"Mother!" said Faith. She broke away like a mad thing from the arms that would have held her and rushed to the gate. She gave one look at the white face of the woman they were carrying home and screamed, hiding her face with distraught hands.
Mrs. Ledley was dead. She had been walking along quite naturally, so they said, and suddenly had been seen to fall.
There was nothing to be done. Hard work and sorrow and bitterness had taken their toll of her strength and ended her life.
Faith could not shed a tear. After that first wild scream she had been silent. She went to the room where the twins lay sleeping and crouched down beside them, desperately holding a chubby hand of each.
Downstairs a kindly neighbour was in charge of the house; presently she came upstairs to Faith and bent over her.
"A gentleman, dearie. I told him you couldn't see anyone, but he seemed so distressed. I promised to tell you. He says he must see you, and such a nice gentleman he is."
Faith turned her face away.
"I can't! I don't want anyone! Leave me alone!"
The woman sighed and went away, and presently another step ascended the narrow stairs—a man's heavier step.
Faith was crouched against the bed, facing the door, her eyes closed, her cheek pressed to the sleeping hands to which she clung. Someone spoke her name through the silent room: "Faith!" and then again, with deepest pity: "Faith!"
The girl did not move. For a moment she thought she was dreaming, and that the voice had spoken in her dream. Then as she looked up with a wild hope that it was so—that all the past hour would prove to be nothing but a terrible nightmare—her dazed, piteous eyes met those of the Beggar Man.
All his life Nicholas Forrester remembered that room with its sloping roof and poor furniture, and the sleeping twins lying on the bed, with Faith, little more than a child herself, crouched on the floor beside them.
Hot evening sunshine shone through the narrow window and fell right upon the motherless little group, as with a stifled exclamation he went forward and, stooping, lifted Faith to her feet.
"My poor little girl," he said, keeping his arms round her, and though she made no effort to resist him, she stood apathetically enough, only turning her head away when he would have kissed her.
He broke out into incoherent explanations.
"I only got to Liverpool last night. We ran into a fog-bank and had to reduce speed. I tried to let you know but it seemed hopeless. I came as quickly as I could."
She heard what he said disinterestedly, wondering why he chose to make explanations at all, and when he had finished she looked at him with dazed brown eyes.
"Mother is dead; did they tell you?"
"The woman downstairs told me. I can't tell you how grieved I am. If I had only been here. If I had only been able to help."
The girl looked at him blankly; he had a kind face she thought, even as she had thought that time of their first meeting, but now she knew that he was not really kind or anything that he looked. He was Scammel who had ruined her father, Scammel for whose sake all those girls at Heeler's factory worked and sweated, and made money whereby to enrich him.
"I don't know why you came here, anyway," she said helplessly.
He flushed and bit a lip, but he answered gently enough: "I came straight to you, of course! Who had a better right! Have you forgotten so soon that you are my wife?"
She held out her bare left hand.
"I sent your ring back. I am sorry I ever married you. It's all over and done with."
He took but little notice of her words. He knew that she was overwrought and broken-hearted, and that it was no time now to press his claim.
The twins began to rouse, and sat up, two rosy-cheeked youngsters with eyes still drowsy with sleep, but which opened widely enough at sight of the stranger.
"Is it teatime?" was their first demand, regardless of the fact that they had had their tea hours ago, and Forrester answered that supper was ready downstairs. Would they like to be carried?
They made a wild rush at him immediately, but Faith was too quick for him. She put her arms round both the children, and looked at him across their tousled heads with defensive eyes.
"They're all I've got in the world," she said hoarsely. "You can't have them, too."
The Beggar Man did not answer. He followed them down the stairs to the sitting-room, where the kindly neighbour had made more tea, more for something to do than for any other reason, but the twins consumed slice after slice of bread and jam uncomplainingly, and regarded the Beggar Man with eyes of smiling interest.
"Do you like chocolates?" he inquired when the meal was ended. "Well, run along to a shop and buy some." He gave them half a crown, and bundled them out of the room amid shrieks of delight, then he shut the door and went back to where Faith sat by the window, her listless eyes on the sunbaked street.
He stood beside her silently for a moment. Then he asked gently:
"How soon can you be ready to leave this house—to-morrow?"
She looked up.
"I don't know what you mean. I am never going to leave it. I shall stay here and work for the twins, as mother did."
Her voice faltered a little as she spoke that beloved name, but no tears came, and Forrester said patiently:
"You cannot stay here. It's impossible. You must let me see to things for you. I promise you that everything shall be done exactly as you wish." He waited, but she did not speak, and he said again with a touch of impatience in his voice:
"Faith, you are angry with me. What have I done?"
She temporized, with the feeling that as yet she could not bring herself to say all that she knew she meant to say sooner or later.
"You never wrote to me." The words were apathetic. She had not cared whether he wrote to her or not.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I had no chance, and what sense was there in writing? I have got here almost as soon as a letter would have done." He walked a pace from her and came back. "I'm a bad hand at writing, anyway," he said, sombrely.
She was looking again into the street, and the weary outline of her face touched his heart.
"I thought of you all the time," he said, impulsively. "I cursed every minute that we were delayed."
She asked another question.
"Have you been to your flat?"
"I came straight here, of course. I was anxious about you. I thought you might be wondering what had become of me."
She drew a long sigh.
"Then you haven't got it?"
"Haven't got what?" he asked gently.
She rose to her feet.
"My ring and the money. It was all a mistake. I don't want to be married to you any more." She regarded him with wide, frightened eyes. For the first time it was slowly dawning upon her that perhaps it was not such an easy thing to get unmarried as it had been to get married.
"Please!" she added with faint appeal.
The Beggar Man's face hardened.
"My dear child," he said as patiently as he could, "it's not possible to stop being married like that, for no reason! Come, Faith, be reasonable! I make every allowance for you. I—I'm grieved at your mother's death, but...."
The burning colour rushed suddenly to the girl's face. Her blank eyes woke into life and passion.
"Grieved! When you helped to kill her!" she cried. She broke into wild laughter. "When you helped to kill her!" she said again helplessly.
The Beggar Man caught her by both arms.
"Faith! For God's sake," he said hoarsely. He thought that the shock of her mother's death had turned her brain. He tried to draw her to him, but she resisted him fiercely.
"You killed my father and ruined his life," she went on, raving. "You killed my father, and now you've killed my mother. Oh, I wish I could die, too! I wish I had never seen you." And quite suddenly she seemed to collapse, and would have fallen but for Forrester's upholding arms.
He laid her down on the couch by the window, and called to the kindly neighbour. The doctor had just arrived for Mrs. Ledley, and he came at once to Faith.
Forrester stood by, pale and anxious.
"The mother is dead, of course?" he asked once hopelessly, and the doctor looked up for a moment to answer.
"She must have died instantly. It was heart failure!" His eyes searched the young man's agitated face.
"May I ask who you are?" he inquired, faintly amazed.
"Yes." The Beggar Man glanced down at Faith.
"She is my wife," he said, briefly.
"Your wife! That child!" The amazed words were out before the doctor could check them, and he hastened to apologize. "I beg your pardon, but she looks so young."
"She is young," said the Beggar Man, flintily. "I am nearly twenty years older than she is."
Faith was coming back to consciousness, and the doctor said hurriedly: "I think it will be better for you to go away for the present, if you will—I want her to be kept quite quiet."
Nicholas went out into the narrow passage. The twins had returned and were squabbling over an enormous bag of sticky sweets. They hailed Nicholas with delight.
"I thought I said you were to buy chocolates?" he said, with pretended severity.
He sat down on the stairs and took the bag from them, dividing it into equal parts and sharing out its contents. "Ough! How sticky," he complained, with a little grimace.
"Nice!" said the twins, unanimously. They were quite happy; nobody had told them, poor mites, of their irreparable loss.
Nicholas did his best to amuse them. He was worried and unhappy, but he racked the recesses of his brain for forgotten fairy tales, and told them of the wolves that used to howl over the prairie at night when he was a boy and of a tiger which his father had once shot in India.
They listened, wide-eyed and wondering, and when at last he paused they both scrambled to their feet.
"Tell Mums! Go and tell Mums!"
That was the beginning of the trouble. In vain he tried to put them off with stories that their mother was not well, that her head ached, that she was lying down and must not be disturbed. The twins were disbelieving, grew angry, and finally broke into tears and sobs.
Nicholas took them up, one on each arm, and carried them into the kitchen. He was afraid they would disturb Faith. He sat down in a big old armchair, a child on each knee, and soothed and petted, and made vague promises for the morrow if they were good, until finally they both fell asleep with his arms round them.
It was getting late then. A clock on the kitchen shelf struck eight, but Nicholas was afraid to move. His arms were cramped, and he was racked with anxiety for Faith, but he sat doggedly on until the kindly neighbour and the doctor came to him.
