WILLIAM J. LOCKE
Paula finds that there are disadvantages, as well as a fascination, in being pursued by the dynamic Pandolfo. Anyway, what is her own freedom worth?
AT DINNER that evening, a none too sumptuous meal, though served with ancient solemnity by Pargiter of the frayed coat-cuffs, Mr. Veresy turned to his younger daughter.
"My dear Paula, do you know a man called Pandolfo?” She started. She had been thinking nothing but the obsessing man for the past five hours.
“Sir Victor Pandolfo? Yes, I know him.”
‘‘Why didn't you tell me before?”
Said Paula with a smile: “I suppose I know about a thousand people, more or less. Why should I pick him out for special mention?”
“He seems to be a dam’ good fellow,” said Mr. Veresy, curling his white moustache. “There are only the three of us. and I think you ought to know how things are. Well—it comes to this: I’ve met Pandolfo in London— quite recently. Pusiness, you know.-As a matter of fact, he has bought up all the mortgages and is now sole mortgagee and is letting me down very easily and generously. I told you a week or two ago that things might be on the turn. It was only this morning that I heard he was a friend of youra.” In answer to Paula’s look: “It was young Bulstrode, if you wish to know. I don’t like the chap—not a patch on his father—but still he’s a shrewd man of business. Oh yes, my dear. Don’t make any mistake. There are few brick walls that—I grant you— rather objectionable young man can’t see through. He has been working on his own to find out things about Pandolfo. And it turns out that he’s a great friend of yours. Charming fellow. Small world, isn’t it?”
The florid gentleman of the thick white hair parted accurately down the middle smiled at his daughters with bland innocence.
‘‘You say you met Sir Victor, on business?” said Paula. “Didn't he mention the fact that he knew me? He was quite aware that I belonged here.”
“No. That's the funny part about it,” said Mr. Veresy. “And yet, I don’t know. A gentleman doesn’t mix up business affairs with social relations ... A delightful fellow.”
“It’s a curious coincidence that he should have bought up the mortgages, isn’t it?” said Paula.
“The more one lives, my dear, the less is one struck by coincidences. I can tell you a dozen off-hand—I remember
in '34 or ’3Ó—no—it was 1886-”
He wandered off into an inapposite tale to which Paula listened with dutiful eyes, but with ears bewilderingiy closed.
GREGORY UGLOW, writing according to instructions, had given but a poor account of the disaster that had befallen the Paulinium car. It had nearly been the death of the three of them, Pandolfo, Uglow and the chauffeur. The chassis and engine responded to all kinds of tests. It ran up the famous hill in Hampstead on top gear, as though it were coasting down a slope. It did an
incredible number of miles an hour at Brooklands.. The miniature boudoir of a limousine body invented by Pandolfo was fitted. They went a-testing springs and balance, alongthe Portsmouth road. Then, suddenly, somewhere near Cobham, something happened. The car danced round and round as though it were drunk and turned a somersault into a ditch, The chauffeur, miraculously thrown clear, opened the topmost door and hauled out Pandolfo and Uglow, considerably bruised.
“What the devil—?” cried Pandolfo.
“The cordan shaft, sir,” said the chauffeur. “There must have been a flaw in the metal.”
“A flaw?” Pandolfo stared at him as though he had spoken blasphemy.
“It’s the one and only way of accounting for it,” said the chauffeur.
A very sober, dangerous looking Pandolfo returned with Uglow in a hired car to London. All he said on the homeward way was:
“I wonder what I’ve done to God that he should be against me.”
For the next few days he went about, the picture of ferocious gloom, like a modern Lucifer doing battle with the Almighty Powers. For, when the poor wreck was towed into the Bermondsey works and the shattered body removed, the cause of the accident was only too horribly clear. The cordan shaft had snapped like a bit of . brittle wood. The sections of the fracture shewed the flaw. Nor was that all. The shock of the fall, magnified by the weight of the body, had played the almost incomprehensible devil with the rest of the metal work. The back axle had snapped too/ There was one crack in the petrol tank and another in the cylinder casings. It became obvious to the inventor and his scared lieutenant that, at its present stage of development, Paulinium could not supersede steel, in the making of motor car engines.
