This sudden unreasoning hatred, so foreign to his gentle nature, seemed to stagger Arthur Agar as the sudden intimation of some mortal disease lurking in his own being would have done. He gripped the back of the spindle-legged chair, and could find no word to say. The stranger it was who spoke.
"I presume," he said, with a pleasant smile, in a voice so musical that his hearer breathed suddenly as if his head had been lifted from water, "I presume that you are Mr. Arthur Agar?"
While he spoke he looked past Arthur, out of the silken-draped window. He did not seem to like the glance of this young man, for even the most practical of us have a conscience at times.
The new-comer laid his walking-stick on the table, and turned to make sure that the door was closed.
"I knew your step-brother," he explained, "Jem Agar, in India."
Then the instinct of the gentleman and the host asserted itself over and above the throbbing hatred.
"Ah! Will you sit down?"
The stranger took the proffered chair and laid aside his hat. But neither of them was at ease. There was a subtle suggestion that they had met before and quarrelled—vague, unreasoning, quite impossible if you will; but it was there. They were as men meeting again with a past between them (too full of strong passions ever to be forgotten) which each was trying in vain to ignore.
"I have brought home a few belongings of his," the stranger went on to explain. "Just a port-manteau with some clothes and things."
He paused, and drew a small packet from the pocket of a covert-coat which he carried over his arm.
"Here," he went on, "are some papers of his—a diary and one or two letters. The rest of the things are at my hotel in town."
Arthur took the packet, and, still in the same dreamy, unreal way, opened it. He turned to the last entry—dated six weeks back.
"Got out of bed at five, but nothing to be seen in the valley. I feel a bit chippy this morning. If nothing turns up to-day shall begin to feel uneasy. The men seem all right. They are plucky little fellows."
There was a self-consciousness about Jem Agar's diary, a selection of the right word, which conveyed nothing to Arthur. But it fell into other hands later on, where it was understood better.
General Michael was watching the undergraduate with the same critical attention which he had brought to bear on the writer of the diary not two months before.
"Did you see much of your step-brother?" he asked abruptly, feeling his way towards his purpose.
Arthur looked up. He was getting accustomed to the loathing that he felt for this man, as one gets accustomed to an evil odour or a physical pain.
"I saw enough of him to be very fond of him," he replied.
"And your mother—was she attached to him? Excuse my asking; I have a reason."
The little pause was enough. Seymour Michael had expected as much.
He had never forgiven Mrs. Agar the insults she heaped upon his head in the drawing-room of Jaggery House. It is very difficult to bring shame home to a Jew, and on that occasion this son of the modern Ishmaelites had been thoroughly ashamed of himself. The sting of that past ignominy was with him still, and would remain within his heart until such time as he could revenge himself.
With that mean, underhand watchfulness for an opportunity which is almost excusable in one of the unfortunates against whom every man's hand is raised to-day, he had never parted with his thirst for revenge. The moment seemed propitious. It was within his power to lay for Anna Agar one of those spiteful feminine traps of which a woman can only fully appreciate the sting.
He determined to leave Mrs. Agar in ignorance of the real facts respecting her step-son. His vengeance was to allow her to rejoice—almost openly, as she did—in the stroke of fortune by which her own son, Arthur, had become possessed of Stagholme. He knew the woman well enough to foresee that in a hundred ways she would heap up ignominy, meanness, deception, which would crumble in one vast wreck about her head when Jem Agar returned.
It was a vengeance worthy of the man, and spiteful enough to be fully comprehended by its victim. But, like others handling petards, Seymour Michael grew somewhat careless, and forgot that the wrong man is sometimes hoist.
He knew his position well enough to make all safe as regarded Jem Agar on his return. It was absolutely necessary to tell Arthur Agar—necessary for his own safety in the future. The other two persons to whom the secret was to be imparted were Mrs. Agar and Dora Glynde. From Mrs. Agar Seymour Michael determined to withhold the news for his own reasons. Dora was to be kept in the dark because she was a woman, and therefore unsafe.
This was the plan in its original shape with which Michael sought out Arthur Agar at his rooms in college at Cambridge. It was further assisted and elaborated by a circumstance which the originator could scarcely have been expected to foresee—the fact of Arthur Agar's love for Dora, which was at this time beginning to take to itself a definite existence. It began, as all love does, with a want more or less elevated according to the nature of the wanter. Arthur Agar required some one for whom to buy those small and feminine luxuries which he could not for manly shame purchase to himself. He delighted in spending money in those establishments tersely called magasins de luxe in the country from whence their contents do emanate. He therefore got into the habit of "picking up little things" for Dora, with the result that she in her turn picked up that very small object, his heart.
Michael had seen enough of Arthur Agar during this short interview to endow him with the same need of contempt which he had entertained towards Anna Agar, the mother. The strong personal resemblance, the obvious weakness of the boy's face, and, above all, that sense of having the upper hand, which makes brave men out of cowards, gave him confidence. It seemed that he had only to play the cards thrust into his hand.
"I knew," he pursued, "Jem Agar very well. He was a peculiar man: very quiet, very reserved, and just the man to make a difficult position rather more difficult."
Arthur's intelligence was not keen enough to follow the drift of this remark.
"Yes," he said gently.
"He hinted to me once or twice," went on Seymour Michael, "that things were not very harmonious at home."
"I was not aware of it," answered Arthur, whose innate gentlemanliness told him that this should be held sacred ground.
The General shifted his position.
"He was a first-rate soldier," he said warmly.
It was obvious to both that they were not getting on. Something seemed to hold them both back, paralysing the savoir-faire which both had acquired in their intercourse with the world. Seymour Michael was puzzled. He was not afraid of this boy. He knew himself to be stronger—capable of over-mastering him entirely. But for the first time in his life he felt awkward and ill at ease.
Arthur Agar only wanted this man to go. He felt that he could forego the news which he must undoubtedly be in a position to give if only he could be rid of this hated presence. At moments the loathing came to him again, like a cold hand laid upon his heart.
"Were you with him," inquired the undergraduate, "at the time of his—death?"
"No. I was at head-quarters, forty miles to the rear."
There was a little pause, then suddenly Seymour Michael leant forward with his two hands on the table that stood between them.
"Mr. Agar," he said, "are you able to keep a secret?"
"I suppose so," answered Agar apprehensively.
"Then I am going to tell you something which you must swear by all that you hold most sacred to keep a strict secret until such time as I give you leave to reveal it."
Arthur looked at him with a vague fear in his face. It seemed suddenly as if this man had always been in his life—as if he would never go out of it again.
"I am not sure that I care to hear it," he wavered.
"You must hear it. Almost the last words that Jem Agar spoke to me were requesting me to tell you this."
"You promise that that is true?"
Arthur was surprised at his own suspicions. It was so unlike him, whose nature, too weak to compass vice, had never allowed the suspicion of vice or deceit in others to trouble him.
"I promise," replied Seymour Michael.
Arthur gathered himself together for an effort. His distrust of this man was almost a panic.
"Then tell me," he said.
Michael leant back in his chair, fixing his pleasant eyes on Arthur's pale face.
"The estate is not yours," he said. "Your step-brother, Jem Agar, is not dead."
"Not dead!" repeated Arthur, without any joy in his voice. "Not dead! Then who are you? Tell me who you are!"
"Ah! That I cannot tell you."
And Seymour Michael sat smiling quietly on Anna Agar's son.
THE SPIDER AND THE FLY
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done!
He is a wise liar who makes use of the truth at times. Seymour Michael was clever enough to stay his fantastic tongue in his further explanation to Arthur Agar.
"It is a long story," he said, "and in order to fully state the case to you I must go into some matters of which perhaps you have heard little. Do you happen to be anything of a politician? Are you, I mean, interested in foreign affairs?"
Arthur confessed that he knew nothing of foreign affairs, a fact of which Michael had become fully aware on entering the narrow-minded, characteristic room.
"You perhaps know," Seymour Michael went on, in a tone of which the sarcasm was lost upon its victim, "that Russia is living in hopes of some day possessing India?"
Arthur Agar was obviously not at all interested. There were so many things of a similar nature to be remembered—things which did not really interest him—and those nearer home had precedence in his mind. He knew, for instance, that Trinity Hall lived in hopes of heading the river that year, and that the Narcissus Club were going to give a narcissus-coloured dance in May week, at which entertainment even the jellies were to be yellow.
The General now launched into an explanation, couched carefully in language suitable to his hearer's limited knowledge of the facts.
"Russia," he said, "is now so large that, unless they make it larger still and get tropical resources to draw upon, it will fall to pieces. They want India. Some day there will be a fight, a very large fight. But not yet. In the meantime it is a question of learning every inch of that country where the battle-fields will be, and every thought in the minds of those men who will look on at the fight. I—"
He paused, recollecting that the fame of his own name might have penetrated even to this out-of-the-way spot. "Some of us have been at this all our lives. Over there, on the Frontier, there are certain numbers of us, on both sides, playing a very deep game. Your brother is one of the players, a prominent man on the field; a half-back, one might call him."
There was a strong temptation to continue the allegory—to say that he himself was goal-keeper; but Seymour Michael was one of the few men who can in need make even their own vanity subservient to convenience.
"We watch each other," he went on, "like cats. We always know where the others are, and what they are doing. Your brother was one of the most closely watched by the other side. For some time we have been aware of an influence at work with a tribe of Hillmen who have hitherto been friendly to us, and we have not been able to find what this influence is, or how it is brought to bear upon them. We were so closely watched that we could not penetrate to the affected country. But at last the chance came. Your brother was gazetted as killed. We allowed the report to remain uncontradicted. We let the other side think that Jem Agar was dead, and therefore incapable of doing any more harm, and now he has gone up into that country to find out what they are after."
