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The Second Honeymoon
by Ruby M. Ayres
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"There is your brother to tell, too," she said.

"I cabled to him this morning," Jimmy answered.

"Did you!" Her eyes brightened. "How sweet of you, Jimmy. Do you think he will be pleased?"

"He's never pleased about anything," said Jimmy with a little laugh.

He leaned an elbow on the corner of the table and looked into her eyes.

"Say yes, Christine," he urged. "If you want to marry me, Mrs. Wyatt won't stand in the way; after all, you've known me all your life."

She flushed and stammered:

"Jimmy—I—I think I'm a little afraid. Supposing—supposing you found out that—that you'd made a mistake——" Her eyes were troubled.

Jimmy's face caught the flush from hers; for a moment his eyes wavered.

"We're going to be awfully happy," he asserted then, almost violently. "If you love me——"

"You know I do." His hand fell carelessly to hers.

"Very well, then say yes."

Christine said it.

She thought everything perfect; she had never been so happy in all her life. If Jimmy did not love her tremendously, he would not be so anxious to be married, she told herself. Theirs was going to be one of those romantic marriages of which one reads in books.

"Shall I speak to Mrs. Wyatt, or will you?" he asked her.

"I think I would like to—first," she told him.

"Very well." Jimmy was relieved. He was somehow a little afraid of Mrs. Wyatt's kind mother eyes; he dreaded lest she might read deep down into his heart, and know what he was doing—guess that he was only marrying Christine because—because why?

To forget another woman; to pay another woman out for the way she had treated him. That is how he would have answered that question had he been quite honest with himself; but as it was he evaded facing it at all. He merely contented himself with assuring Christine all over again that he was going to be very good to her and make her happy.

"I'll tell mother to-night," Christine said when they went back to the hotel. "And I'll write to you, Jimmy; I'll——" she broke off. The porter had come forward; he spoke to Jimmy in an undertone.

"May I speak to you a moment, sir?"

Christine moved away.

"If you will ask the young lady to wait, sir," the man said again with a sort of agitation.

A little flame of apprehension swept across Jimmy's face. He spoke to Christine.

"Wait for me a moment—just a moment." He turned again to the man. "Well—well, what is it?"

The man lowered his voice.

"The lady, sir—Mrs. Wyatt; she was taken very ill an hour ago. The doctor is with her now. I was told to tell you as soon as you came in, so that you could warn the young lady, sir."

Christine had come forward.

"Is anything the matter?" she asked. She looked from Jimmy to the porter wonderingly. Jimmy took her hand.

"Your mother isn't very well, dear." The little word slipped out unconsciously. "There is a doctor with her now. . . . No, don't be worried. I dare say it's nothing. I'll come up with you and see."

Christine fled up the staircase. She was already in her mother's room when Jimmy overtook her. Through the half-closed door he could see the doctor and a woman in nurse's dress. His heart began to race. Supposing Mrs. Wyatt were really ill; supposing—— The doctor came out to him as he stood on the landing.

"Are you—are you a relative of Mrs. Wyatt's?" he asked.

Jimmy hesitated.

"I—I am engaged to Miss Wyatt," he said. "I hope—I hope there is nothing serious the matter?"

The doctor glanced back over his shoulder. Jimmy's eyes instinctively turned in the same direction; he could see Christine on her knees beside the bed in the darkened room.

"Mrs. Wyatt is dying, I regret to say," the doctor said; he spoke in a low voice, so that his words should not reach Christine. "It's only a question of hours at most. I've done all I can, but nothing can save her. It's heart trouble, you know; she must have been suffering with it for years."

Jimmy Challoner stood staring at him, white-faced—stunned.

"Oh, my God!" he said at last. He was terribly shocked; he could not believe it. He looked again to where Christine knelt by the bed.

"Does she—Christine—who is to tell her?" he asked incoherently.

The doctor shook his head.

"I should suggest that you——" he began.

Jimmy recoiled. "I! Oh, I couldn't. . . . I——" He broke off helplessly. He was thinking of the old days down at Upton House; the great kindness that had always been shown to him by Christine's mother. There was a choking feeling in his throat.

"I think you are the one to tell her," said the doctor again, rather stiffly.

Christine had heard their voices. She looked towards the door; she rose softly and came out to where the two men stood.

Her eyes were anxious, but she was a hundred miles from guessing the truth. She spoke to Jimmy Challoner.

"She's asleep, Jimmy. The nurse tells me that she only fainted. Oh, I ought not to have left her when I knew she wasn't well. I shall never forgive myself; but she'll be all right now if she has a nice sleep, poor darling."

Jimmy could not meet her eyes; he bit his lip hard to hide its sudden trembling.

The doctor came to Jimmy's rescue.

"Has your mother ever had similar attacks to this one, Miss Wyatt?" he asked.

Christine considered.

"She hasn't been very well lately. She's complained of being tired several times, and once she said she had a pain in her side; but——" She broke off; she looked breathlessly into his face. Suddenly she caught her breath hard, clutching at Jimmy Challoner's arm.

"Jimmy," she said shrilly.

Jimmy put his arm round her; his voice was all broken when he spoke.

"She's ill, Christine—very ill. Oh, my dear——" He could not go on; he was very boyish still in many ways, and he felt more like breaking down and weeping with her than trying to comfort her and help her through the ordeal she had got to face.

But Christine knew in a minute. She pushed him away; she stood with hands clasped together, staring before her through the half-closed door with wide, tragic eyes.

"Mother," she said uncertainly; and then again, "Mother!" And now there was a wild sort of cry in her voice.

"Christine," said Jimmy huskily. He caught her hand; he tried to hold her back, but she broke away from him, staggered a few steps, and fell before either of the men could save her.



CHAPTER IX

MOTHERLESS

Sangster was writing letters in his rooms in the unfashionable part of Bloomsbury when Jimmy's urgent message reached him. It was brought by one of the hotel servants, who waited at the door, yawning and indifferent, while Sangster read the hastily scrawled lines:

For God's sake come at once. Mrs. Wyatt died suddenly this afternoon, and there is no one to see to anything but me.

Dead! Sangster could not believe it. He had admired Mrs. Wyatt tremendously that night when they all went to the theatre together; she had seemed so full of life, so young to have a grown-up daughter like Christine. Oh, surely there must be some mistake.

"I'll come at once," he said. He crushed Jimmy's note into his pocket and went back for his hat. He called a taxi, and took the man from the hotel back with him; he asked him a few questions, but the man was uncommunicative, and apparently not very interested. Yes, the lady was dead right enough, so he had been told, he admitted. The gentleman—Mr. Challoner—seemed in a great way about it.

Sangster was terribly shocked. He had quite forgotten the manner of his parting with Jimmy; he was only too willing and anxious to help him in any way possible. When they reached the hotel he was shown into the Wyatt's private sitting-room. Jimmy was there at the telephone; he hung up the receiver as Sangster entered the room; he turned a white, worried face.

"Awful thing, isn't it?" he said. Even his voice sounded changed; it had lost its usual light-heartedness.

"It's given me a most awful shock," he said again. "She was as well as anything last night; nobody had any idea——" He broke off with a choke in his voice. "Poor little Christine," he said after a moment. "We can't do anything with her. I wondered if you—but I suppose you can't," he added hopelessly.

"Where is Miss Wyatt?" Sangster asked. His kind face was very grave, but there was a steadiness in his eyes—the eyes of a man who might be trusted.

"She's in her room; we had to take her away forcibly from—from her mother. . . . You don't know what a hell I've been through, old chap," said Jimmy Challoner.

Sangster frowned.

"You!" he said with faint cynicism. "What about that poor little girl, then; she——" The door opened behind them, and Christine came in. She stood for a moment looking across at the two men with blank eyes, as if she hardly recognised them. Her face was white and haggard; there was a stunned look in her eyes, but Sangster could see that she had not shed a tear. He went forward and took her hand. He drew her into the room, shutting the door quietly. Jimmy had walked over to the window; he stood staring into the street with misty eyes. He had never had death brought home to him like this before. It seemed to have made an upheaval in his world; to have thrown all his schemes and calculations out of gear; life was all at once a thing to be feared and dreaded.

He could hear Sangster talking to Christine behind him; he could not hear what he was saying; he was only too thankful that his friend had come. The last hours which he had spent alone with Christine had been a nightmare to him. He had been so unable to comfort her; he had been at his wits' end to know what to do or say. She was so utterly alone; she had no father—no brothers to whom he could send. He had wired to an uncle of whom she had told him, but it was impossible that anyone could arrive before the morning, he knew.

Sangster was just the sort needed for a tragedy such as this; was a brick—he always knew what to say and do.

The room seemed very silent; the whole world seemed silent too, as if it had stopped aghast at this sudden tragedy which had been enacted in its midst.

Then Christine began to sob; the most pathetic, loneliest sound it was through the silent room. Jimmy felt himself choking—felt his own eyes blurred and misty.

He turned impulsively. Christine was huddled in one of the big chairs, her pretty head down-flung on an arm. Sangster stood beside her, his hand on her shoulder.

Jimmy never looked at his friend, or he might have learned many, many things from the expression of his eyes just then as he moved back silently and let Jimmy pass.

He fell on his knees beside Christine. For the moment, at least, everything else in the world was forgotten between them; she was just a motherless, broken girl sobbing her heart out—just the girl he had once loved with all a boy's first ardour. He put his arms round her and drew her head down, so that it rested on his shoulder, and her face was hidden in his coat.

