Part 2 out of 4
'Oh, the change is not as great perhaps as you think, I have always
looked forward to returning here. One has ambitions of a kind.'
'You ought to go into Parliament,' Clarice said.
Drake laughed, thanking her with the laugh. 'It's rather too early to
speak of that.'
Mrs. Willoughby observed that he actually blushed. A blushing filibuster!
There was a contradiction of terms in the phrase, and he undoubtedly
blushed. A question shot through her mind. Did he blush from modesty, or
because Clarice made the suggestion?
Mrs. Willoughby asked Fielding for an answer as he stood by the door of
her brougham, before she drove away from Beaufort Gardens.
'For both reasons, I should say,' he replied.
'You think, then, he's attracted? He hardly showed signs of it, except
that once, and modesty alone might account for that.'
Mrs. Willoughby laid some insistence upon the possibility.
'I should have been inclined to agree with you,' answered Fielding, 'but
Drake dragged me round the square before lunch to question me about
'That makes for your view, certainly. What did you tell him?'
'I painted the portrait which I thought he wanted, picked out
Mallinson's vices in clear colours and added a few which occurred to me
at the moment. However, Drake closed my mouth with--"He's a hard
'I like the man for that!' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and checked
'Yes, he's honest certainly.'
'But was he right?'
'Quite! Mallinson works very hard; scents danger, I suppose.'
Mrs. Willoughby heaved a sigh of relief.
'There's some chance for him, then. Will he do anything great?'
'That's one of the questions Drake put to me! I think never.'
Mrs. Willoughby accepted the dictum without asking for the reason. She
sat for a moment disconsolately thoughtful. Then she gave a start.
'There's Percy Conway. I had forgotten him!'
'And wisely, I should think. He is just making a back for Drake to jump
from if he will.'
'Yes, I noticed that,' said Mrs. Willoughby, with a sneer at the folly of
the creature. 'He seems to look upon Mallinson and himself as the two
figures which tell the weather in a Swiss clock. When one comes out of
his box the other goes in. I catch your trick, you see,' and her face
relaxed to a smile.
'Only to improve on it in the matter of truth. For you imply a comparison
between Miss Le Mesurier and the weather, and the points of resemblance
Mrs. Willoughby's smile became a laugh. 'I don't hold with you about
Clarice,' she said. 'You don't know her as I do. She can take things
'Intensely so--for five minutes. I have never denied it.'
Mrs. Willoughby did not display her usual alacrity to engage in the
oft-repeated combat as to Miss Le Mesurier's merits. Her face grew
'Does Clarice care for him, you think?'
Fielding was admiring Mrs. Willoughby's eyes at the moment, and answered
absently. 'Conway, you mean?'
'No, no! How wilfully irritating you are! This Mr. Drake, of course. By
the way, I suppose he will get on?' She spoke in a voice which implied
regret for the supposition, and almost appealed for a denial of it.
'I should think there's no doubt of it. They tell me he has just sent a
force up country in Matanga to locate concessions. You hit harder than
you knew at lunch, for the force carries machine-guns. Oh yes, he'll get
on. He has been seen arm-in-arm with Israel Biedermann in Throgmorton
Street. You must tell that to a city man to realise what it means.'
'But do you think Clarice cares for him?'
'Miss Le Mesurier cares for--' he began, and broke off with a question.
'Do you read Latin?' He was answered with an exasperated shake of the
head. 'Because Miss Le Mesurier always reminds me of an ode of Horace,
Finished, exquisite to the finger-tips, but still lacking something.
Soul, is it? Perhaps that lack makes the perfection. But what's your
objection to Drake?'
Mrs. Willoughby started a little. 'Objection?' she laughed. 'Why? I never
told you that I had one.'
'You told not only me, but every one at lunch--Drake himself included.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtfully at Fielding. 'Well,' she said, 'there
is something. I feel inclined to explain it to you. You may be able to
advise me. Not now!' she went on as Fielding bent forward with a very
unusual interest. 'Let me see. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday'--she ticked
off the days upon her fingers. 'Thursday afternoon. Could you come and
see me then?'
'Thanks. Good-bye, and don't forget; five o'clock. I shall be in to
no one else.' And Mrs. Willoughby drove off with the smile again
upon her face.
Whether Fielding was correct in limiting Miss Le Mesurier's capacity
for continued seriousness, she was undeniably serious when she called
upon Mrs. Willoughby at half-past one on the following day. There were
dark shadows under her eyes, and the eyes themselves seemed to look
pathetic reproaches at a world which had laid upon her unmerited
distress. Mrs. Willoughby was startled at her appearance, and imagined
some family disaster.
'Why, Clarice, what has happened?' she exclaimed. 'You look as if you
hadn't slept all night.'
Clarice kissed her, and for answer sighed wearifully. Mrs. Willoughby was
immediately relieved. The trouble was due, she realised, to some new
shuffle of Clarice's facile emotions. She returned the kiss, and
refrained from further questions; but, being a practical woman, she rang
the bell and ordered the servant to lay two places for lunch.
Clarice sank despondently into the most comfortable chair in the room.
'Not for me,' she said. 'I am sure I couldn't eat anything.'
'You may as well try, dear,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; and she crossed to
Clarice and unpinned her hat--a little straw hat, with the daintiest of
pink ribbons. She held it in her hand for a moment, weighing it with a
smile which had something of tenderness in it. She laid a light hand upon
the brown hair, touching with a caress the curls about the forehead. A
child's face was turned up to hers with a pretty appeal of melancholy.
Mrs. Willoughby was moved to kiss the girl again. In spite of a
similarity of years, she had an affection almost maternal for Clarice;
and, with an intuition, too, which was almost maternal, she was able to
appreciate the sincerity of the girl's distress, with a doubtful smile at
the gravity of its cause.
Clarice threw her arms about Mrs. Willoughby's neck. 'Oh, Connie,' she
quavered, 'you can't guess what has happened!' The voice threatened to
break into sobs, and there were tears already brimming the eyes.
'Never mind; you shall tell me after lunch.'
At lunch Mrs. Willoughby industriously beguiled her with anecdotes. She
talked of an uncle of Clarice, a Philistine sea-captain with pronounced
opinions upon the advance of woman, ludicrously mimicking his efforts to
adapt a quarter-deck style of denunciation to the gentler atmosphere of a
drawing-room. To sharpen his diatribes the worthy captain was in the
habit of straining ineffectually after epigrams. Mrs. Willoughby quoted
an unsuccessful essay concerning the novels women favoured. 'A woman with
a slice of intellect likes that sort of garbage for the same reason that
a girl with a neat pair of ankles likes a little mud in the streets.'
Clarice was provoked to a reluctant smile by a mental picture of a
violent rubicund face roaring the words. She was induced to play with a
fragment of sole; she ended by eating the wing of a chicken.
'Now,' said Mrs. Willoughby when she had set Clarice upon a sofa in front
of a cosy fire in her boudoir, 'tell me what all the trouble's about.'
She drew up a low chair and sat down with a hand upon the girl's arm.
'It's about Sid--I mean Mr. Mallinson,' she began. 'He called yesterday
afternoon after you had left. Papa had gone out for a walk, and aunt was
lying down with a sick headache. So I saw him alone. He said he was glad
to get the opportunity of speaking to me by myself, and he--he--well, he
asked me to marry him. He was quite different from what he usually is,
else I might have stopped him before. But he made a sort of rush at it. I
told him that I was very sorry, but I didn't care for him in that kind of
way--at all events yet. And then it was horrible!' The voice began to
Mrs. Willoughby took hold of Clarice's hand, and the latter nestled
'He got angry and violent, and said that I had persuaded him to give up
his profession, and must have known quite well why he did it, and that no
woman had a right to interfere with a man's life until she was prepared
to accept the responsibility of her interference. I hardly understood
what he said, because he frightened me; but I don't think that was at all
a nice thing to say, do you, Connie?' and her hand tightened upon her
friend's. 'But he said other things too, much worse than that,--I can't
tell you. And at last I felt as if I wanted to scream. I should have
screamed in a minute or two, I know, so I told him to go away. Then he
became silent all at once, and just stood looking at me--and--and--I
think that was worse than being abused. At last he said "Good-bye," so
sorrowfully, and I knew it would be for ever, and we shook hands, and he
went out into the hall and closed the door. It seemed to me that the door
would never open again.'
The threatened tears began to fall; Mrs. Willoughby, however, did not
interrupt, and Clarice went on.
'So as I heard the front door unlocked to let him out, I opened the door
of the room and went into the hall. Mr. Mallinson was standing on the
first step. He never looked back--he was turning up his coat-collar--and
somehow it all seemed so sad. I felt as if I hadn't a friend left in the
'Well?' asked Mrs. Willoughby quickly.
'I called him back into the room, and asked him if we couldn't be
'What did he answer?'
'That he didn't see how that was possible since he wanted to marry me.
But I said that wouldn't matter as long as he didn't tell me so. I think
men are so inconsiderate, don't you, Connie?' she broke off in a tone of
reproach. 'I can't understand what there is to laugh at. You wouldn't
either if you had seen him then, because he just sat down and cried, not
as you and I do, you know, but with great tears running through his
fingers and heaves of his shoulders. It was heartbreaking. Then he got up
and begged my pardon for what he had said, and that was the worst of it
all. He declared that if he went the rest of his way alone the journey
would be all the easier for the mile I went along with him, and at that
somehow I began to cry too, and--and--that's all.'
Mrs. Willoughby sat silent for a little. 'So you refused him,' she said
thoughtfully, and she bent towards Clarice. 'Is it to be Stephen Drake?'
Clarice started up from the sofa, and stood looking into the fire. 'What
an extraordinary thing that you should ask me that,' she replied slowly,
'because Mr. Mallinson asked it too.' She paused for a second or so and
went on. 'I have never thought of him in that way, I am sure. Oh no!' and
she roused herself from her attitude of deliberation and crossed to the
window, speaking briskly as she went. 'I had quite a different reason.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked at her sharply but said nothing, and presently
Clarice turned back into the room as though moved by a sudden impulse.
