Part 5 out of 7
that I finally left the jackal of a fellow whom I married. Well, I
have that, and I have made a little more, one way and another."--Poppy
permitted herself a wicked grimace.--"Poor old Alaric used to tell me
I was a great financier wasted, that I should have been invaluable as
partner in their family banking concern--that's more than he'll ever
be, poor chap, unless marriage makes pretty sweeping changes in him.
Some of my sources of income naturally are cut off through the
cleaning of the slate. For I have been tiptop beastly good--indeed I
have, as I told you! No more cards, and oh dear, no more racing. But
no doubt Cappadocia will contribute in the way of puppies. _Noblesse
oblige_--she realises her duty towards posterity, does Cappadocia.
So I shall scrape along quite tidily. And then, as long as I keep my
voice and my figure, at a push there's always my profession.--You
hadn't arrived at the fact that I had a profession? Such is fame, dear
man, such is fame. Why, I started as a child-actress at thirteen; and
went on till the jackal made that impossible, like virtue, and self-
respect, and a decent home, and a few kindred trifles in favour of
which every clean-minded woman has, after all, a strongish prejudice."
Poppy's voice shook. She had much ado to maintain an indifferent and
matter-of-fact manner. Iglesias drew up a chair and sat down beside
her. She put out her hand, taking his and holding it quietly.
"There, that's better," she said. "I feel babyish. I should like a
good square cry. But I won't have one. Don't be afraid. The motto is
'No snivelling, full steam ahead.'--But as to the stage, I'm not sure
that won't prove the solution of most difficulties in the end.
Sometimes it pulls badly at my heartstrings, and I shouldn't be half
sorry for an excuse for taking to it again. It's a rotten profession
for a man, and not precisely a soul-saving one for a woman. But it
gives you your opportunity; and, at bottom, I suppose that's the main
thing one asks of life--one's opportunity. Too, your art is your art;
and if it is bred in you, you sicken for it. I was awfully glad that
night to see you at the play, though in a way it shocked me. It seemed
incongruous. Tell me, do you really care for the theatre?"
"To a moderate extent I do," Dominic answered. She wanted, so he
divined, to give a lighter tone to the conversation. He tried to meet
her wishes.--"I am not a very ardent playgoer, I am afraid. But at the
present time I happen to be involved indirectly in theatrical
enterprise. I am interested in the production of a play, which I am
assured will prove a remarkable success."
"You're not financing it?" Poppy asked sharply.
"Within certain limits I am," he answered, smiling. "An appeal was
made to me for help which it would have been cruel to refuse."
Poppy's expression had become curiously sombre, not to say stormy. She
got up and began to roam about the room.
"I hope to goodness the limits are clearly defined, and very narrow
ones, then," she exclaimed. "For my part I don't believe in talent
which can't find a market in the ordinary course of business. I grant
you managers sometimes put a play on which is no good; and sometimes
cripple what might be a fine play by doctoring it, in deference to the
rulings of that archetype of all maiden aunts and incarnation of
British hypocrisy, the censor; but they very rarely, in my experience,
reject a play which has money in it. Why should they? Poor brutes,
they are not exactly surfeited with masterpieces. The play which
requires private backing, though a record-breaker in the opinion of
its author, is usually rubbish in that of the public. And the public,
take it all round, is very fairly level-headed and just; you must not
judge it by the stupidities of the censor. He represents only an
extreme section of it, if at this time of day he really represents
anybody--a section which does the screaming sitting sanctimoniously at
home, getting its information at second-hand through the papers, and
never darkens the doors of a play-house at all. Moreover, you must
remember that the public is master. There is no getting behind its
Poppy's peregrinations had brought her back beside Mr. Iglesias again.
She patted him on the shoulder.
"See here, my beloved no-longer-nameless one," she said. "Be advised.
Learn wisdom. For I tell you I've been through that gate if ever a
woman has. The jackal--I wish to heaven we could keep him out of our
talk, but, for cause unknown, he persistently obtrudes himself--he
invariably does so when I'm hipped and edgy--well, you see, he was an
unappreciated genius in the way of a dramatist, from which fact I
derived first-hand acquaintance with the habits of the species. What I
don't know about those animals is not worth knowing. They're just
simply vermin, I tell you. Their utter unprofitableness is only
equalled by their lunatic vanity. They imagine the whole world, lay
and professional, is in league to balk and defraud them. So don't
touch them, I entreat you, as you value your peace of mind and your
pocket. They'll bleed you white and never give you a penn'orth of
thanks--more likely turn on you and make out, somehow or other, you
are responsible for the failure of their precious productions.--Now
let's try to forget them, and talk of pleasanter subjects. These
obtrusions of the jackal always bring me bad luck. I'm downright
scared at them.--Tell me about your goods, your books and your
pictures. And show me something which belonged to your mother--that
is, if it wouldn't pain you to do so. I should like to hold something
she had touched in my hands. It would be comforting, somehow. And just
set that door wider open, there's a dear. I want to have a look into
the other room and see where you sleep."
For the ensuing half hour Poppy was an enchanting companion, wholly
womanly, gentle and delicate; eager, too, with the pretty spontaneous
eagerness of a child, at the recital of stories and exhibition of
treasures beloved by her companion. The lonely cedar tree, lamenting
its exile as the wind swept through the labyrinth of its dry branches,
moved her almost to tears.
"It is tragic," she said; "still, I am glad you have it. It's very
much in the picture, and lifts the sentiment of the place out of the
awful suburban rut. It's a little symbolic of you yourself, too,
Dominic--there's style, and poetry, and breeding about it. Only, thank
the powers, you differ from it mightily in this, that its best days
are over, while you are but in the flower of your age. And your rooms
are delightful--they're like you, too.--The rest of the house? My dear
soul, the manservant ushered me into a drawing-room, when I arrived,
the colours of which were simply frantic. I bolted. If I'd stayed
another five minutes they'd have given me lockjaw.--Now I must go."
She smiled very sweetly upon Mr. Iglesias. "I'm better, ten thousand
times better," she said. "When I came I was rather extensively
nauseated by my own virtuous actions. Now it's all square between them
and me. I'm good right through, I give you my word I am. If only it'll
Poppy's lips quivered, and she looked Iglesias rather desperately in
"Never fear," he answered, "but that it will last."
"Still you'll come and see me often, very often, till I settle down
into the running? It will be beastly heavy going--must be, I'm afraid
--for a long while yet."
Dominic Iglesias, holding her hand, bent low and kissed it.
"I will serve you perfectly, God helping me, as long as I live," he
Five minutes later Mrs. Porcher, supported by the outraged and
sympathetic Eliza, watched, through the aperture afforded by the
rising hinge of the dining-room door, an unknown lady, escorted by Mr.
Iglesias, sweep in whispering skirts and costly sables across the
Passing out and down the white steps, Poppy, usually so light of foot
and deft of movement, stumbled, and but for Iglesias' prompt
assistance would have fallen headlong. At that same moment de Courcy
Smyth, slovenly in dress, with shuffling footsteps, crossed the road,
and then slunk aside, his arm jerked up queerly almost as though
warding off a blow.
"No, no, I'm not hurt, not in the least hurt," Poppy said
breathlessly, in response to Iglesias' inquiry. "But it's given me a
bad fright. I'll go straight home. Put me into the first hansom you
see.--No, I'll go by myself. I'd far rather. I give you my word I'm
not hurt; but I've a lot of things to think about--I want to be alone.
I want to be quiet. Come soon. I was very happy. Good-bye--
A featureless landscape of the brand of ugliness peculiar to the
purlicus of a great city, to that intermediate region where the
streets have ended and the country has not yet fairly begun. A waste
of cabbagefields--the dark lumpy earth between the rows of yellowish
stumps strewn with ill-smelling refuse of decaying leaves--seen
through the rents in a broken, unkempt, quickset hedge. Running
parallel with the said hedge, shiny blacktarred palings, shutting off
all view of the river. Between these barriers, a long stretch of drab-
coloured high road, flanked by slightly raised footpaths, a verge of
coarse weedy grass to them in which a litter of rags, torn posters,
and much other unloveliness found harbourage. To the northwest and
north, a sky piled to the zenith with mountainous swiftly moving
clouds, inky, blue-purple, wildly white, from out the torn bosoms of
which rushed, now and again, flurrying showers of hail and sleet
driven by a shrieking wind. March was in the act of asserting its
proverbial privilege of "going out like a lion"; but the lion, as seen
in this particular perspective, was a frankly ignoble and ill-
And Poppy St. John, heading up against wind and weather along the
left-hand footpath, felt frankly ignoble and ill-conditioned, too. Her
poor soul, which had made such valiant efforts to spread its wings and
fly heavenward--a form of exercise sadly foreign to its habit--
crawled, once more, soiled and mud-bespattered, along the common
thoroughfare of life. At this degradation, her heart overflowed with
bitterness and disgust, let alone the blind rage which possessed her,
as of some trapped creature frustrated in escape. She had broken gaol,
as she fondly imagined, and secured liberty. Not a bit of it! In the
hour of reconciliation, of sweetest security, she met her gaoler face
to face and heard the key grind in the lock.
Save for the occasional passing of a market waggon, or high-shouldered
scavenger's cart, the road was deserted. Once a low-hung two-wheeled
vehicle rattled by, on which, insufficiently covered by sacking, lay a
dead horse, the great head swinging ghastly over the slanting tail-
board, the legs sticking out stark in front. A man, perched sideways
on the carcass, swore at the rickety crock he was driving, and lashed
it under the belly with a short-handled heavy-thonged whip. He was
collarless, and the scarlet and orange handkerchief, knotted about his
throat, had got shifted, the ends of it streaming out behind him as he
lifted his arm and swayed his whole body madly using his whip. Poppy
shut her eyes, sickened by the sound and sight. Just then a scourging
storm of sleet struck her, causing her to turn her back and pause,
where a curve in the range of paling offered some slight shelter. For
strong though she was, and well furnished against the inclement
weather in a thick coaching coat, buttoned up to her chin and down to
her feet, her cloth cap tied on with a thick veil, the stinging wind
and sleet were almost more than she could face. Her depression was not
physical merely, but moral likewise. For over and above her personal
and private sources of trouble, it was a day and place whereon evil
deeds seemed unpleasantly possible. The swearing driver and dangling
head of the dead horse had served to complete her discomfiture; and
presently, the storm slackening a little, hearing footsteps behind
her, she wheeled round, her chin bravely in the air, but her heart
galloping with nervous fright, while her fingers closed down on the
butt of the small silver-plated revolver which rested in the right-
hand waist pocket of her long coat.
De Courcy Smyth was close beside her. Poppy set her lips together and
braced herself to endure the coming wretchedness. It was some years
since she had had speech of him--some years, indeed, since she had
seen him, save during that brief moment, twenty-four hours previously,
as she descended the steps of Cedar Lodge. Even in his most prosperous
days he had been unattractive in person, at once untidy and theatrical
in dress. Now Poppy registered a distinct deterioration in his
appearance. His puffy face, red-rimmed eyes, and shambling gait were
odious to her. She noted, moreover, that he was poorly clad. His grey
felt hat was stained and greasy; his ginger-coloured frieze overcoat
threadbare at the elbows, thin and stringy in the skirts. The soles of
his brown boots were splayed, the upper leathers seamed and cracked.
This might denote poverty. It might, also, only denote carelessness
and sloth. In any case, it failed to move her to pity, provoking in
her uncontrollable irritation; so that, forgetful of diplomacy,
stirred by memories of innumerable kindred provocations in the past,
Poppy spoke without preamble, asking him sharply as he joined her:
"Have you no better clothes than that?"
Smyth paused before answering, looking her up and down furtively yet
deliberately, wiping the wet of his beard and face, meanwhile, with a
frayed green silk pocket-handkerchief.