“Scrap the lot,” said Pandolfo, to his manager in the dismal shed. “I see what’s wrong.”
Whether he did or not, no man can say; perhaps least of all Pandolfo himself.
FROM the moment of his arrival in England, he had
started furiously to work. The Paulinium Steel Company—his fellow directors had prevailed on him to accept this new designation of the metal, so as to inspire public confidence, had been floated. A Staffordshire site, near the coal-mines, had been brought for the erection of vast works, which now had already been begun. He had triumphed over opposition; he had crashed through all obstacles. He had worked, as Gregory Uglow perhaps more loyal than original in phrase, said, Napoleonically. And side by side with the huge conception of the Paulinium Works, with its infinite detail of plans, of plant, of ready sources of ores and their easy transport, of choosing and salarying and housing metallurgical chemists, of inventing, parenthetically, a cooking stove heated by waste that would cook a thousand meals at once, ran the fierce desire to give Paula Field the earth’s perfection of automobiles.
At the announcement of her engagement to Spencer Babington he had laughed in sublime certainty of knowledge. At her summary casting off of his dry rival he had smiled with satisfaction. He had consented to sit at the feet of Lady Demeter. .
“My dear man,” she said, “give the woman a chance. Make her look on you as a necessity instead of a nuisance.”
“Yes. If you’ll forgive my saying so, a damned nuisance. You’ve gone the wrong way to work.”
“I’ve been accustomed to get what I want,” said Pandolfo.
“But a woman isn’t a ‘what,’ she’s a ‘who,’ which makes all the difference,” said Lady Demeter.
She did not lack courage. He admired her; confessed to her shedding upon him a new light; insinuated delicately that she counselled strategy rather than massed attack in front formation.
“I’ve nearly exhausted myself in telling you,” replied Lady Demeter. ^
That was why Pandolfo took up his strategic position on distant heights, and gave to his enemy no sign of his existence. He obtained, however, Nurse William’s confirmation of Lady Demeter’s advice, when she passed through London on her way back from her Bodmin holiday. She had a half scared meal with him in the museum that was his dining room, Gregory Uglow having been sent off to lunch at his club, suffered all sorts of frank opinions to be torn out of her, like some mediaeval money lender yielding teeth to the torturer of a prominent baron, before she disclosed all she divined, felt or knew of the feminine psychology of Paula Field.
“A woman doesn’t only want to be wanted, but she wants to want. That sounds rather muddled, but you see what I mean?”
“I do,” said he.
“And I shouldn’t let her have any idea of the mortgages, if I were you,” she added.
“I’ll see what can be done,” said he.
SO HE made secrecy a condition in his negotiations for the purchase of the mortgages, and on his meeting with Mr. Veresy gave no hint of his acquaintance with any member of the family.
It was the time of his life at which he rode the highest, in the full blaze of Fortune. The companies which ran his various inventions flourished exceedingly. He held himself to be a man of solid wealth. Beyond the acquisition of a picture now and then, he had few expensive tastes. The pictures themselves were investments. He lived, modestly. Work absorbed the vital energy that might have found an outlet in the costlier vices. When his solicitor questioned the sagacity of his proposal to buy up the Chadford Park mortgages, in vew of the large sums he was pouring into the Paulinium Steel Company, he replied airily:
“My dear fellow, I’ve got money to burn.”
Again the solicitor protested. If Mr. Veresy could not pay the interest to the then mortgagees, how did he himself expect to be paid?
“Did you ever hear of a Guardian Angel?”
“Not outside of Heaven or a lunatic asylum.”
“Well, you see one now,” said Pandolfo. “What does the trumpery interest matter to me?”