'Can I write a note here?' she asked.
'Certainly,' replied Mrs. Willoughby, and she set some envelopes and
paper on the table. Clarice wrote a few lines and tore them up. She
repeated the process on four sheets of note-paper, and as she was
beginning the fifth attempt the door was opened and the servant
announced that Mr. Conway was waiting in the drawing-room. Clarice tore
up the fifth sheet and rose from her chair. 'I can write it when I get
home,' she said.
'Percy Conway!' said Mrs. Willoughby when the door was closed again.
'What a funny thing! He's not in the habit of visiting me.'
'The fact is,' said Clarice, without the least embarrassment, as
she pinned on her hat, 'I asked him to call for me here. You don't
mind, do you?'
'Clarice!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby. She stared at the girl,
noticing the traces of tears still visible on her face, and then she
began to laugh.
'Connie!' said Miss Le Mesurier, and her tone showed that she was hurt.
'You _are_ unsympathetic.'
'I can't help it,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and she laughed yet louder. 'I
can't help it, dear!'
'You can't imagine how lonely I have felt since--'
'Since yesterday,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and her laughter increased.
'Clarice, you'll be the death of me.'
Clarice stood gazing at her patiently, her face grave with reproach,
until Mrs. Willoughby succeeded in composing herself to a fitting
seriousness. But for all her efforts her mouth worked, and the dimples
appeared and vanished in her cheeks, and a little ripple of laughter now
and again escaped from her lips.
'Really,' said Clarice, 'I am disappointed in you, Connie.'
'I know it was out of place, dear,' said Mrs. Willoughby with humility,
but nevertheless her voice shook as she spoke. Fearing another access she
began, as a resource, to lecture Clarice upon the impropriety of making
appointments with young gentlemen at other people's houses. The lecture,
however, was received with disdain.
'That seems to me still more out of place,' said Clarice.
'Well, we had better go into the drawing-room to Mr. Conway,' said Mrs.
Clarice was indeed excessively indignant with Mrs. Willoughby, for she
was in the habit herself of treating her feelings with a tender
solicitude, and consequently disliked the want of respect shown to them
by her friend. She betrayed the extent of her indignation by a
proportionately excessive friendliness towards Conway that afternoon. He
was allowed to conduct her to four picture galleries, and a Panopticon
museum of tortures; his offer to refresh her with tea in Bond Street was
shyly accepted, and at parting he was thanked with effusion, 'for the
pleasantest afternoon she had spent for some time.'
On reaching home, however, Miss Le Mesurier immediately wrote out the
note which she had begun in Mrs. Willoughby's boudoir. She wrote it now
without hesitation, as though she had composed the form of its message
while in the company of Conway, and addressed it to Stephen Drake. She
had a question to ask him, she stated, of some importance to herself.
Would he call on Thursday afternoon and answer it? Clarice read through
the note before she sealed up the envelope. The word _importance_ caught
her eye, and she pondered over it for a moment. She crossed it out
finally and substituted _interest_. Then she sent her letter to the post.
At breakfast on the Thursday morning, Clarice casually informed her
father of Drake's visit. 'I wrote to him, asking him to call,' she added.
Mr. Le Mesurier looked up from the pages of his _Times_. 'Why?' he
'I want him to tell me something.'
The _Times_ crackled in his hands and fluttered to the floor. He opened
his mouth to speak and thought better of it, and repeated the action more
than once. Then he scratched his head with a helpless air, and picked up
his newspaper. 'Silly girl!' he said at last; 'silly girl!' and relapsed
into silence. At the close of breakfast, however, he made an effort at
expostulation. 'You will make the man believe you're in love with him,'
he said, and in fact he could have chanced on no happier objection to
present to her. Clarice flushed to the temples. Sidney Mallinson, Mrs.
Willoughby, and now her father! All three had made the same suggestion,
and the repetition of it vexed her pride. There were others they might
have said it of with more appearance of truth, she thought: Sidney
Mallinson himself, for instance, or even Percy Conway. But he, Drake! For
a moment she felt inclined to telegraph to him telling him not to come.
Then she thought of the motive which had induced her to send for him. No!
She would ask her question that afternoon, and so have done with him for
good. Aloud she answered:
'How ridiculous! I should hardly think he has that sort of conceit.
Anyhow, if he has that impression, I will take care that he does not
carry it away.'
Mr. Le Mesurier did not pursue the argument, but he gave certain
instructions to his butler, and when Drake arrived at the house he was
shown into the library. Mr. Le Mesurier received him.
'Pull up a chair to the fire,' he said with an uneasy geniality. 'I have
something to say to you, Drake. It won't take long.'
Drake laid down his hat and seated himself opposite to Mr. Le Mesurier.
'My daughter told me this morning, quite spontaneously, of course, that
she had asked you to call in order that she might get from you a certain
answer to a certain question, and I thought that I had better prepare you
for what that question will be.' He hesitated in his speech, searching
for the best way to begin his explanation, and he caught sight of a
cigar-box on the mantelshelf above his head.
'By the way, do you smoke?'
'Yes, but I won't just now, thank you.'
'You had better. You can throw it away when I have done. These are in
rather a good condition.'
Mr. Le Mesurier seemed inclined to branch off upon the quality of
different brands, but Drake gave him no assistance. He lit his cigar and
patiently waited, his eyes fixed upon his host. Mr. Le Mesurier felt
driven back upon the actual point of his explanation, and almost
compelled to fine his words down to just the needful quantity.
'Clarice, I believe,' he said brusquely, 'means to ask you how Gorley
died. He was engaged to her.'
Drake did not so much as stir a muscle, even his eyes maintained their
steadiness, and Mr. Le Mesurier drew a breath of relief. 'I am glad you
take it like this,' he went on. 'I was afraid that what I had to say
might have been, well, perhaps a blow to you, and if so the fault would
have been mine; for I encouraged you to come here.'
Drake bent forward and knocked the ash off the end of his cigar.
'Yes,' he asked; 'why did you do that?'
Mr. Le Mesurier looked uncomfortable.
'It is only right that I should be frank with you,' he replied. 'The mere
fact of Gorley's death, apart from its manner, upset Clarice, more, I
confess, than we expected, and made her quite ill for a time. She is not
very strong, you know. So it was deemed best, not only by me, but by
Gorley's family as well, that she should be kept in ignorance of what had
actually happened. We simply told her that Gorley had died near Boruwimi.
But I fancy that she suspected we were concealing something. Perhaps our
avoidance of the subject gave her the hint, or it may have been Mrs.
'She is related to the Gorley family as well as to us. It was through her
Clarice first met Gorley,' he explained, and went on. 'Then you returned
to England, and were interviewed in the _Meteor_. Clarice read the
interview; you had described in it your march to Boruwimi, and she sent
through Mallinson at once an invitation to you. I only found that out the
night you were introduced to us at the theatre. It made me certain that
she had suspicions, and I admit that I asked you to call in the hope of
allaying them. I believed, foolishly as it seems, that if I was cordial,
she would give up any ideas she might have, that you were connected in
any way with Gorley's death. Afterwards, Drake, I need hardly tell you, I
was glad you came here upon other grounds.' Mr. Le Mesurier leaned
forward in his chair and touched Drake upon the knee. 'It didn't take
long for me to conceive a genuine liking for you, and, of course, I knew
all the time that you had only done your duty.'
Drake made no response whatever to Mr. Le Mesurier's sentiment.
'I understand, then,' he said, 'that Miss Le Mesurier was engaged to
Gorley at the time of his death?'
'Oh dear, no,' exclaimed the other, starting up from his chair. 'You are
aware, I suppose, why Gorley left England?'
Drake nodded assent.
'The engagement was broken off then and there. And Clarice at that time
did not seem to take it much to heart. I was inclined to believe that the
whole affair had been just a girl's whim. Indeed, in spite of her
illness, I am not certain now that that isn't the truth. She may have had
some notion of reforming him. I find Clarice rather difficult to
Drake stood up. 'Where is Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.
'Upstairs in the drawing-room.'
He took a step towards the door, and took the step unsteadily. He
stopped for a second, bracing his shoulders; then he walked firmly
across the room. While his hand was on the handle, he heard Mr. Le
'What do you mean to tell her?'
'I hardly understand,' he answered, turning round. 'There surely is but
one thing to say--the truth. She has a right to know that.'
'Has she? The engagement was broken off finally when Gorley left England.
They had nothing more to do with one another, no common interests, no
common future. Has she?'
'It seems to me, yes!'
'We have kept the knowledge from her up till now. No one could blame you
if you kept it from her a little longer.'
The argument smacked of sophistry to Drake. He had an unreasoned
conviction that the girl had a right to learn the truth from him.
'I think I ought to tell her if she asks me.'
'I might forbid you to do it,' grumbled Mr. Le Mesurier.
'Do you?' asked Drake. The question brought Mr. Le Mesurier up short. It
was a direct question, inviting a responsible decision, and Mr. Le
Mesurier was averse by nature to making such decisions out of hand. If
Drake cared for Clarice, he reflected, it was really in Drake's province
to decide the point rather than in his own.
'I don't know enough of you,' he replied, 'to either forbid or give you
Drake wondered what the sentence meant.
'In that case I must take my own course,' he said, and he went out of the
room and mounted the stairs.
It was the dusk of a February afternoon. Drake had found the lamps lit in
Mr. Le Mesurier's library, and the gas was burning in the hall and on the
stairs. But within the drawing-room all the light there was came from the
fire leaping upon the hearth and from the two recessed windows which
faced it. In the farthest of these windows Drake saw Miss Le Mesurier
standing, the outline of her face relieved, as it were, against a gray
panel of twilight. As the door closed, she turned and took a step into
the room. Drake could no longer see more than the shape of her head and
the soft waves of hair crowning it; he could not distinguish a single
feature, but none the less, as she stood facing him, he felt of a sudden
his heart sink within him and his whole strength race out of his body.
