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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 164

BOOK III

LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI

CHAPTER I

IN WHICH OUR HERO’S WORLD GROWS SENSIBLY WIDER

IN the autumn of 1862 Richard Calmady went up to Oxford. Not through ostentation, but in obedience to the exigencies of the case, his going was in a somewhat princely sort, so that the venerable city, moved from the completeness of her scholarly and historic calm, turned her eyes, in a flutter of quite mundane excitement, upon the new‐comer. Julius March accompanied Richard. Time and thought had moved forward; but the towers and spires of Oxford, her fair cloisters and enchanting gardens, her green meadows and noble elms, her rivers, Isis and Cherwell, remained as when Julius, too, had been among the young and ardent of her sons. He was greatly touched by this return to the Holy City of his early manhood. He renewed old friendships. He reviewed the past, taking the measure calmly of what life had promised, what it had given of good. A pleasant house had been secured in St. Giles’s; and a contingent of the Brockhurst household, headed by Winter, went with the two gentlemen, while Chaplin and a couple of grooms preceded them, in charge of a goodly number of horse‐boxes.

For that first saddle, fashioned now some six years ago by Josiah Appleyard of Farley Row, had worked something as near a miracle as ever yet was worked by pigskin. It was a singularly ugly saddle, running up into a peak front and back, furnished with a complicated system of straps and buckles and—in place of stirrups and stirrup‐leathers—with a pair of contrivances resembling old‐fashioned holsters. Mary Cathcart’s brown eyes had grown moist on first beholding it. And Colonel Ormiston had exclaimed:—“Good God! Oh, well, poor dear little chap, I page: 165 suppose it’s the best we can do for him.” An ugly saddle—yet had Josiah Appleyard ample reason to skip, lamb‐like, being glad. For, ugly or not, it fulfilled its purpose, bringing custom to the maker, and happiness and health to the owner of it.

The boy rode fearlessly, while exercise and exertion begot in him a certain light‐heartedness and audacity good to see. The window‐seat of the Long Gallery, the bookshelves of the library, knew him but seldom now. He was no less courteous, no less devoted to his mother, no less in admiration of her beauty; but the young barbarian was wide awake in Dickie, and drove him out of doors, on to the moorland or into the merry green‐wood, with dog, and horse, and gun. On his well‐broken pony he shot over the golden stubble fields in autumn; brought down his pheasants, stationed at the edge of the great coverts; went out for long afternoons, rabbiting in the warrens and field banks, escorted by spaniels and retrievers, and keepers carrying lithe, lemon‐coloured ferrets tied up in a bag.

Later, when he was older,—but this tried Katherine somewhat, reminding her too keenly of another Richard Calmady and days long dead,—Winter, a trifle reluctant at such shortening of his own virtuous slumbers, would call Dickie and help dress him, all in the grey of the summer morning; while, at the little arched doorway in the west front, Chifney and a groom with a led horse would await his coming, and the boy would mount and ride away from the great, sleeping house. At such times a charm of dewy freshness lay on grass and woodland, on hill and vale. The morning star grew pale and vanished in the clear‐flashing delight of sunrise, as Richard rode forth to meet the string of racers; as he noted the varying form and fortune of Rattlepate or Sweet Rosemary, of Yellow Jacket, Morion or Light‐o’‐Love, over the short, fragrant turf of the gallop; as he felt the virile joy which the strength of the horses, and the pounding rush of them as they swept past him, ever aroused in him, Then he would ride on, by a short‐cut, to the old, red‐brick rubbing‐house, crowning the rising ground on the farther side of the lake, and wait there to see the finish, talking of professional matters with Chifney meanwhile; or, turning his horse’s head towards the wide, distant view, sit silent, drawing near to nature and worshipping—with the innocent gladness of a still virgin heart—in the Temple of the Dawn.

Life at Oxford was set in a different key. The university city was well disposed towards this young man of so great wealth and so strange fortunes; and Richard was unsuspicious, and ready enough to meet friendliness half‐way. Yet it must be page: 166 owned he suffered many bad quarters of an hour. He was, at once, older in thought and younger in practical experience than his fellow‐undergraduates. He was cut off, of necessity, from their sports. They would eat his breakfasts, drink his wine, and show no violent objection to riding his horses. They were considerate, almost anxiously careful of him, being generous and good‐hearted lads. And yet poor Dick was perturbed by the fear that they were more at ease without him, that his presence acted as a slight check upon their genial spirits and their rattling talk. And so it came about that though his acquaintances were many, his friends were few. Chief among the latter was Ludovic Quayle, a younger son of Lord Fallowfeild—whom that kindly, if not very intelligent, nobleman had long ago proposed to export from the Whitney to the Brockhurst nursery with a view to the promotion of general cheerfulness. Mr. Ludovic Quayle was a rather superfine, young gentleman, possessed of an excellent opinion of himself, and a modest opinion of other persons—his father included. But under his somewhat supercilious demeanour there was a vein of true romance. He loved Richard Calmady. And neither time, nor opposing interests, nor certain black chapters which had later to be read in the history of life, destroyed or even weakened that love.

And so Dick, finding himself at sad disadvantage with most of the charming young fellows about him in matters of play, turned to matters of work, letting go the barbarian side of life for a while. In brain, if not in body, he believed himself the equal of the best of them. His ambition was fired by the desire of intellectual triumph. He would have the success of the schools, since the success of the river and the cricket‐field were denied him. Not that Richard set any exaggerated value upon academic honours. Only two things are necessary—this at least was his code at that period—never to lapse from the instincts of high‐breeding and honour, and to see just as much of life, of men and of affairs, as obedience to those instincts permits. Already the sense of proportion was strong in Richard, fed perhaps by the galling sense of personal deformity. Learning is but a part of the whole of man’s equipment, and a paltry enough part unless wisdom go along with it. But the thirst of battle remained in him; and in this matter of learning, at least, he could meet men of his own age and standing on equal terms and overcome them in fair fight.

And so, during the last two years of his university course, he did meet them and overcame, honours falling liberally to his share. Julius March looked on in pleased surprise at the page: 167 exploits of his former pupil. While Ludovic Quayle, with raised eyebrows and half‐tender, half‐ironical amusement relaxing the corners of his remarkably beautiful mouth, would say:—

“Calmady, you really are a shameless glutton! How many more immortal glories, any one of which would satisfy an ordinary man, do you propose to swallow ”

“I suppose it’s a bad year,” Richard would answer. “The others can’t amount to very much, or, needless to say, I shouldn’t walk over the course.”

“A charming little touch of modesty as far as you yourself are concerned,” Ludovic answered. “But not strikingly flattering to the others. I would rather suppose you abnormally clever, than all the rest abnormally stupid—for, after all, you know, am not I, my great self, among the rest?”

At which Dickie would laugh rather shamefacedly, and say:—“Oh you!—why you know well enough you could do anything you liked if you weren’t so confoundedly lazy!”

And meanwhile, at Brockhurst, as news arrived of these successes, Lady Calmady’s soul received comfort. Her step was light, her eyes full of clear shining as she moved to and fro ordering the great house and great estate. She felt repaid for the bitter pain of parting with her darling, and sending him forth to face the curious, possibly scornful, world of the university city. He had proved himself and won his spurs. And this solaced her in the solitude and loneliness of her present life. For her dear friend and companion Marie de Mirancourt had found the final repose, before seeking that of the convent. Early one February morning, in the second year of Richard’s sojourn at Oxford, fortified by the rites of the Church, she had passed the gates of death peacefully, blessing and blessed. Katherine mourned for her, and would continue to mourn with still and faithful sorrow, even while welcoming home her young scholar, hearing the details of his past achievements and hopes for the future, or entertaining—with all gracious hospitality—such of his Oxford friends as he elected to invite to Brockhurst.

It was on one of these last occasions, the young men having gone down to the Gun‐Room to smoke and discuss the day’s pheasant‐shooting, that Katherine had kept Julius March standing before the Chapel‐Room fire, and had looked at him, a certain wistfulness in her face.

“He is happy—don’t you think, Julius?” she said. “He seems to me really happier, more contented, than I have ever seen him since his childhood.”

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“Yes, I also think that,” Julius answered. “He has reason to be contented. He has measured himself against other men and is satisfied of his own powers.”

“Everyone admires him at Oxford?”

“Yes, they admire and envy him. He has been brilliantly successful.”

Katherine drew herself up, clasping her hands behind her, and smiling proudly as she mused, gazing into the crimson heart of the burning logs. Then, after a silence, she turned suddenly to her companion.

“It is very sweet to have you here at home again, Julius,” she said gently. “I have missed you sorely since dearest Marie de Mirancourt died. Live a little longer than I do, please. Ah! I am afraid it is no small thing that I ask you to do for my sake, for I foresee that I shall survive to a lamentably old age. But sacrifice yourself, Julius, in the matter of living. Less than ever, when the shadows fall, shall I be able to spare you.”

For which words of his dear lady’s, though spoken lightly, half in jest, Julius March gave God great thanks that night.

It was about this period that two pieces of news, each proving eventually to have much personal significance, reached Lady Calmady from the outside world. The first took the form of a letter—a rather pensive and tired letter—from her brother, William Ormiston, telling her that his daughter Helen was about to marry the Comte de Vallorbes, a young gentleman very well known both to Parisian and Neapolitan society. The second took the form of an announcement in the Morning Post, to the effect that Lady Tobermory, whose lamented death that paper had already chronicled, had left the bulk of her not inconsiderable fortune to her god‐daughter Honoria, eldest child of that distinguished officer General St. Quentin. In both cases Lady Calmady wrote letters of congratulation, in the latter with very sincere and lively pleasure. She held her cousin, General St. Quentin, in affection for old sake’s sake. Honoria she remembered as a singularly graceful, high‐bred, little maiden, fleet of foot as a hind—too fleet of foot indeed for little Dickie’s comfort of mind, and therefore banished from the Brockhurst nursery. In the former case, her congratulations being somewhat conventional, she added—in her own name and that of Richard—a necklace of pearls, with a diamond clasp and bars to it, of no mean value.

In the spring of 1865 Richard left Oxford for good, and took up his residence once more at Brockhurst. But it was page: 169 not until the autumn of the following year, when he had reached the age of three‐and‐twenty, and had already, for some six months, served his Queen and country in the capacity of Justice of the Peace for the county of Southampton, that any event occurred greatly affecting his fortunes, and therefore worthy to set forth at large in this history.

CHAPTER II

TELLING HOW DICKIE’S SOUL WAS SOMEWHAT SICK, AND HOW HE MET FAIR WOMEN ON THE CONFINES OF A WOOD

RICHARD CALMADY rode homeward through the autumn woods, and the aspect of them was very lovely. But their loveliness was hectic, a loveliness as it seemed, at all events at first sight, of death and burial, rather than of life and hope. The sky was overcast, and a chill clung to the stream‐side and haunted the hollows. The young man’s humour, unfortunately, was only too much in harmony with the more melancholy suggestions of the scene. For Richard was by nature something of a poet, though he but rarely wrote verses, and usually burned them as soon as written being scholar enough to know and feel impatient of the “second best.” And this inherent strain of poetry in him tempered the active and practical side of his character, making wealth and position, and all those things which the worldly‐minded seek, seem of slight value to him at times. It induced in him many and very varying moods. It carried him back often, even now in the strength of his young manhood, to the fine fancies and exquisite unreason of the fairy‐world in which those so sadly ill‐balanced footsteps of his had first been set. To‐day had proved, so far, an unlucky one, prolific of warfare between his clear brain and all too sensitive heart. For it was the burden of Richard’s temperament‐the almost inevitable result of that ever‐present thorn in the flesh—that he shrunk as a poet, even as a woman, while as a man, and a strong one, he reasoned and fought.

It fell out on this wise. He had attended the Quarter Sessions at Westchurch; and a certain restlessness, born of the changing seasons, being upon him, he had ridden. His habit, when passing outside the limits of his own property, was to drive. He became aware—and angrily conscious his groom was aware also—that his appearance afforded a spectacle of the liveliest page: 170 interest to the passers‐by; that persons of very various age and class had stopped and turned to gaze at him; and that, while crossing the bridge spanning the dark, oily waters of the canal, in the industrial quarter of the pushing, wide‐awake, county town, he had been the subject of brutal comment, followed by a hoarse laugh from the collarless throats of some dozen operatives and bargees loitering thereupon.

The consequence was that the young man arrived in court, his eyes rather hard and his jaw set. Rich, well‐born, not undistinguished too for his attainments, and only three‐and‐twenty, Dickie had a fine fund of arrogance to draw upon yet. He drew upon it this morning, rather to the confusion of his colleagues upon the bench. Mr. Cathcart, the chairman, was already present, and stood talking with Mr. Seymour, the rector of Farley, a shrewd, able squarson of the old sporting type. Captain Fawkes of Water End was there too; and so was Lemuel Image, eldest son of the Mr. Image, sometime mayor of Westchurch, who has been mentioned in the early pages of this chronicle.

In the last twenty years, supported by ever‐increasing piles of barrels, the Image family had mounted triumphantly upward in the social scale. Lemuel, the man in question, married a poor and distant relation of Lord Aldborough, the late lord lieutenant of the county; and had by this, and by a rather truculent profession of high Tory politics, secured himself a seat on the bench. He had given a fancy price, too, for that pretty, little place, Frodsmill, the grounds of which form such an exasperating Naboth’s vineyard in the heart of the Newlands property. Neither his person, nor his politics, nor his absence of culture, found favour in Richard Calmady’s sight. And to‐day, being somewhat on edge, the brewer’s large, blustering presence and manner—at once patronising and servile—struck him as peculiarly odious. Image betrayed an evil tendency to emphasise his remarks by slapping his acquaintances upon the back. He was also guilty of supposing a defect of hearing in all persons older than, or in any measure denied the absolute plethora of physical vigour so conspicuous in, himself. He invariably raised his voice in addressing Richard. In return for which graceful attention Dickie most cordially detested him.

“Image is a bit of a cad, and certainly Calmady makes no bones about letting him know it,” Captain Fawkes remarked to Mr. Seymour, as they drove back to Farley in the latter’s dogcart. “Fortunately he has a hide like a rhinoceros, or we should have had a regular row between them more than once page: 171 this morning. Calmady’s generally charming; but I must say, when he likes, he can be about the most insolent fellow I’ve ever met, in a gentleman‐like way.”

“A great deal of that is simply self‐protective,” the clergyman answered. “It is not difficult to see how it comes about, when you take his circumstances into account. If I was him, God forgive me, I know I shouldn’t be half so sweet‐tempered. He bears it wonderfully well, all things considered.”

Nor did the disturbing incidents of the day end with the familiarities of the loud‐voiced brewer. The principal case to be tried was a melancholy one enough—a miserable history of wayward desire, shame and suffering, followed by a despairing course of lies and petty thieving to help support the poor baby whose advent seemed so wholly a curse. The young mother—a pretty, desperate creature—made no attempt at denial. She owned she had robbed her mistress of a shilling here and sixpence there, that she had taken now a bit of table silver and then a garment to the pawn‐shop. How could she help it? Her wages were a trifle, since her character was damaged. Wasn’t it a charity to employ a girl like her at all? so her mistress said. And yet the child must live. And Richard Calmady, sitting in judgment there with those four other gentlemen of substantial means and excellent position, sickened as he listened to the sordid details, the relentless elementary arguments. For the girl, awed and frightened at first, grew eloquent in self‐defence.—“She loved him”—he being a smart young fellow, who, with excellent recommendations from Chifney, had left the Brockhurst stables some two years before, to take service in Westchurch.—“And he always spoke her fair. Had told her he’d marry her right enough, after a bit—before God he would. But it would ruin his chance of first‐class places if he married yet. The gentry wouldn’t take any but single men of his age. A wife would stand in his way. And she didn’t want to stand in his way—he knew her better than that. Not but that he reckoned her just as much his wife as any woman could be. Of course he did. What a silly she was to trouble about it. And then when there was no hiding any longer how it was with her, he up and awayed to London, saying he would make a home for her there. And he kept on writing for a bit, but he never told her where to write to him in return, so she couldn’t answer. And then his letters came seldom, and then stopped altogether, and then—and then”—

The girl was rebuked for her much speaking, and so wasting the time of the Court. There were other cases. And Richard page: 172 Calmady sickened yet more, recognising in that a parable of perpetual application. For are there not always other cases? The tragedy of the individual life reaching its climax seems, to the chief actor, worthy to claim and hold universal attention. Yet the sun never stands still in heaven, nor do the footsteps of men tarry upon earth. No one person may take up too much space, too much time. The movement of things is not stayed. The single cry, however bitter, is drowned in the roar of the pushing crowd. The individual, however keen his griefs, however heinous the offence done him, must make way for those same other cases. This is the everlasting law.

And so pained, out of tune, troubled too by smouldering fires of anger, Richard left Westchurch and his fellow‐magistrates as early as he decently could. Avoiding the highroad leading by Newlands and through Sandyfield village, he cut across country by field lanes and over waste‐lands to Farley Row. The wide quiet of the autumn afternoon, the slight chill in the air, were grateful to him after the noise and close atmosphere of the court. Yet the young man strove vainly to think of pleasant things and to regain his serenity. The girl’s tear‐blotted face, the tones of her voice, haunted him. Six weeks’ imprisonment. The sentence, after all, was a light one. Yet who was he, who were those four other well‐to‐do gentlemen, that they should judge her at all? How could they measure the strength of the temptation which had beset her? If temptation is strong enough, must not the tempted of necessity yield? If the tempted does not yield, is that not merely proof that the temptation was not strong enough? The whole thing appeared to him a matter of mathematics or mechanics. Given a greater weight than it can carry, the rope is bound to break. And then for those who have not felt the strain to blame the rope, punish the rope! It seemed to Richard, as he rode homeward, that human justice is too often a very comedy of injustice. It all appeared to him so exceedingly foolish. And yet society must be protected. Other pretty, weak, silly creatures must be warned, by such rather brutal object‐lessons, not to bear bastards or pawn their mistresses’ spoons.

“‘Je ne sais pas ce que c’est que la vie éternelle, mais celle çi est une mauvaise plainsanterie,’” Dickie quoted to himself somewhat bitterly.

He turned aside at Farley Row, following the narrow road that runs behind the houses in the main street and the great, vacant stables and outbuildings of the White Lion Inn. And here, as though the immediate displeasures of this ill‐starred day page: 173 were insufficient, memory arose and recalled other displeasures of long ago. Recalled old Jackie Deeds lurching out of that same inn yard, empty pipe in mouth, greedy of alms. Recalled the old postboy’s ugly morsel of profanity—“God Almighty had His jokes too.” And, at that, the laughter of those loafers upon the canal bridge saluted Richard’s ears once more, as did the loud, familiar phrases of Mr. Lemuel Image, the Westchurch brewer.

Before him the flat expanse of Clerke’s Green opened out; and the turf of it—beaded with dew which the frail sunshine of the early morning had failed to burn up—was crossed by long tracks of darker green, where flocks of geese had wandered over its misty surface. Here the travelling menagerie and all the booths of the fair had been stationed. Memory rigged up the tents once more, painted the vans in crude, glaring colours, set drums beating and merry‐go‐rounds turning, pointed a malicious finger at the sign‐board of a certain show. How many times Richard had passed this way in the intervening years, and remembered in passing, yet thrown all hurt of remembrance from him directly and lightly! To‐day it gripped him. He put his horse into a sharp trot.

Skirting the edge of the green, he rode down a rutted cart lane—farm buildings and well‐filled rickyards on the left—and forded the shallow, brown stream which separates the parish of Farley from that of Sandyfield and the tithing of Brockhurst.

Ahead lay the wide, rough road, ending in a broken avenue of ancient oaks, and bordered on either hand by a strip of waste‐land overgrown with coarse grasses and low thickets of maple—which leads up to the entrance of the Brockhurst woods. Over these hung a soft, bluish haze, making them appear vast in extent, and upraising the dark ridge of the fir forest, which crowns them, to mountain height against the western sky. A covey of partridges ran up the sandy road before Richard’s horse; and, rising at last with a long‐drawn whir of wings, skimmed the top of the bank and dropped into the pale stubble field on the other side of it. He paused at the head of the avenue while the keeper’s wife—in lilac apron and sunbonnet—ran out to open the big, white gate; the dogs meantime, from their kennels under the Spanish chestnuts upon the slope behind her gabled cottage, setting up a vociferous chorus. Thus heralded, Richard passed into the whispering, mysterious stillness of the autumn woods.

The summer had been dry and fine, the foliage unusually rich and heavy, all the young wood ripening well. Consequently page: 174 the turn of the leaf was very brilliant that year. The sweetly sober English landscape seemed to have run mad and decked itself, as for a masquerade, in extravagant splendours of colour. The smooth‐stemmed beeches had taken on every tint from fiery brown, through orange and amber, to verdigris green touching latest July shoots. The round‐headed oaks, practising even in carnival time a measure of restraint, had arrayed themselves in a hundred rich, finely‐gradated tones of russet and umber. While, here and there, a tall bird‐cherry, waxing wanton, had clothed itself like the Woman of Babylon in rose‐scarlet from crown to lowest black‐barked twig. Higher up, the larch plantations rose in crowds of butter‐coloured spires. Amethystine, and blood‐red, white‐spotted toad‐stools, in little companies, pushed through the light soil on either side the road. Trailing sprays of bramble glowed as flame. Rowan berries hung in heavy coral bunches, and the dogwood spread itself in sparse, china‐pink clusters. Only the undergrowth of crooked alders, in swampy, low‐lying places, kept its dark, purplish green; and the light foliage of the ash waved in shadowy pallor against its knobbed and knotted branches; and the ranks of the encircling firs retained their solemn habit, as though in protest against the universal riot.

The stream hidden away in the hazel coppice gurgled and murmured. Beech‐masts pattered down, startling the stillness as with a sudden dropping of thunder rain. Squirrels, disturbed in the ingathering of their winter store, whisked up the boles of the great trees and scolded merrily from the forks of the high branches. Shy, wild things rustled and scampered unseen through the tangled undergrowth and beds of bracken. While that veil of bluish haze touched all the distance of the landscape with a delicate mystery, and softly blotted the vista of each wide shooting‐drive, or winding pathway, to left and right.

And as Richard rode onward, leaves gay even in death fluttering down around him, his mood began to suffer change. He ceased to think and began to feel merely. First came a dreamy delight in the beauty of the scene about him. Then the sense of mystery grew upon him—of mystery, not merely hanging in the delicate haze, but dwelling in the endless variety of form and colour which met his eyes, of mystery inviting him in the soft, multitudinous voices of the woodland. And, as the minutes passed, this sense grew increasingly provocative, became too increasingly elusive. The light leapt into Dickie’s eyes. He smiled to himself. He was filled with unreasoning expectation. He seemed—it was absurd, yet very charming—to be playing page: 175 hide‐and‐seek with some glad secret which at any instant might be revealed to him. It murmured to him in the brook. It scolded at him merrily with the scolding squirrels. It startled the surrounding stillness, with the down‐pattering beech‐masts and fluttering of leaves. It eluded him deftly, rustling away unseen through the green and gold of the bracken. Lastly when, reaching the summit of the ridge of hill, he entered upon the levels of the great tableland, it hailed him in the long‐drawn sighing of the fir forest. For a wind, suddenly awakened, swept towards him from some far distance, neared, broke overhead, as summer waves upon a shingly beach, died in delicious whispers, only to sweep up and break and die again. Meanwhile the grey pall of cloud parted in the west, disclosing spaces of faint yet clearest blue, and the declining sun, from behind dim islands of shifting vapour, sent forth immense rays of mild and misty light.

Richard laughed involuntarily to himself. For there was a fantastic, curiously alluring influence in all this. It spoke to him as in delicate persuasion. His sense of expectation intensified. He would not ride homeward and shut himself within four walls just yet; but yield himself to the wooing of these fair sylvan divinities, to that of the spirit of the evening wind, of the softly shrouding haze, and of the broadening sunlight, a little longer.

A turf‐ride branches away to the left, leading along a narrow outstanding spur of tableland to a summer‐house, the prospect from which is among the noted beauties of Brockhurst. This summer‐house or Temple, as it has come to be called, is an octagonal structure. Round‐shafted pillars rise at each projecting angle. In the recesses between them are low stone benches, save in front where an open colonnade gives upon the view. The roof is leaded, and surmounted by a wooden ball and tall, three‐sided spike. These last, as well as the plastered, windowless walls, are painted white. Within, the hollow of the dome is decorated in fresco, with groups of gaily clad ladies and their attendant cavaliers, with errant cupids, garlands of flowers, trophies of rather impossible musical instruments, and cages full of imprisoned, and therefore doubtless very naughty, loves. The colours have grown faint by action of insweeping wind and weather; but this lends a pathos to the light‐hearted, highly‐artificial art, accentuating the contrast between it and its immediate surroundings.

For the Temple stands on a platform of turf at the extreme point of the spur of tableland. The hillside, clothed with page: 176 heather and bracken, fringed lower down with a coppice of delicate birches, falls steeply away in front and on either hand. Outstretched below, besides the panorama of the great woods, lies all the country about Farley, on to Westchurch, and beyond again—pasture and cornlands, scattered hamlets and red‐roofed farms half hidden among trees, the glint of streams set in the vivid green of water‐meadows, and soft, blue range behind range of distance to that pale uprising of chalk down in the far south. Upon the right, some quarter of a mile away, blocking the end of an avenue of secular Scotch firs, the eastern façade of Brockhurst House shows planted proudly upon the long grey and red lines of the terrace.

Richard checked his horse, pausing to look for a moment at that well‐beloved home. Then musing, he let his horse go forward along the level turf‐ride. The grey dome and white columns of the Temple standing out against the spacious prospect—the growing brightness of this last, still chastened by the delicious autumn haze—captivated his imagination. There was, seen thus, a simplicity and distinction altogether classic in the lonely building. To him it appeared not unfit shrine for the worship of that same all‐pervasive spirit of mystery, not unfit spot for the revelation of that same glad, yet cunningly elusive secret, of which he suffered the so fond obsession.

And so it was that when, coming abreast of the building, the sound of young voices—women’s voices—and finely modulated laughter saluted his ear, though startled, for no stranger had the right of entry to the park, he was by no means displeased. This seemed but part of the all‐pervasive magic of this strange afternoon. Richard smiled at the phantasies of his own mood—Yet he forgot to be shy, forgot the distressing self‐consciousness which made him shrink from the observation of strangers—specially those of the other sex. The adventure tempted his fancy. Even familiar things had put on a new and beguiling vesture in the last half‐hour, so there were miracles abroad, perhaps. Anyhow he would satisfy himself as to the aspect of those sweet‐voiced and, as yet, unseen trespassers. He let his horse go forward slowly across the platform of turf.

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CHAPTER III

IN WHICH RICHARD CONFIRMS ONE JUDGMENT AND REVERSES ANOTHER

“HOW magnificently your imagination gallops when it once gets agoing! Here you are bearing away the spoils, when the siege is not even yet begun—never will be, I venture to hope, for I doubt if this would be a very honourable”—

The speaker broke off, abruptly, as the shadow of horse and rider lengthened upon the turf. And, during the silence which followed, Richard Calmady received an impression at once arresting and subtly disquieting.

A young lady, of about his own age, leaned against one of the white pillars of the colonnade. Her attitude and costume were alike slightly unconventional. She was unusually tall, and there was a lazy, almost boyish indifference and grace in the pose of her supple figure and the gallant carriage of her small head. She wore a straight, pale grey‐green jacket, into the pockets of which her hands were thrust. Her skirt, of the same colour and material, hung in straight folds to her feet, being innocent alike of trimming and the then prevailing fashion of crinoline. Further, she wore a little, round matador’s hat, three black pompoms planted audaciously‐upstanding above the left ear. Her eyes, long in shape and set under straight, observant brows, appeared at first sight of the same clear, light, warm brown as her hair. Her nose was straight, rather short, and delicately square at the tip. While her face, unlined, serenely, indeed triumphantly, youthful, was quite colourless and sufficiently thin to disclose fine values of bone in the broad forehead and the cutting of jaw and cheek and chin.

