Infomotions, Inc.The Whirlpool / Gissing, George, 1857-1903



Author: Gissing, George, 1857-1903
Title: The Whirlpool
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): alma; harvey; rolfe; carnaby; sibyl; hugh; hugh carnaby; harvey rolfe
Contributor(s): Smiles, Samuel, 1812-1904 [Editor]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 163,245 words (average) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 66 (easy)
Identifier: etext4299
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Title: The Whirlpool

Author: George Gissing

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Edited by Charles Aldarondo Aldarondo@yahoo.com




George Gissing

The Whirlpool



Part the First



CHAPTER 1


Harvey Rolfe was old enough to dine with deliberation, young and healthy
enough to sauce with appetite the dishes he thoughtfully selected. You
perceived in him the imperfect epicure. His club had no culinary fame;
the dinner was merely tolerable; but Rolfe's unfinished palate flattered
the second-rate cook. He knew nothing of vintages; it sufficed him to
distinguish between Bordeaux and Burgundy; yet one saw him raise his
glass and peer at the liquor with eye of connoisseur. All unaffectedly;
for he was conscious of his shortcoming in the art of delicate living,
and never vaunted his satisfactions. He had known the pasture of
poverty, and the table as it is set by London landladies; to look back
on these things was to congratulate himself that nowadays he dined.

Beyond the achievement of a vague personal distinction at the
Metropolitan Club, he had done nothing to make himself a man of note,
and it was doubtful whether more than two or three of the members really
liked him or regarded him with genuine interest. His introduction to
this circle he owed to an old friend, Hugh Carnaby, whose social
position was much more clearly defined: Hugh Carnaby, the rambler, the
sportsman, and now for a twelvemonth the son-in-law of Mrs. Ascott
Larkfield. Through Carnaby people learnt as much of his friend's history
as it concerned anyone to know: that Harvey Rolfe had begun with the
study of medicine, had given it up in disgust, subsequently was 'in
business', and withdrew from it on inheriting a competency. They were
natives of the same county, and learnt their Latin together at the
Grammar School of Greystone, the midland town which was missed by the
steam highroad, and so preserves much of the beauty and tranquillity of
days gone by. Rolfe seldom spoke of his own affairs, but in talking of
travel he had been heard to mention that his father had engineered
certain lines of foreign railway. It seemed that Harvey had no purpose
in life, save that of enjoying himself. Obviously he read a good deal,
and Carnaby credited him with profound historical knowledge; but he
neither wrote nor threatened to do so. Something of cynicism appeared in
his talk of public matters; politics amused him, and his social views
lacked consistency, tending, however, to an indolent conservatism.
Despite his convivial qualities, he had traits of the reserved, even of
the unsociable, man: a slight awkwardness in bearing, a mute shyness
with strangers, a hesitancy in ordinary talk, and occasional bluntness
of assertion or contradiction, suggesting a contempt which possibly he
did not intend. Hugh Carnaby declared that the true Rolfe only showed
himself after a bottle of wine; maintained, moreover, that Harvey had
vastly improved since he entered upon a substantial income. When Rolfe
was five and twenty, Hugh being two years younger, they met after a long
separation, and found each other intolerable; a decade later their
meeting led to hearty friendship. Rolfe had become independent, and was
tasting his freedom in a twelvemonth's travel. The men came face to face
one day on the deck of a steamer at Port Said. Physically, Rolfe had
changed so much that the other had a difficulty in recognising him;
morally, the change was not less marked, as Carnaby very soon became
aware. At thirty-seven this process of development was by no means
arrested, but its slow and subtle working escaped observation unless it
were that of Harvey Rolfe himself.

His guest this evening, in a quiet corner of the dining-room where he
generally sat, was a man, ten years his junior, named Morphew: slim,
narrow-shouldered, with sandy hair, and pale, delicate features of more
sensibility than intelligence; restless, vivacious, talking incessantly
in a low, rapid voice, with frequent nervous laughs which threw back his
drooping head. A difference of costume -- Rolfe wore morning dress,
Morphew the suit of ceremony -- accentuated the younger man's advantage
in natural and acquired graces; otherwise, they presented the contrast
of character and insignificance. Rolfe had a shaven chin, a weathered
complexion, thick brown hair; the penumbra of middle-age had touched his
countenance, softening here and there a line which told of temperament
in excess. At this moment his manner inclined to a bluff jocularity, due
in some measure to the bottle of wine before him, as also was the tinge
of colour upon his cheek; he spoke briefly, but listened with smiling
interest to his guest's continuous talk. This ran on the subject of the
money-market, with which the young man boasted some practical
acquaintance.

'You don't speculate at all?' Morphew asked.

'Shouldn't know how to go about it,' replied the other in his deeper
note.

'It seems to me to be the simplest thing in the world if one is content
with moderate profits. I'm going in for it seriously -- cautiously -- as
a matter of business. I've studied the thing -- got it up as I used to
work at something for an exam. And here, you see, I've made five pounds
at a stroke -- five pounds! Suppose I make that every now and then, it's
worth the trouble, you know -- it mounts up. And I shall never stand to
lose much. You see, it's Tripcony's interest that I should make
profits.'

'I'm not quite sure of that.'

'Oh, but it _is_! Let me explain --'

These two had come to know each other under peculiar circumstances a
year ago. Rolfe was at Brussels, staying -- his custom when abroad -- at
a hotel unfrequented by English folk. One evening on his return from the
theatre, he learnt that a young man of his own nationality lay seriously
ill in a room at the top of the house. Harvey, moved by compassion,
visited the unfortunate Englishman, listened to his ravings, and played
the part of Good Samaritan. On recovery, the stranger made full
disclosure of his position. Being at Brussels on a holiday, he had got
into the company of gamblers, and, after winning a large sum (ten
thousand francs, he declared), had lost not only that, but all else.
that he possessed, including his jewellery. He had gambled deliberately;
he wanted money, money, and saw no other way of obtaining it. In the
expansive mood of convalescence, Cecil Morphew left no detail of his
story unrevealed. He was of gentle birth, and had a private income of
three hundred pounds, charged upon the estate of a distant relative; his
profession (the bar) could not be remunerative for years, and other
prospects he had none. The misery of his situation lay in the fact that
he was desperately in love with the daughter of people who looked upon
him as little better than a pauper. The girl had pledged herself to him,
but would not marry without her parents' consent, of which there was no
hope till he had at least trebled his means. His choice of a profession
was absurd, dictated merely by social opinion; he should have been
working hard in a commercial office, or at some open-air pursuit.
Naturally he turned again to the thought of gambling, this time the
great legalised game of hazard, wherein he was as little likely to
prosper as among the blacklegs of Brussels. Rolfe liked him for his
ingenuousness, and for the vein of poetry in his nature. The love affair
still went on, but Morphew seldom alluded to it, and his seasoned friend
thought of it as a youthful ailment which would pass and be forgotten.

'I'm convinced,' said the young man presently, 'that any one who really
gives his mind to it can speculate with moderate success. Look at the
big men -- the brokers and the company promoters, and so on; I've met
some of them, and there's nothing in them -- nothing! Now, there's
Bennet Frothingham. You know him, I think?'

Rolfe nodded.

'Well, what do you think of him? Isn't he a very ordinary fellow? How
has he got such a position? I'm told he began just in a small way -- by
chance. No doubt _he_ found it so easy to make money he was surprised at
his success. Tripcony has told me a lot about him. Why, the "Britannia"
brings him fifteen thousand a year; and he must be in a score of other
things.'

'I know nothing about the figures,' said Rolfe, 'and I shouldn't put
much faith in Tripcony; but Frothingham, you may be sure, isn't quite an
ordinary man.'

'Ah, well, of course there's a certain knack -- and then, experience --'

Morphew emptied his glass, and refilled it. Nearly all the tables in the
room were now occupied, and the general hum of talk gave security to
intimate dialogue. Flushed and bright-eyed, the young man presently
leaned forward.

'If I could count upon five hundred, she would take the step.'

'Indeed?'

'Yes, that's settled. What do you think? Plenty of people live very well
on less.'

'You want my serious opinion?'

'If you _can_ be serious.'

'Then I think that the educated man who marries on less than a thousand
is either mad or a criminal.'

'Bosh! We won't talk about it.'

They rose, and walked towards the smoking-room, Rolfe giving a nod here
and there as he passed acquaintances. In the hall someone addressed him.

'How does Carnaby take this affair?'

'What affair?'

'Don't you know? Their house has been robbed -- stripped. It's in the
evening papers.'

Rolfe went on into the smoking-room, and read the report of his friend's
misfortune. The Carnabys occupied a house in Hamilton Terrace. During
their absence from home last night, there had been a clean sweep of all
such things of value as could easily be removed. The disappearance of
their housekeeper, and the fact that this woman had contrived the
absence of the servants from nine o'clock till midnight, left no mystery
in the matter. The clubmen talked of it with amusement. Hard lines, to
be sure, for Carnaby, and yet harder for his wife, who had lost no end
of jewellery; but the thing was so neatly and completely done, one must
needs laugh. One or two husbands who enjoyed the luxury of a housekeeper
betrayed their uneasiness. A discussion arose on the characteristics of
housekeepers in general, and spread over the vast subject of domestic
management, not often debated at the Metropolitan Club. In general talk
of this kind Rolfe never took part; smoking his pipe, he listened and
laughed, and was at moments thoughtful. Cecil Morphew, rapidly consuming
cigarettes as he lay back in a soft chair, pointed the moral of the
story in favour of humble domesticity.

In half an hour, his guest having taken leave, Rolfe put on his
overcoat, and stepped out into the cold, clammy November night. He was
overtaken by a fellow Metropolitan -- a grizzled, scraggy-throated,
hollow-eyed man, who laid a tremulous hand upon his arm.

'Excuse me, Mr. Rolfe, have you seen Frothingham recently?'

'Not for a month.'

'Ah! I thought perhaps -- I was wondering what he thought about the
Colebrook smash. To tell you the truth, I've heard unpleasant rumours.
Do you -- should you think the Colebrook affair would affect the
"Britannia" in any way?'

It was not the first time that this man had confided his doubts and
timidities to Harvey Rolfe; he had a small, but to him important,
interest in Bennet Frothingham's wide-reaching affairs, and seemed to
spend most of his time in eliciting opinion on the financier's
stability.

'Wouldn't you be much more comfortable,' said Rolfe, rather bluntly, 'if
you had your money in some other kind of security?'

'Ah, but, my dear sir, twelve and a half per cent -- twelve and a half!
I hold preference shares of the original issue.'

'Then I'm afraid you must take your chance.'

'But,' piped the other in alarm, 'you don't mean that --'

'I mean nothing, and know nothing. I'm the last man to consult about
such things.'

And Rolfe, with an abrupt 'Goodnight,' beckoned to a passing hansom. The
address he gave was Hugh Carnaby's, in Hamilton Terrace.

Twice already the horse had slipped at slimy crossings, when, near the
top of Regent Street, it fell full length, and the abrupt stoppage
caused a collision of wheels with another hansom which was just passing
at full speed in the same direction. Rolfe managed to alight in the
ordinary way, and at once heard himself greeted by a familiar voice from
the other cab. His acquaintance showed a pallid, drawn, all but
cadaverous visage, with eyes which concealed pain or weariness under
their friendly smile. Abbott was the man's name. Formerly a lecturer at
a provincial college, he had resigned his post on marrying, and taken to
journalism.

'I want to speak to you, Rolfe,' he said hurriedly, 'but I haven't a
moment to spare. Going to Euston -- could you come along for a few
minutes?'

The vehicles were not damaged; Abbott's driver got quickly out of the
crowd, and the two men continued their conversation.

'Do you know anything of Wager?' inquired the journalist, with a
troubled look.

'He came to see me a few evenings ago -- late.'

'Ha, he did! To borrow money, wasn't it?'

'Well, yes.'

'I thought so. He came to me for the same. Said he'd got a berth at
Southampton. Lie, of course. The fellow has disappeared, and left his
children -- left them in a lodging-house at Hammersmith. How's that for
cool brutality? The landlady found my wife's address, and came to see
her. Address left out on purpose, I dare say. There was nothing for it
but to take care of the poor little brats. -- Oh, damn!'

'What's the matter?'

'Neuralgia -- driving me mad. Teeth, I think. I'll have every one
wrenched out of my head if this goes on. Never mind. What do you think
of Wager?'

'I remember, when we were at Guy's, he used to advocate the
nationalisation of offspring. Probably he had some personal interest in
the matter, even then.'

'Hound! I don't know whether to set the police after him or not. It
wouldn't benefit the children. I suppose it's no use hunting for his
family?'

'Not much, I should say.'

'Well, lucky we have no children of our own. Worst of it is, I don't
like the poor little wretches, and my wife doesn't either. We must find
a home for them.'

'I say, Abbott, you must let me go halves at that.'

'Hang it, no! Why should you support Wager's children? They're relatives
of ours, unfortunately. But I wanted to tell you that I'm going down to
Waterbury.' He looked at his watch. 'Thirteen minutes -- shall I do it?
There's a good local paper, the _Free Press_, and I have the offer of
part-ownership. I shall buy, if possible, and live in the country for a
year or two, to pick up my health. Can't say I love London. Might get
into country journalism for good. Curse this torment!'

In Tottenham Court Road, Rolfe bade his friend goodbye, and the cab
rushed on.


CHAPTER 2


It was half past ten when Rolfe knocked at the door in Hamilton Terrace.
He learnt from the servant that Mr. Carnaby was at home, and had
company. In the room known as the library, four men sat smoking; their
voices pealed into the hall as the door opened, and a boisterous welcome
greeted the newcomer's appearance.

'Come to condole?' cried Hugh, striding forward with his
man-of-the-wide-world air, and holding out his big hand. 'No doubt
they're having a high old time at the club. Does it please them? Does it
tickle them?'

'Why, naturally. There's the compensation, my boy -- you contribute to
the gaiety of your friends.'

Carnaby was a fair example of the well-bred, well-fed Englishman --
tall, brawny, limber, not uncomely, with a red neck, a powerful jaw, and
a keen eye. Something more of repose, of self-possession, and a slightly
more intellectual brow, would have made him the best type of conquering,
civilising Briton. He came of good family, but had small inheritance;
his tongue told of age-long domination; his physique and carriage showed
the horseman, the game-stalker, the nomad. Hugh had never bent over
books since the day when he declined the university and got leave to
join Colonel Bosworth's exploring party in the Caucasus. After a boyhood
of straitened circumstances, he profited by a skilful stewardship which
allowed him to hope for some seven hundred a year; his elder brother,
Miles, a fine fellow, who went into the army, pinching himself to
benefit Hugh and their sister Ruth. Miles was now Major Carnaby, active
on the North-West Frontier. Ruth was wife of a missionary in some land
of swamps; doomed by climate, but of spirit indomitable. It seemed
strange that Hugh, at five and thirty, had done nothing particular.
Perhaps his income explained it -- too small for traditional purposes,
just large enough to foster indolence. For Hugh had not even followed up
his promise of becoming an explorer; he had merely rambled, mostly in
pursuit of fowl or quadruped. When he married, all hope for him was at
an end. The beautiful and brilliant daughter of a fashionable widow, her
income a trifle more than Carnaby's own; devoted to the life of cities,
wherein she shone; an enchantress whose spell would not easily be
broken, before whom her husband bowed in delighted subservience -- such
a woman might flatter Hugh's pride, but could scarce be expected to draw
out his latent energies and capabilities. This year, for the first time,
he had visited no wild country; his journeying led only to Paris, to
Vienna. In due season he shot his fifty brace on somebody's grouse-moor,
but the sport did not exhilarate him.

An odd and improbable alliance, that between Hugh Carnaby and Harvey
Rolfe. Yet in several ways they suited each other. Old-time memories had
a little, not much, to do with it; more of the essence of the matter was
their feeling of likeness in difference. Ten years ago Carnaby felt
inclined to call his old school-fellow a 'cad'; Harvey saw nothing in
Hugh but robust snobbishness. Nowadays they had the pleasant sense of
understanding each other on most points, and the result was a good deal
of honest mutual admiration. The one's physical vigour and adroitness,
the other's active mind, liberal thoughts, studious habits, proved
reciprocally attractive. Though in unlike ways, both were impressively
modern. Of late it had seemed as if the man of open air, checked in his
natural courses, thrown back upon his meditations, turned to the
student, with hope of guidance in new paths, of counsel amid unfamiliar
obstacles. To the observant Rolfe, his friend's position abounded in
speculative interest. With the course of years, each had lost many a
harsher characteristic, whilst the inner man matured. That their former
relations were gradually being reversed, neither perhaps had consciously
noted; but even in the jests which passed between them on Harvey's
arrival this evening, it appeared plainly enough that Hugh Carnaby no
longer felt the slightest inclination to regard his friend as an
inferior.

The room, called library, contained one small case of books, which dealt
with travel and sport. Furniture of the ordinary kind, still new, told
of easy circumstances and domestic comfort. Round about the walls hung a
few paintings and photographs, intermingled with the stuffed heads of
animals slain in the chase, notably that of a great ibex with
magnificent horns.

'Come, now, tell me all about it,' said Rolfe, as he mixed himself a
glass of whisky and water. 'I don't see that anything has gone from this
room.'

'Don't you?' cried his host, with a scornful laugh. 'Where are my
silver-mounted pistols? Where's the ibex-hoof made into a paperweight?
And' -- he raised his voice to a shout of comical despair -- 'where's my
cheque-book?'

'I see.'

'I wish _I_ did. It must break the record for a neat house-robbery,
don't you think? And they'll never be caught -- I'll bet you anything
you like they won't. The job was planned weeks ago; that woman came into
the house with no other purpose.'

'But didn't your wife know anything about her?'

'What can one know about such people? There were references, I believe
-- as valuable as references usually are. She must be an old hand. But
I'm sick of the subject; let's drop it. -- You were interrupted,
Hollings. What about that bustard?'

A very tall, spare man, who seemed to rouse himself from a nap, resumed
his story of bustard-stalking in Spain last spring. Carnaby, who knew
the country well, listened with lively interest, and followed with
reminiscences of his own. He told of a certain boar, shot in the
Sierras, which weighed something like four hundred pounds. He talked,
too, of flamingoes on the 'marismas' of the Guadalquivir; of punting day
after day across the tawny expanse of water; of cooking his meals on
sandy islets at a fire made of tamarisk and thistle; of lying wakeful in
the damp, chilly nights, listening to frogs and bitterns. Then again of
his ibex-hunting on the Cordilleras of Castile, when he brought down
that fine fellow whose head adorned his room, the horns just
thirty-eight inches long. And in the joy of these recollections there
seemed to sound a regretful note, as if he spoke of things gone by and
irrecoverable, no longer for him.

One of the men present had recently been in Cyprus, and mentioned it
with disgust. Rolfe also had visited the island, and remembered it much
more agreeably, his impressions seeming to be chiefly gastronomic; he
recalled the exquisite flavour of Cyprian hares, the fat francolin, the
delicious beccaficoes in commanderia wine; with merry banter from
Carnaby, professing to despise a man who knew nothing of game but its
taste. The conversation reverted to technicalities of sport, full of
terms and phrases unintelligible to Harvey; recounting feats with
'Empress' and 'Paradox', the deadly results of a 'treble A', or of
'treble-nesting slugs', and boasting of a 'right and left with No. 6'.
Hugh appeared to forget all about his domestic calamity; only when his
guests rose did he recur to it, and with an air of contemptuous
impatience. But he made a sign to Rolfe, requesting him to stay, and at
midnight the two friends sat alone together.

'Sibyl has gone to her mother's,' began Hugh in a changed voice. 'The
poor girl takes it pluckily. It's a damnable thing, you know, for a
woman to lose her rings and bracelets and so on -- even such a woman as
Sibyl. She tried to laugh it off, but I could see -- we must buy them
again, that's all. And that reminds me -- what's your real opinion of
Frothingham?'

Harvey laughed.

'When such a lot of people go about asking that question, it would make
_me_ rather uneasy if I had anything at stake.'

'They do? So it struck me. The fact is, we have a good deal at stake.
The dowager swears by Frothingham. I believe every penny she has is in
the "Britannia", one way or another.'

'It's a wide net,' said Rolfe musingly. 'The Britannia Loan, Assurance,
Investment, and Banking Company, Limited. Very good name, I've often
thought.'

'Yes; but, look here, you don't seriously doubt --'

'My opinion is worthless. I know no more of finance than of the Cabala.
Frothingham personally I rather like, and that's all I can say.'

'The fact is, I have been thinking of putting some of my own -- yet I
don't think I shall. We're going away for the winter. Sibyl wants to
give up the house, and I think she's right. For people like us, it's
mere foolery to worry with a house and a lot of servants. We're neither
of us cut out for that kind of thing. Sibyl hates housekeeping. Well,
you can't expect a woman like her to manage a pack of thieving, lying,
lazy servants. The housekeeper idea hasn't been a conspicuous success,
you see, and there's nothing for it but hotel or boarding-house.'

'If you remember,' said Rolfe, 'I hinted something of the kind a year
ago.'

'Yes; but -- well, you know, when people marry they generally look for a
certain natural consequence. If we have no children, it'll be all
right.'

Rolfe meditated for a moment.

'You remember that fellow Wager -- the man you met at Abbott's? His wife
died a year ago, and now he has bolted, leaving his two children in a
lodging-house.'

'What a damned scoundrel!' cried Hugh, with a note of honest
indignation.

'Well, yes; but there's something to be said for him. It's a natural
revolt against domestic bondage. Of course, as things are, someone else
has to bear the bother and expense; but that's only our state of
barbarism. A widower with two young children and no income -- imagine
the position. Of course, he ought to be able to get rid of them in some
legitimate way -- state institution -- anything you like that answers to
reason.'

'I don't know whether it would work.'

'Some day it will. People talk such sentimental rubbish about children.
I would have the parents know nothing about them till they're ten or
twelve years old. They're a burden, a hindrance, a perpetual source of
worry and misery. Most wives are sacrificed to the next generation -- an
outrageous absurdity. People snivel over the deaths of babies; I see
nothing to grieve about. If a child dies, why, the probabilities are it
_ought_ to die; if it lives, it lives, and you get survival of the
fittest. We don't want to choke the world with people, most of them
rickety and wheezing; let us be healthy, and have breathing space.'

'I believe in _that_,' said Carnaby.

'You're going away, then. Where to?'

'That's the point,' replied Hugh, moving uneasily. 'You see, with Sibyl
--. I have suggested Davos. Some people she knows are there -- girls who
go in for tobogganing, and have a good time. But Sibyl's afraid of the
cold. I can't convince her that it's nothing to what we endure here in
the beastliness of a London winter. She hates the thought of ice and
snow and mountains. A great pity; it would do her no end of good. I
suppose we must go to the Riviera.'

He shrugged his shoulders, and for a moment there was silence.

'By-the-bye,' he resumed, 'I have a letter from Miles, and you'd like to
see it.'

From a pile of letters on the table he selected one written on two
sheets of thin paper, and handed it to Rolfe. The writing was bold, the
style vigorous, the matter fresh and interesting. Major Carnaby had no
graces of expression; but all the more engrossing was his brief
narrative of mountain warfare, declaring its truthfulness in every
stroke of the pen.

'Fine fellow!' exclaimed Rolfe, when he had read to the end. 'Splendid
fellow!'

'Isn't he! And he's seeing life.'

'That's where you ought to be, my boy,' remarked Rolfe, between puffs of
tobacco.

'I dare say. No use thinking about it. Too late.'

'If I had a son,' pursued Harvey, smiling at the hypothesis, 'I think
I'd make a fighting man of him, or try to. At all events, he should go
out somewhere, and beat the big British drum, one way or another. I
believe it's our only hope. We're rotting at home -- some of us sunk in
barbarism, some coddling themselves in over-refinement. What's the use
of preaching peace and civilisation, when we know that England's just
beginning her big fight -- the fight that will put all history into the
shade! We have to lead the world; it's our destiny; and we must do it by
breaking heads. That's the nature of the human animal, and will be for
ages to come.'

Carnaby nodded assent.

'If we were all like your brother,' Rolfe went on. 'I'm glad he's
fighting in India, and not in Africa. I can't love the buccaneering
shopkeeper, the whisky-distiller with a rifle -- ugh!'

'I hate that kind of thing. The gold grubbers and diamond bagmen! But
it's part of the march onward. We must have money, you know.'

The speaker's forehead wrinkled, and again he moved uneasily. Rolfe
regarded him with a reflective air.

'That man you saw here tonight,' Carnaby went on, 'the short, thick
fellow -- his name is Dando -- he's just come back from Queensland. I
don't quite know what he's been doing, but he evidently knows a good
deal about mines. He says he has invented a new process for getting gold
out of ore -- I don't know anything about it. In the early days of
mining, he says, no end of valuable stuff was abandoned, because they
couldn't smelt it. Something about pyrites -- I have a vague
recollection of old chemistry lessons. Dando wants to start smelting
works for his new process, somewhere in North Queensland.'

'And wants money, I dare say,' remarked the listener, with a twinkle of
the eye.

'I suppose so. It was Carton that brought him here for the first time, a
week ago. _Might_ be worth thinking about, you know.'

'I have no opinion. My profound ignorance of everything keeps me in a
state of perpetual scepticism. It has its advantages, I dare say.'

'You're very conservative, Rolfe, in your finance.'

'Very.'

'Quite right, no doubt. Could you join us at Nice or some such place?'

'Why, I rather thought of sticking to my books. But if the fogs are very
bad --'

'And you would seriously advise us to give up the house?'

'My dear fellow, how can you hesitate? Your wife is quite right; there's
not one good word to be said for the ordinary life of an English
household. Flee from it! Live anywhere and anyhow, but don't keep house
in England. Wherever I go, it's the same cry: domestic life is played
out. There isn't a servant to be had -- unless you're a Duke and breed
them on your own estate. All ordinary housekeepers are at the mercy of
the filth and insolence of a draggle-tailed, novelette-reading feminine
democracy. Before very long we shall train an army of menservants, and
send the women to the devil.'

'Queer thing, Rolfe,' put in his friend, with a laugh; 'I've noticed it
of late, you're getting to be a regular woman-hater.'

'Not a bit of it. I hate a dirty, lying, incapable creature, that's all,
whether man or woman. No doubt they're more common in petticoats.'

'Been to the Frothinghams' lately?'

'No.'

'I used to think you were there rather often.'

Rolfe gave a sort of grunt, and kept silence.

'To my mind,' pursued the other, 'the best thing about Alma is that she
appreciates my wife. She has really a great admiration for Sibyl; no
sham about it, I'm sure. I don't pretend to know much about women, but I
fancy that kind of thing isn't common -- real friendship and admiration
between them. People always say so, at all events.'

'I take refuge once more,' said Rolfe, 'in my fathomless ignorance.'

He rose from his chair, and sat down again on a corner of the table.
Carnaby stood up, threw his arms above his head, and yawned with animal
vehemence, the expression of an intolerable ennui.

'There's something damnably wrong with us all -- that's the one thing
certain.'

'Idleness, for one thing,' said Rolfe.

'Yes. And I'm too old to do anything. Why didn't I follow Miles into the
army? I think I was more cut out for that than for anything else. I
often feel I should like to go to South Africa and get up a little war
of my own.'

Rolfe shouted with laughter.

'Not half a bad idea, and the easiest thing in the world, no doubt.'

'Nigger-hunting; a superior big game.'

'There's more than that to do in South Africa,' said Harvey. 'I was
looking at a map in Stanford's window the other day, and it amused me.
Who believes for a moment that England will remain satisfied with bits
here and there? We have to swallow the whole, of course. We shall go on
fighting and annexing, until -- until the decline and fall of the
British Empire. That hasn't begun yet. Some of us are so over-civilised
that it makes a reaction of wholesome barbarism in the rest. We shall
fight like blazes in the twentieth century. It's the only thing that
keeps Englishmen sound; commercialism is their curse. Happily, no sooner
do they get fat than they kick, and somebody's shin suffers; then they
fight off the excessive flesh. War is England's Banting.'

'You'd better not talk like that to Sibyl.'

'Why, frankly, old man, I think that's your mistake. But you'll tell me,
and rightly enough, to mind my own business.'

'Nonsense. What do you mean exactly? You think I ought to --'

Hugh hesitated, with an air of uneasiness.

'Well,' pursued his friend cautiously, 'do you think it's right to
suppress your natural instincts? Mightn't it give her a new interest in
life if she came round a little to your point of view?'

'Queer thing, how unlike we are, isn't it?' said Carnaby, with a sudden
drop of his tone to amiable ingenuousness. 'But, you know; we get along
together very well.'

'To be sure. Yet you are going to rust in the Riviera when you want to
be on the Himalayas. Wouldn't it do your wife good to give up her books
and her music for a while and taste fresh air?'

'I doubt if she's strong enough for it.'

'It would make her stronger. And here's a good opportunity. If you give
up housekeeping (and housekeepers), why not reform your life altogether?
Go and have a look at Australia.'

'Sibyl hates the sea.'

'She'd soon get over that. Seriously, you ought to think of it.'

Carnaby set his lips and for a moment hung his head.

'You're quite right. But --'

'A little pluck, old fellow.'

'I'll see what can be done. Have another whisky?'

They went out into the hall, where a dim light through coloured glass
illumined a statue in terracotta, some huge engravings, the massive
antlers of an elk, and furniture in carved oak.

'Queer feeling of emptiness,' said Carnaby, subduing his voice. 'I feel
as if they'd carried off everything, and left bare walls. Sibyl couldn't
stay in the place. Shall I whistle for a cab? By Jove! that reminds me,
the whistle has gone; it happened to be silver. A wedding present from
that fool Benson, who broke his neck in a steeplechase three weeks
after.' Harvey laughed, and stepped out into the watery fog.


CHAPTER 3


A cab crawling at the upper end of the terrace took him quickly home. He
entered with his latch-key as a church clock tolled one.

It was a large house, within a few minutes' walk of Royal Oak Station.
Having struck a match, and lit a candle which stood upon the hall table
(indicating that he was the last who would enter tonight), Harvey put up
the door-chain and turned the great key, then went quietly upstairs. His
rooms were on the first floor. A tenancy of five years, with long
absences, enabled him to regard this niche in a characterless suburb as
in some sort his home; a familiar smell of books and tobacco welcomed
him as he opened the door; remnants of a good fire kept the air warm,
and dispersed a pleasant glow. On shelves which almost concealed the
walls, stood a respectable collection of volumes, the lowest tier
consisting largely of what secondhand booksellers, when invited to
purchase, are wont to call 'tomb-stones' that is to say, old folios, of
no great market value, though good brains and infinite labour went to
the making of them. A great table, at one end of which was a tray with
glasses and a water-bottle, occupied the middle of the floor; nearer the
fireplace was a small writing-desk. For pictures little space could be
found; but over the mantelpiece hung a fine water-colour, the flood of
Tigris and the roofs of Bagdad burning in golden sunset. Harvey had
bought it at the gallery in Pall Mall not long ago; the work of a man of
whom he knew nothing; it represented the farthest point of his own
travels, and touched profoundly his vague historico-poetic
sensibilities.

Three letters lay on the desk. As soon as he had lit his lamp, and
exchanged his boots for slippers, he looked at the envelopes, and chose
one addressed in a woman's hand. The writer was Mrs. Bennet Frothingham.

'We have only just heard, from Mrs. Carnaby, that you are back in town.
_Could_ you spare us tomorrow evening? It would be so nice of you. The
quartet will give Beethoven's F minor, and Alma says it will be well
done -- the conceit of the child! We hope to have some interesting
people What a shocking affair of poor Mrs. Carnaby's! I never knew
anything _quite_ so bad. -- Our united kind regards.'

Harvey thrust out his lips, in an ambiguous expression, as he threw the
sheet aside. He mused before opening the next letter. This proved to be
of startling contents: a few lines scribbled informally, undated,
without signature. A glance at the postmark discovered 'Liverpool'.

'The children are at my last address, -- you know it. I can do no more
for them. If the shabby Abbotts refuse -- as I dare say they will -- it
wouldn't hurt you to keep them from the workhouse. But it's a devilish
hard world, and they must take their chance.'

After a stare and a frown, Harvey woke the echoes with boisterous
laughter. It was long since any passage in writing had so irresistibly
tickled his sense of humour. Well, he must let Abbott know of this. It
might be as well, perhaps, if he called on Mrs. Abbott tomorrow, to
remove any doubt that might remain in her mind. The fellow Wager being
an old acquaintance of his, he could not get rid of a sense of far-off
responsibility in this matter; though, happily, Wager's meeting with Mrs
Abbott's cousin, which led to marriage and misery, came about quite
independently of him.

The last letter he opened without curiosity, but with quiet interest and
pleasure. It was dated from Greystone; the writer, Basil Morton, had a
place in his earliest memories, for, as neighbours' children, they had
played together long before the grammar-school days which allied him
with Hugh Carnaby.

'For aught I know,' began Morton, 'you may at this moment be drifting on
the Euphrates, or pondering on the site of Alexandreia Eschate. It is
you who owe me an account of yourself; nevertheless, I am prompted to
write, if only to tell you that I have just got the complete set of the
Byzantine Historians. A catalogue tempted me, and I did buy.'

And so on in the same strain, until, in speaking of nearer matters, his
style grew simpler.

'Our elder boy begins to put me in a difficulty. As I told you, he has
been brought up on the most orthodox lines of Anglicanism; his mother --
best of mothers and best of wives, but in this respect atavistic -- has
had a free hand, and I don't see how it could have been otherwise. But
now the lad begins to ask awkward questions, and to put me in a corner;
the young rascal is a vigorous dialectician and rationalist -- odd
result of such training. It becomes a serious question how I am to
behave. I cannot bear to distress his mother, yet how can I tell him
that I literally believe those quaint old fables? _Solvetur vivendo_, of
course, like everything else, but just now it worries me a little.
Generally I can see a pretty clear line of duty; here the duty is
divided, with a vengeance. Have you any counsel?'

Harvey Rolfe mumbled impatiently; all domestic matters were a trial to
his nerves. It seemed to him an act of unaccountable folly to marry a
woman from whom one differed diametrically on subjects that lay at the
root of life; and of children he could hardly bring himself to think at
all, so exasperating the complication they introduced into social
problems which defied common-sense. He disliked children; fled the sight
and the sound of them in most cases, and, when this was not possible,
regarded them with apprehension, anxiety, weariness, anything but
interest. In the perplexity that had come upon him, Basil Morton seemed
to have nothing more than his deserts. 'Best of mothers and of wives',
forsooth! An excellent housekeeper, no doubt, but what shadow of
qualification for wifehood and motherhood in this year 1886? The whole
question was disgusting to a rational man -- especially to that vigorous
example of the class, by name Harvey Rolfe.

Late as it was, he did not care to go to bed. This morning he had
brought home a batch of books from the London Library, and he began to
turn them over, with the pleasure of anticipation. Not seldom of late
had Harvey flattered himself on the growth of intellectual gusto which
proceeded in him together with a perceptible decline of baser appetites,
so long his torment and his hindrance. His age was now seven and thirty;
at forty he might hope to have utterly trodden under foot the instincts
at war with mental calm. He saw before him long years of congenial
fellowship, of bracing travel, of well-directed studiousness. Let
problems of sex and society go hang! He had found a better way.

On looking back over his life, how improbable it seemed, this happy
issue out of crudity, turbulence, lack of purpose, weakness,
insincerity, ignorance. First and foremost he had to thank good old Dr
Harvey, of Greystone; then, his sister, sleeping in her grave under the
old chimes she loved; then, surely himself, that seed of good within him
which had survived all adverse influences -- watched, surely, by his
unconscious self, guarded long, and now deliberately nurtured. Might he
not think well of himself.

His library, though for the most part the purchase of late years,
contained books which reminded him of every period of his life. Up
yonder, on the top shelf, were two score volumes which had belonged to
his father, the share that fell to him when he and his sister made the
ordained division: scientific treatises out of date, an old magazine,
old books of travel. Strange that, in his times of folly, he had not
sold these as burdensome rubbish; he was very glad now, when love and
reverence for things gone by began to take hold upon him. There, at the
same height, stood a rank of school-books preserved for him by his
sister till she died; beside them, medical works, relics of his abortive
study when he was neither boy nor man. Descending, the eye fell upon
yellow and green covers, dozens of French novels, acquired at any time
from the year of his majority up to the other day; in the mass, they
reminded him of a frothy season, when he boasted a cheap Gallicism, and
sneered at all things English. A sprinkling of miscellaneous literature
accounted for ten years or more when he cared little to collect books,
when the senses raged in him, and only by miracle failed to hurl him
down many a steep place. Last came the serious acquisitions, the bulk of
his library: solid and expensive works --historians, archaeologists,
travellers, with noble volumes of engravings, and unwieldy tomes of
antique lore. Little enough of all this had Rolfe digested, but more and
more he loved to have erudition within his reach. He began to lack room
for comely storage; already a large bookcase had intruded into his
bedroom. If he continued to purchase, he must needs house himself more
amply; yet he dreaded the thought of a removal.

He knew enough and to spare of life in lodgings. His experience began
when he came up as a lad to Guy's Hospital, when all lodgings in London
shone with the glorious light of liberty. It took a wider scope when,
having grasped his little patrimony, he threw physic to the dogs, and
lived as a gentleman at large. In those days he grew familiar with many
kinds of 'apartments' and their nomadic denizens. Having wasted his
substance, he found refuge in the office of an emigration agent, where,
by slow degrees, he proved himself worth a couple of hundred pounds per
annum. This was the 'business' to which Hugh Carnaby vaguely referred
when people questioned him concerning his friend's history.

Had he possessed the commercial spirit, Harvey might have made his
position in this office much more lucrative. Entering nominally as a
clerk, he undertook from the first a variety of duties which could only
be discharged by a man of special abilities; for instance, the literary
revision of seductive pamphlets and broadsheets issued by his employer
to the public contemplating emigration. These advertisements he
presently composed, and, from the point of view of effectiveness, did it
remarkably well. How far such work might be worthy of an honest man, was
another question, which for several years scarcely troubled his
conscience. Before long a use was found for his slender medical
attainments; it became one of his functions to answer persons who
visited the office for information as to the climatic features of this
or that new country, and their physical fitness for going out as
colonists. Of course, there was demanded of him a radical
unscrupulousness, and often enough he proved equal to the occasion; but
as time went on, bringing slow development of brain and character, he
found these personal interviews anything but agreeable. He had
constantly before him the spectacle of human misery and defeat, now and
then in such dread forms that his heart sank and his tongue refused to
lie. When disgust made him contemplate the possibility of finding more
honourable employment, the manifest difficulties deterred him.

He held the place for nearly ten years, living in the end so soberly and
frugally that his two hundred pounds seemed a considerable income; it
enabled him to spend his annual month of holiday in continental travel,
which now had a significance very different from that of his truancies
in France or Belgium before he began to earn a livelihood. Two deaths, a
year's interval between them, released him from his office. Upon these
events and their issue he had not counted; independence came to him as a
great surprise, and on the path of self-knowledge he had far to travel
before the significance of that and many another turning-point grew
clear to his backward gaze.

Seeking for a comfortable abode, he discovered these rooms in Bayswater.
They were to let furnished, the house being occupied by a widow not
quite of the ordinary type of landlady, who entertained only bachelors,
and was fairly conscientious in the discharge of her obligations. Six
months later, during Harvey's absence abroad, this woman died, and on
his return the house had already been stripped of furniture. For a
moment he inclined to take a house of his own, but from this perilous
experiment he was saved by an intimation that, if he were willing to
supply himself with furniture and service, an incoming tenant would let
him occupy his old quarters. Harvey grasped at the offer. His landlord
was a man named Buncombe, a truss manufacturer, who had two children,
and seemingly no wife. The topmost storey Buncombe assigned to relatives
of his own -- a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Handover, with a sickly grownup
son, who took some part in the truss business. For a few weeks Rolfe was
waited upon by a charwoman, whom he paid extravagantly for a maximum of
dirt and discomfort; then the unsatisfactory person fell ill, and,
whilst cursing his difficulties, Harvey was surprised by a visit from
Mrs. Handover, who made an unexpected suggestion -- would Mr. Rolfe accept
her services in lieu of the charwoman's, paying her whatever he had been
accustomed to give? The proposal startled him. Mrs. Handover seemed to
belong pretty much to his own rank of life; he was appalled at the
thought of bidding her scrub floors and wash plates; and indeed it had
begun to dawn upon him that, for a man with more than nine hundred a
year, he was living in a needlessly uncomfortable way. On his reply that
he thought of removing, Mrs. Handover fell into profound depression, and
began to disclose her history. Very early in life she had married a man
much beneath her in station, with the natural result. After some years
of quarrelling, which culminated in personal violence on her husband's
part, she obtained a judicial separation. For a long time the man had
ceased to send her money, and indeed he was become a vagabond pauper,
from whom nothing could be obtained; she depended upon her son, and on
the kindness of Buncombe, who asked no rent. If she could earn a little
money by work, she would be much happier, and with tremulous hope she
had taken this step of appealing to her neighbour in the house.

Harvey could not resist these representations. When the new arrangement
had been in operation for a week or so, Harvey began to reflect upon Mrs
Handover's personal narrative, and in some respects to modify his first
impulsive judgment thereon. It seemed to him not impossible that Mr
Handover's present condition of vagabond pauper might be traceable to
his marriage with a woman who had never learnt the elements of domestic
duty. Thoroughly well-meaning, Mrs. Handover was the most incompetent of
housewives. Yet such was Harvey Rolfe's delicacy, and so intense his
moral cowardice, that year after year he bore with Mrs. Handover's
defects, and paid her with a smile the wages of two first-rate servants.
Dust lay thick about him; he had grown accustomed to it, as to many
another form of sluttishness. After all, he possessed a quiet retreat
for studious hours, and a tolerable sleeping-place, with the advantage
of having his correspondence forwarded to him when he chose to wander.
To be sure, it was not final; one would not wish to grow old and die
amid such surroundings; sooner or later, circumstance would prompt the
desirable change. Circumstance, at this stage of his career, was
Harvey's god; he waited upon its direction with an air of wisdom, of
mature philosophy.

Of his landlord, Buncombe, he gradually learnt all that he cared to
know. The moment came when Buncombe grew confidential, and he, too, had
a matrimonial history to disclose. Poverty played no part in it; his
business flourished, and Mrs. Buncombe, throughout a cohabitation of five
years, made no complaint of her lot. All at once -- so asserted Buncombe
-- the lady began to talk of dullness; for a few months she moped, then
of a sudden left home, and in a day or two announced by letter that she
had taken a place as barmaid at a music-hall. There followed an
interview between husband and wife, with the result, said Buncombe, that
they parted the best of friends, but with an understanding that Mrs
Buncombe should be free to follow her own walk in life, with a moderate
allowance to supplement what she could earn. That was five years ago.
Mrs. Buncombe now sang at second-rate halls, and enjoyed a certain
popularity, which seemed to her an ample justification of the
independence she had claimed. She was just thirty, tolerably
good-looking, and full of the enjoyment of life. Her children,
originally left in the care of her mother, whom Buncombe supported, were
now looked after by the two servants of the house, and Buncombe seemed
to have no conscientious troubles on that score; to Harvey Rolfe's eye
it was plain that the brother and sister were growing up as vicious
little savages, but he permitted himself no remark on the subject.

After a few conversations, he gained an inkling of Buncombe's motive in
taking a house so much larger than he needed. This magnificence was
meant as an attraction to the roaming wife, whom, it was clear, Buncombe
both wished and hoped to welcome back before very long. She did
occasionally visit the house, though only for an hour or two; just to
show, said Buncombe, that there was no ill-feeling. On his part,
evidently, there was none whatever. An easy-going, simple-minded fellow,
aged about forty, with a boyish good temper and no will to speak of, he
seemed never to entertain a doubt of his wife's honesty, and in any case
would probably have agreed, on the least persuasion, to let bygones be
bygones. He spoke rather proudly than otherwise of Mrs. Buncombe's
artistic success.

'It isn't every woman could have done it, you know, Mr. Rolfe.'

'It is not,' Harvey assented.

Only those rooms were furnished which the little family used, five or
six in all; two or three stood vacant, and served as playgrounds for the
children in bad weather. Of his relatives at the top, Buncombe never
spoke; he either did not know, or viewed with indifference, the fact
that Mrs. Handover served his lodger in a menial capacity. About once a
month he invited three or four male friends to a set dinner, and
hilarity could be heard until long after midnight. Altogether it was a
strange household, and, as he walked about the streets of the
neighbourhood, Harvey often wondered what abnormalities even more
striking might be concealed behind the meaningless uniformity of these
heavily respectable housefronts. As a lodger he was content to dwell
here; but sometimes by a freak of imagination he pictured himself a
married man, imprisoned with wife and children amid these leagues of
dreary, inhospitable brickwork, and a great horror fell upon him.

No. In his time he had run through follies innumerable, but from the
supreme folly of hampering himself by marriage, a merciful fate had
guarded him. It was probably the most remarkable fact of his life; it
heightened his self-esteem, and appeared to warrant him in the assurance
that a destiny so protective would round the close of his days with
tranquillity and content.

Upon this thought he lay down to rest. For half an hour Basil Morton's
letter had occupied his mind: he had tried to think out the problem it
set forth, not to leave his friend quite unanswered; but weariness
prevailed, and with it the old mood of self-congratulation.

Next morning the weather was fine; that is to say, one could read
without artificial light, and no rain fell, and far above the house-tops
appeared a bluish glimmer, shot now and then with pale yellowness.
Harvey decided to carry out his intention of calling upon Mrs. Abbott.
She lived at Kilburn, and thither he drove shortly before twelve
o'clock. He was admitted to a very cosy room, where, amid books and
pictures, and by a large fire, the lady of the house sat reading.
Whatever the cause, it seemed to him that his welcome fell short of
cordiality, and he hastened to excuse himself for intruding at so early
an hour.

'I received a letter last night which I thought you had better know of
without delay.'

'From that man -- Mr. Wager?' said Mrs. Abbott quickly and hopefully, her
face brightening.

'Yes. But there's nothing satisfactory in it. He writes from Liverpool,
and merely says that the children are at his lodgings, and he can do no
more for them.'

Mrs. Abbott set her lips in an expression almost of sullenness. Rolfe had
never seen her look thus, but it confirmed a suspicion which he had
harboured concerning her. Why, he hardly knew -- for she always
presented a face of amiability, and talked in gentle, womanly tones --
doubt as to Abbott's domestic felicity haunted his mind. Perhaps he now
saw her, for the first time, as she commonly appeared to her husband --
slightly peevish, unwilling to be disturbed, impatient when things did
not run smoothly.

'You saw my husband yesterday?' was her next remark, not very graciously
uttered.

'We met in the street last night -- before I got Wager's letter. He was
suffering horribly from neuralgia.'

Harvey could not forbear to add this detail, but he softened his voice
and smiled.

'I don't wonder at it,' returned the lady; 'he takes no care of
himself.'

Harvey glanced about the room. Its furnishing might be called luxurious,
and the same standard of comfort prevailed through the house.
Considering that Edgar Abbott, as Rolfe knew, married on small means,
and that he had toiled unremittingly to support a home in which he could
seldom enjoy an hour's leisure, there seemed no difficulty in explaining
this neglect of his own health. It struck the visitor that Mrs. Abbott
might have taken such considerations into account, and have spoken of
the good fellow more sympathetically. In truth, Harvey did not quite
like Mrs. Abbott. Her age was about seven and twenty. She came of poor
folk, and had been a high-school teacher; very clever and successful, it
was said, and Harvey could believe it. Her features were regular, and
did not lack sweetness; yet, unless an observer were mistaken, the last
year or two had emphasised a certain air of conscious superiority,
perchance originating in the schoolroom. She had had one child; it
struggled through a few months of sickly life, and died of convulsions
during its mother's absence at a garden-party. To all appearances, her
grief at the loss betokened tenderest feeling. When, in half a year's
time, she again came forth into the world, a change was noted; her
character seemed to have developed a new energy, she exhibited wider
interests, and stepped from the background to become a leader in the
little circle of her acquaintances.

'Have you read this?' asked his hostess abruptly, holding up to him a
French volume, Ribot's _L'Heredite Psychologique_.

'No. That kind of thing doesn't interest me much.'

'Indeed! I find it _intensely_ interesting.'

Harvey rose; he was in no mood for this kind of small-talk. But no
sooner had he quitted his chair, than Mrs. Abbott threw her book aside,
and spoke in another tone, seriously, though still with a perceptible
accent of annoyance.

'Of course that man's children are here, and I suppose it is our duty to
provide for them till some other arrangement is made. But I think we
ought to put the matter in the hands of the police. Don't you, Mr
Rolfe?'

'I'm afraid there's small chance of making their father support them. He
is certainly out of England by now, and won't easily be caught.'

'The worst of it is, they are anything but _nice_ children. What could
one expect with such a father? Since their poor mother died, they have
been in the hands of horrible people -- low-class landladies, no doubt;
their talk shocks me. The last amusement they had, was to be taken by
somebody to Tussaud's, and now they can talk of nothing but "the hunted
murderer" -- one sees it on the walls, you know; and they play at being
murderer and policeman, one trying to escape the other. Pretty play for
children of five and seven, isn't it?'

Rolfe made a gesture of disgust.

'I know the poor things can't help it,' pursued Mrs. Abbott, with softer
feeling, 'but it turns me against them. From seeing so little of their
father, they have even come to talk with a vulgar pronunciation, like
children out of the streets almost. It's dreadful! When I think of my
cousin -- such a sweet, good girl, and _these_ her children -- oh, it's
horrible!'

'They are very young,' said Harvey, in a low voice, perturbed in spite
of himself. 'With good training ----'

'Yes, of course we must put them in good hands somewhere.'

Plainly it had never occurred to Mrs. Abbott that such a task as this
might, even temporarily, be undertaken by herself; her one desire was to
get rid of the luckless brats, that their vulgarity might not pain her,
and the care of them encumber her polite leisure.

After again excusing himself for this call, and hearing his apology this
time more graciously received, Harvey withdrew from the cosy study, and
left Mrs, Abbott to her _Heredite Psychologique_. On his way to lunch in
town, he thought of the overworn journalist groaning with neuralgia, and
wondered how Mrs. Abbott would relish a removal to the town of Waterbury.


CHAPTER 4


Uncertain to the last moment, Harvey did at length hurry into his dress
clothes, and start for Fitzjohn Avenue. He had little mind for the
semi-fashionable crowd and the amateur music, but he could not answer
Mrs. Bennet Frothingham with any valid excuse, and, after all, she meant
kindly towards him. Why he enjoyed so much of this lady's favour it was
not easy to understand; intellectual sympathy there could be none
between them, and as for personal liking, on his side it did not go
beyond that naturally excited by a good-natured, feather-brained, rather
pretty woman, whose sprightliness never passed the limits of decorum,
and who seemed to have better qualities than found scope in her
butterfly existence. Perhaps he amused her, being so unlike the kind of
man she was accustomed to see. His acquaintance with the family dated
from their social palingenesis, when, after obscure prosperity in a
southern suburb, they fluttered to the northern heights, and were
observed of the paragraphists. Long before that, Bennet Frothingham had
been known in the money-market; it was the 'Britannia' -- Loan,
Assurance, Investment, and Banking Company, Limited -- that made him
nationally prominent, and gave an opportunity to his wife (in second
marriage) and his daughter (by the first). Three years ago, when Carnaby
(already lured by the charms of Sibyl Larkfield) presented his friend
Rolfe as 'the man who had been to Bagdad', Alma Frothingham, not quite
twenty-one, was studying at the Royal Academy of Music, and, according
to her friends, promised to excel alike on the piano and the violin,
having at the same time a 'really remarkable' contralto voice. Of late
the young lady had abandoned singing, rarely used the pianoforte, and
seemed satisfied to achieve distinction as a violinist. She had founded
an Amateur Quartet Society, whose performances were frequently to be
heard at the house in Fitzjohn Avenue.

Last winter Harvey had chanced to meet Alma and her stepmother at
Leipzig, at a Gewandhaus concert. He was invited to go with them to hear
the boys' motet at the Thomaskirche; and with this intercourse began the
change in their relations from mere acquaintance to something like
friendship. Through the following spring Rolfe was a familiar figure at
the Frothinghams'; but this form of pleasure soon wearied him, and he
was glad to escape from London in June. He knew the shadowy and
intermittent temptation which beckoned him to that house; music had
power over him, and he grew conscious of watching Alma Frothingham, her
white little chin on the brown fiddle, with too exclusive an interest.
When 'that fellow' Cyrus Redgrave, a millionaire, or something of the
sort, began to attend these gatherings with a like assiduity, and to win
more than his share of Miss Frothingham's conversation, Harvey felt a
disquietude which happily took the form of disgust, and it was easy
enough to pack his portmanteau.

Through the babble of many voices in many keys, talk mingling with
laughter more or less melodiously subdued, he made his way up the great
staircase. As he neared the landing, there sounded the shrill squeak of
a violin and a 'cello's deep harmonic growl. His hostess, small,
slender, fair, and not yet forty, a jewel-flash upon her throat and in
the tiara above her smooth low forehead, took a step forward to greet
him.

'Really? How delightful! I shot at a venture, and it was a hit after
all!'

'They are just beginning?'

'The quartet -- yes. Herr Wilenski has promised to play afterwards.'

He moved on, crossed a small drawing-room, entered the larger room
sacred to music, and reached a seat in the nick of time. Miss
Frothingham, the violin against her shoulder, was casting a final glance
at the assembly, the glance which could convey a noble severity when it
did not forthwith impose silence. A moment's perfect stillness, and the
quartet began. There were two ladies, two men. Miss Frothingham played
the first violin, Mr. AEneas Piper the second; the 'cello was in the
hands of Herr Gassner, and the viola yielded its tones to Miss Dora
Leach. Harvey knew them all, but had eyes only for one; in truth, only
one rewarded observation. Miss Leach was a meagre blonde, whose form,
face, and attitude enhanced by contrast the graces of the First Violin.
Alma's countenance shone -- possibly with the joy of the artist, perhaps
only with gratified vanity. As she grew warm, the rosy blood mantled in
her cheeks and flushed her neck. Every muscle and nerve tense as the
strings from which she struck music, she presently swayed forward on the
points of her feet, and seemed to gain in stature, to become a more
commanding type. Her features suggested neither force of intellect or
originality of character: but they had beauty, and something more. She
stood a fascination, an allurement, to the masculine sense. Harvey Rolfe
had never so responded to this quality in the girl; the smile died from
his face as he regarded her. Of her skill as a musician, he could form
no judgment; but it seemed to him that she played very well, and he had
heard her praised by people who understood the matter; for instance,
Herr Wilenski, the virtuoso, from whom -- in itself a great compliment
-- Alma was having lessons.

He averted his eyes, and began to seek for known faces among the
audience. His host he could not discover; Mr. Frothingham must be away
from home this evening; it was seldom he failed to attend Alma's
concerts. But near the front sat Mrs. Ascott Larkfield, a dazzling
figure, and, at some distance, her daughter Mrs. Carnaby, no shadow of
gloom upon her handsome features. Hugh was not in sight; probably he
felt in no mood for parties. Next to Mrs. Carnaby sat 'that fellow',
Cyrus Redgrave, smiling as always, and surveying the people near him
from under drooping brows, his head slightly bent. Mr. Redgrave had thin
hair, but a robust moustache and a short peaked beard; his complexion
was a rifle sallow; he lolled upon the chair, so that, at moments, his
head all but brushed Mrs. Carnaby's shoulder.

Long before the close of the piece, Rolfe had ceased to listen, his
thoughts drifting hither and hither on a turbid flood of emotion. During
the last passage -- _Allegro molto leggieramente_ -- he felt a movement
round about him as a general relief, and when, on the last note, there
broke forth (familiar ambiguity) sounds of pleasure and of applause, he
at once stood up. But he had no intention of pressing into the throng
that rapidly surrounded the musicians. Seeing that Mr. Redgrave had
vacated his place, whilst Mrs. Carnaby remained seated, he stepped
forward to speak with his friend's wife. She smiled up at him, and
lifted a gloved finger.

'No! Please don't!'

'Not sit down by you?'

'Oh, certainly. But I saw condolence in your face, and I'm tired of it.
Besides, it would be mere hypocrisy in you.'

Harvey gave a silent laugh. He had tried to understand Sibyl Carnaby,
and at different times had come to very different conclusions regarding
her. All women puzzled, and often disconcerted, him; with Sibyl he could
never talk freely, knowing not whether to dislike or to admire her. He
was not made on the pattern of Cyrus Redgrave, who probably viewed
womankind with instinctive contempt, yet pleased all with the flattery
of his homage.

'Well, then, we won't talk of it,' he said, noticing, in the same
moment, that her person did not lack the adornment of jewels. Perhaps
she had happened to be wearing these things on the evening of the
robbery; but Rolfe felt a conviction that, under any circumstances,
Sibyl would not be without rings and bracelets.

'They certainly improve,' she remarked, indicating the quartet with the
tip of her fan.

Her opinions were uttered with calm assurance, whatever the subject. An
infinite self-esteem, so placid that it never suggested the vulgarity of
conceit, shone in her large eyes and dwelt upon the beautiful curve of
her lips. No face could be of purer outline, of less sensual
suggestiveness; it wore at times an air of cold abstraction which was
all but austerity. Rolfe imagined her the most selfish of women, thought
her incapable of sentiment; yet how was her marriage to be accounted
for, save by supposing that she fell in love with Hugh Carnaby? Such a
woman might surely have sold herself to great advantage; and yet -- odd
incongruity -- she did not impress one as socially ambitious. Her
mother, the ever-youthful widow, sped from assembly to assembly, unable
to live save in the whirl of fashion; not so Sibyl. Was she too proud,
too self-centred? And what ambition did she nourish?

Or was it all an illusion of the senses? Suppose her a mere graven
image, hollow, void. Call her merely a handsome woman, with the face of
some remarkable ancestress, with just enough of warmth to be subdued by
the vigorous passion of such a fine fellow as Carnaby. On the whole,
Rolfe preferred this hypothesis. He had never heard her say anything
really bright, or witty, or significant. But Hugh spoke of her fine
qualities of head and heart; Alma Frothingham made her an exemplar, and
would not one woman see through the vacuous pretentiousness of another?

Involuntarily, he was gazing at her, trying to read her face.

'So you think we ought to go to Australia,' said Sibyl quietly,
returning his look.

Hugh had repeated the conversation of last night; indiscreet, but
natural. One could not suppose that Hugh kept many secrets from his
wife.

'I?' He was confused. 'Oh, we were talking about the miseries of
housekeeping ----'

'I hate the name of those new countries.'

It was said smilingly, but with what expression in the word 'hate'!

'Vigorous cuttings from the old tree,' said Rolfe. 'There is England's
future.'

'Perhaps so. At present they are barbarous, and I have a decided
preference for civilisation. So have you, I am quite sure.'

Rolfe murmured his assent; whereupon Sibyl rose, just bent her head to
him, and moved with graceful indolence away.

'Now she hates _me_,' Harvey said in his mind; 'and much I care!'

As a matter of courtesy, he thought it well to move in Miss
Frothingham's direction. The crowd was thinning; without difficulty he
approached to within a few yards of her, and there exchanged a word or
two with the player of the viola, Miss Leach -- a good, ingenuous
creature, he had always thought; dangerous to no man's peace, but rather
sentimental, and on that account to be avoided. Whilst talking, he heard
a man's voice behind him, pretentious, coarse, laying down the law in a
musical discussion.

'No, no; Beethoven is not _Klaviermaszig_. His thoughts ate symphonic --
they need the orchestra. . . . A string quartet is to a symphony what a
delicate water-colour is to an oil-painting. . . . Oh, I don't care for
his playing at all! he has not -- what shall I call it? -- _Sehnsucht_.'

Rolfe turned at length to look. A glance showed him a tall, bony young
man, with a great deal of disorderly hair, and shaven face;
harsh-featured, sensual, utterly lacking refinement. He inquired of Miss
Leach who this might be, and learnt that the man's name was Felix Dymes.

'Isn't he a humbug?'

The young lady was pained and shocked.

'Oh, he is very clever,' she whispered. 'He has composed a most
beautiful song -- don't you know it? -- "Margot". It's very likely that
Topham may sing it at one of the Ballad Concerts.'

'Now I've offended _her_,' said Rolfe to himself. 'No matter.'

Seeing his opportunity, he took a few steps, and stood before Alma
Frothingham. She received him very graciously, looking him straight in
the face, with that amused smile which he could never interpret. Did it
mean that she thought him 'good fun'? Had she discussed him with Sibyl
Carnaby, and heard things of him that moved her mirth? Or was it pure
good nature, the overflowing spirits of a vivacious girl?

'So good of you to come, Mr. Rolfe. And what did you think of us?'

This was characteristic. Alma delighted in praise, and never hesitated
to ask for it. She hung eagerly upon his unready words.

'I only show my ignorance when I talk of music. Of course, I liked it.'

'Ah! then you didn't think it very good. I see ----'

'But I _did_! Only my opinion is worthless.'

Alma looked at him, seemed to hesitate, laughed; and Harvey felt the
conviction that, by absurd sincerity, he had damaged himself in the
girl's eyes. What did it matter?

'I've been practising five hours a day,' said Alma, in rapid, ardent
tones. Her voice was as pleasant to the ear as her face to look upon;
richly feminine, a call to the emotions. 'That isn't bad, is it?'

'Tremendous energy!'

'Oh, music is my religion, you know. I often feel sorry I haven't to get
my living by it; it's rather wretched to be only an amateur, don't you
think?'

'Religion shouldn't be marketable,' joked Harvey.

'Oh, but you know what I mean. You are so critical, Mr. Rolfe. I've a
good mind to ask Father to turn me out of house and home, with just
half-a-crown. Then I might really do something. It would be splendid! --
Oh, what do you think of that shameful affair in Hamilton Terrace? Mrs
Carnaby takes it like an angel. They're going to give up housekeeping.
Very sensible, I say. Everybody will do it before long. Why should we be
plagued with private houses?'

'There are difficulties ----'

'Of course there are, and men seem to enjoy pointing them out. They
think it a crime if women hate the bother and misery of housekeeping.'

'I am not so conservative.'

He tried to meet her eyes, which were gleaming fixedly upon him; but his
look fell, and turned as quickly from the wonderful white shoulders, the
throbbing throat, the neck that showed its colour against swan's-down.
To his profound annoyance, someone intervened -- a lady bringing someone
else to be introduced. Rolfe turned on his heel, and was face to face
with Cyrus Redgrave. Nothing could be suaver or more civil than Mr
Redgrave's accost; he spoke like a polished gentleman, and, for aught
Harvey knew, did not misrepresent himself. But Rolfe had a prejudice; he
said as little as possible, and moved on.

In the smaller drawing-room he presently conversed with his hostess. Mrs
Frothingham's sanguine and buoyant temper seemed proof against fatigue;
at home or as a guest she wore the same look of enjoyment; vexations,
rivalries, responsibilities, left no trace upon her beaming countenance.
Her affections were numberless; her ignorance, as an observer easily
discovered, was vast and profound; but the desire to please, the tact of
a 'gentlewoman, and thorough goodness of heart, appeared in all her
sayings and doings; she was never offensive, never wholly ridiculous.
Small-talk flowed from her with astonishing volubility, tone and subject
dictated by the characteristics of the person with whom she gossiped;
yet her preference was for talk on homely topics, reminiscences of a
time when she knew not luxury. 'You may not believe it,' she said to him
in a moment of confidence, 'but I assure you I am a very good cook.'
Rolfe did not quite credit the assurance, but he felt it not improbable
that Mrs. Frothingham would accept a reverse of fortune with much
practical philosophy; he could imagine her brightening a small house
with the sweetness of her disposition, and falling to humble duties with
sprightly goodwill. In this point she was a noteworthy exception among
the prosperous women of his acquaintance.

'And what have you been doing?' she asked, not as a mere phrase of
civility, but in a voice and which a look of genuine interest.

'Wasting my time, for the most part.'

'So you always say; but it can't be true. I know the kind of man who
wastes his time, and you're not a bit like him. Nothing would gratify my
curiosity more than to be able to watch you through a whole day. What
did you think of the quartet?'

'Capital!'

'I'm sure they would make wonderful progress, and Alma does work so
hard! I'm only afraid she may injure her health.'

'I see no sign of it yet.'

'She's certainly looking very well,' said Mrs. Frothingham, with manifest
pride and affection. Of Alma she always spoke thus; nothing of the
step-mother was ever observable.

'Mr. Frothingham is not here this evening!'

'I really don't know why,' replied the hostess, casting her eyes round
the room. 'I quite expected him. But he has been dreadfully busy the
last few weeks. And people do worry him so. Somebody called whilst we
were at dinner, and refused to believe that Mr. Frothingham was not at
home, and made quite a disturbance at the door -- so they told me
afterwards. I'm really quite nervous sometimes; crazy people are always
wanting to see him -- people who really ought not to be at large. No
doubt they have had their troubles, poor things; and everybody thinks my
husband can make them rich if only he chooses.'

A stout, important-looking man paused before Mrs. Frothingham, and spoke
familiarly.

'I'm looking for B. F. Hasn't he put in an appearance yet?'

'I really hope he's enjoying himself somewhere else,' replied the
hostess, rising, with a laugh. 'You leave him no peace.'

The stout man did not smile, but looked gravely for a moment at Rolfe, a
stranger to him, and turned away.

Herr Wilenski, the virtuoso, was about to play something; the guests
moved to seat themselves. Rolfe, however, preferred to remain in this
room, where he could hear the music sufficiently well. He had not quite
recovered from his chagrin at the interruption of his talk with Alma --
a foolishness which made him impatient with himself. At the same time,
he kept thinking of the 'crazy people' of whom Mrs. Frothingham spoke so
lightly. A man such as Bennet Frothingham must become familiar with many
forms of 'craziness', must himself be responsible for a good deal of
folly such as leads to downright aberration. Recalling Mrs. Frothingham's
innocent curiosity concerning his own life, Harvey wished, in turn, that
it were possible for him to watch and comprehend the business of a great
finance-gambler through one whole day. What monstrous cruelties and
mendacities might underlie the surface of this gay and melodious
existence! Why was the stout man looking for 'B. F.'? Why did he turn
away with such a set countenance? Why was that old bore at the club in
such a fidget about the 'Britannia'?

Ha! There indeed sounded the violin! It needed no technical intelligence
to distinguish between the playing of Wilenski and that of Alma
Frothingham. Her religion, forsooth! Herr Wilenski, one might be sure,
talked little enough about his 'religion'. What did Alma think as she
listened? Was she overcome by the despair of the artist-soul struggling
in its immaturity? Or did she smile, as ever, and congratulate herself
on the five hours a day, and tell herself how soon she would reach
perfection if there were real necessity for it? Hopeless to comprehend a
woman. The senses warred upon the wit; seized by calenture, one saw
through radiant mists.

He did not like the name 'Alma'. It had a theatrical sound, a suggestion
of unreality.

The _maestro_ knew his audience; he played but for a quarter of an hour,
and the babble of tongues began again. Rolfe, sauntering before the
admirable pictures which hung here as a mere symbol of wealth, heard a
voice at his shoulder.

'I'm very thirsty. Will you take me down?'

His heart leapt with pleasure; Alma must have seen it in his eyes as he
turned.

'What did Wilenski play?' he asked confusedly, as they moved towards the
staircase.

'Something of Grieg's Mr. Wilbraham is going to sing "Wie bist du, meine
Koniginn" -- Brahms, you know. But you don't really care for music.'

'What an astounding accusation!'

'You don't really care for it. I've known that since we were at
Leipzig.'

'I have never pretended to appreciate music as you do. That needs
education, and something more. Some music wearies me, there's no denying
it.'

'You like the Melody in F?'

'Yes, I do.'

Alma laughed, with superiority, but not ill-naturedly.

'And I think it detestable -- but of course that doesn't matter. When I
talk about books you think me a nincompoop. -- That word used to amuse
me so when I was a child. I remember laughing wildly whenever I saw or
heard it. It _is_ a funny word, isn't it?'

'The last I should apply to you,' said Rolfe in an absent undertone, as
he caught a glimpse of the white teeth between her laughing lips.

They entered the supper-room, where as yet only a few people were
refreshing themselves. Provisions for a regiment spread before the gaze;
delicacies innumerable invited the palate: this house was famed for its
hospitable abundance. Alma, having asked her companion to get her some
lemonade, talked awhile with two ladies who had begun to eat and drink
in a serious spirit; waiting for her, Rolfe swallowed two glasses of
wine to counteract a certain dullness and literalness which were wont to
possess him in such company.

'I won't sit down,' she said. 'No, thanks, nothing to eat. I wonder
where Papa is? Now, _he_ enjoys music, though he is no musician. I think
Papa a wonderful man. For years he has never had more than six hours
sleep; and the work he does! He _can't_ take a holiday; idleness makes
him ill. We were down in Hampshire in July with some relatives of
Mamma's -- the quietest, sleepiest village -- and Papa tried to spend a
few days with us, but he had to take to flight; he would have perished
of ennui.'

'Life at high pressure,' remarked Rolfe, as the least offensive comment
he could make.

'Yes; and isn't it better than life at low?' exclaimed the girl, with
animation. 'Most people go through existence without once exerting all
the powers that are in them. I should hate to die with the thought that
I hadn't really lived myself _out_. A year ago Papa took me into the
City to see the offices of _Stock and Share_, just after the paper
started. It didn't interest me very much; but I pretended it did,
because Papa always takes an interest in _my_ affairs. But I found there
was something else. After we had seen the printing machinery, and so on,
he took me up to the top of the building into a small room, where there
was just a table and a chair and a bookshelf; and he told me it was his
first office, the room in which he had begun business thirty years ago.
He has always kept it for his own, and just as it was -- a fancy of his.
There's no harm in my telling you; he's very proud of it, and so am I.
That's energy!'

'Very interesting indeed.'

'I must go up again,' she added quickly. 'Oh, there's miss Beaufoy; do
let me introduce you to Miss Beaufoy.'

She did so, unaware of Rolfe's groaning reluctance, and at once
disappeared.

The supper-room began to fill. As soon as he could escape from Miss
Beaufoy, who had a cavalier of her own, Harvey ascended the stairs
again, and found a quiet corner, where he sat for a quarter of an hour
undisturbed. Couples and groups paused to talk near him, and whenever he
caught a sentence it was the merest chatter, meaningless repetition of
commonplaces which, but for habit, must have been an unutterable
weariness to the least intelligent of mortals. He was resolved never to
come here again; never again to upset his peace of mind and sully his
self-respect by grimacing amid such a crowd. He enjoyed human
fellowship, timely merry-making; but to throng one's house with people
for whom, with one or two exceptions, one cared not a snap of the
fingers, what was this but sheer vulgarism? As for Alma Frothingham,
long ago he had made up his mind about her. Naturally, inevitably, she
absorbed the vulgarity of her atmosphere. All she did was for effect: it
was her cue to pose as the artist; she would keep it up through life,
and breathe her last, amid perfumes, declaring that she had 'lived
herself out'.

In his peevishness he noticed that women came up from supper with
flushed cheeks and eyes unnaturally lustrous. What a grossly sensual
life was masked by their airs and graces! He had half a mind to start
tomorrow for the Syrian deserts.

'Do let us see you again soon,' said his hostess, as he took leave of
her. 'Come in at five o'clock on Wednesday, that's our quiet day; only a
few of our _real_ friends. We shall be in town till Christmas, for
certain.'

On the stairs he passed Mr. Felix Dymes, the composer of 'Margot'.

'Oh, it's the easiest thing in the world,' Mr. Dymes was saying, 'to
compose a song that will be popular. I'll give you the recipe, and
charge nothing You must have a sudden change to the minor, and a waltz
refrain -- that's all. Oh yes, there's money in it. I know a man who
----'

Rolfe had never left the house in such a bad temper.


CHAPTER 5


When he awoke next morning, the weather was so gloomy that he seriously
resumed his thought of getting away from London. Why, indeed, did he
make London his home, when it would be easy to live in places vastly
more interesting, and under a pure sky? He was a citizen of no city at
all, and had less desire than ever to bind himself to a permanent
habitation. All very well so long as he kept among his male friends, at
the club and elsewhere; but this 'society' played the deuce with him,
and he had not the common-sense, the force of resolve, to keep out of it
altogether.

Well, he must go to his bank this morning, to draw cash.

It was about twelve o'clock when he stood at the counter, waiting with
his cheque. The man before him talked with the teller.

'Do you know that the "Britannia" has shut up?'

'The bank? No!'

'But it has. I passed just now, and there were a lot of people standing
about. Closed at half-past eleven, they say.

Harvey had a singular sensation, a tremor at his heart, a flutter of the
pulses, a turning cold and hot; then he was quite calm again, and said
to himself, 'Of course.' For a minute or two the quiet routine of the
bank was suspended; the news passed from mouth to mouth; newcomers
swelled a gossiping group in front of the counter, and Harvey listened.
The general tone was cynical; there sounded scarcely a note of
indignation; no one present seemed to be personally affected by the
disaster. The name of Bennet Frothingham was frequently pronounced, with
unflattering comments.

'Somebody'll get it hot,' remarked one of the speakers; and the others
laughed.

Rolfe, having transacted his business, walked away. It struck him that
he would go and look at the closed bank, but he did not remember the
address; a policeman directed him, and he walked on, the distance not
being very great. At the end of the street in which the building stood,
signs of the unusual became observable -- the outskirts of a crowd,
hanging loose in animated talk, as after some exciting occurrence; and
before the bank itself was gathered a throng of men, respectability's
silk hats mingling with the felts and caps of lower strata. Here and
there a voice could be heard raised in anger, but the prevailing emotion
seemed to be mere curiosity. The people who would suffer most from the
collapse of this high-sounding enterprise could not reach the scene of
calamity at half an hour's notice; they were dwellers in many parts of
the British Isles, strangers most of them to London city, with but a
vague mental picture of the local habitation of the Britannia Loan,
Assurance, Investment, and Banking Company, Limited.

His arm was seized, and a voice said hoarsely in his ear --

'By God! too late.'

Hugh Carnaby had tumbled out of a cab, and saw his friend in the same
moment that he got near enough to perceive that the doors of the bank
were shut.

'The thieves have lost no time,' he added, pale with fury.

'You had warning of it?'

Hugh pulled him a few yards away, and whispered ----

'Bennet Frothingham shot himself last night.'

Again Harvey experienced that disagreeable heart-shock, with the
alternation of hot and cold.

'Where? At home?'

'At the office of _Stock and Share_. Come farther away. It'll be in the
evening papers directly, but I don't want those blackguards to hear me.
I got up late this morning, and as I was having breakfast, Sibyl rushed
in. She brought the news; had it from some friend of her mother's, a man
connected somehow with _Stock and Share_. I thought they would shut up
shop, and came to try and save Sibyl's balance -- a couple of hundred,
that's all -- but they've swallowed it with the rest.'

'With the rest?'

Hugh laughed mockingly.

'Of hers. Devilish bad luck Sibyl has. It was just a toss-up that a good
deal of my own wasn't in, one way or another.'

'Do you know any more about Frothingham?'

'No. Only the fact. Don't know when it was, or when it got known. We
shall have it from the papers presently. I think every penny Mrs
Larkfield had was in.'

'But it may not mean absolute ruin,' urged Harvey.

'I know what to think when B. F. commits suicide. We shall hear that
some of the others have bolted. It'll be as clean a sweep as our
housekeeper's little job.'

'I've had queer presentiments,' Harvey murmured.

'Why, damn it, so have I! So had lots of people. But nobody ever does
anything till it's too late. I must get home again with my agreeable
news. You'll be going to the club, I dare say? They'll have plenty to
talk about for the next month or two.'

'Try to come round tonight to my place.'

'Perhaps. It depends on fifty chances. There's only one thing I know for
certain -- that I shall get out of this cursed country as soon as
possible.'

They parted, and Harvey walked westward. He had no reason for hurry; as
usual, the tumult of the world's business passed him by; he was merely a
looker-on. It occurred to him that it might be a refreshing and a
salutary change if for once he found himself involved in the anxieties
to which other men were subject; this long exemption and security
fostered a too exclusive regard of self, an inaptitude for sympathetic
emotion, which he recognised as the defect of his character. This
morning's events had startled him, and given a shock to his imagination;
but already he viewed them and their consequences with a self-possession
which differed little from unconcern. Bennet Frothingham, no doubt, had
played a rascally game, foreseeing all along the issues of defeat. As to
his wife and daughter, it would be strange if they were not provided
for; suffer who might, they would probably live on in material comfort,
and nowadays that was the first consideration. He was surprised that
their calamity left him so unmoved; it showed conclusively how
artificial were his relations with these persons; in no sense did he
belong to their world; for all his foolish flutterings, Alma Frothingham
remained a stranger to him, alien from every point of view, personal,
intellectual, social. And how many of the people who crowded to her
concert last night would hear the news this morning with genuine
distress on her account? Gratified envy would be the prevailing mood,
with rancorous hostility in the minds of those who were losers by Bennet
Frothingham's knavery or ill-fortune. Hugh Carnaby's position called for
no lament; he had a sufficient income of his own, and would now easily
overcome his wife's pernicious influence; with or without her, he would
break away from a life of corrupting indolence, and somewhere beyond
seas 'beat the British drum' -- use his superabundant vitality as nature
prompted.

After all, it promised to clear the air. These explosions were periodic,
inevitable, wholesome. The Britannia Loan, &c, &c, &c, had run its
pestilent course; exciting avarice, perturbing quiet industry with the
passion of the gamester, inflating vulgar ambition, now at length
scattering wreck and ruin. This is how mankind progresses. Harvey Rolfe
felt glad that no theological or scientific dogma constrained him to a
justification of the laws of life.

At lunchtime, newspaper boys began to yell. The earliest placards roared
in immense typography. In the Metropolitan Club, sheets moist from the
press suddenly descended like a fall of snow. Rolfe stood by a window
and read quietly. This first report told him little that he had not
already learnt, but there were a few details of the suicide.
Frothingham, it appeared, always visited the office of _Stock and Share_
on the day before publication. Yesterday, as usual, he had looked in for
half an hour at three o'clock; but unexpectedly he came again at seven
in the evening, and for a third time at about eleven, when the printing
of the paper was in full swing. 'It was supposed by the persons whom he
then saw that Mr. Frothingham finally quitted the office; whether he
actually left the building or not seems to remain uncertain. If so, he
re-entered without being observed, which does not seem likely. Between
two and three o'clock this morning, when _Stock and Share_ was
practically ready for distribution, a man employed on the premises is
said, for some unexplained reason, to have ascended to the top floor of
the building, and to have entered a room ordinarily unused. A gas-jet
was burning, and the man was horrified to discover the dead body of Mr
Frothingham, at full length on the floor, in his hand a pistol. On the
alarm being given, medical aid was at once summoned, and it became
evident that death had taken place more than an hour previously. That no
one heard the report of a pistol can be easily explained by the noise of
the machinery below. The dead man's face was placid. Very little blood
had issued from the wound, and the shot must have been fired with a
remarkably steady hand.'

'A room on the top floor of the building, ordinarily unused ----' What
story was it that Alma Frothingham told last night, of her visit to the
office of _Stock and Share_? Rolfe had not paid much attention to it at
the time; now he recalled the anecdote, and was more impressed by its
significance. That room, his first place of business, the scene of poor
beginnings, Bennet Frothingham had chosen for his place of death.
Perhaps he had long foreseen this possibility, had mused upon the
dramatic fitness of such an end; for there was a strain of melancholy in
the man, legible on his countenance, perceptible in his private
conversation. Just about the time when Alma laughingly told the story,
her father must have been sitting in that upper room, thinking his last
thoughts; or it might be that he lay already dead.

Later issues contained much fuller reports. The man who found the body
had explained his behaviour in going up to the unused room, and it
relieved the dark affair with a touch of comedy. Before coming to work,
he had quarrelled with his wife, and, rather than go home in the early
hours of the morning, he hit upon the idea of finding a sleeping-place
here on the premises, to which he could slink unnoticed. 'It's little
enough sleep I get in my own house,' was his remark to the reporter who
won his confidence. Clubmen were hilarious over this incident,
speculating as to the result of its publication on the indiscreet man's
domestic troubles.

It was not unremarked that a long time elapsed between the discovery of
the suicide and its being heard of by anyone who had an interest in
making it generally known. With the exception of two persons, all who
were engaged upon the production of the newspaper went home in complete
ignorance of what had happened, so cautiously and successfully was the
situation dealt with by the sub-editor and his informant. When, after an
examination by the doctor, who had been summoned in all secrecy, it
became necessary to communicate with the police, the employees had all
gone away, and the printed sheets had been conveyed to the distributing
agents. Naturally, the subeditor of _Stock and Share_' preserved a
certain reticence in the matter; but one could hardly be mistaken in
assuming that the directors of the Britannia Company -- two or three of
them, at all events -- had an opportunity of surveying their position
long before the hour when this momentous news got abroad.

With regard to the company's affairs, only conjecture could be as yet
indulged in. In view of the immediate stoppage of business, it was
pretty safe to surmise that alarming disclosures awaited the public. No
one, of course, would be justified in prejudging the case against the
unhappy man who, amid seemingly brilliant circumstances, had been driven
to so desperate an act.

And so on, and so on, in one journal after another, in edition upon
edition. Harvey Rolfe read them till he was weary, listened to the
gossip of the club till he was nauseated. He went home at length with a
headache, and, having carefully avoided contact with Buncombe or Mrs
Handover, made an effort to absorb himself in a volume of Gregorovius,
which was at present his study. The attempt was futile. Talk still
seemed to buzz about him; his temples throbbed; his thoughts wandered
far and wide. Driven to bed long before his accustomed hour, he heard
raucous voices rending the night, bellowing in hideous antiphony from
this side of the street and the other, as the vendors of a halfpenny
paper made the most of what Providence had sent them.

The first thing after breakfast next morning, he posted a line to Hugh
Carnaby. 'Is there any way in which I can be of use to you? If you think
not, I shall be off tomorrow to Greystone for a few days. I feel as if
we were all being swept into a ghastly whirlpool which roars over the
bottomless pit. Of course, I will stay if I can do anything, no matter
what. Otherwise, address for a week to Basil Morton's.'

This he dropped into the nearest pillar-box, and, as the sun was
endeavouring to shine, he walked the length of the street, a pretence of
exercise. On his way back he was preceded by a telegraph boy, who
stopped at Buncombe's front door, and awoke the echoes with a twofold
double knock. Before the servant could open, Harvey was on the steps.

'What name?'

'Rolfe.'

'For me, then.'

He tore open the envelope.

'Could you come at once? Something has happened. -- Abbott.'

The boy wished to know if there would be a reply. Harvey shook his head,
and stepped into the hall, where he stood reflecting. What could have
happened that Edgar Abbott should summon him? Had his wife run away? --
Ah, to be sure, it must have something to do with Wager's children -- an
accident, a death. But why send for _him_?

He made a little change in his dress, and drove forthwith to Kilburn. As
his cab stopped, he saw that all the blinds in the front of the Abbotts'
house were drawn down. Death, then, obviously. It was with a painful
shaking of the nerves that he knocked for admission.

'Mr. Abbott ----?'

The servant girl, who had a long-drawn face, said nothing, but left him
where he stood, returning in a moment with a mumbled 'Will you please to
come in, sir?' He followed her to the room in which he had talked with
Mrs. Abbott two days ago; and she it was who again received him. Her back
to the light, she stood motionless.

'Your husband has telegraphed for me ----'

A voice that struggled with a sob made thick reply ----

'No -- I -- he is dead!'

The accent of that last monosyllable was heart-piercing. It seemed to
Harvey as though the word were new-minted, so full it sounded of
dreadful meaning.

'Dead?'

Mrs. Abbott moved, and he could see her face better. She must have wept
for hours.

'He has been taking morphia -- he couldn't sleep well -- and then his
neuralgia. The girl found him this morning, at seven o'clock -- there.'

She pointed to the couch.

'You mean that he had taken an overdose -- by accident ----'

'It _must_ have been so. He had to work late -- and then be must have
lain down to sleep.'

'Why here?'

'A flood of anguish whelmed her. She uttered a long moan, all the more
terrible for its subdual to a sound that could not pass beyond the room.
Her struggle for self-command made her suffering only the more
impressive, the more grievous to behold.'

'Mr. Rolfe, I sent for you because you are his old friend. I meant to
tell you all the truth, as I know it. I _can't_ tell it before strangers
-- in public! I _can't_ let them know -- the shame -- the shame!'

Harvey's sympathy gave way to astonishment and strange surmise.
Hurriedly he besought her not to reveal anything in her present
distress; to wait till she could reflect calmly, see things in truer
proportion. His embarrassment was heightened by an inability to identify
this woman with the Mrs. Abbott he had known; the change in her
self-presentment seemed as great and sudden as that in her
circumstances. Face and voice, though scarce recognisable, had changed
less than the soul of her -- as Harvey imaged it. This entreaty she
replied to with a steadiness, a resolve, which left him no choice but to
listen.

'I cannot, dare not, think that he did this knowingly. No! He was too
brave for that. He would never have left me in that way -- to my
despair. But it was my fault that made him angry -- no, not angry; he
was never that with me, or never showed it. But I had behaved with such
utter selfishness ----'

Her misery refused to word itself. She sank down upon a chair and sobbed
and moaned.

'Your grief exaggerates every little fault,' said Harvey.

'No -- you must hear it all -- then perhaps I can hide my shame from
strangers. What use would it be if they knew? It alters nothing -- it's
only in my own heart. I have no right to pain you like this. I will tell
you quietly. You know that he went to Waterbury, on business. Did he
tell you? -- it was to buy a share in a local newspaper. I, in my
blindness and selfishness, disliked that. I wanted to live here; the
thought of going to live in the country seemed unbearable. That Edgar
was overworked and ill, seemed to me a trifle. Don't you remember how I
spoke of it when you came here the other morning? -- I can't understand
myself. How could I think so, speak so!'

The listener said nothing.

'He did what he purposed -- made a bargain, and came back to conclude
the purchase by correspondence. But his money -- the small capital he
counted upon -- was in "Britannia" shares; and you know what happened
yesterday -- yesterday, the very day when he went to sell the shares,
thinking to do so without the least difficulty.'

Harvey gave a grim nod.

'He came home, and I showed that I was glad ----'

'No! You accuse yourself unreasonably.'

'I tell you the truth, as my miserable conscience knows it. I was crazy
with selfishness and conceit. Rightly, he left me to my cowardly temper,
and went out again, and was away for a long time. He came back to
dinner, and then the suffering in his face all but taught me what I was
doing. I wanted to ask him to forgive me -- to comfort him for his loss;
but pride kept me from it. I couldn't speak -- I couldn't! After dinner
he said he had a lot of work to do, and came into this room. At ten
o'clock I sent him coffee. I wished to take it myself -- O God! if only
I had done so! I _wished_ to take it, and speak to him, but still I
couldn't. And I knew he was in torture; I saw at dinner that pain was
racking him. But I kept away, and went to my own bed, and slept --
whilst he was lying here.'

A rush of tears relieved her. Harvey felt his own eyes grow moist.

'It was only that he felt so worn out,' she pursued. 'I know how it was.
The pain grew intolerable, and he went upstairs for his draught, and
then -- not having finished his work -- he thought he would lie down on
the sofa for a little; and so sleep overcame him. He never meant _this_.
If I thought it, I couldn't live!'

'Undoubtedly you are right,' said Harvey, summoning an accent of
conviction. 'I knew him very well, and he was not the man to do that.'

'No? You are sure of it? You feel it impossible, Mr. Rolfe?'

'Quite impossible. There are men -- oh, you may assure yourself that it
was pure accident. Unfortunately, it happens so often.'

She hung on his words, leaning towards him, her eyes wide and lips
parted.

'So often! I have seen so many cases, in the papers. And he was
absent-minded. But what right have I to seek comfort for myself? Was I
any less the cause of his death? But must I tell all this in public? Do
you think I ought to?'

With comfortable sincerity Rolfe was able to maintain the needlessness
of divulging anything beyond the state of Abbott's health and his
pecuniary troubles.

'It isn't as if we had lived on ill terms with each other,' said the
widow, with a sigh of gratitude. 'Anything but that. Until of late we
never knew a difference, and the change that came was wholly my fault. I
hadn't the honesty to speak out and say what was in my mind. I never
openly opposed his wish to leave London. I pretended to agree to
everything, pretended. He showed me all his reasons, put everything
simply and plainly and kindly before me, and if I had said what I
thought, I feel sure he would have given it up at once. It was in my own
hands to decide one way or the other.'

'Why should you reproach yourself so with mere thoughts, of which he
never became aware?'

'Oh, it was yesterday, when he came back from the City. He knew then
that I was glad he couldn't carry out his purpose. He looked at me as he
never had done before -- a look of surprise and estrangement. I shall
always see that look on his face.'

Harvey talked in the strain of solace, feeling how extraordinary was his
position, and that of all men he had least fitness for such an office.
It relieved him when, without undue abruptness, he could pass to the
practical urgencies of the case. Were Wager's children still in the
house? Alas! they were, and Mrs. Abbott knew not what to do about them.

'You can't think of anyone who would take them -- for a day or two,
even?'

Among her acquaintances there was not one of whom she could venture to
ask such a service. 'People have such a dread of children.' Her sister
was a governess in Ireland; other near relatives she had none. Edgar
Abbott's mother, old and in feeble health, lived near Waterbury; how was
the dreadful news to be conveyed to her?

Harvey bestirred himself. Here, at all events, was a call to active
usefulness; he felt the privilege of money and leisure.

'Can you give me the name of any one at Waterbury who would be a fit
person to break the news to Mrs. Abbott?'

Two names were mentioned, and he noted them.

'I will send telegrams at once to both.'

'You will say it was an accident ----'

'That shall be made clear. As for the children, I think I can have them
taken away this morning. In the house where I live there is a decent
woman who I dare say would be willing to look after them for the
present. Will you leave this entirely in my hands?'

'I am ashamed -- I don't know how to thank you.'

'No time shall be lost.' He rose. 'If Mrs. Handover will help us, I will
bring her here; then I shall see you again. In any case, of course, I
will come back -- there will be other business. But you ought to have
some friend -- some lady.'

'There's _no_ one I can ask.'

'Oh, but of all the people you know in London -- surely!'

'They are not friends in that sense. I understand it now -- fifty
acquaintances; no friend.'

'But let me think -- let me think. What was the name of that lady I met
here, whose children you used to teach?'

'Mrs. Langland. She is very kind and friendly, but she lives at
Gunnersbury -- so far -- and I couldn't trouble her.'

Upon one meeting and a short conversation, with subsequent remarks from
Edgar Abbott, Rolfe had grounded a very favourable opinion of Mrs
Langland. She dwelt clearly in his mind as 'a woman with no nonsense
about her', likely to be of much helpfulness at a crisis such as the
present. With difficulty he persuaded Mrs. Abbott to sit down and write a
few lines, to be posted at once to Gunnersbury.

'I haven't dared to ask her to come. But I have said that I am alone.'

'Quite enough, I think, if she is at home.'

He took his leave, and drove back to Bayswater, posting the letter and
despatching two telegrams on the way.

Of course, his visit to Greystone was given up.


CHAPTER 6


Hugh Carnaby was gratified by the verdict of _felo de se_. He applauded
the jury for their most unexpected honesty. One had taken for granted
the foolish tag about temporary madness, which would have been an insult
to everybody's common-sense.

'It's a pity they no longer bury at four cross-roads, with a stake in
his inside. (Where's that from? I remember it somehow.) The example
wouldn't be bad.'

'You're rather early-Victorian,' replied Sibyl, who by this term was
wont to signify barbarism or crudity in art, letters, morality, or
social feeling. 'Besides, there's no merit in the verdict. It only means
that the City jury is in a rage. Yet every one of them would be
dishonest on as great a scale if they dared, or had the chance.'

'Something in that, I dare say,' conceded Hugh.

He admired his wife more than ever. Calm when she lost her trinkets,
Sibyl exhibited no less self-command now that she was suddenly deprived
of her whole fortune, about eight hundred a year. She had once remarked
on the pleasantness and fitness of a wife's possessing in her own name
an income equal to that of her husband; yet she resigned it without
fuss. Indeed, Sibyl never made a fuss about anything. She intimated her
wishes, and, as they were always possible of gratification, obtained
them as a matter of course. Naturally, since their marriage, she and
Hugh had lived to the full extent of their means. Carnaby had reduced
his capital by a couple of thousand pounds in preliminary expenses, and
debt to the amount of two or three hundred was outstanding at the end of
the first twelvemonth; but Sibyl manifested no alarm.

'We have been great fools,' she said, alluding to their faith in Bennet
Frothingham.

'It's certain that _I_ have,' replied her husband. 'I oughtn't to have
let your mother have her way about that money. If there had been a
proper settlement, you would have run no risk. Trustees couldn't have
allowed such an investment.'

The same day Sibyl bought a fur for her neck which cost fifteen guineas.
The weather was turning cold, and she had an account at the shop.

That afternoon, too, she went to see her mother, and on returning at six
o'clock looked into the library, where Hugh sat by the fire, a book in
his hand. Carnaby found the days very long just now. He shunned his
clubs, the Metropolitan and the Ramblers', because of a fear that his
connection with the 'Britannia' was generally known; to hear talk on the
subject would make him savage. He was grievously perturbed in mind by
his position and prospects; and want of exercise had begun to affect his
health. As always, he greeted his wife's entrance with a smile, and rose
to place a chair for her.

'Thanks, I won't sit down,' said Sibyl. 'You look comfortable.'

'Well?'

She looked at him reflectively, and said in balanced tones ----

'I really think I can boast of having the most selfish mother in
England.'

Hugh had his own opinion concerning Mrs. Ascott Larkfield, but would not
have ventured to phrase it.

'How's that?'

'I never knew anyone who succeeded so well in thinking steadily and
exclusively of herself. It irritates me to see her since this affair; I
shan't go again. I really didn't know what a detestable temper she has.
Her talk is outrageous. She doesn't behave like a lady. Could you
believe that she has written a violent letter to Mrs. Frothingham --
"speaking her mind", as she says? It's disgraceful!'

'I'm sorry she has done that. But it isn't every one that can bear
injury as you do, Sibyl.'

'I supposed she could behave herself. She raises her voice, and uses
outrageous words, and shows temper with the servants. I wouldn't spend a
day in that house now on any account. And, after all, I find she hasn't
lost much more than I have. She will be able to count on six hundred a
year at least.'

Carnaby received the news with a brightened visage.

'Oh come! That's something.'

'She took very good care, you see, not to risk everything herself.'

'It's possible,' said Hugh, 'that she hadn't control of all her money.'

'Oh yes, she had. She let that fact escape in her fury -- congratulated
herself on being so far prudent. Really, I never knew a more hateful
woman.'

It was said without vehemence, with none of that raising of the voice
which so offended her: a deliberate judgment, in carefully chosen words.
Hugh tried to smile, but could not quite command his features; they
expressed an uneasy thoughtfulness.

'Do you go out this evening?' he asked, after a pause.

'No; I'm rather tired and out of sorts. Dinner is at seven. I shall go
to bed early.'

The police had as yet failed to get upon the track of the felonious
housekeeper, known as Mrs. Maskell. Mrs. Carnaby's other servants still
kept their places, protesting innocence, and doubtless afraid to leave
lest they should incur suspicion. Domestic management was now In the
hands of the cook. Sibyl always declared that she could not eat a dinner
she had had the trouble of ordering, and she seemed unaffectedly to
shrink from persons of the menial class, as though with physical
repulsion. Perforce she submitted to having her hair done by her maid,
but she found the necessity disagreeable.

The dinner was simple, but well cooked. Sibyl never ate with hearty
appetite, and declined everything not of excellent quality; unlike women
in general, she was fastidious about wine, yet took of it sparingly;
liqueurs, too, she enjoyed, and very strong coffee. To a cigarette in
the mouth of a woman she utterly objected; it offended her sense of the
becoming, her delicate perception of propriety. When dining alone or
with Hugh, she dressed as carefully as for a ceremonious occasion. Any
approach to personal disorder or neglect was inconceivable in Sibyl. Her
husband had, by accident, heard her called 'the best-groomed woman in
London'; he thought the praise well merited, and it flattered him.

At table they talked of things as remote as possible from their
immediate concerns, and with the usual good humour. When he rose to open
the door, Hugh said ----

'Drawing-room or library?'

'Library. You would like to smoke.'

For ten minutes he sat with his arms on the table, his great well-shapen
hands loosely clenched before him. He drank nothing. His gaze was fixed
on a dish of fruit, and widened as if in a growing perplexity. Then he
recovered himself, gave a snort, and went to join his wife.

Sibyl was reading a newspaper. Hugh lit his pipe in silence, and sat
down opposite to her. Presently the newspaper dropped, and Sibyl's eyes
were turned upon her husband with a smile.

