if she had only given him her reasons. It was all he asked for. But of course she hadn't any.

What possible reason could she have? It wasn't as if he'd been a bad lot like her French brother-in-law, Paul de Vignolles (good Lord, the things he knew about de Vignolles!). He was, as men go, a decent sort. He had always known where to draw the line (de Vignolles didn't). And he wasn't ugly, like de Vignolles. On the contrary, he was, as men go, distinctly good looking; he knew he was; the glances of the beautiful and hypothetical stranger assured him of it, and he had looked in the glass not half an hour ago to reassure himself. Solid he was, and well built, and he had decorative points that pleased: a fresh color, eyes that flashed blue round a throbbing black, a crisp tawny curl in his short moustache and shorter hair. He was well off; there wasn't a thing she wanted that he couldn't give her. And he was the admired and appreciated friend of her admired and appreciated sister, Agatha de Vignolles.

And for poor little Vera, as far as he could see, the alternatives to marrying him were dismal. It was either marrying a Frenchman, since Agatha had married one, or living forever with that admired and appreciated woman, looking after the little girls, Ninon and Odette. She had been looking after them ever since he had first met her and fallen, with some violence, in love with her.

It was a bit late now to go back on all that. It had been an understood thing. Vera herself had understood it, and she—well, she had lent herself to it very sweetly, shyly, and beautifully, as Vera would. If she hadn't he wouldn't have had a word to say against her decision.

It wasn't as if she had been a cold and selfish woman like her sister. She wasn't cold; and, as for selfish, he had seen her with Agatha and the little girls. It was through the little girls that he had made love to her, that being the surest and shortest way. He had worked it through Ninon and Odette; he had carried them on his back by turns that very afternoon, in the heat of the sun, all the way, that terrible winding way, up the Californie Hill to the Observatory at the top, where they had sat drinking coffee and eating brioches, he and Vera and Ninon and Odette. What on earth did she suppose he did it for?

But she hadn't supposed anything; she had simply understood, and had been adorable to him all afternoon. Not that she had said much (Vera didn't say things); but her eyes, her eyes had given her away; they had been as soft for him as they had been for Ninon and Odette.

Why, oh why, hadn't he done it, then?

He couldn't, because of those two infernal, bilingual little monkeys. They were clinging to her skirts all the way down the hill.

They were all going to Nice the next day; and that evening the de Vignolles had gone down to the Casino and Vera hadn't gone. It would have been all right if the children had not been allowed to sit up to see the conjuror conjuring in the lounge. But they had sat up; and that had brought it to ten o'clock before he had Vera for a minute to himself.

He may have chosen his moment badly (it wasn't easy to choose it well, living, as the de Vignolles did, in public), and perhaps, if they hadn't had that little difference of opinion, he and she——It was in the evening that they had had it, between the conjuring tricks and the children's chatter, in the public, the intolerably public lounge, and it was only a difference of opinion, opinion concerning the beauty of the beautiful and hypothetical lady who was looking at him then, who had never ceased to look at him and Vera and the children when any of them were about.

Thesiger couldn't get Vera to say that the lady was beautiful, and the little that she did say implied that you couldn't be beautiful if you looked like that. She was not beautiful (Thesiger had admitted it) in Vera's way, and on the whole he was glad to think that Vera didn't look like that; but there was, he had contended, a beauty absolute and above opinion, and the lady had it. That was all. Perhaps, now he came to think of it, he ought not to have drawn Vera's attention to her; for he knew what Vera had thought of her by the things she hadn't said, and, what was worse, he knew what Paul de Vignolles thought by the things he had said, things implying that, if the lady were honest, appearances were against her. Of her and of her honesty Thesiger didn't feel very sure himself. He found himself continually looking at her to make sure. He had been looking at her then, across the little table in the lounge where she and her two men sat drinking coffee and liqueurs. She kept thrusting her face between the two as she talked; she had a rose in her bronze hair, which made him dubious; and when their eyes met, as they were always meeting (how could he help it?), his doubt leaped in him and fastened on her face. Her face had held him for a moment so with all his doubt, and he had stared at her and flamed in a curious excitement born of Vera's presence and of hers, while he smiled to himself furtively under the moustache he bit.