In that silence, as she and Richard Calmady looked full at one another, he apprehended in her a baffling element, a something untamed and remote, a freedom of soul, that declared itself alike in the gallantries and severities of her dress, her attitude, and all the lines of her person. She bore relation to the glad mystery haunting the fair autumn evening. She also bore relation to the chill haunting the stream‐side and the deep places of the woods. And her immediate action ratified this last likeness in his mind. When he first beheld her she was bright, with a certain teasing insouciance. Then, for a minute, even more, she stood at gaze, as a hind does suddenly page: 178 startled on the edge of the covert—her head raised, her face keen with inquiry. Her expression changed, became serious, almost stern. She recoiled, as in pain, as in an approach to fear—this strong, nymphlike creature.

“Helen,” she called aloud, in tones of mingled protest and warning. And thereupon, without more ado, she retired, nay, fled, into the sheltering, sun‐warmed interior of the Temple.

At this summons her companion, who until now had stood contemplating the wide view from the extreme verge of the platform, wheeled round. For an appreciable time she, too, looked at Richard Calmady, and that haughtily enough, as though he, rather than she, was the intruder. Her glance travelled unflinchingly down from his bare head and broad shoulders to that pocket‐like appendage—as of old‐fashioned pistol holsters—on either side his saddle. Swiftly her bearing changed. She uttered an exclamation of unfeigned and unalloyed satisfaction—a little, joyful outcry, such as a child will make on discovery of some lost treasure.

“Ah! it is you—you!” she said, laughing softly, while she moved forward, both hands extended. Which hand, by the same token, she proposed to bestow on Dickie remained matter for conjecture, since in the one she carried a parasol with a staff‐like gold and tortoiseshell handle to it, and in the other, between the first and second fingers, a cigarette, the blue smoke of which curled upward in transparent spirals upon the clear, still air.

As the lady of the grey‐green gown retired precipitately within the Temple, a wave of hot blood passed over Richard’s body. For notwithstanding his three‐and‐twenty years, his not contemptible mastery of many matters, and that same honourable appointment of Justice of the Peace for the county of Southampton, he was but a lad yet, with all a lad’s quickness of sensitive shame and burning resentment. The girl’s repulsion had been obvious—that instinctive repulsion, as poor Dickie’s too acute sympathies assured him, of the whole for the maimed, of the free for the bound, of the artist for some jarring colour or sound which mars an otherwise entrancing harmony. And the smart of all this was, to him, doubly salted by the fact that he, after all, was a man, his critic merely a woman. The bitter mood of the earlier hours of the day returned upon him. He cursed himself for a doting fool. Who was he, indeed, to seek revelation of glad secrets, cherish fair dreams and tempt adventures?

Consequently it fell out when that other lady—she of the cigarette—advanced thus delightfully towards him, Richard’s page: 179 face was white with anger, and his lips rigid with pain—a rigidity begotten of the determination that they should not tremble in altogether too unmanly fashion. Sometimes it is very sad to be young. The flesh is still very tender, so that a scratch hurts more then than a sword‐thrust later. Only, let it be remembered, the scratch heals readily; while of the sword‐thrust we die, even though at the moment of receiving it we seem not so greatly to suffer. And unquestionably as Dickie sat there, on his handsome horse, hat in hand, looking down at the lady of the cigarette, the hurt of that lately received scratch began quite sensibly to lessen. For her eyes, their first unsparing scrutiny accomplished, rested on his with a strangely flattering and engaging insistence.

“But this is the very prettiest piece of good fortune!” she exclaimed. “Had I arranged the whole matter to suit my own fancy it could not have turned out more happily.”

Her tone was that of convincing sincerity; while, as she spoke, the soft colour came and went in her cheeks, and her lips parting showed little, even teeth daintily precious as a row of pearls. The outline of her face was remarkably pure—in shape an oval, a trifle wide in proportion to its length. Her eyebrows were arched, the eyelids arched also—very thin, showing the movement of the eyeballs beneath them, drooping slightly, with a sweep of dark lashes at the outer corner. It struck Richard that she bore a certain resemblance to his mother, though smaller and slighter in build. Her mouth was less full, her hair fairer—soft, glistening hair of all the many shades of heather honey‐comb, broken wax, and sweet, heady liquor, alike. Her hands, he remarked, were very finished—the fingers pointed, the palms rosy. The set of her black, velvet coat revealed the roundness of her bust. The broad brim of her large, black hat, slightly upturned at the sides, and with sweeping ostrich plumes as trimming to it, threw the upper part of her charming face into soft shadow. Her heavy, dove‐coloured, silk skirts stood out stiffly from her waist, declaring its slenderness. The few jewels she wore were of notable value. Her appearance, in fact, spoke the last word of contemporary fashion in its most refined application. She was a great lady, who knew the world and the worth of it. And she was absolute mistress both of that knowledge, and of herself—notwithstanding those outstretched hands, and outcry of childlike pleasure,—there, perhaps, lay the exquisite flattery of this last to her hearer! She was all this, and something more than all this. Something for which Dickie, his heart still virgin, had no name as yet. It was new to his experience. A something clear, simple, and natural, as the sunlight, yet infinitely subtle. page: 180 A something ravishing, so that you wanted to draw it very close, hold it, devour it. Yet something you so feared, you needs must put it from you, so that, faint with ecstasy, standing at a distance, you might bow yourself and humbly worship. But such extravagant exercises being, in the nature of his case, physically as well as socially inadmissible, the young man was constrained to remain seated squarely in the saddle—that singularly ungainly saddle, moreover, with holster‐like appendages to it—while he watched her, wholly charmed, curious and shy, carried indeed a little out of himself, waiting for her to make further disclosures, since he felt absurdly slow and unready of speech.

Nor was he destined to wait in vain. The fair lady appeared agreeably ready to declare herself, and that with the finest turns of voice and manner, with the most coercive variety of appeal, pathos, caprice, and dignity.

“I know on the face of it I have not the smallest right to have taken possession in this way,” she continued. “It is the frankest impertinence. But if you realised how extremely I am enjoying myself, you could not fail to forgive me. All this park of yours, all this nature,” she turned sideways, sketching out the great view with a broad gesture of the cigarette and graceful hand that held it, “all this is divinely lovely. It is wiser to possess oneself of it in an illicit manner, to defy the minor social proprieties and unblushingly to steal, than not to possess oneself of it at all. If you are really hungry, you know, you learn not to be too nice as to the ways and means of acquiring sustenance.”

“And you were really hungry?” Richard found himself saying, as he feared rather blunderingly. But he wanted, so anxiously, the present to remain present—wanted to continue to watch her, and to hear her. She turned his head. How then could he behave otherwise than with stupidity?

“La! la!” she replied, laughing indulgently, and thereby enchanting him still more, “what must your experience of life be if you suppose one gets a full meal of divine loveliness every day in the week? For my part, I am not troubled with any such celestial plethora, believe me. I was ravening, I tell you, positively ravening.”

“And your hunger is satisfied?” he asked, still as he feared blunderingly, and with a queer inward movement of envy towards the wide view she looked upon, and the glory of the sunset which dared touch her hair.

“Satisfied?” she exclaimed. “Is one’s hunger for the page: 181 divinely lovely ever satisfied? Just now I have stayed mine with the merest mouthful—as one snatches a sandwich at a railway buffet. And directly I must get into the train again, and go on with my noisy, dusty, stifling journey. Ah! you are very fortunate to live in this adorable and restful place; to see it in all its fine drama of changing colour and season, year in and year out.”

She dropped the end of her cigarette into a little, sandy depression in the turf, and drawing aside her silken skirts, trod out the red heart of it neatly with her daintily shod foot. Just then the other lady, she of the grey‐green gown, came from within the shelter of the Temple, and stood between the white pillars of the colonnade. Dick’s grasp tightened on the handle of the hunting‐crop lying across his thigh.

“Am I so very fortunate?” he said, almost involuntarily.

His companion looked up smiling, her eyes dwelling on his with a strange effect of intimacy, wholly flattering, wholly, indeed, distracting to common sense.

“Yes—you are fortunate,” she answered, speaking slowly. “And some day, Richard, I think you will come to know that.”

Sudden comprehension, sudden recognition struck the young man—very literally struck him a most unwelcome buffet.

“Oh! I see—I understand,” he exclaimed, “you are my cousin—you are Madame de Vallorbes.”

For a moment his sense of disappointment was so keen, he was minded to turn his horse and incontinently ride away. The misery of that episode of his boyhood set its tooth very shrewdly in him even yet. It seemed the most cruelly ironical turn of fate that this entrancing, this altogether worshipful, stranger should prove to be one and the same as the little dancer of long ago with blush‐roses in her hat.

But, though the colour deepened somewhat in the lady’s cheeks, she did not lower her eyes, nor did they lose their smiling importunity. A little ardour, indeed, heightened the charm of her manner—an ardour of delicate battle, as of one whose honour has been ever so slightly touched.

“Certainly, I am your cousin, Helen de Vallorbes,” she replied. “You are not sorry for that, Richard, are you? At this moment I am increasingly glad to be your cousin—though not perhaps so very particularly glad to be Helen de Vallorbes.” Then she added, rapidly:—“We are here in England for a few weeks, my father and I. Troublesome, distressing things had happened, and he perceived I needed change. He brought me away. London proved a desert and a dust‐heap. There page: 182 was no solace, no distraction from unpleasant thoughts, to be found there. So we telegraphed and came down last night to the kind people at Newlands. Naturally my father wanted to see Aunt Katherine. I desired to see her also, well understood, for I have heard so much of her talent and her great beauty. But I knew they—the brother and sister—would wish to speak of the past and find their happiness in being very sad about it all. At our age—yours and mine—the sadness of any past one may possess is a good deal too present with one still to afford in the least consoling subject of conversation.”—Madame de Vallorbes spoke with a certain vehemence. “Don’t you think so, Richard?” she demanded.

And Richard could but answer, very much out of his heart, that he did indeed think so.

She observed him a moment, and then her tone softened. The colour deepened yet more in her cheeks. She became at once prettily embarrassed and prettily sincere.

“And then, to tell you quite the truth, I am a trifle afraid of Aunt Katherine. I have always wanted to come here and to see you, but—it is an absurd confession to make—I have been scared at the idea of meeting Aunt Katherine, and that is the real reason why I made Honoria take refuge with me in this lovely park of yours, instead of going on with my father to the house. There is a legend, a thrice accursed legend, in our family,—my mother employs it even yet when she proposes to reduce me to salutary depths of humility—that I came,—she brought me —here, once, long ago, when I was a child, and that I was fiendishly naughty, that I behaved odiously.”

Madame de Vallorbes stretched out her hands, presenting the rosy palms of them in the most engaging manner.

“But it can’t—it can’t be true,” she protested. “Why, in the name of all folly, let alone all common decency, should I behave odiously? It is not like me. I love to please, I love to have people care for me. And so I cannot but believe the legend is the malign invention of some nurse or governess, whom, poor woman, I probably plagued handsomely enough in her day, and who, in revenge, rigged up this detestable scarecrow with which to frighten me. Then, moreover, I have not the faintest recollection of the affair, and one generally has an only too vivid memory of one’s own sins. Surely, mon cher cousin, surely I am innocent in your sight, as in my own? You do not remember the episode either?”

Whereupon Dickie, looking down at her,—and still enchanted notwithstanding his so sinister discovery, being first, and always a page: 183 gentleman, and secondly, though as yet unconsciously, a lover, proceeded to lie roundly. Lied, too, with a notable cheerfulness born, as cheerfulness needs must be, of every act of faith and high generosity.

“I remember it? Of course not,” he said. “So let the legend be abolished henceforth and for evermore. Here, once and for all, cousin Helen, we combine to pull down and bury that scarecrow.”

Madame de Vallorbes clapped her hands softly and laughed. And her laughter, having the merit of being perfectly genuine—for the young man very really pleased her fancy—was likewise very infectious. Richard found himself laughing too, he knew not why, save that he was glad of heart.

“And now that matter being satisfactorily disposed of, you will come to Brockhurst often,” he said. It seemed to him that a certain joyous equality had been established between him and his divinity, both by his repudiation of all former knowledge of her, and by their moment of laughter. He began fearlessly to make her little offerings.—“Do you care about riding? I am afraid there is not much to amuse you at Brockhurst; but there are always plenty of horses.”

“And I adore horses.”

“Do you care about racing? We’ve some rather pretty things in training this year. I should like awfully to show them to you.”

But here the conversation, just setting forth in so agreeable a fashion, suffered interruption. For the other lady, she of the grey‐green gown, sauntered forward from the Temple. The carriage of her head was gallant, her air nonchalant as ever; but her expression was grave, and the delicate thinness of her face appeared a trifle accentuated. She came up to Madame de Vallorbes and passed her hand through the latter’s arm caressing]y.

“You know, really, Helen, we ought to go, if we are not to keep your father and the carriage waiting.”—Then she looked up with a certain determined effort at Richard Calmady. “We promised to meet Mr. Ormiston at the first park gate,” she added in explanation. “That is nearly a mile from here, isn’t it?”

“About three‐quarters—hardly that,” he answered. Her eyes were not brown, he perceived, but a clear, dim green, as the soft gloom in the under‐spaces of a grove of ilexes. They affected him as fearlessly observant—eyes that could judge both men and things and could also keep their own counsel.

page: 184

“Will you give your mother Honoria St. Quentin’s love, please?” she went on. “I stayed here with her for a couple of days the year before last, while you were at Oxford. She was very good to me. Now, Helen, come”—

“I shall see you again,” Richard cried to the lady of the cigarette. But his horse, which for some minutes had been increasingly fidgety, backed away down the hillside, and he could not catch the purport of her answer. To the lady of the grey‐green gown and eyes he said nothing at all.

CHAPTER IV

JULIUS MARCH BEARS TESTIMONY

“SO you really wish me to ask them both to come, Richard?”

Lady Calmady stood on the tiger‐skin before the Gun‐Room hearth. Upon the said hearth a merry, little fire of pine logs clicked and chattered. Even here, on the dry upland, the night air had an edge to it; while in the valleys there would be frost before morning, ripening that same splendour of autumn foliage alike to greater glory and swifter fall. And the snap in the air, working along with other unwonted influences, made Katherine somewhat restless this evening. Her eyes were dark with unspoken thought. Her voice had a ring in it. The shimmering, black, satin dress and fine lace she wore gave a certain magnificence to her appearance. Her whole being was vibrant. She was rather dangerously alive. Her elder brother’s unlooked‐for advent had awakened her strangely from the reserve and stately monotony of her daily existence, had shaken even, for the moment, the completeness of the dominion of her fixed idea. She ceased, for the moment, to sink the whole of her personality in the maternal relationship. Memories of her youth, passed amid the varied interests of society and of the literary and political world of Paris and London, assailed her. All those other Katherines, in short, whom she might have been, and who had seemed to drop away from her, vanishing phantom‐like before the uncompromising realities of her husband’s death and her child’s birth, crowded about her, importuning her with vague desires, vague regrets. The confines of Brockhurst grew narrow, while all that which lay beyond them called to her. page: 185 She craved, almost unconsciously, a wider sphere of action. She longed to obtain, and to lend a hand in the shaping of events and making of history. Even the purest and most devoted among women—possessing the doubtful blessing of a measure of intellect—are subject to such vagrant heats, such uprisings of personal ambition, specially during the dangerous decade when the nine‐and‐thirtieth year is past.

Meanwhile Richard’s answer to her question was unfortunately somewhat over‐long in coming, for the young man was sunk in meditation and apparently oblivious of her presence. He leaned back in the long, low arm‐chair, his hands clasped behind his head, the embroidered rug drawn about his waist, a venerable, yellow‐edged, calf‐bound volume lying face downwards on his lap. While young Camp—young no longer, full of years indeed beyond the allotted portion of his kind—reposed, outstretched and snoring, on the all‐too‐wide space of rug and chair‐seat at his feet. And this indifference, both of man and dog, grew irksome to Lady Calmady. She moved across the shining yellow and black surface of the tiger‐skin and straightened the bronzes of Vinedresser and Lazy Lad standing on the high chimneypiece.

“My dear, it grows late,” she said. “Let us settle this matter. If your uncle and cousin are to come, I must send a note over to Newlands to‐morrow before breakfast. Remember I have no choice in the matter. I leave it entirely to you. Tell me seriously what you wish.”

Richard stretched himself, turning his head in the hollow of his hands, and shrugged his shoulders slightly.

“That is exactly what I would thank you so heartily to tell me,” he answered. “Do I, or don’t I seriously wish it? I give you my word, mother, I don’t know.”

“Oh; but, my dearest, that is folly! You must have inclination enough, one way or the other, to come to a decision. I was careful not to commit myself. It is still easy not to ask them without being guilty of any discourtesy.”

“It isn’t that,” Richard said. “It is simply that being anything but heroic I am trying of two evils to choose the least. I should like to have my uncle—and Helen—here immensely. But if the visit wasn’t a success I should be proportionately disappointed and vexed. So is it worth the risk? Disappointments are sufficiently abundant anyhow. Isn’t it slightly imbecile to run a wholly gratuitous risk of adding to their number?”

Then the fixed idea began stealthily, yet surely, to reassert page: 186 its dominion; for there was a perceptible flavour of discouragement in the young man’s speech.

“Dickie, there is nothing wrong, is there,—nothing the matter, to‐night?”

“Oh, dear no, of course not!” he answered, half closing his eyes. “Nothing in the world’s the matter.”

He unclasped his hands, leaned forward and patted the bulldog lying across the rug at his feet.—“At least nothing more than usual, nothing more than the abiding something which always has been and always will be the matter.”

“Ah, my dear!” Katherine cried softly.

“I’ve just been reading Burton’s Anatomy here,” he went on bending down, so that his face was hidden, while he pulled the dog’s soft ears. “He assures all—whom it may concern—that ‘bodily imperfections do not a whit blemish the soul or hinder the operations of it, but rather help and much increase it.’ There, Camp, poor old man, don’t start—it’s nothing worse than me. I wonder if the elaborate pains which have been taken through generations of your ancestors to breed you into your existing and very royal hideousness—your flattened nose and perpetual grin, for instance—do help and much increase the operations of your soul!”

He looked up suddenly.

“What do you think, mother?”

“I think—think, my darling,” she said, “that perhaps neither you nor I are quite ourselves to‐night.”

“Oh, well I’ve had rather a beastly day!”—Richard dropped back against the chair cushions again, clasping his hands behind his head. “Or I’ve seemed to have it, which comes practically to much the same thing. I confess I have been rather hipped lately. I suppose it’s the weather. You’re not really in a hurry, mother, are you? Come and sit down.”

And obediently Katherine drew forward a chair and sat beside him. Those uprisings of vagrant desire still struggled, combating the dominion of the fixed idea. But the struggle grew faint and fainter. And then, for a measurable time, Richard fell silent again while she waited. Verily there is no sharper discipline for a woman’s proud spirit, than that administered, often quite unconsciously, by the man whom she loves.

“We gave a wretched girl six weeks to‐day for robbing her mistress,” he remarked at last. “It was a flagrant case, so I suppose we were justified. In fact I don’t see how we could have done otherwise. But it went against me awfully, all the same. She has a child to support. Jim Gould got her into page: 187 trouble and deserted her, like a cowardly, young blackguard. However, it’s easy to be righteous at another person’s expense. Perhaps I should have done the same in his place. I wonder if I should?”—

“My dear, we need hardly discuss that point, I think,” Lady Calmady said.

Richard turned his head and smiled at her.

“Poor dear mother, do I bore you? But it is so comfortable to grumble. I know it’s selfish. It’s a horrid bad habit, and you ought to blow me up for it. But then, mother, take it all round, really I don’t grumble much, do I?”

“No, no!” Katherine said quickly. “Indeed, Dickie, you don’t.”

“I have been awfully afraid though, lately, that I do grumble more than I imagine,” he went on, straightening his head, while his handsome profile showed clear cut against the dancing brightness of the firelight. “But it’s almost impossible always to carry something about with you which—which you hate, and not let it infect your attitude of mind and, in a degree, your speech. Twenty or thirty years hence it may prove altogether sufficient and satisfactory to know”—his lips worked, obliging him to enunciate his words carefully—“that bodily imperfections do not a whit blemish the soul or hinder its operations—are, in short, an added means of grace. Think of it! Isn’t it a nice, neat, little arrangement, sort of spiritual consolation stakes! Only I’m afraid I’m some two or three decades on the near side of that comfortable conclusion yet, and I find”—

Richard shifted his position, letting his arms drop along the chair arms with a little thud. He smiled again, or at all events essayed to do so.

“In fact, I find it’s beastly difficult to care a hang about your soul, one way or another, when you clearly perceive your body’s making you the laughing‐stock of half the people—why, mother, sweet dear mother,—what is it?”

For Lady Calmady’s two hands had closed down on his hand, and she bowed herself above them as though smitten with sharp pain.

“Pray don’t be distressed,” he went on. “I beg your pardon. I wasn’t thinking what I was saying, I’m an ass. It’s nothing I tell you but the weather. You’re all a lot too good to me and indulge me too much, and I grow soft, and then every trifle rubs me the wrong way. I’m a regular spoilt child—I know it, and a jolly good spanking is what I deserve. page: 188 Burton, here, declares that the autumnal, like the vernal, equinox breeds hot humours and distempers in the blood. I believe we ought to be bled, spring and fall, like our forefathers. Look here, mother, don’t take my grumbling to heart. I tell you I’m just a little hipped from the weather. Let’s send for dear old Knott and get him to drive out the devil with his lancet! No, no, seriously, I tell you what we will do. It’ll be good for us both. I have arrived at a decision. We’ll have uncle William and—Helen”—

Richard had spoken very rapidly, half ashamed, trying to soothe her. He paused on the last word. He was conscious of a singular pleasure in pronouncing it. The perfectly finished figure of his cousin, outstanding against the wide, misty brightness of the sunset, the scent of the wood and moorland, the haunting suggestion of glad secrets, even that upcurling of blue cigarette smoke, rising as the smoke of incense—with a difference—upon the clear, evening air, above all that silent flattery of intimate and fearless glances, those gay welcoming gestures, that merry calling, as of birds in the tree‐tops, from the spirit of youth within him to the spirit of youth so visibly and radiantly resident in her—all this rose up before Richard. He grew reckless, though reckless of precisely what, innocent as he was in fact although mature in learning, he knew not as yet. Only he turned on his mother a face at once eager and shy, coaxing her as when in his long‐ago baby‐days he had implored some petty indulgence or the gift of some coveted toy on which his little heart was set.

“Yes, let us have them,” he said. “You know Helen is very charming. You will admire her, mother. She is as clever as she can stick, one sees that at a glance. And she is very much grande dame too—and, oh, well, she is a whole lot of charming things! And her coming would be a wholesome breaking up of our ordinary ways of going on. We are usually very contented—at least, I think so—you, and dear Julius, and I, but perhaps we are getting into a bit of a rut. Helen’s society might prove an even more efficacious method of driving out my blue‐devils than Knott’s lancet or a jolly good spanking.”

He laughed quietly, patting Katherine’s hand, but looking away.

“And there is no denying it would be a vastly more graceful one—don’t you think so?”

Thus were smouldering fires of personal ambition quenched in Lady Calmady, as so often before. Richard’s tenderness page: 189 brought her to her knees. She hugged, with an almost voluptuous movement of passion, that half‐rejected burden of maternity, gathering it close against her heart once more. But, along with the rapture of self‐surrender, came a thousand familiar fears and anxieties. For she had looked into Dickie’s mind, as he spoke out his grumble, and had there perceived the existence of much which she had dreaded and to the existence of which she had striven to blind herself.

“My darling,” she said, with a certain hesitation, “I will gladly have them if you wish it—only you remember what happened long ago, when Helen was here last?”

“Yes, I know. I was afraid you would think of that. But you can put that aside. Helen’s not the smallest recollection of it. She told me so this afternoon.”

“Told you so?” Katherine repeated.

“Yes,” he said. “It was awfully sweet of her. Evidently she’d been bullied about her unseemly behaviour when she was small, till you, and I, and Brockhurst, had been made into a perfect bugbear. She’s quite amusingly afraid of you still. But she’s no notion what really happened. Of course she can’t have, or she could not have mentioned the subject to me.”—Richard shrugged his shoulders. “Obviously it would have been impossible.”

There was a pause. Lady Calmady rose. The young man spoke with conviction, yet her anxiety was not altogether allayed.

“Impossible,” he repeated. “Pretty mother, don’t disquiet yourself. Trust me. To tell you the truth, I have felt to‐day—is it very foolish?—that I should like someone of my own age for a little while, as—don’t you know—a playfellow.”

Katherine bent down and kissed him. But mother‐love is not, even in its most self‐sacrificing expression, without torments of jealousy.

“My dear, you shall have your playfellow,” she said, though conscious of a tightening of the muscles of her beautiful throat. “Good‐night. Sleep well.”

She went out, closing the door behind her. The perspective of the dimly‐lighted corridor, and the great hall beyond, struck her as rather sadly lifeless and silent. What wonder, indeed, that Richard should ask for a companion, for something young! Love made her selfish and cowardly she feared. She should have thought of this before. She turned back, again opening the Gun‐Room door.

Richard had raised himself. He stood on the seat of the chair, steadying himself by one hand on the chair‐back, while page: 190 with the other he pulled the rug from beneath the sleepy bulldog.

“Wake up, you lazy, old beggar,” he was saying. “Get down can’t you? I want to go to bed, and you block the way, lying there in gross comfort, snoring. Make yourself scarce, old man! If I’d your natural advantages in the way of locomotion, I wouldn’t be so slow in using them”—

He looked up, and slipped back into a sitting position hastily.

“Oh, mother, I thought you had gone!” he exclaimed, almost sharply.

And to Katherine, overstrung as she was, the words came as a rebuke.

“My dearest, I won’t keep you,” she said. “I only came back to ask you about Honoria St. Quentin.”

“What about her?”

“She is staying at Newlands—the two girls are friends, I believe. She seemed to me a fine creature when last I saw her. She knows the world, yet struck me curiously untouched by it. She is well read, she has ideas—some of them a little extravagant, but time will modify that. Only her head is awake as yet, not her heart, I think. Shall I ask her to come too?”

“So that we may wake up her heart?” Richard inquired coldly. “No thanks, dear mother, that’s too serious an undertaking. Have her another time, please. I saw her to‐day, and, no doubt my taste is bad, but I must confess she did not please me very much. Nor—which is more to the point in this connection perhaps—did I please her.—Would you ring the bell, please, as you’re there? I want Powell. Thanks so much. Good‐night.”

Some ten minutes later Julius March, after kneeling in prayer, as his custom was, before the divinely sorrowful and compassionate image of the Virgin Mother and the Dead Christ, looked forth through the many‐paned study window into the clair‐obscure of the windless, autumn night. He had been sensible of an unusual element in the domestic atmosphere this evening, and had been vaguely disquieted concerning both Katherine and Richard. It was impossible but that, as time went on, life should become more complicated at Brockhurst, and Julius feared his own inability to cope helpfully with such complication. He entertained a mean opinion of himself. It appeared to him he was but an unprofitable servant, unready, tongue‐tied, lacking in resource. A depression possessed him which he could not shake off. What had he to show, page: 191 after all, for these fifty odd years of life granted to him? He feared his religion had walked in silver slippers, and would so walk to the end. Could it then, in any true and vital sense, be reckoned religion at all? Gross sins had never exercised any attraction over him. What virtue was there, then, in being innocent of gross sin? But to those other sins—sins of defective moral courage in speech and action, sins arising from over‐fastidiousness—had he not yielded freely? Was he not a spiritual valetudinarian? He feared so. Offered, in the Eternal Mercy, endless precious opportunities of service, he had been too weak, too timorous, too slothful, to lay hold on them. And so, as it seemed to him very justly, to‐night confession, prayer, worship, left him unconsoled.

Then, looking out of the many‐paned window while the shame of his barrenness clothed him even as a garment, he beheld Lady Calmady pacing slowly over the grey quarries of the terrace pavement. A dark, fur‐bordered mantle shrouded her tall figure from head to foot. Only her face showed, and her hands folded stiffly high upon her bosom, strangely pale against the blackness of her cloak. Ordinarily Julius would have scrupled to intrude upon her lonely walk. But just now the cry within him for human sympathy was urgent. Her near neighbourhood in itself was very dear to him, and she might let fall some gracious word testifying that, in her opinion at least, his life had not been wholly vain. For very surely that which survives when all other passions are uprooted and cast forth—survives even in the case of the true ascetic and saint—is the unquenchable yearning for the spoken approval of those whom we love and have loved.

