The Suspicions of


Maxwell Gray
(Mary Gleed Tuttiett)

Author of "The Silence of Dean Maitland," etc., etc.

"Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunklen Laub die gold Orangen glühn?
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht;
                                                    Kennst du es wohl?"

John Long
Norris Street, Haymarket
[All rights reserved]

First published in 1908


The Silence of Dean Maitland
The Reproach of Annesley
In The Heart of the Storm
A Costly Freak
        London: Kegan Paul

The Last Sentence
Sweethearts and Friends
The House of Hidden Treasure
The World's Mercy, and other Tales
The Forest Chapel, and other Poems
Four-Leaved Clover
Richard Rosny
        London: William Heinemann

The Great Refusal
An Innocent Impostor
        London: John Long

Ribstone Pippins
        London and New York: Harper & Bros.

Lays of the Dragon-Slayer
        London: Sands & Co.




The Suspicions of Ermengarde

Chapter I

The Little Rift

Fog of the colour known as pea-soup—in reality amber mixed with lemon-peel and delicately tinted with smut—pervaded the genial shades of Kensington Gardens and cast a halo of breathless romance over many a "long, unlovely street" and many a towering pile of crudely hideous flats in the regions round about. It sneaked down chimneys, stalked insolently through front doors, regardless of locks, curtains and screens; it wandered noiselessly about houses, penetrating even to my lady's chamber; it permeated cosy drawing-rooms and snug dining-rooms with gloom like that of an ancestral ghost, or an unforgettable sorrow, or—the haunting horror of unpaid bills.

"Yes, that is the true, the inevitable simile, the fitting word," Ermengarde said to herself with melancholy triumph, from her downy nest in the deep warm Chesterfield by the fire, "the haunting horror of unpaid bills. 'Haunting horror' is good. And it's not so much the unpaidness of the bills as the size of them—and the kind of them. The butcher's bill, for instance—how enormous—and yet Arthur takes it as coolly as the collection in church, or the waiter's tip, that just means a finger slipped into a waistcoat pocket and out again, without even looking. When one thinks of the lovely things one might buy with the butcher's quarterly bill and can't!"

Looking up at the ceiling as if in ecstatic vision of lovely things, she sighed deeply, and wished that man was not carnivorous, and wondered why the world went so thwartingly, and what was the matter with everything, and if civilization was worth that last, worst penalty of a real London fog—an ideally high and gamey one like this, that you might smell all the way across Dover Straits—as least, so Arthur once averred of a fog of less powerful bouquet.

All of a sudden, out of the hidden heart of darkness, whence those heavy fog-folds rolled, came, on the wings of some evil spirit of the nether pit, the deadly thought—was Arthur worth—worth what? the pains and penalties of wedded bliss? Poor old Arthur! No, no, that was unthinkable; the downy depths of the Chesterfield suddenly became void of the resting form; there was quick pacing to and fro in fire-gleam and shadow, with knitted brow and troubled glance.

The Demon Influenza was to blame for much, for everything—yes, everything, even that little rift within the lute of household joy and peace. For the little rift was there. But could the Influenza Demon be blamed for those five successive and expensive hats, that in the space of half as many weeks had to be discarded, each after either, as impossible—with her complexion—or for those two gowns, creations of a tailor of European renown, that on the second Wearing made her an absolute frump? Had the Demon so irrevocably impaired her looks and altered her figure? That was conceivable; but not Arthur's conduct on the occasion. No demon, nothing, short of original sin, could be answerable for that.

Memory flashed upon her brain a vivid picture of the Day of Judgment face with which he had contemplated those five brand-new, chic and costly hats arraigned in a row before him—the man had actually disinterred them from various dark recesses in wardrobes—and, instead of offering the balm of sympathy demanded by this five-fold affliction, had snapped out the curt, harsh condemnation, "Could any allowance stand that?" and walked off in wrath and gloom.

It was not as if she had complained of the allowance or ever so remotely suggested its augmentation by a penny. She had simply fled for succour in a crisis of ill-fortune to the one being on earth from whom she had a right to expect it—in the form of hard cash; she had asked the bread of sympathy and received the stone of condemnation—damnation, she muttered bitterly—from the man who—a sob checked the current of reflection, but was gulped down.—And he should have remembered that the Flu Demon had left her weak and depressed, a condition liable to be greatly aggravated by unbecoming hats.

He had been distinctly nasty about those hats, hatefully sarcastic over the number, as if some special devilry resided in the sum of twice two and one over. By virtue of some ingrained perversity he had censured her for a run of ill-luck—such runs will occur, as every woman knows, in clothes, as well as in cards, commerce, horses, hunting, everything not exclusively feminine—he had censured her for an inevitable misfortune common to the race; he might as well have found fault with her for being liable to death, disease and bad husbands.

Many sorrows had in these last days fallen to Ermengarde's lot. She had been losing steadily at bridge; her last At Home had been a fiasco; hockey had become impossible to her; her cook had been ill; there were no golf-links within reach, and the motor flight, planned for her across Europe by an intimate friend, had come to nothing in consequence of the chauffeur being under arrest for manslaughter. Meditating on these griefs in the lemon and smut-coloured dusk, her heart sank, and she had just dried two very large tears on one very small handkerchief, when the door opened and a visitor was announced—that is, he would have been, had he not shot himself into the room with the indecent vigour of aggressive good spirits, squeezed her hand to a jelly, and filled the room with boisterously cheerful observations, before there was time for the correct and aggrieved maid to do anything but maliciously switch on a savage glare of electric light and vanish.

"Not bucked up yet after that disastrous Flu? You want sunshine, colour, fresh life. Why not try a winter at Cairo? Nothing like desert air—like champagne—cheers but not inebriates. Yes, I'm off again, bag and baggage, easel and golf-clubs. Make Allonby take you to Egypt—you wouldn't know yourself in the sunshine."

"Any more than in the darkness; but, should I know you?"

"Well, you'd see me in a better light. Not that I say a word against the poetry and mysticism—misty schism, not bad, eh?—of our native fogs. Still, you can have too much of a good thing—when it's fog."

"Or optimism," she sighed, switching off the light, and restoring the glamour of ever-thickening fog, till the entrance of another aggravatingly cheerful being obliged her to light one of the two umbrella lamps that impeded progress in that part of the room not entirely blocked by screens and potted palms and small and easily upsettable tables, laden with frail and cherished trifles and phalanxes of photographs, such as strew the suburban pilgrim's progress from door to fireplace with stumbling-blocks, pitfalls and stones of offence.

Just because Ermengarde's head ached and she had fallen into a vein of pleasing melancholy and wanted to think things out in the firelight that afternoon, people came trooping in, all breathing visible breath and complaining of the fog, each alluding to its density, dirt and inconvenience, as if it were an entirely new and startling experience, peculiar to each separate individual.

An elderly woman in costly sables had to sit and cough in a corner for five solid minutes before she was capable of receiving or imparting instructions in the natural history of fog. She was going, she said, when able to speak, to try a winter in Algiers. The sooner she began to try the better, Ermengarde thought. A ruddy John Bull friend was off to Hyères—or Cannes—he was not sure which—for golf; a grey retired general, purple from semi-asphyxiation, was bound for the same place for the same reason. People were going to San Remo, to Alassio, to Bordighera, to Nice, to Biarritz, to Davos, chiefly, to judge from their remarks, to find congenial British society and avoid foreigners—especially Germans. Somebody was going to motor to Rome, thence through Florence, Venice and Dalmatia, going on to Athens, and taking Buda-Pesth, Innspruck, the Tyrol, the Black Forest, Belgium and Holland on the return journey; "that is, if we ever do return," one of the party thoughtfully observed. Hotels, routes, the vexatiousness of Customs, the iniquitous slowness of Continental trains, the wholesale plundering of baggage in the native land of brigands, and the drawbacks of foreign cookery and sanitation, were discussed and illustrated by personal experience, until Ermengarde felt that she had been everywhere and there was nowhere in particular to go to, though she was longing to go there again.

"I should like a little sun," she said plaintively at dinner; whereupon Arthur observed, with the jocular and banal brutality of his kind, that he should prefer a little daughter, and that their Charlie was quite handful enough, and Ermengarde returned haughtily that people should be above chestnuts, especially when they were Joe Millers.

Then, prompted by some malicious demon, Arthur asked if she would like some more hats, and Ermengarde rejoined that of all ill propensities incidental to fallen humanity she especially disliked nagging.

Arthur looked frowningly on a table-centre, nicely embroidered in gold by one of His Majesty's Oriental subjects, and silence reigned till dessert.

When a silence of this kind occurs in a society entirely composed of two people, it is difficult to put an end to it gracefully, or even naturally; the longer it lasts the more difficult it becomes. First there is a question of which ought to begin; and, as each always decides that the other should, matters are not advanced. Next is the question of what to say; and that is almost as insoluble unless some lucky accident, such as fire, burglars, or an explosion of gas on the premises, should furnish unexpected impersonal matter of interest. Ermengarde almost wished that the kitchen boiler would burst, or the cook be discovered drunk and disorderly on the kitchen stairs—the frost had not been hard enough to burst the water-pipes, and the man never calls for the rates at that hour—for then Arthur would have to say something, though it would probably be unsuitable for publication; while the miserable Arthur could think of no topic unconnected with hats—"What became of those beastly hats of yours? Why not sell the lot?"—cudgel his brains and tear his moustache as he might.

Small minds may consider hats as too petty and insignificant to be of any moment in human affairs, but large minds think on a corresponding scale, and even hats bulk grandly in commanding intellects. The Pope has three, for what is a tiara but a hat in full dress? And what intrigues and schemes, what ambitions, heart-burnings and disappointments, what strifes and despairs may encircle the hat of one single Cardinal! Then there is the hat of Gessler upon the historic pole—not the human—how it brightens the dull page of history to the youthful mind, and what exciting things resulted from its transference from its natural elevation to the wooden eminence so familiar on the pictured page of childish memory! The triple hat of a lost industry, that of the extinct Old Clo' man, how rich it was in symbolism! The Quaker tile, immovable as a rock in the presence of man or woman however august, and retained at considerable personal inconvenience in hot rooms and public buildings, how full of meaning and mystery is, or rather was, the Quaker tile! And that hat of the gorgeous East, the turban, with its next-of-kin, the fez or the tarbush; and the metal-pot of the warrior of so many ages and countries, the brazen helmet of the Greek warrior and the modern fireman, and the darker helm of the British soldier and the policeman—are they nothing? Then the busby of the Guardsman, and the feather bonnet of the Highlander, should they be held lightly? And what of the plumed and aitchless hat of the cockney maiden, the cause of Homeric battles, tears, alarms, and excursions to pawnshops; surely that is a serious matter. Moreover, is not the lovely and lustrous headgear, known as the chimney-pot, the sign and symbol of our present civilization? Has not the dusky and otherwise garbless savage been known to stalk among his peers in proud consciousness of full civilized costume, clad solely in the chimney-pot hat? And who, that has ever been privileged to enjoy histrionic art in the vicinity of dames of high degree, can deny the possibilities of terror, wrath, and doom lurking in that Hat of the Mighty, that lofty and awe-inspiring structure, the Matinée Hat?

Let no man think lightly of hats.

So Arthur reflected, gloomily sipping his modest glass, and wondering if it was a Matinée Hat that Jezebel assumed on the unfortunate occasion when she painted her face and tired her head before looking out of the window. To ask Ermengarde's solution of this question would be impolitic; to remind her of national and individual tragedies connected with the ownership of those jewelled and golden hats, styled crowns, diadems, and coronets, equally so. But his head was too full of hats to allow the entrance of any other subject, which was wrong—hats should be on heads, not in them. Stealthily and with apparent absence of mind he drew a dish of biscuits out of his wife's reach. She liked to nibble a biscuit after dinner; so he hoped that consuming desire of some might constrain her to say, "Please pass the biscuits." She, on the other hand, was hoping that common civility might prompt him to the question, "Won't you have a biscuit?"

So, while he waited for her to say, "Please pass the biscuits," and she waited for him to say "Won't you have a biscuit?" nothing passed but time, who waits for no man, though often on insufficient warrant expected to wait for women.

Time on this occasion passed at a snail's gallop, and yet he arrived at the moment when Ermengarde was wont to rise from table before Arthur had decided whether to withhold the usual ceremony of opening the door for her or, in apparent mental preoccupation, to perform it in stately and withering silence.

The consequence was that, just as he had decided on the latter course, the indignant rustle and whisk of vanishing skirts accused him to his conscience of being a beast and a cad, and made him address several words of doubtful propriety to his pipe, which, not having been lighted, obstinately refused to draw.

How easily the rift widens in the conjugal lute! Ermengarde sank in the Chesterfield by the fire, and wondered why she had been allowed to marry in her teens. She had had no youth, she told herself; all her brightest years had been sacrificed—to an elderly man, devoid of sympathy. Her health was gone; she was prematurely aged; she thought she had detected a grey hair while brushing her locks that morning; she was almost sure that crow's feet were gathering round her eyes; her face was thin, pale, and haggard, her beauty lost; the elderly man she had thoughtlessly married already neglected her. Charlie would soon be a man—he was eight already—he would storm out into the world and be independent of her; he had long hated to be kissed, and generally ducked his head when she tried.

And Arthur could jest on the subject of having no daughter. What a world!

Being so thoroughly used to this man she seemed always to have been married to him, and could only dimly recall a time when she was not Mrs. Allonby, and thought of marriage as a vague and distant possibility, like death. But those dim maiden days had surely been sweeter than the married years that followed. Though he was nine years older than she, the idea that Arthur was elderly had only just occurred to her; for in those maiden days the homage of a man old enough to have lived and beaten out a path for himself in the world, had seemed a great thing. First a soldier, then for a brief while a rancher in the Far West, lastly a knight of the pen, this strong, spare, bronzed man seemed to the inexperienced girl to know everything, and to have been everywhere. To see such a man stammer and turn white and tremble at a word or a look of hers went dizzily to her head.

"I suppose I must have married him out of pity," she mused, "or was it the pride of power? The important thing is that I did marry him—to be denied hats and refused sympathy; to be expected to dress on twopence ha'penny a year; to be derided for misfortune—and can't unmarry him, not even in the United States, merely because he nags when I am out of luck, and sulks whenever my head aches."

Yet the remembrance of the wooing was not without charm. How the man had trembled, that sunny afternoon in the garden by the rose-beds, and how she had pretended not to know that he was trembling, while she gathered the roses and chattered about nothing, until even her powers of chattering about nothing came to an end, and she was silent, knowing that he must speak or die of it in another moment. It was then that an intrusive, short-sighted parent had come upon the scene and spoilt the climax.

Arthur was to have left early next morning, and there was to be no further opportunity of being alone with him. How exciting and tragical it had been, as the day wore on and the man grew more and more distraught, and at last, as the hour of separating approached, in desperation slipped into her hand, where she sat at the piano to accompany somebody's song, a scrap of paper inscribed:

"I'd crowns resign
To call thee mine."

And with what coolness and self-possession she had glanced at the paper held under the keyboard in one hand, while running over the keys with the other; and then, as one with a life-long experience of intrigue and plotting, had idly pencilled her reply on the same scrap, that she casually let fall, while directing the singer's attention to the music, for Arthur to pick up!

"I'd gowns decline
To call me thine."

"It was so like her," Arthur said afterwards; "so quick and bright, and so superior to grammar." But he said that in postnuptial days.

Her retrospections were interrupted by the subject of them, who was immediately followed by tea. This harmless domestic beverage was taken in stony silence, broken at last by a sudden desperate exclamation in a bass voice of, "What the deuce is the matter with you, Ermengarde?" that made her literally sit up.

"Nothing," she replied, quickly recovering; and speaking sadly. "At least, only what is usual after influenza."

"Headaches? Try that old port."

"I'd rather try a new port, a foreign port—sunshine, thorough change—something bright and cheering."

"Well, that's out of the question. I can't get off just now, as you know," she heard, and replied that she might advertise for a fellow-traveller or go alone. As for expense, what more expensive than illness? Besides, the thing was so cheaply done nowadays; there was no occasion to go far, the Mediterranean was quite far enough for her, somewhere in the Côte d'Azur—Nice, Hyères—a day's journey, nothing more.

"What more could the lady want?" he quoted in his detestably ironic way, and suggested visits to country friends or a week at Bournemouth, before slipping behind his Times, and thence into peaceful slumber.

"Quite seriously, Arthur," she said a day or two later, after perusal of some travel prospectuses with fascinating illustrations of Trains de Luxe, "I not only wish, but intend, to go to the Riviera this winter."

"And leave me?" he asked in blank astonishment.

"Why not? I scarcely ever see you now. You are at the office two nights a week regularly, and when you do dine at home, the moment you leave the table you rush off to the typewriter, or dictate to a secretary in your study till the middle of the night. What can you want with me?"

He muttered something about fireside comfort and repose; then he laughed and told her not to be ridiculous. She retorted hotly; he spoke angrily in return; and another silence ensued, the breach widening and widening after every such silence until their mutual mental atmosphere was so charged with electricity that thunder and lightning might break out at any moment.

"He is tired of me," she thought. He remembered that nervous prostration sometimes resulted in estrangement and family dissensions. Neither of them put it down to hats.

About this time he became preoccupied, absent, gloomy in manner; he spoke little, often answering at random when spoken to. His evenings at home were fewer and fewer; sometimes, when he paused in the act of putting on his coat before going out, and looked blankly at her, she fancied that he was trying to bring himself to make some painful disclosure beyond his courage. Her imagination, stimulated by the sight of letters—the handwriting was a woman's, she was sure—that increased his preoccupation, and were always hustled out of her sight, suggested causes she would rather not think of for his evident weariness of her society.

Yet there were moments when she longed to ask him to tell her all, to let her know the worst that was weighing on him; but courage always halted till opportunity fled.

So that one Sunday afternoon, when she was looking through the illustrations in the last Traveller's Journal, thinking him absorbed in Spectators and Outlooks, she was startled to hear him suddenly begin: "If you are still hankering after this trip to the South, for which you are manifestly quite unfit—I think you ought to know this——"

He broke off; she looked up. "Well?" she asked, impatient of a prolonged pause.

"That it is at present absolutely impossible——" He seemed about to add something, then broke off again.

"Everything that I suggest is absolutely impossible," she thought. Something in his voice and manner, added to a recent discovery of graver cause for alienation, of which more hereafter, and joined to the memory of recent bursts of irritation, told her that the end of all confidence and affection was come; nothing but mutual toleration and the bond of common everyday interests remained now; however deftly the lute might be touched, the music was mute at last. The little bickerings of comedy were over, the deep note of tragedy boomed heavily in the distance. She could not face it; there was instant need of flight and absence, of something to block out the misery of this moment of revelation, which must darken all their life.

"It seems scarcely kind," she said presently, "to set yourself so fiercely against this small project of mine;" then quietly and lucidly she pointed out the necessity of doing something to recover her health and spirits.

He replied that the time was unpropitious; that he had already suggested, with good reason, the need for diminishing expenses.

"We began, it is true, with a clean slate after that plunge in hats," he said.

"Oh, expense!" she interrupted, with the crimson the mention of those unlucky head-dresses always brought to her face. "Surely we have heard enough of expense. Besides," with bitterness, "it won't affect you. I shall manage the finance myself. No need to come upon the parish yet."

He started as if stung, and got up and went to the window, his face turned so that the pain in it was invisible to her.

"As you will," he said presently, in a hard voice. "No doubt you will regret it. But perhaps it is best. And remember this, Ermengarde, the worst possible economy is cheap travel."

With that he went out of the room, leaving her, far from being elated at having gained her point, with the best mind in the world to cry.

Chapter II

An Innocent Very Much Abroad

Having once conceded the point, Arthur did all he could to forward the foreign trip. Ermengarde must go by Calais; on those splendid turbine vessels people couldn't be ill if they tried during the whole fifty minutes across, and she hardly thought she should try. Besides, in fifty minutes there was hardly time to settle oneself comfortably; while as for being tired or faint in that short crossing, the idea was absurd; a deck-chair and the gentle lulling of the turbine's swift and smooth motion was superior to any bed, while the Train de Luxe was simply an invitation to repose. Some one suggested rocking as an accompaniment to ultra-rapid motion, but that idea was scouted; great speed means smooth motion; does a humming-top wobble before it slackens speed? Besides, how could it be a Train de Luxe if it caused train-sickness or any discomfort? And it undoubtedly was a Train de Luxe, her brother-in-law maintained—in cost.

If the price was too luxurious, why not go second-class? Ermengarde had already learnt from the paternal omniscience of Cook that foreign express trains carried second as well as first class fares. Then the startling intelligence, that not only Trains de Luxe, but Rapides and other special quick trains to the Riviera, were only for the lordly first-class traveller, broke upon her, and fresh sums in compound addition had to be cast up before an idea of the total cost could be gained. "And every time I do it the sum total is bigger," she sighed, "though, to be sure, one great saving in going by this first-class train is that you have no hotel expenses; you pass the night in the train, instead of driving in an expensive cab to a hotel, and giving Heaven knows how much for being in Heaven knows how uncomfortable rooms."

"But you've left out the feeding," her brother-in-law objected.

"Not at all; the train has its own restaurant-car," she returned with the triumph of recent knowledge.

"You blessed innocent, you don't suppose you are going to be fed free gratis for twenty-four hours," he shouted, with a vulgar and jarring mirth that was indecently echoed by Arthur; "a train isn't a prison or a workhouse."

"It certainly is not," she returned with dignity; "it's a train. As you see, 'the waiters will bring things to the compartments if necessary.' Besides, how can it be a Train de Luxe if it gives you nothing to eat all that time? Just listen to the description. 'On waking the traveller rings his bell to——' Oh yes—I see, you do pay. 'The tariff of prices is in full view in the carriages. Tea, tenpence,' etc. Now I shall have to do another sum. But I need only dine, and have a cup of tea in the afternoon. Lunch I shall carry with me. And, as you see, there's the picture of people breakfasting next morning in the Riviera Palace Hotel at Monte Carlo."

"Benighted infant, it's déjeuner they're having at midday. You really must have a companion."

"Not at all. I've never done any travelling pays before, and it's high time I learnt how to. Why do the stupid people say breakfast when they mean lunch? Another tenpenneth of tea and the biscuits I carry will do for my breakfast. So only dinner need count. Really the cost of going all that distance is absurdly small when one thinks of it. And then the saving of night travel, besides the comfort of having a proper bed without the trouble of going to it."

"Still, you pay pretty high for the comfort."

"Only the usual first-class fare. There it is, written down plainly; just read the advertisement, Herbert: 'Monte Carlo and Sunshine—as easy as going to Brighton. The train, with special new bogie corridor carriages'—I shan't like the bogie part, though—'leaves Victoria at 11 a.m.' H'm, h'm—'you land at Calais in less than an hour'—just fancy!—h'm—'no scrambling for meals or seats, your places have been reserved, and you walk in as you would to your stall at a theatre.'"

"Matinée Hats and all?" interjected Arthur with brutal levity, haughtily ignored but not unnoted.

"'Separate staterooms'—now I shall know what a stateroom is like—'artistically furnished and decorated, warmed, lighted by electricity, and each provided with a dressing-room with hot and cold water.' Now, Herbert, isn't it wonderful? And besides all that, just listen: 'Perfect meals are served, and the sleeping accommodation is magnificent.' Now, I should be quite content with the artistic stateroom and the separate dressing-room, shouldn't you? H'm—h'm—h'm. 'And you arrive, not fatigued, but refreshed, at Nice at 10.32 a.m., so that'—h'm—h'm—h'm—'you may be taking your déjeuner'—h'm—h'm—'bathed in sunlight,' etc., 'in about twenty-four hours after leaving the fogs of London.' Bathed in sunlight," she sighed with luxurious rapture.

"Why have we never done this thing before?" asked Herbert. "Far from being expensive, the journey appears positively to enrich you. Still, I advise you to take some soap and a towel, and a few odd louis and a handful of francs. But, my poor child, observe this little item, 'Supplemental charges' for the sleeping-cars."

"What? Five pounds practically! Then I'll just not have a sleeping-car at all, but tuck myself up in the artistically furnished, warmed, and lighted stateroom for the night."

"Alas! I regret to say that the staterooms and sleeping-rooms are one and indivisible."

"Then," said Ermengarde, with deep and indignant conviction, "it's a shame and a swindle. And I'll go by a Rapide, and make myself up in a corner with cushions. Providing I face the engine and have a corner seat, I can always sleep in a train."

A cumulative family veto promptly negatived this mad resolve, and Ermengarde's sum total for the single journey leapt up accordingly, till, what with booking fees, registrations, insurances, tips, and those supplemental charges that bristle all over Continental time-tables, it doubled her original estimate, and she began to think that, if hotel expenses bounded up in the same proportion, it might be the more prudent course to stay at home.

But the very word home came with a shock that showed the impossibility of that course. She must forget certain things, and grow accustomed to certain daily deepening pangs, and steep her thoughts in other atmospheres, and so take breath and strength for the newer, darker aspects of life confronting her. Especially she must forget the experience of a certain dark and dreadful night. On that occasion she had dined at her father's house, and growing weary of the musical evening that followed, and eschewing the delights of bridge in a dim and distant room clandestinely devoted to that pastime, had cabbed quietly home at eleven and let herself in with a latchkey.

The house was silent; the servants evidently had gone to bed; a candle and matches under a still burning gas-bracket awaited her; but the light under the study door showed that the master of the house had come home, presumably to the heavy evening's work that had been his excuse for not dining at Onslow Gardens. Thinking to just let him know she was in, without interrupting his work, she stepped softly to the study, and as softly opened the door and looked in.

The room was partly in shadow, lighted by fire-gleams. Over the writing-table was a shaded lamp, in the interrupted light of which she saw the slender, bowed figure of a woman sitting, with her face hidden by her hands. Beside her, and bending slightly over her, stood Arthur, his face in shadow, his hand on her shoulder, which quivered with restrained sobs; he was speaking in a low, earnest voice words inaudible at the door at the other end of the room.

For a moment Ermengarde stood at gaze, transfixed, a curious strangling sensation in her throat, and a feeling like hot wires burning her eyes. Then, very softly, almost unconsciously, she closed the door, and, after a moment's pause, turned, carefully gathering up her skirts from their silken rustle on the floor, and went to the table, whence she took the unlighted candle, and walked upstairs with a slow, tired step and a strange proud quiver of lips.

Presently she heard the street door opened, the shrilling of a cab-whistle and answering trot of a horse, some murmured voices, followed by hoof-beats dying away, and the sound of shutting the door, bolts driven, and chain put up. Half an hour later the study door, opening, let out the scent of a cigar, and Arthur came up.

"You came home early?" he asked indifferently, and she said "Yes," trying to force herself to make some matter-of-fact allusion to the friend in the study, but not succeeding till next day, when her easy observation, "Were you alone when I came in last night?" produced the unembarrassed reply, "No; a secretary was with me. I had rather a heavy night."

"So had I," she thought with growing bitterness.

But afterwards she stooped to a thing that lowered her in her own sight, while something stronger than herself drove her to do it.

"By the way, I thought I heard voices in the study when I came home last night," she said carelessly to the parlourmaid. "Did anyone call while I was out?"

"No, ma'am," with some hesitation. "At least—only the—the young lady."

"The young lady, Rushton? What young lady?" sharply.

"Please, m'm, the young lady that comes for master. I never can remember her name. She came last time you went to Onslow Gardens, and when you were ill—and——"

"Of course, Rushton, of course—" she interrupted, the blood throbbing in her temples and a mist coming before her eyes. "How stupid I am! I had quite forgotten. Yes—yes. Be sure you remember about the table-centre to-night. And sweet geranium leaves in the finger-bowls. Yes—yes."

That was the tragic note jarring all the music of life; it was that she wished to forget. There was no doubt of the meaning of that scene; it could be nothing else, and whatever its meaning might have been, she could not stoop to ask any solution. And being what she thought, there was no appeal, no help; nothing for it but stoic endurance and averted eyes. Often she had listened to the bitter, godless creed that no man is without reproach, none proof against one form of temptation; that women can only wait and look away till that trouble is over-past; and insensibly the dogma had sunk into her mind, neither welcomed nor repelled, only put out of sight in the brightness and gaiety of a safe and sunny life.

But would she so readily have grasped the situation except for those hats? and would he have sneered at those unlucky pieces of costume had his heart been where it should be?

Not that Ermengarde admitted this to herself. "O for the wings of a dove!" she cried in her heart, and explained to herself that the Influenza demon had weakened and depressed her, that the beginning of Charlie's first term at school had made the house a desert solitude, and that she had come to realize the melancholy fact that her married life had reached the inevitable stage of monotonous indifference and mutual irritation, of which no poet sings, but ordinary mortals discourse in very plain, unvarnished prose. Once she had accustomed herself to it, no doubt she would be able to put up with it, as other women did. So far had she travelled from the petulant security of the days before the arraignment of the five rejected hats.

It must have been Herbert who made the unlucky suggestion that the train-booking should be done through Cook, and the services of his interpreters secured. To this Ermengarde readily agreed, though her French was above the British average. "I'll write to-night," she said.

Then it was that Arthur observed that it might be well before buying tickets to decide where she was going. That horrid sarcastic style of his was so immeasurably irritating.

"Since you wish to know," she replied haughtily, "my destination is Nice."

And when asked why, unready with an answer, having settled on the spur of the moment upon the first name that came up, she said lamely, "It's—it's the centre of everything."

"But why choose the coldest and dustiest place on the Riviera?" her mother asked over the afternoon teacups.

"And the resort of the rowdiest lot of visitors and haunt of native and foreign sharpers," added a woman, who had just appeared, full of the grievance of being packed and ready and at the last moment denied a ticket till after the next ten days, every place till then being booked ahead. "Besides, if you want quiet and scenery, you hardly go to a big town."

Somebody else suggested that what had been good enough for Queen Victoria was good enough for her, and painted the beauties of Cimiez in glowing colours. "And think of the Opera and the Theatre at Nice. And the Battle of Flowers and the Carnival. To see those properly you must go to Nice."

Then Ermengarde decided on Hyères, for scenery, good air, and romantic associations; and, having penned her letter to Cook, heard from one whose pilgrimage had been to that shrine, that there was absolutely nothing to do at Hyères and no society whatever, and that the climate and also that of Costebelle was positively murderous. Why not try San Remo or Alassio? or Pegli, with the advantage of being practically at Genoa? Each of these being in turn decided on, some dreadful defect in each was in turn discovered. Everybody Ermengarde knew had been everywhere and knew everything about it, and as each had entirely different views of every place, it was a little bewildering to an unbiased mind.

Bordighera was at last chosen, as being a place of palms, and associated with Ruffini's charming story, Dr. Antonio. Then it turned out that Bordighera was the windiest spot in Europe, and absolutely without shelter, and that the palms, being tied up like lettuces for the market, were an abomination of desolation; besides, crossing the frontier involved another custom-house worry, and the loss of an hour at Ventimiglia.

So at last Mentone, chosen more than once from rapturous reports of friends and the charm of Bennett's description in his Mediterranean book, and more than once abandoned on account of dismal tales of bad sanitation, heat, damp, and relaxing air, was finally decided upon—a stern and unanimous family veto having been pronounced against both Monte Carlo and Monaco—and a seat booked ten days in advance.

"A seat," Ermengarde observed with a deep sigh of content; "rather an exquisite boudoir"—"'Artistically furnished and decorated,'" her husband muttered—"with a most luxurious sofa, little tables, and every comfort, and 'through the window a moving panorama of lovely, sunlit scenery.' How restful! With books, papers, letters to write, when the outlook palls. All the comfort of a private room in a first-class hotel, with no stairs and constant change of scene. I could travel for weeks in such circumstances. The only trouble is the fellow-traveller. How nice it would be to be able to take two places!"

Female friends urged the necessity of summer frocks and shady hats; Arthur was strong upon furs and wraps. Monte Carlo would involve great splendour of evening toilette, and summer hues and textures by day. Tailor-mades by artists of renown would be chic, but only of superfine faced-cloth, so Herbert said, quoting with the pride of recent knowledge from the Queen, while as to hats—

"Don't speak of them. My wife is like Mr. Toots, who, you remember, was fond of waistcoats," interposed Arthur; "she has a weakness for hats."

"Out of compassion to you, to give you something to sneer at," she flashed out, bit her lips, and turned the subject, while Arthur, dumbfounded, and cudgelling his brains to discover the rock of his offence, remembered the five discarded hats, and fumed with annoyance.

Victoria at eleven in the morning, when some ruddy gold sunbeams were struggling through clinging folds of mist, presented a lively spectacle, something between an Ascot day and a cheap excursion. Shepherded by men in and out of livery and lady's-maids engaging in fierce combat with porters and guards, fur-clad dames of high and low degree, decked with flowers, and with fur-coated squires to match them, sailed majestically in the path of advancing towers of luggage, and impeded progress in every direction by standing in picturesque groups at the doors of carriages, or exactly in front of moving crowds, to exchange inane smiles, minute bows and meaningless small talk, impervious to the hoarse shouts of hot and panting porters, stonily unconscious of civil requests from fellow-travellers looking for hat-boxes, friends, trunks, mistresses, hand-baggage, servants, and such oddments, in the hurrying melée among toppling towers of trunks.

"Half London and the whole of the suburbs seem to be going by the twelve-fifty boat," Ermengarde said, unmoved by all this hurry and confusion in the happy security of a corner seat facing the engine, and booked by Cook. She was glad that Arthur was unable to see her off, he having had an unexpected business call to one of the South Coast summer resorts, she had forgotten which, the day before, so that only Herbert, her mother, and some half-dozen intimate friends, were saying good-bye and preventing her from looking after her luggage.

"Look here, there's some mistake about this ticket," cried Herbert presently, emerging from an arduous and prolonged struggle all down the long train and back again. "No seat is booked for you in this train, but at last I've found an empty corner, if you come quick before it's snapped up."

Ermengarde, speechless with amazement and indignation, and clinging to Herbert's hand, somehow threaded the mazes of the crowd that surged among laden trunks, staggering porters, hurrying servants with hand-baggage, imperious conductors and omnipotent guards, all talking and giving orders at once, while bells rang and whistles shrilled. She observed, as she struggled through in her brother-in-law's wake, that every seat was ticketed, and by this time most were occupied, if not by travellers, by their hand-baggage, and at last found herself in a corner facing the engine, but without any hand-baggage, hers having been variously confided piece-meal to porters and friends.

She began to picture the possibilities of twenty-four hours of empty-handed travel with some sinking of heart, while Herbert bestowed silver and injunctions for her comfort on the conductor, and five heavy trucks bearing trunks like Noah's Arks, each inscribed in large letters "The Lady Emily Appleton," and accompanied by cockaded men, wedged their way past her door, and were followed at uncertain intervals by her mother, panting and anxious, with a lunch package, and her half-dozen friends, each with the same number of papers, periodicals, baskets of fruit and bouquets, and, finally, after prolonged skirmishing, a porter with a hold-all and a dressing-bag. Herbert had vanished to get a ticket for himself and accompany her to Dover, much moved by the forlorn and bewildered expression on poor untravelled Ermengarde's face, when she looked from her window (the door being hopelessly blocked by fellow-travellers and their followings of friends); and occasionally darted forward to catch a paper or a flower from a friend's hand outstretched over the heads of the crowd blocking the door; or tried to hear some shouted assurance that her ticket was at least all right for the Calais train, that the sea was like glass, and the sun coming out. Her seat not being reserved, she dared not leave it to say the innumerable last words that rise to the lips of lady householders at such moments, and could only make signs to an anxious and much hustled mother in the far distance, who responded without in the least knowing what it was all about.

The tumult was subsiding, travellers were being respectfully but firmly recommended to take places, and Ermengarde was about to make one last wild effort to say good-bye to her mother, when a distracted female wedged herself up to the carriage, gold-handled eyeglass in hand, and anxiously sought for her name and number, which the conductor found for her above the seat in the corner opposite Ermengarde's, to the lady's great indignation and despair. She had expressly written "to face the engine," she cried. But this was abominable; she could not possibly travel backwards; she must have a forward corner; the man might look at the ticket, and so forth and so forth, with a much-burdened maid and a porter waiting behind her. The conductor was sorry, he told Ermengarde, but there had been some mistake, the other lady was unfortunately entitled to the corner, whence Ermengarde was obliged to move, finding, luckily for her, a middle seat, but losing all possibility of any but signalled farewells, and seeing Herbert no more at all.

The sunlight broadened, the fog thinned, as the long train left dear, dirty, smoky London behind, and the squalor of endless suburb diminished, and the smell of country air came through a chink of opened window. But Ermengarde's heart sank, and she felt herself a lone, lorn female, utterly incapable of confronting the unknown perils and discomforts of travel after this bad beginning. She was pulling herself together with delicious dreams of the artistic Train de Luxe, when the lady who had ejected her from her corner, and who evidently regarded her with wrath and indignation as an interloper and semi-swindler, suddenly shivered and commanded her maid, sitting opposite, to shut the little saving chink in the window.

Ermengarde's doom was now sealed; she would be train-sick.

She counted the minutes to be gasped through till Dover, and nerved herself to ask the least forbidding of the two laced and furred dames dragoning the windows for a little air before things reached a fatal crisis. But even at that dread moment the fascinating vision of the Train de Luxe, with its sofa, and wide window at command, its flying landscape, little tables, artistic furniture and decorations, warmth and electric lights, came like balm to her troubled breast.

Chapter III

The Train de Luxe

The fear of train-sickness happily ended, Dover castle was seen climbing and cresting its bold headland, with the Roman church and Pharos traced against a pale blue sky in the tender wintry sunshine. Arthur had taken her there from Folkestone one sunny autumn day soon after their marriage; they had cycled over the downs, been bumped and rattled up the Castle steeps and across drawbridges, in a rickety pony carriage commanded by a very small and reckless boy, holding on at imminent risk of their lives all the way there and back. She remembered the scent of the thyme, the interest of the place, the pleasure of the day, and wanted to cry, she had no notion what for. But life cannot be all honeymoon; remembering happier things sometimes affects the eyes like that, and the Dover trip had really been a success in its way. Coming back, they had bought prawns, and prawns make a good hors d'œuvre after open-air exercise. That the remembrance of prawns, even in sight and scent of the sea, and near the hour of lunch, should blur the sight was, of course, absurd; but then they had been such glorious prawns, so large, so fresh, so vividly scarlet. One of them had fallen out of the paper bag into Arthur's pocket, leaving an occult and pleasant suggestion of ancient fish there for days before its discovery.

It must have been this defect of vision that made Ermengarde miss Herbert, who, she supposed, must surely have found a place at Victoria, if only in the guard's van or the luggage van in the rear. For, strain her sight as she would, when the endless moving line of blue-jerseyed sea-porters passing the train had at last been brought to a stand-still, no vestige of her brother-in-law was to be found on the platform, and, during the precious moments wasted in vain search, every one of these amphibious porters seemed to have been snapped up and laden with those enormous bags, boxes, and rolls of rugs, that Continental travellers playfully call hand-baggage.

It had become a question whether Ermengarde or her hand-baggage, which she was quite incapable of shouldering personally, or both, should be left behind, when, after wild appeals to various haughty and inaccessible officials, an aged and morose blue jersey was at last raked out of some recess, and with difficulty prevailed upon to hang himself with her various properties. Then, surlily commanding her to follow him along a quarter of a mile or so of sloppy, narrow planking, crowded with people hurrying in every direction, to an invisible and improbable boat, he started off at express speed, easily making a path for himself through the press by the simple process of wedging his burdens into the softest parts of people's ribs and shoulders.

Ermengarde, having no such weapons of offence and defence, not only failed to make any such path for herself, but suffered sadly from the assaults of other armed amphibious monsters; and when, after a long and severe struggle, she arrived, bruised, panting and dishevelled, at a huge vessel that she hoped was the right one, she found her own surly amphibian goaded to savagery by waiting to such an extent that he was only with great difficulty induced to carry his burdens to the upper deck, where a cloudless sky and a windless sea promised a calm and exhilarating passage. But there the blue jersey's remnant of humanity came to an end. Find her a seat or a deck-chair he would not, for love or money or persuasion; but, hurling his burdens to the floor, he demanded double the silver she placed in his hand, received it, and bolted.

Serried phalanxes of deck-chairs already crowded the deck and filled every desirable position; but all were either occupied by happy voyagers, comfortably tucked up in rugs and motor veils and caps, or by wraps and luggage, chiefly masculine. Vainly did the hapless Ermengarde implore the boys and men constantly emerging from the bowels of the vessel, laden with chairs and stools, to fetch one for her. Stony silence, or at best a negative headshake, was all this lone, lorn female could extract from these iron-hearted creatures. She was still very weak; she was also famished; her little strength was exhausted by the preliminary journey; in dread of sea-sickness, she dared not turn her back to the vessel's direction, knowing she could neither walk up and down nor stand, as others did. She dared not descend the companion-ladder after the motion once began, and had she done so, knew herself to be incapable of carrying her rugs and small necessities. Shivering and faint, she was about to subside ignominiously on the planks, when she caught sight of a chair-carrier returning empty-handed to the companion, and once more entreated a chair of him.

"Sorry, madam, nothing but camp-stools left," he said, and was despairingly told to bring anything that could be sat upon, which he quickly did—for a stipulated price. All this time an empty deck-chair had been on one side of her, and another, occupied by an exceedingly well-tucked-up, fur-collared and fur-rugged youth of athletic build, on the other. An elderly man, standing talking to a grey-haired woman who lounged in another deck-chair, was the lawful tenant of the empty chair; and when the boy at last appeared with a rickety camp-stool, on to which Ermengarde was about to sink from exhaustion in the standing-place she had with difficulty kept all this time between the two men's chairs, the elderly man suddenly appeared to become aware of her difficulties, and turned to her with a gruff, "Better change your stool for my chair—don't suppose I shall want it—rather walk up and down," and turned sullenly away.

Sinking gratefully upon the long chair, so restful in spite of its wooden hardness, with the sun shining and the sea sparkling to the even movement of the great turbine vessel as they caught the faint breeze of their motion, Ermengarde would now have been happy, but for the fear of that dread penalty the sea exacts from sensitive voyagers, and the impossibility in her giddiness and weakness of opening the straps that held her rugs and shawls. How exasperatingly, aggressively, comfortable people looked, chatting and laughing in their cosy furs; some even shielded themselves from the mild warmth of the wintry sun with parasols, though Ermengarde would have welcomed the glare of a furnace, as she shivered in the sharp sea air.

But others were worse off than she. So much so that she was even moved to offer her own hard-won chair to a pretty, slender French girl, pale and tired-looking, who kept leaning against anything that came in her way till she seemed to become chilled to the bone, when she would move a little and come back to the best place she could find. Presently she leant against an iron balk close to an inviting deck-lounge, which was occupied the whole way across by a hard round hat, a man's fur coat, and some walking-sticks and umbrellas. Ermengarde longed to send these properties flying—especially the hat, which inspired her with peculiarly acute hatred—and lay the pretty, tired French girl upon the comfortable lounge, if only till the owner of the hard hat came to claim it, which he never did, till they went ashore. Had she been certain of her ability to keep her feet, Ermengarde would certainly have yielded her own chair to the girl, and annexed to her own use that sequestrated by the owner of the detestable hat; it would have been such a pleasure to kick and stamp on that hat and hear it boom like a drum, and pop like a burst motor-tyre. But she was by no means certain of her ability to do anything but shiver.

An eternity of shivers and qualms seemed to pass before the spires of Calais appeared between gaps made in groups pacing the deck, an eternity mitigated by the thought that every shiver brought one nearer to the artistically decorated, electric warmed and lighted, flying boudoir, with its voluptuous sofa, etc., in the rightly named Train de Luxe—the very sound of which diffused an atmosphere of comfort and peace.

And now at last all fear of the dread penalty of the inexorable sea was at an end, and Ermengarde rose to her feet in the proud consciousness of being able to stand, and even walk, without sudden subsidences to the deck or into the unwilling embraces of indignant fellow-voyagers. Helped by a sailor, who unexpectedly appeared at her side as if from the clouds, and was easily persuaded to carry her things, she got down to the level of the landing-place, and enjoyed the first thrill of foreign parts at the sight of blue-cloaked men in uniform, short and solid, with bristling moustache and complacent strut. How good it is, the first sight of these dear, delightful creatures, who never seem to have anything to do but enjoy dignified and ornamental leisure for the benefit of admiring mankind! And how good, Ermengarde thought, to see a gangway shot into a crowd of laughing, gesticulating, blue-bloused porters—to see them hurl themselves upon the gangway tumultuously, one over the other, in a solid mass, with shouts, songs, and exclamations, and so board the vessel, leaping and laughing, and, falling upon passenger after passenger, tear their precious misnamed hand-baggage from them, strap it across their own shoulders, and, deaf to all entreaties, fight their way back to the gangway, leap ashore, and fly from sight.

She would have followed her own especial robber, but that he forbade her with gay volubility, and bid her accompany the rest of the robbed and find him again at the Custom-house.

"Numéro Quatre," he cried, tapping the brass plate on his cap, and dancing off with the grin and gesture of a good-natured gnome.

Observing that all but a few sturdy and muscular men submitted to this spoliation, and unhesitatingly obeyed the commands of the gnomes, Ermengarde, feeling very lone and lorn, and suddenly forgetting for sheer weariness the whole of the French language in a lump, gave herself up for lost, and was borne passively in the tide of fellow-sufferers, who formed a soft but shifting support, to the gangway, where the pleasing spectacle of a nervous man dropping an open purse of gold into the sea just in front of her in attempting to produce a ticket, showed that every depth has a lower deep, and consoled her with the reflection that her own spare pence were safely bestowed in various inaccessible portions of her attire.

But here she was at last, in the beau pays de France, within measurable distance of the much-desired and artistically decorated sofa, etc., if stiff and trembling limbs would but support her through the tourist's purgatory, the Douane. Never again would she dread solitary travel; the sea trip in retrospect grew to be absolutely delicious—if she had only known it at the time—in the exaltation of having survived the awful ordeal of passing through the chops of the Channel—not that she had noticed any chops—she felt capable of penetrating to Central Africa. Actually penetrating only to the centre of the Douane, which at first sight she supposed to be a large stable or coach-house, our poor untravelled traveller sought the friendly face of Numéro Quatre among the long lines of brass-plated gnomes, only to find it, with its elfish grin and the whole of her travelling necessaries, conspicuous by its absence.

It was then, after long and vain search and countless wild and polyglot inquiries of unsympathizing foreigners, and endless courses up and down and round the crowded, many-voiced Douane, that the hapless Ermengarde began to ask herself why she had left the safe and comfortable precincts of her native land, and braved cold and famine and the terrors of the deep, only to become the prey of grinning brigands upon savage and inhospitable shores. Poor little Charlie, unwilling victim of enforced football, but at least happy in ignorance of his mother's fate! London was undoubtedly foggy; but property there was comparatively safe. People there were at least not compelled to part with the whole of their possessions at the bidding of strange monsters. Nor were they obliged there to lose expensive Train de Luxe by waiting for hours in places with nothing to sit upon for people who never came.

Crowds of smiling gnomes, cheerfully hung with other people's property, stood in rank, gaily responding to the cries of rapture with which their respective victims singled them out; there were dramatic meetings between robbers and robbed, joyous recognition of property and gnome, ecstatic greetings on the part of despoiled tourists of Numéro Cinq, Numéro Cent, Numéro everything but Quatre.

Agonized inquiries for Numéro Quatre of other brass-plated caps elicited cheerful replies that he would be here soon; but he was small and Ermengarde was not over tall; and as gnome after gnome was recaptured by long-lost owners, and compelled to unload his spoil upon the long counter, to be marked with mystic runes to a briefly muttered shibboleth in polyglot accents, and the congested crowd thinned and melted, and time and strength and the last remnants of hope in Ermengarde's breast with it, she felt herself on the point of tears, and was just beginning to drag herself empty-handed to the long-desired repose of that artistically decorated stateroom, when, at the far end of the hall, the square and cheerful countenance of the missing Numéro Quatre was at last discerned, and the whole of his sins and her sufferings forgotten in an eye-blink.

As for the gnome, he unblushingly commanded his victim to quicken her trembling steps on pain of losing the train, went through a quick pantomime at the counter, and dashed off with his spoil at express speed, followed at a respectful distance by his exhausted prey, whose fainting spirits rose when at last she saw the long-hoped-for train, with its vases of mimosa, rose, and sweet double stock in the restaurant car windows. Very haughtily she handed her ticket to a magnificently gold-braided person at his demand, expecting to be respectfully conducted to her place "as to a theatre stall"; and sighed with deep content, feeling that the great all-compensating moment of the journey had at last arrived.

But the great gold-braided one, muttering a number to the long-lost Quatre, merely waved a hand towards a sort of steep companion-ladder, and turned to resume a broken chat with a friend. The ladder surmounted, and the gnome having plumped the baggage, sadly reduced in quantity and possibly in quality, into the first compartment he came to and vanished with silver in hand, Ermengarde found herself in a narrow slip of a compartment with a wide and springy seat, a tiny, hinged slab under the outside window and just room and no more for the disposal of moderate-sized female limbs without positive discomfort or involuntary kicks against an oblique wooden partition, narrowing to the doorway, varnished, and featureless, a large spittoon filled with water, a fellow traveller with mountains of hand-baggage, and nothing more. The private dressing-room, the airy space, the little hinged seats, "should the passenger wish to change position," etc., where were these?

Our pilgrimage through this vale of tears is mile-stoned by lost illusions, Ermengarde reflected, subsiding with a deep sigh in the best corner of the seat, which her fellow pilgrim had considerately left for her, and feeling too glad to sit upon anything after the long skirmish through the Douane to be over-critical, when suddenly a frightful thought struck her.

"Surely this carriage faces the sea?" she cried in tones of horror.

"Certainly," the other lady returned sweetly.

"And we go backwards? And I can't," she gasped.

Then followed a deadly battle with the conductor, compared with which the skirmish in the Douane ranked as a polite difference of opinion. Gallantly facing this awful gold-braided personage, who at first was to busy to be spoken to, and, on the advice of her fellow victim, bombarding him with reproaches in such scattered remnants of French as an extreme effort of will could summon from the recesses of an exhausted brain, and vainly looking meanwhile in every direction for the civil and paternal Cooks' Interpreter of advertisements and letters, Ermengarde told how she had booked through the perfidious Cook a seat facing the engine, and could not by any means travel in any other way and must have another carriage. A civil flow of idiomatic provincial French, upon which the words Marseilles and Paris floated at intervals, in reply, conveyed nothing but distraction to her mind. Finally she demanded an exchange of seats with some traveller who liked going backwards, in three separate languages, and heard in two that madame had better monter vite, as the train was off.

During this engagement she was much annoyed by the efforts of a man in a furred coat, of whose observation she had been indignantly conscious before, to divert the official's attention to himself, in which he at last succeeded by some mystic sign (probably Masonic) conveyed by a touch of the hand in which something glittered in the sunshine. At this juncture the other lady appeared on the car steps, and drawing her inside, explained that it would be all right if she would only wait till the people were settled in the now moving train, and found her a slip seat in the corridor, with which the hapless Ermengarde was obliged to content herself, facing forward, and cherishing deep resentment against the man in the fur collar, whose mysterious and insistent gaze from behind coloured spectacles had continually followed her since her arrival at the train. She felt that in some vague way her misfortunes were owing to this creature's malevolence.

"He looks like an Anarchist or a Nihilist," she confided to the lady. "He's a Russian; these great hairy men always are—unless they are Jews or both."

"Are all Russians Nihilists and Anarchists?" the lady asked.

"Always, when they get out of Russia, unless they are diplomatists. He was hiding a box under his coat. Filled with dynamite, no doubt."

"To blow us all up? Oh! I don't think we are worth that. No celebrities on board to-day. Are you going all the way to the Riviera? You look so tired. Recovering from influenza? So tedious. Pray let me help you all I can."

In spite of her civility there was something repellant to Ermengarde in this young woman, a preoccupation, a reticence, that she mistrusted. Surely that voice was familiar, and the face too; she must have met her, though quite at a loss to say where or when. But at her question on this point there was a brief negative and a sudden retreat from the first cold, calculated approach to friendliness. The face became an utter blank, and vanished behind a periodical.

The train flew; the hairy-faced Nihilist had ended his discussion with the conductor, and was standing in the corridor by a window, surveying the flying landscape and plunged in meditations, dark and evil, no doubt, and probably hatching villainous schemes for the destruction of society. People went up and down the corridor, brushing and stumbling over her skirts, mistaking their compartments, and alternately losing and finding, after much tumult, friends, bags, caps, smoking and restaurant cars. And this was to last all the way to Paris.

The man of mystery might as well let off his infernal machine at once, and have done with it; the slip-seat was narrow, the train rocked as it flew, and Ermengarde, aching wherever it is possible for humanity to ache, felt as if she was breaking in halves at the waist. But what was her surprise and pleasure in the misery of this dark moment to hear a respectful voice at her ear requesting madame to be kind enough to take possession of a forward compartment to Paris in the next carriage, and to find herself at last, as if by enchantment, in the identical state-room of her dreams and the International Sleeping Car Company's pictured advertisement, with its private dressing-room, its airy space, its slip-seat under the window—"should the passenger desire to change position"—and, better still, the whole compartment to herself, but jusqu' à Paris only. What bliss to sink upon the deep, springy seat, to cast aside heavy coat, furs, and hat; and close tired eyes for a moment, and then open them and see the flying foreign landscape, chill, bleak, powdered with snow, and bounded by sea, as they drew near Boulogne!

But what gave the country that unlikeness to English chalk and heath-lands, that charming unlikeness, so dear to new travellers, that gives the feeling of being somewhere else, the true foreign touch? To this pleasure she surrendered herself with drowsy content, forgetful of recent sufferings, forgetful of the superb ragout peculiar to Calais somebody had solemnly charged her to take at lunch in the long wait between train and boat, forgetful of lunch to be had on the car, till the spectacle of a waiter carrying tea past the door reminded her that "perfect meals are served," and that none approaching that description had fallen to her lot since that far-off yesterday, when the luxuries of travel had still been a dream. After many and vain requests to the "civil attendants" to bring tea, she staggered to the dining-car, wondering why the waiters all looked so absurdly drunk, and the tables behaved as if they were at spirit-rapping séances, and wondering still more when the modest cup of tea "for about tenpence" took a couple of francs to pacify the staggering, taciturn waiter's demand. It was evident that foreigners, civil and talkative when sober, are surly and taciturn when drunk, just as Britons, surly and taciturn by nature, become over-civil and garrulous in liquor.

Snow lay here and there on the bleak levels flying past the windows. How small the cottages were! Cottages? No—huts—cottage was too cosy a word for these poor cabins. What a poverty-stricken country; the very trees lopped and starved of branch, starved houses, starved peasants ploughing with horse-ploughs, no comfort, no prosperity anywhere; all like a pinched, starved England, till after Boulogne, where sand blowing about from the great dunes was a distinct foreign note. What if the train was over-hot? Cold, cold it was outside, and, if the windows were opened, the wind cut in like a sword. A city of a splendid tower lay in the cold light after a pale pink sunset; the rushing, rocking train came to a stop by a dusky, empty platform, where a solitary, starved-looking boy stood motionless, cold in the cold twilight, his arms rolled in his apron, listless, benumbed. This must be Amiens, or else some dim city of twilit dreamland; mortal railway station it could hardly be, so dim, so chill, so empty, so silent, with no passengers, no officials, only that one ghostly train, whence none descended and whither none climbed, hissing furtively in the greyness, while vague figures in blouses passed silently by, tapping thoughtfully at the wheels now and then, and the thin, hunger-pinched boy looked listlessly about him, his bare arms rolled in his apron. Evidently nobody ever goes to French cathedral cities except to stay there; perhaps even the boy was only a statue, the latest triumph of realistic art.

This grey, starved country, so different from rich, cosy England, would have been depressing but for the swift rush of the rocking train, the warm, downy comfort of the carriage, and the fairy-like strangeness that gave everything an air of unreality. If only Charlie were there, his clear eyes wide with pleasure, sharing the fascination, enjoying the motion, asking impossible questions, and making bewildering comments! Monstrous to send such a baby to a school of rough boys. She was not spoiling him, as his father declared; he was not getting womanish ways; children need tenderness, and a boy may have charming manners and be a delightful companion without being unmanly. At Easter he would come home, steeped in savagery, inarticulate and slangy, full of the surly self-consciousness that dreads to be thought anything but brutal, or to vary by a pin's head from "other fellows." Arthur would be delighted, and say he liked boys to be boys. Arthur, whose one aim in life appeared to be to avoid showing the least sign of emotion or humanity, or anything comforting and pleasant. When it came to saying good-bye, at his sudden departure on the eve of hers, she had choked miserably and said nothing, her eyes brimming over; but he—

"Well, good-bye, dear," she seemed still to hear in a cheerful, indifferent, staccato voice, with a cold, light kiss on the face she lifted, trembling and speechless. "Hope you'll enjoy it. Plenty of hats in Paris."