He soared away on newly invented wings. The image delighted him. Hitherto he had not crystallized his idea so perfectly. He would be her Guardian Angel working for her from the impenetrability of the Vast Inane, shielding her from harm, answering from the void her unspoken prayers. He rejoiced in the colossal self-conception. Instead of being the damned nuisance of Lady Demeter’s trenchant homily, he would become a transcendental and mystical protective power of which she should be unconscious.
After a while, he chafed at the lack of practical means of performing these angelic ministrations. The only thing that money could do he had done. Besides, the artist idealist in him despised money. Purchase, for him who had the means, was so easy. On the table of his studiolibrary-laboratory, the great octagonal room, into which Gregory Uglow had been led from the Chelsea Embankment, lay, week by week, the pertly covered, incongruous journal of frivolity to which she contributed her weekly article. This he read devoutly. It was ever like herself, clear-headed, kind, witty in the grand manner.
“How much do you think they pay her for it?” he asked one day.
Gregory Uglow suggested, fairly accurately the rate. Pandolfo swore it was monstrous exploitation of genius. Sweated labor.
“I’ve a good mind to buy up the rotten magazine and pay decent prices to contributors,” he declared.
But there again, it was only the power of money—even if he could have afforded to commit the idiotic act. His brain, at last, had gripped the truth that her chance realization, in the future, of pecuniary indebtedness towards him, would alienate her from him for ever. It was money, money all the time; exasperatingly money. He held it only just that she should possess shares in the company to which she had given her name. But how to give them to her and the consequent enjoyment, therefrom, without her knowledge?
“How the devil can I do it?”
Gregory Uglow, very uncomfortably and despairingly up to the lips in his confidence, said:
“The only way I can see, is to make her a beneficiary under your will.”
“I’ve done it,” cried Pandolfo. “Do you think I’m devoid of imagination? Of course, I’ve made my will. She and you are the only people in the world I care for. You’re provided for. She gets the rest.”
'T'HIS particular conversation took place in the miserable threadbare sitting room of the miserable Staffordshire hotel nearest to the site of the Paulinium Steel Works, where they were spending the night. Outside it was all wind and mud and coal-smoke and depression. Save for the mud, it was more or less the same inside. He loved to descend unexpectedly and tear about the place with Uglow following him like a recording shadow. The hotel’s greasy food and coarse discomfort affected him very little. Ordinarily he was too exuberant with new schemes for alterations and improvements, but to-day’s visit had shewn just a dull level of progress, with not a jagged bit for his eager mind to seize upon. So he sat with Gregory over a sullen fire in a high old-fashioned grate and talked of what, to him, was the personal aspect of Paulinium.
“That’s very kind of you, Sir Victor,” said the young man, after a pause. “I needn’t say that such a thing never entered my head.
But I wish you’d cut me out.”
“Eh?” cried Pandolfo. “Why?”
“I should feel more independent,” replied Ugilow awkwardly.
Pandolfo took up the poker and lunged at the fire.
“My God! Here’s another of ’em!
Can’t a man do anything for a fellowA human creature without trampling on his ^usceptibilitie s independent!
What the deuce do you want to be any more independent than you are already? You’re free. I haven’t bought you. You can go out now, any day, and earn double the money I give you.”
Gregory interrupted him quickly: “I couldn’t earn all the other things you jive me.”
“Then why are you drivelling about independence? You give me to infer that there’s some sort of a bond— friendship, sympathy, understanding, loyalty, whatever you like to call it, between us, which means more to you than money. Well, damn it all, I take that for granted. Do you think I’d discuss my personal feelings with any other man on God’s earth? ...” He rose, poker in hand and strode about the gas-lit room. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. The something that isn’t money. It has been in my power, somehow or other, to give it to you. And you’re dissatisfied. You want to be independent. You’re absurd. Don’t let me hear anything more about it.”
He threw the poker into the fender and sat down again.
“It was your will—the question'of money—” Gregory hazarded. “There, you see, it crops up again.”