The doctor smiled as he saw Forrester's burdens, and the kindly neighbour came forward with little murmurs of sympathy, and carried the twins away one at a time, still sleeping, to bed.
The Beggar Man stood up and stretched his arms.
"Well! This is a bad business," he said despondently.
"Yes." The doctor was looking at him with puzzled eyes. "You must forgive me," he said at last, "but I have known Mrs. Ledley and her family for several years now, and I had no idea that the child in the next room was married!"
Forrester coloured a little.
"We were married three weeks ago," he explained grudgingly. "And I had to leave her at once, on business, for America! I only got back last night and came here to find—this!" He looked round the room helplessly. "Of course everything will be all right," he added hurriedly. "I shall look after the children. There are only the two, aren't there?" he asked with a shade of anxiety.
The doctor smiled. "Yes, only the twins."
"And my wife? How is she?" the Beggar Man asked.
"She is suffering from shock, severe shock, of course, and must be kept perfectly quiet. I asked her if she wished to see you, and—I am sorry—but she said No! You must humour her, and not take it seriously," he explained kindly. "I asked if there was anyone she would like to see, and she said, 'Yes, Peg.' Do you know who Peg is?"
The Beggar Man frowned.
"Yes—a friend of hers."
The doctor turned away to the door. He was a kind man, but overworked and underpaid, and could not afford to waste a moment more than he was obliged.
"Well, I should send for her," he said briskly. "The woman here tells me she cannot stay all night. She has her own home and children to attend to. If you know where this 'Peg' is—send for her."
Forrester saw the doctor out, and went in search of the kindly neighbour who had tucked the twins up in bed, and was tidying the house.
He had no more idea than the dead how he was going to find Peg, but he asked the neighbour hopefully for information.
"Yes, I know her," she said. "I know her well—she lives about ten minutes away from here. Yes, I can give you her address."
Forrester wrote it down on his shirt cuff, promised to be back quickly, and went out.
The door of the room where Faith lay was open as he passed it, but some queer impulse prevented him from entering. She had said that she did not want him—well, he could wait.
But his heart was sore as he went up and down the narrow streets in search of Peg.
She was at the door of the house when he reached it, laughing and talking with a youth in a loud check suit and a highly-coloured tie, and her handsome face hardened as Forrester approached and raised his hat. She vouchsafed no answer to his "Good evening," only stared as he explained his errand.
"I think you are a friend of my wife's. She is ill, and has asked for you." He paused, and the youth in the check suit lounged off and down the street.
"My name is Forrester," the Beggar Man went on after a moment. "I don't know whether you have heard of me, but I have heard of you, and I know you are Faith's friend. Will you come? She is in great trouble. Her mother died suddenly this evening."
"Died!" Peg's eyes opened in horror. "Oh, poor kid!" she ejaculated. "Here, wait a minute." She turned into the house, and he heard her shouting to someone that she was going out and might not be home all night. Then she came back to him, banged the door behind her, and they set off down the road together.
People stared at them curiously as they passed, but Forrester was unconscious of it. He was not greatly prepossessed with Peg, but then few people were at first sight, although she was a handsome girl and magnificently built.
She was gaudily dressed for one thing, and Forrester hated gaudy clothes, and she wore long silver gipsy earrings and a string of bright green beads dangling from her neck.
She did not speak to him till they were nearly at their destination. Then she said bluntly:
"You've come back then?"
Forrester looked at her.
"Yes. I came back last night."
She gave a short laugh.
"I told Faith I didn't believe you would," she said.
He coloured angrily.
"I am much obliged to you, I am sure," he said, curtly.
Peg laughed again.
"Oh, don't mention it!" she said, airily. "I'm glad to be wrong for once in my life." She paused. "Faith's mighty fond of you," she added, almost threateningly.
Forrester frowned: he resented this girl's blunt, downright manner of speech, but Peg went on, quite indifferent to his obvious annoyance.
"She went for me hot and strong when I told her you were Ralph Scammel. Up like a spitfire she was!"
"When you told her—what?"
Her blue eyes met his defiantly.
"When I told her that you were Scammel and owned Heeler's," she repeated. "I knew, and I didn't see why she shouldn't know, too! Not that she believed it, though," she added, with a touch of chagrin. The Beggar Man made no answer, but he quickened his steps a little. He thought of Faith's strange manner towards him and Peg's words seemed all at once to have explained a great deal.
Peg took control of the house as absolutely as if she had always been its mistress, and, in spite of his dislike of her, Nicholas Forrester felt a great sense of relief. She was capable, whatever else she might not be, and he knew she was fond of Faith.
Before he left the house that night he had a little conversation with her.
"Can you stay with my wife?" he asked.
Peg looked him up and down coolly.
"I suppose you've got so much money that you've forgotten that some people have to earn their living," she said bluntly, but without intentional insolence. "How do you suppose I'm going on if I stay here for nothing?"
"I can make it worth your while," he said, speaking as bluntly as she had spoken.
"Oh, well, if it's to be a business deal."
She told him what she earned at Heeler's, and asked double the amount if she consented to stay with Faith.
"You won't be wanting me for long, anyway," she said, "so I'm for making hay while the sun shines."
The Beggar Man gave her notes for the amount she asked without a word, and a faint admiration crept into her blue eyes.
"Look here," she said, "are you acting on the square with Faith? That's what I want to know."
The Beggar Man met her gaze steadily.
"Well, I married her, didn't I?" he asked.
"I know, but you've let her down in other ways; you never told her that Heeler's belonged to you."
"That is no business of yours."
"Perhaps not," she agreed, "but you'll find it is of hers. She is only a kid, and soft in some ways, but she can be hard as nails when she chooses, beneath all that softness, and you'll find it out."
"Very well. I don't need you to tell me about it, anyway. Take care of her—and the twins—that's all I ask of you."
"I shall take care of them right enough," she answered laconically. "But not because you've paid me, but because I'm fond of them—see?"
She challenged him defiantly.
The Beggar Man smiled grimly.
"Oh, yes, I see," he said. "Well, good-night. I'll be round early to-morrow to make arrangements."
Peg shut the door after him, and went back to Faith. The girl was awake, and sitting up in bed with feverish eyes.
"Has he gone?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yes." Peg sat down beside the bed. "Here, have you two been and had a real row?" she demanded.
"Yes," Faith whispered.
Peg said "Humph! You mean a proper old glory-row like they have in novelettes, eh? Don't mean to make it up till the last chapter, if ever, eh?"
"I never mean to make it up."
There was a little silence; then Peg said:
"With all his money, it might be worth while."
Faith hid her face.
"I don't want his money. I only want my mother," she sobbed.
"You poor chicken!" Peg took her into motherly arms.
"You shan't ever see him again if you don't want," she promised rashly. "He shan't come in here except over my dead body," she added, with tragic emphasis, and a sudden memory of a pink-backed novelette still lying at home unfinished....
But she found the Beggar Man more difficult to manage than she had imagined. He demanded to see Faith, and being determinedly repulsed, asked reasons.
Peg hesitated; then she said with evident enjoyment:
"Well, you'll have to know in the end, so I may as well tell you now! She's found out something about you."
Forrester changed colour a little.
"What the deuce do you mean?" he demanded.
Peg shrugged her shoulders.
"I only mean that she told me so last night. Of course, she's sick and ill, and everything looks its blackest, and I told her she was making too much of it, but she wouldn't listen! I'm not sensitive myself, but she seems to think you're responsible for her father's death. Her father was a gentleman, you know," she added in emphatic parenthesis.
The Beggar Man laughed.
"I never knew her father. I never saw him in my life to the best of my knowledge."
Peg regarded him with her handsome head on one side, and her arms akimbo.
"Have you ever read a book called 'Revenge is Sweet'?" she asked.
The Beggar Man moved impatiently.
"No, I haven't, and even if I had——"
She interrupted mercilessly.
"Well, you should! It's on at the pictures, too, this week, and it reminds me of what Faith told me about her father and you! It's all about a man who ruined another man in business and broke his heart, so that he died! Well, that's what happened to Faith's father—through you!"
The Beggar Man walked over to the window and stood looking out into the ugly street.
A dull flush had risen to his face. He was not proud of everything that had happened in his life, and he was perfectly well aware that his great wealth could not always have been accumulated without distress to others.
Until now those "others" had been vague, unreal figures, but it gave him a sick feeling of shame to think that perhaps Peg was speaking the truth when she said that one of them had been Faith's father.
"Business is business," he began angrily in self-defence.
"That's what I say! I said so to Faith, and told her that it would very likely be worth while to overlook things for the sake of your money, but...."
The Beggar Man turned with a roar like a wounded lion.
"You told her that!"