"I see," he said. He was rather vague about it all, and had not quite realised yet that this was all true, that this man whom he still hated and distrusted without any apparent reason was real and living, speaking to him in real waking life and not in a dream. Moreover, he had not nearly realised that Jem was alive. The evidence of his own black clothes, of the sombre-edged stationery, of his mourning habit of life this term, was too strong upon a mind like his to be suddenly thrown aside. Perhaps he had discovered that the consolation of inheritance was greater than was at first apparent. In six weeks he had slipped very comfortably into Jem's shoes, and it seemed only right and proper that his life should have a background of the noble proportions of Stagholme. Also, now Stagholme meant Dora; for he was worldly-wise enough to know that his own personal value in the world's estimation had undergone a great change in six short weeks. He knew that the man with the money usually wins.
It would almost seem that Seymour Michael divined his thoughts, at least in part.
"There are two reasons," he went on to say, "why absolute secrecy is necessary; first, for Agar's own sake. He is, of course, in disguise. No one suspects that he is there, and that is his only safeguard in the country where he is. Secondly—but I want your whole attention, please."
"Yes, I am listening."
Seymour Michael leant forward and emphasised his remark by tapping on the table with his gloved finger.
"The mission is so extremely dangerous that it comes almost to the same thing."
"What do you mean?" inquired Arthur Agar, whose gentle intellect only compassed subtleties of the drawing-room type.
"I mean that Jem Agar is almost as good as a dead man, although he was not killed at Pregalla."
The man who had wept in this same room six weeks before looked up with a gleam of something very like hope in his troubled eyes. Such is the power of love. For Arthur Agar had not been ignorant of the probability that in his step-brother, once dead but now living, he had had a rival. Sister Cecilia had seen to that.
"But when shall we know? When will he come back?" inquired he. And Seymour Michael, the subtle, began to see his way more clearly.
"Certainly not for six months, probably not for nine."
One may take it that no man is sent into the world a ready-made scoundrel. It all depends upon the circumstances of life. No one is safe right up to the end, and events may combine to make the very best of us into that thing which the world calls a villain.
Arthur Agar, all inexperienced, weak, hereditarily handicapped, suddenly found himself on the balance. And the scales were held, not by the hand of Justice, blind and clement, but by Seymour Michael, very open-eyed, with a keen watchfulness for his own purpose; biassed; unscrupulous. It must be admitted that circumstances were against Arthur Agar.
"There is nothing to be done," added Seymour Michael, with a smile which his companion could not be expected to fathom, "but to keep very quiet, and to make the best of your opportunities while you occupy the position of heir."
Arthur smiled in a sickly way. He felt suddenly as if this man could see right through him, and all the while he hated him. Seymour Michael meant "debts"—it was only natural that one of his race should think of money before all things—Arthur's thoughts were fixed on Dora. And guiltily he imagined himself to be detected.
"You will be doing no harm to Jem," said the tempter, with his pleasant laugh. "You are called upon to act the part well for his sake."
"Ye-es, I suppose I am," answered Arthur. "And I must tell no one?"
"Absolutely no one."
Despite his credulous nature, Arthur Agar was singularly suspicious on this occasion.
"Are these Jem's own instructions?" he asked.
"His own instructions," replied Seymour Michael callously.
Arthur paused in deep reflection. It was evident, he argued to himself, that Jem could not have cared for Dora, or he would never have left her in ignorance of the truth. If, therefore, during Jem's absence, he could win Dora for himself, he could not in any way be accused of wronging his step-brother. And we all know that a conscience which argues with itself is lost.
"To make things easier for us both," pursued Seymour Michael, "I propose that this interview remain a strict secret between ourselves, and for that purpose I have suppressed my own name. It is a fairly well-known name. I may mention that in guarantee of good faith. As, however, you do not know me, it will be easier for you to suppress the fact that we have ever met."
Arthur almost laughed at these last words. It seemed as if he had known this man all his life—as if his whole existence had merely been a period of waiting until he should come.
"And my mother must not know?" he said. He kept harking back to this question with a singular persistence. There are a few men and many women for whom a secret is a responsibility to be transferred to the first-comer without hesitation. One half of the world takes pleasure in divulging a secret—for the other half it is positive pain to keep one.
Seymour Michael never dreamt that the secret might be in unsafe hands. To a secretive man like himself the incapacity to keep a counsel never suggested itself. There is no doubt that where we all err is in persistently judging others by ourselves. Arthur Agar was keenly aware of his own incompetence in many things—he was one of those promising undergraduates who hire a man to water six small plants in a window-box. Incompetence was by him reduced to a science. There were so many things which he could not do, that he was forced to find occupations for a very extensive leisure, and these were usually of the petty accomplishment order, which are graceful in young girls and very disgraceful in young men.
Now the doctrine of incompetence is a very dangerous one. Already in the criminal courts we are beginning to hear of men and women who do not feel competent to keep the law. There were many laws of social procedure and a few of schoolboy honour which Arthur Agar felt to be beyond him, and he considered that in making confession he was acquiring a right to absolution.
He did not tell General Michael that he was not good at keeping secrets, chiefly because that gentleman was not of the trivial confession type; but he made a mental reservation.
Seymour Michael had risen and was walking backwards and forwards slowly between the window and the door. He seemed quite at home in the small room, and his manner of taking three strides and then wheeling round suggested the habit of living in tents.
"What you must say is that you have received your brother's effects," he said. "If they ask from whence—from the War Office. I am the War Office to all intents and purposes. The affair is almost forgotten. All the details have been published—the usual newspaper details, with Fleet Street local colouring. You should have no difficulty."
"No," answered Arthur meekly, but with another mental reservation.
"There are, of course, certain legal formalities in progress," went on the General, "relative to the estate. Those must be allowed to go on. We may trust the lawyers to go slowly. And afterwards they can amuse themselves by undoing what they have done. That is their trade. Half of them make a living by undoing what the others have done. You are ..."
Seymour Michael so far forgot himself as to pause and make a mental calculation. Arthur saw him do it and never thought of being surprised. It seemed quite natural that this man should possess data upon which to base mental calculations.
"... not twenty-one yet?" Michael finished the sentence.
"So that, you see, they cannot make over the estate to you before the time your brother comes or—should—come—back."
Arthur understood the emphasis perfectly this time. He was getting on.
"There are," continued Michael, who was eminently methodical, "a few military formalities, which have had my attention. In fact, I think that everything has been attended to. In case you should require any information, or perhaps advice, write to C 74, Smith's Library, Vigo Street. That is the address on that envelope."
Arthur rose too. The thought that his visitor might be about to depart thrilled through him with the warmth of relieved suspense.
"For your own information," said Michael, looking straight into the wavering, colourless eyes, "I may tell you that in my opinion—the opinion of an expert—this expedition is exceedingly hazardous. We—we must be prepared for the worst."
Arthur Agar turned away. He had felt the deep eyes probing his very soul—looking right through him. A sickening sense of weakness was at his heart. He felt that in the presence of this man he did not belong to himself.
"You mean," he muttered awkwardly, "that Jem will never come back?"
"I think it most probable. And then—when we have to abandon all hope, I mean—we shall be glad that we kept this thing to ourselves."
Seymour Michael held out his hand, and pressed the boy's weak fingers in a careless grip. Then he turned, and with a short "Good-bye" left him.
Arthur stood looking at the closed door with the frightened eyes of a woman. He looked round at the familiar objects of his room—the futile little gimcracks with which he had surrounded an existence worthy of such environments—the invitation cards on the draped mantelpiece, the little glass vases of fantastic shape with a single bloom of stephanotis, the hundred and one fantasies of a finicking generation wherein Art sappeth Manhood. And his eyes were suddenly opened to a new world of things which he could not do. He gazed—not without a vague shame—into a perspective of incompetencies.
In the laissez-aller of the unreflective he had assumed that life would be a continuance of small pleasures and refined enjoyments, little dinners and pleasant converse, Dora and a comfortable home, mutual mild delight in flowers and table decoration. Into this assumption Seymour Michael had suddenly stepped—strong, restless, and mysterious—and Arthur became uneasily conscious of possibilities. There might be something in his own life, there might even be something within himself, over which he could have no control. There was something within himself—something connected with the man who had gone, leaving unrest behind him, as he left it wherever he passed. What was this? whither would it lead?
Arthur Agar rang the bell, and kept the "gyp" in the room on some trivial pretext. He was afraid of solitude.
Making vain pretence Of gladness, with an awful sense Of one mute shadow watching all.
"Pooh! the girl is happy enough!"
Mr. Glynde jerked his newspaper up and read an advertisement of steamships about to depart to the West Coast of Africa. His wife—engaged in cutting out a scarlet flannel garment of diminutive proportions (an operation which she made a point of performing on the study table)—gave two gentle snips and ceased her occupation.
She looked at the back of her husband's head, where the hair was getting a little thin, and said nothing. No one argued with the Reverend Thomas Glynde.
"The girl is happy enough," he repeated, seeking contradiction. There are times when an autocrat would very much like to be argued with.
"She is always lively and gay," he continued defiantly.
"Too gay," Mrs. Glynde whispered to the scissors, with a flash of the only wisdom which Heaven gives away, and it is not given to all mothers.
The winter had closed over Stagholme, the isolating, distance-making winter of English country life, wherein each house is thrown upon its own resource, and the peaceful are at rest because their neighbours cannot get at them.