"Don't cry, my poor little girl," said Jimmy Challoner, with a break in his own young voice. "Oh, Christine, don't cry."

Sangster, watching, saw the way her arms crept upwards till they were clasped round Jimmy's neck; saw the way she clung to him; heard the anguish in her voice as she said:

"I've got no one now, Jimmy; no one at all."

Jimmy looked up, and, across her bowed head, his eyes met those of his friend with a sort of defiance in them.

"You've got me, Christine," he said with a new sort of humbleness.



CHAPTER X

JIMMY HAS A VISITOR

"I'm going to be married, Costin," said Jimmy Challoner.

He was deep in an arm-chair, with his legs stuck up on the seat of another, and he was blowing rather agitated puffs of smoke into the room from an expensive cigar, for which he had not paid.

Costin was mixing a whisky-and-soda at the table, and just for an instant the syphon jerked, sending a stream of soda-water over the cloth.

"Yes, sir; certainly, sir; to—to Miss Farrow, I presoom, sir."

There was a momentary silence, then:

"No, you fathead," said Jimmy Challoner curtly. "To Miss Wyatt—a Miss Christine Wyatt; and I'm going to be married the day after to-morrow."

"Yes, sir; I'm sure I wish you every happiness, sir. And if I may ask, sir—will you still be requiring my services?"

Jimmy stared.

"Of course I shall," he said blankly. "Who the police do you think is going to look after my clothes, and shave me?" He brought his feet down from the opposite chair and sat up. "I'm going to be married in London—quietly," he said; he did not look at Costin now. "Miss Wyatt has lost her mother recently—I dare say you know. I—er—I think that is all," he added, with a sort of embarrassment, as he recalled the times, the many times, he had made a confidant of Costin in the days before he was engaged to Cynthia; the many little gifts that Costin had conveyed to her; the notes he had brought back. Jimmy stifled a sigh in his broad chest; he rose to his feet.

"And, Costin——"

"Yes, sir."

"There is no need to—to mention—Miss Farrow—if—you understand?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"Very well; get out," said Jimmy.

Costin obeyed imperturbably. He knew Jimmy Challoner very well; and in this case, at all events, the master was certainly no hero to the valet. Left alone, Jimmy subsided again into his chair with a sigh. The day after to-morrow! it seemed as if it must be the end of everything; as if he would be brought up sharply against an unscalable brick wall when his wedding-day came.

Poor little Christine! she had changed very much during the past few days; she looked somehow older—more grown-up; she smiled less frequently, and she was very quiet—even with Jimmy. And she loved Jimmy; she seemed to love him all the more now that he was all that was left to her. Jimmy realised it, too, and it worried him. He meant to be good to her—he wanted to be good to her; but—involuntarily he glanced towards the blank space on the mantelshelf where Cynthia Farrow's portrait used to stand.

He had not seen her since that night when she had told him the truth; when she had told him that she had thrown him over because he was not rich enough, because she valued diamonds and beautiful clothes more than she valued his love. He wondered if she knew of his engagement; if she had been told about it, and if so—whether she minded.

So far nobody had seemed particularly pleased except the Great Horatio, who had cabled that he was delighted, and that he was making immediate arrangements to increase Jimmy's allowance.

Jimmy had smiled grimly over that part of the message; it was hard luck that the Great Horatio should only shell out now, when—when—he pulled up his thoughts sharply; he tried to remember that he was already almost as good as a married man; he had no right to be thinking of another woman; he was going to marry Christine.

The door opened; Costin reappeared.

"Please, sir—a lady to see you."

"What!"

Jimmy stared incredulously. "A lady to see me? Rot! It's some mistake——"

"No, sir, begging your pardon, sir," said Costin stolidly. "It's—if you please, sir, it's Miss Farrow."

Jimmy stood immovable for a moment, then he turned round slowly and mechanically, almost as if someone had taken him by his shoulders and forced him to do so.

"Miss—Farrow!" he echoed Costin's apologetic utterance of Cynthia's name expressionlessly. "Miss—Farrow . . ." The colour rushed from his brow to chin; his heart began to race just as it used to in the old days when he had called to see her, and was waiting in her pink drawing-room, listening to the sound of her coming steps on the landing outside. After a moment:

"Ask—ask her to come in," he said.

He turned back to the mirror; mechanically he passed a hand over the refractory kink in his hair; he looked at his tie with critical eyes; he wished there had been time to shave, he wished—and then he forgot to wish anything more at all, for the door had opened, and Cynthia herself stood there.

She was beautifully dressed; he realised in a vague sort of way that she had never looked more desirable, and yet for the life of him he could not have told what she was wearing, except that there was a big bunch of lilies tucked into the bosom of her gown.

She held out her hands to him; she was smiling adorably.

"Jimmy," she said.

Jimmy's first wild instinct was to rush forward and take her in his arms; then he remembered. He backed away from her a step; he began to tremble.

"What—what have you come here for?" he stammered.

She laughed.

"Jimmy, how rude! You don't look a bit pleased to see me. You—oh, Jimmy, I thought you'd be so happy—so delighted."

She came across to him now; she slipped a hand through his arm; she leaned her cheek against his coat-sleeve; the scent of the lilies she wore mounted intoxicatingly to his head.

He tried not to look at her—he tried to stiffen his arm beneath her cheek; but his heart was thumping—he felt as if he were choking.

There was a moment of silence, then she looked up at him with a little spark of wonderment in her eyes.

"You're not going to forgive me—is that it?" she asked blankly.

She moved away from him; she stood just in front of him, looking into his face with the witching eyes he knew so well.

He would not look at her; he stared steadily over her head at the door beyond; he tried to laugh.

"It's not a question of forgiveness—is it?" he asked jerkily. "You—you chucked me up. You—you told me a lie to get rid of me. It—it isn't a question of forgiveness, do you think?"

She looked nonplussed, then she smiled. She took Jimmy's face between her hands, holding it so that he was forced to meet her eyes; she stood on tiptoe and softly kissed his chin.

"I'm sorry," she said, and now there was a very genuine ring of earnestness in her voice. "I'm more sorry than I can ever say. Forgive me, Jimmy; I've been punished enough. I—oh, if you knew how miserable I've been."

Jimmy stood like a man turned to stone; he stared at her with a sort of dread in his eyes. There were tears in hers; one big tear fell from her long lashes, and splashed down on to the lilies she wore.

After a moment he spoke with difficulty.

"Are you . . . what are you trying to say to me?"

Her hands fell to her sides; she looked down with a touch of shame.

"I'm trying to say that I'm sorry; I'm trying to tell you that I—I don't mind how poor you are. I thought I did, but—oh, Jimmy, I'd rather have you, and no money at all, than—than be as rich as Croesus with—with any other man."

"Cynthia!" Jimmy spoke her name in a stifled voice; she raised her eyes quickly. There was none of the passionate joy in his face which she had so confidently expected; none of the passionate joy in his voice which her heart told her ought to be there. Suddenly he turned aside from her; he put his arm down on the mantelshelf, hiding his face in it.

"Jimmy." She whispered his name with a sort of fear. "Jimmy—what—what is it? Oh, you are frightening me. I thought you would be so glad—so glad." She caught the limp hand hanging against his side; she laid her soft cheek to it.

Jimmy Challoner tore himself free with a sort of rage.

"It's too late—too late," he said hoarsely.

"Too—late!" She stared at him, not understanding. "What—what do you mean? That—that you can't forgive me; that—that you're so angry that—that——"

He swung round, white-faced and quivering.

"It's too late," he said again hopelessly. "I'm engaged to be married. I—oh, why did you ever send me away?" he broke out in anguish.

Her face had paled, but she was still far enough from understanding.

"Engaged to be married—you! To whom, Jimmy?"

He answered her in a voice of stifled rage.

"It's your doing—all your fault. You nearly drove me mad when you sent me away, and I—I——" There was a long pause. "I told you that I met some friends in the theatre that night when you . . . well, I'm engaged to her—to Christine. I've known her all my life. I—I was utterly wretched . . . I asked her to marry me. We're—we're going to be married the day after to-morrow."

Twice she tried to speak, but no words would come. She was as white now as the lilies she wore; her eyes had a stunned, incredulous look in them. She had never even remotely dreamed of this; it was like some crude nightmare. . . . Jimmy engaged! Jimmy who had sworn a thousand times never to love another woman; Jimmy who had been heart-broken when she sent him away. She broke out in vehement protest:

"Oh, no—no!"

"It's true," said Jimmy obstinately. "It's true."

For the moment he was hardly conscious of any feeling except a sort of shock. It had never once crossed his mind that she would come back to him; he could not believe even now that she was in earnest; he found himself remembering that night in her dressing-room at the theatre when she had lied to him, and pretended, and deceived him. Perhaps even this was all part of the play-acting; perhaps she was just trying to win him back again, to make a fool of him afresh.

Cynthia broke out again.

"Well, this girl must be told; she can't care for you. You say you haven't seen her for years. It's—it's absurd!" She took a step towards him. "You must tell her, Jimmy; you must explain to her. She . . . surely there is such a thing as buying her off."

The vulgarity of the expression made him wince; he thought of Christine with a sort of shame.

