The Mountebank
William J. Locke

Part 5 out of 6

I realized the compliment. I liked Elodie. Dress her at whatever Rue de
la Paix rag-swindler's that you pleased, you would never metamorphose the
daughter of the people that she was into the lady at ease in all company.
She was a bit _mannieree_--on her best behaviour. But she had the
Frenchwoman's instinctive knowledge of conduct. She conveyed, very
charmingly, her welcome to me as a friend of Andrew's.

"Horace--that's my friend Bakkus I've told you about," said Lackaday.
"He'll be here to-morrow. I should so much like you to meet him."

"I'm looking forward," said I, "to the opportunity."

We talked on indifferent subjects; and in the meanwhile I observed Lackaday
closely. He seemed tired and careworn. The bush of carroty hair over his
ears had gone a yellowish grey and more lines seamed his ugly and rugged
face. He was neatly enough dressed in grey flannels, but he wore on his
head the latest model of a French straw hat--the French hatter, left to his
own devices, has ever been the maddest of his tribe--a high, coarsely woven
crown surrounded by a quarter inch brim which related him much more nearly
to Petit Patou than to the British General of Brigade. His delicate fingers
nervously played with cigarette or glass stem. He gave me the impression of
a man holding insecurely on to intelligible life.

Mild hunger translating itself into a conception of the brain, I looked at
my watch. I waved a hand to the row of waiting cabs with linen canopies on
the other side of the blazing square.

"Madame," said I, "let me have the pleasure of driving you to Royat and
offering you _dejeuner_."

"My dear chap," said Andrew, "impossible. We play this afternoon. Twice a
day, worse luck. We have all sorts of things to arrange."

Elodie broke in. They had arranged everything already that morning. Their
turn did not arrive till three-forty. There was time for a dozen lunches;
especially since she would go early and see that everything was prepared.
She excused herself to me in the charmingest way possible. Another day
she might perhaps, with my permission, have the pleasure. But to-day she
insisted on Andre lunching with me alone. We must have a thousand things to
say to each other.

"_Tenez_," she smiled, rising. "I leave you. There's not a word to be
said. Monsieur le Capitaine, see that the General eats instead of talking
too much." She beamed. "_Au grand plaisir de vous revoir._"

We stood bare-headed and shook hands and watched her make a gracious exit.
As soon as she crossed the tram-lines, she turned and waved her fingers at

"A charming woman," said I.

Lackaday smiled in his sad babyish way.

"Indeed she is," said he.

We drove into Royat in one of the cool, white canopied victorias.

"You know we are playing in a circus," he said, indicating a huge play bill
on the side of a wall.

"Yes," said I. "_On revient toujours a ses premieres amours._"

"It's not that, God knows," he replied soberly. "But we were out for these
two weeks of our tour. One can't pick and choose nowadays. The eccentric
comedian will soon be as dead as his ancestor, the Court Jester. The war
has almost wiped us out. Those music-halls--of the Variety type--that have
not been turned, through lack of artists, into picture palaces, are now
given over to Revue. I have been here at Clermont-Ferrand many times--but
now," he shrugged his shoulders. "I had an engagement--at my ordinary
music-hall terms--offered me at the Cirque Vendramin to fill in the blank
weeks, and I couldn't afford to refuse. That's why, my friend, you see me
now, where you first met me, in a circus."

"And Madame Patou?" said I.

"I'm afraid," he sighed, "it is rather a come down for Elodie."

We reached the hotel and lunched on the terrace, and I did my best, with
the aid of the maitre d'hotel, to carry out the lady's injunctions. As a
matter of fact, she need not have feared that he should miss sustenance
through excessive garrulity. He seemed ill at ease during the meal and I
did most of the talking. It was only after coffee and the last drop of the
last bottle in the hotel--one of the last, alas! in France--of the real
ancient Chartreuse of the Grand Chartreux, that he made some sort of avowal
or explanation. After beating about the bush a bit, he came to the heart of
the matter.

"I thought the whole war was axed out of my life--with everyone I knew in
it or through it. I wrote all that stuff about myself because I couldn't
help it. It enabled me to find my balance, to keep myself sane. I had to
bridge over--connect somehow--the Andrew Lackaday of 1914 with the Andrew
Lackaday of 1919. A couple of months ago, I thought of sending it to you.
You know my beginnings and my dear old father Ben Flint and so forth. You
came bang into the middle of my most intimate life. I knew in what honour
and affection you were held among those whom I--to whom I--am infinitely
devoted. I..." He paused a moment, and tugged hard at his cigar and
regarded me with bent brows and compressed lips of his parade manner. "I am
a man of few friendships. I gave you my unreserved friendship--it may not
be worth much--but there it is." He glared at me as though he were defying
me to mortal combat, and when I tried to get in a timid word he wiped it
out of my mouth with a gesture. "I wanted you to know the whole truth about
me. Once I never thought about myself. I wasn't worth thinking about. But
the war came. And the war ended. And I'm so upside down that I'm bound to
think about myself and clear up myself, in the eyes of the only human being
that could understand--namely you--or go mad. But I never reckoned to see
you again in the flesh. Our lives were apart as the poles. It was in my
head to write to you something to that effect, when I should receive an
answer to my last letter. I never dreamed that you should meet me now, as I

"It never occurred to you that I might value your friendship and take a
little trouble to seek you out?"

"I must confess," said he, "that I did not suspect that anyone, even you,
would have thought it worth while."

I laughed. He was such a delicious simpleton. So long as he could regard
me as someone on the other side of the grave, he could reveal to me the
intimacies of his emotional life; but as soon as he realized his confidant
in the flesh, embarrassment and confusion overwhelmed him. And, ostrich
again, thinking that, once his head was hidden in the sands of Petit
Patouism, he would be invisible to mortal eye, he had persuaded himself
that his friends would concur in his supposed invisibility.

"My dear fellow," I said, "why all this apologia? As to your having ever
told me or written to me about yourself I have kept the closest secrecy.
Not a human soul knows through me the identity of General Lackaday with
Petit Patou. No," I repeated, meeting his eyes under his bent brows, "not a
human being knows even of our first meeting in the Cirque Rocambeau--and as
for Madame Patou, whom you have made me think of always as Elodie--well--my
discretion goes without saying. And as for putting into shape your
reminiscences--I shouldn't dream of letting anyone see my manuscript before
it had passed through your hands. If you like I'll tear the whole thing up
and it will all be buried in that vast oblivion of human affairs of which I
am only too temperamentally capable."

He threw his cigar over the balustrade of the terrace and stretched out his
long legs, his hands in his pockets and grinned.

"No, don't do that. One of these days I might be amused to read it.
Besides, it took me such a devil of a time to write. It was good of you to
keep things to yourself although I laid down no conditions of secrecy. I
might have known it." He stared at the hill-side opposite, with its zigzag
path through the vines marked by the figures of zealous pedestrians, and
then he said suddenly: "If I asked you not to come and see our show you
would set me down as a fantastical coward."

I protested. "How could I, after all you have told me?"

"I want you to come. Not to-day. Things might be in a muddle. One never
knows. But to-morrow. It will do me good."

I promised. We chatted a little longer and then he rose to go. I
accompanied him to the tram, his long lean body overwhelming my somewhat
fleshy insignificance. And while I walked with him I thought: "Why is it
that I can't tell a man who confides to me his inmost secrets, to buy, for
God's sake, another hat?"

The following afternoon, I went to the Cirque Vendramin. I sat in a front
seat. I saw the performance. It was much as I have already described to
you. Except perhaps for his height and ungainliness no one could have
recognized Andrew Lackaday in the painted clown Petit Patou. His
grotesquery of appearance was terrific. From the tip of his red pointed
wig to the bottom of his high heels he must have been eight feet. I should
imagine him to have been out of scale on the music-hall stage. But in
the ring he was perfect. The mastery of his craft, the cleanness of his
jugglery, amazed me. He divested himself of his wig and did a five minutes'
act of lightning impersonation with a trick felt hat, the descendant of the
_Chapeau de Tabarin:_ the ex-Kaiser, Foch, Clemenceau, Lloyd George,
President Wilson--a Boche prisoner, a helmeted Tommy, a Poilu--which was
marvellous, considering the painted Petit Patou face. For all assistance,
Elodie held up a cheap bedroom wall-mirror. He played his one-stringed
fiddle. I admired the technical perfection of the famous cigar-act. I noted
the stupid bewilderment with which he received a typhoon of hoops thrown by
Elodie, and his waggish leer when, clown-wise, he had caught them all. If
the audience packed within the canvas amphitheatre had gone mad in applause
over this exhibition of exquisite skill interlarded with witty patter, I
might have been carried away into enthusiastic appreciation of a great art.
But the audience, as far as applause could be the criterion, missed the
exquisiteness of it, guffawed only at the broadest clowning and applauded
finally just enough to keep up the heart of the management and Les Petit
Patou. I have seen many harrowing things in the course of a complicated
life; but this I reckon was one of the chief among them.

I thought of the scene a year ago, at Mansfield Park. The distinguished
soldier with his rainbow row of ribbons modestly confused by Evadne's
summons to the household on his appointment to the Brigade; the English
setting; the old red gabled Manor house; the green lawn; the bright English
faces of old Sir Julian and his wife, of young Charles the hero worshipper;
the light in Auriol's eyes; the funny little half-ashamed English ceremony;
again the gaunt, grim, yet childishly smiling figure in khaki, the ideal of
the scarred and proven English leader of men....

The scene shimmered before me and then I realized the same man in his
abominable travesty of God's image, bowing before the tepid plaudits of an
alien bourgeoisie in a filthy, smelly canvas circus, and I tell you I felt
the agony that comes when time has dried up within one the fount of tears.

