"It strikes you in that way, too?" said Miss Alicia, shyly. "I used to wonder if it was—not quite nice of me to think of it. But it did seem that if any one did look at one like that—" Maidenly shyness overcame her. "Poor Lady Joan!" she sighed.
"There's a sort of cleft in his chin, though it's a good, square chin," he suggested. "And that smile of his—Were Jem's—?"
"Yes, they were. The likeness was quite odd sometimes— quite."
"Those are things that wouldn't be likely to change much when he grew up," Tembarom said, drawing a little closer to the picture. "Poor Jem! He was up against it hard and plenty. He had it hardest. This chap only died."
There was no mistaking his sympathy. He asked so many questions that they sat down and talked instead of going through the gallery. He was interested in the detail of all that had occurred after the ghastly moment when Jem had risen from the card-table and stood looking around, like some baited dying animal, at the circle of cruel faces drawing in about him. How soon had he left London? Where had he gone first? How had he been killed? He had been buried with others beneath a fall of earth and stones. Having heard this much, Tembarom saw he could not ask more questions. Miss Alicia became pale, and her hands trembled. She could not bear to discuss details so harrowing.
"Say, I oughtn't to let you talk about that," he broke out, and he patted her hand and made her get up and finish their walk about the gallery. He held her elbow in his own odd, nice way as he guided her, and the things he said, and the things he pretended to think or not to understand, were so amusing that in a short time he had made her laugh. She knew him well enough by this time to be aware that he was intentionally obliging her to forget what it only did her harm to remember. That was his practical way of looking at it.
"Getting a grouch on or being sorry for what you can't help cuts no ice," he sometimes said. "When it does, me for getting up at daybreak and keeping at it! But it doesn't, you bet your life on that."
She could see that he had really wanted to hear about Jem, but he knew it was bad for her to recall things, and he would not allow her to dwell on them, just as she knew he would not allow himself to dwell on little Miss Hutchinson, remotely placed among the joys of his beloved New York.
Two other incidents besides the visit to Miles Hugo afterward marked that day when Miss Alicia looked back on it. The first was his unfolding to her his plans for the house-party, which was characteristic of his habit of thinking things over and deciding them before he talked about them.
"If I'm going to try the thing out, as Ann says I must," he began when they had gone back to the library after lunch, "I've got to get going. I'm not seeing any of those Pictorial girls, and I guess I've got to see some."
"You will be invited to dine at places," said Miss Alicia, — "presently," she added bravely, in fact, with an air of greater conviction than she felt.
"If it's not the law that they've got to invite me or go to jail," said Tembarom, "I don't blame 'em for not doing it if they're not stuck on me. And they're not; and it's natural. But I've got to get in my fine work, or my year'll be over before I've 'found out for myself,' as Ann called it. There's where I'm at, Miss Alicia—and I've been thinking of Lady Joan and her mother. You said you thought they'd come and stay here if they were properly asked."
"I think they would," answered Miss Alicia with her usual delicacy. "I thought I gathered from Lady Mallowe that, as she was to be in the neighborhood, she would like to see you and Temple Barholm, which she greatly admires."
"If you'll tell me what to do, I'll get her here to stay awhile," he said, "and Lady Joan with her. You'd have to show me how to write to ask them; but perhaps you'd write yourself."
"They will be at Asshawe Holt next week," said Miss Alicia, "and we could go and call on them together. We might write to them in London before they leave."
"We'll do it," answered Tembarom. His manner was that of a practical young man attacking matter-of-fact detail. "From what I hear, Lady Joan would satisfy even Ann. They say she's the best-looker on the slate. If I see her every day I shall have seen the blue-ribbon winner. Then if she's here, perhaps others of her sort'll come, too; and they'll have to see me whether they like it or not—and I shall see them. Good Lord!" he added seriously, "I'd let 'em swarm all over me and bite me all summer if it would fix Ann."
He stood up, with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, and looked down at the floor.
"I wish she knew T. T. like T. T. knows himself," he said. It was quite wistful.
It was so wistful and so boyish that Miss Alicia was thrilled as he often thrilled her.
"She ought to be a very happy girl," she exclaimed.
"She's going to be," he answered, "sure as you're alive. But whatever she does, is right, and this is as right as everything else. So it just goes."
They wrote their letters at once, and sent them off by the afternoon post. The letter Miss Alicia composed, and which Tembarom copied, he read and reread, with visions of Jim Bowles and Julius looking over his shoulder. If they picked it up on Broadway, with his name signed to it, and read it, they'd throw a fit over it, laughing. But he supposed she knew what you ought to write.
It had not, indeed, the masculine touch. When Lady Mallowe read it, she laughed several times. She knew quite well that he had not known what to say, and, allowing Miss Alicia to instruct him, had followed her instructions to the letter. But she did not show the letter to Joan, who was difficult enough to manage without being given such material to comment upon.
The letters had just been sent to the post when a visitor was announced—Captain Palliser. Tembarom remembered the name, and recalled also certain points connected with him. He was the one who was a promoter of schemes—"One of the smooth, clever ones that get up companies," Little Ann had said.
That in a well-bred and not too pronounced way he looked smooth and clever might be admitted. His effect was that of height, finished slenderness of build, and extremely well-cut garments. He was no longer young, and he had smooth, thin hair and a languidly observant gray eye.
"I have been staying at Detchworth Grange," he explained when he had shaken hands with the new Temple Barholm and Miss Alicia. "It gave me an excellent opportunity to come and pay my respects."
There was a hint of uncertainty in the observant gray eye. The fact was that he realized in the space of five minutes that he knew his ground even less than he had supposed he did. He had not spent his week at Detchworth Grange without making many quiet investigations, but he had found out nothing whatever. The new man was an ignoramus, but no one had yet seemed to think him exactly a fool. He was not excited by the new grandeurs of his position and he was not ashamed of himself. Captain Palliser wondered if he was perhaps sharp—one of those New Yorkers shrewd even to light-fingeredness in clever scheming. Stories of a newly created method of business dealing involving an air of candor and almost primitive good nature—an American method—had attracted Captain Palliser's attention for some time. A certain Yankee rawness of manner played a part as a factor, a crudity which would throw a man off guard if he did not recognize it. The person who employed the method was of philosophical non- combativeness. The New York phrase was that "He jollied a man along." Immense schemes had been carried through in that way. Men in London, in England, were not sufficiently light of touch in their jocularity. He wondered if perhaps this young fellow, with his ready laugh and rather loose-jointed, casual way of carrying himself, was of this dangerous new school.
What, however, could he scheme for, being the owner of Temple Barholm's money? It may be mentioned at once that Captain Palliser's past had been such as had fixed him in the belief that every one was scheming for something. People with money wanted more or were privately arranging schemes to prevent other schemers from getting any shade the better of them. Debutantes with shy eyes and slim figures had their little plans to engineer delicately. Sometimes they were larger plans than the uninitiated would have suspected as existing in the brains of creatures in their 'teens, sometimes they were mere fantastic little ideas connected with dashing young men or innocent dances which must be secured or lovely young rivals who must be evaded. Young men had also deft things to do— people to see or not to see, reasons for themselves being seen or avoiding observation. As years increased, reasons for schemes became more numerous and amazingly more varied. Women with daughters, with sons, with husbands, found in each relationship a necessity for active, if quiet, manoeuvering. Women like Lady Mallowe—good heaven! by what schemes did not that woman live and have her being—and her daughter's—from day to day! Without money, without a friend who was an atom more to be relied on than she would have been herself if an acquaintance had needed her aid, her outwardly well-to-do and fashionable existence was a hand-to-hand fight. No wonder she had turned a still rather brilliant eye upon Sir Moses Monaldini, the great Israelite financier. All of these types passed rapidly before his mental vision as he talked to the American Temple Barholm. What could he want, by chance? He must want something, and it would be discreet to find out what it chanced to be.
If it was social success, he would be better off in London, where in these days you could get a good run for your money and could swing yourself up from one rung of the ladder to another if you paid some one to show you how. He himself could show him how. A youngster who had lived the beastly hard life he had lived would be likely to find exhilaration in many things not difficult to purchase. It was an odd thing, by the way, the fancy he had taken to the little early- Victorian spinster. It was not quite natural. It perhaps denoted tendencies—or lack of tendencies—it would also be well to consider. Palliser was a sufficiently finished product himself to be struck greatly by the artistic perfection of Miss Alicia, and to wonder how much the new man understood it.