She would be the last girl in the world, he knew, to wish to hold him to a promise which he was unwilling to fulfil; he thought of her pale face and wistful brown eyes, and he broke out strenuously:

"It's impossible . . . it's too late . . . we are to be married on Thursday; everything is fixed up. I—oh, for God's sake, Cynthia, don't go on talking about it. You drove me to do what I have done. It's too late—I can't go back on my word."

She stood twisting her fingers agitatedly. Suddenly she went to where he stood; she tried to put her arms round his neck, but he resisted fiercely. He held her wrists; he kept his head flung back beyond her reach.

"It's too late, Cynthia—do you hear! I've given my word; I'm not going back on it now. You can't blame me. . . . I—I'd have given my life for this to have happened before—just a few days ago; but now——"

"You don't love me," she accused him passionately; she began to cry. "You said you would never love any woman but me as long as you lived. I thought you cared more for me than I do for you, but now I know you don't—you don't care so much. If you did you would give up this—this girl, whoever she is, without a single thought." Her voice dropped sobbingly. "Oh, Jimmy—Jimmy, don't be cruel; you can't mean It. I love you so much . . . you belonged to me first."

"You sent me away; you lied to me and deceived me."

He felt that he must keep on reminding himself of it; that he dared not for one instant allow himself to forget everything but how beautiful she was, and how much he wanted her.

She fell back from him; she dropped into a chair, hiding her face, and sobbing.

There was a touch of the theatrical in her attitude, but Jimmy was too miserable to be critical. He only knew that she was miserable and on his account, and that he loved her.

He broke out agitatedly:

"Don't, Cynthia—don't cry; you break my heart. . . Oh, for God's sake, don't cry."

"You don't care how miserable I am," she sobbed. "You—you haven't got a heart to break, if you can stand there like a stone and tell me that it's too late. It's not too late; you're not married yet. Tell her the truth; oh! if you love me tell her the truth, Jimmy."

Jimmy was looking at her, but for a moment he only saw the big sitting-room at the hotel where Mrs. Wyatt had died, and the crushed little figure of Christine herself, as he had knelt beside her and drew her head to his shoulder.

"Oh, Jimmy, I've got no one now—no one." Her voice came back to him, a mournful echo; and his own husky answer:

"You've got me, Christine!"

How could he go back on that—how could he add to her weight of sorrow?

"She's got nobody but me in all the world," he said simply; he was looking at Cynthia now, as if he found it easier. "She has just lost her mother, and she's the loneliest little thing——" he stopped jaggedly.

For a moment she did not answer; she had stopped sobbing; she was carefully wiping her eyes; she got up and walked over to the glass above the mantelshelf; she looked at herself anxiously.

"Well, I suppose it's good-bye, then," she said heavily; her voice dragged a little. She picked up her gloves and a silver chain-bag which she had thrown down on the table; she turned towards the door. "Good-bye, Jimmy."

Jimmy Challoner did not answer; he could not trust his voice. He walked past her and put his fingers on the door handle to open it for her; he was very white, and his eyes were fierce.

Cynthia stood still for an instant; she was quite close to him now. "Good-bye," she said again faintly.

He tried to answer, but could not find his voice; their eyes met, and the next moment she was in his arms.

He never knew how it happened; never knew if he made the first move towards her, or she to him; but he held her fast, kissing her as he had never kissed little Christine—her eyes, her hair, her warm, tremulous lips.

"You do love me, then, after all?" she whispered.

Jimmy let her go; he fell back against the door, hiding his eyes.

"You know I do," he said hoarsely.

He hated himself for his momentary weakness; he could not bear to look at her; when she had gone, he sat down in the big arm-chair and hid his face in his hands.

His pulses were racing; his head felt on fire.

The day after to-morrow he was to marry Christine. He had given his promise to her, and he knew that it was too late to draw back—too late to break her heart. And yet there was only one woman in all the world whom he loved, and whom he wanted—the woman from whom he had just parted; the woman who was even then driving away down the street with a little triumphant smile on her carefully reddened lips.



CHAPTER XI

HUSBAND AND WIFE

". . . to love, cherish, and to obey till death us do part."

Christine raised her soft brown eyes shyly and looked at Jimmy Challoner.

A ray of sunlight, piercing the stained glass window above the altar, fell on her face and slim figure; her voice was quite clear and steady, though a little sad perhaps, as she slowly repeated the words after the rather bored-looking clergyman.

Jimmy had insisted on being married in a parish where neither of them was known; he had got a special licence, and there was nobody in the church but the verger and Sangster, and a deaf uncle of Christine's, who thought the whole affair a great bother, and who had looked up a train to catch back home the very moment that Christine should have safely passed out of his keeping into her husband's.

He bade them "good-bye" in the vestry; he kissed Christine rather awkwardly, and said that he hoped she would be happy; his voice seemed to imply a doubt. He shook hands with Jimmy and called him a lucky dog; he spoke like a man who hardly realises what he is saying; he shook hands with Sangster and hurried away.

They heard him creaking down the aisle of the church, and the following slam of the heavy door behind him; there was a little awkward silence.

The clergyman was blotting Christine's new name in the register; he looked up at her with short-sighted eyes, a quill pen held between his teeth.

"Would you—er—care to have the pen, Mrs.—er—Challoner?"

He had a starchy voice and a starchy manner.

Christine was conscious of a sudden feeling of utter home-sickness; everybody was so stiff and strange; even Jimmy—dearly as she loved him—seemed somehow like a stranger in his smart coat and brand-new tie, and with the refractory kink in his hair well flattened down by brilliantine.

She wanted her mother; she wanted her mother desperately; she wanted to be kissed and made much of by someone who really wanted her to be happy. Tears smarted in her eyes, but she would not let them fall. Her throat ached with repressed sobs as she took the brand-new quill pen from the white hand extended to her, with a little shy:

"Thank you."

Sangster came forward.

"Shall I take care of it for you, Mrs. Challoner? We must tie a white bow round it, shall we? You will like to keep it, I am sure."

Christine turned to him eagerly. He spoke so kindly; his eyes looked at her with such sympathy. A big tear splashed down on the bosom of her black frock.

She was all in black, poor little Christine, save for white gloves, and some white flowers which Jimmy had sent her to carry. She tried to smile and answer Sangster when he spoke to her, but the words died away in her throat.

The gloomy London church depressed her; her own voice and Jimmy's had echoed hollowly behind them as they made their responses; her hand had shaken badly when she gave it to him to put on her wedding ring.

She was married now; she looked at Jimmy appealingly.

Jimmy was very flushed; when he spoke his voice sounded high and reckless. Christine heard him asking Sangster to come and have some lunch with them; he seemed most anxious that Sangster should come. Christine listened with a queer little sinking at her heart; she had wanted to be alone with Jimmy; she had so looked forward to this—their first meal together as husband and wife; but she bravely hid her disappointment.

"Do come; please do," she urged him.

They all left the church together. Christine walked between the two men down the long aisle; she did not feel a bit as if she had been married; she wondered if soon she was going to wake up and find that she had dreamt it all.

There was a taxi waiting at the church door. She got in, and both men followed. Jimmy sat beside her, but he talked to Sangster all the way. He was terribly nervous; he kept twisting and torturing the new pair of grey gloves which he had never put on; they were all out of shape and creased long before taxi stopped again at the quiet restaurant where they were to lunch.

Christine looked at Jimmy.

"What can I do with my flowers? I—everybody will know if I take them in with me." She blushed as she spoke. Jimmy's own face caught the reflection from hers.

"Oh, leave 'em in the taxi," he said awkwardly. "I'll tell the chap to come back for us in an hour."

He surreptitiously stuffed the new gloves into a coat pocket; he tried to look as if there were nothing very unusual about any of them as he led the way in.

Christine hardly ate anything; she was shy and unhappy. The kind efforts which Sangster made to make her feel at her ease added to her embarrassment. She missed her mother more and more as the moments fled away; she was on the verge of a breakdown when at last the interminable meal was ended.

She had hardly touched the champagne with which Jimmy had insisted on filling her glass; there were two empty bottles on the table, and she wondered mechanically who had drunk it all.

Sangster bade her "good-bye" as they left the restaurant; he held her hand for a moment, and looked into her eyes.

"I hope you will be very happy; I am sure you will."

Christine tried to thank him; she wished he were not going to leave them; she had not wanted him to come with them in the first place, but now she was conscious only of a desire to keep him there. Her heart pounded in her throat as he turned away; she looked apprehensively at Jimmy—her husband now.

He was looking very smart, she thought with a little thrill of pride; she was sure he was quite the best-looking man she had ever seen. He was talking to Sangster, but she could not hear what either of them was saying.

"Be good to her, Jimmy . . . she's such a child."

That was what Sangster was saying; and Jimmy—well, Jimmy flushed uncomfortably as he answered with a sort of bravado:

"Don't be a silly old ass! Do you think I'm going to beat her?"

Then it was all over, and Christine and Jimmy were driving away together.

Jimmy looked at her with a nervous smile.

"Well—we're married," he said eloquently.

"Yes." She raised her beautiful eyes to his face; her heart was throbbing happily. Unconsciously she made a little movement towards him.

Jimmy put out his hand and let down the window with a run.

"Jove! isn't it hot!" he said.

He was beginning to wonder if he had drunk too much champagne; he passed his silk handkerchief over his flushed face.

"I thought it was rather cold," said Christine timidly.

He frowned.