Clarice stood still; and he became possessed with a queer longing that
she would move again, forwards, within the focus of the firelight.
However, she spoke from where she stood.
'You have seen my father.'
Instinctively Drake walked to the fireplace, but she did not follow.
'I have just left him,' he replied. 'He told me what the question was
which you wished me to answer.'
'And forbade you to answer it, I suppose?'
'No. He left the choice to me.'
'Well?' she asked.
'I mean to answer it to the full,' he said. 'I was not aware till a
moment ago that you had been engaged to Gorley.' Then he hesitated.
Clarice was still standing in the shadow, and his desire that she should
move out of it and within the circle of light grew upon him until it
seemed almost as though the sight of her face and the knowledge of how
she was receiving the history of the incident were necessary conditions
of its narration.
'I suppose that is the reason,' he went on, 'which made you ask me here
at first. Why did you never put the question before?'
'Why?' repeated Clarice slowly, as if she was putting the question to
herself. Then she moved slowly towards the fireplace and seated herself
by the side of it, bent forwards towards its glow, her elbows upon her
knees, her hands propping her chin. Drake gave a sigh of relief, and
Clarice glanced at him in surprise, and turned again to the fire. 'Tell
me your story,' she said, and left his question unanswered.
Drake began; but now that his wish was accomplished, of a sudden all the
reality seemed to fade out of the tragic events he was to recount. His
consciousness became in some queer way centred upon the girl who was
listening, to the exclusion of the subject she was listening to. He was
intensely conscious of her face, of its changing expressions, of the ebb
and flow of the blood from time to time flushing her cheeks and temples,
and of the vivid play of lights and shadows upon them as the flames
danced and sank on the hearth. He noticed, too, with an observation new
to him, and quite involuntary, the details of the room in which he stood,
the white panelling of the walls, the engravings in their frames, the
china ranged upon a ledge near to the ceiling. Of these things his mind
took impressions with the minuteness almost of a camera. They were real
to him at this moment, because they formed the framework and setting of
the girl's face and figure.
But Gorley's crime and his expiation of it became by contrast as remote
to his apprehension in point of all connection with Clarice as they were
in point of locality. He could not realise them to himself as events
which had actually happened and in which he had played a part, and he
spoke in the toneless voice of one who relates a fable of which, through
frequent repetition, he is tired. Instinctively, in order to make the
truth of his story palpable, he began to corroborate it with particulars
which he would otherwise have spared his auditor, but with the same
impersonal accent. He told Clarice of the condition of the village after
Gorley's raid, as he first came within view of it: here the body of a
negro stood pinned upright against the wall of his hut by an assegai
fixing his neck; there another was lying charred upon still-smouldering
embers; and as he saw her turn pale and shudder he almost wondered why.
But in spite of his efforts to appreciate its actuality the incident grew
more unsubstantial the further he progressed in its narration, and he
ended it abruptly.
'Gorley was properly tried,' he said--'his relations testified to
the justice of his trial--and he was executed in accordance with
Clarice sat motionless after he had ended. Drake watched the flames
sparkle in her gray eyes. At his elbow the clock ticked upon the
mantelshelf spacing the seconds, and the fire was hot upon his limbs.
That dream-world in Africa dissolved to a vapour.
Clarice recalled him to it at last.
'I never imagined,' she said in a low voice, 'that the truth was anything
like this. I shouldn't have asked you if I had. A long time ago I knew
that something was being concealed, but I thought it was an accident
or--well, I couldn't conceive what it was and I grew curious, I suppose.
When you came back to England I thought you might be able to tell me.
Lately, however, I began to fancy that you were concerned in it some way.
You might have sent Mr. ----' she checked herself with the name unspoken
and went on, 'you might have sent him on some fatal mission or something
of that sort. But this! Oh, why did you tell me?'
She took her hands from beneath her chin and clenched them with a
convulsive movement upon her knees. Her memory had gone back to the days
when she and Gorley had been engaged, to their meetings, their intimate
conversations. This man, in whose hand her hands had lain, whose lips had
pressed hers, been pressed by hers, this man had been convicted of a
double crime--dastardly murder and dastardly theft--and punished for it!
Her pride cried out against her knowledge, and cried out against the man
who had vouchsafed the knowledge.
'Why did you tell me?' she repeated, and the words were an accusation.
'You wished to know,' he replied doggedly, 'and it seemed to me that you
had the right to know.'
'Right!' she exclaimed, 'right! What right had I to know? What right had
you to tell me?'
She rose to her feet suddenly as she spoke and confronted Drake. He
looked into her eyes steadily, but with a certain perplexity.
'I felt bound to tell you,' he said simply, and his simplicity appealed
to her by its frank recognition of an obligation to her.
'Why,' she asked herself, 'why did he feel bound? Merely because I wished
to know the truth of the matter, or because he himself was implicated in
it as the instrument of Gorley's punishment?' Either reason was
sufficient to appease her. She inclined to the latter; there were
conclusions to be inferred from it which staunched her wounded pride.
Clarice turned away. Drake watched her set a foot upon the rail of the
fender, lay her hand upon the mantelshelf and support her forehead upon
it. After a little she raised her head and spoke with an air of
apologising for him.
'Of course,' she said. 'You could not know that there was anything
between myself and--and him.'
'No; I could not know that. How should I, for I did not know you? And I
am glad that I didn't know.'
Drake spoke with some earnestness, and Clarice looked at him in surprise.
'It would have made my duty so much harder to do,' he explained.
With a little cry of irritation Clarice slipped her foot from the fender
and moved from him back to the couch. She had given him the opportunity
to escape from his position and he refused to make use of it; he seemed
indeed unable to perceive it. However, she clung to it obstinately and
'You could not know there was anything between us'; she emphasised the
words deliberately. Drake mistook the intention of the emphasis.
'But was there,' he exclaimed, 'at the time? I didn't think of that, Miss
'Oh no, no!' she interrupted. 'Not at the time.' The man was
impracticable, and yet his very impracticability aroused in a measure her
admiration. 'So you would have shot him just the same, had you known?'
'Shot him?' asked Drake almost absently.
'Didn't I tell you? I beg your pardon. I didn't shoot him at all. I
Clarice was stunned by the words, and the more because of the dull,
seemingly callous accent with which they were spoken.
'You hanged him!' she whispered, dropping the words one by one, as though
she was striving to weigh them.
'Yes. I have been blamed for it,' he replied with no change of voice.
'People said I was damaging the prestige of the white man. The
argument bothered me, I confess, but I think they were wrong. I should
have damaged that prestige infinitely more if I had punished him
'Oh, don't!' she cried, with a sharp interruption, and she stared at him
with eyes dilating in horror, almost in fear. 'You can discuss it like
that,--the man I had been engaged to,--you hanged him!'
She ended with a moan of actual pain and covered her face with her hands.
On the instant Drake woke to a full comprehension of all that he had
said, and understood something of the humiliation which it meant to her.
Clarice was sitting huddled in her chair, her fingers pressed lightly on
her eyes, while now and again a shiver shot through her frame.
'Still I was bound to tell her,' Drake thought. He waited for a little,
wondering whether she would look up, but she made no movement. An emerald
ring upon her finger caught the light and winked at him maliciously,
leering at him, he fancied. There was nothing more for him to say, and he
quietly went out of the room.
The click of the door-handle roused Clarice. She saw that the room was
empty, and, drawing a breath of relief, started out of her chair.
Standing thus she heard Drake's footsteps descending the stairs, and
after a pause the slamming of the hall-door. Then she went to the
fireplace and knelt down close to it, warming her hands at the blaze.
'The degradation of it!' she whispered.
Bit by bit she sought to reconstruct the scene, piecing it together out
of Drake's words; but somehow that scene would not be reconstructed. She
gradually found herself considering Drake's words as a light thrown upon
the man who spoke them, rather than as the description of an actual
incident. The humiliation which she experienced made her shrink with a
certain repulsion from her recollections of Gorley and dwell instead upon
the contrasting tones in Drake's voice, the contrasting expressions upon
his face when he spoke to her and when he merely narrated his story. In
the first instance gentleness had been the dominant characteristic, in
the second indifference; and that very indifference, while it repelled
her, magnetised her thoughts.
Something indeed of the same process which had caused that appearance of
indifference in Drake was now repeating itself in Clarice. Drake was
superseding Gorley in her mind. She struggled against the obsession and
morbidly strove to picture to herself the actual execution: the black
troops ranged in a clearing before the smouldering village, looking up at
one figure--Gorley's--spinning on a rope. But even upon that picture
Drake's face obtruded. She thrust out her hands to keep it off, as though
it was living and pressing in upon her; for a moment she tried to conjure
up Gorley's face, but it was blurred--only his form she could see
spinning on a rope, and Drake beneath it, his features clear like an
intaglio and firm-set with that same sense of duty which had forced him
sternly to recount to her the truth that afternoon. She recurred to her
recent habit of comparing him with Mallinson. She had a vision of
Mallinson, with the same experience to relate,--if that were
imaginable--fidgeting through evasions, grasping at any diversion she
might throw out for him to play with.
But what if Drake's frankness, outspoken to the point of cruelty, sprang
from an indifference to her? Clarice had seen a good deal of Drake
lately. She caught herself almost smiling at the idea, softening at its
palpable falsity. In a last effort at resistance she fixed her thoughts
on the cruelty, the callousness, in his method of narration, and began to
feel herself on solid ground. She was consequently inspired to run over
all that he had said, in order to make her footing yet firmer, and at the
outset she was brought to a check. Why had she never questioned him upon
the matter before? he had asked. Clarice stopped and asked the question
of herself. At the beginning of their acquaintance certainly there had
always been others by, but afterwards there had been opportunities
enough. But by that time, what with her father's and Mrs. Willoughby's
hostility, she had begun to suspect that Drake was in some way implicated
in the mystery. Was it because she was afraid to know it for certain that
she had refrained? She recalled her letter to him written last Monday,
and how she had crossed out 'importance' and substituted 'interest.' Was
this knowledge important to her, really important, bearing issues in the
future? It could only be important, she realised, if she set great store
upon her acquaintanceship with Drake. Drake, in fact, had achieved
something of a triumph, though quite unknown to himself, for he had
compelled Clarice Le Mesurier to abandon the consideration of his
attitude towards her in favour of a search after the state of her
feelings towards him.