He was off before the last word, and had banged the door, and sprung into his cab by the time her choke was overcome. If only he had not said "dear," that commonplace symbol of conjugal indifference; "Ermengarde," with the faintest inflection of tenderness, would have made all the difference—she could even have borne the reference to hats had he said something nicer than "dear."

The twilight deepened, and the train became a flying meteor of linked lights; she grew more and more inclined to accept the rift in the lute and make the best of it. Her man had his good points, and all men seemed to be made of hard, unloving stuff; why seek sympathy in the impossible region of rocky male hearts? As for the scene in the study, she may have put a wrong interpretation upon it; she would not admit that she had ever given it the worst; it might mean some passing infatuation, resisted, perhaps overcome, at the utmost—or some harmless mystery, that five words would have made clear. Of course, men should not have secrets from their wives; but equally of course, men did. It was well to be away for a time; new experiences would put all this trouble in the background and show it in true perspective; she would wipe it clean off her memory and begin again, harden her heart, take all cheerfully, without show of feeling, answering chaff with chaff; weakness had made her over-sensitive, returning health would harden her, and, perhaps, who could tell? the man himself might soften, and miss and long for her. She hoped he would be very uncomfortable and mislay everything and have no one to find it, and no one to protect him from the zeal of housemaids, the carelessness of cooks, and the importunity of men of business.

But what was this cry of the man with the napkin? "Diner est servi!" Blissful announcement, if one could only stagger through the rocking corridor without serious mishap. How excellent a thing is dinner—at the proper time. There was the Anarchist, whose grim visage had more than once startled her meditations as he passed her door—"Tramping up and down like a wild beast," she confided to her fellow traveller in the dining-car, while enjoying the really "perfect meal" for which the long fast had prepared her.

How deft the staggering waiters were, dancing with their dancing dishes to the dancing tables, and always contriving to land the portions safely in the plates! How delightful this flying repast through the flying night—providing one faced the engine. Even the Anarchist was judged with lenience; if he did send furtive glances in her direction, her back hair and hat were unconscious of them. Timbale de Paris on the menu had an attractive look, the same, sliding about the dish balanced unsteadily over her head, was even more fascinating, lodged triumphantly on her plate after five abortive attempts, it was beyond words delicious, when—was it an earthquake or a collision?—a series of bumps and crashes, and passengers tumbling together and apart like nuts shaken in a bag, and the darkened outside world, starred with the lights of Paris, beginning to run away backwards. Farewell, exquisite iced Timbale! The only safety is in instant flight. The train has turned.

The true inwardness of the phrase "jusqu' à Paris" was now realized, when Ermengarde found herself in great peace, though only half fed, facing the engine in her own compartment, while the lights of Paris twinkled past for some twenty minutes. Then another convulsion of nature seemed to take place, and the world again began to run away backwards from her dizzied sight. "It will turn again at Marseilles," her fellow traveller said cheerily, and at this terrible news there was nothing for it—since the other compartment was now occupied by two men—but to stand, facing the seat, and occasionally fall hither and thither in the rocking of the train, until her companion piled their two bundles of rugs together against the wooden partition and she sat on them, her back stiffened miserably against the straight wooden partition, and her legs jammed between knee and ankle hard against the edge of the seat, and her feet hanging (the space between wall and seat being about fifteen inches, and she a full-sized and shapely lass) in a position to which St. Lawrence's gridiron was luxury, and which soon produced such faintness as had to be treated with brandy.

"And if this," said Ermengarde, when the spirit ran through her veins and restored her speech, "if this is a Train de Luxe, give me the commonest third-class carriage, with at least a floor to sit and fall upon!"

Chapter IV

The Azure Shore

Was it a dream, or had she really seen the Anarchist's bearded, goggled face bending over her in close proximity to her fellow-traveller's? Who could say? These two were shrouded in mystery, and permeated with intrigue, phantasmic, unreal. The woman professed not to have observed the man, and when asked to notice him as he passed their door in the corridor, had stared blankly in every other direction, looked at the conductor, attendants, other passengers, but always failed to perceive a man with beard and goggles.

Yet, when sitting on the jolting little seat in the corridor, while the attendant made up the beds, at her fellow-traveller's kind suggestion, so that she might lie facing the engine, Ermengarde, now wide awake and sensible, could have taken her oath that she saw these intriguers talking together, in the little lobby at the entrance end of the corridor.

"Talking to whom?" the woman of mystery replied, with that baffling, stony-blank look that she put on like a mask at times. "Yes, I asked the man to make up the beds at once, that you might face the engine. See what nice bedding they give us; sheets, pillow-cases, all complete, and snowy white—so different from London-washed linen. I shall be glad to go to bed myself, after all the shaking and rattling. Which man did you say? I see nobody with a beard. Let us smile at the bed-maker as if we meant tips—five-franc smiles. He's very civil. No; he's clean-shaven. So sorry going backwards upsets you."

That was all to be got out of this woman of mystery, who seemed so impersonal and so much above all feminine, not to say human, infirmity. Yet there was a curious attractiveness about her. The eyes, that were at times so blankly impervious to expression from within or impression from without, were beautiful in shape and colour, of the dark blue that varies from grey to purple, and shaded by long sweeping lashes on finely curved lids. Her mouth shut firmly in the true bow shape, with full lips, that, in repose, had a sort of voluptuous sadness. She was slender and rather tall, moved well, and had in her figure and bearing a sort of melancholy distinction. A woman with a past, undoubtedly, and, by all appearances, with a present of precarious tenure and painful interest as well. The kind of woman men can never pass without taking note of, though nothing in her bearing, look, or dress challenges observation, unless it be an accentuated quietness and reserve. Such women, it occurred to Ermengarde, when not absolute saints, are eminently fit for "treasons, stratagems, and spoils." What if she were in league with the Anarchist, whose anarchism might be, after all, of the common-place type that indiscriminately relieves fellow-creatures of the burden of personal property? A distinctly unpleasant idea to entertain of one who shared sleeping-quarters and was so ready to have beds made up and lights covered.

In cases like this, the only comfort is to carry nothing worth stealing. But few travellers are without a watch and at least some little money. Ermengarde's was safely sewn up in some inaccessible portion of her attire, and when her companion plausibly suggested the comfort of undressing before going to bed, and volunteered to help her out of her clothes, she was glad to be able to point out that there was not room enough to undress oneself in, much less anyone else. Then she wondered, did she look rich? and when they found her so little worth robbing, would they murder her in revenge afterwards?—or beforehand to prevent a disturbance—charming reflections to sleep upon. Of course, Arthur had been right—the man had an exasperating way of always being right, especially about unpleasant contingencies—in saying that she ought not to travel alone. How many tales and newspaper records there had been lately of passengers robbed and murdered by unknown hands, especially in Southern France and Italy! It would be a judgment on her for taking things into her own hands, and flaunting in her husband's face a certain small hoard they both knew of—to be used only in great emergency, such as conjugal desertion, or personal violence, or bankruptcy, their jest had been. That had been coarsely done, she owned now with flaming cheeks; he had felt, perhaps resented, the indelicacy of the revolt. Let them rob her, then, but let them spare her life. The thought of a motherless Charlie, screwing his precious fists into his darling eyes, was too moving.

It was his bedtime; perhaps he was just saying his little prayers for "fahver and muvver," or nestling his curly head contentedly into his pillow, and falling into that instant, happy sleep that made him look like a little angel, at the very moment when she laid her own head, uncomfortably full of hairpins—perilous to remove with no chance of replacing them in that jolting, swinging little bunk—upon the train-pillow, expectant of midnight robbery and assassination, but too glad to lay it anywhere to care much about anything.

"Won't you at least let me take off your boots?" the woman of mystery murmured drowsily from the top berth; and Ermengarde would have given all she possessed to do so, had she discerned the remotest possibility of ever being able to put them on again, having now reached that stage of anguish when one seems to have somebody else's feet on, and those several sizes too large.

As she lay face forward on a wide, springy bed, the swaying train soon became a cradle of rest, and the rhythmic rattle and crash of its wheels and engine a soft lullaby, or the gallop of giant steeds, bearing one swiftly away to regions of elysian slumber and soothing dreams. Let the Anarchist rob or murder her, or both, if he would; but let him do it gently, so as not to disturb that exquisite combination of motion and repose, or break the rhythm of that musical gallop of winged steeds, yoked to flying cars, flashing swifter and ever swifter across France, across Europe, across the night, from North to South, from sea to sea, from evening to morning, from darkness to dawn, from earth to fairyland, when—— Bang! crash! jolt! rumble! and everything falling together and coming to a dead stop, at the weird repeated cry of some lost spirit, that pierced the startled night in prolonged reverberations.

No, not a lost spirit, after all; only a sleepy man in a blouse, crying the name of some town—was it Dijon?—through the echoing emptiness of a dimly lighted station, and through the window a glimpse of sky full of stars looking down in peace. They had come to somewhere else, whither they had flown during the delicious sleep into which she had fallen. There is nothing more delightful than that feeling of having come to somewhere else without effort and without thought, in the stillness of night and sleep.

If only one had on one's own legs and feet, and no hairpins and no close-fitting day clothes, pinching in wrong places, or if only one could find a pocket-handkerchief or a smelling-bottle, or look at one's watch, without fear of waking the woman of mystery, and so hastening the hour of assassination by turning on the light; the presence of which, the latter had averred, was absolutely destructive of her chances of sleep.

But the winged steeds begin to snort and pant, stamping, and clashing their harness, and, with a sudden clatter of trampling hoofs, are off again into the waste places of midnight, through which a star glances intermittently and kindly, and Ermengarde remembers that she has not yet been murdered, but is almost too drowsy to hope she has not been robbed, feeling blindly for the gold sewn into her clothes and not finding it, and not knowing that an excruciating pain under the ribs is what she vainly seeks and is lying upon, or that acute discomfort in other regions means that her hat, a really becoming one, has tumbled off its hook and constituted itself a portion of her couch, which is no longer a bed of roses.

Surely the winged steeds are now tearing away at increasing, headlong speed, and their way is rougher, up hill and down dale, over crag and boulder and chasm; the cradle is rocked less gently, and the rhythm of the rapid gallop is not so smooth, else it would be heavenly to fly thus between the pinions of the fiery coursers through centuries of calm content, unvexed by thought or care; and surely the cadence that seemed, now music, now the burden of some sweet, old ballad of forgotten days, had declined to the double knock of civilization and hourly postal deliveries; to file-firing, to the racket of the housemaid's morning broom and furniture destruction, to summer thunder, to Portsmouth guns? No; silence on a sudden, and stillness, and once more the drowsy cry of some place-name through the echoing emptiness of a dim-lighted building. Again she had arrived somewhere else in sleep—could it be Valence, or Vence, enchanted names? Or rather some city of faery, beleaguered by visions, or dumbed by spells of sweet strong magic; it could be no earthly town; it must be the place of all men's longing, the land of Somewhere Else, of somewhere

From the sphere of our sorrow—"

Oddly enough, Arthur was there and Charlie; the woman of mystery had disappeared, and the man with her, and the wild, winged horses were galloping faster and faster through the night, which was no longer black, but pale grey, shot with faint lemon; and there, through the window, glanced and quivered one large, lustrous white star—and—of course, it was fairyland again or some region of old romance, because, where the star had been faintly traced upon the luminous twilight sky, was strange oriental foliage, palm-tops, olive-boughs, fading and passing.

"Shall we switch off the light?" asked a clear cold voice from above; and Ermengarde, springing up with a start, realized that day was breaking and the fear of assassination past.

"Where is Marseilles?" she murmured drowsily, wondering if it were hairpins, or only headache, piercing her skull and brain, and heard that Marseilles was past and the present combination of dock, arsenal and dwelling, was Toulon, and marvelled at the clear pale light and the serene beauty and freshness of the morning.

The train had stopped and turned; the orange glow in the cloudy sky had paled; the sea was visible; pale blue like English sea, but marvellously clear and pure and free of mist, and its breath so sweet. And this was the Mediterranean? And those bushy bluish evergreens in the gardens among aloes, pines and palms, why—they must be olives! Well!——

Still, in spite of splitting headache, sealike qualms, and racked limbs, and the probability of being lamed for life in consequence of sleeping in boots of elegance pointed in the latest mode; in spite of squalid horrors of waiting in a queue of either sex for the chance of even the most hurried sponging of face and hands; in spite of the rift in the home lute, which had seemed to narrow with every mile from home—in spite of all, it was solid invincible joy to glide through this new, strange country in the rich, romantic South, this country of clear and vivid light and colour, of semi-oriental foliage, and foreign buildings, sun-shuttered, square and white.

There is nothing to equal the charm of these first wakings at dawn in foreign lands, full of the mysterious enchantment of the unknown. And this unknown was so very lovely, and this traveller so utterly untravelled, so happily open to impressions. So even the woman of mystery seemed to think, as she leant against a window in the couloir, with wide eyes and parted lips, absorbed in the pageant of sunlit sea and snow-sprinkled land and deep-hued foliage flashing by—all her schemes and machinations apparently in abeyance for a time. And yet in the dizzy and futile excursion Ermengarde had made to the breakfast car, where the sight of the simple but expensive déjeuner of coffee and roll and the fresh morning faces enjoying it, did but increase her physical misery and make it impossible to eat or drink, she had observed that this mysterious woman, breakfasting like others with amazing calm and even content, had exchanged significant glances with the Nihilist, whose shifty, sinister gaze had been, as usual, quite unable to meet the straightforward innocence of Ermengarde's—though she rarely looked in his direction, she perpetually felt his sinister gaze upon her, piercing even the dishevelled masses of back hair of which she was acutely and shamefastly conscious. And once when she had staggered and nearly fallen, in making a hasty exit from the coffee-scented car, this woman had sprung to her rescue with a cry of "Mrs. Allonby," and so supported her back to their corner-cupboard—misnamed state-room—without, it must be owned, inflicting any serious or even perceptible injury upon her.

"But how," Ermengarde asked in annihilating accents on recovery; "how did you know my name?"

It is not easy to disconcert that kind of person, she thought, observing the quickness with which the woman recovered her equanimity and the admirable calm with which she replied, while affecting to suppress a smile, "My dear lady, naturally by the label on your bag. Besides," she added, with the serpentine guile that affects simplicity, "you asked me last night if I had read any of your husband's books?"

"If I did, it must have been in my sleep," Ermengarde reflected with unspoken sarcasm. "And had you?" she asked grimly.

"Surely you remember that I am among Mr. Allonby's most assiduous readers, and predict a future for him."

"Poor old Arthur! She made a wrong shot that time," thought Ermengarde, who was inclined to consider her husband's essays in literature as so much waste of hours more legitimately and profitably given to journalism. Had she not been overcome by train nausea, she would have asked what was the woman of mystery's favourite among her husband's works, which she believed she had never read. Few people had.

As it was, she could only cling miserably on to the little hinged seat in the couloir, whither the ladies had been compelled to take refuge while their two sleeping-bunks were being transformed into one sofa. There she clung, jostled by fellow-passengers staggering past in various stages of disarray and dishevelment—where, by the way, were all the smart owners of huge trunks, tall flunkeys, and reluctantly prim maids of Victoria platform?—jolted by the swaying of the rushing train, and dimly conscious that this young woman never ceased to keep an eye upon her lightest motion, under pretence of sympathy with her discomfort, even when apparently absorbed in thought—sad thought, to judge by her drooping mouth and wistful gaze, clouded more than once by tears, furtively dashed away. Had Ermengarde dreamed of suppressed sobs above her once or twice during the night? Was the Anarchist her husband, and did he beat her? But there was no wedding-ring on the slender hand, that had more than once ministered to ungrateful Ermengarde's needs. For this absence there might be reason good.

Suddenly as they flew along the woman's face was transfigured by a flash of irradiating rapture; she caught her breath, put out her hand, and gasped in a quick, eager whisper: "Mrs. Allonby; look!"

Ermengarde had already seen, and, as the sorrow and perplexity had vanished from her companion's face at the sight, the weariness and physical discomfort went out of hers, while both gazed and gazed in a silent passion of joyous admiration, with moistened eyes and trembling lips, absorbed, rapt, caught up and away into the very shrine and inmost heart of beauty.

They saw, in the transparent stillness of that sunny morning, a long headland, perhaps island, running out to sea, rising boldly from the waves, and outlined in dark blue on a deep blue sky, above a sheet of dark blue sea, the jewel-like surface of which was unruffled by the faintest breeze; and they knew that they were at last beyond all doubt seeing the Mediterranean, and that it was blue, deeply, darkly, divinely blue, blue beyond imagination or description. The hue of a peacock's neck in depth and velvety texture, yet with the liquid blueness of a jewel; blue in various rich shades, all harmonious and each deeper than the other; a blue as warm as crimson, but still, not shifting, and never iridescent. It seemed to be the colour of happiness; it filled them with a pure and exquisite gladness. It was like a glorious dream of what colour might be, and never is, though it was, then and there in their sight—for one moment of irrecoverable splendour before the long train had rushed past. Warmth, sweetness, freshness and life were all in the glorious, unspeakable colour of velvety blue mountain and sea and sky.

So these two untravelled travellers saw it, and so they would see it never again, because first things come only once. But a deep strong certainty that after all some things are real and abidingly good even in this stained world of shifting shadows, took hold of these women at sight of this deep, sweet purity of colour.

"I judge that's Hyères," they heard, as not hearing, from a nasal voice passing along the corridor.

"Rotten place, Ea," came in another, more familiar accent, from between teeth gripping a cigarette. "Nothing to do."

Presently, with abrupt transition as in a dream, Ermengarde found herself cosily tucked up in her sofa corner, all eye, lost and absorbed in the novel loveliness through which the train flew in the clear fresh morning, aches, nausea, weariness, all clean forgotten. Forgotten also the undesirable and suspicious characters who were to have robbed and assassinated and otherwise afflicted her during the night. As for the unconscious object of so many dire imaginings, her fellow-traveller, she kept her place by the window in the corridor, statue-still, and intent on the landscape rushing by, as if she had veritably "forgotten herself to marble" with much looking.

Never had either seen such brilliant transparence of atmosphere, such glowing depth of colour. The sunny air had still a keen frost sparkle; here and there snow crystals glittered among rich greens and warm greys of foliage; every little pool was glazed with ice. Russet-clad peasant women in broad straw hats, men jolting along in picturesque country carts drawn by horses in quaint, brass-studded harness with high-peaked collars; a shepherd in a long brown cloak, his flock before him; beautiful wells and fountains of strange and primitive design; tiny white, blue and pink-washed houses with green latticed shutters; brown and leafless vines on trellises or planted in rows of low, crutch-tipped stems; stone pines, olives, stiff-spiked aloes, cactus, orange and lemon trees, and everywhere the golden bloom of mimosa, suggested Italy rather than France. The dragon coursers had actually borne them in the night through realms of romance and poetry; they were even now in Provence, that land of roses and minstrelsy; was not yonder rich expanse of blue the Ligurian Sea, or very near it? and Nice, that ancient historic and much-conquered city, the birthplace of Garibaldi, was not that essentially Italian by geography and descent, as well as all the lovely mountain shore from Monaco to the frontier of authentic modern Italy?

What an oriental touch in those glorious, dark-leaved palms of sturdy stem and spreading crown! What rich colour in the thick-bossed trunks no storm could bend, and the fruit, springing in golden plumes from stiff, wing-like leaves!

Ermengarde had always thought of palms as slender, waving things; the massy strength, the architectural splendour, the suggestion of carved pillar and arched roof of majestic span in the date-palm on this Saracen-raided shore was a revelation. Only to repeat to himself the words, Palm Sunday, filled the inspired Opium-Eater with solemn awe; but not its great associations alone make the simple word, palm, impressive to those who have seen this variety.

The winged steeds were no longer yoked to the cars; they must have vanished long since with the darkness; the train moved more and more slowly. That it should gradually slacken speed to a crawl through all this magical beauty was natural; but that it should actually stop, like common trains in regions of prose, for people to get out, claim luggage and pay porters, was amazing, especially as that first superb colonnade of date-palms was seen to rise behind one of these stations—perhaps Cannes? True, they were not stations in the ordinary sense, but rather pleasant places of pause, where leisurely persons of distinguished bearing and immaculate attire, gold-braided, button-booted, and black-kid-gloved, enjoyed the amenities of a life devoid of care, incidentally remembering from time to time to bestow a kindly and condescending courtesy upon wanderers descending casually from the train of luxury, that was now enjoying a beautiful calm in singular contrast to its wild stir at starting and headlong rush through the night.

Sometimes, after a long and apparently purposeless pause at one of these clean and sunny spots, an idea seemed to occur to an immaculately dressed lounger and interrupt the gentle current of his chat, if his roving glance happened to be caught by the cars. "There is a train," he seemed to say to himself; "perhaps something might as well be done with it."

Then, after a little silent meditation and some smiling interchange of thoughts with an acquaintance, he would move leisurely towards the cars, and indicate by a slight, but graceful, gesture that the pause was at an end. Then the journey would be gently resumed, through a land of rich-hued blossom and glowing green, with solemn mountain steeps rising on the one hand, and the vast blue radiance of a dark blue sea breaking in soft and soundless foam on many a purple, enchanted headland, and in many a sunny bay, on the other.

All the glamour of Shelley's ethereal poetry seemed to breathe and sing from that glorious sea, which Homer compared to wine in its depth of colour. All Shelley's seas are Mediterranean, and most of Byron's, while Keats and Tennyson, Coleridge and Matthew Arnold, for the most part love the paler grey-blue and more frequent foam of Northern shores.

Vainly did the woman of mystery remind Ermengarde that she had not breakfasted; she was feasting with gods; she needed no meaner sustenance; even the shadow of the man of mystery passing her door, and glaring insolently through his detestable goggles upon her rapt face, scarcely annoyed her, except as a momentary eclipse of some lofty headland running out into the happy morning sea. She had even forgotten that she had slept, not only in, but upon, her hat, a really successful creation from Bond Street.

Strange that at these charmingly named places of retired leisure, where the train paused, as if for meditation, radiant specimens of Parisian fashion should appear, in lemon-coloured hair and artistically applied complexions; what business had they in fairyland? And those children of Israel, of rubicund visage, expansive waistcoat, and patent-leather boots? And that gay and fresh-coloured youth, of simple but select toilet and lordly British bearing—not aggressively lordly, like that of so many Britons wandering in the land of the barbarous and ineffectual foreigner, not contemptuously, but unconsciously and cheerily so, like one to whom life offered all its best treasures as of royal right.

Bright-eyed and lazily smiling, the youth strode slowly along the quiet platform, carelessly glancing at the windows, when a sudden thrill of sympathy made Ermengarde turn to see the woman of mystery, who was standing leaning against their door and looking across her at the people passing, start with a crimson face and eyes of flame, and crush herself suddenly far back in the corner of her seat, holding a paper of far-off yesterday before her eyes, with a quick, deep sigh.

The youth passed on and came back again, stopping to speak to a Parisian costume in lemon hair and bistred eyes; left her, joyously laughing with his head thrown back, and cannoned against a brother Briton in an agony of misunderstanding with a porter, who was replying to impossible English-French in equally impossible French-English.

"Riviera Palace, vite!" cried the English youth, cutting the Gordian knot and calming the troubled waters by those simple words in three different tongues; then, gripping the bewildered Briton by the arm, he steered him placidly out of sight.

"So he didn't come for her," Ermengarde reflected.

The mountains soared higher, and drew back from the land with ever greater majesty, and the headlands became more magically lovely as they stretched into the shining sea, the villas, the gardens, and groves ever richer; and, after having seemed to spend a brief but happy lifetime in traversing a beautiful dream, glorious with palm and olive and mimosa, the train again paused, and the woman of mystery suggested to Ermengarde that she had better get out.

"You have arrived," she explained, finding her unwilling to stir. They had done nothing but arrive at intervals during the last twenty-four hours, and how should this mysterious creature know that this was her final destination?

Still, the woman had been exceedingly kind, and Ermengarde thanked her graciously as she bowed her farewell, suddenly remembering that the dread ordeal of the Douane had once more to be faced, and her property, unseen since somebody had taken it to be registered at Victoria, had to be rescued from the barbarians—probably at high ransom.

Chapter V

On the Ridge

The moving palace of luxury that had conveyed her in so few hours through so many dreams of magic and visions of faery, rumbled slowly out of the spacious hall of idleness commonly known as Mentone Station, but more nearly resembling a Home of Rest for railway officials. There it left Ermengarde, dizzy, bewildered, and solitary, planted by the luggage, that in some magical and mysterious way had suddenly been restored to her, and looking vacantly across the rails at a group of sturdy palms and a purple rim of sea.

Then it was that the melancholy spirit named home-sickness suddenly fell upon, seized, and rent her.

She would see the woman of mystery no more—so forlorn were her feelings that it was grief to part even with this probably suspicious character and possible assassinator of her nocturnal imaginings—she was going all alone to an unknown foreign house full of strangers, with not a soul to meet her or speak to her; perhaps to one of those hostelries so often met with on lonely moors in historic romance, that exist only as traps to rob and murder wayfarers.

"Quel est l'hôtel de Madame?" had several times been addressed to unheeding ears before she recovered enough from these dismal forebodings to reply; whereupon she soon found herself under the broad bright sky outside, stepping into one of the twenty or thirty omnibuses drawn up in line before the station, each with the name of its house in shining gold upon it. It was reassuring to see Les Oliviers legibly inscribed upon a veritable, unromantic bus; it was broad day; there was clearly no question of sinister-looking hovels with one-eyed landlords intent on murder and robbery—in these days they do the work more slowly; in the kitchens and on the bills—but she did wish she had been able to do her hair and tidy herself.

"I shall have to strap-hang, and there's no strap, and I couldn't if there was," was her mournful reflection, on finding the interior of this vehicle overflowing with hand-baggage and a lady of ample proportions on one side, and with a fair-sized gentleman, evidently a portion of the ample lady's baggage, and a thin gentleman and more hand-baggage, on the other. All were English, and all looked at her with the deadly animosity our countrymen accord to strangers. The whole world being the exclusive heritage of the travelling Briton, he naturally looks upon all other travellers as intruders. The appearance of a moustached face, with laughing dark eyes and a gay smile, at the window, followed by a request in a velvety voice, half-pleading, half-humorous, of "Place pour Madame, Messieurs et Madame, s'il vous plait," and accompanied by a forcible transposition of some of these mountains of parcels, resulted in a clearance of about six inches of cushion, upon which Ermengarde accommodated as much of a wearied frame as circumstances permitted; and then, with much furious but innocuous whip-cracking and many strange anathemas, the omnibus jolted and rumbled off, Ermengarde feeling more of a pariah with every jolt, hurled now into the indignant arms of the fair-sized gentleman and now upon the towering parcels of the lady of ample proportions, and profusely and irrationally apologizing in German, of which her fellow-voyagers understood nothing but that it was German, and therefore detestable. Why she spoke German at that precise moment of her existence she had no idea, except that it was the only foreign language that happened to turn up, and that she was obsessed by a vague notion that English was unsuitable to the surroundings. So, try as she would, she continued to speak German all the way to the hotel, to the great inconvenience and mystification of everybody, including herself. Her German was not quite perfect.

The lady of ample proportions meanwhile expressed herself strongly in very plain English upon the unpleasantness of having to "herd" with Germans, and said with bitter reproach to the fair-sized man that she had understood Les Oliviers to be an English house; while the thin man, who was helplessly pinned in the inmost corner by packages, vainly tried in a gentle, ineffectual voice, totally ignored by the stout lady, to pacify her apprehensions; and the fair-sized man entreated Ermengarde almost with tears to "parlez Français," of which she was just then totally incapable from sheer fatigue.

But not too tired to perceive that they were jolting along a level road, shaded by grey and leafless planes unreal and dreamlike in the marvellously clear sunlight, along a torrent bed, that was threaded by a stream, in which women were washing linen, kneeling in tubs or on the bare, shingly bed, just as she remembered them in Swiss torrents when a girl; or to catch a glimpse on the other side of marvellous villa gardens ablaze with scarlet salvias and giant geraniums, and glowing with orange-trees in fruit. It was "roses, roses all the way," while, high above in the dazzling sky, soared bare mountain peaks, warm grey, veined with amethyst and streaked with snow, jewel-like, wonderful. They had left the town far behind, and seemed to have jogged an immense distance inland by the torrent bed, before they reached a little blue house at the foot of a steep mountain ridge, cultivated or wooded to the very top, turned in at a gate, and stopped. Then Ermengarde's heart, lightened by the foreign charm and beauty of the road, sank once more. Could this small and homely cultivator's house be Les Oliviers? Not at all; the hotel was high up out of sight, they were informed, while being gently requested to alight.

"Mais pourquoi descendre, Messieurs et Mesdames? But quite simply, because here the road ceases to exist. It is now necessary to mount," was the alarming pronouncement of the driver.

To mount—and to mount a wooded precipice with an invisible summit, after all the jolting and shaking of the long journey. Ermengarde at once decided that the only possible course was to lie down and die then and there. The woman of substance, on the other hand, with sound practical common sense demanded to be told what she was to mount, and was politely informed that she might take her choice, with a wave of the hand towards a string of mules and donkeys amiably blinking in the sunshine beneath a jutting rock, that was almost hidden in hanging drapery of sarsaparilla, honeysuckle, and bramble, and topped by pines and great bushes of white heath in flower.

"Mount them!" shrieked the poor lady, surveying the unconscious animals through her lorgnette. "Merciful Heavens!"

"But, one at a time, not all at once," the driver explained with gestures of deprecation.

"This is infamous!" thundered the fair-sized man, recovering from partial suffocation and upon the verge of apoplexy. "My wife's minimum weight is fourteen stone! Infamous! Besides, she can't ride. Atrocious!"

"Unless Madame prefers to mount on foot."

"Unfortunately," the thin man meekly put in, "there is no other alternative, the hotel being on the top of the ridge and accessible only by a mule-path."

"What?" cried another British matron of majestic girth, who was alighting with her daughter from a fly laden with luggage large and small. "No road to this place? It is a positive swindle. The people should be exposed at once. Besides, even if those wretched donkeys manage to carry us up, how on earth are we to get down again? And what is to be done with the luggage?"

"Mais," replied the driver, with a large circular sweep of both arms, obviously intended as a conclusive and satisfactory settlement of all difficulties.

"Abscheulich!" shrilled in Berlin accents from a plump and comfortable Frau, who had arrived upon the scene in another fiacre, containing a husband, a daughter, and a few other properties. "Undenkbar!"

At this the owner of the dark eyes, moustache and engaging smile looked with an expressive twinkle and shrug at Ermengarde (who was sufficiently refreshed and gladdened by the sight of the stout lady's difficulties to renounce her intention of lying down and dying for the present), and came forward with the explanation that the little climb was nothing; the animals were strong and accustomed to heavy burdens; the luggage would be carried by pack-mules, and the heavier passengers by the strongest of the saddle-mules; that no horsemanship was necessary; both donkeys and mules were to be regarded simply as ambulant easy-chairs, on which it was possible to doze and dream, to compose poetry, and evolve philosophic systems and scientific theories, "as Monsieur does," he added, gracefully indicating the thin man, who was lame, and having been hoisted on to the largest and most handsome of the engaging, soft-eyed donkeys, was reclining wearily with one arm on the velvet back of the saddle.

"Na, Hedwig," growled the tranquil German in the fly, "disturb thyself not! There are many hotels in Menton, Zuruck! Geschwindt!"

And back they went straightway, impervious to the pleading of the dark-eyed man, who too late discovered that the senior partner in that domestic firm was not of the persuadable female sex. Then, recognizing Mrs. Allonby to be of more ductile material than the other two, he devoted his persuasive powers to the woman of substance and the British matron, whose stern brows soon relaxed beneath his sunny smile and pleading glances; the woman of substance finding herself in a trice, she hardly knew how, accommodated with an improvised chaise à porteurs, consisting of a perilously aged basket-chair and two hoe-handles borne on the shoulders of two handsome Italian workmen, whose teeth glistened with fun and the prospect of five-franc pieces to come, while the fair-sized man and the other matron were mounted each on a strong mule, and before they could utter a syllable of remonstrance, the mystic word "jay" came from the mule-driver, and they found themselves bumped out of sight up the narrow path, which, consisting of steep steps made of huge cobbles, or, rather, small crags, compelled them to devote their whole energies to avoid being shot over the mules' tails, as the animals reared on end with a jerk at each stony stair.

The remaining travellers, having been distributed among the other mules and donkeys, were soon mounting, nolens-volens and with inconvenient rapidity, the cobbled stairs, that at first threaded a sort of chimney in the ridge, and, later, reached a narrow, winding ledge with a perpendicular drop on one or either side, on the extreme edges of which the animals took a fiendish pleasure in balancing themselves, while their miserable riders shut their eyes and clung on for dear life, vainly imploring the mule-drivers to stop them. But the merciless drivers, deaf to entreaty, did nothing but urge the laggard beasts on with strange sounds, in which the word "jay" alone was intelligible (suggesting to the thoughtful mind a probable Aryan root signifying to proceed, from which this vocable and the Hindoo fao and the British gee are alike derived). Because whenever a driver said "jay," every donkey and mule went, and whenever any rider said anything to the drivers (and some of them said a good deal in different tongues), these at once cried "jay," bringing out the vowel sound sharply and leaving off before they had quite finished it.

It was during this ascent that the fold of Ermengarde's brain in which the French language was located suddenly became accessible, and she implored them in choicest Parisian to stop, to take her off, to allow her to fall in some soft place, anywhere, with the sole result of bringing a fresh shower of twig-blows and jays from these harmless people, who only understood the Italian patois of the district, and supposed from her agonized voice and gestures that she was anxious to ascend more quickly, whereas her one consuming desire was to get off her ambulant armchair at any price. It was some years since the unfortunate Ermengarde had ridden at all, and then it had been upon an average Christian horse, and only those who have been borne unwillingly by a series of bone-dislocating rears and jerks up endless staircases enclosed in rock-walls, and along knife-edged ledges overhanging abysmal nothingness, upon animals that understand no civilized language, and answer to no bit or bridle, and whose sole form of obedience is to run away from whoever pronounces the word "jay" in their rear, can imagine the complicated anguish of such riding. Nothing but the delight inherent to fallen nature at the spectacle of the misfortunes of others enabled Ermengarde to endure this singular form of torture; but when she witnessed the spluttering indignation of the British matron of majestic girth at being constantly, either crushed between the thin man and the adjacent rock-wall, or edged perilously over the precipice by his donkey, and his agonized attempts to avoid this unseemly proximity, with his wild and ineffectual endeavours to explain his own innocence and the friendly relations existing between their respective beasts, who could by no human means be induced to travel apart, she became uplifted in spirit and capable of enduring anything. Especially when the thin man weakly tried to apologize in French, of which he was hopelessly incapable, thus exasperating the woman of majestic girth to madness at the idea of being taken for a foreigner.

It was not until the handsome and stalwart donkey that bore the tortured form of Ermengarde took advantage of some mischance to the driver's apparel to dart up a side staircase, bordered by succulent grasses, with a suddenness that extracted an involuntary shriek from his hapless burden, that her woes came to pause, and, like Balaam's, her donkey found the path between the vineyards barred by the sudden apparition, not, indeed, of an angel with a sword, but of a comfortably real figure, with a walking-stick and two laughing dark eyes. He had dropped from heaven knew whence, and understood Parisian French even on English lips.

"If I don't stop I shall certainly die," gasped Ermengarde, suddenly relapsing into German, which presented no difficulty to the owner of the laughing eyes. "Never in my life have I had to climb a broken staircase on a wild ass before. It's like a nightmare."

"Yet Madame sits beautifully, is a good rider?"

"Oh, I can ride—horses—not nightmares, not wild donkeys up endless chimneys."

Then it was that this man of infinite resource came to the rescue. He took the donkey's short bridle—too short to be used by the rider—in one hand, and passing his other arm behind the saddle brought the lawless animal into subjection, and diverted the rider's attention from her misadventures to the splendour of the prospect, which was unfolding beneath them with every step they mounted, but which she had been totally unable to see because it was all behind. Then, after a short rest and rearrangement of the Bond Street hat, which, besides having been slept upon, was obviously not intended to ride donkeys up precipices in, he personally conducted donkey and rider for the remainder of the ascent, making Ermengarde's hair stand on end by disputing edges of precipices with the animal, and preserving her in violent and unexpected jerks by the support of his arm.

"But how will you ever face the miserable people you have fastened upon wild animals against their will, when we get to the top—that is, if there is any top, and we ever get there?" she asked.

"Ah, Madame," he replied with twinkling eyes and a small shrug, "I am discreet. I do not face them, especially the fat lady, till they have been fed. But—she is a drôlesse, that stout one. Imagine to yourself, her porters have already dropped her twice à force de rire simply. They fall soft, those padded ones. And she is now happily safe on high."

"But can they be expected to stay in your house after being captured and carried up by force?"

This youth pleased Ermengarde; she told herself, while looking kindly into his sunny, smiling eyes, that he was a dear boy. Foreign subordinates, especially French, she had always understood, are very different from our clumsy, self-conscious countrymen; no need to keep them at such a distance; they can be amusing and companionable without being impertinent or vulgar. And this one had the bearing of a prince in disguise.

"But they are obliged to stay, Madame; for, look you, once there, they cannot get down again. Besides, it is so charming on high that no one ever wishes to. Moreover, it is not, as Madame supposes, my house."

"No? You are—who are you, then—not the proprietor?"

"Heaven forbid! I am quite simply—they call me—Monsieur Isidore, at your service."

"Son?" she pondered silently, "secretary—or maitre-d'hotel?"

They were now winding round a rocky steep, crowned by a plain white building, half hidden by cypresses, the flickering, flame-like points of which surprised her by their solemn and symbolic beauty. Making a sudden sharp turn they found themselves in a sunny, open garden, ablaze with flowers of summer sweetness, shaded by orange, olive, and palm trees, planted sparsely upon a ridge summit, and commanding a glorious, wide, and open prospect ending in the warm, deep blue of the sea.

All round and far up behind the house towered a vast amphitheatre of mountains clothed in every spur and gorge with wood or terraced orchard, and crested by towered villages almost to their tossing peaks, uplifted, bare, and beautiful, with amethyst veining and delicate snow-streaks, into the intense velvety blue sky. Except where the ridge ran up behind the house into a little crest topped by dark green pines glowing vividly on the vivid sky, and then plunged on into the mountains' heart, the garden stood isolated on the edge of the sheer ridge that fell from the sun-facing front in steep terraces of lemon orchard, vineyard, and garden down to the torrent bed, crawling slowly, slowly, among houses and gardens half hidden in trees, to the mass of clean, red-brown roofs, that lay with never a smoke-stain among trees by the sea, like an estuary of masonry. Thence on the East a hill-spur suddenly rose and ran back into the mountains, hiding from view the harbour with its shipping and all the old town, except one church-tower raised above the hill and outlined upon the sea. And on every hill-slope and steep, terrace after terrace of vine, and olive, and lemon with golden fruit, and mimosa in golden bloom, or pine woods in clefts and on abrupt steeps. And everywhere small houses, growing smaller as they rose on the heights, with ruddy brown roofs and walls of clean pink and blue and white; and all this bathed and flooded and steeped in such transparence and clarity of sunlight as the Children of the Mist see never in their own dim poetic shores.

Ermengarde was speechless, all eye and ear, breathing in the warm, spiced, exhilarating air, that never a ruffle stirred, as if it were life for both soul and body, and not knowing how she had parted company with the gentle, soft-eyed creature that had borne her up into this paradise. Something cool touched her cheek; it was a lemon hanging from a dark-leaved branch. Her skirts swept a little forest of scented oak-leaf geranium, so sturdy and compact of growth one could almost stand on it; then they brushed a border thick-set with double stocks one mass of solid bloom. Here were geraniums, trees, not plants, with hard stems, their velvety leaves crimson, olive, and orange; here on a wall strong almond perfume gave token of a curtain of heliotrope in flower; and, as in the road below, "it was roses, roses all the way," from marble-stepped terrace to terrace, on bush and trellis and wall and balustrade.

"Will they want to assassinate me for this, Madame?" M. Isidore asked, regarding her with amused satisfaction. "When one reaches paradise, does one quarrel with the paths to it?"

"How can I tell; I was never there; but—I've known people capable of it." She thought of the woman of substance and of Arthur's eldest aunt. "Where are all the people?" she asked, becoming aware that the paradise was tenanted solely by a Swiss porter with a bristling moustache standing at the door of the plain, square villa. Empty garden-seats, cane lounges, and a pile of trunks by a side door bore witness to human occupation, though no soul stirred.

"They are happy, Madame; they breakfast. I am without fear as without reproach."

He laid a cluster of tea-roses in her hand, and she turned with a smile of thanks and a little sigh of content, to perceive that the view seawards to the west was blocked by a sudden rise of the ridge, round which they had just travelled, the villa and garden sitting down upon the hollow back in a sort of saddle. On the crest of this rise, as if emerging from the pine-woods clothing the steep flank, gleamed the white walls and little bell-gable of a convent, surrounded by cypress and eucalyptus, all in shadow and etched sharply upon that marvellous sky, that before nightfall would be gold, like an early Italian background, or lemon, or one chrysolite, or rose-crimson mingled with orange and green.

This gave the last consecrating touch. Thence the Angelus would float down over vineyard and olive-garden, at morning, noon, and evening, and break in soft music across the ravine and over the hill to the hidden town, all the towers of which would take it up in rich confused melody, repeated and heard far out at sea.

"But no," she heard; "the convent is now subject to the closure. The fraternity is dispersed. The house is private property."

The subject appeared distasteful to her guide. She turned and went into the cool, fresh house, finding the shadow and coolness of the broad, stencilled corridors welcome, and forgetting the ice and fog and shivering of yesterday, and the picture of the thin, starved boy, blue and shuddering on the bleak station, as if they had never been.

But she did not forget the roses coloured like a sunset, that this man of resource had laid in her hand. They reposed in water, while the weary traveller, refreshed by hot water and soap more than by food, laid her aching limbs at last in a stationary and silent bed, and slept with a vigour that excluded dreams and every sensation but one of bitter hostility to the chambermaid when she came, as straitly charged, and roused her with equal vigour in time for dinner. Then the roses were promoted to a place of honour in the simplest of demi-toilets, and she made her way to the dining-room, with a strange, lost feeling at having to sit at meat with total strangers, every one of whom had something to say to every one but herself, and all of whom appeared to regard her with a savage animosity and depreciation, under which she found herself quailing to such an extent, that to assert herself she was obliged to demand salt of her next neighbour in aggressively firm tones, and, though she was unaware of it, in her best German.

The dining-room was not as pleasant now as when, after a slight temporary acquaintance with soap and water, she had taken her solitary déjeuner there in the morning. It was empty then, and her seat faced a row of windows looking across the ravine, all powdery on the opposite side with blue bloom of pine and olive, much alike in the strong sunlight. Through the window just opposite, the white village of Castellare gleamed on a hill-crest, above which the bare peaks of the Berceau glowed jewel-like in a pure, deep sky. Then the masses of flowers, fresh from the garden, gathered, not bought, such flowers, so full and rich and joyous of growth, and the fruit—orange and lemon, just off the bough, with the dark leaves clinging to them—how fragrant, poetic, and beautiful the whole had been. That first déjeuner was a poem, contrasted with the prosaic luncheon-tables of the City of Perpetual Fog.

The fruit and flowers were still there, a great bank of spiced double stocks totally effaced the thin man plaintively sipping his soup opposite. People were squeezing fresh lemons into their glasses most temptingly, but the mountains were blotted out, and the table was ringed with human faces, alien, unfriendly, grim of glance. It was the hapless Ermengarde's first appearance alone at a table d'hote (Arthur always insisted on a private table in public); she was unaware that a new-comer in a pension is considered as a heathen man and a publican, an unwarrantable intruder, an encroacher upon vested rights, a probable pickpocket, a possible escaped lunatic—especially if a foreigner in British company—most especially if German.

Not knowing this, she drew the inference that something in her appearance incited public hostility. The whole of her hair was grown upon the premises; there she was founded on rock, impregnable. But, before retiring to rest after déjeuner, she had availed herself of the convenience of Hinde's curlers. Could she have left any in? What is all the beauty of the Riviera—or of all the world—to a woman who, through inadvertence or the malice of demons, finds herself dining publicly in Hinde's curlers? Or had that horrible fastened-behind blouse come undone again? Was there a smut on her nose? Had she contracted a sudden squint from excessive fatigue? People had been known to do so. Perhaps her features resembled those of some notorious, and probably improper, woman. Or she had suddenly broken out into a rash—she felt her cheeks burning—and people thought her infectious, and that was why the woman of substance, instead of passing the salt, only glared at her and drew her impeccable skirts away from contact with hers.

Having reduced the waiter, who happened to be an Italian, to the verge of imbecility by demanding salt of him in this same German tongue, and aggravated his confusion by a further request for bread, in reply to which he brought mustard, pepper, and lemons in succession, she was at last rescued by the thin man, who, divining her wants by the light of reason and supplying them, plaintively explained the waiter's nationality and ignorance of German from behind the stocks, which he pushed aside, suspecting that they concealed a better view.

Amply rewarded by a smile and a "Danke sehr," the thin man ventured upon a hope that the donkey-ride had turned out better than it looked.

"How it looked I don't know," she said, "but it couldn't possibly have looked worse than it felt," and was met by the cheerful assurance that the anguish of riding donkeys up stone stairs was nothing to the torture of riding them down. Then, cheered by the persuasion that the thin man could appreciate beauty, even with a smut on its nose or curlers in its hair, she drew from him that he had already spent a couple of weeks at Les Oliviers, and asked what kind of weather had prevailed, and how far they were from shops, in her native tongue, until a bowl of salad travelling in the rear of a dish of chicken came to a dead stop near the woman of substance, whereupon terror of the latter's disapproving eye threw her back to the brain-fold in which her German was located, and she meekly asked for the salad in that tongue.

"I suppose you mean salad," was the severe reply that accompanied the plumping of the bowl on the table by her side. "You seem to speak English fairly well. Where did you pick up that accent?"

"I—I really don't know," she faltered. "I didn't know I had an accent. But I came quite honestly by it," she added hastily.

Just then a sound from some one dining at a little table immediately behind her, something between a splutter, a cough, and a chuckle, made her turn sharply, with a gasp that began by being a suppressed cry, and look straight into the bearded, goggled face of that miserable Anarchist, whose sinister gaze fell before the fearless interrogation of hers. As she wrote afterwards to her husband, it was a very damaging feature in his character that this truculent creature could never look her straight in the face.

"Then the woman of mystery can't be far off," she reflected, after recovering from the first shock of being pursued by this objectionable person to her remote mountain fastness. "But I leave the place to-morrow, if I have to ride down those rocks on a rhinoceros. He gives me the creeps, glowering at me behind those horrid goggles."

Chapter VI

Mountain Sunset

Nobody seemed to know what was the exact position M. Isidore occupied in the hotel, nor, indeed, did anybody care, as long as he was civil and made himself generally useful. Yet there was a vague feeling of mystery associated with the light-hearted youth, who in some inexplicable way commanded a certain amount of deference that excluded familiarity. His name floated continually on the surface of general conversation. It was "Ask M. Isidore this—M. Isidore will see to that," or, "Where is M. Isidore?" and the vivid face and dancing eyes were there.

He had a habit of suddenly appearing without audible summons in crises of discomfort and perplexity, when, as if by magic, things came straight, and, with a jest and a shrug, he vanished—Heaven only knew whither, for he seemed to possess neither local habitation nor surname. You never knew where to look for him, yet he was always to be found.

If donkeys from Mentone were wanted, he tapped and clicked in a little corner cupboard, and after one or two soft "Ola's!" listened as if in communion with subject spirits to whom he whispered words of power, whereupon, in no time to speak of, gaily-caparisoned but self-willed animals, in charge of women in flat straw hats, stood waiting on a little sort of bastion on the ridge, outside the gate at the back of the house.

If people wanted to know what the weather was going to be—and only newcomers asked what everybody else knew by experience to be unchangeably superb—or the menu, or the temper of riding mules, or the hire of carriages, the weight of postal packets, and the best places to buy oranges to send home, or when every train left, and arrived at, Mentone, or the probable cost of sailing to Africa, the price and programme of every entertainment at Nice, Mentone, and Monte Carlo, the most trustworthy hair-dressers and restaurants in the town, the hours of Divine worship, and the most infallible system of winning at roulette, they unhesitatingly asked M. Isidore in any language they happened to know best, and he as unhesitatingly replied in the same—namely, his own. Hence it happened that his replies often exercised and impressed the imagination as strongly as those of the Delphian oracle, and like those were subject to diverse interpretations by diverse hearers. And, if the oracles were unfulfilled, this in no wise detracted from the confidence reposed in his omniscience. For, given three different interpretations, it was obviously impossible for all to be fulfilled, and if one was fulfilled it was equally obvious that that must have been the right one. If people lost their way or fell off donkeys in the mountains, they were usually met or picked up by M. Isidore. If they wanted change, postage-stamps, picture-cards, these were invariably in his pocket. And if, as occasionally occurs in cosmopolitan boarding-houses, things became a little dull after dinner, M. Isidore would cheerfully swallow carving-knives, and make small articles of personal property change owners unseen, boil eggs in hats and turn wine into ink, and make people's flesh creep delightfully by reading their thoughts, telling their fortunes, and divining their characters. He would also play billiards in the French manner.

If Madame Bontemps, the proprietress, a tall and handsome woman, were ruffled in spirit by domestic contrarieties, inefficient service, exacting inmates, and the general tendency of things to be broken, lost, spoilt, and worn out, he could always soothe her exasperated feelings, and soften the asperities of her speech. He stood between her wrath and guilty servants; he defended her from the attacks of infuriated guests. He even teased that majestic woman, and openly made fun of her smaller vices, thereby drawing a soft suggestion of smiles about her iron mouth. Madame Bontemps never laughed, probably because she never had time. But she had a husband, who sadly needed discipline. When she had a few moments' leisure, which was seldom, she sat in a small office, and received complaints and orders, gave advice, made up accounts, drew cheques and knit stockings. Indeed, she never ceased to knit stockings, unless her busy brown fingers were otherwise employed. It was supposed that she knit stockings in bed, if she ever went to bed, which was generally doubted. She had been heard at dawn in the garden giving orders in a tongue that none but the labourers could understand, except perhaps her husband, for it was that in which she usually quarrelled with him. She was sometimes found patrolling the corridors and stairs at night, after lights were out and the hotel was ostensibly plunged in repose.

If anything—illness, fire, or burglars—happened during the night, Madame always appeared fully dressed with unruffled hair. At any hour of the day she might be seen in gardens, vineyards, and lemon orchards, directing labourers, or in the kitchen, making the chef's hair bristle with terror, or in the topmost corridors discovering the sins of trembling femmes de chambre, or in the poultry yard, cow-stall, or dairy; and wherever Madame Bontemps found things done as they should not be done, she was capable, not only of commenting in vigorous terms upon the subject, but also of practically showing how they should be done.

People going to her office and finding it empty had only to press an electric button, and she appeared as if attached to a secret spring. No one knew what Madame Bontemps did not do.

On the other hand, nobody knew what M. Bontemps did. But he was invariably polite and cheerful, and invariably provided with cigarettes and criticisms of life, for which he entertained a tolerant contempt, mixed with appreciation. He always referred to Madame with profound deference as the one supreme authority on earth. It was rumoured, but not generally credited, that he had once carried a pannier of wood up to some one's room. He had beautiful dark blue eyes, inherited by his youngest daughter. His eldest was cast in sterner mould, more like her mother. She spoke English well but not willingly; her frame was tall and powerful, her bearing majestic, her face dark and strong, with those very dark liquid eyes full of latent passion, that suggest a Moorish or Saracenic strain in the ancestry. Mlle. Geneviève, Ermengarde understood, was learning hotel management under her mother, whose able lieutenant she had already become. Some of these facts were gathered from the thin man and some from M. Isidore himself, in the course of the first, long, idle, dreamy day of basking on the sunny garden terrace.

It is probable that these things lost nothing in their transmission through Mrs. Allonby's letters home. As she lay in a long chair among spiced stocks in the still clear sunlight, she supposed herself to be writing letters. But in reality she was absorbing the beauty of the pictures spread before her, and realizing how much more exhausted she had been by her illness than had been suspected, and how unfit to cope with the trouble that had invaded her guarded, commonplace life. Only stillness and this healing warmth of sunlight seemed any good to her now. The stocks touching her feet were backed by a rustic balustrade, twined with roses and jasmine, immediately above a narrow belt of lemon-trees, the yellow-fruited tops of which were just visible, on the edge of the ridge which fell so steeply that, as she lay, there was nothing between her eyes and the distant band of dark blue sea. She seemed to be poised in mid air, with the lemons and roses, between sea and sky.

There was now no need to leave the house, the Anarchist having apparently taken his departure. With what anxiety she had listened to the voices of people breakfasting that first morning in the sunny air beneath her open window, while she took her coffee and roll cosily in bed, fearing to detect the harsh tones of the Anarchist among them. But she could only distinguish the plaintive notes of the thin man and the high treble and artificial gurgling laugh of Miss Boundrish, the daughter of the woman of ample girth, above the general cheerful ripple of morning chat. Her window being au troisième, she ventured once, modestly veiled in lace curtains, to peep out upon this amazing picture of people breakfasting out of doors at eight o'clock of a mid-winter morning, and, as every face was turned from the house to the glorious prospect of sunlit space, and most were too immediately beneath her to look up without dislocated necks, there was little fear of being seen. How pleasant it was, this intermittent sound of voices in open air. There was the thin man in a picturesque hat, breakfasting all alone on the edge of a little jutting plateau, his head outlined upon the blue space of the ravine, his face seaward. There is but one pleasanter thing than this social breakfasting out of doors—to lie in bed and hear other people do it through open windows.

The voices were chiefly insular with a sprinkling of Jawohls and Sos and Mais ouis. Little bursts of laughter and detached sentences sometimes floated up to the window au troisième. Once she heard, in Miss Boundrish's overpowering head voice, "Mrs. Allonby, oh!" followed by the artificial gurgle that in the course of time jarred people's nerves; then Ermengarde knew that she had been given as it were to the lions, and was being served hot as a relish to the coffee and rolls, that her character, features, dress, complexion, figure, her probable past and possible present, her position, her upbringing and connexions, were being tossed from beast to beast, and disputed, growled, and chortled over. And once, in the voice of Miss Boundrish's mother, she heard the ejaculation, "What? the Allonby?" and wondered which of Arthur's relations had been hung, and why he had never told her.

Yet Miss Boundrish's mother had actually conferred upon Mrs. Allonby the shady white hat that reposed upon her hair as she sat in the garden terrace this afternoon.

"I tried to wear it to pacify Mr. Boundrish, who's always worrying about sunstrokes and fevers, my dear," the kind lady said; "but it was too young for me, and Dorris is very particular about her hats, as you may have noticed."

She certainly had noticed the rose-wreathed and unsuitable elegance in which Miss Boundrish had graced the table at luncheon. How delightful it had been to see people trooping into the cool, shadowy dining-room in summer hats and frocks, a little flushed with sun, and to think of shivering unfortunates with frost-tipped noses lunching at home by electric light, in a pea-green atmosphere flavoured with soot and sulphur. Mrs. Boundrish's hat was not what her daughter called chic, but it harmonized with Mrs. Allonby's simplest, least attractive costume; yet Ermengarde wore the thing contentedly. She was so tired, and so glad to rest from the innumerable petty complexities of suburban life, and steep herself in beauty and calm forgetfulness. As she lay in the sunny stillness, she wondered how she had borne with it so long, and was amazed to remember that she had cared about hats and been wounded by Arthur's contempt for those five. He would not believe his eyes if he could see her sitting thus in contented, humdrum chat with buxom Mrs. Boundrish, a woman of little more social consideration than her own cook, with a thing on her head like an inverted dish-cover, made of straw and garnished with two pocket-handkerchiefs.

"You may," the mother of Dorris—not classic Doris—apologized, "have thought me a little—ah—stiff last night; but the fact is," she added, suddenly confidential, "I took you for a foreigner."

"Ah!" returned Ermengarde, as much as to say, "That explains all."

"And, of course, in a place like this, one had to be so very particular."


Ermengarde was wondering if the huge, bee-like insects plunging into the hearts of the quivering stocks were fireflies in their winter state—later, the thin man said they were humming-bird moths—and once more took a pencil and a little writing-block and began relating the perils of yesterday's donkey-ride to Charlie, while Miss Boundrish's mother, murmuring various platitudes, resumed her woollen crochet-work, till authoritatively summoned to some parental duty by the piercing voice of Dorris.

