E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 2 out of 4
down and have a drink?"
"My dear fellow," Kendrick sighed, "sarcasm does not become you. We are
all drinking--your whisky. Also, I believe, smoking your cigarettes. Your
servant--admirable fellow, that--absolutely forced them upon us--wouldn't
take 'no.' And indeed, why should we refuse? We have come to offer you
rivers of champagne, cigars of abnormal length, and the lips of the
fairest houris in London. In other words, Sir Frederick Houstley, steel
magnate of Sheffield, is giving a supper party to the world, and our
instructions are to convey you there by force or persuasion, drunk or
sober, sleepy or wide awake."
"I accept your cordial invitation," Wingate said, mixing himself a whisky
and soda. "At what time does the fight commence?"
"Forthwith," Kendrick announced. "We sally forth from here to the
Arcadian Rooms, situated in this building. Afterwards we make merry.
John, my boy," he went on, "you have the air of a man who has drunk deep
already to-night of the waters of happiness. Exactly where did you dine?"
"In Utopia," Wingate answered. "According to you, I am to sup in
"But breakfast," the Honourable Jimmy put in,--"a man ought to be
dashed careful where he breakfasts. A man is known by his breakfast
"Young fellow," Wingate asked, "where is Sarah?"
"Have no fear," was the blissful reply. "Sarah is coming to the supper.
She's filling her old 'bus up with peaches from the Gaiety. Not being
allowed to sit inside with any of them, I was sent on ahead."
"You dog!" Maurice White exclaimed.
"Dog yourself," was the prompt retort. "Opportunity is a fine thing.
Sometimes I have a gruesome fear that Sarah does not altogether
Kendrick, who had been straightening his tie before the glass, now
"This way to the lift, boys," he said. "Time we put in an appearance."
The reception room of the Arcadian suite was already fairly well crowded.
Wingate shook hands with his host, a cheery, theatrical-loving soul, and
was presented to many other people. Where he was not introduced he found
a pleasing absence of formality, which facilitated conversation and
rapidly widened his circle of acquaintances. Kendrick came over and
slapped him on the back.
"Wingate, my lad," he exclaimed, "you're going some! You're the bright
boy of the party. Whom are you taking into supper?"
"Me!" said a rather shrill but not unmusical voice from Wingate's side.
"Introduce us, please, Mr. Kendrick. We have been making furtive
conversation for the last five minutes."
"It is a great occasion," Kendrick declared. "I present Mr. John Wingate,
America's greatest financier, most successful soldier, and absolutely
inevitable President, to Miss Flossie Lane, England's greatest musical
Miss Lane grabbed Wingate's arm.
"Let's go in to supper," she suggested. "All the best places will be
taken if we don't hurry."
"One word," Kendrick begged, relapsing for a moment into his ordinary
manner as he touched Wingate on the shoulder. "Dredlinton is here, rather
drunk and very quarrelsome. I heard him telling some one about having
found you dining alone with his wife to-night. Phipps was listening. Look
at him, as black as a thundercloud! Keep your head if Dredlinton gets
Wingate nodded and was promptly led away. They found places about
half-way down the great horseshoe table, laden with flowers and every
sort of cold delicacy. There were champagne bottles at every other
place, a small crowd of waiters, eager to justify their existence,--a
rollicking, Bohemian crowd, the _jeunesse doree_ of London, and all the
talent and beauty of the musical comedy stage. It was a side of life with
which Wingate was somewhat unfamiliar. Nevertheless, his feet that night
were resting upon the clouds. Any form of life was sweet to him. The new
joy in his heart warmed his pulses, lightened his tongue, unlocked a new
geniality. He was disposed to talk with everybody. The young lady by his
side, however, had other views.
"Do you like our show, Mr. Wingate?" she asked. "Or perhaps you don't go
to musical comedies? I am in 'Lady Diana,' you know."
"One of the very first things I am going to see," Wingate replied, "but
as a matter of fact, I only arrived from America a few days ago. I hear
that you are a great success."
It took the young lady very nearly a quarter of an hour to explain how
greatly the play might be improved and strengthened by the allotment to
her of a few more songs and another dance, and she also recounted the
argument she had had with the stage manager as to her absence from the
stage during the greater part of Act Two.
"I am not vain," she concluded, with engaging frankness, "but on the
other hand I am not foolish, and I know quite well that many people--a
great part of the audience, in fact--come because they see my name upon
the boards, and I have numberless complaints because I am only on for
such a short time in what should be the most important act of the play. I
tell them it's nothing to do with me, but as long as my name is displayed
outside the theatre and I know how they feel about it, I feel a certain
responsibility. Now you are a very clever man, and a man of the world,
Mr. Wingate. What do you think about it?"
"I think that you are quite right," he declared, with satisfactory
"You don't know Mr. Maken, our manager, I suppose?" she enquired.
Wingate shook his head.
"As a matter of fact," he confessed, "I know very few theatrical people."
"What a pity you're not fond of the stage!" she sighed, with a world of
regret in her very blue eyes. "You might have a theatre of your own, and
a leading lady, and all the rest of it."
"It sounds rather fascinating," he admitted, "under certain
circumstances. All the same, I don't think I should like to make a
business of what is such a great pleasure."
"I thought, with American men," she said archly, "that their business
was their pleasure."
"To a certain extent, I suppose," he admitted, "but then, you see, I am
half English. My mother was English although she was married in America,
and I was born there."
"How did you manage about serving?" she enquired.
"I gave both a turn," he explained. "I turned out for England first and
then for America."
"How splendid of you!" she murmured, raising her fine eyes admiringly and
then dropping them in a most effective manner. "But wasn't it a shocking
waste of time and lives! Just fancy, in all those years, how many
undeveloped geniuses must have been killed without ever having had their
chance! How miserably upside down the whole world was, too! Four years
and more during which a supper party, except at a private house, was an
"I suppose," Wingate admitted, a little staggered, "that taken from that
point of view the war was an unfortunate infliction."
"And after all," the young lady went on, "here we are at the end of it
very much as though it had never happened. Do you think they will be able
to stop wars in the future?"
"I don't know," he confessed. "I suppose international differences must
be settled somehow or other. Personally, I think a wrestling match, or
something of that sort--"
"Now you're making fun of me," she interrupted reproachfully. "I see you
don't want to talk about serious things. Do you admire Miss Orford?" she
asked, indicating another musical comedy lady who was seated opposite,
and who had shown occasional signs of a desire to join in the
Wingate took his cue from his questioner's tone and glance.
"A little too thin," he hazarded.
"Molly is almost painfully thin," his companion conceded, with apparent
reluctance, "and I think she makes up far more than she need."
"Bad for the complexion in time, I suppose," he observed.
"I don't know. Molly's been doing it for a great many years. She
understudies me, you know, at the theatre. Would you like me to send you
word if ever I'm unable to play?"
"Quite unnecessary," he replied, with the proper amount of warmth. "I
should be far too brokenhearted to attend if you were not there. Besides,
is Miss Orford clever?"
"Don't ask me," her friend sighed. "She doesn't even do me the
compliment of imitating me. Tell me, don't you love supping here?"
"Under present circumstances," he agreed.
"I love it, too," she murmured, with an answering flash of the eyes. "I
am not sure," she went on, "that I care about these large parties,
although I always like to come when Sir Frederick asks me. He is such a
dear, isn't he?"
"He is a capital host," Wingate assented.
"I am so fond of really interesting conversation," the young lady further
confided. "I love to have a man who really amounts to something tell me
about his life and work."
"Mr. Peter Phipps, for instance?" he suggested. "Didn't I see you
lunching here with him the other day?"
She looked across the table, towards where Phipps was sitting hand in
hand with a young lady in blue, and apparently being very entertaining.
Miss Flossie caught a glimpse of Wingate's expression.
"You don't like Mr. Phipps," she said. "You don't think I ought to lunch
"I shouldn't if I were a young lady like you, whose choice must be
unlimited," Wingate replied.
"How do you know that it is unlimited?" she demanded. "Perhaps just the
people whom I would like to lunch with don't ask me."
"They need encouragement," he suggested.
She laughed into his eyes.
"Do you know anything about the men who need encouragement?" she
He avoided the point and made some casual remark about the changes in
London during the last few years. She sighed sorrowfully.
"It has changed for no one so much as me," she murmured. "The war--"
"You lost friends, I suppose?" he ventured.
She closed her eyes.
"Don't!" she whispered. "I never speak of it," she went on, twisting a
ring around her fingers nervously, "I don't like it mentioned, but I was
really engaged to young Lord Fanleighton."
He murmured a little word of sympathy, and their conversation was
momentarily interrupted as she leaned forward to answer an enquiry from
her host. Wingate turned to Sarah, who was seated at his other side.
"How dare you neglect me so shamefully!" she asked.
"Let me make amends," he pleaded.
"I am glad you feel penitent, at any rate. I expect Miss Flossie Lane has
asked you what you think of her friend, Miss Orford, and told you that
she was engaged to Lord Fanleighton."
"What a hearing!" he murmured.