"Does that mean that you want the window up?" He did not mean to speak sharply; but he was horribly nervous, and Sangster's parting words had not improved matters at all.

Christine burst into tears; she was overstrung and excited; her nerves were all to pieces; she sobbed for a moment desolately.

Jimmy swore under his breath; he did not know what to do. After a moment he touched her—he pressed his silk handkerchief into her shaking hands.

"Don't cry," he said constrainedly. "People will think I've been unkind to you . . . already!" he added with a nervous laugh.

She mopped her eyes obediently; she felt frightened.

The horrible feeling that Jimmy was a stranger came back to her afresh. Oh, was this the kind boy lover who had been so good to her that day her mother died—the kind lover who had taken her in his arms and told her that she had him, that he would never leave her?

She longed so for just one word—one sign of affection; but Jimmy only sat there, hot and uncomfortable and silent.

After a moment:

"Better?" he asked.

"Yes . . ." She tried to control herself; she stammered a little shamed apology. "I'm so sorry—Jimmy."

He patted her hand.

"That's all right."

She took courage; she looked into his face.

"And you do—oh, you do love me?" she whispered.

"Of course I do." He put an awkward arm round her; he pressed her head to his shoulder, so that she could not see his face. "Of course I do," he said again. "Don't you worry—we're going to be awfully happy." He kissed her cheek.

Christine turned and put her arms round his neck; she was only a child still—she saw no reason at all why she should not let Jimmy know how very much she loved him.

"Oh, I do love you—I do," she said softly.

Jimmy coloured hotly; he felt an uncontrollable longing to kick himself; he kissed her again with furtive haste.

"That's all right, dear," he said.

They had arranged to stay a week in London.

Christine liked London. "And we couldn't very well do anything very much, could we?" So she had appealed to him wistfully. "When mother——" She had not been able to go on.

Jimmy had agreed hastily to anything; he had chosen a very quiet and select hotel, and taken a suite of rooms. He did not know how on earth they were going to be paid for; he was counting on an extra cheque from the Great Horatio as a wedding present. He was relieved when the taxi stopped at the hotel; he got out with a sigh; he turned to give his hand to Christine; his heart smote him as he looked at her.

Sangster was right when he had called her "such a child." She looked very young as she stood there in the afternoon sunshine, in her black frock, and with her white flowers clasped nervously in both hands. Jimmy felt conscious of a lump in his throat.

"Come along, dear," he said very gently; he put his hand through her arm. They went into the hotel together.

Christine went upstairs with one of the maids. Jimmy said he would come up presently for tea; he went into the smoking-room and rang for a brandy and soda. For the first time in his life he was genuinely afraid of what he had done; he knew now that he cared nothing for Christine. It was a terrifying thought.

And she had nobody but him—the responsibility of her whole life lay on his shoulders; it made him hot to think of it.

He tossed the brandy and soda off at a gulp. He looked at his watch; half-past four. They had been married only two hours; and he had got to spend all the rest of his life with her.

Poor little Christine—it was not her fault. He had asked her to marry him; he meant to be good to her. A servant came to the door.

"Mrs. Challoner said would I tell you that tea is served upstairs in the sitting-room, sir."

Jimmy squared his shoulders; he tried to look as if there had been a Mrs. Challoner for fifty years; but the sound of Christine's new name made his heart sink.

"Oh—er—thanks," he said as carelessly as he could. "I'll go up." He waited a few moments, then he went slowly up the stairs, feeling very much as if he were going to be executed.

He stood for a moment on the landing outside the door of the private sitting-room, with an absurdly schoolboyish air of bashfulness.

He passed a hand nervously over the back of his head; he wriggled his collar; twice he took a step forward and stopped again; finally the appearance of a servant along the corridor drove him to make up his mind. He opened the door with a rush.

Christine was standing over by the window; the afternoon sunshine fell on her slim, black-robed figure and brown hair. She turned quickly as Jimmy Challoner entered.

"Tea has been up some minutes; I hope it's not cold."

"I like it cold," said Jimmy.

As a matter of fact, he hated tea at any time, and never drank it if it could be avoided; but he sat down with as good a grace as he could muster, and took a cup from her hand with its new ring—his ring. Jimmy Challoner glanced at it and away again.

"Nice room this—eh?" he asked.

"Yes." Christine had sugared her own cup three times without knowing it; she took a cake from the stand, and dropped it nervously. Jimmy laughed; a boyish laugh of amusement that seemed to break the ice.

"Anyone would think you had never seen me before," he said, with an attempt to put her at her ease. "And I've known you all your life!"

"I know; but——" She looked at him with very flushed cheeks. "I'm afraid, Jimmy—afraid that you'll find you've made a mistake; afraid that you'll find I'm too young and—silly."

"You're not to call the lady I have married rude names."

"But it's true," she faltered. She put down the cup and went over to where he sat. She stood with her hands clasped behind her, looking down at him with a sort of fond humility.

"I do love you, Jimmy," she said softly. "And I will—I will try to be the sort of wife you want."

Jimmy tried to answer her, but somehow the words stuck in his throat. She was not the sort of wife he wanted, and never would be. That thought filled his mind. All the willingness in the world could not endow her with Cynthia's eyes, Cynthia's voice, Cynthia's caressing way of saying, "Dear old boy."

He choked back a big sigh; he found Christine's hand and raised it to his lips.

"We shall get along swimmingly," he said with an effort. "Don't you worry your little head."

But she was not satisfied.

"I must be so different from all the other women you are used to," she told him wistfully. "I'm not smart or amusing—and I don't dress as well as they do."

Jimmy smiled.

"Well, one can always buy clothes," he said. A sudden wave of tenderness swept through his heart as he looked at her. "Anyway, you've got one pull over all of them," he said with momentary sentiment.

"Have I—Jimmy! What do you mean?"

He kissed her trembling little fingers again.

"You were my first love," he said with a touch of embarrassment. "And it's not many men who can claim to have married their first love."

Christine was quite happy now; she bent and kissed him before she went back to her seat. Jimmy felt considerably cheered. If she were as easily pleased as this, life would not be the difficult thing that he had imagined, he told himself. He selected a chocolate cake—suitably heart-shaped—and began to munch it with a sort of relish.

"How would you like to run over to Paris for a few days—later on, of course, I mean?" he added hastily, meeting her eyes. It would be rather fun showing Christine round Paris, he thought. He looked at her with a twinkle.

She was very pretty, anyway; he was proud of her, too, deep down in his heart. No doubt after a bit they would be quite happy together.

He finished the chocolate cake, and asked if he might smoke; he was longing for a cigarette. He was not quite sure if it would be correct to smoke in a room which would be chiefly used by Christine. With Cynthia things had been so different—she smoked endless cigarettes herself; there was never any need to ask permission of her.

He could not imagine Christine with a cigarette between her pretty lips. And yet—yet he had liked it with Cynthia. Odd how different women were.

"Please do smoke," said Christine. She was glad he had asked her; glad that for the rest of his life whenever he smoked a cigarette, it would not merely be Jimmy Challoner blowing puffs of smoke into the air, but her husband. She glowed at the thought.

Jimmy was much more happy now; to his own way of thinking he was getting on by leaps and bounds. He went over and sat on the arm of Christine's chair; another moment and he would have put an arm round her, but a soft, apologetic tapping at the door sent him flying away from her to the other side of the room.

He was carefully turning the pages of a book when he answered, "Come in," with elaborate carelessness. One of the hotel servants entered; he carried a letter on a tray; he handed it to Christine.

"A messenger from the Sunderland Hotel has just brought this, madam. He told me to say that it has been there two days, but they did not know till this morning where to send it on to you."

Christine's face quivered. She did not want to think of the Sunderland; her mother had died there; it would always be associated in her mind with the great tragedy of her life. She took the letter hesitatingly; she did not know the writing. She waited till the servant had gone before she opened it.

Jimmy was still turning the leaves of the railway guide feverishly. At the shutting of the door he turned with a sigh of relief.

"A letter?" Christine was drawing the paper from its envelope; pink paper, smelling faintly of lilies. Jimmy lit a fresh cigarette. He walked over to the window and stood looking into the street; a horribly respectable street it was, he thought impatiently, of good-class houses, with windows neatly curtained and knockers carefully polished.

He was really quite anxious to kiss Christine; he was wondering whether she, too, was anxious for him to kiss her. After a moment he turned a little, and looked at her tentatively.

But Christine was not looking at him; she was sitting with her eyes fixed straight in front of her, a frozen look of horror on her little face. The letter had tumbled from her lap to the floor.

"Christine!" said Jimmy sharply. He was really alarmed; he took a big stride over to where she sat; he shook her. "Christine—what has happened? What is the matter?"

She looked at him then; she turned her beautiful eyes to his face, and at sight of them Jimmy caught his breath hard.

"Oh, Christine!" he said almost in a whisper.

His thoughts sped back incongruously to a day in the years that had gone; when he and she had been children together down in the country at Upton House.

He had stolen a gun belonging to the Great Horatio, and they had crept out into the woods together—he and she—to shoot rabbits, as he had confidently told her; and instead—oh, instead they had shot Christine's favourite dog Ruler.

All his life Jimmy remembered the broken-hearted look in Christine's eyes when she flung herself down by the fast-stiffening body of her favourite. And now she was looking like that again; looking at him as if he had broken her heart—as if—— Jimmy Challoner backed a step; his face had paled.