One line had contrived to get itself written—"My darling boy, your poor old mother"—then the pencil slipped—it is wonderful how easily pencils do this out of doors—from her fingers to the gravelled path, and before she could decide if it were possible to pick it up without disturbing the comfortable posture in which some Good Samaritan—either M. Isidore or the thin man—had tucked her up in rugs, the letter-block fell off on the other side.

Just then the woman of substance sailed up, and hoped with a deference that astounded the new visitor that she was rested after her journey, and recounted a whole Odyssey of her private misadventures during yesterday's ascent—how her chaise positively broke down under her, and she had to be taken aside into a dreadful little smelly cottage, or rather the outside of it, under the vines, lest she should be trampled by the procession of donkeys and mules coming behind; and how those wretched foreigners did nothing but laugh and make faces and address impertinent remarks to her in an unknown tongue, that her husband said was neither French nor Italian, nor any civilized speech; and how finally her porters were doubled, and a sort of basket or tub was brought, and she was forced into it, and slung and jolted on four broomsticks by her four porters, at the peril of all five lives, to the present eminence, on which she supposed she must end her days, unless a proper road could be made before her time came.

Ermengarde listened with a sympathetic face and proper interjections, wondering if the rounded softness of that passionately dark blue sea-rim, so much less sharply edged than paler seas—if that came from the clear and vapourless air, through which one saw so far over the very slope of the world; and presently, when the Odyssey came to a pause, she made some reference to the romance and charm of Provence.

"Provence," mused the woman of substance. "H'm, yes; Provence roses. Never was there in my life. But I dare say you have travelled a good deal."

"But surely you came by the Train de Luxe yesterday?"

"Oh yes. Mr. Robinson's extravagance—quite unnecessary——"

"Then you were in Provence yesterday," murmured Ermengarde drowsily, quite sure now that she saw over the earth-slope, and the woman of substance, coupling this obviously inaccurate statement with the unaccountable excursions into foreign languages of the previous day, looked curiously at her, and wondered if it was drink or incipient insanity.

"So young, too!" she reflected mournfully, turning away to find a comfortable and yet substantial seat, but turning once again to look at the figure extended in the sun among the flowers in the dish-cover hat, the uncompromising dowdiness of which conveyed comforting assurance of respectability to her motherly soul. Vice and that hat could never be companions, she was sure.

Once again Ermengarde made a feeble effort at correspondence. Arthur would expect letters, though absent from home and without definite address. It was quite easy to write "Dear Arthur," but how to go on was the difficulty. Of the misadventures and discomforts of the journey it was inadvisable to write, lest the joy of "I told you so" should make him exult; neither was it politic to dilate upon the probable criminality of the woman of mystery, and on her complicity and secret understanding with the Anarchist. Of the latter, as a source of terror and danger to the community at large, she wrote much, not without some gentle complacence in her own perspicacity in detecting, and courage in braving, by dauntless but insupportable glances, the villainy and scheming of this truculent being.

"The power of the human eye, especially over beasts of prey and hardened criminals," she wrote, "has not been exaggerated. One honest, fearless, straightforward look will unmask the vilest and most cunning, and cause the blackest heart to quail, as that creature's invariably did—at least, his eyes did—before mine." And this sentence, like all referring to the man, when after many days it reached him, filled the recipient of the letter with peculiar and ecstatic joy, producing explosions of mirth unutterable.

But of this same Anarchist she could get but the scantiest information—even from M. Isidore. No one appeared to have observed the presence of any such person at dinner the night before, or to have seen him come and go at Les Oliviers. After much meditation, M. Isidore supposed she must refer to a foreigner, presumably a Pole, since his name ended in ski, who had dined there, or lunched, or both, on the preceding day. As to whether he had slept there, or was likely to return, M. Isidore was unable to give any information. No one apparently had seen him at breakfast, or luncheon, or about the place, that morning. Neither had anyone observed his arrival; he had come and gone like a phantom, or a suspicion. He was an absolute mystery. She began to suspect that she must have dreamt him.

After all, perhaps everything past was a dream. All this clarity of atmosphere and bright light, steeping the fairy-like loveliness of mountain, gorge, and sea, seemed to have blotted out past trouble and pain, as if those dark, transparent waters were some celestial wine, or waters of Lethe, drunk in spirit, and giving both healing and oblivion.

The obstinate letters utterly refused to get themselves written that afternoon, but the ever-helpful M. Isidore produced picture-cards, the inscription of which was a sop to still the barkings of conscience, and had them posted.

The sun sloped away and away from the stocks and lemons, until the wooded summit topped by the convent was one mass of shadow with cross-tipped gables, cypress-flame, and eucalyptus-top, all etched in sharp outline on a sky of lucid gold. Ermengarde shivered as she drew her furs about her throat, and heard a sound like the patter of sudden rain behind her, but turning, saw that it was only the rustle of wind in the branches of a palm.

"Where are they all going?" she asked as the lotus-eating groups basking on the terrace melted away before the slanting shadow.

"They follow the sun; it is a veritable fire-worship," M. Isidore said, picking up her scattered properties. "Madame will be among the worshippers?"

Out of the shadow, and up marble steps, with "roses, roses all the way" again, to a little rock platform west of the villa, giving a prospect round the convent hill, they came upon a fresh world of wide, sunlit space, with another ravine half in purple shadow, and other villages and houses, and, high up, dark against a lucid sky, giant peaks turning pink and gold where they caught the blaze of the sun, that was sinking in a green and lilac sky, above a sea of molten gold touched with scarlet.

Here were seats under a shelter of rye-straw thatch that caught and retained the whole blaze and warmth of the shifting pageant of the sunset. Here, too, it was quiet and peaceful, the lotus-eaters having gone elsewhere, and here her guide left her to absorb the solemn hush and splendour. The little homely convent seemed to have grown naturally out of the rocks; to which it clung unevenly, as a pine-tree throws twisted roots from rock to rock to get firm hold, ending in garden terrace on the sunniest face of the rock, now bright in the westering rays. Far off the surf, breaking on the long, low headland of Cap Martin, was visible in the glow, taking rose and orange tints in its fall. The mountain flanks sent up little blue spirals of smoke from every fold and dimple, where cot and hamlet nestled; the earth breathed deepest peace. A spirit of prayer was everywhere; the smoke was like incense from many altars; sounds of common life came distinct and clear, yet hushed, through the stilled and waiting air. The ever-changing colours on mountain, sky, and sea hinted at the progress of some glorious spiritual drama of mysterious import. It seemed in the waiting hush as if the secret of the universe might soon be whispered abroad.

But Nature worshipped alone; there was no sweet-toned Angelus floating over crest and gorge, from convent to church tower, and trembling far away over darkening waves, to give the antiphon and complete the evensong of the world. Republican France is too free to allow men to worship publicly as they please.

Ermengarde, uplifted, tranquillized, yet full of unrest and a sort of compunction mingled with longing, was like a wondering child at some solemn rite, dimly guessed at through the faces of those present. She lost herself completely in watching the moving drama of flushed sky and sea. What pure, pale-green spaces above the sun-glow, what lakes of rose, purple, violet, and orange! the whole spectrum broken up and scattered, while the deep peacock blue of the Eastern sea grew deeper than ever.

The sunlight lying so lovingly on vine and olive-covered steep, turning blue gloom of pines to glowing velvet, and calling out all the warmer tints in the mysterious grey-green of olives, slanted more and more till every wood and cultivated patch and building on gorge and flank facing the light, had its true colour, flushed, darkened, and faded. Night was gathering in vales and clefts, and stealing up the great shoulder of Mont Agel, dark upon the west; the eastern peaks were crimson jewels paling to palest claret. Ermengarde was absorbed in the silent symphony of melting and mingling colour to that degree she scarcely seemed to breathe, when voices jarred suddenly into the stillness from beneath her feet, where the mule-path ran unseen under the rocky steep.

With the voices came the soft patter of asses' feet, and the firm step of a man, light laughter, and then a single voice, cheerful, masculine, English.

"Not going to play to-night? Come now," it remonstrated.

"When I have tell you I am broke to stone," returned a reproachful, metallic treble. "And my next last parure of diamonds is what you call pop for a nozzing. I will no more gif my fine jewels to ze Shoos for two sous. Also I haf lend from a friend hundred louis zat I lose last night."

They stopped where the path broadened on a rocky jut, their party having gone in at the hotel gates higher up. Ermengarde could hear the donkey improving the occasion by a vigorous cropping of tough herbage. She was sure the woman was painted, and fancied that the odour of musk floated up.

"All the more bound to play, Countess," the genial baritone replied. "You're bound to rake 'em in somehow, don't you know. How else get the things back? Let me lend you——"

"No, no, mon cher. I rob not the poors. Not you, my poor child, who are poor like ze mouse at Mass—you say."

A cheery laugh rang out. "Not now," the gay voice cried. "Bless you, dear Countess, I've got a system now, and I raked 'em in for all I was worth last night. I'm simply swimming in gold and notes. Don't know what to do with 'em. Thought the banker would have gone for me."

"Ah, ze banker enraged himself? Good." Then, in a changed voice, in which the note of greed was audible: "How much louis have you win, mon bon ami? No, I rob not. Ach! all the world is come behind. Make but this donkey to march, Monsieur."

"Gee up, then! The little beast's mouth's made of iron. Jay, jay. Come up, you little devil! Take a poor hundred louis, Countess, just for luck. Give me the pleasure. Just to give me luck."

"Ah, but how will I pay?"

"Give me—give me that heather in your belt. White heather means good luck, don't you know."

A deep sigh, one of those melancholy French sighs that are semi-groans and half-caresses, was heard; and then, as the donkey suddenly decided upon moving on with a quick patter of little hoofs, there was a complicated stamping and much joyous laughter from the Englishman, who, Ermengarde was quite sure, had been leaning his arm on the back of the lady's saddle, and just missed being tumbled down the gorge by the animal's unexpected change of mind. She had just risen from her seat, gathering that the conversation was private. Her movement brought the speakers into her line of vision, and she recognized the young Englishman on the Monte Carlo platform, the sight of whom had so perturbed the woman of mystery the day before. She had been right in supplying the lady with powder and paint. As they disappeared round the corner, she caught the gleam of orange-dyed curls, pinned on a Parisian and unsuitable hat, and the healthy glow of the young man's upturned face. Then the path was crowded by half a dozen donkeys and riders, followed by some with panniers and a few pedestrians, and in two minutes the whole company had passed noisily out of sight, leaving the mountain stillness stiller than ever.

To come there, and in face of all that solemn peace and splendour, flaunt their sordid vices and petty anxieties! What had they to do in the heart of that austere mountain beauty? A vile reek of musk and cigars floated after them; they had tainted the very air in their passage over the ridge.

The enchantment vanished. The mountain-peaks were all grey and cold now under some silver stars, but the sea still kept some mauve and gold and chrysolite reflections from the lucid western sky; thickening shadows stole heavily up the mountain flank; the air had a sharp edge. She went slowly back to the garden, and stood by the border of scented stocks, and was looking down the gorge to the clean-roofed town by the sea, pensive and a little homesick, when out of the lemon-tops rose a face, and then a slim figure, and recognizing the woman of mystery, she hastened to meet her with a little cry of joy.

Chapter VII

The Convent Steps

The band had long stopped playing; the afternoon sunshine was growing soft, and the Jardins Publics were empty of all but a few stragglers—bourgeois babies playing round mothers basking on sunny benches and among beds of carnations and cyclamen, and people crossing the paths on their way home. Agatha turned at the top of the long series of parterres bordered by orange-trees, palms, eucalyptus and pepper trees, that lay between street and street, and was bounded by the band of glowing purple sea, whence on either hand long hill-spurs ran up into the mountain amphitheatre just behind the town, and wondered at all the sunny beauty. Especially at the palms, which sprang up, straight and sturdy, everywhere closing street vistas, lending charm to featureless buildings and romance to ugly ones, and sometimes spreading their broad tops above a knot of dark-faced Arabs, lounging picturesque in burnous and fez.

"It was lovely once," the man at her side granted. "The torrent bed ran down in wild, broken beauty all the way to the sea a few years since. There's your house yonder on the ridge. Do you walk up? Well, take time. The way's straight enough. Report as often as you can. Be very careful. I thought the whole thing was exploded more than once yesterday—especially——"

"Oh! There was not the faintest suspicion. You were quite out in that. But I will be careful. Good-bye."

He went up the road to the station; she passed under the viaduct by the torrent bed and paused, watching women stepping down under the oleanders from the other side to beat linen in the stream, and then turned and went on with a lagging step, that meant dejection more than fatigue. Winding along under the grey ghostliness of arching plane-tops was a string of pack-mules, leisurely plodding under bales and panniers; fine, strong, patient beasts, in curious contrast to the long, smoke-snorting dragon of a train that roared and rattled out of sight over the railway bridge at the avenue's end in about two hoof-beats. Were people unhappy up there in those mountain villages, where life was simple and close to Nature? There was a restfulness and an air of cheerful romance about this little procession of plodding mules and bright-eyed peasants, a feeling of the picturesque, of leisurely labour in sunshine and sweet air, very comforting to a torn heart, wasted by anxiety. If one could but vanish and fade away into those mountain fastnesses and forget, working peacefully by some quiet hearth, under one of those sunlit church towers cresting the pine ridges.

But sorrow is heavy and hard to bear in youth, when fullness of life throbs in every heart-beat, rebelling at every denial and refusing every pang; and there are moments when all that should console and soften suffering contributes to deepen and intensify it. As the graceful solitary figure walked wearily along the torrent bed in a network of shadows woven by the plane-tops, all the sunny beauty of gorge and peak, of lemon orchard and glowing pine-top and dream-soft olive haze, and all the purple splendour of sea and sky and blue bloom of distance wrought upon her with such power that every sense and faculty, uplifted and expanded, helped to put an edge on the anguish within her. The higher the rocky path turning from the level bed was, the greater the beauty grew, and the pain; every hanging wreath of geranium and scented myrtle, every blaze of cactus trailing down the rock walls, through which the steep, stair-like path climbed, impressed itself sharply upon her. She turned with a movement of impatience, and looked back, and every sunlit sail and turquoise shade on the purple sea and every shadow of the hills made itself acutely felt. And when the path led under the solemn shadow of olives, and the light misty foliage parted here and there to give glimpses of sea and red-roofed town and far headland, her heart was like to break; and yet the majesty of far-stretching mountains, the glory and beauty of land and sea, had never been more vividly sweet to her.

For this is a strange thing, that the whole weight and power, the whole magic and mystery of beauty in Nature and Art, can only be felt in supreme moments of gladness or sorrow, when the mind and heart are full and every faculty is tense. The beauty deepens the pain with the very balm it brings, it magnifies the gladness with the very awe that chastens it.

Now she knew what olive-trees meant; and they mean so much, in loveliness so subtle, so manifold in suggestion; they cannot be read through and taken in at a glance, except in emotional crises, when veils are lifted and faculties quickened.

Yet there was comfort in those endless steps, that were in reality vine-terraces made on south-fronting declivities, and in the thought of the human patience and long labour of centuries, that had carried up and enriched every strip of soil on these hand-hewn ledges, and buttressed them solidly with rock till they glowed with the gladness of purple vintage and glory of emerald leaves. And here, in the olive shade, and there, backed by a rock terrace tangled in myrtle and white-blooming heath and the goblin foliage of prickly pear, were little red-roofed shrines, with frescoes telling the Seven Sorrows, blotched and dim, with scanty votive flowers withering in coarse earthen pots. The pathos of these humble, deserted shrines touched her; they seemed friendly in their silent desolation. Yet Mrs. Allonby, in her wild ascent the day before, had hardly seen them.

But this tall, clear-eyed young woman was so drawn by the fascination of the forlorn shrines that she followed the path they lined, and it led her astray. She laid a spray of flowering rosemary on the Seventh—"for remembrance"—and sighed. For she who bore that sevenfold sword of sorrow in her heart could never have borne this of looking on, helpless, and baffled in every wild effort to save, at the gradual ruin and degradation of any she loved; that barren and bitter sorrow at least was spared her.

But what if she, whose pain had been so fruitful to man, could hear, and from her place of peace give balm to crushed and broken hearts? Human sympathy may not be confined to this brief passage through time and space, she mused.

The path led with a sudden turn through garden ground, unfenced, then past a pink house with a pergola, and ended at an abrupt fall of narrow vine terraces down the ravine. Thence was seen a fuller, broader prospect facing south, bounded by a sea of purple and gold shot with crimson. There she turned, and climbing a broad flight of steps leading to the low-walled summit of the ridge, became aware of a large wooden cross standing against the pure sky on the top, as if with open arms of welcome.

Above and around it were quivering spires of cypress and plumy tops of eucalyptus, and, between black cypress boughs, the white gleam of convent walls.

The weight of silent, secret grief grew to a physical burden on those weary steps; her heart sank and died when she reached the top, and stood in rich sunshine at the foot of the great bare cross, its arms uplifted in witness and welcome for many and many a mile round, and listlessly spelt out the words cut round the centre:

Ave, crux, spes unica!

Then something gave way in her aching breast, the four healing words echoed and found response in her heart.

"Ave, ave!" she faltered, her slender figure bowed in the golden light, the healing scent of eucalyptus blossom floating down to her, and the majesty of those soaring mountain peaks and buttressed hill-flanks spreading far above in the hush and glow of the passing day. There, with her face pressed to the sun-warmed wood and her arms clasping it, a huge weight—"the burden and the mystery of all this unintelligible world"—fell away from her heart, and the great prayer that has no words filled it with peace beyond understanding—the spes unica—the only road to solution of all the tangled mystery of life.

When she rose the world was changed. On either side of the cross stood a tall eucalyptus tree; long tresses of pale fragrant blossom hung among their scimitar-shaped leaves; their cinnamon-coloured trunks, whence rolls of scented bark peeled, were so forked that the branched stems made a comfortable seat; there the tired girl rested in the ruddy glow, silently absorbing the same tranquil pageant of vesper splendour that light-hearted Ermengarde was watching from the hotel garden above. Sea murmurs were faintly audible in the deep stillness, the incense curling bluely from hill-altars was sweet, glorious were the grandly-grouped peaks and mountain masses changing and glowing with life-like motion in the sliding lights, silent, majestic witnesses to the everlasting beauty that underlies and transfuses all things. God was speaking through all that beauty; doubt and fear vanished; in spite of misery, care, and sin, all must be well at last.

Lightened at heart, she leant on the low convent wall and looked down the ravine, that was rapidly filling with shadow, and across it at the white village poised on a hill, its slender tower uplifted like a standard under the purple-shadowed mountain peak.

Suddenly a harsh high laugh broke upon the charmed stillness, and was followed by strident voices and a confused hurry of footsteps, as the whole rout of pleasure-seekers from the hotel gate clattered round the corner under the convent walls unseen, while a polyglot cackle, playing round the words systems, hotels, Monte, tables, winnings, losings, dinners, poured out in passing crescendo and died gradually away in the distance.

But before they were quite out of hearing, as they filed out upon a part of the path visible from the convent wall, the young woman's gaze was startled and arrested by the same lady and attendant youths whose talk had already been overheard from the hotel gardens, and her heart stood still and her colour went at the sight.

These two? Was it these two really beyond doubt? Then what she had heard and what had been feared was true, much too true. And for such as they, of what avail to wrestle, to agonize, to beat at the gate of heavenly mercy with fastings and tears and inward silent heart-bleeding? Even now the boy's mother must be praying at home for him. And of what avail? Yet was not yonder vast cathedral reared to the lucid sky telling in superb and solemn beauty of the infinite power and love and pity of the divine poet and artificer of all? And even if that calm majesty had no power to rebuke fretting or silence despair, there was the spes unica shining in the deepening after-glow, a beacon to storm-driven hearts.

A little withered old woman passed along under the rock wall, leading a self-willed goat, and briskly knitting. She sent up a shrill and cheerful "Buon sera," laughed, and nodded, and went on her tranquil way. Then the lay brother in charge of the deserted garden, passing the eucalyptus on his way home from work, told her she had taken the longest way, and put her on the shorter, and she went down the steps as the first few stars trembled into the sky, and so round through olives and pines to the hotel. And there, in the glowing twilight above the lemon-tops, was the face of her fellow-traveller, brightening at the sight of her with smiles of welcome.

"My dear woman of mystery, where did you spring from?" she cried. "I thought you had gone on to Italy. And how on earth did you climb up this terrific hill? And where is your luggage? And how very glad I am to see you again!"

That Italy was just round the corner, that the parting had been but yesterday, and that it was possible for an able-bodied woman to climb a mile of mountain-path without utter destruction, filled Ermengarde with a wonder only less than her wonder at her own unfeigned delight in unexpectedly meeting this woman, who appeared to be somewhat overpowered by her effusive reception.

"Dear Mrs. Allonby," she protested faintly, while being carried off to the house, "indeed, I am not at all hungry, and not so very tired."

"Oh, but you are!" she insisted. "Dreadfully tired. And you must have some tea at once—in my room. I had mine long ago, out of doors. I will make tea for you in my own Etna—the one that upset in my dress-basket. Are you expected? Have you engaged rooms? Let me take you in to Madame Bontemps, proprietress and manager. Most civil and obliging; will make you very comfortable. We shall find her in the office. Heinrich? What's become of the porter? Madame Bontemps? What on earth's the matter?"

The inner door, which had been closed at sunset, yielded to pressure, and let a torrent of strident voices and sounds of discord pour out upon the startled air, disclosing a spectacle that caused both ladies to retreat in momentary terror, and despair of all peaceful and safe passage through the hall.

Madame Bontemps had, as it were, taken the stage—that is, the middle of the hall—and with blazing eyes and murderous gestures, was calling down what sounded the most terrific maledictions upon the devoted head of the stalwart Swiss porter, Heinrich, who, with bristling moustache and hair and balled fists, thundered back denunciations even more terrific with gestures of even greater violence.

"And not a policeman to be had!" Ermengarde lamented. "What on earth is to be done? She will be killed, and so will he. Heinrich! Madame! Monsieur Bontemps! Feu—au secours!" she cried, heedless of the new arrival's suggestion to wait till the storm was over. But of this there appeared to be little chance. Madame Bontemps, her features distorted with fury, shrieked fiercer and fiercer maledictions at the retreating Heinrich, springing across the hall at him, when he fled from her onset, soon to return to the charge, before which she in her turn retreated, with denunciations and gestures that put Madame Bontemps' life at a pin's fee.

"If there was only a fire-bell," murmured Ermengarde, looking round, deaf to her companion's reassurance that the contest would be bloodless, "or a police-whistle, or even a cab-stand!"

But Madame, undismayed and active, her rolled back hair quivering, her tall form dilating, her hands on her hips, repulsed the charge of Heinrich with such a torrent of abuse as drove him back once more to the middle of the hall. There both stood, still shouting and misunderstanding each other in three languages for a measurable space, during which Monsieur Bontemps lounged in an easy attitude, cigarette in mouth, at the office door, softly stroking his beard, and contemplating the engagement with indifference, tinged with approval and admiration of the majesty and fury of Madame.

"It is just this," he explained, with gentle condescension, when the storm lulled, "the French of Madame is incomplete; she supplements it with the Italian of the country—a tongue entirely unknown to Heinrich. The French of Heinrich, on the contrary, is absolutely vile. He supplements it with German, of which both he and Madame are partly ignorant, and with Swiss-German, a tongue known to none but those mountaineers. Hence misunderstandings. Myself, I ignore all. Que voulez-vous?"

Yielding to pressure, however, he at length drew the infuriated lady's attention from the combat to the claims of her guests. In a moment her looks of fury were replaced by smiles of courteous welcome; her blazing eyes shed light of soft inquiry, and she came forward with a stately bow and a genial, "Bon soir, mesdames," while Heinrich as quickly forgot his wrongs and his wrath, and, dissolving into cheerful smiles, took his usual station by the door. Finally, the tumult being succeeded by perfect calm, he blandly picked up a few of the woman of mystery's parcels, which had arrived beforehand, and carried them to her room, whither they were preceded by the stately presence of Madame Bontemps herself.

The new arrival never forgot the tea brewed for her that evening. To that she attributed every digestive disturbance that afflicted her all her life after.

Nor did Ermengarde lightly dismiss from memory her own joy and fatigue in making that tea with her own hands, and for the first time, over a complicated and expensive new patent spirit-lamp, expressly devised to boil a minimum of water with a maximum of peril, inconvenience, and delay. A serious initial difficulty in lighting the lamp was presently overcome by the discovery that there was no spirit in it. A little of this, after some deliberation and delay, was borrowed of Miss Boundrish's mother. "But on no account tell Dorris," the latter implored; "she don't like lending things." The second difficulty of the kettle not boiling was surmounted after finding that it had no water—a circumstance which nearly resulted in burning a hole in it—by ringing the bell not more than five times for water of unimpeachable purity. The kettle at last having been filled, boiled over during a long and futile search for the tea, several parcels of which had been artfully mislaid in improbable portions of wearing apparel with the guileful purpose of evading douaniers and defrauding the French Republic of revenue. At last the brilliant idea of following up the trail of those packets, that had burst and peppered priceless raiment with black dust and broken stalks, resulted in their discovery. No matter how widely friends at home had differed in their advice to those about to travel, all had agreed that as much tea as the regulations by utmost stretching permitted, besides as much again as that, must be carried in every separate parcel and trunk, with the result that Ermengarde, finding little use during her travels for the tea upon which she had squandered so much substance, and incidentally making all her things smell like a grocer's shop, furtively shed small packets of it all across the Continent on her return home, in vague terror of incurring mysterious pains and penalties by secreting so much contraband.

"Is it refreshing?" she asked, when at last, flushed with triumph and heat, and smudged with lamp-black, besides having burnt her hand in a spirit-flare, she handed the precious beverage in an enamelled tin mug without a saucer. She would not have had a saucer for the world; it would have spoilt the whole thing.

"It's—very—hot," gasped the recipient, with watering eyes and a look of deep anguish.

"It's a very special tea," Ermengarde said impressively, watching the sufferer's agonies with complacence.

"Very special," sighed the victim; "most special."

"I got it myself, from a woman whose cousin married a tea-planter. He sends her a chest every now and then to sell to intimate friends to pay for Church work," Ermengarde continued, with intense satisfaction. "That accounts for the remarkable flavour."

"No doubt it does," murmured the sufferer, recovering breath, and correctly attributing the mingled taste of old boots and public-houses, that characterized the special tea, to the probability of the kettle having had no lid on and a strong spirit flare under it.

"Poor dear; you must have been dying for a cup!" her tormentor murmured, with relentless benignity.

"From a cup," the victim thought; but by degrees she gallantly swallowed the whole dose, finding it impossible to evade the pleased and compassionate eyes bent so persistently upon her.

"How odd that we should have been coming to the very same house all the time!" Ermengarde said, wearily drawing a lamp-blacked hand across her still aching forehead, and sinking upon the nearest seat, when the tea-drinking was over.

"Ah, yes," with a little hesitation.

"And chance upon rooms adjoining, too!"

"Very odd."

"How glad I am it's you, and not that dreadful Anarchist, Miss—ah——"

"My name is Somers—Agatha Somers," she said quickly, with a flush, not unnoticed.

"Only think, if the wretch were to come back? Do you think he will?" suddenly, with a keen look.

"How can I possibly guess?" she replied, with the stone blank expression noticed in the train.

"Strange that he should have come up here for a single night, instead of going to one of the hotels in the town."

"Did he? Perhaps he thought this dull. It is a little—secluded."

"If ever I saw guilt written on a human face," thought Ermengarde, her suspicions all awake again, in a moment of sudden repulsion. "Well," she added, rising to go, "au revoir till dinner. But I must give you one piece of advice, Miss Somers," she added, turning back and sitting on the edge of the bed, her eye chancing to fall on an open letter that had slipped from a hand-bag on the bed—a strange letter, written in what was no doubt cipher, all dots and dashes and lines and bars, with little explosions here and there. "Don't say anything not meant to meet the ear of the public on the path outside the straw shelter. I'll tell you what I heard this afternoon. As you can't possibly know the people, it can't matter; it is not tale-telling. And I dare say that poor boy has a mother," she sighed, at the close of her tale, "who little knows what harpies are preying upon him. By the way," she added, "do you remember seeing a tall, cheery-looking English lad at Monte Carlo Station yesterday? It was that very boy."

The woman of mystery, in the act of raising the lid of a trunk before which she was kneeling, let it fall with a crash that drew a faint sudden sound of pain from her.

"It was the lock," she faltered, rising to her feet, and leaning against the tall French window frame, rather pale and holding her hand. "Oh, not really hurt; it only smarts for the moment. But what were you saying? I beg pardon. You recognized a friend at Monte Carlo Station yesterday? How observant you are, dear Mrs. Allonby! And one English boy is so like another."

"But this one has such a happy laugh, so infectious, so jolly, so devil-may-care. And that painted foreign thing was such a cat. She'd got her claws so deep in him. Such a Countess as poor Yvette's mother, I should say—a Countess in her own—wrong. I suspect there are tons of that sort at Monte Carlo."

"No doubt," Agatha returned, absently looking out of the window at the lights lying along the torrent-bed like a thin river of light, broadening into an estuary where the roofs of the town were crowded together by the darkened sea. "I think I will take your advice, dear Mrs. Allonby, and lie down till dinner. I'm more tired than I thought."

Chapter VIII

The Carnival

That Dorris Boundrish was an exceedingly pretty girl her severest critics could not deny, nor could her greatest admirers refrain from a suspicion that she was scarcely as irresistible or as brilliant as she imagined. Her mouth was like pink coral, small and sweet, but with hints of peevishness and discontent in the corners; her face had wild-rose tints; her eyes were clear, speedwell blue, but a little hard at times; something on her velvety forehead said, "Not much in here." Of that deficiency poor Miss Dorris was wholly unaware; on the contrary, she supposed the premises to be unusually spacious and well-stocked, and in this persuasion was benignantly given to impart her superfluous knowledge to an ungrateful world to an extent that sometimes made people thankful to be spared such information as that sea-water is too strong of salt to make a pleasant drink, or that two and two amount together to the round number of four.

All evils have their compensations; and this amiable weakness of Miss Dorris sometimes became a source of joy to the community of Les Oliviers, when properly manipulated by M. Isidore, for example. For it was the especial delight of this fair young creature to impart recently acquired knowledge to her neighbours, and recently acquired knowledge being undigested, and in many cases hastily and inaccurately received, sometimes emerges from its temporary lodging in the brain in a changed, even unrecognizable, form. Moreover, M. Isidore, having an imagination of unusual fertility and an impish delight in mischief, was tempted to confide myths having only a poetic and ideal foundation in fact, to the ear of Dorris, in the sure anticipation of hearing them issue in some novel form from the pink coral lips at table d'hôte; always providing he listened, as he frequently did, unseen behind an open door, to the general buzz of table talk, above which Miss Boundrish's arrogant treble shrilled high and incessant. When the intelligence conveyed by the pink coral lips was very wildly improbable, that every conscript, for example, during his first month of service, was dieted entirely on frogs to inspire him with martial courage, the thin man, usually silent, would, very gently expressing astonishment, venture to ask the source of Miss Boundrish's information.

"Oh, it's perfectly true, Mr. Welbourne," the overbearing treble would scream down the table, "I had it from a man who had been in the French army himself. The frogs are those little green things in the tanks, that are beginning to make such a croaking every night. Of course, you know that Mont Agel is terrain militaire, where nobody is allowed to go for fear of disturbing these frogs, which are kept in tanks on purpose. The diet is so stimulating, you know, it makes the soldiers long to fight."

"Really?" the thin man would murmur pensively. "How very interesting! What a remarkably ingenious people the French are! Would such an idea ever occur to the dull British brain, do you suppose?"

Then a smile would go round the table, and coughs and suppressed chokings would be heard, and M. Isidore would dance with rapture in the corridor outside, and, on being severely interrogated by Ermengarde and the thin man afterwards, would truthfully say that he only asked Mademoiselle if she had heard of this curious custom of dieting on frogs for courage, and with regard to Mont Agel had chanced to mention that the public were excluded from that, as from all terrain militaire, and that many tanks containing frogs were there, as everywhere in the hills.

"The imagination of Mademoiselle," he would observe innocently, "invests things with a magic of its own. In short, she is a poet." Then he would laugh gently, and Ermengarde would shudder for his future, though she was not above suggesting to him themes similar to the results of a frog diet for Miss Boundrish's imagination to develop. So that table d'hôte was sometimes the scene of some remarkable additions to human knowledge.

To account for her various and invincible charms, speculation as to where Miss Boundrish had been dragged up was frequent and diverse. Yet her parents were there in attendance upon her, harmless, worthy people of the comfortable, Philistine, mid-middle class, the father rather deaf—he had registered her with two r's, because her mother insisted on the short o in Doris, and the man was too logical to leave his child with insufficient letters—the mother placidly content with the wildest utterances of her only child, and both well trained in the ways in which modern parents are expected to go. That no subject was too abstruse for Dorris's discussion, and that nothing could be spoken of upon which she was not quite as well informed as anyone present, or better, caused them no apparent surprise. But Miss Boundrish's father was a little deaf, and Miss Boundrish's mother once confided to the thin man that it was a little tiring to be the mother of an exceptionally gifted and accomplished child, and that a few days' visit to Nice, contemplated by Dorris, would afford her a welcome opportunity of taking a "much-needed" rest. "I should like," she sighed, "to have two solid days to do nothing in and to think nothing in—and," she added, after a pause, "to fear nothing in."

"So that one hopes the fair Dorris doesn't beat her," the thin man commented to Ermengarde, who thought her quite capable of it. But Agatha suggested that even Miss Boundrish's mother might not be quite insensible to the fury some of her little ways evoked from the community; that pretty little way of drawing up a chair or of walking up and stopping dead for the express purpose of breaking into intimate or interesting dialogue, that even prettier way of pursuing people bent on solitude, dual or otherwise, to pleasant points of view, and pouring out entirely familiar, guide-book information.

As, for instance, when the setting sun brought the craggy peaks that wall the high hill-village of St. Agnes into unusual beauty, and a party coming home from an excursion and another drawn out to the mountain from the hotel, stood silently enjoying it, and Dorris's high voice suddenly rang over the gorge with the history of the walled hill-villages, of the abduction of the innocent young Agnes by Saracens in one of their raids, and of the miracle wrought by her faith, which resulted in the conversion of many, the restoration of St. Agnes to her home among the crags, and a yearly commemoration of the event to this day by a procession of villagers.

"Why," murmured the thin man on that occasion, "why are there no Saracens to-day?"

"There are plenty, Mr. Welbourne," cried the shrill voice unexpectedly. "I saw some Moors in the town yesterday. They're all the same, you know."

"But they don't——" the thin man paused, allowing a daring word to die on his lips. "That is—the great days of old—the days of daring and romance—are over. We live in a degenerate age."

He spoke so mournfully that Miss Boundrish was much moved, and joined him in lamentation over the past, while every heart present echoed his unspoken thought, that a Saracen raid upon the Riviera might involve the abduction of Miss Boundrish, the mere idea of which filled them with joy. They were sure that she would have pleased the Saracenic taste, and doubted if her prayers would work a miracle.

"Where on earth did you pick up that Somers girl, Mrs. Allonby?" the sweet girl asked one day with pleasing directness and candour. It was during a descent upon the town to see the Carnival, arranged between the thin man, Ermengarde, and Agatha. Miss Boundrish, overhearing this arrangement the night before—she always overheard everything—had offered to make a fourth in the party, so suddenly, so loudly, and with such a certainty of conferring a favour, and also so immediately in the hearing of her mother, that neither of the three was ready with a civil excuse for declining the honour, though each said sadly to the others afterwards, "Why are there no Saracens now?"

"That Somers girl," Ermengarde repeated slowly and thoughtfully, as if wondering to whom she referred.

"I don't think much of her," continued Dorris. "You know you can't be too particular who you get to know in places like this. Very queer people in these cheap Continental pensions."

"How true!" Ermengarde murmured thoughtfully. "I've never seen a Carnival, have you?"

"You ought to see the Nice Carnival; this is a very one-horse thing. Did you know Miss Somers in England?"

"Did you?"

"Not exactly, but I knew of her. That is, I knew the man she was supposed to be engaged to. I—I knew him rather well, in fact." Miss Boundrish's smile suggested worlds.

"Were you engaged to him, as well?"

"Well—not exactly engaged. Poor Ivor!" with the usual gurgle. "Such an escape for him."—So Ermengarde thought.—"They say his people knew nothing about it. So you picked her up abroad?"

"She—if you mean Miss Somers—picked me up once, on the floor of a corridor carriage. Not pleasant to tumble down in a faint on the floor of a train. One is thankful to be picked up and taken care of——"

"By anybody, of course," with the gurgle so familiar at Les Oliviers. "Well, you'd better be on your guard, that's all. Did you lose any money, anything of value on the way?"

"Miss Boundrish, what are you talking about?" was the sharp rejoinder.

"Only that, going about in the world, I get to know a lot of things. There are so many sharpers about on the Continent—gangs of them in league together. They follow people to Nice and Monte Carlo, and all these places, and rook them in all sorts of ways. They are regular birds of prey, living by their wits. Some think the police are in their pay. Robbery after robbery takes place in trains and custom-houses; at least, jewels, money, and letters of credit disappear from locked and registered luggage, and the thieves are scarcely ever found out. I say, where do you think she spent the afternoon of the day she came to Les Oliviers?—Ah! here they are," as Miss Somers and the thin man came in sight of the waiting-place in the Jardins Publics. "Poor Mr. Welbourne, he's quite gone on her already. She can't leave him alone a minute."

"Four seats on the stand, but not together," said the thin man, unconscious of personal comment. "How shall we divide?"

Although Ermengarde had by this time made some progress in the art of sticking on to a perpendicular donkey acting as an intermittent see-saw, somebody having given her some lessons on the most gentle-paced beast to be found, she was not enamoured of that form of gymnastic, and of two evils had thought a descent by a shorter path through gardens and woods on foot with Miss Boundrish, the less, leaving Miss Somers to ride down the longer mule-path with the thin man, whose slight lameness made him a poor pedestrian. But her feeling of relief when the other two came up brought her to the conclusion that even donkeys were preferable to Dorris. Yet the hints from the pink coral lips were not without effect upon her, chiming as they did with her own inferences, and she was dying to know where Agatha had spent the afternoon of that first day, which Dorris had also passed away from the hotel.

The party being now complete, they left the gardens and wound through the holiday streets in the sunshine, now jostled by a cheerful and apologizing devil, black from head to heel, with bat-wings of black crape stretched on cane; now mixed up in a flock of geese with human legs and monstrous cackling beaks; now avoiding the attentions of dominos flinging paper serpents and trying to draw them into impromptu dances whenever a band was heard along the street.

How gay and odd and foolish and delightful it was to unsophisticated Ermengarde! The narrow, foreign streets, palms closing their vistas, great hotels, in gardens glowing with gorgeous exotics and flowers, breaking their lines here and there; the warm deep purple of the sea barring every side street on one hand; the picturesque old Italian town climbing the wooded hill-spur and cresting it with its tower on the other; and the great mountain amphitheatre stretching far up beyond that, with bare peaks, violet-veined, crystalline, drawn clear and sharp on the deep, clear, velvety sky; the motley crowd of mad masks and dominos, cheaply gaudy, childishly absurd, helplessly gay; the rippling laughter and confused babble of local dialect and foreign tongues on the liquid air; the droll family parties, transparently disguised, even the babies, in coloured calico; the trim little mountain soldiers, bright-eyed and smiling, keeping the streets; the hawkers of toys, sacks of confetti, and endless paper coils; the vendors of strange local pastry and sweets on little standings; the look of expectant enjoyment on every face, especially the broad and business-like bourgeois countenance; the atmosphere of spontaneous gaiety, sunshine, and enjoyment, all went to English Ermengarde's head. Old life-long artificial restraints gave way; the joy of life sprang up; she could almost have taken hands and danced with the maskers dancing along the street. The eternal child, dormant in us all, was awake and happy in her.

It was not the show, that was poor and disappointing, all its cheap and tawdry vanities blotting the pure beauty of atmosphere and setting, that gave this new vivid sense of unconstrained gladness. Perhaps she had never seen people madly, spontaneously, and yet decorously gay before. The Carnival folk were all, young and old, rich and poor, merry and not wise and bent upon being merry and not wise, and yet they were not in the least ashamed or conscious of any cause for shame. Even some Americans, a people never young but aged and biases from their cradles, snatched a brief hour of long-deferred childhood, and a few self-conscious Britons, their gloomy national pride concealed in dominos, condescended to diversions that in their own personality they scorned as only fit for foreigners and fools. No wonder that the sparkling sunny sea-air and atmosphere of infectious enjoyment dissipated light-hearted Ermengarde's insular self-consciousness, and she suddenly discovered that there is more enjoyment in life than is commonly supposed.

What was the mad tune band after band kept playing as the huge cars, grotesquely laden, filed slowly past; it was jingly and poor, but so crazily full of headlong mirth—La Mattschiche? Long afterwards it gave her a pleasant thrill to hear it shouted by street boys, thumped on pianos and street organs, and blared on brass bands. It was "full of the warm South" for her.

Mr. Welbourne, an artist and no Philistine, though a true-born Englishman, public-school-milled, politely and unobtrusively bored, was agreeably surprised by his countrywoman's interest in the show; it was like taking a child—a real old-fashioned child—to a pantomime. Even Agatha observed her with grave but pleased surprise. Dorris, when not explaining things in a loud voice, expressed unmitigated contempt for everything; yet Ermengarde, though she longed for Saracenic invasions when the gurgle was too persistent, scarcely knew that Miss Boundrish was sitting beside her on the stand erected in front of the Mairie, the thin man and Agatha being in the row behind them. Mr. Welbourne, though simple and honest in his ways, had sufficient guile to contrive that.

The stout elderly bourgeoise with a bad cold and strong scent of garlic, sitting next Ermengarde, had come, she told her, from Monte Carlo, under sad anxiety lest the bad cold should keep her at home, and never stopped showering confetti on everybody that passed, always missing them, yet wrought to ecstasy when confetti were thrown to her, and pleased as a child when her paper serpents caught in the snapping jaws of the crocodile on a car full of these creatures of all sizes.

Another very dowdy old dame in front was quite as active; she was as thickly snowed over with confetti and wound about with paper serpents as Lot's wife in her salt.

"I say, Mrs. Allonby," Dorris suddenly hissed in her ear, "look behind, quick!" And Ermengarde, obeying at once, saw nothing but the woman of mystery, unwinding a paper serpent coiled round her neck by a man with a huge false nose in a smart carriage full of silk dominos.

"The sting is in the tail," murmured Dorris, and Ermengarde became aware of a small packet at the end of the coil, that Agatha hastily glanced at and slid into her hand-bag, her cheek flushing when she looked up and caught eyes upon her.

Ermengarde sighed madly for Saracens. "How could you?" she reproached Dorris, who became mysterious and full of dark hints.

Then a serpent was coiled round Mrs. Allonby's neck, and looking up at the thrower, she recognized a Spanish cavalier on a mule, who had already thrown her confetti and bouquets several times in passing the Mairie. She had scattered most of the flowers on the crowd, but kept some especially sweet tea-roses, also a bunch of Parma violets, thrown from the car that carried a few family parties of crocodiles, opening and shutting their long jaws, to the great delight of the populace.

There was something in the Spaniard, a flash of the eyes under the broad sombrero, that made her heart beat. Where and when could she have seen that whiskered face? He threw both serpents and confetti freely as he passed, but no flowers, except to her. Very few flowers were thrown by anyone.

When the serpent was unwound, there was a little weight at the end of the coil. A letter? A bomb? Perhaps only chocolate. This was thrilling and mysterious, but entirely delightful—a thing that could not possibly happen at home—at least, not with propriety. The weight turned out to be a morocco box wrapped in tissue paper. The man had evidently taken her for somebody else—a respectable somebody else, it was to be hoped; she had dropped into the middle of some romantic entanglement, or some dreadful Anarchist or Nihilist plot. Heavens! it might have been meant for her mysterious fellow-traveller, and contain a signal for the instant assassination of some distinguished statesman or royal person recognized through his disguise, or for the blowing up of the whole place. The spring tentatively and gingerly touched, the lid flew up, but—though she shut her eyes for quite two seconds—nothing whatever happened, nothing went off, nobody was killed; there was neither explosive nor written instruction inside—nothing but a thin gold chain, its delicate links separated at every inch by pearls or diamonds, daintily coiled on the violet velvet lining. Could it be poisoned, or charged with accumulated electricity to a deadly extent? A dainty toy it looked; she had seen and longed for one just like it at Spink's, not long ago. "Well, when the money-ship comes home," Arthur had growled; and that, of course, meant never.

"Just look," she cried, holding it up in the sunshine. "I had no idea people threw things like this to strangers."

"They don't," Dorris said grimly. "It was carefully aimed."

"Then it can't be for me," she mused, and turned back to Agatha, who was reading the folded paper flung in the end of her coil, her hand shielding her face from the sun, which struck full upon her. Just then such volleys of confetti came broadside from a high car representing a ship that nothing but defence could be thought of, and the chain was slipped into a purse and forgotten. And when Ermengarde turned again to Agatha, she saw her, to her unspeakable amazement, bending over the side of the stand, speaking to the Spaniard—now dismounted and stopping on his way through a lane at the corner of the stand.

This incident had not escaped Miss Boundrish, who smiled acidly at Ermengarde's look of surprise. "Now we can guess the true destination of the chain," she whispered.

But the sudden spectacle of the thin man across the road biding the pelting of a pitiless storm of confetti from three several silken dominos at once, with bent head and a face of resigned anguish, was so joyous that Ermengarde forgot her momentary desire to murder Dorris; and when Mr. Welbourne had taken refuge in such flight in an opposite direction as his infirmity permitted, the temporary blinding and partial choking of Miss Boundrish, who had received a dexterous handful while enjoying a hearty, but unconcealed, yawn, further blunted the edge of her murderous desires, and made her offer Eau de Cologne instead of poison, with whole-hearted enjoyment of the damsel's spluttering indignation and vehement assertions that she was poisoned.

"In that case," it was suggested, "best take an emetic at once," a proposition received with scorn and fury, and further declarations that she was blinded for life, and wondered why there were no gens d'armes, and considered that the least Mrs. Allonby could have done was to give the beast into custody, and she wished she had brought her father.

"But you can't give a large green frog on the top of a mountain on wheels into custody, dear Miss Boundrish—Oh! pff!"

It was now Ermengarde's turn to be pelted by a Cyrano de Bergerac, whose enormous nose was in striking contrast to his slender, elastic figure. The Cyrano, who had been one of the party in the carriage whence the serpent with the letter in its tail was thrown to Agatha, soon tired of raining paper on to a steadily held sunshade, and went away, finding better sport in a silken domino, one of a group walking in the road, who showed fight gallantly, revealing a pair of dark eyes flashing with spirit and challenge. After a sharp engagement, the domino's ammunition having run out, she turned and ran, pursued and stopped by the Cyrano, who pelted her unmercifully in the face, even holding a fold of the domino and spirting the confetti under it to make her uncover, till at last he brought her to bay just under the side of the stand, off the street.

"Beast!" muttered Ermengarde, her indignation intensified by the English accent of the unchivalrous Cyrano. She would actually have rushed to the assistance of the wronged lady, but that help came from another quarter in the shape of a crocodile, which suddenly descended in a series of astonishingly agile leaps from the very top of the great, shell-shaped car of crocodiles, that was lumbering by, and, seizing the Cyrano de Bergerac by the scruff of his neck, shook him like a rat till he was forced to let go the lady, just as she slipped the domino back, discovering the indignant, tearful face and blazing eyes of Mlle. Bontemps. This revelation was evidently more discomfiting to the Cyrano than the furious assault of the crocodile, from the slit-open throat of which glared the face of M. Isidore, white with fury.

"Why, it's the very crocodile who threw you the violets," shouted Dorris. "I thought I recognized him, and that plain and frumpish Bontemps girl!"

If only the Boundrish had been effectually choked! Why had a weak and culpable sympathy comforted her with Eau de Cologne?

The Cyrano was not to be shaken to death like a rat without showing fight; in the tussle that ensued his rich costume suffered considerably before the crocodile let him go; and what the one said and the other gasped and growled in reply, though not intelligible through the din of bands and crowds, was presumably of an uncomplimentary character.

Finally, flinging the long-nosed masquer from him, M. Isidore, his crocodile head thrown back like a hood and helplessly wobbling behind him, drew the insulted domino's hand through his arm with an air of possession and protection, the rescued damsel clinging to him with evident confidence and gratitude, and the two men, unconscious in their passion of their absurd appearance, the crocodile pale and calm, the long-nose red with confusion and fury and haughtily apologetic, stood glaring fiercely at each other with question, accusation, and explanation.

Presently the long-nose, as if at the crocodile's request, produced a small white square from the recesses of his sumptuous dress; the crocodile handed him a similar square in return; they bowed and separated. M. Isidore led Mlle. Bontemps away on his arm towards a blue glimpse of sea at the end of a side-street, and the Cyrano, removing his plumed cap, and with it his great nose, that had become very shaky in the course of the fray, disclosed to Ermengarde's astonished gaze the features of the young Englishman of Monte Carlo.

It was but a moment before the nose was hastily replaced, and its owner turned back into the main street, where he stood talking to a Pierrot, immediately in front of the stand, behind a soldier keeping the road.

"Thought you'd have known better than that," the Pierrot grumbled. "It wasn't playing the game."

"I could have sworn it was the Countess," the Cyrano was heard to say dejectedly. "And after yesterday—well, I didn't feel bound to play the game with her. Besides, she wouldn't have cared."

"Let us go," said Ermengarde, suddenly sick of the fooling, and worried by the band's mad tune repeated over and over again; but, looking round for Agatha, she found her place empty, and Mr. Welbourne, who had returned to his seat, unable to give any account of her.

Many thoughts were in Ermengarde's heart, while in response to the thin man's timely suggestion of tea at Rumpelmayer's, they slipped out of the press to the comparative quiet of the promenade by the sea, that glowed like a peacock's velvety throat on the horizon, with the near shallows of turquoise, and broke with a deep soft boom in snowy surf on the rocks.

She was glad of the fresh sea-breath and the beauty of the bay's broad sweep between the purple headland of Bordighera and the craggy bluffs above Monte Carlo. And when they turned into the Gardens under the tall eucalyptus, the appearance of the woman of mystery coming down an avenue of palms was a great relief. But a flush on Agatha's cheek and a vision of the Spaniard rapidly disappearing under palms in the opposite direction, filled her with misgiving again. What could all this atmosphere of intrigue and mystification portend? Certainly nothing praiseworthy.

"It was so hot and dusty on the stand," Agatha said, to explain her sudden disappearance, upon which Dorris alone had commented.

That evening, when they had gone to their rooms for the night, Ermengarde knocked at Agatha's door and handed her the little box containing the chain. "I think this must be yours, Miss Somers," she said. "Your friend the Spaniard threw it, and it caught round my neck by mistake."

"My friend?" she asked, confused. "Oh, you mean the Spaniard who stopped by the stand to ask the way to the sea?"

"Yes, the Spaniard, not the Cyrano de Bergerac."

The flush died from the woman of mystery's cheek, and the stone mask settled upon it. She returned the chain, saying coldly it could not be intended for her, and that she knew nothing about it.

"The Cyrano," Ermengarde observed casually, as she turned from the door, "turned out to be the young Englishman of Monte Carlo, the same who was overheard offering money to the foreign Countess."

"Did he?" she replied, without interest. "Good night, dear Mrs. Allonby. You look tired."

Chapter IX

The Casino

Monte Carlo, justly reputed one of the loveliest spots on earth, is most magically beautiful perhaps when seen from the sea, or from the long, low, wooded headland of Cap Martin.

Thence, on her first visit one golden afternoon, Ermengarde enjoyed a most poetic vision of it, never forgotten and never surpassed. She had left her party, and was basking on a shore thick set with rich-fruited, wind-stunted myrtle and rosemary bushes, the odours of which mingled with pine scents and sweet, sharp sea-breath, while she listened to the soft boom of waves plunging in white, azure-shadowed foam on the rocks at the point, where the sea is more intensely blue than anywhere else and the foam whiter, yet always with that faint azure tinge in shadow.

From this point landwards an enchanting prospect spreads in long-drawn splendour from the gracefully sweeping outline of Bordighera, running far out to sea on the right, to that faint and fairy headland, whence rise the Provençal mountains, so bold in outline, in substance so dim and shadowy, beyond the abrupt crags of the Tête du Chien, which hold Monte Carlo as in a cup. Between these points the great Alpine amphitheatre sweeps grandly back in lofty, soaring outline, enclosing a rich and sunny Paradise of gorge and ridge and mountain spur, running in headland after headland, with tower-crested town, village, garden, and wood, into the clear dark sea. There, beyond the Italian frontier, sits Ventimiglia throned with many towers high above the waves, and there a white pyramidal mass of houses, based on the harbour arches on a sea-fronting steep and topped by a slender church-tower that dominates all for many a mile, is Mentone, regally beautiful. Here little Roccabruna shoulders itself into the sparkling blue, and in mountain recesses far behind it is many a hill village up to the very peaks. On that afternoon the battered Roman tower of Turbia showed clear on its craggy bluffs against the sky above Monte Carlo, but the ravine beneath and Monte Carlo itself were veiled in purply shadow, mystic, dim.

The song of the breakers was lulling; the air, spiced with myrtle and sea-scent, sweet and stimulating; the fullness of colour a joy nothing could blight. Old happy rambles between cliff and sea, as a child, a bride, a young mother, came to mind, all the beauty of many lovely sea places gathered up in, and falling short of, this, which still wanted the cream and salt of all, the loves and companionships of old, young days—a thought that drew tears, not wholly sad.

Presently a silvery-grey cloud gathered over the Tête du Chien, and suddenly the whole shadowed hill-cup holding Monte Carlo, with Monaco sitting on the steep rock beneath it in the sea, flashed out, clear-cut and distinct in every detail. The broad hollow of the gorge, up to the very crags almost, seemed full of white buildings set in rich dark verdure, and crowding down to the water's edge. Fleets of tiny fishing-vessels cruised about round Monaco, and yachts, both white-sailed and steam-funnelled, flitted over the paling sea and rode at anchor in the harbour, the whole composing a picture of loveliness beyond imagining.

The thin man was in despair. He was an impressionist; and having had his painting things and himself conveyed hither and set down among the rosemary and lentisk, on purpose to record impressions, was so stunned and bewildered by the multitudes that rushed crowding in every variety of loveliness upon him, that he could only sit on his camp-stool with his easel before him, and hold his head in his hands and groan.

"Seize Monte Carlo!" Ermengarde shouted to him from her distant boulder when it flashed out, one glorious pearl, under the silvery cloud, and he seized and painted it with a trembling hand before it vanished and the great hill-cup was again a mass of purple shadow. The impression was faint, but the thin man was eternally grateful to Ermengarde for that, and for her further command to snap up Mentone, majestically enthroned above a glowing sapphire sea, and framed by wind-twisted pines, which threw ruddy stems and blue-black crowns from the low shore across it. And though another injunction to impress the long hill-spur running down to Bordighera, when it changed from indigo to warm deep violet with heliotrope shadings, plunged Mr. Welbourne back to despair, his gratitude broke out in a generous impulse.

"Let us go to Monte Carlo to-morrow," he cried. "Give me the pleasure of your company, Mrs. Allonby, since you don't care to go alone. It is not as terrible as you suppose."

"Well, why not? Only don't speak of it, or Miss Boundrish will manage to nip in again."

The thin man was really very handy on occasion; he made a respectable and entirely biddable escort, and, knowing so many people of Mrs. Allonby's acquaintance and being cousin to most of them, seemed more like an elderly relative than a chance acquaintance. He knew many things, and well knew how to talk; his old-fashioned pedantry and fulness of phrase was forgiven, as being in character with his neutral-tinted, old-bachelor personality; he impressed Ermengarde as a sort of social sofa-cushion, restful, harmless, and very useful in travelling.

"The success of any ramble, picnic, excursion, or small party," he added pensively, "depends entirely on arithmetic. No matter of what elements the party be composed, the addition or subtraction of one may spoil all," a pronouncement heartily endorsed by Ermengarde, as expressing her own feelings on the subject, though she had not guessed at what person's subtraction he was obscurely hinting as ruinous to his enjoyment. Nor did she for a moment suspect that, in arranging the Monte Carlo afternoon for two performers only, she had sadly diminished poor Mr. Welbourne's pleasure. Since the Carnival, the woman of mystery had not been asked to accompany Mrs. Allonby anywhere, nor had the two ladies once helped each other to dress or exchanged small talk from their adjoining rooms, which communicated by a door. A woman who received jewellery from one mask and letters from another, and held conversations and clandestine meetings with at least two suspicious male characters, was not a desirable acquaintance for a grass widow and a mother of unimpeachable respectability. Yet Ermengarde's heart misgave her when she met the silent question of Agatha's melancholy eyes at any approach to companionship on her part meeting with repulse. She hated herself especially the morning after the Cap Martin excursion when, with the full intention of spending the afternoon at Monte Carlo, she declined a mountain walk with Agatha on the ground that it was less tiring to bask in the sunny garden at home.