"It offends your niceness that your husband should dress like a tramp,
does it?" he said hoarsely. "And pray whose fault is it that he is
reduced to doing so? Judging by your own costume, you can easily
remove that cause of offence if you choose. It does not occur to you,
perhaps, that while you live on the fat of the land I, but for the
charity of strangers--which it is loathsome to me to accept--should
not have enough to pay for the food I eat or for the detestable garret
in which I both work and sleep? Under these circumstances I am
scarcely prepared to call in a fashionable tailor to replenish my
wardrobe, lest its meagreness should, on the very rare occasions on
which I have the honour of meeting you, offer an unpleasing reflection
upon your own super-elegance."
To these observations, delivered with a somewhat hysterical
volubility, Poppy made no direct reply. Surely it was cruel, cruel,
that at this juncture, when she had so honestly striven to refuse the
evil and choose the good, this recrudescence of all that was most
hateful to her should take place? Moreover, now as always, just that
modicum of truth underlay Smyth's exaggerated accusations and
perverted statements which made them as difficult to combat as they
were exasperating to listen to. For a minute or so Poppy could not
trust herself to speak, lest she should give way to foolish invective.
His looks, manner, intonation, the phrases he employed were odiously
familiar to her. She fought as in a malicious dream, to which the
squalor of the surrounding landscape offered an only too appropriate
setting. Turning, she walked slowly in the direction whence she had
come--namely, in that of Barnes village and Mortlake. There the quaint
riverside houses would afford some shelter and sense of comradeship.
"I am sorry to make you come farther out," she said, with an attempt
"That is unexpectedly considerate," he commented.
"But it is impossible to talk in the teeth of this wind," she
continued, "and I imagine we're neither of us particularly keen to
prolong our interview."
"Excuse me, speak for yourself," Smyth interrupted. "I find it
decidedly interesting to meet my wife again. She has gone up in the
world, and climbed the tree of fashion in the interval. I have gone
down in the world, as every scholar and gentleman, every man with
brains and high standards of art and culture, is bound to go down
sooner or later, in this hideous age of blatant commercialism and
Mammon rampant. I don't quarrel with it. I would far rather be one of
the downtrodden, persecuted minority. But, just on that account, my
wife is all the more worth contemplating, since she offers a highly
instructive object-lesson in the advantages which accrue from allying
oneself with the victorious majority. See--"
A rush of wind and flurry of cold rain rendered the concluding words
of his tirade inaudible. It was as well, for Poppy was growing wicked,
anger dominating every more humane and decent feeling in her.
"Look here," she said, when the storm had somewhat abated. "I know
that sort of talk as well as my old shoe. Haven't I listened to it for
hours? For goodness' sake, quit it. It doesn't wash. Let us come to
the point at once without all this idiotic brag and gassing. You wrote
me a letter shouting danger and ruin. What did it mean? Anything real,
or merely a melodramatic blowing off of steam? Tell me. Let us have it
out and have finished with it. What do you want?"
The softening medium of a gauze veil failed to hide the fact that
Poppy's expression was distinctly malignant, her great eyes full of
sombre fury, her red lips tense. Smyth backed away from her against
the palings in genuine alarm.
"I--I believe you'd like to murder me," he said.
"So I should," Poppy answered. "I should very much like to kill you.
And I've the wherewithal here, in my pocket, and there's no one on the
road. But you needn't be anxious. I'm not going to murder you. The
consequences to myself would be too inconvenient."
As she spoke she thought of yesterday, of the renewal of her
friendship with Dominic Iglesias, and of all that he stood for to her
in things pure, lovely, and of good report. A sob rose in her throat,
for nothing, after all, is so horrible as to feel wicked; nothing so
hard to forgive as that which causes one to feel so. Poppy walked on
"What do you want?" she repeated miserably. "Be straight with me for
once, if you can, de Courcy, and tell me plainly--if there's anything
to tell. What is it you want?"
"I have my chance at last," he said hurriedly, "of fame, and success,
and recognition--of bringing those who have despised me to their
knees. I thought I was safe. But yesterday I found that you--yes, you
--come into the question, that you may stand between me and the
realisation of my hopes--more than hopes, a certainty, unless you play
some scurvy trick on me. I had to have your promise, and there was no
time to lose--so I wrote."
Poppy looked at him contemptuously.
"What does all that mean?--more money?" she asked. "Haven't you grown
ashamed of begging yet? I raised your allowance last year, and it's
being paid regularly--Ford & Martin have sent me on your receipts. To
give it you at all is an act of grace, for you've no earthly claim on
me, and you know it. From the day I married you I never cost you a
farthing; I've paid for everything myself, down to every morsel of
bread I put into my mouth. You, talked big about your income
beforehand, when you knew you were up to your eyes in debt. Well, in
debt you may stay, as far as I am concerned. I'll give you that
seventy-five a year if you'll keep clear of me; but I won't give you a
penny more, for the simple reason that I shan't have it to give. It'll
be an uncommonly close shave in any case--I have myself to keep."
"Yourself to keep?" Smyth snarled. "Since when have you taken to
wholesale lying, my pretty madam? That is a new development."
"I'm not lying," Poppy blazed out. "I am speaking honest, sober
Smyth laughed. It was not an agreeable sound.
"Is not that a little too brazen?" he asked. "Even with such a
negligible quantity as a deserted husband, it is a mistake to overplay
Then, frightened by her expression, he slunk aside again. But Poppy
did not linger. Slowly, steadily, she walked on down the rain-lashed
"For God's sake tell me what you want--tell me what you want," she
cried, "and let me get away from all this rottenness."
"You do not believe in me," Smyth replied sullenly, "and that is why
it is so difficult to speak to you about this matter. You have always
depreciated my powers and scoffed at my talents. No thanks to you I
have any self-confidence left."
"All right, all right," Poppy said. "We can miss out the remainder of
that speech. I know it by heart. Come to the point--what do you want?"
"I was just filling in the sketch of the third act."
Poppy shrugged her shoulders and raised her hands with a despairing
"Oh, heavens," she ejaculated, "a play again! Are you mad? You know,
just as well as I do, every manager Mill refuse it unread."
"It will be unnecessary to approach any manager. I go straight to the
public this time. I have the promise of money to meet the expenses of
two matinees at least. I have no scruple in accepting--it is an
investment, and an immensely profitable one--for I know the worth of
my own work. It is great, nothing less than great--"
"Of course," Poppy said. "But pray where do I come in?" Then she
paused. Suddenly she pieced the bits of the puzzle together, saw and
understood. Misery, deeper than any she had yet experienced,
overflowed in her. "Ah, it is you, then, you who are bleeding Dominic
Iglesias," she cried. "Robbing him by appeals to his charity and lying
assurances of impossible profits. You shall not do it. I will put a
stop to it. You shall not, you shall not!"
"Why?" Smyth inquired. "Do you want all his money yourself?"
"You dirty hound," Poppy said under her breath.
"I did not know of your connection with him till yesterday," Smyth
continued--in proportion as Poppy lost herself, he became cool and
astute--"though we have lived in the same house for the last eighteen
months. I supposed you to be in pursuit of larger game than
superannuated bank-clerks. However, your modesty of taste, combined
with your charming attitude towards me, might, as I perceived, lead to
complications. I ascertained how long you had been at Cedar Lodge
yesterday. Then I wrote to you."
Poppy stood still in the wind and wet, listening intently.
"For once," he went on exultantly, "it is my turn to give orders, my
fine lady, and yours to obey. If you interfere, in the smallest
degree, between Iglesias and me, I will call his attention to certain
facts, the appearance of which is highly discreditable to him. He will
pay to save his reputation, if he ceases to pay out of charity--not
that it is charity. He is making an investment of which, as a business
man, he fully appreciates the worth. If you interfere I will make his
position a vastly uncomfortable one. The women who keep Cedar Lodge
are as jealous as cats. It would not require much blowing to make that
fire burst into a very lively flame, I promise you."
"You live there, then?" Poppy said absently. "You live there?" live
"Yes," he answered. "Does that offend your niceness, too? Do you
consider the place too good for me? You need not distress yourself. I
have only one room, a small one--on the second floor immediately above
your friend's handsome sitting-room, but only half the size of it. The
floors are old. I can gather a very fair sense of any conversation
taking place below."
Poppy moved on again.
"May I inquire what you propose to do?" Smyth asked presently--"warn
your mature commercial admirer and compel me, in self-protection, to
blast his reputation, or hold your tongue like a reasonable woman?"
They had reached the end of the tarred palings. Upon the left the
quaintly irregular bow-windowed rose-and-ivy-covered houses of Barnes
Terrace--no two of them alike in height or in architecture--fronted
the road. Upon the right was the river, dull-coloured and wind-
tormented. A cargo of bricks, supplying a strong note of red in the
otherwise mournful landscape, was being unloaded from a barge; carts
backed down the slip to within easy distance of the broad bulwarkless
deck, horses shivering as they stood knee-deep in the water. The
bricks grated together when the men, handling them, tossed them
across. With long-drawn thunderous roar and shriek, a train, heading
from Kew Station, rushed across the latticed iron-built railway
bridge. Poppy waited, watching the progress of it, watching the
unloading of the barge. The one perfectly pure and beautiful gift
which life had given her was utterly profaned, so it seemed to her;
that which she held dearest and best hopelessly entangled with that
which to her was most degrading and abhorrent. And what to do? To be
silent was to be disloyal. To speak was to expose Dominic Iglesias to
dishonour and disgust far deeper than that which loss of money could
inflict. Poppy weighed and balanced, clear that her thought must be
wholly for him, not letting anger sway her judgment. Of two evils she
must choose that which, for him, was least.
"I will not give you away. I will say nothing," she said at last.
"You swear you will not?"
"Yes, I swear," Poppy said.
"I want it in writing."
"Very well, you shall have it in writing, witnessed if you like," she
answered. "The precious document shall be posted to you to-night. Now
are you satisfied, you contemptible animal? Have you humbled me
But Smyth came close to her, pushing his face into hers. He was
shaking with excitement, hysterical with mingled fear and relief.
"I am not ungenerous, my dear girl," he whispered. "I am willing to
condone the past--to take you back, to acknowledge you as my wife and
let you share my success. There is a part in the new play which might
have been written for you. You could become world-famous in it. I am
not ungenerous, I am willing to make matters up."
"Do you want me to murder you, after all?" Poppy asked. "If you try me
much further, I tell you plainly, I can't answer for myself.
Therefore, as you value your life, let me alone. Get out of my sight."
During the watches of the ensuing night, amid bellowings of wind in the
chimneys, long-drawn complaint of the great cedar tree, rattle of sleet,
and those half-heard whisperings and footsteps--as of inhabitants long
since departed--which so often haunt an old house through the hours of
dark, Dominic Iglesias' mind, for cause unknown, was busied with
reminiscences of the firm of Barking Brothers & Barking, and the many
years he had spent in its service. He had no wish to think of these
things. They came unbidden, pushing themselves upon remembrance. All
manner of details, of little histories and episodes connected both with
the financial and human affairs of the famous banking-house, occurred to
him. And from thoughts of all this, but transmogrified and perverted,
when, towards dawn, the storm abating, he at length fell asleep, his
dreams were not exempt. For through them caracoled, in grotesque and most
irregular inter-relation, those august personages, the heads of the firm,
along with his fellow-clerks, living and dead, that militant Protestant,
good George Lovegrove, and the whole personnel of the establishment, down
to caretaker, messenger-boys, porters and the like. Never surely had been
such wild doings in that sedate and reputable place of business--doings
in which gross absurdity and ingenious cruelty went hand in hand; while,
by some queer freak of the imagination, poor Pascal Pelletier, of hectic
and pathetic memory, appeared as leader of the revels, at which the Lady
of the Windswept Dust, sad-eyed, inscrutable of countenance, her
dragon-embroidered scarf drawn closely about her shoulders, looked on.