'Well?'

'Well?'

They smiled at each other amiably.

'What do you suggest, Birdie?'

The fondling name was not very appropriate, and had not been used of
late; Carnaby hit upon it in the honeymoon days, when he said that his
wife was like some little lovely bird, which he, great coarse fellow,
had captured and almost feared to touch lest he should hurt it. Hugh had
not much originality of thought, and less of expression.

'There are places, you know, where one lives very comfortably on very
little,' said Sibyl.

'Yes; but it leads to nothing.'

'What _would_ lead to anything?'

'Well, you see, I have capital, and some use ought to be made of it.
Everybody nowadays goes in for some kind of business.'

She listened with interest, smiling, meditative.

'And a great many people come out of it -- wishing they had done so
before.'

'True,' said Carnaby; 'there's the difficulty. I had a letter from Dando
this morning. He has got somebody to believe in his new smelting process
-- somebody in the City; talks of going out to Queensland shortly.
Really -- if I could be on the spot ----'

He hesitated, timidly indicating his thoughts. Sibyl mused, and slowly
shook her head.

'No; wait for reports.'

'Yes; but it's those who are in it first, you see.'

Sibyl seemed to forget the immediate subject, and to let her thoughts
wander in pleasant directions. She spoke as if on a happy impulse.

'There's one place I think I should like -- though I dread the voyage.'

'Where's that?'

'Honolulu.'

'What has put that into your head?'

'Oh, I have read about it. The climate is absolute perfection, and the
life exquisite. How do you get there?'

'Across America, and then from San Francisco. It's anything but a cheap
place, I believe.'

'Still, for a time. The thing is to get away, don't you think?'

'No doubt of that. -- Honolulu -- by Jove! it's an idea. I should like
to see those islands myself'

'And it isn't commonplace,' remarked Sibyl. 'One would go off with a
certain eclat. Very different from starting for the Continent in the
humdrum way.'

The more Carnaby thought of it, the better he liked this suggestion.
That Sibyl should voluntarily propose so long a journey surprised and
delighted him. The tropics were not his favourite region, and those
islands of the Pacific offered no scope for profitable energy; he did
not want to climb volcanoes, still less to lounge beneath bananas and
breadfruit-trees, however pleasant such an escape from civilisation
might seem at the first glance. A year of marriage, of idleness amid
amusements, luxuries, extravagances, for which he had no taste, was
bearing its natural result in masculine restiveness. His robust physique
and temper, essentially combative, demanded liberty under conditions of
rude or violent life. He was not likely to find a satisfying range in
any mode of existence that would be shared by Sibyl. But he clutched at
any chance of extensive travel. It might be necessary -- it certainly
would be -- to make further incision into his capital, and so diminish
the annual return upon which he could count for the future; but when his
income had already become ludicrously inadequate, what did that matter?
The years of independence were past; somehow or other, he must make
money. Everybody did it nowadays, and an 'opening' would of course
present itself, something would of course 'turn up'.

He stretched his limbs in a sudden vast relief.

'Bravo! The idea is excellent. Shall we sell all this stuff?' waving a
hand to indicate the furniture.

'Oh, I think not. Warehouse it.'

Hugh would have rejoiced to turn every chair and table into hard cash,
not only for the money's sake, but for the sense of freedom that would
follow; but he agreed, as always, to whatever his wife preferred. They
talked with unwonted animation. A great atlas was opened, routes were
fingered; half the earth's circumference vanished in a twinkling. Sibyl,
hitherto mewed within the circle of European gaieties and relaxations,
all at once let her fancy fly -- tasted a new luxury in experiences from
which she had shrunk.

'I'll order my outfit tomorrow. Very light things, I suppose? Who could
advise me about that?'

Among a number of notes and letters which she wrote next day was one to
Miss Frothingham. 'Dear Alma,' it began, and it ended with 'Yours
affectionately' -- just as usual.

'Could you possibly come here some day this week? I haven't written
before, and haven't tried to see you, because I felt sure you would
rather be left alone. At the same time I feel sure that what has
happened, though for a time it will sadden us both, cannot affect our
friendship. I want to see you, as we are going away very soon, first of
all to _Honolulu_. Appoint your own time; I will be here.'

By return of post came the black-edged answer, which began with 'Dearest
Sibyl,' and closed with 'Ever affectionately'.

'I cannot tell you how relieved I am to get your kind letter. These
dreadful days have made me ill, and one thing that increased my misery
was the fear that I should never hear from you again. I should not have
dared to write. How noble you are! -- but then I always knew that. I
cannot come tomorrow -- you know why -- but the next day I will be with
you at three o'clock, if you don't tell me that the hour is
inconvenient.'

They met at the appointed time. Mrs. Carnaby's fine sense of the becoming
declared itself in dark array; her voice was tenderly subdued; the
pressure of her hand, the softly lingering touch of her lips, conveyed a
sympathy which perfect taste would not allow to become demonstrative.
Alma could at first say nothing. The faint rose upon her cheek had
vanished; her eyes were heavy, and lacked their vital gleam; her mouth,
no longer mobile and provocative, trembled on the verge of sobs,
pathetic, childlike. She hung her head, moved with a languid, diffident
step, looked smaller and slighter, a fashionable garb of woe aiding the
unhappy transformation.

'I oughtn't to have given you this trouble,' said Sibyl. 'But perhaps
you would rather see me here ----'

'Yes -- oh yes -- it was much better ----'

'Sit down, dear. We won't talk of wretched things, will we? If I could
have been of any use to you ----'

'I was so afraid you would never ----'

'Oh, you know me better than that,' broke in Mrs. Carnaby, almost with
cheerfulness, her countenance already throwing off the decorous shadow,
like a cloak that had served its turn. 'I hope I am neither foolish nor
worldly-minded.'

'Indeed, indeed not! You are goodness itself.'

'How is Mrs. Frothingham?'

The question was asked with infinite delicacy, head and body bent
forward, eyes floatingly averted.

'Really ill, I'm afraid. She has fainted several times -- yesterday was
unconscious for nearly half an hour.'

Sibyl flinched. Mention of physical suffering affected her most
disagreeably; she always shunned the proximity of people in ill health,
and a possibility of infection struck her with panic.

'Oh, I'm so sorry. But it will pass over.'

'I hope so. I have done what I could.'

'I'm sure you have.'

'But it's so hard -- when every word of comfort sounds heartless -- when
it's kindest to say nothing ----'

'We won't talk about it, dear. You yourself -- I can see what you have
gone through. You must get away as soon as possible; this gloomy weather
makes everything worse.'

She paused, and with an air of discreet interest awaited Alma's reply.

'Yes, I hope to get away. I shall see if it's possible.'

The girl's look strayed with a tired uncertainty; her hands never ceased
to move and fidget; only the habits of good breeding kept her body
still.

'Of course, it is too soon for you to have made plans.'

'It's so difficult,' replied Alma, her features more naturally
expressive, her eyes a little brighter. 'You see, I am utterly dependent
upon Mamma. I had better tell you at once -- Mamma will have enough to
live upon, however things turn out. She has money of her own; but of
course I have nothing -- nothing whatever. I think, most likely, Mamma
will go to live with her sister, in the country, for a time. She
couldn't bear to go on living in London, and she doesn't like life
abroad. If only I could do as I wish!'

'I guess what that would be,' said the other, smiling gently.

'To take up music as a profession -- yes. But I'm not ready for it.'

'Oh, half a year of serious study; with your decided talent, I should
think you couldn't hesitate. You are a born musician.'

The words acted as a cordial. Alma roused herself, lifted her drooping
head and smiled.

'That's the praise of a friend.'

'And the serious opinion of one not quite unfit to judge,' rejoined
Sibyl, with her air of tranquil self-assertion. 'Besides, we have agreed
-- haven't we? -- that the impulse is everything. What you wish for, try
for. Just now you have lost courage; you are not yourself. Wait till you
recover your balance.'

'It isn't that I want to make a name, or anything of that sort,' said
Alma, in a voice that was recovering its ordinary pitch and melody. 'I
dare say I never should; I might just support myself, and that would be
all. But I want to be free -- I want to break away.'

'Of course!'

'I have been thinking that I shall beg Mamma to let me have just a small
allowance, and go off by myself. I know people at Leipzig -- the
Gassners, you remember. I could live there on little enough, and work,
and feel free. Of course, there's really no reason why I shouldn't. I
have been feeling so bound and helpless; and now that nobody has any
right to hinder me, you think it would be the wise thing?'

Alma had occasionally complained to her friend, as she did the other
evening to Harvey Rolfe, that easy circumstances were not favourable to
artistic ambition, but no very serious disquiet had ever declared itself
in her ordinary talk. The phrases she now used, and the look that
accompanied them, caused Sibyl some amusement. Only two years older than
Alma, Mrs. Carnaby enjoyed a more than proportionate superiority in
knowledge of the world; her education had been more steadily directed to
that end, and her natural aptitude for the study was more pronounced.
That she really liked Alma seemed as certain as that she felt neither
affection nor esteem for any other person of her own sex. Herself not
much inclined to feminine friendship, Alma had from the first paid
voluntary homage to Sibyl's intellectual claims, and thought it a
privilege to be admitted to her intimacy; being persuaded, moreover,
that in Sibyl, and in Sibyl alone, she found genuine appreciation of her
musical talent. Sibyl's choice of a husband had secretly surprised and
disappointed her, for Hugh Carnaby was not the type of man in whom she
felt an interest, and he seemed to her totally unworthy of his good
fortune; but this perplexity passed and was forgotten. She saw that
Sibyl underwent no subjugation; nay, that the married woman did but
perfect herself in those qualities of mind and mood whereby she had
shone as a maiden. It was a combination of powers and virtues which
appeared to Alma little short of the ideal in womanhood. The example
influenced her developing character in ways she recognised, and in
others of which she remained quite unconscious.

'I think you couldn't do better,' Mrs. Carnaby replied to the last
question; 'provided that ----'

She paused intentionally, with an air of soft solicitude, of bland
wisdom.

'That's just what I wanted,' said Alma eagerly. 'Advise me -- tell me
just what you think.'

'You want to live alone, and to have done with all the silly
conventionalities and proprieties -- our old friend Mrs. Grundy, in
fact.'

'That's it! You understand me perfectly, as you always do.'

'If it had been possible, we would have lived together.'

'Ah! how delightful! Don't speak of what can't be.'

'I was going to say,' pursued Sibyl thoughtfully, 'that you will meet
with all sorts of little troubles and worries, which you have never had
any experience of. For one thing, you know' -- she leaned back, smiling,
at ease -- 'people won't behave to you quite as you have been accustomed
to expect. Money is very important even to a man; but to a woman it
means more than you can imagine.'

'Oh, but I shan't be living among the kind of people ----'

'No, no. Perhaps you don't quite understand me yet. It isn't the people
you seek who matter, but the people that will seek _you_; and some of
them will have very strange ideas -- very strange indeed.'

Alma looked self-conscious, kept her eyes down, and at length nodded.

'Yes. I think I understand.'

'That's why I said "provided". You are not the ordinary girl, and you
won't imagine that I feared for you; I know you too well. It's a
question of being informed and on one's guard. I don't think there's
anyone else who would talk to you like this. It doesn't offend you?'

'Sibyl!'

'Well, then, that's all right. Go into the world by all means, but go
prepared -- armed; the word isn't a bit too strong, as I know perfectly.
Some day, perhaps -- but there's no need to talk about such things now.'

Alma kept a short silence, breaking it at length with note of
exultation.

'I'm quite decided now. I wanted just to hear what you would say. I
shan't wait a day longer than I can help. The old life is over for me.
If only it had come about in some other way, I should be singing with
rapture. I'm going to begin to live!'

She quivered with intensity of feeling, or with that excitement of the
nerves which simulates intense feeling in certain natures. A flush stole
to her cheek; her eyes were once more full of light. Sibyl regarded her
observantly and with admiration.

'You never thought of the stage, Alma?'

'The stage? Acting?'

'No; I see you never did. And it wouldn't do -- of course it wouldn't
do. Something in your look -- it just crossed my mind -- but of course
you have much greater things before you. It means hard work, and I'm
only afraid you'll work yourself all but to death.'

'I shouldn't wonder,' replied the girl, with a little laugh of pride in
this possibility.

'Well, I too am going away, you know.'

Alma's countenance fell, shame again crept over it, and she murmured, 'O
Sibyl ----!'

'Don't distress yourself the least on my account. That's an understood
thing; no mention, no allusion, ever between us. And the truth is that
my position is just a little like yours: on the whole, I'm rather glad.
Hugh wants desperately to get to the other end of the world, and I dare
say it's the best thing I could do to go with him. No roughing it, of
course; that isn't in my way.'

'I should think not, indeed!'

'Oh, I may rise to those heights, who knows! If the new sensation ever
seemed worth the trouble. -- In a year or two, we shall meet and compare
notes. Don't expect long descriptive letters; I don't care to do
indifferently what other people have done well and put into print --
it's a waste of energy. But you are sure to have far more interesting
and original things to tell about; it will read so piquantly, I'm sure,
at Honolulu.'

They drank tea together, and talked, in all, for a couple of hours. When
she rose to leave, Alma, but for her sombre drapings, was totally
changed from the limp, woebegone, shrinking girl who had at first
presented herself.

'There's no one else,' she said, 'who would have behaved to me so kindly
and so nobly.'

'Nonsense! But _that's_ nonsense, too. Let us admire each other; it does
us good, and is so very pleasant.'

'I shall say goodbye to no one but you. Let people think and say of me
what they like; I don't care a snap of the fingers. In deed, I _hate_
people.'

'Both sexes impartially?'

It was a peculiarity of their intimate converse that they never talked
of men, and a jest of this kind had novelty sufficient to affect Alma
with a slight confusion.

'Impartially -- quite,' she answered.

'Do make an exception in favour of Hugh's friend, Mr. Rolfe. I abandon
all the rest.'

Alma betrayed surprise.

'Strange! I really thought you didn't much like Mr. Rolfe,' she said,
without any show of embarrassment.

'I didn't when I first knew him; but he grows upon one. I think him
interesting; he isn't quite easy to understand.'

'Indeed he isn't.'

They smiled with the confidence of women fancy-free, and said no more on
the subject.

Carnaby came home to dinner brisk and cheerful; he felt better than for
many a day. Brightly responsive, Sibyl welcomed his appearance in the
drawing-room.

'Saw old Rolfe for a minute at the club. In a vile temper. I wonder
whether he really has lost money, and won't confess? Yet I don't think
so. Queer old stick.'

'By-the-bye, what _is_ his age?' asked Alma unconcernedly.

'Thirty-seven or eight. But I always think of him as fifty.'

'I suppose he'll never marry?'

'Rolfe? Good heavens, no! Too much sense -- hang it, you know what I
mean! It would never suit _him_. Can't imagine such a thing. He gets
more and more booky. Has his open-air moods, too, and amuses me with his
Jingoism. So different from his old ways of talking; but I didn't care
much about him in those days. Well, now, look here, I've had a talk with
a man I know, about Honolulu, and I've got all sorts of things to tell
you. -- Dinner? Very glad; I'm precious hungry.'


CHAPTER 7


About the middle of December, Alma Frothingham left England, burning
with a fever of impatience, resenting all inquiry and counsel, making
pretence of settled plans, really indifferent to everything but the
prospect of emancipation. The disaster that had befallen her life, the
dishonour darkening upon her name, seemed for the moment merely a price
paid for liberty. The shock of sorrow and dismay had broken innumerable
bonds, overthrown all manner of obstacles to growth of character, of
power. She gloried in a new, intoxicating sense of irresponsibility. She
saw the ideal life in a release from all duty and obligation -- save to
herself.

Travellers on that winter day from Antwerp into Germany noticed the
English girl, well dressed, and of attractive features, whose excited
countenance and restless manner told of a journey in haste, with
something most important, and assuredly not disagreeable, at the end of
it. She was alone, and evidently quite able to take care of herself.
Unlike the representative English _Fraulein_, she did not reject
friendly overtures from strangers; her German was lame, but she spoke it
with enjoyment, laughing at her stumbles and mistakes. With her in the
railway carriage she kept a violin-case. A professional musician? 'Noch
nicht' was her answer, with a laugh. She knew Leipzig? Oh dear, yes, and
many other parts of Germany; had travelled a good deal; was an entirely
free and independent person, quite without national prejudice, indeed
without prejudice of any kind. And in the same breath she spoke
slightingly, if not contemptuously, of England and everything English.

At Leipzig she stayed until the end of April, living with a family named
Gassner, people whom she had known for some years. Only on condition
that she would take up her abode with this household had Mrs. Frothingham
consented to make her an allowance and let her go abroad. Alma fretted
at the restriction; she wished to have a room of her own in a
lodging-house; but the family life improved her command of German --
something gained. To music, meanwhile, she gave very little attention,
putting off with one excuse after another the beginning of her serious
studies. She seemed to have quite forgotten that music was her
'religion', and, for the matter of that, appeared to have no religion at
all. 'Life' was her interest, her study. She made acquaintances,
attended concerts and the theatre, read multitudes of French and German
novels. But her habits were economical. All the pleasures she desired
could be enjoyed at very small expense, and she found her stepmother's
remittances more than sufficient.

In April she gained Mrs. Frothingham's consent to her removal from
Leipzig to Munich. A German girl with whom she had made friends was
going to Munich to study art. For reasons, vague even to herself (so ran
her letters to Mrs. Frothingham), she could not 'settle' at Leipzig. The
climate did not seem to suit her. She had suffered from bad colds, and,
in short, was doing no good. At Munich lived an admirable violinist, a
friend of Herr Wilenski's, who would be of great use to her. 'In short,
dear Mamma, doesn't it seem to you rather humiliating that at the age of
four-and-twenty I should be begging for permission to go here and there,
do this or that? I know all your anxieties about me, and I am very
grateful, and I feel ashamed to be living at your expense, but really I
must go about making a career for myself in my own way.' Mrs. Frothingham
yielded, and Alma took lodgings in Munich together with her German
friend.

English newspapers were now reporting the trial of the directors of the
Britannia Company, for to this pass had things come. The revelations of
the law-court satisfied public curiosity, and excited indignant clamour.
Alma read, and tried to view the proceedings as one for whom they had no
personal concern; but her sky darkened, her heart grew heavy. The name
of Bennet Frothingham stood for criminal recklessness, for huge
rascality; it would be so for years to come. She had no courage to take
up her violin; the sound of music grew hateful to her, as if mocking at
her ruined ambition.

Three months had passed since she received her one and only letter from
Honolulu; two months since she had written to Sibyl. On a blue day of
spring, when despondency lowered upon her, and all occupation, all
amusements seemed a burden, she was driven to address her friend on the
other side of the world, to send a cry of pain and hopelessness to the
dream-island of the Pacific.

'What is the use of working at music? The simple truth is, that since I
left England I have given it up. I am living here on false pretences; I
shall never care to play the violin again. What sort of a reception
could I expect from an English audience? If I took another name, of
course it would get known who I was, and people would just come to stare
at me -- pleasant thought! And I have utterly lost confidence in myself.
The difficulties are great, even where there is great talent, and I feel
I have nothing of the kind. I might toil for years, and should do no
good. I feel I am not an artist -- I am beaten and disgraced. There's
nothing left but to cry and be miserable, like any other girl who has
lost her money, her hopes, everything. Why don't you write to me? If you
wait till you get this, it will be six or seven weeks before I could
possibly hear. And a letter from you would do me so much good.'

Some one knocked at her door. She called '_Herein_!' and there appeared
a little boy, the child of her landlady, who sometimes ran errands for
her. He said that a gentleman was asking to see her.

'_Ein Deutscher_?'

'_Nein. Ein Englander, glaub'ich, und ein schnurriges Deutsch ist's, das
er verbricht_!'

Alma started up, shut her unfinished letter in the blotting-case, and
looked anxiously about the room.

'What is his name? Ask him to give you his name.'

The youngster came back with a card, and Alma was astonished to read the
name of 'Mr. Felix Dymes'. Why, she had all but forgotten the man's
existence. How came he here? What right had he to call? And yet she was
glad -- nay, delighted. Happily, she had the sitting-room (shared with
her art-studying friend) to herself this morning.

'Bring him up here,' she said to the boy hurriedly, 'and ask him to wait
a minute for me.'

And she escaped to make a rapid change of dress. For Alma was not like
Sibyl Carnaby in perpetual regard for personal finish; she dressed
carelessly, save when the occasion demanded pains; she liked the ease of
gowns and slippers, of loose hair and free throat; and this taste had
grown upon her during the past months. But she did not keep Mr. Dymes
waiting very long, and on her entrance he gazed at her with very frank
admiration. Frank, too, was his greeting -- that of a very old and
intimate friend, rather than of a drawing-room acquaintance. He came
straight from England, he said; a spring holiday, warranted by the
success of his song 'Margot', which the tenor, Topham, had sung at St
James's Hall. A few days ago he had happened to see Miss Leach, who gave
him Miss Frothingham's address, and he could not deny himself the
pleasure of calling. Chatting thus, he made himself comfortable in a
chair, and Alma sat over against him. The man was loud, conceited,
vulgar; but, after all, he composed very sweet music, which promised to
take the public ear; and he brought with him a waft from the happiness
of old days; and how could one expect small proprieties of a bohemian,
an artist? Alma began to talk eagerly, joyously.

'And what are you doing, Miss Frothingham?'

'Oh, fiddling a little. But I haven't been very well.'

'I can see that. Yet in another sense you look a better than ever.'

He began to hum an air, glancing round the room.

'You haven't a piano. Just listen to this; how do you think it will do?'
He hummed through a complete melody. 'Came into my head last night.
Wants rather sentimental words -- the kind of thing that goes down with
the British public. Rather a good air, don't you think?'

Felix Dymes had two manners of conversation. In a company at all
ceremonious, and when it behoved him to make an impression, he talked as
the artist and the expert in music, with many German phrases, which he
pronounced badly, to fill up the gaps in his knowledge. His familiar
stream of talk was very different: it discarded affectation, and had a
directness, a vigour, which never left one in doubt as to his actual
views of life. How melody of any kind could issue from a nature so
manifestly ignoble might puzzle the idealist. Alma, who had known a good
many musical people, was not troubled by this difficulty; in her present
mood, she submitted to the arrogance of success, and felt a pleasure, an
encouragement, in Dymes's bluff _camaraderie_.

'Let me try to catch it on the violin,' she said when, with nodding head
and waving arm, he had hummed again through his composition.

She succeeded in doing so, and Dymes raised his humming to a sentimental
roar, and was vastly pleased with himself.

'I like to see you in a place like this,' he said. 'Looks more
business-like -- as if you really meant to do something. Do you live
here alone?'

'With a friend.'

Something peculiar in Dymes's glance caused her to add, 'A German girl,
an art student.' Whereat the musician nodded and smiled.

'And what's your idea? Come now, let's talk about it. I wonder whether I
could be of any use to you -- awfully glad if I could.'

Alma was abashed, stammered her vague projects, and reddened under the
man's observant eye.

'Look here,' he cried, with his charming informality, 'didn't you use to
sing? Somebody told me you had a pretty good voice.'

'Oh, that was long ago.'

'I wish you'd let me hear you.'

'No, no! I don't sing at all.'

'Pity, if it's true. I want to write a serio-comic opera, a new sort of
thing, and it struck me you were just cut out for that kind of singing.
You have the face and the -- you know -- the refinement; sort of thing
not easy to find. It's a poor chance, I'm afraid, coming out as a
violinist.'

Half inclined to resent his impertinence, yet subdued by the practical
tone and air of superior knowledge, Alma kept a grave face. Dymes,
crossing his legs, went on with talk of projects he had in view, all
intended to be lucrative. He had capital; nothing great, just a
comfortable sum which he was bent on using to the best advantage. His
songs would presently be bringing him in a few hundreds a year -- so he
declared -- and his idea of life was to get as much enjoyment as
possible without working over-hard for it. The conversation lasted for a
couple of hours, Dymes growing even more genial and confidential, his
eyes seldom moving from Alma's face.

'Well,' he said at length, rising, 'it's very jolly to see you again,
after all this time. I shall be staying here for a few days. You'll let
me call tomorrow?'

At once glad and sorry to see him go, Alma laughingly gave the desired
permission. When, that evening, she looked at her unfinished letter, it
seemed such a miserable whine that she tore it up in annoyance. Dymes's
visit had done her good; she felt, if not a renewal of hope, at all
events the courage which comes of revived spirits.

The next day she awaited his arrival with a pleasant expectation. He
entered humming an air -- another new composition -- which again she
caught from him and played on the violin.

'Good, don't you think? I'm in great vein just now -- always am in the
spring, and when the weather's fine. I say, you're looking much better
today -- decidedly more fit. What do you do here for exercise? Do you go
to the Englische Garten? Come now, will you? Let's have a drive.'

With sudden coldness Alma excused herself. The musician scrutinised her
rapidly, bit his lip, and looked round to the window; but in a moment he
had recovered his loud good humour.

'You'll hardly believe it, but it's the plain truth, that I came all
this way just to see you. I hadn't thought of coming to Germany till I
met Miss Leach and heard about you. Now I'm so far, I might as well go
on into Italy, and make a round of it. I wish you were coming too.'

Alma made no reply. He scrutinised her as before, and his features
worked as if with some emotion. Then, abruptly, he put a blunt question.

'Do you think people who go in for music, art, and that kind of thing,
ought to marry?'

'I never thought about it at all,' Alma replied, with a careless laugh,
striking a finger across the strings of the violin which she held on her
lap.

'We're generally told they shouldn't,' pursued Dymes, in a voice which
had lost its noisy confidence, and was a little uncertain. 'But it all
depends, you know. If people mean by marriage the ordinary kind of thing
-- of course, that's the deuce. But it needn't be. Lots of people marry
nowadays and live in a rational way -- no house, or bother of that kind;
just going about as they like, and having a pleasant, reasonable life.
It's easy enough with a little money. Sometimes they're a good deal of
help to each other; I know people who manage to be.'

'Oh, I dare say,' said Alma when he paused. 'It all depends, as you say.
You're going on to Italy at once?'

Her half-veiled eyes seemed to conceal amusement, and there was
good-humoured disdain in the setting of her lips. With audacity so
incredible that it all but made her laugh, Dymes, not heeding her
inquiry, jerked out the personal application of his abstract remarks.
Yes, it was a proposal of marriage -- marriage on the new plan, without
cares or encumbrance; a suggestion rather than a petition; off-hand,
unsentimental, yet perfectly serious, as look and tone proclaimed.

'There's much to be said for your views,' Alma replied, with humorous
gravity, 'but I haven't the least intention of marrying.'

'Well, I've mentioned it.' He waved his hand as if to overcome an
unwonted embarrassment. 'You don't mind?'

'Not a bit.'

'I hope we shall meet again before long, and -- some day, you know --
you may see the thing in another light. You mustn't think I'm joking.'

'But it _is_ rather a joke.'

'No; I never was more in earnest about anything, believe me. And I'm
convinced it's a good idea. However, you know one thing -- if I can be
of use to you, I shall. I'll think it over -- your chances and so on;
something may suggest itself. You're not cut out for everyday things.'

'I try to hope not.'

'Ah, but you can take my word for it.'

With this comforting assurance, Felix Dymes departed. No melodrama; a
hand-grip, a significant nod, a loud humming as he went downstairs.

Alma presently began a new letter to Sibyl Carnaby. It was written in a
cheery humour, though touched by the shadow of distressful circumstance.
She told the story of Mr. Dymes's visit, and made merry over it. 'I am
sure this is the very newest thing in "proposals". Though I live in such
a dull, lonely way, it has made me feel that I am still in touch with
civilisation. And really, if the worst come to the worst -- but it's
dangerous to joke about such things.' She touched lightly on the facts
of her position. 'I'm afraid I have not been doing very much. Perhaps
this is a fallow time with me; I may be gaining strength for great
achievements. Unfortunately, I have a lazy companion. Miss Steinfeld
(you know her from my last letter, if you got it) only pretends to work.
I like her for her thorough goodness and her intelligence; but she is
just a little _melancholisch_, and so not exactly the companion I need.
Her idea just now is that we both need "change" and she wants me to go
with her to Bregenz, on the Bodensee. Perhaps I shall when the weather
gets hot.'

It had surprised her to be told by Felix Dymes that he obtained her
address at Munich from Miss Leach, for the only person in England to
whom she had yet made known her departure from Leipzig was her
step-mother. Speak of her how they might, her acquaintances in London
still took trouble to inform themselves of her movements. Perhaps the
very completeness of the catastrophe in which she was involved told in
her favour; possibly she excited much more interest than could ever have
attached to her whilst her name was respected. There was new life in the
thought. She wrote briefly to Dora Leach, giving an account of herself,
which, though essentially misleading, was not composed in a spirit of
conscious falsehood. For all her vanity, Alma had never aimed at effect
by practice of deliberate insincerities. Miss Leach was informed that
her friend could not find much time for correspondence. 'I am living in
the atmosphere of art, and striving patiently. Some day you shall hear
of me.' And when the letter was posted, Alma mused long on the effect it
would produce.

With the distinguished violinist; the friend of Herr Wilenski, spoken of
to Mrs. Frothingham, she had as yet held no communication, and through
the days of early summer she continued to neglect her music. Indolence
grew upon her; sometimes she spent the whole day in a dressing-gown,
seated or reclining, with a book in her hand, or totally unoccupied.
Sometimes the military bands in the public gardens tempted her to walk a
little, or she strolled with Miss Steinfeld through the picture
galleries; occasionally they made short excursions into the country. The
art student had acquaintances in Munich, but did not see much of them,
and they were not the kind of people with whom Alma cared to associate.

In July it was decided that they should go for a few weeks to Bregenz;
their health called for the change, which, as Miss Steinfeld knew of a
homely _pension_, could he had at small expense. Before their departure
the art student was away for a few days, and, to relieve the dreariness
of an existence which was becoming burdensome, Alma went out alone one
afternoon, purposing a trip by steam-tram to the gardens at Nymphenburg.
She walked to the Stiglmeyerplatz, where the tram starts, and there
stood waiting. A carriage drove past, with a sound of English voices,
which drew her attention. She saw three children, a lady, and a
gentleman. The last-mentioned looked at her, and she recognised Cyrus
Redgrave. Whether he knew her face seemed uncertain. Hoping to escape
unobserved, she turned quickly, and walked a few yards. Before she faced
round again, a quick footstep approached her, and the next moment Mr
Redgrave stood, hat in hand, courteously claiming her acquaintance.

'I thought I could not possibly be mistaken!'

The carriage, having stopped for him to alight, was driving away.

'That is my sister and her children,' said Redgrave, when he had warmly
shaken hands and expressed his pleasure at the meeting. 'You never met
her. Her husband is in India, and you see me in full domesticity. This
morning I posted a note to you; of course, you haven't received it yet.'

Alma did her best to behave with dignity. In any case it would have been
trying to encounter such a man as Redgrave -- wealthy, elegant, a figure
in society, who must necessarily regard her as banished from polite
circles; and in her careless costume she felt more than abashed. For the
first time a sense of degradation, of social inferiority, threatened to
overwhelm her self-respect.

'How did you know my address?' she asked, with an involuntary imitation
of hauteur, made pathetic by the flush on her face and the lingering
half-smile.

'Mrs. Frothingham kindly gave it me. -- You were walking this way, I
think? -- My sister is living at Stuttgart, and I happened to come over
just in time to act as her courier on a journey to Salzburg. We got here
yesterday, and go on tomorrow, or the day after. I dropped you a note,
asking if I might call.'

'Where have you seen Mamma lately?' asked Alma, barely attentive to the
explanations he was giving her.

'In London, quite by chance. In fact, it was at Waterloo Station. Mrs
Frothingham was starting for the country, and I happened to be going to
Wimbledon. I told her I might possibly see you on my way through
Munich.'

Alma began to recover herself. That Cyrus Redgrave should still take an
interest in her was decidedly more gratifying than the eccentric
compliment of Felix Dymes. She strove to forget the humiliation of
having been found standing in a public place, waiting for a tram-car. In
Redgrave's manner no change was perceptible, unless, indeed, he spoke
with more cordiality, which must be prompted by kind feeling. Their
acquaintance covered only a year or two, and had scarcely amounted to
what passes for friendship, but Redgrave seemed oblivious of late
unpleasant events.

'I'm glad you didn't call unexpectedly,' she said, trying to strike a
light note. 'I'm a student now -- no longer an amateur -- and live as a
student must.'

'So much the better. I'm a natural bohemian myself, and like nothing so
well as to disregard ceremony. And, by-the-bye, that's the very reason
why I ran away from my sister to speak to you; I knew you would dislike
formalities. I'm afraid I was rather glad than otherwise to escape. We
have been taking the children for a drive -- charming little rascals,
but for the moment my domestic instincts are satisfied. Mrs. Frothingham
mentioned that you were living with a friend -- an art student.'

'We go away for a holiday in a day or two,' said Alma, more at her ease.
'To Bregenz -- do you know it?'

'By name only. You go in a day or two? I wish you would let me know your
address there,' he added, with frank friendliness. 'I go on with my
sister to Salzburg, and then turn off on my own account; I might be able
to pass your way, and I should so much like to have a talk with you -- a
real talk, about music and all sorts of things. Did I ever tell you of
my little place at Riva, head of Lake Garda? Cosy little nook, but I'm
not there very often; I half thought of going for a week or two's
quietness. Quite cool there by the lake. But I really must try to see
you at Bregenz -- do let me.'

He begged it as a favour, a privilege, and Alma without hesitation told
him where she would be living.

'For a few weeks? Oh, then, I shall make a point of coming that way.
You're not working too hard, I hope? I know you don't do things by
halves. When I first heard you were going in seriously for music, I said
to myself, "_Tant mieux_, another great violinist!"'

The listener reddened with delight; her step became elastic; she carried
her head gallantly, and feared not the glances Redgrave cast at her.

'I have learnt not to talk about myself,' she said, bestowing a smile
upon him. 'That's the first bad habit to be overcome by the amateur
converted.'

'Capital! An axiom worth putting into print, for the benefit of all and
sundry. Now I must say goodbye; that fellow yonder will take me back to
the domesticities.' He hailed an empty carriage. 'We shall meet again
among the mountains. _Auf Wiedersehen_!'

Alma continued to walk along the Nymphenburg road, unconscious of
external things. The tram for which she had been waiting passed by; she
no longer cared to go out into the country. It was enough to keep moving
in the bright sunshine, and to think her thoughts.

No; people had by no means forgotten her. Whilst she was allowing
herself to fall into gloom and indolence, her acquaintances, it was
evident, made her a constant subject of talk, of speculation; just what
she had desired, but had lost courage to believe. They expected great
things of her; her personal popularity and her talents had prevailed
against the most prejudicial circumstance; people did not think of her
as the daughter of Bennet Frothingham, -- unless to contrast the
hopefulness of her future with the black calamity that lay behind.

She waxed philosophical. How everything in this world tends to good! At
her father's death she had mourned bitterly; it had struck her to the
heart; his imprudence (she could never use, even in thought, a harsher
word) pained more than it shamed her, and not a day passed but she
sorrowed over the dishonour that darkened his memory. Yet were not these
woes and disasters the beginning of a new life for _her_! In prosperity,
what would she ever have become? Nothing less than being thrown out into
the world could have given her the impulse needed to realise a high
ambition. '_Tant mieux_, another great violinist!' How sincerely, how
inspiringly, it was said!

And Alma's feet had brought her home again before she paused to reflect
that, for all purposes of ambition, the past half-year had been utterly
wasted. Never mind; after her return from Bregenz!

On her table lay Redgrave's note; a very civil line or two, requesting
permission to call. There was another letter, black-bordered, which came
from her step-mother. Mrs. Frothingham said that she had been about to
write for several days, but all sorts of disagreeable business had
hindered her; even now, she could only write hurriedly. In the last
fortnight she had had to go twice to London. 'And really I think I shall
be obliged to go and live there again, for a time; so many things have
to be seen to. It might be best, perhaps, if I took a small flat. I was
going to say, however, that the last time I went up, I met Mr. Redgrave,
and we had quite a long talk -- about _you_. He was most sincerely
interested in your future; indeed it quite surprised me, for I will
confess that I had never had a very high opinion of him. I fancy he
suffered _no loss_. His behaviour to me was that of a gentleman, very
different from that of some people I could name. But it was _you_ he
spoke of most. He said he was shortly going to Germany, and begged me to
let him have your address, and really I saw no harm in it. He may call
upon you. If so, let me hear all about it, for it will interest me very
much.'

Alma had half a mind to reply at once, but on reflection decided to
wait. After all, Mr. Redgrave might not keep his promise of coming to see
her at Bregenz, and in that event a very brief report of what had
happened would suffice. But she felt sure that he meant to come.

And decidedly she hoped it; why, she was content to leave a rosy
vagueness.


CHAPTER 8


Alma and her German friend silently agreed in foreseeing that they would
not live together much longer. Miss Steinfeld, eager at first to talk
English, was relapsing into her native tongue, and as Alma lazily
avoided German, they conversed in different languages, each with a
sprinkling of foreign phrase. The English girl might have allied herself
with a far worse companion; for, in spite of defects which resembled
Alma's own, vagueness of purpose, infirmity of will, Miss Steinfeld had
a fund of moral principle which made her talk wholesome and her
aspirations an influence for good. She imagined herself in love with an
artist whom she had seen only two or three times, and no strain could
have been more exalted than that in which she confided her romance to
the sympathetic Alma. Sympathetic, that is, within her limits; for Miss
Frothingham had never been in love, and rarely indulged a mood of
sentiment. Her characteristic emotions she of course did not reveal,
save unconsciously, and Miss Steinfeld knew nothing of the tragic
circumstances which explained her friend's solitude.

In the first days at Bregenz they felt a renewal of pleasure in each
other's society; Alma's spirits were much improved; she enjoyed the
scenery, and lived in the open air. There was climbing of mountains, the
Pfander with its reward of noble outlook, and the easier Gebhardsberg,
with its hanging woods; there was boating on the lake, and rambling
along its shores, with rest and refreshment at some Gartenwithschaft.
Miss Steinfeld, whose reading and intelligence were superior to Alma's,
liked to explore the Roman ruins and linger in the museum. Alma could
not long keep up a pretence of interest in the relics of Brigantium; but
she said one day, with a smile ----

'I know someone who would enjoy this kind of thing -- an Englishman --
very learned ----'

'Old?' inquired her friend significantly.

'Yes -- no. Neither old nor young. A strange man; rather interesting.
I've a good mind,' she added mischievously, 'to send him a photograph.'

'Of yourself?'

'Oh dear, no! He wouldn't care for that. A view of the Alt-Stadt.'

And in her mood of frolic she acted upon the thought. She purchased two
or three views, had them done up for post, and addressed them to Harvey
Rolfe, Esq, at the Metropolitan Club; for his private address she could
not remember, but the club remained in her mind from Sibyl's talk of it.
when the packet was gone, of course she regretted having sent it. More
likely than not, Mr. Rolfe considered himself to have ended all
acquaintance with the disgraced family, and, if he recognised her
handwriting, would just throw the photographs aside. Let him; it
mattered nothing, one way or the other.

When a week had passed, the novelty of things wore off; the friends
began to wander apart; Miss Steinfeld made acquaintances in the
_pension_, and Alma drifted into solitude. At the end of a fortnight she
was tired of everything, wished to go away, thought longingly of
England. It was plain that Mr. Redgrave would not come; he had never
seriously meant it; his _Auf Wiedersehen_ was a mere civility to get rid
of her in the street. Why had he troubled to inquire about her at all?
Of course it didn't matter -- nothing mattered -- but if ever she met
him again! Alma tried her features in expression of cold scornfulness.

On the next day, as she was returning from an idle walk with her friend
along the Lindau road, Mr. Redgrave met them. He was dressed as she had
never seen him, in flannels, with a white necktie loosely knotted and a
straw hat. Not till he had come near enough to salute did she recognise
him; he looked ten years younger.

They talked as if the meeting were of daily occurrence. Redgrave
addressed himself to Miss Steinfeld as often as to Alma, and showed a
graceful command of decorous commonplace. He had arrived early this
morning, had put up at the Oesterreichischer Hof, was already delighted
with Brogenz. Did Miss Steinfeld devote herself to landscape? Had she
done anything here? Had Miss Frothingham brought her violin? They
strolled pleasantly to the Hafen promenade, and parted at length with
assurances of meeting again, as if definite appointment were needless.

'That is my idea of the English gentleman,' said Miss Steinfeld
afterwards. 'I think I should have taken him for a lord. No doubt he is
very rich?'

'Oh, pretty well off,' Alma replied, with assumed indifference. 'Ten
thousand pounds a year, I dare say.'

'Ten thousand! _Lieber Himmel_! And married?'

'No.'

'In Parliament, I suppose?'

'No.'

'Then, what does he do?'

'Oh, amuses himself.'

Each became occupied with her thoughts. Alma's were so agreeable, that
Miss Steinfeld, observing her, naturally fell into romantic speculation.

Redgrave easily contrived that his next walk should be with Miss
Frothingham alone. He overtook her next morning, soon after she had left
the house, and they rambled in the Gebhardsberg direction.

'Now let us have the promised talk,' he began at a favourable moment.
'I've been thinking about you all the time.'

'Did you go to your place on Lake Garda?'

'Yes; just to look at it, and get it put in order. I hope to be there
again before long. You didn't doubt I should come?'

'You left it uncertain.'

'To be sure. Life is uncertain. But I should have been desperately
disappointed if I hadn't found you here. There are so many things to be
said about going in for music as a profession. You have the talent, you
have the physical strength, I think.' His eye flattered her from head to
foot. 'But, to be a great artist, one must have more than technical
qualifications. It's the soul that must be developed.'

Alma laughed.

'I know it. And what is your receipt for developing the soul?'

Redgrave paused in his walk. Smiling, he gave a twist to his moustache,
and appeared to meditate profoundly.

'The soul -- well, it has a priggish sound. Let us say the character;
and that is developed through experience of life.'

'I'm getting it.'

'Are you? In the company of Miss Steinfeld? I'm afraid that won't carry
you very far. Experience means emotion; certainly, for a woman. Believe
me, you haven't begun to live yet. You may practise on your violin day
and night, and it won't profit you -- until you have _lived_.'

Alma was growing serious. These phrases harmonised well enough with her
own insubstantial thoughts and idly-gathered notions. When preparing to
escape from England, she had used much the same language. But, after
all, what did it mean? What, in particular, did Cyrus Redgrave mean,
with his expressive eyes, and languid, earnest tone?

'You will say that a girl has few opportunities. True, thanks to her
enslavement by society.'

'I care nothing for society,' Alma interposed.

'Good! I like the sound of that defiance; it has the right ring. A man
hasn't often the pleasure of hearing that from a woman he can respect.
It's easy, of course, to defy the laws of a world one doesn't belong to;
but you, who are a queen in your circle, and may throne, at any moment,
in a wider sphere -- it means much when you refuse to bow down before
the vulgar idols, to be fettered by superstitions.'

His aim was dark to her, but she tasted the compliment which ignored her
social eclipse. Redgrave's conversation generally kept on the prosaic
levels -- studiously polite, or suavely cynical. It was a new experience
to see him borne on a wave of rhetoric; yet not borne away, for he spoke
with an ease, a self-command, which to older ears would have suggested
skill rather than feeling. He had nothing of the ardour of youth; his
poise and deliberation were quite in keeping with the two score years
that subtly graved his visage; the passions in him were sportive,
half-fantastical, as though, together with his brain, they had grown to
a ripe worldliness. He inspired no distrust; his good nature seemed
all-pervading; he had the air of one who lavishes disinterested counsel,
and ever so little exalts himself with his facile exuberance of speech.

'I have seen much of artists; known them intimately, and studied their
lives. One and all, they date their success from some passionate
experience. From a cold and conventional existence can come nothing but
cold and conventional art. You left England, broke away from the common
routine, from the artificial and the respectable. That was an
indispensable first step, and I have told you how I applauded it. But
you cannot stop at this. I begin to fear for you. There is a convention
of unconventionality: poor quarters, hard life, stinted pleasures -- all
that kind of thing. I fear its effect upon you.'

'What choice have I?' exclaimed Alma, moved to familiar frankness. 'If I
_am_ poor, I must live poorly.'

He smiled graciously upon her, and raised his hand almost as though he
would touch her with reassuring kindness; but it was only to stroke his
trimmed beard.

'Oh, you have a choice, believe me,' came his airy answer. 'There's no
harm in poverty that doesn't last too long. You may have profited by it;
it is an experience. But now -- Don't let us walk so far as to tire you.
Yes, we will turn. Variety of life, travel, all sorts of joys and
satisfactions -- these are the things you need.'

'And if they are not within my reach?' she asked, without looking at
him.

'By-the-bye' -- he disregarded her question -- 'your friend, Mrs
Carnaby, has taken a long flight.'

'Yes.'

The monosyllable was dropped. Alma walked with her eyes on the ground,
trailing her sunshade.

'I didn't think she had much taste for travel. But you know her so much
better than I do.'

'She is enjoying herself,' said Alma.

'No need for _you_ to go so far. Down yonder' -- he nodded southward --
'I was thinking, the other day, of the different kinds of pleasure one
gets from scenery in different parts of the world. I have seen the
tropics; they left me very much where I was, intellectually. It's the
human associations of natural beauty that count. You have no desire to
go to the islands of the Pacific?'

'I can't say that I have.'

'Of course not. The springs of art are in the old world. Among the vines
and the olives one hears a voice. I must really try to give you some
idea of my little place at Riva.'

He began a playful description -- long, but never tedious; alluring, yet
without enthusiasm -- a dreamy suggestion of refined delights and
luxuries.

'I have another place in the Pyrenees, to suit another mood; and not
long ago I was sorely tempted by the offer of a house not far from
Antioch, in the valley of the Orontes -- a house built by an Englishman.
Charming place, and so entirely off the beaten track. Isn't there a
fascination in the thought of living near Antioch? Well away from bores
and philistines. No Mrs. Grundy with her clinking tea-cups. I dare say
the house is still to be had. -- Oh, do tell me something about your
friend, Fraulein Steinfeld. Is she in earnest? Will she do anything?'

His eloquence was at an end. Thenceforward he talked of common things in
unemotional language; and when Alma parted from him, it was with a sense
of being tired and disappointed.

On the following day she did not see him at all. He could not have left
Bregenz, for, of course, he would have let her know. She thought of him
incessantly, reviewing all his talk, turning over this and that
ambiguous phrase, asking herself whether he meant much or little. It was
natural that she should compare and contrast his behaviour with that of
Felix Dymes. If his motive were not the same, why did he seek her
society? And if it were? If at length he spoke out, summing his hints in
the plain offer of all those opportunities she lacked?

A brilliant temptation. To leave the world as Alma Frothingham, and to
return to it as Mrs. Cyrus Redgrave!

But, in that event, what of her musical ambitions? He spoke of her art
as the supreme concern, to which all else must be subordinate. And
surely that was his meaning when he threw scorn upon 'bores and
philistines'. Why should the fact of his wealth interfere with her
progress as an artist? Possibly, on the other hand, he did not intend
that she should follow a professional career. Cannot one be a great
artist without standing on public platforms? Was it his lordly thought
to foster her talents for his own delectation and that of the few
privileged?

Her brain grew confused with interpreting and picturing. But once more
she had made an advance in self-esteem. She could await the next meeting
with a confidence and pride very unlike her sensations in the
Stiglmeyerplatz at Munich.

It took place on the second day. This time Redgrave did not wait upon
accident; he sent a note, begging that he might have the pleasure of
another talk with her. He would call at a certain hour, and take his
chance of finding her at home. When he presented himself, Alma was
sitting in the common room of the _pension_ with two German ladies; they
in a few minutes withdrew, and familiar conversation became possible. As
the windows stood open, and there were chairs upon the balcony, Redgrave
shortly proposed a move in that direction. They sat together for half an
hour.

When Redgrave took his leave, it was without shaking of hands -- with no
_Auf Wiedersehen_. He smiled, he murmured civilities; Alma neither
smiled nor spoke. She was pale, and profoundly agitated.

So this was his meaning? -- made plain enough at last, though with the
most graceful phrasing. Childish vanity and ignorance had forbidden her
to dream of such an issue. She had not for a moment grasped the
significance to a man of the world of the ruin and disgrace fallen upon
her family. In theory she might call herself an exile from the polite
world; none the less did she imagine herself still illumined by the
social halo, guarded by the divinity which doth hedge a member of the
upper-middle class. Was she not a lady? And who had ever dared to offer
a lady an insult such as this? Shop-girls, minor actresses, the inferior
sort of governess, must naturally be on their guard; their insecurity
was traditional; novel and drama represented their moral vicissitudes.
But a lady, who had lived in a great house with many servants, who had
founded an Amateur Quartet Society, the hem of whose garment had never
been touched with irreverent finger -- could _she_ stand in peril of
such indignity?

Not till now had she called to mind the forewarnings of Sibyl Carnaby,
which, at the time of hearing them, she did not at all understand.
'People,' said Sibyl, 'would approach her with strange ideas.' This she
might have applied to the grotesque proposal (as it seemed to her) of
Felix Dymes, or to the risk of being tempted into premature publicity by
a business offer from some not very respectable impresario. What Sibyl
meant was now only too clear; but how little could Mrs. Carnaby have
imagined that her warning would be justified by one of her own friends
-- by a man of wealth and consideration.

She durst not leave the house for fear of encountering Redgrave, who, if
they crossed by chance, might fancy she invited another meeting. She
dreaded the observation of women, especially of Miss Steinfeld. The only
retreat was her bedroom, and here she secluded herself till dinner-time.
At this meal she must needs face the company or incur remark. She tried
to return her friend's smile with the ordinary unconcern. After dinner
there was no avoiding Miss Steinfeld, whose air of extreme discretion
showed that she had an inkling of events, and awaited confidences.

'Mr. Redgrave has gone -- he called to say goodbye.'

'_So_?'

Irritated by self-consciousness, revolting against a misinterpretation
which would injure her vanity, though it was not likely to aim at her
honour, Alma had recourse to fiction.

'I daresay you guess? -- Yes, and I refused.'

Miss Steinfeld was puzzled. It did not astonish her that a girl should
reject ten thousand pounds per annum, for that she was too high-minded;
but she had thought it beyond doubt that Alma's heart was engaged. Here,
it had seemed to her, was the explanation of a mystery attaching to this
original young Englishwoman; unhoped, the brilliant lover, the secretly
beloved, had sought her in her retirement. And after all, it was a
mistake.

'I don't care for him a bit,' Alma went on. 'It had to be got over and
done with, that was all.'

She felt ashamed of herself. In childhood she had told falsehoods
freely, but with the necessity for that kind of thing the habit had
fallen away. Solace, however, was at hand, for the German girl looked at
her with a new interest, a new sympathy, which Alma readily construed as
wonder and admiration, if not gentle envy. To have refused an offer of
marriage from a handsome man of great wealth might be counted for glory.
And Alma's momentary shame yielded to a gratification which put her
outwardly at ease.

The restless night brought torment of the mind and harassed spirits.
Redgrave's proposal echoed in the vacant chambers of her life, sounding
no longer an affront, but an allurement. Why, indeed, had she repelled
it so unthinkingly? It did not necessarily mean scandal. He had not
invited her to open defiance of the world. 'You can absolutely trust me;
I am discretion itself. All resources are at my command.' Why had she
rejected with scorn and horror what was, perhaps, her great opportunity,
the one hope of her struggling and sinking ambition? She had lost faith
in herself; in her power to overcome circumstances, not yet in her
talent, in her artistic birthright. Redgrave would have made her path
smooth. 'I promise you a great reputation in two or three years' time.'
And without disgrace, without shadow of suspicion, it would all be
managed, he declared, so very easily. For what alternative had she
rebuffed him?

Redgrave's sagacity had guided him well up to a certain point, but it
had lost sight of one thing essential to the success of his scheme.
Perhaps because he was forty years of age, perhaps because he had so
often come and seen and conquered, perhaps because he made too low an
estimate of Bennet Frothingham's daughter, -- he simply overlooked
sentimental considerations. It was a great and a fatal oversight. He
went far in his calculated appeal to Alma's vanity; had he but credited
her with softer passions, and given himself the trouble to play upon
them, he would not, at all events, have suffered so sudden a defeat. Men
of Redgrave's stamp grow careless, and just at the time of life when,
for various causes, the art which conceals art has become indispensable.
He did not flatter himself that Alma was ready to fall in love with him;
and here his calm maturity served him ill. To his own defect of ardour
he was blinded by habit. After all, the affair had little consequence.
It had only suggested itself after the meeting in Munich, and perhaps --
he said to himself -- all things considered, the event was just as well.

But Alma felt the double insult, to her worldly honour, to her
womanhood. The man had not even made pretence of loving her; and this,
whilst it embittered her disappointment, strengthened her to cast from
her mind the baser temptation. Marriage she would have accepted, though
doubtless with becoming hesitancy; the offer could not have been made
without one word of tenderness (for Cyrus Redgrave was another than
Felix Dymes), and she had not felt it impossible to wed this polished
capitalist. Out of the tumult of her feelings, as another day went by,
issued at length that one simple and avowable sense of disappointment.
She had grasped the prize, and heated her imagination in regarding it;
had overcome natural reluctances, objections personal and moral; was
ready to sit down and write to Mrs. Frothingham the splendid, startling
announcement. And here she idled in her bedroom, desolate, hopeless,
wishing she had courage to steal down at night to the waters of the
Bodensee, and end it all.

On the third day she returned to Munich, having said farewell to her
friend, who was quite prepared for the parting. From Munich she
proceeded to Leipzig, and there entered again the family circle of the
Gassners. She had no intention of staying for very long; the pretence of
musical study could not be kept up; but her next step was quite
uncertain.

A fortnight later, Mrs. Frothingham wrote thus: ----

'I am sending you on a letter which, if I am not mistaken, comes from Mr
Rolfe. Do tell me if I am right. Odd that he should write to you, if it
is he. You have not told me yet whether you saw Mr. Redgrave again. But I
see that you don't care much, and perhaps it is as well.'

The forwarded letter had been originally addressed to the care of Mrs
Frothingham, and Alma, at a glance, recognised Harvey Rolfe's writing.
He dated from London. Was he mistaken, he began, in thinking that
certain photographs from Bregenz had come to him by Miss Frothingham's
kindness? For his part, he had spent June in a ramble in South-west
France, chiefly by the Dordogne, and through a strange, interesting bit
of marsh-country, called La Double. 'I hardly know how I got there, and
I shall not worry you by writing any account of the expedition. But at a
miserable village called La Roche Chalais, where I had a most
indigestible supper and a bed unworthy of the name, I managed to fall
ill, and quite seriously thought, "Ah, here is the end!" It has to come
somewhere, and why not on a _grabat_ at La Roche Chalais? A mistake; I
am here again, wasting life as strenuously as ever. Would you let me
hear from you? I should think it a great addition to your kindness in
sending the views. And so, with every good wish, he remained, &c.

Having nothing better to do, Alma got out a map of France, and searched
for La Roche Chalais; but the place was too insignificant to be marked.
On the morrow, being still without occupation, she answered Rolfe's
letter, and in quite a playful vein. She had no time to correspond with
people who 'wasted their lives'. To her, life was a serious matter
enough. But he knew nothing of the laborious side of a musician's
existence, and probably doubted its reality. As an afterthought, she
thanked him gravely for his letter, and hoped that some day, when she
had really 'done something', they might meet and renew their friendship.


CHAPTER 9


On an afternoon in September, Harvey Rolfe spent half an hour at a
certain London bookseller's, turning over books that dealt with the
theory and practice of elementary education. Two or three of them he
selected, and ordered to be sent to a lady at Gunnersbury. On his way
out he came upon an acquaintance making a purchase in another department
of the shop. It was some months since he had seen Cecil Morphew, who
looked in indifferent health, and in his dress came near to shabbiness.
They passed out together, Morphew carrying an enwrapped volume, which he
gave Rolfe to understand was a birthday present -- for _her_. The elder
man resisted his inclination to joke, and asked how things were going
on.

'Much the same as usual, except that her father is in very bad health.
It's brutal, but I wish he would die.'

'Naturally.'

'That's what one's driven to, you see. And anyone but you, who know me,
would set me down as a selfish, calculating beast. Can't help it. I had
rather have her penniless. -- Will you come in here with me? I want to
buy some pyrogallic acid.'

In the street again, Morphew mentioned that he had taken up photography.

'It gives me something to do, and it takes me out into the open air.
This beastly town is the ruin of me, in every way. -- Come to my rooms
for an hour, will you? I'll show you some attempts; I've only just tried
my hand at developing. And it's a long time since we had a talk.'

They made for a Chelsea omnibus and mounted.

'I thought you were never in town at this time,' Morphew resumed. 'I
want to get away, but can't afford it; devilish low-water with me. I
must have a bicycle. With that and the camera I may just manage to live;
often there seems little enough to live for. -- Tripcony? Oh, Tripcony's
a damned swindler; I've given him up. Speculation isn't quite so simple
as I imagined. I made a couple of hundred, though -- yes, and lost
nearly three.'

The young man's laugh was less pleasant to hear than formerly.
Altogether, Rolfe observed in him a decline, a loss of refinement as
well as of vitality.

'Why don't you go into the country?' he said. 'Take a cottage and grow
cabbages; dig for three hours a day. It would do you no end of good.'

'Of course it would. I wish I had the courage.'

'I'm going to spend the winter in Wales,' said Harvey. 'An
out-of-the-world place in Carnarvonshire -- mountains and sea. Come
along with me, and get the mephitis blown out of you. You've got town
disease, street-malaria, lodging-house fever.'

'By Jove, I'll think of it,' replied the other, with a strange look of
eagerness. 'But I don't know whether I can. No, I can't be sure. But
I'll try.'

'What holds you?'

'Well, I like to be near, you know, to _her_. And then -- all sorts of
difficulties ----'

Morphew had his lodgings at present in a street near Chelsea Hospital, a
poor-looking place, much inferior to those in which Rolfe had formerly
seen him. His two rooms were at the top, and he had converted a garret
into a dark chamber for his photographic amusement. Dirt and disorder
made the sitting-room very uninviting; Rolfe looked about him, and
wondered what principle of corruption was at work in the young man's
life.

Morphew showed a new portrait of his betrothed, Henrietta Winter; a
comely face, shadowed with pensiveness. 'Taken at Torquay; she sent it a
day or two ago. -- I've been thinking of giving her up. If I do, I shall
do it brutally and savagely, to make it easy for her. I've spoilt her
life, and I'm pretty sure I've ruined my own.'

He brought out a bottle of whisky and half filled two tumblers. His own
measure he very slightly diluted, and drank it off at once.

'You're at a bad pass, my boy,' remarked Rolfe. 'What's wrong? Something
more than usual, I know. Make a clean breast of it.'

Morphew continued to declare that he was only low-spirited from the
longstanding causes, and, though Rolfe did not believe him, nothing more
could at present be elicited. The talk turned to photography, but still
had no life in it.

'I think you had better dine with me this evening,' said Harvey.

'Impossible. I wish I could. An engagement.'

The young man shuffled about, and after a struggle with embarrassment,
aided by another tumbler of whisky, threw out something he wished to
say.

'It's deuced hard to ask you, but -- could you lend me some money?'

'Of course. How much? Why do you make such a sputter about it?'

'I've been making a fool of myself -- got into difficulties. Will you
let me have fifty pounds?'

'Yes, if you'll promise to clear at once out of this dust-bin, and in a
month or so come into Wales.'

'You're an awfully good fellow, Rolfe, -- and I'm a damned fool. I
promise! I will! I'll get out of it, and then I'll think about breaking
with that girl. Better for both of us -- but you shall advise me. --
I'll tell you everything some day. I can't now. I'm too ashamed of
myself.'

When he got home, Harvey wrote a cheque for fifty pounds, and posted it
at once.

Not many days after, there came to him a letter from Mrs. Frothingham.
With this lady he had held no communication since the catastrophe of
last November; knowing not how to address her without giving more pain
than his sympathy could counterbalance, he remained silent. She wrote
from the neighbourhood of Swiss Cottage, where she had taken a flat; it
was her wish, if possible, to see him 'on a matter of business', and she
requested that he would make an appointment. Much wondering in what
business of Mrs. Frothingham's he could be concerned, Harvey named his
time, and went to pay the call. He ascended many stairs, and was
conducted by a neat servant-maid into a pleasant little drawing-room,
where Mrs. Frothingham rose to receive him. She searched his face, as if
to discern the feeling with which he regarded her, and her timid smile
of reassurance did not lack its pathos.

'Mr. Rolfe, it seems years since I saw you.'

She was aged a little, and her voice fell in broken notes, an unhappy
contrast to the gay, confident chirping of less than twelve months ago.

'I have only been settled here for a week. I thought of leaving London
altogether, but, after all, I had to come backwards and forwards so
often, -- it was better to have a home here, and this little flat will
just suit me, I think.'

She seemed desirous of drawing attention to its modest proportions.

'I really don't need a house, and lodgings are so wretched. These flats
are a great blessing -- don't you think? I shall manage here with one
servant, only one.'

Rolfe struggled with the difficulty of not knowing what to say. There
was nothing for it but to discourse as innocently as might be on the
advantages of flats, their increasing popularity, and the special charms
of this particular situation. Mrs. Frothingham eagerly agreed with
everything, and did her best to allow no moment of silence.

'You have heard from Miss Frothingham, I think?' she presently let fall,
with a return of anxiety.

'Not very long ago. From Leipzig.'

'Yes. Yes. -- I don't know whether she will stay there. You know she is
thinking of taking up music professionally? -- Yes. Yes. -- I do so hope
she will find it possible, but of course that kind of career is so very
uncertain. I'm not sure that I shouldn't be glad if she turned to
something else.'

The widow was growing nervous and self-contradictory. With a quick
movement of her hands, she suddenly resumed in another tone.

'Mr. Rolfe, I do so wish you would let me speak to you in confidence. I
want to ask your help in a most delicate matter. Not, of course, about
my step-daughter, though I shall have to mention her. It is something
quite personal to myself. If I could hope that you wouldn't think it
tiresome -- I have a special reason for appealing to you.'

He would gladly, said Harvey, be of any use he could.

'I want to speak to you about painful things,' pursued his hostess, with
an animation and emphasis which made her more like the lady of Fitzjohn
Avenue. 'You know everything -- except my own position, and that is what
I wish to explain to you. I won't go into details. I will only say that
a few years ago my husband made over to me a large sum of money -- I had
none of my own -- and that it still belongs to me. I say belongs to me;
but there is my trouble. I fear I have no right whatever to call it
mine. And there are people who have suffered such dreadful losses. Some
of them you know. There was a family named Abbott. I wanted to ask you
about them. Poor Mr. Abbott -- I remember reading ----'

She closed her eyes for an instant, and the look upon her face told that
this was no affectation of an anguished memory.

'It was accident,' Rolfe hastened to say. 'The jury found it accidental
death.'

'But there was the loss -- I read it all. He had lost everything. Do
tell me what became of his family. Someone told me they were friends of
yours.'

'Happily they had no children. There was a small life-insurance. Mrs
Abbott used to be a teacher, and she is going to take that up again.'

'Poor thing! Is she quite young?'

'Oh, about thirty, I should say.'

'Will she go into a school?'

'No. Private pupils at her own house. She has plenty of courage, and
will do fairly well, I think.'

'Still, it is shocking that she should have lost all -- her husband,
too, just at that dreadful time. This is what I wanted to say, Mr. Rolfe.
Do you think it would be possible to ask her to accept something ----? I
do so feel,' she hurried on, 'that I ought to make some sort of
restitution -- what I can -- to those who lost everything. I am told
that things are not quite hopeless; something may be recovered out of
the wreck some day. But it will be such a long time, and meanwhile
people are suffering so. And here am I left in comfort -- more than
comfort. It isn't right; I couldn't rest till I did something. I am glad
to say that I have been able to help a little here and there, but only
the kind of people whom it's easy to help. A case like Mrs. Abbott's is
far worse, yet there's such a difficulty in doing anything; one might
only give offence. I'm sure my name must be hateful to her -- as it is
to so many.'

Rolfe listened with a secret surprise. He had never thought ill of Mrs
Frothingham; but, on the other hand, had never attributed to her any
save superficial qualities, a lightsome temper, pleasure in hospitality,
an easy good nature towards all the people of her acquaintance. He would
not have supposed her capable of substantial sacrifices; least of all,
on behalf of strangers and inspired by a principle. She spoke with the
simplest sincerity; it was impossible to suspect her motives. The
careless liking with which he had always regarded her was now infused
with respect; he became gravely attentive, and answered in a softer
voice.

'She was embittered at first, but is overcoming it. To tell you the
truth, I think she will benefit by this trial. I don't like the words
that are so often used in cant; I don't believe that misery does any
good to most people -- indeed, I know very well that it generally does
harm. But Mrs. Abbott seems to be an exception; she has a good deal of
character; and there were circumstances -- well, I will only say that
she faces the change in her life very bravely.'

'I do wish I knew her. But I daren't ask that. It's too much to expect
that she could bear to see me and listen to what I have to say.'

'The less she's reminded of the past the better, I think.'

'But would it not be possible to do something? I am told that the sum
was about fifteen hundred pounds. The whole of that I couldn't restore;
but half of it -- I could afford so much. Could I offer to do so -- not
directly, in my own name, but through you?'

Harvey reflected, his head and body bent forward, his hands folded
together. In the flat beneath, someone was jingling operetta on a piano
not quite in tune; the pertinacious vivacity of the airs interfered with
Harvey's desire to view things seriously. He had begun to wonder how
large a capital Mrs. Frothingham had at her command. Was it not probable
that she could as easily bestow fifteen hundred pounds as the half of
that sum? But the question was unworthy. If in truth she had set herself
to undo as much as possible of the wrong perpetrated by her husband, Mrs
Frothingham might well limit her benefactions, be her fortune what it
might.

'I will do whatever you desire,' he said, with deliberation. 'I cannot
answer for Mrs. Abbott, but, if you wish it, she shall know what you have
in mind.'

'I do wish it,' replied the lady earnestly. 'I beg you to put this
before her, and with all the persuasion you can use. I should be very,
very glad if she would allow me to free my conscience from a little of
this burden. Only that I dare not speak of it, I would try to convince
you that I am doing what my dear husband himself would have wished. You
can't believe it; no one will ever believe it; even Alma, I am afraid --
and that is so cruel, so dreadful; but he did not mean to wrong people
in this way. It wasn't in his nature. Who knew him better than I, or so
well? I know -- if he could come back to us ----'

Her voice broke. The piano below jingled more vivaciously than ever, and
a sound of shrill laughter pierced through the notes. Afraid to sit
silent, lest he should seem unsympathetic and sceptical, Rolfe murmured
a few harmless phrases, tending to nervous incoherence.

'I am thinking so much about Alma,' pursued the widow, recovering
self-command. 'I am so uncertain about my duty to her. Of her own, she
has nothing; but I know, of course, that her father wished her to share
in what he gave me. It is strange, Mr. Rolfe, that I should be talking to
you as if you were a relative -- as if I had a right to trouble you with
these things. But if you knew how few people I dare speak to. Wasn't it
so much better for her to lead a very quiet life? And so I gave her only
a little money, only enough to live upon in the simplest way. I hoped
she would get tired of being among strangers, and come back. And now I
fear she thinks I have behaved meanly and selfishly. And we were always
so kindly disposed to each other, such thorough friends; never a word
that mightn't have passed between a mother and her own child.'

'I gathered from her letter,' interposed Harvey, 'that she was well
contented and working hard at her music.'

'Do you think so? I began to doubt -- she wrote in low spirits. Of
course, one can't say whether she would succeed as a violinist. Oh, I
don't like to think of it! I must tell you that I haven't said a word to
her yet of what I am doing; I mean, about the money. I know I ought to
consider _her_ as much as other people. Poor girl, who has suffered
more, and in so many ways? But I think of what I keep for myself as
hers. I was not brought up in luxury, Mr. Rolfe. It wouldn't seem to me
hard to live on a very little. But in this, too, I must consider Alma. I
daren't lose all my acquaintances. I must keep a home for Alma, and a
home she wouldn't feel ashamed of. Here, you see, she could have her
friends. I have thought of going to Leipzig; but I had so much rather
she came to London -- if only for us just to talk and understand each
other.'

Harvey preserved the gravest demeanour. Of Alma he would not permit
himself to speak, save in answer to a direct question; and that was not
long in coming.

'I am sure you think I should be quite open with her?'

'That would seem to me the best.'

'Yes; she shall know all my thoughts. But with regard to Mrs. Abbott, I
know so well what she would say. I beg you to do me that kindness, Mr
Rolfe.'

'I will write to Mrs. Abbott at once.'

The interview was at an end; neither had anything more to say. They
parted with looks of much mutual kindliness, Harvey having promised to
make another call when Mrs. Abbott's reply had reached him.

After exchanging letters with Mrs. Abbott, Harvey went over to see her;
for the sake of both persons concerned, he resolved to leave no
possibility of misunderstanding. A few days passed in discussions and
reflections, then, at the customary hour for paying calls, he again
ascended the many stairs to Mrs. Frothingham's flat. It had rained all
day, and in this weather there seemed a certainty that the lady would be
at home. But, as he approached the door, Harvey heard a sound from
within which discomposed him. Who, save one person, was likely to be
playing on the violin in these rooms? He paused, cast about him a glance
of indecision, and finally pressed the electric bell.

Mrs. Frothingham was not at home. She might return very shortly.

'Is -- Miss Frothingham at home?'

The servant did not straightway admit him, but took his name. On his
entering the drawing-room, three figures appeared before him. He saw
Alma; he recognised Miss Leach; the third lady was named to him as Miss
Leach's sister.

'You knew I was in London?' Alma remarked rather than inquired.

'I had no idea of it -- until I heard your violin.'

'My violin, but not my playing. It was Miss Leach.'

From the first word -- her 'Ah, how d'you do' as he entered -- Alma's
tone and manner appeared to him forced, odd, unlike anything he
remembered of her. In correcting him, she gave a hard, short laugh,
glancing at Dora Leach in a way verging upon the ill-bred. Her look had
nothing amiable, though she continuously smiled, and when she invited
the visitor to be seated, it was with off-hand familiarity very
unflattering to his ear.

'You came to see Mamma, of course. I dare say she won't be long. She had
to go through the rain on business with someone or other -- perhaps you
know. Have you been in London all the summer? Oh no, I remember you told
me you had been somewhere in France; on the Loire, wasn't it?'

Rolfe dropped a careless affirmative. His temper prompted him to ask
whether Miss Frothingham knew the difference between the Loire and the
Garonne; but on the whole he was more puzzled than offended. What had
come over this young woman? Outwardly she was not much altered -- a
little thinner in the face, perhaps; her eyes seeming a trifle darker
and deeper set; but in the point of demeanour she had appreciably
suffered. Her bearing and mode of speech were of that kind which, in a
man, would be called devil-may-care. Was it a result of student-life? If
her stinted allowance had already produced effects such as this, Mrs
Frothingham was justified in uneasiness.

He turned to Miss Leach, and with her talked exclusively for some
minutes. As soon as civility permitted, he would rise and make his
escape. Alma, the while, chatted with the younger sister, whom she
addressed as 'Gerda'. Then the door opened, and Mrs. Frothingham came in,
wearing her out-of-doors and gave him cordial welcome, though in few and
nervous costume; she fixed her eyes on Rolfe with a peculiar intensity,
words.

'I am no longer alone, you see.' She threw a swift side-glance at Alma.
'It is a great pleasure.'

'Does it rain still, Mamma?' asked Alma in a high voice.

'Not just now, my dear; but it's very disagreeable.'

'Then I'll walk with you to the station.' She addressed the sisters.
'Dora and Gerda can't stay; they have an appointment at five o'clock.
They'll come again in a day or two.'

After the leave-takings, and when Alma, with a remark that she would not
be long, had closed the door behind her, Mrs. Frothingham seated herself
and began to draw off her gloves. The bonnet and cloak she was wearing,
though handsome and in the mode, made her look older than at Rolfe's
last visit. She was now a middle-aged woman, with emphasis on the
qualifying term; in home dress she still asserted her sex, grace of
figure and freshness of complexion prevailing over years and sorrows. At
this moment, moreover, weariness, and perhaps worry, appeared in her
countenance.

'Thank you so much for coming,' she said quietly. 'You must have been
surprised when you saw ----'

'I was, indeed.'

'And my surprise was still greater, when, without any warning, Alma
walked into the room two days ago. But I was so glad, so very glad.'

She breathed a little sigh, looking round.

'Hasn't Alma given her friends any tea? I must ring -- Thank you. -- Oh,
the wretched, wretched day! I seem to notice the weather so much more
than I used to. Does it affect you at all?'

Not till the tea-tray was brought in, and she had sipped from her cup,
did Mrs. Frothingham lay aside these commonplaces. With abrupt gravity,
and in a subdued voice, she at length inquired the result of Rolfe's
delicate mission.

'I think,' he replied, 'that I made known your wish as clearly and
urgently as possible. I have seen Mrs. Abbott, and written to her twice.
It will be best, perhaps, if I ask you to read her final letter. I have
her permission to show it to you.'

He drew the letter from its envelope, and with a nervous hand Mrs
Frothingham took it for perusal. Whilst she was thus occupied, Rolfe
averted his eyes; when he knew that she had read to the end, he looked
at her. She had again sighed, and Harvey could not help imagining it an
involuntary signal of relief.

'I am very glad to have read this, Mr. Rolfe. If you had merely told me
that Mrs. Abbott refused, I should have felt nothing but pain. As it is,
I understand that she _could_ only refuse, and I am most grateful for
all she says about me. I regret more than ever that I don't know her.'

As she handed the letter back, it shook like a blown leaf. She was pale,
and spoke with effort. But in a few moments, when conversation was
resumed, her tone took a lightness and freedom which confirmed Rolfe's
impression that she had escaped from a great embarrassment; and this
surmise he inevitably connected with Alma's display of strange
ill-humour.

Not another word passed on the subject. With frequent glances towards
the door, Mrs. Frothingham again talked commonplace. Harvey, eager to get
away, soon rose.

'Oh, you are not going? Alma will be back in a moment.'

And as her step-mother spoke, the young lady reappeared.

'Why didn't you give your friends tea, dear?'

'I forgot all about it. That comes of living alone. Dora has composed a
gavotte, Mamma. She was playing it when Mr. Rolfe came. It's capital! Is
Mr. Rolfe going?'

Harvey murmured his peremptory resolve. Mrs. Frothingham, rising, said
that she was almost always at home in the afternoon; that it would
always give her so much pleasure ----

'You remain in England?' asked Harvey, barely touching the hand which
Alma cavalierly offered.

'I really don't know. Perhaps I ought to, just to look after Mamma.'

Mrs. Frothingham uttered a little exclamation, and tried to laugh. On the
instant, Harvey withdrew.

By the evening's post on the following day he was surprised to receive a
letter addressed in Alma's unmistakable hand. The contents did not allay
his wonder.

DEAR MR ROLFE,

I am sure you will not mind if I use the privilege of a
fairly long acquaintance and speak plainly about
something that I regard as important. I wish to say
that I am quite old enough, and feel quite competent,
to direct the course of my own life. It is very kind of
you, indeed, to take an interest in what I do and what I
hope to do, and I am sure Mamma will be fittingly
grateful for any advice you may have offered with
regard to me. But I feel obliged to say quite distinctly
that I must manage my own affairs. Pray excuse this
freedom, and believe me, yours truly,

He gasped, and with wide eyes read the missive again and again. As soon
as his nerves were quieted, he sat down and replied thus: ----

DEAR MISS FROTHINGHAM,

Your frankness can only be deemed a compliment. It is
perhaps a triviality on my part, but I feel prompted to
say that I have at no time discussed your position or
prospects with Mrs. Frothingham, and that I have
neither offered advice on the subject nor have been
requested to do so. If this statement should appear to
you at all germane to the matter, I beg you will take it
into consideration. -- And I am, yours truly,

HARVEY RADCLIFFE ROLFE


CHAPTER 10


This reply despatched, Harvey congratulated himself on being quits with
Miss Frothingham. Her letter, however amusing, was deliberate
impertinence; to have answered it in a serious tone would have been to
encourage ill-mannered conceit which merited nothing but a snub.

But what had excited her anger? Had Mrs. Frothingham been guilty of some
indiscretion, or was it merely the result of hotheaded surmises and
suspicions on the girl's part? Plainly, Alma had returned to England in
no amiable mood; in all probability she resented her step-mother's
behaviour, now that it had been explained to her; there had arisen
'unpleasantness' on the old, the eternal subject -- money. Ignoble
enough; but was it a new thing for him to discern ignoble possibilities
in Alma's nature?

Nevertheless, his thoughts were constantly occupied with the girl. Her
image haunted him; all his manhood was subdued and mocked by her
scornful witchery. From the infinitudes of reverie, her eyes drew near
and gazed upon him -- eyes gleaming with mischief, keen with curiosity;
a look now supercilious, now softly submissive; all the varieties of
expression caught in susceptible moments, and stored by a too faithful
memory. Her hair, her lips, her neck, grew present to him, and lured his
fancy with a wanton seduction. In self-defence -- pathetic stratagem of
intellectual man at issue with the flesh -- he fell back upon the
idealism which ever strives to endow a fair woman with a beautiful soul;
he endeavoured to forget her body in contemplation of the spiritual
excellencies that might lurk behind it. To depreciate her was simpler,
and had generally been his wont; but subjugation had reached another
stage in him. He summoned all possible pleadings on the girl's behalf:
her talents, her youth, her grievous trials. Devotion to classical music
cannot but argue a certain loftiness of mind; it might, in truth, be
somehow akin to 'religion'. Remembering his own follies and vices at the
age of four-and-twenty, was it not reason, no less than charity, to see
in Alma the hope of future good? Nay, if it came to that, did she not
embody infinitely more virtue, in every sense of the word, than he at
the same age?

One must be just to women, and, however paltry the causes, do honour to
the cleanliness of their life. Nothing had suggested to him that Alma
was unworthy of everyday respect. Even when ill-mannered, she did not
lose her sexual dignity. And after all she had undergone, there would
have been excuse enough for decline of character, to say nothing of a
lapse from the articles of good breeding. This letter of hers, what did
it signify but the revolt of a spirit of independence, irritated by all
manner of sufferings, great and small? Ought he not to have replied in
other terms? Was it worthy of him -- man of the world, with passions,
combats, experience multiform, assimilated in his long, slow growth --
to set his sarcasm against a girl's unhappiness?

He was vexed with himself. He had not behaved as a gentleman. And how
many a time, in how many situations, had he incurred this form of
self-reproach!

When a week went by without anything more from Alma, Harvey ceased to
trouble. As the fates directed, so be it. He began to pack the books
which he would take with him into Wales.

One day he found himself at Kensington High Street, waiting for a City
train. In idleness, he watched the people who alighted from carriages on
the opposite side of the platform, and among them he saw Alma. On her
way towards the stairs she was obliged to pass him; he kept his
position, and only looked into her face when she came quite near. She
bent her head with a half-smile, stopped, and spoke in a low voice,
without sign of embarrassment.

'I was quite wrong. I found it out soon after I had written, and I have
wanted to beg your pardon.'

'It is my part to do that,' Harvey replied. 'I ought not to have
answered as I did.'

'Perhaps not -- all things considered. I'm rather in a hurry.
Good-morning!'

As a second thought, she offered her hand. Harvey watched her trip up
the stairs.

Next morning he had a letter from her. 'Dear Mr. Rolfe,' she wrote, 'did
you let Mamma know of my hasty and foolish behaviour? If not -- and I
very much hope you didn't -- please not to reply to this, but let us see
you on Wednesday afternoon, just in the ordinary way. If Mamma _has_
been told, still don't trouble to write, and in that case I dare say you
will not care to come. If you are engaged this Wednesday, perhaps you
could come next.' And she signed herself his sincerely.

He did not reply, and Wednesday saw him climbing once more to the little
flat; ashamed of being here, yet unable to see how he could have avoided
it, except by leaving London. For that escape he had no longer much
mind. Quite consciously, and with uneasiness which was now taking a new
form, he had yielded to Alma's fascination. However contemptible and
unaccountable, this was the state of things with him, and, as he waited
for the door to be opened, it made him feel more awkward, more foolish,
than for many a long year.

Mrs. Frothingham and her step-daughter were sitting alone, the elder lady
occupied with fancy-work, at her feet a basket of many-coloured silks,
and the younger holding a book; nothing could have been quieter or more
home-like. No sooner had he entered than he overcame all restraint, all
misgiving; there was nothing here today but peace and good feeling,
gentle voices and quiet amiability. Whatever shadow had arisen between
the two ladies must have passed utterly away; they spoke to each other
with natural kindness, and each had a tranquil countenance.

Alma began at once to talk of their common friends, the Carnabys, asking
whether Rolfe knew that they were in Australia.

'I knew they had decided to go,' he answered. 'But I haven't heard for
at least two months.'

'Oh, then I can give you all the news; I had a letter yesterday. When
Mrs. Carnaby wrote, they had spent a fortnight at Melbourne, and were
going on to Brisbane. Mr. Carnaby is going to do something in Queensland
-- something about mines. I'll read you that part.'

The letter lay in the book she was holding. Sibyl wrote indefinitely,
but Harvey was able to gather that the mining engineer, Dando, had
persuaded Carnaby to take an active interest in his projects. Discussion
on speculative enterprises did not recommend itself to the present
company, and Rolfe could only express a hope that his friend had at last
found a pursuit in which he could interest himself.

'But fancy Sibyl at such places!' exclaimed Alma, with amusement. 'How
curious I shall be to see her when she comes back! Before she left
England, I'm sure she hadn't the least idea in what part of Australia
Brisbane was, or Melbourne either. I didn't know myself; had to look at
a map. You'll think that a shameful confession, Mr. Rolfe.'

'My own ideas of Australian geography are vague enough.'

'Oh, but haven't you been there?'

'Not to any of the new countries; I don't care about them. A defect, I
admit. The future of England is beyond seas. I would have children
taught all about the Colonies before bothering them with histories of
Greece and Rome. I wish I had gone out there myself as a boy, and grown
up a sheep-farmer.'

Alma laughed.

'That's one of the things you say just to puzzle people. It contradicts
all sorts of things I've heard you say at other times. -- Do _you_
think, Mamma, that Mr. Rolfe missed his vocation when he didn't become a
sheep-farmer?'

Mrs. Frothingham gently shook her head. No trace of nervousness appeared
in her today; manipulating the coloured silks, she only now and then put
in a quiet word, but followed the talk with interest.

'But I quite thought you had been to Australia,' Alma resumed. 'You see,
it's very theoretical, your admiration of the new countries. And I
believe you would rather die at once in England than go to live in any
such part of the world.'

'Weakness of mind, that's all.'

'Still, you admit it. That's something gained. You always smile at other
people's confessions, and keep your own mind mysterious.'

'Mysterious? I always thought one of my faults was over-frankness.'

'That only shows how little we know ourselves.'

Harvey was reflecting on the incompleteness of his knowledge of Alma.
Intentionally or not, she appeared to him at this moment in a perfectly
new light; he could not have pictured her so simple of manner, so
direct, so placid. Trouble seemed to have given her a holiday, and at
the same time to have released her from self-consciousness.

'But you have never told us,' she went on, 'about your wanderings in
France this summer. English people don't go much to that part, do they?'

'No. I happened to read a book about it. It's the old fighting-ground of
French and English -- interesting to any one pedantic enough to care for
such things.'

'But not to people born to be sheep-farmers. And you had a serious
illness. -- Did Mr. Rolfe tell you, Mamma dear, that he nearly died at
some miserable roadside inn?'

Mrs. Frothingham looked startled, and declared she knew nothing of it.
Harvey, obliged to narrate, did so in the fewest possible words, and
dismissed the matter.

'I suppose you have had many such experiences,' said Alma. 'And when do
you start on your next travels?'

'I have nothing in view. I half thought of going for the winter to a
place in North Wales -- Carnarvonshire, on the outer sea.'

The ladies begged for more information, and he related how, on a ramble
with a friend last spring (it was Basil Morton), he had come upon this
still little town between the mountains and the shore, amid a country
shining with yellow gorse, hills clothed with larch, heathery moorland,
ferny lanes, and wild heights where the wind roars on crag or cairn.

'No railway within seven miles. Just the place for a pedant to escape
to, and live there through the winter with his musty books.'

'But it must be equally delightful for people who are not pedants!'
exclaimed Alma.

'In spring or summer, no doubt, though even then the civilised person
would probably find it dull.'

'That's your favourite affectation again. I'm sure it's nothing but
affectation when you speak scornfully of civilised people.'

'Scornfully I hope I never do.'

'Really, Mamma,' said Alma, with a laugh, 'Mr. Rolfe is in his very
mildest humour today. We mustn't expect any reproofs for our good. He
will tell us presently that we are patterns of all the virtues.'

Mrs. Frothingham spoke in a graver strain.

'But I'm sure it is possible to be too civilised -- to want too many
comforts, and become a slave to them. Since I have been living here, Mr
Rolfe, you can't think how I have got to enjoy the simplicity of this
kind of life. Everything is so easy; things go so smoothly. Just one
servant, who can't make mistakes, because there's next to nothing to do.
No wonder people are taking to flats.'

'And is that what you mean by over-civilisation?' Alma asked of Rolfe.

'I didn't say anything about it. But I should think many people in large
and troublesome houses would agree with Mrs. Frothingham. It's easy to
imagine a time when such burdens won't be tolerated. Our misfortune is,
of course, that we are not civilised enough.'

'Not enough to give up fashionable nonsense. I agree with that. We're
wretched slaves, most of us.'

It was the first sentence Alma had spoken in a tone that Rolfe
recognised. For a moment her face lost its placid smile, and Harvey
hoped that she would say more to the same purpose; but she was silent.

'I'm sure,' remarked Mrs. Frothingham, with feeling, 'that most happiness
is found in simple homes.'

'Can we be simple by wishing it?' asked Alma. 'Don't you think we have
to be born to simplicity?'

'I'm not sure that I know what you mean by the word,' said Harvey.

'I'm not sure that I know myself. Mamma meant poverty, I think. But
there may be a simple life without poverty, I should say. I'm thinking
of disregard for other people's foolish opinions; living just as you
feel most at ease -- not torturing yourself because it's the custom.'

'That's just what requires courage,' Rolfe remarked.

'Yes; I suppose it does. One knows people who live in misery just
because they daren't be comfortable; keeping up houses and things they
can't afford, when, if they only considered themselves, their income
would be quite enough for everything they really want. If you come to
think of it, that's too foolish for belief.'

Harvey felt that the topic was growing dangerous. He said nothing, but
wished to have more of Alma's views in this direction. They seemed to
strike her freshly; perhaps she had never thought of the matter in this
way before.

'That's what I meant,' she continued, 'when I said you must be born to
simplicity. I should think no one ever gave up fashionable extravagance
just because they saw it to be foolish. People haven't the strength of
mind. I dare say,' she added, with a bright look, 'anyone who _was_
strong enough to do that kind of thing would be admired and envied.'

'By whom?' Rolfe asked.

'Oh, by their acquaintances who were still slaves.'

'I don't know. Admiration and envy are not commonly excited by merely
reasonable behaviour.'

'But this would be something more than merely reasonable. It would be
the beginning of a revolution.'

'My dear,' remarked Mrs. Frothingham, smiling sadly, 'people would never
believe that it didn't mean loss of money.'

'They might be made to believe it. It would depend entirely on the
persons, of course.'

Alma seemed to weary of the speculation, and to throw it aside. Harvey
noticed a shadow on her face again, which this time did not pass
quickly.

He was so comfortable in his chair, the ladies seemed so entirely at
leisure, such a noiseless calm brooded about them, unbroken by any new
arrival, that two hours went by insensibly, and with lingering
reluctance the visitor found it time to take his leave. On reviewing the
afternoon, Harvey concluded that it was probably as void of meaning as
of event. Alma, on friendly terms once more with her step-mother, felt
for the moment amiably disposed towards everyone, himself included; this
idle good humour and insignificant talk was meant, no doubt, for an
apology, all he had to expect. It implied, of course, thorough
indifference towards him as an individual. As a member of their shrunken
circle, he was worth retaining. Having convinced herself of his
innocence of undue pretensions, Alma would, as the children say, be
friends again, and everything should go smoothly.

He lived through a week of the wretchedest indecision, and at the end of
it, when Wednesday afternoon came round, was again climbing the many
stairs to the Frothinghams' flat; even more nervous than last time, much
more ashamed of himself, and utterly doubtful as to his reception. The
maid admitted him without remark, and showed him into an empty room.
When he had waited for five minutes, staring at objects he did not see,
Alma entered.

'Mamma went out to lunch,' she said, languidly shaking hands with him,
'and hasn't come back yet.'

No greeting could have conveyed less encouragement. She seated herself
with a lifeless movement, looked at him, and smiled as if discharging a
duty.

'I thought' -- he blundered into speech -- 'that Wednesday was probably
your regular afternoon.'

'There is nothing regular yet. We haven't arranged our life. We are glad
to see our friends whenever they come. -- Pray sit down.'

He did so, resolving to stay for a few minutes only. In the silence that
followed, their eyes met, and, as though it were too much trouble to
avert her look, Alma continued to regard him. She smiled again, and with
more meaning.

'So you have quite forgiven me?' fell from her lips, just when Harvey
was about to speak.

'As I told you at the station, I feel that there is more fault on my
side. You wrote under such a strange misconception, and I ought to have
patiently explained myself.'

'Oh no! You were quite right in treating me sharply. I don't quite
remember what I said, but I know it must have been outrageous. After
that, I did what I ought to have done before, just had a talk with
Mamma.'

'Then you took it for granted, without any evidence, that I came here as
a meddler or busybody?'

His voice was perfectly good-humoured, and Alma answered in the same
tone.

'I _thought_ there was evidence. Mamma had been talking about her
affairs, and mentioned that she had consulted you about something -- Oh,
about Mrs. Abbott.'

'Very logical, I must say,' remarked Rolfe, laughing.

'I don't think logic is my strong point.'

She sat far back in the easy chair, her head supported, her hands
resting upon the chair arms. The languor which she hardly made an effort
to overcome began to invade her companion, like an influence from the
air; he gazed at her, perceiving a new beauty in the half-upturned face,
a new seductiveness in the slim, abandoned body. A dress of grey silk,
trimmed with black, refined the ivory whiteness of her flesh; its faint
rustling when she moved affected Harvey with a delicious thrill.

'There's no reason, now,' she continued, 'why we shouldn't talk about it
-- I mean, the things you discussed with Mamma. You imagine, I dare say,
that I selfishly objected to what she was doing. Nothing of the kind. I
didn't quite see why she had kept it from me, that was all. It was as if
she felt afraid of my greediness. But I'm not greedy; I don't think I'm
more selfish than ordinary people. And I think Mamma is doing exactly
what she ought; I'm very glad she felt about things in that way.'

Harvey nodded, and spoke in a subdued voice.

'I was only consulted about one person, whom I happened to know.'

'Yes -- Mrs. Abbott.'

Her eyes were again fixed upon him, and he read their curiosity. Just as
he was about to speak, the servant appeared with tea. Alma slowly raised
herself, and, whilst she plied the office of hostess, Harvey got rid of
the foolish hat and stick that encumbered him. He had now no intention
of hurrying away.

As if by natural necessity, they talked of nothing in particular whilst
tea was sipped. Harvey still held his cup, when at the outer door
sounded a rat-tat-tat, causing him silently to execrate the intruder,
whoever it might be. Unheeding, and as if she had not heard, Alma
chatted of trifles. Harvey's ear detected movements without, but no one
entered; in a minute or two, he again breathed freely.

'Mrs. Abbott ----'

Alma just dropped the name, as if beginning a remark, but lapsed into
silence.

'Shall I tell you all about her?' said Rolfe. 'Her husband's death left
her in great difficulties; she had hardly anything. A friend of hers, a
Mrs. Langland, who lives at Gunnersbury, was very kind and helpful. They
talked things over, and Mrs. Abbott decided to take a house at
Gunnersbury, and teach children; -- she was a teacher before her
marriage.'

'No children of her own?'

'No. One died. But unfortunately she has the care of two, whose mother
-- a cousin of hers -- is dead, and whose father has run away.'

'Run away?'

'Literally. Left the children behind in a lodging-house garret to
starve, or go to the workhouse, or anything else. A spirited man;
independent, you see; no foolish prejudices.'

'And Mrs. Abbott has to support them?'

'No one else could take them. They live with her.'

'You didn't mention that to Mamma.'

'No. I thought it needless.'

The silence that followed was embarrassing to Harvey. He broke it by
abruptly changing the subject.

'Have you practised long today?'

'No,' was the absent reply.

'I thought you looked rather tired, as if you had been working too
hard.'

'Oh, I don't work too hard,' said Alma impatiently.

'Forgive me. I remember that it is a forbidden subject.'

'Not at all. You may ask _me_ anything you like about myself. I'm not
working particularly hard just now; thinking a good deal, though.
Suppose you let me have your thoughts on the same subject. No harm. But
I dare say I know them, without your telling me.'

'I hardly think you do,' said Rolfe, regarding her steadily. 'At all
events' -- his voice faltered a little -- 'I'm afraid you don't.'

'Afraid? Oh' -- she laughed -- 'don't be afraid. I have plenty of
courage, and quite enough obstinacy. It rather does me good when people
show they have no faith in me.'

'You didn't understand,' murmured Harvey.

'Then make me understand,' she exclaimed nervously, moving in the chair
as if about to stand up, but remaining seated and bent forward, her eyes
fixed upon him in a sort of good-humoured challenge. 'I believe I know
what you mean, all the time. You didn't discuss me with Mamma, as I
suspected, but you think about me just as she does. -- No, let me go on,
then you shall confess I was right. You have no faith in my powers, to
begin with. It seems to you very unlikely that an everyday sort of girl,
whom you have met in society and know all about, should develop into a
great artist. No faith -- that's the first thing. Then you are so kind
as to have fears for me -- yes, it was your own word. You think that you
know the world, whilst I am ignorant of it, and that it's a sort of duty
to offer warnings.'

Harvey's all but angry expression, as he listened and fidgeted, suddenly
stopped her.

'Well! Can you deny that these things are in your mind?'

'They are not in my mind at this moment, that's quite certain,' said
Harvey bluntly.

'Then, what is?'

'Something it isn't easy to say, when you insist on quarrelling with me.
Why do you use this tone? Do I strike you as a pedagogue, a preacher --
something of that sort?'

His energy in part subdued her. She smiled uneasily.

'No. I don't see you in that light.'

'So much the better. I wanted to appear to you simply a man, and one who
has -- perhaps -- the misfortune to see in _you_ only a very beautiful
and a very desirable woman.'

Alma sat motionless. Her smile had passed, vanishing in a swift gleam of
pleasure which left her countenance bright, though grave. In the same
moment there sounded again a rat-tat at the outer door. Through his
whirling senses, Harvey was aware of the threatened interruption, and
all but cursed aloud. That Alma had the same expectation appeared in her
moving so as to assume a more ordinary attitude; but she uttered the
word that had risen to her lips.

'The misfortune, you call it?'

Harvey followed her example in disposing his limbs more conventionally;
also in the tuning of his voice to something between jest and earnest.

'I said _perhaps_ the misfortune.'

'It makes a difference, certainly.' She smiled, her eyes turned to the
door. '_Perhaps_ is a great word; one of the most useful in the
language. -- Don't you think so, Mamma?'

Mrs. Frothingham had just entered.


CHAPTER 11


The inconceivable had come to pass. By a word and a look Harvey had made
real what he was always telling himself could never be more than a
dream, and a dream of unutterable folly. Mrs. Frothingham's unconscious
intervention availed him nothing; he had spoken, and must speak again.
For a man of sensitive honour there could be no trilling in such a
matter as this with a girl in Alma Frothingham's position. And did he
not rejoice that wavering was no longer possible?

This was love; but of what quality? He no longer cared, or dared, to
analyse it. Too late for all that. He had told Alma that he loved her,
and did not repent it; nay, hoped passionately to hear from her lips the
echoed syllable. It was merely the proof of madness. A shake of the head
might cure him; but from that way to sanity all his blood shrank.

He must consider; he must be practical. If he meant to ask Alma to marry
him, and of course he did, an indispensable preliminary was to make
known the crude facts of his worldly position.

Well, he could say, with entire honesty, that he had over nine hundred
pounds a year. This was omitting a disbursement of an annual fifty
pounds, of which he need not speak -- the sum he had insisted on paying
Mrs. Abbott that she might be able to maintain Wager's children. With all
the difficulty in the world had he gained his point. Mrs. Abbott did not
wish the children to go into other hands; she made it a matter of
conscience to keep them by her, and to educate them, yet this seemed
barely possible with the combat for a livelihood before her. Mrs. Abbott
yielded, and their clasp of hands cemented a wholesome friendship --
frank, unsuspicious -- rarest of relations between man and woman. But
all this there was certainly no need of disclosing.