And so, pushed by his poverty of self‐esteem, Julius March, throwing a plaid on over his cassock, went out and paced the grey quarries beside Katherine Calmady.

On one hand rose the dark, rectangular masses of the house, crowned by its stacks of slender, twisted chimneys. On the other lay the indefinite and dusky expanse of the park and forest. The night was very clear. The stars were innumerable—fierce, cold points of pulsing light.—Orion’s jewelled belt and sword flung wide against the blue‐black vault. Cassiopeia seated majestic in her golden chair. Northward, above the walled gardens, the Bear pointing to the diamond flashing of the Pole star. While across all high heaven, dusty with incalculable myriads of worlds, stretched the awful and mysterious highroad of the Milky‐Way. The air was keen and tonic though so still. An immense and fearless quiet seemed to hold all things—a page: 192 quiet not of sleep, but of conscious and perfect equilibrium, a harmony so sustained and absolute that to human ears it issued, of necessity, in silence.

And that silence Lady Calmady was in no haste to break. Twice she and her companion walked the length of the terrace, and back, before she spoke. She paused, at length, just short of the arcade of the farther garden‐hall.

“This great peace of the night puts all violence of feeling to the blush,” she said. “One perceives that a thousand years are very really as one day. That calms one—with a vengeance.”

Katherine waited, looking out over the vague landscape, clasping the fur‐bordered edges of her cloak with either hand. It appeared to Julius that both her voice and the expression of her face were touched with irony.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” she went on, “nor under the ‘visiting moon,’ nor under those somewhat heartless stars. Does it occur to you, Julius, how hopelessly unoriginal we are, how we all follow in the same beaten track? What thousands of men and women have stood, as you and I stand now, at once calmed—as I admit that I am—and rendered not a little homeless by the realisation of their own insignificance in of the sleeping earth and this brooding immensity of space! À quoi bon, à quoi bon? Why can’t one learn to harden one’s poor silly heart, and just move round, stone‐like, with the great movement of things, accepting fate and ceasing to struggle or to care?”

“Just because, I think,” he answered, “the converse of that same saying is equally true. If, in material things, a thousand years are as one day, in the things of the spirit one day is as a thousand years. Remember the Christ crying upon the cross, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and suffering, during that brief utterance, the sum of all the agony of sensible insignificance and sensible homelessness human nature ever has borne or will bear.”

“Ah, the Christ! the Christ!” Lady Calmady exclaimed, half wistfully as it seemed to Julius March, and half impatiently. She turned and paced the pale pavement again.

“You are too courteous, my dear friend, and cite an example august out of all proportion to my little lament.”—She looked round at him as she spoke, smiling; and in the uncertain light her smile showed tremulous, suggestive of a nearness to tears. “Instinctively you scale Olympus,—Calvary?—yes, but I am afraid both those heights take on an equally and tragically mythological character to me—and would bring me consolation page: 193 from the dwelling‐places of the gods. And my feet, all the while, are very much upon the floor, alas! That is happening to me which never yet happened to the gods, according to the orthodox authorities. Just this—a commonplace—dear Julius, I am growing old.”

Katherine drew her cloak more severely about her and moved on hastily, her head a little bent.

“No, no, don’t deny it,” she added, as he attempted to speak. “We can be honest and dispense with conventional phrases, here, alone, under the stars. I am growing old, Julius—and being, I suppose, but a vain, doting woman, I have only discovered what that really means to‐day! But there is this excuse for me. My youth was so blessed, so—so glorious, that it was natural I should strive to delude myself regarding its passing away. I perceive that for years I have continued to call that a bride‐bed which was, in truth, a bier. I have struggled to keep my youth in fancy, as I have kept the red drawing‐room in fact, unaltered. Is not all this pitifully vain and self‐indulgent? I have solaced myself with the phantom of youth. And I am old—old.”

“But you are yourself, Katherine, yourself. Nothing that has been, has ceased to be,” Julius broke in, unable in the fulness of his reverent honour for his dear lady to comprehend the meaning of her present bitterness. “Surely the mere adding of year to year can make no so vital difference?”

“Ah! you dear stupid creature,” she cried,—“stupid, because, manlike, you are so hopelessly sensible—it makes just all the difference in the world. I shall grow less alert, less pliable of mind, less quick of sympathy, less capable of adjusting myself to altered conditions, and to the entertaining of new views. And, all the while, the demand upon me will not lessen.”

Katherine stopped suddenly in her swift walk. The two stood facing one another.

“The demand will increase,” she declared. “Richard is not happy.”

And thereupon—since, even in the most devout and holy, the old Adam dies extremely hard—Julius March fell a prey to very lively irritation. While she talked of herself, bestowing unreserved confidence upon him, he could listen gladly forever. But if that most welcome subject of conversation should be dropped, let her give him that which he craved to‐night, so specially—a word for himself. Let her deal, for a little space, with his own private needs, his own private joys and sorrows.

“Ah! Richard is not happy!” he exclaimed, his irritation page: 194 finding voice. “We reach the root of the matter. Richard is not happy. Alas, then, for Richard’s mother!”

“Are you so much surprised?” Katherine asked hotly. “Do you venture to blame him? If so, I am afraid religion has made you rather cruel, Julius. But that is not a new thing under the sun either. Those who possess high spiritual consolations—unknown to the rank and file of us—have generally displayed an inclination to take the misfortunes of others with admirable resignation. Dearest Marie de Mirancourt was an exception to that rule. You might do worse perhaps than learn to follow her example.”

As she finished speaking Lady Calmady turned from him rather loftily, and prepared to move away. But even in so doing she received an impression which tended to modify her resentful humour.

For an instant Julius March stood, a tall, thin, black figure, rigid and shadowless upon the pallor of the grey pavement, his arms extended wide, as one crucified, while he looked, not at her, not out into the repose of the night‐swathed landscape, but up at the silent dance of the eternal stars in the limitless fields of space. As Katherine, earlier in the evening, had taken up the momentarily rejected burden of her motherhood, so Julius now, with a movement of supreme self‐surrender, took up the momentarily rejected burden of the isolation of the religious life. Self‐wounded by self‐love, he had sought comfort in the creature rather than the Creator. And the creature turned and rebuked him. It was just. Now Julius gave himself back, bowed himself again under the dominion of his fixed idea; and, so doing, gained, unconsciously, precisely that which he had gone forth to seek. For Katherine, struck alike by the strange vigour, and strange resignation, of his attitude, suffered quick fear, not only for, but of him. His aloofness alarmed her.

“Julius! dear Julius!” she cried. “Come, let us walk. It grows cold. I enjoy that, but it is not very safe for you. And, pardon me, dear friend, if I spoke harshly just now. I told you I was getting old. Put my words down to the peevishness of old age then.”

Katherine smiled at him with a sweet, half‐playful humility. Her face was very wan. And speech not coming immediately to him, she spoke again.

“You have always been very patient with me. You must go on being so.”

“I ask nothing better,” Julius said.

Lady Calmady stopped, drew herself up, shook back her head.

page: 195

“Ah! what sorry creatures we all are,” she cried, rather bitterly. “Discontented, unstable, forever kicking against the pricks, and fighting against the inevitable. Always crying to one another, ‘See how hard this is, know how it hurts, feel the weight!’ My poor darling cries to me—that is natural enough”—Katherine paused—“and as it should be. But I must needs run out and cry to you. In this we are like links of an endless chain. What is the next link, Julius? To whom will you cry in your turn?”

“The chain is not endless,” he replied. “The last link of it is riveted to the steps of the throne of God. I will make my cry there—my threefold cry—for you, for Richard, and for myself, Katherine.”

Lady Calmady had reached the arched side‐door leading from the terrace into the house. She paused, with her hand on the latch.

“Your God and I quarrelled nearly four‐and‐twenty years ago—not when Richard, my joy, died, but when Richard, my sorrow, was born,” she said. “I own I see no way, short of miracle, of that quarrel being made up.”

“Then a miracle will be worked,” he answered.

“Ah! you forget I grow old,” Katherine retorted, smiling; “so that for miracles the time is at once too long and too short.”

CHAPTER V

TELLING HOW QUEEN MARY’S CRYSTAL BALL CAME TO FALL ON THE GALLERY FLOOR

THIS world is unquestionably a vastly stimulating and entertaining place if you take it aright—namely if you recognise that it is the creation of a profound humorist, is designed for wholly practical and personal uses, and proceed to adapt your conduct to that knowledge in all light‐heartedness and good faith. Thus, though in less trenchant phrase since she was still happily very young, meditated Madame de Vallorbes, while standing in the pensive October sunshine upon the wide flight of steps which leads down from the main entrance of Brockhurst House. Tall, stone pinnacles alternating with seated griffins—long of tail, fierce of beak and sharp of claw—fill in each of the many angles of the descending stone balustrade on either hand. Behind her, the florid, though rectangular, decoration of the house‐front ranged page: 196 up, storey above storey, in arcade and pilaster, heavily‐mullioned window, carven plaque and string course, to pairs of matching pinnacles and griffins—these last rampant, supporting the Calmady shield and coat‐of‐arms—the quaint forms of which break the long line of the pierced, stone parapet in the centre of the facade, and rise above the rusty red of the low‐pitched roofs, until the spires of the one and crested heads of the other are outlined against the sky. About her feet the pea‐fowl stepped in mincing and self‐conscious elegance—the cocks with rustlings of heavy‐trailing quills, the hens and half‐grown chicks with squeakings and whifflings—subdued, conversational—accompanied by the dry tap of many bills picking up the glossy grains of Indian‐corn which she let dribble slowly down upon the shallow steps from between her pretty fingers. She had huddled a soft sable tippet about her throat and shoulders. The skirt of her indigo‐coloured, poplin dress, turning upon the step immediately above that on which she stood, showed some inches of rose‐scarlet, silken frill lining the hem of it.

Helen de Vallorbes had a lively consciousness of her surroundings. She enjoyed every detail of them. Enjoyed the gentle, south‐westerly wind which touched her face and stirred her bright hair, enjoyed the plaintive, autumn song of a robin perched on a rose‐grown wall, enjoyed the impotent ferocity of the guardian griffins, enjoyed the small sounds made by the feeding pea‐fowl, the modest quaker greys and the imperial splendours of their plumage. She enjoyed the turn of her own wrist, its gold chain‐bracelet and the handsome lace falling away from and displaying it, as she held out the handfuls of corn. She enjoyed even that space of rose‐scarlet declaring itself between the dull blue of her dress and the grey, weathered surface of the stone.

But all these formed only the accompaniment, the ground‐tone, to more reasoned, more vital, enjoyments. Before her, beyond the carriage sweep, lay the square lawn enclosed by red walls and by octagonal, pepper‐pot summer‐houses, whereon—unwillingly, yet in obedience to the wild justice of revenge—Roger Ormiston had shot the Clown, half‐brother to Touchstone, racehorse of mournful memory. As a child Helen had heard that story. Now her somewhat light, blue‐grey eyes, their beautiful lids raised wide for once, looked out curiously upon the space of dew‐powdered turf; while the corners of her mouth—a mouth a trifle thin lipped, yet soft and dangerously sweet for kissing—turned upward in a reflective smile. She, too, knew what it was to be angry, to the point of revenge; had indeed page: 197 come to Brockhurst not without purpose of that last tucked away in some naughty convolution of her active brain. But Brockhurst and its inhabitants had proved altogether more interesting than she had anticipated. This was the fourth day of her visit, and each day had proved more to her taste than the preceding one. So she concluded this matter of revenge might very well stand over for the moment, possibly stand over altogether. The present was too excellent, of its kind, to risk spoiling. Helen de Vallorbes valued the purple and fine linen of a high civilisation; nor did she disdain, within graceful limits, to fare sumptuously every day. She valued all that is beautiful and costly in art, of high merit and distinction in literature. Her taste was sure and just, if a little more disposed towards that which is sensuous than towards that which is spiritual. And in all its many forms she appreciated luxury, even entertaining a kindness for that necessary handmaid of luxury—waste. Appreciated these the more ardently, that, with birth‐pangs at the beginning of each human life, death‐pangs and the corruption of the inevitable grave at the close of each, all this lapping, meanwhile, of the doomed flesh in exaggerations of ease and splendour seemed to her among the very finest ironies of the great comedy of existence. It heightened, it accentuated the drama. And among the many good things of life, drama, come how and where and when it might, seemed to her supremely the best. She desired it as a lover his mistress. To detect it, to observe it, gave her the keenest pleasure. To take a leading part in and shape it to the turn of her own heart, her own purpose, her own wit, was, so far, her ruling passion.

And of potential drama, of the raw material of it, as the days passed, she found increasingly generous store at Brockhurst. It invaded and held her imagination, as the initial conception of his poem will that of the poet, or of his picture that of the painter. She brooded over it, increasingly convinced that it might be a masterpiece. For the drama—as she apprehended it—contained not only elements of virility and strength, but an element, and that a persistent one, of the grotesque. This put the gilded dome to her silent, and perhaps slightly unscrupulous, satisfaction. How could it be otherwise, since the presence of the grotesque is, after all, the main justification of the theory on which her philosophy of life was based—namely the belief that above all eloquence of human speech, behind all enthusiasm of human action or emotion, the ear which hears aright can always detect the echo of eternal laughter? And this grim echo did not affect the charming young lady to sadness as yet. Still less page: 198 did it make her mad, as the mere suspicion of it has made so many, and those by no means unworthy or illiterate persons. For the laugh, so far, had appeared to be on her side, never at her expense—which makes a difference. And the chambers of her House of Life were too crowded by health and agreeable sensations, mental activities and sparkling audacities to leave any one of them vacant for reception, more than momentary, of that thrice‐blessed guest, pity.

And so it followed that, as she fed the mincing pea‐fowl, Madame de Vallorbes’ smile changed in character from reflection to impatience. A certain heat running through her, she set her pretty teeth and fell to pelting the pea‐hens and chicks mischievously, breaking up all their aristocratic reserve and making them jump and squeak to some purpose. For this precious, this very masterpiece of a drama was not only here potentially, but actually. It was alive. She had felt it move under her hand—or under her heart, which was it?—yesterday evening. Again this morning, just now, she had noted signs of its vitality, wholly convincing to one skilled in such matters. Impatience, then, became very excusable.

“For my time is short and the action disengages itself so deplorably slowly!” she exclaimed.—“Pah! you greedy, conceited birds, which do you hold dearest after all, the filling of your little stomachs, or the supporting of your little dignities? Be advised by a higher intelligence. Revenge yourselves on the grains that hit and sting you by gobbling them up. It is a venerable custom that of feasting upon one’s enemies. And has been practised, in various forms, both by nations and individuals. There, I give you another chance of displaying wisdom—there—there!—La! la! what an absurd commotion! You little idiots, don’t flutter. Agitation is a waste of energy, and advances nothing. I declare peace. I want to consider.”

And so, letting the remaining handfuls of corn dribble down very slowly, while the sunshine grew warmer and the shadows of the guardian griffins more distinct upon the lichen‐encrusted stones, Helen de Vallorbes sank back into meditation.—Yes, unquestionably the drama was alive. But it seemed so difficult to bring it to the birth. And she wanted, very badly, to hear its first half‐articulate cries and watch its first staggering footsteps. All that is so entertaining, you yourself safely grown‐up, standing very firm on your feet, looking down!—And it would be a lusty child, this drama, very soon reaching man’s estate and man’s inspiring violence of action, striking out like some blind, giant page: 199 Samson, blundering headlong in its unseeing, uncalculating strength.—Helen laid her hands upon her bosom, and threw back her head, while her throat bubbled with suppressed laughter. Ah! it promised to be a drama of ten thousand, if she knew her power, and knew her world—and she possessed considerable confidence in her knowledge of both. Only, how on earth to set the crystal free of the matrix, how to engage battle, how to get this thing fairly and squarely born? For, as she acknowledged, in the flotation of all such merry schemes as her present one, chance encounters, interludes, neatly planned evasions and resultant pursuits, play so large and important a part. But at Brockhurst this whole chapter of accidents was barred, and received rules of strategy almost annihilated, by the fact of Richard Calmady’s infirmity and the hard‐and‐fast order of domestic procedure, the elaborate system of etiquette, which that infirmity had gradually produced. At Brockhurst there were no haphazard exits and entrances. These were either hopelessly official and public, or guarded to an equally hopeless point of secrecy. A contingent of tall, civil men‐servants was always on duty. Richard was invariably in his place at table when the rest of the company came down. The ladies took their after‐dinner coffee in the drawing‐room, and joined the gentlemen in the Chapel‐Room, library, or gallery, as the case might be. If they rode, Richard was at the door ready mounted, along with the grooms and led‐horses. If they drove, he was already seated in the carriage.

“And how, how in the name of common sense,” Madame de Vallorbes exclaimed, stamping her foot, and thereby throwing the now thoroughly nervous pea‐fowl into renewed agitation, “are you to establish any relation worth mentioning with a man who is perpetually being carried in procession like a Hindu idol? My good birds, one’s never alone with him—whether by design and arrangement, I know not. But, so far, never, never, picture that! And yet, don’t tell me, matchless mixture of pride and innocence though he is, he wouldn’t like it!”

However, she checked her irritation by contemplation of yesterday.—Ah! that had been very prettily done assuredly. For riding in the forenoon along the road skirting the palings of the inner park, while they walked their horses over the soft, brown bed of fallen fir‐needles,—she, her father, and Dick,—the conversation dealt with certain first editions and their bindings, certain treasures, unique in historic worth, locked in the glass tables and fine Florentine and piétra dura cabinets of the Long Gallery. Mr. Ormiston was a connoisseur and talked well. And page: 200 Helen had sufficient acquaintance with such matters both to appreciate, and to add telling words to the talk.

“Ah! but I cannot go without seeing those delectable things, Richard,” she said. “Would it be giving you altogether too much trouble to have them out for me?”

“Why, of course not. You shall see them whenever you like,” he answered. “Julius knows all about them. He’ll be only too delighted to act showman.”

Just here the road narrowed a little, and Mr. Ormiston let his horse drop a few lengths behind, so that she, Helen, and her cousin rode forward side by side. The tones of the low sky, of the ranks of firs and stretches of heather formed a rich, though sombre, harmony of colour. Scents, pungent and singularly exhilarating, were given off by the damp mosses and the peaty moorland soil. The freedom of the forest, the feeling of the noble horse under her, stirred Helen as with the excitement of a mighty hunting, a positively royal sport. While the close presence of the young man riding beside her sharpened the edge of that excitement to a perfect keenness of pleasure.

“Ah, how glorious it all is!” she cried. “How glad I am that you asked me to come here.”

And she turned to Richard, looking at him as, since the first day of their meeting, she had not, somehow, quite ventured to look.

“But, oh! dear me! please,” she went on, “I know Mr. March is an angel, a saint—but—but—mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I don’t want him to show me those special treasures of yours. He’ll take the life out of them. I know it. And make them seem like things read of merely in a learned book. Be very charming to me, Richard. Waste half an hour upon me. Show me those moving relics yourself.”

As she spoke, momentary suspicion rose in Dickie’s eyes. But she gazed back unflinchingly, with the uttermost frankness, so that suspicion died, giving place to the shy, yet triumphant, gladness of youth which seeks and finds youth.

“Do, Richard, pray do,” she repeated.

The young man had averted his face rather sharply, and both horses, somehow, broke into a hand gallop.

“All right,” he answered. “I’ll arrange it. This evening, about six, after tea? Will that suit you? I’ll send you word.”

Then the road had widened, permitting Mr. Ormiston to draw up to them again. The remainder of the ride had been a little silent.

Yes, all that had been prettily done. Nor had the piece that page: 201 followed proved unworthy of the prelude. She ran over the scene in her mind now, as she stood among the pecketing peafowl, and it caused her both mirth and delightful little heats, in which the heart has a word to say.—Madame de Vallorbes was ravished to feel her heart, just now and again. For, contradictory as it may seem, no game is perfect that has not moments of seriousness.—She recalled the aspect of the Long Gallery, as one of those civil, ever‐present men‐servants had opened the door for her, and she waited a moment on the threshold. The true artist is never in a hurry. The breadth of the great room immediately before her showed very bright with candle‐light and lamp‐light. But that died away, through gradations of augmenting obscurity, until the extreme end, towards the western bay, melted out into complete darkness. This produced an effect of almost limitless length which moved her to a childish, and at first pleasing, fancy of vague danger—an effect heightened by the ranges of curious and costly objects standing against, or decorating, the walls in a perspective of deepening gloom. Turquoise‐coloured, satin curtains, faded to intimate accord with the silvered surface of the panelling, were drawn across the wide windows. They reached to the lower edge of the stonework merely, leaving blottings of impenetrable shadow below. While, as culmination of interest, as living centre to this rich and varied setting, was the figure of Richard Calmady—seen, as his custom was, only to the waist—seated in a high‐backed chair drawn close against an antique, oak table, upon which a small piétra dura cabinet had been placed. The doors of the cabinet stood open, displaying slender columns of jasper and porphyry, and, little drawers encrusted with raised work in marble and precious stones. The young man sat stiffly upright, as one who listens, expectant. His expression was almost painfully serious. In one hand he held a string of pearls, attached to which, and enclosed by intersecting hoops of gold, was a crystal ball that shone with the mild effulgence of a mimic moon. And the great room was so very quiet, that Helen, in her pause upon the threshold, had remarked the sound of raindrops tapping upon the many window‐panes as with impatiently nervous fingers.

And this bred in her a corresponding nervousness—sensation to her, heretofore, almost unknown. The darkness yonder began to provoke a disagreeable impression, queerly challenging both her eyesight and her courage. Old convent teachings, regarding the Prince of Darkness and his emissaries, returned upon her. What if diabolic shapes lurked there, ready to page: 202 become stealthily emergent? She had scoffed at such archaic fancies in the convent, yet, in lonely hours, had suffered panic fear of them, as will the hardiest sceptic. A certain little scar, moreover, carefully hidden under the soft hair arranged low on her right temple, smarted and pricked. In short, her habitual self‐confidence suffered partial eclipse, She was visited by the disintegrating suspicion, for once, that the eternal laughter might, possibly, be at her expense, rather than on her side.

But she conquered such suspicion as contemptible, and cast out the passing weakness.—The bare memory of it angered her now, causing her to fire a volley of yellow corn at a lordly peacock, which sent him scuttling down the steps on to the gravel in most plebeian haste. Yes, she had speedily cast out her weakness, thank Heaven! What was all the pother about after all? This was not the first time she had played merry games with the affairs and affections of men. Madame de Vallorbes smiled to herself, recalling certain episodes, and shook her charming shoulders gleefully, as she looked out into the sunny morning. And then, was there not ample excuse? This man moved her more than most—more than any. She swore he did. Her attitude towards him was something new, something quite different, thereby justifying her campaign. And therefore, all the bolder for her brief self‐distrust and hesitation, she had swept across the great room, light of foot, and almost impertinently graceful of carriage.

“Here you are at last!” Dickie had exclaimed, with a sigh as of relief. “I shan’t want anything more, Powell. You can come back when the dressing‐bell rings.”—Then, as the valet closed the door behind him, he continued rapidly:—“Not that I propose to victimise you till then, Helen. You mustn’t stay a moment longer than you like. I confess I’m awfully fond of this room. I’m almost ashamed to think how much time I waste in it. Doing what? Oh, well, just dreaming! You see it contains samples of the doings of all my father’s people, and I return to primitive faiths here and perform acts of ancestor worship.”

“Ah! I like that!” Helen said. And she did. Picture this man, long of arm, unnaturally low of stature, and astonishingly—yes, quite astonishingly—good‐looking, moving about among these books and pictures, these trophies of war and of sport, these oriental jars, tall almost as himself, and all the other strange furnishings from out distant years and distant lands! Picture him emerging from that wall of soft darkness yonder, for instance! Helen’s eyes danced under their arched and page: 203 drooping lids, and she registered the fact that, though still frightened, her fright had changed in character. It was grateful to her palate. She relished it as the bouquet of a wine of finest quality. Meanwhile her companion talked on.

“The ancestor worship? Oh yes! I daresay you might like it for a change. Getting it as I do, as habitual diet, it is not remarkably stimulating. The natural man prefers to find occasion for worshipping himself rather than his ancestors, after all, you know. But a little turn of it will serve to fill in a gap and lessen the monotony of your visit. I am afraid you must be a good deal bored, Helen. It must seem rather terribly humdrum here after Paris and Naples, and—well—most places, at that rate, as you know them.”

Richard shifted his position. And the crystal moon encompassed by golden bands, crossing and intersecting one another like those of a sidereal sphere, gleamed as with an inward and unearthly light, swinging slowly upon the movement of his hand.

“You must feel here as though the clock had been put back two or three centuries. I know we move slowly, and conduct ourselves with tedious deliberation. And so, you understand, you mustn’t let me keep you. Just look at what you like of these odds and ends, and then depart without scruple. It’s rather a fraud, in any case, my showing them to you. Julius March, as I told you, is much better qualified to.”

“Julius March, Julius March!” Madame de Vallorbes broke in. “Do, I beseech you, dear cousin Richard, leave him to the pious retirement of his study. Is he not middle‐aged, and a priest into the bargain?”

“Unquestionably,” Dickie said. “But, pardon me, I don’t quite see what that has to do with it,”

Thereupon Madame de Vallorbes made a very naughty, little grimace and drummed with her finger‐tips upon the table.

“La! la!” she cried, “you’re no better than all the rest. Commend me to a clever man for incapacity to apprehend what is patent to the intelligence of the most ordinary woman. Look about you.”—Helen sketched in their surroundings with a quick descriptive gesture. “Observe the lights and shadows. The ghostly wavings of those pale curtains. Smell the pot‐pourri and spices. Think of the ancestor worship. Listen to the lamenting wind and rain. See the mysterious treasure you hold in your hand. And then ask me what middle‐age and the clerical profession have to do with all this! Why, nothing, just precisely nothing, nothing in the whole world. That’s the point page: 204 of my argument. They’d ruin the sentiment, blight the romance, hopelessly blight it—for me at least.”

The conversation was slightly embarrassed, both Helen and Richard talking at length, yet at random. But she knew that it was thus, and not otherwise, that it behoved them to talk. For that which they said mattered not in the least. The thing said served as a veil, as a cloak, merely, wherewith to disguise those much greater things which, perforce, remained unsaid.—To cover his and her lively consciousness of their present isolation, desired these many days and now obtained. To conceal the swift, silent approaches of spirit to spirit, so full of inquiry and self‐revelation, fugitive reserves and fugitive distrusts. To hide, as far as might be, the existence of the hungry, all‐compelling joie de vivre which is begotten whensoever youth thus seeks and finds youth.—These unspoken and, as yet, unspeakable things were alone of real moment, making eyes lustrous and lips quick with tremulous, uncalled‐for smiles irrespective of the purport of their speech.

“Ah! but that’s rather rough on poor dear Julius, you know,” Dickie said. “I suppose you wanted to learn all”—

“Learn?” she interrupted. “I wanted to feel. Don’t you know there is only one way any woman worth the name ever really learns—through her emotions? Only the living feel. Such men as he, if they are sincere, are already dead. He would have made feeling impossible.”

A perceptible hush descended upon the room. Richard Calmady’s hand usually was steady enough, but, in the silence, the pearls chattered against the table. He went rather pale and his face hardened.

“And are you getting anything of that which you wanted, Helen?” he asked. “For sometimes in the last few days—since you have been here—I—I have wondered if perhaps we were not all like that—all dead”—

“You mean do I get emotion, am I feeling?” she said. “Rest contented. Much is happening. Indeed I have doubted, during the last few days, since I have been here, whether I have ever known what it is to feel actually and seriously before.”