Dora was out. She was out a good deal now; exceedingly busy in good works of a different type from those affected by Sister Cecilia. The winter air seemed to invigorate her, and she tramped miles with a can of soup or an infant's flannel wrapper. And always when she came in she was gay, as her father described it. She gave amusing descriptions of her visits among the cottagers, retailed little quaint conceits such as drop from rustic lips declared unto them by their fathers from the old time before them, and in it all she displayed a keen insight into human nature. At times she was brilliant; which her father noticed with grave approval, ignorant or heedless of the fact that brilliancy means friction. Happy people are not brilliant.
She suddenly developed a taste for politics, and read the newspaper with a keen interest. Several half-forgotten duties were revived, and their performance became a matter of principle.
Mr. Glynde did not notice these subtle changes. Old men are generally selfish, more so, if possible, than young ones, and Mr. Glynde was eminently so. He only saw other people in relationship to himself. He looked at them through himself.
Mrs. Glynde had taken the opportunity of a "cutting out" to mention that she thought a change would do Dora good. During the three months that had elapsed since the announcement of Jem's death, Stagholme had necessarily been a somewhat dull abode. The winter had not come on well, but in fits and starts, with trying winds and much rain. She said these things while she cut into her roll of red flannel—the scissors seemed to give her courage.
The Rector of Stagholme had awful visions of a furnished house at Brighton or a crammed hotel on the Riviera.
"Where do you want to go to?" he inquired, with a gruffness which meant less than it conveyed.
"To town, dear."
Now Mr. Glynde loved London.
In the meantime Dora was standing at the gate of the gamekeeper's little cottage-garden which adjoined the orchard at Stagholme. There were certain women with whom Sister Cecilia did not "get on," and these were by tacit understanding relegated to Dora. This same inability to "get on" was one of the crosses which Sister Cecilia carried in a magnified condition through life. The gamekeeper's wife was one of the failures—a hardy mother of several hardy little embryo gamekeepers, who held that she knew her own business of motherhood best, and intimated as much to Sister Cecilia.
Dora went there very frequently, and the pathos of her way with little children is one of the things which cannot be touched upon here. It is possible that she went there because the cottage was near the Holme, and the way took her past the great house. She had never laid aside her old girlish habit of passing through the rooms, unannounced, to exchange a few words with Mrs. Agar. It was not that she held that lady in great veneration or respect; but in the country people learn to take their neighbours as they are, remembering that they are neighbours.
She went through the orchard and in at the side-door, which stood always open to the turn of the handle. She had fallen into a singular habit of always using this entrance, and of glancing as she passed at the stick-rack, where a rough mountain-ash was wont to stand—a stick which Jem had cut, while she stood by, years before. There was, perhaps, something characteristically suggestive of Jem in this stick—something strong and simple. She was not the person to indulge in sentimental thoughts; she could not afford to do that, Indeed, she often looked into the stick-rack without thinking, but she never passed it without looking.
In the library she found Mrs. Agar, talking to her maid, who withdrew with a pinched salutation. Mrs. Agar was one of those unfortunate women who level all ranks in their sore need of a listener. The expression of her face was decidedly lachrymose.
"Poor Arthur!" she exclaimed. "Dora, dear, something so dreadful has happened!"
"Yes," returned Dora, with the indifference of one who has tasted of the worst.
"Poor Arthur has received Jem's papers and diaries and things, and I can see from his letter that it has quite upset him. He is so sympathetic, you know."
Dora had turned quite away. She usually carried a stick in her country rambles, and it seemed suddenly to have suggested itself to her to lay this on a table near the door. The stick fell off again, and some moments elapsed while she picked it up from the floor. When she turned, her veil had slipped from the brim of her hat down over her face.
"But it could not have been a surprise to him," she said quietly. "He must have known that there would probably be something of the sort sent home."
"Yes, yes. But you know, dear, how keenly he feels everything. These highly-strung, artistic temperaments—but I need not tell you; you know Arthur almost as well as I do."
Dora answered nothing. It was not the first time that Mrs. Agar had charged some remark with that weight of significance which, in her vulgar-minded subtlety, she considered delicate and exceptionally clever. And each time that Dora heard it she was conscious of a vague discomfort, as at the approach of some danger, of some interference in her life which would be too strong for her to resist. It was one of those mean feminine thrusts to parry which is to acknowledge, to ignore is to admit fear.
"Has he sent them on to you?" she asked after a little pause, resisting only by a great effort the temptation to look towards the writing-table.
"Yes," was the reply. "It appears that they have been in his possession for some time. He kept them back for some reason—I cannot think why."
Providence is sometimes unexpectedly kind. Had Mrs. Agar been a different woman, had she, perhaps, been a better woman, less aggravating, more discreet, more honourable, she would not have done at this moment precisely that which Dora was silently praying that she would do.
"Here," continued the mistress of Stagholme, going to the writing-table, "is his diary; perhaps you would care to look through it? Poor Jem! I am afraid it will not be very interesting."
Dora took the little dark-coloured book almost indifferently.
"Thanks," she said. "It was always an effort to him to write the very shortest letter, was it not? Papa would like to see it, I know, if I may show it to him."
Being rather taller than Mrs. Agar, she could see over that lady's shoulder as she stood turning over with some curiosity a score or so of bundles evidently containing letters.
"These," said Mrs. Agar, "seem to be letters; probably our letters to him. Shall we burn them?"
Dora reflected for a moment. She knew that many of the bundles must contain letters from herself to Jem—letters which could have been read from the housetops without conveying anything to the populace. But some of them—almost between the lines—had been intended to convey, and had conveyed, something to Jem. She reflected—without anger, as women do on such matters—that if curiosity moved her, Mrs. Agar would not scruple to open all these letters and read them. The packets had evidently not been opened, and a momentary feeling of grateful recognition of Arthur's gentlemanly honour passed through her mind. There was about the faded papers that dim, mysterious odour which ever clings to packages that have been packed in India.
"Yes," she said, "let us burn them."
Mrs. Agar seemed to hesitate for a moment, but it was only for effect. She dreaded the packages, for one of them might contain the will which haunted her.
And so these two women, so very different, from such very different motives, carried the letters to the fire, and there they burnt them. In the curling flames Dora saw her own handwriting. She could not understand the suppressed excitement of Mrs. Agar's manner; she only knew that the mistress of Stagholme seemed to be afraid of looking at the burning papers.
When all was consumed both women heaved a sigh of relief.
"There," said Mrs. Agar, "I am glad we have been able to save poor Arthur that. These things are so very painful."
Dora looked rather as if she could not understand why the painful things of life should be harder for Arthur to bear than for other people. But she said nothing.
"He will be glad," continued Mrs. Agar, "to hear that it was you who helped me. I know he would rather that it had been you than any one."
All this with the horrid meaning, the sly significance, of her kind; for there are women for whom there is absolutely nothing sacred in the whole gamut of human feelings. There are women who will talk of things upon which the lips of even the most depraved men are silent.
And with it there was nothing that Dora could take exception to—nothing that she could answer without running the risk of bringing upon herself questions to which she had no reply.
"Well," she said cheerfully, "it is done now, so we can dismiss it from our minds. Of course you know that mother is getting out of hand altogether. I cannot hold her in. Her plans are simply kittenish. She wants to take a flat in town for two months, to take Boulton and one maid, to hire a cook, and to go generally to the bad."
Mrs. Agar's eyes glistened. She liked to hear of other people seeking excitement because she felt more justified in doing so herself.
"Well, I think she is very sensible. I am sure you all want a change. I feel I do. It is so depressing here all alone with one's thoughts. Sister Cecilia was just saying the other day that I ought to go away to Brighton or somewhere—that I owed it to Arthur."
"I don't see why you should not pay it to yourself, whoever you owe it to," said Dora. "This is an age of going away for changes. Life is like old Martin's trousers—so patched up with changes that the original pattern has disappeared."
"Yes, dear," replied Mrs. Agar, with a vague laugh. In conversation with Dora she invariably felt clumsy and unable to protect herself, like a stout fencer conscious of many vulnerable outlying points. She did not understand this girl, and never knew which was carte and which tierce. "So you are going away?"
"I expect so. Mother usually carries through her little schemes, and in his inward soul papa is rather a fast old gentleman. He loves the pavement, and—I don't object to the shops myself."
"Then you will like it?"
"Oh yes!" replied Dora, rising to go. "Like Mr. Martin, I am not sure that the old pattern is worth preserving."
"I wish I could go with you," said Mrs. Agar, holding up her cheek in an absent way for the farewell kiss; "I have not been to town for ages."
"Last week," amended Dora mentally.
"Why not come too?" she said aloud, gathering together stick, basket, and gloves.
"There is Arthur," replied the lady. "I am afraid he will not care to leave home just now, after so great a blow."
"All the more reason why he should go to town for a little and forget—himself."
Mrs. Agar smiled sadly and waited for further persuasion. She had fully made up her mind to go to Brighton, but was anxious first that the whole parish should press her to do so against her will.
"It will be very nice," continued Dora, "to have you to help me to keep my flighty progenitors in order. Now I must go."
With a nod and a light laugh she closed the library door behind her, having apparently forgotten the sadder events of the visit. But in her basket she had the diary.
LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA
Be as one that knoweth, and yet holdeth his tongue.
"And, of course, you know every one in the room?" Dora was saying to her cousin as the orchestra struck suddenly into "God bless the Prince of Wales."
"Good gracious, no!" Miss Mazerod replied; and both young ladies stood up to curtsey to the Royal party.
It was the great artistic soiree of the year, and crowds of nobodies jostled each other in their mad desire to deceive whosoever might be credulous into the belief that they were somebodies.