"I did." Her hard blue eyes met his unflinchingly. "Money's the only thing in the world worth having when you've never had any, and I know! I believe I'd marry Old Nick himself if he offered me ten thousand a year and a car of my own."
Forrester swore under his breath.
"Women are all the same," he said bitterly. "Ready to sell their souls for jewels and luxury."
"Well," said Peg, "I don't know that you can talk! Anyway, it's no business of mine, only that's why Faith won't see you."
The Beggar Man's face hardened in a way that made him almost ugly; he was not used to being thwarted.
He went close to Peg as she stood guarding the doorway.
"Are you going to move?" he asked quietly, "or have I got to make you?"
Peg grew very red. She began to say, "Make me?" but changed her mind and stood on one side with a sudden meekness that would have amazed anyone who knew her. And the Beggar Man opened the door and went out into the passage.
She followed him then and spoke in a subdued way. "Look here, I'm not taking sides any longer, so don't you think it. But Faith's a little bit of a thing, and she's sad, and she's sick. I can't stop you going in to her if you mean to, but——" She paused. "If you're the sport I almost think you are, you won't, at any rate not to-day," she added earnestly.
It was very clever of her, and the Beggar Man stopped and wavered.
For an instant they looked at one another silently, eye to eye; then he turned back.
"Very well; but as soon as she's well enough you understand that nothing you can say or do will prevent me." Peg laughed grimly.
"Oh, yes, I understand that," she said.
And so it was left, and for the following sad days Forrester kept his word and Faith was left in peace. There was nothing seriously the matter with her, the doctor said, but she was suffering from shock and nervous prostration, and must be kept quiet.
Peg and Forrester got to be almost friendly during that week. There was so much to see to, so much to arrange.
Forrester had given notice to the two school teachers who had lodged with Mrs. Ledley, and had told the landlord that he was giving up the house. Then he went to Shawyer and asked how a man set about finding a school for two little girls.
"A boarding school?" Mr. Shawyer asked, and the Beggar Man said "Yes, and a top-hole one too! I don't mind the expense, but it's got to be a first-class place, and with a woman at its head who'll be kind to a couple of poor little motherless kids."
Mr. Shawyer brought his wife along. She had no children of her own, but she adored children, and had endless understanding and sympathy for them.
She was only too eager to hunt for a school for the twins. She was like a delighted child with a new doll, or, rather, two new dolls, when one afternoon she was introduced to the twins—rather sad-faced little mites now, in their black and white frocks.
"She's the right one, thank heaven," the Beggar Man thought, as he saw the way in which she took them both to her heart, and he heaved a deep sigh of relief, for he had been greatly worried with so much responsibility all at once.
But Mrs. Shawyer took it from him willingly; she shopped for the twins, and found them a school in the country within driving distance of her own home.
"I'll look after them, don't you worry, Mr. Forrester," she told him. "They'll be as happy as the day is long."
She wanted to carry them off then and there, but Forrester knew he could not take them without first telling Faith, and that was a duty which he dreaded.
He consulted Peg about it. What ought he to do? Was Faith well enough to see him yet? Peg looked away guiltily.
"She's been well enough for some time," she said honestly. "But every time I mention it to her she seems to shrivel up, so you'd best go in of your own accord, and I'll know nothing about it."
There was a little smile in her eyes as she watched him turn towards Faith's room. He was so big and burly and strong-looking, but she was not one whit deceived, and she knew that he was as nervous as a girl as he knocked at his wife's door.
Faith said "Come in" in a small, tired voice, and the Beggar Man turned the handle and walked in.
He had not seen her for a week, and his first emotion was one of unutterable thankfulness that she did not look as ill and frail as he had dreaded. She was sitting by the window, and the room was full of flowers, which Peg had bought with his money, and Faith wore a black frock, bought with his money also!
She started up when she saw him, the colour rushing to her face. She looked past him furtively to the door, but evidently realized how hopeless were her chances of escape, for she sat down again resignedly, though her soft, childish face took a curiously hard expression.
"I am glad you are better," said the Beggar Man. He was very nervous; he stood against the door, the width of the room between them, his hands deep-thrust into his pockets so that he should not yield to his impulse to go across to her and take her into his arms. A deep pity for her surged into his heart. She was his wife, but she was only a child, and they were almost strangers.
"Peg has been very good to you—to all of us," he said, hoping to soften her. "I like your friend Peg," he added kindly.
Faith did not move or answer.
"I wanted to speak to you about the future," he went on desperately.
She raised her eyes then; such frightened eyes they were.
"My future has nothing to do with you," she said. "I can go my own way—I don't want any help."
He moved away from the door, dragged a chair up and sat down beside her.
"You're talking nonsense, and you know you are," he said very quietly. "You are my wife, and the law is on my side. I don't want to be harsh or unjust, but I can force you to come away with me this moment if I choose—not that I intend to," he added, meeting her terrified eyes, "because you are going to be a sensible little girl, and we are going to be very happy together. I want to do all I can for you. I want to give you everything in my power. I have found a school for the twins—a school where they will be well looked after and cared for, and ... Faith!"
She had started to her feet. She was shaking in every limb, her face white.
"You dare to try and take them away," she panted, fear of him swallowed up in her greater fear of losing the twins. "They belong to me! They are mine! They're all I've got in the world. I'll never let them go, never, never!" She broke down into violent sobbing. "Peg promised me she would help me keep them away from you. I suppose she's broken her word," she panted.
"Peg is a sensible woman," said Forrester shortly. With all his pity and affection for her, he was losing patience fast. He believed firmness was the best method of managing her, after all. He rose to his feet.
"I don't want to upset you, Faith, but we have had enough nonsense. The twins are going to school next week, and you are leaving this house and coming to live with me. I have arranged everything."
She wrung her hands.
"I will never live with you. I hate you. Mother hated you! You killed my father—you ruined his life."
She was only repeating parrot-like what she had always been told of the "bad man"; of the true facts of the story she knew nothing.
The Beggar Man turned very pale.
"I have heard something of this from your friend Peg," he said grimly. "Possibly it is true that through some business transaction I got the better of your father. But anyway it must have been years ago, and I never knew him personally. If they say all is fair in love and war, it's fair in business, too. He would have got the better of me if he had been able to do so, no doubt. Anyway, I mean to thrash the matter to the bottom, and let you know the exact truth, even if it goes against me to tell you. I may not be proud of everything that has happened in my life, but I'm not going to lie about it anyway.... Faith, stop crying!" His voice was harsh now, and Faith's tears dried as if by magic.
She looked so forlorn, so very young, and a sudden revulsion of feeling swept through the man's heart. He was already bitterly disappointed with his marriage. He had had such wonderful schemes for moulding his wife to his own ideas, and now he knew that he had been a fool to ever hope anything from such a gamble! But he was a fighter, and he had no intention of acknowledging defeat. He held out his hand to her.
"Come, Faith, be friends with me! You used to like me, you know," he added, with a faint smile. "And it's less than a month ago. A short time, surely."
She clasped her hands tightly in her lap, and her pretty voice sounded like steel when she spoke.
"I didn't know then that you were Ralph Scammel!—I didn't know then—that you killed my father."
It was a piteous exaggeration of the truth, and Forrester flushed to the roots of his hair, but he kept his temper admirably. He even managed a laugh as he turned to the door.
"Well, I'm not arguing with you now about it," he said hardily. "I'll say good-night."
When he had gone, Peg came in to Faith, and the younger girl broke down once more into pitiable weeping.
"He says he is sending the twins away; he says that I must go and live with him. You wouldn't, would you, Peg? You hate him, don't you?"
Peg did not answer. She stood looking out of the window with moody eyes, and then she said abruptly:
"I hate Scammel as Scammel, but—there's something about Nicholas Forrester, as Nicholas Forrester——" she paused. "Faith, do you know what I think?"
Faith shook her head. She was always tremendously influenced by Peg; she waited with breathless eagerness now for her words.
Peg fell into her favourite pose; hands on hips, head a little awry. "Well, I think that unless you're a little fool you'll do as he tells you," she said.
Faith stared at her friend with incredulous eyes. She had counted on her to the uttermost; she could not believe that at the eleventh hour Peg would fail her like this.
"Do as he tells me!" she gasped, helplessly. "After all you have said! Oh, what has happened to change you so! I thought you were my friend."
"You know I am," Peg said calmly. "Perhaps never more than I am now when I tell you to go back to him. What's the good of holding out? He's stronger than you, and the law's on his side."
The last was a phrase culled from one of her favourite novelettes, and she thought it applied admirably. If the truth must be told she was thoroughly enjoying herself. She considered this story of Faith's as good as anything that had been written and printed and sold by the thousand. Forrester was a very good type of hero, and Faith quite the timid, shrinking heroine beloved of the novelist. As yet she had not quite assigned a part to herself, but Peg had her head screwed on the right way, and she had no intention of breaking her friendship with Faith no matter what happened, or of letting her drift out of her life.