At midnight he was penning a letter. It must not be long; it must not
strike the lyrical note; yet assuredly it must not read like a
commercial overture. He had great difficulty in writing anything that
seemed tolerable. Yet done it must be, and done it was; and before going
to bed he had dropped his letter into the post. He durst not leave it
for reperusal in the morning light.

Then came torture of expectancy. The whole man aching, sore, with
impatience; reason utterly fled, intellect bemused and baffled; a
healthy, competent citizen of nigh middle age set all at once in the
corner, crowned with a fool's cap, twiddling his thumbs in nervous fury.
Dolorous spectacle, and laughable withal.

He waited four-and-twenty hours, then clutched at Alma's reply. 'Dear Mr
Rolfe, -- Will you come again next Wednesday?' That was all. Did it
amuse her to keep him in suspense? The invitation might imply a
fulfilment of his hopes, but Alma's capriciousness allowed no certainty;
a week's reflection was as likely to have one result as another. For him
it meant a week of solitude and vacancy.

Or would have meant it, but for that sub-vigorous element in his
character, that saving strain of practical rationality, which had
brought him thus far in life without sheer overthrow. An hour after
receiving Alma's enigmatical note, he was oppressed by inertia; another
hour roused him to self-preservation, and supplied him with a project.
That night he took the steamer from Harwich to Antwerp, and for the next
four days wandered through the Netherlands, reviving his memories of a
journey, under very different circumstances, fifteen years ago. The
weather was bright and warm; on the whole he enjoyed himself; he reached
London again early on Wednesday morning, and in the afternoon, with a
touch of weather on his cheek, presented himself at Alma's door.

She awaited him in the drawing-room, alone. This time, he felt sure, no
interruption was to be feared; he entered with confident step and a
cheery salutation. A glance showed him that his common-sense had served
him well; it was Alma who looked pale and thought-worn, who betrayed
timidity, and could not at once command herself.

'What have you been doing?' she asked, remarking his appearance.

'Rambling about a little,' he replied good-humouredly.

'Where? You look as if you had been a voyage.'

'So I have, a short one.'

And he told her how his week had passed.

'So that's how you would like to spend your life -- always travelling?'

'Oh no! I did it to kill time. You must remember that a week is
something like a year to a man who is waiting impatiently.'

She dropped her eyes.

'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. But I never thought you very
impatient. You always seemed to take things philosophically.'

'I generally try to.'

There was a pause. Alma, leaning forward in her chair, kept her eyes
down, and did not raise them when she again spoke.

'You have surprised and perplexed and worried me. I thought in a week's
time I should know what to say, but -- Doesn't it strike you, Mr. Rolfe,
that we're in a strange position towards each other? You know very
little of me -- very little indeed, I'm sure. And of you, when I come to
think of it, all I really know is that you hardly care at all for what
has always been my one great interest.'

'That is putting it in a matter-of-fact way -- or you think so. I see
things rather differently. In one sense, I care very much indeed for
everything that really makes a part of your life. And simply because I
care very much about you yourself. I don't know you; who knows any other
human being? But I have formed an idea of you, and an idea that has
great power over my thoughts, wishes, purposes -- everything. It has
made me say what I thought I should never say to any woman -- and makes
me feel glad that I have said it, and full of hope.'

Alma drew in her breath and smiled faintly. Still she did not look at
him.

'And of course I have formed an idea of you.'

'Will you sketch the outline and let me correct it?'

'You think I am pretty sure to be wrong?' she asked, raising her eyes
and regarding him for a moment with anxiety.

'I should have said "complete" it. I hope I have never shown myself to
you in an altogether false light.'

'That is the one thing I have felt sure about,' said Alma, slowly and
thoughtfully. 'You have always seemed the same. You don't change with
circumstances -- as people generally do.'

Harvey had a word on his lips, but checked it, and merely gazed at her
till her eyes again encountered his. Then Alma smiled more naturally.

'There was something you didn't speak of in your letter. What kind of
life do you look forward to?'

'I'm not sure that I understand. My practical aims -- you mean?'

'Yes,' she faltered, with embarrassment.

'Why, I'm afraid I have none. I mentioned the facts of my position, and
I said that I couldn't hope for its improvement ----'

'No, no, no! You misunderstand me. I am not thinking about money. I hate
the word, and wish I might never hear it again!' She spoke with
impetuosity. 'I meant -- how and where do you wish to live? What
thoughts had you about the future?'

'None very definite, I confess. And chiefly because, if what I desired
came to pass, I thought of everything as depending upon you. I have no
place in the world. I have no relatives nearer than cousins. Of late
years I have been growing rather bookish, and rather fond of quietness
-- but of course that resulted from circumstances. When a man offers
marriage, of course he usually says: My life is this and this; will you
enter into it, and share it with me? I don't wish to say anything of the
kind. My life may take all sorts of forms; when I ask you to share it, I
ask you to share liberty, not restraint.'

'A gipsy life?' she asked, half playfully.

'Is your inclination to that?'

Alma shook her head.

'No, I am tired of homelessness. -- And,' she added as if on an impulse,
'I am tired of London.'

'Then we agree. I, too, am tired of both.'

Her manner altered; she straightened herself, and spoke with more
self-possession.

'What about my art -- my career?'

'It is for me to ask that question,' replied Harvey, gazing steadfastly
at her.

'You don't mean that it would all necessarily come to an end.'

'Why? I mean what I say when I speak of sharing liberty. Heaven forbid
that I should put an end to any aim or hope of yours -- to anything that
is part of yourself. I want you to be yourself. Many people nowadays
revolt against marriage because it generally means bondage, and they
have much to say for themselves. If I had been condemned to a wearisome
occupation and a very small income, I'm sure I should never have asked
anyone to marry me; I don't think it fair. It may seem to you that I
haven't much right to call myself an independent man as it is ----'

Alma broke in, impatiently.

'Don't speak of money? You have enough -- more than enough.'

'So it seems to me. You are afraid this might prevent you from becoming
a professional musician?'

'I know it would,' she answered with quiet decision.

'I should never dream of putting obstacles in your way. Do understand
and believe me. I don't want to shape you to any model of my own; I want
you to be your true self, and live the life you are meant for.'

'All the same, you would rather I did not become a professional
musician. Now, be honest with me! Be honest before everything. You
needn't answer, I know it well enough; and if I marry you, I give up my
music.'

Rolfe scrutinised her face, observed the tremulous mouth, the nervous
eyelid.

'Then,' he said, 'it will be better for you not to marry me.'

And silence fell upon the room, a silence in which Harvey could hear a
deep-drawn breath and the rustle of silk. He was surprised by a voice in
quite a new tone, softly melodious.

'You give me up very easily.'

'Not more easily than you give up your music.'

'There's a difference. Do you remember what we were saying, last
Wednesday, about simplicity of living?'

'Last Wednesday? It seems a month ago. Yes, I remember.'

'I have thought a good deal of that. I feel how vulgar the life is that
most people lead. They can't help it; they think it impossible to do
anything else. But I should like to break away from it altogether -- to
live as I chose, and not care a bit what other people said.'

Harvey had the same difficulty as before in attaching much significance
to these phrases. They were pleasant to hear, for they chimed with his
own thoughts, but he could not respond with great seriousness.

'The wife of a man with my income won't have much choice, I fancy.'

'How can you say that?' exclaimed Alma. 'You know that most people would
take a house in a good part of London, and live up to the last penny --
making everyone think that their income must be two or three thousand
pounds. I know all about that kind of thing, and it sickens me. There's
the choice between vulgar display with worry, and a simple, refined life
with perfect comfort. You fancied I should want a house in London?'

'I hardy thought anything about it.'

'But it would ease your mind if I said that I would far rather live in a
cottage, as quietly and simply as possible?'

'What does ease my mind -- or rather, what makes me very happy, is that
you don't refuse to think of giving me your companionship.'

Alma flushed a little.

'I haven't promised. After all my thinking about it, it came to this --
that I couldn't make up my mind till I had talked over everything with
you. If I marry, I must know what my life is going to be. And it puzzles
me that you could dream of making anyone your wife before you had asked
her all sorts of questions.'

In his great contentment, Harvey laughed.

'Admirable, theoretically! But how is a man to begin asking questions?
How many would he ask before he got sent about his business?'

'That's the very way of putting his chance to the test!' said Alma
brightly. 'If he _is_ sent about his business, how much better for him
than to marry on a misunderstanding.'

'I agree with you perfectly. I never heard anyone talk better sense on
the subject.'

Alma looked pleased, as she always did when receiving a compliment.

'Will you believe, then, Mr. Rolfe, that I am quite in earnest in hating
show and pretences and extravagance, and wishing to live in just the
opposite way?'

'I will believe it if you cease to address me by that formal name -- a
show and a pretence, and just a little extravagant.'

Her cheeks grew warm again

'That reminds me,' she said; 'I didn't know you had a second name --
till I got that letter.'

'I had almost forgotten it myself, till I answered a certain other
letter. I didn't know till then that _you_ had a second name. Your
"Florence" called out my "Radcliffe" -- which sounds fiery, doesn't it?
I always felt that the name over-weighted me. I got it from my mother.'

'And your first -- Harvey?'

'My first I got from a fine old doctor, about whom I'll tell you some
day -- Alma.'

'I named your name. I didn't address you by it.'

'But you will?'

'Let us talk seriously. -- Could you live far away from London, in some
place that people know nothing about?'

'With you, indeed I could, and be glad enough if I never saw London
again.'

An exaltation possessed Alma; her eyes grew very bright, gazing as if at
a mental picture, and her hands trembled as she continued to speak.'

'I don't mean that we are to go and be hermits in a wilderness. Our
friends must visit us -- our real friends, no one else; just the people
we really care about, and those won't be many. If I give up a public
career -- as of course I shall -- there's no need to give up music. I
can go on with it in a better spirit, for pure love of it, without any
wish for making money and reputation. You don't think this a mere
dream?'

Harvey thought more than he was disposed to say. He marvelled at her
sudden enthusiasm for an ideal he had not imagined her capable of
pursuing. If he only now saw into the girl's true character, revealed by
the awakening of her emotions, how nobly was his ardour justified! All
but despising himself for loving her, he had instinctively chosen the
one woman whose heart and mind could inspire him to a life above his
own. 'I should think it a dream,' he answered, 'if I didn't hear it from
your lips.'

'But it is so easy! We keep all the best things, and throw off only the
worthless -- the things that waste time and hurt the mind. No crowded
rooms, no wearying artificial talk, no worry with a swarm of servants,
no dressing and fussing. The whole day to one's self, for work and
pleasure. A small house -- just large enough for order and quietness,
and to keep a room for the friend who comes. How many people would like
such a life, but haven't the courage to live it!'

'Where shall it be, Alma?'

'I have given no promise. I only say this is the life that IJ should
like. Perhaps you would soon weary of it?'

'I? Not easily, I think.'

'There might be travel, too,' she went on fervently. 'We should be rich,
when other people, living in the ordinary vulgar way, would have nothing
to spare. No tours where the crowd goes; real travel in out-of-the-way
parts.'

'You are describing just what I should choose for myself; but I
shouldn't have dared to ask it of you.

'And why? I told you that you knew so little of me. We are only just
beginning to understand each other.'

'What place have you in mind?'

'None. That would have to be thought about Didn't you say you were going
to some beautiful spot in Wales?'

Harvey reflected.

'I wonder whether you would like that ----'

'We are only supposing, you know. But show me where it is. If you wait a
moment, I'll fetch a map.'

She rose quickly. He had just time to reach the door and open it for
her; and as she rapidly passed him, eyes averted, the faintest and
sweetest of perfumes was wafted upon his face. There he stood till her
return, his pulses throbbing.

'This is my old school atlas,' she said gaily; 'I always use it still.'

She opened it upon the table and bent forward.

'North Wales, you said? Show me ----'

He pointed with a finger that quivered. His cheek was not far from hers;
the faint perfume floated all about him; he could Imagine it the natural
fragrance of her hair, of her breath.

'I see,' she murmured. 'That's the kind of place far off, but not too
far. And the railway station?'

As he did not answer, she half turned towards him.

'The station? -- Yes. -- Alma! ----


CHAPTER 12


Mrs. Frothingham was overjoyed. In private talk with Harvey she sang the
praises of her step-daughter, whom, she declared, any man might be proud
to have won. For Alma herself had so much pride; the characteristic,
said Mrs. Frothingham, which had put dangers in her path, and menaced her
prospects of happiness.

'There's no harm in saying, Mr. Rolfe, that I never dared to hope for
this. I thought perhaps that you -- but I was afraid Alma wouldn't
listen to any one. Just of late, she seemed to feel her position so much
more than at first. It was my fault; I behaved so foolishly; but I'm
sure you'll both forgive me. For months I really wasn't myself. It made
the poor girl bitter against all of us. But how noble she is! How
high-minded! And how much, much happier she will be than if she had
struggled on alone -- whatever she might have attained to.'

It was clear to Harvey that the well-meaning lady did not quite
understand Alma's sudden enthusiasm for the 'simple life', that she had
but a confused apprehension of the ideal for which Alma panted. But the
suggestion of 'economy' received her entire approval.

'I feel sure you couldn't do better than to go and live in the country
for a time. There are so many reasons why Alma will be happier there, at
first, than in London. I don't know whether that place in North Wales
would be quite -- but I mustn't meddle with what doesn't concern me. And
you will be thoroughly independent; at any moment you can make a
change.'

To a suggestion that she should run down into Carnarvonshire, and see
her proposed home before any practical step was taken, Alma replied that
she had complete faith in Harvey Rolfe's judgment. Harvey's only doubt
was as to the possibility of finding a house. He made the journey
himself, and after a few days' absence returned with no very hopeful
report; at present there was nothing to be had but a cottage, literally
a cotter's home, and this would not do. He brought photographs, and Alma
went into raptures over the lovely little bay, with its grassy cliffs,
its rivulet, its smooth sand, and the dark-peaked mountains sweeping
nobly to a sheer buttress above the waves. 'There must be a house! There
_shall_ be a house!' Of course, said Harvey, one could build, and
cheaply enough; but that meant a long delay. Regarding the date of the
marriage nothing was as yet decided, but Harvey had made up his mind to
be 'at home' for Christmas. When he ventured to hint at this, Alma
evaded the question.

A correspondent would inform him if any house became tenantless. 'I
shall bribe someone to quit!' he cried. 'One might advertise that all
expenses would be paid, with one year's rent of a house elsewhere.'
Harvey was in excellent spirits, though time hung rather heavily on his
hands.

On an appointed day the ladies paid him a visit at his rooms. Mrs
Handover, requested to prepare tea for a semi-ceremonious occasion, was
at once beset with misgivings, and the first sight of the strangers
plunged her into profound despondency. She consulted her indifferent
relative, Buncombe; had he any inkling of the possibility that Mr. Rolfe
was about to change his condition? Buncombe knew nothing and cared
nothing; his own domestic affairs were giving him more than usual
anxiety just now. 'I didn't think he was fool enough' -- thus only he
replied to Mrs. Handover's anxious questions.

Alma surveyed the book-shelves, and took down volumes with an air of
interest; she looked over a portfolio of photographs, inspected
mementoes of travel from Cyprus, Palestine, Bagdad. Mrs. Frothingham
noted to herself how dusty everything was.

'That woman neglects him scandalously,' she said afterwards to Alma. 'I
wish I had to look after her when she is at work.'

'I didn't notice any neglect. The tea wasn't very well made, perhaps.'

'My dear child! the room is in a disgraceful state -- never dusted,
never cleaned -- oh dear!'

Alma laughed.

'I'm quite sure, Mamma, you are much happier now -- in one way -- than
when you never had to think of such things. You have a genius for
domestic operations. When I have a house of my own I shall be rather
afraid of you.'

'Oh, of course you will have good servants, my dear.'

'How often have I to tell you, Mamma, that we're not going to live in
that way at all! The simplest possible furniture, the simplest possible
meals -- _everything_ subordinate to the higher aims and pleasures.'

'But you must have servants, Alma! You can't sweep the rooms yourself,
and do the cooking?'

'I'm thinking about it,' the girl answered gravely. 'Of course, I shall
not waste my time in coarse labour; but I feel sure we shall need only
one servant -- a competent, trustworthy woman, after your own heart.
It's snobbish to be ashamed of housework; there are all sorts of things
I should like to do, and that every woman is better for doing.'

'That is very true indeed, Alma. I can't say how I admire you for such
thoughts. But ----'

'The thing is to reduce such work to the strictly necessary. Think of
all the toil that is wasted in people's houses, for foolish display and
luxury. We sweep all that away at one stroke! Wait till you see. I'm
thinking it out, making my plans.'

In the pleasant little drawing-room, by the fireside (for it was now
October and chilly), Harvey and Alma had long, long conversations.
Occasionally they said things that surprised each other and led to
explanations, debates, but harmony was never broken. Rolfe came away
ever more enslaved; more impressed by the girl's sweet reasonableness,
and exalted by her glowing idealism. Through amorous mists he still
endeavoured to discern the real Alma; he reflected ceaselessly upon her
character; yet, much as she often perplexed him, he never saw reason to
suspect her of disingenuousness. At times she might appear to excite
herself unduly, to fall into excess of zeal; it meant, no doubt, that
the imaginative fervour she had been wont to expend on music was turned
in a new quarter. Alma remained herself -- impulsive, ardent,
enthusiastic, whether yearning for public triumphs, or eager to lead a
revolution in domestic life. Her health manifestly improved; languor was
unknown to her; her cheeks had a warmer hue, a delicate carnation,
subtly answering to her thoughts.

She abhorred sentimentality. This was one of her first intimate
declarations, and Harvey bore it in mind. He might praise, glorify,
extol her to the uttermost, and be rewarded by her sweetest smiles; but
for the pretty follies of amatory transport she had no taste. Harvey ran
small risk of erring in this direction; he admired and reverenced her
maidenly aloofness; her dignity he found an unfailing charm, the great
support of his own self-respect. A caress was not at all times
forbidden, but he asserted the privilege with trembling diffidence. It
pleased her, when he entered the room, to be stately and rather distant
of manner, to greet him as though they were still on formal terms; this
troubled Harvey at first, but he came to understand and like it. In Mrs
Frothingham's presence, Alma avoided every sign of familiarity, and
talked only of indifferent things.

Early in November there came news that a certain family in the little
Welsh town would be glad to vacate their dwelling if a tenant could at
once be found for it. The same day Harvey travelled northwards, and on
the morrow he despatched a telegram to Alma. He had taken the house, and
could have possession in a week or two. Speedily followed a letter of
description. The house was stone-built and substantial, but very plain;
it stood alone and unsheltered by the roadside, a quarter of a mile from
the town, looking seaward; it had garden ground and primitive stabling.
The rooms numbered nine, exclusive of kitchen; small, but not
diminutive. The people were very friendly (Harvey wrote), and gave him
all aid in investigating the place, with a view to repairs and so on; by
remaining for a few days he would be able to consult with a builder, so
as to have necessary work set in train as soon as the present occupants
were gone.

Alma's engagement had been kept strictly secret. When Harvey returned
after a week of activity, he found her still reluctant to fix a day, or
even the month, for their wedding. He did not plead, but wrote her a
little letter, saying that the house could be ready by -- at all events
-- the second week in December; that he would then consult with her
about furniture, and would go down to superintend the final putting in
order. 'After that, it rests with you to say when you will enter into
possession. I promise not to speak of it again until, on coming into the
room, I see your atlas lying open on the table; that shall be a sign
unto me.'

On his return to London he received a note from Mrs. Frothingham,
requesting him to be at home at a certain hour, as she wished to call
and speak privately with him. This gave him an uneasy night; he imagined
all manner of vexatious or distracting possibilities; but Mrs
Frothingham brought no ill news.

'Don't be frightened,' she began, reading his anxious face. 'All's well,
and I am quite sure Alma will soon have something to say to you. I have
come on a matter of business -- strictly business.'

Harvey felt a new kind of uneasiness.

'Let me speak in a plain way about plain things,' pursued the widow,
with that shadow on her face which always indicated that she was
thinking of the mournful past. 'I know that neither Alma nor you would
hear of her accepting money from me; I know I mustn't speak of it. All
the better that you have no need of money. But now that you are my
relative -- will be so very soon -- I want to tell you how my affairs
stand. Will you let me? Please do!'

Impossible to refuse a hearing to the good little woman, who delighted
in confidential gossip, and for a long time had been anxious to pour
these details into Harvey's ear. So she unfolded everything. Her capital
at Bennet Frothingham's death amounted to more than sixteen thousand
pounds, excellently invested -- no 'Britannia' stocks or shares! Of
this, during the past six months, she had given away nearly six thousand
to sufferers by the great catastrophe. Her adviser and administrator in
this affair was an old friend of her husband's, a City man of honourable
repute. He had taken great trouble to discover worthy recipients of her
bounty, and as yet had kept the source of it unknown.

'I mustn't give very much more,' she said, looking at Harvey with a
pathetic deprecation of criticism. 'I want to keep an income of three
hundred pounds. I could live on less, much less; but I should like still
to have it in my power to do a little good now and then, and I want to
be able to leave something to my sister, or her children. The truth is,
Mr. Rolfe -- no, I will call you Harvey, once for all -- the truth is, I
couldn't live now without giving a little help here and there to people
poorer than myself. Don't think it foolish.' Her voice quivered. 'I feel
that it will be done in the name of my poor husband as if he himself
were doing it, and making amends for a wrong he never, never intended.
If I had given up everything -- as some people say I ought to have done
-- it wouldn't have seemed the same to me. I couldn't earn my own
living, and what right had I to become a burden to my relatives? I hope
I haven't done very wrong. Of course, I shall give up the flat as soon
as Alma is married. In taking it I really thought more of her than of my
own comfort. I shall live with my sister, and come up to town just now
and then, when it is necessary.'

The listener was touched, and could only nod grave approval.

'There's another thing. Alma thinks with me in everything -- but she
says I ought to let it be known who has given that money. She says it
would make many people less bitter against her father's memory. Now,
what is your opinion? If she is right in that ----'

Harvey would offer no counsel, and Mrs. Frothingham did not press him.
She must think about it. The disclosure, if wise, could be made at any
time.

'That's all I had to say, Harvey. Now tell me about the house, and then
go arid see Alma. I have business in the City.'

He went, but only to be disappointed; Alma was not at home. To make
amends, she sent him a note that evening, asking him to call at twelve
the next day, and to stay to luncheon. When he entered the room, the
first object his eye fell upon was the old school atlas, lying open on
the table at the map of England and Wales.

And the day appointed was the twentieth of December.

The wedding was to be the simplest conceivable. No costume, no
bridesmaid or hulking groomsman, no invitations; no announcement to
anyone until the day had passed, save only to Dora Leach, who would be
summoned as if for some ordinary occasion of friendship, and then be
carried off to the church.

'It will insure my smiling all through the ordeal,' said Alma to her
step-mother; 'Dora's face will be such a study!'

'My dear,' began Mrs. Frothingham very earnestly, 'you are _quite_ sure
----'

'More than sure, if that's possible. And Harvey throws up his hat at
being let off so easily. He dreaded the ceremony.'

Which was very true, though Rolfe had not divulged it.

His personal possessions were now to be made ready for removal. The
books represented nearly all that he could carry away from his old
rooms, but they were a solid addendum to the garnishing of home. For a
moment he thought of selling a few score of volumes. Would he ever
really want those monumental tomes -- the six folios of Muratori, for
instance, which he liked to possess, but had never used? Thereby hung
the great, the unanswerable question: How was he going to spend his life
as a married man? Was it probable that he would be come a serious
student, or even that he would study as much as heretofore? No
foreseeing; the future must shape itself, even as the past had done.
After all, why dismember his library for the sake of saving a few
shillings on carriage? If he did not use the books himself ----

A thought flashed through him which made his brain, unsteady. If he did
not use the books himself, perhaps ----

He tried to laugh, but for five minutes was remarkably sober. No, no; of
course he would keep his library intact.

And now there was a duty to perform: he must write to his friends, make
known his marriage; the letters to be posted only on the day of fate.
Dear old Basil Morton -- how he would stare! Morton should soon come
down into Wales, and there would be great quaffing and smoking and
talking into the small hours; a jolly anticipation! And Hugh Carnaby!
Hugh would throw up his great arms, clench his huge red fists, and roar
with mocking laughter. Good old boy! out there on the other side of the
world, perhaps throwing away his money, with the deft help of a
swindler. And the poor lad, Cecil Morphew! who assuredly would never pay
back that fifty pounds -- to which he was heartily welcome. Morphew had
kept his promise to quit the garret in Chelsea, but what was since
become of him Harvey knew not; the project of their going together into
Wales had, of course, fallen through.

Lastly, Mary Abbott -- for so had Harvey come to name his friend's
widow. Mary Abbott! how would she receive this news? It would come upon
her as the strangest surprise; not the mere fact of his marrying, but
that he had chosen for a wife, out of the whole world, the daughter of
Bennet Frothingham. Would she be able to think kindly of him after this?
Of Mrs. Frothingham she could speak generously, seeming to have outlived
natural bitterness; but the name must always be unwelcome to her ears.
Alma would cease to bear that name, and perhaps, in days to come, Mary
Abbott might forget it. He could only hope so, and that the two women
might come together. On Alma's side, surely, no reluctance need be
feared; and Mary, after her ordeal, was giving proof of sense and
character which inspired a large trust. He would write to her in the
most open-hearted way; indeed, no other tone was possible, having regard
to the relations that had grown up between them.

How the aspect of his little world was changing! A year ago, what things
more improbable than that he should win Alma Frothingham for a wife, and
become the cordial friend of Mary Abbott?

When the revelation could be postponed no longer, he made known to Mrs
Handover that he was about to be married. It cost him an extraordinary
effort, for in a double sense he was shamed before the woman. Mrs
Handover, by virtue of her sex, instinctively triumphed over him. He saw
in her foolish eyes the eternal feminine victory; his head was bowed
before her slatternly womanhood. Then again, he shrank from announcing
to the poor creature that she could no longer draw upon him for her
livelihood.

'I'm very sorry, Mr. Rolfe,' she began, in her most despondent voice.
'That is, of course, I'm very glad you're going to be married, and I'm
sure I wish you every happiness -- I do indeed. But we are sorry to lose
you -- indeed we are.'

Of her sincerity herein there could be no sort of doubt. Harvey coughed,
and looked at the window -- which had not been cleaned for some months.

'May I ask, without rudeness, whether it is the young lady who came
----'

'Yes, Mrs, Handover.'

He was uncommonly glad that Alma's name had never been spoken. There,
indeed, would have been matter for gossip.

'A very handsome young lady, Mr. Rolfe, and I'm sure I wish her all
happiness, as well as yourself.' She fidgeted. 'Of course, I don't know
what your plans may be, sir, but -- perhaps there's no harm if I mention
it -- if ever you should be in need of a housekeeper -- you've known me
a long time, sir ----'

'Yes -- yes -- certainly.' Harvey perspired. 'Of course, I should bear
you in mind.'

Thereupon he had to listen whilst Mrs. Handover discoursed at large upon
her dubious prospects. At the close of the Interview, he gave her a
cheque for ten pounds, concealed in an envelope. 'A little present -- of
course, I shall be hearing of you -- every good wish ----'

On the eve of his marriage day he stood in the dismantled rooms, at once
joyful and heavy at heart. His books were hidden in a score of
packing-cases, labelled, ready to be sent away. In spite of open
windows, the air was still charged with dust; since the packing began,
everyone concerned in it had choked and coughed incessantly; on the bare
floor, footsteps were impressed in a thick flocky deposit. These rooms
could have vied with any in London for supremacy of filthiness. Yet here
he had known hours of still contentment; here he had sat with friends
congenial, and heard the walls echo their hearty laughter; here he had
felt at home -- here his youth had died.

Where all else was doubtful, speculative, contingent, that one thing he
certainly knew; he was no longer a young man. The years had passed like
a shadow, unnoted, uncounted, and had brought him to this point of
pause, of change momentous, when he must needs look before and after. In
all likelihood much more than half his life was gone. His mother did not
see her thirtieth year; his father died at little over forty; his
grandparents were not long-lived; what chance had he of walking the
earth for more than half the term already behind him? Did the life of
every man speed by so mockingly? Yesterday a school-boy; tomorrow --
'Rolfe? you don't say so? Poor old fellow!'

And he was going to be married. Incredible, laughter-moving, but a fact.
No more the result of deliberate purpose than any other change that had
come about in his life, than the flight of years and the vanishment of
youth. Fate so willed it, and here he stood.

Someone climbed the stairs, breaking upon his reverie. It was Buncombe,
who smiled through a settled gloom.

'All done? I shan't be much longer here myself. House too big for me.'

'Ah! it is rather large.'

'I'm thinking of changes. -- You know something about my affairs. -- Yes
-- changes ----'

Rolfe had never seen the man so dismal before; he tried to inspirit him,
but with small result.

'It's the kids that bother me,' said Buncombe. Then he dropped his
voice, and brought his head nearer.

'You're going to get married.' His eyes glinted darkly. 'I'm -- going to
get divorced.'

And with a grim nod the man moved away.



Part the Second



CHAPTER 1


A morning of April, more than two years after his marriage, found Harvey
Rolfe in good health and very tolerable spirits. As his wont was, he
came down at half-past eight, and strolled in the open air before
breakfast. There had been rain through the night; a grey mist still
clung about the topmost larches of Cam Bodvean, and the Eifel summits
were densely wrapped. But the sun and breeze of spring promised to have
their way; to drive and melt the clouds, to toss white wavelets on a
blue sea, to make the gorse shine in its glory, and all the hills be
glad.

A gardener was at work in front of the house; Harvey talked with him
about certain flowers he wished to grow this year. In the small
stable-yard a lad was burnishing harness; for him also the master had a
friendly word, before passing on to look at the little mare amid her
clean straw. In his rough suit of tweed and shapeless garden hat, with
brown face and cheery eye, Rolfe moved hither and thither as though
native to such a life. His figure had filled out; he was more robust,
and looked, indeed, younger than on the day when he bade farewell to Mrs
Handover and her abominations.

At nine o'clock he entered the dining-room, where breakfast was ready,
though as yet no other person had come to table. The sun would not touch
this window for several hours yet, but a crackling fire made the air
pleasant, and brightened all within. Seats were placed for three. An
aroma of coffee invited to the meal, which was characterised by no
suggestion of asceticism. Nor did the equipment of the room differ
greatly from what is usual in middle-class houses. The clock on the
mantelpiece was flanked with bronzes; engravings and autotypes hung
about the walls; door and window had their appropriate curtaining; the
oak sideboard shone with requisite silver. Everything unpretentious; but
no essential of comfort, as commonly understood, seemed to be lacking.

In a minute or two appeared Mrs. Frothingham; alert, lightsome, much
improved in health since the first year of her widowhood. She had been
visiting here for a fortnight, and tomorrow would return to her home in
the south. Movement, variety, intimate gossip, supported her under the
affliction which still seemed to be working for her moral good. Her
bounty (or restitution) had long ago ceased to be anonymous, but she did
not unduly pride herself upon the sacrifice of wealth; she was glad to
have it known among her acquaintances, because, in certain quarters, the
fact released her from constraint, and restored her to friendly
intercourse. For her needs and her pleasures a very modest income proved
quite sufficient. To all appearances, she found genuine and unfailing
satisfaction in the exercise of benevolent sympathies.

'Alma will not come down,' was her remark, as she entered. 'A little
headache -- nothing. We are to send her some tea and dry toast.'

'I thought she didn't seem quite herself last night,' said Harvey, as he
cut into a ham.

Mrs. Frothingham made no remark, but smiled discreetly, taking a place at
the head of the table.

'We shall have to go somewhere,' Harvey continued. 'It has been a long
winter. She begins to feel dull, I'm afraid.'

'A little, perhaps. But she's quite well -- it's nothing ----'

'Why won't she go on with her water-colours? She was beginning to do
really good things -- then all at once gives it up.'

'Oh, she must! I think those last sketches simply wonderful. Anyone
would suppose she had worked at it all her life, instead of just a few
months. How very clever she is!'

'Alma can do anything,' said Harvey, with genial conviction.

'Almost anything, I really think. Now _don't_ let her lose interest in
it, as she did in her music. You have only to show that you think her
drawings good, and speak about them. She depends rather upon
encouragement.'

'I know. But it wasn't for lack of _my_ encouragement that she dropped
her violin.'

'So unfortunate! Oh, she'll come back to it, I'm sure.'

When Mrs. Frothingham paid her first visit to the newly-married couple,
it amused her to find a state of things differing considerably from her
anxious expectations. True, they had only one servant within doors, the
woman named Ruth, but she did not represent the whole establishment.
Having bought a horse and trap, and not feeling called upon to act as
groom, Harvey had engaged a man, who was serviceable in various
capacities; moreover, a lad made himself useful about the premises
during the day. Ruth was a tolerable cook, and not amiss as a housemaid.
Then, the furnishing of the house, though undeniably 'simple', left
little to be desired; only such things were eschewed as serve no
rational purpose and are mostly in people's way. Alma, as could at once
be perceived, ran no risk of overexerting herself in domestic duties;
she moved about of mornings with feather-brush, and occasionally plied
an unskilful needle, but kitchenward she never turned her steps.
Imprudently, Mrs. Frothingham remarked that this life, after all, much
resembled that of other people; whereat Alma betrayed a serious
annoyance, and the well-meaning lady had to apologise, to admit the
absence of 'luxuries', the homeliness of their diet, the unmistakable
atmosphere of plain living and high thinking.

She remained for nearly a month, greatly enjoying herself. Late in
autumn, Alma begged her to come again, and this time the visit lasted
longer; for in the first week of December the house received a new
inhabitant, whose arrival made much commotion. Alma did not give birth
to her son without grave peril. Day after day Harvey strode about the
wintry shore under a cloud of dread. However it had been with him a year
ago, he was now drawn to Alma by something other than the lures of
passion; the manifold faults he had discerned in her did not seriously
conflict with her peculiar and many-sided charm; and the birth of her
child inspired him with a new tenderness, an emotion different in kind
from any that he had yet conceived. That first wail of feeblest
humanity, faint-sounding through the silent night, made a revolution in
his thoughts, taught him on the moment more than he had learnt from all
his reading and cogitation.

It seemed to be taken as a matter of course that Alma would not nurse
the baby; only to Harvey did this appear a subject for regret, and he
never ventured to speak of it. The little mortal was not vigorous; his
nourishment gave a great deal of trouble; but with the coming of spring
he took a firmer hold on life, and less persistently bewailed his lot.
The names given to him were Hugh Basil. When apprised of this, the
strong man out in Australia wrote a heart-warming letter, and sent with
it a little lump of Queensland gold, to be made into something, or kept
intact, as the parents saw fit. Basil Morton followed the old tradition,
and gave a silver tankard with name and date of the new world-citizen
engraved upon it.

Upon her recovery, Harvey took his wife to Madeira, where they spent
three weeks. Alma's health needed nothing more than this voyage; she
returned full of vitality. During her absence Mrs. Frothingham
superintended the household, the baby being in charge of a competent
nurse. It occurred to Harvey that this separation from her child was
borne by Alma with singular philosophy; it did not affect in the least
her enjoyment of travel. But she reached home again in joyous
excitement, and for a few days kept the baby much in view. Mrs
Frothingham having departed, new visitors succeeded each other: Dora and
Gerda Leach, Basil Morton and his wife, one or two of Alma's relatives.
Little Hugh saw less and less of his mother, but he continued to thrive;
and Harvey understood by now that Alma must not be expected to take much
interest in the domestic side of things. It simply was not her forte.

She had ceased to play upon her violin, save for the entertainment and
admiration of friends. After her return from Madeira she made the
acquaintance of a lady skilled in water-colour drawing, and herewith
began a new enthusiasm. Her progress was remarkable, and corresponded to
an energy not less than that she had long ago put forth in music. In the
pursuit of landscape she defied weather and fatigue; she would pass half
the night abroad, studying moonlight, or rise at an unheard-of hour to
catch the hues of dawn. When this ardour began to fail, her husband was
vexed rather than surprised. He knew Alma's characteristic weakness, and
did not like to be so strongly reminded of it. For about this time he
was reading and musing much on questions of heredity.

In a moment of confidence he had ventured to ask Mrs. Frothingham whether
she could tell him anything of Alma's mother. The question, though often
in his mind, could hardly have passed his lips, had not Mrs. Frothingham
led up to it by speaking of her own life before she married: how she had
enjoyed the cares of country housekeeping; how little she had dreamt of
ever being rich; how Bennet Frothingham, who had known her in his early
life, sought her out when he began to be prosperous, therein showing the
fine qualities of his nature, for she had nothing in the world but
gentle birth and a lady's education. Alma was then a young girl of
thirteen, and had been motherless for eight years. Thus came Harvey's
opportunity. Alma herself had already imparted to him all she knew: that
her mother was born in England, emigrated early with her parents to
Australia, returned to London as a young woman, married, and died at
twenty-seven. To this story Mrs. Frothingham could add little, but the
supplement proved interesting. Bennet Frothingham spoke of his first
marriage as a piece of folly; it resulted in unhappiness, yet, the widow
was assured, with no glaring fault on either side. Alma's mother was
handsome, and had some natural gifts, especially a good voice, which she
tried to use in public, but without success. Her education scarcely went
beyond reading and writing. She died suddenly, after an evening at the
theatre, where, as usual, she had excited herself beyond measure. Mrs
Frothingham had seen an old report of the inquest that was held, the
cause of death being given as cerebral haemorrhage. In these details
Harvey Rolfe found new matter for reflection.

Their conversation at breakfast this morning was interrupted by the
arrival of letters; two of them particularly welcome, for they bore a
colonial postmark. Hugh Carnaby wrote to his friend from an
out-of-the-way place in Tasmania; Sibyl wrote independently to Alma from
Hobart.

'Just as I expected,' said Harvey, when he had glanced over a few lines.
'He talks of coming home: -- "There seems no help for it. Sibyl is much
better in health since we left Queens land, but I see she would never
settle out here. She got to detest the people at Brisbane, and doesn't
like those at Hobart much better. I have left her there whilst I'm doing
a little roaming with a very decent fellow I have come across,
Mackintosh by name. He has been everywhere and done everything -- not
long ago was in the service of the Indo-European Telegraph Company at
Tehran, and afterwards lived (this will interest you) at Badgered, where
he got a _date-boil_, which marks his face and testifies to his
veracity. He has been trying to start a timber business here; says some
of the hard woods would be just the thing for street paving. But now his
father's death is taking him back home, and I shouldn't wonder if we
travel together. One of his ideas is a bicycle factory; he seems to know
all about it, and says it'll be the most money-making business in
England for years to come. What do you think? Does this offer a chance
for _me_?"'

Harvey interrupted himself with a laugh. Smelting of abandoned gold
ores, by the method of the ingenious Dando, had absorbed some of Hugh's
capital, with very little result, and his other schemes for money-making
were numerous.

'"The fact is, I must get money somehow. Living has been expensive ever
since we left England, and it's madness to go on till one's resources
have practically run out. And Sibyl _must_ get home again; she's wasting
her life among these people. How does she write to your wife? I rather
wish I could spy at the letters. (Of course, I don't seriously mean
that.) She bears it very well, and, if possible, I have a higher opinion
of her than ever."'

Again Harvey laughed.

'Good old chap! What a pity he can't be cracking crowns somewhere!'

'Oh! I'm sure I'd rather see him making bicycles.'

''Tisn't his vocation. He ought to go somewhere and get up a little war
of his own -- as he once told me he should like to. We can't do without
the fighting man.'

'Will you bring Hughie up to it, then?'

Harvey fixed his eyes on a point far off.

'I fear he won't have the bone and muscle. But I should like him to have
the pluck. I'm afraid he mayn't, for I'm a vile coward myself.'

'I should like a child never to hear or know of war,' said Mrs
Frothingham fervently.

'And so should I,' Harvey answered, in a graver tone.

When Mrs. Frothingham went upstairs with the letter for Alma, he broke
open another envelope. It was from Mary Abbott, who wrote to him twice a
year, when she acknowledged the receipt of his cheque. She sent the
usual careful report concerning Wager's children -- the girl now seven
years old, and the boy nine. Albert Wager, she thought, was getting too
old for her; he ought to go to a boys' school. Neither he nor his sister
had as yet repaid the care given to them; never were children more
difficult to manage. Harvey read this between the lines; for Mary Abbott
never complained of the task she had undertaken. He rose and left the
room with a face of anxious thoughtfulness.

The day was wont to pass in a pretty regular routine. From half-past
nine to half-past one Harvey sat alone in his study, not always
energetically studious, but on the whole making progress in his chosen
field of knowledge. He bought books freely, and still used the London
Library. Of late he had been occupying himself with the authorities on
education; working, often impatiently, through many a long-winded
volume. He would have liked to talk on this subject with Mary Abbott,
but had not yet found courage to speak of her paying them a visit. The
situation, difficult because of Alma's parentage, was made more awkward
by his reticence with Alma regarding the payment he made for those
luckless children. The longer he kept silence, the less easily could he
acquaint his wife with this matter -- in itself so perfectly harmless.

This morning he felt indisposed for study, and cared just as little to
go out, notwithstanding the magnificent sky. From his windows he looked
upon the larch-clad slopes of Cam Bodvean; their beauty only reminded
him of grander and lovelier scenes in far-off countries. From time to
time the wanderer thus awoke in him, and threw scorn upon the pedantries
of a book-lined room. He had, moreover, his hours of regret for vanished
conviviality; he wished to step out into a London street, collect his
boon-companions, and hold revel in the bygone way. These, however, were
still but fugitive moods. All in all, he regretted nothing. Destiny
seemed to have marked him for a bookish man; he grew more methodical,
more persistent, in his historical reading; this, doubtless, was the
appointed course for his latter years. It led to nothing definite. His
life would be fruitless ----

Fruitless? There sounded from somewhere in the house a shrill little
cry, arresting his thought, and controverting it without a syllable.
Nay, fruitless his life could not be, if his child grew up. Only the
chosen few, the infinitesimal minority of mankind, leave spiritual
offspring, or set their single mark upon the earth; the multitude are
but parents of a new generation, live but to perpetuate the race. It is
the will of nature, the common lot. And if indeed it lay within his
power to shape a path for this new life, which he, nature's slave, had
called out of nothingness, -- to obviate one error, to avert one misery,
-- to ensure that, in however slight degree, his son's existence should
be better and happier than his own, -- was not this a sufficing purpose
for the years that remained to him, a recompense adequate to any effort,
any sacrifice?

As he sat thus in reverie, the door softly opened, and Alma looked in
upon him.

'Do I interrupt you?'

'I'm idling. How is your headache?'

She answered with a careless gesture, and came forward, a letter in her
hand.

'Sibyl says she will certainly be starting for home in a few weeks.
Perhaps they're on the way by now. You have the same news, I hear.'

'Yes. They must come to us straight away,' replied Harvey, knocking the
ash out of his pipe 'Or suppose we go to meet them? If they come by the
Orient Line, they call at Naples. How would it be to go overland, and
make the voyage back with them?'

Alma seemed to like the suggestion, and smiled, but only for a moment.
She had little colour this morning, and looked cold, as she drew up to
the fire, holding a white woollen wrap about her shoulders. A slow and
subtle modification of her features was tending to a mature beauty which
would make bolder claim than the charm that had characterised her in
maidenhood. It was still remote from beauty of a sensual type, but the
outlines, in becoming a little more rounded, more regular, gained in
common estimate what they lost to a more refined apprehension. Her eyes
appeared more deliberately conscious of their depth and gleam; her lips,
less responsive to the flying thought, grew to an habitual expression --
not of discontent, but something akin unto it; not of self-will, but
something that spoke a spirit neither tranquil nor pliant.

'Had you anything else?' she asked, absently.

'A letter from Mrs. Abbott.'

Alma smiled, with a shade of pleasantry not usual upon her countenance.
Harvey generally read her extracts from these letters. Their allusion to
money imposed the reserve; otherwise they would have passed into Alma's
hands. From his masculine point of view, Harvey thought the matter
indifferent; nothing in his wife's behaviour hitherto had led him to
suppose that she attached importance to it.

'The usual report of progress?'

'Yes. I fancy those two children are giving her a good deal of trouble.
She'll have to send the boy to a boarding school.'

'But can she afford it?'

'I don't know.'

'I've never understood yet why you take so much interest in those
children.'

Her eyes rested upon him with a peculiarly keen scrutiny, and Harvey,
resenting the embarrassment due to his own tactics, showed a slight
impatience.

'Why, partly because I wish to help Mrs. Abbott with advice, if I can:
partly because I'm interested in the whole question of education.'

'Yes, it's interesting, of course. She has holidays, I suppose?'

'It's holiday time with her now.'

'Then why don't you ask her to come and see us?'

'I would at once,' Harvey replied, with hesitation, 'if I felt sure that
----' He broke off, and altered the turn of his sentence. 'I don't know
whether she can leave those children.'

'You were going to make a different objection. Of course there's a
little awkwardness. But you said long ago that all that sort of thing
would wear away, and surely it ought to have done by now. If Mrs. Abbott
is as sensible as you think, I don't see how she can have any unpleasant
feeling towards me.'

'I can't suppose that she has.'

'Then now is the opportunity. Send an invitation. -- Why shouldn't I
write it myself?'

Alma had quite shaken off the appearance of lassitude; she drew herself
up, looked towards the writing-table, and showed characteristic
eagerness to carry out a project. Though doubtful of the result, Harvey
assented without any sign of reluctance, and forthwith she moved to the
desk. In a few minutes she had penned a letter, which was held out for
her husband's perusal.

'Admirable!' he exclaimed. 'Couldn't be better. _Nihil quod tetigit non
ornavit_.'

'And pray what does that mean?' asked Alma, her countenance a trifle
perturbed by the emotions which blended with her delight in praise.

'That my wife is the most graceful of women, and imparts to all she
touches something of her own charm.'

'All that?'

'Latin, you must know, is the language of compression.'

They parted with a laugh. As she left the study, Alma saw her little son
just going out; the nurse had placed him in his mail-cart, where he sat
smiling and cooing. Mrs. Frothingham, who delighted in the child, had
made ready for a walk in the same direction, and from the doorway called
to Alma to accompany them.

'I may come after you, perhaps,' was the reply. 'Ta-ta, Hughie!'

With a wave of her hand, Alma passed into the sitting-room, where she
stood at the window, watching till Mrs. Frothingham's sunshade had
disappeared. Then she moved about, like one in search of occupation;
taking up a book only to throw it down again, gazing vacantly at a
picture, or giving a touch to a bowl of flowers. Here, as in the
dining-room, only the absence of conventional superfluities called for
remark; each article of furniture was in simple taste; the result, an
impression of plain elegance. On a little corner table lay Alma's
colour-box, together with a drawing-board, a sketching-block, and the
portfolio which contained chosen examples of her work. Not far away,
locked in its case, lay her violin, the instrument she had been wont to
touch caressingly; today her eyes shunned it.

She went out again into the little hall. The front door stood open;
sunshine flooded the garden; but Alma was not tempted to go forth. All
the walks and drives of the neighbourhood had become drearily familiar;
the meanest of London streets shone by contrast as a paradise in her
imagination. With a deep sigh of ennui, she turned and slowly ascended
the stairs.

Above were six rooms; three of them the principal chambers (her own,
Harvey's, and the guest-room), then the day-nursery, the night nursery,
and the servant's bedroom. On her first coming, she had thought the
house needlessly spacious; now it often seemed to her oppressively
small, there being but one spare room for visitors. She entered her own
room. It could not be called disorderly, yet it lacked that scrupulous
perfection of arrangement, that dainty finish, which makes an atmosphere
for the privacy of a certain type of woman. Ruth had done her part,
preserving purity unimpeachable; the deficiency was due to Alma alone.
To be sure, she had neither dressing-room nor lady's-maid; and something
in Alma's constitution made it difficult for her to dispense with such
aids to the complete life.

She stood before the mirror, and looked at herself, blankly, gloomily.
Her eyes fell a little, and took a new expression, that of anxious
scrutiny. Gazing still, she raised her arms, much as though she were
standing to be measured by a dressmaker; then she turned, so as to
obtain a view of her figure sideways. Her arms fell again,
apathetically, and she moved away.

Somehow, the long morning passed. In the afternoon she drove with Harvey
and Mrs. Frothingham, conversing much as usual, giving no verbal hint of
her overwhelming ennui. No reference was made to Mrs. Abbott. Harvey had
himself written her a letter, supporting Alma's invitation with all
possible cordiality; but he gravely feared that she would not come.

At tea, according to custom, little Hugh was brought into the room, to
be fondled by his mother, who liked to see him when he was prettily
dressed, and to sit upon his father's knee. Hugh, aged sixteen months,
began to have a vocabulary of his own, and to claim a share in
conversation; he had a large head, well formed, and slight but shapely
limbs; the sweet air of sea and mountain gave a healthful, though very
delicate, colouring to his cheeks; his eyes were Alma's, dark and
gleaming, but with promise of a keener intelligence. Harvey liked to
gaze long at the little face, puzzled by its frequent gravity, delighted
by its flashes of mirth. Syllables of baby-talk set him musing and
philosophising. How fresh and young, yet how wondrously old! Babble such
as this fell from a child's lips thousands of years ago, in the morning
of the world; it sounded on through the ages, infinitely reproduced;
eternally a new beginning; the same music of earliest human speech, the
same ripple of innocent laughter, renewed from generation to generation.
But he, listening, had not the merry, fearless pride of fathers in an
earlier day. Upon him lay the burden of all time; he must needs ponder
anxiously on his child's heritage, use his weary knowledge to cast the
horoscope of this dawning life.

'Why are you looking at him in that way?' exclaimed Alma. 'You'll
frighten him.'

'How did I look?'

'As if you saw something dreadful.'

Harvey laughed, and ran his fingers through the soft curls, and bade
himself be of good heart. Had he not thrown scorn upon people who make a
'fuss' about their children. Had he not despised and detested chatter
about babies? To his old self what a simpleton would he have seemed!

On the morrow Mrs. Frothingham took her departure; leaving it, as usual,
uncertain when she would come again, but pleasantly assured that it
could not be very long. She thought Harvey the best of husbands; he and
Alma, the happiest of married folk. In secret, no doubt, she sadly
envied them. If her own lot had fallen in such tranquil places!

Two more days, and Alma received a reply to her invitation. Yes, Mrs
Abbott would come, and be with them for a week; longer she could not.
Her letter was amiable and well-worded as Alma's own. Harvey felt a
great relief, and it pleased him not a little to see his wife's
unfeigned satisfaction. This was Monday; the visitor promised to arrive
on Tuesday evening.

'Of course you'll drive over with me to meet her,' said Harvey.

'I think not. I dislike making acquaintance at railway stations. If it
should rain, you'll have to have a covered carriage, and imagine us
three shut up together!'

Alma laughed gaily at the idea. Harvey, though at a loss to interpret
her merriment, answered it with a smile, and said no more. Happily, the
weather was settled; the sun shone gallantly each morning; and on
Tuesday afternoon Harvey drove the seven miles, up hill and down,
between hedges of gorse and woods of larch, to the little market-town
where Mary Abbott would alight after her long journey.


CHAPTER 2


Half an hour after sunset Alma heard the approach of wheels. She had
long been ready to receive her visitor, and when the horse stopped, she
stood by the open door of the sitting-room, commanding her nervousness,
resolute to make an impression of grace and dignity. It would have eased
her mind had she been able to form some idea of Mrs. Abbott's personal
appearance; Harvey had never dropped a hint on the subject, and she
could not bring herself to question him. The bell rang; Ruth hastened to
answer it; Harvey's voice sounded.

'It turns chilly after the warm sunshine. I'm afraid we ought to have
had a covered carriage.'

'Then I should have seen nothing,' was replied in softer tones. 'The
drive was most enjoyable.'

There came into the lamplight a rather tall figure in plain, serviceable
travelling-costume. Alma discerned a face which gave her a shock of
surprise, so unlike was it to anything she had imagined; the features
regular and of intelligent expression, but so thin, pallid, worn, that
they seemed to belong to a woman of nearly forty, weighted by years of
extreme suffering. The demeanour which Alma had studiously prepared
underwent an immediate change; she stepped forward with an air of frank
kindliness, of cordial hospitality.

'Wasn't your train late? How tired you must be -- and how cold! In these
fine spring days we have been living as if it were midsummer, but I'm
sure you oughtn't to have had that long drive in the open trap so late.
Harvey thinks everybody as robust as himself ----'

But the guest was in very good spirits, though manifestly fatigued. She
spoke with pleasure of the beautiful wild country, glowing in sunset. A
little tired, yes; she had not travelled so far for a long time; hut the
air had braced her wonderfully, and after a night's rest ----

At dinner Alma behaved with the same friendliness, closely observing her
guest, and listening to all she said, as if anxious not to miss a word.
Mrs. Abbott conversed in a very low voice; her manner was marked by a
subdual which might partly be attributable to weariness, but seemed in a
measure the result of timidity under novel circumstances. If she looked
at either of her companions, her eyes were instantly withdrawn. A smile
never lingered on her features; it came and passed, leaving the set
expression of preoccupied gravity. She wore a dress of black silk, close
at the neck; and Alma perceived that it was by no means new.

An hour after the meal she begged permission to retire to her room. The
effort to talk had become impossible; she was at the end of her
strength, and could hold up no longer.

When Alma came down again, she stood for a minute before the fire,
smiling and silent. Harvey had picked up a newspaper; he said nothing.

'How very nice she is!' fell at length from Mrs. Rolfe's lips.

'Astonishingly altered,' was her husband's murmured reply.

'Indeed? In what way?'

'Looks so wretchedly ill, for one thing.'

'We must take her about. What do you think of doing tomorrow?'

By feminine device of indirect question, Alma obtained some
understanding of the change that had come upon Mrs. Abbott during the
past three years. Harvey's disclosures did not violate the reticence
imposed upon him by that hour in which he had beheld a woman's
remorseful anguish; he spoke only of such things as were manifest to
everyone who had known Mary Abbott before her husband's death; of her
social pleasures, her intellectual ambitions, suddenly overwhelmed by a
great sorrow.

'I suppose she ought to be doing much better things than teaching
children,' said Alma.

'Better things?' repeated Harvey, musing. 'I don't know. It all depends
how you regard it.'

'Is she very clever?'

'Not appallingly,' he answered, with a laugh. 'It's very possible she is
doing just what she ought to be -- neither more nor less. Her health
seems to be the weak point.'

'Do you think she has enough to live upon?'

Harvey knitted his brows and looked uneasy.

'I hope so. Of course it must be a very small income; but I dare say
those friends of hers at Gunnersbury make life a little easier.'

'I feel quite sorry for her,' said Alma, with cheerfulness. 'I hadn't
realised her position. We must make her stay as long as she can. Yes, if
it's fine again, we might drive to Tre'r Caeri. That would interest her,
no doubt. She likes history, doesn't she? -- the same things that you
are fond of.'

At breakfast Mrs. Abbott appeared with a much brighter countenance;
refreshed in body and mind, she entered gladly into the plans that had
been made for the day, talked with less restraint, and showed an
interest in all her surroundings. But her demeanour still had the air of
self-subdual which seemed at moments to become a diffidence bordering on
humility. This was emphasised by its contrast with the bearing of her
hostess. Alma had never shown herself to more brilliant advantage; kind
interpretation might have thought that she had set herself to inspirit
the guest in every possible way. Her face was radiant with good humour
and vivacity; she looked the incarnation of joyous, healthy life. The
flow of her spirited talk seemed to aim at exhibiting the joys and
privileges of existence in places such as this. She represented herself
as glorying in the mountain heights, and in solitary tracts of shore.
Here were no social burdens, or restrictions, or extravagances; one
lived naturally, simply, without regrets for wasted time, and without
fear of the morrow. To all this Mary Abbott paid the tribute of her
admiration, perhaps of her envy; and Alma grew the more animated, the
more she felt that she had impressed her hearer.

Harvey wondered at this sudden revival of his wife's drooping energies.
But he did not consider the phenomenon too curiously; enough that Alma
was brilliant and delightful, that she played her part of hostess to
perfection, and communicated to their guest something of her own
vitality.

They had an exhilarating drive through the mountains to Tre'r Caeri, a
British fastness on a stern bare height; crumbled dwellings amid their
great protecting walls, with cairn and cromlech and mystic circles;
where in old time the noise of battle clanged amid these grey hills, now
sleeping in sunlight. And from Tre'r Caeri down into the rocky gloom of
the seaward chasm, Nant Gwrtheyrn, with its mound upon the desolate
shore, called by legend the burial-place of Vortigern. Here Mrs. Abbott
spoke of the prehistoric monuments she had seen in Brittany, causing
Alma to glance at her with a sudden surprise. The impulse was very
significant. Thinking of her guest only as a poverty-stricken teacher of
children, Alma forgot for the moment that this subdued woman had known
happier days, when she too boasted of liberty, and stored her mind in
travel. After all, as soon appeared, the travels had been of very modest
extent; and Alma, with her knowledge of many European countries, and her
recent ocean voyage, regained the confident superiority which kept her
in such admirable humour.

Mary Abbott, reluctant to converse on things that regarded herself,
afforded Alma every opportunity of shining. She knew of Mrs. Rolfe's
skill as a musician, and this same evening uttered a hope that she might
hear her play. The violin came forth from its retirement. Playing, it
seemed at first, without much earnestness, as though it were but a
pastime, Alma presently chose one of her pageant pieces, and showed of
what she was capable. Lack of practice had told upon her hand, but the
hearers were uncritical, as she well knew.

'That's magnificent,' said Harvey, with a mischievous smile. 'But do
condescend now to the primitive ear. Let us have something of less
severity.'

Alma glanced at Mrs. Abbott, who had softly murmured her thanks; then
turned an eye upon her husband, saying wickedly, 'Home, Sweet Home?'

'I've no doubt you could play it wonderfully -- as you would "Three
Blind Mice".'

Alma looked good-natured disdain, and chose next a Tarantelle of
Schubert. The exertion of playing brought warm colour into her face; it
heightened her beauty, and she was conscious of it; so that when she
chanced to find Mrs. Abbott's look fixed upon her, a boundless
gratification flashed from her own dark eyes, and spoke in the quiver of
her lips.

Next evening, when again requested to play, she sat down to the piano.
On this instrument Alma had not the same confidence as with the violin;
but she could not refrain from exhibiting such skill as she possessed,
Mrs. Abbott having declared that her own piano-playing was elementary.
Meantime, the portfolio of water-colours had of course been produced for
exhibition. In this art, though she did not admit it, Mrs. Abbott had
formerly made some progress; she was able to form a judgment of Alma's
powers, and heard with genuine surprise in how short a time this point
had been attained. Alma again glowed with satisfaction.

She found a new source of pride in her motherhood. Not having been told,
or having forgotten, that Mrs. Abbott had lost a child, she playfully
offered assurance that the guest should not be worried with nursery
talk.

'Children are anything but a delight to you, I'm afraid; you must have
too much of them.'

'They often give me trouble,' Mrs. Abbott replied. 'But I wish I had one
more to trouble me. My little girl would have been six years old by now.

Alma gave one of those looks which occasionally atoned for many less
amiable glances.

'I'm so sorry -- I didn't know ----'

Mrs. Abbott did not dwell on the subject. Her reserve was still unbroken,
though there never appeared the least coldness in her manner; she talked
with perfect freedom of everything that contained no allusion to
herself. The change was manifestly doing her good; even by the second
day she showed an increase of vigour, and no longer wore the
preoccupied, overstrained look. Becoming familiar with her face, Alma
thought it more attractive than at first, and decidedly younger. She
still had a great deal of curiosity to satisfy with regard to Mrs
Abbott; especially it seemed strange to her that Harvey and his friend
were so little inclined for conversation; they talked only of formal,
uninteresting things, and she wondered whether, after all, they really
had much in common.

'Take Mrs. Abbott for a walk tomorrow morning,' she said in private; 'you
must have so many things to talk about -- by yourselves.'

'I don't know that we have,' Harvey returned, looking at her with some
surprise. 'I want to hear a little more about those youngsters, that's
all.'

Mrs. Abbott wished to climb Cam Bodvean the great hill, clad in tender
green of larch-woods, which overlooked the town. For the toil of this
ascent Alma had no mind; pleasantly excusing herself, she proposed at
breakfast that Harvey and Mrs. Abbott should go alone; they might descend
on the far side of the mountain, and there, at a certain point known to
her husband, she would meet them with the dogcart. Harvey understood
this to mean that the man would drive her; for Alma had not yet added
the art of driving to her various accomplishments; she was, indeed,
timid with the reins. He readily assented to the plan, which, for some
reason, appeared to amuse and exhilarate her.

'Don't be in a hurry,' she said. 'There'll be a good view on a day like
this, and you can have a long rest at the top. If you meet me at
half-past one, we shall be back for lunch at two.'

When they started, Alma came out to the garden gate, and dismissed them
with smiling benignity; one might have expected her to say 'Be good!' as
when children are trusted to take a walk without superintendence. On
re-entering, she ran quickly to an upper room, where from the window she
could observe them for a few minutes, as they went along in
conversation. Presently she bade her servant give directions for the
dogcart to be brought round at one o'clock.

'Williams to drive, ma'am?' said Ruth, who had heard something of the
talk at breakfast.

'No,' Alma replied with decision. 'I shall drive myself.'

The pedestrians took their way along a winding road, between boulder
walls thick-set with the new leaves of pennywort; then crossed the one
long street of the town (better named a village), passing the fountain,
overbuilt with lichened stone, where women and children filled their
cans with sweet water, sparkling in the golden light. Rolfe now and then
received a respectful greeting. He had wished to speak Welsh, but soon
abandoned the endeavour. He liked to hear it, especially on the lips of
children at their play. An old, old language, symbol of the vitality of
a race; sounding on those young lips as in the time when his own
English, composite, hybrid, had not yet begun to shape itself.

Beyond the street and a row of cottages, they began to climb; at first a
gentle ascent, on either hand high hedges of flowering blackthorn, banks
strewn with primroses and violets, and starred with the white
stitchwort; great leaves of foxglove giving promise for future days. The
air was bland, yet exquisitely fresh; scented from innumerable sources
in field and heath and wood. When the lane gave upon open ground, they
made a pause to look back. Beneath them lay the little grey town, and
beyond it the grassy cliffs, curving about a blue bay. Near by rose the
craggy slopes of a bare hill, and beyond it, a few miles to the north,
two lofty peaks, wreathed against the cloudless heaven with rosy mist.

'Sure it won't be too much for you?' said Harvey looking upwards to the
wooded height.

'I feel equal to anything,' answered his companion brightly. 'This air
has given me new life.'

There was a faint colour on her cheeks, and for the first time Harvey
caught an expression which reminded him of the face he had known years
ago, when Mrs. Abbott looked upon life much as Alma did now.

They entered upon a rising heath, green with mosses where the moisture
of a hidden stream drew downwards, brown with dead bracken on dry
slopes. Just above was a great thicket of flowering gorse; a blaze of
colour, pure, aerial, as that of the sky which illumined it. Through
this they made their way, then dropped into a green nook of pasture,
among sheep that raised their heads distrustfully, and loud-bleating
lambs, each running to its mother.

'If you can scale this wall, it will save us a quarter of an hour.'

'If you can, I can,' was the laughing reply.

Protruding boulders made it an easy clamber. They were then at the base
of Cam Bodvean, and before them rose steep mountain glades. Mrs. Abbott
gazed upwards with unspoken delight.

'There are no paths,' said Harvey. 'It's honest woodland. Some day it
will be laid out with roads and iron benches, with finger-posts, "To the
summit".'

'You think so?'

'Why, of course. It's the destiny of every beautiful spot in Britain.
There'll be a pier down yonder, and a switchback railway, and leagues of
lodging-houses, and brass bands.'

'Let us hope we shall be dead.'

'Yes -- but those who come after us? What sort of a world will it be for
Hugh? I often think I should be wrong if I taught him to see life as I
do. Isn't it only preparing misery for him? I ought to make him delight
in piers, and nigger minstrels, and switchbacks. A man should belong to
his time.'

'But a man helps to make his time,' replied Mary Abbott.

'True. You are hopeful, are you?'

'I try very hard to be. What use am I, if I don't put a few thoughts
into children's heads which will help to make their lives a little
better?'

Harvey nodded.

Their feet sank in the mossy ruin of immemorial summers. Overhead, the
larch-boughs dangled green tresses, or a grove of beech shook sunlight
through branches decked with translucent gold. Now and then they came
out into open spaces, where trees rent from the soil, dead amid spring's
leafage, told of a great winter storm; new grass grew thickly about the
shattered trunks, and in the hollows whence the roots had been torn. One
moment they stood in shadow; the next, moved upward into a great splash
of sunshine, thrown upon moss that still glistened with the dews of the
night, and on splints of crag painted green and gold with lichen. Sun or
shadow; the sweet fir-scents breathed upon their faces, mingled with
many a waft of perfume from little woodland plants.

More than once Mrs. Abbott had to pause. Midway she was tempted by a
singular resting-place. It was a larch tree, perhaps thirty feet high;
at the beginning of its growth, the stem had by some natural means been
so diverted as to grow horizontally for a yard or more at a couple of
feet above the ground; it had then made a curve downwards, and finally,
by way of a perfect loop across itself, had shot again in the true
direction, growing at last, with straight and noble trunk, like its
undistorted neighbours. Much wondering at so strange a deformity, Mrs
Abbott seated herself on the level portion, and Harvey, as he stood
before her, told a fancy that had come to him when for the first time he
chanced to climb this way. Might not the tree represent some human life?
A weak, dubious, all but hopeless beginning; a check; a return upon
itself; a laboured circling; last a healthful maturity, upright,
triumphing. He spoke with his eyes on the ground. Raising them at the
end, he was astonished to see that his companion had flushed deeply; and
only then it occurred to him that this parable might be applied by the
hearer to herself.

'To make a confession,' he added at once, 'it forcibly reminded me of my
own life -- except that I can't pretend to be "triumphing".'

His laugh did not cover the embarrassment with which he discovered that,
if anything, he had made matters worse. Here was an instance of his
incorrigible want of tact; much better to have offered no application of
the fable at all, and to have turned the talk. He had told a simple
truth, but with the result of appearing to glorify himself, and possibly
at his friend's expense. Vexed beyond measure, he crushed his heel into
the soft ground.

'That is a very striking thought,' said Mary Abbott, her look still
downcast. 'I shall never forget it.'

And she rose to move onward. They climbed in silence, the flank of the
mountain growing steeper.

'I should have brought you my old alpenstock,' jested Harvey. 'Go
slowly; we have plenty of time.'

'I like to exert myself. I feel so well, and it does me good!'

He ventured to look at her again. All her confusion had passed away; she
had the light of enjoyment in her eyes, and returned his look with a
frankness hitherto lacking.

'You must stay a second week. Alma won't let you go.'

'Go, I must. The two children can't be left longer at Mrs. Langland's --
it would be presuming upon her kindness.'

'I want to talk about them, but one hasn't much breath here. When we get
to the top ----'

Last of all came a slippery scramble on broken stones, to where a
shapeless cairn rose above tree-tops, bare to the dazzling sky. As they
issued from the shelter of the wood, a breeze buffeted about them, but
only for a moment; then the air grew still, and nothing was audible but
a soft whispering among the boughs below. The larches circling this
stony height could not grow to their full stature; beaten, riven,
stunted, by fierce blasts from mountain or from wave, their trunks were
laden, and their branches thickly matted, with lichen so long and hoary
that it gave them an aspect of age incalculable. Harvey always looked
upon them with reverence, if not with awe.

In the sunny stillness their eyes wandered far and wide, around a vast
horizon. On two sides lay the sea; to the west, bounded only where it
met the blue sky above (though yonder line of cloud might perchance be
the hills of Wicklow); eastward, enfolded by the shores of a great bay,
with mountains on the far side, faintly visible through silvery vapour.
Northward rose a noble peak, dark, stern, beautiful in the swift fall of
curving rampart to the waves that broke at its foot; loftier by the
proximity of two summits, sharp-soaring like itself, but unable to vie
with it. Alone among the nearer mountains, this crest was veiled;
smitten by sea-gusts, it caught and held them, and churned them into
sunny cloudlets, which floated away in long fleecy rank, far athwart the
clear depths of sky. Farther inland, where the haze of the warm morning
hung and wavered, loomed at moments some grander form, to be imagined
rather than descried; a glimpse of heights which, as the day wore on,
would slowly reveal themselves and bask in the broad glow under crowning
Snowdon.

'We have time! We can stay here!' said Mrs. Abbott, moved with a profound
delight.

'We have an hour at least. The sun is too hot; you must sit on the
shadowed side of the cairn.'

The great silence had nothing of that awesomeness which broods in the
mountain calm of wilder solitudes. Upon their ear fell the long low
hushing of the wood, broken suddenly from time to time by a fitful wind,
which flapped with hollow note around the great heap of stones, whirled
as if in sport, and was gone. Below, in leafy hollows, sounded the cry
of a jay, the laugh of a woodpecker; from far heath and meadow trembled
the bleat of lambs. Nowhere could be discovered a human form; but man's
dwellings, and the results of his labour, painted the wide landscape in
every direction. On mountain sides, and across the undulating lowland,
wall or hedge mapped his conquests of nature, little plots won by the
toil of successive generations for pasture or for tillage, won from the
reluctant wilderness, which loves its fern and gorse, its mosses and
heather. Near and far were scattered the little white cottages, each a
gleaming speck, lonely, humble; set by the side of some long-winding,
unfrequented road, or high on the green upland, trackless save for the
feet of those who dwelt there.

From talk of the scenery they passed, by no agreeable transition, to the
subject which as yet they had not found an opportunity of discussing. It
was necessary to arrive at some new arrangement regarding Wager's
children; for the boy, Albert, would soon be nine years old, and, as Mrs
Abbott confessed, he had given her a great deal of trouble. Both the
children were intractable, hated lessons, and played alarming pranks;
Master Albert's latest feat might have cost him his life, for he struck
furiously through a pane of glass at a child mocking him from the other
side, and was all but fainting from loss of blood when Mrs. Abbott came
to his help. Plainly this youngster must be sent to a boarding-school.
Minnie, his sister, would be more easily managed after he had gone.

'He'll grow up a fighter,' said Harvey. 'We can't do without fighters.
I'll make inquiry at once about a school for him, and in a year or two
we'll take counsel with his teachers. Perhaps he might go into the
navy.'

'The cost of it all,' fell from his companion in a nervous undertone.

'We had that out long ago. Don't think about it.'

'Of course, you will send only half the money when Albert leaves me,'
said Mrs. Abbott earnestly. 'I shall be in no difficulty. I have had
letters from several people, asking me to take their little children to
live with me. Albert's place will be filled at once. I can't take more
into the house; there's no room. With them, and my kindergarten, and the
lessons I give in the evening, I can live very well.'

Harvey mused. Wishing to feel himself in complete sympathy with his
friend, he knew that something of the old criticism still tempered his
liking. Mary Abbott had fine qualities, but lacked the simplicity, the
directness, which would have made her courage wholly admirable. He
suspected that she continually mourned over what seemed to her a waste
of life. Proud of her 'culture', remembering her distinction as a
teacher of grown-up girls, she had undertaken as a penitence the care of
little children, and persevered in it with obstinacy rather than with
inspired purpose. Mary Abbott, doubtless, had always regarded life as a
conflict; she had always fought for her own hand. When such a nature
falls into genuine remorse, asceticism will inevitably follow; with it
comes the danger of more or less conscious embitterment. Harvey had a
conviction of his friend's sincerity, and believed her in every way a
better woman than in the days before her great sorrow; but he could not
yet assure himself that she had found her true vocation.

They spoke of the people who were so anxious to be relieved of their
children.

'One lady wrote to me that she would pay almost anything if I would take
her little boy and keep him all the year round; she has only a small
house, and the child utterly upsets her life. Of course, I understand
her; I should have sympathised with her once.'

'It's intelligible enough,' replied Harvey, with a laugh. 'Presently
there will be huge establishments for the young children of middle-class
people. Naturally, children are a nuisance; especially so if you live in
a whirlpool.'

'Yes, I know it too well, the whirlpool way of life,' said Mrs. Abbott,
her eyes on the far mountains. 'I know how easily one is drawn into it.
It isn't only idle people.'

'Of course not. There's the whirlpool of the furiously busy. Round and
round they go; brains humming till they melt or explode. Of course, they
can't bother with children.'

'One loses all sense of responsibility.'

'Rather, they have never had it, and it has no chance of developing. You
know, it isn't a matter of course for people to see that they are under
an enormous obligation to the children they bring into the world; except
in a parent here and there, that comes only with very favourable
circumstances. When there's no leisure, no meditation, no peace and
quietness, -- when, instead of conversing, people just nod or shout to
each other as they spin round and round the gulf, -- men and women
practically return to the state of savages in all that concerns their
offspring. The brats have come into existence, and must make the best of
it. Servants, governesses, schoolmasters -- anybody but the parents --
may give thought to children. Well, it's a matter for the individual. I
shouldn't feel comfortable myself.'

'It's a matter for the world, too,' said Mary.

Harvey nodded. As he sat at the foot of the piled stones, his hand
touched a sprig of last year's heather; the stem was hung with dry,
rustling, colourless bells, which had clung there all through the cold,
stormy months, telling of beauty that was past, and of beauty that was
to come. He broke it off, and showed it to his companion. Until the time
for moving, they talked of simpler things, and Mary Abbott recovered her
spirits.


CHAPTER 3


Turning regretfully from the place of rest, with its lulling sounds and
noble prospects, they began to descend the other side of the mountain,
which was more rugged than that by which they had come up. Harvey timed
the walk so well, that they reached the point of the road where Alma
would meet them, at a few minutes before the time agreed upon. No one
was in sight. The road in its inland direction could be scanned for a
quarter of a mile; the other way it curved rapidly, and was soon hidden
by gorse-bushes.

'I hear nothing,' said Rolfe, when they had stood silent for a little.
'A mistake is impossible; the man has driven to meet us here before.
Shall we walk on?'

They proceeded slowly, stopping from time to time. Harvey was puzzled by
this unpunctuality; it would soon be a quarter to two. He began to feel
hungry, and his companion looked tired. Of a sudden they heard the sound
of a vehicle approaching behind them.

'It can't be Alma. She wouldn't have gone farther than ----'

But the horse appeared round the curve of the road, and behind it was a
dogcart, and in the dogcart sat Alma, alone. At sight of them she pulled
up abruptly, so abruptly that the horse reared a little. Harvey walked
forward.

'You've been driving yourself?'

'Of course. Why not?' replied Alma in a strangely high key.

'How have we missed you?'

As he put this question he became aware of something very unusual in his
wife's appearance. Alma was pallid and shaking; her small felt hat had
got out of position, and her hair was disordered, giving her a wild,
rakish aspect. He saw, too, that the horse dripped with sweat; that it
glared, panted, trembled, and could not for a moment stand still.

'What on earth have you been doing? She's run away with you!'

'No, no!' cried Alma, laughing, as she looked at Mrs. Abbott, who had
just come up. 'She was rather fresh, and I gave her a good run, that's
all. I'm sorry I missed you at the place ----'

'Why didn't Williams drive?' asked Harvey in a voice turning to anger.

'Williams? Why should Williams drive?' Alma returned, her eyes flashing.
'I'm only a few minutes late; I don't see anything to make a fuss
about!'

This temper was as strange in Alma as the personal appearance she
presented. Harvey said no more, but, after quickly examining the horse,
helped Mrs. Abbott to a seat at the back of the vehicle; he then jumped
up to his wife's side, and without a word took the reins from her hand.
Alma made no remark as she surrendered them.

'Put your hat straight,' he said to her in a low voice.

'My hat? What's the matter with it The wind, I suppose. Did you enjoy
it, Mrs. Abbott?'

She turned, in speaking, so as to have her back towards Harvey, and kept
this position all the way, talking with her guest as if nothing had
happened. Rolfe, his face grimly set, uttered only a word or two. He had
to drive very slowly and with all caution, for the animal shied every
other minute, and he felt heartily glad when they all alighted.
Williams, who ran out from the stable, stood in astonishment at sight of
the horse's condition.

'Rather fresh this morning,' said Harvey, as the ladies went in. 'Mrs
Rolfe had a little trouble with her.'

This mild explanation by no means satisfied the coachman, though he
pretended to acquiesce. Seeing him give a look at the horse's knees,
Harvey did the same; nothing was wrong there. Williams pointed to marks
on one of the wheels; the cart had evidently grazed against a wall. Alma
must have lost control of the horse, and have been carried a
considerable distance before, somehow, it was stopped. Without doubt,
she had had a very narrow escape. Her anger seemed to be the result of
nerves upset and mortified vanity; she wished to show Mrs. Abbott that
she could drive -- the explanation of the whole matter. Harvey was vexed
at such a piece of childishness; irritated, too, by the outbreak of
temper with which Alma had replied to his very natural alarm. Of course,
he would say nothing more; it would be interesting to await the outcome
of his wife's mature reflection on her folly.

As he stepped into the house, something like a cry for help sounded from
above stairs. He shouted, 'What's that?' and in the same moment Mary
Abbott called to him that Mrs. Rolfe had fainted. On rushing up, he found
Mary with difficulty supporting Alma's unconscious form.

'I saw she could hardly get upstairs,' said Mrs. Abbott. 'Just here on
the landing she gave a moan and fell back. I was luckily close by her.'

They carried her into her room, and gave what help they could whilst the
doctor was being summoned. In a few minutes Alma regained consciousness,
and declared herself quite well again; but when she tried to rise,
strength failed her; she began to moan in physical distress. Harvey went
downstairs, whilst Mrs. Abbott and Ruth tended the sufferer.

Their ordinary medical man was far away among the hills; his assistant
had to be searched for, and came only after the lapse of two hours, by
which time Rolfe had worked himself into a fever. Whilst Mrs. Abbott,
faint with agitation and weariness, took a hurried meal, he went to the
bedside, and tried to learn whether Alma was suffering merely from
shock, or had sustained an actual injury; but she still nursed her
grievance against him, and would say very little. Why did not the doctor
come? She wished to see the doctor; no one else was of any use.

'Go down and have lunch with Mrs. Abbott properly. Do go, please; I hate
all this fuss, and it's quite unnecessary. Let me be alone till the
doctor comes.'

Before the arrival of Dr Evans's assistant she again fainted, and upon
that followed an attack of hysteria. When at length the medical man had
seen her, Harvey received an adequate, but far from reassuring,
explanation of the state of things. At nightfall Dr Evans came in
person, and was with the patient for a long time. He spoke less gravely
of the case, offered a lucid diagnosis, and thought that the services of
an ordinary nurse for a few days would meet every necessity. Williams
was sent with a hired vehicle to the market town, seven miles away, and
late at night returned with the woman recommended. Alma meanwhile had
lain quietly, and the household at length went to rest without renewal
of alarms.

Twice before dawn Harvey left his room and stepped silently to Alma's
door. The first time, he heard low voices; the second, there was no
sound. When, about eight o'clock, he went down and out into the garden,
he was surprised to meet Mrs. Abbott. She had already seen the nurse this
morning, and reported that all was going well. Rolfe talked cheerfully
again, and would not listen to his guest's timid suggestion that she
should take leave today. Not a bit of it; she was to go down to the
seashore and enjoy the sunshine, and worry herself just as little as
possible. At breakfast-time came a message from Alma to the same effect.
Mrs. Abbott was on no account to cut short her visit, and Harvey was to
do his duty as host. She herself, said Mrs. Rolfe, would be as well as
ever in a day or two.

For all that, when the appointed day for the guest's departure came,
Alma still lay blanched and feeble, not likely to leave her bed for
another week. She was, however, in a remarkably cheerful frame of mind.
Having to start on her journey as early as half-past eight, Mrs. Abbott
bade good-bye to her hostess the evening before, and nothing could have
been kinder or more amiable than Alma's behaviour.

'Don't bear a grudge against me for spoiling your holiday,' she said,
holding her guest's hand and smiling brightly. 'If I say all is for the
best, perhaps you'll understand me, and perhaps you won't; it sounds
pious at all events, doesn't it? We must see each other again, you know
-- here or somewhere else. I'm quite sure we can be friends. Of course,
Harvey will go with you in the morning.'

Mrs. Abbott begged he would do nothing of the kind, but Alma was
imperative.

'Of course he will! If it rains, a covered carriage will be here in
time. And write to me -- mind you write to me; not only to say you've
got safe home, but in future. You promise?'

In the morning it did rain, and heavily, so Harvey and his friend drove
to the station shut up together, with scarce a glimpse of anything
beyond the boulder walls and gorse hedges and dripping larch-trees. They
spoke a good deal of Alma. As soon as she was well again, said Rolfe, he
must take her for a thorough change. In truth, he was beginning, he
said, to doubt whether she could live in this out-of-the-world place
much longer. She liked it -- oh yes, she liked it -- but he feared the
solitude was telling upon her nerves. Mrs. Abbott admitted that there
might be something in this.

'Should you return to London?' she asked.

Whereupon Harvey stared before him, and looked troubled, and could only
answer that he did not know.

When, two days after, the promised letter came from Mrs. Abbott, Harvey
took it up to the invalid's room, and sat by her whilst she read it.

'She writes so nicely,' said Alma, who never in her life had showed such
sweetness of disposition as during this convalescence. 'Read it for
yourself, Harvey. Isn't it a nice letter? I feel so sorry we haven't
known each other before. But we're going to be friends now.'

'I'm sure I'm very glad.'

'Nothing from Mamma? I almost think I could write to her to-day. Of
course, she'll fall into a dreadful state of mind, and want to know why
she wasn't sent for, and lament over -- everything. But it's no use her
coming here now. When we go away we must manage to see her.'

'Yes. Have you thought where you would like to go?'

'Not yet. There's plenty of time.'

Not a word had passed between them with reference to the perilous drive.
Alma spoke as if her illness were merely natural, due to nothing in
particular; but her husband fancied that she wished to atone, by sweet
and affectionate behaviour, for that unwonted ill-usage of him. He saw,
too, beyond doubt, that the illness seemed to her a blessing; its
result, which some women would have wept over, brought joy into her
eyes. This, in so far as it was unnatural, caused him some disturbance;
on the other hand, he was quite unable to take a regretful view of what
had happened, and why should he charge upon Alma as a moral fault that
which he easily condoned in himself?

A few days more and the convalescent was allowed to leave her room. As
if to welcome her, there arrived that morning a letter from Melbourne,
with news that Sibyl and her husband would sail for England in a
fortnight's time after the date of writing, by the Orient Line steamer
_Lusitania_.

'You know what you suggested?' cried Alma delightedly. 'Shall we go?'

'What -- to Naples? We should have to be off immediately. If they come
by the next ship after the one that brought this letter, they are now
only a fortnight from the end of the voyage. That means -- allowing for
their nine days from Naples to London -- that we should have to be at
Naples in four or five days from now.'

'Well? That's easily managed, isn't it?'

'Not by anyone in your state of health,' replied Harvey gently.

'I am perfectly well! I could travel night and day. Why not? One eats
and sleeps as usual. Besides, are you quite sure They may be longer than
you think. Telegraph to the London office and ask when the _Lusitania_
will reach Naples.'

'If you like. But, for one thing, it's quite certain you oughtn't to
travel in less than a week; and then -- what about Hughie?'

Alma's face darkened with vexation.

'It doesn't matter,' she said coldly. 'I had counted on it; but, of
course, that's nothing. There's the baby to be considered first.'

Harvey had never been so near the point of answering his wife in rough,
masculine fashion. This illness of hers had unsettled his happy frame of
mind, perturbing him with anxious thoughts, and making confusion of the
quiet, reasonable prospect that lay before him only a week or two ago.
He, too, could much have enjoyed the run to Naples and the voyage back,
and disappointment taxed his patience. Irritated against Alma, and
ashamed of himself for not being better tempered, he turned and left the
room. A few minutes afterwards he walked to the post-office, where he
addressed a telegram of inquiry to the Orient Line people in London. It
was useless, of course; but he might as well satisfy Alma.

The reply telegram was delivered to him as he sauntered about in the
garden. It merely confirmed his calculation; there might possibly be a
clear five days before the _Lusitania_ touched at Naples -- most likely
not more than four. He went into the sitting-room, but Alma was not
there; he looked into the study, and found it vacant. As Ruth happened
to pass, he bade her take the telegram to Mrs. Rolfe upstairs.

He had no mind for reading or for any other occupation. He shut his
door, and began to smoke. In the whiffs curling from his pipe he
imagined the smoke of the great steamer as she drove northward from
Indian seas; he heard the throb of the engines, saw the white wake.
Naples; the Mediterranean; Gibraltar frowning towards the purple
mountains of Morocco; the tumbling Bay; the green shores of Devon; --
his pulses throbbed as he went voyaging in memory. And he might start
this very hour, but for the child, who could not be left alone to
servants. With something like a laugh, he thought of the people who
implored Mary Abbott to relieve them of their burdensome youngsters. And
at that moment Alma opened the door.

Her face, thinned a little by illness, had quite recovered its amiable
humour.

'Of course you are quite right, Harvey. We can't rush across Europe at a
moment's notice.'

He rose up, the lover's light in his eyes again, and drew her to him,
and held her in a laughing embrace.

'What has been wrong between us? It's a new thing for you and me to be
scowling and snarling.'

'I hope I neither scowled nor snarled, dear boy, though I'm not sure
that _you_ didn't. No doubt, Mrs. Abbott went away thinking we lead
rather a cat and dog life.'

'Hang it, no! How could she have any such thoughts?'

'Oh, the drive home that day.'

'Why, whose fault was that? I should have been all right, except that I
couldn't understand why you had run the chance of killing yourself.'

'I don't think I should have cared very much that morning,' said Alma
idly. 'I was more miserable than you can imagine.'

'Why?'

'Oh, I don't know -- foolishness. But you never gave me a word of
praise, and I'm sure I deserved it. Why, she galloped with me like mad
for nearly two miles, and I never lost hold of the reins, and I pulled
her up by myself and got her round, and drove back to meet you as if
nothing had happened. I told Mrs. Abbott all about it, and she was
astonished at my pluck.'

'Must have been. So am I.'

'I doubt it. I doubt whether you ever think much of anything I do.'

'That's rather unkind, because you know it isn't true.'

'I always thought very much the same, you know.'

'Rubbish! But come, what are we going to do? Naples seems out of the
question; but there's no reason why we shouldn't go to meet them in
London.'

'You would much rather wait here, and let them come,' said Alma. 'I
don't care particularly about going away. So long as we keep on good
terms with each other -- that's the chief thing.'

'There has never been a dream of anything else. We are on good terms as
a matter of course. It's part of the order of the universe.'

'I'm very sorry, dear, that I threatened the universe with catastrophe;
but I won't do it again -- indeed I won't. I will watch your face, and
be on my guard. And really, you know, under ordinary circumstances, I am
good-tempered enough.'

'What's all this about?' cried Harvey. For she seemed to be in earnest,
and spoke with a soft humility, such as might have become the least
original of wives. 'Watch my face, and be on your guard? Since when have
I desired you to be a simpleton?'

'I'm quite serious. It isn't foolish at all. I want to please you;
that's all I mean, dear.'

He gazed at her, wondering, inclined to laugh, yet withheld from it by
an uneasy feeling.

'This kind of talk means defective circulation, lost appetite, and so
on,' was his half-joking answer. 'The way to please me is to get some
colour into your cheeks again, and snub me for my ignorance of music,
and be your own arrogant self. But listen. You're quite mistaken in
thinking I want to stay here till Hugh and his wife come. It won't do.
You're getting far too sweet and docile, and everything detestable. I
had no idea of marrying an angel; it's too bad if you turn seraphic upon
my hands. I wonder, now, whether, by way of pleasing me, you would
answer a plain question?'

'I'll try.'

'Have you been wanting to get away from this place -- I mean, to live
somewhere else?'

'I? What can have made you think so?'

'That isn't trying to answer a question, you know.'

Alma, after looking keenly at him, had turned her face to the window.
She kept silence, and wore a look of calm reflectiveness.

'Have you been bored and wearied by this life?' Harvey asked in his most
good-natured tone.

'I don't think I have ever for a moment shown a sign of it,' replied
Alma, with grave conviction.

'So much the worse, if it meant that you concealed your thoughts.'

'I shall always be content, Harvey, so long as I see you are living the
kind of life that suits you.'

He uttered a shout of humorous, yet half-genuine, exasperation.

'Do you want me to swear it's a long time since I lost the habit, but it
might strike you as manly, and perhaps I had better practise again. What
has it to do with _you_, the kind of life that suits _me_? Don't you
remember my talking about that before we were married? I've had a
suspicion that you were getting rather into that state of mind. You
dropped your music, and partly, I've no doubt, because you didn't find
enough intelligent sympathy in me. You went in for painting, and you've
dropped that ----'

'It was winter, you see,' Alma interrupted.

'Yes, but that wasn't the only reason. It meant general failure of
energy -- the kind of thing I've known myself, only too well.'

'What -- here?' asked Alma, with some alacrity.

'I meant now and again, all through my life. No; here I've gone on right
enough, with a tolerably even mind; and for that very reason I haven't
noticed any signs of the other thing in you -- till just now, when you
lost your head. Why haven't you been frank with me?'

'You take it for granted that I had anything to be frank about,' Alma
remarked.

'Yes -- and you don't contradict me.'

'Then what were you going to say, Harvey?'

She bent towards him, with that air of sweet reasonableness which showed
her features at their best: eye tranquil and intelligent, lips
ingenuously smiling; a countenance she wore not thrice in a twelvemonth,
but by Harvey well remembered amid all changes, and held to express the
true being of the woman he loved.

'Why, I was going to say, dear,' he replied tenderly, 'that no good can
come of sacrificing your instincts. You have not to ask yourself whether
I am lazily comfortable -- for that's what it amounts to -- but what you
are making of your life. Remember, for one thing, that I am considerably
older ----'

'Please!' She checked him with an extended hand. 'I don't want to
remember anything of the kind.'

'There's no harm in it, I hope.' He laughed a little. 'The difference
isn't distressing, but just enough to be taken into account. At forty,
or near it, a man who is happily married gets used to his slippers and
his pipe -- especially if comfort, and all the rest of it, have come
after half a lifetime of homelessness. I might often say to myself that
I was wasting time, rusting, and so on; but the next day I should fall
back into the easy-chair again, and hate the thought of changes. But
you, with thirty still far ahead, slippers and pipe have no particular
attraction for you.'

He saw a thought in her eyes, and paused.

'Hughie will soon be able to talk,' fell from Alma, her look no longer
that of ingenuous sweetness, but of virtue just a trifle self-conscious.
And her husband, though he read this meaning in the change, was yet
pleased by the words that accompanied it.

'Yes; and then there will be more for you to do, you were going to say.
But that won't occupy you entirely, and it doesn't bind you to any
particular spot.'

'Perhaps not.'

She had become almost demure. Harvey took his eyes away.

'It comes to this -- you're not to subordinate your life to mine. That's
the old idea, and it still works well with some people. Yet I don't
know; perhaps it doesn't, really; one knows little enough about people's
lives. At all events, it won't work in our case, and remember that we
never thought it would. We talked it all over, with no humbug on either
side -- rather an unusual sort of talk, when one comes to think of it. I
liked you for the common-sense you showed, and I remember patting myself
on the back for a rational bit of behaviour at a time when I felt rather
crazy.'

Alma laughed in her gayest key.

'You were delicious. I didn't quite know what to make of you. And
perhaps that was the very reason ----'

'Reason for what?' asked Harvey, when she broke off and looked not quite
so pale as a moment before.

'I forget what I was going to say. But please go on. It's very
interesting -- as your talk always is.'

'I've said about all. You're not to be dutiful and commonplace; that's
the matter in a nutshell.'

'I don't think you can accuse me of ever being commonplace.'

'Perhaps not,' said Harvey.

'And as for dutiful, our duty is to be consistent, don't you think?'

'Yes -- if by consistency you mean the steady resolve to make the most
of yourself. That's what you had in mind when you came here. As soon as
you begin to grow limp, it's time to ask what is the matter. I don't
offer any advice; you know yourself better than I can know you. It's for
you to tell me what goes on in your mind. What's the use of our living
together if you keep your most serious thoughts to yourself?'

Harvey Rolfe glowed with a sense of his own generous wisdom. He had
never felt so keen a self-approval. Indeed, that emotion seldom came to
solace him; for the most part he was the severest critic of his own
doings and sayings. But for once it appeared to him that he uttered
golden words, the ripe fruit of experience and reflection. That personal
unrest had anything to do with the counsel he offered to his wife, he
did not for the moment even suspect. Alma had touched him with her
unfamiliar note of simple womanhood, and all at once there was revealed
to him a peril of selfishness, from which he strongly recoiled. He
seemed to be much older, and Alma much more youthful, than he was wont
to perceive. Very gently and sweetly she had put him in mind of this
fact; it behoved him to consider it well, and act upon the outcome of
such reflection. Heavens! was he in danger of becoming the typical
husband -- the man who, as he had put it, thinks first of his pipe and
slippers? From the outside, no man would more quickly or more
contemptuously have noted the common-sense moral of this present
situation. Being immediately concerned, he could see nothing in his
attitude but a wise and noble disinterestedness. And thus, at a moment
when he wittingly held the future in his hands, he prided himself on
leaving to Alma an entire responsibility -- making her, in the ordinary
phrase, mistress of her own fate, and waiting upon her decisions.

'I will think a little longer,' said Alma, sighing contentedly, 'and
then we'll talk about it again. It's quite true I was getting a little
run down, and perhaps -- but we'll talk about it in a day or two.'

'Could we decide anything for the present? Would you care to go and meet
the steamer at Plymouth?'

'And take Hughie? Suppose I wrote very nicely to Mamma, and asked if we
might leave Hughie with her, in Hampshire, for a few days? I dare say
she would be delighted, and the other people too. The nurse could be
with him, I dare say. We could call there on our way. And Ruth would
look after the house very well.'

'Write and ask.'

'Then you and I' -- Alma began to talk joyously -- 'might ramble about
Devonshire till the ship comes. Let me see -- if we travelled on Monday,
that would give us several days, wouldn't it? And the Carnabys might
either land at Plymouth, or we go on with them in the ship to London.
That's a very good plan. But why lose time by writing? Send a telegram
to Mamma -- "Could we leave Hughie and nurse with you for a day or
two?"'

Harvey again turned his steps to the post-office, and this message was
despatched. A few hours elapsed before the reply came, but it was
favourable.

'Then we'll leave on Monday!' exclaimed Alma, whose convalescence was
visibly proceeding. 'Just send another telegram -- a word or two, that
they may be ready.'

'Might as well have mentioned the day in the other,' said Harvey, though
glad to have something more to do.

'Of course; how thoughtless!'

And they laughed, and were in the best of tempers.

On the morrow, Sunday, they walked together as they had used to do in
the first spring after their marriage; along the grassy cliffs, then
down to the nook where the sand is full of tiny shells, and round the
little headland into the next bay, where the quaint old fishing-village
stands upon the edge of the tide. And Alma was again in love, and held
her husband's hand, and said the sweetest things in the most wonderful
voice. She over-tired herself a little, so that, when they ascended the
cliff again, Harvey had to support her; and in the sunny solitude she
thanked him with her lips -- in two ways.

It was a second honeymoon.


CHAPTER 4


Mrs. Frothingham's sister, who lived near Basingstoke, gave a warm
welcome to little Hugh Rolfe; and Mrs. Frothingham, who had all but
forgotten that the child was not really her grandson, took charge of him
with pride and joy. He stayed a week; he stayed a fortnight; -- he
stayed two months.

For when the Carnabys -- who landed at Plymouth and rested there for a
couple of days -- made known their intention of straightway taking a
flat in town, it seemed to Alma that the very best thing for her health
would be to spend a week or two in London, and see her old friends, and
go to a few concerts. The time was favourable, for June had only just
set in. Harvey, nothing loath, took his wife to a quiet hotel in the
Portman Square region, whither also went their friends from abroad; his
project being to look for furnished rooms, where child and nurse could
join them. But Mrs. Frothingham thought it a pity of pities to take
little Hugh into the town, when all was so pleasantly arranged for him
down in Hampshire; and, as Alma evidently inclined to the same view, the
uninviting thought of 'apartments' was laid aside. They might as well
remain at the hotel, said Harvey. Alma, with a pretty show of economical
hesitation, approved the plan, saying that she would be quite ready to
go home again when Sibyl had established herself in a flat. This event
came to pass in about three weeks; the Carnabys found a flat which
suited them very well at Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, and thither,
with the least possible delay, transferred a portion of their furniture,
which had lain in warehouse. Thereupon, sweetly reasonable, Mrs. Rolfe
made known that it was time to fetch her baby and return to
Carnarvonshire. She felt incalculably better; the change had been most
refreshing; now for renewed enjoyment of her dear home!

