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The Second Honeymoon
by Ruby M. Ayres
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"Hallo—yes, I'm all right, thanks. Want to see me? Well——"

There was a pause here. Sangster waited in a fever of impatience. After a moment:

"I'll meet you for lunch, if you like. . . . No, can't before. . . . What do you say? Christine? Oh, yes—yes, thanks; she's very well."

There was another pause. "One o'clock, then."

Jimmy rang off.

Sangster felt easier as he sat down to his breakfast. Jimmy's voice had sounded fairly normal, if a little constrained; and it was not such a very long time till one o'clock, when he would hear all there was to hear.

He forced himself to work all the morning. He did not even glance at a paper; he knew they would be full of Cynthia Farrow's accident and tragic death; he dreaded lest there might be some inadvertent allusion made to Jimmy. He was still hoping that Christine would never know that Jimmy had been sent for; he rightly guessed that if she heard it would mean a long farewell to any hope of happiness in her married life.

Jealousy—bitter jealousy; that was what had been rending her heart, he knew. He stopped writing; he took up a pencil, and absently began scribbling on his blotter.

If Cynthia were out of the way, there was no reason why, in time, Jimmy and his wife should not be perfectly happy. He hoped with all his heart that they would be; he would have given a great deal to have seen Christine smiling and radiant once more, as she had been that night when they all had supper at Marino's.

He sighed heavily; he looked at the lines he had been so absently scribbling.

Christine—Christine—Christine. Nothing but her name. It stared up at him in all shapes and sizes from the blotter. Sangster flushed dully; he tore the sheet of paper free, and tossed it into the fire. What was he dreaming about? Where were his thoughts?

He had arranged to meet Jimmy at the same little restaurant where yesterday he had taken Christine to lunch. He was there a quarter of an hour before the appointed time.

When Jimmy arrived Sangster glanced at him anxiously. He was very pale; his eyes looked defiant; there was a hard fold to his lips.

"Hallo!" he said laconically; he sat down opposite to Sangster. "I don't want any lunch; you fire away."

He seemed to avoid Sangster's eyes; there was a little awkward silence.

"How's the wife?" Sangster asked nervously.

Jimmy laughed mirthlessly.

"She's left me; she says she'll never live with me again."

"Left you!"

"Yes. . . . Oh, don't look so scandalised, man! I saw her off from Euston myself; it was all outwardly quite a friendly arrangement. She's gone down to Upton House; she's going to have a friend of hers to stay with her for a time—a Miss Leighton——" He paused, and went on heavily: "Of course, you've heard about—about——"

"Yes——"

"Well—well, they sent for me. It was too late! She—she was dead when I got there; but Christine found out somehow—I don't know how. I give you my word of honour I meant to have told her; but—she wouldn't believe anything I said. . . . We—we had a row last night; I dare say it was my fault. I was upset, of course——"

"Of course."

"And this morning I tried to apologise. I asked her to overlook everything that had happened, and—and start again." Jimmy laughed dully. "I—well, I believe she hates the sight of me."

Jimmy caught his breath hard on the memory of the burning hatred that had looked at him from Christine's beautiful brown eyes.

"It's quite for the best—this arrangement. Don't think I'm blaming her—I'm not; perhaps if she'd been a little older—if she'd known a little more about the world—she'd have been more tolerant; I don't know. Anyway, she's gone." He raised his humiliated eyes to Sangster's distressed face.

"She will forgive you. She's hurt now, of course; but later on . . ."

Jimmy shook his head.

"She's made me promise to keep away from her for six months. I had no option—she thinks the worst of me, naturally. She thinks that I—I cared for—for Cynthia—right up to the end. . . . I didn't." He stopped, choking. "She's dead—don't let's talk about it," he added.

Sangster had hardly touched his lunch; he sat smoking fast and furiously.

"Six months is a long time," he said at last.

"Yes—it's only a polite way of saying she never wants to see me again; and I don't blame her."

"That's absurd; she's too fond of you."

Jimmy hunched his shoulders.

"That's what I tried to flatter myself; but I know better now. She—she wouldn't even shake hands with me when I said 'good-bye' to her at Euston." There was a little silence. The thoughts of both men flew to Christine as she had been when she first came to London; so happy—so radiantly happy.

And Jimmy could look farther back still; could see her as she had been in the old days at Upton House when she had been his first love. Jimmy gave a great sigh.

"What a damnable hash-up, eh?" he said.

"It'll all come right—I'm certain it will."

Jimmy looked at him affectionately.

"Dear old optimist!" He struck a match and lit the cigarette which had been hanging listlessly between his lips. "I suppose—if you'd run down and have a look at her now and then," he said awkwardly. "She likes you—and you could let me know if she's all right."

"If you don't think she would consider it an intrusion."

"I am sure she wouldn't; and you'll like Upton House." Jimmy's voice was dreamily reminiscent. "It's to be sold later on, you know; but for the present Christine will live there. . . . It would be a real kindness if you would run down now and then, old chap."

"I will, of course, if you're sure——"

"I'm quite sure. Christine likes you."

"Very well."

Sangster kept his eyes downbent; somehow he could not meet Jimmy's just then.

"And you—what are you going to do?" he asked presently.

"I shall go back to my old rooms for a time, and take Costin with me; he'll be pleased, anyway, with the new arrangement. It was really funny the way he tried to congratulate me when I told him I was going to be married——" He broke off, remembering that afternoon, and the way Cynthia had come into the room as they were talking.

He would never see her again; never meet the seductive pleading of her eyes any more; never hear her laughing voice calling to him, "Jimmy dear."

The thought was intolerable. He moved restlessly in his chair; the sweat broke out on his forehead.

"My God! it seems impossible that she's dead," he said hoarsely.

Sangster did not look up.

There was a long pause.

"She was in Mortlake's car, you know," said Jimmy again, disjointedly.

Sangster nodded.

"He'll be shockingly cut-up," said Jimmy again. "I hated the chap; but he was really fond of her."

"Yes." Jimmy's cigarette had gone out again, and he relit it absently.

"Christine will never believe that it hasn't broken my heart," he said in a queer voice.

No answer.

"You won't believe it either?" he said.

The eyes of the two men met; Jimmy flushed scarlet.

"It's the truth," he said. "I think, ever since I knew that she—that she had tried to get rid of me——" He stopped painfully. "It makes me wonder if I ever—ever really, you know."

"We all make mistakes—bad mistakes," said Sangster kindly.

Jimmy smiled a little.

"You old philosopher . . . I don't believe you've ever cared a hang for a woman in all your life."

"Oh, yes I have." Sangster's eyes were staring past Jimmy, down the little room.

"Really?" Jimmy was faintly incredulous. "Who was she—wouldn't she have you?"

"I never asked her, and she is married now—to another man."

"A decent fellow?"

There was a little silence, then:

"I think he'll turn out all right," said Sangster quietly. "I hope so."



CHAPTER XVI

THE PAST RETURNS

Christine had learned a great deal since her marriage. As she stood on the platform at Euston that morning with Jimmy Challoner she felt old enough to be the grandmother of the girl who had looked up at him with such glad recognition less than a month ago in the theatre.

Old enough, and sad enough.

She could not bear to look at him now. It cut her to the heart to see the listless droop of his shoulders and the haggard lines of his face. It was not for her—his sorrow; that was the thought she kept steadily before her eyes; it was not because he had offended and hurt her past forgiveness; but because Cynthia Farrow was now only a name and a memory.

The train was late in starting. Jimmy stood on the platform trying to make conversation; he had bought a pile of magazines and a box of chocolates which lay disregarded beside Christine on the seat; he had ordered luncheon for her, although she protested again and again that she should not eat anything.

He racked his brains to think if there were any other little service he could do for her. He was full of remorse and shame as he stood there.

She had been so fond of him—she had meant to be so happy; and now she was glad to be leaving him.

The guard blew his whistle. Jimmy turned hastily, the blood rushing to his white face.

"If you ever want me, Christine——" She seemed not to be listening, and he broke off, only to stumble on again: "Try and forgive me—try not to think too hardly of me." She looked at him then; her beautiful eyes were hard and unyielding.

The train had begun to move slowly from the platform. Jimmy was on the footboard; he spoke to her urgently.

"Say you forgive me, Christine. If you'll just shake hands——"

She drew back, as if she found him distasteful.

The train was gathering speed. A porter made a grab at Jimmy.

"Stand back, sir."

Jimmy obeyed mechanically. Christine would not have cared had he been killed, he told himself savagely.

But for his pig-headed foolishness, he and Christine might have been going down to Upton House together; but for the past——

"Damn the past!" said Jimmy Challoner as he turned on his heel and walked away.

* * * * * *

But the past was very real to Christine as she sat there alone in a corner of the first-class carriage into which Jimmy had put her, and stared before her with dull eyes at a row of photographs advertising seaside places.

This was the end of all her dreams of happiness. She and Jimmy were separated; it seemed impossible that they had ever really been married—that she was really his wife and he her husband.

She dragged off her glove, and looked at her wedding ring; she had never taken it off since the moment in that dingy London church when Jimmy had slipped it on.

And yet it was such an empty symbol. He had never loved her; he had married her because some other woman, whom he did love, was beyond his reach.

She did not cry; she seemed to have shed all the tears in her heart. She just sat there motionless as the train raced her back to the old house and the old familiar scenes, where she had been happy—many years ago—with Jimmy Challoner.