She sat down at right angles to him, resting her elbows upon the table, her chin upon her folded hands, leaning a little towards him. One of those pleasant heats swept over her, flushing her delicate skin, lending a certain effulgence to her beauty. The scent of roses long faded hung in the air. But here was a rose sweeter far than they. No white rose of paradise, it must be confessed. Rather, like her immortal namesake, that page: 205 classic Helen, was she rosa mundi, glowing with warmth and colour, rose‐red rose altogether of this dear, naughty, lower world!

“Richard,” she said impulsively, “why don’t you understand? Why do you underrate your own power? Don’t you know that you are quite the most moving, the most attractive—well—cousin, a woman ever had?”

She looked closely at him, her lips a little parted, her head thrown back.

“Life is sweet, dear cousin. Reckon with yourself and with it, and live—live.”—Then she put out her hand and held up the crystal between her face and his. “There,” she went on, “tell me about this. I become indiscreet, thanks I suppose to your Brockhurst habit of putting back the clock, and speak with truly Elizabethan frankness. It belongs to semi‐barbaric ages, doesn’t it, thus, to tell the true truth? Show me this. It seems rather fascinating.”

And Richard obeyed mechanically, pointing out to her the signs of the Zodiac, those of the planets, and other figures of occult significance engraved on the encircling, golden bands. Showed her how those same bands, turning on a pivot, formed a golden cradle, in which the crystal sphere reposed. He lifted it out from that cradle, moreover, and laid it in the softer cradle of her palm. And of necessity, in the doing of all this, their heads—his and hers—were very near together, and their hands met. But they were very solemn all the while, solemn, eager, busy, as two babies revealing to each other the mysteries of a newly acquired toy. And it seemed to Madame de Vallorbes that all this was as pretty a bit of business as ever served to help forward such gay purposes as hers. She was pleased with herself too—for did she not feel very gentle, very sincere, really very innocent and good?

“No, hold it so,” Richard said, rounding her fingers carefully, that the tips of them might alone touch the surface of the crystal. “Now gaze into the heart of it steadily, fixing your will to see. Pictures will come presently, dimly at first, as in a mist. Then the mist will lift and you will read your own fortune and—perhaps—some other person’s fate.”

“Have you ever read yours?”

“Oh! mine’s of a sort that needs no crystal to reveal it,” he answered, with a queer drop in his voice. “It’s written in rather indecently big letters and plain type. Always has been.”

Helen glanced at him. His words whipped up her sense of drama, fed her excitement. But she bent her eyes upon the page: 206 crystal again, and the hush descended once more, disturbed only by that nervous tapping of rain.

“I see nothing,—nothing,” she said presently. “And there is much I would give very much to see.”

“You must gaze with a simple intention.”—The young man’s voice came curiously hoarse and broken. “Purify your mind of all desire.”

Helen did not raise her head.

“Alas! if those are the conditions of revelation my chances of seeing are extremely limited. To purify one’s mind of all desire is to commit emotional suicide. Of course I desire, all the while I desire. And equally, of course, you desire. Every one who is human and in their sober senses must do that. Absence of desire means idiotcy, or”—

“Or what?”

For an instant she looked up at him, a very devil of dainty malice in her expression, in the shrug of her shoulders too, beneath their fine laces and the affected sobriety of that same dull‐blue, poplin gown.

“Or priestly, saintly middle‐age—from which may Heaven in its mercy ever deliver us,” she said.

Richard shifted his position a little, gathering himself back from her so near neighbourhood—a fact of which the young lady was not unaware.

“I’m not quite sure whether I echo your prayer,” he said slowly. “I doubt whether that attitude, or one approximate to it, is not the safest and best for some of us.”

“Safest, no doubt.”—Madame de Vallorbes’ eyes were bent on the crystal sphere again. “As it is safer to decline a duel, than go out and meet your man. Best? On that point you must permit me to hold my own opinion. The word ‘best’ has many readings according to the connection in which it isemployed. Personally I should always fight.”

“Whatever the odds?”

“Whatever the odds.”—And almost immediately Madame de Vallorbes uttered a little cry, curiously at variance with her bold words, “Something is moving inside the crystal, something is coming. I don’t half like it, Richard. Perhaps we are tempting Providence. Yes, it moves, it moves, like mist rising off a river. It is poisonous. Some woman has looked into this before—a woman of my temperament—and read an evil fortune. I know it. Tell me, quick, how did the crystal come here, to whom did it belong?”

“To Mary Stuart—Mary, Queen of Scots,” Dickie said.

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“Ah! unhappy woman, ill‐omened woman! You should have told me that before and I would never have looked. Here take it, take it. Lock it up, hide it. Let no woman ever look in it again!”

As she spoke Helen crossed herself hastily, pushing the magic ball towards him. But, as though endowed with life and volition of its own—or was it merely that Dick’s hand was even yet not quite of the steadiest?—it evaded his grasp, fell off the table edge and rolled, gleaming moonlike, far across the floor, away behind the pedestal of the bronze Pompeian Antinous, into the dusky shadow of those ghostly‐waving, turquoise, satin curtains.

With a sense of catastrophe upon her Helen had sprung to her feet.—Even now, standing in the peaceful warmth of the autumn sunshine, among the feeding pea‐fowl, the remembrance of it caused her a little shiver. For at sight of that gleaming ball hurrying across the carpet, all the nervousness, the distrust of herself, and the vague spiritual alarms, which had beset her on first entering the room, returned on her with tenfold force. The superstitious terrors of the convent‐bred girl mastered the light‐hearted scepticism of the woman of the world, and regions of sinister possibility seemed disclosing themselves around her.

“Oh! how horrible! What does it mean?” she cried.

And Richard answered cheerily, somewhat astonished at her agitation, trying to reassure her.

“Mean? Nothing, except that I was abominably awkward and the crystal abominably slippery. What does it matter? We can find it again directly.”

Then, self‐forgetful in the fulness of his longing to pacify her, Richard had pushed his chair back from the table, intending to go in search of the vagrant jewel. But the chair was high, and its make not of the most solid sort; and so he paused, instinctively calculating the amount of support it could be trusted to render him in his descent. And during that pause Helen had felt her heart stand still.—She set her little teeth now, recalling it. For the extent of his deformity was fully apparent for once. And, apprehending that which he proposed to do, she was smitten by immense curiosity to realise the ultimate of the grotesque in respect of his appearance as he should move, walk, grope in the dimness over there after the lost crystal. But there are some indulgences which can be bought at too high a price, and along with the temptation to gratify her curiosity came an intensification of superstitious alarm. What if page: 208 she had sinned, and trafficked with diabolic agencies in trying to read the future? Payment of an actively disagreeable character might be exacted for that, and would not such payment risk disastrous augmentation if she gratified her curiosity thus further? Helen de Vallorbes became quite wonderfully prudent and humane.

“No, no, don’t bother about it, don’t move, dear Richard,” she cried. “Let me find it, please. I saw exactly the direction in which it went.”

And to enforce her speech, and keep the young man in his place, she laid her hands persuasively upon his shoulders. This brought her charming face, so pure in outline, set in its aureole of honey‐coloured hair, very near to his, she looking down, he up. And in this position the two remained longer than was absolutely necessary, silent, quite still, while the air grew thick with the push of unspoken and as yet unspeakable matters, and Helen’s hands resting upon his shoulders grew heavy, as the seconds passed, with languorous weight.

“There are better things than crystals to read in, after all, Richard,” she said at last. Then she lifted her hands almost brusquely and stepped back.—“All the same it is stupid I should have to go away,” she continued, speaking more to herself than to him. “I am happy here. And when I am happy it’s easy to be good—and I like to be good.”

She crossed the room and passed behind the bronze Pompeian Antinous. Under the shadow of the curtains, in the angle of the bay, against the wainscot, Queen Mary’s magic ball glowed softly luminous. Helen could have believed that it watched her. She hesitated before stooping to pick it up and looked over her shoulder at Richard Calmady. His back was towards her, his chair close against the table again. He leaned forward on his elbows, his face buried in his hands. Something in the bowed head, in the set of the almost crouching figure reassured Madame de Vallorbes. She picked up the crystal without more ado, with, indeed, a certain flippancy of gesture. For she had received pleasing assurance that she had been frightened in the wrong place, and that the eternal laughter was very completely on her side after all.

And just then a bell had rung in some distant quarter of the great house. Powell, incarnation of decent punctualities, had appeared. Whereupon the temperature fell to below normal from fever‐heat. Drama, accentuations of sensibility, in short all the unspoken and unspeakable, withered as tropic foliage at a touch of frost. No doubt it was as well, Madame de Vallorbes page: 209 reflected philosophically, since the really psychological moment was passed. There had been a dinner party last night, and—

But here the young lady’s reminiscences broke off short. She gathered up her blue, poplin, scarlet‐lined skirts, ran down the steps, scattering the pea‐fowl to right and left, and hastened across the gravel.

“Wait half a minute for me, dear Aunt Katherine,” she cried. “Are you going to the conservatories? I would so like to see them. May I go too?”

Lady Calmady stood by the door in the high, red‐brick wall. She wore a white, lace scarf over her hair—turned up and back, dressed high, as of old, though now somewhat grey upon the temples. The lace was tied under her chin, framing her face. In her grey dress she looked as some stately, yet gracious, lady abbess might—a lady abbess who had known love in all fulness, yet in all honour—a lady abbess painted, if such happy chance could be, by the debonair and clean‐hearted Reynolds. She stood smiling, charmed—though a trifle unwillingly—by the brilliant vision of the younger woman.

“Assuredly you may come with me, if it would amuse you,” she said.

“I may? Then let me open that door for you. La! la! how it sticks. Last night’s rain must have swelled it”—and she wrestled unsuccessfully with the lock.

“My dear, don’t try any more,” Katherine said. “You will tire yourself. The exertion is too great for you. I will go back and call one of the servants.”

“No, no”—and regardless of her fine laces, and trinkets, and sables Madame de Vallorbes put her shoulder against the resisting door and fairly burst it open.

“See,” she cried, breathless but triumphant, “I am very strong.”

“You are very pretty,” Katherine said, almost involuntarily.

The steeply‐terraced kitchen‐gardens, neat box edgings, wide flower borders in which a few clumps of chrysanthemum and Michaelmas daisy still resisted the frost, ranged down to greenish, brown ponds in the valley bottom spotted with busy, quacking companies of white ducks. Beyond was an ascending slope of thick wood, the topmost trees of which showed bare against the sky line. All this was framed by the arch of the door, Madame de Vallorbes glanced at it, while she pulled down the soft waves of hair, which her late exertions had slightly disarranged, over her right temple. Then she turned impulsively to Lady Calmady.

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“Thank you, dear Aunt Katherine,” she said. “I would so like you to like me, you know.”

“I should be rather unpardonably difficult to please, if I did not like you, my dear,” Lady Calmady answered. But she sighed as she spoke.

The two women moved away, side by side, down the path to the glistering greenhouses. But Camp, who, missing Richard, had followed his mistress out of the house for a leisurely morning potter, turned back sulkily across the gravel homewards, his tail limp, his heavy head carried low. His instincts were conservative, as has been already mentioned. He was suspicious of new‐comers. And, whoever liked this particular new‐comer, Madame de Vallorbes, he was sorry to say—and on more than one occasion he said it with quite inconvenient distinctness—he did not.

CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH DICKIE TRIES TO RIDE AWAY FROM HIS OWN SHADOW, WITH SUCH SUCCESS AS MIGHT HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED

THAT same morning Richard was up and out early. Fog had followed on the evening’s rain, and at sunrise still shrouded all the landscape.

“Let her ladyship know I breakfast at the stables and shan’t be in before luncheon,” he had said to Powell while settling himself in the saddle. Then, followed by a groom, he fared forth. The house vanished phantom‐like behind him, and the clang of the iron gates as they swung to was muffled by the heavy atmosphere, while he rode on by invisible ways across an invisible land, hemmed in, close‐encompassed, pressed upon, by the chill, ashen whiteness of the fog.

And for the cold silence and blankness surrounding him Richard was grateful. It was restful—after a grim fashion—and he welcomed rest, having passed a but restless night. For Dickie had been the victim of much travail of spirit. His imagination vexed him, pricking up slumbering lusts of the flesh. His conscience vexed him likewise, suggesting that his attitude had not been pure cousinly; and this shamed him, since he was still singularly unspotted from the world, noble modesties and decencies still paramount in him. He was keenly, some page: 211 might say mawkishly, sensible of the stain and dishonour of casting, even involuntarily and passingly, covetous glances upon another man’s goods. In sensation and apprehension he had lived at racing pace during the last few days. That hour in the Long Gallery last night had been the climax. The gates of paradise had opened before him. And, since opposites of necessity imply their opposites, the gates of hell had opened likewise. It appeared to Dickie that the great poets, and painters, and musicians, the great lovers even, had nothing left to tell him—for he knew. Knew, moreover, that his Eden had come to him with the angel of the fiery sword that “turneth every way” standing at the threshold of it—knew, yet further, as he had never known before, the immensity of the difficulties, disabilities, humiliations, imposed on him by his deformity. Bitterly, nakedly, he called his trouble by that offensive name. Then he straightened himself in the saddle. Yes, welcome the cold weight against his chest, welcome the silence, the blankness, the dead, ashen pallor of the fog!

But just where the tan ride, leading down across the road to the left, diverges from the main road, this source of negative consolation began to fail him. For a draw of fresher air came from westward, causing the blurred, wet branches to quiver and the pall of mist to gather, and then break and melt under its wholesome breath, while the rays of the laggard sun, clearing the edge of the fir forest, eastward, pierced it, hastening its dissolution. Therefore it followed that by the time Richard rode in under the stable archway, he found the great yard full of noise and confused movement. The stable doors stood wide along one side of the quadrangle. Stunted, boyish figures shambled hither and thither, unwillingly deserting the remnants of half‐eaten breakfasts, among the iron mugs and platters of the long, deal tables of the refectory. Chifney and Preiston—the head‐lad—hurried them, shouting orders, admonishing, inciting to greater rapidity of action. And the boys were sulky. The thick morning had promoted hopes of an hour or two of unwonted idleness. Now those poor, little hopes were summarily blighted. Lazy, pinched with cold by the raw morning air, still a bit hungry, sick even, or downright frightened, they must mount and away—the long line of racehorses streaming, in single file, up the hillside to the exercising ground—with as short delay as possible, or Mr. Chifney and his ash stick would know the reason why.

There were elements of brutality in the scene from which Richard would, oftentimes, have recoiled. To‐day he was page: 212 selfish, absorbed to the point of callousness. If he remarked them at all, it was in bitter welcome, as he had welcomed the chill and staring blankness of the fog. He was indifferent to the fact that Chifney was harsh, the horses testy or wicked, that the boys’ noses were red, and that they blew their purple fingers before laying hold of the reins in a vain attempt to promote circulation. Dickie sat still as a statue in the midst of all the turmoil, the handle of his crop resting on his thigh, his eyes hot from sleeplessness and wild thoughts, his face hard as marble.—Unhappy? Wasn’t he unhappy too? Suffer? Well, let them suffer—within reasonable limits. Suffering was the fundamental law of existence. They must bow to the workings of it along with the rest.

But one wretched, little chap fairly blubbered. He had been kicked in the stomach some three weeks earlier, and had been in hospital. This was his first morning out. He had grown soft, and was light‐headed, his knees all of a shake. By means of voluminous threats Preiston got him up. But he sat his horse all of a huddle, as limp as a half‐empty sack of chaff. Richard looked on feeling, not pity, but only irritation, finally amounting to anger. The child’s whole aspect and the snivelling sounds he made were so hatefully ugly. It disgusted him.

“Here, Chifney, leave that fellow at home,” he said. “He’s no good.”

“He’s malingering, Sir Richard. I know his sort. Give in to him now and we shall have the same game, and worse, over again to‐morrow.”

“Very probably,” Richard answered. “Only it is evident he has no more hand and no more grip than a sick cat to‐day. We shall have some mess with him, and I’m not in the humour for a mess, so just leave him. There, boy, stop crying. Do you hear?” he added, wheeling round on the small unfortunate. “Mr. Chifney’ll give you another day off and the doctor will see you. Only if he reports you fit and you give the very least trouble to‐morrow, you’ll be turned out of the stables there and then. We’ve no use for shirkers. Do you understand?”

In spite of his irritation, the hardness of Richard’s expression relaxed as he finished speaking. The poor, little beggar was so abject—too abject indeed for common decency, since he too, after all, was human. Richard’s own self‐respect made it incumbent upon him to lift the creature out of the pit of so absolutely unseemly a degradation. He looked kindly at him, smiled, and promptly forgot all about him. While to the boy it seemed that the gods had verily descended in the likeness of page: 213 men, and he would have bartered his little, dirty, blear‐eyed rudiment of a soul thenceforward for another such a look from Richard Calmady.

Dickie promptly forgot the boy, yet some virtue must have been in the episode for he began to feel better in himself. As the horses filed away through the misty sunshine—Preiston riding beside the fourth or fifth of the string, while Richard and Chifney brought up the rear, his chestnut suiting its paces to the shorter stride of the trainer’s cob—the fever of the night cooled down in him. Half thankfully, half amusedly, he perceived things begin to assume their normal relations. He filled his lungs with the pure air, felt the sun‐dazzle pleasant in his eyes.He had run somewhat mad in the last twenty‐four hours surely? He was not such a fatuous ass as to have mistaken Helen’s frank camaraderie, her bright interest in things, her charming little ways of showing cousinly regard, for some deeper, more personal feeling? She had been divinely kind, but that was just her—just the outcome of her delightful nature. She wouldgo away on Friday—Saturday perhaps—he rather hoped Saturday—and be just as divinely kind to other people. And then he shook himself, feeling the languid weight of her hands on his shoulders again. Would she—would—? For an instant he wanted to get at, and incontinently brain, those other people. After which, Richard mentally took himself by the throat and proceeded to choke the folly out of himself.—Yes, she would go back to all those other people, back moreover to the Vicomte de Vallorbes—whom, by the way, it occurred to him she so seldom mentioned. Well, we don’t continually talk about the people we love best, do we, to comparative strangers? She would go back to her husband—her husband.—Richard repeated the words over to himself sternly, trying to drive them home, to burn them into his consciousness past all possibility of forgetting.

Anyhow she had been wonderfully sweet and charming to him. She had shown him—quite unconsciously, of course—what life might be for—for somebody else. She had revealed to him—what indeed had she not revealed! He remembered the spirit of expectation that possessed him riding back through the autumn woods the day he first met her. The expectation had been more than justified by the sequel. Only—only—and then Dick became stern with himself again. For, she having, unconsciously, done so much for him, was it not his first duty never to distress her?—never to let her know how much deeper it had all gone with him than with her?—never to insult her page: 214 beautiful innocence by a word or look suggesting an affection less frank and cousinly than her own?

Only, since even our strongest purposes have moments of lapse and weakness in execution, it would be safer, perhaps, not to be much alone with her—since she didn’t know—how should she? Yes, Richard agreed with himself not to loaf, to allow no idle hours. He would ride, he would see to business. There were a whole heap of estate matters claiming attention. He had neglected them shamefully of late. Unquestionably Helen counted for very much, would continue to do so. He supposed he would carry the ache of certain memories about with him henceforth and forever. She had become part of the very fibre of his life. He never doubted that. And yet, he told himself,—assuming a second‐hand garment of slightly cynical philosophy which suited singularly ill with the love‐light in his eyes, there radiantly apparent for all the world to see,—that woman, even the one who first shows you you have a heart, and a body too, worse luck, even she is but a drop in the vast ocean of things. There remains all The Rest. And with praiseworthy diligence Dickie set himself to reckon how immensely much all The Rest amounts to. There is plenty, exclusive of her, to think about. More than enough, indeed, to keep one hard at work all day, and send one to bed honestly tired, to sleeping‐point, at night. Politics for instance, science, literature, entertaining little controversial rows of sorts—the simple, almost patriarchal, duties of a great land‐owner; pleasant hobbies such as the collection of first editions, or a pretty taste in the binding of favourite books—the observation of this mysterious, ever young, ever fertile nature around him now, immutable order underlaying ceaseless change, the ever new wonder and beauty of all that, and:—“I say, Chifney, isn’t the brown Lady‐Love filly going rather short on the off foreleg? Anything wrong with her shoulder?”—and sport. Yes, thank God, in the name of everything healthy and virile, sport and, above all, horses—yes, horses.

Thus did Richard Calmady reason with, and essay to solace, himself for the fact that some fruits are forbidden to him who holds honour dear. Reasoned with and solaced himself to such good purpose, as he fondly imagined, that when, an hour and a half later, he established himself in the trainer’s dining‐room, a mighty breakfast outspread before him, he felt quite another man. Racing cups adorned the chimneypiece and sideboard, portraits of racehorses and jockeys adorned the walls. The sun streamed in between the red rep curtains, causing the pot‐plants page: 215 in the window to give off a pleasant scent, and the canary, in his swinging, blue and white painted, cage above them, to sing. Mrs. Chifney, her cheeks pink, her manner slightly fluttered,—as were her lilac cap strings,—presided over the silver tea and coffee service, admonished the staid and bulky tom‐cat who, jumping on the arm of Dickie’s chair, extended a scooping tentative paw towards his plate, and issued gentle though peremptory orders to her husband regarding the material needs of her guest. To Mrs. Chifney such entertainings as the present marked the red‐letter days of her calendar. Temporarily she forgave Chifney the doubtful nature of his calling, and his occasional outbreaks of profane swearing likewise. She ceased to regret that snug, might‐have‐been, little, grocery business in a country town. She forgot even to hanker after prayer‐meetings, anniversary teas, and other mild, soul‐saving dissipations unauthorised by the Church of England. She ruffled her feathers, so to speak, and cooed to the young man half in feudal, half in unsatisfied maternal affection—for Mrs. Chifney was childless. And it followed that as he teased her a little, going back banteringly on certain accepted subjects of difference between them, praised, and made a hole in, her fresh‐baked rolls, her nicely browned, fried potatoes, her clear, crinkled rashers, assuring her it gave one an appetite merely to sit down in a room so shiningly clean and spick and span, she was supremely happy. And Dickie was happy too, and blessed the exercise, the food, and the society of these simple persons, which, after his evil night, seemed to have restored to him his wiser and better self.

“He always was the noblest looking young gentleman I ever saw,” Mrs. Chifney remarked subsequently to her husband. “But here at breakfast this morning, when he said, ‘If you won’t be shocked, Mrs. Chifney, I believe I could manage a second helping of that game pie,’ his face was like a very angel’s from heaven. Unearthly beautiful, Thomas, and yet a sort of pain at the back of it. It gave me a regular turn. I had to shed a few tears afterwards when I got alone by myself.”

“You’re one of those that see more than’s there, half your time, Maria,” the trainer answered, with an unusual effort at sarcasm, for he was not wholly easy about the young man himself.—“There’s something up with him, and danged if I know what it is.” But these reflections he kept to himself.

Dr. Knott, later that same day, made reflections of a similar nature. For though Dickie adhered valiantly to his good page: 216 resolutions—going out with the second lot of horses between ten and eleven o’clock, riding on to Banister’s farm to inspect the new barn and cowsheds in course of erection, then hurrying down to Sandyfield Street and listening to long and heated arguments regarding a right‐of‐way reported to exist across the meadows skirting the river just above the bridge, a right strongly denied by the present occupier,—notwithstanding these improving and public‐spirited employments, the love‐light grew in his eyes all through the long morning, causing his appearance to have something, if not actually angelic, yet singularly engaging, about it. For, unquestionably, next to a fortunate attachment, an unfortunate one, if honest, is among the most inspiring and grace‐begetting of possessions granted to mortals.—Helen must never know—that was well understood. Yet the more Dickie thought the whole affair over, the more he recognised the fine romance of thus cherishing a silent and secret devotion. He was very young in this line as yet, it maybe observed. Meanwhile it was nearly two o’clock. He would need to ride home sharply if he was to be in time for luncheon. And at luncheon he would meet her. And remembering that, his heart—traitorous heart—beat quick, and his lips—traitorous lips—began to repeat her name. Thus do the gods of life and death love to play chuck‐farthing with the wise purposes of men, the theory of the eternal laughter having a root of truth in it, as it would seem, after all! And there ahead of him, under the shifting, dappled shadow of the over‐arching firs, Dr. Knott’s broad, cumbersome back, and high, two‐wheeled trap, blocked the road, while Timothy, the old groom,—stiff‐kneed now and none too active,—slowly pushed open the heavy, white gate of the inner park.

As Richard rode up, the doctor turned in his seat and looked at him from under his rough eyebrows, while his loose lips worked into a half‐ironical smile. He loved this lad of great fortune, and great misfortune, more tenderly than he quite cared to own. Then, as Dick checked his horse beside the cart, he growled out:—

“No need to make anxious inquiries regarding your health, young sir. What have you been doing with yourself, eh? You look as fit as a fiddle and as fresh as paint.”

“If I look as I feel I must look ravenously hungry,”Richard answered, flushing up a little. “I’ve been out since six.”

“Had some breakfast?”

“Oh dear, yes! Enough to teach one to know what page: 217 a jolly thing a good meal is, and make one wish for another.”

“Hum!” Dr. Knott said. “That’s a healthy state of affairs, anyhow. Young horses going well?”

“Famously.”

“Bless me, everything’s beer and skittles with you just at present then!”

Richard looked away down the smooth yellow road whereon the dappled shadows kissed and mingled, mingled and kissed, and his heart cried “Helen, Helen,” once again.

“Oh! I don’t know about that,” he said. “I get my share as well as the rest I suppose—at least—anyway the horses are doing capitally this season.”

“I should like to have a look at them.”

“Oh, well you’ve only got to say when, you know. I shall be only too delighted to show them you.”

As he walked the trap through the gateway, Dr. Knott watched Richard riding alongside.—“What’s up with the boy,” he thought. “His face is as keen as a knife, and as soft as—God help us, I hope there’s no sweethearting on hand! It’s bound to come sooner or later, but the later the better, for it’ll be a risky enough set out, come when it may.—Ah, look out there now, you old fool,”—this to Timothy,—“don’t go missing the step and laying yourself up with broken ribs for another three months, just when my work’s at its heaviest. Be careful, can’t you?”

“But why not come in to luncheon now?” Richard said, wisdom whipping up good resolutions once more, and bidding him check the gladness that gained on him at thought of that approaching meeting. Oh yes! he would be discreet, he would erect barriers, he would flee temptation. Knott’s presence offered a finely rugged barrier, surely. Therefore, he repeated:‐“Come in now. My mother will be delighted to see you, and we can have a look round the stables afterwards.”

“I’ll come fast enough if Lady Calmady will take me as I am. Work‐a‐day clothes, and second best lot at that. You’re alone, I suppose?”

He watched the young man as he spoke. Noted the lift of his chin, and the slightly studied indifference of his manner.

“No, for once we’re not. But that doesn’t matter. My uncle William Ormiston is with us. You remember him?”

“I remember his wife.”

“Oh! she’s not here,” Dickie said. “Only he and his daughter, Madame de Vallorbes. You’ll come?”

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“Oh dear, yes, I’ll come, if you’ll be good enough to prepare your ladies for a rough‐looking customer. Don’t let me keep you. Wonder what the daughter’s like?” he added to himself. “The mother was a bit of a baggage.”

CHAPTER VII

WHEREIN THE READER IS COURTEOUSLY INVITED TO IMPROVE HIS ACQUAINTANCE WITH CERTAIN PERSONS OF QUALITY

BUT Richard might have spared himself the trouble of erecting barriers against too intimate intercourse with his cousin. Providence, awaking suddenly, as it would seem, to the perils of his position, had already seen to all that. For since he went forth, hot‐eyed and hot‐headed, into the blank chill of the fog, the company at Brockhurst—as Powell announced to him‐had suffered large and unlooked‐for increase. Ludovic Quayle was the first of the self‐invited guests to appear when Richard was settled in the dining‐room. He sauntered up to the head of the table with his accustomed air of slightly supercilious inquiry, as of one who expects to meet little save fools and foolishness, yet suffers these gladly, being quite secure of his own wisdom.