"Don't be silly," she replied. "I couldn't hear a word, but I know her
stock in trade."
There was a little stir at the farther end of the table. Lord Dredlinton
had left his place and was standing behind Phipps, with his hands upon
his shoulders. He seemed to be shouting something in his ear. At that
moment he recognised Wingate. He staggered up the farther side of the
table towards him, butting into a waiter on the way and pausing for a
moment to curse him, Flossie jogged Wingate's elbow.
"What fun!" she whispered. "Here's Lord Dredlinton, absolutely blotto!"
Wingate from the first had a prescience of disagreeable things. There was
malice in Dredlinton's pallid face, the ugly twist of his lips and the
light in his bloodshot eyes. He paused opposite to them, and leaning his
hands on the back of the nearest chair, spoke across the table.
"Hullo, Flossie!" he exclaimed. "How are you, old dear? How are
Wingate replied with cold civility, Flossie with a careless nod.
"I do hope," she whispered to her companion, glancing into the mirror
which she had just drawn from her bag, "that Lord Dredlinton isn't going
to be foolish. He does embarrass me so sometimes."
"I say," Dredlinton went on, "what are you doing here, Wingate? I didn't
know this sort of thing was in your line."
Wingate raised his eyebrows but made no response. Dredlinton shook his
head reproachfully at Miss Lane.
"Flossie," he continued, "you ought to know better. Besides, you will
waste your time. Mr. Wingate's taste in women is of a very--superior
order. Doesn't care about your sort at all. He likes saints. That's
right, isn't it, Wingate?"
"You seem to know," was the cool reply.
"Not 't tall sure," Dredlinton went on, balancing himself with
difficulty, "that your new conquest would altogether approve of this, you
know. Wingate, let me tell you that Flossie is a very dangerous young
lady--destroys the peace of everybody--can't sleep myself for thinking of
her. Not your sort at all, Wingate. We know your sort, don't we, eh?"
Wingate remained contemptuously silent. Kendrick rose from his place and
laid his hand on Dredlinton's shoulder.
"Come and sit down, Dredlinton," he said shortly. "You're making an idiot
"Go to hell!" the other replied truculently. "Who are you? Just that
man's broker, that's all. Want to sell wheat, Wingate, or buy it, eh?"
Wingate looked at him steadily.
"You're drunk," he said. "I should advise you to get a friend to take
"Drunk, am I?" Dredlinton shouted. "What if I am? I'm a better man drunk
than you are sober--although she may not think so, eh?"
Wingate looked at him from underneath level brows.
"I should advise you not to mention any names here," he said.
"I like that!" the other scoffed. "Not to mention any names, eh? He'll
forbid me next to talk about my own wife."
"You'd be a cur if you did," Wingate told him.
A little spot of colour burned in Dredlinton's cheeks. For a moment he
showed his teeth. But for Kendrick's restraining arm, he seemed as though
he would have thrown himself across the table. Then, with a great effort,
he regained command of himself.
"So you won't sell wheat and you won't buy wheat, Mr. American!" he
jeered. "I know what you would like to buy, though--and, damn it all,
there's old Dreadnought Phipps down there--he's a bidder, too--ain't you,
Phipps, old boy? What you see in her, either of you, I don't know! She's
no use to me."
Phipps rose in his place. Sir Frederick Houstley left his chair and came
round to Dredlinton.
"Lord Dredlinton," he said, "I think you had better leave."
"I'll leave when I damned well please!" was the quick reply. "Don't you
lose your wool, old Freddy. This is going to be a joke. You listen. I
tell you what I'll do. I'm a poor man--devilish poor--and it takes a lot
of money to enjoy oneself, nowadays. You're all in this. Sit tight and
listen. We'll have an auction."
Wingate rose slowly to his feet, pushed his chair back and stood behind
it. Flossie gripped him by the wrist.
"Don't take any notice of him, please, Mr. Wingate," she implored, in an
agonised whisper. "For my sake, don't! He's dangerous when he's like
this. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
"Look here, Dredlinton," Sir Frederick expostulated, "you are spoiling my
party. You don't want to quarrel with me, do you?"
"Quarrel with you, Freddy?" Dredlinton replied, patting him on the back
affectionately. "Not I! I'm too fond of you, old dear. You give too nice
parties. Always the right sort of people--except for that bounder over
there," he went on, nodding his head towards Wingate.
"Then sit down and don't make an ass of yourself," his host begged.
"You're spoiling every one's enjoyment, making a disturbance like this."
"Spoiling their enjoyment be hanged!" Dredlinton scoffed. "Tell you what,
I'm going to make the party go. I'm going to have a bit of fun. What
about an auction, eh?---an auction with two bidders only--both
millionaires--one's a pal and the other isn't. Both want the same
thing--happens to be mine. Damn! I never thought it was worth anything,
but here goes. What'll you bid, Phipps?"
Phipps apprised the situation and decided upon his role. He had a very
correct intuition as to what was likely to happen.
"Sit down and don't be an ass, Dredlinton," he laughed. "Don't take the
fellow seriously," he went on, speaking generally. "He's all right as
long as you let him alone. You're all right, aren't you, Dredlinton?"
"Right as rain," was the confident reply. "But let's hear your bid, if
you're going to make one."
"Bid? You've got nothing to sell," Phipps declared good humouredly, with
a covert glance towards Wingate. "What are you getting rid of, eh? Your
"Come on, Phipps," Dredlinton persisted. "You're not going to fade away
like that. You've given me the straight tip. You were the only man in the
running. Clear course. No jealousy. Up to you to step in and win. You've
got a rival, I tell you. You'll have to bid or lose her. Open your mouth
wide, man. Start it with ten thou."
"Sit down, you blithering jackass!" Phipps roared. "Give him a drink,
some one, and keep him quiet."
"Don't want a drink," Dredlinton replied, shaking himself free from
Kendrick's grasp. "Want to keep my head clear. Big deal, this. May
reestablish the fortunes of a fallen family. Gad, it's a night for all
you outsiders to remember, this!" he went on, glancing insolently around
the table. "Don't often have the chance of seeing a nobleman selling his
household treasures. Come on, Wingate. Phipps is shy about starting.
Let's have your bid. What about ten thou, eh?"
Wingate came slowly around the table. His eyes never left Dredlinton.
Dredlinton, too, watched him like a cat, watched him drawing nearer
"What, do you want to whisper your bid?" he jeered. "Out with it like a
man! This is a unique opportunity. Heaven knows when you may get the
chance again! Shall we say twenty thou, Wingate? A peeress and a saint!
Gad, they aren't to be picked up every day!"
"What on earth is he trying to sell?" Flossie demanded.
Dredlinton turned with an evil grin. He had at least the courage of a
drunken man, for he took no account of Wingate towering over him.
"Don't you know?" he cried out. "Doesn't every one understand?"
"Stop!" Wingate ordered.
"And why the hell should I stop for you?" Dredlinton shouted. "If Flossie
wants to know, here's the truth. It's the least cherished of all my
household goods. It's my wife."
Of what happened during the next few seconds, or rather of the manner of
its happening, few people were able to render a coherent account. All
that they remembered was a most amazing spectacle,--the spectacle of
Wingate walking quietly to the door with Dredlinton in his arms, kicking
and shouting smothered profanities, but absolutely powerless to free
himself. The door was opened by a waiter, and Wingate passed into the
corridor. A _maitre d'hotel,_ with presence of mind, hurried up to him.
"Have you an empty room with a key?" Wingate asked.
The man led the way and pushed open the door of a small apartment used on
busy occasions for a service room. Wingate thrust in his struggling
burden and locked the door.
"Strong panels?" he enquired, pausing for a moment to listen to the blows
directed upon them.
The head waiter smiled.
"They're more than one man can break through, sir," he assured him.
Wingate made his way back to the supper party. Half of the guests were on
their feet. He met Sir Frederick near the door.
"Sorry, Sir Frederick, if I am in any way responsible for this little
disturbance," he said, as he made his way towards his place. "I think if
I were you, I should give this key to one of the commissionaires a little
later on. Lord Dredlinton is quite safe for the present."
Sir Frederick patted him on the shoulder.
"Most unprovoked attack," he declared. "Delighted to have made your
acquaintance, Mr. Wingate, you treated him exactly as he deserved."
Wingate resumed his place and held out his glass to the waiter. Then he
raised it to his lips. The glass was full to the brim but his fingers
were perfectly steady. He looked down the table towards Phipps, whose
expression was noncommittal, and gently disemburdened himself of
Flossie's arm, which had stolen through his.
"I think you are the most wonderful man I ever met," she confided.
"You're a brick," Sarah whispered in his ear. "Come and see me off the
premises, there's a dear. Jimmy won't be ready for hours yet and I want
to get home."
Wingate rose at once, made his adieux and accompanied Sarah to the door,
followed by a reproachful glance from Flossie. The former took his arm
and held it tightly as they passed along the corridor.
"I think that you are the dearest man I ever knew, Mr. Wingate," she
said, "just as I think that Josephine is the dearest woman, and I hope
more than anything in the world--well, you know what I hope."