Chapter XIX

Soon afterwards I met Horatio Bakkus. With his white hair, ascetic,
clean-shaved face and deep dark eyes he looked like an Italian
ecclesiastic. One's glance instinctively sought the tonsure. He would come
forward on to the open-air platform beneath the thick foliage of the park
with the detached mien of a hierophant; and there he would sing like an
angel, one of those who quire to the youngest-eyed cherubim so as not to
wake them. When I made him my modest compliment he said:

"Trick, my dear sir. Trick and laziness. I might have had the _bel
canto_, if I had toiled interminably; but, thank God, I've managed to
carry through on self-indulgent sloth."

As he lived at Royat I saw much of him alone, Royat being such a wee place
that if two sojourners venture simultaneously abroad they must of necessity
meet. I found him as Lackaday had described him, a widely read scholar
and an amiable and cynical companion. But in addition to these casual
encounters, I was thrown daily into his society with Lackaday and Elodie.
We arranged always to lunch together, Lackaday, Bakkus and myself taking it
in turns to be hosts at our respective hotels. Now and then Elodie
insisted on breaking the routine and acting as hostess at a restaurant in
Clermont-Ferrand. It was all very pleasant. The only woman to three men,
Elodie preened herself with amusing obviousness and set out to make herself
agreeable. She did it with a Frenchwoman's natural grace. But as soon as
the talk drifted into anything allusive to war or books or art or politics,
she manifested an ignorance abysmal in its profundity. I was amazed that
a woman should have been for years the intimate companion of two men like
Lackaday and Bakkus without picking up some superficial knowledge of the
matters they discussed. And I was interested, even to the pitch of my
amazement, to behold the deference of both men, when her polite and vacant
smile proclaimed her inability to follow the conversation. Invariably one
of them would leave me to the other and turn to Elodie. It was Bakkus more
often who thus broke away. He had the quick impish faculty, one of the
rarest of social gifts, of suddenly arresting a woman's attention by a
phrase, apparently irrelevant, yet to her woman's jumping mind relevant to
the matter under dispute and of carrying it off into a pleasant feminine
sphere. It was impish, and I believe deliberately so, for on such occasions
one could catch the ironic gleam in his eyes. The man's sincere devotion to
both of them was obvious.

"Madame Patou..." I began one day, at lunch--we were talking of the tyranny
of fashion, even in the idyllic lands where ladies are fully dressed in
teeth necklaces and yellow ochre--"Madame Patou..."

She threw up her hands. We were lunching very well--the _petit vin_
of Auvergne is delicious--"_Mais voyons donc_--why all this ceremony
among friends? Here we are, we three, and it is Andre, Horace, Elodie--and
here we are, we four, and it is Monsieur Bakkus, and Lackaday--never will I
be able to pronounce that word--and Madame Patou and Monsieur le Capitaine
Hylton. Look. To my friends I am Elodie _tout court_--and you?"

It was an embarrassing moment. Andrew's mug of a face was as expressionless
as that of a sphinx. He would no more have dreamed of addressing me by my
Christian name than of hailing Field-Marshal Haig as Douglas. White-haired,
thin-lipped Bakkus smiled sardonically. But there was no help for it.

"My very intimate friends call me Tony," said I.

"To-ny," she echoed. "But it is charming, To-ny. A _votre sante_,

She held put her glass--I was sitting next to her. I clinked mine politely.

"To the health of the charming Elodie."

She was delighted. Made us all clink glasses. Bakkus said, in English:

"To the abolition of Misters, in obedience to the Lady."

"And now," cried Elodie, "what were you going to say about fashions in
necklaces made of dogs' teeth?"

We pursued our frivolous talk. Bakkus said:

"The whole of the Fall of Man arose from Eve pestering Adam for a
russet-brown fig-leaf in spring time."

"It was after the fall that they made themselves aprons," said Lackaday.

"She had her eye on those fig-leaves long before," retorted Bakkus.

We laughed. There was no great provocation to mirth. But we were attuned to
gaiety. My three friends were lunching with me on the terrace of the Royat
Palace Hotel. It is a long, wide terrace, reaching the whole width of the
facade of the building, and doors lead on to it from all the public rooms.
Only half of it, directly accessible from the _salle a manger_ is
given over to restaurant tables. Ours was on the outskirts. I like to be
free, to have plenty of room and air; especially on a broiling August day.
We were in cool shade. A few feet below us stretched a lower terrace, with
grass-plots and flowers and a fountain and gaily awned garden seats and
umbrella-shaded chairs. And there over the parapet the vine-clad hill
quivered in the sunshine against the blue summer sky, and around us were
cheerful folk at lunch forgetful of hearts and blood-pressure in the
warm beauty of the day. Perhaps now and then a stern and elderly French
couple--he stolid, strongly bearded and decorated, she thin and brown,
over-coiffured and over-ringed--with an elderly angular daughter, hard to
marry, regarded us with eyes of disapproval. Elodie in happy mood threw off
restraint, as, in more private and intimate surroundings, she would have
thrown off her corset. But we cared not for the disapproval of the correct
French profiteers....

"If they tried to smile," said Elodie, incidentally, "they would burst and
all the gold would drop out."

Lackaday threw back his head and laughed--the first real, hearty laugh I
had seen him exhibit since I had met him in France. You see the day, the
food, the wine, the silly talk, the dancing wit of Bakkus, the delightful
comradeship, had brought the four of us into a little atmosphere of
joyousness. There was nothing very intellectual about it. In the hideous
realm of pure intellectuality there could not exist even the hardiest ghost
of a smile. Laughter, like love, is an expression of man's vehement revolt
against reason. So Andrew Lackaday threw himself back in his chair and
laughed at Elodie's quip.

But suddenly, as if some blasting hand had smitten him, his laughter
ceased. His jaw dropped for a second and then snapped like a vice. He
was sitting on my left hand, his back to the balustrade, and facing the
dining-room. At the sight of him we all instinctively sobered and bent
forward in questioning astonishment. He recovered himself quickly and tried
to smile as if nothing had happened--but, seeing his eyes had been fixed on
something behind me, I turned round.

And there, calmly walking up the long terrace towards us, was Lady Auriol

I sprang from my chair and strode swiftly to meet her. From a grating sound
behind me I knew that Lackaday had also risen. I stretched out my hand
mechanically and, regardless of manners, I said:

"What the devil are you doing here?"

She withdrew the hand that she too had put forward.

"That's a nice sort of welcome."

"I'm sorry," said I. "Please consider the question put more politely."

"Well, I'm here," she replied, "because it happens to be my good pleasure."

"Then I hope you'll find lots of pleasure, my dear Auriol."

She laughed, standing as cool as you please, very grateful to the eye in
tussore coat and skirt, with open-necked blouse, and some kind of rakish
hat displaying her thick auburn hair in defiance of the fashion which
decreed concealment even of eyebrows with flower-pot head gear. She laughed
easily, mockingly, although she saw plainly the pikestaff of a Lackaday
upright a few yards away from her, in a rigid attitude of parade.

"Anyhow," she said, "I must go and say how d'ye do to the General."

I gave way to her. We walked side by side to the table. She advanced to him
in the most unconcerned manner. Bakkus rose politely.

"My dear General, fancy seeing you here! How delightful."

I have never seen a man's eyes devour a woman with such idiotic

"Lady Auriol," said he, "you are the last person I ever thought of
meeting." He paused for a second. Then, "May I have the pleasure of
introducing--Madame Patou--Lady Auriol Dayne--Mr. Bakkus--"

"Do sit down, please, everybody," said Auriol, after the introductions.
"I feel like a common nuisance. But I came by the night train and went
to sleep and only woke up to find myself just in time for the fag-end of

"I am host," said I. "Won't you join us?"

What else was there to do? She glanced at me with smiling inscrutability.

"You're awfully kind, Tony. But I'm disturbing you."

The maitre d'hotel and waiter with a twist of legerdemain set her place
between myself and Lackaday.

"This is a charming spot, isn't it, Madame Patou?" she remarked.

Elodie, who had regarded her wonderingly as though she had bean a creature
of another world, bowed and smiled.

"We all talk French, my dear Auriol," said I, "because Madame Patou knows
no English."

"Ah!" said Lady Auriol. "I never thought of it." She translated her remark.
"I'm afraid my French is that of the British Army, where I learned most of
it. But if people are kind and patient I can make myself understood."

"Mademoiselle speaks French very well," replied Elodie politely.

"You are very good to say so, Madame."

I caught questioning, challenging glances flashing across the table, each
woman hostilely striving to place the other. You see, we originally sat:
Elodie on my right hand, then Bakkus facing straight down the terrace, then
Lackaday, then myself. It occurred to me at once that, with her knowledge
of my convention-trained habits, she would argue that, at a luncheon party,
either I would not have placed the lady next the man to whom she belonged,
or that she was a perfectly independent guest, belonging, so to speak, to
nobody. But on the latter hypothesis, what was she doing in this galley? I
swear I saw the wrinkle on Lady Auriol's brow betokening the dilemma. She
had known me from childhood's days of lapsed memory. I had always been.
Romantically she knew Lackaday. Horatio Bakkus, with his sacerdotal air and
well-bred speech and manner, evidently belonged to our own social class.
But Madame Patou, who mopped up the sauce on her plate with a bit of bread,
and made broad use of a toothpick, and leaned back and fanned herself
with her napkin and breathed a "_Mon Dieu, qu'ilfait chaud_" and
contributed nothing intelligent to the conversation, she could not accept
as the detached lady invited by me to charm my two male guests. She was
then driven to the former hypothesis. Madame Patou belonged in some way to
the man by whose side she was not seated.

Of course, there was another alternative. I might have been responsible for
the poor lady. But she was as artless as a poor lady could be. Addressing
my two friends it was always Andre and Horace, and instinctively she used
the familiar "_tu_." Addressing me she had affrightedly forgotten the
pact of Christian names, and it was "Monsieur le Capitaine" and, of course,
the "_vous_" which she had never dreamed of changing. Even so poor a
French scholar as Lady Auriol could not be misled into such absurd paths of

She belonged therefore, in some sort of fashion, to General Lackaday. An
elderly man of the world, with his nerves on edge, has no need of wizardry
to divine the psychology of such a situation.