But Harvey wore his wisest countenance; no owl could have surpassed it
for sage gravity.

'You are very much better, and don't you think you would be better still
after another week or two? The concerts are in full swing; it seems a
pity -- now you are here ----'

Alma looked gracefully reluctant. Were not the hotel expenses rather
heavy?

'Pooh! You must remember that at home we live on half our income, or
less. If that's all that troubles you ----'

'You are very kind, Harvey!'

'Why, as for that, I'm enjoying myself. And I like to see you in such
capital spirits.'

So, with a happy sigh, Alma gave up the packing of her trunk, and wrote
to Mrs. Frothingham that if baby _really_ was not a trouble, they might
stay for another fortnight. 'Harvey is in such capital spirits, and does
so enjoy himself, that I don't think he ought to go home whilst all the
life of the season is in full swing. Of course, I could leave him here,
but -- if you will credit it -- he seems really to wish to have me with
him. If I tried to say how thoroughly good and kind he is, I should make
you laugh. It amuses me to see him turned into a sort of bachelor again.
This is no contradiction; I mean that here, among his men friends, he
shows a new side of himself, seems younger (to tell the truth), and has
a kind of gaiety quite different from his good humour at home. You can't
think how he enjoys a dinner at the club, for instance, quite in a
boyish way; and then he comes back with all sorts of stories and bits of
character and I don't know what; we forget the time, and sit talking
till I daren't tell you when. But I am doing the same thing now, for it
is half-past twelve (noon), and I have promised to lunch with Sibyl at
half-past one. Her flat is just finished, and looks very pretty indeed.
A thousand kisses to my little darling! Try and make him understand that
_mum-mum_ has not gone for ever.'

She dressed with care (her wardrobe had undergone a complete renewal),
and drove off in a hansom to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions. It was to be
a luncheon of intimacy, for Sibyl had not yet gathered her
acquaintances. When Alma entered, Mrs. Carnaby was sitting just as in the
days before her great migration, perfectly at ease, admirably
self-possessed, her beauty arrayed with all the chastity of effect which
distinguished her among idle and pleasure-loving women. She had found a
new way of doing her hair, a manner so young, so virginal, that Alma
could not but gaze with wonder and admiration.

'You do look sweet today!'

'Do I? I'm glad you think so. -- I want your opinion. Would you have the
piano there, or _there_?'

This matter was discussed, and then they obeyed the tuneful gong that
summoned them to the dining-room. Alma surveyed everything, and felt a
secret envy. Here was no demonstration of the simple life; things
beautiful and luxurious filled all available space, and indeed
over-filled it, for Sibyl had tried to use as much as possible of the
furniture formerly displayed in Hamilton Terrace, with such alterations
and novelties as were imposed by the fashion of today. She offered her
guest a most dainty little meal; a luncheon such as Alma could not
possibly have devised, in spite of all her reminiscences.

'Civilisation is a great thing,' Sibyl remarked. 'It's good to have been
in savagery, just to appreciate one's privileges.'

'But you liked Honolulu?'

'Honolulu -- yes. I was thinking of Queensland. There's no barbarism at
Honolulu, if you keep out of sight of the Americans and Europeans. Yes,
I enjoyed myself there. I think I could go back and live out my life at
Waikiki.'

'It astonished me that you didn't make an effort to go with Hugh to that
great volcano. I have read about it since, and I'm sure I should have
faced anything.'

'Kilauea,' murmured Sibyl, with a dreamy air, as she raised the
wine-glass to her lips. 'I was lazy, no doubt. The climate, you know;
and then I don't care much about bubbling lava. It was much nicer to
watch the gold-fish at Waikiki. -- Where is your husband today?'

'Of all things in the world, gone to Lord's! He says he never saw a
cricket match in his life, and it struck him this morning that it really
was a defect in his education. Of course, he was thinking of Hughie. He
wants Hughie to be a cricketer and horseman and everything that's
robust.'

'Just like Hugh,' replied Sibyl, laughing. 'I should feel the same if I
had a boy. I like open-air men -- though I shouldn't care always to live
among them.'

'Hugh at Coventry still?' Alma inquired.

Her hostess gave a nod, with a look intimating that she would say more
when the servant left them free to talk. She added ----

'Do you know Mrs. Strangeways?'

'I seem to remember a Mr. Strangeways,' replied Alma, 'but I can't think
how or where.'

'Yes, he's a man who goes about a good deal. His wife was the widow of
that artist who promised so well, and got into a scrape, and died
miserably -- Edward -- no, Egbert Dover. Don't you know that big
landscape that hangs in Mrs. Holt's boudoir? -- that was one of his. He
hid himself away, and died in a garret or a workhouse -- something
cheerful. I met Mrs. Strangeways at Brisbane; she and her husband were
globe-trotting. She might look in this afternoon. I don't know whether
you would care for her; she's rather -- rapid, you know. But she
remembers hearing you play somewhere -- spoke of you with great
admiration.'

Alma's eyes shone.

'Oh, I should be glad to meet her! Are you going to let me stay with you
all the afternoon, then?'

'If you have nothing better to do. I suppose I shall be losing you
presently. I'm very sorry. I wish you lived in London.'

'On this one account,' replied Alma, 'I wish I did. But I've got so out
of it. Don't you think I carry a rustic atmosphere about with me?'

Sibyl laughed, in the tone her friend wished to hear. Alma would have
been profoundly mortified if Mrs. Carnaby had seemed ever so little to
agree with her.

For all that, they were not quite so well attuned to each other as when
the young married woman, indifferent seemingly to social distinction,
patronised the ambitious girl, and, by the mere bestowal of confidence,
subtly flattered her. In those days Alma did not feel it as patronage,
for Sibyl's social position was perhaps superior to her own, and in
things of the intellect (apart from artistic endowment) she sincerely
looked up to her friend. Together they trod ground above the heads of
ordinary women in their world. But changes had been at work. Alma now
felt herself, to say the least, on equal terms with Mrs. Carnaby.
Economically, she was secure; whereas Sibyl, notwithstanding the show
she made, drew daily nearer to a grave crisis, and might before long
find herself in a very unpleasant situation. Intellectually, Alma saw
herself in a less modest light than before marriage; the daily
companionship of such a man as her husband had been to her as a second
education; she had quite overtaken Sibyl, if not gone a little beyond
her. The deference she still showed was no longer genuine, and this kind
of affectation, hard to support and readily perceived, is very perilous
to friendship. Conscious of thoughts she must not utter, Alma naturally
attributed to her friend the same sort of reticence. She feared that
Sibyl must often have in mind the loss she had suffered three years ago,
and would contrast her own precarious circumstances with the comfort of
Bennet Frothingham's daughter. Moreover, Mrs. Carnaby was not in all
respects her own self; she had lost something on her travels; was it a
shade of personal delicacy, of mental refinement? She seemed more
inclined to self-assertion, to aim somewhat at worldly success, to be
less careful about the friends she made. Alma felt this difference,
though not clear as to its nature, and insensibly it helped to draw them
apart.

'Yes, Hugh is at Coventry,' said Sibyl, when the servant had withdrawn.
'He'll go backwards and forwards, you know. I don't think he'll have
very much to do practically with the business; but just at first he
likes to see what's going on.'

'I hope it will prosper.'

'Oh, no doubt it will. It was a very good idea.'

Sibyl spoke as though she had never contemplated the possibilities which
were in Alma's mind. Her husband, as Alma knew from Rolfe, was in
anything but a sanguine mood; he saw his position in all its gravity,
and could hardly rest for fear that this latest enterprise should not
succeed. Sibyl, however, enjoyed her lunch with complete tranquillity.
She had the air of being responsible for nothing.

'I'm not at all sorry we went away for a time. Travelling suits Hugh; it
has done him a great deal of good. I believe he would have liked to stay
in Tasmania; but he saw it wouldn't do for me, and the good fellow could
think of nothing else but my comfort. I have a great admiration for
Hugh,' she added, with a smile, not exactly of superiority or
condescension, but of approval distinct from tenderness. 'Of course, I
always had, and it has increased since I've travelled with him. He shows
to far more advantage on a ship than in a drawing-room. On this last
voyage we had some very bad weather, and then he was at his best. I
admired him immensely!'

'I can quite imagine how he would be,' said Alma.

'And how glad I was when I heard you had married his best friend! It had
crossed my mind more than once. Perhaps you don't remember -- you didn't
notice it at the time -- but I ventured a discreet hint before we
parted. You couldn't have done a more sensible thing, Alma.'

Though quite willing to believe this, Alma, for some reason, did not
care to hear it thus asserted. The manner of the remark, for all its
friendliness, reminded her that marriage had signified her defeat, the
end of high promises, brave aspirations.

'I couldn't tell you how it happened,' she said, with a little
awkwardness. 'And I dare say you would say the same about your own
marriage.'

'Of course So would every woman. One never does know how it happens'

And Sibyl laughed with quiet merriment which had a touch of cynicism.
Alma had not yet spoken of the impulse which carried her away to the
little house in Carnarvonshire, to the life of noble simplicity and calm
retirement, and she had no disposition now to touch on the matter. Even
in her early letters to Sybil not much was said of it, for she felt that
her friend might have a difficulty in sympathising with such enthusiasm.
She would have liked to make Sibyl understand that her rustication was
quite voluntary; but the subject embarrassed her, and she preferred to
keep silence.

'I didn't hear very much about your time in Germany,' Mrs. Carnaby
resumed. 'Nothing much to tell, I suppose.'

'Very little.'

'Any -- any adventures?'

'Oh no!'

Alma felt herself grow warm, less at the thought of the adventures which
really had befallen her than from vexation at the feeling of
insignificance. She understood very well what Sibyl meant by her smiling
question, and it would almost have been a relief to tell certain
stories, in proof that she had not utterly fallen out of sight and mind
on her self-banishment from society. There was no reason, indeed, why
she should not make fun of Felix Dymes and his proposal; but the episode
seemed idle in comparison with another, on which she had never ceased to
reflect. Perhaps a certain glory attached to that second incident; Sibyl
might be impressed alike with the character of the temptation and with
her friend's nobility in scorning it. But the opportunity had gone by.

On rising from table, Sibyl remarked that she wished to make one or two
purchases; would Alma accompany her to the shop? They went forth, and
drove as far as Regent Street. Mrs. Carnaby's requirements were one or
two expensive trifles, which she chose with leisurely gratification of
her taste. It surprised Alma to see this extravagance; one would have
thought the purchaser had never known restricted means, and dreamt of no
such thing; she bought what she happened to desire, as a matter of
course. And this was no ostentation for Alma's benefit. Evidently Sibyl
had indulged herself with the same freedom throughout her travels; for
she had brought back a museum of beautiful and curious things, which
must have cost a good deal. Perhaps for the first time in her life Alma
experienced a sense of indignation at the waste of money. She was
envious withal, which possibly helped to explain the other impulse.

They returned in an hour's time. Sibyl then withdrew for a few minutes,
and reappeared in an exquisite tea-gown, which made her friend's frock,
though new and handsome, look something less than suitable to the
occasion. Alma, glancing about the room, spoke as if in pursuance of a
train of thought.

'People _do_ make a lot of money out of bicycles, I think?'

'I have heard so,' answered her hostess indifferently. 'Will you play me
something? The piano has been tuned; I should like to know if you think
it all right.'

'I have quite given up playing the piano.'

'Indeed? And the violin too?'

'No, no; the violin is my instrument. Whose is that little water-colour,
Sibyl? I tried for just that effect of sun through mist not long ago.'

'Oh yes, to be sure, you have gone in for water-colours; you told me in
a letter. I must see some of your things. Of course, I shall becoming
----'

The door opened, and a small page, very smartly equipped, to Alma; she
had not as yet seen this functionary; but Mrs. announced Mrs. Herbert
Strangeways. The page was a surprise Strangeways drew her attention. A
lady of perhaps thirty-five, with keen, thin face, and an artificial
bloom on her hollow cheeks; rather overdressed, yet not to the point of
vulgarity; of figure very well proportioned, slim and lissom. Her voice
was a trifle hard, but pleasant; her manner cordial in excess.

'So here you are, _chez vous_. Charming! Charming! The prettiest room I
have seen for a long time. Mrs. Rolfe? Oh, Mrs. Rolfe, the name put me out
for a moment; but I remember you perfectly, perfectly. It was at the
Wigrams'; you played the violin wonderfully!'

Alma did not much care to be reminded of this. Mr. Wigram, one of her
father's co-directors, was lying at this moment in durance vile, and his
wife lived somewhere or other on charity. But Mrs. Strangeways uttered
the name without misgiving, and behaved as though nothing conceivable
could have afforded her more delight than to meet Alma again. It was her
habit to speak in superlatives, and to wear a countenance of
corresponding ecstasy. Any casual remark from either of the ladies she
received with a sort of rapture; her nerves seemed to be in a perpetual
thrill. If she referred to herself, it was always with depreciation, and
not at all the kind of depreciation which invites compliment, but a
tremulous self-belittlement, such as might be natural in a person who
had done something to be ashamed of, and held her place in society only
on sufferance.

'You still play, of course?' she said to Mrs. Rolfe presently. 'I so hope
I may have the pleasure of hearing you again. I wonder whether I could
persuade you to come next Wednesday? We have a little house in
Porchester Terrace. Of course, I don't mean to ask you to play; I
shouldn't venture to. Just a few friends in the evening -- if you didn't
think it tiresome? I'll send you a card.'

There entered a tall young man of consumptive features, accompanied by a
stout, florid woman, older than himself; and upon this couple followed
half-a-dozen miscellaneous callers, some of whom Alma knew. These old
acquaintances met her with a curiosity they hardly troubled to disguise;
she herself was reserved, and took no part in the general chatter. Mrs
Strangeways withdrew into a corner, as if wishing to escape observation.
When Mrs. Rolfe took a chair by her side, she beamed with gratitude, and
their gossip grew quite intimate. Alma could not understand why Sibyl
had stigmatised this woman as 'rapid' -- that is to say, 'fast'; she
gabbled, indeed, at a great rate, but revealed no startling habits of
life or thought, and seemed to have rather an inclination for childish
forms of amusement. Before they parted, Alma gave a promise that she
would go to Mrs. Strangeways 'at home' next Wednesday.

'And your husband, if he would care to come. I should be so delighted to
know him. But perhaps he doesn't care about that kind of thing. I hate
to bore anyone -- don't you? But then, of course, you're never in danger
of doing it. So very, _very_ glad to have met you! And so exceedingly
kind of you to promise! -- so _very_ kind!'

As Sibyl also was going to Porchester Terrace, they arranged to chaperon
each other and to start from Mrs. Rolfe's hotel.

'It's no use making Harvey uncomfortable,' said Alma. 'He would go if I
asked him but sorely against the grain. He always detested 'at homes' --
except when he came to admire _me_! And he likes to see me going about
independently.'

'Does he?' said Sibyl, with an inquiring look.

'Yes -- seriously. We do our best not to encumber each other. Don't you
think it's the best way?'

'No doubt whatever.'

Mrs. Carnaby smiled, and the smile grew to a laugh; but she would not
explain what she meant by it.

On the Wednesday evening, they reached Mrs. Strangeways' house at ten
o'clock. Carriages and cabs made a queue up to the door, and figures
succeeded each other rapidly on the red cloth laid down across the
pavement. Alma was nervous. More than three years had passed since the
fatal evening when, all unconsciously, she said goodbye to social
splendours; from then till now she had taken part in no festivity. The
fact that her name was no longer Frothingham gave her some
encouragement; but she must expect to be recognised, perhaps to be
stared at. Well, and would it be so very disagreeable? An hour before,
the mirror had persuaded her that she need not shrink from people's
eyes; her dress defied criticism, and she had not to learn how to bear
herself with dignity. Sibyl was unusually lavish of compliments, and in
a matter such as this Sibyl's judgment had weight. As soon as she found
herself on the stairs, amid perfumes and brilliances, she breathed
freely; it was the old familiar atmosphere; her heart leaped with a
sudden joy, as in a paradise regained.

Already the guests were very numerous, and they continued to arrive. The
drawing-rooms filled; a crowd of men smoked in the 'library' and the
billiard-room; women swarmed in passages and staircase. After welcoming
Mrs. Rolfe with the ardour of a bosom friend and the prostration of a
devotee, the hostess turned to the next comer with scarcely less
fervency. And Alma passed on, content for the present to be lost amid
thronging strangers.

'Who are all these people?' she asked of Sibyl, who had moved along by
her side.

'Nobodies, most of them, I should imagine. There's no need to stay very
long, you know. That's Mr. Strangeways, the little man with a red face
talking to that mountain of a woman in green. Mercy, what a dress! He's
coming this way; I'll introduce him to you.'

The host had a jovial carriage and a bluff way of speaking, both
obviously affected. His eyes wandered as he talked, and never met anyone
else's with a steady look. Alma thought him offensively familiar, but he
did not inflict himself upon her for long.

When the hostess began to go hither and thither, she pounced eagerly on
Mrs. Rolfe, and soon made her the centre of a group. Alma began to taste
the old delight of homage, though she perceived that her new
acquaintances were not of the world in which she had formerly shone.
About midnight, when she was a little tired of the crush, and thought of
going, there fell upon her ear a voice which startled and aroused her
like an unexpected grasp. On the instant she saw an open place in
Munich; the next, a lake and mountains.

'I wasn't in town then. I got out of sorts, and ran away to a little
place I have on the Lake of Garda.'

The speaker was immediately behind her. She all but turned her head, and
grew hot in the effort to command herself. Amid the emotions naturally
excited in her she was impressed by a quality in the voice, a refinement
of utterance, which at once distinguished it from that of the men with
whom she had been talking. It belonged to a higher social grade, if it
did not express a superiority of nature. For some moments she listened,
catching now and then a word; then other voices intervened. At length,
turning where she stood, she let her eyes range, expressionless, over
the faces near by. That which she sought was not discoverable, but at
the same moment the hostess came up to her.

Mrs. Rolfe, do you know Mr. Cyrus Redgrave?'

'Mr. Redgrave ----?'

The confused, hesitating repetition of the name was taken by Mrs
Strangeways for a reply in the negative.

'A charming man, and a great friend of mine -- oh, a very old friend.
Let me bring him.'

She rustled away, and Mrs. Rolfe sank back on to the _causeuse_ from
which she had newly risen. Quickly the hostess returned, and, in the
track she made through crowded clusters of people who stood talking,
there followed a gentleman of easy carriage, with handsome features and
thin hair. He was looking for Alma, and as soon as his eyes perceived
her, they fell. Of what Mrs. Strangeways said, Alma heard not a syllable;
she bowed mechanically, clutching her fan as though in peril of a fall
and this the only thing within reach; she knew that Redgrave bent
solemnly, silently; and then, with sudden relief, she saw the hostess
retire.

'I beg your pardon.' The voice was addressing her in a respectful
undertone. 'I had no choice. I did not feel justified in saying I knew
you.'

'You were quite right,' she replied coldly, her fingers now relaxed upon
the fan. 'Mrs. Strangeways is a little impulsive; she gave me no
opportunity of preventing the introduction.'

'Will you let me say, Mrs. Rolfe, that I am glad to have been presented
to you as a stranger? I should be happy indeed if our acquaintance might
begin anew.'

It was polite in terms, but sounded to Alma very like the coolest
impertinence. She bent her head, ever so little. The second seat of the
_causeuse_ being unoccupied, Redgrave hereupon took possession of it. No
sooner had he done so than Alma rose, let a smile of indifference just
fall upon him, and lost herself amid the buzzing assembly.

Ten minutes later, Redgrave and Mrs. Carnaby were lounging in these same
seats, conversing with perfect mutual intelligence. They had not met for
three years, but the interval signified very little in their lives, and
they resumed conversation practically at the point where it had broken
off in Mrs. Frothingham's drawing-room. A tactful question assured the
man of the world that Mrs. Carnaby knew nothing of certain passages at
Munich and Bregenz.

'I'm afraid,' he added, 'Mrs. Rolfe has become a little reserved.
Natural, no doubt.'

'She lives in a wild part of Wales,' Sibyl answered, smiling tolerantly.
'And her husband detests society.'

'Indeed? Odd choice for her to have made, don't you think? -- And so
your Odyssey is over? We shall have some chance of seeing you again.'

'But your own Odyssey is perpetually going on. Are you ever in town
except for a few weeks of the season?'

'Oh, I go about very little now; I'm settling down. -- You never met my
sister, I think? She has a house at Wimbledon with a good-sized garden
-- sort of little park, in fact, -- and I have persuaded her to let me
build myself a bungalow among the trees.'

'Splendid idea!'

'Not bad, I think. One is free there; a member of the family whenever
one likes; domesticated; all that's respectable; and only a few steps
away, the bachelor snuggery, with all that's ----. No, no! I was _not_
going to complete the antithesis, though by your smiling you seem to say
so.'

'The suggestion was irresistible,' said Sibyl, with the composure, the
air of security, which always covered her excursions on to slippery
ground.

'When the weather is good, I ask a few of my friends to come and sit
there in the shade. They may or may not be my sister's friends also;
that doesn't matter. I have a separate entrance from the road. -- But I
wish you knew Mrs. Fenimore. She lived a year or two at Stuttgart, for
her children to learn German. Her husband's in India. She tried it, but
couldn't stand the climate.'

'And you really live in the bungalow?' inquired Mrs. Carnaby,
disregarding this information about Redgrave's sister.

'Yes, it's my headquarters in England. Let me send you a card, will you,
when I have my next afternoon? It might amuse you, and I assure you it
_is_ perfectly respectable.'

'How could I doubt it, if you invite me?'

Alma drove home by herself in a hansom. She liked this disregard of
conventionalities; all the more because Harvey, who, of course, had sat
up for her, seemed a trifle anxious. Her spirits were exuberant; she
gave a merry, mocking account of the evening, but it included no mention
of Cyrus Redgrave.

At the end of June her friends the Leaches moved from their old house in
Elgin Road to a new one out at Kingsbury-Neasden, and when the removal
was completed Alma went there to make a call, taking her husband. Harvey
had never been beyond Swiss Cottage on this extension of the
Metropolitan Railway; he looked with interest at the new districts
springing up towards Harrow, and talked of them with Mrs. Leach. A day or
two after, he travelled by himself to a greater distance on the same
line, making a survey of the country from Harrow to Aylesbury. At his
next meeting with Hugh Carnaby, which took place about the middle of
July, he threw out a suggestion that for anyone who wished to live
practically in London and yet away from its frenzy, the uplands towards
Buckinghamshire were convenient ground.

'I wish you were thinking of it yourself,' replied Hugh. 'Your wife is
about the only woman Sibyl cares to see much of, and the only woman I
know that she'll get any good from.'

The strong man did not look very cheerfully on the world just now, and
it was evident that he felt some sort of trouble with regard to his
wife. For her sake solely he had returned to England, where he was less
than ever at his ease. He wished Sibyl to live in her own way, grudged
her nothing, admired and cherished her with undiminished fervour; but in
Oxford and Cambridge Mansions it cost him a great effort to pretend to
be at home. The years of wandering had put him hopelessly out of touch
with what Sibyl called society. Little as he understood about
manufactures, or cared for the details of commerce, he preferred to stay
down at Coventry with his partner Mackintosh, living roughly, smoking
his pipe and drinking his whisky in the company of men who had at least
a savour of sturdy manhood. His days of sport were gone by; he was
risking the solid remnant of his capital; and if it vanished -- But of
that possibility he would not speak, even with Harvey Rolfe. As he
meditated, his teeth were set, his eyes darkened. And it appeared to
Harvey that the good fellow drank a little more whisky than was needful,
even in these warm days.

'I want to see the little chap, my namesake,' he said. 'Why don't you
have him up here? Doesn't your wife feel she wants him?'

'Alma will think more of him in a year or two,' Harvey replied.

'Yes. I've noticed that women -- one sort of women -- don't care much
about babies nowadays. I dare say they're right. The fewer children
people have, the better. It's bad to see the poor little squalling brats
in the filth and smoke down yonder, and worse still in this damned
London. Great God! when there's so much of the world clean and sweet,
here we pack and swelter together, a million to the square mile! What
eternal fools we are!'

Harvey growled his heartiest agreement. None the less, a day or two
after, he was holding a conversation with Alma which encouraged her
secret weariness of the clean and sweet places of the earth. They had
come home from a Richter concert, and Alma uttered a regret that she had
not her violin here. A certain _cadenza_ introduced by a certain player
into a certain violin solo did not please her; why, she could
extemporise a _cadenza_ far more in keeping with the spirit of the
piece. After listening, with small attention to the matter, but much to
the ardent speech and face of enthusiasm, Harvey made a quiet remark.

'I want you to decide very soon what we are going to do.'

'Going to do?'

'About the future -- where we are to live.'

Alma strummed lightly with her finger-tips upon the table, and smiled,
but did not look up.

'Do you really think of making any change?'

'I leave it entirely to you. You remember our last talk before we came
away. You have simply to ask yourself what your needs are. Be honest
with yourself and with me. Don't sacrifice life to a whim, one way or
the other. You have had plenty of time to think; you have known several
ways of life; you're old enough to understand yourself. Just make up
your mind, and act.'

'But it's ridiculous, Harvey, to speak as if I had only myself to
consider.'

'I don't want you to do so. But supposing that were your position, now,
after all your experience, where would you choose to live?'

He constrained her to answer, and at length she spoke, with a girlish
diffidence which seemed to him very charming.

'I like the concerts -- and I like to be near my musical friends -- and
I don't think it's at all necessary to give up one's rational way of
living just because one is in London instead of far away.'

'Precisely. That means we ought to come back.'

'Not if you do it unwillingly.'

'I'll be frank in my turn. For Hughie's sake, I don't think we ought to
live in the town; but it's easy enough to find healthy places just
outside.'

'I shouldn't wish to be actually in the town,' said Alma, her voice
tremulous with pleasure. 'You know where the Leaches are living?'

'Yes. Or just a little farther away, on the higher ground. Very well,
let us regard _that_ as settled.'

'But you, dear -- could you live there?'

'Well enough. It's all the same to me if I have my books, and a field to
walk in -- and if you don't want me to see too many women.'

Alma laughed gaily, and had done with semblance of hesitation.

They began to search for a house, and in a week's time had found one,
newly built, which seemed to answer their requirements. It was at
Pinner, not many minutes by rail from Alma's friends at
Kingsbury-Neasden, and only about half an hour from Baker Street -- 'so
convenient for the concerts'. A new house might be damp, but the summer
months were hastening to dry it, and they would not enter into residence
before the end of autumn. 'We must go and enjoy our heather,' said Alma
brightly. The rent was twice what Harvey had been paying; there was no
stabling, but Alma agreed that they ought not to keep a horse, for
naturally there would be 'other expenses'.

Other expenses, to be sure. But Harvey signed the three years' lease
without misgiving. A large surplus lay in hand after the 'simple life'
in Carnarvonshire, and his position was not that of men who have
extravagant wives.


CHAPTER 5


The Leach family gave it to be understood by their friends that they had
moved out of town because of Mrs. Leach's health. Other explanations were
suspected; for the new establishment seemed to be on a more modest
footing than that in Elgin Road, and the odd arrangement whereby Mr
Leach came home only on Saturday could not be without significance. Mrs
Leach, it was true, suffered from some obscure affection of the nerves,
which throughout the whole of her married life had disabled her from
paying any continuous regard to domestic affairs; this debility had now
reached such a point that the unfortunate lady could do nothing but
collapse in chairs and loll on sofas. As her two daughters, though not
debilitated, had never dreamt of undertaking household management, all
such matters were left to a cook-housekeeper, changed every few months,
generally after a quarrel, wherein Mrs. Leach put forth, for an invalid,
very surprising energy. Mr. Leach, a solicitor, had no function in life
but to toil without pause for the support of his family in genteel
leisure; he was a mild man, dreading discord, and subservient to his
wife. For many years he had made an income of about L2000, every penny
of which, excepting a small insurance premium, had been absorbed by
expenses of the house. At the age of fifty, prematurely worn by
excessive labour, he was alarmed to find his income steadily
diminishing, with no corresponding diminution -- but rather the opposite
-- in the demands made upon him by wife and daughters. In a moment of
courage, prompted by desperation, he obtained the consent of Dora and
Gerda to this unwelcome change of abode. It caused so much
unpleasantness between himself and Mrs. Leach, that he was glad to fit up
a sleeping-room at his office and go home only once a week; whereby he
saved time, and had the opportunity of starving himself as well as of
working himself to death.

Dora and Gerda, having grown up in such domestic circumstances, accepted
them with equanimity. When their father spoke nervously of retrenchment,
saying that he grew old and must save money to provide for their future,
they made no objection, but were as far as ever from perceiving the
sordid tragedy of his lot. Dora lived for her music; Gerda sang a
little, but was stronger on the social side, delighting in festivities
and open-air amusements. They were amiable and intelligent girls, and
would have been amazed had anyone charged them with selfishness; no less
if it had been suggested to them that they personally might rectify the
domestic disorder of which at times they were moved to complain. They
had no beauty, and knew it; neither had received an offer of marriage,
and they looked for nothing of the kind. That their dresses cost a great
deal, was taken as a matter of course; also that they should go abroad
when other people did, and have the best places at concert or theatre,
and be expansively 'at home'. With all sincerity they said of themselves
that they lived a quiet life. How could it be quieter? -- unless one
followed the example of Alma Rolfe; but Alma was quite an exceptional
person -- to be admired and liked, not to be imitated.

Yet even Alma, it seemed, had got tired of her extraordinary freak. She
was back again within the circle of civilisation; or, as she put it in
her original, amusing way, 'on the outer edge of the whirlpool'. She had
a very nice little house, beautifully furnished; everyone knew Alma's
excellent taste. She came frequently to Kingsbury-Neasden, and ran up to
town at least as often as they (Dora and Gerda) did. Like them she found
it an annoyance to have to rush to the station before midnight; but,
being married, she could allow herself more freedom of movement than was
permissible to single young women, and having once missed the last
train, she simply went to a hotel where she was known, and quietly
returned to Pinner next morning. That Mrs. Rolfe had such complete
liberty and leisure seemed to them no subject for remark; being without
cares, she enjoyed life; a matter of course. And she was so very clever.
No wonder Mr. Rolfe (charming man) always had admiration in his eyes when
he looked at her. Some husbands (miserable churls) can see nothing in
their wives, and never think of encouraging what talent they may have.
But when Alma grew a little dissatisfied with her violin (a 'Vuillaume',
which poor Mr. Bennet Frothingham had given her in the days gone by), Mr
Rolfe did not hesitate to spend fifty pounds on an instrument more to
her liking; and the dear girl played on it divinely.

There was no shadow of envy in Dora Leach. 'I don't play quite badly,'
she said to Alma. 'Goodness knows, I oughtn't to, after all the lessons
I've had and the pains I've given. But with you it's different, dear.
You know very well that, if you liked, you could become a professional,
and make a name.

'I _might_ have done,' Alma admitted; 'but marriage put an end to that.
You have too much sense to think I mean that I repent it.'

'I don't see why marriage should put an end to it,' urged Dora. 'I'm
quite sure your husband would be very proud if you came out and had a
great success.'

'But if I came out and made a fiasco?'

'You wouldn't.'

That was in the summer of 1890, when the Rolfes had been living at
Pinner for eight months. The new violin (new to her, old and mellow in
itself) had inspired Alma to joyous exertions. Again she took lessons
from Herr Wilenski, who was sparing of compliment, but, by the mere fact
of receiving her at all, showed his good opinion. And many other people
encouraged her in a fine conceit of herself. Mrs. Strangeways called her
'an unrecognised genius', and worshipped at her feet. To be sure, one
did not pay much attention to Mrs. Strangeways, but it is sweet to hear
such phrases, and twice already, though against her better judgment,
Alma had consented to play at that lady's house.

On both these occasions Cyrus Redgrave was present. Choosing his moment,
he approached her, looked in her face with a certain timidity to which
Alma was not insensible, and spoke as an ordinary acquaintance. There
was no helping it; the man had been formally introduced, and, as he
suggested, they had begun to know each other afresh. Alma liked to
remember how severely she had treated him at that first encounter;
perhaps that was enough for dignity. Mr. Redgrave would hardly forget
himself again. For the rest, she could not pretend, within herself, to
dislike him; and if he paid homage to her beauty, to her social charm,
to her musical gifts (all of which things Alma recognised and
tabulated), it might be only just to let him make amends for something
known to both of them. The insult Alma was far from forgiving. But when
she had talked twice with Redgrave distantly, as a stranger to all his
affairs -- it began to steal upon her mind that there would be a sweetly
subtle satisfaction in allowing the man to imagine that her coldness was
not quite what it seemed; that so, perchance, he might be drawn on and
become enslaved. She had never been able to congratulate herself on a
conquest of Cyrus Redgrave. The memory of Bregenz could still, at
moments, bring the blood to her face; for it was a memory of cool,
calculating outrage, not of passion that had broken bounds. To subdue
the man in good earnest would be another thing, and a peculiarly
delicious morsel of revenge. Was it possible? Not long ago she would
have scoffed at the thought, deeming Redgrave incapable of love in any
shape. But her mind was changing in an atmosphere of pleasure and
flattery, and under the influence of talk such as she heard in this
house and one or two others like it.

To her husband, she represented Mrs. Strangeways as a very pleasant woman
with a passion for all the arts; formerly wife of a painter, and now
married to a wealthy man who shared her tastes. This satisfied Harvey;
but Alma had not deceived herself, and could not be quite comfortable
with Mrs. Strangeways. She no longer puzzled over the flow of guests to
the house in Porchester Terrace, having discovered not only that most of
these were people, as Sibyl said, of no account, who had few houses open
to them, but that several would not be admitted to any circle of
scrupulous respectability. The fact was that Mrs. Strangeways largely
entertained the _demi-monde_, to use in its true sense a term
persistently misapplied. Not impossibly she thought the daughter of
Bennet Frothingham might, from one point of view, be included among such
persons; on the other hand, her warmth proved that she regarded Mrs
Rolfe as a social acquisition, if indeed she was not genuinely attracted
to her. What circumstances had led, or forced, Mrs. Strangeways into this
peculiar position, Alma could not discover; it might be simply one
result of an unfortunate marriage, for undoubtedly there was something
sinister in the husband, a coarseness varnished with sham geniality,
which made Alma dislike to be near him. In the woman herself she found
little that was objectionable; her foolish effusiveness, and her
artificial complexion, seemed to indicate merely a weak character; at
times her talk was interesting, and she knew many people of a class
superior to that represented in her drawing-room. But for the
illumination she had received, Alma would have felt surprised at meeting
Cyrus Redgrave in these assemblies; formerly she had thought of him as
belonging to a sphere somewhat above her own, a quasi-aristocratic
world, in which Sibyl Carnaby, the daughter of Mrs. Ascott Larkfield,
also moved by right of birth and breeding. Sibyl, however, was not above
accepting Mrs. Strangeways' invitations, though she continued to speak of
her slightingly; and Redgrave had known the lady for a long time --
even, it appeared, before her first marriage.

In a year's time Alma had made and renewed a large number of
acquaintances. She spoke of herself as living 'in the country', and
still professed a dislike of mere gaiety, a resolve to maintain her
simple, serious mode of existence. At half-an-hour's journey from town,
she was protected against the time-wasting intrusion of five-o'clock
babblers; a luncheon or two in the season, and a modest dinner at long
intervals, would discharge her social liabilities; and she had the
precious advantage of being able to use London for all legitimate
purposes, without danger of being drawn into the vortex of its idle
temptations. Once more she was working earnestly at her music -- much,
it seemed, to Harvey's satisfaction. He wanted her to go on also with
water-colours, but she pointed out to him that one art was all she had
time for.

'It's all very well for mere amateurs to take up half-a-dozen things. I
aim at more than that. You would like me, wouldn't you, to become really
_something_ as a violinist?'

Harvey assented.

'And you understand,' she pursued, regarding him with her bright smile,
'that the life of an artist can't be quite like that of other women?'

'Of course, I understand it. You know I don't wish to put the least
restraint upon you.'

'My one fear was, that you might think I went about rather too much --
didn't pay enough attention to home ----'

'We manage pretty well, I think. You needn't have any such fear.'

'Of course, when Hughie gets older -- when I can really begin to teach
him ----'

The child was now approaching the close of his third year, and, in
Harvey's opinion, needed more than the attention of an ordinary
nursemaid. They had recently engaged a nursery-governess, her name
Pauline Smith; a girl of fair education and gentle breeding, who lived
as a member of the family. It appeared to Rolfe that Hughie was quite
old enough to benefit by his mother's guidance and companionship; but he
had left himself no ground for objection to Alma's ordering of her life.
The Welsh servant, Ruth, still remained with them, acting to a great
extent as housekeeper, and having under her a maid and a boy. Ruth, a
trustworthy woman, was so well paid that they had not to fear her
desertion. Regularity and comfort prevailed to a much greater extent
than might have been looked for under the circumstances. Expenditure had
of course greatly increased, and now touched the limit of Harvey's
ordinary income; but this was a matter which did not immediately concern
Mrs. Rolfe. For domestic and private purposes she had a bank-account of
her own; an arrangement made on their removal to Pinner, when Harvey one
morning handed her a pass-book and a cheque-book, remarking that she
would find to her credit a couple of hundred pounds. Alma pretended to
think this unnecessary, but her countenance betrayed pleasure. When he
thought the fund must be nearly exhausted, he made a new payment to the
account, without saying anything; and Alma preserved an equally discreet
silence.

One of her new acquaintances was Mrs. Rayner Mann, a lady who desired to
be known as the patroness of young people aiming at success on the stage
or as musicians. Many stories were told of Mrs. Mann's generosity to
struggling artists, and her house at Putney swarmed with the strangest
mingling of people, some undoubtedly in society others no less decidedly
out of it. Here Alma encountered Felix Dymes, whose reputation and
prosperity had much advanced since their meeting at Munich. The comic
opera of which he then spoke had been brought out at a provincial
theatre with considerable success, and was shortly to be produced in
London; his latest songs, 'The Light of Home', and 'Where the Willow
Dips', had caught the ear of the multitude. Alma ridiculed these
compositions, mocking at the sentimentalism of the words, and declaring
that the airs were mere popular tinkle; but people not inferior to her
in judgment liked the music, which certainly had a sweetness and pathos
not easy to resist. The wonder was how such a man as Felix Dymes could
give birth to such tender melody. The vivacity of his greeting when of a
sudden he recognised Alma, contrasted markedly with Cyrus Redgrave's
ill-concealed embarrassment in the like situation. Dymes had an easy
conscience, and in the chat that followed he went so far as to joke
about his ill-luck some four years ago.

'You didn't think much of me. But I'm going ahead, you know. You have to
admit I'm going ahead.'

Prosperity was manifest in his look and voice. He had made no advance in
refinement, and evidently thought himself above the necessity of
affecting suave manners; his features seemed to grow even coarser; his
self-assertion was persistent to the point of grotesque conceit.

'Is your husband musical?' he asked.

'Not particularly.'

'Well, there's something to be said for that. One doesn't always want to
be talking shop. -- I can't help looking at you; you've altered in a
queer sort of way. You were awfully fetching, you know, in those days.'

'You were awfully impertinent,' replied Alma, with a laugh. 'And I don't
see that you've altered at all in that respect.'

'Do you play still?'

'A good deal better than I used to.'

'Really? If it's true, why don't you come out? I always believed in you
-- I did really. There's no better proof of it than what I said at
Munich; you were the only girl that could have brought me to that, you
know; it was quite against my principles. Have you heard of Ada
Wellington? -- a girl I'm going to bring out next spring -- a pianist;
and she'll make a hit. I should like you to know her.'

'How do you mean you are going to bring her out?'

'Do all the business for her, you know; run the show. Not as a
speculation; I don't want to make anything out of it, more than
expenses. I know her 'people; they're very badly off, and I shall be
glad if I can do them a good turn. There's nothing between us; just
friends, that's all. If ever you come out, put the business into my
hands, will you?'

'I won't promise,' replied Alma, 'until I see how you succeed with Miss
Wellington.'

'Shall it be an understanding? If I float Ada, you'll let me have a try
with you?'

'We'll talk of it, Mr. Dymes, when you have learnt the elements of good
manners.'

She nodded in a friendly way, and left him.

Their next meeting was at a music-shop, where Dymes came in whilst Alma
was making purchases. The composer, clad in a heavy fur overcoat,
entered humming a tune loudly, by way of self-advertisement; he was at
home here, for the proprietors of the business published his songs. On
perceiving Alma, he dropped his blustering air, bowed with exaggerated
politeness, and professed himself overjoyed.

'I looked in just to try over a thing I've got in my head. Do come and
listen to it -- will you? It would be so kind of you to give me your
opinion.'

He pointed to a room at the back, visible between plush curtains. Alma,
wishing to refuse, murmured that she had very little time; but Dymes
prevailed, and she followed him. They passed into the pleasant warmth of
a blazing fire. The musician flung off his coat, and at once sat down at
the grand piano, open for the convenience of such favoured persons as
himself; whilst Alma seated herself in an easy-chair, which she had
pushed forward so as to allow of her being seen from the shop. After
some preliminary jingling, Dymes played an air which the listener could
not but like; a dainty, tripping melody, fit for a fairy song, with
strange little echoes as of laughter, and a half-feigned sadness in the
close. With hands suspended, Dymes turned to see the effect he had
produced.

'Is that your own?' Alma asked.

'I'm under that impression. Rather good, I think -- don't you?'

'Very pretty.'

She hardly believed his assurance, so strong was the contrast between
that lightsome lyric and the coarse vanity of the man himself. He played
it again, and she liked it still better, uttering a more decided word of
praise.

'Dicky must write me patter for that!' Dymes exclaimed, when he saw that
she smiled with pleasure. 'You don't know Dicky Wellington? A cousin of
Ada's. By-the-bye, her concert will be at the end of May -- Prince's
Hall, most likely. You shall have a ticket.'

'Very kind of you.'

'You know that Mrs. Rayner Mann is giving a charity concert next week?'

'I have been asked to take part in it,' said Alma quietly.

'I'm awfully glad of that!' shouted Dymes. 'So I shall hear you again.
The fact is, you know, I don't think of you as an amateur. I can't stand
amateurs, except one or two. I've got it into my head that you've been
one of us, and retired. Queer thing, isn't it?'

Alma enjoyed the flattery. Comfortable in her chair, she showed no
disposition to move. Dymes asked her what she thought of playing, and
she told him, Hauser's 'Rhapsodie Hongroise'.

'I'm always being bored by amateurs,' he resumed. 'A silly woman who
belongs to a Symphony Society asked me yesterday to go and hear her play
in the C minor! I begged to be told what harm I had ever done her, and
she said I was very rude. But I always am to people of that sort; I
can't help it. Another of them asked me to tell her of a _nice_ piece
for the piano -- a really nice piece. At once I suggested Chopin's A
flat major Polonaise. Do you know it?'

'Of course I do. Could you play it yourself?'

'I? Of course not. You don't imagine that because one is a successful
composer he must be a brilliant virtuoso. I hardly ever touch a musical
instrument. Wagner was a very poor player, and Berlioz simply couldn't
play at all. I'm a musical dreamer. Do you know that I literally dreamt
"The Light of Home"? Now, that's a proof of genius.'

Alma laughed.

'But it is! Do you know how most songs get made nowadays? There's Sykes'
"Come when the Dawn" -- you remember it? I happen to know all about
that. A fellow about town somehow got hold of an idea for a melody; he
didn't know a note, but he whistled it to Sykes, and Sykes dotted it
down. Now, Sykes knows no more of harmony than a broomstick, so he got
another man to harmonise it, and then a fourth fellow wrote an
orchestral accompaniment. That's the kind of thing -- division of labour
in art.'

'You're quite sure you do everything for yourself?' said Alma
mischievously, rising at length.

'I forgive you, because you're really one of us -- you are, you know.
You haven't the look of an amateur. Now, when you've gone out, I'll ask
Sammy, behind the counter there, who he thinks you are, and I'll give
Mrs. Rayner Mann a guinea for her charity if he doesn't take you for a
professional musician.'

'You will be good enough, Mr. Dymes,' said Alma severely, 'not to speak
of me at all to anyone behind a counter.'

'It was only a joke. Of course, I shouldn't have done anything of the
kind. Goodbye; shall see you at Putney.'

For all that, no sooner was Mrs. Rolfe gone than Dymes did talk of her
with the salesman, and in a way peculiar to his species, managing, with
leers and half-phrases, to suggest not only that the lady was a
performer of distinction, but that, like women in general, she had found
his genius and his person fatally attractive. Dymes had the little
weaknesses of the artistic temperament.

As usual, Mrs. Rayner Mann's concert was well attended, and Alma's violin
solo, though an audience more critical than she had yet faced made her
very nervous to begin with, received much applause. Felix Dymes, not
being able to get a seat at her side, stood behind her, and whispered
his admiration.

'You've gone ahead tremendously. That isn't amateur playing. All the
others are not fit to be heard in the same day. Really, you know, you
ought to think of coming out.'

Many other persons were only less complimentary, and one, Mrs
Strangeways, was even more so; she exhausted herself in terms of glowing
eulogy. At the end of the concert this lady drew Alma apart.

'Dear Mrs. Rolfe, I wonder whether I could ask you to do me a kindness?
Are you in any hurry to get home?'

It was six o'clock, on an evening of January. Delighted with her
success, Alma felt very much like a young man whose exuberant spirits
urge him to 'make a night of it'. She declared that she was in no hurry
at all, and would be only too glad to do Mrs. Strangeways any kindness in
her power.

'It will sound rather odd to you,' pursued the lady in a low voice, 'but
I would rather trust you than anyone else. You know that Mr. Redgrave and
I are very old friends -- such old friends that we are really almost
like brother and sister.'

Alma nodded.

'You've heard us speak of his bungalow at Wimbledon. Just now he is in
Paris, and he happens to want a portrait, a photograph, out of an album
in the bungalow. Naturally he would have asked his sister to look for it
and send it, but Mrs. Fenimore is also away from home; so he has written
to me, and begged me to do him the kindness. I know exactly where the
photo is to be looked for, and all I have to do is to drive over to
Wimbledon, and a servant will be waiting to admit me. Now, you will
think it childish, but I really don't like to go alone. Though Mr
Redgrave and I are such great friends, of course I have only been to the
bungalow when he had people there -- and -- of course it's very foolish
at my age -- but I'm sure you understand me ----'

'You mean you would like me to go with you?' said Alma, with uncertain
voice.

'Dare I ask it, dear Mrs. Rolfe? There will be _no_ one but the servant,
who is told to expect a friend of her master's. I am _very_ foolish, but
one cannot be too careful, you know, and with _you_ I shall feel
everything so simple and natural and straightforward. I'm sure you
understand me.'

'Certainly,' faltered Alma. 'Yes -- I will go ----'

'Oh, how sweet of you, dear! Need I say that I should never breathe a
word to Mr. Redgrave? He will think I went alone -- as of course I very
well might ----'

'But -- if the servant should mention to him ----?'

'My dear, keep your fall down. And then it is perfectly certain he will
never ask a question. He thinks it such a trivial matter ----'

Alma did not entertain the least doubt of her friend's veracity, and the
desire to have a companion on such an expedition seemed to her natural
enough; yet she felt so uneasy at the thought of what she had consented
to do, that even whilst descending the stairs she all but stopped and
begged to be excused. The thought of stealing into Redgrave's bachelor
home, even with Mrs. Strangeways, startled and offended her self-respect;
it seemed an immodesty. She had never been invited to the bungalow;
though Mrs. Carnaby had received and accepted such an invitation for an
afternoon in the summer, when Mrs. Strangeways did the honours. Redgrave
was now scrupulously respectful; he would not presume so far on their
revived acquaintance as to ask her to Wimbledon. For this very reason --
and for others -- she had a curiosity about the bungalow. Its exotic
name affected her imagination; as did the knowledge that Cyrus Redgrave,
whom she knew so particularly well, had built it for his retreat, his
privacy. Curiosity and fear of offending Mrs. Strangeways overcame her
serious reluctance. On entering the carriage she blushed hotly. It was
the first time in her life that she had acted with deliberate disregard
of grave moral compunction, and conscience revenged itself by lowering
her in her own eyes.

Mrs. Strangeways talked all the way, but not once of Redgrave; her theme
was the excellence of Alma's playing, which, she declared, had moved
everyone with wonder and delight.

'Several people took it for granted that you were a professional
violinist. I heard one man saying, "How is it I don't know her name?" Of
course, your playing in an amateur is altogether exceptional. Did it
ever occur to you to come forward professionally?'

'I thought of it once, before my marriage.'

'Ah! you really did? I'm not at all surprised. Would Mr. Rolfe look with
disapproval ----?'

'I hardly know,' replied Alma, who was not mistress of herself, and paid
little attention to what she was saying. 'I dare say he wouldn't mind
much, one way or another.'

'Indeed?'

The intimate significance of this word warned Alma that she had spoken
too carelessly. She hastened to add that, of course, in such a matter,
her husband's wish would be final, and that she had never thought of
seeking his opinion on the subject.

'If ever you _should_ take that step, my dear, it will mean a great
triumph for you -- oh! a great triumph! And there is room just now for a
lady violinist -- don't you think? One has to take into account other
things besides mastery of the instrument; with the public naturally, a
beautiful face and a perfect figure ----'

This was too much even for Alma's greediness of flattery; she
interrupted the smooth, warm adulation with impatient protest and told
herself -- though she did not quite know the reason -- that after that
day she would see less of Mrs. Strangeways.

The carriage stopped. Glancing to either side, Alma saw that they were
in a country road, its darkness broken at this spot by the rays of two
gas-lamps which flanked a gateway. The footman had alighted; the gate
was thrown open; the carriage passed through on to a gravel drive. Her
nerves strung almost beyond endurance, and even now seeking courage to
refuse to enter the house, Alma felt the vehicle turn on a sharp curve,
and stop.

'We shall not be more than a minute,' said Mrs. Strangeways, just above
her breath, as though she spoke with effort.

Involuntarily, Alma laid a hand on her arm

'I will -- wait for you here -- please ----'

'But, dear, your promise! Oh, you wouldn't fail me?'

The carriage door had opened; the footman stood beside it. Scarce
knowing what she did, Alma stepped out after her companion, and in the
same moment found a glow of light poured suddenly about her; it came
from the entrance-hall of a house, where a female servant had presented
herself. A house of unusual construction, with pillars and a veranda;
nothing more was observable by her dazzled and confused senses. Mrs
Strangeways said something to the servant; they entered, crossed a floor
of smooth tiles, under electric light ruby-coloured by glass shades, and
were led into a room illumined only by a fire until the servant turned
on a soft radiance like that in the hall.

Mrs. Strangeways glanced about her as if surprised.

'You are riot expecting Mr. Redgrave?' she said quickly.

'No, madam. We always have fires against the damp.'

Thereupon the woman withdrew, closing the door, and Mrs. Strangeways, who
was very pale save for her rouge spots, said in a low tone of great
relief ----

'I began to fear there might be some mistake. Put up your veil for a
moment, dear, and glance at the pictures. Every one has cost a small
fortune. Oh, he is immensely rich -- and knows so well what to buy!'


CHAPTER 6


Alma's agitation did not permit her to examine details. The interior of
Redgrave's house was very much what she had imagined; its atmosphere of
luxurious refinement, its colour, perfume, warmth, at once allured and
alarmed her. She wished to indulge her senses, and linger till she had
seen everything; she wished to turn at once and escape. Mrs. Strangeways,
meanwhile, seemed to be looking for the album of which she had spoken,
moving hither and thither, with a frequent pause as of one who listens,
or a glance towards the door.

'You won't be long?' said Alma, turning abruptly to her.

'It's my silly nervousness, dear. I thought I remembered perfectly where
the album lay. How foolish of me! I quite tremble -- anyone would think
we were burglars.'

She laughed, and stood looking about the room.

'Is that it?' asked Alma, pointing to a volume on a table near her.

'Yes! -- no -- I'm not sure.'

An album it was; Mrs. Strangeways unclasped it, and turned over a few
pages with quivering hand.

'No, I thought not. It's a smaller one. Oh, what a good photo of Mrs
Carnaby! Have you seen this one?'

Alma stepped forward to look, strangely startled by the name of her
friend; it was as though Sibyl herself had suddenly entered the room and
found her here. The photograph she already knew; but its eyes seemed to
regard her with the very look of life, and at once she drew back.

'Do find the right one, Mrs. Strangeways,' she spoke imploringly. 'It
must be -- What bell was that?'

An electric bell had rung within the house; it still trembled in her
ears, and she turned sick with fright. Mrs. Strangeways, flushing red,
stammered a reassurance.

'There -- here is the right one -- in a minute ----'

The door opened. As she saw it move, a dreadful certainty of what was
about to happen checked Alma's breath, and a sound like a sob escaped
her; then she was looking straight into the eyes of Cyrus Redgrave. He,
wearing an ulster and with a travelling-cap in his hand, seemed not to
recognise her, but turned his look upon her companion, and spoke with
mirthful friendliness.

'What! I have caught you, Mrs. Strangeways? Police! Oh, I am so sorry I
didn't send you a wire. I thought you would come tomorrow, or the day
after. How very kind of you to take this trouble immediately. I had to
run over at a moment's notice. -- Mrs. Rolfe! Forgive me; for the moment
I didn't know you, coming out of the darkness. So glad to see you.'

He had shaken hands with both of them, behaving as though Mrs. Rolfe's
presence were the most natural thing in the world. But Alma's strength
failed her; she trembled towards the nearest chair, and sank upon it.
Mrs. Strangeways, who had watched her with anxiety, took a step to her
side, speaking hurriedly.

'Mr. Redgrave, I took the liberty to use your house as if it were my own.
Mrs. Rolfe has over-tired, over-excited herself. She has been playing
this afternoon at a concert at Mrs. Rayner Mann's. We were to drive back
together, and came this way that I might call here -- for the photo. But
Mrs. Rolfe became faint -- after her exertions ----'

Redgrave surpassed himself in graceful courtesy. How could Mrs
Strangeways dream of offering excuses? Why had she not called for tea --
or anything? He would give orders at once, and the ladies would permit
him to get rid of his travelling attire, whilst they rested. He was
turning to leave the room when Alma rose and commanded her voice.

'I am perfectly well again -- thank you so much, Mr. Redgrave -- indeed I
mustn't stay ----'

With admirable suavity Redgrave overcame her desire to be gone.
Pleading, he passed playfully from English into French, of which he had
a perfect command; then, in his own language, declared that French alone
permitted one to make a request without importunity, yet with adequate
fervour. Alma again seated herself. As she did so, her host and Mrs
Strangeways exchanged a swift glance of mutual intelligence.

'How can I hope you will forgive me?' the lady murmured at Alma's ear as
soon as they were alone.

'It's very annoying, and there's nothing more to be said,' was the cold
reply.

'But it isn't of the least importance -- do believe me. We are such old
friends. And no one can ever know -- though it wouldn't matter if all
the world did.'

'I dare say not. But, please, let our stay be as short as possible.'

'We will go, dear, as soon as ever we have had a cup of tea. I am _so_
sorry; it was all my foolishness.'

The tea was brought, and Mrs. Strangeways, her nervousness having quite
passed away, began to talk as if she were in her own drawing-room. Alma,
too, had recovered control of herself, held the teacup in an all but
steady hand, and examined the room at her leisure. After ten minutes'
absence, Redgrave rejoined them, now in ordinary dress; his face warm
from rapid ablution, and his thin hair delicately disposed. He began
talking in a bright, chatty vein. So Mrs. Rolfe had been playing at a
concert; how he regretted not having been there! What had she played?
Then, leaning forward with an air of kindness that verged on tenderness
----

'I am sure it must be very exhausting to the nerves; you have so
undeniably the glow, the fervour, of a true artist; it is inspiring to
watch you as you play, no less than to hear you. You do feel better
now?'

Alma replied with civility, but did not meet his look. She refused
another cup of tea, and glanced so meaningly at her friend that in a few
moments Mrs. Strangeways rose.

'You won't leave me yet to my solitude?' exclaimed Redgrave. With a sigh
he yielded to the inevitable, inquired gently once more whether Mrs
Rolfe felt quite restored, and again overwhelmed Mrs. Strangeways with
thanks. Still the ladies had to wait a few minutes for their carriage,
which, at Redgrave's direction, had made a long detour in the adjacent
roads; and during this delay, as if the prospect of release inspirited
her, Alma spoke a few words in a more natural tone. Redgrave had asked
what public concerts she usually attended.

'None regularly,' was her reply. 'I should often go on Saturdays to the
Crystal Palace, if it were not so far for me. I want to get there, if
possible, on Saturday week, to hear Sterndale Bennett's new concerto.'

'Ah, I should like to hear that!' said Redgrave. 'We may perhaps see
each other.'

This time she did not refuse to encounter his look, and the smile with
which she answered it was so peculiarly expressive of a self-confident
disdain that he could scarcely take his eyes from her. Cyrus Redgrave
knew as well as most men the signals of challenge on a woman's features;
at a recent meeting he had detected something of the sort in Alma's
behaviour to him, and at this moment her spirit could not be mistaken.
Quite needlessly she had told him where he might find her, if he chose.
This was a great step. To be defied so daringly meant to him no small
encouragement.

'It's fortunate,' said Alma, as the carriage bore her away, 'that we had
this adventure with a _gentleman_.'

The remark sounded surprising to Mrs. Strangeways.

'I'm so glad you have quite got over your annoyance, dear,' she replied.

'It was as bad for you as for me, under the circumstances. But I'm sure
Mr. Redgrave won't give it another thought.'

And Alma chatted very pleasantly all the way back to town, where she
dined with Mrs. Strangeways. At eleven o'clock she reached home. Her
husband, who was recovering from a sore throat, sat pipeless and in no
very cheerful mood by the library fire; but the sight of Alma's radiant
countenance had its wonted effect upon him; he stretched his arms, as if
to rouse himself from a long fit of reverie, and welcomed her in a voice
that was a little husky.

'Well, how did it go?'

'Not badly, I think. And how have you been getting on, poor old boy?'

'So so; swearing a little because I couldn't smoke. But Hughie has a
cold tonight; caught mine, I dare say, confound it! Miss Smith took
counsel with me about it, and we doctored him a little.'

'Poor dear little man! I wish I had been back in time to see him. But
there was no getting away -- had to stay to dinner ----'

Alma had not the habit of telling falsehoods to her husband, but she did
it remarkably well -- even better, perhaps, than when she deceived her
German friend, Fraulein Steinfeld, in the matter of Cyrus Redgrave's
proposal; the years had matured her, endowing her with superior
self-possession, and a finish of style in dealing with these little
difficulties. She was unwilling to say that she had dined in Porchester
Terrace, for Harvey entertained something of a prejudice against that
household. His remoteness nowadays from the world in which Alma amused
herself made it quite safe to venture on a trifling misstatement.

'I have a note from Carnaby,' said Rolfe. 'He wants to see me in town
tomorrow. Says he has good news -- "devilish good news", to be accurate.
I wonder what it is.'

'The lawsuit won, perhaps.'

'Afraid not; that'll take a few more years. Odd thing, I have another
letter -- from Cecil Morphew, and he, too, says that he has something
hopeful to tell me about.'

Alma clapped her hands, an unusual expression of joy for her. 'We are
cheering up all round!' she exclaimed. 'Now, if only _you_ could light
on something fortunate.'

He gave her a quick look.

'What do you mean by that?'

'Only that you haven't seemed in very good spirits lately.'

'Much as usual, I think. -- Many people at Putney?'

'About a hundred and twenty. Compliments showered on me; I do so wish
you could have heard them. Somebody told me that some man asked her how
it was he didn't know my name -- he took me for a professional
violinist.'

'Well, no doubt you are as good as many of them.'

'You really think that?' said Alma, pulling her chair a little nearer to
the fire and looking eagerly at him.

'Why shouldn't you be? You have the same opportunities, and make all
possible use of them.'

Alma was silent for a few ticks of the clock. Once, and a second time,
she stole a glance at Harvey's face; then grasping with each hand the
arms of her chair, and seeming to string herself for an effort, she
spoke in a half-jesting tone.

'What should you say if I proposed to come out -- to _be_ a
professional?'

Harvey's eyes turned slowly upon her; he read her face with curiosity,
and did not smile.

'Do you mean you have thought of it?'

'To tell you the truth, it is so often put into my head by other people.
I am constantly being asked why I'm content to remain an amateur.'

'By professional musicians?'

'All sorts of people.'

'It reminds me of something. You know I don't interfere; I don't pretend
to have you in surveillance, and don't wish to begin it. But are you
quite sure that you are making friends in the best class that is open to
you?'

Alma's smile died away. For a moment she recovered the face of years
gone by; a look which put Harvey in mind of Mrs. Frothingham's little
drawing-room at Swiss Cottage, where more than once Alma had gazed at
him with a lofty coldness which concealed resentment. That expression
could still make him shrink a little and feel uncomfortable. But it
quickly faded, giving place to a look of perfectly amiable protest.

'My dear Harvey, what has caused you to doubt it?'

'I merely asked the question. Perhaps it occurred to me that you were
not exactly in your place among people who talk to you in that way.'

'You must allow for my exaggeration,' said Alma softly. 'One or two have
said it -- just people who know most about music. And there's a _way_ of
putting things.'

'Was Mrs. Carnaby there today?'

'No.'

'You don't see her very often now?'

'Perhaps not _quite_ so often. I suppose the reason is that I am more
drawn to the people who care about music. Sibyl really isn't musical --
though, of course, I like her as much as ever. Then -- the truth is, she
seems to have grown rather extravagant, and I simply don't understand
how she can keep up such a life -- if it's true that her husband is only
losing money. Last time I was with her I couldn't help thinking that she
ought to -- to deny herself rather more. It's habit, I suppose.'

Harvey nodded -- twice, thrice; and kept a grave countenance.

'And you don't care to see much of Mrs. Abbott?' he rather let fall than
spoke.

'Well, you know, dear, I don't mean to be at all disagreeable, but we
have so little in common. Isn't it so? I am sure Mrs. Abbott isn't
anxious for my society.'

Again Rolfe sat silent, and again Alma stole glances at him.

'Shall I tell you something I have in mind?' he said at length, with
deliberation. 'Hughie, you know, is three years old. Pauline does very
well with him, but it is time that he had companions -- other children.
In half a year or so he might go to a kindergarten, and' -- he made an
instant's pause -- 'I know only of one which would be really good for
him. I think he will have to go to Mrs. Abbott.'

Their eyes met, and the speaker's were steadily fixed.

'But the distance?' objected Alma.

'Yes. If we want to do that, we must go to Gunnersbury.'

Alma's look fell. She tapped with her foot and meditated, slightly
frowning. But, before Harvey spoke again, the muscles of her face
relaxed, and she turned to him with a smile, as though some reflection
had brought relief.

'You wouldn't mind the bother of moving?'

'What is that compared with Hughie's advantage? And if one lives in
London, it's in the nature of things to change houses once a year or
so.'

'But we don't live in London!' returned Alma, with a laugh.

'Much the same thing. At Gunnersbury you would be nearer to everything,
you know.'

'Then you would send away Pauline?'

Harvey made a restless movement, and gave a husky cough.

'Well, I don't know. You see, Hughie would be with Mrs. Abbott only a few
hours each day. Who is to look after the little man at other times? I
suppose I can't very well undertake it myself -- though I'm glad to see
as much of him as possible; and I won't let him be with a servant. So
----'

Alma was gazing at the fire, and seemed to give only a divided attention
to what her husband said. Her eyes grew wide; their vision, certainly,
was of nothing that disturbed or disheartened her.

'You have given me two things to think about, Harvey. Will you reflect
on the _one_ that I suggested?'

'Then you meant it seriously?'

'I meant that I should like to have your serious opinion about it. Only
we won't talk now. I am very tired, and you, I'm sure, oughtn't to sit
late with your bad throat. I promise to consider _both_ the things you
mentioned.'

She held her hands to him charmingly, and kissed his cheek as she said
goodnight.

Harvey lingered for another hour, and -- of all people in the world --
somehow found himself thinking of Buncombe. Buncombe, his landlord in
the big dirty house by Royal Oak. What had become of Buncombe? It would
be amusing, some day to look at the old house and see if Buncombe still
lived there.


CHAPTER 7


They never talked about money. Alma took it for granted that Harvey
would not allow their expenditure to outrun his income, and therewith
kept her mind at rest. Rolfe had not thought it necessary to mention
that he derived about three hundred pounds from debenture stock which
was redeemable, and that the date of redemption fell early in this
present year, 1891. He himself had all along scarcely regarded the
matter. When the stock became his, 1891 seemed very remote; and on
settling in North Wales he felt financially so secure that the question
of reinvestment might well be left for consideration till it was pressed
upon him.

As now it was. He could no longer disregard percentages; he wanted every
penny that his capital would yield. Before marriage he would have paid
little heed to the fact that his canal shares (an investment which he
had looked upon as part of the eternal order of things) showed an
inclination to lose slightly in value; now it troubled him day and
night. As for the debenture stock, he might, if he chose, 'convert' it
without withdrawal, but that meant a lower dividend, which was hardly to
be thought of. Whither should he turn for a security at once sound and
remunerative? He began to read the money article in his daily paper,
which hitherto he had passed over as if it did not exist, or turned from
with contemptuous impatience. He picked up financial newspapers at
railway bookstalls, and in private struggled to comprehend their jargon,
taking care that they never fell under his wife's eyes. At the
Metropolitan Club -- of which he had resumed membership, after thinking
that he would never again enter clubland -- he talked with men who were
at home in City matters, and indirectly tried to get hints from them. He
felt like one who meddles with something forbidden -- who pries,
shamefaced, into the secrets of an odious vice. To study the
money-market gave him a headache. He had to go for a country walk, to
bathe and change his clothes, before he was at ease again.

Two only of his intimates had any practical acquaintance with methods of
speculation, and their experiences hitherto were not such as to suggest
his seeking advice from them. Hugh Carnaby might or might not reap
profit from his cycle factory; as yet it had given him nothing but worry
and wavering hopes. Cecil Morphew had somehow got into better
circumstances, had repaid the loan of fifty pounds, and professed to
know much more about speculation than in the days when he made money
only to lose it again; but it was to be feared that Cecil associated
with people of shady character, and might at any moment come to grief in
a more or less squalid way. He confessed that there was a mystery in his
life -- something he preferred not to speak of even with an old friend.

Oddly enough, Carnaby and Morphew wrote both at the same time, wishing
to see him, and saying that they had cheering news to impart. Amid his
perplexities, which were not concerned with money alone, Harvey welcomed
this opportunity of forgetting himself for a few hours. He agreed to
lunch with Hugh at a restaurant (Carnaby would have nothing to do with
clubs), and bade Morphew to dinner at the Metropolitan.

It was a day of drizzle and slush, but Harvey had got over his sore
throat, and in ordinary health defied the elements. Unlike himself,
Carnaby came a little late for his appointment, and pleaded business
with a 'blackguard' in the City. Rheums and bronchial disorders were to
him unknown; he had never possessed an umbrella, and only on days like
this donned a light overcoat to guard himself against what he called
'the sooty spittle' of a London sky. Yet he was not the man of four or
five years ago. He had the same appearance of muscularity, the same red
neck and mighty fists; but beneath his eyes hung baggy flesh that gave
him a bilious aspect, his cheeks were a little sunken, and the tone of
his complexion had lost its healthy clearness. In temper, too, he had
suffered; perhaps in manners. He used oaths too freely; intermingled his
good bluff English -- the English of a country gentleman -- with recent
slang; tended to the devil-may-care rather than to the unconsciously
breezy and bold.

'Let us find a corner,' he said, clutching his friend by the shoulder,
'out of the damned crowd.'

'Lawsuit finished?' asked Harvey, when they had found a place and
ordered their meal.

Hugh answered with a deep rolling curse.

When he returned to England, in the summer of 1889, he entered at once
into partnership with the man Mackintosh, taking over an established
business at Coventry, with which his partner already had some
connection. Not a week passed before they found themselves at law with
regard to a bicycle brake -- a patent they had begun by purchasing, only
to find their right in it immediately contested. The case came on in
November; it occupied nine days, and was adjourned. Not until July of
the following year, 1890, was judgment delivered; it went for Mackintosh
& Co, the plaintiffs, whose claim the judge held to be proved. But this
by no means terminated the litigation. The defendants, who had all along
persisted in manufacturing and selling this patent brake, now obtained
stay of injunction until the beginning of the Michaelmas term, with the
understanding that, if notice of appeal were given before then, the
injunction would be stayed until the appeal was settled. And notice
_was_ given, and the appeal would doubtless be heard some day or other;
but meanwhile the year 1891 had come round, and Mackintosh & Co. saw
their rivals manufacturing and selling as gaily as ever. Hugh Carnaby
grew red in the face as he spoke of them; his clenched fist lay on the
tablecloth, and it was pretty clear how he longed to expedite the course
of justice.

Still, he had good news to communicate, and he began by asking whether
Harvey saw much of Redgrave.

'Redgrave?' echoed the other in surprise. 'Why, I hardly know him.'

'But your wife knows him very well.'

'Yes; I dare say she does.'

Carnaby did not observe his friend's countenance; he was eating with
great appetite. 'Redgrave isn't at all a bad fellow. I didn't know him
much till lately. Used to see him at B. F.'s, you know, and one or two
other places where I went with Sibyl. Thought him rather a snob. But I
was quite mistaken. He's a very nice fellow when you get near to him.'

Harvey's surprise was increased. For his own part, he still thought of
Redgrave with the old prejudice, though he had no definite charge to
bring against the man. He would have supposed him the last person either
to seek or to obtain favour with Hugh Carnaby.

'Sibyl has known him for a long time,' Hugh continued. 'Tells me he did
all sorts of kindnesses for her mother at Ascott Larkfield's death;
fixed up her affairs -- they were in a devil of a state, I believe. Last
autumn we met him in Scotland; he was with his sister and her family --
Mrs. Fenimore. Her husband's in India, and he seems to look after her in
a way that does him credit. In fact, I saw a new side of the fellow. We
got quite chummy, and I happened to speak about Mackintosh & Co. Well,
now, what do you think? Two days ago, at Coventry, I got a note from
him: he was coming through, and would like to see me; would I lunch with
him at a hotel? I did, and he surprised me by beginning to talk about
business. The fact was, he had some money lying loose, wanted to place
it somewhere, and had faith in cycles. Why shouldn't he make an offer to
a friend? Would Mackintosh & Co. care to admit a new partner? Or --
anyhow -- could we make use of a few thousand pounds?'

Rolfe had ceased to eat, and was listening intently. The story sounded
very strange to him; it did not fit at all with his conception of Cyrus
Redgrave.

'I suppose a few thousands would come very handy?' he remarked.

'Well, old man, to tell you the truth, -- I can do it now, -- for me it
means a jump out of a particularly black hole. You must understand that
we're not doing downright badly; we pay our way, but that was about all.
I, individually, shouldn't have paid my way for many months longer. God!
how I clutched at it! You don't know what it is, Rolfe, to see your
damned account at the bank slithering away, and not a cent to pay in.
I've thought of all sorts of things -- just stopping short of burglary,
and I shouldn't have stopped at that long.'

'You mean that this new capital will give such a push to the business
----'

'Of course! It was just what we wanted. We couldn't advertise --
couldn't buy a new patent -- couldn't move at all. Now we shall make
things hum.'

'Does Redgrave become a partner, then?'

'A sleeping partner. But Redgrave is wide enough awake. Mackintosh says
he never met a keener man of business. You wouldn't have thought it,
would you? I should fancy he manages all his own property, and does it
devilish well, too. Of course, he has all sorts of ways of helping us
on. He's got ideas of his own, too, about the machines; I shouldn't
wonder if he hits on something valuable. I never half understood him
before. He doesn't shoot much, but knows enough about it to make
pleasant talk. And he has travelled a good deal. Then, of course, he
goes in for art, music -- all that sort of thing. There's really no
humbug about him. He's neither prig nor cad, though I used to think him
a little of both.'

Harvey reflected; revived his mental image of the capitalist, and still
found it very unlike the picture suggested by Hugh.

'Who _is_ Redgrave?' he asked. 'How did he get his money?'

'I know nothing about that. I don't think he's a university man. He
hinted once that he was educated abroad. Seems to know plenty of good
people. Mrs. Fenimore, his sister, lives at Wimbledon. Sibyl and I were
over there not long ago, dining; one or two titled people, a parson, and
so on; devilish respectable, but dull -- the kind of company that makes
me want to stand up and yell. Redgrave has built himself what he calls a
bungalow, somewhere near the house; but I didn't see it.'

'You're a good deal at Coventry?' asked Rolfe.

'Off and on. Just been down for ten days. If it were possible, I should
go steadily at the business. I used to think I couldn't fit into work of
that sort, but a man never knows what he can do till he tries. I can't
stand doing nothing; that floors me. I smoke too much, and drink too
much, and get quarrelsome, and wish I was on the other side of the
world. But it's out of the question to live down yonder; I couldn't ask
Sibyl to do it.'

'Do you leave her quite alone, then?'

Carnaby made an uneasy movement.

'She has been visiting here and there for the last month; now her mother
wants her to go to Ventnor. Much better she shouldn't; they hate each
other -- can't be together a day without quarrelling. Pretty plain on
which side the fault lies. I shouldn't think there are many women better
tempered than Sibyl. All the time we've been married, and all we've gone
through, I have never once seen an unpleasant look on her face -- to
_me_, that is. It's something to be able to say that. Mrs. Larkfield is
simply intolerable. She's always either whining or in a fury. Can't talk
of anything but the loss of her money.'

'That reminds me,' interposed Harvey. 'Do you know that there seems to
be a chance of getting something out of the great wreck?'

'What? Who says so?'

'Mrs. Frothingham. The creditors come first, of course. Was your wife
creditor or shareholder?'

'Why, both.'

'Then she may hear something before long. I don't pretend to understand
the beastly affair, but Mrs. Frothingham wrote to us about it the day
before yesterday, with hints of eighteenpence in the pound, which she
seemed to think very glorious.'

Carnaby growled in disgust.

'Eighteenpence be damned! Well, perhaps it'll buy her a hat. I tell you,
Rolfe, when I compare Sibyl with her mother, I almost feel she's too
good for the world. Suppose she had turned out _that_ sort of woman!
What would have been the end of it? Murder, most likely. But she bore
the loss of all her money just as she did the loss of her jewellery and
things when our house was burgled -- never turned a hair. There's a girl
to be proud of, I tell you!'

He insisted upon it so vehemently that one might have imagined him in
conflict with secret doubts as to his wife's perfection.

'It's a very strange thing,' said Rolfe, looking at his wine, 'that
those thieves got clean away -- not a single thing they stole ever
tracked. There can't be many such cases.'

'I have a theory about that.' Hugh half-closed his eyes, looking at once
shrewd and fierce. 'The woman herself -- the housekeeper -- is at this
moment going about in society, somewhere. She was no Whitechapel thief.
There's a gang organised among the people we live with. If I go out to
dine, as likely as not I sit next to a burglar or a forger, or anything
you like. The police never get on the scent, and it's the same in many
another robbery. Some day, perhaps, there'll be an astounding
disclosure, a blazing hell of a scandal -- a dozen men and women marched
from Belgravia and Mayfair to Newgate. I'm sure of it! What else can you
expect of such a civilisation as ours? Well, I should know that woman
again, and if ever I find myself taking her down to dinner ----'

Harvey exploded in laughter.

'I tell you I'm quite serious,' said the other angrily. 'I _know_ that's
the explanation of it! There are plenty of good and honest people still,
but they can't help getting mixed up among the vilest lot on the face of
the earth. That's why I don't like my wife to make new acquaintances.
_She_ won't get any harm, but I hate to think of the people she perhaps
meets. Mackintosh was telling me of a woman in London who keeps up a big
house and entertains all sorts of people -- and her husband knows where
the money comes from. He wouldn't mention her name, because, by Jove, he
had himself contributed to the expenses of the establishment! It was
three or four years ago, when he had his money and ran through it. For
all I know, Sibyl may go there -- I can't tell her about such things,
and she wouldn't believe me if I did. She's an idealist -- sees
everything through poetry and philosophy. I should be a brute if I
soiled her mind. And, I say, old man, why don't your wife and she see
more of each other? Is it just the distance?'

'I'm afraid that has something to do with it,' Harvey replied, trying to
speak naturally.

'I'm sorry. They're both of them too good for ordinary society. I wish
to God we could all four of us go out to a place I know in Tasmania, and
live honest, clean, rational lives! Can't be managed. Your wife has her
music; Sibyl has her books and so on ----'

'By-the-bye, you know Mrs. Strangeways?'

'I know _of_ her.'

'And not much good?'

'No particular harm. Sibyl saw a little of her, but I don't think they
meet now. Your wife know her?' 'She has met her here and there: you and
I are alike in that. We can't stand the drawing-room, so our wives have
to go about by themselves. The days are past when a man watched over his
wife's coming and going as a matter of course. We should only make fools
of ourselves if we tried it on. It's the new world, my boy; we live in
it, and must make the best of it.'

Hugh Carnaby drank more wine than is usually taken at luncheon. It
excited him to boisterous condemnation of things in general. He
complained of the idleness that was forced upon him, except when he
could get down to Coventry.

'I hang about for whole days doing literally nothing. What _should_ I
do? I'm not the man for books; I can't get much sport nowadays; I don't
care for billiards. I want to have an axe in my hand!'

Gesticulating carelessly, he swept a wine-glass off the table.

'There -- damn it! shows we've sat long enough. Come and talk to Sibyl,
and let her give you a cup of tea. You never see her -- never; yet she
thinks better of you than of any other man we know. Come, let's get out
of this beastly air. The place reeks of onions.'

They went to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, where Rolfe spent the time
until he had to leave for his appointment with Cecil Morphew. Sibyl was
very kind, but gently reproachful. Why had Alma forsaken her? Why did
Harvey himself never drop in?

'I'm often quite lonely, Mr. Rolfe, and as one result of it I'm getting
learned. Look at these books. Won't you give me a word of admiration?'

There was a volume of Crowe and Cavalcaselle, one of Symonds's
'Renaissance', Benvenuto's 'Memoirs' in the original.

'I can't help clinging to the old world,' she said sweetly. 'Hugh
forgives me, like a good boy; and you, I know, not only forgive, but
sympathise.'

Of course, not a word passed with reference to Hugh Carnaby's business;
Redgrave's name was not mentioned. Sibyl, one felt, would decline to
recognise, in her own drawing-room, the gross necessities of life. Had
bankruptcy been impending, she would have ignored it with the same
perfection of repose. An inscrutable woman, who could look and smile at
one without conveying the faintest suggestion of her actual thoughts.

On his way to the club, Harvey puzzled over what seemed to him
Redgrave's singular behaviour. Why should a man in that position
volunteer pecuniary aid to an obscure and struggling firm? Could it be
genuine friendship for Hugh Carnaby? That sounded most improbable.
Perhaps Redgrave, like the majority of people in his world, appeared
much wealthier than he really was, and saw in Mackintosh's business a
reasonable hope of profit. In that case, and if the concern began to
flourish, might not an older friend of Carnaby's find lucrative
employment for his capital?

He had always thought with uttermost contempt of the man who allows
himself to be gripped, worried, dragged down, by artificial necessities.
Was he himself to become a victim of this social disease? Was he,
resistless, to be drawn into the muddy whirlpool, to spin round and
round among gibbering phantoms, abandoning himself with a grin of inane
conceit, or clutching in desperation at futile hopes? He remembered his
tranquil life between the mountains and the sea; his earlier freedom,
wandering in the sunlight of silent lands. Surely there needed but a
little common-sense, a little decision, to save himself from this
rushing current. One word to Alma -- would it not suffice? But of all
things he dreaded to incur the charge of meanness, of selfishness. That
had ever been his weak point: in youth, well-nigh a cause of ruin; in
later life, impelling him to numberless insincerities and follies.

However, the danger as yet only threatened. He was solvent; he had still
a reserve. It behoved him merely to avoid the risks of speculation, and
to check, in natural, unobtrusive ways, that tendency to extravagance of
living which was nowadays universal. Could he not depend upon himself
for this moderate manliness?

Cecil Morphew, though differing in all other respects from Hugh Carnaby,
showed a face which, like Hugh's, was growing prematurely old; a
fatigued complexion, sunken eyes; an expression mingled of discontent
and eagerness, now furtive, now sanguine, yet losing the worse traits in
a still youthful smile as he came forward to meet his friend. Year after
year he clung to the old amorous hope, but he no longer spoke of it with
the same impulsive frankness; he did not shun the subject -- brought it,
indeed, voluntarily forward, but with a shamefaced hesitance. His
declaration in a letter, not long ago, that he was unworthy of any good
woman's love, pointed to something which had had its share in the
obvious smirching of his character; something common enough, no doubt;
easily divined by Harvey Rolfe, though he could not learn how far the
man's future was compromised. Today Morphew began with talk of a hopeful
tenor. He had got hold of a little money; he had conceived a project for
making more. When the progress of their eating and drinking cleared the
way for confidential disclosures, Morphew began to hint at his scheme.

'You've heard me speak of Denbow?' This was a man who had given him
lessons in photography; a dealer in photographic apparatus, with a shop
in Westminster Bridge Road. 'He's a very decent fellow, but it's all up
with him. His wife drinks, and he has lost money in betting, and now he
wants to clear out -- to sell his business and get away. He came to me
to apologise for spoiling some negatives -- he does a little printing
for me now and then and told me what he meant to do. Did I know of
anyone likely to take his shop?'

Harvey laughed.

'You're in with a queer lot of people, it seems to me.'

'Oh, Denbow is all but a gentleman, I assure you. He was educated at
Charterhouse, but made a fool of himself, I believe, in the common way.
But about his business. I've seen a good deal of it, going in and out,
and talking with them, and I know as much about photography as most
amateurs -- you'll admit that, Rolfe?'

It was true that he had attained more than ordinary skill with the
camera. Indeed, but for this resource, happily discovered in the days of
his hopelessness, he would probably have sunk out of sight before now.

'Denbow's salesman is a thoroughly honest and capable fellow --
Hobcraft, his name. He's been at the shop three or four years, and would
be only too glad to carry on the business, but he can't raise money, and
Denbow must have cash down. Now the fact is, I want to buy that business
myself.'

'I see. What does the man ask for it?'

Morphew fidgeted a little.

'Well, just at present there isn't much stock -- nothing like what there
ought to be. Denbow has been coming down the hill; he's stopped himself
only just in time. When I first knew him he was doing reasonably well.
It's a good position for that kind of shop. Swarms of men, you know, go
backwards and forwards along the Westminster Bridge Road, and just the
kind of men, lots of them, that take up photography -- the better kind
of clerk, and the man of business who lives in the south suburbs. And
photography is going ahead so. I have all sorts of ideas. One might push
the printing branch of the business -- and have dark rooms for amateurs
-- and hit on a new hand-camera -- and perhaps even start a paper, call
it _Camera Notes_, or something of that kind. Don't smile and look
sceptical ----'

'Not at all. It seems to me the best suggestion I've heard from you
yet.'

'Think so? I'm awfully glad of that. You know, Rolfe, a fellow like
myself -- decent family, public school, and that kind of thing --
naturally fights shy of shopkeeping. But I've got to the point that I
don't care what I do, if only it'll bring me a steady income in an
honest way. I ought to be able to make several hundreds a year, even at
starting, out of that business.'

'Have you spoken of it in the usual quarter?'

'No, I haven't.' Cecil's countenance fell. 'I should if I made a
successful start. But I've talked of so many things, I'm ashamed. And
she mightn't quite understand; perhaps she would think I was going down
-- down ----'

'How is her father?'

'Neither better nor worse. That man will take another ten years over his
dying -- see if he doesn't. Well, we've got used to it. We're neither of
us young any longer; we've lost the best part of our lives. And all for
what? Because we hadn't money enough to take a house three times bigger
than we needed! Two lives wasted because we couldn't feed fifty other
people for whom we didn't care a damn! Doesn't it come to that?'

'No doubt. What does Denbow ask?'

'For the stock, two hundred pounds; shop-fittings, fifty; business as it
stands, say three hundred. The rent is ninety-five. Floor above the shop
let to a family, who pay twenty-four shillings a week -- a substantial
set-off against the rent; but I should like to get rid of the people,
and use the whole house for business purposes. There's three years of
Denbow's lease to run, but this, he says, the landlord would be willing
to convert into a seven years' lease to a new tenant. Then one must
allow something for repairs and so on at the fresh start. Well, with
purchase of a little new stock, say another hundred and fifty pounds.
Roughly speaking, I ought to have about five hundred pounds to settle
the affair.'

'And you have the money?'

'Not quite; I've got -- well, I may say three hundred. I'm not speaking
of my own private income; of course, that goes on as usual, and isn't a
penny too much for -- for ordinary expenses..' He fidgeted again. 'Would
you care to know how I made this bit of capital?'

'If you care to tell me.'

'Yes, I will, just to show you what one is driven to do. Two years ago I
was ill -- congestion of the lungs -- felt sure I should die. You were
in Wales then. I sent for Tripcony, to get him to make my will -- he
used to be a solicitor, you know, before he started the bucket-shop.
When I pulled through, Trip came one day and said he had a job for me.
You'll be careful, by-the-bye, not to mention this. The job was to get
the City editor of a certain newspaper (a man I know very well) to print
a damaging rumour about a certain company. You'll wonder how I could
manage this. Well, simply because the son of the chairman of that
company was a sort of friend of mine, and the City editor knew it. If I
could get the paragraph inserted, Tripcony would -- not pay me anything,
but give me a tip to buy certain stock which he guaranteed would be
rising. Well, I undertook the job, and I succeeded, and Trip was as good
as his word. I bought as much as I dared -- through Trip, mind you, and
he wouldn't let me of the cover, which I thought suspicious, though it
was only habit of business. I bought at 75, and on settling day the
quotation was par. I wanted to go at it again, but Trip shook his head.
Well, I netted nearly five hundred. The most caddish affair I ever was
in; but I wanted money. Stop, that's only half the story. Just at that
time I met a man who wanted to start a proprietary club. He had the
lease of a house near Golden Square, but not quite money enough to
furnish it properly and set the club going. Well, I joined him, and put
in four hundred pounds; and for a year and a half we didn't do badly.
Then there was a smash; the police raided the place one night, and my
partner went before the magistrates. I trembled in my shoes, but my name
was never mentioned. It only ended in a fifty-pound fine, and of course
I went halves. Then we sold the club for two hundred, furniture and all,
and I found myself with -- what I have now, not quite three hundred.'

'My boy, you've been going it,' remarked Rolfe, with a clouded brow.

'That's what I tell you. I want to get out of all that kind of thing.
Now, how am I to get two or three hundred honestly? I think Denbow would
take less than he says for cash down. But the stock, I guarantee, is
worth two hundred.'

'You have the first offer?'

'Till day after tomorrow -- Monday.'

'Tomorrow's Sunday -- that's awkward. Never mind. If I come over in the
morning, will you take me to the place, and let me look over it with
you, and see both Denbow and the shopman?'

'Of course I will!' said Morphew delightedly. 'It's all aboveboard.
There's a devilish good business to be made; it depends only on the man.
Why, Denbow has made as much as two hundred in a year out of printing
for amateurs alone. It's his own fault that he didn't keep it up. I
swear, Rolfe, that with capital and hard work and acuteness, that place
can be made _the_ establishment of the kind south of the Thames. Why,
there's no reason why one shouldn't net a thousand a year in a very
short time.'

'Is Denbow willing to exhibit his books?'

'Of course he is. I've seen them. It isn't speculative, you know;
honest, straightforward business.'

'What part do you propose to take in it yourself?'

'Why, Denbow's part -- without the betting. I shall go in for the
business for all I'm worth; work day and night. And look here, Rolfe. It
isn't as if I had no security to offer. You see, I have my private
income; that gives me a pull over the ordinary man of business just
starting. Suppose I borrow three -- four -- five hundred pounds; why, I
can afford to make over stock or receipts -- anything in that way -- to
the lender. Four per cent, that's what I offer, if it's a simple loan.'

'You would keep the man -- what's his name?'

'Hobcraft. Decidedly. Couldn't do without him. He has been having
thirty-five shillings a week.'

Harvey rose, and led the way to the smoking-room. His companion had
become a new man; the glow of excitement gave him a healthier look, and
he talked more like the Cecil Morphew of earlier days, whom Rolfe had
found and befriended at the hotel in Brussels.

'There's nothing to be ashamed of in a business of this kind. If only
her father was dead, I'm sure _she_ wouldn't mind it. -- Ah, Rolfe, if
only she and I, both of us, had had a little more courage! Do you know
what I think? It's the weak people that do most harm in the world. They
suffer, of course, but they make others suffer as well. If I were like
_you_ -- ah, if I were like _you_!' Harvey laughed.


CHAPTER 8


To Alma, on his return, he gave a full account of all he had heard and
done. The story of Hugh Carnaby's good fortune interested her greatly.
She elicited every detail of which Harvey had been informed; asked
shrewd questions; and yet had the air of listening only for her
amusement.

'Should you have thought Redgrave likely to do such a thing?' Rolfe
inquired.

'Oh, I don't know him at all well. He has been a friend of Sibyl's for a
long time -- so, of course ----'

Her voice dropped, but in a moment she was questioning again.

'You say that Mr. Redgrave went to see him at Coventry?'

'Yes. Redgrave must have heard he was there, from Sibyl, I suppose.'

'And that was two days ago?'

'So Carnaby said -- Why?'

'Somebody -- oh, I think it was Mrs. Rayner Mann, yesterday -- said Mr
Redgrave was in Paris.'

Cecil Morphew's affairs had much less interest for her; but when Harvey
said that he was going to town again tomorrow, to look at the shop in
Westminster Bridge Road, she regarded him with an odd smile.

'You surely won't get mixed up in things of that kind?'

'It might be profitable,' he answered very quietly; 'and -- one doesn't
care to lose any chance of that kind -- just now ----'

He would not meet her eyes; but Alma searched his face for the meaning
of these words, so evidently weighted.

'Are you at all uneasy, Harvey?'

'Not a bit -- not a bit,' answered the weak man in him. 'I only meant
that, if we are going to remove ----'

They sat for more than five minutes in silence. Alma's brain was working
very rapidly, as her features showed. When he entered, she looked rather
sleepy; now she was thrilling with vivid consciousness; one would have
thought her absorbed in the solution of some exciting problem. Her next
words came unexpectedly.

'Harvey, if you mean what you say about letting me follow my own
instincts, I think I shall decide to try my fortune -- to give a public
recital.'

He glanced at her, but did not answer.

'We made a sort of bargain -- didn't we?' she went on, quickly,
nervously, with an endeavour to strike the playful note. 'Hughie shall
go to Mrs. Abbott's, and I will attend to what you said about the choice
of acquaintances.'

'But surely neither of those things can be a subject of bargaining
between us? Isn't your interest in both at least equal to my own?'

'Yes -- I know -- of course. It was only a joking way of putting it.'

'Tell me plainly' -- he looked at her now -- 'have you the slightest
objection, on any ground, to Hughie's being taught by Mrs. Abbott? If so,
do let us clear it up.'

'Dear, I have not a shadow of objection,' replied Alma, straightening
herself a little, and answering his gaze with excessive frankness. 'How
could I have? You think Mrs. Abbott will teach him much better than I
could, and in that you are quite right. I have no talent for teaching. I
haven't much patience -- except in music. It's better every way, that he
should go to Mrs. Abbott. I feel perfect confidence in her, and I
shouldn't be able to in a mere stranger.'

Harvey gave a slow nod, and appeared to have something more of
importance to say; but he only asked how the child's cold had been
tonight. Alma replied that it was neither better nor worse; she spoke
absently.

'On whose encouragement do you principally rely?' was Rolfe's next
question.

'On that of twenty people!'

'I said "principally".'

'Herr Wilenski has often praised me; and he doesn't throw his praise
away. And you yourself, Harvey, didn't you say last might that I was
undoubtedly as good as most professionals?'

'I don't think I used quite those words; and, to tell you the truth, it
had never entered my head that you would take them for encouragement to
such a step as this.'

Alma bent towards him, smiling.

'I understand. You don't think me good enough. Now the truth, the
truth!' and she held up a finger -- which she could not succeed in
keeping steady.

'Yes, you shall have the truth. It's too serious a matter for making
pretences. My own judgment is worthless, utterly; it should neither
offend nor encourage you. But it's very plain to me that you shouldn't
dream of coming before the public unless Wilenski, and perhaps some one
else of equal or better standing, actually urges you to it. Now, has he
done anything like that?'

She reddened, and hardly tried to conceal her vexation.

'This only means, Harvey, that you don't want me to come out.'

'Come now, be more reasonable. It does not _only_ mean that; in fact, I
can say honestly it doesn't mean that at all. If Wilenski tells you
plainly that you ought to become a professional violinist, there's no
one will wish you luck half so heartily as I. But if it's only the
encouragement of "twenty people" -- that means nothing. I'm speaking
simply as the best friend you have. Don't run the risk of a horrible
disappointment. I know you wouldn't find that easy to bear -- it would
be bad for you, in every way.

Impelled by annoyance -- for the project seemed to him delusive, and his
sense of dignity rose against it -- Harvey had begun with unwonted
decision, but he was soon uncomfortably self-conscious and
self-critical; he spoke with effort, vainly struggling against that
peculiar force of Alma's personality which had long ago subdued him.
When he looked at her, saw her distant smile, her pose of the head as in
one who mildly rebukes presumption, he was overcome with a feeling of
solemn ineptitude. Quite unaware that his last sentence was to Alma the
most impressive -- the only impressive -- part of his counsel, suddenly
he broke off, and found relief in unexpected laughter.

'There now, I've done my duty -- I've discharged the pedagogue. Get rid
of your tragic mask. Be yourself; do as you wish. When the time comes,
just tell me what you have decided.'

So, once more, did he oust common-sense with what he imagined a riper
wisdom. One must not take things funereally. Face to face with a woman
in the prime of her beauty, he heard a voice warning him against the
pedantic spirit of middle age, against formalism and fogeyishness.

'Now I know you again,' said Alma, softening, but still reserved; for
she did not forget that he had thrown doubt upon her claims as an artist
-- an incident which would not lose its importance as she pondered it at
leisure.

Harvey sat late. On going upstairs, instead of straightway entering his
own room, he passed it with soft step and paused by another door, that
of the chamber in which Hughie slept under the care of Miss Smith. The
child had coughed in the night during this last week. But at present all
was quiet, and with comfortable reassurance the father went to rest.

Alma had matters to occupy her more important than a child's passing
ailment. As she slowly unrobed herself by the fire, combed out her warm,
fragrant, many-rippled tresses, or held mute dialogue with her eyes in
the glass, from a ravel of uneasy thoughts there detached itself, first
and foremost, the discovery that Redgrave had not been in Paris when Mrs
Strangeways said he was. What was the meaning of this contradiction?
Thereto hung the singular coincidence of Redgrave's return home exactly
at the time when she and Mrs. Strangeways happened to be there. She had
thought of it as a coincidence and nothing more; but if Redgrave had
deceived Mrs. Strangeways as to his movements, the unlooked-for arrival
took a suspicious significance. There remained a dark possibility: that
Mrs. Strangeways knew what was about to happen. Yet this seemed
inconceivable.

Was it inconceivable? Why should a woman of that age, and of so much
experience, feel nervous about going alone to her friend's house on such
a simple mission? It appeared odd at the time, and was more difficult to
understand the more she thought of it. And one heard such strange
stories -- in society of a certain kind -- so many whispered hints of
things that would not bear to be talked about.

Redgrave had not been in Paris, but at Coventry. There again was a
puzzling circumstance. Harvey himself declared his surprise at hearing
that Redgrave had entered into partnership with Hugh Carnaby. Had Sibyl
anything to do with this? Could she have hinted to her friend the
millionaire that her husband's financial position was anything but
satisfactory, and had Redgrave, out of pure friendship -- of course, out
of pure friendship -- hastened to their succour?

