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The Immortal Moment - The Story of Kitty Tailleur
by May Sinclair
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"Please leave me to pack."

"Presently. Bunny—look at me—straight. Why are you doing this?"

"I wish to be spared the unpleasantness of speaking."

"But you've got to speak. Out with it. What have I done?"

"You know better than I do what your life has been."

"My life? I should think I did. Rather."

Kitty crossed the room to the bell.

"What time does your train go?"

"My——? I—must leave this at seven-thirty."

Kitty rang the bell. A housemaid appeared.

"I want a fly at seven-thirty. Please see that Miss Keating's luggage is downstairs by then. Her room will not be wanted."

Miss Keating's face was livid.

"You wish," said she, "the hotel people to think that it is you who have given me notice?"

"You poor thing. I only wanted the fly to go down to my account."

"You expect me to believe that?"

"I don't expect anything of you—now. I suppose it's Colonel Hankin who has been talking about my life? It wasn't Mr. Lucy, though you'd like to make me think so."

"There's no need for anybody to talk. Do you suppose I don't know what you are? You can't hide what's in you. You're—you're full of it. And you've no shame about it. You can stand there, knowing that I know, and ask me what you've done. How do I know what you've done? I don't want to know it. It's bad enough to know what you are. And to know that I've been living with it for three months. You got hold of me, an innocent woman, and used me as a cover for your evil life. That's all you wanted me for."

"Whatever I've done, I've done nothing to deserve that."

"You think not? Have you any idea what you've done—to me?"

"No; I haven't. What have I done?"

"I'm going to tell you. You've never ceased casting it up to me that I'm not married, that I haven't your attractions—I thank heaven I have not—I am not the sort of woman you take me for. I never have wanted to be married, but if—if ever I had, I shouldn't want it now. You've spoilt all that for me. I shall never see a man without thinking of you. I shall hate every man I meet because of you."

"Well, hate them, hate them. It's better than loving them. Let me strap that box. You'll tear your poor heart out."

Miss Keating wrenched the strap from Kitty's hands.

"Ah, how you hate me! Hate the men, dear, that can't do you any harm; but don't hate the other women. At my worst I never did that."

Miss Keating shrugged her shoulders, for she was putting on her coat. Kitty looked at her and sighed.

"Bunny," said she, "I want to make it quite clear to you why you're going. You think it's because you know something horrible about me. But it isn't. You don't know anything about me. You've only been listening to some of the people in the hotel. They don't know anything about me either. They've never met me in their lives before. But they've been thinking things and saying things, and you've swallowed it all because you wanted to. You're so desperately keen on making out there's something bad about me. Of course, you might have made it out; you might have proved all sorts of things against me. But you haven't. That's my whole point. You haven't proved a thing, have you? If you were my husband, and wanted to get rid of me, you'd have to trump up some evidence, wouldn't you?"

"There is no need to trump up evidence. I'm acting on my instinct and belief."

"Oh, I know you believe it all right."

"I can't help what I believe."

"No, you can't help it. You can't help what you want. And you wouldn't have wanted it if you hadn't been so furiously unhappy. I was furiously unhappy myself once. That's why I understand you."

"It is five-and-twenty minutes past seven, Mrs. Tailleur."

"And in five minutes you'll go. And you won't hear a word in my defence? You won't? Why, if I'd murdered somebody and they were going to hang me, they'd let me defend myself before they did it. All I was going to say was—supposing everything you said was true, I think you might have made allowances for me. You can't? I was harder driven than you."

"No two cases could well be more different."

"Once they were the same. Only it was worse for me. All your temptations are bottled up inside you. Mine rushed at me from inside and outside too. I've had all the things you had. I had a strait-laced parson for my father—so had you. I was poked away in a hole in the country—so were you. I had little sisters—so had you. My mother sent me away from home for fear I should harm them." Her voice shook. "I wouldn't have harmed them for the world. I was sent to live with an old lady—so were you. I was shut up with her all day, till I got ill and couldn't sleep at night. I never saw a soul but one or two other old ladies. They were quite fond of me—I made them. I should have died of it if it hadn't been for that. Then—do listen, Bunny—something happened, and I broke loose, and got away. You never had a chance to get away, so you don't know what it feels like. Perhaps, I think, when it came to the point, you'd have been afraid, or something. I wasn't. And I was young. I'm young still. You can't judge me. Anyhow, I know what you've been through. That's what made me sorry for you. Can't you be a little sorry for me?"

Miss Keating said nothing. She was putting on her hat, and her mouth at the moment was closed tight over a long hat-pin. She drew it out slowly between her shut lips. Meeting Kitty's eyes she blinked.

"You needn't be sorry," said Kitty. "I've had things that you haven't."

Miss Keating turned to the looking-glass and put on her veil. Her back was toward Kitty. The two women's faces were in the glass, the young and the middle-aged, each searching for the other. Kitty's face was tearful and piteous; it pleaded with the other face in the glass, a face furtive with hate, that hung between two lifted arms behind a veil.

Miss Keating's hands struggled with her veil.

"I mayn't tie it for you?" said Kitty.

"No, thank you."

There was a knock at the door, and Miss Keating started.

"It's the men for your boxes. Come into my room and say good bye."

"I prefer to say good bye here, if it's all the same to you. Good bye."

"You won't even shake hands with me? Well, if you won't—why should you?"

"I am holding out my hand. If you won't take it——"

"No, no. I don't want to take it."

Kitty was crying.

"I must let those men in," said Miss Keating. "You are not going to make a scene?"

"I? Oh Lord, no. You needn't mind me. I'll go."

She went into her own room and flung herself, face downward, on to her pillow, and slid by the bedside, kneeling, to the floor.



CHAPTER IX

At eight o'clock Mrs. Tailleur was not to be found in her room, or in any other part of the hotel. By nine Lucy was out on the Cliff-side looking for her. He was not able to account for the instinct that told him she would be there.

The rain had ceased earlier in the evening. Now it was falling again in torrents. He could see that the path was pitted with small, sharp footprints. They turned and returned, obliterating each other.

At the end of the path, in the white chamber under the brow of the Cliff, he made out first a queer, irregular, trailing black mass, then the peak of a hood against the wall, and the long train of a woman's gown upon the floor, and then, between the loops of the hood, the edge of Mrs. Tailleur's white face, dim, but discernible. She sat sideways, leaning against the wall, in the slack, childlike attitude of exhausted misery.

He came close. She did not stir at the sound of his feet trampling the slush. Her eyes were shut, her mouth open; she breathed, like a child, the half-suffocated breath that comes after long crying. He stood looking at her, tongue-tied with pity. Every now and then her throat shook like a child's with guileless hiccoughing sobs.

He stooped over her and called her name.

"Mrs. Tailleur."

She turned from him and sank sidelong into the corner, hiding her face. The long wings of her cloak parted and hung back from her cowering body. Her thin garments, beaten smooth by the rain, clung like one tissue to the long slope above her knees. Lucy laid his hand gently on her gown. She was drenched to the skin. It struck through, cold and shuddering, to his touch. She pushed his hand away and sat up.

"I think," she said, "you'd better go away."

"Do you want me to go?"

"I don't want you to see me like this. I'm—I'm not pretty to look at."

"That doesn't matter in the very least. Besides, I can hardly see you in this light."

He drew her cloak about her and fastened it. He could feel, from the nearness of her flushed mouth, the heat and the taste of grief. She flung her head back to the wall away from him. Her hood slipped, and he put his arm behind her shoulders and raised it, and drew it gently forward to shelter her head from the rough wall. His hand was wet with the rain from her loose hair.

"How long have you been walking about in the rain before you came here?"

She tried to speak, and with the effort her sobs broke out in violence. It struck him again, and with another pang of pity, how like a child she was in the completeness of her abandonment! He sat down beside her, leaning forward, his face hidden in his hands. He felt that to hide his own face was somehow to screen her.

Her sobbing went on, and her hand, stretched toward him unawares, clutched at the top of the wooden seat.

"Would you like me to go away and come back again?" he said presently.

"No!" she cried. And at her own cry a terrible convulsion shook her. He could feel her whole body strain and stiffen with the effort to control it. Then she was calm.

"I beg your pardon," she said. "I told you, didn't I, that you'd better go away?"

"Do you suppose that I'm going to leave you here? Just when I've found you?"

"Miss Keating's left me. Did you know?"

"Yes, I heard. Is it—is it a great trouble to you?"

"Yes." She shook again.

"Surely," he began, and hesitated, and grew bold. "Surely it needn't be? She wasn't, was she, such a particularly amiable person?"

"She couldn't help it. She was so unhappy."

His voice softened. "You were very fond of her?"

"Yes. How did you know she'd gone?"

It was too dark in there for him to see the fear in her eyes as she turned them to him.

"Oh," he said, "we heard she'd left. I suppose she had to go."

"Yes," said Mrs. Tailleur, "she had to go."

"Well, I shouldn't distress myself any more about it. Tell me, have you been walking about in the rain ever since she left?"

"I—I think so."

"And my little sister was looking for you everywhere. She wanted you to dine with us. We thought you would, perhaps, as you were free."

"That was very good of you."

"We couldn't find you anywhere in the hotel. Then I came out here."

"What made you come?"

"I came to look for you."

"To look for me?"

"Yes. You don't mind, do you?"

"How did you know I should be here?"

"I didn't. It was the last place I tried. Do you know it's past nine o'clock? You must come in now."

"I—can't."

"Oh yes," he said, "you can. You're coming back with me."

He talked as he would to a frightened child, to one of his own children.

"I'm afraid to go back."

"Why?"

"Because of Bunny. She told me people were saying dreadful things about me. That's why she left. She couldn't bear it."