"In God's name, what is it—what is it?"

And then he saw the letter lying there on the floor between them in all its brazen pinkness. The faint scent of lilies was wafted to his brain before he stooped and grabbed it up. He held it at arm's length while he read it, as if already its writer had become repellent to him. There was a long, long silence.

The letter had been written two days ago. Jimmy realised dully that Cynthia must have gone straight from his rooms that evening and sent it; realised that it had been lying at the hotel where Mrs. Wyatt died until now.

Perhaps Cynthia Farrow had not realised what she was doing—perhaps she judged all women by her own standard; but surely even she would have been more than satisfied with the results could she have seen Christine's face as she sat there in the big, silent room, with the afternoon sunshine streaming around her.

Twice Jimmy tried to speak, but no words would come; he felt as if rough hands were at his throat, choking him, squeezing the life out of his body, Then suddenly he fell on his knees beside his wife.

"Christine—for God's sake——" He tried to take her in his arms, but she moved away; shrank back from him as if in terror, hiding her face and moaning—moaning.

"Christine . . ." There was a sob in Jimmy Challoner's voice now; he broke out stammeringly. "Don't believe it—it's all lies. I'd give my soul to undo it—if only you'd never seen it. I swear to you on my word of honour that I'll never see her again. I'll do any mortal thing, anything in the wide world, if only you'll look at me—if you'll forgive me—— Oh, for God's sake, say you forgive me——"

Her hands fell from her face; for a moment her eyes sought his.

"Then—then it is true!" she said faintly.

"Yes. I can't tell you a lie about it—it is true. I did—did love her. I was—engaged to her; but it's all over. I swear to you that it's all over and done with. I'll never see her again—I'll be so good to you." She hardly seemed to hear.

"Then you never really loved me?" she asked after a moment. "It wasn't because—because you loved me?"

"N-no." He got to his feet again; he strode up and down the room agitatedly. He had spoken truly enough when he said that he would have given his soul to undo these last few moments.

Presently he came back to where she sat—this poor little wife of his.

"Forgive me, dear," he said, very humbly. "I—I ask your pardon on my knees—and—it isn't too late; we've got all our lives before us. We'll go right away somewhere—you and I—out of London. We'll never come back."

She echoed his words painfully.

"You and I? I—I can't go anywhere—ever—with you—now!"

He broke into anger.

"You're talking utter nonsense; you must be mad. You've married me—you're my wife. You'll have to come with me—to do as I tell you. I—oh, confound it——!" He broke off, realising how dictatorial his voice had grown. He paced away from her again, and again came back.

"Look at me, Christine." She raised her eyes obediently. The hot blood rushed to Jimmy's face. He wondered if It were only his fancy, or if there were really scorn in their soft brownness. He tried to speak, but broke off. Christine rose to her feet; she passed the pink letter as if she had not seen it; she walked to the door.

"Where are you going?" asked Jimmy sharply.

She looked back at him. "I don't know. I—oh, please leave me alone," she added piteously as he would have followed her.

He let her go then; he waited till the door had shut, then he snatched up Cynthia's letter once again, and read it through.

It was an abominable thing to have done, he told himself—abominable; and yet, as he read the skilfully penned words, his vain man's heart beat a little faster at the knowledge that she still loved him, this woman who had thrown him over so heartlessly; she still loved him, though it was too late. The faint scent of the lilies which her note-paper always carried brought back the memory of her with painful vividness. Before he was conscious of it, Jimmy had lifted the letter to his lips.

He flung it from him immediately in honest disgust; he despised himself because he could not forget her; he tried to imagine what Christine must be thinking—be suffering. With sudden impulse he tore open the door; he went across to her room—their room; he tried the handle softly. It was locked.

"Christine!" But there was no answer. He called again: "Christine!" And now he heard her voice.

"Go away; please go away." An angry flush dyed his face. After all, she was his wife; it was absurd to make this fuss. After all, everything had happened before he proposed to her; it was all over and done with. It was her duty to overlook the past.

He listened a moment; he wondered if anyone would hear if he ordered her to let him in—if he threatened to break the door down.

He could hear her crying now; hear the deep, pitiful sobs that must be shaking her whole slender body.

"Christine!" But there was nothing very masterful in the way he spoke her name; his voice only sounded very shamed and humiliated as, after waiting a vain moment for her reply, he turned and went slowly away.



CHAPTER XII

SANGSTER IS CONSULTED

Jimmy had been married two days when one morning he burst into Sangster's room in the unfashionable part of Bloomsbury.

It had been raining heavily. London looked grey and dismal; even the little fat sparrows who twittered all day long in the boughs of a stunted tree outside the window of Sangster's modest sitting-room had given up trying to be cheerful, and were huddled together under the leaves.

Sangster was in his shirt-sleeves and old carpet slippers, writing, when Jimmy entered. He looked up disinterestedly, then rose to his feet.

"You! good heavens!"

"Yes—me," said Jimmy ungrammatically. He threw his hat on to the horsehair sofa, which seemed to be the most important piece of furniture in the room, and dropped into a chair. "Got a cigarette? My case is empty."

Sangster produced his own; it was brown leather, and shabby; very different from the silver and enamel absurdity which Jimmy Challoner invariably carried.

After a moment:

"Well?" said Sangster. There was a touch of anxiety in his kindly eyes, though he tried to speak cheerfully. "Well, how goes it—and the little wife?"

Jimmy growled something unintelligible. He threw the freshly lit cigarette absently into the fireplace instead of the spent match, swore under his breath, and grabbed it back again.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet.

"I've made the devil's own mess of it all," he said violently.

Sangster made no comment; he put down his pen, pushed his chair back a little and waited.

Jimmy blew an agitated puff of smoke into the air and blurted out again: "She says she won't stay with me; she says——" He threw out his hands agitatedly. "It wasn't my fault; I swear to you that it wasn't my fault, Sangster. Things were going swimmingly, and then the letter came—and that finished it." He was incoherent—stammering; but Sangster seemed to understand.

"Cynthia Farrow?" he asked briefly.

"Yes. The letter was sent on from the hotel where Christine had been staying with her mother. It had been delayed two days, as the people didn't know where she was." He swallowed hard, as if choking back a bitter memory. "It came about an hour after we left you."

"On your wedding day?" Sangster was flushed now; his eyes looked very distressed.

Jimmy turned away.

"Yes," he said in a stifled voice. "If I'd only seen the accursed thing—but I didn't; she opened it, and then——" There was a long pause before he went on again jerkily. "I did my best—even then—but she wouldn't believe me; she doesn't believe me now. I swore that I'd never see Cynthia again; I swore that I'd do anything in the whole world she wanted——"

"Except the one thing which you cannot do, I suppose," Sangster interposed quietly.

"What do you mean?"

"Love her," said Sangster. "That's what I mean."

Jimmy tried to laugh; It was a miserable failure. "She's hardly spoken to me since," he went on, after a moment, wretchedly. "I've—oh, I've had a devil of a time these last two days, I can tell you. I can't get her to come out with me—she hardly leaves her room; she just cries and cries," he added with a sort of weariness. "Just keeps on saying she wants her mother—she wants her mother."

"Poor little girl."

"Yes—that's how I feel," said Jimmy. "It's—it's perfectly rotten, isn't it? And she looks so ill, too. . . . What did you say?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Well, then, I wish to God you would," said Jimmy with sudden rage. "I'm about fed-up with life, I can tell you——" He broke off. "Oh, I don't mean that; but I'm worried to death. I—what the devil can I do?" he asked helplessly.

Sangster did not know how to answer; he sat staring down at the worn toes of his carpet slippers and thinking of Christine.

She was such a child, and she loved Jimmy so much. It made his heart ache to think of the shy happiness he had always read in her eyes whenever she looked at Jimmy.

"Of course, I shouldn't have told you, only I know you won't say a word," said Jimmy presently. "I—I stood it as long as I could; I stood it till I felt as if I should go mad, and then I bolted off here to you. . . . She's got nobody but me, you see." He drew a long breath. "I only wish to God Mrs. Wyatt were alive," he added earnestly.

Sangster said nothing. "I wondered if, perhaps, you'd go round and see her, old chap," Jimmy jerked out then. "She likes you. Of course, you needn't say you'd seen me. Couldn't you 'phone up or something? Get her to go out. . . . She'll die if someone can't rouse her."

Sangster coloured.

"I—I'm not good at that sort of thing, Jimmy. It's not that I'm unwilling to help you; I'd do anything——"

"Well, then, try it; there's a good chap. You—you were so decent to her that day Mrs. Wyatt died; you've got a sort of way that I haven't. I—I should be no end obliged. I'll—I'll keep out of the way myself for a bit, and then——" He looked anxiously at his friend. "Will you go?"

"She probably won't see me if I do."

"She will. She's sick of the sight of me."

Sangster smiled in spite of himself. He got up, stretching his arms; he shook his head at Jimmy.

"Oh, I know what you're thinking," said Jimmy savagely. "But I swear to you that it's not my fault this time, anyway. I swear to you that I've done my best. I——"

"I'm not doubting it," said Sangster dryly. He fetched his hat and coat from a room adjoining, and they went out into the street together.

"Take her out to lunch," said Jimmy nervously. "Take her for a walk in the park—try to rouse her a bit; but for heaven's sake don't talk about me."