She went on in her clear, emphatic way.
"He's rich! He'll give you everything you want! He's fond of you, and the twins love him! What more do you want? Let the past be wiped out; that's what I say."
She went over to Faith and patted her shrinking shoulder.
"Cheer up, little 'un," she said, resorting to her usual slangy manner of speech, which she had dropped somewhat since she had seen so much of the Beggar Man. "It's a long lane that has no turning, you know. And it's lucky for you all that you've got a husband. If you think you could earn enough to keep yourself and those twins, bless 'em, you're mistaken. Why, they'd eat your week's wages in a couple of days and think nothing of it."
"I thought you were my friend," said Faith again helplessly. "And here you are driving me back to him. I should never have married him if I'd known what I know now. I'd rather have starved...."
"You've never tried starving," was Peg's unsympathetic response. "And you're talking silly. He's all right, as far as you know him, anyway, and what he does in business is neither here nor there, as you might say."
She considered Faith with meditative eyes; then suddenly she broke out: "Here! Will you go and live with him if he lets me come, too?"
Faith looked up with a faintly dawning hope, which faded quickly.
"He'd never let you," she said. "He wouldn't even have the twins."
"He was quite right there," Peg declared. "They'd be a nuisance. But I'm different. I could see to things for you and lend a hand in the house, too, if you like. I've a great mind to ask him—what do you say?"
"It wouldn't be so bad if you came."
"We could have a fine time," said Peg, her eyes glowing. Already she saw Forrester handing out money for her wardrobe as well as for his wife's. Already she saw herself driving in his car and turning into a lady. She was sure she could live up to the part; she had brains, even if her education had been poor; but she had not got that inherent something which had come to Faith from her father and which made all the difference between the two girls.
"Well," she insisted, "shall I ask him?"
"If you like; but he won't let you, I know."
Peg did not believe that; she believed that Forrester would be glad to have his wife on any terms. When next she saw him she approached the subject with easy confidence.
The Beggar Man listened to her quietly and courteously, and when she had finished he smiled a little—a smile that somehow made her uncomfortable.
"It's a kind suggestion," he said, "but not possible. We shall have to live in my flat for the present, Miss Fraser"—he was always most punctilious about addressing Peg as Miss Fraser—"and I am afraid there would not be room for you." He hesitated. It was in his mind to say that in the future the friendship between the two girls would have to cease, but in the face of all that Peg had done for him he could not utter the words.
"I hope Faith will see you often," he added helplessly, man-like, saying the very opposite to the thing he wished to say.
"Oh, I dare say she will," Peg said laconically. She was not in the least offended by his refusal. If this scheme failed, she had others to fall back upon. "I'm fond of Faith, you know," she added.
"I know," said the Beggar Man. "And you have been most kind. I shall never be able to thank you for what you have done for us both."
Peg said, "Oh, chuck it!" but she looked pleased.
She went back to Faith and told her that she had failed.
"Never mind, honey," she said, when she saw the girl's disappointment. "If at first you don't succeed, you know, try, try, try again, as they used to tell us in the copybooks; and I'm not done yet. You'll have to go off with him alone, and I'll come along later."
"I shall never go," said Faith.
It was curious how determinedly she stuck to that. Even Peg marvelled at her unexpected display of will-power. She did not understand how deeply ingrained in the girl's soul the failure and death of her father had been, or how the loss of her mother had reawakened and added to its power.
"You'll have to let the twins go, anyway," Peg said bluntly. "Why, it would be a crime to try and keep them, bless their hearts! After all the new frocks he's bought them, you ought to see!"
"I don't want to see them," said Faith passionately, the tears rushing to her eyes. "Nobody will ever love them as I do."
But she knew she was powerless to keep the twins with her. Mr. Shawyer came and talked to her about it. He pointed out kindly but firmly that her husband was their natural guardian now, as she herself was under age.
"He is doing and will do everything in his power for their happiness," he said. "He has been most kind and generous. It's all for the good of the little girls, too, and they are quite happy to go. Don't you think it's rather selfish of you to try and stand in their way?"
She gave in at last, but it almost broke her heart. She had got it into her head that if her mother could know, she would be angry with her for parting with them; all the more angry because it was Forrester who was paying for it all. Her mother had hated him, and Faith believed that therefore it was her duty to hate him also.
She broke down when it came to saying good-bye. There was a cab at the door, piled with the twins' new luggage, and Mrs. Shawyer was waiting to take them to school.
Up to the last moment they had been wildly excited and full of delight, but the sight of Faith's pale face and tears was a signal for them to give way also.
They clung to her sobbing and crying. They did not want to go, they yelled; they even kicked at Forrester when he picked them up one under each arm and carried them down to the waiting taxi.
He was annoyed with Faith for being the cause of such a scene. He went back to her when they had driven off, frowning heavily.
Faith was sobbing and looking out of the window in the direction in which the twins had disappeared—carried off by main force, so it seemed to her. She turned round and looked at her husband with flaming eyes.
"I'll never forgive you for this," she said. "It will break their hearts, poor darlings!"
"Nonsense!" he answered calmly. "Before they get into the next street they'll be perfectly happy. Mrs. Shawyer has a box of chocolates for them, and I never knew chocolates fail to dry their tears yet."
He smoothed his hair, which had got rather ruffled by the twins' struggles to escape him.
"Thank goodness that's over," he said with a short laugh. "Now I can look after you; I've arranged that we shall go to the flat this evening and dine there. There will be no need to come back to this house again."
The tone of his voice added, "Thank God," and Faith flushed sensitively.
"This house is good enough for me," she said quickly. "And I am not going to your flat."
"Silly child. I thought you liked it so much."
"I thought I did—then. I've changed my mind." She tried to pass him. "Please let me go; I want to speak to Peg."
The Beggar Man stood immovable.
"Peg is not in the house," he said quietly. "She is not coming back any more."
The colour drained from the girl's face; even her lips looked white, and the Beggar Man went on hurriedly and rather pathetically:
"It makes me terribly unhappy to see you like this. I had hoped such great things ... I was a fool, I suppose. Faith, have you forgotten those first days when we knew each other? You were happy enough then...."
She turned her face away obstinately.
"I did not know who you were then."
The Beggar Man shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, we won't argue about it. How soon can you be ready? Miss Fraser has packed all the things it will be necessary for you to take. I will send for a taxi if you will put on your hat and coat."
"I am not going; I am going to stay here."
He walked out of the room without a word, returning almost at once with her hat and coat. He laid them down beside her on the table.
"Put them on," he said quietly.
She looked up with scared eyes.
"Put them on," said the Beggar Man once again.
"No." Only a whisper this time.
He stooped and raised her to her feet. He held her arms firmly, so that it was impossible for her to escape him.
"I've tried all ways with you," he said, and his voice sounded a little laboured and difficult. "At least, I hope I have. I've made every allowance for you and tried to be patient. That was my mistake; I should have shown you first of all that I was your master. Faith—look at me!"
She had been standing with her head down-drooping, and he could feel how she trembled, but he did not soften.
"Look at me," he said again, and she looked up.
Her brown eyes met his—kind no longer, only stern and determined—and for a moment neither spoke. But in that silence something seemed to tell Faith how useless was her resistance, how truly he had spoken when he said that he was her master.
Then he let her go and stood back a pace.
"Now are you coming with me?" he asked.
She put on her hat and coat without a word, and she heard him go out into the hall and into the street and send a boy for a taxi.
When he came back she was standing apathetically by the table, looking round the room which she was never to see again.
She hated him because he was tearing her away from the only home she knew—hated him because her mother had hated him; the knowledge had quite killed the first immature affection she had felt for him, quite wiped out all the romance.
The Beggar Man stood for a moment in the doorway, looking at her, and there was a great longing in his heart to try and comfort her, to try and drive that look of desolation from her childish face, but he knew it was no moment for wavering.
"Are you ready?" he asked, and his pity made his voice harsh.
She followed him out of the house without another word or backward glance, but her heart felt as if it were breaking. She kept telling herself that this was her punishment for having deceived her mother. She wished she could fall down dead, as her mother had done.
Forrester only spoke to her once during the drive to his rooms, and that was when he leaned forward and forced her wedding ring back to her third finger.
"Don't you ever dare to take it off again," he said.
There was a little smile in his eyes as he spoke, but she only heard the masterfulness of his voice, and she shrank back as if he had struck her.
Dinner was waiting for them at the flat, as he had said, and there was a maid in attendance who looked with kindly interest at Faith as she took her to her room.
"May I take off your boots for you?" she asked, as Faith stood helplessly by the dressing-table. "You must be tired. I will bring some hot water, and when you have had dinner you will feel better."