"Of course," said Dora, when they were seated again, and the strains of the Welsh air had been suppressed "by desire," "they may be very great swells; I have no doubt they are in their particular way; but they do not look it."
Miss Mazerod looked round critically.
"Some of them," she said, "are frame-makers, a good many of them, with big bills in high places. Others are actresses—very great actresses off the stage. Do you see that tall girl there, with a supercilious expression which she does not know is apt to remind one of a housemaid scorning a milkman's love on the area steps? She is a great actress, who will not take small engagements, and is not offered large ones. She is an actress 'pour se faire photographier.'"
"And this is the cream of London society?" said Dora, looking round her with considerable amusement.
"Society," returned her cousin, "is not allowed to stand for cream now. It is stirred up with a spoon, silver-gilt, and the skim milk gets hopelessly mixed up with the cream. That young man who is now talking to the actress person is not what he looks. He is, as a matter of fact, the scion of a noble house, who models in clay atrociously."
"And the gorgeous person he is turning his back upon?"
"One of his models."
And Miss Mazerod broke off into a happy laugh. Hers was not the bitterness of plainness or insignificance, but something infinitely more suggestive. It was, indeed, not bitterness at all, but light-hearted contempt, which is, perhaps, the deepest contempt there is.
"Who is the wretched woman with no backbone draped in rusty black?" asked Dora.
"My dear! That is one of the great lady artists of the age. She lectures to factory girls or something, and she paints limp females snuffling over tiger-lilies. Her ideal woman has that sort of droop of the throat—I imagine she-tries to teach it to the factory. She objects to backbone."
Miss Mazerod, who possessed a very firm little specimen of the adjunct mentioned, drew herself up and smiled commiseratingly.
"Then," said Dora, "I feel quite consoled about my sketches."
For the first time Miss Mazerod looked serious.
"Dora," she said, "I often wonder whether it would be profane to mention in one's prayers a little gratitude for not having an artistic soul. There are lots of women like that in the world, especially in London. They pretend that they think themselves superior to men, but they know in their hearts that they are inferior to women. For they have not something that women ought to have—No, Dolly, no brown studies here; you must not dream here!"
Dora, with a light laugh, came back from her mental wanderings to find herself looking at a face which caught her attention at once. It was the face of a man—brown, self-contained, with unhappy eyes and a long drooping nose.
"Who is that man?" she inquired at once. "Now, he is quite different from the rest. He is about the only person who is not furtively finding out how much attention he has succeeded in attracting."
"Yes, that is a man with a purpose."
"What purpose?" inquired Dora.
"I don't know; I shouldn't think any one knows."
"He knows," suggested Dora.
"Yes, he knows."
Miss Mazerod was looking at the mechanism of her fan with a demure expression on lips shaped for happiness. A dark young man was elbowing his way through the mixed crowd towards them.
"What is his name?" asked Dora, who was still looking at the man with a purpose.
"General Seymour Michael."
"The Indian man?"
There was a little pause, during which Miss Mazerod glanced in the direction of the younger man, who had been detained by a stout lady with a purple dress and a depressed daughter.
"I should like to know him," said Dora.
"Nothing easier," replied her cousin, still absorbed in the fan. "I know him quite well."
"He is looking at you now."
Miss Mazerod looked up and bowed with a little jerk, as if she felt too young to be stately; one of those bows that say "Come here."
At this moment the younger man came up and shook hands effusively with Dora, slowly with Miss Mazerod.
"Jack," said that young lady, "I have just beamed on General Michael, who is behind you. I want to introduce him to Dora."
Jack seemed to think this an excellent idea, and stepped aside with alacrity.
Seymour Michael came forward with his pleasant smile. He certainly was one of the most distinguished-looking men in the room, with a brilliant ribbon across his breast, and that smart, well-brushed general effect which stamps the successful soldier.
"When did you come back to England?" inquired Edith Mazerod, whose father had worked with this man in India.
"I—oh! I have been home six months," he replied, shaking hands with a subtle empressemant which was more effective than words.
"No. Laid on the shelf."
He stood upright, drawing himself up with ironical emphasis, as if to show as plainly as possible that there were many years of life and work in him yet.
Edith Mazerod laughed, the careless passing laugh of inattention.
"Dora," she said, "may I introduce General Michael? My cousin."
She rose, and Seymour Michael prepared to take the vacant seat. The youth called Jack was making signs with his eyebrows, and in attempting to decipher his meaning she forgot to mention Dora's name.
"You will be sorry for this," said Seymour Michael, sitting down. "You will not thank your cousin."
"Why?" inquired Dora, prepared to like him, possibly because he had a brown face and wore his hair cut short.
"Because," he replied, "I am hopelessly new to this work."
"So am I," replied Dora; "I don't even know what pictures to look at and what to ignore. So I dare not look at the walls at all."
"That is precisely my position, only I am worse. You know how to behave in polite circles; I don't. You have a slightly tired look, as if this sort of thing wearied you by reason of its monotony."
"Have I? I am sorry for that."
"No, there is no reason to be sorry. They all have it."
"But," protested Dora, "I am not one of them. I am only aping the Romans."
"You do it well; I shall study your method. You do it better than Edith Mazerod."
"Edith is young—hopelessly, enviably young. Do you know them well?"
"Yes, I knew them in India."
"Of course; I forgot."
He turned and looked at her sharply. Sometimes his own reputation, far from being a happiness, gave him cause for misgiving. A man with an unclean record cannot well be sure that all the details he would wish suppressed have been suppressed. There was a little pause, during which they both watched the self-satisfied throng moving in and out, here and there, full of a restless desire to be observed.
It was Seymour Michael who spoke first. True to his mixed blood, he sought to make himself safe.
"Excuse me," he said, "but Edith Mazerod did not mention your name; may I ask it?"
She saw him start. She saw a sudden wavering gleam in his eyes which in another man she would have set down to fear.
"Miss Dora Glynde," he repeated; and the expression of his face was so serene again that the look which had passed away from it began already to present itself to her memory as a conception of her own brain.
"When I was younger and shyer," he said, with a singular haste, "I was afraid to ask a lady her name when I did not catch it, and—and I frequently regretted not having had the courage to do so."
She recollected it all afterwards—every word, every pause. But then, as so frequently happens, knowledge aided her memory, and added significance to every detail.
"Are you staying with the Mazerods?" he asked.
"Yes, I am being shown life. I am doing a season. To-night is part of my education. To-morrow, I believe, we go to Hurlingham; the next day to a charity bazaar, and so on. I believe I am getting on very well. Aunt Mary is pleased with me. But I still stare about me, and show visible disappointment when I am presented to a literary celebrity or some other person of newspaper renown."
"Celebrities in the flesh are disappointing."
"Not only that, but I find that many of them are just a little common. Not quite what we in the country call gentlemen."
"Ah! Miss Glynde, you forget that Art rises superior to class distinctions."
"Yes, but artists don't; and artists' wives don't rise at all. I think you are to be congratulated. In your profession there are fewer persons 'superior to class distinction.'"
This was a subject which Seymour Michael dreaded. He was ignorant of how much Dora might know. He had suspected from the first that Jem Agar's desire that she should know the truth had been a mere matter of sentiment; but the fact of meeting her at this public festivity, gay and in colours, shook this theory from its foundation. He disliked Edith Mazerod, because he suspected that his own early career had probably been discussed in her hearing, and her easy lightness of heart was to him as incomprehensible as it was suspicious. Dora he rather feared without knowing why.
"I suppose you know India well?" she said, looking straight in front of her.
"Too well," was the reply, with a sharp sidelong glance.
He was right. At that moment Dora might have been one of these habituees of rout and ballroom. She was very pale and looked tired out.
"I went out there thirty years ago," he continued, "into the Mutiny. From that time to this India has been killing my friends."
There was a little pause. She knew that in the natural course of events it was almost certain that this man knew Jem personally. It would have been easy to mention his name; but the wound was too fresh, her heart was too sore to bear the sting of hearing him discussed.
For a second Seymour Michael hovered on the brink. His lips almost framed the name. Good almost triumphed over evil.
And the girl sitting there—broken-hearted, quiet and strong, as only women can be—never knew how near she was. Sometimes it seems as if the cruelty of fate were unnecessary, as if the word too little or the word too much, which has the power to alter a whole life, were withheld or spoken merely to further a Providential experiment.
"Yes," said Michael, "I hate India."
And the spell was broken, the moment lost for ever. Seymour Michael had kept silence, and elsewhere, perhaps, at that very moment his doom was spoken. Who can tell? We are offered chances—we are, if you will, the puppets of an experiment—and surely there must be a moment which decides.
Dora was conscious of having miscalculated her own strength. She had led him on to the dangerous ground, but it was with relief that she saw him step back. She did not dare to lead him to it again.
It was not long before he left her, on the timely arrival of another friend.
The introduction brought about by Miss Mazerod did not seem to have been an entire success, for they parted gravely and without a word expressing the hope of meeting again. And yet Dora liked him, for he was strong and purposeful, such as she would have had all men. She wanted to know more of him. She wanted to be admitted further into the knowledge which she knew to be his.
Seymour Michael was conscious of a feeling of discomfort, no less disquieting by reason of its vagueness. He had a nervous sensation of being surrounded by something—something in the nature of a chain, piecing itself together, link by link—something that was slowly closing in upon him.
I must be cruel only to be kind.
It is not your deep person who succeeds in carrying out a set purpose, but one who is just profound enough to be fathomed of the multitude. For, after all, the multitude is ready enough to help, in a casual, parenthetic way, in the furtherance of a design; and a little depth, serving to flatter that vanity which taketh delight in a sense of superior perspicacity, only adds to the zest. There are plenty of people ready to pull on a rope or shove at a wheel, but there are more eager to do so if they are offered the direction of affairs.