Lucy ground his teeth. "She couldn't bear it? That shows what she was, doesn't it? But you—you don't mind what people say?"

"No," she said, "I don't mind."

"Well——"

"Yes!" she cried passionately. "I do mind. I've always minded. It's just the one thing I can't get over."

"It's the one thing," said Lucy, "we have to learn to get over. When you've lived to be as old as I am, you'll see how very little it matters what people say of us. Especially when we know what other people think."

"Other people?"

"Friends," he said, "the people who really care."

"Ah, if we only could know what they think. That's the most horrible thing of all—what they think."

"Is that why you don't want to go back?"

Lucy's voice was unsteady and very low.

"Yes," she whispered.

There was a brief silence.

"But if you go back with me," he said, "it will be all right, won't it?"

The look in her eyes almost reached him through the darkness, it was so intense.

"No," she said out loud, "it won't. It will be all wrong."

"I don't agree with you. Anyhow, I'm going to take you back. Come."

"No," she said, "not yet. Mayn't we stay here a little longer?"

"No, we mayn't. You've got your death of cold as it is."

"I'm not cold, now. I'm warm. Feel my hands."

She held them out to him. He did not touch them. But he put his arm round her and raised her to her feet. And they went back together along the narrow Cliff-path. It was dangerous in the perishing light. He took her hands in his now, and led her sidelong. When her feet slipped in the slimy chalk, he held her up with his arm.

At the little gate she turned to him.

"I was kind to Bunny," she said, "I was really."

"I am sure," he said gently, "you are kind to everybody."

"That's something, isn't it?"

"I'm not sure that it isn't everything."

They went up the side of the garden, along the shrubbery, by a path that led to the main entrance of the hotel. A great ring of white light lay on the wet ground before the porch, thrown from the electric lamps within.

Mrs. Tailleur stepped back into the darkness by the shrubbery. "Look here," she said, "I'm going in by myself. You are going round another way. You have not seen me. You don't know where I am. You don't know anything about me."

"I know," said Lucy, "you are coming in with me."

She drew farther back. "I'm not thinking of myself," she said, "I'm thinking of you."

She was no longer like a child. Her voice had suddenly grown older.

"Are you?" he said. "Then you'll do what I ask you." He held her with his arm and drew her, resisting and unresisting, close to him.

"Ah," she cried, "what are you going to do with me?"

"I am going," he said, "to take you to my sister."

And he went with her, up the steps and into the lighted vestibule, past the hall-porter and the clerk in his bureau and the manager's wife in hers, straight into the lounge, before the Colonel and his wife, and he led her to Jane where she sat in her place beside the hearth.

"It isn't half such a bad night as it looks," said he in a clear voice. "Is it, Mrs. Tailleur?"



CHAPTER X

Five minutes later Lucy was talking to Colonel and Mrs. Hankin, with genial unconcern. They never knew that he knew what they had been saying, or how their tongues had scourged Mrs. Tailleur out into the lash of the rain. They never knew that the young man who conversed with them so amiably was longing to take the Colonel by his pink throat and throttle him, nor that it was only a higher chivalry that held him from this disastrous deed. The Colonel merely felt himself in the presence of an incomparable innocence; but whether it was Lucy who was innocent, or Mrs. Tailleur, or the two of them together, he really could not say.

Upstairs, in Mrs. Tailleur's bedroom, Jane Lucy was talking to Mrs. Tailleur. They were sitting by the hearth while Kitty, clothed in warm garments, shook out her drenched hair before the fire. She had just told Jane how Miss Keating had left her, and she had become tearful again over the telling.

"Need you mind so much? Is she worth it?" said Jane, very much as Robert had said.

"I don't mind her leaving. I can get over that. But you don't know the awful things she said."

"No, I don't; but I dare say she didn't mean half of them."

"Didn't she though! I'll show you."

Kitty got up and opened the door into the other room. It was as Miss Keating had left it.

"Look there," she said, "what she's done."

Jane looked. "I'm not surprised. You did everything for her, so I suppose she expected you to pack and send her things after her."

"It isn't that. Don't you see? It's—it's the things I gave her. She flung them back in my face. She wouldn't take one of them. See, that's the white frock she was wearing, and the fur-lined coal (she'll be so cold without it), and look, that's the little chain I gave her on her birthday. She wouldn't even keep the chain."

"Well, I dare say she would feel rather bad about it after she's behaved in this way."

"It isn't that. It's because they were mine—because I wore them." Kitty began to sob.

"No, no, dear Mrs. Tailleur——"

"Yes, yes. She—she thought they'd c—c—contaminate her."

Kitty's sobs broke into the shrill laugh of hysteria. Jane led her to the couch and sat beside her. Kitty leaned forward, staring at the floor. Now and then she pressed her handkerchief to her mouth, stifling. Suddenly she looked up into Jane's face.

"Would you mind wearing a frock I'd worn?"

"Of course I wouldn't."

Kitty's handkerchief dropped on to her lap, a soaked ball, an insufficient dam.

"Oh," she cried, "the beast!—the little, little beast!"

She looked again at Jane, but with a glance half cowed, half candid; like a child that has proved, indubitably, its predestined naughtiness.

"I didn't mean to use that word."

"I want to use it myself," said Jane. "It's not a bit too much."

"I didn't mean it."

She added softly, reminiscently. "She was such a little thing."

"Much too little for you to care about."

"That's why I cared. I know it was. She was just like a little, lonely child; and she clung to me at first."

"She certainly seems to have clung."

"That's why it's so awful to think that she couldn't bear it—couldn't bear to live with me."

"We wondered how you could bear to live with her."

"Did you?"

"Yes. Why did you have her?"

"You see, I had to have some one; and she was nice."

"I don't think she was nice at all."

"Oh yes," said Kitty, solemnly, "you could see that."

"I suppose you mean she was a lady?"

"Ye—es." Kitty was not by any means certain that that was what she did mean. It was so difficult to find words for what she meant.

"That," said Jane, "is the least you can be."

"Anyhow, she was."

"Well, if you take a charitable view of her. Her people are probably nicer than she is. Perhaps that's why she doesn't live with them."

"Her father," said Kitty, "is the vicar of Wenden. I suppose that's all right."

"Probably; but we don't care what peoples' fathers are like, provided they're nice themselves."

"Do you think I'm nice?"

Jane laughed. "Yes, as it happens, I do."

"Ah, youyou——"

"We both do," said Jane boldly.

"You're the first nice woman I've known who hasn't been horrid to me. And he——" Kitty had been playing with a button of her dressing-gown. Her fingers now began tearing, passionately, convulsively, at the button. "He is the first nice man who—who hasn't been what men are."

"You don't mean that," said Jane calmly. She was holding Mrs. Tailleur's hand in hers and caressing it, soothing its pathetic violence.

"I do. I do. That's why I like you so."

"I'm glad you like us."

"I'd give anything to know what you really think of me."

"May I say what I think?"

"Yes."

"I think you're too good to be so unhappy."

"That's a new view of me. Most people think I'm too unhappy to be very good."

"You are good; but if you'd been happier you'd have known that other people are what you call good, too."

"That's what I said to Bunny. She was unhappy."

"Never mind her. If you'd been happier you'd have known, for instance, that my brother isn't an exception. There are a great many men like him. All the men I've known have been more or less like Robert."

"They would be, dear; all the men you've known. But, you see, something happened. Nothing ever happened to you."

"No. Nothing very much has happened to me. Nothing very much ever will."

"You never wanted things to happen, did you?"

"I don't know. Perhaps I'm interested most in the things that happen to other people."

"You dear! If I'd been like you——"

"I wish," said Jane, "you'd known Robert sooner."

Mrs. Tailleur's lips parted, but no voice came through them.

"Then," said Jane, "whatever happened never would have happened, probably."

"I wonder. What do you suppose happened?"

"I don't know. I've no business to know."

"What do you think? Tell me—tell me!"

"I think you've been very badly handled."

"Yes. You may think so."

"When you were young—too young to understand it."

"Ah, I was never too young to understand. That's the difference between you and me."

"That makes it all the worse, then."

"All the worse! So that's what you think? How does it make you feel to me?"

"It makes me feel that I want to take you away, and warm you and wrap you round, so that nothing could ever touch you and hurt you any more."

"That's how it makes you feel?"

"That's how it makes us both feel."

"He takes it that way, too?"

"Of course he does. Any nice man would."

"If I were nice——"

"You are nice."

"You don't know, my child; you don't know."

"Do you suppose Robert doesn't know?"

Mrs. Tailleur rose suddenly and turned away.

"I was nice once," she said, "and at times I can be now."



CHAPTER XI

Colonel Hankin was mistaken. Mrs. Tailleur's room was not wanted the next day. The point had been fiercely disputed in those obscure quarters of the hotel inhabited by the management. The manager's wife was for turning Mrs. Tailleur out on the bare suspicion of her impropriety. The idea in the head of the manager's wife was that there should be no suspicion as to the reputation of the Cliff Hotel. The manager, on his side, contended that the Cliff Hotel must not acquire a reputation for suspicion; that any lady whom Miss Lucy had made visibly her friend was herself in the position so desirable for the Cliff Hotel; that, in any case, unless Mrs. Tailleur's conduct became such as to justify an extreme step, the scandal of the ejection would be more damaging to the Cliff Hotel than her present transparently innocent and peaceful occupation of the best room in it. He wished to know how a scandal was to be avoided when the place was swarming with old women. And, after all, what had they got against Mrs. Tailleur except that she was better looking by a long chalk, and better turned-out, than any of 'em? Of course, he couldn't undertake to say—offhand—whether she was or wasn't any better than she should be. But, in the absence of complaints, he didn't consider the question a profitable one for a manager to go into in the slack season.