He had wired to Gladys Leighton; Gladys would be there at the station to meet her. She wondered what she would say to her.

She thought of the uncle who had journeyed to London with such reluctance to give her away; he would tell her that it served her right, she was sure. Even on her wedding day he had trotted out the old maxim of marrying in haste.

Christine smiled faintly as she thought of him; after all, she need not see much of him—he did not live near Upton House. When the restaurant attendant came to tell her that lunch was ready, she followed him obediently. Jimmy had tipped him half-a-crown to make sure that Christine went to the dining-car. She even enjoyed her meal. A man sitting at the same table with her looked at her curiously from time to time; he was rather a good-looking man. Once when she dropped her gloves he stooped and picked them up for her; later on he pulled up the window because he saw her shiver a little. "These trains are well warmed as a rule," he said.

Christine looked at him timidly.

She liked his face; something about his eyes made her think of Jimmy.

"Are you travelling far?" he asked presently.

She told him—only to Osterway.

He smiled suddenly.

"I am going there, too. Do you happen to know a place called Upton House?"

Christine flushed.

"It's my home," she said. "I live there."

"What a coincidence. I heard it was in the market—I am going down with a view to purchase."

Her face saddened.

"Yes—it is to be sold. My mother died last month. . . . Everything is to be sold."

"You are sorry to have to part with it?" he asked her sympathetically.

"Yes." Tears rose to her eyes, and she brushed them, ashamedly away. "I've lived there all my life," she told him. "All my happiest days have been spent there." She was thinking of Jimmy, and the days when he rode old Judas barebacked round the paddock.

The stranger was looking at Christine interestedly; he glanced down at her left hand, from which she had removed the glove; he was surprised to see that she wore a wedding ring.

Surely she could not be married—that child! He looked again at the mourning she wore; perhaps her husband was dead. He forgot for the moment that she had just told him of the death of her mother.

He questioned her interestedly about Osterway. What sort of a place was it? Were the people round about sociable? He liked plenty of friends, he said.

Christine answered eagerly that everyone was very nice. To hear her talk one would have imagined that Osterway was a little heaven on earth. The last few weeks, with their excitement and disillusionment, had made the past seem all the more roseate by contrast. She told this man that she would rather live in Osterway than anywhere else; that she only wished she were sufficiently well off to keep Upton House.

When the train ran into the station he asked diffidently if he might be allowed to drive her home.

"My car is down here," he explained. "I sent it on with my man. I am staying in the village for a few days. . . . Upton House is some way from the station, I believe?"

"Two miles. . . . I should like to drive home with you," she told him shyly. "Only I am meeting a friend here."

"Perhaps your friend will drive with us, too," he said.

Christine thought it a most excellent arrangement. She looked eagerly up and down the platform for Gladys Leighton, but there was no sign of her.

"Perhaps she never got my telegram," she said in perplexity. She asked the stationmaster if there had been a lady waiting for the train; but he had seen nobody.

The man with whom she had travelled down from London stood patiently beside her.

"Shall we drive on?" he suggested. "We may meet your friend on the road."

They went out to the big car; there was a smart man in livery to drive them. Christine and her companion sat together in the back seat. They drove slowly the first half-mile, but there was no sign of Gladys anywhere. Christine felt depressed. She had counted on Gladys; she had been so sure that she would not fail her; she began to wonder if Jimmy had sent that wire; she hated herself for the thought, but her whole belief and idea of him had got hopelessly inverted during the past days.

They seemed to reach Upton House very quickly.

"You are evidently expected," her companion said; "judging by the look of the house."

The front door stood open; the wide gate to the drive was fastened back. As the car stopped the housekeeper came to the door; she looked interestedly at Christine, and with faint amazement at her companion. For the first time Christine felt embarrassed: she wondered if perhaps she had been foolish to accept this man's offer of an escort. When they were inside the house she turned to him timidly.

"Will you tell me your name? It—it seems so funny not to know your name. Mine is Christine Wyatt—Challoner, I mean," she added with a flush of embarrassment.

"My name is Kettering—Alfred Kettering." He smiled down at her. "The name Challoner is very familiar to me," he said. "My greatest friend is a man named Challoner."

Christine caught her breath.

"Not—Jimmy?" she asked.

"No—Horace. He has a young brother named Jimmy, though—a disrespectful young scamp, who always called Horace 'the Great Horatio.' You don't happen to know them, I suppose?"

Christine had flushed scarlet.

"He is my husband," she said in a whisper.

"Your—husband!" Kettering stared at her with amazed eyes, then suddenly he held our his hand. "That makes us quite old friends, then, doesn't it?" he said with change of voice. "I have known Horace Challoner all my life; as a matter of fact, I was with him all last summer in Australia. I have been home myself only a few weeks."

Christine did not know what to say. She knew that this man must be wondering where Jimmy was; that it was more than probable that he would write to the Great Horatio and inform him of their chance meeting, and of anything else which he might discover about her mistaken marriage.

"I don't think Horace knows that his brother is married, does he?" the man said again, Christine raised her eyes.

"We've only been married ten days," she said tremulously.

"Is that so? Then I am not too late to offer you my most sincere congratulations, and to wish you every happiness." He took her hand in a kindly grip.

Christine tried to thank him, but somehow she seemed to have lost her voice. She moved on across the hall into the dining-room, where there was a cheery fire burning and tea laid.

"You will have some tea with me," she said. "And then afterwards I will show you over the house—if you really want to see it?" She looked up at him wistfully. "I should like you to have it, I think," she told him hesitatingly. "If it has got to be sold, I should like to know that somebody—nice—has bought it."

"Thank you." He stood back to the fire, watching her as she poured out the tea.

Married—this child! It seemed so absurd. She looked about seventeen.

Suddenly:

"And where is Jimmy?" he asked her abruptly. "I wonder if he would remember me! Hardly, I expect; it's a great many years since we met."

Christine had been expecting the question; she kept her face averted as she answered:

"Jimmy is in London; he saw me off this morning. He—he isn't able to come down just yet."

There was a little silence.

"I see," said Kettering. Only ten days married, and not able to come down. Jimmy had never done an hour's work in his life, so far as Kettering could remember. He knew quite well that he was living on an allowance from his brother; it seemed a curious sort of situation altogether.

He took his tea from Christine's hands. He noticed that they trembled a little, as if she were very nervous, he tried to put her at her ease; he spoke no more of Jimmy.

"I wonder what has happened to your friend?" he said cheerily. "I dare say she will turn up here directly."

"I hope she will." Christine glanced towards the window; it was rapidly getting dusk. "I hope she will," she said again apprehensively. "I should hate having to stay here by myself." She shivered a little as she spoke. She turned to him suddenly.

"Are you—married?" she asked interestedly.

He laughed.

"No. . . . Why do you ask?"

"I was only wondering. I hope you don't think it rude of me to have asked you. I was only thinking that—if you were married and had any children, this is such a lovely house for them. When we were all little we used to have such fine times. There is a beautiful garden and a great big room that runs nearly the length of the house upstairs, which we used to have for a nursery."

"You had brothers and sisters, then?"

"No—but Jimmy was always here; and Gladys—Gladys is the friend I am expecting—she is like my own sister, really!"

"I see." His eyes watched her with an odd sort of tenderness in them. "And so you have known Jimmy a great many years?" he asked.

"All my life."

"Then you know his brother as well?"

"I have met him—yes; but I dare say he has forgotten all about me."

"He will be very pleased with Jimmy's choice of a wife," he answered her quickly. "He always had and idea that Jimmy would bring home a golden-haired lady from behind the footlights, I think," he added laughingly.

He broke off suddenly at sight of the pain in little Christine's face. There was an awkward silence. Christine herself broke it.

"Shall we go and look over the house before it gets quite dark?"

She had taken off her coat and furs; she moved to the door.

Kettering followed silently. He was fully conscious that in some way he had blundered by his laughing reference to a "golden-haired lady of the footlights"; he felt instinctively that there was something wrong with this little girl and her marriage—that she was not happy.

He tried to remember what sort of a fellow Jimmy had been in the old days; but his memory of him was vague. He knew that Horace had often complained bitterly of Jimmy's extravagance—knew that there had often been angry scenes between the two Challoners; but he could not recall having heard of anything actually to Jimmy's discredit.

And, anyway, surely no man on earth could ever treat this little girl badly, even supposing—even supposing——

"It's not such a very big house," Christine was saying, and he woke from his reverie to answer her. "But it's very pretty, don't you think?" She opened a door on the left. "This used to be our nursery," she told him. They stood together on the threshold; the room was long and low-ceilinged, with a window at each end.

A big rocking-horse covered over with a dust-sheet stood in one corner; there was a doll's house and a big toy box together in another. The whole room was painfully silent and tidy, as if it had long since forgotten what it meant to have children playing there—as if even the echoes of pattering feet and shrill voices had deserted it.

Kettering glanced down at Christine. Her little face was very sad; she was looking at the big rocking-horse, and there were tears in her eyes.

She and Jimmy had so often ridden its impossible back together; this deserted room was full of Jimmy and her mother—to her sad heart it was peopled with ghost faces, and whispering voices that would never come any more.

Kettering turned away.

