Infomotions, Inc.Winding Paths / Page, Gertrude, 1873-1922



Author: Page, Gertrude, 1873-1922
Title: Winding Paths
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): hal; lorraine; alymer; dudley; dick
Contributor(s): Abbott, Thomas Kingsmill, 1829-1913 [Translator]
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Title: Winding Paths

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Winding Paths.

By Gertrude Page.

"So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
And just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs."




WINDING PATHS

CHAPTER I


There were several interesting points about Hal Pritchard and Lorraine
Vivian, but perhaps the most striking was their friendship for each
other.  From two wide-apart extremes they had somehow gravitated
together, and commenced at boarding-school a friendship which only
deepened and strengthened after their exit from the wise supervision of
the Misses Walton, and their entrance as "finished" young women into
the wide area of the world at large.

Lorraine went first.  She was six years older than Hal, and under
ordinary circumstances would hardly have been at school with her at
all.  As it was, she went at nineteen because she was not very strong,
and sea air was considered good for her.  She was a short of
parlour-boarder, sent to study languages and accomplishments while she
inhaled the sea air of Eastgate.  Why, among all the scholars, who for
the most part regarded her as a resplendent, beautifully dressed being
outside their sphere, she should have quickly developed an ardent
affection for Hal, the rough-and-ready tomboy, remained a mystery; but
far from being a passing fancy, it ripened steadily into a deep and
lasting attachment.

When Hal was fifteen, Lorraine left; and it has to be admitted that the
anxious, motherly hearts of the Misses Walton drew a deep breath of
relief, and hoped the friendship would now cease, unfed by daily
contact and daily mutual interests.  But there they under-estimated the
depth of affection already in the hearts of the girls, and their
natural loyalty, which scorned a mere question of separation, and
entered into one another's interests just as eagerly as when they were
together.

Not that they, the Misses Walton, had anything actually against
Lorraine, beyond the fact that she promised a degree of beauty likely,
they felt, coupled as it was with a charming wit and a fascinating
personality, to open out some striking career for her, and possibly
become a snare and a temptation.

On the other hand, Hal was just a homely, nondescript, untidy, riotous
type of schoolgirl, with a very strong capacity for affection, and an
unmanageable predilection for scrapes and adventures, that made her
more likely to fall under the sway of Lorraine, should it promise any
chance of excitement.

And one had only to view Lorraine among the other "young ladies" of the
seminary to fear the worst.  Miss Emily Walton would never have
admitted it; but even she, fondly clinging to the old tradition that
the terms "girls" or "women" are less impressive than "young ladies",
felt somehow that the orthodox nomenclature did not successfully fit
her two most remarkable pupils. Of course they were ladies by birth and
education, else they would certainly not have been admitted to so
select a seminary; but whereas the rest of the pupils might be said
more or less to study, and improve, and have their being in a milk and
biscuit atmosphere, Hal and Lorraine were quite uncomfortably more like
champagne and good, honest, frothing beer.

No amount of prunes and prism advice and surroundings seemed to dull
the sparkle in Lorraine, nor daunt nor suppress fearless, outspoken,
unmanageable Hal.  In separate camps, with a nice little following
each, to keep an even balance, they might merely have livened the free
hours; but as a combination it soon became apparent they would waken up
the embryo young ladies quite alarmingly, and initiate a new atmosphere
of gaiety that might become beyond the restraining, select influence
even of the Misses Walton.

The first scare came with the new French mistress, who had a perfect
Parisian accent, but knew very little English.  Of course Lorraine
easily divined this, and, being something of a French scholar already,
she soon won Mademoiselle's confidence by one or two charmingly
expressed, lucid French explanations.

Then came the translation lesson, and choosing a fable that would
specially lend itself, she started the class off translating it into an
English fabrication that convulsed both pupils and mistress.  Hal, of
course, followed suit, and the merriment grew fast and furious after a
few positively rowdy lessons.

Mademoiselle herself gave the fun away at the governesses' dinner, a
very precise and formal meal, which took place at seven o'clock, to be
followed at eight by the pupils' supper of bread-and-butter with
occasional sardines.  She related in broken English what an amusing
book they had to read, repeating a few slang terms, that would
certainly not, under anu circumstances, have been allowed to pass the
lips of the young ladies.

After that it was deemed advisable Lorraine should translate French
alone, and Hal be severely admonished.

Then there was the dreadful affair of the Boys' College.  It was not
unusual for them to walk past the school on Sunday afternoons; but it
was only after Lorraine came that a system was instituted by which, if
the four front boys all blew their noses as they passed, it was a
signal that a note, or possibly several, had been slipped under the
loose brick at the school entrance.

Further, it was only Lorraine who could have sent the answers, because
none of the other girls had an uncle often running down for a breath of
sea air, when, of course, he needed his dear niece's company.  He was
certainly a very attentive uncle, and a very generous one too, judging
by the Buszard's cakes and De Brei's chocolates, and Miss Walton could
not help eyeing him a little askance.

But then, as Miss Emily said, he was such a very striking,
distinguished-looking gentleman, people had already been interested to
learn he had a niece at the Misses Walton's seminary.  Besides, one
could not reasonably object to a relative calling, and he had seemed so
devoted to Lorraine's handsome mother when they had together brought
her to school.

But of course, after the disgraceful episode of the notes that blew
into the road, the windows had to be dulled at once, so that no one
could see the boys pass.  It was a mercy the thing had been discovered
so soon.

Then shortly after came the breaking-up dances, one for the
governesses, when the masters from the college were invited, and one
the next night for the girls, when the remains of the same supper did
duty again, and with reference to which Miss Walton gently told them
she had not been able to ask any of the boys from the school, as she
was afraid their parents would not approve; she hoped they were not
disappointed, and that the big girls would dance with the little ones,
as it pleased them so.

Lorraine immediately replied sweetly that none of them cared about
dancing with boys, and some of the children would be much more amusing.
 She made herself spokeswoman, because Miss Walton had
half-unconsciously glanced at her at the mere mention of the word boys,
fondly believing that the other well-brought-up pupils would prefer
their room to their company, whereas Lorraine might think the party
very tame.  Her answer was a pleasant surprise.

But then, who was to know that the night of the governesses' dance she
had bribed the three girls in the small dormitory to silence, and after
some half-dozen of them had gone to bed with their night-gowns over
their dresses, had given the signal to arise directly the dance was in
full swing.  After that they adjourned to the small dormitory and
spread out a repast of sweets and cakes, to which such of the younger
masters as were brave enough to risk detection slipped away up the
school staircase at intervals, to be more than rewarded by Lorraine's
inimitable mimicry.

"There will be no boys for you to dance with, dear girls," she told
them gently, "as your parents might not approve," then added, with
roguish lights in her splendid eyes: "No boys, dear girls, only a few
masters to supper in the small dormitory."

Hal's misdemeanours were of a less subtle kind.  Neither boys nor
masters interested her particularly as yet; but there were a
thousand-and-one other ways of livening things up, and she tried them
all, sometimes getting off scot free, and sometimes finding herself
uncomfortably pilloried before the rest of the school, to be
cross-questioned and severely admonished at great lenght before being
"sent to Coventry" for a stated period.

But, had she only known it, there were many chicken-hearted girls who
envied her even her disgrace, for the sake of the dauntless, shining
spirit of her that nothing ever crushed.  And as for being "sent to
Coventry", well, Hal and Lorraine easily coped with that through the
twopennyworth system.

If an offender was sent to Coventry, any other girl who spoke to her
had to pay a fine of twopence, and if either of these two glay spirits
found themselves doomed to silence, they persuaded such of the others
as were "game" enough, to have occasional "twopennyworths".

Of the two, Hal was far the greater favourite; she was in fact the
popular idol; for though the girls were full of admiration for
Lorraine, and not a little proud of her, they were also a little afraid
of a wit that could be sharp-edged, and perhaps resentful too of that
nameless something about her striking personality that made them feel
their inferiority.

Hal was quite different, and her unfailing spirits, her vigorous
championing of the oppressed, or scathing denunciation of anything
sneaky and mean, made them all look up to her, and love her, whether
she knew or not.

Even the governess felt her compelling attraction, and would often, by
a timely word, save her from the consequences of some forgetful moment.
 At the same time, the one who warned Miss Walton against the possible
ill results of the girl's growing love for Lorraine little understood
the nature she had to deal with.

When Hal found herself in the private sanctum, being gently admonished
concerning a friendship that was  thought to be growing too strong, she
was quick instantly to resent the slur on her chum.  She had been sent
for immediately after "evening prep.," and having, as usual, inked her
fingers generously, and rubbed an ink-smudge across her face, to say
nothing of really disgracefully tumbled hair, she looked a comical
enough object standing before the impressive presence of the head
mistress.

"Really, Hal," Miss Walton remonstrated, "can't you even keep tidy for
an hour in the evening?"

"Not when it's German night," answered outspoken Hal; "where to put the
verbs, and how to split them, makes my hair stand on end, and the ink
squirm out of the pot."

Miss Walton tried to look severe, remarking: "Don't be frivolous here,
my dear"; but, as Hal described it later, "she looked as if having so
often to be sedate was beginning to make her tired."

But when she proceeded to explain to Hal that neither she nor her
sister were easy in their minds about her growing devotion to Lorraine,
Hal's expressive mouth began to look rather stern, and neither the
ink-smudges nor the tousled hair could rob her of a certain naïve dignity
as she asked, "Are you implying anything against Lorraine?"

"No, no, my dear, certainly not," Miss Walton replied, feeling slightly
at a loss to express herself, "but I have never encouraged a violent
friendship between two girls that is apt to make them hold aloof from
the others, and be continually in one another's society.  And in this
instance, Lorraine being so much older than you, and of a temperament
hardly likely to appeal to your brother, as a desirable one in your
great friend -"

"I am not asking Dudley to make her his great friend -"

"Don't interrupt me, dear.  I am only speaking of what I am perfectly
aware are your brother's feeling concerning you; and seeing you have
neither father nor mother, I feel my responsibility and his the
greater."

"But what is the matter with Lorraine?" Hal cried, growing a little
exasperated.  "She is not nearly so frivolous as I am, and works far
harder."

Miss Walton hesitated a little.  "We feel she is naturally rather
worldly-minded and ambitious, whereas you -"  She paused.

"Whereas I am a simpleton," suggested Hal, with a mischievous light in
her eyes.  "Well, then, dear Miss Walton, how fortunate for me that
some one clever and briljant is willing to give me her friendship and
help to lift me out of my slough of simpletondom!"

Miss Walton looked up with a reproof on her lips, but it died away, and
a new expression came into her eyes as she seemed to see something in
this unruly pupil she had not before suspected.  Hal still looked as if
a smothered sense of injustice might presently explode into hot words;
but in the meantime the air of dignity stood its ground in spite of
smudges and untidiness.

Neither spoke for a moment, and then Miss Walton remarked: "You do not
mean to be guided by me in this matter?"

"Lorraine is my friend," Hal answered.  "I cannot let myself listen to
anything that suggests a slur upon her."

"Not even if your brother expressed a wish on the subject?"

"I do not ask Dudley to let me choose his friends."

"That is quite a different matter.  He is fifteen years your senior."

Hal was silent.  She stood with her hands behind her, and her head held
high, and her clear eyes very straight to the front; well-knit,
well-built, with a promise of that vague something which is so much
stronger a factor in the world than mere beauty.

Miss Walton, who necessarily saw much of the mediocre and commonplace
in her life-work of turning growing girls into presentable young women,
felt her feelings undergo a further change.  She also had the tact to
see an appeal would go farther than mere advice.

"I was only thinking of you, Hal," she said, a trifle tiredly. "I have
nothing against Lorraine, except that she is dangerously attractive if
she likes, and her love of admiration and excitement does not make her
a very wise friend for a girl of your age.  You are different, and your
paths are likely to lead far apart in the future.  It did not seem to
me desirable you should grow too fond of each other."

Even as she spoke she found herself wondering what Hal would say, and
in an unlooked-for way interested.

Hal answered promptly :

"I do not think our lives will lie apart.  Both of us will have to be
breadwinners at any rate, and that will be a bond."

Her mobile face seemed to change.  "Miss Walton, I'm devoted to
Lorraine.  I always shall be.  But you needn't be anxious.  The
stronger influence is not where you think.  I can bend Lorraine's will,
but she cannot bend mine.  It will always be so.  And nothing that you
nor any one can say will make me change to her."

They said little more, but when she was alone the head mistress stood
silently for some minutes looking into the dying embers of her fire.
Then she uttered to herself an enigmatical sentence:

"Beauty will give to Lorraine the great career; but the greater woman
will be Hal."

Shortly after that Lorraine departed, and about a year later embarked
in the theatrical world.

No one was surprised, but very adverse opinions were expressed among
the girls concerning her success or otherwise; those who were jealous,
or who had felt slighted during her short reign as school beauty,
condemning any possible likelihood of a hit.

Hal said very little.  She was already reaching out tentacles to the
wider world, where schoolgirl criticisms would be mere prattle; and it
was far more serious to her to wonder what Brother Dudley would think
of her having an actress for her greatest friend.

She foresaw rocks ahead, but smiled humorously to herself in spite of
them.

"What a tussle there'll be!" was her thought, "and how in the world am
I to convince Dudley that Lorraine does not represent a receptacle for
all the deadly sins?  Heigho!  The mere fact of my disagreeing will
persuade him I am already contaminated, and he will see us both
heading, like fire-engines, for the nethermost hell."





CHAPTER II


If Dudley Pritchard's imagination did not actually picture the lurid
and violent descent Hal suggested, it certainly did view with the
utmost alarm his lively young sister's friendship with a fully fledged
actress.

As a matter of fact, Miss Walton's prognostications concerning his
attitude to Lorraine Vivian, even as a schoolgirl, had been instantly
confirmed upon their first meeting.

For no particular reason he disapproved of her.  That was rather
typical of Dudley.  He disapproved of a good many things without quite
knowing why, or being at any particular pains to find out.

Not that it made him bigoted.  He could in fact be fairly tolerant; but
as Hal affectionately observed, Dudley was so apt to pat himself on the
back for his toleration towards things that it would never have occured
to most persons needed tolerating.

She knew perfectly well that he considered himself very tolerant
towards much that was to be deprecated in her, but, far from resenting
his attitude, she shaw chiefly the humorous side, and managed to glean
a good deal of quiet amusement from it.

Considering the fifteen years' difference in their ages, and the fact
that Dudley was a hard-working architect in London, seeing life on all
sides, while Hal was still a hoydenish schoolgirl, it was really
remarkable how thoroughly she grasped and understood his character, and
a great deal concerning the world in general, while he seemed to remain
at his first decisions concerning her and most things.

It was just perhaps the difference between the book-student and the
life-student.  Dudley had always had a passion for books and for his
profession.  His clever brain was a well of knowledge concerning
ancient architectures and relics of antiquity.  He studied them because
he loved them, and, before all things else, to him they seemed worth
while.

He loved his sister also - he loved her better than any one, but it
would never have occured to him that she should be studied, or that
there was anything in her to study.  To him she was quite an ordinary
girl, rather nice-looking when she was neat, but with a most
unfortunate lack of the sedate dignity and discretion that he
considered essential to the typically admirable woman.

That there might be other traits in their place, equally admirable, did
not occur to him.  They ware not at any rate the traits he most admired.

Hal, on the other hand, was different in every respect.  She loated
books, and learning, and what she called "dead old bones and rubbish."
But she loved human nature, and studied in in every phase she could.

Left at a very tender age to Dudley's sole care and protection, she had
to grow up without the enfolding, sympathetic love of a mother, or the
gay companionship of brothers and sisters.  Not in the least depressed,
she started off at an early age in quest of adventure to see what the
world was like outside the four walls of their home.

Brought back, sometimes by a policeman, with whom she had already
become on the friendliest terms, sometimes in a cab in which some one
else had placed her, sometimes by a kindly stranger, she would yet slip
away again on the first opportunity, into the crush of mankind.
Punishment and expostulation were alike useless; Hal was just as
fascinated with people as Dudley was with books, and where her nature
called she fearlessly followed.

Through this roving trait she picked up an amount of commonplace,
everyday knowledge that would have dumbfoundered the clever young
architect, had he been in the least able to comprehend it.  But while
he dipped enthusiastically into bygone ages, and won letters and
honours in his profession, she asked questions about life in the
present, and grappled with the problem of everyday existence and the
peculiarities of human nature, in a way that made her largely his
superior, despite his letters and honours.

And best of all was her complete understanding of him.  Dudley fondly
imagined he was fulfilling to the best possible endeavours his
obligations of love and guardianship to his young sister.  The young
sister, with her tender, quizzical understanding, regarded him as a
mere child, with a deliciously humorous way of always taking himself
very seriously; a brilliant brain, an irritating fund of superiority,
and something altogether apart that made him dearer than heaven and
earth and all things therein to her.

Hal might be dearer than all else to Dudley, without finding herself
loved in any way out of the ordinary, seeing how little he cared much
about except his profession; but to be the beloved of all, to an eager,
passionate, intense nature like hers, meant that in her heart she had
placed him upon a pedestal, and, while fondly having her little smile
over his shortcomings, yet loved him with an all-embracing love.  He
did not suspect it, and he would not have understood it if he had;
being rather of the opinion that, considering all he had tried to be to
her, she might have loved him enough in return to make a greater effort
to please him.

Her obdurate resistance during the first stage of his disapproval of
Lorraine Vivian increased this feeling considerably.  He felt that if
she really cared for him she should be willing to be guided by his
judgment; and while perceiving, just as Miss Walton had done, that she
meant to have her own way, he had less perspicacity to perceive also
that nameless trait which, for want of a better word, we sometimes call
grit, and which dimly proclaimed she  might be trusted to follow her
own strenght of character.

When, later, his attitude of displeasure increased a thousandfold.

He was not told of it just at first.  Hal was then in the throes of
convincing him that her particular talents lay in the direction of
secretarial work and journalism, rather than governessing or idleness,
and persuading him to make arrangements at once for her to learn
shorthand and typewriting with a view to becoming the private secretary
of a well-known editor of one of the leading newspapers.

The editor in question was a distant connection, and quite willing to
take her if she proved herself capable, recognising, through his skill
at reading character, that she might eventually prove invaluable in
other ways than mere letter-writing.

Dudley, seeing no farther than the fact of the City office, set his
face resolutely against it as long as he could; but, of course, in the
end Hal carried the day.  Then came the shock of the knowledge that
Lorraine had gone on the stage; and if, as had been said before, he did
not actually picture the lurid exit to the lower regions Hal gave him
credit for, he was sufficiently upset to have wakeful nights and many
anxious, worried hours.

And to make it worse, Hal would not even be serious.

"Oh, don't look like that, Dudley!" she cried; "we really are not in
any immediate danger of selling our souls to the Prince of Darkness.
You dear old solemnsides!  Just because Lorraine is going on the stage,
I believe you already see me in spangles, jumping through a hoop.  Or
rather 'trying to', because it is a dead cert.  I should miss the hoop,
and do a sort of double somersault over the horse's tail."

Dudley shut his firm lips a little more tightly, and looked hard at his
boots, without vouchsafing a reply.

"As a matter of fact," continued the incorrigible, "you ought to
perceive how beautifully life balances things, by giving a dangerously
attractive person like Lorraine a matter-of-fact, commonplace pal like
myself to restrain her, and at the same time ward of possible dangers
from various unoffending humans, who might fall hurtfully under her
spell."

"It is only the danger to you that I have anything to do with."

"Oh fie, Dudley! as if I mattered half as much as Humanity with a
capital H."

"To me, personally, you matter far more in this particular case."

"And yet, really, the chief danger to me is that I might unconsciously
catch some reflection of Lorraine's charm and become dangerously
attractive myself, instead of just an outspoken hobbledehoy no one
takes seriously."

"I am not afraid of that," he said, evoking a peal of laughter of which
he could not even see the point; "but since you are quite determined to
go into the City as a secretary, instead of procuring a nice
comfortable home as a companion, or staying quietly here to improve
your mind, I naturally feel you will encounter quite enough dangers
without getting mixed up in a theatrical set.  Though, really," in a
grumbling voice, "I can't see why you don't stay at home like any
sensible girl.  If I am not rich, I have at least enough for two."

"But if I stayed at home, and lived on you, Dudley, I should feel I had
to improve my mind by way of making you some return; and you can't
think how dreadfully my mind hates the idea of being improved.  And if
I went to some dear old lady as companion, she would be sure to die in
an apoplectic fit in a month, and I should be charged with
manslaughter.  And I can't teach, because I don't know anything.  The
only serious danger I shall run as Mr. Elliott's secretary will be
putting an occasional addition of my own to his letters, in a fit of
exasperation, or driving his sub-editor mad; and he seems willing to
risk that."

"You are likely to run greater dangers than that if you allow yourself
to be drawn into a theatrical circle."

"What sort of dangers?...  Oh, my dear, saintly episcopal architect,
what foundations of darkness are you building upon now, out of a little
old-fashioned, out-of-date prejudice which you might have dug up from
some of your studies in antiquity books?  There are just as many
dangers outside the theatrical world as in it, for the sort of woman
dangers are attractive to; and little Sunday-school teachers have come
to grief, while famous actresses have won through unscathed."

Dudley's face expressed both surprise and distaste.

"I wonder what you know about it anyway.  I think you are talking at
random.  Certainly no dangers would come near you if you listened to my
wishes and settled down quietly at home.  If you don't care about
living in Bloomsbury, I will take a small house in the suburbs, and you
can amuse yourself with the housekeeping, and tennis, and that sort of
thing."

"And when you want to marry?"

"I shall not want to marry.  I am wedded to my profession."

"O Dudley!...  Dudley!..."  She slipped off the table where she had
been jauntily seated, and came and stood beside him, passing her arm
through his.  "Can't you see I'd just die of a little house in the
suburbs, looking after the housekeeping: it's the most dreadful and
awful thing on the face of the earth.  I'm not a bit sorry for slaves,
and prisoners, and shipwrecked sailors, and East-end starvelings; every
bit of sympathy I've got is used up for the girls who've got to stay in
hundrum homes, and be nothing, and do nothing, but just finished young
ladies.  Work is the finest thing in the world.  It's just splendid to
have something real to do, and be paid for it.  Why, they can't even go
to prison, or be hungry, or anything except possible wives for possible
men who may or may not happen to want them."

"Of course you are talking arrant nonsense," Dudley replied frigidly.
"I don't know where in the world you get all your queer ideas.  Woman's
sphere is most decidedly the home; you seem to -" but a small hand was
clapped vigorously over his mouth, and eyes of feigned horror searching
his.

"Do you know, I'm half afraid you've lived in your musty old books so
long, Dudley," with mock seriousness, "that you've lost all count of
time.  It is about a thousand years since sane and sensible men
believed all that drivel about women's only sphere being the home, and
since women were content to be mere chattels, stuck in with the rest of
the furniture, to look after the children.  Nowadays the jolly,
sensible woman that a man likes for wife or pal, is very often a busy
worker."

"Let her work busily at home, then!"

"Why, you'll want me to crochet antimacassars next, or cross-stitch a
sampler!  Just imagine the thing if I tried!  It would have dreadful
results, because I should be sure to use bad language - I couldn't help
it; and the article I should concoct would make people faint, or turn
cross-eyed or colour-blind.  I shan't do nearly so much harm in the end
as a City secretary with an actress pal."

"One thing is quite certain: you mean, as usual, to have your own way,
and my feelings go for nothing at all."

He turned away from her, and took up his hat to go out.

"Your protestations of affection, Hal, are apt to seem both insincere
and out of place."

The tears came swiftly to her eyes, and she took a quick step towards
him, but he had gone, and closed the door after him before she could
speak.  She watched his retreating figure, with the tears still
lingering, and then suddenly she smiled.

"Anyhow, I haven't got to besweet and gentle and housekeepy," was her
comforting reflection.  "I'm going to be a real worker, earning real
money, and have Lorraine for my pal as well.  Some day Dudley will see
it is all right, and I'm only about half as black as he supposes, and
that I love him better than anything else at heart.  In the meantime,
as I'm likely to get a biggish dose of dignified disapproval over this
theatre business, I'd better ask Dick to come out to tea this afternoon
to buck me up for what lies ahead.  Goodness! what a boon a jolly
cousin is when you happen to have been mated with your great-aunt for a
brother."





CHAPTER III



For a few years after that particular disagreement nothing of special
note happened.  Hal got quickly through her course of shorthand and
typewriting and became Mr. Elliott's private secretary and general
factotum, which last included an occasional flight into journalism as a
reporter.  Naturally, since this sometimes took her to out-of-the-way
places, and brought her in contact with human oddities, she loved it
beyond all things, and was ever ready for a jaunt, no matter whither it
took her.

Brother Dudley was discreetly left a little in the dark about it,
because nothing in the world would ever have persuaded him that a girl
of Hal's age could run promiscuously about London unmolested.  Hal knew
better.  She was perfectly well able to acquire a stony stare that
baffled the most dauntless of impertinent intruders; and se had,
moreover, an upright, grenadier-like carriage, and an air of
business-like energy that were safeguards in themselves.

A great deal of persuasive tact was necessary, however, to win Dudley's
consent to a year in America, whither Mr. Elliott had to go on
business; but on Mrs. Elliott calling upon him herself to explain that
she also was going, and would take care of Hal, he reluctantly
consented.

Curiously enough, it was that year in a great measure that changed the
current of Lorraine's life.  She came to the cross-roads, and took the
wrong turn.

Perhaps Miss Walton, with her knowledge of girls, could have foretold
it.  She might have said, in that enigmatical way of hers, "If Lorraine
comes to the cross-roads, where life offers a short cut to fame,
instead of a long, wearisome drudgery, she will probably take it.  Hal
will score off her own bat, or not at all.  Lorraine will only care
about gaining her end."


Anyhow the cross-roads came, and Hal, the stronger, was not there.  As
a matter of fact, for some little time the two had not seen much of
each other.  Lorraine was touring in the provinces, and rarely had time
to come to London.  Hal was tied by her work, and could not spare the
time to go to Lorraine.

There was for a little while a cessation of intercourse.  Neither was
the least bit less fond, but circumstances kept them apart, and they
could only wait until opportunity brought them together again.  Both
were too busy for lengthy correspondence, and only wrote short letters
occasionally, just to assure each other the friendship held firm, and
absence made no real difference.

Then Hal went off to America, and while she was away Lorraine came to
her cross-roads.

It is hardly necessary to review in detail what her life had been since
she joined the theatrical profession.  It is mostly hard work and
disillusion and disappointment for all in the beginning, and only a
very small percentage ever win through to the forefront.

But for Lorraine, on the top of all the rest, was a mercenary,
unscrupulous, intriguing mother, who added tenfold to what must
inevitably have been a heavy burden and strain - a mother who taxed her
utmost powers of endurance, and brought her shame as well as endless
worry; and yet to whom, let it be noted down now, to her everlasting
credit, no matter in what other way she may have erred, she never
turned a deaf ear nor treated with the smallest unkindness.

It would be impossible to gauge just what Lorraine had to go through in
her first few years on the stage.  She seemed to make no headway at
all, and at the end of the third year she felt herself as far as ever
from getting her chance.

That she was brilliantly clever and brilliantly attractive had not so
far weighed the balance to her side.  There were many others also
clever and attractive.  She felt she had practically everything except
the one thing needed - influence.

Thus her spirits were at a very low ebb.  She was still touring the
provinces, and heartily sick of all the discomfort involved.  Dingy
lodgings, hurried train journeys, much bickering and jealousy in the
company with which she was acting, and a great deal of domestic worry
over that handsome, extravagant mother, who had once taken her, in
company with the so-called uncle, to the select seminary of the Misses
Walton.

How her mother managed to live and dress as if she were rich had
puzzled Lorraine many times in those days; but when she left the
shelter of those narrow, restricting walls, where windows were
whitewashed so that even boys might not be seen passing by, she learnt
many things all too quickly.

She learnt something about the uncles too.  One of them was at great
pains to try and teach her, but with hideous shapes and suggestions
trying to crowd her mind, the thought of Hal's freshness still acted as
a sort of protection and kept her untainted.

A little later, after she had commenced to earn a salary, she found
that directly the family purse was empty, and creditors objectionably
insistent, she herself had to come to the rescue.

There were some miserable days then.  It was useless to upbraid her
mother.  She always posed as the injured one, and could not see that in
robbing her child of a real home she was strewing her path with dangers
as well, by placing her in an ambiguous, comfortless position, from
which any relief seemed worth while.

Then at last came the welcome news that Mrs. Vivian had procured a post
as lady-housekeeper to a rich stockbroker in Kensington, who had also a
large interest in a West-end theatre.

Lorraine read the glowing terms in which her mother described her new
home and employer with a deep sense of relief, seeing in the new
venture a probable escape for herself from those relentless demands
upon her own scanty purse.  A month later came the paragraph, in a
voluminous epistle:

"Mr. Raynor says you are to make his house your home whenever you are
free.  He insists upon giving you a floor all to yourself, like a
little flat, where you can receive your friends undisturbed, and feel
you have a little home of your own.  I am quite certain also that he
will try to help you in your career through his interest in the
Greenway Theatre."

If Lorraine wondered at all concerning this unknown man's interest in
her welfare she kept it to herself.

A home instead of the dingy lodgings she had grown to hate, and the
prospect of influential help, were sufficiently alluring to drown all
other reflections.

When the tour was over she went direct to Kensington, to make her home
with her mother until her next engagement.  She was already too much a
woman of the world not to notice at once that her mother and her host's
relations seemed scarcely those of employee and employer, and there was
a little passage of arms between herself and Mrs. Vivian the next
morning.

In reply to a long harangue, in which that lady set forth the
advantages Lorraine was to gain from her mother's perspicacity in
obtaining such a post, she asked rather shortly:

"And why in the world should Mr. Raynor do all this for me, simply
because you are his housekeeper?"

A red spot burned in Mrs. Vivian's cheek as she replied: "He does it
because he wants me to stay; and I have told him I cannot do so unless
he makes it possible for me to give you a comfortable, happy home here."

Lorraine's lips curled with a scorn she did not attempt to conceal, but
she only stood silently gazing across the Park.

She had already decided to make the best of her mother's deficiencies,
seeing she was almost the only relative she possessed, but she had a
natural loathing of hypocrisy, and wished she would leave facts alone
instead of attempting to gloss them over.  Ever since she left school
she had been obliged to live in lodgings, because her mother would not
take the trouble to try and provide anything more of a home.

It was a little too much, therefore, that she should now allude to her
maternal  solicitude because it happened to suit her purpose.  She felt
herself growing hard and callous and bitter under the strain of the
early struggle to succeed, handicapped as she was; and because of one
or two ugly experiences that came in the path of such a warfare.  She
was losing heart also, and feeling bitterly the stinging whip of
circumstances.  As she stood gazing across the Park, some girls about
her own age rode past, returning from their morning gallop, talking and
laughing gaily together.

Lorraine found herself wondering what life would be like with her
beauty and talent if there were no vulgarly extravagant, unprincipled
mother in the background, no insistent need to earn money, no gnawing
ambition for a fame she already began to feel might prove an empty joy.

She had not seen Hal for a year, and she felt an ache for her.  In the
shifting, unreliable, soul-numbing atmosphere of her stage career, she
still looked upon Hal as a City of Refuge; and when she had not seen
her for some time she felt herself drifting towards unknown shoals and
quicksands.

And, unfortunately, Hal was away in America, with the editor to whom
she was secretary and typist, and not very likely to be back for three
months.

No; there was nothing for it but to make te best of her mother's
explanation and the comfortable home at her feet.

As for Mr. Raynor himself, though he seemed to Lorraine vulgarly proud
of his self-made position, vulgarly ostentatious of his wealth, and
vulgarly familiar with both herself and her mother, she could not
actually lay any offence to his charge.  And in any case, he
undoubtedly could help her, if he chose, to procure at last the coveted
part in a London theatre.  With this end in view, she laid herself out
to please him and to make the most of her opportunity.

And in this way she came to chose cross-roads which had to decide her
future.

Before she had been a week in the house, Frank Raynor deserted his
housekeeper altogether, and fell in love with the housekeeper's
daughter.  Within a fortnight he had laid all his possessions a
Lorraine's feet, promising her not only wealth and devotion, but the
brilliant career she so coveted.

The man was generous, but he was no saint.  Give him herself, and she
would have the world at her feet if he could bring it there.  Give any
less, and he would have no more to say to her whatsoever.

It was the cross-roads.

Lorrain struggled manfully for a month.  She hated the idea of marrying
a man better suited in every way to her mother.  She dreaded and hated
the thought of what had perhaps been between them; yet she was afraid
to ask any question that might corroborate her worst fears.

All that was best in her of delicate and refined sensitiveness surged
upward, and she longed to run away to some remote island far removed
from the harsh realities of life.

Yet, how could she?  Without money, without influence, without rich
friends, what did the world at large hold for her?

How much easier to go with the tide - seize her opportunity - and dare
Fate to do her worst.

At the last there was a bitter scene between mother and daughter.

"If you refuse Frank Raynor now, you ruin the two of us," was Mrs.
Vivian's angry indictment.  "What can we expect from him any more?  How
are you ever going to get another such chance to make a hit?"

"And what if it ruins my life to marry him?" Lorraine asked.

"Such nonsense!  The man can give you everything.  What in the world
more do you want?  He is good enough looking; he could pass as a
gentleman, and he is rich."

A sudden nauseous spasm at all the ugliness of life shook Lorraine.
She turned on her mother swiftly, scarcely knowing what she said, and
asked:

"You are anxious enough to sell me to him.  What is he to you anyway?
What has he ever been to you?"

Mrs. Vivian blanched before the suddenness of the attack, but she held
her ground.

"You absurd child, what in the world could he be to me?  It is easy
enough to see he has no eyes for any one but you."

"And before I came?"

Lorraine took a step forward, and for a moment the two women faced each
other squarely.  The eyes of each were a little hard, the expressions a
little flinty; but behind the older woman's was a scornful,
unscrupulous indifference to any moral aspect; behind the younger's a
hunted, rather pitiful hopelessness.  The ugly things of life had
caught the one in their talons and held her there for good and all,
more or less a willing slave, the soul of the younger was still alive,
still conscious, still capable of distinguishing the good and desiring
it.

The mother turned away at last with a little harsh laugh.

"Before you came he was nothing to me.  He never has been anything."

Without waiting for Lorraine to speak, she turned again, and added:

"If you weren't a fool, you would perceive he is treating you better
than ninety-nine men in a hundred.  He has suggested marriage.  The
others might not have done."

"Oh!  I'm not a fool in that way," came the bitter reply, "but I've
wondered once or twice what your attitude would have been, supposing -
er - he had been one of the ninety-nine!"

Mrs. Vivian was saved replying by the unexpected appearance of Frank
Raynor himself.  Entering the room with a quick step, he suddenly
stopped short and looked from one to the other.  Something in their
expressions told him what had transpired.  He turned sharply on the
mother.

"You've been speaking to Lorraine about me.  I told you I wouldn't have
it.  I know your bullying ways, and I said she was to be left to decide
for herself."

Lorraine saw an angry retort on her mother's lips, and hurriedly left
the room.  She put on her hat and slipped away into the Park.  What was
she to do?... where, oh where was Hal!

Within three months the short cut was taken.  Lorraine was engaged to
play a leading part at the Greenway Theatre, and she was the wife of
Frank Raynor.





CHAPTER IV


When Hal came back from America and heard about Lorraine's marriage, it
was a great shock to her.  At first she could hardly bring herself to
believe it at all.  Nothing thoroughly convinced her until she stood in
the pretty Kensington house and beheld Mrs. Vivian's pronounced air of
triumph, and Lorraine's somewhat forced attempts at joyousness.

It was one of the few occasions in her life when Lorraine was nervous.
She did not want Hal to know the sordid facts; and she did not believe
she would be able to hide them from her.

When Hal, from a mass of somewhat jerky, contradictory information, had
gleaned that the new leading part at the London theatre had been gained
through the middle-aged bridegroom's influence, her comment was
sufficiently direct.

"Oh, that's why you did it, is it?  Well, I only hope you don't hate
the sight of him already."

"How absurd you are, Hal!...  Of course I don't hate the sight of him.
He's a dear.  He gives me everything in the world I want, if he
possibly can."

"How dull.  It's much more fun getting a few things for oneself.  And
when the only thing in all the world you want is your freedom, do you
imagine he'll give you that?"

Lorraine got up suddenly, thrusting her hands out before her, as if to
ward off some vague fear.

"Hal, you are brutal to-day.  What is the use of talking like that
now?...  Why did you go to America?...  Perhaps if you hadn't gone _"

"Give me a cigarette," said Hal, with a little catch in her voice, "I
want soothing.  At the present moment you're a greater strain than
Dudley talking down at me from a pyramid of worn-out prejudices.  I
don't know why my two Best-Belovèds should both be cast in a mould to
weigh so heavily on my shoulders."

Sitting on the table as usual, she puffed vigorously at her cigarette,
blowing clouds of smoke, through which Lorraine could not see that her
eyes were dim with tears.  For Hal's unerring instinct told her that,
at a critical moment, Lorraine had taken a wrong path.

Lorraine, however, was not looking in Hal's direction.  She had moved
to the window, and stood with her back to the room, gazing across the
Park, hiding likewise misty, tell-tale eyes.

Suddenly, as Hal continued silent, she turned to her with a swift
movement of half-expressed protest.

"Hal! you shan't condemn me, you shan't even judge me.  Probably you
can't understand, because your life is so different - always has been
so different; but at least you can try to be the same.  What difference
has it made between you and me anyhow?...  What difference need it
make?  I have got my chance now, and I am going to be a brilliant
success, instead of a struggling beginner.  What does the rest matter
between you and me?"

"It doesn't matter between you and me.  But it matters to you.  I feel
I'd give my right hand if you hadn't done it."

"How could I help doing it?  Oh, I can't explain; it's no use.  We all
have to fight our own battles in the long run - friends or no friends.
Only the friends worth having stick to one, even when it has been a
nasty, unpleasant sort of battle."

That hard look, with the hopelessness behind it, was coming back into
Lorraine's eyes.  She was too loyal to tell even Hal what her mother
had been like the last few months before the critical moment came, and
at the critical moment itself.  She could not explain just how many
difficulties her marriage had seemed a way out from.

There had been other men who had not proposed marriage.  There had been
insistent creditors - her mother's as well as her own.  There had been
that deep hunger for something approaching a real home, and for a sense
of security, in a life necessarily full of insecurities.

Obdurate, difficult theatre managers, powerful, jealous
fellow-actresses, ill health, bad luck!  Behind the glamour and the
glitter of the stage, what a world of carking care, of littleness,
meanness, jealousy, and intrigue she had found herself called upon to
do battle with.

And now, if only her husband proved amenable, proved livable with, how
different everything would be?  But in any case Hal must be there.
Somehow nothing of all this showed in her face as she fronted the
smoker, still blowing clouds of smoke before her eyes.

"What has become of Rod?" Hal asked suddenly.

Lorraine winced a little, but held her ground steadily.

"Rod had to go.  What could Rod and I have done with £500 a year?"

"My own" - from the blunt-speaking one - "it surely seems as if you
might have thought of that before you allowed Rod to run all over the
country after you, and get 'gated', and very nearly 'sent down', and
spend a year or two's income ahead in trying to give you pleasure."

Lorraine flung herself down on the sofa with a callous air, and beat
her foot on the ground impatiently.  The parting with Rod was another
thing she did not propose to describe to Hal.  It had hurt too badly,
for one thing.

"When you moralise, Hal, you are detestable.  Besides, it's so cheap.
Any one can sit on a table and hurl sarcasm about.  I daresay in my
place you would have married Rod, from a sense of duty or something,
and ruined all the rest of his life.  Or perhaps, after gently breaking
the news, you'd have let him come dangling round to be 'mothered'.
Well, I don't say I haven't been a bit of a brute to him; but anyhow I
tried to do the square thing in the end.  I cut the whole affair dead
off.  I told him I would not see him nor write to him again.  I've
since sent two letters back unopened, and though you mightn't think it,
I was just eating my heart out for a sight of him.  But what's the
good!  He's got to follow in the footsteps of whole centuries of highly
respectable, complacent, fat old bankers.  His father and mother would
have a fit if he didn't develop into the traditional fat old banker
himself, and beget another of the same ilk to follow on.

"I daresay with me he would have developed a little more soul, and a
little less stomach - but what of it? -" with a graceful shrug.  "For
the good of his country it is written that he shall acquire weight and
stolidity, instead of an ideal soul, and for the benefit of posterity I
sentenced him to speedy rotundity, and dull respectability, and the
begetting of future bankers.  He will presently marry some one named
Alice or Annie, and invite me to the first christening in a spirit of
Christian forgiveness."

Hal smiled more soberly than was her wont.

"And what of you?"

"What of me?... Oh, I don't come into that sort of scheme.  I never
ought to have been there at all.  Still, I'm glad I showed him he'd got
something in himself beside the stale accumulations of many banker
ancestors; if it's only for the sake of the next litte banker, who may
want to lay claim to an individual soul."

"But it hurt, Lorraine?... don't tell me it didn't hurt after... after
- "

"Oh yes, it hurt," with a low, bitter laugh; "but what of that eiter?
It's generally the woman who gets hurt; but I suppose I knew I was
riding for a fall."

"I don't suppose you are any more hurt than he is.  You know he
worshipped you."

"Yes; only presently it will be easy for him to get back into the old,
orthodox groove with 'Alice', and persuade himself that I was only a
youthful infatuation, whereas I - Oh, what does it matter, Hal!  Come
out of that 'great-aunt' mood, and let's be joly while we can.  I'll
ring for coffee and liqueurs, and then we'll make lots of ripping plans
to see everything in England worth seeing - until I can find time to go
abroad."

Hal sprang off het table.

"Oh, very well," she rejoined, "Let's get rowdy and sing the song 'Love
may go hang.'  When I've got it over with Dudley, we'll just go
straight on, keeping a good look out for the next fence.  You'd better
tell me something abouth this paternal husband of yours, just to
prepare me for our meeting.  He doesn't put his knife in his mouth, and
that sort of thing, does he?"

"No; not quite so bad.  His worst offence at present, I think, is to
call me 'wifey'."

"Wifey!" in accents of horror.  "Lorraine, how awful!"

"Yes; but I'm breaking him of it by degrees: that and his fondness for
a soft felt hat."

They sat on chatting together with apparent gayness, but Hal's heart
was no lighter after she had duly been presented to the paternal
husband, as she called him, and she journeyed solemnly home on a bus,
feeling rather as if she had been to a funeral.  She tried at first to
hide her feelings from Dudley - no difficult matter at all, since he
usually contributed little but a slightly absent "yes" and "no" to the
conversation, and if the conversation languished he took small notice.

However, he had to be told, and Hal rarely troubled to do much beating
about the bush, so, in order to rouse him speedily and thoroughly, just
as he was settling down to his newspaper she hurled the news at his
head without any preliminary preparation.

"What do you think Lorraine has done now?  Been and gone and married a
man old enough to be her father!"

"Married!...  Lorraine Vivian married!"

Dudley's newspaper went down suddenly on to his knee.

Hal had squatted on the hearthrug, tailor fashion, before the fire, and
she gave a little swaying movement backward and forward, to signify the
affirmative.  He looked at her a moment as if to make sure she was not
joking, and then said, with sarcastic lips:

"A man old enough to be her father? ... then it isn't even Rod Burrell!"

"No; it isn't even Rod Burrell."

"Some one with more money and influence, I suppose?  Well, I don't know
that Burrell needs any one's condolences."

"He does, badly."

"He won't for long.  The Burrells are a sensible lot, and no sensible
man frets over a hearless woman."

"Lorraine is not a heartless woman.  She has too much heart."

"She is certainly very generous with it."

"I don't know which is the more detestable, a sarcastic man or a
sensible one."  Hal shut her lips tightly, and stared at the fire.

"I imagine you hardly expect any sort of man to admire Miss Vivian's
action."

"It doesn't matter in the least what 'any sort of man' thinks.  I am
only concerned with the possibility that she will weary of matrimony
quickly and be miserable.  I told you, because I wanted you to hear it
from me instead of from a newspaper."

Dudley suddenly grew more serious, as he realised how it must in a
measure affect Hal also.

"Who is he?

"He is a stockbroker, named Frank Raynor, aged fifty."

"And of course she married him for his money ?

"I suppose so. Also he partly owns the Greenway Theatre."

"Pshaw . . . it's a mere bargain."

Hal was silent. She had rested her chin on her hands, and was now
gazing steadily at the embers.

"Of course if he is not a gentleman, you will have to leave off seeing
so much of her."

"Not at all. She would need me all the more.

"That is quite possible," drily; "but you owe something to yourself and
me."

"I couldn't owe failing a friend to any one. But he is a gentleman
almost - a self-made one, and he doesn't let you forget it."

"Then you've seen him?"

"Yes, to-day." Her lips suddenly twitched with irresistible humour. "He
called me 'Hal' and Lorraine 'wifey' We bore it bravely."

"What business had he to call you by your Christian name?"

"None. I suppose he just felt like it. He also alluded to my new hat as
a bonnet. Also he used to be an office-boy or something. He seemed
inordinately proud of it."

"I loathe a self-made man who is always cramming it down one's throat.
I don't see how you can have much in common with either of them any
more."

Hal got up, as if she did not want to pursue the subject.

"It won't make the smallest difference to Lorraine and me," she said.

Dudley knit his forehead in vexation and perplexity, remarking:

"Of course you mean to be obstinate about it."

"No," with a little laugh; "only firm."

She came round to his chair and leant over the back it.

"Dear old long-face, don't look so worried. None of the dreadful things
have happened yet that you expected to come of my friendship with
Lorraine. The nearest approach to them was the celebrated young author
I interviewed, who asked me to go to Paris with him for a fortnight,
and he was a clergyman's son who hadn't even heard of Lorraine. Next, I
think, was the old gentleman
who offered to take me to the White City. IL don't seem much the worse
for either encounter, do I ? and it's silly to meet trouble half way.

She bent her head and kissed him on the forehead.

"Dudley," she finished mischievously, "what are you going to give
Lorraine for a wedding-present?"

"I might buy her the book, 'Row to be Happy though Married,'" he said
dilly, "or write her a new one and call it 'Words of Warning for
Wifey.'"

"We'll give her something together," Hal exclaimed triumphantly,
knowing that, as usual, she had won the day.

Then she went off to bed, feigning a light-heartedness she was far from
feeling, and dreading, with vague misgivings, what the future might
bring forth.





CHAPTER V


It was a little over two years later that the crash came. There was
first a commonplace, sordid tale of bickering and quarrelling, with
passionate jealousy on the part of the middle-aged husband, and
callous, maddening indifference on the part of the now successful and
brilliant actress

To do Lorraine justice, she was not actively at fault.  Her sense of
fair play made her try sincerely to make the best of what had all along
been an inevitable fiasco. She did not sin in deed against the man to
whom she had sold herself, but in thought it was hardly possible for
her to give him anything but tolerance, or to feel much beyond the
callous indifference she purposely cultivated, to make their life
together endurable. The things that at first only irritated her grew
almost unbearable afterwards.

Lorraine's father had been a gentleman by birth, breeding, and nature.
If she inherited from her mother an ambitious, calculating spirit, she
also inherited from her father refinement, and tone, and a certain
fineness character, that showed itself chiefly in unorthodox ways, of
for the simple reason that her life and conditions were entirely
removed from a conventional atmosphere.

As a man she might merely have lived a double life, conforming to the
conventions when advisable, and following her own ambitions and bent in
secret, without ever apparently stepping over the line.

As a woman she could but cultivate callous indifference to a great
deal, and satisfy her soul by "playing fair" according to her lights,
in the path before her, but nothing could save her from a mental nausea
of the things in her husband which belonged to his plebeian origin and
nature, and which crossed with a shrivelling, searing touch her own
inherent refinement and high-born spirit.

The objectionable friends he brought to the house she found it easier
to bear than the things he said about them behind their backs; neither,
again, was his addiction to drink so trying as his mental coarseness. A
man who had drank too much could be avoided, but the lowness of Frank
Raynor's mind seemed to follow and drag hers down.

Yet for two years she held bravely on, cultivating a hard spirit, and
throwing herself heart and soul into the first delicious joy of
success. This last surprised even her friends and admirers. A moderate
hit was quite expected, but not a triumph which placed her almost in
the first rank, and was due not merely to her acting, but to a bigness
of spirit and comprehension she had never before had an opporturnty to
reveal.

It was, indeed, the justification of Hal's devotion. Hal, by her very
nature, could not love a small-minded woman. What she so unceasingly
loved and admired in Lorraine was a hidden something she alone had had
the
perspicacity to perceive, and could so instinctively rely upon. It was
the something which, given once a fair opening, carried her quickly
through the company of the lesser successes, and placed her on that
high plane which
demands soul as well as skill.

Then came the dreadful climax. In a drunken, mad moment her husband
hurled at her that he had been her mother's lover, and proposed to
return to his old allegiance - had, in fact, already done so.

Lorraine immediately packed up her own special belongings and left his
roof for ever.

Expostulations, promises, threats, passionate assurances that he had
not been responsible for what he said failed alike to move her. She
knew that whether responsible or not he had spoken the truth, and that
everything
else either he or her mother could say was false.

Finding her obdurate, he swore to ruin them both; but she told him she
would sing for bread in the streets before she would go back to him;
and he knew she meant it.

Fearing his influence against her and his sworn revenge, she went to
Italy for a year, and hid in quiet villages until his passion should
somewhat have died, finding herself in the dreadful position, not only
of being betrayed by her mother, but quite unable to obtain any sort of
freedom without revealing the black stain upon her only near
relation.

She could not seek a divorce under the terrible circumstances, and she
was far too proud and spirited to touch a farthing of her husband's
money. It was like a dreadful chapter in her life, of which she could
only turn down
the page; never, never, obliterate nor escape from.

In the black days and weeks of despair which followed, she often felt
she must have lost her reason without Hal, and even to her she could
not tell the actual truth. Hal asked once, and then no more. Afterwards
it was like a secret, unnamed horror between them, from which the
curtain must not be raised.

For the rest there was the usual but intenser scene of remonstrance
between Dudley and Hal with the usual resentful and obdurate
termination. This time
Dudley even got seriously angry, unable to see anything but a foolish,
unprincipled woman reaping a just reward of her own sowing; and for
nearly a week his displeasure was such that he addressed no single word
to Hal if he could help it.

Hal, for once, was too wretched about everything to resent his
attitude, and merely waited for the sun to shine again and the black,
enveloping clouds to roll away.

She saw Lorraine everyday, in the apartments whence she had fled, and
helped her to make the necessary arrangements to cancel the short
remainder of an engagement and get away. She even had one interview
with the irate husband, but no one ever knew what took place, except
that Raynor sought no repetition, and seemed afterwards to have a
respectful awe of Hal's name which spoke volumes.

Accustomed to intimidating women with a curse and an oath, he had found
himself unexpectedly dealing with two who could scorch him with a scorn
and contempt far more withering than a vulgar tirade of blasphemous
language.

Finally the break was made complete. Lorraine got safely away to Italy,
her mother retired to an English village, and Raynor departed to
America for good.

For him it was merely a case of fresh pastures for fresh money-making
and fresh intrigues.

For Mrs. Vivian only a passing exile from the gaieties and extravagance
she loved.

For Lorraine it meant a hideous memory, a hideous, overwhelming
catastrophe, and a hideous tie from which she could not hope to free
herself.

She went away in a state of nervous prostration that was an illness,
feeling the horror of it all in her very bones, and clinging with a
silent hopelessness to Hal in a way that was more heart-rending than
any hysterical outburst.

Yet that Hal was there was good indeed. Hal, who, though only
twenty-one, could look out on an ugly world with those clear eyes of
hers, and while seeing the ugliness undisguised, see always as it were
beside it the ultimate good, the ultimate hope, the silver lining
behind the blackest cloud. Hal, who could criticise unerringly, with
direct, outspoken humour,and yet scorn to judge; who had learnt, by
some strange instinct, the precious art of holding out a friendly hand
and generous friendship, even to those condemned of the orthodox,
sufferers probably through their
own wild and foolish actions, without in any way becoming besmirched
herself, or losing her own inherent freshness and purity.

It was not in the least surprising that a man as wedded to his books
and profession as Dudley should fail to realise what was, in a measure,
phenomenal. By the simple rule of A B C, he argued that ill necessarily
contaminates, if the one to come in contact is of young and impression-
able years. There might of course be exceptions, but hardly among those
as frivolous and obstinate as Hal.

He worried himself almost ill about it all, until Lorraine was safely
out of England, adding seriously to poor Hal's troubled mind, seeing
she must stand by the one while longing to soothe and please the other,
and fretting silently over his anxious expression. But once back in
their old groove, he quickly recovered his spirits, and even tried to
make up to Hal a little for what she had lost. Unfortunately, however,
he hit upon an unhappy expedient.

He tried to persuade her to make a friend of a certain Doris Hayward,
instead of Lorraine.

Doris's brother had been Dudley's great friend in the days when both
were articled to the same profession, but a terrible accident had later
lain him on an invalid couch for the rest of his life.

When clerk of the works of one of London's great buildings, a heavy
crane had slipped and swung sideways, flinging him into the street
below. He was picked up and carried into the nearest hospital,
apparently dead, but he had presently come back, almost from the grave,
to drag out a weary life as an incurable on an invalid sofa.

Soon afterwards his father died, leaving Basil and his two sisters the
poor pittance of £50 a year between them.

Ethel, the elder, was already a Civil Service clerk at the General Post
Office, earning £110 a year, and on these two sums they had to subsist as
best they could.

Basil earned occasional guineas for copying work, when he was well
enough to stand the strain, and Doris remained at home with him in the
little Holloway flat, as nurse and housekeeper.

Dudley, with his usual lack of comprehension where women were
concerned, evolved what seemed to him an admirable plan, in which Hal
and Doris became great friends, thereby  brightening poor Doris's dull
existence, and weaning Hal from her allegiance to the unstatisfactory
Lorraine.

His plans, however, quickly met with the discouragement and downfall
inevitable from the beginning.  At first he tried strategy, and Hal, in
a good-tempered, careless way, merely listened, while easily avoiding
any encounter.

Then Dudley went a step too far.

"I have to be out three evenings this week, so I asked Doris Hayward to
come and keep you company, as I thought you might be dull."

"You asked Doris to come and keep _me_ company!" repeated Hal, quite
taken aback.

"Yes; why not?  She is such a nice girl, and just your age.  I can't
think why you are not greater friends."

"It's pretty apparent," with a little curl of her lips.

"We haven't anything in common: that's all."

"But why haven't you?  You can't possibly know if you never meet.  She
seems such a far more sensible friend for you than Lorraine Vivian,"
with a shade of irritation.

"Probably that is exactly why I don't want her friendship," with a
light laugh.

"But you might try to be reasonable just once in a way.  Try to be
friendly to-morrow evening."

Hal, with her quick, light gracefulness, crossed to him, and playfully
gave him a little shake.

"Dudley, you dear old idiot.  I don't know about being reasonable, but
I can certainly be honest; and it's honest I'm going to be now.  I
think it is almost a slur on Lorraine to mention a little, silly,
dolly-faced, conceited creature like Doris in the same breath; and as
for being friendly to her to-morrow evening, that's impossible, because
I shall not be here.  I'm going to the Denisons, and I don't intend to
postpone it.  You will have to write and tell her I am engaged."

Dudley's mouth quickly assumed the rigidity which denoted he was
greatly displeased, and his voice was frigid as he replied:

"You are very injust to Doris.  You scarcely know her, and yet you
condemn her offhand: the fault you are always finding in me.  As for
any comparison between her and Miss Vivian, it is very certain she
would not sell herself to a man, and then run away from him because
things did not turn out as she wanted them."

Hal turned away, with a slight shrug and a humorous expression as of
helplessness.

"We won't argue, _mon frère_, because, since you always read books
instead of people, you are not very well up in the subject.  To put it
both candidly and vulgarly, I haven't any use for Doris Hayward at all.
 Ethel I admire tremendously, though I don't think she likes me; and
Basil is a saint straight out of heaven, suffering martyrdom for no
conceivable reason, but Doris is like a useless ornamental china
shepherdess, which ought to be put on a hight shelf where it can't get
itself nor any one else into trouble.  I'm really dreadfully afraid if
I had to spend a whole evening alone with her, I should drop her and
break her to relieve my feelings."

"Well, you needn't worry" - moving coldly away.  "I have far too much
respect for Doris to allow her to come here just to be criticised by
you.  I will explain that you are unexpectedly engaged," and he openend
a paper in a manner to close the conversation.

Hal made a little grimace at him behind it, and retired discreetly to
prepare for her daily sojourn in the City.

It happened, however, when, a year later, Lorraine came back to take up
her theatrical career again in England, there was some vague change in
her that made Dudley less severe in his criticisms.  Trouble had not
hardened her, nor softened her, but it had made her a little less sure
of herself, and a little more willing to please.

Hitherto she had taken rather a pleasure in shocking Dudley, under the
impression that it would do him good and open his mind a little.  Now
she had a greater respect for his sterling side, and could smile kindly
at his little foibles and fads.  The result was that Dudley admitted, a
trifle grudgingly, she had changed for the better, and rather looked
forward to the occasional evenings she spent with Hal at their
Bloomsbury apartments.

He also had to admit that success had in no wise spoilt her, that it
probably never would.  The year of absence, it was soon seen, had not
injured her reputation in the least.  She came back to the stage
renewed and invigorated, and with still more of that depth of feeling
and atmosphere of soul wich had so enriched her personations before.

She became, very speedily, without any question, one of the leading
actressess of the day; and the veil of mystery that hung over the
sudden termination of her short married life, if anything, enhanced her
charm to a mystery-loving public.  And all the time, as Dudley could
not but see, she never changed to Hal.

From adulation and adoration, from triumphs that might easily turn any
head she always came quickly back to the little Bloomsbury sitting-room
when she could, to have one of their old gay gossips and merry laughs.
She seemed in some way to find a rest there that she could not get
elsewhere, in the company of people who expected her to live up to a
recognised standard of individuality.

And the change in Lorraine was a change for the better in Hal too, who
began now to tone down a little, and at the same time to strenghten and
deepen in character.

They were, in fact, a pair it was good to see and good to know.  In the
first few years after the break-up of her home Lorraine was at her
handsomest.  Her dark, thick hair had a gloss on it that in some lights
showed like a bronze glow, and she wore it in thick coils round her
small head, free from any exaggerated fashion, and yet with a
distinction all its own.  Her dark eyes once more showed the roguish
lights of her schooldays, and her alluring red mouth twitched
mischievously when she was in a gay mood.

A little below the medium height, she was so perfectly built as to
escape any appearance of shortness, and carried herself so well, she
sometimes appeared almost tall.

Considering what her life had been, she looked strangely young for her
years, seeming to combine most alluringly the knowledge and sympathy of
a woman of thirty-five with the freshness and capacity for enjoyment of
twenty-five.  The irrevocable tie so far had not clashed with any new
affection; her husband remained in America and made no sign; and her
art was all-sufficing.

Hal was built on quite different lines.  Tall, and slender, and well
knit, she moved with the surging grace of the athlete, and looked out
upon the world with a joyfulness and humorous kindliness that won her
friends everywhere.  She was not beautiful in any sense that could be
compared with Lorraine, but she had pretty brown hair, and fine eyes,
and a clear, warm skin that made up for other defects, and helped to
produce a very attractive whole.

Lorraine had taught her how to dress - an art of far deeper
significance than many women trouble to realise; and wherever Hal went,
if she did not create a sensation, at least she carried a dinstinction
and pleasingness that were rarely overlooked.  Her  daily sojourn in
the City, among the bread-winners, had made her large-hearted and
generously tolerant, without hurting in any degree her own innate
womanliness and charm.

She showed in her every gesture and action how it was possible to be of
those who must scramble for buses, and press for trams, and live daily
in the midst of panting, struggling, working, grasping humans, without
losing tone, or gentleness, or a radiant, fearless spritit.

At the office of the newspaper where she filled the post of secretary
and typist, she was a sort of cheerful institution to smooth worried
faces and call up a smile amidst the irritability and frowns.

Blunderers went to her with their troubles, and felt fairly secure if
she would break the news of the blunder or mistake to the irritable and
awe-inspiring chief.  He, in his turn, would be irritable before her,
but never with her; and it was a recognised fact among the staff that
she was almost the only one who could make him laugh.

Thus a few intervening years passed happily enough, briging Lorraine to
her thirty-first birthday and Hal to her twenty-fifth, without any
further upheavals to strike a discordant note across the daily round,
except such inevitable trials as Lorraine continued to meet through her
mother, and Hal through her devotion to a non-comprehending brother.
Only, while they had each other and their work, such difficulties were
not hard to cope with; and life sang a gayer, happier song to them than
she usually sings to the mere pleasure-seekers.

For work in a wide interesting sphere is a priceless boon, and the men
who would condemn women solely to pleasure-seeking and the four walls
of their home are showing the very acme of selfishness, in that they
are endeavouring to keep solely and entirely for themselves one of the
best things life has to give.





CHAPTER VI


It will be remembered, perhaps, that an occasion has already occured
when Hal had cause to congratulate herself upon the possession of a
cousin, named Dick, who acted as an antidote to a brother who sometimes
resembled a great-aunt.

Dick, or to give him his full name, Richard Alastair Bruce, was indeed
her best friend and boon companion next to Lorraine.  He was her
earliest playmate, and likewise her latest.  For many months together
they had been companions in the wildest of wild escapades as children,
at Dick's country home; and now that they were both responsible members
of the community, in the world's greatest city, they were equally
attached.

If Hal was down on her luck, she telephoned Dick to come instantly to
the rescue, and if it was humanly possible he came.  If Dick wanted a
sympathetic or gay companion, either to go out with him or to listen to
his latest inspirations, he telephoned to Hal, and little short of an
urgent, important engagement would delay her.

At the time he become of any importance in this narrative he was
established in a flat in the Cromwell Road, as one of a trio sometimes
known as the Three Graces.  The other two were Harold St. Quintin and
Alymer Hermon.

The appellation was first given to them when they were freshmen at New
College, Oxford; partly because they were inseparable, partly because
they were a particularly good-looking trio, and partly because they all
three came up from Winchester with great cricket reputations.  Within
two years they were all playing for the 'Varsity' and one of them was
made captain.

Three years from the term of their leaving, after each had gone his own
way for a season, they gravitated together again, and finally became
established in the Cromwell Road flat, once more on the old
affectionate terms.

Dick Bruce was following a literary career, of a somewhat ambiguous
nature.  He wrote weird articles for weird papers, under weird
pseudonyms, verses, under a woman's name, for women's papers, usually
of the _Home Dressmaker_ type; occasional lines to advertise some
patent medicine or soap; one or two Salvation Army hymns of a
particularly rousing nature: and sometimes a weighty, brilliant article
for a first-class paper, duly signed in his own name.

Besides all this he visited a publisher's office most days, where he
was supposed to be meditating the acquirement of a partnership.  Hal
was very apt at terse, concise definitions, and she was quite up to her
best form when she described him as "the maddest of a mad clan run
amok."

Harold St. Quintin, or Quin, as every one called him, was idealist,
etherealist, and dreamer.  His original intention had been to enter the
Church, but having gone down into East London to give six months to
slum work, he had remained two years without showing any inclination to
give it up.  Sometimes he lived at the flat, and sometimes he was lost
for a week at a time somewhere east of St. Paul's, where one might as
well have looked for him as for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Alymer Hermon, after a sojourn on the continent to study languages, was
now established with a barrister, waiting, it must be confessed,
without much concern, for his first brief.

Of the three he was the most striking.  Dick Bruce was only ordinarily
good-looking, with a very white skin, a fine forehead, and an arresting
pair of eyes - eyes that were like an index to a brain that held
volumes of original observations and whimsicalities, and revealed only
just as much or little as the author chose.

Harold St. Quintin was small and rather delicate, with never-failing
cheerfulness on his lips, and eyes that seemed always to have behind
them the recollection of the pitiful scenes among which he voluntarily
moved.

Alymer Hermon was Adonis returned to earth.  He stood six foot five and
a half inches in his socks, and was as perfectly proportioned as a man
may be; with a head and face any sculptor might have been proud to copy
line by line for a statue of masculine beauty.

When he was captain of the Oxford Eleven, people spoke of his beauty
more than his cricket, although the latter was quite sufficiently
striking in itself.  There were others who had sweepstakes on his
height, before the score he would make, or the men he would bowl.

The 'Varsity' was proud of him, as they had never been proud of a
captain before, because he upheld every tradition of manliness and
manhood at its best.  And they only liked him the better that so far
his attitude to his own comeliness was rather that of boredom than
anything else.  Certainly it weighed as nothing in the balance against
the joy of scoring a century and achieving a good average with his
bowling.

He was equally bored with the young girls who gazed at him in
adoration, and the women who petted him, and it was a considerable
source of worry to him that he might appear effeminate, because of his
blue eyes and golden hair, and fresh, clear complexion, when in reality
he was as manly as the plainest of hard-sinewed warriors, though the
indulgence of a slightly aesthetic manner and way of speech, learnt at
het University, increased rather than counteracted the suggestion of
effeminacy.

But, taking all things into consideration, he was singularly unspoilt
and unassuming; and sometimes blended with an old-fashioned, paternal
air a boyishness and power of enjoyment that could not fail to charm.

The first time that Lorraine met the trio was when Hal took her to
spend the evening at the flat one Sunday, by arrangement with her
cousin.  She herself knew all three well, having been to the flat many
times, but it had taken some little persuasion to get Lorraine to go
with her.

"Of course they are just boys," said grandiloquent twenty-five, "but
they are quite amusing, and they will be proud of it all their lives if
they can say they once had Lorraine Vivian at the flat as a guest."

"What do you call boys?" asked Lorraine, looking amused; "I thought you
said they had all left college,"

"So they have, but that's nothing.  Dick is only twenty-five, and the
others are about twenty-four."

"A much more irritating age than mere boyhood as a rule."

"Decidedly; but they really are a little exceptional.  Dick, of course,
is quite mad - that's what makes him interesting.  Alymer Hermon is a
giant with a great cricket reputation, and Harold St. Quintin is a sort
of modern Francis Assisi with a sense of humour."

"The giant sounds the dullest.  I hope he doesn't want to talk cricket
all the time, because I don't know anything about it, except that if a
man stands before the wicket he is out, and if he stands behind it he
is not in."

"Oh no; he doesn't talk cricket.  He mostly talks drivel with Dick, and
St. Quintin laughs."

"Dick sounds quite the best, in spite of his madness.  A cricketer who
talks drivel, and a future clergyman working in the East End, don't
suggest anything that appeals to me in the least."

Nevertheless, when Lorraine, looking very lovely, entered the small
sitting-room of her three hosts, her second glance, in spite of
herself, strayed back to the young giant on the hearth-rug.  He was
looking at Hal sideways, with a quizzical air; and she heard him say:

"It may be new, but it's not the very latest fashion, because it
doesn't stick out far enough at the back, and it doesn't cover up
enough of your face."

"Oh well!" said Hal jauntily, "if I had as much time as you to study
the fashions, I daresay I should know as much about them.  But I have
to _work_ for my living," with satirical emphasis.

"What a nuisance for you," with a delightful smile.  "I only pretend to
work for mine."

"We all know that.  You sit on a stool, and look nice, and wait for a
brief to come along and beg to be taken up."

"It's a chair.  I'm not one of the clerks.  And I shouldn't get a brief
any quicker if I went and shouted on the housetops that I wanted one."

"Besides, you don't want one.  You know you wouldn't know what to do
with it if you got it.  Well, how's East London?...  "and Hall crossed
to the slum-worker, with a show of interest she evidently did not feel
for the embryo barrister.  Lorraine smiled at him, however, and he
moved leisurely forward to take the vacant seat beside her on the sofa.

"Is Hal trying to sharpen her wit at your expense?" she asked him, in a
friendly, natural way.

"Yes; but it's a very blunt weapon at the best.  People who always
think they are the only ones to work are very tiring; don't you think
so?"

"Decidedly; and I don't suppose she does half s much as you and I in
reality."

"Oh well, I could hardly belie myself so far as to assert that.  You
see, it takes a long time to make people understand what a good
barrister you would be if you got the chance to prove it."

Hald could not resist a timely shot.

"Personally, I shoud advise you to try and prove it without the chance.
 The chance might undo the proving, you see."

"What a rotten, mixed-up, meaningless remark!" he retorted.  "Is it
because you find I am so dull, you still have to talk to me?"

"Quin is never dull, he is only depressing.  Dick, do hurry up and
begin supper.  I always feel horribly hungry here, because I know Quin
has just come away from some starving family or other, and I have to
try and eat to forget."

Lorraine leant across to the dreamy-eyed first-class circketer,
voluntarily giving his life to the slums.

"Why do you do it?" she asked with sudden interest.  "It seems,
somehow, unnatural in a ... "  she hesitated, then finished a little
lamely, "a man like you."

"Oh no, not at all," he hastened to assure her.  "It's the most
fascinating work in the world.  It's full of novelty and surprises for
one thing."

She shuddered a little.

"But the misery and want and starvation.  The ... the... utter
hopelessness of it all."

"But it isn't hopeless at all.  Nothing is hopeless.  And then, knowing
the misery is there, and doing nothing, is far worse than seeing it and
doing what one can."

"Oh no, because one can forget so often."

"Some can.  I can't.  Therefore I can only choose to go and wrestle
with it."

"Of course it is heroic of you, but still! - "

Harold St. Quintin gave a gay laugh.

"It is not a bit more heroic than your work on the stage to give people
pleasure.  I get as much satisfaction in return as you do; and that is
the main point.  Slum humanity is seething with interest, and it is by
no means all sad, nor all discouraging.  There is probably more humour
and heroism there per square mile than anywhere else."

"And no doubt more animal life also," put in Dick Bruce.  "It's the
superfluous things that put me off, not the want of anything."

"It's feeling such an ass puts me off," added Hermon; "they're all so
busy and alert about one thing or another down there, they make me feel
a mere cumberer of the earth.  A woman manages a husband, and a family,
and some sort of a home, and does the breadwinning as well.  The
children try to earn pennies in their playtime; and the men work at
trying to get work.""

"Whereas you? ..."  suggested Hal with a twinkle, "work at trying not
to get work."