And then he had seen Vera looking at him.

For a moment she had looked at him, with wide, grave eyes that stayed wide until she turned her head away suddenly.

And the lady, who was the cause of it all, had got up and removed herself, softly and, for her, inconspicuously, taking her two men with her out into the garden and the night.

Of course he had understood Vera. He had seen that it was jealousy, feminine jealousy. And that was why, in the drawing-room afterward, he had hurried up with his proposal, to make it all straight.

And she had refused him without giving any reasons. She had gone off to Nice by the one-forty-four train with the de Vignolles, Paul and Agatha and Ninon and Odette; she had left him in the great, gay, exotic hotel above the palm trees, above the rose and ivory town, above the sea; left him alone with the loveliness that made him mad and miserable; left him cooling his heels on the veranda, under the gaze, the distinctly interested gaze, of the beautiful and hypothetical stranger.

II

How beautiful she was he realized after a dinner which figured in his memory as one of those dinners which he had not enjoyed, though as a matter of fact he had enjoyed it or the mere distraction of it. By way of distraction he had taken the table next to hers, facing her where she sat between her two men.

She was an American; that fact had at first made his doubt itself a little dubious. And she was probably from the South (they were different there). Hence her softness, her full tone, her richness and her glow. Hence her exotic strain that went so well with the false tropics of the scene. But whether she were a provincial or an urban, or, as she seemed, a cosmopolitan splendor, Thesiger was not cosmopolitan enough to tell. She might have been the supreme flower of her astounding country. She might have been, for all he knew, unique.

She was tall, and her body, large and massive, achieved the grace of slenderness from the sheer perfection of its lines. Her attire, within the bounds of its subservience to Paris, was certainly unique. It was wonderful the amount of decoration she could carry without being the worse for it. Her head alone, over and above its bronze hair, coil on coil and curl on curl, sustained several large tortoise-shell pins, a gold lace fillet, and a rose over each ear. It was no more to her than a bit of black ribbon to a young girl. Old rose and young rose mingled delicately in the silks and gauzes of her gown; here and there a topaz flashed rose from her bodice and from the dusk of her bared neck. There was a fine dusk in her whiteness and in the rose of her face, and in the purplish streaks under her eyes, and deeper dusks about the roots of her hair. And gold sprang out of her darkness there; gold and bronze and copper gleamed and glowed and flamed on every coil and curl. Her eyes held the light gloriously; they were of a luminous, tawny brown, wide apart, and slightly round, with a sudden fineness at the corners. The lids had thick black lashes, so short that when they drooped they had the effect of narrowing her eyes without darkening them. Her nose, small and straight, was a shade too broadly rounded at the tip, but that defect gave a sort of softness to her splendor. Of her mouth Thesiger could not judge; he hadn't seen it at rest; and when she talked her white teeth flashed at him and disturbed him.

As he looked at her, disturbed, and he hoped, disturbing, he thought of little Vera Walters, of her slender virginal body, of her small virginal face, smooth, firm, and slightly pointed like a bud, of her gray eyes, clear as water, and of the pale gold and fawn of her hair. He thought of her tenderness and of her cruelty. He caught himself frowning at it over the mousse de volaille he was eating; and just then he thought that the other woman who was looking at him smiled. Most certainly she gazed.

The gaze was condoned and allowed by the two men who followed it.

She was superb; but the men, the men were awful. To begin with, they were American, altogether too American for Thesiger. One, whom the lady addressed with some ceremony as Mr. Tarbuck, was the big, full type, florid, rough-hewn, civilized by the cut of his clothes and the excessive cleanness of his shaving. From the first he had oppressed and offended Thesiger by his large and intolerably genial presence. The other, whom she familiarly and caressingly called Binky, was small and lean and yellow; he had a young face with old, nervous lines in it, the twitching, tortured lines of the victim of premature high pressure, effete in one generation. The small man drank, most distinctly and disagreeably he drank. He might have been the wreck of saloon bars, or of the frequent convivial cocktail, or of savage, solitary drinking.

