"But—but, I am afraid, Shotover, you mean me to understand there is some impediment?" Lady Constance repeated.
"Oh! well, hang it all, I'm awfully sorry, but if you are determined to have it, Connie, perhaps there is. Only for heaven's sake don't be in too much of a hurry. Between ourselves, I happen to know the boy's doing his best to shake himself free in an honourable manner. So don't rush the business. Like the dear tender-hearted creature you are, have a little mercy on the poor beggar. Let the whole affair drift a little. It may straighten out."
Lady Constance meditated for a minute or so.
"It's very dreadful that there should be any impediment," she said.
"I'll back Alaric to agree with you there," Lord Fallowfeild answered.
"You'll do what you can, Shotover, won't you, to help Kathleen? I never forget how you helped me once!"
Lord Fallowfeild's handsome face expressed rather broad amusement.
"I'm afraid the two cases are hardly parallel, my dear," he said.
"The play's on the other side, the crowd's on the other side, all the fun's on the other side, and I am on this side with nothing more lively than you, you little shivering idiot, for company."
Poppy St. John drew the spaniel's long silky ears through her fingers slowly.
"I am bored, Cappadocia," she said, with a yawn which she made not the slightest effort to stifle, "bored right through to my very marrow. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, how I do wish something would happen!"
Poppy sat, propped up with scarlet silk cushions, in a cane deck-chair, on the white-railed balcony upon which the first-floor bedroom windows opened. Around her were strewn illustrated magazines and ladies' papers; but unfortunately the stories in the former appeared to her every bit as silly as the fashion-plates in the latter. Both had equally little to do with life as the ordinary flesh and blood human being lives it. She was filled with a rebellious sense of the banality of her surroundings this afternoon. Even from her coign of vantage upon the balcony, whence wide prospects disclosed themselves, everything looked foolish, pointless, of the nature of an unpardonably stale joke.
The said balcony, divided into separate compartments by the interposition of wooden barriers, extended the whole length of the terrace of twenty- seven houses. And these were all precisely alike, with white wood and stucco "enrichments," as the technical phrase has it. Cheap stained and leaded glass adorned the upper panels of the twenty-seven front doors, which were approached by twenty-seven flights of steps—thus securing a measure of light and air to the twenty-seven basements. The front doors were set in couples, alternating with couples of bay windows. There was a determination of cheap smartness, a smirking self-consciousness about the little houses, a suggestion of having put on their best frocks and high- heeled shoes and standing very much on tiptoe to attract attention. The balconies, narrow where the upper bays encroached on them, wide where the house fronts were recessed above the twin front doors, broke forth into a garland of flower-boxes. Cascades of pink ivy-leaf geranium, creeping- jenny, and nasturtiums backed by white or yellow Paris daisies, flowed outward between the white ballusters and masked the edge of the woodwork. The effect, though pretty, was not quite satisfactory—being suggestive of millinery, of an over-trimmed summer hat.
Immediately below was the roadway, bordered by an asphalt pavement on either side, then the high impenetrable oak paling, which had baffled Dominic Iglesias' maiden effort at participation in the amusements of the rich. From Poppy's balcony, however, the palings offered no impediment to observation. All the green expanse of the smaller polo-ground was visible. So was the whole height of the grove of majestic elms on the right and the back of the club house; and, and the left, between massifs of shrubbery, a vista of lawns sloping towards the river peopled by a sauntering crowd.
It was upon this last that Poppy directed her gaze. To the naked eye the units composing it showed as vertical lines of grey, brown, and black, blotted with bright delicate colour, and splashed here and there with white, the whole mingling, uniting, breaking into fresh combinations kaleidoscope fashion. Through the opera-glasses figures of men, women, and horses detached themselves, becoming quaintly distinct, neat as toys, an assemblage of elegant highly finished marionnettes. There was a fascination in watching the movement of these brilliant, clear-cut silent little things upon that amazingly verdant carpet of grass. But it was a fascination which, for Poppy, had by now worn somewhat thin. The interest proved too far away, too impersonal. Indeed it may be questioned whether any who have not within themselves large store of resignation, or of hope, can look on at gaiety, in which they have no share, without first sadness and then pretty lively irritation. And of those two most precious commodities, resignation and hope, Poppy had but limited reserve stock at present. So she pulled the little dog's ears rather hard and lamented:
"Oh! my good gracious me, if only something would happen!"
Then, the words hardly out of her mouth, she shot the much-enduring Cappadocia off her lap and, restoring her elbows on the rails, leaned right out over the balcony.
"Come here, dear beautiful lunatic, come here," she cried. "For pity's sake don't pass by!"
Perhaps fortunately this very unconventional invitation was lost upon Dominic Iglesias, soberly crossing the road with due observance of the eccentricities of the drivers of motor-cars and riders of bicycles. Looking up, he was aware of a vision quite sufficiently indicative of welcome, without added indiscretion of words.—The white balustrade, the trailing fringe of nasturtiums, succulent leaves and orange-scarlet blossoms; the woman's bust and shoulders in her string-coloured lace gown, her small face, curiously vivid in effect, capped by the heavy masses of her black hair, her singular eyes full of light, the red of her lips and tinge of stationary pink in her cheeks supplemented by a glow of quick excitement. A few weeks ago the ascetic in Iglesias might have taken alarm. Now it was different. He had his idea, and, walking in the strength of it, dared adventure himself in neighbourhoods otherwise slightly questionable.
Five minutes later Poppy advanced across the little drawing-room to meet him.
"Well," she said, "of course you might have come sooner. But, equally of course, you might never have come at all, so I won't quarrel with you about the delay, though I would like you to know it has worried me a good deal."
"Has it? I am sorry for that," Dominic answered gravely.
"Yes, be sorry, be sorry," she repeated. "It is comfortable to hear you say so."
She looked at him with the utmost frankness, took his hand and led him to a settee filling in the right angle between the fireplace and the double doors at the back of the room.
"Sit down," she said, "and let us talk. Have another cushion—so—and if you're good I'll give you tea presently. And understand, you needn't be careful of yourself. I'll play perfectly fair with you. I've been thinking it all out during this time you didn't come; and I never go back on my word once given. So, look here, you needn't account for yourself in any way. I don't even want to know your name—specially I don't want to know that. It might localise you, and I don't want to have you localised. Directly a person is localised it takes away their restfulness to one. One begins to see just all the places where they belong to somebody else, notice-boards struck up everywhere warning one to keep off the grass. And that's a nuisance. It raises Old Nick in one, and makes one long to commit all manner of wickedness which would never have entered one's head otherwise."
Poppy held her hands palm to palm between her knees, glancing at Dominic Iglesias now and again sideways as she spoke. The bodice of her dress, cut slightly en coeur, showed the nape of her neck, and the whole of her throat, which was smooth and rounded though rather long. Her make altogether was that not uncommon to London girls of the lower middle- class: small-boned and possibly anaemic, but prettily moulded, and with an attraction of over-civilisation as of hot-house-grown plants. Just now her head seemed bowed down by the weight of her dark hair, as she sat gathered together, making herself small as a child will when concentrating its mind to the statement of some serious purpose.
"I've knocked about a lot," she went on. "It's right you should know that. And there's not very much left to tell me about a number of things not usually set down in conversation books designed for debutants. But just on that account I may be rather useful to you in some ways.—Don't go and be offended now, there's a dear, good man," she added coaxingly. "Because judging by what you told me the other day, there's no doubt that, under some heads, you are very much of a debutant."
"I suppose I am," Iglesias said slowly. It was very strange to him to find himself in so sudden and close an intimacy with this at once so wise and so artificial woman creature. But he had his idea. Moreover, increasingly he trusted her.
"Of course you are," she asserted. "That's just where the beauty of it all comes in. You're the veriest infant. One has only to look into your face to see that.—Don't go and freeze up now. You belong to another order of doctrine and practice to that current in contemporary society."
Poppy gazed at the floor, still making herself small, the palms of her hands pressed together between her knees.
"And that's just why you can be useful to me, awfully useful, if you choose—I don't mean money, business, anything of the kind. I'm perfectly competent to manage my own affairs, thank you. But you're good for me, somehow. You rest me."
She began to rock herself gently backwards and forwards, but without taking the heels of her shoes off the ground.
"Yes, you rest me, you rest me," she repeated.
"I am glad," Iglesias said. He felt soberly pleased, thankful almost.
Again Poppy glanced at him sideways.
"Yes, I believe you are," she said. "And that shows things have happened to you—in you, more likely—since we last met. You have come on a great piece."
"I doubt if I have come on, so much as gone back, to influences of long ago," he answered; "to things which had been overlaid by the dust of my working years almost to the point of obliteration."
"Was it pleasant to go back?" Poppy asked.
"Not at all. The going was painful. It required some courage to brush off the dust."
"It usually does require courage—at least that's my experience—to brush off the dust."
Dominic Iglesias made no immediate answer. He was a little startled at his companion's acute reading of him, a little touched by her confidence. Her words seemed to suggest the possibility of a relationship which fitted in admirably with the development of his idea. He sat looking away across the room, and, doing so, became aware that the said room possessed unexpected characteristics, calculated to elucidate his impressions of its owner's character. It was a man's room rather than a woman's, innocent of furbelows and frills. Two low, wide settees, well furnished with cushions and upholstered in dark yellowish-red tapestry, fitted into the corners on either side the double doors. A couple of large armchairs and a revolving book-table occupied the centre of the room. An upright piano, in an ebonised case, draped across the back with an Indian phulkari—discs of looking-glass set in coarsely worked yellow eyelet holes forming the border of it—stood at right angles to the wall just short of the bay window. In the window, placed slant-wise, was a carved black oak writing-table, a long row of photographs stuck up against the back shelf of it. The walls were hung with a set of William Nicolson's prints, strong, dark, distinct, slightly sinister in effect; a fine etching of Jean Francois Millet's Gleaners; and, in noticeable contrast to this last, a mezzotint of Romney's picture of Lady Hamilton spinning. Upon the book-table were a silver ash-tray and cigarette-box. The air was unquestionably impregnated with the odour of tobacco, which the burning of scent-sticks quite failed to dissemble.