He did not talk to him about schemes. He talked to him of New York, which he had never seen and hoped sometime shortly to visit. The information he gained was not of the kind he most desired, but it edified him. Tembarom's knowledge of high finance was a street lad's knowledge of it, and he himself knew its limitations and probable unreliability. Such of his facts as rested upon the foundation of experience did not include multimillionaires and their resources.
Captain Palliser passed lightly to Temple Barholm and its neighborhood. He knew places and names, and had been to Detchworth more than once. He had never visited Temple Barholm, and his interest suggested that he would like to walk through the gardens. Tembarom took him out, and they strolled about for some time. Even an alert observer would not have suspected the fact that as they strolled, Tembarom slouching a trifle and with his hands in his pockets, Captain Palliser bearing himself with languid distinction, each man was summing up the other and considering seriously how far and in what manner he could be counted as an asset.
"You haven't been to Detchworth yet?" Palliser inquired.
"No, not yet," answered Tembarom. The Granthams were of those who had not yet called.
"It's an agreeable house. The Granthams are agreeable people."
"Are there any young people in the family? " Tembarom asked.
"Young people? Male or female? " Palliser smilingly put it. Suddenly it occurred to him that this might give him a sort of lead.
"Girls," said Tembarom, crudely—" just plain girls."
Palliser laughed. Here it was, perhaps.
"They are not exactly 'plain' girls, though they are not beauties. There are four Misses Grantham. Lucy is the prettiest. Amabel is quite tremendous at tennis."
"Are they ladies?" inquired Tembarom.
Captain Palliser turned and involuntarily stared at him. What was the fellow getting at?
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand," he said.
The new Temple Barholm looked quite serious. He did not, amazing to relate, look like a fool even when he gave forth his extraordinary question. It was his almost business-like seriousness which saved him.
"I mean, do you call them Lady Lucy and Lady Amabel?" he answered.
If he had been younger, less hardened, or less finished, Captain Palliser would have laughed outright. But he answered without self- revelation.
"Oh, I see. You were asking whether the family is a titled one. No; it is a good old name, quite old, in fact, but no title goes with the estate."
"Who are the titled people about here?" Tembarom asked, quite unabashed.
"The Earl of Pevensy at Pevensy Park, the Duke of Stone at Stone Hover, Lord Hambrough at Doone. Doone is in the next county, just over the border."
"Have they all got daughters?"
Captain Palliser found it expedient to clear his throat before speaking.
"Lord Pevensy has daughters, so has the duke. Lord Hambrough has three sons."
"How many daughters are there—in a bunch?" Mr. Temple Barholm suggested liberally.
There Captain Palliser felt it safe to allow himself to smile, as though taking it with a sense of humor.
"'In a bunch' is an awfully good way of putting it," he said. "It happens to apply perhaps rather unfortunately well; both families are much poorer than they should be, and daughters must be provided for. Each has four. 'In a bunch' there are eight: Lady Alice, Lady Edith, Lady Ethel, and Lady Celia at Stone Hover; Lady Beatrice, Lady Gwynedd, Lady Honora, and Lady Gwendolen at Pevensy Park. And not a fortune among them, poor girls!"
"It's not the money that matters so much," said the astounding foreigner, "it's the titles."
Captain Palliser stopped short in the garden path for a moment. He could scarcely believe his ears. The crude grotesqueness of it so far got the better of him that if he had not coughed he would have betrayed himself.
"I've had a confounded cold lately," he said. "Excuse me; I must get it over."
He turned a little aside and coughed energetically.
After watching him a few seconds Tembarom slipped two fingers into his waistcoat pocket and produced a small tube of tablets.
"Take two of these," he said as soon as the cough stopped. "I always carry it about with me. It's a New York thing called 'G. Destroyer.' G stands for grippe."
Palliser took it.
"Thanks. With water? No? Just dissolve in the mouth. Thanks awfully." And he took two, with tears still standing in his eyes.
"Don't taste bad, do they?" Mr. Temple Barholm remarked encouragingly.
"Not at all. I think I shall be all right now. I just needed the relief. I have been trying to restrain it."
"That's a mistake," said Tembarom. They strolled on a pace or so, and he began again, as though he did not mean to let the subject drop. "It's the titles," he said, "and the kind. How many of them are good- lookers?"
Palliser reflected a moment, as though making mental choice.
"Lady Alice and Lady Celia are rather plain," he said, "and both of them are invalidish. Lady Ethel is tall and has handsome eyes, but Lady Edith is really the beauty of the family. She rides and dances well and has a charming color."
"And the other ones," Tembaron suggested as he paused—"Lady Beatrice and Lady Gwynedd and Lady Honora and Lady Gwendolen."
"You remember their names well," Palliser remarked with a half-laugh.
"Oh, I shall remember them all right," Tembarom answered. "I earned twenty-five per in New York by getting names down fine."
"The Talchesters are really all rather taking. Talchester is Lord Pevensy's family name," Palliser explained. "They are girls who have pretty little noses and bright complexions and eyes. Lady Gwynedd and Lady Honora both have quite fascinating dimples."
"Dimples!" exclaimed his companion. "Good business."
"Do you like dimples particularly?" Palliser inquired with an impartial air.
"I'd always make a bee-line for a dimple," replied Mr. Temple Barholm. "Clear the way when I start."
This was New York phrasing, and was plainly humorous; but there was something more than humor in his eye and smile—something hinting distantly at recollection.
"You'll find them at Pevensy Park," said Palliser.
"What about Lady Joan Fayre?" was the next inquiry.
Palliser's side glance at him was observant indeed. He asked himself how much the man could know. Taking the past into consideration, Lady Joan might turn out to be a subject requiring delicate handling. It was not the easiest thing in the world to talk at all freely to a person with whom one desired to keep on good terms, about a young woman supposed still to cherish a tragic passion for the dead man who ought to stand at the present moment in the person's, figuratively speaking, extremely ill-fitting shoes.
"Lady Joan has been from her first season an undeniable beauty," he replied.
"She and the old lady are going to stay at a place called Asshawe Holt. I think they're going next week," Tembarom said.
"The old lady?" repeated Captain Palliser.
"I mean her mother. The one that's the Countess of Mallowe."
"Have you met Lady Mallowe?" Palliser inquired with a not wholly repressed smile. A vision of Lady Mallowe over-hearing their conversation arose before him.
"No, I haven't. What's she like?"
"She is not the early- or mid-Victorian old lady," was Palliser's reply. "She wears Gainsborough hats, and looks a quite possible eight and thirty. She is a handsome person herself."
He was not aware that the term "old lady" was, among Americans of the class of Mrs. Bowse's boarders, a sort of generic term signifying almost anything maternal which had passed thirty.
"After they get through at the Asshawe Holt place, I've asked them to come here."
"Indeed," said Palliser, with an inward start. The man evidently did not know what other people did. After all, why should he? He had been selling something or other in the streets of New York when the thing happened, and he knew nothing of London.
"The countess called on Miss Alicia when we were in London," he heard next. "She said we were relations."
"You are—as we are. The connection is rather distant, but it is near enough to form a sort of link."
"I've wanted to see Lady Joan," explained Tembarom. "From what I've heard, I should say she was one of the 'Lady's Pictorial' kind."
"I am afraid—" Palliser's voice was slightly unsteady for the moment- -"I have not studied the type sufficiently to know. The 'Pictorial' is so exclusively a women's periodical."
His companion laughed.
"Well, I've only looked through it once myself just to find out. Some way I always think of Lady Joan as if she was like one of those Beaut's from Beautsville, with trains as long as parlor-cars and feathers in their heads—dressed to go to see the queen. I guess she's been presented at court," he added.
"Yes, she has been presented."
"Do they let 'em go more than once?" he asked with casual curiosity.
"Confound this cough!" exclaimed Captain Palliser, and he broke forth again.
"Take another G," said Tembarom, producing his tube. "Say, just take the bottle and keep it in your pocket"
When the brief paroxysm was over and they moved on again, Palliser was looking an odd thing or so in the face. "I always think of Lady Joan" was one of them. "Always" seemed to go rather far. How often and why had he "always thought"? The fellow was incredible. Did his sharp, boyish face and his slouch conceal a colossal, vulgar, young ambition? There was not much concealment about it, Heaven knew. And as he so evidently was not aware of the facts, how would they affect him when he discovered them? And though Lady Mallowe was a woman not in the least distressed or hampered by shades of delicacy and scruple, she surely was astute enough to realize that even this bounder's dullness might be awakened to realize that there was more than a touch of obvious indecency in bringing the girl to the house of the man she had tragically loved, and manoeuvering to work her into it as the wife of the man who, monstrously unfit as he was, had taken his place. Captain Palliser knew well that the pressing of the relationship had meant only one thing. And how, in the name of the Furies! had she dragged Lady Joan into the scheme with her?
