Infomotions, Inc.Franklin Kane / Sedgwick, Anne Douglas, 1873-1935



Author: Sedgwick, Anne Douglas, 1873-1935
Title: Franklin Kane
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): althea; helen; gerald; franklin; kane; miss buchanan; miss buckston; aunt grizel; aunt julia; miss grizel; franklin kane; gerald digby; lady pickering; miss; miss jakes; winslow kane; althea felt
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Title: Franklin Kane

Author: Anne Douglas Sedgwick

Release Date: July 22, 2006 [EBook #18886]

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[Illustration: 'My dear Mr. Kane, I do congratulate you,' Helen said.]


FRANKLIN

KANE


BY

ANNE DOUGLAS

SEDGWICK

(MRS. BASIL DE SELINCOURT)



T. NELSON & SONS
LONDON AND EDINBURGH
PARIS: 189, rue Saint-Jacques
LEIPZIG: 35-37 Koenigstrasse




FRANKLIN KANE.





CHAPTER I.


Miss Althea Jakes was tired after her long journey from Basle. It was a
brilliant summer afternoon, and though the shutters were half closed on
the beating Parisian sunlight, the hotel sitting-room looked, in its
brightness, hardly shadowed. Unpinning her hat, laying it on the table
beside her, passing her hands over the undisordered folds of her hair,
Miss Jakes looked about her at the old-gold brocade of the furniture,
the many mirrors in ornate gold frames, the photographs from Bougereau,
the long, crisp lace curtains. It was the same sitting-room that she had
had last year, the same that she had had the year before last--the same,
indeed, to which she had been conducted on her first stay at the Hotel
Talleyrand, eight years ago. The brocade looked as new, the gilded
frames as glittering, the lace curtains as snowy as ever. Everything was
as she had always seen it, from the ugly Satsuma vases flanking the ugly
bronze clock on the mantelpiece, to the sheaf of pink roses lying beside
her in their white paper wrappings. Even Miss Harriet Robinson's choice
of welcoming flowers was the same. So it had always been, and so, no
doubt, it would continue to be for many years to come; and she, no
doubt, for many summers, would arrive from Basle to sit, jadedly,
looking at it.

Amelie, her maid, was unpacking in the next room; the door was ajar, and
Miss Jakes could hear the creaking of lifted trays and the rustling of
multitudinous tissue-paper layers. The sounds suggested an answer to a
dim question that had begun to hover in her travel-worn mind. One came
back every summer to the Hotel Talleyrand for the purpose of getting
clothes; that, perhaps, was a sufficient answer. Yet, to-day, it did not
seem sufficient. She was not really so very much interested in her
clothes; not nearly enough interested to make them a compensation for
such fatigue and loneliness as she was now feeling. And as she realised
this, a further question followed: in what was she particularly
interested? What was a sufficient motive for all the European
journeyings with which her life, for the past ten or twelve years, had
been filled? In a less jaded mood, in her usual mood of mild, if rather
wistful, assurance, she would have answered at once that she was
interested in everything--in everything that was of the best--pictures,
music, places, and people. These surely were her objects.

She was that peculiarly civilised being, the American woman of
independent means and discriminating tastes, whose cosmopolitan studies
and acquaintances give, in their multiplicity, the impression of a full,
if not a completed, life. But to-day the gloomy question hovered: was
not the very pilgrimage to Bayreuth, the study of archaeology in Rome,
and of pictures in Florence, of much the same nature as the yearly visit
to Paris for clothes? What was attained by it all? Was it not something
merely superficial, to be put on and worn, as it were, not to be lived
for with a growing satisfaction? Miss Jakes did not answer this
question; she dismissed it with some indignation, and she got up and
rang rather sharply for tea, which was late; and after asking the
garcon, with a smile that in its gentleness contrasted with the
sharpness of the pull, that it might be brought at once, she paused near
the table to lean over and smell her sheaf of roses, and to read again,
listlessly, Miss Harriet Robinson's words of affectionate greeting. Miss
Robinson was a middle-aged American lady who lived in Paris, and had
long urged Althea to settle there near her. Ten years ago, when she had
first met Miss Robinson in Boston, Althea had thought her a brilliant
and significant figure; but she had by now met too many of her kind--in
Rome, in Florence, in Dresden--to feel any wish for a more intimate
relationship. She was fond of Miss Robinson, but she prayed that fate
did not reserve for her a withering to the like brisk, colourless
spinsterhood. This hope, the necessity for such hope, was the final
depth of her gloomy mood, and she found herself looking at something
very dark as she stood holding Miss Robinson's expensive roses. For,
after all, what was going to become of her? The final depth shaped
itself to-day in more grimly realistic fashion than ever before: what
was she going to do with herself, in the last resort, unless something
happened? Her mind dwelt upon all the visible alternatives. There was
philanthropic lunch-going and lunch-giving spinsterhood in Boston; there
was spinsterhood in Europe, semi-social, semi-intellectual, and
monotonous in its very variety, for Althea had come to feel change as
monotonous; or there was spinsterhood in England established near her
friend, Miss Buckston, who raised poultry in the country, and went up to
London for Bach choir practices and Woman's Suffrage meetings. Althea
couldn't see herself as taking an interest in poultry or in Woman's
Suffrage, nor did she feel herself fitted for patriotic duties in
Boston. There was nothing for it, then, but to continue her present
nomadic life. After seeing herself shut in to this conclusion, it was a
real relief to her to hear the tea-tray chink outside, and to see it
enter, high on the garcon's shoulder, as if with a trivial but cheerful
reply to her dreary questionings. Tea, at all events, would always
happen and always be pleasant. Althea smiled sadly as she made the
reflection, for she was not of an Epicurean temperament. After she had
drunk her tea she felt strengthened to go in and ask Amelie about her
clothes. She might have to get a great many new ones, especially if she
went home for the autumn and winter, as she half intended to do. She
took up the roses, as she passed them, to show to Amelie. Amelie was a
bony, efficient Frenchwoman, with high cheek-bones and sleek black hair.
She had come to Althea first, many years ago, as a courier-maid, to take
her back to America. Althea's mother had died in Dresden, and Althea had
been equipped by anxious friends with this competent attendant for her
sad return journey. Amelie had proved intelligent and reliable in the
highest degree, and though she had made herself rather disagreeable
during her first year in Boston, she had stayed on ever since. She still
made herself disagreeable from time to time, and Althea had sometimes
lacked only the courage to dismiss her; but she could hardly imagine
herself existing without Amelie, and in Europe Amelie was seldom
disagreeable. In Europe, at the worst, she was gruff and ungracious, and
Althea was fond enough of her to ignore these failings, although they
frightened her a little; but though an easily intimidated person, and
much at a loss in meeting opposition or rudeness, she was also
tenacious. She might be frightened, but people could never make her do
what she didn't want to do, not even Amelie. Her relations with Amelie
were slightly strained just now, for she had not taken her advice as to
their return journey from Venice. Amelie had insisted on Mont Cenis, and
Althea had chosen the St. Gothard; so that it was as a measure of
propitiation that she selected three of the roses for Amelie as she went
into the bedroom. Amelie, who was kneeling before one of the larger
boxes and carefully lifting skirts from its trays, paused to sniff at
the flowers, and to express a terse thanks and admiration. 'Ah, bien
merci, mademoiselle,' she said, laying her share on the table beside
her.

She was not very encouraging about the condition of Althea's wardrobe.

'Elles sont defraichies--demodees--en verite, mademoiselle,' she
replied, when Althea asked if many new purchases were necessary.

Althea sighed. 'All the fittings!'

'Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,' said Amelie unsympathetically.

Althea had not dared yet to tell her that she might be going back to
America that winter. The thought of Amelie's gloom cast a shadow over
the project, and she could not yet quite face it. She wandered back to
the sitting-room, and, thinking of Amelie's last words, she stood for
some time and looked at herself in the large mirror which rose from
mantelpiece to cornice, enclosed in cascades of gilt. One of the things
that Althea, in her mild assurance, was really secure of--for, as we
have intimated, her assurance often covered a certain insecurity--was
her own appearance. She didn't know about 'belle,' that seemed rather a
trivial term, and the English equivalent better to express the
distinctive characteristic of her face. She had so often been told she
was nobly beautiful that she did not see herself critically, and she now
leaned her elbow on the mantelpiece and gazed at herself with sad
approbation. The mirror reflected only her head and shoulders, and Miss
Jakes's figure could not, even by a partisan, have been described as
beautiful; she was short, and though immature in outline, her form was
neither slender nor graceful. Althea did not feel these defects, and was
well satisfied with her figure, especially with her carriage, which was
full of dignity; but it was her head that best pleased her, and her
head, indeed, had aspects of great benignity and sweetness. It was a
large head, crowned with coils of dull gold hair; her clothing followed
the fashions obediently, but her fashion of dressing her hair did not
vary, and the smooth parting, the carved ripples along her brow became
her, though they did not become her stiffly conventional attire. Her
face, though almost classic in its spaces and modelling, lacked in
feature the classic decision and amplitude, so that the effect was
rather that of a dignified room meagrely furnished. For these
deficiencies, however, Miss Jakes's eyes might well be accepted as
atonement. They were large, dark, and innocent; they lay far apart,
heavily lidded and with wistful eyebrows above them; their expression
varied easily from lucid serenity to a stricken, expectant look, like
that of a threatened doe, and slight causes could make Miss Jakes's eyes
look stricken. They did not look stricken now, but they looked
profoundly melancholy.

Here she stood, in the heartless little French sitting-room, meaning so
well, so desirous of the best, yet alone, uncertain of any aim, and very
weary of everything.




CHAPTER II.


Althea, though a cosmopolitan wanderer, had seldom stayed in an hotel
unaccompanied. She did not like, now, going down to the _table d'hote_
dinner alone, and was rather glad that her Aunt Julia and Aunt Julia's
two daughters were to arrive in Paris next week. It was really almost
the only reason she had for being glad of Aunt Julia's arrival, and she
could imagine no reason for being glad of the girls'. Tiresome as it was
to think of going to tea with Miss Harriet Robinson, to think of hearing
from her all the latest gossip, and all the latest opinions of the
latest books and pictures--alert, mechanical appreciations with which
Miss Robinson was but too ready--it was yet more tiresome to look
forward to Aunt Julia's appreciations, which were dogmatic and often
belated, and to foresee that she must run once more the gauntlet of Aunt
Julia's disapproval of expatriated Americans. Althea was accustomed to
these assaults and met them with weary dignity, at times expostulating:
'It is all very well for you, Aunt Julia, who have Uncle Tom and the
girls; I have nobody, and all my friends are married.' But this brought
upon her an invariable retort: 'Well, why don't you get married then?
Franklin Winslow Kane asks nothing better.' This retort angered Althea,
but she was too fond of Franklin Winslow Kane to reply that perhaps
she, herself, did ask something better. So that it was as a convenience,
and not as a comfort, that she looked forward to Aunt Julia; and to the
girls she did not look forward at all. They were young, ebullient,
slangy; they belonged to a later generation than her own, strange to her
in that it seemed weighted with none of the responsibilities and
reverences that she had grown up among. It was a generation that had no
respect for and no anxiety concerning Europe; that played violent
outdoor games, and went without hats in summer.

The dining-room was full when she went down to dinner, her inward tremor
of shyness sustained by the consciousness of the perfect fit and cut of
her elaborate little dress. People sat at small tables, and the general
impression was one of circumspection and withdrawal. Most of the
occupants were of Althea's type--richly dressed, quiet-voiced Americans,
careful of their own dignity and quick at assessing other people's. A
French family loudly chattered and frankly stared in one corner; for the
rest, all seemed to be compatriots.

But after Althea had taken her seat at her own table near the pleasantly
open window, and had consulted the menu and ordered a half-bottle of
white wine, another young woman entered and went to the last vacant
table left in the room, the table next Althea's--so near, indeed, that
the waiter found some difficulty in squeezing himself between them when
he presented the _carte des vins_ to the newcomer.

She was not an American, Althea felt sure of this at once, and the mere
negation was so emphatic that it almost constituted, for the first
startled glance, a complete definition. But, glancing again and again,
while she ate her soup, Althea realised there were so many familiar
things the newcomer was not, that she seemed made up of differences. The
fact that she was English--she spoke to the waiter absent-mindedly in
that tongue--did not make her less different, for she was like no
English person that Althea had ever seen. She engaged at once the whole
of her attention, but at first Althea could not have said whether this
attention were admiring; her main impression was of oddity, of something
curiously arresting and noticeable.

The newcomer sat in profile to Althea, her back to the room, facing the
open window, out of which she gazed vaguely and unseeingly. She was
dressed in black, a thin dress, rather frayed along the edges--an
evening dress; though, as a concession to Continental custom, she had a
wide black scarf over her bare shoulders. She sat, leaning forward, her
elbows on the table, and once, when she glanced round and found Althea's
eyes fixed on her, she looked back for a moment, but with something of
the same vagueness and unseeingness with which she looked out of the
window.

She was very odd. An enemy might say that she had Chinese eyes
and a beak-like nose. The beak was small, as were all the
features--delicately, decisively placed in the pale, narrow face--yet it
jutted over prominently, and the long eyes were updrawn at the outer
corners and only opened widely with an effect of effort. She had
quantities of hair, dense and dark, arranged with an ordered
carelessness, and widely framing her face and throat. She was very
thin, and she seemed very tired; and fatigue, which made Althea look
wistful, made this young lady look bored and bitter. Her grey eyes,
perhaps it was the strangeness of their straight-drawn upper lids, were
dazed and dim in expression. She ate little, leaned limply on her
elbows, and sometimes rubbed her hands over her face, and sat so, her
fingers in her hair, for a languid moment. Dinner was only half over
when she rose and went away, her black dress trailing behind her, and a
moon-like space of neck visible between her heavily-clustered hair and
the gauze scarf.

Althea could not have said why, but for the rest of the meal, and after
she had gone back to her sitting-room, the thought of the young lady in
black remained almost oppressively with her.

She had felt empty and aimless before seeing her; since seeing her she
felt more empty, more aimless than ever. It was an absurd impression,
and she tried to shake it off with the help of a recent volume of
literary criticism, but it coloured her mind as though a drop of some
potent chemical had been tipped into her uncomfortable yet indefinable
mood, and had suddenly made visible in it all sorts of latent elements.

It was curious to feel, as a deep conviction about a perfect stranger,
that though the young lady in black might often know moods, they would
never be undefined ones; to be sure that, however little she had, she
would always accurately know what she wanted. The effect of seeing some
one so hard, so clear, so alien, was much as if, a gracefully moulded
but fragile earthenware pot, she had suddenly, while floating down the
stream, found herself crashing against the bronze vessel of the fable.

A corrective to this morbid state of mind came to her with the evening
post, and in the form of a thick letter bearing the Boston postmark.
Franklin Winslow Kane had not occurred to Althea as an alternative to
the various forms of dignified extinction with which her imagination had
been occupied that afternoon. Franklin often occurred to her as a
solace, but he never occurred to her as an escape.

He was a young man of very homespun extraction, who hovered in Boston on
the ambiguous verge between the social and the scholastic worlds; the
sort of young man whom one asked to tea rather than to dinner. He was an
earnest student, and was attached to the university by an official,
though unimportant, tie. A physicist, and, in his own sober way, with
something of a reputation, he was profoundly involved in theories that
dealt with the smallest things and the largest--molecules and the
formation of universes.

He had first proposed to Althea when she was eighteen. She was now
thirty-three, and for all these years Franklin had proposed to her on
every occasion that offered itself. He was deeply, yet calmly,
determinedly, yet ever so patiently, in love with her; and while other
more eligible and more easily consoled aspirants had drifted away and
got married and become absorbed in their growing families, Franklin
alone remained admirably faithful. She had never given him any grounds
for expecting that she might some day marry him, yet he evidently found
it impossible to marry anybody else. This was the touching fact about
Franklin, the one bright point, as it were, in his singularly colourless
personality. His fidelity was like a fleck of orange on the wing of some
grey, unobtrusive moth; it made him visible.

Althea's compassionate friendship seemed to sustain him sufficiently on
his way; he did not pine or protest, though he punctually requested. He
frequently appeared and he indefatigably wrote, and his long constancy,
the unemotional trust and closeness of their intimacy, made him seem
less a lover than the American husband of tradition, devoted and
uncomplaining, who had given up hoping that his wife would ever come
home and live with him.

Althea rather resented this aspect of their relation; she was well aware
of its comicality; but though Franklin's devotion was at times something
of a burden, though she could expect from him none of the glamour of
courtship, she could ill have dispensed with his absorption in her.
Franklin's absorption in her was part of her own personality; she would
hardly have known herself without it; and her relation to him, irksome,
even absurd as she sometimes found it, was perhaps the one thing in her
life that most nearly linked her to reality; it was a mirage, at all
events, of the responsible affections that her life lacked.

And now, in her mood of positive morbidity, the sight of Franklin's
handwriting on the thick envelope brought her the keenest sense she had
ever had of his value. One might have no aim oneself, yet to be some one
else's aim saved one from that engulfing consciousness of nonentity; one
might be uncertain and indefinite, but a devotion like Franklin's
really defined one. She must be significant, after all, since this very
admirable person--admirable, though ineligible--had found her so for so
many years. It was with a warming sense of restoration, almost of
reconstruction, that she opened the letter, drew out the thickly-folded
sheets of thin paper and began to read the neat, familiar writing. He
told her everything that he was doing and thinking, and about everything
that interested him. He wrote to her of kinetics and atoms as if she had
been a fellow-student. It was as if, helplessly, he felt the whole bulk
of his outlook to be his only chance of interesting her, since no detail
was likely to do so. Unfortunately it didn't interest her much.
Franklin's eagerness about some local election, or admiration for some
talented pupil, or enthusiasm in regard to a new theory that delved
deeper and circled wider than any before, left her imagination inert, as
did he. But to-night all these things were transformed by the greatness
of her own need and of her own relief. And when she read that Franklin
was to be in Europe in six weeks' time, and that he intended to spend
some months there, and, if she would allow it, as near her as was
possible, a sudden hope rose in her and seemed almost a joy.

Was it so impossible, after all, as an alternative? Equipped with her
own outlooks, with her wider experience, and with her ample means, might
not dear Franklin be eligible? To sink back on Franklin, after all these
years, would be, of course, to confess to failure; but even in failure
there were choices, and wasn't this the best form of failure? Franklin
was not, could never be, the lover she had dreamed of; she had never met
that lover, and she had always dreamed of him. Franklin was
dun-coloured; the lover of her dreams a Perseus-like flash of purple and
gold, ardent, graceful, compelling, some one who would open doors to
large, bright vistas, and lead her into a life of beauty. But this was a
dream and Franklin was the fact, and to-night he seemed the only fact
worth looking at. Wasn't dun-colour, after all, preferable to the
trivial kaleidoscope of shifting tints which was all that the future,
apart from Franklin, seemed to offer her? Might not dun-colour, even,
illuminated by joy, turn to gold, like highway dust when the sun shines
upon it? Althea wondered, leaning back in her chair and gazing before
her; she wondered deeply.

If only Franklin would come in now with the right look. If only he would
come in with the right word, or, if not with the word, with an even more
compelling silence! Compulsion was needed, and could Franklin compel?
Could he make her fall in love with him? So she wondered, sitting alone
in the Paris hotel, the open letter in her hand.




CHAPTER III.


When Althea went in to lunch next day, after an arduous morning of
shopping, she observed, with mingled relief and disappointment, that the
young lady in black was not in her place. She might very probably have
gone away, and it was odd to think that an impression so strong was
probably to remain an impression merely. On the whole, she was sorry to
think that it might be so, though the impression had not been altogether
happy.

After lunch she lay down and read reviews for a lazy hour, and then
dressed to receive Miss Harriet Robinson, who, voluble and beaming,
arrived punctually at four.

Miss Robinson looked almost exactly as she had looked for the last ten
years. She changed as little as the hotel drawing-room, but that the
pictures on the wall, the vases on the shelf of her mental decoration
varied with every season. She was always passionately interested in
something, and it was surprising to note how completely in the new she
forgot last year's passion. This year it was eugenics and Strauss; the
welfare of the race had suddenly engaged her attention, and the menaced
future of music. She was slender, erect, and beautifully dressed. Her
hands were small, and she constantly but inexpressively gesticulated
with them; her elaborately undulated hair looked like polished, fluted
silver; her eyes were small, dark, and intent; she smiled as constantly
and as inexpressively as she gesticulated.

'And so you really think of going back for the winter?' she asked Althea
finally, when the responsibilities of parenthood and the impermanency of
modern musical artifices had been demonstrated. 'Why, my dear? You see
everybody here. Everybody comes here, sooner or later.'

'I don't like getting out of touch with home,' said Althea.

'I confess that I feel this home,' said Miss Robinson. 'America is so
horribly changed, so vulgarised. The people they accept socially! And
the cost of things! My dear, the last time I went to the States I had to
pay five hundred francs--one hundred dollars--for my winter hat! _Je
vous demande!_ If they will drive us out they must take the
consequences.'

Althea felt tempted to inquire what these might be. Miss Robinson
sometimes roused a slight irony in her; but she received the
expostulation with a dim smile.

'Why won't you settle here?' Miss Robinson continued, 'or in Rome--there
is quite a delightful society in Rome--or Florence, or London. Not that
I could endure the English winter.'

'I've sometimes thought of England,' said Althea.

'Well, do think of it. I'm perfectly disinterested. Rather than have you
unsettled, I would like to have you settled there. You have interesting
friends, I know.'

'Yes, very interesting,' said Althea, with some satisfaction.

'You would probably make quite a place for yourself in London, if you
went at it carefully and consideringly, and didn't allow the wrong sort
of people to _accaparer_ you. We always count, when we want to, we
American women of the good type,' said Miss Robinson, with frank
complacency; 'and I don't see why, with your gifts and charm, you
shouldn't have a salon, political or artistic.'

Althea was again tempted to wonder what it was Miss Robinson counted
for; but since she had often been told that her gifts and charm demanded
a salon, she was inclined to believe it. 'It's only,' she demurred,
'that I have so many friends, in so many places; it is hard to decide on
settling.'

'One never does make a real life for oneself until one does settle. I've
found that out for myself,' said Miss Robinson.

It did not enter into her mind that Althea might still settle, in a
different sense. She was of that vast army of rootless Europeanised
Americans, who may almost be said to belong to a celibate order, so
little does the question of matrimony and family life affect their
existence. For a younger, more frivolous type, Europe might have a
merely matrimonial significance; but to Miss Robinson, and to thousands
of her kind, it meant an escape from displeasing circumstance and a
preoccupation almost monastic with the abstract and the aesthetic. To
Althea it had never meant merely that. Her own people in America were
fastidious and exclusive; from choice, they considered, but, in reality,
partly from necessity; they had never been rich enough or fashionable
enough to be exposed to the temptation of great European alliances.
Althea would have scorned such ambitions as basely vulgar; she had never
thought of Europe as an arena for social triumphs; but it had assuredly
been coloured for her with the colour of romance. It was in Europe,
rather than in America, that she expected to find, if ever, her ardent,
compelling wooer. And it irritated her a little that Miss Robinson
should not seem to consider such a possibility for her.

She did not accept her friend's invitation to go with her to the
Francais that evening; the weariness of the morning of shopping was her
excuse. She wanted to study a little; she never neglected to keep her
mind in training; and after dinner she sat down with a stout tome on
political economy. She had only got through half a chapter when Amelie
came to her and asked her if she could suggest a remedy for a young lady
next door who, the _femme de chambre_ said, was quite alone, and had
evidently succumbed to a violent attack of influenza.

'C'est une dame anglaise,' said Amelie, 'et une bien gentille.'

Althea sprang up, strangely excited. Was it the lady in black? Had she
then not gone yet? 'Next door, you say?' she asked. Yes; the stranger's
bedroom was next her own, and she had no _salon_.

'I will go in myself and see her,' said Althea, after a moment of
reflection.

She was not at all given to such impulses, and, under any other
circumstances, would have sent Amelie with the offer of assistance. But
she suddenly felt it an opportunity, for what she could not have said.
It was like seeing a curious-looking book opened before one; one wanted
to read in it, if only a snatched paragraph here and there.

Amelie protested as to infection, but Althea was a resourceful traveller
and had disinfectants for every occasion. She drenched her handkerchief,
gargled her throat, and, armed with her little case of remedies, knocked
at the door near by. A languid voice answered her and she entered.

The room was lighted by two candles that stood on the mantelpiece, and
the bed in its alcove was dim. Tossed clothes lay on the chairs; a
battered box stood open, its tray lying on the floor; the dressing-table
was in confusion, and the scent of cigarette smoke mingled with that of
a tall white lily that was placed in a vase on a little table beside the
bed. To the well-maided Althea the disorder was appalling, yet it
expressed, too, something of charm. The invalid lay plunged in her
pillows, her dark hair tossed above her head, and, as Althea approached,
she did not unclose her eyes.

'Oh, I beg your pardon,' said Althea, feeling some trepidation. 'My maid
told me that you were ill--that you had influenza, and I know just what
to do for it. May I give you some medicine? I do hope I have not waked
you up,' for the invalid was now looking at her with some astonishment.

'No; I wasn't asleep. How very kind of you. I thought it was the
chambermaid,' she said. 'Forgive me for seeming so rude.'

Her eyes were more dazed than ever, and she more mysterious, with her
unbound hair.

'You oughtn't to lie with your arms outside the covers like that,' said
Althea. 'It's most important not to get chilled. I'm afraid you don't
know how to take care of yourself.' She smiled a little, gentle and
assured, though inwardly with still a tremor; and she drew the clothes
about the invalid, who had relapsed passively on to her pillows.

'I'm afraid I don't. How very kind of you!' she murmured again.

Althea brought a glass of water and, selecting her little bottle, poured
out the proper number of drops. 'You were feeling ill last night,
weren't you?' she said, after the dose had been swallowed. 'I thought
that you looked ill.'

'Last night?'

'Yes, don't you remember? I sat next you in the dining-room.'

'Oh yes; of course, of course! I remember now. You had this dress on; I
noticed all the little silver tassels. Yes, I've been feeling wretched
for several days; I've done hardly anything--no shopping, no
sight-seeing, and I ought to be back in London to-morrow; but I suppose
I'll have to stay in bed for a week; it's very tiresome.' She spoke
wearily, yet in decisive little sentences, and her voice, its hardness
and its liquid intonations, made Althea think of wet pebbles softly
shaken together.

'You haven't sent for a doctor?' she inquired, while she took out her
small clinical thermometer.

'No, indeed; I never send for doctors. Can't afford 'em,' said the young
lady, with a wan grimace. 'Must I put that into my mouth?'

'Yes, please; I must take your temperature. I think, if you let me
prescribe for you, I can see after you as well as a doctor,' Althea
assured her. 'I'm used to taking care of people who are ill. The friend
I've just been staying with in Venice had influenza very badly while I
was with her.'

She rather hoped, after the thermometer was removed, that the young lady
would ask her some question about Venice and her present destination;
but, though so amiable and so grateful, she did not seem to feel any
curiosity about the good Samaritan who thus succoured her.

Althea found her patient less feverish next morning when she went in
early to see her, and though she said that her body felt as though it
were being beaten with red-hot hammers, she smiled in saying it, and
Althea then, administering her dose, asked her what her name might be.

It was Helen Buchanan, she learned.

'And mine is Althea Jakes. You are English, aren't you?'

'Oh no, I'm Scotch,' said Miss Buchanan.

'And I am American. Do you know any Americans?'

'Oh yes, quite a lot. One of them is a Mrs. Harrison, and lives in
Chicago,' said Miss Buchanan, who seemed in a more communicative mood.
'I met her in Nice one winter; a very nice, kind woman, who gives most
sumptuous parties. Her husband is a millionaire; one never sees him. Do
you come from Chicago? Do you know her?'

Althea, with some emphasis, said that she came from Boston.

'Another,' Miss Buchanan pursued, 'lives in New York, though she is
usually over here; she is immensely rich, too. She hunts every winter
in England, and is great fun and is frightfully well up in
everything--pictures, books, music, you know: Americans usually are well
up, aren't they? She wants me to stay with her some day in New York;
perhaps I shall, if I can manage to afford the voyage. Her name is
Bigham; perhaps you know her.'

'No. I know of her, though; she is very well known,' said Althea rather
coldly; for Mrs. Bigham was an excessively fashionable and reputedly
reckless lady who had divorced one husband and married another, and
whose doings filled more scrupulous circles with indignation and
unwilling interest.

'Then I met a dear little woman in Oxford once,' said Miss Buchanan.
'She was studying there--she had come from a college in America. She was
so nice and clever, and charming, too; quaint and full of flavour. She
was going to teach in a college when she went back. She was very poor,
quite different from the others. Her father, she told me, kept a shop,
but didn't get on at all; and her brother, to whom she was devoted, sold
harmoniums. It was just like an American novel. Wayman was her
name--Miss Carrie Wayman; perhaps you know her. I forget the name of the
town she came from, but it was somewhere in the western part of
America.'

No, Althea said, she did not know Miss Wayman, and she felt some little
severity for the confusion that Miss Buchanan's remarks indicated. With
greater emphasis than before, she said that she did not know the West at
all.

'It must be rather nice--plains and cowboys and Rocky Mountains,' Miss
Buchanan said. 'I've a cousin on a ranch in Dakota, and I've often
thought I'd like to go out there for a season; he says the riding is
wonderful, and the scenery and flowers. Oh, my wretched head; it feels
as if it were stuffed with incandescent cotton-wool.'

'You must remember to keep your arms under the covers,' said Althea, as
Miss Buchanan lifted her hands and pressed them to her brows. 'And let
me plait your hair for you; it must be so hot and uncomfortable.'

And now again, looking up at her while the friendly office was
performed, Miss Buchanan said, 'How kind you are! too kind for words. I
can't think what I should have done without you.'




CHAPTER IV.


It became easy after this for Althea to carry into effect all her
beneficent wishes. The friends who had taken Miss Buchanan to the
Riviera had gone on to London, leaving her alone in Paris for a week's
shopping, and there was no one else to look after her. She brought her
fruit and flowers and sat with her in all her spare moments. The feeling
of anxiety that had oppressed her on the evening of gloom when she had
first seen her was transformed into a soft and delightful perturbation.
As the unknown lady in black Miss Buchanan had indeed charmed as well as
oppressed her, and the charm grew while the oppression, though it still
hovered, was felt more as a sense of alluring mystery. She had never in
her life met any one in the least like Miss Buchanan. She was at once so
open and so impenetrable. She replied to all questions with complete
unreserve, but she had never, with all her candour, the air of making
confidences. It hurt Althea a little, and yet was part of the
allurement, to see that she was, probably, too indifferent to be
reticent. Lying on her pillows, a cigarette--all too frequently, Althea
considered--between her lips, and her hair wound in a heavy wreath upon
her head, she would listen pleasantly, and as pleasantly reply; and
Althea could not tell whether it was because she really found it
pleasant to talk and be talked to, or whether, since she had nothing
better to do, she merely showed good manners. Althea was sensitive to
every shade in manners, and was sure that Miss Buchanan, however great
her tact might be, did not find her a bore; yet she could not be at all
sure that she found her interesting, and this disconcerted her.
Sometimes the suspicion of it made her feel humble, and sometimes it
made her feel a little angry, for she was not accustomed to being found
uninteresting. She herself, however, was interested; and it was when she
most frankly owned to this, laying both anger and humility aside, that
she was happiest in the presence of her new acquaintance. She liked to
talk to her, and she liked to make her talk. From these conversations
she was soon able to build up a picture of Miss Buchanan's life. She
came of an old Scotch family, and she had spent her childhood and
girlhood in an old Scotch house. This house, Althea was sure, she really
did enjoy talking about. She described it to Althea: the way the rooms
lay, and the passages ran, and the queer old stairs climbed up and down.
She described the ghost that she herself had seen once--her
matter-of-fact acceptance of the ghost startled Althea--and the hills
and moors that one looked out on from the windows. Led by Althea's
absorbed inquiries, she drifted on to detailed reminiscence--the dogs
she had cared for, the flowers she had grown, and the dear red lacquer
mirror that she had broken. 'Papa did die that year,' she added, after
mentioning the incident.

'Surely you don't connect the two things,' said Althea, who felt some
remonstrance necessary. Miss Buchanan said no, she supposed not; it was
silly to be superstitious; yet she didn't like breaking mirrors.

Her brother lived in the house now. He had married some one she didn't
much care about, though she did not enlarge on this dislike. 'Nigel had
to marry money,' was all she said. 'He couldn't have kept the place
going if he hadn't. Jessie isn't at all a bad sort, and they get on very
well and have three nice little boys; but I don't much take to her nor
she to me, so that I'm not much there any more.'

'And your mother?' Althea questioned, 'where does she live? Don't you
stay with her ever?' She had gathered that the widowed Mrs. Buchanan was
very pretty and very selfish, but she was hardly prepared for the
frankness with which Miss Buchanan defined her own attitude towards her.

'Oh, I can't stand Mamma,' she said; 'we don't get on at all. I'm not
fond of rowdy people, and Mamma knows such dreadful bounders. So long as
people have plenty of money and make things amusing for her, she'll put
up with anything.'

Althea had all the American reverence for the sanctities and loyalties
of the family, and these ruthless explanations filled her with uneasy
surprise. Miss Buchanan was ruthless about all her relatives; there were
few of them, apparently, that she cared for except the English cousins
with whom she had spent many years of girlhood, and the Aunt Grizel who
made a home for her in London. To her she alluded with affectionate
emphasis: 'Oh, Aunt Grizel is very different from the rest of them.'

Aunt Grizel was not well off, but it was she who made Helen the little
allowance that enabled her to go about; and she had insured her life, so
that at her death, when her annuity lapsed, Helen should be sure of the
same modest sum. 'Owing to Aunt Grizel I'll just not starve,' said
Helen, with the faint grimace, half bitter, half comic, that sometimes
made her strange face still stranger. 'One hundred and fifty pounds a
year: think of it! Isn't it damnable? Yet it's better than nothing, as
Aunt Grizel and I often say after groaning together.'

Althea, safely niched in her annual three thousand, was indeed
horrified.

'One hundred and fifty,' she repeated helplessly. 'Do you mean that you
manage to dress on that now?'

'Dress on it, my dear! I pay all my travelling expenses, my cabs, my
stamps, my Christmas presents--everything out of it, as well as buy my
clothes. And it will have to pay for my rent and food besides, when Aunt
Grizel dies--when I'm not being taken in somewhere. Of course, she still
counts on my marrying, poor dear.'

'Oh, but, of course you _will_ marry,' said Althea, with conviction.

Miss Buchanan, who was getting much better, was propped high on her
pillows to-day, and was attired in a most becoming flow of lace and
silk. Nothing less exposed to the gross chances of the world could be
imagined. She did not turn her eyes on her companion as the confident
assertion was made, and she kept silence for a moment. Then she
answered placidly:

'Of course, if I'm to live--and not merely exist--I must try to, I
suppose.'

Althea was taken aback and pained by the wording of this speech. Her
national susceptibilities were again wounded by the implication that a
rare and beautiful woman--for so she termed Helen Buchanan--might be
forced, not only to hope for marriage, but to seek it; the implication
that urgency lay rather in the woman's state than in the man's. She had
all the romantic American confidence in the power of the rare and
beautiful woman to marry when and whom she chose.

'I am sure you need never try,' she said with warmth. 'I'm sure you have
dozens of delightful people in love with you.'

Miss Buchanan turned her eyes on her and laughed as though she found
this idea amusing. 'Why, in heaven's name, should I have dozens of
delightful people in love with me?'

'You are so lovely, so charming, so distinguished.'

'Am I? Thanks, my dear. I'm afraid you see things _en couleur de rose_.'
And, still smiling, her eyes dwelling on Althea with their indifferent
kindness, she went on: 'Have you delightful dozens in love with you?'

Althea did not desert her guns. She felt that the very honour of their
sex--hers and Helen's--was on trial in her person. She might not be as
lovely as her friend--though she might be; that wasn't a matter for her
to inquire into; but as woman--as well-bred, highly educated, refined
and gentle woman--she, too, was chooser, and not seeker.

'Only one delightful person is in love with me at this moment, I'm sorry
to say,' she answered, smiling back; 'but I've had very nearly my proper
share in the past.' It had been necessary thus to deck poor Franklin out
if her standpoint were to be maintained; and, indeed, could not one deem
him delightful, in some senses--in moral senses; he surely was
delightfully good. The little effort to see dear Franklin's goodness as
delightful rather discomposed her, and as Miss Buchanan asked no further
question as to the one delightful suitor, the little confusion mounted
to her eyes and cheeks. She wondered if she had spoken tastelessly, and
hastened away from this personal aspect of the question.

'You don't really mean--I'm sure you don't mean that you would marry
just for money.'

Miss Buchanan kept her ambiguous eyes half merrily, half pensively upon
her. 'Of course, if he were very nice. I wouldn't marry a man who wasn't
nice for money.'

'Surely you couldn't marry a man unless you were in love with him?'

'Certainly I could. Money lasts, and love so often doesn't.' Helen
continued to smile as she spoke.

There was now a tremor of pain in Althea's protest. 'Dear Miss Buchanan,
I can't bear to hear you speak like that. I can't bear to think of any
one so lovely doing anything so sordid, so miserable, as making a
_mariage de convenance_.' Tears rose to her eyes.

Miss Buchanan was again silent for a moment, and it was now her turn to
look slightly confused. 'It's very nice of you to mind,' she said; and
she added, as if to help Althea not to mind, 'But, you see, I am sordid;
I am miserable.'

'Sordid? Miserable? Do you mean unhappy?' Poor Althea gazed, full of her
most genuine distress.

'Oh no; I mean in your sense. I'm a poor creature, quite ordinary and
grubby; that's all,' said Miss Buchanan.

They said nothing more of it then, beyond Althea's murmur of now
inarticulate protest; but the episode probably remained in Miss
Buchanan's memory as something rather puzzling as well as rather
pitiful, this demonstration of a feeling so entirely unexpected that she
had not known what to do with it.

If, in these graver matters, she distressed Althea, in lesser ones she
was continually, if not distressing her, at all events calling upon her,
in complete unconsciousness, for readjustments of focus that were
sometimes, in their lesser way, painful too. When she asserted that she
was not musical, Althea almost suspected her of saying it in order to
evade her own descriptions of experiences at Bayreuth. Pleasantly as she
might listen, it was sometimes, Althea had discovered, with a restive
air masked by a pervasive vagueness; this vagueness usually drifted over
her when Althea described experiences of an intellectual or aesthetic
nature. It could be no question of evasion, however, when, in answer to
a question of Althea's, she said that she hated Paris. Since girlhood
Althea had accepted Paris as the final stage in a civilised being's
education: the Theatre Francais, the lectures at the Sorbonne, the
Louvre and the Cluny, and, for a later age, Anatole France--it seemed
almost barbarous to say that one hated the splendid city that clothed,
as did no other place in the world, one's body and one's mind. 'How can
you hate it?' she inquired. 'It means so much that is intellectual, so
much that is beautiful.'

'I suppose so,' said Miss Buchanan. 'I do like to look at it sometimes;
the spaces and colour are so nice.'

'The spaces, and what's in them, surely. What is it that you don't like?
The French haven't our standards of morality, of course, but don't you
think it's rather narrow to judge them by our standards?'

Althea was pleased to set forth thus clearly her own liberality of
standard. She sometimes suspected Miss Buchanan of thinking her naive.
But Miss Buchanan now looked a little puzzled, as if it were not this at
all that she had meant, and said presently that perhaps it was the
women's faces--the well-dressed women. 'I don't mind the poor ones so
much; they often look too sharp, but they often look kind and
frightfully tired. It is the well-dressed ones I can't put up with. And
the men are even more horrid. I always want to spend a week in walking
over the moors when I've been here. It leaves a hot taste in my mouth,
like some horrid liqueur.'

'But the beauty--the intelligence,' Althea urged. 'Surely you are a
little intolerant, to see only people's faces in Paris. Think of the
Salon Carree and the Cluny; they take away the taste of the liqueur.
How can one have enough of them?'

Miss Buchanan again demurred. 'Oh, I think I can have enough of them.'

'But you care for pictures, for beautiful things,' said Althea, half
vexed and half disturbed. But Miss Buchanan said that she liked having
them about her, not having to go and look at them. 'It is so stuffy in
museums, too; they always give me a headache. However, I don't believe I
really do care about pictures. You see, altogether I've had no
education.'

Her education, indeed, contrasted with Althea's well-ordered and
elaborate progression, had been lamentable--a mere succession of
incompetent governesses. Yet, on pressing her researches, Althea, though
finding almost unbelievable voids, felt, more than anything else, tastes
sharp and fine that seemed to cut into her own tastes and show her
suddenly that she did not really like what she had thought she liked, or
that she liked what she had hardly before been aware of. All that Helen
could be brought to define was that she liked looking at things in the
country: at birds, clouds, and flowers; but though striking Althea as a
creature strangely untouched and unmoulded, she struck her yet more
strongly as beautifully definite. She marvelled at her indifference to
her own shortcomings, and she marvelled at the strength of personality
that could so dispense with other people's furnishings.

Among the things that Helen made her see, freshly and perturbingly, was
the sheaf of friends in England of whom she had thought with such
security when Miss Robinson had spoken of the London _salon_.

Althea had been trained in a school of severe social caution. Social
caution was personified to her in her memory of her mother--a slender,
black-garbed lady, with parted grey hair, neatly waved along her brow,
and a tortoiseshell lorgnette that she used to raise, mildly yet
alarmingly, at foreign _tables d'hotes_, for an appraising survey of the
company. The memory of this lorgnette operated with Althea as a sort of
social standard; it typified delicacy, dignity, deliberation, a
scrupulous regard for the claims of heredity, and a scrupulous avoidance
of uncertain or all too certain types. Althea felt that she had carried
on the tradition worthily. The lorgnette would have passed all her more
recent friends--those made with only its inspiration as a guide. She was
as careful as her mother as to whom she admitted to her
acquaintanceship, eschewing in particular those of her compatriots whose
accents or demeanour betrayed them to her trained discrimination as
outside the radius of acceptance. But Althea's kindness of heart was
even deeper than her caution, and much as she dreaded becoming involved
with the wrong sort of people, she dreaded even more hurting anybody's
feelings, with the result that once or twice she had made mistakes, and
had had, under the direction of Lady Blair, to withdraw in a manner as
painful to her feelings as to her pride. 'Oh no, my dear,' Lady Blair
had said of some English acquaintances whom Althea had met in Rome, and
who had asked her to come and see them in England. 'Quite impossible;
most worthy people, I am sure, and no doubt the daughter took honours
at Girton--the middle classes are highly educated nowadays; but one
doesn't know that sort of people.'

Lady Blair was the widow of a judge, and, in her large velvet
drawing-room, a thick fog outside and a number of elderly legal ladies
drinking tea about her, Althea had always felt herself to be in the very
heart of British social safety. Lady Blair was an old friend of her
mother's, and, with Miss Buckston, was her nearest English friend. She
also felt safe on the lawn under the mulberry-tree at Grimshaw Rectory,
and when ensconced for her long visit in Colonel and Mrs. Colling's
little house in Devonshire, where hydrangeas grew against a blue
background of sea, and a small white yacht rocked in the bay at the foot
of the garden.

It was therefore with some perplexity that, here too, she brought from
her interviews with Helen an impression of new standards. They were not
drastic and relegating, like those of Lady Blair's; they did not make
her feel unsafe as Lady Blair's had done; they merely made her feel that
her world was very narrow and she herself rather ingenuous.

Helen herself seemed unaware of standards, and had certainly never
experienced any of Althea's anxieties. She had always been safe, partly,
Althea had perceived, because she had been born safe, but, in the main,
because she was quite indifferent to safety. And with this indifference
and this security went the further fact that she had, probably, never
been ingenuous. With all her admiration, her affection for her new
friend, this sense of the change that she was working in her life
sometimes made Althea a little afraid of her, and sometimes a little
indignant. She, herself, was perfectly safe in America, and when she
felt indignant she asked herself what Helen Buchanan would have done had
she been turned into a strange continent with hardly any other guides
than the memory of a lorgnette and a Baedeker.

It was when she was bound to answer this question, and to recognise that
in such circumstances Miss Buchanan would have gone her way, entirely
unperturbed, and entirely sure of her own preferences, that Althea felt
afraid of her. In all circumstances, she more and more clearly saw it,
Miss Buchanan would impose her own standards, and be oppressed or
enlightened by none. Althea had always thought of herself as very calm
and strong; it was as calm and strong that Franklin Winslow Kane so
worshipped her; but when she talked to Miss Buchanan she had sharp
shoots of suspicion that she was, in reality, weak and wavering.

Althea's accounts of her friends in England seemed to interest Miss
Buchanan even less than her accounts of Bayreuth. She had met Miss
Buckston, but had only a vague and, evidently, not a pleasant impression
of her. Lady Blair she had never heard of, nor the inmates of Grimshaw
Rectory. The Collings were also blanks, except that Mrs. Colling had an
uncle, an old Lord Taunton; and when Althea put forward this identifying
fact, Helen said that she knew him and liked him very much.

'I suppose you know a great many people,' said Althea.

Yes, Miss Buchanan replied, she supposed she did. 'Too many, sometimes.
One gets sick of them, don't you think? But perhaps your people are
more interesting than mine; you travel so much, and seem to know such
heaps of them all over the world.'

But Althea, from these interviews, took a growing impression that though
Miss Buchanan might be sick of her own people, she would be far more
sick of hers.




CHAPTER V.


Miss Buchanan was well on the way to complete recovery, was able to have
tea every afternoon with Althea, and to be taken for long drives in the
Bois, when Aunt Julia and the girls arrived at the Hotel Talleyrand.

Mrs. Pepperell was a sister of Althea's mother, and lived soberly and
solidly in New York, disapproving as much of millionaires and their
manners as of expatriated Americans. She was large and dressed with
immaculate precision and simplicity, and had it not been for a homespun
quality of mingled benevolence and shrewdness, she might have passed as
stately. But Mrs. Pepperell had no wish to appear stately, and was
rather intolerant of the pretension in others. Her sharp tongue had
indulged itself in a good many sallies on this score at her sister
Bessie's expense; Bessie being the lady of the lorgnette, Althea's
deceased mother.

Althea, remembering that dear mother so well, all dignified elegance as
she had been--too dignified, too elegant, perhaps, to be either so
shrewd or so benevolent as her sister--always thought of Aunt Julia as
rather commonplace in comparison. Yet, as she followed in her wake on
the evening of her arrival, she felt that Aunt Julia was obviously and
eminently 'nice.' The one old-fashioned diamond ornament at her throat,
the ruffles at her wrist, the gloss of her silver-brown hair, reminded
her of her own mother's preferences.

The girls were 'nice,' too, as far as their appearance and breeding
went, but Althea found their manners very bad. They were not strident
and they were not arrogant, but so much noisiness and so much innocent
assurance might, to unsympathetic eyes, seem so. They were handsome
girls, fresh-skinned, athletic, tall and slender. They wore beautifully
simple white lawn dresses, and their shining fair hair was brushed off
their foreheads and tied at the back with black bows in a very becoming
fashion, though Althea thought the bows too large and the fashion too
obviously local.

Helen was in her old place that night, and she smiled at Althea as she
and her party took their places at a table larger and at a little
distance. She was to come in for coffee after dinner, so that Althea
adjourned introductions. Aunt Julia looked sharply and appraisingly at
the black figure, and the girls did not look at all. They were filled
with young delight and excitement at the prospect of a three weeks' romp
in Paris, among dressmakers, tea-parties, and the opera. 'And Herbert
Vaughan is here. I've just had a letter from him, forwarded from
London,' Dorothy announced, to which Mildred, with glad emphasis, cried
'Bully!'

Althea sighed, crumbled her bread, and looked out of the window
resignedly.

'You mustn't talk slang before Cousin Althea,' said Dorothy.

'What Cousin Althea needs is slang,' said Mildred.

'I shan't lack it with you, shall I, Mildred?' Althea returned, with, a
rather chilly smile. She knew that Dorothy and Mildred considered her,
as they would have put it, 'A back number'; they liked to draw her out
and to shock her. She wanted to make it clear that she wasn't shocked,
but that she was wearied. At the same time it was true that Mildred and
Dorothy made her uncomfortable in subtler ways; she was, perhaps, a
little afraid of them, too. They, too, imposed their own standards, and
were oppressed and enlightened by none.

Aunt Julia smiled indulgently at her children, and asked Althea if she
did not think that they were looking very well. They certainly were, and
Althea had to own it. 'But don't let them overdo their athletics, Aunt
Julia,' she said. 'It is such a pity when girls get brawny.'

'I'm brawny; feel my muscle,' said Mildred, stretching a hard young arm
across the table. Althea shook her head. She did not like being made
conspicuous, and already the girls' loud voices had drawn attention; the
French family were all staring.

'Who is the lady in black, Althea?' Mrs. Pepperell asked. 'A friend of
yours?'

'Yes, a most charming friend,' said Althea. 'Helen Buchanan is her name;
she is Scotch--a very old family--and she is one of the most interesting
people I've ever known. You will meet her after dinner. She is coming in
to spend the evening.'

'Where did you meet her? How long have you known her?' asked Aunt Julia,
evidently unimpressed.

Althea said that she had met her here, but that they had mutual
friends, thinking of Miss Buckston in what she felt to be an emergency.

Aunt Julia, with her air of general scepticism as to what she could find
so worth while in Europe, often made her embark on definitions and
declarations. She could certainly tolerate no uncertainty on the subject
of Helen's worth.

'Very odd looking,' said Aunt Julia, while the girls glanced round
indifferently at the subject of discussion.

'And peculiarly distinguished looking,' said Althea. 'She makes most
people look so half-baked and insignificant.'

'I think it a rather sinister face,' said Aunt Julia. 'And how she
slouches! Sit up, Mildred. I don't want you to catch European tricks.'

But, after dinner, Althea felt that Helen made her impression. She was
still wan and weak; she said very little, though she smiled very
pleasantly, and she sat--as Aunt Julia had said, 'slouched,' yet so
gracefully--in a corner of the sofa. The charm worked. The girls felt
it, Aunt Julia felt it, though Aunt Julia held aloof from it. Althea saw
that Aunt Julia, most certainly, did not interest Helen, but the girls
amused her; she liked them. They sat near her and made her laugh by
their accounts of their journey, the funny people on the steamer, their
plans for the summer, and life in America, as they lived it. Dorothy
assured her that she didn't know what fun was till she came to America,
and Mildred cried: 'Oh, do come! We'll give you the time of your life!'
Helen declared that she hoped some day to experience this climax.

Before going to bed, and attired in her dressing-gown, Althea went to
Helen's room to ask her how she felt, but also to see what impression
her relatives had made. Helen was languidly brushing her hair, and
Althea took the brush from her and brushed it for her.

'Isn't it lamentable,' she said, 'that Aunt Julia, who is full of a
certain sort of wise perception about other things, doesn't seem to see
at all how bad the children's manners are. She lets them monopolise
everybody's attention with the utmost complacency.'

Helen, while her hair was being brushed, put out her hand for her watch
and was winding it. 'Have they bad manners?' she said. 'But they are
nice girls.'

'Yes, they are nice. But surely you don't like their slang?'

Helen smiled at the recollection of it. 'More fun than a goat,' she
quoted. 'Why shouldn't they talk slang?'

'Dear Helen,'--they had come quite happily to Christian names--'surely
you care for keeping the language pure. Surely you think it regrettable
that the younger generation should defile and mangle it like that.'

But Helen only laughed, and confessed that she really didn't care what
happened to the language. 'There'll always be plenty of people to talk
it too well,' she said.

Mrs. Pepperell, on her side, had her verdict, and she gave it some days
later when she and her niece were driving to the dressmaker's.

'She is a very nice girl, Miss Buchanan, and clever, too, in her quiet
English way, though startlingly ignorant. Dorothy actually told me that
she had never read any Browning, and thought that Sophocles was
Diogenes, and lived in a tub. But frankly, Althea, I can't say that I
take to her very much.'

Aunt Julia, often irritating to Althea, was never more so than when, as
now, she assumed that her verdicts and opinions were of importance to
her niece. Althea shrank from open combat with anybody, yet she could,
under cover of gentle candour, plant her shafts. She planted one now in
answering: 'I don't think that you would, either of you, take to one
another. Helen's flavour is rather recondite.'

'Recondite, my dear,' said Aunt Julia, who never pretended not to know
when a shaft had been planted. 'I think, everyday _mere de famille_ as I
am, that I am quite capable of appreciating the recondite. Miss
Buchanan's appearance is striking, and she is an independent creature;
but, essentially, she is the most commonplace type of English
girl--well-bred, poor, idle, uneducated, and with no object in life
except to amuse herself and find a husband with money. And under that
air of sleepy indifference she has a very sharp eye to the main chance,
you may take my word for it.'

Althea was very angry, the more so for the distorted truth this judgment
conveyed. 'I'm afraid I shouldn't take your word on any matter
concerning my friend,' she returned; 'and I think, Aunt Julia, that you
forget that it is my friend you are speaking of.'

'My dear, don't lose your temper. I only say it to put you on your
guard. You are so given to idealisation, and you may find yourself
disappointed if you trust to depths that are not there. As to
friendship, don't forget that she is, as yet, the merest acquaintance.'

'One may feel nearer some people in a week than to others after years.'

'As to being near in a week--she doesn't feel near _you_; that is all I
mean. Don't cast your pearls too lavishly.'

Althea made no reply, but under her air of unruffled calm, Aunt Julia's
shaft rankled.

She found herself that afternoon, when she and Helen were alone at tea,
sounding her, probing her, for reassuring symptoms of warmth or
affection. 'I so hope that we may keep really in touch with one
another,' she said. 'I couldn't bear not to keep in touch with you,
Helen.'

Helen looked at her with the look, vague, kind, and a little puzzled,
that seemed to plant Aunt Julia's shaft anew. 'Keep in touch,' she
repeated. 'Of course. You'll be coming to England some day, and then
you'll be sure to look me up, won't you?'

'But, until I do come, we will write? You will write to me a great
deal?'

'Oh, my dear, I do so hate writing. I never have anything to say in a
letter. Let us exchange postcards, when our doings require it.'

'Postcards!' Althea could not repress a disconsolate note. 'How can I
tell from postcards what you are thinking and feeling?'

'You may always take it for granted that I'm doing very little of
either,' said Helen, smiling.

Althea was silent for a moment, and then, with a distress apparent in
voice and face, she said: 'I can't bear you to say that.'

Helen still smiled, but she was evidently at a loss. She added some milk
to her tea and took a slice of bread and butter before saying, more
kindly, yet more lightly than before: 'You mustn't judge me by yourself.
I'm not a bit thoughtful, you know, or warm-hearted and intellectual,
like you. I just rub along. I'm sure you'll not find it worth while
keeping in touch with me.'

'It's merely that I care for you very much,' said Althea, in a slightly
quivering voice. 'And I can't bear to think that I am nothing to you.'

There was again a little pause in which, because her eyes had suddenly
filled with tears, Althea looked down and could not see her friend.
Helen's voice, when she spoke, showed her that she was pained and
disconcerted. 'You make me feel like such a clumsy brute when you say
things like that,' she said. 'You are so kind, and I am so selfish and
self-centred. But of course I care for you too.'

'Do you really?' said Althea, who, even if she would, could not have
retained the appearance of lightness and independence. 'You really feel
me as a friend, a true friend?'

'If you really think me worth your while, of course. I don't see how you
can--an ill-tempered, ignorant, uninteresting woman, whom you've run
across in a hotel and been good to.'

'I don't think of you like that, as you know. I think you a strangely
lovely and strangely interesting person. From the first moment I saw you
you appealed to me. I felt that you needed something--love and sympathy,
perhaps. The fact that it's been a sort of chance--our meeting--makes
it all the sweeter to me.'

Again Helen was silent for a moment, and again Althea, sitting with
downcast eyes, knew that, though touched, she was uncomfortable. 'You
are too nice and kind for words,' she then said. 'I can't tell you how
kind I think it of you.'

'Then we are friends? You do feel me as a friend who will always be
interested and always care?'

'Yes, indeed; and I do so thank you.'

Althea put out her hand, and Helen gave her hers, saying, 'You _are_ a
dear,' and adding, as though to take refuge from her own discomposure,
'much too dear for the likes of me.'

The bond was thus sealed, yet Aunt Julia's shaft still stuck. It was she
who had felt near, and who had drawn Helen near. Helen, probably, would
never have thought of keeping in touch. She was Helen's friend because
she had appealed for friendship, and because Helen thought her a dear.
The only comfort was to know that Helen's humility was real. She might
have offered her friendship could she have realised that it was of value
to anybody.

It was a few evenings after this, and perhaps as a result of their talk,
that, as they sat in Althea's room over coffee, Helen said: 'Why don't
you come to England this summer, Althea?'

Aunt Julia had proposed that Althea should go on to Bayreuth with her
and the girls, and Althea was turning over the plan, thinking that
perhaps she had had enough of Bayreuth, so that Helen's suggestion,
especially as it was made in Aunt Julia's presence, was a welcome one.
'Perhaps I will,' she said. 'Will you be there?'

'I'll be in London, with Aunt Grizel, until the middle of July; after
that, in the country till winter. You ought to take a house in the
country and let me come to stay with you,' said Helen, smiling.

'Will you pay me a long visit?' Althea smiled back.

'As long as you'll ask me for.'

'Well, you are asked for as long as you will stay. Where shall I get a
house? There are some nice ones near Miss Buckston's.'

'Oh, don't let us be too near Miss Buckston,' said Helen, laughing.

'But surely, Althea, you won't give up Bayreuth,' Aunt Julia interposed.
'It is going to be specially fine this year. And then you know so few
people in England, you will be very lonely. Nothing is more lonely than
the English country when you know nobody.'

'Helen is a host in herself,' said Althea; and though Helen did not
realise the full force of the compliment, it was more than satisfactory
to have her acquiesce with: 'Oh, as to people, I can bring you heaps of
them, if you want them.'

'It is a lovely idea,' said Althea; 'and if I must miss Bayreuth, Aunt
Julia, I needn't miss you and the girls. You will have to come and stay
with me. Do you know of a nice house, Helen, in pretty country, and not
too near Miss Buckston?' It was rather a shame of her, she felt, this
proviso, but indeed she had never found Miss Buckston endearing, and
since knowing Helen she had seen more clearly than before that she was
in many ways oppressive.

Helen was reflecting. 'I do know of a house,' she said, 'in a very nice
country, too. You might have a look at it. It's where I used to go, as a
girl, you know, and stay with my cousins, the Digbys.'

'That would be perfect, Helen.'

'Oh, I don't know that you would find it perfect. It is a plain stone
house, with a big, dilapidated garden, nice trees and lawns, miles from
everything, and with old-fashioned, shabby furniture. Since Gerald came
into the place, he's not been able to keep it up, and he has to let it.
He hasn't been able to let it for the last year or so, and would be glad
of the chance. If you like the place you'll only have to say the word.'

'I know I shall like it. Don't you like it?'