Mistress of social forms, Lady Auriol, after sweeping Elodie into her net,
caught Horatio Bakkus and through reference to her own hospital experiences
during the war, wrung from him the avowal of his concerts for the wounded
in Paris.

"How splendid of you! By the way, how do you spell your name? It's an
uncommon one."

"With two k's."

"I wonder if you have anything to do with an old friend of my fattier,
Archdeacon Bakkus?"

"My eldest brother."

"No, really? One of my earliest recollections is his buying a prize boar
from my father."

"Just like the dear fellow's prodigality," said Bakkus. "He had a whole
Archdeaconry to his hand for nothing. I've lately spent a couple of months
with him in Westmorland, so I know."

"How small the world is," said Lady Auriol to Lackaday.

"Too small," said he.

"Oh," said Auriol blankly.

"Have you seen our good friends, the Verity-Stewarts lately?"

She had. They were in perfect health. They were wondering what had become
of him.

"And indeed, General," she flashed, "what _has_ become of you?"

"It is not good," said Elodie, in quick anticipation, "that the General
should neglect his English friends."

There sounded the note of proprietorship, audible to anybody. Auriol's eyes
dwelt for a second on Elodie; then she turned to Lackaday.

"Madame Patou is quite right."

Said he, with one of his rare flights into imagery, "I was but a shooting
star across the English firmament."

"Encore une etoile qui file,
File, file et disparait!"

"Oh no, my dear friend," laughed Bakkus. "He can't persuade us, Lady
Auriol, that he is afflicted with the morbidezza of 1830."

"_Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela?_" asked Elodie, sharply.

"It was a fashion long ago, my dear, for poets to assume the gaiety of a
funeral. Even Beranger who wrote _Le Roi d'Yvetot_--you know it--"

"Naturally, '_Il etait un roi d'Yvetot!_'"--cried Elodie, who had
learned it at school.

"Well--of course. Even Beranger could not escape the malady of
his generation. Do you remember"--his swift glance embraced us
all--"Longfellow's criticism of European poets of that epoch, in his prose
masterpiece, _Hyperion?_ He refers to Salis and Matthisson, but
Lamartine and people of his kidney come in--'Melancholy gentlemen' pardon,
my dear Elodie, if I quote it in English--'Melancholy gentlemen to whom
life was only a dismal swamp, upon whose margin they walked with cambric
handkerchiefs in their hands, sobbing and sighing and making signals to
Death to come and ferry them over the lake.' _Cela veut dire_," he
made a marvellous French paraphrase for Elodie's benefit.

"_Comprends pas_," she shrugged at the boredom of literary allusion.
"I don't see what all that has to do with Andre. I shall see, Mademoiselle,
that he writes to his friends."

"You will be doing them a great service, Madame," replied Auriol.

There was a stiff silence. If Bakkus had stuck to his intention of driving
the conversation away from embarrassing personal questions, instead of
being polite to Elodie, we should have been spared this freezing moment of
self-consciousness. I asked Auriol whether she had had a pleasant journey,
and we discussed the discomfort of trains. From then to the end of the meal
the conversation halted. It was a relief to rise and fall into groups as we
strolled down the terrace to coffee. I manoeuvred Elodie and Bakkus to the
front leaving Auriol and Lackaday to follow. I sought a table at the far
end, for coffee; but when I turned round, I discovered that the pair had
descended by the mid-way flight of three or four steps to the grass-plotted
and fountained terrace below.

We sat down. Elodie asked:

"Who is that lady?"

I explained as best I could. "She is the daughter of an English nobleman,
whence her title. The way to address her is 'Lady Auriol.' She did lots of
work during the war, work of hospital organization in France, and now she
is still working for France. I have known her since she was three years
old; so she is a very great friend of mine."

Her eyes wandered to the bit of red thatched head and the gleam of the
crown of a white hat just visible over the balustrade.

"She appears also to be a great friend of Andre."

"The General met many charming ladies during his stay in England," I lied

"Which means," she said with a toss of her head and an ironical smile,
"that the General behaved like a real--who was it, Horace, who loved
women so much? _Ah oui_--like a real Don Juan." She wagged her plump
forefinger. "Oh no, I know my Andre."

"I could tell you stories--" said I.

"Which would not be true."

She laughed in a forced way--and her eyes again sought the tops of the
couple promenading in the sunshine. She resumed her catechism.

"How old is she?"

"I don't know exactly."

"But since you have known her since she was three years old?"

"If I began to count years at my time of life," said I, "I should die of

"She looks about thirty. Wouldn't you say so, Horace? It is droll that she
has not married. Why?"

"Before the war she was a great traveller. She has been by herself all over
the world in all sorts of places among wild tribes and savages. She has
been far too busy to think of marriage."

Elodie looked incredulous. "One has always one's _moments perdus._"

"One doesn't marry in odd moments," said I.

"You and Horace are old bachelors who know nothing at all about it. Tell
me. Is she very rich?"

"None of our old families are very rich nowadays," I replied, rather at
a loss to account, save on the score of feminine curiosity, for this
examination. If it had not been for her mother who left her a small fortune
of a thousand or so a year, Auriol would have been as penniless as her two
married sisters. Her brother, Lord Vintrey, once a wastrel subaltern of
Household Cavalry, and, after a dashing, redeeming war record, now an
expensive Lieutenant-Colonel, ate up all the ready money that Lord
Mountshire could screw out of his estates. With Elodie I could not enter
into these explanations.

"All the same she is passably rich," Elodie persisted. "One does not buy a
costume like that under five hundred francs."

The crimson vested and sashed and tarbooshed Algerian negro brought the
coffee, and poured out the five cups. We sipped. I noticed Elodie's hand

"If their coffee gets cold, so much the worse."

Bakkus, who had maintained a discreet silence hitherto, remarked:--

"Unless Andrew's head is particularly thick, he'll get a sunstroke in this
blazing sun."

"That's true," cried Elodie and, rising with a great scraping of chair, she
rushed to the balustrade and addressed him shrilly.

"_Mais dis donc Andre, tu veux attraper un coup de soleil?_"

We heard his voice in reply: "_Nous rentrons_."

A few moments afterwards they mounted from the lower terrace and
came towards us. Lackaday's face was set in one of its tight-lipped
expressionless moods. Lady Auriol's cheek was flushed, and though she
smiled conventional greeting, her eyes were very serious.

"I am sorry to have put into danger the General's health, madame," said she
in her clear and British French. "But when two comrades of the Great War
meet for the first time, one is forgetful."

She gave me a little sign rejecting the offered coffee. Lackaday took his
cup and drank it off at one gulp. He looked at his wrist watch, the only
remaining insignia of the British soldier.

"Time for our tram, Elodie."

"_C'est vrai?_" He held his wrist towards her. "_Oui, mon Dieu!
Miladi--_" She funked the difficult "Lady Auriol."

"_Au revoir, Madame,_" said Auriol shaking hands.

"_Trop honoree,_" said Elodie, somewhat defiantly. "_Au revoir,
Miladi._" She made an awkward little bow. "_Et toi,_" she extended
a careless left hand to Bakkus.

"I will see you to the lift," said I.

We walked down the terrace in silence to the _salon_ door just inside
which was the lift which took one down some four stories to the street.
Two things were obvious: the perturbation of the simple Lackaday and the
jealousy of Elodie.

"_Au revoir, monsieur, et merci,_" she said, with over emphasized
politeness, as we stood at the lift gates.

"Good-bye, old chap," said Lackaday and gripped my hand hard.

As soon as I returned to the end of the terrace, Bakkus rose and took his
leave. Auriol and I were alone. Of course other humans were clustering
round tables all the length of the terrace. But we had our little end
corner to ourselves. I sat down next to her.

"Well?" said I.

She bent forward, and her face was that of the woman whom I had met in the
rain and mud and stark reality of the war.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Chapter XX

If a glance could destroy, if Lady Auriol had been a Gorgon or a basilisk
or a cockatrice, then had I been a slain Anthony Hylton.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

The far-flung gesture of her arm ending in outspread fingers might have
been that of Elodie.

"Tell you what, my dear?" said I.

"The whole wretched tragedy. I came to you a year ago with my heart in
my hand--the only human creature living who I thought could help me. And
you've let me down like this. It's damnable!"

"An honourable man," said I, nettled, "doesn't betray confidences."

"An honourable man! I like that! I gave you my confidences. Haven't you
betrayed them?"

"Not a bit," said I. "Not the faintest hint of what you have said to me
have I whispered into the ear of man or woman."

She fumed. "If you had, you would be--unmentionable."

"Precisely. And I should have been equally undeserving of mention, if I had
told you of the secret, or double, or ex-war--however you like to describe
it--life of our friend."

"The thing is not on all fours," she said with a snap of her fingers. "You
could have given me the key to the mystery--such as it is. You could have
prevented me from making a fool of myself. You could, Tony. From the very

"At the very start, I knew little more than you did. Nothing save that he
was bred in a circus, where I met him thirty years ago. I knew nothing more
of his history till this April, when he told me he was Petit Patpu of the
music-halls. His confidence has been given me bit by bit. The last time
I saw you I had never heard of Madame Patou. It was you that guessed the
woman in his life. I had no idea whether you were right or wrong."

"Yet you could have given me a hint--the merest hint--without betraying
confidences--as you call it," she mouthed my phrase ironically. "It was not
playing the game."

"I gathered," said I, "that playing the game was what both of you had
decided to do, in view of the obviously implied lady in the background."

"Well?" she challenged.

"If it's a question of playing the game"--I had carried the war into the
enemy's quarters--"may I repeat my original rude question this morning?
What the devil are you doing here?"

She turned on me in a fury. "How dare you insinuate such a thing?"