She was still engaged in the search when the clock struck six, and,
rousing herself brusquely, she rang the bell for the lamps to be brought.
At that moment Mrs. Willoughby had just finished telling to Fielding the
story which Drake had told to Clarice.
'So that's what Drake was referring to on Sunday,' said Fielding.
'Yes,' said Mrs. Willoughby.
'What in the world made you attack him in that way, if you didn't want
Clarice to suspect?'
'The fact was, I was a fool, I suppose. I just put my head down and
charged. But what I want your advice upon is this, ought Clarice to be
told now--before things go further?'
'No, no!' said Fielding. He saw the curtain descending precipitately upon
his comedy before the climax was reached, and he added quite sincerely,
'I like Drake. I don't see why he shouldn't have a run for her money.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtful for a moment, and then she said, 'Very
well.' She hesitated for a second: 'I think I like him too.'
This was by no means the last occasion upon which Mrs. Willoughby thought
it prudent to take counsel with Fielding concerning the affairs of her
friend. Nor was Fielding in any degree backward to respond with his
advice. He developed, in fact, an interest in their progress quite
disproportionate to his professed attitude of the spectator in the
stalls. Mrs. Willoughby lived at Knightsbridge, in a little house, of
which the drawing-room overlooked the Park close to the barracks, and he
found it very pleasant to sit there of an afternoon and discuss in a cosy
duet the future of Clarice.
The subject, besides, had the advantage of inexhaustibility. On the one
side Fielding ranged the suitors, or those whom he considered such; on
the other the vagaries of the girl. Playing these forces off not merely
against each other, but against themselves as well--for, as he pointed
out, there was no harmony in the separate camps--he evolved an infinite
number of endless complications. There was consequently no end to the
discussion, not even when Clarice was argued through the marriage
ceremony. For that point Fielding took to represent the one o'clock in
the morning of a carnival ball; then the fun really begins, though decent
people have to go away.
Mrs. Willoughby was, as ever, staunch in her defence, though a
recollection of Clarice's tearful visit with Conway's arrival for a
climax prompted her now and again to laugh in the midst of it.
'You mistake thoughtlessness for tricks,' she said. 'Clarice is only a
child as yet.'
'She has a child's capacity for emotion, I admit,' corrected Fielding,
'but a woman's knowledge of its use. The combination is deplorable.'
Fielding inquired about Drake, and was told that he had not been
seen lately. 'It looks as if he was declining in favour,' Mrs.
'Not necessarily. The man's busy--there's a company coming out.'
'A solid one?'
'Likely to be, since Drake handles it. I am thinking of taking shares.'
Mrs. Willoughby was surprised. Fielding seemed to her the last man
calculated by nature for dabbling in stocks.
'You!' she exclaimed. Fielding nodded assent.
'Then don't do it,' Mrs. Willoughby flashed out vigorously. 'Don't think
of it. Oh, I know those men in the City! Their friends get ruined, and
they--well, I mustn't say anything against them, because my husband was
one of them, poor dear,--but they move into larger offices. Mr. Drake has
been asking you to join him?'
'He hasn't done anything of the sort. I heard of the matter through quite
an independent channel. However, I am not ruined yet, and the company
won't be floated for another four months. And, after all, it's my money.'
Mrs. Willoughby became quiet.
'Well,' she said, and she derived some satisfaction from the thought, 'at
all events Clarice has dropped talking about him.'
'That means that it's Mallinson's turn on the roundabout and
'Sidney Mallinson has been refused.'
'On the Sunday we lunched at Beaufort Gardens.'
Fielding was silent for a moment. He was thinking that he had met
Mallinson of late with unusual frequency here at Mrs. Willoughby's house.
'But are you sure?' he asked.
'Certain; he told me so himself. Clarice told me too the day after.' Mrs.
Willoughby began again to laugh. 'She would have prevented him if she
could, but apparently he tried to take her by storm.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Fielding. 'On the Sunday afternoons you say? Then I was
to blame, I am afraid, for I gave him precisely that advice on the Sunday
morning. Of course, I never thought that he would take it.'
Fielding met Sidney Mallinson again and again at the house in
Knightsbridge. He was invited to dinner, but so was Mallinson, and the
latter had confidential talks with Mrs. Willoughby. He dined with some
friends at the Savoy and went on in a comfortable frame of mind to a
concert; there Mrs. Willoughby joined them, so did Mallinson, and the
couple sat side by side and conversed through a song. 'The height of bad
taste,' commented Fielding in an access of irritation. The fellow was
spoiling his comedy by relinquishing his part. He drew Mallinson aside as
they passed through the hall.
'You seem to see a good deal of Mrs. Willoughby?'
'Yes, we generally pair off together.'
Fielding dropped plump among the coarse sensations of the ordinary human.
He wanted to kick Mallinson, and to kick him hard. He saw with an
anticipatory satisfaction the glasses flying off the supercilious
gentleman's nose, and felt the jar at the end of his boot as it dashed
into the coat-tails. The action would have been too noticeable, however,
and he only said, 'What a very _bourgeois_ thing to do!'
Mallinson's air of complacency vanished as he heard the offensive term
levelled against himself. He did not, however, on that account change
his attitude towards Mrs. Willoughby. Fielding found him at the house a
few days later, and proceeded to sit him out. The contest drove Fielding
to the last pitch of exasperation, for, apart from the inherent
humiliation of the proceeding, Mrs. Willoughby was directly encouraging
Mallinson to stay.
Mallinson at last was suffered to leave, and Mrs. Willoughby, instead of
resuming her seat, walked across to the window and scrutinised intently
'That creature visits you pretty often, it appears,' said Fielding.
'Does he?' she asked. 'He comes to me for the sake of consolation,
'And makes love to you for the sake of contrast. He tells me you
generally pair off together when you meet. Pair off!' and he grimaced
the phrase to show how little he minded it. 'It'll be "keeping
Mrs. Willoughby gave a little quiet laugh. Her back was towards him, so
that he could not catch her expression, but she seemed to him culpably
indifferent to the complexion which Mallinson had given to their
'It's rather funny,' she said, 'though I can't help feeling sorry for
'I saw that you were sorry for him,' Fielding interrupted.
'But he pretends,' Mrs. Willoughby went on, ignoring the interruption
with complete unconsciousness--'he pretends to himself that I am Clarice.
He talks to me as if I were. He called me "Clarice" the other day, and
never noticed the mistake, and that's not my name, is it?' She turned to
him quite seriously as she put the question.
'No,' replied Fielding, 'your name's Constance,' and he dwelt upon the
name for a second.
'Yes--Constance,' said Mrs. Willoughby thoughtfully. 'It sounds rather
prim, don't you think?'
'Constance,' Fielding repeated, weighing it deliberately. 'Constance--no,
I rather like it.'
'Clarice shortens it to Connie.'
'Does she indeed? Connie--Constance.' Fielding contrasted the two names,
and again, 'Constance--Connie.'
Mrs. Willoughby's mouth began to dimple at the corners.
'Although one laughs,' she proceeded, 'it's really rather serious about
Mr. Mallinson. He told me once the colour of my eyes was--'
'Do you let him talk to you about the colour of your eyes?' Fielding was
really indignant at the supposition.
'He didn't ask my permission,' Mrs. Willoughby said penitently. 'But it
isn't a thing people ought to do. He said they were gray, and they
aren't, are they?' She turned her face towards him.
'Gray? Of course not,' said Fielding, and starting from his chair, he
approached Mrs. Willoughby at the window to make sure.
'Clarice's are, I know, but I am certain mine aren't.' She held up her
face towards the light, and the remark was pitched as a question.
'Yours,' said Fielding, examining them, 'Neptune dipped them in the sea
at six o'clock on an August morning.'
Mrs. Willoughby moved away from the window precipitately. 'So, if Mr.
Mallinson is so fond of Clarice,' she said, 'that he sees her in
everybody one can't help pitying him.'
Mrs. Willoughby, however, for a short time subsequently was not seen in
the company of the discarded lover, and Fielding inferred with
satisfaction that her pity was taking a less active form. He was roused
to a perception that his inference was false one night at the opera.
Mrs. Willoughby was present with Mr. Le Mesurier and Clarice. Percy
Conway he hardly reckoned, counting him at this time, from his constant
attendance, rather as an item of Clarice's toilette; and Fielding took
care to descend the staircase after the performance in close proximity to
'And how's Mr. Mallinson?' he asked of Mrs. Willoughby, not without a
certain complacency in his voice.
'Oh, poor boy!' she replied with the tenderest sympathy, 'he's in
'Ill?' asked Clarice quickly. 'You don't mean that.'
'Yes. I'm so concerned. He wrote to tell me all about it.'
Fielding looked displeased, and much the same expression was to be seen
on the face of Clarice. Mrs. Willoughby was serenely unconscious of the
effect of her words.
'I heard that he was in bed,' interposed Conway carelessly. 'But
apparently he has got something to console himself with.'
'Yes. He wrote to me about that too,' said Mrs. Willoughby. 'Fancy,
Clarice! He has inherited quite a good income. An uncle or somebody left
it to him.'
Clarice expressed an acid satisfaction at the news. She dropped behind
'You didn't know that Mr. Mallinson was ill?' she asked. 'Did none of his
friends know except Connie?' and then there was a perceptible accent of
pique in her voice.