All the manager's intelligence was concentrated in the small commercial eye which winked, absurdly, in the solitude of his solemn and enormous face. You must take people as you found them, said he, and for his part he had always found Mrs. Tailleur——

But how the manager had found Mrs. Tailleur was never known to his wife, for at this point she walked out of the private sitting-room and shut herself into her bureau. Her opinion, more private even than that sitting-room, consecrated to intimate dispute, was that where women were concerned the manager was a perfect fool.

The window of the bureau looked out on to the vestibule and the big staircase. And full in sight of the window Mrs. Tailleur was sitting on a seat set under the stair. She had her hat on and carried a sunshade in her hand, for the day was fine and warm. She was waiting for somebody. And as she waited she amused herself by smiling at the little four-year-old son of the management who played in the vestibule, it being the slack season. He was running up and down the flagged floor, dragging a little cart after him. And as he ran he never took his eyes off the pretty lady. They said, every time, with the charming vanity of childhood, "Look at me!" And Kitty looked at him, every time, and made, every time, the right sort of smile that says to a little boy, "I see you." Just then nobody was there to see Kitty but the manager's wife, who stood at the window of the bureau and saw it all. And as the little boy was not looking in the least where he was going, his feet were presently snared in the rug where the pretty lady sat, and he would have tumbled on his little nose if Kitty had not caught him.

He was going to cry, but Kitty stopped him just in time by lifting him on to her lap and giving him her watch to look at. A marvellous watch that was gold and blue and bordered with a ring of little sparkling stones.

At that moment Robert Lucy came down the stairs. He came very quietly and leaned over the banister behind Kitty's back and watched her, while he listened shamelessly to the conversation. The pretty lady looked prettier than ever.

"My daddy gave my mummy her watch on her birthday," said the little boy. "Who gave you your watch?"

"It wasn't your daddy, dear."

"Of course it wasn't my daddy."

"Of course not."

"What is your name?"

"My name is Mrs. Tailleur."

"Mrs. Ty-loor. My name is Stanley. That gentleman's name is Mr. Lucy. I like him."

Lucy came down and seated himself beside her. She made him a sign with her mouth, as much as to say she was under a charm and he wasn't to break it.

"Do you like him, Mrs. Tyloor?"

"Well—what do you think?"

"I think you like him very much."

Mrs. Tailleur laughed softly.

"What makes you laugh?"

"You. You're so funny."

"You're funny. Your eyelashes curl up when you laugh, and your eyes curl, too. And your mouth!" he crowed with the joy of it. "Such a funny mouth."

The mouth hid itself in the child's soft neck among his hair. The woman in the bureau saw that, and her face became curiously contracted.

"I remember the day you came. My daddy said you was very pretty."

"And what did your mummy say?"

Kitty had caught sight of the fierce face in the window, and a little daring devil had entered into her.

"Mummy said she couldn't tell if she wasn't allowed to look."

"And why," said Lucy, "wasn't she allowed to look?"

"Daddy said she wasn't to."

"Of course he did," said Lucy. "It's very rude to look at people."

"Daddy looked. I saw him."

The door of the bureau opened and the manager's wife came out. She had a slight flush on her face and her mouth was tighter than ever.

Mrs. Tailleur saw her coming and slipped the child from her lap. The manager's wife put out her hand to take him, but he turned from her and clung to the pretty lady.

The woman seized him by the arm and tore him from her, and dragged him toward the apartments of the management. The child screamed as he went.

"Women like that," said Lucy, "shouldn't be allowed to have children."

Mrs. Tailleur turned to him though she had not heard him.

"What have I done? What harm could I do the little thing?"

"What have you done?" It was hard for him to follow the workings of her mind. "You don't mean to say you minded that?"

"Yes, I minded. I minded awfully."

"That dreadful woman?"

"Do you think she really was dreadful?"

"Quite terrible."

"I don't know. I suppose," she said, "they're all like that. Yet they can't all be dreadful."

Lucy laughed. He couldn't see her point. "I don't understand who 'they' are."

"The women who are—the women who've got children."

She stooped down and picked up something from the floor. It was the little man out of the cart that the child had been playing with, that lay there, smashed, at her feet. The manager's wife had stepped on it. Kitty set the little man upon the seat and smiled at him sadly. And Lucy smiled at her out of a great and sudden tenderness.

He thought he saw it now.

"I think," said he, "you must allow for a little maternal jealousy."

"Jealousy? I can understand jealousy."

"So can I," said Lucy.

"And you think that was jealousy?"

"Well, you know, that little boy was making barefaced love to you."

She laughed. "I suppose," she said, "you would feel like that about it."

She got up and they went out, past the hotel front and down the lawn, in sight of the veranda, where at this hour everybody was there to see them. Lucy meant everybody to see. He had chosen that place, and that hour, also, which wore, appropriately, the innocence of morning. He knew her pitiful belief that he was defying public opinion in being seen with her; but from her ultimate consent, from her continuous trust in him, and from the heartrending way she clung to him, he gathered that she knew him, she knew that defiance, from him, would be a vindication of her.

He did not yet know how dear she had become to him. Only, as he looked at her moving close beside him, so beautiful and so defenceless, he thanked God that he had kept his manhood clean, so that nothing that he did for her could hurt her.

And so, holding himself very upright, and with his head in the air, he went slowly past the veranda and the Hankins, and, turning to Mrs. Tailleur, gave them the full spectacle of his gladness and his pride in her.

"How good you are to me," she said. "I know why you did that."

"Do you?"

He smiled, guarding his secret, holding it back a little while longer.

"Where are we going to?"

"Anywhere you choose to take me."

He took her through the gate that led them to the freedom of the Cliff.

"Do you see that?" He pointed to the path which was now baked hard and white by the sun.

"What is it?"

"Your little footprints, and my great hoofmarks beside them. I believe nobody comes this way but you and me."

"You see, it leads nowhere," said she.

"Doesn't it?" said he.

The little room in the Cliff-side was whiter than ever, burning white, it was, where the sun faced it. But the east side of it was in shadow, and they sat there, under the great forehead of the Cliff.

They were both silent. Lucy was thinking of how he had found her there, and of the fear and trouble of last night. He vowed that if he could help it there should be no more fear and no more trouble for her. In their silence, voices thin and sweet with distance, came to them from below, where children played on the beach among the rocks that, washed by water-springs from the Cliff's forehead to its foot, lay heaped where they had fallen. She listened and laughed.

She was happy now. He watched her as she stretched her adorable feet to the sun. A little wind came from the sea and played with her, taking from her a slight scent of violets for its salt. Every nerve in his body was aware of her nearness.

Only last night he had seen her crouching just there, in the darkness, convulsed, her face wet with rain and tears. It was good that the place they had chosen should be changed and cleansed for them by sunlight and wind from the sea and the sweet voices of children.

She did not break the silence. She only looked at him once with eyes whose pupils, black and dilated, narrowed the blue ring of the iris.

Then he spoke. "I was going to say something to you last night, but I didn't. There was something I wanted to know first, something I wasn't quite sure about."

She turned her face from him. The light struck it, and it quivered and grew white.

"Well, do you know now?"

"Yes," he said, "I know now."

But her lips scarcely moved as she answered him. "Of course you know."

She faced him with her sad white courage.

"Everybody knows. I'd rather you knew. I—I meant you to."

"Oh please"—he protested. "I wonder if I may say what it is?"

"It's something about me?"

"Yes. It's something about you. If I may say it."

"You may say anything you please. You know that."

"Well, I wanted very much to know whether—whether you were fond of children."

"Oh——" She drew a long breath, as if released from torture. Then she laughed the indescribable half-sobbing laugh of a child tormented and suddenly set free.

"Whether I were fond of children. Do you honestly mean it? Was that what you weren't sure of?"

"Well, of course, in a way I knew—but I couldn't tell, you know, till I'd seen you with one."

"Well, and so you can tell now?"

"Yes. I can tell now."

"And if I am fond of children, what difference does that make?"

"It makes all the difference. You see, I've got two little girls——"

"Two little girls." She repeated it after him smiling, as if she played with the vision of them.

"You see—they've no mother. My wife——"

"I know," she said softly.

"How did you know?"

"I can't tell you."

"My wife died five years ago when my youngest little girl was born."

"And I thought," she said, "you were so young."

"I'm thirty-five."

"Still I was right. You're young. Very young."

"Oh, well, don't you know, they say a woman's as young as she looks, and a man's as young as he feels. I feel all right."

"You dear." Her mouth and eyes said it without a sound.

"Are you quite sure that's all you want to know?"

"I had to know it."

"It was so important?"

"Yes. Because of them."

"And now you know all about me?"

"Yes. Now I know all about you."

"Don't you want to know something about—about Mr. Tailleur?"

Lucy's face hardened. "No, I don't think I want to know anything about him."

He had made up his mind that Mr. Tailleur had been a brute to her.

"He is dead."

"Well, yes. I supposed he would be."

"He died four years ago. I was married very young."

"I supposed that too."

"You don't feel that he's important?"

"Not in the very least."

She laughed.

"When I said that I knew all about you, I only meant that I knew—I'd the sense to see—what you were. You mustn't think that I take anything for granted."

"Ah, Mr. Lucy, dear, I'm afraid you're taking everything for granted."

"On my soul I'm not. I'm not that sort. There's one thing about you I don't know yet, and I'm afraid to ask, and it's the only thing I really want to know. It's the only thing that matters."

"Then ask me, ask me straight, whatever it is, and let's get it over. Can't you trust me to tell you the truth?"

"I trust you—to tell me the truth. I want to know where I am—where we are."

"Is it for me to say?"

"It's for you to say whether you think you can ever care for me."

"Can't you see that I care for you?"

"No, I'd give anything to see."

"Ah, it's so like you not to. And I thought I'd shown you—everything."