It was as unbelievable as was the new Temple Barholm himself. And how unconcerned the fellow looked! Perhaps the man he had supplanted was no more to him than a scarcely remembered name, if he was as much as that. Then Tembarom, pacing slowly by his side, hands in pockets, eyes on the walk, spoke:
"Did you ever see Jem Temple Barholm? " he asked.
It was like a thunderbolt. He said it as though he were merely carrying his previous remarks on to their natural conclusion; but Palliser felt himself so suddenly unadjusted, so to speak, that he palpably hesitated.
"Did you?" his companion repeated.
"I knew him well," was the answer made as soon as readjustment was possible.
"Remember just how he looked?"
"Perfectly. He was a striking fellow. Women always said he had fascinating eyes."
"Sort of slant downward on the outside corners—and black eyelashes sorter sweeping together?"
Palliser turned with a movement of surprise.
"How did you know? It was just that odd sort of thing."
"Miss Alicia told me. And there's a picture in the gallery that's like him."
Captain Palliser felt as embarrassed as Miss Alicia had felt, but it was for a different reason. She had felt awkward because she had feared she had touched on a delicate subject. Palliser was embarrassed because he was entirely thrown out of all his calculations. He felt for the moment that there was no calculating at all, no security in preparing paths. You never know where they would lead. Here had he been actually alarmed in secret! And the oaf stood before him undisturbedly opening up the subject himself.
"For a fellow like that to lose a girl as he lost Lady Joan was pretty tough," the oaf said. "By gee! it was tough!"
He knew it all—the whole thing, scandal, tragically broken marriage, everything. And knowing it, he was laying his Yankee plans for getting the girl to Temple Barholm to look her over. It was of a grossness one sometimes heard of in men of his kind, and yet it seemed in its casualness to out-leap any little scheme of the sort he had so far looked on at.
"Lady Joan felt it immensely," he said.
A footman was to be seen moving toward them, evidently bearing a message. Tea was served in the drawing-room, and he had come to announce the fact.
They went back to the house, and Miss Alicia filled cups for them and presided over the splendid tray with a persuasive suggestion in the matter of hot or cold things which made it easy to lead up to any subject. She was the best of unobtrusive hostesses.
Palliser talked of his visit at Detchworth, which had been shortened because he had gone to "fit in" and remain until a large but uncertain party turned up. It had turned up earlier than had been anticipated, and of course he could only delicately slip away.
"I am sorry it has happened, however," he said, "not only because one does not wish to leave Detchworth, but because I shall miss Lady Mallowe and Lady Joan, who are to be at Asshawe Holt next week. I particularly wanted to see them."
Miss Alicia glanced at Tembarom to see what he would do. He spoke before he could catch her glance.
"Say," he suggested, "why don't you bring your grip over here and stay? I wish you would."
"A grip means a Gladstone bag," Miss Alicia murmured in a rapid undertone.
Palliser replied with appreciative courtesy. Things were going extremely well.
"That's awfully kind of you," he answered. "I should like it tremendously. Nothing better. You are giving me a delightful opportunity. Thank you, thank you. If I may turn up on Thursday I shall be delighted."
There was satisfaction in this at least in the observant gray eye when he went away.
Dinner at Detchworth Grange was most amusing that evening. One of the chief reasons — in fact, it would not be too venturesome to say THE chief reason — for Captain Palliser's frequent presence in very good country houses was that he had a way of making things amusing. His relation of anecdotes, of people and things, was distinguished by a manner which subtly declined to range itself on the side of vulgar gossip. Quietly and with a fine casualness he conveyed the whole picture of the new order at Temple Barholm. He did it with wonderfully light touches, and yet the whole thing was to be seen — the little old maid in her exquisite clothes, her unmistakable stamp of timid good breeding, her protecting adoration combined with bewilderment; the long, lean, not altogether ill-looking New York bounder, with his slight slouch, his dangerously unsophisticated-looking face, and his American jocularity of slang phrase.
"He's of a class I know nothing about. I own he puzzled me a trifle at first," Palliser said with his cool smile. "I'm not sure that I've 'got on to him' altogether yet. That's an expressive New York phrase of his own. But when we were strolling about together, he made revelations apparently without being in the least aware that they were revelations. He was unbelievable. My fear was that he would not go on."
"But he did go on?" asked Amabel. "One must hear something of the revelations."
Then was given in the best possible form the little drama of the talk in the garden. No shade of Mr. Temple Barholm's characteristics was lost. Palliser gave occasionally an English attempt at the reproduction of his nasal twang, but it was only a touch and not sufficiently persisted in to become undignified.
"I can't do it," he said. "None of us can really do it. When English actors try it on the stage, it is not in the least the real thing. They only drawl through their noses, and it is more than that."
The people of Detchworth Grange were not noisy people, but their laughter was unrestrained before the recital was finished. Nobody had gone so far as either to fear or to hope for anything as undiluted in its nature as this was.
"Then he won't give us a chance, the least chance," cried Lucy and Amabel almost in unison. "We are out of the running."
"You won't get even a look in—because you are not 'ladies,'" said their brother.
"Poor Jem Temple Barholm! What a different thing it would have been if we had had him for a neighbor!" Mr. Grantham fretted.
"We should have had Lady Joan Fayre as well," said his wife.
"At least she's a gentlewoman as well as a 'lady,'" Mr. Grantham said. "She would not have become so bitter if that hideous thing had not occurred."
They wondered if the new man knew anything about Jem. Palliser had not reached that part of his revelation when the laughter had broken into it. He told it forthwith, and the laughter was overcome by a sort of dismayed disgust. This did not accord with the rumors of an almost "nice" good nature.
"There's a vulgar horridness about it," said Lucy.
"What price Lady Mallowe!" said the son. "I'll bet a sovereign she began it."
"She did," remarked Palliser; "but I think one may leave Mr. Temple Barholm safely to Lady Joan." Mr. Grantham laughed as one who knew something of Lady Joan.
"There's an Americanism which I didn't learn from him," Palliser added, "and I remembered it when he was talking her over. It's this: when you dispose of a person finally and forever, you 'wipe up the earth with him.' Lady Joan will 'wipe up the earth' with your new neighbor."
There was a little shout of laughter. "Wipe up the earth" was entirely new to everybody, though even the country in England was at this time by no means wholly ignorant of American slang.
This led to so many other things both mirth-provoking and serious, even sometimes very serious indeed, that the entire evening at Detchworth was filled with talk of Temple Barholm. Very naturally the talk did not end by confining itself to one household. In due time Captain Palliser's little sketches were known in divers places, and it became a habit to discuss what had happened, and what might possibly happen in the future. There were those who went to the length of calling on the new man because they wanted to see him face to face. People heard new things every few days, but no one realized that it was vaguely through Palliser that there developed a general idea that, crude and self-revealing as he was, there lurked behind the outward candor of the intruder a hint of over-sharpness of the American kind. There seemed no necessity for him to lay schemes beyond those he had betrayed in his inquiries about "ladies," but somehow it became a fixed idea that he was capable of doing shady things if at any time the temptation arose. That was really what his boyish casualness meant. That in truth was Palliser's final secret conclusion. And he wanted very much to find out why exactly little old Miss Temple Barholm had been taken up. If the man wanted introductions, he could have contrived to pick up a smart and enterprising unprofessional chaperon in London who would have done for him what Miss Temple Barholm would never presume to attempt. And yet he seemed to have chosen her deliberately. He had set her literally at the head of his house. And Palliser, having heard a vague rumor that he had actually settled a decent income upon her, had made adroit inquiries and found it was true.
It was. To arrange the matter had been one of his reasons for going to see Mr. Palford during their stay in London.
"I wanted to fix you—fix you safe," he said when he told Miss Alicia about it. "I guess no one can take it away from you, whatever old thing happens."
"What could happen, dear Mr. Temple Barholm?" said Miss Alicia in the midst of tears of gratitude and tremulous joy. "You are so young and strong and—everything! Don't even speak of such a thing in jest. What could happen?"