Dominic arose from his brief uneasy slumbers anxious and unrefreshed. The
phantasmagoria of his dream had been so living, so vivid, that it was
difficult to throw off the impression produced by it. Moreover, he was
slightly ashamed to find that, the restraining power of the will removed,
his mind was capable of creating scenes of so loose and heartless a
character. He was displeased with himself, distressed by this outbreak of
the undisciplined and unregenerate "natural man" in him. Later, coming
into his sitting-room, he unfortunately found matters awaiting him by no
means calculated to obliterate displeasing impressions or promote suavity
For the pile of letters and circulars lying beside his plate upon the
breakfast-table was topped by a note directed in de Courcy Smyth's nervous
and irritable hand. Dominic opened it with a curious sense of reluctance.
Only last week he had lent the man ten pounds; and here was another
demand, couched in terms, too, so bullying, so almost threatening, that
Dominic's back stiffened considerably.
Smyth requested, or rather commanded, that fifty pounds should be
delivered to him without delay. "It was conceivable that Mr. Iglesias had
not that amount by him in notes. But, since he had really nothing to do,
it would be a little occupation for him to go and procure them." Smyth
insisted the money should be paid in a lump sum, adding that, his time
being as valuable as Iglesias' was worthless, he could not reasonably be
expected to waste it in perpetual letters respecting a subject so
essentially uninteresting and distasteful to him as that of ways and
means. Such correspondence annoyed him, and put him off his work; and, as
it clearly was very much to Iglesias' interest that the play should be
finished as soon as possible, it was advisable that he should accede to
Smyth's present request without parley and pay up at once.
Reading this mandatory epistle, Dominic was gravely displeased and hurt.
Poppy St. John had warned him against the insatiable and insolent greed
of persons of this kidney. He had discounted her speech somewhat,
supposing it infected with such prejudice as the recollection of private
wrongs will breed even in generous natures. Now he began to fear her
strictures had been just. The egoism of the unsuccessful is a moral
disease, destructive of all sense of proportion. Those suffering
from it must be reckoned as insane; not sick merely, but actually
mad with self-love. Smyth, to gain his play a hearing, would beggar
him--Iglesias--without scruple or regret. But Dominic had no intention
of being beggared in this connection. Thrice-sacred charity is one story;
the encouragement of the unlimited borrower, the fostering of so colossal
a selfishness quite another. A point had been reached where to accede
to Smyth's demands was culpable, a consenting, indeed, to wrongdoing.
Here then was occasion for careful consideration. Iglesias gravely laid
the offensive missive aside, and proceeded to eat his breakfast before
opening the rest of his letters. In the intervals of the meal he glanced
at the contents of the morning paper.
The war news was unimportant. A skirmish or two, leaving a few more
women's lives maimed and hearts desolate. A lie or two of continental
manufacture, tending to blacken the fair fame of the most humane and
good-tempered army which, in all probability, ever took the field.
A shriek or two from soft-handed sentimentalists at home, who--for
reasons best known to themselves--are ardent patriots of every country
save their own. Such items formed too permanent a part of the daily menu,
during the year of grace 1900, to excite more than passing notice. At the
bottom of the column a paragraph of a more unusual character attracted
Iglesias' attention. It announced it had authority for stating that
Alarmist rumours, current regarding the unstable financial position of
a certain well-known and highly respected London bank, were grossly
exaggerated. No doubt the losses suffered by the bank in question had
been severe, owing to its extensive connection with land and mining
property in South Africa, and the disorganisation of business in that
country consequent upon the war. The said losses were, however, of a
temporary character, and had by no means reached the disastrous
proportions commonly reported. Granted time, and a reasonable amount of
patience on the part of persons most nearly interested, the storm would
be successfully weathered, and the bank would resume the leading position
which it had so long and honourably enjoyed. No names were given, but
Iglesias had small difficulty in supplying them. It appeared to him that
Barking Brothers must be in considerable straits or they would never,
surely, put forth disclaimers of this description. His mind went back
upon the dreams which had left such disquieting impressions upon his
mind. In the light of that newspaper paragraph they took on an almost
prophetic character. Absently he turned over the rest of the pile of
letters, selected one, the handwriting upon the envelope of which was at
once well-known and perplexing to his memory, opened it, and turned to
the signature to find that of no less a personage than Sir Abel Barking
During the next quarter of an hour Dominic Iglesias lived hard in
thought, in decision, in struggle with personal resentment bred by
remembrance of scant courtesy and ingratitude meted out to him. He
learned that Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking's embarrassments did, in
point of fact, skirt the edge of ruin. Their affairs were
in apparently inextricable confusion, owing to Reginald Barking's
reckless speculations, while, to add to the general confusion, that
strenuous young man had broken down utterly from nervous verstrain,
and was, at the present time, incapable of the slightest mental or
physical exertion. Things were at a deadlock. "Under these terrible
circumstances," Sir Abel Barking wrote, "I turn to you, my good
friend, as a person intimately acquainted with the operation of our
firm. Your experience may be of service to us in this crisis, and,
in virtue of the many benefits you have received from us in the
past, I unhesitatingly claim your assistance. In my own name and
that of my partners, I offer to reinstate you in your former
position, but with enlarged powers. It has always been my
endeavour, as you are well aware, to reward merit and to treat
those in our employment with generosity and consideration. You will
be glad, I am sure, to embrace this opportunity of repaying, in
some small measure, your debt towards me and mine." More followed
to the same effect. Neither the taste of the writer nor his manner
of expression was happy. Of this Dominic was quite sensible.
Patronage, especially after his period of independence, was far
from agreeable to him. Yet behind the verbiage, the platitudes and
bombastic phrases, his ear detected a very human cry of fear and
cry for help. Should he accede, doing his best to allay that fear
and render that help?
He rose, still holding the wordy letter in his hand, and paced the room.
Of his own ability to render effective help, were he allowed freedom of
action, Iglesias entertained little doubt--always supposing that the
situation did not prove even worse than he had present reason for
supposing. It was not difficult to see how the trouble had come about.
The senior partners, lulled into false security by lifelong prosperity,
had grown supine and inert. Sooner, in their opinion, might the stars fall
from heaven than the august house of Barking prove unsound of foundation
or capable of collapse! To hint at this, even as a remote possibility, was
little short of blasphemous. Their amiable nephew, meanwhile, had
regarded them as a flock of silly fat geese eminently fitted for plucking.
He let them complacently hiss and cackle, congratulate themselves upon
their worldly wisdom and conspicuous modernity, while, all the time,
silently, diligently, relentlessly plucking. Now, awakening suddenly to
the fact of their nudity, they were in a terrible taking; scandalised,
flustered, very sore, poor birds, and quite past recollecting that
feathers grow again if the system is sound and the cuticle health. To
Iglesias these purse-proud, self-righteous, middle-aged gentlemen
presented a spectacle at once pathetic and humorous in their present sad
plight. A calm head and clear judgment might do much to ameliorate their
position, and a calm head and cool judgment he was confident of
possessing. Only was he, after all, disposed to place these useful
possessions at their service?
For in the last nine months Dominic Iglesias' habits and outlook had
changed notably. The values were altered. It would be far harder to
return to the monotonous routine of business life now--even though a
fine revenge, a delicate heaping of coals of fire, accompanied that
return--than it had been to part company with it last year. Loneliness,
the emptiness induced by absence of definite employment, no longer
oppressed him. Holy Church had cured all that, giving him a definite
place, and definite purpose, beautiful duties of prayer and worship, the
restrained, yet continuous, excitement of the pushing forward of soul and
spirit upon the fair, strange, daily, hourly journey towards the far
horizon and the friendship of Almighty God. His retirement had become very
dear to him, since it afforded scope for the conscious prosecution of that
journey. Dominic's state of mind, in short, was that of the lover who
dreads any and every outside demand which may, even momentarily, distract
his attention from the object of his love. Threadneedle Street, the
glass and mahogany walled corridors, and the moral atmosphere of
them--money-getting and of this world conspicuously worldly--were not
these ironically antagonistic to the journey upon which he had set forth
and the habit of mind necessary to the successful prosecution of it? There
was Poppy St. John, too, and the closer relation of friendship into which
he had just entered with her. This must not be neglected. And, thinking
of her, he could not but think of that younger son of the great
banking-house, Alaric Barking, and his dealings with her--enjoying her as
long as it suited him to do so, leaving her as soon as his passion cooled
and a more advantageous social connection presented itself. Towards the
handsome young soldier Iglesias was, it must be owned, somewhat merciless.
Why should he go to the rescue of this young libertine's family, and
indirectly facilitate his marriage, and increase its promise of happiness,
by helping to secure him an otherwise vanishing fortune? Let him pay the
price of his illicit pleasures and become a pauper. Such a consummation
Dominic admitted he, personally, could face with entire resignation.
And yet--yet--on closer examination were not these reasons against
undertaking the work offered him based upon personal disinclination,
personal animosity, rather than upon plain right and wrong, and,
consequently, were they not insufficient to justify abstention and
refusal? That earlier dream of his, on the night following his dismissal
last year, came back to him, with its touching memories of the narrow town
garden behind the old house in Holland Street, Kensington--the golden
laburnum, the shallow stone basin beloved of sooty sparrows, poor, dear
Pascal Pelletier and his Huntley & Palmer's biscuit-box infernal machine
and very crude methods of adjusting the age-old quarrel between capital
and labour. On that occasion the lonely little boy, though at risk of
grave injury to himself, had not hesitated to save the ill-favoured
chunk-faced grey cat--which bore in speech and appearance so queer a
likeness to Sir Abel Barking--from the ugly fate awaiting it. He had
gathered it tenderly in his arms, pitying and striving to heal it. Was the
child, by instinct, finer, nobler, more self-forgetful, than the man in
the full possession of reason, instructed in the divine science, fortified
by the example and merits of the saints? That would, indeed, be a
melancholy conclusion. And so it occurred to him, not merely as
conceivable but as incontestable, that the road to the far horizon,
instead of leading in the opposite direction to the city banking-house,
for him, at this particular juncture, led directly into and through it; so
that to refuse would be to stray from the straight path and risk the
obscuring of the blessed light by a cowardly and selfish lust of the
immediate comfort of it.
He would go and help those distracted plucked geese to grow new feathers.
Only to do so meant time, labour, unremitting application, a wholesale
sacrifice of leisure; so he must see Poppy St. John first.
"I did not call yesterday," Iglesias said, "in consequence of your
prohibitory telegram. But to-day I have come early and without permission,
first because I was anxious to assure myself you were really unhurt, and
secondly because something has occurred regarding which I wish to
consult you. I must have your sanction before taking action in respect of
Entering from the blustering wind and keen, fitful sunshine without, the
little drawing-room struck Iglesias as both stuffy and dingy. And Poppy,
standing in the centre of it, huddled in a black brocade tea-gown, a
sparse pattern of bluey mauve rosebuds upon it, which hung in limp folds
from her bosom to her feet, concealing all the outline of her figure, came
perilously near looking dingy likewise. The garment, cut square at the
neck, had long seen its first youth. The big outstanding black ribbon bow
between her shoulders and that upon her breast was creased and crumpled.
Beneath the masses of her dark hair her face looked almost unnaturally
small, sallow and bloodless, while her eyes were enormous--dusky
dwelling-places, as it seemed to her visitor, of some world-old sorrow.
Her face did not light up, neither did she make any demonstration of
gladness or greeting, but stood, one toy spaniel tucked under either arm,
their forelegs lying along her wrists, their fringed paws resting upon her
palms. Dominic had a conviction she had snatched up the little dogs on
hearing his voice, and held them so as to render it impossible for him to
take her hand. Less than ever, looking upon her, had he any mercy for
Alaric Barking. Less than ever did the prospect of spending weeks, perhaps
months, in shoring up the imperilled fortunes of that young gentleman's
family prove alluring to him.