"Shall we see the rest of the house?" he asked. He hated that look of sadness in her face; he was surprised because he felt such a longing to comfort her.

But they had no time to see the rest of the house, for at that moment someone called, "Christine—Christine," from the hall below, and Christine clasped her hands delightedly.

"That is Gladys. Oh, I am so glad—so glad."

She forgot all about Kettering; she ran away from him, and down the stairs in childish delight. He followed slowly. He reached the hall just in time to see her fling herself into the arms of a tall girl standing there; just in time to hear smothered ejaculations.

"You poor darling!" and "Oh, Gladys!" and the sound of many kisses.

He stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do. Over Christine's head, his eyes met those of the elder girl. She smiled.

"Christine . . . you didn't tell me you had visitors."

Christine looked up, all smiles now and apologies, as she said:

"Oh, I am so sorry—I forgot." She introduced them. "Mr. Kettering—Miss Leighton. . . . Mr. Kettering has been looking over the house; I hope he will buy it," she added childishly.

"It's a shame it has got to be sold," said Gladys bluntly. There was something very taking about her, in spite of red hair and an indifferent complexion; she had honest blue eyes and a pleasant voice. She looked at Kettering a great deal as she spoke; perhaps she noticed how often his eyes rested on Christine. When presently they went out into the garden, she walked between them; she kept an arm about Christine's little figure.

"I missed the train," she explained. "I got your husband's wire, Christine. Oh, yes, I got it all right, and I rushed to pack the very minute; but the cab was slow, and I just missed the train. However, I'm here all right."

She looked at Kettering.

"Do you live near here?" she asked him.

"No; but I am hoping to soon," he said; and again she wondered if it were only her imagination that his eyes turned once more to Christine.

When they got back to the house he bade them "good-bye." The big car was still waiting in the drive; its headlights were lit now, and they shone through the darkness like watchful eyes.

"Who is he, anyway?" Gladys asked Christine bluntly, when Kettering had driven off. Christine shook her head.

"I don't know; he came down in the train with me, and we had lunch at the same table, and he spoke. He was coming down here to look at our house, and so—well, we came up together."

"What do you think Jimmy would say?"

"Jimmy!" There was such depths of bitterness in Christine's voice that the elder girl stared.

"Jimmy! He wouldn't care what I did, or what became of me. I—I—I'm never going to live with him any more."

Gladys opened her mouth to say something, and closed it again.

She had guessed that there had been something behind that urgent wire from Jimmy, but she wisely asked no questions. They went back into the house together.

"You'll have to know in the end, so I may as well tell you now," Christine said hopelessly. She sat down on the rug by the fire, a forlorn little figure enough in her black frock.

She told the whole story from beginning to end. She blamed nobody; she just spoke as if the whole thing had been a muddle which nobody could have foreseen or averted.

Gladys listened silently. She was a very sensible girl; she seldom gave an impulsive judgment on any subject; but now——

"Jimmy wants his neck wrung," she said vehemently.

Christine looked up with startled eyes.

"Oh, how can you say such a thing!"

"Because it's true." Gladys looked very angry. "He's behaved in a rotten way; men always do, it seems to me. He married you to spite this—this other woman, whoever she was! and then—even then he didn't try to make it up to you, or be ordinarily decent and do his best, did he?"

"He didn't love me, you see; and so——" Christine defended him.

"He'll never love anyone in the wide world except himself," Gladys declared disgustedly. "I remember years ago, when we were all kiddies together, how selfish he was, and how you always gave in to him. Christine"—she stretched out her hand impulsively to the younger girl—"do you love him very much?" she asked.

Christine put her head down on her arms.

"Oh, I did—I did," she said, ashamedly. "Sometimes I wonder if—if he hadn't been quite so—so sure of me! if—if he would have cared just a little bit more. He must have known all along that I wanted him; and so——" She broke off desolately.

The two girls sat silent for a moment.

"And now—what's he going to do now?" Gladys demanded.

Christine sighed.

"I told him I didn't want to see him. I told him I didn't want him to come down here for six months—and he promised. . . . He isn't to come or even to write unless—unless I ask him to."

"And then—what happens then?"

Christine began to cry.

"Oh, I don't know—I don't know," she sobbed. "I am so miserable—I wish I were dead."

Gladys laid a hand on her bowed head.

"You're so young, Christine," she said sadly. "Somehow I don't believe you'll ever grow up." She had not got the heart to tell her that she thought this six months separation could do no good at all—that it would only tend to widen the breach already between them.

She was a pretty good judge of character; she knew quite well what sort of a man Jimmy Challoner was. And six months—well, six months was a long time.

"Mr. Kettering knows Jimmy's brother," Christine said presently, drying her eyes. "So I suppose if he comes to live anywhere near here, he will know what—what is the matter with—with me and Jimmy, and he'll write and tell Horace."

"And then Jimmy will get his allowance stopped, and serve him right," said Gladys bluntly.

Christine cried out in dismay:

"Oh, but that would be dreadful! What would he do?"

"Work, like other men, of course."

But Christine would not listen.

"I shall ask Mr. Kettering not to tell Horace—if I ever see him again," she said agitatedly.

Gladys laughed dryly.

"Oh, you'll see him again right enough," she said laconically.



CHAPTER XVII

JIMMY BREAKS OUT

It took Jimmy a whole week to realise that Christine meant what she said when she asked him not to write to her, or go near her. At first he had been so sure that in a day or two at most she would be sorry, and want to see him; somehow he could not believe that the little unselfish girl he had known all his life could so determinedly make up her mind and stick to it.

He grumbled and growled to Sangster every time they met.

"I was a fool to let her go. The law is on my side; I could have insisted that she stayed with me." He looked at his friend. "I could have insisted, I say!" he repeated.

Sangster raised his eyes.

"I'm not denying it; but it's much wiser as it is. Leave her alone, and things will work out their own salvation."

"She'll forget all about me, and then what will happen?" Jimmy demanded. "A nice thing—a very nice thing that would be."

"No doubt she thinks that is what you wish her to do."

Jimmy called him a fool; he threw a half-smoked cigarette into the fire, and sat watching it burn with a scowl on his face.

The last week had seemed endless. He had kept away from the club; the men in the club always knew everything—he had learned that by previous experience; he had no desire for the shower of chaff which he knew would greet his appearance there.

Married a week—and now Christine had gone! It made his soul writhe to think of it. It had hurt enough to be jilted; but this—well, this struck at his pride even more deeply.

"I thought you promised me to go down to Upton House and see how things were," he growled at Sangster. "You haven't been, have you? I suppose you don't mean to go either?"

"My dear chap——"

"Oh, don't 'dear chap' me," Jimmy struck in irritably. "Go if you mean to go. . . . After all, if anything happens to Christine, it's my responsibility——"

"Then you should go yourself."

"I promised I wouldn't—unless she asked me to. If you were anything of a sport——"

In the end Sangster consented to go. He was not anxious to undertake the journey, much as he wanted to see Christine again. At the end of the second week he went off early one morning without telling Jimmy of his intentions, and was back in town late the same night. Jimmy was waiting for him in the rooms in the unfashionable part of Bloomsbury. It struck Sangster for the first time that Jimmy was beginning to look old; his face was drawn—his eyes looked worried. He turned on his friend with a sort of rage when he entered.

"Why couldn't you have told me where you were going. Here I've been waiting about all day, wondering where you were and what was up."

"I've been to see your wife—and there's nothing up."

"You mean you didn't see her?"

"Oh, yes, I did."

"Well—well!" Jimmy's voice sounded as if his nerves were worn to rags; he could hardly keep still.

"She seemed very cheerful," said Sangster slowly. He spoke with care, as if he were choosing his words. "Miss Leighton was with her; and we all had tea together."

"At Upton House?"

"Yes."

Jimmy's eyes were gleaming.

"How does the old place look?" he asked eagerly. "Gad! don't I wish I'd got enough money to buy it myself. You've no idea what a ripping fine time we used to have there years ago."

"I'm sure you did; but—well, as a matter of fact, I believe the house is sold."

"Sold!"

"Yes; a man named Kettering—a friend of your brother's, I believe—is negotiating for it, at any rate. Whether the purchase is really completed or not, I——"

"Kettering!" Jimmy's voice sounded angry. "Kettering—that stuck-up ass!" he said savagely.

Sangster laughed.

"I shouldn't have described him as stuck-up at all," he said calmly. "He struck me as being an extremely nice sort of fellow."

"Was he there, then?"

"Yes—he's staying somewhere in the neighbourhood temporarily, I believe, from what I heard; at any rate, he seemed very friendly with—with your wife and Miss Leighton."

Jimmy began pacing the room.

"I remember him well," he said darkly, after a moment. "Big chap with a brown moustache—pots of money." He walked the length of the room again. "Christine ought not to encourage him," he burst out presently. "What on earth must people think, as I'm not there."

"I don't see any harm," Sangster began mildly.

Jimmy rounded on him:

"You—you wouldn't see harm in anything; but Christine's a very attractive little thing, and——" He broke off, flushing dully. "Anyway, I won't have it," he added snappily.

"I don't see how you're going to stop it, unless——"

"Unless what?"

