WILLIAM J. LOCKE
PAULA, speechless from indignation, dressed for her engagement dinner. Her indignation was directed against Lady Demeter’s blatant hostility; her speechlessness was accounted for by the dismal consciousness, that in some specious way, Clara had right on her side. Actually, though not intentionally (she had never given the matter a thought), she had shirked issues. The man over whom she ha,d triumphed, lay broken-ribbed on his bed—and broken-ribbed, although through his own idiot fault, yet after all, for the sake of her beautiful eyes—and therefore powerless to attack or defend. She swore to herself—and the silent process caused such stvervings and jerks of body, as to make difficult the simplest of Simkin’s personal tasks—that her course of action would have been the same no matter in what splendid health of the raging lion, Pandolfo might have found himself. That was the worst of these placid sentimental women like Clara Demeter: they correlated everything with their fixed idea: they attributed base motives with the pitilessness that comes from lack of understanding; and yet they had the diabolical faculty of finding out one little loose joint in human armour and digging away into it with incredible joy. Dressed, she flung into Lady Demeter’s room, where the latter was already beginning her solitary meal. It was monstrous of Clara to bring such accusations. The man was becoming an obsession. The broken-rib appeal to sentiment was nothing but blackmail. He had been making her life a misery for the past two months. The thing had to stop. She had stopped it by engaging herself to a man who had been devoted to her for years. A distinguished man. A man about to be made an ambassador. A man in their own sphere of life. Not a sort of Casanovanic adventurer. An old Italian family! The Fandolfo Malatesta of Rimini! Where was Clara's commonsense? He rose literally from the gutter. He had told her himself. His father was a grinning Italian who hawked a tray of plaster casts about the streets of London. Yes, the gutter; walking in the gutter on the wrong side of the kerb-stone. “I can’t see what difference that makes to your treatment of Pandolfo a3 he is,” said Lady Demeter, stonily. Paula moved angrily to the door. Even the stateliest of women have been known to lose their temper. “You're hopeless. You're Bolshevist. You’ll be standing next as a Socialist candidate for Parliament, on the Clyde.” Spencer Babington met her, urbanely, at the foot of the stairs. His black-ribboned eyeglass, held between finger and thumb pointed to the hall clock. "To the very minute. What a wonderful woman you are.” Her nerves were still jangling. “Do you find common politeness rare in women?” “Punctuality ¡3 said to be the politeness of kings,” he replied. “And diplomacy is the science of evasion.” “I would not go as far as that, my dear,” said he. “I wonder how far you would go?” “At the present moment, with your consent, to the dining-room.” She laughed and forgave him. How was he, poor old
Spencer, to guess the exacerbated state into which Clara Demeter had put her? THEY crossed a deserted drawing-room, which opened into the restaurant. At the door stood Gregory Uglow, waiting for the ladies who had graciously allowed him to sit at their table. She made the necessary introduction. “Pm so sorry, Mr. Uglow. Lady Demeter is not very well to-night. Oh, nothing. Only the cure is rather strenuous, isn’t it? So she is dining upstairs—and Sir Spencer is carrying me off to dine with him. How is Sir Victor to-day?” The young man laughed—and when he laughed, a gleam of amusement shone in his mild eyes. BRINGING THE STORY TO DATE A SLIGHT acquaintance with Sir Victor Pandolfo was developing into a rather disquieting intimacy which Paula Field found herself strangely unahle to check. He was an inventor—quite a personage, in fact—working at the time on a marvelous metal which was to revolutionize industry, and which he at once named Paulinium. It was a tribute to her, and yet he took her acceptance of it so maddeningly for granted that it amounted almost to effrontery. He was an extraordinary person—egotistical, domineering, impetuous—with a most amazing faculty for giving, and Paula seemed powerless to refuse his gifts. A botanist acquaintance at Rênes-les-Eaux—whence Pandolfo had followed Paula and her friend—Lady Demeter—described a beautiful wildflower, found only on the most dangerous mountain slopes, and Paula expressed a careless desire to see it. Instantly Pandolfo pledged himself to bring her one, despite her protests and the botanist’s warnings. Absent the following day, Pandolfo returned late in the evening with the promised flower in his hand, but badly injured. It meant a trained nurse and several weeks in bed. During one of Paula’s infrequent visits to his sickroom, he declared his feelings for her, practically demanding that she marry him. And then Paula had a distressing letter from her father in England—a tale of much affliction. Unwise speculation had so depleted his rather limited fortune that he would be unable to continue his allowance to her, and there was danger of the mortgages being foreclosed. Obeying a wicked impulse, Paula announced to Lady Demeter and Pandolfo that her father had had a great stroke of luck, and that she was joining him at once. She confessed later to Lady Demeter, and admitted that she was really running away from Pandolfo. The man’s insistence was getting on her nerves. And so, on the following day, perhaps more in a spirit of desperation than anything else, she drove over to Aix and promised to marry Sir Spencer Babington, an old suitor who had just been appointed Minister to one of the new Eastern States. Paula had a little guilty twinge when she and Sir Spencer drove back to Rênes-les-Eaux.