"I think I do," Wingate replied. "Thank you."
Andrew Slate, a very personable man in his spring clothes of grey tweed,
took up his hat and prepared to depart. Half-past twelve had just struck
by Wingate's clock, and the two men had been together since ten.
"You're a wonderful person, Wingate," Slate said, with a note of genuine
admiration in his tone. "I don't believe there's another man breathing
who would have had the courage to plan a coup like this."
Wingate shrugged his shoulders.
"The men who dig deep into life," he replied, as he shook hands, "are the
men who take risks. I was never meant to be one of those who scratch
about on the surface."
A note was slipped into his letter box as he let Slate out. He noticed
the coronet on the envelope and opened it eagerly. A glance at the
signature brought him disappointment. He read it slowly, with a hard
smile upon his lips:
My dear Mr. Wingate,
I am writing to express to you my sincere and heartfelt regret for last
night's unfortunate incident. I can do no more nor any less than to
confess in plain words that I was drunk. It is a humiliating confession,
but it happens to be the truth. Will you accept this apology in the
spirit in which it is tendered, and wipe out the whole incident from your
memory? I venture to hope and believe that you are sportsman enough to
accede to my request.
Wingate was conscious of a feeling of disappointment as he threw the note
upon the table. Open warfare was, after all, so much better. An _amende_
so complete left him with no alternative save acquiescence. Even while he
was coming to this somewhat unwelcome decision, the telephone bell rang.
He took off the receiver and was instantly galvanised into attention. It
was Josephine speaking.
"Is that Mr. Wingate?" she asked.
"It is," he admitted. "Good morning--Josephine!"
"Quite right," she answered composedly. "That is how I like to have you
call me. I am speaking for my husband. He is here by my side at the
"The mischief he is!" Wingate said. "Well?"
"My husband has desired me to intercede with you," Josephine
continued, "to beg your acceptance of the apology which he has sent you
"No further word need be spoken upon the subject," Wingate replied. "Your
husband has explained that he was drunk and has tendered his apology. I
There was a brief pause. Josephine was obviously repeating Wingate's
decision to her husband. Then she spoke again.
"My husband desires me to thank you," she said. "He desires me to hope
that you will continue to visit at the house, and that you will not allow
anything he may have said to interfere between our friendship."
"Nothing that he has said or could say could interfere with that,"
Wingate assured her,--"at least that is my point of view."
"Shall I see you to-day?" he asked.
"I hope so," she answered. "Perhaps after luncheon--"
There was a sound as though the receiver had been taken from her fingers.
Dredlinton himself spoke.
"Look here, Wingate, this is Dredlinton speaking," he said. "You won't
let this little affair make any difference to your call upon us on
"Certainly not," Wingate replied. "I was thinking of writing you about
that, though. I don't see any object in my coming. I think you had better
let me off that visit."
"My dear fellow," Dredlinton pleaded, "if you don't come, Phipps will
think it is because of last night's affair and I shall get it in the
neck. I'm in disgrace enough already. Do, for heaven's sake, oblige me,
there's a good chap."
Wingate hesitated for a moment.
"Very well," he assented, "I will go. Is that all?"
"That's all, thanks."
"I should like to speak to your wife again," Wingate said.
"Sorry, she's just gone out," was the rather malicious reply. "I'd have
kept her for you, if I'd known. So long!"
A knocking at the door,--a rather low, suggestive knocking. Wingate knew
that it was an impossibility, but he nevertheless hastened to throw it
open. Miss Flossie Lane stood there, very becomingly dressed in a
tailor-made costume of covert coating. She wore a hat with yellow
buttercups, and she had shown a certain reticence as regards cosmetics
which amounted to a tacit acknowledgment of his prejudices.
"Miss Lane!" he exclaimed.
She looked at him with wide-open eyes.
"But you were expecting me, weren't you?" she asked. "I remembered your
inviting me quite well, but I couldn't remember where you said, so I
thought I'd better come and fetch you. I haven't done wrong, have I?"
"Most certainly not," Wingate replied. "Come in, please. I'll ring for a
cocktail and send the man down into the restaurant to engage a table."
She sank into an easy-chair and looked around her, while Wingate did as
he had suggested. The sitting room, filled with trophies of curiously
mixed characteristics--a Chinese idol squatting in one corner, some West
African weapons above it, two very fine moose heads over a quaintly
shaped fireplace, and a row of choice Japanese prints over the
bookcase--was a very masculine but eminently habitable apartment. Miss
Lane looked around her and approved.
"This is quite the nicest flat in the Court," she declared, "and I've
been in so many of them. How did you find time to furnish it like this? I
thought that you'd only just arrived from America."
"I come to London often enough to keep this little suite here," he
explained. "I had it even through the war. Sometimes I lend it to a
friend. I am one of those domestic people," he added with a smile, "who
like to have a home of some sort to come to at the end of a journey."
"You're much too nice to live alone," she ventured.
"Well, you see, your sex has decreed that I shall up to the present," he
remarked. "Here come the cocktails. I hope that yours won't be too dry.
Where will you lunch--the restaurant or the grillroom?"
"The grillroom," she decided, after a moment's reflection. "We can go and
sit out in the foyer afterwards and have our coffee."
The cocktails and Wingate's choice of a table were alike approved.
Wingate himself, as soon as he had recovered from the bland assurance
with which his guest had manufactured her invitation, devoted himself
with a somewhat hard light in his eyes to the task of entertaining her.
The whole gamut of her attractions was let loose for his benefit. He
represented to her the one desirable thing, difficult of attainment,
perhaps, but worth the effort. Soft glances and words hinting at
tenderness, sighs and half-spoken appeals were all made to serve their
obvious purpose. If Wingate's responses were a little artificial, he
still made no attempt to hurry through the meal. He seemed perfectly
content to consider the attractions which his companion heaped into the
shop window of her being. Once she almost amused him, and he found
himself for a few seconds contemplating her with some glimmering of the
thought which she was so anxious to instil into his brain. After all, a
companion like this was soothing, made no demands, filled a pleasant
enough place in the broken ways of life, provided one had no other
aspirations. And then the thought passed from him,--forever.
They took their coffee and liqueurs in the foyer. Flossie, perfectly
satisfied with her companion and her progress with him, chattered gaily
away with scarcely a pause, and Wingate, after his first resentment at
her coming had passed, found a certain relief in sitting and listening to
her equable flow of nonsense. By and by, however, she came very near
"You know Lady Dredlinton very well, don't you Mr. Wingate?" she asked, a
His answer was marked with a warning note of stiffness.
"Lady Dredlinton," he repeated. "I know her, certainly. I was at her
hospital at Etaples."
"Every one says that she is charming," the young lady continued, with a
side glance at him. "Pity she can't keep that wicked husband of hers a
little more under control. You know, Mr. Wingate," she confided, "he has
asked me to supper four or five times but I have never cared about going
with him quite alone. A girl has to be so careful in my position. Don't
you agree with me?"
"I suppose so," he answered indifferently.
"Dear old 'Dredful,' as Lord Fanleighton used to call him, can be very
amusing sometimes, but he hasn't the best reputation, and of course he's
terrible when he's drunk, as he was last night. I do so like nice men,"
she sighed, "and there are scarcely any left. One seems to have lost all
one's friends in the war," she went on reminiscently, her large blue eyes
veiled with sadness. "It makes one feel very lonely sometimes."
Wingate scarcely heard her. His eyes were fixed upon the two men walking
up the carpeted way from the restaurant. One was Peter Phipps, the other
Lord Dredlinton. Flossie Lane, seeking to discover the cause of her
companion's abstraction, glanced in the same direction and recognised
them at once.
"Why here is Lord Dredlinton!" she exclaimed. "And Mr. Peter Phipps!
He is rather a dear person, Mr. Phipps, you know, although you don't
"Is he!" Wingate observed grimly.
"They are coming to speak to us," the young lady went on, shaking her
skirts a little and glancing into the mirror which she had just drawn
from her bag. "What a bother!"
Lord Dredlinton, more dignified than usual but if possible still more
unpleasant, threaded his way between the chairs and paused before the
two, followed, a few spaces behind, by Phipps.
"Hullo, Flossie!" the former exclaimed. "How are you, Wingate? You got
"I received your letter and also your telephone message," Wingate
replied stiffly. "So far as I am concerned, the matter, as I told you,
is at an end."
"That's all right, then.--Flossie," Dredlinton continued, looking
reproachfully at the young woman whose hand he was still holding, "I told
you last night that you ought to know better. You should confine your
attentions to the black sheep of the world, like me. Dear me!" he went
on, standing a little on one side so as not to conceal Wingate. "My wife,
apparently, has been lunching here. Wingate, shall we form a screen in
front of you, or are you content to be toppled from your pedestal?"