The lady seemed to be traveling under Tarbuck's awful wing, while the outrageous Binky wandered conspicuously and somewhat mysteriously under hers. She was attentive to the small man and peeled his peaches for him, while the large man, smiling largely and with irrepressible affection, peeled hers. The large man (flagrantly opulent) had ordered peaches. He supposed they'd be the one thing that durned hotel hadn't got.

Thesiger conceived a violent hatred for him and for the small man, too. He always had hated the male of the American species. He looked on him as a disagreeable and alien creature; at his best a creature of predatory instincts who appropriated and monopolized all those things of power and beauty that belonged, properly speaking, to his betters; at his worst a defiler of the sacred wells, a murderer and mutilator of the language, of his, Oscar Thesiger's, language.

The two were murdering it now, the large man with a terrible slow assurance in the operation; the small man, as it were, worrying it between his teeth, disposing of it in little savage snaps and jerks and nasal snarlings. He would stop eating to do it. That was when his beautiful and hypothetical companion left him to himself.

For the lady had a curiously soothing and subduing effect on the small man. Sometimes, when his snarls were too obtrusive, she would put out her hand, her small, perfect hand, and touch his sleeve, and he would cease snarling and begin to peck feebly at the things before him, or at the things before her, as the case might be. Thesiger actually saw her transferring the entrée she had just tasted from her own plate to his; he heard her coaxing and cajoling him, calling on him by his offensive name of Binky. “Eat, little Binky! Little Binky, eat!”

There seemed to be some rule in a game they had, by which, if she first touched or tasted anything, Binky could not honorably refuse it.

It was clear that she had a hold on the small man. Thesiger had noticed that when she cancelled his orders for drinks he made no resistance, while he bitterly resented Mr. Tarbuck's efforts at control. She would then inquire gaily of Mr. Tarbuck whether he was in command of this expedition or was she?

To-night, her fine eyes being considerably occupied with Thesiger, the small man asserted his independence and was served, surreptitiously as it were, with a brimming whisky and soda.

He had got his hand on it when the lady shot out a sudden arm across the table, and with a staggering dexterity and impudence possessed herself of his glass. Over the rim of it she kept her eyes on him, narrowed eyes, darting mockery of Binky under half-closed lids; and, with her head tilted back, she drank; she drank daintily, about an inch down, and then she gave the glass to the large man, and he, as if honor and chivalry compelled him also, emptied it.

“Did you that time, Binky,” she murmured.

Thesiger heard her. She was looking at him, obviously to see how his fastidiousness had taken it. She leaned forward, her elbows on the table, and her head, propped on her hands, tilted slightly backward, and she gazed at him under her lowered eyelids with her narrowed, darting eyes. Then suddenly she lowered her chin and opened her eyes, and he met them full.

Her gaze, which had first fascinated, now excited him; very curiously it excited him, seeing that he was thinking about Vera Walters all the time. So unabashed it was, and so alluring, it sent such challenge and encouragement to the adventurous blood, that under it the passion that Vera would have none of detached itself from Vera with a fierce revulsion, and was drawn and driven, driven and drawn toward that luminous and invincible gaze. And Thesiger began to say to himself that the world was all before him, although for him Vera had walked out of it; that he was a man of the world; and that he didn't care.

It seemed to him that the beautiful American smiled again at him. Then she got up, and swept down the dining-hall, swinging her rosy draperies. The two men followed her, and Thesiger was left alone in that vast place, seated at his table, and staring into a half-empty wineglass, to the embarrassment of the waiter who hovered by his chair.

After all, she left him an ultimate scruple; he could not altogether trust his doubt.

III

It was a fine night, and the lounge was almost deserted. Thesiger, searching it for some one he could speak to, counted four old ladies and their middle-aged companions, three young governesses and their charges only less young, and one old gentleman, fixed by an extreme corpulence in his armchair, asleep over Le Figaro, while one ponderous hand retained upon his knee Le Petit Journal. Nowhere any sign of the transatlantic mystery and her companions. It occurred to Thesiger that it might interest him to know her name (he hadn't heard it), and even the number of her room.