"Unless you go down there." Sangster spoke deliberately now. In spite of his calm assertion that there was no harm in Kettering's visit to Upton House, his anxious eyes had noticed the indefinable something in Kettering's manner towards Christine that had struck Gladys Leighton that first evening. Sangster knew men well, and he knew, without any plainer signs or telling, that it was not the house itself that took Kettering there so often, but the little mistress of the house, with her sweet eyes and her pathetic little smile.

He got up and laid a hand on Jimmy's shoulder as he spoke.

"Why not go down yourself?" he said casually.

Jimmy swore.

"I said I wouldn't. . . . I'm not going to be the first to give in. It was her doing—she sent me away. If she wants me she can say so."

"She has her pride, too, you know,"

Jimmy swore again. He was feeling very ill and upset; he was firmly convinced that he was the most ill-used beggar in the whole of London. Remorse was gnawing hard at his heart, though he was trying to believe that it was entirely another emotion. He had not slept properly for nights; his head ached, and his nerves were jumpy.

"I'll not go till she sends for me," he said again obstinately.

Sangster made no comment.

He did not see Jimmy again for some days, though he heard of him once or twice from a mutual acquaintance.

"Challoner's going to the devil, I should think," so the mutual acquaintance informed him bluntly. "What's the matter with the chap? Hasn't anybody got any influence over him? He's drinking hard and gambling his soul away."

Sangster said "Rubbish!" with a confidence he was far from feeling.

He did not really believe it; he knew Jimmy was a bit reckless and inclined to behave wildly when things did not entirely go to his taste, but he considered this a gross exaggeration of the truth; he made a mental note to look Jimmy up the following day.

But it was the very same night that Costin, Jimmy Challoner's man, presented himself at the rooms in the unfashionable part of Bloomsbury and asked anxiously for Mr. Sangster.

Sangster heard his voice in the narrow passage outside and recognised it. He left his supper—a very meagre supper of bread and cheese, as funds were low that week—and went to the door.

"Do you want me, Costin?"

The man looked relieved.

"Yes, sir—if you please, sir. It's Mr. Challoner, I'm afraid he's very ill, but he won't let me send for a doctor, so I just slipped out and came round to you, sir."

* * * * * *

Sangster found Jimmy Challoner huddled up in an arm-chair by a roasting fire. His face looked red and feverish, his eyes had a sort of unnatural glazed look, but he was sufficiently well to be able to swear when he saw his friend.

"Costin fetched you, of course. Interfering old idiot! He thinks I'm ill, but it's all bally rot! I've got a chill, that's all. What the deuce do you want?"

Sangster answered good-temperedly that he didn't want anything in particular; privately he agreed with Costin that it was more than an ordinary chill that had drawn Jimmy's face and made such hollows beneath his eyes. He stood with his back to the fire looking down at him dubiously.

"What have you been up to?" he asked.

"Up to!" Jimmy echoed the phrase pettishly. "I haven't been up to anything. You talk as if I were a blessed brat. One must do something to amuse oneself. I'm fed-up—sick to death of this infernal life. It's just a question of killing time from hour to hour. I loathe getting up in the morning, I hate going to bed at night, I'm sick to death of the club and the fools you meet there. I wish to God I could end it once and for all."

"Humph! Sounds as if you want a tonic," said Sangster in his most matter-of-fact way. He recognised a touch of hysteria in Jimmy's voice, and in spite of everything he felt sorry for him.

"Give me a drink," said Jimmy presently. "That idiot, Costin, has kept everything locked up all day. I'm as dry as blazes. Give me a drink, there's a good chap."

Sangster filled a glass with soda water and brought it over to where Jimmy sat huddled up in the big chair. He looked a pitiable enough object—he wanted shaving, and he had not troubled to put on his collar; his feet were thrust into an old pair of bedroom slippers. He sipped the soda and pushed it away angrily.

"I don't want that damned muck," he said savagely.

"I know you don't, but it's all you're going to have. Look here, Jimmy, don't be an ass! You're ill, old chap, or you will be if you go on like this. Take my advice and hop off to bed, you'll feel a heap better between the sheets. Can I do anything for you—anything——"

"Yes," said Jimmy sullenly. "You can—leave me to myself."

He held his hands to the fire and shivered; Sangster looked at him silently for a moment, then he shrugged his shoulders and turned towards the door. He was out on the landing when Jimmy called his name.

"Well?"

"Where the deuce are you going?" Jimmy demanded irritably. "Nice sort of pal, you are, to go off and leave a chap when he's sick."

Sangster did not make the obvious reply; he came back, shutting the door behind him. Jimmy was leaning back in his chair now; his face was nearly as red as the dressing-gown he wore, but he shivered violently from time to time. There was a little silence, then he opened his eyes and smiled rather apologetically.

"Sorry to be so dull. I haven't slept for a week."

It would have been nearer the truth to say that he had hardly closed his eyes since the night of Cynthia Farrow's death, but he knew that if he said that Sangster would at once bark up the wrong tree, and conclude that he was fretting for her—breaking his heart for her, whereas he was doing nothing of the kind.

It was Christine, and not Cynthia, who was on his mind day and night, night and day; Christine for whose sake he reproached himself so bitterly and could get no rest. She was so young—such a child.

Every day he found himself remembering some new little incident about her; every day some little jewel from the past slipped out of the mists of forgetfulness and looked at him with sad eyes as if to ask:

"Have you forgotten me? Don't you remember——"

He could not help thinking of Christine's mother too; he had been fond of her—she had mothered him so much in the old days; he wondered if she knew how he had repaid all her kindness; what sort of a hash he had made of life for poor little Christine.

"You'd better cut off to bed," Sangster said again bluntly.

He lit a cigarette and puffed a cloud of smoke into the air; he was really disturbed about Jimmy. The repeated advice seemed to annoy Jimmy; he frowned and rose to his feet; he caught his breath with a sort of gasp of pain. Sangster turned quickly.

"What's up, old chap?"

"Only my rotten head—-it aches like the very devil."

Jimmy stood for a moment with his hand pressed hard over his eyes, then he took a step forward, and stopped again.

"I can't—I—confound it all——"

Sangster caught his arm.

"Don't be an ass; go to bed." He raised his voice; he called to Costin; between them they put Jimmy to bed and tucked him up. He kept protesting that there was nothing the matter with him, but he seemed grateful for the darkness of the room, and the big pillows beneath his aching head.

Sangster went back to the sitting-room with Costin.

"I don't think we need send for a doctor," he said. "It's only a chill, I think. See how he is in the morning. What's he been up to, Costin?"

Costin pursed his lips and raised his brows.

"He's been out most nights, sir," he answered stoically. "Only comes home with the milk, as you might say. Hasn't slept at all, and doesn't eat. It's my opinion, sir, that he's grieving like——" He looked towards the mantelshelf and the place which they could both remember had once held Cynthia Farrow's portrait.

Sangster shook his head.

"You mean——" he asked reluctantly.

"Yes, sir." Costin tiptoed across the room and closed the door which led to Jimmy's bedroom. "He's never been the same, sir, since Miss Farrow died—asking your pardon," he added hurriedly.

Sangster threw his cigarette end firewards.

"It's a rotten business," he said heavily. In his own heart he agreed with Costin; he believed that it was Cynthia's death that was breaking Jimmy's heart. He would have given ten years of his life to have been able to believe that it was something else quite different.

"Well, I'll look in again in the morning," he said. "And if you want me, send round, of course."

"Yes, sir."

Costin helped Sangster on with his coat and saw him to the door; he was dying to ask what had become of Mrs. Jimmy, but he did not like to. He was sure that Jimmy had merely got married out of pique, and that he had repented as quickly as one generally does repent in such cases.

Sangster walked back to his rooms; he felt very depressed. He was fond of Jimmy though he did not approve of him; he racked his brains to know what to do for the best.

When he got home he sat down at his desk and stared at the pen and ink for some moments undecidedly; then he began to write.

He addressed an envelope to Christine down at Upton House, and stared at it till it was dry. After all, she might resent his interference, and yet, on the other hand, if Jimmy were going to be seriously ill, she would blame him for not having told her.

Finally he took a penny from his waistcoat pocket and tossed up for it.

"Heads I write, tails I leave it alone."

He tossed badly and the penny came down in the waste-paper basket, but it came down heads, and with a little lugubrious grimace, Sangster dipped the pen in the ink again and squared his elbows.

He wrote the letter four times before it suited him, and even then it seemed a pretty poor epistle to his critical eye as he read it through—

"Dear Mrs. Challoner,—I am just writing to let you know that Jimmy is ill; nothing very serious, but I thought that perhaps you would like to know. If you could spare the time to come and see him, I am sure he would very much appreciate it. He seems very down on his luck. I don't want to worry or alarm you, and am keeping an eye on him myself, but thought it only right that you should know.—Your sincere friend,

"RALPH SANGSTER."

It seemed a clumsy enough way of explaining things, he thought discontentedly, and yet it was the best he could do. He folded the paper and put it into the envelope; he sat for a moment with it in his hand looking down at Christine's married name, "Mrs. James Challoner."

Poor little Mrs. Jimmy! A wife, and yet no wife. Sangster lifted the envelope to his lips, and hurriedly kissed the name before he thrust the envelope into his pocket, and went out to post it.

Would she come, he wondered? he asked himself the question anxiously before he dropped the letter into the box. Somehow deep down in his heart he did not think that she would.



CHAPTER XVIII

KETTERING HEARS SOMETHING

"I shall never be able to manage it if I live to be a hundred," said Christine despairingly.