Mrs. Glynde was one of those easily-fathomed persons who often succeed in their designs by the very transparency of their method. She had come to London with the purpose of leaving Dora there under the care of her sister Lady Mazerod, and before she had talked to that amiable widow for half an hour the design was as apparent as if it had been spoken.
In due course Dora and Miss Mazerod renewed a childish love, and at the end of April Mr. And Mrs. Glynde went back to Stagholme alone. It is probable that neither Mrs. Glynde nor Providence could have chosen a better companion for Dora at this time than Edith Mazerod. There was a breezy simplicity about this young lady's view of life which seemed to have the power of simplifying life itself. There are some people like this to whom is vouchsafed a limited comprehension of evil and an unlimited belief in good. A very shrewd author, who is, perhaps, not so much read to-day as he ought to be, said that "to the pure all things are pure." He often said less than he meant. For he knew as well as we do that the pure-minded are just so many moral filters who clear the atmosphere and take no harm themselves.
Dora Glynde required some one like this; for she had, as the French say, "found herself." The little world of Stagholme—the world of this Record—was intensely human. There was nobody very good in it and nobody very bad. Jem, with that quicker perception of evil which is wisely included in the mental outfit of men, had warned her against Sister Cecilia. And she had begun to understand his meaning now. Mrs. Agar she had found out for herself. Her father she respected and loved, but she had reached that age wherein we discover that father and mother are but as other men and women. Her mother she loved with that half-patronising affection which is found where a daughter is mentally superior.
The only person whom she had ever really respected and looked up to without reserve was Jem.
Altogether life was too complicated, subtle, difficult, hopeless, when Edith Mazerod came into it, and by her presence seemed to clear the atmosphere of daily existence.
At first the constant round of visiting and gaiety was a supreme effort; then came tolerance, and finally that business-like acceptance which is mistaken by many for enjoyment. The human machine is not constructed to go always at high pressure, either in happiness or in misery. We cannot exist all day and all night with a living care on our shoulders—the greatest misery slips off-sometimes. With men it can be lubricated by hard work, and likewise by alcohol, but the latter method is not always to be advised. With women there is much consolation to be extracted from a new dress or several new dresses and a hat. Even a new pair of gloves may help a breaking heart, and a glass of bitter beer taken at the right moment (with or without faith) has power to change a man's view of life.
So Dora, who had at no time been tragic, began to find that Academy soirees and similar entertainments assisted her in preserving towards the world that attitude which she had elected to assume. And if there be any who blame her, they are at liberty to do so. It is not worth while to pause for the purpose of writing—on the ground or elsewhere—for their edification.
Only one such alleviation did she repent of in after life. The day after the Academy soiree the Mazerods took her to Hurlingham. And Hurlingham became one of the pages of her life which she would have wished to tear completely out.
When they drove in through the simple gateway and round by the winding drive, it was evident that a great afternoon was to be expected. The blue-and-white club flag fluttered over a pavilion crammed from roof to terrace. The teams were already out in their bright colours, curveting about, each with a practice ball, on their stiff little ponies, moving with that singular cramped action only seen on the polo ground.
It was one of those brilliant days in early May when only gardeners, grumbling, talk or think of rain. A few fleecy white clouds seemed painted. So motionless were they, on the sky, reproducing the Hurlingham colours far above the ground. A gentle breeze coming up from the river brought with it the odour of lilac and budding things.
The chairs were crowded with a well-dressed throng, the larger majority of which seemed to be unaware that polo was the object of the afternoon.
The Mazerods and Dora had scarcely taken chairs when Arthur Agar presented himself. His tailor had apparently told him that after a lapse of six months it was permissible to assume habiliments of a slightly resigned tenour. His grey suit was one of the most elegant on the ground, his Suede gloves fitted perfectly, his tie was unique. And Arthur Agar was as happy as the best-dressed girl there.
The reception accorded him was not exactly enthusiastic. Having in view the fact that the young man called Jack was entirely satisfactory, Lady Mazerod treated all other young men with indifference. Edith despised Arthur Agar because Jack was athletic in his tendencies; and Dora was sorry to see him, because she had not answered his three last letters. There were also numerous small but expensive presents for which she had failed to tender thanks.
Unfortunately the young man called Jack turned up at tea-time, carrying one of the heavy chairs, which never fail to spoil the gloves of some of us, with unconscious ease. Owing to the activity and enterprise of this young gentleman, tea was soon procured, and consequently despatched before the interval was over and before the band had wet its whistle with something of a different nature from that in vogue on the lawn. A stroll through the gardens was proposed, and Lady Mazerod sent the young people off alone. There was no choice; but Dora had probably no thought of making a choice, had such been offered to her. She, like many another young lady, erred in placing too great a confidence in her own powers of staving things off.
There was no doubt whatever about Edith and the energetic John. They led the way round by the river path and the tennis-courts with a sublime disregard for the eye of the multitude, leaving Dora and Arthur to follow at such speed as their discretion might dictate.
Before they had left the tennis-lawn Arthur plunged. It may have been the desperation of diffidence, or perhaps that the new grey suit and the unique tie lent him confidence. One sees a young lady completely carried off her mental status by the success of a dress or the absence of a dreaded competitor, and Arthur Agar had enough of the woman in him to give way to this dangerous vertigo.
"Dora," he said, "you have not answered my last three letters."
"No," she replied, "because they struck me as a little ridiculous."
"Ridiculous!" he repeated, with such sincere dismay that she was moved to compassion. "Ridiculous, Dora, why?"
His horror-struck, almost tearful voice gave her a pang of self-reproach, as if she had struck some defenceless dumb animal.
"Well, there were things in them that I did not understand."
"But I could make you understand them," he said, with a sudden self-assertion which startled her. The weakest man is, after all, a man—so far as women are concerned.
"I think you had better not," she said, hurrying her steps.
But he refused to alter his pace, and he disregarded her warning.
"They meant," he said, "that I wanted you to know that I love you."
There was a little pause. Dora was struck dumb by a chill sense of foreboding. It was like a momentary glance into a future full of trouble.
"I am sorry," she said, "for that. I hope—that you may find that it is a mistake."
"But it is not a mistake. I don't see why it should be one."
Dora paused. She was afraid to strike. She did not know yet that it is less cruel to be cruel at once.
"It is best to look at these things practically," she said. "And if we look at it practically we shall find that you and I are not at all likely to be happy together."
"However I look at it, I only see that I should never be happy without you."
"Then, Arthur, you are not looking at it practically."
"No, and I don't want to," he replied doggedly.
"That is a mistake. A little bit of life may not be practical, but all the rest of it is; and for the gratification of that little bit, there is all the rest to be lived through."
Arthur looked puzzled. He rearranged the orchid in his coat before replying. He had found time to think of the orchid.
"I don't understand all that," he said. "I only know that I love you, and that I should be miserable without you. Besides, if that little bit is love—I suppose you admit there is such a thing as love?"
Dora winced. She was looking through the trees across the peaceful evening river.
"Yes," she answered gently. "I suppose so."
Arthur Agar had been brought up in an atmosphere of futile discussion, but he had never wanted anything in vain. There are women—fools—who dare to bring up children thus in a world where wanting in vain is the chief characteristic of daily life. Arthur was ready enough to go on discussing his future thus, but never doubted that it would all come to his desire in the end. He was like a woman in so much as he failed to understand an argument which he could not meet.
They walked on amidst the flowering shrubs, and Dora was filled with a disquieting sense of having failed to convince him.
"I do not want to hurry you," said Arthur presently, with a maddening equanimity. "You can give me your answer some other time."
"But I have given it now."
Arthur was engaged in taking off his hat to a passing lady, and made no acknowledgment of this.
"Everybody at home would be pleased," he observed, after a pause occupied by the adjustment of his hat. "They all want it."
It was not that he refused to take No when it was given to him, but rather that he did not recognise it, never having encountered it before.
They were now coming round by the pigeon-shooting enclosure, and the strains of the band announced that the interval for tea had elapsed.
In the distance Lady Mazerod and Edith, attended by the indefatigable Jack, were keeping a chair for Dora. She slackened her pace. To her the knowledge had come that the difficulties of life have usually to be met single-handed. She was not afraid of Arthur, but this was a distinct difficulty because of the influence he had at his back.
"Arthur," she said, "I think we had better understand each other now. It may save us both something in the future. I cannot help feeling rather sorry that I must say No. Every girl must feel that. I do not know from whence the feeling comes. It is a sort of regret, as if something good and valuable were being wasted. But, Arthur, it is No, and it must always be No. I am not the sort of person to change."
"I suppose," he replied, en vrai fils de sa mere, "that there is some one else?"
He turned as he spoke, but Dora's parasol was too quick for him.
"Please do not let us be like people in books," she said. "There is no necessity to go into side issues at all. You have asked me to marry you. I can never marry you. There is the whole question and the whole answer. I say nothing to you about finding somebody worthier, or any nonsense of that sort. Please spare me the usual—impertinences—about there being somebody else."
The word found its mark. Arthur Agar caught his breath, but made no answer.
They were among the well-dressed throng now crowding back to the chairs.
When Arthur had handed Dora over to the care of Lady Mazerod he lifted his hat and took his departure with that perfect savoir faire which was his forte.
IN A SIDE PATH
"To sum up all, he has the worst fault-a husband can have, he's not my choice."
