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Miss Tarrant's Temperament by May Sinclair

I

She had arrived.

Fanny Brocklebank, as she passed the library, had thought it worth while to look in upon Straker with the news.

Straker could not help suspecting his hostess of an iniquitous desire to see how he would take it. Or perhaps she may have meant, in her exquisite benevolence, to prepare him. Balanced on the arm of the opposite chair, the humor of her candid eyes chastened by what he took to be a remorseful pity, she had the air of preparing him for something.

Yes. She had arrived. She was upstairs, over his very head—resting.

Straker screwed up his eyes. Only by a prodigious effort could he see Miss Tarrant resting. He had always thought of her as an unwinking, untiring splendor, an imperishable fascination; he had shrunk from inquiring by what mortal process she renewed her formidable flame.

By a gesture of shoulders and of eyebrows Fanny conveyed that, whatever he thought of Philippa Tarrant, she was more so than ever. She—she was simply stupendous. It was Fanny's word. He would see. She would appear at teatime. If he was on the terrace by five he would see something worth seeing. It was now a quarter to.

He gathered that Fanny had only looked in to tell him that he mustn't miss it.

Not for worlds would he have missed it. But the clock had struck five, and Straker was still lingering in the library over the correspondence that will pursue a rising barrister in his flight to the country. He wasn't in a hurry. He knew that Miss Tarrant would wait for her moment, and he waited too.

A smile of acclamation greeted his dilatory entrance on the terrace. He was assured that, though late, he was still in time. He knew it. She would not appear until the last guest had settled peaceably into his place, until the scene was clear for her stunning, her invincible effect. Then, in some moment of pause, of expectancy——

Odd that Straker, who was so used to it, who knew so well how she would do it, should feel so fresh an interest in seeing her do it again. It was almost as if he trembled for her and waited, wondering whether, this time, she would fail of her effect, whether he would ever live to see her disconcerted.

Disconcerting things had happened before now at the Brocklebanks', things incongruous with the ancient peace, the dignity, the grand style of Amberley. It was owing to the outrageous carelessness with which Fanny Brocklebank mixed her house parties. She delighted in daring combinations and startling contrasts. Straker was not at all sure that he himself had not been chosen as an element in a daring combination. Fanny could hardly have forgotten that, two years ago, he had been an adorer (not altogether prostrate) of Miss Tarrant, and he had given her no grounds for supposing that he had changed his attitude. In the absence of authentic information Fanny could only suppose that he had been dished, regularly dished, first by young Reggy Lawson and then by Mr. Higginson. It was for Mr. Higginson that Philippa was coming to Amberley—this year; last year it had been for Reggy Lawson; the year before that it had been for him, Straker. And Fanny did not scruple to ask them all three to meet one another. That was her way. Some day she would carry it too far. Straker, making his dilatory entrance, became aware of the distance to which his hostess had carried it already. It had time to grow on him, from wonder to the extreme of certainty, in his passage down the terrace to the southwest corner. There, on the outskirts of the group, brilliantly and conspicuously disposed, in postures of intimate communion, were young Laurence Furnival and Mrs. Viveash. Straker knew and Fanny knew, nobody indeed knew better than Fanny, that those two ought never to have been asked together. In strict propriety they ought not to have been at Amberley at all. Nobody but Fanny would have dreamed of asking them, still less of combining them with old Lady Paignton, who was propriety itself. And there was Miss Probyn. Why Miss Probyn? What on earth did dear Fanny imagine that she could do with Mary Probyn—or for her, if it came to that? In Straker's experience of Fanny it generally did come to that—to her doing things for people. He was aware, most acutely aware at this moment, of what, two years ago, she would have done for him. He had an idea that even now, at this hour, she was giving him his chance with Philippa. There would no doubt be competition; there always had been, always would be competition; but her charming eyes seemed to assure him that he should have his chance.

They called him to her side, where, with a movement of protection that was not lost on him, she had made a place for him apart. She begged him just to look at young Reggy Lawson, who sat in agony, sustaining a ponderous topic with Miss Probyn. He remembered Reggy? Her half-remorseful smile implied that he had good cause to remember him. He did. He was sorry for young Reggy, and hoped that he found consolation in the thought that Mr. Higginson was no longer young.

He remarked that Reggy was looking uncommonly fit. “So,” he added irrelevantly, “is Mrs. Viveash. Don't you think?”

Fanny Brocklebank looked at Mrs. Viveash. It was obvious that she was giving her her chance, and that Mrs. Viveash was making the very most of it. She was leaning forward now, with her face thrust out toward Furnival; and on her face and on her mouth and in her eyes there burned visibly, flagrantly, the ungovernable, inextinguishable flame. As for the young man, while his eyes covered and caressed her, the tilt of his body, of his head, of his smile, and all his features expressed the insolence of possession. He was sure of her; he was sure of himself; he was sure of many things. He, at any rate, would never be disconcerted. Whatever happened he was safe. But she—there were things that, if one thing happened, she would have to face; and as she sat there, wrapped in her flame, she seemed to face them, to fling herself on the front of danger. You could see she was ready to take any risks, to pay any price for the chance that Fanny was giving her.

It really was too bad of Fanny.

“Why did you ask them?” Straker had known Fanny so long that he was privileged to inquire.

“Because—they wanted to be asked.”

Fanny believed, and said that she believed, in giving people what they wanted. As for the consequences, there was no mortal lapse or aberration that could trouble her serenity or bring a blush to her enduring candor. If you came a cropper you might be sure that Fanny's judgment of you would be pure from the superstition of morality. She herself had never swerved in affection or fidelity to Will Brocklebank. She took her excitements, lawful or otherwise, vicariously in the doomed and dedicated persons of her friends. Brocklebank knew it. Blond, spectacled, middle-aged, and ponderous, he regarded his wife's performances and other people's with a leniency as amazing as her own. He was hovering about old Lady Paignton in the background, where Straker could see his benignant gaze resting on Furnival and Mrs. Viveash.

“Poor dears,” said Fanny, as if in extenuation of her tolerance, “they are enjoying themselves.”

“So are you,” said Straker.

“I like to see other people happy. Don't you?”

“Yes. If I'm not responsible for their—happiness.”

“Who is responsible?” She challenged.

“I say, aren't you?”

“Me responsible? Have you seen her husband?”

“I have.”

“Well——” she left it to him.

“Where is Viveash?”

“At the moment he is in Liverpool, or should be—on business.”

“You didn't ask him?”

“Ask him? Is he the sort you can ask?”

“Oh, come, he's not so bad.”

“He's awful. He's impossible. He—he excuses everything.”

“I don't see him excusing this, or your share in it. If he knew.”

“If he knew what?”

“That you'd asked Furny down.”

“But he doesn't know. He needn't ever know.”

“He needn't. But people like Viveash have a perfect genius for the unnecessary. Besides——”

He paused before the unutterable, and she faced him with her smile of innocent interrogation.

“Well,” he said, “it's so jolly risky. These things, you know, only end one way.”

Fanny's eyes said plainly that to their vision all sorts of ways were possible.

“If it were any other man but——” He stopped short at Furnival's name.

Fanny lowered her eyes almost as if she had been convicted of indiscretion.

“You see,” she said, “any other man wouldn't do. He's the one and only man. There never was any other. That's the awful part of it for her.”

“Then why on earth did she marry the other fellow?”

“Because Furny couldn't marry her. And he wouldn't, either. That's not his way.”

“I know it's not his way. And if Viveash took steps, what then?”

“Then perhaps—he'd have to.”

“Good Lord——”

“Oh, it isn't a deep-laid plan.”

“I never said it was.”

He didn't think it. Marriages had been made at Amberley, and divorces, too; not by any plan of Fanny's, but by the risks she took. Seeing the dangerous way she mixed things, he didn't, he couldn't suspect her of a plan, but he did suspect her of an unholy joy in the prospect of possible explosions.

“Of course,” she said, reverting to her vision, “of course he'd have to.”

She looked at Straker with eyes where mischief danced a fling. It was clear that in that moment she saw Laurence Furnival the profane, Furnival the scorner of marriage, caught and tied: punished (she scented in ecstasy the delicate irony of it), so beautifully punished there where he had sinned.

Straker began to have some idea of the amusement Fanny got out of her house parties.

For a moment they had no more to say. All around them there was silence, born of Mrs. Viveash and her brooding, of young Reggy's trouble with Miss Probyn, and of some queer triangular complication in the converse of Brocklebank, Lady Paignton, and Mr. Higginson. In that moment and that pause Straker thought again of Miss Tarrant. It was, he said to himself, the pause and the moment for her appearance. And (so right was he in his calculation) she appeared.