She leaned back in the padded seat of Kettering's big car and looked up into his face with laughing eyes.

She had been trying to drive; she had driven the car at snail's pace the length of the drive leading from Upton House, and tried to turn out of the open carriage gate into the road.

"If you hadn't been here we should have gone into the wall, shouldn't we?" she demanded.

Kettering laughed.

"I'm very much afraid we should," he said. "But that's nothing. I did all manner of weird things when I first started to drive. Take the wheel again and have another try."

But Christine refused.

"I might smash the car, and that would be awful. You'd never forgive me."

"Should I not!" His grave eyes searched her pretty face. "I don't think you need be very alarmed about that," he said. "However, if you insist——" He changed places with her and took the wheel himself.

It was early morning, and fresh and sunny. Christine was flushed and smiling, for the moment at least there were no shadows in her eyes; she looked more like the girl who had smiled up from the stalls in the theatre to where Jimmy Challoner sat alone in his box that night of their meeting.

Jimmy had never once been mentioned between herself and this man since that first afternoon. Save for the fact that Kettering called her "Mrs. Challoner," Christine might have been unmarried.

"Gladys will think we have run away," she told him presently with a little laugh. "I told her we should be only half an hour."

"Have we been longer?" he asked surprised.

Christine looked at her watch.

"Nearly an hour," she said. "We were muddling about in the drive for ever so long, you know; and I really think we ought to go back."

"If you really think so——" He turned the car reluctantly. "I suppose you wouldn't care for a little run after lunch?" he asked carelessly. "I've got to go over to Heston. I should be delighted to take you."

"I should love it—if I can bring Gladys."

He did not answer for a moment, then:

"Oh, bring Gladys by all means," he said rather dryly.

"What time?"

"I'll call for you at two—If that will do."

They had reached the house again now; Christine got out of the car and stood for a moment with one foot on the step looking up at Kettering.

There was a little silence.

"How long have we known each other?" he asked suddenly.

She looked up startled—she made a rapid calculation.

"Nearly three weeks, isn't it?" she said then.

He laughed.

"It seems longer; it seems as if I must have known you all my life."

The words were ordinary enough, but the look in his eyes brought the swift colour to Christine's cheeks—her eyes fell.

"Is that a compliment?" she asked, trying to speak naturally.

"I hope so; I meant it to be."

Her hand was resting on the open door of the car; for an instant he laid his own above it; Christine drew hers quickly away.

"Well, we'll be ready at two, then," she said. She turned to the house. Kettering drove slowly down the drive. He was a very fine-looking man, Christine thought with sudden wistfulness; he had been so kind to her—kinder than anyone she had ever known. She was glad he was going to have Upton House, as it had got to be sold. He had promised her to look after it, and not have any of the trees in the garden cut down.

"It shall all be left just as it is now," he told her.

"Perhaps some day you'll marry, and your wife will want it altered," she said sadly.

"I shall never get married," he had answered quickly.

She had been glad to hear him say that; he was so nice as a friend, somehow she did not want anyone to come along and change him.

She went into the house and called to Gladys.

"I thought you would think we were lost perhaps," she said laughingly, as she thrust her head into the morning-room where Gladys was sitting.

The elder girl looked up; her voice was rather dry when she answered: "No, I did not think that."

Christine threw her hat aside.

"I can't drive a bit," she said petulantly. "I'm so silly! I nearly ran into the wall at the gate."

"Did you?"

"Yes. Gladys, we're going over to Heston at two o'clock with Mr. Kettering."

Gladys looked up.

"We! Who do you mean by 'we'?"

"You and I, of course."

"Oh"—there was a momentary silence, then: "There's a letter for you on the table," said Gladys.

Christine turned slowly, a little flush of colour rushing to her cheeks. She glanced apprehensively at the envelope lying face upwards, then she drew a quick breath, almost of relief it seemed.

She picked the letter up indifferently and broke open the flap. There was a moment of silence; Gladys glanced up.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

Christine was staring out of the window, the letter lay on the floor at her feet.

"Jimmy's ill," she said listlessly.

"Ill!" Gladys laid down her pen and swung round in the chair. "What's the matter with him?" she asked rather sceptically.

"I don't know. You can read the letter, it's from Mr. Sangster—Jimmy's great friend."

She handed the letter over.

Gladys read it through and gave it back.

"Humph!" she said with a little inelegant sniff; she looked at her friend. "Are you going?" she asked bluntly.

Christine did not answer. She was thinking of Jimmy, deliberately trying to think of the man whom she had done her best during the last three weeks to forget. She tried to think of him as he had been that last dreadful night at the hotel, when he had threatened to strike her, when he had told her to clear out and leave him; but somehow she could only recall him as he had looked at Euston that morning when he said good-bye to her, with the hangdog, shamed look in his eyes, and the pathetic droop to his shoulders.

And now he was ill! It was kind of Sangster to have written, she told herself, even while she knew quite well that Jimmy had not asked him to; it would be the last thing in the world Jimmy would wish.

If he were ill, it was not because he wanted her. She drew her little figure up stiffly.

"I shan't go unless I hear again that it is serious," she said stiltedly.

"Not—go!" Gladys's voice sounded somehow blank, there was a curious expression in her eyes. After a moment she looked away. "Oh, well, you must please yourself, of course."

Christine turned to the door—she held Sangster's letter in her hand.

"Besides," she said flippantly, "I'm going over to Heston this afternoon with Mr. Kettering."

She went up to her room and shut the door. She stood staring before her with blank eyes, her pretty face had fallen again into sadness, her mouth dropped pathetically.

She opened Sangster's letter and read it through once more. Was Jimmy really ill, and was Sangster afraid to tell her, she wondered? Or was this merely Sangster's way of trying to bring them together again?

But Jimmy did not want her; even if he were dying Jimmy would not want to see her again.

If he had cared he would never have consented to this separation; if he had cared—but, of course, he did not care!

She began to cry softly; big tears ran down her cheeks, and she brushed them angrily away.

She had tried to shut him out of her heart. She had tried to forget him. In a defensive, innocent way she had deliberately encouraged Kettering. She liked him, and he helped her to forget; it restored her self-esteem to read the admiration in his kind eyes, it helped to soothe the hurt she had suffered from Jimmy's hands; and yet, in spite of it all, he was not Jimmy, and nobody could ever take Jimmy's place. She kept away from Gladys till lunch time, when at last she appeared, her eyes were red and swollen, and she held her head defiantly high. Gladys considerately let her alone. Somehow, in spite of everything, she quite expected to hear that Christine was off to London by the afternoon train, but the meal passed almost in silence, and when it was finished Christine said:

"We'd better get ready; Mr. Kettering will be there at two."

Gladys turned away.

"I'd rather not go, if you don't mind," she said uncomfortably.

"Not—go!"

"No—I—I don't care about motoring. I—I've got a headache too."

Christine stared at her, then she laughed defiantly.

"Oh, very well; please yourself."

She went upstairs to dress; she took great pains to make herself look pretty. When Kettering arrived she noticed that his eyes went past her gloomily as if looking for someone else.

"Gladys is not coming," she said.

His face brightened.

"Not coming! Ought I to be sorry, I wonder?"

She laughed.

"That's rude."

"I'm sorry." He tucked the rug round her, and they started away down the drive. "You don't want the wheel, I suppose?" he asked whimsically.

Christine shook her head.

"Have you—you been crying?" Kettering asked abruptly.

Christine flushed scarlet.

"Whatever makes you ask me that?"

"Your eyes are red," he told her gently.

She looked up at him with resentment, and suddenly the tears came again. Kettering bit his lip hard. He did not speak for some time.

"I've got a headache," Christine said at last with an effort. "I—oh, I know it's silly. Don't laugh at me."

"I'm not laughing." His voice dragged a little; he kept his eyes steadily before him.

"I thought perhaps something had happened—that you had had bad news," he said presently. "If—if there is anything I can do to help you, you know—you know I——"

"There isn't anything the matter," she interrupted with a rush. She was terrified lest he should guess that her tears were because of Jimmy; she had a horror nowadays that everyone would know that she cared for a man who cared nothing for her; she brushed the tears away determinedly; she set herself to talk and smile.

They had tea at Heston, in the little square parlour of a country inn where the floor was only polished boards, and where long wooden trestles ran on two sides of the room.

"It looks rather thick," Kettering said ruefully, standing looking down at the plate of bread and butter. "I hope you don't mind; this is the best place in the village."

Christine laughed.

"It's like what we used to have at school, and I'm hungry."

She looked up at him with dancing eyes; she had quite forgotten her sorrow of the morning. Somehow this man's presence always cheered her and took her out of herself. She poured tea for him, and laughed and chatted away merrily.

Afterwards they sat over the fire and talked.

Christine said she could see faces in the red coals; she painted them out to Kettering.

He had to stoop forward to see what she indicated; for a moment their heads were very close together; it was Christine who drew back sharply.

"Oughtn't we to be going home?" she asked with sudden nervousness.

She rose to her feet and went over to the window; the sunshine had gone, and the country road was grey and shadowy. Kettering's big car stood at the kerb. After a moment he followed her to the window; he was a little pale, his eyes seemed to avoid hers.

"I am quite ready when you are," he said.

She was fastening her veil over her hat; her fingers shook a little as she tied the bow.