"You were hurt," he broke out, almost fiercely. "You are suffering, and,
worse, you are unhappy. It makes me very angry to see you thus. I wish I
could reach those who are guilty of having distressed and injured you."
Poppy's face went a shade paler, and alarm mingled with the sorrow in her
eyes, but she made a courageous effort to patter as usual.
"You'd give them the what for, dear man, wouldn't you?" she said. "But you
would have to go way back in the ages for that, and get behind the
seed-sowing of which this gay hour is the harvest. Still, I love to see
you ferocious. It is very flattering to me, and it's mightily becoming to
you. Don't snore, Cappadocia. Manners, my good child, manners. All the
same, I wasn't hurt slipping on those gorgeous white steps of yours. Upon
my honour, I wasn't. But I had to go out yesterday afternoon, and I got
caught in one of those infernal hailstorms. It was altogether too cold for
comfort, and I feel a bit cheap this morning in consequence. That's why I
put on this odious gown. I always try to dress for the part, and the part
just now is dismality. From the start this gown has been a disappointment.
I counted on the roses fading pink, but the beasts faded blue instead. I
feel as if I was dressed in a bruise, and that's appropriate--for I also
feel as if I had been beaten all over. Merely the hail--I give you my
word. Nothing more than that. I'm never ill." Poppy paused, dropped the
little dogs on the floor. They cowered against her, looking up woefully at
her. "No, I don't want you," she said. "You're heavy. I'm tired of you."
Then she blew her nose, and, over the top of her hand-kerchief, looked
full at Iglesias for the first time.
"Well, what is it? What do you want my sanction for?"
Without waiting for his answer she swept aside, knelt down, crouching over
the fire, extending both hands to the heat of it, while her open sleeves
falling back showed her arms bare to the elbow.
"Tell me, and, if you don't mind, shove along. I own I am a trifle
jumpy--only the weather--but I need humouring, so shove along, there's a
good dear," she said.
Whereupon, in as few words as possible, Dominic unfolded to her the
contents of Sir Abel Barking's letter. As she listened, Poppy raised
herself, turned round, stood upright, her hands clasped behind her.
"Oh! that's it, is it?" she said. She looked less bloodless, more
animated, more natural. "I'm not altogether surprised. The poor old lads
have found out the cuckoo in their nest at last, have they? Alaric had a
notion Reginald Barking--not a nice person Reginald--I saw him once and
he looked a cross between a pair of forceps and a bag of shavings--I
didn't trust him--you don't, do you? Alaric had a notion this precious
cousin was making hay of the whole show. But it was utterly useless for
him to intervene. In the eyes of the elder generation he is the original
dog with a bad name, only fit for hanging."
Poppy paused, took a long breath, smiled a little.
"What do you think? Is it a very bad business?"
"I cannot tell till I have gone into details," Iglesias replied. He was
slightly put about by the lady's change of demeanour, by the interest she
displayed, by the alteration in her expression and bearing.
"And they howl to you to save the sinking ship?" Poppy continued lightly.
"Shall you go?"
"That is the question I have come to ask you."
"To ask me?" she said. "But, heart alive, dear man, where do I come in?"
"My duty to you stands before every other duty," Iglesias answered
gravely. "Those who have caused you sorrow and injured you, are my
enemies. How can it be otherwise? A member of this family--I do not choose
to name him--has, in my opinion, played a detestable part by you;
therefore only with your sanction, freely given, can I consent to be
helpful to his relatives."
The colour leaped into Poppy's cheeks, the light into her eyes, her lips
parted in pretty laughter; yet she still kept her hands clasped behind her
"Ah! I see--I see," she cried. "But how did you contrive to get left
behind, most beloved lunatic, and be born five or six centuries out of
your time into this shouting, pushing, modern world which knows not
chivalry? Do you imagine this is the fashion most men treat women? Here
I am laughing, yet I could cry that you should come to me--me, of all
people--on such a lovely, fine, fanciful errand."
"My conduct appears to me perfectly obvious and simple," Iglesias replied
"I know it does, my dear, and there's the pathetic splendour of it," Poppy
declared, soft mothering tones in her voice. "All the same we must keep
our heads screwed on the right way. So, tell me, will it be of any
personal advantage to you to help pull these elderly plungers out of the
"At least they will make it worth your while by paying up handsomely?"
"No doubt they will make me some offer, but I shall decline it," Iglesias
said. "I draw a pension. I will continue to do so. That is just. I have a
right to it in virtue of my past work. But I shall refuse to accept any
salary over and above that. I shall make it a condition that I give my
services. And that which I give I give, whether it be to king or to
beggar. To make profit out of my giving would be intolerable to me."
Poppy mused, her head bent, pushing away the tiny dogs with her foot as
they fawned upon her.
"Don't bother! you little miseries," she said, "don't bother! I'm busy
now. I've no use for you." Presently she glanced up at Mr. Iglesias, who
held himself proudly, as he stood waiting before her. "Do you care for
these barking people? Is it a question of affection between any of them
"I am afraid not," he answered. "Ours has been a purely business
connection throughout. How should it be otherwise? The social interval
between employers and employed is not easily bridged."
"Stuff-a-nonsense!" Poppy put in scornfully. "They might feel honoured to
tie your shoe."
"Any attempt to ignore differences of wealth and station, which others are
pleased to remember, would be unbecoming," he continued. "Nor do I relish
condescension on the part of my social betters. It does not suit me. I
prefer to remain within my own borders. Still, there is the tie of long
association with these merchant princes and their undertakings, and this,
I own, influences me strongly. It would be shocking to me to witness the
failure or ruin of those with whom I have been in daily intercourse. Then,
too, there is a certain challenge in the present position which appeals to
the fighting instinct in me. If not altogether by nature, still by habit I
am a business man. Affairs interest me, and consequently the more
embarrassed and apparently hopeless the existing state of things is, the
greater would be my satisfaction in mastering the intricacies of it and
reducing them to order. These practical matters are not without very real
excitement and drama to those who have the habit of handling them."
Iglesias paused, and then added quietly, "But I am contented enough as I
am, and should not voluntarily have touched business again had there not
been another consideration over and above those I have enumerated--namely,
the plain obligation of right doing, whether the said doing be congenial
to one or not. This obligation is supreme, or should be so, in the case of
one who, like myself, has bound himself by definite acts of obedience and
His expression had changed, taking on something of exaltation. He no
longer looked at Poppy, but away to the far horizon and the light thereon
And the Lady of the Windswept Dust was quick to realise this, though upon
what fair unseen object the eyes of his spirit did, in fact, rest she was
ignorant. Against it the vanity inherent in her womanhood rebelled. She
was piqued and jealous of the unnamed, unknown object which absorbed his
attention more than she herself and her friendship did. From the first
Iglesias had appealed to her very various nature in a threefold manner. To
the artist in her he appealed by the clearness of his individuality, his
finish of person and of feature, his gravity and poise--these last taking
their rise not in insensibility, but in reasoned will, in passionate
emotion held, as she had learned, austerely in check. He appealed to the
motherhood in her by his unworldliness, by his ignorance of base motives,
thus making her attitude towards him protective; she instinctively trying
to stand between him and a naughty world, to stand, too, between him and
her own too often naughty self. He appealed to the child in her by the
exotic and foreign elements in him, which captivated her fancy, endowing
him with an effect of mystery, making him seem to hail from some region of
legend and high romance. But the events of the last few days had been
far from beneficial to Poppy St. John. They had demoralised her, so that
the artistic, maternal, and childlike aspects of her nature were alike
overlaid by the bitterness, the cynicism, the recklessness engendered by
her unhappy childless marriage and the irregular life she had led. Poppy's
feet were held captive in the quicksands of the things of sense; her
outlook was concrete and gross. Finer instincts lit up but momentary
flickering fires in her, speedily dying out into the gloom begotten by the
deplorable scene of yesterday with her husband, and shame at the
conspiracy of silence into which, as the lesser of the two evils presented
to her, she had entered, remembrances of which, on his first arrival,
had made her feel unworthy and a traitor in the presence of Iglesias. This
demoralisation worked in her to rebellion against just all that which, in
her happier moods, rendered Iglesias delightful to her. His exaltation,
his calm, the mystery which so delicately surrounded him, the very
distinction of his appearance irritated her, so soon as she became
conscious that she was no longer the sole object of his thoughts. She was
pushed by a bad desire to force from him a more complete self-revelation,
to cheapen him in some way and break him up.
"Dominic Iglesias," she cried suddenly and imperatively, "you are a trifle
too empyrean. I don't quite believe in you. Be more ordinary, more
vulgarly human. For who are you, after all? What are you?" she said.
And he, his thoughts recalled from a great distance, regarded her
questioningly and as without immediate recognition. Her voice was harsh,
and the transition was so abrupt from the radiant land of the spirit to
the dingy realities of Poppy's drawing-room, her tired, black, bluey-mauve
patterned tea-gown, and her absurdly artificial little dogs. It took him
some few seconds to adjust himself. Then he smiled in apology, and spoke
very courteously and gently.
"Who am I, what am I, dear friend? Why this, I think--a commonplace, very
ordinary person who, long ago, in early childhood, by mournful accident,
for which it would be an impiety to hold those on whom he was dependent
responsible, lost his sight. Through all the years which men count, and
rightly, the best of life--when courage is high and the hand strong, and
opportunity fertile, circumstance as a block of precious many-coloured
marble out of which to carve fine fortune for ourselves and those we
love--he wandered in darkness, insecure of footing, missing the very end
and object for which earthly existence has been bestowed upon us mortals.
He was sad and homesick for that which he had not; yet ignorant of the
nature of his own loss, disposed to blame the constitution of things,
rather than his own incapacity, for that which he suffered."
"And then?" Poppy put in sharply. Listening, she had started to mock, the
cynic and worldling being hot in her, but, looking at the speaker,
somehow, she dared not mock.
"And then--recently--since I have known you in short, it has pleased
Almighty God by degrees to restore my sight."
Poppy regarded him intently, her singular eyes wide with question and with
doubt, her lips pressed together.
"I see--you have got religion," she said. "But do you seriously mean to
tell me that I--I--have had anything to do with that?"
"Yes," Iglesias answered. "You have had much to do with it. First by
love--for your friendship woke up my heart. Then by sorrow"--he paused,
divided by the desire to spare her and to tell her the whole of his
thought--"sorrow, when I came to know you better and value your character
and gifts at their true worth, because I saw noble things put to ignoble
uses, which of all pitiful sights is perhaps the most profoundly pitiful."
Silence followed, broken only by minute and reproachful snorings on the
part of Cappadocia and her spouse. The little dogs, sensible of neglect,
had become the victims of wounded self-love, that most primitive, as it is
the most universal, of passions throughout all grades of living things.
Poppy meanwhile turned her head aside, unable or unwilling to speak. Again
she blew her nose with complete disregard of the unromantic quality of
that action, then said huskily:
"I have cleaned the slate. I shall keep it clean." Her voice grew
steadier. A touch of malice came into her expression. "I like compliments,
and you have paid me about the biggest I ever had. It will take a little
time to digest. So I think--I think, dear man, I will not stand in the way
of your going back to the City, and saving the sinking ship--that is, if
the work won't be too hard for you?"
"No," he answered, touched by her more gracious aspect, yet slightly
confused. "I have had nearly a year's holiday and rest; I am quite equal
to work. But I am afraid the hours must necessarily be long, and that my
opportunities of coming to see you will not be very frequent."
"Perhaps that's just as well," she said, "while I am still in process of
digesting the big compliment."
Then impulsively she swept up to him and laid her hands on his shoulders,
looking him full in the face.