While Mr. Iglesias thus noted the details of his surroundings, his companion observed him, closely, intently. Suddenly she flung herself back against the piled-up cushions.
"Let the dust lie, let it lie," she cried, almost shrilly. And as Dominic turned to her, surprised at her vehemence, she added, "Yes, it's safest so. Let it lie till it grows thick, carpeting all the surface, so that, treading on it, one's footsteps are muffled, making no sound!"
Poppy jumped up, crossed swiftly to the writing-table, swept the long row of photographs together and pushed them into a drawer.
"There you go, face downwards, every man Jack of you," she said. "And, for all I care, there you may stay."
Then she turned round, confronting Dominic Iglesias, who had risen also, her head carried high, her teeth set.
"You may not grasp the connection of ideas—I don't the very least see how you should, and I've no extra special wish that you should. But you must just take my word for it that's one way of thickening the dust, in my particular case, and not half a bad way either!"
She pushed the heavy masses of her hair up from her forehead, crossed the little room again and stood before Iglesias smiling, her hands clasped behind her back.
"Yes, you rest me," she said, "you do, even more than I expected. I wanted awfully to see you; and yet I was half afraid if I did we mightn't pull the thing off. But we are going to pull it off, aren't we?"
This direct appeal demanded a direct answer; and Iglesias, looking down at her, felt nerved to a certain steadiness of resolve.
"Yes, we are," he said gravely. "That, at least, is my purpose. I have very few friends. I should value a new one." Then he added, with a certain hesitancy, "I am glad you are not disappointed."
"Ah! you have come on—not a question about it," Poppy cried. "Sit down again. You needn't go yet. And we are through with disturbances for this afternoon anyhow. An anti-cyclone, as the weather reports put it, is extending over all our coasts. I feel quite happy. Let me enjoy the anti- cyclone while it lasts—and I'll give you your tea."
But of that tea Dominic Iglesias was fated not to drink. A ring at the bell, a parley at the front door, followed by the advent of an elderly parlourmaid bearing a card on a small lacquer tray.
"His lordship says if you're engaged he could wait a little, ma'am. But he wants particularly to see you to-day."
Poppy took the card, glanced at it, and then at Dominic Iglesias.
"I'm afraid, I'm awfully afraid I shall have to let you go," she said. She took both his hands, and holding them, without pressure but with a great friendliness, went on: "Don't be offended, or you'll make me miserable. But he's an old friend; and he's been a perfect brick to me— stood by me through all my worst luck. I can't send him away. You won't be off ended?"
"No," Iglesias said.
"And you will come again? You make me feel all smooth and good. You promise you'll come?"
"Yes," Iglesias said.
In the narrow passage a tall, eminently well-dressed middle-aged gentleman stood aside to let him pass. Dominic Iglesias received the impression of a very handsome person, whose possible insolence of bearing received agreeable modification, thanks to the expression of kindly humorous eyes and a notably beautiful mouth.
Upon the centre table of the square first-floor sitting-room at Cedar Lodge a note awaited Mr. Iglesias, addressed in George Lovegrove's neat business hand.
"Dear old friend," it ran—"the wife asks you to take supper with us to- morrow night. Step across as early as you like. My cousin, Miss Serena Lovegrove, is paying us a visit. Yours faithfully, G. L.—N. B. Come as you are: no ceremony. G. L."
"Hullo, girlie," called the red and green parrot, as it helped itself up the side of its zinc cage with beak as well as claws.
Serena Lovegrove had opened the door suddenly. Then, seeing that Mr. Iglesias alone occupied the room, neither her host nor hostess being present, she paused in the doorway, a large floppy yellow silk work-bag in her hands, undecided whether to retreat or to proceed. And it was thus that the bird, discovering her advent, announced it, while the pupils of his hard, round yellowish grey eyes dilated and contracted—"snapped," as Serena would have said—maliciously.
Serena was a tall, elegant, faded woman, dressed in black, her little upright head balanced upon a long thin stalk of neck. Though undeniably faded, there was, as now seen in the quiet evening light, a suggestion of youthfulness about her. He brown eyes, pretty though rather small, snapped even as did those of the parrot. Excitement—to-night she was very much excited—invariably produced in Serena an effect of clutching at her long-departed girlhood, an effect sufficiently pathetic in the case of a woman well on in the forties. And it was precisely this ineffectual throw-back to a Serena of seventeen or eighteen which lent a sharp edge of irony to the strident salutations of the parrot, as it called out again:
"Hullo, girlie! Polly's own pet girlie," then with a prolonged and ear- piercing whistle:—"Hi, four-wheeler! girlie's going out." And hoarsely, with a growl in its throat: "Move on there, stoopid, can't yer? Shut the door."
During the delivery of these final admonitions Mr. Iglesias had recognised the shadowy figure standing on the threshold and advanced. This decided Serena. Still twisting the ribbons of the yellow work-bag round her thin fingers, she drifted into the room.
"I think I have had the pleasure of meeting you once or twice before, Miss Lovegrove," Dominic said. His manner was specially gentle and courtly, for he could not but feel the poor lady was at a disadvantage, owing to the very articulate indiscretions of the parrot.
"Oh! yes," Serena answered. "Certainly we have met. But you are wrong as to the number of times. It is more than once or twice. Five times, I think; or it may have been six. No, it is five, because I remember you were expected, in the evening, the day before I went home the winter before last; and at the last moment you were unable to come. That would have made six. Now it is only five."
"You have an excellent memory," Iglesias said. "It is kind of you to remember so clearly."
"I wonder if it is—I mean, I wonder whether it is kind," Serena rejoined.
She was quite innocent of any intention of sarcasm. But her mind, like those of so many unoccupied, and consequently self-occupied persons, was addicted to speculation of a minor and vacuous sort. She was also liable —as such persons often are—to mistake cavilling for spirit and wit—a most tedious error!
"Still you are right in saying I have a good memory," she added. "People generally observe that. But then I was always taught it was rude to forget. Forgetfulness is the result of inattention. At school I never had any difficulty in learning by heart."
"You must have found that both a useful and pleasant talent."
"Perhaps," Serena replied negligently. She was determined not to commit herself, having arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Iglesias' address was too civil. "It was bad manners of him not to remember how often we had met," she said to herself, "and now he is trying to pass it off. But that won't do!" Serena had many and distinct views on the subject of manner and manners. She was never certain that civility did not argue a defect of sincerity. She agreed with herself to think that over again later. Meanwhile she would carefully remark Mr. Iglesias. "If he is insincere, as I fear he is, he is sure to betray it in other ways. Then I shall be on my guard." Forewarned is, of course, forarmed, and Serena felt very acute. Though against exactly what she was taking such elaborate precautions, it would have been difficult for her, or for anyone else, to have stated. However, just now it was incumbent upon her to make conversation. As is the way with persons not very fertile in ideas, she had recourse to the simple expedient of asking a leading question.
"Are you fond of animals?" she inquired.
"I am afraid I have very little knowledge of animals," Iglesias replied.
Serena laughed dryly. This was so transparent a subterfuge.
"What a very odd answer!" she said. "Because everybody must really know whether they like animals or not."
"I am afraid I stand by myself then, a solitary exception. I have had little or nothing to do with animals, and have therefore had no opportunity of discovering whether they attract me or not."
"How very odd!" Serena repeated.
She moved across to the centre-table where Mr. Lovegrove's books of picture postcards, the miscellaneous consequences of many charity bazaars, and kindred aesthetic treasures reposed, and deposited her work- bag in their company. Her movement revived the attention of the parrot, who had been nodding on its perch.
"Poor old girlie, take a brandy and soda? Kiss and be friends. Good- night, all," it murmured hoarsely, half asleep.
"If your question bore reference to that particular animal, I stand in no doubt as to my sentiments," Dominic remarked. "I am anything but fond of it. I think it an odious bird."
"Ah! you see you do know," Serena exclaimed. "I was sure you did." She felt justified in her suspicion of his sincerity. "But nobody would agree with you, Mr. Iglesias, because of course it is really a very clever parrot. They very seldom learn to say so many things."
"How fortunate!" Dominic permitted himself to ejaculate.
"I don't see why you should say it is fortunate."
"Do not its remarks strike you as somewhat impertinent and intrusive?"
"I wonder if an animal can be impertinent," Serena said reflectively.
But here to her vexation, for it appeared to her that she had just started a really interesting subject of discussion, Mrs. Lovegrove bustled into the room.
"Well, Mr. Iglesias," she began, "I am sure I am very delighted to see you, and so will Georgie be. He was remarking only yesterday we don't seem to see so much of you as we used to do. He's just a little behind time, is Georgie, having been kept by the dear vicar at a meeting about the Church Workers' Social Evenings Guild at the Mission Room in Little Bethesda Street. You wouldn't know where that is, Mr. Iglesias—though I can't help hoping you will some day—but Serena knows, don't you, Serena? It's where Susan—her elder sister, Miss Lovegrove"—this aside to Dominic—"gave an address once to the members of the Society for the Conversion of the Jews."
"No doubt I remember; but Susan is always giving addresses somewhere," Serena said loftily.