“What on earth will it matter when I’m dead?”
“Nothing. But it will matter all the time that you’re alive.”
“Thank God!” cried Pandolfo, “my mother wasn’t a lineal descendant of prehistoric Scottish Kings.”
Gregory laughed. “It isn’t that.”
“Then what is it?”
Gregory sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t explain.”
“Are you afraid that your loyalty can’t stick it out for the ten, fifteen, thirty, forty years of the life that may be before me?”
Gregory grew pale. How could he explain the inexplicable? There was a moment of tense silence during which he felt as though the two men’s souls were at death grapple. The sullen layer of coal raised a while ago by Pandolfo’s poker, fell with a crash. Both started.
“No man can be loyal unless he is free,'” said Gregory.
Pandolfo broke away with a laugh and a wide gesture.
“Well, consider yourself disinherited.”
• “It will be a relief to me, Sir Victor," said Gregory.
The shirt-sleeved landlord brought in the whisky and syphon that had been previously ordered, and lingered in talk awhile he poured out the modest drinks. When he had gone, Pandolfo said:
“You and Mrs. Field are very much alike in many ways.
I wonder whether you understand her better than I do.” “I’ve never attempted to think of understanding her,” replied Gregory. “I scarcely know her.”
“That’s true,” said Pandolfo. He sipped his whisky and soda. Then suddenly: “Good God, what are these?” Two pairs of ancient and deformed carpet slippers, worn by generations of commercial travellers had been unostentatiously set by the landlord to warm by the fire. The kicking of the dreadful things to the other side of. the room broke the thread of talk. Pandolfo took up the detective novel which he had bought at the station bookstall and Gregory sat down at the round centre tabfe and transcribed on fair paper the day’s rough pencilled notes from a little black book. Later they parted for the night without reference to their conversation.
WHEN the Perfect Car stood ready for the road,. * v before the last disastrous test, Pandolfo still', impressed: by Lady Demeter’s wisdom, devised a method of delivery. He would sacrifice his impetuous desire to dash; down to Gloucestershire himself, and would send Gregory Uglow ini his stead. That way lay the delicacy counselled! by women. Yet when he announced his intention, theyoung man’s response lacked enthusiasm.
“Short of going: myself, which for my own reasons, isn’t feasible; I don’t see that I could pay her a greater compliment than making you my representative. Or you either.”
“Of course, if you tell me to do it—” said Gregory.
“I do tell j ou*— and there’s an énd of it.”
Pandolfo, dictatorial, closed discussion.
Gregory went away, heavyhearted. Suppose in anti-Pandolfo mood, she scorned the gift? What would be his own position? That he himself would receive gracious welcome he did not doubt. But ■ he would have to plead for acceptance, and, in doing so, plead the amorous cause of his benefactor. He could see the ironic smile at the corners of her perfect lips. He could see the soft humorous eyes reading his own miserable secret. Thank Heaven, said he, he had spoken bravely about the legacy. That would have strangled his inmost and most wildly delicious thoughts. A free man he could think of her, at any rate. A man of sense and character, he could, if left alone, check lunacy in its effect on conduct. Pandolfo was the great man and Paula was the great woman. As coldly clear as an iceberg in windswept weather was the fact that the two were made for each other. He was under no illusion. He resigned himself absolutely to their eventual and inevitable mating. But to be employed as an agent in the prq-
cws was intolerable. Besides, the proposition contained an element of mediaeval grotesquerie repellent to the modern spirit. So he dreaded the presentation of the car.