'Oh, I love it; but that's a different matter. It is more of a home to
me than any place in the world.'

'I consider it settled. I don't need to see it.'

'No; it certainly isn't settled,' Helen replied, with her pleasant
decisiveness. 'You certainly shan't take it till you see it. I will
write to Gerald and tell him that no one else is to have it until you
do.'

'I am quite determined to have that house,' said Althea. 'A place that
you love must be lovely. Write if you like. But the matter is settled in
my mind.'

'Don't be foolish, my dear,' said Aunt Julia. 'Miss Buchanan is quite
right. You mustn't think of taking a house until you see it. How do you
know that the drainage is in order, or even that the beds are
comfortable. Miss Buchanan says that it is miles away from everything,
too. You may find the situation very dismal and unsympathetic.'

'It's pretty country, I think,' said Helen, 'and I'm sure the drainage
and the beds are all right. But Althea must certainly see it first.'

It was settled, however, quite settled in Althea's mind that she was to
take Merriston House. She bade Helen farewell three days later, and they
had arranged that they were, within a fortnight, to meet in London, and
go together to look at it.

And Althea wrote to Franklin Winslow Kane, and informed him of her new
plans, and that he must be her guest at Merriston House for as long as
his own plans allowed him. Her mood in regard to Franklin had greatly
altered since that evening of gloom a fortnight ago. Franklin, then, had
seemed the only fact worth looking at; but now she seemed embarked on a
voyage of discovery, where bright new planets swam above the horizon
with every forward rock of her boat. Franklin was by no means dismissed;
Franklin could never be dismissed; but he was relegated; and though, as
far as her fondness went, he would always be firmly placed, she could
hardly place him clearly in the new and significantly peopled
environment that her new friendship opened to her.




CHAPTER VI.


Helen Buchanan was a person greatly in demand, and, in her migratory
existence, her pauses at her Aunt Grizel's little house near Eaton
Square were, though frequent, seldom long. When she did come, her
bedroom and her sitting-room were always waiting for her, as was Aunt
Grizel with her cheerful 'Well, my dear, glad to see you back again.'
Their mutual respect and trust were deep; their affection, too, though
it was seldom expressed. She knew Aunt Grizel to the ground, and Aunt
Grizel knew her to the ground--almost; and they were always pleased to
be together.

Helen's sitting-room, where she could see any one she liked and at any
time she liked, was behind the dining-room on the ground floor, and from
its window one saw a small neat garden with a plot of grass, bordering
flower-beds, a row of little fruit-trees, black-branched but brightly
foliaged, and high walls that looked as though they were built out of
sooty plum cake. Aunt Grizel's cat, Pharaoh, sleek, black, and stalwart,
often lay on the grass plot in the sunlight; he was lying there now,
languidly turned upon his side, with outstretched feet and drowsily
blinking eyes, when Helen and her cousin, Gerald Digby, talked together
on the day after her return from Paris.

Gerald Digby stood before the fireplace looking with satisfaction at his
companion. He enjoyed looking at Helen, for he admired her more than any
woman he knew. It was always a pleasure to see her again; and, like Aunt
Grizel, he trusted and respected her deeply, though again, like Aunt
Grizel, he did not, perhaps, know her quite down to the ground. He
thought, however, that he did; he knew that Helen was as intimate with
nobody in the world as with him, not even with Aunt Grizel, and it was
one of his most delightful experiences to saunter through all the
chambers of Helen's mind, convinced that every door was open to him.

Gerald Digby was a tall and very slender man; he tilted forward when he
walked, and often carried his hands in his pockets. He had thick,
mouse-coloured hair, which in perplexed or meditative moments he often
ruffled by rubbing his hand through it, and even when thus disordered it
kept its air of fashionable grace. His large, long nose, his finely
curved lips and eyelids, had a delicately carved look, as though the
sculptor had taken great care over the details of his face. His brown
eyes had thick, upturned lashes, and were often in expression absent and
irresponsible, but when he looked at any one, intent and merry, like a
gay dog's eyes. And of the many charming things about Gerald Digby the
most charming was his smile, which was as infectious as a child's, and
exposed a joyous array of large white teeth.

He was smiling at his cousin now, for she was telling him, dryly, yet
with a mocking humour all her own, of her Paris fiasco that had delayed
her return to London by a fortnight, and, by the expense it had
entailed upon her, had deprived her of the new hat and dress that she
had hoped in Paris to secure. Talking of Paris led to the letter she had
sent him four or five days ago. 'About this rich American,' said Gerald;
'is she really going to take Merriston, do you think? It's awfully good
of you, Helen, to try and get a tenant for me.'

'I don't know that you'd call her rich--not as Americans go; but I
believe she will take Merriston. She wanted to take it at once, on
faith; but I insisted that she must see it first.'

'You must have cried up the dear old place for her to be so eager.'

'I think she is eager about pleasing me,' said Helen. 'I told her that I
loved the place and hadn't been there for years, and that moved her very
much. She has taken a great fancy to me.'

'Really,' said Gerald. 'Why?'

'I'm sure I don't know. She is a dear little person, but rather funny.'

'Of course, there is no reason why any one shouldn't take a fancy to
you,' said Gerald, smiling; 'only--to that extent--in so short a time.'

'I appealed to her pity, I think; she came in and took care of me, and
was really unspeakably kind. And she seemed to get tremendously
interested in me. But then, she seemed capable of getting tremendously
interested in lots of things. I've noticed that Americans often take
things very seriously.'

'And you became great pals?'

'Yes, I suppose we did.'

'She interested you?'

Helen smiled a little perplexedly, and lit a cigarette before
answering. 'Well, no; I can't say that she did that; but that, probably,
was my own fault.'

'Why didn't she interest you?' Gerald went on, taking a cigarette from
the case she offered. He was fond of such desultory pursuit of a
subject; he and Helen spent hours in idle exchanges of impression.

Helen's answer was hardly illuminating: 'She wasn't interesting.'

'It was rather interesting of her to take such an interest in you,' said
Gerald subtly.

'No.' Helen warmed to the theme. It had indeed perplexed her, and she
was glad to unravel her impressions to this understanding listener. 'No,
that's just what it wasn't; it might have been if one hadn't felt her a
person so easily affected. She had--how can I put it?--it seems brutal
when she is such a dear--but she had so little stuff in her; it was as
if she had to find it all the time in other things and people. She is
like a glass of water that would like to be wine, and she has no wine in
her; it could only be poured in, and there's not room for much. At best
she can only be _eau rougie_.'

Gerald laughed. 'How you see things, and say them! Poor Miss
Jakes!--that's her name, isn't it? She sounds tame.'

'She is tame.'

'Is she young, pretty?'

'Not young, about my age; not pretty, but it's a nice face; wistful,
with large, quite lovely eyes. She knows a lot about everything, and has
been everywhere, and has kept all her illusions intact--a queer mixture
of information and innocence. It's difficult to keep one's mind on what
she's saying; there is never any background to it. She wants something,
but she doesn't know whether it's what other people want or whether it's
what she wants, so that she can't want anything very definitely.'

Gerald still laughed. 'How you must have been taking her in!'

'I suppose I must have been, though I didn't know it. But I did like
her, you know. I liked her very much. A glass of water is a nice thing
sometimes.'

'Nicer than _eau rougie_; I'm afraid she's _eau rougie_.'

'_Eau rougie_ may be nice, too, if one is tired and thirsty and needs
mild refreshment, not altogether tasteless, and not at all intoxicating.
She was certainly that to me. I was very much touched by her kindness.'

'I shall be touched if she'll take Merriston. I'm fearfully hard up. I
suppose it would only be a little let; but that would be better than
nothing.'

'She might stay for the winter if she liked it. I shan't try to make her
like it, but I'll do my best to make her stay on if she does, and with a
clear conscience, for I think that her staying will depend on her seeing
me.'

'Wouldn't that mean that she'd be a great deal on your hands?'

'I shouldn't mind that; we get on very well. She will be here next week,
you know. You must come to tea and meet her.'

'Well, I don't know. I don't think that I'm particularly eager to meet
her,' Gerald confessed jocosely.

'You'll have to meet her a good deal if you are to see much of me,' said
Helen; on which he owned that, with that compulsion put upon him, he
and Miss Jakes might become intimates.

Gerald Digby was a young man who did very little work. He had been
vaguely intended, by an affectionate but haphazard family, for the
diplomatic service, but it was found, after he had done himself some
credit at Eton and Oxford, that the family resources didn't admit of
this obviously suitable career for him; and an aged and wealthy uncle,
who had been looked to confidently for succour, married at the moment,
most unfeelingly, so that Gerald's career had to be definitely
abandoned. Another relation found him a berth in the City, where he
might hope to amass quite a fortune; but Gerald soon said that he far
preferred poverty. He thought that he would like to paint and be an
artist; he had a joyful eye for delicate, minute forms of beauty, and
was most happily occupied when absorbed in Japanese-like studies of
transient loveliness--a bird in flight, a verdant grasshopper on a
wheat-blade, the tangled festoons of a wild convolvulus spray. His
talent, however, though genuine, could hardly supply him with a
livelihood, and he would have been seriously put to it had not his
father's death left him a tiny income, while a half-informal
secretaryship to a political friend, offered him propitiously at the
same time, gave him leisure for his painting as well as for a good many
other pleasant things. He had leisure, in especial, for going from
country-house to country-house, where he was immensely in demand, and
where he hunted, danced, and acted in private theatricals--usually in
company with his cousin Helen. Helen's position in life was very much
like his own, but that she hadn't even an informal secretaryship to
depend upon. He had known Helen all his life, and she was almost like a
sister, only nicer; for he associated sisters with his own brood, who
were lean, hunting ladies, pleasant, but monotonous and inarticulate.
Helen was very articulate and very various. He loved to look at her, as
he loved to look at birds and flowers, and he loved to talk with her. He
had many opportunities to look and talk. They stayed at the same houses
in the country, and in London, when she was with old Miss Buchanan, he
usually saw her every day. If he didn't drop in for a moment on his way
to work at ten-thirty in the morning, he dropped in to tea; and if his
or Helen's day were too full to admit of this, he managed to come in for
a goodnight chat after a dinner or before a dance. He enjoyed Helen's
talk and Helen's appearance most of all, he thought, at these late
hours, when, a little weary and jaded, in evening dress and cloak, she
lit her invariable cigarette, and mused with him over the events and
people of the day. He liked Helen's way of talking about people; they
knew an interminable array of them, many involved in enlivening
complications, yet Helen never gossiped; the musing impersonality and
impartiality with which she commented and surmised lifted her themes to
a realm almost of art; she was pungent, yet never malicious, and the
tolerant lucidity of her insight was almost benign.

Her narrow face, leaning back in its dark aureole of hair, her strange
eyes and bitter-sweet lips--all dimmed, as it were, by drowsiness and
smoke, and yet never more intelligently awake than at these nocturnal
hours--remained with him as most typical of Helen's most significant and
charming self. It was her aspect of mystery and that faint hint of
bitterness that he found so charming; Helen herself he never thought of
as mysterious. Mystery was a mere outward asset of her beauty, like the
powdery surface of a moth's wing. He didn't think of Helen as
mysterious, perhaps because he thought little about her at all; he only
looked and listened while she made him think about everything but
herself, and he felt always happy and altogether at ease in her
presence. There seemed, indeed, no reason for thinking about a person
whom one had known all one's life long.

And Helen was more than the best of company and the loveliest of
objects; she was at once comrade and counsellor. He depended upon her
more than upon any one. Comically helpless as he often found himself, he
asked her advice about everything, and always received the wisest.

He had had often, though not so much in late years, to ask her advice
about girls, for in spite of his financial ineligibility he was so
engaging a person that he found himself continually drawn to the verge
of decisive flirtations. His was rarely the initiative; he was
responsive and affectionate and not at all susceptible, and Helen, who
knew girls of her world to the bone, could accurately gauge the effect
upon him of the pleading coquetry at which they were such adepts. She
could gauge them the better, no doubt, from having herself no trace of
coquetry. Men often liked her, but often found her cold and cynical, and
even suspected her of conceit, especially since it was known that she
had refused many excellent opportunities for establishing herself in
life. She was also suspected by many of abysmal cleverness, and this
reputation frightened admiring but uncomplicated young men more than
anything else. Now, when her first youth was past, men more seldom fell
in love with her and more frequently liked her; they had had time to
find out that if she were cold she was also very kind, and that if
abysmally clever, she could adapt her cleverness to pleasant, trivial
uses.

Gerald, when he thought at all about her, thought of Helen as indeed
cold, clever, and cynical; but these qualities never oppressed him,
aware from the first, as he had been, of the others, and he found in
them, moreover, veritable shields and bucklers for himself. It was to
some one deeply experienced, yet quite unwarped by personal emotions,
that he brought his recitals of distress and uncertainty. Lady Molly was
a perfect little dear, but could he go on with it? How could he if he
would? She hadn't any money, and her people would be furious; she
herself, he felt sure, would be miserable in no time, if they did marry.
They wouldn't even have enough--would they, did Helen think?--for love
in a cottage, and Molly would hate love in a cottage. They would have to
go about living on their relations and friends, as he now did, more or
less; but with a wife and babies, how could one? Did Helen think one
could? Gerald would finish dismally, standing before her with his hands
thrust deeply into his pockets and a ruffled brow of inquiry. Or else it
was the pretty Miss Oliver who had him--half alarmed, half enchanted--in
her toils, and Gerald couldn't imagine what she was going to do with
him. For such entanglements Helen's advice had always shown a way out,
and for his uncertainties--though she never took the responsibility of
actual guidance--her reflective questionings, her mere reflective
silences, were illuminating. They made clear for him, as for her, that
recklessness could only be worth while if one were really--off one's own
bat, as it were--'in love'; and that, this lacking, recklessness was
folly sure to end in disaster. 'Wait, either until you care so much that
you must, or else until you meet some one so nice, so rich, and so
suitable that you may,' said Helen. 'If you are not careful you will
find yourself married to some one who will bore you and quarrel with you
on twopence a year.'

'You must be careful for me,' said Gerald. 'Please warn and protect.'

And Helen replied that she would always do her best for him.

It had never occurred to Gerald to turn the tables on Helen and tell her
that she ought to marry. His imagination was not occupied with Helen's
state, though once, after a conversation with old Miss Buchanan, he
remarked to Helen, looking at her with a vague curiosity, that it was a
pity she hadn't taken Lord Henry or Mr. Fergusson. 'Miss Buchanan tells
me you might have been one of the first hostesses in London if you
hadn't thrown away your chances.'

'I'm all right,' said Helen.

'Yes, you yourself are; but after she dies?'

Helen owned, with a smile, that she could certainly do with some few
thousands a year; but that, in default of them, she could manage to
scrape along.

'But you've never had any better chances, have you?' said Gerald rather
tentatively. He might confide everything in Helen, but he realised, as a
restraining influence, that she never made any confidences, even to him,
who, he was convinced, knew her down to the ground.

Helen owned that she hadn't.

'Your aunt thinks it a dreadful pity. She's very much worried about
you.'

'It's late in the day for the poor dear to worry. The chances were over
long ago.'

'You didn't care enough?'

'I was young and foolish enough to want to be in love when I married,'
said Helen, smiling at him with her half-closed eyes.

And Gerald said that, yes, he would have expected that from her; and
with this dismissed the subject from his mind, taking it for granted
that Helen's disengaged, sustaining, and enlivening spinsterhood would
always be there for his solace and amusement.




CHAPTER VII.


Helen was on one side of her and Mr. Digby sat in an opposite corner of
the railway carriage, and they were approaching the end of the journey
to Merriston House on a bright July day soon after Althea's arrival in
England. She had met Mr. Digby at Helen's the day before and had
suggested that he should come with them. Gerald had remarked that it
might be tiresome if she hated Merriston, and he were there to see that
she hated it; but Althea was so sure of liking it that her conviction
imposed itself.

Mr. Digby and Helen were both smoking; they had asked her very
solicitously whether she minded, and she had said she didn't, although
in fact she did not like the smell of tobacco, and Helen's constant
cigarette distressed her quite unselfishly on the score of health. The
windows were wide open, and though the gale that blew through ruffled
her smooth hair and made her veil tickle disagreeably, these minor
discomforts could not spoil her predominant sense of excitement and
adventure. Mr. Digby's presence, particularly, roused it. He was so
long, so limp, so graceful, lounging there in his corner. His socks and
his tie were of such a charming shade of blue and his hair such a
charming shade of light mouse-colour. He was vague and blithe, immersed
in his own thoughts, which, apparently, were pleasant and superficial.
When his eyes met Althea's, he smiled at her, and she thought his smile
the most engaging she had ever seen. For the rest, he hardly spoke at
all, and did not seem to consider it incumbent on him to make any
conversational efforts, yet his mere presence lent festivity to the
occasion.

Helen did not talk much either; she smoked her cigarette and looked out
of the window with half-closed eyes. Her slender feet, encased in grey
shoes, were propped on the opposite seat; her grey travelling-dress hung
in smoke-like folds about her; in her little hat was a bright green
wing.

Althea wondered if Mr. Digby appreciated his cousin's appearance, or if
long brotherly familiarity had dimmed his perception of it. She wondered
how her own appearance struck him. She knew that she was very trim and
very elegant, and in mere beauty--quite apart from charm, which she
didn't claim--she surely excelled Helen; Helen with her narrow eyes, odd
projecting nose, and small, sulkily-moulded lips. Deeply though she felt
the fascination of her friend's strange visage, she could but believe
her own the lovelier. So many people--not only Franklin Winslow
Kane--had thought her lovely. There was no disloyalty in recognising the
fact for oneself, and an innocent satisfaction in the hope that Mr.
Digby might recognise it too.

The day that flashed by on either side had also a festive quality: blue
skies heaped with snowy clouds; fields brimmed with breeze-swept grain,
green and silver, or streaked with the gold of butter-cups; swift
streams and the curves of summer foliage. It was a country remote,
wooded and pastoral, and Althea, a connoisseur in landscapes, was
enchanted.

'Do you like it?' Helen asked her as they passed along the edge of a
little wood, glimpses of bright meadow among its clearings. 'We are
almost there now, and it's like this all about Merriston.'

'I've hardly seen any part of England I like so much,' said Althea. 'It
has a sweet, untouched wildness rather rare in England.'

'I always think that it's a country to love and live in,' said Helen.
'Some countries seem made only to be looked at.'

Althea wondered, as she then went on looking at this country, whether
she were thinking of her girlhood and of her many journeys to Merriston.
She wondered if Mr. Digby were thinking of his boyhood. Ever since
seeing those two together yesterday afternoon she had wondered about
them. She had never encountered a relationship quite like theirs; it was
so close, so confident, yet so untender. She could hardly make out that
they liked each other; all that one saw was that they trusted, so that
it had something of the businesslike quality of a partnership. Yet she
found herself building up an absurd little romance about their past. It
might be, who knew, that Mr. Digby had once been in love with Helen and
that she had refused him; he was poor, and she had said that she must
marry money. Althea's heart tightened a little with compassion for Mr.
Digby. Only, if this ever had been, it was well over now; and more
narrowly observing Mr. Digby's charming and irresponsible face, she
reflected that he was hardly the sort of person to illustrate large
themes of passion and fidelity.

A fly was waiting for them at the station, and as they jolted away
Gerald remarked that she was now to see one of the worst features of
Merriston; it was over an hour from the station, and if one hadn't a
motor the drive was a great bore. Althea, however, didn't find it a
bore. Her companions talked now, their heads at the windows; it had been
years since they had traversed that country together; every inch of it
was known to them and significant of weary waits, wonderful runs, feats
and misadventures at gates and ditches; for their reminiscences were
mainly sportsmanlike. Althea listened, absorbed, but distressed. It was
Gerald who caught and interpreted the expression of her large, gentle
eyes.

'I don't believe you like fox-hunting, Miss Jakes,' he said.

'No, indeed, I do not,' said Althea, shaking her head.

'You mean you think it cruel?'

'Very cruel.'

'Yet where would we be without it?' said Gerald. 'And where would the
foxes be? After all, while they live, their lives are particularly
pleasant.'

'With possible intervals of torture? Don't you think that, if they could
choose, they would rather not live at all?'

'Oh, a canny old fox doesn't mind the run so much, you know--enjoys it
after a fashion, no doubt.'

'Don't salve your conscience by that sophism, Gerald; the fox is canny
because he has been terrified so often,' said Helen. 'Let us own that it
is barbarous, but such glorious sport that one tries to forget the fox.'

It required some effort for Althea to testify against her and Mr. Digby,
but she felt so strongly on the subject of animals, foxes in particular,
that her courage did not fail her. 'I think it is when we forget, that
the dreadful things in life, the sins and cruelties, happen,' she said.

Gerald's gay eyes were cogitatingly fixed on her, and Helen continued to
look out of the window; but she thought that they both liked her the
better for her frankness, and she felt in the little ensuing silence
that it had brought them nearer--bright, alien creatures that they were.

Her first view of Merriston House hardly confirmed her hopes of it,
though she would not have owned to herself that this was so. It was
neither so beautiful nor so imposing as she had expected; it was even,
perhaps, rather commonplace; but in a moment she was able to
overcome this slight disloyalty and to love it the more for its
unpretentiousness. A short, winding avenue of limes led to it, and it
stood high among lawns that fell away to lower shrubberies and woods. It
was a square stone house, covered with creepers, a white rose clustering
over the doorway and a group of trees over-topping its chimneys.

Inside, where the housekeeper welcomed them and tea waited for them, was
the same homely brightness. Hunting prints hung in the hall; rows of
mediocre, though pleasing, family portraits in the dining-room. The long
drawing-room at the back of the house, overlooking the lawns and a far
prospect, was a much inhabited room, cheerful and shabby. There were
old-fashioned water-colour landscapes, porcelain in cabinets and on
shelves, and many tables crowded with ivory and silver bric-a-brac;
things from India and things from China, that Digbys in the Army and
Digbys in the Navy had brought home.

'What a Philistine room it is,' said Gerald, smiling as he looked around
him; 'but I must say I like it just as it is. It has never made an
aesthetic effort.'

Gerald's smile irradiated the whole house for Althea, and lit up, in
especial, the big, sunny school-room where he and Helen found most
memories of all. 'The same old table, Helen,' he said, 'and other
children have spilled ink on it and scratched their initials just as we
used to; here are yours and mine. Do you remember the day we did them
under Fraeulein's very nose? And here are all our old books, too. Look,
Helen, the Roman history with your wicked drawings on the fly-leaves:
Tullia driving over her poor old father, and Cornelia--ironic little
wretch you were even then--what a prig she is with her jewels! And what
splendid butter-scotch you used to make over the fire on winter
evenings.'

Helen remembered everything, smiling as she followed Gerald about the
room and looked at ruthless Tullia; and Althea, watching them, was
touched--for them, and then, with a little counter-stroke of memory, for
herself. She remembered her old home too--the dignified old house in
steep Chestnut Street, and the little house on the blue Massachusetts
coast where she had often passed long days playing by herself, for she
had been an only child. She loved it here, for it was like a home,
peaceful and sheltering; but where in all the world had she really a
home? Where in all the world did she belong? The thought brought tears
to her eyes as she looked out of the schoolroom window and listened to
Gerald and Helen. It had ended, of course, for of course it had really
begun, in Althea's decision to take Merriston House. It was quite fixed
now, and on the way back she had made her new friends promise to be
often together with her in the home of their youth. She had made them
promise this so prettily and with such gentle warmth that it was very
natural that Gerald, in talking over the event with Helen that evening,
should say, strolling round Helen's little sitting-room, 'She's rather a
dear, that little friend of yours.'

Helen was tired and lay extended on the divan in the grey dress she had
not had time to change. She had doffed her hat and, thrusting its
hatpins through it, had laid it on her knees, so that, as Gerald had
remarked, she looked rather like Bruenhilde on her rocky couch. But,
unlike Bruenhilde, her hands were clasped behind her neck, and she looked
up at the ceiling. 'A perfect little dear,' she assented.

'Did you notice her eyes when she was talking about the foxes? They were
as sorrowful and piteous as a Mater Dolorosa's. She is definite enough
about some things, isn't she? Things like right and wrong, I mean, as
she sees them.'

'Yes; she is clear about outside things, like right and wrong.'

'It's a good deal to be clear about, isn't it?'

'I suppose so,' Helen reflected. 'I don't feel that I really understand
Althea. People who aren't clear about themselves are difficult to
understand, I think.'

'It's that that really gives them a mystery. I feel that she really is a
little mysterious,' said Gerald. 'One wonders what she would do in
certain cases, and feel in certain situations, and one can't remotely
imagine. She is a sealed book.'

'_She_ wonders,' said Helen.

'And you suspect that her pages are empty?'

Helen reflected, but nothing seemed to come. She closed her eyes,
smiling, and said, 'Be off, please. I'm getting too sleepy to have
suspicions. We have plenty of time to find out whether anything is
written on Althea's pages.'




CHAPTER VIII.


But, when Gerald was gone, Helen found that she was no longer sleepy.
She lay, her eyes closed, straight and still, like an effigy on a tomb,
and she thought, intently and quietly. It was more a series of pictures
than a linking of ideas with which her mind was occupied--pictures of
her childhood and girlhood in Scotland and at Merriston House. It was
dispassionately that she watched the little figure, lonely, violent,
walking over the moors, hiding in the thickets of the garden, choking
with tears of fury, clenching teeth over fierce resentments. She almost
smiled at the sight of her. What constant resentments, what frequent
furies! They centred, of course, about the figure of her mother, lovely,
vindictive, and stony-hearted, as she had been and was. Helen's life had
dawned in the consciousness of love for this beautiful mother, whom she
had worshipped with the ardent humility of a little dog. Afterwards,
with a vehemence as great, she had grown to hate her. All her girlhood
had been filled with struggles against her mother. Sometimes for weeks
they had not spoken to each other, epochs during which, completely
indifferent though she was, Mrs. Buchanan had given herself the
satisfaction of smartly boxing her daughter's ears when her mute,
hostile presence too much exasperated her. There had been no refuge for
Helen with her father, a gloomy man, immersed in sport and study, nor in
her brother Nigel, gay and pleasant though he was. When once Nigel got
away to school and college, he spent as little time at home as possible.
Helen was as solitary as a sea-bird, blown far inland and snared. Then
came the visits to Merriston House--the cheerful, chattering houseful of
happy girls, the kind father and mother, and Gerald. Gerald! From the
time that he came into her life all the pictures were full of him, so
full that she hardly saw herself any longer; she was only some one who
watched and felt.

Her violent nature, undisciplined except by its own pride, did not
submit easily to the taming processes of a wholesome family life; she
dominated the girl cousins, and they only counted as chorus in the drama
of her youth. It was Gerald who counted, at once, counted for everything
else. She cared so much for him that, feeling her independence slipping
from her, she at first quarrelled with him constantly, as far as he
would let her quarrel with him. Her brooding bitterness amazed and
amused him. While she stormed, he would laugh at her, gaily and
ironically, and tell her that she was an absurd little savage. And,
after she had burst into a frenzy of tears and fled from him, he would
seek her out, find her hidden in some corner of the garden or
shrubberies, and, grieved and alarmed, put his arms around her, kiss her
and say: 'Look here, I'm awfully sorry. I can't bear to have you take
things like this. Please make up.'

He could not bear to see her suffering, ludicrous though he thought her
suffering to be. And it was this sweetness, this comprehension and
tenderness, like sunlight flooding her gloomy and petrified young heart,
that filled Helen with astonished bliss. She was tamed at last to the
extent of laughing with Gerald at herself; and, though the force of her
nature led him, the sweetness of his nature controlled her. They became
the dearest of friends.

Yes, so it had always been; so it had always looked--to all the rest of
the world, and to Gerald. Helen, lying on her divan, saw the pictures of
comradeship filling the years. It was her consciousness of what the real
meaning of the pictures was that supplied something else, something
hidden and desperate that pulsed in them all. How she remembered the
first time that she had drawn away when Gerald kissed her, putting up
between them the shield of a lightly yet decisively accepted
conventionality. They were 'growing up'; this was her justification. How
she remembered what it had cost her to keep up the lightness of her
smile so that he should not guess what lay beneath. Her nature was all
passion, and enclosing this passion, like a steady hand held round a
flame, was a fierce purity, a fierce pride. Gerald had never guessed. No
one had ever guessed. It seemed to Helen that the pain of it had broken
her heart in the very spring of her years; that it was only a maimed and
cautious creature that the world had ever known.

She lay, and drew long quiet breaths in looking at it all. The day of
reawakened memories had been like a sword in her heart, and now she
seemed to draw it out slowly, and let the blood come with a sense of
peace. She could even, as often, lend to the contemplation of her
tragedy the bitter little grimace of mockery with which she met so much
of life. She could tell herself, as often, that she had never outgrown
love-sick girlhood, and that she was merely in love with Gerald's smile.
Yet Gerald was all in his smile; and Gerald, it seemed, was made to be
loved, all of him, helplessly and hopelessly, by unfortunate her. She
felt her love as a misfortune; it was too strong and too unsatisfied to
be felt in any sense as joy, though it strung her nature to a painful
appreciation of joy. She saw life with a cold, appraising eye; it was
like a landscape robbed of all sunlight, and, so robbed, so bleak, and
so bereft, it was easy to appraise it, to see, since one could have no
warmth or light, what were the next best things to have. She had missed
the next best things again and again, when the moment had come for
taking them; she had drawn back sick, blanched, shaken with the throes
of desperate hope. Only in these last years, when next best things were
no longer so plentiful, had hope really died. Her heart still beat, but
it seemed to beat thinly, among all the heaped-up ashes of dead hopes.
She was free to go forth into the sunless world and choose what place
should be hers. She did not care much for anything that world had to
give her. But she intended to choose carefully and calmly. She was aware
in herself of firm, well-knit faculty, of tastes, sharp and sensitive,
demanding only an opportunity to express themselves in significant and
finished forms of life; and though Helen did not think of it in these
terms, saying merely to herself that she wanted money and power, the
background of her intention was a consciousness of capacity for power.
Reflecting on this power, and on the paths to its realisation, she was
led far, indeed, from any thought of Althea; and Althea was not at all
in her mind as, sleepy at last, and very weary, she remembered Gerald's
last words. It was the thought of Gerald that brought the thought of
Althea, and of Althea's pages. Fair and empty they were, she felt sure,
adorned only here and there with careful and becoming maxims. She smiled
a little, not untenderly, as she thought of Althea. But, just before
sinking to deeper drowsiness, and deciding that she must rouse herself
and go upstairs to bed, a further consciousness came to her. The sunny
day at Merriston had not, in her thoughts, brought them near to one
another--Gerald, and Althea, and her; yet something significant ran
through her sudden memory of it. She had moments of her race's sense of
second-sight, and it never came without making her aware of a pause--a
strange, forced pause--where she had to look at something, touch
something, in the dark, as it were. It was there as she roused herself
from her half-somnolent state; it was there in the consciousness of a
turning-point in her life--in Gerald's, in Althea's. 'We may write
something on Althea's pages,' was the thought with which, smiling over
its inappropriateness, she went upstairs. And the fancy faded from her
memory, as if it had been a bird's wing that brushed her cheek in the
darkness.




CHAPTER IX.


Althea went down to Merriston House in the middle of July. Helen
accompanied her to see her safely installed and to set the very torpid
social ball rolling. There were not many neighbours, but Helen assembled
them all. She herself could stay only a few days. She was bound, until
the middle of August, in a rush of engagements, and meanwhile Althea,
rather ruefully, was forced to fall back on Miss Buckston for
companionship. She had always, till now, found Miss Buckston's cheerful
dogmatism fortifying, and, even when it irritated her, instructive; but
she had now new standards of interest, and new sources of refreshment,
and, shut up with Miss Buckston for a rainy week, she felt as never
before the defects of this excellent person's many qualities.

She had fires lighted, much to Miss Buckston's amusement, and sat a good
deal by the blaze in the drawing-room, controlling her displeasure when
Miss Buckston, dressed in muddy tweed and with a tweed cap pulled down
over her brows, came striding in from a ten-mile tramp and said, pulling
open all the windows, 'You are frightfully frusty in here.'

It was not 'frusty.' Althea had a scientific regard for ventilation, and
a damp breeze from the garden blew in at the furthest window. She had
quite enough air.

Miss Buckston was also very critical of Merriston House, and pointed out
the shabbiness of the chintz and faded carpets. The garden, she said,
was shamefully neglected, and she could not conceive how people could
bear to let a decent place like this go to ruin. 'But he's a slack
creature, Gerald Digby, I've heard.'

Althea coldly explained that Mr. Digby was too poor to live at Merriston
and to keep it up. She did not herself in the least mind the shabbiness.

'Oh, I don't mind it,' said Miss Buckston. 'I only think he's done
himself very well in getting you to take the place in this condition.
How much do you give for it?'

Althea, more coldly, named the sum. It was moderate; Miss Buckston had
to grant that, though but half-satisfied that there was no intention to
'do' her friend. 'When once you get into the hands of hard-up
fashionable folk,' she said, 'it's as well to look sharp.'

Althea did not quite know what to say to this. She had never in the past
opposed Miss Buckston, and it would be difficult to tell her now that
she took too much upon herself. At a hint of hesitancy, she knew, Miss
Buckston would pass to and fro over her like a steam-roller, nearly as
noisy, and to her own mind as composedly efficient. Hesitancy or
contradiction she flattened and left behind her.

She had an air of owning Bach that became peculiarly vexatious to
Althea, who, in silence, but armed with new standards, was assembling
her own forces and observed, in casting an eye over them, that she had
heard five times as much music as Miss Buckston and might be granted the
right of an opinion on it. She took satisfaction in a memory of Miss
Buckston's face singing in the Bach choir--even at the time it had
struck her as funny--at a concert to which Althea had gone with her some
years ago in London. It was to see, for her own private delectation, a
weak point in Miss Buckston's iron-clad personality to remember how very
funny she could look. Among the serried ranks of singing heads hers had
stood out with its rubicund energy, its air of mastery, the shining of
its eye-glasses and of its large white teeth; and while she sang Miss
Buckston had jerked her head rhythmically to one side and beaten time
with her hand as if to encourage and direct her less competent
companions. Sometimes, now, she looked almost as funny, when she sat
down to the piano and gave forth a recitative.

After Bach, Woman's Suffrage was Miss Buckston's special theme, and,
suspecting a new hint of uncertainty in Althea, whose conviction she had
always taken for granted, she attacked her frequently and mercilessly.

'Pooh, my dear,' she would say, 'don't quote your frothy American women
to me. Americans have no social conscience. That's the trouble with you
all; rank individualists, every one of you. When the political attitude
of the average citizen is that of the ostrich keeping his head in the
sand so that he shan't see what the country's coming to, what can you
expect of the women? Your arguments don't affect the suffrage question,
they merely dismiss America. I shall lose my temper if you trot them
out to me.' Miss Buckston never lost her temper, however; other people's
opinions counted too little with her for that.

At the end of the first week Althea felt distinctly that though the
country, even under these dismal climatic conditions, might be
delightful if shared with some people, it was not delightful shared with
Miss Buckston. She did not like walking in the rain; she was a creature
of houses, cabs and carriages. The sober beauty of blotted silhouettes,
and misty, rolling hills at evening when the clouds lifted over the
sunset, did not appeal to her. She wished that she had stayed in London;
she wished that Helen and Mr. Digby were with her; she was even glad
that Aunt Julia and the girls were coming.

There was a welcome diversion afforded for her, when Aunt Julia came, by
the prompt hostility that declared itself between her and Miss Buckston.
Aunt Julia was not a person to allow a steam-roller to pass over her
without protest, and Althea felt that she herself had been cowardly when
she saw how Aunt Julia resented, for them both, Miss Buckston's methods.
Miss Buckston had a manner of saying rude things in sincere
unconsciousness that they could offend anybody. She herself did not take
offence easily; she was, as she would have said, 'tough.' But Mrs.
Pepperell had all the sensitiveness--for herself and for others--of her
race, the British race, highly strung with several centuries of
transplantation to an electric climate. If she was rude it was never
unconsciously so. After her first talk with Miss Buckston, in which the
latter, as was her wont, told her a number of unpleasant facts about
America and the Americans, Mrs. Pepperell said to her niece, 'What an
intolerable woman!'

'She doesn't mean it,' said Althea feebly.

'Perhaps not,' said Aunt Julia; 'but I intend that she shall see what I
mean.'

Althea's feeling was of mingled discomfort and satisfaction. Her
sympathies were with Aunt Julia, yet she felt a little guilty towards
Miss Buckston, for whom her affection was indeed wavering. Inner loyalty
having failed she did not wish outer loyalty to be suspected, and in all
the combats that took place she kept in the background and only hoped to
see Aunt Julia worst Miss Buckston. But the trouble was that Aunt Julia
never did worst her. Even when, passing beyond the bounds of what she
considered decency, she became nearly as outspoken as Miss Buckston,
that lady maintained her air of cheerful yet impatient tolerance. She
continued to tell them that the American wife and mother was the most
narrow, the most selfish, the most complacent of all wives and mothers;
and, indeed, to Miss Buckston's vigorous virginity, all wives and
mothers, though sociologically necessary, belonged to a slightly
inferior, more rudimentary species. The American variety, she said, were
immersed in mere domesticity or social schemes and squabbles. 'Oh, they
talked. I never heard so much talk in all my life as when I was over
there,' said Miss Buckston; 'but I couldn't see that they got anything
done with it. They had debates about health, and yet one could hardly
for love or money get a window open in a train; and they had debates on
the ethics of citizenship, and yet you are governed by bosses. Voluble
and inefficient creatures, I call them.'

Aunt Julia, conscious of her own honourable career, with its
achievements in enlightened philanthropy and its background of careful
study, heard this with inexpressible ire; but when she was dragged to
the execrable taste of a retaliation, and pointed to the British
countryside matron, as they saw her at Merriston--a creature, said Aunt
Julia, hardly credible in her complacency and narrowness, Miss Buckston
rejoined with an unruffled smile: 'Ah, we'll wake them up. They've good
stuff in them--good, staying stuff; and they do a lot of useful work in
keeping down Radicalism and keeping up the sentiment of our imperial
responsibilities and traditions. They are solid, at all events, not
hollow.' And to this poor Aunt Julia, whose traditions did not allow her
the retort of sheer brutality, could find no answer.

The absurd outcome of the situation was that Althea and Aunt Julia came
to look for succour to the girls. The girls were able--astonishingly so,
to cope with Miss Buckston. In the first place, they found her
inexpressibly funny, and neither Althea nor Aunt Julia quite succeeded
at that; and in the second, they rather liked her; they did not argue
with her, they did not take her seriously for a moment; they only played
buoyantly about her. A few months before, Althea would have been gravely
disturbed by their lack of reverence; she saw it now with guilty
satisfaction. Miss Buckston, among the nets they spread for her, plunged
and floundered like a good-tempered bull--at first with guileless
acquiescence in the game, and then with growing bewilderment. They
flouted gay cloaks before her dizzy eyes, and planted ribboned darts in
her quivering shoulders. Even Althea could not accuse them of
aggressiveness or rudeness. They never put themselves forward; they were
there already. They never twisted the tail of the British lion; they
never squeezed the eagle; they were far too secure under his wings for
that. The bird, indeed, had grown since Althea's youth, and could no
longer be carried about as a hostile trophy. They took it for granted,
gaily and kindly, that America was 'God's country,' and that all others
were schools or playgrounds for her children. They Were filled with a
confident faith in her future and in their own part in making that
future better. And something in the faith was infectious. Even Miss
Buckston felt it. Miss Buckston felt it, indeed, more than Althea, whose
attitude towards her own native land had always been one of affectionate
apology.

'Nice creatures,' said Miss Buckston, 'undisciplined and mannerless as
they are; but that's a failing they share with our younger generation. I
see more hope for your country in that type than in anything else you
can show me. They are solid, and don't ape anything.'

So by degrees a species of friendship grew up between Miss Buckston and
the girls, who said that she was a jolly old thing, and more fun than a
goat, especially when she sang Bach. Mildred and Dorothy sang
exceptionally well and were highly equipped musicians.

Althea could not have said why it was, but this progress to friendliness
between her cousins and Miss Buckston made her feel, as she had felt in
the Paris hotel drawing-room over a month ago, jaded and unsuccessful.
So did the fact that the vicar's eldest son, a handsome young soldier
with a low forehead and' a loud laugh, fell in love with Dorothy. That
young men should fall in love with them was another of the pleasant
things that Mildred and Dorothy took for granted. Their love affairs,
frank and rather infantile, were of a very different calibre from the
earnest passions that Althea had aroused--passions usually initiated by
intellectual sympathy and nourished on introspection and a constant
interchange of serious literature.

It was soon evident that Dorothy, though she and Captain Merton became
the best of friends, had no intention of accepting him. Mrs. Merton, the
vicar's wife, had at first been afraid lest she should, not having then
ascertained what Mrs. Pepperell's fortune might be; but after satisfying
herself on this point by a direct cross-examination of Althea, she was
as much amazed as incensed when her boy told her ruefully that he had
been refused three times. Althea was very indignant when she realised
that Mrs. Merton, bland and determined in her latest London hat, was
trying to find out whether Dorothy was a good enough match for Captain
Merton, and it was pleasant to watch Mrs. Merton's subsequent
discomfiture. At the same time, she felt that to follow in Mildred and
Dorothy's triumphant wake was hardly what she had expected to do at
Merriston House.

Other things, too, were discouraging. Helen had hardly written at all.
She had sent a postcard from Scotland to say that she would have to put
off coming till later in August. She had sent another, in answer to a
long letter of Althea's, in which Gerald had been asked to come with
her, to say that Gerald was yachting, and that she was sure he would
love to come some time in the autumn, if his plans allowed it; and
Althea, on reading this, felt certain that if she counted for little
with Helen, she counted for nothing with Mr. Digby. Whom did she count
with? That was the question that once more assailed her as she saw
herself sink into insignificance beside Mildred and Dorothy. If Mildred
and Dorothy counted for more than she, where was she to look for
response and sympathy? And now, once again, as if in answer to these
dismal questionings, came a steamer letter from Franklin Winslow Kane,
announcing his immediate arrival. Althea had thought very little about
Franklin in these last weeks; her mind had been filled with those
foreground figures that now seemed to have become uncertain and
vanishing. And it was not so much that Franklin came forward as that
there was nothing else to look at; not so much that he counted, as that
to count so much, in every way, for him might almost atone for counting
with no one else. Physically, mentally, morally, Franklin's
appreciations of her were deep; they were implied all through his
letter, which was at once sober and eager. He said that he would stay at
Merriston House for 'just as long as ever she would let him.' Merely to
be near her was to him, separated as he was from her for so much of his
life, an unspeakable boon. Franklin rarely dealt in demonstrative
speeches, but, in this letter, after a half-shy prelude to his own
daring, he went on to say: 'Perhaps, considering how long it's been
since I saw you, you'll let me kiss your beautiful hands when we meet.'

Franklin had only once kissed her beautiful hands, years ago, on the
occasion of her first touched refusal of him. She had severe scruples as
to encouraging, by such graciousness, a person you didn't intend to
marry; but she really thought, thrilling a little as she read the
sentence, that this time, perhaps, Franklin might. Franklin himself
never thrilled her; but the words he wrote renewed in her suddenly a
happy self-confidence. Who, after all, was Franklin's superior in
insight? Wrapped in the garment of his affection, could she not see with
equanimity Helen's vagueness and Gerald's indifference? Why, when one
came to look at it from the point of view of the soul, wasn't Franklin
their superior in every way? It needed some moral effort to brace
herself to the inquiry. She couldn't deny that Franklin hadn't their
charm; but charm was a very superficial thing compared to moral beauty.

Althea could not have faced the perturbing fact that charm, to her,
counted for more than goodness. She clung to her ethical valuations of
life, feeling, instinctively, that only in this category lay her own
significance. To abandon the obvious weights and measures was to find
herself buffeted and astray in a chaotic and menacing universe. Goodness
was her guide, and she could cling to it if the enchanting
will-o'-the-wisp did not float into sight to beckon and bewilder her.
She indignantly repudiated the conception of a social order founded on
charm rather than on solid worth; yet, like other frail mortals, she
found herself following what allured her nature rather than what
responded to the neatly tabulated theories of her mind. It was her
beliefs and her instincts that couldn't be made to tally, and in her
refusal to see that they did not tally lay her danger, as now, when with
an artificially simplified attitude she waited eagerly for the coming of
somebody who would restore to her her own sense of significance.

Franklin Winslow Kane arrived late one afternoon, and Althea arranged
that she should greet him alone. Miss Buckston, Aunt Julia, the girls,
and Herbert Vaughan had driven over to a neighbouring garden-party, and
Althea alleged the arrival of her old friend as a very valid excuse. She
walked up and down the drawing-room, dressed in one of her prettiest
dresses; the soft warmth and light of the low sun filled the air, and
her heart expanded with it. She wondered if--ah, if only!--Franklin
would himself be able to thrill her, and her deep expectation almost
amounted to a thrill. Expectation culminated in a wave of excitement and
emotion as the door opened and her faithful lover stood before her.

Franklin Winslow Kane (he signed himself more expeditiously as Franklin
W. Kane) was a small, lean man. He had an air of tension, constant, yet
under such perfect control, that it counted as placidity rather than as
strain. His face was sallow and clean-shaven, and the features seemed
neatly drawn on a flat surface rather than modelled, so discreet and so
meagre were the sallies and shadows. His lips were calm and firmly
closed, and had always the appearance of smiling; of his eyes one felt
the bright, benignant beam rather than the shape or colour. His straight
stiff hair was shorn in rather odd and rather ugly lines along his
forehead and temples, and of his clothes the kindest thing to say was
that they were unobtrusive. Franklin had once said of himself, with
comic dispassionateness, that he looked like a cheap cigar, and the
comparison was apt. He seemed to have been dried, pressed, and moulded,
neatly and expeditiously, by some mechanical process that turned out
thousands more just like him. A great many things, during this process,
had been done to him, but they were commonplace, though complicated
things, and they left him, while curiously finished, curiously
undifferentiated. The hurrying streets of any large town in his native
land would, one felt, be full of others like him: good-tempered, shrewd,
alert, yet with an air of placidity, too, as though it were a world that
required effort and vigilance of one, and yet, these conditions
fulfilled, would always justify one's expectations. If differences there
were in Franklin Kane, they were to be sought for, they did not present
themselves; and he himself would have been the last to be conscious of
them. He didn't think of himself as differentiated; he didn't desire
differentiation.

He advanced now towards his beloved, after a slight hesitation, for the
sunlight in which she stood as well as her own radiant appearance seemed
to have dazzled him a little. Althea held out her hands, and the tears
came into her eyes; it was as if she hadn't known, until then, how
lonely she was. 'O Franklin, I'm so glad to see you,' she said.

He held her hands, gazing at her with a gentle yet intent rapture, and
he forgot, in a daring greater than any he had ever known, to kiss them.
Franklin never took anything for granted, and Althea knew that it was
because he saw her tears and saw her emotion that he could ask her now,
hesitatingly, yet with sudden confidence: 'Althea, it's been so
long--you are so lovely--it will mean nothing to you, I know; so may I
kiss you?'

Put like that, why shouldn't he? Conscience had not a qualm, and
Franklin had never seemed so dear to her. She smiled a sisterly benison
upon his request, and, still holding her hands, he leaned to her and
kissed her. Closing her eyes she wondered intently for a moment, able,
in the midst of her motion, to analyse it; for, yes, it had thrilled
her. She needed to be kissed, were it only Franklin who kissed her.

They went, hand in hand, to a sofa, and there she was able to show him
only the sisterly benignity that he knew so well. She questioned him
sweetly about his voyage, his health, his relatives--his only near
relative was a sister who taught in a college--and about their mutual
friends and his work. To all he replied carefully and calmly, though
looking at her delightedly while he spoke. He had a very deliberate,
even way of speaking, and in certain words so broadened the a's that,
almost doubled in length by this treatment, they sounded like little
bleats. His 'yes' was on two notes and became a dissyllable.

After he had answered all her questions he took up the thread himself.
He had tactfully relinquished her hand at a certain moment in her talk.
Althea well remembered his sensitiveness to any slightest mood in
herself; he was wonderfully imaginative when it came to any human
relation. He did not wait for her to feel consciously that it was not
quite fitting that her hand should be held for so long.

'This is a nice old place you've got, Althea,' he said, looking about.
'Homelike and welcoming. I liked the look of it as I drove up. Have you
a lot of English people with you?'

'Only one; Miss Buckston, you know. Aunt Julia and the girls are here,
and Herbert Vaughan, their friend. You know Herbert Vaughan; such a nice
young creature; his mother is a Bostonian.'

'I know about him; I don't know him,' said Franklin, who indeed, as she
reflected, would not be likely to have met the fashionable Herbert. 'And
where is that attractive new friend of yours you wrote to me about--the
one you took care of in Paris--the Scotch lady?'

'Helen Buchanan? She is coming; she is in Scotland now.'

'Oh, she's coming. I am to see her, I hope.'

'You are to see everybody, dear Franklin,' said Althea, smiling upon
him. 'You are to stay, you know, for as long as you will.'

'That's sweet of you, Althea.' He looked at her. Her kindness still
buoyed him above his wonted level. He had never allowed himself to
become utterly hopeless, yet he had become almost resigned to hope
deferred; a pressing, present hope grew in him now. 'But it's ambiguous,
you know,' he went on, smiling back. 'If I'm to stay as long as I will,
I'm never to leave you, you know.'

Hope was becoming to Franklin. Althea felt herself colouring a little
under his eyes. 'You still feel that?' she said rather feebly.

'I'll always feel that.'

'It's very wonderful of you, Franklin. It makes me, sometimes, feel
guilty, as though I kept you from fuller happiness.'

'You can't do that. You are the only person who can give me fuller
happiness.'

'And I give you happiness, like this--even like this?--really?'

'Of course; but,' he smiled a little forcedly, 'I can't pretend it's
anything like what I want. I want a great deal.'

Althea's eyes fell before the intent and gentle gaze.

'Dear Franklin--I wish----'

'You wish you could? I wonder--I wonder, Althea, if you feel a little
nearer to it just now. I seem to feel, myself, that you are.'

Was she? How she wished she were. Yet the wish was mixed with fear. She
said, faltering, 'Don't ask me now. I'm so glad to see you--so glad; but
that's not the same thing, is it?'

'It may be on the way to it.'

'May it?' she sighed tremblingly.

There was a silence; and then, taking her hand again, he again kissed
it, and holding it for an insistent moment said, 'Althea, won't you try
being engaged to me?'

She said nothing, turning away her face.

'You might make a habit of loving me, you know,' he went on half
whimsically. 'No one would know anything about it. It would be our
secret, our little experiment. If only you'd try it. Dearest, I do love
you so deeply.'

And then--how it was she did not know, but it was again Franklin's words
rather than Franklin that moved her, so that he must have seen the
yielding to his love, if not to him, in her face--she was in his arms,
and he was kissing her and saying, 'O Althea, won't you try?'

Althea's mind whirled. She needed to be kissed; that alone was evident;
for she did not draw away; but the tears came, of perplexity and pathos,
and she said, 'Franklin, dear Franklin, I'll try--I mean, I'll try to be
in love with you--I can't be engaged, not really engaged--but I will
try.'

'Darling--you are nearer it----'

'Yes--I don't know, Franklin--I mustn't bind myself. I can't marry you
unless I am in love with you--can I, Franklin?'

'Well, I don't know about that,' said Franklin, his voice a little
shaken. 'You can't expect me to give you an impartial answer to that
now--can you, dear? I feel as if I wanted you to marry me on the chance
you'd come to love me. And you do care for me enough for this, don't
you? That in itself is such an incredible gift.'

Yes, she evidently cared for him enough for this; and 'this' meant his
arm about her, her hand in his, his eyes of devotion upon her, centre of
his universe as she was. And 'this' had, after years of formality,
incredibly indeed altered all their relation. But--to marry him--it
meant all sorts of other things; it meant definitely giving up; it meant
definitely taking on. What it meant taking on was Franklin's
raylessness, Franklin's obscurity, Franklin's dun-colour--could a wife
escape the infection? What it meant giving up was more vague, but it
floated before her as the rose-coloured dream of her youth--the hero,
the earnest, ardent hero, who was to light all life to rapture and
significance. And, absurdly, while the drift of glamour and regret
floated by, and while she sat with Franklin's arm about her, her hand in
his, it seemed to shape itself for a moment into the gay, irresponsible
face of Gerald Digby. Absurd, indeed; he was neither earnest nor ardent,
and if he were he would never feel earnestness or ardour on her account.
Franklin certainly responded, in that respect, to the requirements of
her dream. Yet--ah, yet--he responded in no other. It was not enough to
have eyes only for her. A hero should draw others' eyes upon him; should
have rays that others could recognise. Althea was troubled, and she was
also ashamed of herself, but whether because of that vision of Gerald
Digby, or whether because she was allowing Franklin privileges never
allowed before, she did not know. Only the profundity of reverence that
beamed upon her from Franklin's eyes enabled her to regain her
self-respect.

Smiling a little constrainedly, she drew her hand from his and rose. 'I
mustn't bind myself,' she repeated, standing with downcast eyes before
him, 'but I'll try; indeed, I'll try.'

'You want to be in love with me, if only you can manage it, don't you,
dear?' he questioned; and to this she could truthfully reply, 'Yes, dear
Franklin, I want to be in love with you.'




CHAPTER X.


Althea found, as she had hoped, that her whole situation was altered by
the arrival of her suitor. A woman boasting the possession of even the
most rayless of that species is in a very different category from the
woman as mere unsought unit. As unit she sinks easily into the
background, is merged with other unemphatic things, but as sought she is
always in the foreground, not only in her own, but in others' eyes. Be
she ever so unnoticeable, she then gains, at least, the compliment of
conjecture. The significance of her personal drama has a universal
interest; the issues of her situation are those that appeal forcibly to
all.

Althea and her steady, sallow satellite, became the centre of a watchful
circle; watchful and kindly. Even to others her charms became more
apparent, as, indeed, they were more actual. To be loved and to live in
the presence of the adorer is the most beautifying of circumstances.
Althea bloomed under it. Her eyes became larger, sweeter, sadder; her
lips softer; the mild fever of her indecision and of her sense of power
burned dimly in her cheeks. As the centre of watchfulness she gained the
grace of self-confidence.

Aunt Julia, observant and shrewd, smiled with half-ironic satisfaction.
She had felt sure that Althea must come to this, and 'this,' she
considered as on the whole fortunate for Althea. Anything, Aunt Julia
thought, was better than to become a wandering old maid, and she had,
moreover, the highest respect for Franklin Winslow Kane. As a suitor for
one of her own girls he would, of course, have been impossible; but her
girls she placed in a different category from Althea; they had the
rights of youth, charm, and beauty.

The girls, for their part, though seeing Franklin as a fair object for
chaff, conceived of him as wholly suitable. Though they chaffed him,
they never did so to his disadvantage, and they were respectful
spectators of his enterprise. They had the nicest sense of loyalty for
serious situations.

And Miss Buckston was of all the most satisfactory in her attitude. Her
contempt for the disillusions and impediments of marriage could not
prevent her from feeling an altogether new regard for a person to whom
marriage was so obviously open; moreover, she thought Mr. Kane highly
interesting. She at once informed Althea that she always found American
men vastly the superior in achievement and energy to the much-vaunted
American woman, and Althea was not displeased. She was amused but
gratified, when Miss Buckston told her what were Franklin's good
qualities, and said that though he had many foolish democratic notions,
he was more worth while talking to than any man she had met for a long
time. She took every opportunity for talking to him about sociology,
science, and international themes, and Althea even became a little irked
by the frequency of these colloquies and tempted sometimes to withdraw
Franklin from them; but the subtle flattery that Miss Buckston's
interest in Franklin offered to herself was too acceptable for her to
yield to such impulses. Yes, Franklin had a right to his air of careful
elation; she had never been so near it. She had not again allowed him to
kiss her--she was still rather ashamed when she remembered how often she
had, on that one occasion, allowed him to kiss her; yet, in spite of her
swift stepping back to discretion, she had never in all her life been so
near to saying 'yes' to Franklin as during the eight or ten days after
his arrival. And the fact that a third postcard from Helen expressed
even further vagueness as to the chance of Gerald's being able to be
with them that autumn at Merriston, added to the sense of inevitability.
Althea had been for this time so absorbed in Franklin, his effect on
others and on herself, that she had not felt, as she would otherwise
have done, Helen's unsatisfactory attitude. Helen was at last coming,
and she was fluttered at the thought of her coming, but she was far more
able to cope with Helen; there was more self to do it with; she was
stronger, more independent of Helen's opinion and of Helen's affection.
But dimly she felt also--hardly aware she felt it--that she was a more
effective self as the undecided recipient of Franklin's devotion than as
his affianced wife. A rayless person, it seemed, could crown one with
beams as long as one maintained one's distance from him; merged with him
one shared his insignificance. To accept Franklin might be to shear them
both of all the radiance they borrowed from each other.

Helen arrived on a very hot evening in mid-August. She had lost the best
train, which brought one to Merriston at tea-time--Althea felt that
Helen was the sort of person who would always lose the best train--and
after a tedious journey, with waits and changes at hot stations, she
received her friend's kisses just as the dressing-bell for dinner
sounded. Helen, standing among her boxes, while Amelie hurriedly got out
her evening things, looked extremely tired, and felt, Althea was sure,
extremely ill-tempered. It was characteristic of Helen, she knew it
intuitively, to feel ill-temper, and yet to have it so perfectly under
control that it made her manner sweeter than usual. Her sense of social
duty never failed her, and it did not in the least fail her now as she
smiled at Althea, and, while she drank the cup of tea that had been
brought to her, gave an account of her misfortunes. She had arrived in
London from Scotland the night before, spent two hours of the morning in
frantic shopping--the shops like ovens and the London pavements exhaling
a torrid heat; had found, on getting back to Aunt Grizel's--Aunt Grizel
was away--that the silly maid had muddled all her packing; then, late
already, had hurled herself into a cab, and observed, half-way to the
station, that the horse was on the point of collapse; had changed cabs
and had arrived at the station to see her train just going out. 'So
there I paced up and down like a caged, suffocating lioness for over an
hour, had a loathsome lunch, and read half a dozen papers before my
train started, I came third class with a weary mother and two babies,
the sun beat in all the way, and I had three changes. I'm hardly fit to
be seen, and not fit to speak. But, yes, I'll have a bath and come down
in time for something to eat. I'd rather come down; please don't wait
for me.'

They did, however, and she was very late. The windows in the
drawing-room were widely open to the evening air, and the lamps had not
yet been lit; and when Helen came she made Althea think a little of a
beautiful grey moth, hovering vaguely in the dusk.