“He’s getting on fairly, Mrs. Field. But a wounded lion is not to be recommended as the most patient of invalids.” Later when they had sat down, “I should call him a wounded rhinoceros,” said Spencer. “Need we talk of him?” asked Paula, rather sharply. He raised his eyebrows ever so little in surprise. He had seen her in various manifestations: tragic, bantering; tender; ironical, enthusiastic, downright . . . but he had never seen her frankly ill-tempered. Soon, however, she regained control of angered nerves and put on a smiling face. They talked of Prague. The present minister would be retiring in about three months. Spencer would have that breathing space, that time for preparation, for acquiring at least a superficial knowledge of the language. It was absurd for a minister not to be able to read the names of the streets or recognize allusions to himself in the local press or say “how d’ye do?” Besides that sort of thing always made a good impression, showed the people to whom you were accredited that you took some interest in them. There would be also time, if such a course met with Paula’s approval, for them to be comfortably married and have the usual holiday before plunging into hard work. “It would take me nearly that time to put my affairs in order and get a Czecho-Slovakian accent. Also an outfit,” said Paula. “Yes, doubtless,” said he. “Thank you for reminding me. I’ve had so many things to consider to-day. Of course, all your dresses are very beautiful. But I see that you’ll need a new stock. It’s a question of British prestige. In fact, of regaining what we’ve lost. These things may appear trivialities; but they’re not. I, too, must see about getting a new diplomatic uniform.” “And a new Rolls-Royce with the very latest thing in bodies.” “I’m very fond of my old Napier—not so very old— three years. It’s a marvelous car.” “But it wouldn’t have the prestige, in Praguish eyes, of a brand new Rolls,” said Paula. And he replied in all seriousness that doubtless she was right. He smiled in his wintry, courteous way. “You see, for the very beginning how, not only useful, but necessary you will be to me.” THEY were sitting, after dinner, on the terrace, the golden weather still giving its nights of scented velvet, when Gregory Uglow came up, with ever so slight an apologetic gesture. Continued on page 24
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“Please forgive me, Mrs. Field, but I’m under orders. Sir \ ietor asks me to say that he would regard it as a great favor if you would go up to him for five minutes so that he can thank you for your kindness to Nurse Williams.”
She gave him as graciously worded message of refusal as lay in her power. The young man bowed and went off.
“The rhinoceros again always charging in between us,” said Spencer Babington.
"It's his way," said Paula wearily. From no point of view had her evening been a success—or her afternoon, for the matter of that.
"A confoundedly impudent way,” he declared. "If it hadn't been for that charmingly mannered young man, I should have intervened and insisted on your sending him quite a different type of answer. But he’s a gentleman Anyone can see it. What’s he doing in Pandolfo’s galley?"
"Oh. cooking for him—as so many gentlemen have to do these days.”
Between narrowed eyelids she watched his face lit by the pale glow of the hotel lights, but not irradiated by a gleam of recognition of her somewhat bitter little witticism. He only nodded sententious approval of a sociological proposition. She said:
When is a door not a door?”
He jumped up.
"My dear, do you feel a draught?”
He looked around.
"But how can you. in the open air?
Still if you’d like me to shut the lounge door”— some five yards away—‘Til do so with pleasure.”
"Please do.Those people are chatteringso,” said Paula, his muddle-headed solicitude moving her to repentance.
And when he came back—"Do tell me more about life in Bohemia.”
”C zecho-Slovakia, nowadays.” he corrected.
"But I love Bohemia, with its sea coast and its Latin Quarter and its caravans and its Cafe Royal. I’ve never been there, unfortunately, but I think they must laugh a lot there.”
Again the wintry smile. “I envy you your wonderful faculty of twisting things into a jest. It is part of your fascination."
"Do you think it will come in useful in Czecho-Slovakia?”
"Doubtless." said he. "without a sense of humor a diplomatist is lost.”
Presently up again comes an obviously reluctant Gregory.
"Mrs. Field—you knowwhat he is.
He has something of the utmost importance to tell you. I’m to say it’s about Chadford Park—your old home which you were so good as to describe to me a fewnights ago. He is very excited. He has one of his ideas. The
nurse is afraid of temperatures and all sorts of things.” Spencer Babington rose and, with a repressive side-ways sign to Paula, addressed the young man with exceeding courtesy.
"Will you be so good as to convey my compliments, Sir Spencer Babington’s compliments, to Sir Victor, and inform him that what concerns Mrs. Field concerns me also. I shall be very happy to wait on him at any hour he suggests in the morning, to discuss, what I presume are business matters connected with Chadford Park. And that my reason for assuming this responsibility is that, this afternoon Mrs. Field did me the honor of promising to be my wife.”