There is something doubtful in a love-making that is in more than two pairs of hands. This is a day of syndicates. The strength that lies in union is cultivated nowadays with much assiduity. But in matters of love the case is not yet altered, and never will be. It is a matter for two people to decide between themselves, and all interference is mistaken and deplorable. It is usually, one notices, those persons who are incapable of the feeling themselves who seek to interfere in the affairs of others.
That one of the principals should seek aid in such interference proves without appeal that he does not know his business. Such aid as this Arthur Agar had sought. He had, as Dora suspected, written to his mother, with full particulars of the conversation beneath the Hurlingham trees. He had laid before her many arguments, which, by reason of their effeminacy, appealed to her illogical mind, proving that Dora could not do better than marry him. The arrangement, he argued, was satisfactory from whatever point of view it might be taken; and, finally, he begged his mother to try and succeed where he had failed. He did not propose that Mrs. Agar should appeal to Dora; not because such a course was repellent, but merely because he knew a better. He suggested that Mrs. Agar should sound Mr. Glynde upon the matter.
This suggestion was in itself a stroke of diplomacy. The astute have no doubt found out by this time that the Reverend Thomas Glynde loved money; and a man who loves money has not the makings of a good father within him, whatever else he may have. Whether Arthur was aware of this it would be hard to say. Whether he had the penetration to know that, in the nature of things, Mr. Glynde would urge Dora to marry Arthur Agar and Stagholme, without due regard to her own feelings in the matter, is a question upon which no man can give a reliable opinion. Certain it is that such a course was precisely what the Reverend Thomas had marked out for himself.
He had an exaggerated respect for money and position—a title was a thing to be revered. Clergymen, like artists, are dependent on patronage, and must swallow their pride. It is therefore, perhaps, only natural that Mr. Glynde should be quite prepared to make some sacrifice of feeling or sentiment (especially the feeling and sentiment of another) in order to secure a position.
Arthur Agar simply followed the spirit of the age. He could not succeed alone, and therefore he proceeded to form a syndicate to compel Dora to love him, or in the meantime to marry him.
"Of course," said Sister Cecilia to Mrs. Agar, when the matter was first under discussion, "she would soon learn to care for him. Women always do."
Which shows how much Sister Cecilia knew about it.
"And besides, I believe she cares for him already," added Mrs. Agar, who never did things by halves.
Sister Cecilia dropped her head on one side and looked convinced—to order.
"Of course," pursued Mrs. Agar vaguely, "I am very fond of Dora; no one could be more so. But I must confess that I do not always understand her."
Even to Sister Cecilia it would not do to confess that she was afraid of her.
The interview was easily brought about. Mrs. Agar wrote a note to the Rector and asked him to luncheon. The Rector, who had not had many legal affairs to settle during his uneventful life, was always pleased to be consulted upon a subject of which he knew absolutely nothing. Besides, they gave one a good luncheon at Stagholme in those days.
"I have had a letter from dear Arthur," said Mrs. Agar, at a moment which she deemed propitious, namely, after a third glass of the Stagholme brown sherry.
"Ah! I hope he is well. The boy is not strong."
"Yes, he is quite well, thank you. But of course he has had a great shock, and one cannot expect him to get over it all at once."
The Rector did not hold much by sentiment, so he contented himself with a grave sip of sherry.
"And now I am afraid there is fresh trouble," added Mrs. Agar.
"Been running into debt?" suggested Mr. Glynde.
"No, it is not that. No, it is Dora."
"Dora! What has Dora been doing?"
Mrs. Agar was polishing the rim of a silver salt-cellar with her forefinger.
"Of course," she said, "I have seen it going on for a long time. My poor boy has always—well, he has always admired Dora."'
"Yes, and of course I should like nothing better. I am sure they would be most happy."
The Rector looked doubtful.
"We must not forget," he said, "that Arthur is constitutionally delicate. That extreme repugnance to active exercise, the love of ease and—er—indoor pursuits, show a tendency to enfeeble the organisation which might—I don't say it will, but it might—turn to decline."
"But the doctors say that he is quite strong. Everybody cannot be robust and—and massive."
She was thinking of Jem, against whom she had always borne a grudge, because his inoffensive presence alone had the power of making Arthur look puny.
"No; and of course with care one may hope that Arthur will live to a ripe old age," said the Rector, who was only coquetting with the question.
Mrs. Agar played with a biscuit. She had a rooted aversion to the query direct.
"I should have thought," she said, "that you or her mother would have seen that such an attachment was likely to form itself."
The truth was that the Reverend Thomas did not devote very much thought to any subject which did not directly influence his own well-being. He had at one time thought that an attachment between Jem and Dora might conveniently result from a childhood's friendship, but Arthur had not entered into his prognostications at all. He rather despised the youth, as much on his own account as that he was Anna Agar's son.
"Can't say," he replied, "that the thing ever entered my head. Of course, if the young people have settled it all between themselves, I suppose we must give them our blessing, and be thankful that we have been saved further trouble."
He thought it rather strange that Dora should have fixed her affections on such an unlikely object as Arthur Agar; but it was part of his earthly creed that the feelings of women are as incomprehensible as they are unimportant. Which, by the way, serves to show how very little the Rector of Stagholme knew of the world.
"But," protested Mrs. Agar, "they have not settled it between themselves. That is just it."
"Just the difficulty."
Immediately Mr. Glynde's face fell to its usual degree of set depression.
"What do they want me to do?" he inquired, with that air of resignation which is in reality no resignation at all.
"Well," said Mrs. Agar volubly, "it appears that Arthur spoke to Dora at Hurlingham, and for some reason she said No. I can't understand it at all. I am sure she has always appeared to like him very much. It may have been some passing fancy or something, you know. When she is told that it would please us all, perhaps she will change her mind. Poor Arthur is terribly cut up about it. Of course a man in his position does not quite expect to be treated cavalierly like that."
Mr. Glynde smiled. Behind the parson there was somewhat even better; there was a just and honest English gentleman, which, in the way of human species, is very hard to beat.
"I am afraid Arthur will have to manage such affairs for himself. When a girl is settling a question involving her whole life she does not usually pause to consider the position of the man who asks her to be his wife. He would have no business to ask her had he no position, and the rest is merely a matter of degrees."
"Then you don't care about the match?" said Mrs. Agar, to whose mind the earliest rudiments of logic were incomprehensible.
"I do not say that," replied the Rector, with the patience of a man who has had dealings with women all his life; "but I should like it to be understood that Dora is quite free to choose for herself. I am willing to tell her that the match would be satisfactory to me. Arthur is a gentleman, which is saying a good deal in these days. He is affectionate, and, so far as I know, a dutiful son. I have little doubt he would make a good husband."
Mrs. Agar wiped away an obvious tear, which ran off Mr. Glynde's mental epidermis like water off the back of the proverbial fowl. This also he had learnt in the course of his dealings with the world.
"He has been a good son to me," sniffed the fond and foolish mother.
Neither of these persons was capable of understanding that "goodness" is not all we want in husband or wife. These good husbands—heaven help their wives!—break as many hearts as those who are labelled by the world with the black ticket.
"Then I may tell Arthur that you will help him?" said Mrs. Agar, with a sudden access of practical energy.
"You may tell him that he has my good wishes, and that I will point out to Dora the advantages of—acceding to his desire. There are, of course, advantages on both sides, we know that."
As usual, Mrs. Agar overdid things. The airiness of her indifference might have deceived a child of eight, provided that its intellect was not de premiere force.
"Ye-es," she murmured, "I suppose Dora would bring her little—eh—subscription towards the household expenses. Sister Cecilia gave me to understand that there was a little something coming to her under her mother's marriage settlement."
Mrs. Agar was not clever enough to see that she had made a mistake. The mention of Sister Cecilia's name acted on the Rector like a mental douche. He was just beginning to give way to expansiveness—probably under the suave influence of the brown sherry—and the name of Sister Cecilia pulled him together with a jerk. The jerk extended to his features; but Mrs. Agar was one of those cunning women whom no man need fear. She was so cunning that she deceived herself into seeing that which she wished to see, and nothing else.
"All that," said the Rector gravely, "can be discussed when Arthur has persuaded Dora to say Yes."
He was in the position of an unfortunate person who, having come into controversy with the police, is warned that every word he says may be used in evidence against him. He had been reminded that every detail of the present conversation would be repeated to Sister Cecilia, with embellishments or subtractions as might please the narrator's fancy or suit her purpose.
"A dangerous woman" he called Sister Cecilia in his most gloomy voice, and a parson must perforce fear dangerous women. That is one of the trials of the ministry.
Mrs. Agar laughed in a forced manner.
"Of course," she said—she had a habit of beginning her remarks with these two words—"of course, we need not think of such questions yet. I am sure all I want is the happiness of the dear children."
"Umph!" ejaculated Mr. Glynde, who was not always a model of politeness.
"That, I am sure," continued Mrs. Agar, with a dabbing pocket-handkerchief, "is the dearest wish of us all."
"When does the boy come home?" inquired the Rector.
"Oh, in a week. I am so longing for him to come. He has to go to town to get some clothes, which will delay his return by one night."
"Is he doing any good this term?"
Mrs. Agar looked slightly hurt.
"Well, he always works very hard, I am only afraid that he should overdo it. You know, I suppose, that he did not get through his examination this term. Of course it is no good my saying anything, but I am quite convinced that they are not dealing fairly by him. I have seen some of those examination papers, and some of the questions are simply spiteful. They do it on purpose, I know. And Sister Cecilia tells me that that does happen sometimes. For some reason or other—because they have been snubbed, or something like that—the masters, the examiners, or whatever they are called, make a dead set at some men, and simply keep them back. They don't give them the marks that they ought to have. Why should Arthur always fail? Of course the thing is unfair."