This perplexity was almost as disturbing as that which preceded it.
Knowing the man of money as she did, Alma found it disagreeable to
connect his name thus closely with Sibyl's. Disagreeable in a
complicated sense; for she had begun to think of Cyrus Redgrave as
intimately associated with her own ambitions, secret and avowed. He was
to aid her in winning fame as a violinist; and, to this end, all
possible use (within certain limits) was to be made of the power she had
over him. Alma viewed the position without the least attempt at
disguising its true nature. She was playing with fire; knew it; enjoyed
the excitement of it; trusted herself with the completest confidence to
come out of the game unscorched. But she felt assured that other women,
in similar circumstances, had engaged in much the same encounter with
Cyrus Redgrave; and could it be imagined that Sibyl Carnaby was one of
them -- Sibyl, the woman of culture, of high principle, the critic of
society -- Sibyl, to whom she had so long paid homage, as to one of the
chosen of her sex? That Redgrave might approach Sibyl with lawless
thought, she could well believe, and such a possibility excited her
indignation; that Sibyl would meet him on his own terms, she could not
for a moment have credited, but for a traitor-voice that spoke in her
for the first time, the voice of jealousy.

Where and how often did they meet? To ask this question was to touch
another motive of discontent. Ever since the return to London life, Alma
had felt dissatisfied with her social position. She was the wife of a
gentleman of independent means; in theory, all circles should be open to
her. Practically, she found herself very much restricted in the choice
of acquaintances. Harvey had hinted that she should be careful where she
went, and whom she knew; that she recognised the justice of this warning
served merely to irritate her against its necessity. Why, then, did not
her husband exert himself to obtain better society for her? Plainly, he
would never take a step in that direction; he had his two or three
friends, and found them sufficient; he would have liked to see her very
intimate with Mrs. Abbott -- perhaps helping to teach babies on the
kindergarten system! Left to her own resources, she could do little
beyond refusing connections that were manifestly undesirable. Sibyl, she
knew, associated with people of much higher standing, only out of
curiosity taking a peep at the world to which her friend was restricted.
There had always been a slight disparity in this respect between them,
and in former days Alma had accepted it without murmuring; but why did
Sibyl, just when she could have been socially helpful, show a
disposition to hold aloof? 'Of course, you care nothing for people of
that kind,' Mrs. Carnaby had said, after casually mentioning some 'good'
family at whose country house she had been visiting. It was intended,
perhaps, as a compliment, with allusion to Alma's theories of the
'simple life'; but, in face of the very plain fact that such theories
were utterly abandoned, it sounded to Alma a humiliating irony.

Could it be that Sibyl feared inquiries, shrank from having it known
that she was on intimate terms with the daughter of the late Bennet
Frothingham -- a name still too often mentioned in newspapers and
elsewhere? The shadow of this possibility had ere now flitted over
Alma's mind; she was in the mood to establish it as a certainty, and to
indulge the resentment that naturally ensued. For on more than one
occasion of late, at Mrs. Rayner Mann's or in some such house, she had
fancied that one person and another had eyed her in a way that was not
quite flattering, and that remarks were privately exchanged about her.
Perhaps Harvey himself saw in the fact of her parentage a social
obstacle, which made him disinclined to extend their circle of common
acquaintances. Was that what he meant by his grave air this evening? Was
he annoyed at the thought of a publicity which would reveal her maiden
name?

These currents of troubled feeling streamed together and bore her
turbidly onwards whither her desires pointed. In one way, and one way
only, could she hope to become triumphantly conspicuous, to raise
herself quite above petty social prejudices, to defeat ill-wishers and
put to shame faint-hearted friends. She had never been able to endure
the thought of mediocrity. One chance there was; she must grasp it
energetically and without delay. And she must make use of all subsidiary
means to her great conquest -- save only the last dishonour.

That on her own merit she might rise to the first rank of musicians,
Alma did not doubt. Her difficulty lay in the thought that it might
require a long time, a wearisome struggle, to gain the universal
recognition which alone would satisfy her. Therefore must Cyrus Redgrave
be brought to the exertion of all his influence, which she imagined
would assist her greatly. Therefore, too, must Felix Dymes be retained
as her warm friend, probably (his own suggestion) as her man of
business.

It was January. Her 'recital' must take place in the coming season, in
May or June. She would sketch a programme at once -- tomorrow morning --
and then work, work, work terrifically!

Saved by the fervour of this determination from brooding over mysteries
and jealousies, Alma lay down with a contented sigh, and was soon
asleep, thanks to the health she still enjoyed. Her excitability was of
the imagination rather than of the blood, and the cool, lymphatic flow,
characteristically feminine, which mingled with the sanguine humour,
traceable perhaps to a paternal source, spared her many an hour of
wakefulness, as it guarded her against much graver peril.

On Sunday morning she generally went to church -- not because of any
spiritual impulse, but out of habit. In Wales, Harvey often accompanied
her; at Pinner he ceased to do so; but neither then nor now had any talk
on the subject passed between them. Alma took it for granted that her
husband was very 'broad' in matters of faith. She gathered from her
reading that every man of education nowadays dispensed with dogmas, and,
for her own part, it was merely an accident that she had not sought to
attract attention by pronounced freethinking. Sibyl Carnaby went to
church as a matter of course, and never spoke for or against orthodoxy.
Had Sibyl been more 'advanced' in this direction, undoubtedly Alma would
long ago have followed her example. Both of them, in girlhood, had
passed through a great deal of direct religious teaching -- and both
would have shrunk amazed if called upon to make the slightest sacrifice
in the name of their presumed creed.

This morning, however, Alma remained at home, and one of the first
things she did was to write to Sibyl, asking when it would be convenient
for her friend to give her half-an-hour's private talk. Then she wrote
to Felix Dymes, addressing the letter to the care of his publishers. At
midday, as Harvey had gone to town on his business with Cecil Morphew,
she decided to run over to Kingsbury-Neasden and ask her friends for
lunch, in return for which she would make known to them her startling
project. It was a wretched day; Hughie must not go out, and Pauline --
good creature -- would amuse him in one way and another all the
afternoon.

As it chanced, her surprise visit could not have been worse timed, for
Mrs. Leach was in a state of collapse after a violent quarrel, the day
before, with her cook-housekeeper, who quitted the house at a moment's
notice. Luncheon, in the admissible sense of the word, there was none to
be had. Mr. Leach, finding the house intolerable when he arrived on
Saturday afternoon, had gone back to his bachelor quarters, and the
girls, when Alma presented herself, were just sitting down alone to what
the housemaid chose to give them. But such an old friend could not be
turned away because of domestic mishap.

Not until they had despatched the unsatisfactory meal, and were cosy in
the drawing-room, did Alma reveal her great purpose. Dora Leach happened
to have a slight acquaintance with a professional pianist who had
recently come before the public, and Alma began by inquiring whether her
friend could obtain information as to the expenses of the first
'recital' given by that lady.

'I'm afraid I don't know her quite well enough,' replied Miss Leach.
'What's it for? Are you thinking ----? Really? You _really_ are?'

The sisters became joyously excited. Splendid idea! They had feared it
was impossible. Oh, she might count with certainty upon a brilliant
success! They began to talk about the programme. And what professionals
would she engage to take part in the concert? When Alma mentioned that
the illustrious Felix Dymes had offered to undertake the management of
her business, interest rose to the highest point. Felix Dymes would of
course be a tower of strength. Though tempted to speak of the support
she might expect from another great man, Alma refrained; her reason
being that she meant to ask Dora to accompany her to the Crystal Palace
next Saturday. If, as was almost certain, Redgrave met them there, it
would be unpleasant to let Dora surmise that the meeting was not by
chance.

They chattered for two or three hours, and, among other things, made
merry over a girl of their acquaintance (struggling with flagrant
poverty), who aimed at a professional career.

'It really would be kindness,' said Dora, 'to tell her she hasn't the
least chance; but one can't do that. She was here the other day playing
to us -- oh, for _such_ a time! She said her bow would have to be
rehaired, and when I looked at it, I saw it was all greasy and black
near the frog, from her dirty fingers; it only wanted washing. I just
managed to edge in a hint about soap and water. But she's very touchy;
one has to be so careful with her.'

'It's dreadfully awkward, you know,' put in Gerda, 'to talk to people
who are so _poor_ -- isn't it? It came out one day that she had been
peeling potatoes for their dinner! It makes one so uncomfortable -- she
really need not have mentioned it.'

The public halls were discussed. Which would Alma select? Then again the
programme. Would she play the Adagio? -- meaning, of course, that in
Spohr's Concerto 9. No, _no_; not the Adagio -- not on any account the
Adagio! Something of Bach's? -- yes; perhaps the Chaconne. And Brahms?
There was the Sonata in A for violin and piano. A stiff piece, but one
must not be too popular -- Heaven forbid that one should catch at cheap
applause! How about a trio? What was that thing of Dvorak's, at St
James's Hall not long ago? Yes, the trio in B flat -- piano, violin, and
'cello. At least a score of pieces were jotted down, some from memory,
some picked out of old programmes, of which Dora produced a great
portfolio. Interruption came at length -- a servant entering to say that
Mrs. Leach felt so ill, she wished the doctor to be summoned.

'Oh, bother Mamma and her illnesses!' exclaimed the vivacious Gerda when
the intruder was waved off. 'It's all nonsense, you know. She will
quarrel with servants and get herself into a state. It'll have to be a
boarding-house; I see it coming nearer every day.'

Having made an appointment with Dora for next Saturday, Alma took leave,
and went home in excellent spirits. Everything seemed to plan itself;
the time had come, the moment of destiny. Doubtless she had been wise in
waiting thus long. Had she come forward only a year or so after her
father's tragedy, people might have said she was making profit of a
vulgar sensation; it would have seemed in bad taste; necessity would
have appeared to urge her. Now, such remarks were impossible. Mrs. Harvey
Rolfe sounded much better than Miss Alma Frothingham. By-the-bye, was it
to be 'Mrs.', or ought she to call herself 'Madame'? People did use the
Madame, even with an English name. Madame Rolfe? Madame Harvey Rolfe?
That made her laugh; it had a touch of the ridiculous; it suggested
millinery rather than music. Better to reject such silly affectations
and use her proper name boldly.

It was to be expected, of course, that people in general would soon
discover her maiden name. Whispers would go round; facts might even get
into the newspapers. Well? She herself had done nothing to be ashamed
of, and if curiosity helped her to success, why, so much the better. In
all likelihood it _would_ help her; but she did not dwell upon this
adventitious encouragement. A more legitimate source of hope revealed
itself in Mrs. Strangeways' allusion to her personal advantages. She was
not ill-looking; on that point there needed no flatterer's assurance.
Her looks, if anything, had improved, and possibly she owed something to
her experiment in 'simplicity', to the air of mountain and of sea. Felix
Dymes, Cyrus Redgrave, not to speak of certain other people -- no
matter. For all that, she must pay grave attention to the subject of
dress. Her recital would doubtless be given in the afternoon, according
to custom; so that it was not a case of _grande tenue_; but her attire
must be nothing short of perfection in its kind. Could she speak about
it with Sibyl? Perhaps -- yet perhaps not. She was very anxious to see
Sibyl, and felt that a great deal depended upon their coming interview.

This took place on Tuesday; for Sibyl replied at once to the note, and
begged her to come without delay. 'Tuesday at twelve. I do little in
these gloomy days but read -- am becoming quite a bookworm. Why have you
been silent so long? I was on the very point of writing to you, for I
wish to see you particularly.'

And, when the servant opened her door, Sibyl was discovered in the
attitude of a severe student, bending over a table on which lay many
volumes. She would not have been herself had there appeared any neglect
or unbecomingness in her costume, but she wore the least pretentious of
morning gowns, close at throat and wrist, which aided her look of mental
concentration and alertness. She rose with alacrity, and the visitor,
using her utmost keenness in scrutiny of countenance, found that her own
eyes, not Sibyl's, were the first to fall.

'Yes -- working as if I had an examination to pass. It's the best thing
in weather such as this -- keeps one in health, I believe. You, of
course, have your music, which answers the same purpose. I'm going in
for the Renaissance; always wished to make a thorough study of it. Hugh
is appalled; he never imagined I had so much energy. He says I shall be
writing a book next -- and why not?'

'Of course you could,' replied Alma. 'You're clever enough for
anything.'

Her suspicions evaporated in this cosy cloister. She wondered how she
could have conceived such a thought of Sibyl, who, dressed so simply,
had a girlish air, a beauty as of maidenhood. Exhilarated by her
ambitious hopes, she turned in heart to the old friendship, felt her
admiration revive, and spoke it freely.

'I know I'm not stupid,' said Sibyl, leaning back as if a little weary;
'and there's the pity of it, that I've never made more use of my brains.
Of course, those years abroad were lost, though I suppose I got to know
a little more of the world. And since we came back I have had no peace
of mind. Did you guess that? Perhaps your husband knew about things from
Hugh?'

'I was afraid you might be getting rather anxious; but as you never said
anything yourself ----'

'I never should have done -- I hate talking about money. And you know
that things are looking better?'

Sibyl's confident smile drew one of like meaning from Alma.

'Your husband had good news, I know, when Harvey met him on Saturday.'

'It sounds good,' said Sibyl, 'and I take it for granted it will be as
good as it sounds. If that's complicated, well, so is business, and I
don't profess to understand the details. I can only say that Hugh seems
to be a good deal shrewder and more practical than I thought him. He is
always making friends with what I consider the wrong kind of people; now
at last he has got hold of just the right man, and it very much puzzles
me how he did it. I have known Mr. Redgrave -- you've heard it's Mr
Redgrave? -- I've known him for several years now, and, between
ourselves, I never expected to benefit by the acquaintance.'

Her laugh was so significant that Alma had much ado to keep a steady
face.

'I know -- things are said about him,' she murmured.

'Things _are_ said about him, as you discreetly put it, my dear Alma.'
The voice still rippled with laughter. 'I should imagine Hugh has heard
them, but I suppose a man of the world thinks nothing of such trifles.
And after all' -- she grew serious -- 'I would rather trust Hugh's
judgment than general gossip. Hugh thinks him a "very good fellow". They
were together a little in Scotland last autumn, you know, and -- it's
very wrong to make fun of it, and I shouldn't repeat the story to anyone
but you -- Mr. Redgrave confided to him that he was a blighted being, the
victim of an unhappy love in early life. Can you quite picture it?'

'It has an odd sound,' replied Alma, struggling with rather tense
nerves. 'Do you believe the story?'

'I can't see why in the world such a man should invent it. It seems he
wanted to marry someone who preferred someone else; and since then he
has ----'

Sibyl rippled off again.

'He has -- what?'

'Been blighted, my dear! Of course, people have different ways of
showing blight. Mr. Redgrave, it is rumoured, hides his head in a
hermitage, somewhere in the north of Italy, by one of the lakes. No
doubt he lives on olives and macaroni, and broods over what _might_ have
been. Did you ever hear of that hermitage?'

Alma's colour heightened ever so little, and she kept her eyes on the
questioner with involuntary fixedness. The last shadow of doubt
regarding Sibyl having disappeared (no woman with an uneasy conscience,
she said to herself, could talk in this way), she had now to guard
herself against the betrayal of suspicious sensibilities. Sibyl, of
course, meant nothing personal by these jesting allusions -- how could
she? But it was with a hard voice that Alma declared her ignorance of Mr
Redgrave's habits, at home, or in retreat by Italian lakes.

'It doesn't concern us,' agreed her friend. 'He has chosen to put his
money into Hugh's business, and, from one point of view, that's a
virtuous action. Hugh says he didn't suggest anything of the kind, but I
fancy the idea must have been led up to at some time or other. The poor
fellow has been horridly worried, and perhaps he let fall a word or two
he doesn't care to confess. However it came about, I'm immensely glad,
both for his sake and my own. My mind is enormously relieved -- and
that's how I come to be working at the Renaissance.'

Alma took the first opportunity of giving the conversation a turn. It
was not so easy as she had anticipated to make her announcement; for, to
her own mind, Cyrus Redgrave and the great ambition were at every moment
suggestive of each other, and Sibyl, in this peculiar mood, might throw
out disturbing remarks or ask unwelcome questions. Only one recent
occurrence called for concealment. Happily, Sibyl no longer met Mrs
Strangeways (whose character had taken such a doubtful hue), and
Redgrave himself could assuredly be trusted for discretion, whatever his
real part in that perplexing scene at he bungalow.

'I feel the same want as you do,' said Alma, after a little transitional
talk, 'of something to keep me busy. Of course, it must be music; but
music at home, and at other people's homes, isn't enough. You know my
old revolt against the bonds of the amateur. I'm going to break out --
or try to. What would you give for my chances?'

'My dear, I am no capitalist,' replied her friend, with animation. 'For
such a bargain as that you must go among the great speculators. Hugh's
experience seems to point to Mr. Redgrave.'

'Sibyl, please be serious.'

'So I am. I should like to have the purchase of your chances for a
trifle of a few thousand pounds.'

Alma's flush of discomposure (more traitorous than she imagined)
transformed itself under a gratified smile.

'You really think that I might do something worth the trouble? -- I
don't mean money-making -- though, of course, no one despises money --
but a real artistic success?'

Sibyl made no half-hearted reply. She seemed in thorough agreement with
those other friends of Alma's who had received the project
enthusiastically. A dozen tickets, at least a dozen, she would at once
answer for. But, as though an unwelcome word must needs mingle with her
pleasantest talk today, she went on to speak of Alma's husband; what did
he think of the idea?

'He looks on, that's all,' Alma replied playfully. 'If I succeed, he
will be pleased; if I don't, he will have plenty of consolation to
offer. Harvey and I respect each other's independence -- the great
secret of marriage, don't you think? We ask each other's advice, and
take it or not, as we choose. I fancy he doesn't quite like the thought
of my playing for money. But if it were _necessary_ he would like it
still less. He finds consolation in the thought that I'm just amusing
myself.'

'I wish you would both come over and dine with us quietly,' said Sibyl,
after reflecting, with a smile. 'It would do us all good. I don't see
many people nowadays, and I'm getting rather tired of ordinary society;
after all, it's great waste of time. I think Hugh is more inclined to
settle down and be quiet among his friends. What day would suit you?'

Alma, engrossed in other thoughts, named a day at random. Part of her
scheme was still undisclosed: she had a special reason for wishing Sibyl
to know of her relations with Felix Dymes, yet feared that she might not
hit exactly the right tone in speaking of him.

'Of course, I must have a man of business -- and who do you think has
offered his services?'

Sibyl was not particularly impressed by the mention of Dymes's name; she
had only a slight personal acquaintance with him, and cared little for
his reputation as a composer.

'I had a note from him this morning,' Alma continued. 'He asks me to see
him today at the Apollo -- the theatre, you know. They're going to
produce his comic opera, "Blue Roses" -- of course, you've heard of it.
I shall feel rather nervous about going there -- but it'll be a new
experience. Or do you think it would be more discreet if I got him to
come to Pinner?'

'I didn't think artists cared about those small proprieties,' answered
Sibyl, laughing.

'No -- of course, that's the right way to regard it. Let me show you his
letter.' She took it from her little seal-skin bag. 'A trifle impudent,
don't you think? Mr. Dymes has a great opinion of himself, and absolutely
no manners.'

'Well -- if you can keep him in hand ----'

They exchanged glances, and laughed together.

'No fear of that,' said Alma 'And he's just the kind of man to be very
useful. His music -- ah well! But he has popularity, and a great many
people take him at his own estimate. Impudence does go a long way.'

Sibyl nodded, and smiled vaguely.

Dymes had suggested a meeting at three o'clock, and to this Alma had
already given her assent by telegraph. She lunched with Mrs. Carnaby, --
who talked a great deal about the Renaissance, -- left immediately
after, to visit a few shops, and drove up to the Apollo Theatre at the
appointed time. Her name sufficed; at once she was respectfully
conducted to a small electric-lighted room, furnished only with a table
and chairs, and hung about with portraits of theatrical people, where
Dymes sat by the fire smoking a cigarette. The illustrious man
apologised for receiving her here, instead of in the manager's room,
which he had hoped to make use of.

'Littlestone is in there, wrangling about something with Sophy Challis,
and they're likely to slang each other for an hour or two. Make yourself
comfortable. It's rather hot; take off those furry things.'

'Thank you,' replied Alma, concealing her nervousness with malapert
vivacity, 'I shall be quite comfortable in my own way. It _is_ rather
hot, and your smoke is rather thick, so I shall leave the door a little
open.'

Dymes showed his annoyance, but could offer no objection.

'We're getting into shape for this day week. Littlestone calls the opera
"Blue Noses" -- it has been so confoundedly cold at rehearsals.'

Alma was seized by the ludicrous suggestion, and laughed without
restraint; her companion joined in, his loud neigh drowning her more
melodious merriment. This put them on natural terms of comradeship, and
then followed a long, animated talk. Dymes was of opinion that the
hiring of a hall and the fees of supplementary musicians might be
defrayed out of the sale of tickets; but there remained the item of
advertisement, and on this subject he had large ideas. He wanted 'to do
the thing properly'; otherwise he wouldn't do it at all. But Alma was to
take no thought for the cost; let it all be left to him.

'You want to succeed? All right; let your fiddling be up to the mark,
and I answer for the public. It's all between you and me; you needn't
say who is doing the job for you. Ada Wellington comes off on May the
10th; I shall put you down for a fortnight later. That gives you nearly
four months to prepare. Don't overdo it; keep right in health; take
plenty of exercise. You look very well now; keep it up, and you'll
_knock 'em_. I only wish it was the stage instead of the platform -- but
no use talking about that, I suppose?'

'No use whatever,' Alma replied, flushing with various emotions.

In the course of his free talk, it happened that he addressed her as
'Alma'. She did not check him; but when the name again fell from his
lips, she said quietly, with a straight look ----

'I think not. The proper name, if you please.'

Dymes took the rebuke good-humouredly. When their conversation was over,
he wished her to go with him to a restaurant for tea; but Alma insisted
on catching a certain train at Baker Street, and Dymes had to be
satisfied with the promise of another interview shortly.


CHAPTER 9


A visit was due from Mrs. Frothingham, who had not been seen at Pinner
for more than six months. She would have come at New Year, but an attack
of influenza upset her plans. Now she wrote to announce her arrival on
Saturday.

'I wish it had been Monday,' said Alma; 'I have to go to the Crystal
Palace.'

'Is it imperative?' asked her husband.

'Yes; there's something new of Sterndale Bennett's, and I've asked
Dora.'

It seemed to Harvey that this arrangement might have been put aside
without great inconvenience, but, as usual, he made no comment. As he
would be in town on Saturday, he promised to meet their visitor at
Waterloo. Alma, he thought, had never shown much gratitude for her
step-mother's constant kindness; during the past half-year she had now
and then complained of the trouble of answering Mrs. Frothingham's
letters, and the news of illness at Basingstoke drew from her only a few
words of conventional sympathy. To Hughie, who frequently received
presents from 'Grandmamma', she rarely spoke of the affectionate giver.
A remark of hers recently on some piece of news from Mrs. Frothingham
bore an obvious suggestion.

'I wonder,' she said, 'if a single person has been really benefited by
all the money Mamma has given away? Isn't it likely she has done much
more harm than good?'

There was truth in his surmise that Alma sometimes thought with jealousy
of Mrs. Frothingham's having had control of a fortune, whilst she, the
only child of him who made the money, possessed nothing of her own. The
same trend of feeling appeared in a word or two of Alma's, when a daily
paper, in speaking of a paltry dividend offered at last to the creditors
in one branch of Bennet Frothingham's speculations, used a particularly
bitter phrase.

'I should have felt that once; now ----'

In these days Alma suffered from a revival of the indignation which had
so perturbed her in the time just before her marriage. If now she had
possessed even a little money, it would have made her independent in a
sense far more tangible than that of the friendly understanding with her
husband. She strongly disliked the thought of making Harvey responsible
for the expenses of her 'recital'. Had it been possible to procure a
small sum by any honest means, she would eagerly have turned to it; but
no method seemed discoverable. On her journey homeward after the
interview with Felix Dymes, her mind was full of the money question.
What did Dymes mean by bidding her take no thought for expenses? Could
it have occurred to his outrageous vanity that she might be persuaded to
become his debtor, with implied obligation of gratitude?

Not with impunity could her thought accustom itself to stray in regions
forbidden, how firm soever her resolve to hold bodily aloof. Alma's
imagination was beginning to show the inevitable taint. With Cyrus
Redgrave she had passed from disdainful resentment, through phases of
tolerance, to an interested flirtation, perilous on every side. In Felix
Dymes she easily, perhaps not unwillingly, detected a motive like to
Redgrave's, and already, for her own purposes, she was permitting him to
regard her as a woman not too sensitive, not too scrupulous. These
tactics might not be pleasant or strictly honourable, but she fancied
they were forced upon her. Alma had begun to compassionate herself -- a
dangerous situation. Her battle had to be fought alone; she was going
forth to conquer the world by her mere talents, and can a woman
disregard the auxiliary weapons of beauty? If Dymes chose to speculate
in hopes ludicrously phantasmal, was that her affair? She smiled at the
picture of two men, her devoted servants, exerting themselves t9 the
utmost for her advantage, yet without a syllable of express
encouragement, and foredoomed to a disappointment which would be
perfectly plain to them could they but use their common-sense.

Throughout this week Harvey did not behave quite as usual to her; or so
Alma thought. He had not the customary jocoseness when they met at the
close of day; he asked no questions about how she had spent her time;
his manner was preoccupied. One evening she challenged him.

'You are worrying about what you think my foolishness.'

'Foolishness? Of what folly are you guilty?'

'My ambition, then.'

'Oh no!' He laughed as if the thought genuinely amused him. 'Why should
I worry about it? Don't work too hard, that's all. No, I was thinking of
a squalid little ambition of my own. I have an idea Morphew may make
something of that business; and I want him to, for the fellow's own
good. It's wonderful how near he has been to going to the devil, once
for all. I fancy I've got him now by the coat-tail; I may hold him.'

'You can't call that a squalid ambition,' said Alma, wishing to be
amiable.

'Not that side of it -- no. But I've decided to put a little money into
the business -- nothing that matters, but it may just as well be made
safe, if a little trouble will do it. I was wondering how it would be if
I worked a little down yonder -- kept Morphew in sight. Distance is the
chief objection.'

'But you think of moving to Gunnersbury?'

'Yes, I do. I'm thinking of it seriously. Will you go over with me one
day next week! Better be Saturday -- Mrs. Abbott will be free.'

It was unfortunate that Alma had not been able to establish an intimacy
with Mary Abbott. They saw each other very rarely, and, as Harvey
perceived, made no progress in friendship. This did not surprise him;
they were too unlike in temper, intellect, and circumstances. Whether to
these obstacles should be added another more serious, Harvey could not
quite assure himself. He had suspected that Alma entertained a slight
jealousy -- natural, perhaps, though utterly without substantial cause.
He even reckoned with this when proposing to put the child under Mrs
Abbott's care, thinking that, in revolt against such an alternative,
Alma might be impelled to take the duty upon herself. That nothing of
the kind had resulted, seemed to prove that, whatever feeling might
occasionally have arisen in Alma, she did not regard his friend with any
approach to hostility. For his own part, he had always felt that the
memory of Bennet Frothingham must needs forbid Mrs. Abbott to think with
unrestrained kindliness of Alma, and, but for Alma herself, he would
scarce have ventured to bring them together. That they were at least on
amiable terms must be held as much as could be hoped for. With regard to
Mary's efficiency as a teacher, his opinion had grown more favourable
since he had seen her in her own home. Time and experience were moulding
her, he thought, to a task undertaken first of all in a spirit of
self-discipline. She appeared to be successful in winning the confidence
of parents, and she no longer complained of inability to make herself
liked by her little pupils. Best of all, she was undoubtedly devoting
herself to the work with all the powers of her mind, making it the sole
and sufficient purpose of her life. Harvey felt no misgiving; he spoke
his true thought when he said that he would rather trust Hughie to Mrs
Abbott than to any other teacher. It was with surprise, therefore, and
some annoyance, that he received Alma's reply to his proposal for their
going over to Gunnersbury next week.

'Are you quite sure,' she said, rather coldly, 'that Mrs. Abbott will
teach better than Pauline?'

'It isn't only that. Hughie must have companions. I thought we had
agreed about it.'

'Have you inquired who his companions will be?'

'Oh -- the ordinary children of ordinary people,' he replied, with some
impatience. 'I don't know that babies are likely to corrupt each other.
But, of course, you will ask Mrs. Abbott all about that kind of thing --
or anything else you wish.'

Alma shook her head, laughing carelessly.

'No, no. That is all in _your_ hands. You have discussed it with her,
haven't you?'

'I haven't so much as mentioned it. But, of course, I am quite willing
to relieve you of all trouble in the matter.'

His tone seemed to startle Alma, for she looked up at him quickly, and
spoke in a more serious voice.

'I don't think we quite understand each other about Hughie. Why should
you be so anxious? He seems to me to be doing very well. Remember, he's
only a little more than three years old -- quite a baby, as you say. I
don't think he would feel the want of companions for another year at
least.'

Harvey met her look, and replied quietly.

'It isn't that I'm anxious about him. I have to plan for his education,
that's all.'

'You're beginning rather early. Fathers don't generally look after their
children so young.'

'Unfortunately, they don't,' said Harvey, with a laugh. 'Mothers do,
here and there.'

'But surely you don't mean that I am neglectful, Harvey?'

'Not at all. Teaching isn't your metier, Alma.'

'I have always confessed that. But, then, the time for teaching Hughie
has hardly come. What can Pauline do but just see that he doesn't get
into mischief?'

'That's the very reason why he would be better for two or three hours a
day with some one who knows _how_ to teach a child of his age. It isn't
as unimportant as you think. Pauline does very well, but Mrs. Abbott will
do better.'

Vexed at his own cowardliness -- for he could not utter the words that
leaped to his tongue -- Harvey fell into a perverse insistence on Mrs
Abbott's merits. He had meant to confine himself within the safe excuse
that the child needed companionship. Forbidden the natural relief of a
wholesome, hearty outburst of anger -- which would have done good in
many ways -- his nerves drove him into smothered petulance, with the
result that Alma misread him, and saw in his words a significance quite
apart from their plain meaning.

'I have not the least intention of interfering, Harvey,' she said, with
her distant smile. 'For the next few months I shall be very busy indeed.
Only one thing I would ask -- you don't think of leaving this house
before midsummer?'

'No.'

'Because I shall probably give my recital in May, and it would be rather
inconvenient ----'

'Everything shall be arranged to suit you.'

'Not at all, not at all!' she exclaimed cheerfully. 'I don't ask so much
as that; it would be unreasonable. We are neither of us to stand in the
other's way -- isn't that the agreement? Tell me your plans, and you
shall know mine, and I'm sure everything will be managed very well.'

So the conversation ended, satisfactorily to neither. Harvey, aware of
having spoken indiscreetly, felt that he was still more to blame for
allowing his wife a freedom of which she threatened to make absurd use;
and Alma, her feelings both as wife and mother sensibly perturbed,
resented the imputation which seemed to have been thrown upon her
conduct. This resentment was of course none the less enduring because
conscience took her husband's side. She remembered her appointment
tomorrow (practically an appointment) with Cyrus Redgrave at the Crystal
Palace; would not that be more difficult to confess than anything she
could reasonably suppose to have happened between Harvey and Mary
Abbott? Yet more than ever she hoped to meet Redgrave, to hold him by a
new link of illusory temptation, that he might exert himself to the
utmost in promoting her success. For among the impulses which urged her
forward, her reasons for desiring a public triumph, was one which Harvey
perhaps never for a moment imagined -- a desire to shine gloriously in
the eyes of her husband. Harvey would never do her justice until
constrained by the voice of the world. Year after year he held her in
less esteem; he had as good as said that he did not think her capable of
taking a place among professional violinists. Disguise it how he might,
he secretly wished her to become a mere domestic creature, to abandon
hopes that were nothing better than a proof of vanity. This went to
Alma's heart, and rankled there. He should see! He should confess his
error, in all its injurious and humiliating extent! At whatever cost --
at all _but_ any cost -- the day of her triumph should come about!
Foreseeing it, she had less difficulty in keeping calm when the
excellencies of Mrs. Abbott were vaunted before her, when Harvey simply
ignored all that in herself compensated the domestic shortcoming. Of
course, she was not a model of the home-keeping virtues; who expected an
artist to be that? But Harvey denied this claim; and of all the motives
contributing to her aspiration, none had such unfailing force as the
vehement resolve to prove him wrong.

Next morning the weather was so bad that Harvey asked whether she had
not better give up her expedition to the Crystal Palace. Alma smiled and
shook her head.

'You think I go only for amusement. It's so difficult to make you
understand that these things are serious.'

'Congestion of the lungs is serious. I don't think Mrs. Frothingham will
face it. There'll probably be a telegram from her.'

But by midday the fierce wind and driving sleet had abated, though the
outlook remained cheerless enough. After an early lunch, Alma set forth.
Dora Leach joined her in the train, and thus they travelled, through
sooty gloom, under or above ground, from the extreme north to the
farthest south of London; alighting at length with such a ringing of the
ears, such an impression of roar and crash and shriek, as made the
strangest prelude to a feast of music ever devised in the world's
history. Their seats having been taken in advance, they entered a few
moments before the concert began, and found themselves amid a scanty
audience; on either side of them were vacant places. Alma did not dare
to glance round about. If Redgrave were here, and looked for her, he
would have no difficulty in discovering where she sat; probably, too, he
could manage to take possession of the chair at her side. And this was
exactly what happened, though not until the first piece had been
performed.

'I congratulate you on your zeal,' spoke the voice which always put her
in mind of sunny mountains and a blue lake.

'Inviting a compliment in return,' said Alma, with a sudden illumination
of her features. 'Are you one of the regular attendants?'

'Don't you remember?' His voice dropped so low that he hardly seemed to
address her. 'I promised myself the pleasure ----'

Alma pretended not to hear. She turned to her companion, spoke a word,
and renewed the very slight acquaintance which had existed a few years
ago between Redgrave and Miss Leach. Then the sound of an instrument
imposed silence.

It was not the first time that Alma affected to be absorbed in music
when not consciously hearing it at all. Today the circumstances made
such distraction pardonable; but often enough she had sat thus, with
countenance composed or ecstatic, only seeming to listen, even when a
master played. For Alma had no profound love of the art. Nothing more
natural than her laying it completely aside when, at home in Wales, she
missed her sufficient audience. To her, music was not an end in itself.
Like numberless girls, she had, to begin with, a certain mechanical
aptitude, which encouraged her through the earlier stages, until vanity
stepped in and urged her to considerable attainments. Her father's
genuine delight in music of the higher kind served as an encouragement
whenever her own energies began to fail; and when at length, with
advancing social prospects, the thought took hold of her that, by means
of her violin, she might maintain a place of distinction above ordinary
handsome girls and heiresses, it sufficed to overcome her indolence and
lack of the true temper. She founded her Quartet Society, and queened it
over amateurs, some of whom were much better endowed than herself.
Having set her pride on winning praise as a musician, of course she took
pains, even working very hard from time to time. She had first-rate
teachers, and was clever enough to profit by their lessons. With it all,
she cared as little for music as ever; to some extent it had lost even
that power over her sensibilities which is felt by the average hearer.
Alma had an emotional nature, but her emotions responded to almost any
kind of excitement sooner than to the musical. So much had she pretended
and posed, so much had she struggled with mere manual difficulties, so
much lofty cant and sounding hollowness had she talked, that the name of
her art was grown a weariness, a disgust. Conscious of this, she was
irritated whenever Harvey begged her to play simple things; for indeed,
if she must hear music at all, it was just those simple melodies she
would herself have preferred. And among the self-styled musical people
with whom she associated, were few, if any, in whom conceit did not
sound the leading motive. She knew but one true musician, Herr Wilenski.
That the virtuoso took no trouble to bring her in touch with his own
chosen circle, was a significant fact which quite escaped Alma's notice.

Between the pieces Redgrave chatted in a vein of seductive familiarity,
saying nothing that Dora Leach might not have heard, but frequently
softening his voice, as though to convey intimate meanings. His manner
had the charm of variety; he was never on two occasions alike; today he
seemed to relax in a luxurious mood, due in part to the influence of
sound, and in part, as his eyes declared, to the sensuous pleasure of
sitting by Alma's side.

'What an excellent fellow Carnaby is!' he remarked unexpectedly. 'I have
been seeing a good deal of him lately -- as you know, I think?'

'So I have heard.'

'I like him all the better because I am rather sorry for him.'

'Why?'

'Don't you feel that he is very much out of place? He doesn't belong to
our world at all. He ought to be founding a new civilisation in some
wild country. I can sympathise with him; I have something of the same
spirit.'

'I never observed it,' said Alma, allowing her glance to skim his
features.

'Perhaps because you yourself represent civilisation in its subtlest
phase, and when I am with you I naturally think only of that. I don't
say I should have thriven as a backwoodsman; but I admire the type in
Carnaby. That's one of _our_ privileges, don't you think? We live in
imagination quite as much as in everyday existence. You, I am sure, are
in sympathy with infinite forms of life -- and,' he added, just above
his breath, 'you could realise so many of them.'

'I shall be content with one,' replied Alma.

'And that ----?'

She nodded towards the concert platform, where, at the same moment, a
violinist stepped forward. Redgrave gazed inquiringly at her, but she
kept silence until the next interval. Then, in reply to his direct
question, she told him, with matter-of-fact brevity, what her purpose
was. He showed neither surprise nor excessive pleasure, but bent his
head with a grave approving smile.

'So you feel that the time has come. Of course I knew that it would. Are
any details arranged? -- or perhaps I mustn't ask?'

'I wanted to talk it over with you,' she answered graciously.

After the concert they had tea together. Redgrave was very attentive to
Miss Leach, whom his talk amused and flattered. Alma's enterprise was
discussed with pleasant freedom, and Redgrave learnt that she had
decided to employ Mr. Felix Dymes as her agent. The trio set forth at
length on their homeward journey in a mood of delightful animation, and
travelled together as far as Victoria.

'I haven't said that you can rely on me for all possible assistance,'
Redgrave remarked, as he walked along the roaring platform by Alma's
side. 'That is a matter of course. We shall meet again before long?'

'No doubt.'

'In Porchester Terrace perhaps?'

'Perhaps.'

Alma met his eyes, and took away with her the consciousness of having
dared greatly. But the end was a great one.

In spite of the bad weather, Mrs. Frothingham had travelled up from
Basingstoke. Alma found her in the drawing-room, and saw at a glance
that there had been conversation on certain subjects between her and
Harvey; but not until the next day did Mrs. Frothingham speak of what she
had heard, and make her private comments for Alma's benefit.

'I thought Harvey was joking, dear. Have you reflected how many reasons
there are why you _shouldn't_ ----?'

The pathetic gaze of appeal produced no effect.

'Did Harvey ask you to talk about it, Mamma?'

'No. He takes it in the kindest way. But, Alma, you surely see that it
pains him?'

'Pains him? That shows you don't understand us, dear Mamma. We could
neither of us possibly do anything that would pain the other. We are in
perfect harmony, yet absolutely independent. It has all been talked over
and settled. You must have misunderstood Harvey altogether.'

From this position Alma could not be moved, and Mrs. Frothingham, too
discreet to incur the risk of interference, spoke no more of the matter
as it concerned man and wife. But another objection she urged with
almost tearful earnestness. Did Alma forget that her appearance in
public would give occasion to most disagreeable forms of gossip? And
even if she disregarded the scandal of a few years ago, would not many
of her acquaintances say and believe that necessity had driven her into
a professional career?

'They may say what they like, and think what they like,' was Alma's
lofty reply. 'If artists had always considered such trivial
difficulties, where should we have been? Suppose gossip does its worst
-- it's all over in a few months; then I stand by my own merit. Dear
Mamma, _don't_ be old fashioned! You look so young and so charming --
indeed you do -- that I can't bear to hear you talk in that early
Victorian way. Art is art, and all these other things have nothing
whatever to do with it. There, it's all over. Be good, and amuse
yourself whilst you are with us. I assure you we are the most reasonable
and the happiest people living.'

Mrs. Frothingham smiled at the compliment to herself; then sighed, and
held her peace.


CHAPTER 10


So day by day Alma's violin sounded, and day after day Harvey heard it
with a growing impatience. As is commonly the case with people of
untrained ear, he had never much cared for this instrument; he preferred
the piano. Not long ago he would have thought it impossible that he
could ever come to dislike music, which throughout his life had been to
him a solace and an inspiration; but now he began to shrink from the
sound of it. As Alma practised in the morning, he was driven at length
to alter his habits, and to leave home after breakfast. Having no other
business, he went to Westminster Bridge Road, met Cecil Morphew at the
shop, watched the progress of alterations that seemed advisable, picked
up a little knowledge of photography, talked over prices,
advertisements, and numerous commercial matters of which he had hitherto
been contentedly ignorant. Before long, his loan to Morphew was
converted into an investment; he became a partner in the concern, which,
retaining the name of the old proprietor, they carried on as Den bow &
Co.

The redemption of his debentures kept him still occupied with a furtive
study of the money-market. He did not dare to face risk on a large
scale; the mere thought of a great reduction of income made him tremble
and perspire. So in the end he adopted the simple and straightforward
expedient of seeking an interview with his banker, by whom he was
genially counselled to purchase such-and-such stock, a sound security,
but less productive than that he had previously held. An unfortunate
necessity, seeing that his expenses increased and were likely to do so.
But he tried to hope that Westminster Bridge Road would eventually
reimburse him. With good luck, it might do more.

His days of quietude were over. He, too, was being drawn into the
whirlpool. No more dreaming among his books; no more waking to the
ordinary duties and cares of a reasonable life. As a natural consequence
of the feeling of unsettlement, of instability, he had recourse more
often than he wished to the old convivial habits, gathering about him
once again, at club or restaurant, the kind of society in which he
always felt at ease -- good, careless, jovial, and often impecunious
fellows, who, as in days gone by, sometimes made a demand upon his purse
which he could not resist, though he had now such cause for rigid
economy. Was it that he grew old? -- he could no longer take his wine
with disregard of consequence. The slightest excess, and too surely he
paid for it on the morrow, not merely with a passing headache, but with
a whole day's miserable discomfort. Oh, degeneracy of stomach and of
brain! Of will, too; for he was sure to repeat the foolish experience
before a week had passed.

It was not till Mrs. Frothingham had left them after a fortnight's visit
that he reminded Alma of her promise to go with him to Gunnersbury.

'Did I promise?' she said. 'I thought we agreed that you should settle
all that yourself.'

'I had rather you came with me to see Mrs. Abbott. Shall it be Saturday?'

'Can't,' replied Alma, with a shake of the head and a smile. 'I have to
see Mr. Dymes.'

'Dymes? Who is he?'

'My agent.'

'Oh! very well; then I'll go alone.'

He would not permit himself any further inquiry. Alma had never spoken
to him of Dymes, her 'agent'. Harvey pictured an ill-shaven man in a
small office, and turned from the thought with disgust. Too late to
interpose, to ask questions; anything of that kind would but make him
seem small, ridiculous, fussy. He had chosen his course, and must pursue
it.

Not that Alma behaved in such a way as to suggest estrangement; anything
but so. Her manner was always amiable, frequently affectionate. When
they spent an evening together -- it did not often happen -- she talked
delightfully; avoiding, as did Harvey himself, the subjects on which
they were not likely to agree. Her gaze had all the old directness, her
smile was sweet as ever, and her laugh as melodious. If ever he felt
uneasy during her long absences in town, one of these evenings sufficed
to reassure him. Alma was Alma still, and could he but have reconciled
himself to the thought of her playing in public, she would have been yet
the wife he chose, frankly self-willed, gallantly independent.

Until a certain day at the end of March, when something happened of
which Harvey had no suspicion, but which affected Alma in a way he soon
perceived.

That morning he had left home early, and would not return till late.
Alma practised as usual, had luncheon alone, and was thinking of going
out, when the post delivered two letters -- one for herself from Dymes,
the other for her husband. A glance showed her that Harvey's
correspondent was Mrs. Abbott, and never till today had one of Mrs
Abbott's letters come into her hand. She regarded it with curiosity, and
the longer she looked the stronger her curiosity became. Harvey would of
course tell her what his friend wrote about -- as he always did; but the
epistle itself she would not be asked to read. And did she, as a matter
of fact, always know when Harvey heard from Mrs. Abbott? A foolish
question, probably; for if the correspondence were meant to be secret,
it would be addressed to Harvey at his club, not to the house. All the
same, a desire of years concentrated itself in this moment. Alma wished
vehemently to read one of Mary Abbott's letters with her own eyes.

She turned the envelope. It was of very stout paper, and did not look
quite securely gummed. Would not a touch of the finger -- almost ----?
Why, there, just as she thought; a mere touch, and the envelope came
open. 'Now, if I ever wrote a dangerous word,' mused Alma -- 'which I
don't, and never shall -- this would be a lesson to me.'

Well, it was open, and, naturally enough, the letter came forth. What
harm? There could be nothing in it that Harvey would wish to hide from
her. So, with hands that trembled, and cheeks that felt warm, she began
to read.

The letter was Mrs. Abbott's acknowledgment of the quarterly cheque she
received from Rolfe. Alma was surprised at the mention of money in the
first line, and read eagerly on. As Mary Abbott and her friend had seen
each other so recently, there was no need of a full report concerning
Minnie Wager (her brother had long since gone to a boarding-school), but
the wording allowed it to be understood that Harvey paid for the child,
and, what was more, that he held himself responsible for her future.
What could this mean? Alma pondered it in astonishment; gratified by the
discovery, but disturbed beyond measure by its mysterious
suggestiveness. The letter contained little more, merely saying, towards
the end, how very glad the writer would be to give her utmost care to
little Hugh when presently he came into her hands. Last of all --
'Please remember me kindly to Mrs. Rolfe.'

At this point of her life Alma had become habitually suspicious of any
relation between man and woman which might suggest, however remotely,
dubious possibilities. Innocence appeared to her the exception,
lawlessness the rule, where man and woman were restrained by no obvious
barriers. It was the natural result of her experience, of her
companionship, of the thoughts she deliberately fostered. Having read
the letter twice, having mused upon it, she leaped to a conclusion which
seemed to explain completely the peculiar intimacy subsisting between
Harvey and Mary Abbott. These two children, known as Albert and Minnie
Wager, were Harvey's offspring, the result of some _liaison_ before his
marriage; and Mrs. Abbott, taking charge of them for payment, had
connived at the story of their origin, of their pitiful desertion. What
could be clearer?

She did not go further in luminous conjectures. Even with her present
mind, Alma could not conceive of Mary Abbott as a wanton, of Harvey
Rolfe as a shameless intriguer; but it stung her keenly to think that
for years there had been this secret between them. Probably the matter
was known to Mrs. Abbott's husband, and so, at his death, it had somehow
become possible for Harvey to suggest this arrangement, whereby he
helped the widow in her misfortunes, and provided conscientiously for
his own illegitimate children. Harvey was so very conscientious about
children!

Did they resemble him? She had seen the little girl, but only once, and
without attention. She would take an early opportunity of going over to
Gunnersbury, to observe. But no such evidence was necessary; the facts
stared one in the face.

That Harvey should have kept this secret from her was intelligible
enough; most men, no doubt, would have done the same. But it seemed to
Alma only another proof of her husband's inability to appreciate her. He
had no faith in her as artist; he had no faith in her as woman. Had she
not felt this even from the very beginning of their intimate
acquaintance? Perhaps the first thing that awakened her interest in
Harvey Rolfe was the perception that he did not, like other men, admire
her unreservedly, that he regarded her with something of criticism. She
could attract him; she could play upon his senses; yet he remained
critical. This, together with certain characteristics which
distinguished him from the ordinary drawing-room man, suggestions of
force and individuality, drew her into singular relations with him long
before she dreamt that he would become her husband. And his attitude
towards her was unchanged, spite of passionate love-making, spite of the
tenderness and familiarity of marriage; still he viewed her with eyes of
tolerance, rather than of whole-hearted admiration. He compared,
contrasted her with Mary Abbott, for whose intellect and character he
had a sincere respect. Doubtless he fancied that, if this secret became
known to her, she would sulk or storm, after the manner of ordinary
wives. What made him so blind to her great qualities? Was it that he had
never truly loved her? Had it been owing to mere chance, mere drift of
circumstances, that he offered her marriage, instead of throwing out a
proposal such as that of Cyrus Redgrave at Bregenz?

Though but darkly, confusedly, intermittently conscious of the feeling,
Alma was at heart dissatisfied with the liberty, the independence, which
her husband seemed so willing to allow her. This, again, helped to
confirm the impression that Harvey held her in small esteem. He did not
think it worth while to oppose her; she might go her frivolous way, and
he would watch with careless amusement. At moments, it was true, he
appeared on the point of ill-humour; once or twice she had thought
(perhaps had hoped) that he could lay down the law in masculine fashion;
but no -- he laughed, and it was over. When, at the time of her misery
in Wales -- her dim jealousy of Mrs. Abbott, and revolt against the
prospect of a second motherhood -- she had subdued herself before him,
spoken and behaved like an everyday dutiful wife, Harvey would have none
of it. He wished -- was that the reason? -- to be left alone, not to be
worried with her dependence upon him. That no doubt of her fidelity ever
seemed to enter his mind, was capable of anything but a complimentary
interpretation; he simply took it for granted that she would be faithful
-- in other words, that she had not spirit or originality enough to defy
conventional laws. To himself, perhaps, he reserved a much larger
liberty. How could she tell where, in what company, his evenings were
spent? More than once he had been away from home all night -- missed the
last train, he said. Well, it was nothing to her; but his incuriousness
as to her own movements began to affect her sensibly, now that she
imagined so close a community of thoughts and interests between Harvey
and Mary Abbott.

Before his return tonight other letters had arrived for him, and all lay
together, as usual, upon his desk. Alma, trying to wear her customary
face, waited for him to mention that he had heard from Gunnersbury, but
Harvey said nothing. He talked, instead, of a letter from Basil Morton,
who wanted him to go to Greystone in the spring, with wife and child.

'You mustn't count on me,' said Alma.

'But after your concert -- recital -- whatever you call it; it would be
a good rest.'

'Oh, I shall be busier than ever. Mr. Dymes hopes to arrange for me at
several of the large towns.'

Harvey smiled, and Alma observed him with irritation she could scarcely
repress. Of course, his smile meant a civil scepticism.

'By-the-bye,' he asked, 'is Dymes the comic opera man?'

'Yes. I rather wondered, Harvey, whether you would awake to that fact.
He will be one of our greatest composers.'

She went on with enthusiasm, purposely exaggerating Dymes's merits, and
professing a warm personal regard for him. In the end, Harvey's eye was
upon her, still smiling, but curiously observant.

'Why hasn't he been here? Doesn't he think it odd that you never ask
him?'

'Oh, you know that I don't care to ask people. They are aware' -- she
laughed -- 'that my husband is not musical.'

Harvey's countenance changed.

'Do you mean that you tell them so?'

'Not in any disagreeable way, of course. It's so natural, now, for
married people to have each their own world.'

'So it is,' he acquiesced.

Alma would have gone to Gunnersbury the very next day, but she feared to
excite some suspicion in her husband's mind. He little imagined her
capable of opening his letters, and to be detected in such a squalid
misdemeanour would have overwhelmed her with shame. In a day or two she
would be going to Mrs. Rayner Mann's, to meet a certain musical critic
'of great influence', and by leaving home early she could contrive to
make a call upon Mrs. Abbott before lunching at Putney. This she did. She
saw little Minnie Wager, scrutinised the child's features, and had no
difficulty whatever in discerning Harvey's eyes, Harvey's mouth. Why
should she have troubled herself to come? It was very hard to control
her indignation. If Mrs. Abbott thought her rather strange, rather
abrupt, what did it matter?

At Mrs. Rayner Mann's she passed into a soothing and delicious
atmosphere. The influential critic proved to be a very young man,
five-and-twenty at most; he stammered with nervousness when first
addressing the stranger, but soon gave her to understand, more or less
humorously, that his weekly article was 'quite' the most important thing
in latter-day musical criticism, and that he panted for the opportunity
of hearing a new violinist of real promise. But Alma had not brought her
violin; lest she should make herself cheap, she never played now at
people's houses. The critic had to be satisfied with hearing her talk
and gazing upon her beauty. Alma was become a very fluent talker, and
her voice had the quality which fixes attention. At luncheon, whilst
half-a-dozen persons lent willing ear, she compared Sarasate's playing
of Beethoven's Concerto with that of Joachim, and declared that
Sarasate's _cadenza_ in the first movement, though marvellous for
technical skill, was not at all in the spirit of the work. The
influential writer applauded, drawing her on to fresh displays of
learning, taste, eloquence. She had a great deal to say about somebody's
'technique of the left hand', of somebody else's 'tonal effects', of a
certain pianist's 'warmth of touch'. It was a truly musical gathering;
each person at table had some exquisite phrase to contribute. The
hostess, who played no instrument, but doted upon all, was of opinion
that an executant should 'aim at mirroring his own nature in his
interpretation of a tone-poem'; whereupon another lady threw out remarks
on 'subjective interpretation', confessing her preference for a method
purely 'objective'. The influential critic began to talk about Liszt,
with whom he declared that he had been on intimate terms; he grew
fervent over the master's rhapsodies, with their 'clanging rhythm and
dithyrambic fury'.

'I don't know when I enjoyed myself so much,' said Alma gaily, as the
great young man pressed her hand at parting and avowed himself her
devoted admirer.

'My dear Mrs. Rolfe,' said the hostess privately, 'you were simply
brilliant! We are all looking forward so eagerly!'

And as soon as Alma was gone, the amiable lady talked about her to the
one remaining guest.

'_Isn't_ she delightful! I do so hope she will be a success. I'm afraid
so much depends upon it. Of course, you know that she is the daughter of
Bennet Frothingham? Didn't you know? Yes, and left without a farthing. I
suppose it was natural she should catch at an offer of marriage, poor
girl, but it seems to have been _most_ ill-advised. One never sees her
husband, and I'm afraid he is anything but kind to her. He _may_ have
calculated on her chances as a musician. I am told they have little or
nothing to depend upon. Do drum up your friends -- will you? It is to be
at Prince's Hall, on May the 16th -- I think. I feel, don't you know,
personally responsible; she would never have come out but for my
persuasion, and I'm so anxious for a success!'

The day drew near for Ada Wellington's debut. Alma met this young lady,
but they did not take to each other; Miss Wellington was a trifle
'loud', and, unless Alma mistook, felt fiercely jealous of any one
admired by Felix Dymes. As she could not entertain at their own house
(somewhere not far south of the Thames), Mrs. Wellington borrowed Dymes's
flat for an afternoon, and there, supported by the distinguished
composer, received a strange medley of people who interested themselves
in her daughter's venture. Alma laughed at the arrangement, and asked
Dymes if he expected her congratulations.

'Don't make fun of them,' said Felix. 'Of course, they're not _your_
sort, Alma. But I've known them all my life, and old Wellington did me
more than one good turn when I was a youngster. Ada won't make much of
it, but she'll squeeze in among the provincial pros after this send
off.'

'You really are capable of generosity?' asked Alma.

'I swear there's nothing between us. There's only one woman living that
I have eyes for -- and I'm afraid she doesn't care a rap about me; at
all events, she treats me rather badly.'

This dialogue took place in a drawing-room the evening before Miss
Wellington's day. Alma had declined to meet her agent a second time at
the Apollo Theatre; they saw each other, by arrangement, at this and
that house of common friends, and corresponded freely by post, Dymes's
letters always being couched in irreproachable phrase. Whenever the
thing was possible, he undisguisedly made love, and Alma bore with it
for the sake of his services. He had obtained promises from four
musicians of repute to take part in Alma's concert, and declared that
the terms they asked were lower than usual, owing to their regard for
him. The expenses of the recital, without allowing for advertisements,
would amount to seventy or eighty pounds; and Dymes guaranteed that the
hall should produce at least that. Alma, ashamed to appear uneasy about
such paltry sums, always talked as though outlay mattered nothing.

'Don't stint on advertisements,' she said.

'No fear! Leave that to me,' answered Felix, with a smile of infinite
meaning.

Ada Wellington could not afford to risk much money, and Alma thought her
announcements in the papers worth nothing at all. However, the pianist
was fairly successful; a tolerable audience was scraped together (at
Steinway Hall), and press notices of a complimentary flavour, though
brief, appeared in several quarters. With keen anxiety Alma followed
every detail. She said to herself that if _her_ appearance in public
made no more noise than this, she would be ready to die of
mortification. There remained a fortnight before the ordeal; had they
not better begin to advertise at once? Thus she wrote to Dymes, who
replied by sending her three newspapers, in each of which a paragraph of
musical gossip informed the world that Mrs. Harvey Rolfe was about to
give her first public violin recital at Prince's Hall. Mrs. Rolfe, added
the journalists in varying phrase, was already well known to the best
musical circles as an amateur violinist, and great interest attached to
her appearance in public, a step on which she had decided only after
much persuasion of friends and admirers. Already there was considerable
demand for tickets, and the audience would most certainly be both large
and distinguished. Alma laughed with delight.

The same day, by a later post, she received a copy of a 'society'
journal, addressed in a hand unknown to her. Guided by a red pencil
mark, she became aware of no less than a quarter of a column devoted to
herself. From this she might learn (if she did not already know it) that
Mrs. Harvey Rolfe was a lady of the utmost personal and social charm;
that her beauty was not easily described without the use of terms that
would sound extravagant; that as a violinist she had stood for a year or
two _facile princeps_ amid lady amateurs; that she had till of late
lived in romantic seclusion 'amid the noblest scenery of North Wales',
for the sole purpose of devoting herself to music; and that only with
the greatest reluctance had she consented to make known to the public a
talent -- nay, a genius -- which assuredly was 'meant for mankind'. She
was the favourite pupil of that admirable virtuoso, Herr Wilenski. At
Prince's Hall, on the sixteenth of May, all lovers of music would have,
&c, &c.

This batch of newspapers Alma laid before dinner on Harvey's desk, and
about an hour after the meal she entered the library. Her husband,
smoking and meditating, looked up constrainedly.

'I have read them,' he remarked, in a dry tone.

Alma's coldness during the last few weeks he had explained to himself as
the result of his failure to take interest in her proceedings. He knew
that this behaviour on his part was quite illogical; Alma acted with
full permission, and he had no right whatever to 'turn grumpy' just
because he disliked what she was doing. Only today he had rebuked
himself, and meant to make an effort to restore goodwill between them;
but these newspaper paragraphs disgusted him. He could not speak as he
wished.

'This is your agent's doing, I suppose?'

'Of course. That is his business.'

'Well, I won't say anything about it. If _you_ are satisfied, I have no
right to complain.'

'Indeed, I don't think you have,' replied Alma, putting severe restraint
upon herself to speak calmly. Thereupon she left the room.

Harvey rose to follow her. He took a step forward -- stood still --
returned to his chair. And they did not see each other again that night.

In the morning came a letter from Dymes. He wrote that a certain
newspaper wished for an 'interview' with Mrs. Rolfe, to be published next
week. Should the interviewer call upon her, and, if so, when? Moreover,
an illustrated paper wanted her portrait with the least possible delay.
Were her new photographs ready? If so, would she send him a dozen?
Better still if he could see her today, for he had important things to
speak of. Might he look for her at Mrs. Littlestone's at about four
o'clock?

At breakfast Alma was chatty, but she directed her talk almost
exclusively to Pauline Smith and to little Hugh, who now had his place
at table -- a merry, sunny-haired little fellow, dressed in a sailor
suit. Harvey also talked a good deal -- he, too, with Pauline and the
child. When Alma rose he followed her, and asked her to come into the
library for a moment.

'I'm a curmudgeon,' he began, facing her with nervous abruptness.
'Forgive me for that foolery last night, will you?'

'Of course,' Alma replied distantly.

'No, but in the same spirit, Alma. I'm an ass! I know that if you do
this thing at all, you must do it in the usual way. I wish you success
heartily, and I'll read with pleasure every scrap of print that praises
you.'

'I'm hurrying to town, Harvey. I have to go to the photographer, and see
Mr. Dymes, and all sorts of things.'

'The photographer? I hope they'll be tolerable; I know they won't do you
justice. Will you sit to a painter if I arrange it? Unfortunately, I
can't afford Millais, you know; but I want a good picture of you.'

'We'll talk about it,' she replied, smiling more pleasantly than of
late. 'But I really haven't time now.'

'And you forgive me my idiotics?'

She nodded and was gone.

In the afternoon she met Dymes at Mrs. Littlestone's, a house of much
society, for the most part theatrical. When they had moved aside for
private talk, he began by asking a brusque question.

'Who got that notice for you into the _West End_?'

'Why, didn't you?'

'Know nothing about it. Come, who was it?'

'I have no idea. I took it for granted ----'

'Look here, Alma, I think I'm not doing badly for you, and the least you
can do is to be straight with me.'

Alma raised her head with a quick, circuitous glance, then fixed her
eyes on the man's heated face, and spoke in an undertone: 'Please,
behave yourself, or I shall have to go away.

'Then you won't tell me? Very well. I chuck up the job. You can run the
show yourself.'

Alma had never looked for delicacy in Felix Dymes, and his motives had
from the first been legible to her, but this revelation of brutality
went beyond anything for which she was prepared. As she saw the man move
away, a feeling of helplessness and of dread overcame her anger. She
could not do without him. The only other man active on her behalf was
Cyrus Redgrave, and to seek Redgrave's help at such a juncture, with the
explanation that must necessarily be given, would mean abandonment of
her last scruple. Of course, the paragraph in the _West End_ originated
with him; since Dymes knew nothing about it, it could have no other
source. Slowly, but very completely, the man of wealth and social
influence had drawn his nets about her; at each meeting with him she
felt more perilously compromised; her airs of command served merely to
disguise defeat in the contest she had recklessly challenged. Thrown
upon herself, she feared Redgrave, shrank from the thought of seeing
him. Not that he had touched her heart or beguiled her senses; she hated
him for his success in the calculated scheme to which she had
consciously yielded step by step; but she was brought to the point of
regarding him as inseparable from her ambitious hopes. Till quite
recently her thought had been that, after using him to secure a
successful debut, she could wave him off, perhaps tell him in plain
words, with a smile of scorn, that they were quits. She now distrusted
her power to stand alone. To the hostility of such a man as Dymes --
certain, save at intolerable cost -- she must be able to oppose a higher
influence. Between Dymes and Redgrave there was no hesitating on
whatever score. This advertisement in the fashionable and authoritative
weekly paper surpassed Dymes's scope; his savage jealousy was sufficient
proof of that. All she could do for the moment was to temporise with her
ignobler master, and the humiliation of such a necessity seemed to
poison her blood.

She rose, talked a little of she knew not what with she knew not whom,
and moved towards the hostess, by whom her enemy was sitting. A glance
sufficed. As soon as she had taken leave, Dymes followed her. He came up
to her side at a few yards from the house, and they walked together,
without speaking, until Alma turned into the first quiet street.

'I give you my word,' she began, 'that I know nothing whatever about
that paper.'

'I believe you, and I'm sorry I made a row,' Dymes replied. 'There's no
harm done. I dare say I shall be hearing more about it.'

'I have some photographs here,' said Alma, touching her sealskin bag.
'Will you take them?'

'Thanks. But there's a whole lot of things to be arranged. We can't talk
here. Let's go to my rooms.'

He spoke as though nothing were more natural. Alma, the blood throbbing
at her temples, saw him beckon a crawling hansom.

'I can't come -- now. I have a dreadful headache.'

'You only want to be quiet. Come along.'

The hansom had pulled up. Alma, ashamed to resist under the eyes of the
driver, stepped in, and her companion placed himself at her side. As
soon as they drove away he caught her hand and held it tightly.

'I can't go to your rooms,' said Alma, after a useless resistance. 'My
head is terrible. Tell me whatever you have to say, and then take me to
Baker Street Station. I'll see you again in a day or two.'

She did not feign the headache. It had been coming on since she left
home, and was now so severe that her eyes closed under the torture of
the daylight.

'A little rest and you'll be all right,' said Dymes.

Five minutes more would bring them to their destination. Alma pulled
away her hand violently.

'If you don't stop him, I shall.'

'You mean it? As you please. You know what I ----'

Alma raised herself, drew the cabman's attention, and bade him drive to
Baker Street. There was a short silence, Dymes glaring and muttering
inarticulately.

'Of course, if you really have a bad headache,' he growled at length.

'Indeed I have -- and you treat me very unkindly.'

'Hang it, Alma, don't speak like that! As if I _could_ be unkind to
you!'

He secured her hand again, and she did not resist. Then they talked of
business, settled one or two matters, appointed another meeting. As they
drew near to the station, Alma spoke impulsively, with a bewildered
look.

'I shouldn't wonder if I give it up, after all.'

'Rot!' was her companion's amazed exclamation.

'I might. I won't answer for it. And it would be your fault.'

Stricken with alarm, Dymes poured forth assurances of his good
behaviour. He followed her down to the platform, and for a quarter of an
hour she had to listen, in torment of mind and body, to remonstrances,
flatteries, amorous blandishments, accompanied by the hiss of steam and
the roar of trains.

On reaching home she could do nothing but lie down in the dark. Her head
ached intolerably; and hour after hour, as often happens when the brain
is over-wearied, a strain of music hummed incessantly on her ear, till
inability to dismiss it made her cry in half-frenzied wretchedness.

With sleep she recovered; but through the next day, dull and idle, her
thoughts kept such a gloomy colour that she well-nigh brought herself to
the resolve with which she had threatened Felix Dymes. But for the
anticipation of Harvey's triumph, she might perhaps have done so.


CHAPTER 11


For several days she had not touched the violin. There was no time for
it. Correspondence, engagements, intrigues, whirled her through the
waking hours and agitated her repose. The newspaper paragraphs resulted
in a shower of letters, inquiring, congratulating, offering good wishes,
and all had to be courteously answered, lest the writers should take
offence. Invitations to luncheon, to dinner, to midnight 'at homes',
came thick and fast. If all this resulted from a few preliminary 'puffs'
what, Alma asked herself, would be the consequence of an actual success?
How did the really popular musicians contrive to get an hour a day for
the serious study of their art? Her severe headache had left behind it
some nervous disorder, not to be shaken off by any effort -- a new
distress, peculiarly irritating to one who had always enjoyed good
health. When she wrote, her hand was unsteady, and sometimes her eyes
dazzled. This would be alarming if it went on much longer; the day
approached, the great day, the day of fate, and what hope was there for
a violinist who could not steady her hand?

The 'interviewer' called, and chatted for half an hour, and took his
leave with a flourish of compliments. The musicians engaged to play with
her at Prince's Hall's came down to try over pieces, a trio, a duet; so
that at last she was obliged to take up her instrument -- with results
that did not reassure her. She explained that she was not feeling quite
herself; it was nothing; it would pass in a day or two. Sibyl Carnaby
had asked her and Harvey to dine next week, to meet several people; Mrs
Rayner Mann had arranged a dinner for another evening; and now Mrs
Strangeways, whom she had not seen for some weeks, sent an urgent
request that she would call in Porchester Terrace as soon as possible,
to speak of something 'very important'.

This summons Alma durst not disregard. Between Mrs. Strangeways and Cyrus
Redgrave subsisted an intimacy which caused her frequent uneasiness. It
would not have surprised her to discover that this officious friend knew
of all her recent meetings with Redgrave -- at the Crystal Palace and
elsewhere; and, but for her innocence, she would have felt herself at
the woman's mercy. That she had not transgressed, and was in no danger
of transgressing, enabled her to move with head erect among the things
unspeakable which always seemed to her to be lurking in the shadowed
corners of Mrs. Strangeways' house. The day was coming when she might
hope to terminate so undesirable an acquaintance, but for the present
she must show a friendly face.

She made this call at three o'clock, and was received in that
over-scented, over-heated boudoir, which by its atmosphere invariably
turned her thoughts to evil. The hostess rose languidly, with a pallid,
hollow-eyed look of illness.

'Only my neuralgic something or other,' she said, in reply to a
sympathetic inquiry. 'It's the price one pays for civilisation. I've had
two terrible days and nights, but it's over for the present. But for
that I should have written to you before. Why, _you_ don't look quite so
well as usual. Be careful -- do be careful!'

'I mean to be, if people will let me.'

'You have eight days, haven't you? Yes, just eight days. You ought to
keep as quiet as possible. We are all doing our best; but, after all,
success depends greatly upon yourself, you know.'

The voice, as always, seemed to fondle her, but Alma's ear detected the
usual insincerity. Mrs. Strangeways spoke in much the same way to numbers
of people, yet not quite so caressingly. Some interest she undoubtedly
had to serve by this consistent display of affection, and with all but
certainty Alma divined it. She shrank from the woman; it cost her an
unceasing effort not to betray dislike, or even hostility.

'Of course, you saw last week's _West End_?' pursued the hostess,
smiling. 'You know whose doing that was?'

'I only guessed that it _might_ be Mr. Redgrave's kindness.'

'I have the same suspicion. He was here the other day -- we talked about
you. You haven't seen him since then?'

'No.'

'He hinted to me -- just a little anxiety. I hardly know whether I ought
to speak of it.'

Alma looked an interrogation as unconcerned as she could make it, but
did not open her lips.

'It was with reference to -- your man of business. It seems he has heard
something -- I really don't know what -- not quite favourable to Mr
Dymes. I shall not offend you, dear?'

'I don't take offence, Mrs. Strangeways,' Alma answered, with a slight
laugh to cover her uneasiness. 'It's so old-fashioned.'

The hostess uttered a thin trill of merriment.

'One is always safe with people who have humour, dear. It _does_ make
life easier, doesn't it? Oh, the terrible persons who take everything
with tragic airs! Well, there's not a bit of harm in it. Between
ourselves, it struck me that our friend was just a little inclined to be
-- yes, you understand.'

'I'm afraid I don't.'

'I hate the word -- well, just a trifle jealous.'

Alma leaned back in her chair, glanced about her, and said nothing.

'Of course, he would never allow _you_ to suspect anything of the kind.
It will make no difference. You can count upon his utmost efforts. But
when one thinks how very much he has it in his power to do ----. That
bit of writing in the _West End_, you know -- only the highest influence
can command that kind of thing. The _West End_ can't be bought, I assure
you. And one has to think of the future. A good beginning is much, but
how many musicians are able to follow it up? My dear Alma, let me
implore you not to imagine that you will be able to dispense with this
kind of help.'

'Do you mean that Mr. Redgrave is likely to withdraw it?'

'Impossible for me to say, dear. I am only telling you how his
conversation struck me. He appeared to think -- to be apprehensive that
you might in future look to Mr. Dymes rather than to him. Of course, I
could say nothing -- I would not venture a syllable.'

'Of course not,' Alma murmured mechanically, her eyes wandering.

'Are you likely, I wonder, to see him in the next few days?'

'I hardly know -- I think not.'

'Then let me -- will you? -- let me contrive a _chance_ meeting here.'

Loathing herself, and burning with hatred of the woman, in whose hands
she felt powerless, Alma gave an assenting nod.

'I am sure it will be a measure of prudence, dear. I thought possibly
you might be seeing him at Mrs. Carnaby's. He is there sometimes, I
believe?'

Alma looked at the speaker, detecting some special significance in her
inquiry. She replied that Redgrave of course called upon Mrs. Carnaby --
but not often, she thought.

'No?' threw out Mrs. Strangeways. 'I fancied he was there a good deal; I
don't quite know why.'

'Have you met him there?'

'No. It's quite a long time since I called -- one has so many people to
see.'

Alma knew that Sibyl was now holding aloof from Mrs. Strangeways, and it
seemed not improbable that this had excited some ill-feeling in the
latter. But her own uneasiness regarding Sibyl's relations with
Redgrave, uneasiness never quite subdued; made her quick to note, and
eager to explore, any seeming suspicion on that subject in another's
mind. Mrs. Strangeways was a lover of scandal, a dangerous woman,
unworthy of confidence in any matter whatsoever. Common prudence, to say
nothing of loyalty to a friend, bade Alma keep silence; but the
subtly-interrogating smile was fixed upon her; hints continued to fall
upon her ear, and an evil fascination at length compelled her to speak.

'You know,' she said, as if mentioning an unimportant piece of news,
'that Mr. Redgrave has joined Mr. Carnaby in business?'

The listener's face exhibited a surprise of which there was no mistaking
the sincerity. Her very features seemed to undergo a change as the smile
vanished from them; they became on the instant hard and old, lined with
sudden wrinkles, the muscles tense, every line expressive of fierce
vigilance.

'In business? -- what business?'

'Oh, I thought you would have heard of it. Perhaps Mr. Redgrave doesn't
care to have it known.'

'My dear, I am discretion itself.'

Everything was told, down to the last detail of which Alma had any
knowledge. As she listened and questioned, Mrs. Strangeways resumed her
smiling manner, but could not regain the perfect self-command with which
she had hitherto gossiped. That she attached great importance to this
news was evident, and the fact of its being news to her brought fresh
trouble into Alma's thoughts.

'How very interesting!' exclaimed Mrs. Strangeways at length. 'Another
instance of Mr. Redgrave's kindness to his friends. Of course, it was
done purely out of kindness, and that is why he doesn't speak of it.
Quite amusing, isn't it, to think of him as partner in a business of
that kind. I wonder whether ----'

She broke off with a musing air.

'What were you wondering?' asked Alma, whose agitation increased every
moment, though the seeming tendency of her companion's words was to
allay every doubt.

'Oh, only whether it was _Mr_ Carnaby who first made known his
difficulties.'

'I am told so.'

'By Mrs. Carnaby? Yes, no doubt it was so. I don't think Mrs. Carnaby
could quite have -- I mean she is a little reserved, don't you think?
She would hardly have spoken about it to -- to a comparative stranger.'

'But Mr. Redgrave can't be called a stranger,' said Alma. 'They have been
friends for a long time. Surely you know that.'

'Friends in _that_ sense? The word has such different meanings. You and
Mr. Redgrave are friends, but I don't think you would care to tell him if
your husband were in difficulties of that kind -- would you?'

'But Sibyl -- Mrs. Carnaby didn't tell him,' replied Alma, with nervous
vehemence.

'No, no; we take that for granted. I don't think Mr. Carnaby is -- the
kind of man ----'

'What kind of man?'

'I hardly know him; we have met, that's all. But I should fancy he
wouldn't care to know that his wife talked about such things to Mr
Redgrave or any one else. There _are_ men' -- her voice sank, and the
persistent smile became little better than an ugly grin -- 'there _are_
men who don't mind it. One hears stories I shouldn't like to repeat to
you, or even to hint at. But those are very different people from the
Carnabys. Then, I suppose,' she added, with abrupt turn, 'Mr. Carnaby is
very often away from home?'

Trying to reply, Alma found her voice obstructed.

'I think so.'

'How very kind of Mr. Redgrave, wasn't it! Has he spoken about it to
_you_?'

'Of course not.'

'Naturally, he wouldn't. -- Oh, don't go yet, dear. Why, we have had no
tea; it isn't four o'clock. Must you really go? Of course, you are
overwhelmed with engagements. But do -- do take care of your health. And
remember our little scheme. If Mr. Redgrave could look in -- say, the day
after tomorrow? You shall hear from me in time. I feel -- I really feel
-- that it wouldn't be wise to let him think -- you understand me.'

With scarce a word of leave-taking, Alma hastened away. The air of this
room was stifling her, and the low cooing voice had grown more
intolerable than a clanging uproar. From Porchester Terrace she walked
into Bayswater Road, her eyes on the pavement. It was a sunny afternoon,
but there had been showers, and now again large spots of rain began to
fall. As she was opening her umbrella, a cabman's voice appealed to her,
and fixed her purpose. She bade him drive her to Oxford and Cambridge
Mansions.

Sibyl was not at home. The maid-servant could not say when she might
return; she had been absent since yesterday morning. Unable to restrain
herself, Alma inquired whether Mr. Carnaby was in town. He was not; he
had been away for several days.

On the morrow a letter from Sibyl came to Pinner. She was grieved to
hear that Alma had called during her absence. Was it anything of
importance, or would it keep till she and Harvey came to dine on
Saturday? 'I have been down to Weymouth -- not to enjoy myself, but to
see my mother. She _says_ she is very ill, and thinks it monstrous that
I don't feel inclined to devote myself to the care of her. Her illness,
I am sure, is nothing but discontent and bad temper, just because she
feels herself dropping out of society. She must get used to it. In any
case, we could never endure each other; and how can I be expected to
make any sacrifice for a mother who never gave me an hour of motherly
care from the day of my birth? But you know all about this, and don't
want to hear of it again just when you are so busy. If there is anything
in the world I can do for you, let me know at once.'

But for her conversation with Mrs. Strangeways, it would not have
occurred to Alma to doubt the truth of what Sibyl wrote; as it was, she
tortured herself with dark surmises. Jealousy without love, a passion
scarcely intelligible to the ordinary man, is in woman common enough,
and more often productive of disaster than the jealousy which originates
in nobler feeling. To suspect that she was the plaything of Sibyl's
subtlety, and that Redgrave smiled at her simplicity in never having
discovered an obvious rival, fired her blood to the fever point. She
could no longer balance probabilities; all the considerations which
hitherto declared for Sibyl's innocence lost their weight. Her
overexcited mind, her impaired health, were readily receptive of such
poison as distilled from the lips of Mrs. Strangeways. What she now
desired was proof. Only let evidence be afforded her, cost what it
might! After that, she saw her way.

No! Hugh Carnaby was assuredly not one of the men who wink at their
wives' dishonour, nor one of the men who go slinking for a remedy to
courts of law -- or she mistook him strangely

At receipt of the expected note from Porchester Terrace -- it said
merely, 'Pray be here, if possible, at three tomorrow afternoon' -- she
quivered with anticipation of seeing Redgrave. How it was to come about,
she did not ask, but Redgrave should not part from her before she had
obtained light upon his relations with Sibyl. She believed herself
irresistible if she chose to put forth all her power. With two men,
dangerous both of them, she had played the game of her own interests,
played it safely, and for a long time; she made them her instruments,
mocking at their hopes, holding them at arm's-length, in spite of all
their craft and their vehemence. Only a very clever woman could do this.
In giddiness of self-admiration, she felt everything to be possible.
Boldness was necessary -- far more boldness than she had yet dared to
use. The rivalry of such a woman as Sibyl could not be despised; it
threatened her ambitions. But in the struggle now to be decided she had
a supreme advantage; for Sibyl, having gained her object, assuredly had
paid its price. Hence her pretended absorption in study, hence the
revival of her friendliness; what were these things but blinds to
mislead the only woman whose observation she had much reason to fear?

How astonishing it now seemed to her that she could have accepted such
shallow explanations of Redgrave's partnership with Hugh Carnaby! Why,
Harvey himself, least suspicious of men, was perplexed, and avowed his
inability to understand it. As for Mrs. Strangeways -- a woman of the
world, if there was one -- the fact had but to be mentioned to her, and
on the moment she saw its meaning. No wonder the matter had been kept so
quiet. But for the honesty of the duped husband no one at all would have
heard of it.

Arriving at the house a little before her time, she found her hostess a
prey to vexation.

'My dear, he can't come. It's most annoying. Only an hour ago I had a
telegram -- look ----'

The despatch was from Coventry: 'Don't expect me. Detained on business.
Redgrave.' It rustled in Alma's hand, and she had much ado to keep
herself from tears of angry chagrin.

'He had promised to be here,' went on Mrs. Strangeways. 'I thought
nothing would have kept him away.'

'Do you mean,' asked Alma bluntly, 'that he knew I was coming?'

'I had said that I half expected you. Don't be vexed, dear. I did so
wish you to meet.'

'If he's at Coventry,' Alma continued, 'it must be on _that_ business.'

'It seems likely. Do sit down. You still look anything but yourself.
Pray, pray remember that you have only a day or two ----'

'Don't worry me, please,' said Alma, with a contemptuous gesture.

She had thrown off reserve, caring only, now the first step was taken,
to make all possible use of this woman whom she detested. Her voice
showed the change that had been wrought in her; she addressed her
hostess almost as though speaking to an inferior.

'What do you think it means, his keeping away?'

'Business, possibly. More likely -- the other thing I spoke of.'

In this reply Mrs. Strangeways modified her tone, discarding mellifluous
tenderness, yet not going quite so far as Alma in neglect of
appearances. She was an older woman, and had learnt the injudiciousness
of impulsive behaviour.

'Speak plainly -- it saves time. You think he won't care to meet me at
all again?'

'I don't say that. I should be very sorry indeed to think it. But -- to
speak as plainly as you wish, dear -- I know that someone must have said
unpleasant things to him about your -- your friendship with Mr. Dymes.'

'Are you hinting at anyone in particular?' Alma asked, salving her
self-respect with a poor affectation of haughtiness.

'Ask yourself, my dear, who is at all likely to give him such
information.'

'Information?' Alma's eyes flashed. 'That's a strange word to use. Do
you imagine there is any information of that kind to be given?'

'I spoke carelessly,' answered the other, smiling. 'Do sit down, dear
Mrs. Rolfe. I'm sure you will overtax your strength before Tuesday. I
meant nothing whatever, I assure you.'

Reluctantly Alma became seated, and the conversation was prolonged.
Without disguise they debated the probability that Redgrave was being
estranged from Alma by Sibyl Carnaby; of course, taking for granted
Sibyl's guilt, and presuming that she feared rivalry. From time to time
Alma threw out scornful assertion of her own security; she was bold to
the point of cynicism, and recklessly revealed herself. The other
listened attentively, still smiling, but without constraint upon her
features; at moments she appeared to feel something of admiration.

'There are several things in your favour,' she remarked deliberately,
when Alma had declared a resolve to triumph at all hazards. 'Above all
-- but one need not mention it.'

'What? I don't understand.'

'Oh, I'm sure you do! You alluded to it the other day. Some women have
such tiresome husbands.'

The look which accompanied this struck Alma cold. She sat motionless,
staring at the speaker.

'What do you mean? You think that my husband ----?'

'I meant only to encourage you, my dear.'

'You think that my husband has less sense of honour than Mr. Carnaby?'

Mrs. Strangeways looked wonderingly at her.

'How strange you are! Could I have dreamt of saying anything so
ill-mannered?'

'You implied it!' exclaimed Alma, her voice thrilling on the note of
indignation. 'How dare you so insult me! Is it possible that you have
such thoughts?'

Overcome by what seemed to her the humour of the situation, Mrs
Strangeways frankly laughed.

'I beg your pardon a thousand times, my dear Mrs. Rolfe! I have
misunderstood, I am afraid. You _are_ quite serious? Yes, yes, there has
been a misunderstanding. Pray forgive me.'

Alma rose from her chair. 'There _has_ been a misunderstanding. If you
knew my husband -- if you had once met him -- such a thought could never
have entered your mind. You compare him to his disadvantage with Mr
Carnaby? What right have you to do that? I believe in Mr. Carnaby's
honesty, and do you know why? -- because he is my husband's friend. But
for _that_, I should suspect him.'

'My dear,' replied Mrs. Strangeways, 'you are wonderful. I prophesy great
things for you. I never in my life met so interesting a woman.'

'You may be as sarcastic as you please,' Alma retorted, in a low,
passionate voice. 'I suppose you believe in no one?'

'I have said, dear, that I believe in _you_; and I shall think it the
greatest misfortune if I lose your friendship for a mere indiscretion.
Indeed, I was only trying to understand you completely.'

'You do -- now.'

They did not part in hostility. Mrs. Strangeways had the best of reasons
for averting this issue, at any cost to her own feelings, which for the
moment had all but escaped control. Though the complications of Alma's
character puzzled her exceedingly, she knew how to smooth over the
trouble which had so unexpectedly arisen. Flattery was the secret of her
influence with Mrs. Rolfe, and it still availed her. With ostentation of
frankness, she pointed a contrast between Alma and her presumed rival.
Mrs. Carnaby was the corrupt, unscrupulous woman, who shrank from nothing
to gratify a base selfishness. Alma was the artist, pursuing a
legitimate ambition, using, as she had a perfect right to do, all her
natural resources, but pure in soul.

'Yes, I understand you at last, and I admire you more than ever. You
will go far, my dear. You have great gifts, and, more than that, you
have principle. It is character that tells in the long run. And depend
upon me. I shall soon have news for you. Keep quiet; prepare yourself
for next Tuesday. As for all _that_ -- leave it to me.'

Scarcely had Alma left the house, when she suddenly stood still, as
though she had forgotten something. Indeed she had. In the flush of
loyal resentment which repelled an imputation upon her husband's honour,
she had entirely lost sight of her secret grievance against Harvey.
Suddenly revived, the memory helped her to beat down that assaulting
shame which took advantage of reaction in mind and blood. Harvey was not
honest with her. Go as far as she might, short of the unpardonable,
there still remained to her a moral superiority over the man she
defended. And yet -- she was glad to have defended him; it gave her a
sense of magnanimity. More than that, the glow of an honest thought was
strangely pleasant.

She had sundry people to see and pieces of business to transact. What a
nuisance that she lived so far from the centre of things! It was this
perpetual travelling that had disordered her health, and made everything
twice as troublesome as it need be. Today, again, she had a headache,
and the scene with Mrs. Strangeways had made it worse.

In Regent Street she met Dymes. She was not afraid of him now, for she
had learnt how to make him keep his distance; and after the great day,
if he continued to trouble her, he might be speedily sent to the
right-about. He made an inspiriting report: already a considerable
number of tickets had been sold -- enough, he said, or all but enough,
to clear expenses.

'What, advertising and all?' asked Alma.

'Oh, leave that to me. Advertising is a work of art. If you like just to
come round to my rooms, I'll ----'

'Haven't time today. See you at the Hall on Monday.'

A batch of weekly newspapers which arrived next morning, Saturday,
proved to her that Dymes was sufficiently active. There were more
paragraphs; there were two reproductions of her portrait; and as for
advertisements, she tried, with some anxiety, to conjecture the cost of
these liberal slices of page, with their eye-attracting type. Naturally
the same question would occur to her husband, but Harvey kept his word;
whatever he thought, he said nothing. And Alma found it easier to be
good-humoured with him than at any time since she had read Mary Abbott's
letter; perhaps yesterday's event accounted for it.

They dined at the Carnabys', the first time for months that they had
dined from home together. Harvey would have shirked the occasion, had it
been possible. With great relief, he found that the guests were all
absolute strangers to him, and that they represented society in its
better sense, with no suggestion of the 'half-world' -- no Mrs
Strangeways or Mrs. Rayner Mann. Alma, equally conscious of the fact,
viewed it as a calculated insult. Sibyl had brought her here to
humiliate her. She entered the doors with jealous hatred boiling in her
heart, and fixed her eyes on Sibyl with such fire of malicious scrutiny
that the answer was a gaze of marked astonishment. But they had no
opportunity for private talk. Sibyl, as hostess, bore herself with that
perfect manner which no effort and no favour of circumstance would ever
enable Mrs. Rolfe to imitate. Envying every speech and every movement,
knowing that her own absent behaviour and forced talk must produce an
unpleasant impression upon the well-bred strangers, she longed to expose
the things unspeakable that lay beneath this surface of social
brilliancy. What was more, she would do it when time was ripe. Only this
consciousness of power to crush her enemy enabled her to bear up through
the evening.

At the dinner-table she chanced to encounter Sibyl's look. She smiled.
There was disquiet in that glance -- furtive inquiry and apprehension.

No music. Alma would have doubted whether any of these people were aware
of her claim to distinction, had not a lady who talked with her after
dinner hinted, rather than announced, an intention of being present at
Prince's Hall next Tuesday. None of the fuss and adulation to which she
was grown accustomed; no underbred compliments; no ambiguous glances
from men. It angered her to observe that Harvey did not seem at all
wearied; that he conversed more naturally than usual in a mixed company,
especially with the hostess. One whisper -- and how would Harvey look
upon his friend's wife? But the moment had not come.

She left as early as possible, parting from Sibyl as she had met her,
with eyes that scarce dissembled their malignity.

When Hugh and his wife were left together, Sibyl abstained from remark
on Alma; it was Carnaby who introduced the subject. 'Don't you think Mrs
Rolfe looked seedy?'

'Work and excitement,' was the quiet answer. 'I think it more than
likely she will break down.'

'It's a confounded pity. Why, she has grown old all at once. She's
losing her good looks. Did you notice that her eyes were a little
bloodshot?'

'Yes, I noticed it. I didn't like her look at all.'

Hugh, as his custom was, paced the floor. Nowadays he could not keep
still, and he had contracted an odd habit of swinging his right arm,
with fist clenched, as though relieving his muscles after some unusual
constraint.

'By Jove, Sibyl, when I compare her with you! -- I feel sorry for Rolfe;
can't help it. Why didn't you stop this silly business before it went so
far?'

'That's a characteristic question, dear boy,' Sibyl replied merrily.
'There are more things in life -- particularly woman's life -- than your
philosophy ever dreamt of. Alma has quite outgrown me, and I begin to
suspect that she won't honour me with her acquaintance much longer.'

'Why?'

'For one thing, we belong to different worlds, don't you see; and the
difference, in future, will be rather considerable.'

'Well, I'm sorry. Rolfe isn't half the man he was. Why on earth didn't
_he_ stop it? He hates it, anyone can see. Why, if I were in his place
----'

Sibyl interrupted with her mellow laughter.

'You wouldn't be a bit wiser. It's the fate of men -- except those who
have the courage to beat their wives. You know you came back to England
at my heels when you didn't want to. Now, a little energy, a little
practice with the horsewhip ----'

Carnaby made pretence of laughing. But he turned away his face; the jest
had too serious an application. Yes, yes, if he had disregarded Sibyl's
wishes, and stayed on the other side of the world! It seemed to him
strange that she could speak of the subject so lightly; he must have
been more successful than he thought in concealing his true state of
mind.

'Rolfe tells me he has got a house at Gunnersbury.'

'Yes; he mentioned it to me. Why Gunnersbury? There must be some reason
they don't tell us.'

'Ask his wife,' said Hugh, impatiently. 'No doubt the choice is hers.'

'No doubt. But I don't think,' added Sibyl musingly, 'I shall ask Alma
that or anything else. I don't think I care much for Alma in her new
development. For a time I shall try leaving her alone.'

'Well, I'm sorry for poor old Rolfe,' repeated Hugh.


CHAPTER 12


On Monday morning Hugh Carnaby received a letter from Mrs. Ascott
Larkfield. It was years since Sibyl's mother had written to him, and the
present missive, scrawled in an unsteady hand, gave him some concern.
Mrs. Larkfield wrote that she was very ill, so ill that she had abandoned
hope of recovery. She asked him whether, as her son-in-law, he thought
it right that she should be abandoned to the care of strangers. It was
the natural result, no doubt, of her impoverished condition; such was
the world; had she still been wealthy, her latter days would not have
been condemned to solitude. But let him remember that she still had in
her disposal an income of about six hundred pounds, which, under
ordinary circumstances, would have passed to Sibyl; by a will on the
point of being executed, this money would benefit a charitable
institution. To him this might be a matter of indifference; she merely
mentioned the fact to save Sibyl a possible disappointment.

Hugh and his wife, when both had read the letter, exchanged uneasy
glances.

'It isn't the money,' said Carnaby. 'Hang the money! But -- after all,
Sibyl, she's your mother.'

'And what does _that_ mean?' Sibyl returned coldly. 'Shall I feel the
least bit of sorrow if she dies? Am I to play the hypocrite just because
this woman brought me into the world? We have always hated each other,
and whose fault? When I was a child, she left me to dirty-minded,
thieving servants; they were my teachers, and it's wonderful enough that
-- that nothing worse came of it. When I grew up, she left me to do as I
pleased -- anything so that I gave her no trouble. Do you wish me to go
and pretend ----'

'I tell you what -- I'll run down to Weymouth myself, shall I? Perhaps I
might arrange something -- for her comfort, I mean.'

Sibyl carelessly assented. Having business in town, Hugh could not start
till afternoon, but he would reach Weymouth by half-past six, and might
manage to be back again in time for Mrs. Rolfe's concert tomorrow.

'I shouldn't put myself to any inconvenience on that account,' said
Sibyl, smiling.

'Out of regard for Rolfe, that's all.'

He left home at eleven, transacted his business, and at half-past one
turned in for lunch at a Strand restaurant before proceeding to
Waterloo. As he entered, he saw Mrs. Rolfe, alone at one of the tables;
she was drawing on her gloves, about to leave. They met with friendly
greeting, though Hugh, from the look with which Mrs. Rolfe recognised
him, had a conviction that his growing dislike of her was fully
reciprocated. In the brief talk before Alma withdrew, he told her that
he was going down into the country.

'To Coventry?' she asked, turning her eyes upon him.

'No; to Weymouth. Mrs. Larkfield is no better, I'm afraid, and -- Sibyl
wants me to see her.'

'Then you won't be back ----'

'For tomorrow? -- oh yes, I shall certainly be back in time, unless
anything very serious prevents me. There's a good train from Weymouth at
10.10 -- gets in about half-past two. I shall easily get to Prince's
Hall by three.'

Alma again regarded him, and seemed on the point of saying something,
but she turned her head, rose, and rather hastily took leave. Hugh
remarked to himself that she looked even worse by daylight than in the
evening; decidedly, she was making herself ill -- perhaps, he added, the
best thing that could happen.

For his luncheon he had small appetite. The journey before him was a
nuisance, and the meeting at the end of it more disagreeable than
anything he had ever undertaken. What a simple matter life would be, but
for women! That Sibyl should detest her mother was perhaps natural
enough, all things considered; but he heartily wished they were on
better terms. He felt that Sibyl must have suffered in character, to
some extent, by this abnormal antipathy. He did not blame her; her
self-defence this morning proved that she had ground for judging her
mother sternly; and perhaps, as she declared, only by her own strength
and goodness had she been saved from the worst results of parental
neglect. Hugh did not often meditate upon such things, but just now he
felt impatience and disgust with women who would not care properly for
their children. Poor old Rolfe's wife, for instance, what business had
she to be running at large about London, giving concerts, making herself
ill and ugly, whilst her little son was left to a governess and
servants! He had half a mind to write a letter to old Rolfe. But no;
that kind of thing was too dangerous, even between the nearest friends.
Men must not quarrel; women did more than enough of that. Sibyl and Alma
had as good as fallen out; the less they saw of each other the better.
And now he had to face a woman, perhaps dying, who would doubtless rail
by the hour at her own daughter.

O heaven! for a breath of air on sea or mountain or prairie! Could he
stand this life much longer?

Driving to Waterloo, he thought of Mrs. Larkfield's bequest to the
charitable institution. Six hundred pounds might be a paltry income, but
one could make use of it. A year ago, to be sure, he would have felt
more troubled by the loss; at present he had reason to look forward
hopefully, so far as money could represent hope. The cycle business was
moving; as likely as not, it would ultimately enrich him. There was
news, too, from that fellow Dando in Queensland, who declared that his
smelting process, gradually improved, had begun to yield results, and
talked of starting a new company. Hugh's business of the morning had
been in this connection: by inquiry in the City he had learnt that
Dando's report might be relied upon, and that capital which had
seemingly vanished would certainly yield a small dividend this year. He
was thankful that he could face Mrs. Larkfield without the shame of
interested motives. Let her do what she liked with her money; he went to
see the woman merely out of humane feeling, sense of duty; and assuredly
no fortune-hunter had ever imposed upon himself a more distasteful
office.

On alighting at the station, he found that the only coin, other than
gold, which he had in his pocket was a shilling. In accordance with
usage, he would have given the cabman an extra sixpence, had he
possessed it. When the man saw a tender of his legal fare, he, also in
accordance with usage, broadened his mouth, tossed the coin on his palm,
and pointedly refrained from thanks. At another time Hugh might have
disregarded this professional suavity, but a little thing exasperated
his present mood.

'Well?' he exclaimed, in a voice that drew the attention of everyone
near. 'Is it your fare or not? Learn better manners, vicious brute!'

Before the driver could recover breath to shout a primitive insult, Hugh
walked into the station. Here, whilst his wrath was still hot, a man
tearing at full speed to catch a train on another platform bumped
violently against him. He clenched his fist, and, but for the gasped
apology, might have lost himself in blind rage. As it was, he inwardly
cursed railway stations, cursed England, cursed civilisation. His
muscles were quivering; sweat had started to his forehead. A specialist
in nervous pathology would have judged Hugh Carnaby a dangerous person
on this Monday afternoon.

He took his ticket, and, having some minutes to wait, moved towards the
bookstall. By his side, as he scanned the papers, stood a lady who had
just made a purchase; the salesman seemed to have handed her
insufficient change, for she said to him, in a clear, business-like
voice, 'It was half-a-crown that I gave you.'

At the sound of these words, Hugh turned sharply and looked at the
speaker. She was a woman of thirty-five, solidly built, well dressed
without display of fashion; the upper part of her face was hidden by a
grey veil, through which her eyes shone. Intent on recovering her money,
she did not notice that the man beside her was looking and listening
with the utmost keenness; nor, on turning away at length, was she aware
that Hugh followed. He pursued her, at a yard's distance, down the
platform, and into the covered passage which leads to another part of
the station. Here, perhaps because the footstep behind her sounded
distinctly, she gave a backward glance, and her veiled eyes met
Carnaby's. At once he stepped to her side. 'I don't think I can be
mistaken,' were his low, cautiously-spoken words, whilst he gazed into
her face with stern fixedness. 'You remember me, Mrs. Maskell, no doubt.'