THE last words of this ponderous announcement caused Gregory Uglow to be guilty of a perceptible start. Recovering himself, he inclined his head coldly to Babington and turned to Paula.
"May 1 have one minute?”
"As many as you please.”
“I shall wait here for you,” said Spencer, drawing a cigar from his case.
“Naturally,” murmured Paula. What other course in the wide world could he pursue? Really, Spencer was the Master of Platitude, the Arch Priest of the Obvious. She touched the young man’s arm. “Come along.”
They stepped aside and walked towards the end of the hotel verandah.
“I know I oughtn’t to think of myself, Mrs. Field,” said Gregory, “but I must. I’m in a delicate position. I’m in Sir Victor’s confidence if you can call confidential what he proclaims to everybody. I’ve just been admitted by Sir Spencer, for the first time into yours. Please help me—tell me what to do.”
“You heard Sir Spencer’s message.”
“I did. But what do you think would happen if I delivered it?”
“Surely that’s not my affair, Mr. Uglow. You know you’re rather Shakespearian.”
Her desperate annoyance was tempered with whimsical irritation. No sooner had the master been more or less uncomfortably put out of the way that the man came to pester on his behalf, playing Viola to her Olivia.
“I think I’ve already made my apology,” said he.
In the faint light their eyes met. His were very frank and honest and soft. She yielded.
“Tell me what you would like me to do—within reason—and, for your sake, I’ll do it.” Every woman, in every sphere, has the instinctive knowledge of the sex-appeal to the lower range of men’s passions. It is her heritage from dreadful ancestors who grinned smirk -ingly from behind a boulder. But no type of woman, can hope to gauge the sex appeal of a gracious phrase to the 1 fty range of a modern man’s passionate idealisms.
She meant to be kind. Here was an interesting and sensitive gentleman in distress. She would help him out as best she could. She had no notion of what the dovenotes of her “for your sake,” meant to an already enamoured youth.
Simkin, dry old maid, could have told more of the dove-notes in Paula’s voice than the unconscious possessor ever dreamed of. Did not Simkin remember a frontier Custom House, and a pile of luggage and a horrid toothbrush moustached, wizened customs official, who said: “Open me all that,” and her mistress replying (in the dove-notes aforesaid), “Mais, monsieur, nous sommes si fatiguées,” and the scrubby melting fool—(Lord! how Simkin despised him!)—muttering ‘‘Eh bien—eh” anything, and hastily chalking the trunks and grinning a sentimental “bon soir, Madame?” Paula, imperially unconscious of sex, had remarked: “What a nice kind little man.” And Simkin, with figurative finger applied to a figurative nose: “Yes, madam. You’ve only got to
take those foreigners the right way,” but her innercombustion laughter engine nearly burst itself. Could she, Simkin, in view of the fact which she afterwards learned, that, owing to notorious smuggling and official slackness, inspectors had recently been putting the fear of God, the Republic and Starvation into the souls of the poor little examiners of customs, have bemused the scrubb harassed man into dereliction of duty? Not she. And she did not want to either.
“For your sake,” said Paula, in the blessed innocence of her heart.
There was no struggle in the young man s breast; only a flutter of wonder like the beating of moth s wings as soft a rhythmic throb of the torrent and the stars in the August night.
His early training in the way of the social world helped him to cordial acknowledgment.
“But,” he added, “think if I give him the message Continued on page 26
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he'll gee out of bed and storm about and Heaven knows what will happen to his ribs.”
Said Paula "My dear boy, if you knew how tired I am of ribs! 1 feet l shall be haunted by them all my Ufe. As soon as 1 get home to C hadford—my father likes us to come down to breakfast — there’ll be cold ribs of beef grinning at me from the sideboard Oh dear* W hy is life so ludicrously complicated'”’
"Couldn't y o u come up to him just for a minute?” urged Gregory.
"Even >ou are against me.' she declared, mocktragically. "Welt,
1 suppose I must."
Apparently only she could pacify the Iton or rhinoceros or whatever he was. She led the young man back to the cigarenjoying Babington who rose politely from his chair.
"Do you mind waiting a few mintues longer? It seems I must humour him.”
She read on his face the cold disapproval which his code forbade him to express in words before a third person. But he conveyed it in an icicle of a gesture, cigar in one set of fingers, monocle in the other.
"Of course. As you please.” said he.
Two nervous, strong hands shot out in greeting as she entered the invalid's chamber. Glad eyes gleamed welcome.
"Why. why. why. why?” he cried. “Why this desertion? Nurse. Gregory"—he dismissed them summarily.
"Why this fantastic story of coal mines?”
"Yes. why fantastic pride? Why not the truth? The frank, loyal truth? Who in the world can help you as much as I can and will?”
