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The Philanderers by A.E.W. Mason

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province in which every capacity he possessed could find employment and
exercise. He would leave England for Matanga when this short session was
over; he would resign his seat and settle there for good. For if he
stayed in London, every step which he took, every advance which he made,
would only add to Clarice's miseries.

Thus he decided, and walked back with his mind at rest, without regret
for the loss of his ambitions, without, indeed, any real consciousness of
the sacrifice which he had it in his thoughts to make.

Thus he decided, but as he left his office on the afternoon of the day
whereon he was to make his speech in the House of Commons, Fielding
rushed up to him with a copy of the _Meteor_.

'Look!' he said, and pointed to an article. Drake took the paper and read
the article through. His face darkened as he read. The article had a
headline which puzzled Drake for a moment. It was entitled _The Drabious
Duke_, and it proceeded to set out the episode of Gorley's court-martial
and execution. The facts, Drake recognised, were not exaggerated, but the
sting lay in the suggestion with which it concluded.

'We have no doubt,' the leader-writer stated, 'that both the
court-martial and execution were in accordance with the letter of the
law, but, since Mr. Stephen Drake is now one of the legislators of this
country, we feel it our duty to submit two facts for the consideration of
our readers. In the first place we would call attention to the secrecy in
which the incident has been carefully shrouded. In the second, Gorley
undoubtedly secured a considerable quantity of gold-dust. Now, it is
perfectly well known that the Government of Matanga pays a commission on
all gold-dust brought down to the coast. We have gone into the matter
carefully, and we positively assert that no commission whatever was paid
in any such plunder during the two months which followed Mr. Drake's
return from Boruwimi. What, then, became of it? We ask our readers to
weigh these two facts dispassionately, and we feel justified in adding
that Mr. Drake would have been quite within his rights in showing
clemency to Gorley, or in bringing him back to undergo a regular trial.
However, he preferred to execute him on the spot.'

'He makes me out a thief and a murderer,' said Drake. 'I wonder where he
got the story from?'

Fielding answered slowly, 'I am afraid that I can throw some light on
that. I told Mallinson some time ago, before he was married.'

'Mallinson!' exclaimed Drake, stopping in the street. 'Oh, you think the
article comes from him?' Then he turned to Fielding. 'And how did you
know of it?'

'Well,' said Fielding with some hesitation, 'Mrs. Willoughby told me.'


'We neither of us, of course, knew you very well then. Mrs. Willoughby
had only just met you, and she didn't feel quite certain that Clarice
ought to be kept in ignorance of the matter, so she asked my advice.'

'Quite so,' answered Drake. 'I understand. You thought Clarice ought to
be informed, and you were right. I told her of the matter myself.'

'No,' exclaimed Fielding; 'I'll tell you the whole truth while I am about
it. I advised Mrs. Willoughby to say nothing, but I behaved like a damned
cad, and told Mallinson myself afterwards. I had quite another reason for
telling him.'

'Oh, never mind!' broke in Drake. 'The question is, what's to be
done now?'

'You must sue the paper!'

'Of course. I was thinking whether I couldn't mention the matter to-night
in the House of Commons. You see it has got into the papers that I mean
to speak, and perhaps I ought to make use of the opportunity.'

Fielding jumped at the idea. 'By Jove, yes,' he said. 'I should think, in
fact, the directors of the Company will rather expect it.'

They walked together until they reached the corner of Parliament Street;
there they stopped.

'I am awfully sorry, Drake,' said Fielding. 'I behaved like a

Drake again cut him short. 'Oh, I don't see that. The thing looked fishy,
I don't doubt, and you weren't bound to me in any way. Good-bye,' and he
held out his hand with a cordial smile.

'Good-bye,' said Fielding, and they separated.

On reaching his flat Drake was informed that a lady was waiting to see
him. He crossed the passage and opened the door of his sitting-room. Mrs.
Mallinson was standing by the window.


She turned quickly as the door closed and took a step towards the centre
of the room. Drake perceived that she had a copy of the _Meteor_ in her
hand. 'You have seen this?' she asked.

'Yes.' He remained by the door with his hand on the knob.

'And you guessed who wrote it?'

'I have been told.' He answered her coldly and quietly.

'I know what you think,' she replied. 'But it's not true. I never told
him the story. He knew it long ago--before you went back to
Matanga--before I married him.' Her voice took a pleading tone. 'You will
believe that, won't you?'

'It never occurred to me that you had told him. I know, in fact, who did.
But even if you had--well, you had the right to tell him.' Clarice gave a
stamp of impatience. 'He is your husband.'

'My husband!' she interrupted, and she tore the newspaper across and
dropped it on to the floor. 'My husband! Ah, I wouldn't have believed
that even he could have done a thing so mean. And, to add to the meanness
of it, he went away yesterday, for a week. I know why, now; he dared not
face me.' Then of a sudden her voice softened. 'But it's my fault too, in
a way,' she went on. 'He knew the story a long time ago, and never used
it. I don't suppose he would have used it now, if I hadn't--since your
election--let him see--' She broke off the sentence, and took a step
nearer to Drake. 'Stephen, I meant to let him see.'