"You've not come to Royat for the sake of my beautiful eyes."

"I'm under no obligation to tell you why I've come to Royat. Let us say my
liver's out of order."

"Then my dear," said I, "you have come to the wrong place to cure it."

She glanced at me wrathfully, took out a cigarette, waved away with an
unfriendly gesture the briquette I had drawn from my pocket, and struck one
of her own matches. There fell a silence, during which I sat back in my
chair, my arms on the elbow and my fingers' tips joined together, and
assumed an air of philosophic meditation.

Presently she said: "There are times, Tony, when I should like to kill

"I am glad," said I, "to note the resumption of human relations."

"You are always so pragmatically and priggishly correct," she said.

"My dear," said I, "if you want me to sympathize with you in this
impossible situation, I'll do it with all my heart. But don't round on me
for either bringing it about or not preventing it."

"I was anxious to know something about Andrew Lackaday--I don't care
whether you think me a fool or not"--she was still angry and defiant--"I
wrote you pointedly. You did not answer my letter. I wrote again reminding
you of your lack of courtesy. You replied like a pretty fellow in a morning
coat at the Foreign Office and urbanely ignored my point."

She puffed indignantly. The terrace began to be deserted. There was a
gap of half a dozen tables between us and the next group. The flamboyant
Algerian removed the coffee cups. When we were alone again, I reiterated
my explanation. At every stage of my knowledge I was held in the bond of
secrecy. Lackaday's sensitive soul dreaded, more than all the concentrated
high-explosive bombardment of the whole of the late German Army, the
possibility of Lady Auriol knowing him as the second-rate music-hall

"You are the woman of his dreams," said I. "You're an unapproachable star
in mid ether, or whatever fanciful lover's image you like to credit him
with. The only thing for his salvation was to make a clean cut. Don't you

"That's all very pretty," said Auriol. "But what about me? A clean cut you
call it? A man cuts a woman in half and goes off to his own life and thinks
he has committed an act of heroic self-sacrifice!"

I put my hand on hers. "My dear child," said I, "if Andrew Lackaday thought
you were eating out your heart for him he would be the most flabbergasted
creature in the world."

She bent her capable eyes on me. "That's a bit dogmatic, isn't it? May I
ask if you have any warrant for what you're saying?"

"In his own handwriting."

I gave a brief account of the manuscript.

"Where is it?" she asked eagerly.

"In my safe in London--I'm sorry----"

In indignation she flashed: "I wouldn't read a word of it."

"Of course not," said I. "Nor would I put it into your hands without
Lackaday's consent. Anyhow, that's my authority and warrant."

She threw the stub of her cigarette across the terrace and went back to the
original cry:

"Oh Tony, if you had only given me some kind of notion!"

"I've tried to prove to you that I couldn't."

"I suppose not," she admitted wearily.

"Men have their standards. Forgive me if I've been unreasonable."

When a woman employs her last weapon, her confession of unreason, and
demands forgiveness, what can a man do but proclaim himself the worm that
he is? We went through a pretty scene of reconciliation.

"And now," said I, "what did Lackaday, in terms of plain fact, tell you
down there?"

She told me. Apparently he had given her a precis of his life's history
amazingly on the lines of a concentrated military despatch.

"Lady Auriol," said he, as soon as they were out of earshot, "you are here
by some extraordinary coincidence. In a few hours you will be bound to hear
all about me which I desired you never to know. It is best that I should
tell you myself, at once."

It was extraordinary what she had learned from him in those few minutes.
He had gone on remorselessly, in his staccato manner, as if addressing a
parade, which I knew so well, putting before her the dry yet vital facts of
his existence.

"I knew there was a woman--wife and children--what does it matter? I told
you," she said. "But--oh God!" She smote her hands together hopelessly,
fist into palm. "I never dreamed of anything like this."

"I am in a position to give you chapter and verse for it all," said I.

"Oh I know," she said, dejectedly, and the vivid flower that was Auriol,
in a mood of dejection, suggested nothing more in the world than a
drought-withered hybiscus--her colour had faded, the sweeping fulness
of her drooped, her twenties caught the threatening facial lines of her
forties--what can I say more? The wilting of a tropical bloom--that was her
attitude--the sap and the life all gone.

"Oh I know. There's nothing vulgar about it. It goes back into the years.
But still ..."

"Yes, yes, my dear," said I, quickly. "I understand."

We were alone now on the terrace. Far away, a waiter hung over the
balustrade, listening to the band playing in the Park below. But for the
noise of the music, all was still on the breathless August air. Presently
she drew her palms over her face.

"I'm dog-tired."

"That abominable night journey," said I, sympathetically.

"I sat on a _strapontin_ in the corridor, all night," she said.

"But, my dear, what madness!" I cried horrified, although in the war she
had performed journeys compared with which this would be the luxury of
travel. "Why didn't you book a _coupe-lit_, even a seat, beforehand?"

She smiled dismally. "I only made up my mind yesterday morning. I got it
into my head that you knew everything there was to be known about Andrew

"But how did you get it?"

My question was one of amazement. No man had more out-rivalled an oyster in

It appeared that I suffered from the defects of my qualities. I had been
over-diplomatic. My innocence had been too bland for my worldly years. My
evasions had proclaimed me suspect. My criticism of Royat made my fear of a
chance visit from her so obvious. My polite hope that I should see her in
Paris on my way back, rubbed in it. If there had been no bogies about,
and Royat had been the Golgotha of my picture, would not my well-known
selfishness, when I heard she was at a loose end in August Paris, have
summoned her with a "Do for Heaven's sake come and save me from these
selected candidates for burial?" I had done it before, in analogous
circumstances, I at Nauheim, she at Nuremberg. No. It was, on the contrary:
"For Heaven's sake don't come near me. I'll see you in Paris if by
misfortune you happen to be there."

"My dear," said I, "didn't it occur to you that your astuteness might be
overreaching itself and that you might find me here--well--in the not
infrequent position of a bachelor man who desires to withdraw himself from
the scrutiny of his acquaintance?"

She broke into disconcerting laughter.

"You? Tony?"

"Hang it all!" I cried angrily, "I'm not eighty yet!"

However virtuous a man may be, he resents the contemptuous denial to his
claim to be a potential libertine.

She laughed again; then sobered down and spoke soothingly to me. Perhaps
she did me injustice, but such a thing had never entered her mind engaged
as it was with puzzlement over Lackaday. When people are afflicted with
fixed ideas, they grow perhaps telepathic. Otherwise she could not account
for her certainty that I could give her some information. She knew that I
would not write. What was a flying visit--a night's journey to Royat? In
her wander years, she had travelled twelve hours to a place and twelve back
in order to buy a cabbage. Her raid on me was nothing so wonderful.

"So certain was I," she said, "that you were hiding things from me, that
when I saw him this morning at your table, I was scarcely surprised."

"My dear Auriol," said I, when she had finished the psychological sketch of
her flight from Paris, "I think the man who unlearned most about women as
the years went on, was Methuselah."

"A woman only puts two and two together and makes it five. It's as simple
as that."

"No," said I, "the damnable complex mystery of it, to a man's mind, is that
five should be the right answer."

She dismissed the general proposition with a shrug.

"Well, there it is. I was miserable--I've been miserable for months--I was
hung up in Paris. I had this impulse, intuition--call it what you like. I
came--I saw--and I wish to goodness I hadn't!"

"I wasn't so wrong after all, then," I suggested mildly.

She laughed, this time mirthlessly. "I should have taken it for a warning.
Blue Beard's chamber...."

We were silent for a while. The waiters came scurrying down with trays and
cloths and cups to set the little tables for tea. The western sun had burst
below the awning and flooded half the length of the terrace with light
leaving us by the wall just a strip of shade.

I said as gently as I could: "When you two parted in April, I thought you
recognized it as final."

"It would have been, if only I had known," she said.

"Known what?"

She answered me with weary impatience.

"Anything definite. If he had gone to his death I could have borne it. If
he had gone to any existence to which I had a clue, I could have borne it.
But don't you see?" she cried, with a swift return of vitality. "Here was
a man whom any woman would be proud to love--a strong thing of flesh and
blood--disappearing into the mist. I said something heroical to him about
the creatures of the old legends. One talks high-falutin' nonsense at
times. But I didn't realize the truth of it till afterwards. A woman, even
though it hurts her like the devil, prefers to keep a mental grip of a man.
He's there--in Paris, Bombay, Omaha, with his wife and family, doing this,
that and the other. He's still alive. He's still in some kind of human
relation with you. You grind your teeth and say that it's all in the day's
work. You know where you are. But when a man fades out of your life like
a wraith--well--you don't know where you are. It has been maddening--the
ghastly seriousness of it. I've done my best to keep sane. I'm a woman with
a lot of physical energy--I've run it for all it's worth. But this uncanny
business got on my nerves. If the man had not cared for me, I would have
kicked myself into sense. But--oh, it's no use talking about that--it goes
without saying. Besides you know as well as I do. You've already told me.
Well then, you have it. The man I loved, the man who loved me, goes and
disappears, like the shooting star he talked about, into space. I've done
all sorts of fool things to get on his track, just to know. At last I came
to you. But I had no notion of running him down in the flesh. You're sure
of that, Tony, aren't you?"

The Diana in her flashed from candid eyes.

"Naturally," I answered. How could she know that Lackaday was here?
I asked, in order to get to the bottom of this complicated emotional

"But didn't you ever think of writing--oh, as a friend of course--to
Lackaday, care of War Office, Cox's...?"

She retorted: "I'm not a sloppy school-girl, my friend."

"Quite so," said I. I paused, while the waiter brought tea. "And now that
there's no longer any mystery?"

Her bosom rose with a sigh.

"I mourn my mystery, Tony."

She poured out tea. I passed the uninspiring food that accompanied it. We
conversed in a lower key of tension. At last she said:

"If I don't walk, I'll break something."