Captain Merton dined with them that evening, and young Harry Evans, son
of a neighbouring squire; and Herbert Vaughan was still at Merriston,
the masculine equivalent of Mildred and Dorothy, an exquisitely
appointed youth, frank and boisterous, with charming, candid eyes, and
the figure of an Adonis. These young men's eyes were fixed upon Helen as
they took their places at the dinner-table, though not altogether,
Althea perceived, with admiration. Helen, wherever she was, would always
be centre; things and people grouped themselves about her; she made the
picture, and she was the focus of interest. Why was it? Althea wondered,
as, with almost a mother's wistful pleasure, she watched her friend and
watched the others watch her. Pale, jaded, in her thin grey dress,
haggard and hardly beautiful, Helen was full of apathetic power, and
Helen was interested in nobody. It was Althea's pride to trace out
reasons and to see in what Helen's subjugating quality consisted.
Franklin had taken Helen in, and she herself sat at some distance from
them, her heart beating fast as she wondered what Helen would think of
him. She could not hear what they said, but she could see that they
talked, though not eagerly. Helen had, as usual, the air of giving her
attention to anything put before her. One never could tell in the least
what she really thought of it. She smiled with pale lips and weary eyes
upon Franklin, listened to him gravely and with concentration, and, when
she did speak, it was, once or twice, with gaiety, as though he had
amused and surprised her. Yet Althea felt that her thoughts were far
from Franklin, far from everybody in the room. And meanwhile, of
everybody in the room, it was the lean, sallow young man beside her who
seemed at once the least impressed and the most interested. But that was
so like Franklin; no one could outdo him in interest, and no one could
outdo him in placidity. That he could examine Helen with his calm,
careful eye, as though she were an object for mental and moral
appraisement only; that he could see her so acutely, and yet remain so
unmoved by her rarity, at once pleased and displeased Althea. It showed
him as so safe, but it showed him as so narrow. She found herself
thinking almost impatiently that Franklin simply had no sense of charm
at all. Helen interested him, but she did not stir in him the least
wistfulness or wonder, as charm should do. Miss Buckston interested him,
too. And she was very sure that Franklin while liking Helen as a human
creature--so he liked Miss Buckston--disapproved of her as a type. Of
course, he must disapprove of her. Didn't she contradict all the things
he approved of--all the laboriousness, the earnestness, the tolerant
bias towards the views and feelings of the majority? And Althea felt,
with a rather sharp satisfaction, that it would give her some pleasure
to show Franklin that she differed from him; that she had other tastes
than his, other needs--needs which Helen more than satisfied.

She had no opportunity that night for fathoming Helen's impressions of
Franklin, and indeed felt that the task was a delicate one to undertake.
If Helen didn't volunteer them she could hardly ask for them. Loyalty to
Franklin and to the old bond between them, to say nothing of the new,
made it unfit that Helen should know that her impressions of Franklin
were of any weight with her friend. But the next morning Helen did not
come down to breakfast, and there was no reason why, in a stroll round
the garden with Franklin afterwards, she should not be point blank; the
only unfairness here was that in his opinion of Helen it would not be
Helen he judged, but himself.

'How do you like her, my new friend?' she asked.

Franklin was very willing to talk and had already clear impressions. The
clearest was the one he put at once before her in the vernacular he had
never taken the least pains to modify. 'She looks sick; I'd be worried
about her if I were you. Can't you rouse her?'

'Rouse her? She is always like that. Only she was particularly tired
last night.'

'A healthy young woman oughtn't to get so tired. If she's always like
that she always needs rousing.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Franklin. What do you mean?'

'Why, I'm perfectly serious. I think she looks sick. She ought to take
tonics and a lot of outdoor exercise.'

'Is that all that you can find to say about her?' Althea asked, half
amused and half indignant.

'Why no,' Franklin replied. 'I think she's very attractive; she has a
great deal of poise. Only she's half alive. I'd like to see her doing
something.'

'It's enough for her to be, I think.'

'Enough for you, perhaps; but is it enough for her? She'd be a mighty
lot happier if she had some work.'

'Really, Franklin, you are absurd,' said Althea laughing. 'There is room
in the world, thank goodness, for other people besides people who work.'

'Oh no, there isn't; not really. The trouble with the world is that
they're here and have to be taken care of; there's not room for them.
It's lovely of you to care so much about her,' he went on, turning his
bright gaze upon her. 'I see how you care for her. It's because of
that--for her sake, you know--what it can mean to her--that I emphasise
the side that needs looking after. You look after her, Althea; that'll
be the best thing that can happen to her.'

With all his acuteness, how guileless he was, the dear! She saw herself
'looking after' Helen!

'You might have a great deal of influence on her,' Franklin added.

Althea struggled for a moment with her pride. She liked Franklin to have
this high opinion of her ministering powers, and yet she liked even more
to have the comfort of confiding in him; and she was willing to add to
Helen's impressiveness at the expense of her own. 'I've no influence
with her,' she said. 'I never shall have. I don't believe that any one
could influence Helen.'

Franklin looked fixedly at her for some time as though probing what
there must be of pain for her in this avowal. Then he said, 'That's too
bad. Too bad for her, I mean. You're all right, dear. She doesn't know
what she misses.'

They sat out on the lawn that afternoon in the shade of the great trees.
Mildred and Dorothy, glittering in white, played lawn-tennis
indefatigably with Herbert Vaughan and Captain Merton. Aunt Julia
embroidered, and Miss Buckston read a review with a concentrated brow
and an occasional ejaculation of disapproval. Helen was lying prone in a
green linen chair; her garden hat was bent over her eyes and she seemed
to doze. Franklin sat on the grass in front of Althea, just outside the
radius of shadow, clasping his thin knees with his thin hands. He looked
at his worst out of doors, on a lawn and under trees. He was typically
civic. Even with his attempts to adapt his clothes to rural
requirements, he was out of place. His shoes seemed to demand a
pavement, and his thin grey coat and trousers an office stool. Althea
also eyed his tie with uncertainty. He wasn't right; he didn't in the
least look like Herbert Vaughan, who was elegant, or like Captain
Merton, who was easy. He sat out in the sunlight, undisturbed by it,
though he screwed up his features in a very unbecoming way while he
talked, the sun in his eyes. In her cool green shadow, Helen now and
then opened her eyes and looked at him, and Althea wished that he would
not remain in so resolutely disadvantageous a situation.

'See here, Althea,' he was saying, 'if you've gone so much into this
matter'--the topic was that of sweated industries--'I don't see how you
can avoid feeling responsible--making some use of all you know. I don't
ask you to come home to do it, though we need you and your kind badly
there, but you ought to lend a hand here.'

'I don't really think I could be of any use,' said Althea.

'With all your knowledge of political economy? Why, Miss Buckston could
set you to something at once. Knowledge is always of use, isn't it, Miss
Buckston?'

'Yes, if one cares enough about things to put them through,' said Miss
Buckston. 'I always tell Althea that she might make herself very useful
to me.'

'Exactly,' said Franklin. 'And she does care. All you need do, Althea,
is to harness yourself. You mustn't drift.'

'The number of drifting American women one sees over here!' Miss
Buckston ejaculated; to which Franklin cheerfully replied: 'Oh, we'll
work them all in; they are of use to us in their own way, though they
often don't know it. They are learning a lot; they are getting equipped.
The country will get the good of it some day. Look at Althea, for
instance. You might say she drifted, but she's been a hard scholar; I
know it; all she needs now is to get harnessed.'

It was not lover-like talk; yet what talk, in its very impartiality,
could from a lover be more gratifying? Althea again glanced at Helen,
but Helen again seemed to slumber. Her face in repose had a look of
discontent and sorrow, and Franklin's eyes, following her own, no doubt
recognised what she did. He observed Helen for some moments before
returning to the theme of efficiency.

It was a little later on that Althea's opportunity--and crisis--came.
Aunt Julia had gone in and Miss Buckston suggested to Franklin that he
should take a turn with her before tea. Franklin got up at once and
walked away beside her, and Althea knew that his alacrity was the
greater because he felt that by going with Miss Buckston he left her
alone with her cherished friend. As he and Miss Buckston disappeared in
the shrubberies, Helen opened her eyes and looked at them.

'How do you like Miss Buckston now that you see her at closer quarters?'
Althea asked, hoping to approach the subject that preoccupied her by a
circuitous method.

Helen smiled. 'One hardly likes her better at closer quarters, does one?
She is like a gun going off every few moments.'

Althea smiled too; she no longer felt many qualms of loyalty on Miss
Buckston's behalf.

Helen said no more, and the subject was still unapproached. 'And how do
you like Mr. Kane?' Althea now felt herself forced to add.

She had not intended to use that casual tone, nearly the same tone that
she had used for Miss Buckston. But she had a dimly apprehended and
strongly felt wish not to forestall any verdict of Helen's; to make sure
that Helen should have an open field for pronouncing her verdict
candidly. Yet she was hardly prepared for the candour of Helen's reply,
though in the shock that attended it she knew in a moment that she had
brought it upon herself. One didn't question people about one's near
friends in that casual tone.

'Funny little man,' said Helen.

After the shock of it--her worst suspicions confirmed--it was a deep
qualm that Althea felt, a qualm in which she knew that something
definite and final had happened to her; something sharp yet vague, all
blurred by the balmy softness of the day, the sense of physical
well-being, the beauty of green branches and bays of deep blue sky
above. It was difficult to know, for a moment, just what had happened,
for it was not as if she had ever definitely told herself that she
intended to marry Franklin. The clearest contrast between the moment of
revelation and that which had gone before lay in the fact that not until
Helen spoke those idle, innocent words had she ever definitely told
herself that she could never marry him. And there was a pang in the
knowledge, and with it a drowsy lassitude, as of relief and certainty.
The reason now was there; it gazed at her. Not that she couldn't have
seen it for herself, but pity, loneliness, the craving for love had
blinded her. Franklin was a funny little man, and that was why she could
not marry him. And now, with the lassitude, the relief from long
tension, came a feeling of cold and sickness.

Helen, baleful in her unconsciousness, had again closed her eyes. Althea
looked at her, and she was aware of being angry with Helen. She was
further aware that, since all was over for Franklin, she owed him
something. She owed it to him at least to make clear to Helen that she
didn't place him with Miss Buckston.

'Yes,' she said, 'Franklin is funny in his way. He is very quaint and
original and simple; but he is a dear, too, you know.'

Helen did not open her eyes. 'I'm sure he is,' she acquiesced. Her
placid acceptance of whatever interpretation of Mr. Kane Althea should
choose to set before her, made Althea still angrier--with herself and
with Helen.

'He is quite a noted scientist,' she went on, keeping her voice smooth,
'and has a very interesting new theory about atoms that's exciting a
good deal of attention.'

Her voice was too successful; Helen still suspected nothing. 'Yes,' she
said. 'Really.'

'You mustn't judge him from his appearance,' said Althea, smiling, for
Helen had now opened her eyes and was looking dreamily at the
lawn-tennis players.' His clothes are odd, of course; he doesn't know
how to dress; but his eyes are fine; one sees the thinker in them.' She
hoped by sacrificing Franklin's clothes to elicit some appreciation of
his eyes. But Helen merely acquiesced again with: 'Yes; he doesn't know
how to dress.'

'He isn't at all well off, you know,' said Althea. 'Indeed, he is quite
poor. He spends most of his money on research and philanthropy.'

'Ah, well!' Helen commented, 'it's extraordinary how little difference
money makes if a man knows how to dress.'

The thought of Gerald Digby went like a dart through Althea's mind. He
was poor. She remembered his socks and ties, his general rightness. She
wondered how much he spent on his clothes. She was silent for a moment,
struggling with her trivial and with her deep discomfitures, and she
saw the figures of Miss Buckston and of Franklin--both so funny, both so
earnest--appear at the farther edge of the lawn engaged in strenuous
converse. Helen looked at them too, kindly and indifferently. 'That
would be quite an appropriate attachment, wouldn't it?' she remarked.
'They seem very much interested in each other, those two.'

Althea grew very red. Her mind knew a horrid wrench. She did not know
whether it was in pride of possessorship, or shame of it, or merely in
helpless loyalty that, after a pause, she said: 'Perhaps I ought to have
told you, Helen, that Franklin has wanted to marry me for fifteen years.
I've no intention of accepting him; but no one can judge as I can of how
big and dear a person he is--in spite of his funniness.' As she spoke
she remembered--it was with a gush of undiluted dismay--that to Helen
she had in Paris spoken of the 'delightful' suitor, the 'only one.' Did
Helen remember? And how could Helen connect that delightful 'one' with
Franklin, and with her own attitude towards Franklin?

But Helen now had turned her eyes upon her, opening them--it always
seemed to be with difficulty that she did it--widely. 'My dear,' she
said, 'I do beg your pardon. You never gave me a hint.'

How, indeed, could the Paris memory have been one?

'There wasn't any hint to give, exactly,' said Althea, blushing more
deeply and trying to prevent the tears from rising. 'I'm not in the
least in love with Franklin. I never shall be.'

'No, of course not,' Helen replied, full of solicitude. 'Only, as you
say, you must know him so well;--to have him talked over, quite idly and
ignorantly, as I've been talking.--Really, you ought to have stopped
me.'

'There was no reason for stopping you. I can see Franklin with perfect
detachment. I see him just as you do, only I see so much more. His
devotion to me is a rare thing; it has always made me feel unworthy.'

'Dear me, yes. Fifteen years, you say; it's quite extraordinary,' said
Helen.

To Althea it seemed that Helen's candour was merciless, and revealed her
to herself as uncandid, crooked, and devious. It was with a stronger
wish than ever to atone to Franklin that she persisted: '_He_ is
extraordinary; that's what I mean about him. I am devoted to him. And my
consolation is that since I can't give him love he finds my friendship
the next best thing in life.'

'Really?' Helen repeated. She was silent then, evidently not considering
herself privileged to ask questions; and the silence was fraught for
Althea with keenest discomfort. It was only after a long pause that at
last, tentatively and delicately, as though she guessed that Althea
perhaps was resenting something, and perhaps wanted her to ask
questions, Helen said: 'And--you don't think you can ever take him?'

'My dear Helen! How can you ask me? He isn't a man to fall in love with,
is he?'

'No, certainly not,' said Helen, smiling a little constrainedly, as
though her friend's vehemence struck her as slightly excessive. 'But he
might, from what you tell me, be a man to marry.'

'I couldn't marry a man I was not in love with.'

'Not if he were sufficiently in love with you? Such faithful and devoted
people are rare.'

'You know, Helen, that, however faithful and devoted he were, you
couldn't fancy yourself marrying Franklin.'

Helen, at this turning of the tables, looked slightly disconcerted.
'Well, as you say, I hardly know him,' she suggested.

'However well you knew him, you do know that under no circumstances
could you marry him.'

'No, I suppose not.'

Her look of readjustment was inflicting further and subtler wounds.

'Can't I feel in the same way?' said Althea.

Helen, a little troubled by the feeling she could not interpret in her
friend's voice, hesitated before saying--as though in atonement to Mr.
Kane she felt bound to put his case as favourably as possible: 'It
doesn't quite follow, does it, that somebody who would suit you would
suit me? We are so different, aren't we?'

'Different? How?'

'Well, I could put up with a very inferior, frivolous sort of person.
You'd have higher ideas altogether.'

Althea still tried to smile. 'You mean that Franklin is too high an idea
for you?'

'Far, far too high,' said Helen, smiling back.

Franklin and Miss Buckston were now approaching them, and Althea had to
accept this ambiguous result of the conversation. One result, however,
was not ambiguous. She seemed to see Franklin, as he came towards her
over the thick sward, in a new light, a light that diminished and
removed him; so that while her heart ached over him as it had never
ached, it yet, strangely, was hardened towards him, and almost hostile.
How had she not seen for herself, clearly and finally, that she and
Helen were alike, and that whether it was that Franklin was too high, or
whether it was that Franklin was merely funny--for either or for both
reasons, Franklin could never be for her.

Her heart was hard and aching; but above everything else one hot feeling
pulsed: Helen should not have said that he was funny and then glided to
the point where she left him as too high for herself, yet not too high
for her friend. She should not have withdrawn from her friend and
stranded her with Franklin Winslow Kane.




CHAPTER XI.


In the course of the next few days Miss Buckston went back to her Surrey
cottage, and two friends of Helen's arrived. Helen was fulfilling her
promise of giving Althea all the people she wanted. Lady Pickering was
widowed, young, coquettish, and pretty; Sir Charles Brewster a lively
young bachelor with high eyebrows, upturned tips to his moustache, and
an air of surprise and competence. They made great friends at once with
Mildred, Dorothy and Herbert Vaughan, who shared in all Sir Charles's
hunting and yachting interests. Lady Pickering, after a day of tennis
and flirtation, would drift at night into Dorothy and Mildred's rooms to
talk of dresses, and for some days wore her hair tied in a large black
bow behind, reverting, however, to her usual dishevelled
picturesqueness. 'One needs to look as innocent as a pony to have that
bow really suit one,' she said.

Althea, in this accession of new life, again felt relegated to the
background. Helen did not join in the revels, but there was no air of
being relegated about her; she might have been the jaded and kindly
queen before whom they were enacted. 'Dear Helen,' said Lady Pickering
to Mildred and Althea, 'I can see that she's down on her luck and very
bored with life. But it's always nice having her about, isn't it? Always
nice to have her to look at.'

Althea felt that her guests found no such decorative uses for herself,
and that they took it for granted that, with a suitor to engage her
attention, she would be quite satisfied to remain outside, even if
above, the gayer circle. She could not deny that her acceptance of
Franklin's devotion before Helen's arrival, their air of happy
withdrawal--a withdrawal that had then made them conspicuous, not
negligible--absolutely justified her guests in their over-tactfulness.
They still took it for granted that she and Franklin wanted to be alone
together; they still left them in an isolation almost bridal; but now
Althea did not want to be left alone with Franklin, and above all wished
to detach herself from any bridal association; and she tormented herself
with accusations concerning her former graciousness, responsible as it
was for her present discomfort. She knew that she was very fond of dear
Franklin, and that she always would be fond of him, but, with these
accusations crowding thickly upon her, she was ill at ease and unhappy
in his presence. What could she say to Franklin? 'I did, indeed, deceive
myself into thinking that I might be able to marry you, and I let you
see that I thought it; and then my friend's chance words showed me that
I never could. What am I to think of myself, Franklin? And what can you
think of me?' For though she could no longer feel pride in Franklin's
love; though it had ceased, since Helen's words, to have any decorative
value in her eyes, its practical value was still great; she could not
think of herself as not loved by Franklin. Her world would have rocked
without that foundation beneath it; and the fear that Franklin might,
reading her perplexed, unstable heart, feel her a person no longer to be
loved, was now an added complication.

'O Franklin, dear Franklin!' she said to him suddenly one day, turning
upon him eyes enlarged by tears, 'I feel as if I were guilty towards
you.'

She almost longed to put her head on his shoulder, to pour out all her
grief, and be understood and comforted. Franklin had not been slow to
recognise the change in his beloved's attitude towards him. He had shown
no sign of grievance or reproach; he seemed quite prepared for her
reaction from the moment of only dubious hope, and, though quite without
humility, to find it natural, however painful to himself, that Althea
should be rather bored after so much of him. But the gentle lighting of
his face now showed her, too, that her reticence and withdrawal had hurt
more than the new loss of hope.

'You mean,' he said, trying to smile a little as he said it, 'you mean
that you've found out that you can't, dear?'

She stood, stricken by the words and their finality, and she slowly
nodded, while two large tears rolled down her cheeks.

Franklin Kane controlled the signs of his own emotion, which was deep.
'That's all right, dear,' he said. 'You're not guilty of anything.
You've been a little too kind--more than you can keep up, I mean. It's
been beautiful of you to be kind at all and to think you might be
kinder. Would you rather I went away? Perhaps it's painful to have me
about just now. I've got a good many places I can go to while I'm over
here, you know. You mustn't have me on your mind.'

'O Franklin!' Althea almost sobbed; 'you are an angel. Of course I want
you to stay for as long as you will; of course I love to have you here.'
He was an angel, indeed, she felt, and another dart of hostility towards
Helen went through her--Helen, cynical, unspiritual, blind to angels.

So Franklin stayed on, and the next day another guest arrived. It was at
breakfast that Althea found at her place a little note from Gerald Digby
asking her very prettily if she could take him in that evening. He was
in town and would start at once if she could wire that he might come.
Althea controlled, as best she could, her shock of delight. He had,
then, intended to come; he had not forgotten all about her. Even if she
counted only in his memory as tenant, it was good, she felt it
helplessly and blissfully, to count in any way with Gerald Digby. She
did not analyse and hardly recognised these sentiments, yet she strongly
felt the need for composure, and it was only with an air of soft
exhilaration that she made the announcement over the table to Helen.
'Isn't it nice, Helen? Mr. Digby is coming this evening.' The soft
exhilaration could not be noticeable, for everybody seemed in some
degree to share it.

'Dear Gerald, how delightful!' said Lady Pickering, with, to Althea's
consciousness, too much an air of possessorship. 'Gerald is a splendid
actor, Miss Pepperell,' Sir Charles said to Dorothy. 'Miss Buchanan, you
and he must do some of your best parts together.' The girls were full of
expectancy. It was Helen herself who looked least illuminated by the
news; but then, as Althea realised, to Helen Gerald must be the most
matter-of-fact thing in life.

They were all sitting under the trees on the lawn when Gerald arrived;
he had not lost the best train. Every one was in white, except Helen who
wore black, and Franklin who wore grey; every one was lolling on the
grass or extended on chairs, except Aunt Julia, erect and embroidering,
and Althea who was giving her attention to tea. It had just been poured
out when Gerald came strolling over the lawn towards them.

He carried his Panama hat doubled in his hand; he looked exquisitely
cool, and he glanced about him as he came, well pleased, apparently, to
find himself again in his old home. Althea felt his manner of
approaching them to be characteristic; it was at once so desultory and
so pleasant.

'You look like a flock of doves,' he said, as, smiling, he took Althea's
welcoming hand and surveyed the group. 'Hello, Helen, how are you?
Hello, Charlie; and how nice to find you, Frances.'

He was introduced to the others, continuing to smile with marked
approbation, Althea felt, upon Mildred and Dorothy, who certainly looked
charming, and then he dropped on the grass beside Lady Pickering's
chair.

Althea knew that if she looked like a dove, she felt like a very
fluttering one. She was much moved by this welcoming of Mr. Digby to his
home, and she wondered if the quickened beating of her heart manifested
itself in any change of glance or colour. She soon felt, however, as she
distributed teacups and looked about her circle, that if she were
visibly moved Mr. Digby would not be aware of the fact. The fact,
obviously, that he was most aware of was Lady Pickering's presence, and
he was talking to her with a lightness and gaiety that she could
presently only define, for her own discomfort, as flirtation. Althea had
had little experience of flirting, and the little had not been personal.
It had remained for her always a rather tasteless, rather ludicrous
spectacle; yet Mr. Digby's manner of flirting, if flirting it was, was
neither. It was graceful, unemphatic, composed of playful repartee and
merry glances. It was Lady Pickering who overdid her side of the
dialogue and brought to it a significance that Mr. Digby's eyes and
smile disowned even while they evoked it. One of the things of which Mr.
Digby had shown himself most completely unaware was Franklin Kane, who
sat, as usual, just outside the circle in the sun, balancing his tea-cup
on his raised knees and 'Fletcherising' a slice of cake. Gerald had
glanced at him as one might glance--Althea had felt it keenly--at some
nice little insect on one's path, a pleasant insect, but too small to
warrant any attention beyond a casual recognition of type. But Franklin,
who had a casual interest in nobody, was very much aware of the
newcomer, and he gazed attentively at Gerald Digby as he had gazed at
Helen on the first evening of their meeting, with less of interest
perhaps, but with much the same dispassionate intentness; and Althea
felt sure that he already did not approve of Gerald Digby.

She asked Helen that evening, lightly, as Helen had asked an equivalent
question about Franklin and Miss Buckston, whether Mr. Digby and Lady
Pickering were in love; she felt sure that they were not in love, which
made the question easier.

'Oh no; not at all, I fancy,' said Helen.

'I only asked,' said Althea, 'because it seemed the obvious
explanation.'

'You mean their way of flirting.'

'Yes. I suppose I'm not used to flirtation, not to such extreme
flirtation. I don't like it, do you?'

'I don't know that I do; but Gerald is only a flirt through sympathy and
good nature. It's Frances who leads him on; she is a flirt by
temperament.'

'I'm glad of that,' said Althea. 'I'm sure he is too nice to be one by
temperament.'

'After all, it's a very harmless diversion.'

'Do you think it harmless? It pains me to see a sacred thing being
mimicked.'

'I hardly think it's a sacred thing Frances and Gerald are mimicking,'
Helen smiled.

'It's love, isn't it?'

'Love of such a trivial order that I can't feel anything is being taken
in vain.'

Helen was amused, yet touched by her friend's standards. Such distaste
was not unknown to her, and Gerald's sympathetic propensities had caused
her qualms with which she could not have imagined that Althea's had any
analogy. Yet it was not her own taste she was considering that evening
after dinner when, in walking up and down with Gerald on the gravelled
terrace outside the drawing-room, she told him of Althea's standards.
She felt responsible for Gerald, and that she owed it to Althea that he
should not be allowed to displease her. It had struck her more than
once, immersed in self-centred cogitations as she was, that Althea was
altogether too much relegated.

'I wish you and Frances would not go on as you do, Gerald,' she said.
'It disturbs Althea, I am sure. She is not used to seeing people
behaving like that.'

'Behaving?' asked the innocent Gerald. 'How have I been behaving?'

'Very foolishly. You have been flirting, and rather flagrantly, with
Frances, ever since you came.'

'But, my dear, you know perfectly well that one can't talk to Frances
without flirting with her. All conversation becomes flirtation. The most
guileless glance, in meeting her eye, is transmuted, like a straight
stick looking crooked when you put it into water, you know. Frances has
a charmingly deviating quality that I defy the straightest of intentions
to evade.'

'Are yours so straight?'

'Well--she is pretty and pleasant, and perfectly superficial, as you
know. I own that I do rather like to put the stick in the water and see
what happens to it.'

'Well, don't put it in too often before Althea. After all, you are all
of you here because of her friendship with me, and it makes me feel
guilty if I see her having a bad time because of your misbehaviour.'

'A bad time?'

'Really. She takes things hard. She said it was mimicking a sacred
thing.'

'Oh! but, I say, how awfully funny, Helen. You must own that it's
funny.'

'Funny, but sweet, too.'

'She is a sweet creature, of course, one can see that; and her moral
approvals and disapprovals are firmly fixed, however funny; one likes
that in her. I'll try to be good, if Frances will let me. She looked
quite pretty this evening, Miss Jakes; only she dresses too stiffly.
What's the matter? Couldn't you give her a hint? She is like a
satin-box, and a woman ought to be like a flower; ought to look as if
they'd bend if a breeze went over them. Now you can't imagine Miss Jakes
bending; she'd have to stoop.'

Helen, in the darkness, smiled half bitterly, half affectionately.
Gerald's nonsense always pleased her, even when she was most exasperated
with him. She was not exasperated with Gerald in particular just now,
but with everything and everybody, herself included, and the fact that
he liked to flirt flagrantly with Lady Pickering did not move her more
than usual. It was not a particular but a general irritation that edged
her voice a little as she said, drawing her black scarf more closely
round her shoulders, 'Frances must satisfy you there. Your tastes, I
think, are becoming more and more dishevelled.'

But innocent Gerald answered with a coal of fire: 'No, she is too
dishevelled. You satisfy my tastes there entirely; you flow, but you
don't flop. Now if Miss Jakes would only try to dress like you she'd be
immensely improved. You are perfect.' And he lightly touched her scarf
as he spoke with a fraternal and appreciative hand.

Helen continued to smile in the darkness, but it was over an almost
irresistible impulse to sob. The impulse was so strong that it
frightened her, and it was with immense relief that she saw Althea's
figure--her 'box-like' figure--appear in the lighted window. She did
not want to talk to Althea, and she could not, just now, go on talking
to Gerald. From their corner of the terrace she indicated the vaguely
gazing Althea. 'There she is,' she said. 'Go and talk to her. Be nice to
her. I'm tired and am going to have a stroll in the shrubberies before
bed.'

She left Gerald obediently, if not eagerly, moving towards the window,
and slipping into the obscurity of the shrubberies she threw back her
scarf and drew long breaths. She was becoming terribly overwrought. It
had been, since so long, a second nature to live two lives that any
danger of their merging affected her with a dreadful feeling of
disintegration. There was the life of comradeship, the secure little
compartment where Gerald was at home, so at home that he could tell her
she was perfect and touch her scarf with an approving hand, and from
this familiar shelter she had looked for so long, with the calmest eye,
upon his flirtations, and in it had heard, unmoved, his encomiums upon
herself. The other life, the real life, was all outdoors in comparison;
it was all her real self, passionate, untamed, desolate; it was like a
bleak, wild moorland, and the social, the comrade self only a strongly
built little lodge erected, through stress of wind and weather, in the
midst of it. Since girlhood it had been a second nature to her to keep
comradeship shut in and reality shut out. And to-night reality seemed to
shake and batter at the doors.

She had come to Merriston House to rest, to drink _eau rougie_ and to
rest. She wanted to lapse into apathy and to recover, as far as might
be, from her recent unpleasant experiments and experiences. Had she
allowed herself any illusions about the experiment, the experience would
have been humiliating; but Helen was not humiliated, she had not
deceived herself for a moment. She had, open-eyed, been trying for the
'other things,' and she had only just missed them. She had intended to
marry a very important person who much admired her. She had been almost
sure that she could marry him if she wanted to, and she had found out
that she couldn't. It had not been, as in her youth, her own shrinking
and her own recoil at the last decisive moment. She had been resolved
and unwavering; her discomfiture had been sudden and its cause the quite
grotesque one of her admirer having fallen head over heels in love with
a child of eighteen--a foolish, affected little child, who giggled and
glanced and blushed opportunely, and who, beside these assets, had a
skilful and determined mother. Without the mother to waylay, pounce, and
fix, Helen did not believe that her sober, solid friend would have
yielded to the momentary beguilement, and Helen herself deigned not one
hint of contest; she had been resolved, but only to accept; she could
never have waylaid or pounced. And now, apathetic, yet irritated,
exhausted and sick at heart, she had been telling herself, as she lay in
the garden-chairs at Merriston House, that it was more than probable
that the time was over, even for the 'other things.' The prospect made
her weary. What--with Aunt Grizel's one hundred and fifty a year--was
she to do with herself in the future? What was to become of her? She
didn't feel that she much cared, and yet it was all that there was left
to care about, for Aunt Grizel's sake if not for her own, and she felt
only fit to rest from the pressure of the question. To-night, as she
turned and wandered among the trees, she said to herself that it hadn't
been a propitious time to come for rest to Merriston House. Gerald had
been the last person she desired to see just now. She had never been so
near to feeling danger as to-night. If Gerald were nice to her--he
always was--but nice in a certain way, the way that expressed so clearly
his tenderness and his dreadful, his merciful unawareness, she might
break down before him and sob. This would be too horrible, and when she
thought that it might happen she felt, rising with the longing for
tears, an old resentment against Gerald, fierce, absurd, and
unconquerable. After making the round of the lawns and looking up hard
and unseeingly at the stars, she came back to the terrace. Gerald and
Althea were gone, and she surmised that Gerald had not taken much
trouble to be nice. She was passing along an unillumined corner when she
came suddenly upon a figure seated there--so suddenly that she almost
fell against it. She murmured a hasty apology as Mr. Kane rose from a
chair where, with folded arms, he had been seated, apparently in
contemplation of the night.

'Oh, I beg your pardon,' said Helen. 'It's so dark here. I didn't see
you.'

'And I didn't hear you coming,' said Mr. Kane. 'I beg your pardon. I'm
afraid you hurt your foot.'

'Not at all,' Helen assured him. She had stepped into the light from the
windows and, Mr. Kane being beside her, she could see his face clearly
and see that he looked very tired. She had been aware, in these days of
somnolent retirement, that one other member of the party seemed, though
not in her sense retired from it, to wander rather aimlessly on its
outskirts. That his removal to this ambiguous limbo had been the result
of her own arrival Helen had no means of knowing, since she had never
seen Mr. Kane in his brief moment of hope when he and Althea had been
centre and everybody else outskirts. She had found him, during her few
conversations with him, so tamely funny as to be hardly odd, though his
manner of speaking and the way in which his hair was cut struck her as
expressing oddity to an unfortunate degree; but though only dimly aware
of him, and aware mainly in this sense of amusement, she had, since
Althea had informed her of his status, seen him with some
compassionateness. It didn't make him less funny to her that he should
have been in love with Althea for fifteen years, rather it made him more
so. Helen found it difficult to take either the devotion or its object
very seriously. She thought hopeless passions rather ridiculous, her own
included, but Gerald she did consider a possible object of passion; and
how Althea could be an object of passion for anybody, even for funny
little Mr. Kane, surpassed her comprehension, so that the only way to
understand the situation was to decide that Mr. Kane was incapable of
passion altogether. But to-night she received a new impression; looking
at Mr. Kane's face, thin, jaded, and kindly attentive to herself, it
suddenly became apparent to her that whatever his feeling might be it
was serious. He might not know passion, but his heart was aching,
perhaps quite as fiercely as her own. She felt sorry for Mr. Kane, and
her step lingered on her way to the house.

'Isn't it a lovely night,' she said, in order to say something. 'Do you
like sitting in the dark? It's very restful, isn't it?'

Franklin saw the alien Miss Buchanan's eyes bent kindly and observantly
upon him.

'Yes, it's very restful,' he said. 'It smooths you out and straightens
you out when you get crumpled, you know, and impatient.'

'I should not imagine you as ever very impatient,' smiled Helen.
'Perhaps you do sit a great deal in the dark.'

He took her whimsical suggestion with careful humour. 'Why, no, it's not
a habit of mine; and it's not a recipe that it would be a good thing to
overdo, is it?'

'Why not?' she asked.

'There are worse things than impatience, aren't there?' said Franklin.
'Gloominess, for instance. You might get gloomy if you sat out in the
dark a great deal.'

It amused her a little to wonder, as they went in together, whether Mr.
Kane disciplined his emotions and withdrew from restful influences
before they had time to become discouraging ones. She imagined that he
would have a recipe for everything.




CHAPTER XII.


It was after this little nocturnal encounter that Helen found herself
watching Mr. Kane with a dim, speculative sympathy. There was nothing
else of much interest to watch, as far as she was aware, for Helen's
powers of observation were not sharpened by much imaginativeness. Her
sympathy must be aroused for her to care to see, and just now she felt
no sympathy for any one but Mr. Kane.

Gerald, flirting far less flagrantly and sketching assiduously, was in
no need of sympathy; nor Althea, despite the fact that Helen felt her to
be a little reserved and melancholy. Althea, on the whole, seemed
placidly enough absorbed in her duties of hostess, and her state of
mind, at no time much preoccupying Helen, preoccupied her now less than
ever. The person who really interested her, now that she had come to
look at him and to realise that he was suffering, was Mr. Kane. He was
puzzling to her, not mystifying; there was no element of depth or shadow
about him; even his suffering--it was odd to think that a person with
such a small, flat nose should suffer--even his suffering was pellucid.
He puzzled her because he was different from anything she had ever
encountered, and he made her think of a page of trite phrases printed in
a half-comprehended dialect. If it was puzzling that any man should be
sufficiently in love with Althea to suffer over it, it was yet more
puzzling that, neglected as he so obviously was by his beloved, he
should show no dejection or consciousness of diminution. He seemed a
little aimless, it is true, but not in the least injured; and Helen, as
she watched him, found herself liking Mr. Kane.

He had an air, pleasant to her, of finding no one beneath him, and at
the same time he seemed as unaware of superiority--unless it were
definitely moral or intellectual. A general indiscriminating goodwill
was expressed in his manner towards everybody, and when he did
discriminate--which was always on moral issues--his goodwill seemed
unperturbed by any amount of reprobation. He remained blandly humane
under the most disconcerting circumstances. She overtook him one day in
a lane holding a drunkard by the shoulder and endeavouring to steer him
homeward, while he expounded to him in scientific tones the ill effects
of alcohol on the system, and the remarkable results to be attained by
steady self-suggestion. Mr. Kane's collar was awry and his coat dusty,
almost as dusty as the drunkard's, with whom he had evidently had to
grapple in raising him from the highway; and Helen, as she paused at the
turning of the road which brought her upon them, heard Franklin's words:

'I've tried it myself for insomnia. I'm a nervous man, and I was in a
bad way at the time; over-pressure, you know, and worry. I guess it's
like that with you, too, isn't it? You get on edge. Well, there's
nothing better than self-suggestion, and if you'll give it a try you'll
be surprised by the results, I'm sure of it.'

Helen joined them and offered her assistance, for the bewildered
proselyte seemed unable to move forward now that he was upon his feet.

'Well, if you would be so kind. Just your hand on his other shoulder,
you know,' said Franklin, turning a grateful glance upon her. 'Our
friend here is in trouble, you see. It's not far to the village, and
what he wants is to get to bed, have a good sleep and then a wash. He'll
feel a different man then.'

Helen, her hand at 'our friend's' left shoulder, helped to propel him
forward, and ten minutes took them to his door, where, surrounded by a
staring crowd of women and children, they delivered him into the keeping
of his wife, a thin and weary person, who looked upon his benefactors
with almost as much resentment as upon him.

'What he really needs, I'm afraid I think,' Helen said, as she and Mr.
Kane walked away, 'is a good whipping.' She said it in order to see the
effect of the ruthlessness upon her humanitarian companion.

Mr. Kane did not look shocked or grieved; he turned a cogitating glance
upon her, and she saw that he diagnosed the state of mind that could
make such a suggestion and could not take it seriously. He smiled,
though a little gravely, in answering: 'Why, no, I don't think so; and I
don't believe you think so, Miss Buchanan. What you want to give him is
a hold on himself, hope, and self-respect; it wouldn't give you
self-respect to be whipped, would it?'

'It might give me discretion,' said Helen, smiling back.

'We don't want human beings to have the discretion of animals; we want
them to have the discretion of men,' said Franklin; 'that is,
self-mastery and wisdom.'

Helen did not feel able to argue the point; indeed, it did not interest
her; but she asked Mr. Kane, some days later, how his roadside friend
was progressing towards the discretion of a man.

'Oh, he'll be all right,' said Franklin. 'He'll pull round.
Self-suggestion will do it. It's not a bad case. He couldn't get hold of
the idea at first--he's not very bright; but I found out that he'd got
some very useful religious notions, and I work it in on these.'

From the housekeeper, a friend of her youth, Helen learned that in the
village Mr. Kane's ministrations to Jim Betts were regarded with
surprise, yet not without admiration. He was supposed to be some strange
sort of foreign clergyman, not to be placed in any recognisable
category. 'He's a very kind gentleman, I'm sure,' said Mrs. Fielding.

Mr. Kane was fond, Helen also observed, of entering into conversation
with the servants. The butler's political views--which were guarded--he
determinedly pursued, undeterred by Baines's cautious and deferential
retreats. He considered the footman as a potential friend, whatever the
footman might consider him. Their common manhood, in Franklin's eyes,
entirely outweighed the slight, extraneous accidents of fortune--nay,
these differences gave an additional interest. The footman had, no
doubt, a point of view novel and valuable, if one could get at it.
Franklin did not attempt to get at it by any method subversive of order
or interfering with Thomas's duties; he observed all the conventions
demanded by varying function. But Helen, strolling one morning before
breakfast outside the dining-room windows, heard within and paused to
listen to Mr. Kane's monotonous and slightly nasal tones as he shared
the morning news with Thomas, who, with an air of bewildered if obedient
attention, continued his avocations between the sideboard and the
breakfast-table.

'Now I should say,' Franklin remarked, 'that something of that
sort--Germany's doing wonders with it--could be worked here in England
if you set yourselves to it.'

'Yes, sir,' said Thomas.

'Berlin has eliminated the slums, you know,' said Franklin, looking
thoughtfully at Thomas over the top of the paper. 'What do you feel
about it, all of you over here? It's a big question, you know, that of
the housing of the poor.'

'Well, I can't say, sir,' said Thomas, compelled to a guarded opinion.
'Things do look black for the lower horders.'

'You're right, Thomas; and things will go on looking black for helpless
people until they determine to help themselves, or until people who
aren't helpless--like you and me--determine they shan't be so black.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Talk it over, you know. Get your friends interested in it. It's a
mighty big subject, of course, that of the State and its poor, but it's
wonderful what can be done by personal initiative.'

Helen entered at this point, and Thomas turned a furtive eye upon her,
perhaps in appeal for protection against these unprovoked and
inexplicable attacks. 'One might think the gentleman thought I had a
vote and was canvassing me,' he said to Baines, condescending in this
their common perplexity. And Baines replied: 'I'm sure I don't know what
he's up to.'

Meanwhile Franklin, in the dining-room, folded his paper and said: 'You
know, Miss Buchanan, that Thomas, though a nice fellow, is remarkably
ignorant. I can't make out that there's anything of a civic or national
nature that he's interested in. He doesn't seem to read anything in the
papers except the racing and betting news. He doesn't seem to feel that
he has any stake in this great country of yours, or any responsibility
towards it. It makes me believe in manhood suffrage as I've never
believed before. Our people may be politically corrupt, but at least
they're interested; they're alive--alive enough to want to understand
how to get the best of things--as they see best. I've rarely met an
American that I couldn't get to talk; now it's almost impossible to get
Thomas to talk. Yet he's a nice young fellow; he has a nice, open,
intelligent face.'

'Oh yes, has he?' said Helen, who was looking over the envelopes at her
place. 'I hadn't noticed his face; very pink, isn't it?'

'Yes, he has a healthy colour,' said Franklin, still meditating on
Thomas's impenetrability. 'It's not that I don't perfectly understand
his being uncommunicative when he's engaged in his work--it was rather
tactless of me to talk to him just now, only the subject came up. I'd
been talking to Baines about the Old Age Pensions yesterday. That's one
of my objections to domestic service; it creates an artificial barrier
between man and man; but I know that the barrier is part of the
business, while the business is going on, and I've no quarrel with
social convention, as such. But even when they are alone with me--and
I'm referring to Baines now as much as to Thomas--they are very
uncommunicative. I met Thomas on the road to the village the other day
and could hardly get a word out of him till I began to talk about
cricket and ask him about it.'

'He is probably a stupid boy,' said Helen, 'and you frighten him.'

'If you say that, it's an indictment on the whole system, you know,'
said Franklin very gravely.

'What system?' Helen asked, opening her letters, but looking at Mr.
Kane.

'The system that makes some people afraid of others,' said Franklin.

'It will always frighten inferior people to be talked to by their
superiors as if they were on a level. You probably talk to Thomas about
things he doesn't understand, and it bewilders him.' Helen, willing to
enlighten his idealism, smiled mildly at him, glancing down at her
letters as she spoke.

Mr. Kane surveyed her with his bright, steady gaze. Her simple
elucidation evidently left him far from satisfied, either with her or
the system. 'In essentials, Miss Buchanan,' he said, 'in the power of
effort, endurance, devotion, I've no doubt that Thomas and I are
equals, and that's all that ought to matter.'

The others now were coming in, and Helen only shook her head, smiling on
and quite unconvinced as she said, taking her chair, and reaching out
her hand to shake Althea's, 'I'm afraid the inessentials matter most,
then, in human intercourse.'

From these fortuitous encounters Helen gathered the impression by
degrees that though Mr. Kane might not find her satisfactory, he found
her, in her incommunicativeness, quite as interesting as Thomas the
footman. He spent as much time in endeavouring to probe her as he did in
endeavouring to probe Baines, even more time. He would sit beside her
garden-chair looking over scientific papers, making a remark now and
then on their contents--contents as remote from Helen's comprehension as
was the housing of the Berlin poor from Thomas's; and sometimes he would
ask her a searching question, over the often frivolous answer to which
he would carefully reflect.

'I gather, Miss Buchanan,' he said to her one afternoon, when they were
thus together under the trees, 'I gather that the state of your health
isn't good. Would it be inadmissible on my part to ask you if there is
anything really serious the matter with you?'

'My state of health?' said Helen, startled. 'My health is perfectly
good. Who told you it wasn't?'

'Why, nobody. But since you've been here--that's a fortnight now--I've
observed that you've led an invalid's life.'

'I am lazy, that's all; and I'm in rather a bad temper,' Helen smiled;
'and it's very warm weather.'

'Well, when you're not lazy; when you're not in a bad temper; when it's
cold weather--what do you do with yourself, anyway?' Franklin, now that
he had fairly come to his point, folded his papers, clasped his hands
around his knees and looked expectantly at her.

Helen returned his gaze for some moments in silence; then she found that
she was quite willing to give Mr. Kane all he asked for--a detached
sincerity. 'I can't say that I do anything,' she replied.

'Haven't you any occupation?'

'Not unless staying about with people is an occupation,' Helen
suggested. 'I'm rather good at that--when I'm not too lazy and not too
out of temper.'

'You don't consider society an occupation. It's only justifiable as a
recreation when work's done. Every one ought to have an occupation.
You're not alive at all unless you've a purpose that's organising your
life in some way. Now, it strikes me,' said Franklin, eyeing her
steadily, 'that you're hardly half alive.'

'Oh, dear!' Helen laughed. 'Why, pray?'

'Don't laugh at it, Miss Buchanan. It's a serious matter; the most
serious matter there is. No, don't laugh; you distress me.'

'I beg your pardon,' said Helen, and she turned her head aside a little,
for the laugh was not quite genuine, and she was suddenly afraid of
those idiotic tears. 'Only it amuses me that any one should think me a
serious matter.'

'Don't be cynical, Miss Buchanan; that's what's the trouble with you;
you take refuge in cynicism rather than in thought. If you'd think about
it and not try to evade it, you'd know perfectly well that there is
nothing so serious to you in all the world as your own life.'

'I don't know,' said Helen, after a little pause, sobered, though still
amused. 'I don't know that I feel anything very serious, except all the
unpleasant things that happen, or the pleasant things that don't.'

'Well, what's more serious than suffering?' Mr. Kane inquired, and as
she could really find no answer to this he went on: 'And you ought to go
further; you ought to be able to take every human being seriously.'

'Do you do that?' Helen asked.

'Any one who thinks must do it; it's all a question of thinking things
out. Now I've thought a good deal about you, Miss Buchanan,' Franklin
continued, 'and I take you very seriously, very seriously indeed. I feel
that you are very much above the average in capacity. You have a great
deal in you; a great deal of power. I've been watching you very
carefully, and I've come to the conclusion that you are a woman of
power. That's why I take it upon myself to talk to you like this; that's
why it distresses me to see you going to waste--half alive.'

Helen, her head still turned aside in her chair, looked up at the green
branches above her, no longer even pretending to smile. Mr. Kane at once
startled and steadied her. He made her feel vaguely ashamed of herself,
and he made her feel sorry for herself, too, so that, funny as he was,
his effect upon her was to soften and to calm her. Her temper felt less
bad and her nerves less on edge.

'You are very kind,' she said, after a little while. 'It is very good of
you to have thought about me like that. And you do think, at all events,
that I am half alive. You think I have wants, even if I have no
purposes.'

'Yes, that's it. Wants, not purposes; though what they are I can't find
out.'

She was willing to satisfy his curiosity. 'What I want is money.'

'Well, but what do you want to do with money?' Franklin inquired,
receiving the sordid avowal without a blink.

'I really don't know,' said Helen; 'to use what you call my power, I
suppose.'

'How would you use it? You haven't trained yourself for any use of
it--except enjoyment--as far as I can see.'

'I think I could spend money well. I'd give the people I liked a good
time.'

'You'd waste their time, and yours, you mean. Not that I object to the
spending of money--if it's in the right way.'

'I think I could find the right way, if I had it.' She was speaking with
quite the seriousness she had disowned. 'I hate injustice, and I hate
ugliness. I think I could make things nicer if I had money.'

Franklin now was silent for some time, considering her narrowly, and
since she had now looked down from the branches and back at him, their
eyes met in a long encounter. 'Yes,' he said at length, 'you'd be all
right--if only you weren't so wrong. If only you had a purpose--a
purpose directed towards the just and the beautiful; if only instead of
waiting for means to turn up, you'd created means yourself; if only
you'd kept yourself disciplined and steady of aim by some sort of hard
work, you'd be all right.'

Helen, extended in her chair, an embodiment of lovely aimlessness, kept
her eyes fixed on him. 'But what work can I do?' she asked. She was well
aware that Mr. Kane could have no practical suggestions for her case,
yet she wanted to show him that she recognised it as a case, she wanted
to show him that she was grateful, and she was curious besides to hear
what he would suggest. 'What am I fit for? I couldn't earn a penny if I
tried. I was never taught anything.'

But Mr. Kane was ready for her, as he had been ready for Jim Betts.
'It's not a question of earning that I mean,' he said, 'though it's a
mighty good thing to measure yourself up against the world and find out
just what your cash value is, but I'm not talking about that; it's the
question of getting your faculties into some sort of working order that
I'm up against. Why don't you study something systematically, something
you can grind at? Biology, if you like, or political economy, or charity
organisation. Begin at once. Master it.'

'Would Dante do, for a beginning?' Helen inquired, smiling rather wanly.
'I brought him down, with an Italian dictionary. Shall I master Dante?'

'I should feel more comfortable about you if it was political economy,'
said Franklin, now smiling back. 'But begin with Dante, by all means.
Personally I found his point of view depressing, but then I read him in
a translation and never got even as far as the Purgatory. Be sure you
get as far as the Paradise, Miss Buchanan, and with your dictionary.'




CHAPTER XIII.


Franklin had all his time free for sitting with Helen under the trees.
Althea's self-reproach, her self-doubt and melancholy, had been effaced
by the arrival of Gerald Digby, and, at that epoch of her life, did not
return at all. She had no time for self-doubt or self-reproach, no time
even for self-consciousness. Franklin had faded into the dimmest
possible distance; she was only just aware that he was there and that
Helen seemed, kindly, to let him talk a good deal to her. She could not
think of Franklin, she could not think of herself, she could think of
nobody but one person, for her whole being was absorbed in the thought
of Gerald Digby and in the consciousness of the situation that his
coming had created. From soft exhilaration she had passed to miserable
depression, yet a depression far different from the stagnant melancholy
of her former mood; this was a depression of frustrated feeling, not of
lack of feeling, and it was accompanied by the recognition of the fact
that she exceedingly disliked Lady Pickering and wished exceedingly that
she would go away. And with it went a brooding sense of delight in
Gerald's mere presence, a sense of delight in even the pain that his
indifference inflicted upon her.

He charmed her unspeakably--his voice, his smile, his gestures--and she
knew that she did not charm him in any way, and that Lady Pickering, in
her very foolishness, did charm him, and the knowledge made her very
grave and careful when she was with him. Delight and pain were hidden
beneath this manner of careful gravity, but, as the excitement of
Franklin's presence had at first done--and in how much greater
degree--they subtly transformed her; made her look and speak and move
with a different languor and gentleness.

Gerald himself was the first to feel a change, the first to become aware
of an aroma of mystery. He had been indifferent indeed, though he had
obeyed Helen and had tried not only to be very courteous but to be very
nice as well. Now, finding Althea's grave eyes upon him when he
sometimes yielded to Lady Pickering's allurements, finding them turned
away with that look of austere mildness, he ceased to be so indifferent,
he began to wonder how much the little Puritan disapproved and how much
she really minded; he began to make surmises about the state of mind
that could be so aloof, so gentle, and so inflexible.

He met Althea one afternoon in the garden and walked up and down with
her while she filled her basket with roses. She was very gentle, and
immeasurably distant. The sense of her withdrawal roused his masculine
instinct of pursuit. How different she was from Frances Pickering! How
charmingly different. Yes, in her elaborate little dress of embroidered
lawn, with her elaborate garden hat pinned so neatly on her thick fair
hair, she pleased him by the sense of contrast. There was charm in her
lack of charm, attraction in her indifference. How impossible to
imagine those grave eyes smiling an alluring smile--he was getting tired
of alluring smiles--how impossible to imagine Miss Jakes flirting.

'It's very nice to see you here,' he said. 'I have so many nice memories
about this old garden. You don't mind my cigarette?'

Althea said that she liked it.

'There is a beautiful spray, Miss Jakes. Let me reach it for you.'

'Oh, thank you so much.'

'You are fond of flowers?'

'Very fond.'

'Which are your favourites?'

'Lilies of the valley.' Althea spoke kindly, as she might have spoken to
a rather importunate child; his questions, indeed, were not original.

Gerald tried to mend the tameness of the effect that he was making.
'Yes, only the florists have rather spoiled them, haven't they? My
favourites are the wilder ones--honeysuckle, grass of Parnassus,
bell-heather. Helen always makes me think of grass of Parnassus and
bell-heather, she is so solitary and delicate and strong.' He wanted
Althea to realise that his real appreciation was for types very
different from Lady Pickering. She smiled kindly, as if pleased with his
simile, and he went on. 'You are like pansies, white and purple
pansies.'

It was then that Althea blushed. Gerald noticed it at once. Experienced
flirt as he was he was quick to perceive such symptoms. And, suddenly,
it occurred to him that perhaps the reason she disapproved so much was
the wish--unknown to herself, poor little innocent--that some one would
flirt a little with her. He felt quite sure that no one had ever
flirted with Althea. Helen had told him of Mr. Kane's hopeless suit, and
they had wandered in rather helpless conjecture about the outside of a
case that didn't, from their experience of cases, seem to offer any
possibilities of an inside. Gerald had indeed loudly laughed at the idea
of Mr. Kane as a wooer and Helen had smiled, while assuring him that
wooing wasn't the only test of worth. Gerald was rather inclined to
think it was. He was quite sure, though, that however worthy Mr. Kane
might be he had never made any one blush. He was quite sure that Mr.
Kane was incapable of flirting, and it pleased him now to observe the
sign of susceptibility in Althea. It was good for women, he felt sure,
to be made to blush sometimes, and he promised himself that he would
renew the experiment with Althea. All the same it must be very
unemphatically done; there would be something singularly graceless in
venturing too far with this nice pansy, for though she might, all
unaware, want to be made to blush, she would never want it to be because
of his light motives.

Meanwhile Althea was in dread lest he should see her discomposure and
her bliss. He did not see further than her discomposure.

They rehearsed theatricals all the next day--he, Helen, Lady Pickering,
and the girls--and Lady Pickering was very naughty. Gerald, more than
once, had caught Althea's eye fixed, repudiating in its calm, upon her.
It had been especially repudiating when Frances, at tea, had thrown a
bun at him.

'Do you know, Miss Jakes,' he said to her after dinner, when, to Lady
Pickering's discomfiture, as he saw, he joined Althea on her little
sofa, 'do you know, I suspect you of being dreadfully bored by all of
us. We behave like a lot of children, don't we?' He was thinking of the
bun.

'Indeed! I think it charming to be able to behave like a child, if one
feels like one,' said Althea, coldly and mildly.

'Don't you ever feel like one? Do you always behave like a gentle muse?'

'Do I seem to behave like a muse? How tiresome I must be,' smiled
Althea.

'Not tiresome, rather impressive. It's like looking up suddenly from
some nocturnal _fete_--all Japanese lanterns and fireworks--and seeing
the moon gazing down serenely and unseeingly upon one; it startles and
sobers one a little, you know.'

'I suppose you are sober sometimes,' said Althea, continuing to smile.

'Lord, yes!' Gerald laughed. 'Really and truly, Miss Jakes, I'm only
playing at being a child, you know. I'm quite a serious person. I like
to look at the moon.'

And again Althea blushed. She looked down, sitting straightly in the
corner of their sofa and turning her fan slowly between her fingers,
and, feeling the sense of gracelessness in this too easy success, Gerald
went on in a graver tone. 'I wish you would let me be serious with you
sometimes, Miss Jakes; you'd see I'd quite redeem myself in your eyes.'

'Redeem yourself? From what?'

'Oh! from all your impression of my frivolity and folly. I can talk
about art and literature and the condition of the labouring classes as
wisely as anybody, I assure you.'

He said it so prettily that Althea had to laugh. 'But what makes you
think I can?' she asked, and, delighted with the happy result of his
appeal, he said that Helen had told him all about her wisdoms.

He sounded these wisdoms next day when he asked her to walk with him to
the village. He told her, as they walked, of the various projects for
using his life to some advantage that he had used to make--projects for
improved agricultural methods and the bettering of the conditions of
life in the country. Althea had read a great deal of political economy.
She had, indeed, ground at it and mastered it in the manner advised by
Franklin to Helen. Gerald found her quiet comments and criticisms very
illuminating, not only of his theme, but of his own comparative
ignorance. 'But, Miss Jakes, how did you come to understand all this?'
he ejaculated; and she said, laughing a little at the impression she had
made, that she had only read, gone to a few courses of lectures, and had
a master for one winter in Boston. Gerald looked at her with new
interest. It impressed him that an unprofessional woman should take
anything so seriously. 'Have you gone into other profound things like
this?' he asked; and, still laughing, Althea said that she supposed she
had.

Her sympathy for those old plans of his, based on such understanding,
was really inspiring. 'Ah, if only I had the money,' he sighed.

'But you wouldn't care to live in the country?' said Althea.

'There's nowhere else I really care to live. Nothing would please me so
much as to spend the rest of my life at Merriston, dabbling at my
painting and going in seriously for farming.'

'Why don't you do it?'

'Why, money! I've got no money. It's expensive work to educate oneself
by experience, and I'm ignorant. You show me how ignorant. No; I'm
afraid I'm to go on drifting, and never lead the life I best like.'

Althea was silent. She hardly knew what she was feeling, but it pressed
upon her so, that she was afraid lest a breath would stir some
consciousness in him. She had money, a good deal. What a pity that he
had none.

'Now you,' Gerald went on, 'have all sorts of big, wise plans for life,
I've no doubt. It would interest me to hear about them.'

'No; I drift too,' said Althea.

'You can't call it drifting when you read and study such a lot.'

'Oh yes, I can, when there is no real aim in the work. You should hear
Mr. Kane scold me about that.'

Gerald was not interested in Mr. Kane. 'I should think, after all you've
done, you might rest on your oars for a bit,' he remarked. 'It's quite
enough, I should think, for a woman to know so much. If you liked to do
anything, you'd do it awfully well, I'm sure.'

Ah, what would she not like to do! Help you to steer to any port you
wanted was the half-articulate cry of her heart.

'She really is an interesting little person, your Althea,' Gerald said
to Helen. 'You were wrong not to find her interesting. She is so wise
and calm and she knows such a lot.'

'I'm too ignorant to be interested in knowledge,' said Helen.

'It's not mere knowledge, it's the gentle temperateness and independence
one feels in her.'

Helen, somehow, did not feel them, or, at all events, felt other
things too much to feel them preeminently. It was part of her
unselfconsciousness not to guess why Althea's relation to her had
slightly changed. She could hardly have followed with comprehension the
suffering instability of her friend's character, nor dream that her own
power over her was so great, yet so resented; but something in their
talk about Mr. Kane had made Helen uncomfortable, and she said no more
now, not wishing to emphasise any negative aspect of her attitude to
Althea at a time when their relation seemed to have become a little
strained. And she was pleased that Gerald should talk about political
economy with Althea--it was so much better than flirting with Frances
Pickering.