II

He saw her standing in the great doorway of the east wing where the three steps led down on to the terrace. She stood on the topmost step, poised for her descent, shaking her scarf loose to drift in a white mist about her. Then she came down the terrace very slowly, and the measured sweep of her limbs suggested that all her movements would be accomplished to a large rhythm and with a superb delay.

Her effect (she had not missed it) was to be seen in all its wonder and perfection on Laurence Furnival's face. Averted suddenly from Mrs. Viveash, Furnival's face expressed the violence of his shock and his excitement. It was clear that he had never seen anything quite like Philippa Tarrant before, and that he found her incredibly and ambiguously interesting. Ambiguously—no other word did justice to the complexity of his facial expression. He did not know all at once what to make of Philippa, and, from further and more furtive manifestations of Furnival's, Straker gathered that the young man was making something queer. He had a sort of sympathy with him, for there had been moments when he himself had not known exactly what to make. He doubted whether even Fanny Brocklebank (who certainly made the best of her) had ever really known.

Whatever her inscrutable quality, this year she was, as Fanny had said, more so than ever. She was stupendous; and that although she was not strictly speaking beautiful. She had no color in her white face or in her black hair; she had no color but the morbid rose of her mouth and the brown of her eyes. Yet Mrs. Viveash, with all her vivid gold and carmine, went out before her; so did pretty Fanny, though fresh as paint and burnished to perfection; as for the other women, they were nowhere. She made the long golden terrace at Amberley a desert place for the illusion of her somber and solitary beauty. She was warm-fleshed, warm-blooded. The sunshine soaked into her as she stood there. What was more, she had the air of being entirely in keeping with Amberley's grand style.

Straker saw that from the first she was aware of Furnival. At three yards off she held him with her eyes, lightly, balancing him; then suddenly she let him go. She ceased to be aware of him. In the moment of introduction she turned from him to Straker.

“Mr. Straker—but—how delightful!”

“Don't say you didn't expect to see me here.”

“I didn't. And Mr. Higginson!” She laughed at the positive absurdity of it. “And Mr. Lawson and Miss Probyn.”

She held herself a little back and gazed upon the group with her wide and wonderful eyes.

“You look,” she said, “as if something interesting had happened.”

She had seated herself beside Straker so that she faced Mrs. Viveash and young Furnival. She appeared not to know that Furnival was staring at her.

She's the only interesting thing that's happened—so far,” he muttered. (There was no abatement of his stare.) Mrs. Viveash tried to look as if she agreed with him.

Miss Tarrant had heard him. Her eyes captured and held him again, a little longer this time. Straker, who watched the two, saw that something passed between them, between Philippa's gaze and Furnival's stare.

III

That evening he realized completely what Fanny had meant when she said that Philippa was more so than ever. He observed this increase in her quality, not only in the broad, massive impression that she spread, but in everything about her, her gestures, her phrases, the details of her dress. Every turn of her head and of her body displayed a higher flamboyance, a richer audacity, a larger volume of intention. He was almost afraid for her lest she should overdo it by a shade, a touch, a turn. You couldn't get away from her. The drawing-room at Amberley was filled with her, filled with white surfaces of neck and shoulders, with eyes somber yet aflood with light, eyes that were perpetually at work upon you and perpetually at play, that only rested for a moment to accentuate their movement and their play. This effect of her was as of many women, approaching, withdrawing, and sliding again into view, till you were aware with a sort of shock that it was one woman, Philippa Tarrant, all the time, and that all the play and all the movement were concentrated on one man, Laurence Furnival.

She never let him alone for a minute. He tried, to do him justice he tried—Straker saw him trying—to escape. But, owing to Miss Tarrant's multiplicity and omnipresence, he hadn't a chance. You saw him fascinated, stupefied by the confusion and the mystery of it. She carried him off under Mrs. Viveash's unhappy nose. Wherever she went she called him, and he followed, flushed and shamefaced. He showed himself now pitifully abject, and now in pitiful revolt. Once or twice he was positively rude to her, and Miss Tarrant seemed to enjoy that more than anything.

Straker had never seen Philippa so uplifted. She went like the creature of an inspiring passion, a passion moment by moment fulfilled and unappeased, renascent, reminiscent, and in all its moments gloriously aware of itself.

The pageant of Furnival's subjugation lasted through the whole of Friday evening. All Saturday she ignored him and her work on him. You would have said it had been undertaken on Mrs. Viveash's account, not his, just to keep Mrs. Viveash in her place and show her what she, Philippa, could do. All Sunday, by way of revenge, Furnival ignored Miss Tarrant, and consoled himself flagrantly with Mrs. Viveash.

It was on the afternoon of Sunday that Mr. Higginson was seen sitting out on the terrace with Miss Tarrant. Reggy Lawson had joined them, having extricated himself with some dexterity from the toils of the various ladies who desired to talk to him. His attitude suggested that he was taking his dubious chance against Mr. Higginson. It was odd that it should be dubious, Reggy's chance; he himself was so assured, so engaging in his youth and physical perfection. Straker would have backed him against any man he knew.

Fanny Brocklebank had sent Straker out into the rose garden with Mary Probyn. He left Miss Tarrant on the terrace alone with Mr. Higginson and Reggy. He left her talking to Mr. Higginson, listening to Mr. Higginson, behaving beautifully to Mr. Higginson, and ignoring Reggy. Straker, with Mary Probyn, walked round and round the rose garden, which was below Miss Tarrant's end of the terrace, and while he talked to Mary Probyn he counted the rounds. There were twenty to the mile. Every time he turned he had Miss Tarrant full in view, which distracted him from Mary Probyn. Mary didn't seem to mind. She was a nice woman; plain (in a nice, refined sort of way), and she knew it, and was nice to you whether you talked to her or not. He did not find it difficult to talk to Mary: she was interested in Miss Tarrant; she admired her, but not uncritically.

“She is the least bit too deliberate,” was her comment. “She calculates her effects.”

“She does,” said Straker, “so that she never misses one of them. She's a consummate artist.”

He had always thought her that. (Ninth round.) But as her friend he could have wished her a freer and sincerer inspiration. After all, there was something that she missed.

(Tenth round.) Miss Tarrant was still behaving beautifully to Mr. Higginson. Mary Probyn marveled to see them getting on so well together. (Fifteenth round.)

Reggy had left them; they were not getting on together quite so well.

(Twentieth round.) They had risen; they were coming down the steps into the garden; Straker heard Miss Tarrant ordering Mr. Higginson to go and talk to Miss Probyn. He did so with an alacrity which betrayed a certain fear of the lady he admired.

Miss Tarrant, alone with Straker, turned on him the face which had scared Mr. Higginson. She led him in silence and at a rapid pace down through the rose garden and out upon the lawn beyond. There she stood still and drew a deep breath.

“You had no business,” she said, “to go away like that and leave me with him.”

“Why not? Last year, if I remember——”

He paused. He remembered perfectly that last year she had contrived pretty often to be left with him. Last year Mr. Higginson, as the Liberal candidate for East Mickleham, seemed about to achieve a distinction, which, owing to his defeat by an overwhelming majority, he had unfortunately not achieved. He had not been prudent. He had stood, not only for East Mickleham, but for a principle. It was an unpopular principle, and he knew it, and he had stuck to it all the same, with obstinacy and absurdity, in the teeth, the furiously gnashing teeth, of his constituency. You couldn't detach Mr. Higginson from his principle, and as long as he stuck to it a parliamentary career was closed to him. It was sad, for he had a passion for politics; he had chosen politics as the one field for the one ponderous talent he possessed. The glory of it had hung ponderously about Mr. Higginson last year; but this year, cut off from politics, it was pitiable, the nonentity he had become. Straker could read that in his lady's alienated eyes.

“Last year,” he continued, “you seemed to find him interesting.”

“You think things must be what they seem?”

Her tone accused him of insufficient metaphysical acumen.

“There is no necessity. Still, as I said, last year——”

“Could Mr. Higginson, in any year, be interesting?”

“Did you hope,” Straker retorted, “to make him so by cultivating him?”

“It's impossible to say what Mr. Higginson might become under—centuries of cultivation. It would take centuries.”

That was all very well, he said to himself. If he didn't say that Miss Tarrant had pursued Mr. Higginson, he distinctly recalled the grace with which she had allowed herself to be pursued. She had cultivated him. And, having done it, having so flagrantly and palpably and under Straker's own eyes gone in for him, how on earth did she propose to get out of it now? There was, Straker said to himself again, no getting out of it. As for centuries——

“Let us go back,” he persisted, “to last year.”

“Last year he had his uses. He was a good watch-dog.”

“A what?”

“A watch-dog. He kept other people off.”

For a moment he was disarmed by the sheer impudence of it. He smiled a reminiscent smile.

“I should have thought his function was rather, wasn't it, to draw them on?”