"Then I think I will run down to Mentone," Agatha said, in a confidence untouched by suspicion. "I have an invalid friend in the place who likes me to come in to luncheon sometimes."

After all, could there be anything more restful than these quiet lounges by train from spacious halls of leisure, called Gares in that country? the thin man and Ermengarde wondered, as they sauntered about the clean and airy emptiness of Mentone Station, and chanced to take seats in a train that happened to be strolling in the direction of France, and was entirely composed of first-class carriages, well-cushioned, and provided with antimacassars of spotless crochet-work. Other people as casually strolled over and rested, as if by happy chance, in the clean and comfortable carriages, and after some time, enjoyably spent with a prospect of sea and mountain and near view of palm and garden and sunny street, it seemed to occur to the person lounging upon the engine to propel the string of carriages gently in the direction of France, and they glided through the now familiar but never-lessening enchantment of rich scenery between mountain and sea, always plunging into the tunnelled darkness whenever a fairy headland ran out into blue and foam-fringed bays.

But what talk they heard on this fairy progress! The tongues were many, but the subject one alone. For example—

"You'll hardly be at the tables to-night, Ethel?"

"Why not? Easy to unpack and settle in before dinner. And only staying three weeks, a pity to lose a night."

"True, I shall put in a couple of hours before dinner as well as after."

Again, in Teutonic accents, "So Hedwig leaves next week?"

"Yes, her husband says they are thoroughly tired of Monte Carlo."

"So? I thought Hedwig had lost rather heavily of late. And Hermann's luck has evidently turned too."

Or it was, "System this, system that," and, "So many francs to the good at the end of the week," and the wonderful run of So-and-so's luck, and M. Tel-et-tel winning five hundred francs in half an hour, and the positive madness of putting anything on a number that had just turned up, and why à travers meant so much, and how a cool head and an accurate memory of the winning numbers of the last six or seven turns were absolutely necessary to work any system.

"But why," Ermengarde tragically demanded, "come to the loveliest spot on earth to do this devilry? A disused coal-mine would do equally well to gamble in."

The thin man conjectured that very likely the devil likes to kill two birds with one stone. "Because," he sighed, "the moment a beautiful and pleasant spot is discovered in any corner of the earth, he incites people to build flaring hotels and villas upon it, and run railways to it; and, if there is sea, to block it from sight with ghastly buildings, and spoil its strand with sea-walls and piers and promenades; and, if there are trees, to cut them down or blast them with smoke and chemicals; and, if there are mountains, to scar and tunnel them with lines of smut and iron; and, if meadows and grassy slopes commanding lovely prospects, to destroy their beauty and make rasping noises and knock balls over them all day. He gets people to rush in herds to places made for beauty and calm, to chatter and snigger and look at fashionable clothes-shops emptied on thoughtless females from every capital in Europe, and gorge themselves upon all the luxuries and vices of towns. And the lovelier the spot the greater satisfaction the devil seems to take in getting men to practise ugly and squalid sins in it, and to corrupt and degrade simple and sane folk for miles round it."

By this time they were crammed like sardines with others in a close box, that; by some invisible and probably diabolic agency, was drawn up to a higher level, upon which they were contumeliously ejected by a morose official who had previously mulcted them of small coin. Then, passing under avenues of wondrous exotic trees, by beds blazing with cyclamens, carnations, salvias, and petunias, and passing rivulets dancing and rippling down rocks covered with maidenhair and broadening in pools half hidden by water lilies, they emerged upon a terrace fronting a vast blue splendour, firmly rimmed beneath a nearly white band of sky, and bounded by the purple of Bordighera on one side, and Monaco, running out on its rock beneath the headland of Cap d'Ail on the other. And in the foreground, dainty steam and sailing yachts, some moored, some flitting over the sunny sea, and crowds of fishing-boats dotted here and there.

"But what is that?" she asked, pointing to a sort of jetty topped with sickly green, like a worn and dirty billiard table, and dotted with rough deal boxes, that projected its squalor into the pure blue waves below.

The crack of a shot from under their feet startled her, and the simultaneous opening of a box, out of which fluttered a wounded pigeon, pursued to the edge of the billiard-table and killed there by a dog, answered her question, telling her that this sordid hideousness drawing every eye, in the very centre of the fairy-like beauty, was the world-famed Tir aux Pigeons.

There was no escaping from the sight except by turning from the lovely circle of bays and mountain spurs, to look upon the flaring vulgarity of the Casino, with its sprawling nudities affronting the pure sky, and flocks of tail-clipped birds flitting about the cornices and pediments, scurrying out at every shot that slaughtered one of their kindred in full sight below. Crack! Crack! Crack! the shots jarred on the nerves. Ermengarde hurried her halting escort away through the strange Arabian Nights' magnificence of the gardens that spread everywhere, flowing round hotels and shops and houses, and glowing in weird luxuriance beneath the grim grey mountain bluff and its dark wooded gorge.

Here was every variety of palm, with agaves and pepper-trees, caroubs and myrtles, geraniums in trees many feet high, or trailing over rocks, ruddy-leaved and grey-stemmed; here great cacti writhed and swelled in reptilian forms, and certain huge bushes of prickly pears, their broad fleshy leaves like goblin hands outspread, their grey, distorted stems like the fossil bones of huge extinct animals, and their dull-red, prickly fruit like oozing blood, suggested nothing so much as those trees in the Inferno, that bled at touch and were lost, living souls.

This strange exotic luxuriance has something infernal in its beauty; the darkly massed foliage, in hard contrast with the white glare of flaunting hotels and restaurants and the marble and gilding and flamboyant style of the Casino, gives the whole a violence, a crude insistence of wealth and luxury, in harmony with the spirit of the place, and much at variance with its superb natural setting and associations.

"And what people! Oh, what people!" Ermengarde murmured to the thin man, who was glad to sit down and pretend to listen to the band and watch the crowd strolling and sitting outside the Café de Paris. "What tawdriness, what dowdiness, what Parisian elegance run wild! Look at that woman; she has six purses at her belt. You can see the gold through the net. She's going into the Casino—let us go too!"

"So young, so fair, and so very business-like! Yes, beneath that Parisian hat, in that expensive Parisian raiment, is the cool and calculating brain and steady nerve of a financier. She has a system and works it, Mrs. Allonby."

How tawdry and tarnished was the vaunted splendour of the Casino, and how wearisome the formalities exacted before admittance to the gaming-hall!

"Such meddlesome impertinence. The man actually asked my age," Ermengarde complained.

"Ah! they don't ask mine," sighed the artist, whose head already showed the silver touch of time; "they are quite sure that I am of âge majeur."

Most places have their characteristic odour. That of Mentone is garlic, with a suspicion of sewage; that of the Salle de Jeu is a fine blend of garlic, old clothes, musk, and money—especially paper money. The garlic is mostly contributed by hollow-eyed croupiers, who are in some measure responsible for the old clothes, an odour otherwise due to grave elderly persons, chiefly female, in garments of indescribable frumpishness and respectability, who form the staple of the afternoon congregation, and seem to contemplate life and its agreeable weaknesses from a standpoint of ferocious piety.

Surely they must have dropped into a prayer-meeting by mistake. Ermengarde looked round for the minister, after some seconds' contemplation of long green tables covered with coin and diagrams, and surrounded by treble and quadruple rows of staid and solemn faces, "all silent and all damned." This congregation was apparently listening with hushed reverence to spasmodic, low-muttered words of wisdom from a priestly person flavoured with garlic, who appeared to be consulting some oracle, or celebrating some religious rite, by turning a brass wheel in a basin sunk in the table, and surrounded by votive offerings in the shape of rolls and rolls of five-franc pieces and golden louis in glittering, provocative piles.

Besides these muttered spells in which, after long listening, she could only make out occasionally "ne va plus"—"rouge"—"treize"—"vingt-sept," the only sound was the perpetual clink of coins, which after every utterance began to dance from hand to hand and fly hither and thither, as if trying to evade the incessant pursuit of small wooden rakes and clutching hands sparkling with diamonds, grimed with long-established dirt, white and brown, yellow and black, red, skinny, and fat. Sometimes two hands clutched the same pile of coin, when there were hurried mutterings and looks of suppressed fury; anon a wooden rake smote an encroaching paw urgently from its golden prey, and there was silence.

On what principle the piles of gold and sheaves of fluttering notes before each worshipper by the little books of ritual they consulted so devoutly, were increased and diminished, was a mystery to the spectator, who saw nothing but a mystic and subtly woven dance of coins and notes crossing and recrossing over the morrice of the green table with rhythmic intermittance, dependent upon the dark utterance of him who turned the wheel. But little by little she gathered that coin placed in one way increased or diminished two-fold, in another five-fold, in another thirty-fold, and found herself handing louis and notes from those behind to the croupier for change, and gloating over the golden multitudes that came rolling to the calm worshippers. The thin man, easily tired and overcome by evil air, had been compassionately despatched to a café to wait for her; he had modestly owned to a weakness for staking a couple of louis now and again for pastime; this lowered him perceptibly in his companion's esteem.

But when he was gone and the glittering heaps had wrought their mesmerism, he was more leniently judged; and certain five-franc pieces in Mrs. Allonby's bag seemed to ask aloud to play a part in the morrice dance on the green; they even worked their way out, after a little, and insisted on planting themselves in certain squares, returning—she never knew how or why—with a partner apiece, and bringing a pleasant glow to their owner's cheek.

"You have never played before?" asked a genial English voice at her elbow. "Would you mind putting this across that corner for me for luck?"

She willingly placed the louis on the corner of the four spaces indicated, scarcely glancing at the player, who was sitting in the front row, with notebook and pencil, piles of coin and notes, all in most business-like array before him; but when he turned and looked up to bow his thanks, with a sudden sweet smile on his grave and anxious face, she recognized the Cyrano de Bergerac of the Carnival. She had been so intent on the morrice, and he so near below her, only the close-cropped head, bent over the pencilled calculations, visible, that she had not recognized him until he turned.

Even as he smiled, the anxious gravity returned to his white, drawn face, to study which she silently changed her position near a croupier. He turned quickly back, and once more riveted his eyes to the table, with a wolfish eagerness that destroyed the young debonnair beauty of his face, and drew lines of age and fatigue upon it. Then the wheel stopped, the brass ball clicked into a niche in the basin, and the player's face changed and his eyes glittered, as the louis came home with a whole troop rolling after them. On this he looked up with another smile and bow, that somehow made her sorry for him and wonder if he had a mother.

Just then a sickening smell of musk, and a pretty substantial push from a gorgeously clad shoulder, made her turn to find herself edged vigorously aside by the painted woman who had ridden down the ridge with him that first afternoon at Les Oliviers. Shrinking from the unholy contact, Ermengarde quickly gave place to her, and, passing behind the croupier to a gap between the heads of two short people, saw the countess bend down and accost the young man, who looked up, worried and impatient, but after some interchange of question and answer, reluctantly yielded his golden spoil to her greedy clutch, and turned again with knitted brows to his calculations and annotations, receiving in reward an unacknowledged pat on the shoulder from the diamond-covered hand, that looked like a glittering claw.

The five-franc pieces in the bag again became restive; everybody, including the woman of the bistred eyes, seemed to be winning. A vision of a gown—a plain white serge coat and skirt, simply but exquisitely cut, and only costing eighteen guineas—floated before Mrs. Allonby's mental gaze. Since seeing it in a shop in Mentone, she had sighed to think of the infrequency of guineas in a world like this, and of the desirability of white tailor-made raiment of exquisite cut for a woman like her. White was the most becoming wear, almost the only wear for this climate; and white serge, when one came to think of it, was the sole material absolutely fit for blazing sunshine and sharp air. The white serge that arrayed her at the moment would not be white much longer; it had already begun to leave off being white. Absurd to come to a place like this without proper clothes. Eighteen guineas was not very dear for such a cut as that; sheer folly to think of getting anything in a foreign winter resort at London or Paris prices. Considering the cost of carriage and customs and the profit of the Mentone shopkeeper, the thing was dirt cheap. Moreover, it was absolutely necessary. And here; threading the green mazes of the morrice-dance, were gold and silver coins in moving multitudes, only waiting to be raked in by the enterprising. Two of her five-franc pieces soon sat on the corner intersecting the four spaces so lucky to Cyrano, and with like result. Her heart began to play quick marches, and her eyes to lighten; she was undoubtedly a lucky person; she staked here and staked there, and the coins came rolling in till she felt a little dizzy, and scarcely knew that on one occasion a marauding claw clutched some of her lawful spoil.

Now she staked more and more wildly, confident in her luck, and always won. Her cheeks burnt, her pulses leapt; people looked at her with envy, hatred and malice. A gold louis rolling towards her hopped off the table, unobserved by her; a liveried attendant came behind unseen, with a lighted lantern at the end of a stick, and pushed it amongst people's feet and under the table, while a man with a vacuous face, staring aimlessly about the hall, set his foot quite casually on the coin, not seeming to observe the attendant looking for it with the lantern, and then, without appearing to make any movement, lounged carelessly on with the same vacuous look, but leaving no corn where his foot had been.

Two hundred francs in notes had jumped into Ermengarde's bag, which was stuffed to bursting with gold and silver besides. The coat and skirt was hers many times over. It would be mean to stop now; besides, it was impossible to turn from the magic of that flowing tide of gold and silver; the feeling of possession and power, and the enchantment of successfully daring that wild blind demon of chance, was too strong. People had made fortunes in a night; why not she? She placed a little pile of gold à travers; the wheel stopped, and the croupier pushed her pile to the bank. She bit her lip, frowned, staked again, and lost again. Cowardly to draw back now; who was going to give in? Another golden stake, and her pile came back doubled. Of course; fortune always favours the brave.

But at the end of another half-hour the croupier had been changed; many players had come and gone from the outer ranks of that table, the inner circle remaining unbroken, except that Cyrano had vanished unnoticed by Ermengarde, who saw nothing but the whirling wheel, the dancing ball, and the flying mazes of the great five-franc pieces and louis d'or over the green table. Nothing now remained in her bag but a few odd coins raked from every recess, and together making five francs, for which an obliging neighbour gave her a broad silver piece.

Her luck at that table was clearly gone; she left it, selected another, and, after a short calculation and some watching of the play, set her teeth, and placed her five-franc piece with a shaking hand on a carefully chosen square. The little demon of a ball clicked into place; the ruthless rake pushed her stake to the bank.

The game was up; Mrs. Allonby found herself three minutes later standing on the Casino steps in the pure air, feverish and faint from the reaction and the fetid atmosphere of the gambling-room, vainly trying to remember where Mr. Welbourne had promised to wait for her, and minus not only the usual contents of her purse, but also minus the note that was to have paid a week's bill at Madame Bontemps's little office before starting that afternoon, and a couple of hundred franc notes, tucked into a pocket of the bag besides. In view of attractive apparel and bric-à-brac sure to be found in the sumptuous shops, those hundred franc notes were, indeed, sadly insufficient; but without them what was to be done?

Clearly the only thing now was to get a cup of tea at the café immediately opposite, where people were sitting in the sunshine and a band was playing delightfully. Surely Mr. Welbourne had said Café de Paris, or was it Giro's? No; he could never have walked so far as to Giro's. It was important to find him, else there could be no tea. She was too tired to look for him, too tired to do anything but sit down very wearily; however, she set out to find him, knowing he could not be far away.

But the spare, slim figure with the slight halt and the grizzled hair was nowhere to be found, either in the moving crowd or among the groups at the little tables; she had not even the price of a twopenny chair, much less of a cup of tea, and where was all that fine moral indignation of the early afternoon?

The band played triumphantly to a climax, and ended on a grand crash of all instruments; the sun, hidden under a floating cloud, shone gloriously out again, and there, in the blaze among the promenaders, showed conspicuously the graceful figure of M. Isidore, gay as ever, faultlessly dressed, wearing his hat with the little rakish tilt of gilded French youth, and talking with easy and familiar vivacity to a youngish woman, arrayed in the last and most refined Parisian style, and with that unmistakable air of being in the higher social world that is the exclusive property of no nation. The handsome couple stopped, exchanged a few final words, and parted, M. Isidore turning with lifted hat to shoot a last Parthian arrow of wit that sent the lady off, after a gesture of reproval, with heaving shoulders and eyes brimming with laughter. It was then that M. Isidore perceived Mrs. Allonby, and came smiling with raised hat towards her, with "Ah, Madame, you too? Have you also tried your luck at the tables?" and would have gone by, but that she cried joyously, "What a happy chance to meet you, M. Isidore! I have lost my last centime and mislaid Mr. Welbourne, and am positively dying for a cup of tea."

Chapter X

The Casino Gardens

The affair of the crocodile had by no means diminished the esteem in which Mrs. Allonby held M. Isidore; nor, to judge from an incident she witnessed from her window on the morning after the Carnival, had it lessened the regard of the Bontemps family—to whom he was vaguely supposed to be related, having been heard to address Madame as "Ma tante"—for that gallant and gay little champion of distressed damsels.

As she often did, Ermengarde had slipped that morning into a dressing-gown, wound the thick plaits of her hair round her throat, and gone to her open window to watch the sun rise and drink the fresh morning air.

It was an hour of magical beauty; the deep quiet of dawn lay on mountain, sea, and sleeping town; no one was yet stirring in house or grounds. The sea was a dark peacock green as deep in tone as the blue of the bird's neck, paling to the shore, but on the horizon a firm dark line against a band of glowing orange sky, above which floated crimson cloudlets over pale green. Great masses of shadow were slowly leaving the gorges; the olives gradually brightened and took clear form on the western slopes. Not a sound or a breath stirred the deep peace of the windless dawn; flower-scents rose from gardens and lemon-trees set with blossom and fruit; the sea scarcely heaved in its sleep. Ermengarde leant on the balcony, lost in the beauty and calm, and wondered at the depth of magnificent velvety green beneath the orange sky. Some labourers came into the gardens and turned the hose over the thirsty flower-beds with a pleasant showering sound.

Suddenly a figure on the railed platform on the brink of the steep stood out against the dark blue shadow of the gorge; then another and another, and voices—quick, emphatic, French-Italian voices—rang out in the stillness; the gardeners looked up at the group, and made unintelligible comments. The tall form of Madame Bontemps, her iron-grey hair glossy in morning light, appeared, followed by the slight compact figure of M. Isidore full of eager gesture. M. Bontemps lounged after them; the three voices grew in urgency and rapid interchange to one common shout; the gestures increased to frenzy. M. Bontemps seemed about to hurl M. Isidore, who had suddenly become rigid and stood with folded arms glaring at him, over the barrier; Madame intervened, with an action that threatened annihilation to both but injured neither.

Then M. Bontemps rushed into the house, and quickly emerged again, leading by the hand Mlle. Geneviève, reluctant, downcast, who instantly turned her back on all three, and looked down the gorge in gloomy silence, while the others declaimed, singly and in unison, with gestures of entreaty, to the massive and glossy coils of her back hair. At last she turned sharply and faced them with a fierce energy, that almost precipitated them backwards down the ridge and drove them to the balustrade, where the risen sun touched their faces with ruddy gold. Mlle. Geneviève then wept bitterly; her father placed his hand despairingly on his heart and groaned; her mother stormed; M. Isidore covered his face with his hands, with a movement of such despair as suggested the advisability of putting an end to his sufferings by springing down the steep.

Instead of this, with an alarming suddenness that drove Mlle. Bontemps back to the other side, he threw out his arms and sprang forwards, directing what sounded like a torrent of abuse upon Mlle. Geneviève, who shrank and quailed beneath it, and then lifted her hands appealingly to Heaven with renewed weeping. A general engagement—to witness which the gardeners left the hose to its own discretion, with the unexpected result of very nearly drenching the whole of the combatants—then took place with such energy and apparent fury that Ermengarde, terror-stricken and in default of police, was about to cry "Au secours!" when M. Isidore suddenly hurled himself weeping upon the ample bosom of Madame Bontemps, who tenderly embraced and kissed him; after which Monsieur fall upon his neck in such wise that the two men represented an inverted V, when they kissed on both cheeks and parted.

Then Mlle. Geneviève, with downcast eyes and reluctant step, led by her mother and encouraged by her father, allowed M. Isidore to take both her hands and respectfully salute her on both cheeks, and sudden calm fell upon the quartette, now in full sunshine.

After this, as if nothing had happened, they strolled, casually chatting, about the little platform, M. Bontemps yawning and resuming his interrupted cigarette, and Madame leaning over the railing; that looked across the chasm towards the garden, and composedly issuing commands to the gardeners before returning to the house. Thither she was accompanied by her daughter, now restored to cheerfulness and executing a graceful pas seul to that mad Carnival tune of the day before, as she went, while Ermengarde, unconscious of her deficient toilet, remained petrified at her balcony, staring blankly at the sunny sea and the hill-crest topped by the convent, every olive, pine and cypress on which was now clear and distinct in a flood of brilliant sunshine.

But Mrs. Allonby was not the only witness of this family drama. The voices of the actors, penetrating through the open window of Miss Boundrish, had roused the amiable girl from her slumbers, and caused her, with much irritation and reluctance, conquered by curiosity, to spring from her downy nest, classically dressed in the first thing that came handy, and view the platform scene from her window with appropriate mental comment.

A vivid imagination, capable of forging missing links in a chain of evidence at a moment's notice, and then presenting them as veritable parts of the original, enabled her to produce a version entirely her own of what actually occurred. And not content with constructing a consistent romance out of the pantomime enacted in the morning, she insisted upon imparting the whole of it in the afternoon to a few friends in the garden, in a voice that must have been heard all over the grounds, if not by the whole house.

It was actually heard by Mrs. Allonby, who, under the mistaken impression that she was writing letters, was basking in the sun among the flowers, idly looking over the lemon-tops and across gorge and ridge to the sea, and peacefully thinking of nothing at all. But, roused from this pleasant occupation by the dulcet accents of her favourite Dorris, she turned and engaged in a sharp verbal encounter with the romancer, and contrived to give her such a severe snubbing (though to snub Dorris was no child's work) as reduced her victorious self to a state of pleasant exhaustion, that made sunshine and fair scenes and dolce far niente more enjoyable than ever.

"Surely," murmured the thin man, who had been a silent and apparently unconscious auditor of the fray, in mortal terror lest either antagonist should appeal to him, and who would have fled but for the fear of attracting attention, "our young friend would be quite as happy, and infinitely more charming, had she been born without a tongue?"

"Oh, she'd have gurgled and giggled more than ever to make up. Such people ought not to be let loose in civilized hotels."

"Poor girl," said the more merciful Agatha, who had just come up, "are we not a little hard on her? An interest in her fellow-creatures, perhaps more zealous than discreet, and a slight congenital deficiency in tact——"

"Deficiency? A born cat!"

"But a good heart, dear Mrs. Allonby?"

"What's the good of a good heart if you don't sheathe your claws?"

The thin man and Miss Somers, meeting each other's eyes, smiled; for, whatever she may have given, poor Dorris had undoubtedly received a pretty good but strictly polite clawing before retreating in great disarray from the fur-strewn field.

"Do you realize that all our characters are at the mercy of those good-hearted claws, Miss Somers?"

The gentle observation in reply, that characters needing defence were not of much account, filled Ermengarde with amazement. "What an actress!" she reflected, rapidly marshalling the compromising events of the Carnival in her memory, and looking at the lemons till they mesmerized her and her eyelids began to close, then suddenly opened to their widest extent.

For out of the dark lemon-leaves to the left there emerged a head—a not unusual occurrence, one of the garden entrances from a terraced path being just there—a handsome young head, followed by well-braced shoulders and the whole figure of the Cyrano de Bergerac of the Carnival. Having risen to the garden level, he stopped and looked about as if considering the way to the house, while Ermengarde, conscious through occult sympathy of nervous tension near, looked at Agatha, who had made a slight quick movement, her hands clasped tightly together, her face vivid, and then with a deep sigh had drawn the mask of inexpression, now so familiar, over her features. It was at this moment that Cyrano caught sight of her; and, taking a step forward, paused doubtfully, took another step, smiled with nervous hesitation, very different from his usual gay assurance, looked appealingly at the sphinx-like face that was averted from him, gazing straight before her, and raised his hat.

At this, she turned her head slightly, bowed frigidly, almost imperceptibly, and turned away again.

A flash of anger and mortification crimsoned Cyrano's face; turning quickly, he walked up to the house, where he was distantly heard entering into a prolonged misunderstanding with Heinrich, the cheerful porter, the purport of which appeared to be that some one asked for was not in the house, but that there was a restaurant attached to the hotel where Monsieur would find excellent refreshment. This appeared to fill Cyrano with the utmost fury and indignation. "Did nobody keep the beastly place? Was there no secretary or manager or anything?" he shouted, coming to the end of his French.

The porter's vague reference to fiançailles and the desirability of leaving a message with the patron himself, who might possibly be induced to appear in the office if perseveringly rung for, suggested that Madame Bontemps and her daughter being both out, and M. Isidore absent, and M. Bontemps left in temporary and reluctant charge, anarchy reigned within.

But all this being entirely unintelligible to poor Cyrano, the well-known national swear-word came rolling vigorously out, and after some futile stamping on the gravel and further hopeless misunderstanding with the ever affable Swiss, the visitor went into the house with quick, angry steps, and was seen no more till soon after sunset. At that hour Mrs. Allonby, idling cosily between her wood-fire and the window, saw him walking and amicably talking with the hostile crocodile of the Carnival—who, with the Bontemps ladies, had come back half an hour before—from the private wing of the house to the gate, where they parted with ceremony, leaving Ermengarde in doubt as to whether it meant pistols and coffee or friendship and apology. The thin man subsequently averred that the young Englishman had been eating humble pie, and M. Isidore had graciously accepted his explanation, and duly presented it and the apologist to M. Bontemps, who had been equally gracious.

In the meantime Ermengarde put two facts together—that the woman of mystery had received and furtively read a letter from the Cyrano on one afternoon, and on the next had accorded him a recognition one remove from a dead cut.

And upon this occasion of meeting M. Isidore in the Casino Gardens walking with a woman of such distinguished appearance, with whom he appeared to be on equal and friendly, almost affectionate, terms, she remembered that the young Englishman's manner to him that afternoon at Les Oliviers had been quite that of an equal. Who and what, then, was this pleasant and mysterious youth, occupying a position so palpably anomalous? In any case, it was a great convenience to have such a delicate, Ariel-like being at hand as an attendant sprite, especially on this unfortunate occasion, of being so completely cleaned out at the tables as not even to have the price of a cup of tea.

"You are always our guardian angel at Les Oliviers," she told him, after imparting the history of the afternoon's ill-luck. "Evidently you possess a sixth sense, by virtue of which you invariably turn up whenever we come to grief. It was only yesterday that you saved Mr. Welbourne from a broken neck."

"Ah! ce pauvre monsieur! Mais il vaut bien la peine, n'est-ce pas, Madame?"

The sorrows of the roulette table vanished into the limbo of forgetfulness; Mrs. Allonby found herself magically installed in a cosy nook outside the café, with a full view of the craggy head of the gorge, the Roman tower of Turbia outlined above it on the sunset-flushed sky, and in the foreground the enchanted Armida gardens, promenaders streaming in and out of avenues of dark exotic trees, gorgeous parterres, the gleam of white masonry between palm and olive boughs, and the tide of smart carriages and snorting motors rolling along the main road under dark-leaved boughs. The band played the Overture to Tannhäuser, and the Pilgrim's Chorus, overpowered again and again by the scream of warring violins, surged out solemn and triumphant again and yet again.

Tea of the perfect quality a brief experience leads the traveller to expect in the better French restaurants, with dainty but appallingly rich cakes, was before her, though how procured it was impossible to conjecture, every table, chair, and waiter having been appropriated or promised two deep a moment before—unless, as appeared probable, M. Isidore exercised some mysterious influence over the harried waiters, who fled at his nod and contrived to produce, and perhaps manufacture on the instant, hitherto non-existent tea-tables and seats in suddenly improvised corners. Her bag had been replenished with small coin by the same enchanter, who gracefully accepted an invitation to share the tea, and spiced it with much useful local information and many bright and apposite remarks and condolences upon the unfortunate experiences in the Casino.

"Fancy having tea in public with a hotel-manager at home," she reflected complacently, forgetting that it is quite as possible to be found out abroad as at home, and agreeably conscious of a slight flavour of impropriety, or at least unconventionality, in the adventure. Her spirits rose; she drew a pathetic picture of her anguish at the loss of the white serge costume that brought tears of laughter from M. Isidore's eyes. After two cups of tea and several cream buns in the sweet air, perfumed by a great bush covered with clusters of tea-roses overhanging this cosy corner, the Casino mischance acquired a new aspect—it became a positive joy; it was part of the game. After all, it was seeing life. It behoved the mother of Charlie to know life—real life. This was very real.

To leave off with a pile of winnings and buy the frock next day would have been too obvious and commonplace. But to win so splendidly and lose so fatally was to acquire a new thrill. The inconvenience of having lost more than a fortnight of the holiday by this financial mischance could be reserved for future consideration and—reparation.

And this was the woman who had been severe on the poor painted countess and her cavalier for daring to speak of their "sordid vices" in that first mountain sunset, and had even looked down upon the thin man's little innocent five franc flutters!

M. Isidore, on his part, was anything but depressed. Of course, he was delighted with the luck of turning up just in time to be of service to Madame. It was singular that he had chosen that particular afternoon to call on friends staying in this place. The lady Madame had been so kind as to compliment upon her chic appearance was, in effect, the cause of his visit; she was his sister.

Ermengarde's eyes widened. His sister? An early prejudice regarding the veracity of foreigners, together with a memory of Olympian leniency towards falsity on certain topics, led her to condone this flagrant mis-statement of fact, and pass quickly to other subjects. M. Isidore was a man of singular charm; his eyes were liquid and soft, like a gazelle's. He could not even explain that the vulgar atrocity of flaring white masonry, that formed the centre of every picture of the mountains behind Monte Carlo, was neither a prison nor a half-finished barrack, but only the Riviera Palace Hotel, without some delicately allusive pleasantry, some unavowed tribute to the fascination of her presence.

It was just when Mrs. Allonby had arrived at these favourable conclusions respecting M. Isidore's eyes and conversation that the Anarchist happened to pass the crowd of tables outside the café, and Ermengarde, smiling softly and not untenderly upon the Frenchman, happened to look up and meet the blazing ferocity of that baleful person's eyes, with a start of apprehension and astonishment that caused his truculent gaze to blanch before hers.

"That dreadful man again—he never can look me straight in the face! That is the man I asked about the first day. Who is he?" she cried.

"Celui-la, l'homme à la barbe bleue? Ah! the Pole? Of him I know nothing. He was at Les Oliviers, that is all, Madame. My friend, I have done you no wrong that you should look pistol shots at me, though my position is doubtless one to crack the heart with envy. He would like my blood in a cup to drink, Madame, hein?"

"Perhaps he has the evil eye," she suggested, crimsoning with a sudden ghastly suspicion that the Anarchist, in his dark and dreadful fashion, might be in love with her; a suspicion chiefly based, it is to be feared, upon the malevolence with which this mysterious man glared upon M. Isidore, who appeared to enjoy it amazingly, and twirled his moustache and flashed his eyes at the Pole with a taunting insolence no Englishman can command. And dreadful as the notion of being the object of the Anarchist's passion was, it still held substantial compensation in the implied idea of being suspected of a flirtation with a young and handsome foreigner of dubious social status and admitted charm. It gave the proper Bohemian spice to the whole adventure. This, she recognized with a thrill, certainly was real life; the bon-bons M. Isidore offered her with an air of respectful gallantry tinged with despair had the zest of forbidden fruit.

Everybody must have some fun sometimes, once in a life-time at least. The thin man was a most estimable person, with sound moral principles and interesting views upon art and literature; his paintings were charming—in the impressionist manner—but his presence was not entirely necessary to the enjoyment of the moment; he would probably turn up quite soon enough.

The Anarchist passed on, turning once to inflict a final murderous glance upon the guileless Frenchman, who twirled his moustache with a more deadly insolence than ever in return. Mrs. Allonby went on enjoying real life, bon-bons and sunshine, quite peacefully, till the sound of a familiar gurgling chuckle made her turn her laughing eyes to the passing crowd, in the midst of which sailed the slender figure of Miss Boundrish, in a frock due to the genius of a renowned Paris maker, and accompanied by a tall and stiffly-carried youth, whose accent and bearing alike confessed him a Prussian officer—a fact of which he was, to do him justice, anything but ashamed.

An air of possession on the lady's part, and of reluctant submission on the man's, proclaimed the situation clearly and afforded Ermengarde much quiet enjoyment. This was succeeded by a thrill, rather too keen this time, at the expression, or rather succession of expressions, on Miss Boundrish's face when her roving glance took in gradually the whole inwardness of the group of two in the rose-covered corner. Life was becoming almost too real now; for Ermengarde knew perfectly well that before slumber fell upon the household at Les Oliviers that night, every creature in it would possess some version, with variations and embroideries, of the present meeting in the gardens.

Dorris gave Ermengarde one of the little patronizing nods she was fond of bestowing on her betters, ignoring M. Isidore, whose serenity was nevertheless undisturbed. Ermengarde's acknowledgment of the fair girl's salute was a trifle ceremonious, a circumstance that possibly impelled Dorris to penetrate to the rose-embowered corner, and promptly present her captive, who drew his heels together and saluted with unmitigated melancholy.

"Fancy finding you here!" she graciously gurgled. "Rather noisy for you? Of course, you didn't attempt the Casino? You wouldn't like it at all. The evening is the right time for the Salle du feu. Such dresses—such diamonds—there's nothing like it. I must get the mater to take you one evening. The lieutenant will escort us——"

"Doch," was the humble rejoinder with clicked heels.

"It will be quite a ploy for you—as Mr. Welbourne says. You ought to see a little life. I'm glad you are resting here instead of at that dull old mountain place; a nice change for you—odd place to rest in though," with an arch look, for which Ermengarde could have murdered her without remorse.

"You had a pleasant day at Nice, Miss Boundrish? and found your aunt better?" she asked sweetly.

"My aunt? Nice? Oh, quite better," she gurgled with temporary confusion. "But, I say, Mrs. Allonby, don't you give me away. The mater doesn't know everything. Wouldn't do at all, you know. Auntie's quite better, thank you. Ta ta."

M. Isidore, always standing, and raising his hat at the proper time, listened to this colloquy with a smile of pleased interest, and when the pair had gone he laughed a droll little laugh.

"Figure to yourself, Madame," he said, in the only tongue he ever cared to speak, "that it is possible for me to detest one of your charming sex. In that case I avenge myself by giving her to a German husband. Hein?"

"But the poor German?"

"Ah! One still remembers Alsace-Lorraine. Yes?"

"Surely there are limits even to a patriotic vengeance. But I must catch this train, and please do you try to catch me Mr. Welbourne."


Pleasant to wind slowly through the enchanted gardens to the sea in the last sunglow, pleasanter still to find on the way a quiet nook by a rippling stream, and sink upon a bench, half hidden in geranium-trees and quite hidden from the public, and look round at the gay and fragrant flower-bands, and—see the woman of mystery seated on another bench in earnest colloquy with Cyrano, the very same Cyrano whose acquaintance had been as good as repudiated by her at Les Oliviers a few days since.

Agatha's face was turned from Ermengarde; Cyrano's, full of emotion, was in the same direction, bent upon the lady's; one arm lay along the back of the bench behind her; his other almost encircled the figure turned from him; his hand was upon hers clasped on her lap; every line and gesture of the two figures indicated a situation of extreme poignancy; he was speaking in low tones of strong feeling, interrupted by sharp retorts of pain and indignation from her; there was clearly no place for a third person. But the superfluous third hardly knew how to remove herself without attracting attention; she had just risen for the purpose when Agatha, turning with quick anger to Cyrano, saw her. Ermengarde, wondering why everybody's invalid aunts should just then be staying clandestinely at Monte Carlo, bowed instinctively, and would have passed on, but that Agatha, with one of her sudden transitions to marble, came towards her with some calm and commonplace phrase, and obliged her to stop and reply.

"Yes. This is the last train in time for dinner," Agatha said, as if nothing mattered more than missing a meal; "and it's growing cold. May I introduce Mr. Paul, my—my—that is, a—a——"

"A connexion by marriage," Cyrano suggested, with what Ermengarde thought an odd expression.

"Quite so; a connexion by marriage," she echoed, as if greatly relieved by this definition. "Mrs. Allonby travelled from Calais with me, Ivor. She has been most kind. We are—luckily for me—in the same pension."

"Really? Awfully nice for you."

Ermengarde was stunned. Here was the woman of mystery introducing and explaining her to this disreputable young villain, whom she had scarcely acknowledged before, and appearing to welcome her intrusion on a too intimate tête-à-tête with her "connexion by marriage," as an excuse for ending it.

"I hope you found your invalid aunt better, Miss Somers," she murmured, with civil interest, when she recovered breath after Cyrano had been summarily dismissed.

"My aunt!" she echoed, puzzled.

"Or connexion—by marriage. You were to lunch with her in Mentone, you remember."

"Oh, of course! I had forgotten. She—she was engaged; she only sees one person at a time. So I came on here."

A flush came and quickly passed from the woman of mystery's statuesque features. Ermengarde marvelled at the readiness of her inventive powers, and reflected that a connexion by marriage sometimes means a good deal.

"Your connexion," she said, "has not had the best luck this afternoon, did he tell you? It was he I overheard on that first evening at Les Oliviers talking to the thing with the black-leaded eyes. She was in the Casino with him to-day. He asked me to play for him, seeing I was new and lucky."

"Yes? And you gave him luck?"

"Only for that once. And the creature with the orange-coloured hair clawed it."

"Poor boy! What a pity! Did you win much, Mrs. Allonby?"

"Not on the whole," she replied diplomatically, turning very red at the sudden apparition of the thin man, who had laboured up, panting, from behind them.

"Well," he gasped, "I hope you got a decent cup of tea somewhere. I promenaded Giro's from end to end in vain, and imagined the most terrible disasters befalling you. So I had to have seven cigars and an ice. I pictured you shot in heroic attempts to rescue wounded pigeons at the Tir, or to snatch pistols from would-be suicides, or yielding to the fascinations of jewellers' shops, and being run in by mistake for adroit thefts, or robbed of that dainty little bag, and here I find you, safe under Miss Somers' angel wing all the time."

"Not all the time. But I thought you said Café de Paris. So sorry."

The thin man was in great spirits. He observed that few things were more enjoyable than the walk through the Gardens to the train at that evening time, as he handed the ladies into their carriage, while Ermengarde silently gave the palm to other incidents of an enjoyable afternoon.

In the carriage they discovered, one by one, Miss Boundrish, "returning from Nice," she gurgled confidentially; M. Isidore, unobtrusively polite as usual; and, glaring fiercely at them from a remote corner, the Anarchist. The latter suddenly discovered, just as the train was beginning to move, that he had taken the wrong one, and got out again, to Ermengarde's immense relief—for the creature snorted and puffed intolerably. Probably, she reflected, he knew his own weakness, and doubted his ability to refrain from assassinating M. Isidore, if compelled any longer to witness his proximity to herself—a reflection not entirely devoid of charm.

"Why," Mr. Welbourne murmured in his most melancholy voice at her ear, as the train rolled slowly in the direction of Italy—"why choose the loveliest spot on earth for all this devilry, when it could be done quite as well in a disused coal-mine?"

"Why," she whispered, with reddening cheeks, in reply; "why hit a man when he is down?"

Chapter XI


In its leisurely progress back to Mentone the train passed through the same scenes as in leaving it, but they had not the same charm. The sun was set, the air chill, the world inclined to be grey.

Everybody, except Miss Boundrish, who gurgled till both Ermengarde and the thin man prayed earnestly to be delivered from the temptation to choke her, was silent. Agatha's face had taken on its deepest expression of sadness; she seemed absorbed in thought too melancholy for words, and weighed by care too heavy for human sufferance. Ermengarde felt smaller, cheaper, and of less account than she had done for years. She would have to go home at least a fortnight earlier than she had intended in consequence of that afternoon's diversion; there would be no margin for pleasant expensive nothings and no gifts for Charlie. And for the first time in a new place Charlie's picture post-cards had been forgotten. The thought of it burnt her cheeks and clouded her eyes. And as for Arthur—well, he had not expressed any very acute anguish at their separation. He was obviously enjoying life as much as possible in that prolonged business excursion of his, to judge by the brevity and infrequency of his letters. Why should men have all the fun?

"You appear to have had a delightful afternoon, Mrs. Allonby," Miss Boundrish's mother said at dinner. "What lovely carnations! Did they come from Monte Carlo?"

"Will you have one, Mrs. Boundrish?" she returned, with a sweet smile, wondering if she were really bound in honour not to give Dorris away.

"And did M. Isidore play too?" was another question from some one across the table, eliciting the frigid reply that Mrs. Allonby knew nothing of M. Isidore's recreations.

"Now tell me in confidence, dear Mrs. Allonby," urged a third persecutor, pursuing her to a corner, into which she had tucked herself cosily, after dinner in the salon. "How much did you lose, and was it very exciting? I hear that M. Isidore makes quite a little income by his average winnings. Of course, he has a system."

There was something in Mrs. Boundrish's allusion to her flowers that fired a train of thought in Mrs. Allonby's mind. Fresh flowers had always appeared on her table before dinner; she had taken them in her inexperience as part of the usual entertainment for man and beast to be expected at hotels, not observing that none were on Agatha's table, and that no charge for flowers appeared in the bills. But these superb Malmaison carnations were obviously not from the Oliviers garden. Moreover, instead of donkey-riding up to the house with the others that afternoon, she had taken the steep, short cut through the lemons and olives, finding the kind assistance of M. Isidore in this ascent most useful in the dusk. Just as they came up into the light of the electric lamp in the grounds by a very steep climb, for which M. Isidore had given her a hand up, that gallant gentleman dropped a large paper cornet he had personally conducted with great care from Monte Carlo. And when Mrs. Allonby stopped its descent into the lemon-trees with her sunshade, it burst open and disclosed a sheaf of Malmaisons, exactly like those found afterwards on her table.

Further, when she went to the office after dinner, she found Mademoiselle Geneviève in charge, smiling and radiant, with a huge sheaf of Malmaisons in her belt and one flower nestling becomingly in her dark hair. M. Isidore, as often happened at that hours sat near her on the sofa, and conversation of a joyous and pleasant nature appeared to be forward. How could Miss Boundrish call this girl plain and frumpish? To-night she was positively handsome in a brilliant Southern style, her face lit with laughter, her great, liquid dark eyes sparkling, her white, even teeth gleaming between full red lips. Her figure was fine in a statuesque way, strong and stately. Mlle. Bontemps was unusually gracious in supplying the information desired until her full, dark eye lit on the Malmaisons in Mrs. Allonby's belt; then her face changed; she turned with a flash of fury and looked at M. Isidore, who looked studiously through the open doorway at nothing at all, while Ermengarde beat a retreat as hasty as was consistent with dignity and a proper Parisian accent. Afterwards, at the first opportunity, she asked the chambermaid whence the flowers on her table came, and heard with misgiving that they were so placed daily by command of M. Isidore.

"So it is the duty of M. Isidore to supply all the dressing-tables with bouquets?" she asked carelessly.

"Mais, Madame," came in deep, contralto remonstrance, "est-ce que tout le monde dépense comme ça pour les fleurs?"

"No doubt I am extravagant, Louise," she confessed humbly, "but the flowers usually come from the gardens or the mountains, and are not charged for in the bills."

Louise smiled approval of this reply; she had studied life in many aspects. She liked Mrs. Allonby, whom she had made acquainted with the whole of her family history, and of whom she had asked and received counsel and munificent tips—but the latter unasked.

"Stupid boy!" Ermengarde said to herself, with vexation. She had dined publicly in his flowers night after night, beginning with the tea-roses he gave her in the garden on her arrival. And the crocodile at the Carnival had thrown her Parma violets. Yes, and she had worn them—idiot!—without thinking. Luckily, nobody would know—except Miss Boundrish and her mother, and—— But, after all, what are flowers? and what did this French boy's impertinence or ignorance matter?

A wet day, accompanied by a furious headache and the state of mind Germans call Katzenjammer, followed the thrilling afternoon of real life at Monte Carlo. Odd to think that it was actually raining at Les Oliviers. But not common, dreary rain, such as makes London streets a foretaste of the future habitation of sinners. No, fairy rain, clean, bright, transparent, a sort of crystalline veil through which that beautiful Southern shore could be seen with undazzled eyes, and yet more distinctly than in the clear sunlight, like a lovely human form, lovelier through transparent drapery. The clouds were not leaden, but of pearly lustre; the feathery, misty grace of olive-woods was no longer confused with the heavier mass and colour of pines; the delicate symmetry of those flights of steps that were vine-terraces, connected by miniature flights that were real stairs, came into view; every solitary cottage and every towered hamlet stood out clear on its crest beneath the solemn mountain peaks. The sea behind those shining curtains of moving rain was still blue, and there was leisure now to be glad of a four-square house on a mountain ridge, with a wide and glorious prospect from every window, and a different view on every side of the house.

Mr. Welbourne was trying to catch an impression from five sides at once, and in despair wandered up and down the corridors looking at each in turn. An amateur was thumping music-hall melodies on the ground-floor piano, which was out of tune, while another played fragments of Wagner in the drawing-room immediately above it, and Miss Boundrish practised solfeggi in the room over that.

And yet Ermengarde's headache and Katzenjammer—or mental atmosphere sequent on nights enjoyed less wisely than well—steadily increased as the day wore on. After luncheon, quite overcome and flattened out by these afflictions, she retired shivering to bed. On this the woman of mystery, at once transformed into Sir Walter Scott's ministering angel, tucked her up cosily, kindled a wood fire on her hearth, and sat silent and thoughtful in its light, softly blowing up the logs with a little carved bellows fetched from her own room. To her the tinkle and plash of this sweet, clear rain was soothing after the long dryness, and the silvery light a relief from the perpetual purple splendour of sky and sea. Ermengarde, soothed by these attentions and the soft sound of the bellows, watched the fire-light play on Agatha's still, clear-cut features and graceful form, and meditated on her failings. Sad that one so fair should be presumably so false, paying imaginary visits to fictitious aunts, and conspiring with bearded Anarchists and beardless prodigals in goodness knew what wickedness; but she enjoyed being petted, and knew that in their common estimation of Miss Boundrish's varied social charm Agatha and she were one. There was something that strongly attracted her in this mysterious young person. Might this fine nature have been perverted by unfortunate surroundings and evil example in youth? Who could tell?

The Good, but suspected, Samaritan read her to sleep, and on her waking made her excellent tea, unobtrusively and silently in her own room, and brought it in with biscuits, and shared it in a comfortable, home-like way; whereupon Ermengarde's heart expanded and her tongue was loosed, and she recounted her ill-fortune at the tables, and received sympathy untouched by scorn.

In return she heard—in the spirit of a Sadducee—somewhat of the family history of Miss Somers' "connexion by marriage." Mr. Paul's mother, it appeared, had married twice; her second husband and that youth's step-father being Miss Somers' uncle. Mr. Paul's mother was consequently her aunt—a species of relative that Ermengarde was inclined to regard as shadowy and thin, and much too capable of multiplication at will.

"How many aunts have you, dear Miss Somers?" she asked gently; "it is sometimes an advantage to possess several of them."

"So Ivor and I call ourselves cousins," Miss Somers added, not enumerating her aunts. "And, as I have always been very fond of my aunt, I am very much interested in this boy, and exceedingly anxious that he should keep straight."

"Naturally," Ermengarde assented. "What inventive power!" she thought. "By the way," she added suddenly, "Ivor is not a very common name, and Miss Boundrish was once engaged to an Ivor, who knew you. This might be the same man."

"Miss Boundrish engaged to Ivor! Oh! how funny!" Agatha laid down her toy bellows as if to enjoy the visionary relationship, laughing quietly to herself. "Miss Boundrish! But an Ivor who knew me! What on earth has that girl been romancing about me?"

Ermengarde studied the leaves in the bottom of her cup, and smiled sadly over human infirmity. The pot is always calling the kettle, and not only the kettle, but even the silver tea-pot—black.

"What a dangerous girl," continued Agatha. "In a house like this, too. And how very unlucky that she saw you at tea with M. Isidore yesterday."

"And pray why should I not have tea with the boy?" Ermengarde demanded with sudden dignity.

"Why not, indeed? But—please don't think me impertinent or intrusive, dear Mrs. Allonby"—she spoke with a sort of childlike appeal and affection—"the most innocent and obvious things are not always wise, especially in a world in which unmuzzled Boundrishes run about loose."

She looked so guileless, so sweet, so tenderly pleading; her eyes uplifted to Ermengarde's had the transparent candour of a child's; there was a tremulous diffidence about her mouth that went to Ermengarde's heart. A woman who could invent aunts and male connexions by marriage on the spur of the moment, who wrote and received surreptitious letters in cipher—only that afternoon she had been perusing one by the fire, when Ermengarde opened her eyes after a doze, and had quickly pocketed it on discovering that she was watched.

"Boundrishes," continued the woman of mystery, not blenching under the searching gaze upon her, "are—not that this one means any harm, it's only vanity and silliness—they are unconscious gossip-conductors and accumulators combined; they are always discharging whatever happens to have come into their heads, and nothing ever seems to go in quite straight, and all comes out enlarged and distorted."

"Dear Miss Somers, I congratulate you on your truly serpentine wisdom. How did you manage to acquire it?"

"Women who get their own living have to keep their eyes open, else they go down. I sometimes wonder if you realize what the actual position of this young Isidore is, Mrs. Allonby?"

"That surely is obvious, even to eyes not very wide open. But tell me about yourself and your work, dear Miss Somers; women who work are always interesting."

Her work, she replied, was not particularly interesting, rather drudging and casual. Family misfortune had obliged her to provide for herself; she had not been brought up to any profession, but to leisure and comparative affluence. She had tried companioning and secretarial work, even a little hack literary work. She had no decided talent for anything. Her parents were early lost; she had been partly brought up by an aunt—"What! another aunt?" Ermengarde murmured to herself—whose affairs had become entangled and her means diminished, especially during late years. "So I have to work," the woman of mystery said, with a sigh that implied intense weariness and disgust at the necessity, "to take at least one burden from my poor aunt's shoulders."

"Far too thin," Ermengarde thought, and hazarded the observation that the woman of mystery must be greatly enjoying her present holiday; to which she replied that she certainly was, her expenses being supplied by her employer, to whom her sojourn in those regions was in some vague way useful.

"You are possibly collecting information on his behalf?"

"In a way—yes," she admitted, with a faint blush.

"A detective way? Shadowing? Family mysteries?"

"One can't always explain—in detail——"

"Especially in work of such a delicate nature."

The sphinx mask had suddenly fallen back on the woman of mystery's features, and she had audibly remembered a letter to take down for the post.

Having done this, she returned only just in time to dress for dinner and bring the menu for the invalid to select from.

"And I'll see that you have what you choose," she promised. "Louise will bring it up. Ah! she has brought your flowers already," with a quick change of expression.

"Yes—with the hot water," Ermengarde faltered, changing colour quickly. "She always puts flowers on my table for dinner."

"Would she put them on mine, I wonder?"

"Miss Somers, what can it matter? Why in the word shouldn't the stupid boy give me flowers if he likes? Besides, I only found it out yesterday."

"I was sure you didn't know. Miss Boundrish only discovered it quite recently. She is of an inquiring disposition. And what she knows, or thinks she knows, is not long ignored by her world."

"She may know anything and everything she likes about me," Ermengarde flashed out furiously; "how many hairpins I use a day, whether I curl with Hinde's or with tongs, and where I get my gowns—and who pays for them and how much!"

How dared this young woman hint to her of prudence and propriety?

After dinner Agatha came up again, put on fresh logs, and sat meekly by the hearth. She described the desolation Mrs. Allonby's absence had created at table d'hôte, as well as Miss Boundrish's Christian desire to visit and console her in her affliction.

"Of course she has a headache," the fair Dorris had shouted across the table, "and no wonder after yesterday."

"Sweet girl!" Ermengarde commented, thankful that the visit scheme had been frustrated.

"I said this afternoon that I had no fortune," the woman of mystery observed presently, bringing in a morocco case from her room. "But I had forgotten this for the moment. It is a little fortune in itself; a thing that has been in our family since—oh, since nobody knows when."

"Very probably, not even the people they were sneaked from," Ermengarde reflected. The light had been switched off, and they had been talking and dreaming in the firelight. The woman of mystery, a slender figure in dead creamy-white, bent to the hearth, and, throwing a handful of eucalyptus bark on the embers, made a leaping blaze in which some jewels in a necklace she drew from the morocco case flashed and quivered like live things. Ermengarde gave a long sigh of wonder and admiration, not untinged by vague longing, at the sight of this rich and beautiful piece of jewellery.

"I never wear it," Agatha said, pensively regarding the gems flashing in her hands as she knelt in the hearth-glow. "How could I, dressing as I do, and of course ought to? And I do not suppose I ever shall. Yet one scarcely cares to part with an heir-loom—except under very serious pressure."

"Put it on," Ermengarde said, and Agatha clasped the necklace round her full white throat, still kneeling and looking into the fire, the jewels quivering with the rise and fall of her breath.

The foundation was a simple collar of lozenge-shaped sapphires, set thick with brilliants; sapphire drops set with brilliants began at the back below the collar and increased to a complicated interlacing of pendants in front, the largest and deepest being star-shaped, the sapphire centre of it unusually rich. The plain white woollen dress was not cut low enough to give the full effect of jewels on white and satiny skin, except to the throat collar and smaller pendants, but the sparkle and lustre they communicated to the finely-cut features and deep eyes was marvellous, while the indifference with which the necklace was worn and the far-away look often so characteristic of her face showed the wearer too deep in thought to care for trifles.

"You are made to wear jewels," Ermengarde said. "How lovely! And how costly!"

"They should be worth some thousands, I believe, and I must sell them—just as they are. I should like to keep part, if only one pendant. They are said to bring luck to our family."

"And have brought you the luck of having to sell them?"

She smiled rather sadly, spreading her hands to the glow and looking thoughtfully into the red chasms of burning wood, the diamonds winking and quivering in crimson and purple flashes in the light; then she drew a deep sigh.

"Jewels change hands often here," she said presently. "Did you notice the Monte Carlo shops, Mrs. Allonby, blazing with diamonds and opals in every shape? Half the shops seem to be jewellers, the windows massed and piled with tiaras, collars—thick dog-collars, solid with emeralds and diamonds—necklaces, rivières, negligés, set thick with them, and ropes and ropes of pearls. I never saw such a profusion of splendid and costly things. People lose at the tables, and sell their ornaments for half-price, and the jewellers sell them again for about three-quarters, glad to turn their money quickly. M. de Querouailles was showing some things he had got for a mere song for his daughter the other night in the salon—lovely things, for a few hundred francs."

"A place to buy rather than to sell in, then?"

"Oh, of course! But necessity is a hard master."

She sighed another long sigh, unclasped the necklace, held it a moment in the best light, looked steadily, almost lovingly, at it, laid it back in the case, and put it on a little table near the hearth. Ermengarde expressed some mild wonder at her hardihood in carrying her fortune so unguardedly about, and spoke of recent repeated jewel robberies.

"But I don't look rich," the woman of mystery assured her. "Nobody would suspect me of sapphires. Besides, when I travel, I wear them."

"And now, dear Mrs. Allonby," she added after a pause, "I want to ask you to do me a great favour. I have sudden and urgent need for a considerable sum of money. It is a family matter of some delicacy, and there are reasons why I should appear to have no hand in it. So I wonder—I wonder if you would be so very kind as to sell my necklace for me at Poupart's?"

"Good gracious! Why, I never sold anything in my life; I never even bought anything of this kind. I've no notion of the value of jewellery. The people would rook me without mercy."

"Oh, that is in the bill. They would rook anybody. I should say that—this—urgent necessity is as yet not quite certain; but if it should become certain, as I fear it will, in the course of a few days, then, dearest Mrs. Allonby, will you—will you do me this very great kindness?"

"You have been kind—most kind to me, Miss Somers, and I should be exceedingly glad of an opportunity to do anything for you in return. But, indeed, I am not a good hand at this kind of thing; I should end in giving your necklace away very likely. I am no good, I assure you—for this."