Drake drew himself up against the door. It would be no longer of any
service to her, he thought, if he left England and returned to Matanga.
Something more trenchant was needed.

He reflected again that he filled no place which another could not fill,
and the reflection took a wider meaning than it had done before. 'Yes,'
he said; 'it's very awkward that it should all come out just now.'

Clarice stared at him in perplexity. 'Awkward that it should all come
out,' she repeated vaguely; and then, with an accent of relief, 'You mean
that it will injure the Company?'

'Not so much that. The Company can run without me--quite well now--I am
certain of it.' He spoke as though he was endeavouring to assure himself
of what he said.

'But it won't hurt you, really,' she exclaimed. 'You can disprove the
charges, and of course you must, I know you hesitate--for my sake--to
bring an action and expose the writer. But you must, and I don't think,'
she lowered her eyes to the ground, 'you would hurt me by doing that.'
For a moment she was silent. Drake made no answer, and she raised her
eyes again to his face. 'You can disprove it--oh, of course,' she said,
with a little anxious laugh.

'That depends,' he answered slowly, 'upon how much the _Meteor_ knows.'

Clarice drew back and caught at the table to steady herself. Once or
twice she pressed her hand across her forehead. 'Oh, don't stand like
that,' she burst out, 'as if it was all true.'

'But they can't prove it's true,' exclaimed Drake, with a trace of
cunning in his voice. 'No; they can't prove it's true.'

'But is it?' Clarice stood in front of him, her hands clenched. Drake
dropped his eyes from her face, raised them again, and again lowered
them. 'Is it?' she repeated, and her voice rose to the tone of a demand.

'Yes,' and he answered her in a whisper.

Clarice recoiled from him with a cry of disgust. She noticed that he drew
a long breath--of relief, it seemed--like the criminal when his crime is
at last brought home to him. 'Then all that story,' she began, 'you told
me at Beaufort Gardens about--about Boruwimi was just meant to deceive
me. You talked about duty! Duty compelled you! You would have hanged
Gorley just the same had you known that he had been engaged to me.' She
began to laugh hysterically. 'It was all duty,--duty from beginning to
end, and I believed you. Heaven help me, I came to honour you for it. And
in reality it was a lie!' She lashed the words at him, but he stood
patiently, and made no rejoinder. 'I always wondered why you told me the
story,' she continued. 'You felt that I had a right to know, I remember.
And you felt bound to tell me. It's clear enough now why you felt bound.
You had found out, I suppose, that my husband knew--' She stopped
suddenly, as though some new thought had flashed into her mind. 'And I
came here to give up everything--just for your sake. Oh, suppose that I
hadn't found you out!'

She stooped and picked up from the floor the torn pages of the _Meteor_.
She folded them carefully and then moved towards the door. Drake opened
it and stood aside.

Clarice went out, called a hansom and drove home. When she arrived there
she ordered tea to be brought to the drawing-room and sat down and again
read the article in the _Meteor_. When the tea was brought, she ordered
it to be taken into Sidney's study. She walked restlessly about that
room, as though she was trying to habituate herself to it. A green shade
lay upon the writing-table, which her husband was accustomed to wear over
his eyes. She took it up, looked at it for a little, and then threw it
down again with an air of weariness and distaste. A few minutes later
Percy Conway called and was admitted.


Fielding opened his newspaper the next morning with unusual eagerness,
and, turning to the Parliamentary reports, glanced down column after
column in search of Drake's speech. The absence of it threw him into some
consternation. He tossed the newspaper on to the breakfast-table and rose
from his seat. As he moved, however, he caught sight of Drake's name at
the beginning of a leader, and he read the leader through. It dealt with
the accusation of the _Meteor_, and expressed considerable surprise that
Drake had not seized the opportunity of denying it in the House of
Commons. It was mentioned that Drake had not been seen there at any time
during the course of the evening.

Fielding jumped to the conclusion that he had met with an accident,
and set out for his chambers on the instant. He found Drake quietly
eating his breakfast. Only half the table, however, was laid for the
meal; the other half was littered with papers and correspondence,
while a pile of stamped letters stood on one corner. 'I was expecting
you,' said Drake quietly.

'Why, what on earth has happened?' asked Fielding. 'Why didn't you speak
last night?'

'I thought it would be the wisest plan to leave the matter alone.'

'But you can't,' exclaimed Fielding. 'Read this!' and he handed to him
the newspaper. 'You can't leave it alone.'

'I can, and shall,' replied Drake, and he returned to his breakfast.

'But, my dear fellow, you can't understand what that means! Read the
leader, then.' Drake glanced quickly down it. 'Now, do you understand? It
means utter ruin, utter disgrace, unless you answer this charge, and
answer it at once. You will have created a false enough impression
already.' Drake, however, made no response beyond a shrug of his
shoulders. 'But, good Lord, man,' continued Fielding, 'your name's at
stake. You can't sit quiet as if this was an irresponsible piece of
paragraph-writing. You would have to resign your seat in Parliament, your
connection with the Matanga Company--everything. You couldn't possibly
live in England.'