Fielding did not answer the question immediately. He had been brought of
a sudden to the vexatious conclusion that Mrs. Willoughby was a coquette
just like the rest of her trivial sex--no better, indeed, than the girl
at his side, whose first anxiety was not as to whether Mallinson was
seriously ill, but why he wrote the information to Mrs. Willoughby. He
felt that Mrs. Willoughby had no right to trifle with Mallinson. The poor
fellow had already suffered his full share of that kind of experience.
Miss Le Mesurier repeated her question impatiently, and Fielding suddenly
realised that Miss Le Mesurier's pique might prove useful in setting
matters right. He determined to encourage it.
'None that I'm aware of,' he replied. 'Mrs. Willoughby, of course, would
be likely to know first.'
'Haven't you noticed? They have struck up a great friendship
lately--always pair off together, you know.'
Miss Le Mesurier's lips curled at the despicable phrase, but she blamed
Mrs. Willoughby for the fact which it described, not Sidney Mallinson.
His attitude she could understand, and make allowance for; it had been a
despairing act prompted by an instinct of self-preservation to rid
himself of the hopeless thought of her. An unsuccessful act too, for the
poor fellow had broken down. She had no doubts as to the origin of his
illness, and overflowed promptly with sympathy. Her resentment against
Mrs. Willoughby none the less remained.
Driving homewards she asked her, 'Why didn't you tell me before that Mr.
Mallinson was ill?'
'My dear, I never gave a thought to it until I saw Mr. Fielding. The
illness isn't serious,' and Mrs. Willoughby laughed, with peculiar
heartlessness thought Clarice. They were, however, not thinking of the
Mrs. Willoughby, Clarice, and Fielding in consequence suffered some such
change in their relative positions as is apt to take place amongst the
European Powers. Poor Mrs. Willoughby, in the innocent pursuit of her own
ideas, had suddenly roused two former friends into a common antagonism.
These friends, besides, had much the same grounds for resentment as the
Powers usually have, for Mrs. Willoughby's conduct was a distinct
infringement of rights which did not exist. Clarice and Fielding drew
perceptibly nearer to one another; they exchanged diplomatic
_pourparlers_. Fielding found a great deal to praise in Mallinson, and
Clarice had a word or two to say upon the score of widows. She was
doubtful whether they ought ever to re-marry. Fielding kept an open mind
on the subject, but was willing to discuss it. On the particular point,
however, whether this widow was to marry Mallinson they were both
uncompromisingly agreed, and were only hindered from an armed
demonstration by the suspicion that the sinner to the overawed would
merely laugh at it. On the whole Fielding deemed it best to address a
friendly remonstrance to Mrs. Willoughby in the interests of Clarice. He
suggested that she should see less of Sidney Mallinson.
'But I have no grounds for slamming my door in his face,' she answered
plaintively. 'You see, Clarice has refused him, and really he's very
sweet and polite to me.'
Fielding pointed out with the elaborate calmness of intense exasperation
that there could be no finality in a refusal given by Miss Le Mesurier.
Mrs. Willoughby replied that they had differed before in their views of
Clarice, and that the point he mentioned was one upon which Mr. Mallinson
must be left to judge for himself. 'Exactly,' said Fielding with
emphasis, 'he should be left to judge for himself,' and was for marching
off with colours flying. But Mrs. Willoughby could not refrain from
declaring that the unprecedented interest which Mr. Fielding took in his
friend Mr. Mallinson had raised that friend to a very different position
in her esteem from that which he had held before.
The combat was renewed more than once, but with no different result, and
upon the same lines. Mrs. Willoughby received his attacks with a patient
humility, and rushed out to catch him a flout as he was retiring.
Finally, however, she shifted her position, and became the aggressor. She
suggested that Fielding was really in love with Clarice, and trying to
gain favour with her by bringing an admirer back to her feet. Fielding
was furious at the suggestion, and indignantly repudiated it. She ignored
the repudiation, and quietly insisted in pointing out the meanness of
such a system of making love. The unfortunate gentleman's dignity
constrained him to listen in silence, for he felt that he would have
spluttered had he opened his lips. The only course open to him was a
retreat with a high head, and he declared that it was no longer possible
for him to continue a discussion which he had begun as much in her true
interests as on behalf of justice and her particular friend Miss Le
Mesurier, and went home. By return of post he received a pen-and-ink
drawing of himself and Clarice 'pairing off.' He was figured in the
costermonger's dress, with his arm tucked under the girl's, and her hat
on his head.
Meanwhile Mallinson was still in bed, completely ignorant of the battle
which had been waged for the possession of him.
Fielding thought more than once of calling at his flat, since his
determination had been sharpened rather than overcome by the victories of
Mrs. Willoughby. He was more than ever convinced that Mallinson ought to
have a fair chance with Miss Le Mesurier--an equal chance with Drake. The
name of Drake made him pause. Miss Le Mesurier knew everything there was
to be known about Mallinson, but there were certain facts in Drake's
history of which she was ignorant. The question sprang into his mind,
'Could Mallinson have a fair chance unless she was made acquainted with
those facts?' Fielding knew Members of Parliament who had been returned
over the heads of residents in the constituency because they entered it
too late for the electors to become intimate with their defects. Drake's
career might provide an analogy unless Clarice was told. He argued to
convince himself that he felt she ought to be told, but he could not
bring himself to the point of telling. He decided finally upon an
alternative which would, he imagined, secure his purpose, while relieving
him of the responsibility. He would tell Mallinson of the Gorley episode,
for the rival surely had a right to know. Whether Clarice was to be
informed or not, Mallinson should be allowed to judge.
Fielding assured himself of the justice of his intention for the space of
two days without putting it into execution, but on the third he chanced
to meet Conway, and was given the information that Mallinson's inherited
income amounted to a thousand pounds. The news decided him. Under these
circumstances Mallinson certainly ought to know. He jumped into a hansom
and drove down to South Kensington.
Mallinson was still in bed, but sufficiently recovered to write up his
diary. The book lay upon the counterpane open, but as Fielding was
introduced into the room, its author shut it up and tucked it under his
pillow. It was kept entirely for his own perusal, a voluminous record of
sensations ranging from a headache to a fit of anger, without the mention
of an incident from cover to cover.
'I hear you have had a touch of bronchitis,' said Fielding.
'Something more than a touch, I can tell you. I have been rather ill.
However, I am going to get up to-morrow.'
Fielding found it difficult to come to the point of his visit.
'You must have found it dull.'
'Not very. I can always interest myself. Drake came to see me yesterday.'
'Drake! How did he know? Conway told him, I suppose.'
'No, Miss Le Mesurier told him.'
'Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.
'Yes. Are you surprised?' The question was put with some resentment.
'That she told him? No, I expect she sent him.' A smirk upon the
invalid's face showed he shared the thought.
'By the way,' Fielding continued, 'talking of Miss Le Mesurier, did you
ever meet a man called Gorley?'
'No. There was a Gorley who was engaged to her. Is that the man?'
'Yes. I heard rather a strange story about him. He went out to Africa,
Mallinson lifted himself on his elbow.
'Africa,' he said slowly. 'Yes, I heard that. Why do you mention him?'
'Oh, I thought perhaps you might have known the man, that's all.
Fielding spoke with a studied carelessness, looking anywhere except at
'Dead,' repeated Mallinson in the same tone, but his heart was beginning
to race, and he lifted himself higher into a sitting position. 'Gorley
was a relation of Mrs. Willoughby, I believe.'
'A kind of cousin.'
There was silence between the men for a second or two. Mallinson was
recalling what Mrs. Willoughby had said that evening at Beaufort Gardens,
when Mr. Le Mesurier pressed her to meet Stephen Drake at lunch.
'So Gorley died in Africa,' he remarked. 'Where? Do you know?'
'Yes; at Boruwimi.'
Mallinson started. Fielding glanced at him involuntarily, and their
'A strange story, you said. Suppose you tell it me. It will while away
some of my time.'
Fielding lit a cigarette and related the story. At the end of it
Mallinson lay back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. Once or twice
Fielding spoke to him, but he did not hear. He was not thinking: the
knowledge that the secret to be discovered was his to use was as a sense
in him. He felt it pulsing through his veins and throbbing at his heart.
Mrs. Willoughby was forgotten. It had been after all but a fictitious
fancy which he had conceived for her, a fancy fostered in the main as
balm for his self-respect after his refusal by Clarice.
As soon as he was sufficiently recovered he called upon Miss Le Mesurier,
confident that his hour and opportunity had come. Drake, however, had
reported to Clarice on the condition of Mallinson, and her sympathy had
in consequence to a great extent evaporated. Bronchitis was not of the
ailments which spring from a broken heart, and she was inclined to hold
it as a grievance against him that she had been so wastefully touched
with pity. Her sympathy disappeared altogether when with little
circumlocution he broached the subject of the Boruwimi expedition, and
dropped a mention of Mrs. Willoughby's relative. There was something at
the back of it, he hinted.
Clarice wondered whence he had got his information, but made no effort to
check him. She stood looking out of the window while he retold her the
story of Gorley's death. It became more unreal to her than ever; for
while his account was correctly given, as Mrs. Willoughby had given it to
Fielding, it lacked the uncompromising details which Drake himself had
furnished. Her recollection of these details made the man who had given
them stand out in her thoughts.
'It was a pitiful affair,' Mallinson concluded, 'but I thought you
ought to know.'
Clarice drew a finger down the frame of glass in front of her.
'Mr. Drake thought so too,' she said quietly.
'Drake!' exclaimed Mallinson, utterly bewildered. 'Drake! The man
wouldn't be such a--'
'He was though.'
'Do you mean that he confessed to it?'
'Confess?' she said, turning towards him. 'That is hardly the word. He
told me of his own accord the moment he knew I had been engaged to--to--'
She broke off at the name, and continued, 'and he spared himself in the
telling far less than you have spared him.'
She spoke with a gentle dignity which Mallinson had never known in her
before, and he felt that it raised a more solid barrier between them than
even her refusal had done.