He strolled to the racks on each side of the great staircase where the visitors' names were posted, and after a prolonged investigation he came upon the three: Miss Roma Lennox, Mr. Frank Bingham-Booker, and Mr. Theobald G. Tarbuck, of New York City, U. S. A. Their respective numbers were 74, 75, and 80. What was odd, the opulent Tarbuck (number 80) occupied a small room looking over the garage at the back, while 74, Mr. Frank Bingham-Booker, who was visibly impecunious, and 75, Miss Roma Lennox, luxuriated.—Thesiger shook his head over the social complication and gave it up.

The lounge was no place for him. He went out, down the Californie Hill and along the Avenue des Palmiers, with some idea of turning eventually into the Casino. He was extraordinarily uplifted. He thought that he was feeling the enchantment of the lucid night above the sea, the magic of the white city of the hills, feeling the very madness of the tropics in the illusion that she made with her palm trees and their velvet shadows on the white pavement.

He had come to the little Place before the Casino, set with plane trees. Under the electric globes the naked stems, the branches, naked to the tip, showed white with a livid, supernatural, a devilish and iniquitous whiteness. The scene was further illuminated, devilishly, iniquitously, as it were, through the doors and windows of the Casino, of the restaurants, of the brasseries, of the omnipresent and omnipotent American Bar. If there were really any magic there, any devilry, any iniquity, it joined hands with the iniquity and devilry in Oscar Thesiger's soul, and led them forth desirous of adventure. And walking slowly and superbly, under the white plane trees, the adventure came.

As the light fell on her superb and slow approach, he saw that it was Roma Lennox; Roma Lennox walking, oh Lord! by herself, like that, after ten at night, in Cannes, on the pavement of the Place. She was coming toward him, making straight for him, setting herself unavoidably in his path. He had been prepared for many things, but he had not been prepared for that, for the publicity, the flagrance of it. And yet he was not conscious of any wonder; rather he had a sense of the expectedness, the foregoneness of the event, and a savage joy in the certainty she gave him, in his sudden absolution from the ultimate scruple, the release from that irritating, inhibiting doubt of his doubt.

He raised his hat and inquired urbanely whether he might be permitted to walk with her a little way.

She had stopped and was regarding him with singular directness.

“Why, certainly,” she said.

They walked the little way permitted, and then, at her suggestion, they sat together under the plane trees on one of the chairs in a fairly solitary corner of the Place.

He saw now that she had changed her gown and that, over some obscurer thing, she wore a long, dull purple coat with wide hanging sleeves; her head was bound and wound, half-Eastern fashion, in a purple veil, hiding her hair. In her dark garb, with all her colors hidden, her brilliance extinguished, she was more wonderful than ever, more than ever in keeping with the illusion of the tropics.

His hands trembled and his pulses beat as he found himself thus plunged into the heart of the adventure. He might have been put off by the sheer rapidity and facility of the thing, but for her serious and somber air that seemed to open up depths, obscurities.

She sat very still, her profile slightly averted, and with one raised hand she held her drifting veil close about her chin. They sat thus in silence a moment, for her mystery embarrassed him. Then (slowly and superbly) over her still averted shoulder she half turned her head toward him.

“Well,” she said, “haven't you anything to say for yourself? It's up to you.”

Then, nervously, he began to say things, to pay her the barefaced, far from subtle, compliments that had served him once or twice before on similar occasions (if any occasion could be called similar). Addressed to her, they seemed somehow inadequate. He said that, of course, inadequate he knew they were.

“I'm glad you think so,” said Miss Lennox.

“I—I said I knew it.”

“Oh—the things you know!”

“And the things you know.” He grew fervid. “Don't pretend you don't know them. Don't pretend you don't know how a man feels when he looks at you.”

“And why should I pretend?”

She had turned round now with her whole body and faced him squarely.

“Why should you? Why should you?”