"And very good and kind of her it is to give addresses," Mrs. Lovegrove rejoined. "Even the dear vicar says what a remarkable gift she has as a speaker, and there's no question as to the worth of his praise."
"I wonder if it is—I mean I wonder if it is good and kind of Susan to give addresses," Serena remarked. "Because of course she enjoys giving them. Susan likes to have a number of people listening to her."
"But if the object is a noble one?"—this from Mrs. Lovegrove, a little nonplussed and put about.
"Still, if you enjoy doing anything, how can it be good and kind to do it?" Serena said argumentatively. "Susan is very fond of publicity. I think people very often deceive themselves about their own motives."
She looked meaningly at Dominic Iglesias as she spoke. And he looked back at her gravely and kindly, though with a slightly amused smile. His thoughts had travelled away—they had done so pretty frequently during the last twenty-four hours—to the smirking self-conscious little house on the verge of Barnes Common. Unpromising though it had appeared outwardly, yet within it he believed he had found a friend—a friend who was also an enigma. Perhaps, as he now reflected, all women are enigmas. Certainly they are amazingly different. He thought of Poppy. He looked at Serena. Yes, doubtless they all are enigmas; only—might Heaven forgive him the discourtesy—all are not enigmas equally well worth finding out.
George Lovegrove arrived. Supper, a somewhat heavy and hybrid meal, followed—"all comfortable and friendly," as Mrs. Lovegrove described it, "no ceremony and fal-lals, but everything put down on the table so that you could see it and please yourself."
Serena, however, was difficult to please. She picked daintily at the food on her plate. Her host observed her with solicitude.
"Do take a little more," he said, in an anxious aside, Mrs. Lovegrove being safely engaged in conversation with Mr. Iglesias, "or I shall begin to be nervous lest we aren't offering you quite what you like."
But Serena was obdurate.
"Pray don't mind, George," she said. "You know I never eat much. I am quite different from Susan, for instance. She always has a large appetite, and so have all her friends. Low Church people always have, I think. But I never care to eat a great deal, especially in hot weather."
Serena was really very glad indeed to come to London just now. Still, there were self-respecting decencies to be observed, specially in the presence of another guest. Relationship does not necessarily imply social equality; and, as Serena reminded herself, the family always had felt that poor George had married beneath him. Therefore it was well to keep the fact of her own superior refinement well in view. In the case of good George Lovegrove this was, however, a work of supererogation. For he had a, to himself, positively embarrassing respect for Serena's gentility— embarrassing because at moments it came painfully near endangering the completeness of his consideration for "the wife's feelings." The two ladies frequently differed upon matters of taste and etiquette, with the result that the good man's guileless breast was torn by conflicting emotions. For had not Serena's father been a General Officer of the Indian army? And had not Serena herself and her elder sister Susan—a person of definite views and commanding character—long been resident at Slowby in Midlandshire, an inland watering-place of acknowledged fashion? It followed that her pronouncements on social questions were necessarily final. Yet to uphold her judgment, as against that of the wife, was to risk mortifying the latter. And to mortify the wife would be to act as a heartless scoundrel. Hence situations, for George Lovegrove, difficult to the point of producing profuse perspiration.
That night Serena prepared for rest with remarkable deliberation. Clad in a blue and white striped cotton dressing-gown, she sat long at her toilet-table. And all the time she wondered—a far-reaching, mazelike, elaborately intricate and wholly inconclusive wonder. Hers was a nature which suffered perpetual solicitation from possible alternatives, hearing warning voices from the vague, delusive regions of the might-be or might- have-been. She had never grasped the rudimentary but very important truth that only that which actually is in the least matters. And so to arrive at what is, with all possible despatch—in so far as such arriving is practicable—and then to go forward, comprises the whole duty of the sane human being. Par from this, Serena's mind forever fitted batlike in the half-darkness of innumerable small prejudices and ignorances. She moved, as do so many women of her class, in a twilight, embryonic world, untouched alike by the splendour and terror of living.
Nevertheless, on this particular occasion, as she brushed her hair and inserted the tortoise-shell curling-pins which should secure to-morrow's decorative effects, she felt almost daring and dangerous. She wondered whether she had really enjoyed the evening or not; whether she had held her own and shown independence and spirit. She laboured under the quaint early-Victorian notion that, in the presence of members of the opposite sex, a woman is called upon always to play something of a part. She should advance, so to speak, and then retreat; provoke interest by a studied indifference; yield a little, only to become more elegantly fugitive. It may be doubted whether these wiles have even been a very successful adjunct to feminine charms. But in the case of so negative and colourless a creature as Serena, they were pathetically devoid of result. Play a part industriously as she might, the majority of her audience was wholly unaware that she was, in point of fact, playing anything at all! They might think her a little capricious, a little foolish, but that there was intention or purpose in her pallid flightiness passed the bounds of imagination. Never mind, if the audience had no sense of the position, Serena had, and she enjoyed it. Excitement possessed her, and her eyes snapped even yet as, thinking it all over, she fastened the curlers in her hair.
She wondered whether George and Rhoda—how intensely she disliked the name Rhoda!—had any special reason for asking her just now, and talking so much about Mr. Iglesias, or whether it was a coincidence.
"Of course it is not of the slightest importance to me whether they have or not," she reflected. "I think it would be rather an impertinence if they had. Still, I think I had better find out; but without letting Rhoda suspect, of course. If you give her any encouragement Rhoda is inclined to go too far and say what is rather indelicate. I always have thought Rhoda had a rather vulgar mind. I wonder if poor George feels that? I believe he does, before me. Once or twice to-night he was very nervous. How dreadfully coarse poor Rhoda's skin is getting! I wonder if Rhoda has given Susan a hint, and if that was what made Susan so gracious about my leaving home? But I don't believe she did—I mean that Susan suspected that George and Rhoda had any particular reason for inviting me. I wonder if I shall ever make Susan see that I am not a cipher? Of course if George and Rhoda really have any particular reason, and Susan comes to know it, that will show her that other people do not consider me a cipher. I wonder what most people would think of Mr. Iglesias? Of course he has only been a bank clerk; but then so has George. Only then he is a foreigner, and that makes a difference. I wonder whether, if anything came of it, Susan would make his being a foreigner an objection?"
But this was growing altogether too definite and concrete. With a sort of mental squeak Serena's thought flitted into twilight and embryonic regions.
"I think if they have any particular reason, it is rather scheming of George and Rhoda. I wonder if it is nice of them? If they have, I think it is rather deceitful. I wonder if they have said anything to Mr. Iglesias?"
Serena, with the aid of a curling-pin, was controlling the short fuzzy little hairs just at the nape of her neck; and this last wonder proved so absorbing a one that she remained, head bent and fingers aimlessly fiddling with the bars of the curler, till it suddenly occurred to her that she was getting quite stiff.
"If they have, I think it is very presuming of them," she continued wrathfully, stretching her arms, for they ached—"very presuming. How glad I am I was on my guard. I wonder if they saw I was on my guard? I believe George did. I wonder if that helped to make him nervous?"
Serena fastened in the last of the curlers. There was no excuse for sitting up any longer; yet she lingered.
"I must be more on my guard than ever," she said.
Meanwhile Dominic Iglesias, after sitting in the dining-room with his old friend while the latter smoked a last pipe, made his way across the Green in the deepening mystery of the summer night. The sky was moonless; and at the zenith, untouched by the upward streaming light of the great city, the stars showed fair and bright. A nostalgia of wide untenanted spaces, of far horizons, of emotions at once intimate and rooted in things eternal, was upon him. But of Serena Lovegrove, it must be admitted, he thought not one little bit.
Only one of the trees from which Cedar Lodge derives its name was still standing. This lonely giant, sombre exile from Libanus, overshadowed all that remained of the formerly extensive garden and sensibly darkened the back of the house. Its foliage, spread like a deep pile carpet upon the wide horizontal branches, was worn and sparse, showing small promise of self-renewal. Yet though starved by the exhausted soil, and clogged by soots from innumerable chimneys, it remained majestic, finely decorative as some tree of metal, of age-old bronze roughened by a greenness of deep-eating rust. From the first moment of his acquaintance with Cedar Lodge it had been to Dominic Iglesias an object of attraction, even of sympathy. For he recognised in it something stoical, an unmoved dignity and lofty indifference to the sordid commonplace of its surroundings. It made no concessions to adverse circumstances, but remained proudly itself, owning for sole comrade the Wind—that most mysterious of all created things, unseen, untamed, mateless, incalculable. The wind gave it voice, gave it even a measure of mobility, as it swept through the labyrinth of dry unfruitful branches and awoke a husky music telling of far-distant times and places, making a shuddering and stirring as of the resurgence of long-forgotten hope and passion.
When Dominic entered into residence at Cedar Lodge, a pair of stout mauve-brown wood-pigeons—migrants from the pleasant elms of Holland Park—had haunted the tree. But they being, for all their dolorous cooings, birds of a lusty, not to say truculent, habit, grew weary of its persistent solemnity of aspect. So, at least, Dominic judged. He had been an interested spectator of the love-makings, quarrels, and reconciliations of these comely neighbours from his bedroom window daily while dressing. But one fine spring morning he saw them fly away and never saw them fly back again. Clearly they had removed themselves to less solemn quarters, leaving the great tree, save for fugitive visitations from its comrade the wind, to solitary meditation within the borders of its narrow prison-place.