“How are you, Dickie?” he said. “Fairly robust I hope, for the Philistines are upon you. Still it might have been worse. I have done what I could. My father, who has never grasped that there is an element of comedy in the numerical strength of his family, wished to bring us over a party of eight. But I stopped that. Four, as I tried to make him comprehend, touched the limits of social decency. He didn’t comprehend. He rarely does. But he yielded, which was more to the point perhaps. Understand though, we didn’t propose to add surprise to the other doubtful blessings of our descent on you. I wrote to you yesterday, but it appears you went out at some unearthly hour this morning superior alike to the state of the weather and arrival of your letters.”

“Fine thing going out early—excellent thing going out early. Very glad to see you, Calmady, and very kind indeed of you and Lady Calmady to take us in in this friendly way and show us hospitality at such short notice”—

This from Lord Fallowfeild—a remarkably tall, large, and handsome person. He affected a slightly antiquated style of dress, with a sporting turn to it,—coats of dust colour or grey, page: 219 notably long as to the skirts, well fitted at the waist, the surface of them traversed by heavy seams. His double chin rested within the points of a high, white collar, and was further supported by a voluminous, black, satin stock. His face, set in soft, grey hair and grey whisker, brushed well forward, suggested that of a benign and healthy infant—an infant, it may be added, possessed of a small and particularly pretty mouth. Save in actual stature, indeed, his lordship had never quite succeeded in growing up. Very full of the milk of human kindness, he earnestly wished his fellow‐creatures—gentle and simple alike—to be as contented and happy as he, almost invariably, himself was. When he had reason to believe them otherwise, it perplexed and worried him greatly. It followed that he was embarrassed, apologetic even, in Richard Calmady’s presence. He felt vaguely responsible as for some neglected duty, as though there was something somehow which he ought to set right. And this feeling harassed him, increasing the natural discursiveness and inconsequence of his speech. He was so terribly nervous of forgetting and of hurting the young man’s feelings by saying the wrong thing, that all possible wrong things got upon his brain, with the disastrous result that of course he ended by saying them. In face of a person so sadly stationary as poor Dick, moreover, his own perfect ability to move freely about appeared to him as little short of discourteous, not to say coarse. He, therefore, tried to keep very still, with the consequence that he developed an inordinate tendency to fidget. Altogether Lord Fallowfeild did not show to advantage in Richard Calmady’s company.

“Ah yes! fine thing going out early,” he repeated. “Always made a practice of it myself at your age, Calmady. Can’t stand doctor’s stuff, don’t believe in it, never did. Though I like Knott, good fellow Knott—always have liked Knott. But never was a believer in drugs. Nothing better than a good sharp walk, now, early, really early before the frost’s out of the grass. Excellent for the liver walking”—

Here, perceiving that his son Ludovic looked very hard at him, eyebrows raised to most admonitory height, he added hastily:—

“Eh?—yes, of course, or riding. Riding, nothing like that for health—better exercise still”—

“Is it?” Richard put in. He was too busy with his own thoughts to be greatly affected by Lord Fallowfeild’s blunders just then.—“I’m glad to know you think so. You see it’s a matter in which I’m not very much of a judge.”

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“No—no—of course not.—Queer fellow Calmady,” Lord Fallowfeild added to himself. “Uncommonly sharp way he has of setting you down.”

But just then, to his relief, Lady Calmady, Lady Louisa Barking, and pretty, little Lady Constance Quayle entered the room together. Mr. Ormiston and John Knott followed engaged in close conversation, the rugged, rough‐hewn aspect of the latter presenting a strong contrast to the thin, tall figure and face, white and refined to the point of emaciation, of the diplomatist. Julius March, accompanied by Camp—still carrying his tail limp and his great head rather sulkily—brought up the rear. And Dickie, while greeting his guests, disposing their places at table, making civil speeches to his immediate neighbour on the left,‐Lady Louisa,—smiling a good‐morning to his mother down the length of the table, felt a wave of childish disappointment sweep over him. For Helen came not, and with a great desiring he desired her. Poor Dickie, so wise, so philosophic in fancy, so enviably, disastrously young in fact!

“Oh! thanks, Lady Louisa—it’s so extremely kind of you to care to come. The fog was rather beastly this morning wasn’t it? And I shouldn’t be surprised if it came down on us again about sunset. But it’s a charming day meanwhile.—There, Ludovic, please—next Dr. Knott. We’ll leave this chair for Madame de Vallorbes. She’s coming, I suppose?”

And Richard glanced towards the door again, and, so doing, became aware that little Lady Constance, sitting between Lord Fallowfeild and Julius March, was staring at him. She had an innocent face, a small, feminine copy of her father’s save that her eyes were set noticeably far apart. This gave her a slow, ruminant look, distinctly attractive. She reminded Richard of a gentle, well‐conditioned, sweet‐breathed calf staring over a bank among ox‐eyed daisies and wild roses. As soon as she perceived—but Lady Constance did not perceive anything very rapidly—that he observed her, she gave her whole attention to the contents of her plate and her colour deepened perceptibly.

“Pretty country about you here, uncommonly pretty,” Lord Fallowfeild was saying in response to some remark of Lady Calmady’s. “Always did admire it. Always liked a meet on this side of the county when I had the hounds. Very pleasant friendly spirit on this side too. Now Cathcart, for instance—sensible fellow Cathcart, always have liked Cathcart, remarkably sensible fellow. Plain man though—quite astonishingly plain. Daughter very much like him, I remember. Misfortune for a girl that. Always feel very much for a plain woman. She page: 221 married well though—can’t recall who just now, but somebody we all know. Who was it now, Lady Calmady?”

Between that haunting sense of embarrassment, and the kindly wish to carry things off well, and promote geniality, Lord Fallowfeild spoke loud. At this juncture Mr. Quayle folded his hands and raised his eyes devoutly to heaven.

“Oh, my father! oh, my father!” he murmured. Then he leant a little forward watching Lady Calmady.

“But, as you may remember, Mary Cathcart had a charming figure,” she was saying, very sweetly, essaying to soften the coming blow.

“Ah! had she though? Great thing a good figure. I knew she married well.”

“Naturally I agree with you there. I suppose one always thinks one’s own people the most delightful in the world. She married my brother.”

“Did she though!” Lord Fallowfeild exclaimed, with much interest. Then suddenly his tumbler stopped half‐way to his mouth, while he gazed horror‐stricken across the table at Mr. Ormiston.

“Oh no, no! not that brother,” Katherine added quickly. “The younger one, the soldier. You wouldn’t remember him. He’s been on foreign service almost ever since his marriage. They are at the Cape now.”

“Oh! ah! yes—indeed, are they?” he exclaimed. He breathed more easily. Those few thousand miles to the Cape were a great comfort to him. A man could not overhear your strictures on his wife’s personal appearance at that distance anyhow.—“Very charming woman, uncommonly tactful woman, Lady Calmady,” he said to himself gratefully.

Meanwhile Lady Louisa Barking, at the other end of the table, addressed her discourse to Richard and Julius, on either side of her, in the high, penetrating key affected by certain ladies of distinguished social pretensions. Whether this manner of speech implies a fine conviction of superiority on the part of the speaker, or a conviction that all her utterances are replete with intrinsic interest, it is difficult to determine. Certain it is that Lady Louisa practically addressed the table, the attendant men‐servants, all creation in point of fact, as well as her two immediate neighbours. Like her father she was large and handsome. But her expression lacked his amiability, her attitude his pleasing self‐distrust. In age she was about six‐and‐thirty and decidedly mature for that. She possessed a remarkable power of concentrating her mind upon her own affairs. She also laboured under the impression that she was truly page: 222 religious, listening weekly to the sermons of fashionable preachers on the convenient text that “worldliness is next to godliness” and entertaining prejudices, finely unqualified by accurate knowledge, against the abominable errors of Rome.

“I was getting so terribly fagged with canvassing that my doctor told me I really must go to Whitney and recruit. Of course Mr. Barking is perfectly secure of his seat. I am in no real anxiety, I am thankful to say. He does not speak much in the House. But I always feel speaking is quite a minor matter, don’t you?”

“Doubtless,” Julius said, the remark appearing to be delivered at him in particular.

“The great point is that your party should be able to depend absolutely upon your loyalty. Being rather behind the scenes, as I can’t help being, you know, I do feel that more and more. And the party depends absolutely upon Mr. Barking. He has so much moral stamina, you know. That is what they all feel. He is ready at any moment to sacrifice his private convictions to party interests. And so few members of any real position are willing to do that. And so, of course, the leaders do depend on him. All the members of the Government consult him in private.”

“That is very flattering,” Richard remarked.—Still Helen tarried; while again, glancing in the direction of the door, he encountered Lady Constance’s mild, ruminant stare.

“Can one pronounce anything flattering when one sees it to be so completely deserved?” Ludovic Quayle inquired in his most urbane manner. “Prompt and perpetual sacrifice of private conviction to party interest, for example—how can such devotion receive recognition beyond its deserts?”

“Do have some more partridge, Lady Louisa,” Richard put in hastily.

“In any case such recognition is very satisfactory.—No more, thank you, Sir Richard,” the lady replied, not without a touch of acerbity. Ludovic was very clever no doubt; but his comments often struck her as being in equivocal taste. He gave a turn to your words you did not expect and so broke the thread of your conversation in a rather exasperating fashion.—“Very satisfactory,” she repeated. “And, of course, the constituency is fully informed of the attitude of the Government towards Mr.Barking, so that serious opposition is out of the question.”

“Oh! of course,” Richard echoed.

“Still I feel it a duty to canvass. One can point out many things to the constituents in their own homes which might not page: 223 come quite so well, don’t you know, from the platform. And of course they enjoy seeing one so much.”

“Of course, it makes a great change for them,” Richard echoed dutifully.

“Exactly, and so on their account, quite putting aside the chance of securing a stray vote here or there, I feel it a duty not to spare myself, but to go through with it just for their sakes, don’t you know.”

“My sister is nothing if not altruistic, you’ll find, Calmady,” Mr. Quayle here put in in his most exquisitely amiable manner.

But now encouraged thereto by Lady Calmady, Lord Fallowfeild had recovered his accustomed serenity and discoursed with renewed cheerfulness.

“Great loss to this side of the county, my poor friend Denier,” he remarked. “Good fellow Denier—always liked Denier. Stood by him from the first—so did your son.—No, no, pardon me—yes, to be sure—excellent claret this—never tasted a better luncheon claret.—But there was a little prejudice, little narrowness of feeling about Denier, when he first bought Grimshott and settled down here. Self‐made man, you see, Denier. Entirely self‐made. Father was a clergyman, I believe, and I’m told his grandfather kept an umbrella shop in the Strand. But a very able, right‐minded man Denier, and wonderfully good‐natured fellow, always willing to give you an opinion on a point of law. Great advantage to have a first‐rate authority like that to turn to in a legal difficulty. Very useful in county business Denier, and laid hold of country life wonderfully, understood the obligations of a land‐owner. Always found a fox in that Grimshott gorse of his, eh, Knott?”

“Fox that sometimes wasn’t very certain of his country,” the doctor rejoined. “Hailed from the neighbourhood of the umbrella shop perhaps, and wanted to get home to it.”

Lord Fallowfeild chuckled.

“Capital,” he said, “very good—capital! Still, it’s a great relief to know of a sure find like that. Keeps the field in a good temper. Yes, few men whose death I’ve regretted more than poor Denier’s. I miss Denier. Not an old man either. Shouldn’t have let him slip through your fingers so early, Knott, eh?”

“Oh! that’s a question of forestry,” John Knott answered grimly. “If one kept the old wood standing, where would the saplings’ chances come in?”

“Oh! ah! yes—never thought of that before,”—and thinking of it now the noble lord became slightly pensive. “Wonder if it’s unfair my keeping Shotover so long out of the property?” he page: 224 said to himself. “Amusing fellow Shotover, very fond of Shotover—but extravagant fellow, monstrously extravagant.”

“Lord Denier’s death gave our host here a seat on the local bench just at the right moment,” the doctor went on. “One man’s loss is another man’s opportunity. Rather rough, perhaps, on the outgoing man, but then things usually are pretty rough on the outgoing man in my experience.”

“I suppose they are,” Lord Fallowfeild said, rather ruefully, his face becoming preternaturally solemn.

“Not a doubt of it. The individual may get justice. I hope he does. But mercy is kept for special occasions—few and far between. One must take things on the large scale. Then you find they dovetail very neatly,” Knott continued, with a somewhat sardonic mirthfulness. The simplicity and perplexity of this handsome, kindly gentleman amused him hugely. “But to return to Lord Denier—let alone my skill, that of the whole medical faculty put together couldn’t have saved him.”

“Couldn’t it though?” said Lord Fallowfeild.

“That’s just the bother with your self‐made man. He makes himself—true. But he spends himself, physically, in the making. All his vitality goes in climbing the ladder, and he’s none left over by the time he reaches the top. Lord Denier had worked too hard as a youngster to make old bones. It’s a long journey from the shop in the Strand to the woolsack you see, and he took silk at two‐and‐thirty I believe. Oh yes! early death, or premature decay, is the price most outsiders pay for a great professional success. Isn’t that so, Mr. Ormiston?”

But at this juncture the conversation suffered interruption by the throwing open of the door and the entrance of Madame de Vallorbes.

“Pray let no one move,” she said, rather as issuing an order than preferring a request—for her father, Lord Fallowfeild, all the gentlemen, had risen on her appearance—save Richard.—Richard, his blue eyes ablaze, the corners of his mouth a‐tremble, his heart going forth tumultuously to meet her, yet he alone of all present denied the little obvious act of outward courtesy from man to woman.

“Pinned to his chair, like a specimen beetle to a collector’s card,” John Knott said to himself. “Poor dear lad—and with that face on him too. I hoped he might have been spared taking fire a little longer. However, here’s the conflagration. No question about that. Now let’s have a look at the lady.”

And the lady, it must be conceded, manifested herself under page: 225 a new and somewhat agitating aspect, as she swept up the room and into the vacant place at Richard’s right hand with a rush of silken skirts. She produced a singular effect at once of energy and self‐concentration—her lips thin and unsmiling, an ominous vertical furrow between the spring of her arched eyebrows, her eyes narrow, unresponsive, severe with thought under their delicate lids.

“I am sorry to be late, but it was unavoidable. I was kept by some letters forwarded from Newlands,” she said, without giving herself the trouble of looking at Richard as she spoke.

“What does it matter? Luncheon’s admittedly a moveable feast, isn’t it?”

Madame de Vallorbes made no response. A noticeable hush had descended upon the whole company, while the men‐servants moved to and fro serving the new‐comer. Even Lady Louisa Barking ceased to hold high discourse, political or other, and looked disapprovingly across the table. An hour earlier she had resented the younger woman’s merry wit, now she resented her sublime indifference. Both then and now she found her perfect finish of appearance unpardonable. Lord Fallowfeild’s disjointed conversation also suffered check. He fidgeted, vaguely conscious that the atmosphere had become somewhat electric.—“Monstrously pretty woman—effective woman—very effective—rather dangerous though. Changeable too. Made me laugh a little too much before luncheon. Louisa didn’t like it. Very correct views, my daughter. Louisa. Now seems in a very odd temper. Quite the grand air, but reminds me of somebody I’ve seen on the stage somehow. Suppose all that comes of living so much in France,” he said to himself. But, for the life of him, he could not think of anything to say aloud, though he felt it would be eminently tactful to throw in a casual remark at this juncture. Little Lady Constance was disquieted likewise. For she, girl‐like, had fallen dumbly and adoringly. in love with this beautiful stranger but a few years her senior. And now the stranger appeared as an embodiment of unknown emotions and energies altogether beyond the scope of her small imagination. Her innocent stare lost its ruminant quality, became alarmed, tearful even, while she instinctively edged her chair closer to her father’s. There was a great bond of sympathy between the simple‐hearted gentleman and his youngest child. Mr. Quayle looked on with lifted eyebrows and his air of amused forbearance. And Dr. Knott looked on also, but that which he saw pleased him but moderately. The grace of every movement, page: 226 the distinction of face and figure, the charm of that finely‐poised, honey‐coloured head showing up against the background of grey‐blue, tapestried wall, were enough—he owned,—having a very pretty taste in women as well as in horses—to drive many a man crazy.—“But if the mother’s a baggage, the daughter’s a vixen,” he said to himself. “And, upon my soul if I had to choose between ’em—which God Almighty forbid—I’d take my chance with the baggage.” As climax Lady Calmady’s expression was severe. She sat very upright, and made no effort at conversation. Her nerves were a little on edge. There had been awkward moments during this meal, and now her niece’s entrance struck her as unfortunately accentuated, while there was that in Richard’s aspect which startled the quick fears and jealousies of her motherhood.

And to Richard himself, it must be owned, this meeting so hotly desired, and against the dangers of which he had so wisely guarded, came in fashion altogether different to that which he had pictured. Helen’s manner was cold to a point far from flattering to his self‐esteem. The subtle intimacies of the scene in the Long Gallery became as though they had never been. Dickie thinking over his restless night, his fierce efforts at self‐conquest, those long hours in the saddle designed for the reduction of a perfervid imagination, wrote himself down an ass indeed. And yet—yet—the charm of Helen’s presence was great! And surely she wasn’t quite herself just now, there was something wrong with her? Anybody could see that. Everybody did see it in fact, he feared, and commented upon it in no charitable spirit. Hostility towards her declared itself on every side. He detected that—or imagined he did so—in Lady Louisa’s expression, in Ludovic Quayle’s extra‐superfine smile, in the doctor’s close and rather cynical attitude of observation, and last but not least, in the reserve of his mother’s bearing and manner. And this hostility, real or imagined, begot in Richard a new sensation—one of tenderness, wholly unselfish and protective, while the fighting blood stirred in him. He grew slightly reckless.

“What has happened? We appear to have fallen most unaccountably silent,” he said, looking round the table, with an air of gallant challenge good to see.

“So we have, though,” exclaimed Lord Fallowfeild, half in relief, half in apology. “Very true—was just thinking the same thing myself.”

While Mr. Quayle, leaning forward, inquired with much sweetness:—“To whom shall I talk? Madame de Vallorbes is page: 227 far more profitably engaged in discussing her luncheon, than she could be in discussing any conceivable topic of conversation with such as I. And Dr. Knott is so evidently diagnosing an interesting case that I have not the effrontery to interrupt him.”

Disregarding these comments Richard turned to his neighbour on the left.

“I beg your pardon, Lady Louisa,” he said, “but before this singular dumbness overtook us all, you were saying?”—

The lady addressed, electing to accept this as a tribute to the knowledge, the weight, and distinction, of her discourse, thawed, became condescending and gracious again.

“I believe we were discussing the prospects of the party,” she replied. “I was saying that, you know, of course there must be a large Liberal majority.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You consider that assured?” Julius put in civilly.

“It is not a matter of personal opinion, I am thankful to say—because of course everyone must feel it is just everything for the country. There is no doubt at all about the majority among those who really know—Mr. Barking, for instance. Nobody can be in a better position to judge than he is. And then I was speaking the other night to Augustus Tremiloe at Lord Combmartin’s—not William, you know, but Augustus Tremiloe, the man in the Treasury, and he”—

“Uncommonly fine chrysanthemums those,” Lord Fallowfeild had broken forth cheerfully, finding sufficient, if tardy, inspiration in the table decorations. “Remarkably perfect blossoms. and charming colour. Nothing nearly so good at Whitney this autumn. Excellent fellow my head‐gardener, but rather past his work—no enterprise, can’t make him go in for new ideas.”

Mr. Ormiston, leaning across Dr. Knott, addressed himself to Ludovic, while casting occasional and rather anxious glances upon his daughter. Thus did voices rise, mingle, and the talk get fairly upon its legs again. Then Richard permitted himself to say quietly:—

“You had no bad news, I hope, in those letters, Helen?”

“Why should you suppose I have had bad news?” she demanded, her teeth meeting viciously in the morsel of kissing‐crust she held in her rosy‐tipped fingers.

It was as pretty as a game to see her eat. Dickie laughed a little, charmed even with her naughtiness, embarrassed too by the directness of her question.

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“Oh! I don’t exactly know why—I thought perhaps you seemed”—

“You do know quite exactly why,” the young lady asserted, looking full at him. “You saw that I was in a detestable, a diabolic temper.”

“Well, perhaps I did think I saw something of the sort,” Richard answered audaciously, yet very gently.

Helen continued to look at him, and as she did so her cheek rounded, her mouth grew soft, the vertical line faded out from her forehead.—“You are very assuaging, cousin Richard,” she said, and she too laughed softly.

“Understands the vineries very well though,” Lord Fallowfeild was saying, “and doesn’t grow bad peaches, not at all bad peaches, but is stupid about flowers. He ought to retire. Never shall have really satisfactory gardens till he does retire. And yet I haven’t the heart to tell him to go. Good fellow, you know, good, honest, hard‐working fellow, and had a lot of trouble. Wife ailing for years, always ailing, and youngest child got hip disease—nasty thing hip disease, very nasty—quite a cripple, poor little creature, I am afraid a hopeless cripple. Terrible anxiety and burden for parents in that rank of life, you know.”

“It can hardly be otherwise in any rank of life,” Lady Calmady said slowly, bitterly. An immense weariness was upon her—weariness of the actual and present, weariness of the possible and the future. Her courage ebbed. She longed to go away, to be alone for a while, to shut eyes and ears, to deaden alike perception and memory, to have it all cease. Then it was as though those two beautiful, and now laughing, faces of man and woman in the glory of their youth, seen over the perspective of fair, white damask, glittering glass and silver, rich dishes, graceful profusion of flowers and fruit, at the far end of the avenue of guests, mocked at her. Did they not mock at the essential conditions of their own lives too? Katherine feared, consciously or unconsciously they did that. Her weariness dragged upon her with almost despairing weight.

“Do you get your papers the same day here, Sir Richard?” Lady Louisa asked imperatively.

“Yes, they come with the second post letters, about five o’clock,” Julius March answered.

But Lady Louisa Barking intended to be attended to by her host.

“Sir Richard,” she paused, “I am asking whether your papers reach you the same day?”

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And Dickie replied he knew not what, for he had just registered the discovery that barriers are quite useless against a certain sort of intimacy. Be the crowd never so thick about you, in a sense at least, you are always alone, exquisitely, delicately alone with the person you love.

CHAPTER VIII

RICHARD PUTS HIS HAND TO A PLOUGH FROM WHICH THERE IS NO TURNING BACK

“DEAREST mother, you look most deplorably tired.”

Richard sat before the large study table, piled up with letters, papers, county histories, racing calendars, in the Gun‐Room, amid a haze of cigar smoke.—“I don’t wonder,” he went on, “we’ve had a regular field‐day, haven’t we? And I’m afraid Lord Fallowfeild bored you atrociously at luncheon. He does talk most admired foolishness half his time, poor old boy. All the same Ludovic shouldn’t show him up as he does. It’s not good form. I’m afraid Ludovic’s getting rather spoilt by London. He’s growing altogether too finicking and elaborate. It’s a pity. Lady Louisa Barking is a rather exterminating person. Her conversation is magnificently deficient in humour. It is to be hoped Barking is not troubled by lively perceptions, or he must suffer at times. Lady Constance is a pretty little girl, don’t you think so? Not oppressed with brains, I daresay, but a good little sort.”

“You liked her?” Katherine said. She stood beside him, that mortal weariness upon her yet.

“Oh yes!—well enough—liked her in passing, as one likes the wild roses in the hedge. But you look regularly played out, mother, and I don’t like that in the least.”

Richard twisted the revolving‐chair half round, and held out his arms in invitation. As his mother leaned over him, he stretched upward and clasped his hands lightly about her neck.—“Poor dear,” he said coaxingly, “worn to fiddle‐strings with all this wild dissipation! I declare it’s quite pathetic.”—He let her go, shrugging his shoulders with a sigh and a half laugh. “Well, the dissipation will soon enough be over now, and we shall resume the even tenor of our way, I suppose. You’ll be glad of that, mother?”

The caress had been grateful to Katherine, the cool cheek page: 230 dear to her lips, the clasp of the strong arms reassuring. Yet, in her present state of depression, she was inclined to distrust even that which consoled, and there seemed a lack in the fervour of this embrace. Was it not just a trifle perfunctory, as of one who pays toll, rather than of one who claims a privilege?

“You’ll be glad too, my dearest, I trust?” she said, craving further encouragement.

Richard twisted the chair back into place again, leaned forward to note the hour of the clock set in the centre of the gold and enamel inkstand.

“Oh! I’m not prophetic. I don’t pretend to go before the event and register my sensations until both they and I have fairly arrived. It’s awfully bad economy to get ahead of yourself and live in the day after to‐morrow. To‐day’s enough—more than enough for you, I’m afraid, when you’ve had a large contingent of the Whitney people to luncheon. Do go and rest, mother. Uncle William is disposed of. I’ve started him out for a tramp with Julius, so you need not have him on your mind.”

But neither in Richard’s words nor in his manner did Lady Calmady find the fulness of assurance she craved.

“Thanks, dearest,” she said. “That is very thoughtful of you. I will see Helen and find out”—

“Oh! don’t trouble about her either,” Richard put in. Again he studied the jewel‐rimmed dial of the little clock. “I found she wanted to go to Newlands to bid Mrs. Cathcart good‐bye. It seems Miss St. Quentin is back there for a day or two. So I promised to drive her over as soon as we were quit of the Fallowfeild party.”

“It is late for so long a drive.”

Richard looked up quickly and his face wore that expression of challenge once again.

“I know it is—and so I am afraid we ought to start at once. I expect the carriage round immediately.”—Then repenting:—“You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you, mother, and rest?”

“Oh yes! I will take care of myself,” Katherine said. “Indeed, I appear to be the only person I have left to take care of, thanks to your forethought. All good go with you, Dick.”

It followed—perhaps unreasonably enough—that Richard, some five minutes later, drove round the angle of the house and drew the mail‐phaeton up at the foot of the page: 231 grey, griffin‐guarded flight of steps—whereon Madame de Vallorbes, wrapped in furs, the cavalier hat and its trailing plumes shadowing the upper part of her face and her bright hair, awaited his coming—in a rather defiant humour. His cousin was troubled, worried, and she met with scant sympathy. This aroused all his chivalry. Whatever she wished for, that he could give her, she should very certainly have. Of after consequences to himself he was contemptuous. The course of action which had shown as wisdom a couple of hours ago, showed now as selfishness and pusillanimity. If she wanted him, he was there joyfully to do her bidding, at whatever cost to himself in subsequent unrest of mind seemed but a small thing. If heartache and insidious provocations of the flesh came later, let them come. He was strong enough to bear the one and crush out the other, he hoped. It would give him something to do—he told himself, a little bitterly—and he had been idle of late!

And so it came about that Richard Calmady held out his hand, to help his cousin into her place at his side, with more of meaning and welcome in the gesture than he was quite aware. He forgot the humiliation of the broad strap about his waist, of the high, ingeniously contrived driving‐iron against which his feet rested, steadying him upon the sharply sloping seat. These were details, objectionable ones it was true, but, to‐day, of very secondary importance. In the main he was master of the situation. For once it was his to render, rather than receive, assistance. Helen was under his care, in a measure dependent on him, and this gratified his young, masculine pride, doomed too often to suffer sharp mortification. A fierce pleasure possessed him. It was fine to bear her thus away, behind the fast trotting horses, through the pensive, autumn brightness. Boyish self‐consciousness and self‐distrust died down in Richard, and the man’s self‐reliance, instinct of possession and of authority, grew in him. His tone was that of command, for all its solicitude, as he said:—

“Look here, are you sure you’ve got enough on? Don’t go and catch cold, under the impression that there’s any meaning in this sunshine. It is sure to be chilly driving home, and it’s easy to take more wraps.”

Helen shook her head, unsmiling, serious.

“I could face polar snows.”

Richard let the horses spring forward, while little pebbles rattled against the body of the phaeton, and the groom, running a few steps, swung himself up on to the back seat, immediately page: 232 becoming immoveable as a wooden image, with rigidly folded arms.

“Oh! the cold won’t quite amount to that,” Richard said. “But I observe women rarely reckon with the probabilities of the return journey.”

“The return journey is invariably too hot, or too cold, too soon, or too late—for a woman. So it is better not to remember its existence until you are compelled to do so. For myself, I confess to the strongest prejudice against the return journey.”