Her triumphing eyes showed him that he had given himself into her hands. He should have been content with his reminiscent smile. Wasn't he, her eyes inquired, for a distinguished barrister, just a little bit too crude?

“You thought,” she said, “he was a decoy-duck? Why, wouldn't you have flown from your most adored if you'd seen her—with Mr. Higginson?”

Thus deftly she wove her web and wound him into it. That was her way. She would take your own words out of your mouth and work them into the brilliant fabric, tangling you in your talk. And not only did she tangle you in your talk, she confused you in your mental processes.

“You didn't seriously suppose,” she said, “that I could have had any permanent use for him?”

Straker's smile paid tribute to her crowning cleverness. He didn't know how much permanence she attached to matrimony, or to Mr. Higginson, but he knew that she had considered him in that preposterous relation. She faced him and his awful knowledge and floored him with just that—the thing's inherent, palpable absurdity. And if that wasn't clever of her!——

“Of course not.” He was eager in his assent; it was wrung from him. He added with apparent irrelevance, “After all, he's honest.”

“You must be something.”

She turned to him, radiant and terrible, rejoicing in her murderous phrase. It intimated that only by his honesty did Mr. Higginson maintain his foothold on existence.

“I think,” said Straker, “it's time to dress for dinner.”

They turned and went slowly toward the house. On the terrace, watch in hand, Mr. Higginson stood alone and conspicuous, shining in his single attribute of honesty.

That evening Furnival sought Straker out in a lonely corner of the smoke-room. His face was flushed and defiant. He put it to Straker point-blank.

“I say, what's she up to, that friend of yours, Miss T-Tarrant?”

He stammered over her name. Her name excited him.

Straker intimated that it was not given him to know what Miss Tarrant might or might not be up to.

Furnival shook his head. “I can't make her out. Upon my honor, I can't.”

Straker wondered what Furny's honor had to do with it.

“Why is she hanging round like this?”

“Hanging round?”

“Yes. You know what I mean. Why doesn't somebody marry her?” He made a queer sound in his throat, a sound of unspeakable interrogation. “Why haven't you married her yourself?”

Straker was loyal. “You'd better ask her why she hasn't married me.”

Furnival brooded. “I've a good mind to.”

“I should if I were you,” said Straker encouragingly.

Furnival sighed heavily. “Look here,” he said, “what's the matter with her? Is she difficult, or what?”

“Frightfully difficult,” said Straker, with conviction. His tone implied that Furnival would never understand her, that he hadn't the brain for it.

IV

And yet, Straker reminded himself, Furnival wasn't an ass. He had brain for other things, for other women; for poor Nora Viveash quite a remarkable sufficiency of brain, but not for Philippa Tarrant. You could see how he was being driven by her. He was in that state when he would have done anything to get her. There was no folly and no extravagance that he would not commit. And yet, driven as he was, it was clear that he resented being driven, that he was not going all the way. His kicking, his frantic dashes and plunges, showed that the one extravagance, the one folly he would not commit was matrimony.

Straker saw that very plainly. He wondered whether Miss Tarrant would see it, too, and if she did whether it would make any difference in her method.

It was very clear to Straker that Miss Tarrant was considering Furnival, as she had considered him, as she had considered young Reggy Lawson, as she had considered Mr. Higginson, who was not so young. As for Reggy and his successor, she had done with them. All that could be known of their fatuity she knew. Perhaps they had never greatly interested her. But she was interested in Laurence Furnival. She told Straker that he was the most amusing man of her acquaintance. She was, Straker noticed, perpetually aware of him. All Monday morning, in the motor, Miss Tarrant in front with Brocklebank, Furnival with Mrs. Viveash, and Straker behind, it was an incessant duel between Furnival's eyes and the eyes that Miss Tarrant had in the back of her head. All Monday afternoon she had him at her heels, at her elbow. With every gesture she seemed to point to him and say: “Look at this little animal I've caught. Did you ever see such an amusing little animal?”

She was quite aware that it was an animal, the creature she had captured and compelled to follow her; it might hide itself now and then, but it never failed to leap madly forward at her call. The animal in Furnival, so simple, so undisguised, and so spontaneous, was what amused her.

Its behavior that Monday after tea on the terrace was one of the most disconcerting things that had occurred at Amberley. You could see that Mrs. Viveash couldn't bear it, that she kept looking away, that Brocklebank didn't know where to look, and that even Fanny was perturbed.

As for Mr. Higginson, it was altogether too much for him and his honesty. He was visibly alienated, and from that moment he devoted himself and his honesty to Mary Probyn.

Young Reggy was alienated, too, so profoundly that he spoke about it aside to Straker.

“Between you and me,” said young Reggy, “it's a bit too strong. I can't stick it, the way she goes on. What does she mean by it, Straker?”

People were always appealing to Straker to tell them what women meant by it. As if he knew.

He was glad to see that young Reggy had turned, that he could turn. He liked Reggy, and he felt that he owed him a good deal. If it had not been for Reggy he might, two years ago, have been numbered as one of the fallen. He had been pretty far gone two years ago, so far that he had frequently wondered how it was that he had not fallen. Now it was clear to him. It had been her method with Reggy that had checked his own perilous approaches. It had offended his fine sense of the fitting (a fastidiousness which, in one of her moods of ungovernable frankness, she had qualified as “finicking"). For Reggy was a nice boy, and her method had somehow resulted in making him appear not so nice. It nourished and brought to the surface that secret, indecorous, primordial quality that he shared, though in less splendor and abundance, with Laurence Furnival. He had kept his head, or had seemed inimitably to have kept it. At any rate, he had preserved his sense of decency. He was incapable of presenting on the terrace at Amberley the flaming pageant of his passion. Straker was not sure how far this restraint, this level-headedness of young Reggy, had been his undoing. It might be that Miss Tarrant had required of him a pageant. Anyhow, Reggy's case had been very enlightening to Straker.

And it was through Reggy, or rather through his own intent and breathless observation of the two, that Straker had received his final illumination. It had come suddenly in one inspiring and delivering flash; he could recall even now his subsequent sensations, the thrilling lucidity of soul, the prodigious swiftness of body, after his long groping in obscurities and mysteries. For it had been a mystery to him how she had resisted Reggy in his young physical perfection and with the charm he had, a charm that spiritualized him, a charm that should have appealed to everything that was supersensuous in Philippa Tarrant (and Philippa would have had you believe that there was very little in her that was not). It was incomprehensible therefore to Straker how any woman who had a perfect body, with a perfect heart in it, could have resisted Reggy at his best—and for Mr. Higginson.

To be sure, compared with Mr. Higginson he was impecunious; but that, to Straker's mind, was just what gave him, with the other things, his indomitable distinction. Reggy's distinction stood straight and clean, naked of all accessories. An impecuniousness so unexpressed, so delicate, so patrician could never have weighed with Philippa against Reggy's charm. That she should deliberately have reckoned up his income, compared it with Mr. Higginson's, and deducted Reggy with the result was inconceivable. Whatever Straker had thought of her he had never thought of her as mercenary. It wasn't that. He had found out what it was. Watching her at play with Reggy's fire (for to the inconspicuous observer the young man had flamed sufficiently), it had struck Straker that she herself was flameless.

It was in the nature of Reggy's perfection that it called, it clamored for response. And Philippa had not responded. She hadn't got it in her to respond.

All this came back vividly to Straker as he watched her now on the terrace, at play with the fiercer conflagration that was Laurence Furnival.

She was cold; she had never kindled, never would, never could kindle. Her eyes did, if you like; they couldn't help it—God made them lights and flames—but her mouth couldn't. To Straker in his illumination all the meaning of Philippa Tarrant was in her mouth. The small, exquisite thing lacked fulness and the vivid rose that should have been the flowering of her face. A certain tightness at the corners gave it an indescribable expression of secrecy and mystery and restraint. He saw in it the almost monstrous denial and mockery of desire. He could not see it, as he had seen Nora Viveash's mouth, curved forward, eager, shedding flame at the brim, giving itself to lips that longed for it. Philippa's mouth was a flower that opened only at the touch, the thrill of her own gorgeous egoism. He read in it the triumph of Philippa over the flesh and blood of her race. She had nothing in her of the dead. That was the wonder of her. The passion of the dead had built up her body to the semblance and the promise of their own delight; their desire, long forgotten, rose again, lightening and darkening in her amazing eyes; the imperishable instinct that impelled them to clothe her in their flesh and blood survived in her, transfigured in strange impulses and intuitions, but she herself left unfulfilled their promise and their desire.

Yes—that was what her mouth meant; it was treacherous; it betrayed the promise of her body and her eyes. And Furnival was feeding his infatuation on the meanings of her eyes and of her body—meanings that were unmistakable to Straker.