He looked anxious and worried; he really was very upset; but he was conscious of an enormous sense of relief as he and Sangster parted at the street corner. As soon as Sangster was out of sight he hailed a taxi, and told the man to drive him to his club. He ordered a stiff brandy and soda, and dropped into one of the deep leathern arm-chairs with a sigh. He had been married only three days, and already it seemed like three years. Of course, he was not blaming Christine, poor little girl; but—oh, if only she hadn't been quite such a child!

He lifted the glass, and looked at its contents with lugubrious eyes.

"Well, here's to a brighter future," said Jimmy Challoner drearily; but he sighed heavily as he tossed off the brandy and soda.

* * * * * *

Sangster felt decidedly nervous when he reached the hotel where Jimmy and his wife were staying. He had no faith in his own powers, though apparently Jimmy had plenty for him; he was no ladies' man; he had never troubled about a woman in his life, probably because none had ever troubled about him. He asked punctiliously for Jimmy; it was only when told that Mr. Challoner was out that he asked for Christine.

A little gleam of something like sympathy shot into the man's eyes. The chambermaid who waited on Christine was voluble, and a friend of his, and he had heard a great deal from her that was untrue, mixed up with a smattering of truth.

He said that he was sure Mrs. Challoner was in; he sent a page-boy up with Sangster's card.

It seemed a long time before the reply came. Mrs. Challoner would be pleased to see Mr. Sangster; would he go up to her sitting-room.

Sangster obeyed reluctantly; he dreaded tears; he dreaded to see grief and disillusionment in the beautiful eyes which he could only remember as happy and trusting. He waited nervously till she came to him. He looked round the room apprehensively; it had an empty, unlived-in look about it, though there were various possessions of Jimmy's scattered about it—a pipe, newspapers, and a large box of cigarettes. There was a small pair of Christine's slippers, too, with high heels. Sangster looked at them with eyes which he did not know were tender. They seemed to appeal to him somehow; there was such a solitary look about them, standing there in a corner by themselves.

Then the door opened and she came in; a little pale ghost of the girl whom he had last seen, with quivering lips that tried to smile, and shadows beneath her eyes.

It was an effort to Sangster to greet her as if he were unconscious of the tragedy in her face; he took her hand in a close grip.

"I am so glad you allowed me to come up; I didn't want to intrude; I asked for Jimmy, but they told me he was out, and so I wondered if you would see me—just for a moment."

"I am very glad you came; I"—she bit her lip—"I don't think Jimmy will be back to lunch," she said.

"Capital!" Sangster tried to speak naturally; he laughed. "Then will you come out to lunch with me? Jimmy won't mind, and——"

"Oh, no, Jimmy won't mind." There was such bitterness in her voice that for a moment it shocked him into silence; she looked at him with burning eyes. "Jimmy wouldn't mind no matter what I did," she said, almost as if the words were forced from her against her will. "Oh, Mr. Sangster, why did you let him marry me?—you must have known. Jimmy doesn't care any more for me than—than you do."

There was a tragic pause. She did not cry; she just looked at him with broken-hearted eyes.

"Oh, my dear; don't—don't say that," said Sangster in distress.

He took her hand and held it clumsily between his own. Her words had been like a reproach. Was he to blame? he asked himself remorsefully; and yet—what could he have done? Christine would not have believed him had he tried to tell her.

"It's true," she said dully. "It's true . . . and now I haven't got anybody in all the world."

Sangster did not know what to answer. He broke out awkwardly that things were always difficult at first; that Jimmy was really one of the best; that if only she would have a little patience, everything would come right; he was sure of it.

But she only shook her head.

"I ought to have known; I can't think now why it is that I never guessed," she said hopelessly. "All the other women he has known are so much better than I am."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, don't say that," he broke out; there was a sort of horror in his face as he contrasted Cynthia and her friends to this girl. "You're ill and run down," he went on urgently. "Everything seems wrong when you're not well. Will you come out with me? It's not raining now, and the air's beautifully fresh. I'm longing for a walk myself; I've been writing all the morning. We'll have some lunch together, and walk in the park afterwards, shall we?"

He thought she was going to refuse; she shook her head.

"Please do," he urged. "I want to talk to you; there are so many things I want to say to you." He waited a moment. "You told me once that you liked me," he submitted whimsically. "You've not gone back on that, have you?"

The ghost of a smile lit her eyes.

"No, but——"

"Then please come."

There was a moment's silence.

"Very well," said Christine. Her voice was quite apathetic. He knew that she was absolutely indifferent as to where she went or what she did. She looked so broken—just as if someone had wiped the sunshine out of her life with a ruthless hand.

She went away to dress, and Sangster stood at the window, frowning into the street.

"Infernal young fool!" he said savagely after a moment; but whether he referred to a youth who was just at that moment passing, or to Jimmy Challoner, seemed uncertain.



CHAPTER XIII

CHRISTINE HEARS THE TRUTH

Sangster took Christine to a little out-of-the-way restaurant, where he knew there would not be many people.

He carefully avoided referring again to Jimmy; he talked of anything and everything under the sun to try and distract her attention. She had declared that she was not hungry; but, to his delight, she ate quite a good lunch. She liked the restaurant; she had never been in Bohemia before. She was very interested in an old table Sangster showed her, which was carved all over with the signatures of well-known patrons of the house. A little flush crept into her pale cheeks; presently she was smiling.

Sangster was cheered; he told himself that she only needed understanding. He believed that if Jimmy chose, he could convince her that everything was going to be all right in the future; he believed that with a little tact and patience Jimmy could entirely regain her lost confidence. But patience and Jimmy seemed somehow irreconcilable; Jimmy was too young—too selfish. He sighed involuntarily as he looked at Christine.

When they had left the restaurant again, and were walking towards the park, he deliberately began to talk about Jimmy.

"I suppose Jimmy never told you how he and I first met, did he?" he asked.

"No." Her sensitive little face flushed; she looked up at him eagerly.

"It isn't a bit romantic really," he said. "At least, not from my point of view; but I dare say you would be interested, because it shows what a fine chap Jimmy really is." He took it for granted that she was listening. He went on: "It was some years ago now, of course—five years, I think; and I was broke—broke to the wide, if you know what that means!" He glanced down at her smilingly. "I'm by way of being a struggling journalist, you know," he explained. "More of the struggling than the journalist. I'm not a bit of good at the job, to be quite candid; but it's a life I like—and lately I've managed to scrape along quite decently. Anyhow, at the time I met Jimmy I was down and out . . . Fleet Street would have none of me, and I even had to pawn my watch."

"Oh!" said Christine with soft sympathy.

Sangster laughed.

"That's nothing; it's been pawned fifty times since it first came into my possession, I should think. Don't think I'm asking for sympathy—I'm not. It's the sort of life that suits me, and I wouldn't change it for another—even if I had the chance. But the night I ran across Jimmy I was fairly up against it. I hadn't had a square meal for a week, and I was ill to add to the trouble. Jimmy was coming along Pall Mall in evening-dress. He was smoking a cigar that smelt good, and I wondered as he passed me if I dared go up and ask him for a shilling."

"Oh, Mr. Sangster!" He looked down hearing the distress in her voice.

"Don't look so sorry!" he said very gently. "It's all in a day's march for me. I've had my good times, and I've had my bad; and when I come to write the story of my life—when I'm a bloated millionaire, that is!" he added in laughing parenthesis—"it will make fine reading to know that I was once so hard up that I cadged a shilling off a swell in evening-dress!"

But Christine did not laugh; her eyes were almost tragic as she looked up wonderingly at Sangster's honest face.

"And—and did you ask him?" she questioned.

"Did I not!" said Sangster heartily. "I went up to him—Jimmy stopped dead, I believe he thought I was going to pinch his watch—and I said, 'Will you be a sport and lend me a bob?' Not a bit romantic, you see!"

Christine caught her breath.

"And did he—did he?" she asked eagerly.

Sangster laughed reminiscently.

"You'll never guess what he said. He asked no questions, he took the cigar from his lips and looked at me, and he said, 'I haven't got a bob in the world till my brother, the Great Horatio, sends my monthly allowance along; but if you'll come as far as the next street, I know a chap I can borrow a sovereign from.' Wasn't that just Jimmy all over?"

Christine was laughing, too, now.

"Oh, I can just hear him saying it! I can just see him!" she cried. "And then what did you do?"

"Well, we went along—to this pal of Jimmy's, and Jimmy borrowed a fiver. He gave me three pounds, and took me along to have a dinner. And—well, we've been pals ever since. A bit of luck for me, wasn't it?"

"I was thinking," said little Christine very earnestly, "that it was a bit of luck for Jimmy."

Sangster grew furiously red. For a moment he could think of nothing to say; he had only told the story in order to soften her towards Jimmy, and in a measure he had succeeded.

Christine walked beside him without speaking for some time; her brown eyes were very thoughtful.

Sangster talked no more of Jimmy; he was too tactful to overdo things. Jimmy was not mentioned between them again till he took her back to the hotel. Then:

"I don't know how to thank you for being so kind to me," she said earnestly. Her brown eyes were lifted confidingly to his face. "But I've been happier this afternoon than—than I've ever been since my mother died."

Sangster gripped her hand hard for a moment.

"And you will be happy—always—if you're just a little patient," he said, rather huskily. "Jimmy's a spoilt boy, and—and—it's the women who have to show all of us—eh? It's the women who are our guardian angels; remember that!"