"Anything can happen," he answered, "just anything. Happening's the one thing you can't bet on. If I was betting, I'd put my money on the thing I was sure couldn't happen. Look at this Temple Barholm song and dance! Look at T. T. as he was half strangling in the blizzard up at Harlem and thanking his stars little Munsberg didn't kick him out of his confectionery store less than a year ago! So long as I'm all right, you're all right. But I wanted you fixed, anyhow."
He paused and looked at her questioningly for a moment. He wanted to say something and he was not sure he ought. His reverence for her little finenesses and reserves increased instead of wearing away. He was always finding out new things about her.
"Say," he broke forth almost impetuously after his hesitation, "I wish you wouldn't call me Mr. Temple Barholm."
"D-do you?" she fluttered. "But what could I call you?"
"Well," he answered, reddening a shade or so, "I'd give a house and lot if you could just call me Tem."
"But it would sound so unbecoming, so familiar," she protested.
"That's just what I'm asking for," he said—"some one to be familiar with. I'm the familiar kind. That's what's the matter with me. I'd be familiar with Pearson, but he wouldn't let me. I'd frighten him half to death. He'd think that he wasn't doing his duty and earning his wages, and that somehow he'd get fired some day without a character."
He drew nearer to her and coaxed.
"Couldn't you do it?" he asked almost as though he were asking a favor of a girl. "Just Tem? I believe that would come easier to you than T. T. I get fonder and fonder of you every day, Miss Alicia, honest Injun. And I'd be so grateful to you if you'd just be that unbecomingly familiar."
He looked honestly in earnest; and if he grew fonder and fonder of her, she without doubt had, in the face of everything, given her whole heart to him.
"Might I call you Temple — to begin with?" she asked. "It touches me so to think of your asking me. I will begin at once. Thank you — Temple," with a faint gasp. "I might try the other a little later."
It was only a few evenings later that he told her about the flats in Harlem. He had sent to New York for a large bundle of newspapers, and when he opened them he read aloud an advertisement, and showed her a picture of a large building given up entirely to "flats."
He had realized from the first that New York life had a singular attraction for her. The unrelieved dullness of her life — those few years of youth in which she had stifled vague longings for the joys experienced by other girls; the years of middle age spent in the dreary effort to be "submissive to the will of God," which, honestly translated, signified submission to the exactions and domestic tyrannies of "dear papa" and others like him — had left her with her capacities for pleasure as freshly sensitive as a child's. The smallest change in the routine of existence thrilled her with excitement. Tembarom's casual references to his strenuous boyhood caused her eyes to widen with eagerness to hear more. Having seen this, he found keen delight in telling her stories of New York life — stories of himself or of other lads who had been his companions. She would drop her work and gaze at him almost with bated breath. He was an excellent raconteur when he talked of the things he knew well. He had an unconscious habit of springing from his seat and acting his scenes as he depicted them, laughing and using street-boy phrasing:
"It's just like a tale," Miss Alicia would breathe, enraptured as he jumped from one story to another. "It's exactly like a wonderful tale."
She learned to know the New York streets when they blazed with heat, when they were hard with frozen snow, when they were sloppy with melting slush or bright with springtime sunshine and spring winds blowing, with pretty women hurrying about in beflowered spring hats and dresses and the exhilaration of the world-old springtime joy. She found herself hurrying with them. She sometimes hung with him and his companions on the railing outside dazzling restaurants where scores of gay people ate rich food in the sight of their boyish ravenousness. She darted in and out among horses and vehicles to find carriages after the theater or opera, where everybody was dressed dazzlingly and diamonds glittered.
"Oh, how rich everybody must have seemed to you—how cruelly rich, poor little boy!"
"They looked rich, right enough," he answered when she said it. "And there seemed a lot of good things to eat all corralled in a few places. And you wished you could be let loose inside. But I don't know as it seemed cruel. That was the way it was, you know, and you couldn't help it. And there were places where they'd give away some of what was left. I tell you, we were in luck then."
There was some spirit in his telling it all—a spirit which had surely been with him through his hardest days, a spirit of young mirth in rags—which made her feel subconsciously that the whole experience had, after all, been somehow of the nature of life's high adventure. He had never been ill or heart-sick, and he laughed when he talked of it, as though the remembrance was not a recalling of disaster.
"Clemmin' or no clemmin'. I wish I'd lived the loife tha's lived," Tummas Hibblethwaite had said.
Her amazement would indeed have been great if she had been told that she secretly shared his feeling.
"It seems as if somehow you had never been dull," was her method of expressing it.
"Dull! Holy cats! no," he grinned. "There wasn't any time for being anything. You just had to keep going."
She became in time familiar with Mrs. Bowse's boarding-house and boarders. She knew Mrs. Peck and Mr. Jakes and the young lady from the notion counter (those wonderful shops!). Julius and Jem and the hall bedroom and the tilted chairs and cloud of smoke she saw so often that she felt at home with them.
"Poor Mrs. Bowse," she said, "must have been a most respectable, motherly, hard-working creature. Really a nice person of her class." She could not quite visualize the "parlor," but it must have been warm and comfortable. And the pianola—a piano which you could play without even knowing your notes—What a clever invention! America seemed full of the most wonderfully clever things.
Tembarom was actually uplifted in soul when he discovered that she laid transparent little plans for leading him into talk about New York. She wanted him to talk about it, and the Lord knows he wanted to talk about himself. He had been afraid at first. She might have hated it, as Palford did, and it would have hurt him somehow if she hadn't understood. But she did. Without quite realizing the fact, she was beginning to love it, to wish she had seen it. Her Somerset vicarage imagination did not allow of such leaps as would be implied by the daring wish that sometime she might see it.
But Tembarom's imagination was more athletic.
"Jinks! wouldn't it be fine to take her there! The lark in London wouldn't be ace high to it."
The Hutchinsons were not New Yorkers, but they had been part of the atmosphere of Mrs. Bowse's. Mr. Hutchinson would of course be rather a forward and pushing man to be obliged to meet, but Little Ann! She did so like Little Ann! And the dear boy did so want, in his heart of hearts, to talk about her at times. She did not know whether, in the circumstances, she ought to encourage him; but he was so dear, and looked so much dearer when he even said "Little Ann," that she could not help occasionally leading him gently toward the subject.
When he opened the newspapers and found the advertisements of the flats, she saw the engaging, half-awkward humorousness come into his eyes.
"Here's one that would do all right," he said—"four rooms and a bath, eleventh floor, thirty-five dollars a month."
He spread the newspaper on the table and rested on his elbow, gazing at it for a few minutes wholly absorbed. Then he looked up at her and smiled.
"There's a plan of the rooms," he said. "Would you like to look at it? Shall I bring your chair up to the table while we go over it together?"
He brought the chair, and side by side they went over it thoroughly. To Miss Alicia it had all the interest of a new kind of puzzle. He explained it in every detail. One of his secrets had been that on several days when Galton's manner had made him hopeful he had visited certain flat buildings and gone into their intricacies. He could therefore describe with color their resources—the janitor; the elevator; the dumb-waiters to carry up domestic supplies and carry down ashes and refuse; the refrigerator; the unlimited supply of hot and cold water, the heating plan; the astonishing little kitchen, with stationary wash-tubs; the telephone, if you could afford it,— all the conveniences which to Miss Alicia, accustomed to the habits of Rowcroft Vicarage, where you lugged cans of water up-stairs and down if you took a bath or even washed your face; seemed luxuries appertaining only to the rich and great.
"How convenient! How wonderful! Dear me! Dear me!" she said again and again, quite flushed with excitement. "It is like a fairy-story. And it's not big at all, is it?"
"You could get most of it into this," he answered, exulting. "You could get all of it into that big white-and gold parlor."
"The white saloon?"
He showed his teeth.
"I guess I ought to remember to call it that," he said, "but it always makes me think of Kid MacMurphy's on Fourth Avenue. He kept what was called a saloon, and he'd had it painted white."
"Did you know him?" Miss Alicia asked.
"Know him! Gee! no! I didn't fly as high as that. He'd have thought me pretty fresh if I'd acted like I knew him. He thought he was one of the Four Hundred. He'd been a prize-fighter. He was the fellow that knocked out Kid Wilkens in four rounds." He broke off and laughed at himself. "Hear me talk to you about a tough like that!" he ended, and he gave her hand the little apologetic, protective pat which always made her heart beat because it was so "nice."