Besides presenting in itself an object altogether majestical, the cedar performed a practical office whereby it earned Iglesias' gratitude. For its dark interposing bulk effectually shut off the view of an aggressively new rawly red steam laundry, with shiny slate roofs and a huge smoke-belching chimney to it, which, to the convulsive disgust of the gentility of the eastern side of Trimmer's Green, had had the unpardonable impertinence to get itself erected in an adjacent street. It followed that when, one wet evening, yellow-headed little Mr. Farge had advised himself to speak slightingly of the cedar tree, Iglesias was prepared to defend it, if necessary, with some warmth.
The conversation had ranged round the subject of the hour, namely, the possibility—as yet in the estimation of most persons an incredible one— of war with the Boer Republics, when the young man indulged in a playful aside addressed to Miss Hart, at whose right hand he was seated.
"If I could find fault with anything belonging to the lady at the head of the table," he said, "it would be the gloomy old party looking in at these back windows."
"What, the dear old cedar tree! Never, Mr. Farge!" protested Eliza.
"Yes, it would, though," he insisted, "when, as tonight, it is drip, drip, dripping all over the shop. No touch of Sunny Jim about him, is these now, Bert?"—this to the devoted Worthington sitting immediately opposite to him on Miss Hart's left.
"Truly there is not, if I may venture so far," the other young gentleman responded, playing up obediently. "And if anything could give me and Charlie a fit of the blues, I believe that old fellow would in rainy weather."
"Makes you think of the cemetery, does it not now, Bert?"
"You have hit it. Paddington—not the station though, Charlie, just starting for a cosey little trip with your best girl up the river."
"For shame, Mr. Worthington," Eliza protested again, giggling.
"Suggestive of the end of all week-ends, in short," de Courcy Smyth, who contrary to his custom was present at dinner that evening, put in snarlingly. "One last trip up the River of Death for you, with a ticket marked not transferrable, eh, Farge? Then an oblong hole in the reeking blue clay, silence and worms."
His tone was spiteful to the point of commanding attention. A hush fell on the company, broken only by the drifting sob of the rain through the branches of the great cedar. Mr. Farge went perceptibly pale. Mrs. Porcher sighed and turned her fine eyes up to the ceiling. Iglesias looked curiously at the speaker. Eliza Hart was the first to find voice.
"Pray, Mr. Smyth," she said, "don't be so very unpleasant. You're enough to give one the goose-skin all over."
"I am sorry I have offended," he answered sullenly. "But I beg leave to call attention to the fact that I did not start this subject. I was rather interested in the previous discussion, which gave an opportunity of intelligent conversation not habitual among us. Farge is responsible for the interruption, and for the cemeteries, and consequently for my comment. Still, I am sorry I have offended."
He shifted his position, glancing uneasily first at his hostess, and then at Dominic Iglesias, who sat opposite him in the place of honour at that lady's right hand.
"You have not offended, Mr. Smyth," Mrs. Porcher declared graciously. "And no doubt it is well for us all to be reminded of death and burial at times. Though some of us hardly need reminding"—again she sighed. "We carry the thought of them about with us always." And she turned her fine eyes languidly upon Mr. Iglesias.
"My poor sweet Peachie," the kind-hearted Eliza murmured, under her breath.
"But at meals, perhaps, a lighter vein is more suitable, Mr. Smyth," Mrs. Porcher continued. "At table the thought of death does seem rather disheartening, does it not? But about our poor old cedar tree now, Mr. Farge? You were not seriously proposing to have it removed?"
"Well, strictly between ourselves, I am really half afraid I actually was."
"You forget it sheltered my childhood. It is associated with all my past."
"Can a rosebud have a past?" Farge cried, coming up to the surface again with a bounce, so to speak.
Mrs. Porcher smiled, shook her head in graceful reproof, and turned once more to Dominic.
"I think we should all like to know how you feel about it, Mr. Iglesias," she said. "Do you wish the poor old tree removed?"
"On the contrary, I should greatly regret it's being cut down," he answered. "It would be a loss to me personally, for I have always taken a pleasure both in the sound and the sight of it. But that is a minor consideration."
"You must allow me to differ from that opinion," Mrs. Porcher remarked, with gentle emphasis. "We can never forget, can we, Eliza, who is our oldest guest? Mr. Iglesias' opinion must ever carry weight in all which concerns Cedar Lodge."
Here Farge and Worthington made round eyes at one another, while de Courcy Smyth shuffled his feet under the table. He had received a disquieting impression.
"Oh! of course, Peachie, dear," Miss Hart responded. She hugged herself with satisfaction. "The darling looks more bonny than ever," she reflected. "To-night what animation! What tact! She seems to have come out so lately, since that Serena Lovegrove has been stopping over the way. Not that there could be any rivalry between her and that poor thread-paper of a thing!"
Dominic Iglesias, however, received his hostess' pretty speeches with a calm which turned the current of the ardent Eliza's thoughts, causing her to refer, mentally, to the degree of emotion which might be predicated of monuments, mountains, stone elephants, and kindred objects.
"You are very kind," he said. "But on grounds far more important than those of any private sentiment the cutting down of the cedar calls for careful consideration. I am afraid you would find it a serious loss to the beauty of your property. What the house loses in light, it certainly gains in distinction and interest from the presence of the tree."
"Yes," Mrs. Porcher returned, folding her plump pink hands upon the edge of the table and looking down modestly. "It does speak of family perhaps."
"And in your case, dear, it speaks nothing more than the truth," Eliza declared. "Just as well a certain gentleman should reckon with Peachie's real position," she said to herself—"specially with that stuck-up Serena Lovegrove cat-and-mousing about on the other side of the Green. It does not take a Solomon to see what she's after!"
"I am afraid the verdict is given against you, Mr. Farge. The cedar tree will remain." Mrs. Porcher rose as she spoke.
The young man playfully rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, feigning tears. Then a scrimmage ensued between him and Worthington as to which should reach the dining-room door first and throw it open before the ladies. At this exhibition of high spirits de Courcy Smyth groaned audibly, while Mrs. Porcher, linking her arm within that of Miss Hart, lingered.
"You will join our little circle in the drawing-room to-night, will you not, Mr. Iglesias?" she pleaded.
Again the young men made round eyes at one another. De Courcy Smyth had come forward. He stood close to Iglesias and, before the latter could answer, spoke hurriedly:
"Can you give me ten minutes in private? I don't want to press myself upon you, but this is imperative."
Iglesias proceeded to excuse himself to his hostess, thereby causing Miss Hart to refer mentally to monuments and mountains once again.
"Thank you," Smyth gasped. His face was twitching and he swayed a little, steadying himself with one hand on the corner of the dinner-table.
"I loathe asking," he continued, "I loathe pressing my society upon you, since you do not seek it. It has taken days for me to make up my mind to this; but it is necessary. And, after all, you made the original offer yourself."
"I am quite ready to listen, and to renew any offer which I may have made," Iglesias answered quietly.
"We can't talk here, though," Smyth said. "That blundering ass of a waiter will be coming in directly; and whatever he overhears is sure to go the round of the house. All servants are spies."
"We can go up to my sitting-room and talk there," Iglesias replied.
Yet he was conscious of making the proposal with reluctance, pity struggling against repulsion. For not only was the man's appearance very unkempt, but his manner and bearing were eloquent of a certain desperation. Of anything approaching physical fear Dominic Iglesias was happily incapable. But his sitting-room had always been a peaceful place, refuge alike from the strain and monotony of his working life. It held relics, moreover, wholly dear to him, and to introduce into it this inharmonious and, in a sense, degraded presence savoured of desecration. Therefore, not without foreboding, as of one who risks the sacrifice of earnestly cherished security, he ushered his guest into the quiet room.
The gas, the small heart-shaped flames of which showed white against the dying daylight coming in through the windows, was turned low in the bracket-lamps on either side the high mantelpiece. Dominic Iglesias moved across and drew down the blinds, catching sight as he did so— between the tossing foliage of the balsam-poplars which glistened in the driving wet—of the unwinking gaselier in the Lovegroves' dining-room, on the other side of the Green. He remembered that he ought to have called on Mrs. Lovegrove and Miss Serena, and that he had been guilty of a lapse of etiquette in not having done so. But he reflected poor Miss Serena was a person whose existence it seemed so curiously difficult to bear actively in mind. Then he grew penitent, as having added discourtesy to discourtesy in permitting himself this reflection. He came back from the window, turned up the lights, drew forward an armchair and motioned Smyth to be seated; fetched a cut-glass spirit decanter, tumblers, and a syphon of soda from the sideboard and set them at his guest's elbow.
"Pray help yourself," he said. "And here, will you not smoke while we talk?"
Smyth's pale, prominent eyes had followed these preparations for his comfort with avidity, but now, the handsome character of his surroundings being fully disclosed to him, he was filled with uncontrollable envy. Silently he filled his glass, by no means stinting the amount of alcohol, gulped down half the contents of the tumbler, paused a moment, leaning his elbow on the table, and said:
"We were treated to a public exhibition of feminine cajolery in your direction, Mr. Iglesias, at the end of dinner. It occurs to me we might have been spared that. I have never had the honour of penetrating into your apartments before; but the aspect of them is quite sufficient indication as to who is the favoured member of Mrs. Porcher's establishment."
Dominic had remained standing. Hospitality demanded that he should do all in his power to secure his guest's material comfort; but there, in his opinion, immediate obligation ceased. In thus remaining standing he had a quaint sense of safeguarding the sanctities of the place. The man's tone was curiously offensive. Involuntarily Mr. Iglesias' back stiffened a little.
"I took these rooms unfurnished," he said. And then added: "May I ask what your business with me may be?"
Smyth had recourse to his tumbler again. His hand shook so that his teeth chattered against the edge of the glass.