"Come to supper, and don't be so personal, Hal," said her cousin.  "I
wrote a poem on you last week, and called it 'Why Men Die Young.'  It
is in a rag called _The Woman's Own Newspaper_.  It is also in _The
Youth's Journal_, with the pronouns altered, and a different title; but
I forget what."

"What a waste of time - writing such drivel," Hal flung at him.  "Why
don't you compose a masterpiece, and scale Olympus?"

"Too commonplace.  Lots of men have done that.  Very few are positive
geniuses at writing drivel.  I claim to be in the front rank."

They sat down to a lively repast, and Lorraine found herself, instead
of an awe-inspiring, distinguished guest, treated with a frank
camaraderie that was both amusing and refreshing.  They all made a butt
of Hal, who was quite equal to the three of them; and when the giant
paraphrased one of her (Lorraine's) most tragic utterances on the stage
into a serio-comic dissertation on a fruit salad they were eating,
lacking in wine, she laughed as gaily as any, and felt she had known
them of years.

Then Hal insisted upon playing a game she had that moment invented,
which consisted of each one confessing his or her greatest failing, and
the gaiety grew.

She led off by informing them that she found she always jumped eagerly
at any excuse to avoid her morning bath.  Dick Bruce followed it up
with a confession that he found he was never satisfied with fewer than
four "best girls", because he liked to compare notes between them, and
write silly verses on his observations; while Harold St. Quintin owned
to an objectionable fancy for bull's-eye peppermints and blowing eggs.

Alymer Hermon confessed that he loved giving advice to people years
older than himself, concerning things he knew nothing whatever about.

Lorraine tried to cry off, but, hard pressed, she admitted that she
liked the excitement of spending money she had not got, and then having
to pawn something to satisfy her creditors.  "Spending money you will
not miss," she finished, "is very dull beside spending money you do not
possess."

Alymer Hermon then suggested they should tell each other of besetting
faults, and at once informed Hal her colossal opinion of herself and
all she did was only equalled by its entire lack of foundation.

Hal hurled back at him that every inch in height after six feet
absorbed vitality from the brain, and that, though his dense stupidity
was most trying, the reason for it claimed their compassion.

"You pride yourself beyond all reason on your stature," she said, "and
are too dense to perceive it is your undoing."

Lorraine leant towards him and said:

"Inches give magnanimity: big men are always big-hearted; you can
afford to forgive her, and retaliate that too much brain-power sinks
individuality into mere machinery.  I should say Hal's besetting fault
was rapping every one on the knuckles, as if they were the keys of a
typewriting machine."

"And yours, my dear Lorraine, is smiling into every one's eyes, as if
the world held no others for you.  Were I a man, and you smiled at me
so, I would strangle you before you had time to repeat the glance on
some one else."

"And Dick's besetting sin," murmured St. Quintin plaintively, "is a
persistent fancy for other people's ties and other people's boots.  I
have cause to bless the benign and other people's boots.  I have cause
to bless the benign providence who fashioned my shoulders sufficiently
smaller than his to prevent his wearing my coats."

"And yours, Quin," broke in Hermon, "is a fond and loathsome affection
for pipes so seasoned that the Board of Trade ought to prohibit their
use."

"After all," Hal rapped out at him, "that's not so bad as love of a
looking-glass."

"And love of a looking-glass is no worse than love of throwing stones
from glass houses," he retorted.

"Of course it isn't, Hal," broke in her cousin, "and probably if you
had anything nice to look at in your glass - "

Hal stood up.

"The meeting is adjourned," she announced solemnly, "and the honourable
member who was just spoken has the president's leave to absent himself
on the occasion of the next gathering."

"Excellent," cried Quin, while Hermon in great glee rapped the table
with his knife handle and exclaimed, "Capital, Dick!...  That drew
her...  I think you might say it took the middle stump."

"Oh, thank goodness he's got on to cricket," breathed Hal.  "He does
know a little about that, and may possibly talk sense for ten minutes.
Come along, Lorraine, and don't address Baby at present, for fear you
distract him from his game and start him off struggling to be clever
again.  As it is Sunday night, perhaps Dick would like to read us his
latest effusions in the way of boisterous hymns!"

She led the way back to the bachelor sitting-room, and for some little
time Dick amused them greatly with his experiences over editors and
magazines, and then the two went off together to Lorraine's flat.

At this time she was living at the bottom of Lower Sloane Street, with
windows looking over the river, and it was generally supposed that her
mother lived with her.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Vivian only occupied the ground floor flat in
company with a friend.  Lorraine give her an income on condition she
should live there, and so, in a sense, act as a sort of chaperone to
silence the tongues ever ready to find food for scandal in the fact of
brilliance and beauty living alone; but mother and daughter had never
again been on terms of cordiality.

So Hal was often Lorraine's companion for several nights, coming and
going as she fancied, always sure of a welcome.  To her the flat was a
constant delight, and in the evening she loved to sit on the verandah
and watch the gliding river - not to sentimentalise and dream, but
because she loved London with all her heart and soul and strenght, and
to her the river was as the city's pulsing heart.

The moist freshness of the air coming across from Battersea Park was
only the more refreshing after Bloomsbury, and the vicinity of several
well-known names in the world of art and letters appealed porwerfully
to her imagination.  Lorraine usually sat just inside the long French
window, taking care of her voice, and listening contentedly to Hal's
chatter.

They sat thus for a little while after their return from Cromwell Road,
and it was noticeable that Lorraine was even more silent than usual.
Hald told her something about each of their three hosts in turn, while
showing an unmistakable preference for the slum-worker and her cousin.
At last Lorraine interrupted her.

"Why  do you say so little about Mr. Hermon?...  you merely told me he
was a cricketer,which doesn't, as a matter of fact, describe him at
all."

Hal shrugged her shoulders.

"I suppose he doesn't interest me except in that way."

"But it is a mere side issue.  If he weren't a cricketer he would be
just as remarkable."

"But he isn't remarkable.  He's only exceptionally big."

"He's one of the most remarkable men I've ever seen, anyway."

"Oh, nonsense, Lorraine.  Besides, he is hardly a man yet.  He's only
twenty-four."

"I can't help that," with a little laugh.  "I've seen a great many men
in my life, but I've never seen any one before like Alymer Hermon."

"Why in the world not?  What do you mean?"

"Well, to begin with, he's the most perfect specimen of manhood I've
ever beheld.  He's abnormally big without the slightest suggestion of
being either too big or awkward.  He's simply magnificent.  Most men of
that size are just leggy and gawky: he is neither.  Again, other men
built as he, are usually rather brainless and weak, or probably made so
much of by women that they become wrapped up in themselves, and are
always expecting admiration.  Alymer Hermon has the freshness of a
delightful boy, with the fine face and courtly manners of a charming
man.  If you can't see this, it's because you don't know men as well as
I do."

Hal stepped over the window sill into the room.

"Pooh!" she said impatiently.  "What in the world has happened to you?
He's just a stuffed blue-and-gold Apollo."

Lorraine got up also.

"He's more than that.  Some day you will see; unless... unles..."

"Well, unless what?"

"Oh, nothing, only a man like that can't expect to escape being spoilt.
 A certain type of woman will inevitably mark him down for her prey,
and ruin all his freshness."

"Then you had better take him under your wing," Hal laughed.  "It would
be a pity for such a paragon to be lost to society.  Personally,
stuffed blue-and-gold Apollos don't interest me in the least.  Come
along to bed.  I'm dead tired," and she dragged Lorraine away.

But instead of sleeping, the acress lay silently watching a star that
shone in at her window, and thinking a little sadly about the man
nature had chosen to endow so bountifully.  In a few weeks she would be
thirty-two and he was twenty-four.

Supposing it had been twenty-two instead of thirty-two, and out of his
splendour he had given his heart to her dark beauty, what a tale it
might have been - what a fairy-tale of sweet, impossible things, with a
golden-haired prince and a dark-eyed princess.

She awoke from her day-dream with a touch of impatience, apostrophising
herself for her folly.  After all, what had a beautiful, successful
woman at her prime to do with a youth of twenty-four, who played
foolish games at a supper-table, and was only just beginning to know
his world?  Of course he would bore her intolerably at a second
interview, and, closing her eyes resolutely, she drove his image from
her mind.





CHAPTER VII


The second interview, however, by a mere coincidence, took place at
Lorraine's flat.  She was walking leisurely down Sloane Street one
afternoon, after visiting hermilliners, when she ran into the young
giant going in the opposite direction.

"How so?..." she asked gaily, as is face lit up with a pleased smile,
and he stopped in front of her.  "Whither away at this hour?  Are you
chasing a brief?"

"Much too brief," he told her.  "I had to carry some important papers
to a certain well-known Cabinet Minister; and he did not even vouchsafe
me a glance of his countenance.  I was given an acknowledgment of them
by the footman, as if I had been a messenger boy."

"Too bad.  I think you deserve that another celebrity should give you a
cup of tea, to redeem your opinion of the immortals.  My flat is quite
near, and I am now returning.  Will you come?"

"Oh, won't I?" he said boyishly, and turned back.

It was the fashionable hour in Sloane Street, when many well-dressed,
well-known people are often seen walking, and when the road is full of
private motors and carriages.  Lorraine found herself moving still more
slowly.  She was accustomed to being gazed at herself, had in fact
grown a little blasé of it, but the frank admiration bestowed on her
giant amused and pleased her.

Covertly she watched, as she chatted up to him, for the tell-tale
consciousness and perhaps heightened colour.  But when he was looking
back into her face he looked straight before him, over the heads of the
admiring eyes, and paid no smallest heed to them.  Neither was he in
the least self-conscious with her.  She wondered if he even realised
that the tête-à-tête he accepted so simply would have been a joy of heaven to
many.  Anyhow, far from resenting his seeming want of due appreciation,
she found it made him more interesting.

She spoke of Hal, and he immediately exclaimed: "Hal is a ripper, isn't
she?  I can't help teasing her, you know; it's the best fun in the
world."

"Do you usually tease your feminine friends?" she asked.  "I've no
doubt you have a great many."

"Oh, no, I haven't.  Men pals are far jollier."

"Still, I expect your inches bring you many fair admirers."

He shrugged his shoulders slightly, and looked a trifle bored, and she
divined that he disliked flattery and probably the subject of his
appearance.  She adroitly turned the conversation back to Hal, and
spoke of her until they reached the block of flats.

"Is this where you live?  What a ripping situation!" he exclaimed.  "I
would sooner be near the river than near Knightsbridge, even if it is
not so classy."

He followed her into the lift, and then into her charming home, full of
enthusiasm, and still without exhibiting a shade of self-consciousness.

Lorraine found her interest growing momentarily, as he took up his
stand on her hearth and gazed frankly around, with undisguised pleasure.

"What a jolly nice room.  It's one of the prettiest I've seen.  You
have the same color-scheme as the Duchess of Medstone in het boudoir,
but I like your furniture better."

Lorraine glanced up a little surprised.

"Do you know the Duchess of Medstone?"

"Well, yes" - a trifle bashfully.  "You see, those sort of people ask
me to their houses because of my cricket.  Private cricket weeks are
rather fashionable, and I get invitations as the late Oxford captain."

"And do you go to people you don't know?"

"Yes, rather, if I can raise the funds.  The nuisance is the tipping.
There's always such a rotten lot of servants; and I'm too much afraid
of them to give anything but gold."

The tea came in, and she saw him glance round for the chair best suited
to his bulk.

"My chairs were not designed for giants," she told him laughingly; "you
will have to come and sit on the settee."

He came at once, stretching his long legs out before him, with lazy
ease, and then drawing his knees up sharply, as if in sudden
remembrance that he was a guest and they were comparative strangers.
Lorraine liked him, both for the moment's forgetfulness and the sudden
remembrance, and as she glanced again at his beautiful head and
splendid shoulders, she was conscious of a sudden thrill of
appreciative admiration.

Hal was right in naming him Apollo.  The Sun God might have been
fashioned just so, when first he ravished the eyes of Venus.

"And so the duchess took you into her boudoir?" she asked, with an
unaccountable twinge of jealousy.  "I do not know her.  I'm afraid my
friends are not so aristocratic as yours.  But I believe she is
considered very handsome."

"Hard," he said, with an old-fashioned air.  "Handsome enough, but very
hard.  I did not like her nearly so much as Lady Moir, her sister."

"Still no doubt she was very nice to you?"

Lorraine rather hated herself for the question.  The ways of
aristocratic ladies, whose idle hours often supply a field of labour
for the Evil One, were perfectly well known to her; and she wondered a
little sharply how far he was still unspoilt.  The majority of big,
strong, full-blooded young men in his place would assuredly have sipped
the cup of pleasure pretty deeply by now, even at his years, but with
that fine, strong face, and the clear, frank eyes was he of these?  She
believed not, and was glad.

He did not treat her question as if it implied any special favours, and
merely replied jocularly:

"Well, I suppose, since her blood is very blue and mine merely tinged,
she was rather gracious, but of course the really 'blue' people
generally are."

"Tell me who you happen to be?"  Lorraine leant back against her
cushions, with her slow, easy grace, asking the question with a
lightness that robbed it of all pointedness or snobbery.

He seemed amused, for he smiled as he answered frankly:

"I happen to be Alymer Hadstock Hermon, one fo _the_ Hermons all right,
but not the drawing-room end, so to speak; at the same time tinged with
her family shadiness  - 'blue' of course I mean - though no doubt it
applies in other ways as well.  Does that satisfy your curiosity, or do
you want to know more?"

She loved looking at him, particularly with that humorous little smile
on his lips, so she said:

"Not half.  I want to know all the rest."

"Very well.  It's quite an open book.  I was born twenty-four years
ago.  I am an only child, and, as usula, the apple of my mother's eye
and the terror of my father's pocket.  He, my father, is not much else
just now except a recluse.  He was recently a member of parliament, a
Liberal member, and, God knows, that's little enough.  I believe he
even climbed in by a Chinese pigtail.

"My grandfather was a Judge in the Divorce Court, which doesn't somehow
sound quite respectable, and my great-grandfather was a writer of law
books, for which, personally, I think he ought to have been hanged.  I
can't go any farther back; at any rate I don't want to, because I'm
certain it's all so correct and dull there isn't even a family
skeleton."

"Is it the women or the men of the family that are beautiful?"

"Oh, both," with humorous eagerness.  "Skeletons and ghosts we sought,
and clamoured for, but ugliness, never."

"Well, it's a pity you were not a woman.  Looks are wasted in a man.
Give a man a ready tongue and a taking manner, and he can usually get
what he wants, if he's as ugly as a frog.  With you, on the other hand,
things will come too easily.  You will miss all the fun of the chase.
On my soul I'm sorry for you."

"The briefs don't come anyway, nor the 'oof': that's all I can see to
be sorry for."

"You don't want them badly enough, that's all.  If you want the one,
you'll make love to an influential woman who can get them, and if you
want the other, you'll marry an heiress."

"I say, you're giving me rather a rotten character, aren't you?"

He faced  her suddenly, and a new expression dawned in his eyes, as if
he were only just awakening to the fact that she was beautiful.

"Do you really think I'm such a rotter as all that?"

She glanced away, lowering her eyelids, so that her long lashes swept
the warm olive cheeks, and with a little callous shrug answered:

"Why should you be a rotter for doing what all the rest of the world
does?  Four-fifths of mankind would give anything for your chances."

"But you just said you were sorry for me?"

"So I am.  So I should be for the four-fifths of mankind, if they got
all they wanted just for the asking."

He smiled with a sudden, charming whimsicality.

"I don't feel much in need of sympathy, you know.  It's a ripping old
world, as long as you can indulge a few mild fancies, and be left
alone."

"Mild fancies!"

She turned on him suddenly.

"What have you to do with mild fancies?  Why, you can have the world at
your feet with a little exertion.  Haven't you any ambition?  Don't you
even want to plead in the greatest law court in the world as one of the
first barristers in Europe?"

"Not particularly.  Why should I?  It would be no end of a fag.  I'd
far rather be left alone."

"You...  you... sluggard,' breaking into a laugh.  "If I were Fate, I'd
just take you by the shoulders and shake you till you woke up.  Then
I'd go on shaking to keep you awake.  You shouldn't be wasted on mere
nonentity if I held the threads."

But his blue eyes only smiled whimsically back at her.

"I'm jolly glad you haven't a say in the matter.  Why, I should have to
give up cricket, and take to working!  You're as bad as Quin with his
slumming, and Dick with his rotten verses."

"You don't know yet that I haven't a say in the matter," she remarked
daringly.  "Have a cigarette.  I'm awfully sorry I didn't remember
sooner."

"Indeed, you ought to be," was the gay rejoinder.  "I've been just
dying for the moment when you would remember."

An electric bell rang out as they were lighting their cigarettes, and a
moment later Hal danced into the room with shining eyes and glowing
cheeks.  A few paces from the door she stopped suddenly.

"Hullo, Baby," she said, addressing Hermon, "where have you sprung
from?"

"I found it wandering alone in Sloane Street," Lorraine remarked, "and
now we've been teaing together."

Alymer did not look any too pleased at Hal's frank appellation, but
former remonstrance had only been met with derision, and he knew he had
no choice but to submit with a good grace.

"I might ask the same question, Lady-Clerk," he replied.

"Don't call me a lady-clerk - I hate the term.  I'm a typist,
secretary, bachelor-girl, city-worker, anything you like, not a
lady-clerk - bah!..."

"Then don't call me Baby."

Hal's face broke into the most attractive of smiles.

"I can't help it.  Everything about you, your size, your face, your
ways just clamour to be called 'Baby'.  Of course if you'd rather be
Apollo - "

"Good Lord, no: is that the only alternative?"

"I'm afraid so; you needn't go if you don't want to," as he prepared to
depart.  "We are not going to talk grown-up secrets."

"If I were Mr. Hermon, I'd give you one good shaking, Hal," put
Lorraine.  "I'm sure you deserve it."

"Not a bit.  Nothing could do him more good than regular interviews
with me, to undo all the harm he has received in between from silly,
idiotic women, who make him think he is something out of the ordinary.
Isn't that so, Baby?  Aren't you labouring under the delusion that
you're a remarkable fine specimen of humanity?  And all the time,
Heaven knows, you've about as much  honest purpose and brains as a big
over-grown school-boy."

"I hope you are not intending to imply he is more richly endowed with
dishonest purpose?" said Lorraine.

"Oh, I wouldn't mind that," Hal declared, "so long as it was energy and
purpose of some kind."

"Even to giving you that good shaking," he asked, coming forward a step
menacingly.

"Not in here," in alarm; "you and I scrapping in Lorraine's
drawing-room would cost a hundred pounds or so in valuables.  I'll cry
'pax'," as he still advanced.  "Of course you are rather a fine boy
really, I was only pulling your leg."

Hermon subsided with a laugh, and Hal proceeded to explain that she had
come on business, having been asked by the editor of one of their small
magazines to write up an interview with the actress for him.

"I shall say I found you having a cosy tête-à-tête with a young barrister of
many inches and little brains," she laughed.  "Come, Lorraine, spout
away.  What is your favourite hors d'oeuvre?  Did you feel like a
boiled owl at your first appearance?  And which horse do you back for
next year's Derby?"

She started scribbling, to the amusement of the other two, carrying on
a desultory conversation meanwhile.

"This isn't anything to do with my department, but I like Mr. Hadley,
and he was keen about it, and offered me three guineas, so I said I'do
do it...  Are your eyes yellow or green?  For the life of me, I don't
know.  Which would you rather I called them? ...  I've got to go to
Marlboro' House to-morrow to get up a short and vivid account of a
garden party, because Miss Alton, who generally does it, is down with
'flu'.  Were you a prodigal as a kid? no; I mean a prodigy...  Fancy me
at Marlboro' House!  Awful thought, isn't it?  How they dare?

"What is your favourite pastime?  Shall I put down shooting?  I know
you don't know one end of a gun from the other, but it doesn't matter;
and it reads rather well - something unique about it in an actress."

"Why not put angling, and give some of my dear enemies a chance to ask
what for?"

"Or jam-making," suggested Alymer, "and redeem the stage in the eyes of
the British matron."

"Oh, don't talk... how can I write?  Shall I bring myself in, and dig
up the dear old chestnut of David and Jonathan?...  or shall I describe
Dudley's disapproval melting into undisguised worship," she rippled
with laughter as she scribbled on.  "Oh dear, think if Dudley were to
find it, and read it, because he hasn't even discovered yet that he has
ceased to disapprove.

"Who's your favourite poet?  I might say Dick Bruce; he would write a
book of poems at once.  And Quin might be your hero in real life.  Do
you know where you were born?  Up in the Himalayas sounds nice and
airy, and it might as well have been there as anywhere."

"If you want anymore you must get it while I eat my dinner," said
Lorraine, rising.  "I have to try and be at the theatre at seven just
now.  You may as well both dine with me, and you can come to my
dressing-room afterwards if you like, Hal."

"No, thank you"; and Hal pulled a wry face.  "I've seen quite enough of
the wings, and the green-room, and all the rest of it.  You might take
Baby, just to show him the real thing, and put him off it once for all."

She turned to Hermon.

"Have you ever been behind the scenes?  I used to go sometimes, just
for the fun of it, while it was a novelty; but it quite cured me of any
possible taste of the stage.  Most of the performers were so nervous
they could hardly speak, their teeth just chattered with cold and
fright mingled, and the gloom of it was like a vault.  And then all the
gaping, staring faces in rows, looking out of the darkness.  You can't
think how idiotic people look seen like that.  It always suggested to
me that both stage and stalls were like children playing at being
lunatics."

"That's only your dreadfully prosaic, unromantic mind, Hal.  You just
like to write newspaper articles, and type letters, and smother your
imagination under dry-and-dust facts."

"Smother my imagination," echoed Hal, with a laugh.  "Why, it would
take the imaginations of fifty ordinary people to concoct some of the
paragraphs we fix up during the week.  My imagination is a positive
goldmine at the office, at least it would be if they dare print all
that I suggest."

"You should run a paper yourself," suggested Hermon; "a few libel
actions would made it pay like anything."

"Ah, you haven't seen Dudley," with a little grimace.  "Dudley would
have a fit and die before the first action had had time to reach its
interesting stage.  I'd take you home to see him now, but he happens to
have gone up to Holloway to dinner."

"I'm dinning out myself, so I must fly."  He turned to Lorraine, with a
gay smile.  "I say, may I come and dine with you some other time?"

"Come to the Carlton on Sunday, will you?"

Lorraine hardly knew why she made the sudden decision; she only knew
perfectly well she would have to break another engagement to keep it,
and that she was foolishly gland when he accepted.

"It's all right; you needn't ask me," volunteered Hal, as her friend
glanced at her.  "I'm going motoring with Dick, and I shall insist upon
staying out until ten or eleven.  I always try and fill my Sundays full
of fresh air.  "Where are you going to-night, Baby?" she added, with a
charmingly impudent smile.

"The Albert Hall, with Lady Selon"; and a twinkle shone in his eyes.

"Goodness gracious!  What in the world are you going to the Albert Hall
for? and who is Lady Selon?"

"She is Soccer Selon's sister-in-law, and she asked me to take her to a
concert.  Is there anything else you would like to know?"

"Her age?" archly.

"Somewhere about thirty-five, I should imagine."

"Oh! your grandmother, or thereabouts.  Well, skip along.  Tell Dick to
call for me early on Sunday."

When he had said good-bye to Lorraine and departed, Hal held up her
hand, hanging in a limp fashion.

"I wish you'd teach him to shake hands, Lorry.  It feels like shaking a
blind cord and tassel.  Are you going to mother him?  What an odd idea
for you to bother with a boy!  You surely don't mean to tell me he
interests you?"

"I like to look at him.  He's such a splendid young animal.  I feel -
oh, I don't know what I feel."

"Lots of London policemen are splendid young animals, but you don't
want tête-à-tête teas with them if they are."

"You absurd child!  Is there any reason why I shouldn't have tea with
Mr. Hermon, if it amuses me?"

"None specially; but if it's just a splendid young animal to look at,
you want, I daresay it would be safer to import a polar bear from the
Zoo."

Lorraine felt a spot of colour burn in het cheeks, but she only laughed
the subject aside, and alluded to it no more before they parted at the
theatre door.

Only at a late supper-party that night she was quieter than was her
wont; and, contrary to her habit, one of the first to leave.  A
well-known rising politician, who had been paying her much attention of
late, prepared, as usual, to escort her home.  She wished he would have
stayed behind, but had no sufficient reason for refusing his company.
He taxed her with silence as they spun westwards, and she pleaded a
headache, wondering a little why all he said, and looked, and did,
somehow seemed banal and irritating to-night.

He was so sure of himself, so fashionably blasé, so carelessly clever, so
daringly frank, with all the finished air of the modern smart man,
basking callously in the assured fact of his own brilliance and
superiority.  She knew that most women would envy her the attentions of
such a one, and that his interest was undoubtedly a great compliment,
as such compliments go; but to-night she found herself remembering all
the other women who had reigned before her, all those who would
presently succeed her, and she was conscious of an impatient disgust of
all the shallowness and insincerety of the fashinable, successful man.

"May I come in?" he asked, when they reached the flat, looking rather
as if he were conferring a favour than soliciting one.

"No; it is too late.  Good-night."

"Too late!... " he laughed a little, and Lorraine felt her temper
rising.  "It is not exceptionally late, a little earlier than usual in
fact.  Why mayn't I come in?"

"Because I don't want you," she said coldly, and she saw him bite his
lip in swift vexation.

"I shall certainly not press you," he retorted, and turned away.

At the window of her drawing-room Lorraine lingered a few moments,
gazin with a half-longing expression at the gleam of the lights on the
dark flowing river.  What was it that gave her that strange sense of
heartache to-night?  Why had her usual companions bored and irritated
her?  Why did Alymer Hermon's fine, boyish, refreshing face come so
often to her mind?

She was certainly not in love with him.  The mere idea was ridiculous,
but it was equally certain that something about him had given rise to
this vague unrest and longing.  Was it perhaps that he called to her
mind the youth she had never known, the young splendid, whole-hearted
years, when it was so easy to believe and hope and enjoy that which
life had never given her time for?

True, the world was at her feet now, just as much as it would ever be
at his, but with what a difference?  For her, with the work and stain
of the knowledge of much evil, and little good.  For him, at present,
with aal the glorious freshness of the morning.

She glanced back into the dim room, and among the shadows she saw him
standing there again, towering up upon her hearthrug, before her
hearth, with that youthful, frank assurance that was so attractive.  Of
a truth he was unspoilt yet, unspoilt and splendid as the dawn of the
morning - but for how long?

What would they make of him presently, the women of the world, who must
needs worship such a man, and strew their charms before him.  How was
he to keep his freshness, when temptation hemmed him in on every side?

She felt a sudden yearning as of hungry mother-love towards him.  If he
had been her son, her very own son, how she would have fought the whole
world to help him keep his armour bright, and his colours flying high.

And instead?...

The wave of hungry mother-love was followed by one as of swift and
angry protest.  Who had ever cared whether she kept her armour bright
and her colours flying high?  Had not life itself mocked at her early
aspirations, and trampled jeeringly on her untutored, unformed high
desires?  What chance had she ever had, long as she might, to keep the
morning freshness?

Well, what of it?  She had sought and striven for fame, and fame had
come; she was a poor creature if she could not look life in the face
now, and laugh above her wounds.

And in the meantime perhaps she could help him fight some of those
other women still; the women who would drag him down for their own
satisfaction, and care nothing for the hurt to him.

Anyhow, she would try to be good pal to him, and not a temptress.  For
once she would fight for some one else's hand instead of her own, and
gain what satisfaction she could in feeling herself a true friend.





CHAPTER VIII


About the time that the three in the Chelsea flat were leave-taking, a
stream of women-clerks in the long passages of the General Post Office
proclaimed that pressure of work had again meant "overtime" to these
energetic City-workers.

In consequence, there was a lack of elasticity in the many passing
feet, and the suggestion of a tired silence in the cloak-room; for
though the girls hastened to get away from the dreary monotony of the
huge building, they were, many of them, too tired to depart as joyfully
as was their wont.

Yet most of them, behind the tiredness, looked out upon the world with
clear, capable eyes, and strong, self-reliant faces, that spoke well
for the spirit of their set.  Up there in the big office-rooms, year in
year out, these refined, well-educated women kept ledgers and accounts
and did the general office work of the Civil Service with a precision
and neatness and correctness equal to the work of any men, and
invariably to the astonishment of any interested visitor who was
permitted to inquire into the system.

Yet the majority of their salaries ranged from £90 a year to £210, and they
were obliged to pas an examination of no mean stamp to attain a post.
Small wonder that many of them, having to help support others as well
as keep themselves, had the delicate, listless, anaemic appearance of
underfed women badly in need of fresh air, good food, and wholesome
exercise.

The policy of Great Britain towards her women workers is surely one of
the greatest contradictions of our enlightened age.  Even putting aside
the vexed question of suffragism, how little has she ever done to try
and cope with the needs of working womanhood?

In som Government departments, as, for instance, the Army Clothing
Department, it is a known fact that the women are actually sweated; and
that in the higher branches, employing gentlewomen, they pay them the
lowest possible wage, not because the work is ill-done, but because,
owing to present conditions, plenty of gentlewomen are found to accept
the offer.

Many of these gentlewomen lose their health in their struggle to obtain
good food, decent lodging, and a neat appearance on  Government
salaries, knowing full well that the moment they fall out of the ranks
numbers will be waiting to fill their places.

And in the meantime enlightened authors and politicians write articles,
and make speeches, holding forth upon the charm and beauty of the Home
Woman, and drawing unflattering comparisons between her and the worker.

Comfortable elderly gentlemen, who have had successful careers and can
now afford to dine unwisely every night, and keep their daughters in
well-dressed indolence, self-satisfied, self-aggrandising,
self-advertising young politicians, who, having obtained an attentive
public, delight to cant about the rights of the citizen and the good of
the Empire, clever, intuitive, charming novelists, who apparently
possess an unaccountable vein of dense non-comprehension on some points
- all harp upon this theme of the Home Woman, and the Home Sphere, and
the infinite superiority, in their own lordly eyes, of the gentle,
domesticated scion of the family hearth.

As if one-fourth of the women wage-earners, gentle or otherwise, in
England to-day had any choice in the matter whatever.  The rapidity
with which a vacant place in the ranks is filled and the numbers
waiting for it is surely sufficient proof of that; to say nothing of
the pitiful conditions under which many, gentle and otherwise, cling to
their posts long after a merciful fate should have given them the
opportunity to save the remnants of their shattered health amidst
country breezes.

It is useless to cry out to the woman that work and competition with
men is unbecoming to her.  She _must_ work, and she _must_ compete, and
seeing this, it is surely time the British Government accepted the fact
magnanimously, and took more definite steps to assure her welfare.

If it can only be done through woman's suffrage, then woman's suffrage
must surely come, because, whether British legislators care for the
good of women or not, nature does care, and as the race moves forward
the working woman will have to be protected.

It has been seen over and over again that no band of politicians, nor
powerful men, nor tape-bound State can long defy any advancing good for
the needs of the whole.

Wheter women work or not, they are the mothers of the future; and
because this fact is greater than the sum of all other facts brought
forward by the narrowness and short- sightedness of men, we may safely
believe that, since they _must_ work, nature will see to it that they
work under the most favourable conditions, no matter what rich men have
to go the poorer for it.

Pity is that the hour is so delayed; that narrowness, and selfishness,
and self-aggrandisement still flourish, to the eternal cost of those of
England's mothers who bring weaklings into the world, through the hard
conditions of their enforced labour.

The _true patriot_ of to-day will agitate not only for the highest
possible efficiency in the Navy and Army; but, with no less resolve and
sincerety, for the best possible conditions obtainable for all
women-workers, that the Empire may not later sink suddenly to decay, in
spite of her defences, through the impoverished, feeble, sickly
off-spring who are all the men she has left.

The _true patriot_ will accept the ever-strengthening fact, however
unpalatable, that the development and emancipation of womanhood has
brought women to the front as workers, _to stay_; and he will perceive
that therefore it is incumbent upon the men to endeavour to find that
happy mean, where they can work together to the advantage of both, and
to the stability and greatness of a beloved country.

Only now the women-workers toil bravely on, heartening each other with
jests under conditions in which it is extremely likely men would merely
cavil and sulk and fill the air with their complainings; dressing
themselves daintily through personal effort in spite of meagre purses;
throwing themselves with a splendid joyousness into their few precious
days of freedom; banding themselves together often and often to wring
occasional hours of gaiety from the months of toil; keeping brave eyes
to the front and brave hearts to the task, while they wait steadfastly
for the day when their worth shall be appreciated and their claims
recognised.

Hastening to the office in the morning, or hastening home (probably to
cook their own dinner) at night, they read those clever, carefully
worded articles and speeches by the men of power and weight, harping
upon the charm and beauty and superiority of the Home Woman; and they
laugh across to each other with a frank, rather pitying, rather
irritated laughter, at the extraordinary dull-wittedness of some
brilliant brains.

They wonder gaily how these enlightened, clever gentlemen would like it
if they all became sweet Home women in the workhouses, cultivating
elegant gardens, and floating round in flowing gowns at their expense.

The men call them "new women" with derision, or mannish, or unsexed;
but those who have been among them, and known them as friends, know
that they hold in their ranks some of the most generous-hearted,
unselfish, big-souled women to exist in England to-day; and that it is
just because of that they are able to plod cheerfully on, and laugh
that indulgent, pitying little laugh, when an outraged man swells with
virtuous indignation, and waxes eloquent upon their want of womanly
attributes.

Of such as the best of these was Ethel Hayward.  Among the crowd now
hurrying more or less tiredly into the open air, she might not have
been noticed.  So many had white faces, dark-circled eyes,
shabby-genteel clothing, and just a commonplace fairness, that in the
throng it was difficult to discover distinguishing attributes.

One had to see her apart, and note the quick, urgent step, the
independent, lofty poise of her head, and the steadfastness of the
tired eyes, and firm, strong mouth, to feel that life had given her a
heavy burden, which only a noble soul could have supported with heroism.

As she left the portals of the General Post Office she hesitated a few
seconds as to her direction.  "Should she go straight back to the
little flat in Holloway, or should she go west, and get the
drawing-paper Basil was wanting?"

Doris could easily get the drawing-paper the next day, if she chose;
and at the flat Dudley Pritchard would have arrived for the evening.
She surmised hastily that it was extremely probable Doris had made some
other engagement for herself that she would be unwilling to delay, and
that Dudley would in no wise regret her own tardy return.

The last thought caused her eyes to grow a little strained, as she
walked quickly westwards - strained with the determination to face the
fact unflinchingly, and try to overcome the deep, insistent ache it
caused.

But the love of a lifetime is not dismissed at will, and looking a
little pitifully backward, though she was but twenty-eight, Ethel felt
she could not remember the time when she did not love Dudley Pritchard,
though it had perhaps only crystallised into the great feature of her
life at the time when, in silent, heroic endeavour, he had given of all
he had to win his friend back to life and health.

It was Dudley's careful savings that he had paid for the great
specialist and the big operation; Dudley's courage and devotion that
had nerved the stricken man to take up the awful burden of perpetual
invalidism; Dudley's never-failing encouragement and friendship that
helped him still to bear the dreary months of utter weariness, in the
little home kept together by his sister's salary.

High up in the dreary-looking block of flats in Holloway, attended
through the day by the erratic ministrations of Doris, and at night  by
the yearning tenderness of Ethel, Basil Hayward dragged out a weary
martyrdom, that prayed only for release.  In vain Ethel murmured over
him, that to work for him was a glory compared to what it would be to
live without him; in the silent, tedious hours of her absence, his soul
broke itself in hopeless, passionate protest against the decree that
compelled him to accept his daily bread at the hands of the sister he
would gladly have striven for day and night.

It as a martyrdom across which one can but draw a curtain, and stand
"eyes front".  Look this way, look that, what answer is there, what
reason, what explanation, of the hidden martyrdoms of the work-a-day
world, which the blank wall of heaven seems to regard with utter
unconcern?

Mankind to-day is less disposed than ever of yore to calmly fold the
hands and say, "It is the will of God."  They can no longer do so
honestly without either blaming or criticising the Divine Will that not
merely permits, but is said to send, such martyrdoms.

Better surley to accept bravely the enigma of the universe, and strive
to lessen the suffering in our own little sphere, believing that same
Divine Will is striving with us to mitigate the ills humanity has
brought upon itself through blind disobedience and careless
indifference to the laws of nature.

Uncomplaining resignation may help by its example, but the resignation
which sits with folded hands and makes no effort to amend, is only a
form of feebleness.  The strong soul accepts life silently as a field
of battle, asking for energy, resource, courage, and that fine spirit
which obeys the unseen general in unquestioning faith.

It was only in such a spirit, through those years of pain and mysgtery,
that Ethel was able to witness her passionately loved brother's
martyrdom, and give all the years of her youth to earn that pour salary
from a wealthy Empire, to keep some sort of a home for the three of
them in the little, dingy Holloway flat.

For even if Doris had been capable of sustained endeavour, the
bedridden man could not have been left alone for long, and no choice
was left them but to eke out Ethel's pitiful £110 salary between them.

Often perhaps a passionate resentment burned in her heart concerning
the heavy handicaps under which a woman achieves work equal to a man's;
but she had no time to lend herself to any open protest, and toiled on,
silently fighting her individual daily battle the better encouraged by
those brave women taking all the opprobrium of the warfare upon their
own shoulders, for the sake of working womanhood as a whole.

Only, of late a fresh burden had been added in the fear that Dudley was
growing to care for her sister Doris.

It was not that she grudged Doris the happiness, nor the prospect of a
home in which she and Dudley might together take care of Basil; but she
saw ahead the tragedy of the awakening, when Dudley learnt of the
shallow, selfish little heart behind Doris's charming exterior.

That he, of all people, should be drawn to such an one was only the
contradiction seen on all sides in life.  Because he had that
old-fashioned distrust of the independent, self-reliant woman, he must
needs go to the opposite extreme, and let himself be drawn to one
capable of little else in the world but ornamentation.  Doris, she
knew, was fitted only to be a rich man's plaything.  Dudley, she felt
instinctively, would start off by expecting of her things she had never
had to give, and in his dismay and disappointment might wreck both
their lives.

Yet she felt powerless to take any step that might save them from each
other, knowing full well that Doris, bored with her life at the flat,
had decided that even life with Dudley would be better.  And even as
Ethel hastened westwards, instead of towards home, Doris with infinite
pains put the finishing touches to her pretty hair, and took a last
survey of her dainty person before the well-known step should sound on
the stone staircase outside their unpretentious litte door.

She had been very irritable with the invalid, because he was trying to
get a plan copied quickly, and wanted a special arrangement of light,
just when she was ready to go and dress after preparing the dinner; but
when at last Dudley knocked on the door, Doris opened it to him with a
face of such charming innocence and smiles that irritability would
never have been imagined in the répertoire of her characteristics.  A
little helpless, a little childish, she might be, but what clever man
does not love a clinging woman?

"It was so nice of you to come," she said.  "It is such a dreary place
to turn out to after your long day at the office."

"But I love coming," he answered simply.  "You know I do."

He looked at her with unconscious admiration, and Doris noted for the
hundredth time that although he was not particularly tall, nor
particularly good-looking, nor particularly anything, yet his thin,
clean-shaven face had a clever, distinguished air, and he had
unmistakably the cut and breeding of a gentleman.  She knew that even
if he were only moderately well off, and could not afford the dash she
loved, he was at least good to be seen with, and a man who might one
day make his mark.  So, though she deprecated most of the qualities
which were in reality his best points, she decided in her calculating
little head she would seriously contemplate becoming Mrs. Dudley
Pritchard.

His greeting with the invalid was, for Dudley, a little boisterous -
the result of a hint from Ethel.  He would probably never have had time
to see for himself that such a man as Basil Hayward would hate a
pitying air or invalid manner, but he was sympathetic enough to respond
quickly to a suggestion that the latest cricket or football news, gaily
imparted, was far more pleasing to the invalid than a sympathetic
inquiry after his health.

For Basil Hayward, sufferer and martyr, was prouder of his near
relationship to a celebrated international cricketer than he would ever
had been of his own sublime courage had it been lauded to the skies.
Life had left him little enough, but "give me the power still to glory
in every manly and athletic achievement of my countrymen," was his
unspoken request.

So they discussed the latest sporting news of the world, and then had a
great argument on a plan of Dudley's for a competition for a
grand-stand and pavilion on a celebrated aviation ground, while they
waited for Ethel.

The small flat had only one sitting-room, and while they talked Doris
flitted gracefully about, putting the finishing touches to the table.
Afterwards she sat on a low chair under the lamp, so that the light
fell full on her pretty hair, while she bowed her head with unwonted
industry over a piece of sewing.

Occasionally she glanced up at the two men, meeting Dudley's eyes with
a pretty confiding look that only added to her charm.

"Ethel is so late.  I wonder if we had better wait," she said at last.
"She told me on no account to do so."

Basil glanced at the clock a little anxiously.

"It is too bad," he murmured; "they have no right to expect so much
overtime work.  She is sure to come soon."

"Yes; but I think she would like us to begin"; and Doris rose slowly.
"It will save time when she does come in."

It was plain Basil disapproved, but she pretended not to see it, and in
a short time she and Dudley were seated tête-à-tête, while the invalid
remained on his couch.  They were gay from spontaneity of pleasure, and
Hal would have been surprised at the cheeriness of het grave brother,
had she seen how he responded to Doris's playful mood.

Then Ethel"s key sounded in the door, and it was as though a slight
shadow fell upon them.  Doris wished she had been later still; Dudley
seemed to grow grave again, from habit, and Basil watched the door like
a big devoted dog, with eyes of hungry love.

As she entered her first glance was for him, and her nod and smile ere
she turned to greet the visitor hid all her own weariness, and was
reflected in a light of glad welcome on the sick man's face.

"I'm so glad you didn't wait," she said; "I stayed to get the
drawing-paper."

"But why did you, dear?" he asked, with quick remonstrance.  "Doris
could easily have gone to-morrow."

"Of course I could"; and Doris skilfully threw a hurt tone in her
voice, which Dudley was quick to detect.

"I wanted to walk," was all Ethel said, as she moved away to take off
her hat and coat.

But in spite of her efforts the gaiety did not return, and Doris grew a
little pensive and sad.

Dudley, with his surface reasoning, saw in her attitude something that
suggested the other two were in the habit of being entirely wrapped up
in each other, to the exclusion of the young sister.

Ethel might be a remarkably clever and capable woman; he knew perfectly
well that she was just as able with her fingers as her brain, and did
nearly all the upholstering and dressmaking of the household in her
evening free time; but wasn't she just a little superior and
self-satisfied also - just a little unkindly indifferent to the
monotony and dulness of her young sister's existence?

Dudley found his sympathy go out more and more to those childlike eyes,
and the pretty, clinging ways; and a sort of half-fledged resentment
grew up against the elder sister.  He could not choose but admire her,
if it were only for her devotion to her brother, but he felt a vague
something, in his thoughts of her, that he could not express, and
remained grave.

Ethel, watching them both covertly while she moved about helping Doris
to clear away the dinner things, guessed at much that was passing in
his mind, and unconsciously grew a little strained in her manner to
him.  That he should pity Doris and blame her seemed at last irony, but
it could not be helped; and not even to win his love could she attempt
to change her natural manner, and appear what might better please him.

She even said "good-night" a little coldly, and remained beside Basil
while Doris went out into the tiny hall with him to get his hat and
coat.

Doris seemed to Dudley a lonely little figure out there in the dim
light, with just the suggestion of a droop about her lips and
wistfulness in her eyes.  He believed that she found herself left out
in the cold with those other two, but was too proud to complain.  He
felt a tenderness springing up in his heart and spreading to his eyes
as he leaned towards her with a protecting air.

She was small and fragile.  It made him feel big and protective; and he
liked it.  Has was so tal and straight and slim and boyish - not in the
least the sort of person one could really feel protective to; and he
liked clinging women...  His head bent down quite near to hers as he
said in a low tone: "I suppose they are like lovers, those two, and you
feel a little out of it, eh?"

"Yes" - confidingly and gratefully - "and it makes me very unhappy,
because I love to slave for Basil just as much as Ethel does.  But he
does not want me... " with a little sad air.

"Oh, I think you are mistaken.  It could never be that.  It is only
that they have always been so devoted, and I expect it is too lonely
for you here.  You do not get enough change.  Would you care to go to
the White City with me on Thursday evening?"

"Oh, I should love it!" and there was a quick gleam in her eyes.

"Very well, I will arrange it."  His hand closed over hers lingeringly.
 "Good-bye.  Don't be despondent.  I will let you know where to meet
me.  We might have dinner at a restaurant first; shall we?"

Again she expressed her delight, and Dudley went off with a glow of
pleasure that was a surprise to him.

But behind the closed door Doris smiled a little smile in the darkness,
that had none of the artless innocence of the smiles reserved for him.

"Ethel would just give her head to go with him," was her first thought;
and then, "I hope he won't go to a cheap restaurant."

In the sitting-room Ethel was putting the last touches to the invalid's
comfort for the night, moving about busily.  Doris leaned against the
table, and made no attempt to help her.

"Dudley wants me to go to the White City with him on Thursday evening.
 I said I would."

"Thursday is the night I have to go and see Dr. Renshaw"; and Ethel
glanced round with a shadow of vexation on her face.

"I know it is, but you will not be very late."  She paused, then added,
"I do not get so many treats that I can afford to miss one."

"Dudley could probably have gone any other night.  Did you ask him?"

Ethel spoke a little quickly, and Doris looked ready with a sharp
retort, when Basil interposed.

"Thursday will be all right, chum.  Doris won't leave before six and
you will get in by half-past seven.  I shall have nearly two whole
hours in which to do any silly thing I like, without getting scolded";
and his smile was very winsome.

"I don't like you to have to wait so long for your dinner.  You always
get faint.  Perhaps Dr. Renshaw would see me another evening...  I -"

"Oh, nonsense, chum" - in the same cheery voice - "I'll have a tin of
sardines, and eat one every ten minutes until you come."

Ethel let the matter drop, seeing it would please him best, and Doris
retired to their room with a slightly sulky air.

"There always seems to be something to damp it if I am to have a
treat," was her complaint.

"I don't think you will feel damped after you start," Ethel replied
quietly, and they went to bed in silence.





CHAPTER IX


When Dudley got back he found Hal waiting up for him, with an
expression of shining eagerness on her face.

"Oh, Dudley, such fun!" she began, "Lorraine has got the royal box for
me for Thursday evening.  We must have a little dinner-party.  Who
shall we take?  It holds four comfortably, and two men could stand at
the back."

"Thursday evening!" looking a little taken aback.  "I am engaged."

"Engaged!  Well, you must put it off.  Why didn't you tell me?  I
thought you said you had any night free except Friday."

"I only made the engagement this evening."

"Are you going to see Basil again?  He won't mind being put off."

"No.  It isn't Basil."

"What then?"

Dudley turned away, threw his gloves carelessly down on a sidetable,
and picked up some letters.

"I asked Doris to go to the White City with me."

"You... you asked Doris to go to the White City?... " she repeated
incredulously.  "What in the world for?"

"To see it, of course.  What else should I ask her for?"

"Oh, Heaven only knows!  Why ask her at all?  I should certainly upset
her into the canal from sheer irritation if she came with me."

"Such nonsense."  He knit his forehead into a decided frown.  "You are
so unfair to Doris.  You used to complain that I was unfair to
Lorraine.  I was never as unfair as you are now.  You don't really know
Doris at all; and she has never done anything to hurt you."

"It doesn't follow that she wouldn't if she had the chance.  You're so
awfully dense about women, Dudley.  Why didn't you invite Ethel
instead?  She is worth a hundred Dorises.  Then we could have taken her
to the theatre."

His voice and manner grew very cold.

"I don't agree with you, but it is not a subject I care to discuss.  Is
there any reason why Doris should not be invited to the theatre?"

"None whatever, except that I don't propose to ask her."

They faced each other a moment almost angrily, except that whereas
Dudley was distinctly vexed, Hal was a little scornful, and
half-laughing.

"Then I cannot come either, and" - he paused a moment, to add with
decision - "I object to your going unchaperoned."

"Do you mean that you wish me to give up the box?"

"You know what I mean."

Hal was thoughtful a moment, and then remarked with sudden glee:

"I know what I'll do.  I'll take the Three Graces, and persuade Quin's
aunt to come as chaperone.  Then we'll all have supper with Lorraine
afterwards.  You shall have a nice, quiet, interesting evening with
Doris, and I'll get two stalls for you for another night."

She moved about, gathering up her things.

"You don't know Quin's aunt, Lady Bounce, do you?  She's the dearest
old soul, and she loves a theatre.  Night-night, old boy; don't keep
Doris too long near the canal, in case you are taken with my
inclination"; and she went gaily off, humming a popular air.

Dudley read through his letters without grasping any of their contents.
 For the first time Hal's attitude to Doris seriously worried him, and
he felt vaguely there was trouble ahead.

But when Thursday came, and they were together, she again had the same
pleasing effect upon his senses, and he let himself be persuaded that
if Hal grew to know her better, she could not choose but grow fond of
her.

In the meantime a group in the royal box at the Greenway Theatre was
causing no small interest to a crowded house.

There was Hal, with her smart, well-groomed air, gleaming white neck
and arms, and her white, even teeth that looked so attractive even in
the distance when she smiled.

Dick Bruce, spruce and scholarly, hugely pleased with himself, because
he had an article in _The National Review_, on the strenght of the
colonies in war time; and some lines entitled "Baby's Boredom" in
_Fireside Chat_, concerning which he had already announced his
intention of standing the champagne for their supper with the cheque.

Of the other two occupants it would be difficult to say which attracted
the most attention.  Alymer Hermon, with his immense stature and
splendid head, or Quin's aunt, Lady Bounce, who presented so striking a
resemblance to another well-known little old lady sometimes seen at the
theatre, that friends of the last-mentioned were utterly puzzled.

Surely only one little lady in London wore that early Victorian dress,
with the ringlets and "grande dame" air, and sat with such genuine
delight and enjoyment through a play?  And yet why did she not look out
for her numerous friends, down there in the stalls, and recognise them?

And who in the world was she with?  If that were indeed Lady Phyllis
Fenton - and it seemed incredible it should not be - who was the
splendid young giant, and who the white-faced girl with the brilliant
smile?

And all the time, absorbed in the play and her companions, the little
old lady smiled and talked, calmly indifferent to the many eyes below
waiting for the expected bow of recognition.

Quin, apparently, had not been willing to desert his slummers for a gay
West-end theatre; so Hal was only escorted by two Graces instead of
three, but the light in her eyes, for any one near enough to see,
suggested she was enjoying herself to the utmost in spite of it.

Then came the final sensation, of the little old lady in her strange
costume and ringlets, passing through the vestibule, on the arm of the
young giant, followed by the sleek-looking, well-groomed pair of
cousins, who chatted to each other with an air of the utmost unconcern
towards the curious glances now levelled at them upon all sides.

"It _must_ be Lady Phyllis Fenton," said some.  "It _can't_ be," said
others.  "Then who the devil is it?" asked the men.

And still the little group passed on, smiling and unconcerned, though a
red spot burned in the giant's smooth cheeks, and he carefully avoided
any possibility of meeting Hal's gleaming eyes.

A roomy electric brougham was awaiting them, and then the watchers said
it glided away: "Surely that is Lady Phyllis's car and liveries?"

But what they would have made of the scene inside the car it is
difficult to say, for the dear little old lady suddenly collapsed
backwards on her seat, with a howl of laughter, and shot into the air a
pair of trousered legs.

"Oh my conscience!" gasped Quin, amid choking laughter.  "It will be
the sensation of the season; and when Aunt Phyllis gets to hear about
it she'll first have a fit with wrath and then laugh until she's ill."

"I'd no idea you were such an actor, Quin," Hal exclaimed admiringly
when she could speak; "you ought be holding crowded houses enthralled,
instead of slumming."

"Heaven preserve me.  Theatres are mostly mummies looking at mummies.
Down east I get in touch with flesh and blood - the real thing; and I
prefer it.  But I wouldn't have missed to-night for something.  Oh,
lord!... just think of the people who know Aunt Phyllis that I must
have cut; and all the fuss there will be when aunt is admonished for
supping at the Savoy with an actress!  We aren't half through the fun
yet."

With which they all went off into fresh peals of laughter, at various
reminiscences, and were bordering upon a condition of imbecility when
Lorraine at last joined them with the latest news.

""It's positively immense," she said.  "The manager told me Lady
Phyllis Fenton had come with Miss Pritchard, and to-morrow every paper
will announce it, and the mystery will grow.  I 'phoned for a private
room at the Savoy, to keep the puzzle up.  She must only be seen
passing through on Mr. Hermon's arm.  How splendid they must look.  I
almost wish I wasn't in the secret."

"Oh, they do!" Hal cried.  "Alymer ought to have had knee breeches and
silk stockings, and they would look just perfect. I have to talk fast
to Dick, or I should give it all away in my face."

"You'll have to settle with your aunt," Lorraine laughed to Quin.  "I
hope she won't cut you off with a shilling."

"She will be furiously angry and terrifically interested," he said.  "I
expect I shall have to take you all to dinner to show her what the
party looked like.  Of course, Bonne, her maid, will give it away,
because I borrowed the garments from her, and said they were for a play
I was getting up in the East End."

"You'll have a bad half-hour with Dudley," Dick remarked to Hal, with
enjoyment.  "He is sure to hear of it somewhere."

"Quite sure," resignedly; "but if it were a bad two hours it would
still have been worth it.  It reminds me of the old days at school,
Lorraine, when we used to get into scrapes on purpose, if the fun made
it worth while."

There was no gayer supper party in the Savoy that night, and the
champagne paid for with the proceeds of "Baby's Boredom" proved none
the less vivifying for the insipidity of its source.  Dick insisted
upon reciting his doggerel, and Quin was not only much toasted as "Lady
Bounce", but carried kicking round the room by the giant, because in a
moment of forgetfulness he used a swear-word, which they all insisted
was a reflecton upon the conversation of his illustrious aunt.

Lorraine, in most amusing form herself, laughed until she was tired
out, and wondered why she was not bored.  She asked the question of
Alymer Hermon, who was privileged to see her home, while Dick returned
with Hal, and Quin beat a hasty retreat to get rid of his disguise.

"After all, you are only boys," she said, with a little smile, "and
I'm... well, I'm Lorraine Vivian."

The giant gazed thoughtfully out of the brougham window a moment, and
from her corner Lorraine looked long, and a little sadly, at the finely
modelled head and profile.

"Perhaps," he said at length, "a great many people you meet make a
special effort to please you, and try to make an impression on you.  We
being all so young, and just nobodies, realise the uselessness of
wasting our efforts, and are merely natural."

She smiled in the shadow, and glanced away from him with the sadness
deepening.

"I feel to-night I should like to be one of you - so young and just
nobody.  It would be a pleasant change."

"I don't think you would like it at all."

He looked at her with a slightly puzzled air.

"Only the other day you were speaking to me of achievement and
ambition.  You seemed to care so much.  You must be glad."

"Oh yes, yes," wearily; "but it isn't enough by itself.  There is
something I have missed, and to-night I feel that it might outweight
all the rest - something to do with being young, and careless, and
fresh, and just nobody."

Still looking at her with slightly puzzled, very kindly eyes, he
answered simply, "I'm so sorry."

She seemed to shrink away suddenly into her corner.  The very
simplicity of his sympathy, and the quiet, natural friendliness in his
face, stirred some strange chord in her heart with a swift,
unaccountable ache.  He looked so big and strong and splendid there in
the shadow, with his freshness and his charm; and she felt very
brain-fagged and world-weary; and without in the least knowing why, or
what led up to the desire, she wanted to feel his arms about her, and
his freshness soothing her spirit.

And instead he was not even attempting to make love to her, not even
flirting with her.  Would any other man she knew have ridden beside her
thus after the gentleness she had shown?  Was that perhaps the very
secret of his attraction?  Or was it a physical allurement - the
irresistible charm of bigness and strength, independent of anything
else, drawing with its time-old sway?

She had no time to probe further, as the brougham stopped at her door.
He handed her out with the deference so often met with in big men,
remarking width an old-fashioned air that suited him to perfection:

"I'm afraid we have all tired you very much.  It was good of you to
come with us.  I can't tell you how much we appreciate it."

"Oh, indeed no; you refreshed me.  Good-night.  Stevens will run you
home.  Don't forget Sunday", and she moved away.

"It must be his bigness," was her last thought as her head touched the
pillow.  "When I am used to it, no doubt the novelty will pass, and I
shall find him merely boyish, and be rather bored."

"I wonder if it is her dainty smallness," Dudley was musing, away in
his Bloomsbury lodging, feeling still, with a pleasant thrill, the
touch of Doris's small hand on his arm, and seeing again the upward,
confiding expression in her wide blue eyes.  "Odd that Hal should be so
far astray in her judgment, when she is usually so clever; but if she
knew her better she would change her mind."

As for Hal herself, she hastily tumbled into bed, still chuckling in
huge enjoyment over her evening.

"Those boys are just dears," was her thought, "and I wouldn't have
missed Lady Bounce for the world.  What a good thing Dudley was taken
with paternal affection for that little fool Doris, and I had to have a
chaperone.  Heigh-ho! what a scene there will be if he hears about it;
but what's the odds so long as you're happy?  And oh dear! what will
Lady Phyllis Fenton say when she finds out"; and once more the even
teeth flashed an irresistible smile into the darkness.





CHAPTER X


It was force of habit chiefly that caused Lorraine, as a rule, to sleep
long and late on Sunday mornings; and it was greatly to her advantage
that for so many months, and even years, no mental anxiety had robbed
her of a splendid capacity to rest.  She seemed to have a faculty for
limiting her worrying hours to the daylight, and being able to lay them
aside, like her correspondence, at night.

Yet on the following Sunday morning she found herself early awake, with
a brain only too ready to begin probing restlessly, and having little
of the calm friendliness she intended it should have towards her guest
of the evening.

To add to her unrest, her mother paid her an early visit, of a sort
that had been growing too frequent of late.  It was not enough that
Lorraine paid her rent, and gave her a handsome allowance; when there
chanced to be no one else to pay her debts, these came upon Lorraine's
shoulders also.

T-day it was a long, rambling tale of a hard-hearted dressmaker who,
having had a new frock back for alteration, had taken upon herself to
return the skirt, without the bodice, with an intimation that she was
retaining the delayed portion until her long account was settled.
Hence Mrs. Vivian found herself with what she called a most important
engagement, without the equally important new frock to go in.

Lorraine lay under the bedclothes, with only her head showing, and
watched her a little coldly, as she moved restlessly about the room
airing her woes.  She had promised Madame Luce, over and over again, to
settle in a week or two; and who would have believed the odious woman
would serve her such a trick?

Never again, if she had to go naked, would she order a garment from her
of any description whatever.  And the friends she had sent to her as
customers!  Why, half the woman's trade was owing to her introduction.

"Perhaps the friends don't pay their bills," Lorraine suggested in a
tired voice.

Mrs. Vivian drew herself up a little haughtily.

"I do not think there is any occasion to cast reflections on my
friends, even if you do not choose to be sociable to them," which
remark was intended as a dignified hit at Lorraine's invincible
determination to maintain friendly relations with her mother, without
having anything whatever to do with her mother's friends.

As many previous hits, it fell quite  harmlessly; it was doubtful if
Lorraine even heard it, half hidden there in the bedclothes with her
tired eyes.

"I suppose it isn't any use reminding you that your personal
expenditure exceeds mine?" she hinted, "and that you have already far
overstepped the allowance we stipulated?"

"You do not have time to go about as much as I do, and it makes a great
difference not having hosts of friends."

"You don't seem to get much pleasure out of them," Lorraine could not
resist saying, knowing as she did how much of her salary went into the
pockets of these so-called friends, in order to buy their adherence.

"Do I get much pleasure out of anything?" irritably.  "My only child is
one of the first actresses in London, and what is it to me?  Do I have
the pleasure of going abouth with her? or living with her? or taking
any part in her success?"

"I suppose it isn't such a small thing to live by her.  If I were not
successful, we could certainly not live here.  It might have been
Islington and omnibuses," and she smiled.

"As if that were all.  Probably, as real companions we might have been
even happier in Islington."

Lorraine stiffened.  "Companions!...  Ah, I, with whom else ever
dancing attendance, and changing in identity every few months?"

But she made no comment, for the days of her hot-headed, deep-hearted
judging were over; and from behind inscrutable eyes she looked upon the
things that one sees without seeming to see them, and accepted facts
that hurt her very soul, with a callous, cynical air that defied the
keenest shafts of probing.

It was her armour in an envious, merciless world, that would have
rejoiced before her eyes if it could have driven in a barbed arrow even
through her mother.

More than once a jealous enemy had tried and failed, routed utterly by
Lorraine's cynical, cool treatment of a fact that she knew no
persuasion nor arguing could have helped her to refute.  She did not
even weep about it now in secret.

It was as though she had shed all the tears she had to shed during that
year of utter revulsion spent in the Italian Riviera, companied by the
passionless solitudes of snowtopped mountains.  Something of a great
patience and a great gentleness had come to her then, helping her to
hide the loathing she could not crush, and place the fact of motherhood
first of all.

As her mother, she had taken Mrs. Vivian back into her heart, and given
her generously of what worldly possessions she had.  And she had done
it with a wondrous quiet and absence of all ostentation either
outwardly or inwardly.  It had never occured to Lorraine that, whether
it was a duty or not, after what had passed it was certainly a fine act
upon her part.

She had not questioned about it at all.  To her mother's apologetic
gush she had merely turned calm eyes and a strong face.

"It isn't worth while to remember the past at all," she had said; "we
will just begin again on rather different lines.  I'll always let you
have as much money as I can spare."

Mrs. Vivian had been a little taken aback by the new Lorraine who
returned from Italy; and not a little afraid before the calm,
inscrutable eyes; so that she had secretly rejoiced at the arrangement
which gave her a separate establishment of her own; but none the less,
in bursts of righteous indignation supposed to emanate from her
outraged feelings as a mother, she usually chose to make it her pet
grievance.

And still Lorraine only smiled the tired smile, and glanced carelessly
aside with the inscrutable eyes until the tirade was over, the coveted
cheque made out, and her own little sanctum once again in peaceful
possession.

Only just occasionally, if the interview had been specially trying, she
might have been seen afterwards to glance whimsically across to the
picture, recently enlarged from an old photograph, of a fine-looking
man in full hunting-rig standing beside a favourite hunter.

"Poor old dad," she murmured once; "I don't wonder you couldn't keep up
the old place.  I don't know how you got along at all without my
salary."

Once when she was feeling the drag of it all a little keenly she told
the man in the picture: "Mother is splendidly handsome, and I daresay I
owe her a good deal; but thank God you were there with your fine old
name and family to give me the things that matter most.  It sometimes
seems as if we had got each other still, dad, and, for the rest, some
are frail in one way and some another, and fretting doesn't help any
one."  The fine eyes had grown more whimsically wistful looking into
the face of the huntsman as she finished: "Anyhow, the last favourite
is second cousin to a duke, and she pointed out to me, he might have
been only a butcher."

How much Hal knew of her mother's life Lorraine had never been able to
gauge, but she had reason to think she knew something and was sporting
enough to pretend otherwise.  If so, she blessed her for it, feeling
that by that generous non-acknowledgment she rendered a service both to
her and her dead father.

Yet it seemed strange that any one so young and fresh as Hal should be
able to act thus, instead of suffering a violent repulsion.  Was it the
depth of her splendid friendship; or was it a naturally adaptable,
common-sense nature; or was it non-comprehension?

As time passed and she grew to know Hal yet better, she felt
instinctively it was the first of these, coupled with that true
sportsman-spirit which was one of her strongest attributes.

Lorraine was not the only one who felt that whether Hal had any
religion or not, or any faith, through good and ill, by easy paths and
difficult, one might be absolutely sure that she would "play the game."
 It made her feel herself richer with her one friend than with her
mother's admitted hosts, and though she seemed to hesitate and reason
on that Sunday morning, both knew the cheque would finally be written,
and the coveted garment rescued in time for the important lunch.

Only, afterwards, a shadow seemed to linger to-day that heretofore
would have vanished with the departing figure.  The sunshine crept
through the drawn curtains, lying like a shaft of hope across the
gloom, but it brought no answering gleam into the beautiful eyes, with
their tired, far-off gaze.

It was all very well for Hal to be a main feature in her life, blessing
it with her friendship, while she turned kindly, unseeing eyes away
from the corners where the murky shadows lay: Hal, who knew about the
mad, discreditable marriage and its violent termination, and probably
also of her mother's insatiable thirst for admiration and excitement at
any cost.

There was something about Hal in herself that was as a shining armour,
against which unkind barbs fell harmlessly, and enabled her to go on
her serene and joyful way in blissful non-attention.

But could it be the same with this treasured only son, who was
doubtless destined for a hight place in the world by doting parents,
and other proud bearers of the same old name?  Of course he might sup
and trifle with certain denizens of the theatrical world galore; it
would only be part of his education, and a thing to wink at, but she
already doubted whether such a slight companionship would have any
attraction.

In spite of his youthfulness, there was something in him that would
naturally and quickly respond to the fine shades in herself, and grow
into a friendship that had no part with the casual, gay
acquaintanceships of the theatre and the world.

In a sense he was like Hal, and she knew that just as she attracted
Hal's devotion in spite of all disparity of years and circumstances,
so, if she chose, she could make this young giant more or less her
slave.

But was it worht it?

What did she, on her high pedestal, want with his young admiration?
What did she want with a companion so undeveloped that she herself must
awaken his strongest forces?

Through the gloom, unheeding the shaft of sunlight, she saw him again,
towering up there on her hearth, with his young splendour, so
extraordinarily unspoilt as yet; and she knew that, reasonable or
unreasonable, she was attracted far beyond her wont.

And then she thought of his easy-going temperament, his lack of
ambition, his half-sleepy attitude towards life.

What if the wheels ran so smoothly for him that the latent forces were
never aroused, and little achieved of all that might be?

If love came at his asking, and a sufficiency of success to satisfy an
easy-going nature, what would there ever be to stir depths which she
truly believed were worth stiring?  Was it so small a thing to help a
fine soul forward to its best attainment?...  was such an aim not worth
some going aside for both?

She felt there were things she could teach him, which without her he
might entirely miss; and if without her he were the better according to
a conventional standard, he might yet be far the poorer in the big,
deep things of life.

Well, no doubt circumstances would end by suiting themselves, with or
without her agency.  In the meantime why worry, in a world that it
would seem worked out its own ends, sublimely indifferent to the
individual?

They were going to dine together to-night anyhow; their first tête-à-tête
dinner and evening: time enough to probe and worry when she was more
sure a mutual attraction existed; wiser at present to seek a counter
attraction for her own sake, that she might not uselessly build a
castle without foundations.

Prompt as ever, she reached out for the receiver beside her bed and
rang up the Albany to know if Lord Denton were awake yet.

"I'm not awake," came back a sleepy answer.  "I am asleep, and dreaming
of Lorraine Vivian.  If my man wakes me now, I shall curse him solidly
for half an hour."

"Well, will you dream you are going to take her for a spin into the
country shortly?  I happen to know she is fainting for the longing to
breathe country air."

"In my dream I am already waiting at her door, with the Yellow Peril
spluttering its heart out with delight, and eagerness to be off.  I
have even dreamt she managed to put a motor bonnet on in half-an-hour -
is it conceivable - or should it be half a day?"

"No, your dream is right.  Be outside the door in half an hour, and you
will see."

An hour later they were spinning out into Surrey at an alarming pace,
both silently revelling in the freshness and motion and the fact that
they were too old friends to need to trouble about conversation.  When
they dived into the lanes he slowed down, remarking:

"I suppose we mustn't risk scrunching any one up."

Lorraine only smiled, remaining silent a little longer, and then she
suddenly asked him:

"When you feel yourself inclined to fall in love foolishly what do you
do?"

"Well... as a rule..." he began slowly and humorously, "I either cut
and run, or I hurry to see so much of her that I am bound to get bored."

"The first plan sounds the safest, but would often be the most
difficult of execution.  Supposing the second miscarries and you don't
get bored?"

"Well, then I think - usually - there is an awful moment when I have to
tell her I can't afford both a motor and a wife; and to be motorless
would kill me."

A sudden little twitching at the corners made Lorraine's mouth
dangerously fascinating.

"Evidently you have never fallen in love with me," she said, "for you
have not been driven to either way of escape."

He looked into her face with an answering humour, and a twinkle in his
eyes as alluring as her smilling lips.

"Because when I fell in love with you I did it sensibly, and not
foolishly," was his answer; "instinct told me I couldn't have you for
my wife however much I wished it, so I said myself: 'Flip, old boy,
she'll make a thundering good pal, you close with it,' and I did."

She made no comment, and he went on more seriously:

"You see, even if you became marriageable and I cut out the motor, you
wouldn't be attracted to an ordinary sort of cove like me.  I suit you
down to the ground as a pal, but it wouldn't go any farther."

"I wonder why you think that?"

"I don't exactly _think_ it - thinking is too much bother - but it's
just there, like a commonplace fact.  You are all temperament, and
high-strung nerves, and soul, and enthusiasm, and that sort of thing,
which makes you a great actress.  I'm just a two-legged, superior sort
of animal, who hasn't much brain, but knows what he likes, and usually
does it without wasting time on pros and cons.  Consequently, I'm just
as likely to end in prison as anywhere else, and take it without much
concern as all in the day's work.  You are more likely to end in a
nunnery, as the most devout of all the nuns."

"What an odd idea!  Why a nunnery?"

"Oh, because it's an extreme of one sort or another, and you are made
for extremes.  You'll perhaps be very wicked first" - he smiled
delightfully - "after which, of course, you'd have to be very good.
It's the way you're made.  I'm cut out on quite a different plan.  I
can't be 'very' anything, unless it's very drunk after the Oxford and
Cambridge at Lord's."

"Do you think I could be very wicked?"  She asked the question with a
thoughtfulness that amused him greatly, and he answered at once:

"I haven't a doubt of it.  You are probably plotting the particular
form of wickedness at this very moment."

She laughed, and he went on in the same serio-comic mood:

"I quite envy you.  It mus be very thrilling to think to oneself, 'I've
dared to be desperately wicked.'  You cease to be a nonentity at once
and become a force.  You get right to hand-grips with the big elemental
things.  Of course that is interesting, but it usually means a
confounded lot of bother."