'I do not, sir. You certainly _are_ mistaken.'

She replied in a voice which so admirably counterfeited a French accent
that Hugh could not but smile, even whilst setting his teeth in anger at
her impudence.

'Oh! that settles it. As you have two tongues, you naturally have two
names -- probably more. I happened to be standing by you at the
bookstall a moment ago. It's a great bore; I was just starting on a
journey; but I must trouble you to come with me to the nearest police
station. You have too much sense to make any fuss about it.'

The woman glanced this way and that. Two or three people were hurrying
through the passage, but they perceived nothing unusual.

'You have a choice,' said Carnaby, 'between my companionship and that of
the policeman. Make up your mind.'

'I don't think you will go so far as that, Mr. Carnaby,' said the other,
with self-possession and in her natural voice.

'Why not?'

'Because I can tell you something that will interest you very much --
something that nobody else can.'

'What do you mean?' he asked roughly.

'It refers to your wife; that's all I need say just now.'

'You are lying.'

'As you please. Let us go.'

She moved on with unhurried step, and turned towards the nearest
cab-rank. Pausing within sight of the vehicles, she looked again at her
companion.

'Would you rather have a little quiet talk with me in a four-wheeler, or
drive straight to ----?'

Hugh's brain was in commotion. The hint of secrets concerning his wife
had not its full effect in the moment of utterance; it sounded the
common artifice of a criminal. But Mrs. Maskell's cool audacity gave
significance to her words; the two minutes' walk had made Hugh as much
afraid of her as she could be of him. He stared at her, beset with
horrible doubts.

'Won't it be a pity to miss your train?' she said, with a friendly
smile. 'I can give you my address.'

'No doubt you can. Look here -- it was a toss-up whether I should let
you go or not, until you said _that_. If you had begged off, ten to one
I should have thought I might as well save myself trouble. But after
that cursed lie ----'

'That's the second time you've used the word, Mr. Carnaby. I'm not
accustomed to it, and I shouldn't have thought you would speak in that
way to a lady.'

He was aghast at her assurance, which, for some reason, made him only
the more inclined to listen to her. He beckoned a cab.

'Where shall we drive to?'

'Say Clapham Junction.'

They entered the four-wheeler, and, as soon as it began to move out of
the station, Mrs. Maskell leaned back. Her claim to be considered a lady
suffered no contradiction from her look, her movements, or her speech;
throughout the strange dialogue she had behaved with remarkable
self-command, and made use of the aptest phrases without a sign of
effort. In the years which had elapsed since she filled the position of
housekeeper to Mrs. Carnaby, she seemed to have gained in the externals
of refinement; though even at that time her manners were noticeably
good.

'Raise your veil, please,' said Hugh, when he had pulled up the second
window.

She obliged him, and showed a face of hard yet regular outline, which
would have been almost handsome but for its high cheek-bones and coarse
lips.

'And you have been going about all this time, openly?'

'With discretion. I am not perfect, unfortunately. Rather than lose
sixpence at the bookstall, I forgot myself. That's a woman's weakness;
we don't easily get over it.'

'What put it into your head to speak of my wife?'

'I had to gain time, had I not?'

In a sudden burst of wrath, Hugh banged the window open; but, before he
could call to the cabman, a voice sounded in his ear, a clear quick
whisper, the lips that spoke all but touching him.

'Do you know that your wife is Mr. Redgrave's mistress?'

He fell back. There was no blood in his face; his eyes stared hideously.

'Say that again, and I'll crush the life out of you!'

'You look like it, but you won't. My information is too valuable.'

'It's the vilest lie ever spoken by whore and thief.'

'You are not polite, Mr. Carnaby.'

She still controlled herself, but in fear, as quick glances showed. And
her fear was not unreasonable; the man glared murder.

'Stop that, and tell me what you have to say.'

Mrs. Maskell raised the window again.

'You have compelled me, you see. It's a pity. I don't want to make
trouble.'

'What do you know of Redgrave?'

'I keep house for him at Wimbledon.'

'You?'

'Yes. I have done so for about a year.'

'And does he know who you are?'

'Well -- perhaps not quite. He engaged me on the Continent. A friend of
his (and of mine) recommended me, and he had reason to think I should be
trustworthy. Don't misunderstand me. I am housekeeper -- _rien de plus_.
It's a position of confidence. Mr. Redgrave -- but you know him.'

The listener's face was tumid and discoloured, his eyes bloodshot. With
fearful intensity he watched every movement of Mrs. Maskell's features.

'How do you know I know him?'

'You've been at his place. I've seen you, though you didn't see me; and
before I saw you I heard your voice. One remembers voices, you know.'

'Go on. What else have you seen or heard?'

'Mrs. Carnaby has been there too.'

'I know that!' Hugh shouted rather than spoke. 'She was there with Mrs
Fenimore -- Redgrave's sister -- and several other people.'

'Yes; last summer. I caught sight of her as she was sitting in the
veranda, and it amused me to think how little she suspected who was
looking at her. But she has been there since.'

'When?'

Mrs. Maskell consulted her memory, and indicated a day in the past
winter. She could not at this moment recall the exact date, but had a
note of it. Mrs. Carnaby came at a late hour of the evening, and left
very early the next day.

'How are you going to make this lie seem probable?' asked Hugh, a change
of voice betraying the dread with which he awaited her answer; for the
time of which she spoke was exactly that when Redgrave had offered
himself as a partner in the firm of Mackintosh & Co. 'Do you want me to
believe that she came and went so that every one could see her?'

'Oh no. I was new to the place then, and full of curiosity. I have my
own ways of getting to know what I wish to know. Remember, once more,
that it's very easy to recognise a voice. I told you that I was in a
position of confidence. Whenever Mr. Redgrave wishes for quietness, he
has only to mention it; our servants are well disciplined. I, of course,
am never seen by visitors, whoever they may be, and whenever they come;
but it happens occasionally that I see _them_, even when Mr. Redgrave
doesn't think it. Still, he is sometime very careful indeed, and so he
was on that particular evening. You remember that his rooms have French
windows -- a convenient arrangement. The front door may be locked and
bolted, but people come and go for all that.'

'That's the bungalow, is it?' muttered Carnaby. 'And how often do you
pretend you have heard _her_ voice?'

'Only that once.'

It was worse than if she had answered 'Several times.' Hugh looked long
at her, and she bore his gaze with indifference.

'You don't pretend that you _saw_ her?'

'No, I didn't see her.'

'Then, if you are not deliberately lying, you have made a mistake.'

Mrs. Maskell smiled and shook her head.

'What _words_ did you hear?'

'Oh -- talk. Nothing very particular.'

'I want to know what it was.'

'Well, as far as I could make out, Mrs. Carnaby was going to get a
bicycle, and wanted to know what was the best. Not much harm in that,'
she added, with a silent laugh.

Hugh sat with his hands on his knees, bending forward. He said nothing
for a minute or two, and at length looked to the window.

'You were going back to Wimbledon?'

'Yes. I have only been in town for an hour or two.'

'Is Redgrave there?'

'No; he's away.'

'Very well; I am going with you. You will find out for me on what date
that happened.'

'Certainly. But what is the understanding between us?'

Hugh saw too well that any threat would be idle. Whether this woman had
told the truth or not, her position in Redgrave's house, and the fact of
Redgrave's connection with the firm of Mackintosh -- of which she
evidently was not aware -- put it in her power to strike a fatal blow at
Sibyl. He still assured himself that she was lying -- how doubt it and
maintain his sanity? -- but the lie had a terrible support in
circumstances. Who could hear this story without admitting the
plausibility of its details? A man such as Redgrave, wealthy and a
bachelor; a woman such as Sibyl, beautiful, fond of luxurious living;
her husband in an embarrassed position -- how was it that he, a man of
the world, had never seen things in this light? Doubtless his anxiety
had blinded him; that, and his absolute faith in Sibyl, and Redgrave's
frank friendliness. Even if he obtained (as he would) complete evidence
of Sibyl's honesty, Mrs. Maskell could still dare him to take a step
against her. How many people were at her mercy? He might be sure that
she would long ago have stood in the dock but for her ability to make
scandalous and ruinous revelations. Did Redgrave know that he had a
high-class criminal in his employment? Possibly he knew it well enough.
There was no end to the appalling suggestiveness of this discovery. Hugh
remembered what he had said in talk with Harvey Rolfe about the
rottenness of society. Never had he felt himself so much a coward as in
face of this woman, whose shameless smile covered secrets and infamies
innumerable.

The cabman was bidden drive on to Wimbledon, and, with long pauses, the
dialogue continued for an hour. Hugh interrogated and cross-examined his
companion on every matter of which she could be induced to speak, yet he
learned very little in detail concerning either her own life or
Redgrave's; Mrs. Maskell was not to be driven to any disclosure beyond
what was essential to her own purpose. By dint of skilful effrontery she
had gained the upper hand, and no longer felt the least fear of him.

'If I believed you,' said Carnaby, at a certain point of their
conversation, 'I should have you arrested straight away. It wouldn't
matter to me how the thing came out; it would be public property before
long.'

'Where would you find your witnesses?' she asked. 'Leave me alone, and I
can be of use to you as no one else can. Behave shabbily, and you only
make yourself look foolish, bringing a charge against your wife that
you'll never be able to prove. You would get no evidence from me.
Whether you want it kept quiet or want to bring it into court, you
depend upon my goodwill.'

They reached the end of the road in which was the approach to Redgrave's
house.

'You had better wait here,' said the woman. 'I shall be ten minutes or a
quarter of an hour. You needn't feel uneasy; I haven't the least
intention of running away. Our interests are mutual, and if you do your
part you can trust me to do mine.'

She stopped the cab, alighted, told the driver to wait, and walked
quickly down the by-road. Hugh, drawn back into a corner, sat with head
drooping; for a quarter of an hour he hardly stirred. Twenty minutes,
thirty minutes, passed, but Mrs. Maskell did not show herself. At length,
finding it impossible to sit still any longer, he sprang out, and paced
backwards and forwards. Vastly to his relief, the woman at length
appeared.

'He is there,' she said. 'I couldn't get away before.'

'Is he alone?'

'Yes. Don't do anything foolish.' Carnaby had looked as if he would move
towards the house. 'The slightest imprudence, and you'll only harm
yourself.'

'Tell me that date.'

She named it.

'I can't stay longer, and I advise you to get away. If you want to write
to me, you can do so without fear; my letters are quite safe. Address to
Mrs. Lant. And remember ----!'

With a last significant look she turned and left him. Hugh, mentally
repeating the date he had learnt, walked back to the cab, and told the
man to drive him to the nearest railway station, whichever it was.

When he reached home, some four hours had elapsed since his encounter
with Mrs. Maskell (or Mrs. Lant) at Waterloo; it seemed to him a whole
day. He had forgotten all about his purposed journey to Weymouth. One
sole desire had possession of him to stand face to face with Sibyl, and
to _see_ her innocence, rather than hear it, as soon as he had brought
his tongue to repeat that foul calumny. He would then know how to deal
with the creature who thought to escape him by slandering his wife.

He let himself in with his latchkey, and entered the drawing-room; it
was vacant. He looked into other rooms; no one was there. He rang, and a
servant came.

'Has Mrs. Carnaby been out long?'

She had left, was the reply, at half-past two. Whilst she sat at
luncheon a telegram arrived for her, and, soon after, she prepared to go
out, saying that she would not return tonight.

Not return tonight? Hugh scarcely restrained an exclamation, and had
much ado to utter his next words.

'Did she mention where she was going?'

'No, sir. I took the dressing-bag down to the cab, and the cabman was
told to drive to the post-office.'

'Very well. That will do.'

'Shall you dine at home, sir?'

'Dine? No.'

Sibyl gone away for the night? Where could she have gone to? He began to
look about for the telegram she had received; it might be lying
somewhere, and possibly would explain her departure. In the waste-paper
basket he found the torn envelope lying at the top; but the despatch
itself was not to be discovered.

Gone for the night? and just when he was supposed to have left town? The
cabman told to drive to the post-office? This might be for the purpose
of despatching a reply. Yet no; the reply would have been written at
once and sent by the messenger in the usual way. Unless -- unless Sibyl,
for some reason, preferred to send the message more privately? Or again,
she might not care to let the servant know whither the cab was really to
convey her.

Sheer madness, all this. Had not Sibyl fifty legitimate ways of spending
a night from home? Yet there was the fact that she had never before done
so unexpectedly. Never before ----?

He looked at his watch; half-past six. He rang the bell again.

'Has any one called since Mrs. Carnaby left home?'

'Yes, sir; there have been three calls. Mrs. Rolfe ----'

'Mrs. Rolfe?'

'Yes, sir. She seemed very disappointed. I told her Mrs. Carnaby would
not be back tonight.'

'And the others?'

Two persons of no account. Hugh dismissed them, and the servant, with a
wave of the hand.

He felt a faintness such as accompanies extreme hunger, but had no
inclination for food. The whisky bottle was a natural resource; a
tumbler of right Scotch restored his circulation, and in a few minutes
gave him a raging appetite. He could not eat here; but eat he must, and
that quickly. Seizing his hat, he ran down the stairs, hailed a hansom,
and drove to the nearest restaurant he could think of.

After eating without knowledge of the viands, and drinking a bottle of
claret in like unconsciousness, he smoked for half an hour, his eyes
vacantly set, his limbs lax and heavy, as though in the torpor of
difficult digestion. When the cigar was finished, he roused himself,
looked at the time, and asked for a railway guide. There was a train to
Wimbledon at ten minutes past eight; he might possibly catch it.
Starting into sudden activity, he hastily left the restaurant, and
reached Waterloo Station with not a moment to spare.

At Wimbledon he took a cab, and was driven up the hill. Under a clouded
sky, dusk had already changed to darkness; the evening was warm and
still. Impatient with what he thought the slow progress of the vehicle,
Hugh sat with his body bent forward, straining as did the horse, on
which his eyes were fixed, and perspiring in the imaginary effort. The
address he had given was Mrs. Fenimore's; but when he drew near he
signalled to the driver: 'Stop at the gate. Don't drive up.'

From the entrance to Mrs. Fenimore's round to the by-road which was the
direct approach to Redgrave's bungalow would be a walk of some ten
minutes. Hugh had his reasons for not taking this direction. Having
dismissed his cab, he entered by the lodge-gate, and walked up the
drive, moving quickly, and with a lighter step than was natural to him.
When he came within view of the house, he turned aside, and made his way
over the grass, in the deep shadow of leafy lime-trees, until the
illumined windows were again hidden from him. He had seen no one, and
heard no sound. A path which skirted the gardens would bring him in a
few minutes to Redgrave's abode; this he found and followed.

The bungalow was built in a corner of the park where previously had
stood a gardener's cottage; round about it grew a few old trees, and on
two sides spread a shrubbery, sheltering the newly-made lawn and
flower-beds. Here it was very dark; Hugh advanced cautiously, stopping
now and then to listen. He reached a point where the front of the house
became visible. A light shone at the door, but there was no movement,
and Hugh could hear only his own hard breathing.

He kept behind the laurels, and made a half-circuit of the house. On
passing to the farther side, he would come within view of those windows
which opened so conveniently, as Mrs. Maskell had said -- the windows of
Redgrave's sitting-room, drawing-room, study, or whatever he called it.
To this end it was necessary to quit the cover of the shrubs and cross a
lawn. As he stepped on to the mown grass, his ear caught a sound, the
sound of talking in a subdued tone; it came, he thought, from that side
of the building which he could not yet see. A few quick silent steps,
and this conjecture became a certainty: someone was talking within a few
yards of him, just round the obstructing corner, and he felt sure the
voice was Redgrave's. It paused; another voice made reply, but in so low
a murmur that its accents were not to be recognised. That it was the
voice of a woman the listener had no doubt. Spurred by a choking
anguish, he moved forward. He saw two figures standing in a dim light
from the window-door -- a man and a woman; the man bareheaded, his
companion in outdoor clothing. At the same moment he himself was
perceived. He heard a hurried 'Go in!' and at once the woman
disappeared.

Face to face with Redgrave, he looked at the window; but the curtain
which dulled the light from within concealed everything.

'Who was that?'

'Why -- Carnaby? What the deuce ----?'

'Who was _that_?'

'Who? -- what do you mean?'

Carnaby took a step; Redgrave laid an arresting hand upon him. There
needed but this touch. In frenzied wrath, yet with the precision of
trained muscle, Hugh struck out; and Redgrave went down before him --
thudding upon the door of the veranda like one who falls dead.


CHAPTER 13


He forced the window; he rushed into the room, and there before him,
pallid, trembling, agonising, stood Alma Rolfe.

'You?'

She panted incoherent phrases. She was here to speak with Mr. Redgrave on
business -- about her concert tomorrow. She had not entered the house
until this moment. She had met Mr. Redgrave in the garden ----

'What is that to me?' broke in Hugh, staring wildly, his fist still
clenched. 'I am not your husband.'

'Mr. Carnaby, you _will_ believe me? I came for a minute or two -- to
speak about ----'

'It's nothing to me, Mrs. Rolfe,' he again interrupted her, in a hoarse,
faint voice. 'What have I done?' He looked to the window, whence came no
sound. 'Have I gone mad? By God, I almost fear it!'

'You believe me, Mr. Carnaby?' She moved to him and seized his hand. 'You
know me too well -- you know I couldn't -- say you believe me! Say one
kind, friendly word!'

She looked distracted. Clinging to his hand, she burst into tears. But
Hugh hardly noticed her; he kept turning towards the window, with eyes
of unutterable misery.

'Wait here; I'll come back.'

He stepped out from the window, and saw that Redgrave lay just where he
had fallen -- straight, still, his face turned upwards. Hugh stooped,
and moved him into the light; the face was deathly -- placid, but for
its wide eyes, which seemed to look at his enemy. No blood upon the
lips; no sign of violence.

'Where did I hit him? He fell with his head against something, I
suppose.'

From the parted lips there issued no perceptible breath. A fear, which
was more than half astonishment, took hold upon Carnaby. He looked up --
for the light was all at once obstructed -- and saw Alma gazing at him.

'What is it?' she asked in a terrified whisper. 'Why is he lying there?'

'I struck him -- he is unconscious.'

'Struck him?'

He drew her into the room again.

'Mrs. Rolfe, I shall most likely have to send for help. You mustn't be
seen here. It's nothing to me why you came -- yes, yes, I believe you --
but you must go at once.'

'You won't speak of it?'

Her appeal was that of a child, helpless in calamity. Again she caught
his hand, as if clinging for protection. Hugh replied in thick, hurried
tones.

'I have enough trouble of my own. This is no place for you. For your own
sake, if not for your husband's, keep away from here. I came because
someone was telling foul lies -- the kind of lies that drive a man mad.
Whatever happens -- whatever you hear -- don't imagine that _she_ is to
blame. You understand me?'

'No word shall ever pass my lips!'

'Go at once. Get home as soon as you can.'

Alma turned to go. Outside, she cast one glance at the dark, silent,
unmoving form, then bowed her head, and hastened away into the darkness.

Again Hugh knelt by Redgrave's side, raised his head, listened for the
beating of his heart, tried to feel his breath. He then dragged him into
the room, and placed him upon a divan; he loosened the fastenings about
his neck; the head drooped, and there was not a sign of life. Next he
looked for a bell; the electric button caught his eye, and he pressed
it. To prevent any one from coming in, he took his stand close by the
door. In a moment there was a knock, the door opened, and he showed his
face to the surprised maid-servant.

'Is Mrs. Lant in the house?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Mr. Redgrave wants her at once; he is ill.'

The servant vanished. Keeping his place at the door, and looking out
into the hall, Hugh, for full two minutes, heard no movement; then he
was startled by a low voice immediately behind him.

'What are you doing here?'

The housekeeper, who had entered from the garden, and approached in
perfect silence, stood gazing at him; not unconcerned, but with full
command of herself.

'Look!' he replied, pointing to the figure on the divan. 'Is he only
insensible -- or dead?'

She stepped across the room, and made a brief examination by the methods
Carnaby himself had used.

'I never saw any one look more like dead,' was her quiet remark. 'What
have you been up to? A little quiet murder?'

'I met him outside. We quarrelled, and I knocked him down.'

'And why are you here at all?' asked the woman, with fierce eyes, though
her voice kept its ordinary level.

'Because of you and your talk -- curse you! Can't you do something? Get
some brandy; and send someone for a doctor.'

'Are you going to be found here?' she inquired meaningly.

Hugh drew a deep breath, and stared at the silent figure. For an instant
his face showed irresolution; then it changed, and he said harshly --
'Yes, I am. Do as I told you. Get the spirits, and send someone --
sharp!'

'Mr. Carnaby, you're a great blundering thickhead -- if you care for my
opinion of you. You deserve all you've got and all you'll get.'

Hugh again breathed deeply. The woman's abuse was nothing to him.

'Are you going to do anything!' he said. 'Or shall I ring for someone
else?'

She left the room, and speedily returned with a decanter of brandy. All
their exertions proved useless; the head hung aside, the eyes stared. In
a few minutes Carnaby asked whether a doctor had been sent for.

'Yes. When I hear him at the door I shall go away. You came here against
my advice, and you've made a pretty job of it. Well, you'll always get
work at a slaughter-house.'

Her laugh was harder to bear than the words it followed. Hugh, with a
terrible look, waved her away from him.

'Go -- or I don't know what I may do next. Take yourself out of my
sight! --out!'

She gave way before him, backing to the door; there she laughed again,
waved her hand in a contemptuous farewell, and withdrew.

For half an hour Carnaby stood by the divan, or paced the room. Once or
twice he imagined a movement of Redgrave's features, and bent to regard
them closely; but in truth there was no slightest change. Within doors
and without prevailed unbroken silence; not a step, not a rustle. The
room seemed to grow intolerably hot. Wiping the sweat from his forehead,
Hugh went to the window and opened it a few inches; a scent of
vegetation and of fresh earth came to him with the cool air. He noticed
that rain had begun to fall, large drops pattering softly on leaves and
grass and the roof of the veranda. Then sounded the rolling of carriage
wheels, nearer and nearer. It was the doctor's carriage, no doubt.

Uncertainty soon came to an end. Cyrus Redgrave was beyond help: he must
have breathed his last -- so said the doctor -- at the moment when he
fell. Not as a result of the fall; the blow of Carnaby's fist had killed
him. There is one stroke which, if delivered with sufficient accuracy
and sufficient force, will slay more surely than any other: it is the
stroke which catches an uplifted chin just at the right angle to drive
the head back and shatter the spinal cord. This had plainly happened.
The man's neck was broken, and he died on the spot.

Carnaby and the doctor stood regarding each other. They spoke in subdued
voices.

'It was not a fight, you say?'

'One blow from me, that was all. He said something that maddened me.'

'Shall you report yourself?'

'Yes. Here is my card.'

'A sad business, Mr. Carnaby, Can I be of any use to you?'

'You can -- though I hesitate to ask it. Mrs. Fenimore should be told at
once. I can't do that myself.'

'I know Mrs. Fenimore very well. I will see her -- if she is at home.'

On this errand the doctor set forth. As soon as he was gone, Hugh rang
the bell; the same domestic as before answered it, and again he asked
for Mrs. Lant. He waited five minutes; the servant came back, saying that
Mrs. Lant was not in the house. This did not greatly surprise him, but he
insisted on a repetition of the search. Mrs. Lant could not be found.
Evidently her disappearance was a mystery to this young woman, who
seemed ingenuous to the point of simple-mindedness.

'You are not to go into that room,' said Hugh. (They were talking in the
hall.) 'The doctor will return presently.'

And therewith he left the house. But not the grounds; for in rain and
darkness he stood watching from a place of concealment, watching at the
same time Redgrave's curtained window and the front entrance. His
patience was not overtaxed. There sounded an approaching vehicle; it
came up the drive and stopped at the front door, where at once alighted
the doctor and a lady. Hugh's espial was at an end. As the two stepped
into the house he walked quickly away.

Yes, he would 'report himself', but not until he had seen Sibyl. To that
end he must go home and wait there. The people at Wimbledon, who
doubtless would communicate with the police, might cause him to be
arrested before his wife's return. He feared this much more than what
was to follow. Worse than anything that could befall him would be to
lose the opportunity of speaking in private with Sibyl before she knew
what had happened.

In the early hours of the morning he lay down upon his bed and had
snatches of troubled sleep. Knowing that he was wrong in the particular
surmise which led him to Redgrave's house, Sibyl's absence no longer
disturbed him with suspicions; a few hours would banish from his mind
the last doubt of her, if any really remained. He had played the madman,
bringing ruin upon himself and misery incalculable upon his wife, just
because that thieving woman lied to him. She, of course, had made her
speedy escape; and was it not as well? For, if the whole story became
known, what hope was there that Sibyl would come out of it with
untarnished fame? Merely for malice' sake, the woman would repeat and
magnify her calumnies. If she successfully concealed herself, it might
be possible to avoid a mention of Sibyl's name. He imagined various
devices for this purpose, his brain plotting even when he slept.

To Alma Rolfe he gave scarcely a thought. If the worst were true of her,
Rolfe had only to thank his own absurdity, which allowed such a
conceited simpleton to do as she chose. The case looked black against
her. Well, she had had her lesson, and in _that_ quarter could come to
no more harm. What sort of an appearance was she likely to make at
Prince's Hall today? -- feather-headed fool!

Before five o'clock the sunlight streamed into his bedroom. Sparrows
twittered about the window, and somewhere close by, perhaps in a
neighbour's flat, a caged throstle piped as though it were in the
fields. Then began the street noises, and Hugh could lie still no
longer. Remembering that at any moment his freedom might come to an end,
he applied himself to arranging certain important matters. The housemaid
came upon him with surprise; he bade her get breakfast, and, when the
meal was ready, partook of it with moderate appetite.

The postman brought letters; nothing of interest for him, and for Sibyl
only an envelope which, as one could feel, contained a mere card of
invitation. But soon after nine o'clock there arrived a telegram. It was
from Sibyl herself, and -- from Weymouth.

'Why are you not here? She died yesterday. If this reaches you, reply at
once.'

He flung the scrap of paper aside and laughed. Of all natural
explanations, this, of course, had never occurred to him. Yesterday's
telegram told of Mrs. Larkfield's serious condition, and Sibyl had
started at once for Weymouth, expecting to meet him there. One word of
hers to the servant and he would simply have followed her. But Sibyl saw
no necessity for that word. She was always reserved with domestics.

By the messenger, he despatched a reply. He would be at Weymouth as soon
as possible.

He incurred the risk of appearing to run away; but that mattered little.
Sibyl could hardly return before her mother's burial, and by going
yonder to see her he escaped the worse danger, probably the certainty,
of arrest before any possible meeting with her in London. Dreading this
more than ever, he made ready in a few minutes; the telegraph boy had
hardly left the building before Hugh followed. A glance at the
timetables had shown him that, if he travelled by the Great-Western, he
could reach Weymouth at five minutes past four; whereas the first train
he could catch at Waterloo would not bring him to his destination until
half an hour later; on the other hand, he could get away from London by
the South-Western forty minutes sooner than by the other line, and this
decided him. Yesterday, Waterloo had been merely the more convenient
station on account of his business in town; today he chose it because he
had to evade arrest on a charge of homicide. So comforted was he by the
news from Sibyl, that he could reflect on this joke of destiny, and
grimly smile at it.

At the end of his journey he betook himself to an hotel, and immediately
sent a message to Sibyl. Before her arrival he had swallowed meat and
drink. He waited for her in a private room, which looked seaward. The
sight of the blue Channel, the smell of salt breezes, made his heart
ache. He was standing at the window, watching a steamer that had just
left port, when Sibyl entered; he turned and looked at her in silence.

'What are these mysterious movements?' she asked, coming forward with a
smile. 'Why did you alter your mind yesterday?'

'I wasn't well.'

He could say nothing more, yet. Sibyl's face was so tranquil, and she
seemed so glad to rejoin him, that his tongue refused to utter any
alarming word; and the more he searched her countenance, the more
detestable did it seem that he should insult her by the semblance of a
doubt.

'Not well? Indeed, you look dreadfully out of sorts. How long had I been
gone when you got home again?'

'An hour or two. But tell me first about your mother. She died before
you came?'

'Very soon after they sent the telegram.'

Gravely, but with no affectation of distress, she related the
circumstances; making known, finally, that Mrs. Larkfield had died
intestate.

'You are quite sure of that?' asked Hugh, with an eagerness which
surprised her.

'Quite. Almost with her last breath she talked about it, and said that
she _must_ make her will. And she had spoken of it several times lately.
The people there knew all about her affairs. She kept putting it off --
and as likely as not she wished the money to be mine, after all. I am
sure she must have felt that she owed me something.'

Carnaby experienced a profound relief. Sibyl was now provided for,
whatever turn his affairs might take. She had seated herself by the
window, and, with her gloved hands crossed upon her lap, was gazing
absently towards the sea. How great must be _her_ relief! thought Hugh.
And still he looked at her smooth, pure features; at her placid eyes, in
which, after all, he seemed to detect a little natural sadness; and the
accusation in his mind assumed so grotesque an incredibility that he
asked himself how he should dare to hint at it.

'Sibyl ----'

'Isn't there something you haven't told me?' she said, regarding him
with anxiety, when he had just uttered her name and then averted his
look. 'I never saw you look so ill.'

'Yes, dear, there is something.'

It was not often he spoke so gently. Sibyl waited, one of her hands
clasping the other, and her lips close set.

'I was at Wimbledon last night -- at Redgrave's.'

He paused again, for the last word choked him. Unless it were a tremor
of the eyelids, no movement betrayed itself in Sibyl's features; yet
their expression had grown cold, and seemed upon the verge of a
disdainful wonder. The pupils of her eyes insensibly dilated, as
though to challenge scrutiny and defy it.

'What of that?' she said, when his silence urged her to speak.

'Something happened between us. We quarrelled.'

Her lips suddenly parted, and he heard her quick breath; but the look
that followed was of mere astonishment, and in a moment, before she
spoke, it softened in a smile.

'This is your dreadful news? You quarrelled -- and he is going to
withdraw from the business. Oh, my dear boy, how ridiculous you are! I
thought all sorts of horrible things. Were you afraid I should make an
outcry? And you have worried yourself into illness about _this_? Oh,
foolish fellow!'

Before she ceased, her voice was broken with laughter -- a laugh of
extravagant gaiety, of mocking mirth, that brought the blood to her face
and shook her from head to foot. Only when she saw that her husband's
gloom underwent no change did this merriment cease. Then, with abrupt
gravity, which was almost annoyance, her eyes shining with moisture and
her cheeks flushed, she asked him ----

'Isn't that it?'

'Worse than that,' Hugh answered.

But he spoke more freely, for he no longer felt obliged to watch her
countenance. His duty now was to soften the outrage involved in
repeating Mrs. Maskell's fiction by making plain his absolute faith in
her, and to contrive his story so as to omit all mention of a third
person's presence at the fatal interview.

'Then do tell me and have done!' exclaimed Sibyl, almost petulantly.

'We quarrelled -- and I struck him -- and the blow was fatal.'

'Fatal? -- you mean he was killed?'

The blood vanished from her face, leaving pale horror.

'A terrible accident -- a blow that happened to -- I couldn't believe it
till the doctor came and said he was dead.'

'But tell me more. What led to it? How could you strike Mr. Redgrave?'

Sibyl had all at once subdued her voice to an excessive calmness. Her
hands were trembling; she folded them again upon her lap. Every line of
her face, every muscle of her body, declared the constraint in which she
held herself. This, said Hugh inwardly, was no more than he had
expected; disaster made noble proof of Sibyl's strength.

'I'll tell you from the beginning.'

He recounted faithfully the incidents at Waterloo Station, and the
beginning of Mrs. Maskell's narrative in the cab. At the disclosure of
her relations with Redgrave, he was interrupted by a short, hard laugh.

'I couldn't help it, Hugh. That woman! -- why, you have always said you
were sure to meet her somewhere. Housekeeper at Mr. Redgrave's! We know
what the end of that would be!'

Sibyl talked rapidly, in an excited chatter -- the kind of utterance
never heard upon her lips.

'It was strange,' Hugh continued. 'Seems to have been mere chance. Then
she began to say that she had learnt some of Redgrave's secrets -- about
people who came and went mysteriously. And then -- Sibyl, I can't speak
the words. It was the foulest slander that she could have invented. She
meant to drive me mad, and she succeeded -- curse her!'

Drops of anguish stood upon his forehead. He sprang up and crossed the
room. Turning again, he saw his wife gazing at him, as if in utmost
perplexity.

'Hugh, I don't in the least understand you. What _was_ the slander?
Perhaps lam stupid -- but ----'

He came near, but could not look her in the eyes.

'My dearest' -- his voice shook -- 'it was an infamous lie about _you_
-- that _you_ had been there ----'

'Why, of course I have! You know that I have.'

'She meant more than that. She said you had been there secretly -- at
night ----'

Hugh Carnaby -- the man who had lived as high-blooded men do live, who
had laughed by the camp-fire or in the club smoking-room at many a
Rabelaisian story and capped it with another, who hated mock modesty,
was all for honest openness between man and woman -- stood in guilty
embarrassment before his own wife's face of innocence. It would have
been a sheer impossibility for him to ask her where and how she spent a
certain evening last winter; Sibyl, now as ever, was his ideal of chaste
womanhood. He scorned himself for what he had yet to tell.

Sibyl was gazing at him, steadily, inquiringly.

'She made you believe this?' fell upon the silence, in her softest,
clearest tones.

'No! She couldn't make me _believe_ it. But the artful devil had such a
way of talking ----'

'I understand. You didn't know whether to believe or not. Just tell me,
please, what proof she offered you.'

Hugh hung his head.

'She had heard you talking -- in the house -- on a certain ----'

He looked up timidly, and met a flash of derisive scorn.

'She heard me talking? Hugh, I really don't see much art in this. You
seem to have been wrought upon rather easily. It never occurred to you,
I suppose, to ask for a precise date?'

He mentioned the day, and Sibyl, turning her head a little, appeared to
reflect.

'It's unfortunate; I remember nothing whatever of that date. I'm afraid,
Hugh, that I couldn't possibly prove an alibi.'

Her smiling sarcasm made the man wince. His broad shoulders shrank
together; he stood in an awkward, swaying posture.

'Dear, I told her she lied!'

'That was very courageous. But what came next? You had the happy idea of
going to Wimbledon to make personal inquiries?'

'Try to put yourself in my place, Sibyl,' he pleaded. 'Remember all the
circumstances. Can't you see the danger of such a lie as that? I went
home, hoping to find you there. But you had gone, and nobody knew where
-- you wouldn't be back that night. A telegram had called you away, I
was told. When I asked where you told the cabman to drive you to -- the
post-office.'

'Oh, it looked very black! -- yes, yes, I quite understand. The facts
are so commonplace that I'm really ashamed to mention them. At
luncheon-time came an urgent telegram from Weymouth. I sent no reply
then, because I thought I knew that you were on your way. But when I was
ready to start, it occurred to me that I should save you trouble by
wiring that I should join you as soon as possible -- so I drove to the
post-office before going to Paddington. -- Well, you rushed off to
Wimbledon?'

'Not till later, and because I was suffering damnably. If I hadn't --
been what would it have meant? When a man thinks as much of his wife as
I do of you ----'

'He has a right to imagine anything of her,' she interrupted in a
changed tone, gently reproachful, softening to tenderness. A Singularity
of Sibyl's demeanour was that she seemed utterly forgetful of the dire
position in which her husband stood. One would have thought that she had
no concern beyond the refutation of an idle charge, which angered her
indeed, but afforded scope for irony, possibly for play of wit. For the
moment, Hugh himself had almost forgotten the worst; but he was bidden
to proceed, and again his heart sank.

'I went there in the evening. Redgrave happened to be outside -- in that
veranda of his. I saw him as I came near in the dark, and I fancied that
-- that he had been talking to someone in the room -- through the
folding windows. I went up to him quickly, and as soon as he saw me he
pulled the window to. After that -- I only remember that I was raving
mad. He seemed to want to stop me, and I struck at him -- and that was
the end.'

Sibyl shuddered.

'You went into the room?'

'Yes. No one was there.'

Both kept silence. Sibyl had become very grave, and was thinking
intently. Then, with a few brief questions, vigilant, precise, she
learnt all that had taken place between Hugh and Mrs. Maskell, between
Hugh and the doctor; heard of the woman's disappearance, and of Mrs
Fenimore's arrival on the scene.

'What shall you do now?'

'Go back and give myself up. What else _can_ I do?'

'And tell everything -- as you have told it to me?'

Hugh met her eyes and moved his arms in a gesture of misery.

'No! I will think of something. He is dead, and can't contradict; and
the woman will hide -- trust her. Your name shan't come into it at all.
I owe you that, Sibyl. I'll find some cause for a quarrel with him. Your
name shan't be spoken.'

She listened, her eyes down, her forehead lined in thought.

'I know what!' Hugh exclaimed, with gloomy resolve. 'That woman -- of
course, there'll be a mystery, and she'll be searched for. Why' -- he
blustered against his shame -- 'why shouldn't she be the cause of it?
Yes, that would do.'

His hoarse laugh caused a tremor in Sibyl; she rose and stepped close to
him, and laid a hand upon his shoulder.

'So far you have advised yourself. Will you let me advise you now,
dear?'

'Wouldn't that seem likely?'

'I think not. And if it _did_ -- what is the result? You will be dealt
with much more severely. Don't you see that?'

'What's that to me? What do I care so long as you are out of the vile
business? You will have no difficulties. Your mother's money; and then
Mackintosh ----'

'And is that all?' asked Sibyl, with a look which seemed to wonder
profoundly. 'Am I to think only of my own safety?'

'It's all my cursed fault -- just because I'm a fierce, strong brute,
who ought to be anywhere but among civilised people. I've killed the man
who meant me nothing but kindness. Am I going to drag _your_ name into
the mud -- to set people grinning and winking ----'

'Be quiet, Hugh, and listen. I have a much clearer head than yours, poor
boy. There's only one way of facing this scandal, and that is to tell
everything. For one thing, I shall not let you shield that woman -- we
shall catch her yet. I shall not let you disgrace yourself by inventing
squalid stories. Don't you see, too, that the disgrace would be shared
by -- by the dead man? Would that be right? And another thing -- if
shame comes upon you, do you think I have no part in it? We have to face
it out with the truth.'

'You don't know what that means,' he answered, with a groan. 'You don't
know the world.'

Sibyl did not smile, but her lips seemed only to check themselves when
the smile was half born.

'I know enough of it, Hugh, to despise it; and I know you much better
than you know yourself. You are not one of the men who can tell lies and
make them seem the truth. I don't think my name will suffer. I shall
stand by you from first to last. The real true story can't possibly be
improved upon. That woman had every motive for deceiving you, and her
disappearance is all against her. You have to confess your
hot-headedness -- that can't be helped. You tell everything -- even down
to the mistake about the telegram. I shall go with you to the
police-station; I shall be at the inquest; I shall be at the court. It's
the only chance.'

'Good God! how can I let you do this?'

'You had rather, then, that I seemed to hide away? You had rather set
people thinking that there is coldness between us? We must go up
tonight. Look out the trains, quick.'

'But your mother, Sibyl ----'

'She is dead; she cares nothing. I have to think of my husband.'

Hugh caught her and crushed her in his arms.

'My darling, worse than killing a man who never harmed me was to think
wrong of you!'

Her face had grown very pale. She closed her eyes, smiled faintly as she
leaned her head against him, and of a sudden burst into tears.


CHAPTER 14


'It shows one's ignorance of such matters,' said Harvey Rolfe, with
something of causticity in his humour, when Alma came home after
midnight. 'I should have thought that, by way of preparing for tomorrow,
you would have quietly rested today.'

He looked round at her. Alma had entered the study as usual, and was
taking off her gloves; but the effort of supporting herself seemed too
great, she trembled towards the nearest chair, and affected to laugh at
her feebleness as she sank down.

'Rest will come _after_,' she said, in such a voice as sounds from a
parched and quivering throat.

'I'll take good care of that,' Harvey remarked. 'To look at you is
almost enough to make me play the brutal husband, and say that I'll be
hanged if you go out tomorrow at all.'

She laughed -- a ghostly merriment.

'Where have you been?'

'Oh, at several places. I met Mr. Carnaby at lunch,' she added quickly.
'He told me he was going somewhere -- I forget -- oh, to Weymouth, to
see Mrs. Larkfield.'

Harvey was watching her, and paid little attention to the news.

'Do you know, it wouldn't much surprise me if you couldn't get up
tomorrow morning, let alone play at a concert. Well, I won't keep you
talking. Go to bed.'

'Yes.'

She rose, but instead of turning to the door, moved towards where Harvey
was sitting.

'Don't be angry with me,' she murmured in a shamefaced way. 'It wasn't
very wise -- I've over-excited myself but I shall be all right tomorrow;
and afterwards I'll behave more sensibly -- I promise ----'

He nodded; but Alma bent over him, and touched his forehead with her
lips.

'You're in a fever, I suppose you know?'

'I shall be all right tomorrow. Goodnight, dear.'

In town, this morning, she had called at a chemist's, and purchased a
little bottle of something in repute for fashionable disorder of the
nerves. Before lying down she took the prescribed dose, though with
small hope that it would help her to a blessed unconsciousness. Another
thing she did which had not occurred to her for many a night: she knelt
by the bedside, and half thought, half whispered through tearless sobs,
a petition not learnt from any book, a strange half-heathen blending of
prayer for moral strength, and entreaty for success in a worldly desire.
Her mind shook perilously in its balance. It was well for Alma that the
fashionable prescription did not fail her. In the moment of despair,
when she had turned and turned again upon her pillow, haunted by a
vision in the darkness, tortured by the never-ending echo of a dreadful
voice, there fell upon her a sudden quiet; her brain was soothed by a
lulling air from dreamland; her limbs relaxed, and forgot their aching
weariness; she sighed and slept.

'I am much better this morning,' she said at breakfast. 'Not a trace of
fever -- no headache.'

'And a face the colour of the table-cloth,' added Harvey.

There was a letter from Mrs. Frothingham, conveying good wishes not very
fervently expressed. She had decided not to come up for the concert,
feeling that the excitement would be too much for her; but Alma
suspected another reason.

She had not asked her husband whether he meant to have a seat in
Prince's Hall this afternoon; she still waited for him to speak about
it. After breakfast he asked her when she would start for town. At noon,
she replied. Every arrangement had been completed; it would be enough if
she reached the Hall half an hour before the time of the recital, and
after a light luncheon at a neighbouring restaurant.

'Then we may as well go together,' said her husband.

'You mean to come, then?' she asked dreamily.

'I shall go in at the last moment -- a seat at the back.'

Anything but inclined for conversation, Alma acquiesced. For the next
hour or two she kept in solitude, occasionally touching her violin, but
always recurring to an absent mood, a troubled reverie. She could not
fix her thoughts upon the trial that was before her. In a vague way she
feared it; but another fear, at times amounting to dread, dimmed the
day's event into insignificance. The morning's newspapers were before
her, sent, no doubt, by Dymes's direction, and she mused over the
eye-attracting announcements of her debut. 'Mrs. Harvey Rolfe's First
Violin Recital, Prince's Hall, this afternoon, at 3.' It gave her no
more gratification than if the name had been that of a stranger.

The world had grown as unreal as a nightmare. People came before her
mind, people the most intimately known, and she seemed but faintly to
recognise them. They were all so much changed since yesterday. Their
relations to each other and to her were altered, confused. Scarce one of
them she could regard without apprehension or perplexity.

What faces would show before her when she advanced upon the platform?
Would she behold Sibyl, or Hugh Carnaby, or Cyrus Redgrave? Their
presence would all but convince her that she had passed some hours of
yesterday in delirium. They might be present; for was not she -- she
herself -- about to step forward and play in public? Their absence --
what would it mean? Where were they at this moment? What had happened in
the life of each since last she saw them?

When it was time to begin to dress, she undertook the task with effort,
with repugnance. She would have chosen to sit here, in a drowsy
idleness, and let the hours go by. On her table stood the little vial
with its draught of oblivion. Oh to drink of it again, and to lay her
head upon the pillow and outsleep the day!

Nevertheless, when she had exerted herself, and was clad in the fresh
garments of spring, the mirror came to her help. She was pale yet; but
pallor lends distinction to features that are not commonplace, and no
remark of man or woman had ever caused her to suspect that her face was
ordinary. She posed before the glass, holding her violin, and the
picture seemed so effective that she began to regain courage. A dreadful
thing had happened -- perhaps more dreadful than she durst imagine --
but her own part in it was nothing worse than folly and misfortune. She
had no irreparable sin to hide. Her moment of supreme peril was past,
and would not return. If now she could but brace her nerves, and pass
successfully through the ordeal of the next few hours, the victory for
which she had striven so hard, and had risked so much, would at length
be won. Everything dark and doubtful she must try to forget. Success
would give her new strength; to fail, under any circumstances
ignominious, would at this crisis of her life he a disaster fraught with
manifold and intolerable shame.

She played a few notes. Her hand was steady once more; she felt her
confidence revive. Whenever she had performed before an audience, it had
always seemed to her that she must inevitably break down; yet at the
last minute came power and self-control. So it would be today. The
greater the demand upon her, so much the surer her responsive energy.
She would not see faces. When all was over, let the news be disclosed,
the worst that might be waiting; between now and then lay an infinity of
time.

So, when she went downstairs to meet Harvey, the change in her
appearance surprised him. He had expected a bloodless countenance, a
tremulous step; hut Alma came towards him with the confident carriage of
an earlier day, with her smile of superiority, her look that invited or
demanded admiration.

'Well? You won't be ashamed of me?'

'To tell the truth,' said Harvey, 'I was going because I feared someone
would have to look after you in the middle of the affair. If there's no
danger of that, I think I shall not go into the place at all.'

'Why?'

'I don't care for it. I prefer to hear you play in private.'

'You needn't have the least fear for me,' said Alma loftily.

'Very well. We'll lunch together, as we arranged, and I'll be at the
door with a cab for you after the people have gone.'

'Why should you trouble?'

'I had rather, if you don't mind.'

They drove from Baker Street to the Hall, where Alma alighted for a
minute to leave her instrument, and thence to a restaurant not far away.
Alma felt no appetite, but the necessity of supporting her strength
obliged her to choose some suitable refreshment. When their order had
been given, Harvey laid his hand upon an evening newspaper, just
arrived, which the waiter had thrown on to the next table. He opened it,
not with any intention of reading, but because he had no mind to talk;
Alma's name, exhibited in staring letters at the entrance of the public
building, had oppressed him with a sense of degradation; he felt
ignoble, much as a man might feel who had consented to his own
dishonour. As his eyes wandered over the freshly-printed sheet, they
were arrested by a couple of bold headlines: 'Sensational Affair at
Wimbledon -- Mysterious Death of a Gentleman'. He read the paragraph,
and turned to Alma with a face of amazement.

'Look there -- read that ----'

Alma took the paper. She had an instantaneous foreboding of what she was
to see; her heart stood still, and her eyes dazzled, but at length she
read. On the previous evening (said the report), a gentleman residing at
Wimbledon, and well known in fashionable circles, Mr. Cyrus Redgrave, had
met his death under very strange and startling circumstances. Only a few
particulars could as yet be made public; but it appeared that, about
nine o'clock in the evening, a medical man had been hastily summoned to
Mr. Redgrave's house, and found that gentleman lying dead in a room that
opened upon the garden. There was present another person, a friend of
the deceased (name not mentioned), who made a statement to the effect
that, in consequence of a sudden quarrel, he had struck Mr. Redgrave with
his fist, knocking him down, and, as it proved, killing him on the spot.
Up to the present moment no further details were obtainable, but it was
believed that the self-accused assailant had put himself in
communication with the police. There was a rumour, too, which might or
might not have any significance, that Mr. Redgrave's housekeeper had
suddenly left the house and could not be traced.

'Dead?'

The word fell from her lips involuntarily.

'And who killed him?' said Harvey, just above his breath.

'It isn't known -- there's no name ----'

'No. But I had a sudden thought. Absurd -- impossible ----'

As Harvey whispered the words, a waiter drew near with the luncheon. It
was arranged upon the table, but lay there disregarded. Alma took up the
newspaper again. In a moment she leaned towards her husband.

'What did you think?'

'Nothing -- don't talk about it.'

Two glasses of wine had been poured out; Harvey took his and drank it
off.

'It's a pity I saw this,' he said; 'it has shaken your nerves. I ought
to have kept it to myself.'

Alma dipped a spoon in the soup before her, and tried to swallow. Her
hand did not tremble; the worst had come and gone in a few seconds; but
her palate refused food. She drank wine, and presently became so
collected, so quiet, that she wondered at herself. Cyrus Redgrave was
dead -- dead! -- the word kept echoing in her mind. As soon as she
understood and believed the fact of Redgrave's death, it became the
realisation of a hope which she had entertained without knowing it. Only
by a great effort could she assume the look of natural concern; had she
been in solitude, her face would have relaxed like that of one who is
suddenly relieved from physical torment. She gave no thought to wider
consequences: she saw the event only as it affected herself in her
relations with the dead man. She had feared him; she had feared herself;
now all danger was at an end. Now -- now she could find courage to front
the crowd of people and play to them. Her conscience ceased from
troubling; the hope of triumph no longer linked itself with dread of a
fatal indebtedness. No touch of sorrow entered into her mood; no anxiety
on behalf of the man whose act had freed her. He, her husband's friend,
would keep the only secret which could now injure her. Cyrus Redgrave
was dead, and to her it meant a renewal of life.

Harvey was speaking; he reminded her of the necessity of taking food.

'Yes, I am going to eat something.'

'Look here, Alma,' -- he regarded her sternly, -- 'if you have any fear,
if you are unequal to this, let me go and make an excuse for you.'

'I have not the _least_ fear. Don't try to make me nervous.'

She ate and drank. Harvey, the while, kept his eyes fixed on the
newspaper.

'Now I must go,' she said in a few minutes, after looking at her watch.
'Don't come out with me. Do just as you like about going into the Hall
and about meeting me afterwards. You needn't be the least bit anxious, I
assure you; I'm not going to make myself ridiculous.'

They stood up.

'I shall be at the door with a cab,' said Harvey.

'Very well; I won't keep you waiting.'

She left him, and walked from the restaurant with a quick step. Harvey
drank a little more wine, and made a pretence of tasting the dish before
him, then paid his bill and departed. He had now no intention whatever
of going to hear Alma play; but he wished to know whether certain
persons were among her audience, and, as he could not stand to watch the
people entering, he took the only other means of setting his mind at
rest -- this was to drive forthwith to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions.

On his knocking at the Carnabys' door, a servant informed him that
neither her master nor her mistress was at home. Something unusual in
the girl's manner at once arrested his attention; she was evidently
disinclined to say anything beyond the formula of refusal, but with this
Harvey would not be satisfied. He mentioned his name, and urged several
inquiries, on the plea that he had urgent business with his friends. All
he could gather was that Carnaby had left home early this morning, and
that Mrs. Carnaby was out of town; it grew more evident that the girl
shrank from questions.

'Has anyone been here before me, anxious to see them?'

'I don't know, sir; I can't tell you anything else.'

'And you have no idea when either of them will be back?'

'I don't know at all; I don't know anything about it.'

He turned away, as if to descend the stairs; but, as there was no sound
of a closing door, he glanced back, and caught a glimpse of the servant,
who stood looking after him. No sooner did their eyes meet than the girl
drew hastily in and the door was shut.

Beset by a grave uneasiness, he walked into Edgware Road, and followed
the thoroughfare to its end at the Marble Arch. One thing seemed
certain: neither Carnaby nor his wife could be at Prince's Hall. It was
equally certain that only a serious cause could have prevented their
attendance. The servant manifestly had something to conceal; under
ordinary circumstances she would never have spoken and behaved in that
strange way.

At the Marble Arch boys were crying newspapers. He bought two, and in
each of them found the sensational headlines; but the reports added
nothing to that he had already seen; all, it was clear, came from the
same source.

He turned into the Park, and walked aimlessly by crosspaths hither and
thither. Time had to be killed; he tried to read his papers, but every
item of news or comment disgusted him, and he threw the sheets away.
When he came out at Knightsbridge, there was still half an hour to be
passed, so he turned eastward, and walked the length of Piccadilly. Now
at length Alma's fate was decided; the concert drew to its close. In
anxiety to learn how things had gone with her, he all but forgot Hugh
Carnaby, until, just as he was about to hail a cab for the purpose of
bringing Alma from the Hall, his eye fell on a fresh newspaper placard,
which gave its largest type to the Wimbledon affair, and promised a
'Startling Revelation'. He bought the paper, and read. It had become
known, said the reporter, that the gentleman who, on his own avowal, had
caused Mr. Redgrave's death, was Mr. H. Carnaby, resident at Oxford and
Cambridge Mansions. The rumour that Mr. Carnaby had presented himself to
the authorities was unfounded; as a matter of fact, the police had heard
nothing from him, and could not discover his whereabouts. As to the
mysterious disappearance of Mr. Redgrave's housekeeper -- Mrs. Lant by
name -- nothing new could be learnt. Mrs. Lant had left all her personal
belongings, and no one seemed able to conjecture a reason for her
conduct.

Harvey folded up the paper, and crushed it into his pocket. He felt no
surprise; his brooding on possibilities had prepared him for this
disclosure, and, from the moment that his fears were confirmed, he
interpreted everything with a gloomy certainty. Hugh's fatal violence
could have but one explanation, and that did not come upon Harvey with
the shock of the incredible. Neither was he at any loss to understand
why Hugh had failed to surrender himself. Ere-long the newspapers would
rejoice in another 'startling revelation', which would make the tragedy
complete.

In this state of mind he waited for Alma's coming forth. She was
punctual as she had promised. At the first sight of her he knew that
nothing disagreeable had befallen, and this was enough. As soon as the
cab drove off with them he looked an inquiry.

'All well,' she answered, with subdued exultation. 'Wait till you see
the notices.'

Her flushed face and dancing eyes told that she was fresh from
congratulation and flattery. Harvey could not spoil her moment of
triumph by telling what he had just learnt. She wished to talk of
herself, and he gave her the opportunity.

'Many people?'

'A very good hall. They say such an audience at a first recital has
hardly ever been known.'

'You weren't nervous?'

'I've often been far more when I played in a drawing-room; and I never
played so well -- not half so well!'

She entered upon a vivid description of her feelings. On first stepping
forward, she could see nothing but a misty expanse of faces; she could
not feel the boards she trod upon; yet no sooner had she raised her
violin than a glorious sense of power made her forget everything but the
music she was to play. She all but laughed with delight. Never had she
felt so perfect a mastery of her instrument. She played without effort,
and could have played for hours without weariness. Her fellow-musicians
declared that she was 'wonderful'; and Harvey, as he listened to this
flow of excited talk, asked himself whether he had not, after all,
judged Alma amiss. Perhaps he had been the mere dull Philistine, unable
to recognise the born artist, and doing his paltry best to obstruct her
path. Perhaps so; but he would look for the opinion of serious critics
-- if any such had been present.

At Baker Street they had to wait for a train, and here it happened that
Alma saw the evening placards. At once she changed; her countenance was
darkened with anxiety.

'Hadn't you better get a paper?' she asked in a quick undertone.

'I have one. Do you wish to see it now?'

'Is there anything more?'

'Yes, there is. You don't know, I suppose, whether Carnaby and his wife
were at the Hall?'

'I could hardly distinguish faces,' she replied, with tremor. 'What is
it? Tell me.'

He took out his newspaper and pointed to the paragraph which mentioned
Carnaby's name. Alma seemed overcome with painful emotion; she moved
towards the nearest seat, and Harvey, alarmed by her sudden pallor,
placed himself by her side.

'What does it mean?' she whispered.

'Who can say?'

'They must have quarrelled about business matters.'

'Perhaps so.'

'Do you think he -- Mr. Carnaby -- means to hide away -- to escape?'

'He won't hide away,' Harvey answered. 'Yet he may escape.'

'What do you mean? Go by ship? -- get out of the country?'

'I don't think so. He is far more likely to be found somewhere -- in a
way that would save trouble.'

Alma flashed a look of intelligence.

'You think so,' she panted. 'You really think he has done that?'

'I feel afraid of it.'

Alma recovered breath; and, but that her face was bent low over the
newspaper, Harvey must have observed that the possibility of his
friend's suicide seemed rather to calm her agitation than to afflict her
with fresh dismay.

But she could speak no more of her musical triumph. With the colour of
her cheeks she had lost all animation, all energy; she needed the
support of Harvey's arm in stepping to the railway carriage; and on her
arrival at home, yielding, as it seemed, to physical exhaustion, she lay
pallid, mute, and nerveless.


CHAPTER 15


At night she had recourse to the little bottle, but this time it was
less efficacious. Again and again she woke from terrifying dreams,
wearied utterly, unable to rest, and longing for the dawn. Soon after
daybreak she arose and dressed; then, as there was yet no sound of
movement in the house, she laid her aching head upon the pillow again,
and once more fell into a troubled sleep. The usual call aroused her;
she went to the door and bade the servant bring her some tea and the
morning paper as soon as it was delivered.

In a few minutes the tea and the newspaper were both brought. First she
glanced at the paragraphs relating to the Wimbledon tragedy; there was
nothing added to yesterday's news except that the inquest would be held
this morning. Then she looked eagerly for the report of her recital, and
found it only after much searching, barely a dozen lines, which spoke of
her as 'a lady of some artistic promise', said that much allowance must
be made for her natural nervousness, and passed on to the other
performers, who were unreservedly praised. Anger and despondency
struggled within her as she read the lines over and over again. Nervous!
Why, the one marvellous thing was her absolute conquest of nervousness.
She saw the hand of an enemy. Felix Dymes had warned her of the envy she
must look for in certain quarters, and here appeared the first instance
of it. But the post would bring other papers.

It brought half a dozen and a number of letters. At the sound of the
knock, Alma hurried downstairs, seized upon her budget, and returned to
the bedroom. Yes; as it happened, she had seen the least favourable
notice first of all. The other papers. devoted more space to her (though
less than she had expected), and harmonised in their tone of compliment;
one went so far as to congratulate those who were present on 'an
occasion of undoubted importance'. Another found some fault with her
choice of pieces, but hoped soon to hear her again, for her 'claims to
more than ordinary attention' were 'indubitable'. There was a certain
lack of 'breadth', opined one critic; but 'natural nervousness', &c.
Promise, promise -- all agreed that her 'promise' was quite exceptional.

Tremulous from these lines of print, she turned to the letters, and here
was full-fed with flattery. 'Your most brilliant debut' -- 'How shall we
thank you for such an artistic treat?' -- 'Oh, your divine rendering
of,' &c. -- 'You have taken your place, at once and _sans phrase_, in
the very front rank of violinists.' She smiled once more, and lost a
little of her cadaverous hue. Felix Dymes, scribbling late, repeated
things that he had heard since the afternoon. He added: 'I'm afraid
you'll be awfully upset about your friends the Carnabys. It's very
unfortunate this should have happened just now. But cheer up, and let me
see you as soon as possible. Great things to come!'

She went down to breakfast with shaking limbs, scarce able to hold up
her head as she sat through the meal. Harvey ran his eye over the
papers, but said nothing, and kept looking anxiously at her. She could
not touch food; on rising from table she felt a giddiness which obliged
her to hold the chair for support. At her husband's beckoning she
followed him into the library.

'Hadn't you better go back to bed?'

'I shall lie down a little. But perhaps if I could get out ----'

'No, that you won't. And if you feel no better by afternoon I shall send
for the doctor.'

'You see what the papers say ----?'

'Yes.'

'Wouldn't it be graceful to own that you are surprised?'

'We'll talk about that when you look less like a corpse. Would you like
me to send any message to Mrs. Carnaby?'

Alma shook her head.

'I'll write -- today or tomorrow -- there's no hurry ----'

'No hurry?' said Rolfe, surprised by something in her tone. 'What do you
mean by that?'

'Are you going to see Mr. Carnaby?' was her answer.

'I don't know where to find him, unless I go to the inquest.'

'I had rather you stayed here today,' said Alma; 'I feel far from well.'

'Yes, I shall stay. But I ought to let him hear from me. Best, perhaps,
if I send a telegram to his place.'

The morning passed miserably enough. Alma went to her bedroom and lay
there for an hour or two, then she strayed to the nursery and sat a
while with Hugh and his governess. At luncheon she had no more appetite
than at breakfast, though for very faintness her body could scarce
support itself. After the meal Harvey went out to procure the earliest
evening papers, and on his way he called at the doctor's house. Not till
about five o'clock was a report of the Wimbledon inquest obtainable.
Having read it, Harvey took the paper home, where he arrived just as the
doctor drove up to the door.

Alma was again lying down; her eyes showed that she had shed tears. On
Harvey's saying that the doctor was in the house, she answered briefly
that she would see him. The result of the interview was made known to
Rolfe. Nervous collapse; care and quiet; excitement of any kind to be
avoided; the patient better in bed for a few days, to obtain complete
rest. Avoidance of excitement was the most difficult of all things for
Alma at present. Newspapers could not be kept from her; she waited
eagerly for the report of the inquest.

'Carnaby tells an astonishing story,' said Rolfe, as he sat down by her
when the doctor was gone.

'Let me read it for myself.'

She did so with every sign of agitation; but on laying the paper aside
she seemed to become quieter. After a short silence a word or two fell
from her.

'So Sibyl was at Weymouth.'

Harvey communed with his thoughts, which were anything but pleasant. He
did not doubt the truth of Hugh Carnaby's narrative, but he had a gloomy
conviction that, whether Hugh knew it or not, an essential part of the
drama lay unrevealed.

'Will they find that woman, do you think?' were Alma's next words.

'It doesn't seem very likely.'

'What is the punishment for manslaughter?'

'That depends. The case will go for trial, and -- in the meantime ----'

'What?' asked Alma, raising herself.

'The woman _may_ be found.'

There was another silence. Then Alma asked ----

'Do you think I ought to write to Sibyl?'

'No,' he answered decisively. 'You must write to no one. Put it all out
of your mind as much as possible.'

'Shall you see Mr. Carnaby?'

'Only if he sends for me.'

And this was just what happened. Admitted to bail by the magistrate,
Hugh presently sent a note from Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, asking
his friend to see him there. Harvey did not let Alma know of it. He
found some difficulty in getting away from home for a couple of hours,
so anxious had she become to keep him within call, and, when he of
necessity went out, to be informed of his movements. He attributed this
to her morbid condition; for, in truth, Alma was very ill. She could
take only the lightest food, and in the smallest quantities; she fell
repeatedly into fits of silent weeping; she had lost all strength, and
her flesh had begun to waste. On this same day Harvey heard that Mrs
Frothingham was making ready to come, and the news relieved him.

On reaching the Carnabys', he was admitted by the same servant whose
behaviour had excited his suspicions a day or two ago. Without a word
she conducted him to Hugh's room.

'Well, old man,' said the familiar voice, though in the tone of one who
is afraid of being overheard, 'it has come to this, you see. You're not
surprised? What else could be expected of a fellow like me, sooner or
later?'

His face had the marks of sleeplessness; his hand was hot. He pressed
Harvey into a chair, and stood before him, making an obvious effort to
look and speak courageously.

'It never struck me before how devilish awkward it is for a man in his
own home when he gets into a public scrape -- I mean the servants. One
has to sit under them, as usual, you know, and feel their eyes boring
into one's back. Did you ever think of it?'

'How long have you to wait?' asked Rolfe.

'Only a fortnight. But there may be bother about that woman. I wish to
God they could catch her!'

Harvey made no reply, and his eyes wandered. In a moment he became aware
that Hugh was looking at him with peculiar intentness.

'I wish I could do anything for you, Carnaby.'

'You can,' replied the other, with emphasis, his face growing stern.

'What is it?'

'Get rid of that ugly thought I see you have in your mind.'

Hugh's voice, though still cautious, had risen a little; he spoke with
severity that was almost harshness. Their eyes met.

'What ugly thought?'

'Don't be dishonest with me, Rolfe. It's a queer-sounding tale, and
you're not the only man, I warrant, who thinks there's something behind
it. But I tell you there isn't -- or nothing that concerns _me_.' He
paused for an instant. 'I shouldn't have dared to tell it, but for my
wife. Yes, my wife,' he repeated vehemently. 'It was Sibyl forced me to
tell the truth. Rather than have _her_ mixed up in such a thing as this,
I would have told any lie, at whatever cost to myself; but she wouldn't
let me. And she was right; I see now that she was, though it a been hard
enough, I tell you, to think of what people might be saying -- damn
them! Don't you be one, Rolfe. My wife is as pure and innocent as any
woman living. I tell you that. I ask you to believe that; and it's the
one thing, the only thing, you can do for me.'

His voice quivered, and he half-choked upon the passionate words. Moved,
though not to conviction, Harvey made the only possible reply.

'I believe you; and if ever I have the chance I will repeat what you
say.'

'Very well. But there's something else. I don't ask you to see anything
of Sibyl, or to let your wife see her; it will be much better not. I
don't know whether she will stay here, or in London at all; but she will
see as few people as possible. Don't think it necessary to write to her;
don't let your wife write. If we all live through it -- and come out
again on the other side -- things may be all right again; but I don't
look forward to anything. All I can think of now is that I've killed a
man who was a good friend to me, and have darkened all the rest of
Sibyl's life. And I only wish someone had knocked my brains out ten
years ago, when nobody would have missed such a blackguard and ruffian.'

'Is it on your wife's account, or on ours that you want us to keep
apart?' asked Rolfe gravely.

'Both, my dear fellow,' was the equally grave reply. 'I'm saying only
what I mean; it's no time for humbug now. Think it over, and you'll see
I'm right.'

'Alma won't see any one just yet awhile,' said Harvey. 'She has made
herself ill, of course.'

'Ill? How?'

'The concert, and the frenzy that went before it.'

'The concert ----.' Carnaby touched his forehead. 'I remember. If I were
you, Rolfe ----'

'Well?'

'I don't want to take advantage of my position and be impertinent but do
you think that kind of thing will do her any good in the end?'

'It's going to stop,' replied Harvey, with a meaning nod.

'I'm glad to hear you say so -- very glad. Just stick to that. You're
more civilised than I am, and you'll know how to go about that kind of
thing as a man should.'

'I mean to try.'

'She is not seriously ill, I hope?' Hugh inquired, after reflecting for
a moment.

'Oh, the nerves -- breakdown -- nothing dangerous, I believe.'

'Life ought to be easy enough for you, Rolfe,' said the other. 'You're
at home here.'

'It depends what you mean by "here". I'm at home in England, no doubt;
but it's very uncertain whether I shall hold out in London. You know
that we're going west to Gunnersbury. That's on the child's account; I
want him to go to school with a friend of ours. If we can live there
quietly and sanely, well and good; if the whirlpool begins to drag us in
again -- then I have another idea.'

'The whirlpool!' muttered Carnaby, with a broken laugh. 'It's got hold
of _me_, and I'm going down, old man -- and it looks black as hell.'

'We shall see the sunlight again together,' replied Rolfe, with forced
cheerfulness.

'You think so? I wish I could believe it.'

In less than half an hour Harvey was back at the station, waiting for
his train. He suffered pangs of self-rebuke; it seemed to him that he
ought to have found some better way, in word or deed, for manifesting
the sympathy of true friendship. He had betrayed a doubt which must for
ever affect Hugh's feeling towards him. But this was his lot in life, to
blunder amid trying circumstances, to prove unequal to every grave call
upon him. He tried vainly to see what else he could have done, yet felt
that another man would have faced the situation to better purpose. One
resolve, at all events, he had brought out of it: Hugh Carnaby's
reference to Alma declared the common-sense view of a difficulty which
ought to be no difficulty at all, and put an end to vacillation. But in
return for this friendly service he had rendered nothing, save a few
half-hearted words of encouragement. Rolfe saw himself in a mean,
dispiriting light.

On the next day Mrs. Frothingham arrived at Pinner, and Harvey's
anxieties were lightened. The good, capable woman never showed to such
advantage as in a sick-room; scarcely had she entered the house when
Alma's state began to improve. They remarked that Alma showed no great
concern on Sibyl's account, but was seemingly preoccupied with thought
of Carnaby himself. This being the case, it was with solicitude that
Harvey and Mrs. Frothingham awaited the result of Hugh's trial for
manslaughter. Redgrave's housekeeper could not be found; the
self-accused man stood or fell by his own testimony; nothing was
submitted to the court beyond the fact of Redgrave's death, and Hugh
Carnaby's explanation of how it came about. Nothing of direct evidence;
indirect, in the shape of witness to character, was abundantly
forthcoming, and from 'people of importance. But the victim also was a
person of importance, and justice no doubt felt that, under whatever
provocation, such a man must not be slain with impunity. It sentenced
the homicide to a term of two years' imprisonment, without hard labour.

Alma heard the sentence with little emotion. Soon after she fell into a
deeper and more refreshing sleep than any she had known since her
illness began.

'It is the end of suspense,' said Mrs. Frothingham.

'No doubt,' Harvey assented.

A few days more and Mrs. Frothingham took Alma away into Hampshire.
Little Hugh went with them, his mother strongly desiring it. As for
Rolfe, he escaped to Greystone, to spend a week with Basil Morton before
facing the miseries of the removal from Pinner to Gunnersbury.



Part the Third



CHAPTER 1


The house had stood for a century and a half, and for eighty years had
been inhabited by Mortons. Of its neighbours in the elm-bordered road,
one or two were yet older; all had reached the age of mellowness. 'Sicut
umbra praeterit dies' -- so ran the motto of the dial set between porch
and eaves; to Harvey Rolfe the kindliest of all greetings, welcoming him
to such tranquillity as he knew not how to find elsewhere.

It was in the town, yet nothing town-like. No sooty smother hung above
the house-tops and smirched the garden leafage; no tramp of crowds, no
clatter of hot-wheel traffic, sounded from the streets hard by. But at
hours familiar, bidding to task or pleasure or repose, the music of the
grey belfries floated overhead; a voice from the old time, an admonition
of mortality in strains sweet to the ear of childhood. Harvey had but to
listen, and the days of long ago came back to him. Above all, when at
evening rang the curfew. Stealing apart to a bowered corner of the
garden, he dreamed himself into the vanished years, when curfew-time was
bed-time, and a hand with gentle touch led him from his play to that
long sweet slumber which is the child's new birth.

Basil Morton was one of three brothers, the youngest. His father, a
corn-factor, assenting readily to his early inclination for the Church,
sent him from Greystone Grammar-School to Cambridge, where Basil passed
creditably through the routine, but in no way distinguished himself.
Having taken his degree, he felt less assured of a clerical vocation,
and thought that the law might perhaps be more suitable to him. Whilst
he thus wavered, his father died, and the young man found that he had to
depend upon himself for anything more than the barest livelihood. He
decided, after all, for business, and became a partner with his eldest
brother, handling corn as his father and his grandfather had done before
him. At eight and twenty he married, and a few years afterwards the
elder Morton's death left him to pursue commerce at his own discretion.
Latterly the business had not been very lucrative, nor was Basil the man
to make it so; but he went steadily on in the old tracks, satisfied with
an income which kept him free from care.

'I like my trade,' he said once to Harvey Rolfe; 'it's clean and sweet
and useful. The Socialist would revile me as a middleman; but society
can't do without me just yet, and I ask no more than I fairly earn. I
like turning over a sample of grain; I like the touch of it, and the
smell of it. It brings me near to the good old Mother Earth, and makes
me feel human.'

His house was spacious, well built, comfortable. The furniture, in great
part, was the same his parents had used; solid mahogany, not so
beautiful as furniture may be made, but serviceable, if need be, for
another fifty years. He had a library of several thousand volumes,
slowly and prudently collected, representing a liberal interest in all
travail of the mind, and a special taste for the things of classical
antiquity. Basil Morton was no scholar in the modern sense, but might
well have been described by the old phrase which links scholar with
gentleman. He lived by trade, but trade did not affect his life. The
day's work over, he turned, with no feeling of incongruity, to a page of
Thucydides, of Tacitus, or to those less familiar authors who lighted
his favourite wanderings through the ruins of the Roman Empire. Better
grounded for such studies than Harvey Rolfe, he pursued them with a
steadier devotion and with all the advantages of domestic peace. In his
mental habits, in his turns of speech, there appeared perhaps a leaning
to pedantry; but it was the most amiable of faults, and any danger that
might have lurked in it was most happily balanced and corrected by the
practical virtues of his life's companion.

Mrs. Morton had the beauty of perfect health, of health mental and
physical. To describe her face as homely was to pay it the highest
compliment, for its smile was the true light of home, that never failed.
_Filia generosi_, daughter of a house that bred gentlewomen, though its
ability to dower them had declined in these latter days, she conceived
her duty as wife and mother after the old fashion, and was so fortunate
as to find no obstacle in circumstance. She rose early; she slept early;
and her day was full of manifold activity. Four children she had borne
-- the eldest a boy now in his twelfth year, the youngest a baby girl;
and it seemed to her no merit that in these little ones she saw the end
and reason of her being. Into her pure and healthy mind had never
entered a thought at conflict with motherhood. Her breasts were the
fountain of life; her babies clung to them, and grew large of limb. From
her they learnt to speak; from her they learnt the names of trees and
flowers and all things beautiful around them; learnt, too, less by
precept than from fair example, the sweetness and sincerity wherewith
such mothers, and such alone, can endow their offspring. Later she was
their instructress in a more formal sense; for this also she held to be
her duty, up to the point where other teaching became needful. By method
and good-will she found time for everything, ruling her house and
ordering her life so admirably, that to those who saw her only in hours
of leisure she seemed to be at leisure always. She would have felt it an
impossible thing to abandon her children to the care of servants;
reluctantly she left them even for an hour or two when other claims
which could not be neglected called her forth. In play-time they desired
no better companion, for she was a child herself in gaiety of heart and
lissom sportiveness. No prettier sight could be seen at Greystone than
when, on a summer afternoon, they all drove in the pony carriage to call
on friends, or out into the country. Nowadays it was often her eldest
boy who held the reins, a bright-eyed, well-built lad, a pupil at the
old Grammar-School, where he used the desk at which his father had sat
before him. Whatever fault of boyhood showed itself in Harry Morton, he
knew not the common temptation to be ashamed of his mother, or to flout
her love.

For holiday they never crossed the sea. Morton himself had been but once
abroad, and that in the year before his father's death, when he was
trying to make up his mind what profession he should take up; he then
saw something of France and of Italy. Talking with travelled friends, he
was wont to praise himself in humorous vein for the sober fixity of his
life, and to quote, in that mellow tone which gave such charm to his
talk, the line from Claudian, '_Erret et extremos alter scrutetur
Iberos_; for he had several friends to whom a Latin or a Greek quotation
was no stumbling-block. Certain of his college companions, men who had
come to hold a place in the world's eye, were glad to turn aside from
beaten tracks and smoke a pipe at Greystone with Basil Morton -- the
quaint fellow who at a casual glance might pass for a Philistine, but
was indeed something quite other. His wife had never left her native
island. 'I will go abroad,' she said, 'when my boys can take me.' And
that might not be long hence; for Harry, who loved no book so much as
the atlas, abounded in schemes of travel, and had already mapped the
grand tour on which the whole family was to set forth when he stood
headboy at the Grammar-School.

In this household Harvey Rolfe knew himself a welcome guest, and never
had he been so glad as now to pass from the noisy world into the calm
which always fell about him under his friend's roof. The miseries
through which he had gone were troubling his health, and health
disordered naturally reacted upon his mind, so that, owing to a gloomy
excitement of the imagination, for several nights he had hardly slept.
No sooner had he lain down in darkness than every form of mortal anguish
beset his thoughts, passing before him as though some hand unfolded a
pictured scroll of life's terrors. He seemed never before to have
realised the infinitude of human suffering. Hour after hour, with brief
intervals of semi-oblivion, from which his mind awoke in nameless
horror, he travelled from land to land, from age to age; at one moment
picturing some dread incident of a thousand years ago; the next,
beholding with intolerable vividness some scene of agony reported in the
day's newspaper. Doubtless it came of his constant brooding on
Redgrave's death and Hugh Carnaby's punishment. For the first time,
tragedy had been brought near to him, and he marvelled at the
indifference with which men habitually live in a world where tragedy is
every hour's occurrence.

He told himself that this was merely a morbid condition of the brain,
but could not bring himself to believe it. On the contrary, what he now
saw and felt was the simple truth of things, obscured by everyday
conditions of active life. And that History which he loved to read --
what was it but the lurid record of woes unutterable? How could he find
pleasure in keeping his eyes fixed on century after century of
ever-repeated torment -- war, pestilence, tyranny; the stake, the
dungeon; tortures of infinite device, cruelties inconceivable? He would
close his books, and try to forget all they had taught him.

Tonight he spoke of it, as he sat with Morton after everyone else had
gone to bed. They had talked of Hugh Carnaby (each divining in the other
a suspicion they were careful not to avow), and their mood led naturally
to interchange of thoughts on grave subjects.

'Everyone knows that state of mind, more or less,' said Morton, in his
dreamy voice -- a voice good for the nerves. 'It comes generally when
one's stomach is out of order. You wake at half-past two in the morning,
and suffer infernally from the blackest pessimism. It's morbid -- yes;
but for all that it may be a glimpse of the truth. Health and good
spirits, just as likely as not, are the deceptive condition.'

'Exactly. But for the power of deceiving ourselves, we couldn't live at
all. It's not a question of theory, but of fact.'

'I fought it out with myself,' said Basil, after a sip of whisky, 'at
the time of my "exodus from Houndsditch". There's a point in the life of
every man who has brains, when it becomes a possibility that he may kill
himself. Most of us have it early, but it depends on circumstances. I
was like Johnson's friend: be as philosophical as I might, cheerfulness
kept breaking in. And at last I let cheerfulness have its way. As far as
I know' -- he gurgled a laugh -- 'Schopenhauer did the same.'

Harvey puffed at his pipe before answering.

'Yes; and I suppose we may call that intellectual maturity. It's bad for
a man when he _can't_ mature -- which is my case. I seem to be as far
from it as ever. Seriously, I should think few men ever had so slow a
development. I don't stagnate: there's always movement; but -- putting
aside the religious question -- my stage at present is yours of twenty
years ago. Yet, not even that; for you started better than I did. You
were never a selfish lout -- a half-baked blackguard ----'

'Nor you either, my dear fellow.'

'But I was! I've got along fairly well in self-knowledge; I can follow
my course in the past clearly enough. If I had my rights, I should live
to about a hundred and twenty, and go on ripening to the end. That would
be a fair proportion. It's confoundedly hard to think that I'm a good
deal past the middle of life, yet morally and intellectually am only
beginning it.'

'It only means, Rolfe, that we others have a pretty solid conceit of
ourselves. -- Listen! "We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master
Shallow." I don't apply the name to you; but you'll be none the worse
for a good night's sleep. Let us be off.'

Harvey slept much better than of late. There was an air of comfort in
this guest-chamber which lulled the mind. Not that the appointments were
more luxurious than in his own bedroom, for Morton had neither the means
nor the desire to equip his house with perfections of modern upholstery;
but every detail manifested a care and taste and delicacy found only in
homes which are homes indeed, and not mere dwelling-places fitted up
chiefly for display. Harvey thought of the happiness of children who are
born, and live through all their childhood, in such an atmosphere as
this. Then he thought of his own child, who had in truth no home at all.
A house in Wales -- a house at Pinner -- a house at Gunnersbury --
presently a house somewhere else. He had heard people defend this nomad
life -- why, he himself, before his marriage, had smiled at the
old-fashioned stability represented by such families as the Mortons; had
talked of 'getting into ruts', of 'mouldering', and so on. He saw it
from another point of view now, and if the choice were between rut and
whirlpool ----

When he awoke, and lay looking at the sunlit blind, in the stillness of
early morning he heard a sound always delightful, always soothing, that
of scythe and whetstone; then the long steady sweep of the blade through
garden grass. Morton, old stick-in-the-mud, would not let his gardener
use a mowing machine, the scythe was good enough for him; and Harvey,
recalled to the summer mornings of more than thirty years ago, blessed
him for his pig-headedness.

But another sound he missed, one he would have heard even more gladly.
Waking thus at Pinner (always about six o'clock), he had been wont to
hear the voice of his little boy, singing. Possibly this was a doubtful
pleasure to Miss Smith, in whose room Hughie slept; but, to her credit,
she had never bidden the child keep quiet. And there he lay, singing to
himself, a song without words; singing like a little bird at dawn; a
voice of innocent happiness, greeting the new day. Hughie was far off;
and in a strange room, with other children, he would not sing. But
Harvey heard his voice -- the odd little bursts of melody, the liquid
rise and fall, which set to tune, no doubt, some childish fancy, some
fairy tale, some glad anticipation. Hughie lived in the golden age. A
year or two more, and the best of life would be over with him; for
boyhood is but a leaden time compared with the borderland between it and
infancy; and manhood -- the curse of sex developed ----

It was a merry breakfast-table. The children's sprightly talk, their
mother's excellent spirits, and Morton's dry jokes with one and all,
made Harvey feel ashamed of the rather glum habit which generally kept
him mute at the first meal of the day. Alma, too, was seldom in the mood
for breakfast conversation; so that, between them, they imposed silence
upon Hughie and Miss Smith. One might have thought that the postman had
brought some ill news, depressing the household. Yet things were not
wont to be so bad in Wales; at that time, the day, as a rule, began
cheerfully enough. Their life had darkened in the shadow of London; just
when, for the child's sake, everything should have been made as bright
as possible. And he saw little hope of change for the better. It did not
depend upon him. The note of family life is struck by the
house-mistress, and Alma seemed fallen so far from her better self that
he could only look forward with anxiety to new developments of her
character.

'School?' he exclaimed, when Harry, with satchel over shoulder, came to
bid him good morning. 'I wish I could go in your place! It's just
thirty-one years since I left the old Grammar-School.'

The boy did not marvel at this. He would not have done so if the years
had been sixty-one; for Mr. Rolfe seemed to him an old man, very much
older than his own father.

As usual when at Greystone, Harvey took his first walk to the spots
associated with his childhood. He walked alone, for Morton had gone to
business until midday. On the outskirts of the town, in no very pleasant
situation, stood the house where he was born; new buildings had risen
round about it, and the present tenants seemed to be undesirable people,
who neglected the garden and were careless about their window curtains.
Here he had lived until he was ten years old -- till the death of his
father. His mother died long before that; he just, and only just,
remembered her. He knew from others that she was a gentle, thoughtful
woman, always in poor health; the birth of her second child, a girl, led
to a lingering illness, and soon came the end. To her place as mistress
of the house succeeded Harvey's aunt, his father's sister. No one could
have been kinder to the children, but Harvey, for some reason yet
obscure to him, always disliked her. Whom, indeed, did he not dislike,
of those set over him? He recalled his perpetual rebellion against her
authority from the first day to the last. What an unruly cub! And his
father's anger when he chanced to overhear some boyish insolence --
alas! alas!

For he saw so little of his father. Mr. Rolfe's work as a railway
engineer kept him chiefly abroad; he was sometimes absent for twelve
months at a time. Only in the last half-year of his life did he remain
constantly at home, and that because he was dying. Having contracted a
fever in Spain, he came back to recruit; but his constitution had
suffered from many hardships, and now gave way. To the last day (though
he was ten years old) Harvey never dreamt of what was about to happen.
Self-absorbed in a degree unusual even with boys, he feared his father,
but had not learnt to love him. And now, looking back, he saw only too
well why the anxious parent treated him with severity more often than
with gentleness and good humour. A boy such as he must have given sore
trouble to a father on his death-bed.

When it was too late, too late by many a year, he mourned the loss which
had only startled him, which had seemed hardly a loss at all, rather an
emancipation. As a man of thirty, he knew his father much better than
when living with him day after day. Faults he could perceive, some of
them inherited in his own character; but there remained the memory of a
man whom he could admire and love -- whom he did admire and love more
sincerely and profoundly the older he grew. And he held it the supreme
misfortune of his life that, in those early years which count so much
towards the future, he had been so rarely under his father's influence.

Inevitable, it seemed. Yet only so, perhaps, because even a good and
conscientious man may fail to understand the obligation under which he
lies towards his offspring.

He and his sister Amy passed into the guardianship of Dr Harvey, Mr
Rolfe's old friend, the boy's godfather, who had done his best to soothe
the mind of the dying man with regard to his children's future. There
were no pecuniary difficulties; the children's education was provided
for, and on coming of age each would have about two thousand pounds. Dr
Harvey, a large-hearted, bright-witted Irishman, with no youngsters of
his own, speedily decided that the boy must be sent away to a
boarding-school, to have some of the self-will knocked out of him. Amy
continued to live with her aunt for two years more; then the good woman
died, and the Doctor took Amy into his own house, which became Harvey's
home during holidays.

The ivy-covered house, in the best residential street of Greystone.
Harvey paused before it. On the railings hung a brass plate with another
name; the good old Doctor had been in his grave for many a year.

What wonder that he never liked the boy? Harvey, so far as anyone could
perceive, had no affection, no good feeling, no youthful freshness or
simplicity of heart; moreover, he exhibited precocious arrogance,
supported by an obstinacy which had not even the grace of quickening
into fieriness; he was often a braggart, and could not be trusted to
tell the truth where his self-esteem was ever so little concerned. How
unutterably the Harvey Rolfe of today despised himself at the age of
fifteen or so! Even at that amorphous age, a more loutish, ungainly boy
could scarcely have been found. Bashfulness cost him horrid torments, of
course exasperating his conceit. He hated girls; he scorned women. Among
his school-fellows he made a bad choice of comrades. Though muscular and
of tolerable health, he was physically, as well as morally, a coward.
Games and sports had I no attraction for him; he shut himself up in
rooms, and read a great deal, yet even this, it seemed, not without an
eye to winning admiration.

Brains he had -- brains undeniably; but for a long time there was the
greatest doubt as to what use he could make of them. Harvey remembered
the day when it was settled that he should study medicine. He resolved
upon it merely because he had chanced to hear the Doctor say that he was
not cut out for _that_.

He saw himself at twenty, a lank, ungainly youth, with a disagreeable
complexion and a struggling moustache. He was a student at Guy's; he had
'diggings'; he tasted the joy of independence. As is the way with young
men of turbid passions and indifferent breeding, he rapidly signalised
his independence by plunging into sordid slavery. A miserable time to
think of; a wilderness of riot, folly, and shame. Yet it seemed to him
that he was enjoying life. Among the rowdy set of his fellow-students he
shone with a certain superiority. His contempt of money, and his large
way of talking about it, conveyed the impression that abundant means
awaited him. He gave away coin as readily as he spent it on himself; not
so much in a true spirit of generosity (though his character had gleams
of it), as because he dreaded above all things the appearance of
niggardliness and the suspicion of a shallow purse.

Then came the memorable interview with his guardian on his twenty-first
birthday. Harvey flinched and grew hot in thinking of it. What an
ungrateful cur! What a self-sufficient young idiot! The Doctor had borne
so kindly with his follies and vices, had taken so much trouble for his
good, was it not the man's right and duty to speak grave words of
counsel on such an occasion as this? But to counsel Mr. Harvey Rolfe was
to be guilty of gross impertinence. With lofty spirit the young
gentleman proclaimed that he must no longer be treated as a school-boy!
Whereupon the Doctor lost his temper, and spoke with a particularly
strong Hibernian accent -- spoke words which to this moment stung the
hearer's memory. He saw himself marching from the room -- that room
yonder, on the ground-floor. It was some small consolation to remember
that he had been drinking steadily for a week before that happened.
Indeed, he could recall no scene quite so discreditable throughout the
course of his insensate youth.

Well, he had something like two thousand pounds. Whether he had looked
for more or less he hardly knew, or whether he had looked for anything
at all. At one-and-twenty he was the merest child in matters of the
world. Surely something must have arrested the natural development of
his common-sense. Even in another ten years he was scarcely on a level,
as regards practical intelligence, with the ordinary lad who is leaving
school.

He at once threw up his medical studies, which had grown hateful to him.
He took his first taste of foreign travel. He extended his reading and
his knowledge of languages. And insensibly a couple of years went by.

The possession of money had done him good. It clarified his passions, or
tended that way. A self-respect, which differed appreciably from what he
had formerly understood by that term, began to guard him against
grossness; together with it there developed in him a new social pride
which made him desire the acquaintance of well-bred people. Though he
had no longer any communication with the good old Doctor, Amy frequently
wrote to him, and in one of her letters she begged him to call on a
family in London, one of whose younger members lived at Greystone and
was Amy's friend. After much delay, he overcame his bashfulness, and
called upon the worthy people -- tailored as became a gentleman at
large. The acquaintance led to others; in a short time he was on
pleasant terms with several well-to-do families. He might have suspected
-- but at the time, of course, did not -- that Dr Harvey's kindly
influence had something to do with his reception in these houses.
Self-centred, but painfully self-distrustful, he struggled to overcome
his natural defects of manner. Possibly with some success; for did not
Lily Burton, who at first so piqued him by her critical smile, come to
show him tolerance, friendliness, gracious interest?

Lily Burton! -- how emptily, how foolishly the name tinkled out of that
empty and foolish past! Yet what a power it had over him when he was
three and twenty! Of all the savage epithets which he afterwards
attached to its owner, probably she merited a few. She was a flirt, at
all events. She drew him on, played upon his emotions, found him, no
doubt, excellent fun; and at last, when he was imbecile enough to
declare himself, to talk of marriage, Lily, raising the drollest eyes,
quietly wished to know what his prospects were.

The intolerable shame of it, even now! But he laughed, mocking at his
dead self.

His mind's eye beheld the strange being a year later. Still in good
clothes, but unhealthy, and at his last half-crown; four and twenty,
travelled, and possessed of the elements of culture, he had only just
begun to realise the fact that men labour for their daily bread. Was it
the peculiar intensity of his egoism that so long blinded him to common
anxieties? Even as the last coins slipped between his fingers, he knew
only a vaguely irritable apprehension. Did he imagine the world would
beg for the honour of feeding and clothing Mr. Harvey Rolfe?

It came back to him, his first experience of hunger -- so very different
a thing from appetite. He saw the miserable bedroom where he sat on a
rainy day. He smelt the pawnshop. His heart sank again under the weight
of awful solitude. Then, his illness; the letter he wrote to Amy; her
visit to him; the help she brought. But she could not persuade him to go
back with her to Greystone to face the Doctor. Her money was a loan; he
would bestir himself and find occupation. For a wonder, it was found --
the place at the Emigration Agency; and so, for a good many years, the
notable Mr. Harvey Rolfe sank into a life of obscure routine.

Again and again his sister Amy besought him to visit Greystone. Dr
Harvey was breaking up; would he not see the kind old man once more?
Yes, he assured himself that he would; but he took his time about it,
and Dr Harvey, who at threescore and ten could not be expected to wait
upon a young man's convenience, one day very quietly died. To Amy Rolfe,
who had become as a daughter to him, he left the larger part of his
possessions, an income of nine hundred a year. Not long after this,
Harvey met his sister, and was astonished to find her looking thin,
pale, spiritless. What did it mean? Why did she gaze at him so sadly?
Come, come, he cried, she had been leading an unnatural life,
cloistered, cheerless. Now that she was independent, she must enjoy
herself, see the world! Brave words; and braver still those in which he
replied to Amy's entreaty that he would share her wealth. Not he,
indeed! If, as she said, the Doctor meant and hoped it, why did he not
make that plain in his will? Not a penny would he take. He had all he
wanted. And he seemed to himself the most magnanimous of men.

Amy lived on at Greystone; amid friends, to be sure, but silent,
melancholy; and he, the brother whom she loved, could spare her only a
day or two once a year, when he chattered his idle self-conceit. Anyone
else would have taken trouble to inquire the cause of her pallor, her
sadness. He, forsooth, had to learn with astonishment, at last, that she
wished to see him -- on her deathbed.

He had often thought of her, and kindly. But he knew her not at all,
took no interest in her existence. She, on the other hand, had treasured
every miserable little letter his idleness vouchsafed; she had hoped so
for his future, ever believing in him. When Amy lay dead, he saw the
sheet of paper on which she had written the few lines necessary to endow
him with all she left -- everything 'to my dear brother'. What words
could have reproached him so keenly?

His steps turned to the churchyard, where on a plain upright stone he
read the names of his mother, of his father. Amy's grave was hard by.
He, too, if he had his wish, would some day rest here; and here his own
son would stand, and read his name, and think of him. Ah, but with no
such remorse and self-contempt! That was inconceivable. The tenderness
which dimmed his eyes would have changed to misery had be dreamed it
possible that his own boy could palter so ignobly with the opportunities
of life.

Upon these deep emotions intruded the thought of Alma. Intruded; for he
neither sought nor welcomed his wife's companionship at such a moment,
and he was disturbed by a perception of the little claim she had to be
present with him in spirit. He could no longer pretend to himself that
he loved Alma; whatever the right name for his complex of feelings --
interest, regard, admiration, sexual attachment -- assuredly it must be
another word than that sacred to the memory of his parents, to the
desires and hopes centring in his child. For all that, he had no sense
of a hopeless discord in his wedded life; he suffered from no
disillusion, with its attendant bitterness. From this he was saved by
the fact, easy at length to recognise, that in wooing Alma he had obeyed
no dictate of the nobler passion; here, too, as at every other crisis of
life, he had acted on motives which would not bear analysis, so large
was the alloy of mere temperament, of weak concession to circumstance.
Rather than complain that Alma fell short of the ideal in wifehood,
should he not marvel, and be grateful that their marriage might still be
called a happy one? Happiness in marriage is a term of such vague
application: Basil Morton, one in ten thousand, might call himself
happy; even so, all things considered, must the husband who finds it
_just_ possible to endure the contiguity of his wife. Midway between
these extremes of the definition stood Harvey's measure of matrimonial
bliss. He saw that he had no right to grumble.

He saw, moreover, and reflected constantly upon it in these days, how
largely he was himself to blame for the peril of estrangement which
threatened his life with Alma. Meaning well, and thinking himself a
pattern of marital wisdom, he had behaved, as usual, with gross lack of
discretion. The question now was, could he mend the harm that he had
done? Love did not enter into the matter; his difficulty called for
common-sense -- for rational methods in behaviour towards a wife whom he
could still respect, and who was closely bound to him by common interest
in their child.

He looked up, and had pleasure once more in the sunny sky. After all,
he, even he, had not committed the most woeful of all blunders; though
it was a mystery how he had escaped it. The crown of his feeble, futile
career should, in all fitness, have been marriage with a woman worse
than himself. And not on his own account did he thank protecting
fortune. One lesson, if one only, he had truly learnt from nature: it
bade him forget all personal disquietude, in joy that he was not guilty
of that crime of crimes, the begetting of children by a worthless
mother.


CHAPTER 2


Mrs. Morton felt a lively interest in Mrs. Rolfe's musical enterprise, and
would have liked to talk about it, but she suspected that the topic was
not very agreeable to her guest. In writing to Morton, Harvey had just
mentioned the matter, and that was all. On the second day of his visit,
when he felt much better, and saw things in a less troubled light, he
wished to remove the impression that he regarded Alma's proceedings with
sullen disapproval; so he took the opportunity of being alone with his
hostess, and talked to her of the great venture with all the good humour
he could command. Mrs. Morton had seen two notices of Alma's debut; both
were so favourable that she imagined them the augury of a brilliant
career.

'I doubt that,' said Harvey; 'and I'm not sure that it's desirable. She
has made herself miserably ill, you see. Excitement is the worst
possible thing for her. And then there's the whole question of whether
professional life is right and good for a married woman. How do you
think about it?'

The lady instanced cases that naturally presented themselves. She seemed
to have no prejudice. Mrs. Rolfe appeared to her a person of artistic
temper; but health was of the first importance; and then ----

Harvey waited; but only a thoughtful smile completed the remark.

'What other consideration had you in mind?'

'Only a commonplace -- that a married woman would, of course, be guided
by her husband's wish.'

'You think that equivalent to reason and the will of God?' said Harvey
jocosely.

'If we need appeal to solemn sanction.'

Rolfe was reminded, not unpleasantly, that he spoke with a woman to whom
'the will of God' was something more than a facetious phrase.

'I beg your pardon; let us say reason alone. But is it reasonable for
the artist to sacrifice herself because she happens to have married an
everyday man?'

Mrs. Morton shook her head and laughed.

'If only one know what is meant by the everyday man! My private view of
him is rather flattering, perhaps. I'm inclined to think him, on the
whole, not inferior to the everyday woman; and _she_ -- she isn't a bad
sort of creature, if fairly treated. I don't think the everyday man will
go very far wrong, as a rule, in the treatment of his wife.'

'You really believe that?' asked Harvey, with a serious smile.

'Why, is it such a heresy?'