The woman of mystery looked disappointed—the sphinx mask failed her for once—but she forbore to press her point. Ermengarde's heart misgave her; still she was firm. She felt that she really was not quite such a fool as she looked, and was quite capable of taking care of herself—a somewhat unsatisfactory source of pride, after all.

Of course, she saw through the whole thing, beautifully planned and acted, she confessed—the assumption of guileless interest and angelic sympathy; the delicate, unobtrusive attentions; the child-like, personal confidences; the casual, illuminating glimpses of family history; the carefully prepared, dramatic point of the necklace, so artlessly introduced in the firelight; and the casual unconscious carelessness of the carefully studied pose by the hearth. Yes, it was very well done; and a less acute observer might very well have been taken in by these wiles. Her old suspicion had been correct. Here were jewels of price, snatched probably from some unsuspecting fellow-traveller in the Train de Luxe, skilfully concealed upon the body, and covered by an innocent bearing and a pathetic smile, artfully calculated to disarm suspicion. And to dispose of this plunder without danger, she, Ermengarde Allonby, was to be used—she was to be the cat's-paw, and incur the risk of selling stolen goods. "A matter of delicacy," "Reasons for not appearing to be personally concerned," etc.—excellent reasons, a matter of the greatest delicacy, in good truth. What an escape! Arthur should know of this.

She had confided to Miss Somers her dark misgivings as to the Anarchist's interest in herself, to the intense and ill-concealed amusement of that lady, who was doubtless aware that her possessions, and not herself, were the object of his interest in her. Here she was, she reflected, when the lights were out and the house wrapped in silence, alone in a foreign country, utterly at the mercy of this unscrupulous and dangerously attractive young woman, who had made a dead set at her from the first, within an ace of being made her accomplice, practically in the same room with her; for the door of communication was unlocked, and the key had mysteriously disappeared. The police might at any time pounce upon them. She might be robbed to any extent—that is, had she happened to have possessed anything worth stealing—she might be implicated in robberies; stolen property might be secreted among her things to throw the police off the scent; she might be entangled in a conspiracy, mixed up with that dreadful Anarchist—anything—a frightful situation to be in, dangerous beyond imagination. Yet, after all, more amusing than the conventionalities and social amenities of Kensington, more thrilling even than that first wild experience of real life in the Casino Gardens.

And through all she had a sneaking kindness for this woman of mystery. Perhaps her sins were not entirely her fault; no doubt society had sinned against her and forced her into courses of a regrettable nature. Regrettable is a beautiful word. It was of absolutely incalculable value to us during the last Boer War, through which, indeed, we should never have come without it.

And however regrettable were the courses to which society had mysteriously condemned Agatha Somers, there was no doubt that she was a most charming and sympathetic companion, and read aloud to perfection. A nature of finest grain, however warped by circumstance; a kind heart beneath the sphinx mask; intelligence of high order, however misapplied; beauty of an unusual and distinguished kind, and a right instinct in dress—all these, Ermengarde reflected on her passage to the land of dreams, were the property of this fascinating but misguided young woman, whose life appeared to be exercising such a strong and sinister influence upon her own.

Chapter XII

M. Isidore's Heartache

It was among the many exasperating features in Arthur's character that you could never tell if a good, honest knock hit him hard or only just glided off him, so atrocious was the depth of his secretiveness and undemonstrativeness. He could have carried foxes, wolves, hyenas, even rats, under his cloak, and let them gnaw him till his last gasp, without giving a sign.

It was only from side-lights flashed from family and friendly letters that his wife could have enjoyed the just satisfaction of hearing that he was supremely uncomfortable in her absence; and even that was denied her, by reason of his perversity in remaining on that mysterious circular business tour, that never seemed to end, and respecting which he gave the most meagre information. There was no hope of his being uncomfortable on that tour; on the contrary, he was quite certain to enjoy it immensely. That is one of the irritating things in life—the supreme satisfaction with which business fills the male mind. Business is a large word; it embraces all the concerns of men that exclude women, or rather wives—so Mrs. Allonby sometimes explained to young friends about to marry.

Still, she could not help hoping that he was desperately uncomfortable and longing for her earlier return, though the wretch never had the decency to hint at anything of the kind. Well, she would not tell him of the unlucky necessity for her early return; she would simply appear in Kensington as if on a sudden impulse, and say that the Riviera was too hot, too cold, too rowdy, too respectable—either adjective fitted—but never confess to the misfortunes of Monte Carlo.

But the incident of the necklace had so strengthened her worst suspicions connecting the woman of mystery that, before she slept that very night, the headache having vanished, she took pen and paper, and, by the light of a moon looking steadily from a dark-blue vault, cleared of cloud by rain, related the whole story to her husband, not omitting the sudden irruption of improvised aunts at Monte Carlo, or the dark intriguings with the young English prodigal and the elderly Russian Anarchist. "If that creature," she wrote, with reference to the Anarchist, "dogs my footsteps and glares at me through his detestable goggles much more, I shall have to leave the place. I do hope he is not smitten by me, but sometimes I fear it. No doubt he ought to be in Siberia, where at least there would be nothing but wolves for him to glare at and scheme against." These remarks occasioned her correspondent some diversion of a harmless character. For her other bête noire—namely, the woman of mystery—she wrote, she thought it might be possible to obtain some information concerning her. Should she apply to the nearest British Consul, or ask information of the French police? It was becoming dangerous to be mixed up with a woman who had actually gone the length of trying to make her an accomplice in selling priceless jewels, of which she was obviously not the rightful owner.

It was while inditing this sentence that a beautiful thought flashed upon Ermengarde's mental vision, and, laying aside pen and paper, and sweeping her hair back from her shoulders, she leant her chin on her hands and looked out upon the silver-steeped olive-groves and pine-woods and the broad, bright path of sea trembling in silvery sparkles beneath the moon.

She would sell the chain flung to her at the Carnival.

It was certainly hers, and quite as certainly she would never wear the thing. She remembered the high price of that she had seen at Spink's. This one appeared to be quite as good, the pearls of quite as excellent colour and lustre, the diamonds the same. It ought to fetch something substantial.

With this comfortable thought she folded her letter and went to bed, and slept till morning blushed (as it did at the proper time in vivid crimson), while the poor suspected woman in the next room tossed upon an uneasy pillow, and racked her brains in vain, feverish efforts to find some way of turning the sapphires into money, until youth and nature conquered, and she too sank into blissful forgetfulness.

Ermengarde found it useless to take the thin man into her confidence with regard to the woman of mystery; his mind on that subject seemed to be of impenetrable brass. Had Mr. Welbourne observed this or that singular proceeding on the part of Miss Somers? drew from him a look of blank stupidity, a brazen want of comprehension, or some remark to the effect that Miss Somers was a young lady of singular charm; that she possessed intelligence of a high order, was remarkably well-informed, a most restful companion, with unusual conversational powers, enhanced by the still more unusual faculty of knowing when to be silent; that her beauty was of a very distinguished order, the marble whiteness of her complexion having the quality of morbidezza, and being due to an exceptionally fine and clear skin, rather than to ill-health.

"In short, my dear creature," Ermengarde reflected, "you think her far too good-looking to be criticized, much less suspected."

She remembered that the thin man was a bachelor, and not so very old, probably not much more than forty, the age of most acute susceptibility to feminine attraction. In the sight of men of that age, beauty can do no wrong. Yet the thin man honestly detested poor Miss Boundrish; he had been known to flee as if for life, and hide behind trees, rocks, trellises, and folding screens, even on one occasion behind an upright piano, where by mischance he was imprisoned for two solid hours, in trying to escape the society of that coral-lipped, dewy-eyed sylph.

But the woman of mystery had known how to tame that wild and shy bachelor heart to her hand. Perhaps she would make him sell the sapphires.

"Supposing," Ermengarde asked Mr. Welbourne, the day after her refusal to oblige Agatha by that small service, conscience having given her some uncomfortable qualms on that account—"supposing some one were to ask you to sell extremely valuable jewels for them, on the ground that they did not wish to be seen selling diamonds, would you do it?"

"Why not? If it were a lady, of course I would," he said promptly, reflecting that he was in for it, and could make better bargains than she, and hoping that parting with her jewels would be a lesson to Mrs. Allonby on the folly of gambling.

"But supposing you were another lady?"

"How suppose anything so utterly impossible?" What on earth had that to do with it, he wondered.

"Well, would one woman ask another woman to do such a thing without very strong reason?"

The man's brain swam; certainly she was not asking him to sell jewels for her. What could she be driving at?

"Dear lady, I hope you will forgive my saying that the common consent of mankind throughout the ages agrees that your sex never acts upon reason."

"I can't forgive anything so insulting to my sex. My impression is that the woman stole the necklace."

"Ah, now we leave the abstract and come to the concrete—a particular woman and a particular necklace—and forgetting logic, we go gallantly upon feelings, intuitions. Still, the impression that certain costly jewels have been stolen by an individual acquaintance is somewhat powerful, not to say aggressive. Modern altruism, still less old-fashioned Christian charity, would scarcely cherish an impression of that kind, would it?" After all, he reflected, this little woman is not as simple as she appears.

"Well, but if she wants to sell them, why can't she do it herself?"

"People exist who never, as a matter of principle, do anything they can get anybody else to do for them. I can't defend the principle, though I often act upon it; indeed, it appears to have its roots very deep in human nature, like the propensity to bottle up trumps at bridge."

"One dislikes to be disobliging; it seems unkind."

"If," replied the thin man, a light suddenly breaking upon his bewildered brain, "the lady in question should happen to be our dear young friend of the too frequent laugh, Mrs. Allonby, don't be afraid. She has neither the wit nor the self-command to make a big haul like that. But she is quite silly enough to get into difficulties over play or dress"—here Ermengarde's cheeks vied with the scarlet salvias blooming hard by—"and to sell jewels on the sly, and it would be the worst service you could do a child like that to help her."

"Sweet girl! I quite agree with you. She's much too small for large sins. And I've never seen her with valuable jewels. Dear Mr. Welbourne, your advice is as always so excellent. Ever since we met here you have been a second father to me."

The thin man sighed. It is a sweet and seemly thing to be the father of a charming and lovely young woman, but only when one is too old for other relationships. It occurred to him that it might be wise to shave; a beard sometimes gives a false appearance of age. The patriarchs wore beards, while Greek gods, with the exception of Zeus, are mostly represented as beardless. No one ever heard of a bearded angel. Only yesterday Miss Boundrish had wondered publicly and at the top of her voice why Mr. Welbourne "had never married," and he had replied very meekly that it was not his custom to do anything in a hurry; upon which Miss Boundrish's mother had encouragingly cited the case of a cousin's uncle on the other side, who had married at eighty-five.

It was while Mr. Welbourne was sighing and meditating on his own beard and the probable extent of her pecuniary difficulties that Ermengarde, who, with his helping hand had just climbed up among the twisted roots of some pines to the height on which the monastery was built, caught sight of the figure of a stranger. He was pacing the broad and level walk beneath the cypresses, outside the building, where the ridge was highest, and whence the outlook over mountain gorges on one hand and capes and headlands running out to sea on the other was widest and of most varied beauty. It was a tall, thin, black figure in a hooded cloak, with a clean-shaven, ascetic face bent over the book he carried and was perusing with devout interest.

"Surely," she said, stopping to rest on the low, crumbling wall by the steps leading on to this plateau—"surely that must be one of the expelled monks, or his ghost, come back to the old home. Reading his breviary."

Mr. Welbourne found a seat on the wall beside her, carefully avoiding a geranium-bush, that had grown up to the top among the broken stones, and gave out a delicate scent where Ermengarde's skirt swept it.

"No," he said, looking at the studious figure, "it is not a monk. I doubt if the book he is studying with such devout interest is a book of hours—or a psalter."

"An interesting type—pale, worn, emaciated, deep-set eyes, a keen, subtle face—the true ascetic type. What stories that face could tell," she mused aloud—"that is, the mouth."

"Well, yes; it has told a few thumpers to my certain knowledge. No, it is not a monk, Mrs. Allonby. It is only Mr. Mosson."

"You know him? How interesting!"

"Oh, everybody knows Mr. Mosson—everybody who has come to grief, that is."

"A philanthropist? The modern form of religious enthusiasm—deeds, not words; feeding the hungry instead of saying prayers. A holy materialism."

How soon, Mr. Welbourne reflected, misfortune breeds cynicism. It was hardly forty-eight hours since calamity at the tables had befallen this young woman, and she could talk like this. "Should you be in want of money," he continued, "you have merely to name the sum to our ascetic friend, and it is forthcoming. People often want money in these regions, because everybody here is rich. It is only the rich who want money."

"Really? Then what on earth do the poor want?"

"Oh, lots of things—food, fire, friends, advice, sympathy, clothes, work, but money never."

"Really? Then how very, very rich I must be."

"Undoubtedly you are. But here comes our friend."

They had to stand in the narrow path to let the reverend man pass on his pious way, and, the déjeuner bell having just left off sounding, followed him into the house very shortly after, but at too small a distance to permit further discussion of his virtues—a point much on Mr. Welbourne's conscience at the time, but unfortunately soon driven from his memory by after-events.

The benefactor of his species in the meantime, unconscious of the veneration he inspired, took his place at a small solitary table in the background, silent and, after the first few moments of curiosity his presence excited, unnoticed, and presumably absorbed in schemes for the amelioration of mankind. With the déjeuner he vanished, but was again discovered at his secluded table at dinner, just as if he had never moved, and so for several days.

Rumour spoke of a motor-car waiting daily at the foot of the ridge, and bearing him away in a cloud of dust and unpleasant smell. M. Bontemps hinted that he came up to Les Oliviers for a few days' rest, much to Mrs. Allonby's surprise. She had had no idea that the practice of beneficence was so fatiguing.

People often came up to the little house on the ridge for rest and quiet, out of the closer air of the town, out of the racket and turmoil of the huge and hideous barrack hotels, that desolated the face of the country for many a mile round, even drawing great splotches of aggressive ugliness across the lovely wooded slopes of the mountains, so that no eye could possibly escape the sight of them. And after a brief sojourn, refreshed and soothed to the point of boredom, they returned with renewed zest to the horrors of civilization and excessive wealth in the barracks.

Les Oliviers itself was certainly not beautiful, and it was visible from far, but its humble position behind and beneath the monastery, its moderate size and similarity to the little green-shuttered houses dotted among vineyards and olive-gardens, with its absence of all pretence and meretricious ornament, redeemed it from vulgarity, and put its want of comeliness out of mind. So at least Mrs. Allonby told M. Isidore, who acknowledged the compliment with a bow, and observed with a sigh of deepest melancholy that it was the home of his heart's desire.

A cloud had for some days past hung over the habitual gaiety of the cheery little man, a cloud neither black with thunder nor leaden with low-hanging rain, but rather one of those pearly transparencies that flutter about sunset skies, catching and transmuting every glorious glow of crimson and gold and purple. He was obliging, courteous, full of wit and gaiety, as ever; but interspersed his sallies with deep-drawn sighs, emotional exclamations, and those little, half-humorous groans, that are the peculiar characteristic of the lively Gaul.

He had even discussed—with Mrs. Allonby—the frequency and inevitableness of self-destruction as a result of feminine scorn and variableness, and of blighted hopes, together with the best way of effecting it. For this, he had been gently, very gently, rebuked, and wisely and kindly counselled, and recommended to give back scorn for scorn.

"What care I how fair she be?" etc.

In rejoinder he had referred to the tragic circumstance that he possessed a heart, placing his hand over the region where hearts are supposed to be, with a gesture expressive of severe internal pain.

In short, there was no manner of doubt that M. Isidore was the victim of unrequited passion of the most powerful description, or that the sympathy implied or expressed by Mrs. Allonby's reception of his hinted confidences was balm to his wounded breast.

She told him quite plainly that he was a fool—a fact that he admitted with gusto—that he was young, and would soon get over it, which he denied with fury. Some such confidences had been imparted during chance meetings and aimless rovings along paths through pine-woods aromatic with undergrowth of myrtle and juniper; through solemn olive-groves, hushed and dim, their drooping foliage tangled with azure lights; between vineyards; by lonely cottages, pergola-shaded; through shadowy dells and along sunny ridge-tops. In the bee-haunted silence of these secluded ways suddenly, round a corner, up a ravine, down a steep, emerging from an aisle of pine-trunks, anything or anybody might appear as if by magic. Sometimes a mule, pattering softly and steadily under panniers of household goods and garden stuff, and followed by a peasant with ready smile and chat in broken French; now an old woman leading a goat; sometimes men or women laden with faggots and grass more heavily than their own patient, soft-eyed beasts; sometimes a gaily-caparisoned donkey bearing a tourist, sometimes a whole noisy troop of them; now a solitary pedestrian, now a numerous party, breaking the charmed quiet by confused babble of nasal American, guttural German, slurred English, or burred French; sometimes the sudden, abhorred gurgle of Miss Boundrish.

The suddenness and unexpectedness of these apparitions, the feeling that anything—a wood-nymph, a fairy, a mountain gnome, a Greek faun, the face of an old friend, or the bearer of some new fresh happiness—might appear was a great charm. One afternoon Ermengarde had been sitting under a pine-tree on a sandy bank by the path, looking across the ravine at the great sweep of crag-peaked mountains running down to a broad blue space of sea, when the figure of M. Isidore issued from hidden depths, and was suddenly outlined on the sky in front of her.

Quite naturally, and without hesitation, he let himself down on the myrtle-covered bank near the lady, but a little lower down, so that in speaking he had to look up. The easy, friendly ways of this attendant Ariel sometimes aroused a momentary wonder, soon stilled by the reflection that it was "only M. Isidore," a convenient and agreeable foreigner, outside conventions, socially non-existent, like the peasants who chatted and smiled so pleasantly in passing.

Though the daily unacknowledged offering of flowers continued, none had been worn since the episode of the Malmaisons. Not that any importance was to be attributed either to the French youth's graceful courtesy in giving flowers, or to the woman of mystery's unwarranted hints of gossip about it. Mrs. Allonby seldom wore flowers at table now, unless they were obviously wild; that was all.

Nor had the Italian lessons M. Isidore had been giving her stopped—he gave conversational lessons in that language to Miss Boundrish, to Mr. Welbourne, and other male visitors as well. There was nothing tedious or fatiguing in the Italian lessons given to Mrs. Allonby. They always began with Ollendorffian questions and answers in slow and indifferent Italian, as thus: "Do you like cheese? I do not like cheese, but the sister-in-law of the Italian organ-grinder likes cheese," and ended in light and gay discussions in quick, fluent French upon subjects of various interest, art, literature, the only drastic and effectual remedy for blighted hopes, the best place to pop and redeem jewels in, the last big haul at Monte Carlo, and the eminent personalities to be seen playing there—topics upon which this light-hearted youth was very well informed.

"Ah, Madame!" he sighed on this sunny afternoon, his beautiful dark eyes uplifted to her sympathetic face, and his hand fervidly pressing the upper part of his waistcoat; "if I might but reveal to you the anguish that is consuming me!"

Bees were drowsily humming in masses of grey-blue rosemary bloom, so drowsily that they accentuated the deep mountain silence, upon which the minor tones of the lovelorn youth's voice fell plaintive and clear. Ermengarde, regarding him with the unconsciously sweet expression that had won her many a heart, was replying, "Well, why not? Perhaps the trouble is not so great as it seems," when she became sympathetically aware, without looking up, through a sudden nervous tremor in her young friend's frame, of another presence on the path, and turned simultaneously with him to see the statuesque figure and cold, rigid face of Mlle. Bontemps.

She had apparently sprung up unobserved from the depths of the earth, as everybody did on that ridge, and stood waiting, her massively coiled hair shining uncovered in the fading sun, for an opportunity to speak.

The luckless Isidore was on his feet with a bound, while Ermengarde started with a smothered exclamation, and recovered with a little embarrassed laugh.

"How you startled me, Mademoiselle!" she said. "One hears nothing on this soft sand."

Mademoiselle seemed neither to see nor to hear Mrs. Allonby. Looking coldly at the embarrassed and apologetic Isidore, she said with a kind of weary calm, "Maman is still waiting," turned and walked away with her usual haughty bearing, and sank out of sight down the steep path, pursued, after a moment of despairing gesture, in which his hair suffered, and a wild exclamation of, "Mon Dieu! je l'avais oubliée, cette vieille!" by M. Isidore, to the mingled amusement and regret of Ermengarde, who justly divined that the charm of her society had beguiled the unfortunate youth into forgetfulness of the hour of some domestic duty, and that his reception at the hotel might be stormy.

"He really is a very dear boy," she reflected, leaning back against the gnarled pine-trunk, and watching the shadows fill hollow and ravine with vague blueness and the upward slanting sunlight steep the mountain peaks in crimson and rose, while the hushed sea grew bluer than its own incredible blue, and the clear, deep sky took a violet tinge. "How on earth did this boy come to be born in this small hotel-keeper class? He has the bearing of a prince, the instincts of a knight of romance, and the charm of a gallant child. And then to be sulked at and called over the coals by a girl like Geneviève, and at the beck and call of a woman like this Madame Bontemps!"

The situation was odious, impossible. She wished the poor boy were her son. When youngish women—women under thirty—find themselves wishing to be the mothers of full-grown and fascinating youths, they should at once begin to think as hard as possible of something else. Instead of this, Mrs. Allonby went on thinking how this young Isidore might be her son. He could not be more than twenty-one, certainly; it was hardly possible to be a mother at seven—but at seventeen? Had she been born just ten years earlier, the thing would have been not only possible, but probable. She might have been forcibly married to some unpleasant elderly person at sixteen—some foreign vicomte, who, after a few years, would have conveniently and politely died, leaving her in the bloom of youth, free and rich, as they do in French novels.

Then she might have met Arthur and married him, at eight or nine and twenty—a much more appropriate age for Arthur's wife—that is, in the event of Arthur having had the sense to be born on the date of his actual birth, though, of course, a man so exasperating was capable of anything. It would have been so interesting to marry a French noble and have those few years' glimpse of foreign life. And, in that case, the poor dear boy would certainly not have found himself in this sordid hotel-keeping element; he might have been in the diplomatic service; he was made for it. Why had her life not been arranged on these lines? An elder brother would have been so good for Charlie; she would have been less tempted to spoil the child; and being nearer his age, and having already trained one husband, she would have been more capable of understanding Arthur's freaks and fancies; and some recent regrettable incidents might never have occurred. But it is a crooked world.

Turning with a sigh, she found herself face to face with a figure that had come down unseen in the shadows, and proved to be that of a fellow-visitor. "Where is M. Isidore?" this lady asked abruptly in the German manner.

Hardly had Ermengarde expressed polite ignorance on the subject, when her musings were again interrupted by the appearance of Miss Boundrish's parents, on their evening stroll, with the same query, followed by expressions of disappointment at her inability to satisfy their curiosity.

"But where can he be?" exclaimed Mrs. Boundrish with irritation, upon which she was tartly advised to go back to the hotel and telephone for the required information.

"But you must know which way he went?" Mrs. Boundrish persisted obstinately.

"Indeed, I am neither as observant nor as curious as you suppose," she replied sweetly, vexed at having shown temper to a casual travelling acquaintance—a mere "passing ship"—whereupon Mr. and Mrs. Boundrish exchanged glances; while Ermengarde, incidentally remarking upon the well-known chill of the sunset hour, rose and walked in the opposite direction to her inquisitors—homewards—remembering as she went that it was not the first time that questions concerning the youth who might have been her son, if she had been ten years older, had annoyed her. The pettiness and impertinence of these underbred tourists—tourists are never of the first person; people have owned to criminality, but not to being tourists—the worst of these small hotels—people are so mixed up and thrown together.

"Well, and if the poor boy is hard hit," she meditated, "a grand passion is a necessary phase in a young man's development, and the more hopeless the better. But the bourgeois mind cannot grasp the beauty of an ideal devotion, of the unselfish homage a gallant youth gladly pays to one in every way hopelessly above him. A Boundrish can vulgarize even that poetic passion. How very lucky that the object of the poor lad's devotion happens to be a staid and sensible matron old enough to give motherly advice and young enough to be sympathetic," she reflected complacently, while she went slowly back to the house and dressed for table d'hôte.

She was still pursuing this current of reflection while she went downstairs in her simple semi-toilet, adorned no longer by tributary flowers, and sank upon the least hard-hearted of the drawing-room easy-chairs.

"Oh, I say, Mrs. Allonby!" cried Miss Boundrish, bursting into the half-lighted, empty room with her usual grace and charm, and punctuating her remarks with gurgles, "I'm jolly glad you're safe, so far. That Bontemps girl is going for you the minute she sees you. There has been the most awful row downstairs about you. Best double-lock your door to-night, and be careful to eat nothing that has not been tasted by somebody else."

"My dear Miss Boundrish," she replied gently, observing that no one else was in the room; "you are young, and your imagination is vivid; do you think it quite wise to mix yourself up with the people of the house?"

But Dorris was not to be crushed; she only gurgled scornfully, and would have made some pert retort, had not the thin man, who, after all, had been lounging unseen in a shadowed corner, suddenly glided to the piano, struck some full bass chords and begun to improvise in a pleasant fashion he had at times: when the room was empty and he felt moved to confide his thoughts and dreams to the spirit in the instrument.

Then Ermengarde, ruffled and inwardly raging, but grateful for Mr. Welbourne's paternal care, took a seat touching the piano, and was silent; the man with the ascetic face came in and stood like a statue behind the player; the room slowly filled; but Mr. Welbourne, contrary to custom, played on, as if something within him must find expression in music, even when a buzz of talk hummed through the room and lights were turned up, until dinner.

Chapter XIII

The Publisher's Parcel

Though conjectures as to the manner in which poor Agatha Somers had become possessed of the necklace disturbed Ermengarde's sleep, and the glow of the sapphires coloured all her thoughts of her, she was obliged to take the creature to her heart; there was in her something so lovable and so pathetic, especially that appeal in her eyes—so she confided to Mr. Welbourne, who smiled and seemed gratified by this view of their mutual friend, though he said little.

She seems fond of me, Ermengarde reflected; I wonder why? How great, she mused, is the attraction that virtue has for the depraved and rectitude for the outcast! Who could tell what redeeming influence a good woman's kindness might exercise upon this erring young soul? She would certainly befriend the wanderer in every possible way, except that of helping her to dispose of ill-gotten jewellery. Perhaps there might be some grain of truth, some small foundation in fact, for the circumstantial family history this ingenious young person had related to her by the wood fire that evening. She was undoubtedly well-bred, possibly well-born; it was highly probable that she had been nurtured in comfort, if not luxury—still, how did she come by that necklace? It was a small fortune in itself. Nobody reduced to bread-labour would keep so much money locked up. Again, what possible work of a secretarial character could she be doing in this land of lotus-eating? Or how could a penniless young woman afford such an expensive holiday as this? Was she, could she be, a female detective?

In that case, who could she be shadowing, up here in the mountains, among this little company of highly respectable, not to say frumpish, folk? Surely not the thin man—yet human character abounds in the unexpected and even the incredible—had Mr. Welbourne, after all, a wife desirous of shunting him? Was he a wolf in sheep's clothing, a hypocrite steeped in iniquity? Lame and deformed people often have a twist in their character—not that poor Mr. Welbourne was deformed—indeed, had his fleshly covering been a little more abundant, he would have been rather good-looking, his features well-cut, his eyes bright and animated. There was nobody else to shadow at Les Oliviers—no English body else, that is—the visitors mostly consisted of family parties.

No; she must be some kind of spy or conspirator, in league as she was with the Anarchist. Yet Ivor Paul was hardly a spy or a conspirator; both the thin man and the fair Dorris agreed in placing him as the scion of a family of rank; they knew that he was only five lives off a peerage, but those lives were young and vigorous. Lady Seaton, who knew the ins and outs and most intricate ramifications of every family of consequence, and never forgot who married who, and how they were connected with everybody else, a widow old enough to mention her age without prevarication, and herself allied in some distant and complicated manner to every coronet-bearing English name, had known his father in his youth; she remembered that his mother had married a second time; she had forgotten the man's name; it would come back to her presently. Sir George, her late husband, had been in public life; the present baronet represented a North-country constituency, and had been a Minister. So far, the truth of Agatha's story was confirmed; though what the woman of mystery's relations with this young man might be, it was wiser not to dwell upon. And if she improvised ailing aunts at need, so did Miss Boundrish, about whom, with all her delightful deviations from the normal English girl, there was no manner of mystery, her father giving himself out for what he undoubtedly was—a plain, substantial British merchant.

"Our young friend," Mr. Welbourne observed one day after some act of kindness on the part of Agatha to Ermengarde, whose weakness had not yet entirely left her, "appears to be much attached to you, Mrs. Allonby."

"But I can't think why," she replied; "though I can't help liking the girl myself."

"Why should you help it? A kindly nature," he added, with a sigh so deep and so despairing that she was sorry for him. Had the thin man met with so few kindly natures on his earthly pilgrimage; or was it, could it, at his age be, hopeless passion?

Lady Seaton had but recently come up to the peace of the house on the ridge from one of the great hotels below, where there was too much crowding and racket for her. She was fairly well read and interested in many things, and had shown much friendliness, mixed with something that was almost deference, to Ermengarde. In the course of half an hour's desultory chat in the garden she had become acquainted with all the leading facts in Mrs. Allonby's life; Charlie's name, age, school, disposition, and beauty; the busy journalist husband; the attack of influenza; the subsequent depression, and present holiday trip; while Ermengarde had had a vague notion that they had been discussing the climate and topography of the Riviera, and Lady Seaton's own health, all the time.

"You must be very proud of your husband, Mrs. Allonby," she said, when they were parting on that occasion, and Ermengarde made some vague and wondering assent to the assumption.

A husband is a not unusual piece of personal property; why on earth be proud of it? Still, she was not going to let people think she was ashamed of poor old Arthur, who, with all his faults, was probably no worse than other men—besides, even if he were ever so bad, he was her man, and she must stand up for him. "A poor thing, sirs, but mine own."

Since Lady Seaton's arrival Ermengarde had been dimly conscious of a difference in people's manner to her, as if that of the kind-hearted old lady had been infectious, or her avowed interest had conferred some distinction upon her.

Once, when she had tucked herself up cosily in a nook behind a rose-trellis and fallen asleep in the sunshine, she had been waked by a murmur of voices from people on the other side of her trellis, and heard in the adored treble shout of the Boundrish, "Well! I simply call it scandalous. I wonder the Bontemps put up with it. Such goings on are a reflection upon us all."

"You need have no fear, Miss Boundrish," replied Lady Seaton's low, distinct voice, in which Ermengarde detected a subtle hint of sarcasm, "you are quite beyond any such reflection."

"Well, I don't know about that," she replied with complacent gurgles. "One doesn't care to associate with people who get themselves talked about. An inherited instinct, I suppose," with more gurgles. "Besides, how do you know who she is, or whether she has a husband at all? Grass-widows who run about the Continent alone, and play at Monty to that extent that they have to pop their jewels——"

Ermengarde smiled at this. "After all, I'm not the only one who pops jewels here," she thought; "but who on earth can the Boundrish be going for now?"

"—Why, I saw her go in myself, and she thought I didn't know her under her black gossamer, and I saw the things in the window afterwards——"

"You were there, too?" the thin man interjected, with a greenish glitter in his eye.

"Oh yes; nothing escapes me——"

"So it appears, and nobody," he murmured to himself.

"—A grass-widow who does that kind of thing needn't go about with her nose in the air, snubbing people she couldn't possibly get in with at home, not to speak of the disgraceful way in which she persecutes that poor silly young Isidore, who will probably get the sack owing to her, besides losing his fiancée——"

Ermengarde smiled to herself. Was the poor boy engaged, then? and how could his engagement affect the only grass-widow besides herself in the house? It certainly was well known that the latter gave the young man a good deal of unnecessary trouble, but what had that to do with this supposed engagement of his?

"Though it's true," the artless girl continued, "that she has given up wearing his flowers at dinner, just to put people off the scent, and persuades herself that nobody notices all the little walks and talks on the quiet—

Ermengarde, who had listened guilelessly, supposing these remarks to be addressed to the general public, suddenly changed colour, while another voice, that of Agatha, as suddenly struck in, "Miss Boundrish, you are positively slanderous. Such things ought not to be said, even if true, which they are not."

"Say, Miss Somers, don't you get mad," the American lady began. "I judge this young Isidore can look after himself some, whoever makes eyes at him, Miss Boundrish. There are folks must flirt, if it's only with a broomstick; they just can't help making eyes when there's any men around. I guess they don't know they're doing it all the time."

"When people are attractive," came in Lady Seaton's exact intonation, "they are often accused of trying to attract."

"Oh, attract," gurgled Miss Boundrish. "How anyone can be attracted by a nose like that—why, you might hang your hat upon it. And as for her waist——"

"Want of style," her mother suggested, "while her dress——"

"Oh, she don't calculate to dress any. She just slumps along anyhow up in these mountains, I judge. I never was much on the apple-cheeked, yalla-haired sort—British gells are too beefy for my taste—else she's pretty enough, and, my! don't her eyes snap; nights, when she kind of fancies herself!"

"And thinks she can play bridge, and tries to strum on the piano," added Dorris viciously.

"Were our fair friend the subject of masculine comment," observed Mr. Welbourne impressively, "the verdict would, I venture to predict, be one of whole-hearted admiration on every count."

"Thank you," sighed Ermengarde in her corner, whence she dared not try to escape.

"Oh, a man's woman is pretty much the same as a lady's man," Dorris gurgled, "so they say."

"You may stake your pile on that, Miss Boundrish," the American corroborated.

"And you don't suppose that hair of hers is all grown on the premises," continued Dorris acidly.

"Whatever you suppose, I've seen it brushed out," Agatha retorted—"lovely hair, like floss-silk."

"At any rate, no hair could be that colour naturally, and it gets brighter every day—thanks to the climate, I suppose. The Monte Carlo yellows are famous, you know——"

"Cat!" murmured Ermengarde. "How I should enjoy the twisting of yours!"

"But what I simply can't stand," pursued the injured maiden plaintively, "is her making herself out to be somebody—pretending to be that man's wife——"

"Ah, well! this can't be me. I don't pretend to be anybody's wife," thought Ermengarde.

"She is his wife," Agatha said.

"Or one of his wives. He may have dozens for all we know——"

"Dorris, my dear," faltered her poor mother, blushing wildly.

"Well, mater, so he may; that kind of man often does. And, as I said before, nobody knows anything about her, or whether she has any husband at all—she may have five—or six——"

"Seven is considered a round, complete, and therefore sacred, number, though the wife of Bath only had five," observed Mr. Welbourne thoughtfully.

"Bath! What Bath? D'you mean Lord Bath's wife?" Dorris asked. "And did he get her divorced?"

"For the Land's sake, Miss Boundrish," shouted Mrs. Dinwiddie, the American lady, "if you don't just tickle me to death! Lord Bath——" while the thin man chuckled grimly to himself.

"I never can remember about titled people," Dorris complained bitterly, as if this defect of memory was owing to the malice of present company. "And I should have thought that Americans never knew anything to forget," she added vindictively.

"That is so—'cept when we marry dukes. But don't you fret, Miss Boundrish, there's a sight of things better worth knowing than that, you put your bottom dollar on it."

Agatha and Lady Seaton had in the meantime drawn Mrs. Boundrish into other talk, and the thin man had reminded them of an early promise to come to a private view of his sketches, in which project Miss Boundrish, who was within earshot, promptly included herself.

The American went off in another direction, and Ermengarde, unable to stir an inch without attracting attention, kept her eyes fiercely shut, so as to look asleep, till the footsteps died away. Then she rose and went round to the front of the terrace, where Agatha still sat among the flowers, with a fountain pen and a paper partially covered with cipher in her hand, but looking over the sunny amplitude of space to the sea.

She started at seeing Ermengarde, and seemed relieved when the latter told her she had been dozing behind the trellis, and had waked to hear the conversation. "For your part of which, thank you," she said, smiling. "No doubt I ought to have got away, but I hadn't wit or pluck enough," she added, sitting by Agatha, and laying her hand caressingly on her arm. "What that horrid cat said about popping jewellery was partly true. I sold the chain I got at the Carnival, and—a ring—and—h'm—I redeemed the ring only yesterday—there it is—and I hope nobody else will ever know what a fool I've been. The solid truth is, I should have had to go home to England at once if I hadn't got back those few louis I lost that afternoon—and I badly wanted to stay on."

"Did Mr. Mosson give you a wrinkle, or was it pure luck?" Agatha asked, warmed to the heart by this unwonted cordiality.

"Oh, pure luck."

"It's so beguiling—that first luck," Agatha sighed. "And then, when the luck goes, there's the necessity and hope of getting the losses back. The demon of chance sits there, I suppose, like a great spider, weaving, weaving his poison-webs, till the poor fly, caught and tangled hopelessly all round, can struggle no more. And people live on this—on these blighted lives, broken homes, shattered hearts, and widespread misery and despair! Have you seen the cathedral, Mrs. Allonby—that snow-white, brand-new, dazzling immensity of marble at Monaco, flaunting among the palms and pines and flowers, all built out of these cruel gains, these despairs and miseries and degradations? And that palace? Nearly all the palace is new, built out of Casino winnings, as you remember."

"Perhaps that's why it's so vulgar. You want to wipe it out of the picture—cathedral and palace, too, built of money."

"Not of money," she said, her eyes shining with a hard brilliance. "No, built of broken hearts—women's hearts, mothers' hearts, wives' hearts. Oh, to see the whole accursed monstrosity levelled to the ground! I cannot speak of it."

What did this sudden passion mean, Ermengarde wondered; then she remembered the "connexion by marriage," and was sorry for her.

"According to Mr. Welbourne, it is not the gamblers who make the income," she said. "It is the people who stop a few days at Monte Carlo, and throw away a couple of louis at the tables to pass the time. After all, most amusements have to be paid for, and what enjoyment is not liable to abuse?"

"Enjoyment," cried Agatha, "enjoyment!"

"The gambling instinct, the delight in the excitement of chance, seems pretty deeply rooted in human nature."

"What vile passion is not deeply rooted in human nature? Mrs. Allonby, I could tell you tragedies. But no——"

Could anything be more moral, correct, and praise-worthy than this impetuous outburst?

And yet, on the very next day, who should Ermengarde meet in the Casino, coming out of the Salle de Jeu, but the woman of mystery herself? Not alone, certainly, but in earnest conversation with the ubiquitous and elusive Anarchist, whom she began to suspect of being no creature of flesh and blood, but some sinister spirit haunting her path with evil intent. So absorbed in their talk were those two that they passed her without recognition, as she turned aside to go into the concert-hall with the American lady and the thin man, who chanced to be with her that day.

A Thursday Classic Concert was being given by the world-famous orchestra; the hall was crowded. Ermengarde thought she recognized everybody she knew on the Riviera in different parts of the house. An aunt, a genuine relative of her own, from Cap Martin, nodded across the fauteuils to her, and missed her in coming out, not wholly to Mrs. Allonby's regret. Elderly relatives are for the fireside, with purring cats, singing tea-kettles and buttered muffins, but they scarcely seem in keeping with places of public amusement. Family matters should never be discussed at full-dress functions.

It was very pleasant outside in the sunlit Gardens by the café, where chairs in a commanding position had been easily found. Fine orchestral music agreeably excites the imagination while it soothes the nerves. Never had the Pathetic Symphony of Tchaikowsky been more beautifully played; it lingered and echoed with harmonious heart-break in the imagination, heightening the beauty of the scenery, making the fresh air fresher and the tea even more enjoyable.

Lady Seaton came up, bringing a nephew, and was easily induced to join the tea-party. The nephew turned out well. Ermengarde observed that his nose was in the Greek style, and his eyes twinkled like the little star of infantile verse. She was in the happy and peaceful mood induced by the subconsciousness of absolutely becoming and perfectly fitting costume. A glance snatched at a little mirror in her bag had assured her that not a hair was out of place, and neither flush nor pallor marred a complexion unsullied by powder or paint. In short, they were all in a mood of great content and enjoyment, when a sudden, a too familiar, sound struck upon Ermengarde's ear, and drew cold chills down her back. It was the voice of Miss Boundrish.

Vainly did the whole party, struck with sudden silence, try to look the other way, and avoid meeting the fair girl's speedwell blue eye, which beamed with friendly recognition and good fellowship. Making her way steadily through the crowd, with the captive Teuton in her wake, she bore resolutely down upon them, her coral lips wreathed in smiles, and graciously announced her intention to join their party.

The captive, innocent of offence, obediently placed chairs in their circle, and gloomily discoursed upon the performance of the orchestra and the shots at the Tir aux Pigeons in correct English and an accent of resigned despair, Dorris, whenever the conversation threatened to become at all interesting, breaking in upon it with some trivial personality.

Mrs. Dinwiddie, fortified by three cups of scented China tea, and refreshed by several deep plunges into a box of superfine bonbons handed her by the thin man, had been drawn from raptures over the kettle-drums into some enlightening hints at the mysteries of American political machinery in different States, of which she had experimental knowledge.

Everybody, especially the Prussian officer, was listening with interest; no one spoke, except to draw out further information; even Ermengarde's familiar demon, the Anarchist, who, to her disgust, was sitting at a table near, drinking something through a long straw, was hanging upon Mrs. Dinwiddie's words, when Dorris, after several baffled attempts by various irrelevant remarks and inept questions, promptly snubbed by the genial Yankee, to plunge headlong into the talk, suddenly shouted, "Mrs. Allonby, I do want to know something very badly," with such energy and emphasis that it was impossible not to give some faint response.

"Yes?" said Ermengarde, politely patient, though she had not forgotten the fair girl's depreciation of her nose, which certainly had a tiny tilt at the tip.

"I want badly to know," Dorris called across Mrs. Dinwiddie, "whether you really are the wife of the Allonby?"

"That is so," echoed the American, her interest suddenly diverted. "Do tell, Mrs. Allonby, are you?"

"How can I tell?" she objected. "I know very well which is my Allonby, but how do I know which is yours?"

"Land's sake!" cried Mrs. Dinwiddie, "Why, the famous Allonby, to be sure—the author of 'Storm and Stress.' Are you a relative of that prominent writer?"

What was the woman driving at? 'Storm and Stress'? Was it—could it be the title of Arthur's latest effusion?

"Well," she replied slowly and thoughtfully, "I never like to be too certain about anything—it is not good manners, so I was brought up to think—but I—ah—I think—yes, I rather fancy that I am—connected with him—the writing-man you are speaking of. As far as I know, he is some sort of a connexion of mine—by marriage—only a connexion by marriage."

A curious snorting sound drew momentary and disgusted attention to the Anarchist, who appeared to be choking badly through the long straws—foreigners are so hopelessly ignorant of the niceties of table manners. Mrs. Dinwiddie looked disappointed, even defrauded, until she caught Ermengarde's eye, when her high-featured visage expanded into a genial smile. But Dorris was all gurgles, triumphant, exasperating. "I knew it all the time," she exclaimed scornfully. "I was sure you were not his wife, but Lady Seaton and Mr. Welbourne would have it you were."

"Mr. Allonby's is a very remarkable work," Lady Seaton said. "I don't know when I have been so thoroughly roused and invigorated by any book. All thinking people must be grateful to the author of 'Storm and Stress.'"

"All thinking people are," the nephew added; with firm conviction.

"Very kind of you to say so," Ermengarde faintly murmured.

"They're just mad about it on our side," Mrs. Dinwiddie told her. "We judge that Arthur Allonby has arrived with 'Storm and Stress' on our side."

"A not unusual way of crossing the Atlantic," Ermengarde hazarded, at her wits' end, and imagining some wild mistake or confusion of names, though not without some vague memory of the title mentioned, in connexion with a postal packet from Arthur's publishers, the contents of which she was always going, from a sense of duty, to investigate, and always from innumerable causes omitting to. It would not run away; it could be opened and read at any time, which is no time.

"Well, I reckon it didn't make him sick anyhow," Mrs. Dinwiddie replied, with a grim smile, and Dorris stridently supposed that successful writers usually went to America to read their works in public, and always found that American cookery upset their internal economy more seriously than crossing the Atlantic, an observation that appeared to afford joy to everybody but the captive, whom it plunged into reverie of a melancholy nature.

The Allonby! Not her own native charm, then, but the prestige of that tiresome old Arthur's name was the cause of this new deference that had come to Ermengarde of late. And he had never told her—a lump rose in her throat—had left her to hear his good fortune casually from strangers. To be sure, he could hardly have been expected to write to her: "I have just become a celebrity," "My new novel is a marvel of genius," "I am one of the most remarkable men of this age." Still, she was injured. A wife should not be the last person to hear of a husband's promotion.

Going home in the train that afternoon, she found her neighbour absorbed in a Tauchnitz volume, and sudden curiosity overpowering good manners, she made out "Storm and Stress" on the top of the page. Dining with friends in one of the big barrack hotels that evening, she saw the book lying on little tables in the lounge, in the drawing-room, in her host's sitting-room; and, her glance being detected upon it, heard that it was being read all over Mentone, the Riviera, at Rome, at Florence, in the Engadine, in Paris, wherever wandering Britons congregated; that it was being discussed at suburban dinners and teas, and was found in the reading-rooms of West End clubs; that it had been consigned to the fire by Bishops, and preached about by Archdeacons; that it was talked of by people of culture, and had even penetrated to our most ancient Universities, where undergraduates, face downwards on the turf of sunny college gardens, had been known to pass shining hours in its perusal. And he had never said a word, and had grudged her five hats.

"How proud and happy you must be, dear Mrs. Allonby," said her hostess. "And how does he take it? Is he surprised, or does he take it all for granted? He must at least have known that he was going to make a hit."

"Do you know the sex of the sphinx?" she returned faintly, some hot inexplicable tears misting her eyes. "I have always been sure the sphinx must have been a man. Men are so subtle—especially mine."

"Somebody was saying that the Allonbys don't quite hit it off," her friend told her husband afterwards. "And it's my opinion that she doesn't know where he is. I wonder if he knows where she is?"

When the wife of the Allonby reached her shelter on the ridge that night, she avoided meeting anybody, especially Agatha, who was equally anxious to avoid meeting her, and for the same reason—that she had been having a good cry. But Agatha knew perfectly well why she had had recourse to those waters of comfort, while Ermengarde had not the remotest idea.

Having felt the usual relief from the world-old remedy, brushed out her hair, wrapped herself in a dressing-gown, and smelt M. Isidore's latest floral offering, Mrs. Allonby lighted a tall candle and set to work to master the contents of the publisher's parcel.

So that, when an orange and crimson sunrise came up gloriously out of a peacock green sea, it showed a woman asleep in an easy-chair by a guttering candle, her head on one arm on a table, and half-hidden in a cloud of fair hair, with a volume labelled "Storm and Stress" on the floor at her side.

Chapter XIV

At Turbia

"What Roman strength Turbia showed
In ruin by the mountain road.
How like a gem, beneath, the city
Of little Monaco, basking, glowed."

"Little Monaco, basking," and glowing, too, as the poet says, sits on its rock that runs out into the sea, in a world of its own, cut off, distinct, aloof from the every-day world, like some enchanted princess, walled away from reality in a faery land by rose and fire. The tiny city, that is also a principality, with a tiny harbour and arsenal at the rock foot, and a castled palace where it joins the mainland, is little more than a stone's throw—less than a long-range rifle-shot—from Monte Carlo, but in atmosphere worlds away. It has nothing in common with it, except the deep gorge stretching behind both and backed by the craggy bastion of the Tête du Chien and the dark rich sea, that breaks impartially upon the rocky base of each.

You may step into a tram-car at the Casino out of a crowd of painted women, sporting men, Jews, semi-invalids, respectable tourists, and disreputable sharpers from every capital in Europe, and from some in Africa and America, and in five minutes find yourself in an impossible fairy region of tranquil beauty—a town that is partly Italian and partly dream-magic, scantily peopled by priests, nuns, lay-sisters in various garb and wide-winged cap, orphanage children, Monagask soldiers, a few peasant folk leaning from roof-gardens and loggias in narrow, silent streets, and a sprinkling of humble bourgeois in the recesses of small dark shops, selling humble necessaries that nobody seems to want. Sometimes a procession of richly vestured priests, and acolytes with candles and swinging censers, slowly traverses the empty ways. The silence is so deep you can almost hear it. Every vista is closed by pines, through the deep-green boughs and ruddy stems of which glows that glorious deep-blue sea under a sky of paler blue.

And what a road it is that leads to the still city, winding round and up the steep rock, upon which she sits superb above the waters, a rock hung with rich-hued tapestry of geranium, cactus, rose, and even our old friend the homely blackberry, transformed by the wizardry of the winter sun into splendour of crimson and golden arras. Very few steps past the dazzling new cathedral, that rises snow white above the quiet streets, lead you by a short turn into those strange gardens, that are really enchanted woods of olive, palm, and pine, with glorious flowers for undergrowth, cresting the sheer, sea-fronting steep of rock, down the face of which flowers, gorgeous creepers and hanging plants overflow to the white-combed breakers beneath. Thence the Armida gardens and glaringly vulgar Monte Carlo Casino gleam idealized in frames of olive foliage and pine-boughs, and all the beauty of the vast sweep of coast in its amphitheatre of circling mountains. Nightingale song throbs quick and rich above the deep murmur of surging wave and sighing pine-top, always providing you go at the right time; bees hum and the ring of a sail running down a mast with the wash of steam vessels and motors is faintly heard through the clear and sunny air. You may go back from this fairy land to the racket and worldliness of Monte Carlo through the strange vegetable diablerie and Arabian Nights' charm of the Casino gardens and their surrounding and intermingling shops and restaurants, and enjoy a still more striking contrast in the simple act of taking a seat in what Germans call a go-chair—Fahr-stuhl.

This prosaic modern convenience is found in a small dark enclosure that recalls a prison exercise yard, sunless, squalid. Take a seat in it, and wait patiently until it occurs to the mountain gnome or brownie in charge to work some spell of Nature magic, when the thing rises like the Arabian carpet, and in two minutes all the blazing diamonds, Parisian costumes, and blatant vulgarities centred round the glaring Casino sink and fade into a few blurred scars on the terraced hill-face below. Meanwhile the occupant of the cushioned go-chair winds and soars between cultivated vine and lemon terraces, scattered at intervals, with here and there a homestead and here and there a pergola and flower-garden, but mainly through woods of black-coned, light-foliaged Mediterranean pine and huge gnarled olives, black-fruited, of inconceivable antiquity, their grey columnar trunks writhen by secular, perhaps millennial, storms, rising from rich red soil between pale grey boulders—soars and winds up the vast sides of the mighty gorge, so thick and dark with olive and pine that the sparsely scattered brightness of vine and lemon and mimosa is lost among dense foliage; winds and soars till the woods thin and orange, olive, and myrtles are left far below, the gardens and vineyards grow poorer, the air keener, and the long, craggy bluff ending in the Tête du Chien is scaled, and the go-chair stops finally under the shadow of the stately Roman tower of Turbia, massive and scarcely worn by time, but half ruined by the wanton violence of eighteenth-century spoilers.

And ever as the crude luxury and meretricious ornament of the pleasure-town sinks, the splendour of the sea-bounded prospect spreads and grows, from the purple majesty of Bordighera headland, running down from its Alpine background, to the promontory of Cap d'Ail beyond the craggy bluff that shelters Monte Carlo; with many a sheltered town and towered villa and headland stepping into foam-fringed bays, enclosed in the grand sweep of mountain coast. Just within the curve of the deep gorge under Turbia the Irish-looking column of Les Moulins stands up clear and gaunt far below, on the level-topped rock fringed with wood; Monaco shows bright and distinct on the broad plain of vivid blue sea, and, the centre of all, softened and lessened by distance, the white marble domes of the Casino are traced upon the liquid sapphire, vulgar no more, but lovely as if seen through

"Magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn."

Only nothing is forlorn in this land of light and colour; all is gay, friendly, full of laughter and life.

Yet on a certain radiant forenoon the Fahr-stuhl, or rope-railway, lifted through all this wild poetic beauty a healthy, full-blooded young Englishman, bright-eyed and well-groomed, blind to all.

He had wandered, aimless and unseeing, through the contrasted charm and picturesque strength of Monaco, strolled by the tiny harbour, up the hill, through the weird suggestion of writhen bone-like cactus-trees and richness of palm and aloe, caroub and rose and glowing flower-bed, past Casino and hotel, still unseeing, his features, made for facile laughter and easy geniality, lined by care and drawn into heavy frowns. From the gardens of Monaco he had looked long and wistfully into the sea breaking so softly at the rock foot, and once again by the harbour, with a sort of irresolute longing that came to nothing. In the funicular he had read and re-read letters, and made calculations with pencilled figures, and then with weary impatience torn them up and scattered them where the line ran steep and sheer above the gorge.

And when he stepped out upon the craggy mountain rim at Turbia, his listless feet took him to the plaster hotel tracing its mean outlines upon the sky, beside the majesty of the fine tower that marks Cæsar's subjection of conquered Liguria—subject to so many masters since—to Rome.

Perhaps he only went that way because the other occupants of the go-chair, the lady with blackened eyes and red curls pinned outside her hat-brim, the gentleman with the hooked nose, shiny hair, and vast white waistcoat, the grave family party scattering exclamations of Wunderschön, Prachtvoll, Echt malerisch, on the sunny air, the mature maidens, absorbed in Baedekers, and lordly, tweed-clad Britons, conversing in grunts, went straight from the rich flesh-pots of Monte Carlo to the oil and wine of a mean restaurant perched on the stately crag-wall, making the centre view point for scores of miles round.

For when he found himself in the grounds looking down upon the vast splendour of mountain and sea, he seemed to recollect himself, turned and went through the village that lies modestly behind the Roman tower, over cobbled paths, under Roman archways, through narrow streets, picturesque with loggia and outside stair and dark-arched entrance, through wide, pleasant spaces planted with trees and scattered with long blocks of limestone, used as seats, and polished to marble by the friction of generations; here meeting a slow-paced pack-mule, peasant-led; here a woman, wearing a huge and heavy basket on her head, like a crown; and here a group of soldiers, in baggy trousers of stained red and worn tunic of soiled blue, with a general air of having slept, unwashed, for weeks in uniform. And west of the ancient village the craggy crest of the Tête du Chien, the fortress of to-day, and east and south sea and mountain, and everywhere garden growth, foliage, and scented blossom, and the beauty of children at play and young women and handsome youths at work.

For all this the traveller, looking round and searching in the rich vocabulary of British youth for a term at once fit and comprehensive, found the choice phrase, "Rotten hole, this."

He stopped at a corner house abutting on a tree-shadowed square, with a loggia ending in a sort of roof-garden; and, stumbling through a dark archway, and falling over several garden and household tools on to a steep stairway, drew further upon his vocabulary for the epithet, "Beastly rotten hole." By this time the rumble tumble of his wild scramble up the stairs had brought out a stalwart form, a few rays of light and words of welcome, from the door of a room opening on the loggia.

"Here at last, young un? How many more of you? Row enough for ten."

It was a shaggy-bearded, brown-faced man, with deep-set eyes of piercing lustre and a forehead like a cliff-wall, roughly dressed, but clean-looking as an Englishman, though his name ended in ski; he had risen from a table covered with papers of various script, newspaper cuttings and journals in many tongues, and furnished with a type-writing machine. A bed, a chest of drawers topped by a milk-jug in a slop-basin, a small, square looking-glass, a clothes-press, two chairs, an easel, a bag of golf-clubs, some walking-sticks and mineral-water bottles, several pairs of boots, a wood basket and books of all sizes, falling out of packing-cases and strewn over bed, chairs, floor and every available ledge, completed the furniture of a fair-sized sunny room with an open hearth, on which some wood ashes gave token of a former fire.

"Snug," the host said, indicating the surroundings with a sweep of the hand, and tipping a pile of books off a chair.

"Topping," replied the guest, stepping gingerly through the archipelago of books, and surveying the scene with ill-dissembled disgust.

"You seem jolly chippy this morning. What's the row?" continued the host, handing a cigarette-box.

"Nothing much. Only stone-broke."

"What, again? I say, young un, you'll do this once too often."

"I jolly well have."

"Oh, come along and have some lunch. Can you do with native fare? I feed at the osteria over there, and hear all the gossip of the place. Olives, cheese, omelettes, sardines, salad, coffee, vin du pays."

"Thanks. I bar the vinegar."

The enjoyment of this simple menu appeared to lighten the young man's cheer considerably. His appetite, for a person who had been contemplating a violent exit from a world of care at intervals all the forenoon, was not bad—a circumstance not unobserved by his host. The table talk was impersonal and even lighter than the fare. An anecdote spiced with dry humour drew from the stony-broke a light-hearted, boyish laugh, the gay ring of which attracted the attention and sympathetic smiles of some workmen and peasants.

"He has a light heart, that one," they told each other in their patois, as if the possession of a light heart were guarantee of all that is admirable in man.