"You are as bad as Hal Pritchard.  She announced the other day she
would rather have a dishonest purpose than no purpose at all."

"It's the same idea, only Miss Pritchard lives up to her creed by being
full of energy and purpose; whereas I can't be anything but a mediocre
waster.  I've neither the pluck to be wicked, not the energy to be
good, nor enough purpose to regret it.  I believe I'm best described as
an aristocratic 'stiff', a 'stiff' being a person who spends his life
trying to avoid having to do things.
"I fill a niche all the same," he finished, "because I make such an
excellent foil for the other chaps, who like to pride themselves on
their superiority and hard work.  It's nice for them to be able to say
contemptuously, 'Look at Denton,' and it's nice for me to be able to
feel I'm of some use, without the bother of making an effort."

"You are certainly quite incorrigible as an idler, if that can be
called a purpose, and, Flip, don't change; I love you for it; you are
one of the most restful things I have ever known."

He glanced into her face with a keenness that somewhat belied his
professed incapacity to be in earnest, and remarked with seeming
lightness:

"Feeling a bit down on your luck, eh?  Are you thinking of falling in
love foolishly?"

"I'm thinking of trying to guard against doing so."

"You ought not to find it difficult.  Crowd him out with other
admirers."

"It seems as if he were going to do the crowding out."

"Why, is he so big?" jocularly.

"There's six foot five-and-a-half of him."

"Whew!  And thin as a lathe, I suppose; a sort of animated telegraph
pole."

"No; broad in proportion, cut to measure absolutely."

"Then he is a fine fellow," with conviction.

Lorraine felt a swift glow of pride, and then inwardly admonished
herself for being silly.  What, after all, was size?  As Hal had
trenchantly remarked, plenty of London policemen were just as big and
fine.  Half in self-defence she added:

"He has brains as well, and he is as handsome as Apollo."

"Then run," was the laconic response; "don't stop to buy a ticket; pay
the other end."

She smiled, but grew suddenly serious.  Leaning forward with eyes
straining hard to the horizon, she said: "Flip, I've had a hard life,
in spite of the success.  Shall I run?... or... shall I stay, and
snatch joy, while there is still time?"

He looked at her with a growing interest.

"If I were you I should run," he said; "but, all the same, I think
you'll stay."

"No; I don't think I shall.  There are other reasons.  He is a good
deal younger than I - and - well, I've a fair amount on my soul
already."

The tired shadow was coming back to her eyes, but she laughed suddenly
with an attempt at gaiety.

"You ought to have heard Hal Pritchard on the subject.  She remarked
there were plenty of London policemen just as big, and suggested if I
wanted a fine young animal to play with, I should be safer with a polar
bear from the Zoo."

"Well done, Hal.  We ought to have brought her.  Where is she to-day?"

"Careering across England in a haphazard fashion with her cousin Dick
Bruce.  Do you mind turning towards home now?  I'm dinning out, and
have some letters to write."

"Who's the happy man to-night? ... I thought of course I was to have
the whole day."

"With a view to getting wholesomely bored!  No, Flip, I don't propose
to let you find that way out just yet."

"I should have found it for myself long ago if it were possible.  As it
is, I have grown resigned, and accept what crumbs fall to my portion."
He paused a moment and then asked, "Is it Goliath to-night?"

"It is."

"Rash woman; and just when I have advised you to run."

"But it is not in the least serious yet.  I only asked you in view of
it becoming so."

"Which means you will try and start to run, _after_ you are firmly in
the trap."

"Not at all.  I won't go near the trap.  I'll tell him I'm old enough
to be his mother, and talk down to him from years of detestable common
sense and sagacity."

"Which sounds as if it would be even duller than dining with me."

"Oh no.  It holds novelty anyway.  You are never dull, but likewise you
are no longer novel."

They made for the high roads again, and spun along mostly in silence
until the car once more came to a standstill at Lorraine's door.

"Come in," she said, "I've lots of time."

"No,' with a little smile.  "I've had my crumbs for the day. I'm going
to have a good solid crust now to keep the balance.  Do you know Lottie
Bird?... Fourteen stone, if she's an ounce, and a tongue like a
sixty-horse-power motor.  There are times when she's so damned
practical and overpowering she does me good.  This is one of them.
Good-bye.  Don't kill the giant with a glance; and don't be silly
enough to get hurt yourself."

"All right.  I'll go in full armour," and she nodded gaily enough as he
moved off down the street.





CHAPTER XI


What Lorraine exactly meant by full armour she did not quite know, but
it might very well have been taken to mean the shining armour of her
own best loveliness.  Certainly after no small consideration she chose
what she believed to be her most becoming gown, and she was unusually
critical about the dressing of her hair.

All the same, at 7.45 she was ready, and her cavalier had not yet
arrived.  She waited five minutes until he came, and then it was
necessary to wait another five minutes that he might not know she had
been more up to time than he.  Then she entered the drawing-room in a
little bit of a hurry, and cut short his simple, direct apologies by
regretting her own tardiness, and saying she had been out motoring
until late.

But she had time to note quickly that he also had dressed himself with
special care, plastering down resolutely the unruly determination of
his fair hair to curl.  That was good.  Any suggestion of a curl must
have produced an effect of effeminacy, whereas that neat, plastered
wave showed the shapeliness of his head, and gave him a touch of manly
decision.  Her electric brougham was at the door, but she kept it
waiting a few minutes, that they might be later than the majority of
diners, and pass up a well-filled room.

In the end their arrival was equal to her best expectations.  She led
the way slowly, with a queenly grace that was one of her best
attributes; but as she nodded casually to an acquaintance here and
there, she had plenty of time to observe the curious eyes from all
around, looking with undisguised admiration, not so much at her
faultless appearance, which was more or less known, but at her striking
cavalier.

She had engaged a small table at one of the top corners and arranged
the seats sideways, so that both could look over the room if they
wanted to, and at the same time be easily seen by others.  She did this
because it amused her to see people gazing at him, and to watch his
quiet self-possession.  She almost wondered if he even realised how
much attention he attracted, but perceived that he could hardly help
doing so, though he took it all with so simple and unabashed an air.

She watched also to see if, as most of the strikingly handsome men she
had known, he courted tell-tale glances from other eyes, and sipped
honey from any flower within reach, as well as from his own particular
flower.  And when she found that his absolute and undivided attention
was given to her, and that all the power of entertaining he could
muster was called into her service, she felt a glow of gratitude to him
that he had not disappointed her, but proved himself the simple,
high-bred gentleman she longed to find him.

It made her show herself to him at her very best.  Not showily witty,
nor callously gay, nor fashionably original, but just her own self of
light humour and dainty speech and kindly sympathy, the true, best self
that held Hal's unswerving devotion through good account and ill.

Unconsciously she left the time-worn paths of beauty and success, and
became young, and fresh, and whole-hearted as he; tackling abstruse
problems with a childlike, vigorous air; holding him spell-bound with
her own charm of conversation one moment, and leading him on to talk
with ease and frankness the next.

The other diners got up and retired to the lounge, and still they sat
on; no hint of boredom, no note of disparity, no need of other
companionship.  As they were preparing to rise, she told him lightly
that he talked amazingly well for his tender years.

"Only twenty-four," he answered; "it does seem a kiddish age, doesn't
it!"

"Dreadfully kiddish.  It makes me feel old enough to be your
grandmother."

He glanced up, half-questioning, half-deprecating.

"That would be the oddest thing of all, unless I really appear to be
about twenty years before my time."

For a reason she could not have fathomed, she looked into his eyes with
a sudden seriousness and said:

"I was thirty-two last week."

She saw a quick look of surprise he did not attempt to hide, followed
by a very charming smile, as he asserted:

"It is impossible.  You could not sit there and look like that if you
were thirty-two."

"The impossible is so often the true.  I'm glad you don't think I seem
old.  It is nice to believe one can keep young at heart, in spite of
the years.  Shall we go to the lounge?"

Again they moved through the admiring crowd, but this time Lorraine
felt less idle interest and more inward wonder; and without any
misgiving she steered to a quiet alcove, where they could talk without
again being the cynosure of many eyes.

Here, in a pleasant, friendly way, she led him once again to talk of
the future, and was glad to find, in answering sincerity with
sincerity, he was ready to admit that he was a little sorry about his
own lack of ambition and want of application.  He did not pretend now
that it was of no moment.  He told her he would like to achieve, only
somehow he always found his attention wander to other things, and his
desire grow slack after a week of rigid application.

She recognised that the motive-power was missing, and that unless
something deeper than mere desire of achievement stirred him, he would
probably never attain.  He needed a goal that should make everything
else in the world pale before it, and something that seemed almost as
life and death to hang on his success.  But how get it for him?  If he
loved, and was bidden wait until he had prospered, the end was all too
sure and the love too easy.

It was something different that was needed; something that would bring
him up with dead abruptness against a blank wall, and leave him with a
taste of life that was dust and ashes unless he found a way through.
Either that or some sweet, wild, unattainable desire, that might drive
him to work and ambition by way of escape.

And there again, where should he encounter such a desire?  One had only
to look into his calm, fine face to feel that the unattainable in the
form of love, barred by marriage vows as lightly made as broken, would
never stir the depths of his heart, nor appeal to his real self in any
way whatever.

He would not love such a woman, however for a time she might fascinate
him; and afterwards there would only be the nausea and the memory that
was like an unpleasant taste.  Such a woman might teach him many things
it is no harm for a man to know; but she would never call to the best
in him, nor help him to realise himself.

"Have you seen your friend the duchess lately?" she asked, with a
disarming smile, not wishing to appear merely curious.

"Yes; I saw her on Friday, at a ball.  She was in great form."

"You danced with her?"

"Yes.  She's not a good dancer."

"Then you only had one, I suppose?"

"No, three."  He smiled a little.  "We sat out two."

"You ought to have felt highly honoured."

"Oh, I don't know.  She is very amusing.  A very funny thing happened
last week.  Out of sheer devilry, she and a friend and two men went to
the Covent Garden Fancy Dress Ball,  disguised of course, and just for
an hour or two.  To their horror, after the procession, the friend was
handed a large glass-and-silver salad bowl, as a prize for being the
best 'twostep' dancer in the room.  Of course she had to go off with
the beastly thing; but she was so proud of winning it, she couldn't
resist giving their escapade away, and it got round everywhere."

"I wonder if our escapade with Lady Bounce is out yet?  I haven't seen
Hal since Thursday."

"Oh yes, it is," eagerly; "the duchess had heard about it.  She was
pumping me to know who was in the joke.  We are longing to see Quin and
hear the latest, but he is down east."

"What an oddity he is!" thoughtfully.  "I liked him so much: but it is
difficult to reconcile him with slumming."

"He's one of the best.  Every one loves him.  And he does his slumming
in quite a way of his own.  I've been with him sometimes, and he just
goes among the rough characters down there as if he hated being a swell
and wanted to be one of them.  He positively asks them for sympathy,
and of course it takes their fancy and he is friends with them all."

"I think you are a remarkable trio altogether.  Hal's cousin Dick is
just as original in his way as St. Quintin.  And you, of course, are
somehow different to the majority.  I wonder how you will each end?
St. Quintin will perhaps become a bishop.  Dick Bruce will write an
astounding, weird novel, and bound into fame.  And you? ..."

He flushed a little. "I shall be left far behind by both of them,
futilely wishing to catch up."

"I hope not.  Your chance is just as good as theirs, if you choose to
make it so,"

"I fail to see that I have any chance at all."

"Most chances rest chiefly with ourselves.  It's a great thing to be
ready for them if they come.  I hope you'll be that."

"I hope so too, but it would be easier if one were more sure they were
coming," and he laughed with a lightness that jarred a little.

She rose to go, as it was getting late, feeling slightly disappointed
in some vague way; and when they parted she noticed that his handshake
was slightly limp, as of one who would not grasp life tightly enough to
compel it to surrender its good things to him.

But in her own sanctum she rallied herself, and hardened her heart,
asking what had it to do with her after all, and how could his success
or non-success in any way concern her.

Doubtless in the end he would share the fate of the great majority and
attain only mediocrity; having missed that one great blinding shaft of
pain or joy that might have stabbed him into tense, pulsing life, and
spurred him up the heights of fame and glory.

She let her evening-cloak slide to a chair, turning to glance at a
calling card on the table, with a renewal of the old, callous, cynical
air.  The practical force of Flip Denton's conversation was making
itself felt.  Of course it was an absurdity for her to imagine herself
in love with a youth of twenty-four - almost the dullest of all ages -
be he never so good to look at.  She might very well keep a motherly
eye on him, and show him a side of life he might perhaps not see
otherwise, but it must end there.

No doubt a certain novelty had made the evening unusually pleasant:
after two or three more they would certainly pall, and then she would
go back to her old chums; the men of the world who had paid their
footing and won their experience, and come through, careless enough
devils at best in their own phraseology, but non the worse for a fall
or two, and a win or two, and a self-taught hardihood for most things
life was likely any more to send.

She smiled a little as she remembered how calmly he had thanked her and
said good-night.  Of a surety he took his fruits quietly and
unconcernedly enough.  She wondered if he were secretly in love with
some pink-and-white débutante, who flushed and smiled when he spoke, and
gazed up at him with fond, adoring eyes.  It was likely enough.

No doubt he would tell her all about it soon, as a very young man tells
a favourite sister, or a jolly, not too elderly aunt.  She rather hoped
he would.  It would be an anti-climax humorous enough to cure her all
in a moment of seeming anything to him other than that jolly, not too
elderly aunt.  Then she would invite Flip to dinner, and they would be
gay together - she could imagine the tone in which he would call her
"aunty" - and her folly would fall from her like an outgrown chrysalis,
leaving her sane, and cynical, and wordly, and whole again.

The train of thought pleased her, and soothed in some way an
indefinable rasping sense of the general futility of all feeling and
all striving.  Surely she, with her young-old heart, her world-worn
memories, and her youth that never was, should know that worldly-wise
dictum full well.

Of course she kew it.

The things that mattered were beauty and brilliance and success; and
these she had in good measure, brimming over.  Her mood made her cross
suddenly to the many-sided mirror, and switch on a blaze of light that
would brook no feigning.

In its searching gleams she looked at herself with clear, fearless
eyes.  Yes; it was all there still, untouched and unimpaired by those
thirty-two years: the colouring, the skin, the rounded, supple figure -
all the things for which men loved her and the world gave her fame.

She gave herself a little mocking salute, and then turned away to hurry
into her pretty, cosy bed.

But what the blaze of light had not seen the mothering darkness hid
tenderly.  Two bright tear-drops, filling tired eyes that had tried so
often to fool themselves into blind and callous content.





CHAPTER XII


"Dick Bruce will write an astounding, weird novel, and bound into
fame," Lorraine had remarked to her companion, and away somewhere down
in Kent, an hour or so earlier, Dick had remarked to Hal as they spun
along:

"I've got the maddest idea for a novel you ever heard of.  I'm going to
make the hit of next season."

"I hope it's not about babies," said Hal, thinking of his doggerel.

"Yes, it is - babies and vegetables."

"Oh, nonsense.  You can't make a novel out of babies and vegetables."

"You see if I can't.  The vegetables are all to be endowed with life,
and of course the scene of my tale will be the vegetable kingdom."

"And where do the babies come in?"

"The babies will represent mankind."

"I never heard such rot.  Why should mankind be represented by babies?
Much better let them be represented by green peas or gooseberries."

"Not at all.  Mankind can only properly be represented by babies;
mankind being in its infancy."

"But it isn't.  It's much older than vegetables."

"It is not.  Man was made last, and instead of developing into a
reasonable, rational object, like a potato or a cabbage, he has strayed
away into all manner of wild side-issues, and is still nothing but a
very much perplexed infant."

"And do you propose to try and help him to emulate the reasonable,
rational condition of the potato and cabbage?"

"I propose to show him his inferiority to these delectable creations."

"Then if he has any sense he will just duck you in the Serpentine and
make you apologise.  Personally I consider myself anything but a baby,
and far superior to any of the cabbage tribe."

"Ah!..."  he cried gleefully.  You are actually proving my theory.  I
can't explain now, but just wait till that book is written."

"Are you taking rooms at Colney Hatch while you do it?"

"I have thought about it.  You show more understanding in that remark
than in any of the others."

"It doesn't require much effort of understanding to think that out.  Is
the onion or the mangel-wurzel to be your hero?"

"You are unsympathetic.  I shall not tell you any more."

"Not at all.  I am most interested really.  I should make the cabbage
your hero, and the onion your heroïne, then she can weep on his breast."
They swerved violently, and with a little gasp she added, "All the
same, I've no desire to weep on the highway underneath a motor-car.
What _are_ you doing?"

"I don't know.  The steering-wheel seems a bit odd."

They stopped to examine the wheel, and almost immediately, out of the
gathering darkness behind shot another car, hooting violently to them
to get out of the way.  Unable to stop the oncoming car in time, Dick
tried to move aside, failed, and in less than a minute the newcomer, in
spite of brakes swiftly adjusted, crashed into them, smashing their
lamp, and badly damaging the back near-side wheel of the car.

"Well, I'm blowed!" said Dick, "that's the only moment in the whole day
you shouldn't have been on that particular square yard of the entire
globe.  Any other moment, I could either have moved aside or stopped
you in time."

The occupant of the other car, who was driving alone, sprang out and
came briskly forward.

"What the devil!..." he began, then noticed the lady, and stopped short.

"It was certainly the devil," said Dick, ruefully examining his
battered wheel, and "I always thought he was credited with the deceny
to look after his own.  How have you fared?"

"Well, he seems to have looked after me all right," in a cheery voice;
"there's nothing that will prevent my going on to town.  But if you
will pardon my curiosity, why take root in the middle of the road and
ask for trouble?"

Hal's smile suddenly flashed out in the lamp-light irresistibly.

"It's a new theory about vegetables being wiser than mankind, but of
course we took root too soon."

A pair of grey eyes looked quizzically at her in the darkness,
discerning only the gleam of a white face in a close-fitting bonnet,
and the flash of white, even teeth.

"The blasted steering wheel wouldn't act," said Dick.  "We had just
that second slowed down to examine it.  You might have come along here
to all eternity and not have been as inopportune.""
"You take it very well."  The big-coated apparition, in motor-cap with
the ear-flaps down, and motor-goggles, and the suggestion of a
rotundity about the centre, was not at all engaging to look at, but he
had a charming voice.

"I'm taking it so ill that I daren't express myself out loud," said
Hal.  "What in the world are we to do?  Is there a train anywhere near?"

"I'm afraid not, but there is a decent enough inn close by."

"An inn isn't much use to me."  She paused, then added solemnly: "I've
got a strait-laced brother."

Hal's voice was rather deep and rich for a woman, and it had a
dangerous allurement in the darkness.  The stranger took off his
goggles and tried again to see her face, while Dick took a minute stock
of his damage.

"Well," he suggested, a little daringly, "if he is able to chaperone
you at the inn himself? -"

"He isn't," said Hal; "he's somewhere east of Piccadilly, studying
Phoenician Architecture, and the herringbone pattern on antique
masonry."

"Oh, damn!" intercepted Dick, "the old man has let me down badly this
time; this car won't move before daybreak.  It means a red light
burning all night, and we must go to the inn."

"But, Dick," Hal exclaimed in quick alarm.  "How can I let Dudley know?
 He'll have a fit at the idea of my being out all night like that."

"He ought to be too thankful you are safe and sound to mind anything
else."

"But he won't; because he is always grumbling at my not getting back
before dark.  There must surely be a train from somewhere?"

Her voice had grown seriously alarmed as she began to realise what sort
of a fix she was in.  The stranger came forward to lend his aid to the
inspection, and after a cursory glance added his verdict to Dick's.

"You won't move her before morning; and there are no trains anywhere
near here on Sunday night.  I am going to London myself; you must let
me give you both a lift."

Dick stood up with an air of finality.

"I can't leave her.  She isn't exactly all my own, you see.  I must
stay at the inn, but if you wouldn't mind taking Miss Pritchard..." he
looked at Hal a little anxiously.

"I shall be delighted," came the brisk response from the stranger.

Hal for once was nonplussed, but her habitual humour reasserted itself.

"I don't know which Dudley will think the most dreadful," she remarked
comically, "for me to stay at the inn unchaperoned, or motor back with
a stranger.  I seem to be fairly between the devil and the deep sea."

The men laughed, but Dick made the decision.

"You had better go back," he said.  "He will at least have you safe
under lock and key by midnight that way and not lie awake worrying all
night himself."

"Then let me run you to the inn first," said the stranger, and after
fixing his red lights, Dick went off with them in search of help to
make the car safer for the night.

A little later the stranger's motor turned Londonwards with two
occupants only, one in front and one behind.  After a few miles he
stopped.

"Won't you come and sit in front?"  It seems so unsociable to travel
like this."

"Most unsociable," said Hal, "but it would please Brother Dudley."

"Never mind Brother Dudley now."  The voice was very attractive.  "Mind
me, instead.  I'm very dull here, and I hate driving in the dark.  My
chauffeur is down with the 'flu', and I couldn't beg, borrow, nor steal
any one else's."

"Are you a doctor?" she asked, taking her seat beside him.

"Why do you think I should be a doctor?" tucking a warm rug cosily
round her, in a leisurely fashion.

"Only because I thought perhaps you were obliged to go, in spite of
your chauffeur being ill."

"I was obliged to go, but I'm not a doctor."

They started forward again, but the pace was noticeably slower.

"I hope you don't mind going slowly, it is so difficult to steer in te
dark?"

Hal was perfectly aware he had not found it so difficult before, but
she only said lightly:

"Anything to keep safe from another mishap.  I might have to walk home
next time."

"Or stay at an inn with me!..." with an amused laugh.  "What would
Brother Dudley do then?"

"Have brain fever first, I expect, then creeping paralysis, then
sleeping sickness."

He chuckled with enjoyment, and presently remarked: "I don't think you
treat Dudley respectfully enough if he is an affectionate elder
brother."

"Oh, yes I do.  I sort of leaven the lump.  Without me he'd be just a
clever prig; he couldn't help it.  With me he is only better than most
men; and his lofty ideas don't get top-heavy, because I keep him in
touch with commonplace humanity."

"Why is he better than most men?  What is the matter with the rest of
us?"

"The rest of you don't bother to have lofty ideas at all, much less
struggle to live up to them."

You are a little sweeping.  Do you like men to have lofty ideas, and be
priggish?"

"They don't necessarily go together.  It's only Dudley who thinks all
the rest of the world ought to be good too."

"And don't you agree with him?"

"I look at things from a different standpoint.  I admire him
tremendously, and feel his superiority; but it is more natural to me to
take things as I find them and make the best of them as they are."

"You are evidently a very sensible young lady.  You can find a warm
spot in your heart even for a sinner, for instance!"

"I rather like them," and she gave a low laugh.

"Of course you do, if you're a true woman."

"Oh, I'm a true woman right enough.  I like a man to have a spice of
the devil in him; and I like playing with fire; and I love getting into
mischief."

"Capital!...  you and I must be friends.  I'm beginning to think it was
a lucky mishap for me at all events."

"I haven't finished my qualifications yet.  You may change your mind.
I like all those sort of things, but at the same time I like the big
things as well.  Also I'm told I'm most annoyingly practical, and most
irritatingly capable of taking care of myself, and never getting burnt,
so to speak."

"Who told you that?"

"I think it was some one at the office."

"What office?"

She mentioned the name of one of the leading London papers.

"Oh, you're a working young lady, are you?"  He asked the question with
a new note in his voice, though it would have been difficult to tell
just how the information struck him.

Hal gave another laugh.

"A working young lady!  How awful!  I shall not be friends with you if
you call me anything so dreadful as that."

"What do you call it?"

"Well, I think I like 'Breadwinner' best, as that is what I do it for -
but I don't mind working woman."

The stranger looked hard into the darkness a few moments, then he asked
suddenly, sitll with the new note in his voice:

"And I suppose you want the vote?"

Mentally he was wondering whether, if she knew who he was, she would
attack him physically or insist upon writing in chalk all over his car.

"I don't want it for myself, because I shouldn't know what to do with
it, and I haven't much time to find out.  But I want fair play for
women-workers generally, and if that is the only way to get it, I hope
it will come quickly."

"What do you mean by fair play?"

"Just whatever is fair play.  I don't think women ought to be making
iron chains at Cradley Heath for a penny a yard, for instance, and that
sort of thing.  I think it is a slur on the men who govern the country
that it is possible.  If you were one of them, and drove about in this
beautiful car, not caring twopence whether starving women were sweated
or not, I should -"  she hesitated.

"Well, what should you -"

Detecting the mysterious note in his voice, she added with mischievous,
half-serious intent:

"I should want to scratch you, and bite you, and push you into the
first available ditch, for a poor coward, who was afraid to take care
of the interests of woman, in case she got too well able in the end to
take care of herself - so there."

He could not help laughing, and when he subsided she added:

"I suppose you are one."

"Why do you suppose it?"

"Never mind.  Are you?"

"You promise you won't scratch me and bite me?"

"I'll give you a sporting chance to run away."

"I'm not very likely to run away from you, I think."

They had reached the well-lit roads now, and he turned and looked
keenly into her face, partly to see if by chance he might recognise
her, and partly to get a cleaner idea of her appearance.

"You look to nice to be a suffragette," he said.

"Such rot!  Do I look too nice to care whether working women and
outcast women are fairly treated or not?"

"That's only the bluff of the movement.  What they really want is power
and notoriety."

Hal tossed her head.

"You're a positive worm," she told him frankly.

Again his engaging laugh rang out.

"That's a nice thing to say to a man who has brought you all the way
from Millington to London, and helped you out of a tight corner."

The white teeth gleamed suddenly.

"I'll qualify it if you like, and call you a cross between a worm and a
brick."

"Not good enough.  I won't pass the worm at all.  If you don't retract
it wholly I shall put you down at the first tram, and let you get back
to Bloomsbury on your own."

"I'll retract, if you'll tell me who you are."

"I'll tell you afterwards."

She shook her head.

"Perhaps you are going to Downing Street even now, to plan a crushing
blow to the Cause."

"I am going to Downing Street, but it has nothing to do with the Cause,
as you call it."

It was her turn to glance round, but she only saw that he was
clean-shaven, and somewhat lined.  His grey, quizzical eyes met hers
full of humour.

"I wonder who we both are?" he said.

"I can easily tell you who I am, as I'm so comfortably of no account.
My name is Harriet Pritchard, and my friends call me Hal.  I live with
Brother Dudley, who is an architect; and if the world isn't any the
better for me, I hope it is sometimes a little gayer, that's all."

"And are you engaged to the young man whose steering gear went wrong?"

"No; I am not engaged to any one at all."

"Very nearly perhaps?"

"No; not even within sight of it.  Being engaged, and always having to
go out with the same pal, would bore me to tears."

"I see."  There was a note of satisfaction in his voice.  In the
brighter lights he had observed that the warm ulster clung to a very
shapely figure, and covered a pair of fine shoulders, and even if she
was not pretty, for he could not be quite sure on the point, she was
certainly very attractive, and had a delightfully engaging smile.

"I wonder if there is room for another in the ranks."

Something a little condescending in the way he made the suggestion
nettled Hal.

"Aren't you a rather old?" she asked.

Again his ready laugh rang out.

"I'll give frankness for frankness.  I am forty-eight."

"Goodness!... and I am twenty-five."

"Is that all?  Then allow me to say you are a remarkably clever young
woman."

"A good many breadwinners are; they have to be.  Some of them are too
clever even for Cabinet Ministers," and she chuckled joyfully.

In the darkness, she did not see the quick gleam in his eyes, as he
retorted:

"I don't think many Cabinet Ministers have the luck to meet a
breadwinner who is as attractive as she is clever."

"And if the did," sarcastically, "I suppose they would drop the
notoriety yarn and find time to consider whether the working woman is
treated fairly or not.  The weakness in her defence at present seems
solely that not enough pretty women make up her defenders.  Bah!  You
all ought to have kittens to play with, and nanny goats and woolly
lambs."

"I don't know why you include me.  What have I done?"

"Well, if you're going to Downing Street?"

"Why shouldn't I be going to a dinner-party?"

She turned and glanced up with a daredevil light in her eyes that
delighted him.

"I not only think you a member of Parliament, but, judging by your
fatuous air of superiority, I should imagine you are positively a
full-blown Cabinet Minister."

He busied himself with his steering wheel, while little chuckles of
enjoyment came out of his muffler.

"And supposing I were?" he said at last.

"Goodness!...  I hope you're not?... " in quick alarm.

"Why do you hope so?"

"Oh, I don't know, except that I've never known a Cabinet Minister in
my life, and I never expected, if I met one, to treat him like... like
-"

"An old and fatuous lump of superiority!" with a gay laugh.  "Well,
little woman, you needn't be in the least sorry.  I don't know that
I've ever enjoyed a motor ride more.  When will you come again?"

"_Are_ you a Cabinet Minister?..." she asked helplessly.

"Well, I hope you won't disapprove, for I have to plead guilty to being
Sir Edwin Crathie."

"Sir Edwin Crathie?" in abashed tones.

"They called me Squib at school."  He said it in a whimsical, humorous
voice, looking down at her with very friendly eyes.

But Hal had grown silent.

"I'm afraid by your manner you do disapprove?"

"It is certainly embarrassing.  I would rather you had been... well,
just any one."

"You'll get used to it," still with the twinkle in his eyes.  "In the
meantime you haven't answered my question.  When will you come for
another ride?"

She did not reply, and he leaned a little closer.

"You will come again?"

"I'm afraid Brother Dudley wouldn't like it"; and then they both
laughed.

"Will you come in?" as they drew up before her door.

"I'm afraid I haven't time; and besides, I'm a little afraid of Brother
Dudley.  I only feel equal to the Prime Minister this evening."

She held out her hand.

"Well, thank you ever so much.  You saved me from a dreadfully tight
corner."

"The thanks should be all mine; you saved me from unmitigated boredom.
I curses my chauffeur for going down with 'flu' to-day, but now I fee
ready to raise his salary for it."

He had pulled of his thick motoring-glove, and was holding her hand in
a firm, lingering clasp, which she quickly cut short, tucking both her
hands into her ulster pockets, and standing up very straight and slim
in the lamplight.

"I'll have to go though the confessional now," she told him, "and sit
on the stool of repentance for supper."

"No; don't repent; come again."  He moved nearer.

"I'm naturally a very busy man, and I can't make engagements offhand,
but I can easily get at you on the telephone.  Will you come some
afternoon, about half-past four?"

"I think you are very rash.  How do you know I shall not bring the
colours, and wave them wildly down the street, shouting 'Votes for
Women'?"

"I'll risk it.  Will you come?"

She moved away, latch-key in hand.

"I don't know.  I won't promise, anyway.  Good-bye, and my best thanks."

There was a rush of light through an open door, a last bright smile,
and he found himself alone in the street.





CHAPTER XIII


When Hal entered the sitting-room and met Dudley's eyes she felt, as
she afterwards described it to Lorraine, that she was in for it.  Yet
it was not so very late, barely half-past nine.  On the table her
supper was still waiting for her.

"We've had a slight accident," she said, taking the bully by the horns;
"something went wrong with the steering gear, and it delayed us.  Have
you had supper?" noticing the table was still laid for two.

"I always have supper at eight on Sundays, because Mrs. White has to
clear it away herself, as you know.  Isn't Dick coming in?"

"No.  He's -" Hall stopped short, considering the advantages of
prevarication.

"I wanted to see him," testily.  "He said he would give me a particular
address to-night.  Why is he in such a hurry?"

"It wasn't Dick who brought me."

She took off her motor-bonnet and threw it on the sofa, running her
hands through her bright hair, and rubbing her cheeks, which were a
little cold.

"Not Dick?..."  Dudley looked up from his book peremptorily.  "Who did
bring you?"

Hal took her seat at the table.

"Well, you see, we had a slight accident.  We had just stopped to
examine the steering gear, when another car came round a curve and
crashed into us.  Dick's car was damaged, and..." she reached across
for the salad, and helped herself with as unconcerned an air as she
could muster...  "Oh!... onions!... how scrumptious!...  Mrs. White
always remembers my plebeian tastes, but not my patrician ones."

"Well!" he suggested coldly.  "Dick's car was damaged, and -"

"Dick had to stay and nurse it."

"Then dit you come home by train?"

"There was no train.  There was nothing else."

"Nothing else than what?"

"Nothing but the car that run into us, or going to an inn for the night
with Dick.  I was afraid you wouldn't like that," with a mischievous
gleam.

"My likes and dislikes are not, apparently, of the smallest moment to
you, or you would not have been motoring late on Sunday at all."

"Dick can't go other days."

"Who was in this other car?"

"A man."

Again he glanced up quickly.

"Any one else?"

"No.  His chauffeur is down with 'flu'."

"Was it some one you knew, then?"

"No.  He told me on the way in."

"Am I to gather that you returned to London alone, in a motor-car, with
a perfect stranger?"

"I'm afraid you are."

"Why didn't Dick come with you?  Surely if he takes you out for the day
he might at least see you safely home.  I never heard of such
proceedings in my life.  The man might have been a positive blackguard.
 Had you any idea who he was?"

"No, none; but what's the use of making a fuss!  It's all right now,
and I'm safely at home; which is surely better than being in some weird
village all night, and you wondering what on earth had become of me."

"That is not the question.  It's the whole circumstance from beginning
to end.  I consider Dick's behaviour most reprehensible."

"He couldn't leave his car alone there in the middle of a Kentish high
road.  He had to stay somewhere near."

"I think he should have considered you of more importance than the car.
 To let you return alone, at that hour, with a perfect stranger, is the
most unheard of proceeding.  I shall certainly tell Dick what I think
of him."

"It wasn't Dick's fault," loyally.  "I just took the matter into my own
hands and came.  Dick had nothing to do with it.  In fact, I insisted
upon his remaining behind."

"Oh, of course you would.  You only seem to be happy when you are
flying in the face of some convention or other.  But Dick is older than
you, and he knows my views on these matters.  He owed it to me to see
you safely home."

"But since I am safely home!..." obstinately.

"You very well might not have been.  What the stranger himself must
think of you I don't know.  Have you any idea who he was?"

"Yes.  Sir Edwin Crathie?"

"Sir Edwin Crathie!  Do you mean the Cabinet Minister?"

"So he said."

"And did you tell him who you were?"

Again there was a gleam under the lowered lashes.

"I did; but I can't say he either recognised our historie name or
seemed much impressed.  I really don't believe he had ever heard of me."

Dudley refused to smile.  Instead the frown deepened on his face.

"That is probably just as well.  Your actions of late cannot be said to
be entirely to your credit.  What is this tale about Thursday night?  I
met St. Quintin's father with Uncle Bruce this morning in the Park.
You told me Quin's aunt was going to chaperone you.  Did she or did she
not?"

"I told you Lady Bounce was going to chaperone me.  Lady Bounce _did_
chaperone me."

"Is Lady Bounce Quin's aunt?"

"That depends."  Hal pushed away her chair, wishing vaguely that
fathers and uncles would mind their own business.  Either incident
alone she could have coped with, but it was a distinct imposition to
expect her to manage both at once, and on Sunday night into the bargain.

"I can only presume you lent yourself to such a vulgar proceeding as
Quin dressing up as a woman and acting chaperone.  Is that the truth?"

"Not entirely.  You see, he wasn't an ordinary woman.  He went as his
aunt, Lady Phyllis Fenton.  His personification was a masterpiece."

Dudley began to pace the room.  His thin lips were compressed into a
straight line, and his whole air distincly worried.

"What you seem quite unable to perceive is the way in which these
incidents reflect upon your good taste and upon my guardianship."

Hal grew suddenly nettled.

"It is nonsense to talk of guardianship now.  I am twenty-five, and I
earn my own living.  I am perfectly well able to take care of myself."

"No; that is just what you are not.  You are so rash and inconsequent."

"Well, anyhow I get a good deal out of my life, while you -"

He remembered his own Thursday evening and intercepted:

"It is possible to get a great deal out of life without outraging every
convention.  Do you imagine either Ethel or Doris Hayward would do the
wild things you do?"

"Ethel Hayward is a brick.  She couldn't be straitlaced anyhow, nor
narrow-minded.  Doris would do anything under the sun that suited her
own ends."

She got up, and turned away without perceiving his frown, beginning to
gather up her paraphernalia.  He stopped short in his walk.

"If it really was Sir Edwin Crathie who brought you home, I must write
and thank him, I think."

"I shouldn't bother; probably it wasn't him at all; only some
third-rate actor."

Dudley tried to see her face, not sure if she was serious or not, but
she kept her head averted as she added:

"Quite possibly it was Lord Bounce."

"You are always treating a serious subject with levity," he complained.
 "What am I to think?  Do you or do you not believe your escort was Sir
Edwin Crathie?"

"Well, as he was awfully afraid I might be a militant suffragette, I
think he really was a Cabinet Minister."

"I hope you entirely undeceived him on that score," drily.

"Not at all.  I told him I was tingling to scratch him and bite him,"
and the ghost of a smile crossed her lips.

Dudley relapsed into silent displeasure, and for a few moments neither
spoke.  Then Hal, with her garments on her arm, came round to him with
a frank, affectionate air.

"Dudley, don't make mountains out of molehills over nothing.  I know I
am a little wild.  I can't help it - we seem to have got mixed up
somehow.  You've got all the decorum and nice, refined feelings of a
charming woman, and I've got the enterprise and 'don't-care' spirit of
a man.  It isn't any use fighting against facts.  You must take me as I
am, and make the best of it.  I can't change now; and I don't know that
I would if I could."

"I don't suppose you would.  You positively glory in the very traits
that I deplore"; but his voice sounded mollified.

"Oh well, old man, you wouldn't like me to be helpless, and foolish,
and woolly-lambified, would you?  It wouldn't be half so interesting.
Just fancy if you had a sister like Doris Hayward, can you imagine
anything tamer?"

He stiffened again, but she did not notice it.

"As for Thursday night, you never ought to have heard about it, and you
never would have done if Uncle Bruce had not been such an old telltale.
 Just wait till I get him alone; that's all.  Anyhow, he didn't think
it a heinous crime did he ?  I expect he gave a great laugh that
startled every one within hearing."

As that was exactly what had happened, Dudley made no comment.

"And Sir Edwin Crathie would only have thought me a fool if I had been
afraid to come back with him.  These things will happen occasionally.
They are not worth worrying about.  You are too anxious over trifles,
Dudley."  She moved away towards the door.  "Well, good-night, don't
forget to return thanks that anyhow I am not in a hospital, generally
smashed up."

She left him, and retired to bed, feeling a little depressed.  Of
course he had not forgiven her, nor would he see things from her point
of view.  She almost wished he did not mind; but all her life she had
had an affection that was almost adoration for her one brother, and it
always depressed her to displease him, however indifferent she might
seem.

She awoke next morning with the sense of depression still lingering,
and set off for the City in far from her usual spirits.  The office
seemed dingy and dull, and the routine wearisome.  It felt like ages
and ages since she had driven home through the darkness in Sir Edwin's
beautiful car.  She wondered if it was real at all; only what else
should make all the old friends at the office appear so uninteresting
and commonplace.

She speculated a little forlornly as to whether she would ever be
likely to see him again, and decided it was most unlikely, and that
probably he had already forgotten the whole incident.

And just when she had reached that point in her meditations, the
telephone boy came to tell her some one was asking for her.  She asked
him dispiritedly who it was, and he replied that the gentleman had
declined to give a name.

Hal shut herself into the case, took down the receiver, and, still
dispiritedly, asked: "Hullo!  Are you there?"

"Is that Miss Pritchard?" asked a voice that made her pulses hasten.

"Yes?  Who is that?"

"The mere worm," came back the cheery answer.

"What's the matter?  You sound somewhat funereal.  Was Brother Dudley
very angry?"

"Terrible.  I am still recovering.  He seemed to have grave doubts as
to whether you really were the eminent person you professed to be!"

"Oh, he did, did he?  And what did you say?"

"That it was quite possible you were only a third-rate actor all the
time."

"Thanks.  I shall not grow vain on your compliments.  Have you any
grave doubts yourself?"

"I don't mind either way."

"Thanks again.  Well, I am speaking to you from my own private sanctum
at the House of Commons; and if you want to make sure, you can take my
number, and ring up the Exchange and inquire."

"I'll take your word for it."

"Good girl.  You don't sound quite so obstreperous as you were last
night.  What's the matter?"

"I'm only Mondayfied.  The office is always boring on a Monday."

"I'm sorry I can't suggest a spin this afternoon, but I'm too much
engaged until Wednesday.  Will you come on Wednesday?  Well?" as Hal,
appeared to be meditating.

"Where do you propose going?" she asked.

"Anywhere you like.  I'd better not fetch you from the office though.
I'll pick you up just casually in St. Jame's Park.  Will you be there
at five, near the Archway?"

"All right, if I can get away.  How shall I let you know if I change my
mind?"

"Don't do anything so childish.  The run will do you good after a
stuffy office.  I'll be there to the minute.  Good-bye," and he rang
off without waiting for a reply.

Hal went back to her work, with a pleasurable sensation that instead of
grey stuffiness there was joyful sunshine.  She had never imagined for
a moment het would actually carry out his suggestion of a meetingt; and
here they were with an actual appointment.

It was so odd, too, that they had not properly seen each other yet;
only having met in the light of street lamps; and she fell to wondering
eagerly what he was like in broad daylight.  A voice whispered,
"Perhaps you won't like him at all, and will wish you had not gone";
but her love of adventure easily silenced it, and she looked forward to
her outing without any misgivings.

Once she thought she would go an tell Lorraine about it first, but
later decided it would be more enjoyable to to so afterwards, and kept
her own counsel; which perhaps was not entirely wise, seeing how much
more cause Lorraine had to know the world than she had.





CHAPTER XIV


Sir Edwin Crathie had come to the front very rapidly under the auspices
of the Liberal Government.  Without having any special worth, he was
sufficiently brilliant and unscrupulous to brush obstacles aside
without compunction, and assert himself in a manner that impressed his
hearers with the notion that he was very clever, very thorough, and
very reliable.

Those who knew him superficially believed him extra-ordinarily clever.
Those who knew him intimately sometimes shrugged their shoulders.  He
was possessed undoubtedly of a certain flashy sort of cleverness, but
some of his greatest skill existed in imposing it upon others as
strenght and insight.

As may be imagined, such a man was not much troubled with principles.
If a step was likely to help him forward with his ambitions, he took it
without considering the moral aspect.  If no help was likely to follow,
he only took it if it happened to please his fancy.  To say that he had
climbed by women was to put it mildly.

Many of his steps he had taken on women's hearts, trampling them
mercilessly in the process.  And since he was admittedly unscrupulous,
it was not surprising, for he was possessed not only of an attractive
appearance, but of great personal magnetism when he chose to exert it.

He was a bachelor because so far he had considered the single state
best forwarded his aims, but a growing and imperative need for money
was now causing him to look round among the richest heiresses for some
one to pay his debts in consideration of being made Lady Crathie.

In the meantime Hal's independent spirit and freshness suggested an
entertaining interlude; and as she attracted him more strongly than any
woman had done of late, he decided to follow up their chance friendship
just for the amusement of it.

In consequence, he felt quite boyishly eager for the hours to pass on
Wednesday, and when at last it was time to start, dismissed his
chauffeur with a curt sentence, and started off alone.  The chauffeur,
it may be mentioned, merely glanced after him, and with a shrug of his
shoulders wondered "what the master was up to now."

When Sir Edwin reached the meeting-place he was not particularly
surprised to find no signs of Hal.  He believed she would come; but
evidently she liked being perverse, and would purposely keep him
waiting.  He ran the car slowly back again, scanning each pedestrian
ahead with a certain anxious eagerness, wondering how he would like her
in broad daylight.

On returning to the Archway, and still finding no one waiting, he
alighted with a pretence of examining some part of the car, and looked
back over the paths leading down from Piccadilly.

And something in his mental regions felt rather foolishly glad when he
recognised her afar off.

He had never seen her walk, but his instinct told him Hal would move
with just the graceful, swinging stride of the tall, slim figure coming
towards him,  and carry her head and shoulders with just such a
dauntless, grenadier attitude.

He found himself standing quite still, with his hands deep in his
overcoat pockets, watching her.  Her costume, too, pleased his
fastidious taste.  Of course a first-class tailor had cut a coat and
skirt with a fit and hang like that; and the small hat, if it had
nothing Parisian about it, anyhow suited the wearer and dress to
perfection.

He noted with quiet pleasure that she showed no signs of embarrassment
when she met his watching gaze, merely crossing the road with the same
jaunty, upright walk, and a gleam of fun in her eyes.

"Hullo!" was her greeting.  "Hope I haven't kept you waiting.  I've had
a busy afternoon helping my chief to give you and The Right Honourable
Hayes Matheson a good slanging."

"Oh, you have, have you?"

The grey eyes were growing more and more approving, as he noted each
detail most likely to appeal to a man who had made a study of women for
many years.  The shapely little ears with the glossy hair curling round
them, the full, rounded throat, the determined little chin, the frank,
fearless eyes.

He still hardly knew whether she was pretty or not, but he discerned
wery quickly that she was amply blessed with that rare gift of
personality and humour that is so much more durable than a pretty face.

Hal, for her part, was no less interested in him, but she found little
else than that she had already seen: humorous, quizzical grey eyes, a
face a good deal lined, and a mouth and chin suggesting a nature fond
of enjoyment and self-indulgence, which it had never seen any cause to
deny itself.  She saw that he was very grey about the temples, and a
trifle inclined to stoutness, but tall enough and broad enough to carry
it off.

A fine figure of a man, though one, she felt instinctively, belonging
to a very different world to hers.  Because she felt his careful
scrutiny, and because she wanted to assert her indifference to it, she
remarked suddenly, after a moment:

"Well, how do you like me by daylight?"

"How do you like me?" he retorted, and laughed.

She shook her head, and her eyes grew mischievous.

"Old," she said; "quite old and grey."

"Old be damned!  Forty-eight is the prime of life."

She was taking her seat, and gave a low chuckle of enjoyment at having
drawn him.

"Ah, you may laugh now," he said, "but I'll soon show you forty-eight
is far more attractive than twenty-eight.  Where shall we go?"

"I don't mind in the least, but I should prefer to steer for tea and
buns."

"Tea and buns!... how like a woman!...  How can you expect to get the
vote on tea and buns?"

They were spinning along the Broughton Road now, heading for Putney and
Richmond, and Hal felt her spirits rising momentarily with the joy of
the motion and comfort and fresh air.

"We don't expect to get in on tea and buns; we expect to get it on
whisky and beer.  That is to say, we expect the course of events to
prove that tea and buns conduce to a frame of mind better able to cope
with the questions of the day than the whisky and beer drained in such
quantities by men."

"And when you've got it you'll all vote for the man who happens to be
good-looking, and who can pay you the prettiest compliments."

"A few will vote that way, no doubt, but not the majority.  Women are
not so fond of pretty men as they were"; and her lips curled
significantly.

"Pretty men!..." he echoed, with enjoyment.

"Little woman, you have a neat way of putting things."

He was silent a few minutes, then added:

"I suppose, down at that office they are all in love with you?"

"I don't know.  I haven't asked them," with twinkling eyes.  "I'm a bit
in love with the chief myself."

"Oh, your are, are you?  And what aged man might he be?"

"Oh, he's quite old," she laughed; "somewhere about forty-eight."

"And is he in love with you?"

"It just depends.  Sometimes he's rather fond of me on a Saturday; but
on Mondays he loathes me."

"I see.  And are you as changeable?"

"No, I love him always; but on Mondays it's mostly from habit.  On
Saturdays it's from choice."

He looked down at her, and it was on the tip of his tongue to state
some commonplace about being jealous.  Then suddenly he looked back to
his steering wheel, and the commonplace sentence died unspoken.  Quite
unaccountably he felt less inclined to flirt and more inclined to be
really friendly, and for some distance they skimmed along in silence.

They had tea at the Star and Garter, both chatting volubly on the most
interesting topics of the day.  Hal's newspaper work had made her
cognisant of many subjects very few girls of her age would even have
heard of, and her original criticisms delighted him.  It was a gay
little tea-table, and the time slipped by with extraordinary rapidity.
Hal noticed it first.

"Do you know it is half-past six?" she said, "and I'm dining out
to-night.  We must fly."

"Is it really past six?..." in astonishment.  "How the time has flown!
You know, you are such an entertaining little woman, you make me forget
everything but yourself."  He looked at her hard, and the force of
habit caused him to add: "I doubt if any other woman I know to-day
could have given me so much pleasure."

"Well, you needn't thank me," with her low, fresh laugh, "because I
came entirely to give myself pleasure."

"Then I hope you have succeeded.  I see it is quite hopeless to expect
any sort of a complimentary speech from you."

"Quite; though I don't mind admitting I have been very enjoyably
entertained as well."

"That is something, anyhow.  And now I suppose you are going straight
off home to dress, and dine with some one else, and forget about me?"

"I don't suppose I shall forget you.  It happens to be a journalist
dinner, and probably we shall tear you to pieces between us before we
have finished."

"Well, I'd rather you did that than forget me."

She felt him looking hard into her face, with something a little
sinister in his expression, and she got up and turned away.

"Why do you turn away when I am interested?  Don't you think you might
be a little pleased that I don't want you to forget me?"

He asked the question with a humorous twinkle, though she felt that he
meant it seriously as well.  This last, however, she was clever enough
to ignore, and merely threw him a mischievous glance over her shoulder
as she answered:

"Well, I have to consider Brother Dudley's attitude, you see; and I've
a notion he would be best pleased for both the incident and motorist of
Sunday evening to be forgotten."

He got up slowly, looking amused.

"I suppose he would be horrified at this outing?"

"I strongly suspect he would."

"What if he hears you were out motoring at Richmond with me?"

"Oh, well, I shall tell him you are old enough to be my father, and not
to be absurd."

"Why do you harp on my age so?...  If I am old enough to be your
father, it doesn't follow that I'm too old to be your lover?"

He was standing clos to her now, looking down into her face, and Hal
felt a little conscious tremor run through her blood.  She faced him
squarely, however, and answered in a gay, careless voice:

"Of course it doesn't, only, as I don't happen to want a lover, it's a
contingency not worth considering."

"Perhaps the post is already filled?"  he suggested, refusing likewise
to be daunted.

"Quite filled.  It's a case for a placard stating 'House Full', and
you," she finished, "would naturally be at the tail end of the queue
which has to go away."

He laughed with relish, and gave it up.

"I can see you will take some taming," he said, as he handed her into
the car.  "My weighty and important position evidently does not impress
you in the least."

"Of course not, as you're a Liberal.  They have so few really good men,
they have to take anything they can get.  Back up the  Budget and the
Chancellor, and exhibit a colossal amount of impudence, and there you
are!"

"Well, there isn't much to boast of in the way of men on the
Conservative side, is there?  Chiefly a collection of cousins, and
second-cousins, and cousins by marriage, shoved in by a few interfering
old aunts.  You don't need me to tell an enlightened young woman like
you that even impudence might serve the country better than
cousin-ship."

"I wonder sometimes if any of you honestly put the country first at any
time; or whether it is just a popular name for a very big 'me'?"

"You are such a little sceptic.  Do you always credit people with
self-interested motives?"

"I don't know that I do; but if you are a city-worker it is a fairly
safe basis to work upon, until you can find proof that you are wrong."

He looked down at her with amusement.

"What a wise little head it is!  Do you know, I don't think I ever met
any one quite like you before,"

"What you have missed!" was the gay rejoinder, and they both laughed.

"I suppose I mustn't take you home?" as they neared Piccadilly.
"Brother Dudley might see us?"

"No, thanks.  If you will drop me at Hyde Park Corner I will take a
homely bus, and return to my Bloomsbury level."

"Until my next free afternoon, I hope.  Will you come again soon?"

"Perhaps."

"What do you do on Sundays?"

"I generally go out with Dick Bruce."

"Does Dick Bruce consider himself entitled to every Sunday?"

"Well, I consider myself entitled to Dick!..." laughing.

"You're evidently very fond of Dick."

"Very," with enthousiasm.  "I have been for twenty-five years.  We were
like the two babies in _Punch_ which said, 'Help yourself and pass the
bottle.'"

"Dick's a lucky devil.  Does he take Saturday afternoons as well?"

"No; he plays cricket or hockey then."

"Then may I have a Saturday afternoon?"

"It would be jolly;" and a swift gleam in her eyes told him she meant
it.

""Very well.  I shall consider that a promise.  The first Saturday I
can arrange, we'll run down to some little place on the coast, and get
some sea air.  And if you feel inclined to write me a letter between
now and then, send it to York Chambers, Jermyn Street."

He pulled up, and instantly she exclaimed in haste:

"Oh, there's my bus.  Good-bye, thanks awfully; I must fly"; and before
he could get in another word, he saw her clambering on to a
motor-omnibus, with the utmost unconcern for his sudden, astonished
solitarness.

"Gad!...  what a woman she'll be one day," was his comment.  "If she'd
a hundred thousand pounds I wouldn't mind marrying her myself; she'd
never let a chap get bored.  I'll warrant,"  He moved slowly down
Piccadilly.  "Most of them do," he cogitated; "it doesn't seem as if
there were one woman in a thousand who didn't soon become a bore.
Heigh-ho, but debts are more boring still sometimes, and I want a
fifty-thousand cheque badly."





CHAPTER XV


When Hal went to tell Lorraine of her adventure she found her a victim
of the prevailing malady, kept indoors two days with influenza.  She
was not in bed, but lying on a sofa, by a small fire, looking very
frail and ill.  Hal did not say much, as Lorraine disliked fussing, but
her heart smote her to think she had been absent two days while her
friend was a prisoner.

"Why didn't you tell Jean to 'phone me?" she asked.  "I would have got
here somehow."

Instead of answering, Lorraine nestled down into her cushions, and said:

"It's dreadful nice to see you, chummy."

Hal drew up a footstool, and sat down with her head against the sofa.

"What does the court physician say, Lorry?  Of course he is generally
fathering and brothering and mothering you as well as doctoring?"

"Yes; he is taking care of me in a sort of all-round, comprehensive
fashion.  I don't know what I should do without him."

"Do! ... "with a little laugh.  "Why, just have another court physician
instead."  Hal's eyes strayed round the room.  "What loverly flowers,
Lorraine!  Don't they almost make you feel a corpse?"

"They would if they were white, I dare say."

On a little table by the sofa was a bowl of violets, looking very sweet
and homely amoung the beautiful exotics filling all the other vases.
Hal buried her nose in them.

"How delicious!  Who ventured to send you royal highness anything so
homely as violets?"

Lorraine's eyes rested on them with a look of tenderness.  "Some one
not very well off," she said, "who had the perspicacity to know I
should value them from him more than the choicest blooms."

"It sounds as if it might have been Dick.  Was it?"

"No."

Lorraine replied in a careless tone, suggesting there was no special
interest attached to the giver, but, for some unknown reason, Hal chose
to be inquisitive.

"The Three Graces are your only 'hard-up' friends, and Quin is down
east, so he would not know you were ill.    Surely Baby didn't think it
at all out by himself, and actually go into a shop and buy them?"

"You shouldn't call Mr. Hermon Baby, Hal; it isn't quite fair."

"Oh, yes it is, as long as he is so objectless and purposeless.
Besides, his face is to cherubic I can't help it."

"I call his face very manly."

"Well, so it is - in a way: but it's cherubic also; and then he's so
dreadfully placid.  If he'd only wake up, and boil over about
something."

She was silent a few moments, and then said suddenly;

"Do you know Sir Edwin Crathie, Lorraine?"

"No; why?  I now of him."

"What do you know of him?"

"Oh, nothing much.  I believe he is a great lady's man."

"I've met him," said Hal; and she proceeded to tell of the motor mishap
and subsequent meeting.

Lorraine was interested and amused, but for some strange reason Hal did
not tell the tale with her usual gusto, and nothing in her voice or
manner suggested it was more than the most casual of meetings.
Lorraine, a little preoccupied with her own feelings, for a wonder did
not discern that Hal treated the incident with a lightness not quite
natural, considering how exceedingly unlooked-for it was, and before
the recital was quite finished Jean looked in to inquire if Lorraine
would see Mr. Hermon.  Lorraine replied in the affirmative, and a
moment later Alymer Hermon entered the room.

"I'm so sorry you are not well," he said, in his frank, pleasant way.
"I only heard of it last night."

"And then you sent me violets.  It was nice of you.  I appreciate them
so much."

"I guessed Dick," put in Hal, who had not risen from her stool. "I did
not think you would have the energy to think of them."

"I have been feeling rather exhausted since," he told her lightly.

"Take the arm chair," said Lorraine smilingly, "and have a good rest."

"Do," echoed Hal.  "I'm sure you are tired out with your day's work."

"Don't be so superior," he retorted.  "Just because you can type a
certain number of words per minute, you give yourself such airs."

"Well, that's a better reason than the fact of being a few inches
longer than most people."

"Now you two," put in Lorraine, "don't start quarrelling in such a
hurry.  Try and be nice and polite to each other for a few minutes."

"Baby doesn't like me when I'm polite," said Hal.

"I've never had a chance to judge."

"Liar.  What about the first time we met?"

"I thought you were rather nice in those days.  Your offensive attitude
is only of comparatively recent date."

"Oh, don't sit there like a stodgy old book-worm, reeling off nicely
rounded sentences."

"I hope it might impress you with the incongruity of addressing me as
an infant."

Hal looked up from her lowly seat with a mischievous, engaging
expression.

"You know you really are rather clever in a useless sort of fashion,"
she informed him.

"Thank you," making a bow.

"Can't you tell him how to be clever in a useful sort of fashion, with
all your practical experience?" suggested Lorraine.

"Oh, I _could_; but what's the use? he doesn't want to know.  It would
mean hard work."

"Give him the benefit of a suggestion, anyhow."

"Well, other briefless barristers peg away at journalism, and political
agency work, and coaching, and studying.  Baby just sits down and looks
nice, as if he thought the briefs would come fluttering round him like
all the silly, pink-cheeked, wide-eyed girls.  You ought to have seen
our little maid the night he dined with us.  When she first saw him she
seemed to mutter 'O my' in a breathless fashion, and when she handed
him his plate, she spilt all the gravy on to his knee, gazing into his
face."

Hermon looked a little annoyed.  "Very few people can talk absolute rot
in a clever way," he aimed at her.

Hal laughed.

"Why, that drew you, Baby!  You look quite ruffled.  I was only pulling
your leg: the pink-cheeked girls don't really flutter round, they run
away in terror at your scowl.  You know he can scowl, Lorraine.  At
least it isn't exactly a scowl; it'smore a cast-iron solemnity of such
degree that it has a Medusa-like effect and freezes the poor little
peach-blossom girls into putty images."

"I'm sure Mr. Hermon never gives his personal appearance a thought,"
Lorraine replied, "except when you insist upon harping on it."

"I can't help it.  I feel he's hemmed in with such a sticky, treacly,
simpering amount of youthful adoration generally, that I simply have to
rag him for his good!"

"It's very kind of you to be so interested in my welfare" - a twinkle
gleamed suddenly in his blue eyes -  "I certainly like your way of
adoring the best."

"Ah" - with an answering twinkle - "I didn't think you had guessed my
secret.  How embarrassing of you!  You have positively driven me away."
 She rose to her feet.  "I must go, Lorry.  I can't sit out any more.
He has discovered that I adore him."

"You both seem rather imbecile to-night," Lorraine commented; "but
surely it needn't drive you away, Hal."

"I must go all the same.  We have visitors coming.  I shall run in
again to-morrow.  Be sure and 'phone me if there is anything I can do
for you."  She kissed Lorraine, and turned to Hermon.  "Good-bye.
Don't display all your best allurements to Lorraine this evening,
because she isn't strong enough for it.  Remember my unhappy plight,
and let one victim satisfy you for the present."

"What about your victims?" he asked.  "Dick is kicking the toes of his
boots thin because he saw you yesterday with Sir Edwin Crathie."

Hal coloured up, much to her own disgust, and greatly to Hermon's
enjoyment, who immediately followed up his advantage with:

"I suppose we shall all have to cry small now, because of the right
honourable gentleman."

"It will be a puzzler for you to cry small," was her rather feeble
retort, as she passed out.

Hermon came back and reseated himself in the big arm chair.

"May I stay?" he asked, and Lorraine answered:

"Yes, do," in the frank spirit she had told herself must be her
attitude towards him.

So he sat on with an air of content, seeming to fill some place in the
pretty room by right of an old comradeship, or some blood-tie, or a
mutual understanding - an intangible, indefinable attitude that had
sprung into being between them of itself.

Lorraine did not talk much, because she was tired, but she let the
goodly sight of him, and the quiet rest of him, lull and soothe her
senses for the passing moment without any disturbing questioning.
Hermon likewise did not question.  He liked being there, and she seemed
willing for him to stay, and it seemed enough.

Once or twice lately he was conscious that he had been rather foolish
with different admiring friends of the fair sex; and though he was no
prig, and knew most men took kisses and caressess when offered, and
would have thought it a needless throwing away of good things to
refuse, he yet felt a little irritated with himself and the givers
without quite knowing why.

And there was another trying incident over a girl he had met at various
country-houses the previous summer, and greatly enjoyed a flirtation
with.  Unfortunately, she appeared not to have understood it in the
light of a flirtation; and now she was writing him miserable,
reproachful love-letters which had at any rate succeeded in making him
wish he had been more circumspect.  It soothed his ruffled feelings to
be with Lorraine; and it flattered his vanity to feel that she liked
him there.

They had been sitting quietly some little time when the front-door bell
announced another caller, and Jean came to inquire if her mistress
would see Lord Denton.  Lorraine half unconsciously glanced at Hermon,
and seeing an expression of disappointment on his face, said quietly.
"Ask him to come to-morrow, Jean.  I am very tired to-night."

Jean went away, and presently returned with a loverly bouquet of
malmaisons, and three or four new books.  "His lordship will call about
twelve," she said: "and he hopes, if you feel able to go out, you will
let him take you in his motor."  Then she went out, leaving them alone
again.

In the pause that followed, Lorraine lay silently watching him for some
minutes, wondering what was passing  in his mind.  Although it was only
September still, the evenings were drawing in quickly, and there was
little light in the room except the flickering glow of cheerful flames
on the hearth.  They caught the glint of his hair and shone on his
face, throwing the delicate, aristocratic features with cameo-like
dinstinctness on the black shadow beyond.

Lorraine looked again, with the eyes of a connoisseur, and she knew
that in very truth no merely handsome face and form were here, but a
nature and character corresponding to the outward beauty of line and
lineament.  She wondered once more as she lay there what it must be to
have borne such a son; and a surging, aching, tearing pain filled her
heart for the longing to have known from experience.  She felt she
could have been a saint among women for very joy, and an ideal
companion, as well as a mother to such as he.

And instead? -

Well, there were murky corners in the background for her as well as her
mother, but never from actual seeking.  When necessity had not driven
her, loneliness had, and the gnawing ache of a fine, fearless soul to
grasp some satisfaction from the sorry scheme of things.  And always
the satisfaction had passed so quickly... so quickly, driving the
starved soul back on itself again, with a little extra weight added to
its burden of bitter knowledge.

Was there then no counterpart for her - no twin soul - no strong, true
comrade, to say "You and I" when sorrow and disillusion came, and so
rob pain of its deepest sting?

Then, as if he felt her scrutiny, he turned his face to her slowly, and
looked into her eyes.

"You know you are looking rather bad," he said a little awkwardly and
shyly.  "I'm awfully sorry.  I hope you are taking care of yourself."

"I don't suppose I should worry much if left to myself," she told him,
with a touch of lightness; "but a very stern physician, and a most
resolute maid, insist upon giving me every possible attention."

"It doesn't tire you... my being here?..."

"No; I like it."

"I wonder why?"

"Do you always want to know the why of things?"

"I'm afraid I don't as a rule bother much, but this is a little
amazing, isn't it?"

"I don't see why you should think so."

He studied the fire again.

"Only that you are at the top of the ladder, and I am at the bottom."

"I was once there too."

"And did it seem  as if it would be impossible ever to reach the top?"

"Yes, often.  I don't think anything but resolute, iron determination
ever takes any one up.  Influence helps a good many up the lower rungs,
and saves them a lot of the drudgery, but it cannot do much else, and
unless one is full of grit and purpose at heart, one sticks there."

"Still, it must be a great help to be pulled through the drudgery."

"It may mean a good deal of loss also."

"How?"

"I don't suppose success that is won through favour means half so much
to the winner as success that is wrenched from Fate by one's own
resolute hands.  The only thing is, one wonders so often afterwards if
it has been worth while.""
"Do you wonder that?"

"Ah!... don't I?"

He said nothing, and she went on:

"All the same, I imagine I had to succeed or die.  I was built that
way.  Nothing less than success would have satisfied me.  I often crave
for quiet, restful happiness now, but if it had been offered then I
should have passed it by and struggled blindly for fame.  Still, it is
hard to think how easily one can take a false step, and suffer for it
till the end."

"Did you do that?"

He turned his eyes to her again, and she saw as sympathy in them that
was deeper than any feeling he had shown her yet.

"Yes.  I was in a very tight corner, and I took a short cut out.  I
married for money and influence.  The step brought me all I
anticipated, but it brought other things as well, that I had chosen not
to remember: nausea, ennui, self-disgust, loneliness, emptiness.  I
think I should never have won through without Hal."

"And is your husband living?"

"Yes.  In America.  We have not troubled each other for a long time.  I
suppose I am fortunate in being left alone."  She was silent a few
minutes, and then she told him kindly: "Hal says they always chaff you
about marrying an heiress, for the sake of being rich without any need
to work; but take my advice, and don't force the hand of Fate before
she has had time to give you good things in her own time."

He turned to her with a very engaging smile as he answered:

"They chaff me about a good many things, but most of them are a little
wide of the mark.  I haven't any leaning at present towards a paid post
as husband."

"I'm glad; but I didn't for a moment suppose you had seriously.  I
wonder what you have a leaning towards?" she added.

"I should like to succeed."  He sat forward suddenly and leaned his
chin on his hands, resting his elbows on his knees, and stared hard at
the flames.  "I care a great deal more about succeeding really than any
one believes; but I'm afraid I'm not cut out for it."

"I should like to help you," she said simply.

"You are very good," he answered, still looking hard into the fire.

Lorraine got up and moved slowly about the room, touching a flower
here, and a flower there, and rearranging them with deft fingers.  She
turned on an electric light with a soft shade, and glanced at the books
Flip Denton had brought her.

Hermon sat back in his chair and watched her.  He thought he had never
seen her lovelier than she looked in the homely simplicity of a
graceful tea-gown, and her thick black hair coiled in a large loose
knot low  on her neck.  It gave her an absurdly youthful air, that
somehow seemed far removed from the brilliant star as he knew her on
the stage.

Then she came towards him, and stood beside him, resting one foot on
the fender and one hand on the mantelpiece; and he saw, with swift
seeing, the shapeliness of the long, thin fingers and the graceful,
rounded arm.

"You are thoughtful, _mon ami_," she said, with a soft lightness.
"Tell me what you are thinking of."

"I don't know.  I don't think I am thinking at all.  I feel rather as
if I were sunning myself in your smiles, like a cat."

"You like being here, like this?"

"I love it."

"Then come often.  Why not?"

"I shall bore you."

"I think not.  It is pleasant to me also to have some one keeping me
company in such a natural, homely way.  You see, I am very much alone.
I have no women friends except Hal, who is nearly always engaged; and
there are not many men one can invite to come and sit by one's
fireside.  You seem to come so naturally and simply.  It is clever of
you.  Very few men could.  It is difficult to believe you are only
twenty-four."

"I fancy years often do not go for very much.  I have travelled about
alone a great deal.  Anyhow, you are just as young for thirty-two as I
am old for twenty-four."

"Hal has helped to keep me young.  She restores me like some patent
elixir.  I suppose I love her more than any one in the world."

"I'm not surprised," he answered.  "A good many people love Hal.  Dick
and Quin just dote on her."

She looked at him keenly a moment.

"I am spared wasting my affection," he added, "by her obvious contempt
for me."

"She doesn't mean any of it.  She only wants to rouse you."

"Still, she succeeds in making me feel rather a worm."

Lorraine made no comment, but she could not resist a little inward
smile at the thought of any one making such a man feel a worm.  She
realised there might be no harm in the leavening influence.

The clock struck seven, and he gave a start, rising quickly to his feet
beside her.  Lorraine was a little under medium height if anything, and
as they stood together he seemed to tower above her like some splendid
prehistoric human, while she appeared as some exquisite miniature, or
frail and perfect piece of Dresden china.

And again it seemed  as if his physical beauty acted upon her with some
irresistible magnetism, flowing round her and over her and through her,
till she was enveloped and obsessed by him.

His age was nothing, years are mere detail; she felt only that he was a
splendid creature, and everything in her gloried in it.  She rested her
hand lightly on his arm.

"How big you are.  You almost overpower me."

He smiled down at her, but it was just a quiet, friendly smile, and she
could not tell if her touch stirred him.

"I'm afraid I am rather a monster.  It is sometimes a nuisance."

"Ah, don't say that.  I am quite sure the first Adam was as big as you,
and Eve was frightened and ran away, but she wouldn't for the world
have had him an inch smaller.  And every true Eve since has gloried in
the man who towered above her, and was a little terrifying in his
strenght.  Don't let them spoil you," she added with a note of
wistfulness, "all the Eves who must needs follow with or without  your
bidding."

"I imagine Hal will counteract much of that; and the feeling, when I am
with you, that I am just a great, brainless, useless animal."

"No; you are not that; and you are quite extraordinarily unspoilt as
yet.  Come and see me again soon, when you've nothing better to do."

"How soon?"

He was looking hard into her face now, almost as if he were only just
fully realising her beauty, and she flushed a little as she met his
ardent eyes and answered:

"As soon as you like."

"Friday is my first free evening."

"The come and dine here quietly.  I shall not act this week at all.  I
shall run down to the sea from Saturday to Monday."

She had intended to go on Friday afternoon, but with his nearness all
Flip Denton's sage advice vanished from her mind, and instead of
running away as he urged, she went a step nearer to the temptation.

When he had gone she sat down in the arm chair he had used, and stared
hard at the fire.  Jean came in to urge her to go to bed, but she only
said:

"No; I like this room and the fire.  Bring me the fish, or whatever it
is, here.  I will go to bed about half-past eight if you like, but not
before."

So she sat on, and in her heart she saw still the fine face, with its
unspoiled freshness, and felt his presence still filling the room.