'I should rather have thought so. One is so accustomed to hear the other
view I mean, it's in the air. Don't think I'm asking your sympathy. I
have always wished Alma to act on her own judgment; she has been left
quite free to do so. But if the results seem worse than doubtful, then
comes the difficulty.'

'To be settled, surely, like all other difficulties between sensible
people.'

Mrs. Morton's faith was of enviable simplicity. She knew, as a matter of
fact, that husbands and wives often found their difficulties
insuperable; but why this should be so, seemed to her one of the dark
and mournful enigmas of life. It implied such a lack not only of good
sense, but of right feeling. In her own experience she had met with no
doubt, no worry, which did not yield to tact, or generous endeavour, or,
at worst, to the creed by which she lived. One solicitude, and one only,
continued to affect her as wife and mother; that it could not overcome
her happy temper was due to the hope perpetually inspired by her
husband's love -- a hope inseparable from her profoundest convictions.
She and Morton differed in religious views, and there had come a grave
moment when she asked whether it would be possible to educate her
children in her own belief without putting a distance between them and
their father. The doubt had disappeared, thanks to Morton's breadth of
view, or facility of conscience; there remained the trouble in which it
had originated, but she solaced herself with the fond assurance that
this also would vanish as time went on. In the same mood of kindly
serenity she regarded the lives of her friends, always hoping for the
best, and finding it hard to understand that anyone could deliberately
act with unkindness, unreasonableness, or any other quality opposed to
the common good.

Rolfe had no desire of talking further about his private affairs. He had
made up his mind on the points at issue, and needed no counsel, but the
spirit of Mrs. Morton's conversation helped him to think tranquilly. The
great danger was that he might make things worse by his way of regarding
them. Most unluckily, Alma's illness had become connected in his
imagination with the tragedy of the Carnabys; he could not keep the
things apart. Hugh Carnaby's miserable doom, and the dark surmises
attaching to his wife, doubtless had their part in bringing about a
nervous crisis; why could he not recognise this as perfectly natural,
and dismiss the matter? In spite of all reasoning, Alma's image ever and
again appeared to him shadowed by the gloom which involved her friend --
or the woman who _was_ her friend. He knew it (or believed it) to be the
merest illusion of his perturbed mind; for no fact, how trivial soever,
had suggested to him that Alma knew more of the circumstances of
Redgrave's death than she seemed to know. On the one hand, he was glad
that Alma and Sibyl no longer cared to meet; on the other, he could not
understand what had caused this cessation of their friendship, and he
puzzled over it. But these idle fancies would pass away; they were
already less troublesome. A long country walk with Morton, during which
they conversed only of things intellectual, did him much good. Not long
ago Morton had had a visit from an old Cambridge friend, a man who had
devoted himself to the study of a certain short period of English
history, and hoped, some ten years hence, to produce an authoritative
work on the subject.

'There's a man I envy!' cried Rolfe, when he had listened to Basil's
humorous description of the enthusiast. 'It's exactly what I should like
to do myself.'

'What prevents you?'

'Idleness -- irresolution -- the feeling that the best of my life is
over. I have never been seriously a student, and it's too late to begin
now. But if I were ten years younger, I would make myself master of
something. What's the use of reading only to forget? In my time I have
gone through no small library of historical books -- and it's all a mist
on the mind's horizon. That comes of reading without method, without a
purpose. The time I have given to it would have made me a pundit, if I
had gone to work reasonably.'

'Isn't my case the same?' exclaimed Morton. 'What do I care! I enjoyed
my reading and my knowledge at the time, and that's all I ever
expected.'

'Very well -- though you misrepresent yourself. But for me it isn't
enough. I want to know something as well as it can be known. Purely for
my own satisfaction; the thought of "doing something" doesn't come in at
all. I was looking at your county histories this morning, and I felt a
huge longing to give the rest of my life to some little bit of England,
a county, or even a town, and exhaust the possibilities of knowledge
within those limits. Why, Greystone here -- it has an interesting
history, even in relation to England at large; and what a delight there
would be in following it out, doggedly, invincibly -- making it one's
single subject -- grubbing after it in muniment-rooms and libraries --
learning by heart every stone of the old town -- dying at last with the
consolation that nobody could teach one anything more about it!'

'I know the mood,' said Morton, laughing.

'I'm narrowing down,' pursued Harvey. 'Once I had tremendous visions --
dreamt of holding half a dozen civilisations in the hollow of my hand. I
came back from the East in a fury to learn the Oriental languages --
made a start, you know, with Arabic. I dropped one nation after another,
always drawing nearer home. The Latin races were to suffice me. Then
early France, especially in its relations with England; -- Normandy,
Anjou. Then early England, especially in its relations with France. The
end will be a county, or a town -- nay, possibly a building. Why not
devote one's self to the history of a market-cross? It would be
respectable, I tell you. Thoroughness is all.'

When they were alone in the library at night, Morton spoke of his eldest
boy, expressing some anxiety about him.

'The rascal will have to earn his living -- and how? There's time, I
suppose, but it begins to fidget me. He won't handle corn -- I'm clear
as to that. At his age, of course, all lads talk about voyages and so
on, but Harry seems cut out for a larger sphere than Greystone. I shan't
balk him. I'd rather he hadn't anything to do with fighting -- still,
that's a weakness.'

'We think of sending Wager's lad into the navy,' said Rolfe, when he had
mused awhile. 'Of course, he'll have to make his own way.'

'Best thing you can do, no doubt. And what about his little sister?'

'That's more troublesome. It's awkward that she's a relative of Mrs
Abbott. Otherwise, I should have proposed to train her for a cook.'

'Do you mean it?'

'Why not? She isn't a girl of any promise. What better thing for her,
and for the community, than to make her a good cook? They're rare
enough, Heaven knows. What's the use of letting her grow up with ideas
of gentility, which in her case would mean nothing hut uselessness? She
must support herself, sooner or later, and it won't he with her brains.
I've seriously thought of making that suggestion to Mrs. Abbott. Ten
years hence, a sensible woman cook will demand her own price, and be a
good deal more respected than a dressmaker or a she-clerk. The stomach
is very powerful in bringing people to common-sense. When all the
bricklayers' daughters are giving piano lessons, and it's next to
impossible to get any servant except a lady's-maid, we shall see women
of leisure develop a surprising interest in the boiling of potatoes.'

Morton admitted the force of these arguments.

'What would you wish your own boy to be?' he asked presently.

'Anything old-fashioned, unadventurous, happily obscure; a country
parson, perhaps, best of all.'

'I understand. I've had the same thoughts. But one Ii to get over that
kind of thing. It won't do to be afraid of life -- nor of death either.'

'And there's the difficulty of education,' said Rolfe. 'If I followed my
instincts, I should make the boy unfit for anything but the quietest,
obscurest life. I should make him hate a street, and love the fields. I
should teach him to despise every form of ambition; to shrink from every
kind of pleasure, but the simplest and purest; to think of life as a
long day's ramble, and death as the quiet sleep that comes at the end of
it. I should like him not to marry -- never to feel the need of it; or
if marry he must, to have no children. That's my real wish; and if I
tried to carry it out, the chances are that I should do him an
intolerable wrong. For fear of it, I must give him into the hands of
other people; I must see him grow into habits and thoughts which will
cause me perpetual uneasiness; I must watch him drift further and
further away from my own ideal of life, till at length, perhaps, there
is scarce a possibility of sympathy between us.'

'Morbid -- all morbid,' remarked the listener.

'I don't know. It may only mean that one sees too clearly the root facts
of existence. I have another mood (less frequent) in which I try to
persuade myself that I don't care much about the child; that his future
doesn't really concern me at all. Why should it? He's just one of the
millions of human beings who come and go. A hundred years hence -- what
of him and of me? What can it matter how he lived and how he died? The
best kind of education would be that which hardened his skin and blunted
his sympathies. What right have I to make him sensitive? The thing is,
to get through life with as little suffering as possible. What monstrous
folly to teach him to wince and cry out at the sufferings of other
people! Won't he have enough of his own before he has done? Yet that's
what we shall aim at -- to cultivate his sympathetic emotions, so that
the death of a bird shall make him sad, and the sight of human distress
wring his heart. Real kindness would try to make of him a healthy
ruffian, with just enough conscience to keep him from crime.'

'Theory for theory, I prefer this,' said Morton. 'To a certain extent I
try to act upon it.'

'You do?'

'Just because I know that my own tendency is to over-softness. I have
sometimes surprised my wife by bidding Harry disregard things that
appealed to his pity. You remember what old Hobbes says: "_Homo malus,
puer robustus_"? There was more truth in it in his day than in ours.
It's natural for a boy to be a good deal of a savage, but our
civilisation is doing its best to change that. Why, not long ago the lad
asked me whether fishing wasn't cruel. He evidently felt that it was,
and so do I; but I couldn't say so. I laughed it off, and told him that
a fish diet was excellent for the brains!'

'I hope I may have as much courage,' said Harvey.

'Life is a compromise, my dear fellow. If the world at large would
suddenly come round to a cultivation of the amiable virtues -- well and
good. But there's no hope of it. As it is, our little crabs must grow
their hard shell, or they've no chance.'

'What about progress? In educating children, we are making the new
world.'

Morton assented.

'But there's no hurry. The growth must be gradual -- will be, whether we
intend it or not. The fact is, I try not to think overmuch about my
children. It remains a doubt, you know, whether education has any
influence worth speaking of.'

'To me,' said Harvey, 'the doubt seems absurd. In my own case, I know, a
good system of training would have made an enormous difference.
Practically, I was left to train myself, and a nice job I made of it. Do
you remember how I used to talk about children before I had one? I have
thought it was the talk of a fool; but, perhaps, after all, it had more
sanity than my views nowadays.'

'_Medio tutissimus_,' murmured Basil.

'And what about your girls?' asked the other, when they had smoked in
silence. 'Is the difficulty greater or less?'

'From my point of view, less. For one thing, I can leave them entirely
in the hands of their mother; if they resemble her, they won't do amiss.
And there's no bother about work in life; they will have enough to live
upon -- just enough. Of course, they may want to go out into the world.
I shall neither hinder nor encourage. I had rather they stayed at home.'

'Don't lose sight of the possibility that by when they are grown up
there may be no such thing as "home". The word is dying out.'

Morton's pedantry led him again to murmur Latin ----

'_Multa renascentur quoe jam cecidere_.'

'You're the happiest man I know, or ever shall know,' said Rolfe, with
more feeling than he cared to exhibit.

'Don't make me think about Croesus, King of Lydia. On the whole,
happiness means health, and health comes of occupation. In one point I
agree with you about yourself: it would have been better if someone had
found the right kind of work for you, and made you stick to it.
By-the-bye, how does your friend, the photographic man, get on?'

'Not at all badly. Did I tell you I had put money into it? I go there a
good deal, and pretend to do something.'

'Why pretend? Couldn't you find a regular job there for a few hours
every day?'

'I dare say I could. It'll be easier to get backwards and forwards from
Gunnersbury. How would you like,' he added, with a laugh, 'to live at
Gunnersbury?'

'What does it matter where one lives? I have something of a prejudice
against Hoxton or Bermondsey; but I think I could get along in most
other places. Gunnersbury is rather pleasant, I thought. Isn't it quite
near to Kew and Richmond?'

'Do those names attract you?'

'They have a certain charm for the rustic ear.'

'It's all one to me. Hughie will go to school, and make friends with
other children. You see, he's had no chance of it yet. We know a hundred
people or so, but have no intimates. Is there such a thing as intimacy
of families in London? I'm inclined to think not. Here, you go into each
other's houses without fuss and sham; you know each other, and trust
each other. In London there's no such comfort, at all events for
educated people. If you have a friend, he lives miles away; before his
children and yours can meet, they must travel for an hour and a half by
bus and underground.'

'I suppose it _must_ be London?' interrupted Morton.

'I'm afraid so,' Harvey replied absently, and his friend said no more.

He had meant this visit to be of three days at most; but time slipped by
so pleasantly that a week was gone before he could resolve on departure.
Most of the mornings he spent in rambles alone, rediscovering many a
spot in the country round which had been familiar to him as a boy, but
which he had never cared to seek in his revisitings of Greystone
hitherto. One day, as he followed the windings of a sluggish stream, he
saw flowers of arrowhead, white flowers with crimson centre, floating by
the bank, and remembered that he had once plucked them here when on a
walk with his father, who held him the while, lest he should stretch too
far and fall in. To reach them now, he lay down upon the grassy brink;
and in that moment there returned to him, with exquisite vividness, the
mind, the senses, of childhood; once more he knew the child's pleasure
in contact with earth, and his hand grasped hard at the sweet-smelling
turf as though to keep hold upon the past thus fleetingly recovered. It
was gone -- no doubt, for ever; a last glimpse vouchsafed to him of
life's beginning as he set his face towards the end. Then came a thought
of joy. The keen sensations which he himself had lost were his child's
inheritance. Somewhere in the fields, this summer morning, Hughie was
delighting in the scent, the touch, of earth, young amid a world where
all was new. The stereotyped phrase about parents living again in their
children became a reality and a source of deep content. So does a man
repeat the experience of the race, and with each step onward live into
the meaning of some old word that he has but idly echoed.

On the day before he left, a letter reached him from Alma. He had felt
surprise at not hearing sooner from her; but Alma's words explained the
delay.

'I have been thinking a great deal,' she wrote, 'and I want to tell you
of my thoughts. Don't imagine they are mere fancies, the result of
ill-health. I feel all but well again, and have a perfectly clear head.
And perhaps it is better that I should write what I have to say, instead
of speaking it. In this way I oblige you to hear me out. I don't mean
that you are in the habit of interrupting me, but perhaps you would if I
began to talk as I am going to write.

'Why can't we stay at Pinner?

'There, that shall have a line to itself. Take breath, and now listen
again. I dislike the thought of removing to Gunnersbury -- really and
seriously I dislike it. You know I haven't given you this kind of
trouble before; when we left Wales I was quite willing to have stayed on
if you had wished it -- wasn't I? Forgive me, then, for springing this
upon you after all your arrangements are made; I could not do it if I
did not feel that our happiness (not mine only) is concerned. Would it
be possible to cancel your agreement with the Gunnersbury man? If not,
couldn't you sublet, with little or no loss? The Pinner house isn't let
yet -- is it? Do let us stay where we are. I think it is the first
serious request I ever made of you, and I think you will see that I have
some right to make it.

'I had rather, much rather, that Hughie did not go to Mrs. Abbott's
school. Don't get angry and call me foolish. What I mean is, that I
would rather teach him myself. In your opinion I have neglected him, and
I confess that you are right. There now! I shall give up my music; at
all events, I shall not play again in public. I have shown what I could
do, and that's enough. You don't like it -- though you have never tried
to show me _why_ -- and again I feel that you are right. A professional
life for me would mean, I see it now, the loss of things more precious.
I will give it up, and live quietly at home. I will have regular hours
for teaching Hughie. If you prefer it, Pauline shall go, and I will take
charge of him altogether. If I do this, what need for us to remove? The
house is more comfortable than the new one at Gunnersbury; we are
accustomed to it; and by being farther from London I shall have less
temptation to gad about. I know exactly what I am promising, and I feel
I _can_ do it, now that my mind is made up.

'Need I fear a refusal? I can't think so. Give the matter your best
thought, and see whether there are not several reasons on my side. But,
please, answer as soon as you can, for I shall be in suspense till I
hear from you.

Alma signed herself 'Yours ever affectionately', but Harvey could find
no trace of affection in the letter. It astonished and annoyed him. Of
course, it could have but one explanation; Alma might as well have saved
herself trouble by writing, in a line or two, that she disliked Mrs
Abbott, and could not bear that the child should be taught by her. He
read through the pages again, and grew angry. What right had she to make
such a request as this, and in the tone of a demand? Twice in the letter
she asserted that she _had_ a right, asserted it as if with some
mysterious reference. Had he sat down immediately to reply, Harvey would
have written briefly forcibly; for, putting aside other grounds of
irritation, there is nothing a man dislikes more than being called upon
at last moment to upset elaborate and troublesome arrangements. But he
was obliged to postpone his answer for a few hours, and in the meantime
he grew more tolerant of Alma's feelings. Had her objection come
earlier, accompanied by the same proposals, he would have been inclined
to listen; but things had gone too far. He wrote, quite good-temperedly,
but without shadow of wavering. There was nothing sudden, he pointed
out, in the step he was about to take; Alma had known it for months, and
had acquiesced in it. As for her music, he quite agreed with her that
she would find it better in every way to abandon thoughts of a public
career; and the fact of Hughie's going to school for two or three hours
a day would in no wise interfere with her wish to see more of him. What
her precise meaning was in saying that she had some 'right' to make this
request, he declared himself unable to discover. Was it a reproach? If
so, his conscience afforded him no light, and he hoped Alma would
explain the words in a letter to him at Pinner.

This correspondence clouded his last evening at Greystone. He was glad
that some acquaintances of Morton's came, and stayed late; sitting alone
with his friend, he would have been tempted to talk of Alma, and he felt
that silence was better just now.

By a train soon after breakfast next morning, he left the old town,
dearer to him each time that he beheld it, and travelled slowly to the
main-line junction, whence again he travelled slowly to Peterborough.
There the express caught him up, and flung him into roaring London
again. Before going to Pinner, he wished to see Cecil Morphew, for he
had an idea to communicate -- a suggestion for the extending of business
by opening correspondence with out of the way towns, such as Greystone.

On reaching the shop in Westminster Bridge Road, he found that Morphew
also had a communication to make, and of a more exciting nature.


CHAPTER 3


Morphew was engaged upstairs with the secretary of an Amateur
Photographic Society. Waiting for this person's departure, Rolfe talked
with the shopman -- a capable fellow, aged about thirty, whose heart was
in the business; he looked at a new hand-camera, which seemed likely to
have a good sale, and heard encouraging reports of things in general.
Then Morphew came down, escorting his visitor. As soon as he was free,
he grasped Harvey by the arm, and whispered eagerly that he had
something to tell him. They went upstairs together, into a room
furnished as an office, hung about with many framed photographs.

'He's dead!' exclaimed Cecil -- 'he's dead!'

A name was needless. Only one man's death could be the cause of such
excitement in Morphew, and it had been so long awaited that the event
had no touch of solemnity. Yet Harvey perceived that his friend's
exultation was not unmixed with disquietude.

'Yesterday morning, early. I heard it by chance. Of course, she hasn't
written to me, but no doubt I shall hear in a few days. I walked about
near the house for hours last night -- like an idiot. The thing seemed
impossible; I had to keep reminding myself, by looking at the windows,
that it was true. Eight years -- think of that! Eight years' misery, due
to that fellow's snobbishness!'

In Harvey's mind the story had a somewhat different aspect. He knew
nothing personally of this Mr. Winter, who might indeed be an incarnation
of snobbery; on the other hand, Cecil Morphew had his defects, and even
to a liberal-minded parent might not recommend himself as a son-in-law.
Then again, the young lady herself, now about six and twenty, must
surely have been influenced by some other motive than respect for her
parents' wishes, in thus protracting her engagement with a lover who had
a secure, though modest, income. Was it not conceivable that she
inherited something of the paternal spirit? or, at all events, that her
feelings had not quite the warmth that Morphew imagined?

'I'm glad it's over,' he replied cordially. 'Now begins a new life for
you.'

'But eight years -- eight years of waiting ----'

'Hang it, what is your age? Thirty! Why, you're only just old enough. No
man ought to marry before thirty.'

Morphew interrupted vehemently.

'That's all rot! Excuse me; I can't help it. A man ought to marry when
he's urged to it by his nature, and as soon as he finds the right woman.
If I had married eight years ago ----.' He broke off with an angry
gesture, misery in his eyes. 'You don't believe that humbug, Rolfe; you
repeat it just to console me. There's little consolation, I can assure
you. I was two and twenty; she, nineteen. Mature man and woman; and we
longed for each other. Nothing but harm could come of waiting year after
year, wretched both of us.'

'I confess,' said Harvey, 'I don't quite see why she waited after
twenty-one.'

'Because she is a good, gentle girl, and could not bear to make her
father and mother unhappy. The blame is all theirs -- mean, shallow,
grovelling souls!'

'What about her mother now?'

'Oh, she was never so obstinate as the old jackass. She'll have little
enough to live upon, and we shall soon arrange things with her somehow.
Is it credible that human beings can be so senseless? For years now,
their means have been growing less and less, just because the snobbish
idiot _would_ keep up appearances. If he had lived a little longer, the
widow would have had practically no income at all. Of course, she shared
in the folly, and I'm only sorry she won't suffer more for it. They
didn't enjoy their lives -- never have done. They lived in miserable
slavery to the opinion of their fellow-snobs. You remember that story
about the flowers at their silver wedding: two hundred pounds -- just
because Mrs. Somebody spent as much -- when they couldn't really afford
two hundred shillings. And they groaned over it -- he and she -- like
people with the stomachache. Why, the old fool died of nothing else; he
was worn out by the fear of having to go into a smaller house.'

Harvey would have liked to put a question: was it possible that the
daughter of such people could be endowed with virtues such as become the
wife of a comparatively poor man? But he had to ask it merely in his own
thoughts. Before long, no doubt, he would meet the lady herself and
appease his curiosity.

Whilst they were talking, there came a knock at the door; the shopman
announced two ladies, who wished to inquire about some photographic
printing.

'Will you see them, Rolfe?' asked Cecil. 'I don't feel like it -- indeed
I don't. You'll be able to tell them all they want.'

Harvey found himself equal to the occasion, and was glad of it; he
needed occupation of some kind to keep his thoughts from an unpleasant
subject. After another talk with Morphew, in which they stuck to
business, he set off homeward.

Here news awaited him. On his arrival all seemed well; Ruth opened the
door, answered his greeting in her quiet, respectful way, and at once
brought tea to the study. When he rang to have the things taken away,
Ruth again appeared, and he saw now that she had something unusual to
say.

'I didn't like to trouble you the first thing, sir,' she began -- 'but
Sarah left yesterday without giving any notice; and I think it's perhaps
as well she did, sir. I've heard some things about her not at all nice.'

'We must find someone else, then,' replied Harvey. 'It's lucky she
didn't go at a less convenient time. Was there some unpleasantness
between you?'

'I had warned her, for her own good, sir, that was all. And there's
something else I had perhaps better tell you now, sir.' Her voice, with
its pleasant Welsh accent, faltered ominously. 'I'm very sorry indeed to
say it, sir, but I shall be obliged to leave as soon as Mrs. Rolfe can
spare me.'

Harvey was overwhelmed. He looked upon Ruth as a permanent member of the
household. She had made herself indispensable; to her was owing the
freedom from domestic harassment which Alma had always enjoyed -- a most
exceptional blessing, yet regarded, after all this time, as a matter of
course. The departure of Ruth meant conflict with ordinary servants, in
which Alma would assuredly be worsted. At this critical moment of their
life, scarcely could anything more disastrous have happened. Seeing her
master's consternation, Ruth was sore troubled, and hastened to explain
herself.

'My brother's wife has just died, sir, and left him with three young
children, and there's no one else can be of help to him but me. He
wanted me to come at once, but, of course, I told him I couldn't do
that. No one can be sorry for his wife's death; she was such a poor,
silly, complaining, useless creature; he hasn't had a quiet day since he
married her. She belonged to Liverpool, and there they were married, and
when he brought her to Carnarvon I said to myself as soon as I saw her
that _she_ wouldn't be much use to a working-man. She began the very
first day to complain and to grumble, and she's gone on with it ever
since. When I was there in my last holiday I really wondered how he bore
his life. There's many women of that kind, sir, but I never knew one as
bad as her -- never. Everything was too much trouble for her, and she
didn't know how to do a thing in the house. I didn't mean to trouble you
with such things, sir. I only told you just to show why I don't feel I
can refuse to go and help him, and try to give him a little peace and
quiet. He's a hard-working man, and the children aren't very healthy,
and I'm sure I don't know how he'd manage ---- '

'You have no choice, Ruth, I see. Well, we must hope to find some one in
your place -- _but_ ----'

Just as he shook his head, the house-bell rang, and Ruth withdrew to
answer it. In a minute or two the study door opened again. Harvey looked
up and saw Alma.

'I was obliged to come,' she said, approaching him, as he rose in
astonishment. 'I thought at first of asking you to come on to
Basingstoke, but we can talk better here.'

No sign of pleasure in their meeting passed between them. On Harvey's
face lingered something of the disturbance caused by Ruth's
communication, and Alma understood it as due to her unexpected arrival;
the smile with which she had entered died away, and she stood like a
stranger doubtful of her reception.

'Was it necessary to talk?' asked Rolfe, pushing forward a chair, and
doing his best to show good humour.

'Yes -- after your reply to my letter this morning,' she answered
coldly.

'Well, you must have some tea first. This is cold. Won't you go and take
your things off, and I'll tell Ruth. By-the-bye, we re in confusion.'

He sketched the position of things; but Alma heard without interest.

'It can't be helped,' was her absent reply. 'There are plenty of
servants.'

Fresh tea was brought, and after a brief absence Alma sat down to it.
Her health had improved during the past week, but she looked tired from
the journey, and was glad to lean back in her chair. For some minutes
neither of them spoke. Harvey had never seen an expression on Alma's
features which was so like hostility; it moved him to serious
resentment. It is common enough for people who have been several years
wedded to feel exasperation in each other's presence, but for Rolfe the
experience was quite new, and so extremely disagreeable, that his pulses
throbbed with violence, and his mouth grew dry. He determined to utter
not a word until Alma began conversation. This she did at length, with
painful effort.

'I think your answer to me was very unkind.'

'I didn't mean it so.'

'You simply said that you wouldn't do as I wished.'

'Not that I wouldn't, but that it was impossible. And I showed you the
reasons -- though I should have thought it superfluous.'

Alma waited a moment, then asked ----

'Is this house let?'

'I don't know. I suppose not.'

'Then there is no reason whatever why we shouldn't stay here.'

'There is every reason why we shouldn't stay here. Every arrangement has
been made for our leaving -- everything fully talked over. What has made
you change your mind?'

'I haven't really changed my mind. I always disliked the idea of going
to Gunnersbury, and you must have seen that I did; but I was so much
occupied with -- with other things; and, as I have told you, I didn't
feel quite the same about my position as I do now.'

She expressed herself awkwardly, growing very nervous. At the first sign
of distress in her, Harvey was able to change his tone.

'Things are going horribly wrong somehow, Alma. There's only one way out
of it. Just say in honest words what you mean. Why do you dislike the
thought of our moving?'

'I told you in my letter,' she answered, somewhat acridly.

'There was no explanation. You said something I couldn't understand,
about having a _right_ to ask me to stay here.'

She glanced at him with incredulous disdain.

'If you don't understand, I can't put it into plainer words.'

'Well now, let _me_ put the whole matter into plainer words than I have
liked to use.' Rolfe spoke deliberately, and not unkindly, though he was
tempted to give way to wrath at what he imagined a display of ignoble
and groundless jealousy. 'All along I have allowed you to take your own
course. No, I mustn't say "allowed", the word is inapplicable; I never
claimed the right to dictate to you. We agreed that this was the way for
rational husband and wife. It seemed to us that I had no more right to
rule over you than you to lay down the law for me. Using your freedom,
you chose to live the life of an artist -- that is to say, you troubled
yourself as little as possible about home and family. I am not
complaining -- not a bit of it. The thing was an experiment, to be sure;
but I have held to the conditions, watched their working. Latterly I
began to see that they didn't work well, and it appears that you agree
with me. This is how matters stand; or rather, this is how they stood
until, for some mysterious reason, you seemed to grow unfriendly. The
reason is altogether mysterious; I leave you to explain it. From my
point of view, the failure of our experiment is simple and natural
enough. Though I had only myself to blame, I have felt for a long time
that you were in an utterly false position. Now you begin to see things
in the same light. Well and good; why can't we start afresh? The only
obstacle is your unfriendly feeling. Give me an opportunity of removing
it. I hate to be on ill terms with you; it seems monstrous,
unaccountable. It puts us on a level with married folk in a London
lodging-house. Is it necessary to sink quite so low?'

Alma listened with trembling intensity, and seemed at first unable to
reply. Her agitation provoked Harvey more than it appealed to his pity.

'If you can't do as I wish,' she said at length, with an endeavour to
speak calmly, 'I see no use in making any change in my own life. There
will be no need of me. I shall make arrangements to go on with my
professional career.'

Harvey's features for a moment set themselves in combativeness, but as
quickly they relaxed, and showed an ambiguous smile.

'No need of you -- and Ruth going to leave us?'

'There oughtn't to be any difficulty in finding someone just as good.'

'Perhaps there ought not to be; but we may thank our stars if we find
anyone half as trustworthy. The chances are that a dozen will come and
go before we settle down again. I don't enjoy that prospect, and I shall
want a good deal of help from you in bearing the discomfort.'

'What kind of help? Of course, I shall see that the house goes on as
usual.'

'Then it's quite certain you will have no time left for a "professional
career".'

'If I understand you, you mean that you don't wish me to have any time
for it.'

Harvey still smiled, though he could not conceal his nervousness.

'I'm afraid it comes to that.'

So little had Alma expected such a declaration, that she gazed at him in
frank surprise.

'Then you are going to oppose me in everything?'

'I hope not. In that case we should do much better to say good-bye.'

The new tone perplexed her, and a puzzled interest mingled with the
lofty displeasure of her look.

'Please let us understand each other.' She spoke with demonstrative
calmness. 'Are we talking on equal terms, or is it master and servant?'

'Husband and wife, Alma, that's all.'

'With a new meaning in the words.'

'No; a very old one. I won't say the oldest, for I believe there was a
time when primitive woman had the making of man in every sense, and
somehow knocked a few ideas into his head; but that was very long ago.'

'If I could be sure of your real meaning ----.' She made an irritated
gesture. 'How are we going to live? You speak of married people in
lodging-houses. I don't know much about them, happily, but I imagine the
husband talks something like this -- though in more intelligible
language.'

'I dare say he does -- poor man. He talks more plainly, because he has
never put himself in a false position -- has never played foolishly with
the facts of life.'

Alma sat reflecting.

'Didn't I tell you in my letter,' she said at length, 'that I was quite
willing to make a change, on one condition?'

'An impossible condition.'

'You treat me very harshly. How have I deserved it? When I wrote that, I
really wished to please you. Of course, I knew you were dissatisfied
with me, and it made me dissatisfied with myself. I wrote in a way that
ought to have brought me a very different answer. Why do you behave as
if I were guilty of something -- as if I had put myself at your mercy?
You never found fault with me -- you even encouraged me to go on ----'

Her choking voice made Harvey look at her in apprehension, and the look
stopped her just as she was growing hysterical.

'You are right about my letter,' he said, very gravely and quietly. 'It
ought to have been in a kinder tone. It would have been, but for those
words you won't explain.'

'You think it needs any explanation that I dislike the thought of Hughie
going to Mrs. Abbott's?'

'Indeed I do. I can't imagine a valid ground for your objection.'

There was a word on Alma's tongue, but her lips would not utter it. She
turned very pale under the mental conflict. Physical weakness, instead
of overcoming her spirit, excited it to a fresh effort of resistance.

'Then,' she said, rising from the chair, 'you are not only unkind to me,
but dishonest.'

Harvey flushed.

'You are making yourself ill again. We had far better not talk at all.'

'I came up for no other purpose. We have to settle everything.'

'As far as I am concerned, everything is settled.'

'Then I have no choice,' said Alma, with subdued passion. 'We shall live
as we have done. I shall accept any engagement that offers, in London or
the country, and regard music as my chief concern. You wished it, and so
it shall be.'

Rolfe hesitated. Believing that her illness was the real cause of this
commotion, he felt it his duty to use all possible forbearance; yet he
knew too well the danger of once more yielding, and at such a crisis.
The contest had declared itself -- it was will against will; to decide
it by the exertion of his sane strength against Alma's hysteria might be
best even for the moment. He had wrought himself to the point of
unwonted energy, a state of body and mind difficult to recover if now he
suffered defeat. Alma, turning from him, seemed about to leave the room.

'One moment ----'

She looked round, carelessly attentive.

'That wouldn't be living as we have done. It would be an intolerable
state of things after this.'

'It's your own decision.'

'Far from it. I wouldn't put up with it for a day.'

'Then there's only one thing left: I must go and live by myself.'

'I couldn't stand that either, and wouldn't try.'

'I am no slave! I shall live where and how I choose.'

'When you have thought about it more calmly, your choice will be the
same as mine.'

Trembling violently, she backed away from him. Harvey thought she would
fall; he tried to hold her by the arm, but Alma shook him off, and in
the same moment regained her -strength. She faced him with a new
defiance, which enabled her at last to speak the words hitherto
unutterable.

'How do you think I can bear to see Hughie with _those_ children?'

Rolfe stood in amaze. The suddenness of this reversion to another stage
of their argument enhanced his natural difficulty in understanding her.
'What children?'

'Those two -- whatever their name may be.'

'Wager's boy and girl?'

'You call them so.'

'Are you going crazy? I _call_ them so? -- what do you mean?'

A sudden misgiving appeared in Alma's eyes; she stared at him so
strangely that Harvey began to fear for her reason.

'What is it, dear? What have you been thinking? Tell me -- speak like
yourself ----'

'Why do you take so much interest in them?' she asked faintly.

'Heavens! You have suspected ----? What _have_ you suspected?'

'They are your own. I have known it for a long time.'

Alarm notwithstanding, Rolfe was so struck by the absurdity of this
charge that he burst into stentorian laughter. Whilst he laughed, Alma
sank into a chair, powerless, tearful.

'I should much like to know,' exclaimed Harvey, laying a hand upon her,
'how you made that astounding discovery. Do you think they are like me?'

'The girl is -- or I thought so.'

'After you had decided that she must be, no doubt.' Again he exploded in
laughter. 'And this is the meaning of it all? This is what you have been
fretting over? For how long?'

Alma brushed away her tears, but gave no answer.

'And if I am their father,' he pursued, with resolute mirthfulness,
'pray, who do you suppose their mother to be?'

Still Alma kept silence, her head bent.

'I'll warrant I can give you evidence against myself which you hadn't
discovered,' Rolfe went on -- 'awful and unanswerable evidence. It is I
who support those children, and pay for their education! -- it is I, and
no other. See your darkest suspicion confirmed. If only you had known
this for certain!'

'Why, then, do you do it?' asked Alma, without raising her eyes.

'For a very foolish reason: there was no one else who could or would.'

'And why did you keep it a secret from me?'

'This is the blackest part of the whole gloomy affair,' he answered,
with burlesque gravity. 'It's in the depraved nature of men to keep
secrets from their wives, especially about money. To tell the truth, I'm
hanged if I know why I didn't tell you before our marriage. The infamous
step was taken not very long before, and I might as well have made a
clean breast of it. Has Mrs. Abbott never spoken to you about her cousin,
Wager's wife?'

'A word or two.'

'Which you took for artful fiction? You imagined she had plotted with me
to deceive you? What, in the name of commonsense, is your estimate of
Mrs. Abbott's character?'

Alma drew a deep breath, and looked up into her husband's face. 'Still
-- she knew you were keeping it from me, about the money.'

'She had no suspicion of it. She always wrote to me openly,
acknowledging the cheques. Would it gratify you to look through her
letters?'

'I believe you.'

'Not quite, I fancy. Look at me again and say it.'

He raised her head gently.

'Yes, I believe you -- it was very silly.'

'It was. The only piece of downright feminine foolishness I ever knew
you guilty of. But when did it begin?'

Alma had become strangely quiet. She spoke in a low, tired voice, and
sat with head turned aside, resting against the back of the chair; her
face was expressionless, her eyelids drooped. Rolfe had to repeat his
question.

'I hardly know,' she replied. 'It must have been when my illness was
coming on.'

'So I should think. It was sheer frenzy. And now that it's over, have
you still any prejudice against Mrs. Abbott?'

'No.'

The syllable fell idly from her lips.

'You are tired, dear. All this sound and fury has been too much for you.
Lie down on the sofa till dinner-time.'

She allowed him to lead her across the room, and lay down as he wished.
To his kiss upon her forehead she made no response, but closed her eyes
and was very still. Harvey seated himself at his desk, and opened two or
three unimportant letters which had arrived this morning. To one of them
he wrote an answer. Turning presently to glance at Alma, he saw that she
had not stirred, and when he leaned towards her, the sound of her
breathing told him that she was asleep.

He meditated on Woman.

A quarter of an hour before dinner-time he left the room; on his return,
when the meal was ready, he found Alma still sleeping, and so soundly
that it seemed wrong to wake her. As rays of sunset had begun to fall
into the room, he drew the blind, then quietly went out, and had dinner
by himself.

At ten o'clock Alma still slept. Using a closely-shaded lamp, Harvey sat
in the room with her and read -- or seemed to read; for ever and again
his eyes strayed to the still figure, and his thoughts wandered over all
he knew of Alma's life. He wished he knew more, that he might better
understand her. Of her childhood, her early maidenhood, what conception
had he? Yet he and she were _one_ -- so said the creeds. And Harvey
laughed to himself, a laugh more of melancholy than of derision.

The clock ticked on; it was near to eleven. Then Alma stirred, raised
herself, and looked towards the light.

'Harvey ----? Have I been asleep so long?'

'Nearly five hours.'

'Oh! That was last night ----'

'You mean, you had no sleep?'

'Didn't close my eyes.'

'And you feel better now?'

'Rather hungry.'

Rolfe laughed. He had seated himself on the couch by her and held her in
his arms.

'Why, then we'll have some supper -- a cold fowl and a bottle of
Burgundy -- a profligate supper, fit for such abandoned characters; and
over it you shall tell me how the world looked to you when you were ten
years old.'


CHAPTER 4


Alma returned to Basingstoke, and remained there until the new house was
ready for her reception. With the help of her country friends she
engaged two domestics, cook and housemaid, who were despatched to
Gunnersbury in advance; they had good 'characters', and might possibly
co-operate with their new mistress in her resolve to create an admirable
household. Into this ambition Alma had thrown herself with no less
fervour than that which carried her off to wild Wales five years ago;
but her aim was now strictly 'practical', she would have nothing more to
do with 'ideals'. She took lessons in domestic economy from the good
people at Basingstoke. Yes, she had found her way at last! Alma saw it
in the glow of a discovery, this calm, secure, and graceful middle-way.
She talked of it with an animation that surprised and pleased her little
circle down in Hampshire; those ladies had never been able to illumine
their everyday discharge of duty with such high imaginative glory. In
return for their humble lessons, Alma taught them to admire themselves,
to see in their place and functions a nobility they had never suspected.

For a day or two after her arrival at Gunnersbury, Harvey thought that
he had never seen her look so well; certainly she had never shown the
possibilities of her character to such advantage. It seemed out of the
question that any trouble could ever again come between them. Only when
the excitement of novelty had subsided did he perceive that Alma was far
from having recovered her physical strength. A walk of a mile or two
exhausted her; she came home from an hour's exercise with Hughie pale
and tremulous; and of a morning it was often to be noticed that she had
not slept well. Without talking of it, Harvey planned the holiday which
Alma had declared would be quite needless this year; he took a house in
Norfolk for September. Before the day of departure, Alma had something
to tell him, which, by suggesting natural explanation of her weakness,
made him less uneasy. Remembering the incident which had brought to a
close their life in Wales, he saw with pleasure that Alma no longer
revolted against the common lot of woman. Perhaps, indeed, the
announcement she made to him was the cause of more anxiety in his mind
than in hers.

They took their servants with them, and left the house to a caretaker.
Pauline Smith, though somewhat against Harvey's judgment, had been
called upon to resign; Alma wished to have Hughie to herself, save
during his school hours; he slept in her room, and she tended him most
conscientiously. Harvey had asked whether she would like to invite any
one, but she preferred to be alone.

This month by the northern sea improved her health, but she had little
enjoyment. After a few days, she wearied of the shore and the moorland,
and wished herself back at Gunnersbury. Nature had never made much
appeal to her; when she spoke of its beauties with admiration, she
echoed the approved phrases, little more; all her instincts drew towards
the life of a great town. Sitting upon the sand, between cliff and
breakers, she lost herself in a dream of thronged streets and brilliant
rooms; the voice of the waves became the roar of traffic, a far sweeter
music. With every year this tendency had grown stronger; she could only
marvel, now, at the illusion which enabled her to live so long, all but
contentedly, in that wilderness where Hughie was born. Rather than
return to it, she would die -- rather, a thousand times. Happily, there
was no such danger. Harvey would never ask her to leave London. All he
desired was that she should hold apart from certain currents of town
life; and this she was resolved to do, knowing how nearly they had swept
her to destruction.

'Wouldn't you like to take up your sketching again?' said Harvey one
day, when he saw that she felt dull.

'Sketching? Oh, I had forgotten all about it. It seems ages ago. I
should have to begin and learn all over again. No, no; it isn't worth
while. I shall have no time.'

She did not speak discontentedly, but Rolfe saw already the
justification of his misgivings. She had begun to feel the constant
presence of the child a restraint and a burden.

Happily, on their return home, Hughie would go to school for a couple of
hours each morning. Alma could have wished it any other school than Mary
Abbott's, but the thought was no longer so insupportable as when she
suffered under her delusion concerning the two children. Now that she
had frequently seen Minnie Wager, she wondered at the self-deception
which allowed her to detect in the child's face a distinct resemblance
to Harvey. Of course, there was nothing of the kind. She had been the
victim of a morbid jealousy -- a symptom, no doubt, of the disorder of
the nerves which was growing upon her. Yet she could not overcome her
antipathy to Mary Abbott. Harvey, she felt sure, would never have made
himself responsible for those children, but that in doing so he
benefited their teacher; and it was not without motive of conscience
that he kept the matter secret. By no effort could Alma banish this
suspicion. She resolved that it should never appear; she commanded her
face and her utterance; but it was impossible for her ever to regard Mrs
Abbott with liking, or even with respect.

In a darker corner of her mind lay hidden another shape of jealousy --
jealousy unavowed, often disguised as fear, but for the most part
betraying itself through the mask of hatred.

Times innumerable, in nights that brought no rest, and through long
hours of weary day, Alma had put her heart to the proof, and acquitted
it of any feeling save a natural compassion for the man Hugh Carnaby had
killed. She had never loved Redgrave, had never even thought of him with
that curiosity which piques the flesh; yet so inseparably was he
associated with her life at its points of utmost tension and ardour,
that she could not bear to yield to any other woman a closer intimacy, a
prior claim. At her peril she had tempted him, and up to the fatal
moment she was still holding her own in the game which had become to her
a passion. It ended -- because a rival came between. Of Sibyl's guilt
she never admitted a doubt; it was manifest in the story made public by
Hugh Carnaby, the story which he, great simple fellow, told in all good
faith, relying absolutely on his wife's assertion of innocence. Saving
her husband, who believed Sibyl innocent?

She flattered herself with the persuasion that it was right to hate
Sibyl -- a woman who had sold herself for money, whose dishonour
differed in no respect from that of the woman of the pavement. And all
the more she hated her because she feared her. What security could there
be that Redgrave's murderer (thus she thought of him) had kept the
secret which he promised to keep? That he allowed no hint of it to
escape him in public did not prove that he had been equally scrupulous
with Sibyl; for Hugh was a mere plaything in the hands of his wife, and
it seemed more than likely that he had put his stupid conscience at rest
by telling her everything. Were it so, what motive would weigh with
Sibyl to keep her silent? One, and one only, could be divined: a fear
lest Alma, through intimacy with Redgrave, might have discovered things
which put her in a position to dare the enmity of her former friend.
This, no doubt, would hold Sibyl to discretion. Yet it could not relieve
Alma from the fear of her, and of Hugh Carnaby himself -- fear which
must last a lifetime; which at any moment, perhaps long years hence,
might find its bitter fulfilment, and work her ruin. For Harvey Rolfe
was not a man of the stamp of Hugh Carnaby: he would not be hoodwinked
in the face of damning evidence, or lend easy ear to specious
explanations. The very fact that she _could_ explain her ambiguous
behaviour was to Alma an enhancement of the dread with which she thought
of such a scene between herself and Harvey; for to be innocent, and yet
unable to force conviction of it upon his inmost mind, would cause her a
deeper anguish than to fall before him with confession of guilt. And to
convince him would be impossible, for ever impossible. Say what she
might, and however generous the response of his love, there must still
remain the doubt which attaches to a woman's self-defence when at the
same time she is a self-accuser

In the semi-delirium of her illness, whilst waiting in torment for the
assurance that Carnaby had kept her secret, she more than once prayed
for Sibyl's death. In her normal state of mind Alma prayed for nothing;
she could not hope that Sibyl's life would come to a convenient end; but
as often as she thought of her, it was with a vehemence of malignity
which fired her imagination to all manner of ruthless extremes. It
revolted her to look back upon the time when she sat at that woman's
feet, a disciple, an affectionate admirer, allowing herself to be
graciously patronised, counselled, encouraged. The repose of manner
which so impressed her, the habitual serenity of mood, the unvarying
self-confidence -- oh, these were excellent qualities when it came to
playing the high part of cold and subtle hypocrisy! She knew Sibyl, and
could follow the workings of her mind: a woman incapable of love, or of
the passion which simulates it; worshipping herself, offering luxuries
to her cold flesh as to an idol; scornful of the possibility that she
might ever come to lack what she desired; and, at the critical moment,
prompt to secure herself against such danger by the smiling, cynical
acceptance of whatsoever shame. Alma had no small gift of intuition;
proved by the facility and fervour with which she could adapt her mind
to widely different conceptions of life. This characteristic, aided by
the perspicacity which is bestowed upon every jealous woman, perchance
enabled her to read the mysterious Sibyl with some approach to
exactness. Were it so, prudence should have warned her against a
struggle for mere hatred's sake with so formidable an antagonist. But
the voice of caution had never long audience with Alma, and was not
likely, at any given moment, to prevail against a transport of her
impetuous soul.

Harvey, meanwhile, fearing her inclination to brood over the dark event,
tried to behave as though he had utterly dismissed it from his thoughts.
He kept a cheerful countenance, talked much more than usual, and seemed
full of health and hope. As usual between married people, this resolute
cheerfulness had, more often than not, an irritating effect upon Alma.
Rolfe erred once more in preferring to keep silence about difficulties
rather than face the unpleasantness of frankly discussing them. One
good, long, intimate conversation about Mrs. Carnaby, with unrestricted
exchange of views, the masculine and the feminine, with liberal
acceptance of life as it is lived, and honest contempt of leering
hypocrisies, would have done more, at this juncture, to put healthy tone
into Alma's being than any change of scene and of atmosphere, any
medicament or well-meant summons to forgetfulness. Like the majority of
good and thoughtful men, he could not weigh his female companion in the
balance he found good enough for mortals of his own sex. With a little
obtuseness to the 'finer' feelings, a little native coarseness in his
habits towards women, he would have succeeded vastly better amid the
complications of his married life.

Troubles of a grosser kind, such as heretofore they had been wonderfully
spared, began to assail them during their month in Norfolk. One morning,
about midway in the holiday, Harvey, as he came down for a bathe before
breakfast, heard loud and angry voices from the kitchen. On his return
after bathing, he found the breakfast-table very carelessly laid, with
knives unpolished, and other such neglects of seemliness. Alma,
appearing with Hughie, spoke at once of the strange noises she had
heard, and Harvey gave his account of the uproar.

'I thought something was wrong,' said Alma. 'The cook has seemed in a
bad temper for several days. I don't like either of them. I think I
shall give them both notice, and advertise at once. They say that
advertising is the best way.'

The housemaid (in her secondary function of parlour-maid) waited at
table with a scowl. The fish was ill fried, the eggs were hard, the
toast was soot-smeared. For the moment Alma made no remark; but half an
hour later, when Harvey and the child had rambled off to the sea-shore,
she summoned both domestics, and demanded an explanation of their
behaviour. Her tone was not conciliatory; she had neither the experience
nor the tact which are necessary in the mistress of a household, and it
needed only an occasion such as this to bring out the contemptuousness
with which she regarded her social inferiors. Too well-bred to indulge
in scolding or wrangling, the delight of a large class of housewives,
Alma had a quiet way of exhibiting displeasure and scorn, which told
smartly on the nerves of those she rebuked. No one could better have
illustrated the crucial difficulty of the servant-question, which lies
in the fact that women seldom can rule, and all but invariably dislike
to be ruled by, their own sex; a difficulty which increases with the
breaking-up of social distinctions.

She went out into the sunshine, and found Harvey and Hughie building a
great castle of sand. Her mood was lightsome for she felt that she had
acted with decision and in a way worthy of her dignity.

'They will both go about their business. I only hope we may get meals
for the rest of the time here.'

Harvey nodded, with closed lips.

'It's a pity Pauline went,' he remarked presently.

'I'm afraid it is. I hadn't quite realised what it would mean.'

'I rather think I ventured to say something of that kind, didn't I? She
_may_ not have taken another place. Suppose you write to her?'

Alma seemed to waver.

'What I am thinking,' she said in a lower tone, 'is that -- before long
-- we shall need -- I suppose -- someone of a rather different kind --
an ordinary nurse-girl. But you wouldn't like Hughie to be with anyone
of that sort?'

'It wouldn't matter now.'

'Here's the philosophy of the matter in a nut-shell,' said Harvey
afterwards. 'Living nowadays means keeping up appearances, and you must
do it just as carefully before your own servants as before your friends.
The alternatives are, one general servant, with frank confession of
poverty, or a numerous household and everything _comme il faut_. There's
no middle way, with peace. I think your determination to take care of
Hughie yourself was admirable; but it won't work. These two women think
you do it because you can't afford a nurse, and at once they despise us.
It's the nature of the beasts -- it's the tone of the time. Nothing will
keep them and their like in subordination but a jingling of the purse.
One must say to them all day long, "I am your superior; I can buy you by
the dozen, if need be; I never need soil my finger with any sort of
work, and you know it." Ruth was a good creature, but I seriously doubt
whether she would have been quite so good if she hadn't seen us keeping
our horse and our gardener and our groom down yonder -- everything
handsome about us. For the sake of quietness we must exalt ourselves.'

'You're quite right about Ruth,' replied Alma, laughing. 'Several times
she has let me see how she admired my life of idleness; but it's just
that I don't want to go back to.'

'No need. Ruth was practically a housekeeper. You can manage your own
house, but you must have a servant for everything. Get a nurse, by all
means.'

Alma drew a breath of contentment.

'You are not dissatisfied with _me_, Harvey?'

'Of course not.'

'But tell me -- how does Mrs. Morton manage? Why isn't she despised by
her servants when she's always so busy?'

Harvey had to close his lips against the first answer which occurred to
him.

'For one thing,' he replied, 'there's a more natural state of things in
those little towns; something of the old spirit still lives. Then the
Mortons have the immense advantage of being an old family, settled there
for generations, known and respected by everyone. That's a kind of
superiority one can't buy, and goes for a great deal in comfortable
living. Morton's servants are the daughters of people who served his
parents. From their childhood they have thought it would be a privilege
to get into that house.'

'Impossible in London.'

'Unless you are a duchess.'

'What a pleasant thing it must be,' said Alma musingly, 'to have
ancestors.'

Harvey chuckled.

'The next best thing is to have descendants.'

'Why, then,' exclaimed Alma, 'we become ancestors ourselves. But one
ought to have an interesting house to live in. Nobody's ancestors ever
lived in a semi-detached villa. What I should like would be one of those
picturesque old places down in Surrey quite in the country, yet within
easy reach of town; a house with a real garden, and perhaps an orchard.
I believe you can get them very cheap sometimes. Not rent the house, but
buy it. Then we would have our portraits painted, and ----'

Harvey asked himself how long Alma would find satisfaction in such a
home; but it pleased him to hear her talking thus of the things which
were his own hopeless dream.

'That reminds me, Alma, you have never sat yet for your picture, as I
said you should.'

'We must wait -- now.'

'It shall be done next year.'

They were content with each other this evening, and looked forward to
pleasures they might have in common. For Harvey had learnt to nourish
only the humblest hopes, and Alma thought she had subdued herself to an
undistinguished destiny.


CHAPTER 5


Determined to have done once for all with a task she loathed, Alma wrote
out her advertisements for cook, house-parlourmaid, and nurse, and sent
them to half a dozen newspapers. After three weeks of correspondence
with servants and mistresses -- a correspondence which, as Rolfe said,
would have made a printed volume of higher sociological interest than
anything yet published, or likely to be -- the end of her patience and
her strength compelled her to decide half desperately, and engage the
three young women who appeared least insolent. At the same time she had
to find a new boy for boots, windows, knives, and coals, the youngster
hitherto employed having been so successful with his 'book' on Kempton
Park and Hurst Park September meetings that he relinquished menial
duties and devoted himself wholly to the turf; but this was such a
simple matter, compared with the engaging of indoor domestics, that she
felt it almost a delight. When a strong, merry-looking lad presented
himself, eager for the job, and speaking not a word that was beside the
point, Alma could have patted his head.

She amused Harvey that evening by exclaiming with the very accent of
sincerity ----

'How I like men, and how I detest women!'

Her nerves were so upset again that, when all was over, she generally
slept pretty well, but now her insomnia returned, and had to keep her
bed for a day or two. At the sea-side she had once more she had recourse
to the fashionable specific. Harvey knew nothing of this; she was
careful to hide it from him; and each time she measured out her dose she
assured herself that it should be the last.

Oh, but to lie through those terrible small hours, her brain feverishly
active, compelling her to live again in the scenes and the emotions she
most desired to forget! She was haunted by the voice of Cyrus Redgrave,
which at times grew so distinct to her hearing that it became an
hallucination. Her memory reproduced his talk with astonishing fidelity;
it was as though she had learnt it by heart, instead of merely listening
to it at the time. This only in the silence of night; during the day she
could not possibly have recalled a tenth of what her brain thus
treacherously preserved.

In sleep she sometimes dreamt of him, and that was perhaps worse; for
whilst the waking illusion only reproduced what he had actually said,
with all his tricks of tone, his suavities of expression, sleep brought
before her another Redgrave. He looked at her with a smile, indeed, but
a smile of such unutterable malignity that she froze with terror. It was
always the same. Redgrave stood before her smiling, silent; stood and
gazed until in a paroxysm of anguish she cried out and broke the dream.
Once, whilst the agony was upon her, she sprang from bed, meaning to go
to her husband and tell him everything, and so, it might be, put an end
to her sufferings. But with her hand upon the door she lost courage.
Impossible! She could not hope to be believed. She could never convince
her husband that she had told him all.

Upon _her_ lay the guilt of Redgrave's death. This had entered slowly
into her consciousness; at first rejected, but ever returning until the
last argument of self-solace gave way. But for her visit to the bungalow
that evening, Hugh Carnaby would not have been maddened to the point of
fatal violence. In the obscurity he had mistaken her figure for that of
Sibyl; and when Redgrave guarded her retreat, he paid for the impulse
with his life.

On the Sunday before her concert, she had thought of going to see
Redgrave, but the risk seemed too great, and there was no certainty of
finding him at home. She wished above all things to see him, for there
was a suspicion in her mind that Mrs. Strangeways had a plot against her,
though of its nature she could form no idea. It might be true that
Redgrave was purposely holding aloof, whether out of real jealousy, or
simply as a stratagem, a new move in the game. She would not write to
him; she knew the danger of letters, and had been careful never to write
him even the simplest note. If she must remain in uncertainty about his
attitude towards her, the approaching ordeal would be intensified with a
new agitation: was he coming to her recital, or was he not? She had
counted upon triumphing before him. If he could stay away, her power
over him was incomplete, and at the moment when she had meant it to be
irresistible.

The chance encounter on Monday with Hugh Carnaby made her think of
Sibyl, and she could not rest until she had endeavoured to learn
something of Sibyl's movements. As Carnaby was leaving town, his wife
would be free; and how did Sibyl use her freedom? On that subject Mrs
Strangeways had a decided opinion, and her knowledge of the world made
it more than probable that she was right. Without any scheme of
espionage, obeying her instinct of jealous enmity, Alma hastened to
Oxford and Cambridge Mansions. But Sibyl had left home, and -- was not
expected to return that night.

How she spent the next few hours Alma could but dimly remember. It was a
vortex of wretchedness. As dark fell she found herself at the gate
leading to the bungalow, lurking, listening, waiting for courage to go
farther. She stole at length over the grass behind the bushes, until she
could see the lighted window of Redgrave's study. The window was open.
She crept nearer and nearer, till she was actually in the veranda and
looking into the room. Redgrave sat within, smoking and reading a
newspaper. She purposely made a movement which drew his attention.

How would it have ended but for Hugh Carnaby?

Beyond ascertaining that Sibyl was not there, she had of course
discovered nothing of what she wished to know. As likely as not she had
come too early. Redgrave's behaviour when she drew his attention
suggested that such a sound at the open window did not greatly surprise
him; the surprise appeared when he saw who stood there -- surprise and
momentary embarrassment, which would be natural enough if he expected a
different visitor. And he was so anxious that she should come in at
once. Had she done so, Redgrave's life would have been saved; but ----

Its having been publicly proved that Mrs. Carnaby was then far away from
Wimbledon did not tend to shake Alma's conviction. The summons to her
mother's deathbed had disturbed Sibyl's arrangements, that was all. Most
luckily for her, as it turned out. But women of that kind (said Alma
bitterly) are favoured by fortune.

Locked in a drawer of her writing-table lay a bundle of letters and
papers which had come to her immediately after the concert. To none of
the letters had she replied; it was time for her to go through them, and
answer, with due apologies, those which deserved an answer. Several did
not; they were from people whom she hoped never to see again -- people
who wrote in fulsome terms, because they fancied she would become a
celebrity. The news of her breakdown had appeared in a few newspapers,
and brought her letters of sympathy; these also lay unanswered. On a day
of late autumn she brought herself to the task of looking through this
correspondence, and in the end she burnt it all. Among the half-dozen
people to whom she decided to write was Felix Dymes; not out of
gratitude, or any feeling of friendliness, but because she could not
overcome a certain fear of the man. He was capable of any meanness,
perhaps of villainy; and perhaps he harboured malice against her, seeing
that she had foiled him to the last. She penned a few lines asking him
to let her have a complete statement of the financial results of her
recital, which it seemed strange that he had not sent already.

'My health,' she added, 'is far from re-established, and I am unable
either to go to town or to ask you to come and see me. It is rather
doubtful whether I shall ever again play in public.'

In her own mind there lingered no doubt at all, but she thought it
better not to be too abrupt with Dymes.

After burning all the letters, she read once more through the press
notices of her performance. It was significant that the musical critics
whose opinion had any weight gave her only a word or two of cautious
commendation; her eulogists were writers who probably knew much less
about music than she, and who reported concerts from the social point of
view. Popular journalism represented her debut as a striking success.
Had she been able to use her opportunity to the utmost, doubtless
something of a 'boom' -- the word then coming into fashion -- might have
resulted for her; she could have given two or three more recitals before
the end of the season, have been much photographed and paragraphed, and
then have gone into the country 'to spread her conquests farther'. This
was Felix Dymes's hope. Writing with all propriety, he had yet allowed
it to be seen how greatly he was vexed and disappointed at her failure
to take the flood. Alma, too, had regretful moments; but she fought
against the feeling with all her strength. Today she all but found
courage to throw these newspapers into the fire; it would be a final
sacrifice, a grave symbolic act, and might bring her peace. Yet she
could not. Long years hence, would it not be a legitimate pride to show
these things to her children? A misgiving mingled with the thought, but
her reluctance prevailed. She made up a parcel, wrote upon it, 'My
Recital, May 1891', and locked it up with other most private memorials.

She had not long to wait for her answer from Dymes. He apologised for
his delay in the matter of business, and promised that a detailed
statement should be sent to her in a very few days. The unfortunate
state of her health -- there Alma smiled -- moved him to sympathy and
profound regret; her abandonment of a professional career _could_ not,
_must_ not, be a final decision!

Something prompted her to hand this letter to Harvey.

'I took it for granted,' he said humorously, 'that the man had sent you
a substantial cheque long ago.'

'I believe the balance will be on my side.'

'Would you like me to see to the rest of the business for you?'

'I don't think that's necessary, is it?'

To her relief, Harvey said no more. She waited for the promised
balance-sheet, but weeks passed by and it did not arrive. An explanation
of this readily occurred to her: Dymes calculated upon bringing her to
an interview. She thought of Harvey's proposal, and wished she could
dare to accept it; but the obscure risks were too great. So, months
elapsed, till the affair seemed forgotten.

They never spoke to each other of Hugh Carnaby or of Sibyl.

Meanwhile, Alma did not lack society. Mrs. Abbott, whom, without change
of feeling, she grew accustomed to see frequently, introduced her to the
Langland family, and in Mrs. Langland she found a not uncongenial
acquaintance. This lady had known many griefs, and seemed destined to
suffer many more; she had wrinkles on her face which should not have
been there at forty-five; but no one ever heard her complain or saw her
look downhearted.

In her zeal for housewifery, Alma saw much to admire and to imitate in
Mrs. Langland. She liked the good-humoured modesty with which the elder
lady always spoke of herself, and was not displeased at observing an air
of deference when the conversation turned on such high matters as
literature and art. Mrs. Langland knew all about the recital at Prince's
Hall; she knew, moreover, as appeared from a casual remark one day, that
Mrs. Rolfe had skill in 'landscape painting'.

'Who told you that?' asked Alma, with surprise.

'I hope it wasn't a secret. Mrs. Abbott spoke of your water-colours once.
She was delighted with them.'

Praise even from Mary Abbott gratified Alma; it surprised her, and she
doubted its sincerity, but there was satisfaction in knowing that her
fame went abroad among the people at Gunnersbury. Without admiration she
could not live, and nothing so severely tested her resolution to be
content with the duties of home as Harvey's habit of taking all for
granted, never remarking upon her life of self-conquest, never soothing
her with the flatteries for which she hungered.

She hailed with delight the first visit after several months from her
friends Dora and Gerda Leach. During the summer their father's health
had suffered so severely that the overwrought man found himself
compelled to choose between a long holiday abroad and the certainty of
complete collapse if he tried to pursue his ordinary life. The family
went away, and returned in November, when it seemed probable that the
money-making machine known as Mr. Leach had been put into tolerable
working order for another year or so. Not having seen Alma since her
recital, the girls overflowed with talk about it, repeating all the
eulogies they had heard, and adding such rapturous laudation of their
own that Alma could have hung upon their necks in gratitude. They found
it impossible to believe that she would no more play in public.

'Oh, but when you are _quite_ well!' they exclaimed. 'It would be a
shame -- a sin!'

In writing to them, Alma had put her decision solely on the ground of
health. Now, assuming a countenance of gentle gravity, she made known
her higher reasons.

'I have felt it to be my duty. Remember that I can't consider myself
alone. I found that I must either devote myself wholly to music or give
it up altogether. You girls can't very well understand. When one is a
wife and a mother -- I thought it all over during my illness. I had been
neglecting my husband and Hughie, and it was too bad -- downright
selfishness. Art and housekeeping won't go together; I thought they
might, butt found my mistake. Of course, it cost me a struggle, but
that's over. I have learnt to _renounce_.'

'It's very noble of you!' murmured Dora Leach.

'I never heard anything so noble!' said her sister.

Alma flushed with pleasure.

'And yet you know,' Dora pursued, 'artists have a duty to the world.'

'I can't help questioning,' said Gerda, 'whether you had a _right_ to
sacrifice yourself.'

Alma smiled thoughtfully.

'You can't quite see it as I do. When one has children ----'

'It must make a great difference' -- 'Oh, a great difference!' --
responded the sisters. And again they exclaimed at the spectacle of such
noble devotedness.

By natural transition the talk turned to Mrs. Carnaby. The girls spoke of
her compassionately, but Alma soon perceived that they did not utter all
their thoughts.

'I'm afraid,' she said, 'that some people take another view. I have
heard -- but one doesn't care to repeat such things.'

Dora and Gerda betrayed a lively interest. Yes, they too had heard
disagreeable gossip; what a shame it was!

'Of course, you see her?' said Dora.

Alma shook her head, and seemed a trifle embarrassed.

'I don't even know whether she still lives there.'

'Oh yes, she does,' replied Miss Leach eagerly. 'But I've been told that
very few people go. I wondered -- we rather wished to know whether _you_
did.'

Again Alma gently shook her head.

'I haven't even heard from her. I suppose she has her reasons. To tell
you the truth, I'm not quite sure that my husband would like me to call.
It isn't a pleasant subject, is it? Let us talk of something else.'

So, when Dora and Gerda went away, they carried with them the conviction
that Mrs. Carnaby was an 'impossible' person and of course lost no
opportunity of imparting it to their friends.

About a week before Christmas, when the new servants seemed to have
settled to their work, and the house routine needed less supervision,
Alma and her husband dined at the Langlands', to meet a few quiet
people. Among the guests was Mrs. Langland's brother, of whom Alma had
already heard, and whom, before the end of the evening, she came to
regard with singular interest. Mr. Thistlewood had no advantages of
physique, and little charm of manner; his long, meagre body never seemed
able to put itself at ease; sitting or standing, he displayed the
awkwardness of a naturally shy man who has not studied the habits of
society. But his features, in spite of irregularity, and a complexion
resembling the tone of 'foxed' paper, attracted observation, and
rewarded it; his eye had a pleasant twinkle, oddly in contrast with the
lines of painful thought upon his forehead, and the severity of strained
muscles in the lower part of his face. He was head-master of a small
school of art in a northern county; a post which he had held only for a
twelvemonth. Like his sister's husband, Thistlewood suffered from
disappointed ambition, for he had aimed at great things as a painter;
but he accepted his defeat, and at thirty-five was seeking content in a
'sphere of usefulness' which promised, after all, to give scope to his
best faculties. Not long ago he would have scorned the thought of
becoming a 'teacher'; yet for a teacher he was born, and the truth, in
dawning upon his mind, had brought with it a measure of consolation.

A finger missing from his left hand told a story of student life in
Paris. It was a quarrel with a young Frenchman, about a girl. He and his
rival happening to sit opposite to each other at a restaurant table,
high words arose between them, and the Frenchman eventually made a stab
at Thistlewood's hand with his dinner-fork. That ended the dispute, but
the finger had to come off. Not long afterwards Thistlewood accepted an
engagement to go as artist with a party of English explorers into
Siberia. On his return he lingered for a week or two in St Petersburg,
and there chanced to meet the girl who had cost him one of his digits.
She, like himself, had been in pursuit of adventures; but, whereas the
artist came back with a well-filled purse, the wandering damsel was at
her last sou. They journeyed together to London, and for the next year
or two Thistlewood had the honour of working himself almost to death to
support a very expensive young woman, who cared no more for him than for
her cast-off shoes. Happily, some richer man was at length found who
envied him his privilege, and therewith ended Thistlewood's devotion to
the joys of a bohemian life. Ever since, his habits had been excessively
sober -- perhaps a little morose. But Mrs. Langland, who now saw him once
a year; thought him in every respect improved. Moreover, she had a
project for his happiness, and on that account frequently glanced at him
during dinner, as he conversed, much more fluently than of wont, with
his neighbour, Mrs. Abbott.

Alma sat on the other side of the table, and was no less observant than
the hostess of a peculiar animation on Mr. Thistlewood's dark visage. To
be sure, she knew nothing of him, and it might be his habit to wear that
look when he talked with ladies; but Alma thought it unlikely. And it
seemed to her that Mary Abbott, though much as usual in manner, had a
just perceptible gleam of countenance beyond what one was accustomed to
remark in her moments of friendly conversation. This, too, might be
merely the result of a little natural excitement, seeing that the
school-mistress so seldom dined from home. But, in any case, the
proximity of these two persons was curiously interesting and suggestive.

In the drawing-room, presently, Alma had a pleasant little talk with Mr
Thistlewood. By discreet experiment, she satisfied herself that Mrs
Abbott's name certainly quickened his interest; and, having learnt so
much, it was easy, by representing herself as that lady's old and
intimate friend, to win from the man a significant look of pleasure and
confidence. They talked of art, of landscape, and it appeared that
Thistlewood was acquainted with the part of Carnarvonshire where Alma
had lived. What was more, he had heard of her charming water-colours,
and he would so much like to see them.

'Some enemy has done this,' replied Alma, laughing gaily. 'Was it Mrs
Abbott?'

'No, it was not,' he answered, with corresponding vivacity.

'Why, then, it must have been Mrs. Langland, and I have a good mind to
put her to open shame by asking you to come and see my wretched daubs.'

Nothing would please him better, declared Thistlewood; and thereupon he
accepted an invitation to tea for the following afternoon.

Alma asked no one else. She understood that this man was only to be
observed under favourable conditions by isolating him. She wished,
moreover, to bring him into fireside conversation with Harvey, and to
remark her husband's demeanour. By way of preparation for this
conjuncture, she let fall, in private chat with Harvey, a word or two
which pointed humorously at her suspicions concerning Thistlewood and
Mary Abbott. The hearer exhibited an incredulous surprise.

'It was only a fancy,' said Alma, smiling rather coldly; and she felt
more desirous than ever of watching her husband in Thistlewood's
presence.

Unexpectedly, from her point of view, the two men got along together
very well indeed. Harvey, thoroughly cordial, induced their guest to
speak of his work at the School of Art, and grew so interested in it
that the conversation went on for a couple of hours. Thistlewood had
pronounced and enthusiastic ideas on the subject.

'My difficulty is,' he exclaimed, 'that I can't get hold of the children
young enough. People send their boys and girls to be taught drawing as
an "accomplishment" -- the feeble old notion. I want to teach it as a
most important part of elementary education -- in fact, to take
youngsters straight on from the kindergarten stage.'

'Did I tell you,' put in Alma, 'that our little boy goes to Mrs
Abbott's?' and her eyes were on both men at once.

'I should say you couldn't have done better than send him there,'
replied Thistlewood, shuffling his feet and fidgeting with his hands.
'Mrs. Abbott is an admirable teacher. She quite agrees with me -- I
should say that I quite agree with her. But I am forgetting, Mrs. Rolfe,
that you know her better than I do.'

Hughie was allowed to come into the room for a little while, and to give
an account of what he learnt at school. When at length Thistlewood took
his leave, it was with a promise that he would come again and dine a few
days hence. His visit at Mrs. Langland's would extend over another
fortnight. Before the day of his departure northwards, Alma met him
several times, and succeeded in establishing almost an intimate
friendship with him. He came to bid her goodbye on a black and bitter
January afternoon, when it happened that Harvey was away. As soon as he
entered, she saw upon his face a look of ill augury, a heavy-eyed
dejection very unlike the twinkling hopefulness with which he had
hitherto regarded her.

'What's the matter?' she asked, holding his hand for a moment. 'Don't
you like going back to work?'

'I enjoy my work, Mrs. Rolfe, as you know.'

'But you are not like yourself.'

'My friends here have made the time very pleasant. Naturally, I don't
like leaving them.'

He was a little abrupt, and decidedly showed the less genial phase of
his disposition.

'Have some tea,' said Alma, 'and warm yourself at the fire. You will
thaw presently, Mr. Thistlewood. I suppose, like other unregenerate men,
you live in rooms? Has that kind of life an irresistible charm for you?'

He looked at her with a frown which, to say the least, was discouraging;
it changed, however, to a more amiable expression as she handed him his
tea.

'What do you imagine my income is, Mrs. Rolfe?' came growlingly from him.

'I have no idea. You mean, I'm afraid' -- Alma's voice fell upon its
gentlest note -- 'that it doesn't allow you to think of -- of any
change?'

'It _ought_ not to allow me,' replied the other. 'I have about two
hundred pounds a year, and can't hope much more for a long time.'

'And that,' exclaimed Alma, 'seems to you insufficient? I should have
thought in a little town -- so far away -- Oh! you want to surround
yourself with luxuries ----'

'I don't! -- I beg your pardon, Mrs. Rolfe, I meant to say that you
surely know me better.' His hand trembled and spilt the tea, which he
had not yet touched. 'But how can you suppose that -- that anyone ----?'

He turned his face to the fire, the light of which made his eyes glare
fiercely. Forthwith, Alma launched upon a spirited remonstrance. Never,
even in the days just before her marriage, had she been so fervid and
eloquent on behalf of the 'simple life'. Two hundred pounds! Why, it was
wealth for rational people! She inveighed against display and
extravagance.

'You are looking round the room. -- Oh, don't apologise; it was quite
natural. I confess, and I'm ashamed of myself. But ask Mrs. Abbott to
tell you about our little house in Wales; she came once to see us there.
We lived -- oh so simply and cheaply; and it was our happiest time. If
only we could go back to it! But the world has been too much for us.
People call it comfort; it means, I assure you, ceaseless trouble and
worry. Who knows? some day we may come to our senses, and shake off the
burden.'

Thistlewood smiled.

'If we could all have cottages among the mountains,' he said. 'But a
little provincial town ----'

'Set an example! Who would have a better right to defy foolish
prejudice? A teacher of the beautiful -- you might do infinite good by
showing how beautifully one can live without obeying mere fashion in a
single point.'

'I heartily agree with you,' replied Thistlewood, setting down his empty
cup. 'You express my own thoughts much better than I could myself. And
your talk has done me good, Mrs. Rolfe. Thank you for treating me with
such friendly kindness.'

Therewith he rose and said goodbye to her, with a hope that they might
meet again. Alma was vexed that he would not stay longer and take her
more completely into his confidence; but she echoed the hope, and smiled
upon him with much sweetness.

His behaviour could have only one interpretation: he had proposed to
Mary Abbott, and she had refused him. The longer Alma thought, the more
certain she was -- and the more irritated. It would be very difficult to
continue her civility to Mrs. Abbott after this.


CHAPTER 6


In these days Rolfe had abandoned even the pretence of study. He could
not feel at home among his books; they were ranked about him on the old
shelves, but looked as uncomfortable as he himself; it seemed a
temporary arrangement; he might as well have been in lodgings. At
Pinner, after a twelvemonth, he was beginning to overcome the sense of
strangeness; but a foreboding that he could not long remain there had
always disturbed him. Here, though every probability pointed to a
residence of at least two or three years, he scarcely made an effort to
familiarise himself with the new surroundings; his house was a shelter,
a camp; granted a water-tight roof, and drains not immediately
poisonous, what need to take thought for artificial comforts? Thousands
of men, who sleep on the circumference of London, and go each day to
business, are practically strangers to the district nominally their
home; ever ready to strike tent, as convenience bids, they can feel no
interest in a vicinage which merely happens to house them for the time
being, and as often as not they remain ignorant of the names of streets
or roads through which they pass in going to the railway station. Harvey
was now very much in this case. That he might not utterly waste his
time, he had undertaken regular duties under Cecil Morphew's direction,
and spent some hours daily in Westminster Bridge Road. Thence he went to
his club, to see the papers; and in returning to Gunnersbury he felt
hardly more sense of vital connection with this suburb than with the
murky and roaring street in which he sat at business. By force of habit
he continued to read, but only books from the circulating library,
thrown upon his table pell-mell -- novels, popular science, travels,
biographies; each as it came to hand. The intellectual disease of the
time took hold upon him: he lost the power of mental concentration,
yielded to the indolent pleasure of desultory page-skimming. There
remained in him but one sign of grace: the qualms that followed on every
evening's debauch of mind, the headachey impression that he was going
through a morbid experience which somehow would work its own cure.

Alma seemed quite unaware of any change in him. To his physical comfort
she gave all due attention, anxious lest he should catch cold in this
hideous weather, and doing her best to rule the house as he desired; but
his intellectual life was no concern to her. Herein, of course, Harvey
did but share the common lot of men married; he recognised the fact, and
was too wise to complain of it, even in his own mind. Yet it puzzled him
a little, now and then, that a woman so intelligent as Alma should in
this respect be simply on a level with the brainless multitude of her
sex. One evening, when they were together in his room, he took down a
volume, and blew the dust off it, saying as he did so ----

'They're not often disturbed nowadays, these solid old fellows.'

'But I suppose you like to have them about you?' Alma replied
carelessly, as she glanced at the shelves.

'Why, yes, they're good furniture; help to warm the room.'

'No doubt they do,' Alma replied. 'It's always more comfortable here
than in the drawing-room.'

Daily he asked himself whether she was reconciled to the loss of her
ambitions, and he could not feel any certainty. In the present state of
her health it might be natural for her to acquiesce in a humdrum life;
but when the next few months were over, and she found herself once more
able to move about as she pleased, would her mind remain the same? Happy
she was not, and probably nothing in his power to do could make her so.
Marriage rarely means happiness, either for man or woman; if it be not
too grievous to be borne, one must thank the fates and take courage. But
Harvey had a troublesome conscience. In acting with masculine decision,
with the old-fashioned authority of husbands, he had made himself doubly
responsible for any misery that might come to Alma through the
conditions of her life. It might be that, on the higher plane of
reasoning, he was by no means justified; there might have been found a
middle way, which, whilst guarding Alma from obvious dangers, still left
her free to enjoy and to aspire. What he had done was very much like the
clipping of wings. Practically it might be needful, and of safe result;
but there is a world beyond the barnyard, for all that; and how should
he know, with full assurance, whether Alma had not suffered a grave
wrong! He durst not reopen the discussion with her. He had taken his
stand, and must hold it, or lose all self-respect. Marriage is like life
itself, easiest to those who think least about it. Rolfe knew that well
enough, and would gladly have acted upon the knowledge; he came nearest
to doing so at the times when Hughie was his companion. Relieved by the
nursemaid from duties she had only borne by the exertion of something
like heroism, Alma once more drew a broad line of demarcation between
nursery and drawing-room; it was seldom she felt in a mood for playing
with the child, and she had no taste for 'going walks'. But Harvey could
not see too much of the little boy, indoors or out, and it rejoiced him
to know that his love was returned in full measure; for Hughie would at
any time abandon other amusements to be with his father. In these winter
months, when by rare chance there came a fine Saturday or Sunday, they
went off together to Kew or Richmond, and found endless matter for talk,
delightful to both of them. Hughie, now four years old, was well grown,
and could walk two or three miles without weariness. He had no colour in
his cheeks, and showed the nervous tendencies which were to be expected
in a child of such parentage, but on the whole his health gave no cause
for uneasiness. If anything chanced to ail him, Harvey suffered an
excessive disquiet; for the young life seemed to him so delicate a thing
that any touch of pain might wither it away. Because of the unutterable
anguish in the thought, he had often forced himself to front the
possibility of Hughie's death, and had even brought himself to feel that
in truth it would be no reason for sorrow; how much better to fall
asleep in playtime, and wake no more, than to outlive the happiness and
innocence which pass for ever with childhood. And when the fear of life
lay heaviest upon him, he found solace in remembering that after no
great lapse of time he and those he loved would have vanished from the
earth, would be as though they had not been at all; every pang and woe
awaiting them suffered and forgotten; the best and the worst gone by for
ever; the brief flicker of troubled light quenched in eternal oblivion.
It was Harvey Rolfe's best substitute for the faith and hope of the old
world.

He liked to feel the soft little hand clasping his own fingers, so big
and coarse in comparison, and happily so strong. For in the child's
weakness he felt an infinite pathos; a being so entirely helpless, so
utterly dependent upon others' love, standing there amid a world of
cruelties, smiling and trustful. All his heart went forth in the desire
to protect and cherish. Nothing else seemed of moment beside this one
duty, which was also the purest joy. The word 'father' however sweet to
his ear, had at times given him a thrill of awe; spoken by childish
lips, did it mean less than 'God'? He was the giver of life, and for
that dread gift must hold himself responsible. A man in his agony may
call upon some unseen power, but the heavens are mute; can a father turn
away in heedlessness if the eyes of his child reproach him? All
pleasures, aims, hopes that concerned himself -alone, shrank to the
idlest trifling when he realised the immense debt due from him to his
son; no possible sacrifice could discharge it. He marvelled how people
could insist upon the duty of children to parents. But did not the habit
of thought ally itself naturally enough with that strange religion
which, under direst penalties, exacts from groaning and travailing
humanity a tribute of fear and love to the imagined Author of its being?

With delight he followed every step in the growth of understanding; and
yet it was not all pleasure to watch the mind outgrowing its simplicity.
Intelligence that has learnt the meaning of a doubt compares but sadly
with the charm of untouched ingenuousness -- that exquisite moment (a
moment, and no more) when simplest thought and simplest word seek each
other unconsciously, and blend in sweetest music. At four years old
Hughie had forgotten his primitive language. The father regretted many a
pretty turn of tentative speech, which he was wont to hear with love's
merriment. If a toy were lost, a little voice might be heard saying,
'Where has that gone now _to_?' And when it was found again -- 'There is
_it_!' After a tumble one day, Hughie was cautious in running. 'I shall
fall down and break myself.' Then came distinction between days of the
week. 'On Sunday I do' so and so; 'on Monday days I do' something else.
He said, 'Do you remember?' and what a pity it seemed when at last the
dull grown-up word was substituted. Never again, when rain was falling,
would Hughie turn and plead, 'Father, tell the sun to come out!' Nor,
when he saw the crescent moon in daytime, would he ever grow troubled
and exclaim, 'Someone has broken it!'

It was the rule now that before his bedtime, seven o'clock, Hughie spent
an hour in the library, alone with his father. A golden hour, sacred to
memories of the world's own childhood. He brought with him the book that
was his evening's choice -- Grimm, or Andersen, or AEsop. Already he
knew by heart a score of little poems, or passages of verse, which
Rolfe, disregarding the inept volumes known as children's anthologies,
chose with utmost care from his favourite singers, and repeated till
they were learnt. Stories from the Odyssey had come in of late; but
Polyphemus was a doubtful experiment -- Hughie dreamt of him. Great
caution, too, was needful in the matter of pathos. On hearing for the
first time Andersen's tale of the Little Tin Soldier, Hughie burst into
tears, and could scarce be comforted. Grimm was safer; it seemed
doubtful whether Andersen was really a child's book at all, every page
touched with the tears of things, every line melodious with sadness.

And all this fostering of the imagination -- was it right? was it wise?
Harvey worried himself with doubts insoluble. He had merely obeyed his
own instincts. But perhaps he would be doing far better if he never
allowed the child to hear a fairy-tale or a line of poetry. Why not
amuse his mind with facts, train him to the habit of scientific thought?
For all he knew, he might be giving the child a bias which would result
in a life's unhappiness; by teaching him to see only the hard actual
face of things, would he not fit him far more surely for citizenship of
the world?

He would have liked to talk about the child with Mary Abbott, but there
never came an opportunity. Though it shamed and angered him to be under
such constraint, he felt obliged to avoid any private meeting with her.
Alma, he well understood, still nursed the preposterous jealousy which
had been in her mind so long; and in the present state of things,
dubious, transitional, it behoved him to give no needless occasion of
disquiet. As the months went on, he saw her spirits fail; with the
utmost difficulty she was persuaded to leave the house, and for hours at
a time she sat as if in melancholy brooding, unwilling to talk or to
read. Harvey tried reading to her, but in the daytime she could not keep
her thoughts from wandering, and after dinner it merely sent her to
sleep. Yet she declared that there was nothing to trouble about; she
would be herself again before long.

But one day the doctor who was attending her had a few words in private
with Rolfe, and told him that he had made an unpleasant discovery -- Mrs
Rolfe was in the habit of taking a narcotic. At first, when the doctor
asked if this was the case, she had denied it, but in the end he had
elicited a confession, and a promise that the dangerous habit should be
relinquished.

'I was on no account to mention this to you, and you mustn't let it be
seen that I have done so. If it goes on, and I'm rather afraid it will
for a short time, I shall tell her that you must be informed of it.'

Harvey, to whom such a suspicion had never occurred, waited anxiously
for the doctor's further reports. As was anticipated, Alma's promise
held good only for a day or two, and when again she confessed, her
husband was called into counsel. The trio went through a grave and
disagreeable scene. On the doctor's departure, Alma sat for a long time
stubbornly and dolorously mute; then came tears and passionate
penitence.

'You mustn't think I'm a slave to it,' she said. 'It isn't so at all. I
can break myself off it at once, and I will.'

'Then why did you go on after the doctor's first warning?'

'Out of perversity, nothing else. I suffer much from bad nights, but it
wasn't that; I could bear it. I said to myself that I should do as I
liked.' She gave a tearful laugh.

'That's the whole truth. I felt just like a child when it's determined
to be naughty.'

'But this is far too serious a matter ----'

'I know, I know. There shall be an end of it. I had my own way, and I'm
satisfied. Now I shall be reasonable.'

Judging from results, this seemed to be a true explanation. From that
day the doctor saw no reason for doubt. But Harvey had a most
uncomfortable sense of strangeness in his wife's behaviour; it seemed to
him that the longer he lived with Alma, the less able he was to read her
mind or comprehend her motives. It did not reassure him to reflect that
a majority of husbands are probably in the same case.

Meanwhile trouble was once more brewing in the back regions of the
house. The cook made an excuse for 'giving notice'. Rolfe, in his fury,
talked about abandoning the house and going with wife and child to some
village in the heart of France; yet this was hardly practicable. Again
were advertisements sent forth; again came the ordeal of correspondence
-- this time undertaken by Harvey himself, for Alma was unequal to it.
The cook whom they at length engaged declared with fervour that the one
thing she panted for was downright hard work; she couldn't abide easy
places, and in fact had left her last because too little was expected of
her.

'She will stay for two months,' said Harvey, 'and then it will be time
for the others to think of moving. Oh, we shall get used to it.'

At the end of March, Alma's second child was born -- a girl. Remembering
what she had endured at Hughie's birth, Rolfe feared that her trial
would be even worse this time; but it did not prove so. In a few days
Alma was well on the way to recovery. But the child, a lamentable little
mortal with a voice scarce louder than a kitten's, held its life on the
frailest tenure; there was doubt at first whether it could draw breath
at all, and the nurse never expected it to live till the second day. At
the end of a week, however, it still survived; and Alma turned to the
poor weakling with a loving tenderness such as she had never shown for
her first-born. To Harvey's surprise she gladly took it to her breast,
but for some reason this had presently to be forbidden, and the mother
shed many tears. After a fortnight things looked more hopeful. Nurse and
doctor informed Harvey that for the present he need have no uneasiness.

It was a Saturday morning, and so cheerful overhead that Rolfe used his
liberty to have a long stretch towards the fields. Hughie, who had no
school today, would gladly have gone with him, but after such long
restraint Harvey felt the need of four miles an hour, and stole away. He
made for Twickenham and Hampton Court, then by a long circuit came round
into Richmond Park. The Star and Garter gave him a late luncheon, after
which he lit his cigar and went idly along the terrace. There, whom
should he meet but Mary Abbott.

She was seated, gazing at the view. Not till he came quite near did
Harvey recognise her, and until he stopped she did not glance in his
direction. Thus he was able to observe her for a moment, and noticed
that she looked anything but well; one would have thought her
overworked, or oppressed by some trouble. She did not see what her eyes
were fixed upon, and her features had a dreaming tenderness of
expression which made them more interesting, more nearly beautiful, than
when they were controlled by her striving will. When Harvey paused
beside her she gave him a startled smile, but was at once herself again.

'Do you care for that?' he asked, indicating the landscape.

'I can't be enthusiastic about it.'

'Nor I. A bit of ploughed field in the midlands gives me more pleasure.'

'It was beautiful once.'

'Yes; before London breathed upon it. -- Do you remember the view from
Cam Bodvean?'

'Oh, indeed I do! The larches are coming out now.'

'And the gorse shines, and the sea is blue, and the mountains rise one
behind the other! -- Did you talk about it with Mr. Thistlewood? I found
that he knew all that country.'

'We spoke of it,' replied Mrs. Abbott, taking a step forward.

'An interesting man, don't you think?'

Harvey glanced at her, remembering the odd suggestion he had heard from
Alma; and in truth it seemed that his inquiry caused her some
embarrassment.

'Yes, very interesting,' answered his companion quietly, as she walked
on.

'You had met him before ----?'

'He always comes to the Langlands' at Christmas.' She added in another
voice, 'I was glad to hear from Hughie yesterday that all was well at
home.'

They sauntered along the path. Harvey described the walk he had had this
morning. Mrs. Abbott said that the bright day had tempted her to an
unusual distance; she had come, of course, by train, and must now think
of turning back towards the station.

'Let me go so far with you,' said Harvey. 'What is your report of the
boy? He gives you no trouble, I hope?'

She replied in detail, with the conscientiousness which always appeared
in her when speaking of her work. It was not the tone of one who
delights in teaching; there was no spontaneity, no enthusiasm; but every
word gave proof of how seriously she regarded the duties she had
undertaken. And she was not without pride in her success. The little
school had grown, so that it now became a question whether she should
decline pupils or engage an assistant teacher.

'You are resolved to go on with the infantry?' said Rolfe, smiling.

'The little ones -- yes. I begin to feel some confidence with _them_; I
don't think I'm in danger of going far wrong. But I shouldn't have the
least faith in myself, now, with older children. -- Of course I have
Minnie Wager. She'll soon be eleven, you know. I do my best with her.'

'Mrs. Langland says you have done wonders.'

'Minnie will never learn much from books; I feel pretty sure of that.
But' -- she laughed -- 'everyone has a strong point, if it can be
discovered, and I really think I have found Minnie's at last. It was
quite by chance. The other day I was teaching my maid to make pastry,
and Minnie happened to stand by. Afterwards, she begged me to let _her_
try her hand at it, and I did, and the result was surprising. For the
very first time she had found something that she enjoyed doing. She went
to it with zeal, and learnt in no time. Since then she has made tarts,
and puddings, and cake ----'

Harvey broke into laughter. It was an odd thing that the employment he
had suggested for this girl, in his talk at Greystone, should prove to
be her genuine vocation.

'Don't you think it's as well to encourage her?' said Mrs. Abbott.

'By all manner of means! I think it's a magnificent discovery. I should
give her the utmost encouragement. Let her learn cookery in all its
branches, steadily and seriously.'

'It may solve the problem of her future. She might get employment in one
of the schools of cookery.'

'Never again be uneasy about her,' cried Rolfe delightedly. 'She is
provided for. She will grow old with honour, love, obedience, troops of
friends! -- A culinary genius! Why, it's the one thing the world is
groaning and clamouring for. Let her burn her school-books. Sacrifice
everything to her Art. -- You have rejoiced me with this news.'

Slenderly endowed on the side of humour, Mary Abbott could not feel sure
whether he was really pleased or not; he had to repeat to her, with all
gravity, that he no longer felt anxious on the girl's account.

'For my own part,' said Mary, 'I would rather see her a good cook in a
lady's kitchen, if it came to that, than leading a foolish life at some
so-called genteel occupation.'

'So would any one who has common-sense. -- And her brother; I don't
think we can go wrong about him. The reports from school are
satisfactory; they show that he loathes everything but games and
fighting. At fifteen they'll take him on a training ship. -- I wonder
whether their father's alive or dead?'

'It is to be hoped they'll never see him again.'

Harvey was smiling -- at a thought which he did not communicate.

'You say you wouldn't trust yourself to teach older children. You mean,
of course, that you feel much the difficulty of the whole thing -- of
all systems of education.'

'Yes. And I dare say it's nothing but foolish presumption when I fancy I
can teach babies.'

'You have at all events a method,' said Harvey, 'and it seems to be a
very good one. For the teaching of children after they can read and
write, there seems to be no method at all. The old classical education
was fairly consistent, but it exists no longer. Nothing has taken its
place. Muddle, experiment, and waste of lives -- too awful to think
about. We're savages yet in the matter of education. Somebody said to me
once: "Well, but look at the results; they're not so bad." Great
heavens! not so bad -- when the supreme concern of mankind is to perfect
their instruments of slaughter! Not so bad -- when the gaol and the
gallows are taken as a matter of course! Not so bad -- when huge filthy
cities are packed with multitudes who have no escape from toil and
hunger but in a wretched death! Not so bad -- when all but every man's
life is one long blunder, the result of ignorance and unruled passions!'

Mrs. Abbott showed a warm assent.

'People don't think or care anything about education. Seriously, I
suppose it has less place in the thoughts of most men and women than any
other business of life?'

'Undoubtedly,' said Rolfe. 'And one is thought a pedant and a bore if
one ever speaks of it. It's as much against good manners as to begin
talking about religion. But a pedant must relieve his mind sometimes.
I'm so glad I met you today; I wanted to hear what you thought about the
boy.'

For the rest of the way, they talked of lighter things; or rather, Rolfe
talked and his companion listened. Nothing more difficult than easy chat
between a well-to-do person of abundant leisure and one whose days are
absorbed in the earning of a bare livelihood. Mary Abbott had very
little matter for conversation beyond the circle of her pursuits; there
was an extraordinary change in her since the days of her married life,
when she had prided herself on talking well, or even brilliantly. Harvey
could not help a feeling of compassion as she walked at his side. For
all his admiration of her self-conquest, and of the tasks to which she
had devoted herself, he would have liked to free her from the daily
mill. She was young yet, and should taste of joy before the years began
to darken about her. But these are the thoughts that must not be
uttered. To show pity is to insult. A merry nod to the friend who
staggers on beneath his burden; and, even at his last gasp, the friend
shall try to nod merrily back again.

He took leave of her at the station, saying that he meant to walk by the
river homeward. A foolish scruple, which would never have occurred to
him but for Alma's jealousy.

When he reached his house at about four o'clock, he felt very tired; it
was a long time since he had walked so far. Using his latch-key to
enter, he crossed the hall to the study without seeing anyone or hearing
a sound. There was a letter on his table. As he opened it, and began to
read, the door -- which he had left ajar -- was pushed softly open;
there entered Hughie, unusually silent, and with a strange look in his
bright eyes.

'Father -- Louie says that baby is dead.'

Harvey's hand fell. He stared, stricken mute.

'Father -- I don't want baby to be dead! Don't let baby be dead!'

The child's voice shook, and tears came into his eyes. Without a word,
Rolfe hastened from the room and up the stairs. As he reached the
landing, a wail of grief sounded from somewhere near; could that be
Alma's voice? In a moment he had knocked at her door. He durst not turn
the handle; the beating of his heart shook him in every limb. The door
opened, and the nurse showed her face. A hurried whisper; the baby had
died two hours ago, in convulsions.

Alma's voice sounded again.

'Who is that? -- Harvey -- oh, come, come to me! My little baby is
dead!'

He sat alone with her for an hour. He scarcely knew her for his wife, so
unlike herself had she become under the stress of passionate woe; her
face drawn in anguish, yet illumined as he had never seen it; her voice
moving on a range of notes which it had never sounded. The little body
lay pressed against her bosom; she would not let it be taken from her.
Consolation was idle. Harvey tried to speak the thought which was his
first and last as he looked at the still, waxen face; the thought of
thankfulness, that this poor feeble little being was saved from life;
but he feared to seem unfeeling. Alma could not yet be comforted. The
sight of the last pitiful struggles had pierced her to the heart; she
told of it over and over again, in words and tones profoundly touching.

The doctor had been here, and would return in the evening. It was Alma
now who had to be cared for; her state might easily become dangerous.

When Harvey went downstairs again, he met Hughie and his nurse in the
hall. The little boy ran to him.

'Mayn't I come to you, Father? Louie says I mustn't come.'

'Yes, yes; come, dear.'

In the library he sat down, and took Hughie upon his knee, and pressed
the soft little cheek against his own. Without mention of baby, the
child asked at once if his father would not read to him as usual.

'I don't think I can tonight, Hughie.'

'Why not, Father? Because baby is dead?'

'Yes. And Mother is very poorly. I must go upstairs again soon.'

'Is Mother going to be dead?' asked the child, with curiosity rather
than fear.

'No! No!'

'But -- but if mother went there, she could fetch baby back again.'

'Went where?'

Hughie made a vague upward gesture.

'Louie says baby is gone up into the sky.'

Perhaps it was best so. What else can one say to a little child of four
years old? Harvey Rolfe had no choice but to repeat what seemed good to
Louie the nursemaid. But he could refrain from saying more.

Alma was in a fever by night-time. There followed days and days of
misery; any one hour of which, as Rolfe told himself, outbalanced all
the good and joy that can at best be hoped for in threescore years and
ten. But Alma clung to life. Harvey had thought she would ask for her
little son, and expend upon him the love called forth by her dead baby;
she seemed, however, to care even less for Hughie than before. And,
after all, the bitter experience had made little change in her.


CHAPTER 7


Since the removal from Pinner, Rolfe had forgotten his anxieties with
regard to money. Expenses were reduced; not very greatly, but to a point
which made all the difference between just exceeding his income and
living just within it. He had not tried to economise, and would scarcely
have known how to begin; it was the change in Alma's mode of life that
brought about this fortunate result. With infinite satisfaction he
dismissed from his mind the most hateful of all worries.

It looked, too, as if the business in Westminster Bridge Road might
eventually give a substantial return for the money he had invested in
it. Through the winter, naturally, little trade was done; but with
springtime things began to look brisk and hopeful. Harvey had applied
himself seriously to learning the details of the business; he was no
longer a mere looker-on, but could hold practical counsel with his
partner, make useful suggestions, and help in carrying them out.