"You haven't shown me yet whether you care enough to—to——"

He checked himself, while his love for her drew its first breath, as if it had been born but that instant, in an agony of desire and fear.

"To do what?" she said. "Why won't you tell me?"

"I'm afraid," he said simply.

"Afraid of me! Why should you be?"

"Because, if you really cared for me, I think you'd know what I want."

"It's because I care so much that I don't know. Unless you tell me."

She put her small fingers lightly on the sleeve of his coat; they slid till they found his hands that hung clenched before him.

At her touch he trembled.

"Don't you know," she said, "that there's nothing I wouldn't do for you? Tell me what you want me to do."

He spoke so low that she strained to hear him.

"To marry me—to be my wife."

Her hand still lay on his, but she herself seemed to draw back and pause.

"Your wife?" she said at last. "My dear, you've only known me ten days."

"It makes no difference."

He took her hand in his and kissed it, bowing his head.

She twisted herself away from him, and drew back her face from his. They rose.

"Ah," she said, "you're cold. You don't know how. Let me look at you. It's not me you want. You want a mother for your children."

"Not I. I want you—you—for myself."

She moved toward him with a low cry, and he took her in his arms and stood still by her without a word. And to his joy, she whom he held (gently, lest he should hurt her) laid her face to his face, and held him with a grip tighter than his own, as if she feared that he would loose himself and leave her. Her eyes closed as he kissed her forehead, and opened as her mouth found his.

Then she drew herself slowly from him.

"You love me then?" she said.

"Yes, Kitty, I love you."



CHAPTER XII

The awkward thing was telling Jane about it. Jane had been his dead wife's friend before he married her, and she had known her better then than she knew Kitty. Yet he remembered, acutely, how he had gone to her eight years ago, and told her that he was going to marry Amy, and how she had kissed him and said nothing, and how, when he asked her if she had any objection, she had said "No, none. But isn't it a little sudden?"

He wondered how Jane would look when he told her he was going to marry Kitty. That was bound to strike her as very sudden indeed.

It was wonderful to him that this thing should have happened to him. He was aware that it was a new thing. Nothing in his previous experience had prepared him for it. He had been very young eight years ago, and a gayer, lighter-hearted chivalry had gone to his courtship of poor Amy. Poor Amy, though he would not own it, had been a rather ineffectual woman, with a prodigious opinion of her small self and a fretting passion for dominion. She had had a crowd of friends and relations whom she had allowed to come between them. Poor Amy had never understood him. There were heights and depths in him to which she had made no appeal.

But Kitty—she had brought something out of him that had been hidden and unknown to him before. Something that answered to the fear with which she had drawn back from him and to the tremendous and tragic passion with which she had given herself to him at the last. Poor little Amy had never held him so. She had never loved him like that in all her poor little life. And so his very tenderness for Kitty had terror in it, lest he should fail her, lest he should in any way justify her prescience of disaster.

Somebody was coming along the Cliff-path, somebody with a telegram for Mrs. Tailleur. She rose, moving away from Lucy as she opened it.

"There is no answer," she said. And she came to him again and sat beside him, very still, with hands spread over the telegram that lay open in her lap.

"Has anything happened?"

She shook her head. He took the hand that she held out to him by way of reassurance and possession.

"Then why do you look like that?"

She smiled.

"Kitty—that was an unconvincing smile."

"Was it? I'm sorry to say there's a tiresome man coming to see me."

"Say you can't see him. Send him a wire."

"I must. He's coming on business. I don't want to see him."

"Can't I see him for you, if you feel like that?"

"No, dear. He must see me."

"When is he due?"

"At seven-thirty."

"Oh—only in the evening. How long do you think he'll stay?"

Kitty hardened her face. "Not a minute longer than I can help."

"An hour? Two hours?"

"I shall have to give him dinner. He's—he's that sort of man."

"Two hours, probably. I think I'll take Janey for a stroll while he's here. You see, I've got to tell her, and I shall tell her then."

She put her hands on his shoulders. "And what will—Janey—say?"

"She'll say she's glad I'm going to be happy."

He became thoughtful. "And there are the children," he said. "I've got to tell them, too."

She was silent. She did not ask him as he had half expected, "What will they say?"

"I think," he said, "I'd better send for them and let them stay here a bit. Could you stand another week of Southbourne? You said you hated it."

"Yes. I hated it. I shouldn't have stayed if it hadn't been for you."

"Do you mind staying a little longer now?"

"I don't mind staying anywhere where you are."

"Well—just a little longer."

She saw the workings of his mind. The people here had been saying awful things about her. If he took her away they would continue to say them. He couldn't stop them. He couldn't for instance, go up to Colonel Hankin before leaving, and tell him that he lied, and that Mrs. Tailleur, though appearances might be against her, was as innocent a lady as Mrs. Hankin. He couldn't even announce his engagement to her by way of accounting for their simultaneous departure. They were not accountable to these people. But, if they stayed on as if nothing had happened, he could demonstrate to everybody's satisfaction that he had no other intention with regard to Mrs. Tailleur than to make her his wife and a mother to his children. That was why he was sending for them. Evidently the idea he had—poor lamb—was that he could shelter her innocence with theirs.

And so she told him that she adored Southbourne now and didn't care how long they stopped there.

Lucy's idea had really gone more or less on those lines, though they remained rather more obscure to him than they were to Kitty.

His scheme was so far successful that there were people in the Cliff Hotel who knew about his engagement before Jane did.

It was clear to the management, at any rate, that some consecrating seal had been set to the very interesting relations of Mrs. Tailleur and Mr. Lucy. The manager was more inclined than ever to take a favourable view of Mrs. Tailleur. To begin with, Mrs. Tailleur had ordered a private sitting-room. Then Mr. Lucy presented himself at the bureau with Mrs. Tailleur and inquired whether he could have a room for his two little girls and their nurse. The manager's wife looked dubious. The best rooms, she said, were taken. And Mrs. Tailleur said, looking at Mr. Lucy, "How about poor Bunny's room? The one leading out of mine?"

A fine flush appeared on Mr. Lucy's face as he said he would have that room.

He then announced that he would wire for the little girls to come at once, and that they would arrive at four o'clock to-morrow. It was further arranged that they were to have their meals in Mrs. Tailleur's private sitting-room. And please, there was to be lots of jam for tea, Mrs. Tailleur said. The manager's wife looked humble before her lord as she booked that order.

That was at twelve o'clock of the tenth day.

Seven hours later Mrs. Tailleur was alone in her private sitting-room, preparing with some agitation for the appointment that she had.



CHAPTER XIII

Her tense, flushed mind recorded automatically, and with acute vividness, every detail of the room; the pattern of the gray French wall-paper, with the watered stripe, and of the hot, velvet upholstery, buff on a crimson ground; the architecture of the stained walnut sideboard and overmantel, with their ridiculous pediments and little shelves and bevelled mirrors; the tapestry curtains, the palms in shining turquoise blue pots, and the engraved picture of Grace Darling over the sideboard.

It was absolutely necessary that she should have this place to see him in, without Robert seeing him. Beyond that immediate purpose she discerned its use as a play-room for Robert's children.

To-morrow, at four o clock, she would be waiting there for them. They had settled that, she and Robert. She was to have everything ready, and the table laid for tea. To-morrow they would all be sitting there, round the table. To-morrow she would see Robert's children, and hold them in her arms.

Her heart gave a sudden leap, as if something had quickened in it. Her brain glowed. Her pulses throbbed with the race of the glad blood in her veins. Her whole being moved, trembling and yearning, toward an incredible joy. Till that moment she had hardly realised Robert's children. A strange unquietness, not yet recognised as fear, had kept her from asking him many questions about them. Even now, their forms were like the forms of children seen in the twilight of dreams, the dreams of women who have never had children; forms that hover and torture and pursue; that hide their faces, half seen; that will not come to the call, nor be held by the hand, nor gathered to the heart.

That she should really see them, and hear their voices, and hold them in her arms, to-morrow, seemed to her a thing impossible, beyond credibility or dream. Then she said to herself that it all depended on what happened between to-morrow and to-day.

It was not long past seven and she had still a good twenty minutes before her. She spent it in pacing up and down the room, and looking at the clock every time she turned and confronted it. At the half-hour she arranged herself on the sofa, with a book, in an attitude of carelessness as to the event. As a material appearance the attitude was perfect.

She rose as the servant announced "Mr. Wilfrid Marston." She stood as she had risen, waiting for her visitor to advance. Her eyes were fixed on her book which she laid down, deliberately marking the page, and yet she was aware of his little pause at the door as it closed behind him, and of his little smile that took her in. She had no need to look at him.

He was a man of middle size, who held himself so well that he appeared taller and slenderer than he was. You saw that he had been fair and florid and slender enough in his youth, and that all his good points had worn somewhat to hardness. His face was hard and of a fast-hardening, reddish-sallow colour, showing a light network of veins about the cheekbones. Hard, wiry wrinkles were about the outer corners of his eyes. He kept his small reddish-gold moustache close clipped, so that it made his mouth look extraordinarily straight and hard. People who didn't know him were apt to mistake him for a soldier. (He was in the War Office, rather high up.) He had several manners, his official manner to persons calling at the War Office; his social manner, inimitably devout to women whom he respected; and his natural manner, known only in its perfection to women whom he did not respect. And under both of these he conveyed a curious and disagreeable impression of stern sensuality, as if the animal in him had worn to hardness, too.

"Kitty, my dear girl!" His voice, unlike the rest of him, could be thick and soft and fluid. He put his arm round her, and she offered him her mouth, curled forward, obedient but unsmiling. Her hand, surrendered to his, lay limp in the hard clasp of it. He raised it as if weighing the powerless, subservient thing.