"I am a fool," he said sullenly. "But my nerves are all to pieces. I cannot control myself. I have come here to ask a favour of you, and yet some devil prompts me to insult you. I hate you because I am driven to make use of you. And this room, in its sober luxury, emphasises the indignity of the position, offering as it does so glaring a contrast to my own quarters—here under the same roof, only one flight of stairs above—that I can hardly endure it. Life is hideously unjust. For what have you done—you, a mere Canaanite, hewer of wood and drawer of water to some grossly Philistine firm of city bankers—to deserve this immunity from anxiety and distress; while I, with my superior culture, my ambition and talents, am condemned to that beastly squeaking wire-wove mattress upstairs, and a job-lot of furniture which some previous German waiter has ejected in disgust from his bedroom in the basement? But there—I beg your pardon. I ought to be accustomed to injustice. I have served a long enough apprenticeship to it. Only—partly, thanks to you, I own that—I have seemed to see the dawning of hope again—hope of success, hope of recognition, hope of revenge; and just on that account it becomes intolerable to run one's head against this paralysing, stultifying dead wall of poverty and debt."—He bowed himself together, and his voice broke.—"I owe Mrs. Porcher money for my miserable bedsitting-room and my board, and I am so horribly afraid she will turn me out. The place is detestable; unworthy of me—of course it is—but I am accustomed to it. And I am not myself. I am terrified at the prospect of any change. In short, I am worn out. And they see that, those beasts of editors. The Evening Dally Bulletin has given me my conge. I have lost the last of my hack-work. It was miserable work, wholly beneath a man of my capacity; still it brought me in a pittance. Now it is gone. Practically I am a pauper, and I owe money in this house."
"I am sorry, very sorry," Iglesias said. "You should have spoken sooner. I could not force myself into your confidence; but, believe me, I have not been unmindful of my engagement. I have merely waited for you to speak."
His manner was gentle, yet he remained standing, still possessed by an instinct to thus safeguard the sanctities of the place. He paused, giving the other man time to recover a measure of composure: then he asked kindly, anxious to conduct the conversation into a happier channel: "Meanwhile, how is the play advancing? Well, I hope—so that you find solace and satisfaction in the prosecution of it."
Smyth moved uneasily, looking up furtively at his questioner.
"Oh! it is grand," he said, "unquestionable it is grand. You need have no anxiety under that head. Pray understand that anything that you may do for me in the interim, before the play is produced, is simply an investment. You need not be in the least alarmed. You will see all your money back—see it doubled, certainly doubled, probably trebled."
"I was not thinking of investments," Iglesias put in quietly.
"But I am," Smyth asserted. "Naturally I am. You do not suppose that I should accept, still less ask, you help, unless I was certain that in the end I should prove to be conferring, rather than incurring, a favour? You humiliate me by assuming this attitude of disinterested generosity. Let me warn you it does not ring true. Moreover, in assuming it you do not treat me as an equal; and that I resent. It is mean to take advantage of my sorrows and my poverty, and exalt yourself thus at my expense. Of course I understand your point of view. From your associations and occupations you must inevitably worship the god of wealth. One cannot expect anything else from a business man. You gauge every one's intellectual capacity by his power of making money. Well, wait then— just wait; and when that play appears, see if I do not compel you to rate my intellectual capacity very highly. For there are thousands in that play, I tell you—tens of thousands. It is only in the interim that I am reduced to this detestable position of dependence. I know the worth of my work, if——"
But Iglesias' patience was beginning to wear rather thin. He interposed calmly, yet with authority.
"Pardon me," he said, "but it is irrelevant to discuss my attitude of mind or my past occupations. It will be more agreeable for us, both now and in the future, to treat any matters that arise between us as impersonally as possible. Therefore, I will ask you to tell me, simply and clearly, how much you require to clear you from immediate difficulty; and I will tell you, in return, whether I am in a position to meet your wishes or not."
For a moment Smyth sat silent, his hands working nervously along the arms of the chair.
"You understand it is merely a temporary accommodation?"
"Yes," Iglesias answered. "I understand. And consequently it is superfluous to indulge in further discussion."
"You want to get rid of me," Smyth snarled. "Everyone wants to get rid of me; I am unwelcome. The poor and unsuccessful always are so, I suppose. But some day the tables will be turned—if I can only last."
And Dominic Iglesias found himself called upon to rally all his humanity, all his faith in merciful dealing and the reward which goes along with it. For it was hard to give, hard to befriend, so thankless and ungracious a being. Yet, having put his hand to the plough, he refused to look back. He had inherited a strain of fanaticism which took the form of unswerving loyalty to his own word once given. So he spoke gravely and kindly, as one speaks to the sick who are beyond the obligation of showing courtesy for very suffering. And truly, as he reminded himself, this man was grievously sick; not only physically from insufficient food, but morally from disappointment and that most fruitful source of disease, inordinate and unsatisfied vanity.
"I do not wish to get rid of you; I merely wish to take the shortest and simplest way to relieve you of your more pressing anxieties, and so enable you to give yourself unreservedly to your work. Want may be a wholesome spur to effort at times; but it is difficult to suppose any really sane and well-proportioned work of art can be produced without a sense of security and of leisure."
"How do you come to know that? It is not your province," Smyth said sharply.
Mr. Iglesias permitted himself to smile and raise his shoulders slightly.
"I come of a race which, in the past, has given evidence of no small literary and artistic ability. The experience of former generations affects the thought of their descendants, I imagine, and illuminates it, even when these are not gifted individually with any executive talent."
For some minutes Smyth sat staring moodily in front of him. At last he rose slowly from his chair.
"I am an ass," he said, "a jealous, suspicious, ungrateful ass. It is more than ever hateful to me to ask a favour of you, just because you are forbearing and generous. I wish to goodness I could do without you help; but I can't. So let me have twenty-five pounds. Less would not be of use to me. I should only have to draw on you again, and I do not care to do that. Look here, can I have it in notes?"
"Yes," said Mr. Iglesias.
"I prefer it so. There might have been difficulties in cashing a cheque. Moreover, it is unpleasant to me that your name, that any name, should appear. It is only fair to save my self-respect as far as you can."
Then, as Dominic put the notes into his hand, he added, and his voice was aggressive again and quarrelsome in tone: "I don't apologise. I don't explain. I do not even thank you. Why should I, since I simply take it as a temporary accommodation until my play is finished—my great play, which is going—I swear before God it is going—not only to cancel this paltry debt, but a far more important one, the debt I owe to my own genius, and justify me once and forever in the eyes of the whole English-speaking world."
With that he shambled out of the room, letting the handle of the door slip so that it banged noisily behind him.
For a while Dominic Iglesias remained standing before the fireplace. He was sad at heart. He had given generously, lavishly, out of proportion, as most persons reckon charitable givings, to his means. But, though the act was in itself good, he was sensible of no responsive warmth, no glow of satisfaction. The transaction left him cold; left him, indeed, a prey to disgust. Not only were the man's faults evident, but they were of so unpleasant a nature as to neutralise all gladness in relieving his distress. Mechanically Iglesias straightened the chair which his guest had so lately occupied, put away tumbler and spirit decanter, pulled up the blind and opened one of the tall narrow windows, set the door giving access to his bed-chamber wide, and opened a window there, too, so creating a draught right through the apartment from end to end. He desired to clean it both of a physical and a moral atmosphere which were displeasing to him. And, in so doing, he let in, not only the roar of London, borne in a fierce crescendo on the breath of the wind, but a strange multitudinous rustling from the sombre foliage and stiff branches of the lonely cedar tree. Two limbs, crossing, sawed upon one another as the wind took them, uttering at intervals a long-drawn complaint—not weakly, but rather with virility, as of a strong man chained and groaning against his fetters.
The sound affected Dominic Iglesias deeply, begetting in him an almost hopeless sense of isolation. The vapid talk at dinner, poor little Mrs. Porcher's misplaced advances—the fact of which it appeared to him equally idle to deny and fatuous to admit—the dreary scene with his unhappy fellow-lodger, the good deed done which just now appeared fruitless—all these contributed to make the complaint of the exiled cedar's tormented branches an echo of the complaint of his own heart. For a long while he listened to these voices of the night, the great city, the great tree, the wind and the wet; and listening, by degrees he rallied his patience in that he humbled himself.
"After all, I have been little else but self-seeking," he said, half aloud. "For I gave not to the man, but to myself. I clutched at a personal reward, if not of spoken gratitude yet of subjective content. It has not come. I suppose I did not deserve it."
And then, somehow, his thoughts turned to that other human creature who, though in a very different fashion to de Courcy Smyth the unsavoury, had claimed his help. He thought not of her over-red lips, but of her wise eyes; not of her irrepressible effervescence and patter, but of her serious moments and of the honesty and courage which at such moments appeared to animate her. About a fortnight ago he had called at the little flower-bedecked house on the confines of Barnes Common, but had obtained no response to his ringing. He supposed she was engaged, or possibly away. With a certain proud modesty he had abstained from renewing his visit. But now, listening to the roar of London and the complaint of the cedar tree, he turned to the thought of her as to something of promise, of possible comfort, of equal friendship, in which there should be not only help given, but help received.