A few moments afterwards we were in the street. She drew the breath of one
suffering from exhausted air.

"Let us go up a hill."

Why the ordinary human being should ever desire to walk up hill I have
never been able to discover. For me, the comfortable places. But with Lady
Auriol the craving was symbolical of character. I agreed.

"Choose the least inaccessible," I pleaded.

We mounted the paths through the vines. At the top, we sat down. I wiped
a perspiring brow. She filled her lungs with the air stirred by a faint

"Whereabouts is this circus?" she asked suddenly.

I told her, waving a hand in the direction of Clermont-Ferrand.

"How far?"

"About two or three miles."

"I'll go there this evening," she announced calmly.


I nearly jumped off the wooden bench.

"My dear Auriol," said I, "my heart's dicky. You oughtn't to spring things
like that on me."

"I don't see where the shock comes in. Why shouldn't I go to a circus if I
want to?"

"It's your wanting to go that astonishes me."

"You're very easily surprised," she remarked. "You ought to take something
for it."

"Possibly," said I. "But why on earth do you want to see the wretched
Lackaday make a fool of himself?"

"If you take it that way," she said icily, "I'm sorry I mentioned it. I
could have gone without your being a whit the wiser."

I lifted my shoulders. "After all, it's entirely your affair. You talked
a while ago about mourning your mystery--which suggested a not altogether
unpoetical frame of mind."

"There s no poetry at all about it," she declared. "That's all gone. We've
come to facts. I'm going to get all the facts. Crucify myself with facts,
if you like. That's the only way to get at Truth."

When a woman of Auriol's worth talks like this, one feels ashamed to
counter her with platitudes of worldly wisdom. She was going to the Cirque
Vendramin. Nothing short of an Act of God could prevent her. I sat helpless
for a few moments. At last, taking advantage of a gleam of common sense, I

"It's all very well for you to try to get to the bedrock of things. But
what about Lackaday?"

"He's not to know."

"He'll have to know," I insisted warmly. "The circus tent is but a small
affair. You'll be there under his nose." I followed the swift change on her
face. "Of course--if you don't care if he sees you..."

She flashed: "You don't suppose I'm capable of such cruelty!"

"Of course not," said I.

She looked over at the twin spires of the cathedral beneath which the town
slumbered in the blue mist of the late afternoon.

"Thanks, Tony," she said presently. "I didn't think of it. I should
naturally have gone to the best seats, which would have been fatal. But
I've been in many circuses. There's always the top row at the back, next
the canvas...."

"My dear good child," I cried, "you couldn't go up there among the lowest
rabble of Clermont-Ferrand!"

She glanced at me in pity and sighed indulgently.

"You talk as if you had been born a hundred years ago, and had never heard
of--still less gone through--the late war. What the----" she paused, then
thrust her face into mine, so that when she spoke I felt her breath on
my cheek, "What the _Hell_ do you think I care about the rabble of

That she would walk undismayed into a den of hyenas or Bolsheviks or
Temperance Reformers or any other benighted savages I was perfectly aware.
That she would be perfectly able to fend for herself I have no doubt.
But still, among the uneducated dregs of the sugar-less, match-less,
tobacco-less populace of a French provincial town who attributed most
of their misfortunes to the grasping astuteness of England, we were not
peculiarly beloved.

This I explained to her, while she continued to smile pityingly. It was all
the more incentive to adventure. If I had assured her that she would be
torn limb from limb, like an inconvincible aristocrat flaunting abroad
during the early days of the French Revolution, she would have grown
enthusiastic. Finally, in desperation because, in my own way, I was fond of
Auriol, I put down a masculine and protecting foot.

"You're not going there without me, anyhow," said I.

"I've been waiting for that polite offer for the last half hour," she

What I said, I said to myself--to the midmost self of my inmost being. I
am not going to tell you what it was. This isn't the secret history of my

A cloud came up over the shoulder of the hills. We descended to the
miniature valley of Royat.

"It's going to rain," I said.

"Let it," said Auriol unconcerned.

Then began as dreary an evening as I ever have spent.

We dined, long before anybody else, in a tempest of rain which sent down
the thermometer Heaven knows how many degrees. Half-way through dinner we
were washed from the terrace into the empty dining-room. There was thunder
and lightning _ad libitum._

"A night like this--it's absurd," said I.

"The absurder the better," she replied. "You stay at home, Tony dear.
You're a valetudinarian. I'll look after myself."

But this could not be done. I have my obstinacies as mulish as other

"If you go, I go."

"As you have, according to your pampered habit, bought a car from now till
midnight, I don't see how we can fail to keep dry and warm."

I had no argument left. Of course, I hate to swallow an early and rapid
dinner. One did such things in the war, gladly dislocating an elderly
digestion in the service of one's country. In peace time one demands
a compensating leisure. But this would be comprehensible only to a
well-trained married woman. My misery would have been outside Auriol's
ken. I meekly said nothing. The world of young women knows nothing of its
greatest martyrs.

When it starts thundering and lightening in Royat, it goes on for
hours. The surrounding mountains play an interminable game of which the
thunderbolt is the football. They make an infernal noise about it, and the
denser the deluge the more they exult.

Amid the futile flashes and silly thunderings--no man who has been under an
intensive bombardment can have any respect left for the pitiful foolery of
a thunderstorm--and a drenching downpour of rain (which is solid business
on the part of Nature) we scuttled from the hired car to the pay-desk of
the circus. We were disguised in caps and burberrys, and Lady Auriol had
procured a black veil from some shop in Royat. We paid our fifty centimes
and entered the vast emptiness of the tent. We were far too early, finding
only half a dozen predecessors. We climbed to the remotest Alpine height of
benches. The wet, cold canvas radiated rheumatism into our backs. A steady
drip from the super-saturated tent above us descended on our heads and down
our necks. Auriol buttoned the collar of her burberry and smiled through
her veil.

"It's like old times."

"Old times be anythinged," said I, vainly trying to find comfort on six
inches of rough boarding.

"It's awfully good of you to come, Tony," she said after a while. "You
can't think what a help it is to have you with me."

"If you think to mollify me with honeyed words," said I, "you have struck
the wrong animal."

It is well to show a woman, now and then, that you are not entirely her

She laid her hand on mine. "I mean it, dear. Really. Do you suppose I'm
having an evening out?"

We continued the intimate sparring bout for a while longer. Then we lapsed
into silence and watched the place gradually fill with the populace of
Clermont-Ferrand. The three top tiers soon became crowded. The rest were
but thinly peopled. But there was a sufficient multitude of garlic-eating,
unwashed humanity, to say nothing of the natural circus smell, to fill
unaccustomed nostrils with violent sensations. A private soldier is a
gallant fellow, and ordinarily you feel a comfortable sense of security in
his neighbourhood; but when he is wet through and steaming, the fastidious
would prefer the chance of perils. And there were many steaming warriors
around us.

There we sat, at any rate, wedged in a mass as vague and cohesive as
chocolate creams running into one another. I had beside me a fat, damp lady
whose wet umbrella dripped into my shoes. Lady Auriol was flanked by a
lean, collarless man in a cloth-cap who made sarcastic remarks to soldier
friends on the tier below on the capitalist occupiers of the three-franc
seats. The dreadful circus band began to blare. The sudden and otherwise
unheralded entrance of a lady on a white horse followed by the ring master
made us realize that the performance had begun. The show ran its course.
The clowns went through their antiquated antics to the delight of the
simple folk by whom we were surrounded. A child did a slack wire act,
waving a Japanese umbrella over her head. Some acrobats played about on
horizontal bars. We both sat forward on our narrow bench, elbows on knees
and face in hands, saying nothing, practically seeing nothing, aware
only of a far off, deep down, infernal pit in which was being played the
Orcagnesque prelude to a bizarre tragedy. I, who had gone through the
programme before, yet suffered the spell of Auriol's suspense. Long before
she had thrown aside the useless veil. In these dim altitudes no one could
be recognized from the ring. Her knuckles were bent into her cheeks and her
eyes were staring down into that pit of despair. We had no programme; I had
not retained in my head the sequence of turns. Now it was all confused. The
pervasive clowns alone seemed to give what was happening below a grotesque

Suddenly the ring was empty for a second. Then with exaggerated strides
marched in a lean high-heeled monster in green silk tights reaching to his
armpits, topped with a scarlet wig ending in a foot high point. He wore
white cotton gloves dropping an inch from the finger tips, and he carried
a fiddle apparently made out of a cigar box and a broom handle. His face
painted red and white was made up into an idiot grin. He opened his mouth
at the audience, who applauded mildly.

Lady Auriol still sat in her bemused attitude of suspense. I watched her
perplexedly for a second or two, and then I saw she had not recognized him.
I said:

"That's Lackaday."

She gasped. Sat bolt upright, and uttered an "Oh-h!" a horrible little
moan, not quite human, almost that of a wounded animal, and her face was
stricken into tense ugliness. Her hand, stretched out instinctively, found
mine and held it in an iron grip. She said in a quavering voice:

"I wish I hadn't come."

"I wish I could get you out," said I.

She shook her head.

"No, no. It would be giving myself away. I must see it through."

She drew a deep breath, relinquished my hand, turned to me with an attempt
at a smile.

"I'm all right now. Don't worry."

She sat like a statue during the performance. It was quite a different
performance from the one I had seen a few days before. It seemed to fail
not only in the magnetic contact between artist and audience, but in
technical perfection. And Elodie, whom I had admired as a vital element in
this combination, so alive, so smiling, so reponsive, appeared a merely
mechanical figure, an exactly regulated automaton.