Wingate met the ill-natured sneer indifferently. He even smiled as
Phipps, standing on the outside of the little circle, also altered his
position. It was clearly the intention of both that Josephine should
realise the situation. Attracted by a gesture from her husband, she
glanced across at them. For a single moment she half hesitated. There was
a queer look in her eyes, a look of surprise mingled even with pain. Then
she flashed a brilliant smile upon Wingate, ignored her husband and
Phipps, and passed on.
"Cut!" Lord Dredlinton exclaimed, with mock dismay. "Cut, my friend
Phipps! Me, her husband, and you, her dear friend! Really, it's a most
uncomfortable thing to have a disapproving wife going about to the same
restaurants and places. Let us go and sulk in a corner, Phipps, and
leave this little comedy here to develop. Farewell, faithless Flossie!
Wingate," he concluded, shaking his head gravely, "you have
They passed on. The young lady tossed her head angrily.
"There are times," she announced, "when I hate Lord Dredlinton. I don't
know any one who can say such horrid things without being actually rude.
I'm sure his wife looks much too good for him," she added generously.
Wingate's nerves were all on edge. He glanced at his watch and rose
regretfully to his feet.
"I am afraid," he said, as he led the way towards the exit, "that I must
go back to work. Thank you so much for coming and taking pity upon a
lonely man, Miss Lane."
"You can have all that sort of pity you like," she whispered.
"Then I shall certainly make demands upon it," he assured her, as they
parted at the door.
He found himself presently back in the cool and pleasantly austere
surroundings of his sitting room and threw himself into an easy-chair
drawn up in front of the wide-flung windows. A strong breeze, against
which a flight of seagulls leaned, was stirring the trees in the
Embankment Gardens and ruffling the surface of the water. The pall of
smoke eastward seemed here and there cloven by a wind-swept avenue of
clearer spaces. He felt a sudden and passionate distaste for his recent
environment,--the faint perfume which had crept out from the girl's hair
and face as she had leaned towards him, the brushing of her clothes
against his, the daring exposure of silk stocking, the continual
flirtatious appeal of her eyes and lips. He felt himself in revolt
against even that faint instinct of toleration which her prettiness and
at times subtle advances had kindled in him. He let his thoughts rest
upon the more wonderful things which smouldered in his brain and leaped
like fire through his veins when he dared to think of them. The room
seemed suddenly purified, made fit for her presence.
"I am sure that Mr. Wingate will see me if he is alone," he heard a
familiar voice say.
He sprang to his feet, realising in those few moments into what paradise
his thoughts had been climbing, and greeted Lady Dredlinton.
Josephine accepted the easy-chair which he wheeled up for her and glanced
around the room critically.
"Just what I expected," she murmured. "A nice healthy man's room, without
too much furniture, and with plenty of books. You are wondering why I
came, of course."
"I am too content with the good fortune which brought you to find time
for wonder," he replied.
"You'll laugh at me when I tell you," she warned him.
"You needn't tell me at all unless you like. You are here. That is
enough for me."
She shook her head.
"I am putting myself in the confessional," she declared. "I was leaving
the place with a disagreeable taste in my mouth. At the last moment, even
as I was stepping into a taxicab, I turned back. I went instead to the
desk and boldly asked for the number of your suite. I want that taste
"Tell me how I can do it in the quickest possible manner," he begged.
She turned and looked at him, enquiringly at first, then with a
delightful little smile which relieved all the tenseness of her
"By assuring me that you are not going to emulate, in however innocent a
fashion, my husband's exploits in the musical comedy world."
He leaned over her chair, took her hands in his and looked into her eyes.
"Honestly," he asked, "do you need any assurance?"
"That is the funny part of it," she laughed. "Since I am here, since I
have seen you, I don't feel that I do, but downstairs I had quite a
horrid little pain."
"You will never have occasion to feel it again," he told her. "I met Miss
Flossie Lane last night for the first time at the supper party to which
Roger Kendrick took me. I was placed next to her, and somehow or other
she seems to have convinced herself that I invited her to lunch to-day."
"To be perfectly honest I can't remember having done anything of the
sort. However, what was I to do?"
"What you did, of course. That is finished. Now tell me about that supper
party. What happened? Was Dredlinton really rude to you?"
"Your husband was drunk," Wingate answered. "He was rude to everybody."
"And what was the end of it?"
"I carried him out of the room and locked him up," he told her.
She laughed softly.
"I can see you doing it," she declared. "Are you as strong as you look,
Mr. John Wingate?"
"I am certainly strong enough to carry you away and lock you up if you
don't call me John," he replied.
"John, then," she said. "I don't mind calling you John. I like it. How
fortunate," she went on lazily, "that we really did get to know one
another well in those days at Etaples. It saves one from all those
twinges one feels about sudden friendships, for you know, after all, in a
way, nothing at Etaples counted. You were just the most charming of my
patients, and the most interesting, but still a patient. Here, you simply
walk into my life and take me by storm. You make a very foolish woman of
me. If I had to say to myself, 'Why, I have known him less than a week!'
it would hurt my pride horribly."
"Blessed little bit of shell that found a temporary shelter in my arm!"
he exclaimed. "All the same, I feel just as you do. Out there, for all
your graciousness, you were something sacred, something far away."
"And here?" she whispered.
"Shall I tell you?" he asked, with a sudden fire in his eyes.
"For heaven's sake, no!" she begged, thrusting out her hands. "I'm afraid
to think--afraid of actual thoughts. Don't let us give form to anything.
Let me be content to just feel this new warmth in my life."
She leaned back in her chair with a contented sigh. A little tug came
snorting up the river. Even the roar of the traffic over Waterloo Bridge
seemed muffled and disintegrated by the breeze which swept on its way
through the rustling lime trees.
"You are wonderfully situated here," she went on. "I don't believe it
is London at all. It rests me more than any place I have been in for
a long time, and yet--at the same time--I think that it is going to
make me sad."
"Sad? But why?" he asked anxiously.
"Because it seems like one of the stopping places--where one steps off
to think, you know. I don't want to think. I have had nine such miserable
years. All through the war there was one's work, one's hospital, the
excitement of the gigantic struggle. And now everything seems flat. One
struggles on without incentive. One lives without hope."
"We weren't meant to do that," he protested.
"Only those of us who have thrown our lives away," she went on wearily.
"You see, I thought Henry was different. I thought he only wanted a
little understanding, a little kindness. I made a mistake."
"Life is too wonderful a thing," he insisted, "to lose the glory of it
for one mistake."
"I am on the rocks," she sighed, "now and always. If I were made like
your little luncheon friend, it might be different. I suppose I should
spread my wings and settle down upon another planet. But I can't. I am
differently made. I am not proud of it. I wish I weren't. It wouldn't all
seem so hard then, I am still young, you know, really," she added, with a
note of rebellion in her tone.
"Nowadays, that is youth," he declared confidently, "and youth
"Sometimes," she admitted a little listlessly, "I have dared to feel
hope. I have felt it more than ever since you came. I don't know why, but
there it is."
He turned his head and looked at her, appraisingly yet with reverence. No
measure of despair could alter the fact that she was a very beautiful
woman. Her slimness never lost its meed of elegance. The pallor of her
cheeks, which might have seemed like an inheritance of fragility, was
counteracted by the softness of her skin and the healthy colour of her
curving lips. She bore his scrutiny so impersonally, with such sweet and
challenging interest, that he persisted in it. Her brown hair was almost
troublesome in its prodigality. There were little curls about her neck
which defied restraint. Her cool muslin gown, even to his untutored
perceptions, revealed a distinction which the first dressmaker in London
had endorsed. She spoke the words of lifelessness, yet she possessed
everything which men desire.
"The tragedy with you," he pronounced, "is the absence of affection in
"Do you think that I haven't the power for caring?" she asked quietly.
"I think that you have had no one to care for," he answered. "I think
there has been no one to care for you in the way you wanted--but those
days are over."
For the first time she showed some signs of that faint and growing
uneasiness in his presence which brought with it a peculiar and nameless
joy. Her eyes failed to meet the challenge of his. She glanced at the
clock and changed the subject abruptly.
"Do you know that I have been here all this time," she reminded him, "and
we have not said a word about our campaign."
"There is a great deal connected with it, or rather my side of it," he
declared, "which I shall never tell you."
"You trust me?" she asked a little timidly, "You don't think that I
should betray you to my husband?"
He laughed the idea to scorn.
"It isn't that," he assured her. "The machinery I have knocked into shape
is crude in its way, but the lives and liberty of those underneath depend
upon its workings."
"It sounds mysterious," she confessed.
"If you say that it is to be an alliance, Josephine," he decided, "it
shall be. I need your help enormously, but you must make up your mind,
before you say the last word, to run a certain measure of risk."
"What risk is there for me to run?" she asked, with a smile of
confidence. "What measure of unhappiness could be crowded into my life
which is not already there? I insist upon it--John--that you accept me as
an ally without any more hesitation."
He bent and kissed her hands.
"This, then, is final," he said. "Within the next twenty-four hours you
will be ready if necessary?"
"I am ready now--any time--always," she promised him.