Dominic Iglesias stood on Hammersmith Bridge looking upstream. The temperature was low for the time of year, the sky packed with heavy- bosomed indigo-grey clouds in the south and west, whence came a gusty wind chill with impending rain. The light was diffused and cold, all objects having a certain bareness of effect, deficient in shadow. The weather had broken in the storm of the preceding night; and, though it was but early September, summer was gone, autumn and the melancholy of it already present—witness the elms in Chiswick Mall splotched with raw umber and faded yellow. The tide had still about an hour to flow. The river was dull and leaden, save where, near Chiswick Eyot, the wind meeting the tide lashed the surface of it into mimic waves, the crests of which, flung upward, showed against the gloomy stretch of water beyond, like pale hands raised heavenward in despairing protest. Steam-tugs, taking advantage of the tide, laboured up-stream in the teeth of the wind, towing processions of dark floats and barges. Long banners of smoke, ragged and fleeting, swept wildly away from the mouths of the tall chimneys of Thorneycroft's Works, which rose black into the low, wet sky. The roadway of the huge suspension bridge quivered under the grind of the ceaseless traffic, while the wind cried in the massive pea-green painted iron-gearing above. There was a sense of hardly restrained tumult, of conflict between nature and the multiple machinery of modern civilisation, the two in opposition, alike victims of an angry mood. And Iglesias stood watching that conflict among the crowd of children, and loafers, and decrepit, who to-day—as every day—thronged the foot-way of the bridge.
Poppy St. John stood on the foot-way, too. She had crossed from the southern side. But, though by no means insensible to the spirit or the details of the scene around her, she was less engaged in watching the drama of the stormy afternoon than in watching Dominic Iglesias—as yet unconscious of her presence. His tall, spare, shapely figure, grave, clean-shaven face, and calm, self-recollected manner—which removed him so singularly from the purposeless neutral-tinted human beings close about him—delighted her artistic sense.
"If one had caught him young," she said to herself, "if one had only caught him young, heavenly powers, what a time one might have had, and yet stayed good—oh! very quite good indeed!"
Then she made her way between much undeveloped and derelict humanity.
"Look at me, dear man," she said, "look at me—really I am worth it. I got home late last night and I was possessed by a great longing to see you.—Excuse my shouting, but things in general are making such an infernal clatter.—I was determined to see you. I set my whole mind to making you come. And I felt so sure you must come that this afternoon I have journeyed thus far to meet you. And here you are, and here I am."
Poppy stood before him bracing her back against the hand-rail of the bridge.
"Tell me, are you glad?" she said.
And Dominic Iglesias, surprised, yet finding the incident curiously natural, answered simply:
"Yes, I am, very glad."
"That's all right," she rejoined; "because, after all, coming was a pretty lively act of faith on my part. I have superstitious turns at times; and the weather, and things that had happened, had made me feel pretty cheap somehow. I don't mind telling you as you are here that if you'd failed me there would have been the devil to pay. I should have been awfully cut up."
Iglesias still smiled upon her. Poppy presented herself under a new aspect to-day, and that aspect found favour in his sight. She was no longer the Lady of the Windswept Dust, arrayed in fantastic flowery hat and trailing skirts, but was clothed in trim black workman-like garments, which revealed the delicate contours of her figure and gave her an unexpected air of distinction. Yet, though charmed, the caution of pride—which, in his case, was also the caution of modesty—made him a trifle shy in addressing her. He paused before speaking, and then said, with a certain hesitancy:
"I fancy my attitude of mind last night was the complement of your own. I, too, had fallen on rather evil days. I wanted to see you. I came out this afternoon to find you. If I had failed to do so, it would have gone a little hard with me, too, I think."
Poppy looked at him questioningly, intently, for a minute, her teeth set. Then she whirled round, leaned her elbows on the hand-rail, pulled her handkerchief out of the breast pocket of her smartly fitting coat and dabbed her eyes with it, finely indifferent to possible comment or observation.
Iglesias remained immediately behind her, but a little to the right, so as to save her from being jostled by the passers-by. He had a sense of being only the more alone with her because of the traffic and the crowd; a sense, moreover, of dependence on her part and protection on his; a sense, in a way, of her belonging to him and he to her. And this was very sweet to him, solemnly sweet, as are all things of beauty and moment holding in them the promise of enduring result. Old Age ceased to threaten and Loneliness to haunt. Over Iglesias' soul passed a wave of thankful content.
Suddenly Poppy straightened herself up and faced him. Her lips laughed, but her eyes were wet.
"I'll play fair," she said; "by the honour of the mother that bore you, I'll play fair."
Then she laid her hand on his arm and pointed London-wards.
"Now, come along, dear man, for I have got to pull myself together somehow. Let us walk. Take me somewhere I've never been before, somewhere quiet—only let us walk."
Therefore, desiring to meet her wishes, a little way up the broad straggling street Dominic Iglesias turned off to the left into the narrow old-world lanes and alleys which lie between the river frontage and King Street West. The district is a singular one, suggestive of some sleepy little dead-alive seaport town rather than of London. Quaint water-ways, crossed by foot-bridges, burrow in between small low cottages and warehouses. Some of these have overhanging upper stories to them, are half-timbered or yellow-washed. Some are built wholly of wood. There is an all-pervading odour of tar and hempen rope. Small industries abound, though without any self-advertisement of plate-glass shop fronts. Chimney-sweeps and cobblers give notice of their presence by swinging signs. Newsvendors make irruption of flaring boards upon the pavement. Little ground-floor windows exhibit attenuated stores of tinware, string, and sweets. Modest tobacconists mount the image of a black boy scantily clothed or of a Highlander in the fullest of tartans above their doors. Cats prowl along walls and sparrows rise in flights from off the ill-paved roadways. But of human occupants there appear to be but few, and those with an unusual stamp of individuality upon them; figures a trifle strange and obsolete—as of persons by choice hidden away, voluntarily self-removed from the levelling rush and grind of the monster city. The small heavy-browed houses are very secretive, seeming to shelter fallen fortunes, obscure and furtive sins, sorrows which resist alleviation and inquiry. Seen, as to-day, under the low-hanging sky big with rain, in the diffused afternoon light, the place and its inhabitants conveyed an impression low-toned, yet distinct, finished in detail, rich though mournful in effect as some eighteenth-century Dutch picture. A linnet twittered, flitting from perch to perch of its cage at an open window. A boy, clad in an old mouse-brown corduroy coat, passed slowly, crying "Sweet lavender" shrilly yet in a plaintive cadence. Occasionally the siren of a steam-tug tore the air with a long-drawn wavering scream. Otherwise all was very silent.
And, as they threaded their way through the maze of crooked streets, Dominic Iglesias and Poppy St. John were silent also; but with the silence of intimacy and good faith, rather than with that of embarrassment or indifference. Each was very fully aware of the presence of the other. So fully aware, indeed, that, for the moment, speech seemed superfluous as a vehicle for interchange of thought. Then, as they emerged on to the open gravelled space of the Upper Mall with its low red-brick wall and stately elm trees, Poppy held out her hand to Mr. Iglesias.
"You are beautifully clever," she said. "You give me just what I wanted. I'm as steady as old Time now. But what a queer rabbit-warren of a place it is! How did you find your way?"
"I came here often, in the past," he said, "at a time when I was suffering grave anxiety. I could not leave home, after my office work was over, for more than an hour together. And in the dusk or at night, with its twinkling and evasive lights, the place used to please me, leading as it does to the river bank, the mystery of the ebbing and flowing tide, the ceaseless effort seaward of the stream, and those low-lying spaces on the Surrey side. It was the nearest bit of nature, unharnessed, irresponsible nature, which I could get to; and it symbolised emancipation from monotonous labour and everlasting bricks and mortar. I could watch the dying of the sunset, and the outcoming of the stars, the tossing of the pale willows—there on the eyot—in the windy dusk, undisturbed. And so I have come to entertain a great fondness for it, since it tranquillised me and helped me to see life calmly and to bring myself in line with fact, to endure and to forgive."
While he spoke Poppy's hand continued to rest passively in his.
"You are a poet," she said, "and you are very good."
Dominic Iglesias smiled and shook his head.
"No," he answered. "I am neither a poet nor am I very good. Far from that. I only tried to keep faith with the one clear duty which I saw."
Poppy moved forward across the Mall and stood by the river wall, looking out over the flowing tide. It was high now, and washed and gurgled against the masonry.
"You did and suffered all that for some woman," she said. "A man like you always breaks himself for some woman. I hope she was worth it— often they aren't. Who was she? The woman you loved? Your wife?"
"The woman I loved," Iglesias answered, "but not my wife."
Poppy looked at him sharply, her eyes full of question and of fear, as though she dreaded to hear very evil tidings.
"Not your mistress?" she said. "Don't tell me that. The Lord knows I've no right to mind. But I should mind. It would be like switching off all the lights. I couldn't stand it. So, if it's that, just let us part company at once. I've no more use for you.—I know where I am now. If I go up into St. Peter's Square I can pick up a hansom and drive back home—I suppose I may as well call it home, as I have no other. And as for you, if you've any mercy in you, never let me see you again. Never come near me. I have no use for you, I tell you. So leave me to my own devices—what those devices are is no earthly concern of yours."
She paused breathless, her eyes blazing, her face very white. She seemed to have grown tall, and there was a tremendous force in her of bitterness, repudiation, and regret.
"After all," she cried, "I don't so much as know your name; and so, thank heaven, it can't be so very difficult to forget you."
Her aspect moved Iglesias strangely, seeming as it did to embody the very spirit of the angry sky, of the gloomy river, all the sorrow of the dead summer and stormy autumn light. For a moment he watched her in silence. Then he took both her hands in his and held them, smiling at her again very gently.
"No, dear friend," he said, "the woman was not my mistress. She was my mother." His voice shook a little. "I never talk of her. But I think of her always. She was very perfect and very lovely. And she suffered greatly, so greatly that it unhinged her reason. Now do you understand? For years she was mad."
In the month of October immediately following two events took place which, though of apparently very different magnitude and importance, intimately and almost equally—as it proved in the sequel—affected Dominic Iglesias' life. The first was the declaration of war by the South African Republics. The second was the return of Miss Serena Lovegrove to town.