Fielding, meanwhile, waited with an uneasy conscience which no casuistry
would lighten. He threw himself in Mallinson's way time after time in
order to ascertain whether the latter had spoken. Mallinson let no word
of the matter slip from him, and for the rest seemed utterly despondent.
Fielding threw out a feeler at last.
'Of course,' he said, 'you would never repeat what I told you about
Gorley. I forgot to mention that.'
Mallinson flushed. 'Of course not,' he said awkwardly.
Fielding turned on him quickly. 'Then what made you tell Miss Le
Mallinson was too taken aback to deny the accusation. 'Oh, Miss Le
Mesurier,' he replied, 'knew already.'
'She knew? Who told her?'
Fielding drew in his breath and whistled. His first feeling was one of
distinct relief, that after all he had not been the means by which
Clarice had come to her knowledge; his second was one of indignation
against Drake. He realised how a frank admission from Drake would
outweigh in the girl's susceptible nature the fact admitted. 'What on
earth induced him to reveal it?'
'I suppose he is a little more cunning than one took him for. No doubt he
saw the thing would get known sooner or later, and thought the disclosure
had better come from himself.'
Fielding had been leaning to the same opinion, but the moment he heard it
stated, and stated by Mallinson, he felt a certain conviction that it was
wrong. 'I don't believe that,' he said sharply.
He was none the less, however, indignant with Drake. To intermeddle at
all in other people's concerns was averse to his whole theory of
existence. But to intermeddle, and not very creditably, and out of the
most disinterested motives of benevolence and expediency, and then to
fail! All this was nothing short of degrading. He dined that night at
his club, to which Drake had been elected, and lay in wait for him.
Drake, however, did not appear, and at ten o'clock Fielding went round
to his rooms.
Drake was living in chambers on the Embankment, a little to the west of
Hungerford Bridge. As he was shown into the room, Fielding could not help
noticing the plainness of its furniture and adornment. The chairs were
covered with a cheap red cretonne; there was an armchair or two with the
high seat and long elbows, which seemed to have gone astray from a
Peckham drawing-room; an ormolu clock under a glass shade ornamented the
overmantel, and in the way of literature there was one book in the
room--Prescott's _Conquest of Peru_--and a copy of the _Times_.
Drake was seated at the table engaged in the study of a map of Matanga.
'Come in!' he said cordially. Fielding drew up a chair to the fire. 'Have
a drink? The cigars are on the mantelshelf.'
Drake fetched a syphon and a decanter of whisky and mixed two glasses. He
handed one to Fielding, and brought his map to the fire.
'Ah!' said Fielding. 'There's likely to be a rising in Matanga, I see.'
'How will that affect you?'
'Not at all, I think. It may delay things, of course, but it won't take
long, and, besides, it won't touch the interior of the country. There
will be a certain amount of shouting in the capital and round the coast,
perhaps a gun or two fired off, and then they'll settle down under a new
'But there are a good many Germans there, aren't there? What if they
invite the German Government to interfere?'
'I don't fancy that's probable. The German colonist isn't over fond of
German rule. You see the first thing a German official wants to do when
he catches sight of a black, is to drill him. It's his first and often
his last idea. He wants to see him holding the palm of his hand against
the stripe of an invisible trouser, and the system doesn't work, because
the black clears over the nearest border.'
Fielding laughed and turned to the object of his visit. 'Talking of
Matanga, what in the world made you tell Miss Le Mesurier about Gorley?'
Drake looked up from his map. 'How did you know anything about
Gorley?' he asked.
'Mrs. Willoughby told me. I thought it was decided Miss Le Mesurier
should not be told.'
'Mr. Le Mesurier left the choice to me, and it seemed to me that she had
a right to know.'
Drake paused for a second in reflection. 'It seemed to me--' he
'Well, she hadn't,' snapped Fielding.
'Well, I think she had,' answered Drake quietly, returning to his map.
'Then you were wrong; she hadn't. The engagement was broken off a long
while ago, and you hadn't a right to tell her unless you want to marry
Drake raised his head with a jerk and stared at the wall in front of him
fixedly. He made no answer, nor could Fielding distinguish upon his face
any expression which gave a clue to his thoughts. He got up from his
chair, and Drake turned to him. 'I gather from your tone,' he said in an
indifferent voice, 'that Mrs. Willoughby resents my action.'
'My dear fellow, no,' exclaimed Fielding energetically. 'For Heaven's
sake, don't take me for a reflex of Mrs. Willoughby!'
No more plotting for him, he determined. He had planned and calculated
and interfered, all for other people's good, and this was the thanks he
got; to be quietly informed that he hadn't an idea of his own.
The next afternoon Mrs. Willoughby stopped her phaeton beside him in Bond
Street. She looked very well, he thought, with her clear
complexion,--clear as those clear eyes of hers with just the hint of
azure in the whites of them--wind-whipped now to a rosy warmth.
'May I congratulate you yet?' she asked pleasantly.
Fielding was not to be provoked to renew the combat, and he put the
question aside. 'You remember what you told me the other day about
Gorley,' he said.
'Yes,' she answered, becoming serious.
'Well, Miss Le Mesurier knows.'
'Who told her?' and she leaned forward.
Mrs. Willoughby thought for a moment and then shook her head. 'I can't.
'No; Drake himself.'
She started back in her seat. Then she said, 'Of course, we might have
known that he would,' and the 'we' sealed their reconciliation.
When Fielding had gone, Drake opened the window and stepped out on
'Unless you want to marry her yourself'; the words were stamped upon his
mind in capitals. They formulated to him for the first time the cause of
that unreasoned conviction of his, and formulated it too, as he realised,
with absolute truth. Yes, it was just his desire for Clarice to which he
owed his belief that she had an unquestionable right to know his
responsibility for Gorley's death.
He wanted her, and wanting her, was committed to scrupulous frankness.
Drake looked out across the city. At his feet lay the quiet strip of
garden, lawn and bush; beyond, the lamps burning on the parapets of the
Embankment, and beyond them, the river shining in the starlight, polished
and lucent like a slab of black marble, with broad regular rays upon it
of a still deeper blackness, where the massive columns of Hungerford
Bridge cast shadows on the water. An engine puffed and snorted into the
station, leaving its pennant of white smoke in the air. Through the glass
walls of the signal-box above the bridge Drake could see the men in a
blaze of light working at the levers, and from the Surrey end there came
to him a clink, and at that distance a quite musical clink, of truck
against truck as some freight-train was shunted across the rails. Away to
his right the light was burning on Westminster clock-tower; on
Westminster Bridge the lamps of cabs and carriages darted to and fro like
fire-flies. Drake watched two of them start across in the same direction
a few yards apart, saw the one behind close up, the one in front spirt
forward as though each was straining for the lead. They drew level, then
flashed apart, then again drew level, and so passing and repassing raced
into the myriad lights upon the opposite bank. That bank was visible to
him through a tracery of leafless twigs, for a tree grew in front of his
window on the farther edge of the gardens, and he could see the lights
upon its roadway dancing, twirling, clashing in the clear night, just as
they clashed and twirled and danced in the roadway beneath him, sparks
from a forge, and that forge, London. In their ceaseless motion they
seemed rivulets of fire, and the black sheet of water between them the
solid highway. But even while he looked, a ruby light moved on that
highway out from the pillars of the bridge, and then another and another.
Everywhere was the glitter of lights; fixed, flashing like a star on the
curve, or again growing slowly from a pin's point to an orb, and then
dwindling to a point and vanishing. And on every side, too, Drake heard
the quick beat of horses, and the rattle of wheels struck out not from
silence, but from a dull eternal hum like the hum of a mill, sharp
particular notes emerging incessantly from a monotonous volume of sound.
It was just this aspect and this noise of restless activity which had
always appealed to Drake, and had satisfied him with an assurance that he
was on the road to the fulfilment of his aims. He had achieved something
of his desires, however small. He was in London working at certain
schemes of which he did not doubt the ultimate success. They were built
upon a foundation of knowledge arduously gained and tested. The rising in
Matanga, if it took place, might delay success, but success would surely
come. He might then look forward with confidence to a seat in that
Parliament on which the light was burning, to a share perhaps finally in
But to-night he found that there was something wanting in the
contemplation of these aims, something wanting in the very outlook from
his window. He needed Clarice here in his balcony by his side, and he
pictured the shine of her eyes bent towards him in the dark. And the
perception of that need held him in check, gave him a hint of warning
that the thought of her might become as a wedge driven into the framework
of his purposes and splitting them.
He could still draw back, he assured himself. But if he went on and won!
He felt the blood surging through his veins. He might win; there was just
a chance. The Gorley incident had made no real difference in Clarice's
friendliness. When once, indeed, she had grown used to it, she had seemed
almost to express some queer sort of sympathy with him.
Drake closed the window and sat down to calculate the time at which he
would be sufficiently established to make known his suit. He fixed that
time definitely in July. July! The name sounded pleasantly with its
ripple of liquid syllables. Drake found himself repeating it when he
should have been at work. It began to rise to his lips the moment a date
was asked of him, as the only date at all worth mentioning. Fielding came
down to Drake's office in Old Broad Street, in order to apply for shares
in 'Matanga Concessions.'
'You had better wait,' said Drake. 'I will let you know before they are
offered to the public.'
'That will be soon?'
'Not for the moment. There's the possibility of this rising. Let the
country quiet down first!'
'But when do you propose?'
'July? That's a long time to come.'
Drake coloured to the roots of his hair. 'I beg your pardon,' he said
with evident embarrassment; 'much sooner than that of course. I was
thinking of some one else.' He made matters worse by a hurried correction
of 'some one' to 'something.'
Fielding noticed the embarrassment and the correction, and drew
conclusions. They were conclusions, he thought, of which Mrs. Willoughby
should be advised, and he drove to her house accordingly. He had ceased
to feel displeasure at Mrs. Willoughby's conduct, for since he had
studiously refrained from betraying the slightest irritation at
Mallinson's visits, those visits had amazingly diminished.