As if she had known what the older man was thinking of her, Philippa rose abruptly and turned her back on Furnival and began to make violent love to old Lady Paignton. Her eyes challenged Straker's across the terrace. They said: “Look at me. I will be as beautiful for this old lady as for any male thing on earth. More beautiful. Have I ever set my cap so becomingly at any of you as I am setting it now at her? Have you ever seen finer eyes than these that I make at her, that I lavish on her out of the sheer exuberance of my nature? Very well, then; doesn't that prove that you're wrong in all things you've been thinking about me. I know what you've been thinking!”

As if she knew what he was thinking she made herself beautiful for him. She allowed him presently to take her for a walk, for quite a long walk. The woods of Amberley lured them, westward, across the shining fields. They went, therefore, through the woods and back by the village in the cool of the evening.

He had seldom, he might say he had never, seen Philippa in so agreeable a mood. She had sunk her sex. She was tired of her terrible game, the game that Straker saw through; she was playing another one, a secret, innocent, delightful game. She laid herself out to amuse Straker, instead of laying him out (as he put it), on the table, to amuse herself.

“Philippa,” he said, “you've been adorable for the last half hour.”

“For the last half hour I've been myself.”

She smiled as if to herself, a secret, meditative smile. The mystery of it was not lost on Straker.

“I can always be myself,” she said, “when I'm with you.”

“For half an hour,” he murmured.

She went on. “You're not tiresome, like the others. I don't know what there is about you, but you don't bore me.”

“Perhaps not—for half an hour.”

“Not for millions of half hours.”

“Consecutive?”

“Oh, yes.”

She tilted her head back and gazed at him with eyes narrowed and slanting under their deep lids.

“Not in an immortality,” she said.

She laughed aloud her joyous appreciation of him.

Straker was neither uplifted nor alarmed. He knew exactly where he stood with her. She was not considering him; she was not trying to get at him; she was aware of his illumination and his disenchantment; she was also aware of his continuous interest in her, and it was his continuous interest, the study that he made of her, that interested Philippa. She was anxious that he should get her right, that he should accept her rendering of herself. She knew at each moment what he was thinking of her, and the thing that went on between them was not a game—it was a duel, an amicable duel, between her lucidity and his. Philippa respected his lucidity.

“All the same,” said Straker, “I am not the most amusing man you know. You don't find me exciting.”

“No.” She turned it over. “No; I don't find you at all exciting or very amusing. How is it, then, that you don't bore me?”

“How can I say?”

“I think it is because you're so serious, because you take me seriously.”

“But I don't. Not for a moment. As for an immortality of seriousness——”

“At least,” she said, “you would admit that possibly I might have a soul. At any rate, you behave as if you did.”

He dodged it dexterously.

“That's where the immortality comes in, is it?”

“Of course,” said Philippa.

V

She went on amusing Straker all evening, and after dinner she made him take her into the conservatory.

The conservatory at Amberley is built out fanwise from the big west drawing-room on to the southwest corner of the terrace; it is furnished as a convenient lounge, and you sit there drinking coffee, and smoking, and admiring Brocklebank's roses, which are the glory of Amberley. And all among Brocklebank's roses they came upon Furnival and Mrs. Viveash.

Among the roses she shimmered and flushed in a gown of rose and silver. Among the roses she was lovely, sitting there with Furnival. And Straker saw that Miss Tarrant was aware of the loveliness of Mrs. Viveash, and that her instinct woke in her.

She advanced, trailing behind her the long, diaphanous web of her black gown. When she was well within the range of Furnival's sensations she paused to smell a rose, bending her body backward and sideward so that she showed to perfection the deep curved lines that swept from her shoulders to her breasts, and from her breasts downward to her hips. A large diamond star hung as by an invisible thread upon her neck: it pointed downward to the hollow of her breasts. There was no beauty that she had that was not somehow pointed to, insisted on, held forever under poor Furnival's excited eyes.

But in a black gown, among roses, she showed disadvantageously her dead whiteness and her morbid rose. She was aware of that. Mrs. Viveash, glowing among the roses, had made her aware.

“Why did we ever come here?” she inquired of Straker. “These roses are horribly unbecoming to me.”

“Nothing is unbecoming to you, and you jolly well know it,” said Furnival.

She ignored it.

“Just look at their complexions. They oughtn't to be allowed about.”

She picked one and laid it against the dead-white hollow of her breast, and curled her neck to look at it there; then she shook her head at it in disapproval, took it away, and held it out an inch from Furnival's face. He recoiled slightly.

“It won't bite,” she murmured. “It'll let you stroke it.” She stroked it herself, with fingers drawn tenderly, caressingly, over petals smooth and cool as their own skin. “I believe it can feel. I believe it likes it.”

Furnival groaned. Straker heard him; so did Mrs. Viveash. She stirred in her seat, causing a spray of Dorothy Perkins to shake as if it indeed felt and shared her terror. Miss Tarrant turned from Furnival and laid her rose on Mrs. Viveash's shoulder, where it did no wrong.

“It's yours,” she said; “or a part of you.”

Mrs. Viveash looked up at Furnival, and her face flickered for a moment. Furnival did not see her face; he was staring at Miss Tarrant.

“Ah,” he cried, “how perfect! You and I'll have to dry up, Straker, unless you can go one better than that.”

“I shouldn't dream,” said Straker, “of trying to beat Miss Tarrant at her own game.”

“If you know what it is. I'm hanged if I do.”

Furnival was tearing from its tree a Caroline Testout, one of Brocklebank's choicest blooms. Miss Tarrant cried out:

“Oh, stop him, somebody. They're Mr. Brocklebank's roses.”

“They ain't a part of Brockles,” Furnival replied.

He approached her with Brocklebank's Caroline Testout, and, with his own dangerous, his outrageous fervor, “You say it f-f-feels,” he stammered. “It's what you want, then—something t-tender and living about you. Not that s-scin-t-tillating thing you've got there. It tires me to look at it.” He closed his eyes.

“You needn't look at it,” she said.

“I can't help it. It's part of you. I believe it grows there. It makes me look at it.”

His words came shaken from him in short, savage jerks. To Straker, to Mrs. Viveash, he appeared intolerable; but he had ceased to care how he appeared to anybody. He had ceased to know that they were there. They turned from him as from something monstrous, intolerable, indecent. Mrs. Viveash's hands and mouth were quivering, and her eyes implored Straker to take her away somewhere where she couldn't see Furnival and Philippa Tarrant.

He took her out on to the terrace. Miss Tarrant looked after them.

“That rose belongs to Mrs. Viveash now,” she said. “You'd better go and take it to her.”

Furnival flung the Caroline Testout on the floor. He trod on the Caroline Testout. It was by accident, but still he trod on it; so that he seemed much more brutal than he was.

“It's very hot in here,” said she. “I'm going on to the terrace.”

“Let's go down,” said he, “into the garden. We can talk there.”

“You seem to be able to talk anywhere,” said she.

“I have to,” said Furnival.

She went out and walked slowly down the terrace to the east end where Straker sheltered Mrs. Viveash.

Furnival followed her.

“Are you coming with me or are you not?” he insisted. “I can't get you a minute to myself. Come out of this, can't you? I want to talk to you.”

“And I,” said Miss Tarrant, “want to talk to Mrs. Viveash.”

“You don't. You want to tease her. Can't you leave the poor woman alone for a minute? She's happy there with Straker.”

“I want to see how happy she is,” said Miss Tarrant.

“For God's sake!” he cried. “Don't. It's my last chance. I'm going to-morrow.” Miss Tarrant continued to walk like one who did not hear. “I may never see you again. You'll go off somewhere. You'll disappear. I can't trust you.”

Suddenly she stood still.

“You are going to-morrow?”

“Not,” said Furnival, “if you'd like me to stay. That's what I want to talk to you about. Let's go down into the east walk. It's dark there, and they can't hear us.”

“They have heard you. You'd better go back to Mrs. Viveash.”

His upper lip lifted mechanically, but he made no sound. He stood for a moment staring at her, obstructing her path. Then he turned.

“I shall go back to her,” he said.

He strode to Mrs. Viveash and called her by her name. His voice had a queer vibration that sounded to Miss Tarrant like a cry.

“Nora—you'll come with me, won't you?”

Mrs. Viveash got up without a word and went with him. Miss Tarrant, standing beside Straker on the terrace, saw them go down together into the twilight of the east walk between the yew hedges.

Philippa said something designed to distract Straker's attention; and still, with an air of distracting him, of sheltering her sad sister, Mrs. Viveash, she led him back into the house.

Furnival returned five minutes later, more flushed than ever and defiant.