Now war is, unquestionably, not a little staggering to the modern civilised conscience; and this particular war possessed the additional unpleasantness of having in it, at first sight, an element of the grotesque. It is not too much to say that it struck the majority of the British public as being of the nature of a very bad joke. For it was as though a very small and very cheeky boy, after making offensive signs, had spat in the nation's face. Clearly the boy deserved sharp chastisement for his impudence. Nevertheless, the position remained an undignified and slightly ridiculous one; and the British public proceeded to safeguard its proper pride by treating the matter as lightly as possible. It assured itself—and others—that, given a reasonable parade of strength, the small boy, blubbering, his fists in his eyes, would speedily and humbly beg pardon and promise to mind his manners in future. A few persons, it is true, remembered Majuba Hill, and doubted the small boy's immediate reduction to obedience. A few others dared to suspect that English society was suffering from wealth apoplexy and the many unlovely symptoms which, in all ages of history, have accompanied that form of seizure, and to doubt whether blood- letting might not prove salutary. Dominic Iglesias was among these. His recent observations upon and excursions into the world of fashion, stray words let drop by Poppy St. John on the one hand, and by unhappy de Courcy Smyth on the other, had begotten in him the suspicion that the sobering and sorrowful influences of war might be healthful for the body politic, just as a surgical operation may be healthful for the individual body. Next to the Jew, the Dutchman is the most stubbornly tenacious of human creatures. He is a fighting man into the bargain. Iglesias could not flatter himself that the campaign would result in an easy walk-over for so much of the British army as a supine and annoyed Government condescended to place in the field. The whole affair lay heavy on his soul. It lay there all the heavier that a few days subsequent to the declaration of war Mr. Iglesias' thought was unexpectedly swept back into the arena of speculative finance.
In the portion of his morning paper allotted to business subjects, he had lighted on a long and evidently inspired article dealing with the flotation of a company just now in process of acquiring control over extensive areas in Southeast Africa. The prospects held out to investors were of the most golden sort. The land was declared to be not only remarkably rich in precious stones and precious metals, but also adapted for corn-growing on a vast scale—thus, both above and below the surface, promising prodigious wealth were its resources adequately developed.
Iglesias did not dispute the truth of these statements. The data quoted appeared trustworthy enough. Moreover, he was already fairly conversant with the enterprise, since Mr. Reginald Barking—that junior member of the great banking firm whose name has been mentioned in connection with strenuous modern business methods—was, to his knowledge, deeply interested in the promotion of it. That which troubled him, striking him as unsound and misleading, was the fact that the profits, as set forth in the newspaper article, were calculated—so at least it was evident to Iglesias—on the results of such development when completed, irrespective of the lapse of time required for such development; irrespective of possible and arresting accident; irrespective, too, of immediate and even protracted loss by the tying-up of huge sums of money which could yield but little or no return until the said process of development was an accomplished fact. To Iglesias' clear-seeing and logical mind the enterprise, therefore, presented itself as one of those gigantic modern gambles of which the incidental risks are emphatically too heavy, since they more often than not make rich men poor, and poor men paupers, before they come through—if, indeed, they even come through at all.
Reginald, in virtue of his youth, his energy, and relentless concentration of purpose, had rapidly become the ruling spirit of the house of Barking Brothers & Barking. Iglesias had no cause to love him, since to him he owed his dismissal. But that fact failed to colour his present meditations. Under the influence of his cherished and new-found charity, Dominic had little time or inclination for personal resentment. Too, the habits of the best part of a lifetime cannot be thrown aside in a day. Directly he touched business on the large scale, it became to him serious and imposing. And so the future of the firm and the issue of its operations, in face of current events, concerned him deeply, all the more that he gauged Reginald Barking's temper of mind and proclivities.
The young man's father—now happily deceased—had offered an instructive example of social and religious survival—survival, to be explicit, of the once famous Clapham Sect, and that in its least agreeable aspect. His theology was that of obstinately narrow misinterpretation of the Scriptures; his piety that of self-invented obligations; his virtue that of unsparing condemnation of the sins of others. His domestic morality was Hebraic—death kindly playing into his hands in regard of it. He married four times—Reginald, the only child of his fourth marriage, having the further privilege of being his only son. The boy was delicate and of a strumous habit. This fact, combined with his parents' ingrained conviction that a public school is synonymous, morally speaking, with a common sewer, caused his education to be conducted at home by a series of tutors as undistinguished by birth as by scholarship—tentative apologetic young men, the goal of whose ambitions was a wife and a curacy, failing which they resigned themselves to the post of usher in some ultra- Protestant school. Sport in all its forms, art and literature, being alike forbidden, the boy's hungry energy had found no reasonable outlet. He had been miserable, peevish, ailing, until at barely eighteen—after a discreditable episode with a scullery-maid—he had been shipped off to New York to learn business in the house of certain brokers and bill-discounters with whom Messrs. Barking Brothers had extensive financial relations. Life in the land of the Puritans was not, even at that time of day, inevitably immaculate. Freedom from parental supervision and the American climate went to the lad's head. He passed through a phase of commonplace but secret vice, emerging there-from with an unblemished social reputation; a blank scepticism in matters religious, combined with bitter animosity against the Deity whom he declared non-existent; and a fiercely driving ambition, not so much for wealth in itself, as for that control ever the destinies of men, and even of nations, with which wealth under modern conditions endows its possessor. He was a pale, dry, lizard-like young man, suggesting light without heat, and excitement without emotion. Early in his career he recognised that the great sources of wealth and power lie with the younger countries, in the development of their natural and industrial resources, of their railways and other forms of transport. The phenomenal advance of America, for example, was due to her enormous territory and the opportunities of expansion, with the bounds of nationality, which this afforded her people. But he also recognised that America was essentially for the Americans, and that it was useless for an outsider, however skilful, however even unscrupulous, to pit his business capacity against that of the native born. His dreams of power and speculative activity directed themselves, consequently, to the British Colonies, and to those as yet unappropriated spaces of the earth's surface where British influence is still only tentatively present.
Meanwhile he had espoused Miss Nancy Van Reenan, daughter of a famous transatlantic merchant prince, first cousin, it may be added, to the beautiful Virginia Van Reenan whose marriage with Lawrence Rivers, of Stoke Rivers in the county of Sussex, so fluttered the smartest section of New York society a few years ago. He returned to England in the spring of 1897, convinced that America had taught him, commercially speaking, all there was to know. This knowledge he prepared to apply to waking up the venerable establishment in Threadneedle Street, while employing the unimpeachable respectability and solvency of the said establishment as a lever towards the realisation of his own far-reaching ambitions. He brought with him from the United States, in addition to his elegant wife, two dry, pale children, whose contours were less Raphaelesque than gnat-like, and the acuteness of whose critical faculty was very much more in evidence than that of their affections. These bright little results of modernity and applied science—in the shape of the incubator—took their place in the social movement, at the ages of three and five respectively, with the hard and chilling assurance of a world-weary man and woman. They never exhibited surprise. They rarely exhibited amusement. They were radically disillusioned. They frequently referred to their nerves and their digestions, in the interests of which they consistently repudiated every form of excess.
With these rather terrible little gentry Dominic Iglesias was, happily for himself, unacquainted; but with their father he was very well acquainted, as has already been stated. Hence his fears. Folding his newspaper together, he laid it on the table and proceeded to walk meditatively up and down his sitting-room. The morning was keen with sunshine, the leaves of the planes and balsam-poplars fell in brown and yellow showers upon the Green, on the further side of which the details of the red and yellowish grey houses stood out in high relief of sharp-edged light and shadow. Mr. Iglesias had risen in a hopeful frame of mind. Of late it had become his habit to call weekly on Poppy St. John. Today was the one appointed for his visit. Since he had spoken to her about his mother his friendship with Poppy St. John had entered upon a new phase. It was no longer experimental, but absolute, the more so that she had in no way presumed upon his confidence. He felt very safe with her—safe to tell or safe to withhold as inclination should move him. And in this there was a strange and delicate lessening of the burden of his loneliness, without any encroachment on his pride. He had found, moreover, that behind her patter lay an unexpected acquaintance with public affairs and the tendencies of current events, so that it was possible to talk on subjects other than personal with her. He was coming to have much faith in her judgment as well as in her sincerity of heart. And, so, with the prospect of seeing her before him, Dominic had risen in the happiest disposition, had so remained till the newspaper article disturbed his mind. For what, as he asked himself, did it portend, this extravagant puff of the company's lad and the company's prospects, at this particular juncture? Why was it so urgently and eloquently forced upon the market just now? Was it but another proof of the contemptuous attitude adopted by Englishmen of all classes towards the Boer Republics? Or did it take its origin very much elsewhere—namely, in the fact that Reginald Barking had so deeply involved the capital and pledged the credit of the firm that it became necessary to make violent and doubtfully honest bid for popular support before the position of the said firm, through difficulty and accident induced by war, became desperate?
This last solution of the perplexing question aroused all Mr. Iglesias' loyalty towards his old employers. He saw before them the ugly possibility of failure and disgrace. The mere phantom of the thing hurt him as unseemly, as a shame and dishonour to those who in their corporate capacity had benefited him, and therefore as a shame and dishonour, at least indirectly, to himself. The thought agitated him. He needed to take council with someone; and so, pushed by a necessity of immediate action uncommon to him, he laid hands on hat and coat and set forth to talk matters over with his old friend and former colleague, George Lovegrove.
Out of doors the air was stimulating. The voice of London had a tone of urgency in it, as the voice of the young and strong who court the coming of stirring events.