In the sixth month after her father's decease, Rolfe enjoyed the
privilege of becoming acquainted with Miss Winter. Morphew took him one
afternoon to the house at Earl's Court, where the widow and her daughter
were still living, the prospect of Henrietta's marriage having made it
not worth while for them to change their abode in the interim. With much
curiosity, with not a little mistrust, Harvey entered the presence of
these ladies, whose names and circumstances had been so familiar to him
for years. Henrietta proved to be very unlike the image he had formed of
her. Anticipating weakness, conventionality, and some affectation, he
was surprised to meet a lady of simple, grave manners; nervous at first,
but soon perfectly self-possessed; by no means talkative, but
manifesting in every word a well-informed mind and a habit of
reflection. It astonished him that such a man as Cecil Morphew should
have discovered his ideal in Henrietta Winter; it perplexed him yet more
that Cecil's attachment should have been reciprocated.

Mrs. Winter was a very ordinary person; rather pretentious, rather too
fluent of speech, inclined to fretfulness, and probably of trying
temper. Having for many years lived much beyond his means (in the manner
so often described by Morphew), Mr. Winter had left his family as good as
unprovided for. There was money to be divided between mother and
daughter, but so small a sum that it could not be regarded as a source
of income. To the widow was bequeathed furniture; to Henrietta, a
library of two thousand volumes; _finally_, the testator directed that
the sum of five hundred pounds should be spent on a window of stained
glass (concerning which full particulars were given), to be set up, in
memory of himself, in the church he had been wont to honour with his
pious attendance. This item of her husband's will had so embittered Mrs
Winter, that she hardly ever spoke of him; if obliged to do so, it was
with cold severity that she uttered his name. Immediately, she withdrew
all opposition to Henrietta's marriage with the man she had considered
so objectionable; she would not have been sorry had her daughter chosen
to be married with the least possible delay. As for the future, of
course she must live in her daughter's house; together, they must make
what they could of their small capital, and hope that Cecil's business
would prosper.

Harvey had been acquainted with these facts since Mr. Winter's death.
Bearing them in mind as he talked with Henrietta, and exerting his
powers of observation to the utmost, he still found himself as far as
ever from a definite opinion as to the wisdom of the coming marriage.
That Mrs. Winter would be a great obstacle to happiness admitted of no
doubt; but Henrietta herself might or might not prove equal to the
change of circumstances. Evidently one of her characteristics was an
extreme conscientiousness; it explained, perhaps, her long inability to
decide between the claims of parents and lover. Her tastes in literature
threw some light upon the troubles which had beset her; she was a
student of George Eliot, and spoke of the ethical problems with which
that author is mainly concerned, in a way suggestive of self-revelation.
Conversing for the first time with Morphew's friend, and finding him
sufficiently intelligent, she might desire to offer some indirect
explanation of the course she had followed. Harvey could not question
her sincerity, but she seemed to him a trifle morbid. It might be
natural reaction, in a temper such as hers, against the monstrous
egotism by which her life had been subdued and shadowed. She inclined to
mystical views; mentioned Christina Rossetti as one of her favourites;
cared little or nothing for the louder interests of the time. Impossible
to detect the colour of her thoughts with regard to Cecil; she spoke of
him gravely and gently, but without the least perceptible emotion.
Harvey noticed her when Morphew was saying goodbye; her smile was sweet,
and perhaps tender, but even then she seemed to be debating with herself
some point of conscience. Perhaps Cecil had pressed her hand rather too
fervently?

The friends walked away in silence along the dim-lighted street, between
monotonous rows of high sombre houses, each with its pillared portico
which looked like the entrance to a tomb. Glancing about him with a
sense of depression, Harvey wondered that any mortal could fix his pride
on the fact of residence in such a hard, cold, ugly wilderness.

'Has she altered much since you first knew her?' he asked at length.

'A good deal,' answered the other. 'Yes, a good deal. She used to laugh
sometimes; now she never does. She was always quiet -- always looked at
things seriously -- but it was different. You think her gloomy?'

'No, no; not gloomy. It's all natural enough. Her life wants a little
sunlight, that's all.'

For the rest, he could speak with sincere admiration, and Cecil heard
him delightedly.

The choice of a dwelling was a most difficult matter. As it must be
quite a small house, the remoter suburbs could alone supply what was
wanted; Morphew spent every Saturday and Sunday in wearisome
exploration. Mrs. Winter, though in theory she accepted the necessity of
cheapness, shrank from every practical suggestion declaring it
impossible to live in such places as Cecil requested her to look at. She
had an ideal of the 'nice thinks nothing of. And herself the cause of
it, if only I had dared to tell her so!'

'The old story, I suppose,' said Harvey. 'Some other woman?'

'I was very near telling you, that day you came to my beastly garret in
Chelsea; do you remember? It was the worst time with me then -- except
when you found me in Brussels. I'd been gambling again; you knew that. I
wanted money for something I felt ashamed to speak of. -- You know the
awful misery I used to suffer about Henrietta. I was often enough nearly
mad with -- what is one to call it? Why isn't there a decent name for
the agony men go through at that age? I simply couldn't live alone any
longer -- I couldn't; and only a fool and a hypocrite would pretend to
blame me. A man, that is; women seem to be made different. -- Oh,
there's nothing to tell. The same thing happens a hundred times every
day in London. A girl wandering about in the Park -- quarrel at home --
all the rest of it. A good many lies on her side; a good deal of
selfishness on mine. I happened to have money just then. And just when I
had _no_ money -- about the time you met me -- a child was born. She
said it was mine; anyway, I had to be responsible. Of course I had long
ago repented of behaving so badly to Henrietta. But no woman can
understand, and it's impossible to explain to them. You're a beast and a
villain, and there's an end of it.'

'And how has this become known to Miss Winter?' Harvey inquired, seeing
that Morphew lost himself in gloom.

'You might almost guess it; these things always happen in the same way.
You've heard me speak of a fellow called Driffel -- no? I thought I
might have mentioned him. He got to know the girl. He and I were at a
music-hall one night, and she met us; and I heard, soon after, that she
was living with him. It didn't last long. She got ill, and wrote to me
from Westminster Hospital; and I was foolish enough to give her money
again, off and on, up to only a few months ago. She talked about living
a respectable life, and so on, and I couldn't refuse to help her. But I
found out it was all humbug, and of course I stopped. Then she began to
hunt me, Out of spite. And she heard from someone -- Driffel, as likely
as not -- all about Henrietta; and yesterday Henrietta had a letter from
her. This morning I was sent for, to explain myself.'

'At one time, then, you had lost sight of her altogether?'

'She has always had money from me, more or less regularly, except at the
time that Driffel kept her. But there has been nothing else between us,
since that first year. I kept up payments on account of the child, and
she was cheating me in that too. Of course she put out the baby to
nurse, and I understood it lived on; but the truth was it died after a
month or two -- starved to death, no doubt. I only learnt that, by
taking a good deal of trouble, when she was with Driffel.'

'Starved to death at a month or two old,' murmured Rolfe. 'The best
thing for it, no doubt.'

'It's worse than anything I have done,' said Morphew, miserably. 'I
think more of it now than I did at the time. A cruel, vile thing!'

'And you told Miss Winter everything?'

'Everything that can be spoken about. The plain truth of the story. The
letter was a lie from beginning to end, of course. It made me out a
heartless scoundrel. I had been the ruin of the girl -- a helpless
innocent; and now, after all these years, wanted to cut her adrift, not
caring what became of her. My defence seemed to Henrietta no defence at
all. The fact that there had been such an episode in my life was quite
sufficient. Everything must be at an end between us, at once and for
ever. She _could_ not live with me, knowing this. No one should learn
the cause; not even her mother; but I must never see her again. And so I
came away, meaning to end my life. It wasn't cowardice that prevented
me; only the thought that _she_ would be mixed up in it, and suffer more
than I had made her already.'

Voice and look constrained Harvey to believe this. He spoke more
sympathetically.

'It's better that it happened before than after.'

'I've tried to think that, but I can't. Afterwards, I could have made
her believe me and forgive me.'

'That seems to me more than doubtful.'

'But why should it have happened at all?' cried Cecil, in the tone of
despairing bitterness. 'Did I deserve it? Haven't I behaved better, more
kindly, than most men would have done? Isn't it just because I was too
good-natured that this has come on me?'

'I myself readily take that view,' answered Rolfe. 'But I can perfectly
understand why Miss Winter doesn't.'

'So can I -- so can I,' groaned Cecil. 'It's in her nature. And do you
suppose I haven't cursed myself for deceiving her? The thought has made
me miserable, often enough. I never dreamt she would get to know of it;
but it weighed upon me all the same. Yet who was the cause of it, really
and truly? I'm glad I could keep myself from saying all I thought. She
wouldn't have understood; I should only have looked more brutal in her
eyes. But if she had married me when she might have done! _There_ was
the wrong that led to everything else.'

Harvey nodded and muttered.

'At one and twenty she might have taken her own way. I wasn't a
penniless adventurer. My name is as good as hers. We could have lived
well enough on my income, until I found a way of increasing it, as I
should have done. Girls don't know what they are doing when they make
men wait year after year. No one can tell them. But I begged -- I prayed
to her -- I said all I dared. It was her cursed father and mother! If I
had had three thousand, instead of three hundred, a year, they would
have rushed her into marriage. No! we must have a big house, like their
own, and a troop of thieving servants, or we were eternally disgraced.
_How_ I got the money didn't matter, so long as I got it. And she hadn't
courage -- she thought it wrong to defy them. As if the wrong wasn't in
giving way to such a base superstition! I believe she has seen that
since her father's death. And now ----'

He broke down, shaking and choking in an agony of sobs. Harvey could
only lay a kind hand upon him; there was no verbal comfort to offer.
Presently Cecil talked on again, and so they sat together as twilight
passed into darkness. Rolfe would gladly have taken the poor fellow home
with him, out of solitude with its miseries and dangers, but Cecil
refused. Eventually they walked westward for a few miles; then Morphew,
with a promise to see his friend next day, turned back into the crowd.


CHAPTER 8


Alma was walking on the sea-road at Penzance, glad to be quite alone,
yet at a loss how to spend the time. Rolfe had sailed for Scilly, and
would be absent for two or three days; Mrs. Frothingham, with Hughie for
companion, was driving to Marazion. Why -- Alma asked herself -- had she
wished to be left alone this morning? Some thought had glimmered vaguely
in her restless mind; she could not recover it.

The little shop window, set out with objects carved in serpentine, held
her for a moment; but remembering how often she had paused here lately,
she felt ashamed, and walked on. Presently there moved towards her a
lady in a Bath-chair; a lady who had once been beautiful, but now,
though scarcely middle-aged, looked gaunt and haggard from some long
illness. The invalid held open a newspaper, and Alma, in passing, saw
that it was _The World_. At once her step quickened, for she had
remembered the desire which touched her an hour ago.

She walked to the railway station, surveyed the papers on the bookstall,
and bought three -- papers which would tell her what was going on in
society. With these in hand she found a quiet spot, sheltered from the
August sun, where she could sit and read. She read eagerly, enviously.
And before long her eye fell upon a paragraph in which was a name she
knew. Lady Isobel Barker, in her lovely retreat at Boscombe, was
entertaining a large house-party; in the list appeared -- Mrs. Hugh
Carnaby. Unmistakable: Mrs. Hugh Carnaby. Who Lady Isobel might be, Alma
had no idea; nor were any of the other guests known to her, but the
names of all seemed to roll upon the tongue of the announcing footman.
She had a vision of Sibyl in that august company; Sibyl, coldly
beautiful, admirably sage, with -- perhaps -- ever so little of the air
of a martyr, to heighten her impressiveness.

When she could command herself, she glanced hurriedly through column
after column of all the papers, seeking for that name again. In one, an
illustrated publication, she came upon a couple of small portraits, side
by side. Surely she recognised that face -- the bold, coarse-featured
man, with his pretentious smile? But the girl, no; a young and very
pretty girl, smirking a little, with feathery hair which faded off into
an aureole. The text was illuminating.

'I am able to announce,' wrote Ego, 'and I think I shall be one of the
first to do so, that the brilliant composer, Mr. Felix Dymes, will
shortly vanish from the gay (if naughty) world of bachelorhood. I learn
on excellent authority that Mr. Dymes has quite recently become engaged
to Miss Lettice Almond, a very charming young lady, whose many gifts
(especially musical) have as yet been known only to a comparatively
small circle, and for the delightful reason that she is still only
eighteen. Miss Almond is the daughter of Mr. Haliburton Almond, senior
partner in the old and well-known firm of Almond Brothers, the
manufacturers of fireworks. She is an only daughter, and, though she has
two brothers, I may add (I trust without indiscretion) that the title of
heiress may be fittingly applied to her. The marriage may take place in
November, and will doubtless be a brilliant as well as a most
interesting affair. By-the-bye, Mr. Dymes's new opera is not likely to be
ready till next year, but some who have been privileged to hear the
parts already composed declare that it will surpass even "Blue Roses" in
the charm of sweet yet vivacious melody.'

When she had read and mused for more than an hour, Alma tore out the two
passages that had a personal interest for her, and put them in her
purse. The papers she left lying for anyone who chose to pick them up.

A fortnight later she was back at Gunnersbury; where, indeed, she would
have been content to stay all through the summer, had not Harvey and the
doctor insisted on her leaving home. All sorts of holidays had been
proposed, but nothing of the kind attracted her. She declared that she
was quite well, and that she preferred home to anywhere else; she had
got used to it, and did not wish to be unsettled. Six weeks at Penzance
simply wearied her; she brightened wonderfully on the day of return.
Harvey, always anxious, tried to believe that the great sorrow through
which she had passed was effecting only a natural change, subduing her
troublesome mutability of temper, and leading her to find solace in
domestic quietude.

On the third day after her return, she had lunched alone, and was
sitting in the library. Her dress, more elaborate than usual, and the
frequent glances which she cast at the clock, denoted expectation of
some arrival. Hearing a knock at the front door, she rose and waited
nervously.

'Mr. Dymes is in the drawing-room, mum.'

She joined him. Dymes, with wonted frankness, not to say impudence,
inspected her from head to foot, and did not try to conceal surprise.

'I was awfully glad to get your note. As I told you, I called here about
a month ago, and I should have called again. I didn't care to write
until I heard from you. You've been ill, I can see. I heard about it.
Awfully sorry.'

Alma saw that he intended respectful behaviour. The fact of being in her
own house was, of course, a protection, but Dymes, she quite understood,
had altered in mind towards her. She treated him distantly, yet without
a hint of unfriendliness.

'I began to wonder whether I had missed a letter of yours. It's some
time since you promised to write -- on business.'

'The fact is,' he replied, 'I kept putting it off, hoping to see you,
and it's wonderful how time slips by. I can hardly believe that it's
more than a year since your recital. How splendidly it came off! If only
you could have followed it up -- but we won't talk about that.'

He paused for any remark she might wish to make. Alma, dreamy for a
moment, recovered herself, and asked, in a disinterested tone ----

'We paid all expenses, I suppose?'

'Well -- not quite.'

'Not quite? I understood from you that there was no doubt about it.'

'I thought,' said Dymes, as he bent forward familiarly, 'that my silence
would let you know how matters stood. If there had been anything due to
you, of course I should have sent a cheque. We did very well indeed,
remarkably well, but the advertising expenses were very heavy.' He took
a paper from his pocket. 'Here is the detailed account. I shouldn't have
spent so much if I hadn't regarded it as an investment. You had to be
boomed, you know -- floated, and I flatter myself I did it pretty well.
But, of course, as things turned out ----'

Alma glanced over the paper. The items astonished her.

'You mean to say, then, that I am in your debt for a hundred and thirty
pounds?'

'Debt be hanged!' cried Dymes magnanimously. 'That's all done with, long
ago. I only wanted to explain how things were.'

Alma reddened. She was trying to remember the state of her banking
account, and felt sure that, at this moment, considerably less than a
hundred pounds stood to her credit. But she rose promptly.

'Of course, I shall give you a cheque.'

'Nonsense! Don't treat me like a regular agent, Mrs. Rolfe. Surely you
know me better than that? I undertook it for the pleasure of the thing
----'

'But you don't suppose I can accept a present of money from you, Mr
Dymes?'

'Hang it! Just as you like, of course. But don't make me take it now, as
if I'd looked in with my little bill. Send the cheque, if you must. But
what I really came for, when I called a few weeks ago, was something
else -- quite a different thing, and a good deal more important. Just
sit down again, if you can spare me a few minutes.'

With face averted, Alma sank back into her chair. Harvey would give her
the money without a word, but she dreaded the necessity of asking him
for it. So disturbed were her thoughts that she did not notice how oddly
Dymes was regarding her, and his next words sounded meaningless.

'By-the-bye, can we talk here?'

'Talk ----?'

'I mean' -- he lowered his voice -- 'are we safe from interruption? It's
all right; don't look frightened. The fact is, I want to speak of
something rather awkward -- but it's something you ought to know about,
if you don't already.'

'I am quite at leisure,' she replied; adding, with a nervous movement of
the head, 'there will be no interruption.'

'I want to ask you, then, have you seen Mrs. Strangeways lately?'

'No.'

'Nor Mrs. Carnaby?'

'No.'

'I understand you've broken with them altogether? You don't want
anything more to do with that lot?'

'I have nothing whatever to do with them,' Alma replied, steadying her
voice to a cold dignity.

'And I think you're quite right. Now, look here -- you've heard, I dare
say, that I'm going to be married? Well, I'm not the kind of fellow to
talk sentiment, as you know. But I've had fair luck in life, and I feel
pretty pleased with myself, and if I can do anybody a friendly turn --
anybody that deserves it -- I'm all there. I want you just to think of
me as a friend, and nothing else. You're rather set against me, I know;
but try and forget all about that. Things are changed. After all, you
know, I'm one of the men that people talk about; my name has got into
the "directories of talent", as somebody calls them; and I have a good
deal at stake. It won't do for me to go fooling about any more. All I
mean is, that you can trust me, down to the ground. And there's nobody I
would be better pleased to help in a friendly way than you, Mrs. Rolfe.'

Alma was gazing at him in surprise, mingled with apprehension.

'Please say what you mean. I don't see how you can possibly do me any
service. I have given up all thought of a professional career.

'I know you have. I'm sorry for it, but it isn't that I want to talk
about. You don't see Mrs. Carnaby, but I suppose you hear of her now and
then?'

'Very rarely.'

'You know that she has been taken up by Lady Isobel Barker?'

'Who is Lady Isobel Barker?'

'Why, she's a daughter of the Earl of Bournemouth, and she married a
fellow on the Stock Exchange. There are all sorts of amusing stories
about her. I don't mean anything shady -- just the opposite. She did a
good deal of slumming at the time when it was fashionable, and started a
home for women of a certain kind -- all that sort of thing. Barker is by
way of being a millionaire, and they live in great style; have Royalties
down at Boscombe, and so on. Well, Mrs. Carnaby has got hold of her. I
don't know how she managed it. Just after that affair it looked as if
she would have a bad time. People cut her -- you know all about that?'

'No, I don't. You mean that they thought ----'

'Just so; they did think.' He nodded and smiled. 'She was all the talk
at the clubs, and, no doubt, in the boudoirs. I wasn't a friend of hers,
you know -- I met her now and then, that was all; so I didn't quite know
what to think. But it looked -- _didn't_ it?'

Alma avoided his glance, and said nothing.

'I shouldn't wonder,' pursued Dymes, 'if she went to Lady Isobel and
talked about her hard case, and just asked for help. At all events, last
May we began to hear of Mrs. Carnaby again. Women who wanted to be
thought smart had quite altered their tone about her. Men laughed, but
some of them began to admit that the case was doubtful. At all events,
Lady Isobel was on her side, and that meant a good deal.'

'And she went about in society just as if nothing had happened?'

'No, no. That would have been bad taste, considering where her husband
was. She wasn't seen much, only talked about. She's a clever woman, and
by the time Carnaby's let loose she'll have played the game so well that
things will be made pretty soft for him. I'm told he's a bit of a
globe-trotter, sportsman, and so on. All he has to do is to knock up a
book of travels, and it'll go like wildfire.'

Alma had pulled to pieces a tassel on her chair.

'What has all this to do with me?' she asked abruptly.

'I'm coming to that. You don't know anything about Mrs. Strangeways
either? Well, there _may_ be a doubt about Mrs. Carnaby, but there's none
about Mrs. S. She's just about as bad as they make 'em. I could tell you
things -- but I won't. What I want to know is, did you quarrel with
her?'

'Quarrel! Why should we have quarrelled? What had I to do with her?'

'Nothing about Redgrave?' asked Dymes, pushing his head forward and
speaking confidentially.

'What do you mean?'

'No harm, I assure you -- all the other way. I _know_ Mrs. Strangeways,
and I've had a good deal of talk with her lately, and I couldn't help
suspecting you had a reason of your own for getting clear of her. Let me
tell you, first of all, that she's left her house in Porchester Terrace.
My belief is that she and her husband haven't a five-pound note between
them. And the queer thing is, that this has come about since Redgrave's
death.'

He paused to give his words their full significance. Alma, no longer
disguising her interest, faced him with searching eyes.

'She's a bad un,' pursued the musician, 'and I shouldn't care to tell
all I think about her life for the last few years. I've seen a good deal
of life myself, you know, and I don't pretend to be squeamish; but I
draw a line for women. Mrs. Strangeways goes a good bit beyond it, as I
know for certain.'

'What is it to _me_?' said Alma, with tremulous impatience.

'Why, this much. She is doing her best to harm you, and in a devilish
artful way. She tries to make _me_ believe -- and it's certain she says
the same to others -- that what happened at Wimbledon was _the result of
a plot between you and Redgrave's housekeeper_!'

Alma stared at him, her parted lips quivering with an abortive laugh.

'Do you understand? She says that you were furiously jealous of Mrs
Carnaby, and didn't care what you did to ruin her; that you put
Redgrave's housekeeper up to telling Carnaby lies about his wife.'

'How long has she been saying this?'

'I heard it for the first time about two months ago. But let me go on.
The interesting thing is that, at the time of the trial and after it,
she was all the other way. She as good as told me that she had proof
against Mrs. Carnaby; I fancy she told lots of people the same. She
talked as if she hated the woman. But now that Mrs. Carnaby is looking up
-- you see? -- she's going to play Mrs. Carnaby's game at your expense.
What I should like to know is whether they've done it together?'

'There can't be much doubt of that,' said Alma, between her teeth.

'I don't know,' rejoined the other cautiously. 'Have you reason to think
that Mrs. Carnaby would like to injure you?'

'I'm quite sure she would do so if it benefited herself.'

'And yet you were fast friends not long ago, weren't you?' asked Dymes,
with a look of genuine curiosity.

'We don't always know people as well as we think. Where is that woman
living now? -- I mean, Mrs. Strangeways.'

'That's more than I can tell you. She is -- or is supposed to be -- out
of town. I saw her last just before she left her house.'

'Is the other in town?'

'Mrs. Carnaby? I don't know. I was going to say,' Dymes pursued, 'that
the story Mrs. S. has been telling seems to me very clumsy, and that's
why I don't think the other has any hand in it. She seemed to have
forgotten that Redgrave's housekeeper, who was wanted by the police,
wasn't likely to put herself in Carnaby's way -- the man she had robbed.
I pointed that out, but she only laughed. "We're not bound to believe,"
she said, "all that Carnaby said on his trial."'

'We are not,' Alma remarked, with a hard smile.

'You think he dressed things up a bit?'

'I think,' answered Alma, 'that he may have known more than he told.'

'That's my idea, too. But never mind; whatever the truth may be, that
woman is doing you a serious injury. I felt you ought to know about it.
People have talked about you a good deal, wondering why on earth you
dropped out of sight so suddenly after that splendid start; and it was
only natural they should connect your name with the Carnaby affair,
knowing, as so many did, that you were a friend of theirs, and of
Redgrave too.'

'I knew Mr. Redgrave,' said Alma, 'but I was no friend of his.'

Dymes peered at her.

'Didn't he interest himself a good deal in your business?'

'Not more than many other people.'

'Well, I'm very glad to hear that,' said Dymes, looking about the room.
'I tell you, honestly, that whenever I have a chance of speaking up for
you, I shall do it.'

'I am very much obliged, but I really don't think it matters what is
said of me. I am not likely ever to meet the people who talk about such
things.'

She said it in so convincing a tone that Dymes looked at her gravely.

'I never know any one change so much,' he observed. 'Is it really your
health? No other reason for giving up such magnificent chances?'

'Of course, I have my reasons. They concern nobody but myself.'

'I might give a guess, I dare say. Well, you're the best judge, and we
won't say any more about that. But look here -- about Mrs. S. and her
scandal. I feel sure, as I said, that she's toadying to Mrs. Carnaby, and
expects to make her gain out of it somehow. Her husband's a loafing,
gambling fellow, and I shouldn't wonder if he gave her the skip. Most
likely she'll have to live by her wits, and we know what that means in a
woman of her kind. She'll be more or less dangerous to everybody that's
worth blackmailing.'

'You think she had -- she was dependent in some way upon Mr. Redgrave?'
asked Alma, in an undertone.

'I've heard so. Shall I tell you what a woman said who is very likely to
know? Long ago, in the time of her first marriage, she got hold of
something about him that would have made a furious scandal, and he had
to pay for her silence. All gossip; but there's generally a foundation
for that kind of thing. If it's true, no doubt she has been at his
relatives since his death. It doesn't look as if they were disposed to
be bled. Perhaps they turned the tables on her. She has looked sour and
disappointed enough for a long time.'

'I was just thinking,' said Alma, with an air of serious deliberation,
'whether it would be worth while for _me_ to turn the tables on her, and
prosecute her for slander.'

'If you take my advice, you'll keep out of that,' replied the other,
with emphasis. 'But another thing has occurred to me. I see your opinion
of Mrs. Carnaby, and no doubt you have good reason for it. Now, would it
be possible to frighten her? Have you' -- he peered more keenly -- 'any
evidence that would make things awkward for Mrs. Carnaby?'

Alma kept close lips, breathing rapidly.

'If you _have_,' pursued the other, 'just give her a hint that Mrs
Strangeways had better stop talking. You'll find it effectual, no
doubt.'

He watched her, and tried to interpret the passion in her eyes.

'If I think it necessary,' said Alma, and seemed to check herself.

'No need to say any more. I wished to put you on your guard, that's all.
We've known each other for a longish time, and I've often enough felt
sorry that something didn't come off -- you remember when. No good
talking about that; but I shall always be glad if I can be a friend to
you. And, I say, don't think any more about that cheque, there's a good
girl.'

The note of familiar patronage was more than distasteful to Alma.

'I shall, of course, send it,' she replied curtly.

'As you please. Would you like to hear a bit from my new opera? It isn't
every one gets the chance, you know.'

Quite in his old way, he seated himself at the piano, and ran lightly
through a few choice _morceaux_, exacting praise, and showing himself
vexed because it was not fervent. In spite of her wandering thoughts,
Alma felt the seductiveness of these melodies -- their originality,
their grace -- and once more she wondered at their coming from the mind
of such a man.

'Very pretty.'

'Pretty!' exclaimed the composer scornfully. 'It's a good deal more than
that, and you know it. I don't care -- there's somebody else feels
deuced proud of me, and good reason too. Well, ta-ta!'

There are disadvantages in associating with people whose every word,
as likely as not, may be an insidious falsehood. Thinking over what
she had heard from Dymes, Alma was inclined to believe him; on the
other hand, she knew it to be quite possible that he sought her with
some interested motive. The wise thing, she knew, would be to
disregard his reports, and hold aloof from the world in which they
originated. But she had a strong desire to see Mrs. Strangeways.
There might be someone at the house in Porchester Terrace who could
help her to discover its late tenant. However dangerous the woman's
wiles and slanders, an interview with her could do no harm, and
might set at rest a curiosity long lurking, now feverishly
stimulated. With regard to Sibyl, there could be little doubt that
Dymes had heard, or conjectured, the truth. Sibyl was clever enough
to make her perilous reverse a starting-point for new social
conquests. Were there but a hope of confronting her with some fatal
disclosure, and dragging her down, down!

That cheque must be sent. She would show Harvey the account this
evening, and have done with the unpleasantness of it. Probably he
remembered from time to time that she had never told him how her
business with Dymes was settled. No more duplicity. The money would
be paid, and therewith finis to that dragging chapter of her life.

Harvey came home at five o'clock, and, as usual, had tea with her. Of
late he had been uneasy about Cecil Morphew, whose story Alma knew;
today he spoke more hopefully.

'Shall I bring him here tomorrow, and make him stay over Sunday?
Sunday is his bad day, and no wonder. If there were a licensed
poison-shop in London, they'd do a very fair trade on Sundays.'

'There are the public-houses,' said Alma.

'Yes; but Morphew doesn't incline that way. The fellow has delicate
instincts, and suffers all the more; so the world is made. I can't
help hoping it may come right for him yet. I have a suspicion that
Mrs. Winter may be on his side; if so, it's only a question of time.
I keep at him like a slave-driver; he _has_ to work whilst I'm
there; and he takes it very good-humouredly. But you mustn't give
him music, Alma; he says he can't stand it.'

'I'm much obliged to him,' she answered, laughing.

'You understand well enough.'

After dinner Alma found her courage and the fitting moment.

'I have something disagreeable to talk about. Mr. Dymes called this
afternoon, and handed in his _bill_'

'His bill? Yes, yes, I remember. -- What's all this? Surely you haven't
obliged him to come looking after his money?'

'It's the first account I have received.'

Rolfe puckered his face a little as he perused the document, but ended,
as he began, with a smile. In silence he turned to the writing-table,
took out his cheque-book, and wrote.

'You don't mind its being in my name?'

'Not at all. Indeed, I prefer it. But I am sorry and ashamed,' she added
in a murmur.

'Let it be taken to the post at once,' said Rolfe quietly.

When this was done, Alma made known what Dymes had told her about Sibyl,
speaking in an unconcerned voice, and refraining from any hint of
suspicion or censure.

'I had heard of it,' said Harvey, with troubled brow, and evidently
wished to say no more.

'What do you suppose Mr. Carnaby will do?' Alma inquired.

'Impossible to say. I'm told that the business at Coventry is
flourishing, and no doubt his interest in it remains. I hear, too, that
those Queensland mines are profitable at last. So there'll be no money
troubles. But what he will do ----'

The subject was dropped.

Harvey had succeeded in hiding his annoyance at the large debt to Dymes,
a sum he could ill afford; but he was glad to have paid it, and pleased
with Alma's way of dismissing it to oblivion. The talk that followed had
turned his mind upon a graver trouble: he sat thinking of Hugh Carnaby.
Dear old Hugh! Not long ago the report ran that his health was in a bad
state. To one who knew him the wonder was that he kept alive. But the
second year drew on.


CHAPTER 9


On Monday morning, when Harvey and his friend had started for town, and
Hughie was at school, Alma made ready to go out. In many months she had
been to London only two or three times. Thus alone could she subdue
herself. She tried to forget all that lay eastward from Gunnersbury,
rejecting every kind of town amusement, and finding society in a very
small circle of acquaintances who lived almost as quietly as herself.
But this morning she yielded to the impulse made irresistible by Dymes's
visit. In leaving the house, she seemed to escape from an atmosphere so
still and heavy that it threatened her blood with stagnation; she
breathed deeply of the free air, and hastened towards the railway as if
she had some great pleasure before her.

But this mood had passed long before the end of her journey. Alighting
at Queen's Road, she walked hurriedly to Porchester Terrace, and from
the opposite side of the way had a view of Mrs. Strangeways' house. It
was empty, to let. She crossed, and rang the bell, on the chance that
some caretaker might be within; but no one answered. Her heart throbbing
painfully, she went on a little distance, then stood irresolute. A cab
crawled by; she raised her hand, and gave the direction, 'Oxford and
Cambridge Mansions'. Once here, she had no difficulty in carrying out
her purpose. Passion came to her aid; and when Sibyl's door opened she
could hardly wait for an invitation before stepping in.

The drawing-room was changed; it had been refurnished, and looked even
more luxurious than formerly. For nearly ten minutes she had to stand
waiting; seat herself she could not. Then entered Sibyl.

'Good morning, Mrs. Rolfe. I am glad to see you.'

The latter sentence was spoken not as a mere phrase of courtesy, but
with intention, with quiet yet unmistakable significance. Sibyl did not
offer her hand; she moved a chair so that its back was to the light, and
sat down very much as she might have done if receiving an applicant for
a 'situation'.

'You had some reason for coming so early?'

Alma, who had felt uncertain how this interview would begin, was glad
that she had to meet no pretences of friendship. Her heart burned within
her; she was pallid, and her eyes shone fiercely.

'I came to ask if you could tell me where Mrs. Strangeways is to be
found?'

'Mrs. Strangeways?' Sibyl repeated, with cold surprise. 'I know nothing
about her.'

Feeling in every way at a disadvantage -- contrast of costume told in
Sibyl's favour, and it was enhanced by the perfection of her
self-command -- Alma could not maintain the mockery of politeness.

'Of course, you say that,' she rejoined haughtily; 'and, of course, I
don't believe it.'

'That is nothing to me, Mrs. Rolfe,' remarked the other, smiling.
'Doubtless you have your own reasons for declining to believe me; just
as you have your own reasons for -- other things. Your next inquiry?'

'Hasn't it been rather unwise of you, keeping away from me all this
time?'

'Unwise? I hardly see your meaning.'

'It looked rather as if you felt afraid to meet me.'

'I see; that is your point of view.' Sibyl seemed to reflect upon it
calmly. 'To me, on the other hand, it appeared rather strange that I
neither saw nor heard from you at a time when other friends were showing
their sympathy. I heard that you were ill for a short time, and felt
sorry I was unable to call. Later, you still kept silence. I didn't know
the reason, and could hardly be expected to ask for it. As for being
afraid to meet you -- that, I suppose, is a suspicion natural to your
mind. We won't discuss it. Is there any other question you would like to
ask?'

Humiliated by her inability to reply with anything but a charge she
could not support, and fearing the violence of her emotions if she were
longer subjected to this frigid insult, Alma rose.

'One moment, if you please,' continued Mrs. Carnaby. 'I was glad that you
had come, as I had half wished for an opportunity of speaking a few
words to you. It isn't a matter of much importance, but I may as well
say, perhaps, that you are indiscreet in your way of talking about me to
your friends. Of course, we haven't many acquaintances in common, but I
happen to have heard the opinion of me which you expressed to -- let me
see, some ladies named Leach, whom I once knew slightly. It seems hardly
worth while to take serious steps in the matter -- though I might find
it necessary. I only wish, in your own interest, to say a word of
warning. You have behaved, all things considered' -- she dwelt on the
phrase -- 'rather indiscreetly.'

'I said what I knew to be the truth,' replied Alma, meeting her look
with the satisfaction of defiance.

Sibyl approached one step.

'You knew it?' she asked, very softly and deliberately, searching the
passionate face with eyes as piercing as they were beautiful.

'With certainty.'

'I used to think you intelligent,' said Sibyl, 'but I fancy you don't
perceive what this "certainty" of yours suggests.' She paused, with a
curling lip. 'Let me put you on your guard. You have very little command
of your primitive feelings, and they bring you into danger. I should be
sorry to think that an unpleasant story I have heard whispered was
anything more than ill-natured scandal, but it's as well to warn you
that _other_ people have a taste for that kind of gossip.'

'I'm well aware of it,' flashed the listener. 'And that was the very
reason why I came to ask you where Mrs. Strangeways is hiding.'

'Mrs. Rolfe, you are aware of too many things. In your position I should
be uneasy.'

'I will leave you to enjoy your _own_ uneasiness,' returned Alma, with a
contemptuous laugh. 'You must have enough of it, without imagining that
of others.'

She half turned. Sibyl again took one step forward, and spoke with ever
so little tremor in the even voice.

'You have understood me, I hope?'

'Oh, quite. You have shown plainly how -- afraid you are. Good morning,
Mrs. Carnaby.'

Baker Street station being so near, Alma was tempted to go straightway
and demand from the Leach sisters an explanation of what she had heard;
they, too, seemed to be behaving treacherously. But she was unwilling to
miss the luncheon hour at home, for Hughie would speak of it to his
father, and so oblige her to make false excuses. Besides, she had
suffered more than enough indignity (though not unavenged!), and it was
better to summon the sisters to her presence.

On reaching home, she at once sent them an ordinary invitation, but of
the briefest. In the evening she received Dymes's acknowledgment of the
cheque. Next day she wrote to him, a few formal lines, requesting that
he would let her know Mrs. Strangeways' address as soon as he had
discovered it.

Dora Leach came to Gunnersbury alone. She was in distress and worry, for
her father had fallen ill again, and the doctors doubted whether he
would ever be fit to resume work; it had just dawned upon Dora that the
breadwinner of the family deserved rather more consideration than he had
been wont to receive, and that his death might involve unpleasant
consequences for those dependent upon him. To Alma's questioning she
replied frankly and with self-reproach. It was true that she had
whispered her friend's suspicions of Mrs. Carnaby, but only to one
person, and in strictest confidence. Neither she nor Gerda had met Mrs
Carnaby, and how the whisper could have reached Sibyl's ears was
inconceivable to her.

'It doesn't matter in the least,' said Alma, finally. 'To tell you the
truth, I'm not sorry.'

'Why, that's just what I thought!' exclaimed Dora, with sudden clearing
of her countenance.

In a fortnight or so there came a note from Dymes, written at Brussels.
He had ascertained that Mrs. Strangeways was somewhere on the Continent,
but as yet he could not succeed in 'running her down'. Let Mrs. Rolfe
depend upon his zeal in this search, as in any other matter in which he
could be of use to her. Unfortunately, this envelope came under Harvey's
eyes, and Alma, knowing he had seen it, felt obliged to speak.

'Mr. Dymes refuses to believe that I shall never play again in public,'
she remarked, putting down his letter, as carelessly as possible, by her
plate at breakfast.

'Does he pester you? If so, it might be better for me to ----'

'Oh dear, no! I can manage my own correspondence, Harvey, thank you.'

Her tone of slight petulance was due to fear that he might ask to see
the letter, and it had its effect. But Alma's heart sank at the
deception, and her skill in practising it. Was it impossible to become
what she desired to be, an honest woman! Only yesterday Harvey had
spoken to her with vexation of a piece of untruthfulness in Hughie, and
had begged her to keep a watch upon the child's habit in this respect.
And she had promised, with much earnestness, much concern.

There are women who can breathe only in the air of lies and of
treachery. Alma rebelled against the fate which made her life
dishonourable. Fate -- she declared -- not the depravity of her own
heart. From the dark day that saw her father's ruin, she had been
condemned to a struggle with circumstances. She meant honestly; she
asked no more than the free exercise of instincts nature had given her;
but destiny was adverse, and step by step had brought her into a
position so false, so hopeless, that she wondered at her strength in
living on.

Hughie had begun to learn the maps of countries, and prided himself on
naming them as he turned over an atlas. One day, about this time, she
looked over his shoulder and saw the map of Italy.

'Those are lakes,' said the child, pointing north. 'Tell me their names,
Mother.'

But she was silent. Her eye had fallen upon Garda, and at the head of
the lake was a name which thrilled her memory. What if she had gone to
Riva? Suddenly, and for the first time, she saw it as a thing that might
have happened; not as a mere dark suggestion abhorrent to her thought.
Had she known the world a little better, it might have been. Then, how
different her life! Pleasure, luxury, triumph; for she had proved
herself capable of triumphing. He, the man of money and influence, would
have made it his pride to smooth the way for her. And perhaps never a
word against her reputation; or, if whispers, did she not know by this
time how indulgent society can be to its brilliant favourites?

As it was: a small house at Gunnersbury, a baffled ambition, a life of
envy, hatred, fear, suffered in secret, hidden by base or paltry
subterfuge. A husband whom she respected, whose love she had never
ceased to desire, though, strange to say, she knew not whether she loved
him. Only death could part them; but how much better for him and for her
if they had never met! Their thoughts and purposes so unlike; he, with
his heart and mind set on grave, quiet, restful things, hating the
world's tumult, ever hoping to retire beyond its echo; she, her senses
crying for the delight of an existence that loses itself in whirl and
glare.

In a crowded drawing-room she had heard someone draw attention to her --
'the daughter of Bennet Frothingham'. That was how people thought of
her, and would it not have been wiser if she had so thought of herself?
Daughter of a man who had set all on a great hazard; who had played for
the world's reward, and, losing, flung away his life. What had _she_ to
do with domestic virtues, and the pleasures of a dull, decorous circle?
Could it but come over again, she would accept the challenge of
circumstance, which she had failed to understand; accept the scandal and
the hereditary shame; welcome the lot cast for her, and, like her
father, play boldly for the great stakes. His widow might continue to
hold her pious faith in him, and refuse to believe that his name merited
obloquy; his child knew better. She had mistaken her path, lost the
promise of her beauty and her talent, led astray by the feeble prejudice
of those who have neither one nor the other. Too late, and worse than
idle now, to recognise it. She would be a good woman, rule her little
house, bring up her child, and have no will but her husband's.

House-ruling was no easy matter. Things did not go as she wished; the
servants were inefficient, sometimes refractory, and she loathed the
task of keeping them up to their duties. Insomnia began to trouble her
again, and presently she had recourse to the forbidden sleeping-draught.
Not regularly, but once a week or so, when the long night harried her
beyond endurance. Rolfe did not suspect it, for she never complained to
him. Winter was her bad time. In the spring her health would improve, as
usual, and then she would give up the habit.

At Christmas the Langlands had the customary visit from their relative,
Mr. Thistlewood, who renewed his acquaintance with Alma. At their first
meeting she was struck by his buoyant air, his animated talk. A week
later, he called in the afternoon. Two ladies happened to be with Alma,
and they stayed a long time; but Thistlewood, who comported himself
rather oddly, saying little and sometimes neglecting a remark addressed
to him, stayed yet longer. When he was alone with his hostess, he took a
chair near to her, bent forward, and said, smiling ----

'You remember our talk about marriage on a minute income?'

'I do, very well.'

'I have found someone who isn't afraid of it.'

'You have? The same person who formerly _was_?'

'No; she was not afraid of the income, but of me. I couldn't be
surprised, though it hit me hard. Time has spoken for me.'

Harvey was dining in town. He came back with vexatious news about Cecil
Morphew, who neglected business, looked ill, and altogether seemed in a
bad way. As he talked, he began to notice that Alma regarded him with
brighter and happier eyes than for many a day.

'Why does it amuse you?' he asked, stopping in his narrative.

'It doesn't; I'm as sorry as you are. But I have a surprise for you.'

'A pleasant one, this time, I see.'

'Mrs. Abbott is going to marry Mr. Thistlewood.'

She watched the effect of her words, and for an instant felt the old
pang, the old bitterness. But Harvey's confusion of feeling soon passed,
giving way to a satisfaction that could not be mistaken.

'Who has told you?'

'The happy man himself.'

'I am glad -- heartily glad! But I didn't think it would interest you so
much.'

'Oh, women -- marriages ----!'

She threw a pretty scorn upon herself.

'Yes, that's good news. They will suit each other. But she'll give up
her school, and that's a nuisance.'

'There are others as good.'

'But not here. Another removal, I suppose. -- When is it to be?'

'Not till the Easter holidays.'

They were in the library. Harvey began to fill his pipe, and nothing
more was said until he had drawn a few meditative puffs.

'Another removal,' then escaped him, with half a groan.

'Why should you care?' asked Alma thoughtfully. 'You don't like this
place.'

'As well as any other. It's convenient for town.'

'Do you really think of going on in that business, which you detest?'

'It has brought in a little money, and may -- ought to -- bring more.
But if Morphew goes down ----'

Alma glanced at him, and said timidly ----

'You are going to Greystone at Easter.'

'We shall all go. What of that?'

'Haven't you' -- she spoke with an effort -- 'sometimes thought you
would like to live there?'

'Great heavens -- Alma!'

He stared at her in humorous astonishment, then slowly shook his head.
How could _she_ live in such a place as Greystone? And what on earth did
she mean by disturbing him with such a suggestion? But Alma, gravely and
repeatedly, assured him that she could live there very well; that in all
likelihood she would be much more contented there than here.

'I should bring out my violin again, and the Greystone people would
admire me. There's a confession -- to prove that I am in earnest. I
can't conquer the world; I don't wish it; that's all over. But I should
find it pleasant to have a reputation in Greystone -- I should indeed.'

Harvey sighed, and could not look at her.

'And Hughie,' she continued, 'would go to the Grammar-School. You know
how you would like that. And living there is cheap; we might keep our
horse again. -- Don't say anything now, but think about it.'

He raised his eyes, and fixed them upon her with a look of infinite
tenderness and gratitude. It was Alma now who sighed, but not audibly.

Before Thistlewood went north again, Harvey enjoyed long talks with him.
Mary Abbott he saw only in the presence of other people. But on an
evening in February, when Alma was at the Langlands' and he had promised
to call for her at ten o'clock, he left home an hour earlier and walked
past Mrs. Abbott's house. A light in the window of her sitting-room
showed that Mary was at home. After a turn or two backwards and
forwards, he went up to the door and knocked. A very young servant took
his name to her mistress, and then admitted him.

'Will you let me answer your letter personally?' he said, as Mrs. Abbott
welcomed him in the room where she sat alone.

She had written about Minnie Wager, begging that he would in future
cease to contribute to the girl's support, and be responsible only for
the boy. In her new home there would be no need of a servant; she and
Minnie would do the housework together. Impossible, she wrote, to speak
of his kindness both to her and the children. For Minnie, who might
henceforth be looked upon as self-supporting, he must no longer be
taxed. The child owed him every hope in her life; let him be satisfied
with what he had done so generously.

Of these things they talked for a few minutes. It was easy to see how
great a change had befallen Mary Abbott's outlook upon life. She was
younger by several years, yet not like herself of that earlier time;
much gentler, much sweeter in face and word. Harvey observed her with
keen pleasure, and, becoming aware of his gaze, his smile, she blushed
like a girl.

'Mr. Rolfe -- I am sure you feel that I am deserting my post.'

'To be sure you are. I shall always owe you a grudge for it.'

'I thought of it all -- of Hughie and the others. I didn't know how I
should ever face you.'

''Twas a shameless thing. And yet I can find it in my heart to forgive
you. You are so ingenuous about it.'

Mary looked up again.

'What shall you do -- about Hughie?'

'Oh, there's a great scheme on foot. Alma suggests that we shall go and
live at Greystone. It tempts me.'

'That it must, indeed! I know how you would like it.'

'We shouldn't be so very far apart then -- an hour's journey or so. You
would come to us, and we to you.'

'Delightful!'

They had not much more to say, but each was conscious of thought in the
other's mind that supplemented their insufficient phrases. As they shook
hands, Mary seemed trying to speak. The lamplight made a glimmer in her
eyes, and their lids drooped as she said at length ----

'I am so glad that you like each other.'

'He's a splendid fellow,' replied Rolfe joyously. 'I think no end of
him.'

'And he of you -- for I have told him everything.'

Then Harvey quitted the house, and walked about under the starry sky
until it was time to call for Alma.


CHAPTER 10


Yet once again did Alma hypnotise her imagination with a newideal of
life. Her talk was constantly of Greystone. She began a correspondence
with Mrs. Morton, who did her best to encourage all pleasant
anticipations -- careful the while, at her husband's bidding and
Harvey's too, not to exaggerate the resources of Greystone for a mind
and temper such as Alma's. Of course the little town had its musical
circle, in which Mrs. Rolfe's talent would find an appreciative
reception. Touching on this point to her correspondent, Alma remarked,
with emphasised modesty, that she must _not_ be regarded as a
professional violinist; it would be better, perhaps, if nothing were
said about her 'rather audacious experiment' in London. Meanwhile, a
suitable house was being looked for. There need be no hurry; Midsummer
was the earliest possible date for removal, and a few months later might
prove more convenient.

At Easter came Mary Abbott's wedding, which was celebrated as quietly as
might be. Alma had done her utmost to atone for bygone slights and
coldness; she and Mary did not love each other, nor ever could, and for
that reason they were all the more affectionate at this agitating time.
When all was over, the Rolfes set forth on their visit to Greystone.
Harvey could not look forward to complete enjoyment of the holiday, for
by this time Cecil Morphew had succumbed to his old habits of tossing
indolence, and only pretended to look after his business. If Harvey
withdrew, the shop must either be closed or pass into other hands.
Pecuniary loss was the least vexatious part of the affair. Morphew,
reckless in the ruin of his dearest hope, would seek excitement, try
once more to enrich himself by gambling, and so go down to the depths
whence there is no rescue. As a last hope, Harvey had written to
Henrietta Winter a long letter of all but passionate appeal; for answer
he received a few lines, infinitely sorrowful, but of inflexible
resolve. 'In the sight of God, Mr. Morphew already has a wife. I should
be guilty of a crime if I married him.' With a desperate ejaculation,
Rolfe crushed up the sheet of paper, and turned to other things.

Whilst she was at Greystone, Alma heard again from Felix Dymes, his
letter having been forwarded. He wrote that Mrs. Strangeways was about to
return to England, and that before long she might be heard of at a
certain hotel in London. As this letter had escaped Harvey's notice,
Alma was spared the necessity of shaping a fiction about it. Glad of
this, and all but decided to put Mrs. Strangeways utterly out of her life
and mind, she sent no answer.

But when she had been back again for some weeks at Gunnersbury; when a
house at Greystone was taken (though it would not be ready for them till
Michaelmas); when she was endeavouring, day after day, to teach Hughie,
and to manage her servants, and to support a wavering hope, there
arrived one morning a letter from Mrs. Strangeways. It was dated from the
hotel which Dymes had mentioned, and it asked Alma to call there. A
simple, friendly invitation, suggestive of tea and chat. Alma did not
speak of it, and for an hour or two thought she could disregard it
altogether. But that evening she talked to Harvey of shopping she had to
do in town, and the following afternoon she called upon Mrs. Strangeways.

A lift carried her to the topmost, or all but topmost, storey of the
vast hotel, swarming, murmurous. She entered a small sitting-room,
pretentiously comfortless, and from a chair by the open window -- for it
was a day of hot sunshine -- Mrs. Strangeways rose to greet her; quite in
the old way, smiling with head aside, cooing rapidly an effusive
welcome. Alma looked round to see that the door was shut; then,
declining the offered hand, she said coldly ----

'You are mistaken if you think I have come as a friend.'

'Oh! I am so sorry to hear you say that. Do sit down, and let me hear
all about it. I have so looked forward to seeing you.'

'I am only here to ask what good it can do you to talk ill of me.'

'I really don't understand. I am quite at a loss.'

'But I know for certain that you have tried to injure me by telling
extraordinary falsehoods.'

Mrs. Strangeways regarded her with an air of gently troubled deprecation.

'Oh, you have been grievously misled. Who can have told you this?'

'The name doesn't matter. I have no doubt of the fact.'

'But at least you will tell me what I am supposed to have said.'

Alma hesitated, and only after several interchanges of question and
answer did the full extent of her accusation appear. Thereupon Mrs
Strangeways smiled, as if with forbearance.

'Now I understand. But I have been cruelly misrepresented. I heard such
a rumour, and I did my best to contradict it. I heard it, unfortunately,
more than once.'

Again Alma found herself in conflict with an adroitness, a
self-possession, so much beyond her own, that the sense of being
maliciously played with goaded her into rage.

'No one but yourself could ever have started such a story!'

'You mean,' sounded the other voice, still soft, though not quite so
amiable, 'that I was the only person who knew ----'

And there Mrs. Strangeways paused, as if discreetly.

'Knew? Knew what?'

'Only that you had reason for a little spite against your dear friend.'

'Suppose it was so,' exclaimed Alma, remembering too well her last
conversation with this woman. 'Whatever you knew, or thought you knew,
about me -- and it was little enough -- you have been making use of it
disgracefully.'

'You say I knew very little,' put in the other, turning a ring upon her
hand; 'but you will admit that it was enough to excite my curiosity. May
I not have taken trouble to learn more?'

'Any amount of trouble would have taught you nothing; there was nothing
to discover. And that you know as well as I do.'

Mrs. Strangeways moved her head, as if in good-natured acquiescence.

'Don't let us be harsh with each other, my dear. We have both had our
worries and trials in consequence of that unfortunate affair. You, I can
see, have gone through a good deal; I assure you, so have I. But
oughtn't you to remember that our misfortunes were caused by the same
person? If I ----'

'Your misfortunes are nothing to me. And I shouldn't think you would
care to talk about them.'

'Surely I might say the same to you, my dear Alma? Is there very much to
choose between us?'

Alma flushed with resentment, but had no word ready on her parched
tongue. The other went on in an unbroken flow of mocking good humour.

'We ought to be the best of friends. I haven't the least wish to do you
harm, and nothing would please me better than to gratify your little
feeling against a certain person. I may be able to manage that. Let me
tell you something -- of course in the strictest confidence.' Her voice
was playful for a moment. 'I have been trying to find someone -- you
know who I mean -- who mysteriously disappeared. That interests you, I
see. It's very difficult; such people don't let themselves be dropped
upon by chance a second time. But, do you know, I have something very
like a clue, at last. Yes' -- she nodded familiarly -- 'I have.'

In vain Alma tried to lock her lips.

'What if you find her?'

'Do you forget that someone will very soon be at large again, and that
someone's wife, a very clever woman, counts on deceiving the world as
she deceived _him_?'

'You are sure she _did_ deceive him?'

Mrs. Strangeways laughed.

'You are acute, my dear. You see the puzzle from all sides. But I won't
go into that just now. What I want to show you is, that our interests
are the same. We should both dearly like to see a certain person shown
up. I begin to see my way to do it very thoroughly. It would delight you
if I were at liberty to tell what I actually _have_ got hold of, but you
must wait a little. My worst difficulty, now, is want of money. People
have to be bought, you know, and I am not rich ----. Don't you think you
could help a little?'

The question came out with smooth abruptness, accompanied by a look
which startled the hearer.

'I? I have no money.'

'What an idea!'

'I tell you I haven't a penny of my own!'

'My dear Alma, you have obliging bankers. One of them is doing very well
indeed. You didn't go to his wedding?'

Alma felt a chill of fear. The woman's eyes seemed to cast a net about
her, and to watch her struggle as it tightened.

'I don't understand you. I have nothing to do with your plots.'

She strung her muscles and stood up; but Mrs. Strangeways, scarcely
moving, still looked at her with baleful directness.

'It would be a shame to lose our sport for want of a little money. I
must ask you to help, really.'

'I can't -- and won't.'

'I feel sure you will -- rather than have anything happen. You are
leading, I hear, a most exemplary life; I should be so sorry to disturb
it. But really, you _must_ help in our undertaking.'

There was a very short silence.

'A week, even a fortnight hence, will do. No great sum; two or three
hundred pounds. We won't say any more about it; I depend upon you. In a
fortnight's time will do.'

'Do you imagine,' exclaimed Alma, on a high, quivering note, 'that I am
in your power?'

'Hush! It is very dangerous to talk like that in a hotel. -- Think over
what I have said. You will find me here. Think, and remember. You will
be quite satisfied with the results, but your help is indispensable.'

Therewith Mrs. Strangeways turned to the open window. Looking at her
elaborately plaited yellow hair, her thin neck, her delicate fingers
just touching the long throat, Alma felt instinct of savagery; in a
flash of the primitive mind, she saw herself spring upon her enemy,
tear, bite, destroy. The desire still shook her as she stood outside in
the corridor, waiting to descend. And in the street she walked like a
somnambulist, with wide eyes, straight on. Curious glances at length
recalled her to herself; she turned hurriedly from the crowded highway.

Before reaching home, she had surveyed her position, searched her
memory. 'The wretch is counting on my weakness. Knowing she can do
nothing, she thinks I shall be frightened by the threat. Money? And
perhaps all she said only a lie to tempt me! Let her do her worst -- and
that will be nothing.'

And by this she held, letting the days go by. The fortnight passed. She
was ill with apprehension, with suspense; but nothing happened. Three
weeks, and nothing happened. Then Alma laughed, and went about the house
singing her deliverance.

On that day, Mrs. Strangeways sat talking with Mrs. Carnaby, in the
latter's drawing-room. Her manner was deferential, but that of a friend.
Sibyl, queening it at some distance, had the air of conferring a favour
as she listened.

'I haven't the least doubt that I shall soon lay my hand upon her. I
have had an answer to my last advertisement.'

'Then let me see it,' replied Sibyl coldly.

'Impossible. I put myself in a position of much danger. I dare not trust
even you, Mrs. Carnaby.'

'Very well. You know my promise. Get her into the hands of the police,
and your reward is waiting.'

'But I may lose my opportunity, for want of money. If you would trust me
with only -- say a hundred pounds.'

'Not a farthing. I didn't ask you to undertake this. If you do it, well
and good, I will pay you. But nothing till then.'

Mrs. Strangeways perused the carpet.

'Anyone else,' she murmured, 'might be tempted to think that you didn't
really care to have her caught.'

'You may be tempted to think exactly what you like,' answered Sibyl,
with fine scorn.

The other scrutinised her, with an eye of anxious uncertainty.

'Have you thought, again, of taking any steps in the other matter?'

'Have you anything to show?'

'No. But it can be obtained. A charge of slander could be brought
against her at any moment. If you prefer libel, it is merely taking a
little trouble.'

Sibyl reflected.

'There is no hurry. I will pay you, as I said, for any trustworthy
evidence -- of any kind. You bring me none. -- Does she come to see
you?'

'Occasionally.'

'And -- have you succeeded in making _her_ pay?' asked Sibyl, with a
curl of the lips.

Mrs. Strangeways merely smiled. After a brief pause, Sibyl looked at her
watch, and rose.

'I have an engagement. And -- pray don't trouble to come again unless
you have really something to come for. I can't pretend to have any taste
for this kind of conversation. It really matters very little; we know
that woman will be caught some day, and I shall have the pleasure of
prosecuting her for stealing my jewellery and things. The other person
-- perhaps she is a little beneath my notice.'

She rang the bell, and Mrs. Strangeways, having no alternative, slightly
bent her head and withdrew.

Mrs. Carnaby had no engagement; she was quite at leisure, and, as usual
nowadays, spent her leisure in thought. She did not read much, and not
at all in the solid books which were to be seen lying about her rooms;
but Lady Isobel Barker, and a few other people, admired her devotion to
study. Certainly one or two lines had begun to reveal themselves on
Sibyl's forehead, which might possibly have come of late reading and
memory overstrained; they might also be the record of other experiences.
Her beauty was more than ever of the austere type; in regarding her, one
could have murmured --

Chaste a' the icicle
That's curded by the frost from purest snow,
And hangs on Dian's temple.

But in privacy Sibyl did not look her best. Assuredly not after the
withdrawal of Mrs. Strangeways, when her lips, sneering away their fine
contour, grew to an ugly hardness, and her eyes smalled themselves in a
vicious intensity of mental vision.


CHAPTER 11


Major Carnaby, Hugh's brother, was now in England. A stranger to the
society in which Mrs. Carnaby had lived, he knew nothing of the gossip at
one time threatening her with banishment from polite circles. An honest
man, and taking for granted the honesty of his kinsfolk, he put entire
faith in Hugh's story, despatched to him by letter a few days after the
calamitous event at Wimbledon. On arriving in London, the good Major was
pleased, touched, flattered by the very warm welcome with which his
sister-in-law received him. Hitherto they had seen hardly anything of
each other; but since the disaster their correspondence had been
frequent, and Sibyl's letters were so brave, yet so pathetic, that Major
Carnaby formed the highest opinion of her. She did not pose as an
injured woman; she never so much as hinted at the activity of slanderous
tongues; she spoke only of Hugh, the dear, kind, noble fellow, whom fate
had so cruelly visited The favourable impression was confirmed as soon
as they met. The Major found that this beautiful, high-hearted creature
had, among her many virtues, a sound capacity for business; no one could
have looked after her husband's worldly interests with more assiduity
and circumspection. He saw that Hugh had been quite right in assuring
him (at Sibyl's instance) that there was no need whatever for him to
neglect his military duties and come home at an inconvenient time.
Hugh's affairs were in perfect order; all he would have to think about
was the recovery of health and mental tranquillity.

To this end, they must decide upon some retreat in which he might pass a
quiet month or two. That dear and invaluable friend, to whom Sibyl owed
'more than she could tell' (much more than she could tell to Major
Carnaby), was ready with a delightful suggestion. Lady Isobel (that is
to say, her auriferous husband, plain Mr. Barker) had a little house in
the north, cosy amid moor and mountain, and she freely offered it. There
Hugh and his wife might abide in solitude until the sacred Twelfth, when
religious observance would call thither a small company of select
pilgrims. The offer was gratefully accepted. Major Carnaby saw no reason
for hesitating, and agreed with Sibyl that the plan should be withheld
from Hugh until the last moment, as a gratifying surprise. By some
means, however, on the day before Hugh's release, there appeared in
certain newspapers a little paragraph making known to the public this
proof of Lady Isabel's friendship for Sibyl and her husband.

'It's just as well,' said Mrs. Carnaby, after appearing vexed for a
moment. 'People will be saved the trouble of calling here. But it really
is mysterious how the papers get hold of things.'

She was not quite sure that Hugh would approve her arrangement, and the
event justified this misgiving. Major Carnaby was to bring his brother
to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, and, if possible, all were to travel
northward that same day. But Hugh, on hearing what was proposed, made
strong objection: he refused to accept the hospitality of people quite
unknown to him; why, with abundant resources of their own, should they
become indebted to strangers? So vehement was his resistance, and so
pitiful the state of body and mind which showed itself in his all but
hysterical excitement, that Sibyl pretended to abandon the scheme. Today
they would remain here, talking quietly; by tomorrow they might have
decided what to do.

At ten o'clock next morning, when Sibyl had been up for an hour, Hugh
still lay asleep. She went softly into the room, lighted by the sun's
yellow glimmer through blind and lace curtains, and stood looking at
him, her husband. To him she had given all the love of which she was
capable; she had admired him for his strength and his spirit, had liked
him as a companion, had prized the flattery of his ardent devotion, his
staunch fidelity. To have married him was, of course, a mistake, not
easy of explanation in her present mind; she regretted it, but with no
bitterness, with no cruel or even unkind thought. His haggard features,
branded with the long rage of captivity; his great limbs, wasted to mere
bone and muscle, moved her indignant pity. Poor dear old boy!

He believed her; he still believed her. She saw that these two years of
misery had made his faith in her something like a religion; he found it
his one refuge from despair. 'But for that, Sibyl, I shouldn't be alive
now!' She had known self-reproach; now again it touched her slightly,
passingly -- poor old boy! But unfaithful to him? To call _that_
unfaithfulness? The idea was too foolish.

Her fears were all outlived. She had dared the worst, and daring was
grown an easy habit. But in the life that lay before them, _her_
judgment, _her_ ambitions, must prevail and direct. Yesterday she had no
course save yielding; today her rule must begin.

Hugh was stirring. He groaned, and threw out one of his arms; muttered,
as if angrily. She touched him, and on the instant he awoke.

'Sibyl? Good God! that's a queer thing -- I dreamt that yesterday was a
dream, and that I had woke up to find myself ---- Did you ever do that
-- dream you were dreaming?'

She stroked his head, laughing playfully.

'You've had a good long night. Don't you feel better? Shall I bring you
some breakfast here?'

'No; I must get up. What's the time? Miles will be coming.'

Sibyl knew that the Major would not be here until two o'clock; but she
said nothing, and left him to dress.

On the breakfast-table were delicacies to tempt his palate, but Hugh
turned from them. He ate for a few minutes only, without appetite, and,
as on the day before, Sibyl was annoyed by the strange rudeness with
which he fed himself; he seemed to have forgotten the habits of
refinement at table. Afterwards he lighted a cigar, but soon threw it
aside; tobacco made him sick. In the drawing-room he moved aimlessly
about, blundering now and then against a piece of furniture, and
muttering a curse. The clothes he wore, out of his old wardrobe, hung
loose about him; he had a stoop in the shoulders.

'Sibyl, what are we going to do?'

For this she had waited. She sat looking at him with a compassionate
smile. It was an odd thing if this poor broken-down man could not be
made subservient to her will.

'I still think, dear boy, that we ought to accept Lady Isobel's
invitation.'

A nervous paroxysm shook him.

'Damn Lady Isobel! I thought that was done with.'

'I don't think you would speak of her like that, Hugh, if you knew all
her kindness to me. I couldn't tell you all yesterday. May I now? Or
shall I only irritate you?'

'What is it? Of course, I don't want you to offend her. But I suppose
she has common-sense?'

'More than most women. There's no fear of offending her. I have another
reason. Come and sit quietly by me, and let us talk as we used to do. Do
you know, dear, it's a good thing for me that I had powerful friends; I
needed all their help against my enemies.'

'What enemies?'

'Have you forgotten what you yourself said, and felt so strongly, at
that time -- what a danger I was exposed to when we determined to tell
the whole truth? You knew what some people would say.'

'They've said it, no doubt; and what harm has it done you? Tell me a
name, and if it's a man ----'

'Don't! I can't bear to see that look on your face, Hugh. You could do
nothing but endless harm, trying to defend me that way. I have lived it
down, thinking of you even more than of myself. There was a time when I
almost despaired; people are so glad to think evil. If I had been a weak
woman, I should have run away and hidden myself; and then everybody
would have said, "I told you so." But I had to think of you, and that
gave me strength. What could I do? Truth alone is no good against the
world; but truth with a handle to its name and with a million of money
-- that's a different thing. It was life or death, dear boy, and I had
to fight for it. So I went to Lady Isobel Barker. I only knew her by
name. She, of course, knew _me_ by name, and cold enough she was when I
got admitted to her. But half an hour's talk -- and I had won! She was
my friend; she would stand by me, and all the world should know it.
Stay! The worst is over, but there's still a good deal to be done. It
has to be known that my friends are your friends also. There was a
paragraph in the papers yesterday, saying that you and your wife were
going as Lady Isobel's guests to that house of hers. She did that for
me. And now, do you think we ought to seem even seem -- to slight her
kindness?' Hugh was turning about, chafing impotently.

'Then you mean to go on here?' he asked, with half-appealing,
half-resentful eyes.

Sibyl made a gesture of entreaty.

'What other life is there for me? What would you have me do?'

His arms fell; for a minute he sat with head hanging, his eyes fixed and
blank like those of a drunken man. Then, as if goaded suddenly ----

'Who are these enemies you talk about?'

Sibyl's look wandered; her lips moved in hesitancy.

'Name one of them.'

'Isn't it better to try to forget them?'

'Women, I suppose? -- You say you haven't seen Rolfe. Has _he_ heard
this talk about you, do you think?'

'No doubt,' she answered distantly. 'Isn't he coming to see you?'

'If he saw that in the papers, he won't think I am here. But I should
like to see him. I've a good mind to telegraph -- but I don't know his
address. Yes -- I forgot -- there's a letter from him somewhere.'

'I know the address,' said Sibyl, in the same tone of reserve.

'I should like to see old Rolfe -- poor old Rolfe.'

'Why do you pity him?'

'Oh -- only a way of speaking. You know the address, you say? Has he
written? Has _she_ written?'

'Oh no!'

'You haven't seen her?'

Sibyl evaded the question.

'Doesn't it seem to you rather strange,' she said, 'that the Rolfes
should keep away from me -- never call or write?'

Hugh's lips were set. When she repeated her inquiry more urgently, he
gave a peevish answer.

'You cared very little about her at the last. And Rolfe -- when a man
marries -- No, I won't see him just yet. I'll write to him when we're
away.'

'It wouldn't astonish you' -- Sibyl spoke in a thin voice, not quite
under her control -- 'if you heard that Mrs. Rolfe had done her best and
her worst against me?'

'She? Against you?'

'I don't know that it matters. You said "poor Rolfe". I should fancy he
is poor, in every sense. As I have said so much, it's better to let you
know all; it will show you that I am not exaggerating what I have gone
through. People knew, of course, that she had called herself a friend of
mine; and just then she came into notice -- just enough to give her
opportunities of being dangerous. Well, I heard before long that she was
slandering me to all her acquaintances. Oh, _she_ knew all about me! It
was lucky for me I had a credulous husband. And it still goes on. She
came here not long ago; yes, she came. She told me that she knew I was
afraid of her, and she threatened me.'

Hugh sat staring like a paralytic.

'_She_? Rolfe's wife did this?'

'Her motive, I don't know. Pure hatred, it seemed. But I've had a
strange fancy. She talked about a woman I used to know very slightly, a
Mrs. Strangeways, and seemed to be in fear of her; she said that woman
and I were circulating stories about her. And I have wondered -- Why are
you looking like that?'

'She must be mad. -- I'll tell you. I only wish I had told you before.
She was _there_ that night -- at Redgrave's. But for _her_ it would
never have happened. I saw him standing with her, by the window of his
room -- that is, I saw a woman, but it wasn't light enough to know her;
and all at once she ran back, through the open French windows into the
house; and then I rushed in and found her there -- it was Rolfe's wife.'

'Why did you keep this from me?'

'She implored me -- vowed there was nothing wrong -- cried and begged.
And I thought of Rolfe. I see now that I ought to have told him. The
woman must be crazy to have behaved like this to you.'

Sibyl's face shone.

'Now I understand. This explains her. Oh, my dear, foolish husband!
After all, you did _not_ tell the whole truth. To spare your friend's
feelings, you risked your wife's reputation. And I have been at the
mercy of that woman's malice! Don't you think, Hugh, that I have had to
bear a little more than I deserved? Your distrust and what came of it --
I have long forgiven you all that. But this -- wasn't it rather too hard
upon me?'

He flinched under her soft reproach.

'I couldn't be sure, Sibyl. Perhaps it was true -- perhaps she was only
there ----'

A flash of scorn from her eyes struck him into silence.

'Perhaps? And perhaps she meant no harm in lying about me! You will send
at once for Rolfe and tell him.'

Hugh moved from her, and stood with his face averted.

'Can you hesitate for a moment?' she asked severely

'Why need I tell Rolfe? Send for _her_, and say what you like. Won't
that be enough? It's awful to think of telling Rolfe. Don't ask me do to
that, Sibyl.'

He approached her, voice and attitude broken to humility. Sibyl grew
only more resolute.

'You must tell him. Don't you owe it me?'

'By God, I can't do that! -- I can't do that! Have her here, before us
both. Shame her and threaten her as much as you like; but don't tell
Rolfe. It's like you and me, Sibyl. Suppose she has really done no
wrong, and we put that thought into his mind?'

'Have you lost all your senses?' she exclaimed passionately. 'Must I
keep reminding you what she has done to _me_? Is a woman that will
behave in that way likely to be innocent? Is her husband to be kept in
the dark about her, deceived, cheated? I can't understand you. If you
are too cowardly to do your plain duty -- Hugh, how am I talking? You
make me forget myself. But you know that it's impossible to spare your
friend. It wouldn't be just to him. Here's a form; write the telegram at
once.'

'Write it yourself,' he answered, in a low, nerveless voice, moving away
again.

It was quickly done, though Sibyl paused to reflect after the first word
or two. The message ran thus ----

'I want to see you and Mrs. Rolfe before going away. Please both come
this evening if possible. If you cannot, reply when.'

Without showing what she had written, she left the room, and despatched
a servant to the post-office.


CHAPTER 12


As a last resource against Cecil Morphew's degeneration, Harvey had
given up his daily work in Westminster Bridge Road. 'I shall go no
more,' he wrote. 'I am quite unable to manage the business alone, and if
you won't attend to it, it must smash. But please to remember that I
took a share on certain conditions.' For a week he had stayed at home.
Morphew did not reply, but the fact that no appeals arrived from the
trusty shopman seemed to prove that this last step had been effectual.
This morning Rolfe was half-minded to go up to town, but decided that he
had better not. Thus the telegram from Oxford and Cambridge Mansions
came into his hands at about twelve o'clock.

Alma, after giving Hughie his morning's lesson, had gone out with him
for an hour. As soon as she returned, Harvey showed her the message.

'Why does he want both of us to go?' he asked uneasily.

Alma merely shook her head, as if the matter interested her very little,
and turned to leave the room again.

'I think I had better go alone,' said Harvey, his eyes on the telegram.

'Just as you like,' answered Alma, and withdrew.

She spent the afternoon much as usual. Rolfe had said at lunch that he
would go to Carnaby's immediately after dinner. Mrs. Langland and one of
her daughters called; they thought Mrs. Rolfe rather absent-minded, but
noticed nothing else. At dinner-time she said carelessly to her husband
----

'I think I had better go with you, as I was asked.'

'No, no; I think not.'

'I had rather, Harvey, if you don't mind. I am quite ready; shall only
have to put my hat on.'

He made no further objection, but looked a little displeased, and was
silent through the meal.

They travelled by rail to Edgware Road, exchanging scarce a word on the
way. On the stairs of the Mansions, Alma found the ascent too much for
her; she stopped, and put out a hand to support herself. Rolfe looked
round.

'Nothing. You have made me walk rather quickly.'

'I'm sorry. Rest a moment.'

But Alma hastened upwards.

They were shown at once into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Carnaby, who
was sitting alone, rose at the announcement of their names. Alma stepped
forwards, and seemed about to offer her hand, but she was disregarded.
Their hostess stood with her eyes on Rolfe, who, observing the
strangeness of this reception, bowed and said nothing.

'It was I who sent the telegram, Mr. Rolfe.' Sibyl's voice had its wonted
refinement, and hardly disturbed the silence. 'My husband would have
postponed the pleasure of seeing you, but I thought it better you should
meet him at once.' Her finger touched an electric bell. 'And I
particularly wished Mrs. Rolfe to be with you; I am so glad she was able
to come. Pray sit down.'

Harvey, with no thought of accepting this invitation, cast stern glances
at the speaker and at his wife.

'What does all this mean, Mrs. Carnaby?'

'Your old friend will tell you.'

The door had opened, and Hugh Carnaby slouched in. At the sight of Alma
he stood still. Then meeting Harvey's eyes, he exclaimed, with hoarse
indistinctness, 'Rolfe!' Each advanced, and their hands clasped.

'Rolfe! -- old fellow! -- I'm the most miserable devil on earth.'

Tears were in his eyes and in his voice. He held Harvey's hand tight
prisoned in both his own, and stood tottering like a feeble old man.
'Old friend, I can't help myself -- don't feel hard against me -- I have
to tell you something.'

He looked towards Alma, who was motionless. Sibyl had sat down, and
watched as at a play, but with no smile.

'Come into the next room with me,' added the choking voice.

'No. Here, if you please, Hugh,' sounded with gentle firmness.

'Sibyl -- then tell it. I can't.'

'It's a simple story, Mr. Rolfe,' began Sibyl. 'I am sure you are not
aware that Mrs. Rolfe, ever since our great misfortune, has lost no
opportunity of slandering me. She has told people, in plain words, that
she knew me to be guilty of what my husband was for a moment trapped
into suspecting. Among others, she told it to her friend Miss Leach. Not
long ago, she went so far as to call upon me here and accuse me to my
face, telling me I was afraid of what she knew against me. I have
thought of taking legal measures to protect myself; perhaps I shall
still do so. Today something has come to my knowledge which possibly
explains Mrs. Rolfe's singular malice. My husband tells me -- and it's a
sad pity he kept it a secret so long -- that there was a third person
present that evening when he came upon Mr. Redgrave. I dare say you
remember the details of the story told in court. All was perfectly true;
but my husband should have added that a woman was with Mr. Redgrave,
talking alone with him in the dark; and when the blow had been struck,
this woman, who had quickly disappeared from the veranda into the house,
was found to be Mrs. Rolfe.'

Hugh's hand had fallen on to his friend's shoulder. He spoke as soon as
Sibyl ceased.

'She said she had done no wrong. I had no proof of any -- no proof
whatever.'

Rolfe was looking at Alma. She, through the unimpassioned arraignment,
stood with eyes fixed upon her enemy, rather as if lost in thought than
listening; her mouth was tortured into a smile, her forehead had the
lines of age and misery. At the sound of Hugh's voice, she turned to
him, and spoke like one recovering consciousness.

'You have told the truth.'

'Why did you compel me to make this known, Mrs. Rolfe?'

'Oh, that's quite a mistake. It was she who made you tell it -- as she
will make you do anything, and believe anything, she likes. I can
imagine how delighted she was. But it doesn't matter. If you care to
know it, either of you' -- she included Carnaby and her husband in one
glance, as equally remote from her -- 'I haven't gone about seeking to
injure her. Perhaps I let one or two people know what I thought; but
they had heard the truth already. It wasn't prudent; and it wasn't a
right return for the kindness you had shown me, Mr. Carnaby. But I'm not
sure that I should have done better in helping to deceive you. Has she
anything more to say? If not, I will leave you to talk about it.'

The tone of this speech, so indifferent that it seemed light-headed,
struck the hearers mute. Rolfe, speaking for the first time since Hugh's
entrance, said at length, with troubled sternness ----

'Alma, you have repeated your charge against Mrs. Carnaby; what grounds
have you for it?'

She looked at him with a vague smile, but did not answer.

'Surely you don't make an accusation of this kind without some proof?'

'Harvey!' The cry quivered on a laugh. 'O Harvey! who would know you
with that face?'

Sibyl rose. The men exchanged a quick glance. Rolfe moved to his wife's
side, and touched her.

'Yes, yes, I _know_,' she went on, drawing away -- 'I know what you
asked me. Keep quiet, just a little. There are three of you, and it's
hard for me alone. It isn't so easy to make _you_ believe things,
Harvey. Of course, I knew how it would be if this came out. I can tell
you, but not now; some other time, when we are alone. You won't believe
me; I always knew _I_ shouldn't be believed. I ought to have been
cautious, and have kept friends with her. But it wasn't as if I had
anything to hide -- anything that mattered. Let me go, and leave you
three to talk. And when you come home ----'

Turning, looking for the door, she fell softly on to her knees. In a
moment Harvey had raised her, and seated her in the chair which Hugh
pushed forward. Sibyl, motionless, looked on. Seeing that Alma had not
lost consciousness, she awaited her next word.

'We will go away,' said Hugh, under his breath; and he beckoned to
Sibyl. Reluctantly she took a step towards him, but was stopped by
Alma's voice.

'Don't go on my account. Haven't _you_ any question to ask me? When I
go, I shan't be anxious to see you again. Don't look frightened; I know
what I am talking about. My head went round for a moment -- and no
wonder. Stand there, face to face. -- Leave me alone, Harvey; I can
stand very well. I want her to ask me anything she has to ask. It's her
only chance, now. I won't see her again -- never after this.'

'Mrs. Carnaby,' said Rolfe, 'there must be an end of it. You had better
ask Alma what she has against you.'

Sibyl, summoning all her cold dignity, stood before the half-distraught
woman, and looked her in the eyes.

'What harm or wrong have I done you, Mrs. Rolfe, that you hate me so?'

'None that I know of, until you brought me here today.'

'But you have said that you think me no better than a guilty hypocrite,
and isn't it natural that I should defend myself?'

'Quite natural. You have done it very cleverly till now, and perhaps you
will to the end. I feel sure there is no evidence against you, except
the word of the woman who told your husband; and even if she comes
forward, you have only to deny, and keep on denying.'

'Then why do you believe that woman rather than me?'

Alma answered only with a frivolous laugh. Sibyl, turning her head,
looked an appeal to the listeners.

'Mrs. Rolfe,' said Hugh, in a rough, imploring voice, 'have you no other
answer? You can't ruin people's lives like this, as if it were sport to
you.'

Alma gazed at him, as if she had but just observed his face.

'You have gone through dreadful things,' she said earnestly. 'I'm sorry
to cause you more trouble, but the fault is hers. She got that secret
from you, and it delighted her. Go on believing what she says; it's the
best way when all's over and done with. You can never know as _I_ do.'

She laughed again, a little spurt of joyless merriment. Upon that, in
the same moment, followed a loud hysterical cry; then sobs and wailing,
with movements as if to tear open the clothing that choked her. Sibyl
hastened away, and returned with her vinaigrette, which she handed to
Rolfe. But already the crisis was over. Alma lay back in a chair,
sobbing quietly, with head bent aside.

Carnaby and his wife, after an exchange of signals, silently left the
room. Rolfe paced backwards and forwards for a minute or two, until he
heard his name spoken; then he drew near, and Alma looked at him with
her own eyes once more.

'I won't go back home unless you wish, Harvey.'

'Do you feel able to go?'

'If you wish me. If not, I'll go somewhere else.'

He sat down by her.

'Are you yourself, Alma? Do you know what you are saying?'

'Yes -- indeed I do. I know I lost myself; my head went round; but I am
well again now.'

'Then tell me in a word -- is there any reason why you should _not_ go
home with me?'

'What's the use? You won't believe me. You can't believe me!'

He grasped her hand, and spoke imperatively, but not unkindly.

'Stop that! Answer me, and I will believe what you say.'

'There is no reason. I have done no wrong.'

'Then come, if you feel able to.'

She rose without help, and walked to a mirror, at which she arranged her
dress. Harvey opened the door, and found all quiet. He led her through
the passage, out into the common staircase, and down into the street.
Here she whispered to him that a faintness was upon her; it would pass
if she could have some restorative. They found a four-wheeled cab, and
drove to a public-house, where Rolfe obtained brandy and brought it out
to her. Then, wishing to avoid the railway station until Alma had
recovered her strength, he bade the cabman drive on to Notting Hill
Gate.

'May I sit at your side?' she asked, bending towards him in the
darkness, when they had been silent for a few minutes.

Harvey replied by changing his own place.

'I want to tell you,' she resumed, her face near to his. 'I can't wait,
and know you are thinking about me. There isn't much to tell. Are you
sure you can believe me?'

'I have promised that I will.'

'I don't ask you to be kind or to love me. You will never love me again.
Only believe that I tell the truth, that's all. I am not like that
woman.'

'Tell me,' he urged impatiently.

'I wanted to make use of Mr. Redgrave to use his influence with people in
society, so that I could have a great success. I knew he wasn't to be
trusted, but I had no fear; I could trust myself. I never said or did
anything -- it was only meeting him at people's houses and at concerts,
and telling him what I hoped for. You couldn't take any interest in my
music, and you had no faith in my power to make a success. I wanted to
show you that you were wrong.'

'I was wrong in more ways than one,' said Harvey.

'You couldn't help it. If you had tried to make me go another way, it
would only have led to unhappiness. At that time I was mad to make my
name known, and, though I loved you, I believe I could have left you
rather than give up my ambition. Mr. Redgrave used to invite people to
his house in the summer to afternoon tea, and I went there once with a
lady. Other people as well -- a lot of other people. That's how I knew
the house. I was never there alone until that last evening. -- Don't
shrink away from me!'

'I didn't. Go on, and be quick.'

'I suspected Sibyl from the moment you told me about her husband and Mr
Redgrave. You did, too, Harvey.'

'Leave her aside.'

'But it was because of her. I saw she was getting to dislike me, and I
thought she knew Mr. Redgrave was doing his best for me, and that she was
jealous, and would prevent him -- do you understand? He was my friend,
nothing else; but _she_ would never believe that. And a few days before
my recital he seemed to lose interest, and I thought it was her doing.
Can you understand how I felt? Not jealousy, for I never even liked him.
I was living only for the hope of a success. Do you believe me, Harvey?'
'Easily enough.'

Thereupon she related truly, without omission, the train of
circumstances that brought her to Wimbledon on the fatal night, and all
that happened until she fled away into the darkness.

'It would be silly to say I oughtn't to have gone there. Of course, I
knew all I was risking; but I felt I could give my life to detect that
woman and have her in my power.

'It's just that I don't understand. If it had been ordinary jealousy --
why, of course ----'

'Men never can understand why women hate each other. She thought herself
so superior to me, and showed it in every look and word; and all the
time I knew she was a wicked hypocrite.'

'_How_ did you know that?' Rolfe broke in vehemently, staring into her
white face as a ray from the street illumined it.

'Oh, I can't tell you!' she replied, in a moaning, quivering voice. 'I
knew it -- I knew it -- something told me. But I don't ask you to
believe that. Only about myself -- can you believe about myself?'

He replied mechanically, 'Yes.' Alma, with a sigh as much of
hopelessness as of relief, lay back and said no more.

At Notting Hill Gate they waited for a train. Alma wandered about the
platform, her head bent, silent and heeding nothing. In the railway
carriage she closed her eyes, and Harvey had to draw her attention when
it was time to alight. On entering the house she went at once upstairs.
Harvey loitered about below, and presently sat down in the study,
leaving the door ajar.

He was trying to persuade himself that nothing of much moment had come
to pass. A doubt troubled him; most likely it would trouble him for the
rest of his life; but he must heed it as little as possible. What other
course was open to a sensible man? To rave and swear in the high tragic
style would avail nothing, one way or the other; and the fact was --
whatever its explanation -- that he felt no prompting to such violence.
Two years had passed; the man was dead; Alma had changed greatly, and
was looking to new life in new conditions. His worst uneasiness arose
from the hysteria which had so alarmingly declared itself this evening.
He thought of Bennet Frothingham, and at length rose from his chair,
meaning to go upstairs. But just then a step sounded in the hall; his
door was pushed open, and Alma showed herself.

'May I come?' she asked, looking at him steadily

He beckoned with his head. She closed the door, and came slowly forward,
stopping at a few paces from him.

'Harvey ----'

'Well?'

'I want you to decide tonight. If you think it would be better for both
of us, let me go. I shouldn't part from you unkindly; I don't mean that.
I should ask you to let me have money as long as I needed it. But you
know that I could support myself very soon. If you think it better, do
say so, and we'll talk about it as friends.'

'I don't think anything of the kind. I shouldn't let you go, say what
you might.'

'You wouldn't? But if you find that you _can't_ believe me ----'

'It would make no difference, even that. But I do believe you.'

She drew nearer, looking wistfully into his face.

'But _she_ has made her husband believe her. You will always think of
that -- always.'

'You must remember, Alma, that I have no serious reason for doubting her
word.'

She uttered a cry of distress.

'Then you doubt mine! -- you doubt mine!'

'Nonsense, dear. Do try to think and talk more reasonably. What is it to
you and me whether she was guilty or not? I may doubt your judgment
about her, and yet believe perfectly all you tell me about yourself.'

'Then you think I have slandered her?'

'There's no earthly use in talking about it. You can give no reasons;
you _have_ no reasons. Your suspicion may be right or wrong; I don't
care the toss of a button. All I know is, that we mustn't talk of it.
Sit down and be quiet for a little. Oughtn't you to eat something before
you go up?'

Alma put her hands upon his shoulders, bending her face so as to hide it
from him.

'Dear -- if you could just say that you believe me; not about myself --
I know you do -- but about _her_. Could you say that?'

He hesitated, all a man's common-sense in revolt against the entreaty;
but he saw her quiver with a sob, and yielded.

'Very well, I will believe that too.'

Her touch became an embrace, gentle and timid; she threw her head back,
gazing at him in rapture.

'You will never again doubt it?'

'Never again.'

'Oh, you are good! -- you are kind to me, dear! And will you love me a
little? Do you think you can, just a little?'

His answer satisfied her, and she lay in his arms, shedding tears of
contentment. Then, for a long time, she talked of the new life before
them. She would be everything he wished; no moment's trouble should ever
again come between him and her. Nothing now had any charm for her but
the still, happy life of home; her ambitions were all dead and buried.
And Harvey answered her with tenderness; forgetting the doubt, refusing
to look forward, knowing only that Alma had a place for ever in his
heart.

Tonight she must sleep. Whilst undressing she measured the familiar
draught of oblivion, and said to herself: 'The last time.' She lay down
in darkness, closed her eyes, and tried to think only of happy things.
But sleep would not come, and quiet thoughts would not linger with her.
More than an hour must have passed, when she heard Harvey come upstairs.
His step paused near her door, and she raised herself, listening. He
went on, and his own door closed.

Then, for a short time, she lost herself, but in no placid slumber.
Startled to wakefulness, she found that she had left her bed and was
sitting on the chair beside it. She felt for the matches, and lit a
candle. A great anguish of mind came upon her, but she could not shed
tears; she wished to escape from her room to Harvey's, but durst not
look out into the dark passage.

When her heart grew quieter, she went again to the drawer in which she
kept her remedy for insomnia. Saying to herself, 'The last time -- I
shall be well again after tomorrow,' she measured another dose, a
larger, and drank it off. Trembling now with cold, she crept into bed
again, and lay watching the candle-flame.

Half an hour after this -- it was about two o'clock -- the handle of her
door was turned, and Rolfe quietly looked in. He had awoke with an
anxious feeling; it seemed to him that he heard Alma's voice, on the
borderland of dream, calling his name. But Alma lay asleep, breathing
steadily, her face turned from the light. As the candle had nearly burnt
down, he blew it out, and went back to his bed.

At breakfast time Alma did not appear. The housemaid said that, half an
hour ago, she was still sleeping. When he had had his meal with Hughie,
Rolfe went up and entered his wife's room. Alma lay just as he had seen
her in the night. He looked close -- laid his hand upon her ----

A violent ringing of the bedroom bell brought up the servant. Harvey met
her at the door, and bade her run instantly to the doctor's house, which
was quite near.

The doctor could only say, 'We warned her.'


CHAPTER 13


_Sicut umbra praeterit dies_.

The dial on the front of the old house was just shadowing four o'clock.
Harvey Rolfe and his friend Morton sat on the lawn, Harvey reading aloud
from a small volume which he had slipped into his pocket before walking
over this afternoon. From another part of the garden sounded young
voices, musical in their merriment.

It was a little book called 'Barrack-Room Ballads'. Harvey read in it
here and there, with no stinted expression of delight, occasionally
shouting his appreciation. Morton, pipe in mouth, listened with a smile,
and joined more moderately in the reader's bursts of enthusiasm.

'Here's the strong man made articulate,' cried Rolfe at length. 'It's no
use; he stamps down one's prejudice -- what? It's the voice of the
reaction. Millions of men, natural men, revolting against the softness
and sweetness of civilisation; men all over the world; hardly knowing
what they want and what they don't want; and here comes one who speaks
for them -- speaks with a vengeance.'

'Undeniable.'

'_But_ ----'

'I was waiting for the _but_,' said Morton, with a smile and a nod.

'The brute savagery of it! The very lingo -- how appropriate it is! The
tongue of Whitechapel blaring lust of life in the track of English guns!
-- He knows it; the man is a great artist; he smiles at the voice of his
genius. -- It's a long time since the end of the Napoleonic wars. Since
then Europe has seen only sputterings of temper. Mankind won't stand it
much longer, this encroachment of the humane spirit. See the spread of
athletics. We must look to our physique, and make ourselves ready. Those
Lancashire operatives, laming and killing each other at football,
turning a game into a battle. For the milder of us there's golf -- an
epidemic. Women turn to cricket -- tennis is too soft -- and tomorrow
they'll be bicycling by the thousand; -- they must breed a stouter race.
We may reasonably hope, old man, to see our boys blown into small bits
by the explosive that hasn't got its name yet.'

'Perhaps,' replied Morton meditatively. 'And yet there are considerable
forces on the other side.'

'Pooh! The philosopher sitting on the safety-valve. He has breadth of
beam, good sedentary man, but when the moment comes -- The Empire;
that's beginning to mean something. The average Englander has never
grasped the fact that there was such a thing as a British Empire. He's
beginning to learn it, and itches to kick somebody, to prove his
Imperialism. The bully of the music-hall shouting "Jingo" had his
special audience. Now comes a man of genius, and decent folk don't feel
ashamed to listen this time. We begin to feel our position. We can't
make money quite so easily as we used to; scoundrels in Germany and
elsewhere have dared to learn the trick of commerce. We feel sore, and
it's a great relief to have our advantages pointed out to us. By God! we
are the British Empire, and we'll just show 'em what _that_ means!'

'I'm reading the campaigns of Belisarius,' said Morton, after a pause.

'What has that to do with it?'

'Thank Heaven, nothing whatever.'

'I bore you,' said Harvey, laughing. 'Well, I read little or nothing,
except what I can use for Hughie. We're doing the geography of Asia, and
I try to give him a few clear notions. Do you remember the idiotic way
in which they used to teach us geography? I loathed the lesson. -- That
reminds me; Henrietta Winter is dead.'

'Is she? How did it remind you?'

'Why, because Morphew is going to New Zealand. I had a letter from him
this morning. Here it is. "I heard yesterday that H. W. is dead. She
died a fortnight ago, and a letter from her mother has only just reached
me in a roundabout way. She had been ailing for some time. They
suspected drains, and had workmen in, with assurance that all had been
put right. Since H.'s death the drains have again been examined, and it
was found that the men who came before so bungled and scamped their work
that an abominable state of things was made much worse." -- Those
fellows will shout nobly for the Empire one of these days! -- "I never
saw her, but she spoke of me just before the end; spoke very kindly,
says her mother. Damnation! I can write no more about it. I know you
don't care to hear from me, but I'll just say that I'm going out to New
Zealand. I don't know what I shall do there, but a fellow has asked me
to go with him, and it's better than rotting here. It may help me to
escape the devil yet; if so, you shall hear. Goodbye!"'

He thrust the letter back into his pocket.

'I rather thought the end would be pyrogallic acid.'

'He has the good sense to prefer ozone,' said Morton.

'For a time, at all events. -- Look behind you. The young rascal is
creeping this way. He'd rather sit and listen to our talk than be with
the other youngsters. That's wrong, you know.'

Morton look round, and saw Hugh Rolfe. Seven years old now; slight, and
with little or no colour in his cheeks; a wistful, timid smile on the
too intelligent face. He was gazing towards his father, and evidently
wished to draw near, yet feared that his presence might not be welcome.
Morton beckoned him, and at once he ran and threw himself upon the grass
by his father's side.

'Tired of playing?' asked Harvey, with voice and look which betrayed a
tenderness he was always trying to conceal.

'A little tired. We are going to have tea soon. -- May I look at this
book, Father?'

'No pictures.'

'I don't mind. -- Yes, there's a picture; a soldier!'

Interest quickened in the boy's eyes, and he turned eagerly from
title-page to text. But just then there came a loud calling of his name
from the other end of the garden.

'They want you,' said Harvey. 'Off you go. You can have the book another
time.'

Hughie obeyed without hesitation, but his face had a weary look as he
walked away to join the other children.

'I must send him to the Grammar-School next year,' said Rolfe. 'It won't
do; he must be among boys, and learn to be noisy. Perhaps I have been
altogether wrong in teaching him myself. What right has a man to teach,
who can't make up his mind on any subject of thought? Of course I don't
talk to _him_ about my waverings and doubtings, but probably they affect
him.'

'Don't bother your head so much about it,' replied Morton. 'He'll be all
right as he grows stronger.'

A servant had brought out two little tables; tea was going to be served
in the garden. When it was ready, Mrs. Morton appeared; the men rose as
she came towards them, a newspaper in her hand.

'Have you noticed this?' she asked of Rolfe, with a smile, pointing out
a paragraph to him.

He read it; first to himself, then aloud.

'Yesterday, at Lady Isobel Barker's house in Pont Street, a meeting was
held of ladies interested in a project for the benefit of working-class
women in the West End. It is proposed to arrange for a series of
lectures, specially adapted to such an audience, on subjects of literary
and artistic interest. Unfortunately, Lady Isobel herself was unable to
take part in the proceedings, owing to sudden indisposition; but her
views were most suggestively set forth by Mrs. Hugh Carnaby, who dwelt on
the monotony of the lives of decent working-class women, and showed how
much they would be benefited by being brought into touch with the
intellectual movements of the day. Practical details of the scheme will
shortly be made public.'

Morton chuckled quietly.

'Splendid idea,' said Rolfe. 'Anyone who knows anything of the West End
working-class woman will be sure to give it warm support.'

The tea-bell rang; the children came running. Morton's eldest boy, who
had been busy in his workshop, exhibited a fine model schooner, just
finished. Presently, the hostess asked Rolfe whether he had heard of
late from Mr. Carnaby.

'A week ago; the first time for a year. The demand for shares in their
company was tremendous, and they are turning out the new bicycle at the
rate of hundreds a week.'

'Has he quite got over that illness?'

'Says he suffers much from dyspepsia; otherwise, fairly well. The
prospect of money-making on a great scale seems pleasant to him.'

'To Mrs. Carnaby, also, I dare say.'

'No doubt,' replied Rolfe absently.

After tea, a trio of little singers, one of whom was Hughie, gave the
songs they had newly learnt with Mrs. Morton, she accompanying them on
the piano. Rolfe sat in a corner of the room and listened, as always,
with keen pleasure.

'One more,' he asked, when they were about to cease.

They sang that which he liked best ----

Fear no more the heat o' the sun

After it there came a minute's silence; then Harvey rose.

'Say goodbye, Hughie; we must be going home.'

Hand in hand, each thinking his own thoughts, they walked homeward
through the evening sunshine.




End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of The Whirlpool, by George Gissing


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