Forrester had felt bound to tell her something of the circumstances of his unusual marriage, and she was deeply interested. She felt sorry for Faith, too. Possibly she could afford to be, seeing the generous salary which Forrester had offered her if she would stay with his wife and do everything in her power to help her and make her happy.
Faith looked at her with troubled eyes.
"Must I go down to dinner?"
The girl smiled kindly.
"I think you had better. Mr. Forrester will be disappointed if you do not."
"I don't care," said Faith.
But she went all the same, and managed to eat something.
The Beggar Man made her drink some wine, which brought a faint colour to her white cheeks.
She no longer looked round the room with interest or admiration; she felt like a creature at bay, captured against her will by this man.
When dinner was ended and cleared away Forrester drew up an armchair for her. "Sit down; I want to talk to you," he said.
But she stood where she was, with the chair between them.
He had meant to be kind and affectionate, but the antagonism in that one monosyllable dispersed all his good resolutions. He was sick of scenes, tired of being held at arms' length; reluctantly he had grown to see that this marriage had been the greatest mistake of his life, that he had been a fool to imagine he could mould this girl to his own wishes and desires, child as she seemed. There was a strong will in the slim, soft body which defied him.
With a swift movement he caught her in his arms. She gave a quick, frightened breath, but before she could speak he had kissed her lips—kissed the eyes that closed in terror before his, and the soft face that turned from him with such desperation.
She was a child in his arms, but though she could not escape from him, her lips felt like steel beneath his. He might break her body, but he could never bend her will. Through every nerve in his body he could feel that she hated and feared him, and at last with sullen anger and bitterness he let her go, so violently that she staggered and almost fell, catching at the table to save herself.
He waited, pale to the lips and breathless, for the storm of sobbing which he thought would come, but though she put up her shaking hands to hide her face and the crimson patches left by the roughness of his kisses, she did not shed a tear. She only said over and over again in a broken-hearted little whisper, "Oh, mother—mother ... mother...."
"Faith!" The Beggar Man took a quick step towards her. "Faith! Oh, for God's sake...." But he did not touch her, and for a long moment there was silence. Then she looked up at him, haggard-eyed and piteous.
"Oh, please—please go away."
"Faith——" But she only shook her head, and he turned and went out of the room, shutting the door behind him....
There followed a terrible week of scenes and tears and defiance and pleading; Forrester suffered every emotion by turn at her hands. He tried indifference, firmness, kindness,—they all failed him, and the only way left to him—brute force—he would not try.
And then one evening as Peg was walking home from the factory, deeply engrossed in the last chapter of a new novelette, someone spoke her name.
"Miss Fraser!" She looked up, startled, dragging herself from the ardent words of the Honourable Fitzmaurice Arlington, to find the Beggar Man beside her.
"You!" she said blankly. Then with quick suspicion, "Is Faith ill?"
"Yes—no! At least ... Oh, God only knows." He laughed mirthlessly. "I've come to ask if your offer is still open," he went on bitterly. "I mean—will you come and stay with us in my flat? Live with us if you like. Anything, if you'll only come. Will you?"
Peg stuffed the novelette into a pocket; the story of the Honourable Fitzmaurice Arlington suddenly paled beside this real-life romance.
A beatific smile overspread her handsome face.
"Will I come?" she echoed. "Well, I should say so!"
By bringing Peg Fraser to the flat the Beggar Man acknowledged his defeat.
If he had not been so sure of Faith's hatred he might have tried harder to overcome her prejudices, but he felt that hatred was an active force through which success was impossible.
He said as much to Mr. Shawyer.
"I've been a fool, I know! I suppose the whole thing was bound to be a failure from the start, but she seemed to like me...." He shrugged his shoulders. "What's the best thing to do?" he asked.
Mr. Shawyer hesitated. He was disappointed over this marriage himself. He admired Forrester intensely, and had looked to him to carry through successfully a thing which he was sure must have failed dismally in the hands of a weaker man.
"She'll change her mind," he said after a moment. "Women always do if you give them time. Her mother's death was a great shock to her, of course."
"I've made every allowance for that."
"Then taking her sisters away so soon...." said Mr. Shawyer tentatively.
Forrester made an angry gesture.
"I did it for the best. She knows that, and it will prove for the best. How in God's name was she going to look after them and provide for them?"
"I know all that, but perhaps if you had left them with her for a little longer...."
"The longer they had been together the harder the parting would have seemed. However, it's done, and I'm not going to undo it. Have you found out anything yet about this story of her father?"
Mr. Shawyer looked away from his client's anxious eyes as he answered.
"I have. Unfortunately, it's true! You remember that deal, five years ago it was, when a syndicate was formed to knock out the smaller manufacturers who would not sell to Heeler's?"
"Your wife's father was one of the small men who held out against you and was ruined."
Forrester laughed mirthlessly.
"It's the devil's luck; but how was I to know? Women are all unreasonable."
Mr. Shawyer did not answer, and Forrester went on:
"My wife has that Miss Fraser with her now, and mighty uncomfortable it is, too. She's as good as gold, but a rough diamond, and I wanted to get Faith away from the class she's been forced to mix with for the past five years. It looks as if she's going to beat me in that, too," he added, grimly.
"And are you all living at the flat?"
"Yes, for the present. I've taken a house at Hampstead, and we shall move there as soon as it's ready—in a week or two, I hope." He paced the length of the office and back again. "If it didn't look so much like running away, I'd make a settlement on my wife and clear off abroad," he said, shortly.
"I shouldn't do that," said Mr. Shawyer. "She's young. Give her another chance; be patient for a little while."
"Patience was never a virtue of mine," said the Beggar Man, grimly. "And, dash it all! What sort of a life is it for me, do you think? I'm not married at all, except that I'm paying; not that I mind the money."
"Well, wait a little longer," the elder man urged again. "It's early days yet, and you never know what will happen."
"I know what won't happen, though," said Forrester grimly.
He went back to the flat disconsolately. He heard Peg laughing as he let himself in, and the silence that fell as soon as his steps sounded in the passage.
The two girls were together in the sitting-room with which Faith had been so delighted when she first visited it, but it was Peg who greeted him as he entered.
She had made herself quite at home, and, in spite of a certain bluntness and vulgarity of which she would never rid herself as long as she lived, she seemed to have improved.
She was dressed more quietly and her hair was neater, but she still wore the gipsy earrings which Forrester hated so much.
She had been living in the flat a fortnight then—a year it seemed to Forrester. And he wondered, as he looked at his wife, why it was that, with each day, the gulf between them seemed to widen.
He smiled rather pathetically as her eyes met his.
"I've been thinking," he said. "What about a run down to see the twins? I'll take you in the car."
Twenty times a day he made up his mind that he would start all over again to win Faith back to him, but though she was friendly up to a certain point, he could never get beyond that point, or even back to the footing which had promised so happily for the future during the first days of their acquaintance.
Her face brightened wonderfully now at the suggestion and she clasped her hands eagerly.
"Oh, will you? How lovely!"
"We'll go directly after lunch," Forrester said, and looked at Peg. "Will you come, Miss Fraser?"
Peg shrugged her shoulders.
"You don't want me," she said. "Two's company, and three's a crowd. I've got a story to finish, too."
"Another novelette?" Forrester asked, cynically. Most of the rooms in the flat were littered with Peg's paper-backed library, and he hated the sight of them. He had made such different plans for his future. He had meant to introduce Faith to his own friends and gradually initiate her into their mode of living, but so far there had been no opportunity. Peg ruled the flat serenely, and, though she certainly never suggested bringing her own relations or acquaintances there, her mere presence prevented Forrester from doing as he wished.
"I'd much rather you came," Faith said quickly, but Peg only laughed.
"Then I'm not coming, so there's an end of it!"
She stuck to that, and early in the afternoon Faith and her husband drove away together. It was almost the first time they had been out without Peg since they came to live at the flat, and Forrester knew quite well that it was only the desire to see her sisters that had persuaded Faith to accompany him now.
He glanced down at her with a grim smile. She was looking better than he had seen her since her mother's death. There was a flush in her cheeks and her eyes were bright, but her thoughts were far away from him, it seemed, for she started when he spoke to her.
"I've found out about your father," he began curtly. It was not in his nature to be a tactician, and he knew that his blunt reference to the trouble between them hurt her; but he went on doggedly:
"It's true enough. He failed owing to a syndicate formed by me, but, as far as I can remember, I personally never heard his name or saw him." He waited, surprised at himself because he was hoping so desperately for a kind word or a little smile, but Faith only said "Yes," and kept her eyes steadily ahead.
"If you understood business," he went on, "you'd see that I am not to blame at all. Don't think I'm trying to shield myself, but I like fair play."
"Yes," said Faith again. Then she added, with a little nervous tremble in her voice, "I loved my father."