That night Straker, going down the long corridor to his bedroom, saw Fanny Brocklebank and Philippa in front of him. They went slowly, Fanny's head leaning a little toward Philippa's. Not a word of what Philippa was saying reached Straker, but he saw her turn with Fanny into Fanny's room. As he passed the door he was aware of Fanny's voice raised in deprecation, and of Philippa's, urgent, imperative; and he knew, as well as if he had heard her, that Philippa was telling Fanny about Furnival and Nora Viveash.

VI

It was as if nothing had happened that Philippa came to him on the terrace the next morning (which was a Tuesday) before breakfast. As if nothing had happened, as if she had hardly met Furnival, as if she were considering him for the first time, she began cross-questioning Straker.

“You know everybody. Tell me about Laurence Furnival. Is he any good?”

Straker replied that she had better inquire at the Home Office, the scene of Furnival's industry.

Philippa waved the Home Office aside. “I mean, will he ever do anything?”

“Ask Fanny Brocklebank.”

He knew very well that she had asked her, that she had got out of Fanny full particulars as to Furnival's family and the probable amount of his income, and that she had come to him as the source of a finer information.

“Fanny wouldn't know,” said she.

“Then,” said Straker, “ask Mrs. Viveash.”

She turned on him a cold and steady gaze that rebuked his utterance. How dare he, it said, how dare he mention Mrs. Viveash in her presence?

She answered quietly: “There will hardly be time, I think. Mrs. Viveash is going to-day.”

Straker turned on her now, and his look expressed a sort of alien and repugnant admiration. He wondered how far she had gone, how much she had told, by what intimations she had prevailed with Fanny to get Mrs. Viveash out of the house. Mrs. Viveash, to be sure, had only been invited for the week-end, from the Friday to the Tuesday, but it had been understood that, if her husband prolonged his business in Liverpool, she was to stay till his return. Viveash was still in Liverpool—that had been known at Amberley yesterday—and Mrs. Viveash had not been asked to stay. It had been quite simple. Mrs. Viveash, not having been asked to stay, would be obliged to go.

“And is Furnival going, too?” he asked.

“I believe not,” said Philippa.

An hour later Mrs. Viveash joined them in the avenue where he waited for Miss Tarrant, who had proposed that he should walk with her to the village.

In the clear and cruel light of the morning Mrs. Viveash showed him a blanched face and eyes that had seen with miserable lucidity the end of illusion, the end of passion, and now saw other things and were afraid.

“You know I'm going?” she said.

Straker said that he was sorry to hear it; by which he meant that he was sorry for Mrs. Viveash.

She began to talk to him of trifles, small occurrences at Amberley, of the affair of Mr. Higginson and Miss Probyn, and then, as by a natural transition, of Miss Tarrant.

“Do you like Miss Tarrant?” she asked suddenly, point-blank.

Straker jibbed. “Well, really—I—I haven't thought about it.”

He hadn't. He knew how he stood with her, how he felt about her; but whether it amounted to liking or not liking he had not yet inquired. But that instant he perceived that he did not like her, and he lied.

“Of course I like her. Why shouldn't I?”

“Because”—she was very slow about it—“somehow I should have said that you were not that sort.”

Her light on him came halting, obscured, shivering with all the vibrations of her voice; but he could see through it, down to the sources of her thinking, to something secret, luminous, and profound—her light on Philippa.

She was instantly aware of what she had let him see.

“Oh,” she cried, “that was horrid of me. It was feline.”

“It was a little,” he admitted.

“It's because I know she doesn't like me.”

“Why not say at once it's because you don't like her?”

Her eyes, full, lucid, charged with meaning, flashed to him. She leaped at the chance he offered her to be sincere.

“I don't,” she said. “How can I?”

She talked again of trifles, to destroy all cohesion between that utterance and her next.

“I say, I want you to do something for me. I want you to look after Furny.”

“To look after him?”

“To stand by him, if—if he has a bad time.”

He promised her. And then Miss Tarrant claimed him. She was in her mood of yesterday; but the charm no longer worked on him; he did not find her adorable that morning.

After a longish round they were overtaken by Brocklebank in his motor-car. He and Furnival were returning from the station after seeing Mrs. Viveash off (Furny had had the decency to see her off). Brocklebank gave a joyous shout and pulled up two yards in front of them.

As they stood beside the car Straker noticed that Furnival's face had a queer, mottled look, and that the muscles of his jaw were set in an immobility of which he could hardly have believed him capable. He was actually trying to look as if he didn't see Miss Tarrant. And Miss Tarrant was looking straight at him.

Brocklebank wanted to know if Miss Tarrant cared for a run across the Hog's Back before luncheon.

Miss Tarrant did care—if Mr. Straker did.

Furnival had got down from his seat beside Brocklebank and had opened the door of the car, ignoring Straker. He had managed in his descent to preserve his attitude of distance, so much so that Straker was amazed to see him enter the car after Miss Tarrant and take his, Straker's, place beside her. He accomplished this maneuver in silence, and with an air so withdrawn, so obscurely predestined, that he seemed innocent of all offense. It was as if he had acted from some malign compulsion of which he was unaware.

Now Brocklebank in his motor was an earnest and a silent man. Straker, left to himself, caught fragments of conversation in the rear. Miss Tarrant began it.

“Why did you give up your seat?”

“You see why,” said Furnival.

Straker could see him saying it, flushed and fervent. Then Furnival went one better, and overdid it.

“There's nothing I wouldn't give up for a chance like this.”

Straker heard Philippa laughing softly. He knew she meant him to hear her, he knew she was saying to him, “Could anything be more absurd than the creature that I've got in here?”

There was a pause, and then Furnival broke out again:

“I've seen Mrs. Viveash off.”

“That,” said Miss Tarrant reprovingly, “was the least you could do.”

Furnival made that little fierce, inarticulate sound of his before he spoke. “I hope you're satisfied. I hope I've done enough to please you.”

“Oh, quite enough. I shouldn't attempt to do anything more if I were you.”

After that there was silence, in which Straker felt that Furnival was raging.

VII

Fanny Brocklebank came to him the next morning in the library, where he had hidden himself. She was agitated.

“Put that book down,” she said. “I want to talk to you.”

Straker obeyed.

“Jimmy—I'm fond of Philippa. I am, really.”

“Well—what's up?”

“Philippa's making a fool of herself and she doesn't know it.”

“Trust Philippa!”

“To know it?”

“To make a fool of anybody on earth—except herself.”

“This is different. It's Larry Furnival.”

“It is. And did you ever see such a spectacle of folly?”

“He doesn't understand her. That's where the folly comes in.”

“He's not alone in it.”

But Fanny was past the consolations of his cynicism. Her face, not formed for gravity, was grave.

“He's got an idea in his head. An awful one. I'm convinced he thinks she isn't proper.”

“Oh, I say!”

“Well, really—considering that he doesn't know her—I can't altogether blame him. I told her so straight out.”

“What did she say?”

“She said how funny it will be when he finds out how proper she is.”

“So it will, won't it?”

Fanny considered the point.

“It's not half as funny as she thinks it. And, funniness and all, she didn't like it.”

“You can hardly expect her to,” said Straker.

“Of course,” said Fanny, musing, “there's a sort of innocence about him, or else he couldn't think it.”

Straker admitted that, as far as Philippa went, that might be said of him.

“That's why I hate somehow to see him made a fool of. It doesn't seem fair play, you know. It's taking advantage of his innocence.”

Straker had to laugh, for really, Furny's innocence!

“He always was,” Fanny meditated aloud, “a fool about women.”

“Oh, well, then,” said Straker cheerfully. “She can't make him——”

“She can. She does. She draws out all the folly in him. I'm fond of Philippa——”

That meant that Fanny was blaming Philippa as much as she could blame anybody. Immorality she understood, and could excuse; for immorality there was always some provocation; what she couldn't stand was the unfairness of Philippa's proceeding, the inequality in the game.

“I'm very fond of her, but—she's bad for him, Jimmy. She's worse, far worse, than Nora, poor dear.”

“I shouldn't worry about him if I were you.”

“I do worry. You see, you can't help liking him. There's something about Furny—I don't know what it is, unless it's the turn of his nose——”

“Do you think Philippa likes him? Do you think she's at all taken with the turn of his nose?”

“If she only would be! Not that he means to marry her. That's the one point where he's firm. That's where he's awful. Why, oh, why did I ever ask them? I thought he was safe with Nora.”

“Did you?”

“Something must be done,” she cried, “to stop it.”

“Who's to do it?”

“You or I. Or Will. Anybody!”

“Look here, Fanny, let's get it quite clear. What are you worrying about? Are you saving Philippa from Furnival, or Furnival from Philippa?”

“Philippa,” Fanny moaned, “doesn't want saving. She can take care of herself.”

“I see. You are fond of Philippa, but your sympathies are with Furny?”