Lashed, driven as he judged she meant him to be by her composure, his passion shook him and ran over, from the tips of his fingers stroking the flung sleeve of her coat, from the tip of his tongue uttering the provoked, inevitable things—things that came from him hushed for the crowd, but, for her, hurried, vehement, unveiled.

She listened without saying one word; she listened without looking at him, looking, rather, straight in front of her, and tilting her head a little backward before the approach of his inflamed, impetuous face.

He stopped, and she bent forward slightly and held him with the full gaze of her serious eyes.

“What—do you think—you're doing?” she asked slowly.

He said he supposed that she could see.

“I can see a good deal. I see you think you're saying these things to me because you've found me here at this peculiar time, in this peculiar place, and because I haven't any man around.”

“No, no. That wasn't it, I—I assure you.”

A terrible misgiving seized him.

“Why did you do it?” she asked sweetly.

“I—upon my word, I don't know why.”

For it seemed to him now that he really hadn't known.

“I'll tell you why,” said Roma Lennox. “You did it because you were just crazy with caring for another woman—a nice, sweet girl who won't have anything to say to you. And you've been saying to yourself you're durned if she cares, and you're durned if you care. And all the time you feel so bad about it that you must go and do something wicked right away. And taking off your hat to me was your idea of just about the razzlingest, dazzlingest, plumb wickedest thing you could figure out to do.”

He rose, and took off his hat to her again.

“If I did,” he said, “I beg your pardon. Fact is, I—I—I thought you were somebody else.”

“I know it,” said she, and paused. “Was it a very strong likeness that misled you?”

“No. No likeness at all. It's all right,” he added hurriedly. “I'm going—I—I can't think how I made the mistake.”

He looked at the scene, at the nocturnal prowlers and promenaders, at the solitary veiled and seated figure, and he smiled. In all his agony he smiled.

“And yet,” he said, “somebody else will be making it if I leave you here. Somebody who won't go. I'll go if you like, but——”

“Sit down,” she said; “sit down right here. You're not going till you and I have had a straight talk. Don't you worry about your mistake. I meant you to come up and speak to me.”

That staggered him.

“Good Lord! What on earth for?”

“Because I knew that if I didn't you'd go up and speak to somebody else. Somebody who wouldn't let you go.”

She was more staggering than he could have thought her.

“But, dear lady, why——?”

“Why? It's quite simple. You see, I saw you and her together, and I took an interest—I always do take an interest. So I watched you; and then—well—I saw what you thought of me for watching. At first I was just wild. And then, afterward, I said to myself I didn't know but what I'd just as soon you did think it, and then we'd have it out, and we'd see what we could make of it between us.”

“Make of it?” he breathed.

“Well—I suppose you'll have to make something of it, won't you?”

“Between us?” He smiled faintly.

“Between us. I suppose if I've made you feel like that I've got to help you.”

“To help me?”

“To help anyone who wants it.—You don't mind if I keep on looking at the Casino instead of looking at you? I can talk just the same.—And then, you see, it was because of me she left you—by the one-forty-four train.”

“Because of you?”

“Because of the way you looked at me last night. She saw you.”

He remembered.

“She saw that you thought I wasn't straight; and she saw that that was what interested you.”

“Ah,” he cried. “I was a cad. Why don't you tell me so? Why don't you pitch into me?”

“Because I fancy you've got about enough to bear. You see, I saw it all, and I was so sorry—so sorry.”

She left it there a moment for him to take it in, her beautiful, astounding sorrow.

“And I just wanted to start right in and help you.”

He murmured something incoherent, something that made her smile.

“Oh, it wasn't for the sake of your fine eyes, Mr. I-don't-know-your-name. It was because of her. I could see her saying to her dear little self, 'That woman isn't straight. He isn't straight, either. He won't do.' That's the sort of man she thought you were.”

“But it wasn't as if she didn't know me, as if she didn't care. She did care.”

“She did, indeed.”

“Then why,” he persisted, “why did she leave me?”

“Don't you understand?” (Her voice went all thick and tender in her throat.) “She was thinking of the children. You couldn't see her with those teeny, teeny things, and not know that's what she would think of.”