No one, indeed, unless it were Franklin Kane, gave much conjecture to
Gerald's talks with his hostess. Lady Pickering noticed; but she was
vexed, rather than jealous. She couldn't imagine that Gerald felt
anything but a purely intellectual interest in such talks. It was rather
as if a worshipper in some highly ritualistic shrine, filled with
appeals to sight and hearing, had unaccountably wandered off into a
wayside chapel. Lady Pickering felt convinced that this was mere vagrant
curiosity on Gerald's part. She felt convinced that he couldn't care for
chapels. She was so convinced that, moved to emphatic measures, she came
into the open as it were, marched processions and waved banners before
him, in order to remind him what the veritable church was for a person
of taste. Sometimes Gerald joined her, but sometimes he waved a friendly
greeting and went into the chapel again.

So it was that Althea suddenly found herself involved in that mute and
sinister warfare--an unavowed contest with another woman for possession
of a man. How it could be a real contest she did not know; she felt sure
that Lady Pickering did not love Gerald Digby, that she herself loved
him she had not yet told herself, and that he loved neither of them was
obvious. It seemed a mere struggle for supremacy, in which Lady
Pickering's role was active and her own passive. For when she saw that
Lady Pickering looked upon Gerald as a prey between them, that she
seized, threatened and allured, she herself, full of a proud disdain,
drew away, relinquished any hold, any faintest claim she had, handed
Gerald over, as it were, to his pursuer; and as she did this, coldly,
gravely, proudly, she was not aware that no tactics could have been more
effective. For Gerald, when he found himself pursued, and then dropped
by Althea at the feet of the pursuer, became more and more averse to
being seized. And what had been a gracefully amorous dialogue with Lady
Pickering, became a slightly malicious discussion. 'Well, what _do_ you
want of me?' he seemed to demand of her, under all his grace. Lady
Pickering did not want anything except to keep him, and to show Althea
that she kept him. And she was willing to go to great lengths if this
might be effected.

Gerald and Althea, walking one afternoon in the little wood that lay at
the foot of the lawn, came upon Lady Pickering seated romantically upon
a stone, her head in her hands. She said, looking up at them, with
pathetic eyes of suffering, that she had wrenched her ankle and was in
agony. 'I think it is sprained, perhaps broken,' she said.

Now both Althea and Gerald felt convinced that she was not in agony, and
had perhaps not hurt her ankle at all. They were both a little
embarrassed and a little ashamed for her.

'Take my arm, take Miss Jakes's,' said Gerald. 'We will help you back to
the house.'

'Oh no. I must sit still for a little while,' said Lady Pickering.' I
couldn't bear to stir yet. It must be only a wrench; yes, there, I can
feel that it is a bad wrench. It's only that the pain has been so
horrible, and I feel a little faint. Please sit down here for a moment,
Gerald, beside me, and console me for my sufferings.'

It was really very shameless. Without a word Althea walked away.

'Miss Jakes--we'll--I'll follow in a moment,' Gerald called after her,
while, irritated and at a loss, he stood over Lady Pickering. 'Have you
really hurt it?' was his first inquiry, as Althea disappeared.

'Why does she go?' Lady Pickering inquired. 'I didn't mean that she was
to go. Stiff, _guindee_ little person. One would really think that she
was jealous of me.'

'No, I don't think that one would think that at all,' Gerald returned.

Lady Pickering was pushed beyond the bounds of calculation, and when
quite sincere she was really charming. 'O Gerald,' she said, looking up
at him and full of roguish contrition, 'how unkind you are! And how
horribly clear sighted. It's I who am jealous! Yes, I really am. I can't
bear being neglected.'

'I don't see why you should,' said Gerald laughing, 'and I certainly
shouldn't show such bad taste as to neglect you. So that it is jealousy,
pure and simple. Is your ankle in the least hurt?'

'Really, I don't know. I did tumble a little, and then I saw you coming,
and felt that I wanted to be talked to, that it was my turn.'

'What an absurd woman you are.'

'But do say that you like absurd women better than solemn ones.'

'I shall say nothing of the sort. Sometimes absurdity is delightful, and
sometimes solemnity--not that I find Miss Jakes in the least solemn. It
would do you a world of good to let her inform your mind a little.'

'Oh, please, I don't want to be informed, it might make my back look
like that. My foot really is a little hurt, you know. Is it swollen?'

Gerald looked down, laughing, but very unsympathetic, at the perilous
heel and pinched, distorted toe. 'Really, I can't say.'

'Do sit down, there is plenty of room, and tell me you aren't cross with
me.'

'I'm not at all cross with you, but I'm not going to sit down beside
you,' said Gerald. 'I'm going to take you and your ankle back to the
house and then find Miss Jakes and go on talking.'

'You may make _me_ cross,' said Lady Pickering, rising and leaning her
arm on his.

'I don't believe I shall. You really respect me for my strength of
character.'

'Wily creature!'

'Foolish child!' They were standing in the path, laughing at each other,
far from displeased with each other, and it was fortunate that neither
of them perceived among the trees Althea, passing again at a little
distance, and glancing round irrepressibly to see if Gerald had indeed
followed her; even Lady Pickering might have been slightly discomposed,
for when Gerald said 'Foolish child!' he completed the part expected of
him by lightly stooping his head and kissing her.

He then took Lady Pickering back to the house, established her in a
hammock, and set off to find Althea. He knew that he had kept her
waiting--if she had indeed waited. And he knew that he really was a
little cross with Frances Pickering; he didn't care to carry flirtation
as far as kissing.

Althea, however, was nowhere to be found. He looked in the house, heard
that she had been there but had gone out again; he looked in the garden;
he finally went back to the woods, an uncomfortable surmise rising; and
finding her nowhere there, he strolled on into the meadows. Then,
suddenly, he saw her, sitting on a rustic bench at a bend of the little
brook. Her eyes were bent upon the running water, and she did not look
up as he approached her. When he was beside her, her eyes met his,
reluctantly and resentfully, and he was startled to observe that she had
wept. His surmise returned. She must have seen him kiss Frances. Yet
even then Gerald did not know why it should make Miss Jakes weep that
he should behave like a donkey.

'May I sit down here?' he asked, genuinely grieved and genuinely anxious
to find out what the matter was.

'Certainly,' said Althea in chilly tones.

He was a little confused. It had something to do with the kissing, he
felt sure. 'Miss Jakes, I'm afraid you'll never believe me a serious
person,' he said.

'Why should you be serious?' said Althea.

'You are angry with me,' Gerald remarked dismally.

'Why should I be angry?'

He raised his eyebrows, detached a bit of loosened wood from the seat,
and skipped it over the water. 'Well, to find me behaving like a child
again.'

'I should reserve my anger for more important matters,' said Althea. She
was angry, or she hoped she was, for, far more than anger, it was misery
and a passion of shame that surged in her. She knew now, and she could
not hide from herself that she knew; and yet he cared so little that he
had not even kept his promise; so little that he had stayed behind to
kiss that most indecorous woman. If only she could make him think that
it was only anger.

'Ah, but you are angry, and rather unjustly,' said Gerald. His eyes were
seeking hers, rallying, pleading, perhaps laughing a little at her. 'And
really, you know, you are a little unkind; I thought we were
friends--what?'

She forced herself to meet those charming eyes, and then to smile back
at him. It would have been absurd not to smile, but the effort was
disastrous; her lips quivered; the tears ran down her cheeks. She rose,
trembling and aghast. 'I am very foolish. I have such a headache. Please
don't pay any attention to me--it's the heat, I think.'

She turned blindly towards the house.

The pretence of the headache was, he knew it in the flash of revelation
that came to him, on a par with Frances's ankle--but with what a
difference in motive! Grave, a little pale, Gerald walked silently
beside her to the woods. He did not know what to say. He was a little
frightened and a great deal touched.

'Mr. Digby,' Althea said, when they were among the trees again--and it
hurt him to see the courage of her smile--'you must forgive me for being
so silly. It is the heat, you know; and this headache--it puts one so on
edge. I didn't mean to speak as I did. Of course I'm not angry.'

He was ready to help her out with the most radiant tact. 'Of course I
knew it couldn't make any real difference to you--the way I behaved.
Only I don't like you to be even a little cross with me.'

'I'm not--not even a little,' she said.

'We are friends then, really friends?'

His smile sustained and reassured her. Surely he had not seen--if he
could smile like that--ever so lightly, so merrily, and so gravely too.
Courage came back to her. She could find a smile as light as his in
replying: 'Really friends.'




CHAPTER XIV.


Gerald, after Althea had gone in, walked for some time in the garden,
taking counsel with himself. The expression of his face was still half
touched and half alarmed. He smoked two cigarettes and then came to the
conclusion that, until he could have a talk with Helen, there was no
conclusion to be come to. He never came to important conclusions
unaided. He would sleep on it and then have a talk with Helen.

He sought her out next morning on the first opportunity. She was in the
library writing letters. She looked, as was usual with her at early
morning hours, odd to the verge of ugliness. It always took her some
time to recover from the drowsy influences of the night. She was dimmed,
as it were, with eyelids half awake, and small lips pouting, and she
seemed at once more childlike and more worn than later in the day.
Gerald looked at her with satisfaction. To his observant and
appreciative eye, Helen was often at her most charming when at her
ugliest.

'I've something to talk over,' he said. 'Can you give me half an hour or
so?'

She answered, 'Certainly,' laying down her pen, and leaning back in her
chair.

'Your letters aren't important? I may keep you for a longish time.
Perhaps we might put it off till the afternoon?'

'They aren't in the least important. You may keep me as long as you
like.'

'Thanks. Have a cigarette?' He offered his case, and Helen took one and
lighted it at the match he held for her, and then Gerald, lighting his
own, proceeded to stroll up and down the room reflecting.

'Helen,' he began, 'I've been thinking things over.' His tone was
serene, yet a little inquiring. He might have been thinking over some
rather uncertain investment, or the planning of a rather exacting trip
abroad. Yet Helen's intuition leaped at once to deeper significances.
Looking out of the window at the lawn, bleached with dew, the trees, the
distant autumnal uplands, while she quietly smoked her cigarette, it was
as if her sub-consciousness, aroused and vigilant, held its breath,
waiting.

'You know,' said Gerald, 'what I've always really wanted to do more than
anything else. As I get older, I want it more and more, and get more and
more tired of my shambling sort of existence. I love this old place and
I love the country. I'd like nothing so much as to be able to live here,
try my hand at farming, paint a little, read a little, and get as much
hunting as I could.'

Helen, blowing a ring of smoke and watching it softly hover, made no
comment on these prefatory remarks.

'Well, as you know,' said Gerald, 'to do that needs money; and I've
none. And you know that the only solution we could ever find was that I
should marry money. And you know that I never found a woman with money
whom I liked well enough.' He was not looking at Helen as he said this;
his eyes were on the shabby old carpet that he was pacing. And in the
pause that followed Helen did not speak. She knew--it was all that she
had time to know--that her silence was expectant only, not ominous.
Consciousness, now, as well as sub-consciousness, seemed rushing to the
bolts and bars and windows of the little lodge of friendship, making it
secure--if still it might be made secure--against the storm that
gathered. She could not even wonder who Gerald had found. She had only
time for the dreadful task of defence, so that no blast of reality
should rush in upon them.

'Well,' said Gerald, and it was now with a little more inquiry and with
less serenity, 'I think, perhaps, I've found her. I think, Helen, that
your nice Althea cares about me, you know, and would have me.'

Helen sat still, and did not move her eyes from the sky and trees. There
was a long white cloud in the sky, an island floating in a sea of blue.
She noted its bays and peninsulas, the azure rivers that interlaced it,
its soft depressions and radiant uplands. She never forgot it. She could
have drawn the snowy island, from memory, for years. All her life long
she had waited for this moment; all her life long she had lived with the
sword of its acceptance in her heart. She had thought that she had
accepted; but now the sword turned--horribly turned--round and round in
her heart, and she did not know what she should do.

'Well,' Gerald repeated, standing still, and, as she knew, looking at
the back of her head in a little perplexity.

Helen looked cautiously down at the cigarette she held; it still smoked
languidly. She raised it to her lips and drew a whiff. Then, after that,
she dared a further effort. 'Well?' she repeated.

Gerald laughed a trifle nervously. 'I asked you,' he reminded her.

She was able, testing her strength, as a tight-rope walker slides a
careful foot along the rope, to go on. 'Oh, I see. And do you care about
her?'

Gerald was silent for another moment, and she guessed that he had run
his hand through his hair and rumpled it on end.

'She really is a little dear, isn't she?' he then said. 'You mayn't find
her interesting--though I really do; and she may be like _eau rougie_;
but, as you said, it's a pleasant draught to have beside one. She is
gentle and wise and good, and she seems to take her place here very
sweetly, doesn't she? She seems really to belong here, don't you think
so?'

Helen could not answer that question. 'Do you want me to tell you
whether you care for her?' she asked.

He laughed. 'I suppose I do.'

'And, on the whole, you hope I'll tell you that you do.'

'Well, yes,' he assented.

The dreadful steeling of her will at the very verge of swooning abysses
gave an edge to her voice. She tried to dull it, to speak very quietly
and mildly, as she said: 'I must have all the facts of the case before
me, then. I confess I hadn't suspected it was a case.'

'Which means that you'd never dreamed I could fall in love with Miss
Jakes.' Gerald's tone was a little rueful.

'Oh--you have fallen in love with her?'

'Why, that's just what I'm asking you!' he laughed again. 'Or, at least,
not that exactly, for of course it's not a question of being in love.
But I think her wise and good and gentle, and she cares for me--I think;
and it seems almost like the finger of destiny--finding her here. Have
you any idea how much money she has? It must be quite a lot,' said
Gerald.

Helen was ready with her facts. 'A very safe three thousand a year, I
believe. Not much, of course, but quite enough for what you want to do.
But,' she added, after the pause in which he reflected on this sum--it
was a good deal less than he had taken for granted--'I don't think that
Althea would marry you on that basis. She is very proud and very
romantic. If you want her to marry you, you will have to make her feel
that you care for her in herself.' It was her own pride that now
steadied her pulses and steeled her nerves. She would be as fair to
Gerald's case as though he were her brother; she would be too fair,
perhaps. Here was the pitfall of her pride that she did not clearly see.
Perhaps it was with a grim touch of retribution that she promised
herself that since he could think of Althea Jakes, he most certainly
should have her.

'Yes, she is proud,' said Gerald. 'That's one of the things one so likes
in her. She'd never hold out a finger, however much she cared.'

'You will have to hold out both hands,' said Helen.

'You think she won't have me unless I can pretend to be in love with
her? I'm afraid I can't take that on.'

'I'm glad you can't. She is too good for such usage. No,' said Helen,
holding her scales steadily, 'perfect frankness is the only way. If she
knows that you really care for her--even if you are not romantic--if you
can make her feel that the money--though a necessity--is secondary, and
wouldn't have counted at all unless you had come to care, I should say
that your chances are good--since you have reason to believe that she
has fallen in love with you.'

'It's not as if I denied her anything I had to give, is it?' Gerald
pondered on the point of conscience she put before him.

'You mean that you're incapable of caring more for any woman than for
Althea?'

'Of course not. I care a great deal more for you,' said Gerald, again
rather rueful under her probes. 'I only mean that I'm not likely to fall
in love again, or anything of that sort. She can be quite secure about
me. I'll be her devoted and faithful husband.'

'I think you care,' said Helen. 'I think you can make her happy.'

But Gerald now came and sat on the corner of the writing-table beside
her, facing her, his back to the window. 'It's a tremendous thing to
decide on, isn't it, Helen?'

She turned her eyes on him, and he looked at her with a gaze troubled
and a little groping, as though he sought in her further elucidations;
as though, for the first time, she had disappointed him a little.

'Is it?' she asked. 'Is marriage really a tremendous thing?'

'Well, isn't it?'

'I'm not sure. In one way, of course, it is. But people, perhaps,
exaggerate the influence of their own choice on the results. You can't
be sure of results, choose as carefully as you will; it's what comes
after that decides them, I imagine--the devotion, the fidelity you speak
of. And since you've found some one to whom you can promise those, some
one wise and good and gentle, isn't that all that you need be sure of?'

Gerald continued to study her face. 'You're not pleased, Helen,' he now
said. It was a curious form of torture that Helen must smile under.

'Well, it's not a case for enthusiasm, is it?' she said. 'I'm certainly
not displeased.'

'You'd rather I married her than Frances Pickering?'

'Would Frances have you, too, irresistible one?'

'Oh, I don't think so; pretty sure not. She would want a lot of things I
can't give. I was only wondering which you'd prefer.'

Helen heard the clamour of her own heart. Frances! Frances! She is
trivial; she will not take your place: she will not count in his life at
all. Althea will count; she will count more and more. She will be his
habit, his _haus-frau_, the mother of his children. He is not in love
with her; but he will come to love her, and there will be no place for
friendship in his life. Hearing that clamour she dragged herself
together, hating herself for having heard it, and answered: 'Althea, of
course; she is worth three of Frances.'

Gerald gave a little sigh. 'Well, I'm glad we agree there,' he said.
'I'm glad you see that Althea is worth three of her. What I do wish is
that you cared more about Althea.'

What he was telling her was that if she would care more about Althea, he
would too, and she wondered if this, also, were a part of pride; should
she help him to care more for Althea? A better pride sustained her; she
felt the danger in these subtleties of her torment. 'I like Althea,' she
said. 'I, too, think that she is wise and good and gentle. I think that
she will be the best of wives, the best of wives and mothers. But, as I
said, I don't feel enthusiasm; I don't feel it a case for enthusiasm.'

'Of course it's not a case for enthusiasm,' said Gerald, who was
evidently eager to range himself completely with her. 'I'm fond, and
I'll grow fonder; and I believe you will too. Don't you, Helen?'

'No doubt I shall,' said Helen. She got up now and tossed her cigarette
into the waste-paper basket, and stood for a moment looking past
Gerald's head at the snowy island, now half dissolved in blue, as though
its rivers had engulfed it. They were parting, he and she, she knew it,
and yet there was no word that she could say to him, no warning or
appeal that she could utter. If he could see that it was the end he
would, she knew, start back from his shallow project. But he did not
know that it was the end and he might never know. Did he not really
understand that an adoring wife could not be fitted into their
friendship? His innocent unconsciousness of inevitable change made
Helen's heart, in its deeper knowledge of human character, sink to a
bitterness that felt like a hatred of him, and she wondered, looking
forward, whether Gerald would ever miss anything, or ever know that
anything was gone.

Gerald sat still looking up at her as though expecting some further
suggestion, and as her eyes came back to him, she smiled to him with
deliberate sweetness, showing him thus that her conclusions were all
friendly. And he rose, smiling back, reassured and fortified. 'Well,' he
said, 'since you approve, I suppose it's settled. I shan't ask her at
once, you know. She might think it was because of what I'd guessed. I'll
lead up to it for a day or two. And, Helen, you might, if you've a
chance, put in a good word for me.'

'I will, if I've a chance,' said Helen.

Gerald, as if aware that he had taken up really too much of her time,
now moved towards the door. But he went slowly, and at the door he
paused. He turned to her smiling. 'And you give me your blessing?' he
asked.

He was most endearing when he smiled so. It was a smile like a child's,
that caressed and cajoled, and that saw through its own cajolery and
pleaded, with a little wistfulness, that there was more than could show
itself, behind. Helen knew what was behind--the sense of strangeness,
the affection and the touch of fear. She had never refused that smile
anything; she seemed to refuse it nothing now, as she answered with a
maternal acquiescence, 'I give you my blessing, dear Gerald.'




CHAPTER XV.


It was still early. When he had left her, Helen looked at her watch;
only half-past ten. She stood thinking. Should she go out, as usual,
take her place in a long chair under the limes, close her eyes and
pretend to sleep? No, she could not do that. Should she sit down in her
room with Dante and a dictionary? No, that she would not do. Should she
walk far away into the woods and lie upon the ground and weep? That
would be a singularly foolish plan, and at lunch everybody would see
that she had been crying. Yet it was impossible to remain here, to
remain still, and thinking. She must move quickly, and make her body
tired. She went to her room, pinned on her hat, drew on her gloves, and,
choosing a stick as she went through the hall, passed from the grounds
and through the meadow walk to a long road, climbing and winding, whose
walls, at either side, seemed to hold back the billows of the woodland.
The day was hot and dusty. The sky was like a blue stone, the green
monotonous, the road glared white. Helen, with the superficial
fretfulness of an agony controlled, said to herself that nothing more
like a bad water-colour landscape could be imagined; there were the
unskilful blots of heavy foliage, the sleekly painted sky, and the sunny
road was like the whiteness of the paper, picked out, for shadows, in
niggling cobalt. A stupid, bland, heartless day.

She walked along this road for several miles and left it to cross a
crisp, grassy slope from where, standing still and turning to see, she
looked down over all the country and saw, far away, the roofs of
Merriston House. She stood for a long time looking down at it, the hot
wind ruffling her skirts and hair. It was a heartless day and she
herself felt heartless. She felt herself as something silent, swift, and
raging. For now she was to taste to the full the bitter difference
between the finality of personal decision and a finality imposed,
fatefully and irrevocably, from without. She had thought herself
prepared for this ending of hope. She had even, imagining herself
hardened and indifferent, gone in advance of it and had sought to put
the past under her feet and to build up a new life. But she had not been
prepared; that she now knew. The imagination of the fact was not its
realisation in her very blood and bones, nor the standing ready, armed
for the blow, this feel of the blade between her ribs. And looking down
at the only home she had ever had, in moments long, sharp, dream-like,
her strength was drained from, her as if by a fever, and she felt that
she was changed all through and that each atom of her being was set, as
it were, a little differently, making of her a new personality, through
this shock of sudden hopelessness.

She felt her knees weak beneath her and she moved on slowly, away from
the sun, to a lonely little wood that bordered the hill-top. In her
sudden weakness she climbed the paling that enclosed it with some
difficulty, wondering if she were most inconveniently going to faint,
and walking blindly along a narrow path, in the sudden cool and
darkness, she dropped down on the moss at the first turning of the way.

Here, at last, was beauty. The light, among the fanlike branches, looked
like sea-water streaked with gold; the tall boles of the beeches were
like the pillars of a temple sunken in the sea. Helen lay back, folded
her arms behind her head, and stared up at the chinks of far brightness
in the green roof overhead. It was like being drowned, deep beneath the
surface of things. If only she could be at peace, like a drowned thing.
Lying there, she longed to die, to dissolve away into the moss, the
earth, the cool, green air. And feeling this, in the sudden beauty,
tears, for the first time, came to her eyes. She turned over on her
face, burying it in her arms and muttering in childish language, 'I'm
sick of it; sick to death of it.'

As she spoke she was aware that some one was near her. A sudden
footfall, a sudden pause, followed her words. She lifted her head, then
she sat up. The tears had flowed and her cheeks were wet with them, but
of that she was not conscious, so great was her surprise at finding
Franklin Winslow Kane standing before her on the mossy path.

Mr. Kane carried his straw hat in his hand. He was very warm, his hair
was untidy on his moist brow, his boots were white with dust, his
trousers were turned up from them and displayed an inch or so of thin
ankle encased in oatmeal-coloured socks. His tie--Helen noted the one
salient detail among the many dull ones that made up a whole so
incongruous with the magic scene--was of a peculiarly harsh and ugly
shade of blue. He had only just climbed over a low wall near by and
that was why he had come upon her so inaudibly and had, so
inadvertently, been a witness of her grief.

He did not, however, show embarrassment, but looked at her with the
hesitant yet sympathetic attentiveness of a vagrant dog.

Helen sat on the moss, her feet extended before her, and she returned
his look from her tearful eyes, making no attempt to soften the oddity
of the situation. She found, indeed, a gloomy amusement in it, and was
aware of wondering what Mr. Kane, who made so much of everything, would
make of their mutual predicament.

'Have you been having a long walk, too?' she asked.

He looked at her, smiling now a little, as if he wagged a responsive
tail; but he was not an ingratiating dog, only a friendly and a troubled
one.

'Yes, I have,' he said. 'We have got rather a long way off, Miss
Buchanan.'

'That's a comfort sometimes, isn't it,' said Helen. She took out her
handkerchief and dried her eyes, drawing herself, then, into a more
comfortable position against the trunk of a beech-tree.

'You'd rather I went away, wouldn't you,' said Mr. Kane; 'but let me say
first that I'm very sorry to have intruded, and very sorry indeed to see
that you're unhappy.'

She now felt that she did not want him to go, indeed she felt that she
would rather he stayed. After the loneliness of her despair, she liked
the presence of the friendly, wandering dog. It would be comforting to
have it sit down beside you and to have it thud its tail when you
chanced to look at it. Mr. Kane would not intrude, he would be a
consolation.

'No, don't go,' she said. 'Do sit down and rest. It's frightfully hot,
isn't it.'

He sat down in front of her, clasping his knees about, as was his wont,
and exposing thereby not only the entire oatmeal sock, but a section of
leg nearly matching it in tint.

'Well, I am rather tired,' he said. 'I've lost my way, I guess.' And,
looking about him, he went on: 'Very peaceful things aren't they, the
woods. Trees are very peaceful things, pacifying things, I mean.'

Helen looked up at them. 'Yes, they are peaceful. I don't know that I
find them pacifying.'

His eyes came back to her and he considered her again for a moment
before he said, smiling gently, 'I've been crying too.'

In the little pause that followed this announcement they continued to
look at each other, and it was not so much that their eyes sounded the
other's eyes as that they deepened for each other and, without effort or
surprise, granted to each other the quiet avowal of complete sincerity.

'I'm very sorry that you are unhappy, too,' said Helen. She noticed now
that his eyes were jaded and that all his clear, terse little face was
softened and relaxed.

'Yes, I'm unhappy,' said Franklin. 'It's queer, isn't it, that we should
find each other like this. I'm glad I've found you: two unhappy people
are better together, I think, than alone. It eases things a little,
don't you think so?'

'Perhaps it does,' said Helen. 'That is, it does if one of them is so
kind and so pacifying as you are; you do remind me of the trees,' she
smiled.

'Ah, well, that's very sweet of you, very sweet indeed,' said Franklin,
looking about him at the limpid green. 'It makes me feel I'm not
intruding, to have you say that to me. It didn't follow, of course,
because I'm glad to find you that you would be glad I'd come. You don't
show it much, Miss Buchanan'--he was looking at her again--'your
crying.'

'I'm always afraid that I show it dreadfully. That's the worst of it, I
don't dare indulge in it often.'

'No, you don't show it much. You sometimes look as though you had been
crying when I'm sure you haven't--early in the morning, for instance.'

Helen could but smile again. 'You are very observant. You really noticed
that?'

'I don't know that I'm so very observant, Miss Buchanan, but I'm
interested in everybody, and I'm particularly interested in you, so that
of course I notice things like that. Now you aren't particularly
interested in me--though you are so kind--are you?' and again Mr. Kane
smiled his weary, gentle smile.

It seemed very natural to sit under peaceful trees and talk to Mr. Kane,
and it was easy to be perfectly frank with him. Helen answered his
smile. 'No, I'm not. I'm quite absorbed in my own affairs. I'm
interested in hardly anybody. I'm very selfish.'

'Ah, you would find that you wouldn't suffer so--in just your way, I
mean--if you were less selfish,' Franklin Kane remarked.

'What other way is there?' Helen asked. 'What is your way?'

'Well, I don't know that I've found a much better one, our ways seem to
have brought us to pretty much the same place, haven't they,' he almost
mused. 'That's the worst of suffering, it's pretty much alike, at all
times and in all ways. I'm not unselfish either, you know, a mighty long
way from it. But I'm not sick of it, you know, not sick to death of it.
Forgive me if I offend in repeating your words.'

'You are unselfish, I'm sure of that,' said Helen. 'And so you must have
other things to live for. My life is very narrow, and when things I care
about are ruined I see nothing further.'

'Things are never ruined in life, Miss Buchanan. As long as there is
life there is hope and action and love. As long as you can love you
can't be sick to death of it.' Mr. Kane spoke in his deliberate,
monotonous tones.

Helen was silent for a little while. She was wondering; not about Mr.
Kane, nor about his suffering, nor about the oddity of thus talking with
him about her own. It was no more odd to talk to him than if he had been
the warm-hearted dog, dowered for her benefit with speech; she was
wondering about what he said and about that love to which he alluded.
'Perhaps I don't know much about love,' she said, and more to herself
than to Mr. Kane.

'I've inferred that since knowing you,' said Franklin.

'I mean, of course,' Helen defined, 'the selfless love you are talking
of.'

'Yes, I understand,' said Franklin. 'Now, you see, the other sort of
love, the sort that makes people go away and cry in the woods--for I've
been crying because I'm hopelessly in love, Miss Buchanan, and I presume
that you are too--well, that sort of love can't escape ruin sometimes.
That side of life may go to pieces and then there's nothing left for it
but to cry. But that side isn't all life, Miss Buchanan.'

Helen did not repudiate his interpretation of her grief. She was quite
willing that Mr. Kane should know why she had been crying, but she did
not care to talk about that side to him. It had been always, and it
would always be, she feared, all life to her. She looked sombrely before
her into the green vistas.

'Of course,' Franklin went on, 'I don't know anything about your
hopeless love affair. I'm only sure that your tragedy is a noble one and
that you are up to it, you know--as big as it is. If it's hopeless, it's
not, I'm sure, because of anything in you. It's because of fate, or
circumstance, or some unworthiness in the person you care for. Now with
me one of the hardest things to bear is the fact that I've nothing to
blame but myself. I'm not adequate, that's the trouble; no charm, you
see,' Mr. Kane again almost mused, 'no charm. Charm is the great thing,
and it means more than it seems to mean, all evolution, the survival of
the fittest--natural selection--is in it, when you come to think of it.
If I'd had charm, personality, or, well, greatness of some sort, I'd
have probably won Althea long ago. You know, of course, that it's Althea
I'm in love with, and have been for years and years. Well, there it is,'
Franklin was picking tall blades of grass that grew in a little tuft
near by and putting them neatly together as he spoke. 'There it is, but
even with the pain of just that sort of failure to bear, I don't intend
that my life shall be ruined. It can't be, by the loss of that hope. I'm
not good enough for Althea. I've got to accept that; natural selection
rejects me,' looking up from his grass blades he smiled gravely at his
companion; 'but I'm good enough for other beautiful things that need
serving. And I'm good enough to go on being Althea's friend, to be of
some value to her in that capacity. So my life isn't ruined, not by a
long way, and I wish you'd try to feel the same about yours.'

Helen didn't feel in the least inclined to try, but she found herself
deeply interested in Mr. Kane's attitude; for the first time Mr. Kane
had roused her intent interest. She looked hard at him while he sat
there, demonstrating to her the justice of life's dealings with him and
laying one blade of grass so accurately against another, and she was
wondering now about him. It was not because she thought her own feelings
sacred that she preferred them to be concealed, but she saw that Mr.
Kane's were no less sacred to him for being thus unconcealed. She even
guessed that his revelation of feeling was less for his personal relief
than for her personal benefit; that he was carrying out, in all the
depths of his sincerity, a wish to comfort her, to take her out of
herself. Well, he had taken her out of herself, and after having heard
that morning what Althea's significance could be in the life of another
man, she was curious to find what her so different significance could be
in the life of this one, as alien from Gerald in type and temperament
as it was possible to imagine. Why did Althea mean anything at all to
Gerald, and why did she mean everything to Mr. Kane? And through what
intuition of the truth had Mr. Kane come to his present hopelessness?

'Do you think women always fall in love with the adequate man, and _vice
versa_?' she asked, and her eyes were gentle as they mused on him. 'Why
should you say that it's because you're not adequate that Althea isn't
in love with you?'

Franklin fixed his eye upon her and it had now a new light, it deepened
for other problems than Helen's and his own. 'Not adequate for her--not
what she wants--that's my point,' he said. 'But there are other sorts of
mistakes to make, of course. If Althea falls in love with a man equipped
as I'm not equipped, that does prove that I lack something that would
have won her; but it doesn't prove that she's found the right man. We've
got beyond natural selection when it comes to life as a whole. He may be
the man for her to fall in love with, but is he the man to make her
happy? That's just the question for me, Miss Buchanan, and I wish you'd
help me with it.'

'Help you?' Helen rather faltered.

'Yes, please try. You must see--I see it plainly enough--that Mr. Digby
is going to marry Althea.' He actually didn't add, 'If she'll have him.'
Helen wondered how far his perspicacity went; had he seen what Gerald
had seen, and what she had not seen at all?

'You think it's Gerald who is in love with her?' she asked.

Again Franklin's eye was on her, and she now saw in it his deep
perplexity. She couldn't bear to add to it. 'I've guessed nothing,' she
said. 'You must enlighten me.'

'I wasn't sure at first,' said Franklin, groping his way. 'He seemed so
devoted to Lady Pickering; but for some days it's been obvious, hasn't
it, that that wasn't in the least serious?'

'Not in the least.'

'I couldn't have reconciled myself,' said Franklin, 'to the idea of a
man, who could take Lady Pickering seriously, marrying Althea. I can't
quite reconcile myself to the idea of a man who could, well, be so
devoted to Lady Pickering, marrying Althea. He's your friend, I know,
Miss Buchanan, as well as your relative, but you know what I feel for
Althea, and you'll forgive my saying that if I'm not big enough for her
he isn't big enough either; no, upon my soul, he isn't.'

Helen's eyes dwelt on him. She knew that, with all the forces of
concealment at her command, she wanted to keep from Mr. Kane the
blighting irony of her own inner comments; above everything, now, she
dreaded lest her irony should touch one of Mr. Kane's ideals. It was so
beautiful of him to think himself not big enough for Althea, that she
was well content that he should see Gerald in the same category of
unfitness. Perhaps Gerald was not big enough for Althea; Gerald's
bigness didn't interest Helen; the great point for her was that Mr. Kane
should not guess that she considered Althea not big enough for him. 'If
Gerald is the lucky man,' she said, after the pause in which she gazed
at him; 'if she cares enough for Gerald to marry him, then I think he
will make her happy; and that's the chief thing, isn't it?'

Mr. Kane could not deny that it was, and yet, evidently, he was not
satisfied. 'I believe you'll forgive me if I go on,' he said. 'You see
it's so tremendously important to me, and what I'm going to say isn't
really at all offensive--I mean, people of your world and Mr. Digby's
world wouldn't find it so. I'll tell you the root of my trouble, Miss
Buchanan. Your friend is a poor man, isn't he, and Althea is a fairly
rich woman. Can you satisfy me on this point? I can give Althea up; I
must give her up; but I can hardly bear it if I'm to give her up to a
mere fortune-hunter, however happy he may be able to make her.'

Helen's cheeks had coloured slightly. 'Gerald isn't a mere
fortune-hunter,' she said. 'People of my world do think fortune-hunting
offensive.'

'Forgive me then,' said Franklin, gazing at her, contrite but
unperturbed. 'I'm very ignorant of your world. May I put it a little
differently. Would Mr. Digby be likely to fall in love with a woman if
she hadn't a penny?'

She had quite forgiven him. She smiled a little in answering. 'He has
often fallen in love with women without a penny, but he could hardly
marry a woman who hadn't one.'

'He wouldn't wish to marry Althea, then, if she had no money?'

'However much he would wish it, I don't think he would be so foolish as
to do it,' said Helen.

'Can't a man worth his salt work for the woman he loves?'

'A man well worth his salt may not be trained for making money,' Helen
returned. She knew the question clamouring in his heart, the question he
must not ask, nor she answer: 'Is he in love with Althea?' Mr. Kane
could never accept nor understand what the qualified answer to such a
question would have to be, and she must leave him with his worst
perplexity unsolved. But one thing she could do for him, and she hoped
that it might soften a little the bitterness of his uncertainty. The
sunlight suddenly had failed, and a slight wind passed among the boughs
overhead. Helen got upon her feet, straightening her hat and putting
back her hair. It was time to be going homewards. They went down the
path and climbed over the palings, and it was on the hill-top that Helen
said, looking far ahead of her, far over the now visible roofs of
Merriston:

'I've known Gerald Digby all my life, and I know Althea, now, quite
well. And if Gerald is to be the lucky man I'd like to say, for him, you
know--and I think it ought to set your mind at rest--that I think Althea
will be quite as lucky as he will be, and that I think that he is worthy
of her.'

Franklin kept his eyes on her as she spoke, and though she did not meet
them, her far gaze, fixed ahead, seemed in its impersonal gravity to
commune with him, for his consolation, more than an answering glance
would have done. She was giving him her word for something, and the very
fact that she kept it impersonal, held it there before them both, made
it more weighty and more final. Franklin evidently found it so. He
presently heaved a sigh in which relief was mingled with
acceptance--acceptance of the fact that, from her, he must expect no
further relief. And presently, as they came out upon the winding road,
he said: 'Thanks, that's very helpful.'

They walked on then in silence. The sun was gone and the wind blew
softly; the freshness of the coming rain was in the air. Helen lifted
her face to them as the first slow drops began to fall. In her heart,
too, the fierceness of her pain was overcast. Something infinitely sad,
yet infinitely peaceful, stilled her pulses. Infinitely sad, yet
infinitely funny too. How small, how insignificant, this tangle of the
whole-hearted and the half-hearted; what did it all come to, and how
feel suffering as tragic when farce grimaced so close beside it? Who
could take it seriously when, in life, the whole-hearted were so
deceived and based their loves on such illusion? To feel the irony was
to acquiesce, perhaps, and acquiescence, even if only momentary, like
the lull and softness in nature, was better than the beating fierceness
of rebellion. Everything was over. And here beside her went the dear
ungainly dog. She turned her head and smiled at him, the raindrops on
her lashes.

'You don't mind the rain, Miss Buchanan?' said Franklin, who had looked
anxiously at the weather, and probably felt himself responsible for not
producing an umbrella for a lady's need.

'I like it.' She continued to smile at him.

'Miss Buchanan,' said Franklin, looking at her earnestly and not smiling
back, 'I want to say something. I've seemed egotistic and I've been
egotistic. I've talked only about my own troubles; but I don't believe
you wanted to talk about yours, did you?' Helen, smiling, slightly
shook her head. 'And at the same time you've not minded my knowing that
you have troubles to bear.' Again she shook her head. 'Well, that's what
I thought; that's all right, then. What I wanted to say was that if ever
I can help you in any way--if ever I can be of any use--will you please
remember that I'm your friend.'

Helen, still looking at him, said nothing for some moments. And now,
once more, a slight colour rose in her cheeks. 'I can't imagine why you
should be my friend,' she said. 'I feel that I know a great deal about
you; but you know nothing about me, and please believe me when I say
that there's very little to know.'

Already he knew her well enough to know that the slight colour,
lingering on her cheek, meant that she was moved. 'Ah, I can't believe
you there,' he said. 'And at all events, whatever there is to know, I'm
its friend. You don't know yourself, you see. You only know what you
feel, not at all what you are.'

'Isn't that what I am?' She looked away, disquieted by this analysis of
her own personality.

'By no means all,' said Franklin. 'You've hardly looked at the you that
can do things--the you that can think things.'

She didn't want to look at them, poor, inert, imprisoned creatures. She
looked, instead, at the quaint, unexpected, and touching thing with
which she was presented--Mr. Kane's friendship. She would have liked to
have told him that she was grateful and that she, too, was his friend;
but such verbal definitions as these were difficult and alien to her,
as alien as discussion of her own character and its capacities. It
seemed to be claiming too much to claim a capacity for friendship. She
didn't know whether she was anybody's friend, really--as Mr. Kane would
have counted friendship. She thought him dear, she thought him good, and
yet she hardly wanted him, would hardly miss him if he were not there.
He touched her, more deeply than she perhaps quite knew, and yet she
seemed to have nothing for him. So she gave up any explicit declaration,
only turning her eyes on him and smiling at him again through her
rain-dimmed lashes, as they went down the winding road together.




CHAPTER XVI.


It was Althea who, during the next few days, while Gerald with the
greatest tact and composure made his approaches, was most unconscious of
what was approaching her. Everybody else now saw quite clearly what
Gerald's intentions were. Althea was dazed; she did not know what the
bright object that had come so overpoweringly into her life wanted of
her. She had feared--sickeningly--with a stiffening of her whole nature
to resistance, that he wanted to flirt with her as well as with Lady
Pickering. Then she had seen that he wasn't going to flirt, that he was
going to be her friend, and then--this in the two or three days that
followed Gerald's talk with Helen--that he was going to be a dear one.
She had only adjusted her mind to this grave joy and wondered, with all
the perplexity of her own now recognised love, whether it could prove
more than a very tremulous joy, when the final revelation came upon her.
It came, and it was still unexpected, one afternoon when she and Gerald
sat in the drawing-room together. It was very warm, and they had come
into the cooler house after tea to look at a book that Gerald wanted to
show her. It had proved to be not much of a book after all, and even
while standing with him in the library, while he turned the musty
leaves for her and pointed out the funny old illustrations he had been
telling her of, Althea had felt that the book was only a pretext for
getting her away to himself. He had led her back to the drawing-room and
he had said, 'Don't let's go out again, it's much nicer here. Please sit
here and talk to me.'

It was just the hour, just such an afternoon as that on which poor
Franklin had arrived; Althea thought of that as she and Gerald sat down
on the same little sofa where she and Franklin had sat. And, in a swift
flash of association, she remembered that Franklin had wanted to kiss
her, and had kissed her. They had left Franklin under the limes with
Helen; he had been reading something to Helen out of a pamphlet, and
Helen had looked, though rather sleepy, kindly acquiescent; but the
memory of the past could do no more than stir a faint pity for the
present Franklin; she was wishing--and it seemed the most irresistible
longing of all her life--that Gerald Digby wanted to kiss her too. The
memory and the wish threw her thoughts into confusion, but she was still
able to maintain her calm, to smile at him and say, 'Certainly, let us
talk.'

'But not about politics and philanthropy to-day,' said Gerald, who
leaned his elbow on his knee and looked quietly yet intently at her; 'I
want to talk about ourselves, if I may.'

'Do let us talk about ourselves,' said Althea.

'Well, I don't believe that what I'm going to say will surprise you. I'm
sure you've seen how much I've come to care about you,' said Gerald.

Althea kept her eyes fixed calmly upon him; her self-command was great,
even in the midst of an overpowering hope.

'I know that we are real friends,' she returned, smiling.

Her calm, her cool, sweet smile, like the light in the shaded room, were
very pleasing to Gerald. 'Ah, yes, but that was only a step, you see,'
he smiled back. He did not let her guess his full confidence, he took
all the steps one after the other in their proper order. He couldn't
give her romance, but he could give her every grace, and her calm made
him feel, happily and securely, that grace would quite content her.

'You must see,' he went on, still with his eyes on hers, 'that it's more
than that. You must see that you are dearer than that.' And then he
brought out his simple question, 'Will you be my wife?'

Althea sat still and her mind whirled. Until then she had been
unprepared. Her own feeling, the feeling that she had refused for days
to look at, had been so strong that she had only known its strength and
its danger to her pride; she had had no time to wonder about Gerald's
feeling. And now, in its freedom, her feeling was so joyous that she
could know only its joy. She was dear to him. He asked her to marry him.
It seemed enough, more than enough, to make joy a permanent thing in her
life. She had not imagined it possible to marry a man who did not woo
and urge, who did not make her feel the ardour of his love. But, now,
breathlessly, she found that reality was quite different from her
imagination and yet so blissful that she could feel nothing wanting in
it. And she could say nothing. She looked at him with her large eyes,
gravely, and touched, a little abashed by their gaze, he took her hand,
kissed it, and murmured, 'Please say you'll have me.'

'Do you love me?' Althea breathed out; it was not that she questioned or
hesitated; the words came to her lips in answer to the situation rather
than in questioning of him. And it was hardly a shock; it was, in a
subtle way, a further realisation of exquisiteness, when the situation,
in his reply, defined itself as a reality still further removed from her
imagination of what such a situation should be.

Holding her hand, his gay brown eyes upon her, he said, after only the
very slightest pause, 'Miss Jakes, I'm not a romantic person, you see
that; you see the sort of person I am. I can't make pretty speeches, not
when I'm serious, as I am now. When I make pretty speeches, I'm only
flirting. I like you. I respect you. I've watched you here in my old
home and I've thought, "If only she would make it home again." I've
thought that you'd help me to make a new life. I want to come and live
here, with you, and do the things I told you about--the things that
needed money.'

His eyes were on hers, so quietly and so gravely, now, that they seemed
to hold from her all ugly little interpretations; he trusted her with
the true one, he trusted her not to see it as ugly. 'You see, I'm not
romantic,' he went on, 'and I can only tell you the truth. I couldn't
have thought of marrying you if you hadn't had money, but I needn't tell
you that, if you'd had millions, I wouldn't have thought of marrying
you unless I cared for you. So there it is, quite clear and simple. I
think I can make you happy; will you make me happy?'

It was exquisite, the trust, the truth, the quiet gravity, and yet there
was pain in the exquisiteness. She could not look at it yet distinctly
for it seemed part of the beauty. It was rarer, more dignified, this
wooing, than commonplace protestations of devotion. It was a large and
beautiful life he opened to her and he needed her to make it real. They
needed each other. Yet--here the pain hovered--they needed each other so
differently. To her, he was the large and beautiful life; to him, she
was only a part of it, and a means to it. But she could not look at
pain. Pride was mounting in her, pride in him, her beloved and her
possession. Before all the world, henceforth, he would be hers. And the
greatness of that pride cast out lesser ones. He had discriminated, been
carefully sincere; her sincerity did not need to be careful, it was an
unqualified gift she had to make him. 'I love you,' she said. 'I will
make it your home.'

And again Gerald was touched and a little confused. He kissed her hand
and then, her eyes of mute avowal drawing him, he leaned to her and
kissed her cheek. He felt it difficult to answer such a speech, and all
that he found to say at last was, 'You will make me romantic, dear
Althea.'

That evening he sought Helen out again; but he need not have come with
his news, for it was none. Althea's blissful preoccupation and his
gaiety had all the evening proclaimed the happy event. But he had to
talk to Helen, and finding her on the terrace, he drew her hand through
his arm and paced to and fro with her. She was silent, and, suddenly and
oddly, he found it difficult to say anything. 'Well,' he ventured at
last.

'Well,' Helen echoed in the darkness.

'It's all settled,' said Gerald.

'Yes,' said Helen.

'And I'm very happy.'

'I am so glad.'

'And she is really a great dear. Anything more generously sweet I've
never encountered.'

'I'm so glad,' Helen repeated.

There seemed little more to say, but, before they went in, he squeezed
her hand and added: 'If it hadn't been for you, I'd never have met her.
Dear Helen, I have to thank you for my good fortune. I've always had to
thank you for the nice things that have happened to me.'

But to this Helen demurred, though smiling apparently, as she answered,
going in, 'Oh no, I don't think you have this to thank me for.'

After they had gone upstairs, Althea came to Helen's room, and putting
her arms around her she hid her face on her shoulder. She was too happy
to feel any sense of shyness. It was Helen who was shy. So shy that the
tears rose to her eyes as she stood there, embraced. And, strangely, she
felt, with all her disquiet at being so held by Althea, that the tears
were not only for shyness, but for her friend. Althea's happiness
touched her. It seemed greater than her situation warranted. Helen could
not see the situation as rapturous. It was not such a tempered, such a
reasonable joy that she could have accepted, had it been her part to
accept or to decline. And, held by Althea, hot, shrinking, sorry, she
was aware of another anger against Gerald.

'My dear Althea, I know. I do so heartily congratulate you and Gerald,'
she said.

'He told you, dear Helen?'

'Yes, he told me, but of course I saw.'

'I feel now as if you were my sister,' said Althea, tightening her arms.
'We will always be very near each other, Helen. It is so beautiful to
think that you brought us together, isn't it?'

Helen was forced to put the distasteful cup to her lips. 'Yes indeed,'
she said.

'He is so dear, so wonderful,' said Althea. 'There is so much more in
him than he knows himself. I want him to be a great man, Helen. I
believe he can be, don't you?'

'I've never thought of Gerald as great,' Helen replied, trying to smile.

'Ah, well, wait; you will see! I suppose it is only a woman in love with
a man who sees all his capacities. We will live here, and in London.'
Althea, while she spoke her guileless assurance, raised her head and
threw back her unbound hair, looking her full trust into Helen's eyes.
'I wouldn't care to live for more than half the year in the country, and
it wouldn't be good for Gerald. I want to do so much, Helen, to make so
many people happy, if I can. And, Helen dear,' she smiled now through
her tears, 'if only you could be one of them; if only this could mean in
some way a new opening in your life, too. One can never tell; happiness
is such an infectious thing; if you are a great deal with two very happy
people, you may catch the habit. I can't bear to think that you aren't
happy, rare and lovely person that you are. I told Gerald so to-day. I
said to him that I felt life hadn't given you any of the joy we all so
need. Helen, dear, you must find your fairy-prince. You must, you shall
fall in love, too.'

Helen controlled her face and gulped on. 'That's not so easily managed,'
she remarked. 'I've seen a good many fairy-princes in my life, and
either I haven't melted their hearts, or they haven't melted mine. We
can't all draw lucky numbers, you know; there are not enough to go
round.'

'As if anybody wouldn't fall in love with you, if you gave them the
chance,' said Althea. 'You _are_ the lucky number.'

Althea felt next day a certain tameness in the public reception of her
news. She had not intended the news to be public yet for some time.
Franklin's presence seemed to make an announcement something of an
indelicacy, but, whether through her responsibility or whether through
Gerald's, or whether through the obviousness of the situation, she found
that everybody knew. It could not make commonplace to her her own inner
joy, but she saw that to Aunt Julia, to the girls, to Lady Pickering,
and Sir Charles, her position was commonplace. She was, to them, a nice
American who was being married as much because she had money as because
she was nice.

Aunt Julia voiced this aspect to her on the first opportunity, drawing
her away after breakfast to walk with her along the terrace while she
said, very gravely, 'Althea, dear, do you really think you'll be happy
living in England?'

'Happier than anywhere else in the world,' said Althea.

'I didn't realise that you felt so completely expatriated.'

'England has always seemed very homelike to me, and this already is more
of a home to me than any I have known for years,' said Althea, looking
up at Merriston House.

'Poor child!' said Aunt Julia, 'what a comment on your rootless life.
You must forgive me, Althea,' she went on in a lower voice, 'but I feel
myself in a mother's place to you, and I do very much want to ask you to
consider more carefully before you make things final. Mr. Digby is a
charming man; but how little you have seen of him. I beg you to wait for
a year before you marry.'

'I'm afraid I can't gratify you, Aunt Julia. I certainly can't ask
Gerald to wait for a year.'

'My dear, why not!' Aunt Julia did not repress.

Althea went on calmly. 'It is true, of course, that we are not in love
like two children, with no thought of responsibility or larger claims.
You see, one outgrows that rather naive American idea about marriage.
Mine is, if you like, a _mariage de convenance_, in the sense that
Gerald is a poor man and cannot marry unless he marries money. And I am
proud to have the power to help him to build up a large and dignified
life, and we don't intend to postpone our marriage when we know, trust,
and love each other as we do.'

'A large life, my dear,' said Aunt Julia. 'Don't deceive yourself into
thinking that. One needs a far larger fortune than your tiny one,
nowadays, if one is to build up a large life. What I fear more than
anything is that you don't in the least realise what English country
life is all the year round. Imagine, if you can, your winters here.'

'I shan't spend many winters here,' said Althea smiling. She did not
divulge her vague, bright plans to Aunt Julia, but they filled the
future for her; she saw the London drawing-room where, when Gerald was
in Parliament, she would gather delightful people together. Among such
people, Lady Blair, Miss Buckston, her friends in Devonshire, and of
Grimshaw Rectory, seemed hardly more than onlookers; they did not fit
into the pictures of her new life.

And if they did not fit, what of Franklin? Even in old unsophisticated
pictures of a _salon_ he had been a figure adjusted with some
difficulty. It had, in days that seemed immeasurably remote--days when
she had wondered whether she could marry Franklin--it had been difficult
to see herself introducing him with any sense of achievement to Lady
Blair or to the Collings, and she knew now, clearly, why: in Lady
Blair's drawing-room, as in Devonshire and at Grimshaw Rectory, Franklin
would have looked a funny little man. How much more funny in the new
setting. What would he do in it? What was it to mean to him? What would
any setting mean to Franklin in which he was to see her as no longer
needing him? For, and this was the worst of it, and in spite of
happiness Althea felt it as a pang indeed, she no longer needed
Franklin; and knowing this she longed at once to avoid and to atone to
him.

She found him after her walk with Aunt Julia sitting behind a newspaper
in the library. Franklin always read the newspapers every morning, and
it struck Althea as particularly touching that this good habit should be
persevered in under his present circumstances. She was so much touched
by Franklin, the habit of old intimacy was so strong, that her own
essential change of heart seemed effaced by the uprising of feeling for
him. 'O Franklin!' she said. He had risen as she entered, and he stood
looking at her with a smile. It seemed to receive her, to forgive, to
understand. Almost weeping, she went to him with outstretched hands,
faltering, 'I am so happy, and I am so sorry, dear Franklin. Oh, forgive
me if I have hurt your life.'

He looked at her, no longer smiling, very gravely, holding her hands,
and she knew that he was not thinking of his life, but of hers. And,
with a further pang, she remembered that the last time they had stood
so--she and Franklin--she had given him more hope for his life than ever
before in all their histories. He must remember, too, and he must feel
her unworthy in remembering, and even though she did not need Franklin,
she could not bear him to think her unworthy. 'Forgive me,' she
repeated. And the tears rose to her eyes. 'I've been so tossed, so
unstable. I haven't known. I only know now, you see, dear Franklin. I've
really fallen in love at last. Can you ever forgive me?'

'For not having fallen in love with me?' he asked gently.

'No, dear,' she answered, forced into complete sincerity. What was it in
Franklin that compelled sincerity, and made it so easy to be sincere?
There, at least, was a quality for which one would always need him.
'No, not for that, but for having thought that I might, perhaps, fall in
love with you. It is the hope I gave you that must make this seem so
sudden and so cruel.'

He had not felt her cruel, but he had felt something that was now giving
his eyes their melancholy directness of gaze. He was looking at his
Althea; he was not judging her; but he was wishing that she had been
able to think of him a little more as mere friend, a little more as the
man who, after all, had loved her all these years; wishing that she had
not so completely forgotten him, so completely relegated and put him
away when her new life was coming to her. But he understood, he did not
judge, and he answered, 'I don't think you've been cruel, Althea dear,
though it's been rather cruel of fortune, if you like, to arrange it in
just this way. As for hurting my life, you've been the most beautiful
thing in it.'

Something in his voice, final acceptance, final resignation, as though,
seeing her go for ever, he bowed his head in silence, filled her with
intolerable sadness. Was it that she wanted still to need him, or was it
that she could not bear the thought that he might, some day, no longer
need her?

The sense of an end of things, chill and penetrating like an autumnal
wind, made all life seem bleak and grey for the moment. 'But, Franklin,
you will always be my friend. That is not changed,' she said. 'Please
tell me that nothing of that side of things is changed, dear Franklin.'

And now that sincerity in him, that truth-seeing and truth-speaking
quality that was his power, became suddenly direful. For though he
looked at her ever so gently and ever so tenderly, his eyes pierced her.
And, helplessly, he placed the truth before them both, saying: 'I'll
always be your friend, of course, dear Althea. You'll always be the most
beautiful thing I've had in my life; but what can I be in yours? I don't
belong over here, you know. I'll not be in your life any longer. How can
it not be changed? How will you stay my friend, dear Althea?'

The tears rolled down her cheeks. That he should see, and accept, and
still love her, made him seem dearer than ever before, while, in her
heart, she knew that he spoke the truth. 'Don't--don't, dear Franklin,'
she pleaded. 'You will be often with us. Don't talk as if it were at an
end. How could our friendship have an end? Don't let me think that you
are leaving me.'

He smiled a little, but it was a valorous smile. 'I'll never leave you
in that way.'

'Don't speak, then, as if I were leaving you.'

But Franklin, though he smiled the valorous smile, couldn't give her a
consolation not his to give. Did he see clearly, and for the first time,
that he had always counted for her as a solace, a substitute for the
things he couldn't be, and that now, when these things had come to her,
he counted really for nothing at all? If he did see it, he didn't resent
it; he would understand that, too, even though it left him with no
foothold in her life. But he couldn't pretend--to give her comfort--that
she needed him any longer. 'I want to count for anything you'll let me
count for,' he said; 'but--it isn't your fault, dear--I don't think I
will ever count for much, now; I don't see how I can. If that's being
left, I guess I am left.'

She gazed at him, and all that she had to offer was her longing that the
truth were not the truth, and for the moment of silent confrontation her
pain was so great that its pressure brought an involuntary cry--protest
or presage--it felt like both. 'You will--you will count--for much more,
dear Franklin.'

She didn't know that it was the truth; his seemed to be the final truth;
but it came, and it had to be said, and he could accept it as her
confession and her atonement.




CHAPTER XVII.


Franklin was gone and Sir Charles was gone, and Lady Pickering soon
followed, not in the least discomfited by the unexpected turn of events.
Lady Pickering could hardly have borne to suspect that Gerald preferred
to flirt with Miss Jakes rather than with herself; that he preferred to
marry her was nothing of an affront. Althea herself was very soon to
return to America for a month with Aunt Julia and the girls, settle
business matters and see old friends before turning her face, this time
for good, to the country that was now to be her home.

Franklin was gone, and Gerald and Helen were left, and all that Gerald
more and more meant, all that was bright and alien too--the things of
joy and the things of adjustment and of wonder--effaced poor Franklin
while it emphasised those painful truths that he had seen and shown her
and that she had only been able to protest against. The thought of
Franklin came hardly at all, though the truths he had put before her
lingered in a haunting sense of disappointment with herself; she had
failed Franklin in deeper, more subtle ways than in the mere shattering
of his hopes.

Althea had never been a good business woman; her affairs were taken care
of for her in Boston by wise and careful cousins; but she found that
Gerald, in spite of his air of irresponsibility, was a very good
business man, and it was he who pointed out to her, with cheerful and
affectionate frankness, that her fortune was not as large as she, with
her heretofore unexacting demands on it, had imagined. It was only when
Althea took for granted that it could suffice for much larger, new
demands, that Gerald pointed out the facts of limitation; to himself, he
made this clear and sweet, the facts were amply sufficient; there was
more than enough for his sober wants. But Althea, sitting over the
papers with him in the library, and looking rather vague and wistful,
realised that if Gerald's wants were to be the chief consideration many
of her own must, indeed, go unsatisfied. Gerald evidently took it
perfectly for granted that her wants would be his. Looking up at the
flat and faded portraits of bygone Digbys, while this last one, his
charming eyes lifted so brightly and so intelligently upon her, made
things clear, looking up, over his head, at these ancestors of her
affianced, Althea saw in their aspect of happy composure that they, too,
had always taken it for granted that their wives' wants were just
that--just their own wants. She couldn't--not at first--lucidly
articulate to herself any marked divergence between her wants and
Gerald's; she, too, wanted to see Merriston House restored and made
again into a home for Digbys; but Merriston House had been seen by her
as a means, not as an end. She had seen it as a centre to a larger life;
he saw it as a boundary beyond which they could not care to stray. After
the golden bliss of the first days of her new life there, as Gerald's
promised wife, there came for her a pause of rather perplexed reaction
in this sense of limits, this sense of being placed in a position that
she must keep, this strange sense of slow but sure metamorphosis into
one of a succession of Mrs. Digbys whose wants were their husbands'.