"When I said a coal mine, I meant a coal mine,” said Paula.
"Rather you meant me to believe in one. I did last night. To-day I don't.”
Paula stood over the bed of the bandaged man. Anger again shook her. She clenched her hands by her sides.
"Clara Demeter dared tell you—”
"No. my dearest Paula—”
"I'm not your dearest Paula—you presume—you presume upon everything—She turned away maddeningly conscious of the abominably protective hedge of ribs.
'T do." said he. “You are Paula. You are my dearest. Therefore you’re my dearest Paula. But please listen. Clara Demeter, although I have seen much of her to-day. kindest of women that she is, is a lady, a gentlewoman. a feminine thing of sensitive humour. I know everything that is to be known about ladies. I’ve made an exhaustive study of them. Do sit down, my dear, I want to talk. I want to tell you things about myself. How I acquired an exquisite knowledge of ladies. I was thirteen. I lived with my parents in rooms in Greek Street. Soho, over a 3hop. Two rooms and a kitchen. I slept in the kitchen. I had dreamed of ladies. I had built them up out of my own inner consciousness. For my boyish self I had invented ladies. Then I met a lady, and I found, as I have always done, that my invention was right and sound in every particular—”
PAULA put up silencing hands and brought to bear on the sick man all the weapons of her charm.
“My dear friend—do forgive me. Another time I’ll love to hear. Meanwhile, you’ve nothing else to say to me, I must go back to my host—”
“To that dried stock fish of a fellow! He doesn’t count. He doesn’t exist. There’s no earthly reason.” Paula smiled, “I must.”
“Because like Lady Demeter, and your early friend, I happen to be a lady.” She saw him glowering at her, at a loss for a retort. “One has to observe these little courtesies of life. To come back to the point. If it wasn't Lady Demeter who told you about my father’s atïairs, who was it?”
“I have lawyers and agents, there are also telegraphs and telephones. This came an hour ago.”
He handed her a telegram.
“Nothing known coal-field Chadford Park; on contrary rumour mortgages about to foreclose.”
“Well, what I wanted to tell you at once was, that I’ll take over the mortgages.”
She drew herself up in a sudden flame.
“You’ll do no such thing! I forbid you.”
“Yon may,” he replied, “but I'm in the habit of doing forbidden things. You might forbid me to buy great blocks of shares in Paulinium, Ltd., but I do it all the same. And mortgages are things to be bought and sold just like shares or mutton chops. The mortgagees will be only too glad to get their money back. I suppose there are half a dozen of them. These are not the days of melodrama when the sole mortgagee is the nouveau riche who has schemed to turn the poor old squire and his daughter out of their ancestral home into the snow—” “Yet you’re proposing to be the sole mortgagee,” said Paula, “and bring the good old days of melodrama back again. The great Sir Victor Pandolfo will hold the poor old Squire and family at his mercy.”
“Pride,” said he with a smile. “It is one of your adorable qualities I have it, too, in my modest way. If I hadn’t found it in you, I should not have loved you What use should I be to a woman who wasn't proud? What would be the good of giving all that is I to a meek, receptive creature? It would be like pouring, as a noble but misguided lady did some years ago, a priceless wine cellar into the kennel. You, alone of women, are worth the wine of my existence.” He spoke vehemently, with inherited flashings of hands. “If it wasn’t a great wine, I should not have the audacity to make it yours. . . . This mortgage—it’s the idea and decision of but an hour. Put all the big things of my life have been done on sudden inspiration. The mortgage will be yours— part of marriage settlements—”
“But, good God!” cried Paula, driven to bay, and bending defiantly over the bed “Won’t you ever understand? I’ve never said I’ll marry you. I’ve never given you the slightest hope that I’ll marry you. I’ve not the remotest intention of marrying you.”
“You mayn’t know it,” said he, “but you have. Deep down in you. Y ou can’t get away from it. It was pre-ordained when you were born, a fairy princess in your castle, while I a squalid, half Italian urchin, was
playing about with other squalid urchins in the squalid streets of London. It was pre-ordained when I was born. It’s useless to fight against Destiny, which in our case is peculiarly sagacious. And listen!”—All of a sudden his voice rang and an arm shot out and his eyes gleamed. “There are things one doesn’t say idly to a woman
like you. One leaves them to be divined. Only when one is goaded does one say them. And I say this now. You’ve got to reckon with a real man’s fierce passion and desire.”
CHE swept her ^ hands over her eyes somewhat helplessly. Perhaps, had he been on his feet, in his commanding masculinity, and savage action of enfolding arms had accompanied savage speech, she woulc have been lost. Woman is only man-proof up to a certain degree, the degree varying according to individual temperament. So, also mutatis mutandis, is man only womanproof. You can’t moralise on saucelaws for geese witho u t acknowledging, sauce-laws for ganders. But a man lying perforce, flat on his back, the only part of whose visible person is a torso clad in purple and yellow pajama jacket, is at a disadvantage in the making of primitive love. In the woman, elemental, sub-conscious sex felt the relief of physical freedom. Yet, no woman can hear a man—unless he is such as to inspire her with horror —declare his passionate desire of her, without some kind of tinily responsive even though hated tremors. So Faula swept her hands over her eyes.