He drew her back to the advertisements, and drew such interesting pictures of what the lives of two people—mother and son or father and daughter or a young married couple who didn't want to put on style— might be in the tiny compartments, that their excitement mounted again.
This could be a bedroom, that could be a bedroom, that could be the living-room, and if you put a bit of bright carpet on the hallway and hung up a picture or so, it would look first-rate. He even went into the matter of measurements, which made it more like putting a puzzle together than ever, and their relief when they found they could fit a piece of furniture he called "a lounge" into a certain corner was a thing of flushing delight. The "lounge," she found, was a sort of cot with springs. You could buy them for three dollars, and when you put on a mattress and covered it with a "spread," you could sit on it in the daytime and sleep on it at night, if you had to.
From measurements he went into calculations about the cost of things. He had seen unpainted wooden tables you could put mahogany stain on, and they'd look all you'd want. He'd seen a splendid little rocking- chair in Second Avenue for five dollars, one of the padded kind that ladies like. He had seen an arm-chair for a man that was only seven; but there mightn't be room for both, and you'd have to have the rocking-chair. He had once asked the price of a lot of plates and cups and saucers with roses on them, and you could get them for six; and you didn't need a stove because there was the range.
He had once heard Little Ann talking to Mrs. Bowse about the price of frying-pans and kettles, and they seemed to cost next to nothing. He'd looked into store windows and noticed the prices of groceries and vegetables and things like that—sugar, for instance; two people wouldn't use much sugar in a week—and they wouldn't need a ton of tea or flour or coffee. If a fellow had a mother or sister or wife who had a head and knew about things, you could "put it over" on mighty little, and have a splendid time together, too. You'd even be able to work in a cheap seat in a theater every now and then. He laughed and flushed as he thought of it.
Miss Alicia had never had a doll's house. Rowcroft Vicarage did not run to dolls and their belongings. Her thwarted longing for a doll's house had a sort of parallel in her similarly thwarted longing for "a little boy."
And here was her doll's house so long, so long unpossessed! It was like that, this absorbed contriving and fitting of furniture into corners. She also flushed and laughed. Her eyes were so brightly eager and her cheeks so pink that she looked quite girlish under her lace cap.
"How pretty and cozy it might be made, how dear!" she exclaimed. "And one would be so high up on the eleventh floor, that one would feel like a bird in a nest."
His face lighted. He seemed to like the idea tremendously.
"Why, that's so," he laughed. "That idea suits me down to the ground. A bird in a nest. But there'd have to be two. One would be lonely. Say, Miss Alicia, how would you like to live in a place like that?"
"I am sure any one would like it—if they had some dear relative with them."
He loved her "dear relative," loved it. He knew how much it meant of what had lain hidden unacknowledged, even unknown to her, through a lifetime in her early-Victorian spinster breast.
"Let's go to New York and rent one and live in it together. Would you come?" he said, and though he laughed, he was not jocular in the usual way. "Would you, if we waked up and found this Temple Barholm thing was a dream?"
Something in his manner, she did not know what, puzzled her a little.
"But if it were a dream, you would be quite poor again," she said, smiling.
"No, I wouldn't. I'd get Galton to give me back the page. He'd do it quick—quick," he said, still with a laugh. "Being poor's nothing, anyhow. We'd have the time of our lives. We'd be two birds in a nest. You can look out those eleventh- story windows 'way over to the Bronx, and get bits of the river. And perhaps after a while Ann would do - like she said, and we'd be three birds."
"Oh!" she sighed ecstatically. "How beautiful it would be! We should be a little family!"
"So we should," he exulted. "Think of T. T. with a family!" He drew his paper of calculations toward him again. "Let's make believe we're going to do it, and work out what it would cost - for three. You know about housekeeping, don't you? Let's write down a list."
If he had warmed to his work before, he warmed still more after this. Miss Alicia was drawn into it again, and followed his fanciful plans with a new fervor. They were like two children who had played at make- believe until they had lost sight of commonplace realities.
Miss Alicia had lived among small economies and could be of great assistance to him. They made lists and added up lines of figures until the fine, huge room and its thousands of volumes melted away. In the great hall, guarded by warriors in armor, the powdered heads of the waiting footmen drooped and nodded while the prices of pounds of butter and sugar and the value of potatoes and flour and nutmegs were balanced with a hectic joy, and the relative significance of dollars and cents and shillings and half-crowns and five-cent pieces caused Miss Alicia a mild delirium.
By the time that she had established the facts that a shilling was something like twenty-five cents, a dollar was four and twopence, and twenty-five dollars was something over five pounds, it was past midnight.
They heard the clock strike the half-hour, and stopped to stare at each other.
Tembarom got up with yet another laugh.
"Say, I mustn't keep you up all night," he said. "But haven't we had a fine time - haven't we? I feel as if I'd been there."
They had been there so entirely that Miss Alicia brought herself back with difficulty.
"I can scarcely believe that we have not," she said. "I feel as if I didn't like to leave it. It was so delightful." She glanced about her. "The room looks huge," she said—"almost too huge to live in."
"Doesn't it?" he answered. "Now you know how I feel." He gathered his scraps of paper together with a feeling touch. "I didn't want to come back myself. When I get a bit of a grouch I shall jerk these out and go back there again."
"Oh, do let me go with you!" she said. "I have so enjoyed it."
"You shall go whenever you like," he said. "We'll keep it up for a sort of game on rainy days. How much is a dollar, Miss Alicia?"
"Four and twopence. And sugar is six cents a pound."
"Go to the head," he answered. "Right again."
The opened roll of newspapers was lying on the table near her. They were copies of The Earth, and the date of one of them by merest chance caught her eye.
"How odd!" she said. "Those are old papers. Did you notice? Is it a mistake? This one is dated" She leaned forward, and her eye caught a word in a head-line.
"The Klondike," she read. "There's something in it about the Klondike." He put his hand out and drew the papers away.
"Don't you read that," he said. "I don't want you to go to bed and dream about the Klondike. You've got to dream about the flat in Harlem."
"Yes," she answered. "I mustn't think about sad things. The flat in Harlem is quite happy. But it startled me to see that word."
"I only sent for them—because I happened to want to look something up," he explained. "How much is a pound, Miss Alicia?"
"Four dollars and eighty-six cents," she replied, recovering herself.
"Go up head again. You're going to stay there."
When she gave him her hand on their parting for the night he held it a moment. A subtle combination of things made him do it. The calculations, the measurements, the nest from which one could look out over the Bronx, were prevailing elements in its make-up. Ann had been in each room of the Harlem flat, and she always vaguely reminded him of Ann.
"We are relations, ain't we?" he asked.
"I am sure we often seem quite near relations—Temple." She added the name with very pretty kindness.
"We're not distant ones any more, anyhow," he said. "Are we near enough—would you let me kiss you good night, Miss Alicia?"
An emotional flush ran up to her cap ribbons.
"Indeed, my dear boy—indeed, yes."
Holding her hand with a chivalric, if slightly awkward, courtesy, he bent, and kissed her cheek. It was a hearty, affectionately grateful young kiss, which, while it was for herself, remotely included Ann.
"It's the first time I've ever said good night to any one like that," he said. "Thank you for letting me."
He patted her hand again before releasing it. She went up-stairs blushing and feeling rather as though she had been proposed to, and yet, spinster though she was, somehow quite understanding about the nest and Ann.
Lady Mallowe and her daughter did not pay their visit to Asshawe Holt, the absolute, though not openly referred to, fact being that they had not been invited. The visit in question had merely floated in the air as a delicate suggestion made by her ladyship in her letter to Mrs. Asshe Shaw, to the effect that she and Joan were going to stay at Temple Barholm, the visit to Asshawe they had partly arranged some time ago might now be fitted in.
The partial arrangement itself, Mrs. Asshe Shaw remarked to her eldest daughter when she received the suggesting note, was so partial as to require slight consideration, since it had been made "by the woman herself, who would push herself and her daughter into any house in England if a back door were left open." In the civilly phrased letter she received in answer to her own, Lady Mallowe read between the lines the point of view taken, and writhed secretly, as she had been made to writhe scores of times in the course of her career. It had happened so often, indeed, that it might have been imagined that she had become used to it; but the woman who acted as maid to herself and Joan always knew when "she had tried to get in somewhere" and failed.