The Beggar Man laughed.
"And you don't love me, you mean! I'm quite aware of that."
She did not say any more, and they drove the rest of the way in silence.
The twins were playing in the school grounds when they reached the house, and Faith paced up and down the drawing-room in a fever of impatience while they were fetched. The head mistress was talking to Forrester. She was sure the children were quite happy, she said. They were certainly very good. "They were always good at home," Faith said, passionately, forgetting how many times a day they had quarrelled and slapped one another, and screamed and cried and nearly worried poor Mrs. Ledley to death. But time had lent a glamour of glory to most things now, and Faith could never think of her life at home without a dreary feeling of heart-sickness.
And then the twins came, and she caught her breath with a cry of wonderment, for she hardly recognized them in the healthy, well-dressed children who came demurely forward, hand in hand.
"Darlings—oh, darlings!" said Faith.
She went down on her knees and put her arms round them, kissing them rapturously.
"You haven't forgotten me? Of course, you haven't forgotten me?"
The twins returned her kisses warmly enough, and then held away a little to ask: "Have you brought us any chocolates?"
Faith's face fell. She had forgotten the chocolates! Oh, how could she have been so selfish?
"I've got some," said Forrester cheerfully, and the twins deserted their sister to fall upon him with rapture.
Afterwards they went round the garden and were introduced to the other children and shown the schoolroom. Then they all had tea together in the drawing-room and then ... Forrester looked at his watch.
"We ought to be getting back, Faith," he said.
Faith looked hurriedly at the twins. She was so sure they would cry and make a scene, and cling to her and beg to be taken away. If the truth must be told, she was hoping that they would. But neither of them seemed to mind in the least.
"When will you come again?" was all they asked, and Faith, nearly choking with disappointment, answered that she would come soon, quite soon.
"And are you happy here, really happy?" she asked them each in turn when for a moment they were alone, and each twin answered like an echo of the other, "It's lovely!"
"They've forgotten me, you see," Faith said bitterly to Forrester as they drove away and a bend in the road hid the last glimpse of the two small figures at the gate. "They don't want me any more. Nobody wants me."
The Beggar Man's hand tightened on the steering-wheel.
"I'm not so small that there's any excuse for you to forget me so completely," he said dryly. "I'm here—waiting to be wanted."
Faith did not answer, but that night when she and Peg were brushing their hair together in Faith's room she repeated his words.
"As if I shall ever want him?" she said scornfully.
Peg dragged a tangle from her thick hair with a little vicious gesture.
"There's plenty worse," she said mechanically.
Faith tried hard to see her friend's face, but it was hidden by the mop of hair hanging about it.
"You've altered your opinion of him then," she said offendedly. "Sometimes I believe you really like him."
"He's been very decent to me, anyway," Peg answered brusquely. "And it's a pretty rotten game for him, paying out for us all the time, and not a ha'porth of thanks, or anything! How'd you like it?"
"I never thought you were a turn-coat," Faith said shortly.
She cried herself to sleep. Everyone was against her. The twins had forgotten her, and now Peg was condemning her ... life was a hateful thing.
Forrester came into the flat a day or two later and found Peg there alone. He was tired and depressed, and answered her cheery greeting shortly.
She knew that his eyes wandered round the room in search of his wife, though he asked no questions, and Peg said:
"Faith's gone out. She'll be in directly." She paused, then added: "I didn't go with her, because I wanted to speak to you—alone!"
The last word was given with dramatic effect, and Forrester smiled faintly.
"Well—what is it?"
Peg was standing over by the window, and she turned round with a swift movement as she said:
"Look here! Do you want me to go?"
"Go?" He was too surprised to do anything but echo her words.
"Yes." The colour deepened in her cheeks, but her eyes met his without flinching. "I know it's been unpleasant for you, all these weeks," she went on deliberately. "I know you'd much rather be alone with Faith, so if you'll say the word I'll go, and no complaints."
There was a little silence, then Forrester said slowly:
"I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that if you go, Miss Fraser, Faith will probably go too."
"Is that what she says?"
"Well, don't take any notice of her. She's a silly kid; she says lots of things she doesn't really mean." She came across the room and stood beside him. "Look here; it's partly me who's to blame for her being so unkind to you," she went on bluntly. "I told her you were Ralph Scammel. I told her that you were a selfish brute, and that you made us work as we did to get money for you." For the first time her eyes fell, as she added: "You needn't believe me, but I've often been sick about that—since!"
"You need not be. It's more or less true. I am selfish, and I am Ralph Scammel, and I did work you and hundreds of other girls like you, to make money for me."
"You're not a bit selfish," Peg said almost violently. "Look how good you've been to us! Took us from nothing, as you might say——"
"Oh—please!" Forrester stopped her in embarrassment. "I shall think you're going to ask me a favour if you say such kind things," he protested, half in fun.
"Well, then, I'm not," Peg declared. "But I'm going to ask you a question, all the same."
"What is it?"
"If I wasn't here, would you have your own friends to the flat? Oh, you needn't make excuses! I know I'm not so good as Faith! I knew it the first time I ever saw her! I used to tell her that she'd got no right to be at Heeler's. I know she's got something in her that I can't ever have, because her father was a gentleman, I suppose, and mine wasn't. So if you say the word, I'll pack up right away and be off! I can't say fairer than that, can I?"
There was a little silence. Then suddenly Forrester held out his hand.
"You're a brick—a real brick!" he said. "And—and—I shall be grateful to you if you will stay, Miss Fraser."
Peg gripped his hand hard.
"Oh, I'll stay, if you mean it," she said. She spoke rather loudly in order to hide her real emotion, and turning quickly away began to talk hurriedly on some other subject. But later, when Forrester had gone from the room, she darted across to where he had thrown his coat down on a chair, and snatching it up, pressed her lips to it.
"If you cared for me, as you do for her," she said, in a fierce little whisper, and then bitterly: "Oh, she's a fool—a blind little fool!"
The house at Hampstead was ready at the end of August, and Peg moved to it from the flat with Forrester and his wife.
She and Faith were like a couple of children getting the house in order; Peg had not much taste, and she adored bright colours. She would have had a rainbow drawing-room if it had been left for her to decide, but Faith was determined to be mistress in her own house as far as its arrangement went, and on that subject she and her husband were for once agreed.
It was rather a charming house, with a long garden, shut in by a high wall, and the first night they were established there Faith found Peg leaning out of her bedroom window, which overlooked it, her elbows resting on the stone sill, and a look of gloomy despondency in her handsome eyes.
Faith slipped an arm round her.
"What's the matter, Peg?" she asked. She was very fond of Peg and quick to recognize her varying moods. Peg answered gruffly, without her usual cheeriness.
"I'm fed up! I don't belong here! What right have I got to be in a house like this, and sleeping in a room like this?"
She turned round sharply, her blue eyes taking in every detail of the expensively furnished room behind them.
She had chosen its wallpaper herself, which was too bright, and a mass of extraordinary looking birds. She had chosen the carpet, too, which was a curious mixture of greens and yellows, with a satin quilt on the bed to match.
The furniture was white enamel, and both the big chairs in the room had a brilliant cushion of peacock green.
"It looks—uncommon," so Faith had said slowly, when she was first introduced to the finished result, but neither she nor the Beggar Man really liked it, as Peg had been quick to perceive.
"At any rate, I've got to sleep in it, and nobody else," she said in defiance.
"And she ought to have nightmare every night," so Forrester remarked afterwards rather grimly to his wife. "Good gracious, what taste! It shouts at one!"
Faith had defended Peg then, but she knew he was right, and she understood quite well now what Peg meant when she said she knew that she did not belong to the house.
"But it's all nonsense," she declared warmly. "I love you. I should hate the house without you."
Peg stooped and kissed her gratefully.
"You're a nice little kid," she said with a sigh. "But—it's true all the same what I say. I don't belong. If I wasn't here you'd be living quite a different life, you and Mr. Forrester. He'd be asking his friends to the house, and you'd be giving dinner-parties. But you don't because I'm here, and he's afraid I shall shock them."
"As if it matters what he's afraid of," Faith said sharply, but in her heart she knew that Peg was right; knew that, no matter how good and warm-hearted she might be, Peg grated on the Beggar Man forty times a day.
Over and over again Faith had seen him frown and turn away at one of Peg's slangy terms, just as she had seen him frown that day when she had told him that the facts of her marriage were like a novelette, and she had substituted "fairy story" instead.
Odd that then she had been so willing and anxious to please him, and that now she never considered him at all.
Peg seemed to guess something of her thoughts, for she caught her by the arm, twisting her round so that they were face to face.
"Look here," she said. "How long's it going on like this?"
The bright colour rushed to Faith's cheeks.
"What do you mean?"