She had recourse to reiteration. “Don’t you understand? Don’t you understand?”
“I understand so well, that I’m luminously certain!” he cried. “You’re mine, I’m yours, for now, for time, for eternity.”
Her commonsense, her modern womanhood suddenly revolted against the maniac on the bed. She forgot the delicately endangered ribs.
“It’s no use your talking like this. We must finish the whole business once and for all. I can’t marry you, for the very good reason that I’m going to marry somebody else. This afternoon I promised to marry Spencer Babington. There! I didn’t want to break it to you brutally, but you’ve made me do it.”
She stood over him defiant. Suddenly she caught her breath, expecting prophesied catastrophy of rib disruption. Her heart beat foolishly. But nothing happened save that he held her with his eyes for interminable minutes and then, to her amazement and indignation, broke first into a smile and then into a low chuckle of laughter, which she could not but hold as derisive.
“If you told me you were going to marry a man, I might believe you—but that!”
In a fury she left him, marched mechanically down the staircase without thought of lift, and, before she realized where she was, found herself on the hotel verandah quivering with sense of insult.
Babington reared his lean height from the dimness where his chair was situated.
“You’ve been away a long time, my dear,” said he, with a bow of courteous complaint.
“The man’s impossible,” she declared.
“Quite,” said he. “I’ve been sitting here so long that I feel shivery.”
She lost control.
“You’d better go to bed and get warm. Clara has some bedsocks for you. I’ll arrange with Simkin. It’s a pity you should catch cold.”
“My dear Paula,” said he, “what on earth is the matter?”
She paused for a moment, trying to recover herself. Continued on page 49
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and looking round, for the French windows opening on the verandah showed in the rooms within bridge-players and letter writers, and comfortably lounging folk, and lowered her voice and brought her face near his. They were a tall pair; he lean; she, in magnificently curved perfection.
“Everything you can’t possibly think of is the matter. I come down telling you of another man’s outrageous treatment of me and you say ‘Quite,’ and complain of feeling cold. Oh! I have no use for you. Good-night.”
SHE fled, leaving the most moidered gentleman on this planet. He passed fingers over perplexed brows. She was engaged to marry him. She had, at last, graciously surrendered herself into his keeping. She was therefore his. She had left him for an unconscionable time with nothing but a half smoked cigar for companion. In order that she should not have to seek him out, he had waited for her in the chilly night air. His doctor had warned him of the rheumatic menace of the night air of the Savoy mountains. He had shown a certain amount of chivalry, if not of heroism. And this was how he was rewarded. He went indoors and sank into an armchair furthest removed from the window, and ordering a small bottle of Vichy and a slice of lemon from the red-raimented Arab, lit—like a desperate man, in defiance of principle— another cigar—and pondered, like many a man before him, over the imponderabilia of woman.
Meanwhile the woman of unweighable or incalculable motives, called for Simkin and bade her pack; she also bade her order a car for eight o’clock in the morning. She would go with a dressing-case to Aix, Lyon, Paris—no matter where, in search of a train. Simkin could follow her at leisure, with the heavy luggage, to Chadford in Gloucestershire.
This she did, knowing, like a wise and experienced women, that the P.L.M. is the very worst and most incompetent railway system on God’s earth.
PAULA sat by the morning-room window of Chadford Park looking at the pale pearl of the November sky against which the damp yellow trees glimmered mournfully.
Paula was alone, writing, with a silk shawl thrown over her shoulders, A wood fire on the opposite side of the great room smouldered sulkily, as though the damp of hopelessness had sunk into its soul. Faded chintz covers on sofas and chairs loomed disconsolate in the half light. Here and there discolored patches of wall proclaimed removal of pictures.
An old Great Dane rose shivering from the hearthrug and loped creakingly up to her, thrust his head under her arm, as she wrote and appealed to her from his patient topaz eyes. She fondled his head and spoke, as one who knows the moods of dogs, the words that he desired to hear. Whereupon, consoled, he creaked away, and with a sigh, floundered back into a circle in front of the fire.
A few moments afterwards with much the same lope and creak, entered Pargiter, the old butler, once a very fine figure of a man, with letters on a salver. As she took them, she noticed that his coat-cuff was frayed. This most trivial of facts irritated her. Ruin was descending on Chadford Park; but there was no reason for Pargiter to dress the part of faithful and decayed retainer. His wages had not been lowered. Mr. Veresy had not even given him notice. Like all the rest of them, he had, notoriously, put something by. Out of footman’s livery from the past five and twenty years, he had found, as became a butler’s dignity and income, his own clothes. She decided that the pathos of the frayed sleeve was rather cheap.