My heart sank into my shoes, already chilled with the drippings of my fat
neighbour's umbrella. If Lackaday had burst out on Lady Auriol as the
triumphant, exquisite artist, there might, in spite of the unheroic
travesty of a man in which he was invested, have been some cause for pride
in extraordinary, crowd-compelling achievement. The touch of genius is
a miraculous solvent. But here was something second-rate, third-rate,
half-hearted--though I, who knew, saw that the man was sweating blood
to exceed his limitations. Here was merely an undistinguished turn in a
travelling circus which folk like Lady Auriol Dayne only visited in idle
moods of good-humoured derision.

He went through it not quite to the bitter end, for I noted that he cut
out the finale of the elongated violin. There was perfunctory applause, a
perfunctory call. After he had made his bow, hand in hand with Elodie, he
retired in careless silence and was nearly knocked down by the reappearing
lady on the broad white horse.

"Let us go," said Auriol.

We threaded our way down the break-neck tiers of seats and eventually
emerged into the open air. Our hired car was waiting. The full moon shone
down in a clear sky in the amiable way that the moon has--as though she
said with an intimate smile--"My dear fellow--clouds? Rain? I never heard
of such a thing. You must be suffering from some delusion. I've been
shining on you like this for centuries." I made a casual reference to the
beauty of the night.

"It ought to be still raining," said Lady Auriol.

We drove back to Royat in silence. I racked my brains for something to say,
but everything that occurred to me seemed the flattest of uncomforting

Well, it was her affair entirely. If she had given me some opening I might
have responded sympathetically. But there she sat by my side in the car,
rigid and dank. For all that I could gather from her attitude, some iron
had entered into her soul. She was a dead woman.

The car stopped at the hotel door. We entered. A few yards down the hall
the lift waited. We went up together. I shall never forget the look on her
face. I shall always associate it with the picture of Mrs. Siddons as the
Tragic Muse. The lift stopped at my floor. Her room was higher.

I bade her good night.

She wrung my hand. "Good night, Tony, and my very grateful thanks."

I slipped out and watched her whisked, an inscrutable mystery, upwards.

Chapter XXI

The first sign of commotion in the morning was a note from Bakkus, whose
turn it was to act as luncheon host. Our friends at Clermont-Ferrand, said
he, had cried off. They had also asked him to go over and see them. Would
I be so kind as to regard this as a _dies non_ in the rota of our
pleasant gatherings?

I dressed and bought some flowers, which I sent up to Lady Auriol with a
polite message. The chasseur returned saying that Miladi had gone out about
half an hour before.

"You don't mean that she has left the hotel with her luggage?"

The boy smiled reassurance. She had only gone for a walk. I breathed
freely. It would have been just like her to go off by the first train.

I suffered my treatment, drank my glasses of horrible water and again
enquired at the hotel for Lady Auriol. She had not yet returned. Having
nothing to do, I took my _Moniteur du Puy de Dome_, which I had not
read, to the cafe which commands a view of the park gates and the general
going and coming of Royat. Presently, from the tram terminus I saw
advancing the familiar gaunt figure of Lackaday. I was glad, I scarcely
knew why, to note that he wore a grey soft felt instead of the awful straw
hat. I rose to greet him, and invited him to my table.

"I would join you with pleasure," said he, "but I am thinking of paying my
respects to Lady Auriol."

When I told him that he would not find her, he sat down. We could keep an
eye on the hotel entrance, I remarked.

"Our lunch with Bakkus is off," said I.

"Yes. I'm sorry. I rang him up early this morning. Elodie isn't quite
herself to-day."

"The thunder last night, perhaps."

He nodded. "Women have nerves."

That something had happened was obvious. I remembered last night's
half-hearted performance.

"By the way," said I, "Bakkus mentioned in his note that he was going over
to Clermont-Ferrand to see you."

"Yes," said Lackaday, "I left him there. He has marvellous tact and
influence when he chooses to exert them. A man thrown away on the
trivialities of life. He was born to be a Cardinal. I'm so glad you have
taken to him."

I murmured mild eulogy of Bakkus. We spoke idly of his beautiful voice.
Conversation languished, Lackaday's eyes being turned to the entrance of
the hotel some fifty yards away up the sloping street.

"I'm anxious not to miss Lady Auriol," he said at last. "It will be my only
chance of seeing her. We're off to-morrow."


"Our engagement ends to-night. We're due at Vichy next week."

I had not realized the flight of the pleasant days. But yet--I was puzzled.
Yesterday there had been no talk of departure. I mentioned my surprise.

"I have ended the engagement of my own accord," said he. "The management
had engaged another star turn for to-day--overlapping mine. A breach of
contract which gave me the excuse for terminating it. I don't often stand
on the vain dignity of the so-called artist, but this time I've been glad
to do so."

"The atmosphere of the circus is scarcely congenial," said I.

"That's it. I'm too big for my boots, or my head's too big for my hat. And
the management are not sorry to save a few days' salary."

"But during these few days----?"

"We wait at Vichy."

He spoke woodenly, his lined face set hard.

"I shall miss you tremendously, my dear fellow," said I.

"I shall miss your company even more," said he.

"We won't, at any rate, say good-bye to-day," I ventured. "There are cars
to be hired, and Vichy from the car point of view is close by."

"You, my dear Hylton, I shall be delighted to see."

The emphasis on the pronoun would have rendered his meaning clear to even a
more obtuse man than myself. No Lady Auriols flaunting over to Vichy.

"May I ask when you came to this decision?" I enquired. "Bakkus's note
suggested only a postponement of our meeting."

"Last night," said he. "That's one reason why I sent for Bakkus."

"I see," said I. But I did not tell him what I saw. It looked as though the
gallant fellow were simply running away.

Soon afterwards, to my great relief, there came Lady Auriol swinging along
on the other side of the pavement. The cafe, you must know, forms a corner.
To the left, the park and the tram terminus; to the right, the street
leading to the post office and then dwindling away vaguely up the hill. It
was along this street that Lady Auriol came, short-skirted, flushed with
exercise, rather dusty and dishevelled. I stood and waved an arresting
hand. She hesitated for a second and then crossed the road and met us
outside the cafe. I offered a seat at our table within. She declined with a
gesture. We all stood for a while and then went diagonally over to the park

"I've been such a walk," she declared. "Miles and miles--through beautiful
country and picturesque villages. You ought to explore. It's worth it."

"I know the district of old," said Lackaday.

"I'm tremendously struck with the beauty of the women of Auvergne."

"They're the pure type of old Gaul," said Lackaday.

She put up a hand to straying hair. "I'm falling to pieces. I have but two
desires in the world--a cold bath and food. Perhaps I shall see you later."

He stood unflinching, like a soldier condemned for crime. I wondered at her
indifference. He said:

"Unfortunately I can't have that pleasure. My engagements take up the rest
of the day, and tomorrow I leave Clermont-Ferrand. I shan't have another
opportunity of seeing you."

Their eyes met and his, calm yet full of pain, dominated. She thrust her
hand through my arm.

"Very well then, let us get into the shade."

We entered the park, found an empty bench beneath the trees and sat down,
Auriol between us. She said:

"Do you mean at Royat or in the world in general?"

"Perhaps the latter."

She laughed queerly. "As chance has thrown us together here, it will
possibly do the same somewhere else."

"My sphere isn't yours," said he. "If it hadn't been for the accident of
Hylton being here, we should not have met now."

"Captain Hylton had nothing to do with it," she said warmly. "I had no
notion that you were at Clermont-Ferrand."

"I'm quite aware of that, Lady Auriol."

She flushed, vexed at having said a foolish thing.

"And Captain Hylton had no notion that I was coming."

"Perfectly," said Lackaday.

"Well?" she said after a pause.

"I came over to Royat, this morning," said Lackaday, "to call on you and
bid you good-bye."

"Why?" she asked in a low voice.

"It appeared to be ordinary courtesy."

"Was there anything particular you wanted to say to me?"

"Perhaps to supplement just the little I could tell you yesterday

"Captain Hylton supplemented it after you left. Oh, he was very discreet.
But there were a few odds and ends that needed straightening out. If you
had been frank with me from the beginning, there would have been no need
of it. As it was, I had to clear everything up. If I had known exactly. I
should not have gone to the circus last night."

His eyelids fluttered like those of a man who has received a bullet through
him, and his mouth set grimly.

"You might have spared me that," said he. He bent forward. "Hylton, why did
you let her do it?"

"I might just as well have tried to stop the thunder," said I, seeing no
reason why this young woman should not bear the blame for her folly.

"A circus is a comfortless place of entertainment," he said, in the
familiar, even voice. "I wish it had been a proper theatre. What did you
think of the performance?"

She straightened herself upright, turned and looked at him; then looked
away in front of her: a sharp breath or two caused a little convulsive
heave of her bosom; to my astonishment I saw great tears run down her
cheeks on to her hands tightly clasped on her lap. As soon as she realized
it, she dashed her hands roughly over her eyes. Lackaday ventured the tip
of his finger on her sleeve.

"It's a sorry show, isn't it? I'm not very proud of myself. But perhaps you
understand now why I left you in ignorance."

"Yet you told Anthony. Why not me?"

I was about to rise, this being surely a matter for them to battle out
between themselves, but I at once felt her powerful grip on my arm. Whether
she was afraid of herself or of Lackaday, I did not know. Anyway, I seemed
to represent to her some kind of human dummy which could be used, at need,
as a sentimental buffer.

"I presume," she continued, "I was quite as intimate a friend as Anthony?"

"Quite," said he. "But Hylton's a man and you're a woman. There can be no
comparison. You are on different planes of sentiment. For instance, Hylton,
loyal friend as he is, has not to my knowledge done me the honour of
shedding tears over Petit Patou."

I felt horribly out of place on the bench in this public leafy park, beside
these two warring lovers. But it was most humanly interesting. Lackaday
seemed to be reinvested with the dignity of the man as I had first met him,
a year ago.

"Anthony--" I could not help feeling that her repeated change of her term
of reference to me, from the formal Captain Hylton to my Christian name,
sprang from an instinctive desire to put herself on more intimate terms
with Lackaday--"Anthony," she said in her defiant way, "would have cried,
if he could."