"See here, you thrice dear innocent, since you have mentioned that
terrible word 'love,' the complexion of our relation has changed somewhat.
Don't you understand, made as I am, I must fight seven devils within me if
I'm to continue to play fair with you, as I swore I would? And so, just
because you are so very much to me, I had best not see you too often until
I have settled down into my new scheme of life. In a sense Alaric was a
safeguard. That safeguard's gone."
She moved a step back, letting her hands fall at her sides, while her eye
grew hard and dark.
"And there are other reasons, brutal, unworthy, sordid reasons, why it is
wiser that you should not come here often at present. They did not
exist--at least I had not the faintest conception that they did--when we
last met. They have rushed into hateful prominence since. Don't ask me--I
cannot tell you. You must trust me, and you must not let my silence
alienate you. I can't be explicit, but I give you my word I am perfectly
straight. And you must not let your religion alienate you either. By the
way, what form of faith is it?"
"The faith of my own people," Dominic answered. "The faith of the Catholic
"Then I am not so afraid I shall lose you," she said, "for that's the only
brand of religion I've ever come across which isn't too nice to reckon
with human nature as it really is. It can save sinners, just because it
knows how to make saints--and it has made them out of jolly unpromising
material at times, there's the comfort of it."
She held out her hand in farewell.
"Good-bye till next time. You've done me good, as you always do. Now, I am
going to re-study some of my old parts, just to get the hang of the whole
But the door once shut, she flung herself down on the broad settee, while
the tiny dogs, whimpering, crowded upon her lap.
"Poppy St. John, you're not such a bad lot after all," she cried. "But oh!
oh! oh! it's beastly rough to be so young, and have gone so far, and know
so much. There, Willie Onions, don't snivel. It's both superfluous and
unpleasant." She sat up and wiped her eyes. "Upon my honour, I think it
was just as well I gave Phillimore the little revolver last night, to lock
up in the plate chest," she said.
It followed that Dominic Iglesias walked on across the common to Barnes
Station and travelled Citywards, solaced and uplifted in spirit, yet
greatly troubled by the idea of those newly arrived complications at
which the Lady of the Windswept Dust had hinted. He did not permit himself
to inquire what they might be. Doubtless she knew best--in her social
sense he had great confidence--so he acquiesced in her silence about them.
Still, as he reflected, it is not a little lamentable that even
friendship, the angelic relation between man and woman, should be
thus beset by perils from within and pitfalls without. Where lay the
fault--with over-civilisation and the improper proprieties resultant
therefrom? Or was it of far more ancient origin, resident in the very
foundations of human nature? Woman, eternally the vehicle of man's being,
eternally the inspiration of quite three-fifths of his action; yet, at the
same time, the eternal stumbling block and danger to the highest of his
moral and intellectual attainment! Mr. Iglesias smiled sadly and soberly
to himself as the train rolled on into Waterloo. In any case she remains
the most astonishing of God's creatures. It would be dull enough here on
earth without her, though, to employ one of Poppy's characteristic
phrases, "it's most infernally risky" with!
But once inside the bank, such far-ranging meditations gave place to
considerations immediate and concrete, Iglesias' whole mind being focussed
to arrive at the facts of the case. And this was far from easy. For alarm
stalked those usually self-secure and self-complacent rooms and glass and
mahogany-walled corridors; men looking up from their desks as he,
Iglesias, passed, with anxious faces, or moving with hushed footsteps as
though someone lay sick to death within the house. In Sir Abel Barking's
private room the drama reached its climax, panic sitting there sensibly
enthroned. Her chill presence had visibly affected Sir Abel, causing the
contrast between the overblown portrait upon the wall and the subject of
it to be ironical to the point of cruelty. For Sir Abel was aged and
shrivelled. His clothes hung loose upon him. Hardly could he rally his
tongue to the enunciation of a single platitude even of the most obviously
staring sort. The mighty, indeed, were fallen and the weapons of
wealth-getting perished! Yet never had Iglesias felt so drawn in sympathy
towards his late employer, for the spectre of possible ruin had made Sir
Abel almost humble, almost human.
"I am obliged to you for responding to my summons so promptly--yes, sit
down, my good friend, sit down," he said. "It is necessary that I should
converse with you at some length, and I refuse to keep you standing. Our
present position is inexplicable to me. Granting that my nephew Reginald
is unworthy of the trust we reposed in his ability and probity, there was
still our own judgment in reserve, and our own unquestioned capacity to
meet any strain upon our resources. That our confidence in these last was
misplaced is still incredible to me. I am completely baffled. The past few
months, indeed, with their reiterated discovery of difficulty and of loss,
have been a terrible tax upon my fortitude. Veteran financier though I am,
I own to you, Iglesias, there have been moments when I feared that I, too,
should give way. Only my sense of the duty I owe to my own reputation has
supported me." Sir Abel turned sideways in his chair. His eyes sought the
derisive portrait upon the wall, contemplation of which appeared to
reanimate his self-confidence somewhat, for he continued in his larger
manner, "Nor has the sting of private anxiety been lacking. My younger son
has been called away to the seat of war under circumstances of a
peculiarly affecting character. My earnest hopes for his future, in the
shape of a very desirable marriage, touched on fulfilment--."
But here Iglesias intervened. For his temper began to rise at the mention
of the loves of Alaric Barking. If the springs of Christian charity, just
now welling up so sweetly within him, were not to run incontinently dry,
the conversation, he felt, must be steadied down to themes of other
import. So he civilly but definitely requested Sir Abel to "come to
Hecuba," and to Hecuba the poor man, haltingly yet very obediently, came.
He and his ex-head-clerk seemed, indeed, to have changed places, so that,
before the end of the interview, Iglesias began to measure himself as
never before, to realise his own business acumen, his quickness of
apprehension, his grasp of the issues presented to him and his own
fearlessness of judgment. Whatever the upshot as to the eventual saving of
the credit of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking, Iglesias became
increasingly confident of his own power, and quietly satisfied in the
exercise of it.
And so it happened that, although tired in brain and body, his mind
weighted with thought, as were his arms with bundles of papers--which he
carried home for more leisurely inspection--Iglesias came rapidly up the
white steps of Cedar Lodge that night. He was buoyant in spirit, content
with his day's work, keenly interested in the development of it. Using his
latchkey he entered the square panelled hall silently--with results, for
revels were in progress within.
Dinner was over. Mrs. Porcher and the great Eliza, linked arm in arm,
stood near the dining-room door watching, while those two gay young
sparks, Farge and Worthington, inspired by memories of a recent visit to
the Hippodrome, played at lions. It was a simple game, still it gave
pleasure to the players. Clad in an easy-fitting dark blue "lounge suit,"
with narrow white cross-bar lines on it, an aged and faded orange
sheep-skin hearthrug thrown gallantly across his shoulders, Farge, on all
fours, with the mildest roarings imaginable, made rushes from under the
dinner-table at the devoted Worthington, who withstood his fiery onslaught
with lungings and brandishings of that truly classic weapon, the humble
necessary umbrella. At each rush the ladies backed and tittered, clinging
together with the most engagingly natural semblance of terror.
"Ha! caitiff wretch, beware!" declaimed Worthington nobly. "Only across my
prostrate corse shall you reach your innocent victims. Say, Charlie boy,"
he added in a hurried aside, "I didn't poke you in the eye by mistake just
now, did I?"
"Wurra--wurra--wurra," roared Farge. "Never touched me, Bert, by a couple
But there the would-be ferocious animal paused, squatted upon its
haunches, pointing its finger dramatically towards the front door, thus
causing the whole company to wheel round and gaze nervously in the
"Oh, Mr. Iglesias, how you did startle me!" Mrs. Porcher cried
plaintively, laying her hand upon her heart.
"Pardon me," he answered. "I had no idea the hall was occupied or I would
have rung instead of letting myself in. I must apologise further for being
so late, and for not having telephoned that I should be unable to be back
in time for dinner."
"We all know that there are counter-attractions, which may easily account
for unpunctuality," Miss Hart put in, with a toss of her head.
"Hush, hush, dear Liz," murmured Mrs. Porcher, while the two young men
made round eyes at each other, and de Courcy Smyth, leaning against the
balusters on the landing of the half-flight, announced his presence by a
Mr. Iglesias looked from one to another in surprise. He had been thinking
so very little--perhaps, as he told himself, insolently little--about all
these good people for some time past. Now he became aware of a hostile
atmosphere. For cause unknown he was in disgrace with them all. Possibly
they resented his indifference, possibly they were justified in so doing.
Hence he did not feel angry, but merely sorry and perplexed. He addressed
his hostess with increased courtliness of bearing.
"I hope I have not caused you inconvenience, Mrs. Porcher," he said. "I
was summoned suddenly upon business to the City this morning. The business
in question proved more complicated than I had anticipated, and I was
detained by it till late. This leads me to tell you, if you will forgive
my troubling you with personal matters, that I shall be compelled to go to
the City daily for some weeks to come. I shall not, therefore, be able to
give myself the pleasure of joining you at luncheon, or probably at
"Indeed," Mrs. Porcher remarked. "This is rather unexpected, Mr.
"To me wholly unexpected," he answered, "and in some respects unwelcome;
but it is unavoidable, unfortunately."
He bowed gravely to the two ladies and, ignoring the rest of the little
company, went on his way upstairs. At the half-flight Smyth stood aside to
let him pass; then, after a moment's hesitation, followed him.
"Mr. Iglesias," he said, "may I be permitted so far to presume upon our
acquaintance as to remind you that you received a letter from me this
morning requiring an answer?"
Dominic paused at the stair-head.
"Yes, I received it," he replied coldly.
"And you condescended to read it, so I venture to imagine, notwithstanding
that you were summoned on important business to the City. We are all
impressed by that interesting fact--vastly impressed by it, needless to
state. I specially so, of course, since commerce in all its branches, as
you know, commands my profoundest admiration and respect. Literature
and art are but as garbage compared with it--no one ever recognised
that gratifying truth more thoroughly than I do myself. Still, the
shopkeeper--I beg your pardon, financier I should have said--is not wholly
exempted, by the ideal character of his calling, from keeping his promises
even to poor devils of scholars and literary men such as myself."
Smyth swaggered, his hands in his trouser pockets, his glance at once
impertinent and malevolent, his manner easy to the point of insolence.
"I venture to remind you of my letter, therefore, and I may add I shall
feel obliged if you'll just hand me over those notes without delay."
"I read your letter," Iglesias answered. "It required consideration."
"Oh! did it, really? I supposed that I had expressed myself with perfect
lucidity. But if any point appeared to you to need explanation, I am
disengaged at the present time--I am quite willing to explain."
"Thank you," Iglesias answered, "no explanation is necessary on your part,
I believe, though perhaps a little is on mine. I must ask you to remember
that I promised to help you within reasonable relation to my means. What
constitutes a reasonable relation it is for me to judge, since I alone
know what my means are. I regret to tell you that your last demand greatly
exceeded that reasonable relation. I am therefore reluctantly obliged to
"To refuse it?" Smyth exclaimed incredulously.
"Yes, to refuse it," Iglesias said calmly. "When your play is ready for
production I am prepared to bear the cost of two representations, as I
have already told you. But I am not prepared to make you unlimited
advances meanwhile. To do so would be no kindness to you--"
"Wouldn't it?" Smyth broke out excitedly. "No kindness to me? Do you
imagine I want kindness, that I would accept or even tolerate kindness
from any man, and particularly from you? I offer you a magnificent
investment, and you speak to me as though I was a beggar asking alms in
the street. No kindness to me? This high moral tone does not become you in
the very least, let me tell you, Mr. Iglesias. Do you suppose I am such a
stoneblind ass as not to see what has been happening. Doesn't it occur to
you that I hold your reputation in my two hands?"