“Well he can feel, and Philippa——”

She left it there for him, as her way was.

“Precisely. Then why worry about Philippa?”

“Because it's really awful, and it's in my house that it'll happen.”

“How long are they staying?”

“Lord knows how long.”

“Poor Fanny. You can't get them to go, can you?”

“I've thought of things. I've told Will he must have an illness.”

“And will he?”

“Not he. He says, as I asked them, I ought to have the illness. But if I did she'd stay and nurse me. Besides, if we ousted the whole lot to-morrow, they'll meet again. He'll see to that; and so will Philippa.”

There was a long pause.

“I want you to do it. I want you to tell her.”

“Good Lord, what am I to tell her?”

“Tell her it isn't nice; tell her it isn't worth while; tell her Furny isn't fair game; tell her anything you can think of that'll stop her.”

“I don't see myself——”

“I do. She won't listen to anybody but you.”

“Why me?”

“She respects you.”

“I doubt it. Why should she?”

“Because you've never made yourself a spectacle of folly. You've never told her you're in love with her.”

“But I'm not,” said poor Straker.

“She doesn't know that. And if she did she'd respect you all the more.”

“Dear Fanny, I'd do a great deal for you, but I can't do that. I can't, really. It wouldn't be a bit of good.”

“You could speak,” Fanny said, “to Furny.”

“I couldn't.”

“Why not?” she cried, in desperation.

“Because, if I did, I should have to assume things—things that you cannot decently assume. I can't speak to him. Not, that is, unless he speaks to me.”

VIII

He did speak to him that very night.

It was after ten o'clock, and Straker, who ought to have been in the drawing-room playing bridge, or in the billiard-room playing billiards, or in the smoking-room talking to Brocklebank—Straker, who ought to have known better, had sneaked into the library to have a look at a brief he'd just got. He ought to have known better, for he knew, everybody knew, that after ten o'clock the library at Amberley was set apart as a refuge for any two persons who desired uninterrupted communion with each other. He himself, in the library at Amberley—but that was more than two years ago, so far before Philippa's time that he did not associate her with the library at Amberley. He only knew that Furnival had spent a good deal of time in it with Nora Viveash, and poor Nora was gone. It was poor Nora's departure, in fact, that made him feel that the library was now open to him.

Now the library at Amberley was fitted, as a library should be, with a silent door, a door with an inaudible latch and pneumatic hinges. It shut itself behind Straker with a soft sigh.

The long room was dim and apparently deserted. Drawn blinds obscured the lucid summer night behind the three windows opposite the door. One small electric globe hung lit under its opaline veil in the corner by the end window on the right.

Straker at the doorway turned on the full blaze of the great ring that hung above the central table where he meant to work. It revealed, seated on the lounge in the inner, the unilluminated corner on the right, Miss Tarrant and Laurence Furnival.

To his intense relief, Straker perceived that the whole length of the lounge was between the two. Miss Tarrant at her end was sitting bolt upright with her scarf gathered close about her; she was looking under her eyelids and down her beautiful nose at Furnival, who at his end was all huddled among the cushions as if she had flung him there. Their attitudes suggested that their interview had ended in distance and disaster. The effect was so marked that Straker seized it in an instant.

He was about to withdraw as noiselessly as he had entered, but Miss Tarrant (not Furnival; Furnival had not so much as raised his head)—Miss Tarrant had seen him and signed to him to stay.

“You needn't go,” she said. “I'm going.”

She rose and passed her companion without looking at him, in a sort of averted and offended majesty, and came slowly down the room. Straker waited by the door to open it for her.

On the threshold she turned to him and murmured: “Don't go away. Go in and talk to him—about—about anything.”

It struck him as extraordinary that she should say this to him, that she should ask him to go in and see what she had done to the man.

The door swung on her with its soft sigh, shutting him in with Furnival. He hesitated a moment by the door.

“Come in if you want to,” said Furnival. “I'm going, too.”

He had risen, a little unsteadily. As he advanced, Straker saw that his face bore traces of violent emotion. His tie was a little crooked and his hair pushed from the forehead that had been hidden by his hands. His moustache no longer curled crisply upward; it hung limp over his troubled mouth. Furnival looked as if he had been drinking. But Furnival did not drink. Straker saw that he meant in his madness to follow Philippa.

He turned down the lights that beat on him.

“Don't,” said Furnival. “I'm going all right.”

Straker held the door to. “I wouldn't,” he said, “if I were you. Not yet.”

Furnival made the queer throat sound that came from him when words failed him.

Straker put his hand on the young man's shoulder. He remembered how Mrs. Viveash had asked him to look after Furny, to stand by him if he had a bad time. She had foreseen, in the fierce clairvoyance of her passion, that he was going to have one. And, by Heaven! it had come.

Furnival struggled for utterance. “All right,” he said thickly.

He wasn't going after her. He had been trying to get away from Straker; but Straker had been too much for him. Besides, he had understood Straker's delicacy in turning down the lights, and he didn't want to show himself just yet to the others.

They strolled together amicably toward the lounge and sat there.

Straker had intended to say, “What's up?” but other words were given him.

“What's Philippa been up to?”

Furnival pulled himself together. “Nothing,” he replied. “It was me.”

“What did you do?”

Furnival was silent.

“Did you propose to her, or what?”

“I made,” said Furnival, “a sort of p-proposal.”

“That she should count the world well lost—was that it?”

“Well, she knew I wasn't going to marry anybody, and I knew she wasn't going to marry me. Now was she?”

“No. She most distinctly wasn't.”

“Very well, then—how was I to know? I could have sworn——”

He hid his face in his hands again.

“The fact is, I made the devil of a mistake.”

“Yes,” said Straker. “I saw you making it.”

Furnival's face emerged angry.

“Then why on earth didn't you tell me? I asked you. Why couldn't you tell me what she was like?”

“You don't tell,” said Straker.

Furnival groaned. “I can't make it out now. It's not as if she hadn't got a t-t-temperament.”

“But she hasn't. That was the mistake you made.”

“You'd have made it yourself,” said Furnival.

“I have. She's taken me in. She looks as if she had temperament—she behaves as if she had—oceans. And she hasn't, not a scrap.”

“Then what does she do it for? What does she do it for, Straker?”

“I don't know what she does it for. She doesn't know herself. There's a sort of innocence about her.”

“I suppose,” said Furnival pensively, “it's innocence.”

“Whatever it is, it's the quality of her defect. She can't let us alone. It amuses her to see us squirm. But she doesn't know, my dear fellow, what it feels like; because, you see, she doesn't feel. She couldn't tell, of course, the lengths you'd go to.”

Straker was thinking how horrible it must have been for Philippa. Then he reflected that it must have been pretty horrible for Furny, too—so unexpected. At that point he remembered that for Philippa it had not been altogether unexpected; Fanny had warned her of this very thing.

“How—did she—take it?” he inquired tentatively.

“My dear fellow, she sat there—where you are now—and lammed into me. She made me feel as if I were a cad and a beast and a ruffian—as if I wanted k-kick-kicking. She said she wouldn't have seen that I existed if it hadn't been for Fanny Brocklebank—I was her friend's guest—and when I tried to defend myself she turned and talked to me about things, Straker, till I blushed. I'm b-blushing now.”

He was.

“And, of course, after that, I've got to go.”

“Was that all?” said Straker.

“No, it wasn't. I can't tell you the other things she said.”

For a moment Furny's eyes took on a marvelous solemnity, as if they were holding for a moment some sort of holy, supersensuous vision.

Then suddenly they grew reminiscent.

“How could I tell, Straker, how could I possibly tell?”

And Straker, remembering the dance that Philippa had led him, and her appearance, and the things, the uncommonly queer things she had done to him with her eyes, wondered how Furny could have told, how he could have avoided drawing the inferences, the uncommonly queer inferences, he drew. He'd have drawn them himself if he had not known Philippa so well.

“What I want to know,” said Furnival, “is what she did it for?”

He rose, straightening himself.

“Anyhow, I've got to go.”

“Did she say so?”

“No, she didn't. She said it wasn't necessary. That was innocent, Straker, if you like.”

“Oh, jolly innocent,” said Straker.

“But I'm going all the same. I'm going before breakfast, by the seven-fifty train.”

And he went. Straker saw him off.

IX

That was far and away the most disconcerting thing that had happened at Amberley within Straker's recollection.

It must have been very disagreeable for Philippa.

When, five days ago, he had wondered if he would ever live to see Philippa disconcerted, he had not contemplated anything like this. Neither, he was inclined to think, had Philippa in the beginning. She could have had no idea what she was letting herself in for. That she had let herself in was, to Straker's mind, the awful part of it.