Lackaday's features relaxed into his childlike smile.

"Ah," said he, "'The little more and how much it is. The little less and
how far away.'"

She was silent. Although the situation was painful, I could not help
feeling the ironical satisfaction that she was getting the worst of the
encounter. I was glad, because I thought she had treated him cruelly. The
unprecedented tears, however, were signs of grace. Yet the devil in her
suggested a _riposte_.

"I hope Madame Patou is quite well."

Lackaday's smile faded into the mask.

"Last night's thunderstorm upset her a little--but otherwise--yes--she is
quite well."

He rose. Lady Auriol cried:

"You're not going already?"

His ear caught a new tone, for he smiled again.

"I must get back to Clermont-Ferrand. Goodbye, Hylton."

We shook hands.

"Good-bye, old chap," said I. "We'll meet soon."

Auriol rose and turned on me an ignoring back. As I did not seem to exist
any longer, I faded shadow-like away to the park gate, where I hung about
until Auriol should join me.

As to what happened between them then, I must rely on her own report,
which, as you shall learn, she gave me later.

They stood for a while after I had gone. Then he held out his hand.

"Good-bye, Lady Auriol," said he.

"No," she said. "There are things which we really ought to say to each
other. You do believe I wish I had never come?"

"I can quite understand," said he, stiffly.

"It hurts," she said.

"Why should it matter so much?" he asked.

"I don't know--but it does."

He drew himself up and his face grew stern.

"I don't cease to be an honourable man because of my profession; or to be
worthy of respect because I am loyal to sacred obligations."

"You put me in the wrong," she said. "And I deserve it. But it all hurts.
It hurts dreadfully. Can't you see? The awful pity of it? You of all men to
be condemned to a fife like this. And you suffer too. It all hurts."

"Remember," said he, "it was the life to which I was bred."

She felt hopeless. "It's my own fault for coming," she said. "I should have
left things as they were when we parted in April. There was beauty--you
made it quite clear that our parting was final. You couldn't have acted
otherwise. Forgive me for all I've said. I pride myself on being a
practical woman; but--for that reason perhaps--I'm unused to grappling with
emotional situations. If I've been unkind, it's because I've been stabbing
myself and forgetting I'm stabbing you at the same time."

He walked a pace or two further with her. For the first time he seemed to
recognize what he, Andrew Lackaday, had meant to her.

"I'm sorry," he said gravely. "I never dreamed that it was a matter of such
concern to you. If I had, I shouldn't have left you in any doubt. To me you
were the everything that man can conceive in woman. I wanted to remain in
your memory as the man the war had made me. Vanity or pride, I don't
know. We all have our failings. I worshipped you as the _Princesse
Loinlaine_. I never told you that I am a man who has learned to keep
himself under control. Perhaps under too much control. I shouldn't tell you
now, if----"

"You don't suppose I'm a fool," she interrupted. "I knew. And the
Verity-Stewarts knew. And even my little cousin Evadne knew."

They still strolled along the path under the trees. He said after a while:

"I'm afraid I have made things very difficult for you."

She was pierced with remorse. "Oh, how like you! Any other man would have
put it the other way round and accused me of making things difficult for
him. And he would have been right. For I did come here to get news of you
from Anthony Hylton. He was so discreet that I felt that he could tell me
something. And I came and found you and have made things difficult for

He said in his sober way: "Perhaps it is for the best that we have met and
had this talk. We ought to have had it months ago, but--" he turned his
face wistfully on her--"we couldn't, because I didn't know. Anyhow, it's
all over."

"Yes," she sighed. "It's all over. We're up against the stone wall of
practical life."

"Quite so," said he. "I am Petit Patou, the mountebank; my partner is
Madame Patou, whom I have known since I was a boy of twenty, to whom I am
bound by indissoluble ties of mutual fidelity, loyalty and gratitude; and
you are the Lady Auriol Dayne. We live, as I said before, in different

"That's quite true," she said. "We have had our queer romance. It won't
hurt us. It will sweeten our lives. But, as you say, it's over. It has to
be over."

"There's no way out," said he. "It's doubly locked. Good-bye."

He bent and kissed her hand. To the casual French valetudinarians sitting
and strolling in the park, it was nothing but a social formality. But to
Auriol the touch of his lips meant the final parting of their lives, the
consecrated burial of their love.

She lingered for a few moments watching his long, straight back disappear
round the corner of the path, and then turned and joined me by the park
gate. On our way to the hotel the only thing she said was:

"I don't seem to have much chance, do I, Tony?"

It was after lunch, while we sat, as the day before, at the end of the
terrace, that she told me of what had taken place between Lackaday and
herself, while I had been hanging about the gate. I must confess
to pressing her confidence. Since I was lugged, even as a sort of
_raisonneur_, into their little drama, I may be pardoned for some
curiosity as to development. I did not seem, however, to get much further.
They had parted for ever, last April, in a not unpoetic atmosphere. They
had parted for ever now in circumstances devoid of poetry. The only bit of
dramatic progress was the mutual avowal, apparently dragged out of them.
It was almost an anticlimax. And then dead stop. I put these points before
her. She agreed dismally. Bitterly reproached herself for giving way in
Paris to womanish folly; also for deliberately bringing about the morning's

"You were cruel--which is utterly unlike you," I said, judicially.

"That horrible green, white and red thing haunted me all night--and that
fat woman bursting out of her clothes. I felt shrivelled up. If only I had
left things as they were!" She harped always on that note. "I thought I
could walk myself out of my morbid frame of mind. Oh yes--you're quite
right--morbid--unlike me. I walked miles and miles. I made up my mind to
return to Paris by the night train. I should never see him again. The whole
thing was dead. Killed. Washed out. I had got back some sense when I ran
into the two of you. It seemed so ghastly to go on talking in that cold,
dry way. I longed to goad him into some sort of expression of himself--to
find the man again. That's why I told him about going to the circus last

She went on in this strain. Presently she said: "I could shed tears of
blood over him. Don't think I'm filled merely with selfish disgust. As
I told him--the pity of it--all that he must have suffered--for he has
suffered, hasn't he?"

"He has gone through Hell," said I.

She was silent for a few moments. Then she said: "What's the good of going
round and round in a circle? You either understand or you don't."

By way of consolation I mendaciously assured her that I understood. I
don't think I understand now. I doubt whether she understood herself.
Her emotions were literally going round and round in a circle, a hideous
merry-go-round with fixed staring features, to be passed and repassed in
the eternal gyration. Horror of Petit Patou. Her love for Lackaday. Madame
Patou. Hatred of Lacka-day. Scorching self-contempt for seeking him out.
Petit Patou and Madame Patou. Lackaday crucified. Infinite pity for
Lackaday. General Lackaday. Old dreams. The lost illusion. The tomb of
love. Horror of Petit Patou--and so _da capo_, endlessly round and

At least, this figure gave me the only clue to her frame of mind. If she
went on gyrating in this way indefinitely, she must go mad. No human
consciousness could stand it. For sanity she must stop at some point. The
only rational halting-place was at the Tomb. If I knew my Auriol, she would
drop a flower and a tear on it, and then would start on a bee-line for
Central Tartary, or whatever expanse of the world's surface offered a
satisfactory field for her energies.

She swallowed the stone-cold, half-remaining coffee in her cup and rose and
stretched herself, arms and back and bust, like a magnificent animal, the
dark green, silken knitted jumper that she wore revealing all her great and
careless curves, and drew a long breath and smiled at me.

"I've not slept for two nights and I've walked twelve miles this morning.
I'll turn in till dinner." She yawned. "Poor old Tony," she laughed. "You
can have it at a Christian hour this evening."

"The one bright gleam in a hopeless day," said I.

She laughed again, blew me a kiss and went her way to necessary repose.

I remained on the terrace a while longer, in order to finish a long
corona-corona, forbidden by my doctors. But I reflected that as the showman
makes up on the swings what he loses on the roundabouts, so I made up on
the filthy water what I lost on the cigars. How I provided myself with
excellent corona-coronas in Royat, under the Paris price, I presume, of
ten francs apiece, wild reporters will never drag out of me. I mused,
therefore, over the last smokable half-inch, and at last, discarding it
reluctantly, I sought well-earned slumber in my room. But I could not
sleep. All this imbroglio kept me awake. Also the infernal band began to
play. I had not thought--indeed, I had had no time to think of the note
from Bakkus which I had received the first thing in the morning, and of
Lackaday's confirmation of the summons to the ailing Elodie. Women, said
he, had nerves. The thunder, of course. But, thought I, with elderly
sagacity, was it all thunder?

As far as I could gather, from Lackaday's confessions he had never given
Elodie cause for jealousy from the time they had become Les Petit Patou.
Her rout of the suggestive Ernestine proved her belief in his insensibility
to woman's attractions during the war. She had never heard of Lady Auriol.
Lady Auriol, therefore, must have bounded like a tiger into the placid
compound of her life. Reason enough for a _crise des nerfs_. Even I,
who had nothing to do with it, found my equilibrium disturbed.

Lady Auriol and I dined together. She declared herself rested and in her
right and prosaic mind.

"I have no desire to lose your company," said I, "so I hope there's no more
talk of an unbooked _strapontin_ on the midnight train."

"No need," she replied. "He's leaving Clermont-Ferrand tomorrow. I'll keep
to my original programme and enjoy fresh air until a wire summons me back
to Paris. That's to say if you can do with me."

"If you keep on looking as alluring as you are this evening," said I,
"perhaps I mayn't be able to do without you."

"I wonder why I've never been able to fall in love with a man of your type,
Tony," she remarked in her frank, detached way. "You--by which I mean
hundreds of men like you, much younger, of course--you are of my world,
you understand the half-said thing, your conduct during the war has been
irreproachable, you've got a heart beneath a cynical exterior, you've got
brains, you're as clean as a new pin, you're an agreeable companion, you
can turn a compliment in a way that even a savage like me can appreciate,
and yet----"

"And yet," I interrupted, "when you're presented with a whole paper, row on
row, of new pins, you're left cold because choice is impossible." I smiled
sadly and sipped my wine. "Now I know what I am, one of a row of nice,
clean, English-made pins."