'Yes, yes, I quite see, dear,' she said at intervals, while Gerald
explained to her what it cost to keep up even such a small place. 'What
a pity that those stocks of mine you were telling me about don't yield
more. It isn't much we have, is it?'

'I think it's a great deal,' laughed Gerald. 'It's quite enough to be
very happy on. And, first and foremost, when it's a question of
happiness, and since you are so dear and generous, I shall be able to
hunt at last and keep my own horses. I'm sick of being dependent on my
friends for a mount now and then. Not that you'll have much sympathy
with that particular form of happiness, I know,' he added, smiling, as
he put his hand on her shoulder and scanned the next document.

Althea was silent for a moment. She hardly knew what the odd shock that
went through her meant; then she recognised that it was fear. To see it
as that gave her courage; at all events, love Gerald as she did, she
would not be a coward for love of him. The effort was in her voice,
making it tremulous, as she said: 'But, Gerald, you know I don't like
hunting; you know I think it cruel.'

He looked at her; he smiled. 'So do I, you nice dear.'

'But you won't pain me by doing it--you will give it up?'

It was now his turn to look really a little frightened. 'But it's in my
blood and bones, the joy of it, Althea. You wouldn't, seriously, ask me
to give it up for a whim?'

'Oh, it isn't a whim.'

'A theory, then.'

'I think you ought to give it up for a theory like that one. Yes, I even
think that you ought to give it up to please me.'

'But why shouldn't you give up your theory to please me?' He had turned
his eyes on his papers now, and was feigning to scan them.

'It is a question of right and wrong to me.'

Gerald was silent for a moment. He was not irritated, she saw that; not
angry. He quite recognised her point, and he didn't like her the less
for holding to it; but he recognised his own point just as clearly, and,
after the little pause, she found that he was resolute in holding to it.

'I'm afraid I can't give it up--even to please you, dear,' he said.

Althea sat looking down at the papers that lay on the table; she saw
them through tears of helpless pain. There was nothing to be done and
nothing to be said. She could not tell him that, since he did not love
her sufficiently to give up a pleasure for her sake, she must give him
up; nor could she tell him that he must not use her money for pleasures
that she considered wrong. But it was this second impossible retort--the
first, evidently, did not cross his mind--that was occupying Gerald. He
was not slow in seeing delicacies, though he was slow indeed in seeing
what might have been solemnities. The position couldn't strike him as
solemn; he couldn't conceive that a woman might break off her
engagement for such a cause; but he did see his own position of
beneficiary as delicate.

His next words showed it: 'Of course I won't hunt here, if you really
say not. I could go away to hunt. The difficulty is that we want to keep
horses, don't we? and if I have a hunter it will be rather funny never
to use him at home.'

Althea saw that it would be rather funny. 'If you have a hunter I would
far rather you hunted here than that you went away to hunt.'

'Perhaps you'd rather I had a horse that couldn't hunt. The hunter would
be your gift, of course. I could just go on depending on my friends for
a mount, though that would look funny, too, wouldn't it?'

'If you will hunt, I want to give you your hunter.'

'In a sense it will be using your money to do something you disapprove
of.' Gerald was smiling at her as though he felt that he was bringing
her round to reasonableness. 'Perhaps that's ugly.'

'Please don't speak of the money; mine is yours.'

'That makes me seem all the dingier, I know,' said Gerald, half
ruefully, yet still smiling at her. 'I do wish I could give it up, just
to please you, but really I can't. You must just shut your eyes and
pretend I'm not a brute.'

After this little encounter, which left its mark on Althea's heart, she
felt that Gerald ought to be the more willing to yield in other things
and to enter into her projects. 'Don't you think, dear,' she said to him
a day or two after, when they were walking together, 'don't you think
that you ought soon to be thinking of a seat in Parliament? That will
be such a large, worthy life for you.'

Gerald, as they walked, was looking from right to left, happily,
possessively, over the fields and woods. He brought his attention to her
suggestion with a little effort, and then he laughed. 'Good gracious,
no! I've no political views.'

'But oughtn't you to have them?'

'You shall provide me with them, dear.'

'Gladly; and will you use them?'

'Not in Parliament,' laughed Gerald.

'But seriously, dear, I hope you will think of it.'

He turned gay, protesting, and now astonished eyes upon her. 'But I
can't think of it seriously. Old Battersby is a member for these parts,
and his seat is as firm as a rock.'

'Can't you find another seat?'

'But, my dear, even if I had any leaning that way, which I haven't,
where am I to find the time and money?'

'Give less time and money to hunting,' she could not repress.

But, over the sinking of her heart, she kept her voice light, and
Gerald, all unsuspecting, answered, as if it were a harmless jest they
were bandying, 'What a horrid score! But, yes, it's quite true; I want
my time for hunting and farming and studying a bit, and then you mustn't
forget that I enjoy dabbling at my painting in my spare moments and have
the company of my wise and charming Althea to cultivate. I've quite
enough to fill my time with.'

She was baffled, perplexed, and hurt. Her thoughts fixed with some irony
on his painting. Dabble at it indeed. Gerald had shown her some of his
sketches and they had hardly seemed to Althea to merit more than that
description. Her own tastes had grown up securely framed by books and
lectures. Her speciality was early Italian art. She liked pictures of
Madonnas surrounded by exquisite accessories--all of which she
accurately remembered. She didn't at all care for Japanese prints, and
Gerald's sketches looked to her rather like Japanese prints. She really
didn't imagine that he intended her to take them seriously, and when he
had brought them out and shown them to her she had said, 'Pretty, very
pretty indeed, dear; really you have talent, I'm sure of it. With hard
work, under a good master, you might have become quite a painter.' She
had then seen the little look of discomfiture on Gerald's face, though
he laughed good-humouredly as he put away his sketches, saying to Helen,
who was present, 'I'm put in my place, you see.'

Althea had hastened to add, 'But, dear, really I think them very pretty.
They show quite a direct, simple feeling for colour. Don't they, Helen?
Don't you feel with me that they are very pretty?'

Helen had said that she knew nothing about pictures, but liked Gerald's
very much.

It was hard now to be asked to accept this vagrant artistry instead of
the large, political life she had seen for him. And what of the London
drawing-room?

'You must keep in touch with people, Gerald,' she said. 'You mustn't
sink into the country squire for ever.'

'Oh, but that's just what I want to sink into,' said Gerald. 'Don't
bother about people, though, dear. We can have plenty of people to stay
with us, and go about a bit ourselves.'

'But we must be in London for part of the year,' said Althea.

'Oh, you will run up now and then for a week whenever you like,' said
Gerald.

'A week! How can one keep in touch with what is going on in a week?
Can't we take a little house there? One of those nice little old houses
in Westminster, for example?'

'A house, my dear! Why, you don't want to leave Merriston, do you? What
would become of Merriston if we had a house in London--and of all our
plans? We really couldn't manage that, dear--we really couldn't afford
it.'

Yes, she saw the life very distinctly, now; that of the former Mrs.
Digbys--that of cheerful squiress and wise helpmate. And, charmed though
she was with her lover, Althea was not charmed with that prospect. She
promised herself that things should turn out rather differently. What
was uncomfortable already was to find that her promises were becoming
vague and tentative. There was a new sense of bondage. Bliss was in it,
but the bonds began to chafe.




CHAPTER XVIII.


On a chill day in late October, Franklin Winslow Kane walked slowly down
a narrow street near Eaton Square examining the numbers on the doors as
he passed. He held his umbrella open over his shoulder, for propitiation
rather than for shelter, since the white fog had not yet formed into a
drizzle. His trousers were turned up, and his feet, wisely, for the
streets were wet and slimy, encased in neat galoshes. After a little
puzzling at the end of the street, where the numbers became confusing,
he found the house he sought on the other side--a narrow house, painted
grey, a shining knocker upon its bright green door, and rows of evenly
clipped box in each window. Franklin picked his way over the road and
rang the bell. This was his first stay in London since his departure
from Merriston in August. He had been in Oxford, in Cambridge, in
Birmingham, and Edinburgh. He had made friends and found many interests.
The sense of scientific links between his own country and England had
much enlarged his consciousness of world-citizenship. He had ceased
altogether to feel like a tourist, he had almost ceased to feel like an
alien; how could he feel so when he had come to know so many people who
had exactly his own interests? This wider scope of understanding
sympathy was the main enlargement that had come to him, at least it was
the main enlargement for his own consciousness. Another enlargement
there was, but it seemed purely personal and occupied his thoughts far
less.

He waited now upon the doorstep of old Miss Buchanan's London house, and
he had come there to call upon young Miss Buchanan. The memory of
Helen's unobtrusive, wonderfully understanding kindness to him during
his last days at Merriston, remained for him as the only bright spot in
a desolate blankness. He had not seen her again. She had been paying
visits, but she had written in return to a note of inquiry from
Cambridge, to say that she was settled, now, in London for a long time
and that she would be delighted to see him on the day he suggested--that
of his arrival in town.

He was ushered by the most staid, most crisp of parlour-maids, not into
Helen's own little sanctum downstairs, but into the drawing-room. It was
a narrow room, running to the back of the house where a long window
showed a ghostly tree in the fog outside, and it was very much crowded
with over-large furniture gathered together from Miss Buchanan's past.
There were chintz-covered chairs and sofas that one had to make one's
way around, and there were cabinets filled with china, and there were
tables with reviews and book-cutters laid out on them. And it was the
most cheerful of rooms; three canaries sang loudly in a spacious gilt
cage that stood in a window, the tea-table was laid before the fire, and
the leaping firelight played on the massive form of the black cat,
dozing in his basket, on the gilt of the canaries' cage, on the china
in the cabinets, the polished surface of the chintz, and the copper
kettle on the tea-table.

Franklin stood and looked about him, highly interested. He liked to
think that Helen had such a comfortable refuge to fall back upon, though
by the time that old Miss Buchanan appeared he had reflected that so
much comfort might be just the impediment that had prevented her from
taking to her wings as he felt persuaded she could and should do. Old
Miss Buchanan interested him even more than her room. She was a firm,
ample woman of over sixty, with plentiful grey hair brushed back
uncompromisingly from her brow, tight lips, small, attentive eyes with
projecting eyebrows over them, and an expression at once of reticence
and cordiality. She wore a black dress of an old-fashioned cut, and
round her neck was a heavy gold chain and a large gold locket.

Helen would be in directly, she said, and expected him.

Franklin saw at once that she took him for granted, and that she was
probably in the habit of taking all Helen's acquaintances for granted,
and of making them comfortable until Helen came and took them off her
hands. She had, he inferred, many interests of her own, and did not
waste much conjecture on stray callers. Franklin was quite content to
count as a stray caller, and he had always conjecture enough for two in
any encounter. He talked away in his even, deliberate tones, while they
drank tea and ate the hottest of muffins that stood in a covered dish on
a brass tripod before the fire, and, while they talked, Miss Buchanan
shot rather sharper glances at him from under her eyebrows.

'So you were at Merriston with Helen's Miss Jakes,' she said, placing
him. 'It made a match, that party, didn't it? Quite a good thing for
Gerald Digby, too, I hear. Miss Jakes is soon to be back, Helen tells
me.'

'Next week,' said Franklin.

'And the wedding for November.'

'So I'm told.'

'You've known Miss Jakes for some time?'

'For almost all my life,' said Franklin, with his calm and candid smile.

'Oh, old friends, then. You come from Boston, too, perhaps?'

'Well, I come from the suburbs, in the first place, but I've been in the
hub itself for a long time now,' said Franklin. 'Yes, I'm a very old
friend of Miss Jakes's. I'm very much attached to her.'

'Ah, and are you pleased with the match?'

'It seems to please Althea, and that's the main thing. I think Mr. Digby
will make her happy; yes, I'm pleased.'

'Yes,' said Miss Buchanan meditatively. 'Yes, I suppose Gerald Digby
will make a pleasant husband. He's a pleasant creature. I've always
considered him very selfish, I confess; but women seem to fall in love
with selfish men.'

Franklin received this ambiguous assurance with a moment or so of
silence, and then remarked that marriage might make Mr. Digby less
selfish.

'You mean,' said Miss Buchanan, 'that she's selfish too, and won't let
him have it all his own way?'

Franklin did not mean that at all. 'Life with a high-minded,
true-hearted woman sometimes alters a man,' he commented.

'Oh, she's that, is she?' said Miss Buchanan. 'I've not met her yet, you
see. Well, I don't know that I've much expectation of seeing Gerald
Digby alter. But he's a pleasant creature, as I said, and I don't think
he's a man to make any woman unhappy. In any case your friend is
probably better off married to a pleasant, selfish man than not married
at all,' and Miss Buchanan smiled a tight, kindly smile. 'I don't like
this modern plan of not getting married. I want all the nice young women
I know to get married, and the sooner the better; it gives them less
time to fuss over their feelings.'

'Well, it's better to fuss before than after, isn't it?' Franklin
inquired.

'Fussing after doesn't do much harm,' said Miss Buchanan, 'and there's
not so much time for fussing then. It's fussing before that leaves so
many of the nicest girls old maids. My niece Helen is the nicest girl I
know, and I sometimes think she'll never marry now. It vexes me very
much,' said Miss Buchanan.

'She's a very nice girl,' said Franklin. 'And she's a very noble woman.
But she doesn't know it; she doesn't know her own capacities. I'm very
much attached to your niece, Miss Buchanan.'

Miss Buchanan shot him another glance and then laughed. 'Well, we can
shake hands over that,' she remarked. 'So am I. And you are quite right;
she is a fine creature and she's never had a chance.'

'Ah, that's just my point,' said Franklin gravely. 'She ought to have a
chance; it ought to be made for her, if she can't make it for herself.
And she's too big a person for that commonplace solution of yours, Miss
Buchanan. You're of the old ideas, I see; you don't think of women as
separate individuals, with their own worth and identity. You think of
them as borrowing worth and identity from some man. Now that may be good
enough for the nice girl who's only a nice girl, but it's not good
enough for your niece, not good enough for a noble woman. I'd ask a
happy marriage for her, of course, but I'd ask a great deal more. She
ought to put herself to some work, develop herself, find herself all
round.'

Miss Buchanan, while Franklin delivered himself of these convictions,
leaned back in her chair, her arms crossed on her bosom, and observed
him with amused intentness. When he had done, she thus continued to
observe him for some moments of silence. 'No, I'm of the old ideas,' she
said at last. 'I don't want work for Helen, or development, or anything
of that sort. I want happiness and the normal life. I don't care about
women doing things, in that sense, unless they've nothing better to do.
If Helen were married to a man of position and ability she would have
quite enough to occupy her. Women like Helen are made to hold and
decorate great positions; it's the ugly, the insignificant women, who
can do the work of the world.'

Franklin heard her with a cheerful, unmoved countenance, and after a
moment of reflection observed, 'Well, that seems to me mighty hard on
the women who aren't ugly and insignificant--mighty hard,' and as Miss
Buchanan looked mystified, he was going on to demonstrate to her that
to do the work of the world was every human creature's highest
privilege, when Helen entered.

Franklin, as he rose and saw his friend again, had a new impression of
her and a rather perturbing one. Little versed as he was in the lore of
the world--the world in Miss Buchanan's sense--he felt that Helen,
perhaps, expressed what Miss Buchanan could not prove. It was true, her
lovely, recondite personality seemed to flash it before him, she didn't
fit easily into his theories of efficiency and self-development by
effort. Effort--other people's effort--seemed to have done long ago all
that was necessary for her. She was developed, she was finished, she
seemed to belong to quite another order of things from that which he
believed in, to an order framed for her production, as it were, and
justified, perhaps, by her mere existence. She was like a flower, and
ought a flower to be asked to do more than to show itself and bloom in
silence?

Franklin hardly formulated these heresies; they hovered, only, as a sort
of atmosphere that had its charm and yet its sadness too, and that
seemed, in charm and sadness, to be part of Helen Buchanan's very being.

She had taken his hand and was looking at him with those eyes of distant
kindness--so kind and yet so distant--and she said in the voice that was
so sincere and so decisive, a voice sweet and cold as a mountain brook,
that she was very glad to see him again.

Yes, she was like a flower, a flower removed immeasurably from his
world; a flower in a crystal vase, set on a high and precious cabinet,
and to be approached only over stretches of shining floor. What had he
to do with, or to think of, such a young woman who, though
poverty-stricken, looked like a princess, and who, though smiling, had
at her heart, he knew, a despair of life?

'I'm very glad indeed to see you,' he said gravely, despite himself, and
scanning her face; 'it seems a very long time.'

'Does that mean that you have been doing a great deal?'

'Yes; and I suppose it means that I've missed you a great deal, too,'
said Franklin. 'I got into the habit of you at Merriston; I feel it's
queer not to find you in a chair under a tree every day.'

'I know,' said Helen; 'one gets so used to people at country houses;
it's seeing them at breakfast that does it, I think. It was nice under
that tree, wasn't it? and how lazy I was. I'm much more energetic now;
I've got to the Purgatory, with the dictionary. Am I to have a fresh pot
of tea to myself, kind Aunt Grizel? You see how I am spoiled, Mr. Kane.'

She had drawn off her gloves and tossed aside her long, soft coat--that
looked like nobody else's coat--and, thin and black and idle, she sat in
a low chair by the fire, and put out her hand for her cup. 'I've been to
a musical,' she said. And she told them how she had been wedged into a
corner for an interminable sonata and hadn't been able to get away. 'I
tried to, once, but my hostess saw me and made a most ominous hiss at
me; every one's eye was turned on me, and I sank back again, covered
with shame and confusion.'

Then she questioned him, and Franklin told her about his interesting
little tour, and the men he had met and the work they were doing.
'Splendid work, I can tell you,' said Franklin, 'and you have splendid
men. It's been a great time for me; it's done me a lot of good. I feel
as if I'd got hold of England; it's almost like being at home when you
find so many splendid people interested in the things that interest
you.'

And presently, after a little pause, in which he contemplated the fire,
he added, lifting his eyes to Helen and smiling over the further idea:
'And see here, I'm forgetting another thing that's happened to me since
I saw you.'

'Something nice, I hope.'

'Well, that depends on how one looks at it,' said Franklin, considering.
'I can't say that it pleases me; it rather oppresses me, in fact. But
I'm going to get even with it, though that will take thought--thought
and training.'

'It sounds as though you were going to be a jockey.'

'No, I'm not going to be a jockey,' said Franklin. 'It's more solemn
than you think. What do you say to this? I'm a millionaire; I'm a
multi-millionaire. If that isn't solemn I don't know what is.'

Miss Grizel Buchanan put down the long golf-stocking she was knitting,
and, over her spectacles, fixed her eyes on the strange young man who
had delayed till now the telling of this piece of news. She examined
him. In all her experience she had never come across anything like him.
Helen gave a little exclamation.

'My dear Mr. Kane, I do congratulate you,' she said.

'Why?' asked Franklin.

'Why, it's glorious news,' said Helen.

'I don't know about that,' said Franklin. 'I'm not a glorious person.
The mere fact of being a millionaire isn't glorious; it may be
lamentable.'

'The mere fact of power is glorious. What shall you do?' asked Helen,
gazing thoughtfully at him as though to see in him all the far, new
possibilities.

'Well, I shall do as much as I can for my own science of physics--that
is rather glorious, I own. I shall be able to help the first-rate men to
get at all sorts of problems, perhaps. Yes, that is rather glorious.'

'And won't you build model villages and buy a castle and marry a
princess?'

'I don't like castles and I don't know anything about princesses,' said
Franklin, smiling. 'As for philanthropy, I'll let people wiser than I am
at it think out plans for doing good with the money. I'll devote myself
to doing what I know something about. I do know something about physics,
and I believe I can do something in that direction.'

'You take your good fortune very calmly, Mr. Kane,' Miss Grizel now
observed. 'How long have you known about it?'

'Well, I heard a week ago, and news has been piling in ever since. I'm
fairly snowed up with cables,' said Franklin. 'It's an old uncle of
mine--my mother's brother--who's left it to me. He always liked me; we
were always great friends. He went out west and built railroads and made
a fortune--honestly, too; the money is clean--as clean as you can get
it nowadays, that is to say. I couldn't take it if it wasn't. The only
thing to do with money that isn't clean is to hand it over to the people
it's been wrongfully taken from--to the nation, you know. It's a pity
that isn't done; it would be a lot better than building universities and
hospitals with it--though it's a problem; yes, I know it's a problem.'
Franklin seemed to-day rather oppressed with a sense of problems. He
gave this one up after a thoughtful survey of the fire, and went on: 'He
was a fine old fellow, my uncle; I didn't see him often, but we
sometimes wrote, and he used to like to hear how I was getting on in my
work. He didn't know much about it; I don't think he ever got over
thinking that atoms were a sort of bug,' Franklin smiled, unaware of his
listeners' surprise; 'but he seemed to like to hear, so I always told
him everything I'd time to write about. It made me sad to hear he'd
gone; but it was a fine life, yes, it was a mighty big, fine, useful
life,' said Franklin Kane, looking thoughtfully into the fire. And while
he looked, musing over his memories, Miss Buchanan and her niece
exchanged glances. 'This is a very odd creature, and a very nice one,'
Miss Grizel's glance said; and Helen's replied, with playful eyebrows
and tender lips, 'Isn't he a funny dear?'

'Now, see here,' said Franklin, looking up from his appreciative
retrospect and coming back to the present and its possibilities, 'now
that I've got all this money, you must let me spend a little of it on
having good times. You must let me take you to plays and
concerts--anything you've time for; and I hope, Miss Buchanan,' said
Franklin, turning his bright gaze upon the older lady, 'that I can
persuade you to come too.'

Helen said that she would be delighted, and Miss Grizel avowed herself a
devoted playgoer, and Franklin, taking out his notebook, inscribed their
willingness to do a play on Wednesday night. 'Now,' he said, scanning
its pages, 'Althea lands on Friday and Mr. Digby goes to meet her, I
suppose. They must come in, too; we'll all have fun together.'

'Gerald can't meet her,' said Helen; 'he has an engagement in the
country, and doesn't get back to London till Saturday. It's an old
standing engagement for a ball. I'm to welcome Althea back to London for
him.'

Franklin paused, his notebook in his hand, and looked over it at Helen.
He seemed taken aback, though at once he mastered his surprise. 'Oh, is
that so?' was his only comment. Then he added, after a moment's
reflection: 'Well, I guess I'll run up and meet her myself, then. I've
always met and seen her off in America, and we'll keep up the old custom
on this side.'

'That would be very nice of you,' said Helen. 'Of course she has that
invaluable Amelie to look after her, and, of course, Gerald knew that
she would be all right, or he would have managed it.'

'Of course,' said Franklin. 'And we'll keep up the old custom.'

That evening there arrived for Miss Buchanan and her niece two large
boxes--one for Miss Grizel, containing carnations and roses, and one for
Helen containing violets. Also, for the younger lady, was a smaller--yet
still a large box--of intricately packed and very sophisticated sweets.
Upon them Mr. Kane had laid a card which read: 'I don't approve of them,
but I'm sending them in the hope that you do.' Another box for Miss
Grizel contained fresh groundsel and chickweed for her canaries.




CHAPTER XIX.


Althea was an excellent sailor and her voyage back to England was as
smooth and as swift as money could make it. She had been seen off by
many affectionate friends, and, since leaving America, the literature,
the flowers and the fruit with which they had provided her had helped to
pass the hours, tedious at best on ship-board. Two other friends, not so
near, but very pleasant--they were New York people--were also making the
voyage, but as they were all very sea-sick, intercourse with them
consisted mainly in looking in upon them as they lay, mute and enduring,
within their berths, and cheering them with the latest reports of
progress. Althea looked in upon them frequently, and she read all her
books, and much of her time, besides, had been spent in long, formless
meditations--her eyes fixed on the rippled, grey expanse of the Atlantic
while she lay encased in furs on her deck chair. These meditations were
not precisely melancholy, it was rather a brooding sense of vague
perplexity that filled the dream-like hours. She had left her native
land, and she was speeding towards her lover and towards her new life;
there might have been exhilaration as well as melancholy in these facts.
But though she was not melancholy, she was not exhilarated. It was a
confused regret that came over her in remembering Boston, and it was a
confused expectancy that filled her when she looked forward to Gerald.
Gerald had written to her punctually once a week while she had been in
America, short, but very vivid, very interesting and affectionate
letters. They told her about what he was doing, what he was reading, the
people he saw and his projects for their new life together. He took it
for granted that this was what she wanted, and of course it was what she
wanted, only--and it was here that the confused regrets arose in
remembering Boston--the letters received there, where she was so much of
a centre and so little of a satellite, had seemed, in some way, lacking
in certain elements that Boston supplied, but that Merriston House, she
more and more distinctly saw, would never offer. She was, for her own
little circle, quite important in Boston. At Merriston House she would
be important only as Gerald Digby's wife and as the mistress of his
home, and that indeed--this was another slightly confusing fact--would
not be great importance. Even in Boston, she had felt, her importance
was still entirely personal; she had gained none from her coming
marriage. Her friends were perfectly accustomed to the thought of
coronets and ancient estates in connection with foreign alliances, and
Althea was a little vexed in feeling that they really did not appreciate
at its full value the significance of a simple English gentleman with a
small country seat. 'I suppose you'll live quite quietly, Althea, dear,'
more than one old friend had said, with an approbation not altogether
grateful to her. 'Your aunt tells me that it's such a nice little place,
your future home. I'm so glad you are not making a great worldly
match.' Althea had no wish to make a great worldly match, but she did
not care that her friends should see her upon such an over-emphatically
sober background.

The report of Gerald's charm had been the really luminous fact in her
new situation, and it had been most generously spread by Aunt Julia.
Althea had felt warmed by the compensatory brightness it cast about her.
Althea Jakes was not going to make a great match, but she was, and
everybody knew it, going to marry a 'perfectly charming' man. This,
after all, was to be crowned with beams. It was upon the thought of that
charm that she dwelt when the long meditations became oppressively
confused. She might be giving up certain things--symbolised by the
books, the fruit, the flowers, that testified to her importance in
Boston; she might be going to accept certain difficulties and certain
disappointments, but the firm ground on which she stood was the fact
that Gerald was charming. At moments she felt herself yearn towards that
charm; it was a reviving radiance in which she must steep her rather
numbed and rather weary being. To see his eyes, to see his smile, to
hear his voice that made her think of bells and breezes, would be enough
to banish wistfulness, or, at all events, to put it in its proper place
as merely temporary and negligible.

Althea's heart beat fast as the shores of Ireland stole softly into
sight on a pearly horizon, and it really fluttered, like that of any
love-sick girl, when her packet of letters was brought to her at
Queenstown. In Gerald's she would feel the central rays coming out to
greet her. But when she had read Gerald's letter it was as if a blank
curtain had fallen before her, shutting out all rays. He was not coming
to meet her at Liverpool. The sharpness of her dismay was like a box on
the ear, and it brought tears to her eyes and anger to her heart. Yes,
actually, with no contrition, or consciousness of the need for it, he
said quite gaily and simply that he would see her in London on Saturday;
he had a ball in the country for Friday night. He offered not the least
apology. He was perfectly unaware of guilt. And it was this innocence
that, after the first anger, filled poor Althea with fear. What did it
bode for the future? Meanwhile there was the humiliating fact to face
that she, the cherished and appreciated Althea, who had never returned
to America without at least three devoted friends to welcome her, was to
land on the dismal Liverpool docks and find no lover to greet her there.
What would Mrs. Peel and Sally Arlington think when they saw her so
bereft? It was the realisation of what they would think, the memory of
the American wonder at the Englishman's traditional indifference to what
the American woman considered her due in careful chivalry, that roused
her pride to the necessity of self-preservation. Mrs. Peel and Sally, at
all events, should not imagine her to be either angry or surprised. She
would show them the untroubled matter-of-fact of the English wife. And
she succeeded admirably in this. When Miss Arlington, sitting up and
dressed at last, said, in Mrs. Peel's cabin, where, leaning on Althea's
arm, she had feebly crept to tea, 'And what fun, Althea, to think that
we shall see him to-morrow morning,' Althea opened candidly surprised
eyes: 'See him? Who, dear?'

'Why, Mr. Digby, of course. Who else could be him?' said Miss Arlington.

'But he isn't coming to Liverpool,' said Althea blandly.

'Not coming to meet you?' Only tact controlled the amazement in Miss
Arlington's question.

'Didn't you know? Gerald is a very busy man; he has had a long-standing
engagement for this week, and besides I shouldn't have liked him to
come. I'd far rather meet comfortably in London, where I shall see him
the first thing on Saturday. And then you'll see him too.'

She only wished that she could really feel, what she showed them--such
calm, such reasonableness, and such detachment.

It was with a gloomy eye that she surveyed the Liverpool docks in the
bleak dawn next morning, seated in her chair, Amelie beside her, a
competent Atlas, bearing a complicated assortment of bags, rugs, and
wraps. No, she had nothing to hope from these inhospitable shores; no
welcoming eyes were there to greet hers. It was difficult not to cry as
she watched the ugly docks draw near and saw the rows of ugly human
faces upturned upon it--peculiarly ugly in colour the human face at this
hour of the morning. Then, suddenly, Amelie made a little exclamation
and observed in dispassionate yet approving tones, 'Tiens; et voila
Monsieur Frankline.'

'Who? Where?' Althea rose in her chair.

'Mais oui; c'est bien Monsieur Frankline,' Amelie pointed. 'Voila ce qui
est gentil, par exemple,' and by this comment of Amelie's Althea knew
that Gerald's absence was observed and judged. She got out of her
chair, yet with a strange reluctance. It was not pleasure that she felt;
it was, rather, a fuller realisation of pain. Going to the railing she
looked down at the wharf. Yes, there was Franklin's pale buff-coloured
countenance raised to hers, serene and smiling. He waved his hat. Althea
was only able not to look dismayed and miserable in waving back. That
Franklin should care enough to come; that Gerald should care too little.
But she drew herself together to smile brightly down upon her faithful
lover. Franklin--Franklin above all--must not guess what she was
feeling.

'Well,' were his first words, as she came down the gangway, 'I thought
we'd keep up our old American habits.' The words, she felt, were very
tactful; they made things easier for her; they even comforted her a
little. One mustn't be too hard on Gerald if it was an American habit.

'It _is_ a nice one,' she said, grasping Franklin's hand. 'I must make
Gerald acquire it.'

'Why don't you keep it for me?' smiled Franklin. She felt, as he piloted
her to the Customs, that either his tact or his ingenuousness was
sublime. She leaned on it, whichever it was.

'Have you seen Gerald?' she asked, as they stood beside her marshalled
array of boxes. 'He seemed very fit and happy in the letters I had at
Queenstown.'

'No, I've not seen him yet,' smiled Franklin, looking about to catch the
eye of an official.

'Then'--was on the tip of Althea's tongue--'how did you know I was not
going to be met?' She checked the revealing question, and Franklin's
next remark--whether tactful or ingenuous in its appropriateness she
once more could not tell--answered it: 'I've been seeing a good deal of
Miss Buchanan; she told me Mr. Digby wouldn't be able to come up here.'

'Oh--Helen!' Althea was thankful to be able to pass from the theme of
Gerald and his inabilities. 'So you have been seeing her. Have you been
long in London? Have you seen her often?'

'I got to London last Monday, and I've seen her as often as she could
let me. We're very good friends, you know,' said Franklin.

She didn't know at all, and she found the information rather
bewildering. At Merriston her own situation had far too deeply absorbed
her to leave her much attention for other people's. She had only noticed
that Helen had been kind to Franklin. She suspected that it was now his
ingenuousness that idealised Helen's tolerant kindness. But though her
superior sophistication made a little touch of irony unavoidable, it was
overwhelmed in the warm sense of gratitude.

Everything was in readiness for her; her corner seat in the train,
facing the engine; a foot-warmer; the latest magazines, and a box of
fruit. How it all brought back Boston--dear Boston--and the reviving
consciousness of imaginative affection. And how it brought back
Franklin. Well, everybody ought to be his good friend, even if they
weren't so in reality.

'You didn't suppose I'd forget you liked muscatels?' inquired Franklin,
with a mild and unreproachful gentleness when she exclaimed over the
nectarines and grapes. 'Now, please, sit back and let me put this rug
around you; it's chilly, and you look rather pale.' He then went off
and looked out for her friends and for Amelie. Mrs. Peel and Sally, when
they arrived with him, showed more than the general warmth of
compatriots in a foreign land. They knew Franklin but slightly, and he
could but have counted with them as one of Althea's former suitors; but
now, she saw it, he took his place in their eyes as the devoted friend,
and, as the journey went on, counted for more and more in his own right.
Sally and Mrs. Peel evidently thought Franklin a dear. Althea thought so
too, her eyes dwelling on him with wistful observation. There was no
charm; there never had been charm; but the thought of charm sickened her
a little just now. What she rested in was this affection, this kindness,
this constant devotion that had never failed her in the greatest or the
littlest things. And though it was not to see him change into a
different creature, not to see him move on into a different category--as
he had changed and moved in the eyes of the Miss Buchanans--he did gain
in significance when, after a little while, he informed them of the new
fact in his life--the fact of millions. They were Americans of an old
stock, and millions meant to them very external and slightly suspicious
things--things associated with rawness and low ideals; but they couldn't
associate Franklin with low ideals. They exclaimed with interest and
sympathy over his adventure, and they felt nothing funny in his projects
for benefiting physics. They all understood each other; they took light
things--like millions--lightly, and grave things--like ideals and
responsibilities--gravely. And, ah yes, there it was--Althea turning her
head to look at the speeding landscape of autumnal pearl and gold,
thought, over her sense of smothered tears--they knew what things were
really serious. They couldn't mistake the apparent for the real
triviality; they knew that some symbols of affection--trifling as they
might be--were almost necessary. But then they understood affection. It
was at this point that her sore heart sank to a leaden depression.
Affection--cherishing, forestalling, imaginative affection--there was no
lack of it, she was sure of that, in this beautiful England of pearl and
gold which, in its melancholy, its sweetness, its breathing out of
memories immemorial, so penetrated and possessed her; but was there not
a terrible lack of it in the England that was to be hers, and where she
was to make her home?




CHAPTER XX.


It was four days after Althea's arrival in London that Gerald stood in
Helen's sitting-room and confronted her--smoking her cigarette in her
low chair--as he had confronted her that summer on her return from
Paris. Gerald looked rather absent and he looked rather worried, and
Helen, who had observed these facts the moment he came in, was able to
observe them for some time while he stood there before her, not looking
at her, looking at nothing in particular, his eyes turning vaguely from
the mist-enveloped trees outside to the flowers on the writing-table,
and his eyebrows, always very expressive, knitting themselves a little
or lifting as if in the attempt to dispel recurrent and oppressive
preoccupations. It would have been natural in their free intercourse
that, after a certain lapse of time, Helen should ask him what the
matter was, helping him often, with the mere question, to recognise that
something was the matter. But to-day she said nothing, and it was her
silence instead of her questioning that made Gerald aware that he was
standing there expecting to have his state of mind probed and then
elucidated. It added a little to his sense of perplexity that Helen
should be silent, and it was with a slight irritation that he turned and
kicked a log before saying--'I'm rather bothered, Helen.'

'What is it?' said Helen. 'Money?' This had often been a bother to them
both.

Half turned from her, he shook his head. 'No, not money; that's all
right now, thanks to Althea.'

'Well?' Helen questioned.

He faced her again, a little quizzical, a little confused and at a loss.
'I suppose it's Althea herself.'

'Oh!' said Helen. She said it with a perceptible, though very mild
change of tone; but Gerald, in his preoccupation, did not notice the
change.

'You've seen her several times since she came back?' he asked.

'Yes, twice; I lunched with her and these American friends of hers
yesterday,' said Helen.

'Well, I've seen her three times,' said Gerald. 'I went to her, as you
know, directly I got back to London on Saturday; I cut my visit at the
Fanshawes two days shorter on purpose. I saw her on Sunday, and I'm just
come from her now. No one could say that I didn't show her every
attention, could they?' It hardly seemed a question, and Helen did not
answer it. 'I don't think she's quite pleased with me,' Gerald then
brought out.

Still silent, Helen looked at him thoughtfully, but her gaze gave him no
clue.

'Can you imagine why not?' he asked.

She reflected, then she said that she couldn't.

'Well,' said Gerald, 'I think it's because I didn't go to meet her at
Liverpool; from something she said, I think it's that. But I never
dreamed she'd mind, you know. And, really, I ask you, Helen, is it
reasonable to expect a man to give up a long-standing engagement and
take that dreary journey up to that dreary place--I've never seen the
Liverpool docks, but I can imagine them at six o'clock in the
morning--is it reasonable, I say, to expect that of any man? It wasn't
as if I wasn't to see her the next day.'

Again Helen carefully considered. 'I suppose she found the docks very
dreary--at six o'clock,' she suggested.

'But surely that's not a reason for wanting me to find them dreary too,'
Gerald laughed rather impatiently. 'I'd have had to go up to Liverpool
on Thursday and spend the night there; do you realise that?'

Helen went on with the theme of the docks: 'I suppose she wouldn't have
found them so dreary if you'd been on them; and I suppose she expected
you not to find them dreary for the same reason.'

Gerald contemplated this lucid statement of the case. 'Has she talked to
you about it?' he asked.

'Not a word. Althea is very proud. If you have hurt her it is the last
thing that she would talk about.'

'I know she's proud and romantic, and a perfect dear, of course; but do
you really think it a ground for complaint? I mean--would you have felt
hurt in a similar case?'

'I? No, I don't suppose so; but Althea, I think, is used to a great deal
of consideration.'

'But, by Jove, Helen, I'm not inconsiderate!'

'Not considerate, in the way Althea is used to.'

'Ah, that's just it,' said Gerald, as if, now, they had reached the
centre of his difficulty; 'and I can't pretend to be, either. I can't
pretend to be like Mr. Kane. Imagine that quaint little fellow going up
to meet her. You must own it's rather grotesque--rather tasteless, too,
I think, under the circumstances.'

'They are very old friends.'

'Well, but after all, he's Althea's rejected suitor.'

'It wasn't as a suitor, it was as a friend he went. The fact that she
rejected him doesn't make him any less her friend, or any less
solicitous about her.'

'It makes me look silly, her rejected suitor showing more solicitude
than I do--unless it makes him look silly; I rather feel it's that way.
But, apart from that, about Althea, I'm really bothered. It's all right,
of course; I've brought her round. I laughed at her a little and teased
her a little, and told her not to be a dear little goose, you know. But,
Helen, deuce take it! the trouble is----' Again Gerald turned and kicked
the log, and then, his hands on the mantelpiece, he gazed with frowning
intentness into the flames. 'She takes it all so much more seriously
than I do,' so he finally brought out his distress; 'so much more
seriously than I can, you know. It's all right, of course; only one
doesn't know quite how to get on.' And now, turning to Helen, he found
her eyes on his, and her silence became significant to him. There was no
response in her eyes; they were veiled, mute; they observed him; they
told him nothing. And he had a sense, new to him and quite inexpressibly
painful, of being shut out. 'I may go on talking to you--about
everything--as I have always done, Helen?' he said. It was hardly a
question; he couldn't really dream that there was anything not to be
talked out with Helen. But there was. Gerald received one of the ugliest
shocks of his life when Helen said to him in her careful voice: 'You
may not talk about Althea to me; not about her feeling for you--or yours
for her.'

There was a pause after this, and then Gerald got out: 'I say--Helen!'
on a long breath, staring at her. 'You mean----' he stammered a little.

'That you owe it to Althea--just because we had to talk her over once,
before you were sure that you wanted to make her your wife--not to
discuss her feelings or her relation to you with anybody, now that she
is to be your wife. I should think you would see that for yourself,
Gerald. I should think you would see that Althea would not marry you if
she thought that you were capable of talking her over with me.'

Gerald had flushed deeply and vividly. 'But Helen--with _you_!' he
murmured. It was a helpless appeal, a helpless protest. His whole life
seemed to rise up and confront her with the contrast between their
reality--his relation and hers--and the relative triviality of this new
episode in his life. And there was his error, and there her inexorable
opposition; the episode was one no longer; he must not treat it as
trivial, a matter for mutual musings and conjectures. His 'With you!'
shook Helen's heart; but, looking past him and hard at the fire, she
only moved her head in slow, slight, and final negation.

Gerald was silent for a long time, and she knew that he was gazing at
her as a dog gazes when some inexorable and inexplicable refusal turns
its world to emptiness. And with her pain for his pain came the rising
of old anger and old irony against him; for whose fault was it that even
the bitter joy of perfect freedom was cut off? Who had been so blind as
not to see that a wife must, in common loyalty, bring circumspection and
a careful drawing of limits? Who was it who, in his folly, had not known
that his impulsive acquiescence, his idle acceptance of the established
comfort and order held out to him, had cut away half of their
friendship? Absurd for Gerald, now, to feel reproach and injury. For
when he spoke again it was, though in careful tones, with uncontrollable
reproach. 'You know, Helen, I never expected this. I don't know that I'd
have been able to face this----' He checked himself; already he had
learned something of what was required of him. 'It's like poisoning part
of my life for me.'

Helen did not allow the bitter smile to curl her lips; her inner
rejoinder answered him with: 'Whose fault is it that all my life is
poisoned?'

'After all,' said Gerald, and now with a tremor in his voice, 'an old
friend--a friend like you--a more than sister--is nearer than any new
claims.' She had never heard Gerald's voice break before--for anything
to do with her, at least--and she felt that her cheek whitened in
hearing it; but she was able to answer in the same even tones: 'I don't
think so. No one can be near enough to talk about your wife with you.'

He then turned his back and looked for a long time into the fire. She
guessed that there were tears in his eyes, and that he was fighting with
anger, pain, and amazement, and the knowledge filled her with cruel joy
and with a torturing pity. She longed to tell him that she hated him,
and she longed to put her arms around him and to comfort him--comfort
him because he was going to marry some one else, and must be loyal to
the woman preferred as wife. It was she, however, who first recovered
herself. She got up and pinched a withered flower from the fine azalea
that Franklin Kane had sent her the day before, and, dropping it into
the waste-paper basket, she said at last, very resolutely, 'Come,
Gerald, don't be silly.'

He showed her now the face of a miserable, sulky boy, and Helen, smiling
at him, went on: 'We have a great many other subjects of conversation,
you will recollect. We can still talk about all the things we used to
talk about. Sit down, and don't look like that, or I shall be angry with
you.'

She knew her power over him; it was able to deceive him as to their real
situation, and this was to have obeyed pity, not anger. Half unwillingly
he smiled a little, and, rubbing his hand through his hair and sinking
into a chair, he said: 'Laugh at me if you feel like it; I'm ill-used.'

'Terribly ill-used, indeed,' said Helen. 'I shall go on laughing at you
while you are so ridiculous. Now tell me about the ball at the
Fanshawes, and who was there, and who was the prettiest woman in the
room.'




CHAPTER XXI.


Althea had intended to fix the time of her marriage for the end of
November; but, not knowing quite why, she felt on her return to England
that she would prefer a slightly more distant date. It might be foolish
to give oneself more time for uneasy meditation, yet it might be wise to
give oneself more time for feeling the charm. The charm certainly
worked. While Gerald opened his innocent, yet so intelligent eyes,
rallied her on her dejection, called her a dear little goose, and kissed
her in saying it, she had known that however much he might hurt her she
was helplessly in love with him. In telling him that she would marry him
just before Christmas--they were to have their Christmas in the
Riviera--she didn't intend that he should be given more opportunities
for hurting her, but more opportunities for charming her. Helplessly as
she might love, her heart was a tremulously careful one; it could not
rush recklessly to a goal nor see the goal clearly when pain intervened.
It was not now actual pain or doubt it had to meet, but it was that mist
of confusion, wonder, and wistfulness; it needed to be dispersed, and
Gerald, she felt sure, would disperse it. Gerald, after a questioning
lift of his eyebrows, acquiesced very cheerfully in the postponement.
After all, they really didn't know each other very well; they would
shake down into each other's ways all the more quickly, after marriage,
for the wisdom gained by a longer engagement. He expressed these
reasonable resignations to Althea, who smiled a little wanly over them.

She was now involved in the rush of new impressions. They were very
crowded. She was to have but a fortnight of London and then, accompanied
by Mrs. Peel and Sally, to go to Merriston for another fortnight or so
before coming back to London for final preparations. Gerald was to be at
Merriston for part of the time, and Miss Harriet Robinson was coming
over from Paris to sustain and guide her through the last throes of her
trousseau. Already every post brought solemn letters from Miss Robinson
filled with detailed questionings as to the ordering of _lingerie_. So
it was really in this fortnight of London that she must gain her
clearest impression of what her new environment was to be; there would
be no time later on.

There were two groups of impressions that she felt herself, rather
breathlessly, observing; one group was made by Helen and Franklin and
herself, and one by Gerald's friends and relatives, with Gerald himself
as a bright though uncertain centre to it.

Gerald's friends and relations were all very nice to her and all very
charming people. She had never, she thought, met so many people at once
to whom the term might be applied. Their way of dressing, their way of
talking, their way of taking you, themselves, and everything so easily,
seemed as nearly perfect, as an example of human achievement, as could
well be. Life passed among them would assuredly be a life of gliding
along a sunny, unruffled stream. If there were dark things or troubled
things to deal with, they were kept well below the shining surface; on
the surface one always glided. It was charming, indeed, and yet Althea
looked a little dizzily from side to side, as if at familiar but
unattainable shores, and wondered if some solid foothold on solid earth
were not preferable. She wondered if she would not rather walk than
glide, and under the gliding she caught glimpses, now and then, of her
own dark wonders. They were all very nice to her; but it was as Gerald's
wife that they were nice to her; she herself counted for nothing with
them. They were frivolous people for the most part, though some among
them were serious, and often the most frivolous were those from whom she
would have expected gravity, and the serious those whom, on a first
meeting, she had thought perturbingly frivolous. Some of the political
friends--one who was in the Cabinet, for instance--seemed to think more
about hunting and bridge than about their functions in the State; while
an aunt of Gerald's, still young and very pretty, wrote articles on
philosophy and was ardently interested in ethical societies, in spite of
the fact that she rouged her cheeks, wore clothes so fashionable as to
look recondite, and had a reputation perfectly presentable for social
uses, but not exempt from private whispers. Althea caught such whispers
with particular perturbation. The question of morals was one that she
had imagined herself to face with a cosmopolitan tolerance; but she now
realised that to live among people whose code, in this respect, seemed
one of manners only, was a very different thing from reading about them
or seeing them from afar, as it were, in foreign countries. Gerald's
friends and relatives were anything rather than Bohemian, and most of
them were flawlessly respectable; but they were also anything but
unworldly; they were very worldly, and, from the implied point of view
of all of them, what didn't come out in the world it didn't concern
anybody to recognise--except in whispers. It all resolved itself, in the
case of people one disapproved of, into a faculty for being nice to them
without really having anything to do with them; and to poor Althea this
was a difficult task to undertake; social life, in her experience, was
more involved in the life of the affections and matched it more nearly.
She found, when the fortnight was over, that she was glad, very glad, to
get away to Merriston. The comparative solitude would do her good, she
felt, and in it, above all, the charm would perhaps work more
restoringly than in London. She had been, through everything, more aware
than of any new impression that the old one held firm; but, in that
breathless fortnight, she found that the charm, persistently, would not
be to her what she had hoped it might be. It did not revive her; it did
not lift and glorify her; rather it subjugated her and held her helpless
and in thrall. She was not crowned with beams; rather, it seemed to her
in moments of dizzy insight, dragged at chariot wheels. And more than
once her pride revolted as she was whirled along.

It was at Merriston, installed, apparently, so happily with her friends,
that the second group of impressions became clearer for her than it had
been in London, when she had herself made part of it--the group that had
to do with Helen, Franklin, and herself. In London, among all the wider
confusions, this smaller but more intense one had not struck her as it
did seeing it from a distance. Perhaps it had been because Franklin,
among all that glided, had been the raft she stood upon, that, in his
company, she had not felt to the full how changed was their relation.
His devotion to her was unchanged; of that she was sure. Franklin had
not altered; it was she who had altered, and she had now to look at him
from the new angle where her own choice had placed her. Seen from this
angle it was clear that Franklin could no longer offer just the same
devotion, however truly he might feel it; she had barred that out; and
it was also clear that he would continue to offer the devotion that she
had left it open to him to offer; but here came the strange
confusion--this devotion, this remnant, this all that could still be
given, hardly differed in practice from the friendship now so frankly
bestowed upon Helen as well as upon herself; and, for a further
strangeness, Franklin, whom she had helplessly seen as passing from her
life, no longer counting in it, was not gone at all; he was there,
indeed, as never before, with the background of his sudden millions to
give him significance. Franklin was, indeed, as firmly ensconced in this
new life that she had entered as he chose to be, and did he not, as a
matter of fact, count in it for more than she did? If it was confusing
to look at Franklin from the angle of her own withdrawal, what was it to
see him altered, for the world, from drab to rose-colour and to see
that people were running after him? This fantastic result of wealth,
Althea, after a stare or two, was able to accept with other ironic
acceptations; it was not indeed London's vision of Franklin that altered
him for her, though it confused her; no, what had altered him more than
anything she could have thought possible, was Helen's new seeing of him.
Helen, she knew quite well, still saw Franklin, pleasantly and clearly,
as drab-colour, still, it was probable, saw him as funny; but it was
evident that Helen had come to feel fond of him, if anything so detached
could be called fondness. He could hardly count for anything with
her--after all, who did?--but she liked him, she liked him very much,
and it amused her to watch him adjust himself to his new conditions. She
took him about with her in London and showed him things and people,
ironically smiling, no doubt, and guarding even while she exposed. And
Helen wouldn't do this unless she had come to see something more than
drab-colour and oddity, and whatever the more might be it was not the
millions. No, sitting in the drawing-room at Merriston, with its
memories of the two emotional climaxes of her life, Althea, with a
sinking heart, felt sure that she had lost something, and that she only
knew it lost from seeing that Helen had found it. It had been through
Helen's blindness to the qualities in Franklin which, timidly,
tentatively, she had put before her, that his worth had grown dim to
herself; this was the cutting fact that Althea tried to edge away from,
but that her sincerity forced her again and again to examine. It was
through Helen's appreciation that she now saw more in Franklin than she
had ever seen before. If he was funny he was also original, full of his
own underivative flavour; if he was drab-colour, he was also beautiful.
Althea recalled the benignity of Helen's eyes as they dwelt upon him,
her smile, startled, almost touched, when some quaint, telling phrase
revealed him suddenly as an unconscious torch-bearer in a dusky,
self-deceiving world. Helen and Franklin were akin in that; they
elicited, they radiated truth, and Althea recalled, too, how their eyes
would sometimes meet in silence when they both saw the same truth
simultaneously. Not that Helen's truth was often Franklin's; they were
as alien as ever in their outlook, of this Althea was convinced; but
though the outlook was so different, the faculty of sight was the same
in both--clear, unperturbed, and profoundly independent. They were
neither of them dusky or self-deceived. And what was she? Sitting in the
drawing-room at Merriston and thinking it all over, Althea asked herself
the question while her heart sank to a deeper dejection. Not only had
she lost Franklin; she had lost herself. She embarked on the dangerous
and often demoralising search for a definite, recognisable
personality--something to lean on with security, a standard and a prop.
With growing dismay she could find only a sorry little group of
shivering hopes and shaken adages. What was she? Only a well-educated
nonentity with, for all coherence and purpose in life, a knowledge of
art and literature and a helpless feeling for charm. Poor Althea was
rapidly sinking to the nightmare stage of introspection; she saw,
fitfully, not restoringly, that it was nightmare, and dragging herself
away from these miserable dissections, fixed her eyes on something not
herself, on the thing that, after all, gave her, even to the nightmare
vision, purpose and meaning. If it were only that, let her, at all
events, cling to it; the helpless feeling for charm must then shape her
path. Gerald was coming, and to be subjugated was, after all, better
than to disintegrate.

She drove down to meet him in the little brougham that was now
established in the stables. It was a wet, chilly day. Althea, wrapped in
furs, leaned in a corner and looked with an unseeing gaze at the
dripping hedgerows and grey sky. She fastened herself in anticipation on
the approaching brightness. Ah, to warm herself at the light of his
untroubled, unquestioning, unexacting being, to find herself in him. If
he would love her and charm her, that, after all, was enough to give her
a self.

He was a little late, and Althea did not feel willing to face a public
meeting on the platform. She remained sitting in her corner, listening
for the sound of the approaching train. When it had arrived, she heard
Gerald's voice before she saw him, and the sound thrilled through her
deliciously. He was talking to a neighbour, and he paused for some
moments to chat with him. Then his head appeared at the window, little
drops of rain on his crisp hair, his eyes smiling, yet, as she saw in a
moment, less at her in particular than at the home-coming of which she
was a part. 'Yes,' he turned to the porter to say, 'the portmanteau
outside, the dressing-case in here.' The door was opened and he stepped
in beside her. 'Hello, Althea!' He smiled at her again, while he drew a
handful of silver from his pocket and picked out a sixpence for the
porter. 'Here; all right.' The brougham rolled briskly out of the
station yard. They were in the long up-hill lanes. 'Well, how are you,
dear?' he asked.

Althea was trembling, but she was controlling herself; she had all the
pain and none of the advantage of the impulsive, emotional woman;
consciousness of longing made instinctive appeal impossible. 'Very well,
thank you,' she smiled, as quietly as he.

'What a beastly day!' said Gerald, looking out. 'You can't imagine
London. It's like breathing in a wet blanket. The clean air is a
comfort, at all events.'

'Yes,' smiled Althea.

'Old Morty Finch is coming down in time for dinner,' Gerald went on. 'I
met him on my way to the station and asked him. Such a good fellow--you
remember him? He won't be too many, will he?'

'Indeed no.'

Gerald leaned back, drew the rug up about his knees, and folded his
arms, looking at her, still with his generally contented smile. 'And
your guests are happy? You're enjoying yourself? Miss Arlington plays
the violin, you said. I'm looking forward to hearing her--and seeing her
again, too; she is such a very pretty girl.'

'Isn't she?' said Althea. And now, as they rolled on between the
dripping hedges, she knew that the trembling of hope and fear was gone,
and that a sudden misery, like that of the earth and sky, had settled
upon her. He had not kissed her. He did not even take her hand. Oh, why
did he not kiss her? why did he not know that she wanted love and
comfort? Only her pride controlled the cry.

Gerald looked out of the window and seemed to find everything very
pleasant. 'I went to the play last night,' he said. 'Kane took a party
of us--Helen, Miss Buchanan, Lord Compton, and Molly Fanshawe. What a
good sort he is, Kane; a real character.'

'You didn't get at him at all in the summer, did you?' said Althea, in
her deadened voice.

'No,' said Gerald reflectively, 'not at all; and I don't think that I
get much more at him now, you know; but I see more what's in him; he is
so extraordinarily kind and he takes his money so nicely. And, O Lord!
how he is being run after! He really has millions, you know; the mothers
are all at his traces trying to track him down, and he is as cheerful
and as unconcerned as you please.' Gerald suddenly smiled round at her
again. 'I say, Althea, don't you regret him sometimes? It would have
been a glorious match, you know.'

Althea felt herself growing pale. 'Regret him!' she said, and, for her,
almost violently, the opportunity was an outlet for her wretchedness; 'I
can't conceive how a man's money can make any difference. I couldn't
have married Franklin if he'd been a king!'

'Oh, my dear!' said Gerald, startled; 'I didn't mean it seriously, of
course.'

'It seems to me,' said Althea, trying to control her labouring breath,
'that over here you take nothing quite so seriously as that--great
matches, I mean, and money.'

Gerald was silent for a moment; then, in a very courteous voice he said:
'Have I offended you in any way, Althea?'

Tears stood in her eyes; she turned away her head to hide them. 'Yes,
you have,' she said, and the sound of her voice shocked her, it so
contradicted the crying out of her disappointed heart.

But though Gerald was blind on occasions that did not seem to him to
warrant any close attention, he was clear-sighted on those that did. He
understood that something was amiss; and though her exclamation had,
indeed, made him angry for a moment, he was now sorry; he felt that she
was unhappy, and he couldn't bear people to be unhappy. 'I've done
something that displeases you,' he said, taking her hand and leaning
forward to look into her eyes, half pleading and half rallying her in
the way she knew so well. 'Do forgive me.'

She longed to put her head on his shoulder and sob: 'I wanted you to
love me'; but that would have been to abase herself too much; yet the
tears fell as she answered, trying to smile: 'It was only that you hurt
me; even in jest I cannot bear to have you say that I could have been so
sordid.'

He pressed her hand. 'I was only in fun, of course. Please forgive me.'

She knew, with all his gay solicitude, his gentle self-reproach, that
she had angered and perplexed him, that she made him feel a little at a
loss with her talk of sordidness, that, perhaps, she wearied him. And,
seeing this, she was frightened--frightened, and angry that she should
be afraid. But fear predominated, and she forced herself to smile at him
and to talk with him during the long drive, as though nothing had
happened.




CHAPTER XXII.


Some days after Gerald had gone to Merriston, Franklin Kane received a
little note from old Miss Buchanan. Helen, too, had gone to the country
until Monday, as she had told Franklin when he had asked her to see some
pictures with him on Saturday. Franklin had felt a little bereft,
especially since, hoping for her on Saturday, he had himself refused an
invitation. But he did not miss that; the invitations that poured in
upon him, like a swelling river, were sources of cheerful amusement to
him. He, too, was acquiring his little ironies and knew why they poured
in. It was not the big house-party where he would have been a fish out
of water--even though in no sense a fish landed--that he missed; he
missed Helen; and he wouldn't think of going to see pictures without
her. It was, therefore, pleasant to read Miss Buchanan's hospitable
suggestion that he should drop in that afternoon for a cup of tea and to
keep an old woman company. He was very glad indeed to keep Miss Buchanan
company. She interested him greatly; he had not yet in the least made
out what was her object in life, whether she had gained or missed it,
and whether, indeed, she had ever had one to gain or miss. People who
went thus unpiloted through life filled him with wonder and conjecture.

He found Miss Buchanan as he had found her on the occasion of his first
visit to the little house in Belgravia. Her acute and rugged face showed
not much greater softening for this now wonted guest--showed, rather, a
greater acuteness; but any one who knew Miss Buchanan would know from
its expression that she liked Franklin Kane. 'Well,' she said, as he
drew his chair to the opposite side of the tea-table--very cosy
it was, the fire shining upon them, and the canaries trilling
intermittently--'Well, here we are, abandoned. We'll make the best of
it, won't we?'