"My dears," Lady Amesbury said, as she stood surrounded by her guests on
the hearth rug of her drawing-room, "you know what my Sunday night dinner
parties are--all sorts and plenty of them, and never a dull man or a
plain woman if I can help it. To-night I've got a new man. He's not much
to look at, but they tell me he's a multimillionaire and making all the
poor people of the country miserable. He's doing something about making
bread dearer. I never did understand these things."
"Heavens, you don't mean Peter Phipps!" Sarah exclaimed.
"His very name," her aunt declared. "How did you guess it, my dear? Here
he is. Be quiet, all of you, and watch Grover announce him. He's such a
snob--Grover. He hates a Mister, anyhow, and 'Peter Phipps' will
dislocate his tongue."
Lady Amesbury was disappointed. Grover had marched with the times, and
the presence of a millionaire made itself felt. His announcement was
sonorous and respectful. Mr. Peter Phipps made his bow to his hostess
under completely auspicious circumstances.
"So kind of you not to forget, Mr. Phipps," she murmured. "My Sunday
parties are always _viva voce_ invitations, and what between not
remembering whom I've asked, and not knowing whether those I've asked
will remember, I generally find it horribly difficult to arrange the
places. We are all right tonight, though. Only two missing. Who are
"Josephine and Mr. Wingate," Sarah replied, with a covert glance
"Of course! And thank goodness, here they are! Together, too! If there's
anything I love, it's to start one of my dinners with a scandal.
Josephine, did you bring Mr. Wingate or did he bring you?"
Josephine laughed. Then she saw Phipps standing in the background and she
raised her voice a little.
"Mr. Wingate called for me," she explained. "Taxis are so scarce in our
part of the world on Sunday nights, and when one does happen to know a
man who makes enough money on Friday to buy a fleet of motor-cars on
"My doing," Kendrick interrupted. "I'm his broker. Did you buy the
"I brought it away with me, chauffeur and all."
"The most delightful car I ever rode in," Josephine pronounced.
Phipps manoeuvred his way to her side. There was a frown on his forehead
as he leaned towards her.
"So a Rolls-Royce is your favourite make of car, Lady Dredlinton,"
"Absolutely! I can't conceive of anything more comfortable. Mr. Wingate
has promised to let me try it in the country next week."
"So my Wolseley is to be scrapped?" Phipps asked, under his breath.
She looked at him pleasantly enough but with a dangerous light in her
"Have you a Wolseley?" she murmured. "Oh, yes, I remember! You offered to
send it around to take me shopping."
"I sent it around three mornings," he replied. "You did not use it once.
You did not even open the note I left inside."
"I am not very fond of using other people's cars," she said.
"It need not be another person's car unless you like," he muttered.
She looked at him for a moment thoughtfully. Phipps was a man of brass,
without sensitiveness or sensibility. Nevertheless, he flushed a little.
Just then dinner was announced and Lady Amesbury bustled once more into
the midst of her guests.
"My dears," she told them all, "I've forgotten who takes anybody down!
Scrap along as you are, and you'll find the cards in your places
downstairs. Pick up any one you like. Not you, sir," she added, turning
to Wingate. "You're going to take me. I want to hear all the latest New
York gossip. And--lean down, please--are you really trying to flirt with
Josephine Dredlinton? Don't disturb her unless you're in earnest. She's
got a horrible husband."
"I admire Lady Dredlinton more than any woman I know," Wingate answered.
"One does not flirt with the woman one really cares for."
"Hoity-toity!" Lady Amesbury exclaimed. "That's the real divorce-court
tone. There was a young man---I don't know how many years ago--who used
to talk like that to me at the time Amesbury was Ambassador at Madrid and
took up with that Lola de Mendoza woman. Neither affair came to anything,
though. Amesbury got tired of Spain, and my young man married a rich
grocer's daughter. Still, I recognise the tone. Here we all are. Now you
play a sort of hunt-the-slipper game, looking for your places, all of
you. I know mine, thank God! Now let's pray to Heaven the soup's hot!
And don't any one talk to me while I'm eating it. The present generation
are shocking soup eaters."
Wingate found Josephine on his other side and was happy. Phipps was just
across the table. His hostess proceeded to give the latter some of her
"Mr. Phipps," she said, "they tell me you've taken that scoundrel of a
nephew of mine--Dredlinton--into your business, whatever it is. He won't
do you any good, you know."
"I'm very sorry to hear that," Phipps replied. "He seemed to me rather a
brainy person for his order."
"One for me," Lady Amesbury chuckled. "I don't care. If I chose to come
on the Stock Exchange, I've got brains enough to ruin most of you. But I
don't choose. I like to hear of the rest of you tearing yourselves to
pieces, though. If you could keep Dredlinton out of mischief for a year,
Mr. Phipps, I'd think you were the most wonderful man I ever met. He's a
bad lot, but I tolerate him because I love his wife."
Phipps scowled across the table to where Wingate's head was nearly
"Lady Dredlinton seems to be achieving great popularity in every
direction," he said sourly.
"And a jolly good thing, too," Lady Amesbury declared. "If ever a woman
earned the right to kick the traces away for a bit, Josephine has. Don't
you mind anything I say, my dear," she added, as Josephine looked up at
the sound of her name. "You settle down to a nice comfortable flirtation,
if you want to. You owe it to yourself, all right, and then there's some
coming to you. And I'm your husband's aunt who tells you that."
"I'm not at all sure," Phipps observed, "that you don't underrate your
"The only thing I know about his ability," was the blunt reply, "is
his ability to borrow a few hundreds from any one fool enough to lend
it to him, and then invent excuses for not paying it back. He's good
at that, if you like. Still, don't let me set you against him, Mr.
Phipps. Every shilling he gets out of you and your company is so much
saved to the family."
Lady Amesbury, who, notwithstanding her apparent inconsequence, had a
keen eye for her guests, directed her conversation for a time into
another channel, and finally changed places with Sarah in order to come
into closer touch with a spiritualist from Sweden, who was on the lookout
for a medium. Sarah turned appealingly toward Wingate.
"Jimmy and I want to be taken to the theatre to-morrow night," she
announced. "He doesn't get any money till Wednesday, and I haven't
earned enough this week to pay my garage bill."
"I'll take you both," Wingate promised quickly, "if Lady Dredlinton will
make a fourth."
"Delightful," Josephine assented.
"I have a box at the Opera," Phipps announced, leaning forward. "Give me
the pleasure of entertaining you all."
Josephine shook her head.
"Tannhauser! I am sorry, Mr. Phipps, but I couldn't possibly stand it.
Ask us another time, won't you? To-morrow night," she went on, turning to
Wingate, "let us be absolutely frivolous. A revue, I think."
"And dinner first at the Milan," Wingate insisted.
"And supper afterwards and a dance at Ciro's," Sarah put in. "I must tell
Jimmy the glad tidings."
Peter Phipps made his adieux to Lady Amesbury early and drove in his
electric coupe first to Romano's, then to the Milan and finally to
Ciro's. Here he found Dredlinton, seated in a corner by himself, a little
sulky at the dancing proclivities of the young lady whom he had brought.
He greeted Phipps with some surprise.
"Hullo, Dreadnought!" he exclaimed. "What's wrong with my garrulous
aunt? Has the party broken up early or weren't you a success?"
"I wasn't a success," Phipps confessed grimly. "Look here, Dredlinton,
are you sober enough to talk horse common sense?"
"Sober? My God, can you tell me how any one can get a drink here!" was
the injured reply. "I was just off somewhere else. One bottle of
champagne, if you please, between two of us, and the liqueur brandies
were served with the soup. Call this--a Christian country!"
"Then if you're sober, and for once you seem to be," Phipps said, "just
listen to me. Listen hard, mind, and don't interrupt. Have you ever
wondered why I put you on the Board of the B.& I.?"
"My title, I suppose--and social position."
"Rot!" Phipps answered scornfully. "Your title and your social position
aren't worth a damn to me. I put you on because of your wife."
Dredlinton stared at him.
"Why, you didn't even know her!"
"Never mind. I knew her to look at. I wanted to know her. Now I do know
her, and it hasn't done me much good."
Dredlinton sat a little more erect in his place. Behind his cynical
exterior, his evil brain had begun to work.
"Look here, Phipps," he said, "I don't care about this conversation. If
a man happens to admire another man's wife, her husband is scarcely the
"Oh, yes, I know your theory!" Phipps scoffed. "You're willing enough to
hide your head in the sand and take the goods the gods send you. That
doesn't suit me. I happen to need your help."
"My help?" Dredlinton repeated. "The poor little spider to help the
mighty Phipps! You're not finding difficulties in the way of your
suit, are you?"
"If I do, it will be the worse for you," was the gruff reply. "As
you're going on now, Dredlinton, it will be your wife, and your wife
alone, who'll keep you out of jail before many weeks are past. How
about that cheque to Farnham and Company last week? Farnham's say they
never got it, but I hear it's come back through the bank with a queer
endorsement upon it."
Dredlinton caught at the tablecloth. The malicious gleam in his eyes gave
way to a look of positive fear.