And even if she did not scorn the thing, but merely fell into helpless eollapse about it, asking him what in the world she was going to do with it, what could he say? His was the fantastic mission to deliver to a member of an impoverished aristocratic family a vast automobile all bright blue and silver and satin and what-not, such as an Indian Rajah, with tastes unmodified by European experience, might have commanded for State purposes, to match his ceremonial elephants. It was glaringly out of scale with her means, her position, her dignified modesty. Even if she could afford to pay the wages of the highly skilled man required to drive and attend to it, she would no more dream of Haunting in it about the quiet country roads than of wearing a diamond tiara on her visits to the
^ little homely run-about, to show the wonder of Paulinium. yes: but before this thing of Oriental gorgeousness hts heart sank. And he knew, that whatever she might do or say, her heart would sink with his, for precisely the same reason. This side idolatry, he loved Pandolfo. Her prospective, inevitable and instantaneous judgment of his hero was intolerable. She would not laugh in derision —another woman might: but she was too exquisitely bred. Yet. suppose she did—he would be capable of springing at her and strangling her, for all his love.
And not a word of thus did he dare breathe to Pandolfo. The car had been his dream, his solace and his joy for months. Of course the engine had been planned and the chassis begun long before his meeting with Paula at Htnsted in the summer. It was then but a trial of the new metal. But when once the magic name had been discovered. the car had ceased to be a cold experiment and had become a fervid consecration. What protest could the sensitive youth make to the enraptured giant?
PERHAPS no man ever hated inanimate things more than did Gregory Uglow hate the throbbing monster with its long Hashing bonnet and its cobalt blue limousine body, the whole car a structure of exquisite and sensuous lines, when he waited in front of it on the pavement on that last test morning, for Pandolfo to come out of the Chelsea house. He was oppressed by the sense of the wrongness of its insolent luxury.
Pandolfo ran down the steps, walked right round the car.
"God! it's good, isn't it? Achievement—no. Creation - there's nothing like it in the world. You feel a thrill when you find you’ve begotten a child. Any damned fool can do that. But for a child of the brain, multiply the thrill a million times. This marvel of a thing is ME.”
He laughed, dashed in his swift way into the car; Gregory followed: the chauffeur who had waited by the door, rug over arm, spread the rug.
Once outside the tramlines of London, they careered like gods. And then, all of a sudden, came the crazy catastrophe.
The feelings of few young men have been more complicated than those of Gregory Uglow, when he surveyed thj complete wreckage of the great Paulinium car.
PAULA wrote at once to Pandolfo. Could kind-hearted woman do less? Indeed a betraying moisture of the eyes blurred now and then the written words. Never had she felt so tenderly disposed towards him as now in his disappointment and humiliation. She gave him her spontaneous sympathy, consoled him with assurances of the perfecting of her metal and chid him gently for his neglect. She made it clear that, with her modified means, she could no more dream of the upkeep of a large car than of that of a racing stable. If he wished to please her, he must concentrate all his energies on things greater than such vanities. The fact of hi3 giving her name to the rnetai was sufficient to secure for ever her intense interest in its development.
Oí Bulstrode's revelation she said nothing. Evidently Pandolfo desired her not to know of the mortgage. The secret had been well kept. Of course, during their last interview at Renes-les-Eaux, Pandolfo had declared his intention of becoming the sole mortgagee; but that declaration had obviously been dependent on his beautiful matrimonial scheme. That having gone agley altogether, like the schemes of mice and men referred to by the poet, she had never given the question of the mortgages, as far as he was concerned, a single thought. Now, she gave it many, and many a worrying one; especially when she had sealed and posted her sympathetic letter. She sought out her father.
“I want to know why Sir Victor Pandolfo ha3 never refered to his acquaintance—indeed friendship with me.”
“I told you last night,” said Mr. Veresy.
“You didn’t tell me enough. He must have made some conditions of secrecy.”
Paula, standing over the kindly white-haired gentleman, forced him to confession.
“Ln a way he did. He said that such transactions being
enti-ely out of his way of business, his name should not be mentioned outside the little circle of people directly interested. That’s why I respected his confidence as regards Myrtilla and yourself. It was only when young Bulstrode told me you were friends that I gave you the information."