'Did he happen to mention the date of the month and the time of the day?'
was Mrs. Willoughby's comment.
'It sounds cold-blooded? Hardly, if you knew the man. He looks on life as
a sort of draughtboard. So many definite moves to be made forward upon
definite lines. Then you're crowned king and can move as you please,
backwards if you like, till the end of the game.'
'He will be crowned king in July?'
'So I imagine.'
Meanwhile Drake worked on through March and April, outwardly untroubled,
but inwardly asking himself ever: 'Shall I win? Shall I win?' The
question besieged him. Patient he could be, none more so, when the end in
view was to be gained by present even though gradual endeavour; but this
passive waiting was a lid shut down on him, forcing his energies inwards
to prey upon himself. His impatience, moreover, was increased by the
increasing prospects of his undertaking. Additional reports had been
received from his engineer appraising at a still higher value the quality
of the land. He spoke too of a tract of country bordering Drake's
concession on the north, and advised application for it. Biedermann,
besides, had taken up the project warmly. The company was to come out
early in May; there would be few shares open to the public, and the
revolution had not taken place.
Why should he wait till July after all? Drake felt inclined to argue the
question one Sunday afternoon in London's lilac time, as he walked
across the green park towards Beaufort Gardens. He found Miss Le
Mesurier alone and in a melancholy mood. She was singing weariful
ballads in an undertone as he entered the room, and she rose
dispiritedly to welcome him.
'It's seldom one finds you alone,' he said, and his face showed his
'I don't know,' she replied. 'It seems to me sometimes that I am always
alone, even when people are by,' and her eyelids drooped.
Clarice's sincerity was of the artist's sort implying a sub-consciousness
of an audience. She recognised from the accent upon the _you_, that her
little speech had not failed of its effect. She continued more
cheerfully: 'Aunt has gone up to Highgate to see some relations, and
papa's asleep in the library.'
'You were singing. I hope you won't stop.'
'I was only passing the time.'
'You will make me think I intrude.'
'I'll prove to you that you don't,' and she went back to the piano. Drake
seated himself at the side of it, facing her and facing the open window.
The window-ledges were ablaze with flowers, and the scent of them poured
into the room on a flood of sunshine.
Clarice was moved by a sudden whim to a change of humour. She sprang
from her dejection to the extreme of good spirits. Her singing proved
it, for she chose a couple of light-hearted French ballads, and sang
them with a dainty humour which matched the daintiness of the words and
music. Her shrugs and pouts, the pretty arching of her eyebrows, the
whimsical note of mockery in her voice, represented her to Drake under a
new aspect, helped to complete her in his thoughts much as her voice,
very sweet and clear for all its small compass, completed in some queer
way the flowers and sunshine. Her manner, however, did more than that;
it gave to him, conscious of a certain stiffness and inflexibility of
temperament, an inner sense of completion anticipated from his hope of a
time when their lives would join. He leaned forward in his chair,
watching the play of her face, the lights and shadows in the curls of
her hair, the nimble touch of her fingers on the keys. Clarice stopped
suddenly. 'You don't sing?'
'I have no accomplishments at all.'
She laughed and began to play one of Chopin's nocturnes. Her fingers
rattled against the ivory on a run up the piano. She stopped and took a
ring from her right hand; Drake noticed that it was the emerald ring
which he had seen winking in the firelight on that evening when she had
covered her face from him. She dropped the ring on the top of the piano
at Drake's side. It spun round once or twice, and then settled down with
a little tinkling whirr upon the rim of its hoop Drake fancied that the
removal of this particular ring was in some inexplicable way of hopeful
augury to him.
Clarice resumed her playing, but as she neared the end of the nocturne,
Drake perceived that there was a growing change, a declension, in her
style. She seemed to lose the spirit of the nocturne and even her command
on the instrument; the firm touch faltered into indecision, from
indecision to absolute unsteadiness; the notes, before clear and
distinct, now slurred into one another with a tremulous wavering.
'You are fond of music?' she asked at length, with something of an
'Very,' he replied, 'though it puzzles me. It's like opening a book
written in a language you don't understand. You get a glimpse of a
meaning here and there, but no meaning really. I can't explain what I
feel,' he added, with a laugh. 'I want Mallinson to help me.'
'You admire Mr. Mallinson?' asked Clarice, stopping suddenly.
'Well, one always admires the class of work one can't do oneself, eh?'
'That's very generous of you.'
'Why generous?' Drake leaned suddenly forward. His habit of putting
questions abrupt and straight to the point had discomposed Miss Le
Mesurier upon an occasion before. She answered hurriedly. 'I mean--you
spoke as if you meant that class of work was above your own.'
'Oh, there's no basis of comparison.'
Clarice seized the opportunity, and inquired after the prospects of his
work in Matanga.
'The place should do,' said Drake. 'The land's good, there's a river
running through, and I have got picked men to settle on it; all English,
that's the point. But you said generous. I don't see.'
Clarice switched him on the subject of English colonisation. 'It's
necessary to have Englishmen to start it? Why?'
'Oh, well,' said Drake. 'It's easy enough to see, if you can compare
English with the foreign colonies.' He rose from his chair and launched
forth, walking about the room. 'Look at the Germans! There are seven
hundred German colonists, all told, in the German colonies, and each of
them costs the German tax-payer little short of eight hundred a year. How
many of them are in the English colonies? And what's the reason? Why,
they want to have the institutions of the Fatherland ready-made in five
minutes. They need the colonies made before they can prosper in it. The
French are better, but they are spoilt by officialdom. The Englishman
just adapts himself to the conditions, and sets to work to adapt the
conditions to himself too. He strikes a sort of mean, and the Home
Government leaves him alone--leaves him too much alone some say, and
rightly, in cases. There's a distinction to be drawn, and it's difficult
to draw it so far away. It's this, when the colony's made, then it isn't
a bad thing for the Government to keep a fairly tight hold on it. But in
the making it's best left to itself; you can lay a cable between London
and a colony too soon for the good of that colony. There's no fear of the
colonist forgetting the mother country--he may forget the Home
Government, does at times, and then there's a mistake or two. But that's
the defect of the quality.' He checked himself abruptly. 'But I'm running
away from what we were talking about. Yes; I think we shall do all right
'You don't mean to go back there yourself?'
'Not to live there. To tell the truth, I think there's a man or two
wanted in England just now, who has had a practical experience of our
colonies.' Drake spoke without the least trace of boastfulness, but in a
tone of quiet self-reliance, and Clarice had a thrill of intuition that
he would not have said so much as that to any one but herself.
Clarice began to play again, this time a waltz tune. Drake came over to
the piano, and stood leaning upon the lid of it; he took up the ring and
turned it over in his fingers. She said thoughtfully:
'I suppose that's true of men as well'; and then, with a hesitating
correction, 'I mean of men like you.'
'Well, that they are best without--help from any one--that they stand in
no need of it.' She spoke quite seriously, with a note almost of regret.
'Oh, I don't know that,' he answered, with a laugh. 'It would be a rash
thing to say. Of course a man ought to depend upon himself.'
'Oh, of course,' she agreed, and went on playing.
Drake was still holding the ring, and he said slowly:
'You remember that afternoon I told you about'--he hesitated for a
second--'Gorley?' Clarice looked up in surprise.
'Yes,' she said.
'You were wearing this ring. You hid your face in your hands. It was the
last thing I saw of you.'
She lowered her eyes from his face, and said, with a certain timidity,
'He gave it to me.'
Drake started and leaned on the piano.
'And you still wear it?' he asked sharply.
She nodded, but without looking at him. Drake rose upright, straightening
himself; for a moment or two he stood looking at her, and then he walked
away towards the window. His hat was lying on a table close by it.
'But I don't think that I shall again,' she murmured. She heard him turn
quickly round and come back. He stood behind her; she could see his
shadow thrown across the bar of sunlight on the carpet; but he did not
speak. Clarice became anxious that he should, and yet afraid too. The
music began to falter again; once she stopped completely, and let her
fingers rest upon the keys, as though she had no power to lift them and
continue. Then she struck a chord with a loud defiance. If only he would
move, she thought--if only he would come round and stand in front of
her! It would be so much easier to speak, to divert him. So long as he
stood silent and motionless behind her, she felt, in a strange manner,
at his mercy.
She rose from her seat suddenly, and confronted him. There was challenge
in the movement, but none the less her eyes sought the ground, and, once
face to face with him, she stood in an attitude of submission.
'What does that mean?' she heard him ask in a low voice. 'You won't wear
She did not answer, but in spite of herself, against her will, she raised
her eyes until they met his. She heard a cry, hoarse and passionate; she
felt herself lifted, caught, and held against him. She saw his eyes above
hers, burning into hers; she felt the pressure of two lips upon hers, and
her own respond obediently.
'Is it true?' The words were whispered into her ear with an accent of
wonder, almost of awe.
'Yes,' she whispered back, compelled to the answer, subservient to his
touch, to his words, and, to the full, conscious of her subservience. She
felt the big breath he drew in answering her monosyllable. He held her
unresisting, passive in his arms, watching her cheeks fire. She realised,
in a kind of detached way, that he was holding her so that the tips of
her toes only touched the floor, and somehow that seemed of a piece with
the rest. Then he set her down, and stood apart, keeping her hands. 'It's
funny,' he said, 'how one goes on year after year, quite satisfied,
knowing nothing of this, meaning not to know.'
She caught at the phrase and stammered, 'Perhaps that was wise.'
'It was. For so I met you.'
He released her hands, and she sank into the nearest chair. Drake walked
to the window and stood facing the sunlight, breathing it in. 'Clarice,'
she heard him murmur, with a shake of his shoulders like a great
Newfoundland dog; and then the cry of a newspaper boy shouting the
headlines of a special edition rasped into the room.
Drake leaned out of the window. 'Hi!' he called, and tossed a penny into
'Threepence,' shouted the boy from below.
'It's a penny paper,' cried Drake.
'Threepence. There's a corner in 'em.'