"Kitty," he said, "you're still getting thin. My last orders were, if you remember, that you were to put on another stone before I saw you again."

He bared her wrist, pressing it slightly, to show how its round curves were sunken.

"Do you call that putting on another stone?"

She drew back her arm.

"What have you been doing to yourself?" he said.

"Nothing. There hasn't been anything to do. It's not very amusing being left all by yourself for weeks and weeks, you know."

"All by yourself?"

"Yes. Bunny doesn't count."

"No, she certainly doesn't. Poor Kitten, you must have been very badly bored."

He looked round the room.

"Do they do you well at this place?"

"It isn't very comfortable. I think you'd be better off at the Metropole."

"What possessed you to stay at the place if you're not comfortable?"

"Well, you see, I didn't expect you for another week."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"I mean it did well enough for Bunny and me."

"Where is that woman?"

"She's gone. She left yesterday."

"Why?"

"Well, you know, Wilfrid, Bunny was very respectable."

He laughed. "It's just as well she went, then, before I came, isn't it? I say, what have you done to your eyes? They used to be black, now they're blue. Bright blue."

There was a look in them he did not understand.

"I think," she said, "you would be much more comfortable at the Metropole."

"Oh no; I'll try this place for one night." She veiled her eyes.

"We can move on if I can't stand it. When are we going to dine?"

"At eight. It's twenty to, now. You'd like it up here, wouldn't you?"

"Rather. I say, where's my room?"

She flushed and turned from him with an unaccountable emotion.

"I—I don't know."

"Didn't you order one for me?"

"No; I don't think I did."

"I suppose I can get one, can't I?"

"I suppose so. But don't you think you'd better go over to the Metropole? You see, this is a very small hotel."

He looked at her sharply.

"I don't care how small it is."

He summoned a waiter and inquired irascibly for his room.

Kitty was relieved when the room was got for him, because he went to it instantly, and that gave her time. She said to herself that it would be all right if she could be alone for a minute or two and could think. She thought continuously through the act of dressing, and in the moment of waiting till he appeared again. He would be hungry, and his first thought would be for his dinner.

It was. But his second thought was for Kitty, who refused to eat.

"What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I've got a headache."

Again he looked sharply at her.

"A headache, have you? It'll be better if you eat something."

But Kitty shook her head.

"What's the good of my sending you to Matlock and those places if you come back in this state? You know, if you once get really thin, Kitty, you're done for."

"Am I?" Her mouth trembled, not grossly, but with a small, fine quiver of the upper lip. The man had trained her well. She knew better than to cry before him.

The slender sign of emotion touched him, since it was not disfiguring.

"How long have you been starving yourself?" he asked more gently.

"I've not been starving myself. I've got a headache."

He poured out some wine for her.

"You must either eat or drink."

"I don't want any."

"Nonsense."

"I—I can't. I feel sick."

He raised his eyebrows.

"Need you mention it?"

"I wouldn't if you hadn't teased me so."

"I beg your pardon."

She began playing with some salted almonds.

"My dear girl, I wouldn't eat those things if I were you."

"I'm not eating them." She pushed the dish from her. "I'm afraid," said she, "it isn't a very nice dinner."

He was looking at the entree with interest and a slight suspicion.

"What is this?"

"Curried chicken."

"Oh." He helped himself fastidiously to curried chicken, tasted it with delicate deliberation, and left it on his plate.

"You are wise," said he. "There is a certain crude, unsatisfying simplicity about this repast."

"Didn't I tell you?"

"You did."

"You see now why I said you'd better go to the Metropole?"

"I do indeed."

An admirable joint of mutton, cheese, coffee and a liqueur effaced the painful impression made by the entree. By nine o'clock Marston declared himself inured to the hardships of the Cliff Hotel.

"How long can you stay?" she asked. The question had been burning in her for two hours.

"Well, over the week end, I think."

Her heart, that had fluttered like a bird, sank, as a bird sinks in terror with wings tight shut.

"Have you got to go up to town to-morrow?"

"I have, worse luck. How do the trains go from this godforsaken place?"

"About every two hours. What sort of train do you want? An early one?"

"Rather. Got to be at Whitehall by twelve."

"Will the nine-fifteen do?"

"Yes; that's all right."

The wings of her heart loosened. It rose light, as if air, not blood, flowed from its chambers.

The Lucys were never by any chance down before nine. Robert would not meet him.

He sat down in the chair opposite her, with his eyes fixed on her as she leaned back in the corner of the sofa. He settled himself in comfort, crossing his legs and thrusting out one foot, defined under a delicate silk sock, in an attitude that was almost contemptuous of Kitty's presence.

Kitty's face was innocent of any perception of these shades. He drew the long breath of ease and smiled at her again, a smile that intimated how thoroughly he approved of her personal appearance.

"Ye—es," he said, "you're different, but I think you're almost as pretty as you were."

"Am I?" she said. "What did you expect?"

"I didn't expect anything. I never do. It's my scheme for avoiding disappointment. Is your head better?"

"No; it's aching abominably."

"Sorry. But it's rather hard lines for me, isn't it? I wish you could have chosen some other time to be ill in."

"What does it matter whether I'm ill or not, if I'm not pretty?"

He smiled again.

"I don't mean, child, that you're ever not pretty."

"Thank you. I know exactly how pretty I am."

"Do you? How pretty do you think you are now?"

"Not half as pretty as Dora Nicholson. You know exactly how pretty she is."

"I do. And I know exactly how pretty she'll be in five years' time. That's the worst of those thin women with little, delicate, pink faces. You know the precise minute when a girl like Dora'll go off. You know the pinkness will begin to run when she's once past thirty. You can see the crows' feet coming, and you know exactly how far they'll have got by the time she's thirty-five. You know that when she's forty there'll be two little lines like thumb-nail marks beside her ears, just here, and you know that when she's forty-five the dear little lobes will begin to shrivel up, and that when she's fifty the corners of her mouth will collapse."

"And then?"

"Then, if you're a wise man you don't know any more."

"Poor little Dora. You are a brute, Wilfrid."

"I'm not a brute. I was going to say that the best of you, dear, is that I don't know how you'll look at fifty. I don't know how you'll look to-morrow—to-night. You're never the same for ten minutes together. When you get one of those abominable headaches you look perhaps as old as you are. You're twenty-seven, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, I dare say you'll look twenty-seven when you are fifty. There's something awfully nice about that sort of prettiness. It leaves things delightfully vague. I can't see you fifty."

"Perhaps I never shall be."

"Perhaps not. That's just it. You leave it open to me to think so. I don't seriously contemplate your ever being forty. In fact your being thirty is one of those melancholy and disastrous events that need not actually occur. It's very tactful of you, Kitty."

"All the same, I'm not as pretty as Dora Nicholson."

"Dora Nicholson!"

"You can't say she isn't awfully pretty."

"I don't say it." His voice rose to an excited falsetto. "She is awfully pretty—extravagantly, preposterously pretty. And she'll have to pay for it."

"Oh—we all have to pay for it."

"Sooner or later."

"Poor Dora——"

"Poor Dora. Perhaps we have been rather brutal to her. She's good for another five years."

"Only five years? And what will she do then?"

"Oh, she'll be all right. She'll rouge a bit, and powder a bit, and dress like anything. You needn't be unhappy about Dora. I can tell you Dora isn't going to be unhappy about you. Unhappiness would be extremely unbecoming to her, and she knows it. It isn't particularly becoming to any woman. You would be less damaged by it than most perhaps."

"You've never seen me unhappy."

"I hope to God I never shall."

"You needn't be afraid, Wilfrid, you never will."

"I wish," she said presently, "I wish you liked Dora Nicholson."

"I do like her."

"I wish you liked her as much as me."

"That's very noble of you, Kitty. But may I ask, why?"

"Because it would make things simpler."

"Simpler? I should have said myself that that was just where complications might occur. Supposing I liked Dolly better than you, what then?"

"Oh, that would make it simpler still."

"It certainly would be simpler than the other situation you suggest."

"It would for both of us."

"But why this sudden yearning for simplicity? And why Dora Nicholson?"

"There isn't any why. Anybody else would do, provided you liked them better than me. It's only a question of time, you know. You're bound to tire of me sooner or later."

"Later, Kitty, later. Barring jealousy. If you're going in for that, I may as well tell you at once that I shall tire of it very soon."

"You think that's what's the matter with me?"

"Well, something's the matter with you. I suppose it's that. I should drop it, Kitty. It really isn't worth while. It only makes you thin, and—and I can't be bored with it, d'you see?"

"I don't want—to be bored—with it—either." She spoke very slowly. "If you wanted to leave me for Dora Nicholson, I should be a fool to try and keep you, shouldn't I?"

"Well—you're not a fool."

"You're not a fool either, Wilfrid."

"If I am I take some pains to conceal it."

"If a woman wanted to leave you for another man, would you try and keep her?"

He looked at her attentively. "It depends on the woman, and on some other things besides. For instance, if I were married to her, I might make a considerable effort, not to keep her, but—to keep up appearances."

"And if—you were not married to her?"

"There again it would depend on the woman. I might take it that she'd left me already."

"Yes, but if you knew she wasn't that sort—if you knew she'd always been straight with you?"

"Well, then perhaps I might take the trouble to find out whether there really was another man. Or I might have reason to suppose she was only trying it on. In which case I should say to her 'My dear Kitty, you're a very clever woman and it's a brilliant idea you've got. But it's been tried before and it won't work. You can't draw me that way.'"

"But, Wilfrid—if there was another man?"

"Well, it's possible that I might not consider it worth while to dispute his claim. That would depend altogether on the woman."

"If you cared for her?"

"If I cared enough for her I might be able to convince her that it would at any rate be prudent, from a worldly point of view, to stick to me. But that would depend, wouldn't it, on the amount of the other fellow's income?"