She nodded and thanked him with a smile and a filial pat on the shoulder and went away. On the tip of her tongue was the question:
"You silly old dear, hasn’t it occurred to you that, just because we were such friends, he was anxious for me not to know?”
But it went no further. Evidently the idea had not occurred to Mr. Veresy; and his daughter was not one to disturb a quiet mind with disconcerting suggestions.
HER own mind, however, suffered disturbance. For some months she had been freed from the man’s obsession. Now, more than ever, did it oppress her.
Mortgagees don’t threaten to foreclose, if interest is paid regularly. If they want to realize their capital, they have only to sell their mortgages like any other sound securities. Of this, in spite of her ordinary careless woman’s ignorance of business affairs, her common sense made her aware. Some time before her father had airily announced an easing of difficulties. What else could that mean than one of Pandolfo’s bravura gestures?
“My dear sir,” she could hear him saying, “don’t have a moment’s anxiety. It is true that I have bought up the mortgages on Chadford which represent a capital of so many thousand pounds, and that the ordinary business man, the stranger, who has nothing to do with sentiment, expects his quarterly instalment of interest to be paid into his bank, through his solicitor. Pray regard me in another light altogether. I know the straits to which our old landed families have been put since the war, and it is far from my heart to make them straiter. It will be the great / pleasure and honor of my life to allow the question of interest to bë one of your power, convenience and honor.” Her intuition pictured fairly accurately the state of affairs. She did not know that young Bulstrode had said to her father in a moment of triumph:
“Thank God, Mr. Veresy, we’ve got hold of a mug.” And that her father, red as a lobster, had thumped the solicitor’s table and cried:
“Don’t you ever say such a thing again. Thank God we’ve got hold of an honorable and chivalrous gentleman.” That was why, in his talk with Paula, he had called him “a damn good fellow.” She remembered his encomiums and applied them to her construction of the facts.
And only one conclusion could she draw. Pandolfo hovered like some grotesque and foolish god over the Chadford household. The three of them lived there practically under shadow of his benignity. What else was the solution? Myrtilla, as ignorant as herself of their father’s real financial standing, had been forced to sell horses and pictures, in order to provide for household expenses. Out of the proceeds she could meet these for a considerable time to come; but, whereas once Mr. Veresy talked gloomily of facing ruin like a gentleman, he now seemed to take it as the jest of a sportive Providence.
“What’s the meaning of it?” she asked Myrtilla, whom, least of all mortals, did she desire to take into her confidence.
Myrtilla shrugged her shoulders and bade her ask Bulstrode.
SHE was oil the point of taking Myrtilla’s ironical counsel when Pandolfo himself appeared, in answer to her letter.
Pargiter, impressed by vast car, title and Napoleonic authority, had, without question, divested him of coats, and throwing open the morning room door, had announced: “Sir Victor Pandolfo.”
Paula rose from her chilly window table, where she had been writing, with a little gasp of surprise. He advanced, both hands outstretched to greet her. He gripped hers. Pargiter closed the door noiselessly.
“Even more beautiful than my memories and my dreams,” said he.
She laughed. “And you more—exotic than ever.” She freed herself and moved across the room. “And being exotic, you must be chilled to the bone this dripping and dreary day. Come to the fire and warm yourself. Whefe have you come from?”
“Our works—the Paulinium works in Staffordshire. I go down periodically to supervise progress ... I thought that in ten minutes speech with you I could tell you more of thanks than in all the letters in the world.” She glanced at the rococo clock on the mantelpiece which marked half-past twelve.
“Ten minutes? But that’s absurd. You stay to lunch.” “I must be in London this afternoon—and it’s about a hundred miles.”
“You stay to lunch, or not a moment do you have of my company.”
In a flash, her hand was on the knob of the doori. To turn any casual visitor out fasting into the dismal sleet was unthinkable; least of all the man who had nearly broken his neck and half broken his heart for her sake.
“What we can give you to eat God and the cook only knov. But, at any rate, we can kill the peacock.”