Madame de Vallorbes’ speech was calm and measured, yet there was a conviction in it suggestive of considerable emotion. She sat well back in the carriage, her head turned slightly to the left, so that Richard, looking down at her, saw little but the pure, firm line of her jaw, the contour of her cheek, and her ear—small, lovely, the soft hair curling away from above and behind it in the most enticing fashion. Physical perfection, of necessity, provoked in him a peculiar envy and delight. And nature appeared to have taken ingenious pleasure, not only in conferring an unusual degree of beauty upon his companion, but in finishing each detail of her person with unstinted grace. For a while the young man lost himself in contemplation of that charming ear and partially averted face. Then resolutely he bestowed his attention upon the horses again, finding such contemplation slightly enervating to his moral sense.

“Yes, return journeys are generally rather a nuisance, I suppose,” he said, “though my experience of that particular form of nuisance is limited. I have not been outward‐bound often enough to know much of the regret of being homeward‐bound. And yet, I own, I should not much mind driving on and on everlastingly on a dreamy afternoon like this, and—and as I find myself just now—driving on and seeking some El Dorado—of the spirit, I mean, not of the pocket—seeking the Fortunate Isles that lie beyond the sunset. For it would be not a little fascinating to give one’s accustomed self, and all that goes to make up one’s accepted identity, the slip—to drive clean out of one’s old circumstances and find new heavens, a new earth, and a new personality elsewhere. What do you say, Helen, shall we try it?”

But Helen sat immobile, her face averted, listening intently, revolving many things in her mind, meditating how and when most advantageously to speak.

“It would be such an amiable and graceful experiment to try on my own people, too, wouldn’t it ?” the young man con‐ page: 233 tinued, with a sudden change of tone. “And I am so eminently fitted to lose myself in a crowd without fear of recognition, just the person for a case of mistaken identity.”

“Do not say such things, Richard, please. They distress me,” Madame de Vallorbes put in quickly. “And, believe me, I have no quarrel with the return journey in this case. At Brockhurst I could fancy myself to have found the Fortunate Isles of which you spoke just now. I have been very happy there—too happy, perhaps, and therefore, to‐day, the whip has come down across my back, just to remind me.”

“Ah! now you say the painful things,” Dick interrupted. “Pray don’t—I—I don’t like them.”

Madame de Vallorbes turned her head and looked at him with the strangest expression.

“My metaphor was not out of place. Do you imagine horses are the only animals a man drives, mon beau cousin? Some men drive the woman who belongs to them, and that not with the lightest bit, I promise you. Nor do they forget to tie blood‐knots in the whip‐lash when it suits them to do so.”

“What do you mean?” he asked abruptly.

“Merely that the letters, which so stupidly endangered my self‐control at luncheon, contained examples of that kind of driving.”

“How—how damnable,” the young man said between his teeth.

The red and purple trunks of the great fir trees reeled away to right and left as the carriage swept forward down the long avenue. To Richard’s seeing they reeled away in disgust, even as did his thought from the images which his companion’s words suggested. While, to her seeing, they reeled, smitten by the eternal laughter, the echoes of which it stimulated her to hear.—“The drama develops,” she said to herself, half triumphant, half abashed. “And yet I am telling the truth, it is all so—I hardly even doctor it.”—For she had been angered, genuinely and miserably angered, and had found that odious to the point of letting feeling override diplomacy. There was subtle pleasure in now turning her very lapse of self‐control to her own advantage. And then, this young man’s heart was the finest, purest‐toned instrument upon which she had ever had the chance to play as yet. She was ravished by the quality and range of the music it gave forth. Madame de Vallorbes pressed her hands together within the warm comfort of her sable muff, averted her face again, lest it should betray the eager excitement that gained on her, and continued:—

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“Yes, whip and rein and bit are hardly pretty in that connection, are they? If you would willingly give your identity the slip at times, dear cousin, I have considerably deeper cause to wish to part company with mine! You, in any case, are morally and materially free. A whole class of particularly irritating and base cares can never approach you. And it was in connection with just such cares that I spoke of the hatefulness of return journeys.”

Helen paused, as one making an effort to maintain her equanimity.

“My letters recall me to Paris,” she said, “where detestable scenes and most ignoble anxieties await me.”

“How soon must you go?”

“That is what I ask myself,” she said, in the same quiet, even voice. “I have not yet arrived at a decision, and so I asked you to bring me out, Dickie, this afternoon.”—She looked up at him, smiling, lovely and with a certain wistful dignity, wholly coercive. “Can you understand that the orderly serenity of your splendid house became a little oppressive? It offered too glaring a contrast to my own state of mind and outlook. I fancied my brain would be clearer, my conclusions more just, here out of doors, face to face with this half‐savage nature.”

“Ah, I know all that,” Richard said. Had not the blankness of the fog brought him help this very morning?—“I know it, but I wish you did not know it too.”

“I know many things better not known,” Helen replied. Her conscience pricked her. She thanked her stars confession had ceased with enlargement from the convent‐school, and was a thing of the past.—“You see, I want to decide just how long I dare stay—if you will keep me?”

“We will keep you,” Richard said.

“You are very charming to me, Dick,” she exclaimed impulsively, sincerely, again slightly abashed. “How long can I dare stay, I wonder, without making matters worse in the end, both for my father and for myself? I am young, after all, and I suppose I am tough. The cuticle of the soul—if souls can have a cuticle—like that of the body, thickens under repeated blows. But my father is no longer young. He is terribly sensitive where I am concerned. And he is inevitably drawn into the whirlpool of my wretched affairs sooner or later. On his account I should be glad to defer the return journey as long”—

“But—but—I don’t understand,” Richard broke out, pity and deep concern for her, a blind fury against a person, or persons page: 235 unknown, getting the better of him. “Who on earth has the power to plague you and make you miserable, or your father either?”

The young man’s face was white, his eyes, full of pain, full of a great love, burning down on her. As once long ago, Helen de Vallorbes could have danced and clapped her hands in naughty glee. For her hunting had prospered above her fondest hopes. She had much ado to stifle the laughter which bubbled up in her pretty throat. She was in the humour to pelt peacocks royally, had such pastime been possible. As it was, she closed her eyes for a little minute and waited, biting the inside of her lip. At last, she said slowly, almost solemnly:—

“Don’t you know that for certain mistakes, and those usually the most generous, there is no redress?”

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“Mean?—the veriest commonplace in my own case,” she answered. “Merely an unhappy marriage. There are thousands such.”

They had left the shadow of the fir woods now. The carriage crossed the white‐railed culvert—bridging the little stream that taking its rise amid the pink and emerald mosses of the peat‐bog, meanders down the valley—and entered the oak plantation just inside the park gate. Russet leaves in rustling, hurrying companies, fled up and away from the rapidly turning wheels and quick horse hoofs. The sunshine was wan and chill as the smile on a dead face. Lines of pale, lilac cloud—shaped like those flights of cranes which decorate the oriental cabinets of the Long Gallery—crossed the western sky above the bare, balsam poplars, the cluster of ancient, half‐timbered cottages at the entrance to Sandyfield church lane, and the rise of the grey‐brown fallow beyond, where sheep moved, bleating plaintively, within a wattled fold.

The scene, altogether familiar though it was, impressed itself on Richard’s mind just now, as one of paralysing melancholy. God help us, what a stricken, famished world it is! Will you not always find sorrow and misfortune seated at the root of things if, disregarding overlaying prettiness of summer days, of green leaf and gay blossom, you dare draw near, dig deep, look close? And can nothing, no one, escape the blighting touch of that canker stationed at the very foundations of being? Certainly it would seem not—Richard reasoned—listening to the words of the radiant woman beside him, ordained, in right of her talent and puissant grace, to be a queen and idol of men. For sadder than the thin sunshine, bare trees and complaint of the hungry page: 236 sheep, was that assured declaration that loveless and unlovely marriages—of which her own was one—exist by the thousand, are, indeed, the veriest commonplace!

These reflections held Richard, since he had been thinker and poet—in his degree—since childhood; lover only during the brief space of these last ten surprising days. Thus the general application claimed his attention first. But hard on the heels of this followed the personal application. For, as is the way of all true lovers, the universality of the law under which it takes its rise mitigates, by most uncommonly little, either the joy or sorrow of the particular case. Poignant regret that she suffered, strong admiration that she bore suffering so adherent with such lightness of demeanour—then, more dangerous than these, a sense of added unlooked‐for nearness to her, and a resultant calling not merely of the spirit of youth in him to that same spirit resident in her, but the deeper, more compelling, more sonorous call from the knowledge of tragedy in him to that same terrible knowledge now first made evident in her.—And here Richard’s heart—in spite of pity, in spite of tenderness which would have borne a hundred miseries to save her five minutes’ discomfort—sang Te Deum, and that lustily enough! For by this revelation of the infelicity of her state, his whole relation to, and duty towards her changed and took on a greater freedom. To pour forth worship and offers of service at the feet of a happy woman is at once an impertinence to her and a shame to yourself. But to pour forth such worship, such offers of service, at the feet of an unhappy woman—age‐old sophistry, so often ruling the speech and actions of men to their fatal undoing!—this is praiseworthy and legitimate, a matter not of privilege merely, but of obligation to whoso would claim to be truly chivalrous.

The perception of his larger liberty, and the consequences following thereon, kept Richard silent till Sandyfield rectory, the squat‐towered, Georgian church and the black‐headed, yew trees in the close‐packed churchyard adjoining, the neighbouring farm and its goodly show of golden‐grey wheat‐ricks were left behind, and the carriage entered on the flat, furze‐dotted expanse of Sandyfield common. Flocks of geese, arising from damp repose upon the ragged, autumn turf, hissed forth futile declarations of war. A gipsy caravan painted in staring colours, and hung all over with heath‐brooms and basket‐chairs, caused the horses to swerve. Parties of home‐going school‐children backed on to the loose gravel at the roadside, bobbing curtsies or pulling forelocks, staring at the young man and his companion, curious and half afraid. For, in the youthful, bucolic mind, a mystery surrounded page: 237 Richard Calmady and his goings and comings, causing him to rank with crowned heads, ghosts, the Book of Daniel, funerals, the Northern Lights, and kindred matters of dread fascination. So wondering eyes pursued him down the road.

And wondering eyes, as the minutes passed, glanced up at him from beneath the sweeping plumes and becoming shadow of the cavalier’s hat. For his prolonged silence rendered Madame de Vallorbes anxious. Had she spoken unadvisedly with her tongue? Had her words sounded crude and of questionable delicacy? Given his antecedents and upbringing, Richard was bound to hold the marriage tie in rather superstitious reverence, and was likely to entertain slightly superannuated views regarding the obligation of reticence in the discussion of family matters. She feared she had reckoned insufficiently with all this, in her eagerness, forgetting subtle diplomacies. Her approach had lacked tact and finesse. In dealing with an adversary of coarser fibre her attack would have succeeded to admiration. But this man was refined and sensitive to a fault, easily disgusted, narrowly critical in questions of taste.

Therefore she glanced up at him again, trying to divine his thought, her own mind in a tumult of opposing purposes and desires. And just as the contemplation of her beauty had so deeply stirred him earlier this same afternoon, so did the contemplation of his beauty now stir her. It satisfied her artistic sense. Save that the nose was straighter and shorter, the young man reminded her notably of a certain antique, terra‐cotta head of the young Alexander which she had once seen in a museum at Munich, and which had left an ineffaceable impression upon her memory. But, the face of the young Alexander beside her was of nobler moral quality than that other—undebauched by feasts and licentious pleasures as yet, masculine yet temperate, the sanctuary of generous ambitions. Merciless it might be, she fancied, but never base, never weak. Thus was her artistic sense satisfied, morally as well as physically. Her social sense was satisfied also. For the young man’s high‐breeding could not be called in question. He held himself remarkably well. She approved the cut of his clothes moreover, his sure and easy handling of the spirited horses.

And then her eyes, following down the lines of the fur rug, received renewed assurance of the fact of his deformity—hidden as far as might be, with decent pride, yet there, permanent and unalterable. This worked upon her strongly. For, to her peculiar temperament, the indissoluble union in one body of elements so noble and so monstrous, of youthful rigour and page: 238 abject helplessness, the grotesque in short, supplied the last word of sensuous and dramatic attraction. As last evening, in the Long Gallery, so now, she hugged herself, at once frightened and fascinated, wrought upon by excitement as in the presence of something akin to the supernatural, and altogether beyond the confines of ordinary experience.

And to think that she had come so near holding this inimitable creature in her hand, and by overhaste, or clumsiness of statement should lose it! Madame de Vallorbes was wild with irritation, racked her brain for means to recover her—as she feared—forfeited position. It would be maddening did her mighty hunting prove but a barren pastime in the end. And thereupon the little scar on her temple, deftly concealed under the soft, bright hair, began to smart and throb. Ah! well, the hunting should not prove quite barren anyhow, of that she was determined, for, failing her late gay purpose, that small matter of long‐deferred revenge still remained in reserve. If she could not gratify one passion, she would gratify quite another. For in this fair lady’s mind it was—perhaps unfortunately—but one step from the Eden bowers of love to the waste places of vindictive hate.—“Yet I would rather be good to him, far rather,” she said to herself, with a movement of quite pathetic sincerity.

But here, just at the entrance to the village street, an altogether unconscious deus ex machinâ—destined at once to relieve Helen of further anxiety, and commit poor Dickie to a course of action affecting the whole of his subsequent career—presented itself in the shape of a white‐tented miller’s waggon, which, with somnolent jingle of harness bells and most admired deliberation, moved down the centre of the road. A yellow‐washed garden‐wall on one side, the brook on the other, there was not room for the phaeton to pass.

“Whistle,” Richard commanded over his shoulder. And the wooden image, thereby galvanised into immediate activity, whistled shrilly, but without result as far as the waggon was concerned.

“The fellow’s asleep. Go and tell him to pull out of the way.”

Then, while the groom ran neatly forward in twinkling, white breeches and flesh‐coloured tops, Richard, bending towards her, as far as that controlling strap about his waist permitted, shifted the reins into his right hand and laid his left upon Madame de Vallorbes’ sable muff.

“Look here, Helen,” he said, rather hoarsely, “I am inde‐ page: 239 scribably shocked at what you have just told me. I supposed it was all so different with you. I’d no suspicion of this. And‐and—if I may say so, you’ve taught me a lesson which has gone home—steady there—steady, good lass”—for the horses danced and snorted.—“I don’t think I shall ever grumble much in future about troubles of my own, having seen how splendidly you bear yours. Only I can’t agree with you no remedy is possible for generous mistakes. The world isn’t quite so badly made as all that. There is a remedy for every mistake except—a few physical ones, which we euphuistically describe as visitations of God.—Steady, steady there—wait a bit.—And I—I tell you I can’t sit down under this unhappiness of yours and just put up with it. Don’t think me a meddling fool, please. Something’s got to be done. I know I probably appear to you the last person in the world to be of use. And yet I’m not sure about that. I have time—too much of it—and I’m not quite an ass. And you—you must know, I think, there’s nothing in heaven or earth I would not do for you that I could”—

The miller hauled his slow‐moving team aside, with beery‐thick objurgations and apologies. The groom swung himself up at the back of the carriage again. The impatient horses, getting their heads, swung away down Sandyfield Street—scattering a litter of merry, little, black pigs and many remonstrant fowls to right and left—past modest village shop, and yellow‐washed tavern, and red, lichen‐stained cottage, beneath the row of tall Lombardy poplars that raised their brown‐grey spires to the blue‐grey of the autumn sky. Richard’s left hand held the reins again.

“Half confidences are no good,” he said. “So, as you’ve trusted me thus far, Helen, don’t you think you will trust somewhat further? Be explicit. Tell me the rest.”

And hearing him, seeing him, just then, Madame de Vallorbes’ heart melted within her, and, to her own prodigious surprise, she had much ado not to weep.

CHAPTER IX

WHICH TOUCHES INCIDENTALLY ON MATTERS OF FINANCE

AS Richard had predicted the fog reappeared towards sunset. At first, as a frail mist, through which the landscape looked colourless and blurred. Later it rose, growing in density, until all objects beyond a radius of some twenty paces were page: 240 engulfed in its nothingness and lost. Later still—while Helen de Vallorbes paid her visit at Newlands—it grew denser yet, heavy, torpid, close yet cold, penetrated by earthy odours as the atmosphere of a vault, oppressive to the senses, baffling to sight and hearing alike. From out it, half‐leafless branches, like gaunt arms in tattered draperies, seemed to claw and beckon at the passing carriage and its occupants. The silver mountings of the harness showed in points and splashes of hard, shining white as against the shifting, universal dead‐whiteness of it, while the breath from the horses’ nostrils rose into it as defiant jets of steam, that struggled momentarily with the opaque, all‐enveloping vapour, only to be absorbed and obliterated as light by darkness, or life by death.

The aspect presented by nature was sinister, had Richard Calmady been sufficiently at leisure to observe it in detail. But, as he slowly walked the horses up and down the quarter of a mile of woodland drive, leading from the thatched lodge on the right of the Westchurch road to the house, he was not at leisure. He had received enlightenment on many subjects. He had acquired startling impressions, and he needed to place these, to bring them into line with the general habit of his thought. The majority of educated persons—so‐called—think in words, words often arbitrary and inaccurate enough, prolific mothers of mental confusion. The minority, and those of by no means contemptible intellectual calibre,—since the symbol must count for more than the mere label,—think in images and pictures. Dickie belonged to the minority. And it must be conceded that his mind now projected against that shifting, impalpable background of fog, a series of pictures which in their cynical pathos, their suggestions at once voluptuous and degraded, were hardly unworthy of the great master, William Hogarth, himself.

For Helen, in the reaction and relief caused by finding her relation to Richard unimpaired, caused too by that joyous devilry resident in her and constantly demanding an object on which to wreak its derision, had by no means spared her lord and master, Angelo Luigi Francesco, Vicomte de Vallorbes. And this only son of a thrifty, hard‐bitten, Savoyard banker‐noble and a Neapolitan princess of easy morals and ancient lineage, this Parisian viveur, his intrigues, his jealousies, his practical ungodliness and underlying superstition, his outbursts of temper, his shrewd economy in respect of others, and extensive personal extravagance, offered fit theme, with aid of little romancing, for such a discourse as it just now suited his very brilliant, young wife to pronounce.

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The said discourse opened in a low key, broken by pauses, by tactful self‐accusations, by questionings as to whether it were not more merciful, more loyal, to leave this or that untold. But as she proceeded, not only did Helen suffer the seductions of the fine art of lying, but she really began to have some ado to keep her exuberant sense of fun within due limits. For it proved so excessively exhilarating to deal thus with Angelo Luigi Francesco! She had old scores to settle. And had she not this very day received an odiously disquieting letter from him, in which he not only made renewed complaint of her poor, little miseries of debts and flirtations, but once more threatened retaliation by a cutting‐off of supplies? In common justice did he not deserve vilification? Therefore, partly out of revenge, partly in self‐justification, she proceeded with increasing enthusiasm to show that to know M. de Vallorbes was a lamentably liberal education in all civilised iniquities. With a hand, sure as it was light, she dissected out the unhappy gentleman, and offered up his mangled and bleeding reputation as tribute to her own so‐perpetually‐outraged moral sense and feminine delicacy, not to mention her so‐repeatedly and vilely wounded heart. And there really was truth—as at each fresh flight of her imagination she did not fail to remind herself—in all that which she said. Truth?—yes, just that misleading sufficiency of it in which a lie thrives. For, as every artist “in this kind” is aware, precisely as you would have the overgrowth of your improvisation richly phenomenal and preposterous, must you be careful to set the root of it in the honest soil of fact. To omit this precaution is to court eventual detection and consequent confusion of face.

As it was, Helen entered the house at Newlands, a house singularly unused to psychological aberrations, in buoyant spirits, mischief sitting in her discreetly downcast eyes, laughter perplexing her lips. She had placed her cargo of provocation, of resentment, to such excellent advantage! She was, moreover, slightly intoxicated by her own eloquence. She was at peace with herself and all mankind, with de Vallorbes even since his sins had afforded her so rare an opportunity. And this occasioned her to congratulate herself on her own conspicuous magnanimity. It is so exceedingly pleasing not only to know yourself clever, but to believe yourself good! She would be charming to these dear, kind, rather dull people. Not that Honoria was dull, but she had inconveniently austere notions of honour and loyalty at moments. And then the solitary drive home with Richard Calmady lay ahead, full of possible drama, full of, well, Heaven knew what! Oh! how entrancing a pastime is life!

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But to Richard, walking the snorting and impatient horses slowly up and down the woodland drive in the blear and sightless fog, life appeared quite other than an entrancing pastime. The pictures projected by his thought, and forming the medium of it, caused him black indignation and revolt, desolated him, too, with a paralysing disgust of his own disabilities. For poor Dick had declined somewhat in the last few hours, it must be owned, from the celestial altitudes he had reached before luncheon. Some part of his cousin’s discourse had been dangerously intimate in character, suggesting situations quite other than platonic. To him there appeared a noble innocence in her treatment of matters not usually spoken of. He had listened with a certain reverent amazement. Only out of purity of mind could such speech come. And yet an undeniable effect remained, and it was not altogether elevating. Richard was no longer the young Sir Galahad of the noontide of this eventful day. He was just simply a man—in a sensible degree the animal man—loving a woman, hating that other man to whom she was legally bound. Hating that other man, not only because he was unworthy and failed to make her happy, but because he stood in his—Richard’s—way. Hating the man all the more fiercely because, whatever the uncomeliness of his moral constitution, he was physically very far from uncomely. And so, along with nobler incitements to hatred, went the fiend envy, which just now plucked at poor Dickie’s vitals as the vulture at those of the chained Titan of old. Whereupon he fell into a meditation somewhat morbid. For, contemplating in pictured thought that other man’s bodily perfection, contemplating his property and victim,—the fair modern Helen, who by her courage and her trials exercised so potent a spell over his imagination,—Richard loathed his own maimed body, maimed chances and opportunities, as he had never loathed them before. How often since his childhood had some casual circumstance or trivial accident brought the fact of his misfortune home to him, causing him—as he at the moment supposed—to reckon, once and for all, with the sum total of it! But, as years passed and experience widened, below each depth of this adhering misery another deep disclosed itself. Would he never reach bottom? Would this inalienable disgrace continue to show itself more restricting and impeding to his action, more repulsive and contemptible to his fellow‐men, through all the succeeding stages and vicissitudes of his career, right to the very close?

To her hosts Madame de Vallorbes appeared in her gayest and most engaging humour.—“It was only a flying visit, she page: 243 mustn’t stay, Richard was waiting for her. Only she felt she must just have two words with Honoria. And say good‐bye? Yes, ten thousand sorrows, it was good‐bye. She was recalled to Paris, home, and duty”—She made an expressive little grimace at Miss St. Quentin.

“Your husband will be”—began Mrs. Cathcart, in her large, gently authoritative manner.

“Enchanted to see me, of course, dear cousin Selina, or he would not have required my return thus urgently. We may take that for said. Meanwhile what strange sprigs of nobility flourish in the local soil here.”

And she proceeded to give an account of the Fallowfeild party at luncheon, more witty, perhaps, than veracious. Helen could be extremely entertaining on occasion. She gave reins to her tongue, and it galloped away with her in most surprising fashion.

“My dear, my dear,” interrupted her hostess, “you are a little unkind surely! My dear, you are a little flippant!”

But Madame de Vallorbes enveloped her in the most assuaging embrace.

“Let me laugh while I can, dearest cousin Selina,” she pleaded. “I have had a delightful, little holiday. Everyone has been charming to me. You, of course—but then you always are that. Your presence breathes consolation. But Aunt Katherine has been charming too, and that, quite between ourselves, was a little more than I anticipated. Now the holiday draws to a close and pay‐day looms large ahead. You know nothing about such pay‐days thank Heaven, dear cousin Selina. They are far from joyous inventions; and so”—the young lady spread abroad her hands, palms upward, and shrugged her shoulders under their weight of costly furs—“and so I laugh, don’t you understand, I laugh!”

Miss St. Quentin’s delicate, square‐cut face wore an air of solicitude as she followed her friend out of the room. There was a trace of indolence in her slow, reflective speech, as in her long, swinging stride—the indolence bred of unconscious strength rather than of weakness, the leisureliness which goes with staying power both in the moral and the physical domain.

“See here, Nellie,” she said, “forgive brutal frankness, but which is the real thing to‐day—they’re each delightful in their own way—the tears or the laughter?”

“Both! oh, well‐beloved seeker after truth!” Madame de Vallorbes answered. “There lies the value of the situation.”

“Fresh worries?”

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“No, no, the old, the accustomed, the well‐accredited, the normal, the stock ones—a husband and a financial crisis.”

As she spoke Madame de Vallorbes fastened the buttons of her long driving‐coat. Miss St. Quentin knelt down and busied herself with the lowest of these. Her tall, slender figure was doubled together. She kept her head bent.

“I happen to have a pretty tidy balance just now,” she remarked parenthetically, and as though with a certain diffidence. “So you know, if you are a bit hard up—why—it’s all perfectly simple, Nellie, don’t you know.”

For a perceptible space of time Madame de Vallorbes did not answer. A grating of wheels on the gravel arrested her attention. She looked down the long vista of ruddily lighted hall, with its glowing fire and cheerful lamps to the open door, where, against the blear whiteness of the fog, the mail‐phaeton and its occupant showed vague in outline and in proportions almost gigantic against the thick, shifting atmosphere. Miss St. Quentin raised her head, surprised at her companion’s silence. Helen de Vallorbes bent down, took the upturned face in both hands and kissed the soft cheeks with effusion.

“You are adorable,” she said. “But you are too generous. You shall lend me nothing more. I believe I see my way. I can scrape through this crisis.”

Miss St. Quentin rose to her feet.

“All right,” she said, smiling upon her friend from her superior height with a delightful air of affection and apology. “I only wanted you just to know, in case—don’t you see. And—and—for the rest, how goes it, Helen? Are you turning all their poor heads at Brockhurst? You’re rather an upsetting being to let loose in an ordinary, respectable, English country‐house. A sort of Mousquetaire au couvent the other way about, don’t you know. Are you making things fly generally?”

“I am making nothing fly,” the other lady rejoined gaily. “I am as inoffensive as a stained‐glass saint in a chapel window. I am absolutely angelic.”

“That’s worst of all,” Honoria exclaimed, still smiling. “When you’re angelic you are most particularly deadly. For the preservation of local innocents, somebody ought to go and hoist danger signals.”

Miss St. Quentin, after just a moment’s hesitation, followed her friend through the warm, bright hall to the door. Then Helen de Vallorbes turned to her.

Au revoir, dearest Honoria,” she said, “and the sooner the better. Leave your shopgirls and distressed needlewomen, page: 245 and all your other good works, for a still better one—namely for me. Come and reclaim, and comfort, and support me for a while in Paris.”

Again she kissed the soft cheek.

“I am as good as gold. I am just now actually mawkish with virtue,” she murmured, between the kisses.

Richard witnessed this exceedingly pretty leave‐taking not without a movement of impatience. The fog was thickening once more. It grew late. He wished his cousin would get through with these amenities. Then, moreover, he did not covet intercourse with Miss St. Quentin. He pulled the fur rug aside with his left hand, holding reins and whip in his right.

“I say, are you nearly ready?” he asked. “I don’t want to bother you; but really it’s about time we were moving.”

“I come, I come,” Madame de Vallorbes cried, in answer. She put one neatly‐shod foot on the axle, and stepped up—Richard holding out his hand to steady her. A sense, at once pleasurable and defiant, of something akin to ownership, came over him as he did so. Just then his attention was claimed by a voice addressing him from the farther side of the carriage. Honoria St. Quentin stood on the gravel close beside him, bare‐headed, in the clinging damp and chill of the fog.

“Give my love to Lady Calmady,” she said. “I hope I shall see her again some day. But, even if I never have the luck to do that, in a way it’ll make no real difference. I’ve written her name in my private calendar, and shall always remember it.”—She paused a moment. “We got rather near each other somehow, I think. We didn’t dawdle or beat about the bush, but went straight along, passed the initial stages of acquaintance in a few hours, and reached that point of friendship where forgetting becomes impossible.”