"You know quite well what I mean," Peg said bluntly. "I mean how long is that husband of yours going to go on calmly paying out for you and me to live here, and have everything we want in the world, and get nothing in return? He's soft to do it, that's what I think. Either soft or an angel," she added. "And, after all, that's pretty much the same thing, isn't it?"
Faith laughed nervously.
"You do say such queer things," she objected.
"So I may do," Peg agreed, "but I'm not a fool, and neither is he; and as he's Ralph Scammel, and a good business man as well, he's not doing all this just to please us, and don't you forget it. There's some reason for it all."
"What do you mean?" But Faith spoke uneasily and looked away.
"I mean," said Peg bluntly, "that he's in love with one of us." She looked at Faith with sharp eyes. "A man never spends heaps of money on a woman for nothing. And as there's nothing to be got out of us, he's in love with one of us, and I don't flatter myself that it's me."
She waited, but Faith made no reply. She did not like Peg when she was in such serious moods, and lately Peg was often serious.
"Of course, I know you don't care two hoots about him," she went on. "Anyone with half an eye could see that! Not two hoots you don't care for him, but all the same I like to see fair play, and it's up to you to make things more comfortable for him after all he's done for you and me."
"What can I do? He's never here. He's just like a stranger," Faith objected.
"Which is what you wanted him to be, isn't it?" Peg asked innocently. "You're not complaining about that, are you? No! Well, then, what about it?"
Faith laughed, not very convincingly.
"He's master in his own house," she said. "It's his money; he need not spend any money on me if he does not want to. I am quite willing to go back to the factory and work. I told him so. I'd go back to-morrow."
Peg grinned. "Would you?" she said. "I know you wouldn't, after living here all these weeks and having servants to wait on you and pretty frocks to wear and scrumptious food to eat. I'll bet you wouldn't, so own up and be honest."
"Well, what do you expect me to do?" she asked rather crossly. "I suppose this is all leading up to something, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. You've got to play fair. You've got to let him bring his friends here and entertain them for him like other men's wives do. Where do you suppose he goes every evening when he has dinner out, and in the daytime when he has his lunch out? Well, he's being entertained by his friends and their wives, of course."
Faith looked up quickly. It had never occurred to her to wonder where Forrester spent his time when he was not at home.
"Well, I suppose he likes it," she said defensively.
"Likes it!" There was a world of scorn in Peg's voice. She turned again to her moody contemplation of the garden.
"Do you know what I'd do if I was his wife?" she asked. "Well, I'd make it so jolly nice for him here at home that he'd never want to go out to his other friends and their wives. I'd let him see that I could entertain every bit as properly as they can. I'd...."
"You've changed, haven't you?" Faith said bitterly. "It's only two months ago that you were calling him every name you could think of, and telling me that I was a fool to have married him."
"I know I was," Peg admitted calmly, though she flushed. "And I think p'raps I was the fool, after all."
She turned again suddenly.
"Faith, why do you call him the 'Beggar Man'? You've done it once or twice lately."
"Have I?" Faith did not raise her eyes. "Well, he really gave himself the name," she explained reluctantly. "It was—was the first time I met him—he asked if I'd got any people, and I said yes—I told him about—about mother and the twins...." She caught her breath with a long sigh. What years and years ago now it all seemed! "And he said that—that I was richer than he, because I'd got people to love me, and that he'd got only money. He said that I was Queen ... Queen somebody or other, and he was the Beggar Man. It was a fairy story or something, I think—he said he'd tell me about it some day ... but he hasn't."
She looked past Peg to the silent garden. It hurt somehow to speak of that day so long ago now, and remember how different Forrester had seemed then to what he did now. Did she seem different to him, too? she wondered.
"I've read the story," Peg said triumphantly. "It was King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid. He married her and made her his queen, and took her to share his golden throne with him, and all the courtiers came and knelt before her and kissed her hand." She was off again, lost in the realms of her romantic, novel-fed soul.
Faith gave a curt little laugh.
"Well, nobody has knelt before me and kissed my hand, if that's what you mean," she said.
Peg stared at her.
"I know somebody who'd like to kiss you—if you'd let him," she said shrewdly. "And——" She broke off as the maid knocked at the door.
"There's a gentleman for the master, please, ma'am—a Mr. Digby," she said to Faith. "He's come a long way to see him he says, and that if he might wait he'd be glad, as it's very important." She hesitated. She knew how shy Faith was, and how as a rule she avoided seeing anybody. "He asked if I thought you would see him," she added.
Peg gave Faith a nudge.
"See him? Of course you will," she said in a stage whisper.
Faith coloured. "I can't—I...."
Peg came forward.
"Well, shall I see him for you?" But Faith was not going to allow this. After all, she was Forrester's wife and mistress of the house.
"I'll see him myself," she said.
Peg smiled, well pleased, and presently Faith went slowly down the stairs, with a nervously beating heart, and pushed open the closed drawing-room door.
A man was standing by the window looking into the garden; he was a rather short, thick-set man, and he turned eagerly as Faith entered.
"Mrs. Forrester?" he asked. "Well, I am glad to meet you. I've known Nicholas all my life, or for a good part of it," he explained in a rather young and charming voice. "We were abroad together for some years, so, of course, he was the first person I looked up when I got over here." He wrung her hand in a bear-like grip. "So the old boy's married," he went on. "Well, I'm delighted, and though I know it's not the right thing to do, I'm going to congratulate you instead of him, Mrs. Forrester. You've got one of the best."
Faith smiled nervously.
"You're very kind," she said. "He—he's out, but—but if you'll wait I'm sure he won't be long."
"I'm sure he won't, too," the man said laughing. "With a home like this to come to, and a wife...." His eyes rested admiringly on her face. "But Nicholas was always one of the lucky ones."
He was very friendly and unaffected, and Faith was surprised because she did not feel less at her ease, but she wished Peg would come down; Peg could always be relied upon to chip in and keep the ball of conversation going. She was wondering whether to fetch her when the door opened and Forrester himself walked in.
"Digby! Jove, I am glad to see you." The two men gripped hands and thumped one another on the back like delighted schoolboys. Faith had never seen her husband look so pleased before. She felt the slightest pang of envy and unwantedness as she stood there, forgotten for the moment, as they laughed and talked and questioned one another as to the happenings of the years since they had last met.
"And you'll stay with me, of course?" Forrester said. "I'd take it as a deadly insult if you went anywhere else. I——" He suddenly remembered Faith and turned to her. "My wife will be delighted to welcome you, I'm sure," he said rather formally.
"Mrs. Forrester has been most kind," Digby said. He slapped his friend on the back again heartily. "Lucky dog! All the good things of life fall your way."
The Beggar Man laughed.
"That is a compliment for you, Faith," he said.
Afterwards when for a moment they were alone he questioned her rather anxiously.
"You don't mind him staying here? He's my best friend, and we haven't met for years! He won't be any trouble. He's a fine chap!"
"Of course I don't mind." She avoided his eyes. "Peg was giving me a lecture only this evening about you! She said I did nothing for you in return for all you've done for us. She said that I ought to entertain your friends." She laughed rather sadly. "You know I can't do anything like that properly, don't you?"
A little gleam crept into his eyes.
"You could do all that I want in that way," he said. "But it's not Peg's place to lecture you," he added hardily.
Faith rushed to Peg's defence.
"She meant it so awfully well. She's always sticking up for you. She says that she likes fair play...." She paused. "So do I," she added with difficulty. "And—and I'm afraid I haven't played fair since—since—well, you know."
There was a little silence. The Beggar Man's eyes never left her face, and there was a queer, hungry look in their blueness.
"You're not—I suppose you're not trying to tell me that—that you don't hate me so much—after all, eh?" he asked with an effort.
She drew back a step in alarm.
"I am only trying to tell you that—that I know how much you've done for us all, and that if there was anything—any little thing I could do to please you ..." She faltered and stopped.
There was an eloquent silence.
"Well—I should like you to kiss me," Forrester said bluntly. He paused. "Or is that too big a thing to ask?" for Faith had put out protesting hands, and he laughed.
"It's too much, eh? Oh, all right! Don't bother!" He passed her without another word and walked out of the room whistling.
They had quite a merry evening.
"Anyone would think Mr. Digby had known us all for years and years," Peg said afterwards to Faith as the girls went up to bed together. "I like him awfully, don't you?"
Faith nodded, "Yes." She did like him, but all the evening she had felt vaguely uncomfortable, conscious of his eyes upon her.
"I wonder how long he means to stay," she hazarded.
"The longer the better," Peg declared bluntly. "If he's here Mr. Forrester will have to be at home." And then, as if scared by some possible admission in her words, she added, "It makes it so much more lively...."
Downstairs a little silence had followed the girls' departure, which Peter Digby broke with a half-sigh.