"And if all that didn't matter in the very least to her, if she didn't care a rap about anybody's income, if she cared for the other fellow more than she'd ever cared for you, if she didn't care for your caring, if she cared for nothing except his caring, and nothing you could do could move her—what would you do then?"

He paused to light another cigarette before he answered her. "I should probably tell her, first of all, that for all I cared she might go to the devil, I mean to the other fellow, and stay there as long as he wanted her."

"Well"—she said placably.

"That's what I should say first. Afterward, when we were both a little calmer—if I cared for her, Kitty—I should ask her to think a moment before she did anything rash, to be quite sure that she would really be happier with the other fellow. And I should point out to her very clearly that, in any case, if she once went, it would not be open to her to come back."

"But you wouldn't try and keep her?"

"I couldn't keep her, my dear child, by trying."

"No—you couldn't keep her. Not for yourself. But, if you could keep her from the other man, would you?"

"I dare say I should do my best."

"Would you do your worst? No, Wilfrid, you've been very good to me—I don't believe you'd do your worst."

"What do you mean," he said sharply.

"You wouldn't tell him what she was, what she had been—if he didn't know it. Would you?"

He was silent.

"Would you?" she cried.

"No, Kitty, I wouldn't do that. I'm not a cad."

He pondered.

"But my dear girl, do you suppose for a moment that he doesn't know?"

"He doesn't know a thing."

"Then what in heaven's name are you talking about?"

"I'm trying to tell you. It isn't what you think. I—I'm going to be married."

Marston took his cigarette out of his mouth, and stared at it. There was no expression in his face beyond that concentrated, attentive stare.

"Good Lord. Why," he said, "couldn't you tell me that before I came down?"

"I was going to. I was going to write to you and ask you not to come."

"Good God."

He said it softly, and with calm incredulity rather than amazement.

"Who is it, Kitty? Do I know him?"

"No."

"Do you know him yourself?"

She smiled. "Yes I know him."

"Well—but how long?"

"Ten days."

"You met him here? In this hotel?"

"Yes."

"That's why you were so anxious for me to go to the Metropole, was it?"

"Yes."

"Look here. I don't want to be unkind, but it doesn't do to blink facts. Are you quite sure he means to marry you?"

"Why shouldn't he?"

"Well, these marriages do happen, but—I don't want to be unkind again—but you know they are, to say the least of it, a little unusual."

"Yes."

"You've seen some of them?"

"Yes."

"And you know, you know as well as I do, the sort of man who—who——"

"Who marries the sort of woman I am? Yes, I know him, perfectly well. He's horrible."

"There are exceptions, but he's generally pretty bad. You think he's horrible. You'll be miserable when you find yourself tied to him for life. You see, however awful he was, you wouldn't be exactly in a position to get rid of him."

"Wilfrid," her voice was very low and tender, "he isn't like that. He's good——"

"Good, is he?" He laughed.

"Oh, don't laugh. He is good."

"Well, I don't say he isn't—only——" he smiled.

"You forget," she said. "He doesn't know."

"Are you quite sure he doesn't know?"

"Quite—quite sure."

"And you are not going to enlighten him?"

She drew back before his penetrating gaze. "I can't. I couldn't bear him to know."

"How do you propose to prevent his knowing? Do you think you're clever enough to keep him in the dark for ever?"

"Why not? He hasn't seen things in the broad daylight, under his very nose. There were plenty of things to see."

"You mean he's stupid?"

"I mean I haven't been clever, if that's what you think. Once I did nearly tell him."

"Supposing somebody else tells him?"

"If they do it'll only be their word against mine. And he'd take my word against anybody's."

"Poor devil!"

He seemed to meditate, dispassionately, on the poor devil's case, and hers.

"You little fool. It isn't a question of people's words. How are you going to get rid of the facts?"

"He needn't know them."

"You forget. I'm one of them. How are you going to get rid of me?"

"Oh, Wilfrid—you're not going to tell him? You said you wouldn't."

"Of course I said I wouldn't—I'd even be glad to get rid of myself to oblige you, Kitty, but I can't. Here I am. How are you going to account for me?"

"I've thought of that. He needn't see you. It'll be all right, Wilfrid, if you'll go away."

"No doubt. But I haven't gone away."

He emphasised his point by rising and taking up a commanding position on the hearthrug.

Some one knocked at the door, and she started violently.

It was only a servant, bringing a note for her.

She read it and handed it to Marston, looking piteously at him as he stood his ground.

"Mr. Lucy can come up," she said. "We have finished all we had to say."

"I think there are one or two points," he replied, "still unsettled."

She turned to the servant.

"Will you tell Mr. Lucy I'm engaged for the present. I will see him later."

"No, my dear Mrs. Tailleur, not on my account. There's no reason why you shouldn't see Mr. Lucy now. No reason at all."

She stood tortured with indecision.

"Mrs. Tailleur will see Mr. Lucy now."

"I will see him in ten minutes."

"Very good, ma'am."

The servant withdrew.

Marston shrugged his shoulders.

"There you are. Here we both are. Here we are all three in the same hotel. An uncomfortably small hotel. How are you—or rather, how is he—going to get over that?"

"It would be all right if you'd only go. I've told him you were a man coming on business."

"My dear Kitty, that was quite unworthy of you."

"Well, what could I do? It's not as if I was in the habit of telling lies."

"I won't criticise it if it was a first attempt. But in telling a lie, my child, it's as well to select one that bears some resemblance to the truth. Do I look like a man who comes on business?"

"You will go before he comes, won't you?"

"No, I don't think I will."

"You have nothing," she said, "to gain by staying."

"I suppose you think you have everything to gain by my going?"

"Oh, Wilfrid, give me my chance."

"I'm giving you your chance, you little fool. I wouldn't produce that pocket-handkerchief if I were you. It's quite the most damaging thing about you."

She gave a hysterical laugh, and put the pocket-handkerchief away.

"You are utterly unfit," he commented, "to manage your own affairs."

They sat silent, while the clock ticked out the last minutes of her torture.

"You'd better make up your mind what you're going to do when he arrives," he said finally.

"I don't know," said Kitty, "what I'm going to do."

"I'll tell you, then. You are going to introduce me as you would any ordinary man of your acquaintance."

"By your own name?"

"By my own name, of course."

They waited. Lucy's stride was heard along the corridor. She looked up at her tormentor.

"Is my nose red, Wilfrid?"

"No," he said, smiling grimly, "my dear Mrs. Tailleur," he added as Lucy entered.



CHAPTER XIV

She came to meet him, keeping her back to Marston, her face thrust a little forward in the way it had, looking for the protection of Robert's kind eyes. Only when she had his hand in hers she turned.

"May I introduce Mr. Wilfrid Marston?"

The two men bowed, glancing at each other with eyes urbanely innocent of curiosity.

"I'm sorry to have had to keep you waiting," said Kitty.

"So am I," said Marston. "Our business took rather longer than we thought."

"Business generally does," said Lucy.

"It need not have taken quite so long if I could have persuaded Mrs. Tailleur to think a little of her own advantage."

"I have," said Kitty, "an admirable adviser in Mr. Marston."

"You are always kind. Even if you don't always act on my advice."

"Sometimes you think you know your own affairs best."

"And sometimes," said Lucy, "it's just possible you do."

"Sometimes. I've been telling Mrs. Tailleur that she's incapable of managing her own affairs when it's a question of her own advantage. If you know anything of Mrs. Tailleur, you will agree with me there."

"I certainly agree with you, if Mrs. Tailleur will forgive my saying so. I hope I've not come too soon."

"Oh, no. Mr. Marston has missed the last train up."

"And Mrs. Tailleur has been kind enough to ask me to stop the night."

"If you don't prefer the Metropole. Mr. Lucy is not going. Don't—it's all right, Robert."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure. Our business is finished."

"All except one or two details which we may perhaps arrange later," said Marston, who preserved a perfect suavity.

"How much later?" said Kitty. "I'm not going to arrange anything more to-night."

"To-morrow night."

"There won't be any to-morrow night—if you're going up to town."

"Well, then, perhaps if Mr. Lucy will excuse us, you will give me a moment now. It seems a pity not to put things straight while you're about it."

"You can't put things straight at eleven o'clock at night. My poor head's all muddled and aching abominably."

"To-morrow morning, then."

"There will be no time to-morrow morning. Robert, has Jane gone to bed?"

"No, she's sitting up. She wants to speak to you."

"Will you bring her to me, please?"

He rose. When he had left the room she turned on Marston in a fury.

"Wilfrid, you're a beast, a perfect beast."

"A man of business, my dear Kitty, very often is. He's paid, you know, for doing beastly things."

"They come easy to you."

"Is that all the thanks I get for playing up to you? I gave you every point, too."

She raged dumbly.

"I can't congratulate you on your skill in the game. You'd have given yourself away ten times over—if I hadn't stopped you."

"What are you waiting for now, then?"

"I have not said good night to your friend Mr. Lucy, nor to you."

"You can say good night to me now, and good bye. I shall not see you again."

"Pardon me, you will see me to-morrow morning."

"No. Never again. I've done with you."

"My dear girl, you are absurd. Mr. Lucy is not going to marry you to-morrow morning, is he?"

"Well?"

"And until he marries you, you haven't exactly done with me."

"I see. You want to remind me that the clothes on my back belong to you."

He flushed painfully.

"I don't want to remind you of anything that may be unpleasant to you. I'm only suggesting that in the circumstances—until you marry him—you can hardly refuse to see me."

"Why should I see you? It'll make no difference."

"To me, none. To you it may possibly make a considerable difference. There are some points you have evidently not thought of, which it would be well for us to talk over before you think of marrying."

She capitulated.