“But,” he wailed, “it wasn't as if they were her own children.”

“Oh, how stupid you are! It was her own children she was thinking of.”

IV

“So that was her reason,” he said presently.

“Of course. Of course. It's the reason for the whole thing. It's the reason why, when a young man like you sees a young woman like me—I mean like the lady you thought I was—in an over-stimulating and tempestuous place like this, instead of taking off his silly hat to her, he should jam it well down over his silly ears and—quit!”

“You keep on saying 'what I thought you were.' I can't think how I could, or why I did.”

“I know why,” she replied serenely. “You fancied I had more decorations in my back hair than a respectable woman can well carry.”

She meditated.

“I thought I could afford a rose or two. But it seems I couldn't.”

“You? You can afford anything—anything. All the same——”

“Well, if I can afford to sit with you, out here, at a quarter past ten, on this old heathenish piazza, I suppose I can.”

“All the same——” he insisted.

She meditated again.

“All the same, if it wasn't those roses, I can't think what it was.”

“Dear lady, it wasn't the roses. You are so deadly innocent I think I ought to tell you what it was.”

“Do,” she said.

“It was, really, it was seeing you here, walking by yourself. It's so jolly late, you know.”

She drew herself up. “An American woman can walk anywhere, at any time.”

“Oh, yes, of course, of course. But for ordinary people, and in Latin countries, it's considered—well, a trifle singular.”

She smiled.

“You puzzle me,” he said. “Just now you seemed perfectly aware of it. And yet——”

And yet?” she raised her eyebrows.

“And yet, well—here you are, you know.”

“Here I am, and here I've got to stay, it seems. Well—before that?”

“Before that?”

“Before this?” She tapped her foot, impatient at the slow movement of his thought. “Up there in the hotel?”

“Oh, in the hotel. I suppose it was seeing you with——”

It was positively terrible, the look with which she faced him now. But his idea was that he had got to help her (hadn't she helped him?), and he was going through with it. It was permissible; it was even imperative, seeing the lengths, the depths, rather, of intimacy that they had gone to.

“Those two,” he said. “They don't seem exactly your sort.”

“You mean,” said she, “they are not exactly yours.”

She felt the shudder of his unspoken “Heaven forbid!”

“I suppose,” she continued, “if a European man sees any woman alone in a hotel with two men whom he can't size up right away as her blood relations, he's apt to think things. Well, for all you know, Mr. Tarbuck might be my uncle and Mr. Bingham-Booker my half-brother.”

“But they aren't.”

“No. As far as blood goes, they aren't any more to me than Adam. You have me there.”

There was a long pause which Thesiger, for the life of him, could not fill.

“Well,” she reverted, “Mr. Whoever-you-are, I don't know that I owe you an explanation——”

“You don't owe me anything.”

“All the same I'm going to give you one, so that next time you'll think twice before you make any more of your venerable European mistakes. It isn't every woman who'd know how to turn them to your advantage. Perhaps you've seen what's wrong with Mr. Bingham-Booker?”

He intimated that it was not practicable not to see. “If I may say so, that makes it all the more unfitting——”

“That's all you know about it, Mr.——”

“Thesiger,” he supplied.

“Mr. Thesiger. That boy had to be taken care of. He was killing himself with drink before we came away. He'd had a shock to his nerves, that's what brought it on. He was ordered to Europe as his one chance. Somebody had to go with him, somebody he'd mind, and there wasn't anybody he did mind but me. I've known him since he was a little thing in knickerbockers, that high. So we fixed it that I was to go out and look after Binky, and Binky's mother—he's her only son—was coming out too, to look after me. We cared for appearances as much as you do. Well, the day before we sailed her married daughter was taken sick, in the inconsiderate way that married daughters have, and she couldn't go. And, do you know, there wasn't a woman that could take her place. They were afraid, every one of them, because they knew.” She lowered her voice to utter it. “It makes him mad.”

“My dear lady, it was a job for a trained nurse.”

“Trained nurse? They couldn't afford one. And we didn't want a uniform hanging around and rubbing it into the poor boy and everybody else that he was an incurable dipsomaniac.”