The note of explanation sent immediately to Miss Alicia was at once adroit and amiable. They had unfortunately been detained in London a day or two past the date fixed for their visit to Asshawe, and Lady Mallowe would not allow Mrs. Asshe Shawe, who had so many guests, to be inconvenienced by their arriving late and perhaps disarranging her plans. So if it was quite convenient, they would come to Temple Barholm a week earlier; but not, of course, if that would be the least upsetting.
When they arrived, Tembarom himself was in London. He had suddenly found he was obliged to go. The business which called him was something which could not be put off. He expected to return at once. It was made very easy for him when he made his excuses to Palliser, who suggested that he might even find himself returning by the same train with his guests, which would give him opportunities. If he was detained, Miss Alicia could take charge of the situation. They would quite understand when she explained. Captain Palliser foresaw for himself some quiet entertainment in his own meeting with the visitors. Lady Mallowe always provided a certain order of amusement for him, and no man alive objected to finding interest and even a certain excitement in the society of Lady Joan. It was her chief characteristic that she inspired in a man a vague, even if slightly irritated, desire to please her in some degree. To lead her on to talk in her sometimes brilliant, always heartlessly unsparing, fashion, perhaps to smile her shade of a bitter smile, gave a man something to do, especially if he was bored. Palliser anticipated a possible chance of repeating the dialogue of "the ladies," not, however, going into the Jem Temple Barholm part of it. When one finds a man whose idle life has generated in him the curiosity which is usually called feminine, it frequently occupies him more actively than he is aware or will admit.
A fashionable male gossip is a curious development. Palliser was, upon the whole, not aware that he had an intense interest in finding out the exact reason why Lady Mallowe had not failed utterly in any attempt to drag her daughter to this particular place, to be flung headlong, so to speak, at this special man. Lady Mallowe one could run and read, but Lady Joan was in this instance unexplainable. And as she never deigned the slightest concealment, the story of the dialogue would no doubt cause her to show her hand. She must have a hand, and it must be one worth seeing.
It was not he, however, who could either guess or understand. The following would have been his summing up of her: "Flaringly handsome girl, brought up by her mother to one end. Bad temper to begin with. Girl who might, if she lost her head, get into some frightful mess. Meets a fascinating devil in the first season. A regular Romeo and Juliet passion blazes up—all for love and the world well lost. All London looking on. Lady Mallowe frantic and furious. Suddenly the fascinating devil ruined for life, done for. Bolts, gets killed. Lady Mallowe triumphant. Girl dragged about afterward like a beautiful young demon in chains. Refuses all sorts of things. Behaves infernally. Nobody knows anything else."
Nobody did know; Lady Mallowe herself did not. From the first year in which Joan had looked at her with child consciousness she had felt that there was antagonism in the deeps of her eyes. No mother likes to recognize such a thing, and Lady Mallowe was a particularly vain woman. The child was going to be an undeniable beauty, and she ought to adore the mother who was to arrange her future. Instead of which, she plainly disliked her. By the time she was three years old, the antagonism had become defiance and rebellion. Lady Mallowe could not even indulge herself in the satisfaction of showing her embryo beauty off, and thus preparing a reputation for her. She was not cross or tearful, but she had the temper of a little devil. She would not be shown off. She hated it, and her bearing dangerously suggested that she hated her handsome young mother. No effects could be produced with her.
Before she was four the antagonism was mutual, and it increased with years. The child was of a passionate nature, and had been born intensely all her mother was not, and intensely not all her mother was. A throw-back to some high-spirited and fiercely honest ancestor created in her a fury at the sight of mean falsities and dishonors. Before she was old enough to know the exact cause of her rage she was shaken by it. She thought she had a bad temper, and was bad enough to hate her own mother without being able to help it. As she grew older she found out that she was not really so bad as she had thought, though she was obliged to concede that nothing palliative could be said about the temper. It had been violent from the first, and she had lived in an atmosphere which infuriated it. She did not suppose such a thing could be controlled. It sometimes frightened her. Had not the old Marquis of Norborough been celebrated through his entire life for his furies? Was there not a hushed-up rumor that he had once thrown a decanter at his wife, and so nearly killed her that people had been asking one another in whispers if a peer of the realm could be hanged. He had been born that way, so had she. Her school-room days had been a horror to her, and also a terror, because she had often almost flung ink-bottles and heavy rulers at her silly, lying governesses, and once had dug a pair of scissors into one sneaking old maid fool's arm when she had made her "see red" by her ignoble trickeries. Perhaps she would be hanged some day herself. She once prayed for a week that she might be made better tempered, —not that she believed in prayer,—and of course nothing came of it.
Every year she lived she raged more furiously at the tricks she saw played by her mother and every one who surrounded her; the very servants were greater liars and pilferers than any other servants. Her mother was always trying to get things from people which they did not want to give her. She would carry off slights and snubs as though they were actual tributes, if she could gain her end. The girl knew what the meaning of her own future would be. Since she definitely disliked her daughter, Lady Mallowe did not mince matters when they were alone. She had no money, she was extremely good looking, she had a certain number of years in which to fight for her own hand among the new debutantes who were presented every season. Her first season over, the next season other girls would be fresher than she was, and newer to the men who were worth marrying. Men like novelty. After her second season the debutantes would seem fresher still by contrast. Then people would begin to say, "She was presented four or five years ago." After that it would be all struggle,—every season it would be worse. It would become awful. Unmarried women over thirty-five would speak of her as though they had been in the nursery together. Married girls with a child or so would treat her as though she were a maiden aunt. She knew what was before her. Beggary stared them both in the face if she did not make the most of her looks and waste no time. And Joan knew it was all true, and that worse, far worse things were true also. She would be obliged to spend a long life with her mother in cheap lodgings, a faded, penniless, unmarried woman, railed at, taunted, sneered at, forced to be part of humiliating tricks played to enable them to get into debt and then to avoid paying what they owed. Had she not seen one horrible old woman of their own rank who was an example of what poverty might bring one to, an old harpy who tried to queen it over her landlady in an actual back street, and was by turns fawned upon and disgustingly "your ladyshiped" or outrageously insulted by her landlady?
Then that first season! Dear, dear God! that first season when she met Jem! She was not nineteen, and the facile world pretended to be at her feet, and the sun shone as though London were in Italy, and the park was marvelous with flowers, and there were such dances and such laughter!
And it was all so young—and she met Jem! It was at a garden-party at a lovely old house on the river, a place with celebrated gardens which would always come back to her memory as a riot of roses. The frocks of the people on the lawn looked as though they were made of the petals of flowers, and a mad little haunting waltz was being played by the band, and there under a great copper birch on the green velvet turf near her stood Jem, looking at her with dark, liquid, slanting eyes! They were only a few feet from each other,—and he looked, and she looked, and the haunting, mad little waltz played on, and it was as though they had been standing there since the world began, and nothing else was true.
Afterward nothing mattered to either of them. Lady Mallowe herself ceased to count. Now and then the world stops for two people in this unearthly fashion. At such times, as far as such a pair are concerned, causes and effects cease. Her bad temper fled, and she knew she would never feel its furious lash again.
With Jem looking at her with his glowing, drooping eyes, there would be no reason for rage and shame. She confessed the temper to him and told of her terror of it; he confessed to her his fondness for high play, and they held each other's hands, not with sentimental youthful lightness, but with the strong clasp of sworn comrades, and promised on honor that they would stand by each other every hour of their lives against their worst selves.
They would have kept the pact. Neither was a slight or dishonest creature. The phase of life through which they passed is not a new one, but it is not often so nearly an omnipotent power as was their three-months' dream.
It lasted only that length of time. Then came the end of the world. Joan did not look fresh in her second season, and before it was over men were rather afraid of her. Because she was so young the freshness returned to her cheek, but it never came back to her eyes.
What exactly had happened, or what she thought, it was impossible to know. She had delicate, black brows, and between them appeared two delicate, fierce lines. Her eyes were of a purplish-gray, "the color of thunder," a snubbed admirer had once said. Between their black lashes they were more deeply thunder-colored. Her life with her mother was a thing not to be spoken of. To the desperate girl's agony of rebellion against the horror of fate Lady Mallowe's taunts and beratings were devilish. There was a certain boudoir in the house in Hill Street which was to Joan like the question chamber of the Inquisition. Shut up in it together, the two went through scenes which in their cruelty would have done credit to the Middle Ages. Lady Mallowe always locked the door to prevent the unexpected entrance of a servant, but servants managed to hover about it, because her ladyship frequently forgot caution so far as to raise her voice at times, as ladies are not supposed to do.