"If I see you to-morrow, will you go now?"

"I will go, my dear Kitty, the precise moment I see fit. If I were you I should wipe that expression from my face before Mr. Lucy comes in. He might not like it. The pocket-handkerchief might be used with advantage now—just there."

In obedience to his indication she passed her hand over the flushed tear-stain. At that moment Lucy entered with his sister.

Jane, less guarded than her brother, looked candidly, steadily at Marston, whose face instantly composed itself to reverence and devotion before her young half-spiritual presence.

Kitty's voice was scarcely audible as she murmured the ritual of introduction.

Lucy was aware of her emotion.

"I think," said he, "as Mrs. Tailleur has owned to a bad headache, Mr. Marston and I had better say good night."

Marston said it. There was nothing else left for him to say. And as he went through the door that Lucy opened for him, he cursed him in his heart.

"Jane," said Kitty.

But Jane was looking at the door through which Marston and Robert had just gone.

"Robert did that very neatly," said she. "You wanted to get rid of him, didn't you, Kitty?"

"I've been trying to get rid of Wilfrid Marston for the last three weeks."

She had such wisdom, mothered by fierce necessity, as comes to the foolish at their call. She was standing over little Jane as she spoke, looking down into her pure, uplifted eyes.

"You've been crying," she said.

"Yes." Jane's eyes were very bright, new-washed with tears.

"I know why. It's because of me."

"Yes; but it's all right now, Kitty."

She did not tell her that ten minutes ago she, too, had been out on the Cliff-side and had had a battle with herself there, and had won it. For little Jane there couldn't be a harder thing in the world than to give Robert up. Of course she had to do it, so there could be no virtue in that. The hard thing was to do it gracefully, beautifully.

"What are you going to say to me, Janey? He told you?"

"Yes; he told me."

"Oh, don't look at me like that, dear. Say if you hate it for him."

"I don't hate it. Only, oh, Kitty, dear, do you really love him?"

"Yes; I love him."

"But—you've only known him ten days. I don't think I could love a man I'd only known ten days."

"It makes no difference."

"That's what Robert said."

"Yes; he said it to me. Ah, I know what you mean. You think it's all very well for him, because men are different. It's me you can't understand; you think I must be horrid."

"Oh no, no. It's only—I think I'm different, that's all."

"Is that all, Janey?"

"Yes."

"And will you love me a little if I love him a great deal? Or do you hate me for loving him?"

"Kitty—you needn't be afraid. The more you love him the more I shall love you."

"Did—did his wife love him? Oh, ought I to have asked you that?"

Jane shook her head.

"I'm not sure that I ought to tell you."

"She didn't, then?"

"Oh yes, she did, poor little thing. She loved him all she could."

"And it wasn't enough?"

"No, I don't think it was, quite. There was something wanting. But I don't think Robert ever knew it."

"He knows it now," said Kitty. Her voice lifted with the pride of passion.



CHAPTER XV

Marston cancelled that appointment at Whitehall. Somebody else's business would have to wait another day, that was all. He was wont to settle affairs as they arose, methodically, punctually, in the order of their importance. At the moment his own affair and Kitty's was of supreme importance. Until it was settled he could not attend to anybody else.

He was determined not to let her go. He meant to have her. He did not yet know precisely how he was to achieve this end, but as a first step to it he engaged a room indefinitely at the Metropole. There was nothing like being on the spot. He would consider himself defeated when Lucy had actually married her. Meanwhile, he was uplifted by his supreme distrust of the event.

His rival had made a very favourable impression on him, with the curious effect of heightening Kitty's value in his eyes. Other causes contributed, her passion for Lucy, and the subtle purification it had wrought in her (a charm to which Marston was by no means unsusceptible), the very fact that his own dominion was uncertain and his possession incomplete.

Up till now he had been unaware of the grip she had on him. He had never allowed for the possibility of permanence in his relations with her sex. The idea of marriage was peculiarly unsupportable to him. Even in his youth he had had no love affairs, avowed and sanctioned. Though Marston professed the utmost devotion to women like Miss Lucy, the women whom his mother and his sisters knew, he had noticed a little sadly that he soon wearied of their society, that he had no power of sustained communion with the good. The unfallen were for him the unapproachable. Therefore he had gravitated by taste and temperament to the women of the underworld. There his incurable fastidiousness drove him to the pursuit of a possible perfection, distinction within the limits, the inherent frailties of the type.

In Kitty Tailleur he had found even more than he was looking for. Kitty had certain graces, reminiscent of the upper world; a heritage from presumably irreproachable parents, that marked her from the women of her class. She had, moreover, a way of her own, different from the charm of the unfallen, different, too, from the coarse lures of the underworld. Kitty was never rank, never insipid. She had a few light brains in her body, and knew how to use them, woman-like, for the heightening of her charm.

There were other good points about Kitty. Marston disliked parting with his money, and he had found Kitty, so far, inexpensive, as women went.

For these reasons, so many and so plausible that they disguised the true kind and degree of his subjection, he had before now returned to Kitty more than once after he thought that he had tired of her.

Only three weeks ago, on her return from Matlock, he judged that he had come to the end of his passion for her; and here he was again at the very beginning of it. Instead of perishing it had thrived on absence. He found himself on the verge of a new and unforeseen adventure, with impulse sharpened by antagonism and frustration. Yet his only chance, he knew, was not to be impulsive, but cool rather, calculating and cautious. The fight he was in for would have to be fought with brains; his against hers.

He sent a note to her early in the morning asking her to see him at nine. At nine she saw him.

"I thought," she said, "you were going up to town early."

"I'm not going up to town at all, as it happens, to-day."

"Isn't it rather a pity to neglect your business?"

"My business, dear Kitty, is not any business of yours."

"I'm only trying to make you see that it isn't worth your while stopping out of town because of me."

He was a little disconcerted at her divination of his motives, her awareness of her own power.

"Well, you see, though the affairs of Whitehall are not your affairs, your affairs, unfortunately, are mine; and, since I have to attend to them, I prefer to do it at once and get it over. I had some talk with Lucy last night."

She turned on him. "Ah, you have given me away."

"Did you ever know me give any one away?"

She did not answer all at once.

He was shocked at her suspicion; at the things she believed it possible for a man to do. In the upper world, in a set that discussed its women freely, he had never used his knowledge of a woman to harm her. He had carried the same scruple into that other world where Kitty lived, where he himself was most at home, where an amused, contemptuous tolerance played the part of chivalry. The women there trusted him; they found him courteous in his very contempt. He had connived at their small deceits, the preposterous hypocrisies wherewith they protected themselves. He accepted urbanely their pitiful imitations of the lost innocence. Kitty, moving reckless and high in her sad circle, had been scornful of her sisters' methods. Her soul was as much above them as her body, in its unique, incongruous beauty, was above their rouge and coloured raiment. It was this superiority of hers that had brought her to her present pass; caused her to be mistaken for an honest woman. In her contempt for the underworld's deceptions she had achieved the supreme deceit.

Her deceit—that was his point.

"Then," she said presently, "what did you say to him?"

"I said nothing, my dear child, in your disparagement. On the contrary, I congratulated him on his engagement. As I'm supposed to be acting as your agent, or solicitor, or whatever it is I am acting as, I imagine I did right. Is that so?"

"Yes; if that's all you said."

"It is not quite all. I sustained my character by giving him a hint, the merest hint, that in the event of your marriage your worldly position would be slightly altered. We must prepare him, you know, for the sudden collapse of your income."

He rose and went to the mantelpiece, and lingered there over the lighting of a cigarette.

"You hadn't thought of that?" he said as he seated himself again.

"No; I hadn't thought of it."

"Well, he didn't appear to have thought of it either."

"What did he say, when you told him that?"

"He said it didn't matter in the very least."

"I knew he would."

"He said, in fact, that nothing mattered."

"What did you say then?"

"Nothing. What could I say?"

She looked at him, trying to see deep into his design, trusting him no further than she saw.

"Look here, Kitty, I think you're making a mistake, even from your own point of view. You ought to tell him."

"I—can't."

"You must. He's such an awfully decent chap, you can't let him in for marrying you without telling him." That was his point and he meant to stick to it. "It's what you might call playing it low down on a guileless and confiding man. Isn't it?"

"Yes, but I can't tell him."

"It's the straight thing, Kitty."

"I know. But it means giving him up."

"Not at all. He'll respect you all the more for it. He won't go back on you."

"He wouldn't if he'd only himself to think of."

"He isn't bound to tell his people. That's another thing."

"It isn't his people—it's—it's his children."

Marston became suddenly attentive. "His children? He's got children, has he?"

"Yes, two; two little girls."

That strengthened his point.

"Then, my dear girl, you can't—in common decency—not tell him. Hang it all, you've got to give the man a chance."

"A chance to escape? You talk as if I'd set a trap for him."

"My dear child, you haven't sense enough to set a trap. But, since there are spring-guns in his neighbourhood, I repeat that you ought to inform him of the fact. I dare say he wouldn't funk a spring-gun on his own account, but he may not want his children to be hurt."

"I know. He'd be afraid I should contaminate them. I wouldn't, Wilfrid, I wouldn't. I wouldn't hurt them for the world."

"I'm sure you wouldn't. But he might think you would. The fathers of little girls sometimes have strange prejudices. You see it's all very well as long as you can keep him in his beautiful innocence. But, if he finds out that you've deceived him, he—well, he might resent it."

He never turned his eyes from that livid, vulnerable spot, striking at it with the sword-thrust of his point.

"A man can forgive many things in a woman, but not that."

"I must risk it. He mayn't find out for years and years. If I tell him I shall lose him now."

"Not necessarily. Not if he cares for you as much as I should say he does."

"It doesn't matter how much he cares. He'd never marry me."