He made.a gesture of submission. She rang the bell, gave a hurried order to an invisible Pargiter and shut the door.
“But this,” said he, “is not the day for peacocks. That day will come, with the realization of all my dreams. Oh, yes. My dreams have always included a peacock served, Renaissance style, in all its arrogance and splendor. And it shall be for you and me alone, in the dining room of an old Italian palace, with a beautifully vaulted ceiling and great thick walls and embrasured windows looking over the hills of Vallambrosa.”
“And it will be tough and tasteless, and the vaulted diningroom will be cold as death, and the hills will be hidden by miserable rain. No, my dear friend, that is where you make your fundamental mistake. I’m not a romantic.”
“I’ve not had the audacity to wonder what you are,” said he. “I only know that the sight of you is wonderful.”
SHE crossed before him and sat, thus turning her back on him for a fraction of a second. Facing him now, she motioned him to a chair.
“I too am glad to see you, for one or two reasons. There’s a certain picking of bones ...”
“The Car of Misfortune! Don’t speak of it! You shall have your Paulinium car no matter what happens. And it shall be built this time to your specification. A oneseater sedan chair kind of thing—two-mouse power— which you could learn to drive in five minutes and would do its fifty miles a gallon and could be washed down like a perambulator by a house-maid. I’ve started work on the design already and I’ll finish it on the voyage.” “Voyage?”
He was for ever startling her. The words put her for the moment over the track of the bone to pick, which had nothing to do with Paulinium or the car.
“Yes,” he cried eagerly. “I’ve got so many things to tell you, that they’re all struggling to get out simultaneously. I must go to Brazil. The Paulinium mines—or rather the mines of the ore that are the secret of Paulinium—are up country and want cleansing with the Fear of God. I’m carrying a supply with me. When I come back there’ll be no more flaws in Paulinium. Not only your car but railway lines and battle-ships will last till the Day of Judgment.”
“I’m sure of it,” she smiled. “I know that tremendous inventions are only perfected after infinite experiment. But do believe that I’ve been sympathizing with you far more than I can say.”
He assured her that her letter was balm for wounded vanity. He had passed through a desperate season of depression. The house in Tite Street had been a Doubting Castle, he himself Giant Despair and he had dreaded walking through the Slough of Despond of the London streets. Her words were like an angelic message making clear and pure the murky air. Faith was the solvent of all things and she had faith in Paulinium. Paula murmured an adequate accompaniment to his dithyrambics. At last looking at the clock—
“In ten minutes,” she said, “my father will be summoned from his library, my sister from her boudoir, where she has been inking her fingers, face and hair over household accounts, and we two from here. We haven’t much time before lunch for the bones I have to pick. I know it seems starting a meal at the wrong end,” she laughed, “like a cinema film worked backwards—but still—here we are—Why have you bought up all these mortgages?”
“I wasn’t aware that you knew.”
“A child would know. Why did you do it?”
“A sound investment.”
“You were acting against my very definitely expressed wishes.”
“It pleased your temporarily divine unreason to be angry with me. I discounted it, as I discounted another announcement.”
He rose and holding her with his bright eyes, stood over her, with folded arms; and he said very quietly:
“It’s no use your struggling against Fate, Paula. You’ve got to be mine one of these days, and you know it as well as I do.”
She rose superb and snapped her fingers.
“My friend, I’m not going to be yours as long as you’ve got a penny you think you can buy me with!”
He turned away with a wave of the hand. “A ou hurt,” said he.
“I meant to.”
He flashed round. “Why? What have I done?”
“In order to win my esteem, let us call it, you have bought up the mortgages and have told my dear but entirely unbusinesslike father that he needn’t worry about paying interest. You’re keeping the roof above our heads. Do you think that’s an agreeable position for a proud woman? Do you think I’m going to fall into your arms with a ‘thank you for saving an ancient family from ruin, and, out of gratitude, I am yours for ever.’ Use common sense, my good friend.”
To be Continued