“The young person from the Vicarage is here, ma’am.”
“I’ll see her in a few minutes. I’ll ring.” She sighed. The young person in question recommended by the Vicar’s wife, had vast ambitions, apparently, to see the world, but not experience in the craft of ministering to the intimate wants of ladies. Her father was a once respectable carpenter, with half a dozen children, who
had lately forsaken God-fearing ways for a Bolshevist and alcoholic path.
“I must have a maid-servant of some kind,” Paula had said—and this was all the attendant she could get.
SIMKIN had departed. For how could she afford the Simkin wages? Old Simkin had not been quite the feudal altruist she had made him out to be. There had been an affecting scene. The old man, with tears in his eyes, had protested—as far as Paula could gather— that, were it not for the price of pork, he would have died rather than allow his daughter to leave Miss Paula’s service. But the price of pork (and other things) was that turrible—so Simkin had melted away into an America-ducal firmament, whence she wrote letters as politely rueful as those of honest Ovid from his exile among the Goths.
So many things had melted away during the past two months. The flat in Basil Mansions, let furnished to a queer rich bachelor from Kettering. The vivid country house life which usually filled her autumns. Not that there had been lack of the customary invitations; but maid-less, autumn-kit-less, hesitating at the prospect of expensive journeys, tips, bridge-losses and all the incidental costs of fashionable visiting, she had declined on the grounds of her father’s health. These vain amenities of life had melted away. So had Clara Demeter. It would take a miniature epic to describe the comfortable lady’s fury at Paula’s preposterous behaviour. No sooner had she reconciled herself to Paula’s turning down of Victor Pandolfo and her acceptance of Spencer Babington, than the irresponsible woman goes off and leaves the three of them there, at Renes-les-Eaux, in the lurch. There was she, Clara Demeter—“I ask you, my dear, to think of it”—planted between two wild men—and she, an invalid, doing her cure, under doctor’s prescription of perfect rest for exhausted nerves. “Until you come to your senses, Paula,” wrote the indignant lady, T don’t see how I can have anything more to do with you. We should only quarrel, which besides being undignified, is bad for my health. Already I’ve been so worried that the cure has done me no good. I have put on weight, instead of losing it. A sure sign.”
And with Lady Demeter had melted Spencer Babington, not into Czechoslovakia but into the blue inane of the Pacific. Another fellow, it seemed, had been sounded as to Prague, and not having hedged round the matter with such necessary diplomatic cautions and reservations, had been appointed. Spencer applying for leave, had gone off on a world trip in the height of spiritual dudgeon and physical comfort. He had tried to persuade Demeter to accompany him. But Clara had put her foot down.
“Because you’ve lost a wife—that’s no reason why I should lose a husband.”
That settled it.
All this was told to Paula in letters ever renunciatory of friendship. It was right, said Clara, that she should know. She did not defend herself. What was the use? She could take a man’s humorous view of her sex and recognize its gigantic inconvincibility.
Even Pandolfo seemed to have undergone the same process of vaporization. She had received news of him from Nurse Williams leading a life of mild riot in Bodmin where, apparently, her new clothes had almost shut respectable doors, to say nothing of those of the church, against her. “No one will believe,” said she, in the playful way of the spinster secure of reputation, “that I came by them honestly.” As for Sir Victor, his ribs had mended beautifully very soon after Mrs. Field’s departure from Renes-lesEaux, and he had gone straight back to London with Mr. Uglow and herself, and had insisted on her staying a night or two in his beautiful home at Chelsea and had then sent her off with an astonishing cheque and a first class return ticket to Cornwall. Indirect news had also come to her from Gregory Uglow. In a letter from London, addressed to Basil Mansions and forwarded thence, he thanked her very courteously for her kindness to him in
Renes—also gave satisfactory tidings of Sir Victor's ribs, and placed his devoted services ever at her disposal. She replied and sent her kind regards to Sir Victor, who up to now had not acknowledged the message. In fact Pandolfo had taken no further heed of her existence; which in one way was a comfort, hut in another an insult. Very reasonably, according to her sex’s psychology, she nursed a grievance against Pandolfo.
I''HE only persons who gave no sign of melting were Myrtilla and her father, especially the latter, whose portliness increased in inverse ratio to his fortunes. A man addicted to the exercise habit for many years, he now suffered from its forced abandonment. But Mr. Yeresy had arrived at such a stage of moral atrophy as to declare that if he couldn’t hunt, it didn’t matter to him whether he were fit or not. So he watched his girth grow with a kind of morbid satisfaction. It served the world right for treating him so unjustly.
"When a man’s ruined,” said he, “the only thing left for him to do is to face it like a gentleman.”