"I can't remember--anything here--without any books," he muttered.
"Tell me what it is you want, Phipps? I am ready to do any thing--you
"Your wife's friendship with this fellow Wingate has got to be nipped in
the bud," Phipps declared.
"Yes, but how?" Dredlinton demanded. "Josephine and I aren't anything to
one another any more--you know that. She goes her own way."
"She lives in your house," Phipps said. "You remain her husband nominally
and you have therefore a certain amount of authority. You must forbid her
to receive Wingate."
"I'll forbid her, all right," Dredlinton assented, "but I won't guarantee
that she'll obey."
"Then you must give orders to the servants," Phipps insisted. "I don't
need to suggest to you, Dredlinton," he went on, "what means you should
use to make your wife obey you, but there are means, and if you're not
the man to realise them, I'm very much surprised in you. I will begin
with a concrete case. Your wife, together with that fellow Wilshaw and
Miss Baldwin, have accepted an invitation from Wingate to dine and go to
a theatre to-morrow night. You must see that your wife does not go."
"Very well," Dredlinton promised, "I'll manage it somehow."
"See that you do," Phipps enjoined earnestly. "Your wife is one of those
misguided women with a strong sense of duty. Unless you behave like a
damn fool, you can reestablish some measure of control over her. Do so.
There are certain circumstances," he went on, his face wrinkled a little
with emotion, his voice deep and earnest, "there are certain
circumstances, Dredlinton, under which I might be inclined to behave
towards you with great generosity. I leave you to guess what those
circumstances are. I will show you the way later on."
Dredlinton felt hope stir once more through his shocked and terrified
senses. He lit a cigarette with fingers which had ceased to tremble,
leaned a little back in his place and stared at his companion curiously.
"Phipps," he asked, "what the devil do you and this fellow Wingate see
in my wife?"
"What a man like you would never look for," was the harsh reply.
"Throw your coat down anywhere, Miss Baldwin," Wingate invited, as he
ushered that young lady into his rooms soon after eleven o'clock on the
following evening. "Now what can I give you? There are some sandwiches
here--ham and pate-de-foie-gras, I think. Whisky and soda or some hock?"
"A pate sandwich and some plain soda water, please," Sarah replied,
taking off the long motoring coat which concealed her evening clothes. "I
have been fined for everything except disorderly driving--daren't risk
that. Thanks!" she went on. "What ripping sandwiches! And quite a good
play, wasn't it?"
"I am glad you enjoyed it."
"It was a swindle Josephine not turning up," Sarah continued, as she
stretched herself out in Wingate's easy-chair. "Domestic ructions again,
I suppose. How I do hate that husband of hers!"
"It was disappointing," he admitted.
There was a brief pause, during which Sarah finished her sandwiches and
lit a cigarette.
"Wilshaw seems to be having a little trouble with the outside porter,"
her host remarked presently.
"It must cost him at least half a sovereign every time I leave the cab,"
"How much do you make a week out of your driving, if it isn't too
personal a question?" he enquired.
"It depends upon how much Jimmy's got."
"Is he your only client, then?"
"He very seldom gives me a chance of another. Once or twice I've refused
to be engaged by the day, but he sends his man around to the garage and I
find him sitting in the cab when I arrive."
Wingate laughed softly. She looked up at him with twinkling eyes.
"I believe you're making fun of my profession," she complained.
"Not at all, but I was wondering whether it wouldn't be cheaper for you
to marry Jimmy, as you call him."
"We have spoken about it once or twice," she admitted. "The worst of it
is, I don't think the cab would support two."
"Is Wilshaw so badly off?"
"His money is tied up until he is twenty-eight," Sarah explained. "I
think that his father must have known how he was going to turn out.
Jimmy promised that he would never anticipate it, and the dear old thing
keeps his word. We shall be married on his twenty-eighth birthday, all
right, unless his mother does the decent thing before."
"Has she money?" Wingate asked.
"Plenty--but she hasn't much confidence in Jimmy. I think she shows signs
of wavering lately, though. Perhaps his latest idea--he's going into the
City to-morrow, you know--may bring her around.--Mr. Wingate!"
"You're rather a dear old thing, you know," she said, "although you're
"And you're quite nice," he admitted, "although you're such an
incorrigible little flirt."
"How do you know?" she laughed. "You never give me a chance of showing
what I can do in that direction."
"Too old, my dear young lady," her host lamented, as he mixed himself a
whisky and soda.
"Rubbish!" she scoffed. "Too much in love with some one else, I believe."
"These are too strenuous days for that sort of thing," he rejoined,
"except for children like you and Mr. Wilshaw."
"I don't know so much about that," she objected. "The world has never
gone so queerly that people haven't remembered to go on loving and be
made love to. Look at the war marriages."
"Yes--and the war divorces," he reminded her.
"Brute!" she exclaimed, with a little grimace.
"Why 'brute'?" he protested. "You can't deny them. Some of these
marriages were genuine enough, of course. Others were simply the result
of a sort of amorous hysteria. Affected every one in those days just
like a germ."
"Don't try to be cynical."
"You are," she persisted. "There isn't a man breathing who has a more
wonderful capacity for caring than you. You hide your feelings from most
people. Are you very angry with me for having guessed? I have, you know."
Wingate paused in the act of lighting a cigarette.
"I think I have a sort of second sight in such matters, especially as
regards people in whom I am interested," Sarah continued, "and if there
is one woman in the world whom I really adore, and for whom I am heartily
sorry, it is Josephine Dredlinton."
"She has a rotten time," was Wingate's terse comment.
"Very few people know how rotten," Sarah went on. "She has lost nearly
all her own relations in the war, her husband has spent the greater part
of her fortune, flaunted his affairs with various actresses in the face
of all London, shilly-shallied through the war as a recruiting officer,
or on any odd job that kept him safely at home, and now he openly
associates with a little company of men in the City who are out to make
money any old way they can get hold of it."
"Lord Dredlinton is a bad lot," Wingate acquiesced.
"And Josephine is an angel," Sarah declared warmly. "If I were a man--"
"Well, you're not," he interrupted.
"If I were a man," she went on, laying her hand upon his, "I wouldn't let
Josephine live out these best days of her life in sorrow. I wouldn't have
her insulted and peered at, every hour of her life. I wouldn't see her
living in torture, when all the time she has such a wonderful capacity
for life and love. Do you know what I'd do, Mr. Wingate?"
"What would you do?" he asked.
"I'd take her away! I wouldn't care about anybody else or anything. If
the world didn't approve, I'd make a little world of my own and put her
in it. You're quite strong enough."
He looked through the walls of the room, for a minute.
"Yes, I am strong enough," he agreed, "but is she?"
"Why do you doubt her?" Sarah demanded. "What has she in her present life
to lose, compared with what she gains from you--what she wants more than
anything else in the world--love?"
He made no answer. The girl's words had thrilled him. Then the door swung
open and Jimmy appeared, very pink and white, very immaculate, and
looking rather more helpless than usual.
"I say, Sarah," he exclaimed, "it's no use! There's a most infernal block
down in the courtyard. Chap wanted me to push the taxi out into the
street. It's cost me all the loose change I've got to stop his sending
for a policeman. We'll have to do a scoot."
Sarah sighed as her host arranged her cloak around her.
"Sorry we couldn't have stayed a little longer," she said. "Mr. Wingate
was just getting most interesting."
"You'll have a drink before you go, Wilshaw?" Wingate insisted.
The young man accepted the whisky and soda and promptly disposed of it.
"Thanks, old chap! Frightfully sorry to rush away like this, but that
fellow downstairs means business."
"Good night, Mr. Wingate," Sarah said, holding out her hand, "and
thanks ever so much for the evening. You don't think I'm a forward
little minx, do you?"
"I think you're a sensible little dear," he assured her, "far too good
"Sorry I accepted your hospitality, if that's how you're feeling," Jimmy
grunted. "By the by, you haven't a few cigarettes, have you, for me to
smoke while Sarah tries to get me safely home?"
Wingate held out the box.
"Fill your case," he invited; "your pockets, too, if you like. Don't
forget, both of you, luncheon at one-thirty to-morrow in the restaurant.
He stood with the door open, watching them go down the corridor. Then he
came slowly back into his room. Once more the telephone bell began to
ring. He picked up the receiver. The indifference of his opening
monosyllable vanished in a second. Something amazing crept into his face.
"Who?--Lady Dredlinton?" he exclaimed.
"But where are you?--Downstairs?--Yes--Yes--Why, of course.--Here?--You
mean that you are coming here, up to my room?--I don't quite
understand.--Yes, of course.--One moment, please. Come up by the east
lift unless you want to meet Sarah Baldwin and Wilshaw. They have this
moment left me. The hall porter will show you."
Wingate laid down the receiver, glanced for a moment at the clock,
hurried to the door, pushed back and secured the latch. Then he came back
into the room and stood listening.
In the end she came quite suddenly. The door had opened and closed
before he heard even the swish of her skirts. She stood there looking at
him a little appealingly. She was dressed in dark travelling clothes and
she carried a heavy dressing case in her hand. He sprang forward and
took it from her.