"My reputation?" Iglesias repeated, a very blaze of pride and indignation
in his eyes.
Smyth backed hastily away from him, with a livid face and shaking knees.
"No, no, Mr. Iglesias," he protested. "I was a fool to say that. But I am
utterly beaten by work and by worry. I do not deny that you have behaved
handsomely to me. But persistent injustice and cruelty have soured
me. Is it wonderful? And then to-night those blatant young idiots, Farge
and Worthington, have set my nerves on edge by their imbecility and
conceit, till I really am not accountable for what I say. I had better go.
We can talk of this at another time. I dare say I can manage for a day or
two, though it will not be easy to do so. However, I am accustomed to
rubbing shoulders with every created description of undeserved indignity
and wretchedness. I will go. Good-night."
Iglesias entered his sitting-room, turned up the gas, and looked round at
the orderly aspect of the place with a movement of relief. He ranged the
bundles of papers upon the table. If he was to master their contents he
would have to work far into the night, and the day had been a long one,
full of application and of very varied emotions. He stood for a little
space thinking of it all. The return to his familiar quarters at the bank
had affected him less than he had expected. He had not felt it as a return
"Thanks to the Church," he said gratefully, "which confers on her members
the only perfect freedom, namely, freedom of soul, freedom of heavenly
Then he thought of Poppy--thought very tenderly of that strangely
captivating woman of many moods! How clever she was, how accurately
she knew the ways of men! Her warnings regarding his dabbling in
matters theatrical, for instance, and charities to unsuccessful
playwrights.--And at that point Dominic Iglesias drew himself up short.
For, in a flash, the truth came to him that Poppy St. John's hated "jackal
of a husband" was none other than his fellow-lodger, de Courcy Smyth,
whose shuffling footsteps he heard even now, nervelessly crossing and
recrossing the floor of the room immediately above.
"I could not write, Rhoda, because of course I could not be sure
beforehand whether, when I came to London, I should really wish to see you
and George again or not." This from Serena, loftily and with rustlings.
"But as Lady Samuelson was driving in this direction to-day, and offered
to drop me here if I could find my own way back, I thought I had better
come, as I knew it was your afternoon at home."
"And I am sure for my part I am very pleased to have you come," Mrs.
Lovegrove replied, leading the way towards the seat of honour upon the
Chesterfield sofa. "I always do hold with letting bygones be bygones,
particularly as between relatives, when there has been any little
unpleasantness. And perhaps your calling will cheer poor Georgie up. He is
very tenacious of your and Susan's affection, is Georgie."
Here the speaker proceeded to swallow rather convulsively, pressing her
handkerchief against her lips.
"Perhaps I should be wiser to keep it all to myself," she added, not
without agitation. "But the sight of you does bring up so much. And I am
sorry to tell you, Serena, things are not as happy as they used to be in
The office of ministering angel was not, it must be conceded, exactly
native to Serena, her sympathies being restricted, the reverse of acute.
But, at a push, "curiosity has been known to supply the place of sympathy
very passably; and of curiosity Serena had always a large stock at the
service of her friends and acquaintance.
"I wonder why," she therefore observed in reply to her hostess's
concluding remark--"I mean I wonder why things should not be as happy as
they used to be?"
"I trace the commencement of it all to the time when you were visiting
here last November--not that I mean you were in any way to blame--"
Serena interrupted with spirit:
"No, pray do not connect anything which occurred then with me, Rhoda. I
think it would be most misplaced. After all that I have had to go through
I really should have thought it only delicate on your part never to refer
to what took place during my visit. I certainly should have hesitated
about coming here to-day if I had supposed either you or George would have
referred to it.--What dreadfully bad taste of Rhoda!" she added mentally.
"I believe I had better go. That would mark my displeasure, and teach her
to be more guarded with me in future. But then perhaps she has something
to say which I really ought to know. Perhaps it would be a mistake to go.
Perhaps I had better stay. I do not want to be too harsh with Rhoda."
The truth being that she actually itched to hear more. For, to Serena, her
wholly imaginary love episode with Mr. Iglesias represented the most vivid
of all the very limited experiences of her life. Her affections had not
been engaged, since she possessed no affections in any vital sense of that
word. But she had been flattered and excited.
She had seemed to herself to occupy a most interesting position, demanding
infinite tact. During the months which had elapsed she had rehearsed the
history of every incident, of every hour of intercourse, with Dominic
Iglesias, a thousand times; weighing each word, discounting every look of
his, indulging in unlimited speculation and analysis, until the
proportions of that which had occurred were magnified beyond all
possibility of recognition, let alone of sane relation to fact. To
herself, therefore, Serena had become the heroine of an elaborate
intrigue. This greatly increased her importance in her own eyes; and,
though she was studiously silent regarding the subject save in indirect
allusion, the said self-importance, reacting upon those about her, gained
both for herself and her opinions a degree of consideration to which she
was unaccustomed and which she highly relished. Never had Serena presented
so bold a front to her philanthropic and very possessive elder sister.
Never had she enjoyed so much attention in the small and rigidly select
circle of Slowby society, in which she and Miss Susan moved. Serena spoke
with authority upon all subjects, on the strength of a purely fictitious
affair of the heart. She is not the first woman who has made capital out
of the non-existent in this kind, nor will she probably be the last!
Nevertheless, she was very far from admitting the great benefit which Mr.
Iglesias had so unconsciously conferred upon her. She regarded herself as
a deeply injured person--irreparably injured, but for her own diplomacy,
admirable caution, knowledge of the world and self-respect.
"I am well aware it is a trying subject to approach," Mrs. Lovegrove
replied, with praiseworthy mildness. "And I am far from blaming you for
turning from it, Serena. I am sure it has weighed sadly on my mind and on
George's, too. Not that he has said much, but I could see how he felt; and
then a great deal has come out since. That is why I am so gratified to
have you call here to-day, and so will Georgie be. He has taken it
dreadfully to heart finding how we have all been taken in, and seeing how
wrong it must put him with you and with Susan."
"It is very proper that you should say that, Rhoda," the other observed
with condescension. "I think you owe it to me to express regret. I should
have been sorry if George had proved indifferent, for I have been very
careful in what I have told Susan. Of course, I might have spoken
strongly. I think anyone would admit I should have been quite justified in
doing so. But I wished to spare George. Mamma was very much attached to
him, and of course he was constantly with us in old days, before his
It was significant of the wife's humble state that she received this
thrust without a murmur.
"Poor Georgie was too upset to tell even me for a long time," she
continued somewhat irrelevantly, "and you may judge by that how badly he
felt. He knew how shocked I should be, and that I should take it as such
an insult to the dear vicar, after all his kindness, that any friend of
ours whom he had talked to in this house should turn Romanist."
"Who? What?" cried Serena. She had determined to maintain a superior and
impassive attitude, but at this point curiosity became rampant, refusing
further circumlocution or delay.
"Why, Mr. Iglesias, to be sure," Mrs. Lovegrove answered, hardly
restraining evidences of satisfaction. The news was lamentable, no doubt;
but to have it miss fire in the recital of it would have made it ten times
more lamentable still. "And the worst of it was," she continued, refreshed
by the effect upon her hearer, "he kept it dark for we don't in the least
know how long. He mentioned no dates, and poor Georgie was too upset to
ask him. Of course it is well known how double Romanists are always taught
to be--not that I was ever acquainted with any. You never meet them out, I
am glad to think, where we visit. Still, that Mr. Iglesias, who was quite
one of ourselves, as you may say, so intimate and always appearing the
perfect gentleman, so open and honest--"
"Ah! there you are wrong, Rhoda," the other lady put in with decision,
while making a violent effort to recover her impassivity and superiority.
"You and George may be surprised, but I am not. I always had my suspicions
of Mr. Iglesias. I told you so more than once. At the time you and George
were annoyed. Now you see I was right. I am seldom mistaken. Even Susan
admits I am very observant. After his extraordinary behaviour to me I
should not be surprised at anything which Mr. Iglesias might do." She
paused, breathless but triumphant. "Have you seen him since all this came
"Oh, no. He has called twice, but fortunately Georgie was out walking. He
goes out walking a great deal now, does Georgie." The speaker heaved a
voluminous sigh. Her satisfaction had been short-lived. "And I told the
girl, if Mr. Iglesias asked for me, to say I was particularly engaged. He
has written to Georgie. I know that--a long letter--but I have not been
asked to read it."
Mrs. Lovegrove pressed her handkerchief against her lips again, agitation
"After all these years of marriage, you know, Serena, it is a very cutting
thing to have any concealment between me and Georgie. I should not mention
it to you but that you were here when it commenced. I never supposed--no,
never, never--there could be any coldness between him and me. When I have
heard others speak of trouble with their husbands, I have always pitied
the poor things from my heart, but held them mainly responsible. Now I
"Miss Eliza Hart, mum." This shrilly from the little house-parlourmaid.
Serena rose as well as her hostess. Superiority counselled departure;
curiosity urged remaining.
"Of course, I should feel justified in staying if Rhoda pressed me to do
so," she said to herself. And Rhoda, in the very act of greeting her new
guest, did press her to do so.
"Surely you are not leaving yet?" she said plaintively.
"It would hurt me not to have you stay to tea, and Georgie would be sadly
disappointed to think he had missed you."
Thus admonished, Serena graciously consented to remain Miss Hart, as last
arrival, being necessarily invited to assume the place of honour upon the
sofa, Serena selected a chair at as great a distance from that historic
article of furniture as the exigencies of conversation permitted. "I must
show her that I stay not to see her, but solely on Georgie's account," she
commented inwardly. "I have been very cold in manner. I think she must
have observed that."
But the great Eliza was in a militant humour, not easily abashed. She had
called with intentions, in the interests of which she plunged volubly into
"You will excuse my coming without Peachie Porcher, Mrs. Lovegrove," she
began. "She was all anxiety to come, too, fearing you might think her
neglectful. But I prevented it. She overrates her strength, does Peachie,
and to-day her neuralgia is cruel. 'I'll run across and account for you,'
I said to her. 'You just lie down and take a nap, and let the housemaid
bring you up a little something with your tea, and take it early.' 'It's
not more nourishment I require, but less worry, Liz dear,' she said. And
so it is, Mrs. Lovegrove."
"We all have our troubles, Miss Hart, and often unsuspected ones which
call for silence."
The wife's large cheeks quivered ominously, while Serena rustled--but
whether in sympathetic agreement with the sentiments expressed by the last
speaker, or in protest against the presence of the former one, it would be
difficult to determine.
"I wonder whether that is not best, Rhoda--I mean I wonder whether it is
not best to be silent," she remarked reflectively. "I think people are not
usually half cautious enough what they tell. So many disagreeables can be
avoided if you are really on your guard. Mamma impressed that upon us when
we were children. I am very careful, but I often think Susan is hardly
careful enough. Most troubles arise through trusting other people too
"And that's poor darling Peachie all over," Miss Hart declared, with a
fine appreciation of opportunity. "Too great trustfulness has been her
worst fault, as I always tell her, the generous pet. Not that all our
gentlemen are ungrateful, Mrs. Lovegrove. I would not have you suppose
that. Poor Mr. Smyth, for instance, whom I'm afraid I have accused of
being very surly and bearish at times, has come out wonderfully lately.
But it must be a hard nature, indeed, which Peachie's influence would not
soften. One such nature I am acquainted with." Eliza paused, looking from
one to other of her hearers with much meaning. "But it is not the case
with poor Mr. Smyth. He has yielded. Then there is the tie of an
unfortunate domestic past between him and Peachie, which helps to bring
them together.--Of course that means nothing to you, Mrs. Lovegrove."
The lady addressed swallowed convulsively.