"It's you that are being rude to yourself, not I," she laughed. "But you
are of a type typical, and in your heart you're very proud of it. You
wouldn't be different from what you are for anything in the world."

"I would give a good deal," said I, "to be different from what I
am--but--from the ideal of myself--no."

She was quite right. Although I may not have sound convictions, thank
Heaven I've sacred prejudices. They have kept me more or less straight in
my unimaginative British fashion during a respectable lifetime. So far am
I from being a Pharisee, that I exclaim: "Thank God I am as other decent
fellows are."

We circled pleasantly round the point until she returned to her original
proposition--her wonder that she had never been able to fall in love with a
man of my type.

"It's very simple," said I. "You distrust us. You know that if you suddenly
said to one of us, 'Let us go to Greenland and wear bearskins and eat
blubber'; or, 'Let us fit up the drawing-room with incubators for East-end
babies doomed otherwise to die,' he would vehemently object. And there
would be rows and the married life of cat and dog."

She said: "Am I really as bad as that, Tony?"

"You are," said I.

She shook her head. "No," she replied, after a pause. "In the depths of
myself I'm as conventional as you are. That's why I said I was puzzled to
know why I had never fallen in love with any one of you. I had my deep
reasons, my dear Tony, for saying it. I'm bound to my type and my order.
God knows I've seen enough and know enough to be free. But I'm not. Last
night showed me that I'm not."

"And that's final, my dear?" said I.

She helped herself to salad with an air of bravura. She helped herself, to
my surprise, to a prodigious amount of salad.

"As final as death," she replied.

* * * * *

There had been billed about the place a Grand Concert du Soir in the Casino
de Royat. The celebrated tenor, M. Horatio Bakkus. The Casino having been
burned down in 1918, the concerts took place under the bandstand in the

After dinner we found places, among the multitude, on the Casino Cafe
Terrace overlooking the bandstand, and listened to Bakkus sing. I explained
Bakkus, more or less, to Auriol. Although she could not accept Lackaday
as Petit Patou, she seemed to accept Bakkus, without question, as a
professional singer. The concert over, he joined us at our little japanned
iron table, and acknowledged her well-merited compliments--I tell you, he
sang like a minor Canon in an angelic choir--with, well, with the well-bred
air of a minor Canon in an angelic choir. With easy grace he dismissed
himself and talked knowledgeably and informatively of the antiquities and
the beauties of Auvergne. To most English folk it was an undiscovered
country. We must steal a car and visit Orcival. Hadn't I heard of it?
France's gem of Romanesque churches? And the Chateau--ages old---with its
_charmille_--the towering maze-like walks of trees kept clipped
in scrupulous formality by an old gardener during the war--the
_charmille_ designed by no less a genius than Le Notre, who planned
the wonders of Versailles and the exquisite miniature of the garden of
Nimes? To-morrow must we go.

This white-haired, luminous-eyed ascetic--he drank but an orangeade through
post-war straws--had kept us spellbound with his talk. I glanced at Auriol
and read compliance in her eye.

"Will you accompany us ignorant people and act as cicerone?"

"With all the pleasure in life," said Bakkus.

"What time shall we start?"

"Would ten be too early?"

"Lady Auriol and I are old campaigners."

"I call for you at ten. It is agreed?"

We made the compact. I lifted my glass. He sputtered response through the
post-war straws resting in the remains of his orangeade. He rose to
go, pleading much correspondence before going to bed. We rose too. He
accompanied us to the entrance to our hotel. At the lift, he said:

"Can you give me a minute?"

"As many as you like," said I, for it was still early.

We sped Lady Auriol upwards to her repose, and walked out through the hall
into the soft August moonlight.

"May I tread," said he, "on the most delicate of grounds?"

"It all depends," said I, "on how delicately you do it."

He made a courteous movement of his hand and smiled. "I'll do my best. I
take it that you're very fully admitted into Andrew Lackaday's confidence."

"To a great extent," I admitted.

"And--forgive me if I am impertinent--you have also that of the lady whom
we have just left?"

"Really, my dear Bakkus----" I began.

"It is indeed a matter of some importance," he interposed quickly. "It
concerns Madame Patou--Elodie. Rightly or wrongly, she received a certain
impression from your charming luncheon party of yesterday. Andrew, as you
are aware, is not the man with whom a woman can easily make a scene. There
was no scene. A hint. With that rat-trap air of finality with which I am,
for my many failings, much more familiar than yourself, he said: 'We will
cancel our engagement and go to Vichy.' This morning, as I wrote, I
was called to Clermont-Ferrand. Madame Patou, you understand, has the
temperament of the South. Its generosity is apt to step across the
boundaries of exaggeration. In my capacity of friend of the family, I had a
long interview with her. You have doubtless seen many such on the stage.
I must say that Andrew, to whom the whole affair appeared exceedingly
distasteful, had announced his intention of obeying the rules of common
good manners and leaving his farewell card on Lady Auriol. Towards the end
of our talk it entered the head of Madame Patou that she would do the same.
I pointed out the anomaly of the interval between the two visits. But the
head of a Marseillaise is an obstinate one. She dressed, put on her best
hat--there is much that is symbolical in a woman's best hat, as doubtless a
man of the world like yourself has observed--and took the tram with me to
Royat. We alighted at the further entrance to the park, and came plump
upon a leave-taking between Lackaday and Lady Auriol. You know there is a
turn--some masking shrubs--we couldn't help seeing through them. She was
for rushing forward. I restrained her. A second afterwards, Andrew ran into
us. For me, at any rate, it was a most unhappy situation. If he had fallen
into a rage, like ninety-nine men out of a hundred, and accused us of
spying, I should have known how to reply. But that's where you can never
get hold of Andrew Lackaday. He scorns such things. He said in his ramrod
fashion: 'It's good of you to come to meet me, Elodie. I was kept longer
than I anticipated.' He stopped the Clermont-Ferrand tram, nodded to me,
and, with his hand under Elodie's elbow, helped her in."

"May I ask why you tell me all this?" I asked.

"Certainly," said he, and his dark eyes glittered in the moonlight. "I give
the information for what it may be worth to you as a friend, perhaps as
adviser, of both parties."

"You are assuming, Mr. Bakkus," I answered rather stiffly, "that Madame
Patou's unfortunate impressions are in some way justified."

It was a most unpleasant conversation. I very much resented discussing Lady
Auriol with Horatio Bakkus.

"Not at all," said he. "But Fate has thrown you and me into analogous
positions--we are both elderly men--me as between Lackaday and Madame
Patou, you as between Lady Auriol and Lackaday."

"But, damn it all, man," I cried angrily, "what have I just been saying?
How dare you assume there's anything between them save the ordinary
friendship of a distinguished soldier and an English lady?"

"If you can only assure me that there is nothing but that ordinary
friendship, you will take a weight off my mind and relieve me of a great

"I can absolutely assure you," I cried hotly, "that by no remote
possibility can there be anything else between Lady Auriol Dayne and Petit

He thrust out both his hands and fervently grasped the one I instinctively
put forward.

"Thank you, thank you, my dear Hylton. That's exactly what I wanted to
know. _Au revoir_. I think we said ten o'clock."

He marched away briskly. With his white hair gleaming between his
little black felt hat cocked at an angle and the collar of his flapping
old-fashioned opera-cloak, he looked like some weird bird of the night.

I entered the hotel feeling the hot and cold of the man who has said a
damnable thing. Through the action of what kinky cell of the brain I had
called the dear gallant fellow "Petit Patou," instead of "Lackaday," I was
unable to conjecture.

I hated myself. I could have kicked myself. I wallowed in the unreason of a
man vainly seeking to justify himself. The last thing in the world I wanted
to do was to see Horatio Bakkus again. I went to bed loathing the idea of
our appointment.

Chapter XXII

Lady Auriol, myself and the car met punctually at the hotel door at ten
o'clock. There was also a _chasseur_ with Lady Auriol's dust-coat
and binoculars, and a _concierge_ with advice. We waited for Bakkus.
Auriol, suddenly bethinking herself of plain chocolate, to the consumption
of which she was addicted on the grounds of its hunger-satisfying
qualities, although I guaranteed her a hearty midday meal on the occasion
of the present adventure, we went down the street to the _Marquise de
Sevigne_ shop and bought some. This took time, because she lingered over
several varieties devastating to the appetite. I paid gladly. If we all
had the same ideas as to the employment of a happy day, it would be a dull
world. We went back to the car. Still no Bakkus. We waited again. I railed
at the artistic temperament. Pure, sheer bone idleness, said I.

"But what can he be doing?" asked Auriol.

I, who had received through Lackaday many lights on Bakkus's character, was
at no loss to reply.

"Doing? Why, snoring. He'll awake at midday, stroll round here and expect
to find us smiling on the pavement. We give him five more minutes."

At the end of the five minutes I sent the _concierge_ off for a
guide-book; much more accurate, I declared, than Bakkus was likely to be,
and at half-past ten by my watch we started. Although I railed at the sloth
of Bakkus, I rejoiced in his absence. My over-night impression had not been
dissipated by slumber.

"I'm not sorry," said I, as we drove along. "Our friend is rather too much
of a professed conversationalist."

"You also have a comfortable seat which possibly you would have had to give
up to your guest," said Auriol.

"How you know me, my dear," said I, and we rolled along very happily.

I think it was one of the pleasantest days I have ever passed in the course
of a carefully spent life. Auriol was at her best. She had thrown off the
harried woman of affairs. She had put a nice little tombstone over the
grave of her romance, thus apparently reducing to beautiful simplicity her


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