"We fight," Joan said with a short, horrible laugh one morning—"we fight like cats and dogs. No, like two cats. A cat-and-dog fight is more quickly over. Some day we shall scratch each other's eyes out."
"Have you no shame?" her mother cried.
"I am burning with it. I am like St. Lawrence on his gridiron. 'Turn me over on the other side,'" she quoted.
This was when she had behaved so abominably to the Duke of Merthshire that he had actually withdrawn his more than half-finished proposal. That which she hated more than all else was the God she had prayed to when she asked she might be helped to control her temper.
She had not believed in Him at the time, but because she was frightened after she had stuck the scissors into Fraulein she had tried the appeal as an experiment. The night after she met Jem, when she went to her room in Hill Street for the night, she knelt down and prayed because she suddenly did believe. Since there was Jem in the world, there must be the other somewhere.
As day followed day, her faith grew with her love. She told Jem about it, and they agreed to say a prayer together at the same hour every night. The big young man thought her piety beautiful, and, his voice was unsteady as they talked. But she told him that she was not pious, but impious.
"I want to be made good," she said. "I have been bad all my life. I was a bad child, I have been a bad girl; but now I must be good."
On the night after the tragic card-party she went to her room and kneeled down in a new spirit. She knelt, but not to cover her face, she knelt with throat strained and her fierce young face thrown back and upward.
Her hands were clenched to fists and flung out and shaken at the ceiling. She said things so awful that her own blood shuddered as she uttered them. But she could not—in her mad helplessness—make them awful enough. She flung herself on the carpet at last, her arms outstretched like a creature crucified face downward on the cross.
"I believed in You!" she gasped. "The first moment you gave me a reason I believed. I did! I did! We both said our prayer to You every night, like children. And you've done this—this—this!" And she beat with her fists upon the floor.
Several years had passed since that night, and no living being knew what she carried in her soul. If she had a soul, she said to herself, it was black—black. But she had none. Neither had Jem had one; when the earth and stones had fallen upon him it had been the end, as it would have been if he had been a beetle.
This was the guest who was coming to the house where Miles Hugo smiled from his frame in the picture-gallery—the house which would to-day have been Jem's if T. Tembarom had not inherited it.
Tembarom returned some twenty-four hours after Miss Alicia had received his visitors for him. He had been "going into" absorbing things in London. His thoughts during his northward journey were puzzled and discouraged ones. He sat in the corner of the railway carriage and stared out of the window without seeing the springtime changes in the flying landscape.
The price he would have given for a talk with Ann would not have been easy to compute. Her head, her level little head, and her way of seeing into things and picking out facts without being rattled by what didn't really count, would have been worth anything. The day itself was a discouraging one, with heavy threatenings of rain which did not fall.
The low clouds were piles of dark-purple gray, and when the sun tried to send lances of ominous yellow light through them, strange and lurid effects were produced, and the heavy purple-gray masses rolled together again. He wondered why he did not hear low rumblings of thunder.
He went to his room at once when he reached home. He was late, and Pearson told him that the ladies were dressing for dinner. Pearson was in waiting with everything in readiness for the rapid performance of his duties. Tembarom had learned to allow himself to be waited upon. He had, in fact, done this for the satisfying of Pearson, whose respectful unhappiness would otherwise have been manifest despite his efforts to conceal it. He dressed quickly and asked some questions about Strangeways. Otherwise Pearson thought he seemed preoccupied. He only made one slight joke.
"You'd be a first-rate dresser for a quick-change artist, Pearson," he remarked.
On his way to the drawing-room he deflected from the direct path, turning aside for a moment to the picture-gallery because for a reason of his own he wanted to take a look at Miles Hugo. He took a look at Miles Hugo oftener than Miss Alicia knew.
The gallery was dim and gloomy enough, now closing in in the purple- gray twilight. He walked through it without glancing at the pictures until he came to the tall boy in the satin and lace of Charles II period. He paused there only for a short time, but he stood quite near the portrait, and looked hard at the handsome face.
"Gee!" he exclaimed under his breath, "it's queer, gee!"
Then he turned suddenly round toward one of the big windows. He turned because he had been startled by a sound, a movement. Some one was standing before the window. For a second's space the figure seemed as though it was almost one with the purple-gray clouds that were its background. It was a tall young woman, and her dress was of a thin material of exactly their color—dark-gray and purple at once. The wearer held her head high and haughtily. She had a beautiful, stormy face, and the slender, black brows were drawn together by a frown. Tembarom had never seen a girl as handsome and disdainful. He had, indeed, never been looked at as she looked at him when she moved slightly forward.
He knew who it was. It was the Lady Joan girl, and the sudden sight of her momentarily "rattled" him.
"You quite gave me a jolt," he said awkwardly, and knowing that he said it like a "mutt." "I didn't know any one was in the gallery."
"What are you doing here?" she asked. She spoke to him as though she were addressing an intruding servant. There was emphasis on the word "you."
Her intention was so evident that it increased his feeling of being "rattled." To find himself confronting deliberate ill nature of a superior and finished kind was like being spoken to in a foreign language.
"I—I'm T. Tembarom." he answered, not able to keep himself from staring because she was such a "winner" as to looks.
"T. Tembarom?" she repeated slowly, and her tone made him at once see what a fool he had been to say it.
"I forgot," he half laughed. "I ought to have said I'm Temple Barholm."
"Oh!" was her sole comment. She actually stood still and looked him up and down.
She knew perfectly well who he was, and she knew perfectly well that no palliative view could possibly be taken by any well-bred person of her bearing toward him. He was her host. She had come, a guest, to his house to eat his bread and salt, and the commonest decency demanded that she should conduct herself with civility. But she cared nothing for the commonest, or the most uncommon, decency. She was thinking of other things. As she had stood before the window she had felt that her soul had never been so black as it was when she turned away from Miles Hugo's portrait—never, never. She wanted to hurt people. Perhaps Nero had felt as she did and was not so hideous as he seemed.
The man's tailor had put him into proper clothes, and his features were respectable enough, but nothing on earth could make him anything but what he so palpably was. She had seen that much across the gallery as she had watched him staring at Miles Hugo.
"I should think," she said, dropping the words slowly again, "that you would often forget that you are Temple Barholm."
"You're right there," he answered. "I can't nail myself down to it. It seems like a sort of joke."
She looked him over again.
"It is a joke," she said.
It was as though she had slapped him in the face, though she said it so quietly. He knew he had received the slap, and that, as it was a woman, he could not slap back. It was a sort of surprise to her that he did not giggle nervously and turn red and shuffle his feet in impotent misery. He kept quite still a moment or so and looked at her, though not as she had looked at him. She wondered if he was so thick- skinned that he did not feel anything at all.
"That's so," he admitted. "That's so." Then he actually smiled at her. "I don't know how to behave myself, you see," he said. "You're Lady Joan Fayre, ain't you? I'm mighty glad to see you. Happy to make your acquaintance, Lady Joan."
He took her hand and shook it with friendly vigor before she knew what he was going to do.
"I'll bet a dollar dinner's ready," he added, "and Burrill's waiting. It scares me to death to keep Burrill waiting. He's got no use for me, anyhow. Let's go and pacify him."
He did not lead the way or drag her by the arm, as it seemed to her quite probable that he might, as costermongers do on Hampstead Heath. He knew enough to let her pass first through the door; and when Lady Mallowe looked up to see her enter the drawing-room, he was behind her. To her ladyship's amazement and relief, they came in, so to speak, together. She had been spared the trying moment of assisting at the ceremony of their presentation to each other.