"Wish I was married," he said laconically. "I've been looking for a girl like your wife for the last ten years, Nick!"
"There are plenty of girls in the world," he said.
"Yes, but not the right sort," Digby objected. "Where did you meet her?"
Forrester coloured slightly.
"Oh, it's a long story. I'll tell you some other time." And to change the subject he asked, "What do you think of Peg—Miss Fraser?"
"Handsome girl," he said at last. "Very different to Mrs. Forrester. Bit of a rough diamond I should think, if you won't be offended with me for saying so."
The Beggar Man was lighting a cigarette. He blew a big puff of smoke into the air before he answered with deep earnestness: "She's a rough diamond as you say, but I admire and respect her more than any woman I know. She's got a heart of gold."
Peter Digby seemed to begin a new chapter of life for the entire household. He took it for granted, whether intentionally or in ignorance, that his friend's marriage was a normal one, and proceeded to organize amusements and means of enjoying his stay with them to the full.
He booked theatre seats and arranged dinners, and refused to listen when Forrester protested.
"My dear chap!" he said, "I've got plenty of money, and I'm going to enjoy myself in my own way. I landed myself on you, and as I don't suppose you'll allow me to pay for my board and lodging I'm going to get my own back by taking the girls about as much as I can. Hang it all, I've never enjoyed anything so much in my life. What's the matter with you, you old bear?"
Forrester laughed and shrugged his shoulders. He had been quick enough to see that both Faith and Peg had unanimously taken his friend to their hearts, and were having every bit as good a time with him as he was with them. Faith had never looked so well or so happy. The colour had come back to her cheeks and her eyes danced. She always seemed happy and light-hearted, and it gave the Beggar Man a stab of pain to know that Peter Digby had succeeded where he himself had so completely failed.
After the first few days he began to excuse himself from accompanying them on their pleasure trips. He was busy. He had a great deal to see to, so he said when Digby called him a slacker. In a sense it was true, for things at Heeler's were not going particularly well, and there had lately been a good deal of unrest amongst his workpeople.
Forrester kept all his worries to himself, and by doing so doubled his burden. There is nothing so hard to carry as a trouble unshared, but there was nobody in whom he could confide.
He had aged years since his marriage, and his hair was plentifully sprinkled with grey.
Peg alone noticed the change in him. There was very little that escaped her sharp eyes.
One day she walked boldly into his study and tackled him in her usual direct way.
"Mr. Forrester, why aren't you coming with us to-day?"
Peter Digby could drive Forrester's car, and had arranged to take the two girls for a long run into the country, and the Beggar Man had excused himself on the score of "work."
He was poring over a pile of papers when Peg opened the door and walked in.
"Why aren't you coming with us to-day?" she demanded.
She stood on the opposite side of his writing table, looking at his tired face with a wonderful softening in her eyes.
She was dressed for the drive, and looked rather like a handsome bird of Paradise in her bright green veil and red motor coat.
She still wore the swinging gipsy earrings, but lately they had somehow ceased to annoy Forrester; or perhaps he was beginning to realize that, after all, trifles count very little in the sum total of things.
He looked up at her with a pucker between his eyes.
"I told you—I'm too busy to come," he answered.
"I know that's what you said, but it's only an excuse, isn't it?" she asked bluntly.
Forrester smiled. "I don't think it's worth arguing about, anyway," he said.
"Don't you? Well, I do," said Peg. She went back and shut the door, which was on the jar only, and came again to stand beside him.
"There's none so blind as those who won't see," she said with seeming irrelevance.
Forrester laid down his pen and half turned in his chair.
"What do you mean?" he asked quietly.
Peg coloured a little, but her eyes met his steadily.
"I mean that you ought to look after your wife yourself," she said. There was no mistaking her meaning, and Forrester made no attempt to do so.
There was a little silence; then he laughed shortly.
"And supposing my wife refuses to allow me to look after her?" he asked.
Peg shrugged her shoulders impatiently.
"What's the good of being a big, strong man like you if you can't master one little slip of a girl?" she said.
The Beggar Man coloured.
"I've said all that to myself scores of times," he answered frankly; "but it's not in me to bully any woman. I thought it was; I know better now." He looked up at her deprecatingly. "You've been honest with me," he said, "and I'll be honest with you. My marriage is the biggest mistake of my life, and I've made a few in my time. If—if Faith wishes to be free of me, well——"
Peg pulled at the strings of her gaudy veil as if they were choking her.
"Oh, she's a fool—a silly little fool!" she cried bitterly. "Sometimes I can hardly keep my hands off her when I see——" She broke off, her passion dying away as quickly as it had arisen. "I beg your pardon," she said bluntly.
There was an eloquent silence; then she broke out again with a most strange humility:
"Mr. Forrester, come with us to-day. Please come with us."
Forrester knew Peg well enough to know also that there was some deep reason for her request, and, in spite of what he had just said, his heart contracted with a fierce pain as he thought of the rapidly-growing friendship between his wife and Digby.
"Please," said Peg again, and impulsively she laid her hand on his shoulder.
The Beggar Man looked down at her firm, strong fingers irresolutely. Then suddenly he lifted his hand and covered them with a warm pressure.
"Very well, but it's only because you have asked me," he said.
He rose and began pushing the pile of papers away into a drawer, and Peg walked out of the room, her head drooping, her face quivering.
She met Faith in the hall.
"I've been looking for you everywhere," the younger girl said. "Where have you been? Mr. Digby's been ready to start ever so long."
"I know. I was talking to Mr. Forrester," Peg answered defiantly.
Faith glanced towards the closed study door.
"I suppose I'd better go and say good-bye to him," she said with faint nervousness.
"You needn't trouble. He's coming, after all."
Faith's eyes widened.
"Coming with us? He said he couldn't!"
"I know. I made him change his mind."
She walked to the open front door and looked at the waiting car. Digby was standing beside it.
"Are you ready, Miss Fraser?" he asked with a touch of impatience.
"We're waiting for Mr. Forrester," Peg said casually. "He's coming, after all."
She was not slow to see the swift shadow of disappointment that crossed his face, though he said heartily enough:
"Changed his mind, has he? Good!"
"Yes; I persuaded him," Peg said laconically.
She was fully aware that Faith was close beside her, and it gave her a fierce sort of joy to know that the girl's eyes were turned upon her with the faintest shadow of suspicion in them.
When Forrester appeared Peg called to him quickly.
"Come and sit next to me, Mr. Forrester. The back seat's the most comfortable."
Faith's lips moved as if she would have spoken, but she closed them again and took her place beside Digby without comment.
Not one of the four could have said that the day was enjoyable. There was an intangible something in the air which they all could feel but none of them explain.
They drove into the heart of the country and lunched at a wayside inn. Faith was very quiet, and she kept glancing at Peg and her husband with scared eyes.
Afterwards, when they went out into the woods in their wonderful autumn tints, she found herself with Digby, and, looking quickly round, saw that her husband and Peg were some little distance behind, sauntering along leisurely and apparently the best of friends.
She could hear Forrester's deep voice and Peg's rather loud laugh, and a queer sense of unwantedness crept into her heart.
"A penny for your thoughts!" Digby said, touching her arm, and she started and smiled and said they were not worth anything.
"It would be a penny badly invested," she said with an effort at lightness.
Digby looked down at her and swiftly away again. He knew quite well that it was for this girl that he lingered so long in his friend's house, and there was bitterest envy in his heart.
Forrester had always been lucky. The best of this world's goods had always gone his way.
He had envied him for his business capabilities and gift of making money, but he envied him more now because he had this girl for his wife.
"Aren't the woods lovely?" Faith asked, with an effort to break the silence. "I've never seen anything quite so lovely."
"You must get Forrester to take you abroad," Digby said, stifling a sigh. "Have you ever been out of England?"
"Always lived in London?"
"You haven't really begun to live yet, then," he told her.
Their eyes met, and there was a queer, wistful look in the man's that brought the colour rushing to Faith's cheeks, though she hardly knew why. She stopped dead and looked back through the leafy wood.
"Shall we wait for the others?" she asked nervously.
It was some seconds before Peg and Forrester joined them.
"Mrs. Forrester tells me that she has never been out of England," Digby said. "And I tell her that if that is so she has not yet begun to live! London's all right—finest place in the world, bar none, but to appreciate it properly you ought to go away from it for months."
"I hate London," Faith said impulsively.
He opened his eyes in amazement.
"Really! What part have you lived in?"
Faith coloured and did not answer, but Peg broke in in her usual blunt way:
"Poplar. That's where she lived till she got married. I lived there, too. It's a frightful hole! No wonder she hates London; you would if you'd seen the rotten side of it as we have."
Faith glanced quickly at her husband. She was so sure that he would be angry with Peg for her frankness, but to her surprise he was smiling.