“My mother never forgets,” Richard asserted, and there was, perhaps, a slight edge to his tone. Looking down into the girl’s pale, finely‐moulded face, meeting the glance of those steady, strangely clear and observant eyes, he received an impression of something uncompromisingly sincere and in a measure protective. This, for cause unknown, he resented. Notwithstanding her high‐breeding, Miss St. Quentin’s attitude appeared to him a trifle intrusive just then.

“I am very sure of that—that your mother never forgets, I mean. One knows, at once, one can trust her down to the ground and on to the end of the ages.”—Again she paused, as though rallying herself against a disinclination for further page: 246 speech. “All captivating women aren’t made on that pattern, unfortunately, you know, Sir Richard. A good many of them it’s wisest not to trust anything like down to the ground, or longer than—well—the day before yesterday.”

And without waiting for any reply to this cryptic utterance, she stepped swiftly round behind the carriage again, waved her hand from the door‐step and then swung away, with lazy, long‐limbed grace, past the waiting men‐servants and through the ruddy brightness of the hall.

Madame de Vallorbes settled herself back rather languidly in her place. She was pricked by a sharp point of curiosity, regarding the tenor of Miss St. Quentin’s mysterious colloquy with Richard. Calmady. She had been able to catch but a word here and there, and these had been provokingly suggestive. Had the well‐beloved Honoria, in a moment of over‐scrupulous conscientiousness permitted herself to hoist danger signals? She wanted to know, for it was her business to haul such down again with all possible despatch. She intended the barometer to register “set fair” whatever the weather actually impending. Yet to institute direct inquiries might be to invite suspicion. Helen, therefore, declined upon diplomacy, upon the inverted sweetnesses calculated nicely to mask an intention quite other than sweet. She really held her friend in very warm affection. But Madame de Vallorbes never confused secondary and primary issues. When you have a really big deal on hand—and of the bigness of her present deal the last quarter of an hour had brought her notably increased assurance—even the dearest friend must stand clear and get very decidedly out of the way. So, while the muffled thud of the horses’ hoofs echoed up from the hard gravel of the carriage drive through the thick atmosphere, and the bare limbs of the trees clawed, as with lean arms clothed in tattered draperies, at the passing carriage and its occupants, she contented herself by observing:—

“I am grateful to you for driving me over, Richard. Honoria is very perfect in her own way. It always does me good to see her. She’s quite unlike anybody else, isn’t she?”

But Richard’s eyes were fixed upon the blank wall of fog just ahead, which, though always stable, always receded before the advancing carriage. The effect of it was unpleasant somehow, holding, as it did to his mind, suggestion of other things still more baffling and impending, from which—though you might keep them at arm’s length—there was no permanent page: 247 or actual escape. The question of Miss St. Quentin’s characteristics did not consequently greatly interest him. He had arrived at conclusions. There was a matter of vital importance on which he desired to speak to his cousin. But how to do that? Richard was young and excellently modest. His whole purpose was rather fiercely focused on speech. But he was diffident, fearing to approach the subject which he had so much at heart clumsily and in a tactless, tasteless manner.

“Miss St. Quentin? Oh yes!” he replied, rather absently. “I really know next to nothing about her. And she seems merely to regard me as a vehicle of communication between herself and my mother. She sent her messages just now—I hope to goodness I shan’t forget to deliver them! She and my mother appear to have fallen pretty considerably in love with one another.”

“Probably,” Madame de Vallorbes said softly. An agreeable glow of relief passed over her. She looked up at Richard with a delightful effect of pensiveness from beneath the sweeping brim of her cavalier hat.—“I can well believe Aunt Katherine would be attracted by her,” she continued. “Honoria is quite a woman’s woman. Men do not care very much about her as a rule. There is a good deal of latent vanity resident in the members of your sex, you know, Richard; and men are usually conscious that Honoria does not care so very much about them. They are quite right, she does not. I really believe when poor, dreadful, old Lady Tobermory left her all that money Honoria’s first thought was that now she might embrace celibacy with a good conscience. The St. Quentins are not precisely millionaires, you know. Her wealth left her free to espouse the cause of womanhood at large. She is a little bit Quixotic, dear thing, and given to tilting at windmills. She wants to secure to working women a fair business basis—that is the technical expression, I believe. And so she starts clubs, and forms circles. She says women must be encouraged to combine and to agitate. Whether they are capable of combining I do not pretend to say. These high matters transcend my small wit. But, as I have often pointed out to her, agitation is the natural attitude of every woman. It would seem superfluous to encourage or inculcate that, for surely wherever two or three petticoats are gathered together, there, as far as my experience goes, is agitation of necessity in the midst of them.”

Madame de Vallorbes leaned back with a little sigh and air of exquisite resignation.

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“All the same, the majority of women are unhappy enough, Heaven knows! If Honoria, or any other sweet, feminine Quixote, can find means to lighten the burden of our lives, she has my very sincere thanks, well understood.”

Richard drew his whip across the backs of the trotting horses, making them plunge forward against that blank, impalpable wall of all‐encircling, ever‐receding, ever‐present fog. The carriage had just crossed the long, white‐railed bridge, spanning the little river and space of marsh on either side, and now entered Sandyfield Street. The tops of the tall Lombardy poplars were lost in gloom. Now and again the redness of a lighted cottage window, blurred and contorted in shape, showed through the grey pall. Slow‐moving, country figures, passing vehicles, a herd of some eight or ten cows—preceded by a diabolic looking billy‐goat, and followed by a lad astride the hind‐quarters of a bare‐backed donkey—grew out of pallid nothingness as the carriage came abreast of them, and receded with mysterious rapidity into nothingness again. The effect was curiously fantastic and unreal. And, as the minutes passed, that effect of unreality gained upon Richard’s imagination, until now—as last evening in the stately solitude of the Long Gallery—he became increasingly aware of the personality of his companion, increasingly penetrated by the feeling of being alone with that personality, as though the world, so strangely blotted out by these dim, obliterating vapours, were indeed vacant of all human interest, human purpose, human history, save that incarnate in this fair woman and in his own relation to her. She alone existed, concrete, exquisite, sentient, amid the vague, shifting immensities of fog. She alone mattered. Her near neighbourhood worked upon hint strongly, causing an excitement in him which at once hindered and demanded speech.

Night began to close in in good earnest. Passing the broad, yellowish glare streaming out from the rounded tap‐room window of the Calmady Arms, and passing from the end of the village street on to the open common, the light had become so uncertain that Richard could no longer see his companion’s face clearly. This was almost a relief to him, so that, mastering at once his diffidence and his excitement, he spoke.

“Look here, Helen,” he said, “I have been thinking over all that you told me. I don’t want to dwell on subjects that must be very painful to you, but I can’t help thinking about them. It’s not that I won’t leave them alone, but that they won’t leave me. I don’t want to presume upon your confidence, or take too much upon myself. Only, don’t you see, now that I do know it’s page: 249 impossible to sit down under it all and let things go on just the same.—You’re not angry with me?”

The young man spoke very carefully and calmly, yet the tones of his voice were heavily charged with feeling.

Madame de Vallorbes clasped her hands rather tightly within her sable muff. Unconsciously she began to sway a little, just a very little, as a person will sway in time to strains of stirring music. An excitement, not mental merely but physical, invaded her. For she recognised that she stood on the threshold of developments in this very notable drama. Still she answered quietly, with a touch even of weariness.

“Ah! dear Richard, it is so friendly and charming of you to take my infelicities thus to heart! But to what end, to what end, I ask you? The conditions are fixed. Escape from them is impossible. I have made my bed—made it most abominably uncomfortably, I admit, but that is not to the point—and I must lie on it. There is no redress. There is nothing to be done.”

“Yes, there is this,” he replied. “I know it is wretchedly inadequate, it doesn’t touch the root of the matter. Oh! it’s miserably inadequate—I should think I did know that! Only it might smooth the surface a bit, perhaps, and put a stop to one source of annoyance. Forgive me if I say what seems coarse or clumsy—but would not your position be easier if, in regard to—to money, you were quite independent of that—of your husband, I mean,—M. de Vallorbes?”

For a moment the young lady remained very still, and stared very hard at the fog. The most surprising visions arose before her. She had a difficulty in repressing an exclamation.

“Ah! there now, I have blundered. I’ve hurt you. I’ve made you angry,” Dickie cried impulsively.

“No, no, dear Richard,” she answered, with admirable gentleness, “I am not angry. Only what is the use of romancing?”

“I am not romancing. It is the simplest thing out, if you will but have it so.”

He hesitated a little. The horses were pulling, the fog was in his throat thick and choking—or was it, perhaps, something more unsubstantial and intangible even than fog? The spacious barns and rickyards of the Church Farm were just visible on the right. In less than five minutes more, at their present pace, the horses would reach the first park gate. The young man felt he must give himself time. He quieted the horses down into a walk.

“If I were your brother, Helen, I should save you all these sordid money worries as a matter of course. You have no page: 250 brother—so, don’t you see, I come next. It’s a perfectly obvious arrangement. Just let me be your banker,” he said.

Madame de Vallorbes shut her pretty teeth together. She could have danced, she could have sung aloud for very gaiety of heart. She had not anticipated this turn to the situation; but it was a delicious one. It had great practical merits. Her brain worked rapidly. Immediately those practical merits ranged themselves before her in detail. But she would play with it a little—both diplomacy and good taste, in which last she was by no means deficient, required that.

“Ah! you forget, dear Richard,” she said, “in your friendly zeal you forget that, in our rank of life, there is one thing a woman cannot accept from a man. To take money is to lay yourself open to slanderous tongues, is to court scandal. Sooner or later it is known, the fact leaks out. And however innocent the intention, however noble and honest the giving, however grateful and honest the receiving, the world puts but one construction upon such a transaction.”

“The world’s beastly evil‐minded then,” Richard said.

“So it is. But that is no news, Dickie dear,” Madame de Vallorbes answered. “Nor is it exactly to the point.”

Inwardly she trembled a little. What if she had headed him off too cleverly, and he should regard her argument as convincing, her refusal as final? Her fears were by no means lessened by the young man’s protracted silence.

“No, I don’t agree,” he said at last. “I suppose there are always risks to be run in securing anything at all worth securing, and it seems to me, if you look at it all round, the risks in this case are very slight. Only you—and M. de Vallorbes need know. I suppose he must. But then, if you will pardon my saying so, after what you have told me I can’t imagine he is the sort of person who is likely to object very much to an arrangement by which he would benefit, at least indirectly. As for the world,”—Richard ceased to contemplate his horses. He tried to speak lightly, while his eyes sought that dimly seen face at his elbow.—“Oh, well, hang the world, Helen! It’s easy enough for me to say so, I daresay, being but so slightly acquainted with it and the ways of it. But the world can’t be so wholly hide‐bound and idiotic that it denies the existence of exceptional cases. And this case, in some of its bearings at all events, is wholly exceptional, I am—happy to think.”

“You are a very convincing special pleader, Richard,” Madame de Vallorbes said softly.

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“Then you accept?” he rejoined exultantly. “You accept?”

The young lady could not quite control herself.

“Ah! if you only knew the prodigious relief it would be,” she exclaimed, with an outbreak of impatience. “It would make an incalculable difference. And yet I do not see my way. I am in a cleft stick. I dare not say Yes. And to say No”—Her sincerity was unimpeachable at that moment. Her eyes actually filled with tears. “Pah! I am ashamed of myself,” she cried, “but, to refuse is distracting.”

The gate of the outer park had been reached. The groom swung himself down and ran forward, but confused by the growing darkness and the thick atmosphere he fumbled for a time before finding the heavy latch.

The horses became somewhat restive, snorting and fidgeting.

“Steady there, steady, good lass,” Richard said soothingly. Then he turned again to his companion. “Believe me it’s the very easiest thing out to accept, if you’ll only look at it all from the right point of view, Helen.”

Madame de Vallorbes withdrew her right hand from her muff and laid it, almost timidly, upon the young man’s arm.

“Do you know, you are wonderfully dear to me, Dick?” she said, and her voice shook slightly. She was genuinely touched and moved.—“No one has ever been quite so dear to me before. It is a new experience. It takes my breath away a little. It makes me regret some things I have done. But it is a mistake to go back on what is past, don’t you think so? Therefore we will go forward. Tell me, expound. What is this so agreeably reconciling point of view?”

But along with the touch of her hand, a great wave of emotion swept over poor Richard, making his grasp on the reins very unsteady. The sensations he had suffered last evening in the Long Gallery again assailed him. The flesh had its word to say. Speech became difficult. Meanwhile his agitation communicated itself strangely to the horses. They sprang forward against that all‐encircling, ever‐present, yet ever‐receding, blank wall of fog, to which the over‐arching trees lent an added gloom and mystery, as though some incarnate terror pursued them. The gate clanged‐to behind the carriage. The groom scrambled breathlessly into his place. Sir Richard’s driving was rather reckless, he ventured to think, on such a nasty, dark night, and with a lady along of him too. He was not sorry when the pace slowed down to a walk. That was a long sight safer, to his thinking.

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“The right point of view is this,” Richard said at last; “that in accepting you would be doing that which, in some ways, would make just all the difference to my life.”

He held himself very upright on the sloping driving‐seat, rather cruelly conscious of the broad strap about his waist, and the high, unsightly driving‐iron against which, concealed by the heavy, fur rug, his feet pushed as he balanced himself. He paused, gazing away into the silent desolation of the now invisible woods, and when he spoke again his voice had deepened in tone.

“It must be patent to you—it is rather detestably patent to everyone, I suppose, if it comes to that—that I am condemned to be of precious little use to myself or anyone else. I share the fate of the immortal Sancho Panza in his island of Barataria. A very fine feast is spread before me, while I find myself authoritatively forbidden to eat first of this dish and then of that, until I end by being every bit as hungry as though the table was bare. It becomes rather a nuisance at times, you know, and taxes one’s temper and one’s philosophy. It seems a little rough to possess all that so many men of my age would give just everything to have, and yet be unable to get anything but unsatisfied hunger, and—in plain English—humiliation, out of it.”

Madame de Vallorbes sat very still. Her charming face had grown keen. She listened, drawing in her breath with a little sobbing sound—but that was only the result of accentuated dramatic satisfaction.

“You see I have no special object or ambition. I can’t have one. I just pass the time. I don’t see any prospect of my ever being able to do more than that. There’s my mother, of course. I need not tell you she and I love one another. And there are the horses. But I don’t care to bet, and I never attend a race‐meeting. I—I do not choose to make an exhibition of myself.”

Again Helen drew her hand out of her muff, but this time quickly, impulsively, and laid it on Richard’s left hand which held the reins. The young man’s breath caught in his throat, he leaned sideways towards her, her shoulder touching his elbow, the trailing plumes of her hat—now limp from the clinging moisture of the fog—for a moment brushing his cheek.

“Helen,” he said rapidly, “don’t you understand it’s in your power to alter all this? By accepting you would do infinitely more for me than I could ever dream of doing for you. You’d give me something to think of and plan about. page: 253 If you’ll only have whatever wretched money you need now, and have more whenever you want it—if you’ll let me feel, however rarely we meet, that you depend on me and trust me and let me make things a trifle easier and smoother for you, you will be doing such an act of charity as few women have ever done. Don’t refuse, for pity’s sake don’t! I don’t want to whine, but things were not precisely gay before your coming, you know. Need it be added they promise to be less so than ever after you are gone? So listen to reason. Do as I ask you. Let me be of use in the only way I can.”

“Do you consider what you propose?” Madame de Vallorbes asked, slowly. “It is a good deal. It is dangerous. With most men such a compact would be wholly inadmissible.”

Then poor. Dickie lost himself. The strain of the last week, the young, headlong passion aroused in him, the misery of his deformity, the accumulated bitterness and rebellion of years arose and overflowed as a great flood. Pride went down before it, and reticence, and decencies of self‐respect. Richard turned and rent himself, without mercy and, for the moment, without shame. He pelted himself with cruel words, with scorn and self‐contempt, while he laughed, and the sound of that laughter wandered away weirdly through the chill density of the fog, under the tall, shadowy firs of the great avenue, over the sombre heather, out into the veiled, crowded darkness of the wide woods.

“But I am not as other men are,” he answered. “I am a creature by myself, a unique development as much outside the normal social, as I am outside the normal physical law. I—alone by myself—think of it!—abnormal, extraordinary.—You are safe enough with me, Helen. Safe to indulge and humour me as you might a monkey or a parrot. All the world will understand that! Only my mother, and a few old friends and old servants take me seriously. To everyone else I am an embarrassment, a more or less distressing curiosity.”—He met little Lady Constance Quayle’s ruminant stare again in imagination, heard Lord Fallowfeild’s blundering speech.—“Remember our luncheon to‐day. It was flattering, at moments, wasn’t it? And so if I do queer things, things off the conventional lines, who will be surprised? No one I tell you, not even the most strait‐laced or censorious. Allow me at least the privileges of my disabilities. I am a dwarf—a cripple. I shall never be otherwise. Had I lived a century or two ago I should have made sport for you, and such as you, as some rich man’s professional fool. And so, if I overstep the usual limits, who page: 254 will comment on that? Queer things, crazy things, are in the part. What do I matter?”

Richard laughed aloud.

“At least I have this advantage, that in my case you can do what you can do in the case of no other man. With me you needn’t be afraid. No one will think evil. With me—yes, after all, there is a drop of comfort in it—with me, Helen, you’re safe enough.”

CHAPTER X

MR. LUDOVIC QUAYLE AMONG THE PROPHETS

THAT same luncheon party at Brockhurst, if not notably satisfactory to the hosts, afforded much subsequent food for meditation to one at least of the guests. During the evening immediately following it, and even in the watches of the night, Lady Louisa Barking’s thought was persistently engaged with the subject of Richard Calmady, his looks, his character, his temper, his rent‐roll, the acreage of his estates, and his prospects generally. Nor did her interest remain hidden and inarticulate. For, finding that in various particulars her knowledge was superficial and clearly insufficient, on her journey from Westchurch up to town next day, in company with her brother Ludovic, she put so many questions to that accomplished, young gentleman that he shortly divined some serious purpose in her inquiry.

“We all recognise, my dear Louisa,” he remarked presently, laying aside the day’s Times, of which he had vainly essayed the study, with an air of gentle resignation, crossing his long legs and leaning back in his corner of the railway carriage,—“that you are the possessor of an eminently practical mind. You have run the family for some years now, not without numerous successes, among which may be reckoned your running of yourself into the arms—if you will pardon my mentioning them—of my estimable brother‐in‐law, Barking.”

“Really, Ludovic!” his sister protested.

“Let me entreat you not to turn restive, Louisa,” Mr. Quayle rejoined with the utmost suavity. “I am paying a high compliment to your intelligence. To have run into the arms of Mr. Barking, or indeed of anybody else, casually and involuntarily, to have blundered into them—if I may so express myself—would have been a stupidity. But to run into them intentionally and page: 255 voluntarily argues considerable powers of strategy, an intelligent direction of movement which I respect and admire.”

“You are really exceedingly provoking, Ludovic!”

Lady Louisa pushed the square, leather‐covered dressing‐case, on which her feet had been resting, impatiently aside.

“Far from it,” the young man answered. “Can I put that box anywhere else for you? You like it just where it is?—Yes? But I assure you I am not provoking. I am merely complimentary. Conversation is an art, Louisa. None of my sisters ever can be got to understand that. It is dreadfully crude to rush in waist‐deep at once. There should be feints and approaches. You should nibble at your sugar with a graceful coyness. You should cut a few frills and skirmish a little before setting the battle actively in array. And it is just this that I have been striving to do during the last five minutes. But you do not appear to appreciate the commendable style of my preliminaries. You want to engage immediately. There is usually a first‐rate underlying reason for your interest in anybody”—

Again the lady shifted the position of the dressing‐case.

“To the right?” inquired Mr. Quayle extending his hand, his head a little on one side, his long neck directed forward, while he regarded first his sister and then the dressing‐case with infuriating urbanity. “No? Let us come to Hecuba, then. Let us dissemble no longer, but put it plainly. What, oh, Louisa! what are you driving at in respect of my very dear friend, Dickie Calmady?”

Now it was unquestionably most desirable for her to keep on the fair‐weather side of Mr. Quayle just then. Yet the flesh is weak. Lady Louisa Barking could not control a movement of self‐justification. She spoke with dignity, severely.

“It is all very well for you to say those sorts of things, Ludovic”—

“What sorts of things?” he inquired mildly.

“But I should be glad to know what would have become of the family by now, unless someone had come forward and taken matters in hand? Of course one gets no thanks for it. One never does get any thanks for doing one’s duty, however wearing it is to oneself and however much others profit. But somebody had to sacrifice themselves. Mama is unequal to any exertion. You know what papa is”—

“I do, I do,” murmured Mr. Quayle, raising his gaze piously to the roof of the railway carriage.

“If he has one of the boys to tramp over the country with page: 256 him at Whitney, and one of the girls to ride with him in London, he is perfectly happy and content. He is alarmingly improvident. He would prefer keeping the whole family at home doing nothing”—

“Save laughing at his jokes. My father craves the support of a sympathetic audience.”

“Shotover is worse than useless.”

“Except to the guileless Israelite he is. Absolutely true, Louisa.”

“Guy would never have gone into the army when he left Eton unless I had insisted upon it. And it was entirely through the Barkings’ influence—at my representation of course—that Eddie got a berth in that Liverpool cotton‐broker’s business. I am sure Alicia is very comfortably married. I know George Winterbotham is not the least interesting, but he is perfectly gentlemanlike and presentable, and so on, and he makes her a most devoted husband. And from what Mr. Barking heard the other day at the Club from somebody or other, I forget who, but someone connected with the Government, you know, there is every probability of George getting that permanent undersecretaryship.”

“Did I not start by declaring you had achieved numerous successes?” Ludovic inquired. “Yet we stray from the point, Louisa. For do I not still remain ignorant of the root of your sudden interest in my friend Dickie Calmady? And I thirst to learn how you propose to work him into the triumphant development of our family fortunes.”

The proportions of Lady Louisa’s small mouth contracted still further into an expression of great decision, while she glanced at the landscape reeling away from the window of the railway carriage. In the past twelve hours autumn had given place to winter. The bare hedges showed black, while the fallen leaves of the hedgerow trees formed unsightly blotches of sodden brown and purple upon the dirty green of the pastures. Over all brooded an opaque, grey‐brown sky, sullen and impenetrable. Lady Louisa saw all this. But she was one of those persons happily, for themselves, unaffected by such abstractions as the aspects of nature. Her purposes were immediate and practical. She followed them with praiseworthy persistence. The landscape merely engaged her eyes because she, just now, preferred looking out of the window to looking her brother in the face.

“Something must be done for the younger girls,” she announced. “I feel pretty confident about Emily’s future. We need not go into that. Maggie, if she marries at all—and page: 257 she really is very useful at home, in looking after the servants and entertaining, and so on—if she marries at all, will marry late. She has no particular attractions as girls go. Her figure is too solid, and she talks too much. But she will make a very presentable middle‐aged woman—sensible, dependable, an excellent ménagère. Certainly she had better marry late.”

“A mature clergyman when she is rising forty—a widowed bishop, for instance. Yes, I approve that,” Mr. Quayle rejoined reflectively. “It is well conceived, Louisa. We must keep an eye on the Bench and carefully note any episcopal matrimonial vacancy. Bishops have a little turn, I observe, for marrying somebody who is somebody—specially en secondes noces, good men. Yes, it is well thought of. With careful steering we may bring Maggie to anchor in a palace yet. Maggie is rather dogmatic, she would make not half a bad Mrs. Proudie. So she is disposed of, and then?”

For a few seconds the lady held silent converse with herself. At last she addressed her companion in tones of unwonted cordiality.

“You are by far the most sensible of the family, Ludovic,” she began.

“And in a family so renowned for intellect, so conspicuous for ‘parts and learning,’ as Macaulay puts it, that is indeed a distinction!”—Mr. Quayle bowed slightly in his comfortable corner. “A thousand thanks, Louisa,” he murmured.

“I would not breathe a syllable of this to any of the others,” she continued. “You know how the girls chatter. Alicia, I am sorry to say, is as bad as any of them. They would discuss the question without intermission—simply, you know, talk the whole thing to death.”

“Poor thing!—Yet, after all, what thing?” the young man inquired urbanely.

Lady Louisa bit her lip. He was very irritating, while she was very much in earnest. It was her misfortune usually to be a good deal in earnest.

“There is Constance,” she remarked, somewhat abruptly.

“Precisely—there is poor, dear, innocent, rather foolish, little Connie. It occurred to me we might be coming to that.”

In his turn Mr. Quayle fell silent, and contemplated the reeling landscape. Pasture had given place to wide stretches of dark moorland on either side the railway line, with a pallor of sour bog grasses in the hollows. The outlook was uncheerful. Perhaps it was that which caused the young man to shake his head.

“I recognise the brilliancy of the conception, Louisa. It page: 258 reflects credit upon your imagination and—your daring,” he said presently. “But you won’t be able to work it.”

“Pray why not?” almost snapped Lady Louisa.

Mr. Quayle settled himself back in his corner again. His handsome face was all sweetness, indulgent though argumentative. He was nothing, clearly, unless reasonable.

“Personally, I am extremely fond of Dickie Calmady,” he began. “I permit myself—honestly I do—moments of enthusiasm regarding him. I should esteem the woman lucky who married him. Yet I could imagine a prejudice might exist in some minds—minds of a less emancipated and finely comprehensive order than yours and my own of course—against such an alliance. Take my father’s mind, for instance—and unhappily my father dotes on Connie. And he is more obstinate than nineteen dozen—well, I leave you to fill in the comparison mentally, Louisa. It might be slightly wanting in filial respect to put it into words.”

Again he shook his head in pensive solemnity.

“I give you credit for prodigious push and tenacity, for a remarkable capacity of generalship, in short. Yet I cannot disguise from myself the certainty that you would never square my father.”

“But suppose she wishes it herself? Papa would deny Connie nothing,” the other objected. She was obliged to raise her voice to a point of shrillness, hardly compatible with the dignity of the noble house of Fallowfeild, doublé with all the gold of all the Barkings, for the train was banging over the points and roaring between the platforms of a local junction. Mr. Quayle made a deprecating gesture, put his hands over his ears, and again gently shook his head, intimating that no person possessed either of nerves or self‐respect could be expected to carry on a conversation under existing conditions. Lady Louisa desisted. But, as soon as the train passed into the comparative quiet of the open country, she took up her parable again, and took it up in a tone of authority.

“Of course I admit there is something to get over. It would be ridiculous not to admit that. And I am always determined to be perfectly straightforward. I detest humbug of any kind. So I do not deny for a moment that there is something. Still it would be a very good marriage for Constance, a very good marriage, indeed. Even papa must acknowledge that. Money, position, age, everything of that kind, in its favour. One could not expect to have all that without some make‐weight. I should not regret it, for I feel it might really be bad for Connie to have so much without some make‐weight. And I remarked page: 259 yesterday—I could not help remarking it—that she was very much occupied about Sir Richard Calmady.”

“Connie is a little goose,” Mr. Quayle permitted himself to remark, and for once there was quite a sour edge to his sweetness.

“Connie is not quick, she is not sensitive,” his sister continued. “And, really, under all the circumstances, that perhaps is just as well. But she is a good child, and would believe almost anything you told her. She has an affectionate and obedient disposition, and she never attempts to think for herself. I don’t believe it would ever occur to her to object to his—his peculiarities, unless some mischievous person suggested it to her. And then, as I tell you, I remarked she was very much occupied about him.”

Once again Mr. Quayle sought counsel of the landscape which once again had changed in character. For here civilisation began to trail her skirts very visibly, and the edges of those skirts were torn and frayed, notably unhandsome. The open moorland had given place to flat market‐gardens and leafless orchards sloppy with wet. Innumerable cabbages, innumerable stunted, black‐branched apple and pear trees, avenues of dilapidated pea and bean sticks, reeled away to right and left. The semi‐suburban towns stretched forth long, rawly‐red arms of ugly, little, jerry‐built streets and terraces. Tall chimneys and unlovely gasometers—these last showing as collections of some monstrous spawn—rose against the opaque sky, a sky rendered momentarily more opaque, dirtier and more dingy, by the masses of London smoke hanging along the eastern horizon.