In a certain sense she had been dragged to the place by her mother. Lady Mallowe had many resources, and above all she knew how to weary her into resistlessness which was almost indifference. There had been several shameless little scenes in the locked boudoir. But though she had been dragged, she had come with an intention. She knew what she would find herself being forced to submit to if the intruder were not disposed of at the outset, and if the manoeuvering began which would bring him to London. He would appear at her elbow here and there and at every corner, probably unaware that he was being made an offensive puppet by the astute cleverness against which she could not defend herself, unless she made actual scenes in drawing-rooms, at dinner- tables, in the very streets themselves. Gifted as Lady Mallowe was in fine and light-handed dealing of her cards in any game, her stakes at this special juncture were seriously high. Joan knew what they were, and that she was in a mood touched with desperation. The defenselessly new and ignorant Temple Barholm was to her mind a direct intervention of Providence, and it was only Joan herself who could rob her of the benefits and reliefs he could provide. With regard to Lady Joan, though Palliser's quoted New Yorkism, "wipe up the earth," was unknown to her, the process she had in mind when she left London for Lancashire would have been well covered by it. As in feudal days she might have ordered the right hand of a creature such as this to be struck off, forgetting that he was a man, so was she capable to-day of inflicting upon him any hurt which might sweep him out of her way. She had not been a tender-hearted girl, and in these years she was absolutely callous. The fellow being what he was, she had not the resources she might have called upon if he had been a gentleman. He would not understand the chills and slights of good manners. In the country he would be easier to manage than in town, especially if attacked in his first timidity before his new grandeurs. His big house no doubt frightened him, his servants, the people who were of a class of which he knew nothing. When Palliser told his story she saw new openings. He would stand in servile awe of her and of others like her. He would be afraid of her, to begin with, and she could make him more so.
But though she had come to alarm him so that he would be put to absolute flight, she had also come for another reason. She had never seen Temple Barholm, and she had discovered before they had known each other a week that it was Jem's secret passion. He had loved it with a slighted and lonely child's romantic longing; he had dreamed of it as boy and man, knowing that it must some time be his own, his home, and yet prevented by his uncle's attitude toward him from daring to act as though he remembered the fact. Old Mr. Temple Barholm's special humor had been that of a man guarding against presumption.
Jem had not intended to presume, but he had been snubbed with relentless cruelty even for boyish expressions of admiration. And he had hid his feeling in his heart until he poured it out to Joan. To- day it would have been his. Together, together, they would have lived in it and loved every stone of it, every leaf on every great tree, every wild daffodil nodding in the green grass. Most people, God be thanked! can forget. The wise ones train themselves beyond all else to forgetting.
Joan had been a luckless, ill-brought-up, passionate child and girl. In her Mayfair nursery she had been as little trained as a young savage. Since her black hour she had forgotten nothing, allowed herself no palliating moments. Her brief dream of young joy had been the one real thing in her life. She absolutely had lain awake at night and reconstructed the horror of Jem's death, had lived it over again, writhing in agony on her bed, and madly feeling that by so doing she was holding her love close to her life.
And the man who stood in the place Jem had longed for, the man who sat at the head of his table, was this "thing!" That was what she felt him to be, and every hurt she could do him, every humiliation which should write large before him his presumption and grotesque unfitness, would be a blow struck for Jem, who could never strike a blow for himself again. It was all senseless, but she had not want to reason. Fate had not reasoned in her behalf. She watched Tembarom under her lids at the dinner-table.
He had not wriggled or shuffled when she spoke to him in the gallery; he did neither now, and made no obvious efforts to seem unembarrassed. He used his knife and fork in odd ways, and he was plainly not used to being waited upon. More than once she saw the servants restrain smiles. She addressed no remarks to him herself, and answered with chill indifference such things as he said to her. If conversation had flagged between him and Mr. Palford because the solicitor did not know how to talk to him, it did not even reach the point of flagging with her, because she would not talk and did not allow it to begin. Lady Mallowe, sick with annoyance, was quite brilliant. She drew out Miss Alicia by detailed reminiscences of a visit paid to Rowlton Hall years before. The vicar had dined at the hall while she had been there. She remembered perfectly his charm of manner and powerful originality of mind, she said sweetly. He had spoken with such affection of his "little Alicia," who was such a help to him in his parish work.
"I thought he was speaking of a little girl at first," she said smilingly, "but it soon revealed itself that 'little Alicia' was only his caressing diminutive."
A certain widening of Miss Alicia's fascinated eye, which could not remove itself from her face, caused her to quail slightly.
"He was of course a man of great force of character and— and expression," she added. "I remember thinking at the time that his eloquent frankness of phrase might perhaps seem even severe to frivolous creatures like myself. A really remarkable personality."
"His sermons," faltered Miss Alicia, as a refuge, "were indeed remarkable. I am sure he must greatly have enjoyed his conversations with you. I am afraid there were very few clever women in the neighborhood of Rowlton."
Casting a bitter side glance on her silent daughter, Lady Mallowe lightly seized upon New York as a subject. She knew so much of it from delightful New Yorkers. London was full of delightful New Yorkers. She would like beyond everything to spend a winter in New York. She understood that the season there was in the winter and that it was most brilliant. Mr. Temple Barholm must tell them about it.
"Yes," said Lady Joan, looking at him through narrowed lids, "Mr. Temple Barholm ought to tell us about it."
She wanted to hear what he would say, to see how he would try to get out of the difficulty or flounder staggeringly through it. Her mother knew in an instant that her own speech had been a stupid blunder. She had put the man into exactly the position Joan would enjoy seeing him in. But he wasn't in a position, it appeared.
"What is the season, anyhow?" he said. "You've got one on me when you talk about seasons."
"In London," Miss Alicia explained courageously, "it is the time when her Majesty is at Buckingham Palace, and when the drawing-rooms are held, and Parliament sits, and people come up to town and give balls."
She wished that Lady Mallowe had not made her remark just at this time. She knew that the quietly moving servants were listening, and that their civilly averted eyes had seen Captain Palliser smile and Lady Joan's curious look, and that the whole incident would form entertainment for their supper- table.
"I guess they have it in the winter in New York, then, if that's it," he said. "There's no Buckingham Palace there, and no drawing-rooms, and Congress sits in Washington. But New York takes it out in suppers at Sherry's and Delmonico's and theaters and receptions. Miss Alicia knows how I used to go to them when I was a little fellow, don't you, Miss Alicia?" he added, smiling at her across the table.
"You have told me," she answered. She noticed that Burrill and the footmen stood at attention in their places.
"I used to stand outside in the snow and look in through the windows at the people having a good time," he said. "Us kids that were selling newspapers used to try to fill ourselves up with choosing whose plate we'd take if we could get at it. Beefsteak and French fried potatoes were the favorites, and hot oyster stews. We were so all-fired hungry!"
"How pathetic!" exclaimed Lady Mallowe. "And how interesting, now that it is all over!"
She knew that her manner was gushing, and Joan's slight side glance of subtle appreciation of the fact exasperated her almost beyond endurance. What could one do, what could one talk about, without involving oneself in difficulties out of which one's hasty retreat could be effected only by gushing? Taking into consideration the awkwardness of the whole situation and seeing Joan's temper and attitude, if there had not been so much at stake she would have received a summoning telegram from London the next day and taken flight. But she had been forced to hold her ground before in places she detested or where she was not wanted, and she must hold it again until she had found out the worst or the best. And, great heaven! how Joan was conducting herself, with that slow, quiet insultingness of tone and look, the wicked, silent insolence of bearing which no man was able to stand, however admiringly he began! The Duke of Merthshire had turned his back upon it even after all the world had known his intentions, even after the newspapers had prematurely announced the engagement and she herself had been convinced that he could not possibly retreat. She had worked desperately that season, she had fawned on and petted newspaper people, and stooped to little things no one but herself could have invented and which no one but herself knew of. And never had Joan been so superb; her beauty had seemed at its most brilliant height. The match would have been magnificent; but he could not stand her, and would not. Why, indeed, should any man? She glanced at her across the table. A beauty, of course; but she was thinner, and her eyes had a hungry fierceness in them, and the two delicate, straight lines between her black brows were deepening.
And there were no dukes on the horizon. Merthshire had married almost at once, and all the others were too young or had wives already. If this man would take her, she might feel herself lucky. Temple Barholm and seventy thousand a year were not to be trifled with by a girl who had made herself unpopular and who was twenty-six. And for her own luck the moment had come just before it was too late—a second marriage, wealth, the end of the hideous struggle. Joan was the obstacle in her path, and she must be forced out of it. She glanced quickly at Tembarom. He was trying to talk to Joan now. He was trying to please her. She evidently had a fascination for him. He looked at her in a curious way when she was not looking at him. It was a way different from that of other men whom she had watched as they furtively stared. It had struck her that he could not take his eyes away. That was because he had never before been on speaking terms with a woman of beauty and rank.
Joan herself knew that he was trying to please her, and she was asking herself how long he would have the courage and presumption to keep it up. He could scarcely be enjoying it.