"But all are not blessed with such good fortune as yours," the great Eliza
continued. "Mr. Smyth has been very open with Peachie recently. He has
some surprising tales to tell, knowing very well all that is going on in
society. And that reminds me of a certain gentleman who does not live a
thousand miles from here. Mr. Smyth has hinted at much that is very
startling in that direction."
The speaker paused again.
"Would it be intrusive to ask whether you have been favoured with much of
Mr. Iglesias' company during the last few weeks, Mrs. Lovegrove?" she
Ruddy mottlings bespread the wife's kindly countenance. Serena moved
slightly upon her chair. She was conscious, of growing excitement.
"Perhaps not quite so much as formerly; but then Mr. Lovegrove has been
out walking most evenings. The warmer weather always causes him to feel
the need of exercise," the excellent woman returned, putting heroic
restraint upon herself. "And I have been very occupied with the spring
cleaning. I make it a duty to look into everything myself, you know, Miss
Hart. Not but what my girls are very good. I think all the talk about
trouble with the servants is very much exaggerated. Our cook, Fanny, has
been with us quite a number of years. Still, I hold it is well for them to
have a mistress's supervision if the cleaning is to be thorough. If you
see to it yourself, then you can have nobody to blame. And so I have had
frequently to deny myself to visitors."
She gave a sigh of relief, trusting she had loyally steered the
conversation into safer channels. But the great Eliza was not thus to be
"I asked on Peachie Porcher's account," she declared, "not on my own, Mrs.
Lovegrove. It is all of less than no consequence to me, except for the
sake of Cedar Lodge, how a certain gentleman spends his time. But
Peachie's interests must be protected. With an establishment such as ours
a good name is everything. 'You cannot be too particular; for any talk of
fastness, and the place must go down,' as she says to me--"
But here, the wife's natural rectitude and sense of justice triumphed over
prejudice and wounded sensibilities.
"I am sure I could never believe anyone would have occasion to accuse Mr.
Iglesias of fastness," she said. "Of course, the change of religion is
dreadful, particularly in one who should have known better, though a
foreigner, having had the advantage of being brought up in England. Nobody
can be more aware of that than myself and Mr. Lovegrove. It has been a
sad grief to us"--her voice quavered--"and no doubt early rising and fish
meals do make a lot of work and unpleasantness in a house-hold. But as to
fastness, well, Miss Hart, I cannot find it in my conscience to agree to
anything as bad as that."
With preternatural solemnity the great Eliza shook her head.
"Seeing is believing, Mrs. Lovegrove," she replied. "And when ladies call,
dressed in the tiptop of the fashion! Very stylish, no doubt, but not
quite the style Peachie Porcher can countenance, circumstanced as we are
with our gentlemen guests. Then there is what Mr. Smyth hinted at
subsequently, just in a friendly way. He did not say he was actually
acquainted with the lady, but intimated that he could say very much more
if he chose. No, Mrs. Lovegrove, I regret to speak, knowing how long you
and a certain gentleman have been acquainted, but there can be no question
Peachie Porcher's interests have been trifled with, and her affections
Here aggressive rustlings on the part of Serena arrested the flow of Miss
"You spoke, I believe, Miss Lovegrove?" she inquired.
"No, I did not speak," Serena cried.--"Vulgar, designing person, what
presumption!" she cried to herself. "Anyone would feel insulted by her
manner. She thinks she has put me at a disadvantage. But she is mistaken.
I know more than she supposes." She was greatly enraged; for, unreasonable
though it may appear, if trifling were about on the part of Dominic
Iglesias, Serena reserved to herself a monopoly in respect of it. Few
things, perhaps, are more galling to a woman than the assertion that a
Lovelace has been guilty of misleading attentions to others besides
herself. If she is not the solitary object of his affections, let her at
least be the solitary victim of his perfidy. And that Mrs. Porcher should
aspire to share her _role_ of betrayed one was, to Serena, a piece of
unheard-of impertinence. She refused to bestow further attention upon Miss
Hart, and turned haughtily to her hostess.
"Have you any idea when George will be in, Rhoda? I am quite willing to
wait a reasonable time for him, but I cannot be expected to wait
indefinitely. I must consider Lady Samuelson. It is a long distance to
Ladbroke Square--of course Trimmer's Green is very far out--and I have
to dress for dinner. Everything is very well done at Lady Samuelson's, and
she makes a great point of punctuality. Of course it is no difficulty to
me to be punctual. I was brought up to be so. Mamma was always extremely
particular about our being in time. She said it was very rude to be late.
I think it is rude, and so, of course, punctuality is quite natural to me.
But I do object to being hurried; and so, unless George is likely to be in
almost directly, I really must go, Rhoda."
"I should be very mortified to have you leave before he comes back. It
would be a sore disappointment to Georgie to find you had been here and he
had missed you," the good creature pleaded.
"And it's something quite new for Mr. Lovegrove to be out on your at-home
day, isn't it?" Eliza put in, not without covert sarcasm. "I never
remember to have known it happen before."
"Mrs. and Miss Ballard, please, mum"--this from the house-parlourmaid.
Mrs. Lovegrove arose with alacrity, retail trade and nonconformity alike
"I am afraid Miss Hart grows very spiteful," she said to herself. "I wish
she would go. I should be vexed to have her outsit Serena.--Well, Mrs.
Ballard, very pleased, I am sure, to see you"--this aloud--"and your
daughter, too. The spring is coming on nicely, is it not? Quite warm this
afternoon, walking? I dare say it is. You and my husband's cousin, Miss
Lovegrove, have met, I believe? Miss Ballard, Miss Lovegrove.--Are you
going, Miss Hart? Kind regards to Mrs. Porcher, and sincere hopes she may
soon lose her neuralgia. Very trying complaint, Mrs. Ballard, is it
not?--and very prevalent, so they tell me, this year.--Why, you're never
going to leave, too, Serena? You'll come again, or Georgie will be so
But Serena held out small hope of her reappearance.
"Of course I should be glad to see George, but I could not bind myself to
anything, Rhoda. You see, Lady Samuelson"--the Ballard ladies, mother and
daughter, looked at one another, fluttered and impressed--"Lady
Samuelson," Serena repeated, her voice rising a little, "has such a number
of engagements, and of course if she wishes to take me with her I cannot
refuse. At home she always likes me to help entertain. I really have very
little time to call my own, and so I should not feel justified in making
any promise. Of course it was just a chance my being able to come to-day.
You can tell George I am sorry not to have seen him. I should like him to
know that I am sorry."
"You are very kind, Serena," the other said humbly.
"I think Rhoda has improved," Serena said to herself, as she walked across
Trimmer's Green between the black iron railings. "I think she has more
sense of my position than she did. I wonder whether she thinks that if Mr.
Iglesias had proposed I should have accepted him. Of course she thinks I
was very badly treated. I think her manner shows that. Certainly she took
his part rather against that odious Miss Hart. But I don't believe she
really sided with him. I think she only appeared to do so to snub Miss
Hart. Of course if she had stayed, I should have had to stay, too. I
should have owed it to myself to do so. But, as she went, there was no
object in staying; and it was wiser to seem quite indifferent about seeing
George. I hope he won't attempt to call upon me at Lady Samuelson's! I
should hardly think he would presume to do that. I must tell the butler,
if a gentleman calls, to say I am not at home. If it was only George it
would not so much matter, but I could not run the chance of having Lady
Samuelson and Rhoda meet. It would not do at all to have Rhoda climbing
into society through me. I think it is too bad to have people make use of
you like that. And Rhoda has no tact. I see I must be on my guard with
George and Rhoda. I wonder whether I had better tell Susan Mr. Iglesias
has become a Roman Catholic? Of course she would think I had had a great
escape; but in any case that does not excuse him. He behaved very badly.
I don't believe for an instant he ever took any notice of Mrs. Porcher. I
believe that is an entire invention. I wonder if the lady who called is
the same lady we saw at the theatre--"
And so on, and so on, all the way home by the Uxbridge Road, and Netting
Hill, and then northward to the august retirement of Lady Samuelson's
large corner house in Ladbroke Square. For a deeply injured person Serena
had really enjoyed herself very much.
The burden of August, dense and heavy, lay upon London. Radiating outward
in lifeless and dull-glaring sunshine, it involved the nearer suburbs; so
that Dominic Iglesias, sitting on a bench beside the roadway crossing
Barnes Common, notwithstanding the hour--past six o'clock--and the open
space surrounding him, found the atmosphere hardly less oppressive than
that of the streets. The great world, which plays, had departed. The
little world, outnumbering the great by some five or six millions, which
works, remained. And Dominic Iglesias, since he too worked, remained
likewise, sharing with it the burden of the August heat and languor; and
sharing also, to-day being Sunday, its weekly going forth over the face of
the scorched and sun-seared land seeking rest, and, too often, finding
For the past two months he had seen Poppy St. John but seldom, nor had he
heard from her. Whether by accident or by design he knew not, she had
rarely been at home on those occasions when he had been free to call. For
the last three weeks she had been away up the river, so he understood,
with her friend Dot Parris--_alias_ Miss Charlotte Colthrust. A
blight seemed to Iglesias to have fallen upon his and her friendship, ever
since the day of his return to Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking; and his
discovery, or rather divination, of the relation in which de Courcy Smyth
stood to her. While her husband remained nameless, an unknown quantity,
Dominic deplored the fact of her marriage, but as an abstraction. So soon
as that fact had acquired in his mind--whether rightly or wrongly--a
name and local habitation, now that he was liable to meet it daily
incarnate--and that in most unsavoury shape--liable to be constantly
reminded of its near neighbourhood, to witness a thousand and one
unpleasing peculiarities of speech, habit, and manner, unlooked-for
emotions arose in Iglesias, and those of a character of which he was by no
means proud. Resentment took him, indignation, strange movements of
jealousy and hatred; all very natural, no doubt, but decidedly bad for the
soul. It was idle for him to remind himself that his belief regarding
de Courcy Smyth was based upon supposition, upon circumstantial evidence
which might prove merely coincident. He could not rid himself of that
belief, nor of the emotional consequences of it; and these so vexed him
that he questioned whether it would not be better to remove from Cedar
Lodge and seek a domicile uninfected by the perpetual provocation of
the man's presence. But it was not easy to give a plausible reason to
his hostess for any immediate change of residence; nor was it easy, in
the present stress of business at the bank, to find time or energy for
house-hunting. The atmosphere of Cedar Lodge had become inimical. His
rooms had ceased to be a place of security and repose. Yet whither should
he go? The great wilderness of London seemed vastly inhospitable when it
came to the question of selecting a new dwelling-place.
Meanwhile, he was grievously conscious of the growing estrangement between
himself and Poppy St. John, which he connected, in some way, with this
haunting yet unspoken suspicion of her relation to de Courcy Smyth--a
suspicion which tended to rob intercourse of all spontaneity by
introducing into it a spirit of embarrassment and constraint. He would
have given so very much to know the truth and be able to reckon finally
with it; but he judged it unpermissible that he should approach the ugly
subject first. It was Poppy's affair, her private and unlovely property.
While she elected to keep silence, therefore, it would be disloyal for him
to speak. Still it distressed him, adding to his mental and emotional
unrest. The happiness might have gone out of their intercourse, yet there
were times when he wearied for sight and for speech of her more than he
quite cared to admit. George Lovegrove still held aloof. Dominic rallied
his faith in the divine purpose, rallied his obedience to the divine
ruling, fixed his eyes more patiently upon the promise of the far horizon;
yet it must be owned he felt very friendless and sad at heart.
To-day, driven in part by that friendliness, he had come out on the chance
of gaining some news of Poppy. Disappointment, however, awaited him. For
the discreet Phillimore, though receiving him graciously, reported her
mistress resident at home again, it is true, but gone into town on
business, probably theatrical, and unlikely to return until late.