"No. He might make another and more sensible arrangement."

"And then?" She faced him with it.

"Then you'll be satisfied. You'll have had your fling."

"And—when—I've—had it?" she said slowly.

"Then, I suppose, I shall have to take you back."

"I see. That's where you think you'll come in."

"I wasn't thinking, at the moment, of myself. The suggestion was thrown out entirely on your behalf, and I may say his. I'm simply telling you what—knowing you as I do—I consider the wiser course, for both of you."

"You don't know. And you don't know him. He wouldn't do it. He isn't that sort."

She paused, brooding over it.

"Besides, I couldn't bear it. I can't go back to that."

"And how many years do you think you'll stand being proper and respectable, which is what you'll have to be as long as you're Mrs. Robert Lucy? It's a stiffish job, my child, for you to tackle. Just think of the practical difficulties. I've accounted for the sudden, very singular collapse of your income, but there are all sorts of things that you won't be able to account for. The disappearance, for instance, of the entire circle of your acquaintance."

She smiled. "It would be much more awkward if it didn't disappear."

"True. Still, a female friend or two is an indispensable part of a married woman's outfit. The Lucys mayn't mind, but their friends may regard the omission as peculiar. Then—you have charming manners, I know—but your speech is apt, at times, to be a little, what shall I say? Unfettered. The other day, when you were annoyed with me, you called me a beast."

"That's nothing. I might have called you something much worse."

"You might. Happily, you did not. I've no objection to the word; it can be used as a delicate endearment, but in your mouth it loses any tender grace it might have had."

"I'm sorry, Wilfrid."

"Don't apologise. I didn't mind. But if you call Lucy a beast he won't like it."

"I couldn't. Besides, I shall be very careful."

"You will have to be extremely careful. The Lucys live in Hampstead, I believe, and Hampstead enjoys the reputation of being the most respectable suburb of London. You've no idea of the sort of people you'll have to meet there. You'll terrify them, and they, my poor Kitten, will exterminate you. You don't know what respectability is like."

"I don't care. I can stand anything."

"You think you can. I know that you won't be able to stand it for a fortnight. You'll find that the air of Hampstead doesn't agree with you. And wherever you go it'll be the same thing. You had very much better stick to me."

"To you?"

"You'll be safer and happier. If you'll stay with me——"

"I never have—stayed—with you."

"No, but I'd like you to."

He was not going to make love to her. He was far too clever for that. He knew that with a woman like Kitty, in Kitty's state of mind, he had nothing to gain by making love. Neither did he propose to pit his will against hers. That course had answered well enough in the time of his possession of her. Passion, which was great in her, greater than her will, made his will powerless over her. His plan was to match the forces of her brain with superior, with overwhelming forces.

He continued coldly. "I'm not satisfied with the present arrangement any more than you are. If you'll stay with me you shall live where you choose; only don't choose Park Lane, for I can't afford it. I'll give you any mortal thing I can afford."

"You think you can give me what Robert Lucy's giving me?"

"I can give you a home, Kitty, as long as you'll live in it. I can give you the advantages of marriage without its drawbacks. You won't be tied to me a minute longer than you like. Whereas you can't leave Lucy without a scandal."

"You think that a safe arrangement, do you? I can leave you when I want to."

"You can leave me any day. So the chances are that you won't want to."

"And when you're tired of me?"



"That's it. I shan't be tired of you. I've a different feeling for you from any I've ever had for any other woman, for the simple reason that you're a different woman every time I see you. That's the secret of your fascination. Didn't you know it?"

She shook her head, but she was not attending to him.

"If you don't know it there's no harm in telling you that I'm very fond of you."

"What earthly use is it, Wilfrid, being fond of me, as long as I'm not fond of you?"

Ah, that was a mistake. He was on perilous ground. She was strong there. She matched his bloodless, unblushing candour with her throbbing, passionate sincerity.

"That's all the better," he said. "It wouldn't pay you, Kitty, to be fond of me. If I thought you were fond of me to-day it would leave me with nothing to look forward to to-morrow. If you were as fond of me as you are of Lucy, it would bore me horribly. What's more, it would bore you. It would tire you out, and you'd bolt in a week's time. As, I can tell you, you'll bolt from him."

"You think I shall do that. He doesn't. That's why I'm fond of him."

"I wouldn't be too fond of him. It never pays. Either you'll tire of him in a week, or, if you go on being fond of him you'll end by being afraid of him. You need never be afraid of me."

"I am afraid of you."

"Not you. I understand you, Kitty, and he doesn't."

"You mean you know the worst of me?"

"Precisely. What's more, I should condone what you call the worst of you, and he wouldn't."

"I know you would. That's why I'm afraid of you. You only know the worst of me, and he—he knows, he understands, the rest. There's something in me that you've never seen; you couldn't see it; you wouldn't believe in it; you'd kill it if I stayed with you. It's no use talking, for I won't."

"Why not?" he asked as if nothing she had said had been of any moment.

"I've told you why not. But I don't expect you to understand it."

"If there's anything in it I shall understand it in the end. I'm not a fool."

"No, you're not a fool. I'll say that for you."

"Unless it's folly to be as fond of you as I am."

"Oh, no, that's not folly. You'll be fond of me just as long as I'm nice to look at; as long as it doesn't bore you to talk to me; as long as I don't give you any trouble."

"Good God! Why, look at the trouble you're giving me now."

"Yes, the trouble I'm giving you now, when I'm young and pretty and you can't have me. But when you have had me; when I'm tired out and ill and—and thin; will you be fool enough to be fond of me then?"

"You have been ill, you were ill last night, and—I've got over it."

"You never came near me when I was ill at Matlock. You call that giving me what Robert Lucy gives me? Robert has seen me when I've been as ugly as sin, when my eyes have been bunged up with crying. And it made no difference. He'll love me when I'm thin and ill and old. When I'm dead he'll love me."

He faced her passion as it flamed up before him, faced it with his cold, meditative smile.

"That's just what makes it such a beastly shame."

"My not giving him up? How can I give him up?"

"I see your point. You think you're exchanging a temporary affection for a permanent one. You admit that I shall love you as long as you're nice to look at. Very well. You'll be nice to look at for some considerable time. I shall therefore love you for some considerable time. Robert Lucy will love you just as long as he believes in you. How long will that be?"

She did not answer.

"You don't know. Have you calculated the probable effect of gradual enlightenment on our friend's mind?"

"I've calculated nothing."

"No. You are not a calculating woman. I just ask you to consider this point. I am not, as you know, in the least surprised at any of your charming little aberrations. But our friend Lucy has not had many surprises in his life. He'll come to you with an infinite capacity for astonishment. It's quite uncertain how he'll take—er—anything in the nature of a surprise. And, if you ask me, I should say he'd take it hard. Are you going to risk that?"

He was returning to his point even when he feigned to have lost sight of it. Tortured and panting she evaded it with pitiful subterfuges. He urged her back, pressing her tender breast against the prick of it.

"I'm going to risk everything," she said.

"Risk it, risk it, then. Tie yourself for life to a man you don't know; who doesn't really know you, though you think he does; who on your own showing wouldn't marry you if he did know. You see what a whopping big risk it is, for he's bound to know in the end."

She sickened and wearied. "He is not bound to know. Why is he?"

"Because, my dear girl, you're bound to give yourself away some day. I know you. I know the perverse little devil that is in you. When you realise what you've let yourself in for you'll break loose, suddenly—like that." He threw out his arms as if he burst bonds asunder. "You can't help yourself. You simply can't live the life. You may yearn for it, but you can't live it."

"I don't want to be respectable. It isn't that."

"What is it then?"

"Can't you see?"

He looked at her closely, as if he saw it for the first time.

"Are you so awfully gone on him?"

"Yes," she said. "You won't tell him? It'll kill me if he knows."

"You think it will, but it won't."

"I shall kill myself, then."

"Oh no, you won't. You only think you will. It's Lucy I'm sorry for."

"And it's me you're hard on. You were always hard. You say you condone things, but you condone nothing, and you're not good yourself."

"No, I'm not good myself. But there is conduct and conduct. I can condone everything but the fraud you're practising on this innocent man." He rose. "It's—well—you see, it's such a beastly shame."

It was to be a battle of brains, and she had foiled him with the indomitable stupidity of her passion. But his point—the one point that he stuck to—was a sword point for her passion.

"You won't tell him? You won't? It would be a blackguardly thing to do."

"If Lucy was a friend of mine I'm afraid the blackguardly thing would be to hold my tongue."

"You'd tell him then?" she said. "You wouldn't think of me?"

She came to him. She laid her arms upon his shoulders. Her hands touched him with dispassionate, deliberate, ineffectual caresses, a pitiful return to a discarded manner, an outrageous imitation of the old professional cajoleries. It was so poor a thing that it had no power to move him. What moved him was the look in her eyes, the look which his brain told him was the desperate, incredulous appeal of her unhappy soul.

"I don't know, Kitty," he said. "Thank heaven, he's not a friend of mine."



CHAPTER XVI

It was not from Marston, then, that she had to fear betrayal. Neither was she any more afraid of the rumours of the Cliff Hotel. She was aware that her engagement to Robert Lucy, unannounced but accepted for the simple fact it was, had raised her above censure and suspicion.

It had come just in time to occupy Mrs. Jurd and Miss Keating on their way to Surbiton.

When Kitty thought of Grace Keating she said to herself, "How will Bunny feel now?" But her mortal exultation was checked by her pity for poor Bunny, who would have been so happy if she had been married.

Then there were the Hankins. She reflected sanely that they couldn't be dangerous, for they knew nothing. Still she did feel a little uneasy when she thought of the Hankins.

She was thinking of them now as she and Robert sat on the Cliff, making the most of their last hour together before the arrival of the little girls.

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