"Didn't you try ranching once?" the light-hearted one suddenly asked the man of piercing gaze.

"I did. Once."

"Any money in ranching?"

"Best part of mine left in it."

"What has money in it? That's what I want to know?"

"What is that to you? You don't want money."

"Oh, don't I just! When I tell you I'm stone-broke."

"With you it's chronic. No, you don't want money. What you want is sense."

"Anything else?"

"Just a trifle of self-control, a smattering of principle, manliness—h'm—honour!"

"Thanks, awfully. Have one of these?" His face crimsoned, darkened, and set in a sullen ferocity. The elder man smiled behind his beard, glad to have touched some harder stuff under the facile sweetness.

"Yes, young one, that's the right word," he repeated.

The boy got up, very pale, thanked him for the luncheon, and said that he had to go. The man rose, too, put some silver on the table, and followed him into the sunny street. There they walked silently side by side till they reached the outskirts of the village, behind the Roman tower, where the turf was broken by grey boulders and dotted with thorn and bramble-bushes, and the air was sharp even in the brilliant sun.

"Very English," the elder man said, pointing to the turf; but the young one was silent still, and his friend saw that he was fighting to keep back tears.

"Just look at those soldiers," he added, when their road crossed another, quite open, but labelled défense militaire, where some men in shabby uniforms and dented képis were strolling. "Did they come out of a second-hand clothes shop?"

"They don't walk; they shamble," the young man replied, roused to look at them with a critical eye, and thinking of the smart, well-set-up fellows under his own command with a home-sick pang.

"What should you give yours for that, eh?"

"It isn't so much your English, as your slang, that I wonder at, de Konski. Where on earth did you get it?" the young man asked.

"In England probably. Yes, I have spent some time in England. Do you know, Paul, I used to see a good deal of your mother at one time, and I have never lost touch with her."

"Ah, she didn't teach you slang," he reflected, wondering if the man had been an old flame of his mother's. That he was for some good reason passing under an assumed name he knew; that he was on intimate terms with people of his acquaintance, and conversant with all his family affairs, he was well aware, else he knew only that the man had befriended and helped him as a friend of his cousin's.

"And I know more about her now than you do, perhaps, for I know what is breaking her heart," the elder man added.

"Oh, hearts don't break so easily. But I know what will cut her up awfully when she hears it," the youth said, jamming his hat sullenly over his eyes. "But—well, my sisters will look after her. They'll make her happy. As for me—well, it must be the ranks, or the Colonies—or the first opportunity of being washed overboard—taken with cramp, swimming. No other way. I did think of the sea—or a shot—this morning. But—she mustn't think it's on purpose. She——"

"Come, come," remonstrated the elder man, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Let's hear all about it. It's a rare thing that is past mending."

"No mending for me. Played out, and done for at last. What you—you said—though you were a beast to say it—is true. Good for nothing—best out of the way."

On this road, that was sheltered from the sharp breeze by the cliff, it was hot. A glimpse of snow-peak up a gorge far inland was refreshing, and yonder, on the left across a wooded ravine, came the blue glow of the sea from the other side by unseen Villafranca behind the hill, whence warships were steaming slowly.

The elder man sat down on a rock by the road, and observed all this beauty of sunny sea and green mountain slope and far-vistaed gorge. The other saw nothing. He stood with his face turned from his companion, who observed a slight quiver in the square shoulder towards him; then the young man suddenly flung himself face downwards on the grassy bank by his side, while the bearded man lit a pipe and smoked thoughtfully for some seconds, till the faint convulsive motion of the shoulders had stopped.

"What is the net amount this time?" he asked then of the recumbent figure, which turned slowly on its back and sat up, staring vacantly out into the purple sea-spaces.

"It's the Spider," he said at last, "and, you see, it's been piled up gradually—heaven knows how—I hadn't a notion. He's been accommodating me from time to time with a few louis, and now he has stuck on his beastly interest—made it run into four figures, and flung it at me, yesterday. And the beast won't wait for my infernal luck to change, as of course it must before long. Threatens to ask the chief to stop it out of my pay."

"And what have you to meet this with?" asked the bearded man, taking and reading the figures on the paper handed to him.

The young man drew a few francs from his pocket. "These, and a longish score at the hotel, where they are beginning to dun me. Watch gone, everything, but a pair of gold sleeve-links. Two horses at home, and a few sticks in barracks, and several bills to pay. So the game's played out."

"It looks dark," the Pole acknowledged, "but there may be a gleam somewhere."

"I've been so unlucky," the young man sighed—"everything against me."

"You've had exactly the luck you deserve in this matter, and much better than you deserve in others."

"Oh, hit a man when he is down! But I shouldn't have gone to the dogs if she'd have stuck to me."

"What girl with any self-respect could stick to you in the company you kept?"

"If you mean that poor woman—a good-hearted creature and more sinned against than sinning—what harm was there in helping her out of a tight place?"

"A good many tight places, from the time you've been at it, I should say. While your mother was pinching and denying herself, and your sisters were deprived of all society and every pleasure natural to their age and station. While your cousin was out in the world, working for daily bread——"

"Whose fault but her own? My mother's house always was and is open to her. My mother has begged and implored her to stay; it is the greatest grief to her to lose her."

"Your cousin is not the kind of woman to add to the burdens of those dear to her. Do you know that she supplies your sisters with typewriting work?"

"My sisters? Typewriting? What on earth for?"

"To help keep the house over your mother's head. People don't go on selling stock without lessening their income."

"Selling stock?"

"How do you suppose widows raise money without selling stock, or land, or whatever they happen to possess?"

"But I thought—I thought—her money was safely tied up."

"There are such things as releases—when the beneficiaries are of age——"

"Then that is what Agatha meant. She was bound not to let it out; she only hinted. I wish I had blown my brains out this morning."

"You'd never have felt the loss."

"I'm not the first man driven to the dogs by a woman's falseness, and I shan't be the last. They're all alike—cold, and hard, and unforgiving, making no allowance for a man's temptations, which they can't understand. Heaven defend us all from good women, de Konski."

"The good woman to whom I suppose you allude, your cousin, has been a great blessing to me."

"Oh, has she? And how?"

"In many ways. Partly by the stimulus of a brave and beautiful nature, purified by suffering, and unselfish to the core. In a more material sense, as a most capable and useful and discreet secretary."

"Secretary? Private secretary? To you—to a man?"

"Certainly. The calling is recognized and honourable. There are many more arduous and less pleasant ways of earning a competence—for women. Still, I shall be glad for her sake when the day comes, as it surely will, for me to lose my valuable secretary by a suitable marriage, though I can't help being a little grateful to you for making it necessary for her to work."

"I? When I've been ready to marry her, and would have asked her any time this two years, but for her everlasting snubbing and coldness?"

"Oh, I thought you said she was false."

"When I implored her not to leave my mother——"

"Whose bread you were taking to help disreputable females out of tight places."

"By Heaven, de Konski, you hit hard! Of course I knew that my cousin was in some way working for pay, but somehow I didn't realize—— Oh, Lord, a private secretary! Mixed up in political intrigues! A paid secretary!"

"Who is to defend good women from dissipated boys? Yes, that sweet and noble lady's fate is hard indeed. And the boy's mother! If good women are hard, some of them have a pretty hard time of it."

"Well, they'll soon be shut of me, and the sooner the better. As for that other poor woman, she knows how to stand by a fellow when he's knocked out of time. She—she—well, never mind about her——"

"Is she going to help you out of a tight place?"

"She would. She'd raise half for six months and the whole for three, at five per cent."

"Does she think you would accept?"

"Do you?" he returned fiercely, giving de Konski's searching look steadily back. "Am I a cur?"

The bearded face softened in a smile that was almost tender. "Poor chap!" he said, laying a hand on his shoulder, and looking with unseeing eyes across the gorge and away over the sea to the faint mountain chain rising dim and dreamlike on the horizon.

"I was in a tight place once," said the Anarchist presently. "I had been playing the fool rather more than most young asses do. So I went straight to my chief and made a clean breast of it——"

"You were a soldier? I always thought so."

"And he put me on honour never to touch a card again—and helped and—saved me."

"Mine breaks a chap," the boy said wearily. "Chauffeurs get good pay, they say. I might be that, mightn't I?"

"What you have to do now is to raise this money, cut the whole thing, before it comes to your chief's ears, and go straight. He won't stand this kind of thing. I've heard him say it's incurable. But nothing is—except cruelty, perhaps. Yes; this money must be raised at once."

"But how?" the boy asked, looking up with wondering eyes and a gleam of incredulous hope.

De Konski was silent, smoking steadily with long, even puffs, and staring with close-drawn brows at the sea, over which the black hulls of battle-ships were now ranged in lines and squadrons half-hidden by the smoke of their guns, beginning to boom in the opening thunders of sham fight.

"But how?" the lad repeated, impatiently scanning the thoughtful face, that seemed to seek solution of the problem from those smoke-hidden monsters upon the velvety blue.

The firing was too fierce and incessant for any speech to be audible for some seconds; then it suddenly stopped, and de Konski turned and was about to reply, when his attention was arrested by the sound of a high treble voice coming round the bend of the rock-strewn bank on which they were sitting, screened from the sight of those approaching from Turbia. Many had come thence and passed in the last half-hour on their way to see the review off Villafranca.

"It's notorious," the high voice proclaimed. "She tried to pass as the wife of the Allonby, the 'Storm and Stress' man, and took everybody in till I asked her straight out one day, and caught her on the hop. She was so taken aback that she let out she was not his wife at all—only a connexion by marriage. And I don't believe she's even that, or Mrs. Allonby at all, or Mrs. Anybody. Miss Nobody-in-particular, I should say. They ought to be more careful who they take in at these small hotels. Fast? Rather. A regular Monty harpy; lives on the tables, they say. That poor young Isidore is infatuated—absolutely. It's the talk of the hotel. She scarcely lets him out of her sight. One is always stumbling upon the pair—looking unutterable things at each other. Quite unpleasant for us. Pretty? That sort always are. But as for manners, and good breeding—well, anything goes down with foreigners and silly old owls like Welbourne. You know she has broken off Isidore's engagement."

The fair being who originated these remarks, having her face slightly turned to her companion, had not observed the presence of the two men screened by the bend of the bank on which they sat. Nor would the younger man have given a thought to these two ladies, but for the effect they produced upon his companion, who started and listened with blazing eyes and tense interest to every word that rang out on the still air. Not content with hearing what was said in passing, he rose, as if drawn by the voice, and followed the quick English steps, quickly outpacing them. Then, planting himself in front of the two ladies and raising his broad felt hat, he brought them to a standstill.

"I have heard," he said, addressing the speaker in slow, distinct French, "every word in the clear and accurate voice of Madame, and venture to suggest that it is a perilous thing to speak English in this country, unless you wish to be heard, English being now so generally understood, even when not spoken."

"Much obliged," returned Dorris sharply, meaning to pass on; "but it's nothing to me whether people hear what I say or not."

"Pardon me," he replied, barring her progress. "It may be much to you; it is a serious matter in this country to speak slander in public; it may have very grave consequences for you."

"Nonsense; I don't understand French—je ne comprends pas," she muttered hastily and brokenly, looking round as if for protection. Then, perceiving the younger man, "Mr. Paul," she cried piteously, "Mr. Paul."

"That is my name," he admitted, rising and raising his hat, but not approaching.

"Mr. Paul fully agrees with me upon the danger of speaking slanderous things in public," said the Pole coolly, in English.

"It's no slander," she protested; "let me go. We were going to see the review."

"Let us pass on; you have no right to stop people you don't know," shouted the other lady in a shaky voice.

"I happen to know the lady with whose name you were taking such unwarrantable liberties," continued the Pole, keeping his blazing eyes fixed on poor Dorris's terrified face. "She is incapable of any such conduct as you attribute to her. Once more let me warn you that you are in a country in which strange things happen; in which walls have eyes and trees ears; in which people sometimes take the law into their own hands with impunity."

"Mr. Paul," cried Dorris once more, with supplicating hands, "oh, Mr. Paul!"

"Awfully sorry," he replied, "but it's true. You have to jolly well mind what you say about people in this country."

"Good gracious! In what country?" cried the distressed damsel. "I thought we were—— Oh, where on earth are we, Emily?"

"Oh, I don't know, dear; let us go home. Never mind the review—never mind anything—only let us go home."

"You are practically, though not politically, in Italy, the land of hired avengers. But I will detain you no longer, ladies. I have sufficiently warned you of the peril in which slander places people," said the Pole, politely stepping aside with the ceremonious bow seldom seen this side the Channel. Then he resumed his seat on the rock, while Dorris and her friend, frightened out of their wits, fled without any ceremony at all at the top of their speed along the white road till a bend hid them from sight.

"I say, de Konski, you did give that girl beans. So you know Mrs. Allonby?" asked the young man when they were gone. "Then you must know the Johnnie they are making such a row about—the 'Storm and Stress' chap—eh?"

"Yes," the Pole replied absently, his fury not yet appeased. "I know them both—at least, I used to—especially him—rather well."

"Well! You did land that poor girl a nasty one. And, I say, you can speak English. You must have English blood in you somehow."

"Ah, yes! My—mother was English."

"Well, you never seemed like a foreigner to me. That's why I took to you. Why, you must have served under our colours!"

"Why not? But about this fix of yours?"

"Well, what I thought when I came this morning was, that a man like you, on secret service of some kind, knowing the ropes of most things, and speaking every known lingo, might be able to get at this beast, Mosson, and square him. Fake up some rot, as you did to those poor women. Bluff."

"My dear boy, there's only one way of squaring the Spider, and that is by paying him in full. Yes, I was hard on that poor fool of a girl. But a tongue like that! And think of the other, the slandered woman. By George! I could hardly keep my hands off the little liar. But the Spider. He's quite another matter. What the Spider doesn't know of the seamy side of life is not knowable. The only argument with him is hard cash down on the nail."

"But how to get it?" sighed the boy once more. And even as he sighed the fury of the Pole and the terror of the two women suddenly came before his mind in such an absurd light that he burst into a roar of light-hearted laughter. "My word! but you made that poor girl sit up," he shouted. "You couldn't have gone for her worse if the other woman had been your sister or mother."

Chapter XV

An Italian Lesson

With all her childishness and perversity, Ermengarde was not destitute of judgment and critical taste. Long before she reached the end of "Storm and Stress" she perceived that it was a really fine work, giving evidence of power and imagination and a knowledge of human nature, hitherto dormant and unsuspected in her husband. There was humour in it, unexpected flashes, that occasionally made little bursts of laughter startle the quiet of her room, and pathos poignant enough to bring hot, sudden tears to her eyes. She read on and on through the night, too much engrossed in the drama to think of the writer till overcome by sleep; and, when she woke, shivering in the cool dawn, read on to the end instead of going to bed.

Then she remembered that all this moving drama of intense thought and feeling, of insight into character, and vital, insoluble problems, came from the mind and heart of the man at whose side she had lived so long and so blindly, who had misunderstood her, and whom she had misunderstood, with whose real inward life and thought she had never once been in touch.

The man had lived a double life; he possessed two distinct selves, one of which was entirely strange to her. The Arthur she knew, the humdrum, irritating, fireside being of everyday life, could never have written "Storm and Stress"; he was absolutely devoid of the fire, the passion, and the imagination, the tenderness and poetry, the refined humour and delicate fancy, contained in that fine novel. He had never remotely hinted to her of the existence of these intricate social and political questions, so forcibly presented in this picture of actual life. And what could he know of the inner workings of a mother's heart—he who had misunderstood and wounded those of his own child's mother? Arthur, that cold, sarcastic being, that ambulant wet blanket upon all enthusiasms? No; she had married two men, and one was a stranger; she had unthinkingly mated with a genius, and never found it out; she was the wife of a man carrying a dark lantern that was always turned away from her.

It was humiliating; it was exasperating, the more so from the vague and haunting sense of remorse it kindled within her. Yet she was pleased, and in a way proud, to discover this rich mine of powerful imagination and intellectual vigour in the man so near her. But the thought that she was shut out and allowed no part in it chilled and cut her to the heart, even while conscience asked rather grimly why the publisher's parcel had remained so long unopened, receiving no adequate reply.

She came down late to her open-air breakfast, and found a table in a solitary corner, where she could take her coffee and roll unobserved of the few late lingerers on the sunny terrace, whose voices came clear upon the still and flower-scented air to her unheeding ears.

The beauty of that wide prospect of sea and mountain never staled; every change of hour and weather gave variety; morning after cloudless morning came always with a fresh surprise and novel charm.

Her corner was by the balustrade on the edge of the steep ravine, whence a wall of rock fell steep and far beneath. She sat with the morning sunlight behind her and the lemon terraces sinking away on one side to the platane-shadowed torrent by the road, where the people looked small as ants, and carts and waggons were toys, leading to the clean, bright-walled town embowered in dark foliage, with illimitable spaces of dark purple sea beyond it, all glowing in the clear brilliance of southern sun. Sounds of cheerful labour rose pleasantly from a saw-mill niched in the bottom of a narrow gorge, from carpenters' hammers, mingling with washerwomen's voices, the roll and clatter of wheels, the tramp of soldiers and confused noises of the town, and floated up, softened and mellowed, above the faint and far sea-murmurs. And before her, in the full morning light, so soft though so strong, the white-walled monastery towered high on its dark, wooded ridge, with gabled roof, quivering cypress flames and feathery eucalyptus tops traced clear on the dark blue sky. What a glow in the blue-black pine foliage, what mystery in the purply bloom of those olive-woods, climbing the steep summit far above the vines! How lovingly the golden light lay upon all, steeping it in splendour, caressing it with warm radiance, and bringing out every detail of shape and colour and shadowy distance. Contrasted with all this joyous colour and radiance, how solemnly beautiful was the convent-crested steep, and how grand and awe-inspiring the deep sweet blue of the broad, unbounded sea sweeping far away into unseen space!

Her troubled spirit and unquiet heart were soothed and calmed by this familiar but never-staling beauty; the sweet, sharp air, so light and pleasant to breathe, kindled fresh life with every inspiration; she seemed to drink it with her coffee and eat it with her crisp roll and butter.

And yet—and yet, with what different eyes she once saw it. Where was the mental elevation, the pure and healing emotion, of her first sight of this large, fresh, foreign beauty of purple-shadowed mountain and glowing sea? Talk about the gaming-tables, about petty vices and sordid troubles, had filled her with incredulous disgust then. But now? She had lost more than money on those green tables, and bartered something more precious than jewels in the glittering Monte Carlo shops; and here, in the pure and rose-scented air, some subtle soul-perfume had floated away and vanished, she knew not how.

A little breeze, shaking the palm-foliage close by, had the sadness of pattering rain, but it brought a wave of spiced carnation and heliotrope and sweet geranium mixed with rose. Ermengarde sighed with the breeze. Her unquiet breast told her that something was wrong within; she could not, perhaps would not, say what; she had fallen a little way from some height, but how she could not tell. Only she was quite sure she ought to have opened the publisher's parcel earlier; she was equally sure that she should have been given some knowledge of the importance of its contents beforehand. In any case, she had been the last to know of an event that altered the whole tenor of her own and her husband's lives. Arthur must have known at least that he had produced something of a higher quality, and greater aim and scope, than he had ever done before; yet he had lived under the same roof with her and never said a word; he had been like a man in a dream, absorbed, preoccupied, moving in a world apart, of which she had never been given the faintest glimpse. Perhaps her darkest suspicions were justified. And now, in the full blaze of a sudden fame, he had made no sign and given her no shadow of participation in his changed fortune. No one could make a first great success like that with indifference. He must have been deeply moved, if only by the prospect of a fresh vista of mental activity opening before him, or, less worthily, by the comparative wealth it assured. Yes; those huge sales of which she heard must mean a solid accretion of hard cash for the writer of the book, were publishers never so rapacious.

And his short, scrappy letters gave no hint of what must be an epoch, a turning-point, in his life. They were without address, because of that mysteriously prolonged business tour; they were evidently written some time before they reached her, while her answers, addressed to the home he appeared never to have seen since they parted, had presumably made long tours before he received them.

Where was Arthur?

An inquiry addressed to Herbert on the subject had met with an unsatisfactory reply. Her father and mother only mentioned her husband in answer to her questions; they had not seen him; he had not yet returned; he was a notoriously bad letter-writer, conducting his correspondence mainly by telegraph or telegrammatic post-cards, she heard. Things undoubtedly were more serious, the breach between them more deadly, than she had suspected. A very bad feature of the case was his refusal to finance the tour of which she had stood in such real need on the plea of poverty. Poverty! When he must have known that he was on the brink of a gold-mine.

Men know men. No doubt Herbert and her father knew more than they cared to say of the strained relations between husband and wife, and of the causes that had produced this bitter state of affairs. Well, at least Charlie was left. Poor little Charlie, whose short, stiff, pot-hook letters, written with such laborious effort, expressed nothing but that the child was executing a wearisome task, and whose solitary sentence, "Farther cent a good big Kake; The fellers ett it," was his sole allusion to him. Poor little Charlie!

Through tears evoked by the vision of a little, lonely, curly-headed boy bending with inky fingers and knitted brows over toilsome letters, all the bright and sunny beauty and the great peace of the vast sea-plains darkening and glowing on that solid blue horizon rim seemed full of rebuke and chiding. Snowy sails, flitting bird-like on the deep-blue splendour, and black hulls, trailing their smoke pennons above it, reproached her, and the quivering cypress-spires on the monastery height condemned her. For what? Then the shining lemon-foliage took up the tale, and rustled disapproval among the gleaming yellow fruit, and the voices and low laughter of people sitting in the sun vaguely excluded her, making her a thing apart from general sympathy. But why?

There was nobody to consult or confide in; even the woman of mystery, who, for all her presumable sins, was at least sincerely attached to her, was absent, probably on some errand of dubious integrity. Not that such sorrow as this could be confided to anybody except by vague hints, though it might in some measure be divined by sympathy. Best to go home. She had been growing more and more home-sick of late, especially since that last and worst afternoon at the tables.

Presently the thin man emerged from the lemon-foliage, and, seeing her, raised his hat and passed on with friendly smile and halting step. He had been a father to her, but for this emergency was probably supplied with no paternal counsels. Pacing the walk on the monastery ridge under the cypresses, the spare figure of Mr. Mosson, the philanthropist, was visible. That benefactor to his species appeared to be absorbed as usual in his morning devotions, intently perusing the red book that Mr. Welbourne had pronounced to be no Book of Hours or Breviary, as she had rashly conjectured. Should she throw herself upon his charity, and seek balm of him for at least one of her troubles? That something must be done before long to this effect was absolutely certain. The eighteen-guinea serge gown could not well be pawned, besides having lost some of its pristine freshness in excursions on the Azure Shore, and the jewel-box was perilously near emptiness.

The American lady was kind and cordial; but a marked indisposition to plank down indiscriminate dollars had always formed a feature in an estimate of trans-Atlantic character as conceived from early childhood; moreover, divorce laws being so varied by locality, and so light-heartedly sought and obtained, in the United States, citizens of that Republic could not logically be credited with sound views upon matrimonial duties and relationships.

The only person whom it was possible to consult upon questions of that delicate complexion, besides being absent and unattainable, happened to be the very person whose conduct was arraigned for judgment, and the most rabid democrat has not yet gone so far as to allow the criminal to be his own judge and jury.

Suddenly a light step on the gravel and a blithe "Bon jour, Madame," broke this current of melancholy thought, and evoked responsive brightness on her clouded face, as the laughing eyes and gay personality of M. Isidore appeared above the sun-steeped flowers. Madame was perhaps too tired for the usual Italian lesson, he conjectured.

"Do I look tired?" she asked, smiling cheerfully, and heard that there was a shadow on her face as of one who had not slept well.

What depth of sympathetic insight in this charming young fellow, the general utility person of the hotel!

"I have not slept at all," she replied gaily. "I sat up reading all night. That is why I am haggard and fishy-eyed this morning."

The appropriateness of these adjectives was promptly and warmly denied, with remarks to the effect that some faces only acquire fresh and spiritualized charm under the shadow of fatigue. There was further, she heard in elegant idiomatic French, a special quality of beauty peculiar to sadness and another to gaiety. Madame, it was thoughtfully averred, usually gave the impression of possessing gaiety and joie de vivre.

"We all have our dark moods at times," she sighed, in Italian so outrageous that M. Isidore was obliged to repeat the sentence in an amended form, which he did with a sigh and an accent that made it the expression of his own intimate feelings.

Upon this the pupil commented that we live in a vale of tears. Having corrected this proposition, the teacher contradicted it as flatly as was consistent with politeness and good Italian.

"We live, on the contrary," he added, opening Le mie Prigioni at a turned-down page with a view to reading it aloud—"we others at Les Oliviers—we live in an earthly Paradise. Yes?" he asked, smiling and indicating all the sunny beauty with a sweep of the hand. "But," he added, with a deep sigh, and in wild Italian, "Paradise had its serpent and the Garden of the Hesperides its dragon. So also our Paradise here."

"Very true," the pupil corroborated, wondering what the serpent of the Oliviers Paradise was.

The thin man, she remembered, once said it was frogs. Miss Boundrish thought it was the absence of fashion shops. Her father considered it to be the badness of foreign tobacco and the late arrival of Money Market intelligence. Her mother held the inferiority of butcher's meat, together with the presence of foreigners, a fair equivalent for the Enemy of Mankind. A German Baron had been heard to mutter that it was the impossibility of escaping from "diese verrückten Engländer," and a Frenchman, the ubiquity of "ces Miss Anglaises maigres et à dents enormes."

After a thoughtful pause, M. Isidore hinted darkly in correct and melancholy French at griefs too poignant for expression, and entirely peculiar to Les Oliviers. The place, he added, lay under the spell of a powerful enchantment. Personally, he was unable to resist it. In some respects, he confessed, he was weak, powerless as an infant even. But he was fully aware that, as Madame had been gracious enough to observe, this was no place for him. His relations continually counselled, even commanded him, to leave it, but in vain. He was rooted to the spot; he was bound to the ridge with unbreakable chains; he had, under the terrible spell cast upon him, long ceased to be master of himself. Of course, he was fully aware that he ought not to make revelations of a character so intimate. He was abusing the angelic goodness of Madame; he was trespassing upon the gracious consideration, the sympathetic interest, she had been so obliging as to manifest for him; but, in short, he could not help it.

How well emotion became this handsome young foreigner; how natural and unaffected, how perfectly free from self-consciousness and false shame he was! The French certainly are a most fascinating people—at least, when young and good-looking, and of another sex—Madame reflected. "But I do wish the poor boy wasn't quite so hard hit. It might be awkward too."

"Pray don't apologize, dear M. Isidore," she replied, in the best English and the kindest possible manner. "You honour me by your confidence; it interests me exceedingly. It touches me. Don't hesitate," she added, in dulcet accents, suddenly remembering his lack of English, and speaking French, "to tell me anything that is on your mind, if—if it affords you the slightest relief.—For if," she reflected, "he really is so madly in love with me, he had better out with it at once, and I can laugh it off as a boy's fancy, and at the same time let him see how much higher and holier English views of such feelings and relationships are. It may be the turning-point, the beginning of a new era, a higher life to this young and ardent nature.—Tell me," she said with a gentle smile, "as you would tell your own mother."

"I have told my own mother. I went to Monte Carlo yesterday on purpose," he returned, with perfect simplicity. "And she entirely disapproves of my sentiments—of the whole affair, in short."

"Oh!" murmured Ermengarde, rather taken aback.

"But what would you?" he added. "Mothers are like that. It is perfectly natural. She counsels me to take refuge in flight. But there are sentiments, and those of the most sacred, the most exalted—there are crises of the soul—for which flight is of no avail."

"It depends——"

"There are enchantments that are only deepened and intensified by absence."

She had to confess that this was indubitable, and added vaguely that it was sad.

"My mother declares my passion to be an infatuation, a madness——"

"Perhaps it is, or a folly, or only a boy's fancy," she said, smiling softly, and then shrinking back in sudden terror.

For all at once he sprang to his feet, stamping and gesticulating, his face darkened and distorted with fury, clutching his head with both hands, with blazing eyes and gestures of indescribable scorn and anger. "Boy," he shouted, "boy! What immature, what puerile, breast could endure the strain of a passion so virile, so invincible, so beyond all conception, so far transcending anything that can possibly be imagined by any female mind, as this? Such a passion as mine is not to be trifled with, Madame; it is too mighty, too terrible in its virile power. Ah! if women did but know what depths they have power to stir in male hearts, what inextinguishable fires they have power to kindle!— Pardon me, Madame," he added, gasping, and all at once perceiving the deadly pallor and terrified gaze of Ermengarde's shrinking face, and the gestures with which she seemed to be vainly seeking some way of bodily escape from the explosion. "My transports render me ferocious, forgetful of the consideration due to your sex and weakness. There is more of the tiger than the boy in my ardent nature; my passionate adoration frightens you, as it devours, consumes, destroys me. Reassure yourself, dear Madame, I implore you. See, I am calm, penitent, desolated to have occasioned a momentary emotion of terror in a breast so gentle, in a heart so adorable, to which all homage, and consideration the most tender, is due."

So speaking, he sank gracefully before her, his voice now sweet and low, his gestures supplicatory, even caressing. "Pardon me," he murmured, with clasped hands and a face all sunshine, while poor Ermengarde was white and trembling and as scared as some small and mischievous boy meddling with prohibited gunpowder and hearing it bang and go off in all directions—"pardon me. The overwhelming force of my passion is my one, my ample, excuse."

She murmured faintly that there was nothing to pardon; only she hoped he would not do it again, and would he be so obliging as to rise from his penitential posture upon one knee? This he did with infinite grace, bowing low over her hand, which he appeared to kiss, wholly oblivious of the fact that the spot upon which this scene was enacted was raked by the fire of two blazing dark eyes from the office window.

Poor, frightened Ermengarde gasped a little, for it is one thing to be the object of a boy's distant, poetic homage and quite another to be raved at by a demented and exacting person, who describes himself as a tiger and his feelings as ferocious. She looked aimlessly over the lemons and olives to the deep dark blueness that glowed to a firm and rounded intensity against a pale sky, quite unable to put two words together, while M. Isidore, his eyes full of soft, inward light, and his features calm and composed as a sleeping babe's, looked as if nothing could disturb the sunny peace of his soul, and composedly suggested that they should continue to follow the melancholy experiences of "this poor M. Pellico," with which intention he took a seat at her side, and, placing the open book on the table between and before them, began to read aloud to ears confused with terror and remorse.

At this juncture the approach of Heinrich, the porter, not yet in his smart gold and green livery, but green-baize-aproned and shirt-sleeved, as his morning duties required, and with a curious smile in his great, soft, dark eyes, put a final stop to the Italian lesson by conveying a summons to the teacher to transact some homely business in those obscure back premises whither no visitor ever penetrated.

"Peste!" cried the impassioned lover, with darkening brows. "Zese dampt duties," he added in English, with a little shrug and a sunny smile, to the still pale and terrified Mrs. Allonby. "Our poor lesson! Madame excuses? Yes? A rivederla!" and with a bow and smile he was gone, and Ermengarde began to breathe more freely.

She looked at the monastery sitting on the wooded hill, at the velvety blue above it, the peacock blue below, at the violet-veined mountain peaks around; she watched great bees and hawk-moths plunging into the petals of stocks, and butterflies fluttering above the heads of people reading and basking in the blue and golden morning, drawing long breaths and wondering why everything seemed vaguely to accuse her. She turned to the towered village throned and shadowy beneath the eastern peak, and that, too, seemed to despise her. She felt unworthy of the very flower scents. Yet she had done nothing, and had meant so well. Could any reasonable being have foreseen this? Who, stroking the soft fur of some gamesome fireside pet, could expect the growl and clawing of a full-sized tiger?

Oh, for a good, full-flavoured, suffocating mouthful of London fog, for firelight dancing on china and polished surface in the murky noonday at home, instead of this perpetual, unnatural, homeless glare!

She went into the house, and, remembering something she wanted at the office, turned aside to the ever-open door, and found Mlle. Geneviève on duty at the desk.

But what had come to the young woman that she should receive her gentle address with scowling brow and eyes of smouldering flame, and, instead of replying, should turn her back upon her, and, calling something down a speaking-tube, walk slowly through the opposite door into private regions?

Ermengarde waited, uncertain for a moment whether to give up the trifling matter on which she had come, or to ring sharply for attendance. She was about to turn away, too full of inward disquiet to mind a small discourtesy, when the opposite door opened, disclosing the majestic presence of Madame Bontemps, to whom she listlessly made her request.

Silently then a drawer was opened, stamps and postcards silently handed out, money received and change returned, in dread and ominous stillness. Then was fulminated this bolt from the blue; she was informed in a dry and level voice, and with much regret, that her room would be required for another guest at the expiration of the week.

"But what do you mean?" cried Ermengarde. "People can't be allowed to take my room. Besides, I don't intend to give it up."

"Pardon me. Madame is mistaken. The room is already reserved for the date indicated, and there is no other in the house suitable to the requirements of Madame."

"Why, you are positively turning me out," she cried, incredulous with amazement.

The Padrone crossed her arms upon her ample breast and smiled a cast-iron smile. "It is not for me to contradict the assertion of Madame," she replied, with a fierce shrug and a stony eye.

Ermengarde turned white, and looked steadily in the hard and hostile face for a second.

"I see that I have been mistaken in the character of this house," she said coldly. "Be good enough to accept my notice to leave at my earliest convenience." Then, without waiting for a reply, she went out into the sunshine and paced slowly through the garden, her skirts brushing scent from oak-leaf geraniums and her cheek tapped by the rounded coolness of lemons on the garden boughs, and came out upon the path that led over the open mountain ridge, drawing a long breath.

"The insolence!" she burst out to an old woman, harmlessly knitting and leading her goat, who nodded and smiled in return, under the impression that kind remarks were being addressed to her—"the incredible insolence! All the people seem to have gone out of their senses this morning, or else I've gone out of mine."

Chapter XVI

The Sapphire Necklace

The path immediately behind Les Oliviers, worn by the steps of many generations of mules and men, was steep and rugged, here and there sinking deeply and filled in with broken fragments and buttressed with rock slabs. A little further on the ridge ran up in an abrupt narrow steep; a clump of pines on its summit stood out clear and glowing upon the sky, with a straw-roofed hut under the dark boughs. Ermengarde loved that little clump of pine-trees soaring up above the house and grounds, whether, as now, in the full glow of forenoon, or in still, golden afternoons, or flushed with sunset upon a crimson and amber sky, or, later still, traced on the pale clear green of after-glow, or black against a blue-black vault pierced with shining stars. She had often and vainly tried to draw it; but even the thin man had failed to catch its charm; much paper had been spoiled and colour wasted in the attempt. When you gained that abrupt eminence you seemed to have reached the top of the world, which unrolled itself beneath, and spread blue and far to the unseen African shore; but when you turned from the sea, and saw the path winding higher along the wooded brink to mountain summits endlessly unfolding, you knew that you were still very far from the top.

The warm bright air was spiced with aromatic scents. Myrtle and lavender, cistus and juniper, rosemary, thyme, and pine, clothed and climbed every cliff and steep down to the torrent beds that ran on each side the ridge, and sprang from every crack and crevice in rock and cliff. Higher still, the ridge broadened into a pine-wood, and narrowed abruptly upon its steep wooded sides, then widened again into a grassy plateau, where the columnar trunks of hoary olives showed dim and solemn through shadows of drooping foliage shot with subdued, changing colour.

Where the pine-wood ended and the olive-grove began the ridge-side fell more gently, laying a slope of myrtle and rosemary open to the full south sun. Here Ermengarde sat, the mysterious murmur of pine-woods on one hand, the solemn stillness and blue-grey haze of olives on the other. The sunny bank was grey with massed rosemary blossom, into which countless bees plunged and buzzed drowsily in the warmth. Far below, forest and olive-terrace sank into purple bloom of shadow; the distance was closed by bare mountain peaks rolling up in great billows of stone above wooded slopes, and towered villages white in sunlight.

All this solemn beauty rebuked her and made her ashamed. She knew that she had forgotten the message and missed the healing of the mountains. She had played the fool and made herself a mark for fool's gossip. Oh, how small and cheap she felt, and how very sick of herself and her petty follies!

Such feelings are not at all comfortable; it was a relief to forget them in indignation at the indignity of being turned out of a hotel. How had the woman dared? Was she, Ermengarde Allonby, to submit to the creature's impertinence, to be driven away by the insolence of an unmannerly Frenchwoman? Never, though at first she had intended to go straight home.

Turned out of a hotel? Well, after all, à qui la perte? Les Oliviers was not the only house of entertainment on the Riviera. It would be something to escape from the eternal cackle of the Boundrish; there could not possibly be two Boundrishes along the Azure Shore. It was an opportunity to drop the undesirable friendship with the woman of mystery. Somehow, the prospect of dropping this friendship was not wholly agreeable. There was a dreadful fascination about that young woman, whose good points were undeniable. Besides, Ermengarde was so sorry for her, and so ready to do her any service short of selling doubtfully acquired jewellery for her. Then there was the moral regeneration of this frail sister to be considered. That certainly had not as yet made great progress; indeed, some faint hesitation as to her own power of effecting it was beginning to creep into Ermengarde's mind. She realized that she was herself hardly a saint. After all, there is not so much superfluous virtue floating loose in the world that people can afford to share any with erring brothers and sisters. Perhaps her own lamp wanted a little trimming and replenishing.

It would be lonely work to go into a strange hotel, and probably more expensive than staying here. No; she must go home—home to fogs and mud and east winds; home to a husband who, besides not being there, never had, and never would, care for her; who had been capable of becoming suddenly famous by writing the most powerful and remarkable novel of the last twenty years, and never telling her a word about it.

She had no home to go to; she had been turned out of a third-rate hotel. So many sorrows were out of proportion to her demerits; she was very, very sorry for herself. Warm sunshine drew out the fragrance of rosemary and myrtle; the still air was drowsy with the buzzing of innumerable bees; mountain peaks nodded, shadowy dells and wooded slopes heaved gently like summer waves; the humming deepened to a sea-surge, to organ-booming, and now Ermengarde sank back against a springy cushion of grey-white heather, her head pillowed on rosemary-bloom, fast asleep.

The bees went on humming in the rosemary, droning all sorts of suggestions into her ear. Now it was the hum of a schoolroom about a little curly-headed boy, with his fingers in his ears, his elbows on a desk, and his brows knitted over a dog's-eared book not unstained by tears. "Musa—a song, Musæ—of a song," he was drearily droning over and over again. Then it was an interminable clergyman in a lofty pulpit upon the crags, discoursing wearily of the sins of the woman of mystery and the follies of Ermengarde, for which there seemed to be no remedy. The clergyman was curiously like the thin man, and was beginning to be very wearisome on the indiscretions of the young Isidore, when he suddenly changed to Arthur, standing on the drawing-room hearthrug at home, and holding forth on the same topics with the name and identity of Ivor Paul confused with those of M. Isidore.

Arthur's voice was unmistakable; it was rather deep, and liable to become monotonous, especially when he discoursed upon excesses in hats and gowns, of the desirability of keeping accurate accounts, of never exceeding one's allowance or letting bills run on, of the excellent household management of his mother, and inferior capabilities of ladies of the present generation. The voice became clearer and more resonant, the dreamer grew conscious of rosemary-scent and sunshine, the grey columns of the olive-grove swam out of a haze of sunshot foliage, and became distinct above patches of golden light on flowery grass. Arthur's voice rumbled away in confused murmurs; there was a faint sound of skirts brushing herbage and a woman's lighter voice; finally, the well-known figures of the woman of mystery and the Anarchist were seen upon the path under the olives, leading away from the rosemary bank, and Ermengarde knew that she had been dozing, and was now wide awake again.

Her heart was beating hard; the dream of Arthur had been so vivid. She could not realize that it had only been a dream; it was as if he had actually been standing here on the thin grass under the pendent olive-branches in the tender shadowy light. The familiar voice was still in her ears, stirring all sorts of buried memories and slumbering feelings. Oh, why was he not with her? How was it that, with all the leisure and independence this great success must mean, he could not leave that miserable, so-called business of his, and come and take care of her, and rescue her from the insults of hotel-keepers and the persecutions of Anarchists? It was not as if he were obliged to stay in London. She was so lonely, so unfriended, so desperately home-sick. Yes, home-sick; that was the name of this lonely, gnawing heart-pang that grew worse from day to day.

The woman of mystery and her cavalier struck into a sloping path immediately in front of her, leading to the first terrace beneath the mule-path, where they were screened from the sight of people passing on the ridge, but not from the eyes of Ermengarde, whose reclining-place was behind a myrtle, through the stems of which she saw without being seen. The olives on this first terrace were gnarled and hoary, like those bordering the mule-path; the sunshot, lavender mist of their drooping boughs gave the same air of mystery and magic. The two figures actually standing on the grass, vivid with anemone and dark with violet, seemed less real than those of her dream.

She was too little interested to reflect that they were unaware of her presence, and might not wish to be seen. They kept close to the turfed wall behind them, and were screened by the massive olive-trunk in front, but only the thin myrtle-boughs came between her drowsy eyes and a full side-view of them. But they were too far off for anything more than confused murmurs of their conversation to reach her. It suddenly struck her that Agatha might be the Anarchist's wife, or even daughter, though she was undoubtedly English. An English wife might be very useful in all these "treasons, stratagems, and spoils" of his, though what but sudden and probably temporary insanity could have induced any Christian female to marry that hairy, unwashed Orson of a man was unimaginable to any sane observer.

Two red admirals fluttered past, one over the other, in pure joy of life; a lizard darted across the path at her feet. She saw the rosy bloom of a peach-tree far down on the last olive-terrace, and then became aware that the woman of mystery was agitated and the Anarchist silent and interested. There followed a brief bass murmur, and then something suddenly flashed in the sunlight, making Ermengarde's heart jump into her mouth.

But it was not a dagger, or any other murderous implement, she observed, after winking away the first dazzle; only the quivering brilliance of diamonds and sapphires glancing and dancing in Agatha's hands. It was, in fact, the necklace shown to her in the firelight on that wet afternoon, the improvised history of which had fallen on such sceptical ears—the necklace of doubtful origin but undoubted value that this mysterious and secretive young woman had asked her to sell for her. Why had she not asked the Anarchist in the first place, she wondered, or could he be the unlawful acquirer of that shining treasure? Had he suggested or commanded the making a cat's-paw of her? But, from the way in which he took and looked at the jewels, it seemed that they were new to him. He held them in this light and that, pushing the spectacles up to his forehead to examine them more closely, weighing them thoughtfully in his hand, and exchanging remarks upon them with Agatha, who presently took the necklace back, and held it this way and that, as if discussing its value. Finally, she clasped it round her neck over her white blouse, as she had done by the fire that day, with the same air of using herself to show off the jewels, and looked absently across the blue bloom of the ravine to the high mountains, while the Anarchist, thoughtfully stroking his beard, and with his goggles pushed up under his hat-brim, contemplated the necklace gem by gem, but not the wearer, evidently appraising the beauty and value of each sparkling drop and pendant as it flashed and quivered in the sun.

Then he turned and paced the grassy terrace, while Agatha took off the necklace and laid all the shining splendour carefully in its velvet bed, and again looked absently and sadly away across the blue bloom of distance to the mountain peaks. Then the Anarchist came back, said a few words, took the morocco case, and put it away in an inner breast-pocket, at the same time handing her a paper, which she read with interest and anxiety, and returned to him with a sigh and a look of relief. He held her hand a moment, then, saying something that made her turn her head away to hide tears, that Ermengarde saw sparkling in the sunshine, he sprang up the turf-banked terrace where it was a little broken, walked across the grass under the olives, and disappeared on the other side, where a steep path led by the olive-dresser's cottage and wound down the precipitous ridge-side to the high-road by the torrent-bed.

He could not have gone far down the steep, when he was seen emerging upon the olive-shadowed plateau once more, and hastily stepping back across it and down the bank to the woman of mystery, who was evidently more surprised than pleased at this return. Saying something quickly, he took out the morocco case, and, after some reluctance and apparent objection on her part, placed it in her hands, pointed, to Ermengarde's horror, towards her hiding-place, again climbed the terrace bank, hurried across the path, and vanished down the steep; while Agatha, after a short pause, as of indecision, suddenly seemed to become resolute, put the case in her pocket, turned and dashed quickly, almost at a run, straight along the terrace towards Ermengarde, who gave herself up for lost.

But before she could collect her senses sufficiently to decide whether to lie back and pretend to be asleep or get up and seem to be just emerging from the wood behind her, Agatha had flashed by like a whirlwind, her skirts brushing Ermengarde's feet, looking straight ahead and in too great a hurry to see what lay on the rosemary-bank behind the myrtle.

Then Ermengarde, petrified with amazement, got up and went back to the path over the ridge, remembering that the way taken by the woman of mystery through the wood was shorter than the mule-track along the ridge, so that there was no fear, unless she went at a much greater rate than Agatha, of overtaking her and leading her to suppose that she had been in the olive-garden during the interview.

She therefore walked slowly back along the mule-path, meditating upon the mysterious and nefarious proceedings of her young friend, and alternately blaming herself for watching the interview, and wondering what it meant, and congratulating herself on having accidentally been the witness of what justified her suspicions about that necklace, and reached the gate of the hotel just in time to see that same Agatha and Mr. Mosson coming out from a path on the wooded convent steep in earnest colloquy.

There was no reason why two of the hotel visitors should or should not be walking in the monastery grounds at the same time; but, as the descent by the hotel gate was very abrupt and much tangled by interlacing roots of pine-trees, there was every reason why Mr. Mosson, even if, instead of being a benefactor to his species, he had been a misanthrope (and from the grim set of his jaw and hard eyes, and thin, tight-drawn mouth, Ermengarde was inclined to think him that), should hand Miss Somers carefully over the snaky roots and crumbling ledges, as he did with the greatest politeness and deference, standing aside with raised hat to let her pass into the grounds before him, and on perceiving Ermengarde's approach from the opposite direction, extending the same courtesy to her. And yet the juxtaposition of these two seemed to confirm her suspicions concerning Agatha and stamp her with double intrigue. Was Mr. Mosson a suppositious uncle of Agatha's?—an aunt he clearly could not be—so she debated, walking by necessity at this suspicious young woman's side through the garden paths.

"Have you been up the ridge?" asked Agatha, with cheeks flushed and eyes over bright.

"I came back through the olives, so pleasant and peaceful," replied Ermengarde, observing a tremor in her companion's voice, and wondering what had been the last experience of the necklace. "And you?"

"I have been up by the monastery," she said. "Bordighera is very beautiful to-day: an indescribable peacock blue bloom upon it."

"Velvety, and yet with the clear brilliance of a jewel," Ermengarde commented pensively. "By the way, Miss Somers," as if struck by a sudden thought, "did you ever succeed in selling that lovely necklace of yours?"

"Oh yes. I disposed of it quite satisfactorily," she returned in the half-bored way in which people refer to things long over and done with. "It cost me a pang."

"I wonder what it cost him?" Ermengarde mused, as they were merged in a stream of sun-burnt, sun-hatted people flocking in to luncheon in the cool shadow of the house.

For all his reputed benevolence and ascetic cast of face there was a curious feline quality in Mr. Mosson, Ermengarde observed. He sat at his solitary table in a corner, quietly intent on what was put before him, yet all the time stealthily watching people from under drooped eyelids, with an occasional hungry flash in his eyes when suddenly bent upon some individual, as, for instance, to-day upon Agatha, and slightly crouching in his chair like some great creature of the cat tribe, gathering itself together to spring on its prey.

So he might look at and spring upon her, she reflected with a shiver, if she put herself within reach of that quick, aggressive paw (now peeling oranges with slow and stealthy ferocity, as if they were alive and felt being skinned so closely), and so he might devour her, crunching her audibly, bones and all, as he crunched the crisp zwieback that he slowly munched from time to time to fill in the pauses between courses. Was Agatha being slowly crunched and ground to powder by those cruel jaws? or was she on the tiger-man's side, a tool or decoy to bring his prey within range?

It was embarrassing to the last degree, and yet it was a sort of comfort, to find that Agatha was not only going down into Mentone—"down below," as it was pleasantly termed on the ridge—but was bent on accompanying her in her quest for fresh quarters.

Two people, the woman of mystery truly said, were better than one; they presented a more imposing front to the enemy—that is, the hotel-keeper—and in case of any bluffing or attempt at imposition, offered a double supply of the courage necessary to unmask and combat his stratagems of war.

"But why leave Les Oliviers?" she questioned, as they stepped down the ravine side together. "Surely there could be nothing more charming, or half as healthy, down below?"

To this Mrs. Allonby began with haughty reticence, to the effect that one had excellent reasons not always possible or desirable to explain, and ended, before they reached the town, by confiding to her that she had been turned out of Les Oliviers, the manner of which turning out she related not without humour, the absurd side of the catastrophe having suddenly presented itself to her imagination. The whole episode now showed itself in the light of an excellent joke and capital opportunity of getting a change. Les Oliviers was undoubtedly dull, euphemistically, restful. It had been remarked by foreign visitors that none but English could put up with the dulness of that high-placed, solitary house.

The woman of mystery observed that the onslaught of Madame Bontemps was sudden and apparently unprovoked, and Ermengarde returned that it was absolutely unprovoked; she had not so much as seen either mother or daughter for a couple of days at least, so that an opportunity of provocation had not been forthcoming even.

"I was out nearly all day yesterday," she said, "and went straight to my room when I came in at night, and I was down late this morning, and breakfasted alone in the corner looking down the gorge, and never moved till I went in. I couldn't move, in fact, because my Italian lesson came immediately afterwards."

"Oh, your Italian lesson," said Agatha, with a look of enlightenment. "Ah! and you found Mlle. Bontemps in the office? I see."

Having found the key to the mystery, she suddenly became so absent-minded as not to hear the question, "What do you see?" Then she began to warn Mrs. Allonby equally against the larger hotels and any in the Caravan Bay, and Ermengarde took the opportunity of finally refusing to drag her into the fag of hotel-hunting, and got into a tram going towards Caravan by herself.

But when, a couple of hours later, she found herself leaning on the balustrade by the sea on the Promenade du Midi, very tired and hot, and unable to find any room in the crowded hotels just visited, she was partly annoyed and partly pleased to see the tall, slight figure of this woman of mystery coming towards her.

"I never saw it more darkly and deeply blue," Agatha said, stopping and leaning at her side, "or the turquoise of the shoal water more clear and lovely."

The soft boom of surf on the rocks was very lulling and sweet, and the scent of the pure, azure-shadowed spray that dashed from waves breaking in fine curves of every shade of blue, with never a tint of green, fresh and vivifying. Even the subdued menace of the ground-swell was mellow, not harsh with the scream of dragged shingle, as in paler, greyer seas. It was restful to look and look, to plunge and steep the sight in the intense glowing blue, and wonder if it could be true, a real sea rolling through this mid-earth, and not some incredible splendour of "faery lands forlorn." Even the wickedness and cruelty of Arthur took a softer complexion in the light of that warm and clear dark sea. Far out towards the horizon the velvety depth of blue made the sky white by comparison; but nearer it had a liquid quality, a sparkling sweetness that promised to assuage thirst and renew failing pulses as with some divine elixir. One might drink deep of that clear wave and lose all memory of pain and grief, or, like the waters of Eunoe, it might bring to mind all that is beautiful—lost joys, forgotten aspirations, divine desires, old sweet loves.

But in a world of prose and fatigue tea was a more desirable, or at least a more attainable, elixir; for was not Rumpelmayer's hard by—Rumpelmayer's of the pure and perfumed China leaf and select company? Thither Ermengarde turned, and secured a table outside, with that broad purple splendour still in sight, and its salt freshness stealing through the palm-colonnade and rustling the feathery tops of the giant eucalyptus in the public gardens opposite; and thither, after some hesitation and consultation of her watch, the woman of mystery was persuaded to accompany her.

The last strains of the band were dying away in the dark greenery of the gardens; people were streaming off in every direction in the golden afternoon; Rumpelmayer's was rapidly filling to overflow inside and out—carriage after carriage rolling up and setting down charming costumes of muslin and pale summer tints of various texture, oddly finished with furs and sunshades of dainty hue. There was a cheery murmur of voices and laughter all around, with the solemn undertone of sea-surges booming through all. Ermengarde had left Agatha to fill the cups with that exquisite China fragrance, while she went in to choose cakes, and was just coming out with a heaped plate when she met the smiling gaze of Ivor Paul, who seemed to have been strolling aimlessly with the crowd, when he stopped to speak to Agatha, whose manner conveyed an impression of unrest and anxiety, rather than embarrassment, at this meeting.

"You may have forgotten Mr. Paul, who was at Les Oliviers some time since," she said; and Ermengarde, replying graciously, reflected that her opportunities of forgetting this young man had been singularly scanty. He positively haunted them; he was as persistent as a family ghost, or the Anarchist himself.

He proved more entertaining than either of those, however, discoursing most gaily and pleasantly about nothing, laughing at less, and listening with due sympathy to the sorrows and fatigues of Ermengarde in her expulsion from one hotel and ineffectual hunt for another, and observing that it was a beastly shame, and that hotel-keepers were a rotten lot, which confirmed her in a growing conviction that this turning-out was of the nature of an excellent joke and delightful adventure. Had Mrs. Allonby tried Pension Gilardoni? An aunt, or some such elderly and respectable relation, of his had wintered there, and found it most satisfactory and quite reasonable—altogether a ripping place. It was just along there on the west of the gardens by the sea. It would give him pleasure to conduct her to the house there and then.

But Ermengarde had had enough of hotel-hunting for that day, and after a little pressure accepted the woman of mystery's offer to go and explore the house for her, personally conducted by Mr. Paul; or rather, as she reflected when left to sip her second cup alone, the two young people had simply gone off at once upon this benevolent quest, without waiting for any consent or comment, vanishing among the palms before there was time to take breath, and leaving Agatha's steaming second cup to waste its perfume on the unthinking crowd.

Chapter XVII

The Promenade du Midi

"Do you know that you are half an hour before time?" Agatha said as soon as they were out of hearing in the gardens.

"Yes; but I didn't expect to find you yet. But when I spotted you at the tea-shop I had to come. I thought you were alone. The game's up at last, and no mistake. This is good-bye, sweetheart—good-bye for ever now!"

There was a sudden break in his voice. He wanted to tell her that he had hungered for a sight of her, and longed for a word to restore him to hope, courage, self-respect; that he had lost his bearings, and was drifting headlong upon hidden rocks and quicksands; but would not founder without throwing up some danger signal, and catching at any spar floating by or any rope flung to him. But he could find no words. The hoarse murmur of the broken surf and subdued roar of the ground-swell mingled with the heavy surging of blood in his ears, and dazed and stupefied him, as they walked in the nearly deserted gardens, their eyes on the ground.

Presently Agatha looked up and saw that the surface laughter had died from his face, which was white and drawn, and almost stern in its gravity.

"Now you look like your mother, Ivor," she said gently; and he retorted with sudden fierceness:

"Heaven forbid she should look like me! She is a good woman, Agatha; it was a bad day for her when she brought me into the world. I've always been in the wrong box, somehow. To go straight I ought to have been born rich; I'm made like that. But it's all done and over now. And I want you to tell her—tell her—I'm sorry for her sake—I've gone under. That's all."

"No, Ivor, not all. Let me tell her—for her sake, that you have risen again—as you can and must—for her sake."

"You talk like a woman," he said impatiently. "And what do women know?"

How could he tell her—not that he wished to—what had driven him there to be near her, if not actually with her, an hour before the time fixed, for succour and refuge from shipwreck more complete and terrible than that of which she knew—in part, at least—already? How could she enter ever so slightly into the passion and misery that were tearing him, into the struggle of all that was best in him enlisted on the side of all that was worst, of a weak and wavering will, drawn hither and thither by the fierce contention of honour and chivalry, gratitude and compunction—against despair and passion and a certain dire, half-conscious need of that tenderness, even protection, that weak woman often gives to strong man?

The dumb and piteous appeal in his eyes—great, soft eyes, like a loving repulsed dog's—went to her heart, but what did it mean? Was he only sorry for himself, this great man-child, helpless before his own passions, or was the spring of real penitence touched at last? Did he want comforting exculpation and the assurance that his mother would never know half or grieve for a quarter, and that all would come right by some mysterious magic? Silently, with a gentle pressure, she slipped her hand into his arm; he pressed it hard against his throbbing side, with a deep, gasping breath, and drew her to a bench, set back in shining foliage outside the gardens fronting the sea, where they sat looking absently at sunlit sails dipping and gliding over the broad blueness, and listening absently to the continuous plunge and break of tumbling waves.

He had been in quite other company that day, and was still tingling and throbbing with the sound of another voice and the excitement of a scene of sudden, unimagined passion, the thought of which made him press the hand in his own more convulsively to his side, as if it had power to save him, like a frightened child clinging to a mother.