Mr. Yeresy sat down in his library, and at meals in his dining-room, did nothing and faced ruin like a gentleman.
Myrtilla, an angular and elderly model upon whom it might have been supposed that Paula, in her magnificence had been fashioned, had ruthlessly cut down household expenses, discharged a regiment of men and sold horses and pictures in order to provide for daily necessities of living. She had put the fear of the Putney flat into her father’s soul. Rather than the Putney flat, he would inhabit the meanest room at Chadford and live on tripe and onions cooked there in a saucepan. He didn’t mind hardship; but he couldn’t stand Putney.
“Pie’s quite impossible, my dear,” said Myrtilla. “If I hadn’t insisted on the money for the pictures and the horses being paid into my private banking account, I don’t know what would have happened to us. And what will happen I know less. We can’t live on pictures and horses for the rest of our lives.”
“But what about the mortgagees foreclosing?” asked Paula. “If they do, we’ll be turned out neck and crop.”
Well, the mortgagees, as far as Myrtilla could judge, had been temporarily appeased. How, she did not know. She had gone herself into Gloucester to see Bulstrode. Bulstrode & Co. had been the family solicitors from time immemorial. Old Bulstrode, the delightfullest old thing in the world had died, as Paula knew, a couple of years ago, and a young Bulstrode, a perky young man who magnified his office, reigned in his stead. Not a word could Myrtilla get out of him.
“My dear lady,” he had begun. Myrtilla hated the jacknaping of a form of address only tolerable in far different social condition. “My dear lady,” said he, “I am Mr. Veresy’s confidential adviser. It is evident, therefore, that I cannot discuss matters that are confidential as between solicitor and client with you, unless you bring me Mr. Veresy’s assurance that you are entirely in his confidence.”
Myrtilla, narrating the interview, said: “And he swung back in his swivel-chair and put his pudgy-finger-tips together, and looked at me out of his fishy little eyes—and I could have killed him.”
And the devil of it all was, according to Myrtilla, that Mr. Veresy would give no such assurance. He had the obstinate secretiveness of the weak man. Even though be faced, like a gentleman, as he declared, the ruin brought about by his own folly, and gave up to Myrtilla the whole responsibility of dealing with such ruin, as far as it affected the household, he denied the feminine mind’s capacity of dealing with its higher financial aspects. His dear Myrtilla’s criticisms could not be helpful in that they would be based on misapprehension of facts and erroneous judg-
“So here we are, living from hand to mouth, and that’s all I know about it.” Thus Myrtilla, mistress of Chadford I Park. How could Paula, younger daughter j and, by theoretic convention of marriage, I cut off from practical concern with her j father’s affairs, interfere with any hope of success?
In the queer, detached old English way they loved each other dearly. Once she had come to Chadford to discuss the
situation and offer her filial sympathy, he would not let her go. Indeed, by means of furtive little caresses, when no one was looking, and a shy word of endearment, he gave her to understand that she was the favorite daughter. Never a hint did he give of disloyalty or ingratitude towards Myrtilla. He was too great a gentleman openly to differentiate between them. But unregenerate man resents in his heart excess of female virtue especially when it is redeemed by somewhat of a domineering spirit. He loved Myrtilla with the affection due to the offsprings of his dear and respected wife and to the capable manager of his establishment; but Paula he adored with scrupulously veiled adoration.
Yet, in spite of this undercurrent of mutual understanding, she found herself as much shut off as Myrtilla from his business confidence. He deplored his inability to continue her allowance. Sometimes he could kick himself fromheretothe Infernal Regions as the meanest skunk alive. But his dear old girl must see how he was tied hand and foot. The restraint of his feet, Paula declared, was a blessing in disguise, in so much as it precluded the carrying out of his rash inclination. He patted her shoulder. She was a brick to take it that way. Well, that was the situation. The scoundrel, Monte Dangerfield, was at the bottom of it all. Why the fellow had not long before this been pitched out of the city into one of His Majesty’s goals, he had no conception. On generalities of the past he was eloquent; on particulars of the present he was as dumb as an oyster.
“There are signs, my dear, that things may not be so bad as one dreaded. At any rate the roof of Chadford is still over our heads. If it tumbles in on top of us, we three’ll have the satisfaction of being buried together—I know it’s devilish dull for you; but if you can make do with hash and rice pudding, I’ll be grateful.”
As to the nature of the signs, he gave no idea. Paula could not question him, any more than he could question her on her private affairs. When she came to think of it, her own reticence very fairly balanced his. Not a whisper did she breathe at Chadford Park of the pursuit of Pandolfo or her transient engagement to Spencer Babington. The very names never stirred the stagnant air.
SUCH was the situation on that November afternoon.