Kettering had gone to pay for the tea; she stood looking after him with dawning apprehension in her eyes.

He was a fine enough man; there was something about him that gave one such a feeling of safety—of security. She could not imagine that he would ever deliberately set himself to hurt a woman, as—as Jimmy had. She went out to the car and stood waiting for him.

"All that tea for one and threepence!" he said, laughing, when he joined her. "Wonderful, isn't it?"

She laughed too. She got in beside him and tucked the rug round her warmly.

"How long will it take to get home?" she asked. She seemed all at once conscious of the growing dusk, conscious, too, of anxiety to get back to Gladys. She was a little afraid of this man, though she would not admit it even to herself.

"We ought to be home in an hour," he said. He started the engine.

The car ran smoothly for a mile or two. Christine began to feel sleepy. Kettering did not talk much, and the fresh evening air on her face was soothing and pleasant. She closed her eyes.

Presently when Kettering spoke to her he got no answer; he turned a little in his seat and looked down at her, but her head was drooping forward and he could not see her face.

"Christine." He spoke her name sharply, then suddenly he smiled; she was asleep.

He moved so that her head rested against his arm; he slowed the car down a little.

Kettering was not a young man, his fortieth birthday had been several years a thing of the past, but all his life afterwards he looked back on that drive home to Upton House as the happiest hour he had ever known, with Christine's little head resting on his arm and the grey twilight all about them. When they were half a mile from home he roused her gently. She sat up with a start, rubbing sleepy eyes.

"Oh! where are we?" He laid his hand on hers for a moment.

"You've been asleep. We're nearly home."

He turned in at the drive of Upton House. He let her get out of the car unassisted.

Gladys was at the door; her eyes were anxious.

"I thought you must have had an accident," she said. She caught Christine's hand. "You're fearfully late."

"We had tea at Heston," Christine said. She ran into the house.

Kettering looked at the elder girl.

"You would not come," he said. "Don't you care for motoring?"

"No." She came down the steps and stood beside him. "Mr. Kettering, may I say something?"

He looked faintly surprised.

"May you! Why, of course!"

"You will be angry—you will be very angry, I am afraid," she said. "But—but I can't help it."

"Angry! What do you mean?"

There was a moment's silence, then:

"Well," said Kettering rather curtly.

She flushed, but her eyes did not fall.

"Mr. Kettering, if you are a gentleman, and I know you are, you will never come here again," she said urgently.

A little wave of crimson surged under Kettering's brown skin, but his eyes did not fall; there was a short silence, then he laughed—rather mirthlessly.

"And if I am not the gentleman you so very kindly seem to believe me," he said constrainedly.

Gladys Leighton came a little closer to him; she laid her hand on his arm.

"You don't mean that; you're only saying it because—because——" She broke off with an impatient gesture. "Oh!" she said exasperatedly, "what is the use of loving a person if you do not want them to be happy—if you cannot sacrifice yourself a little for them."

Kettering looked at her curiously. He had never taken much notice of her before; he had thought her a very ordinary type; he was struck by the sudden energy and passion in her voice.

"She is not happy now, at all events," he said grimly.

She turned away and fidgeted with the wheel of the car.

"She could not very well be more unhappy than she is now," he said again bitterly.

"She would be more unhappy if she knew she had done something to be ashamed of—something she had got to hide."

He raised his eyes.

"Are you holding a brief for Challoner?" he asked.

She frowned a little.

"You know I am not; I never thought he was good enough for her. Even years ago as a boy he was utterly selfish; but—but Christine loved him then; she thought there was nobody in all the world like him; she adored him."

He winced. "And now?" he asked shortly.

She did not answer for a moment; she stood looking away from him.

"There was a letter this morning," she said tonelessly. "Jimmy is ill, and they asked her to go to him."

"Well!"

"She would not go. She told me she was going to Heston with you instead."

The silence fell again. Kettering's eyes were shining; there was a sort of shamed triumph about his big person.

Gladys turned to him impatiently.

"Are you looking glad? Oh, I think I should kill you if I saw you looking glad," she said quickly. "I only told you that so that you might see how much she is under your influence already; so that you can save her from herself. . . . She's so little and weak—and now that she is unhappy, it's just the time when she might do something she would be sorry for all her life—when she might——"

"What are you two talking about?" Christine demanded from the doorway. She came down the steps and stood between them; she looked at Kettering. "I thought you had gone," she said, surprised.

"No; I—Miss Leighton and I have been discussing the higher ethics," he said dryly. He held his hand to Gladys. "Well, good-bye," he said; there was a little emphasis on the last word.

She just touched his fingers.

"Good-bye." She put her arm round Christine; there was something defensive in her whole attitude.

Kettering got into the car; he did not look at Christine again. He started the engine; presently he was driving slowly away.

"Have you two been quarreling?" Christine asked. There was a touch of vexation in her voice; her eyes were straining through the darkness towards the gate.

Gladys laughed.

"Quarrelling! Why ever should I quarrel with Mr. Kettering? I've hardly spoken half a dozen words to him in all my life."

"You seemed to have a great deal to say to him, all the same," Christine protested, rather shortly.

They went back to the house together.

It was during dinner that night that Gladys deliberately led the conversation round to Jimmy again.

They had nearly finished the unpretentious little meal; it had passed almost silently. Christine looked pale and preoccupied. Gladys was worried and anxious.

A dozen times during the past few days she had tried to decide whether she ought to write to Jimmy or not. Her sharp eyes had seen from the very first the way things were going with regard to Kettering, and she was afraid of the responsibility. If anything happened—if Christine chose to doubly wreck her life—afterwards they might all blame her; she knew that.

She was fond of Christine, too. And though she had never approved of Jimmy, she would have done a great deal to see them happy together.

It was for that reason that she now spoke of him.

"When are you going to London, Chris?"

Christine looked up; she flushed.

"Going to London! I am not going. . . . I never want to go there any more."

Gladys made no comment; she had heard the little quiver in the younger girl's voice.

Presently:

"I suppose you think I ought to go to Jimmy," Christine broke out vehemently. "I suppose you are hinting that it is my duty to go. You don't know what you are talking about; you don't understand that he cares nothing about me—that he would be glad if I were dead and out of the way. He only wants his freedom; he never really wished to marry me."

"It isn't as bad as that. I am sure he——"

"You don't know anything about him. You don't know what I went through during those hateful weeks before—before I came here. I don't care if I never see him again; he has never troubled about me. It's my turn now; I am going to show him that he isn't the only man in the world."

Gladys had never heard Christine talk like this before; she was frightened at the recklessness of her voice. She broke in quickly:

"I won't listen if you're going to say such things. Jimmy is your husband, and you loved him once, no matter what you may do now. You loved him very dearly once."

Christine laughed.

"I've got over that. He wasn't worth breaking my heart about. I was just a poor little fool in those days, who didn't know that a man never cares for a woman if he is too sure of her. Oh, if I could only have my time over again, I'd treat him so differently—I'd never let him how how much I cared."

Her voice had momentarily fallen back into its old wistfulness. There were tears in her eyes, but she brushed them quickly away.

"Don't talk about him; I don't want to talk about him."

But Gladys persisted.

"It isn't too late; you can have the time all over again by starting afresh, and trying to wipe out the past. You're so young. Why, Jimmy is only a boy; you've got all your lives before you." She got up and went round to where Christine was sitting. She put an arm about her shoulders. "Why don't you forgive him, and start again? Give him another chance, dear, and have a second honeymoon."

Christine pushed her away; she started up with burning cheeks.

"You don't know what you're talking about. Leave me alone—oh, do leave me alone." She ran from the room.

She lay awake half the night thinking of what Gladys had said. She tried to harden her heart against Jimmy. She tried to remember only that he had married her out of pique; that he cared nothing for her—that he did not really want her. As a sort of desperate defence she deliberately thought of Kettering; he liked her, she knew. She was not too much of a child to understand what that look in his eyes had meant, that sudden pressure of his hand on hers.

And she liked him, too. She told herself defiantly that she liked him very much; that she would rather have been with him over at Heston that afternoon than up in town with Jimmy. Kettering at least sought and enjoyed her society, but Jimmy——

She clenched her hands to keep back the blinding tears that crowded to her eyes. What was she crying for? There was nothing to cry for; she was happy—quite happy; she was away from Jimmy—away from the man whose presence had only tortured her during those last few days; she was at home—at Upton House, and Kettering was there whenever she wanted him. She hoped he would come in the morning again; that he would come quite early. After breakfast she wandered about the house restlessly, listening for the sound of his car in the drive outside; but the morning dragged away and he did not come.

Christine ate no lunch; her head ached, she said pettishly when Gladys questioned her. No, she did not want to go out; there was nowhere to go.

And all the time her eyes kept turning to the window again and again restlessly.

Gladys did not know what to do; she was hoping and praying in her heart that Kettering would do as she had asked him, and stay away. What was the good of him coming again? What was the good of him making himself indispensable to Christine? The day passed wretchedly. Once she found Christine huddled up on the sofa crying; she was so miserable, she sobbed; nobody cared for her; she was so lonely, and she wanted her mother.

Gladys did all she could to comfort her, but all the time she was painfully conscious of the fact that had Kettering walked into the room just then there would have been no more tears.