Usually Ludovic knew his own mind clearly enough. The atmosphere of it was very far from being hazy. Now that atmosphere bore annoying resemblance to the opacity obtaining overhead and along the eastern horizon. The young man’s sympathies—or were they his prejudices?—had a convenient habit of ranging themselves immediately on one side or other of any question presenting itself to him. But in the present case they were mixed. They pulled both ways, and this vexed him. For he liked to suppose himself very ripe, cynical, and disillusioned, while, in good truth, sentiment had more than a word to say in most of his opinions and decisions. Now sentiment ruled him strongly and pushed him—but, unfortunately, in diametrically opposite directions. The sentiment of friendship compelled him hitherward. While another sentiment, which he refused to define—he recognised it as wholesome, yet he was a trifle ashamed of it—compelled him quite other‐where. He took refuge in an adroit begging of the question.

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“After all are you not committing the fundamental error of reckoning without your host, Louisa?” he inquired. “Connie may be a good deal occupied about Calmady, but thereby may only give further proof of her own silliness. I certainly discovered no particular sign of Calmady being occupied about Connie. He was very much more occupied about the fair cousin, Helen de Vallorbes, than about any one of us, my illustrious self included, as far as I could see.”

In her secret soul his hearer had to own this statement just. But she kept the owning to herself, and, with a rapidity upon which she could not help congratulating herself, instituted a flanking movement.

“You hear all the gossip, Ludovic,” she said. “Of course it is no good my asking Mr. Barking about that sort of thing. Even if he heard it he would not remember it. His mind is too much engaged. If a woman marries a man with large political interests she must just give herself to them generously. It is very interesting, and one feels, of course, one is helping to make history. But still one has to sacrifice something. I hear next to nothing of what is going on—the gossip, I mean. And so tell me, what do you hear about her, about Madame de Vallorbes?”

“At first hand only that which you must know perfectly well yourself, my dear Louisa.—Didn’t you sit opposite to her at luncheon, yesterday?—That she is a vastly good‐looking and attractive woman.”

“At second hand, then?”

“At second hand? Oh! at second hand I know various amiable little odds and ends such as are commonly reported by the uncharitable and censorious,” Ludovic answered mildly. “’Probably more than half of those little treasures are pure fiction, generated by envy, conceived by malice.”

“Pray, Ludovic!” his sister exclaimed. But she recovered herself,—and added:—“You may as well tell me all the same. I think, under the circumstances, it would be better for me to hear.”

“You really wish to hear? Well, I give it you for what it is worth. I don’t vouch for the truth of a single item. For all we can tell, nice, kind friends may be recounting kindred anecdotes of Alicia and the blameless Winterbotham, or even of you, Louisa, and Mr. Barking.”

Mr. Quayle fixed a glance of surpassing graciousness upon his sister as he uttered these agreeable suggestions, and fervid curiosity alone enabled her to resist a rejoinder and to maintain a dignified silence.

“It is said—and this probably is true—that she never cared two page: 261 straws for de Vallorbes, but was jockeyed into the marriage—just as you might jockey Constance, you know, Louisa—by her mother, who has the reputation of being a somewhat frisky matron with a keen eye to the main chance. She is not quite all, I understand, a tender heart could desire in the way of a female parent. It is further said that la belle Helène makes the dollars fly even more freely than did de Vallorbes in his best days, and he has the credit of having been something of a viveur. He knew not only his Paris, but his Baden‐Baden, and his Naples, and various other warm corners where great and good men do commonly congregate. It is added that la belle Helène already gives promise of being playful in other ways besides that of expenditure. And that de Vallorbes has been heard to lament, openly, that he is not a native of some enlightened country in which the divorce court charitably intervenes to sever over‐hard connubial knots. In short, it is rumoured that de Vallorbes is not a conspicuous example of the wildly happy husband.”

“In short, she is not respec”—

But the young man held up his hands and cried out feelingly:—

“Don’t, pray don’t, my dear Louisa. Let us walk delicately as Agag—my father’s morning ministrations to the maids again! For how, as I pointed out just now, do we know what insidious little tales may not be in circulation regarding yourself and those nearest and dearest to you?”

Ludovic Quayle turned his head and once more looked out of the window, his beautiful mouth visited by a slightly malicious smile. The train was sliding onward above crowded, sordid courts and narrow alleys, festering, as it seemed, with a very plague of poverty‐stricken and unwholesome humanity. Here the line runs parallel to the river—sullen to‐day, blotted with black floats and lines of grimy barges, which straining, smoke‐vomiting steam‐tugs towed slowly against a strong flowing tide. On the opposite bank the heavy masses of the Abbey, the long decorated facade and towers of the Houses of Parliament, stood out ghostly and livid in a gleam of frail, unrelated sunshine against the murk of the smoky sky.

“I should have supposed Sir Richard Calmady was steady,” Lady Louisa remarked, inconsequently and rather stiffly.—Ludovic really was exasperating.

“Steady? Oh! perfectly. Poor, dear chap, he hasn’t had much chance of being anything else as yet.”

“Still, of course, Lady Calmady would prefer his being settled. Clearly it would be much better in every way. All things considered, he is certainly one of the people who should marry page: 262 young. And Connie would be an excellent marriage for him, excellent—thoroughly suitable, better, really, than on the face of it he could hope for.—Ludovic, just look out please and see if the carriage is here. Pocock always loses her head at a terminus, and misses the men‐servants. Yes, there is Frederic—with his back to the train, looking the wrong way, of course. He really is too stupid.”

Mr. Quayle, however, succeeded in attracting the footman’s attention, and, assisted by that functionary and the lean and anxious Pocock—her arms full of bags and umbrellas—conveyed his sister out of the railway carriage and into the waiting brougham. She graciously offered to put him down at his rooms, in St. James’s Place, on her way to the Barking mansion in Albert Gate, but the young man declined that honour.

“Good‐bye, Louisa,” he said, leaning his elbows on the open window of the brougham and thereby presenting the back view of an irreproachably cut overcoat and trousers to the passers‐by. “I have to thank you for a most interesting and instructive journey. Your efforts to secure the prosperity of the family are wholly praiseworthy. I commend them. I have a profound respect for your generalship. Still, pauper though I am, I am willing to lay you a hundred to one in golden guineas that you will never square papa.”

Subsequently the young man bestowed himself in a hansom, and rattled away in the wake of the Barking equipage down the objectionably steep hill which leads from the roar and turmoil of the station into the Waterloo Bridge road.

“I might have offered heavier odds,” he said to himself, “for never, never will she square papa!”

And, not without a slight sense of shame, he was conscious that he made this reflection with a measure of relief.

CHAPTER XI

CONTAINING SAMPLES BOTH OF EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY LOVE

KATHERINE stood in the central space of the great, state bedroom. It was just upon midnight, yet she still wore her jewels and her handsome, trailing, black, velvet dress. She was very tired. But that tiredness proceeded less from physical than mental weariness. This she recognised, and foresaw that weariness of this character was not likely to find relief and page: 263 extinction within the shelter of the curtains of the stately bed, whereon the ancient Persian legend of the flight of the Hart through the tangled Forest of This Life was so deftly and quaintly embroidered. For, unhappily to‐night, the leopard, Care, followed very close behind. And Katherine, taking the ancient legend as very literally descriptive of her existing state of mind, feared that, should she undress and seek the shelter of the rose‐lined curtains the leopard would seek it also; and, crouching at her feet, his evil, yellow eyes would gaze into her own, wide open, all through that which remained of the night. The night, moreover, was very wild. A westerly gale, with now and again tumultuous violence of rain, rattled the many panes of the windows, wailed in every crevice of door and casement, roared through the mile‐long elm avenue below, and roared in the chimneys above. The Prince of the Powers of the Air was let loose, and announced his presence as with the shout of battle. Sleep was out of the question under present conditions and in her present humour. Therefore Lady Calmady had dismissed Clara,—now promoted to the dignified office of lady’s‐maid,—and that bright‐eyed and devoted waiting‐woman had departed reluctant, almost in tears, protesting that:—“It was quite too bad, for her ladyship was being regularly worn out with all the talking and company. And she, for her part, should be heartily glad when the entertaining was over and they were all comfortably to themselves again.”

Nor could Katherine honestly assert that she would be altogether sorry when the hour struck, to‐morrow, for the departure of her guests. For it appeared to her that, notwithstanding the courtesy and affection of her brother and the triumphant charm of her niece, a spirit of unrest had entered Brockhurst along with their entry. Would that same spirit depart along with their departing? She questioned it. She was oppressed by a fear that spirit of unrest had come to stay. And so it was that as she walked the length and breadth of the lofty, white‐panelled room, for all the rage and fury of the storm without, she still heard the soft padding of Care, the leopard, close behind.

Then a singular desolation and sense of homelessness came upon Katherine. Turn where she would there seemed no comfort, no escape, no sure promise of eventual rest. Things human and material were emptied not of joy only, but of invitation to effort. For something had happened from which there was no going back. A fair woman from a far country had come and looked upon her son, with the inevitable result, that youth had page: 264 called to youth. And though the fair woman in question, being already wedded wife,—Katherine was rather pathetically pure‐minded,—could not in any dangerously practical manner steal away her son’s heart, yet she would, only too probably, prepare that heart and awaken in it desires of subsequent stealing away on the part of some other fair woman, as yet unknown, whose heart Dickie would do his utmost to steal in exchange. And this filled her with anxiety and far‐reaching fears, not only because it was bitter to have some woman other than herself hold the chief place in her son’s affections, but because she—as John Knott, even as Ludovic Quayle, though from quite other causes—could not but apprehend possibilities of danger, even of disaster, surrounding all question of love and marriage in the strange and unusual case of Richard Calmady.

And thinking of these things, her sensibilities heightened and intensified by fatigue and circumstances of time and place, a certain feverishness possessed her. That bed‐chamber of many memories—exquisite and tragic—became intolerable to her. She opened the double doors and passed into the Chapel‐Room beyond, the light, thrown by the tall wax‐candles set in silver branches upon her toilet‐table, passing with her through the widely open doors and faintly illuminating the near end of the great room. There was other subdued light in the room as well. For a glowing mass of coal and wood still remained in the brass basket upon the hearth; and the ruddy brightness of it touched the mouldings of the ceiling, glowed on the polished corners and carvings of tables, what‐nots, and upon the mahogany frames of solid, Georgian sofas and chairs.

At first sight, notwithstanding the roaring of wind and ripping of rain without, there seemed offer of comfort in this calm and spacious place, the atmosphere of it sweet with bowls of autumn violets and greenhouse‐grown roses. Katherine sat down in Richard’s low arm‐chair and gazed into the crimson heart of the fire. She made a valiant effort to put away haunting fears, to resume her accustomed attitude of stoicism, of tranquil, if slightly defiant, courage. But Care, the leopard, refused to be driven away. Surely, stealthily, he had followed her out of her bed‐chamber and now crouched at her side, making his presence felt so that all illusion of comfort speedily fled. She knew that she was alone, consciously and bitterly alone, waking in the midst of the sleeping house. No footstep would echo up the stairs, hot to find her. No voice would call her name, in anxiety for her well‐being or in desire. It seemed to Katherine that a desert lay outstretched about her on every page: 265 hand, while she sat desolate with Care for her sole companion. She recognised that her existing isolation was, in a measure at all events, the natural consequence of her own fortitude and ability. She had ruled with so strong and discreet a hand that the order she had established, the machinery she had set agoing, could now keep going without her. Hence her loneliness. And that loneliness as she sat by the dying fire, while the wind raved without, was dreadful to her, peopled with phantoms she dared not look upon. For, not only the accustomed burden of her motherhood was upon her, but that other unaccustomed burden of admitted middle‐age. And this other burden, which it is appointed a woman shall bear while her heart often is still all too sadly young, dragged her down. The conviction pressed home on her that for her the splendid game was indeed over, and that, for very pride’s sake, she must voluntarily, stand aside and submit to rank herself with things grown obsolete, with fashions past and out of date.

Katherine rose to her feet, filled, for the moment, by an immense compassion for her own womanhood, by an over‐mastering longing for sympathy. She was so tired of the long struggle with sorrow, so tired of her own attitude of sustained courage. And now, when surely a little respite and repose might have been granted her, it seemed that a new order of courage was demanded of her—a courage passive rather than active, a courage of relinquishment and self‐effacement. That was a little too much. For all her valiant spirit, she shrank away. She grew weak. She could not face it.

And so it happened that to‐night—as once long ago, when poor Richard suffered his hour of mental and physical torment at the skilful, yet relentless, hands of Dr. Knott, in the bed‐chamber near by—Katherine’s anguish and revolt found expression in restless pacings, and those pacings brought her to the chapel door. It stood ajar. Before the altar the three hanging lamps showed each its tongue of crimson flame. A whiteness of flowers, set in golden vases upon the re‐table, was just distinguishable. But the delicately carved spires and canopies of stalls, the fair pictured saints, and figure of the risen Christ—His wounded feet shining like pearls upon the azure floor of heaven—in the east window, were lost in soft, thick, all‐pervading gloom. The place was curiously still, as though waiting silently, in solemn and strained expectation for the accomplishment of some mysterious visitation. And, all the while without, the gale flung itself wailing against the angles of the masonry, and the rain beat upon the glass of the high, narrow windows as with a passion of despairing tears.

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For some time Katherine waited in the doorway, a sombre figure in her trailing, velvet dress. The hushed stillness of the chapel, the confusion and clamour of the tempest, taken thus in connection, were very telling. They exercised a strong influence over her already somewhat exalted imagination. Could it be, she asked herself, that these typified the rest of the religious, and the unrest of the secular life? Julius March would interpret the contrast they afforded in some such manner no doubt. And what if Julius, after all, were right? What if, shutting God out of the heart, you also shut that heart out from all peaceful dwelling places, leaving it homeless, at the mercy of every passing storm? Katherine was bruised in spirit. The longing for some sure refuge, some abiding city was dominant in her. The needs of her soul, so long ignored and repudiated, asserted themselves. Yes, what if Julius were right, and if content and happiness—the only happiness which has in it the grace of continuance—consisted in submission to, and glad acquiescence in, the will of God?

Thus did she muse, gazing questioningly at the whiteness of the altar flowers and those steady tongues of flame, hearing the silence, as of reverent waiting, which dwelt in the place. But, on the other hand, to give, in this her hour of weakness, that which she had refused in the hours of clear‐seeing strength,—to let go, because she was alone and the unloveliness of age claimed her, that sense of bitter injury and injustice which she had hugged to her breast when young and still aware of her empire,—would not such action be contemptibly poor spirited? She was no child to be humbled into confession by the rod, frightened into submission by the dark. To abase herself, in the hope of receiving spiritual consolation, appeared to her as an act of disloyalty to her dead love and her maimed and crippled son. She turned away with a rather superb lift of her beautiful head, and went back to her own bed‐chamber again. She hardened herself in opposition, putting the invitations of grace from her as she might have put those of temptation. She would yield to weakness, to feverish agitations and aimless longings, no more. Whether sleep elected to visit her or not, she would undress and seek her bed.

But hardly had she closed the door and, standing before her toilet‐table, begun to unclasp the pearls from her throat and bracelets from her wrists, than a sound, quite other than agreeable or reassuring, saluted her ears from close by. It proceeded from the room next door, now unoccupied, since Richard, some five or six years ago, jealous of the dignity of his youth, had petitioned to be permitted to remove himself and his possessions to the suite of rooms immediately below. This comprised the page: 267 Gun‐Room, a bed and dressing room, and a fourth room, connecting with the offices, which came in handy for his valet. Since his decline upon this more commodious apartment, the old nursery had stood vacant. Katherine could not find it in her heart to touch it. It was furnished now as in Dickie’s childish days, when, night and morning, she had visited it to make sure of her darling’s health and safety.

And it was in this shrine of tender recollections that disquieting sounds now arose. Hard claws rattled upon the boarded spaces of the floor. Some creature snored and panted against the bottom of the door, pushed it with so heavy a weight that the panels creaked, flung itself down uneasily, then moved to and fro again, with that harsh rattling of claws. The image of Care, the leopard, as embroidered upon the curtains of her bed, was so present to Katherine’s imagination to‐night that, for a moment, she lost her hold on probability and common sense. It appeared to her that the anxieties and perturbations which oppressed her had taken on bodily form, and, in the shape of a devouring beast, besieged her chamber door. The conception was grisly. Both mind and body being rather overstrained, it filled her with something approaching panic. No one was within call. To rouse her brother, or Julius, she must make a tour of half the house. Again the creature pushed against the creaking panels, and, then, panting and snoring, began ripping away the matting from the door‐sill.

The terror of the unknown is, after all, greater than that of the known. It was improbable, though the hour was late and the night wild, that savage beasts or cares incarnate should actually be in possession of Dickie’s disused nursery. Katherine braced herself and turned the handle. Still the vision disclosed by the opening door was at first sight monstrous enough. A moving mass of dirty white, low down against the encircling darkness, bandy legs, and great grinning mouth. The bull‐dog stood up, whining, fawning upon her, thrusting his heavy head into her hand.

“Why, Camp, good old friend, what brings you here? Are you, too, homeless to‐night? But why have you deserted your master?”

And then Lady Calmady’s panic fears took on another aspect. Far from being allayed they were increased. An apprehension of something actively evil abroad in the great, sleeping house assailed her. She trembled from head to foot. And yet, even while she shrank and trembled, her courage reawoke. For she perceived that as yet she need not rank herself wholly among fashions passed and things grown obsolete. She had her place and value still. She was wanted, she was called page: 268 for—that she knew—though by whom wanted and for what purpose she, as yet, knew not.

The bull‐dog, meanwhile, his heavy head carried low, his crooked tail drooping, trotted slowly away into the darkness and then trotted back. He squatted upon his haunches, looking up with anxious, bloodshot eyes. He trotted away again, and again returned and stood waiting, his whole aspect eloquent in its dumb appeal. He implored her to follow, and Katherine, fetching one of the silver candlesticks from her dressing‐table, obeyed.

She followed her ugly, faithful guide across the vacant disused nursery, and on down the uncarpeted turning staircase which opens into the square lobby outside the Gun‐Room. The diamond panes of the staircase windows chattered in their leaded frames, and the wind shrieked in the spouts, and angles, and carved stonework, of the inner courtyard as she passed. The gale was at its height, loud and insistent. Yet the many‐toned violence of it seemed to bear strange and intimate relation—as that of a great orchestra to a single dominant human voice into the subtle, evil influence which she felt to be at large within the sleeping house. And so, without pausing to consider the wisdom of her action, pushed by the conviction that something of profound import was taking place, and that someone, or something, must be saved by her from threatening danger, Katherine threw open the Gun‐Room door.

The shout of the storm seemed far away. This place was quick with stillness too, with the hush of waiting for the accomplishment of some mysterious event or visitation, even as the dark chapel upstairs had been. Only here moving effect of soft, brilliant light, of caressing warmth, of vague, insidious fragrance met her. Katherine Calmady had only known passion in its purest and most legitimate form. It had been for her, innocent of all grossness, or suggestion of degradation, fair and lovely and natural, revelation of highest and most enchanting secrets. But having once known it in its fulness, she could not fail to recognise its presence, even though it wore a diabolic, rather than angelic face. That passion met her now, exultant, effulgent, along with that light and heat and fragrance, she did not for an instant doubt. And the splendour of its near neighbourhood turned her faint with dread and with poignant memories. She paused upon the threshold, supporting herself with one hand against the cold, stone jamb of the arched doorway, while in the other she held the massive candlestick and its flickering, draught‐driven lights.

A mist was before her eyes, a singing in her ears, so that she had much ado to see clearly and reckon justly with that which page: 269 she did see. Helen de Vallorbes, clothed in a flowing, yet clinging, silken garment of turquoise, shot with blue purple and shimmering glaucous green—a garment in colour such as that with which the waves of Adriatic might have clothed the rosy limbs of new‐born Aphrodite, as she rose from the cool, translucent sea‐deeps—knelt upon the tiger‐skin before the dancing fire. Her hands grasped the two arms of Richard’s chair. She leaned down right across it, the lines and curves of her beautiful body discernible under her delicate draperies. The long, open sleeves of her dress fell away from her outstretched arms, showing them in their completeness from wrist to shoulder. Her head was thrown back, so that her rounded throat stood out, and the pure line of her lower jaw was salient. Her eyes were half closed, while all the mass of her honey‐coloured hair was gathered low down on the nape of her neck into a net of golden thread. A golden, netted girdle was knotted loosely about her loins, the tasselled ends of it dragging upon the floor. She wore no jewels, nor were they needed, for the loveliness of her person, discovered rather than concealed by those changeful sea‐blue draperies, was already dangerously potent.

All this Katherine saw—a radiant vision of youth, an incarnation, not of care and haunting fears, but of pleasure and haunting delights. And she saw more than this. For in the depths of that long, low arm‐chair Richard sat, stiffly erect, his face dead white, thin, and strained—Richard, as she had never beheld him before, though she knew the face well enough. It was his father’s face as she had seen it on her marriage night, and on his death night too, when his fingers had been clasped about her throat, to the point of strangulation. Katherine dared look no longer. Her heart stood still. Shame and anger took her, and along with these an immense nostalgia for that which had once been and was not. Her instinct was of flight. But Camp trotted forward, growling, and squatted between the pedestals of the library table, his red eyes blinking sullenly in the square shadow. Involuntarily Katherine followed him part way across the room.

Richard looked full at his cousin, absorbed, rigid, an amazement of question in his eyes. Not a muscle of his face moved. But Madame de Vallorbes’ absorption was less complete. She started slightly and half turned her head.

“Ah! there is that dog again,” she said. “What has brought him back? He hates me.”

“Damn the dog!” Richard exclaimed, hoarsely under his breath. Then he said:—“Helen, Helen, you know”—

But Madame de Vallorbes had turned her head yet farther, page: 270 and her arched eyelids opened quite wide for once, while she smiled a little, her lips parting and revealing her pretty teeth tightly set.

“Ah! the advent of the bull‐dog explains itself,” she exclaimed. “Here is Aunt Katherine herself!”

Slowly, and with an inimitable grace, she rose to her feet. Her long, winged sleeves floated back into place, covering her bare arms. Her composure was astonishing, even to herself. Yet her breath came a trifle quick as she contemplated Lady Calmady with the same enigmatic smile, her chin carried high—the finest suggestion of challenge and insolence in it—her eyes still unusually wide open and startlingly bright.

“Richard holds a little court to‐night,” she continued airily, “thanks to the storm. You also have come to seek the protection of his presence it appears, Aunt Katherine. Indeed, I am not surprised, for you certainly brew very wild weather at Brockhurst, at times.”

Something in the young lady’s bearing had restored Katherine’s self‐control.

“The wind is going down,” she replied calmly. “The storm need not alarm you, or keep you watching any longer, Helen.”

“Ah! pardon me—you know you are accustomed to these tempests,” the younger woman rejoined. “To me it still sounds more than sufficiently violent.”

“Yes, but merely on this side of the house, where Richard’s and my rooms are situated. The wind has shifted, and I believe on your side you will suffer no further disturbance. You will find it quite quiet. Then, moreover, you have to rise early to‐morrow—or rather to‐day. You have a long journey before you and should secure all the rest you can.”

Madame de Vallorbes gathered her silken draperies about her absently. For a moment she looked down at the tiger‐skin, then back at Lady Calmady.

“Ah yes!” she said, “it is thoughtful of you to remind me of that. To‐day I start on my homeward journey. It should give me very much pleasure, should it not? But—do not be shocked, Aunt Katherine—I confess I am not altogether enraptured at the prospect. I have been too happy, too kindly treated, here at Brockhurst, for it to be other than a sorrow to me to depart.”

She turned to Richard, her expression serious, intimate, appealing. Then she shook back her fair head, and as though in obedience to an irresistible movement of tenderness, stooped down swiftly over him—seeming to drown him in the shimmering page: 271 waves of some azure, and thin, clear green, and royal, blue‐purple sea—while she kissed him full and daringly upon the mouth.

“Good‐night, good‐bye, dear Dickie,” she said. “Yes, good‐bye—for I almost hope I may not see you in the morning. It would be a little chilly and inadequate, any other farewell after this. I am grateful to you.—And remember, I too am among those who, to their sorrow, never forget.”

She approached Lady Calmady, her manner natural, unabashed, playful even, and gay.

“See, I am ready to go to bed like a good child, Aunt Katherine,” she said, “supported by your assurance that my side of the house is no longer rendered terrific by wind and rain. But—I am so distressed to trouble you—but all the lamps are out, and I am none too sure of my way. It would be a rather tragic ending to my happy visit if I incontinently lost myself and. wandered till dawn, disconsolate, up and down the passages and stairways of Richard’s magnificent house. I might even wander in here by mistake again, and that would be unpardonably indiscreet, wouldn’t it? So, will you light me to my own quarters, Aunt Katherine? Thank you—how charmingly kind and sweet you are!”

As she spoke Madame de Vallorbes moved lightly away and passed on to the lobby, the heels of her pretty, cloth‐of‐gold slippers ringing quite sharply on the grey, stone quarries without. And, even as a little while back she had followed the heavy‐headed and ungainly bull‐dog, so now Lady Calmady, in her trailing, black, velvet dress, silver candlestick in hand, followed this radiant, fleet‐fooled creature, whose every movement was eloquent of youth and health and an almost prodigal joy of living. Neither woman spoke as they crossed the lobby, and passed the pierced and arcaded stone screen which divides the outer from the inner hall. Now and again the flickering candle‐light glinted on the younger woman’s girdle or the net which controlled the soft masses of her honey‐coloured hair. Now and again a draught taking the folds of her silken raiment blew it hither and thither, disclosing her beautiful arms or quick‐moving slippered feet. She was clothed with splendour of the sea, crowned, and shod, and girt about the loins, with gold. And she fled on silently, till the wide, shallow‐stepped stairway, leading up to the rooms, she occupied, was reached. There, for a moment, she paused.

“Pray come no farther,” she said, and went on rapidly up the flight. On the landing she stopped, a dimly discerned figure, blue and gold against the dim whiteness of high panelled walls, moulded ceiling, stairway, and long descending balustrade.

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“I have arrived!” she cried, and her clear voice took strange inflections of mockery and laughter. “I have arrived! I am perfectly secure now and safe. Let us hope all other inmates of Brockhurst are equally so this stormy night. A thousand thanks, dear Aunt Katherine, for your guidance, and a thousand apologies for bringing you so far. Now let me trouble you no longer.”

The Gun‐Room Katherine found just as she had left it, save that Camp stood on the tiger‐skin before the fire, his fore‐paws and his great, grinning muzzle resting on the arm of Richard’s chair. Camp whined a little. Mechanically the young man raised his hand and pulled the dog’s long, drooping ears. His face was still dead white, and there were lines under his eyes and about the corners of his mouth, as of one who tries to subdue expression of physical pain. He looked straight at Lady Calmady.

“Ah!” he said, “so you have come back! You observe I have changed partners!”

And again he pulled the dog’s ears, while it appeared to the listener that his voice curiously echoed that other voice which had so lately addressed and dismissed her, taking on inflections of mockery. But as she nerved herself to answer, he continued, hastily:—

“I want nothing, dear mother, nothing in the world. Pray don’t concern yourself any more about me to‐night. Haven’t I Camp for company? Lamps? Oh! I can put them out perfectly well myself. You were right, of course, perfectly right, to come if you were anxious about me. But now surely you are satisfied?”

Suddenly Richard bowed his head, putting both hands over his eyes.

“Only now, mother, if you love me, go,” he said, with a great sob in his voice. “For God’s sake go, and leave me to myself.”

But after sleepless hours, in the melancholy, blear dawn of the November day, Katherine lying, face downwards, within the shelter of the embroidered curtains of the state bed, made her submission at last and prayed.

“I am helpless, O Father Almighty! I have neither wit nor understanding, nor strength. Have mercy, lest my reason depart from me. I have sinned, for years I have sinned, setting my will, my judgment, my righteousness, against Thine. Take me, forgive me, teach me. I bring nothing. I ask everything. I am empty. Fill me with Thyself, even as with water one fills an empty cup. Give me the courage of patience instead of the courage of battle. Give me the courage of meekness in place of the courage of pride.”

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