It would seem Fate had brought her and Hal together into the arena of
new happenings and new feelings, for amont the crowded houses of
Bloomsbury, in a little high-up bedroo near the sky, Hal sat on the
edge of her bed leisurely brushing her long, bright hair, and pondering
a telephone message that had asked her to go for a motor ride the
following Saturday.

"It means putting Amy off," was her final cogitation, "but I think I'll
go.  It wil be such fun, and I'm rather sick of work."

So, in spite of strong wills and common-sense warning, we still, as
ever, let our footsteps follow the alluring paths, and go boldly forth
to meet a joy, ever careless of the following sorrow that may accompany
it, until the hour of shunning is past.





CHAPTER XVI


The following Friday afternoon Lorraine went out with Flip Denton in
his motor, and among his first questions was:

"Well, how is the foolish falling in love progressing?"

"It is stationary.  I've got another friend I want to keep, Flip;
another friend like you."

"Ah, I can't pass that.  You were never even remotely in sight of
falling in love with me.  And you know what Kipling says: 'Love's like
line-work; you can't stand still, you must go backward or forward.'
You don't propose to take my advice and run away from it?"

"Not before I am sure there is danger, anyhow."

They were silent some moments, then she asked him:

"Do men ever run away, Flip?...  My experience has been that the
average man always has a good try to get what he wants, without much
consideration for outside things, or for youth, or for harm."

"That's because beautiful women necessarily come up against the worst
in men.  It is their fate: one of the balancing conditions perhaps to
make things more even with the less-favoured women."

"I suppose great beauty generally undoes a woman.  Is it the same with
men too?  It seems a pity when Nature produces anything beautiful she
should not guard it better - beautiful flowers, beautiful birds,
beautiful creatures all ravished the quickest; while the little,
comfortable daisies, and sparrows, and homely people go serenely on
unharmed."

He did not reply, and they sped along in the understanding silence they
were both so fond of.

Denton was thinking, as a man may, of various pretty faces that had
been the undoing of their owners, and wondering a little dimly and
confusedly about the paradoxical contrariness of Nature, who gives a
man his strongest desires nearly always towards forbidden ends.  Why
create a beautiful thing, and then create a longing for it, and then
probably descend in wrath upon both heads which did but follow the bent
she herself had given them?

Lorraine was wondering a little bitterly why a man may taste forbidden
fruit again and again and go unpunished; and why a woman, so often set
amid sterner temptations, was yet left so strangely unprotected: the
one so quickly able to put an incident aside, and seek fresh fields for
conquest; the other so terribly liable to be branded for life in that
same incident.

It made a bitterness surge up in her soul for her own unprotected
girlhood and struggling youth; and for all they had brought her to
learn of the tree of knowledge.  No doubt she had been callous enough
about it at the time; eager only to dare, and triumph, and achieve; but
how should it have been otherwise, since no kindly guiding hand had
told her she was wasting her powers and her substance to achieve an end
that would never satisfy her soul?

Did she even know she had a soul that would presently crave a
satisfaction found only among the higher and better things, and turn
away with infinite scorn from the petty triumphs of an hour or a day?

Well, she had fought her fight with the rest, and triumphed greatly in
the world's eyes; and now she must abide by the path she had chosen,
and glean the best satisfaction she could out of it.

And yet -

Later in the afternoon, when she sat drinking a lonely cup of tea by a
lonely fireside, the questioning, probing mood returned again; the
significant "and yet" still left the last conclusion without any
finality.  Looking backward, a sense of resentment seemed to creep over
her; a combative desire to get even with Fate about many things while
there was time nd opportunity.

She remembered particularly the first man who had tried to lead her
astray.  He had been considerably more than twice her age, a hardened
sinner without any compunction, with a devilish cunning at breaking
down defences without any seeming over-persuasion, and at whitewashing
his actions into passionate devotion to youngn inexperienced years.
She remembered how she had struggled to resist him.  It was good to
remember now that she had not been his victim.

And yet, what of it, while such men could triumph again and again and
go seemingly unpunished, and young, eager, ambitious souls were often
so pitifully stranded at the beginning of a career?

Men of his age and his character usually did triumph.  How often had
she seen it since!  The first wrong step not a generous-hearted,
hot-headed youth; but a hardened sinner who had wearied of other
hardened sinners and turned his evil designs to youth and freshness,
hoping perchance to be rejuvenated thereby.

And Nature stood by with folded hands, and saw her fairest creations
soiled and ravished before they had reached maturity, without
apparently the smallest compunction.

Her first wrong step had been her marriage, and though it had given her
a good deal in the beginning, in the end how it had robbed her!... ah!
how it had robbed her of those things that could never be won back.

And now, by an unlooked-for turn of events, she found herself among the
world-wearied ones, asking for the divine freshness of youth.  If she
chose to make him love her she believed she could.

And yet? -

She stood beside the window and leaned her haid against the framework,
gazing at the river.  It was gliding smoothly along now, beautified and
glorified by the reflected light of a setting sun.  How light
transfigured!

The murky, muddy, sullen Thames, so often going with its countless
burdens, as one enslaved unwillingly to the needs of commerce, now
flashing, shining, silver waters hastening joyfully out to sea.  She
felt that often and often her life had been as the shadowed, murky
waters, enslaved unwillingly by bonds that circumstances had created.

She thought how his life, the life of this man who was beginning to
fill her soul, was still like the joyous, shining, waters reflecting
sunlight.  Was it possible she wanted to bring the shadows and dim its
silver radiance for her own gratifications?

And even so, was it in any case likely to go undimmed much longer?  The
shadows were certain enough to come, if not through her, perhaps
through some one with less soul, and less fineness of aim, who would do
him far greater harm.  Her love for him was not, at least, entirely
selfish.

She knew that she cared very much for his future.  She cared very much
that life should give him a chance to fulfill the best of his promise.

And if the chance came by shadows, well, across the river of a man's
life they flitted lightly enough as a rule, chasing each other away,
and leaving the waters still flowing joyfully.  It was only for a
woman, apparently, the shadows left a stain that even the sunlight
could not chase away.

It would seem woman was made a helpmeet for man in many ways beside
that of keeping his home and bearing his children.  How often dit he
owe his best development and best achievements to her, absorbing light
from her in some mysterious ordering, and soaring away afterwards while
she was left among the shadows.

Yet, by some equally mysterious compensation, a woman was often so
fashioned that if she could feel the upward flight was won through her,
she might rest statisfied even though him she loved had soared away.
It was the mother-love blending strangely with the wife-love; the
protecting, inspiring, unselfish, mothering instinct, lying in the soul
of every true-hearted woman.

Standing gazing at the flashing river, Lorraine, in the midst of her
probing, knew that it was his ultimate success and good she wanted, as
well as his freshness to sweeten her own life.

And yet? -

What if she brought a shadow where there would otherwise have been no
shadow, dimmed a brightness that, without her, had gone undimmed?  She
knew he was not weak naturally.  He did not need any strengthening;
only impetus, ambition, aim, and some safeguarding by the way.

She smiled a little drearily at the recollection that it was from her,
herself, that probably his own people would think he needed
safeguarding.  She could foresee that they would likely enough hurl
themselves between him and her, oblivious that by doing so they might
very possibly be the cause of driving him to far worse.  But that, of
course, no one could help; as how should they know the fine shades
between the women who lived outside the conventions?

But then again, they need not know that the great friendship existed -
why should they?  After all, few would credit the celebrated, beautiful
actress with anything beyond a passing fancy for the youthful,
briefless barrister.

And yet? -

Across every fresh pathway she turned her thoughts along, was still
that arresting, intangible, "and yet".

The pity of it!  At least he was strong, and true, and unspoilt now.
Why not give life a chance to leave him so?

Why not give Fate a chance to endow him quickly with the rich, blessed
love that kept a man walking straight and strong along his steadfast
way?

But again the thought came back of what he would lose, what he must
inevitably lose, if he missed the storm and stress and struggle that
are as the mill and furnace through wich the gold is refined, and
hardened, and separated from the dross.

She went back to the fireside feeling that her probing had brought her
nowhither, and that she was only very tired and very depressed.

Then she went slowly  away to dress, and chose, somewhat to Jean's
surprise, one of the simplest evening frocks she possessed.  Jean,
knowing the tall, beautiful new friend was coming to dinner, had laid
out an elaborate dinner-dress, and arranged the jewel cases for
selection.

"Put them away at once," was all her mistress said, with one sweeping
glance round.  "I shall wear that little blue Liberty gown and a single
row of pearls."

When Alymer came he found her already seated by the fire, engaged with
some knitting.

"How nice and homely," he said.  "I never associated you with anything
so commonplace as sewing."

"I'm afraid I can't sew very well," with a little smile.  "I can knit
this, and that is about all."

"Are you better?" and he scanned her face critically, in an
old-fashioned way that gave her secret yoy.

"Yes, sir, thnak you," with a low laugh.

He laughed too, and took up his stand on the hearthrug, with his hands
behind his back, in a natural, quite-at-home way, that seemed to come
easily to him.

"How jolly it is to see a fire.  My mater always seems afraid of
beginning too soon.  I think she has a sort of feeling that if winter
sees fires started he will hurry."

"I never leave them off.  My fire is one of my staunchest companions.
An empty grate always depresses me,  because if it is sunny and hot I
want to be out-of-doors, and if it is not, I want my fire.  Let us go
to dinner, then we can get back and purr over it to our hearts'
content."

Because it pleased her to make him an honoured guest, Lorraine had been
at considerable pains in ordering her dinner, and she was gratified to
observe that it was not wasted on him.

Certainly, among other things at Oxford he had learnt to know a good
dinner and good wine, and enjoy them as a connoisseur.  It amused her
also to observe that the old-fashioned air with which he had inquired a
little masterfully after her health, grew upon him as the evening
progressed.

She thought he must be a little bit of a tyrant to his mother, and any
one he was specially fond of.  Not dictatorially so, but with a
humorous, half-satirical insistence that was very engaging.

When the sat over the fire together, later, she found herself telling
him many things about her early struggles, and first successes, not in
the least in a "talking down" attitude, but as to a very sympathetic
companion of her own age.

It was evident he was truly interested, and this made him a charming
listener.  And he told her yet further of his own hopes, and
disappointments, and discouragements.  Several times since he took his
degree, one friend or another had held out hopeful expectations of
being able to put him  on to this case of that, which might bring a
brief.  And always the hope had failed, and the promise ended in smoke.

She gave him sympathy in her turn, and said she would not raise his
expectations unkindly, but she believed she could really help him to
get a start.  She would speak to Lord Denton about it.  He was always
ready to do a little thing like that for her.

"He is one of those dear people," she told him, "who seem to try to
make up for their own incorrigible laziness by going out of their way
to put some one else in the way of a start."

She saw the colour deepen in his face, and a subdued light shine in his
eyes, as he thanked her rather haltingly.  The little show of
diffidence was very charming.  How far removed, how amazingly far
removed he was from the average good-looking youth of twenty-four, who
was usually so anxious to impress every one with his attributes and his
powers.

And he was not even average.  Every time she saw him she wondered
afresh at his extraordinary wealth of attraction.  One could have
forgiven him a few airs and mannerisms; but no forgiveness was asked:
in every single phrase she found him always the modest, unassuming,
high-bred gentleman.

So they sat on and talked, and for the time being the warfare of the
afternoon passed from her mind.  Probing seemed suddenly out of place.
Why probe?...  Their friendship had slipped of itself into an old
companionship.  What need for more?  She knew instinctively he would
come often to fill her lonely hours, and tell her all about his work
and his doings.

And sometimes they would go out together on little jaunts.  If they
did, who need know, or who, at any rate, need gossip?  She felt a
gladness grow in her mind at the thought of the happy friendship they
might have; guarded perhaps from harm by the disparity in their years,
and at the same time of inestimable benefit to him, and pleasure to
her.  She felt almost motherly as she laid her fingers lightly on his
arm, with a little laughing jest, as they stood together before parting.

"I have enjoyed my evening of invalidism so much.  Come and see me
again soon, won't you?"

"I should love to.  You are very good to me."

"Oh, no; I'm not.  Don't let us talk of goodness in that way.  I like
your company; and it is good to have what one likes.  I shall expect
you again soon, Alymer - I may call you Alymer, mayn't I?...  Mr.
Hermon is so overpowering."

"I wish you would.  I would have asked you, only I was afraid you might
think it cheek."

"Very well then, _Alymer_," with emphasis, "when I have spoken to Lord
Denton I will telephone you; and I hope he will be able to start you
off on a road that will very nearly end in a verdict of 'Suffocated
with briefs.'"

"Or 'briefly suffocated'," he laughed, and beat a hasty retreat, for
fear of a reprisal.

When he had gone, Lorraine sat again in the firelight, and it seemed as
if the stress and unrest had fallen from her, and only the memory of a
pleasant companionship remained.  They were going to be the best of
pals - why not - and why seek to probe any further?

Apparently he was not susceptible, and cared more for his profession
than any one supposed, and so, since she liked to have him there to
glory in his comeliness, they could form a mutual benefit society, and
no one need be hurt at all.  It was all quite simple, and she went to
bed feeling rested and refreshed, and looking forward hopefully for the
pleasant meetings to come?

Flip Denton was running down to Brighton for the week-end also, to take
her out on the Sunday in his car; and he noticed at once that a shadow
wich had hovered over her eyes of late had vanished.

"You are looking topping," he told her.  "What about the love affair,
is it all satisfactorily off?  It has been worrying you a little of
late."

"It is not exactly off," she replied, "but it is more satisfactorily
placed.  We are going to be real good pals.  He is going to keep me
company in some of my lonely hours, and I am going to try and help him
to get briefs.  I am relying on you for the first one, Flip."

"The dickens you are.  My dear girl, why should I put myself out to
acquire a brief for a rival?"

"Oh, just because you are you.  You know you will love it, Flip!  You
will get him a brief, and then you will pat yourself on the back and
say: 'I know I'm a lazy dog myself, but I'm a devil of a good chap at
getting other fellows work.'"

"So I am" - enjoying her thrust - "and it's a splendid line, and gives
far more satisfaction in the end.  If I tried to work I should only
make a mess of it, and drive some one nearly crazy, whereas, in putting
another chap on to a job I give such a lot of folks pleasure, I feel I
am getting square with the Almighty."

"Then you'll try, Flip?"

"It is humanly possible, he shall have a brief of his very own within
the next month."

"You are a dear.  Sometimes I think you are the most adorable person I
know."

"You don't think it long enough at a time, Lorry.  You are too prone to
go off suddenly after false gods measuring six-foot-five-and-a-half
inches and with the faces of Apollo Belvederes."

"Probably it is a merciful precaution on the part of our guardian
angels, Flip; and, anyhow, you know you like a little variation
yourself in the way of bulk, and sound, practical, indecorous chorus
girldom."

"I do," was his unabashed affirmative.  "Nice, comfortable, elevating
palliness with you; and a right down rollicking bust-up occasionally
with the ladies of the unpretending school of wild oats."

"I want my giant for the present to be satisfied with his palliness
with me and his work.  Do you think he will?"

"As I haven't seen him I can't say.  If I get the chance, however, I'll
tell him that "wild oats' are the very devil, and I'd give all I've got
to have stuck to work and had naught to do with'em."

"You know you wouldn't, Flip," with a little laugh.

"I know I couldn't, you mean; but I never admit it to juniors."

"Well, you shall come to the flat to meet him.  If he gets a brief,
we'll have a little dinner party, and I'll ask Hal and her cousin and
St. Quintin."

"Right you are.  I haven't seen Miss Pritchard for ages.  Shall we turn
now, and go back by Rottingdean?"

"Let us go wichever way has the best view of the sea.  I feel I want to
look at wide, breezy spaces for a while, and not talk at all."

"You shall," he promised, and they sped along in silence.





CHAPTER XVII


When Hall sat on the side of her bed, brushing her hair and meditating
on her irritation, she had not misjudged when she anticipated great
enjoyment from an afternoon run with her new friend.

It would have been difficult indeed to say who enjoyed it the most.
Hal was in great form, and Sir Edwin Crathie half unconsciously took
his tone from her, dropping his usual attitude towards women he liked,
and adopting instead one as gay and careless and inconsequent as hers.

It was not in the nature of the man to desist from flirting with her,
but his pretty speeches were coupled with a humour and chaff that
robbed them of any pointedness, and merely resulted in an amusing
amount of parry and thrust, over which they both laughed
whole-heartedly.

"You are an absolute witch," he told her as they sat enjoying  a big
tea at an hotel on the south coast; "ever since we started you have
made me behave more or less like a school-boy, and a tea like this is
the climax."

"It's a good thing I am the only witness," she laughed.  "The poorness
of your jokes alone would have horrified your colleagues, but to see
you eating such a tea must have meant a request for your resignation -
it is so incompatible with the dignity of a Cabinet Minister."

"I had almost forgotten I was a Cabinet Minister.  Gad! but it's nice
to get right away from the cares of office occasionally like this.
When will you come again?"

"Oh, I don't think I must come any more," roguishly.  "I'm sure Brother
Dudley will not consent."

"What has Brother Dudley go to do with it?...  Did he consent this
time?"

"Not exactly.  I anticipated his willingness."

"You little fibber.  You mean you anticipated his firm refusal, and
took French leave, so that you need not disobey him."

"It is true that Dudley and I differ occasionally, but I do not disobey
him... if I can help it."

"Well, if you took French leave this time, you can easily do it again."

"But this time it was a novelty.  I was curious to find out how I
should enjoy an afternoon with you?"

"Rubbish.  You knew perfectly well you would enjoy it immensely.  So
did I.  Two people who like each other always know those kind of things
at once."

Hal leaned back in her chair, and her expressive mouth twitched in a
way that made him long to kiss it hard.

"There are occasions when I don't like you at all," she said.

"Fibber again.  When don't you like me?"

"Chiefly when you are quite positive certain sure that I do."

"Well, that is never; so you are a fibber."

"I thought you seemed particularly confident nine seconds ago."

"I was only teasing you.  I could hardly have been serious after you
have called me a worm, and an old man.  So now - when will you come
again?"

"In about a month.  Let's go out as Guys on the fifth of November."

"A month be blowed!  I want to know which day next week?"

"I am full up next week."

"Full up of what?"

"Lorraine Vivian, Dick Bruce, Quin, the Beloved Chief, and the Baby."

"What a list!  Is Lorraine Vivian the actress?  Who are Quin and the
Baby?"

"She is... and they are!..."

"Who does the Baby belong to?"

"It would be difficult to say.  About a dozen probably claim him."

"And doesn't he know his own mother?"

"Oh, I wasn't thinking of mothers."

"Who were you thinking of?"

"The ladies who have lost their hearts to him."

"I see.  Are you one of them?"

"I am not.  You see, his beauty has never struck me all of a heap,
because I've got so used to it."

"Is he a beautiful baby, or a youth, or a man?"

"A bit of all three.  He stands 6 ft. 5 1/2 in., and is superbly
handsome.  I call him sometimes, for variation, the stuffed
blue-and-gold Apollo."

"Well, that's better than 'a positive worm'," laughing, "but I don't
mind him.  Who is Quin?"

"Quin is a philanthropist, sentimentalist, and hero.  He spends his
life working in the East End."

"I don't mind him either, and Dick Bruce I've seen.  The actress
doesn't count, and your precious chief you see every day.  Now, then,
when will you come again?"

He got up from his seat and came round to her side of the table.  He
had a vague intention of imprisoning her hand, and perhaps her waist,
but some indescribable quality held him off.  It was difficult to
suppose she did not half guess what was in his mind, and yet, without
showing the smallest consciousness or shyness, she faced him with a
look so boyishly frank and open it utterly disarmed him.

"I am not a bit more persuasive on my right side than my left, and I
have promised next Saturday to the Three Graces - who are Dick and Quin
and Baby.  We are going to the Crystal Palace to see a football match."

"Then what about Sunday?"

"Oh, I can't come on Sunday."

"Why not?"

"I hardly know, except that it usually belongs to Dudley or Dick."

"Next Sunday needn't."

"Well, that's what I don't know."

"Yes you do."  He moved a little nearer.  "You've got to keep next
Sunday for me.  It's my turn.  We'll have a splendid day.  We'll take
Peter, and we'll start early and fly down to the New Forest.  It's
glorious in the autumn.  We'll have a picnic-lunch, and tea at an hotel
on the way back.  So that's settled."  He got up, and lifted her ulster
from the back of a chair.  "Now come along, and we'll slip home before
it gets late enough to cause trouble."

Hal let it pass for the time, and got into her ulster.  She was clever
enough to see the advantage of retaining a way of escape if she changed
her mind, or accepting the invitation if she wanted to later on.

She knew perfectly well a girl did not always go out for a whole day
with a man like Sir Edwin with impunity; but she had also something of
contempt for a girl who missed a great treat for want of pluck.  She
preferred to leave the question open, and if she badly wanted to go at
the end of the week she would not, at any rate, stay away because she
was afraid.

As it happened, circumstances played into Sir Edwin Crathie's hands.
About Wednesday, with a diffidence that made Hal secretly amused and
secretly curious, Dudley asked her if she would mind if he was away for
the whole day on Sunday.  As she was generally away herself as long as
the summer lasted, she wondered why he should ask her in that manner.
It was just as they had finished breakfast, and he busied himself with
his pipe-rack as he made the announcement.

"Of course I don't mind," she said.  "Are you going into the country?"

"Ye-es."  He seemed about to add something further, but changed his
mind.  Hal, with a little inward chuckle, divined by his manner he must
be going somewhere with a lady, and she was pleased, as she liked a man
to have woman friends, believing they made him more broad-minded and
tolerant and generous-hearted if well-chosen.

She asked no further question, however, and Dudley commenced to whistle
softly as he drew on his boots.  Evidently his mind was somewhat
relieved after the sentence was said.

So now it remained to discover Dick's attitude.  She could, of course,
quite easily put him off; but she was not quite prepared to do this of
her own initiative, as he had so generously placed all his Sundays at
her disposal.  On Friday, however, he was speaking to her through the
telephone.

"I say, Hal, you're coming to the Footer match to-morrow, aren't you?"

"Yes, of course I am.  Why?..."

"Well, it's just this way.  I was going to motor the pater to Aunt
Judith's, and I forgot all about it.  He wants me to take him on Sunday
instead.  What shall I do?...  Would you care to come too?"

Hal had not the smallest wish to go to Aunt Judith's, who belonged to
the old school, and disapproved in a most outspoken manner of
lady-clerks of every sort and description.  It was a constant grievance
to her, when she set eyes on Hal,that she did not gratefully accept £20
as secretary to a well-known, interesting editor.

In consequence, Hal encountered her as little as possible, accepted
gratefully her interesting, easy billet, and consigned the imaginary
young children to a Hades peopled with nursery governesses.

"Awfully sweet and good and kind of you, Dicky dear," she called back
to him mockingly, "but I think I'll practise a little self-denial this
time, and stay away."

"Odd you should say that," he laughed, "because I consider I'm
practising a little self-denial in going.  What shall you do with
yourself?  Will Dudley be at home?"

"No; he's going somewhere for the day, that has a nervous, apologetic
sort of air about it.  I didn't press for particulars, but I'm dying to
know.  I can't believe he would really take a gay young person out, and
yet, judging by his manner, it might be a real flyer from Daly's."

"Good old Dudley!...  Then I suppose you will go to Lorraine?"

"Yes, I daresay I shall.  Good-bye, see you Saturday."

Hal returned to her work in a meditative mood.  She was beginning to
wonder why she had not had any message from Sir Edwin all the week.
Had he changed his mind, or had he possibly forgotten?  If he rang her
up presently what was she going to say?

The notion that he had perhaps forgotten was not pleasing; and yet,
with all he must have to think about during the week, it was equally
not surprising.  As a matter of fact, it had been a most trying week
for all Ministers.

The party was emphatically growing into disfavour, and all brains had
to be utilised to find the most efficacious remedy.  Sir Edwin had been
very useful in his suggestions, for he had had considerable practice in
getting what he wanted by artfulness if no straighter mode offered.

His suggestions to His Majestu's Cabinet were masterpieces of political
trickery, and their adoption was a foregone conclusion in spite of the
Ministers who raised objections.  The party had to win back favour
somehow, and at any rate his were the best plans that offered.

But all through the stirring meetings of the week he never once forgot
Hal.  His silence was merely an adaptation of the policy he was urging
upon his colleagues.  If I leave her alone till Friday she will get
piqued," was his thought, "and then she will come."

Accordingly, soon after the luncheon hour he rang her up.

"Hullo," he called.  "At last I have got a moment to speak to you."

"What has happened to all the other moments?" she asked.

"We've had a very anxious, worrying week in the House.  I've scarcely
had time to get my meals.  You surely didn't suppose I had forgotten
you - did you?"

"I didn't suppose either way.  It didn't matter."

The man at the other end of the wire smiled openly in his empty room.
"Prevaricator," was his thought 'but, by Gad, she's game."

"Well, anyhow I hadn't, and I wasn't likely to.  I only hope you
haven't made another engagement for Sunday?  I'm badly in need of a
long day in the country.  Are you still free?"

"It depends -"

"Oh, nonsense; you can't desert me at the last moment.  If I can't get
that day off to run down to the New Forest, I shall have to go to a
tiresome political luncheon party.  Now, be patriotic, and serve your
country by attending to the needs of one of her harassed Ministers."

"I am always patriotic."

"Then that settles it.  I suppose I'd better not call for you.  I'll
pick you up at South Kensington Station at 9.30.  Peter will make an
excellent chaperone, so you needn't worry - good-bye"; and he rang off,
leaving Hal to hang up the receiver, not quite sure whether she had
been trapped or not.

At his end he moved across to a window with the smile still lingering
on his face.

"Nothing like making up a woman's mind for her," he mused; "they're all
alike when they are on the edge of the stream, hesitating about the
plunge.  Give 'em a little shove, and once they're in they swim out
boldly enough.  The trouble is, when they want to keep the whole river
for themselves and will not brook any other swimmers.

"I expect I'm going to have a devil of a time with Gladys, and she'll
take a lot of squaring.  Women are the deuce when you're short of
funds.  But I can't help being susceptible, and Hal has caught my fancy
altogether.  Dear little girl, I expect she'll want a big shove yet
before she'll take the real plunge.  But it's interesting, by Jove!
it's interesting; and when she looks a veiled defiance at me with those
candid, mischievous eyes of hers, I know I've got to win somehow."

Hal went back to her work, feeling a little as if she had been swept
off her feet; and she was not entirely without misgivings.  The
possible impropriety of going out alone with a man for the whole day
did not rouble her, but the nature of the man, she was shrewd enough to
perceive, was a doubtful point.

Of course she was perfectly aware that Aunt Judith, for instance, and
Dudley, and probably her mother, had she been alive, would have been
scandalised at such a proceeding; but then she had pluckily fended for
herself so long, she did not consider she was any longer called upon to
mould her actions according to their views.  She belonged to the large
army of women who have to spend so much of their time on office chairs
that their comparatively few hours of pleasure have no room for the
ordinary conventions that hem round the leisured, home-walled maiden.

If a treat offered, and it was reasonably within bounds, they took it
and were thankful and gave no thought to the possibly uplifted hands of
horror among possibly restricted relatives.  She was one of those who
enjoy the freedom of the American girl, without being of those who,
unfortunately, often fall short of her level-headed characteristics;
largely perhaps through those very uplifted hands which suggest harm,
where harm otherwise might never have been thought of.

It was not, now, any suggestions born of uplifted hands that gave Hal
that faint misgiving.  It was that growing doubt concerning the nature
of the man, and a consciousness that she was unduly pleased the treat
was actually to take place - a growing consciousness that in spite of
the doubt she cared more about seeing Sir Edwin Crathie than most men,
with a like recognition that this might seriously endanger her own
peace of mind.

It was all very well to go out together on a basis of good-fellowship
and mutual enjoyment, so long as neither care anything beyond; but what
if this unmistakable attraction he exercised over her deepened and
widened?  What if the commonplace, middle-class Hal Pritchard,
secretary and typist, fell in love with Sir Edwin Crathie, the Cabinet
Minister, and nephew of Lord St. Ives?

But she thrust the thought away, and apostrophised herself for a silly
goose, who deserved to get hurt if she had not more sense.  Was he not
twice her age, and brilliantly clever (so his own party said), and so
obviously out of her range altogether that it would be sheer stupidity
to allow herself to feel anything beyond the frank fellow-ship they now
enjoyed?  She insisted vigorously to herself that it would, and went
off to have dinner with Lorraine, who was once more delighting her
London audience nightly.

It was a curious thing which occured to both afterwards, that there had
been some indefinable change, observable in each to each, dating from
that particular evening.

Lorraine was more contentedly gay than she had been for some time - a
quiet, natural light-heartedness, born of some attainment that was
giving her joy.  Hal was not clever enough to actually perceive this,
but she did perceive that a certain restless, anxious indecision of
manner and plans had passed away.  For the time being Lorraine was
happy in a sense she had not been over her success.  That Alymer Hermon
had anything to do with it never entered Hal's head.  She had treated
the whole matter of Lorraine's attraction to him with the lightness
that seemed its only claim, and scarcely remembered it at all.

And yet, all the time, it was the young giant who was bringing the
soothing and restfulness into the actress's storm-tossed life.  He was
beginning to be with her constantly - to come to her with all his
doings, and his imagings, and his hopes.  And, as she had suspected,
natural or unnatural, he was the companion of all others who gave her
the most pleasure at the time.

World-wearied and brain-wearied with her own unsatisfying successes,
she found a new interest in entering into his projects, and scheming
and dreaming for his future instead of her own.

She was quite open to herself about the probability that she would have
felt nothing of the kind had he been merely a giant, or had he been
plain.  It was the rare, and indeed remarkable combination of such
physical attributes, with brains, and nobility and an utter absence of
all assumption.

She forgot about his youth and a certain natural crudity; and what he
lacked in experience and development she easily balanced with the
extraordinary physical attraction that had never ceased to sway her.

For the rest, the future might go.  Her friendship would not hurt him,
and his had become necessary to her.  If they dreamed over a volcano,
what of it?  Most dreams for such lives as hers usually were in close
proximity to sudden destruction.  Waves from nowhere came up and
overwhelmed them.  Rocks from unseen heights fell on them and crushed
them.  If she was wise she would take what the present offered, and
leave the future alone.

For Hal, on the other hand, had developed something of the restlessness
that had fallen from Lorraine.  The new element dawning in her life was
not a restful one; neihter did it lend itself to her usual spontaneous
chaff and gay badinage.

She told Lorraine about her afternoon drive, without giving half the
particulars she would have done ordinarily; and when Lorraine asked her
about Sunday, she only said she was perhaps going for another run with
Sir Edwin.  Lorraine did not press the point, because she was having a
day with Alymer, and was chiefly glad that Hal was happily provided
with a companion to take Dick's place.

Then she went off to her theatre, and Hal went home, wishing the next
day were Sunday.





CHAPTER XVIII


Dudley hardly new, himself, why he spoke diffidently about his plans
for Sunday, and why he did not tell Hal outright that he was taking
Doris Hayward to a picnic at Marlow, given by mutual friends of his and
theirs - friends of the old vigorous days, when he and Basil Hayward
had gone everywhere together, and Hal had still been a boisterous
schoolgirl.  Perhaps he felt she might seem to have been rather
unkindly left out.

As a matter of fact, an invitation to include his sister had been
given; but, for reasons he hardly stopped to face, he chose not to
mention it.  That was after he had learnt from a visit to the little
Holloway flat that nothing would persuade Ethel to leave her brother,
who had been ailing more than usual of late, and Doris would accompany
him alone.

It had been with a curious mixture of feelings he had heard this.
Things were very pitiful up at the little flat, and though his inmost
sympathy had gone out generously enough to both girls, with a
perversity born of narrow insight he had reserved the deepest of it for
Doris.

It seemed to him that she was so young to face such circumstances, and
at such an early age to become saddened by the vicissitudes of life.
In the depths of her wide blue eyes he saw unshed tears, and the little
droop of her pretty mouth went straight to his heart.  He wanted to
gather her up in his arms, and kiss her and pet her till she was again
all sunshine and smiles.

Ha was not unaware that Ethel probably suffered more, but her way of
showing it, or perhaps hiding it, appealed to him less.  Instead of
that mute distress of unshed tears, her quiet eyes wore an inscrutable
veil.  It was as if the anguish behind the veil were something too
terrible and too sacred to be looked upon by a workaday world; but
Dudley only knew that a wall of reserve was between him and her trouble.

And her firm, strong mouth had no engaging droop at the corners.  It
was only if anything a little firmer, almost to sternness.

Dudley believed that Basil was dying at last, after his weary
martyrdom, and he believed that Ethel knew it; and in some vague way it
hurt him that she gave no sign, and refused to be drawn into any speech
concerning his increased weakness.

Doris, on the other hand, spoke of it in a faltering, tearful voice,
adding a little pitifully that it made it harder for her that Ethel was
so distant and unsympathetic.

In a sense the circumstances nonplussed Dudley altogether.  Some inner
voice told him that such a depth of wondrous, unselfish devotion as
Ethel showed to her invalid brother could not live in the same heart
with hardness and want of sympathy; and yet there was the evidence of
the swimming, melting eyes and drooping lips of the younger sister left
out in the cold.

Perhaps it was unfortunate that on that very evening of Dudley's visit
Ethel had come home rather earlier than her wont, to find Doris not yet
returned from her daily outing, and, in consequence, the fire out and
the sick man shivering with cold.  He had looked so dreadfully ill that
she had hastened first to get som brandy to revive him, only to find
Doris had forgotten her promise to get the empty bottle replaced that
morning.

In desperation she had hastened to the other little flat on the same
floor, hoping its inmate might chance to have a little to lend.

The tenant was a lonely, harsh-featured spinster, who eked out a
precarious living by teaching music.  Ethel knew her slightly, as a
gaunt woman who usually toiled up the stairs with a sort of scornful
weariness of herself and everything else.

She knew that because she was not fashionable, nor striking, nor
well-dressed, she taught mostly in rather second-rate schools, and
often had to take long journeys to her pupils, coming home tired and
worn at night to an empty, comfortless little dwelling, to light her
own fire and cook her own evening meal.

She knew, too, that she was a gentlewoman, the daughter of a poor
clergyman, left penniless, to fight a hard world alone.  Had her own
home been happier, she would gladly have asked her to join them
sometimes; but the weight of Basil's illness, and her own usual
condition of weariness, had left the invitation always unspoken.

"A little brandy," the music-teacher echoed, with a quick note of
concern; "yes, I believe I have a drop.  Is it your brother?  Let me
come and see if I can help?"

"Thank you," Ethel had replied, trying not to allow her voice to show
how much she would have preferred not to accept the proffered help.  "I
think I can manage quite well."

But the gaunt spinster followed her across the little landing
obstinately.  She had seen Doris out half an hour before, and knew that
she had not yet returned.

"Ah, you have no fire," she said, in her somewhat grating voice; "if
you will let me I will light it," and without more ado she had procured
coals and wood for herself, and was down on her knees before the empty
grate.

Ethel turned away with a sick, helpless feeling over Doris'
selfishness, and after administering a few drops of brandy, chafed the
sick man's hands and feet.  When Basil felt better he glanced up
curiously at the strange, dried-up-looking female who had just
succeeded in persuading a cheerful blaze to brighten the room.  She
looked back into his face frankly.

"You needn't mind me," she informed him; "I'm only the music-teacher
from the opposite flat."

"You seem to be rather a kind sort of music-teacher," he said, with his
winsome smile, "even if you do only come from the opposite flat."

The hard face relaxed a very little, and she shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh, well, it isn't easy to be kind," she answered, "when you don't
stand for much else in the universe but a letter of the alphabet."  She
turned back to her grate and commenced sweeping up the ashes.

Basil roused himself a little further and looked interested.

"What letter do you stand for?"

"Just G."  She gave a low, harsh laugh.  "G is the letter that
distinguishes my flat from the others, and it is all I stand for to God
or man."

"I see."  His white, pain wrung face looked extraordinarily kind.
"Well, G, I'm very deeply grateful to you for coming across to light my
fire; and I'm glad there happened to be a G in the universe this
afternoon."

She turned her head away sharply, that neither of them might see the
sudden, swift mist that dimmed her eyes, but she only answered:

"All the same, if there had been no G, and no you, the universe would
have had an atom less pain in it, and no one have been any the worse."

"That's where you're wrong," he told her, "because Ethel couldn't have
done without me, and if you put your head in at my door occasionally,
and just remark to F that G is across the passage, F will be glad the
universe didn't decide to leave G out of the alphabet."

The woman looked at him a moment with a curious expression in her eyes.
 Then she said:

"Well, if _you_ can take the insult of a maimed, or joyless, or cursed
life like that, it oughtn't to be so very hard for me to be glad I
happened to be able to come over and light your fire."

"Nor so very hard to come again."

"Ah!..." she hesitated, then said to him, looking half-defiantly
towards Ethel: "Time after time, when I thought you were alone, I've
wanted to just look in and see if you were all right.  But I didn't
like to.  People don't take to me as a rule, and I'm... I'm... well,
I'm not an ingratiating sort of person, and I guessed, probably, you'd
all rather do without any help I had to give."

"It was kind of you to think of us at all," Ethel said, not quite sure
whether Basil would like her to come in or not.

"You guessed wrong," was his answer.  "_I_ think it would be very nice
of you to look in occasionally.  It certainly seems rather absurd for
you to be all alone there, and I all alone here, when we both want a
little company.  I'm sure the alphabet was not meant to be so
unsociable."

"It just depends."

She got up from her keneeling posture on the hearth, and stood, a
grotesque apparition enough, looking at him with her greenish,
nondescript eyes.  Her hay-coloured hair was tightly drawn back from a
high, bulging forehead, her eyebrows were so light they scarcely showed
at all, while her nose, which started in a nice straight line, had
failed her at the last moment by suddenly taking an upward turn in an
utterly incongruous fashion.  She had high cheek-bones, a parchment
skin, and a mouth that was not much more than a slit; the grotesque
effect of the whole being heightened by a long, thin neck, which she
made no effort to cover with a neat high collar, but accentuated by a
half-and-half untidily loose one.

She wore a cheap, ready-made blouse, with absurd little bows tacked on
down the front, which Ethel longed to abolish with one sweep, and her
skirt, which had shrunk considerably in front, sagged in a dejected
fashion behind.

Yet to Basil's kindly eyes, there was something behind it all that was
attractive.  Fore one thing, she was so eminently sincere.  One felt
she had no delusions whatever, concerning her appearance or her
oddities; and though she looked out upon life with that scornful,
resentful air, she had yet a keener sense of humour and a clearer brain
than most women.  Under different circumstances she might have been a
success.

As it was, she appeared to have got into a wrong groove altogether,
and, unable to extricate herself, to have merely become an oddity.
Basil, from his couch, looked up at her with friendly eyes, and she
finished:

"One may want a little company, without wanting just any company."

"You think you will find me even duller than nothing?" and his eyes
twinkled.

"You know I didn't mean that.  You are clever, and well-read, and
probably fastidious.  I'm... well, you see what I am! and no good for
anything except trying to restrain horrible children from thumping till
they break the notes."

"I thought you said you were a music-teacher?"

"That's what they call it," with a dry grimace; "but when I dare to be
honest, I have too much respect for music."

"Well, you won't have to weary your soul restraining me from thumping
anything, so it will be a change to come and talk to me.  We'll turn
the tables, and I'll try and restrain you from thumping the universe
too hard."

"It would be much more to the point if we thumped together: I, because
I'm not wanted, and it's an insult to foist me on to mankind whether I
like it or not; and you, because... well, because you are a strong man
cursed with helplessness."

"Very well, if you come in that particular mood, we'll just play
football with the bally old universe, so to speak.  The main point to
me is, that we take a rise out of the powers that be, by being a source
of entertainment occasionally to each other.  As our alphabetical
significance in the general scheme is next door to each other, we may
as well get what we can out of the circumstance."

She turned aside, looking half humorous and half satirical.

"It sounds well enough as you say it, but I expect the powers are
sneering diabolically at us both.  However, if you'll let me try to be
some sort of company, I'll come across again soon -"

A latch-key was heard in the door, and a moment later Doris entered.
When she saw the two women she looked taken aback, and stammered
something about not knowing the time.

"When I got in Basil's fire was out, and he was perished with cold,"
Ethel said coldly; "and as I had to go to Miss... Miss -"

"Call it G," put in the music-teacher, with a comical twist of her
mouth.

" - for brandy, she came over and lit the fire for me."

"I couldn't help not knowing the time," Doris murmured in a low,
grumbling voice, and went away to take her hat off.

The music-teacher glanced from one to the other, as if about to say
something, but changed her mind and moved towards the door.  On the
treshold she looked back, and said in her short, dry way:

"If F wants anything of G, G will be ready to come instantly."

"Thank you," Basil and Ethel replied together, the former adding, "And
don't forget to put your head in at the door occasionally, by way of a
reminder."

Ethel said no more to Doris, because she felt it useless, but her
silence as they prepared the evening meal together signified her
disapproval.  She was deeply worried about Basil's failing strength,
and longed to speak of it to someone who could understand; but felt
such selfish forgetfulness as Doris showed shut her out from any
sympathetic discussion.

Then Dudley came, and while Doris looked woebegone and sad, Ethel's
face was a little stern with stress and anxiety.  Basil tried valiantly
to be cheerful enough for all three, but the effort cost him almost
more strength than he could muster.

After Dudley had gone, carrying with him the image of Doris's plaintive
prettiness and pathetic solitariness, and thinking gladly of the
pleasure it would be to take her to Marlow on Sunday, Ethel slipped on
her knees beside Basil's couch, overcome for a moment by the burden of
his suffering, and the difficulties of their lives.

Often after Dudley had been, and some little act or glance or word had
seemed to emphasise the barrier between them, her yearning over Basil
had broken down her courage.  When she had lost them both, what would
become of her then? was the question that utterley undid her, finding
no reply beyond a sense of empty darkness.

She told herself she would go right away to another land - to some far
colony - where she could begin life afresh, with her haunting memories
kept in the background.  She would not stay to see the awakening come
to Dudley, if Doris were his wife, nor struggle through the long months
at the General Post Office, when the end of each day's labour brought
no welcoming smile from Basil.

She would not settle down alone in a dingy little flat as their
opposite neighbour, to become a mere letter of the alphabet to God and
man, surrounded by countless other cyphers of as little meaning and
account.  She would go away to some new, young land, with her vigour
and her courage, and carve out a path with some semblance of reality
and value.

Only, could she ever get away from the awful emptiness that would come
to her with the loss of Basil, and the utter lack of any incentive to
carry on the unequal struggle?

Basil laid his hand on her bowed head, and for a little while seemed
unable to speak.  Then he steadied his voice, and rallied her with his
brave, whimsical thoughts.

"Wouldn't the dear old pater have enjoyed G?  She's just the kind of
oddity he doted on.  Fancy her teaching music of all things.  It must
be only scales and exercises.  I think she's splendid to see the
incongruity herself, and refuse to call it music when she dare be
honest.  What a grotesque figurehead she looks, chum, doesn't she?  I
thoroughly enjoyed talking to her."

But Ethel could not answer to his cheeriness just yet.

"Basil, why are so many humans just mere letters of the alphabet in the
general scheme?"

She had slid into a sitting posture now, and leaned her head against
his arm.

"It doesn't matter so much about the men; they can go out into the
world and make friends by the way, and become something more if they
wish; but what of the single women, who have to work for their living,
and have nothing much to look forward to but a sort of terror as to
what will become of them when they can work no more?  If you could see
some of them at the office, with that drawn, dried-up, joyless look,
scraping and saving and starving for dread of the years ahead: it's so
unfair, so grossly, hideously, cruelly unfair."

"It perhaps won't be when you see all round it, chum.  It is so obvious
we only see one side of things here.  When we see the other side it
will all look so different."

"Perhaps, but in the meantime they are here, now, in our very midst,
all _these unwanted_ women.  If you saw as much of them as I do, I
think you would feel even the letter had better not have been supplied.
 A blank would have meant so much less suffering.  A penniless woman
without attractiveness, and with neither husband, child, nor father
wanting her, is such an anomaly.  She just drags on, hating her
loneliness, dreading and fearing the future or illness, merely existing
because she is called upon to do so for no apparent reason."

"But she can always make friends, chum.  If she is kind and cheerful
and hopeful she will soon win love of some sort."

"If... yes...  but, Basil, to be all that, when one is weighed down
with the inequality of chance and a horror of the future calls for a
heroine; and Life didn't bother to make many of them heroines.  She
doesn't seem to have paid much attention to them at all.  Orphans and
widows and sick people she remembers; but the lonely, ageing, hardened,
unwanted spinster!  It sometimes seems to me it is just sentimentality
to be persuaded everything is all right.

"I don't believe it is all right.  There's too much useless, silent
aching, and useless, passionate resentment over circumstances that it
seems should either never have been, or should be remedied if any
Guiding Hand has power.    I have determination and I'm strong, Basil;
the future doesn't frighten me badly yet, but when you are gone, I feel
as if the loneliness might half kill me, and as if then I ought to have
the right to become a blank if I wish, since I was never consulted
about becoming a letter in the great alphabet."

He did not seek to stay her, knowing with his deep insight that to get
such thoughts spoken was better than to brood inwardly; and because of
his unshakable faith in her courage, he was not alarmed by them.

Yet he could not offer any comfort.  Had not the enigma of useless pain
racked and torn his soul piteously through the long years of his
illness, leaving him indeed with a wonderful courage, but not with a
theory that would fit the needs of suffering mankind?  He could bear
his own ills, because he had trained and taught himself to take them as
a soldier takes the miseries of a hard campaign; but the general sum of
suffering was another matter; and he shrank from saying either that
suffering was sent by God to do good, or that it was necessary to the
human race.

All he knew was simply that ills bravely borne seemed aided by some
mysterious power outside their bearers; whereas the craven and the
grumbler seemed but to add to their own burden.  For the rest, though
he would not say it for the pain it gave her, the knowledge of his
growing weakness was already a solace to him, and he watched with
hidden eagerness for the day that should set him free.  At least a
corpse was no drain upon the slender purse of a beloved sister; and the
gnawing ache of his helplessness and uselessness would be stilled for
ever.

If only Dudley had cared for her?  From his vantage-ground of the
looker-on, with his unnaturally sharpened sensitiveness, he knew
perfectly how matters stood and how hopeless the desire seemed.

Dear old Dudlye, his life-long friend, would probably marry Doris and
learn his mistake too late; and Ethel, with her fine nature, would go
to some one else.

Well, one could not change either one's own little circle of fate, or
the universe, just to suit oneself; one could only hope for the best,
while there was still room for hope, and cultivate that soldier-spirit,
undaunted even in a losing fight.

In the meantime there was the lonely, unwanted spinster opposite, with
her immediate claim of nearness and loneness; and, as if to direct her
thoughts into another channel, he said:

"You know, chum, I believe G was quite serious about wanting to come in
here sometimes.  Why not find out which afternoons she comes home
early, and let her come and get tea and have it with me here.  Then
Doris need not worry about getting back in time."

"But if you are feeling weak it will tire you so, Basil, to have a
stranger.  You will feel obliged to talk to her."

"No, I don't think I shall; and it would be nice to feel she was rather
glad not to be a blank after all.  Let her come one afternoon and try.
Perhaps one way of grappling with the problem of human suffering - the
best way - is to try and alleviate the atom of pain that is nearest
each one of us."

She assented to please him, and then kissed his forehead with a
lingering, adoring tenderness, marvelling that such a sufferer could so
think for others.  Then she went quietly to bed, feeling, as the gaunt
spinster had tried to put it, "If _you_ can bear your ills so, surely I
might manage to bear mine more courageously."





CHAPTER XIX


The next evening Ethel crossed the little landing to the lonely flat,
and gave the invitation from F to G.

A good deal to her amusement, she found the gaunt spinster knitting
babies' socks, with a basket containing several completed pairs beside
her.  She picked a pair up, and said with a kind little smile:

"I hardly expected to find you doing this."

"Of course not," in a short way, that sounded uncivil without being so.
 "It's an occupation about as much suited to me as teaching music."

"I wonder why you do it?"

"I do it for bread, naturally.  They bring in a few shillings.  It is
just a fluke that I can make them at all.  I know as much about a
needle ordinarily as a flying-machine; but I learnt to knit once under
protest.
I sprained my ankle and was laid up for some weeks, and I told the
doctor I should go stark, staring mad if he kept me shut up in a house
doing nothing.  He said knitting was a very good preventive to madness,
and he'd send his wife along.  She was a great missionary worker, and
she pounced on me like a hawk, and started me off knitting socks for
little gutta-percha babies somewhere in the Antipodes, almost before I
knew where I was.
Such insanity!... as if white babies wanted to be bothered with socks,
much less black ones!  I told the doctor it was adding insult to injury
to allow it to appear I hadn't more common sense than to occupy my time
with garments for the heathen.  As if there weren't too many garments
in the world already, half the community over-dressed, and ready to
sell its soul for more.
'Leave them clean and healthy and naked, that's my advice, doctor,' I
told him; 'and if you weren't afraid of you wife you'd agree.'"

Ethel leaned against the table, enjoying the rugged face and comically
twisted mouth.

"But I thought you were a clergyman's daughter?" she said.

"So I am; but I don't see why I shouldn't be credited with a little
common sense even then.  I know they haven't much as a rule; what with
their sewing-classes, and praying-classes, and mothers' meetings
smothering up their minds till they can't see beyond their noses.  I
never had much to do with that part of it.  They didn't like me well
enough in the village to want to pray with me nor sew with me; which
was just as well, for if I'd prayed, I should have implored the
Almighthy to open their minds a little, and widen their views, and give
them each a good thick slab of devilry to counteract their general
soppiness and short-sighted stupidity.
Ugh!...  to hear some of those soppy folks praying to be delivered from
the Evil One, and to have strength given them to cast the devil from
their hearts!  Just as if the devil had time to bother with that
sanctimonious, chicken-hearted crew.  He wasn't very likely to do them
the compliment of acknowledging their existence."

"Did no one do any parish work then?"

"Oh, yes, the doctor's wife did most of it.  And when a new doctor came
they daren't for the life of them have a word to say to him, for fear
of the next prayer-meeting, when she would preside.  You see, she'd
pray for the lost sheep in the fold for about half an hour, and how he
went to the wolf for healing, which was the new doctor - instead of the
saviour, which was her husband, the old one, and drew lurid pictures of
the fiery poisons and deadly draughts the wolf gave the poor sheep to
kill him instead of cure him."

"And what became of the new doctor?"

"Oh, of course he had to go - which was a pity, as he was the first
person with a sense of humour who ever entered that village as a
resident.  One could positively talk sense to him, without being
regarded as a lunatic.  As a rule, you had to feign imbecility there if
you didn't want to be considered mad.
I had just made up my mind to learn to knit men's ties, instead of
babies' socks, when he departed" - and she looked at Ethel with a
grimness, and at the same time a lurking humour, that made it quite
impossible for Ethel to keep her face.

"And did you change your mind then?" seeing the gaunt spinster was not
in the least annoyed at her for laughing.

"Yes; I stuck to the babies' socks.  I thought on the whole it was less
incongruous for a woman with a face like mine to work for a baby than a
man.
And that's the nearest I ever got to a love affair.  Just to wonder if
I'd knit a man a tie, and change my mind, and knit socks for a little
black heathen whelp instead."

"O dear!" said Ethel, with a little smothered gasp, "you don't mind if
I laugh, do you?  You really are very amusing."

"Amusing!..." with a little humorous snort.  "Well, I don't mind
amusing you; but I do think it's about the most monstrous thing in the
way of a practical joke I know, for Nature to create a creature like
me, with a natural inclination to want a mate.  Just as if any man
could bear to get up every morning of his life and see me there."

"Nonsense," Ethel exclaimed.  "Basil thinks you are very attractive."

"Does he?" drily.  Then, with a sudden, swift humour, "Perhaps it's a
pity I didn't learn to knit ties after all!"

"Tell him about why you didn't instead - and abouth the village and the
doctor's wife.  He'll be so interested.  You will be a positive godsend
to him.  May I tell him to expect you to tea to-morrow?"

"Yes.  Tell him, to add to the humour of the situation, I'll bring
across a baby's sock to knit.  We're both so likely to have a mutual
interest in babies."

Ethel kept Basil entertained most of the evening with the account of
her interview, rather to the annoyance of Doris, who, for some vague
reason, was not at all pleased about the new acquaintance.

Perhaps it was because, on one or two occasions when she had remained
out later than she should, she had met the music-teacher and
encountered a fierce and disapproving glare.  Doris was quite willing
to be relieved of her charge occasionally, but she did not at all
appreciate the idea of a strong-minded individual, who would certainly
not hesitate not only to condemn her selfishness, but to look her scorn
of it.

On the evening of Dudley's visit, when she first found the gaunt
spinster at the flat, she had gone to bed feeling out of sorts with
herself and all the world.

She hated having been caught in her selfish forgetfulness; she hated
the idea of the opposite tenant coming in to help Ethel; she hated
being Doris Hayward and living in a stuffy Holloway flat.  It caused
her to turn her thoughts more seriously to a way of escape, and, as a
natural sequence, to how much Dudley's attentions might mean.

And further, if they were meant in earnest, how she would feel about
marrying him.  She made no pretence to herself of loving him;
personally, she thought love mostly sentimental nonsense; but she liked
being with him, and she liked going about with him.

On the other hand, he was not rich, and she hated poverty.  If she
waited a little longer, a richer man might turn up?...  or, again, he
might not, and Dudley might change his mind.  Certainly it was very
awkward to know which was the wisest course, but in the meantime it
would be just as well to keep Dudley attracted.

To this end she gave her hair an extra curl on Saturday evening, and
arose betimes on Sunday morning for further preparations.  Ethel took a
bow off her hat, ironed, and remade it, and finally put the finishing
touches to her appearance.

"You look very nice," she said.  "I hope you'll have a splendid day.
Rund and show yourself to Basil."

Basil told her she would certainly be the belle of the luncheon party,
and finally she departed feeling very pleased with herself.

Dudley was waiting for her at Paddington, and his eyes showed plainly
that he echoed Basil's opinion, though he did not actually express it
in words.

"How did you leave Basil?" he asked.  "I wish I felt happier about him."

"He is much brighter altogether.  I really think Ethel might have come,
as the tenant of the opposite flat would have been only too pleased to
go and sit with him.  She never seems to have any pleasure, does she?
But it is really her own fault.  I would have stayed at home to-day if
she would have let me."

"I think I'm rather glad she wouldn't; though I am sorry she could not
have had the treat as well.  We are going to have a lovely day, in
spite of its being so late in the year."

As it was only a small birthday luncheon, and the others of the party
had either gone overnight or lived near, they were easily able to get a
compartment to themselves, and Dudley was conscious of a pleasurable
quickening of his pulses at the prospect of the long tête-à-tête.

And indeed it was not surprising, for Doris looked adorably pretty and
winsome, and many a wiser man might have shared his pleased
anticipation.  Moreover, Doris was not in the least stupid or vapid,
however selfish and shallow her nature; and if she chose she could be a
very pleasant companion.

And to-day she did so choose, hovering still in indecision over the
subject that had filled her thoughts often of late.

Finally, it chanced that during much of the day they were thrown
together, and all the  time she thought how nice it was to be of so
much consequence to any one; while he enjoyed again the sense of her
clinging, engaging dependence.

And when they were once more alone in a commpartment, steaming back to
town, it was not in the least surprising that, almost before he knew
it, Dudley was pouring into her ears a tale of love.

True, it was a very calm and collected tale, but it was none the less
genuine for that; and from the bottom of his heart he believed that
she, above all women, was the one he desired as his wife.  Transports
of any description were foreign to his nature.  He imagined they always
would be.

Joyous excitement and enthusiasm he left to Hal, except such enthusiasm
as he kept for old ruins and ancient architecture.  Still, it warmed
all his blood and quickened all his pulses to have his way at last, and
hold Doris in his arms, and try to kiss away the unshed tears and the
little droop from her lips.

He took her home from the station, but did not go in because of the
lateness of the hour, and the probability that Basil was just getting
off to sleep; only kissing her again with a certain old-fashioned,
deferential air and promising to come in the course of a day or two to
see Ethel and Basil.

Doris let herself in with somewhat mixed feelings.

She had had a delightful day and thoroughly enjoyed it, but, now that
the die was cast, and the difficult point settled, she found herself
beginning to be more critical of Dudley.

She wished he were not quite so old-fashioned, nor so good.  She was a
little afraid she would find his sterling qualities distinctly boring,
and his high standard a difficult and tiresome one to bother with.

And then, of course, there was Hal.  Hal never had liked her and
probably never would.  Not that it mattered very much.  In fact, it was
rather pleasant than otherwise to think of Hal's discomfiture and
dismay, Doris wondered if she would expect to live with them, and made
up her mind then and there, very decisively, that she would never agree
to anything of the kind.

She had suffered quite enough from Ethel's superiority, without
encountering a second edition in Hal.  As she thought of it, and of how
she would checkmate Hal's possible plans to make her home with them,
she smiled to herself a little cruelly in the darkness.





CHAPTER XX


It was Hal also who filled Dudley's thoughts as he made his way
homeward.  In her attitude to his engagement he was afraid she was
going to personate what is known as a 'though nut to crack."  He
wondered if she would be waiting up for him, and what in the world she
would say when he told her.

As it happened, she was waiting, sitting over the remains of a little
fire she had lighted for company.  The reason she felt the need of
company, and the reason she was waiting, was the fact of a perturbed
frame of mind she was endeavouring to soothe, until he came in to give
the final touch.

She was perturbed because of the change in Sir Edwin Crathie, and the
closing scene of a somewhat eventful day.  Until tea-time he had been
as gay and lighthearted and inconsequent as ever.

Their lunch in the New Forest had been an immense success, and both had
enjoyed it thoroughly.  On their way home they further enjoyed a big
tea at an hotel.

Moreover, the drive had been delightful.  The glory of the autumn
tints; the delicious stillness of the autumn weather, and the sunny
coolness of the atmosphere had all contributed to make the day perfect.
 After her long hours of office work and monotony, Hal was only the
better tuned to enjoy it, and as she leant back in blissful ease in the
luxurious motor, she thought what a goose she would have been to let
prudish thoughts influence her to forgo it.

Then, once more, after tea, he had deliberately moved his chair nearer
to hers, and struck a personal note that she found it difficult to
combat.

"Do you know," he told her blandly, "you're the dearest litte woman
I've met for a long time?  I don't know when I've enjoyed a whole day
with any one so much as this."

"It's just the novelty," she said, adopting a note of unconcern to head
him off; "most of your friends flatter and try to please you.  It
amuses me more to contradict you; that's all."

"Oh, that's all, is it!  Well, I dare say if I found a special joy in
being contradicted, I could easily humour the fancy without going for a
whole day into the country."

"Ver likely - only, since you wanted your day in the country, you kill
two birds with one stone, don't you see?"

"And supposing I badly wanted something else from you besides
contradiction!... a little affection, for instance!"

"Oh, I'm giving you a lot of that thrown in," gaily, but she pushed her
chair a little farther away; "if I didn't rather like you I shouldn't
bother to contradict you."

"Rather like me!... that's very cold - I, a great deal more than
_rather_ like you."

"That, of course, is different," with a jaunty air, that made them both
laugh.

"Still, I don't think we can stop a 'rather liking', now - do you?"

"I don't see why we shouldn't; we are getting on very nicely."

He got up suddenly, and walked away to the window.  In his heart of
hearts he was a little nonplussed.  Of course they couldn't stop where
they were, he argued; but how, with a girl of Hal's practical
level-headedness get any farther?

Then he remembered he was a firm believer in swift and sudden measures,
and usually found they fitted all contingencies.  So he swung round,
crossed the room, put his hand on her shoulders, and boldly kissed her.

"There," he said - "that is how I 'rather like' you."

Hal was quite taken aback - almost too taken aback to speak; but a red
spot burned in each cheek, and a sudden flash seemed to gleam angrily
in her eyes.  Her quick brain, however, took in the position instantly.
 If she grew indignant and melodramatic, he would merely laugh at her.

Of course he knew she must be perfectly aware that men often kissed a
girl who stood to them  in her position, without thinking much of it.
To make a fuss would be rather absurd.  On the other hand, of course,
he had to be disillusioned concerning what he apparently supposed would
be her feelings on the subject.

"I call that bad taste," she said coolly.  "You might have given me a
sporting chance to let you know beforehand I should object."  He looked
about to repeat the action, but she edged away from him.  "Of course I
know lots of girls don't mind, but that's nothing to do with you and
me.  I do."

"Why do you mind?"  He felt rather small before the directness of her
eyes, and tried to bluster himself on to his former level.  "It's very
silly of you, especially nowadays.  There's no harm in a kiss, is
there?"

"None that I know of, but I think we were getting on very nicely
without it.  We won't risk spoiling things.  Come along, I'm longing to
be off"; and she moved towards the door.

"Are you angry with me?" he asked.

"Yes; very; but if you'll promise not to do it again I'll try to
forget.  If you transgress further, we shall just have to leave off
being friends - that's all."

He took his seat in the motor beside her in silence, and Peter whizzed
them away at a good speed.

Hal, enjoying the motion, kept her face averted, and drank in the
lovely, fresh country air.

Presently a hand stole firmly over hers.

"You're not to be angry with me any more, little woman.  I'm afraid I
was rather a cad, but you've got such a fascinating mouth.  I'm sorry."

She looked frankly into his eyes.

"Well, don't do it again, then."

He tried to look no less frankly back, but it was as if some forbidden
thought flashed across his mind.

"I'll try not," he said, a trifle lamely, and looked away.

He still kept possession of her hand, however, until she resolutely
drew it from him.

"Will Brother Dudley be in?" he asked, when they drew up in Bloomsbury.

"No; he won't get bakc much before nine."

He took her latch-key from her, and opened the door, entering himself,
instead of taking her proffered hand.

"Which way?" he asked, and she opened the door into their sitting-room.

"I'll show you Brother Dudley's photograph now you're here," she said
in a frank voice - "and the very latest of Lorraine Vivian.  I wish I
had one of Apollo; but I've never asked for one, because I always make
a point of pretending not to admire him."

"It's only pretence, then?" he asked, glancing at the others as if his
thoughts were elsewhere.

"It can only be.  One is bound to admire him at heart.  Nature seldom
made a fairer gentleman, and it would be mere perversity to deny it,
except, as I do, for his good."

Then suddenly she saw he was scarcely listening to her, and looking at
the photographs without seeing them, and instinctively she moved away,
feeling a little at loss.  The next moment he had caught her shoulders,
and kissed her again.

"I said I'd try, and so I have, but it's no use.  Little woman, don't
be prudish; kiss me back again."

But she pushed him away, and in the firelight he saw she was very white
and determined.

"I asked you not to.  It is much worse taste still now."

"No, it isn't - don't be silly.  Why shouldn't I kiss you? I... I...
have got awfully fond of you, and I know you like me somewhere down in
your heart."

"I shall cease to do so from this moment."

"I dare you to.  Hal, if you like me, why not take the sweets that
offer?  I'll be bound you've never been kissed in your life as I will
kiss you.  Don't be prudish.  Let me teach you."

She seemed to hesitate a second, in indecision as to what was her best
course to withstand him, and, seizing the opportunity, he suddenly
caught her in his arms and kissed her on the lips with swift, eager
kisses.  Then, not giving her time to speak her resentment, he snatched
up his hat and moved to the door.

"Don't be angry," he said.  "I did try, honour bright, but it's no use;
good-bye.  I must see you again soon";  and he went out, closing the
door behind him.

For some minutes Hal stood quite still, feeling a little dazed.  She
saw him cross the pavement, give some directions to Peter, and then
drive away without a backward glance.  She stood still a little longer,
then slowly took off her hat, threw it on the sofa, ran her fingers
through her hair and sat down.

After a little, the emptiness of the room seemed to oppress her, for
though it was not cold, she jumped up and put a match to the fire.
Then the landlady came in with her supper.

"'Ad a nice day, miss?" she asked pleasantly.

"Very nice.  How's Johnnie?  Did you get to see him?"  alluding to a
small son boarded out at Highgate for his health.

"Yes; I went up to tea with 'im.  'E looks years better already."

"I'm very glad."

Hal sat down to her supper with a preoccupied air, and instead of
having a little chat, she relapsed into silence, and the landlady
departed.  She felt vaguely that something had upset entirely the even
tenor of her mind, and she wanted to think.  Any other Sunday evening
she would have told the landlady something about her motor-ride, for
she and Dudley had now been in the same rooms for seven years, and it
is quite a fallacy to condemn all London landladies as grasping,
bad-tempered tyrants.

Hal was quite fond of Mrs. Carr, and had found her unwearingly
thoughtful and attentive.  But to-night she wanted to think, and was
glad to be alone again, almost immediately returning to her arm chair
over the fire.

She was conscious, in a vague, uncertain way, that though Sir Edwin had
kissed her because he cared for her, he could not have acted so had he
cared in an upright, honest-hearted manner.  She attracted him, and he
wanted all the pleasure he could get out of the attraction, but there,
no doubt, it ended.

For the rest, he was Sir Edwin Crathie, Cabinet Minister, and member of
a proud, patrician family.  She was Hal Pritchard, secretary, typist,
and occasional journalist at the office of a leading London paper.

She grew restless, and commenced roaming round the room.  Her knowledge
of life, as it is lived near its teeming, throbbing, working centre,
warned her that the new turn of their friendship held danger.  If she
was wise, she would shun the danger, and go back to her old life before
he had come into it.  She would firmly and resolutely refuse to see him
again.

To do so without regret was impossible.  Now that the friendship seemed
about to cease, she realised it had meant more than she knew.  She held
her face in her hands, and her cheeks tingled at the memory of the last
eager kiss.

She was woman enough to know it was good to be kissed like that by a
man who, even if his morals and principles left much to be desired, was
still very much a man, and had won a distinction that made most women
proud of far less attention than he had shown her.

Still? -

In a different sense she was struggling in a net of circumstances
something like Lorraine's.  Lorraine wanted to do the right thing, or,
at any rate, the sporting thing.

So did Hal.

In a world full of temptations, and backsliding, and much suffering
thereby, the sporting thing for the strong woman is to stand to her
guns.  If Hal dallied with Sir Edwin now, she felt she would be
deserting her post.  At the judgment-bar of her own heart, which, after
all, matters far more than the judgment-bar of public opinion, she
would be allowing herself to compromise for the sake of the fleeting,
dangerous pleasure.

She stopped short by the window, and stared out into the gloomy,
lamplit street.  And it crossed her mind to remember the bitter price
so many women had paid for that dalliance and compromise, so many now
probably gazing out with dull eyes into gloomy streets, hopeless,
reckless, and joyless.

Yes; dalliance and compromis were mistakes.  The real pluck was the
sporting spirit that stood to its guns, even if it cost a big and
wearisome effort.  She would not dally.  She would answer to her own
Best, and try to go on her steadfast way.

After all, she had Dudley and Lorraine.  It was good to have a brother
all to oneself, who was incontestably a dear, in spite of a little
priggishness and narrowness.  He would be home soon, and then they
would have a last chat over the fire together; and that would help to
renew her in her determination to cut the dangerous friendship adrift.

She leaned back in the chair a little wearily, and waited for the
welcome sound of his key in the latch.  She wished he would come
quickly, because she did not quite like the way her mind kept reverting
to those eager kisses.  The memory had the danger of making most other
thoughts seem thin and dull; and she wondered how she was going to
replace a friendship that had been so full of interest and enjoyment.

If she had dared, she would like to have persuaded herself that he
cared for her in the real way; and her cheeks glowed, and her heart
thumped a little at the thought of all the real way meant.  But her
practical side told her only too decidedly that this was not the case.

Perhaps he was not the sort of man who could care in the real way at
all.  He was too selfish, and grasping, and ambitious by nature.  That
he was interesting and a delightful companion as well did not help
matters.  Men were very often all these things together, but the
selfish, ambitious, unscrupulous side usually outweighed all the rest
in big questions that affected their whole lives.

Then she remembered that many of the girls she knew - quite nice, jolly
girls - would have taken the fun that offered, and not bothered about
anything beyond the present.  Still, that did not affect her own
particular case.

One had to try and live up to one's own ideals, not other people's, and
in her inmost heart she knew that she thought but poorly of the girls
who run foolish risks for the sake of a little extra pleasure and
gratification, just as she thought poorly of the man who amused
himself,  trifling with a girl's affections, to pass a little time.

Then came the welcome sound of Dudley's key, and she sat up and turned
an eager face to the door to greet him.

He came in quietly, and returned the greeting with his usual calm,
undemonstrative appreciation; only, he did not look at her, nor ask her
any questions about her day.

The supper was still waiting for him, and he took a few mouthfuls, in a
preoccupied manner, with his face turned away.  Hal asked him about the
day's outing, wondering not a little at his manner.  He seemed anxious,
and somewhat ill at ease, and she observed that he did not eat anything
to speak of.

At last he got up and came to her side near the fire.

"Aren't you going to sit down?" she asked.  "I thought a little fire
looked so cosy."

He did not seem to hear her, for instead of replying he coughed
nervously, cleared his throat, and said:

"I've something to tell you, Hal - a piece of news."

She waited, watching him with a puzzled, curious air.  Then, without
any further preamble, he finished abruptly:

"I'm - I'm - engaged to be married."

Hal gave a gasp, and became suddenly taut with amazement and
incredulity.  "You're - engaged - to - be - married!"

"Yes; you're not very surprised, are you?"

A sudden, awful fear seemed to envelop and clutch at her.

""Who to?" she asked, a little hoarsely?

"To Doris Hayward."

For some reason he seemed unabel to look at her.  Vaguely he knew he
had dealt her a blow, and that it was of a nature he could not soften.

Hal stared hard at the fire, then suddenly started to her feet.

"You can't mean it," she exclaimed, forgetting to be circumspect.  "You
couldn't possibly think seriously of marrying Doris Hayward?"

Instantly he stiffened.

"I don't know why you speak of it in that way.  Certainly I am serious.
 It is hardly a question I should joke about."

There was a tense silence, then Hal turned to the sofa and picked up
her hat as if she were a little dazed.  She seemed suddenly to have
nothing to say, and she knew herself to be no good at prevarication.
To congratulate him seemed an impossibility just yet.