Franklin said that under the circumstances he couldn't feel at all
abandoned. 'Nor do I,' said Miss Buchanan, filling the tea-pot. 'You and
I get on very well together, I consider.' Franklin thought so too.

'I hope we may go on with it,' said Miss Buchanan, leaning back in her
chair while the tea drew. 'I hope we are going to keep you over here.
You've given up any definite idea of going back, I suppose.'

Franklin was startled by this confident assurance. His definite idea in
coming over had been, of course, to go back at the end of the autumn,
unless, indeed, a certain cherished hope were fulfilled, in which case
Althea should have decided on any movements. He had hardly, till this
moment, contemplated his own intentions, and now that he did so he found
that he had been guided by none that were definable. It was not because
he had suddenly grown rich and, in his funny way, the fashion, that he
thus stayed on in London, working hard, it is true, and allowing no new
developments to interfere with his work, yet making no plans and setting
no goal before himself. To live as he had been living for the past
weeks was, indeed, in a sense, to drift. There was nothing Franklin
disapproved of more than of drifting; therefore he was startled when
Miss Buchanan's remarks brought him to this realisation. 'Well, upon my
word, Miss Buchanan,' he said, 'I hadn't thought about it. No--of course
not--of course, I've not given up the idea of going back. I shall go
back before very long. But things have turned up, you see. There is
Althea's wedding--I must be at that--and there's Miss Helen. I want to
see as much of her as I can before I go home, get my friendship firmly
established, you know.'

Miss Buchanan now poured out the tea and handed Franklin his cup. 'I
shouldn't think about going yet, then,' she observed. 'London is an
admirable place for the sort of work you are interested in, and I
entirely sympathise with your wish to see as much as you can of Helen.'
She added, after a little pause in which Franklin, still further
startled to self-contemplation, wondered whether it was work, Althea's
wedding, or Helen who had most kept him in London,--'I'm troubled about
Helen; she's not looking at all well; hasn't been feeling well all the
summer. I trace it to that attack of influenza she had in Paris when she
met Miss Jakes.'

Franklin's thoughts were turned from himself. He looked grave. 'I'm
afraid she's delicate,' he said.

'There is nothing sickly about her, but she is fragile,' said Miss
Buchanan. 'She can't stand wear and tear. It might kill her.'

Franklin looked even graver. The thought of his friend killed by wear
and tear was inexpressibly painful to him. He remembered--he would
never forget--the day in the woods, Helen's 'I'm sick to death of it.'
That Helen had a secret sorrow, and that it was preying upon her, he
felt sure, and there was pride for him in the thought that he could help
her there; he could help her to hide it; even her aunt didn't know that
she was sick to death of it. 'What do you suggest might be done?' he now
inquired. 'Do you think she goes out too much? Perhaps a rest-cure.'

'No; I don't think she over-tires herself; she doesn't go out nearly as
much as she used to. There is nothing to cure and nothing to rest from.
It isn't so much now; I'm here now to make things possible for her. It's
after I'm gone. I'm an old woman; I'm devoted to my niece, and I don't
see what's to become of her when I'm dead.'

If Franklin had been startled before, he was shocked now. He had never
given much thought to the economic basis of Helen's life, taking it for
granted that though she would like more money, she had, and always would
have, quite enough to live on happily. The idea of an insecure future
for her had never entered his head. He now knew that, for all his
theories of the independence of women, it was quite intolerable to
contemplate an insecure future for Helen. Some women might have it in
them to secure themselves--she was not one of them. She was a flower in
a vase; if the vase were taken away the flower would simply lie where it
fell and wither. He had put down his tea-cup while Miss Buchanan spoke,
and he sat gazing at her. 'Isn't Miss Helen provided for?' he asked.

'Yes, in a sense she is,' said Miss Buchanan, who, after drinking her
tea, did not go on to her muffin, but still leaned back with folded
arms, her deep-set, small grey eyes fixed on Franklin's face. 'I've seen
to that as best I could; but one can't save much out of a small annuity.
Helen, after my death, will have an income of L150 a year. It isn't
enough. You have only to look at Helen to see that it isn't enough.
She's not fit to scrape and manage on that.'

Franklin repeated the sum thoughtfully. 'Well, no, perhaps not,' he half
thought, only half agreed; 'not leading the kind of life she does now.
If she could only work at something as well; bring in a little more like
that.' But Miss Buchanan interrupted him.

'Nonsense, my dear man; what work is there--work that will bring in
money--for a decorative, untrained idler like Helen? And what time would
she have left to live the only life she's fit to lead if she had to make
money? I'm not worried about bare life for Helen; I'm worried about what
kind of life it's to be. Helen was brought up to be an idler and to make
a good marriage--like most girls of her class--and she hasn't made it,
and she's not likely to make it now.'

'One hundred and fifty pounds isn't enough,' said Franklin, still
thoughtfully, 'for a decorative idler.'

'That's just it,' Miss Buchanan acquiesced; and she went on after a
moment, 'I'm willing to call Helen a decorative idler if we are talking
of purely economic weights and measures; thank goodness there are other
standards, and we are not likely to see them eliminated from civilised
society for many a generation. For many a generation, I trust, there'll
be people in the world who don't earn their keep, as one may say, and
yet who are more worth while keeping than most of the people who do. To
my mind Helen is such a person. I'd like to tell you a little about her
life, Mr. Kane.'

'I should be very much obliged if you would,' Franklin murmured, his
thin little face taking on an expression of most intense concentration.
'It would be a great privilege. You know what I feel about Miss Helen.'

'Yes; it's because I know what you feel about her that I want to tell
you,' said Miss Grizel. 'Not that it's anything startling, or anything
you wouldn't have supposed for yourself; but it illustrates my point, I
think, very well, my point that Helen is the type of person we can't
afford to let go under. Has Helen ever spoken to you about her mother?'

'Never,' said Franklin, his intent face expressing an almost ritualistic
receptivity.

'Well, she's a poor creature,' said Miss Buchanan, 'a poor, rubbishy
creature; the most selfish and reckless woman I know. I warned my
brother how it would turn out from the first; but he was infatuated and
had his way, and a wretched way it turned out. She made him miserable,
and she made the children miserable, and she nearly ruined him with her
extravagance; he and I together managed to put things straight, and see
to it that Nigel should come into a property not too much encumbered and
that Helen should inherit a little sum, enough to keep her going--a
little more it was, as a matter of fact, than what I'll be able to leave
her. Well, when my brother died, she was of age and she came into her
modest fortune; for a young girl, with me to back her up, it wasn't
bad. She had hardly seen her mother for three years--they'd always been
at daggers drawn--when one day, up in Scotland, when she was with her
brother--it was before Nigel married--who should appear but Daisy. She
had travelled up there in desperate haste to throw herself on her
children's mercy. She was in terrible straits. She had got into
debt--cards and racing--and she was frightfully involved with some
horror of a man. Her honour was wrecked unless she could pay her debts
and extricate herself. Well, she found no mercy in Nigel; he refused to
give her a farthing. It was Helen who stripped herself of every penny
she possessed and saved her. I don't know whether she touched Helen's
pity, or whether it was mere family pride; the thought of the horror of
a man was probably a strong motive too. All Helen ever said about it to
me was, "How could I bear to see her like that?" So, she ruined herself.
Of course after that it was more than ever necessary that she should
marry. I hadn't begun to save for her, and there was nothing else for
her to look to. Of course I expected her to marry at once; she was
altogether the most charming girl of her day. But there is the trouble;
she never did. She refused two most brilliant offers, one after the
other, and hosts of minor ones. There was some streak of girlish romance
in her, I suppose. I wish I could have been more on the spot and put on
pressure. But it was difficult to be on the spot. Helen never told me
about her offers until long after; and pressure with her wouldn't come
to much. Of course I didn't respect her the less for her foolishness.
But, dear me, dear me,' said Miss Buchanan, turning her eyes on the
fire, 'what a pity it has all been, what a pity it is, to see her
wasted.'

Franklin listened to this strange tale, dealing with matters to him
particularly strange, such as gambling, dishonoured mothers, horrors of
men and mercenary marriages. It all struck him as very dreadful; it all
sank into him; but it didn't oppress him in its strangeness; no outside
fact, however dreadful, ever oppressed Franklin. What did oppress him
was the thought of Helen in it all. This oppressed him very much.

Miss Buchanan continued to look into the fire for a little while after
she had finished her story, and then, bringing her eyes back to
Franklin's countenance, she looked at him keenly and steadily. 'And now,
Mr. Kane,' she said, 'you are perhaps asking yourself why I tell you all
this?'

Franklin was not asking it at all, and he answered with earnest
sincerity: 'Why, no; I think I ought to be told. I want to be told
everything about my friends that I may hear. I'm glad to know this,
because it makes me feel more than ever what a fine woman Miss Helen is,
and I'm sorry, because she's wasted, as you say. I only wish,' said
Franklin, and the intensity of cogitation deepened on his face, 'I only
wish that one could think out some plan to give her a chance.'

'I wish one could,' said Miss Buchanan. And without any change of voice
she added: 'I want you to marry her, Mr. Kane.'

Franklin sat perfectly still and turned his eyes on her with no apparent
altering of expression, unless the arrested stillness of his look was
alteration. His eyes and Miss Buchanan's plunged deep into each
other's, held each other's for a long time. Then, slowly, deeply,
Franklin flushed.

'But, Miss Buchanan,' he said, pausing between his sentences, for he did
not see his way, 'I'm in love with another woman--that is----' and for a
longer pause his way became quite invisible--'I've been in love with
another woman for years.'

'You mean Miss Jakes,' said Miss Buchanan. 'Helen told me about it. But
does that interfere? Helen isn't likely to be in love with you or to
expect you to be in love with her. And the woman you've loved for years
is going to marry some one else. It's not as if you had any hope.'

There was pain for Franklin in this reasonable speech, but he could not
see clearly where it lay; curiously, it did not seem to centre on that
hopelessness as regarded Althea. He could see nothing clearly, and there
was no time for self-examination. 'No,' he agreed. 'No, that's true.
It's not as if I had any hope.'

'I think Helen worthy of any man alive,' said Miss Buchanan, 'and yet,
under the strange circumstances, I know that what I'm asking of you is
an act of chivalry. I want to see Helen safe, and I think she would be
safe with you.'

Franklin flushed still more deeply. 'Yes, I think she would,' he said.
He paused then, again, trying to think, and what he found first was a
discomfort in the way she had put it. 'It wouldn't be an act of
chivalry,' he said. 'Don't think that. I care for Miss Helen too much
for that. It's all the other way round, you know. I mean'--he brought
out--'I don't believe she'd think of taking me.'

Miss Grizel's eyes were on him, and it may have been their gaze that
made him feel the discomfort. She seemed to be seeing something that
evaded him. 'I don't look like a husband for a decorative idler, do I,
Miss Buchanan?' he tried to smile.

Her eyes, with their probing keenness, smiled back. 'You mayn't look
like one, but you are one, with your millions,' she said. 'And I believe
Helen might think of taking you. She has had plenty of time to outgrow
youthful dreams. She's tired. She wants ease and security. She needs a
husband, and she doesn't need a lover at all. She would get power, and
you would get a charming wife--a woman, moreover, whom you care for and
respect--as she does you; and you would get a home and children. I
imagine that you care for children. Decorative idler though she is,
Helen would make an excellent mother.'

'Yes, I care very much for children,' Franklin murmured, not
confused--pained, rather, by this unveiling of his inner sanctities.

'Of course,' Miss Buchanan went on, 'you wouldn't want Helen to live out
of England. Of course you would make generous settlements and give her
her proper establishments here. I want Helen to be safe; but I don't
want safety for her at the price of extinction.'

Obviously, Franklin could see that very clearly, whatever else was dim,
he was the vase for the lovely flower. That was his use and his supreme
significance in Miss Buchanan's eyes. And the lovely flower was to be
left on its high stand where all the world could see it; what other use
was there for it? He quite saw Miss Buchanan's point, and the strange
thing was, in spite of all the struggling of confused pain and
perplexity in him, that here he, too, was clear; with no sense of inner
protest he could make it his point too. He wanted Helen to stay in her
vase; he didn't want to take her off the high stand. He had not time now
to seek for consistency with his principles, his principles must
stretch, that was all; they must stretch far enough to take in Helen and
her stand; once they had done that he felt that there might be more to
say and that he should be able to say it; he felt sure that he should
say nothing that Helen would not like; even if she disagreed, she would
always smile at him.

'No,' he said, 'it wouldn't do for her to live anywhere but in England.'

'Well, then, what do you say to it?' asked Miss Buchanan. She had rather
the manner of a powerful chancellor negotiating for the marriage of a
princess.

'Why,' Franklin replied, smiling very gravely, 'I say yes. But I can't
think that Miss Helen will.'

'Try your chances,' said Miss Buchanan. She reached across the table and
shook his hand. 'I like you, Mr. Kane,' she said. 'I think you are a
good man; and, don't forget, in spite of my worldliness, that if I
weren't sure of that, all your millions wouldn't have made me think of
you for Helen.'




CHAPTER XXIII.


Helen returned to town on Monday afternoon, and, on going to her room,
found two notes there. One from Gerald said that he was staying on for
another week at Merriston, the other from Franklin said that he would
take his chances of finding her in at 5.30 that afternoon. Helen only
glanced at Franklin's note and then dropped it into the fire; at
Gerald's she looked long and attentively. She always, familiar as they
were, studied any letter of Gerald's that she received; they seemed, the
slightest of them, to have something of himself; the small crisp writing
was charming to her, and the very way he had of affixing his stamps in
not quite the same way that most people affixed theirs, ridiculously
endeared even his envelopes. She turned the note over in her fingers as
she stood before the fire, seeing all that it meant to him--how
little!--and all that it meant to her, and she laid it for a moment
against her cheek before tearing it across and putting it, too, into the
fire. Aunt Grizel was gone out and had left word that she would not be
in till dinner-time. Helen looked idly at the clock and decided that she
would take a lazy afternoon, have tea at home, and await Franklin.

When he arrived he found her reading before the fire in the little room
where she did not often receive him; it was usually in the drawing-room
that they met. Helen wore a black tea-gown, transparent and flowing, the
same gown, indeed, remodelled to more domestic uses, in which Althea had
first seen her. She looked pale and very thin.

Franklin, too, was aware of feeling pale; he thought that he had felt
pale ever since his talk with Miss Buchanan on Saturday. He had not yet
come to any decision about the motives that had made him acquiesce in
her proposal; he only knew that, whatever they were, they were not those
merely reasonable ones that she had put before him. A charming wife, a
home and children; these were not enough, and Franklin knew it, to have
brought him here to-day on his strange errand; nor was it an act of
chivalry; nor was it pity and sympathy for his friend. All these, no
doubt, made some small part of it; but they far from covered the case;
they would have left him as calm and as rational as, he knew, he looked;
but since he did not feel calm and rational he knew that the case was
covered by very different motives. What they were he could not clearly
see; but he felt that something was happening to him and that it was
taking him far out of his normal course. Even his love for Althea had
not taken him out of his course; it had never been incalculable; it had
been the ground he walked on, the goal he worked towards; what was
happening now was like a current, swift and unfathomable, that was
bearing him he knew not where.

Helen smiled at him and, turning in her chair to look up at him, gave
him her hand. 'You look tired,' she said. 'You'll have some tea?'

'I've been looking up some things at the British Museum,' said Franklin,
'and I had a glass of milk and a bun; the bun was very satisfying,
though I can't say that it was very satisfactory; I guess I shan't want
anything else for some hours yet.'

'A bun? What made you have a bun?' said Helen, laughing.

'Well, it seemed to go with the place, somehow,' said Franklin.

'I can imagine that it might; I've only been there once; very large and
very indigestible I found it, and most depressing. Yes, I see that it
might make a bun seem suitable.'

'Ah, but it's a very wonderful place, you know,' Franklin said. 'I
should have expected you to go oftener; you care about beauty.'

'Not beauty in a museum. I don't like museums. The mummies were what
impressed me most, after the Elgin marbles, and everything there seemed
like a mummy--dead and desecrated. Well, what have you been doing
besides eating buns at the British Museum? Has London been working you
very hard?'

'I've not seen much of London while you've been away,' said Franklin,
who had drawn a chair to the other side of the fire. 'I think that you
are London to me, and when you are out of it it doesn't seem to mean
much--beyond museums and work.'

'Come, what of all your scientific friends?'

'They don't mean London; they mean science,' said Franklin, smiling back
at her. She always made him feel happy for himself, and at ease, even
when he was feeling unhappy for her; and just now he was feeling
strangely, deeply unhappy for her. It wasn't humility, in the usual
sense, that showed his coming offer to him as so inadequate; he did not
think of himself as unworthy; but he did think of himself as
incongruous; and that this fine, sad, subtle creature should be brought,
from merely reasonable motives, to taking the incongruous intimately
into her life made him more unhappy for her than usual. He wished he
wasn't so incongruous; he wished he had something besides friendship and
millions; he wished, almost, that his case was hopeless and that
friendship and millions would not gain her. Yet, under these wishes,
which made his face look tired and jaded, was another feeling; it was
too selfless to be called a wish; rather it was a wonder, deep and
melancholy, as to what was being done to him, and what would be done, as
an end of it all. That something had been done he knew; it was because
of Helen--that was one thing at last seen clearly--that he had not, long
ago, left London.

'Science is perfectly impersonal, perfectly cosmopolitan, you know,' he
went on. 'Now you are intensely personal and intensely local.'

'I don't think of myself as London, then, if I'm local,' said Helen, her
eyes on the fire. 'I think of myself as Scotland, in the moorlands, on a
bleak, grey day, when the heather is over and there's a touch of winter
in the wind. You don't know the real me.'

'I'd like to,' said Franklin, quietly and unemphatically.

They sat for a little while in silence, and Helen, so unconscious of
what was approaching her, seemed in no haste to break it. She was
capable of sitting thus in silent musing, her cheek on her hand, her
eyes on the fire, for half an hour with Mr. Kane beside her.

Franklin was reflecting. It wouldn't do to put it to her as her need; it
must be put to her as his; as his reasonable need for the castle, the
princess, the charming wife, the home, and children. And it must be that
need only, the need of the dry, matter-of-fact friend who could give her
a little and to whom she could give much. To hint at other needs--if
other needs there were--would not be in keeping with the spirit of the
transaction, and would, no doubt, endanger it. He well remembered old
Miss Buchanan's hint; it was as a husband that Helen might contemplate
him, not as a lover. 'Miss Buchanan,' he said at last, 'you don't
consider that love, romantic love, is necessary in marriage, do you?
I've gathered more than once from remarks of yours that that point of
view is rather childish to you.'

Helen turned her eyes on him with the look of kindly scrutiny to which
he was accustomed. She had felt, in these last weeks, that London might
be having some unforeseen effect on Franklin Kane; she thought of him as
very clear and very fixed, yet of such a guilelessly open nature as
well, that new experience might impress too sharply the candid tablets
of his mind. She did not like to think of any alteration in Franklin.
She wanted him to remain a changeless type, tolerant of alteration, but
in itself inalterable. 'To tell you the truth, I used to think so,' she
said, 'for myself, I mean. And I hope that you will always think so.'

'Why?' asked Franklin.

'I want you to go on believing always in the things that other people
give up--the nice, beautiful things.'

'Well, that's just my point; can't marriage without romantic love be
nice and beautiful?'

'Well, can it?' Helen smiled.

Franklin appeared conscientiously to ponder. 'I've a high ideal of
marriage,' he said. 'I think it's the happiest state for men and women;
celibacy is abnormal, isn't it?'

'Yes, I suppose it is,' Helen acquiesced, smiling on.

'A mercenary or a worldly marriage is a poor thing; it can't bring the
right sort of growth,' Franklin went on. 'I'm not thinking of anything
sordid or self-seeking, except in the sense that self-development is
self-seeking. I'm thinking of conditions when a man and woman, without
romantic love, might find the best chances of development. Even without
romantic love, marriage may mean fine and noble things, mayn't it? a
home, you know, and shared, widened interests, and children,' said poor
Franklin, 'and the mutual help of two natures that understand and
respect each other.'

'Yes, of course,' said Helen, as he paused, fixing his eyes upon her;
'it may certainly mean all that, the more surely, perhaps, for having
begun without romance.'

'You agree?'

She smiled now at his insistence. 'Of course I agree.'

'You think it might mean happiness?'

'Of course; if they are both sensible people and if neither expects
romance of the other; that's a very important point.'

Franklin again paused, his eyes on hers. With a little effort he now
pursued. 'You know of my romance, Miss Buchanan, and you know that it's
over, except as a beautiful and sacred memory. You know that I don't
intend to let a memory warp my life. It may seem sudden to you, and I
ask your pardon if it's too sudden; but I want to marry; I want a home,
and children, and the companionship of some one I care for and respect,
very deeply. Therefore, Miss Buchanan,' he spoke on, turning a little
paler, but with the same deliberate steadiness, 'I ask you if you will
marry me.'

While Franklin spoke, it had crossed Helen's mind that perhaps he had
determined to follow her suggestion--buy a castle and find a princess to
put in it; it had crossed her mind that he might be going to ask her
advice on this momentous step--she was used to giving advice on such
momentous steps; but when he brought out his final sentence she was so
astonished that she rose from her chair and stood before him. She became
very white, and, with the strained look that then came to them, her eyes
opened widely. And she gazed down at Franklin Winslow Kane while, in
three flashes, searing and swift, like running leaps of lightning, three
thoughts traversed her mind: Gerald--All that money--A child. It was in
this last thought that she seemed, then, to fall crumblingly, like a
burnt-out thing reduced to powder. A child. What would it look like, a
child of hers and Franklin Kane's? How spare and poor and insignificant
were his face and form. Could she love a child who had a nose like
that--a neat, flat, sallow little nose? A spasm, half of laughter, half
of sobbing, caught her breath.

'I've startled you,' said Franklin, who still sat in his chair looking
up at her. 'Please forgive me.'

A further thought came to her now, one that she could utter, was able to
utter. 'I couldn't live in America. Yes, you did startle me. But I am
much honoured.'

'Thank you,' said Franklin. 'I needn't say how much I should consider
myself honoured if you would accept my proposal.' He rose now, but it
was to move a little further away from her, and, taking up an ornament
from the mantelpiece, he examined it while he said: 'As for America, I
quite see that; that's what I was really thinking of in what I was
saying about London. You are London, and it wouldn't do to take you away
from it. I shouldn't think of taking you away. What I would ask you to
do would be to take me in. Since being over here, this time, and seeing
some of the real life of the country--what it's working towards, what it
needs and means--and, moreover, taking into consideration the character
of my own work, I should feel perfectly justified in making a compromise
between my patriotism and my--my affection for you. Some day you might
perhaps find that you'd like to pay us a visit, over there; I think
you'd find it interesting, and it wouldn't, of course, be my America
that you'd see, not the serious and unfashionable America; it would be a
very different America from that that you'd find waiting to welcome you.
So that what I should suggest--and feel justified in suggesting--would
be that I spent three months alternately in England and America; I
should in that way get half a year of home life and half a year of my
own country, and be able, perhaps, to be something of a link between
the English and American scientific worlds. As for our life
here'--Franklin remembered old Miss Buchanan's words--'you should have
your own establishments and,' he lifted his eyes to hers, now, and
smiled a little, 'pursue the just and the beautiful under the most
favourable conditions.'

Helen, when he smiled so at her, turned from him and sank again into her
chair. She leaned her elbow on the arm and put her hand over her eyes. A
languor of great weariness went over her, the languor of the burnt-out
thing floating in the air like a drift of ashes.

Here, at last, in her hand, however strange the conditions, was the
power she had determined to live for. She could, with Franklin's
millions, mould circumstances to her will, and Franklin would be no more
of an odd impediment than the husbands of many women who married for
money--less of an impediment, indeed, than most, for--though it could
only be for his money--she liked him, she was very fond of him, dear,
good, and exquisite little man. Impossible little man she, no doubt,
would once have thought him--impossible as husband, not as friend; but
so many millions made all the difference in possibility. Franklin was
now as possible as any prince, though, she wondered with the cold
languor, could a prince have a nose like that?

Franklin was possible, and it was in her hand, the power, the high
security; yet she felt that it would be in weariness rather than in
strength that the hand would close. It must close, must it not? If she
refused Franklin what, after all, was left to her, what was left in
herself or in her life that could say no to him? Nothing; nothing at
all, no hope, no desire, no faith in herself or in life. If it came to
that, the clearest embodiment of faith and life she knew sat opposite to
her waiting for an answer. He was good; she was fond of him; he had
millions; what could it be but yes? Yet, while her mind sank, like a
feather floating downwards in still air, to final, inevitable
acquiescence, while the little clock ticked with a fine, insect-like
note, and the flames made a soft flutter like the noise of shaken silk,
a blackness of chaotic suffering rose suddenly in her, and her thoughts
were whirled far away. In flashes, dear and terrible, she saw it--her
ruined youth. It rose in dim symbolic pictures, the moorland where
melancholy birds cried and circled, where the rain fell and the wind
called with a passionate cadence among the hills. To marry Franklin
Kane--would it not be to abandon the past; would it not be to desecrate
it and make it hers no longer? Was not the solitary moorland better, the
anguish and despair better than the smug, warm, sane life of purpose and
endeavour? If she was too tired, too indifferent, if she acquiesced, if
she married Franklin Kane, would she forget that the reallest thing in
her life had not been its sanity, and its purpose, but its wild, its
secret, its broken-hearted love? Surely the hateful wisdom of the daily
fact would not efface the memory so that, with years, she would come to
smile over it as one smiles at distant childish griefs? Surely not. Yet
the presage of it passed bleakly over her soul. Life was so reasonable.
And there it sat in the person of Franklin Winslow Kane; life, wise,
kind, commonplace, and inexorably given to the fact, to the present, to
the future that the present built, inexorably oblivious of the past. Her
tragic, rebel heart cried out against it, but her mind whispered with a
hateful calm that life conquered tragedy.

Let it be so, then. She faced it. In the very fact of submission to life
her tragedy would live on; the tragedy--and this she would never
forget--would be to feel it no longer. She would be life's captive, not
its soldier, and she would keep to the end the captive's bitter heart.
She knew, as she put down her hand at last and looked at Franklin Kane,
that it was to be acquiescence, unless he could not accept her terms.
She was ready, ironically, wearily ready for life; but it must be on her
own terms. There must be no loophole for misunderstanding between her
and her friend--if she were to marry him. Only by the clearest
recognition of what she owed him could her pride be kept intact; and she
owed him cold, cruel candour. 'Do you understand, I wonder,' she said to
him, and in a voice that he had never heard from her before, the voice,
he knew, of the real self, 'how different I am from what you think a
human being should be? Do you realise that, if I marry you, it will be
because you have money--because you have a great deal of money--and only
for that? I like you, I respect you; I would be a loyal wife to you, but
if you weren't rich--and very rich--I should not think of marrying you.'

Franklin received this information with an unmoved visage, and after a
pause in which they contemplated each other deeply, he replied: 'All
right.'

'That isn't all,' said Helen. 'You are very good--an idealist. You think
me--even in this frankness of mine--far nicer than I am. I have no
ideals--none at all. I want to be independent and to have power to do
what I please. As for justice and beauty--it's too kind of you to
remember so accurately some careless words of mine.'

Franklin remained unperturbed, unless the quality of intent and
thoughtful pity in his face were perturbation. 'You don't know how nice
you are,' he remarked, 'and that's the nicest thing about you. You are
the honestest woman I've met, and you seem to me about the most unhappy.
I guessed that. Well, we won't talk about unhappiness, will we? I don't
believe that talking about it does much good. If you'll marry me, we'll
see if we can't live it down somehow. As for ideals, I'll trust you in
doing what you like with your money; it will be yours, you know. I shall
make half my property over to you for good; then if I disapprove of what
you do with it, you'll at all events be free to go on pleasing yourself
and displeasing me. I won't be able to prevent you by force from doing
what I think wrong any more than you will me. You'll take your own
responsibility, and I'll take mine. And I don't believe we shall quarrel
much about it,' said Franklin, smiling at her.

Tears rose to Helen's eyes. Franklin Kane, since she had become his
friend, often touched her; something in him now smote upon her heart; it
was so gentle, so beautiful, and so sad.

'My dear friend,' she said, 'you will be marrying a hard, a selfish, and
a broken-hearted woman who will bring you nothing.'

'All right,' said Franklin again.

'I won't do you any good.'

'You won't do me any harm.'

'You want me to marry you, even if I'm not to do you any good?'

He nodded, looking brightly and intently at her.

She rose now and stood beside him. With all the strange new sense of
unity between them there was a stronger sense of formality, and that
seemed best expressed by their clasp of hands over what, apparently, was
an agreement. 'You understand, you are sure you understand,' said Helen.

'What I want to understand is that you are going to marry me,' said
Franklin.

'I will marry you,' Helen said.

And now, rather breathlessly, as if after a race hardly won, Franklin
answered: 'Well, I guess you can leave the rest to me.'




CHAPTER XXIV.


Gerald had decided to stay on for another week at Merriston and to come
up to town with Althea, and she fancied that the reason for his decision
was that he found Sally Arlington such very good company. Sally played
the violin exceedingly well and looked like an exceedingly lovely muse
while she played, and Gerald, who was very fond of music, also expressed
more than once to Althea his admiration of Miss Arlington's appearance.
There was nothing in Gerald's demeanour towards Sally to arouse a hint
of jealousy; at least there would not have been had Althea been his
wife. But she was not yet his wife, and he treated her--this was the
fact that the week was driving home--as though she were, and as though
with wifely tolerance she perfectly understood his admiring pretty young
women who looked like muses and played the violin. She was not yet his
wife; this was the fact, she repeated it over her hidden misery, that
Gerald did not enough realise. She was not his wife, and she did not
like to see him admiring other young women and behaving towards herself
as though she were a comprehending and devoted spouse, who found
pleasure in providing them for his delectation. She knew that she could
trust Gerald, that not for a moment would he permit himself a
flirtation, and not for a moment fail to discriminate between admiration
of the newcomer and devotion to herself; yet that the admiration had
been sufficient to keep him on at Merriston, while the devotion took for
granted the right to all sorts of marital neglects, was the fact that
rankled. It did more than rankle; it burned with all the other burnings.
Althea had, at all events, been dragged from her mood of introspection.
She had lost the sense of nonentity. She was conscious of a passionate,
protesting self that cried out for justice. Who was Gerald, after all,
to take things so for granted? Why should he be so sure of her? He was
not her husband. She was his betrothed, not his wife, and more, much
more was due to a betrothed than he seemed to imagine. It was not so
that another man would have treated her; it was not so that Franklin
would have handled his good fortune. Her heart, bereft and starving,
cried out for Franklin and for the love that had never failed, even
while, under and above everything, was her love for Gerald, and the cold
fear lest he should guess what was in her heart, should be angry with
her and turn away. It was this fear that gave her self-mastery. She
acted the part that Gerald took for granted; she was the tolerant,
devoted wife. Yet even so she guessed that Gerald had still his instinct
of something amiss. He, too, with all his grace, all his deference and
sweetness, was guarded. And once or twice when they were alone together
an embarrassed silence had fallen between them.

Mrs. Peel and Sally left on Saturday, and on Saturday afternoon Miss
Harriet Robinson was to arrive from Paris, to spend the Sunday, to
travel up to town with Althea and Gerald on Monday, and to remain there
with Althea until her marriage. Saturday morning, therefore, after the
departure of Mrs. Peel and Sally, would be empty, and when she and
Gerald met, just before the rather bustled breakfast, Althea suggested
to him that a walk together when her guests were gone would be nice, and
Gerald had genially acquiesced. A little packet of letters lay beside
Gerald's plate and a larger one by Althea's, hers mainly from America as
she saw, fat, friendly letters, bearing the Boston postmark; a thin note
from Franklin in London also, fixing some festivity for the coming week
no doubt; but Sally and Mrs. Peel engaged her attention, and she
postponed the reading until after they were gone. She observed, however,
in Gerald's demeanour during the meal, a curious irritability and
preoccupation. He ate next to nothing, drank his cup of coffee with an
air of unconsciousness, and got up and strolled away at the first
opportunity, not reappearing until Mrs. Peel and Sally were making their
farewells in the hall. He and Althea stood to see them drive off, and
then, since she was ready for the walk, they went out together.

It was a damp day, but without rain. A white fog hung closely and
thickly over the country, and lay like a clogging, woollen substance
among the scattered gold and russets of the now almost leafless trees.

Gerald walked beside Althea in silence, his hands in his pockets.
Althea, too, was silent, and in her breast was an oppression like that
of the day--a dense, dull, clogging fear. They had walked for quite ten
minutes, and had left the avenue and were upon the high road when
Gerald said suddenly, 'I've had some news this morning.'

It was a relief to hear that there was some cause for his silence
unconnected with her own inadequacy. But anger rose with the relief; it
must be some serious cause to excuse him.

'Have you? It's not bad, I hope,' she said, hoping that it was.

'Bad? No; I don't suppose it's bad. It's very odd, though,' said Gerald.
He then put his hand in his breast-pocket and drew out a letter. Althea
saw that the writing on the envelope was Helen's. 'You may read it,'
said Gerald.

The relief was now merged in something else. Althea's heart seemed
standing still. It began to thump heavily as she opened the letter and
read what Helen wrote:


    'DEAR GERALD,--I have some surprising news for you; but I hardly
    think that you will be more surprised than I was. I am going to
    marry Mr. Kane. I accepted him some days ago, but have been getting
    used to the idea since then, and you are the first person, after
    Aunt Grizel, who knows. It will be announced next week and we shall
    probably be married very soon after you and Althea. I hope that both
    our ventures will bring us much happiness. The more I see of Mr.
    Kane, the more I realise how fortunate I am.--Yours affectionately,

                                                            'HELEN.'


Althea gazed at these words. Then she turned her eyes and gazed at
Gerald, who was not looking at her but straight before him. Her first
clear thought was that if he had received a shock it could not be
comparable to that which she now felt. It could not be that the letter
had fallen on his heart like a sword, severing it. Althea's heart seemed
cleft in twain. Gerald--Franklin--it seemed to pulse, horribly divided
and horribly bleeding. Looking still at Gerald's face, pallid, absorbed,
far from any thought of her, anger surged up in her, and not now against
Gerald only, but against Franklin, who had failed her, against Helen,
who, it seemed, did not win love, yet won something that took people to
her and bound them to her. Then she remembered her unread letters, and
remembered that Franklin could not have let this news come to her from
another than himself. She drew out his letter and read it. It, too, was
short.


    'DEAREST ALTHEA,--I know how glad you'll be to hear that happiness,
    though of a different sort, has come to me. Any sort of happiness
    was, for so many years, connected with you, dear Althea, that it's
    very strange to me to realise that there can be another happiness;
    though this one is connected with you, too, and that makes me
    gladder. Helen, your dear friend, has consented to marry me, and the
    fact of her being your dear friend makes her even dearer to me. So
    that I must thank you for your part in this wonderful new opening in
    my life, as well as for all the other lovely things you've always
    meant to me.--Your friend,
                                                            'FRANKLIN.'


Althea's hand dropped. She stared before her. She did not offer the
letter to Gerald. 'It's incredible,' she said, while, in the heavy
mist, they walked along the road.

Gerald still said nothing. He held his head high, and gazed before him
too, as if intent on difficult and evasive thoughts.

'I could not have believed it of Helen,' said Althea after a little
pause.

At this he started and looked round at her. 'Believed? What? What is
that you say?' His voice was sharp, as though she had struck him on the
raw.

Althea steadied her own voice; she wished to strike him on the raw, and
accurately; she could only do that by hiding from him her own great
dismay. 'I could not have believed that Helen would marry a man merely
for his money.' She did not believe that Helen was to marry Franklin
merely for his money. If only she could have believed it; but the
bleeding heart throbbed: 'Lost--lost--lost.' It was not money that Helen
had seen and accepted; it was something that she herself had been too
blind and weak to see. In Helen's discovery she helplessly partook. He
_was_ of value, then. He, whom she had not found good enough for her,
was good enough for Helen. And this man--this affianced husband of
hers--ah, his value she well knew; she was not blind to it--that was the
sickening knowledge; she knew his value and it was not hers, not her
possession, as Franklin's love and all that Franklin was had been.
Gerald possessed her; she seemed to have no part in him; how little, his
next words showed.

'What right have you to say she's taking him merely for his money?'
Gerald demanded in his tense, vibrant voice.

Ah, how he made her suffer with his hateful unconsciousness of her
pain--the male unconsciousness that rouses woman's conscious cruelty.

'I know Helen. She has always been quite frank about her mercenary
ideas. She always told me she would marry a man for his money.'

'Then why do you say it's incredible that she is going to?'

Why, indeed? but Althea held her lash. 'I did not believe, even of her,
that she would marry a man she considered so completely insignificant,
so completely negligible--a man she described to me as a funny little
man. There are limits, even to Helen's insensitiveness, I should have
imagined.'

She had discovered the raw. Gerald was breathing hard.

'That must have been at first--when she didn't know him. They became
great friends; everybody saw that Helen had become very fond of him; I
never knew her to be so fond of anybody. You are merely angry because a
man who used to be in love with you has fallen in love with another
woman.'

So he, too, could lash. 'How dare you, Gerald!' she said.

At her voice he paused, and there, in the wet road, they stood and
looked at each other.

What Althea then saw in his face plunged her into the nightmare abyss of
nothingness. What had she left? He did not love her--he did not even
care for her. She had lost the real love, and this brightness that she
clung to darkened for her. He looked at her, steadily, gloomily,
ashamed of what she had made him say, yet too sunken in his own pain,
too indifferent to hers, to unsay it. And in her dispossession she did
not dare make manifest the severance that she saw. He did not care for
her, but she could not tell him so; she could not tell him to go. With
horrid sickness of heart she made a feint that hid her knowledge.

'What you say is not true. Franklin does not love her. I know him
through and through. I am the great love of his life; even in his letter
to me, here, he tells me that I am.'

'Well, since you've thrown him over, he can console himself, I hope.'

'You do not understand, Gerald. I am disappointed--in both my friends.
It is an ugly thing that has happened. You feel it so; and so do I.'

He turned and began to walk on again. And still it lay with her to speak
the words that would make truth manifest. She could not utter them; she
could not, now, think. All that she knew was the dense, suffocating
fear.

Suddenly she stopped, put her hands on her heart, then covered her eyes.
'I am ill; I feel very ill,' she said. It was true. She did feel very
ill. She went to the bank at the side of the road and sank down on it.
Gerald had supported her; she had dimly been aware of the bitter joy of
feeling his arm around her, and the joy of it slid away like a snake,
leaving poison behind. He stood above her, alarmed and pitying.

'Althea--shall I go and get some one? I am so awfully sorry--so
frightfully sorry,' he repeated.

She shook her head, sitting there, her face in her hands and her elbows
on her knees. And in her great weakness an unbelievable thing happened
to her. She began to cry piteously, and she sobbed: 'O Gerald--don't be
unkind to me! don't be cruel! don't hurt me! O Gerald--love me--please
love me!' The barriers of her pride, of her thought, were down, and,
like the flowing of blood from an open wound, the truth gushed forth.

For a moment Gerald was absolutely silent. It was a tense, a stricken
silence, and she felt in it something of the horror that the showing of
a fatal wound might give. Then he knelt beside her; he took her hand; he
put his arm around her. 'Althea, what a brute--what a brute I've been.
Forgive me.' It was for something else than his harsh words that he was
asking her forgiveness. He passed hurriedly from that further, that
inevitable hurt. 'I can't tell you how---- I mean I'm so completely
sorry. You see, I was so taken aback--so cut up, you know. I could think
of nothing else. She is such an old friend--my nearest friend. I never
imagined her marrying, somehow; it was like hearing that she was going
away for ever. And what you said made me angry.' Even he, with all his
compunction, could but come back to the truth.

And, helpless, she could but lean on his pity, his sheer human pity.

'I know. He was my nearest friend too. For all my life I've been first
with him. I was cut up too. I am sorry--I spoke so.'

'Poor girl--poor dear. Here, take my arm. Here. Now, you do feel
better.'

She was on her feet, her hand drawn through his arm, her face turned
from him and still bathed in tears.

They walked back slowly along the road. They were silent. From time to
time she knew that he looked at her with solicitude; but she could not
return his look. The memory of her own words was with her, a strange,
new, menacing fact in life. She had said them, and they had altered
everything. Henceforth she depended on his pity, on his loyalty, on his
sense of duty to a task undertaken. Their bond was recognised as an
unequal one. Once or twice, in the dull chaos of her mind, a flicker of
pride rose up. Could she not emulate Helen? Helen was to marry a man who
did not love her. Helen was to marry rationally, with open eyes, a man
who was her friend. But Helen did not love the man who did not love her.
She was not his thrall. She gained, she did not lose, her freedom.




CHAPTER XXV.


A week was gone since Helen had given her consent to Franklin, and again
she was in her little sitting-room and again waiting, though not for
Franklin. Franklin had been with her all the morning; and he had been
constantly with her through the week, and she had found the closer
companionship, until to-day, strangely easy. Franklin's very lacks
endeared him to her. It was wonderful to see any one so devoid of any
glamour, of any adventitious aid from nature, who yet so beamed. This
beaming quality was, for Helen, his chief characteristic. There was
certainly no brilliancy in Franklin's light; it was hardly a ray and it
emitted never a sparkle; but it was a mild, diffused effulgence, and she
always felt more peaceful and restored for coming within its radius.

It had wrapped her around all the week, and it had remained so unchanged
that their relation, too, had seemed unchanged and her friend only a
little nearer, a little more solicitous. They had gone about together;
they had taken walks in the parks; they had made plans while strolling
beside the banks of the Serpentine or leaning on the bridge in St.
James's Park, to watch the ducks being fed. Already she and Franklin and
the deeply triumphant Aunt Grizel had gone on a journey down to the
country to look at a beautiful old house in order to see if it would do
as one of Helen's 'establishments.' Already Franklin had brought her a
milky string of perfect pearls, saying mildly, as he had said of the box
of sweets, 'I don't approve of them, but I hope you do.' And on her
finger was Franklin's ring, a noble emerald that they had selected
together.

Helen had been pleased to feel in herself a capacity for satisfaction in
these possessions, actual and potential. She liked to look at the great
blot of green on her hand and to see the string of pearls sliding to her
waist. She liked to ponder on the Jacobean house with its splendid rise
of park and fall of sward. She didn't at all dislike it, either, when
Franklin, as calmly possessed as ever with a clear sense of his duties,
discussed with her the larger and more impersonal uses of their fortune.
She found that she had ideas for him there; that the thinking and active
self, so long inert, could be roused to very good purpose; that it was
interesting, and very interesting, to plan, with millions at one's
disposal, for the furtherance of the just and the beautiful. And she
found, too, in spite of her warnings to Franklin, that though she might
be a hard, a selfish, and a broken-hearted woman, she was a woman with a
very definite idea of her own responsibilities. It did not suit her at
all to be the mere passive receiver; it did not suit her to be greedy.
She turned her mind at once, carefully and consistently, to Franklin's
interests. She found atoms and kinetics rather confusing at first, but
Franklin's delighted and deliberate elucidations made a light for her
that promised by degrees to illuminate these dark subjects. Yes;
already life had taken hold of her and, ironically, yet not unwillingly,
she followed it along the appointed path. Yesterday, however, and
to-day, especially, a complication, subtle yet emphatic, had stolen upon
her consciousness.

All the week long, in spite of something mastered and controlled in his
bearing, she had seen that he was happy, and though not imaginative as
to Franklin's past, she had guessed that he had never in all his life
been so happy, and that never had life so taken hold of him. He enjoyed
the pearls, he enjoyed the emerald, he enjoyed the Jacobean house and
going over it with her and Aunt Grizel; above all he enjoyed herself as
a thinking and acting being, the turning of her attention to atoms, her
grave, steady penetration of his life. And in this happiness the
something controlled and mastered had melted more and more; she had
intended that it should melt. She had guessed at the pain, the anxiety
for her that had underlain the dear little man's imperturbability, and
she had determined that as far as in her lay Franklin should think her
happy, should think that, at all events, she was serene and without
qualms or misgivings. And she had accomplished this. It was as if she
saw him breathing more deeply, more easily; as if, with a long sigh of
relief, he smiled at her and said, with a new accent of confidence: 'All
right.' And then, after the sigh of relief, she saw that he became too
happy. It was only yesterday that she began to see it; it was to-day
that she had clearly seen that Franklin had fallen in love with her.

It wasn't that, in any blindness to what she meant, he came nearer and
made mistakes. He did not come a step nearer, and, in his happiness, his
unconscious happiness, he was further from the possibility of mistakes
than before. He did not draw near. He stood and gazed. Men had loved
Helen before, yet, she felt it, no man had loved her as Franklin did.
She could not have analysed the difference between his love and that of
other men, yet she felt it dimly. Franklin stood and gazed; but it was
not at charm or beauty that he gazed; whether he was really deeply aware
of them she could not tell; the only words she could find with which to
express her predicament and its cause sounded silly to her, but she
could find no others. Franklin was gazing at her soul. She couldn't
imagine what he found to fix him in it; he had certainly said that she
was the honestest woman he had known; she gloomily made out that she
was, she supposed, 'straight'; she liked clear, firm things, and she
liked to keep a bargain. It didn't seem to her a very arresting array of
virtues; but then--no, she couldn't settle Franklin's case so glibly as
that; if it wasn't what she might have of charm that he had fallen in
love with, it wasn't what she might have of virtue either. Perhaps one's
soul hadn't much to do with either charm or virtue. And, after all,
whatever it was, he was gazing at it, rapt, smiling, grave, in the
lover's trance. He saw her, and only her. And she saw him, and a great
many other things besides.

The immediate hope that came to her was that Franklin, perhaps, might
really never know just what had happened to him. If he never recognised
it, it might never become explicit; it might be managed; it could of
course be managed in any case; but how she should hate having him made
conscious of pain. If he never said to himself, and far less to her,
that he had fallen in love with her, he might not really suffer in the
strange, ill-adjusted union before them. She did not think that he had
yet said it to himself; but she feared that he was hovering on the verge
of self-recognition. His very guilelessness in the realm of the emotions
exposed him to her, and with her perplexity went a yearning of pity as
she witnessed the soft, the hesitant, the delicate unfolding.

For more had come than the tranced gaze. That morning, writing notes,
with Franklin beside her, her hand had inadvertently touched his once or
twice in taking the papers from him, and Helen then had seen that
Franklin blushed. Twice, also, looking up, she had found his eyes fixed
on her with the lover's dwelling tenderness, and both times he had
quickly averted his glance in a manner very new in him.

Helen had pondered deeply in the moments before his departure. Franklin
had never kissed her; the time would come when he must kiss her. The
time would come when a kiss of farewell or greeting must, however rare,
be a facile, marital custom. How would Franklin--trembling on that verge
of a self-recognition that might make a chaos of his life--how and when
would he initiate that custom? How could it be initiated by him at all
unless with an emotion that would not only reveal him to himself, but
make it known to him that he was revealed to her. The revelation, if it
came, must come gradually; they must both have time to get used to it,
she to having a husband she did not love in love with her; he to loving
a wife who would never love him back. She shrank from the thought of
emotional revelations. It was her part to initiate and to make a kiss an
easy thing. Yet she found, sitting there, writing the last notes, with
Franklin beside her, that it was not an easy thing to contemplate. The
thought of her own cowardice spurred her on. When Franklin rose at last,
gave her his hand, said that he'd come back that evening, Helen rose
too, resolved. 'Good-bye,' she said. 'Don't forget the tickets for that
concert.'

'No, indeed,' said Franklin.

'And I think, don't you? that we might put the announcement in the
papers to-morrow. Aunt Grizel wants, I am sure, to see me safely Morning
Posted.'

'So do I,' smiled Franklin.

Helen was summoning her courage. 'Good-bye,' she repeated, and now she
smiled with a new sweetness. 'I think we ought to kiss each other
good-bye, don't you? We are such an old engaged couple.'

Resolved, and firm in her resolve, though knowing commotion of soul, she
leaned to him and kissed his forehead and turned her cheek to him.
Franklin had kept her hand, and in the pause, where she did not see his
face, she felt his tighten on it; but he did not kiss her. Smiling a
little nervously, she raised her head and looked at him. He was gazing
at her with a shaken, stricken look.

'You must kiss me good-bye,' said Helen, speaking as she would have
spoken to a departing child. 'Why, we have no right to be put in the
_Morning Post_ unless we've given each other a kiss.'

And, really like the child, Franklin said: 'Must I?'

He kissed her then, gently, and spoke no further word. But she knew,
when he had gone, and when thinking over the meaning of his face as it
only came to her when the daze of her own daring faded and left her able
to think, that she had hardly helped Franklin over a difficulty; she had
made him aware of it rather; she had shown him what his task must be.
And it could not reassure her, for Franklin, that his face, after that
stricken moment, and with a wonderful swiftness of delicacy, had
promised her that it should be accomplished. It promised her that there
should be no emotions, or, if there were, that they should be mastered
ones; it promised her that she should see nothing in him to make her
feel that she was refusing anything, nothing to make her feel that she
was giving pain by a refusal. It seemed to say that he knew, now, at
last, what the burden was that he laid upon her and that it should be as
light as he could make it. It did not show her that he saw his own
burden; but Helen saw it for him. She, too, made herself promises as she
stood after his departure, taking a long breath over her discovery; she
was not afraid in looking forward. All that she was afraid of--and it
was of this that she was thinking as she now stood leaning her arm upon
the mantelshelf and looking into the fire,--all that she was afraid of
was of looking back. It was for Gerald that she was waiting and it was
Gerald's note that hung from her hand against her knee, and since that
note had come, not long after Franklin had left her, her thoughts had
been centred on the coming interview. Gerald had not written to her
from the country; she had expected to have an answer to her announcement
that morning, but none had come. This note had been brought by hand, and
it said that if he could not find her at four would she kindly name some
other hour when he might do so. She had answered that he would find her,
and it was now five minutes to the hour.

Gerald's note had not said much more, and yet, in the little it did say,
it had contrived to be tense and cool. It seemed to intimate that he
reserved a great deal to say to her, and that, perhaps more, he reserved
a great deal to think and not to say. It was a note that had startled
her and that then had filled her with a bitterness of heart greater than
any she had ever known. For that she would not accept, not that tone
from Gerald. That it should be Gerald--Gerald of all the people in the
world--to adopt that tone to her! The exceeding irony of it brought a
laugh to her lips. She was on edge. Her strength had only just taken her
through the morning and its revelations, there was none left now for
patience and evasion. Gerald must be careful, was the thought that
followed the laugh.




CHAPTER XXVI.


She heard the door-bell ring, and then his quick step. It did not seem
to her this afternoon that she had to master the disquiet of heart that
his coming always brought. It was something steeled and hostile that
waited for him.

When he had entered and stood before her she saw that he intended to be
careful, to be very careful, and the recognition of that attitude in him
gave further bitterness to her cold, her fierce revolt. What right had
he to that bright formal smile, that chill pressure of her fingers, that
air of crisp cheerfulness, as of one injured but willing, magnanimously,
to conceal his hurt? What right--good heavens!--had Gerald to feel
injured? She almost laughed again as she looked at him and at this
unveiling of his sublime self-centredness. He expected to find his world
just as he would have it, his cushion at his head and his footstool at
his feet, the wife in her place fulfilling her comely duties, the
spinster friend in hers, administering balms and counsels; the wife at
Merriston House, and the spinster friend in the little sitting-room
where, for so many years, he had come to her with all his moods and
misfortunes. She felt that her eyes fixed themselves on him with a cold
menace as he stood there on the other side of the fire and, putting his
foot on the fender, looked first at her and then down at the flames. His
very silence was full of the sense of injury; but she knew that hers was
the compelling silence and that she could force him to be the first to
speak. And so it was that presently he said:

'Well, Helen, this is great news.'

'Yes, isn't it?' she answered. 'It has been a year of news, hasn't it?'

He stared, courteously blank, and something in her was pleased to
observe that he looked silly with his affectation of blandness.

'I beg your pardon?'

'You had your great event, and I, now, have mine.'

'Ah yes, I see.'

'It's all rather queer when one comes to think of it,' said Helen.
'Althea, my new friend--whom I told you of here, only a few months
ago--and her friend. How important they have become to us, and how
little, last summer, we could have dreamed of it.' She, too, was
speaking artificially, and was aware of it; but she was well aware that
Gerald didn't find that she looked silly. She had every advantage over
the friend who came with his pretended calm and his badly hidden
rancour. And since he stood silent, looking at the fire, she added,
mildly and cheerfully: 'I am so glad for your happiness, Gerald, and I
hope that you are glad for mine.'

He looked up at her now, and she could not read the look; it hid
something--or else it sought for something hidden; and in its
oddity--which reminded her of a blind animal dazedly seeking its
path--it so nearly touched her that, with a revulsion from any hint of
weakening pity for him, it made her bitterness against him greater than
before.

'I'm afraid I can't say I'm glad, Helen,' he replied. 'I'm too amazed,
still, to feel anything except'--he seemed to grope for a word and then
to give it up--'amazement.'

'I was surprised myself,' said Helen. 'I had not much hope left of
anything so fortunate happening to me.'

'You feel it, then, so fortunate?'

'Don't you think that it is--to marry millions,' Helen asked, smiling,
'and to have found such a good man to care for me?'

'I think it is he who is fortunate,' said Gerald, after a moment.

'Thank you; perhaps we both are fortunate.'

Once more there was a long silence and then, suddenly, Gerald flung
away, thrusting his hands in his pockets and stopping before the window,
his back turned to her. 'I can't stand this,' he declared.

'What can't you stand?'

'You don't love this man. He doesn't love you.'

'What is that to you?' asked Helen.

'I can't think it of you; I can't bear to think it.'

'What is it to you?' she repeated, in a deadened voice.

'Why do you say that?' he took her up with controlled fury. 'How
couldn't it but be a great deal to me? Haven't you been a great
deal--for all our lives nearly? Do you mean that you're going to kick
me out completely--because you are going to marry? What does it mean to
me? I wish it could mean something to you of what it does to me. To give
yourself--you--you--to a man who doesn't love you--whom you don't
love--for money. Oh, I know we've always talked of that sort of thing as
if it were possible--and perhaps it is--for a man. But when it comes to
a woman--a woman one has cared for--looked up to--as I have to you--it's
a different matter. One expects a different standard.'

'What standard do you expect from me?' asked Helen. There were tears,
but tears of rage, in her voice.

'You know,' said Gerald, who also was struggling with an emotion that,
rising, overcame his control, 'you know what I think of you--what I
expect of you. A great match--a great man--something fitting for
you--one could accept that; but this little American nonentity, this
little American--barely a gentleman--whom you'd never have looked at if
he hadn't money--a man who will make you ridiculous, a man who can't
have a thought or feeling in common with you--it's not fit--it's not
worthy; it smirches you; it's debasing.'

He had not turned to look at her while he spoke, perhaps did not dare to
look. He knew that his anger, his more than anger, had no warrant, and
that the words in which it cloaked itself--though he believed in all he
said--were unjustifiable. But it was more than anger, and it must speak,
must plead, must protest. He had no right to say these things, perhaps,
but Helen should understand the more beneath, should understand that he
was lost, bewildered, miserable; if Helen did not understand, what was
to become of him? And now she stood there behind him, not speaking, not
answering him, so that he was almost frightened and murmured on, half
inaudibly: 'It's a wrong you do--to me--to our friendship, as well as to
yourself.'

Helen now spoke, and the tone of her voice arrested his attention even
before the meaning of her words reached him. It was a tone that he had
never heard from her, and it was not so much that it made him feel that
he had lost her as that it made him feel--strangely and
penetratingly--that he had never known her.

'You say all this to me, Gerald, you who in all these years have never
taken the trouble to wonder or think about me at all--except how I might
amuse you or advise you, or help you.' These were Helen's words. 'Why
should I go on considering you, who have never considered me?'

It was so sudden, so amazing, and so cruel that, turning to her, he
literally stared, open-eyed and open-mouthed. 'I don't know what you
mean, Helen,' he said.

'Of course you don't,' she continued in her measured voice, 'of course
you don't know what I mean; you never have. I don't blame you; you are
not imaginative, and all my life I've taken care that you should know
very little of what I meant. The only bit of me that you've known has
been the bit that has always been at your service. There is a good deal
more of me than that.'

'But--what have you meant?' he stammered, almost in tears.

Her face, white and cold, was bent on him, and in her little pause she
seemed to deliberate--not on what he should be told, that was fixed--but
on how to tell it; and for this she found finally short and simple
words.

'Can't you guess, even now, when at last I've become desperate and
indifferent?' she said. 'Can't you see, even now, that I've always loved
you?'

They confronted each other in a long moment of revelation and avowal. It
grew like a great distance between them, the distance of all the years
through which she had suffered and he been blind. Gerald saw it like a
chasm, dark with time, with secrecy, with his intolerable stupidity. He
gazed at her across it, and in her face, her strange, strong, fragile,
weary face, he saw it all, at last. Yes, she had loved him all her life,
and he had never seen it.

She had moved, in speaking to him, away from her place near the fire,
and he now went to it, and put his arms on the mantelpiece and hid his
face upon them. 'Fool--fool that I am!' he uttered softly. He stood so,
his face hidden from her, and his words seemed to release some bond in
Helen's heart. The worst of the bitterness against him passed away. The
tragedy, after all, was not his fault, but Fate's, and to suggest that
he was accountable was to be grotesquely stupid. That he had not loved
her was the tragedy; that he had never seen was, in reality, the
tragedy's alleviation. Absurd to blame poor Gerald for not seeing. When
she spoke again it was in an altered voice.

'No, you're not,' she said, and she seemed with him to contemplate the
chasm and to make it clear for him--she had always made things clear for
him, and there was now, with all the melancholy, a peacefulness in
sharing with him this, their last, situation. Never before had they
talked over one so strange, and never again would they talk over any
other so near; to speak at last was to make it, in its very nearness,
immeasurably remote, to put it away, from both their lives, for ever.
'No, you're not; I shouldn't have said that you were not imaginative; I
shouldn't have said that you had never considered me; you have--you have
been the best of friends; I was letting myself be cruel. It's only that
_I'm_ not a fool. A woman who isn't can always keep a man from
imagining; it's the one thing that even a stupid woman can do. And my
whole nature has been moulded by the instinct for concealment.' She
looked round mechanically for a seat while she spoke; she felt horribly
tired; and she sank on a straight, high chair near the writing-table.
Here, leaning forward, her arms resting on her knees, her hands clasped
and hanging, she went on, looking before her. 'I want to tell you about
it now. There are things to confess. I haven't been a nice woman in it
all; I've not taken it as a nice woman would. I've hated you for not
loving me. I've hated you for not wanting anything more from me and for
your contentment with what I gave you, and for caring as much as you
did, too, for being fonder of me than of any one else in the world, and
yet never caring more. Of course I understood; it was a little comfort
to my pride to understand. Even if I'd been the sort of woman you would
have fallen in love with, I was too near. I had to make myself too near;
that was my shield. I had to give you everything you wanted because
that was the sure way to hide from you that I had so much more to give.
And for years I went on hoping--not that you would see--I should have
lost everything then--but that, of yourself, you would want more.'