Therefore Dominic had walked on to Barnes Common, and finding the
uncomfortable bench by the roadside--whereon Cappadocia, the toy spaniel,
had sought his protection more than a year ago--untenanted, had sat down
there to meditate. Cedar Lodge was no longer a refuge. He preferred to
keep away from it as long as might be. Perhaps, too, as the sun dropped
the air would grow cooler, and the southeasterly draught, parched and
scorching as from the mouth of a furnace, which huffled at times only to
fall dead, might shift to some more merciful quarter. A coppery haze hung
over London, above which the rusty white summits of a range of cumulus
cloud towered into the thick grey-blue of the upper sky. Possibly the
cloud harboured thunder and the refreshment of rain amid its giant crags
and precipices. On the chance of such refreshment he would stay.
For in good truth he needed refreshment, and that speedily, being very
tired, fagged by long hours in the City, by heavy responsibilities, by the
burden of the airless August heat, let alone those more intimate causes of
disturbance already indicated. Iglesias could not disguise from himself
that the close application to business was beginning to tell injuriously
upon his health. This same morning, coming back from early Mass, passing
through the flagged passage which leads from Kensington Palace Green into
Church Street, he had become so faint from exhaustion, that reaching--and
not without difficulty--his former home in Holland Street, he had summoned
the neat bald-headed little caretaker and asked permission to enter the
house and rest. The ground-floor rooms were cool and dusky, sheltered by
closed shutters from the summer sun. Only the French-window of the back
dining-room stood open, on to the flight of wrought-iron steps leading
down into the garden. Beside it the caretaker, not without husky
coughings, placed a kitchen chair for Iglesias and fetched him a glass of
"I could wish I had something better to offer you, sir," he said, "but I
am an abstainer by habit myself; and I have no liquor of any kind,
unfortunately, in the house."
The water, however, was pleasantly cold, and Dominic drank it thankfully.
He could have fancied there was virtue in it--the virtue of things
blessed by long-ago mother-love. And, thinking of that, his eyes filled
with tears as he looked out over the small neglected garden. Of the once
glorious laburnum there remained only an unsightly stump, but jasmine
still clothed the enclosing walls, the dark green of its straggling shoots
starred here and there with belated white blossoms. About the lip of the
empty stone basin, vigorously chirruping, sparrows came and went, while in
the far corner a grove of starveling sunflowers lifted their brown and
yellow-rayed faces towards the light. Dominic, resting gratefully in the
cool semi-darkness of the empty room, until the faintness which had
attacked him was passed, found the place very gentle, soothing, and sweet.
The sadder memories had died out here, so he noted. Only gracious and
tender ones remained. He wished he could stay on indefinitely. As the
years multiply, and the chequered story of them lengthens, it is
comforting to dwell in a place where, once on a time, one had been greatly
Dominic turned to the waiting caretaker, who regarded him with mingled
solicitude, admiration, and deference.
"So the house is still unlet?" he said.
"Yes, sir, and is likely to remain so, I apprehend. The lease, as I
understand, falls in a very few years hence, and the landlord is unwilling
to make any outlay on the house, which will probably then be pulled down;
while no tenant, I opine, would be willing to rent a residence so wanting
in modern decoration and modern conveniences. Weeks pass, sir, without any
persons calling to view."
"Yet the rent is low?" Iglesias said.
"Very low for so genteel a district--I am a native of Kensington, 'the
royal village,' myself, sir--and no premium is asked."
Now, sitting on the uneasy bench upon the confines of Barnes Common--while
the little many-millioned world, which works, in gangs, and groups, and
amatory couples, and somewhat foot-weary family parties, sauntered
by--that same oppression of faintness came over Dominic Iglesias, along
with a great nostalgia for the cool, dusky, low-ceilinged rooms, and the
neglected yet still bravely blossoming garden of the little house in
"It would be pleasant to spend one's last days and draw one's last breath
there," Iglesias said to himself; "when the sum of endeavour is complete,
when the last cable has been sent, the last column of figures balanced and
audited, when the ledgers are closed and one's work being fairly finished
one is free to sit still and listen--not fearfully, but with reverent
curiosity--for the footsteps of Death and the secrets he has in his
And there he paused, for the scorched dusty land and pale dense sky, even
the rusty white summits of the great range of cloud, slowly, slowly
climbing high heaven--even the light dresses of passing women and
children--went suddenly black, indistinct, and confused to his sight, so
that he seemed to be falling through some depth of dark and untenanted
space, while the dust, thick, stifling, clinging, fell with him,
encircling, enveloping him with a horror of suffocation, of crushing,
impalpable, yet unescapable, dead weight.
Then out of the darkness, out of the dust, in voluminous dusty drab motor
veil and dusty drab motor coat, the Lady of the Windswept Dust herself
came towards him, bringing consolation and help.
"You are coming round, dear man. You really look better. What you wanted
was a sensible Christian meal. For, I tell you, you were most uncommonly
done, and it was a near shave whether I should get you home here without
having to call on the populace for assistance. Don't go and worry now. You
were superb as usual, with enough personal dignity to supply a whole
dynasty, and have some left over for washing-day into the bargain. You
should give lessons in the art of majestic collapse--not that you did
collapse, thank goodness! But you came precious near it.--Yes, I mean it,
I mean it, dear man"--Poppy nodded her head at him, leaned across the
corner of the table and patted his arm with the utmost friendliness. "I
want to terrify you into being more careful. There are plenty of people
one could jolly well spare; but you're not among them. So lay that to
heart, or I shan't have an easy moment. And then as to personal dignity,
if you will excuse my entering into details of costume, in that grey
top-hat, grey frock-coat, et cetera, et cetera, you looked more fit for
the Ascot Royal Enclosure than for Barnes Common on a broiling August
Sunday. The populace eyed you with awe.--Don't be offended, there's a
dear. You can't help being very smart and very beautiful; and you oughtn't
to want to help it even if you could, since it gives me so much pleasure.
Your tailor's a gem. But how he must love you, must be ready to dress you
free of cost for the simple joy of fitting on."
The little dinner had been excellent. The clear soup hot, and the
ninety-two Ayala, extra dry, chilled to a nicety--and so with the rest of
the menu. Glass, silver, china, were set forth daintily upon the fine
white damask, under the glow of scarlet-shaded candles. The double doors
connecting the small drawing-room and dining-room stood open; this,
combined with the fact that lights were limited to the dinner-table,
giving an agreeable effect of coolness and of space. While, as arrayed in
a crisp black muslin gown--the frills and panels of it painted with shaded
crimson roses and bronze-green leaves--Poppy St. John ministered to her
guest, chattered to, and rallied him, her eyes were extraordinarily dark
and luminous, and her voice rich in soft caressing tones. Never had she
appeared more engaging, more natural and human, never stronger yet more
tenderly gay. Dominic Iglesias yielded himself up gladly, gratefully, to
the charm of the woman and to the comfort of his surroundings. Temperate
in all things, he was temperate in enjoyment. Yet he was touched, he was
happy. Life was very sweet to him in this hour of relief from physical
distress, of renewed friendship, and of pretty material circumstance.
"It was such a mercy I had a decent meal to offer you," Poppy went on.
"Often the commissariat department is a bit sketchy on Sunday, in--well,
in these days of the cleaned slate. But you see, Lionel Gordon, of the
Twentieth Century Theatre, was to tell me, this afternoon, what decision
he had come to about the engagement I have been spelling to get. He is an
appalling mongrel, three-parts German Jew and one part Scotchman--sweet
mixture of the Chosen and Self-Chosen people! He never was pretty, and
increasing years have not rendered his appearance more enticing; but he's
the cleverest manager going, on either side of the Atlantic, and he
doesn't go back on his word once given, as too many of them do. Well, he
was to let me know; and to tell the truth, beloved lunatic, I was rather
keen about this engagement. I knew if he did not give it me I should be a
little hipped, and should stand in need of support and consolation; while,
if he did, I should be rather expansive, and should want suitably to
celebrate the event. So I ordered a good dinner to be ready in either
case"--Poppy laughed gently. "Queer thing the artist," she said, "with its
instinct of falling back on creature comforts. Whatever happens, good luck
or bad luck, it always eats."
"And they gave you the engagement?" Iglesias inquired.
Poppy nodded her head in assent.
"Yes, dear man, Lionel gave it me. He'd have been a fool if he hadn't, for
he knows who I am and what training I've had. And then Fallowfeild has
made things easy. He's a thundering good friend, Fallowfeild is; and in
view of late events--once I had told him to go, I wouldn't, of course,
take a penny of Alaric's--I had no conscience about letting Fallowfeild be
useful. He was lovely about it. I shall only draw a nominal salary for the
first six months until I have proved myself. What I want is my
opportunity; and money matters being made easy helped materially. Both the
Chosen and Self-Chosen People have a wonderfully keen eye to the boodle,
bless their little hearts and consciences!"
She paused, leaning her elbows on the table and looking sideways at
Iglesias, her head thrown back.
"I am dreadfully glad to have you here to-night," she went on, "because
you see it's a turning-point. I have pretty well climbed the ridge and
reached the watershed. The streams have all started running in the other
direction--towards the dear old work and worry, the envy, hatred, malice,
and all uncharitableness, and all the fun, too, and good comradeship, and
ambition, and joy, of the theatre. Can you understand, I at once adore and
detest it, for it's a terribly mixed business. Already I keep on seeing
the rows of pinky-white faces rising, tier above tier, up to the roof,
which turn you sick and give you cold shivers all down your spine when you
first come on. And then I go hot with the fight against their apathy or
opposition, the glorious fight to conquer and hold an audience, and bend
its emotions and its sympathies, as the wind bends the meadow grass, to
Poppy stretched out her hand across the corner of the table again, laying
it upon Iglesias' hand. Her eyes danced with excitement, yet her voice
shook and the words came brokenly.
"But, dearly beloved, I have your blessing on this new departure, haven't
I?" she asked. "After all, it's you, just simply you, that sends me back
to an honest life and to my profession. So I should like to have your
blessing--that, and your prayers."
"Can you doubt that you have them," Iglesias answered, and his voice, too,
shook, somewhat, "now and always, dearest of friends?"
For a little minute Poppy sat looking full at him, he looking full at her.
Then, with a sort of rush, she rose to her feet.
"Come along, this won't do," she said. "Sentiment strictly prohibited.
It's not wholesome for you after the nasty turn you had on Barnes
Common--and it's not particularly wholesome for me either, though for
quite other reasons. Moreover, it's fiendishly hot in here. So see, dear
man, you're not going just yet. I telephoned to the Bell Inn stables for a
private hansom to be on hand about ten thirty for you. Meanwhile, you're
to take it easy and rest. It is but five steps upstairs, and that won't
tire you. Come up into the cool and have your coffee on the balcony."
And so it came about that Dominic Iglesias followed Poppy St. John
upstairs--she moving rapidly, in a way defiantly--followed her into a
bedchamber, where a subtle sweetness of orris-root met him; and a
fantastic brightness of gaslight and moonlight, coming in through open
windows, chequered the handsome dark-polished brass-inlaid furniture, the
green silk coverlet and hangings, the dimly patterned ceiling and walls.
Without hesitation or apology, Poppy walked straight through this
apartment, and passed out on to the white-planked and white-railed
The dome of the sky was immense and had become perfectly clear, the great
clouds having boiled up during the afternoon only to sink away and vanish
at sunset, as is their wont in seasons of drought. North and east the
glare of London pulsed along the horizon; and above it the stars were
faint, since the radiant first-quarter moon rode high, drenching roadway
and palings, the stretch of the polo-ground, the shrubberies and grove of
giant elms, with white light blotted and barred, here and there, by black
shadow. The air was still, but less oppressive, the cruelty of sun-heat
having gone out of it and only a suavity remaining. The _facade_ of
the terrace of smirking, self-conscious, much-be-flowered and be-balconied