"My dear friend," she exclaimed, with an attempt at levity, "don't look
so tragic! There is a very simple explanation of this extraordinary
visit, as you will soon find."
"It needs no explanation," he declared.
"Oh, yes, it does, of course," she continued. "I simply want you to
intercede with the authorities here, so that I do not have to go and
stand at that terrible counter. There is a continental train just in, and
the place is crowded."
"You wish to stay here for the night?"
"Mayn't I? I have always heard that it was such a charming hotel, and I
must stay somewhere."
"There is some trouble?" he asked slowly.
"There is always trouble," she replied, with a shrug of the shoulders.
"To-night seems to me as though it may be the climax. You won't be
horrified if I sit down and smoke one of your cigarettes? And may I
remind you that your attitude is not entirely hospitable?"
Wingate had recovered from his first stupor. His eyes were very bright,
he was filled with the sense of wonderful happenings.
"Oh, I'll be as hospitable as you like," he assured her. "You shan't have
any cause to reproach me so far as that is concerned. This easy-chair,
please. It is by far the most comfortable one. And now some cushions," he
added, slipping them behind her. "The cigarettes are here, and I have
some excellent hock. Just half a glass? Good! Miss Baldwin has been
praising my sandwiches. You'll have one, won't you?"
She sighed with content, almost with happiness. The strained look had
gone from her face. She took off her hat and he laid it upon the table.
"You are very good, very kind indeed," she murmured. "And yet not so
kind as I would like to be."
He came and stood by her side. She was eating one of the sandwiches and
had already tasted the wine. Somehow, he knew quite well that she had had
"I want you to understand," he began, "that you are free to tell me what
has happened to-night or not--just as you please. Don't feel obliged to
explain, I'll be quite frank, I am a curious person as regards you. I
want to know--everything. I should like to know how it was that you were
unable to come to dinner or join us at the theatre to-night. I should
like to know what has brought you out of your house to an hotel at
midnight--but don't tell me unless you want to."
"I do want to," she assured him. "I want to tell you everything. I
think--somehow I almost feel that you have the right to know."
"Cultivate that feeling," he begged her. "I like it."
She smiled, a wan little smile that passed very soon. Her face grew sad
again. She was thinking.
"I dare say you can guess," she began presently, "something of what my
daily life is like when my husband is in town. It is little less than
torture, especially since he became mixed up with Mr. Phipps, that
horrible person Martin, and their friends."
"Abominable!" Wingate muttered.
"He is all the while trying to induce me to receive their women friends,"
she continued. "I need not tell you that I have refused, as I always
"To-night, however," she went on, "he has surpassed himself. First of all
he telephoned to say that he was bringing home friends for dinner, and if
I had any other engagement he requested me to cancel it. As you know, I
did so. Notwithstanding his message, he did not arrive at the house until
eleven o'clock, barely an hour ago."
"And kept you waiting all that time?"
"That is nothing. Let me explain something before I conclude. Before the
war I had an Austrian maid, a woman whom I turned out of the house, and
whom my husband at that time did not dare to ask me to reinstate. He had
not then spent quite the whole of my fortune. Besides an undoubted
intrigue with my husband, I heard afterwards that she only escaped
imprisonment as a spy by leaving the country hurriedly just before war
was declared. Tonight, my husband, having kept me waiting three hours
while he dined with her in Soho, brought her back to the house,
announcing that he had engaged her as his secretary."
"Damn the fellow!" Wingate muttered.
"Naturally," she continued, "I declined to sleep under the same roof. The
woman remained--and here am I."
"You are here," he repeated. "Thank God for that!"
"It was perhaps imprudent of me," she sighed, "to choose this hotel, but
I had a curious feeling of weakness. I felt that I must see some one to
whom I could tell what had happened--some friend--before I slept. Perhaps
my nerves are going. So I came to you. Did I do wrong?"
"The wrong would be if ever you left me," he declared passionately.
She patted his hand. "Dear friend!"
"The room I will arrange for in a minute or two," he promised. "That is
quite easy. But to-morrow--what then?"
"I shall telephone home," she replied. "If that woman is still in the
house, I shall go down into the country, and from there I shall write my
lawyers and apply for a separation."
"So those are your plans," he remarked calmly.
"Yes. Can you suggest anything better?"
"I can suggest something a thousand times better."
She hesitated for a moment. Perhaps she was conscious of a certain
alteration in his deportment, the ring of his last words, the slight but
unusual air of emotional fervour with which he seemed somehow to have
become endowed. A woman of curiously strong virginal instincts, she
realised, perhaps for the first time, the approach of a great change in
Wingate's attitude towards her. Yet she could not keep from her lips the
words which must bring his avowal.
"What do you mean?" she faltered.
"That you end it all," he advised firmly, "that you take your courage in
both hands, that you do not return to your husband at all."
"Not return," she repeated, her eyes held by his.
"That you come to me," he went on, bending over the side of her chair.
"Needless, wonderful words, but I love you. You were the first woman in
my life. You will be the last. I have been silent, as you know. I have
waited for something like this, and I think the time has come."
"The time can never come," she cried despairingly.
"The time has come at least for me to tell you that I love you more than
any woman on earth," he declared, "that I want to take care of you, to
take you into my life, to build a wall of passionate devotion around you,
to keep you free from every trouble and every harm."
"Ah, dear friend, if it were but possible!" she murmured, holding his
"But it is possible," he insisted. "All that we need is courage. You owe
nothing to your husband. You can leave him without remorse or a moment's
shame. Your life just now is wasted,--a precious human life. I want you,
Josephine. God knows how I want you!"
"You have my friendship--even my love. There, I have said it!" she
repeated, with a little sob, "my love."
His arms were suddenly around her. She shrank back in her chair. Her
terrified eyes invited and yet reproached him.
"Remember--oh, please remember!" she cried.
"What can I remember except one thing?" he whispered.
She held him away from her.
"You talk as though everything were possible between us. How can that be?
I have no joy in my husband, nor he in me--but I am married. We are not
He rose to his feet, a strong man trembling in every limb. He stood
before her, trying to talk reasonably, trying to plead his cause behind
the shelter of reasonable words.
"Let me tell you," he began, "why our divorce laws are so different
from yours. We believe that the worst breach of the Seventh Commandment
is the sin of an unloving kiss, the unwillingly given arms of a
shuddering wife, striving to keep the canons of the prayer book and
besmirching thereby her life with evil. We believe, on the other hand,
that there is no sin in love."
"If you and I were alone in the world!"
"If you are thinking of your friends," he pleaded, "they are more likely
to be proud of the woman who had the courage to break away from a
debasing union. Every one realises--what your husband is. He has been
unfaithful not only to you but to every friend he has ever had."
"Do I not know it!" she moaned. "Isn't the pain of it there in my heart,
hour by hour!"
His reasonableness was deserting him. Again he was the lover, begging for
"Wipe him out of your mind, sweetheart," he begged. "I'll buy you from
him, if you like, or fight him for you, or steal you--I don't care which.
Anything sooner than let you go."
"I don't want to go," she confessed, afraid of her own words, shivering
with the meaning of them.
"You never shall," he continued, his voice gaining strength with his
rising hopes. "You've opened my lips and you must hear what is in my
heart. You are the one love of my life. My hours and days are empty, I
want you always by my side."
The love of him swept her away. Her head had fallen back, she saw his
face through the mist.
"Go on, go on," she begged.
"I want you as I have wanted nothing else in life--not only for my own
sake, for yours. I want to chase all those lines of sorrow away from
"My poor, tired face," she faltered.
"Tired?" he repeated. "It's the most beautiful face on earth."
The smile which suddenly transformed her quivering mouth made it
indeed seem so.
"You are so foolish, dear, but go on," she pleaded.
"I want to see you grow younger and lighter-hearted. I want you to
realise day by day that something beautiful is stealing into your life. I
want you to feel what real love is--tender, passionate, lover's love."
"My dear, my dear!" she cried. "I do not dare to think of these things,
yet they sound so wonderful."
"Leave the daring to me, sweetheart," he answered. "You shall have
nothing to do but rest after these horrible days, rest and care for me
"Oh, I do care!" she exclaimed, with sudden passion. "That is what makes
it all so wonderful."
"You love me? Tell me so once more?" he begged.
"Dear, I love you. You must have known it or you couldn't have said these
things. And I thought I was going to die without knowing what love was."
"Never fear that again," he cried joyfully. "You shall know what it is
every hour of the day. You shall know what it is to feel yourself
surrounded by it, to feel it encompass you on every side. You shall know
what it is to have some one think for you, live for you, make sweet
places for your footsteps in life."
Her eyes shone. The years had fallen away. She rose tremblingly to her
feet, her arms stole around his neck.
"John, you dear, wonderful lover," she whispered, "why, it has come
already! I am forgetting everything. I am happy!"
The clock on Wingate's mantelpiece struck one. He drew himself gently
away from the marvel of those soft entwining arms, stooped and kissed
Josephine's fingers reverently.