It had come so suddenly. He had been loitering drearily in the Casino gardens in the forenoon to kill time till the appointed meeting at Mentone, loitering by a hedge of prickly pear, its bare, bone-like stems and fleshly leaves spread like distorted hands, its dull-red, warty fruit, grotesquely suggestive of weird spells and horrible enchantments, when round the corner all at once he had come eye to eye with the Countess, solitary, sad and with a new, subdued gentleness in her manner.

He must come in to her apartment, to the balcony looking on the gardens, he heard; she was alone; they must breakfast together; she was sure he had not breakfasted; they would have a bottle of that Clos Vougeot he had liked.

The breakfast had been very cheerful and reviving—dainty cookery, a lively and warm-hearted hostess bent on pleasing, and afterwards an excellent and favourite cigar and a cup of coffee of unimaginable perfection. Such things soften the bitterness of affliction and bring people to contemplate misfortune in gentler mood and through rosier light. And in this cool, sumptuously fitted apartment by the balcony that looked on the gardens, it was pleasant to linger and laugh, forgetful of the thorns of life. And there and then the offer to square the Spider had been pressingly renewed and courteously declined. No man preyed upon women.

But the woman this time was in luck; she could spare whatever was necessary to appease the cormorant; there was no question of preying on her.— But men must stand or fall by themselves. No; he was cruel; he scorned her help; there were tears.

These, of course, had to be dried. There followed assurances of gratitude, friendship, respect; then the counter-assurance of her suddenly inherited wealth. Still her desire to recognize and return old kindnesses was not held to justify preying upon women. He was sincerely grateful, but she must not be hurt by an absolute refusal of her generous offer.

Then came the bolt from the blue, in the shape of an outburst of frenzied passion, fiercely tender, throbbing with life, deep as death.

She loved him. It was the one deep and lasting and genuine passion in a life of many loves, light, fugitive, and easily forgotten; no pale, self-regarding girl's love, but the fervid and passionate self-devotion, the worship, of a matured and full-blooded nature, of one who had drunk deeply of the cup of life, who knew the world and had sounded all the mysteries of passion. She asked nothing in return—nothing but leave to adore, to cherish. They would go to some sunny summerland, where he was not known, wherever he pleased; they might cruise about in their own yacht; they might live on her estate sometimes—anywhere, only together. If he were, as he said, cast broken and friendless upon the world, without a crust, with neither friends, nor hope, nor prospects, why not take refuge in her love? Her wealth was ample. All she had was his without reserve. He might exchange into a regiment on foreign service; he might serve in a foreign army. He might not think it, but she could be a tame, fireside woman for his sake: she would make him a true and devoted wife, married or not. When a woman loved truly she was capable of anything.

Her appeal had the irresistible force of real passion; she was handsome—he had had no idea how handsome till now. Emotion brought back the sweet freshness of youth to her face, called out wonderful tones in her voice and strange brilliance in her eyes. Now she was tender, gentle, sisterly; now she was tragic, fierce, despairing; then suppliant and reproachful, but always with that electric flame of passion kindling and overcharging an atmosphere of mysterious enchantment akin to the magic of the weirdly beautiful gardens and the diablerie of the glittering Casino.

The details of that wild scene he could in no wise recall; nor could he remember exactly how it had come to an end, and he had found himself once more in the free air, thrilled, intoxicated, revolted, bewildered, fascinated, but not bound.

After all, there were worse women than the poor countess. She was a good comrade, and infinitely to be pitied. Was it her fault that she had been torn from her convent in the white innocence of ignorant girlhood and flung without power of protest into the arms of an elderly and unlovable husband, with no pause for reflection, and neither knowledge nor a moment's experience of life? What was there to guide and protect a lovely, lonely, fascinating girl, childless and unloved, and unconscious alike of her power and her weakness, through the rocks and quicksands of a hard and cruel world? Poor child—poor, dear, good-hearted countess! And if her reputation were a trifle damaged, how many, far less tempted and yet of spotless fame in the eyes of a hoodwinked world, were frailer than she! And, after all, who was spotless among women—except Agatha?

To be near Agatha would be calm and safety from that wild and wandering fire. And yet, as he sat listening to the multitudinous murmur of broken seas, with her hand pressed hard to his side, he was powerless to shake off the spell of that passionate hour; the physical attraction, the glowing eyes, the transfigured beauty, the thrilling voice, the pathos, the pity, the deep emotion, were always in his eyes and ears and heart. What could Agatha know of that, or of the intensified power of it all in an hour of desperate need and misery?

"Is it true," he asked, after a long silence, "that my mother is pressed for money, and that you give typewriting to the girls?"

"Ask her yourself. I may say nothing."

"And are you that man's paid secretary? Don't say that's true—not that."

"What man?"

"Oh, that foreign chap, that Pole—de Konski, as he calls himself. He's on some secret service; half English he says he is. He's all right for me; but for you to be his secretary!"

"Certainly I am—his confidential secretary."

"Good Lord! Confidential! Mixed up in all that underhand business—intrigues—who knows what devilry! In his pay! And why? When you have a good home, when mother is wanting you, and would give anything to have you back with her."

"Surely you know why, Ivor—not that your poor mother does. We try to keep the worst from her. The girls help a little—she thinks it is her own money. She can't realize how that has dwindled—and then my—pay is very good."

"O Lord! As bad as that! And if only—yes, I might have gone straight, I might—if only—if only you had given me a chance, a hope, had kept true to me!"

"True? I have always been the same to you. We have always been friends, Ivor, ever since we were such little things, playfellows, then companions. Always fond of each other—in that way—till now, when you reproach me and make other claims upon me."

"I should never have got into this mess if only you would have cared for me."

He knew this was untrue; but the Circean spell, working so strongly in his blood, darkened his brain and made him savage to her who had power to set him free.

"What nonsense, Ivor! Why should I care for you in that way? Anything of that kind was hateful to your mother; you know that she was always against it. Even if you had spoken out, she had other views for you. She trusted me, and told me, and you know it, Ivor. How could I, under her roof, eating her bread—how could I take her son from her and spoil her happiness?"

"Spoiling my happiness is nothing, of course. Yet she chose her husband. A man has a right to choose his wife."

"But you had not chosen me. She was not sure. She was only afraid of what might be if we were much together. You were so young, even if you had really cared——"

"Really cared? If? When you knew——"

"I knew nothing but her fears and objections. You said nothing——"

"It was understood——"

"Only by you. And so you took it for granted, till just now since you found me here? You had no right to do so. You never spoke, Ivor."

"And if I had spoken? Agatha!"

"I could only have asked you to forget. I knew her dislike of it. I was no match for you. I had less than nothing. My dear aunt was quite right. She knows you. Are you the sort of man to be happy on a crust? Yet she is no lover of mercenary matches."

He let go the hand, till now squeezed so fiercely to his side; the touch of it sent a mortal chill through him. She could sit there, calm and cold and unmoved, and discourse of the unwisdom of penniless marriages, while he was thirsting for a word or sign responsive to the love that thrilled him, and the need of love that devoured him, and the longing for sympathy that filled him with a desolate despair. And yet it was not such love as hers that he wanted in his secret heart, but a wilder, fiercer flame, though he did not know it. Yet he knew and feared the baser enchantment working in his blood, and in his better self revolted against it.

Her voice was even and sweet; all that she said was reasonable, cold, and calculated. She was so self-contained, so perfectly composed; kind and gentle, but with no hint of hidden fervour or suppressed feeling. Could nothing carry her off her feet; could she never forget herself in any sudden warmth, any gust of unconscious emotion?

And all the time the glow and stir of that other woman's tempestuous, self-forgetting passion moved him; the love-thrilled voice, the impassioned gestures, the splendidly moulded figure, the transfiguring tenderness on the beautiful, though faded, face, dazzled and inebriated him, in spite of moments of repulsion and disgust.

"Money," he muttered, "money! when all that one hungers for is a little love. Oh, you good women, cold and calculating and condescending to us poor, hot-headed, hot-blooded sinners, who only want a hand to help us out of the mud—a hand you won't reach out ever so little for fear of tumbling in yourselves."

"How unjust you are, Ivor," she cried, with tears in her voice and eyes, "you who clung to the mud you speak of, and refused to be helped out of it!"

"Help me now," he murmured. "Reach out a hand now—now that I'm sinking—deeper and deeper. I'm a beast, and a selfish beast at that. But marry me; it's my only chance. I haven't a penny in the world, and I've no prospects. I'm done for—broken, good for nothing—but—marry me—pick me out of the gutter."

"Ivor! Are you mad?"

"Yes, and drunk too—raving mad and blind drunk," he shouted savagely. "I was always in love with you," he faltered, "even when you were a little mite of a thing in short frocks and long hair, when you used to bowl for me and bat for me and field for me, and I used to swing you in the swing in the big horse-chestnut——" He dropped his face in his hands with a heavy sigh, his arms propped on his knees, and his eyes bent frowningly on the gravel.

She was trembling now, but controlled her voice too well.

"And yet," she said, "I have no power with you—you will do nothing for me—you want me to go on batting and bowling and fielding for you in the perpetual, desultory cricket you make of life."

"And you," he retorted—"you want me to go on swinging you everlastingly under the humdrum, goody-goody chestnut you make of life."

"And this," said Agatha bitterly, "is love—a man's love!"

"Oh, I'll swing you," he returned savagely, "if you'll only have me—swing you for all I'm worth, if you'll only love me—love me, love me, Agatha—backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, as long as you like, till my arms crack and drop off. That's love—a man's love."

She could not speak for the hot rush of sobs rising in her throat. She shut her hands tight, choked back the sobs, and looked straight before her at the broad blue sea glowing deeply in the sun. The dolphin-like hill-spur of Bordighera, all dreamy blue, with violet tints, paled while she looked and slipped suddenly under a veil of grey mist, while a huge black cloud, rising rapidly behind it, threw its shadow over the sea, changing peacock-blue and turquoise into deepest indigo. The chill of it struck into her. She drew in her breath and swallowed down her tears, and spoke in a low, even voice.

"Ivor," she said, "will you do this for me—only this one thing—the thing I have asked you so often before?"

"I'll do anything, everything; but I can't turn Methody, if you mean that—even for you——"

"Will you, once for all—I ask it for the last time—for my sake, give up gambling in every form—cards, betting——"

"How can I? Oh, you can make terms and conditions. You can stop and haggle over whether I'm worth raking out of the gutter or not. Well, I'm not. You may stake all you're worth on that. But if you cared twopence for me, you'd never stop to think whether I was or not; you'd just reach out a hand before you knew where you were, and haul me out. I know what love is, what even a woman's love can be. You don't——"

"Ah! Don't I?——"

"I'm not worth raking out. I know that fast enough. And I've only one chance to make it worth while from your point of view, and that is to square Mosson somehow. De Konski thinks it just possible; he may get him to wait awhile on a heavy percentage and say nothing. My leave is up in two days, and in those two days I must somehow rake in the dollars—supposing the beast will wait, that is—and of course my infernal luck is bound to turn now. And when I get home I know a horse or two I stand to make a pot of money on. So you see I can't do the thing you ask anyhow. Ask me something easier, Agatha; there's nothing I won't do for you but that, which I absolutely can't."

"But this is all I want," she said, shivering In the growing chill. "Promise this one thing, Ivor."

"It's mocking at me to ask that. It can't be done. If Mosson sticks to his pound of flesh, as he jolly well will—there's only just the off-chance that he won't—it means I'm broken, have to send in my papers—you know what the chief is—sell up the last stick, raise something on expectations, and begin again with no chances and a heavy debt. The best would be to work out a passage to Canada or South Africa and try my luck there. Else—there is only the sea," he said, looking at the waves darkening under the great cloud sailing up from Bordighera with a cold blast before it, that drove sand and small pebbles into their faces and swept the promenade clear of people, donkeys, and mules in a minute, crashing eucalyptus-boughs together, twisting and twining tulip-tree and catalpa, and making the palm-tops writhe and rattle drily with a sound of pattering rain.

They were forced to get up and shelter from blinding sand and pebbles behind the trees and shrubs in the gardens, whither the storm pursued them, piercing through every chink. Ivor's hat went, and he had to plunge some yards after it, while Agatha, half blinded by a branch dashed in her face, stood waiting, cowering from the wind behind shrubs, through the stems of which she could see the broad band of sea, the western half still glowing deeply like a peacock's throat in vivid sunlight, and the eastern half meeting it in accurate sharp division, as darkly and deeply indigo, the shallow waters shading to duck's-egg. Calm and storm, brightness and darkness, were in close contention, like the spirits in Ivor's soul—the dark and the bright, the pure love and the impure. Yet the sunlight lay deep and warm on the western waves, and the western sky was clear and cloudless above the shadowed bluffs.

"Only the sea," he repeated sullenly, striding back to her, holding on his hat, and bracing himself against the fierce blast; "and you'll all be jolly well rid of me."

"Why will you talk like an idiot?" she cried through the loud wind. "Be a man, Ivor, for once. Your own folly brought you to this, you know perfectly well. Try to use a little sense, a little manliness. Pick yourself out of the mud and make a better thing of life than you have ever done yet. Give up this miserable gambling, for your own sake, if not for mine. Square the man yourself. He can get nothing by breaking you. Who can get blood from a stone? What if you have to leave the Service? Use those muscles of yours to some purpose. Use your brains. You are not the idiot or the child you make yourself out. Think of those who depend upon you, and don't talk of being dependent on women. Don't for a moment suppose that I, or any woman of spirit, would dream of marrying a man who can't stand on his own foundation."

They were walking against the wind, fighting their way through the deserted gardens to shelter behind the bandstand. The storm was so wild that things displayed outside shops parallel to the gardens were swept away before there was time to take them in; china hung on the walls rattled, clashed, and even cracked; newspapers, cards, handkerchiefs and scarves, flew hither and thither across street and gardens; the sunshine left the mountains, and the sky darkened.

"I was an ass to think you would," he replied grimly, maddened by her scorn, and in spite of the beating wind on it his face was quite white; for he knew that of the spirits casting dice for his soul the black one had won. "But," he added, stopping to catch the scarf that flew from Agatha's hand as she tried to wind it round her neck—"but—— Hullo, here's de Konski!"

The Anarchist was sheltering from the storm inside a café, and came out on their approach in the first great drops of a pelting rainstorm. "Yes, here I am," he repeated, saying something to Agatha in a language that had no meaning for Ivor, to which she replied quickly in the same, stepping aside in the shelter while the Anarchist hailed and stopped a fiacre flying past to stables. Then she wished Ivor good-bye, offering her hand, which he either did not or would not see.

"Good-bye," he said, when de Konski was handing her into the carriage. As she got in, she looked out and saw him replace his hat in the buffeting wind. Then she drove to Rumpelmayer's, where Ermengarde was still waiting. She could not catch the expression of his face as she drove off, but fancied a softening in its sullen hardness, while Ivor, unable in the rain and wind to catch a full glance of her face, turned back into the café with a dreadful sickness of heart, feeling that he had parted once for all with the better influences and purer hopes of his life, and was thrown definitely back to such consolation as a dishonourable union offered. Nothing mattered now; a sort of reckless joy took hold of him at the thought, and he shook off the heart-sickness with a wild laugh.

"Let's have a bock," he cried gaily. "If we must go to the devil, let's go with a light heart."

"But why go to the devil at all?" de Konski asked, when the waiter brought the drink.

"Nowhere else to go to, old chap. Nobody else to so much as look at the likes of me. I ain't worth the snap of a finger. Lord bless you, de Konski, that young saint you just popped into the trap out of my contaminating company never cared a hang for me—no, not a twopenny damn, so she says, and now I'm down on my luck she won't—— O Lord! Well! who cares? Better fish in the sea than ever came out of it, eh?"

"That depends on your fishing. Sometimes you net one with gold in its mouth. Pity to let that kind go."

"I shall never net this one," he sighed, setting down the glass he had drained, and staring blankly at the table before him. "She never did and never could care for me," he repeated silently to himself. And all the malign enchantment of the morning rushed back in full force, now that, scorned and rejected of one, he felt free to surrender himself to the other. "But I'll do the square thing," he told himself. "I'll marry her, I'm blest if I won't. She shall have her chance at last, poor woman!"

The Anarchist, sitting opposite at the wine-stained table, contemplated him with interest. "How," he asked presently, "do you propose to make the journey?"

"Going to marry for money, to begin with."

"No occasion, then, to trouble about the Spider any more?"

"O Lord, that beast! I'd forgotten all about him. I'm an ungrateful brute, de Konski. I'm awfully obliged to you, though, all the same. Shylock sticks out for his pound of flesh, of course?"

"Well, hardly that. After all, even he's human, Paul."

"Oh, I say, though, you don't mean to say—you can't mean to say—you've squared the beast!" he cried, springing up and making the glasses dance on the table.

"Well, yes, I've squared him—in a way."

"What way? Half my pay as interest? Seventy per cent. at the final square up six months hence?"

"No; but on conditions——"

"Conditions? Mosson making conditions?"

"Here is a paper signed by him. It is in duplicate, signed and witnessed. He remits you——"

"Mosson remitting? The sun'll tumble out of the sky."

"He remits you the whole, gives you a receipt in full—there it is in black and white—on condition that you bind yourself to play no more, to give up every kind of gaming and betting, and sign to that effect—witnessed by me. So now, Paul, you are a free man. No question of the descent to Avernus, the mercenary marriage, or anything of the sort—always providing you take this pledge."

"Oh, I say!" he muttered thickly, the drops starting on his forehead. "It can't be true—it can't. And the chief?——"

"Will know nothing."

"But Mosson?" he gasped. "Mosson to make me a present of all that? It's unheard of! Besides, it isn't the square thing; he must be paid—you can't rook him, if he's ever such a beast. And it's nothing to him whether I go under or not."

"Mosson is paid to the last centime—that is, he will be if you make this promise."

"Paid by whom?" he asked hoarsely.

"Naturally not by an enemy. By some one who makes it a stipulation that you never know, by some one who has your welfare so much at heart as to be willing to pay a price for it, who wishes you to be absolutely free and unfettered by any obligation—except that of giving up this stupid, ruinous vice."

"The countess!" he whispered, turning cold and sick, as he sank back in the chair he had left, covering his face with his hands.

"Pff! Is it likely? I may not give you the smallest hint; I'm bound in honour, so don't ask. But, if you mean the woman you are always helping out of tight places, is it likely? Look here, Paul, there is the paper and its duplicate. Here is a pen—a fountain. Read and sign it. But think before you sign."

There was silence for some time—silence except for the fitful return of the quieting storm outside, the crackle of hail on roof and pavement, and the last faint pattering of rain before it stopped. Ivor did not move from his posture, his head fallen forward on the table between the glasses, his face in his hands, his shoulders slightly convulsed once, then rigid. The Anarchist looked at him with a sort of weary patience, but said nothing.

At last Ivor got up and went to the window, drawing the back of his hand across his eyes, and looked out on the drenched gardens, where orange-trees and palms were still quivering in the half-spent blast and the hail lay in great stones like lumps of sugar on the sunlit grass. Then he turned back, read the papers carefully, and silently asked for the pen and signed, his signature being duly attested by de Konski, who gave him one paper and kept the other.

"Now you are free," the Anarchist said, shutting up the pen and pocketing one paper.

"Yes, free," repeated Ivor, like a man in a dream.

Chapter XVIII

The Only Hope

The storm had become so furious that the driver, after taking Ermengarde up from Rumpelmayer's, insisted on putting in for shelter under the crowded porte cochère of the nearest hotel.

"We might as well have stayed at Rumpelmayer's, after all," she murmured, the wretchedness evoked by reading the publisher's parcel rushing back upon her at the first dull moment. Rumpelmayer's bon-bons were pleasant, and several interesting glimpses of human nature had been given her there at the little tables which were unusually thronged for the time of day on account of the storm.—"It was at least warm at Rumpelmayer's. And what of Villa Gilardoni, Miss Somers?"

"Oh, Villa Gilardoni! What will you think of me, dear Mrs. Allonby? My cousin began talking of—family matters; they were absorbing; time somehow slipped away, and the storm rushed up so suddenly—it was impossible to stand against it——"

"And so 'the hobby-horse, the hobby-horse, was forgot'? But it was too kind of you even to propose this fag on my behalf, much less to try to carry it out. And yet—you are looking very tired, dear Miss Somers."

"I am not tired," she replied hastily; "I am exhausted. I—oh! these storms upset one's nerves."

"Which storms?" Ermengarde wondered, and came to the conclusion that nothing merely meteorological had caused this upset. Could it be remorse? or was it the connexion by marriage? How much easier, simpler, and sweeter life would be were there no men in the world, she reflected, though, like other Utopias and earthly paradises, she thought it might be just a trifle dull. And who knew that, not only man, but even the devil himself might have his uses in the economy of things? The latter supposition she prudently confided to the secrecy of her own breast, while murmuring sympathetic common-places to Agatha, until such time as it pleased the driver to brave the abating fury of the storm, and take them through the drenched town to the sheltered road under the plane-trees, and so to the foot of the ridge where there was nothing for it but to walk or ride up on donkeys and mules.

They chose the former alternative, the heavy rain having given place to a hailstorm by this time, and, before they had climbed in the shelter of vineyard-walls and steep rock-ledges to the first ridge, the hail gave over and the storm-beaten, indigo sea spread darkly, dashed with white foam-ridges, to their sight, when they stopped to take breath and shake out their skirts, whitened by hail.

Some fresh mimosa boughs in a jar of rough country pottery adorned one of the faded shrines of the Seven Sorrows. Who had placed it there, and in memory of what anguish? Agatha wondered, and Ermengarde told her of the phantom nuns Heinrich the porter had seen haunting the shrines at night.

"He must have believed that he saw them," she argued, "because nuns are improbable. If he had invented them, they would have had to be monks, since this was a male community—and still is—for the brothers come back occasionally now. How the people must miss them! They used to serve that church across the ravine. And look—this is how they got to their church."

She pointed to a long straight flight of narrow steps, hewn by hand-labour out of one steep and solid rock, making a long and giddy descent of slippery and uncertain footing where the narrow steep stairs were mossed and uneven; so steep and so long the flight was that the greater part of it was hidden from sight below.

Agatha looked with unseeing eyes, her heart too full of her grief to be interested in anything unconnected with it. She remembered well her first acquaintance with those pathetic shrines, deserted but still finding some humble hearts to honour them in their evil hour. She remembered her anguish and prayer—prayer she knew now ungranted—on the convent steps, in the very face of the consolation offered upon the cross planted there as if in welcome. All the earth had seemed full of silent prayer in the hush and glory of sunset, on that first evening; every hill and ridge had been an altar smoking with sacrificial incense, and the amphitheatre of mountains standing round the broad sweep of the bay a vast temple of adoration, in the centre of which the cross on the top of the steps spread out its welcoming, protecting arms.

She remembered, too, the sight that had afterwards met her gaze from the convent wall; and even now, as she walked wearily past the shrines, fancied the rank odours of musk and cigars tainting the purity of the sweet, still air. Even while she had been wrestling in prayer for him on that evening, Ivor had passed, laughing and fooling with that evil woman who had been his destruction.

Such agony overcame her at this thought that companionship of any kind was insupportable. She made some excuse for prolonging her walk in another direction, while Ermengarde took the most direct way home, under the steep on which the monastery garden spread its fertile terraces to the south, showering vine-trails, fig-branches and prickly pears down the walls to the very edge of the mule-path. But Agatha turned aside and climbed the slope where the cultivator's pink-walled house stood, or rather reclined, among fruit-trees and pergolas, and passed on and up to the convent steps, weariness of mind and body reacting upon each other to such a degree that she would fain have flung herself down on the wet herbage and risen no more. She had definitely asked the man who demanded and implored her love to renounce for her sake the vice that had brought him to ruin, and he had definitely refused to do so. He loved her; he besought, almost commanded her love, but would give up nothing for her. Even while proclaiming his own worthlessness he had claimed her entire devotion and self-sacrifice. What was such love worth? And what was such a man worth? Could he even be called a man and not rather a petulant, dissolute boy, heedless of all but his own comfort and enjoyment, unable to deny himself the gratification of any passion for any sake? And yet—he had shown some compunction in regard to his mother, had been really grieved to cause her pain and such privation as had been hitherto unknown to her. That is to say, he was not entirely without feeling for the woman who had loved and blessed him from his earliest breath, was not absolutely unnatural and unfilial. And yet Agatha loved him, in wild wonder that such as he should kindle love in any heart; and yet she felt that he had no real love for her, though he required and desired her whole heart's devotion.

Had she been hard to him, too hard?—for some hardness is the only kindness to such natures as his. Was it some true instinct, after all, that impelled him to fly to her to pick him out of the mire and save him? Her last words to him had indeed been hot and harsh; she had seen him wince and quiver under them—poor Ivor! She would have softened their effect with some kinder and sweeter words but for the storm and the baleful interruption of the Anarchist, who should have known better than to intrude at such a moment. Now she would see him no more; nothing could heal the wounds she had made; they would always rankle in his memory; the acid would bite deeper and deeper, as time went on and he plunged deeper and deeper into the mire of which he had spoken, whence gentler words and the love he craved might have drawn him. And yet her words had been terribly true. Yes, but she might have put them more gently and sweetly; she had blundered with a bludgeon, where a silken lash or the prick of a knife-point might have been enough. If only the storm and the Anarchist had kept away a few minutes, just a few precious, golden, irretrievable minutes, longer! But he would never have made the renunciation she asked. No; but if she had been kinder; if she had let him see that she was to be won; nay, if she had even given way, held out the hand he asked for and let him grasp it firmly, who knows but she might gradually and with much pain and anguish have rescued him? Who could tell? She might at least have given him hope. And even if all had been in vain, could it have been much worse than this?

She pictured him in his despair and anger, hardening day by day, descending deeper and deeper, reckless, loveless, degraded. She began to hate this mad, proud reticence of women, that will only give love for assured, declared love; what was it in comparison with a man's salvation? Why not have told the poor boy she loved him? Too late now. It was all over; her sacrifice had been in vain. Oh! she should have given more. She should have thrown herself into the breach, her whole self and all her shrinkings and loathings, her pride and reticence. No; that too would have been vain; to stain herself would never make him clean; nor could her descent ever lift him up.

His mother, that sweet, long-suffering mother and high-souled woman, what pain for her! Now she would have to bear this bitter sorrow always. Had a true instinct and no common sense prudence warned her that Agatha could do nothing for her prodigal, when she besought her so earnestly to give no response to his advances? These thoughts warring in her heart brought her to distraction and took the last remnants of strength from her tired body; she could hardly drag herself ever so slowly and falteringly up the steps, with gasping breath and throbbing pulse.

The storm had completely passed now; the divine stillness of the mountain solitudes had returned; sound there was none, save the distant roar of the vexed and chafing sea, whence the indigo stain had fled, leaving it darkly and deeply blue as before, with tumbling ridges of white foam, touched with gold. For now the setting sun flashed out from broken cloud, throwing rose-gold radiance across the western bay, striking up wooded hill-spurs, bringing towers and village walls into sudden glow, and flushing the wet, bare mountain peaks one after another with crimson fire.

Even Agatha's sad heart was quickened as she lifted her eyes to that glorious spectacle and saw the rose flame kindle peak after peak in the vast sweep of engirdling mountains with vivid changing splendour. It was as if the fire of Heaven had visibly descended upon that temple of many altars, in token of some hidden, accepted sacrifice, some offered incense found worthy and well-pleasing. The splendour glowed and deepened till every barren, craggy peak, veined with shadow and streaked with fresh snow, was a crimson flame on a violet sky; the deep silence was a mystic, triumphant psalm of praise to which the solemn roar of the troubled sea was a humbler antiphon, a more earthly response. "The Lord sitteth above the water-flood—The Lord is King be the people never so impatient," the far-off surges sang, and the impatience died from her troubled heart; the poignancy of her despair abated. The celestial fire, changing and quivering as with life-breath, kindled upon ridge after ridge; every village tower, every cottage and hut glowed in the jewel-flame; the white convent walls gleamed in pale claret and lambent gold from between dark cypress and eucalyptus boughs; and at the top of the steps, its welcoming arms flung wide to the world, the great wooden cross, one blaze of rose-gold fire, proclaimed the one hope in all the wide waste tumult of human life, the one eternal sacrifice, the Calvary that is the only road to any Paradise.

Ave Crux Spes Unica,

she read once more on the glowing centre of the cross.

Only a few hours since, she had prayed and implored, even knelt to, the Jewish usurer near that very cross for Ivor—and all to no purpose. It had been very bitter, to humble herself to that man, to lay bare to his contemptuous and cruel gaze that secret heart-sanctuary a woman veils jealously even from herself. He had said things that brought the crimson to her face and cut her to the very quivering heart; he had laughed and prophesied the futility of what she implored, even though he had melted and given way with respect, almost tenderness, at last. What if her own sacrifice, poor and petty, though so much to her, were vain, could that symbolized in the plain wood steeped in glorious rose-lustre above her ever fail?

No; that could never fail, never be in vain, not wholly, not eternally, in vain, something whispered to her stricken heart, and she fell on her knees among the melting hailstones, and prayed with greater passion than ever before, consumed with anguish, uplifted by faith, quivering with love and adoration, thrilled through all her sorrow with a deep divine sweetness; and notwithstanding the fervour of her supplication, full of quiet acquiescence in whatsoever the divine will should accord, even though it seemed despair.

The rosy fire died from the cross and the lower hill-crests, and faded lingeringly from the topmost peaks, leaving wooded steep and gorge in deep shadow, while Agatha poured out her heart on the rock steps with tears and prayers unutterable.

And when she rose, soothed and tranquillized, and sat a moment in the fork of the eucalyptus, looking down across the torrent and the town to the café by the sea, where she had left Ivor an hour before, she could not know that he had just signed the papers put before him by the Anarchist. Yet she turned from the darkening, murmuring sea and faded sunset sky, and walked lightly home through the monastery grounds in the violet afterglow, her heart full of peace.

Not that she was destined to reach home without further adventure; for she had but crossed the level under the cypresses when a slender figure that had been leaning on the western wall, watching the dying glory change on mountain and sea, stood up, darkly outlined against the lucid sky, and came forward to meet her with quick but halting step.

"I thought I could not be mistaken," the thin man said; "I have a keen ear for footsteps, and at once recognized yours. But——" He paused, struck by the mingled fatigue and exaltation on her face, seen clear in the after-glow. "You are tired; you have been worried—more than worried. Pardon me, Miss Somers; but you are young, you are alone and unprotected—a friend may be of service to you, however intrusive and undesired. Is there anything I could do for you? Could I knock somebody down? I observed something this morning—here—on this very spot—you had been annoyed—upset—a person—I trust you had been subjected to no undesirable attention from that unworthy quarter."

A gentle smile flitted over Agatha's face; the idea of the thin man knocking anybody down—or even entertaining such a project—was extremely funny. Indeed, there was this evening something entirely foreign to his usual self in Mr. Welbourne's voice and manner. His self-control was imperfect; he stammered; there was fire in his eye.

"I wonder," he added, "that the people of the house should admit that man to a small and respectable hotel like this. It is an outrage——"

"Mr. Mosson? Oh, poor Mr. Mosson is not as bad as all that, Mr. Welbourne. Indeed, he is not without heart, after all. And I must confess that, far from his annoying me with his company, it was I who trespassed upon the poor man's leisure. I—I wanted to speak to him—on—on a matter of business, and he was most obliging—most accommodating——"

"Accommodating? obliging? Good heavens! Miss Somers, do you know that to be accommodated by this rascally Jew spells ruin? Once in his toils, his victims rarely escape. Don't you know that Mosson is a most notorious usurer, is the too well-known Spider? I do most earnestly trust that he has not accommodated you to a large amount—and as a man of the world—which naturally no lady is expected to be—I warn you—I entreat you to allow me to be your banker—it happens that I have a good deal of capital lying idle for the moment—let me enable you to pay this man off at once, before the interest has accumulated. Give me this pleasure, I beseech you. I—I—require a small interest—one and a half per cent.——"

"But indeed, dear Mr. Welbourne, you are quite mistaken. I have borrowed no money of anybody, really. I can't say how deeply I appreciate your kindness in offering this. No; the poor Spider only did me a—kindness—in the way of business; he lent me nothing at all, I assure you. Nor do I need money, thank you. I thank you many times."

"Oh!" said the thin man, amazed beyond words and disappointed as well.

"But I do," she added, seeing his bewilderment and distress, "I do need, we all need, at all events sometimes, kindness. And for yours I thank you most cordially."

She offered her hand; he took it and bowed over it with such reverent courtesy as belongs to an earlier day than this decadent time of ours, but remained silent still, as if struggling with some deep feeling. And, when he again raised his head and relinquished her hand, she saw that he was flushed and agitated, and came to the conclusion that the poor gentleman in some far-off, foolish days of youth had probably been ensnared by some old-time Spider, who had drained his blood and left him to drag out a withered and blighted life. Hence possibly his celibate condition.

"It—it is a great relief," he said, "a very great relief," and yet the relief he expressed was scarcely evident in his face, upon which the utmost dejection was traced, "to hear that you owe that hard, bad man nothing. May such a misfortune never befall you. And may you never need to borrow of anyone. Should you, however, be so unfortunate, I trust that I may be allowed the great privilege of accommodating you with whatever may be necessary. I know—of course," he added, "that I have no right—no claim—no—that is to say—I am but a casual acquaintance, after all. And yet—pardon my presumption in venturing to say so—I believe that you have no truer, no more devoted friend in the world than I am."

"You have always been kind," she replied with the unconscious cruelty of a mind too much preoccupied to be very observant. "Mrs. Allonby and I have often said that you have been a father to us both from the moment we entered the house."

Mr. Welbourne started; he turned and looked at the moaning sea, whence the last rose-tints were dying, and then he turned and looked at the mountain peaks, above which a trembling star hung lustrous. "Oh!" he sighed very sadly at last; and Agatha wondered why he looked so sad, not knowing that the last relationship the thin man desired with her was that of a parent.

"But that is no reason why either of us should plunder you," she added very kindly and tenderly, as they passed into the shadow of the pines on the other side of the monastery.

"I suppose," he rejoined meekly, "that I seem quite—old in your young eyes."

"Oh no!" she assured him earnestly, observing, as she took the hand with which he was helping her over the same twisted roots that had afforded Mr. Mosson an opportunity of civility in the morning, that it trembled, and fearing she had hurt his feelings, "I don't think you old at all, dear Mr. Welbourne. In these days people don't even begin to be old till seventy."

"I am not yet seventy," murmured the thin man, handing her down the last steep little ledge in the dusk, with a mixture of resignation and despair.

"I should think not, indeed," she returned reassuringly, "but I hope," she added in a burst of generous feeling, "that you soon will be."

"Good Heavens!" ejaculated the poor man, "soon be seventy!"

"I mean," she hastily corrected, "I hope you will live to a good old age—full of honours—with troops of friends——" Oh, Heaven! the kindly patronage in her voice, the gracious condescension of youth to age, the total absence of any feeling but that of cold respect and half pitiful gratitude!—"And that I may have a place among those many friends," she added, regretting to have expressed herself clumsily; she was tired; had had a day of worries, was stupid.

"I ought not to bore you with my prosy affairs and blundering surmises," he confessed. And yet, owing either to the malice of some demon, or that madness which comes to those the gods menace with ruin, before they reached the lighted hall full of people, he had made her acquainted with his true age—at which she expressed untimely and unthinking surprise—and the whole state of his worldly affairs, not forgetting the temporary nature and cause of his lameness, and his position in life, besides asking her to honour him by the acceptance of a bunch of carnations, which she did with matter-of-fact calm, hardly remembering a hasty "Thank you" when she left him on the stairs.

So the thoughts he confided to the piano in the dusk before dinner that evening were in plaintive minor keys and chords of dissonant intervals slowly resolved.

Ermengarde, who had stolen noiselessly in to listen unseen, was much soothed by this music; she was sure that the thin man was telling the piano of the lost dreams and broken hopes of his youth in those subdued minor melodies and daring, harmonic progressions, till the fair Dorris, flouncing in, loudly pronounced them "Shopping reminiscences," and so broke the charm.

The tale of woe Mrs. Allonby confided to the thin man's paternal ear after dinner evoked tepid sympathy; indeed, it struck her that her filial confidences were but half understood, and that the interest displayed in her affairs was spasmodic and forced. There was clearly something wrong with Mr. Welbourne; had he been losing at the tables, or was it impending gout? Her father was just like that before a fit of gout.

The poor man disappeared early into the solitude of his room, and after pacing the parquet dejectedly for some time, turned on a full light, stood before a mirror, and studied the lines in his face and the grey streaks in his hair. Then he called himself a fool seven times, at uncertain intervals, and finished a drawing he was making of a woman's face.

Chapter XIX

An Act of Justice

No trace of storm remained next morning; it was, on the contrary, a day of brilliant and cloudless calm, a lotus-eating day, made for basking in sunshine and rejoicing only to be alive.

But Miss Boundrish was not content with merely being alive, she wished to be very comfortable as well; and to that end selected the pleasantest spot in the grounds, outside that same shelter of rye-straw whence Ermengarde had overheard scraps of conversation between two strangers on her first day there. Miss Dorris was quite aware of the acoustic properties of the place, whence she had on many occasions derived entertainment and information that she was not unwilling to impart. This little plateau, which was reached by a flight of marble steps, was not always well supplied with seats; on the present occasion, besides some iron chairs only fit to do penance in, there were only two very cosy cushioned wicker arm-chairs with deep low seats to be had. These the young lady arranged along the edge of the little platform immediately over the mule-path, and, sitting in one, put up her feet cosily on the other in such a way that she appropriated nearly the whole front, commanding the fair and extensive prospect seaward and across the mountain gorges. Thus extended at full length, holding up a huge white sunshade, she made an interesting foreground etched upon the purple bloom of distance, and considerately blotted out most of the sunshine and nearly all the view from the shelter. Provided with a novel, a packet of letters, a box of chocolates and the prospect of revelations of human character from people passing on the mule-path, she felt herself securely fortified against attacks of dulness, and surrendered herself with a gentle sigh to the voluptuous charm of a long morning of dolce far niente.

She had not long enjoyed the amenities of this position, when her solitude was invaded by the sound of a slow and dragging step accompanied by faint gasps, and turning with a slight frown on her velvet brow, she perceived the figure of an elderly invalid emerging slowly from under the olive-boughs shading the steps. Encumbered with shawls, cushions, and writing and working materials, this poor lady made slow and panting progress, and was obliged to rest a minute on the wooden seat surrounding the olive-trunk; and upon perceiving a youthful form stretched on chairs along the foreground, of the aerial prospect before her, she was not without hope that the graceful figure in full bloom of health would get up and help her. In this she was disappointed, since the face of the fair damsel in question, after the first frowning glance, continued to be bent in studious absorption upon her book, as if undisturbed by or unaware of her presence. Observing this, the new-comer, in the habit of occupying one of the chairs now supporting the fairy figure, for whole mornings together, her infirmities not permitting her to walk or be carried in the ambulant arm-chairs known to common minds as donkeys, and supposing her approach to have been both unseen and unheard, rose, and gathering up her burdens, dragged herself across the platform to Dorris, with some friendly words.

At this the fair student raised her eyes languidly to the frail and bent figure standing at her side, and, having favoured her with a cool and contemptuous stare, observed in a patronizing tone that the morning was warm, and went back to her work without another word, to the poor lady's speechless amazement. A passing thought of asking her young friend if she could spare one of the easy-chairs and take a plain one for her feet was abandoned in sudden indignation at this heartless piece of impudence, and, being unable to accommodate herself to the hard iron bars and high seats of the straight chairs without actual pain, and seeing no one near to fetch her a less penitential seat, the invalid was obliged to beat a retreat with as little loss of dignity as possible, resting once more under the olive on her way, and then very slowly climbing down the marble steps.

There she met M. Isidore, fury firing his eyes and bristling his moustache, but gentleness in his voice when he spoke to her, relieving her of her encumbrances and giving her an arm to a less desirable shelter in the sun, where he surrounded her with every available comfort.

"I go now," he said with a very sweet smile, before vanishing, "to settle the other lady. She will have some fun, that one."

With this he sped across the grounds in all directions and thence into the house, whispering a word of power into the ears of those he met, and then sped back to the rear of the rye-straw shelter, where he had been sorting seeds, while the invalid, lulled by the warmth and beauty, and occupied with her needle, soon forgot her annoyance, and commented to a neighbouring lotus-eater on the pleasantness of that young man's manner, and the great addition he made to the charm and convenience of the house. "And I don't believe a word of what they say about him," she added indignantly; "he's just as nice to the old ladies as to the young ones—and a great deal nicer, too."

Meanwhile, the fair Dorris, munching chocolates, and nestling in her two easy-chairs, grew drowsy with warmth and comfort; her novel slipped from her fingers and her eyes closed; her flower-like head drooped on the slender stalk, her neck; she would soon have been in the land of dreams but for the sound of a cheery whistle on the mule-path, at which her blue eyes opened wide, and she started up, alert and listening, under her huge sunshade. Only a careless whistling of that catchy tune played at the Carnival. It broke off in the middle, but soon began again in a cheery tenor, brokenly still, and she recognized the voice of young Trevor, the Oxonian, staying in these parts to recover from something, whether from too much work, or too much play, was not clearly understood.

"No," she heard him say, in intervals of switching a juniper-bush on the brink with his stick, "I can't say I admire that black-a-vized style. I like 'em fresh and fair, curds and cream mixed with roses—like Miss Boundrish—she's a ripper and no mistake."

A sweet smile illumined the curds and cream features of the ripper at this; she looked pensively at her hands, and wondered at the round whiteness of her wrists, and thought regretfully of the loveliness of her present pose, wasted upon empty air, and held her breath to listen and sniff more incense.

A female voice with an American accent rebuked the youth for levity in commenting upon feminine beauty in the concrete; he was told that he should confine his observations to the abstract.

"Well, but you can't say she isn't ripping," he remonstrated, "and why on earth shouldn't you mention a girl's name among her friends? You wouldn't discuss her in public, and you couldn't tell it to her face; but I bet anything she wouldn't mind the way I spoke of her, if she could only hear it."

Something unintelligible followed in a low voice, that Dorris recognized as the thin man's, and a light gush of laughter ensued.

"Well, and whose character is being thrown to the lions now? Oh, don't tell me, I know from the sound of that laugh that scandal's about. Is it poor me?" cried the cheerful voice of Mrs. Allonby at this juncture. She was rather breathless, as if she had just climbed up from somewhere.

"You scented the battle from afar, Mrs. Allonby. Well, you shall have your share of the spoil," said the Oxonian. "Here's a nice soft stone for a seat. It's only the beauty of Miss Boundrish that's on toast. I say she's ripping, and they say I'm rude to say it."

"I think her perfectly lovely. Those coral lips, that velvet brow——"

"Ah, you're charring now, Mrs. Allonby——"

"No, I really do admire the girl's face immensely if only——"

"Ah!" interjected the thin man piously, "that fatal 'if,' that always qualifies the admiration of ladies for each other!"

"Well, anyhow I guess it's a pretty big if this time, ain't it, Mrs. Allonby?" Mrs. Dinwiddie asked.

"Beasts," reflected the fair being above them. "Of course, all the men are for me and all the women against!"

"I was only about to regret," Ermengarde replied meekly, "that manners in that quarter scarcely match the beauty of the face."

"Manners?" cried the thin man enigmatically. "Ah, if you want manners!"

"Oh! manners," echoed the boy, "that's another matter. I was talking of beauty, and if that girl isn't a clinker——"

"'Manners makyth man,' as I trust all Wykehamists know——"

"Well, now, Mr. Welbourne, if manners makyth woman too," Mrs. Dinwiddie put in, "I judge that poor Boundrish gell wants making some. The way she'll take the only comfortable chairs."

"I'll poor-Boundrish-girl her as soon as I get the chance!" reflected the fair object of the discussion, her eyes winking with wrath.

"My dear lady," expostulated the boy, "we were speaking of beauty. You, who come from the country par excellence of fair women, can you, even in comparison with your peerless countrywomen, deny that Miss Boundrish is a clinker?"

"Ah!" sighed poor Dorris, "I always thought Bertie Trevor as nice as they make them."

"Land's sake, Mr. Trevor, she clinks fast enough; she goes solid for beauty, if that's what you mean, and I guess she'd go for me if I darst deny it. But what, did Solomon say, is a beautiful woman without discretion?"

"Surely his was a somewhat jaundiced view of the sex, Mrs. Dinwiddie——"

"Anyhow, 'twas pretty extensive. He'd ought to know 'em if anybody did. He'd sampled 'em pretty well all round. King Solomon's reckoned about the most married man in history."

"But is the poor girl wanting in discretion?" asked Ermengarde's most dulcet tones.

"Not," replied Agatha, who had silently stolen into the circle, "if it is discreet to shout exaggerated scandal in public places"—in some occult way Agatha knew of Dorris's misadventure at Turbia—"or to make mischief between friends and breed dissension in families, by the most odious misrepresentations and insinuations. Not if it is discreet to catch up half a misunderstood tale and repeat it with a twist—

"I say, Miss Somers, hadn't you better hold up. The lady might be coming round the corner," remonstrated Bertie in an anxious voice.

"She can't. She's gone to Nice to see her aunt. So she told me at breakfast——"

"Gone to Nice!" came in a chorus of irrepressible ecstasy. "If she would only stay at Nice."

"Too good to be true!" complained a male voice, that Dorris conjectured to be that of a certain Major Norris, whom she had more than once publicly appropriated as lawful spoil of her charms, and inveigled into winding and solitary walks alone with her.

"Couldn't somebody persuade her that Nice is the only spot on earth for the complexion?" asked one.

"She'd swallow any rot. That story of the frogs—feeding the conscripts with frogs to give them courage! Too bad to stuff her like that," said another.

"Surely you must acknowledge that the presence of our young friend at least makes for mirth at table," reproved the thin man's plaintive tones.

"You hypocritical old owl, you!" muttered Dorris, clenching her small fists and twisting them as if a gentle fancy had involved them in Mr. Welbourne's hair, which was artistically grown.

"Say," cried Mrs. Dinwiddie with sudden inspiration, "what was M. Isidore's mot on the Boundrish gell?"

"Ah! M. Isidore's mot," echoed Ermengarde, "how did it run?"

"To be sure, M. Isidore's mot," went from mouth to mouth, ending in a general shout of laughter and ejaculations of ecstasy; but what the mot was poor Dorris never heard, for the simple and sufficient reason that M. Isidore was entirely innocent of having so much as imagined one, and was at that moment bending over the rose-covered rail above the path, with gesticulations expressive of mingled delight and resentment at the liberty taken with his name, to the great joy of Bertie Trevor, who made gestures of defiance at him in return. At this, M. Isidore, shaking his head as if in despair of the group below, turned his attention to Dorris—whom he could see through a chink in the rye-straw partition, and whose reception of public incense he had watched with tender, if spasmodic, interest from time to time—and was rewarded by perceiving symptoms of severe internal perturbation in the fair lady's demeanour.

The good-hearted little man had substantial and most bitter cause to dislike Dorris and all her ways; few things would have given him greater satisfaction than her instant and final disappearance from Les Oliviers, from France, from any and every place in which he might henceforth walk all his life long; but he had a heart and a soft one; he had also a French tenderness for the smaller woes of women, and what he saw through the chink smote him with such compunction that he left his seeds, leapt lightly down from the platform and ran round to the path, where the group of traducers were loitering, holding out his hands in appeal.

"Mais, mais, mesdames, messieurs! c'est un peu fort!" he cried; "does one talk so of ladies?"

"We were only admiring the dear girl's little ways," Ermengarde explained, "and her beauty."

"I do love her little way of listening to people talking among themselves, and picking their brains and passing their things off as her own," Major Norris said. "And that of patronizing her betters and flatly contradicting people on subjects she hasn't had the chance of understanding—even if she had the brains."

"The way she explained to me how we run elections in the States," added Mrs. Dinwiddie's husband, a humble, unconsidered dependent, occasionally found handy to fetch and carry for his liege lady. "She'd just as soon tell the Almighty the way to run the Universe, you bet——"

"But that charming laugh, Mr. Dinwiddie, surely that atones for much," murmured Lady Seaton, arriving from the convent to the Carnival tune that Bertie Trevor was whistling, as he had done at intervals during the whole interview, to the deep disgust and irritation of Dorris, who was more impatient than most people of tiresome tricks like humming and whistling—tricks she arrogated to herself as the peculiar privilege of one too lovely and attractive not to be always sure to please whatever she did. Dorris was, of course, not aware that whenever anyone came down the path or up the path or from the convent steep, Bertie, standing out on a little jut of rock, looking idly about, instantly began that Carnival tune, unless it was a stranger. In that case he whistled the Marseillaise and the talk paused.

"O Lord, that everlasting gurgle," growled the Major; "it's all over the place from morning till night. What the dickens does she do it for?"

Dorris's fists clenched themselves; she remembered bare-faced admiration of that charming laugh, and other tributes to her fascination, bold almost to impudence not a week old, from this false man.

"Well," replied Mrs. Dinwiddie, "I judge the poor gell can't so much as go to sleep without acting. She's just made up of affectations right through, top skirt and lining, inside and out. I should be surprised if her mother didn't get headache and her father the hump."

"I don't care," Bertie began doggedly, "if she has got the voice of a screech-owl——"

"Oh, come now, Mr. Trevor, her voice is well enough, poor girl, if she wouldn't always yell at the top of it."

"Beauty is beauty, however soulless," he continued stolidly. "And if she does strut like a peacock——"

"Et tu, Bertie!" the poor peacock sighed metaphorically.

"—She's got the peacock's justification. Her hair is perfectly stunning."

"So is her voice," muttered the Major.

"Assez, assez! cette pauvre demoiselle," M. Isidore remonstrated, as he had continued to do at intervals.

"And she can't help it," added the chivalrous Bertie.

"Very true," returned Mr. Welbourne, solemnly misunderstanding him. "Our young friend should not be judged harshly for what is misfortune rather than fault. What is to be expected of an ignorant and entirely brainless girl, vain and thoughtless, who has evidently never been in any decent society? She is too young and too inexperienced to be aware of her own defects, to which her kind and indulgent parents are affectionately blind——"

"I've seen her momma squirm at her antics more than once," Mrs. Dinwiddie put in.

"If some kind and judicious friend could but tell her——"

"But who'll bell the cat? Nobody wants to be clawed."

"—She would doubtless correct herself—she is young."

"Not she; she's a heartless little cat. So spiteful," cried a female voice.

"If somebody would only lock her up while she's correcting herself," sighed Ermengarde, eliciting variously expressed but unanimous agreement in her suggestion.

In the meantime M. Isidore had stolen one more glance at the victim on the block, discovering the mournful spectacle of Dorris on her knees between the two nefariously appropriated chairs, her arms on the seat of one, her face in her hands, trying to stifle bitter sobs.

Her position was truly unfortunate. A comfortable matron had appropriated a seat at the foot of the steps, and was tranquilly perusing a paper through the glasses she held, occasionally looking up and expressing mild wonder to a daughter a little way off at the continuous talk and merriment going on outside on the path—this lady even audibly entertained the idea of going out to see for herself what was forward—and, besides not being able to leave her now distasteful eminence without passing her, poor Dorris feared she would come up to her, little knowing that the good lady was purposely stationed there to cut off her retreat and ensure her sufficient castigation.

The sight was more than the kind-hearted little Frenchman could bear. Once more he sprang down and ran into the midst of the gossipers, whispering to one after the other, "Mais elle pleure, elle pleure à chaudes larmes."

"After all," commented the thin man with unconscious cruelty, in the sudden silence that followed these words: "vulgarity is not vice. It is involuntary and unconscious."

That was the last, worst stripe of all, that and M. Isidore's knowledge and compassionate betrayal of her sufferings. "Vulgarity." The word blistered her ears; she caught up a scarf, threw it over her face, and fled down the marble steps, past the comfortable matron, nearly upsetting her, and through the grounds, dashing in her wild career against some one, she neither knew nor cared whom.

Mr. Welbourne himself felt the vitriol of his ill-considered speech the moment it was spoken, but knew it to be past mending, and groaned audibly, while every member of the group, with the exception of Major Norris, who was a disciplinarian and a thoroughly good hater when once he began, was more or less visited by compunction.

"After all, it was beastly mean of us," Bertie Trevor said, turning away with a sullen face, when the flight of the victim was known.

"'Twas the way she acted to the lame lady set up my back," Mrs. Dinwiddie confessed.

"And quite right too," the Major rejoined; "the girl was a positive pest to everybody in the house."

"But at least," came in French, in a deep contralto voice from the spot whence the sufferer had fled, causing every eye to be raised to that eminence, to perceive the majestic figure of Madame Bontemps, a large cauliflower tucked under each arm, an apron full of fresh-gathered lemons and oranges, and a sharp bright knife threateningly flourished in her hand. "At least, this demoiselle was not chased from the house for inveigling the fiancé and breaking the heart of an innocent young girl."

Having thus spoken, Madame turned and receded majestically from sight, leaving the conspirators petrified with amazement.

"What on earth is she driving at?" asked Ermengarde, looking straight at M. Isidore, a sudden flood of enlightenment rushing in crimson over her face and throat even as she spoke, and leaving her death-pale and trembling.

M. Isidore's face, from which she quickly withdrew her gaze, was marble in its rigid impenetrability. He made no reply, beyond a faint shrug of ignorance, but turned and offered some slight service to the lady standing next him. Then the group, which had been shifting the whole time, soon melted quietly away, each member with a feeling of having done an indifferent morning's work in this long-threatened and carefully planned conspiracy of rough justice.

That morning's déjeuner was singularly devoid of gaiety. The conspirators looked guiltily at poor Dorris's empty place. Those of her father and mother were expected to be empty, else the execution could not have taken place. The lame lady innocently wondered what had become of Miss Boundrish, and mentioned having seen her in the grounds that morning. Even Major Norris enjoyed the absence of the strident voice and gurgling laugh less than he expected, and found fault with the weather, which was perfect, and the salad, which was not, characterizing both as rotten. The thin man, openly but dejectedly, laid a bunch of roses by the woman of mystery's plate, and observed plaintively to Ermengarde more than once upon the undesirability of lynch law, and the mistaken estimate by average Britons of the salutary effect of ragging on immature character.

"It is often unjust," he said, "and always goes too far. Though I don't know what we should have done at Winchester without it—even without the injustice and occasional savagery. Yes, Mrs. Allonby, the savagery. But that, I hear, is now very rare. You need not shrink from sending your boy to Winchester. It will make a man of him; though he will be let down very gently to what we were."

It was during this discourse that Ermengarde discovered what she had been too much preoccupied while assisting at the execution of Miss Boundrish to think out before, though all the time she had been conscious of a subtle change in the thin man's appearance—a change so great that every one who saw him that morning was so much struck by it as to look twice, even three times at him—his beard was gone. Now why, she pondered, had Mr. Welbourne's beard taken sudden flight? Had he foreboded a personal encounter with Miss Boundrish, and thought it well to give as little hold to her vengeance as possible?

"Ah!" she said, suddenly divining another cause, "I see that you are no longer afraid of sore throat, Mr. Welbourne. That is good. First, because it means that your health is restored, secondly, because it is a portent of spring."

"Sore throat?" he murmured, bewildered. "The Riviera throat only comes in the first weeks. But——" his hand suddenly went up to the newly reaped chin, when crimson of the deepest dye suffused and betrayed him. "Quite so," he added vaguely—"yes; it—it was a protection—oh!—the mistral—ah—invalid ways—indolence——"

"I congratulate you on all counts," she said in a kind voice, wondering who was the object of Mr. Welbourne's passion, a sudden paralyzing fear suggesting herself. But no; that would be too terrible; M. Isidore, the Anarchist and the thin man, in those few, short weeks—Fate could hardly be so cruel as all that! And at his age! But he looked horribly young without the beard, and there was a certain gallant and knightly suggestion in the elegantly trimmed moustache left. There was no doubt that the thin man—no longer so thin and not at all so lame—was going forth in that moustache, conquering and to conquer. He had been heard to condemn the present clean-shaven mode as womanish. She had perhaps been too filial, too confiding with him, under the shadow of that venerable beard, and he had mistaken her. Then her eyes fell on the roses by Agatha's plate; she remembered that those two had often been elaborately unconscious of each other's presence lately; she remembered a long succession of gentle judgments on the woman of mystery's vagaries, and many delicate allusions to her beauty and charm, and in a flash she knew. Poor Mr. Welbourne! This was indeed tragedy.

After a sketchy and unsatisfactory déjeuner, during which appetite and peace were alike annihilated by that dread pronouncement of Madame Bontemps "inveigling the fiancé and breaking the heart of an innocent young girl," ringing through her brain, Ermengarde, renouncing her intention of looking for quarters in Mentone, and thinking that San Remo would now be the nearest place in which she could venture to hide her diminished head and reflect upon the spitefulness of perverse fate, fled upstairs to her room to take counsel of solitude.