He hated himself for having had to blame her, even mildly, when the fault was so utterly and entirely Jimmy's. It seemed a monstrous thing that Christine should have to teach Jimmy unselfishness; he hoped he had not said too much.

But Christine was really much happier, had he known it. She went up to her room, and changed her frock for one of the few simple ones she had had new when she was married. She did her hair in a way she thought Jimmy would like; she sent one of the servants out for flowers to brighten the little sitting-room; she timidly ordered what she thought would be an extra nice dinner to please him. The waiter looked at her questioningly.

"For—for two, madam?" he asked hesitatingly.

"Yes, please. Mr. Challoner and I will dine up here this evening."

As a rule, Jimmy dined downstairs alone, and Christine had something sent up to her. She was vaguely beginning to realise now how foolish she had been. The little time she had spent with Sangster had been like the opening of a door in her poor little heart, letting in fresh air and common sense. After all, how could she hope to win Jimmy by tears and recriminations? She had heard the doctrine of "forgive and forget" preached so frequently; surely this was the moment in which to apply it to herself and him.

Her heart beat a little fast at the thought. She spoke again to the waiter as he turned to leave the room.

"And—and will you find out what wine Mr. Challoner has with his dinner, as a rule; and—and serve the same this evening."

The man hesitated, then:

"Mr. Challoner told me he should not be dining in this evening, madam," he said reluctantly. "He came in about three o'clock, and went out again; I think there was a message for him. He told me to tell you if you came in." He averted his eyes from Christine's blanching face as he spoke. "I am sure that is what Mr. Challoner said, madam," he repeated awkwardly.

"Oh, very well." Christine stood quite still in the empty room when he had gone; it seemed all the more lonely and empty, now that once again she had been robbed of her eager hopes.

Jimmy was not coming home. Jimmy found her so dull and uninteresting that he was only too glad of an excuse to stay out.

She wondered where he had gone; whom the message had been from.

A sudden crimson stain dyed her cheek. . . . Cynthia Farrow!

She tried hard to stamp the thought out of existence—tried hard to push it from her but it was useless. It grew and grew in her agonised mind till she could think of nothing else. She walked about the room, wringing her hands.

If Jimmy had gone to Cynthia, that was the end of everything. She could never forgive this. If Jimmy had gone to Cynthia, she hoped that she would die before she ever saw him again.

She could not believe that she had ever talked to him of Cynthia—that she had ever admired her, or thought her beautiful. She hated her now—hated her for the very charms that had so hopelessly captivated the man she loved. If Jimmy had gone to Cynthia . . . she stood still, fighting hard for self-control.

She tried to remember what Sangster had said:

"Jimmy is such a boy; give him a chance." And here she was already condemning him without a hearing.

She bit her lips till they bled. She would wait till she knew; she would wait till she was sure—quite sure.

She did her best to eat some of the dinner she had ordered, but it was uphill work. Jimmy's empty chair opposite was a continual reminder of his absence. Where was he? she asked herself in an agony of doubt. With whom was he dining whilst she was here alone?

After dinner she tried to read. She sat down by the fire, and turned the pages of a magazine without really seeing a line or picture. When someone knocked at the door she started up eagerly, with flushing cheeks; but it was only the waiter with coffee and an evening paper.

She asked him an anxious question:

"Mr. Challoner has not come in yet?" She tried hard to speak as if it were nothing out of the ordinary for Jimmy to be out.

"Not yet, madam." He set down the coffee and the evening paper and went quietly away. Outside on the landing he encountered the maid who waited on Christine.

"It's a shame—that's what it is!" the girl said warmly when he told her in whispered tones that Mrs. Challoner was alone again. "A shame! and her only just married, the pretty dear!"

She wondered what Christine was doing; she hovered round the door, sympathetic and longing to be able to help, and not knowing how.

Christine had taken up the paper. She did not know how to pass the evening; the minutes seemed to be dragging past with deliberate slowness.

She looked at the clock—only eight! She waited some time, then looked again. Five past. Why, surely the clock must have stopped; surely it must be half an hour since she had last glanced at its expressionless face.

She sighed wearily.

She had never felt so acutely alone and deserted in all her life; she had hardly been separated for a single day from her mother till death stepped in between them. Mrs. Wyatt's constant presence had kept Christine young; had made her more of a child than she would have been had she had to look after herself. She felt her position now the more acutely in consequence.

"Serious accident to Miss Cynthia Farrow." Her eyes caught the headline of the paragraph as she idly turned the page; she gave a little start. Her hands clutched the paper convulsively.

She read the few lines eagerly:

"Miss Cynthia Farrow, the well-known actress, was the victim of a serious motor-car accident this afternoon. Returning from the theatre, the car in which Miss Farrow was riding came into collision with a car owned by Mr. C. E. Hoskins, the well-known airman. Miss Farrow was unfortunately thrown out, and is suffering from concussion and severe bruises. Miss Farrow has been appearing at the —— Theatre as . . . ."

Christine read no more. She did not care for the details of Cynthia Farrow's life; all she cared was that this paragraph settled for once and all her doubt about Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy could not be with her if she were ill and unconscious. She felt bitterly ashamed of her suspicion; her spirits went up like rockets; she threw the paper aside. The terrible load of care seemed lifted for a moment from her shoulders; she was asking Jimmy's pardon on her heart's knees for having ever dreamed that he would do such a thing after all his promises to her.

She opened the door and looked into the corridor. Downstairs she could hear a band playing in the lounge; it sounded inviting and cheery. She went down the stairs and found a seat in a palm-screened corner.

Jimmy had begged her to mix more with other people, and not stay in her room so much. If he came in now he would be pleased to see that she had done as he asked her, she thought with a little thrill.

She could look ahead now, and make plans for their future. She would consent to leaving London at once, and going somewhere where Cynthia Farrow's influence had never made itself felt. She would start all over again; she would be so tactful, so patient. She would win him over to her; make him love her more than he had ever loved Cynthia.

Her face glowed at the thought; her eyes shone like stars. She lost herself in happy introspection.

"Yes—rotten hard luck, isn't it?" said a voice somewhere behind her. "Just when she's on the crest of the wave, as you might say. Doubtful if she gets over it, so I hear."

Christine listened apathetically. She wondered who the voice was talking about; she half turned; trying to see the speaker, but the palms effectually screened him.

A second, less distinct voice made some remark, and the first speaker answered with a little laugh:

"Yes—dead keen, wasn't he, poor beggar; but he wasn't rich enough for her. A woman like that makes diamonds trumps every time, and not hearts, you know—eh? Poor old Jimmy—he always hated Mortlake like the devil. . . . She was in Mortlake's car when the smash occurred, you know . . . No, I don't much think she'll marry him. If she goes on at the rate she's going now, she'll be flying for higher game in a month or two. I know women of that stamp—had some myself, as you might say. . . . What—really! poor old chap! Thought he only got married the other day."

The second voice was more audible now:

"So he did; some little girl from the country, I hear. God alone knows why he did it. . . . Anyway, there can't be any affection in it, because I happen to know that Jimmy was sent for to-night. They said she asked for him as soon as she could speak. . . . Jimmy, mark you! not a bob in the world. . . ." The voice broke in a cynical laugh.

Jimmy! They were talking of Jimmy—and——

All the blood in her body seemed to concentrate suddenly in her heart, and then rush away from it, turning her faint and sick. The many lights in the big lounge seemed to twinkle and go out.

She pressed her feet hard to the floor; she shut her eyes.

After a moment she felt better; her brain began to work again stiffly.

So Jimmy was with Cynthia, after all. Jimmy had been sent for, and Jimmy had gone.

This was the end of everything; this was the end of all her dreams of happiness of the future.

She sat there for a long, long time, unconscious of her surroundings; it was only when the band had stopped playing, and a sort of silence fell everywhere, that she moved stiffly and went back up the stairs to her own room.

She stood there by the bed for a moment, looking round her with dull eyes; the clock on the mantel-shelf pointed to nine.

Too late to go away to-night. Was it too late? A sudden memory leapt to her mind.

Jimmy and she had gone down to Upton House by a train later than this the day after her mother died. She tried to remember; it had been the nine-fifty from Euston, she was sure. She made a rapid calculation; she could catch that if she was quick—catch it if she hurried. She threw off her slippers; she began to collect a few things together in a handbag; her breath was coming fast—her heart was racing. She would never come back any more—never live with him again. She had lost her last shred of trust in him—she no longer loved him.

She was pinning on her hat with shaking fingers when someone tried the handle of the door—someone called her name softly.

"Christine . . ." It was Jimmy.

She stood quite still, hardly daring to breathe. She pressed her hands over her lips, as if afraid that he would hear the quick beating of her frightened heart.

"Christine . . ." He waited a moment, then she heard him saying something under his breath impatiently; another second, and he turned away to the sitting-room opposite.

She heard him moving about there for some time; she looked at the clock. Almost too late to go now; a fever of impatience consumed her.

If only he had not come back—if only she had gone sooner.

She turned out the light, and softly, an inch at a time, opened the door. There was a light burning in the sitting-room; there was a smell of cigarette smoke. Jimmy was still there.

She wondered if she could get away without him hearing her; she tiptoed back into the room, took up her bag from the bed, and crept again to the door.

The floor seemed to creak at every step. Half a dozen times she stopped, frightened; then suddenly the half-closed door of the sitting-room opposite opened, and Jimmy came out.