"Of course I know you have never cared for Doris," he said; "but
probably you did not know her well enough.  I hope you will soon see
you have misjudged her."

"I hope so," she said lamely.  "Good-night - I - I - hadn't thought
about your getting married.  I must get used to the idea.  I - " she
paused in sudden, swift distress.  "Good-night; of course I hope you'll
be happy, and all that," and she went hurriedly out, and up to her own
room.





CHAPTER XXI


When Hal reached her room she sat down on the bed in the dark, and
stared at the dim square of the window.  She was feeling stunned, and
as if her brain would not work properly.  It grasped the significance
of old, familiar objects as usual, but seemed quite unable to grip and
understand the something strange and new which had suddenly come into
being.  She remembered she had waited for Dudley to come with soothing
for a perturbed frame of mind, and instead, he had brought her - _this_.

What could it mean?  Surely, surely, not that Doris Hayward was to rob
her of her brother.

A wave of swift and sudden loneliness seemed to envelop her.  The
blackness of the night closed in upon her, and desolation swept across
her soul.

"If only it had been Ethel," was the vague, uncertain thought: "any one
in the world almost but Doris."

And again,

"Why had Dudley been so incredibly blind to Doris's real nature?  Why
had he of all men been caught by a pretty face?  Was it possible he
thought his life would need no other help and comfort but that of a
charming exterior in his wife?"

How childlike he seemed again to his young sister's practical, worldly
knowledge.  Of course he knew almost nothing of women, buried in his
musty old architectural lore, and giving most of his brain to the
contemplation of ancient ruins and edifices.

He had looked up from his books, and Doris had smiled at him, that
diabolically winsome, innocent smile of hers; and something in his
heart, not quite smothered and likewise not healthily developed, had
warmed into sudden, surprised pleasure, and straightway he thought
himself in love.  Hal was sure of one thingn, that if Doris had not
decided it would suit her plans to be Dudley's wife, the idea would not
have occured to him.

After all, what did he want with a wife for years to come, going along
so contentedly and placidly with his books and his thirst for
knowledge, and the peacefulness of their sojourn with Mrs. Carr?  No
servant troubles, no housekeeping worries, no taxes, no gas and
electric-light bills; everything done for them, and for company each
other.

Oh, of course, it was all Doris's doing.  She wanted to get away from
the dingy flat and the poverty, and she had hit upon Dudley as a way
out.

Hal got up suddenly with a bursting feeling.  Of course she did not
even love him, would not even try to change her nature to become more
in touch with his, would not trouble in the least what obstacles stood
between any real and deep understanding.  Perhaps she was not even
capable of love, but in any case her affections could not have been
given to any one as quiet, and studious, and old-fashioned as Dudley.

She went to the window and threw it open that she might lean out and
breathe the open air.  Her head burned and ached, and her eyes smarted
with a smouldering fire in her brain.  She felt more and more how
entirely it must have been Doris's doing.  Doris had smiled at him, and
confided in him, and managed first to convey a pathetic picture of her
own loneliness, and then to suggest how happy her life might be with
him.

And of course Dudley was all chivalry at heart, and trusting, and
tender-hearted; that was one reason why he had always deplored her,
Hal's, boyish independence and determination to fend for herself.  He
did not understand the vigorous, enterprising, working woman.

Immersed in his books and his studies, he had allowed himself to be
influenced largely by caricatures, and by the noisy stir of the
platform woman.  But he understood the Doris type, or thought he did,
and placed their engaging dependence before such spirited resolution as
her own and Ethel's.

And how to help him?  How, now, to thwart the carrying out of Doris'
cleverly carried scheme.

Her first thought was Ethel and Basil.  She would go to them, and
appeal to them to help her.

And then she remembered that "blood is thicker than water."  How could
they thwart their own sister; and in any case what would Dudley ever
see in it but a persecution that would intensify his affection?  One
hint that Doris was victimised, and she knew Dudley well enough to
realise he would only marry her the more quickly, whether he had
learned the truth or not.

Opposition of any sort would probably do far more harm than good at
present.  There was nothing for it but to meet the blow with the best
face possible, and hope time might yet bring release.

Then her thoughts went back to Sir Edwin, and quite suddenly and
unaccountably she longed to tell him about it.  He would be interested
for her sake, and he would cheer her up, and make her hopeful in spite
of herself.

And yet -

No; to see him again, feeling as she felt now, would only mean to see
him in a mood of weakness, that might make her less able to withstand
him.

She must rely only on Lorraine and Dick, and try to stand by her
previous determination.  She would see Lorraine directly she left the
office the next day, and in the meantime she would try and hide from
Dudley the extent of her dismay.

But in spite of her resolve, when she rested her head on the pillow,
the  hot tears squeezed through her closed eyelids, and in dumb misery
she told herself Dudley was lost to her for ever.

She awoke the next morning with a dull, aching sense of misery that had
robbed the sunshine of its warmth, and the day of its brightness; but
as she dressed she strengthened herself in a resolve to try and hide
her chagrin, and make some amends to Dudley for her reception of the
news.

"I suppose you felt pretty disgusted with me last night," she said at
the breakfast-table.  "I'm sorry, but you took me so violently by
surprise."

He had taken his seat, looking grave and displeased, but his face
relaxed as he replied:

"I'm afraid I was rather sudden.  It seemed the easiest" - he
hesitated, then added - "I hope you'll try to get on with Doris."

"Of course."  Hal turned away on some slight pretext.  "I'd hate giving
you up to any one - you know I would - we've - we've - been very happy
together here, and - " but her voice broke suddenly.

Dudley looked unhappy, but he steadied his voice and said cheerfully:

"Well, it needn't be very different.  If you and Doris will get fond of
each other, it will be the same, only better.  Of course you will live
with us."

"Oh no"; and she tried to smile lightly - "I couldn't - possibly live
without Mrs. Carr now.  I should never be properly dressed, for one
thing, and I should always be forgetting important engagements."  She
changed the subject quickly, seeing he was about to remonstrate.  "Have
you seen Ethel and Basil since - since - "

"No; I'm going to see Basil this afternoon, after taking Doris to
Wimbledon to see Langfier fly, and I shall stay to dinner.  Will you
come up this evening?"

"No; I'm going out.  Perhaps to-morrow - " she hesitated, as if
swallowing a lump in her throat.  "You might give my love to Doris, and
say I'll come soon."  She saw Dudley glance at her inquiringly, and
recklessly dashed into another subject, talking at random until she
left.

In the afternoon she hurried straight off to Lorraine's flat, arriving
a few minutes after Lorraine had come in from a walk in the Park.  She
was standing by the window, drawing off some long gloves, and even Hal
was struck by a sort of newness about her - a bloom and a quiet
radiance that was like a renewal of youth.

She was beautifully dressed as ever, buth with a far simpler note than
usual - something which suggested she wished to look charming, without
attracting attention; something which suppressed the actress in favour
of the woman.

It was as if, surrounded with success and attention night after night,
and for several years, she had wearied of the rôle, and put it aside
voluntarily whenever opportunity offered.  She had been wont to be
verry fashionable and striking in her dress and general appearance, but
now Hal noticed vaguely a simpler note all through.

Her face and expression seemed to have changed also.  A certain
hardness and callousness had gone.  Her smile was more genuine, and her
eyes kinder.  In some mysterious way, it was as though Lorraine had won
from the past some gleaming of the woman she might have been under
happier circumstances, and without certain harsh experiences.

And it was all owing to her feeling for Alymer Hermon and his youthful
pride in her.

They met continually now.  Her flat was open to him whenever he liked.
He came to her when he had anything interesting to relate - when he was
depressed and when he was hopeful.  With the inconsequent acceptance of
youth, he took from her what an older man would have regarded a little
shyly, and perhaps feared to take.

She was his pal, his excellent friend, who gave him such sympathy and
interest and encouragement as she could find nowhere else.  Because he
was young, he drank deep and asked no questions.

He did not imagine for a moment that she was in love with him.  True,
other women were; but then they told him so, and alarmed him with their
attentions.  Lorraine was more inclined to laugh at him and make fun of
him, in a jolly, pally sort of way, which made him feel perfectly at
home with her, and successfully banish any questions.

She was more like a man friend, only better, because a man would have
wanted an equal share of interest, whereas Lorraine seemed content to
be interested in him.  She never encouraged him to talk about her
triumphs and her other friends.  She rather implied they were so public
and apparent already she did not want to hear any more of them.

But she was always ready to talk of his hopes and aspirations, and help
him to build foundations to his aircastles.  And already, under her
tuition and help, he had made immense strides.  His work and his
objects had become real to him, ambition had taken root and begun to
push out little upward shoots.  He saw himself one of the leading
lights at the Bar, and instead of lazily scoffing, he liked the
picture.  He wanted to get there, and if Lorraine was ready to help
him, why should she not?  Why bother to ask questions?

Of course she must be fond of him, or she would not do it; but then he
was fond of her too - very fond - and why not?  The mere suggestion of
danger did not occur to him.  She was so many years his senior, and so
celebrated, it never crossed his mind to suppose she could have any
feeling for him beyond the jolly palliness that seemed to have sprung
up naturally between them.

So he came and went between the Temple and her flat and his own
quarters, and life began to assume a bigness of possibility that
drowned all else, and kept him eager and harworking and safe from the
hurtful influences and actions that attend idle hours.

And Lorraine, for the present, walked in her fool's paradise and was
content.  She watched him slowly and surely fill out both physically
and mentally into the promise of his splendid manhood.

She saw his youthful beauty solidifying into the beauty of a man, and
carefully watered and tended those budding shoots of ambition that were
to help him attain his best promise.

For the time being the thwarted mother-love that is in every woman
satisfied her with the evidence of his progress, and she lulled any
other into quiescence, hugging to herself the knowledge that it was she
alone to whom he would owe greatness, if he won it, and that even his
own doting mother had not done, and never could do, the half that she
was doing to start him on a steadfast way that should lead to fame and
usefulness.

She made it her excuse for ignoring the questions which her wider
knowledge could not entirely banish.  To what other results the
friendship might lead she turned a deaf ear.  The other results must
take care of themselves, was her thought; it was enough for her that
she could help to make him great.

She smiled  a little at the thought of the women she had won him from.
He talked to her now freely and openly, though always with that
unassuming modesty which was so attractive.  She knew what he had
already had to combat.  What a life of self-pleasing and gay-living lay
open to him if he chose to take it.  She knew that, if he chose it,
though he might still win a certain amount of fame, it would never be
the well-grounded, staunch, reliable success that she could spur him to.

And so she drew a curtain over the dangers her course might hold, and,
in a light and airy way, threw over him the glow and the warm
attractiveness of her many fascinations and allurements, that she might
keep him free from any foolish engagement or low entanglement, to
concentrate all his mind and his heart upon his work and her.

How long such an aim was likely to satisfy her, or how natural or
unnatural her course, she left with all the other questions, to be
faced, if necessary, later on, or to pass with the swift joy into
oblivion.

At least it was not the first time a woman, scarcely young, and having
her full measure of success, had turned unaccountably to a man very
much her junior, for something she apparently sought in vain from men
of her own age.  It might be strange, but it was not unique; and for
the rest, were not the ways of the little god Love like the ways of
many events - "stranger than fiction"?

His magnificent physique, his extraordinarily beautiful head, and his
no less extraordinary, unassuming modesty, attracted and held her with
links that grew stronger and stronger, and her happiest hours now were
those in which he made himself delightfully at home in her flat, and
added to his charm by talking to her with the old-fashioned,
grandfatherly air she had enjoyed from the first.

And so Hal found a younger and softer Lorraine than she had known for a
long time, waiting to hear the burden of her tale of woe.

They talked it over in every aspect, Hal sitting in her favourite
attitude on a stool at Lorraine's feet; but very little light could be
won through the clouds.  All the consolation Lorraine could suggest was
a possibility that to be engaged and married to a man like Dudley might
change Doris altogether for the better; but Hal, beyond feeling
brighter for having spoken out her dismay, felt there was little indeed
hope of that.

"Have you seen Sir Edwin Crathie again?"  Lorraine asked presently, and
she was surprised to see a spot of colour instantly flame into Hal's
cheeks.

"I've had a long motor ride with him," she said, speaking as if it were
a mere detail.

"_Have you_?" was Lorraine's very expressive rejoinder.

"Why do you say it like that?"  Hal laughed with seeming lightness.
"He just took me for a treat.  He's rather sorry for me, being boxed up
in an office, as he calls it."

"I see.  Well, don't forget he has the reputation for being rather a
dangerous man, old girl."

Hal laughed again.

"I'll tell him so, and go armed with a revolver next time."  She
noticed an inquiring look in Lorraine's eyes, and added: "Don't look so
serious, Lorry; he is old enough to be my father.  He likes a little
amusement, the same as you and Baby Hermon."

She turned away as she spoke, and did not see the swift deepening of
the look of inquiry, nor a certain strange expression that flitted
across Lorraine's face; and almost immediately the door opened, and
Alymer Hermon walked in unannounced.

"Hullo, Hal!" he exclaimed - "it's quite a long time since I ran into
you here."

"Hullo, Baby!" she retorted.  "Why, I declare, you are beginning to
look quite a man."

"If you don't mind I'll pick you up and carry you all the way down the
stairs to the street; then you'll see if I'm a man or not."

"Tut; any big creature could do that!  Got any briefs yet?"

"I have."

Lorraine looked up instantly with an eager, questioning glance - while
Hal asked gaily:

"What is it?...  I suppose the original holder is sick, or dead, or
something, and you are a stop-gap."

"You are wrong, Miss Sharp-tongue.  I hold the brief entirely on my
own.  It hasn't even anything to do with any one in Waltham's Chambers."

And still Lorraine, with shining eyes, watched his face.

"I suppose," said Hal , "the other side have got a very small man, and
they wanted a big one to frighten him?"

"Wrong again.  The other side has Pym, and he is quite six feet in
height."

"Then perhaps he looks clever, and they believe in contrasts."

"I shall carry you down to the street yet," threateningly; "you are
running grave risks."

"So is the poor man trusting his defence to you."

"It happens to be a lady."

Hal clapped in her hands.

"Of course," she cried; "now we are getting at it.  The lady chose you
because she thought your wig and gown becoming.  How many interviews
shall you be having with her?"

"I couldn't say, but we had one this afternoon."

"And was she very charming?  Did she call you Baby?"

He shrugged his shoulders and turned to Lorraine.

"I only waste my substance trying to cope with any one as obtuse as
Hal.  Is she going to stay to dinner?"

"I'm afraid so," smilingly.

He took up his stand on the rug, with his back to the fire and looked
down at Hal on her footstool.

"It's a pity about the obtuseness," he commented, "because she is
really rather nice to look at.  She has improved so much lately."

"Oh no, I haven't," tilting her nose in the air.  "I am exactly the
same; but you have acquired better taste.  Is _he_ going to stay to
dinner, Lorraine?""
"I'm afraid so.  You will have to call a truce, because I want to hear
all about the brief; and I shall hear nothing if you persist in
wrangling."

"It isn't my fault," he said.  "I always try to be friends."

"Well, as far as that goes, I always _try_ to like you," Hal retorted
with a laugh.

"You would find it much easier if you did not hurl insults at me.
Begin another plan altogether."

"Come along to dinner," put in Lorraine, rising, "and let us hear about
this brief."

She led the way to the dining-room, and they had a merry little meal,
arranging all about the congratulatory dinner Lorraine proposed to give
for Alymer to celebrate the important occasion of his first brief.

Afterwards Hal drove to the theatre with her, and stayed a short time
in her room while, as Lorraine phrased it, she put on her war-paint.

Then she went rather sadly home alone, feeling lost and unhappy about
Dudley.  It crossed her mind once that Lorraine and Alymer Hermon
seemed be on very much more familiar terms than previously, but she
paid little heed to the thought, merely supposing that it amused
Lorraine to help him in his profession.

She sat over the fire and tried to read, but presently the book went
down into her lap, and her eyes sought the cheery flicker of the
flames.  Only there was no answering glow in her usually bright face,
rather a sad uneasiness and perplexity, as if circumstances she hardly
knew how to cope with were closing in upon her.

She felt she had come to a difficult path in life she would have to
face alone; for in her friendship with Sir Edwin Crathie neither Dudley
nor Lorraine could help her.

And, gazing into the fire with serious, thoughtful eyes, it was neither
Dudley and Doris, nor Lorraine and Alymer who finally held her
thoughts, but sir Edwin Crathie himself.




CHAPTER XXII


The first time Sir Edwin rang up the newspaper office after the
memorable Sunday it happened that Hal had gone into the country to
report an opening ceremony, graced by Royalty, so she was saved the
necessity of framing a reply.

One of the usual reporters being ill, the news editor had asked her if
she would like to take his place, and she had eagerly accepted the
chance.  It meant a day in the country, travelling by special train,
and the writing of the report did not worry her at all, as she had
already served her apprenticeship to journalism, and knew how to seize
on the most interesting points and condense them into a small space.

She had a genius for making friends also, and after an excellent
champagne lunch, and a cup of tea captured for her by a pleasant-faced
man whom she afterwards discovered to be the Earl of Roxley, she
motored back to the railway station with a well-known aeronaut, who
promised to take her for a "fly" some day.  They travelled up to town
in the same compartment, and as Hal had to have her article ready for
press when she reached the office, it was necessary to write it in the
train.

The "flying man" wished to turn his hand to journalism too, and
attempted to help her, without much success, though with a good deal of
entertainment for himself.  He was specially amused at her
determination to lay considerable stress on the fact that one of the
horses in the royal carriage fell down between the station and the park.

"What's the good of putting that in?" he argued; "it is of no
importance."

"Why, it's almost the most important thing of all," she declared.  "You
evidently don't know much about journalism.  The Public will not be
half as interested in the King's speech as in the information that one
of the horses fell down, and that the King then put his hands on the
Queen's, and told her not to be frightened."

"But he didn't; and the horse only slipped."

"But you're too dense!" she cried, "and, anyhow, you can't be certain
that he didn't.  It's what he ought to have done, and the British
Public will be awfully pleased to know that he did.  They'll be
frightfully interested in the horse falling down, too.  I suppose you
would leave it out, and give dated of the building of the edifice, and
the different styles of architecture, and the names of illustrious
people connected with it.  As if any one wanted to know that!  The
horse will make far better reading, though I daresay I ought to work in
a few costs of things.  The B.P. loves to know what a thing costs."

"Well, why not value the horse, as you think so much of it? or say that
it snapped a trace in half which cost two guineas, and was bought in
Bond Street?"

They both laughed, and then Hal said seriously:

"I think I'll make it kick over the centre pole, only then perhaps some
of the other reporters will catch it for not having seen the kick also.
 I once wrote an account of a garden party, and left out that the
horses of the Prime Minister's carriage shied and swerved, and one
wheel caught against the gate-post.  As a matter of fact, it did not do
much more than graze it, but some journalist wrote a thrilling account
of how the carriage nearly turned over; and I've never forgotten the
chief's face when he asked me why I hadn't mentioned the accident to
the Prime Minister's carriage.  I said there wasn't an accident, and he
snapped: 'Well you'd better have turned them all in a heap in the road
than left it out altogether!'

"I've never made the same mistake since," she finished, "and now, if
the chief sees my paragraphs, he has to ring some one up occasionally,
and make sure I haven't gone out of bounds altogether."

"Well, if you're quite determined to lie... I mean romance... why not
do it thouroughly?  Let the King leap out of the carriage, with the
Queen in his arms, and the royal coachman fall backwards off the box -
and - and - both the horses burst out laughing?"

"I'd get the sack for that," Hal spluttered, busily plying her pencil,
"and then I'd break my heart, because I'm in love with the chief."

"Oh" - with a low laugh, "and is it quite hopeless?"

"Quite.  The most hopeless _grande passion_ that ever was.  He's been
married twice already, and the second is still very much alive.  Did
the Queen wear a black hat, or a dark purple one?"

"Dark purple, of course, like her dress.  Why, I could write the thing
better than you."

"I'm sure you could, if you might have half the newspaper.  I don't
know where you'd be in thirty-six lines!"

"By Jove!  Have you got to squeeze it all into thirty-six lines?"

"Less, if possible.  There's been a row in Berlin, and we have to allow
for thrilling developments, which may crowd out lots of other
paragraphs."

"And supposing you want it a few lines longer?"

"Then the compiler will add a bit on about the weather, or throw in
another dress description, or something.  I'm putting you in now,"
scribbling on; "but I don't know your name?"

"And I'm not going to tell it to you for your precious paragraph, so
you'll have to cross that bit out again."

"Not at all," airily: "a well-known aeronaut, who has recently beaten
the distance-record, and is looking remarkably well in spite of his
advanced years, was among the distinguished guests!"

He had to cry "pax" then.

"I give you up," he said; "you're too much for me!  But I'll take your
for a fly the first opportunity I get.  Will you come?"

"Will I come!..." in eager tones.  "Oh, won't I?"

And he promised to arrange it.

When they reached Euston, Hal had to dash for the first taxi, and tear
to the office with her report, and it was not until she was leaving
that the call boy told her a gentleman had asked for her on the
telephone in the afternoon.

"Did he give any name?" she asked.

"Yes, Mr. Crathie."

Hal suppressed a smile.  "I suppose you told him I was out."

"Yes, miss.  He wanted to know when you would be back, and I asked Mr.
Watson, and he told me to say 'Not before evening.'"

Hal climbed to the top of a bus, and journeyed homewards with a
thoughtful air.  Of course he would ring her up again the next day, and
then what was she to say?

In the meantime, looming big in her immediate horizon was the visit to
be paid to Holloway that evening.  She was going up without Dudley,
having expressed a wish to do so, with which he had willingly complied.
 She felt it would be easier not to appear forced without him, and
would be fairer on Doris also.  Yet she dreaded the visit very much,
and longed that it was over.

Ethel opened the door to her, as she happened to be in the little
kitchen close beside it, and Hal thought she looked very ill as she
grasped her hand with warm friendliness, saying:

"How nice of you to come and see Doris so soon."

"What are you doing in the kitchen?" said Hal.  "I want to come and
help."

"I'm only making a salad, and shall not be long.  You must go to the
parlour"; and she laughed at the quaint, old-fashioned word.

"No, I'm coming to help," and Hal walked past her, through the  open
door.  "How's Basil?  Dudley spoke as if he was not quite so well just
now."

"I'm afraid he isn't," with sudden, hardly veiled anxiety; "but it may
only be the foggy weather."

To any one else Ethel would probably have asserted that he was well as
usual, and changed the subject; but she liked Hal specially, and showed
it by being quite honest with her.  She also knew perfectly well that
Dudley's engagement must have been a great shock to his only sister,
not solely because she had nothing whatever in common with Doris, but
because she herself must love him; and her heart felt very tender and
friendly over her.

Although Hal had come to see Doris, she did not refrain from following
her inclination, and seating herself on the kitchen table to chat to
Ethel while she made the salad.  Doris would keep, was her rapid mental
conclusion, and they two might not get another chance of a few words
alone.

Chatting thus, it was interesting to note the similarity that existed
between these wielders of the pen, each daily immersed in a City office.

Each had the same clear, frank eyes, the same independent poise of
head, the same air of capable energy and self-dependence.  Each, too,
had the same rather colourless skin, from lack of fresh air, though
whereas Ethel looked tired and worn, Hal seemed strong and fresh and
wore no air of delicacy.

Then Doris came, with her pink-and-white daintiness, and spoke to them
both with a little triumphant air of condescension; for was not she
engaged to be married, whereas clever, working women usually became
"old maids"?

Hal tried not to seem too offhand, but it was quite impossible for her
to gush, and she could not pretend a sudden affection just because of
the engagement.  So she just said something about Dudley being very
happy, and hoped they would have good luck, and then went to the
sitting-room to talk to Basil, entertaining him immensely with her
account of the day's ceremony, and her haphazard friendship with the
"flying man", who was going to take her in his aeroplane.

"Who was he?" Basil asked.  "Has he won any prizes?"

"I don't know.  He dit not tell me.  I did not discover his name
either, but he was some relation of the 'Lord-of-the-Manor' person who
received the King."

"You don't know his name?" asked Doris in a shocked voice.  "Weren't
you introduced?"

"Never a bit of it," laughed Hal.  "I was left behind when the last fly
had gone to the station, and he heard me asking anxiously how soon one
would get back again, and immediately offered me a seat in the motor he
was going in.  Another man was with him, a much be-medalled officer,
who was somewhat heavy in hand to talk to, and at the station we gave
him the slip."

"How can he take you for a fly if you don't know who he is?"

"Well, I dare say he won't; quite likely he didn't mean it; but if he
did, he can easily find me at the office.  He knew my name, and what
paper I was there for.  They bot knew, which probably accounts for the
gentleman with the medals being somewhat ponderous - soldiers are
usually snobbish - and he may not have liked having to ride to the
station with a newspaper woman."

"But if the other man was the Lord of the Manor's brother?"

"Oh, that wouldn't make any difference.  He might very well be less
self-important than anything in a bit of scarlet and medals if he had
been the Lord of the Manor himself.  Why, the Earl of Roxley got tea
for me, and was most attentive."

Doris's eyes opened wider.  She had always secretly entertained rather
a superior attitude towards Hal and her sister, and was glad she was
not an office clerk.  The big, breezy, working world, where the
individual is taken on his or her merits apart from birth, or standing,
or occupation, was quite unknown to her; and that Hal's original,
attractive personality might open doors for ever shut to her mediocre,
pretty young-ladyhood, would never enter her mind.

"I don't think I should care to talk to any one without being
introduced," she remarked a little affectedly, to which Hal shrugged
her shoulders and commented:

"It's just as well you haven't to knock about in the world, then.  Any
one with an ounce of common sense and perspicacity knows when it is
safe, and when it is sheer folly."

Basil watched her with an amused air.

"I'm sure you do," he said.

"Yes."  She smiled infectiously.  "I've only once been spoken to
unpleasantly in London, after knocking about for seven years, and then
I offered the man a sixpence.  I said: 'I'm sorry I haven't any more,
and I can't spare that, but if you are hungry!...'  He looked as if he
would like to slay me, and vanished."

Doris still looked slightly disapproving, and when at last Hal rose to
go, she half-unconsciously asked Ethel with her eyes to accompany her
to get her hat, instead of her prospective sister-in-law.  And when
they were alone, Ethel looked into Hal's expressive face, and guessing
something of what she carefully hid, said sympathetically:

"You and Dudley have always been so much to each other; I am afraid you
must feel it a little having to share him already with another."

Suddenly and inexplicably Hal's eyes filled with tears, and she turned
away quite unable to answer.

Ethel pretended not to notice, but her heart bled for her, knowing how
much worse it was than just the fact of the engagement.

"I'm so wrapped up in Basil," she went on, "that if it had happened to
me I should have felt quite heartbroken, however much I told myself I
wanted his happiness."

Hal dabbed her eyes a little viciously.

"Of course I want him to be happy," she managed to say; "but it is nice
of you to understand."

"There's one thing," Ethel continued, "you will become a sort of
relation, and you've no idea how pleased Basil and I will be about
that."

"Will you?" Hal smiled through her tears, "I rather wonder at it."

"Of course we shall.  Basil and I think you are one of the finest
characters we have ever known.  You've no idea how proud we are when
you come to see us," which proved Ethel's understanding heart, for a
little generous praise is a kind healer to a sore spirit.

Hal looked into her eyes, with a pleased light in her own.

"You are too generous, but it's nice to be thought well of by any one
like you and Basil.  I shall remember it when I am silly enough to be
downhearted, and it will cheer me up."

She had to hurry away then to catch a train, and as she went her mind
was full of the thought:

"Why, oh why, had Dudley, in his blindness, wooed the younger sister?"

"Well?" he said, as she entered their sitting-room, where he was
reading over the fire.  "How did you get on?"

"Oh, splendidly" - trying to throw a little enthusiasm into her voice.
"Doris looked amazingly pretty."

She show a soft light in his eyes, and because it rather maddened her,
she hastened to add: "But I see a great change in Basil."

"Yes?...  I wondered if you would.  I was afraid he did not seem so
well."

"Dudley" - with sudden seriousness - "when Basil dies, it will just
about break Ethel up.  She idolises him."

"I know; but she can hardly wish him to live on if he continues to grow
worse."

"I suppose not; but it's rather awful to think of what it will mean to
her to lose him.  And she's so sympathetic and tender-hearted."  Hal
stood a moment looking gravely at the fire - "you know, I think she's
the most splendid person I've ever known."

"Splendid!... " a trifle testily.  "Why?  Splendid seems an odd word to
use."

"It's the one that suits Ethel Hayward best of all.  Anything else
would be too commonplace.  When I think what her life is - the endless
struggle to make both ends meet - work morning, noon, and night - and
on the top of it all the brother she adores a helpless, suffering
invalid, it quite overawes me.  If she were bitter and complaining it
would be different, but she is nearly always cheerful and hopeful and
ready to think of some one else's troubles.  And yet she isn't
goody-goody - nor what one describes as "worthy'; she's just human
through and through."

"She sometimes seems to me a little severe," he said.

"Severe!... Oh, Dudley, she is the kindest soul alive."

"Perhaps she was tired; but it seemed to me, considering Doris's youth,
she expected rather a lot of her."

"Ah!..."

Hal turned away, and picked up an evening paper.  The exclamation might
have meant anything, yet Dudley half knew it meant that in some way Hal
believed Doris had wilfully misrepresented her sister, and, naturally
resenting the inference, he returned to his book and said no more.

Hal lingered a little longer, passed one or two remarks on the evening
news, told him of her day in the country, and then went to bed.

Yet, in spite of her soreness towards Doris, something in her evening
with Ethel had unaccountably cheered and refreshed her - the kindly
praise, the warm-hearted affection, the sight of the strong, womanly
face, unembittered by its heavy sorrow.

Hal stood at her window, and glanced out over the City, and felt
renewed in her determination to withstand Sir Edwin Crathie's advances.
 She knew that he was treating her with a lack of respect he would not
have dared to show a woman in his own circle.

He was treating her as a City typist; and however much she wished to
prolong it, she knew she owed it to herself to cut it adrift.

And the next day, when the anticipated telephone call came, her
resolution was firm and unshaken.

"Tell the gentleman I am engaged," she told the call boy.

He came back again a moment later to know what time she would be
disengaged, and she gave the message:  "It is quite impossible to say.
I have some most important work on hand."

The small boy grinned in a way that made Hal long to box his ears, but
she returned to her work, and pretended not to see.

At the other end of the wire the speaker sat back in his chair and
muttered an oath; then for some moments he stared gloomily at his desk.

"Damn it!  I like her pluck," ran his thoughts; "but I don't mean to be
put off like that.  I've got to see her again somehow, if it's only to
prove I'm not the cad she thinks me."






CHAPTER XXIII


The following afternoon when Hal left the office about half-past four
she saw a motor she recognised a little way down the street, and was
almost immediately accosted by Sir Edwin himself.

"I knew you left at this time," he said frankly, "so I came to meet
you."

Hal looked a little taken aback.

"I wonder why you did that," was all she found to say.

"Well, it was the only way, since you won't come to the telephone, and
I am afraid to call on you in Bloomsbury.  I want to talk to you.  Come
along and have some tea."

Hal hesitated, looking doubtfully at the motor, but he urged her on.

"Come; surely you're not afraid to have a cup of tea with me.  We'll go
to the Carlton - or the Ritz if you prefer it - and take a conspicuous
table."

"In my office garments!" with a low laugh.  "I don't want to be taken
for your housekeeper."

"My housekeeper is a deuce of a swell," laughing in his turn.  "She
certainly wouldn't be seen in a last year's frock; but you're one of
the lucky people who manage to look smart, even in office clothes, as
you call them - so come along."

Hal got into the motor.

"Which is it to be?  Ritz or Carlton?"

"Oh, Carlton - and not the centre table."

"How do you manage it?" he said, as they glided off, looking at her
with critical, admiring eyes.

"Manage what?  I wish you wouldn't look at me like a doctor studying my
health.  I shall put my tongue out in a minute."

"Don't do that.  A colleague or an opponent would be sure to be
looking, and I don't know which would be worse.  Manage to look smart
in anything, of course I mean."

"Oh, it's Lorraine Vivian and her maid; they loathe to see me dowdy."

"With a little help from the Almighty, who gave you a haughty little
nose and a short upper lip," he told her laughingly.  "You're been very
angry with me, I'm afraid, and no doubt I deserved it, but I'm going to
make you be friends again and forgive me."

"You won't find it easy."

"I dare say not; but I'm going to try all the same.  Shall I begin with
a humble apology?"

"You couldn't be humble.  I shouldn't believe in it."

"I believe I could with you - which means a great deal.  Tell me, were
you fully determined not to speak to me on the telephone, and not to
see me again?"

"Most certainly I was."

"What nonsense!  And did you really suppose I should submit without
making an effort to see you, and persuade you to be friends again?"

Hal tilted her nose up a little, and glanced away as she replied a
trifle scathingly:

"I supposed, having found I was not the sort of girl you imagined, and
not one you could take liberties with, that possibly our friendship
would cease to interest you."

He coloured slightly.

"You hit hard, but I suppose I have deserved it.  I shall now have to
prove to you that I've turned over a new leaf, and deserve it no
longer."

They stopped before the Carlton as he spoke, and he led the way into
the lounge, and to a side table.

"I'm sure you'll trust me this far," he said; "people stare so when one
is in the middle of the room."

Hal sat down and drew off her gloves, feeling, in spite of herself,
unmistakably happy.  It was good to be there, instead of trudging home
to Bloomsbury; and it was specially good to be chatting to him again.

A dear friend may be always a dear friend, and yet not just the one one
wants at the moment.  When things are difficult, and irritating, and
disappointing, the pleasantest companion is apt to be one with so much
individual regard for us at the time that we can hold forth upon our
troubles without any fear of boring our listener.

When Hal had poured her tale of woe into Lorraine's ear, she had known
that Lorraine was genuinely interested and sorry - and yet, also, that
something else occupied her mind at the same time.  Sitting now,
opposite to Sir Edwin Crathie, it was perfectly apparent for the time
being that his mind was entirely at her service.

This was further shown by the fact that he realised something was
worrying her before she told him.

"What's the matter?" he asked abruptly; "you look as if something very
boring had happened."

"It has."

Hal kept her eyes lowered a moment, with a thoughtful air, and the
corners of the fascinating mouth drooped a little.

"What has happened?...  Tell me what is bothering you."

He spoke reremptorily, yet with an evident concern for her that made
the peremptory tone dangerously alluring.  Hal remained silent, though
she felt her pulses quicken, and he added:

"Come, we are going to be friends again; aren't we?  I've told you I'm
very sorry; I can't do more.  You will really have to forgive me now."

She looked into his face, and something in his eyes told her he was
quite genuine for the time.  Of course it might be rash, and unwise,
and various other things, but it had been a difficult, trying week, and
his sympathy was passing good now.  Sir Edwin met her gaze for a
moment, and then lowered his.

He thought it was chiefly when her eyes laughed that he wanted to kiss
her, but when they had that serious, rather appealing expression, he
began to feel they were more disturbing still.  Mastering his
unmanageable senses with an effort, he looked up again, and said:

"Well, what is it?  Of course you must tell me."

"Brother Dudley is going to be married," said Hal with her usual
directness.

"When?"  And Sir Edwin gave a low exclamation of surprise.  "Isn't it
rather sudden?"

"Very," in dry tones.

"And I suppose you don't want to love your prospective sister-in-law
all in a hurry."

"I don't want to love her at all."

"Then I don't suppose you will," with a little laugh. "Presumably you
know her."

"I have known her a long time.  If I had been asked, she is the last
girl I could have believed Dudley would care for.  I don't believe he
does care for her in the real sense.  She is very pretty, and she
wanted to marry him, and she just played on his feelings."

"What do you call 'in the real sense' ?" he asked pointedly.

"A pink spot burned in Hal's cheeks; she felt the question a little
beside the mark, and did not want to answer it.

"She has rather a dull home, and is very poor, and I think she thought
on the whole life would be improved if she were Dudley's wife."

"And that is not the real sense?" insistently.

"It certainly is not love."

"Well, you haven't yet told me what is?"

"I don't know much about it, and" - hastily - "I don't want to.  When
it's real it hurts, and when it isn't real it's just feebleness."

"Still, you must know some day."

He liked to see the spot of colour spreading in her cheeks, and the
frank eyes growing a little defiant as he pressed her against her will.

"It doesn't follow that I must.  Perhaps I shall just be feeble, and
marry for a home 	and luxuries."

"Never," with conviction.  "You'll - Hal, you'll get it badly when once
you're caught."

"I never said you might call me 'Hal'."

"Didn't you?  Well, I apologise.  May I?"

She could not help laughing.

"You evidently mean to; and I suppose you usually have your own way."

"Very often.  That's sensible of you.  Of course you are sometimes
annoying sensible and practical.  I don't know that I ever liked any
one quite so level-headed before.  It never appealed to me.  Yet,
somehow, I think you could lose your head.  You've got it in you to do
so.  I wouldn't give tuppence for a woman who hadn't."

Hal was silent, and, as usual, he pressed his point.

"Do you think you could lose your head?"

"I don't think I shall," was the evasive answer.

"I wonder," he said.

She felt him looking hard into her face, and moved restlessly beneath a
scrutiny that quickened her pulses and warmed her blood in a way that
was altogether new.  Then suddenly she looked up.

"Don't you think we are rather talking drivel?  Let's get back to the
original subject.  I don't want to lose my head - it's rather a nice
one - sound and reliable and all that."

He sat back in his chair with a laugh.

"You're very clever," he told her admiringly.  "I always seem to be
out-flanked in the end.  Very well then, Brother Dudley has got engaged
foolishly, and Hal has been quietly fretting, instead of being a
sensible little woman, and telling her friend all about it straight
away.  What are you going to do now?"

"I can't do anything.  He won't get married for a few months anyway."

"And when he does?"

"Then I shall stay where I am, and make the best of it, I suppose...
but... but" - her voice broke a little - "I'm a positive fool about
Dudley.  I can't bear to lose him."

"Poor little woman.  Well, I'll be good to you if you'll let me.  I
dare say I can brighten things up a little.  Every cloud has a silver
lining, you know."

"I don't know where Dudley's will be," with a wintry smile.  "It
wouldn't be so hard if I thought there was any chance of his being
happy.  But there isn't.  He doesn't in the least know her real
character."

They sat on until seven o'clock, and then Hal rose to go, feeling
happier than she had done ever since they last met.

"Well, am I forgiven?" he asked, as she buttoned her gloves.

"You are, for the present," with an arch glance; "but I reserve the
right to retract at a moment's notice."

"And in the meantime you will prove it by coming out to lunch on
Sunday?  We might go to the Zoo afterwards, and make friends with some
of the animals."

At the first suggestion of lunch Hal had been ready to shy away, but
the idea of the Zoo on Sunday afternoon was too much for her, and she
said with unmistakable longing:

"I should simply love the Zoo."  Then, after a pause: "Couldn't I meet
you there about three?"

"But why wait until three?"  It is not very friendly of you to refuse
to lunch with me."

"I usually go to Lorraine" - somewhat lamely.

"Why not bring Miss Vivian with you?"

"Oh, could I?" eagerly; "that would be splendid - if she is disengaged."

A curious little half smile crossed his eyes at her eagerness; but he
only said:

"Certainly, and if she cares to bring a friend, to make the party an
even number, I shall be only too pleased.  Shall we say the Piccadilly,
for a change, at 1.30?"

Hal thanked him, and as she sped homewards in a taxi he had procured
for her, she viewed the prospect with real delight.

Dudley, of course, would be spending his Sunday with Doris, and she and
Lorraine, supposing the latter were disengaged, might have found the
afternoon a little long alone.  The evening was the occasion of the
dinner-party to commemorate Alymer Hermon's first brief, so it was very
likely Lorraine would be free at midday.

She thought it was nice of Sir Edwin to invite her friend as well, and
as she reviewed the afternoon meeting, her heart was foolishly glad
over his apology, and insistent determination to be friends.  It was
evident, she believed, that if she adhered to her resolute resistance
of familiarity, she would be able to keep him at a discreet distance,
and they might enjoy a really delightful friendship.

Her eyes were smiling and glad at the little upper window that night.
She had hated cutting off their friendship.  The days had been dull and
dragging without even a telephone chat with him; and though she still
told herself it was chiefly because of the shock of Dudley's
engagement, she knew it was a little for his sake also.

And she thought further, if they might now include Lorraine in some of
their meetings, it would be an added safeguard, and very entertaining
as well.  She meant to telephone to her the first thing in the morning
to fix up their Sunday engagement.

Inquiries on the telephone, however, the next morning, elicited the
information that Lorraine had already arranged to go out to lunch; and
thus Hal found herself unexpectedly thrown on her own resources.  A
little note from Ethel asking her to accompany Dudley if she had
nothing better to do, placed her in a further awkward position.

She did not want to go to Holloway, to swell the number of mouths to be
fed out of Ethel's slender housekeeping purse, and add one more to be
cooked for, etc., on Ethel's one free day.  Finally, because it was the
simplest, as well as the pleasantest thing to do, she telephoned Sir
Edwin, and told him Lorraine could not accompany her on Sunday, but she
would be there herself, and afterwards go to the Zoo.

And at the other end of the wire Sir Edwin smiled, an enigmatical smile
that was unmistakably pleased, as he put back the receiver, and glanced
towards the cosy fire in his grate.

"I wonder," he said to himself meditatively, "if one could make her
care, whether she could care enough to lose her head."





CHAPTER XXIV


It was rather a curious circumstance, that on the occasion of
Lorraine's dinner-party, Alymer Hermon was the first to notice an
indefinable change in Hal.  To the others she was only gayer than
usual, more sparkling, better-looking.

From the Zoological Gardens Sir Edwin had taken her home in a taxi, and
after being a delightful companion all the afternoon, had said good-bye
in just the friendly, pally spirit that Hal wished, without exhibiting
any alarming symptoms whatever to disturb her peace of mind.  He had
indeed been at his very best; far nicer than ever before; and together
they had thoroughly enjoyed their intercourse, through iron bars, with
the animals they both loved.

Moreover, his knowledge on most subjects did not exclude zoology, and
he was able to tell her numberless little details of the ways and
habits of beasts that Hal rejoiced to hear, because she loved all
four-footed things.

And then there had been the pleasant consciousness of a new winter
costume, that was not only very up-to-date, but remarkable becoming;
and Hal was true woman enough to enjoy the knowledge that she looked
her best.  Neither was it in any degree a mediocre "best"; and even Sir
Edwin was a little surprised to find himself with a companion who
attracted nearly as many admiring glances as various lady friends who
were recognised beauties.

Her slim, graceful figure was singularly perfect, and, als he observed
with fresh pleasure each time they met, she walked with a natural
elegance and grace that were a delight to the eye.  And happiness gave
a faint pink flush to her cheeks and a light to her eyes, that somehow
seemed to radiate gaiety; and her intense power of enjoyment
communicated itself to others in a way that was wholly delifhtful.

So they spent a gay afternoon, which cemented the former
acquaintanceship into a firmer bond of friendship, and because of it he
vowed within himself he would play fair with her, and make no more
advances he was not prepared to follow up in an honourable spirit.

For Hal, it was enough that the past mistake seemed genuinely regretted
and wiped out, and that all his manner to her now held deference and
respect.  And she was intensely glad - almost alarmingly glad, if she
had stopped to consider; only that would have cast a shadow on the
sunshine; and she preferred to take the sunshine while it offered, and
leave the future to take care of itself.

And in the meantime there was Lorraine's dinner-party, instead of a
lonely evening, and once more she dressed herself with care and skill;
and later stood up straight and slim in Lorraine's pretty drawing-room,
radiating happiness, and surprising even old friends with her goodlooks.

Alymer Hermon remarked it first.  He was standing beside her on the
hearth, and he looked down from his great height with laughing,
quizzical eyes and said:

"You're looking astonishingly pretty to-night.  Have you been
consulting a beauty specialist?"

Dick Bruce and Quin laughed delightedly.

"Why, of course!" cried Dick, digging his hands deep into his pockets,
and giving himself a little gleeful shake,  "I've been puzzling my head
to grasp what it was.  I'd forgotten all about the beauty specialists.
It must have cost an awful lot, Hal."

"It did," she told them; "but you've no idea how clever they are.  They
can renovate the most hopeless faces.  I'm sure you'd all find it worth
while running to the expense."

"Now, come Hal," objected Quin laughingly.  "We can't have the ornament
of our flat insulted like that.  The rising barrister needs no beauty
specialist, you must admit."

Hal looked up at the giant with twitching lips.

"I was going to suggest a brain specialist for him.  It won't be much
use getting lots of briefs because he looks nice in his wig and gown if
he hasn't the brains to win his cases."

Hermon caught her by the shoulders to shake her, and at that moment
Lord Denton quietly entered the room.

Lorraine had met him in the hall, while hastening across for something
she had forgotten, and told him to go in, so that he entered
unannounced, and saw the group before they knew of his presence.

Especially he seemed to see the two on the hearthrug.  Hal, with her
shining eyes, rising coulour, and laughing lips, and Hermon with a sort
of answering glow in his face, boyishly gripping her shoulders as if to
shake her.  He stood and looked at them a moment without speaking, then
Hal espied him, and thinking he had that instant entered, exclaimed:

"Help!... Help!...  Lord Denton, I am caught in the clutches of
Leviathan."

He came forward smillingly.

"Leviathan does not look as if he meant to eat you; and even if he did,
I don't believe my courage would run to closing with
six-foot-five-and-a-half."

"Awful, isn't it?" she said, releasing herself and giving him her hand.
 "He is like those lanky pieces of corn which are all stalk and no
head.  Have you seen him before?"

"Once," offering his hand to Hermon.  "Delighted to see you again.  I
hear you've made a hit already.  My cousin tells me his friend is
charmed with your way of grappling with her case."

"Did you take her by the shoulders?" asked Hal wickedly, rubbing her
own.

"No,' Lord Denton told her.  "He was very grave indeed.  You must give
him his due, Miss Pritchard.  You've seen him grave yourself, haven't
you now?"

"Yes; and he looked like a boiled owl.  On the whole, I prefer him
imbecile."

Alymer turned on her threateningly, but she slipped behind the other
two, saying:

"Have you met these also, Lord Denton.  Mr. St. Quintin, of Shoreditch,
and my cousin, Dick Bruce, poet, novelist, and mother's help."

Denton shook hands with them genially, and then Lorraine came back, and
they all followed her to the dining-room.

The repast was a very gay one.  Every one was in the best of spirits,
and, which is more important still, all were in attune, and there was
no dissentient note.  Hal was perhaps the gayest, and Lord Denton found
himself watching her almost if he were seeing her for the first time.
She seemed to him to have developed amazingly in the few months since
he last met her, but he supposed girls of her age often developed
quickly.

Yet even then it seemed a little strange that the merry, rather crude
young typist, as he had regarded her before, should so easily appear a
sparkling, distinguished guest.  He could not help a little mental
comparision with Lorraine, not in any way to the latter's detriment,
but with a vague thought at the back of his mind concerning her and
Hermon.

Lorraine would always be beautiful: her whole face and form were
modelled on lines that would stand the ravages of many years; and for
him she would ever be one of the dearest of women; but could she match
Hal's young, vigorous, independence, that was very likely to prove more
attractive than a generously given devotion?

Men, like women, are drawn to an indifference that piques them; and he,
man of the world that he was, foresaw a strong irresistible attraction
about Hal's spirited independence.

But, on the other hand, Lorraine was intensely sympathetic and
understanding, as well as beautiful; and it seemed strange indeed if
any man she chose to enslave could resist her.

He watched Hermon bend his fair head down to her dark one, with an
affectionate, protective air, that was very becoming to him; and
observed that with Hal it was all sparring, and told himself Lorraine
had nothing to fear.

They toasted Hermon on his brief, and on the laurel wreath Dick
announced he already perceived sprouting on his manly brow.  Hal said
it was only a daisy chain, or the halo of a cherubim; and the laurels
were rightly sprouting on Dick's brow as a novelist.

Hermon returned thanks in a witty, clever little speech, during which
Lorraine seemed scarcely able to take her eyes from his face, and Lord
Denton recognised more fully the extraordinary attraction such a man
must wield, whether by intention or quite unconsciously.

He pictured him towering a head and shoulders above nearly every one
around at the law courts, with his clear-cut, fine face, looking yet
more striking in the severe setting of a wig and gown; and he knew that
Lorraine had made no mistake when she said he only wanted impetus and a
chance to make a name for himself.  If he could rap out a dainty little
speech like this at a moment's notice, wearing just that air of
unpretentious, boyish humour, his path ought undoubtedly to be a path
of roses, petted by women, admired and appreciated by men.

"In conclusion," he was saying, "may I suggest a toast to Miss
Pritchard?  I am sure you will all join me in offering her our warmest
congratulations upon her sudden and unlooked-for promotion, from a
somewhat nondescript young person to a brilliant and beautiful society
belle."

"Speech! speech!" cried Dick and Quin to her gleefully, noisely
rattling their glasses, and Hal got to her feet.

"Ladies and gentleman and Baby Alymer Hermon," she began.  "You must
allow me to acknowledge your kind toast by congratulating you all, in
return, upon the sudden and swift development of you powers of vision
and perspicacity: equalled only, I may say, by your extraordinary
dulness in not having observed long ago those traits for which you are
pleased, at this late hour, to offer me your congratulations.  Before I
sit down I should like to suggest we all drink the healths of the
celebrated actress who is our hostess, of a bishop in the making -"
signifying Quin; "a great novelist in the brewing, and a gentleman
justly celebrated for the eloquence and ease with which he does nothing
at all" - and she bowed to Lord Denton.

"Capital!" he exclaimed.  "I am evidently dining in very distinguished
company to-night"; a little later, turning to Dick, he added: "How
soon, may I ask, will this great novel be procurable by the general
public?"

Before Dick could reply, Hal intercepted gaily:

"Well, I think the carrots and turnips have fallen out as to which
takes precedence at a dinner-party: isn't that so, Dick?  And until the
difficult question is settled, progress halts."

"Something of the kind," agreed Dick promptly; "and there is also
discord among the vegetable marrows and pumpkins on a similar question;
but when the Baby Brigade has settled the views of the Trade Unions,
and reversed the Osborne Judgment, we shall be able to proceed
smoothly."

"It sounds a very extraordinary type of novel," said Lorraine.

"It is.  I wanted, if possible, to write something even more imbecile
than has ever yet been written.  I have not the patience for great
length; nor the wit for brilliant satire; nor the imagination for te
popular, spicy, impossible, ill-flavoured romance; so I have chosen the
other line, adopted by the great majority, and aim at purposeless,
pointless imbecility."

"And is Hal the model for your heroine?" asked Hermon.

When Hal's indignation and epithets had subsided, Quin remarked that he
supposed the book fairly bristled with mothers, and with paragraphs of
good advice to them.

"Well, yes," Dick admitted.  "There are certainly a good many mothers -
far more mothers than wives, in fact."

"Oh, naughty!" put in Lord Denton.

"Not at all.  It has to do with a theory.  It is to bring out the
common sense of vegetables compared to humans.  Humans condemn millions
of women, specially born for motherhood, to purposeless, joyless
spinsterhood, all on account of a prejudice.  No green, brainless,
commonplace vegetable would be guilty of such unutterable folly as
that."

"Don't be too sweeping," quoth Quin.  "In the East End women are still
mothers from choice; and given decent, healthy conditions, they would
proudly raise an army to protect their country from her threatening
foes.  It is not their fault that 50 per cent of their offspring are
sickly, anaemic little weeds."

"It sounds as if your book has a serious side in spite of its
imbecility?" suggested Lorraine.

"Imbecility and madness are usually full of seriousness," Dick told her
- "far more so than commonplace rationalism."

"And do you want to revolutionise society?"

"Oh dear no; what an alarming idea!"

"Then what do you want?" - they asked him.

"I want to see all the superfluous unemployed spinsters busy, happy
mothers, patriotically contributing to raise a splendid fighting-force,
for one thing, which will certainly be regarded as an utterly imbecile
idea by a magnificently rational world."

"And have you any theory about it?" asked Lord Denton.

"Nothing but the worn-out, commonplace, absurdly natural theories of
the vegetable and animal kingdoms.  My only chance is that, being so
ancient, and so absurdly natural, the modern world may mistake them for
something entirely new, and seize upon them with the fasionable avidity
for novelties."

"Or they may lock you up," suggested Quin.

"In any case I'm afraid you'll be too late," Hal commented, with a half
grave, half sarcastic air; "for before your theories can make any
headway, England is likely to have given all her life-blood to systems,
and restrictions, and cut-and-dried conventions, utterly regardless of
her need for a strong protecting force to maintain her existence at
all.  Taken in the aggregate, she never has bothered much about the
primary necessity for the best possible conditions for the mothers of
the future."

"What a learned sentence, Hal," put in Lorraine, looking amused.
"Quite worthy of a militant suffragette."

"The announced suffragettes are not the only ones who care for
England's future," she said.  "I suppose I care a good deal because I'm
in the newspaper world, and I know something of what she has to contend
against in the way of petty party spirit and the self-aggrandising of
some of her so-called leaders, who haven't an ounce of true patriotism,
and only want to shout something outrageous in a very loud voice, just
to attract public attention."

"I think Bruce is right up to a certain point," remarked Lord Denton.
"We can hardly contemplate the reinstitution of polygamy, but it
certainly ought to be the business of the State to see that every child
born into the country is given the best possible conditions in which to
become a good citizen and, if necessary, a good soldier."

"Isn't there a Poor Law for that express purpose?" asked Lorraine.

"Don't speak of it," commented Quin sadly.  "Our Poor Law, like so many
excellent institutions, is mostly run on a wrong basis.  Huge sums of
money are expended in procuring homes for homeless children, and the
last thing that seems to be considered is the suitability of the home.
Applications are accepted in a perfunctory, business-like way by
guardians and others - and perhaps an inspector takes a casual glance
round; but the moral aspect of the whole matter, as to character and
habits, is mostly left to chance.   We, who are on the spot, often have
to rescue children from the homes the State has provided for them."

"It is more supervision, then, that you want?" asked Lord Denton.

"It is a different sort of supervision altogether.  It ought to be
woman's work, not man's - women who are paid and encouraged and helped."

"But that might be defying some of the precious conventions," put in
Hal with a touch of scorn - "making women too important, don't you
know; and encouraging them to be something more than household
ornaments.  We can't have that, even for the sake of the future.  It
would be too alarming.  No; England will continue in her cast-iron rut
of prejudice, until most of her soul-power is dried up, and only the
husk of a great nation is left, to follow in the way of other husks."

"Then I will go to the new, young, strong nation, and watch her
splendid rise," quoth Dick.

"Traitor!" they threw at him, but he was quite imperturbed.  "Strength
and vigour are better than old traditions and an enfeebled race; and
sombebody, somewhere on the globe, had got to listen to what I am bound
to teach."

"You dear old Juggins," said Hal, "when England has passed her zenith,
and gone under to the new, strong race, you will be found sitting
meditating among cabbages and green peas, like Omar Khayyám in his rose
garden.  The rest of us will have died in the fighting-line - except
Baby, and they will put him under a glass case, and preserve him as one
of the few fine specimens left of a decadent race - in spite of his
brainlessness."

"Are we a decadent race?" asked Lorraine thoughtfully.

"Only the House of Lords and a few leading Conservatives," said Lord
Denton with flippancy.  "The workingman who has the courage to refuse
to work, and the Liberal members who have the grit to demand salaries
for upsetting the Constitution, led by a few eminent Ministers who
delight to remove their neighbour's landmark, and relieve his pocket,
are the splendid fellows of the grand new opening era of prosperity and
greatness."

"Still," put in Quin hopefully, "it is very fashionable to go big-game
shooting nowadays, and an African lion may yet chew up a few of them."

"Poor lion!" quoth Lorraine; "but what a fine finale for the king of
beasts, to chew up the despoilers of kings.  Shall we go to the
drawing-room?"  And she rose to lead the way.

A Bridge table was arranged in an alcove for Hal and three of the men,
and Lorraine and Hermon sat over the fire for preference.  They were
far enough away from the players to be able to speak of them unheard,
and Hermon, in the course of their conversation, mentioned that he saw
something different in Hal to-night to what he had noticed before.

Lorraine thought she was only very lively, but Hermon looked doubtful.
He could not express what he seemed to see, but in some way her
liveliness held a new note.  He thought she had more tone and a new
kind of assurance, and he tried to explain it to Lorraine.

"I expect she's had a jolly afternoon," was all Lorraine said, with a
smile.  "She has been to the Zoo with Sir Edwin Crathie."

"Has she?" significantly, and Hermon raised his eyebrows.  "Are they
still friends, then?  I thought she only knew him slightly."

"Thas was at the beginning," and Lorraine glanced at him with the smile
deepening in her eyes.  "There always has to be a beginning - doesn't
there?"

But no answering smile shone in Alymer Hermon's face, rather a slight
shade of anxiety as he glanced across the room at Hal.  "I should not
like a sister of mine to have much to do with Sir Edwin Crathie," he
said gravely.

"Perhaps not, you dear old Solemn-acre," giving his arm a gentle pat;
"but a sister of yours would not have learned early to battle with the
world as Hal has."

"But surely if she is less protected than a sister of mine would have
been, there is the greater cause for caution."

"There is no comparision.  A sister of yours would always have known
protection, and always rely on it, and if it failed her she might find
herself in difficulties and dangers she hardly knew how to cope with.
Hal faced the difficulties and the dangers early, and learnt to be her
own defence and protector.  Some women have to, you see.  It is
necessary for them to wield weapons and armour out of their own
strength, and be prepared to be buffeted by a heartless world, and not
be afraid.  If you had a sister, you would want to keep her in
cotton-wool, and never let any rough, enlightening experience come near
her.  If I had a daughter, I should like her to have the enlightening
experience early, and learn to be strong and self-dependent like Hal;
then I shouldn't be afraid of her future."

She was silent a few moments, then added thoughtfully:  "I think it
would be better for society in general if the girls of the leisured
classes knew more about the world, and were better able to take car of
themselves; meaning, of course, with a pride like Hal's in going
straight because it's the game."

Hermon's eyes again strayed to Hal's pretty head, with its glossy brown
hair, and Lorraine continued after a pause:

"If I'm afraid of anything with Hal, it is that she might let herself
get to care for some one who isn't worth her little finger, or some one
who is out of her reach, or something generally impossible.  She
wouldn't care lightly; and she'd get dreadfully hurt."

"But surely she couldn't actually fall in love with a man like Edwin
Crathie?" he remonstrated.

"I wasn't thinking of Sir Edwin specially.  She goed about a great
deal, you know, and meets many people.  She has a strong vein of
romance too.  I always feel I shall be very glad when she is safely
anchored, if only it is to the right man."

They were interrupted then by the Bridge players, who had finished
their first rubber, and Lord Denton persuaded Hermon to change places
with him for a time, and came to sit over the fire with Lorraine.
Presently he too mentioned Hal.

"She is the best woman Bridge player I have ever met," he said.  "She
seems to be developing into something rather out of the ordinary.
Hasn't she grown much better-looking?"

Lorraine smiled, a slow, sweet smile.

"Alymer Hermon has just been praising Hal too," she said; "I like to
hear you men admire her; it shows you can appreciate sterling worth as
well - well - shall we call it daring impropriety?"

"You are a little severe."

"Am I?  Well, you see, I know a good many men pretty intimately; and I
have gleaned from various confiding moments that it is not the working
woman chiefly, relying only on her own protection, who strays into the
murky byways and muddy corners of life.  It is surprisingly often the
direction of the idle, home-guarded, bored young lady.  Flip, if it
came to a choice, I believe I would put my money on the worker.  It's
such a splendid, healthy, steadying thing to have a real purpose and a
real occupation; instead of just days and weeks of idle enjoyment.  And
as for temptations!  Well, they abound pretty fully in both cases; it
isn't the amount of temptation likely to be encountered that matters,
so much as the quality of the individual armour to meet it with."

"Still, when it comes to being hungry and cold and having no money?" he
argued.

"It doesn't make much difference in the long run, except that one hopes
The Man Above will surely find a wider forgiveness for the woman who
was hungry and cold than for the woman who was just bored, but hadn't
the grit to find an aim and purpose to renew and invigorate a
purposeless life.  All the same, I'd like to see Hal safely anchored to
a real good fellow.  Flip, if you could persuade her to try, she'd make
you a splendid wife."

"And what in the world should I do with a splendid wife?" laughing
frankly into her face - "what an appalling possession!  Lorry, old
girl, I've got a splendid woman pal, and that's good enough for me.  If
I ever want a wife you shall have the privilege of finding me one: but
it won't be until I am old and gouty, and then she had better be a
hospital nurse, inured to irritability."

"You are quite hopeless," shaking her head at him, "but I don't
particularly want to lose you as a friend, unless it is for Hal; so
we'll say no more."

"Sensible woman!  And now I must really be off.  I like your friends,
Lorry.  They're very fresh.  And of course Hermon is tremendous.  You
haven't overdrawn him at all.  Only to be careful.  Remember the burnt
child.  A man like that ought to be made to wear a mask and hideous
garments, for the protection of susceptible females."

"He would need to speak through a grating trumpet as well."

"Yes, I suppose he would.  Even I can hear the attraction in his voice.
 It will be splendid when he begins to feel his feet in the law courts.
 We'll make a celebrity of him, shall we - just for the interest of it.
 But it's to be only a hobby, Lorraine, no entanglements, mind" - and
he laughed his low, pleasant laught.

"Very well, call it a hobby, or what you like - only keep him in mind
now, Flip.  I've got him into an ambitious spirit that means
everything, if there is enough fuel at the beginning to keep it alight
until it is a glowing pile quite capable of burning gaily alone."

"Right you are.  I like him.  You fan the flame, and I'll rake up the
fuel.  I'll speak to Hodson about him to-morrow.  He's always ready to
lend a hand to a promising junior."

When they had all gone, Lorraine lingered a few moments by her fireside.

"A hobby!" she breathed; "yes, why not?  Man-making is almost equal to
man-bearing.  I have no son to spur up the Olympian heights; but what
might I not do for Alymer, if... if - "

She placed her hands on the mantelshelf, and leaned her forehead down
on them.

"Alymer," she whispered, a little brokenly, "I wonder if I ought to be
ready to give you all, and ask nothing?  Perhaps make you all the
splendid man you might be, just for some one else, and get nothing
myself but a heart-ache?"





CHAPTER XXV


The winter months passed more or less uneventfully and pleasantly.  The
case in which Hermon had held his first brief, though in only a very
secondary position, was rather splendidly won.  An unlooked-for
development in it roused public interest, and filled the Hall with
spectators.  Lord Denton went out of curiosity, and was present when
Hermon, as an unknown junior, made his first public appearance.

He was not the only man specially interested either; seniour councel on
both sides had its grandiloquent eye on the new-comer, so to speak -
interested to know how he would acquit himself.  Afterwards they
congratulated him very warmly, and Denton went to tell Lorraine he had
made a hit.

"He looked splendid," he declared enthusiastically; "and het was
delightfully calm and self-possessed.  He'll soon get another brief
now.  You see."

He did; and the future began to look very full of promise to this
favourite of fortune.

As Lorraine had predicted, his growing success filled his mind, and
kept him safe from many pitfalls; while her sympathetic companionship
satisfied him in other respects, and formed a substantial bulwark
between him and the women who would have tried to spoil him.

He had other women friends as well, but Lorraine felt they were not
dangerous, by the way he talked of them.  As long as he did not get
foolishly engaged, and cripple his career at the very outset, as he
easily might while he had no income to rely on, she did not fear.  Lord
Denton advised her to marry him to an heiress as soon as possible, but
Lorraine knew better than to risk an impeding millstone of gold, and
insisted he must just win his way through on the allowance his father
gave him.

In the meantime they were a great deal together, and though they seldom
went to any public place alone, they occasionally broke their rule; and
it was known, at any rate in theatrical circles, that Lorraine rarely
went out with her own old set, and had grown reserved and quiet.  Hal
knew something of the absorbing friendship, but she still made light of
it, and sparred with Hermon whenever she saw him - "for his good."

As a matter of fact, she did not go quite so much to Lorraine's as
usual herself; for many of the hours she had been accustomed to spend
there she now spent with Sir Edwin Crathie.  All through the winter
they continued to take motor rides into the country; and often they
went together to a quiet, unfashionable golf club, where they were both
learning to overcome the intricacies and trials of that absorbing
pastime.

It was easy for Sir Edwin to silence curious tongues.  He spoke of her
quite frankly as his niece, and Hal more or less acquiesced, because it
was simpler to arrange an afternoon's golf, for Dudley had managed to
become very thoroughly absorbed in Doris, and she aksed no questions.

The only two to raise any real objections were Dick and Alymer Hermon.
Dick had to be talked round, and thoroughly impressed with Sir Edwin's
great age (of forty-eight), and though Hal did not state the actual
years, she was perfectly correct in insisting that he was old enough to
be her father; though she need not perhaps have said it in quite such a
tone of ridiculing an absurd idea.

Anyhow, Dick was pacified up to a certain point, and obliged to see
that the new friendship did her good, keeping her cheerful and hopeful
in spite of her bitter disappointment about Dudley's engagement, and
generally brightening the whole of the winter routine for her.

With Hermon it was rather different.  Ha was less cosmopolitan than
Dick, and he insistently adhered to his first idea concerning what he
would have felt had Hal been his sister.

Why she should have been specially interested did not occur to him.
Dick, of course, actually was a sort of brother, being much more so in
a sense than many real brothers, as far as personal interest and
protection went.

When Has was first left an orphan she had been a great deal with him,
at his own home, and they had always been special friends both then and
since.

But Hermon was in no sense either a brother or a special friend.  They
had never done anything else but spar, howerver good-naturedly; and
Lorraine, in consequence,  twitted him once or twice about looking
grave over Hal's doings.

And Hermon had laughed, and coloured a little, saying something about a
feeling at the flat that they all had a sort of right in Hal, and he
didn't see what that brute, Crathie - a Liberal  into the bargain -
wanted to be taking her about for.

He even went so far as to say something to Hal herself about it; one
day, when they were alone in Lorraine's drawing-room, waiting for her
to come in, Hal had just told him frankly she had played golf with Sir
Edwin the previous day; and in a sudden burst of indignation Hermon
exclaimed:

"I can't think how you can be so friendly with the man.  Surely you
know what he is?  He has about as much principle as my foot."

Hal had turned round and stared at him in blank astonishment.

"Goodness gracious!" she exclaimed, "what an outburst!  What has Sir
Edwin done to hurt you?"

But he stood his ground steadily.

"You know it isn't that.  If you were my sister, I wouldn't let you go
out with him as you do."

"Then what a comfort for me, I'm not.  And really, Baby dear!  I'm much
more adapted to be your mother."

"Rot!"

He looked at her almost fiercely for a moment,  scarcely aware of it
himself, buth with a sudden, swift, unaccountable resentment of the old
joke.  Hal, surprised again, backed away a little, eyeing him with a
quizzical, roguish expression that made him want desperately to shake
her.

"Grandpapa," she murmured, with a mock, apologetic air, "you really
mustn't get so worked up at - at your advanced years."

His face relaxed suddenly into laughter.

'I don't know whether I want to shake you or kiss you... you... you - "

"Thanks, I'll take the shake," she interrupted promptly.   "I certainly
haven't deserved such severe punishment as a kiss."

He took a step towards her, but she stood quite still and laughed in
his face; and he could only turn away, laughing himself.

Yet he was conscious that her attitude riled him.  He was not in the
least vain, but all the same it was absurd that Hal should persist in
being the one woman who was not only utterly indifferent to his
attractions, but seemed almost to scorn him for them.  In some of the
others it would not have mattered in the least - at any rate he thought
so - but in Hal it was sheer nonsense.

He liked her better than any one, except perhaps Lorraine, and he
always enjoyed their sparring; but of course there was a limit, and she
really might be seriously friendly sometimes; and anyhow he hated Sir
Edwin Crathie.

While he thought all this more or less vaguely, Hal watched him with
undisguised amusement.

"Don't think so hard," she said; "it spoils the line of your profile."

"Hang my profile!" he exclaimed, almost crossly.  "Can't you be serious
for five minutes, you're always so - so - "

"Not at all.  I'm perfectly serious.  A frown doesn't suit you one
little bit.  Imagine a scowl on one of Raphael's cherubim."

"I don't want to imagine anything so silly, and I'm not in the least
like a cherub.  It would be more sensible if you want to do some wise
imagining, to think of Sir Edwin Crathie, and imagine yourself in the
devil's clutches."

"But I've not the smallest wish to be in Sir Edwin's clutches, so why
should I try to imagine it?...  and  you're not at all polite, are you?"

"I'm honest anyway; and I'll warrant that's more than he can rise to."

"But really, dear Alymer," reverting again to the mocking tone, "at
what period of your friendship with him have you had occasion to find
him out?"

"Your sarcasm won't frighten me.  A man knows more about this sort of
thing than a girl.  Of course he is all right in an ordinary way, but
you are so often with him...  Considering his political career, it is
positively unpatriotic of you to be such close friends."

"Such nonsense!  Do you want me to be as bigoted and narrow-minded as
those Conservatives who are continually holding the party back, because
they are quite incapable of realising there are two sides to a
question?  I don't hold the same views as Sir Edwin at all.  I'm not
likely to, being on the staff of the _Morning Mail_; but that isn't any
reason why I should object to him as a friend."

"No; but his reputation might be."

Hal stamped her foot.

"Oh, don't stand there and talk about a man's reputation in that
superior, self-satisfied fashion.  What is it to you anyhow?  My
friendship can't possibly be any concern of yours."

She moved away with a restless, ruffled manner, and threw back at him:

"Of course I'm awfully grateful to you for being so interested in my
welfare, but your concern is a little misplaced.  I am quite capable of
taking care of myself, and have been for at least seven years."

He looked hurt, and about to retort, but at that moment Lorraine's
latch-key sounded in the door, and Hal went out into the hall to meet
her.

"I'm so glad you've come," she remarked, as they re-entered together.
"Baby is in one of his insufferable, superior moods, and is lecturing
me on my friendship with Sir Edwin.  And all because I casually
mentioned I had had a game of golf with him."

Lorraine looked a little surprised, but she only remarked laughingly:

"It's a little fad of his to lecture.  I rather like it; but I wonder
he had the temerity to lecture you."

"Unfortunately, lecturing doesn't instil common sense," put in Hermon,
"and it only requires common sense to understand Sir Edwin Crathie
isn't very likely to prove a satisfactory friend."