Sometimes she thought that it only served Jimmy Challoner right; sometimes she told herself that this was his punishment—that Fate was fighting him with his own weapons, paying him back in his own coin; but she knew such thoughts were mere foolishness.

He and Christine were married, no matter how strongly they might resent it. The only thing left to them was to make the best they could of life.

She sat with Christine that night till the girl was asleep. She was not very much Christine's senior in years, but she felt somehow old and careworn as she sat there in the silent room and listened to the girl's soft breathing.

She got up and went over to stand beside her.

So young, such a child, it seemed impossible that she was already a wife, this girl lying there with her soft hair falling all about her.

Gladys sighed and walked over to the window. It must be a great thing to be loved, she thought rather sadly; nobody had ever loved her; no man had ever looked at her as Kettering looked at little Christine. . . . She opened the window and looked out into the darkness.

It was a mild, damp night. Grey mist veiled the garden and shut out the stars; everything was very silent.

If only Christine's mother had been here to take the responsibility of it all, she thought longingly; she had so little influence with Christine herself. She closed the window and went back to the bedside.

Christine was moving restlessly. As Gladys looked down at her she began to laugh in her sleep—a little chuckle of unaffected joy.

Gladys smiled, too, involuntarily. She was happy in her dreams, at any rate, she thought with a sense of relief.

And then suddenly Christine woke with a start. She sat up in bed, throwing out her arms.

"Jimmy——" But it was a cry of terror, not of joy. "Jimmy—Jimmy—don't hurt me. . . . oh!"

She was sobbing now—wild, pitiful sobs.

Gladys put her arms round her; she held her tightly.

"It's all right, dear. I'm here—nobody shall hurt you." She stroked her hair and soothed and kissed her; she held her fast till the sobbing ceased. Then:

"I've been dreaming," said Christine tremblingly. "I thought"—she shivered a little—"I thought—thought someone was going to hurt me."

"Nobody can hurt you while I am here; dreams are nothing—nobody believes in dreams."

Christine did not answer. She had never told Gladys of that one moment when Jimmy had tried to strike her—when beside himself with passionate rage and misery he had lifted his hand to strike her.

She fell asleep again, holding her friend's hand.



CHAPTER XIX

A CHANCE MEETING

Two days passed uneventfully away, but Kettering did not come to Upton House. Christine's first faint resentment and amazement had turned to anger—an anger which she kept hidden, or so she fondly believed.

She hardly went out. She spent hours curled up on the big sofa by the window reading, or pretending to read. Gladys wondered how much she really read of the books which she took one by one from the crowded library.

The third morning Christine answered Sangster's letter. She wrote very stiltedly; she said she was sorry to hear that Jimmy was not well, but no doubt he was all right again by this time. She said she was enjoying herself in a quiet way, and very much preferred the country to London.

"I have so many friends here, you see," she added, with a faint hope that perhaps Sangster would show the letter to Jimmy, and that he would gather from it that she did not miss him in the very least.

And Sangster did show it to Jimmy; to a rather weak-looking Jimmy, propped up in an armchair, slowly recovering from the severe chill which had made him quite ill for the time being.

A Jimmy who spoke very little, and asked no questions at all, and who took the letter apathetically enough, and laid it by as soon as he had read it.

"You wrote to her, then," he said indifferently.

"Yes."

"You might have saved yourself the trouble; I knew she would not come. If you had asked me I could have told you. Of course, you suggested that she should come."

"Yes."

Jimmy's eyes smiled faintly.

"Interfering old ass," he said affectionately.

Sangster coloured. He was very unhappy about Jimmy; he had always known that he was not particularly strong, and, as a matter of fact, during the past few days Jimmy had grown most surprisingly thin and weak, though he still insisted that there was nothing the matter with him—nothing at all.

There was a little silence.

"I suppose that's meant for a dig at me," said Jimmy presently. "That bit about having so many friends. . . . She means Kettering, I suppose."

"I don't see why she should," said Sangster awkwardly.

Jimmy laughed rather grimly.

"Well, it's only tit for tat if she does," he said. "But I thought——" He did not finish; did not say that he had thought Christine cared too much for him ever to give a thought to another fellow. He turned his head against the cushions and pretended to sleep, and presently Sangster went quietly away.

He thought that Christine had—well, not behaved badly. How could anyone blame her for anything she chose to do or not to do, after what had occurred? But, still, he was vaguely disappointed in her; he thought she ought to have come—just to see how Jimmy really was.

But Christine was not thinking very much about Jimmy in those days at all. Somehow the foreground of her life seemed to have got filled up with the figure of another man; a man whom she had never once seen since that drive over to Heston.

Sometimes she thought she would write a little note and ask him to come to tea; sometimes she thought she would walk the way in which she knew she could always meet him, but something restrained her.

And then one afternoon, quite unexpectedly, she ran into him in the village.

He was coming out of the little post office as she was going in, and he pulled up short with a muttered apology before he recognised her; then—well, then they both got red, and a little flame crept into Kettering's eyes.

"I thought I was never going to see you any more," Christine said rather nervously. "Are you angry with me?"

"Angry!" He laughed a little. "Why ever should I be angry with you? . . . I—the fact is, I've been in London on business."

"Oh!" She looked rather sceptical; she raised her chin a dignified inch. "You ought to have told me," she said, unthinkingly.

He looked at her quickly and away again.

"I missed you," said Christine naively.

"That is very kind of you." There was a little silence. "May I—may I walk a little way with you?" he asked diffidently.

"If you care to."

He checked a smile. "I shall be delighted," he said gravely.

They set out together.

Christine felt wonderfully light-hearted all at once; her eyes sparkled, her cheeks were flushed. Kettering hardly looked at her at all. It made him afraid because he was so glad to be with her once more; he knew now how right Gladys had been when she asked him not to come to Upton House again. He rushed into conversation; he told her that the weather had been awful in London, and that he had been hopelessly bored. "I know so few people there," he said. "And I kept wondering what you were——" He broke off, biting his lip.

"What I was doing?" Christine finished it for him quickly. "Well, I was sitting at the window most of the time, wondering why you didn't come and see me," she said with a laugh.

"Were you——"

She frowned a little; she looked up at him with impatient eyes.

"What is the matter? I know something is the matter; I can feel that there is. You are angry with me; you——"

"My dear child, I assure you I am not. There is nothing the matter except, perhaps I am a little—worried and—and unhappy."

He laughed to cover his sudden gravity. "Tell me about yourself and—and Jimmy. How is Challoner?"

He had never spoken to her of Jimmy before; his name had been tacitly unmentioned between them. Christine flushed; she shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know; he wasn't very well last week, but I dare say he is all right again now." Her voice was very flippant. In spite of himself Kettering was shocked; he hated to hear her speak like that; he had always thought her so sweet and unaffected.

"He ought to come down here for a change," he said in his most matter-of-fact tones. "Why don't you insist that he comes down here for a change? Country air is a fine doctor; he would enjoy it."

"I don't think he would; he hates the country." She spoke without looking at him. "I am sure that he is having a much better time in London than he would have here——" She broke off. "Mr. Kettering, will you come back and have tea with me?"

Kettering coloured; he tried to refuse; he wanted to refuse; but somehow her brown eyes would not let him; somehow——

"I shall be delighted," he heard himself say.

He had not meant to say it; he would have given a great deal to recall the words as soon as they were spoken, but it was too late. Another moment and they were in the house.

He looked round him with a sense of great pleasure. It seemed a lifetime since he had been here; it was like coming home again to be here and with the woman he loved. He looked at little Christine with wistful eyes.

"Gladys is out," she said, "so you will have to put up with me alone; do you mind?"

"Do I mind!" She coloured beneath his gaze; her heart was beating fast.

He followed her across the hall. He knew he was doing the weak thing; knew that he ought to turn on his heel and go away, but he knew that he intended staying.

An hour with Christine alone; it was worth risking something for to have that. Christine opened the drawing-room door.

"We'll have tea here," she said; "it's much more cosy. I——"

She stopped dead; her voice broke off into silence with a curious little jarring sound.

A man had risen from the sofa by the window; a tall young man, with a pale face and worried-looking eyes—Jimmy Challoner!



CHAPTER XX

LOVE LOCKED OUT

Jimmy only glanced at Christine; his eyes went past her almost immediately to the man who was following her into the room; a streak of red crept into his pale face.

It was Kettering who recovered himself first; he went forward with outstretched hand.

"Well, I never! We were just talking about you."

His voice was quite steady, perfectly friendly, but his heart had given one bitter throb of disappointment at sight of Christine's husband. This was the end of their little half-hour together. Perhaps it was Fate stepping in opportunely to prevent him making a fool of himself.

Jimmy and he shook hands awkwardly. Jimmy had made no attempt to greet his wife. One would have thought that they had met only an hour or two previously, to judge by the coolness of their meeting, though beneath her black frock Christine's heart was racing, and for the first few moments she hardly knew what she was doing or what she said.

Jimmy looked ill; she knew that, and it gave her a faint little heartache; she avoided looking at him if she could help it. She left the two men to entertain each other, and busied herself with the tea-tray.

Kettering rose to the occasion nobly. He talked away as if this unwelcome meeting were a pleasure to him. He did his best to put Christine at her ease, but all the time he was wondering how soon he could make his excuses and escape; how soon he could get out of this three-cornered situation, which was perhaps more painful to him than to either of his companions.