This theory was not quite new to the Rector. He had given up arguing about it, and usually took refuge in flight. He did so on this occasion. But as he walked home across the park, smoking a cigarette, he reflected that to the owner of Stagholme such a small matter as a college career was, after all, of no importance. These broad acres, the stately forests, the grand old house, raised Arthur Agar above such considerations, indeed above most considerations. And Mr. Glynde made up his mind to put it very strongly to Dora.
The name of the slough was Despond.
When Dora returned to Stagholme a fortnight later she was relieved to find that Arthur had not yet come down from Cambridge.
It is a strange thing that in the spring-time those who are happy—pro tempore, of course, we know all that—are happier, while those who carry something with them find the burden heavier. Stagholme in the spring came as a sort of shock to Dora. There were certain adjuncts to the growth of things which gave her actual pain. After dinner, the first night, she walked across the garden to the beechwood, but before long she came back again. There is a scent in beech forests in the spring which is like no other scent on earth, and Dora found that she could not stand it.
Her father and mother were sitting in the drawing-room with open windows, for it was a warm May that year. She came in through the falling curtains, and something warned her to keep her face averted from the furtive glance of her mother's eyes. She had learnt something of the world during her brief season in town, and one of the lessons had been that the world sees more than is often credited to it.
"The worst," she said cheerfully, "of a season in town is that it makes one feel aged and experienced. Middle age came upon me suddenly, just now, in the garden."
Mr. Glynde was looking at her almost critically over his newspaper.
"How old are you?" he asked curtly.
In some indefinite way the question jarred horribly. Dora was conscious of a faint doubt in the infallibility of her father's judgment. She knew that in a worldly sense he was more experienced, more thoughtful, cleverer than her mother, but in some ways she inclined towards the maternal opinion on questions connected with herself.
At this moment Mrs. Glynde was called from the room, and went reluctantly, feeling that the time was unpropitious.
Mr. Glynde's life had been eminently uneventful. Prosperous, happy in a half-hearted, almost negative, way, somewhat selfish, he had never known hardship, had never faced adversity. It is such men as this who love what they call a serious talk, summoning the subject thereof with exaggerated gravity to a study, making a point of the mise en scene, and finally saying nothing that could not have been spoken in course of ordinary conversation.
Dora detected the odour of a serious talk in the atmosphere, and she found that something had taken away the awe which such conversations had hitherto inspired. It may have been the season in town, but it was more probably that confidence which comes from the knowledge of the world. There were things in life of which she consciously knew more than her father, and one of these was sorrow. There is nothing that gives so much confidence as the knowledge that the worst possible has happened. It raises one above the petty worries of daily existence.
Dora knew that her acquaintance with sorrow was more intimate, more thorough, than that of her father, who sat looking as if the hangman were at the door. She awaited the serious talk with some apprehension, but none of that almost paralysing awe which she had known in childhood.
"I am getting an old man," he said, with supreme egotism, "and you cannot expect to have me with you much longer."
"But I do expect it," replied Dora cheerfully. "I am sorry to disappoint you, papa, but I do expect it most decidedly."
This rather spoilt the lugubrious gravity of the situation.
"Well, thank Heaven! I am a hearty man yet," admitted the Rector rather more hopefully; "but still you cannot expect to have your parents with you all your life, you know."
"I think it is wiser not to look too far into the future," replied Dora, warding off.
"I should look much more happily into the future," replied the Rector, with the deliberation of the domestic autocrat, "if I knew that you had a good husband to take care of you."
In a flash of thought Dora traced it all back to Arthur, through Mrs. Agar; and her would-be lover fell still further in her estimation. He seemed to be fated to show himself at every turn the very antitype to her ideal.
"Ah," she laughed, "but suppose I got a bad one? You are always saying that marriage is a lottery, and I don't believe the remark is original. Suppose I drew a blank; fancy being married to a blank! Or I might do worse. I might draw minus something—minus brains, for instance. They are in the lottery, for I have seen them, nicely done up in faultless linen—both blanks and worse."
She turned away towards the window, and the moment her face was averted it changed suddenly. The face that looked out towards the beech-wood, where the shadows were creeping from the darkening east, was piteous, terror-stricken, driven.
It is an ever-living question why people—honest, well-meaning parents and others—should be set to ride rough-shod over all that is best and purest in the human mind.
The Rector went on, in his calmly self-satisfied voice, with a fatuous ignorance of what he was doing which must have made the very angels wince.
"A great many girls," he said, "have thrown away a chance of happiness merely to serve a passing fancy. Mind you don't do that."
She gave a little laugh, quite natural and easy, but her face was grave, and more.
"I do not think there is any fear of that," she replied lightly. "You must confess, papa, that I have always displayed a remarkable capacity for the management of my own affairs—with the assistance of Sister Cecilia, bien entendu."
This was rather a forlorn hope, but Dora was driven into a corner. The Rector was in the habit of preaching a good methodical sermon, and usually finished up somewhere in the neighbourhood of the text from whence he started. He allowed himself to deviate, but he never turned his back upon his text and went for a vague ramble through scriptural meadows, as some have been heard to do. He deviated on this occasion for a moment, but never lost sight of the main question.
"Sister Cecilia," he said, "is a busybody, and, like all busybodies, a fool. It is always people who cannot manage their own affairs who are so anxious to help their neighbours. I have no doubt that you are as capable of looking after yourself as any girl; but, child, you must remember that experience goes a long way in the world, and in the nature of things I must know better than you."
"Of course you do, papa dear. I know that."
But she did not know it, and he knew that she did not. This knowledge is certain to come, sooner or later, to men and women who have lived for themselves and in themselves alone. They are mental hermits, whose opinion of things connected with the lives of others cannot well be of value because they have only studied their own existences.
The Rector of Stagholme suddenly became aware of this. He suddenly found that his advice was no longer law. There are plenty of us ready to confess that we cannot play billiards or whist or polo, but no man likes it to be known that he cannot play the game of life. Mr. Glynde did not like this subtle feeling of incompetency. He prided himself on being a man of the world, and frequently applied the vague term to himself. We are all men of a world, but it depends upon the size of that world as to what value our citizenship may be. Mr. Glynde's world had always been the Reverend Thomas Glynde. He knew nothing of Dora's world, and lost his way as soon as he set his foot therein. But rather than make inquiries he thought to support paternal dignity by going further.
"It is," he said, with inevitable egotism, "unnecessary for me to tell you that I have only your interests at heart."
"Quite, papa dear. But do not let us talk about these horrid things. I am quite happy at home, and I do not want to go away from it. There is nowhere in the world where I should sooner be than here, even taking into consideration the fact that you are sometimes the most dismal old gentleman on the face of the earth."
"Well," he answered, with a grim smile, "I am sure I have enough to make me dismal. I am thankful to say that there will be no difficulty about money. You will be well enough off to have all that you might desire. But wealth is not all that a woman wants. She cannot turn it to the same account as a man. She wants position, a household, a husband. Otherwise the world only makes use of her; she is a prey to charity humbugs and bad people who do good works badly. I am not speaking as a parson, but as a man of the world."
"Then," she said, "as a parson, tell me if it would not be wrong to marry a man for whom one did not care, just for the sake of these things—a household and a husband."
"Of course it would," answered Mr. Glynde. "And that is a wrong which is usually punished in this life. But there are cases where it is difficult to say whether there be love or not. Unless you actually despise or hate a man, you may come to care for him."
"And in the meantime the position and the advantages mentioned are worth seizing?"
"So says the world," admitted Mr. Glynde.
"And what says the parson?"
She went to him and laid her two arms upon his broad chest, standing behind him as he sat in his arm-chair and looking down affectionately upon his averted face.
"And what says the parson?" she repeated, with a loving tap of her fingers on his breast.
"Nothing," was the reply. "A better parson than I says that what is natural is right."
"Yes, and that means follow the dictates of your own heart?"
"I suppose so," admitted the Hector, taking her two hands in his.
"And the dictates of my heart are all for staying at home and looking after my ancient parents and worrying them. Am I to be sent away? Not yet, old gentleman, not yet."
The Reverend Thomas Glynde laughed, somewhat as if a weight had been lifted from his heart. In his way he was a conscientious man. It was his honest conviction that Dora would do well to marry Arthur, who was a gentleman and essentially harmless. In persuading her to do so covertly, as he had thought well to do, he was honestly performing that which he thought to be his duty towards her. Presently Mrs. Glynde came back, and shortly afterwards Dora left the room. The Rector was not reading the book he held open on his knee, but gazed instead absently at the pattern of the hearthrug.
A change had come in this quiet household. Dora had gone away a child. She had come back a woman, with that consciousness of life which comes somewhere between twenty and thirty years of age—a consciousness which is partly made up of the knowledge that life is, after all, given to each one of us individually to make the best of as well as we may; and no one knows what that best is except ourselves. What is happiness for one is misery for another, and while human beings vary as the clouds of heaven, no life can be lived by set rule.
Over these things the Rector pondered. He felt the difference in Dora. She was still his daughter, but no longer a child. Her existence was still his chief care, but he could only stand by and help a little here and there; for the dependency of childhood was left behind, and her evident intention was to work out her own life in her own way. So do those who are dependent by nature upon the advice and sympathy of others learn to lean only upon their own strength.
In the room overhead, standing by the window with weary eyes, Dora was murmuring: "I wonder—I wonder if I shall be able to hold out against them all."
ACROSS THE YEARS
Across the years you seem to come.
"That is just what I can't do. I cannot afford to wait."