"You mean it only requires dense, narrow-minded self-satisfaction.
Really, Baby, if you are so good to look at, there is surely a limit
even to your permissible airs and graces"; and Hal tossed her head.

"Now come, you two," interposed Lorraine; "I don't want quarreling over
my tea.  Give her some of that sticky pink-and-white cake, Alymer, and
have some yourself, and you will soon both grow amiable again."

"He hasn't got his bibliotheek," Hal snapped, "and he knows his mother
told him he was to have bread-and-butter first.  You are not to spoil
him, Lorry.  Spoilt children are odious."

"So are conceited women," he retorted.  "It's only that new hat that is
making you so pleased with yourself."

"It's a dear hat," she commented.  "You have to pin a curl on with it,
else there's a gap.  I'm in mortal dread I shall lose the curl, or find
it hanging down my back."

No more was said on the subject of Sir Edwin, but when Hal was about to
leave, and found that Hermon was staying on, she pursed up her lips
with an air of sanctimonious disapproval and said:

"I don't want to hurt any one's feelings, but I'm not at all sure _Mr._
Hermont is quite a nice friend for you, Lorraine.  His conversation is
neither elevating nor improving, and I hardly like to go off now and
leave you alone with him."

"Don't worry," Lorraine laughed.  "He is improving every day under my
tuition.  I hope you can say as much for Sir Edwin."

"I can," she answered frankly.  "He has learnt quite a lot since I took
him in hand; especially about women and the vote.  He has positively
made the discovery that they don't all want it just for notoriety, and
novelty; but I'm afraid he won't succeed in convincing the other dense
old gentlemen in the Cabinet.  Good-bye!"

"Be circumspect, O Youth and Beauty.  And don't let him over-eat
himself, Lorry," she finished, as she departed.





CHAPTER XXVI


When Hermon was finding fault with Hal's friendship for Sir Edwin
Crathie, it had not apparently occured to him that his own friends and
relations were likely enough to take precisely the same view of his
friendship with Lorraine Vivian.  He did not want to think it, any more
than Hal had done, and therefore he conveniently ignored the
probability, and indulged in the reflection that any how they were
never likely to hear of it.

Yet it was through them, and their ill-chosen mode of interference,
that the first trouble arose, when that quiet, peaceful winter was
over, and the spring arrived with renewing and vigour, and with new
happenings in other beside the natural world.

It was as though the one gladsome winter of pleasant companionship and
firesides was given to them all - Dudley and Hal, Ethel and Basil,
Lorraine and Hermon - before the wider issues of the future stepped in
and claimed their toll of sorrow before they gave the deeper joys.

Alymer Hermon's father and mother were at this time living in a
charming house at Sevenoaks, whither he went at least once a week to
see them.

His father had become more or less of a recluse, enjoying a quiet old
age with his books; but his mother was an energetic, bigoted lady of
the old school, who had allowed much natural kindliness to become
absorbed in her devotion to church precepts and church works.

When it first reached her ears that her only son, of boundless hopes
and dreams, was continually with the actress Lorraine Vivian, she was
horrified beyond words.

Undoubtedly the story had been much magnified and embroidered, and
accepted as a scandalous liaison or entanglement without any inquiry.
To make matters worse, Mrs. Hermon belonged so thouroughly to the old
school that she could not even distinguish between a clever celebrated
actress and a chorus girl.

The stage, to her, was a synonym which included all things theatrical
in one comprehensive ban of immorality and vice, with degrees, of
course, but in no case without deserving censure from the eminently
respectable, well-born British matron.  She could not have been more
upset had the heroine of the story been the under housemaid; and indeed
she placed actressess and housemaids in much the same category.

Of course the friendship must be stopped, and stopped instantly.  What
a mercy of mercies she had discovered it so soon, and that now it might
be nipped in the bud.  Just at the very outset of his career, too,
which had so astonishingly developed of late, and caused her such proud
delight.

That that surprising development, both in the career and the beloved
son, might have anything to do with this dreadful entanglement was not
to be thought of for a moment; and when Alymer's father ventured to
suggest thoughtfully and a little wonderingly that the friendship had
certainly not harmed the boy, she turned on him with bitterness, ending
up with the dictum that men were all alike when there was a woman in
the case, and could not possibly form an unbiassed opinion.

After which, she went off to church to a week-day service, partly to
pray for guidance in a matter in which she had already firmly decided
what line to take, and partly to unburden her mind to her pet
clergyman.  Of course she must speak to Alymer that very evening.  How
fortunate that it was one of the nights he almost always came to
Sevenoaks.

If only he had lived at home it would never have happened.  It was all
that hateful little flat where he lived with Bruce and St. Quintin.
She ought never to have given way so easily.  If his father had docked
his allowance, in order to compel him to live at home, he would soon
have got used to the daily train journey, and it would have been far
better for him.

Now, of course, he was not likely to hear of it; and since he was
making such good headway in his profession, it certainly did seem a
pity to risk upsetting him.  But no doubt a little quiet talk would
convince him of the unwisdom of allowing his name to be associated with
an actress just now; and once more she congratulated herself that she
had heard in time.

The Rev. Hetherington listended to her story with all the sympathetic
horror she could wish, and she felt buoyed up in her adamantine
decision, although she still harped on the intention of praying for
guidance.

The Rev. Hetherington, of morbid and woeful countenance, was one who
looked across a world glorious with spring sunshine, as if he saw
nothing but the earwigs, and black-beetles, and creepy, crawly things
of existence, and he promised readily to pray also: and perhaps God
smiled the smile He keeps for the good people who so often ask to be
guided by His Will, when they have long before decided exactly what
that Will shall be.

The pastor accompanied his parishioner to her door, walking slowly with
her through a garden bursting into a joyous splendour of crocuses, and
snowdrops, and promise of laughing daffodils in warm corners; and
together they lamented the terrible temptations of wicked sirens that
beset the paths of splendid young men in the world.

"Not that he isn't a good, affectionate son," she finished, "but he has
always been made so much of - which is not in the least surprising, and
no doubt he has grown lax.  Still, he might have remembered how proud a
name he bore, and, at least, have drawn the line at a frivolous,
painted actress.  His father says she is very clever and quite well
known, but even he cannot deny she probably paints her face; and surely
that is enough to show what her mind is!  How Alymer could endure it, I
don't know.  He has been used to such perfect ladies all his life, and
the mere sight of paint should disgust him."

"Of course, of course," murmured the mournful parson, who had great
hopes of a big subscription for his Young Women's Bible Class, and was
in two minds as to whether to regard the present moment as auspicious,
and introduce the need of educating all young women in high and holy
thoughts; or whether it was wiser to wait until his companion were in a
less perturbed frame of mind.

And the crocuses nodded and laughed, holding up their little yellow
staves gaily to the sunshine, and shouting to each other that it was
spring,  clamouring to make the most of their great day, before the
flowers came in battalions to crowd them out of sight and mind.

And the gentle little snowdrops whispered secrets to each other, which
only themselves could hear, about warmth and sunshine and the beauty of
the new spring world - too old in the wisdom of nature to pay any heed
to the two humans who would rather have had a world all maxims and
rules, and rigid straight lines from which no gladsome young hearts
ever strayed.

Finally the mournful clergyman went away without asking for his
subscription, having made mental decision that there would be far more
trouble to come over the painted woman, and yet more propitious
occasion was likely to arise.

And Alymer's mother went into the house with set, severe lips; and
pulled down all the blinds that were letting in sunlight, for fear some
of the carpets got spoiled.

She did not, however, venture into the library, where her husband sat
in a large bow window reading, with sunlight flooding all round him,
and sunshine in his quiet eyes, and the sunshine of a great man's
thoughts filling his mind.

He was too much of a philosopher to worry about his son, and, moreover
he knew Alymer well, and had great faith in his good sense; but he
realised a mother would take fright more quickly, and that it was as
well to let her have her talk with the boy, and comfort herself with
the belief that she had saved him.  As long as she did not shut out his
library sunlight, nor bring her pet clergyman into his sanctum, he
found it easy to balance her sterling companionable qualities against
certain others of a trying nature, and go serenely on his philosophical
way.

Undoubtedly Alymer was a well-selected mixture of both parents.  To his
mother he owed his fine features and his power of resolve when he chose
to exert it; and to his father his splendid stature, his quiet little
humours, and the old-fashioned, courtly protectiveness that had so
quickly won Lorraine's heart.

Yet it was a mixture that might have borne no practical results if left
to itself, but rather a retarding.

As Lorraine had so clearly seen, the spur of ambition, and a resolute
determination to succeed in other walks than that of the casual,
charming, petted favourite of fortune, were indispensable to bring his
traits into a harmony with each other that would achieve.

It was to this end that she had given him of her best encouragement and
help; too old and too wise not to have seen that whatever her own
personal feelings towards him, it was extremely probable that she had
helped him towards realising his highest promise, for some one else to
reap the deepest joy of it.

Well, at any rate she had had the interest and the companionship, and
these had not been small things.  He had come into her life just when
it was wearying of triumph and adulation; when lovely frocks and
jewels, and hosts of admirers - the very things she had craved for a
few years earlier - had commenced to pall in the light of the little
real satisfaction to be won from them.  With some women perhaps they
never palled.  Perhaps each fresh conquest renewed them, and each fresh
triumph invigorated.

In Lorraine's complex character, the love of success was blended with a
love of the deeper and richer things of life.  She was of those to
whom, at times, wide spaces, and fresh breezes, and the big, sweeping,
elemental things call loudly, above the noise of the world of fashion;
and she knew what it was to be filled with an aching  nausea of all she
had practically sold her soul to win, and a yearning _nostalgia_ for
something that might satisfy the finer instincts of her nature.

And in a measure her interest in Hermon had filled the void.  Whatever
her feeling had been in the beginning, it had undoubtedly merged now
into a definite purpose for his good, from which she meant to eliminate
- if the time came when he wanted to be free of her - any claim her
heart might clamour to assert.

Her dealings with him were, for the time being, on a par with the
generous unselfishness she had shown towards her mother.  For both of
them she found the courage and resolution to thrust herself in the
background and give of her best as the hour required.

If the friendship had been permitted to develop quietly along these
lines, a future day might have witnessed Lorraine quite naturally
outgrowing her infatuation, and happily satisfied with the result of
her unwearying interest and effort; while Hermon, from his proud
pinnacle of success, would still have felt her his best friend.

But at the critical moment the blundering, disturbing hand was
permitted to jar the harmony of the strings and spoil the melody.  To
what end?... who knows?...  Perhaps to some unseen, mysterious
widening, and deepening, and learning necessary to the onward march of
Humanity towards its goal of Perfection.





CHAPTER XXVII


Alymer knew directly he entered the house, and saw his mother, that
something had upset her, but he did not associate it with Lorraine, and
kissed her with his usual warm affection.

It was not until after dinner, when they were alone in the
drawing-room, that the subject was broached, and then, with very little
preliminary, Mrs. Hermon - bending Divine Guidance to her own will -
made a merciless attack on "the painted woman."

It was no doubt the most unwise course of action conceivable; but Mrs.
Hermon, with her quiet and philosophical husband, and her only son, had
led a sheltered, smoothly flowing married life, after a yet more
sheltered girlhood, far removed from the passionate upheavals of
society, and she had neither practical worldly knowledge nor experience
to aid her.

She told him the story that had reached her ears through the jealousy
of a sister, whose only son was very plain, and a scapegrace, and who
had been fiendishly glad to have an opportunity to cast a slur upon the
doings of the successful, handsome, steady young barrister.

"Douglas says he is always with her," had been her sister's conclusion
- "and that every one is talking about it, and there is a dreadful lot
of scandal.  I thought it was only kind to tell you, as if he goes on
in the same way he will certainly ruin his career."

Then had come the parting shot.

"We all think so much of Alymer, that I would not believe such a story
of him without proof.  Douglas said he usualy went to her flat in
Chelsea about five, when he leaves Chambers, and I went twice to see if
he came; and on each occasion he strode along, and swung into the
building almost as if he lived there."

Mrs. Hermon did not at first tell her son the source of her
information, and he did not ask her.  Neither, somewhat to her
surprise, did he attempt to exculpate himself, nor to make any denial.

He stood up on the hearth with that straight, strong look he had, when
all his faculties were acute, and heard her through to the end.  Then
she said in a hurt voice:  " You don't deny it, Alymer.  I have been
hoping you went to the flat on business, and there was some mistake."

"I deny everything that you have implied against Miss Vivian.  The
story of the friendship is true."

His quiet self-possession seemed to disconcert her a little.  She was
prepared for indignant denial, or angry remonstrance even; but this
calm self-possession was something almost new to her.  True, he had
always been calm and philosophical, like his father; but this was
something deeper and stronger than she had yet known in him.

"The fact is, mother," he went on after a pause, "you have run away
with a totally wrong idea of Miss Vivian.    If she were the sort of
actress you picture, you might perhaps be anxious; but all the same I
think you might have given me credit for rather better taste."

"My dear, an actress is an actress - and every one knows what that is;
and the mere fact of her calling, or whatever you like to name it, is
sufficient to seriously hurt your position."

He smiled a little.

"I dispute the dictum that every one knows whant an actress is, in the
sweeping sense you mean.  I do not think you know, for one.  I shall
have to try and persuade Miss Vivian to come and see you."

"Indeed I hope you will do no such thing."

Again he smiled.

"In any case I should not succeed.  She is very proud, and would resent
patronage even more than you."

Mrs. Hermon gave a significant sniff of incredulity, but she only said:

"Well, Alymer dear, you will give me a promise not to see her any more
- won't you?"

"I can't do that, mother."

"Why not?"

"It is out of the question.  For one thing, I owe too much to Miss
Vivian; and for another, I am too fond of her."

"All the more reason you should try to break off the friendship at
once, before she has succeeded in any of her schemes to entangle you."

"She has no schemes to entangle me, as you put it.  She has been a
splendid friend.  I owe my first brief to her, and a good deal else
beside."

"Well, and no doubt you have already given her a good deal in return.
Quite as much as she deserves.  There is no necessity for you to truin
your whole career, just because she happens to like being seen out with
you."

There was a silence, in which Alymer seemed to be cogitating how best
to disarm his mother's fears; and also to be reminding himself of her
natural ignorance on theatrical matters, and his own need to be patient
therefore.  At last he said quietly:

"Miss Vivian only wants to help me in my profession; and I can only
tell you again she has been a splendid friend to me.  Aunt Edith has
told you a great deal of nonsense.  She has always been glad to pick
holes in me if she could.    Most of it is lies, and you must take my
word for it.  It is useless to discus the matter.  I am sorry you have
been so worried, but I don't know how to make you understand."

"I understand far better than you think; and I know you ought to end
the friendship at once.  I want you to do so."

"It is out of the question.  But you need not worry.  You must just
forget.  No..." as she attempted further remonstrance; "don't go on.  I
cannot listen to any more against Miss Vivian.  I think I will go and
smoke a pipe with the pater.  Shall you come and sit with us?"  And a
certain expression in his eyes that reminded her of his father in his
most decisive moods told her he meant to say no more.  She rose at once.

She had failed, and she knew it, but she had not the smallest intention
of giving in.  She had started on the wrong tack, that was all.  Of
course the boy was too chivalrous to go back on a friend, particularly
as he believed he was under some obligation to her.  Her plan of
mercilessly tearing the lady to pieces had not been a good one, but she
would think of something else, and save him in spite of himself.

And comforting herself with this reflection, she allowed the subject to
drop, and went with him to the library.  Her next plan should be a more
sure one.  She would work in secret with an agent to help her, who
could see the enormity of the danger, and appreciate more thoroughly
than his father the urgent need to interfere.    She had already a
vague plan in her head that she believed an excellent one, and which
she could put into execution immediately.

It was an old-fashioned, time-worn plan, but Mrs. Hermon was a woman of
old-fashioned ideas, and she did not know but that she was the
originator.  She had not the least idea that quite the commonplace
course of action in these questions was to send a secret emissary to
the lady, to reason with her, or plead with her, or bribe her,
according to her status, on behalf of the innocent young victim of her
charms.  The great thing, she imagined, was to find a suitable agent.

Now, besides the sister who was jealous, she had a bachelor brother of
a certain well-known stamp.  A good-looking, aristocratic,
well-preserved man of independent means;  and though over sixty years
of age, still a gallant, with not much in his handsome head beyond a
pathetic desire to continue to captivate, and a belief that he was as
invincible as ever.

Very shady stories had more than once been written down to his account,
but he had the wit always to rise above them and sail serenely on to do
more mischief.

His sister rightly surmised that he would have considerable knowledge
concerning actressess and the theatrical world, and without troubling
to consult her husband, she took him into her confidence and unburdened
all her trouble.

"Phew!" murmured the elderly beau, "so the young scamp has got
entangled with an actress, has he?  Shocking!... shocking!...  But
don't worry, Ailsa; we'll soon square the lady one way or another.  Do
you - er - happen to know if she is of the nature one can offer money
to?"

"I think not.  Alymer insists she is a lady in the real sense; though,
if so, why did she go on the stage?"

"Love of excitement, I dare say.  Is she, by any chance, a chorus girl?"

"No, not exactly; though really I fail to see any difference in degree
between one actress and another.  They are all on the stage; and no
doubt they all paint their faces and snare good-looking young men."

"No doubt," agreed the man, who had more than once made it his business
to snare an unsuspecting, trusting girl.

"And you will go to see her, and persuade her to drop him; won't you,
Percy?  It is no use talking to his father; he does not see the matter
in a serious enough light.  He believes Alymer will soon tire of her.
So he may, but in the meantime she may irredeemably injure his career.
Of course, if it is a question of money we will find it all right; but
whatever it is, try to cut the whole matter off entirely.  Make love to
her yourself, Percy, if that is what she wants - you know you have
always been rather good at that sort of thing"; and she smiled at her
own astonishing wordly wisdom, feeling almost rakish at having framed
such a sentence.

"Ah!" with a deprecatory shake of his head, that did not, however, hide
a certain fitful gleam in his eyes, "I am getting too old for those
kinds of pranks now, but I will do my best to - er - "  For a moment he
wondered whether he meant to do his best to make love to the actress
himself, or try to rescue Alymer, and finally finished: "follow out
your wishes and suggestions."

"I knew you would, Percy.  It was a good idea of mine to ask you.
Don't mince matters at all, will you?  Make her thoroughly understand
she has got to give him up under any circumstances, or we shall, well -
er - take proceedings if it is possible.  Anyhow, Alymer must be
guarded against himself, and his father is too unpractical to help, so
we must do it alone."

"I quite agree.  Alymer is an exceptionally fine fellow, with an
exceptionally promising future; and if he cannot see for himself how
foolish a scandal would be just at the outset, we must, as you say,
save him on our own account.  I am fond of Alymer, very fond, and very
proud, and I will do all in my power over the matter.  What is the
actress's name, did you say?"

"I don't think I mentioned it; but Edith told me in her letter.  I will
look for it."

She went to a writing-table, and returned with the epistle in her hand,
glancing through it until she came to the required information, when,
without looking up, she read, "Lorraine Vivian."

At the same time a sudden, curious, startled expression crossed the
faded eyes of the white-haired gallant, and he turned quicly aside,
stroking  his moustache with a slightly nervous air.

"Eh?  Do you mean the well-known celebrity?" he asked.  "Surely not
Miss Vivian of the Queen's Theatre?"

"I suppose so.  I never go to the theatre, so I never hear these names.
 Edith certainly writes as if she were well known.  Does it makes any
difference?"  she asked, as he was silent.  "Don't you want to go?  If
you don't I must find some one else; that is all."

"But certainly I will go.  I was only a little surprised.  She must be
a good deal older than Alymer."

"That only makes it worse.  No doubt she is no longer pretty enough for
older men, so she has to set her cap at young ones, who are flattered
by her attention.  I certainly thought Alymer had more sense - but
there - one never knows, and these women are very clever, I believe."

"D - d - I mean - extraordinarily clever; but we can be clever too, and
I dare say we can contrive to outwit her."

A little later he went away to catch a train back to town, leaving his
sister reassured and hopeful; but as he went he repeated to himself in
a low, incredulous voice:  "Lorraine Vivian...  Lorraine Vivian...  How
strange that I should be asked to undertake a mission that will cause
us to meet again.  I wonder if you will recognise me quickly?  I
flatter myself, even white hair has not destroyed my claims to a
woman's favour."





CHAPTER XXVIII


Lorraine had not the smallest idea of what was coming upon her.  She
knew perfectly well herself that it would be most unwise for a rising
young barrister to get talked about with an actress known to have a
husband living, and it had made her a great deal more cautious than she
would otherwise have bothered to be.

Moreover, Alymer, seeing nothing to gain by making known his mother's
fears, preferred not to annoy her with any account of them.  To say
that he was wholly unaffected by it, however, would be to say too much.
 He was, indeed, exceedingly and bitterly annoyed with his interfering
aunt, who had obviously tried to make trouble for some petty motive of
jealousy.   He only hoped that his mother would take her line from him
and his father, and maintain a dignified front, unmoved by his aunt's
tale-bearing gossip.

He was slightly affected in another way also.  It was almost the first
time he had seriously considered what the world might say if their
great friendship was known.  He knew it well enough to believe it would
be in haste to put the worst construction on it, though their own
immediate friends might stand by them loyally.

It caused him to consider that construction in a light he had hitherto
been protected from by circumstances, for it thrust forward an aspect
they had successfully kept in the background.  It made him ask the
question, What was he prepared to do if his aunt continued her
persecution, and some sort of change had to be made in the friendly,
delightful intercourse?

He wondered a good deal what Lorraine's own attitude would be.  Would
she, perhaps, now that she had given him his start, cut all the
friendship off for his good, and return to her old friends and
admirers?  He shrank from the contemplation of such a solution
undisguisedly, and meant to continue their pleasant relations if
possible.

He certainly wished no change whatever, if it could be avoided.
Lorraine meant everything to him just then, and he could not but know
how much his companionship and affection had come to mean to her.

So the next day he paid his customary visit, and talked as usual of
many things, but said no word of what had passed the previous night.

Lorraine's room was full of violets and snowdrops, cushions of them on
every side, in lovely array.  He moved about looking at them, and she
watched him from a low chair by the fire, clad in some new spring gown
of an exquisite mauve shade, that seemed to tone with the
violet-bedecked room.

It gave her dark eyes something of a violet tint, and her hands looked
as white and delicate as the snowdrops.  Moving about from mass of
blossoms, Alymer, glancing at her, thought she looked younger and
lovelier than ever.

"You have a spring air about you," he said, "and all the room seems
full of spring.  There is something about it all I like better than the
lilies and roses and malmaisons usually making a display."

"I sent them all to the dining-room," she told him.  "Every spring is
such a beautiful new thing, it has to be allowed to reign supreme for a
little while in here.  It gives me rather an ache to see them, all the
same" - after a pause - "they make me dream of the smell of the new
woodland, that delicious, damp, earthy smell of spring, and all the
young, joyful bursting of buds and springing of seeds and the mating
birds, and the showers that make the leaves glisten.  I feel as if I
should like to tramp out across the country in such a shower, and get
healthily wet, and be a real bit of the spring for just one week."

"Why don't you go?  You are not looking very well, and the country air
would probably do you no end of good."

"I don't want to go alone, and I do not know who I could take.  Hal is
not able to leave, and mother would merely be bored to tears, and Flip
Denton is at Monte Carlo.  There is no one really but you and Hal and
Flip who would fit in with my spring mood.  Any one else would strike a
discordant note."

"I wish I could come."

The wish escaped him almost involuntarily, as, with the sight of the
spring flowers and the spring scent in his nostrils, he too felt the
call of the fresh, wild, vigorous things in his blood.

Lorraine looked at him with a curious expression on her face.  Why, she
wondered, did he not seriously contemplate coming?  Why did he so
steadily pursue, as far as she was concerned, his serene and
passionless path?  She believed he cared more for her than for any one
else; and, if so, was it possible the ache sometimes in her heart for a
closer bond and resolutely strangled, had no counterpart in his hot,
vigorous youth?

Then he looked suddenly into her eyes, as if to see whether she had
heard his wish, and what she thought of it.  And as their gaze met, she
saw the blood mantle to his face, and a half-shamed expression creep
into it, as if he had been discovered in a thought that should never
have been permitted.

He looked away again to the flowers, and Lorraine turned her eyes to
the fire, with a swift wonder in her mind.  She felt that something had
transpired since they last parted - something she did not know of, and
that was entirely different to anything that had crossed their path
before.  Some new thought had been put into his mind.  Something that
made him give her that half-shy, half-wondering look.

She gazed hard at the fire, and her pulses began to beat a little
fitfully.  She knew instinctively that something had come suddenly into
being between them, which neither might name, and which was the oldest
thing in the world.

And then across her mind, as once before, swept with swift pitilessness
a vision of what might have been; of what life might have held for her
had she been among the blessed - an aching, tearing longing for a
youthful hour she had irretrievably missed.  She drew her hand across
her eyes, ignoring his presence, shutting him out, seeing only the
heavenly joy she had missed.

Supposing such a moment had come to her with such a man, when she, like
him, was in the first flush of youth and beauty; of dreams and hopes,
and rich believing.  What a knight for a lovely maid!  What a lover to
dream of bashfully and fearfully; and with all her soul one thought of
him.

From her vantage ground of much doing and much knowing, she looked back
yearningly to the bloom and springtide of life, when all splendid
things are possible, and any day may bring the splendid knight.

And instead had come... ah, what?

Well!  For her it had been the wolf in sheep's clothing, who, beside
all he had robbed her of, had taken all her chance of the one great
awakening to blinding joy.  Now she could only look upon the joy from
afar, seeing a barrier of fateful years, and, like a drawn sword at the
gate of her dream, the stern, unyielding decree that has echoed
unchanged down the long centuries: "Thou shalt not - "

Alymer was silent too, standing with the thoughtful expression on his
face that was so attractive, probing a little nervously into that wish
he had expressed, and wondering a little uncertainly just what it meant.

Then Lorraine got up.

"You are grave, _mon ami_; and it is the springtime.  Grave thoughts
are for the autumn of life - recklessness better becomes the joyful
spring."

"Are you ever reckless nowadays?" he asked, watching her graceful
movements as she bent down and buried her face in a cushion of violets.

"I am when I smell violets.  They may be modest and retiring little
flowers, but they hold spring rapture and spring lavishness and spring
desiring in their scent all the same."

"Then you are reckless now?"

What was it made him dally thus upon dangerous ground?  What was it
made him speak to Lorraine as he had never spoken before, on the very
day after his mother's  admonition?  Why did his immense height and
strength and the young vigour in his blood suddenly blot out the years
that lay between them, and sweep into his soul, the knowledge of his
masculinity and might, which of its own nature possessively dominated
her femininity?

They seemed all at once to have strayed into an atmosphere, born of
that warning admonition, and of their talk, of the reckless, creative
spring; and because, in spite of his youth, he was very much a man, and
she was a dangerously attractive woman, his pulses leapt fitfully and
eagerly with the swift ache that has existed ever since God made man
and woman.

Without looking up, Lorraine felt this.  The very air about them seemed
charged with it, and she too, under some spell of springtime, moved
into closer proximity to the splendid knight.  She brushed against his
arm unconsciously; and looking down on the top of her dark head, he
said half-shyly:

"You somehow seem such a little thing to-day, Lorraine, I feel as if I
could pick you up, as one does a small child."

"Please don't," with a low laugh - "just think of my dignity."

"But you are not dignified to-day.  You seem as young and light-hearted
as the springtime.  I feel as if I must be years older than you."

She raised her face suddenly, with yearning eyes:

"Oh, let us emulate the spring this once - let us both be young and
foolish and real, and pretend there isn't any one else in the world."

Fore one second he looked at her with wondering incredulity, then, with
a tender little laugh he suddenly bent down and folded his arms round
her till she seemed to vanish altogether into his embrace, and kissed
her on the lips.

"The scent of violets has intoxicated us," he said, and kissed her
again.

Then he gently pushed her into her big, deep chair.

"I'm going now.  I only ran in to see how you were after that bad
headache.  You must bring the lilies and malmaisons back to-morrow, or
I shall be offending so grievously you will forbid me the flat.
Good-bye!"  And without another word he went away out of the room.

Lorraine sat quite still, and let the spell wrap her round for the
precious moments that she could yet hold it.  Of course it could not
stay.  In an hour at most she would be her old, brain-weary self again,
with the best of her youth behind her; while he was still there on the
treshold, young and strong and free.  But even this one short hour was
good.  Life had not given her many such.  She would fence it round with
silence, and solitude, and the scent of violets.

Alymer went out into the streets wondering at himself vaguely, and yet
with a pleasant glow of memory.  He felt it bewildering that Lorraine
Vivian, whose favours were so eagerly sought by men, should have
allowed him to kiss her.

It seemed something apart altogether from her generous friendship and
helpful influence.  It made him pleased with himself, and filled his
mind with a yet greater tenderness to her.  He knew so much now of her
early difficulties and following troubles - of the frivolous,
unprincipled mother, and the long, uphill fight.  She had honoured him
with her confidence in spite of his youth, and now -

He quickened his steps, and his pulses leapt yet more fitfully.  Spring
was in the air and in his blood, and one of the recognised beauties of
London had been gracious to him beyond all dreaming.

It was enough for the present hour.  Why ask any inconvenient questions
and spoil it all?  Let the future look after itself.

Only one thought for a moment cast a little shadow upon his ardour.  It
crossed his mind, for no accountable reason, to wonder what Hal would
think.  He was a little afraid she would strongly disapprove.

But, after all, if she did, what matter?  He owed nothing to Hal, and
there was no reason why her views should disturb him in the least.  Of
course it did not...  and yet...  Hal's good opinion was a thing worth
having; and, in short, he hoped she would not know.

It was not that she was straight-laced.  She was too near the heart of
humanity through her daily toil to be other than a generous judge; but
she was also a creature of ideals for herself and for those who would
be among her best friends; and she would have known unerringly that no
great, consuming love had drowned his reason and filled his senses.

It was for that she would have judged him; and for that he would have
stood before her direct gaze ashamed.  One might be gay and
irresponsible and merry, but there were just one or two things which
must not be allowed in that category.  Instinctively, he knew that in
Hal's view he would have transgressed - not because he felt too much,
but because he felt too little to be justified.

But why need she know?  Why need any one know?  He did not think his
mother would follow up any further the story she had been told, and he
would see his aunt about it personally.  It was better to have it out
with her, lest she took upon herself to interview Lorraine, and make
more trouble still.

He ran up the stairs to the flat, two steps at a time; and scrambled to
get changed for the dinner to which he was going, still feeling a
pulsing thrill that, among all men, he was Lorraine Vivian's chosen
friend.

In another flat - a bachelor one in Ryder Street - an elderly beau,
likewise dressed for a dinner-party, though with the utmost care and
precision, instead of a scramble.  And to himself he said, as he took a
long, last look at the image he loved:

"I must go to-morrow morning and settle this little matter about
Alymer.  No doubt Lorraine will be amazed to see how well-preserved I
am.  She cannot have any real feeling for such a boy, and, after all, a
good-looking man of the world - "

He smiled to himself as over a thought that pleased him, and rang for
his servant to go out and hail a taxi.





CHAPTER XXIX


It was not difficult for Alymer to persuade himself that a little
diplomacy on his part would probably assuage his aunt's wish to upset
his friendship, and incidentally allay his mother's fears; but, as it
happened no one having his welfare so exceedingly at heart over this
matter with the actress was in any degree as amenable or as quietly
pacified as he imagined.

Another interview took place between his mother and his aunt, in which
the latter advised writing to Miss Vivian direct to tell her what his
father and mother thought of the friendship, and that an uncle of his
would call upon her at once.

To say that the letter was an insult is to put it mildly, though at the
same time it was not so much through intention as ignorance.

Lorraine read it with silent amazement, and thought the writer must be
mad.  It seemed quite incredible that any lady in the twentieth century
should apparently be so ignorant concerning the status of a celebrated
actress.  It was evidently taken for granted that she was an
adventuress of the worst type.

She was naturally somewhat angry and indignant, but decided it was not
worth while to take any notice, and merely awaited with some curiosity
the visit of the uncle who was to expostulate with her, and,
practically, offer her terms.

He came at about twelve o'clock, and he did not give his name, merely
asking to see Miss Vivian on a matter of business.

Lorraine dressed with special care, and looked her best when she
quietly entered the drawing-room. She gave an order to her maid with
the door half opened, in the most casual and imperturbed of voices,
then she came siowly in, closed the door behind her, and advanced
towards the figure standing on the hearth.

When she had taken two steps she stood still suddenly, and in a voice
that was rasping and harsh, exclaimed:

"_You!_ - "

Alymer's uncle squared his shoulders, stroked his white moustache with
a gallant air, and replied:

"Yes - er - Lorraine. We meet again, you see. I may say - er - I am
very glad indeed that it is so," and he advanced a step with
outstretched hand.

But Lorraine was rooted to the spot where she stood, and a sudden,
sharp fierceness seemed to burn in her eyes.

"Have-_you_-come-about-Alymer-Hermon?" she asked in slow, cutting
tones, as if each word was hammered out of a seething whirlpool of
suppressed emotions.

"Alymer is my nephew, and his mother asked me to come and - er - talk
to you about him. She is a good deal perturbed on his behalf - er -
because -"

"I do not want to know any more than I am able to gather from the
extraordinary epistle I received from her this morning. What I should
like to know is, did you agree to come here on this errand, knowing who
I was?"

The faded blue eyes of the carefully dressed old roué began to look
uncomfortably from one object to another; anywhere, indeed, but into
those scorching orbs, with their suppressed fires.

Then he took his courage in his hands, and tried again.

"My dear Lorraine, you seem to be taking rather a theatrical view of a
very commonplace matter. Of course it is bad for the boy to get mixed
up in a scandal, just at the beginning of his career, or, for the
matter of that, talked about with a celebrated actress whose husband is
known to be living somewhere. I have come to you as a man of the world,
to ask you as a woman of the world to be generous in the matter, and
help me to set the minds of his parents at rest at once - "

"Ah! It was as a man of the world you came to me before ; but then I -
I "-she gave a low, unpleasant laugh -"  I wasn't a woman of the world,
you see, until you had taught me, and left me."

He did not quite know what the laugh meant, but now his old eyes were
roaming over the beauty that was yet hers, and memory was stirring, and
something made him reckless.

"Don't speak of it like that," he pleaded drawing a little nearer.  "I
know I didn't perhaps treat you quite well; but if there are any amends
I can make now? - If you will let us be friends again? - "

"Amends - amends. What do I want with amends from such as you ?"  And
her eyes flashed dangerously.  He retreated quickly, with a hurt,
rather cowed expression.

"Well, Fate has thrown us together again and I am still a bachelor -
and I have money -"

"Do please try not to insult me any further."

Lorraine had grown calmer, though the dangerous look was still in her
eyes, and she moved away to the window, leaving a large space between
them, and half-turned her back to him.

"I have already burnt the epistle I received from Mrs. Hermon - its
insults were too utterly foolish to notice.  You may go back and tell
her her son has never received any harm from me, and I absolutely
decline to discuss the question any further. As for yourself - you will
doubtless find a taxi on the rank, just outside."

"But, my dear lady, I cannot go back leaving the matter like that."

He grew emboldened again, now that he could not see her eyes.

"I am here to plead on Alymer's behalf. If you are fond of him, you
must at least listen to reason for his sake."

"Not from you. And who are his people that they dare to treat me like
this? . . .  First an insulting letter, and then an emissary such as
you - "

"Alymer is my nephew, and his mother is my sister, and therefore I am a
most suitable emissary, except for a certain incident of long ago,
which has long been consigned to oblivion by both of us, I am sure. The
boy is
young. He is on the threshold of life and a great career.  What will be
the result, do you think, if you refuse to listen, and perhaps ruin his
prospects for your own pleasure ?"

She turned back to him a moment, and the smouldering fires leaped up.

"I was young. I was on the treshold of life. What did you care for my
youth or my future?  What do other men like you care?  My mother was
lax, and you knew it.  I believe you gave her diamonds. And now you
come to me and ask me to spare your nephew - _you_ come - _you!_..."
and the scorn in her voice lashed him like a stinging whip.

But lie tried valiantly to stand his ground, though all his fine attire
and air of bravado could not save his visible shrinking into a faded,
dissipated, worthless-looking old rogue.

"If you won't listen to any plea from me, will you permit me to make
one from his mother, and appeal to the woman in you to realise her
anxiety ?"

Lorraine turned again to the window and looked out upon the silver,
shining river.  And suddenly it was as though all her soul rose up in
arms.  She felt with swift passion that it seemed to matter so much in
the world that a young man with a promising future should not run any
risk of harm from an older woman.

But if it was a young woman, and an older man, what did it matter then
! Why, the very man who would have hurt her could allow himself to
plead for another young thing, if that other were a man.

Doubtless he would argue, as all the rest of them, that years in men
craved the freshness and revivifying of youth it was only natural, and
a woman mattered so much less.  But the mature woman herself, she has
no right to indulge in any longing for that same freshness and
revivifying.

Ten years ago this man had been lust at the age, and with just the
handsome, aristocratic appearance, in spite of iron-grey hair, that so
often attracts a girl in the early twenties. She scorns boys at that
age, and feels the compliment of being chosen by a man of the world
before the
many older women she cannot choose but see would gladly be in her
place. That it is her youth and not herself that holds the attraction
is unknown to her, and a clever man may often dupe her young affections.

Lorraine, with her romantic, imaginative temperament, had grown to
believe herself in love with him, and then had followed the old, sordid
story of insult and her consequent disillusionment.  The memories stung
her now
with a bitter stinging heightened by the feeling that life cared so
much more for Alymer's welfare than it had ever done for hers.

And then that appeal to her woman's feeling to sympathise with the
perturbed mother.

Well, because she was his mother, surely she was blessed enough. What
had she - Lorraines - to place against that great fact ? She felt
painfully that in spite of her success her life was pitifully,
hopelessly barren, scarred this way and that, torn and rent and damaged
by mistake upon mistake which could never now be rectified.

A nausea of it all made her feel in those tense moments, gazing at the
serenely flowing river, that had she a child she would be borne away on
the smooth silver water with her little one, out of the fret and
turmoil, to some quiet nest in the cliffs at its mouth ; and there for
the years that
were left her she would fill her days with the peaceful, homely joys
that had never yet been hers.

But how could she go alone?  Only in the uneventful days to find her
loneness intensified a thousand times, and without escape.

No; the river would flow on to that serene haven; but never for ever
would she and a little one of her own be borne on its motherly bosom to
the country of little things and peacefulness.

And the thought only stung her afresh; driving the sting in deep and
sharp while this man remained under her roof.

"Well," he said at last; and in the interval his voice seemed to have
regained some of its polished, self-possessed satisfaction.  "I see you
are deep in thought.  You were always tender-hearted, and I felt I
should not appeal to your womans heart in vain."

Her face was turned away, so that he could not see her expression, nor
read what was in her eyes, and purposely she let him go on.

"You will, I know, let me go back with the message Mrs. Hermon is
waiting for so anxiously.  It will be quite simple.  No doubt you have
countless admirers, and if you summon another, and let Alymer think he
is replaced, after the first hot-headed wrath he will quickly become
normal again, and apply all his faculties to his profession.  I know
you are too clever not too appreciate just everything involved, and too
generous not to give the young man his best chance."

Then he cleared his throat, stroked his moustache, and waited,
wondering a little why she did not speak.  He squared his shoulders
again, and glanced round to catch a reflection of himself in the
overmantel, then once more
stroked his moustache with a sleek air of growing satisfaction.

It had certainly been a most ticklish undertaking, and but for his
diplomacy, he believed one foredoomed to failure. But of course
Lorraine was a woman of the world, with a larger mixture of the other
kind of womanliness, perhaps, than was usual, and he in his
perspicacity had deftly appealed to both.

Then Lorraine turned round, and at the first glimpse of her face his
own fell, and suddenly he seemed to be shrinking visibly; as if he
would not ungladly have vanished through the floor.

She took a step or two forward, and stood in front of him with her head
held high, and those same scorching fires in her eyes ; and there was
something almost over-awing in the taut intensity of her whole
attitude, mental and physical.

"No," she said, in a cold, firm voice.  "You may not go back and tell
Alymer's mother that I agree to cease my friendship with him for you
and for her.  You may go back and tell her that because when I was
young you had no thought of my future, and no consideration for my
youth, I refuse absolutely to parley in the matter at all.  I shall not
change my course of action by one iota.  I shall not take any single
thought for the future. The future may take care of itself.  If you can
estrange Alymer from me,
that is your affair.  Rather than estrange him myself, I will bind him
closer.
That is my answer to you, and to the _lady_," with fine scorn, " who
sat down yesterday and penned that unheard-of letter to a fellow-woman
she knew nothing whatever against.  Yet I think I could have charged
that to her evident ignorance concerning theatrical matters, and
forgiven her, if a monstrous irony had not sent you to plead her cause
- "

"My dear Lorraine," he interposed, but she stopped him with an
imperious gesture and continued:

"There is nothing for you to say, nothing that I am in the least likely
to listen to.  You have evidently mis-understood my character from
first to last.  Probably you even credited me with wantonness in those
far-off days when I was fool enough to believe all you swore to me of
love and devotion.  However that may be, you tried to set my feet in
the wrong path, and when it suited you, gave me a push that further
evil might conveniently widen the breach between us.  Probably you have
done much the same again since, and with as little compunction.  What I
have to say to you now is just this, once again.  Your mission to-day
is not merely useless; it has considerably aggravated any danger there
may have been.  Because of every girl a middle-aged man has treated as
you sought to treat me I shall hold Alymer to his friendship if I can,
and use any influence I may have to increase rather
than decrease his visits.

"It may be fiendish of me. I don't know. I am no angel ; not even the
obliging soft-hearted fool you and Alymer's mother seem to have
concluded I might be.  And what is more, if I had a vein of kindliness
and unselfish
consideration, you have done your utmost to stamp it out.
"Most of us are half good, and half bad.  To-day, you have given the
devil in me an impetus such as it has seldom had before.  That is your
affair. Go back and explain the real truth if you dare.  Tell Mrs.
Hermon you found
the low adventuress a devil, and one that you yourself had tried to
help to make.  Tell her " - again with that low, unpleasant laugh - "
that you fear the worst for Alymer.
That is all. Now you can go."

Once more he futilely tried to speak, but she only waved him aside, and
walked with a haughty, scornful step ahead of him.

"Jean," she called to her maid, as she passed through the little hall,
"Will you open the door for this gentleman?"

In her own room, she slid down into a large cushioned chair and sobbed
her heart out.




CHAPTER XXX

It was there Hal found her.  By the merest chance she had run up to the
flat at her midday hour, to ask a question about Sir Edwin Crathie. and
a rumour concerning him that she felt an imperative need to have
answered. When she saw Lorraine in tears the question was instantly
banished for the moment.

Had Lorraine been in her normal condition, she could hardly have failed
to notice that the "Hal" who came up in haste to ask this urgent
question was not the "Hal" of a few months, a few weeks ago.  She would
probably
have observed that the vague, indefinable change Alymer had seen in her
had grown more marked anti more defined.

She seemed to have sprung suddenly into womanhood.

It was no light-hearted, careless, rather boisterous girl who appeared
unexpectedly at the flat, to give her one or two eager hugs, tell her
the latest news of her doings in gay, gossipy fashion, and eat an
unconscionable amount of chocolates, usually kept for her special
delectation.

The old, bright look was there on the surface, the ready, laughing
speech, but there was also, with it, something that approached a
dignified phase, and suggested a new reserve.  She was also distinctly
better-looking likewise, in some vague, incomprehensible way.

But Lorraine had not time to take any note of the change, for all her
faculties were bent upon shielding herself.

Of course it was useless to hide that she had been crying, but at least
Hal must not know that the crying had been soul-racking sobs.

With a look of consternation and dismay she, Hal, was across the room
in a bound, kneeling beside the big chair.

"My dear old girl, what in the world is the matter ?"

Lorraine contrived to smile with some appearance of reality, as she
dried her eyes, and said:

"I don't quite know.  It's idiotic of me, isn't it?  If you hadn't come
and stopped me, I should never have been able to appear to-night for
swollen eyes."

But Hal was not so easily put off.  She grasped both Lorraine's hands
in hers and said resolutely:

"Why are you crying, Lorry?"

Feeling it hopeless to avoid some sort of a reason, she replied:

"I had a letter this morning that upset me rather.  It is silly of me
to take any notice, and I shouldn't if I were well.  I've been
wretchedly nervy lately, and it makes me silly about things."

"What was the letter about?"

"Oh, only some one who is jealous, I suppose; trying to get a little
satisfaction out of saying a few things that may hurt me.  It is so
silly of me to mind."

Hal's mind immediately flew to Mrs. Vivian, and instead of inquiring
any further she just said:

"Poor old Lorry," and kissed her affectionately.

Then with a little laugh:

"I suppose you weren't going to have any lunch at all, but I'm
frightfully hungry.  I hope to goodness there is something in the
house."

"Run and tell Jean to see cook about it, there's a dear.  I must bathe
my eyes and try to look presentable."

While they lunched Hal chatted of many things, but she noted that
Lorraine was looking thin, and seemed to have something on her mind,
while she made no attempt to eat what was placed on her plate.

When she was pulling her gloves on later she asked:

"Why don't von take a week's holiday and go into the country, Lorry?...
It is no use going on until you are ill, as you did before."

"I think I must ask about it.  I feel as if one week would do me a
world of good.  How is Sir Edwin?   Have you seen him lately?"

"We played golf on Saturday."

A white look came suddenly into Hal's face, and she riveted her
attention on an apparently tiresome fastener as she asked, with the
greatest show of unconcern she could muster, the question that brought
her there.

"Have you heard a rumour that he is going to marry Miss Bootes?" naming
one of the richest heiresses cf the day.

"No; I hadn't heard it."

Lorraine gave a quick glance at her face, but saw only the look of
concentration on the fractious fastener.

"Well," Hal said in level tones, " I suppose she is worth about half a
million, and I don't think he is rich."

"Probably he has only been seen speaking to her, or taking her to
supper at a big reception .  That would be quite enough to make some
people link them at once, and fix the date of the wedding."

"There's a bun-fight at the Bruces' to-night," Hal ran on, "with Llaney
to play the violin, and Lascelles to sing - quite an elaborate affair :
so it is sure to be very boring ; but I suppose Alymer will be there,
looking adorably beautiful, and all the women gazing at him.  It will
be entertaining to chaff him, anyhow."

"Well, don't tell him you found nie weeping," with a little laugh. " He
might not realise it was only nerves."

"I'll tell him he's to take you away for a week's holiday," Hal replied
lightly.  " Goodness knows, you've done enough for him."

She went back to the office and settled down to her work with resolute
determination, but any one who knew her well would have seen that some
cloud seemed to have descended upon her, and that all the time she
stuck to her work she was wrestling to appear normal, in the face of
some enshrouding worry.

Through all the letter she was writing, and over the proofs she read to
aid the chief, there seemed to be one sentence dancing in letters of
glee, like a war-dance executed by little black devils on the foolscap
of her mind.

It was last night she had heard it, that ominous piece of news that
took her violently by surprise, in spite of her practical common sense.
 Some one had said it quite casually in the motor bus - one man to
another, as an item of news of the day.

"They say Sir Edwin Crathie is to marry Miss Bootes the heiress:

"What!  The Right Honourable Sir Edwin Crathie?"

" So they say.  He's very heavily in debt, I believe - over some bad
speculations - and an heiress is about the only thing to float him.
Besides, the party wants rich men, and it would be a good move on his
part."

That was all, and then the two silk-hatted, frock-coated men had got
out. Eminently well-to-do men - probably both stockbrokers, but men who
looked as if they would know.

Hal had gone on home in a sudden torment of feeling.  Of course he was
free to marry the heiress if be wished, but why, if so, had he dared
once again to drop the mask of companiable friendliness with her and
grow lover-like?

The change had been coming slowly of late, wrought with infinite
caution and care.  He had not meant to frighten her again, and find
himself in disgrace, so he had taken each step very leisurely, and made
sure of his ground before trusting himself upon it.  The next time he
kissed her, he had determined she should like it too well to resent his
action.

And the safe moment, as he deemed it, had come the previous Saturday
after a delightful afternoon at golf.  They had motored down to the
Sundridge Park Links, and stayed afterwards to dine at the club-house,
then back to Bloomsbury, and into the pretty sitting-room, where Dudley
was not likely to appear until late, because he had gone to a theatre
with Doris.

And then forthe second time he had kissed her.

But this was quite a different kiss.  It was a climax to one of the
best days he had ever had - a day in which, besides playing golf, they
had talked of State secrets and State affairs.  He had paid her the
compliment of talking to her as if she were a man, and Hal, being
exceptionally well informed on most questions of the day, was able to
hold her own with him, and to make the conversation of genuine interest.

And his quick, observant brain greatly admired her power of argument,
and her woman's directness of method, confirming the view that while a
an usually indulges in a good deal of preamble, with many doubts and
side-lights, a woman trusts to her instinct and arrives at the same
conclusion in half the time.  Of late, too, he had talked to her of
interesting modern problems; and what had been frivolous in their
earlier friendshipm had solidified into a real companionship.

And now as he stood on the hearth with his back to the fire, looking
with rather critical eyes round the pretty room that Hal had contrived
to rob of nearly all its lodging-house aspect, she stood quite
naturally and unconcernedly beside him drawing off her gloves.

"It was a good game," she was saying, "if you had not messed up that
sixth hole.  It's a brute, isn't it.  I was lucky to escape that marshy
bit."

"You are getting too good for me.  Your drives out-classed mine nearly
every time."

"But I can't approach.  I never, never, shall be able to hit a ball
just far enough.  If I loft on to the green at all it is always the far
side, with a roll."

"You'll soon master that.  A little more practice, and you'll be in
form for matches.  I think  we'll have to go away somewhere and have a
fortnight's golfing!  Why not to some little French place?  You would
finish up a first-class player."

Hal laughed lightly.

"Just imagine Brother Dudley's face when I told him I was going to
France for a fortnight with you!"

"You wouldn't have to tell him anything about me," watching her with a
sudden keenness in his eyes.  "I should have to be personated by Miss
Vivian or some one."

"Oh, I dare say Lorry would come for the matter of that.  We might
teach her to play too."

"Well, I hardly meant she should actually be there," he went on in a
meaning voice.  "She'd be rather in the way, wouldn't she?  I don't
know that I could do with any one else but you."

He stepped closer to her, and slipped his arm round her shoulders.  "A
third person will always be in the way when I am with you, Hal."

She changed colour, and breathed fitfully, moving as if to disengage
herself from his arm.

"No, don't go.  This is very harmless, and I've been exceedingly good
for a long time, now, haven't I?"

"All the greater pity to spoil your record," putting up her hand to
remove his.

But he only clasped her fingers tightly, and drew her closer, till he
could feel her heart palpitating a little wildly; and that gave him
courage.

"It has been far harder than you have the remotest idea of.  I deserve
one kiss, if only by way of encouragement."

His face was close to hers now, and with a little murmuring sound of
gladness he kissed her cheek.

"Little woman," he murmured, "I've grown desperately fond of you.  I
hardly know how to do without you.  Be a sensible little girl, won't
you?"

She disengaged herself resolutely then, but she was not angry, and her
eyes were shining.

"You are transgressing flagrantly - as I should express it in a
newspaper report.  Collect your forces, and retire gracefully, O
transgressor."

"I suppose I really must go now.  It's been such a splendid day, hasn't
it?"

He seemed to speak with a shadow of regret; and there was a shadow of
regret in his eyes also as he riveted them on her face.  Then he turned
suddenly and picked up his cap.

"Well - the best of friends must part - and the best of days come to an
end.  Good-bye, little girl."

With his cap in his hand, he suddenly put both his arms round her and
kissed her with the old passionate eagerness - then he loosed her and
turned to the door.

"I'm in love with you, Hal - head over ears in love; but it's a
devilish hard world, and Heaven only knows what's to come of it."

With which enigmatical sentence he let himself out and departed.

When he had gone Hal stood quite still where he had left her, and
looked into vacancy.  About her lips there was the ghost of a smile.
In her ears was only the recollection of the words, "I'm head over ears
in love with you."

So, it was coming at last - the great, glad day of love and fulfilment.
 If he had set out to trifle with her at first, at least he was serious
enough now.  She, too, had only trifled in the beginning, seizing a
little fun and adventure in her workaday world.  There had been no
reason to suppose it need hurt any one.  Now, she, too, was serious.

Perhaps the things detrimental to him that she had heard previously had
some truth in them then, but he was changed now.  Love had changed him.
 He was like another man.  She had seen and felt it in a thousand ways
that could not be translated into speech or writing.  It was just that
he was different, and in every particular it was to his advantage.

She was different too.  She did not resent the kiss, because she knew
that he honestly cared for her.  Ans she knew, too, that she honestly
cared for him.  The end of the enigmatical sentence rankled a little,
but she did not led herself dwell upon it.

She chose instead  to remember how he had kissed her; and that he had
confessed he was head over ears in love with her.  Which only showed
that Hal - for all her worldly wisdom and practical common sense -
could be as blind and as romantic ans any one when her heart was
touched, and her pulses romping feverishly at a memory that thrilled
all her being.

Three days later she had heard the conversation.

Of course it was absurd - manifestly so - and yet an yet -

After a miserable twenty-four hours of fighting against her own
uneasiness, she paid the flying visit to Lorraine, to see if she could
glean any light on the gossip from her, only to return to the office
baffled and tormented.

It was the enigmatical sentence that pressed forward now, instead of
the thrilling confession that he loved her.  Was it possible he was
indeed so base as to love her and tell her in the very same week that
he had asked another woman to be his wife?

And if so, what had prompted him?  What was in his mind?  Why had he
not left things as they were, and refrained both from the kiss and the
confession?

And then above her tortured feelings rose the triumphant thought,
goading and pleasing at the same time: "Whether it is true or not, he
loves _me_ - not her, the heiress, but me - Hal Pritchard - the
peniless City worker."





CHAPTER XXXI



In the evening came the party at Dick Bruce's home, and it was
necessary, she knew, to thrustl all recollection of Sir Edwin aside, in
order to give rise to no questioning and appear as usual.

So she dressed herself with special care, rubbed a pink tinge on to her
white cheeks, bathed and refreshed eyes dulled by worry and shadows,
and made her appearance, looking, inf anything, a little more radiant
than usual.

"By Jove! you look stunning, Hal," was her jovial uncle's warm
greeting.  "Who'd ever have thought, to see the ugly little imp of a
small child you were, that you would grow up into a fashionable,
striking woman?  I congratulate you.  When's the happy man coming
along?"

"When I'm tired to enjoying of myself," she laughed, "and feel equal to
coping with anything as trying as a husband.  At present a brother
keeps me quite sufficiently occupied, "and she passed on.

Across the large, well-lit room, towering above every one around him,
she saw the head and shoulders of Alymer Hermon.  All about her, as she
moved towards him, she heard the low-voiced query: "Who is he?"

No society beauty at her zenith could have caused greater interest.  He
was looking grave, too, and thoughtful, which suited him better than
laughter, giving him something of a look apart, and banishing all
suggestion of the conceit and self-satisfaction that would have spoilt
him.  Then he caught sight of Hal, and instantly all his face lit up,
and a twinkle shone in his eyes as he edged towards her.

"How late you are!  I thought you were never coming.  Did your hair
require an extra half-hour?  I suppose you've been tearing it out by
the roots over your faithless swain."

"I don't know what you mean, and anyhow I shouldn't be such a fool as
to tear my own hair out by the roots for any one.  If hair is coming
out in that fashion, it shall be his roots."

"Come and sit down.  I'll soon find you a chair."

"What's the good of that?  We can't converse unless you sit on the
floor.  I work too hard to spend my evening shouting banalities at the
ceiling."

"Well, let's hunt for a couch; there are plenty here on ordinary
occasions.  Isn't it a poser where all the furniture goes to at a
'beano' like this!  There's nothing in the hall, nor in the
dinning-room; and there doesn't seem to be much here.  Let's make for
the lounge."

"But I can't take you away.  I shall get my face scratched.  You were
made to be looked at, and half these silly people are staring their
eyes out in your direction.  I don't know how you put up with it so
serenely.  I should want to bite them all.  If I were a man, and had
been burdened with an appearance like yours, I should want to hit Life
in the face for it."

"Don't be silly.  What does it matter?  It pleases them, and it doesn't
hurt me.  I get my own back a little anyway...  when I want to" - with
a low, significant laugh.

"Oh of course lots of women are in love with you," - with a
contemptuous sniff; "but if I were a man I wouldn't give tuppence for
the woman who made me a present of her affections.  You miss all the
fun of the chase, and the victory.  It must be deadly dull."

"That's what Lorraine has sometimes said; but what can I do?  Shall I
paint my face black?"

"Oh, I've seen you look black enough, but it's rather becoming than
otherwise.  Anyhow, it isn't insipid.  But you've grown quite manly
lately, I suppose.  I hear about you occasionally positively working
hard.  Heavens! - what you owe to Lorraine!""
"I do," fervently.

"Then why in the world don't you look after her a bit?  I turned up
unexpectedly at half-past one to-day, and found her sobbing her eyes
out."

"You found Lorraine sobbing her eyes out..." incredulously.

"I did.  She told me not to tell you, as it was only nerves - but of
course it wasn't.  You know as well as I that Lorraine doesn't suffer
from weepy nerves.  It's worry again; and she is looking thoroughly
ill."

"Why again?..."

He was looking grave enough now, and there was anxiety in his voice.

"Oh, because there's often something to worry her - either her mother,
or her memories, or the future.  I suppose you haven't bothered to go
and see her lately to cheer her up?  Been too busy with your briefs!"

"I was there yesterday, to inquire how she was after a bad sick
headache.  The room was all violets and snow-drops"; and his eyes grew
soft.

"And did she sight of her robust health knock you backwards?"

Hal was irritable from the strain on her own nerves, and it pleased her
to hurl sarcasms at him, feeling somehow angry at his calm,
smoothly-flowing path to success.

"I thought she looked ill, and I advised her to go away for a week."

"That was kind of you.  And why won't she take your safe advice?"

"She won't go alone, and she said there was no one to go with her."

"Too many briefs, eh?"

"What have my briefs to do with it?"

"Oh, nothing.  She's given hours and hours to you and your future; but
of course you couldn't risk sparing a  week -"

"But!... " he began with raised eyebrows.

""Oh, don't 'but' in that inane fashion.  If you say it isn't proper I
shall scream.  Lorraine is nearly old enough to be your mother, and she
has far too much sense to be in love with you; and you wouldn't be so
idiote as to imagine it any use for you to be in love with her.
Therefore it's only a companion she wants to keep her from moping and
dwelling on sad thoughts; and you seem to be able to do that - as well
as any of us; so why can't you get another man, or boy if you prefer
it, to go for a run into the country with you?  Flip would take her by
the next train if he were there.  He wouldn't care a farthing for
scandalmongers.  But I suppose he can do that sort of thing because
he's a man.  And, anyhow, I don't suppose she would go with you, even
with a third person.  She might think a whole week of you too much of a
good thing."

His face has grown still more thoughtful, and he paid small heed to her
taunts.

Lorraine sobbing, Lorraine ailing, Lorraine unhappy, filled his mind.
What could have happened to upset her so?  True, she had not been
looking well for some weeks, and had complained of headaches and
weariness; but he felt sure something quie apart had transpired to
upset her so thoroughly.

Neither did he think it was Hal's version of the usual worries.  He
greatly feared his own people had made some move of which he was in
ignorance.  He contemplated with deep vexation the probability that he
himself was indirectly the cause of her new trouble, and he mentally
decided then and there to go to considerable lengths, if she wished it,
on her behalf.

Probably if he travelled down to some sea-side place and saw her
comfortably settled, and later on ran down to fetch her, she would be
more easily induced to go.  At any rate he would call the very next day
and see, if his proposition simplified matters at all.

Hal watched him a little impatiently, and at length remarked:

"You seem to be thinking rather hard.  Are you meditating upon
Lorraine's trouble, or my suggestion, that it is unlikely she could
endure a whole week of you, unadulterated?"

"Both," with a humorous glance at her.  "I'm thinking it would be
interesting to find out the truth in both cases."

"Well, you won't do that.  Lorraine never tells her troubles.  Not even
to me.  And she's too tender-hearted to hurt your feelings on the other
question."

"I'm not afraid of that."

His face grew a little brighter, and, as if satisfied with the result
of his cogitations, he changed the subject.

"What's making you so ratty to-night?  Is it the faithless swain?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Perhaps you haven't seen the evening paper."

"I haven't.  I'm sick to death of papers by six o'clock."

"Well, you oughtn't to have missed it to-night, and then you'd have had
the pleasure of seeing the announcement of the faithless swain's
engagement to the rich heiress."

Hal bit her lip suddenly, and felt her blood run cold, but she kept her
outward composure perfectly, and merely commented:

"Oh, you mean about Sir Edwin Crathie and Miss Bootes!... that's very
old news."

"Well, it was only in the paper to-night anyhow; and only given as a
rumour then.  I was going to ask you if it is true.  Yhey say he's in
the dickens of a mess for money.  But of course you know all about it."

He was enjoying himself now, feeling that he was getting a little of
his own back, and it made him unconsciously merciless.

"It must have been rather a trying moment when you had to break to him
that you couldn't possibly pay any of his debts, and that therefore you
must part?"

"I don't know anything about his debts.  They don't interest me.  I can
beat him at golf, playing level, and that's far more to the point."

"Then you are going to play golf with him, while Miss Bootes bears his
proud name in return for paying his debts!  Sure, it sounds a nice
handy arrangement for him."

Then Hal got up.

"I don't want to _talk_ to you, because you are talking such drivel;
and I don't want to _look_ at you, because your pink and white and blue
and gold irritate me beyond words, so you'd better go and stand in the
middle of the room for the benefit of those who delight to gaze; and
I'll go in search of a refreshingly ugly person who can talk sense!"

Hermon gave a low chuckle of enjoyment, and continued to chuckle to
himself until she was lost to sight and his hostess was introducing
some charming débutante to him.  The débutante was pink and white and blue
and gold likewise, and gazed up at him adorably under long curling
lashes; but he might have expressed a fellow-feeling with Hal, for he
found himself merely bored, and longed to go in search, not of a
refreshingly ugly person, but of the refreshingly irritable, snappy,
unappreciative one who had just left him.

When at last he was free, however, he found Hal had complained of a
headache and gone home early, unattended.





CHAPTER XXXII


On her way home Hal stopped the taxi and bought an evening paper.  When
she got it, however, she found Dudley there, so she merely held it
under her cloak.

"You are back early," he said, in a surprised voice.

"Yes.  It was very formal and very dull, and I was tired."

He glanced up with questioning eyes.  It was something new for Hal not
to stay untill the last moment at a festivity.  He thought she looked a
little paler than usual, and there were shadows about her eyes, but she
interrupted any comment he might make by an inquiry after Doris.

"She is very well."

He stopped short rather suddenly, and seemed thoughtful.  He had been
urging Doris to fix the date of their wedding, and let him see about
taking a house or a flat, but she had seemed to avoid the subject
lately, and he was a little troubled.

"I suppose poor Basil is much the same?"

"Yes.  He and Ethel were both asking what had become of you.  They said
you hadn't been up for a long time."

"I haven't.  I'll go to-morrow.  Good-night," and she kissed him, and
went upstairs.

In her own room she sat on the bed, and read the evening paper.

Yes, it was there sure enough, but it was only given as a rumour.  "We
understand there is a rumour..."  How well she knew the phrase, with
its dangerous suggestiveness, and safe retreat.  She wondered who had
started the rumour, and how the paper had got it.

But, again, insistently she asserted it could not be true.  If it had
not been for last Saturday she might have believed it.  But after
that... no, he could not be so base.  She put the thought away from
her, and tried to sleep, but her eyes would look out into the
blackness, and her brain ask questions.

"What if it were true?"  She clenched her hands and fought the
question.  It could not be true; why worry?  Yet he had never made the
slightest suggestion of marrying her.  She remembered that, but scorned
it.

Why should he?  There had been nothing lover-like between them until
the previous Saturday; and of course had there been any one else, it
would have been so easy to go on the same and make no change that
particular afternoon.

Finding what comfort she could out of these thoughts, she fell at last
into a troubled sleep.

The following afternoon, in fulfilment of her promise, she went up to
Holloway from the office.  Doris was out, and Ethel not home yet, but
the door was opened to her by a gaunt stranger, who said:

"Come in.  This is one of my days.  I'm in charge this afternoon."

Hal looked into the angular face, which appeared to her as if it had
been roughly hewn with a chisel, by some one who was a mere amateur,
and she could not repress a little smile.

"I don't think I've met you before.  Are you - are you - a friend of
Mr. Hayward's?"

"Well, he's a friend of mine, if that will do as well.  I'm generally
know here as G.  The letter isn't stamped on my face, but it's on the
door of my flat, and that's much the same."

She stood aside for Hal to pass down the passage, adding grimly as Hal
loitered, with rather an amused, engaging expression:

"I don't stand for much more than a door, with a G on it, as I often
tell Mr. Hayward, but I suppose it's all right."

"A little more occasionally," suggested Hal.  "A door wouldn't be much
use to Mr. Hayward, anyhow."

"That's what he says.  Won't you go down to his room?"

"What are you going to do?"

"Get the tea.  It's one of the few things I can do passably well."

"Let me come and help.  It won't take long.  I'm interested in that
door.  You see, I'm not even G; and I don't possess a front door."

The music-teacher looked searchingly into her face, and was evidently
pleased with what she saw, for she adopted a friendly note, and seemed
ready to chat.  Hal followed her into the little kitchen, and commenced
to take off her hat.

"I'm an old friend," she volunteered, "and I often leave my hat in
here.  Are both Mr. Hayward's sisters out?"

"Miss Hayward will be late to-night, and her sister is uncertain.  It
depends somewhat upon which young man she is out with," in acid tones.

Hal glanced up in astonishment, but her companion was busy with the
cups and saucers, and  did not notice the look.

"All I can say is, I'm sorry for that nice gentleman who is fool enough
to think of marrying her.  Lord! he'd be safer with some one with a
face like a door-knocker, such as mine.  But there, they're all the
same; and the nicest of them are generally the biggest fools."

Hal grasped the situation at once, and instead of enlightening her
concerning her own identity, said casually:

"There's another young man as well, is there?"

"There is so.  A pawnbroker I should take him to be, who wears the
jewellery left in his care on his person for safety.  As a matter of
fact, I believe he is a South African millionaire.  He brought her home
one day, and Blakde - that's the housekeeper's husband down below -
recognised him.  He was out in South Africa in the war, and he saw him
then."

Hal drummed on the table with her fingers to assume nonchalance.

"Does Miss Hayward know?"

'Know?  Of course she doesn't.  How should she know, particularly if
that artful monkey did not want her to?  I don't know where the poor
sick man would be now but for me.  She's always off somewhere - that
minx - and I rush back from my music pupils, because I can't rest for
the thought of him here all alone.  I've given one up, who wanted a
lesson at half-past four every day.  That's the time he needs his tea."

"Why do you do all this for him?"  Hal found herself asking, a little
unaccountably.  "He is nothing to you, is he - no relation, I mean?"

"Nothing to me!...  Oh, isn't he though!  I'd like to know what is
anything, if he's nothing?"

She rattled the cups and saucers a little restlessly, and Hal, with
growing interest, waited for her to go on.

"Before I knew him, I was nothing in the world but a door with a letter
on it, as I've just told you.  That's all I stood for, a mere letter of
the alphabet who paid a monthly rent.  I told him so, when I first came
across, and he said, 'Well, I'm very glad they didn't leave G out of
the alphabet.'  That's all."
"But I'm his slave now.  Nobody cared whether there was a G or not
before.  It isn't pleasant to feel you're a mere cypher, with no
particular meaning to any one; just shot in haphazard to fill up a
blank - a mere creature, useful to teach exercises and scales to odious
children one only longs to slap.
"Fancy being expected to keep yourself alive in a dingy little flat,
for ever alone, just to do that!"  The cups rattled more restively
still.  "I say, the universe is the grimmest jester there ever was.  Me
to teach music to keep life in a body that doesn't want it!  If I'd
been employed laying out corpses in their grave-clothes there'd have
been some sense in it.  I'm not much more that a figurehead of an old
hulk myself.  But music!... music!...  Oh Lord, and I haven't one real
note of it in my whole composition."

Hal seated herself on the table.  With her quick intuition she
perceived at once entertainment of an original kind was before her, and
she promptly laid herself out to obtain all she could.

"Why do you teach music?  I don't think you do quite suggest a
musician?"

"Of course I don't."

The gaunt spinster was cutting some bread-and-butter now with a savage
air.

"Do I suggest anything, except perhaps a butcher or an undertaker?  Yet
I can only keep myself alive with music.  That's the jest of the Arch
Humorist.  My father was a clergyman.  He droned out services for fifty
years in a hamlet, with a little square church like a wooden money-box.
 I was taught music so that I could - well - make the tin-pot organ
groan, I used to call it.  I had twenty-five years of that, with never
a break.  I got so that, to keep myself from turning into a stone
gargoyle on the organ seat, I must have my little jest too.
"One way I had it was by making the organ groan dismallest at weddings
and christenings, and squeak hilariously at funerals.  Father never
noticed, he'd already turned gargoyle, you see, and as for the village
people! well, it suited them, because they always wept at weddings, and
overate themselves at funerals."

"And then?..."  Hal was so thoroughly enjoying herself now, she had
almost forgotten the invalid.

"Well, then the gargoyle died, or ran down, or something.  I should
think he got tired of sing-song the tender mercies of God to the devout
people, and His judgments on the wicked.  It always seemed to me the
good folks got the nastiest knocks; and the wicked, well, they fairly
left the green bay tree behind.
"Anyhow, I'd been devout enough, as far as sinning goes, for forty
years.  I wasn't even blessed with the chance to be anything else.
Then a new parson came, an underdone young man with new fal-da-dal
ideas.  I wonder how soon _he'd_ become a gargoyle?  I defy him to
stand out long against the cast-iron nonentity of that village.  But he
didn't take kindly either to me or my music.  Hadn't any sens of humour
at all.  I don't know what I ever knew a clergyman who had.  Perhaps a
man couldn't very well go on being a clergyman if he possessed such a
trait.
"Anyhow, this particular one did not think I put enough expression into
the tunes.  He said they hardly sounded like sacred tunes at all; which
wasn't surprising, when you come to think that sometimes a low note and
sometimes a high note on that little tin-pot organ would take it into
its head to stick, and would either boom or squeak all through the
thing I was playing."  Hal burst out laughing, quite unable to contain
herself any longer, but the spinster went on calmly: "The tune might
just as well have been 'Down by the Old Bull and Bush' then, but it
wasn't my fault, because when your hands and arms and feet and eyes and
ears are all struggling to keep time with a village choir that varies
its pace every few bars, you've got nothing left to release a stuck
note with."