As he walked home from the station he called up all his cleverness, all his tact and delicacy, to hide his knowledge of it from Philippa. He tried to make himself forget it, lest by a word or a look she should gather that he knew. He did not want to see her disconcerted.

The short cut to Amberley from the station leads through a side gate into the turning at the bottom of the east walk. Straker, as he rounded the turning, saw Miss Tarrant not five yards off, coming down the walk.

He was not ready for her, and his first instinct, if he could have yielded to it, would have been to fly. That was his delicacy.

He met her with a remark on the beauty of the morning. That was his tact.

He tried to look as if he hadn't been to see Furnival off at the station, as if the beauty of the morning sufficiently accounted for his appearance at that early hour. The hour, indeed, was so disgustingly early that he would have half an hour to put through with Philippa before breakfast.

But Miss Tarrant ignored the beauty of the morning.

“What have you done,” she said, “with Mr. Furnival?”

It was Straker who was disconcerted now.

“What have I done with him?”

“Yes. Where is he?”

Straker's tact was at a disadvantage, but his delicacy instantly suggested that if Miss Tarrant was not disconcerted it was because she didn't know he knew. That made it all right.

“He's in the seven-fifty train.”

A light leaped in her eyes; the light of defiance and pursuit, the light of the hunter's lust frustrated and of the hunter's ire.

“You must get him back again,” she said.

“I can't,” said Straker. “He's gone on business.” (He still used tact with her.) “He had to go.”

“He hadn't,” said she. “That's all rubbish.”

Her tone trod his scruples down and trampled on them, and Straker felt that tact and delicacy required of him no more. She had given herself away at last; she had let herself in for the whole calamity of his knowledge, and he didn't know how she proposed to get out of it this time. And he wasn't going to help her. Not he!

They faced each other as they stood there in the narrow walk, and his knowledge challenged her dumbly for a moment. Then he spoke.

“Look here, what do you want him for? Why can't you let the poor chap alone?”

“What do you suppose I want him for?”

“I've no business to suppose anything. I don't know. But I'm not going to get him back for you.”

Something flitted across her face and shifted the wide gaze of her eyes. Straker went on without remorse.

“You know perfectly well the state he's in, and you know how he got into it.”

“Yes. And I know,” she said, “what you think of me.”

“It's more than I do,” said Straker.

She smiled subtly, mysteriously, tolerantly, as it were.

“What did you do it for, Philippa?”

Her smile grew more subtle, more tolerant, more mysterious; it measured him and found him wanting.

“If I told you,” she said, “I don't think you'd understand. But I'll try and make you.”

She turned with him and they walked slowly toward the house.

“You saw,” she said, “where he was going before I came? I got him out of that, didn't I?”

He was silent, absorbed in contemplating the amazing fabric of her thought.

“Does it very much matter how I did it?”

“Yes,” said Straker, “if you ask me, I should say it did. The last state of him, to my mind, was decidedly worse than the first.”

“What do you suppose I did to him?”

“If you want the frankness of a brother, there's no doubt you—led him on.”

“I led him on—to heights he'd never have contemplated without me.”

Straker tried to eliminate all expression from his face.

“What do you suppose I did to him last night?”

“I can only suppose you led him further, since he went further.”

By this time Straker's tact and delicacy were all gone.

“Yes,” said Miss Tarrant, “he went pretty far. But, on the whole, it's just as well he did, seeing what's come of it.”

“What has come of it?”

“Well, I think he realizes that he has a soul. That's something.”

“I didn't know it was his soul you were concerned with.”

“He didn't, either. Did he tell you what I said to him?”

“He told me you gave him a dressing down. But there was something that he wouldn't tell. What did you say to him?”

“I said I supposed, after all, he had a soul, and I asked him what he meant to do about it.”

“What does he?”

“That's what I want him back for,” she said, “to see. Whatever he does with it, practically I've saved it.”

She turned to him, lucid and triumphant.

“Could any other woman have done it? Do you see Mary Probyn doing it?”

“Not that way.”

“It was the only way. You must,” she said, “have temperament.”

The word took Straker's breath away.

“You didn't like the way I did it. I can't help that. I had to use the means at my disposal. If I hadn't led him on how could I have got hold of him? If I hadn't led him further how could I have got him on an inch?”

“So that,” said Straker quietly, “is what you did it for?”

“You've seen him,” she answered. “You don't seriously suppose I could have done it for anything else! What possible use had I for that young man?”

He remembered that that was what she had said about Mr. Higginson. But he confessed that, for a lady in a disconcerting situation, she had shown genius in extricating herself.

Fanny's house party broke up and scattered the next day. A week later Straker and Will Brocklebank saw Furnival in the Park. He was driving a motor beyond his means in the society of a lady whom he certainly could not afford.

“Good God!” said Brocklebank. “That's Philippa.”

By which he meant, not that Furnival's lady in the least resembled Philippa, but that she showed the heights to which Philippa had led him on.

X

Brocklebank agreed with Straker that they had got to get him out of that.

It was difficult, because the thing had come upon Furnival like a madness. He would have had more chance if he had been a man with a talent or an absorbing occupation, a politician, an editor, a journalist; if he had even been, Brocklebank lamented, on the London Borough Council it might have made him less dependent on the sympathy of ruinous ladies. But the Home Office provided no competitive distraction.

What was worse, it kept him on the scene of his temptation.

If it hadn't been for the Home Office he might have gone abroad with the Brocklebanks; they had wanted him to go. Straker did what he could for him. He gave him five days' yachting in August, and he tried to get him away for week-ends in September; but Furnival wouldn't go. Then Straker went away for his own holiday, and when he came back he had lost sight of Furnival. So had the Home Office.

For three months Furnival went under. Then one day he emerged. The Higginsons (Mary Probyn and her husband) ran up against him in Piccadilly, or rather, he ran up against them, and their forms interposed an effective barrier to flight. He was looking so wretchedly ill that their hearts warmed to him, and they asked him to dine with them that evening, or the next, or—well, the next after that. He refused steadily, but Mary managed to worm his address out of him and sent it on to Fanny Brocklebank that night.

Then the Brocklebanks, with prodigious forbearance and persistence, went to work on him. Once they succeeded in getting well hold of him they wouldn't let him go, and between them, very gradually, they got him straight. He hadn't, Fanny discovered, been so very awful; he had flung away all that he had on one expensive woman and he had lost his job. Brocklebank found him another in an insurance office where Fanny's brother was a director. Then Fanny settled down to the really serious business of settling Furnival. She was always asking him down to Amberley when the place was quiet, by which she meant when Philippa Tarrant wasn't there. She was always asking nice girls down to meet him. She worked at it hard for a whole year, and then she said that if it didn't come off that summer she would have to give it up.

The obstacle to her scheme for Furny's settlement was his imperishable repugnance to the legal tie. It had become, Fanny declared, a regular obsession. All this she confided to Straker as she lunched with him one day in his perfectly appointed club in Dover Street. Furny was coming down to Amberley, she said, in July; and she added, “It would do you good, Jimmy, to come, too.”

She was gazing at him with a look that he had come to know, having known Fanny for fifteen years. A tender, rather dreamy look it was, but distinctly speculative. It was directed to the silver streaks in Straker's hair on a line with his eyeglasses, and he knew that Fanny was making a calculation and saying to herself that it must be quite fifteen years or more.

Straker was getting on.

A week at Amberley would do him all the good in the world. She rather hoped—though she couldn't altogether promise him—that a certain lady in whom he was interested (he needn't try to look as if he wasn't) would be there.

Not Philippa?” he asked wearily.

“No, Jimmy, not Philippa. You know whom I mean.”

He did. He went down to Amberley in July, arriving early in a golden and benignant afternoon. It was precisely two years since he had been there with Philippa. It was very quiet this year, so quiet that he had an hour alone with Fanny on the terrace before tea. Brocklebank had taken the others off somewhere in his motor.

She broke it to him that the lady in whom he was interested wasn't there. Straker smiled. He knew she wouldn't be. The others, Fanny explained, were Laurence Furnival and his Idea.

“His Idea?”

“His Idea, Jimmy, of everything that's lovable.”

There was a luminous pause in which Fanny let it sink into him.

“Then it's come off, has it?”

“I don't know, but I think it's coming.”

“Dear Mrs. Brockles, how did you manage it?”

“I didn't. That's the beauty of it. He managed it himself. He asked me to have her down.”

She let him take that in, too, in all its immense significance.

“Who is she?”

“Little Molly Milner—a niece of Nora Viveash's. He met her there last winter.”

Their eyes met, full of remembrance.

“If anybody managed it, it was Nora. Jimmy, do you know, that woman's a perfect dear.”

“I know you always said so.”

He says so. He says she behaved like an angel, like a saint, about it. When you think how she cared! I suppose she saw it was the way to save him.”