Arthur Agar drew in his neatly-shod little feet, and leant back in the deep chair which was always set aside as his in the Stagholme drawing-room.
Mother and son were alone in the vast, somewhat gloomy apartment. Arthur had been home six hours, and the subject of their conversation was, of course, Dora.
Sister Cecilia was absent, only in obedience to a very unmistakable hint in one of Arthur's recent letters to his mother.
"Only a little while," pleaded Mrs. Agar. "Of course, dear, it will all come right. I feel convinced of that. Only you see, dear, girls do not like to be hurried in such an important step. I am quite sure she cares for you; only you must give her a little time."
"But I can't, I can't," he repeated anxiously. And his face wore that strangely accentuated look of trouble which almost amounted to dread—dread of something in life which had not come yet.
"Why not?" inquired Mrs. Agar. "You are both young enough, I am sure."
"Oh, yes, we are young enough."
He stirred his tea with an effeminate appreciation of fine Coalport and a dainty Norwegian spoon.
"Then why should you not wait?"
Arthur was silent; he looked very small and frail, almost childlike, in his silk-faced evening coat. Spoilt boy was writ large all over his person. "Arthur," said Mrs. Agar, "you are keeping something from me."
He shook his feeble head feebly.
"You are, I know you are. What is it?"
This was the only person in all the world who had stirred the heart of Anna Agar to something like a lasting affection. Once—years before—she had loved Seymour Michael with a sudden volcanic passion which had as suddenly turned to hatred. But under no circumstances could such a love have endured. Consistency, constancy, singleness of purpose were quite lacking in this woman's composition. It is rare, but when a woman does fail in this respect, her failure is more complete, more miserable than the failure of men, inconstant as they are.
Her affection for Arthur, coupled with that suspicion which always goes with a cheap cunning, had put her on the right scent.
"Tell me," she said, "I insist on knowing."
Still he held his peace, with the obstinate silence of the weak.
"Well, then," she cried, "don't ask me to help you to win Dora, that is all!"
There was a pause; in the silence of the great house the wind moaned softly. It always moaned in the drawing-room, whether in calm or storm, from some undiscovered draught in the high ventilated ceiling.
"I sometimes think," said Arthur at length, in an awestruck voice, "that Jem may not be dead."
"Not dead! Arthur, how can you be so stupid?"
She was not at all awestruck. Her denser, more sordid nature was proof against the silence or the humming wind. The greed of gain has power to kill superstition.
His face puzzled her. Suddenly he cast himself back and hid his face in his hands,
"Oh!" he muttered, "I can't do it, I can't do it!"
In an instant his mother was standing over him.
"Arthur," she hissed, "you know something?"
"Yes," he confessed in a whisper at length.
"Jem is not dead?" she hissed again. Her voice was hoarse.
"He was not killed in the disaster," admitted Arthur. In his heart he was still clinging to the other hope subtly held out by Seymour Michael—the hope that in his simple intrepidity Jem had gone to his death.
"Then where is he—where is he, Arthur? Tell me quickly!"
Mrs. Agar was white and breathless. It was as if she had bartered her soul, and after payment, had been tricked out of her share of the bargain. She trembled with a fear which seemed to fill her world and extend to the other world to come.
"He escaped from that action," said Arthur, who, now that the truth was out, grew voluble like a child making a confession, "by being sent on in front with a few men. They escaped notice, while the larger body was attacked and massacred."
"Who told you this?"
"I do not know. I cannot tell you his name."
"Arthur!" exclaimed Mrs. Agar nervously, "are you going mad? Do you know what you are saying?"
In reply he gave a little laugh like a sob.
"Oh yes," he replied, "it is all right. I know what I am saying, though sometimes I scarcely believe it myself. If it was a hundred years ago one might believe it easily enough, but now it seems unreal."
"Then where is Jem? Was he taken prisoner? Those men are savages, aren't they? They kill—people when they take them prisoners."
"No, he was not taken prisoner," said Arthur. Sometimes he lost patience in a snappy, feminine way with his mother.
"Oh! tell me, tell me, Arthur dear! You are killing me!"
"I will, if you will let me. It appears that Jem had made himself a name out there for knowing the country and the people, which is useful to the Government, because Russia and England both want the country, or something like that; I don't quite understand it."
"Oh, never mind! Go on!" interrupted Mrs. Agar, with characteristic impatience.
"And at any rate the men on the other side—the Russians or some one, I don't know who—were in the habit of watching Jem so as to prevent his going up into this unexplored country. Well, when the report of his death was put in the newspapers it was left uncontradicted, so that these men should think he was dead, and not be on the look-out for him. Do you understand?"
Mrs. Agar had raised her head, with listening, attentive eyes. It seemed as if a voice had come to her across the years from the distant past. A voice telling an old story, which had never been forgotten, but merely laid aside in the memory among those things that never are forgotten.
Finding Arthur's troubled gaze upon her, she seemed to recollect herself with a little gesture of her hand to her breast as if breathing were difficult.
"That does not sound like a thing Jem would do," she said, with one of those flashes of shrewd observation which sometimes come to inconsequent people, and make it difficult for those around them to be sure how much they see and how much passes unobserved.
"It was not Jem, it was this other man."
"Which other man?" Mrs. Agar gave a little gasp, as if she had found something she feared to find.
"The man who told me—he was Jem's superior officer."
"When did he tell you—where?"
"He came to see me at Cambridge, and brought those things of Jem's," replied Arthur. So far from feeling guilty at thus revealing all that he had promised to keep secret, he was now beginning to experience some pangs of conscience at the recollection of a concealment which, by a supreme effort, had been made to extend to four months.
There was a sly gleam in Mrs. Agar's eyes. A close observer knowing her well could have seen the cunning written on her face, for it was cheap and obvious.
"Oh!" she said indifferently, "and what sort of man was he?"
Arthur pondered with a deliberation that almost maddened her.
"Oh!" he replied at length, "a small man, dark, with a sunburnt face; a Jew, I should think. He was rather well dressed—in the military style, of course."
"Yes," muttered Mrs. Agar. "Yes."
There was a long silence, during which Mrs. Agar reflected, as deeply, perhaps, as she had ever reflected in her life.
Then she discovered something for herself which had of necessity been pointed out to her son—a subtle divergence of character.
"But," she said, "of course Jem may never come back from this expedition. It must be very dangerous."
"It is very dangerous."
Mrs. Agar's sigh of relief was quite audible. It is thus that nature sometimes betrays human nature.
"Did he say that? Did he think that of it?"
Seymour Michael's opinion still had value in her eyes.
"Yes," the reply came slowly; "he said that we might almost look upon Jem as a dead man."
Mother and son looked at each other and said nothing. Heredity is a strange thing, and one alternately aggrandised and slighted. Blood is a very powerful force, but the little lessons taught in childhood's years bear a wondrous crop of good or evil fruit in later days.
Left alone, Arthur Agar's natural tendency was towards good. Probably because he was timid, and goodness seems the safer course. There are many who have not the courage to forsake goodness, even for a moment. But under the influence of a stronger will—that is to say, under the influence of four out of every five persons crossing his path—Arthur was liable to be led in any direction. He would rather have sinned in company than have cultivated virtue in the solitude usually accorded to that state.
Somehow, in his mother's presence it did not seem so very wrong to keep back the truth respecting Jem and to turn it to his own ends. It did not seem either mean or cowardly to take advantage of a rival's absence and gain his object, by deception. So, perhaps, it was in the beginning, when the world was young. In those days also a mother and son helped each other in deception, and so since then have many thousands of mothers (incompetent or vicious) led their children to ruin.
"Of course," said Mrs. Agar, "if Jem goes and does things of that description he must take the consequences."
Arthur said nothing in reply to this. The thought had been his for some months, but he had never put it into shape.
"We are perfectly justified," she went on, "in acting as if Jem were dead until he deigns to advise us to the contrary."
This also was putting a long-cherished thought into form.
Arthur knew that he ought to have told his mother then and there that Jem had taken every step in his power to advise him as soon as possible of the falseness of the news transmitted to the newspapers. But something held him silent, some taint of hereditary untruthfulness.
"I do not see," she said, "that this news can, therefore, make much difference. There is no reason to alter any of our plans. To begin with, I am certain that he is dead. We must have heard by this time if he had been living."
Arthur gave a little nod of acquiescence.
"And also," pursued Mrs. Agar, with characteristic inconsistency, "he evidently does not care about us or our feelings."
Arthur knew what she meant, and he descended as low in the moral scale as ever he went during his life.
"But," he said, "there is, all the same, no time to lose."
He passed his hand over his sleek, lifeless hair with a weary look.
"Well, dear," said his mother soothingly, "I will see Ellen Glynde to-morrow, and try to make her say something to Dora. A girl's mother has always more influence than her father."
This idiotic axiom seemed to satisfy Arthur, probably because he knew no better, and he rose to take his bedroom candlestick.
Mrs. Agar was a person utterly incapable of harbouring two thoughts at the same moment. She never even got so far as to place two sides of a question upon an equal footing in her mind. All her questions had but one side. She was not thinking of Arthur when she went to her room. She was not thinking of him when she lay staring at the daylight, which had crept up into the sky before she closed her eyes.
She tossed and turned and moaned aloud with a childish impatience. Her mind could find no rest; it could not throw off the deadly knowledge that Seymour Michael had come back into her life. And somehow she was no longer Anna Agar, but Anna Hethbridge. She was no longer the fond mother whose whole world was filled by thoughts of her son—a miserable, thoughtless, haphazard world it was—but again she was the wronged woman, moved by the one great passion that had stirred her sordid soul, a fearsome hatred for Seymour Michael.