"I hope you didn't tell the under-done young parson about 'The Old Bull
and Bush'?" said Hal, still rocking with enjoyment and bent chiefly
upon leading her on.

"I'd never heard of it then, or I might have.  Even that won't reach
the village I'm thinking of for a hundred years; and then they'll play
it until the very birds lose heart, and think they are uncannily up to
date.  So they are if you count it when things come round the second
time.  I told him if the organ seemed to be playing 'Yankee Doodle,' I
supposed it was because it felt like it; as, for twenty-five years, it
had more or less pleased itself at my expense.
"But he'll be a gargoyle soon, and then he won't notice, and it will
boom and squaek to its heart's content.  Of course I ought to have
stayed on because I matched it all, and I didn't mind the booming and
squeaking as long as the choir didn't get convulsed, and stop
altogether - because that was liable to catch father's attention.  A
gargoyle is out of place in London.  It's as mad for me bo be here as
that I'm here to teach music.  After I became fossilised I ought to
have stayed on till I died, and then that self-willed organ could have
fairly squeaked itself out over my corpse.  Come along and have some
tea now.  Poor Mr. Hayward will be getting faint."

"But you're too perfectly delicious for anything!" Hal cried, springing
off the table.  "Why haven't I known you for years?  Why haven't I
known you all my life?  You must meet my cousin Dick Bruce.  You
absolutely _must_, with the least possible delay.  He'll simply dote on
you.  Come along to Basil, and tell me heaps and heaps more"; and she
caught her by the arm in the friendliest fashion, and half-pulled her
along to the little sitting-room.





CHAPTER XXXIII


"What a gossip you two have been having!"  Basil said, and, seeing the
laughter in Hal's eyes, he added, "has G been telling you some of her
amazing theories, or tearing the existing order of the universe to
shreds?"

"Oh, I don't know, but she's simply immense. Have you heard about the
tin-pot organ that will play its own way, and the choir that gets
convulsed, and the underdone young parson?  She's simply got to know
Dick. He wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Yes; I've heard most of it. She plays an organ of laughter for me
nowadays, that makes me bless the day she was born."

The gaunt spinster positively blushed.

"Oh, that's just your way," she snapped, bashfully trying to hide her
pleasure. "If I hadn't been G, a pretty, charming young woman with real
music in her might have been, and you'd have liked that much better."

"No, I shouldn't. She'd have played 'Home, Sweet Home,' with
variations, and 'The Maiden's Prayer ' - I know her at a glance. If you
do only play scales and exercises I'm sure you manage to put a lot of
character into them."

"That's only thumping; and who wants thumping ?"

"I do, when it's the universe. I'm just as much askew with it as you
are, only I haven't got the wit to thump it so satisfactorily. You are
going it for the two of us now."

"Still, you're not a gargoyle..." with a queer twist of her face that
delighted Hal.

"I shall positively take you to Dick myself," she said, "or bring him
here to you. He'll talk to you about a mother's patience, and babies;
and you'll talk to him about gargoyles and organs, and Heaven only
knows where you'll both get to ; but I wouldn't miss it for anything."

"I don't know who Dick may be, but if he talks to me about mothers and
babies " - grimly - " I shall groan like that organ did at
christenings. They may be useful in the general scheme, but beyond that
I don't know how
any one can put up with them at all; with their potsy-wotsy, and
pucksie-ducksie, and general stickiness.  It's quite enough for me that
I have to knit stupid little socks for their silly little feet, for
bread-and-butter. The most I can say for it is, that it's a more
satisfactory plan than
casting your bread on the waters, on the off-chance some kindly Elijah
will butter it."

"Where are the socks, G ?" Basil asked, looking round.  "I should like
Hal to enjoy the edifying spectacle of your knitting babies' socks."

"You don't mean that," interrupted Hal comically.  "I can't believe it."

"It's the horrible truth," asserted the spinster, calmly going on with
her tea -" most of them go to little black whelps in the Antipodes.
After all, it isn't any more incongruous than the music - is it ?"

"But you don't do it for the under-done young parson, surely ?"

"Goodness gracious, no.  What an idea!   He wiped his hands of me long
ago. The wildest stretch of imagination, you see, could not picture me
ever looking like an angel; so he left me to my fate!"  And again the
humorous
twisted smile delighted her small audience.

"Have you seen Splodgkins lately ?" Basil asked.
"You say all babies are sticky and objectionable; but you must admit
that sticky imp down below is better than two-thirds of the other
babies in the world shining with soap polish."

"So he is"; and the grim face relaxed still further.  "He was sitting
in my way on the stairs this morning, and as I could not get by, I
said, 'Make room, please, Master Splodgkins; you don't own the
universe.' 'Eth oi doth,' he lisped. 'Noime ain't thplodums. Damn th'
ooniverth.'"

It was good to hear Basil's whole-hearted laughter.
"We ought to have had him to tea," he said regretfully.  "He would have
delighted Hal.  He's two-and-a-halfyears old" - turning to her - "this
remarkable person-age; and, like most gutter snipes, has developed as an
ordinary child of four.  He and G have debates occasionally. He wishes
to be called D, because that is the letter on his front door, and
'Splodgkins ' hurts his dignity but he's so funny when he is indignant
we can't resist
teasing him."

A little wistful smile crept into the invalid's eyes.

"We have lots of fun in this dingy old barrack between us," he told
Hal. "We are rarely silly enough to be dull, with so many queer,
interesting folks under the same roof."

Hal felt something like a sudden lump in her throat, but she smiled
brightly as she looked from one to the other, feeling somehow the
better for knowing such waifs of life and circumstance, who could yet
baffle Fate's pitilessness with genuine laughter.

"Dick is writing a most weird and incomprehensible book on vegetables
and babies.  I'm quite certain you could give him lots of ideas," she
remarked to G.

"He'd better put Splodgkins in if he wants to make it sell," said she.
"Only they mightn't allow it at the libraries. Splodgkins's vocabulary
is fortunately sometimes indistinguishable for his lisp."

"Splodgkins couldn't be translated," put in Basil.  "He sometimes comes
to tea with me and G; but he is almost too exhausting.  I think he
knows every bad word in the English language; but one has to forgive
him because he always saves half his cake for his baby sister, and
hurls violent abuse at any one who dares to disparage her.
"Are you going?..." as G got up.  "I'm sure Miss Pritchard doesn't want
you to leave us."

"Miss Pritchard!..."  In a horrified voice.

"Never mind," said Hal quickly.  "It didn't matter."  Then to Basil, in
explanation: "G said something about Doris's fiancé, not knowing I was
his sister, but I quite forget what it was.  Good-bye, G," holding out
a frank hand.  "I think you're a delightful person, and I'm just as
glad as Basil that you weren't left out of the alphabet."

A few minutes later Doris came in, looking flushed and stealthy, and
the first thing Hal noticed was a loverly little diamon brooch she had
not seen before.

"What a darling brooch," she exclaimed, after their greeting.  "Did
Dudley give you that?  He might have shown it to me."

"No..." stammered Doris, turning red.  "I've had it a long time.  It's
not real."

"Well, it's a wonderful imitation, then" said Hall a little drily -
and remembered the man like a pawnbroker's shop.

Then Ethel joined them, and Hal's quick eyes saw sthe still increasing
anxiety, just as surely as she saw the increased furtiveness in Doris's
side-long glances.  And because of all that she felt for Ethel, she
trust her own care into the background resolutely, and made the evening
as gay as she could while she was there.

Only afterwards she went home through the lamp-lit darkness, feeling as
if some vague shadow had descended silently upon her little world.

What was this insistent, nameless fear at her own heart?  Why was
Lorraine weeping when she found her yesterday?  Why was trouble
steadily gathering on Ethel's face?  What was this gossip about Doris? -

The gloom of a foggy night added to her depression.  Why, in the tube
railway, did all these people about her look so white and tired and
lifeless?  Did they just go on in their niches, in the same way that
the grotesque music-teacher had gone on in hers for all those
monotonous years; only to become like an uncared-for, unwanted letter
of the alphabet pushed in to fill up a blank in a big city at last?

Were they all gargoyles-fixed, rigid, joyless, carved things, fastened
in their respective niches, not for ornament, or for use specially, but
just because the general machine seemed to require them?

And if so - why? ... why? ... why? -

It was so easy to be joyous if one was made for it.  Such a little
would make every one gay, if they were fashioned accordingly.  What
could be the good of disfiguring a beautiful world with all these
vacant, expressionless, hopeless masks?

Hal did not read poetry.  She was perfectly frank about being utterly
bored with it.  When she had anything to say, she liked to say it
straight out, she explained, without twisting it about to make it rhyme
with something just shoved in to fill up the line; and she preferred
other people to do the same.

Yet, perhaps, at that particular moment, had she seen the lines:

_"Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire?"_

In her present mood she might have recognised also the stateliness and
the beauty of a thought transcribed into verse.

Or possibly she would have obstinately asserted there was no occasion
to introduce the word Love at all - and it was no one's Heart's Desire
she wanted, but just a common-sense, reasonable amount of pleasure for
all, and a spring-cleaning of all the gloomy, wooden faces.

In the sitting-room at Bloomsbury she threw her hat down on the sofa,
and ran her fingers through her hair with an almost petulant air.

"I just feel to-night as if it was a rotten old world after all," she
said.

Dudley, sitting poring over some plans with a reading-lamp, looked up
in mild surprise.

"And what has made you feel all that? - not Basil, I'm sure."

"Well, there's no occasion to be so very sure.  I think it's decidedly
rotten where Basil is concerned."

She came and half-sat on one of the arms of his chair, and rested her
hand on his coat-collar.

"I wonder what G would think of a sane man spending his evening ruling
pointless-looking lines on a big sheet of paper?"

"And who may 'G' be?"

"I hardly know - except that she's the quaintest person I've ever
struck yet - and I've seen some funny ones."

"Oh, I know who you mean.  Yes; she is an oddity.  Well, how was every
one.  How was Doris?"

"I hardly know.  She was not there when I arrived, and she did not come
in until a few minutes before Ethel."

"I wonder where she was?" thoughtfully.  "I asked her to come for tea
and a walk in the Park to-day, and she said she could not leave Basil."

Hal looked keenly into his face, and immediately he smiled and said:

"I suppose the tenant opposite was free unexpectedly, and Doris was
able to get out after all.  Poor little girl.  I'm glad.  But I wonder
she didn't telephone me."

Hal turned away, feeling a little sick at heart.

Were they all then in the maelstrom of this gloomy sense of an
engulfing cloud?  What could be the meaning of Doris's behaviour?  Did
Dudley suspect anything?  Certainly he had been a good deal preoccupied
of late, and spoken very little of the future.

She looked  out of her window across the blue of London lights, and her
thoughts roved a little pitifully across the wide reaches of her own
small world.  From Sir Edwin,  with his high post in the nation's
councils, and Lorraine with her brilliant atmosphere of success and
triumph, to the dingy block of flats in Holloway, where, in spite of
almost tragic circumstances, to quote Basil, they had "lots of fun"
among themselves.

She believed he meant it, too.  It was no empty phrase.  Rather
something in touch with Life's great scheme of compensations, which she
manipulates in her own great way, beyond the comprehension of puny
humans.

Certainly neither Sir Edwin nor Lorraine could boast of "lots of fun."
Rather, instead, much care and worry and brain-weary grappling with
problems of modern succesful conditions.

She wondered, with a still further sinking at heart, if perhaps the
time had come when she would have to grapple too.  Was it very likely,
after their delightful friendship, and after that confession of his the
previous Saturday, Sir Edwin was prepared tamely to give her up?  In
her heart, she knew him better.

And yet, if the rumour was not false, what else could result?  Vaguely
she felt it might be one of those problems of modern society, coming
across the evenly flowing river of her life, to demand solution.  Not
the solution of the crowd - to follow a beaten track is rarely
difficult - but her own individual solution, which might mean much
warfare of spirit and weary heartache.    The foregoing of an alluring
pleasure she deeply longed to take - not for any reward nor any gain,
but solely for the sake of the mysterious power abroad in the world
which is called Good; and which demands of the Present Hour that it is
ready to crucify itself and its deep desires for the sake of the Future.





CHAPTER XXXIV


As the days of that new spring-time crept on, it appeared that the
shadow descending upon Hal's little world had come to stay.

Things happened with surprising quickness, and each happening was of
that particular order which presents itself enshrouded in gloom, and,
with a pitilessness which is almost wanton, refuses to allow one gleam
of the sunshine, carefully wrapped up in its gloomy folds, to send a
single glad ray of hope to those wrestling in its sinister grip.

One knows the sunshine may possibly be hidden there somewhere -
sunshine always is hidden in each event somewhere - but what is the use
of expecting it weeks or months or years hence, when it seems that one
single ray now would be of more help than a whole sun in some vague,
distant future?

May it not be that in the development needed to fit the individual for
the full and glad enjoyment of the sunshine to come, a ray of light
would blur the film, and spoil the picture instead of producing one
that is strong, clear and beautiful?

So, a dauntless belief in the sunshine to come, without a ray to
promise it, may make for greater perfectness through steadfast courage
than had one beam crept through to lessen the need for effort and for
strong enduring.

Yet it was strange that the grim hand of destiny should strike at so
many in that little world at the same time, and that its blows should
be of that intimate nature which allows of no speech, even to one's
dearest friend.

Lorraine knew that the rumour of Sir Edwin Crathie's engagement was an
admitted fact; but she did not know how hard it hit Hal.  She could
only have learnt by accident, and, because of events in her own life,
she was out of the line of such a discovery.

Hal knew that Lorraine, after a nervous breakdown, had gone somewhere
into the country for a week or so, and that Alymer Hermon had run down
later to see how she was getting on, and if he could do anything for
her, but of the almost tragic circumstances that led up to his action
she knew nothing, and imagined the merest generous attention.

She saw also the preoccupied, aged look growing on Dudley's face, and
knew that the shadow was over him too.

Ethel saw the change creeping over Basil as no one else saw it, and
knew that not even the far future could shed a single gleam for her
upon the darkness coming.

Yet - for life is oversad to dwell upon rayless darkness even in books
- bright, enduring, beautiful sunshine was wrapped up in those black
clouds to flood the little world with joy at the appointed hour.

It was Lorraine's life that events moved first.  After Hal left her,
she spent a wretched, restless, brain-racking afternoon, and was only
just able to struggle through her part at night.

And afterwards she became suddenly sickened with the need to struggle.
She was not extravagant by nature, and had saved enough money from her
enormous salaries to liver very comfortably if she chose.

A nausea of the theatrical world and its incessant demands began to
obsess her.  She felt that from the first day she stood in a manager's
office, seeking the chance to start, it had given her everything except
happiness.

Money, success, position, jewels, fine clothes, admirers, friends,
adventures, gaieties - all these had come, if by slow degrees, but not
one single gift had contained the kernel of happiness.

Perhaps it was her own fault.  Perhaps the trouble lay in the wrong
start she had made and never been able to retrieve.  But at least there
was time to try another plan yet.

Finally, feeling the nerve strain of recent events was seriously
affecting her health, she decided to arrange a week's holiday to think
the matter out.

But then what of Alymer?

Nothing had changed her mood since his uncle paid his ill-chosen visit.
 She did not actually intend to try to influence Alymer against his
people, but she did intend that he should not change to her, nor pass
out of her life, if she could help it.

Because she, and she alone, had started him off on his promising
career, she meant to be there to watch it for some time to come.  Her
influence might not any longer be actually needed.  The devine fire to
achieve had already lit into a steady flame in his soul, and her
presence would make very little difference in future.  He had tasted
the sweets of success, and ambition would not let him reject all that
the future might hold.

But she must be there to see.  In her lonely life he meant everything
now.  There was no need for him to think of marriage for years yet; and
in the meantime she felt her claim upon him was as strong as any
mother's fears.

So she waited for his next visit, wondering much what would transpire
if he had heard of his uncle's call.

As it happened, he had.  In the interview he had sought with his aunt,
to request her not to interfere in his affairs, the indignant lady
hurled at him the story of the visit; or such garbled account of it as
she had received from the participator himself.

That was quite enough for Alymer - that and Hal's account of Lorraine
in tears.  He felt that his benefactress, his great friend, had been
abominably insulted, and he hastened in all the warmth of his ardour to
her side.

Lorraine was waiting for him in her low, favourite chair,  and when he
first saw her he could not suppress an exclamation to see how frail she
seemed suddenly to have grown.

Her skin of ivory whiteness, enhanced by the tinge of colour in her
cheeks, and there were shadows round her eyes placed there by no
cosmetic art.

All that was most chivalrous, most protective, most affectionate in his
nature rose uppermost, and shone in his face as he said:

"Lorraine, it is too feeble just to say I am sorry.  I heve been
cursing the blunder with all my heart ever since I knew."

"Thas was dear of you," she said; "but of course I knew that you would."

"I hoped so.  I told myself over and over, you must know it had all
happened without my knowledge."

Lorraine had no mind to make light of the matter.  She felt she would
hold him better by simply leaving it alone, and letting his own
feelings work on her side.

She knew of course that his uncle had probably tried to injure her
case; but then, Alymer was a man of the world, and she trusted him,
knowing what he must about his uncle, to judge her kindly.

But all this seemed to fade into nothingness when she saw the distress
and the affection in his eyes - the anger that any one had dared to
hurt her, and the eager wish to make amends.  It made all her
smouldering love leap up into flame, and the strength of the suddenly
roused passion almost frightened her.  She felt there was desperation
in it, the desperation of the drowning man who catches at a straw, of
the condemned man  who seizes a last joy.

Quite unexpectedly a reckless, surging desire began to take possession
of her soul.  She had lost so much already; been hit so many times;
missed so many things.

A picture came back to her, with a new allurement.  The picture of
herself with a little one of her own, floating down the peacefully
flowing river to some quiet haven, far removed from the glare of the
footlights.  Should she make a bold bid to win that much from the years
that were left?

She sat quiet, looking into the heart of the fire while the thoughts
coursed through her brain, and her long lashes hid from the man above
her the glowing dreamlights in her eyes.

Then he too pulled up a low chair and sat down, so that his head was
more nearly on a level with hers, and still his eyes looked at her with
that regretful, protecting expression.

"You must go away, Lorry," he said, using Hal's pet name; "you are
beginning to look thoroughly ill."

"I don't feel well, but I haven't the heart to go alone.  I should only
get melancholia."

"Hal seemed to think I ought to offer you a little companionship."  He
said it with a slightly bashful air.

"Hal?..." in a sharp, questioning voice.  "What has Hal been saying to
you?"

"Not much.  She was in great form at the Bruces' last night.  She
rubbed it  into me finely on various subjects, and finally went off
with her head in the air to find some one refreshingly ugly who could
talk sense."

They both laughed, but Lorraine's eyes were thoughtful.

"And what did she say about your companionship?"

"Oh, that it was only some one to talk to and be company you wanted if
you went away, and that I seemed to fill the post better than any one
just now."  He paused, then added: "Do I?"

She felt him looking hard into her face, and kept her eyes lowered.
She did not want him to know that the thought of his companionship in
the country was like the straw to the drowning man - the last joy to
the condemned one.

"You always make me forget the years, and feel young," she said slowly
and thoughtfully, "and I dare say that is a very good tonic in itself."

"You oughtn't to need help from any one for that"; and she knew there
was genuine admiration in his voice.  "You never look anything but
young.  I suppose it is temperament."

"Temperatment doesn't erase lines," with a little sad smile.

"Perhaps not, but it makes them, in some way, suit you; and they add to
the character in a face."

"It is sweet of you to say so, Alymer, but it sounds a fairy tale.  I
don't so very much mind growing old, if only it were not so...
empty-handed."

"But surely you have so much!"

"Not very much that counts.  Anyhow, I hope some day you will have a
great deal more."

"You are depressed.  You must really get away somewhere at once."

He was grandfatherly now, the mood she always loved and laughed at, and
her pulses quickened to it.  He placed one of his large, strong-looking
hand over hers - it covered them both out of sight - and he leanded a
little nearer as he said:

"I can see I shall have to take the ordering of it all.  You have done
worlds for me.  Now I shall have to take you in hand."

A harsh expression crossed her face for a moment, thiking of what his
mother had written her.

"And go straight to perdition!" she said bitterly.

He winced a little.

"I'm sure you wouldn't want me to make excuses for my own mother," he
remarked, with the quiet dignity that was aldready winning his name in
the Law Courts, side by side with his gift for light satire.  "You
cannot but know in your heart just how far removed her outlook on the
world is from ours."

She wanted to ask him if any outlook gave one woman the right to insult
another at her pleasure, but she remembered Mrs. Hermon probably dit
not realise that she would have the fineness to see the insult, and was
not even aware that she had been insulting.

"I should like you to know my father," he went on.  "He is a very
understanding man."

"But surely he..."

"No; he knew nothing about it.  When my mother spoke to him he asked
her not to interfere."

"Ah!"

For a few swift moments the generous treatment called to her own
generosity, and for the sake of the understanding father she was almost
ready to let go the straw.  Only then again came the recollection of
the uncle, and his impudent offer to substitute himself, and make
amends at the same time; and again the smouldering fires leaped up, fed
by the strong, protecting touch of the hand upon hers.

"I think Hal was right," Alymer was saying.  "If my companionship, just
to run down and see how you are, wherever you may be, will help to
cheer you up and amuse you, there is no reason why I shouldn't manage
it."

She knew he was making a concession of which he was half-afraid,
because of what he owed her, and while one half of her longed to be
self-sacrificing and release him, the other half fiercely demanded the
straw that yet might save.  And still she said nothing, gazing, gazing,
into the flames.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"I hardly know," with a tired smile.  "Of course I want you, but if -"

"Never mind the 'if'," cheerfully.  "If I promise to run down and see
you, will you go away at once, and try to get well again quickly?"

"It would make a lot of difference."

"Then that settles it.  Can you start to-morrow?"

"I think I could."

Her pulses were leaping fitfull now - leaping and bounding with a swift
delight.  Perhaps he felt it, for he withdrew his hand, and gave
himself a little shake, as if warding off something dangerous.

"Where will you go?" in a matter-of-fact voice.

"I hardly know, but I like the sea.  Any little place that is warm in
the spring.  I might as well motor down, so it doesn't matter about
trains, and the motor can come back for you."

"Shall I bring any one else?" his eyes searched her face.

"Just as you like."  She leant forward and casually stirred the fire.
"Anyhow, there is sure to be plenty of room at this time of year."

"Plenty of room, but not plenty of available companion chaperones,"
with a little laugh.

"Then we should have to make Sydney serve," naming her chauffeur.  She
got up form her seat.

"I suppose I must think about dinner," glancing at the clock.  "Are you
joining me this evening?"

"I can't; I have to go to Morrison's."

"How gay you are!"

"It is diplomatic.  Morrison could get me a brief to-morrow if he
liked."

"There is a very pretty daughter, just out; isn't there?"

"Yes."

"And is she so strikingly lovely?"

"I suppose she is; but she is so full of airs and graces she irritates
one almost past endurance."

"I'm afraid you are a severe critic.  The way is made too smooth for
you."

She had moved near to him again, and stood beside him with one hand
resting lightly on the mantelpiece, and one foot on the fender.  He was
standing as usual with his back to the fire.  He looked down into her
upturned face, fascinating now from a touch of roguishness.

"The splendid knight is hard to please; mere beauty is too commonplace."

"Isn't it sure to be?" a little smile played round his lips as he made
his gallant retort.  "How can mere beauty ever appeal to me, who have
been accustomed to all you have besides?"

"Ah,  flatterer!..." she said softly, and smiled into the fire.

There was a tense moment in which he longed to bend down and kiss her
as he had done when the room was full of violets, but instead he pulled
himself up sharply and moved away.

"Well, I must be off.  Perhaps to-night I shall have the luck to be
able to look at her from a distance, and not strike the jarring note.
I'll try to come in to-morrow to see what you have decided, and then
I'll run down on Friday afternoon for a long week-end, to see that you
are taking decent care of yourself."  As an afterthought he added: "I
suppose Hal couldn't get off?"

"I'll ask her if you like.  She would love it, if she could."

"And keep us amused too.  I should get my head bitten off, but you
could put it on again for me.  Good-bye.  Anyhow, it is a promise that
you will go"; and with rather a hurried farewell, he was gone.

Lorraine remained some moments gazing into the fire, and there was a
softness in her eyes.  She knew perfectly well that he had hurried at
the last moment because when they stood together on the hearth he had
wanted to kiss her.

And she could not help comparing his strength in refraining with what
would have been the action of most of the men she had known, who would
have professed more, and meant less.  She leaned her head down on her
hand, and wondered a little pitifully:

"Why had the best she had ever known come to her too late?"

And then followed the dangerous thought: "Is it indeed too late?"





CHAPTER XXXV


Lorraine was not able to see Hal, but she talked to her on the
telephone, and told her she was going into the country at once, and
Alymer was coming down for the week-end.  "We wondered if you could get
off too.  Do try," she said.

Hal answered at once that she could not manage it this week, but
possibly the next, if Lorraine were still away.

"I've only arranged for a week's holiday," Lorr	aine replied.  "What a
nuisance you should be unable to come this week."

As a matter of fact, Hal was only going out for the day with her cousin
on Sunday, but an urgent little note from Sir Edwin had begged her to
keep Saturday free for him;  and because the suspense was becoming
unendurable, she granted his request, determined to know the truth.

So it happened that Lorraine motored down alone to a quaint little
fishing-village on the south coast, where there was a charming,
old-fashioned, creeper-decked hotel, too far from the railway for the
ordinary week-end tourists, and patronised mainly by motorists in the
summer.

And on Friday the motor went back to town to fetch Alymer, bringing him
down about four o'clock, unaccompanied.

"So Sydney will have to be chaperone after all," Lorraine said lightly.
 "Now, what should you like to do to-morrow?"

"Is there any chance of fishing?"

He asked the question with some diffidence, fearing that it might only
bore her.

Lorraine clapped her hands.

"Exactly what I thought.  We're going to have the jolliest little
fishing-smack imaginable for the whole day; and Sunday too, if you
like; and take our lunch with us, and fish until we are tired."

A glad light leapt to Alymer's eyes.

"By gad!  You are a trump," he said.

In the meantime Hal waited a little feverishly for Saturday.  They were
to have one of their long outings.  Meet at twelve, motor for two
hours, lunch at two, then a walk; back to town to dine, without
changing, in some grill room.

Sir Edwin had mapped it all out beforehand, sitting at his desk, with
an anxious, unhappy expression, unrelieved by the evidences all around
him of what he had achieved - of the proud position that was his.
Indeed he almost wished he could will it all away, and be just an
independent, moderately successful solicitor, able to please himself in
all things; instead of bound by the demands of party and position.

And those demands just now were very exacting.  It was not an easy
party to serve, and the less so in that its ranks numbered many
soldiers of fortune of the swah-buckler type, who meant to hold the
power they had attained partly on the exploitation of a lie, by fair
means or otherwise; even if necessary by further lies - lies upon lies
- but clever, carefully manipulated ones; not bald, childish, outspoken
ones.

One of their most prominent office-holders had recently perpetrated a
lie of the latter type.  Such a barefaced, impudent, obvious lie, that
there was no possibility of covering it up, and the whole country
talked of it.  Music halls laughed at it, comic papers and comic songs
rang with it, election platforms bristled with it.

Naturally the party was very annoyed.  One could imagine them saying
indignantly to the offender: "Lie as much as you like, but for
goodness' sake have the common sense to lie cleverly.  If you can't do
that, better confine yourself to merely distorting facts."

The official in question held a post in the same department as Sir
Edwin - which meant that quite enough opprobrium had been recently
hurled at the Law without risk of any further scandal.

The party was not sufficiently strong for that.  They had fright enough
over a paragraph in the _Church Gazette_, hinting at a lady in
connection with one of their Ministers - where there should be no lady;
but prompt action had steered the ship through those shoals in safety.

But all the same, this business of The Right Honourable Sir Edwin
Crathie and the Stock Exchange had got to be attended to at once.
Under no possible consideration must it leak out that a Cabinet
Minister had been speculating so heavily, and lost to such an extent,
that nothing but an immense sum of money could save him from disgrace,
bankruptey, and ruin.

One friend and another had tided him over for some little time, but he
had continued to be reckless and incautious, relying with an unpleasant
sneer upon his title.

"Oh well!" had been his conclusion; "if the worst comes to the worst, I
can always sell my name to an heiress."

Finally, that unhappy condition had arrived.  It had further choses the
worst possible moment - the moment when the music halls and comic
papers were waxing hilarious over the badly executed lie.

Sir Edwin had been summoned to a consultation that had been the reverse
of pleasant.  The only thing was that the way of escape had been
thoughtfully  planned for him.  He had no need to hunt up the heiress
for himself.  She was considerately provided.

Miss Bootes' father was a wealthy Liberal, who had more than once
generously supplied funds to the party, in return for some small favour
he craved.  Now he wanted a celebrity, with a title, for his daughter.
Sir Edwin hardly came up to the required standard, but Mr. Bootes was
easily persuaded that there was absolutely no limit to his
possibilities, were he once set on his feet as far as money was
concerned.

The Prime Ministership, followed by a Peerage, were in his certain
grasp, had he but the necessary money to back him.

Papa Bootes said over an over to himself: "My daughter, Lady Elizabeth
Crathie" (it was really Eliza, but had been discreetly changed to suit
the fashion), and came to the conclusion that a Cabinet Minister for a
son-in-law sufficiently banished the odorous flavour patent manures had
given to his fortune.

Finally he inquired the amount of Sir Edwin's debts, and promised a
cheque if the delicate little matter were settled.

Hence the consultation, and the polite but firm intimation that Sir
Edwin must close with the offer - that he had not even the right to
choose ruin instead, because of its effect on the party.

And of course, now the crisis had come, Sir Edwin did not want to close
with the offer.  In his own mind he consigned the party, and all
belonging to it, to the very worst hell of Dante's Inferno.

But, beyond relieving his mind a little, their imaginary exodus did not
help him in the least.  He found himself in the very undesirable
position of furnishing a telling example of the utter impossibility of
serving two masters.

To do his common sense justice he had never had the least intention of
attempting to.  Without any prevarication as far as his own feelings
were concerned, he had quite honestly chosen to serve Mammon.  Having
decided thus far, he banished the very memory of any other possible
master.  He did not exist for him.  Mammon, in that it meant place, and
power, and money, was the only god he wanted to serve.

And now? -

Well, of course, the Little Girl must go.  At first he said it harshly,
shrugging his shoulders and pursing his lips.  It had only been a
pastime all through, and, thanks to her owon pluck and sense, it had
been one of those rare, delightful pastimes that, ended suddenly, might
leave only a gracious, enjoyable memory behind.  He was glad of that.

Somewhere in his heart, that was mostly impressionless india-rubber,
there had proved to be a healthy, flesh-and-blood spot after all.  She
had found it quickly - gone straight to it with the unerring directness
of a little child.  It existed still - would always exist for her.

But in future the india-rubber would have to close over it, and hide it
from all chance of discovery.  In future he must not even remember it
himself.  For that way lay weakness.  No serving of Mammon could be
achieved, whichever way he turned, with the frank, candid, clever
Little Girl.

And so she must go; and since it was inevitable, the sooner the better.

Then had come the afternoon's golf; and, without asking himself why, he
had hidden from her that there was any change.  Afterwards, because the
impending finale made him desire her as he had never desired her
before, he went into the pretty little sitting-room and kissed her.

When he hurriedly departed, he remembered only that the kiss had been
sweet.  Also that evidently no rumour had reached her yet.  But of
course it would.  Any moment of any day her newspaper office might get
the news and publish it.

He spent a wretched week, torn mercilessly by his desire to serve two
masters.  In the end, because he was a man who hated to be thwarted, he
swore a violent oath, and said that he would.

Then he sent Hal the urgent little note, and made his plans for the
day.  They all hinged largely upon his hope to get her to go to his
flat in Jermyn Street, after that grill-room dinner.  That was why when
they met he cleverly took the bull by the horns directly he saw in her
eyes that she had heard the news.  He appealed, with insight, to her
sense of humour.

"If you look at me like that," he said, "I shall punish you by sitting
down here, in St. James's Park, on the curbstone, and giving you an
explanation before all London that lasts an hour."

"I've a great mind to keep you to it," with her low, musical laugh,
"and send Peter to bring a phonograph man with a blank record to take
it down."

"And a dozen journalists with snap-shot cameras, and biograph
apparatus, to link us in notorious publicity to all eternity."

"No; I couldn't stand that.  What is your alternative?"

"A long, perfect day in this heavenly sunshine, pretending anything in
the world you like that will make us forget the stale, boresome, old
week-day world.  Then, at the end of it, the unfolding of a glorious
plan that is an explanation in itself."

Hal looked doubtful, and seemed to cogitate.  He waited in an anxiety
he could scarce conceal, watching her mobile,  sensitive face.  Finally
the sunshine and the light-hearted carelessness made the strongest
appeal, and she gave in.

"Very well.  If it had been dull and cloudy I would not have agreed.
But one daren't trifle with sunshine.  We'll take our fill of it while
it lasts."

So it happened that their last long day was one of the best they had
known - each being clever enough to carry out the suggested programme
and banish the following cloud for the time.

Hal was a little feverish - a little gayer than usual, with some hidden
strain; a little pathetically anxious to act an indifference she could
not possibly feel, concerning that rumour, and throw herself heart and
soul into their compact of forgetting everything for a little while
except the sunshine and the exhilarating dash through a spring-decked
England.

In some places the hedges were white with hawthorn; and in sheltered
nooks they sped past primroses, like pale stars in the grass.  There
were plantations of feathery, exquisite larch trees, their lovely green
enhanced by tall dark pines, standing among them like sentinels.  In
gay gardens joyous daffodils nodded and laughed to them as they whirled
past.  Sir Edwin ventured an appreciative remark.

"Don't talk," Hal said.  "Pretend you are in a worldwide cathedral, and
it is the great annual festival of spring."

"May I sing?" he asked humorously.

"No; not as you value your life.  We have only to listen to the choir.
Hush, don't you hear the birds singing the grand spring 'Te Deum'!"

But after a time she spoke herself.

"Was it all like this on Thursday night - all these delicious scents
and sights and sounds cast broadcast, for all who passed to enjoy?"

"I expect so.  Why?"

The kindliness in the quizzical grey eyes was amazing, as he sat back,
watching her with covert insistence, instead of the spring glories.
How the divine spark changes a man for the brief moments when it
reigns!  Banishing utterly Stock Exchange scandals, convenient
heiresses, exacting parties, the merciless claims of the god Mammon.
He might have looked just so, years and years ago, before he entered
that hard service, and buried all his best under layer upon layer of
harsh, deadening, world-wise grasping.  Pity that the best is so frail
to withstand the onslaught of the demons of power and place - so easily
overcome and thrust away probably for ever.

"I was up in Holloway.  I suppose you know it?  And there was a strong
man dying a helpless invalid, and his sister breaking her heart, and a
woman from the opposite flat, who said she stood for nothing in the
world but a letter of the alphabet.  And all round was gloom, and murk,
and shabbiness, and hard, pitiless facts.  I came home in the tube, and
all the passengers seemed to look like lifeless, starved, white-faced
mummies.  They made me feel frightened.  I wondered where joy had fled
to.

"And here, was it just like this all the time? ... flowers, and sweet
scents, and spring, and hopefulness? ... And scarcely any one to enjoy
it all; while those white-faced, vacant mummies were journeying
foolishly to and fro in that stuffy, detestable tube."

"You shouldn't go to such places.  What have you to do with Holloway,
and shabbiness, and starving people?  If you belonged to me, I wouldn't
let you go."

"Of course I have to do with them.  We all have.  But I don't know
what.  And it frightens me.  I don't think I've ever felt frightened
before.  It was like being brought up sharp against a stone wall."

His lips were suddenly a little stern.  Stone walls had to be broken
down.  That was the use of being strong.  One was not frightened; one
just got a battering-ram, and forced a passage through.  He would tell
her soon, but not out here.  Not just yet.

"You are forgetting our compact.  I'm surprised at you, Hal.  I call it
a slight on the sunshine."

"Why, so it is! ...  Avaunt, and leave my mind, Holloway!  This day
belongs to the spring."

And until they drew up outside the Criterion Grill, she kept her
spirits high, and gave herself to the joy of the hour.





CHAPTER XXXVI


When they were half-way through dinner Hal asked, a trifle abruptly:

"Now, what about this piece of news?  What does it mean?"

He looked away, unable to meet her candid eyes, and said:

"I will tell you presently."

"Where?  Why not now?  Why all this secrecy?"

"Because it is rather a big matter.  You have sometimes said you would
like to see the horns and trophies I brought back from my shooting-trip
in Canada.  Come and see them this evening."

"At your flat?" doubtfully.

"Yes.  Why not?"

Hal knit her forehead and looked perplexed.  She had so insistently
declined to go hitherto, that she was loth now to change her mind.  Yet
she felt it was rather silly to have any fear of him now.

In the end she went.

It was only eight o'clock, and he promised to take her home about nine.
 Besides, something in his manner was baffling her, and she wanted to
understand how they stood.

Once in the sumptuous, beautifully furnished flat, however, he seemed
to change.  He came up to her suddenly, put his arms round her, and
kissed her.

"At last," he breathed.  "At last I've got you absolutely to myself."

"Don't do that."

Hal disengaged herself and held him at arm's length.  For a moment she
looked steadily into his eyes, and then she asked:

"How has this report of your engagement got into the papers?"  Her lips
curled a little.  "I presume you would hardly act to me like this if it
is true."

"It is true in one sense, and not another."

"Oh..."  She seemed a little taken aback.  "In what way is it true.
Are you engaged to Miss Bootes?"

"Yes."

"Indeed!"

She lifted her eyebrows, and moved a pace or two farther away.

"Don't move away from me," he said a little thickly.  "It isn't the
part that's true which matters, but the part that is not true."

"I don't understand."

"I brought you here to explain.  I can do so very quickly.  I am in a
tight corner.  The tightest corner I ever was in my life.  Only one
thing can save me.  I must have money.  Miss Bootes, or at any rate her
father, wants a title.  I haven't the shadow of a choice.  I have got
to sell her mine."

Again Hal's lips curled, and a little spark of fire shone in her eyes.
+-

""Oh, I can understand all that!"  She tossed her head
half-unconsciously.  "But why" - her lips quivered a little - "did you
think it necessary to insult both of us by, at the same time, becoming
lover-like to me?"

"I told you why; because I love you."

He stepped up to her, and caught both her hands in an iron grip.

"Now, listen to me, Hal.  Don't try to break away, for I won't let you
go.  I tell you it's a matter of life and death.  In your heart you
know quite well that I love you.  You knew it when I kissed you last
Saturday, and you were glad.  I don't know when you read that
announcement, but whenever it was, your heart said to you 'Whether it's
true or not, he loves _me_'.  Probably you didn't believe it was true,
because you knew nothing whatever about the devilish mess I was in.
But in any case, your heart told you right.  I do love you.  I love you
with every bit of me that knows how to love.  If I have to be hers in
name, I am at any rate yours at heart, and shall be all my life.  Noew,
what have you to say?"

She tried to drag her hands away, but he gripped them tightly, forcing
her to feel his strength, his resolve, and his masterfulness.

"I have nothing to say.  What should I have?  You have elected to sell
yourself, to let a woman" - with swift scorn - "buy you out of a tight
corner.  I... I... " in a low tense voice, "am sorry we ever met."

"Why? -"

He hurled the monosyllable at her, now almost crushing her hands in his
grasp, as he waited, silently compelling her to reply.

"Because the friendship was pleasant.  It has meant a good deal.  And
now for it to end like this!...  for me to have to scorn you."

"Why need it end?...  Why should you scorn me?...  Wouldn't every
second man you know in my place act exactly as I am acting?  I have no
choice.  I ought not to tell you, but my political chiefs have issued
an ultimatum to me, and I have got to obey it.  Do you suppose I would
consider it for a moment if I could find any other way out?  Do you
suppose I would risk losing you, would even dream of giving you up, if
I were not driven to it by the very hell-hounds of circumstance?
To have felt love at all is the most wonderful thing in my life: I, who
have always mocked and jeered and disbelieved.  Well, anyhow it is
there now.  Listen, Hal.  I love you.  I love you?  _I love you_."

He tried again to kiss her, but she wrenched at her hands, held in his
grip.

"Let me go.  You... you... to talk of love.  You don't know what it is.
 Let me go... let me go - "

"I won't. By God, you shan't speak to me like that.  I won't endure it."

He was evidently losing control of himself a little, and the sight of
it steadied her.  Behind all her bravado and pluck there was a terrible
ache.  Caught in a mesh of circumstances, she knew she could not
struggle out without being grievously hurt at heart.  She knew that,
however she loathed his action now, she could not unlove him all in a
moment.

When he scorched and seared her with his passionate declaration, her
heart cried out that she wanted him to love her, that she wanted to be
his.  And yet stronger and higher and better than all, was that woman's
instinct in her soul which loathed his action and clung wildly in the
stress of the moment to its own best ideal.

In the swift sense of hopelessness that followed, great tears gathered
in her eyes, and welled over on to her cheeks.  They had an immediate
effect upon him.  He let go her hands.

"Don't cry, Hal, don't cry," he said a little huskily.

"I can't stand that."

She brushed the tears away almost angrily, but, ignoring his motion to
draw up an arm chair, remained standing, straight and slim beside the
hearth, trying to recover her composure.

Sir Edwin commenced to pace the room.  He had succeeded in his scheme
so far as to get Hal to the flat to discuss the projects in his mind,
but now that she was there he felt at a loss to proceed.  He wished she
would sit down; he changed his mind and almost whished she would cry;
standing there, like a soldier on guard, with that direct, fearless
expression, she disconcerted him, by making him feel mean and paltry
and small.

And all the time he could not choose but admire her more and more.  He
wished with all his heart in those moments that he could throw his
position and his party overboard, and go to her with a clean slate, and
say:

"I have done with serving Mammon.  Come to me as my wife, and I will
serve you instead."

And instead he had brought her there to say:

"I cannot give up serving Mammon.  I must marry the heiress, but let me
be your lover and I will serve you as well."

And all the time Hal stood there with those resolute, set lips, as
erect as a young grenadier.

But all the same he meant to have her if he could, and he remembered of
old how often he had found a swift, bold attack won.  So he stopped
short beside her, and said:

"You know that whatever circumstances compel me to do, all my heart is
yours, Hal, and you care a little bit about me.  You know you do.
Don't condemn me to outer darkness.  Come to me like the sensible
little woman you are.  No one will ever know, and I can make your life
gayer and happier just as long as ever you like."

She looked at him with a startled, perplexed expression.

"What do you mean?" she asked slowly.

"Now, don't get angry."

He laid his hand on her arm, with a caressing touch.

"You've knocked about the world too much not to know what I mean.  You
know perfectly well half the girls you know would let themselves be
persuaded.  But that isn't what I want.  I've too much respect for your
strength of character.  Come to me because you can be strong enough to
rise above conventions and because you dare to be a law unto yourself.
It is the courage I expect of you.  Hal, my darling, who is ever to be
any the wiser if you and I are lovers?  Think what I can do for you to
make life gay and interesting and fresh.  Don't decide in a hurry.  If
no one ever knows, no one need be hurt."

She moved away from him, and went and stood by the window, looking down
at the passing lights in St. James's Street; looking at the lights in
the windows opposite, looking at the faint light of the stars overhead.

It was characteristic of her that she did not grow angry and indignant;
nor, in a theatrical spirit, immediately attempt to impress him with
the fact that she was a good, virtuous woman, and that his suggestion
filled her with horror.  Her knowledge of life was too wide, her
understanding too deep.

She knew that to such a man as he a proposal of this kind did not
present any shocking aspect whatever.  When he said, "Be a sensible
little woman," he meant it to the letter.  He actually believed she
would show common sense in yielding to him, and taking what joy out of
life she could.

But, unfortunately for the world in general, it is not only the
horror-struck, conventional, shocked women who resolutely turn their
eyes from the primrose path.  There are plenty of large-hearted,
broad-minded women, who, seeing the world as it is, instead of how the
idealists would have it, are content to go on their own strong way,
fighting their own battle for themselves without saying anything, and
without judging the actions of others, content in striving to live up
to their own best selves.

Hal was one of these.  If another girl in her place had yielded to the
alluring prospect of possessing such an interesting lover as Sir Edwin,
to brighten the commonplace, daily round, she would not have blamed
her, she would have tried not to judge her.

But she would have been sorry for her in many ways, knowing how apt the
primrose path is to turn suddenly to thorns and stones; and in an hour
of need she would have stood by her if she could.

But the fact of possessing these wide sympathies did not lessen any
obligation she felt to herself.  It was her creed to "play the game" as
far as in her lay, and according to her own definition.

That definition did not admit of any irregularity of this kind.  It
called, instead, sternly and insistently for absolute denial.  It told
her now, without the smallest shadow of doubt, that from to-night she
must never see Sir Edwin again.  She must take whatever interest he had
brought out of her life, and go back to the old, monotonous round.

It was useless to question or reason.  The decree was there in her own
heart.  The insistent call to keep her colours flying high, as she
fought her way through the pitfalls of life to the Highest and Best.

As she paced the room behind her, disclosing a carefully thought-out
plan, now pleading, now expostulating, she heard him rather as one afar
off.

The plan did not matter one way or another.  If she could have let
herself go at all she would not have troubled about plans.  His
pleading and expostulating she scarcely heard.

She was looking out at all the lights, and her mind was grappling with
problems.  How harsh the glare of the streets appeared to-night.  How
far, far away the pin-points that were stars.  Hal liked a city.

Constellations hanging like great lamps in wonderful, wilderness skies
would have wearied her quickly.  She loved people, and she liked them
all about her.  But to-night she felt suddenly very near to the dark,
shadowy side of life - very far from the stars of light.

She glanced up at the pin-points a little wistfully.  If perhaps they
were nearer with their message of high striving; if perhaps the glare
at hand were less harsh, there might be so much more steadfast courage
in the world; so much less weak acceptance of conditions that led to
pain and misery and disaster.

At last he stood beside her, and implored her to tell him, once for
all, that she would yield and come.

But when he saw into the clear depths of her eyes, he knew his hopes
were vain.

Suddenly, with swift self-distrust, his mood softened.

"I suppose I've shocked you past forgiveness now," he said miserably.
"You'll think I've been an brute to you, and you'll never forget it."

"No; I shan't think that; but I should like to go home at once."

"But surely that is not your last word!"

"What else is there so say?  I... I... can't do that sort of thing.
That is all.  From to-day you must go your way, and I must go mine.  It
is useless to discuss it.  Let me go home."

"But you can't mean it," he cried.  "Surely we are not to part like
this."

She had moved back into the room now, and was pulling on her gloves.

"What else can we do?"

"But you care for me, Hal.  You can't deny it.  You do care a little;
don't you?"

She looked into his eyes without a tremor, but with a pain at the back
of hers that made him flinch.

"Yes, I care," she said very quietly.

"Ah!"

Suddenly he sat down, and buried his face in his arms on the table.
Every good, honest trait he possessed called to him to throw "Mammon"
to the winds, and make her happy.  Let the party take care of itself.
It was not for his nobility of character they had taken him into the
Cabinet.  Let his creditors do their worst - a strong man could win
through anything.  But the mood did not last.  There was not enough
room in that india-rubber heart for it to expand and grow.  It died for
want of breathing-space.

"If you care, why can't you have the courage to come to me?" he asked a
little fiercely.

"Because I have the courage to stay away."

And he knew - hardened sinner that he was - that she named the greater
courage.

But his goaded feelings called to him, and drove him, making him mad
with the knowledge he must lose her.

"Heroics!..." he said - "heroics!...  Don't talk like a
bread-and-butter miss, Hal.  It is unthinkable of you."

He got up from his chair and took a step towards her, but stood
irresolute - daunted by the calm strength in her face.

"The world is too old for heroics any more.  Every one laughs at them.
Where is the politician to-day who cares tuppence for anything but the
main chance?  We blazon our way into office, and we blazon louder still
to keep there.  It is the spirit of the age.  The strong man takes what
he wants, and holds it by right of his strength.  In primeval times we
used fists and clubs.  Now we hit with brains and words or hard cash.
That is all the difference.  The strong man is still the one who takes
what he wants, and keeps it.  And I want you, Hal.  It is mere
feebleness - childishness - to be thwarted by convention and
circumstance.  Hoodwink convention, and stamp on circumstance.  Go
through stone walls with a battering-ram.  As long as the world doesn't
know - who cares?  Those are my sentiments.  They have been for years.
When I want a thing, I go for it bald-headed, and take it."

He drew nearer boldly, refusing to be daunted, putting all his strength
and determination against hers.

"And I want you, Hal.  Do you understand?  Don't be a little fool.
Come."

She backed away from him towards the door.

"I understand well enough," she said quietly, "and I shall never see
you again if I can help it.  All that you say does not appeal to me in
the least.  I am not a politician - thank God - and I am still
old-fashioned enough to possess an ideal.  I am going now.  Good-bye."

But when he saw she was already in the little hall, a wave of fierce
desire seemed to catch him by the throat.

"Not yet," he exclaimed hoarsely: "Not yet...  I care and you care -
you cannot go yet -"

But before he reached her, she had slipped through the front door, and
shut it behind her, and run down the stairs out into the street.





CHAPTER XXXVII


All through the next day, while motoring with her cousin Dick Bruce,
Hal made a valiant effort to appear exactly as usual; but all the fresh
spring countryside now seemed to mock her with its sudden emptiness,
and the very engine of the motor throbbed out to her that something had
gone from her life which would not come back any more.

She chatted away to Dick manfully, about all manner of things, but in
the pauses of their chatter she was silent  and still in a manner quite
unlike her old self - reattending with a start, and sometimes so
distraite she did not hear when he spoke to her.

After a time Dick began to notice, and then purposely to watch, and
finally he perceived all her gaiety was forced, and sometimes was
weighing heavily on her mind.

It was useless to say anything while they motored, so he gave all his
attention to his driving, and purposely allowed the conversation to
drop.

When they returned to Bloomsbury he went in to supper with her, as was
his habit, and, as he hoped, Dudley was away up at Holloway.  It was
not until they had finished their meal, and the landlady had cleared
away, that he attacked the subject; then, with characteristic
directness, he said:

"Now, Hal, what's the matter?"

"The matter?..." in surprise.  "What can you mean, Dick?  Why should
anything be the matter?"

She tried to meet his eyes frankly, but before the searching inquiry in
them her gaze dropped to the fire.

"Something is the matter, Hal.  Just as if I shouldn't know."

She was thoughtful a moment or two, thinking how best to put hi off the
right scent; then with overpowering suddenness came the recollection of
all the pleasure and interest and delight the lost friendship had stood
for, and her eyes filled with tears.  It was useless to attempt to hide
them, so she contrived to say as steadily as possible:

"I am a bit down on my luck about something; but it's nothing to worry
about.  Don't take any notice; there's a dear boy.  I shall soon
forget."

"But why shouldn't I take any notice?  Don't be a goose, Hal.  Tell me
what's the matter."

She was silent, and after a pause he added:

"I suppose it is Sir Edwin?"

Hal felt it useless to prevaricate, and so she said, with assumed
lightness:

"Well, it has been a little sudden, and we had some jolly times
together."

"Then he is engaged?"

"Yes."

She told him briefly why.  Dick watched her with a question in his eyes.

"Did he deliberately get engaged to the other girl, knowing he cared
for you?" he asked.

Hal tried to lie.

"Oh, there was nothing of that sort between him and me.  We were just
good pals.  But of course it can't go on the same."

"You're not a clever liar, Hal," he said, with a little smile.

She coloured and bit her lip, with an uneasy laugh.  Then the tears
shone again.

"Better tell me about it.  Perhaps I can lend a hand to get through
with."

Hal placed her hands on the mantelshelf, and leaned her forehead down
on them.

"Tell me something funny, Dick, or I shall howl in a few seconds.
Don't be serious.  Be idiotic.  Have the carrots and turnips decided
which take precedence yet?  Is her ladyship, the onion, weeping upon
the cabbage's lordly bosom?  Are the babies talking philosophy over
their bottles?  For Heaven's sake, Dick, be idiotic, and make me laugh."

"I think it would do you more good to cry."

"Oh, no, no: I hate to cry.  Do help me not to."

But Dick understood the relief it was to a woman to have it out, and he
just sat down in Dudley's big arm chair, and reached the favourite
footstool for Hal.

"Sit on the stool of confessional, and I'll make you laugh later on.
If you don't cry now, you will when I've gone."

Hal sat on the footstool, and leaning against his knee, cried quietly
for several minutes.  He played with an unruly strand of hair until she
dried her eyes, and then said:

"When we were kids, you always told me when things went wrong with you.
 Tell me all about it now."

"I left off being a kid about a month ago.  I'm ancient history now";
and she tried to smile through her tears.

"Why?"

"Oh, just because - " and then her voice broke suddenly.

"I suppose Sir Edwin was in love with you?"

She did not reply.

"And he was obliged to marry the other woman for the money."

He was thoughtful for some moments, and then added:

"All the same, when a man like that goes so far as to love a woman,
which must be a pretty novel experience for him, he doesn't let her go
lightly.  He won't let you go lightly, Hal."

"I shall not see him again."

"Has it come to that already?"

"It had to.  There was no other course."

"It sounds rather sudden and drastic."  He watched her keenly.  "A man
like that would try to get both of you.  Did he try, Hal?"

The hot blood rushed to her face, and she turned her head away.

"Well, he would think it the obvious, sensible course, I suppose, and
perhaps a good many women would, too.  What did you think, Hal?"

"I didn't think.  I hurried away.  I shall not see him any more at all."

He looked at her with a light in his eyes.

"Bravo," he said; and there was a low thrill in his voice.  "He'll
think the world more of you, Hal."

"I'm not sure; anyhow, it doesn't help very much."

"Then you wanted to go."

She stared into the fire and was silent.

"I see," he said simply.  "You are one of the women who would have
dared, only...  of course I knew you wouldn't, Hal.  And, if you had, I
shouldn't have been the one to blame you."

"Yes," she told him, still staring at the fire.  "I could have dared
under some circumstance.  But not these.  Never under pretty, ignoble
ones.  I think that all makes it worse.  There were two Sir Edwins.
There was one I knew, and another the world knew.  It was the other
that triumphed.  Mine will never come back.  It is all finished."

She bowed her head down on her arms.

"Oh, Dick," she said.  "I shall miss him badly."

"But I'm glad you let him go, Hal."  He spoke in a quiet voice full of
feeling.  "Most men are pretty casual and indifferent nowadays, and we
often say we like a woman to be broad-minded, and daring, and all that;
but, by Jove! when we know she's straight as a die, without being a
prude, we're ready to kneel down to her.

"Stand to your guns, Hal.  I... I... want to go on knowing that you are
among those one wants to kneel down to.  If he is very persistent and
persevering, and it gets harder, I dare say I can help.  You can always
'phone me at a moment's notice, and I shall consider myself at your
beck and call."

"You are a dear, Dick, but I shall not see him.  He can only wait for
me at the office, and I shall go out the back way."

"Still, if you're rather lost there are lots of things we might to to
fill up the time.  I've been going down East with Quin lately.  It's
awfully interesting.  Especially with him - he's so splendid with the
most hopeless characters.  There's a sing-song at one of the clubs on
Wednesday eve.  Come down with us.  You'll see Quin at his very best."

"I'd love to come.  Will you fetch me?"

"I'll fetch you from the office, and we'll have a sort of meat-tea meal
at the Cheshire Cheese.  Perhaps Quin will join us."

So they sat on and talked in the firelight till it was time for Dick to
go; and all the time Hal was unconsciously drawing strength and
resolution from him for the fight that lay ahead of her.

Many years ago when she broke her dolls he had tried to mend them and
comfort her.  And now, because he was a simple, manly gentleman,
blessed with the precious gift of understanding - when she was feeling
heart-broken he tried with all the old, generous affection to help to
heal the wound, and bring her consolation.

And away on the southern shore, where a little fishing-village nestled
in the cliffs, and a creeper-covered hotel awaited sleepily the coming
of the summer and the summer visitors, Lorraine came to what she deemed
her hour - the one great hour left - and, as a drowning man, caught at
her straw.  Two long perfect days they had spent on the sea, with an
old fisherman, full of anecdote, and his young grandson to sail the
boat.

Then came the dreamy twilight hour, and their utter loneness; and
Alymer, with the strong, swift blood in his veins, and the strong lust
of life in his heart, lost himself, as she meant that he should, in the
intoxicating atmosphere of her charm and fascination.





CHAPTER XXXVIII


When Hal and her cousin emerged from the office the following Wednesday
evening, the first thing Hal saw was Sir Edwin's motor, and Sir Edwin
himself standing waiting for her.  A disengaged taxi was just moving
off, having deposited a fare, and instantly, without a word to Dick,
she sprang into it.  Dick gave a sharp glance round and followed her.

"Tell him where to go," she said.

He directed the chauffeur, and then looked anxiously into her face.
She had turned very pale, and seemed for the moment overcome.

"Sir Edwin's motor?" he asked, and she nodded.

"Shall I call for you every day?" he said at once.

"No.  He can't possibly see me if I go out the other way."  Then she
added: "He won't go on for long.  He was there yesterday, but he did
not see me; and after to-day I dare say he will give it up."

Finally she added, with an effort:

"I heard this morning the wedding is already fixed for June.  It's to
be one of the weddings of the season"; and her lips curled somewhat.

"I'm more sorry for her than for you, Hal," he said quietly.  "You've a
lot of splendid years before you yet.  Heaven only knows what's ahead
of her.  I doubt he'll not give her much beside his name for his share
of the bargain."

She made no comment, leaning back in her corner, white and tired.  It
was difficult to imagine anything ever being splendid again just then;
or any man ever seeming other than tame, after Sir Edwin's clever,
virile, interesting personality.

But Dick had judged wisely in suggesting the trip down East.  Anything
West would merely have recalled painful memories.  The East of London
was new to her, and could not fail to be interesting to any one with
Hal's love of her fellows.

They went to a large parish hall, where Quin was in charge for a social
evening of dancing and music.  Factory girls were there in all their
tawdry finery to dance; rough, boisterous youths mostly made fun of
them; tired, white-faced, over-worked middle-aged women sat round the
walls, laughing weakly, but forgetting the drudgery for a little while.
 At one end of the room older men sat and smoked, and looked at
illustrated periodicals.

Hal entered with Quin and Dick on either side of her, and was
immediately accosted by a young lady, with a longer and straighter
feather than most of them, with the remark:

"Hullo, miss!... which of 'em's yer sweet'eart?"

A burst of laughter greeted this sally, but Hal, not in the least
disconcerted, replied:

"Why, both, of course... I'll be bound you've had two at a time often
enough."

The repartee delighted all within hearing, and from that moment Hal was
a brilliant succes at the social evenings.  She only wondered she had
never thought to go before; but perhaps no other moment would have been
just so propitious.

The sudden blank in her life craved some interest that was entirely
new, and made her more ready to receive fresh impressions and create
fresh occupations.  She quickly found real pleasure in teaching the
girls to dance properly, in listening to their outspoken humour, and
soon developed an interest in their varied and vigorous personalities.

As she and Dick went home together that evening he noted joyfully that
a little colour had come back to her face, and there was once more a
genuine gleam in her eyes.

"You liked it?" he asked.

"Immensely."

"It grows on one.  You'll like it better still yet.  Alymer and I have
always rather laughed at Quin, and regarded him as a crank.  But he's
not.  It's just that he loves humanity, and he gets quite close up to
the core of it down there, even if it is half-smothered in vice and
dirt.  I don't believe he'll ever take orders.  It's partly because
he's not a clergyman, and they know it, he's such a success.  To-night,
for instance, there was a big bullying chap trying to spoil all the fun
for the men who wanted to smoke peacefully and look at the books.  Quin
remonstrated, and he turned round and swore violently at him.  To my
surprise, Quin, if anything, outdid him.  I wouldn't have believed Quin
could swear like that.  I'm sure I couldn't myself.  The chap just
looked at him, and tried another oath or two doubtfully.  And Quin said:

"Go on if you like, I'm not nearly through yet.  I can't be a blank,
blank, blank bully, and I don't want to be - it's nothing to be proud
of; but I'm as much of a man as you any day."

"The other chaps laughed then, and the brute slunk off to the other
side of the room."
"I asked Quin about it later, and he said:
"Oh well, you've got to talk to them in their own language, or they
don't listen.  That's the best of not being a clergyman.  Of course one
couldn't very well curse and swear then.  But it's the way to manage
them.  That chap will come to heel in an evening or two, and be
reasonably quiet."

"You hit the right note straight off, Hal.  Quin was awfully pleased.
Talk to them on their own level first, and presently you'll be getting
them struggling up to yours almost without knowing it.  He's
frightfully keen for you to go again."

"I'm going every Wednesday," she said, "and other times as well."

They parted at the door, and Hal went in alone.

The moment she stood in the sitting-room she knew that something had
happened.  Dudley was sitting in his big chair by the fire, holding
neither book nor paper, gazing silently at the flames.

At the table she stood still.

"What's the matter, Dudley?...  What has happened?"

There were a few moments' silence, then, scarcely looking round, he
replied:

"She's gone.  Run away with another man."

"Gone!..." she echoed.  "Gone... with another man! ...  Do you mean
Doris?"

"Yes.  She was married at a Reigstry Office this morning.  A messenger
boy took the letter up this evening, after they had left for the
Continent."

Hal sat down.  It was so violently sudden she felt stunned.  After a
moment Dudley got up and moved aimlessly about the room.

"It's no use attempting to say anything, Hal.  There's nothing to say.
Of course I know you're sorry, and all that, but I'd rather you didn't
say it.  You never liked the engagement, and you never liked Doris.
Probably you were justified, but it doesn't make it any easier for me
now."

"Who has she gone with?"

"I believe he's a South African millionaire."

"Ah! - "

"You had heard of him?..." sharply.

"Only last week, from the tenant opposite.  She did not know I was your
sister, and said something about Doris having two young men, and one of
them was a South African millionaire."

He made no comment, but continued his aimless walk.

"What about Ethel and Basil?" she could not help asking.

"They are terribly upset.  As soon as I had been shown the letter I
went out to make inquiries.  Ethel could not rest for fear everything
was not square.  She wanted to go off after her at once.  But it's all
correct.  I saw the Registrar.  They were properly married, and they
left for Dover at eleven, bound for Paris."

"What in the world will become of Basil?"

He winced visibly.  Doris's flagrant selfishness to Basil hurt almost
more than her faithlessness to himself.

"She stated in the letter that her husband was allowing her a thousand
a year for herself, and she was prepared to pay a housekeeper to look
after Basil and the flat."

"Little beast," Hal breathed under her breath.  "What are they going to
do?" she said aloud.

"The tenant opposite insists upon taking Doris's place.  She was
sitting with him when Ethel got home, and the letter arrived about the
same time.  Nothing else will satisfy her.  She is going to be with him
all day, and only teach in the evenings after Ethel has got back."

"How splendid of her!" involuntarily.

"She hardly seems the kind of person Basil would like, but he appeared
quite pleased.  It may have been a little quixotism.  All he said was:

"What in the world should we have done without you, G; and there! only
a few weeks ago you were wishing you had not been born."

"How like Basil.  All gratitude and understanding as usual.  But it
must have hit him rather hard, Dudley.  Is he all right?"


"I don't know."  The gloom on Dudley's face deepened.  "I thought he
looked very ill, but I could not get Ethel to say much.  She seemed
rather to avoid me.  I don't think she likes me."

Hal was conscious of a little inward smile of gladness.  She had
guessed Ethel's secret long enough ago, and she knew the power of
uncertainty and a little thwarting.  Dudley would naturally try to
break down Ethel's dislike; and perhaps in doing so he would grow to
know her better.

"I think I must try and get up to-morrow," was all she said.  "Ethel is
so reserved.  She will get ill herself if she broods and frets on t he
top of all her work and anxiety."

"Will you?" he asked, with some eagerness.  "Basil loves to see you;
and if he is really worse, I shall get Sir John Maitland to go up and
see him again."

"Of course I'll go.  We may be able to help them between us."

She was just going away upstairs to bed, when the forlorness of
Dudley's attitude, and the thought of her own sore heart before Dick
comforted her, made her lay down her hat again and cross the room to
him.

"Dudley, don't forget you've got me still.  I know I'm very trying
sometimes, but I love you so much more than Doris ever could have."

She sat on the arm of his chair, and played with the lapel of his coat.

"Don't forget about me, Dudley.  If you are just only miserable, I
shall be miserable too."

He looked at her with a sudden greater depth of affection than she had
ever seen.

"I don't forget, Hal.  If it weren't for you, what in the world should
I do now?...  It's no use talking about it, is it?  You will understand
that; but thank God you're still here with me, and we can go on the
same again."

She stooped and kissed him hurriedly, and then left the room, that he
might not see the tears brimming over in her eyes.

The next morning she rang up Lorraine's flat, to know if she had come
back yet.  She was rather surprised when Jean her maid answered.  It
was not like Lorraine to go away without her maid.

"You don't know when to expect her?..." she repeated uncertainly.

"No; Miss Vivian said she might come any day, or she might stay over
another Sunday.  She has the motor with her."

"Is she far from a station?"  Hal asked, contemplating the possibility
of joining her on Saturday if she had not returned.

"About seven miles, I think.  She went down in the car, and is coming
back in it.  I have had one letter, in which she says she is having
lovely weather, and absolute rest, and feeling much better."

"That's good.  Well, if she comes back suddenly will you ask her to
'phone me?  I want to see her."

But neither the next day nor the one after was there any call, and in
reply to a second query on Saturday, Jean said she had only received a
wire that morning saying she was staying until Tuesday.

Hal was a little puzzled that she had not been invited down for the
second week-end, but decided Lorraine must have meant to return and
changed her mind at the last moment, leaving no time to get a message
to her.

A later encounter with Dick, however, puzzled her more than ever.

"Old Alymer is taking quite a long holiday," he said.  "We were
expecting him on Tuesday or Wednesday, but he never turned up.  He was
at the Temple on Thursday, but went away again in the evening."

"I hope Lorraine isn't ill?" she said anxiously; "but of course if she
is, she would have sent for Jean."

"Is he away with Miss Vivian?" Dick asked in some surprise.

"Yes; I made him go," loyally.  "He had scruples, but really they
seemed too silly, and Lorraine looked so ill, and he always has the
knack of cheering her up and doing her good."

Dick looked at her doubtfully.

"I hope you were wise," he said; "but they are rather fascinating
people, you know."

"Oh, nonsense!  Lorraine is quite eleven years older than Alymer, and
she only likes to look at him."

Dick had it in his mind to suggest there had been a far greater
disparity between her and Sir Edwin, but he only said:

"Well, he is good to look at, isn't he?...  and such a dear old chap.
Nothing seems to spoil him.  And of course Miss Vivian has done an
awful lot for him.  If she wanted him to go, he could hardly refuse."

"That's just what I said," with a little note of triumph.  "And Jean
told me Lorraine had said in a letter she was having absolute rest, and
feeling much better."

Yet, when Hal was alone she wondered a little again why Lorraine, after
inviting her for the first Sunday, had said nothing about the second.
It was quite unusual for her not to go for a week-end when Lorraine was
at the sea.

She felt suddenly that they wanted to be alone, yet persuaded herself
it was only because Lorraine had been so tired.





CHAPTER XXXIX


Hal's uneasiness concerning Lorraine and Alymer Hermon was swallowed up
almost immediately on Lorraine's return, by a sudden alarming change in
Basil Hayward.  The first time she went to Holloway after Doris's
elopement, she saw the decided symptoms of change, and her report to
Dudley caused the latter once more, on his own responsibility, to
request Sir John Maitland to pay a visit to the little flat.

Sir John's report was the reverse of reassuring, and they all felt the
end was at hand.  Dudley went to Holloway nearly every evening, and
sometimes stayed until the middle of the night, to sit up with the sick
man.

Hal went from the office in the afternoons, two or three days each
week.  When she was there the tenant from Flat G went home to snatch a
short rest, in case a bad night lay ahead.

Ethel went quietly on her way, looking as if already a sorrow had
wrapped her round before which human aid and human sympathy were
powerless.

She went to the office as usual, and did her usual work, in nervous
dread from hour to hour lest a telephone call should summon her in
haste.  She scarcely spoke to any one but Hal; and not very much to
her; but it was evident in a thousand little ways that she liked to
have her near.

With Dudley a new sort of coldness seemed to have sprung up.  He was
self-conscious ill at ease with her now; anxious to show his sympathy,
yet made awkward by his self-sown notion that he was antagonistic to
her.  Ethel did not notice it very much.  All her thoughts were with
Basil.

Hal saw it and was troubled.  She was afraid the slight
misunderstanding might grow into a barrier that it would be extremely
difficult to break down later on.  However, she could only watch
anxiously at present, and try in small ways to smooth out the growing
difficulty.

Basil himself was the most consistently cheerful of all.  He believed
that he was near the end of his long martyrdom, and that in another
sphere he would be given back his health and strength.

He had seemed very worried at first about Doris and Dudley, but
gradually he became philosophical over it, and hoped the future would
bring united happiness to Dudley and Ethel.  He consigned her to
Dudley's care and Hal's.

To Dudley he merely said:

"I know you'll always be a good friend to chum.  I'm thankful she will
at least have you."

Dudley did not say much in reply, but he looked sufficiently unhappy,
and withal so glad of the service, that it spoke volumes.

To Hal he said:

"Chum is very fond of you, Hal.  You'll keep an eye on her, won't you?
Perhaps there is no one else but you who can."

Quick tears shone in Hal's eyes.

"Of course I will... two eyes.. I don't know that I shall let her out
of my sight at all."