Gerald had lifted his head, but his hand still hid his eyes. 'Helen,
dear Helen,' he said, and she did not understand his voice--it was pain,
but more than pain; 'why were you so cruel? why were you so proud? If
you'd only let me see; if you'd only given me a hint. Don't you know it
only needed that?'

She paused over his question for so long that he put down his hand and
looked at her, and her eyes, meeting his unfalteringly, widened with a
strained, suffering look.

'It's kind of you to say so,' she said. 'And I know you believe it now;
you are so fond of me, and so sorry for this horrid tale I inflict on
you, that you have to believe it. And of course it may be true. Perhaps
it did only need that.'

They had both now looked away again, Gerald gazing unseeingly into the
mirror, Helen at the opposite wall. 'It may be true,' she repeated. 'I
had only, perhaps, to be instinctive--to withdraw--to hide--create the
little mysteries that appeal to men's senses and imaginations. I had
only to put aside my pride and to shut my eyes on my horrible, hard,
lucid self-consciousness, let instinct guide me, be a mere woman, and
you might have been in love with me. It's true. I used often to think
it, too. I used often to think that I might make you fall in love with
me if I could stop being your friend. But, don't you see, I knew myself
far too well. I _was_ too proud. I didn't want you if you only wanted me
because I'd lured you and appealed to your senses and imagination. I
didn't want you unless you wanted me for the big and not for the little
things of love. I couldn't pretend that I had something to hide--I know
perfectly how it is done--the air of evasion, of wistfulness--all the
innocent hypocrisies women make use of; but I couldn't. I didn't want
you like that. There was nothing for it but to look straight at you and
pretend, not that there was anything to hide, but that there was
nothing.'

Again, his eyes meeting hers, she looked, indeed, straight at him and
smiled a little; for there was, indeed, nothing now to hide; and she
went on quietly, 'You see now, how I've been feeling for these last
months, when everything has gone, at last, completely. I'd determined,
long ago, to give up hope and marry some one else. But I didn't know
till this autumn, when you decided to marry Althea, I didn't know till
then how much hope there was still left to be killed. When a thing like
that has been killed, you see, one hasn't much feeling left for the rest
of life. I don't care enough, one way or the other, not to marry as I'm
doing. There is still one's life to live, and one may as well make what
seems the best of it. I've not succeeded, you see, in marrying your
great man, and I've fallen back very thankfully on my dear, good
Franklin, who is not, let me tell you, a nonentity in my eyes; I'm
fonder of him than of any one I've ever known except yourself. And it
was too much, just the one touch too much, to have you come to me to-day
with reproaches and an air of injury. But, at the same time, I ask your
pardon for having spoken to you like that--as though you'd done _me_ a
wrong. And if I've been too cruel, if the memory rankles and makes you
uncomfortable, you must keep away from me as long as you like. It won't
be for ever, I'm sure. In spite of everything I'm sure that we shall
always be friends.'

She got up now, knowing in her exhaustion that she was near tears, and
she found her cigarette-case on the writing-table; it was an automatic
relapse to the customary. She felt that everything, indeed, was over,
and that the sooner one relapsed on every-day trivialities the better.

Gerald watched her light the cigarette, the pulsing little flicker of
yellow flame illuminating her cheek and hair as she stood half turned
from him. She was near him and he had but one step to take to her. He
was almost unaware of motive. What he did was nearly as automatic, as
inevitable, as her search for the cigarette. He was beside her and he
put his arms around her and took the cigarette from her hand. Then,
folding her to him, he hid his face against her hair.

It was, then, not excitement he felt so much as the envelopment of a
great, a beautiful necessity. So great, so beautiful, in its peace and
accomplishment, that it was as if he had stood there holding Helen for
an eternity, and as if all the miserable years that had separated them
were looked down at serenely from some far height.

And Helen had stood absolutely still. When she spoke he heard in her
voice an amazement too great for anger. It was almost gentle in its
astonishment. 'Gerald,' she said, 'I am not in need of consolation.'

Foolish Helen, he thought, breathing quietly in the warm dusk of her
hair; foolish dear one, to speak from that realm of abolished time.

'I'm not consoling you,' he said.

She was again silent for a moment and he felt that her heart was
throbbing hard; its shocks went through him. 'Let me go,' she said.

He kissed her hair, holding her closer.

Helen, starting violently, thrust him away with all her strength, and
though blissfully aware only of his own interpretation, Gerald half
released her, keeping her only by his clasp of her wrists.

His kiss had confirmed her incredible suspicion. 'You insult me!' she
said. 'And after what I told you! What intolerable assumption! What
intolerable arrogance! What baseness!'

Her eyes seemed to burn their eyelids; her face was transformed in its
wild, blanched indignation.

'But I love you,' said Gerald, and he looked at her with a candour of
conviction too deep for pleading.

'You love me!' Helen repeated. She could have wept for sheer fury and
humiliation had not her scornful concentration on him been too intent to
admit the flooding image of herself--mocked and abased by this
travesty--which might have brought the fears. 'I think that you are
mad.'

'But I do love you,' Gerald reiterated. 'I've been mad, if you like; but
I'm quite sane now.'

'You are a simpleton,' was Helen's reply; she could find no other word
for his fatuity.

'Be as cruel as you like; I know I deserve it,' said Gerald.

'You imagine I'm punishing you?'

'I don't imagine anything, or see anything, Helen, except that we love
each other and that you've got to marry me.'

Helen looked deeply into his eyes, deeply and, he saw it at last,
implacably. 'If your last chance hadn't been gone, can you believe that
I would ever have told you? Your last chance is gone. I will never marry
you.' And hearing steps outside, she twisted her hands from his, saying,
'Think of appearances, please. Here is Franklin.'




CHAPTER XXVII.


Gerald was standing at the window looking out when Franklin entered, and
Helen, in the place where he had left her, met the gaze of her affianced
with a firm and sombre look. There was a moment of silence while
Franklin stood near the door, turning a hesitant glance from Gerald's
back to Helen's face, and then Helen said, 'Gerald and I have been
quarrelling.'

Franklin, feeling his way, tried to smile. 'Well, that's too bad,' he
said. He looked at her for another silent moment before adding, 'Do you
want to go on? Am I in the way?'

'No, I don't want to go on, and you are very welcome,' Helen answered.
Her eyes were fixed on Franklin and she wondered at her own
self-command, for, in his eyes, so troubled and so kindly, she seemed to
see mutual memories; the memory of herself lying in the wood and saying
'I'm sick to death of it'; the memory of herself standing here and
saying to him 'I'm a broken-hearted woman.' And she knew that Franklin
was seeing in her face the same memories, and that, with his intuitive
insight where things of the heart were concerned, he was linking them
with the silent figure at the window.

'I suppose,' he said, going to the fire and standing before it, his
back to the others, 'I suppose I can't help to elucidate things a
little.'

'No, I think they are quite clear,' said Helen, 'or, at all events, you
put an end to them by staying; especially'--and she fixed her gaze on
the figure at the window--'as Gerald is going now.'

But Gerald did not move and Franklin presently remarked, 'Sometimes, you
know, a third person can see things in another way and help things out.
If you could just, for instance, talk the matter over quietly, before
me, as a sort of adviser, you know. That might help. It's a pity for old
friends to quarrel.'

Gerald turned from the window at this. He had come down from the heights
and knew that he had risen there too lightly, and that the tangles of
lower realities must be unravelled before he could be free to mount
again--Helen with him. He knew, at last, that he had made Helen very
angry and that it might take some time to disentangle things; but the
radiance of the heights was with him still, and if, to Helen's eye, he
looked fatuous, to Franklin, seeing his face now, for the first time, he
looked radiant.

'Helen,' he said, smiling gravely at her, 'what Kane says is very
sensible. He is the one person in the world one could have such things
out before. Let's have them out; let's put the case to him and he shall
be umpire.'

Helen bent her ironic and implacable gaze upon him and remained silent.

'You think I've no right to put it before him, I suppose.'

'You most certainly have no right. And you would gain nothing by it.
What I told you just now was true.'

'I can't accept that.'

'Then you are absurd.'

'Very well, I am absurd, then. But there's one thing I have a right to
tell Kane,' Gerald went on, unsmiling now. 'I owe it to him to tell him.
He'll think badly of me, I know; but that can't be helped. We've all got
into a dreadful muddle and the only way out of it is to be frank. So I
must tell you, Kane, that Althea and I have found out that we have made
a mistake; we can't hit it off. I'm not the man to make her happy and
she feels it, I'm sure she feels it. It's only for my sake, I know, that
she hasn't broken off long ago. You are in love with Althea, and I am in
love with Helen; so there it is. I'm only saying what we are all
seeing.' Gerald spoke gravely, yet at the same time with a certain
blitheness, as though he took it for granted, for Franklin as well as
for himself, that he thus made both their paths clear and left any
hazardous element in their situations the same for both. Would Althea
have Franklin and would Helen have him? This was really all that now
needed elucidation.

A heavy silence followed his words. In the silence the impression that
came to Gerald was as if one threw reconnoitring pebbles into a well,
expecting a swift response of shallowness, and heard instead, after a
wondering pause, the hollow reverberations of sombre, undreamed-of
depths. Franklin's eyes were on him and Helen's eyes were on him, and he
knew that in both their eyes he had proved himself once more, to say the
least of it, absurd.

'Mr. Digby,' said Franklin Kane, and his voice was so strange that it
sounded indeed like the fall of the stone in far-off darkness, 'perhaps
you are saying what we all see; but perhaps we don't all see the same
things in the same way; perhaps,' Franklin went on, finding his way,
'you don't even see some things at all.'

Gerald had flushed. 'I know I'm behaving caddishly. I've no right to say
anything until I see Althea.'

'Well, perhaps not,' Franklin conceded.

'But, you know,' said Gerald, groping too, 'it's not as if it were
really sudden--the Althea side of it, I mean. We've not hit it off at
all. I've disappointed her frightfully; it will be a relief to her, I
know--to hear'--Gerald stammered a little--'that I see now, as clearly
as she does, that we couldn't be happy together. Of course,' and he grew
still more red, 'it will be she who throws me over. And--I think I'd
better go to her at once.'

'Wait, Gerald,' said Helen.

He paused in his precipitate dash to the door. Only her gaze, till now,
had told of the chaos within her; but when Gerald said that he was going
to Althea, she found words. 'Wait a moment. I don't think that you
understand. I don't think, as Franklin says, that you see some things at
all. Do you realise what you are doing?'

Gerald stood, his hand on the door knob, and looked at her. 'Yes; I
realise it perfectly.'

'Do you realise that it will not change me and that I think you are
behaving outrageously?'

'Even if it won't change you I'd have to do it now. I can't marry
another woman when I'm in love with you.'

'Can't you? When you know that you can never marry me?'

'Even if I know that,' said Gerald, staring at her and, with his
deepening sense of complications, looking, for him, almost stern.

'Well, know it; once for all.'

'That you won't ever forgive me?' Gerald questioned.

'Put it like that if you like to,' she answered.

Gerald turned again to go, and it was now Franklin who checked him.

'Mr. Digby--wait,' he said; 'Helen--wait.' He had been looking at them
both while they interchanged their hostilities, and yet, though watching
them, he had been absent, as though he were watching something else even
more. 'What I mean, what I want to say, is this----' he rather
stammered. 'Don't please go to Althea directly. I'm to go to her this
evening. She asked me to come and see her at six.' He pulled out his
watch. 'It's five now. Will you wait? Will you wait till this evening,
please?'

Gerald again had deeply flushed. 'Of course, if you ask it. Only I do
feel that I ought to see her, you know,' he paused, perplexed. Then, as
he looked at Franklin Kane, something came to him. The cloud of his
oppression seemed to pass from his face and it was once more
illuminated, not with blitheness, but with recognition. He saw, he
thought he saw, the way Franklin opened for them all. And his words
expressed the dazzled relief of that vision. 'I see,' he said, gazing on
at Franklin, 'yes, I see. Yes, if you can manage that it will be
splendid of you, Kane.' Flooded with the hope of swift elucidation he
seized the other's hand while he went on. 'It's been such a dreadful
mess. Do forgive me. You must; you will, won't you? It may mean
happiness for you, even though Helen says it can't for me. I do wish you
all good fortune. And--I'll be at my club until I hear from you. And I
can't say how I thank you.' With this, incoherently and rapidly
pronounced, Gerald was gone and Franklin and Helen were left standing
before each other.

For a long time they did not speak, but Franklin's silence seemed caused
by no embarrassment. He still looked perplexed, but, through his
perplexity, he looked intent, as though tracing in greater and greater
clearness the path before him--the path that Gerald had seen that he was
opening and that might, Gerald had said, mean happiness to them all. It
was Helen watching him who felt a cruel embarrassment. She saw Franklin
sacrificed and she saw herself unable to save him. It would not save him
to tell him again that she would never marry Gerald. Franklin knew, too
clearly for any evasion, that Althea's was the desperate case, the case
for succour. She, Helen, could be thrown over--for they couldn't evade
that aspect--and suffer never a scratch; but for Althea to throw over
Gerald meant that in doing it she must tear her heart to pieces.

And she could not save Franklin by telling him that she had divined his
love for her; that would give him all the more reason for ridding her of
a husband who hadn't kept to the spirit of their contract. No, the only
way to have saved him would have been to love him and to make him know
and feel it; and this was the only thing she could not do for Franklin.

She took refuge in her nearest feeling, that of scorn for Gerald. 'It's
unforgivable of Gerald,' she said.

Franklin's eyes--they had a deepened, ravaged look, but they were still
calm--probed hers, all their intentness now for her. 'Why, no,' he said,
after a moment, 'I don't see that.'

Helen, turning away, had dropped into her chair, leaning her forehead on
her hand. 'I shall never forgive him,' she said.

Franklin, on the other side of the fire, stood thinking, thinking so
hard that he was not allowing himself to feel. He was thinking so hard
of Helen that he was unconscious how the question he now asked might
affect himself. 'You do love him, Helen? It's him you've always loved?'

'Always,' she said.

'And he's found it out--only to-day.'

'He didn't find it out; I told him. He came to reproach me for my
engagement.'

Franklin turned it over. 'But what he has found out, then, is that he
loves you.'

'So he imagines. It's not a valuable gift, as you see, Gerald's love.'

Again Franklin paused and she knew that, for her sake, he was weighing
the value of Gerald's love. And he found in answer to what she said his
former words: 'Why, no, I don't see that,' he said.

'I'm afraid it's all I do see,' Helen replied.

He looked down upon her and after a silence he asked: 'May I say
something?'

She nodded, resting her face in her hands.

'You're wrong, you know,' said Franklin. 'Not wrong in feeling this way
now; I don't believe you can help that; but in deciding to go on feeling
it. You mustn't talk about final decisions.'

'But they are made.'

'They can't be made in life. Life unmakes them, I mean, unless you set
yourself against it and ruin things that might be mended.'

'I'm afraid I can't take things as you do,' said Helen. 'Some things are
ruined from the very beginning.'

'Well, I don't know about that,' said Franklin; 'at all events some
things aren't. And you're wrong about this thing, I'm sure of it. You're
hard and you're proud, and you set yourself against life and won't let
it work on you. The only way to get anything worth while out of life is
to be humble with it and be willing to let it lead you, I do assure you,
Helen.'

Suddenly, her face hidden in her hands, she began to cry.

'He is spoiled for me. Everything is spoiled for me,' she sobbed. 'I'd
rather be proud and miserable than humiliated. Who wants a joy that is
spoiled? Some things can't be joys if they come too late.'

She wept, and in the silence between them knew only her own sorrow and
the bitterness of the desecration that had been wrought in her own love.
Then, dimly, through her tears, she heard Franklin's voice, and heard
that it trembled.

'I think they can, Helen,' he said. 'I think it's wonderful the way joy
can grow if we don't set ourselves against life. I'm going to try to
make it grow'--how his poor voice trembled, she was drawn from her own
grief in hearing it--'and I wish I could leave you believing that you
were going to try too.'

She put down her hands and lifted her strange, tear-stained face.

'You are going to Althea.'

'Yes,' said Franklin, and he smiled gently at her.

'You are going to ask her to marry you before she can know that Gerald
is giving her up.'

He paused for a moment. 'I'm going to see if she needs me.'

Helen gazed at him. She couldn't see joy growing, but she saw a
determination that, in its sudden strength, was almost a joy.

'And--if she doesn't need you, Franklin?'

'Ah, well,' said Franklin, continuing to smile rather fixedly, 'I've
stood that, you see, for a good many years.'

Helen rose and came beside him. 'Franklin,' she said, and she took his
hand, 'if she doesn't have you--you'll come back.'

'Come back?' he questioned, and she saw that all his hardly held
fortitude was shaken by his wonder.

'To me,' said Helen. 'You'll marry me, if Althea won't have you. Even if
she does--I'm not going to marry Gerald. So don't go to her with any
mistaken ideas about me.'

He was very pale, holding her hand fast, as it held his. 'You mean--you
hate him so much--for never having seen--that you'll go through with
it--to punish him.'

She shook her head. 'No, I'm not so bad as that. It won't be for
revenge. It will be for you--and for myself, too; because I'd rather
have it so; I'd rather have you, Franklin, than the ruined thing.'

She knew that it was final and supreme temptation that she put before
him, and she held it there resolved, so that if there were one chance
for him he should have it. She knew that she would stand by what she
said. Franklin was her pride and Gerald her humiliation; she would never
accept humiliation; and though she could see Franklin go without a
qualm, she could, she saw it clearly, have a welcome for him nearly as
deep as love's, if he came back to her. And what she hoped, quite
selflessly, was that the temptation would suffice; that he would not go
to Althea. She looked into his face, and she saw that he was tormented.

'But, Helen,' he said, 'the man you love loves you; doesn't that settle
everything?'

She shook her head again. 'It settles nothing. I told you that I was a
woman with a broken heart. It's not mended; it never can be mended.'

'But, Helen,' he said, and a pitiful smile of supplication dawned on his
ravaged little face, 'that's where you're so wrong. You've got to let it
soften and then it will have to mend. It's the hard hearts that get
broken.'

'Well, mine is hard.'

'Let it melt, Helen,' he pleaded with her, 'please let it melt. Please
let yourself be happy, dear Helen.'

But still she shook her head, looking deeply at him, and in the
negation, in the look, it was as if she held her cup of magic steadily
before him. She was there, for him, if he would have her. She kept him
to his word for his sake; but she kept him to his word for hers, too.
Yes, he saw that though it was for his sake, it was not for his
alone--there was the final magic--that her eyes met his in that long,
clear look. It was the nearest he would ever come to Helen; it was the
most she could ever do for him; and, with a pang, deep and piercing, he
felt all that it meant, and felt his love of her avowed in his own eyes,
and recognised, received in hers. Helplessly, now, he looked at her, his
lips pressed together so that they should not show their trembling, and
only a little muscle in his cheek quivering irrepressibly. And he
faltered: 'Helen--you could never love me back.'

'Not in that way,' said Helen. She was grave and clear; she had not a
hesitation. 'But that way is ruined and over for me. I could live for
you, though. I could make it worth your while.'

He looked, and he could say nothing. Against his need of Helen he must
measure Althea's need of him. He must measure, too--ah, cruel
perplexity--the chance for Helen's happiness. She was unhesitating; but
how could she know herself so inflexible, how could she know that the
hard heart might not melt? For the sake of Helen's happiness he must
measure not only Gerald's need of her against his own and Gerald's power
against his own mere pitifulness, but he must wonder, in an agony of
sudden surmise, which, in the long-run, could give her most, the loved
or the unloved man. In all his life no moment had ever equalled this in
its fulness, and its intensity, and its pain. It thundered, it rushed,
it darkened--like the moment of death by drowning and like the great
river that bears away the drowning man. Memories flashed in it, broken
and vivid--of Althea's eyes and Helen's smile; Althea so appealing,
Helen so strong; and, incongruous in its remoteness, a memory of the
bleak, shabby little street in a Boston suburb, the small wooden house
painted brown, where he was born, where scanty nasturtiums flowered on
the fence in summer, and in winter, by the light of a lamp with a ground
glass shade, his mother's face, careful, worn, and gentle, bent over the
family mending. Where, indeed, had the river borne him, and what had
been done to him?

Helen's voice came to him, and Helen's face reshaped itself--a strange
and lovely beacon over the engulfing waters. She saw his torment and she
understood. 'Go to her if you must,' she said; 'and I know that you
must. But don't go with mistaken ideas. Remember what I tell you.
Nothing is changed--for me, or in me. If Althea doesn't want you
back--or if Althea does want you back--I shall be waiting.' And, seeing
his extremity, Helen, grave and clear, filled her cup of magic to the
brim. As she had said that morning, she said now--but with what a
difference: 'Kiss me good-bye, Franklin.'

He could not move towards her; he could not kiss her; but, smiling more
tenderly than he could have thought Helen would ever smile, she put her
arms around him and drew his rapt, transfigured face to hers. And
holding him tenderly, she kissed him and said: 'Whatever happens--you've
had the best of me.'




CHAPTER XXVIII.


Althea, since the misty walk with Gerald, had been plunged in a pit of
mental confusion. She swung from accepted abasement to the desperate
thought of the magnanimity in such abasement; she dropped from this
fragile foothold to burning resentment, and, seeing where resentment
must lead her, she turned again and clasped, with tight-closed eyes, the
love that, looked upon, could not be held without humiliation.
Self-doubt and self-analysis had brought her to this state of pitiful
chaos. The only self left seemed centred in her love; if she did not
give up Gerald, what was left her but accepted abasement? If she let him
go, it would be to own to herself that she had failed to hold him, to
see herself as a nonentity. Yet, to go on clinging, what would that
show? Only with closed eyes could she cling. To open them for the merest
glimmer was to see that she was, indeed, nothing, if she had not
strength to relinquish a man who did not any longer, in any sense, wish
to make her his wife. With closed eyes one might imagine that it was
strength that clung; with open eyes one saw that it was weakness.

Miss Harriet Robinson, all alert gaiety and appreciation, had arrived at
Merriston on Saturday, had talked all through Sunday, and had come up
to London with Althea and Gerald on Monday morning. Gerald had gone to a
smoking-carriage, and Althea had hardly exchanged a word with him. She
and Miss Robinson went to a little hotel in Mayfair, a hotel supposed to
atone for its costliness and shabbiness by some peculiar emanation of
British comfort. Americans of an earnest, if luxurious type, congregated
there and found a satisfactory local flavour in worn chintzes and uneven
passages. Lady Blair had kindly pressed Althea to stay with her in South
Kensington and be married from her house; but even a week ago, when this
plan had been suggested, Althea had shrunk from it. It had seemed, even
then, too decisive. Once beneath Lady Blair's quasi-maternal roof one
would be propelled, like a labelled parcel, resistlessly to the altar.
Even then Althea had felt that the little hotel in Mayfair, with its
transient guests and impersonal atmosphere, offered further breathing
space for indefiniteness.

She was thankful indeed for breathing space as, on the afternoon of her
arrival, she sat sunken in a large chair and felt, as one relief, that
she would not see Miss Robinson again until evening. It had been
tormenting, all the journey up, to tear herself from her own sick
thoughts and to answer Miss Robinson's unsuspecting comments and
suggestions.

Miss Robinson was as complacent and as beaming as though she had herself
'settled' Althea. She richly embroidered the themes, now so remote, that
had once occupied poor Althea's imagination--house-parties at Merriston;
hostess-ship on a large scale in London; Gerald's seat in Parliament
taken as a matter-of-course. Althea, feeling the intolerable irony, had
attempted vague qualifications; Gerald did not care for politics; she
herself preferred a quieter life; they probably could not afford a town
house. But to such disclaimers Miss Robinson opposed the brightness of
her faith in her friend's capacities. 'Ah, my dear, it's your very
reticence, your very quietness, that will tell. Once settled--I've
always felt it of you--you will make your place--and your place can only
be a big one. My only regret is that you won't get your wedding-dress in
Paris--oh yes, I know that they have immensely improved over here; but,
for cut and _cachet_, Paris is still the only place.'

This had all been tormenting, and Miss Buckston's presence at lunch had
been something of a refuge--Miss Buckston, far more interested in her
Bach choir practice than in Althea's plans, and lending but a
preoccupied attention to Miss Robinson's matrimonial talk. Miss
Buckston, at a glance, had dismissed Miss Robinson as frothy and
shallow. They were both gone now, thank goodness. Lady Blair would not
descend upon her till next morning, and Sally and Mrs. Peel were not due
in London until the end of the week. Althea sat, her head leaning back,
her eyes closed, and wondered whether Gerald would come and see her. He
had parted from her at the station, and the memory of his face,
courteous, gentle, yet so unseeing, made her feel like weeping
piteously. She spent the afternoon in the chair, her eyes closed and an
electric excitement of expectancy tingling through her, and Gerald did
not come. He did not come that evening, and the evening passed like a
phantasmagoria--the dinner in the sober little dining-room, Miss
Robinson, richly dressed, opposite her; and the hours in her
drawing-room afterwards, she and Miss Robinson on either side of the
fire, quietly conversing. And next morning there was no word from him.
It was then, as she lay in bed and felt the tears, though she did not
sob, roll down over her cheeks upon the pillow, that sudden strength
came with sudden revolt. A revulsion against her suffering and the cause
of it went through her, and she seemed to shake off a torpor, an
obsession, and to re-enter some moral heritage from which, for months,
her helpless love had shut her out.

Lying there, her cheeks still wet but her eyes now stern and steady, she
felt herself sustained, as if by sudden wings, at a vertiginous height
from which she looked down upon herself and upon her love. What had it
been, that love? what was it but passion pure and simple, the craving
feminine thing, enmeshed in charm. To a woman of her training, her
tradition, must not a love that could finally satisfy her nature, its
deeps and heights, be a far other love; a love of spirit rather than of
flesh? What was all the pain that had warped her for so long but the
inevitable retribution for her back-sliding? Old adages came to her,
aerial Emersonian faiths. Why, one was bound and fettered if feeling was
to rule one and not mind. Friendship, deep, spiritual congeniality, was
the real basis for marriage, not the enchantment of the heart and
senses. She had been weak and dazzled; she had followed the
will-o'-the-wisp--and see, see the bog where it had led her.

She saw it now, still sustained above it and looking down. Her love for
Gerald was not a high thing; it called out no greatness in her;
appealed to none; there was no spiritual congeniality between them. In
the region of her soul he was, and would always remain, a stranger.

Sure of this at last, she rose and wrote to Franklin, swiftly and
urgently. She did not clearly know what she wanted of him; but she felt,
like a flame of faith within her, that he, and he only, could sustain
her at her height. He was her spiritual affinity; he was her wings.
Merely to see him, merely to steep herself in the radiance of his love
and sympathy, would be to recover power, poise, personality, and
independence. It was a goal she flew towards, though she saw it but in
dizzy glimpses, and as if through vast hallucinations of space.

She told Franklin to come at six. She gave herself one more day; for
what she could not have said. A lightness of head seemed to swim over
her, and a loss of breath, when she tried to see more clearly the goal,
or what might still capture and keep her from it.

She told Amelie that she had a bad headache and would spend the day on
her sofa, denying herself to Lady Blair; and all day long she lay there
with tingling nerves and a heavily beating heart--poor heart, what was
happening to it in its depths she could not tell--and Gerald did not
write or come.

At tea-time Miss Robinson could not be avoided. She tip-toed in and sat
beside her sofa commenting compassionately on her pallor. 'I do so beg
you to go straight to bed, dear,' she said. 'Let me give you some sal
volatile; there is nothing better for a headache.'

But Althea, smiling heroically, said that she must stay up to see
Franklin Kane. 'He wants to see me, and will be here at six. After he is
gone I will go to bed.' She did not know why she should thus arrange
facts a little for Miss Robinson; but all her nature was stretched on
its impulse towards safety, and it was automatically that she adjusted
facts to that end. After the first great moment of enfranchisement and
soaring, it was like relapsing to some sub-conscious function of the
organism--digestion or circulation--that did things for one if one
didn't interfere with it. Her mind no longer directed her course except
in this transformed and subsidiary guise; it had become part of the
machinery of self-preservation.

'You really are an angel, my dear,' said Miss Robinson. 'You oughtn't to
allow your devotees to _accaparer_ you like this. You will wear yourself
out.'

Althea, with a smile still more heroic, said that dear Franklin could
never wear her out; and Miss Robinson, not to be undeceived, shook her
head, while retiring to make room for the indiscreet friend.

When she was gone, Althea got up and took her place in the chintz chair
where she had waited for so long yesterday.

Outside, a foggy day closed to almost opaque obscurity. The fire burned
brightly, there were candles on the mantelpiece and a lamp on the table,
yet the encompassing darkness seemed to have entered the room. After the
aerial heights of the morning it was now at a corresponding depth, as if
sunken to the ocean-bed, that she seemed to sit and wait, and feel, in
a trance-like pause, deep, essential forces working. And she remembered
the sunny day in Paris, and the other hotel drawing-room where, empty
and aimless, she had sat, only six months ago. How much had come to her
since then; through how much hope and life had she lived, to what
heights been lifted, to what depths struck down. And now, once more she
sat, bereft of everything, and waiting for she knew not what.

Franklin appeared almost to the moment. Althea had not seen him since
leaving London some weeks before, and at the first glance he seemed to
her in some way different. She had only time to think, fleetingly, of
all that had happened to Franklin since she had last seen him, all the
strange, new things that Helen must have meant to him; and the thought,
fleeting though it was, made more urgent the impulse that pressed her
on. For, after all, the second glance showed him as so much the same,
the same to the unbecomingness of his clothes, the flatness of his
features, the general effect of decision and placidity that he always,
predominatingly, gave.

It was on Franklin's sameness that she leaned. It was Franklin's
sameness that was her goal; she trusted it like the ground beneath her
feet. She went to him and put out her hands. 'Dear Franklin,' she said,
'I am so glad to see you.'

He took her hands and held them while he looked into her eyes. The face
she lifted to him was a woeful one, in spite of the steadying of its
pale lips to a smile. It was not enfranchisement and the sustained
height that he saw--it was fear and desolation; they looked at him out
of her large, sad eyes and they were like an uttered cry. He saw her
need, worse still, he saw her trust; and yet, ah yet, his hope, his
unacknowledged hope, the hope which Helen's magic had poured into his
veins, pulsed in him. He saw her need, but as he looked, full of
compassion and solicitude, he was hoping that her need was not of him.

Suddenly Althea burst into sobs. She leaned her face against his
shoulder, her hands still held in his, and she wept out: 'O Franklin, I
had to send for you--you are my only friend--I am so unhappy, so
unhappy.' Franklin put an arm around her, still holding her hand, and he
slightly patted her back as she leaned upon him. 'Poor Althea, poor
dear,' he said.

'Oh, what shall I do, Franklin?' she whispered.

'Tell me all about it,' said Franklin. 'Tell me what's the matter.'

She paused for a moment, and in the pause her thoughts, released for
that one instant from their place of servitude, scurried through the
inner confusion. His tone, the quietness, kindness, rationality of it,
seemed to demand reason, not impulse, from her, the order of truth and
not the chaos of feeling. But pain and fear had worked for too long upon
her, and she did not know what truth was. All she knew was that he was
near, and tender and compassionate, and to know that seemed to be
knowing at last that here was the real love, the love of spirit from
which she had turned to lower things. Impulse, not insincere, surged up,
and moved by it alone she sobbed on, 'O Franklin, I have made a mistake,
a horrible, horrible mistake. It's killing me. I can't go on. I don't
love him, Franklin--I don't love Gerald--I can't marry him. And how can
I tell him? How can I break faith with him?'

Franklin stood very still, his hand clasping hers, the other ceasing its
rhythmic, consolatory movement. He held her, this woman whom he had
loved for so many years, and over her bent head he looked before him at
the frivolous and ugly wall-paper, a chaos of festooned chrysanthemums
on a bright pink ground. He gazed at the chrysanthemums, and he
wondered, with a direful pang, whether Althea were consciously lying to
him.

She sobbed on: 'Even in the first week, I knew that something was wrong.
Of course I was in love--but it was only that--there was nothing else
except being in love. Doubts gnawed at me from the first; I couldn't
bear to accept them; I hoped on and on. Only in this last week I've seen
that I can't--I can't marry him. Oh----' and the wail was again
repeated, 'what shall I do, Franklin?'

He spoke at last, and in the disarray of her sobbing and darkened
condition--her face pressed against him, her ears full of the sound of
her own labouring breath--she could not know to the full how strange his
voice was, though she felt strangeness and caught her breath to listen.

'Don't take it like this, Althea,' he said. 'It's not so bad as all
this. It can all be made right. You must just tell him the truth and set
him free.'

And now there was a strange silence. He was waiting, and she was waiting
too; she stilled her breath and he stilled his; all each heard was the
beating of his and her own heart. And the silence, to Althea, was full
of a new and formless fear, and to Franklin of an acceptation sad beyond
all the sadnesses of his life. Even before Althea spoke, and while the
sweet, the rapturous, the impossible hope softly died away, he knew in
his heart, emptied of magic, that it was he Althea needed.

She spoke at last, in a changed and trembling voice; it pierced him, for
he felt the new fear in it: 'How can I tell him the truth, Franklin?'
she said. 'How can I tell you the truth? How can I say that I turned
from the real thing, the deepest, most beautiful thing in my life--and
hurt it, broke it, put it aside, so blind, so terribly blind I was--and
took the unreal thing? How can I ever forgive myself--but, O Franklin,
much, much more, how can you ever forgive me?' her voice wailed up,
claiming him supremely.

She believed it to be the truth, and he saw that she believed it. He
saw, sadly, clearly, that among all the twistings and deviations of her
predicament, one thing held firm for her, so firm that it had given her
this new faith in herself--her faith in his supreme devotion. And he saw
that he owed it to her. He had given it to her, he had made it her
possession, to trust to as she trusted to the ground under her feet,
ever since they were boy and girl together. Six months ago it would have
been with joy, and with joy only, that he would have received her, and
have received the gift of her bruised, uncertain heart. Six months--why
only a week ago he would have thought that it could only be with joy.

So now he found his voice and he knew that it was nearly his old voice
for her, and he said, in answer to that despairing statement that
wailed for contradiction: 'Oh no, Althea, dear. Oh no, you haven't
wrecked our lives.'

'But you are bound now,' she hardly audibly faltered. 'You have another
life opening before you. You can't come back now.'

'No, Althea,' Franklin repeated, and he stroked her shoulder again. 'I
can come back, if you want me. And you do want me, don't you, dear? You
will let me try to make you happy?'

She put back her head to look at him, her poor face, tear-stained, her
eyes wild with their suffering, and he saw the new fear in them, the
formless fear. 'O Franklin,' she said, and the question was indeed a
strange one to be asked by her of him: 'do you love me?'

And now, pierced by his pity, Franklin could rise to all she needed of
him. The old faith sustained him, too. One didn't love some one for all
one's life like that, to be left quite dispossessed. Many things were
changed, but many still held firm; and though, deep in his heart, sick
with its relinquishment, Helen's words seemed to whisper, 'Some things
can't be joys when they come too late,' he could answer himself as he
had answered her, putting away the irony and scepticism of
disenchantment--'It's wonderful the way joy can grow,' and draw strength
for himself and for his poor Althea from that act of affirmation.

'Why, of course I love you, Althea, dear,' he said. 'How can you ask me
that? I've always loved you, haven't I? You knew I did, didn't you, or
else you wouldn't have sent? You knew I wasn't bound if you were free. I
understand it all.' And smiling at her so that she should forget for
ever that she had had a new fear, he added, 'And see here, dear, you
mustn't delay a moment in letting Gerald know. Come, write him a note
now, and I'll have it sent to his club so that he shall hear right
away.'




CHAPTER XXIX.


Helen woke next morning after unbroken, heavy slumbers, with a mind as
vague and empty as a young child's. All night long she had been dreaming
strange, dreary dreams of her youth. There had been no pain in them, or
fear, only a sad lassitude, as of one who, beaten and weary, looks back
from a far distance at pain and fear outlived. And lying in her bed,
inert and placid, she felt as if she had been in a great battle, and
that after the annihilation of anaesthetics she had waked to find herself
with limbs gone and wounds bandaged, passive and acquiescent, in a world
from which all large issues had been eliminated for ever.

It was the emptiest kind of life on which her eyes opened so quietly
this morning. She was not even to be life's captive. The little note
which had come to her last night from Franklin and now lay beside her
bed had told her that. He had told her that Althea had taken him back,
and he had only added, 'Thank you, dear Helen, for all that you have
given me and all that you were willing to give.'

In the overpowering sense of sadness that had been the last of the day's
great emotions Helen had found no mitigation of relief for her own
escape. That she had escaped made only an added bitterness. And even
sadness seemed to be a memory this morning, and the relief that came,
profound and almost sweet, was in the sense of having passed away from
feeling. She had felt too much; though, had life been in her with which
to think or feel, she could have wept over Franklin.

Sometimes she closed her eyes, too much at peace for a smile; sometimes
she looked quietly about her familiar little room, above Aunt Grizel's,
and showing from its windows only a view of the sky and of the
chimney-pots opposite, a room oddly empty of associations and links; no
photographs, few books, few pictures; only the vase of flowers she liked
always to have near her; her old Bible and prayer-book and hymnal,
battered by years rather than by use, for religion held no part at all
in Helen's life; and two faded prints of seventeenth-century
battleships, sailing in gallant squadrons on a silvery sea. These had
hung in Helen's schoolroom, and she had always been fond of them. The
room was symbolic of her life, so insignificant in every outer contact,
so centred, in her significant self, on its one deep preoccupation. But
there was no preoccupation now. Gerald's image passed before her and
meant nothing more than the other things she looked at, while her mind
drifted like an aimless butterfly from the flowers and the prints to the
pretty old mirror--a gift of Gerald's--and hovered over the graceful
feminine objects scattered upon the chairs and tables. The thought of
Gerald stirred nothing more than a mild wonder. What a strange thing,
her whole life hanging on this man, coloured, moulded by him. What did
such a feeling mean? and what had she really wanted of Gerald more than
he had given? She wanted nothing now.

It was with an effort--a painful, dragging effort--that she roused
herself to talk to Aunt Grizel, who appeared at the same time as her
breakfast. Not that she needed to act placidity and acquiescence before
Aunt Grizel; she felt them too deeply to need to act; the pain, perhaps,
came from having nothing else with which to meet her.

Aunt Grizel was amazed, distressed, nearly indignant; she only was not
indignant because of a pity that perplexed even while it soothed her.
She, too, had had a letter from Franklin that morning, and only that
morning had heard of the broken engagement and of how Franklin faced it.
She did not offer to show Helen Franklin's letter, which she held in her
hand, emphasising her perplexity by doubling it over and slapping her
palm with it. 'She sent for him, then.' It was on Althea that she longed
to discharge her smothered anger.

Helen was ready for her; to have to be so ready was part of the pain.
'Well, in a sense perhaps, it was all she could do, wasn't it? when she
found that she couldn't go on with Gerald, and really wanted Franklin at
last.'

'Rather late in the day to come to that conclusion when Mr. Kane was
engaged to another woman.'

'Well--he was engaged to another woman only because Althea wouldn't have
him.'

'Oh!--Ah!' Aunt Grizel was non-committal on this point. 'She lets him
seem to jilt you.'

'Perhaps she does.' Helen's placidity was profound.

'I know Mr. Kane, he wouldn't have been willing to do that unless
pressure had been brought to bear.'

'Pressure was, I suppose; the pressure of his own feeling and of
Althea's unhappiness. He saw that his chance had come and he had to take
it. He couldn't go on and marry me, could he, Aunt Grizel? when he saw
the chance had come for him to take,' said Helen reasonably.

'Well,' said Aunt Grizel, 'the main point isn't, of course, what the
people who know of your engagement will think--we don't mind that. What
we want to decide on is what we think ourselves. I keep my own counsel,
for I know you'd rather I did, and you keep yours. But what about this
money? He writes to me that he wants me to take over from him quite a
little fortune, so that when I die I can leave you about a thousand a
year. He has thought it out; it isn't too much and it isn't too little.
He is altogether a remarkable man; his tact never fails him. Of course
it's nothing compared with what he wanted to do for you; but at the same
time it's so much that, to put it brutally, you get for nothing the
safety I wanted you to marry him to get.'

Helen's delicate and weary head now turned on its pillow to look at Aunt
Grizel. They looked at each other for some time in silence, and in the
silence they took counsel together. After the interchange Helen could
say, smiling a little, 'We mustn't put it brutally; that is the one
thing we must never do. Not only for his sake,' she wanted Aunt Grizel
to see it clearly, 'but for mine.'

'How shall we put it, then? It's hardly a possible thing to accept, yet,
if he hadn't believed you would let him make you safe, would he have
gone back to Miss Jakes? One sees his point.'

'We mustn't put it brutally, because it isn't true,' said Helen,
ignoring this last inference. 'I couldn't let you take it for me unless
I cared very much for him; and I care so much that I can't take it.'

Aunt Grizel was silent for another moment. 'I see: it's because it's all
you can do for him now.'

'All that he can do for me, now,' Helen just corrected her.

'Wasn't it all he ever could do, and more? He makes you safe--of course
it's not what I wanted for you, but it's part of it--he makes you safe
and he removes himself.'

Aunt Grizel saw the truth so clearly that Helen could allow her to seem
brutal. 'It's only because we could both do a good deal for each other
that doing this is possible,' she said.

She then roused herself to pour out her coffee and butter her toast, and
Miss Buchanan sat in silence beside her, tapping Franklin Winslow Kane's
letter on her palm from time to time. And at last she brought out her
final decision. 'When I write to him and tell him that I accept, I shall
tell him too, that I'm sorry.'

'Sorry? For what?' Helen did not quite follow her.

'That it's all he can do now,' said Aunt Grizel; 'that he is removing
himself.'

It was her tribute to Franklin, and Helen, even for the sake of all the
delicate appearances, couldn't protest against such a tribute. She was
glad that Franklin was to know, from Aunt Grizel, that he, himself, was
regretted. So that she said, 'Yes; I'm glad you can tell him that.'

It was at this moment of complete understanding that the maid came in
and said that Mr. Digby was downstairs and wanted to see Miss Helen. He
would wait as long as she liked. There was then a little pause, and Aunt
Grizel saw a greater weariness pass over her niece's face.

'Very well,' she spoke for her to the maid. 'Tell Mr. Digby that some
one will be with him directly,' and, as the door closed: 'You're not fit
to see him this morning, Helen,' she said; 'not fit to pour balms into
his wounds. Let me do it for you.'

Helen lay gazing before her, and she was still silent. She did not know
what she wanted; but she did know that she did not want to see Gerald.
The thought of seeing him was intolerable. 'Will you pour balms?' she
said. 'I'm afraid you are not too sorry for Gerald.'

'Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not,' said Aunt Grizel, smiling a
little grimly. 'He takes things too easily, and I confess that it does
rather please me to see him, for once in his life, "get left." He needed
to "get left."'

'Well, you won't tell him that, if I let you go to him instead of me?
You will be nice to him?'

'Oh, I'll be nice enough. I'll condole with him.'

'Tell him,' said Helen, as Aunt Grizel moved resolutely to the door,
'that I can't see anybody; not for a long time. I shall go away, I
think.'




CHAPTER XXX.


Miss Grizel had known Gerald all his life, and yet she was not intimate
with him, and during the years that Helen had lived with her she had
come to feel a certain irritation against him. Her robust and caustic
nature had known no touch of jealousy for the place he held in Helen's
life. It was dispassionately that she observed, and resented on Helen's
account, the exacting closeness of a friendship with a man who, she
considered, was not worth so much time and attention. She suspected
nothing of the hidden realities of Helen's feeling, yet she did suspect,
acutely, that, had it not been for Gerald, Helen might have had more
time for other things. It was Gerald who monopolised and took for
granted. He came, and Helen was always ready. Miss Grizel had not liked
Gerald to be so assured. She was pleased, now, in going downstairs, that
Gerald Digby should find, for once, and at a moment of real need, that
Helen could not see him.

He was standing before the fire, his eyes on the door, and as she looked
at him Miss Grizel experienced a certain softening of mood. She decided
that she had, to some extent, misjudged Gerald; he had, then, capacity
for caring deeply. Miss Jakes's defection had knocked him about badly.
There was kindness in her voice as she said: 'Good morning,' and gave
him her hand.

But Gerald was not thinking of her or of her kindness. 'Where is Helen?'
he asked, shaking and then automatically retaining her hand.

'You can't see Helen to-day,' said Miss Grizel, a little nettled by the
open indifference. 'She is not at all well. This whole affair, as you
may imagine, has been singularly painful for her to go through. She asks
me to tell you that she can see nobody for a long time. We are going
away; we are going to the Riviera,' said Miss Grizel, making the resolve
on the spot.

Gerald held her hand and looked at her with a feverish unseeing gaze. 'I
must see Helen,' he said.

'My dear Gerald,' Miss Grizel disengaged her hand and went to a chair,
'this really isn't an occasion for musts. Helen has had a shock as well
as you, and you certainly shan't see her.'

'Does she say I shan't?'

Miss Grizel's smile was again grim. 'She says you shan't, and so do I.
She's not fit to see anybody.'

Gerald looked at her for another moment and then turned to the
writing-table. 'I beg your pardon; I don't mean to be rude. Only I
really must see her. Do you mind my writing a line? Will you have it
taken to her?'

'Certainly,' said Miss Grizel, compressing her lips.

Gerald sat down and wrote, quickly, yet carefully, pausing between the
sentences and fixing the same unseeing gaze on the garden. He then rose
and gave the note to Miss Grizel, who, ringing, gave it to the maid,
after which she and Gerald remained sitting on opposite sides of the
room in absolute silence for quite a long while.

Gerald's note had been short. 'Don't be so unspeakably cruel,' it ran,
without preamble. 'You know, don't you, that it has all turned out
perfectly? Althea has thrown me over and taken Kane. I've made them
happy at all events. As for us--O Helen, you must see me. I can't wait.
I can't wait for an hour. I beseech you to come. Only let me see
you.--GERALD.'

To this appeal the maid presently brought the answer, which Gerald,
oblivious of Miss Grizel's scrutiny, tore open and read.

'Don't make me despise you, Gerald. You come because of what I told you
yesterday, and I told you because it was over, so that you insult me by
coming. You must believe me when I say that it is over, and until you
can meet me as if you had forgotten, I cannot see you. I will not see
you now. I do not want to see you.--HELEN.'

He read this, and Miss Grizel saw the blood surge into his face. He
leaned back in his chair, crumpled Helen's note in his fingers, and
looked out of the window. Again Miss Grizel was sorry for him, though
with her sympathy there mingled satisfaction. Presently Gerald looked at
her, and it was as if he were, at last, aware of her. He looked for a
long time, and suddenly, like some one spent and indifferent, he said,
offering his explanation: 'You see--I'm in love with Helen--and she
won't have me.'

Miss Grizel gasped and gazed. 'In love with Helen? You?' she repeated.
The gold locket on her ample bosom had risen with her astounded breath.

'Yes,' said Gerald, 'and she won't have me.'

'But Miss Jakes?' said Miss Grizel.

'She is in love with Kane, and Kane with her--as he always has been, you
know. They are all right. Everything is all right, except Helen.'

A queer illumination began to shoot across Miss Grizel's stupor.

'Perhaps you told Helen that you loved her before Miss Jakes threw you
over. Perhaps you told Mr. Kane that Miss Jakes loved him before she
threw you over. Perhaps it's you who have upset the apple-cart.'

'I suppose it is,' said Gerald, gloomily, but without contrition. 'I
thought it would bring things right to have the facts out. It has
brought them right--for Althea and Kane; they will be perfectly happy
together.'

This simplicity, in the face of her own deep knowledge--the knowledge
she had built on in sending for Franklin Kane a week ago--roused a
ruthless ire in Miss Grizel. 'I'm afraid that you've let your own wishes
sadly deceive you,' she said. 'I must tell you, since you evidently
don't know it, that Mr. Kane is in love with Helen; deeply in love with
her. From what I understand of the situation you have sacrificed him to
your own feeling, and perhaps sacrificed Miss Jakes too; but I don't go
into that.'

It was now Gerald's turn to gaze and gasp; he did not gasp, however; he
only gazed--gazed with a gaze no longer inward and unseeing. He was, at
last, seeing everything. He fell back on the one most evident thing he
saw, and had from the beginning seen. 'But Helen--she could never have
loved him. Such a marriage would be unfit for Helen. I'm not excusing
myself. I see I've been an unpardonable fool in one way.'

Miss Grizel's ire increased. 'Unfit for Helen? Why, pray? He would have
given her the position of a princess--in our funny modern sense. I
intended, and I made the marriage. I saw he'd fallen in love with
her--dear little man--though at the time he didn't know it himself. And
since then I've had the satisfaction--one of the greatest of my life--of
seeing how happy I had made both of them. It was obvious, touchingly so,
that he was desperately in love with Helen. Yes, Gerald, don't come to
me for sympathy and help. You've wrecked a thing I had set my heart on.
You've wrecked Mr. Kane, and my opinion is that you've wrecked Helen
too.'

Gerald, who had become very pale, kept his eyes on her, and he went back
to his one foothold in a rocking world. 'Helen could never have loved
him.'

Miss Grizel shook her hand impatiently above her knee. 'Love! Love! What
do you all mean with your love, I'd like to know? What's this sudden
love of yours for Helen, you who, until yesterday, were willing to marry
another woman for her money--or were you in love with her too? What's
Miss Jakes's love of Mr. Kane, who, until a week ago, thought herself in
love with you? And you may well ask me what is Mr. Kane's love of Helen,
who, until a week ago, thought himself in love with Miss Jakes? But
there I answer you that he is the only one of you who seems to me to
know what love is. One can respect his feeling; it means more than
himself and his own emotions. It means something solid and dependable.
Helen recognised it, and Helen's feeling for him--though it certainly
wasn't love in your foolish sense--was something that she valued more
than anything you can have to offer her. And I repeat, though I'm sorry
to pain you, that it is clear to me that you have wrecked her life as
well as Mr. Kane's.'

Miss Grizel had had her say. She stood up, her lips compressed, her eyes
weighty with their hard, good sense. And Gerald rose, too. He was at a
disadvantage, and an unfair one, but he did not think of that. He
thought, with stupefaction, of what he had done in this room the day
before to Franklin and to Helen. In the depths of his heart he couldn't
wish it undone, for he couldn't conceive of himself now as married to
Althea, nor could he, in spite of Miss Grizel's demonstrations, conceive
of Helen as married to Franklin Kane. But with all the depths of his
heart he wished what he had done, done differently. And although he
couldn't conceive of Helen as married to Franklin Kane, although he
couldn't accept Miss Grizel's account of her state as final, nor believe
her really wrecked--since, after all, she loved him, not Franklin--he
could clearly conceive from Miss Grizel's words that by doing it as he
had, he had wrecked many things and endangered many. What these things
were her words only showed him confusedly, and his clearest impulse now
was to see just what they were, to see just what he had done. Miss
Grizel couldn't show him, for Miss Grizel didn't know the facts; Helen
would not show him, she refused to see him; his mind leaped at once, as
he rose and stood looking rather dazedly about before going, to Franklin
Kane. Kane, as he had said yesterday, was the one person in the world
before whom one could have such things out. Even though he had wrecked
Kane, Kane was still the only person he could turn to. And since he had
wrecked him in his ignorance he felt that now, in his enlightenment, he
owed him something infinitely delicate and infinitely deep in the way of
apology.

'Well, thank you,' he said, grasping Miss Grizel's hand. 'You had to say
it, and it had to be said. Good-bye.'

Miss Grizel, not displeased with his fashion of taking her chastisement,
returned his grasp. 'Yes,' she said, 'you couldn't go on as you were.
But all the same, I'm sorry for you.'

'Oh,' Gerald smiled a little. 'I don't suppose you've much left for me,
and no wonder.'

'Oh yes, I've plenty left for you,' said Miss Grizel. And, in thinking
over his expression as he had left her, the smile, its self-mockery, yet
its lack of bitterness, his courage, and yet the frankness of his
disarray, she felt that she liked Gerald more than she had ever liked
him.




CHAPTER XXXI.


'Why, yes, of course I can see you. Do sit down.' Franklin spoke
gravely, scanning his visitor's face while he moved piles of pamphlets
from a chair and pushed aside the books and papers spread before him on
the table.

Gerald had found him, after a fruitless morning call, at his lodgings in
Clarges Street, and Franklin, in the dim little sitting-room, had risen
from the work that, for hours, had given him a feeling of anchorage--not
too secure--in a world where many of his bearings were painfully
confused. Seeing him so occupied, Gerald, in the doorway, had hesitated:
'Am I interrupting you? Shall I come another time? I want very much to
see you, if I may.' And Franklin had replied with his quick reassurance,
too kindly for coldness, yet too grave for cordiality.

Gerald sat down at the other side of the table and glanced at the array
of papers spread upon it. They gave him a further sense of being beyond
his depth. It was like seeing suddenly the whole bulk of some ocean
craft, of which before one had noticed only the sociable and very
insignificant decks and riggings, lifted, for one's scientific
edification, in its docks. All the laborious, underlying meaning of
Franklin's life was symbolised in these neat papers and heavy books.
Gerald tried to remember, with only partial success, what Franklin's
professional interests were; people's professional interests had rarely
engaged his attention. It was queer to realise that the greater part of
Franklin Kane's life was something entirely alien from his own
imagination, and Gerald felt, as we have said, beyond his depth in
realising it. Yet the fact of a significance he had no power of gauging
did not disconcert him; he was quite willing to swim as best he could
and even to splash grotesquely; quite willing to show Franklin Kane that
he was very helpless and very ignorant, and could only appeal for mercy.

'Please be patient with me if I make mistakes,' he said. 'I probably
shall make mistakes; please bear with me.'

Franklin, laying one pamphlet on another, did not reply to this, keeping
only his clear, kind gaze responsively on the other's face.

'In the first place,' said Gerald, looking down and reaching out for a
thick blue pencil which he seemed to examine while he spoke, 'I must ask
your pardon. I made a terrible fool of myself yesterday afternoon. As
you said, there were so many things I didn't see. I do see them now.'

He lifted his eyes from the pencil, and Franklin, after meeting them for
a moment, said gently: 'Well, there isn't much good in looking at them,
is there? As for asking my pardon--you couldn't have helped not knowing
those things.'

'Perhaps I ought to have guessed them, but I didn't. I was able to play
the fool in perfect good faith.'

'Well, I don't know about that; I don't know that you played the fool,'
said Franklin.

'My second point is this,' said Gerald. 'Of course I'm not going to
pretend anything. You know that I love Helen and that I believe she
loves me, and that for that reason I've a right to seem silly and
fatuous and do my best to get her. I quite see what you must both of you
have thought of me yesterday. I quite see that she couldn't stand my
blindness--to all you meant and felt, you know, and then my imagining
that everything could be patched up between her and me. She wants me to
feel my folly to the full, and no wonder. But that sort of bitterness
would have to go down where people love--wouldn't it? it's something
that can be got over. But that's what I want to ask you; perhaps I'm
more of a fool than I yet know; perhaps what her aunt tells me is true;
perhaps I've wrecked Helen as well as wrecked you. It's a very queer
question to ask--and you must forgive me--no one can answer it but you,
except Helen, and Helen won't see me. Do you really think I have wrecked
her?'

Everybody seemed to be asking this question of poor Franklin. He gave it
his attention in this, its new application, and before answering, he
asked:

'What's happened since I saw you?'

Gerald informed him of the events of the morning.

'I suppose,' said Franklin, reflecting, 'that you shouldn't have gone so
soon. You ought to have given her more time to adjust herself. It looked
a little too sure, didn't it? as if you felt that now that you'd settled
matters satisfactorily you could come and claim her.'

'I know now what it looked like,' said Gerald; 'but, you see, I didn't
know this morning. And I was sure, I am sure,' he said, fixing his
charming eyes sadly and candidly upon Franklin, 'that Helen and I belong
to one another.'

Franklin continued to reflect. 'Well, yes, I understand that,' he said.
'But how can you make her feel it? Why weren't you sure long ago?'

'Oh, you ask me again why I was a fool,' said Gerald gloomily, 'and I
can only reply that Helen was too clever. After all, falling in love is
suddenly seeing something and wanting something, isn't it? Well, Helen
never let me see and never let me want.'

'Yes, that's just the trouble. She's let you see, so that you do want,
now. But that can't be very satisfactory to her, can it?' said Franklin,
with all his impartiality.

'Of course it can't!' said Gerald, with further gloom. 'And don't,
please, imagine that I'm idiotic enough to think myself satisfactory. My
only point is that I belong to her, unsatisfactory as I am, and that,
unless I've really wrecked her, and myself--I must be able to make her
feel that it's her point too; that other things can't really count,
finally, beside it. Have I wrecked her?' Gerald repeated. 'I mean, would
she have been really happier with you? Forgive me for asking you such a
question.'

Franklin again resumed his occupation of laying the pamphlets of one
pile neatly upon those of the other. He had all his air of impartial
reflection, yet his hand trembled a little, and Gerald, noticing this,
murmured again, turning away his eyes: 'Forgive me. Please understand. I
must know what I've done.'

'You see,' said Franklin, after a further silence, while he continued
to transfer the pamphlets; 'quite apart from my own feelings--which do,
I suppose, make it a difficult question to answer--I really don't know
how to answer, because what I feel is that the answer depends on you. I
mean,' said Franklin, glancing up, 'do you love her most, or do I? And
even beyond that--because, of course, the man who loved her least might
make her happiest if she loved him--have you got it in you to give her
life? Have you got it in you to give her something beyond yourself to
live for? Helen doesn't love me, she never could have loved me, and I
believe, with you, that she loves you; but even so it's quite possible
that in the long-run I might have made her happier than you can, unless
you have--in yourself--more to make her happy with.'

Gerald gazed at Franklin, and Franklin gazed back at him. In Gerald's
face a flush slowly mounted, a vivid flush, sensitive and suffering as a
young girl's. And as if Franklin had borne a mild but effulgent light
into the innermost chambers of his heart, and made self-contemplation
for the first time in his life, perhaps, real to him, he said in a
gentle voice: 'I'm afraid you're making me hopeless. I'm afraid I've
nothing to give Helen--beyond myself. I'm a worthless fellow, really,
you know. I've never made anything of myself or taken anything seriously
at all. So how can Helen take me seriously? Yes, I see it, and I've
robbed her of everything. Only,' said Gerald, leaning forward with his
elbows on the table and his forehead on his hands, while he tried to
think it out, 'it is serious, now, you know. It's really serious at
last. I would try to give her something beyond myself and to make
things worth while for her--I see what you mean; but I don't believe I
shall ever be able to make her believe it now.'