Clarice listened to the argument. Most men, she thought helplessly, don't
buy newspapers the moment they have been accepted, and, at all events, it
is an occasion when they are disposed to throw their money about. It made
no difference of any kind to him.
Drake finally got the better of the bargain, and the paper was brought up
to the room. Clarice saw Drake open it hurriedly, and his face cloud and
harden as he glanced down the column.
'What's the matter?' she asked in a rising voice.
'A rebellion in Matanga,' he said slowly. 'I thought that danger was
averted,' and there was a distinct note of self-reproach in his tone.
Clarice felt her heart beat quicker. She rose from her chair. 'What does
that mean to you?' she asked.
'Delay,' he replied, with the self-reproach yet more accentuated.
'Nothing more, I am sure; but it does mean that.'
He noticed an expression of disappointment upon the girl's face, and,
mistaking it, repeated, 'Nothing more than that, Clarice.' He took a step
towards her. 'Of course I ought not to have spoken to you yet,--not until
everything was settled. I am sorry--of course it will come out all right,
only till then it wasn't fair. I didn't mean to,--not even when I came
this afternoon. But seeing you,--I wasn't strong enough,--I gave in.'
Clarice felt a pulse of satisfaction, and her lips shaped to a smile.
'Ah, you don't regret it,' he exclaimed, and the look of humiliation
passed from his face. 'Your father's in the library,' he went on; 'I had
better go and tell him. Shall I go alone, or will you come with me?'
'No, you go; I will wait here.'
She stood alone in the centre of the room while Drake went downstairs,
staring fixedly in front of her. Once or twice she set her hands to her
forehead and drew them down her flushed cheeks. Then she walked to the
window. There was something floating on the edge of her mind, just
eluding her. A thought was it, or a phrase? If a phrase, who had spoken
it? She began to remember; it was something Stephen Drake had said, but
about what? And then, in a flash, her recollection defined it for her. It
was about moonlight being absorbed into the darkness of an African veld,
just soaking into it like water into dry ground. She had a vision of the
wide rolling plain, black from sky's rim to sky's rim, and the moonlight
pouring a futile splendour into its lap. She moved with a quick and
almost desperate run to the door, opened it, and leaned over the
balustrade of the staircase. The hall was empty and no sound of voices
came from the library. She stepped cautiously down the stairs; as she
reached the last step the door of the library opened and Drake appeared
on the threshold.
Clarice leaned against the wall, holding her hand to her heart.
'Why, Clarice!' he cried, and started towards her.
'Hush!' She tried to whisper the word, but her voice rose. She thrust out
a hand between herself and Drake, and cast a startled glance across his
shoulder, expecting to see her father come forward smiling
congratulations at her. Drake caught the outstretched hand, and, setting
an arm about her waist, drew her into the library.
'I have not seen Mr. Le Mesurier,' he said; 'he's out, I am afraid.'
The room was empty. Clarice looked round it, doubting her eyes, and with
a sudden revulsion of feeling dropped into a chair by the table and sat
with her face buried in her arms in a flood of tears.
Drake bent over her, stroking her hair with a gentle helpless movement of
his hand and occasionally varying his consolation by a pat on the
shoulders. The puffed sleeves of silk yielding under his touch gave him a
queer impression of the girl's fragility.
'Oh don't, child!' he entreated. 'It's my fault for speaking so soon. But
really there's nothing to fear--nothing. It'll all come out right--not a
doubt of that. You'll see.'
Consolation of this kind did but make the tears flow yet more freely.
Drake perceived the fact and stood aside, wondering perplexedly at the
reason. The sound of each sob jerked at his heart; he began to walk
restlessly about the room. The storm, from its very violence, however,
wore itself quickly out; the sobs became less convulsive, less frequent.
Clarice raised her head from her arms and stared out of the window
opposite, with just now and then a little shiver and heave of her back.
Drake stopped his walk and advanced to her. She anticipated his speech,
turning with a start to face him.
'You haven't seen my father?'
'No; the servant told me he had gone out. But I wrote a note saying I
would call again this evening. It is under your elbow.'
Clarice picked up the crumpled envelope and looked at it absently.
'Stephen,' she said, and she tripped upon the name, 'there's something I
ought to tell you--now. But it's rather difficult.'
Drake walked to the window and stood with his back towards her. She felt
grateful to him for the action, and was a little surprised at the tact
which had prompted it.
'Yes?' he said.
'We are not very well off,' she continued; 'perhaps you know that.'
'Yes,' he interrupted.
'But the position's more complicated than you can know'; she was speaking
carefully, weighing her words. 'Of course you know that I have a sister
younger than myself. She's at school in Brussels. Well, by the Sark laws,
the Seigneurie can't be split up between the members of a family. I think
it's the same with all land there. It must go--what's the
word?--unencumbered to the eldest child. So it must come to me--all of
it. That leaves my sister still to be provided for. Father explained the
whole thing to me. As it is, he has as much as he can do to keep the
Seigneurie up. This house we can't really afford, but father thought he
ought to take it,--well, for my sake, I suppose. So, you see, whatever
money he has he must leave to my sister, and there's still the Seigneurie
for me to keep up.'
'Yes, I understand. You are bound by duty, if you marry, to marry some
one with means. But, Clarice, it won't be long to wait,' and he turned
back from the window into the room.
'But till then--don't you see? Of course I know you will be successful,'
and she laid considerable emphasis on the _I_.
Drake reflected for a moment. 'You mean there would be trouble between
your father and you. The weight of it would fall on you. He might
distrust me. Yes; after all, why should he not? But still the thing's
done, isn't it?'
Clarice rose from her chair and walked to the grate. A fire was burning,
and she still held Drake's letter in her hand. 'We might keep it to
ourselves,' she said diffidently. She saw Drake's forehead contract.
'For my sake,' she said softly, laying a hand upon his sleeve. She lifted
a tear-stained face up to his with the prettiest appeal. 'I know you hate
it, but it will spare me so much.'
He said nothing, and she dropped the letter into the fire.
As Drake was leaving the house she heard, through the closed door, the
sound of her father's voice in the hall speaking to him, and felt a
momentary pang of alarm. The next instant, however, she laughed. He might
have broken his word to himself; he would not break it to her.
Drake went home, reckoning up the harm he had done with a feeling of
degradation quite new to him. Not the least part of that harm was the
compromise finally agreed upon. But for the traces of tears upon the
girl's cheeks, he would hardly have agreed to it even in the face of
her appeal. Once alone, however, he saw clearly all--the deception
that it implied--deception which involved the girl, too, as well as
himself. He rose the next day in no more equable frame of mind, and
leaving his office at three o'clock in the afternoon, walked along
Cheapside, Holborn, and Oxford Street, and turned down Bond Street,
meaning to pass an hour in the fencing-rooms half-way down St. James
Street. At the corner of Bruton Street he came face to face with Miss
Le Mesurier. She coloured for an instant, and then came frankly
forward and held out her hand.
'It's funny meeting you here,' she said, and laughed without the least
Drake turned and walked by her side with a puzzled conjecture at the
reason of woman's recuperative powers. Clarice's eyes were as clear, her
forehead as sunny, as though she had clean wiped yesterday from her
consciousness. The conjecture, however, brought the reality of yesterday
only yet more home to him. He stopped in the street and said abruptly,
'Clarice, I can't.'
She stopped in her turn and drew a little pattern on the pavement with
the point of her umbrella. 'Why?'
A passer-by jostled Drake in the back. Standing there they were blocking
the way. 'Isn't there anywhere we could go? Tea? One drinks tea at this
Clarice felt more mistress of herself in the open street, more able to
cope with Drake while they walked in a throng. She remembered enough
of yesterday to avoid even the makeshift solitude of a tea-table in a
public room. 'Let us walk on,' she said. 'Can't you explain as we go?
I am late.'
She moved forward as she spoke, and Drake kept pace with her, shortening
his strides. The need of doing that, trifle though it was, increased his
sense of responsibility towards her. 'It's so abominably deceitful, and
it's my doing. I should involve you in the deceit.'
Clarice glanced at him sharply. The distress of his voice was repeated in
the expression of her face. There was no doubting that he spoke
'I had better see your father to--day,' he added.
'No,' she replied energetically; and, after a moment's pause, 'There's
'Let everything be as it was before yesterday. I shall not change. It
will be better for you to be free. Come to me when you are ready.'
She signed to a passing hansom, and it drew up by the curb. She got into
it while Drake stood with brows knitted, revolving the proposal in his
mind. 'But you see it can't be the same,' he said; 'because I kissed you,
'Yes, you did,' she replied.
The tremble of laughter in her voice made him look up to her face. The
rose deepened in her cheeks, and the laughter rippled out. 'You are
quaint,' she said. 'I will forget--well--what you said, until you are
ready. Till then it's to be just as it was before--only not less. You are
not to stay away'; and without waiting for an answer she lifted the trap,
gave the cabman his order, and drove off. Drake watched the hansom
disappear, and absently retraced his steps down the street. He stopped
once or twice and stared vaguely into the shop-windows. One of these was
a jeweller's, and he turned sharply away from it and quickened his pace
towards the fencing-rooms. How could it be the same, he asked himself,
when the mere sparkle of an emerald ring in a jeweller's shop-window
aroused in him a feeling of distaste?
Towards the end of this week Clarice called upon Mrs. Willoughby, and
seemed for the moment put out on finding that Mallinson and Fielding were
present. Mrs. Willoughby welcomed her all the more warmly because she was
finding it difficult to keep the peace between her two visitors. She
understood Clarice's embarrassment when Percy Conway arrived close upon
her heels. Clarice, however, quietly handed him over to Mrs. Willoughby,
and seated herself beside Mallinson in one of the windows. 'I see nothing
of you now,' she said, and she looked the reproach of the hardly-used. 'I
thought we had agreed to be friends?'
Mallinson sighed wearily. 'I will come and call--some day,' he said
'I have not so many friends that I can afford a loss,' she answered
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