He was in evening-dress; he still wore a loose overcoat.

For a moment he stared at her blankly. The lights had been lowered a little in the corridor, and at first he was not sure if it was she. Then he strode across to her and caught her by the wrist in a not very gentle grip.

"Where are you going?" he asked roughly.

She cowered back from him against the wall; her face was white, but her eyes blazed at him in passionate defiance.

"I am going away. Let me go. I am never coming back any more."

He half led, half dragged her into the sitting-room; he put his back to the door, and stood looking at her, white-faced, silent.

The breath was tearing from his throat; he seemed afraid to trust himself to speak.

Presently:

"Why?" he asked hoarsely.

Christine was standing against the table, one trembling hand resting on it; she was afraid of him and of the white passion in his face, but she faced him bravely.

"I am never going to live with you any more. I—I wish I had never seen you."

Even her voice seemed to have changed; he realized it dully, and the knowledge added to his anger. She no longer spoke in the half-trembling childish way he remembered; there was something more grown-up and womanly about her.

"Don't be a little fool," he said roughly. "What is the matter? What have I done now? I'm sick to death of these scenes and heroics; for God's sake try and behave like a rational woman. Do you want the whole hotel to know that we've quarrelled?"

"They know already," she told him fiercely.

He came nearer to her.

"Take off your hat and coat, Christine, and don't be absurd. Why, we've only been married a little more than a week." His voice was quieter and more gentle. "What's the matter? Let's sit down and talk things over quietly. I've something to tell you. I wanted to see you to-night; I came to your door just now."

"I know—I heard you."

"Very well; what's it all about? What have I done to upset you like this?"

She shut her eyes for a moment. When he spoke to her so kindly it almost broke her heart; it brought back so vividly the boy sweetheart whom she had never really forgotten. And yet this Jimmy was not the Jimmy she had known in those happy days, This Jimmy only looked at her with the same eyes; in reality he was another man—a stranger whom she feared and almost hated.

He took her hand.

"Christine—are you ill?"

She opened her eyes; they were blazing.

The touch of his fingers on hers seemed to drive her mad.

"Yes," she said shrilly, "I am—ill because of you and your lies, and your hateful deception; ill because you've broken my heart and ruined my life. You swore to me that you'd never see Cynthia Farrow again. You swore to me that it was all over and done with; and now—now——"

"Yes—now," said Jimmy; his voice was hoarse and strained. "Yes—and now," he said again, as she did not answer.

She wrenched herself free.

"You've been with her this evening. You've left me alone here all these hours to be with her. I don't count at all in your life. I don't know why you married me, unless it was to—to pay her out. I wish I'd never seen you. I wish I'd died before I ever married you. I wish—oh, I wish I could die now," she ended in a broken whisper.

Jimmy had fallen back a step; he was no longer looking at her. There was a curious expression of shocked horror in his, eyes as they stared past his wife into the silent room.

Presently:

"She's dead," he said hoarsely. "Cynthia Farrow is dead."



CHAPTER XIV

BITTERNESS

"Dead!" Christine echoed Jimmy's hoarse word in a dull voice, not understanding. "Dead!" she said again blankly.

He moved away from the door; he dropped into a chair and hid his face in his hands.

There was a moment of absolute silence.

Christine stared at Jimmy's bowed head with dull eyes.

She was trying to force her brain to work, but she could not; she was only conscious of a faint sort of curiosity as to whether Jimmy were lying to her; but somehow he did not look as if he were. She tried to speak to him, but no words would come.

Suddenly he raised his head; he was very pale. "Well?" he said defiantly.

His eyes were hard and full of hurt; hurt because of another woman, Christine told herself, in furious pain; hurt because the woman he had really and truly loved had gone out of his life for ever.

She tried to say that she was sorry, but the words seemed to choke her—she was not sorry; she was glad. She was passionately glad that the beautiful woman whom she had at first so ardently admired was now only a name between them.

"So you've no need to be jealous any more," said Jimmy Challoner, after a moment.

No need to be jealous! There was still the same need; death cannot take memory away with it. Christine felt as if the dead woman were more certainly between them now, keeping them apart, than ever before.

The silence fell again; then suddenly Christine moved to the door.

Jimmy caught her hand.

"Where are you going? Don't be a little fool. It's ever so late; you can't leave the hotel to-night."

"I am not going to stay here with you." She did not look at him; did not even faintly guess how much he was longing for a kind word, a little sympathy. He had had the worst shock of his inconsequent life when, in reply to that urgent summons, he had raced round to Cynthia Farrow's flat, and found that he was too late.

"She died ten minutes ago."

Only ten minutes! Jimmy had stared blankly at the face of the weeping maid, and then mechanically taken his watch from his pocket and looked at it. Only ten minutes! If he had not had to hang about for a taxi he would have been in time to have seen her.

Now he would never see her again; as yet he had had no time in which to analyse his feelings; he was numbed with the shock of it all; he listened like a man in a dream to the details they told him. It passed him by unmoved that she had been in Mortlake's car when the accident occurred; it had conveyed nothing to his mind when they told him that the only words she had spoken during her brief flash of consciousness had been to ask for him.

As he stood there in the familiar scented pink drawing-room, his thoughts had flown with odd incongruity to Christine.

She would be kind to him—she would be sorry for him; his whole heart and soul had been on fire to get back to her—to get away from the harrowing silence of the flat which had always been associated in his mind with fun and laughter, and the happiest days of his life.

A fur coat of Cynthia's lay across a chair-back; so many times he had helped her slip into it after her performance at the theatre was ended. He knew so well the faint scent that always clung to it; he shuddered and averted his eyes. She would never wear it again; she was dead! He wondered what would become of it—what would become of all her clothes, and her jewelry and her trinkets.

Suddenly, in the middle of more details, he had turned and rushed blindly away. It was not so much grief as a sort of horror at himself that drove him; he felt as if someone had forced him to look on a past folly—a folly of which he was now ashamed.

He had thought of Christine with a sort of passionate thankfulness and gratitude; and now there was nothing but dislike and contempt for him in her brown eyes. Somehow she seemed like a different woman to the one whom he had so lightly wooed and won such a little while ago. She looked older—wiser; the childishness of her face seemed to have hardened; it was no longer the little girl Christine who faced him in the silent room.

He broke out again urgently:

"Don't be absurd, Christine. I won't have it, I tell you, I forbid you to leave the hotel. After all, you're my wife—you must do as I wish." She seemed not to hear him; she stood with her eyes fixed straight in front of her.

"Please let me go."

"Where are you going? You're my wife—you'll have to stay with me." His hand was on the door handle now; he was looking down at her with haggard eyes in his white face.

"Let's begin all over again, Christine. I've been a rotter, I know; but if you'll have a little patience—it's not too late—we can patch things up, and—and I'll promise you——"

She cut him short.

"You are saying this because she is dead. If she were living you would not care what I did, or what became of me." Suddenly her voice changed wildly. "Oh, let me go—let me go!"

For a moment their glances met, and for the first time in his spoilt and pampered life Jimmy Challoner saw hatred looking at him through a woman's eyes. It drove the hot blood to his head; he was unnerved with the shock he had suffered that evening. For a moment he saw the world red; he lifted his clenched fist.

"Go, then—and a damned good riddance!"

"Jimmy!" Her scream of terror stayed his hand, and kept him from striking her. He staggered back, aghast at the thing he had so nearly done.

"Christine—Christine——" he stammered; but she had gone. The shutting and locking of her bedroom door was his only answer.



CHAPTER XV

SANGSTER SPEAKS IN RIDDLES

Sangster heard of Cynthia Farrow's death late that night.

He was walking up Fleet Street when he ran into a man he knew—a man whom Jimmy knew also; he stopped and caught him by his buttonhole.

"I say, have you heard—awful thing, isn't it?"

Sangster stared.

"Heard! Heard what?"

"About Cynthia Farrow. Had a frightful accident—in Mortlake's car."

Sangster's eyes woke to interest.

"Badly hurt?" he asked briefly.

"Dead!"

"My God!" There was a moment of tragic silence. "Dead!" said Sangster again. He could not believe it; his face was very pale. "Dead!" he said again. His thoughts flew to Jimmy Challoner. "Are you sure?" he asked urgently. "There's no mistake—you're quite sure?"

"Sure! Man alive, it's in all the papers! They've all got hold of a different story, of course; some say she never recovered consciousness, and others——" He lowered his voice. "I happen to know that she did," he added confidentially. "She sent for Challoner, and he was with her when she died."

"Challoner—Jimmy Challoner!" Sangster repeated his friend's name dully. The one shocked thought of his heart was "Christine."

"I always knew she really liked him," the other man went on complacently. "If he'd had Mortlake's money——" He shrugged his shoulders significantly.

Sangster waited to hear no more; he went straight to Jimmy's hotel. It was late then—nearly eleven. The hall porter said in reply to his inquiry that Mr. and Mrs. Challoner had both been in all the evening, he thought, and were still in; he looked at Sangster's agitated face curiously.

"Was you wishing to see Mr. Challoner, sir?"

"No—oh, no. I only thought—you need not tell him that I called." He went away wretchedly; he wondered if Christine knew—and if so, what she must be thinking.

He never slept all night. He was on the 'phone to Jimmy long before breakfast; he was infinitely relieved to hear Jimmy's voice.

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