"Dear," he said, "let me begin to take up my new responsibilities. We
must arrange for your stay here."
She laughed happily, rose, and with a woman's instinct stood before the
mirror, patting her hair.
"I don't recognise myself," she murmured. "Is this what love
He stood for a moment by her side.
"Love?" he repeated. "Why, you haven't begun yet to realise what it
means--what it will bring to you."
Once more she set her hands upon his shoulders. Her eyes, which a moment
before had looked so longingly into his, drooped for a moment.
"Dear," she begged, "you won't ever be sorry, will you, and--does this
sound selfish, I wonder?--you won't mind waiting?"
He smiled down at her.
"I shall never be sorry," he declared firmly. "I shall always bless
this night and the impulse that brought you here. And as to waiting,"
he went on, "well, I have had four years of waiting without any
particular hope, even of seeing you again. I think that with hope I can
hold out a little longer."
He went over to the telephone and spoke for a few moments. Then he laid
down the receiver and returned.
"A boy is bringing up the key of your room at once," he announced. "You
will be in the south block, a long way off, but the rooms there are
"Thank you, John dear," she said, smiling.
"Just one thing more," he continued. "I want you to remember that this
miserable, tangled skein of unhappiness which you have called life is
finished and done with. From to-night you belong to me. I must see you
to-morrow--if possible at Dredlinton House--and we can work out some
plans then. But you are to worry about nothing. Remember that I am here,
and I love you.--Good night!"
Once more she rested for a moment in his arms. The seconds sped by.
Then he took a quick step backwards, and they both stared at the door.
It was closed now, but the slam of it a moment before had sounded like
a pistol shot.
"Who was that?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"That idiot of a boy with the key, I expect," he replied. "Wait, dear."
He hurried outside, through the little hall and into the corridor. There
was no one in sight, not even the sound of footsteps to be heard. He
listened for a moment and then returned.
"Who was it?" she repeated.
"But some one must have looked in--have seen us!"
"It may have been the outside door," he suggested.
She shook her head.
"The door was closed. I closed it behind me."
"You mustn't worry, dear," he insisted. "In all probability some one did
look into the room by mistake, but it is very doubtful whether they would
know who we were. It may have been Sparks, my man, or the night valet,
seeing a light here. Remember what I told you a few minutes ago--there is
no trouble now which shall come near you."
She smiled, already reassured.
"Of course, I am rather absurd," she said, "but then look at me! It
is past one o'clock, and here am I in your rooms, with that terrible
dressing case on the table, and without a hat, and still looking, I
am afraid," she concluded, with a final glance into the glass, "a
"You look," he told her fondly, "like a girl who has just realised for
the first time in her life that she is loved."
"How strange," she laughed happily,--"because that is exactly how I
There was a knock at the door. A page entered, swinging a key in his
"Key of 440 for the lady, sir," he announced.
"Quite right, my boy. Listen. Did you meet any one in the corridor?"
"No one, sir."
"You haven't been in here before without knocking, have you?"
"No, sir," was the prompt reply. "I came straight up in the lift."
Wingate turned to Josephine with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"The mystery, then, is insoluble," he declared cheerfully, "but
remember this, sweetheart," he added, as the boy stepped discreetly
outside, "in small things as well as large, the troubles of this world
for you are ended."
"You don't know how wonderful it sounds to hear words like that," she
sighed, as they stood hand in hand. "I shan't seem very selfish, John,
shall I, if I ask for a little time to realise all this? I feel that
everything I have and am ought to be yours at this moment, because you
have made me so happy, because my heart is so full of gratitude. But,
alas, I have my weaknesses! I am a very proud woman. Sometimes I am
afraid I have been a little censorious--as regards others!"
He stooped and kissed her fingers.
"If you knew what it felt like," he whispered, as he held open the door
for her, "to have something to wait for! And whether you realise it or
not, you are with me--from now on--always--my inspiration--my daily
Peter Phipps, sitting in his private office, might have served as the
very prototype of a genial, shrewd and successful business man. The
apartment was plainly and handsomely furnished. Although, only a few
yards away, was a private exchange and an operator who controlled many
private wires, a single telephone only stood upon his desk. The documents
which cumbered it were arranged in methodical little heaps. His manager
stood by his side, with a long slip of paper in his hand. The two men had
been studying it together.
"A very excellently prepared document, Harrison," his employer declared
graciously, as he leaned back in his chair with the tips of his fingers
pressed together. "Capitally prepared and very lucid. A good many million
bushels, that. We are creeping up, Harrison--creeping up."
Mr. Harrison bowed in recognition of his master's words of
commendation. He was a worn-looking, negative person, with a waxlike
complexion, a furtive manner, and a marvellous head for the figures
with which he juggled.
"The totals are enormous, sir," he admitted, "and you may take it that
they are absolutely correct. They represent our holdings as revised after
the receipt of this morning's mail. I should like to point out, too, sir,
that they have increased out of all proportion to outside shipments,
during the last four days."
Phipps touched the _Times_ with his forefinger.
"Did you notice, Harrison," he asked, "that our shares touched a hundred
and eighty last night on the street?"
"I was advised of it, sir," was the quiet reply.
"My fellow directors and I," Phipps continued, "are highly gratified with
the services of our staff during this period of stress. You might let
them know that in the counting house. We shall shortly take some
opportunity of showing our appreciation."
"You are very kind indeed, sir," the manager acknowledged, without change
of countenance. "I am sorry to have to report that Mr. Roberts wishes to
"Roberts? One of our best buyers!" Phipps exclaimed. "Dear me, how's
that? Can't we meet him, Harrison? Is it a matter of salary?"
"I am afraid not, sir."
"Mr. Roberts has leanings towards socialism, sir. He seems to think that
the energies of our company tend to increase the distress which exists in
The great man leaned back in his chair.
"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "What on earth has that to do with
Roberts? He isn't the conscience of the firm. He draws a matter of a
thousand a year for doing as he is told."
"I tried to argue with him on those lines, sir," Harrison replied. "I am
sorry to say I found him obdurate."
"He can be replaced, I suppose?" Phipps shrugged his shoulders.
"With some difficulty, sir," Harrison felt compelled to admit. "There
is, as I dare say you are aware, sir, a certain feeling against us in
the various Exchanges. The best men are warned against accepting
employment with us."
"We pay higher salaries than any one else in the trade."
"The business methods of the company towards its employees," the manager
acknowledged, "have always been excellent. Still, there is a feeling."
The chairman of the B. & I. sighed.
"We will pursue the subject later, Harrison," he said. "In the meantime,
promote some one else on the staff, if necessary. Do your best to fill
Roberts' place adequately."
"Very good, sir."
Dredlinton lounged into the office a few minutes later. Phipps welcomed
him without any particular enthusiasm, but promptly dismissed the typist
to whom he had been dictating.
"It happens that you are just the man I want to see," he declared.
Dredlinton sank a little wearily into an easy-chair, after a glance of
disappointment at the retreating figure.
"Can't think why you always have such damned ugly girls about you,
Phipps," he yawned. "Gives me the creeps to look at them."
Peter Phipps smiled as he drew a box of cigars from his desk.
"Then I will tell you the reason, my friend," he said. "For pleasure
there is no one who appreciates beauty more than I do. For business
I have a similar passion for efficiency. The two are never confused
in my mind."
"Regular paragon, aren't you!" Dredlinton murmured. "Why did you want to
see me, by the by?"
"What happened last night?" Phipps asked a little abruptly.
"I obeyed orders," Dredlinton told him. "I told her ladyship that I
should be home to dinner and probably bring some friends. I was a little
late but she waited."
Phipps smiled maliciously.
"She didn't dine with Wingate, then, or go to the theatre?"
"She did not," Dredlinton replied. "I put the kibosh on it, according
Peter Phipps pushed the cigars across the desk towards his companion.
"Try one of these before you enter upon the labours of the day," he
invited, "and just see what you think of these figures."
Dredlinton glanced at the papers carelessly at first and then with
genuine interest. They were certainly sufficiently surprising to rouse
him for a moment from his apathy.
"Marvellous!" he exclaimed.
"Marvellous indeed," his Chief assented. "Now listen to me, Dredlinton.
Why are you sitting there, looking like a whipped dog? Why can't you wear
a more cheerful face? If it's Farnham's cheque you are worrying about,
here it is," he added, drawing an oblong slip of paper from the
pigeonhole of his desk, tearing it in two, and throwing it into the
waste-paper basket. "A year ago, you told me that the one thing in the
world you needed was money. Well, aren't you getting it? You have only to
run straight with us here, and to work in my interests in another quarter
that you know of, and your fortune is made. Cheer up and look as though
you realised it."
Dredlinton crossed and uncrossed his legs nervously. His eyes were
bloodshot and his eyelids puffy. Notwithstanding careful grooming, he had
the air of a man running fast to seed.
"I am nervous this morning, Phipps," he confided. "Had a bad night. Every
one I've come across, too, lately, seems to be cursing the B. & I."
Back to Full Books