“But you—you?”

“It was my job. You don't suppose I was going back on them?”

She faced him with it, and as he looked at her he took the measure of her magnificence, her brilliant bravery.

“Going back on him? Poor Binky, he was so good and dear—except for that. You never saw anything so cute. Up to all sorts of monkey-shines and beautiful surprises. And then”—she smiled with a tender irony—“he gave us this surprise.” From her face you could not have gathered how far from beautiful his last had been. “I was going to see that boy through if I had to go with him alone. I said to myself there are always people around who'll think things, whatever you do, but it doesn't matter what people who don't matter think. And then—Mr. Tarbuck wouldn't let me go alone. He said I'd have to have a man with me. A strong man. He'd known me—never mind how long—so it was all right. I don't know what I'd have done without Mr. Tarbuck.”

She paused on him.

“That man, whom you don't think fit for me to have around, is—well—he's the finest man I've ever known or want to know. He does the dearest things.”

She paused again, remembering them. And Thesiger, though her admiration of Tarbuck was obscurely hateful to him, owned that, fine as she was, she was at her finest as she praised him.

“Why,” she went on, “just because Binky couldn't afford a good room he gave him his. He said the view of the sea would set him up better than anything, and the garage was all the view he wanted, because he's just crazy on motors. And he's been like that all through. Never thought of himself once.”

“Oh, didn't he?” said Thesiger.

“Not once. Do you know, Mr. Tarbuck is a very big man. He runs one of the biggest businesses in the States; and at twenty-four hours' notice he left his big business to take care of itself, and came right away on this trip to take care of me.”

“Is he taking care of you now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well—if he can leave you—here——?”

“Why, he's here somewhere, looking for Mr. Bingham-Booker. He's routing about in those queer saloons and places.”

“And you?”

“I'm keeping my eye on the Casino. It's my fault he got away. You can't always tell when it's best to give him his head and when it isn't. I ought to have let him have that whiskey and soda. Do you see either of them?”

He looked round. “I think,” he said, “I see Mr. Tarbuck.”

She followed his gaze. Not five yards from them, planted on the pavement as if he grew there, was Mr. Tarbuck. His large back was turned to them with an expression at once ostentatious and discreet. Thesiger had the idea that it had been there for some considerable time, probably ever since his own appearance. Mr. Tarbuck's back said plainly that, though Mr. Tarbuck neither looked nor listened, that he would scorn the action, yet he was there, at his friend's service if she wanted him.

“I'm afraid,” said Roma Lennox, “he hasn't found him.”

“He doesn't seem to be looking.”

(He didn't.)

“Oh, I fancy,” said she, “he's just squinting round.”

“Can I do anything?”

“Why, yes, you could sit here and watch the Casino while I go and speak to Mr. Tarbuck.”

She went and spoke to him. Thesiger saw how affectionately the large man bent his head to her.

She returned to Thesiger, and Mr. Tarbuck (whom she had evidently released from sentry-go) stalked across the Place toward the American Bar.

“He is not in the Casino,” she said.

“Have you tried the American Bar?”

“Of course; we've tried all of them.”

“I say, I want to help you. Can't I?”

She shook her head.

“If I stayed on in the hotel, could I be of any use?”

“You're not going to stay.”

“Why shouldn't I? I've nothing else to do.”

“Oh, haven't you? What you have to do is to take that one-forty-four train to Nice, to-morrow afternoon.”

“It's no good,” he muttered gloomily. “I'm done for. You've made me see that plain enough.”

“All I made you see was why she turned you down. And now that you do see——”

“What difference does it make, my seeing it?”

“Why, all the difference. Do you think I'd have taken all this trouble if it wasn't for that—to have you go right away and make it up with her?”

“And with you—can I ever make it up?”

“Don't you worry.”

She rose. “I suppose appearances were against me; but——”

She held him for a moment with her eyes that measured him; then, as if she had done all that she wanted with him, she gave him back to himself, the finer for her handling.

“It wasn't for appearances you really cared.”