"The moods of the monstrous mother are inexhaustible," Iglesias said to himself. "She is changeful as the great ocean. To-day she is virile, and shouts for battle—. well, it may be she will get her fill of that before many months are out!"
Then the thought of his afternoon visit returned upon him. If the air would remain as exhilarating, the sunshine as daring as now, these would heighten enjoyment.
Mr. Iglesias smiled to himself, an emotion of tenderness mingling with his anxiety. He felt very much alive, very ready to meet any demand which the future might make on him—battle for him, too, perhaps, and at this moment he welcomed the thought of it! Thus, a little exalted in spirit, Dominic walked on rapidly across the Green between the iron railings, conscious of colour, of light, and of sound; but unobservant of the details of his immediate surroundings, until a drifting female figure barred his path, undulating uncertainly before him. He moved to the right to let it pass. It moved to the right also. He moved to the left, it did so, too.
"I beg your pardon," he said.
"Oh!" cried Serena Lovegrove.
"I beg your pardon," Iglesias repeated, raising his hat. "Excuse me, I did not see who it was."
"How very odd!" Serena remarked. She stood still in the middle of the path. Her eyes snapped. Her silk petticoat rustled. Serena was very particular about her petticoats. It gave her great moral and social support to hear them rustle. "How very odd!" she said again. "Did you not know that I had come back?"
Dominic might truthfully have replied that he did not know that she had ever gone away; but he abstained.
"It must be a great pleasure to your cousins to have you with them," he said courteously.
Serena looked at the falling leaves.
"I wonder whether it is—I mean I wonder whether it is a pleasure to them, or whether they ask me out of a sense of duty." She paused, gazing at Mr. Iglesias. "Of course, I know George has a strong regard for me, and for Susan. It is only natural, as we are first cousins. But I am not sure about Rhoda. Of course we never heard of Rhoda until she married George."
"She has made him an excellent wife," Iglesias put in.
"I suppose she has," Serena said reflectively. "But I sometimes wonder whether, if George had married somebody else, it might not have been more satisfactory in some ways."
Serena felt very proud in making this remark. It elicited no reply, however, from Mr. Iglesias.
"I wonder if he really sees that Rhoda is on a different level from us, and won't admit it; or whether he doesn't see. If he doesn't see, of course that means a good deal."
"Do you usually go out walking in the morning?" Dominic inquired. The silence was becoming protracted. Courtesy demanded that he should break it.
Serena looked at him with heightened intelligence.
"We were always brought up to take a walk twice a day. Mamma was very particular about it. She believed that health had so much to do with regular exercise. Sometimes I wonder whether she did not carry that too far. But, of course, Susan is very strong, much stronger than I am. I believe she would have been strong in any case, even if mamma had not insisted on our taking so much exercise." Serena paused. "But I did not know you went out in the morning. That is, I mean I have never seen you go out before."
"Indeed," Iglesias exclaimed, a little startled at the close observation of his habits implied by this remark.
"No," she said; "of course one can see Cedar Lodge very plainly from George's house, and I often look out of window. I think it among the pleasures of London to look out of window. I have never seen you go out in the morning before." Again she paused, adding reflectively: "It really seems rather odd that neither George nor Rhoda should have told you that I had come back."
To this remark no suitable answer suggested itself. Moreover, Mr. Iglesias was growing slightly impatient. He wished she would see fit to move aside and let him pass.
"You will get cold standing here," he said. "You must not let me detain you any longer."
Serena's eyes snapped. She was excited. She was also slightly offended. "He is very abrupt," she said to herself; but she did not move aside and let him pass. "Yes, he is abrupt," she repeated; "still, he has a very good manner. If one didn't know that he had been a bank clerk, I wonder if one would detect it. I don't think it would be a thing that need be mentioned, for instance, at Slowby. Only Susan would be sure to make a point of mentioning it. Susan has an idea she owes it to herself to be truthful. Of course, it would be wrong to deny that anyone had been a bank clerk; but that is different from telling everybody. I wonder if Susan would feel obliged to tell everybody."
When she reached the near side of the Green, Serena looked back. Mr. Iglesias was in the act of entering the Lovegroves' front door, which the worthy George held open for him. Serena stood transfixed.
"So he was going there!" she said to herself. "How extraordinary not to mention it to me. What could have been his object in not mentioning it? I wonder if he has only gone to see George, or to see Rhoda as well. If he has gone to see Rhoda, then I think he has been exceedingly rude to me. And he has been very short-sighted, too, if he didn't want me to know, for he might have taken it for granted that of course I should look back. Unless he did do it on purpose, meaning to be rude. But—"
Serena resumed her walk. She was very much excited.
"Of course he may have done it on purpose that I should see, and understand that he meant something special—that he was going to speak to George and Rhoda about something in particular, which he could not say before me. He may have wanted to sound them. But then it is so very odd that he should have said that George had never told him I had come back. But I don't believe he ever did say that." Serena was growing more and more excited. She drifted along the pavement, in her rustling petticoats, with the most unusually animated expression of countenance.
"I remember—of course he did not say it. He avoided the question each time. How very extraordinary! I think he must mean me to understand something by that. I wonder if George will refer to it at luncheon. If he does I must find out from Rhoda, but without letting her suspect that I observed anything, of course."
Serena had quite ceased to be offended. Her fancy, indeed, had taken a most wildly ingenious flight. She felt very remarkable, very acute, quite dangerous, in short—and these sensations, however limited their justification by fact, were highly agreeable to her.
The heavens remained clear, the air exhilarating, and Iglesias set forth on his weekly pilgrimage in a serene frame of mind. George Lovegrove's view had been reassuring.
"I know you are much more far-sighted than I am," he had said, his honest face beaming with combined cleanliness and affection, "so I always hesitate to set up my opinion against yours. It would be presumptuous. Still, you do surprise me. I never had an inkling of anything of the sort; and between ourselves—for I should never hint at the subject before the wife, you know—it might upset her, females are so sensitive—but between ourselves it would fairly unman me to think there could be any unsoundness in Barking Brothers & Barking. You know the phrase current in the city about them—'as safe as the Bank of England'? And I have always believed that. I know I left before Mr. Reginald had any active share in the business, and I never have cared about American speculation. It is all beyond me. Still I cannot suppose the senior partners would let him have too much his own way. Depend upon it, Sir Abel keeps an eye on him. And then as to this war, of course you have studied it all more deeply than I have the power to do; still I cannot help thinking you distress yourself unnecessarily. As I said to the wife when I first heard of it, it's suicidal. One can only feel pity for such poor ignorant creatures, rushing headlong on their ruin. Depend upon it, they will very soon come to their senses and deplore their own rash action. A very few weeks will see the finish of it all. I only hope there will not be much bloodshed first, for of course they couldn't stand up against English troops for an hour, poor things."
Encouraged by which cheerful optimism Dominic Iglesias began to think his fears exaggerated, as he descended from an omnibus top at Hammersmith Bridge that afternoon, crossed the river, and walked on down the long suburban road. The sky was sharply blue. Multicoloured leaves danced down from the trees in the villa gardens. Gaily clad children, pursued by anxious mothers and nursemaids, ran and shouted, the sunshine and fresh air having gone to their heads. Perched on the brick pier of an entrance gate, a robin uplifted its voice in piercingly sweet song. Autumn wore her fairest face, speaking of promise rather than of decay. It was good to be alive. Even to Mr. Iglesias' sober and chastened spirit horror of war, disgrace of financial failure, seemed remote and inconsiderable things, morbid delusions such as sane men brush aside scorning to give them harbourage so much as of thought.
Poppy was mirthful, too, in her greeting of him.
"My dear man," she cried, "the house is out of windows! You find us in the throes of a great domestic event. Cappadocia has done her duty by posterity. She has been brought to bed, if you'll excuse my mentioning it, of four puppies. Perfect little lambs, not a white hair among them. And she shows true maternal feeling, does Cappadocia. Whenever you go near her she tries to bite."
Poppy spoke very fast, holding his hand, looking him full in the face, her singular eyes very gentle in expression, yet all alight.
"Ah! it's good to see you. My stars, but it is good to see you," she said.
And Dominic, moved beyond his wont, stood silent for a space.
"You're not offended? Surely, at this time of the day, you're not going to stiffen up?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"No, no, dear friend," he said; "but this greeting is a little wonderful to me. Except my mother, years ago, nobody has ever cared whether I came or went."
"More fools they," Poppy answered, with a fine disregard of grammar. "But all that's over now. You know it's over. All the same I can't be altogether sorry it was so, because it gives me my chance.—Sit down; I'll expound to you. Let us talk.—You see, my beautiful innocent, with most men worth knowing—I am not talking about boys running about with the shell still on their heads and more affections to place than they can find a market for, but men. Well then, with most all of them, when one comes to discuss matters, one finds one's had such an awful lot of predecessors. At best one comes in a bad third—more often a bad three-and-twentieth—I mean nothing risky. Don't be nervous. But they have romantic memories of half-a-dozen women. And so, though they are no end nice and kind to one, play up and give one a good time and have a jolly good one themselves—trust 'em to take care of that—one knows all the while, if one knows anything, that the whole show's merely a rechauffe. Visions of Clara and Gladys, and dear little Emily, and Rosina, and Beatrice, and the lovely Lucinda— angels, every one of them, if you haven't seen them for ten years, and wouldn't know them again if you met them in the street—haunt the background of every man's mind by the time he's five-and-thirty, and cut entrancing capers against the sky-line, so that—when one comes to thrash the matter out—one finds the actually present woman, here in the foreground, hasn't really any look-in at all."