They sat thus for a long time in silence--Gerald with his head leant on
his hands, Franklin looking at him quietly and thoughtfully. And as a
result of long reflection, he said at last: 'If she loves you still, you
won't have to try to make her believe it. I'd like to believe it, and so
would you; but if Helen loves you, she'll take you for yourself, of
course. The question is, does she love you? Does she love you enough, I
mean, to want to mend and grow again? Perhaps it's that way you've
wrecked her; perhaps it's withered her--going on for all these years
caring, while you didn't see and want.'

From behind his hands Gerald made a vague sound of acquiescent distress.
'What shall I do?' he then articulated. 'She won't see me. She says she
won't see me until I can meet her as if I'd forgotten. It isn't with
Helen the sort of thing it would mean with most women. She's not saving
her dignity by threats and punishments she won't hold to. Helen always
means what she says--horribly.'

Franklin contemplated the bent head. Gerald's thick hair, disordered by
the long, fine fingers that ran up into it; Gerald's attitude sitting
there, miserable, yet not undignified, helpless, yet not humble;
Gerald's whole personality, its unused strength, its secure sweetness,
affected him strangely. He didn't feel near Gerald as he had, in a
sense, felt near Helen. They were aliens, and would remain so; but he
felt tenderly towards him. And, even while it inflicted a steady,
probing wound to recognise it, he recognised, profoundly, sadly, and
finally, that Gerald and Helen did belong to each other, by an affinity
deeper than moral standards and immeasurable by the test of happiness.
Helen had been right to love him all her life. He felt as if he, from
his distance, loved him, for himself, and because he was loveable. And
he wanted Helen to take Gerald. He was sure, now, that he wanted it.

'See here,' he said, in his voice of mild, fraternal deliberation, 'I
don't know whether it will do much good, but we'll try it. Helen has a
very real feeling for me, you know; Helen likes me and thinks of me as a
true friend. I'm certainly not satisfactory to her,' and Franklin smiled
a little; 'but all the same she's very fond of me; she'd do a lot to
please me; I'm sure of it. So how would it be if I wrote to her and put
things to her, you know?'

Gerald raised his head and looked over the table across the piled
pamphlets at Franklin. For a long time he looked at him, and presently
Franklin saw that tears had mounted to his eyes. The emotion that he
felt to be so unusual, communicated itself to him. He really hadn't
known till he saw Gerald Digby's eyes fill with tears what his own
emotion was. It surged up in him suddenly, blotting out Gerald's face,
overpowering the long resistance of his trained control; and it was with
an intolerable sense of loss and desolation that, knowing that he loved
Gerald and that Gerald's tears were a warrant for his loveableness and
for the workings of fate against himself, he put his head down on his
arms and, not sobbing, not weeping, yet overcome, he let the waves of
his sorrow meet over him.

He did not know, then, what he thought or felt. All that he was
conscious of was the terrible submerging of will and thought and the
engulfing sense of desolation; and all that he seemed to hear was the
sound of his own heart beating the one lovely and agonising word:
'Helen--Helen--Helen!'

He was aware at last, dimly, that Gerald had moved, had come round the
table, and was leaning on it beside him. Then Gerald put his hand on
Franklin's hand. The touch drew him up out of his depths. He raised his
head, keeping his face hidden, and he clasped Gerald's hand for a
moment. Then Gerald said brokenly: 'You mustn't write. You mustn't do
anything for me. You must let me take my own chances--and if I've none
left, it will be what I deserve.'

These words, like air breathed in after long suffocation under water,
cleared Franklin's mind. He shook his head, and he found Gerald's hand
again while he said, able now, as the light grew upon him, to think:

'I want to write. I want you to have all the chances you can.'

'I don't deserve them,' said Gerald.

'I don't know about that,' said Franklin, 'I don't know about that at
all. And besides'--and now he found something of his old whimsicality to
help his final argument--'let's say, if you'd rather, that Helen
deserves them. Let's say that it's for Helen's sake that I want you to
have every chance.'




CHAPTER XXXII.


Helen received Franklin's letter by the first post next morning. She
read it in bed, where she had remained ever since parting from him,
lying there with closed eyes in the drowsy apathy that had fallen upon
her.

    'DEAR HELEN,'--Franklin wrote, and something in the writing pained
    her even before she read the words--'Gerald Digby has been with me
    here. Your aunt has been telling him things. He knows that I care
    for you and what it all meant yesterday. It has been a very painful
    experience for him, as you may imagine, and the way he took it made
    me like him very much. It's because of that that I'm writing to you
    now. The thing that tormented me most was the idea that, perhaps,
    with all my deficiencies, I could give you more than he could. I
    hadn't a very high opinion of him, you know. I felt you might be
    safer with me. But now, from what I've seen, I'm sure that he is the
    man for you. I understand how you could have loved him for all your
    life. He's not as big as you are, nor as strong; he hasn't your
    character; but you'll make him grow--and no one else can, for he
    loves you with his whole heart, and he's a broken man.

    'Dear Helen, I know what it feels like now. You're withered and
    burnt out. It's lasted too long to be felt any longer and you
    believe it's dead. But it isn't dead, Helen; I'm sure it isn't.
    Things like that don't die unless something else comes and takes
    their place. It's withered, but it will grow again. See him; be kind
    to him, and you'll find out. And even if you can't find out yet,
    even if you think it's all over, look at it this way. You know our
    talk about marriage and how you were willing to marry me, not loving
    me; well, look at it this way, for his sake, and for mine. He needs
    you more than anything; he'll be nothing, or less and less, without
    you; with you he'll be more and more. Think of his life. You've got
    responsibility for that, Helen; you've let him depend on you
    always--and you've got responsibility, too, for what's happened now.
    You told him--I'm not blaming you--I understand--I think you were
    right; but you changed things for him and made him see what he
    hadn't seen before; nothing can ever be the same for him again; you
    mustn't forget that; your friendship is spoiled for him, after what
    you've done. So at the very least you can feel sorry for him and
    feel like a mother to him, and marry him for that--as lots of women
    do.

    'Now I'm going to be very egotistical, but you'll know why. Think of
    my life, dear Helen. We won't hide from what we know. We know that I
    love you and that to give you up--even if, in a way, I had to--was
    the greatest sacrifice of my life. Now, what I put to you is this:
    Is it going to be for nothing--I mean for nothing where you are
    concerned? If I'm to think of you going on alone with your heart
    getting harder and drier every year, and everything tender and
    trustful dying out of you--I don't see how I can bear it.

    'So what I ask you is to try to be happy; what I ask you is to try
    to make him happy; just look at it like that; try to make him happy
    and to help him to grow to be a fine, big person, and then you'll
    find out that you are growing, too, in all sorts of ways you never
    dreamed of.

    'When you get this, write to him and tell him that he may come. And
    when he is with you, be kind to him. Oh--my dear Helen--I do beg it
    of you. Put it like this--be kind to me and try.--Your affectionate

                                                            FRANKLIN.'


When Helen had read this letter she did not weep, but she felt as if
some hurt, almost deeper than she could endure, was being inflicted on
her. It had begun with the first sight of Franklin's letter; the writing
of it had looked like hard, steady breathing over some heart-arresting
pain. Franklin's suffering flowed into her from every gentle, careful
sentence; and to Helen, so unaware, till now, of any one's suffering but
her own, this sharing of Franklin's was an experience new and
overpowering. No tears came, while she held the letter and looked before
her intently, and it was not as if her heart softened; but it seemed to
widen, as if some greatness, irresistible and grave, forced a way into
it. It widened to Franklin, to the thought of Franklin and to Franklin's
suffering; its sorrow and its compassion were for Franklin; and as it
received and enshrined him, it shut Gerald out. There was no room for
Gerald in her heart.

She would do part of what Franklin asked of her, of course. She would
see Gerald; she would be kind to him; she would even try to feel for
him. But the effort was easy because she was so sure that it would be
fruitless. For Gerald, she was withered and burnt out. If she were to
'grow'--dear, funny phrases, even in her extremity, Helen could smile
over them; even though she loved dear Franklin and enshrined him, his
phrases would always seem funny to her--but if she were to grow it must
be for Franklin, and in a different way from what he asked. She would
indeed try not to become harder and drier; she would try to make of her
life something not too alien from his ideal for her; she would try to
pursue the just and the beautiful. But to rekindle the burnt-out fires
of her love was a miracle that even Franklin's love and Franklin's
suffering could not perform, and as for marrying Gerald in order to be a
mother to him, she did not feel it possible, even for Franklin's sake,
to assume that travesty.

It was at five o'clock that she asked Gerald to come and see her. She
went down to him in her sitting-room, when, on the stroke of the clock,
he was announced. She felt that it required no effort to meet him,
beyond the forcing of her weariness.

Gerald was standing before the fire, and in looking at him, as she
entered and closed the door, she was aware of a little sense of
surprise. She had not expected to find him, since the crash of Aunt
Grizel's revelations, as fatuous as the day before yesterday; nor had
she expected the boyish sulkiness of that day's earlier mood. She
expected change and the signs of discomfort and distress. It was this
haggard brightness for which she was unprepared. He looked as if he
hadn't slept or eaten, and under jaded eyelids his eyes had the
sparkling fever of insomnia.

Helen felt that she could thoroughly carry out the first of Franklin's
requests; she could be kind and she could be sorry; yes, Gerald was very
unhappy; it was strange to think of, and pitiful.

'Have you had any tea?' she asked him, giving him her hand, which he
pressed mechanically.

'No, thanks,' said Gerald.

'Do have some. You look hungry.'

'I'm not hungry, thanks.' He was neither hostile nor pleading; he only
kept his eyes fixed on her with bright watchfulness, rather as a
patient's eyes watch the doctor who is to pronounce a verdict, and
Helen, with all her kindness, felt a little irked and ill at ease before
his gaze.

'You've heard from Kane?' Gerald said, after a pause. Helen had taken
her usual place in the low chair.

'Yes, this morning.'

'And that's why you sent for me?'

'Yes,' said Helen, 'he asked me to.'

Gerald looked down into the fire. 'I can't tell you what I think of him.
You can't care to hear, of course. You know what I've done to him, and
that must make you feel that I'm not the person to talk about him. But
I've never met any one so good.'

'He is good. I'm glad to hear you say it. He is the best person I've
ever met, too,' said Helen. 'As for what you did to him, you didn't know
what you were doing.'

'I don't think that stupidity is any excuse. I ought to have felt he
couldn't be near you like that, and not love you. I robbed him of you,
didn't I? If it hadn't been for what I did, you would have married him,
all the same--in spite of what you told me, I mean.'

Helen had coloured a little, and after a pause in which she thought over
his words she said: 'Yes, of course I would have married him all the
same. But it was really I, in what I told you, who brought it upon
myself and upon Franklin.'

For a little while there was silence and then Gerald said, delicately,
yet with a directness that showed he took for granted in her a detached
candour equal to his own: 'I think I asked it stupidly. I suppose the
thing I can't even yet realise is that, in a way, I robbed you too. I've
robbed you of everything, haven't I, Helen?'

'Not of everything,' said Helen, glad really of the small consolation
she could offer him. 'Not of financial safety, as it happens. It will
make you less unhappy to hear, so I must tell you, Franklin is arranging
things with Aunt Grizel so that when she dies I shall come into quite a
nice little bit of money. I shall have no more sordid worries. In that
way you mustn't have me on your conscience.'

Gerald's eyes were on her and they took in this fact of her safety with
no commotion; it was but one--and a lesser--among the many strange facts
he had had to take in. And he forced himself to look squarely at what he
had conceived to be the final impossibility as he asked: 'And--in other
ways?--Could you have fallen in love with him, Helen?'

It was so bad, so inconceivably bad a thing to face, that his relief
was like a joy when Helen answered. 'No, I could never have fallen in
love with dear Franklin. But I cared for him very much, the more, no
doubt, from having ceased to care about love. I felt that he was the
best person, the truest, the dearest, I had ever known, and that we
would make a success of our life together.'

'Yes, yes, of course,' Gerald hastened past her qualifications to the
one liberating fact. 'Two people like you would have had to. But you
didn't love him; you couldn't have come to love him. I haven't robbed
you of a man you could have loved.'

She saw his immense relief. The joy of it was in his eyes and voice; and
the thought of Franklin, of what she had not been able to do for
Franklin, made it bitter to her that because she had not been able to
save Franklin, Gerald should find relief.

'You couldn't have robbed me of him if there'd been any chance of that,'
she said. 'If there had been any chance of my loving Franklin I would
never have let him go. Don't be glad, don't show me that you are
glad--because I didn't love him.'

'I can't help being glad, Helen,' he said.

She leaned her head on her hand, covering her eyes. While he was there,
showing her that he was glad because she had not loved Franklin, she
could not be kind, nor even just to him.

'Helen,' he said, 'I know what you are feeling; but will you listen to
me?' She answered that she would listen to anything he had to say, and
her voice had the leaden tone of impersonal charity.

'Helen,' Gerald said, 'I know how I've blundered. I see everything. But,
with it all, seeing it all, I don't think that you are fair to me. I
don't think it is fair if you can't see that I couldn't have thought of
all these other possibilities--after what you'd told me--the other day.
How could I think of anything, then, but the one thing--that you loved
me and that I loved you, and that, of course, I must set my mistake
right at once, set Althea free and come to you? I was very simple and
very stupid; but I don't think it's fair not to see that I couldn't
believe you'd really repulse me, finally, if you loved me.'

'You ought to have believed it,' Helen said, still with her covered
eyes. 'That is what is most simple, most stupid in you. You ought to
have felt--and you ought to feel now--that to a woman who could tell you
what I did, everything is over.'

'But, Helen, that's my point,' ever so carefully and patiently he
insisted. 'How can it be over when I love you--if you still love me?'

She put down her hand now and looked up at him and she saw his hope; not
yet dead; sick, wounded, perplexed, but, in his care and patience,
vigilant. And it was with a sad wonder for the truth of her own words,
that she said, looking up at the face dear beyond all telling for so
many years, 'I don't want you, Gerald. I don't want your love. I'm not
blaming you. I am fair to you. I see that you couldn't help it, and that
it was my fault really. But you are asking for something that isn't
there any longer.'

'You mean,' said Gerald, he was very pale, 'that I've won no rights; you
don't want a man who has won no rights.'

'There are no rights to win, Gerald.'

'Because of what I've done to him?'

'Perhaps; but I don't think it's that.'

'Because of what I've done to you--not seeing--all our lives?'

'Perhaps, Gerald. I don't know. I can't tell you, for I don't know
myself. I don't think anything has been killed. I think something is
dead that's been dying by inches for years. Don't press me any more.
Accept the truth. It's all over. I don't want you any longer.'

Helen had risen while she spoke and kept her eyes on Gerald's in
speaking. Until this moment, for all his pain and perplexity, he had not
lost hope. He had been amazed and helpless and full of fear, but he had
not believed, not really believed, that she was lost to him. Now, she
saw it in his eyes, he did believe; and as the patient, hearing his
sentence, gazes dumb and stricken, facing death, so he gazed at her,
seeing irrevocability in her unmoved face. And, accepting his doom,
sheer childishness overcame him. As Franklin the day before had felt, so
he now felt, the intolerableness of his woe; and, as with Franklin, the
waves closed over his head. Helen was so near him that it was but a
stumbling step that brought her within his arms; but it was not with the
lover's supplication that he clung to her; he clung, hiding his face on
her breast, like a child to its mother, broken-hearted, bewildered,
reproachful. And, bursting into tears, he sobbed: 'How cruel you are!
how cruel! It is your pride--you've the heart of a stone! If I'd loved
you for years and told you and made you know you loved me back--could I
have treated you like this--and cast you off--and stopped loving you,
because you'd never seen before? O Helen, how can you--how can you!'

After a moment Helen spoke, angrily, because she was astounded, and
because, for the first time in her life, she was frightened, beyond her
depth, helpless in the waves of emotion that lifted her like great
encompassing billows. 'Gerald, don't. Gerald, it is absurd of you.
Gerald, don't cry.' She had never seen him cry.

He heard her dimly, and the words were the cruel ones he expected. The
sense of her cruelty filled him, and the dividing sense that she, who
was so cruel, was still his only refuge, his only consolation.

'What have I done, I'd like to know, that you should treat me like this?
If you loved me before--all those years--why should you stop now,
because I love you? why should you stop because of telling me?'

Again Helen's voice came to him after a pause, and it seemed now to
grope, stupefied and uncertain, for answers to his absurdity. 'How can
one argue, Gerald, like this; perhaps it was because I told you?
Perhaps----'

He took her up, not waiting to hear her surmises. 'How can one get over
a thing like that, all in a moment? How can it die like that? You're not
over it, not really. It is all pride, and you are punishing me for what
I couldn't help, and punishing yourself too, for no one will ever love
you as I do. O Helen--I can't believe it's dead. Don't you know that no
one will ever love you as I do? Can't you see how happy we could have
been together? It's so _silly_ of you not to see. Yes, you are silly as
well as cruel.' He shook her while he held her, while he buried his face
and cried--cried, literally, like a baby.

She stood still, enfolded but not enfolding, and now she said nothing
for a long time, while her eyes, with their strained look of pain, gazed
widely, and as if in astonishment, before her; and he, knowing only the
silence, the unresponsive silence, continued to sob his protestation,
his reproach, with a helplessness and vehemence ridiculous and
heart-rending.

Then, slowly, as if compelled, Helen put her arms around him, and,
dully, like a creature hypnotised to action strange to its whole nature,
she said once more, and in a different voice: 'Don't cry, Gerald.' But
she, too, was crying. She tried to control her sobs; but they broke from
her, strange and difficult, like the sobs of the hypnotised creature
waking from its trance to confused and painful consciousness, and,
resting her forehead on his shoulder, she repeated dully, between her
sobs: 'Don't cry.'

He was not crying any longer. Her weeping had stilled his in an instant,
and she went on, between her broken breaths: 'How absurd--oh, how
absurd. Sit down here--yes--keep your head so, if you must, you foolish,
foolish child.'

He held her, hearing her sobs, feeling them lift her breast, and, in all
his great astonishment, like a smile, the memory of the other day stole
over him, the stillness, the accomplishment, the blissful peace, the
lifting to a serene eternity of space. To remember it now was like
seeing the sky from a nest, and in the sweet darkness of sudden
security he murmured: '_You_ are the foolish child.'

'How can I believe you love me?' said Helen.

'How can you not?'

They sat side by side, her arms around him and his head upon her breast.
'It was only because I told you----'

'Well--isn't that reason enough?'

'How can it be reason enough for me?'

'How can it not? You've spent your whole life hiding from me; when I saw
you, why, of course, I fell in love at once. O Helen--dear, dear Helen!'

'When you saw my love.'

'Wasn't that seeing you?'

They spoke in whispers, and their hearts were not in their words. He
raised his head and looked at her, and he smiled at her now with the
smile of the beautiful necessity. 'How you've frightened me,' he said.
'Don't be proud. Even if it did need your cleverness to show me that,
too. I mean--you've given me everything--always--and why shouldn't you
have given me the chance to see you--and to know what you are to me? How
you frightened me. You are not proud any longer. You love me.'

She was not proud any longer. She loved him. Vaguely, in the
bewilderment of her strange, her blissful humility, among the great
billows of life that encompassed and lifted her, it seemed with enormous
heart-beats, Helen remembered Franklin's words. 'Let it melt--please let
it melt, dear Helen.' But it had needed the inarticulate, the
instinctive, to pierce to the depths of life. Gerald's tears, his head
so boyishly pressed against her, his arms so childishly clinging, had
told her what her heart might have been dead to for ever if, with
reason and self-command, he had tried to put it into words.

She looked at him, through her tears, and she knew him dearer to her in
this resurrection than if her heart had never died to him; and, as he
smiled at her, she, too, smiled back, tremblingly.




CHAPTER XXXIII.


Althea had not seen Gerald after the day that they came up from
Merriston together. The breaking of their engagement was duly announced,
and, with his little note to her, thanking her for her frankness and
wishing her every happiness, Gerald and all things connected with him
seemed to pass out of her life. She saw no more of the frivolous
relations who were really serious, nor of the serious ones who were
really frivolous. She did not even see Helen. Helen's engagement to
Franklin had never been formally announced, and few, beyond her circle
of nearest friends, knew of it; the fact that Franklin had now returned
to his first love was not one that could, at the moment, be made
appropriately public. But, of course, Helen had had to be told, not only
that Franklin had gone from her, but that he had come back to Althea,
and Althea wondered deeply how this news had been imparted. She had not
felt strength to impart it herself. When she asked Franklin, very
tentatively, about it, he said: 'That's all right, dear. I've explained.
Helen perfectly understands.'

That it was all right seemed demonstrated by the little note, kind and
sympathetic, that Helen wrote to her, saying that she did understand,
perfectly, and was so glad for her and for Franklin, and that it was
such a good thing when people found out mistakes in time. There was not
a trace of grievance; Helen seemed to relinquish a good which, she
recognised, had only been hers because Althea hadn't wanted it. And this
was natural; how could one show one's grievance in such a case? Helen,
above all, would never show it; and Althea was at once oppressed, and at
the same time oddly sustained by the thought that she had, all
inevitably, done her friend an injury. She lay awake at night, turning
over in her mind Helen's present plight and framing loving plans for the
future. She took refuge in such plans from a sense of having come to an
end of things. To think of Helen, and of what, with their wealth, she
and Franklin could do for Helen, seemed, really, her strongest hold on
life. It was the brightest thing that she had to look forward to, and
she looked forward to it with complete self-effacement. She saw the
beautiful Italian villa where Helen should be the fitting centre, the
English house where Helen, rather than she, should entertain. She felt
that she asked nothing more for herself. She was safe, if one liked to
put it so, and in that safety she felt not only her ambitions, but even
any personal desires, extinguished. Her desire, now, was to unite with
Franklin in making the proper background for Helen. But at the moment
these projects were unrealisable; taste, as well as circumstance,
required a pause, a lull. It was a relief--so many things were a relief,
so few things more than merely that--to know that Helen was in the
country somewhere, and would not be back for ten days or a fortnight.

Meanwhile, Miss Harriet Robinson, very grave but very staunch, sustained
Althea through all the outward difficulties of her _volte-face_. Miss
Robinson, of course, had had to be told of the reason for the
_volte-face_, the fact that Althea had found, after all, that she cared
more for Franklin Winslow Kane. It was in regard to the breaking of her
engagement that Miss Robinson was staunch and grave; in regard to the
new engagement, Althea saw that, though still staunch, she was much
disturbed. Miss Robinson found Franklin hard to place, and found it hard
to understand why Althea had turned from Gerald Digby to him. Franklin's
millions didn't count for much with Miss Robinson, nor could she suspect
them of counting for anything, where marriage was concerned, with her
friend. She had not, indeed, a high opinion of the millionaire type of
her compatriots. Her standards were birth and fashion, and poor Franklin
could not be said to embody either of these claims. His mitigating
qualities could hardly shine for Miss Robinson, who, accustomed to
continually seeing and frequently evading the drab, dry, utilitarian
species of her country-people, could not be expected to find in him the
flavour of oddity and significance that his English acquaintance prized.
Franklin didn't make any effort to place himself more favourably. He was
very gentle and very attentive, and he followed all Althea's directions
as to clothes and behaviour with careful literalness; but even barbered
and tailored by the best that London had to offer, he seemed to sink
inevitably into the discreetly effaced position that the American
husband so often assumes behind his more brilliant mate, and Althea
might have been more aware of this had she not been so sunken in an
encompassing consciousness of her own obliteration. She felt herself
nearer Franklin there, and the sense of relief and safety came most to
her when she could feel herself near Franklin. It didn't disturb her,
standing by him in the background, that Miss Robinson should not
appreciate him. After all, deeper than anything, was the knowledge that
Helen had appreciated him. Recede as far as he would from the gross
foreground places, Helen's choice of him, Helen's love--for after a
fashion, Helen must have loved him--gave him a final and unquestionable
value. It was in this assurance of Helen's choice that she found a
refuge when questionings and wonders came to drag her down to suffering
again. There were many things that menaced the lull of safety, things
she could not bear yet to look at. The sense of her own abandonment to
weak and disingenuous impulses was one; another shadowed her unstable
peace more darkly. Had Helen really minded losing Franklin--apart from
his money? What had his value really been to her? What was she feeling
and doing now? What was Gerald doing and feeling, and what did they both
think or suspect of her? The answer to some of these questionings came
to her from an unsuspected quarter. It was on a morning of chill mists
and pale sunlight that Althea, free of Miss Robinson, walked down
Grosvenor Street towards the park. She liked to go into the park on such
mornings, when Miss Robinson left her free, and sit on a bench and
abandon herself to remote, impersonal dreams. It was just as she entered
Berkeley Square that she met Mrs. Mallison, that aunt of Gerald's who
had struck her, some weeks ago, as so disconcerting, with her skilfully
preserved prettiness and her ethical and metaphysical aspirations. This
lady, furred to her ears, was taking out two small black pomeranians for
an airing. She wore long pearl ear-rings, and her narrow, melancholy
face was delicately rouged and powdered. Althea's colour rose painfully;
she had seen none of Gerald's relatives since the severance. Mrs.
Mallison, however, showed no embarrassment. She stopped at once and took
Althea's hand and gazed tenderly upon her. Her manner had always
afflicted Althea, with its intimations of some deep, mystical
understanding.

'My dear, I'm so glad--to meet you, you know. How nice, how right you've
been.' Mrs. Mallison murmured her words rather than spoke them and could
pronounce none of her r's. 'I'm so glad to be able to tell you so.
You're walking? Come with me, then; I'm just taking the dogs round the
square. Do you love dogs too? I am sure you must. You have the eyes of
the dog-lover. I don't know how I could live without mine; they
understand when no one else does. I didn't write, because I think
letters are such soulless things, don't you? They are the tombs of the
spirit--little tombs for failed things--too often. I've thought of you,
and felt for you--so much; but I couldn't write. And now I must tell you
that I agree with you with all my heart. Love's the _only_ thing in
life, isn't it?' Mrs. Mallison smiled, pressing Althea's arm
affectionately. Althea remembered to have heard that Mrs. Mallison had
made a most determined _mariage de convenance_ and had sought love in
other directions; but, summoning what good grace she could, she
answered that she, too, considered love the only thing.

'You didn't love him enough, and you found it out in time, and you told
him. How brave; how right. And then--am I too indiscreet? but I know you
feel we are friends--you found you loved some one else; the reality came
and showed you the unreality. That enchanting Mr. Kane--oh, I felt it
the moment I looked at him--there was an affinity between us, our souls
understood each other. And so deliciously rich you'll be, not that money
makes any difference, does it? but it is nice to be able to do things
for the people one loves.'

Althea struggled in a maze of discomfort. Behind Mrs. Mallison's
caressing intonations was something that perplexed her. What did Mrs.
Mallison know, and what did she guess? She was aware, evidently, of her
own engagement to Franklin and, no doubt, of Franklin's engagement to
Helen and its breaking off. What did she know about the cause of that
breaking off? Her troubled cogitations got no further, for Mrs. Mallison
went on:

'And how happily it has all turned out--all round--hasn't it? How horrid
for you and Mr. Kane, if it hadn't; not that you'd have had anything to
reproach yourselves with--really--I know--because love _is_ the only
thing; but if Helen and Gerald had just been left _plantes la_, it would
have been harder, wouldn't it? I've been staying with them at the same
house in the country and it's quite obvious what's happened. You knew
from the first, no doubt; but of course they are saying nothing, just as
you and Mr. Kane are saying nothing. They didn't tell me, but I guessed
at once. And the first thing I thought was: Oh--how happy--how perfect
this makes it for Miss Jakes and Mr. Kane. They've _all_ found out in
time.'

Althea grew cold. She commanded her voice. 'Helen? Gerald?' she said.
'Haven't you mistaken? They've always been the nearest friends.'

'Oh no--no,' smiled Mrs. Mallison, with even greater brightness and
gentleness, 'I never mistake these things; an affair of the heart is the
one thing that I always see. Helen, perhaps, could hide it from me; she
is a woman and can hide things--Helen is cold too--I am never very sure
of Helen's heart--of course I love her dearly, every one must who knows
her; but she is cold, unawakened, the type that holds out the cheek, not
the type that kisses. I confess that I love most the reckless, loving
type; and I believe that you and I are unlike Helen there--we kiss, we
don't hold out the cheek. But, no, I never would have guessed from
Helen. It was Gerald who gave them both away. Poor, dear Gerald, never
have I beheld such a transfigured being--he is radiantly in love, quite
radiantly; it's too pretty to see him.'

The vision of Gerald, radiantly in love, flashed horridly for Althea. It
was dim, yet bright, scintillating darkly; she could only imagine it in
similes; she had never seen anything that could visualise it for her.
The insufferable dogs, like tethered bubbles, bounded before them,
constantly impeding their progress. Althea was thankful for the excuse
afforded her by the tangling of her feet in the string to pause and
stoop; she felt that her rigid face must betray her. She stooped for a
long moment and hoped that her flush would cover her rigidity. It was
when she raised herself that she saw suddenly in Mrs. Mallison's face
something that gave her more than a suspicion. She didn't suspect her of
cruelty or vulgar vengeance--Gerald's aunt was quite without rancour on
the score of her jilting of him; but she did suspect, and more than
suspect her--it was like the unendurable probing of a wound to feel
it--of idle yet implacable curiosity, and of a curiosity edged, perhaps,
with idle malice. She summoned all her strength. She smiled and shook
her head a little. 'Faithless Gerald! So soon,' she said. 'He is
consoled quickly. No, I never guessed anything at all.'

Mrs. Mallison had again passed her arm through hers and again pressed
it. 'It _is_ soon, isn't it? A sort of _chasse-croise_. But how strange
and fortunate that it should be soon--I know you feel that too.'

'Oh yes, of course, I feel it; it is an immense relief. But they ought
to have told me,' Althea smiled.

'I wonder at that too,' said Mrs. Mallison. 'It is rather bad of them, I
think, when they must know what it would mean to you of joy. When did it
happen, do you suppose?'

Althea wondered. Wonders were devouring her.

'It happened with you quite suddenly, didn't it?' said Mrs. Mallison,
who breathed the soft fragrance of her solicitude into Althea's face as
she leaned her head near and pressed her arm closely.

'Quite suddenly,' Althea replied, 'that is, with me it was sudden.
Franklin, of course, has loved me for a great many years.'

'So he was faithless too, for his little time?'

Althea's brain whirled. 'Faithless? Franklin?'

'I mean, while he made his mistake--while he thought he was in love with
Helen.'

'It wasn't a question of that. It was to be a match of reason, and
friendship--everybody knew,' Althea stammered.

'_Was_ it?' said Mrs. Mallison with deep interest. 'I see, like yours
and Gerald's.'

'Oh----' Althea was not able in her headlong course to do more than
glance at the implications that whizzed past. 'Gerald and I made the
mistake, I think; we believed ourselves in love.'

'_Did_ you?' Mrs. Mallison repeated her tone of affectionate and
brooding interest. 'What a strange thing the human heart is, isn't it?'

'Very, very strange.'

'How dear and frank of you to see it all as you do. And there are no
more mistakes now,' said Mrs. Mallison. 'No one is reasonable and every
one is radiant.'

'Every one is radiant and reasonable too, I hope,' said Althea. Her head
still whirled as she heard herself analysing for Mrs. Mallison's
correction these sanctities of her life. Odious, intolerable, insolent
woman! She could have burst into tears as she walked beside her, held by
her, while her hateful dogs, shrilly barking, bounded buoyantly around
them.

'It's dear of you too, to tell me all about it,' said Mrs. Mallison.
'Have you seen Helen yet? She is just back.'

'No, I've not seen her.'

'You will meet? I am sure you will still be friends--two such real
people as you are.'

'Of course we shall meet. Helen is one of my dearest friends.'

'I see. It is so beautiful when people can rise above things. You make
me very happy. Don't tell Helen what I've told you,' Mrs. Mallison with
gentle gaiety warned her. 'I knew--in case you hadn't heard--that it
would relieve you so intensely to hear that she and Gerald were happy,
in spite of what you had to do to them. But it would make Helen cross
with me if she knew I'd told you when she hadn't. I'm rather afraid of
Helen, aren't you? I'm sure she'll give Gerald dreadful scoldings
sometimes. Poor, dear Gerald!' Mrs. Mallison laughed reminiscently.
'Never have I beheld such a transfigured being. I didn't think he had it
in him to be in love to such an extent. Oh, it was all in his face--his
eyes--when he looked at her.'

Yes, malicious, malicious to the point of vulgarity; that was Althea's
thought as, like an arrow released from long tension, she sped away, the
turn of the square once made and Mrs. Mallison and her dogs once more
received into the small house in an adjacent street. Tears were in
Althea's eyes, hot tears, of fury, of humiliation, and--oh, it flooded
over her--of bitterest sorrow and yearning. Gerald, radiant Gerald--lost
to her for ever; not even lost; never possessed. And into the sorrow and
humiliation, poisonous suspicions crept. When did it happen? Where was
she? What had been done to her? She must see; she must know. She hailed
a hansom and was driven to old Miss Buchanan's house in Belgravia.




CHAPTER XXXIV.


Helen was sitting at her writing-table before the window, and the
morning light fell on her gracefully disordered hair and gracefully
shabby shoulders. The aspect of her back struck on Althea's bitter,
breathless mood. There was no effort made for anything with Helen. She
was the sort of person who would get things without seeking for them and
be things without caring to be them. She had taken what she wanted, when
she wanted it; first Franklin, and then--and perhaps it had been before
Franklin had failed her, perhaps it had been before she, Althea, had
failed Gerald--she had taken Gerald. Althea's mind, reeling, yet
strangely lucid after the shock of the last great injury, was also
aware, in the moment of her entrance, of many other injuries, old ones,
small ones, yet, in their summing up--and everything seemed to be summed
up now in the cruel revelation--as intolerable as the new and great one.
More strongly than ever before she was aware that Helen was hard, that
there was nothing in her soft or tentative or afraid; and the
realisation, though it was not new, came with an added bitterness this
morning. It did not weaken her, however; on the contrary, it nerved her
to self-protection. If Helen was hard, she would not, to-day, show
herself soft. It was she who must assume the air of success, and of
rueful yet helpless possessorship. These impressions and resolutions
occupied but an instant. Helen rose and came to her, and what Althea saw
in her face armed her resolutions with hostility. Helen's face confirmed
what Mrs. Mallison had said. It was not resentful, not ironically calm.
A solicitous interest, even a sort of benignity, was in her bright gaze.
Helen was hard; she did not really care at all; but she was kind, kinder
than ever before; and Althea found this kindness intolerable.

'Dear Helen,' she said, 'I'm so glad to see you. I had to come at once
when I heard that you were back. You don't mind seeing me?'

'Not a bit,' said Helen, who had taken her hand. 'Why should I?'

'I was afraid that perhaps you might not want to--for a long time.'

'We aren't so foolish as that,' said Helen smiling.

'No, that is what I hoped you would feel too. We have been in the hands
of fate, haven't we, Helen? I've seemed weak and disloyal, I know--to
you and to Gerald; but I think it was only seeming. When I found out my
mistake I couldn't go on. And then the rest all followed--inevitably.'

Helen had continued to hold her hand while she spoke, and she continued
to gaze at her for another moment before, pressing it, she let it fall
and said: 'Of course you couldn't go on.'

Helen was as resolved--Althea saw that clearly--to act her part of
unresentful kindness as she to act hers of innocent remorse. And the
swordthrust in the sight was to suspect that had Helen been in reality
the dispossessed and not the secretly triumphant, she might have been as
kind and as unresentful.

'It's all been a dreadful mistake,' Althea said, going to a chair and
loosening her furs. 'From the very beginning I felt doubt. From the very
beginning I felt that Gerald and I did not really make each other happy.
And I believe that you wondered about it too.'

Helen had resumed her seat at the writing-table, sitting turned from it,
her hand hanging over the back of the chair, her long legs crossed, and
she faced her friend with that bright yet softened gaze, interested,
alert, but too benign, too contented, to search or question closely. She
was evidently quite willing that Althea should think what she chose,
and, this was becoming evident, she intended to help her to think it. So
after a little pause she answered, 'I did wonder, rather; it didn't seem
to me that you and Gerald were really suited.'

'And you felt, didn't you,' Althea urged, 'that it was only because I
had been so blind, and had not seen where my heart really was, you know,
that your engagement was possible? I was so afraid you'd think we'd been
faithless to you--Franklin and I; but, when I stopped being blind----'

'Of course,' Helen helped her on, nodding and smiling gravely, 'of
course you took him back. I don't think you were either of you
faithless, and you mustn't have me a bit on your minds; it was
startling, of course; but I'm not heart-broken,' Helen assured her.

Oh, there was no malice here; it was something far worse to bear, this
wish to lift every shadow and smooth every path. Althea's eyes fixed
themselves hard on her friend. Her head swam a little and some of her
sustaining lucidity left her.

'I was so afraid,' she said, 'that you, perhaps, cared for Franklin--had
come to care so much, I mean--that it might have been hard for you to
forgive. I can't tell you the relief it is----'

'To see that I didn't care so much as that?' Helen smiled brightly,
though with a brightness, now, slightly wary, as though with all her
efforts to slide and not to press, she felt the ice cracking a little
under her feet, and as though some care might be necessary if she were
to skate safely away. 'Don't have that in the least on your mind, it was
what you always disapproved of, you know, an arrangement of convenience.
Franklin and I both understood perfectly. You know how mercenary I
am--though I told you, I remember, that I couldn't think of marrying
anybody I didn't like. I liked Franklin, more than I can say; but it was
never a question of love.'

In Althea's ears, also, the ice seemed now to crack ominously. 'You
mean,' she said, 'that you wouldn't have thought of marrying Franklin if
it hadn't been for his money?'

There was nothing for Helen but to skate straight ahead. 'No, I don't
suppose I should.'

'But you had become the greatest friends.'

She was aware that she must seem to be trying, strangely, incredibly, to
prove to Helen that she had been in love with Franklin; to prove to her
that she had no right not to resent anything; no right to find
forgiveness so easy. But there was no time now to stop.

'Of course we became the greatest friends,' Helen said, and it was as
if with relief for the outlet. She was bewildered, and did not know
where they were going. 'I don't need to tell you what I think of
Franklin. He is the dearest and best of men, and you are the luckiest of
women to have won him.'

'Ah,' uncontrollably Althea rose to her feet with almost the cry, 'I
see; you think me lucky to have won a man who, in himself, without
money, wasn't good enough for you. Thank you.'

For a long moment--and in it they both recognised that the crash had
come, and that they were struggling in dark, cold water--Helen was
silent. She kept her eyes on Althea and she did not move. Then, while
she still looked steadily upon her, a slow colour rose in her cheeks. It
was helplessly, burningly, that she blushed, and Althea saw that she
blushed as much for anger as for shame, and that the shame was for her.

She did not need Helen's blush to show her what she had done, what
desecration she had wrought. Her own blood beat upwards in hot surges
and tears rushed into her eyes. She covered her face with her hands and
dropped again into her chair, sobbing.

Helen did not help her out. She got up and went to the mantelpiece and
looked down at the fire for some moments. And at last she spoke, 'I
didn't mean that either. I think that Franklin is too good for either of
us.'

'Good!' wept Althea. 'He is an angel. Do you suppose I don't see that?
But why should I pretend when you don't. I'm not in love with Franklin.
I'm unworthy of him--more unworthy of him than you were--but I'm not in
love with him, even though he is an angel. So don't tell me that I am
lucky. I am a most miserable woman.' And she wept on, indifferent now to
any revelations.

Presently she heard Helen's voice. It was harder than she had ever known
it. 'May I say something? It's for his sake--more than for yours. What I
advise you to do is not to bother so much about love. You couldn't stick
to Gerald because you weren't loved enough; and you're doubting your
feeling for Franklin, now, because you can't love him enough. Give it
all up. Follow my second-rate example. Be glad that you're marrying an
angel and that he has all that money. And do remember that though you're
not getting what you want, you are getting a good deal and he is getting
nothing, so try to play the game and to see if you can't make it up to
him; see if you can't make him happy.'

Althea's sobbing had now ceased, though she kept her face still covered.
Bitter sadness, too deep now for resentment, was in her silence, a
silence in which she accepted what Helen's words had of truth. The
sadness was to see at last to the full, that she had no place in Helen's
life. There was no love, there was hardly liking, behind Helen's words.
And so it had been from the very first, ever since she had loved and
Helen accepted; ever since she had gone forth carrying gifts, and Helen
had stood still and been vaguely aware that homage was being offered. It
had, from the very beginning, been this; Helen, hard, self-centred,
insensible, so that anything appealing or uncertain was bound to be
shattered against her. And was not this indifference to offered love a
wrong done to it, something that all life cried out against? Had not
weakness and fear and the clinging appeal of immaturity their rights, so
that the strong heart that was closed to them, that did not go out to
them in tenderness and succour, was the dull, the lesser heart? Dimly
she knew, not exculpating herself, not judging her beautiful Helen, that
though she had, in her efforts towards happiness, pitifully failed,
there was failure too in being blind, in being unconscious of any effort
to be made. The more trivial, the meaner aspect of her grief was merged
in a fundamental sincerity.

'What you say is true,' she said, 'for I know that I am a poor creature.
I know that I give Franklin nothing, and take everything from him. But
it is easy for you to talk of what is wise and strong, Helen, and to
tell me what I ought to do and feel. You have everything. You have the
man who loves you and the man you love. It is easy for you to be clear
and hard and see other people's faults. I know--I know about you and
Gerald.'

Helen turned to her. Althea had dropped her hands. She did not look at
her friend, but, with tear-disfigured eyes, out of the window; and there
was a desolate dignity in her aspect. For the first time in their
unequal intercourse they were on an equal footing. Helen was aware of
Althea, and, in a vague flash, for self-contemplation was difficult to
her, she was aware of some of the things that Althea saw: the lack of
tenderness; the lack of imagination; the indifference to all that did
not come within the circle of her own tastes and affections. It was just
as Franklin had said, and Gerald, and now Althea; her heart was hard.
And she was sorry, though she did not know what she was to do; for
though she was sorry for Althea her heart did not soften for her as it
had softened for Franklin, and for the thought of Franklin--too good for
them all, sacrificed to them all. It was the thought of the cruelty of
nature, making of Franklin, with all his wealth of love, a creature
never to be desired, that gave to her vision of life, and of all this
strange predicament in which life had involved them, an ironic colour
incompatible with the warmth of trust and tenderness which Franklin had
felt lacking in her. She was ironic, she was hard, and she must make the
best of it. But it was in a gentle voice that, looking at her friend's
melancholy head, she asked: 'Who told you that?'

'Mrs. Mallison,' said Althea. 'I've been a hypocrite to you all the
morning.'

'And I have been an odious prig to you. That ass of a Kitty Mallison. I
had not intended any one to know for months.' Even in her discomfiture
Helen retained her tact. She did not say 'we.'

'For my sake, I suppose?'

'Oh no! why for yours?' Helen was determined that Althea should be hurt
no further. If pity for Franklin had edged her voice, pity for Althea
must keep from her the blighting knowledge of Franklin's sacrifice.

'It was we who were left, wasn't it--Gerald and I? I don't want us to
appear before people's eyes at once as consolation prizes to each
other.'

Althea now turned a sombre gaze upon her. 'He couldn't be that to you,
since you've never loved Franklin; and I know that you are not that to
him; Gerald didn't need to be consoled for losing me. He did need to be
consoled when he heard that you were marrying Franklin. I remember the
day that your letter came--the letter that said you were engaged. That
really ended things for us.' Her lip trembled. 'It is easy for you to
say that I didn't stick to Gerald because he didn't love me enough. How
could I have stuck to some one who, I see it well enough now, was
beginning to love some one else?'

Helen contemplated her and the truths she put before her. 'Try to
forgive me,' she said.

'There's nothing to forgive,' said Althea, rising. 'You told me the
truth, and what I had said was so despicable that I deserved to have it
told to me. All the mistakes are mine. I've wanted things that I've no
right to; I suppose it's that. You and I weren't made for each other,
just as Gerald and I weren't, and it's all only my mistake and my
misfortune--for wanting and loving people who couldn't want or love me.
I see it all at last, and it's all over. Good-bye, Helen.' She put out
her hand.

'Oh, but don't--don't----' Helen clasped her hand, strangely shaken by
impulses of pity and self-reproach that yet left her helpless before her
friend's sincerity. 'Don't say you are going to give me up,' she
finished, and tears stood in her eyes.

'I'm afraid I must give up all sorts of things,' said Althea, smiling
desolately. 'If we hadn't got so near, we might have gone on. I'm afraid
when people aren't made for each other they can't get so near without
its breaking them. Good-bye. I shall try to be worthy of Franklin. I
shall try to make him happy.'




CHAPTER XXXV.


She drove back to her hotel. She felt very tired. The world she gazed at
seemed vast and alien, a world in which she had no place. The truth had
come to her and she looked at it curiously, almost indifferently. London
flowed past her, long tides of purpose to right and left. The trees in
Green Park were softly blurred on the chill, white sky. She looked at
the trees and sky and at the far lift of Piccadilly, blackened with
traffic, and, at the faces that went by, as if it were all a vast
cinematograph and she the idlest of spectators. And it was here that
love had first come to her, and here that despair had come. Now both
were over and she accepted her defeat.

She thought, when the hotel was reached, and as she went upstairs, that
she would go to bed and try to sleep. But when she entered her little
sitting-room she found Franklin there waiting for her. He had been
reading the newspapers before the fire and had risen quickly on hearing
her step. It was as if she had forgotten Franklin all this time.

She stood by the door that she had closed, and gazed at him. It was
without will, or hope, or feeling that she gazed, as if he were a part
only of that alien world she had looked at, and this outward seeing was
relentless. A meagre, commonplace, almost comic little man. She saw
behind him his trite and colourless antecedents; she saw before him--and
her--the future, trite and colourless too, but for the extraneous
glitter of the millions that surrounded him as incongruously as a halo
would have done. He was an angel, of course; he was good; but he was
only that; there were no varieties, no graces, no mysteries. His very
interests were as meagre as his personality; he had hardly a taste,
except the taste for doing his best. Books, music, pictures--all the
great world of beauty and intellect that the world of goodness and
workaday virtues existed, perhaps, only to make possible--its finer,
more ethereal superstructure--only counted for Franklin as recreations,
relaxations, things half humorously accepted as one accepts a glass of
lemonade on a hot day. Not only was he without charm, but he was unaware
of charm; he didn't see it or feel it or need it. And she, who had seen
and felt, she who had known Gerald and Helen, must be satisfied with
this. It was this that she must strive to be worthy of. She was
unworthy, and she knew it; but that acceptation was only part of the
horror of defeat. And the soulless gaze with which she looked at him
oddly chiselled her pallid face. She was like a dumb, classic mask, too
impersonal for tragedy. Her lips were parted in their speechlessness and
her eyes vacant of thought.

Then, after that soulless seeing, she realised that she had frightened
Franklin. He came to her. 'Dear--what is the matter?' he asked.

He came so near that she looked into his eyes. She looked deeply, for a
long time, in silence. And while she looked, while Franklin's hands
gently found and held hers, life came to her with dreadful pain again.
She felt, rather than knew--and with a long shudder--that the world was
vast; she felt and feared it as vast and alien. She felt that she was
alone, and the loneliness was a terror, beating upon her. And she
felt--no longer seeing anything but the deeps of Franklin's eyes--that
he was her only refuge; and closing her own eyes she stumbled towards
him and he received her in his arms.

They sat on the sofa, and Franklin clasped her while she wept, and she
seemed to re-enter childhood where all that she wanted was to cry her
heart out and have gentle arms around her while she confessed every
wrong-doing that had made a barrier between herself and her mother's
heart. 'O Franklin,' she sobbed, 'I'm so unhappy!'

He said nothing, soothing her as a mother might have done.

'Franklin, I loved him!' she sobbed. 'It was real: it was the reallest
thing that ever happened to me. I only sent for you because I knew that
he didn't love me. I loved him too much to go on if he didn't love me.
What I have suffered, Franklin. And now he is going to marry Helen. He
loves Helen. And I am not worthy of you.'

'Poor child,' said Franklin. He pressed his lips to her hair.

'You know, Franklin?'

'Yes, I know, dear.'

'I am not worthy of you,' Althea repeated. 'I have been weak and
selfish. I've used you--to hide from myself--because I was too
frightened to stand alone and give up things.'

'Well, you shan't stand alone any more,' said Franklin.

'But, Franklin--dear--kind Franklin--why should you marry me? I don't
love you--not as I loved him. I only wanted you because I was afraid. I
must tell you all the truth. I only want you now, and cling to you like
this, because I am afraid, because I can't go on alone and have nothing
to live for.'

'You'll have me now, dear,' said Franklin. 'You'll try that, won't you,
and perhaps you'll find it more worth while than you think.'

Something more now than fear and loneliness and penitence was piercing
her. His voice: poor Franklin's voice. What had she done to him? What
had they all done to him among them? And dimly, like the memory of a
dream, yet sharply, too, as such memory may be sharp, there drifted for
Althea the formless fear that hovered--formless yet urgent--when
Franklin had come to her in her desperate need. It hovered, and it
seemed to shape itself, as if through delicate curves of smoke, into
Helen's face--Helen's eyes and smile. Helen, charm embodied; Helen, all
the things that Franklin could never be; all the things she had believed
till now, Franklin could never feel or need. What did she know of
Franklin? so the fear whispered softly. What had Helen done to Franklin?
What had it meant to Franklin, that strange mingling with magic?

She could never ask. She could never know. It would hover and whisper
always, the fear that had yet its beauty. It humbled her and it lifted
Franklin. He was more than she had believed. She had believed him all
hers, to take; but it was he who had given himself to her, and there
was an inmost shrine--ah, was there not?--that was not his to give. And
pity, deep pity, and sadness immeasurable for a loss not hers alone, was
in her as she sobbed: 'Ah, it is only because you are sorry for me. I
have killed all the rest. You are not in love with me any
longer--poor--poor Franklin--and everything is spoiled.'

But Franklin could show her that he had seen the fear, and yet that life
was not spoiled by shrines in each heart from which the other was shut
out. It was difficult to know how to say it; difficult to tell her that
some truth she saw and yet that there was more truth for them
both--plenty of truth, as he would have said, for them both to live on.
And though it took him a little while to find the words, he did find
them at last, completely, for her and for himself, saying gently, while
he held her, 'No, it isn't, dear. It's not spoiled. It's not the
same--for either of us--is it?--but it isn't spoiled. We've taken
nothing from each other; some things weren't ours, that's all. And even
if you don't much want to marry me, you must please have me, now;
because I want to marry you. I want to live for you so much that by
degrees, I feel sure of it, you'll want to live for me, too. We must
live for each other; we've got each other. Isn't that enough, Althea?'

'Is it--_is_ it enough?' she sobbed.

'I guess it is,' said Franklin.

His voice was sane and sweet, even if it was sad. It seemed the voice of
life. Althea closed her eyes and let it fold her round. Only with
Franklin could she find consolation in her defeat, or strength to live
without the happiness that had failed her. Only Franklin could console
her for having to take Franklin. Was that really all that it came to?
No, she felt it growing, as they sat in silence, her sobs quieting, her
head on his shoulder; it came to more. But she saw nothing clearly after
the hateful, soulless seeing. The only clear thing was that it was good
to be with Franklin.



THE END.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN.

ESTABLISHED 1798
[Illustration:]
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THE NELSON LIBRARY.

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   CONDENSED LIST.

  _Arranged alphabetically under Authors' Names._

  BAILEY, H. C.
    Springtime.
    Beaujeu.

  BECKE, LOUIS.
    Edward Barry, South Sea Pearler.

  BELLOC, HILAIRE.
    Mr. Clutterbuck's Election.
    The Girondin.

  BENSON, E. F.
    Daisy's Aunt.
    The Luck of the Vails.
    The Money Market.
    The Osbornes.
    The Princess Sophia.

  BENTLEY, E. C.
    Trent's Last Case.

  BIRMINGHAM, GEORGE A.
    The Simpkins Plot.
    The Inviolable Sanctuary.

  BLACK, WILLIAM.
    White Heather.

  BRADDON, Miss.
    Lady Audley's Secret.
    Vixen.

  BRAMAH, ERNEST.
    The Secret of the League.

  BUCHAN, JOHN.
    Prester John.

  BURNETT, MRS. F. H.
    The Making of a Marchioness.

  By The Author of "Elizabeth and
  her German Garden."
    Princess Priscilla's Fortnight.

  CAINE, HALL.
    A Son of Hagar.

  CAPES, BERNARD.
    Jemmy Abercraw.

  CARR, M. E.
    The Poison of Tongues.

  CASTLE, A. and E.
    If Youth but Knew.
    Incomparable Bellairs.
    French Nan.
    The Rose of the World.
    The Panther's Cub.

  CHILDERS, ERSKINE.
    The Riddle of the Sands.

  CHOLMONDELEY, MARY.
    Red Pottage.

  CLIFFORD, MRS. W. K.
    Woodside Farm.

  CONRAD, JOSEPH.
    Romance.

  COPPING, A.
    Gotty and the Guv'nor.

  COURLANDER, A.
    Mightier than the Sword.

  DOUGLAS, GEORGE.
    The House with the Green Shutters.

  DOYLE, A. CONAN.
    The Refugees.
    The Great Shadow.
    Micah Clarke.
    The Sign of Four.
    Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
    The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard.
    The Hound of the Baskervilles.

  DUNCAN, SARA JEANETTE.
    Set in Authority.

  FALKNER, J. MEADE.
    Moonfleet.

  FINDLATER, MARY AND JANE.
    Crossriggs.

  FORREST, R. E.
    Eight Days.

  FUTRELLE, JACQUES.
    The Lady in the Case.

  GARNETT, MRS.
    The Infamous John Friend.

  GISSING, GEORGE.
    Odd Women.
    Born in Exile.

  GRIER, SYDNEY.
    The Warden of the Marches.

  HARLAND, HENRY.
    The Cardinal's Snuff-Box.
    My Friend Prospero.

  HARRADEN, BEATRICE.
    Katharine Frensham.
    Interplay.
    Out of the Wreck I Rise.

  HOBBES, JOHN OLIVER.
    Love and the Soul-hunters.

  HOPE, ANTHONY.
    The Intrusions of Peggy.
    Quisante.
    The King's Mirror.
    The God in the Car.
    Count Antonio.
    The Dolly Dialogues.
    The Prisoner of Zenda.
    A Man of Mark.
    Rupert of Hentzau.
    Sophy of Kravonia.
    Tristram of Blent.
    The Great Miss Driver.
    Simon Dale.
    Tales of Two People.

  HORNUNG, E. W.
    Raffles.
    Mr. Justice Raffles.
    A Thief in the Night: the Last Chronicles of Raffles.
    Stingaree.

  HYNE, C. J. CUTCLIFFE.
    Thompson's Progress.
    Mr. Horrocks, Purser.

  JACOB, VIOLET.
    The Interloper.

  JACOBS, W. W.
    The Lady of the Barge.
    The Skipper's Wooing.

  JAMES, HENRY.
    The American.

  LAWLESS, Hon. EMILY.
    Hurrish.

  LONDON, JACK.
    White Fang.
    Adventure.
    A Daughter of the Snows.

  LORIMER, G. H.
    Old Gorgon Graham.

  MACNAUGHTAN, S.
    The Fortune of Christina M'Nab.
    A Lame Dog's Diary.
    Selah Harrison.
    The Expensive Miss Du Cane.
    The Gift.

  MACKAY, L. MILLER.
    Return of the Emigrant.

  MALET, LUCAS.
    The Wages of Sin.
    The Gateless Barrier.

  MARSHALL, ARCHIBALD.
    Exton Manor.

  MASEFIELD, JOHN.
    Captain Margaret.
    Multitude and Solitude.

  MASON, A. E. W.
    Clementina.
    The Four Feathers.
    The Broken Road.

  MERRICK, LEONARD.
    The House of Lynch.
    The Call from the Past.

  MERRIMAN, H. SETON.
    The Last Hope.
    The Isle of Unrest.
    The Vultures.
    In Kedar's Tents.
    Roden's Corner.
    Barlasch of the Guard.
    The Velvet Glove.

  MORRISON, ARTHUR.
    A Child of the Jago.

  NICHOLSON, MEREDITH.
    The War of the Carolinas.
    The House of a Thousand Candles.

  NORRIS, FRANK.
    The Octopus.
    The Pit.
    Shanghaied.

  OLLIVANT, ALFRED.
    Owd Bob.

  PAIN, BARRY.
    The One Before.

  PARKER, SIR GILBERT.
    The Battle of the Strong.
    The Translation of a Savage.
    An Adventurer of the North.
    When Valmond came to Pontiac.
    The Right of Way.
    Donovan Pasha.
    The Seats of the Mighty.

  PASTURE, Mrs. H. De La.
    The Man from America.
    The Lonely Lady of Grosvenor Square.
    The Grey Knight.

  PHILLPOTTS, EDEN.
    The American Prisoner.
    The Farm of the Dagger.

  PRIOR, JAMES.
    Forest Folk.
    A Walking Gentleman.

  "Q."
    Sir John Constantine.
    Major Vigoureux.
    Shining Ferry.
    True Tilda.
    Lady Good-for-Nothing.
    Hetty Wesley.

  RIDGE, W. PETT.
    Mrs. Galer's Business.

  ROBERTS, MORLEY.
    Salt of the Sea.

  ROBINS, E.
    Come and Find Me.
    The Open Question.

  SAVILE, FRANK.
    The Road.

  SEDGWICK, Miss A. D.
    Valerie Upton.

  SIDGWICK, Mrs. A.
    Cynthia's Way.
    Cousin Ivo.

  SILBERRAD, UNA L.
    The Good Comrade.
    John Bolsover.
    Ordinary People.

  SNAITH, J. C.
    Fortune.

  STEEL, FLORA ANNIE.
    The Potter's Thumb.
    On the Face of the Waters.

  TARKINGTON, BOOTH.
    Monsieur Beaucaire, and The Beautiful Lady.
    The Gentleman from Indiana.

  TWAIN, MARK.
    Tom Sawyer.
    Huckleberry Finn.

  VACHELL, H. A.
    John Charity.
    The Waters of Jordan.
    The Other Side.
    The Paladin.
    Brothers.

  VERNEDE, R. E.
    The Pursuit of Mr. Faviel.

  WARD, MRS. HUMPHRY.
    The Marriage of William Ashe.
    Robert Elsmere.
    Marcella.
    Lady Rose's Daughter.
    Sir George Tressady.
    Helbeck of Bannisdale.
    Eleanor.

  WELLS, H. G.
    Kipps.
    The Food of the Gods.
    Love and Mr. Lewisham.
    The First Men in the Moon.
    The Sleeper Awakes.
    The Invisible Man.
    The History of Mr. Polly.
    The Country of the Blind.
    The War in the Air.

  WEYMAN, STANLEY J.
    The House of the Wolf.
    A Gentleman of France.
    Sophia.

  WHITE, STEWART E.
    The Blazed Trail.
    Rules of the Game.

  WHITEING, RICHARD.
    No. 5 John Street.

  WILLIAMSON, C. N. and A. M.
    The Princess Passes.
    Love and the Spy.
    The Lightning Conductor.


T. NELSON & SONS, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York.





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