He handed the tea for Christine, and sat beside her, screening her a little from Jimmy's worried eyes. How was she feeling? he was asking himself jealously. Was she glad to see her husband, or did she feel as he did—that Jimmy's unexpected presence had spoilt for them both an hour which neither would easily have forgotten?

"How is your brother?" he asked Jimmy presently. "I haven't heard from him just lately. I suppose he has thought no more of coming home? He has talked of it for so long."

Jimmy roused himself with an effort. He had not touched his tea, and he had given the cake he had mechanically taken to Christine's terrier. He looked at her now, and quickly away again.

"He is on his way home," he said shortly.

There was a little silence. Christine's face flushed; her eyes grew afraid.

"On his way home—the Great Horatio?"

Jimmy's nickname for his brother escaped her unconsciously. Jimmy smiled faintly.

"Yes; I heard last night. I—I believe he arrives in England on Monday."

It was Kettering who broke the following silence.

"I shall be glad to see him again. He will be surprised to hear that I have come across you and Mrs. Challoner." He spoke to Jimmy, but his whole attention was fixed on the girl at his side. He had seen the sudden stiffening of her slim little figure, the sudden nervous clasp of her hands.

And then the door opened and Gladys Leighton walked into the room. She looked straight at Kettering, and he met her eyes with a sort of abashed humiliation. He rose to his feet to offer her his chair. Jimmy rose also. He and Gladys shook hands awkwardly.

"Well, I didn't expect to see you," said Gladys bluntly. She glanced at Christine.

"None of us expected to see him," said Jimmy's wife, rather shrilly. "The Great Horatio is on his way home. I suppose he has come down to tell us the news." Her voice sounded flippant. Jimmy was conscious of a sharp pang as he listened to her. He hardly recognised Christine in this girl who sat there avoiding his eyes, avoiding speaking to him unless she were obliged.

Once she had hung on his every word; once she had flushed at the sound of his step; but now, one might almost have thought she was Kettering's wife instead of his.

He hated Kettering. He looked at him with sullen eyes. He thought of what Sangster had said of this man—that he was always at Upton House; that he seemed very friendly with both the girls. A vague jealousy filled Jimmy's heart. Kettering was rich, whilst he—well, even the small allowance sent to him by his brother looked now as if it were in danger of ceasing entirely.

If the Great Horatio knew that he and Christine were practically separated; if the Great Horatio ever knew the story of Cynthia Farrow, Jimmy Challoner knew that it would be a very poor lookout for him indeed.

He wondered how long Kettering meant to stay. He felt very much inclined to give him a hint that his room would be preferable to his company; but, after all, he himself was in such a weak position. He had come to see Christine unasked. It was her house, and in her present mood it was quite probable that she might order him out of it if he should make any attempt to assert his authority.

She spoke to him suddenly; her beautiful brown eyes met his own unfalteringly, with a curious antagonism in them.

"Shall you—shall you be staying to dinner, or have you to catch the early train back to London?"

He might have been the veriest stranger. Jimmy flushed scarlet. Kettering turned away and plunged haphazard into conversation with Gladys Leighton.

Jimmy's voice trembled with rage as he forced himself to answer.

"I should like to stay to dinner—if I may."

He had never thought it possible that she could so treat him, never believed that she could be so utterly indifferent. Christine laughed carelessly.

"Oh, do stay, by all means. Perhaps Mr. Kettering will stay as well?"

Kettering turned. He could not meet her eyes.

"I am sorry. I should like to have stayed; but—but I have another engagement. I am very sorry."

The words were lame enough; nobody believed their excuse. Kettering rose to take his leave. He shook hands with Gladys and Jimmy. He turned to Christine.

"I will come and see you off," she said.

She followed him into the hall, deliberately closing the door of the drawing-room behind her.

"We must have our little tea another day," she said recklessly. She did not look at him. "It was too bad being interrupted like that."

She hardly knew what she was saying. Her cheeks were scarlet, her eyes were feverish. Kettering stifled a sigh.

"Perhaps it is as well that we were interrupted," he said very gently. He took her hand and looked down into her eyes.

"You're so young," he said, "such a child still. Don't spoil all your life, my dear."

She raised defiant eyes.

"My life was spoilt on my wedding day," she said in a hard voice. "I—— Oh, don't let us talk about it."

But he did not let her hand go.

"It's not too late to go back and begin again," he said with an effort. "I know it—it must seem presumptuous for me to talk to you like this, but—but I would give a great deal to be sure that you were happy."

"Thank you." There was a little quiver in her voice, but she checked it instantly. She dragged her hand free and walked to the door.

It was quite dark now; she was glad that he could not see the tears in her eyes.

"When shall I see you again?" she asked presently.

He did not answer at once, and she repeated her question: "When shall I see you again? I don't want you to stay away so long again."

He tried to speak, but somehow could find no words. She looked up at him in surprise. It was too dark to see his face, but something in the tenseness of his tall figure seemed to tell her a great deal, She spoke his name in a whisper.

"Mr. Kettering!"

He laid his hand on her shoulder. He spoke slowly, with averted face.

"Mrs. Challoner, if I were a strong man I should say that you and I must never meet again. You are married—unhappily, you think now; but, somehow—somehow I don't want to believe that. Give him another chance, will you? We all make mistakes, you know. Give him another chance, and then, if that fails——" He did not finish. He waited a moment, standing silently beside her; then he went away out into the darkness and left her there alone.

Christine stood listening to the sound of his footsteps on the gravel drive. He seemed to take a long while to reach the gate, she thought mechanically; it seemed an endless time till she heard it slam behind him.

But even then she did not move; she just stood staring into the darkness, her heart fluttering in her throat.

She would have said that she had only loved one man—the man whom she had married; but now. . . . Suddenly she covered her face with her hands, and, turning, ran into the house and upstairs to her room, shutting and locking the door behind her.



CHAPTER XXI

THE COMPACT

Down in the drawing-room things were decidedly uncomfortable.

Gladys sat by the tea-table, enjoying her tea no less for the fact that Jimmy was walking up and down like a wild animal, waiting for Christine to return.

Secretly Gladys was rather amused at the situation. She considered that whatever Jimmy suffered now, it served him right. She blamed him entirely for the estrangement between himself and his wife. She had never liked him very much, even in the old days, when she had quarrelled with him for being so selfish; she could not see that he had greatly improved now, as she watched him rather quizzically.

After a moment:

"You'll wear the carpet out," she said practically,

Jimmy stood still.

"Why doesn't Christine come back?" he demanded. "What's she doing with that fool Kettering?"

"He isn't a fool," said Gladys calmly. "I call him an exceedingly nice man."

Jimmy's eyes flashed.

"I suppose you've been encouraging him to come here and dangle after my wife. I thought I could trust you."

Gladys looked at him unflinchingly.

"I thought I could trust you, too," she said serenely. "And apparently I was mistaken. You've spoilt Christine's life, and you deserve all you get."

"How dare you talk to me like that?"

She laughed.

"I dare very well. I'm not afraid of you, Jimmy. I know too much about you. Christine married you because she loved you; she thought there was nobody like you in all the world. It's your own fault if she has changed her mind."

"I'll break every bone in Kettering's confounded body." Jimmy burst out passionately. "I'll—I'll——" He stopped suddenly and sat down with a humiliating sense of weakness, leaning his head in his hands.

Gladys's eyes softened as she looked at him.

"You've been ill, haven't you?" she asked.

He did not answer, and after a moment she left the tea-table, got up and went over to where he sat.

"Buck up, Jimmy, for heaven's sake," she said seriously. She put her hand on his shoulder kindly enough. "It's not too late. You're married, after all, and you may as well make the best of it. You may both live another fifty years."

Jimmy said he was dashed if he wanted to. He said he had had enough of life; it was a rotten swindle from beginning to end.

Gladys frowned.

"If you're going to talk like an utter idiot!" she said impatiently.

He caught her hand when she would have moved away.

"I'm sorry. You might be a pal to a chap, Gladys. I—well, I'm at my wits' end to know what to do. With Horatio coming home——"

Her eyes grew scornful.

"Oh, so that's why you've come here!"

"It is and it isn't. I wanted to see Christine. You won't believe me, I know, but I've been worried to death about her ever since she left me. Ask Sangster, if you don't believe me. I swear to you that, if it were possible, I'd give my right hand this minute to undo all the rotten past and start again. I suppose it's too late. I suppose she hates me. She said she did that last night in London. She looks as if she does now. The way she asked me if I was going to stay to dinner—a chap's own wife!—and in front of that brute Kettering!"

"He isn't a brute."

Gladys walked away and poured herself another cup of tea.

"Christine has been hurt—hurt much more than you have," she said at last. She spoke slowly, as if she were carefully choosing her words.

"She was so awfully fond of you, Jimmy." Jimmy moved restlessly. "It—it must have been a dreadful shock to her, poor child." She looked at him impatiently. "Oh, what on earth is the use of being a man if you can't make a woman care for you? She did once, and it ought not to be so very difficult to make her care again. She—she's just longing for someone to be good to her and love her. That's why she seems to like Mr. Kettering, I know. It is only seeming, Jimmy. I know her better than you do. It's only that he came along just when she was so unhappy—just when she was wanting someone to be good to her. And he has been good to her—he really has," she added earnestly.

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