Other evening, because Dudley was so often at Holloway, Hal went to
dinner with the Three Graces.  Dick often fetched her from the office,
and they went back together.  Now that she had become interested in the
East End, they had schemes to talk over, and she and Quin were never
weary of discussing odd characters there, and odd histories, and plans
for different amusements.

Dick joined in a times, but was very busy with his new book.

Alymer Hermon had grown strangely quiet.  At intervals, for the sake of
old times, he and Hal sparring matches, but if, as wat not very usual,
he happened to be at home, he was inclined to do little else but lounge
and smoke, and watch her while presumably reading a paper.

Hal did not notice it particularly.  She had many other things on her
mind just then, and Alymer only filled a very small corner.  She was
glad he was progressing so satisfactorily.  He was well started up the
ladder now, and though he had had no single big chance to distinguish
himself once for all, it was generally regarded as merely a matter of
time.  She fancied she did not meet him so much at Lorraine's, but as
she did not go nearly so often herself, on account of the Holloway
visits, she could not really know.

But she noticed that Lorraine also was a little different - a little
more reserved and likewise quieter.  She seemed still to be ailing a
good deal, and to have lost interest in her profession.

Yet she did not seem unhappy.  On the contrary, Hal thought her happier
than usual in an undemonstrative, dreamy sort of way.  She was
interested in the East End social evenings, and on one occasion went
herself.

She was also interested in Basil Hayward, and motored up with lovely
flowers for him; but she talked far less of the theatre, and seemed
indisposed to consider a new part.

"I want a real long rest this summer," she had said, "free from
rehearsals and everything."

In mid-June Sir Edwin was married, with a great deal of display, and
much paragraphing of newspapers.  The day before the wedding, Hal
received a beautiful gold watch and chain from him.

"Do not be angry, and do not send it back," he wrote.  "Keep it and
wear it in memory of some one who was known to you only, and who has
since died.  To me, it is like honouring the memory of my best self if
I can persuade you thus to perpetuate it.  Good-bye, Little Girl; and
God bless you."

Hal kept the watch and wore it, and the only one who demurred was
Alymer Hermon.  It was spoken of at the Cromwell Road flat one evening,
when he was present but taking no part in the conversation.  Dick
admired it, and she told him it had been given to her recently.

Qin was not there, and a moment later Dick was called away to speak to
some one at the telephone.  Alymer looked up at Hal suddenly, with a
very direct gaze.

"Lorraine told me Sir Edwin gave you the watch the other day.  I don't
know how you can keep it, much less wear it.  You ought to throw it
into the Thames."

Hal flushed up angrily.

"Of course I'm interested in your opinion on the matter," she said,
"but I had not thought of asking for it."

Hermon flushed too, but he stood his ground.

"It would be the opinion of most men."

"Most men 'don't appeal to me in the least.  I am quite satisfied with
my own opinion in this matter."

"Still, I wish you wouldn't wear it," he urged, a little boyishly.
"The man has shown himself a cad.  He was in a tight corner, and he let
a woman buy him out."

"And don't most men take help from a woman at some time or other?"

He winced, but answered sturdily:

"Not monetary help.  Besides, he didn't worry much about getting you
talked of, did he?"

Hal was just going to make a sarcastic retort, when Dick reappeared,
and the matter was dropped.

But when she came to think of it afterwards, she could not but a little
struck at Alymer's attitude, and wondered why he had taken so much
interest in her action.

A few days later Basil Hayward died.

Hal was not there at the time, but Dudley had not come home at all the
previous night, and she was afraid that his friend was worse.  In the
afternoon she had been detained at the office, and she hardly liked to
go up to Holloway in the evening without knowing if she was wanted.

So she sat anxiously waiting for Dudley.  When at last he arrived he
looked haggard and worn and ill.  Hal stood up when he came in, and
waited for him to speak.

"It's all over," he said, and sank into his chair as if he were
dead-beat.

Hal's hart ached with sympathy.  She felt instinctively there was more
here than grief for a friend whose death could only be regarded as a
merciful release.

She was right.  For the last three weeks Dudley and Ethel had been in
almost daily contact beside the dying man's bed.  Silently, devotedly
they had served him together.

But while Ethel was occupied only with the sufferer, Dudley, in the
long night-watches, had seen at last what manner of woman it was he had
passed by for the pretty, shallow, selfish little sister.

Ever since the elopement, three months ago, he had been changing.  It
had been the bitter blow that had stabbed him awake.  In some
mysterious way new aspects, new ideas, new understanding, began to
develop, where before had been chiefly a narrow outlook and rigid
conformity.

It was though in the fulfilling of her work, Life had harrowed his soul
with a bitter harrowing, that it might bring forth the better fruit in
its season.  The harrowing had seared and scarred, but aldready the new
richness was showing, the new promise of a nobler future.

The All-wise Mother works very much in human life as she does in nature
- topping off a hope here, and a hope there; ploughing, pruning,
harrowing the soil and branches of the mind and spirit, that they may
bring forth rich fruit in due season.

The life that she passes by unheeded, leaving it only to the sunshine
and wind and rain, often grows little else but rank vegetation, and
develops rust and mould - never the crops that are life-giving and
life-sustaining to the world; never the great thoughts, great deeds,
wide sympathies, that raise mankind to the skies.

But for Dudley the harrowing was not yet finished.  Perhaps, indeed, no
moment of all had been quite so bitter as the sense of his utter
unworthiness and utter incapability to help Ethel in her hour of direst
need.

The mere thought unnerved him for the little he might have done.  He
was so imbued with the idea of his helplessness, that he could only
stammer a few broken sentences she seemed scarcely capable of hearing.

He had but one consolation.  Towards the end, the sick man, suddenly
opening his eyes, looked round for his sister, and seeing she was
absent, had regarded Dudley with his whole face full of a question.

Dudley leant down to him.

"Yes, old chap," he asked tenderly.  "What is it?"

"Ethel... chum... you will try and help her?"

Then Dudley, with his new understanding, had grasped all that the dying
man hoped.

"I love her," he said very simply.  "I have been a blind fool, but I am
awake now.  I shall give my life to trying to win her."

"Oh! thank God... thank God," Basil whispered.  "It is certain to come
right some day - don't lose heart.  You have made me very happy."

He sank into stupor after that, and spoke no more, except for a
whispered "Chum", just before he died.

Then it was that the full flood of Dudley's bitterness seemed to close
in upon him, for his tortured mind translated Ethel's stunned grief
into veiled antipathy to his presence; and when there was nothing left
for him to see to, he went home for Hal.

In his chair, with his head bowed on his hands, Hal thought he had aged
years in the last three months.

"What shall I do?" she asked.  "Shall I go to Ethel?"

"Yes - will you?  She doesn't want me.  I feel as if she hated my being
there now.  But if you would go -?"

"It is your imagination, Dudley.  Things have all got a little
topsy-turvy since Doris went, but presently you will see you were
mistaken.  Don't lose heart too quickly."

But he refused to be comforted, and merely shook his head in silent
desolation.

"You'll stay with her if she wants you?" he asked.

"Yes, I'll stay"; and she went away to get her hat.

As she mounted the stairs in Holloway, the door of Flat G opened as if
some one within had been listening for her, and a stealthy head peeped
out.  Then a hand beckoned.

Hal crossed the landing and went inside the door.  The poor
music-teacher's face was swollen almost past recognition with crying.

""What am I to do?... what am I to do?" she moaned, rocking herself
backwards and forwards.  "There was only one thing in all the world
that made my life worth living, and now it is gone."

She sobbed bitterly for a few minutes, softened by Hal's sympathetic
presence, then she told her brokenly:

"They're all mourning.  Every single soul in this dreary building.
Considering he never left the flat, it's wonderful - wonderful; but he
knew all the children, and they all knew him.  And if you know the
children you know the fathers and mothers.

"Little Splodgkins, as we always called him, has been sitting like a
small stone effigy on the stairs outside his door.  He has patrolled
the whole staircase for days, keeping the other children quiet.  I told
Mr. Hayward, and he sent him a message.  He said, 'Tell him to grow up
a fine man, and fight for his country, and not to forget me before we
meet again.'  The little chap fought back his tears when I gave him the
message, and he said: 'Tell him, I thaid dammit, tho I will.'
But they're young, and they've got each other, most of the other folks
here, and I've got nothing - nothing.  Miss Pritchard, I can't go on
again the same - I can't - I can't."

"You must help Miss Hayward, at any rate for a time," Hal told her; "if
you didn't you would be failing him now; and even little Splodgkins
doesn't mean to do that."

"No, of course you're right.  I can light the fire for her in the
afternoon and put the kettle on.  It isn't much to be alive for, but
he'd say it was worth while.  He'd say, 'What would she do without a G
in the alphabet?' wouldn't he?  I must remember.  And now you must go
to her.  It's worse for her than me, only that she's still got all her
life before her, and she's very attractive, while I never seemed to
please any one in my life but him."

"Yes; I must go now," Hal said; "but I'll come and see you again.  Come
down east with me next Wednesdayn evening, to a social evening in the
slums, will you?  They're so interesting.  We'll have tea together
first.  I'll arrange to take you, and then you'll meet Dick."

"Good-bye for the present."

Then she crossed the landing, wondering with a sinking heart how she
could ever hope to comfort Ethel.





CHAPTER XL


It was not until a spell of exhaustingly hot weather set in in early
July that Hal saw a still more noticeable frailty in Lorraine.

She was quite unable to act, and spent a great deal of time on her sofa
near the window, where she could just distinguish the river through the
trees.  It seemed to have a growing fascination for her.

"I've always thought," she told Hal one day, "how I'd like to go away
from the fret and worry of London, smoothly down the river to a haven
of sunshine and sea."

"Why don't you go, Lorry.  Why not go at once, before you get any
weaker?"

"I think I must.  This sultry heat is too much for me, and I'm very
tired of London and everything belonging to it.  I should like to have
gone to my old haven on the Italian Riviera, but it would be too hot."

"Why so far?"

Lorraine glanced at Hal with a strange expression in her eyes, as she
said:

"It is a greater rest to get right away.  I shall try some little place
in Brittany.  Switzerland is so overrun with tourists in the summer."

When she was alone, some of the quiet went out of Lorraine's face and a
restless look of pain crept in.  She shaded her eyes and gazed long at
the river.

That old spirit of recklessness, which had caused her to hurl scorn and
defiance at Mrs. Hermon's emissary, and afterwards allow Alymer to
visit her at the little fishing-village, against his wiser judgment,
had passed away now, and given place to one of poignant questioning - a
spirit of questioning concerning that mad action of hers, and its
results.  She could not find it in her heart to regret it, not for one
moment; but nevertheless her mind was sore troubled concerning the
future for Alymer and herself.

And at the back of all the questioning there sounded ever an insistent
call to renounce - something above and beyond all desire and all
seeming, which told her she must not remain in his life, that, as far
as she was concerned, he must be free for the great work of his future.

And yet how hard it was to go!  Ever and anon her longing whispered,
"Why seek a crisis yet?  Why not go on the same a little longer?"

But since, before long, she would be compelled to go, and since the
nausea of London was gaining upon her, she began to feel it would
certainly be wiser to start at once, and find some homely, quiet spot
where she could remain in privacy, with her identity unknown for some
months.

And always that quiet voice in the background insisted that she must
cut herself off from Alymer Hermon.

Soon after Hal had left her he came in, and, standing as usual upon the
hearth, regarded her with grave eyes.  He was nearly always grave now,
as with some recollection that weighed heavily on his mind.

Lorraine tried to rally him, but without much success; and a pitiless
thought that had sometimes assailed her of late - that he regretted
their friendship and everything connected with it, struck icily on her
heart.

He was too loyal to show it, and yet, that strong instinct of
womanhood, which reads closed books as if they were spread open to the
light, sounded its warning note.  He would never blame her openly, but
in his heart he was already beginning to find it a little difficult not
to do so secretly.

"You can't go away alone, Lorry," he said unhappily, "and I can't
possibly come with you."

"Of course you can't," cheerfully.  "It isn't to be thought of for a
moment.  I don't know whether you can even come and see me.  You
certainly mustn't run any risks just now.  Flip tells me Hall is
interested, and you may get your big chance shortly through him."

"Still, I shall feel rather a beast."

"You mustn't do anything so silly."

She got up and came and stood near him, leaning her face against his
arm.

"If you will write to me often, dearie, I shall be all right.  If you
worry I shall be miserable.  Try to understand that you have done
nothing to make me unhappy.  A little while ago I had a dream of how I
longed to go away with a little one of my own, to some quiet spot far
removed from all I have ever known.    If I am to realise my dream, how
should I not be happy?  It is what I asked life to give me."

But his eyes lost none of their gravity.  It was evident, in the midst
of his dawning success, some cloud had descended upon his horizon, and
shrouded much of the sunlight.

Lorraine's sensitive temperament read it quickly, and she decided, for
his sake, to hasten her departure.  She thought her continued presence
in London under the circumstances was a continual anxiety to him, and
that he would only breathe freely when she was safe in Brittany.

She did not know - how should she - that after that week's madness on
the southern coast there had come rather a terrible revelation to the
man whom fortune seemed to be smothering with favours.

It had not come all at once.  It had been there, or at any rate the
gist of it, for some time.  But when it was present in full force, it
had the power to make all the adulation, triumph, and hopefulness of
his career seem but a small thing and of little account, because of one
great desire beyound his reach.

It came definitely into being during those many evenings Hal spent at
the Cromwell Road flat, when Dudley was away in Holloway with his
friend.

It reached a climax of realisation when she openly wore the watch and
chain Sir Edwin had sent to her.  The night he asked her not to wear
it, and she tautingly refused, saw him, with all his success and
favours, one of the most perplexed and unhappy men in London.

It was just the waywardness of the little god Love.  The fair débutantes
with money and influence had left him untouched.  No older woman but
Lorraine had disturbed his peace, or appealed to his deepest affections.

It was left to Hal, the mocker, the outspoken, the impatient of giant
inches and splendid head, to awaken his heart to all its richness of
strong, enduring love.

And what did it mean to her?

The sunshine and the joy might go out of all he was winning and
achieving, if it might not be won and achieved for her - but what did
she care - what was she ever likely to care?

Had she not always dealt him laughter and careless scorn where other
women bowed down?  Had she not, over and over, weighed him in the
balance, in that quiet, direct way of hers, and seen the weak strain
that had always been there?  First the lack of purpose, the idle
indifference, which, in a different guise, had led up to a memory which
now tortured his mind - the memory of a mad week; of love that was not
love, because his whole soul was not given with it - nay, worse, was
actually given in unconsciousness elsewhere.  If she ever knew of that,
what must her indignation and scorn be then?...  Would it not indeed
separate them for ever?

And even if it did, could it make hi unlove her?...  Why should it,
since he had waited no encoouragement before he gave her all?  If he
knew why he loved her, it might.

But he did not even know that.  It was a thing outside questioning;
something he seemed to have had no free will about.  It was just there
- a strong, undeniable fact.

Why reason?  It did not _need_ reasoning.  He loved her.  He would
always love her - simply because she was Hal - and as Hal, to him, was
the one woman who filled his heart.

No; Lorraine dit not know just what fire of repentance and
self-condemnation and hopeless aching her recklessness had lit for him;
but it was enough that his gravity grew and deepened, and she believed
she could lighten it.

She made immediate plans; cancelled her present engagement at
considerable monetary loss to herself, and almost before any of them
realised it, had vanished to a little out-of-the-way spot in Brittany,
alone with Jean.

Hal was quite unhappy that she could not go to her for her own summer
holiday, but Dick Bruce's people were taking her to Norway with them,
and she would not have a day to spare.

She made Alymer promise to run across and see how she was, if possible,
and then departed without any suspicions or forebodings, with Dudley
and Dick to join the rest of the party at Hull, whence they were to
start for the Fiords.

When she returned early in September, Lorraine was still away, and her
letters gave no hint of returning.  Still a little anxious, she sought
an interview with Alymer, asking him to meet her for tea the following
day.

The instant they met, Hal saw  the change in him, and exclaimed in
surprise:

"Haven't you had a holiday?  You don't look very grand."

Unable to meet her eyes, he turned away towards a small table.

"Oh yes, I've had a holiday.  I've been in France studying the
language.  I can talk like a French froggy now."

"Then of course, you saw Lorraine?"

"Yes."

"I wanted to see you about Lorry," with direct, straight gaze.

He steadied his features with an effort.

"I guessed so."

"Well, what is the matter with her?"

"Nothing very much.  She got thoroughly low I think, and is not pulling
up very quickly."

"I don't understand it," with puzzled, doubtful eyes.  "Lorry is not
like that.  She is quite strong really.  She has only once before gone
under like this, and then it was a mental strain.  I wonder if it is
anything the same again?  Did you see much of her?"

"I saw her four or five times."

"And she didn't tell you anything?"

"Anything about what?"

"Well - about her husband, for instance.  He isn't worrying her again,
is he?"

"She did not speak of him at all."

"Then what is it?...  I wish she had not gone so far away.  I wish I
could get to her.  Did she say when she might be coming back?"

"Not at present.  She likes being there.  She does not want to come
back."

"That's what I can't understand.  Something odd seems to have changed
her.  Have you thought so."

"I don't think it odd in Lorraine to fancy a long spell of country
life.  She was always loved the country."

"Not alone," with decision, "except for a good reason.  I feel there is
a reason now, and I do not know it."

Suddenly she gave him another direct look.

"You are changed too.  You are years older.  Is it your advancing
success, or what? ...  I don't say it isn't becoming," with a dash of
her old banter - "but it seems sudden."

He raised his eyes slowly and looked into her face with an expression
that in some way hurt her.  It was the look of a devoted dog, craving
forgiveness.

She pushed her cup away impatiently, half laughing and half serious.

"Don't look at me like that, Baby," striving blindly to rally him -
"you make me feel as if I had smacked you."

He laughed to reassure her, and changed the subject to Norway, trying
to keep her mind from further questioning concerning himself and
Lorraine.

After tea she left him to go down to Shoreditch with Dick, first
meeting him and the forlorn "G" at the Cheshire Cheese for their usual
high tea.

It had become quite an institution now that "G" should join them, and,
as Hal had predicted, she and Dick were firm friends.  It was the
brightest spot of the music-teacher's life since Basil Hayward died,
and neither of them would have disappointed her for the world if they
could help it.

To-night Quin was there also, so Hal was able to get a few words
privately with Dick.

"What in the world is the matter with Alymer?" she asked.  "I had tea
with him this afternoon.  He seems awfully down on his luck."

"I don't know what it is," Dick answered.  "He is certainly not very
gay - yet that last case he won before the Law Courts closed should
have put him in fine feather for the whole vacation.  Did you ask him
if anything was wrong?"

"Yes; but he would only prevaricate.  He has been in France, you know,
studying the language, and he saw Lorraine, but he says very little
about her.  I wish I had time to go over and see her.  Why, in the name
of goodness, is she not acting this winter?"

But Dick could not help her to any solution, and an accumulation of
work kept her too busy to brood on the puzzle.

It was at the end of October the shock came.

Hal reached home before Dudley that evening, and found a foreign letter
awaiting her, written in an unfamiliar handwriting, and bearing the
post mark of the little village where Lorraine so obstinately remained.
 With an instant sense of apprehension, she tore open the envelope, and
read its contents with incredulity, amazement, and anxiety struggling
together in her face.

Then she sat down in the nearest chair with a gasp, and stared blankly
at the window, as if she could not grasp the import of the bewildering
news.

The letter was from Jean, partly in French, and partly in English.  It
informed Hal, in somewhat ambiguous phrases, that La Chère Madame was
very ill, and daily growing weaker, and she, Jean, was very worried and
unhappy about her.  She thought if mademoiselle could possibly get
away, she should come at once.  It then went on to make a statement
which took Hal's breath away.

"L'enfant!... l'enfant!..." she repeated in a gasping sort of
undertone, and stared with bewildered eyes at the window.

What could have happened?...  What dit it all mean?

Then with a rush all the full significance seemed to come to her.
Lorraine, ill and alone in that little far-away village, and this
incomprehensible thing coming upon her; no one but a paid, though
devoted maid to take care of her; no friend to help er in the
inevitable hours of dread, and perhaps painful memories and
apprehensions.

All her quick, warm-hearted sympathy welled up and filled her soul.  Of
course she must go at once, to-night if possible, or early to-morrow.

Yet as she struggled to collect her thoughts and form plans, she was
conscious of a dumb, nervous cry: "What will Dudley say?...  What in
the world will Dudley say?"





CHAPTER XLI


He came in while she was still trying to compose herself for the
struggle she anticipated; and because she had not yet made any headway,
he saw at once that something alarming had happened.

He glanced at the envelope lying on the table, then at the open letter
in her hand, and then at her face.

"What is the matter?...  Have you had bad news?"

For one dreadful moment, observing the foreign stamp, he thought
something might have happened to Ethel, who was taking her month's
holiday on the Continent.  When Hal looked blankly into his face, as if
quite unable to tell him, he added hurriedly:

"Is your letter about Ethel? ... Is she Ill?"

"No, it is not Ethel," Hal answered, noticing, in spite of her
distress, his unconcealed anxiety.  "Some one is ill, but it is not
Ethel."

"Is it Lorraine?"

He spoke with quiet, kindly concern now, being reassured concerning the
swift dread that had sized him.

"Yes," Hal said nervously.  "She is very ill.  Dudley, I must go to her
at once."

She got up as if she could not bear the strain seated, and moved away
to the window.

"It's all rather terrible," speaking hurriedly; "but don't... don't...
be upset about it.  I can't bear it.  I _must_ go, whatever you say,
and I want you to help me."

"What is the matter?"  He came close to her and tried to see her face.
"What has happened, Hal?"

"Lorry is in trouble."  She was half crying now; "I have had a letter
from Jean.  She has told me something I did not know.  I did not even
suspect it.  But I must go.  You will surley see that I must go,
Dudley."

"Tell me what it is," he said, in a voice so kind, she turned and
looked into his face, almost in surprise.  He met her eyes, and,
reading all the distress there, he added:

"Don't be afraid, Hal.  I know I was an awful prig a little while ago,
but... but... it's not the same since Doris jilted me, and since Basil
died.  I see many things differently now.  Tell me Lorraine's trouble."

"She is so ill, because if she lives until next December she will have
a little one.  Oh, do you understand, Dudley?  She is there all alone,
because she made a mess of her life and is obliged to hide.  I must go
to her.  You will help me, won't you?"

She glanced at him doubtfully, and then a swift relief seemed to fill
her face.

"Yes, certainly you must go,' he said gravely; "if Jean says she is ill
now, I think you should go at once, and see for yourself just how
things are."

"Oh, how good of you.  I was afraid you would be angry and object."

He smiled a little sadly.

"I've enough money in hand for your ticket.  You can catch the early
boat train, and I'll send some more by to-morrow's post.  Had you
better see Mr. Elliott about being absent from the office for a day or
two, or shall I see him in the morning?"

"He won't mind.  I've got everything straight since I came back, and
Miss White will do my work for a day or two.  If you would see him in
the morning, and just tell him Miss Vivian is very ill and I was sent
for.  He knows what friends we are, and would understand."

"Very well.  Now you must have some dinner, and get to bed, for you
will have a long, anxious day to-morrow."

In a sudden rush of feeling, she put her hands on his shoulders and
kissed him.

"I'm so grateful," she said, in a quivering voice.  "I can't tell you.
It has all come upon me as a shock.  I had not the faintest suspicion."

It was not natural to him to be demonstrative, and he only turned away
with a slight embarrassment, saying:

"I'm sure you hadn't.  But I feel I can trust you now, Hal, to be
discreet as well as quixotic.  Your mission, if one can call it such,
will need both."

Then he sought to distract her mind for the present, and while they
dined he talked of many things to interest her.

"Do you know that Alymer Hermon has just got the chance of his life?"
he told her, before they rose.  "I head to-day he is to appear with
Hall in this big libel case.  Sir James Jameson told me at the Club.
He said Hall had taken a great fancy to him, and if he does really well
over this case he's going to take him up.  He is very fortunate.  Not
one man in a thousand would get such a chance at his age.  I hope he
will do well; I like him; and if he isn't a success over this he may
never get such an opportunity again."

"When does the case come on?"

"Almost at once, I think, but it probably will not last more than two
or three days."

When Hal said good-night to him, she remarked shyly:

"I heard from Ethel last night.  She loves the Austrian Tyrol.  She
said she hoped you were better for your trip to Norway."

His forehead contracted a little, and he did not look up from the book
he had just opened.

"Is she better herself?  Is she any happier?"

Hal looked thoughtfully into the fire.

"I think she is very lonely.  I don't think she will be much happier
until... until... there is some one to take Basil's place."

"No one can do that."  He spoke a little shortly.  "Basil was a hero.
I do not know how she is ever to love a lesser man."

"If she loved a man, she would easily see heroic qualities in him.  She
could not love a man who was without them; but that does not mean he
need actually be a hero by any means."

She longed to say more, but was diffident of doing greater harm than
good.  At last she ventured:

"I have sometimes thought she has a warm corner in her heart for you,
Dudley."

"For me! ... "  He gave a low, harsh laugh for very misery.  "No; she
despises me.  She has done for some time.  I'm sorry.  I'd change it if
I could, but it's too late now."

Hal moved towards the door.

"It is rather a slur on Ethel to suggest that she could possibly
despise Basil's best friend.  Don't let an idea like that take root,
Dudley.  'Lookers on see most of the game," you know, and what I have
seen has suggested quite differently.  Good-night."

"Good-night.  Try to sleep.  I'll take you to Charing Cross myself."

The next morning Hal started off alone, to find her way to Lorraine's
hiding-place, and give her what comfort of friendship she could.

And all the time she asked herself with harried thoughts,  "Who has
brought this trouble into Lorraine's life?"

And at the back of her mind was the dread premonition "Was it indeed
Alymer Hermon?"





CHAPTER XLII


When Hal first saw her old friend she was almost too shocked for words
at the swift change in her.  Lorraine tried hard to smile cheerfully,
but she could not hide any longer from herself how seriously ill she
had grown, and she felt it useless to try and hide it from Hal.

Jean had not told her of the letter, and she knew nothing of Hal's
coming until she was actually in the house.  When she saw her, she
could have cried for gladness.

"How good of you, Hal... how good of you!" she breathed, and Hal, on
her knees by the couch, in an unsteady voice replied:

"Oh, why didn't you send for me sooner?  Why didn't you let me come
here instead of going to Norway?"

An hour later she went out to the little post office, and wired to
London to know if she might remain away for a week.

It was evident Lorraine was very ill indeed and needing the utmost care.

During the day she seemed to grow steadily worse, and she could not
bear Hal out of her sight.

"I don't know whether you are shocked or not," she said to her once,
"but if everything goed all right I shall not regret what I have done
for one moment.  I wanted something more real for the rest of my life
than I have had in its beginning."  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  "I
wanted his child to live for."

With a caressing hand on the sick woman's, Hal asked in a low voice:

"Why isn't he here taking care of you now?  Where is you child's
father?"

A swift surprise passed through Lorraine's eyes, as if it had not
occured to her Hal would not know the truth.  Then she said, very
softly, "Alymer."

"Ah!"

The exclamation seemed wrung from Hal unconsciously, and after it her
lips grew strangely rigid.

"Hal," Lorraine said weakly, "I've loved Alymer almost ever since I
first saw him.  I swore I would not harm his career, and I have not.  I
will not in future.  But the child is his, and I thank God for it.  I
do not believe an illegitimate child with a devoted mother is any worse
off than the legitimate child with a selfish, unloving one.  That there
is love enough matters the most.  What can any child have better than a
life's devotion?"

Later on she said:

"This is his great week, Hal.  In his last letter he tells me his big
chance has come at last through Sir Philip Hall.  We always hoped it
would.  It is the big libel case, and if Sir Philip chooses he can let
him take a very prominent part.  He will, I  am sure of it.  He is very
interested in him, and he has given him this chance on purpose.  Flip
thinks it will lead to a great deal; and of course if so it is splendid
for him."

Hal said very little.  She was overcome at the revelation Lorraine had
made, and seemed quite unable to grasp it.

Meanwhile she waited fearfully for the crisis the doctor had told her
was impending.  She was expecting him to call again, and was relieved
when at last he arrived bringing a pleasant-faced French nurse with him.

She relinquished her post then, and waited for him anxiously
downstairs.  When he came he told her he must have another opinion at
once, and Hal knew that something serious was wrong, and that he feared
the worst.

The next morning, when she saw Lorraine again, she understood that they
had saved her life, but probably only for a few days at the most.

Lorraine was almost too weak to speak, but she looked into Hal's eyes,
and in her own there was a dumb imploring.  Hal leant down and murmured:

"What is it, Lorry?...  Do you want Alymer?"

"Yes," was the faint whisper.  "I feel it is the end.  I want so much
to see him once more."

"I will go to London myself, and fetch him," Hal said, and a look of
rest crept into the dying woman's eyes.

So it happened that the day before the great libel case Hal stood in
Hermon's chambers, and delivered her message.

It was a tense moment - a moment of warring instincts, warring
inclinations, conflicting fates.  It was surely the very irony of
ironies, that within sight of his goal, with all this woman had
manoeuvred to give him almost in his hands, she should be the one to
step suddenly between him and the realisation of everything his life
had striven for.

To fail Sir Philip Hall at the eleventh hour, under such circumstance,
could only mean an irreparable disaster.  He would lose, as far as his
profession was concerned, in every single way.  It would strike a blow
at his progress, from which it might never wholly recover.

No wonder, confronted with the sudden demand life had flung at him, he
stood stock still, with rigid face, almost overcome by the swift
sword-thrust of fate, and made no reply.

Since Hal told him, in a few, rather abrupt words, her story, he had
scarcely looked at her.  When she first entered his room so
unexpectedly, his eyes had searched her face as if he would read
instantly what she had come for?...  what she had learnt?...  Before
hers, his gaze fell.

"I have come from Lorraine," she said, and he understood that she knew
all.

A dull red crept over his face and neck, and then died away, leaving
him of an ashy paleness.  He was standing by his desk, and he reached
out one hand and rested it on some books, gripping the backs of them
with a grip that made his knuckles stand out like white knots.  He did
not ask Hal to sit down.  Commonplace amenities died in the stress of
the moment.

She stood in the middle of the room, very straight and very still.  In
a close-fitting travelling-dress she looked unusually slim, almost
boyish, and something about her attitude rather suggested a youthful
knight, sword in hand, come with vengeance to the Transgressor.  Yet,
even in his shame and stunned perplexity, Hermon lost no shred of
dignity.

He towered above her, with bend head, rigid, white face, grave,
downcast eyes, and in spite of every reproach her attitude seemed to
hurl at him, het yet wore the look of nobility that was his birtright.

"When do you think I should go?" he asked at last, with difficulty.

"We ought to cross to-night."

"To-night! - I - I - have a very important case to-morrow.  It will not
last long.  It matters a great deal."

"I know," was the short, uncompromising answer.

He looked up with a swift glance of inquiry.  Then he said quietly:

"Do you know that it may wreck my future to leave London to-night?"

"Yes," said Hal.  "I know."

"And after all Lorraine did not help me to this hour of success, am I
to throw away my chance?"

"Lorraine is dying.  Her dying wish is to see you once more.  Is it
necessary to discuss anything else?"

Again there was silence between them - silence so intense, so poignant,
it was like a live thing present in the room.  Through the double
windows came a far-off, muffled sound of the traffic in the Strand, but
it seemed to have nothing whatever to do with the life of that quiet
room.  It dit not disturb the silence, in which one could almost hear
pulse-beats.  It belonged to another world.

Once Alymer raised his head and looked hard into her face.  In his eyes
there was an expression of utter hopelessness.  She had not spoken any
word of reproach or scorn, yet everything about her as she stood there
erect and passionless, and without one grain of sympathy for his
struggle, told him that, just as far as her natural broadness allowed
her to condemn any one, she condemned him.

For a moment a sort of savage recklessness seized him.  He felt
suddenly he was stranded high-and-dry on a barren rock, with nothing at
all any more in his world but his profession.  He had lost all hope of
ever winning Hal, which seemed to be all hope of anything worth having.
 Nothing remained but the hollow interest of a great name, and the lust
of power.  He had it in his mind for those brief, passionate moments,
because he had lost all else, to insist upon taking his chance.

Even one day's grace might save him.  The trial would perhaps last not
more than two, but in any case, a wire reaching him in the middle,
which he could show to Sir Philip, might mean all the difference
between success and failure.  The wire could be worded to hide what was
truly involved, and the plea of a life-and-death urgency would set him
free without any awkward questioning.

He glanced up to speak, and once again Hal's attitude arrested him.
She looked so young, so fresh, so true, so vaguely splendid, in spite
of the rigid lips that seemed to have closed down tightly upon all she
must have suffered in the last fort-eight hours.

She was not looking at him now, but, with her head thrown back a
little, she gazed silently and fatefully at the clock on his
mantelpiece.

And something about her called to him, with the calling of the great,
mysterious things, a calling that shamed and scorned that spirit of
savage recklessness; that swift, relentless lust of power.

"What is anything in the world,' it seemed to cry, "compared to being
true to one's friend; true to one's word; true to one's love?"

He saw suddenly that in any case success and triumph would bring him
little enough to gladden his heart; that whichever way he turned was
gloom and darkness; that in that gloom a possible ray of light still
linger, if he could keep always the consciousness that, at the most
critical hour of his life, he had rung true.

He raised his eyes suddenly, and straightened himself.

"What time does the next train leave?" he said.  "I am coming."





CHAPTER XLIII


After Hal had left, Lorraine sank into a stupor from weakness, and
remained thus until towards evening.  Then she revived, and seemed to
comprehend better all that had happened; all that was happening still.

She knew that the child she had dreamed of would never lie in her amrs
and look up at her with Alymer's eyes.  She knew that in the first
awful moments of realisation, and deathly weakness, her whole soul had
so craved to see Alymer again that she had asked for him.

A few moments later the stupor had come down upon her exhausted senses,
and without any further word or thought from her, Hal had gone on her
errand.

At first, in the darkened room where she had suffered so much, she
remembered only that very soon Alymer might be with her.  And the
thought, while it quickened her pulses, yet made her feel almost faint
with the longing for him to come quickly.  What if they were delayed,
and this terrible weakness took her away from him without a last
meeting.

The thought that death was approaching did not frighten her.  She
rather welcomed it.  When she left London in the summer, she had felt
that she could never go back.  She had already fixed in her mind the
picture of the quiet haven, where she would live restfully with
Alymer's child - far away from the turmoil that had marked her life
almost from its earliest beginning, and safe from slander.

She dit not mind for herself.  The things that most women valued, no
longer held much meaning for her.  She had experienced more than most;
learned more than most how empty success and triumph may become;
sounded for herself the shallowness of many things that society regards
as prizes.

She had been tired for a long time.  Now the tiredness had reached a
climax.  If the quiet haven might not bless her life, it was, on the
whole, better that she should die.

This quiet fatalism only increased her longing to see Alymer once more.
 It was the one thing in all existence left to long for.  It merged
every remaining faculty into one desire.  And Hal would bring him.  Hal
never failed any one.

Then came the night, and instead of a quiet sleep, restlessness seized
her.  The recollection of the lawsuit which was to make Alymer's name
once for all, came back again and again with merciless insistence,
fighting like some desperate thing that last, one, great desire.  Try
as she would to smother it, after a little period of rest it came back
stronger than ever.

In vain she told herself that when he knew she was dying he would have
no wish but to hasten to her.  In vain, she said also, that success
would no longer mean all it had done; that with love crying to him from
a death-bed, he would understand its emptiness and scorn it.

Another voice, the voice of her truest self, answered:  "Ah! but he is
young.  Remember he is young - young - young - and you, when you were
his age, cared terribly to succeed.  You say now that success is empty,
but at least you had the satisfaction of learning the fact for
yourself.  You did not have to take another's word for it, and let your
chance pass you by, just at the moment of grasping it.  If he is to be
left without you, what will he have then to make up for the great
moment lost?

"Nay, worse - what will he have left to spur him to try and regain his
proud position, and go on up the heights of fame?  And for you, of all
people, to deal this blow to his future - the ambitious future which
you yourself have fostered and nourished with such care."

The hours wore on, and still, in spite of the awful physical
exhaustion, the mental battle raged, draining away strength that should
have been carefully nursed for each bad hour of many days ahead.  The
nurse watched beside her with growing alarm, seeing the feverishness
and restlessness, where absolute quiet was imperative.

At last she went to her softly, and said, in a sweet, low voice:

"Madame is in trouble.  Madame is fretting.  It is not good.  Madame
must try to rest."

Lorraine turned her feverish, pain-driven eyes to the kindly face, with
a lookf of beseeching, but she made no reply.

The nurse laid her cool hand on the burning forehead.

"Madame is not a Catholic, but the priest brings healing to all.  Shall
I ask him to come and pray, that peace may be given to the sick mind?"

"I cannot confess," Lorraine breathed a little gaspingly.  "I could not
bring myself to it."

"It is not necessary.  The priest will come to pray if madame wishes."

"Yes," was the low response; "please ask him."

The little old man who took care of the souls of the little old-world
village, and had done for three parts of a century, came to her at
once, with a womanly tenderness in his face.  In a low voice he blessed
her, and then knelt down and prayed quietly.

After a time, som of the anguish died out of Lorraine's eyes.  She
turned to him weakly and said:

"I am not a Catholic.  I do not know if I am anything, but I want to
ask you something.  If one has sinned, and led another astray, might an
act of renunciation perhaps save that other from the consequences of
the sin that was not his?"

"Self-sacrifice and renunciation are ever pleasing to God," he told her
simply.  "He knows that whatever else there is in a heart, with
self-sacrifice there is also purity and nobility."

"If I thought I alone need bear the consequences, I think I could do
anything," she whispered - "bear anything, renounce anything."

Again the quiet soothing of a prayer fell on her ears.  She listened,
and heard the old priest praying God an the Holy Virgin to help her to
find the courage for the sacrifice her heart called for, that if she
were about to enter the presence of the Most High, she might take with
her the cleansing of repentance and a self-sacrificing spirit.

She lay still for some little time listening to the soft cadence of his
voice, and then she opened her eyes and looked at him with a full,
sweet look.

"I will do it, Father," she said to him.  "Perhaps, if God understands
everything, He will let my anguish of renunciation absolve that other
from all sin.  It is the most I have to ask of all the powers in heaven
and earth."

"The Holy Mother comfort you, my child," he said; and with an earnest
benediction left her.

Then Lorraine motioned to the French nurse that she wanted her, and
gathering all her remaining strength asked for a telegraph form and
pencil.  The nurse supported her in her arms, while with a trembling
hand she traced faintly the words of her message.  It ran:

"Marked change for the better.  No need for haste.  Come in a few days.
- Lorraine."

It was addressed to Alymer Hermon, at The Middle Temple.

"Please take it now at once," she said.  She knew that the Frenchwoman
could not read English, and that Jean was not yet awake.





CHAPTER XLIV


In Alymer's room at the Middle Temple he and Hal were making their
arrangements to catch the next boat.

The moment he had spoken his decision she had turned to him with a
swift expression of approval, but, for the rest, her manner was
somewhat curt and business-like, and showed little of the old
friendliness.

It made him feel that, as far as she was concerned, he had sinned past
forgiveness; and he knew with that unerring instinct that sometimes
illumines a wrong action, that she judged him harshly because she knew
he had not loved Lorraine with all his strength.  How then could he
ever hope to tell her that one reason he had not loved Lorraine thus
was because, unconsciously, another woman had won his heart; further,
that that other woman was herself?

No; of course the day would never dawn when he would dare to tell her
that.  An eternity separated them.

But he tried not to think of it now; to remember only that Lorraine,
his best friend and his benefactress, was dying, and that she had sent
Hal to fetch him to her side.

His face was very grave, and he looked white and ill as Hal explained
what time he must meet her at the station, but he gave no sign of
flinching; no triumph in the world could now weaken his resolution.

"Very well, that is all arranged," said Hal, and at that moment there
was a knock at the door.  Alymer crossed the room and opened it
himself, and was handed a telegram.  He read it, looked for a moment as
if he could not grasp it, then, telling the bearer there was no reply,
closed the door, went back to Hal, and handed it to her without a word.

Hal read, half aloud:

"Marked change for the better.  No need for haste.  Come in a few days.
- Lorraine."

For some moments there was only silence, and then she looked at him
with troubled, perplexed eyes, and said:

"I don't quite know what to make of it."

"Doesn't it mean that she has passed some crisis and will live?" he
suggested.  "I think it must."

Hal still looked doubtful; and at that moment there was another knock
at the door.

Again Alymer opened it himself.  "Lord Denton particularly wishes to
see you," he was told.

"Show him in at once," he replied, and turned to tell Hal who was
coming.

Flip Denton had come to inquire for more detailed news of Lorraine than
he could get from her letters.  He gathered from them that  she was
remaining away for the whole winter theatrical season, because her
health was bad; but any suggestion on his part to run over to Brittany
and see her was persistently negatived.  Finally he had come to Alymer.

The moment he saw them he knew that something serious was wrong, and
that it concerned Lorraine.  But when, after learning she was very ill,
he asked Hal wat was the matter, and saw the scarlet blood flame into
her face, he said no more.

"I was with her yesterday," she told him, "and the doctor said he
feared she would not live many days.  She wanted Alymer, and I came
over to fetch  him."

"And you are going at once?" Denton asked him, with a curious
expression in his eyes.

"I have arranged to."

"Doesn't your great case come on this afternoon, or to-morrow morning?"

"Yes."

Denton's grave face did not change.  "I see," he said, and turned a
little aside.

Then Hal, who had the telegram in her hand, held it out to him.

"This has just come."

He read it, and his face cleared joyously.

"Why, that is splendid news - don't you think so?"  And he regarded Hal
with a slightly puzzled air.

"I hardly know what to think," Hal said.  "Yesterday she was very ill."

"Ah, but you had to leave early," reassuringly, "and she may have been
gaining strength all the afternoon, and had a very good night.  What
are you going to do?" looking at Alymer.

Alymer looked at Hal, and waited for her decision.

Hal only looked doubtful and troubled.

"I think you should stay for the lawsuit," Denton said, to help her.
"It is evident that Lorraine wished it, and she of all people would not
have Hermon miss such a chance if possible.  I understood Hall it was
only likely to last two or three days.  He has some clinching evidence,
I think."

"That is so," Alymer answered gravely; but he still waited to take his
cue from Hal.

"You think he should stay for it?" Hal asked Lord Denton.

"I certainly think that is what Lorraine would wish him to do."

"Very well."

Hal commenced to pull on her gloves as if there were no more to say,
and then Denton asked her:

"Will you wait too?"

"No; I am going back by the next boat."

"I will come with you."

She glanced at him with slight alarm, and then at Alymer.  Denton saw
the look and seemed surprised.  Hal's eyes asked Alymer what they were
to do.  He spoke with an effort.

"I expect Miss Vivian would be glad to see so old an great a friend as
Lord Denton."

"Of course she would," he said decidedly - and to Hal:

"What time do we leave Charing Cross?"

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. .

Hal spoke very little on the journey.  A nameless dread weighed on her
spirit, and a haunting fear for Lorraine.  She was oppressed by a sense
of deep sadness for the brilliant, succesful woman she had loved since
her school days, who was now, after all her triumphs, alone in that
little foreign village, caught in a maze of tangles and perplexities
which offered no peaceful solution.

She could not understand Alymer's part at all, but she was convinced
Lorraine's absorbing devotion to him was not reciprocated in like
manner.  If Lorraine learnt this as soon as she recovered, what did the
future hold for her again but more vain dreams, and bitter hopes that
could never see fulfilment?

She felt a little pitifully that life was very hard and difficult, even
when one had a fine courage and will to face it; and a leaden pall of
sorrow seemed to fold itself round her.

What of Dudley and his hopeless love?  Ethel and her inconsolable
grief?  Sir Edwin, and his secret bitterness? the gaunt music-teacher
and her barren, joyless life?

Across her mind passed some lines, that had a strong attraction for her:

"_So manny gods, so many creeds,
so many paths that wind and wind,
And just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs._"

Ah! in truth it was a sad world first of all; a sad, sad world in need
of kindness and comfort.  One could but go on trying to be kind, trying
to be strong.

It was the only thing in a life of pitfalls and easily made mistakes,
to just march straight forward - eyes front - and not let anything
daunt permanently.  She felt, more profoundly than ever, it was not
wise to turn aside, looking to right and left, questioning overmuch of
right and wrong, probing into the actions of others.

Each human being was as a soldier in a vast army, and all were there
under the same colours, led by the same general, to bear, with what
courage they could, the fortunes of war.  Two might be standing
together, and one be wounded and the other untouched; many disabled,
and many unhurt; some left on the field to die, others found and nursed
back to life.

But the soldier was not there to question.  If a comrade fell, it was
no concern of his how he fell - his concern was to try and help him to
safety, then go back and fight again, undismayed if his place was but a
little insignificant one in the smoke and dust, unseen by any but a
near neighbour perhaps as insignificant as himself.

That was the true spirit of the great soldier, whether he was in the
ranks, lost in the smoke, or whether, on a magnificent charger, he led
gloriously for all the world to see.

She remembered the change in Dudley, which had led him so quickly to
respond to her cry, and refrain from judging.  He was seeing things in
that light also, learning to fight his own fight as pluckily as he
could, and only to look upon the warfare of others as one ready to help
them if it chanced that he was able - learning in place of rules and
precepts, "just the art of being kind."

Well, together perhaps they could help Lorraine - if she came out of
this last encounter bruised and broken.

Then they arrived, and she and Lord Denton hastened down the short road
to the little green-shuttered house.  At the sound of the latch on the
gate the door opened quietly, and Jean, with tears streaming down her
face, came towards them, choking back gasping sobs.

Hal stood still a second, and then ran forward blindly with
outstretched hands.

"She is better, Jean - say she is better.  Oh, she must be, she must;
she wired yesterday to say there was great improveent."

Jean broke down into helpless weeping as she sobbed out:

"She died this morning at six o'clock."

For one moment Hal seemed too stunned to understand; then she swayed,
and fell heavily into Denton's arms.

Later when she had recovered, Jean told them of the restless,
nerve-racking night; of the priest's visit, and of the fast-ebbing
strength gathered together to write some message the nurse had taken to
the post office.  After that extreme exhaustion had set in, greatly
aggravated by the mental stress, and they could only watch her sinking
from hour to hour.

"She only roused once more," Jean said, "and that was to try and write
a message for you.  I have it there," and she produced a little folded
note.

In faint, tremulous words Hal read:

"Good-bye, darling Hal.  It is hard to be without you now, but you will
inderstand why I sent the message.  I want to tell you it has never
been Alymer's fault; do not blame him.  I ask it of you.  At the last
hour I have made what reparation I could.  Don't grieve for me.  I have
made so many mistakes, and now I am too tired to go on.  Give my dear,
dear love to Alymer, and say good-bye to Flip and mother.  I am not
unhappy now - only very, very tired.
Your own
Lorry."

For the first time since she had recovered from her faint, Hal broke
down, and Jean and Denton went quietly away, knowing it would be better
for her afterwards, and left her sobbing her heart out over her letter.

Two days later, flying the colours of a great victory, and flushed with
the pleasure of warm congratulations poured upon him from all sides,
Alymer Hermon stepped out upon the little station.

He had never doubted the truth of the message, and he carried his head
a little higher and his shoulders a little squarer, proud and glad to
come to Lorraine with the news of his greatest success, and tell her of
the proud position he had won almost solely through her.  For had she
not first imbued him with ambition and the real desire to achieve, and
then, at exactly the right moment, procured him the first little
success that meant so much?

The instant he knew the great case was won, he had dashed out of the
court, scribbled her a hurried wire, and driven frantically to Charing
Cross, meditating a special train to Dover, if he were too late.  He
was not, though the guard was just about to give the signal for
departure, and the boat-train bore him from the station, full of that
glad consciousness of a great achievement, to carry the news instantly
to her feet.

On the little station in Brittany Denton was waiting for him.  And when
Alymer saw him the light faded out of his eyes, and the smile from his
lips.

"She died before we got there," Denton told him.  "We daren't let you
know, because she sent that message, on purpose to give you your chance
in the case."" Then, very kindly: "Sit down, old chap.  There's no
hurry.  Wait and rest a while here."

Alymer sat down on the little wooden station bench, and buried his face
in his hands.





CHAPTER XLV


It would seem sometimes that Life has a way of keeping the balance
between joy and pain, by making that which is a source of deepest
sorrow to one the unlooked-for instrument of great joy to another.

It was so with the sorrow that came down like a cloud upon Hal's
spirit, while she was yet striving bravely not to allow herself to fret
over Sir Edwin's perfidy.

It was not until after Hermon's arrival that the announcement of
Lorraine's death was sent to the papers.  After an anxious
consultation, Hald and Denton had decided she would have expressly
wished nothing to be done which might bring the news to Alymer before
his case was over, and so, while making all preparations for the
funeral, they refrained from any announcement in the home papers.
Directly he arrived, the notice was dispatched.

Ethel Hayward, returning from her holiday to the dreary, empty Holloway
flat, read it in the train as she journeyed.  Instantly her mind was
full of Hal.  She felt that in losing the one great woman friend of her
life Hal would seem to have lost mother, sister, and friend in one.

She went home to the emptiness of the flat, with her heart so full of
aching sympathy that some of the bitterness of her own loss was
softened.  On her sitting-room table was a beautiful array of flowers.
She looked at them with soft eyes, believing Hal had sent them, and her
tenderness made her long to hold the girl in her arms and try to bring
her a little comfort.

After a restless, troubled half-hour, she decided to go to her.  She
remembered it was the evening Dudley usually spent at the Imperial
Institute, and she thought it almost certain Hal would be alone.

She dreaded going if Dudley was likely to be there, as the constraint
between them was a misery to her, but she believed he was obliged to be
out, remembering how he had always been engaged on Fridays during his
engagement, and she took her courage in her hands for Hal's sake, and
went to the Bloomsbury rooms for the first time.

The maid who opened the door was just going out, and being somewhat
hurried, did not trouble to note whether she asked for Mr. Pritchard or
Miss Pritchard, merely standing for her to come in, and then showing
her into the sitting-room without properly announcing her, she hastened
away.

So Ethel unexpectedly found herself face to face with Dudley, alone.

He was so astonished, that for a moment he seemed unable to rise,
merely gazing at her with incredulous eyes, as if he thought he must be
dreaming.

For the past hour he had sat with a book on his knee, without having
read a line, for all the time his thoughts had been with her.  He knew
she had returned that night to her empty, desolate home.  He had sent
the flowers up himself, to try and mitigate the emptiness and lack of
welcome.

He had longed to go to the station to meet her, if only to look after
her luggage and see her safely into a cab.  He hated to think of her
arriving alone, and departing alone to that empty flat.  His utter
helplessness to do anything for her, when all his soul ached to do all,
tore at his heart, and thrust mercilessly upon him again and again his
blindness and folly in the past.

And then suddenly, in the midst of it, without any warning, she stood
there in the room, looking at him with startled, abashed eyes.

No wonder, with a sense of non-comprehension, joy leapt to his own,
transforming the white, unhappy gravity of his face to swift,
questioning eagerness; while at the same time he breathed tensely,
"Ethel!... you!"

It was the first time he had ever used her Christian name, and in spite
of her confusion she could not fail to hear the ring of gladness, of
intense, almost unbelievable joy.

It sent the blood rushing to her white cheeks, and made her heart beat
wildly.  She moved forward a little unsteadily.

"I saw about Miss Vivian's death to-day, and I was afraid Hal would be
all alone fretting...  so I came to see -"

She broke off.  Something like a sudden appeal in his eyes was
unnerving her.

Dudley only heard vaguely what she said.

As she came forward he had seen that she was rather overcome; he had
seen the quick scarlet  in her face, followed by a striking parlor, and
the bewildered surprise in her eyes.

What was it Hal had said that evening before she left?  He could not
remember, but he knew it meant that she did not think Ethel indifferent
to him as he believed.

He knew she had meant more, but he had not dared to dwell upon it.

He stood up, but did not move towards her.  Instead, he just stood
looking, looking into her eyes.  Hers fell, and again the quick colour
came and went.

"Hal is not here," he said simply; "she went to Miss Vivian last week."

"Oh, I am glad.  I was afraid she had not had time.  I thought, when I
saw the flowers..."  An idea seemed to strike her suddenly.  She looked
at him, and her eyes were full of a question she could not ask.  "I
thought only Hal knew I should be returning to-day."

"I knew," he said simply.

"Did you... did you..." she was at a loss to finish.

This hesitating nervousness was new to him.  He had never seen her
before other than calmly self-possessed.  It called, with
swift-calling, to his natural masculine strength and masculine
protectiveness.  It enabled him to grow sure of himself, and strong.

"Yes, I sent the flowers," he answered.  "I wanted badly to come to the
station to meet you, but I was afraid you might think it an
impertinence."  He came a little nearer.  "Sould you have thought so?"

He seemed to be waiting for an answer, and she said shyly:

"I should have thought it very kind of you."

"I am always wanting to do things for you," he said, "and I am always
afraid I shall only vex you.  And I wouldn't vex you for the world," in
a low, fervent voice.

Again she gave him a swift, shy, questioning glance, and he grew bolder
still.

He came closer, and stood beside her.

"Most of all, I want to tell you that I love you with all my heart and
soul and strength, and, until this moment, I have been afraid that that
would vex you too."

She raised her eyes then, swimming in sudden tears of gladness.

"But it doesn't?... " he said eagerly, "you... you... Oh, Ethel! is it
possible you would like me to say it?"

"It has been possible a long time, Dudley, but I did not think it would
ever be said."

He took her hands in his and kissed first one and then the other.  For
the moment he was too overwhelmed at the suddenness of his joy to
understand it.

"I thought you despised me," he breathed.  "It did not seem possible
you could do anything else; but Hal said I was wrong."

She smiled faintly.

"Yes; Hal knew," she told him.  "I think she has known some time."
Then she seemed to sway a little.

"You are tired out," he exclaimed in quick commiseration.  "What a
brute I am, letting you stand all this time, after your long journey
too!  I have told myself over and over how I would take care of you if
I might, and this is how I begin!  Forgive me -."

He gently pushed her towards his own big chair, and when she had sunk
down in it, fetched a cushion and a footstool.  She leaned back
wearily, looking up at him with eyes that were full of deep joy, if not
yet emancipated from their long, long vigil of sorrow.

"Is this all true, or am I dreaming?  Yesterday - an hour ago - I
thought it could never happen at all."

"I too."

He was kneeling on one knee beside her now, holding her hand against
his face for the comfort of it.

"I was thinking of you when you came.  I am always thinking of you.  My
whole life is like a long thought of you.  I was afraid it would never
become any more.  Since I grew to know myself better, it has never
seemed possible any one like you could care for such as I."

She gave him her other hand confidingly.

"I think I have always cared, Dudley.  Beside Basil, there has never
been any one else who counted very much at all."

It was good to be sitting there together by a fireside.  So good indeed
that it swept everything away that had stood between them, with swift,
generous sweeping.  There had been nothing real in the barrier,
scarcely anything that needed explaining, only the foolish imaginings
of two hearts that had become imbued with wrong impressions.

"I thought I loved Doris," he told her, still caressing her hand; "but
afterwards it was like a pale fancy to my love for you."

"I was terrified lest she should wreck both your lives," She answered.
"She cared so much for money, and the things money can buy.  Without
it, she might have grown bitter and hard and reckless.  With it, she
wil grow kinder, I think.  She felt Basil's death very much.  She shed
the most genuine tears she has ever shed in her life.  Dudley,  if
Basil had known that this was coming, it would have been a great
comfort to him."

"He did know."

"He knew!..." in surprise.  "How could he?"

"I told him.  I saw he was fretting very much about you, and I guessed
what was in his mind.  I told him I loved you better than my life; and
he said: "Thank God, it will all come right some day."

"Ah, I am glad that he knew.  Dear Basil, dear Basil.  If he had been
less splendid, Dudley, I think I should have taken my own life when he
died and left me alone.  But in the face of courage like his, one could
not be a coward."

Later Dudley took her home.  At the door he asked her pleadingly:

"May I came in for a moment?  I want to see the flat as it looks now."

She led the way, and they stood together in the little sitting-room
where Basil had lived and died, and where Dudley's flowers now shed a
fragrance of welcome.

She buried her face in the delicate petals, with memories, and
thoughts, and feelings too deep for words.

"It feels almost as if his spirit were here with us now," he said
softly.  "He was so sure he was only going to a grander and wider life.
 I think he must have been right; and that to-night he _knows_."

Tears were in her eyes again.  The loss was so recent still - the
memory so painful.  He drew her to him, and kissed them away.

"That night, Ethel, that first, terrible night when you were alone, it
nearly killed me to have to go away and leave you, to feel I could not
do anything at all.  You must let me comfort you doubly now to make up
for it.  You must come to me quickly."  She smiled softly, and he
added: "It would have been Basil's wish, too.  He hated the office as
much as I do.  Tell them to-morrow that you're not coming any more."

Her smile deepened at his boyishness.

"There are certain hard-and-fast rules to be observed about leaving.
I'm afraid they won't waive them for you."

"Well, tell them you are going to be married...  You _are_ going to be
married, aren't you?..." for a moment he was almost like Hal.  "Well,
why don't you answer?  I want to know."

"I haven't made up my mind sufficiently yet," with a low, happy laugh.

"Then I must make it up for you."

His manner changed again to one of wondering, absorbing tenderness.
Hal had been right, as usual.  Under the man's surface-narrowness and
superiority was a deep, true heart that had only been waiting the hour
of its great emancipation.  He took her in his arms and kissed her
again and again.

"Child," he breathed, "haven't I waited long enough?  Every hour of the
last few months, since I knew, has been like a year.  Don't make me
leave you here alone one moment longer than is necessary."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. .

So it happened that when Hal came back to a dreary, empty, joyless
London, an unexpected gladness was waiting for her.

The last few days had almost broken her spirit.  The pathos of that
lonely, far-off grave, in the little alien churchyard, where they
tenderly left the remains of the beautiful, brilliant woman who had
been so much in her life for so long, seemed more than she could bear.

They three had stood together, representing her richness in friendship,
her poverty in blood ties.  The wire to her mother had only brought the
reply from some one in London that she was travelling in the South of
Italy, and could not possibly arrive in time.

Alymer still seemed almost stunned.  He had scarcely spoken since
Danton told him what had happened.  At first Hal had declined to see
him at all, but in the end Denton, with his shrewd common sense, had
talked her into a kindlier mood.

When they came back from the churchyard she had gone to him in the
little sitting-room, where he sat alone, with bowed head.  He stood up
when she came in, but he did not speak.  He waited for her to say what
she would, with a look of quiet misery in his eyes that touched her
heart.

For the first time she saw how changed he was.  There seemed nothing of
the old boyishness left.  Only a quiet, grave, deeply suffering man.

She had no conception that she, personally, added every hour and every
moment to that suffering.  She did not know he was enduring a bitter
sense of having lost her for ever, as well as the friend and
benefactress he had undoubtedly loved very dearly, if not with the same
passionate love that she had known for him.

But he only stood before her there, very straight and very still, and
with that old, quiet, ineradicable dignity which never failed him.

"Lorraine left a little written message for me," she said to him.

She paused a moment, and her eyes wandered away out to the little
garden, with its last fading summer beauty  yielding already to autumn.
 And so she did not see the expression in his fine face when he
ventured to look at her.  She did not know that because of his hopeless
love, and withal his quiet courage and quiet pain, at that moment he
looked even more splendidly a man than perhaps he had ever done before.

Had life been kinder, he would have crossed the space between them in
one step, and folded her in such an embrace as would have lost her slim
form entirely in his enfolding bigness.  He would have given her a
love, and a lover, such as falls to the lot of but few women.

And she stood there, with her head half turned away; with sad eyes and
drooping lips that went to his heart; her mind full of her dead friend,
and scarcely a glance for him.

"She said I was not to blame you for anything, and she told me to give
you her dear, dear love."

He winced visibly, but stood his ground.

"Thank you," he said, in a very low voice.

Then, with a sudden, longing triumphing over all:

"I prefer to take the blame upon myself, but even then I hope some day
you will find it possible to forgive me."

"I shall never forget how much Lorraine loved you," was all the poor
hope she gave him.

"Will that make it possible for us to remain friends?"

"Yes; I hope so."  She gave him her hand with an old-fashioned
solemnity.  "For Lorraine's sake," she said very simply, and then left
him.

He turned with a stifled groan, and, leaning his elbows on the
mantelpiece, buried his face in his hands.

Yet in that painful hour, out of all the tragic mistakes of her life,
Lorraine might have gleaned this gladness.  In that hour he was nearer
than he had ever been before to the man she had striven to make him;
for, mercifully for all mankind, there is a "power outside ourselves,"
which out of wrong, and weakness, and pain can bring forth good.

The sad trio returned to London the following day, and Hal wondered
forlornly if Dudley would leave his office early to come and meet her.

When she stepped out on the platform he and Ethel were standing
together, looking for her.  Then they saw her, and Ethel came forward
first, holding out both hands, with a subdued light in her face, that
made Hal pause and wonder.

"How did you know?  It was nice of you to come," she said, with another
question in her eyes.

"Dudley told me, dear.  I have been thinking of you so much."

Then Dudley stepped up to them, and in his face, too, was this subdued
gladness.

Hal looked from one to the other.

"Have you?..." she began, and paused uncertainly.

"Yes, dear"; and Ethel blushed charmingly.  "I am going to be your
sister, so I thought you would let me begin at once, and come to meet
you, and try to comfort you a little."

"Oh," said Hal, drawing a deep breath; "and I thought I was never going
to be glad about anything again."





CHAPTER XLVI


It is necessary to take but a cursory glance at the events that
followed.  Life flowed smoothly enough in its way, but it flowed
towards higher and greater achievements for some, and that can only
mean a story of obstacles, and drawbacks and difficulties sturdily
overcome.

For the three inmates of the Cromwell Road flat it held many prizes.

Alymer Hermon's career continued to advance by leaps and bounds.  The
"taking up" by Sir Philip Hall became quickly an actual fact, and he
was soon easily first among the juniors.  What he lacked in years and
experience his striking presence and personal charm supplied, and his
calm gravity and self-possession went far to counteract his youthful
appearance.

Dick Bruce finished his great novel, and though it was not quite the
jumble about vegetables and babies he had prophesied, it was considered
the most original book of the year, and brought him instantaneous
recognition and fame.

Quin inherited some money, and built a wonderful East End Club House
that is all his own, and is as the apple of his eye.

If the great solution of life is to find one's true environment, he has
at any rate found his; and in finding it knows a happiness, even amid
the squalid poverty of Shoreditch, such as is found by few.

In the meantime Hal continued to work and be independent.  When Ethel
and Dudley married, they tried hard to persuade her to live with them,
but she had already bespoken a smaller sitting-room with her old
landlady, Mrs. Carr, and made up her mind to live there.

Later, when Dudley began to add to his income, they begged her to give
up her work, but she was obdurate, again expressing certain views on
the boon of steady occupation they could not gainsay.

"It is so boring sometimes," Ethel remonstrated, and she answered:

"Not so boring as idleness in the long run, and having to make up your
mind each day what you are going to do next.  The girls who only enjoy
themselves without work little know what they miss in never waking up
in the morning to say, 'Hurray! this is a holiday.'  No! give me my
work and my play well balanced, and I'll turn them into happiness."

It was months before Alymer dared to speak to her of love.  It had
taken him long to win her to the old fooling again; and in a sudden
gladness at some little remark or touch that seemed to show him he was
truly forgiven for his own sake, he told her the story of his love, and
his long waiting.

Hal was very taken aback, and a little unhappy, but when she had
convinced him it was really quite hopeless, he forced himself back to
the old comradeship, and took up his self-imposed burden of waiting
once more.

Then followed a period of rapid successes, during which Hal told him
seriously he must now make a choice among the bevy of beauty, wealth,
and lineage at his disposal.

"You really ought, you know," she said, "out of consideration for all
the poor things left hoping against hope, and the numbers that are
yearly added to them!"

"I have made my choice," he answered; "it is not my fault about the
vain hopes.  It is the obstinacy of one woman, who is keeping the
others in the unfortunate condition you describe."

But she only smiled lightly, and put him off again, concluding with:

"I should be frightened out of my life at possessing anything so
beauteous and attractive in the way of a husband."

So Hermon worked on, and waited, believing in his star.

Yet there were times when the apparent hopelessness of it weighed
heavily on his mind - times when the very lustre of his success seemed
only to mock him, because of that one thing he craved in vain.

It was so when the greatest achievement of his life came to his hands.

It was given him to plead for a woman's life against a charge of
poisoning her husband, pitting his youth and slender experience against
the greatest advocate of the Crown.  The case caused a great stir, and
with a growing wonderment and pride she hardly dared to account for.
Hal followed the newspaper reports day by day.

The evening before the speech for the defence he came to her.  She
greeted him as usual, saying little about his present notoriety, but
she noticed that he looked careworn, as if the strain were becoming too
much for him; and then suddenly he stated his errand.

"I want you to come to the court to-morrow, Hal.  I - I - have a
feeling I want you to be there when I am speaking.  Will you come?"

She looked up doubtfully.

"Why do you want me?"

"I hardly know.  I mean to save this woman if I can.  She did not give
the poison.  I am quite certain of it; but we can't prove it
absolutely.  We can only appeal in such a way to the jury that they
will feel the case is not merely not proven against her, but that she
is innocent.  I think it would inspire me more than anything if you
were there."  He paused, then added: "I love you so much, Hal, I feel
as if I shall save her life if you are there."

Hal looked touched, and agreed to go if he would arrange everything,
and telephone to her what time to arrive.

The next day she went to the court with the card he had given, and
found herself received with the utmost deference, and ushered at once
to a seat reserved for her.

A few minutes afterwards Alymer stood up to make his great speech, and
then Hal heard a subdued murmur around her, and saw that the judge was
watching him with some interest and expectancy.

It was the first time she had seen him in his wig and gown, in court,
and her heart began to beat strangely.  She felt suddenly and
unaccountably incensed with the women all round, who whispered and
gazed.  "What was he to them anyway!  How idiotic of them to murmur to
each other how splendid he looked!  What did he care for their
approval?"

Her heart carried her a little farther.  "What is he to you?..." it
asked.  She felt a sudden warm glow of pride, and her eyes grew very
soft as she watched him.

Then he began to speak, and it seemed as if everything in heaven and
earth has paused to listen.  Surely there was no big thoroughfare with
hurrying multitudes just outside, no continual stream of noisy,
hurrying traffic; no busy newspaper offices awaiting each flying
message - nothing anywhere but that crowded hall, that white-faced
accused woman waiting for death or freedom, that man in his beauty of
manhood and power straining every nerve to save her.

An hour passed.  No one spoke, no one moved.  Sometimes a sob, hastily
stifled, broke the oppresive hush, sometimes a stifled cough.

Alymer rarely raised his voice, for his was no impassioned, heated
declaration.  It was a magnificent piece of quiet oratory, which
carried every one along by its earnestness and convincing calm, and was
intensified by the look upon his noble, resolute face.

After a time every one knew instinctively that he had won.  The tension
grew less taut and more emotinal.  Women began to weep softly and
restrainedly.  Men cleared their throats again and again.  Some one
sitting next to Hal apparently knew him, and knew her.

"My God," he breathed in her ear, "he's magnificent.  He's saved her.
I wouldn't have missed this for anything.  I'm proud to be his friend."

Hal's eyes suddenly filled with tears.  She began to feel dazed and
faint.  It had been too much for her, and the relief was overwhelming.

She thought of Lorraine, and her heart swelled to think he had so
gloriously fulfilled her vast hopes, and crowned all she had done for
him.  She longed that she might have been there, and then felt
mysteriously that she not only was there, but was speaking to her.  In
a vague, unreal, mystical way, Lorraine was pleading with her to give
him his happiness.

She looked again, confusedly, at the big, strong, calm man; and
something that had been growing in her heart for months took shape and
form.

What did the other women matter?  He was hers - hers - hers.  Why stop
to question or demur?  What did anything matter but that he had loved
her so long and faithfully; and that at last she loved him?

In a stress of unendurable emotion, she got up unsteadily, and left the
court.

A quarter of an hour later, Alymer finished his speech, and sat down
instantly turning his head to look for her.  Instead of the familiar,
eager face of the first hour, he saw the empty space, and his
overwrought mind sank to a dull level of bitter disappointment.

She was not impressed, then - not even interested enough to stay until
the end.  Oh, what did it matter?  She was hard - hard, he was a fool
to love her so.

The jury went away and came back with their verdict of "Not guilty."

There was a rush and buzz of congratulations.  He smiled, because he
had to smile, and grasped outstretched hands because he had to grasp
them.  The moment it was possible to get away, he walked blindly and
hurriedly to the entrance, and got into a taxi, before the waiting
crowd had had time to recognise him.

"Where to?" a policeman asked him, and for a moment he was at a loss to
know.  Then he gave Hal's address.  "Better have it out and done with,"
was his thought.  Once for all he would make her tell him if it was
hopeless, and if she said yes, he would go away and try to forget her
in another country.

When he was shown into Hal's little sitting-room, he found her
crouching on a footstool in the firelight, before the fire.  He stood a
moment or two and looked at her, and then he said in a slightly harsh
voice:

"I suppose you hurried away because you were bored.  I thought you
would have stayed until the end.  I was a fool.  Nothing I do ever has
interested you, or ever will."

Hal did not look round.  She was staring into the flames, with her chin
resting in her hands.  When he paused she said calmly:

"I can't hear what you say so far away."

He moved across the room and stood on the hearth beside her, towering
above her, with his eyes on the opposite wall.

"I don't know why I came here at all," he continued; "but it didn't
seem any use going anywhere else.  Why did you run away in the middle!
Did you want to punish my presumption for wishing to try and
distinguish myself before you, as well as save a woman's life and
honour?"

A little smile shone in Hal's eyes, where the firelight caught them.

"I can't hear what you say, right up there, near the ceiling."

He looked down at the dark shapely head, and something in her poise and
in her voice made his heart suddenly begin to thump rather wildly.

"I haven't got a beanstalk," she added.

He leaned a little towards her.

"And if you had?" he asked tensely.

"If I had, I would perhaps climb up it."

He leaned lower still, his heart thumping yet more wildly.

"If you climbed up a ladder like that, you would be bound to climb into
my arms."

"Well - and what if I did?" she said.


THE END.





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