Paula, sitting under the cold radiation of the great window, drew her silk wrap closer around her shoulders and shivered. She leaned back in her chair and took stock of life. There was enough desolation in front of her and about her to make a silly woman sit up and howl like a dog. But she prided herself on not being a silly woman . . An old aunt of her childhood, still living in the odor of lavender used to say: “My dear, when things look very black for us, there is nothing so wise as to count up our mercies.” Paula smiled at the remembrance of the sweet and prim philosophy; but she counted all the same. And she came to the conclusion that she was not the least bit in the world unhappy. At the worst turn of Fortune’s wheel, she was assured of bed, food and raiment adequate to inclemency of climate. She was living, for the present, at any rate, in her childhood’s home, sleeping in her own room consecrated by how many girlish hopes and fears. Myrtilla loved her in a dry sisterly fashion. Perhaps more than Myrtilla allowed herself to reveal.
Now and then, during the past two or three months, she had been vaguely suspicious of possible smouldering fires behind her elder sister’s calm and calculating eyes. Hitherto, in the triumph of her beauty and her wide existence, she had given little more than comfortable thought to Myrtilla. Now, she reflected that their life-long relations had never been shadowed by a cloud of jealousy or misunderstanding. Myrtilla had always stood there, coldly affectionate, undemonstrative, ever capable, ever helpful, ever almost scientifically gentle . . Was it not more than possible that great love stirred the passionate depths that the woman kept sternly hidden from mankind? Of course there had been the inevitable man. Paula was at school abroad at the time and had pieced together imperfect scraps of information. But the composite result was enough to tell her that there had been an engagement ; that the young gentleman, the other party to the contract, had been swooped down upon by another young gentleman’s
wife and carried off to Ceylon. Hence rupture of engagement, divorce, a damnably exasperatingly happy marriage of the abominable pair and the landing high and dry of Myrtilla. His name, Paula remembered, was Buddicombe; he came of an old Devonshire family, and now he was a Member of Parliament, an old Tory, upholder of Church and State and a shining light in the House of Laymen. But of all this the reserved Myrtilla had never spoken a word. Yet, inside her, Paula felt assured, smouldered the hidden fires aforesaid. They were a queer reticent lot, the Veresys.
And there was her father whose affection, though unexpressed, was obvious.
Yes, there were a host of mercies to be counted up. Splendid health was one of them. The peace, perfect peace of the hymn was riot compared with the restfulness of Chadford. Like other factors in life possibly to be regretted, worries had melted away. She went to bed not caring what the dull morrow might bring forth. Sheawoke not apprehensive of some brutal sign of a man’s would-be domination. She was free of Pandolfo; free of Spencer Babington. She felt inclined to agree with her late maid, Simkin, that men spelled nothing but trouble.
Here perhaps you see pursued nymph or primitive woman panting in the security of forest recess, at last regained, her hands on her heart.
No analogy of the kind suggested itself to the sophisticated mind of Paula Field. She had escaped from pursuers and that was enough for her. As for hands on panting heart—her heart—she would have beat with perfect normality.
She welcomed the peace and quiet and the mastery of her time. She could get on with her work which, however one may despise the sordid, meant money. Her articles in the women’s journals had always been the essays of a woman of the world and not the jottings of a fashionable reporter. She carried on with the county side of social affairs. And also, greatly daring, she began another novel.
SHE had been writing for an hour or two, not over-joyously inspired by outer things, yet accepting them with a melancholy content, when Pargiter had entered with news of the young person from the Vicarage and the letters on the salver. These after a spell of reverie she took up idly, as a recluse for whom the great world has ceased to be of vivid interest. It seemed the usual budget of scrawls from friends telling of gay doings and reproaching or pitying her for nonparticipation, two or three tradesmen’s envelopes containing bills or receipts and a few circulars. Yet when she gave them her closer attention, she noticed one envelope addressed in a not unfamiliar nervous handwriting. She opened it and read:
“Dear Mrs. Field,
“I am requested by Sir Victor to make his profound apologies for the non-delivery of your promised ‘Paulinium’ car. He begs you to believe that it has not been through lack of consideration on his part, delay, in the first place being due to his anxiety that nothing short of perfection should be offered to you. And now I am to say, with his sincerest regret, that another six months at least must elapse before the car, as he desires it to be, can be delivered. Unfortunately when the severe tests came to be made, a few flaws here and there appeared in the metal which would make the car unsafe. He begs me to remind you that, after all, the metal a few months ago was only in the experimental stage. He has discovered to what causes these flaws were due and has taken steps to remedy them in new forgings. But, to his immense disappointment, he has had to scrap your chassis, and so he asks me to crave your gracious indulgence for a few necessary months.
The envelope contained also a shy scrap of paper.
“Dear Mrs. Field,
The enclosed is written as you may gather, according to instructions. I had to submit it for his approval. But really he is almost heart-broken over his failure. Forgive me if I am outrageously impertinent when I say that I know a kind little word from you would cheer him enormously. G. U.”
To be Continued.