But in this she was balked before reaching her sanctuary by the encounter of Mrs. Boundrish, round-eyed and in very unfinished toilet, hurrying along the corridor in the greatest perturbation.

"Oh dear, Mrs. Allonby!" she cried in agitated accellerando that admitted of no stops, "what shall I do? Dorris is in such a state. I can't make anything of her. She was never taken like this before and this dreadful spotted fever about nobody knows how it begins but of course their poor brains and foreign doctors and chiefly the young and they go off so soon and so infectious and Boundrish at Nice oh dear! She won't speak."

"But is she spotted?" Ermengarde asked solemnly.

"She won't say; she won't speak," the poor woman sobbed, and Agatha, arriving then, bore her back to her room, while Ermengarde, hastily upsetting eau-de-Cologne in every direction, and holding a handkerchief soaked in it to her face to keep off infection, stole into the chamber of the unfortunate Dorris, trying to remember when and where and how the spots characterizing this terrible disease were to be expected.

Dorris had flung herself face downwards on her bed, and was sobbing faintly; the room was in great disorder, drawers open and clothing tossed recklessly about. Some scraps of torn paper, an open blotting-book, and pens and ink on the table, pointed to the writing and tearing up of letters.

At the sound of Ermengarde's cautious entrance the poor girl turned quickly, showing a tear-washed, wild-eyed and miserable, but quite spotless, face.

"Go away, go away! Oh, why can't I die?" she cried wildly, turning back to her original posture, while Ermengarde, carefully keeping the handkerchief to her face, felt her pulse and touched her brow softly, and asked where the pain was and what was the matter.

"And you can ask?" she moaned, "when you were there, and as bad as any of them. Somebody might have told me—privately—I didn't know. They all hate and despise me. I can never—never—nev-nev—never——"

"Dear Miss Boundrish, I am so sorry," cried Ermengarde, suddenly dropping her handkerchief, her terrors, and her precautions, and putting a caressing arm round the sobbing figure on the bed. "We didn't mean it—at least, not more than a quarter of it. It was more than half in joke. And if you hadn't been rude to poor Mrs. Lamb—that put us up—and then we were carried away—forgot ourselves—everybody went one better than everybody else—you know how it is in a game like that. Think no more about it."

"But you do-do-do-don't—think me quite—such a—bib-bib-bibby—beast?"

"Certainly not," firmly and decisively.

"A scrik-scrik-screech-owl?" she sobbed; "a bun-bun-bun-bundle of aff-fec-fec-fectation? So-so-so-soulless——"

"Not in the least, dear child. It was all put on—at least, half was—just our fun. We knew you were a spoilt child, and wanted to give you a lesson, that was all. You are very young, my dear."

Then poor Dorris, touched more by the voice than the words, threw herself into Ermengarde's arms, confessed some of her sins, and acknowledged herself—after consenting to a cup of tea, made on the spot and administered by Ermengarde, and much petting, rose-water and eau-de-Cologne—a sadder, a humbler, and a wiser girl.

But her place at table knew her no more, and the familiar gurgle and strident voice never again troubled the air of Les Oliviers. A few days later her parents followed her to Cannes; Dorris, they said, required younger and gayer society.

Chapter XX

The Necklace Again

"After all," Ivor said, as he walked with the Anarchist through the gardens of the Casino, now sleeping with doubled magic under a starry sky, "this isn't such a beastly hole. I've had a ripping time altogether."

De Konski looked at the bright-eyed, smiling face in amazed curiosity, touched with pity. He thought the look directed towards the lighted Casino somewhat wistful, and reflected that only an hour or two and the sumptuous farewell dinner they had just had at Giro's together divided this light-hearted youth from the despairing and perverse prodigal of the afternoon. The storm that had rushed up in a moment in indigo shadow from behind Bordighera had not passed more quickly than this young man's anguish and inward conflict.

"Thanks to you, I've come through this rotten business without a scratch," the laughing lips added. "If only——"

"If only?" echoed the Anarchist. "Ah! well for you that your word is given. Nothing short of that would keep you straight—off that rock."

"Oh, that's all right, thanks to you."

"And to no one else, Ivor? That was a long talk in the gardens this afternoon."

"Oh well, we had been teaing at Rumpelmayer's with that pretty little Mrs. Allonby—awfully jolly little woman—"

"Eh? what?" growled the Anarchist, an angry flame in his eye.

"—She's in an awful hole, that little woman. Turned out of her hotel, and can't find fresh quarters anywhere. I was recommending Villa Gilardoni."

"What do you mean by turned out?" cried the Anarchist savagely.

"The poor little woman took it very pluckily—she told it as a ripping joke. She doesn't suspect your Turbia friend's tongue may have had a hand in it"—an inarticulate snarl broke from the Anarchist—"the hotel people simply told her to clear out, bag and baggage. She's been to every blessed hotel in Mentone this afternoon, and found them all crammed full——"

"Ah! And you were discussing that lady's affairs with Miss Somers in the gardens?"

"I was showing Miss Somers the way to the Villa. I say, what the deuce is the matter, de Konski?"

"Nothing, nothing. Except that I must be off or lose the last lift. Goodnight. If only—remember."

But there was another and very different if to what the Anarchist suspected in the young man's heart. If Agatha had only stooped to pick him up! Her cruelty spoilt all. He had certainly asked much of her, he acknowledged to himself, but less would have been nothing, for love, he told himself, gives all or nothing. While the countess——

On reaching his hotel he found a letter from his mother, and read it more than once. What there was in that letter more than in countless others she had written, he could not say; it was tender and warm and intimate with a sort of gay comradeship infrequent in maternal letters—but so were all her letters. Still, in this he found something that brought the water to his eyes, and the old childish confidence and comfort to his heart, and made him very glad and thankful to have signed that paper in the afternoon. There was a little folded slip from a sister inside the envelope. "So glad you are coming home," it said; "mother is counting the days. She is not quite herself lately, and seems to be fretting for you."

After all, there is no love like a mother's, especially when life is hard and hearts are wounded and sore.

The poor countess's image had already grown dim and indistinct; it seemed ages since that morning's scene; the fumes of that intoxication had almost evaporated; the evil enchantment nearly faded. He wondered at having been so much moved by that passionate, self-abnegating devotion, when a vague memory of it flitted across his mind, with a pity that was more akin to contempt than love. Of course Agatha had been right in reminding him of his mother's objection to his choice of herself; but equally of course, had she cared for him, all that would have been thrown to the winds. People's relations—especially mothers—always make a point of objecting to and hindering the course of true love, while lovers always make a point of overriding all such hindrances and defying all such objections—it was an accepted part of the game, absolutely orthodox.

Flinging things into suit-cases and kit-bags next morning, he remembered that he had no little keepsake to take home to the mother, and ran out to ransack the shops crammed with glittering inutilities for something to please her. Under present impecunious circumstances, this could only be done by going home second-class, and Monte Carlo shops scarcely lend themselves to modest gifts; customers in that City of Dis are expected to reckon in golden four-louis pieces. It was a bewildering and irritating thing to a hurried man to review those windows, ablaze with diamonds and glowing with rubies, piled with rich-scented russia leathers, clasped and bound and fitted with gold and silver inconveniences of every description, or run the eye over daintily carved ivories, costly bric-à-brac, gorgeous apparel, and priceless lace, in search of something at once exquisite, suitable, and inexpensive.

He was consigning the total merchandise of Monte Carlo to perdition, in a last and frantically hopeless marshalling of a jeweller's window, when his eye was caught by a necklace of costly gems and beautiful workmanship, at which he gazed in open-mouthed amazement for some seconds. The design, unusual and unmistakable, the jewels—sapphires set with diamonds—all were familiar and recognizable at a glance. It was an exact duplicate of the Somers sapphires, the necklace inherited by Agatha, and constituting her chief fortune, of the value of some thousands of pounds—the necklace she had often been counselled by outsiders to sell, but never by the family—and had always consistently refused to part with. She had worn that necklace at his coming-of-age dance, the day on which he had definitely recognized the nature of his feelings for her. It was spoken of in the family as her dowry. There it lay, sparkling and quivering in the clear morning sunlight, among stars, tiaras, collars, and rivières of diamonds, and ornaments set with every known jewel. It shone out with a distinction all its own from these splendid and costly things, an exact counterpart of Agatha's necklace, here for sale, in this very Monte Carlo shop before his dazed eyes; the gems, winking and sparkling with many colours, seemed alive and beckoning to him, burdened with secrets they longed to tell. In a moment he was in the shop, stammering in unintelligible French, and pointing to the necklace.

"Oui, oui, M'sieur; the sapphires are exceptionally fine and the diamonds of good water," the lady at the counter acknowledged; "the value being so great we are willing to take much less than they are worth. Yes; it is fresh in the window this morning. Second-hand? But naturally; the workmanship, very fine and of exquisite art, is long out of date. Such things are no longer made. It is absolutely unique."

"It came from England?" he asked in his native tongue. "It must have come from England. It is known; it has a history. There is but one necklace like that, and I've known it all my life."

"On the contrary," said the proprietor, stepping across from the other side of the shop, and desirous of showing his undoubted right to it, "the necklace was sold to me only yesterday by M. Mosson, the well-known M. Mosson, with whom we frequently have dealings of this kind. Sometimes we sell them on commission, sometimes we buy them outright. But M. Mosson is careful in the extreme. He takes nothing of which the proprietorship is doubtful. The history of this beautiful and unique specimen of jeweller's art is well-known to him. But Monsieur is suffering? A glass of water? Cognac?"

Ivor, white and dizzy, had dropped into an armchair in the middle of the shop, and was staring stupidly before him, trying to piece the thing out in his mind, and realize what it meant, while the jeweller, who had paid a sum down, instead of selling on commission this time, was a little anxious lest the astute Mosson should have made a mistake. He remembered that the sum the usurer had taken was known by both of them to be far under the real value, and that he had seemed anxious to have the money without delay. It was unlike that benefactor of his species to betray anxiety on any subject.

"Has Mosson come back?" Ivor gasped presently, "or is he still at that place up in the mountains?" and learnt in reply that Mr. Mosson had so far refreshed himself by his stay in that sequestered region that he had returned to his well-known villa hard by, upon hearing which Ivor at once rushed from the shop and hurried in the direction of the villa, to the disquietude of the jeweller, who repaired without loss of time to a private room to discuss the matter with Madame.

"What, again?" the philanthropist asked with a cynical smile, when his young client burst in upon his pious reflections and calculations; "and accounts closed only yesterday? Now this is most unfortunate—because I am not in a position to accommodate you at present, M. Paul."

"The necklace," the boy gasped, "the necklace?"


"Where did you get that sapphire and diamond necklace that you sold to M. Strozzi yesterday?"

"That, my young friend, is entirely my affair."

"Look here, Mosson, somebody, some friend of mine, yesterday, wiped off what I owed you to the last penny."

"Quite so. An unknown friend—on conditions. Now that is done. Good morning. Au revoir, I must not say."

"That friend was the owner of the necklace."

"If you say so, I must believe it."

"You can't deny that she was. Besides, there can't be a duplicate—that's beyond a coincidence."

"If Monsieur is so well informed on a subject that I confess has little interest for me, why waste valuable time in vain interrogations? For the rest, with regard to the debt and conditions, the transaction was confidential, the person who negotiated it having ensured my silence upon the matter. So once more, M. Paul, I wish you good day, and better luck at the game of life than you have had of late at roulette."

Ivor looked steadily at the sharp features and cold glittering eyes, not unconscious of the cynical tolerant contempt expressed in the thin, tight-drawn lips, and was quite sure.

Perhaps, after all, he was having better luck at the game of life than he had hoped or deserved; perhaps, after all, she had picked him out of the gutter, though she would not risk the slightest splash on her own white raiment to save him. Perhaps. His head went round dizzily as he walked blindly from the usurer's house, trying to realize what this meant for both of them. She had set him free; had already done it yesterday, when she had seemed so hard and pitiless, and upbraided him so hotly and sternly; she had set him free at the sacrifice of her one earthly treasure, her little fortune, at the cost of who knows what repulsion and disgust in dealing with the notorious Spider. Could she have approached the man personally? Yet how else could she have effected this? She had loved those jewels; they had meant so much for her; their history, their associations, the tradition of good fortune they brought to their owner—all had been discussed and laughed over and made a handle for teasing, many and many a time, from the days when they were children at play. Then a cold shiver went through him at the sudden thought that she was herself in straits—working for money—she might have pledged them for her own needs. But they had not been pledged, unless to Mosson. Yes, that might be; Mosson was such a beast, they being pledged to him and unredeemed, he might have realized his debt upon them. Again, no—what need could she possibly have of such a sum of money as that? Oh no, there could be no doubt, none whatever. The necklace had been sold for him. De Konski knew; but there was no time to get at him. He sat on a bench under a palm, with his face in his hands, staring into the clear brook that rippled among water-lilies and maidenhair over an artificial rock-bed, and thought.

Hard work this thinking to the poor, light-hearted lad. He had thought more in the last few days than ever in his life before, and it had taken the rounded outlines of youth from his face, deepened his eyes, made shadows under them, and given firmness to a too facile mouth. What a beast he had been yesterday in the gardens when the storm was coming up over Bordighera; no wonder she had been repelled; no wonder such selfish madness had been flouted and condemned. He seemed to be waking out of a long, fantastic dream or some wild, prolonged delirium to a sober, sane view of life. Tears came into his eyes, and dropped slowly on the gravel between his feet. A memory of the countess yesterday, with glowing eyes and thrilling voice, made him shiver; the thought of her beauty gave him a sensation of physical nausea. But yesterday, as yesterdays sometimes are, was long and long ago. And here he was, with scarcely two hours to spare before catching the last possible train home. And there was only one thing to be done, and that was impossible.

Agatha, in the meantime, had no suspicion of what was passing in her prodigal's mind. She had made her last throw for him and lost. She could only bow her head before an unsearchable dispensation and wait. Her first fierce participation in the execution of the unfortunate Dorris had soon given place to a compunction which prompted her to withdraw, after a vain attempt to stem the torrent of the long-pent wrath of the hotel. She therefore had a quieter conscience than some of the rest, and quickly dismissed the business from her mind. She had quieted Mrs. Boundrish's fears of spotted fever by persuading her that the sweet child was only a little hysterical, a view of the case shortly afterwards confirmed by Mrs. Allonby, who recommended solitude and cheerfully prophesied slumber. This charitable office accomplished, the woman of mystery fared forth in the afternoon sunshine to resume the visit of inquiry to Villa Gilardoni, interrupted by the storm on the previous day, taking with her some papers in the cipher that stamped her with Heaven knows what iniquities in the eyes of Ermengarde, and consulting them as she went down the mule-path, as if they contained instructions or indications of what to do next.

The convent walk was no longer a sanctuary for meditation; she had been there in the morning and found men busy opening and cleaning and setting in order both the church and the monastery. At their suggestion she had gone in, inspected the empty cells, simply but sufficiently furnished with bed and table, desk and bookshelf—a book here, a pen there, pointed to recent suddenly interrupted occupation—and wondered over the quiet, harmless, and probably happy and useful lives of the men who had been thrust out, and how they fared now in the loud, perplexing world, and what disgust or disappointment might have driven some of them into this haven of stillness.

She had inspected and admired the church, beautifully and lovingly adorned, though so plain outside, and beautifully kept as if in constant use, and had been touched by the votive offerings hung about on the walls—ships chiefly, with here a gun, here a crutch and there a heart—all so quaint to unaccustomed eyes; and the thought of all the unsuspected heart-breaks and secret agonies of prayer, in that quiet mountain solitude alone, besides those throbbing and aching in the great, lonely, million-peopled world outside, rolled up like a huge tidal wave and crashed upon her heart. But that some prayers were answered, some secret agonies had happy ending, the quaint votive offerings bore witness, filling her with a hope full of peace, and assuring her that some day, ever so distant perhaps, but some day, before the ending of time, all humble, heartfelt prayers of earnest faith and unselfish love would at last bring forth some fruit.

What a different world to-day, sunning itself in splendour of blue and gold and green, to that of yesterday, when the darkness of storm and the chill lash of hail had been over all. Everything seemed made for happiness; the gladness of flowers blooming in every crack and crevice, pink rock-roses creeping about the rocky path, white and pink cistus starring the bushes on every slope, lavender spikes here, and tall purple and black iris there, masses of peach-bloom edging olive-woods, with many an unknown, unconsidered blossom, all turned sweet faces in gladness to the sunshine; all the deep dark verdure of gorge and mountain-flank, with vine and garden-growth about terrace and house, seemed as if breathing a deep and joyous and peaceful life round village and cot, while ever-soaring sunlit mountain-peaks rushed up with glad and silent aspiration into the pure dark sky, the hill-spurs at their feet thrusting many a noble, firm-based buttress far out into the dark splendour of a sapphire and turquoise sea. Even the clean-walled, smokeless town and white ribbon of road, over which toy vehicles and horses and tiny doll-men crawled along the torrent-brink, in oleander shade far below, seemed much too gay and gladsome to admit any shadow of tragedy or sting of pain.

And yet what heart-break, what despair, what loneliness of heart might be—nay, must be—there, hidden and silently borne with more or less valour; and how the very gladsomeness and glory of all this lovely earth seemed to put a sharper knife-edge on the pain, that turned and turned insupportably in the heart, Agatha mused in the weariness and dull apathy weighing her down after yesterday's sharp suffering.

What was life worth, after all, at best? How could people go on, year in, year out, under their tragic burdens and sordid pains? How many a weary year of sunless, monotonous suffering she would have to drag out, unless some merciful mischance befell her body and released her soul, she sighed, with a great yearning for the peace of not being—in the strong deep agony of youth, that has so many prospective years to endure in. And then, suddenly, at the turn leading to the convent cross, she came face to face with a figure hurrying with springing steps up the path by the deserted shrines, and the simultaneous surprised cry of "Ivor!" and "Agatha!" and the look flashed from eye to eye in one moment changed all the world and made everything clear to each, as they stood silent, each with both hands outstretched and clasping the other's.

There was a look never seen before in Ivor's face, and a soft gladness unknown in Agatha's; both faces were in clear sunlight outlined upon a rock-wall overhung by the quaint, goblin-handed boughs of prickly pear.

"Aggie," he cried, "dear, dearest Aggie, I was a beast yesterday. I was a beast! You were right. All you said was true. I had no right to ask such things of you—no man has of any woman. Yet you had saved me, you had picked me out of the gutter all the time. No, it's no use saying anything. I saw the necklace and guessed. The beast sold it to Strozzi—and made upon it, trust him! It's in Strozzi's window. Aggie, how could you? The dear old necklace! I'm not worth it, my dear—no, not worth picking out of the mud. But I will be—at least, I won't be the cur I've been. And some day—some day, perhaps—at least, if you're not bound to the long artist-man—perhaps—oh! I shall never be fit to look to you—Don't talk of my mother—she'll be ready for anything after this. I wish I hadn't been such a brute to you. It's—it's as if I had been drunk all along—but not with wine; and now, now at last I've waked up, sober—quite sober, Aggie—darling."

What she said, or if she said anything, she knew not and never knew; nor did he. There was one kiss, too spontaneous, reciprocal and inevitable to be thought of except as a matter of course, though the first since the old baby-kissing days; and then he was gone, racing for his train, that was perilously near the starting-time now. But he turned suddenly by the shrine where she had seen him on that first evening with the countess, for one last look. "Don't have the long painter-man," he cried; "he's too old; he really is; de Vieuxbois told me. And nobody's good enough for you, no, not by half." Then, with some of the old boyish gaiety lighting his face again, he vanished in the soft olive-shadows, racing for dear life.

The woman of mystery, bewildered and half stunned, and vaguely wondering who de Vieuxbois was, and what he had told Ivor, and what would happen if Ivor lost his train and so broke his leave, and how much Ivor's mother would know of the transaction of the necklace, and seeing a deeper, purer blue on the velvet calm of the windless sea, and a more golden depth in the warm sunlight, and a greater gladness and glory on everything, went quietly on her way to Villa Gilardoni.

As to Ermengarde, on whose behalf Villa Gilardoni was to be inspected, she no longer wished to go anywhere except home—that is to say, somewhere within reach of Charlie and her mother. Those two she instinctively longed for and no others; the boy, because his ignorance and childish selfishness made him uncritical and kept his clinging affection unimpaired; the mother, because the sympathetic insight and indestructible unselfishness of the love that protects and cherishes can be trusted to know the worst, and only grow deeper and more pitiful with the knowledge. As for Arthur, his image inspired a mixture of terror and resentment. His unkindness, his want of feeling and sympathy, had sent her all alone into a far-off, unfamiliar, incomprehensible world, in which she had made stupid mistakes, played the fool generally, and proved herself quite unfit to be alone and unguided. If there had been anyone near to confide in, to point things out, to discuss things frankly, she could never have made such a fool of herself.

And where was Arthur all this time? Arthur, the poor man, who six weeks ago could afford no holiday jaunt either for wife or self—until she was fairly out of the way. Then he had suddenly flamed across the sky, a meteor of literary brilliance, and betaken himself to mysterious regions of private enjoyment, whence only the most meagre accounts of his goings on were allowed to trickle at wide intervals—that he was well and busy and uncertain in his movements, that he hoped she was stronger, and was glad she appeared to be enjoying the foreign trip, and advised her to be careful not to risk chills in sudden changes of climate—nothing more. Apparently Arthur had done with her, and, casting off all domestic ties, was recklessly plunging into wild, unknown vortices of pleasure, Heaven only knew where, but, presumably, where there were no post-offices.

When Mrs. Allonby left the unlucky Dorris smothering her sobs and confessing her follies that sunny sweet afternoon, she felt exceedingly cheap and small—even cheaper and smaller than when she had unexpectedly closed an afternoon of shocked moralizing on the sinful pleasures of gambling and pigeon-shooting by landing herself on the Casino steps, too completely cleaned out by roulette to have the price of a cup of tea left. Madame Bontemps' gratuitous information that morning had greatly enlightened her on many subjects. She knew now the meaning of many once incomprehensible things, and especially why she had been asked to leave the hotel—yes; and she remembered that the woman of mystery, whose fallen nature was to have been uplifted by the example and infection of her own exalted and unspotted disposition, and Ivor Paul, the wastrel, had looked as if they perfectly understood the cause of the mischance that she had so light-heartedly and recklessly related to them at Rumpelmayer's—the half-smile on each face was guarantee of that—yes; and she remembered that when Agatha learnt that the fury of Madame had been preceded by an Italian lesson, raked by the fire of eyes from the office window, she at once recognized the cause of that fury. And now Madame Bontemps' violent words over the balustrade had made all patent and clear to everybody in the place. This was much worse than roulette. She could never face any of them again.

She would fly to the paternal arms of the great Cook, and take counsel and tickets of him for the home journey to-morrow. She would give out to her friends that the climate was killing her—she was being slowly but surely poisoned by hotel food—devoured by mosquitoes—reduced to the verge of insanity by sleepless and ever-croaking frogs—go home and pour all her follies, mischances and miseries into the ever-sympathetic, ever-comforting bosom of her mother—but not of her father. No; he must be put off with mosquitoes, frogs, poisonous food and murderous climates. And, above all, Arthur must never, never be made acquainted with the melancholy nature of her recent experiences. To be sure, there was one comfort, unless some officious creature told him, he would never want to know the nature of those recent sorrows; his interest in her affairs was far too slight. Oh yes, that was a very great comfort indeed, she reflected, with a great choke that testified to her joy, and obliged momentary recourse to a pocket-handkerchief that suddenly became wet through.

The thin man had called himself a fool seven times in sight of his looking-glass the night before; but Ermengarde must have applied the name to herself seventy times seven that afternoon, when, after tucking Dorris up in eider-downs, comforting her with eau-de-Cologne, and leaving her to slumber and the digestion of good counsel, she fled blindly out to the mountain-path, whither she neither knew nor cared. But as you had—owing to the narrowness of the ridge behind the hotel—only two possible ways to go, one up and one down, she instinctively took the upper, as leading farther from the haunts of mankind, which had in the mass suddenly become distasteful and abhorrent to her.

Yes; she saw it all now—the Carnival incidents, the scene at dawn on the brink of the ravine, the Malmaison episode, M. Isidore's impassioned declaration during the Italian lesson watched by Geneviève, and avenged upon herself by instant sentence of expulsion from the little mountain paradise. Everybody had fooled her—she herself most of all. Fool, not seven times, nor seventy, but seventy times seven! Even the woman of mystery, for all the darkness of her suppositions cloud of strange, unknown sins, had tried to warn her from her folly. The bitterness of being warned, and vainly warned, by such as she! To be patronized, protected, and advised, to owe anything to the good-nature, the compassion even of an unfortunate young person, whose undesirable companionship would never have been tolerated, except for the pity she inspired and the capacity for better things she occasionally showed. Red horror flushed her cheeks at the thought of what inferences M. Isidore might have drawn from her tacit acceptance of his supposed homage. The little traitor, the coxcomb! No; never again—from a Frenchman. What heavenly comfort in the thought that Arthur would never know the true history of those few weeks—at least, not unless he turned quite nice and sympathetic, when both were grey and old, and preparing to end their days. Then it might be safe to tell him, not before.

An Italian afternoon sun smote upon the rock-hewn path with lances of fire; shadow there was none; the way was steep; her wild flight had carried her hardly farther than the end of the hotel precincts to the sudden, bold little eminence topped by pine-trees, round which the path wound. Here a jutting rock, half buried in undergrowth of juniper, rosemary, and such-like, offered a broad seat, sheltered from view by the turn of the pine-topped steep to those mounting the ridge, but fully exposed to the broad sun-blaze beating on the mule-path; and here she subsided, looking across the shadowy blue of the ravine through wet eyes, and propping herself by clutching at the lichen-embroidered edge of the rock, a prey to these mournful reflections, when something stirred under the feathery bunch of pines overhead, some pebbles and earth came rattling down, there was a light thud on the path beside her, and there, with melancholy eyes and a face expressive of the utmost concern, stood M. Isidore, handsome as ever. She looked up with a little cry, and dashed the tears from her face; but, before English lips could frame a syllable, an overwhelming torrent of eloquent French apology broke forth from the gallant Gaul, sweeping everything before it in its rushing course.

That he should have been the innocent and unwitting cause of insult and inconvenience to Madame broke his heart and drove him to distraction, she heard. He was ready to do anything in expiation and amendment; if, indeed, any were possible; she might command him; he was there, at her service absolutely. Did she wish apartments, pension, anything, elsewhere? He would fly to the ends of the earth to secure them; he would telegraph north, south, east, and west; let her but name her locality, her terms, and her aspect, they should be hers. She could, of course, not remain an hour under that roof after such an insult. What broke his heart most severely and drove him to uttermost distraction and maddest desire to slay himself, was the thought of Madame's invariable and continuous kindness to himself. At this a deepening crimson obliged Madame to spread a damp and flimsy wisp of handkerchief over as much of her face as circumstances permitted, attempting some faint murmurs of deprecation; she had only been decently civil, as to others. How he should have fared in the agonizing vicissitudes by which his bosom had been so cruelly furrowed and torn, without the unvarying sympathy and counsel Madame was good enough to extend to him, M. Isidore shuddered to think. Enough; she had saved him, she had recalled him to manhood and enabled him to endure, even to hope. In return for this she had suffered outrage, insult, desecration, from a breast of granite, from the impure rage of a hyena heart. She had been involved in the persecutions and maledictions of a ferocious fate that had blasted and blighted him from earliest youth—he looked about eighteen as he spoke—the poison of his misery had infected her. He wondered why he had been born, and rejoiced that it was not impossible for a brave man to die. In the meantime, and before resorting to this ultimate course of action, he had a favour to ask, an enormous favour, that nothing but previous experience of the inexhaustible goodness, the boundless tenderness, of Madame emboldened him to implore. She was aware of the misconstructions that a viperous and impure nature had cast upon the kindness and good counsel, he might almost say, despite her youth, the maternal counsel of Madame. He was powerless to explain these misconstructions, or remove the venomous suspicions with which a guileless and loving ear had been systematically and fatally poisoned. Madame alone had power to do this. Five words face to face with Mlle. Bontemps alone could effect it. Mademoiselle, prejudiced, poisoned against him, shuddering under base imputations to him of a terrible perfidy, reluctantly persuaded by venomous tongues, by the hissings of human serpents, of basest betrayal on the part of one she trusted to the utmost, wounded, as she imagined, by the hand she loved most, transfixed to the heart's core, bleeding from the stab of a supposed treachery without parallel, and almost lifeless, Mademoiselle absolutely refused to admit him to her adored presence, whence he was pitilessly chased by the entire Bontemps family. Madame was acquainted with the history of his devouring passion for this young girl, to win whose love he had stooped to serve, as Jupiter and other gods in like cases had so frequently done, assuming the form of a river, a bull, a shower of gold—what you will. The tenderness of Mademoiselle had been kindled by the amazing fire of his devotion, the marble prejudices even of her stony-hearted parents had been shattered after her rescue from the violence of a—— in short, after her rescue had been effected at the Carnival in the disguise of a crocodile; and, as Madame was doubtless aware, he had, in consequence of that, been permitted to salute Mlle. Geneviève as his betrothed. Of venomous and absurd misconceptions, partly due in all cases to his own folly and indiscretion, Madame was but too well aware. Would she have the extreme complaisance to explain this both to Mlle. Bontemps and to her iron-breasted parents?

"M. Isidore, I will do what I can. But how can I?" she faltered, having fresh recourse to the sadly inefficient handkerchief, now more like a wet sponge. "But they won't believe me. And I am so sorry about the—the It-It-Italian lessons you were goo-good enough to give me, never dreaming——"

"And the Monte Carlo incident," added M. Isidore, who was eminently practical. "Ah, Madame!" he cried, sinking with infinite grace and dexterity on one knee on a comparatively soft piece of rock, "you are acquainted with the depth of my passion, my infatuation, the agony, with which my bosom is torn. Grant me this one favour—only this one. I know that I am asking much—but consider my passion—have pity on my despair——"

"Stop that," suddenly growled a bass voice in British accents, as the tall figure and picturesque untidiness of the Anarchist appeared from round the corner of the pine-topped bluff, to the stupefaction of M. Isidore, who sprang to his feet with a deep involuntary "Mon Dieu!" and of Ermengarde, who removed the wet wisp from her face with a little stifled shriek, and gazed horror-struck on the intruder, who had the satisfaction of spoiling this moving scene of a weeping lady sadly resisting the passionate importunity of a kneeling, supplicating cavalier.

"Que diable voulez-vous ici, de Konski?" cried M. Isidore, quickly recovering himself, and fiercely and haughtily twirling his moustache.

"What the devil are you doing here, de Vieuxbois?" retorted the Anarchist in French. "What do you mean by masquerading as a waiter in a hotel? Stop annoying this lady at once."

"It is, on the contrary, Monsieur, you that annoy Madame. Have the complaisance to leave us without delay," commanded M. Isidore, his moustache stiff with rage.

"Oh, please go away," cried Ermengarde distractedly, shivering and white—"go at once, all of you—all of you!"

For herself the luckless Ermengarde had no option; she was totally incapable of flight, the path being narrow, and blocked on the one hand by M. Isidore and on the other by M. de Konski, while the bluff towered steeply above her and the ravine fell abruptly below. She wished the rock-path would split open and swallow her up, that the bluff would topple down and bury her under it, that she could get past the antagonists and fall headlong down the ravine, down to the very bed of the torrent below; in fact, she hardly knew what she wished in her desperation.

"Leave this lady, Vicomte," thundered the Anarchist. "Go, at once, before I make you!"

The little Frenchman turned, bowing respectfully to the trembling, almost weeping, Ermengarde. "Madame," he said mournfully, "I regret deeply. One moment, and you are disembarrassed from the unwarrantable intrusion of this person. Go you, M. de Konski," he added, facing about with gestures of command, "before I hurl you to the depths below. Is it probable that I permit a stranger to molest with his undesired presence a lady who honours me with her acquaintance and commands my protection?"

"No more of that, de Vieuxbois," came the stern retort. "You have annoyed this lady more than enough. Off with you."

"And pray, M. de Konski," demanded M. Isidore, with flaming glance and fierce accent, "what is Madame to you, that you thus arrogantly dare to essay to chase people from her presence?"

"Oh, not much," the Anarchist replied bitterly—"not much. Only—only a—connexion—by marriage."

At this moment a wild cry from the distressed lady, followed by the sudden and precipitate descent of the Anarchist's beard down the ravine, a similar flight of his broad felt hat and goggles in the same direction, sequent on the uprising from her rocky seat of Ermengarde, who, indeed, had initiated the movements of these things, with the terrified exclamation of "Arthur!" struck M. Isidore dumb with amazement for about the space of seven seconds, at the end of which he observed with a gentle smile, "Pardon, Monsieur, I was mistaken; I had not understood. The connexion appears to be somewhat intimate. I congratulate," and airily raising his hat, he slipped lightly up the path to where it was possible to scale the cliff, up which he sprang, vanishing in the clump of pines on the top.

Chapter XXI

Connexions by Marriage

Ermengarde always maintained afterwards that she had suspected the Anarchist's identity from the first, though this assertion scarcely agreed with the descriptions she had written of that baleful person in letters still extant.

She would have been more accurate in saying that the sudden exclamation of "Stop that!" in a perfectly undisguised and familiar voice had first conveyed a suspicion of the awful truth to her mind in a paroxysm of terror and bewilderment, and that not until the Anarchist's sarcastic assertion that she was only a connexion by marriage had the terrified suspicion become a dread certainty, and moved her to tear off his disguise.

"Well," said Arthur, standing grim and gaunt before her in his proper person, after the considerate departure of M. Isidore had left the connexions by marriage in possession of the field, dropping his cloak and looking some inches taller in consequence. "Well, Ermengarde?"

He was looking straight and stern in her face, with eyes coldly blazing and full of reproof, indignation and condemnation, but no relenting. Ermengarde's spirit rose at the injustice of the implied condemnation; she returned his gaze steadily, unflinchingly, and silently, bracing herself to face the situation and on no account give in.

"Well?" she returned coolly, at the end of a long, searching, unblenching gaze.

"You little fool!" he said, withdrawing his eyes after a time, with a curious little laugh.

"I certainly have been a fool—in more ways than one," she returned calmly. "And how about yourself?"

"I find you in a nice predicament," he replied. "I hear casually yesterday that you are turned out of your hotel, treating the matter as a joke, and relating it as an amusing story to absolute strangers—turned out—how can I say it, Ermengarde? for silly—for compromising intimacy—ugh!—with the hotel-keeper's daughter's fiancé——"

"Really? Much obliged for your kind interest in my affairs. Slater's detectives? Most ingenious. And, of course, you believed all you were told by your Sherlock Holmes's and Paul Prys."

"And," he continued, ignoring these sarcasms, "to-day I come personally to see for myself——"

"In the disguise of a Polish Anarchist——"

"And find you with that accursed young French idiot at your feet——"

"Young French idiots fall at people's feet on very small provocation."

"Making violent love to you—apparently."

"Ah! It's just as well you put in that 'apparently'," she commented quite tranquilly, though all the time she was saying to herself, "Bluff, Ermengarde, bluff! it's your only chance."

"You were crying——"

"Probably; I've had a good deal to cry about of late——" She looked down as she spoke to arrange the set of her blouse, and gave her drapery a few careful little pats.

"—Agitated. Perhaps you will offer some explanation of this?"

"Perhaps. In the meantime, perhaps you will offer some explanation of your conduct." She looked up, quite satisfied now with the set of the blouse belt.

"My dear child, this folly must end; this is a serious matter and not an amateur farce. You have landed yourself in a most compromising situation, made yourself the cause, the patent, acknowledged, loudly proclaimed cause, of an engagement being broken off; and you simply laugh at the whole thing."

"And if I have, as you say, brought myself into such a situation, pray, whose fault was it?"

"Whose should it be but your own, your own folly and wilfulness and insane disregard of common proprieties and decent conventions."

She had always understood that the Socratic method of conducting an argument consisted in asking, and never answering, perpetual questions, and being under the impression that Socrates was a person of quite remarkable sagacity, resolved to employ it. As on this wise.

"Who refused to take me abroad for my health when I needed it, and then followed me secretly in disguise to spy out and magnify every mistake I might make? Who employed spies about me to report and distort every incident of my life here? Who had grown so cold and cruel and faithless to me at home that it was no home any more, and I felt I could endure it no longer? Who was too busy and too poor to send his wife to the South after illness, when he had just made a great success and was planning a tour of his own to the very place he actually followed her to, disguised as a spy? Who kept all his good fortune from his wife's knowledge?" A faint sob, disguised as a cough, interrupted this interrogatory.

"Good Heavens! Ermengarde," cried Arthur, the expression of whose face had undergone a variety of changes, mostly merging into one of stupefaction, during this address, "what can you mean? What can you have taken into your head? What on earth do you mean by faithless?"

"What," she cried, losing her head suddenly, and throwing prudence and pride to the winds, though still adhering to the Socratic method—"what did you mean by that scene in your study, the night I came home early with a headache from my mother's, and looked in?"

"Scene in my study? There was never any scene in my study. What night are you talking of? Look into my study whenever you like, and you'll see nothing there but a man working or smoking, or both."

At this the Socratic method went by the board as well as pride and prudence.

"The night—after—after—you had been so unkik-kik-kind about my ha-ha-hats and gug-gug-gug-going abroad," she gasped, "the night the—the woman was there—cry-crying—and being com-com-comforted?"

"Woman crying?" he muttered, puzzled. "Women don't come and cry in my study. What on earth have you been imagining? Women don't come—except, of course, the secretary—at all. You can't mean Miss Scott? By George, now I come to think of it, she did come and cry there once, poor girl. And of course, I tried to comfort her."

"Oh, of course!"

"Ermengarde! How can you?"

"How coo-coo-coo-could you?"

"Really one might almost suppose you had lowered yourself to some vulgar suspicions——"

They had now arrived by slow degrees, and after various stops and turns to emphasize rhetoric, at a place where the top of the ridge widened, and the path ran between pine-woods clothing the side of the ravine, that here sloped steeply instead of falling perpendicularly.

"You were, at any rate, landed in a most compromising situation," she broke in, recovering her calm, "a nice predicament," she added, stepping from the path into the wood among aromatic undergrowth and tall white heath. "And when that predicament is satisfactorily explained, it will be time——"

"You poor little fool!" he cried, suddenly turning, taking both her hands and looking straight into her eyes, "you must have been off your head——"

"Arthur, how dare you!"

"Regularly off your head to stoop to such miserable suspicions——"

She wrenched her hands away. "I, at least, never spied on you. I had no wish to verify any suspicions—I had seen more than enough," she said scornfully.

"You could have falsified them at once with one question?"

"I—I couldn't—stoop—to that," she wept.

"My child, you must have had hysteria rather badly. I must have been brutally impatient; I was so rushed just then. Poor Miss Scott brought some typing that night and wrote shorthand notes until she was tired out. Then I just happened to ask her a question about a family trouble I knew was worrying her—you remember I engaged her on a family recommendation; her people are old friends of mine—my question was an unlucky one, and the poor girl broke down; she was so thoroughly tired out. You must have chosen that exact moment to open the door——"

"I didn't at least go up on purpose, and come suddenly round a corner in disguise," she protested.

"Most unfortunately you did not. But—Ermengarde——"

"And if I had stooped to ask explanations," she interrupted; "I ask none; I wish none now; I merely suggest that before you demand explanations of what you must know can have been nothing you could possibly complain of, certain little eccentricities on your own part require to be cleared up. What, for instance, took place under the olives yonder only yesterday morning? Why all those secret meetings and communications in cipher with a young woman of doubtful antecedents, of mysteries, of evasions, of perpetual assignations and private interviews with notorious usurers and pretended cousins? I don't wish to know—but—I resent the imputations you cast upon my intercourse with a young man who is half secretary and half waiter at this house, and at the beck and call of all here alike. I might," she added, "go further, and ask why you chose to follow me about in a ridiculous disguise, and worry and frighten me to death by spying on me and posing as an Anarchist and conspirator?"

"Because I was an ass, probably. And when did I pose as anything but a foreigner? Except at the Carnival, which is all masquerade"—"The Carnival?" she murmured, puzzled—"We have both been infernal idiots, Ermengarde. We quarrelled about nothing in particular to begin with——"

"If you call sarcasm, neglect, unkindness, coldness—nothing——"

"I certainly was a beast. Such a rush of work had come all at once, and I hadn't time to consider that that infernal Flu had made you hysterical. And you did cut into me about going abroad on your own finance. But look here, Ermengarde, how could I have let you go alone, weak as you were? First I got Miss Scott to go and look after you as your companion——"

"Miss Scott? Why, I never saw the woman in my life—except her back in the study that night—if it was she—and as for a companion, I never had such a thing in my life——"

"My dear child, Miss Somers is Miss Scott——"

"Oh-o-o-o-oh! The woman of mystery?—my companion?"

"She doesn't care to typewrite and do secretary under her own name, but, coming here with you, and having relations she was bound to meet all over the place——"

"Ah—a-a-a-ah! Aunts? Step-cousins? Ivor Paul?"

"Yes; her cousin, her uncle's stepson—she had to go back to her own name. And then, that blessed book coming out and at once promising a boom, unexpectedly put me in funds to come and look after you myself. I was a good deal used-up, and ordered a rest-cure. As intelligence officer and paper correspondent I've done disguises before—the only way to get information—and incidentally I've picked up a lot of copy and been able to help Agatha Somers in that family trouble, too. I didn't mean to keep up the disguise more than to see you safe here at first. But it turned out to be so useful. And, I say, look here, you little silly; don't let's quarrel any more."

It was pleasant on the wooded steep; myrtle-bushes gave out a delicious aroma; innumerable bees made an organ-bourdon in grey masses of rosemary-bloom; grasshoppers chirped in shrill pleasure; loveliest tints and shadows were tangled in drooping olive-foliage; rugged peaks, soaring far above gorge and ridge, ran up into a velvety blue sky; and, looking far down the ravine's course, the connexions by marriage caught the deep warm bloom of a peacock-blue sea, glowing in full sunshine and crossed by silvery sails and long black hulls of steam vessels.

After all, a good hard shoulder is a pleasanter thing to lean one's head upon than a cold, sharp rock or a rough and turpentiny tree-trunk; and any more comfortable place to have a really good cry on has never yet been imagined. Besides, however perverse and exasperating they may be, husbands occasionally come in handy, when things suited to their obtuse intellects have to be done—bills paid—insolent landladies tackled—hotel accommodation provided.

So it was in a very light-hearted mood that Mrs. Allonby stepped out into the olive-grove and walked along the mule-path, when the sun was declining and western valleys were filling with purple shadow, and the light pad-pad of a patient, soft-eyed mule warned them to step aside, on pain of being jostled by his laden panniers, giving opportunity of answering a dark-eyed peasant woman's "Buon sera," and admiring her pleasant smile and white teeth, as she passed on, bearing her own burden behind her four-legged slave's.

"I always wanted to show you this bit," Ermengarde said, when the woods parted and sank at the top of the ridge and a sudden burst of broad purple sea glowed to the east, where the gorge opened, and a smaller bay disclosed itself on the west, all golden shimmer under a rose-gold sun. "And you had been seeing it all the time. What a fraud you are!"

"I tell you what, Ermengarde; let's have the boy out when your mother comes later on. She can bring him. Easter falls early; and, after all, the little chap might as well miss the fag-end of the term. That'll set the old lady up, eh? Italian lakes on the way home, or a look at Florence, or what?"

When they reached the hotel-gate, a woman with a tired, but serene and sweet, face came down the twisted pine-root steps from the convent, with a little start and flush of surprise at seeing them—the ex-anarchist now a respectable, clean-shaven Briton, with a stable-cap in place of the broad felt hat, and the cloak rolled in a neatly strapped bundle.

"Aha, my dear woman of mystery!" cried Ermengarde gaily, with open hands. "Found out at last! All your machinations unmasked and exposed! How are you? My best respects to you. I hear that you have been looking after a certain Mrs. Allonby—connected with the Allonby, don't you know—kind of dry-nursing the poor thing! If I'm not mistaken, you found her a pretty good handful, didn't you?"

"Well, pretty fair at times," she admitted, observing that Mrs. Allonby wore a diamond and pearl chain, closely resembling that flung to her by the Spaniard at the Carnival, and afterwards exposed for sale in a Monte Carlo window.

"Dear Miss Somers, I was a beast about the necklace. I am so sorry."

"Thought you'd sneaked the thing," Arthur blurted out with a grin, in that exasperating way of his.

"I didn't," she stoutly contradicted; "I thought he had sneaked it and made you the cat's paw to sell it. And, oh, my goodness, Miss Somers!" she laughed out suddenly, "if I didn't think at one time that you were this man's wife! And didn't I pity you, just! But we are not going to act charades any longer. Nobody is to be anybody else any more; no, not even that wretched young Isidore, the fraud! Ah! I wonder if Mr. Welbourne will turn out to be some discontented duke in disguise," she cried, suddenly becoming aware of the mystified countenance of the thin man, who had come by the mule-path round the convent; "I'm not cracked, Mr. Welbourne, only a little crazy. Let me introduce my husband—just arrived."

The thin man congratulated and opined that the arrival was singularly opportune under the circumstances, while Arthur confessed that Mr. Welbourne's virtues had long been familiar to him through correspondence.

And then, after proper comments on the weather, Arthur, with no outward sign of terror, whatever he felt, sought the awful presence of Madame Bontemps, while Ermengarde, with her heart in her mouth, and cold chills running all over her, tried to be admitted to private conference with Mlle. Geneviève, the woman of mystery acting as intermediary in this difficult piece of diplomacy.

"The chain was from Spink's, after all," Mrs. Allonby admitted with a blush, observing Agatha's glance upon it, "and people with glass houses shouldn't throw stones. My husband saw the thing for sale at Poupart's, and went in and redeemed it. He knew it by a flaw in a pearl. And you may imagine I've had to sing pretty small, smaller than even the poor Boundrish this afternoon—and with better reason, I'm afraid."

"You have sung very sweetly to me, dear Mrs. Allonby, and, after all, I must have been a horrid nuisance——"

"You certainly were. But my husband, poor man, has to reckon with me for that."

"Mine was not the easiest position; to act companion anonymously——"

"And be taken for a spy, a conspirator——"

"And thief——"

"No, no; but that miserable man of mine pays the bill for all. And when you marry, dear Miss Somers, take my advice; keep him well in hand, but never let it come to a long sulk. Whatever it is, have it out with him at once and have done with it."

In the meantime, Madame Bontemps, all unsuspicious of what was coming, was sitting peacefully in the office, casting up the columns of the weekly bills with one part of her sane and practical mind, and gloating in memory over her powerful remarks of the morning in the garden with another; while with a third she threw out staccato commands and observations to M. Bontemps, who was placidly smoking a cigarette over his Petit Niçois on the sofa, when a tall, clean-shaven, respectable Briton, with a keen, unflinching eye, and the usual British air of holding a subject universe in fee, walked in and bid her good evening in excellent French.

"This is without doubt Madame Bontemps," he said, introducing himself as the husband of a lady staying in the house, a Mrs. Arthur Allonby, and handing her his card, on reading which all Madame's bristles rose, and she prepared herself for the battle she felt to be imminent and also pregnant with victory to her side. Politely, but sadly, she desired her guest to be seated in a chair handed him at a sign from her by M. Bontemps, who smiled pleasantly to himself, expecting to be agreeably diverted by the forthcoming combat.

But Mr. Allonby, declining the chair, much to Madame's regret, as she found it easier to heckle opponents sitting than standing, began to address her sternly but gently, more in sorrow than anger, and always with that air of surprised dignity and unabated command. He had been led to suppose, he said very politely, that Les Oliviers was an exceptionally well-managed and high-class hotel, else, as Madame might easily surmise, he would never have selected it for the temporary sojourn of his wife while waiting till he would be able to join her. What, then, was his astonishment on learning that Mrs. Allonby had actually been requested to leave the house? Such a thing was outrageous, unheard-of, and must be apologized for without delay.

"Now for the fun!" reflected Monsieur, languidly adjusting a fresh cigarette, while Madame promptly seized her chance of returning fire, and turning about with expansive gestures and fluent delivery, poured in a steady and powerful broadside calculated to silence the Englishman's guns and shatter his forces beyond recovery.

What Monsieur had observed concerning Les Oliviers was absolutely correct, she replied. The proceeding alluded to was undoubtedly unheard-of, unparalleled, without precedent in the annals of that house—to which only persons of absolutely irreproachable character and assured position were admitted. Madame was filled with the profoundest compassion for Monsieur; her bosom was torn for him; she regretted from the profoundest depths of her being the necessity of inflicting upon him an immeasurable pain. But she was woman; more than that, she asserted brokenly and with deep sobs, she was mother. One's children were one's life. What mother could view the silent, corroding anguish, could witness the perfidious betrayal of a child, a guileless, a trusting, an adored child, unmoved? What fiend in human shape could stand by in icy indifference and look upon the gradual, irreparable blighting of a cherished daughter's life, the slow destruction of her every hope, the corrosive agony perpetually gnawing at her breaking heart, the withering, in short, of the pure and maidenly flower of her youth, and raise no hand, utter no word, in her defence? Madame Bontemps was the unfortunate possessor neither of a bosom of adamant nor of a heart of granite; she possessed, on the contrary, those of a mother; with a sacred fury and a noble indignation she chased from her hearth the serpent whose envenomed tooth had poisoned the happiness of her child and ruined the tranquillity of a cheerful and affectionate family circle. That the serpent in question, whose wiles had been daily employed before her very eyes in beguiling the youthful and pardonably sensitive affections of M. Isidore from their lawful and pledged object, should be in effect the wife of Monsieur, was for him, she admitted, a circumstance of supreme misfortune and profoundly to be deplored, and upon which, from the depths of her woman's breast, she offered him condolences of the deepest and most sincere nature.

Here M. Bontemps, profoundly touched by his wife's eloquence, dashed his cigarette despairingly to the floor, threw out his arms with gestures of despair, and groaned aloud, while Madame sought relief in tears. "Ma fille, ma Geneviève," she wailed, wildly smiting her breast, "mon enfant!"

But the stolid Englishman, surveying the afflicted parents with that direct, undauntable soldier-look of his, appeared to be entirely unmoved and awaiting further remarks from Madame Bontemps; and as these were not after some seconds forthcoming, he ventured to represent to Madame with infinite courtesy that she appeared to be the victim of an absurd misapprehension, which, in a woman of her intellect and capacity, paralyzed him with amazement. She had possibly taken some exaggerated statements uttered in the course of a lover's quarrel literally. Madame's words almost pointed to some vague suspicion that his wife—"my little wife," he repeated, smiling—had perturbed the relations between those young people, such a very droll supposition. If—as Madame here hastened to assert—M. le Vicomte de Vieuxbois, whose father had been a friend of his own, had been observed to converse in an agitated manner with Mrs. Allonby, to whom, as to other pensionnaires, the Vicomte had obligingly given Italian lessons, what more natural—Mrs. Allonby was herself a mother, the wife of the Vicomte's father's friend; she was older than she appeared, while M. de Vieuxbois was younger—what more natural than for a young man, suffering from the apparent coldness and misunderstandings of his betrothed, and far from his own mother, to seek counsel and comfort of a lady by her age and experience eminently calculated to give them? As a simple matter of fact, he was aware of all that had occurred; he had been deeply interested in the course of the young man's love, which had met with unusual, but not unnatural, obstacles, triumphantly and happily surmounted, until this unfortunate, but truly absurd, little misunderstanding arose. Madame probably knew that English wives had no secrets from their husbands, so that for M. de Vieuxbois to confide in Mrs. Allonby the depth of his passion and the misfortune of the various obstacles to its fulfilment, was in effect to confide in himself. What a pity to let suspicions so absurd divide two young and loving hearts! Mademoiselle's ear had doubtless been abused by mischievous, misunderstood tittle-tattle. Girls were like that, he knew from experience, and, having had the good fortune to win the best and most charming of wives himself, it hurt him to think of M. de Vieuxbois missing such a blessing—merely because of a little misconception of his conduct—a misconception absolutely incredible in a person of Madame's sagacity and knowledge of the world. In his anxiety for the young people's happiness, he actually found himself forgetting the necessity for extracting an apology for an unwarrantable act of incivility to his wife, the necessity of which both Monsieur and Madame Bontemps would at once admit.

They did at once admit it, and with a celerity and sudden change of front that not only took Mr. Allonby's breath away, but also that of M. Isidore, who happened—no doubt by the merest chance—to be lounging outside the ever open office door, intently studying the Figaro, and who also happened to have dispatched Heinrich, the porter, on an errand, by the latter deemed trivial and unnecessary to the last degree.

What M. Allonby had had the complaisance to observe, Madame Bontemps blandly stated in reply, put an entirely different complexion on the whole matter. She deeply regretted having, even in thought, wronged Madame or M. Isidore, whom she embraced as a son—he made a grimace over his Figaro outside at this remark—she deplored the inconvenience suffered by Madame Allonby, and she should for the rest of her life cherish the memory of M. Allonby as that of a valued, a beloved, an inestimable, friend of the whole of her family.

M. Bontemps corroborated these assertions with tears of a noble and profound emotion; Mlle. Geneviève (just then at the climax of an explanatory and embarrassing interview with Mrs. Allonby) was promptly summoned from the depths of the back premises at the very moment when M. le Vicomte Isidore Augustin René Joseph Marie de Beauregard de Vieuxbois was making a dramatic entrance from the front hall; and all was joy, reconciliation, effusion, tears, transport, intoxication.

"It was all that little cat, Dorris," Ermengarde confided afterwards to those fellow-conspirators, the ex-Anarchist and the woman of mystery; "so that what she got this morning was perhaps not altogether wasted. Only I wish she hadn't had it quite so hot."

"My conscience pricks me about de Vieuxbois' people," Arthur confessed, when gratuitous champagne unexpectedly crowned the banquet in the evening, and the visitors were asked by Madame Bontemps to drink to the betrothal of M. Isidore and Mlle. Geneviève. "They won't thank me for this afternoon's work. Just fancy a man in de Vieuxbois' position falling in love with a girl like Mlle. Bontemps, and taking a post as general utility person in a small hotel for her sake. Romantic young ass! The girl showed her sense in refusing him. His mother is distracted. The whole family have been at him about it! But the little chap would have her—Madame la Vicomtesse!"

And when next day pack-mules waited by the place of Dorris's execution, laden with Ermengarde's belongings, and she herself stood by the lemon-laden trees and took a last view of the magnificent sweep of sea below, and the splendid amphitheatre of encircling mountains above, grasping a huge presentation bunch of roses, carnations, and heliotrope, with a last lingering bough of mimosa bloom and one of lemon flower, and receiving the farewells of the visitors, the salutations of the family and the betrothed pair, and dazzling smiles from the well-tipped Heinrich, waiters and chambermaids at windows, Ermengarde's heart rose in her throat; she squeezed the thin man's hand to agony point; kissed Mrs. Dinwiddie, Lady Seaton, and Miss Boundrish's mother; nodded to the young lady's father, Major Norris and Bertie Trevor, turned and fled through the lemon-orchard path so that Arthur could not overtake her till she came out upon the rock-hewn road far below, where she was discovered gazing over the clean red roofs and dark-leaved groves of Mentone out to sea, and unobtrusively restoring a handkerchief to its pocket.

"It—it really was such a very lovely place—such a unique charm about it," she said in apology.

"Tell you what, old lady, we'll come again next year if the boom keeps up," Arthur replied, lighting his pipe in the shelter of a rocky scarp. "But I bar squabbles first."

Before them the slender tower of St. Michel, just topping the mountain spur that hides the Old Town, gleamed white on a clear blue sea; it had rained during the night, and some cloud-wreaths still floated round the craggy summits, leaving light veinings of snow on the amethystine peaks; cheery voices and sounds rose from the saw-mill niched in the bottom of a little gorge across the torrent; the plane avenue was alive with passing wheels and steps and people of every sort and kind, but all gay as if they had never known a care; the sea had richer and deeper hues, the sun a warmer gold, the soaring mountains a more majestic outline, vegetation a more varied luxuriance and colouring; and Ermengarde, listening to Arthur's familiar, intermittent growl, and imparting pleasant secrets to him, was lighter of heart than ever before. The full magic and splendour of the azure shore was at last upon her, and the exhilaration and the pure joy of living went to her head, sparkled in her eyes, glowed in her cheeks, and thrilled her to the very finger-tips.

And yet she was at heart, if not a sadder, at least a wiser, and hoped to be a better, woman than before those joyous adventures on the Côte d'Azur.