Straker was silent. He saw Nora Viveash as he had seen her on the terrace two years ago, on the day of Philippa's arrival; and as she had come to him afterward and asked him to stand by Furnival in his bad hour.

“What is it like, Furny's Idea?” he asked presently.

“It's rather like Nora, only different. It's her niece, you know.”

“If it's Nora's niece, it must be very young.”

“It is. It's absurdly young. But, oh, so determined!”

“Has she by any chance got Nora's temperament?”

“She's got her own temperament,” said Fanny.

Straker meditated on that.

“How does it take him?” he inquired.

“It takes him beautifully. It makes him very quiet, and a little sad. That's why I think it's coming.”

Fanny also meditated.

“Yes. It's coming. There's only one thing, Jimmy. Philippa's coming, too. She's coming to-day, by that four-something train.”

“My dear Fanny, how you do mix 'em!”

It was his tribute to her enduring quality.

“I asked her before I knew Laurence Furnival was coming.”

She knew?”

“I—I think so.”

They looked at each other. Then Fanny spoke.

“Jimmy,” she said, “do you think you could make love to Philippa? Just, just,” she entreated (when, indeed, had she not appealed to him to save her from the consequences of her indiscretions?), “until Furny goes?”

Straker's diplomatic reply was cut short by the appearance of Laurence Furnival and Molly Milner, Nora's niece. They came down the long terrace with the sun upon them. She was all in white, with here and there a touch of delicate green. She was very young; and, yes, she was very like Mrs. Viveash, with all the difference of her youth and of her soul.

Furnival was almost pathetically pleased to see Straker there; and Miss Milner, flushed but serene in the moment of introduction, said that she had heard of Mr. Straker very often from—she hesitated, and Straker saw what Fanny had meant when she said that the young girl had a temperament of her own—from Mr. Furnival. Her charming smile implied that she was aware that Straker counted, and aware of all that he had done for Furnival.

As he watched her he began to see how different she was from Nora Viveash. She was grave and extraordinarily quiet, Furnival's young girl. He measured the difference by the power she had of making Furnival—as Straker put it—different from himself. She had made him grave and quiet, too. Not that he had by any means lost his engaging spontaneity; only the spontaneous, the ungovernable thing about him was the divine shyness and the wonder which he was utterly unable to conceal.

It was at its height, it had spread its own silence all around it, when, in that stillness which was her hour, her moment, Philippa appeared.

She came down the terrace, golden for her as it had been two years ago; she came slowly, more slowly than ever, with a touch of exaggeration in her rhythm, in her delay, in the poise of her head, and in all her gestures; the shade too much that Straker had malignly prophesied for her. But with it all she was more beautiful, and, he could see, more dangerous, than ever.

She had greeted the three of them, Fanny, Brocklebank, and Straker, with that increase, that excess of manner; and then she saw Furnival standing very straight in front of her, holding out his hand.

“Mr. Furnival—but—how nice!”

Furnival had sat down again, rather abruptly, beside Molly Milner, and Fanny, visibly perturbed, was murmuring the young girl's name.

Something passed over Miss Tarrant's face like the withdrawing of a veil. She was not prepared for Molly Milner. She had not expected to find anything like that at Amberley. It was not what she supposed that Furnival had come for. But, whatever he had come for, that, the unexpected, was what Furnival was there for now. It was disconcerting.

Philippa, in fact, was disconcerted.

All this Straker took in; he took in also, in a flash, the look that passed between Miss Tarrant and Miss Milner. Philippa's look was wonderful, a smile flung down from her heights into the old dusty lists of sex to challenge that young Innocence. Miss Milner's look was even more wonderful than Philippa's; grave and abstracted, it left Philippa's smile lying where she had flung it; she wasn't going, it said, to take that up.

And yet a duel went on between them, a duel conducted with proper propriety on either side. It lasted about half an hour. Philippa's manner said plainly to Miss Milner: “My child, you have got hold of something that isn't good for you, something that doesn't belong to you, something that you are not old enough or clever enough to keep, something that you will not be permitted to keep. You had better drop it.” Miss Milner's manner said still more plainly to Philippa: “I don't know what you're driving at, but you don't suppose I take you seriously, do you?” It said nothing at all about Laurence Furnival. That was where Miss Milner's manner scored.

In short, it was a very pretty duel, and it ended in Miss Milner's refusing to accompany Furnival to the Amberley woods and in Philippa's carrying him off bodily (Straker noted that she scored a point there, or seemed to score). As they went Miss Milner was seen to smile, subtly, for all her innocence. She lent herself with great sweetness to Brocklebank's desire to show her his prize roses.

Straker was left alone with Fanny.

Fanny was extremely agitated by the sight of Furnival's capture. “Jimmy,” she said, “haven't I been good to you? Haven't I been an angel? Haven't I done every mortal thing I could for you?”

He admitted that she had.

“Well, then, now you've got to do something for me. You've got to look after Philippa. Don't let her get at him.”

“No fear.”

But Fanny insisted that he had seen Philippa carrying Furnival off under Molly Milner's innocent nose, and that her manner of appropriating him, too, vividly recalled the evening of her arrival two years ago, when he would remember what had happened to poor Nora's nose.

“She took him from Nora.”

“My dear Fanny, that was an act of the highest moral——”

“Don't talk to me about your highest moral anything. I know what it was.”

“Besides, she didn't take him from Nora,” she went on, ignoring her previous line of argument. “He took himself. He was getting tired of her.”

“Well,” said Straker, “he isn't tired of Miss Milner.”

“She's taken him off there,” said Fanny. She nodded gloomily toward the Amberley woods.

Straker smiled. He was looking westward over the shining fields where he had once walked with Philippa. Already they were returning. Furnival had not allowed himself to be taken very far. As they approached Straker saw that Philippa was pouring herself out at Furnival and that Furnival was not absorbing any of it; he was absorbed in his Idea. His Idea had made him absolutely impervious to Philippa. All this Straker saw.

He made himself very attentive to Miss Tarrant that evening, and after dinner, at her request, he walked with her on the terrace. Over the low wall they could see Furnival in the rose garden with Miss Milner. They saw him give her a rose, which the young girl pinned in the bosom of her gown.

“Aren't they wonderful?” said Philippa. “Did you ever see anything under heaven so young?”

“She is older than he is,” said Straker.

“Do you remember when he wanted to give me one and I wouldn't take it?”

“I have not forgotten.”

The lovers wandered on down the rose garden and Philippa looked after them. Then she turned to Straker.

“I've had a long talk with him. I've told him that he must settle down and that he couldn't do a better thing for himself than——”

She paused.

“Well,” said Straker, “it looks like it, doesn't it?”

“Yes,” said Philippa. “It looks like it.”

They talked of other things.

“I am going,” she said presently, “to ask Miss Milner to stay with me.”

Straker didn't respond. He was thinking deeply. Her face was so mysterious, so ominous, that yet again he wondered what she might be up to. He confessed to himself that this time he didn't know. But he made her promise to go on the river with him the next day. They were to start at eleven-thirty.

At eleven Fanny came to him in the library.

“She's gone,” said Fanny. “She's left a little note for you. She said you'd forgive her, you'd understand.”

“Do you?” said Straker.

“She said she was going to be straight and see this thing through.”

“What thing?”

“Furny's thing. What else do you suppose she's thinking of? She said she'd only got to lift her little finger and he'd come back to her; she said there ought to be fair play. Do you see? She's gone away—to save him.”

“Good Lord!” said Straker.

But he saw.

XI

It was nearly twelve months before he heard again from Miss Tarrant. Then one day she wrote and asked him to come and have tea with her at her flat in Lexham Gardens.

He went. His entrance coincided with the departure of Laurence Furnival and a lady whom Philippa introduced to him as Mrs. Laurence, whom, she said, he would remember under another name.

Furnival's wife was younger than ever and more like Nora Viveash and more different. When the door closed on them Philippa turned to him with her radiance (the least bit overdone).

I made that marriage,” she said, and staggered him.

“Surely,” he said, “it was made in heaven.”

“If this room is heaven. It was made here, six months ago.”

She faced him with all his memories. With all his memories and her own she faced him radiantly.

“You know now,” she said, “why I did it. It was worth while, wasn't it?”

His voice struggled with his memories and stuck. It stuck in his throat.

Before he left he begged her congratulations on a little affair of his own; a rather unhappy affair which had ended happily the week before last. He did not tell her that, if it hadn't been for the things dear Fanny Brocklebank had done for him, the way she had mixed herself up with his unhappy little affair, it might have ended happily a year ago.

“But,” said Philippa, “how beautiful!”

He never saw Miss Tarrant again. Their correspondence ceased after his marriage, and he gathered that she had no longer any use for him.