'Do you think I haven't counted up precisely what inaction is going to
cost me?' interrupted Drake. 'Look here!' and he took a couple of letters
from the pile and handed them to Fielding. One was addressed to the whip
of his party, and the other to the directors of the Matanga Concessions.
'And I leave Charing Cross at ten o'clock this morning.'

Fielding looked at his watch; it was half-past nine. 'Then you mean to
run away?' he gasped. 'But, in Heaven's name, why?'

'For an obvious reason. Yesterday I believed that I could meet the
charge. But something has happened since then, and I know now that I

Fielding started back. 'Do you mean to tell me, as man to man, that the
accusation's true.'

'As man to man,' repeated Drake steadily, 'I tell you that it is true.'

Fielding stared at him for a minute. Then he said, 'Drake, you're a
damned liar.'

'We haven't much time,' said Drake, 'and I would like to say something to
you about the future of the Matanga settlement. You will take my place, I
suppose. You can, and ought to'; and he entered at once into details on

The advice, however, was lost upon Fielding. Once he interrupted Drake.
'How many white men were with you on the Boruwimi expedition?' he asked.

'Four,' answered Drake, and he gave the names. 'They are dead, though.
Two died of fever on the way back; one was killed in a subsequent
expedition, and the fourth was drowned about eighteen months ago off
Walfisch Bay.' A noise of portmanteaux being dragged along the passage
penetrated through the closed door. Drake looked at his watch, and
started to his feet. 'I must be off,' he said; 'I am late as it is. You
might do something for me, and that is to post these letters.'

'But, man, you are not really going?'

Drake for answer put on his hat and took up his stick. 'Good-bye,' he

'But, look here! Do you ask me to believe that you would have been giving
me all this advice, if you had really done what that infernal paper makes
you out to have done?'

'I'll give you a final piece of advice too. Give up philandering and
get married!'

With that he opened the door and went out, and a few seconds later
Fielding heard the sound of his cab-wheels rattle on the pavement.

Drake, on reaching Charing Cross, found that he had more time to spare
than he had reckoned. He was walking slowly along the train in search of
an empty compartment when, from a window a few paces ahead of him, a face
flashed out, and as suddenly withdrew. The face was Conway's, and Drake
felt that the sudden withdrawal meant a distinct desire to avoid
recognition. He set the desire down to the unrepulsed attack of the
_Meteor_, and since he had no inclination to force his company upon
Conway, he turned on his heel and moved towards the other end of the
train. He was just opposite the archway of the booking-office when a
woman, heavily veiled and of a slight figure, came out of it. At the
sight of Drake she came to a dead stop, and so attracted his attention.
Then she quickly turned her back to him, walked to the bookstall, and
slipped round the side of it into the waiting-room. Drake wheeled about
again. Conway's head was stretched out of the window; and he was gazing
towards the bookstall.

Drake was in no doubt as to who the woman was, and he felt his heart turn
to stone. He walked quickly back until he reached Conway's compartment.
It was empty save for him, but there was a reserved label in the window.

'Holloa!' said Conway, awkwardly enough. 'Are you going by this train?
You had better find a seat if you are.'

'But I'm not,' said Drake; 'I thought of going, but I have changed my
mind.' He leaned against the door of the carriage chatting incessantly to
Conway, with an eye upon the waiting-room. Once he saw the woman appear
at the door, but she retired again. Meanwhile Conway's embarrassment
increased. He said 'Good-bye' to Drake at least half-a-dozen times, but
on each occasion Drake had something new to say to him. At last the
whistle sounded and the train began to move. 'I say,' cried Drake,
running along by the carriage. 'My luggage is in the van. You might bring
it back with you from Dover, if you will,' and he stood watching the
train until it disappeared under the shed.

Then he walked into the waiting-room. He saw Clarice seated in a
corner, and went straight to her. She noticed that his face was white
and set, and she rose with some instinct of defiance. 'I owe you an
apology,' he said abruptly. 'The _Meteor_ is untrue from the first word
to the last. I mean to stay in London, and fight it; yesterday
afternoon I told you lies.'

'Why?' she asked.

'Sheer lunacy,' said he; and he got into a cab and drove to the offices
of his solicitor.


Meanwhile Fielding picked up the pile of letters from the table in
Drake's chambers and went down into the street. He paused for a moment or
two at the pillar-box weighing the letters in his hand. Then he slipped
them into his pocket and hurried to Mrs. Willoughby's.

Mrs. Willoughby was moving restlessly about the drawing-room as he was
shown in. She turned impulsively towards him, holding out both hands. 'I
so hoped you would come,' she said. 'Well? You have seen him?'


'What does he mean to do?' she asked anxiously, taking from a chair a
copy of the _Meteor_.

'Nothing,' replied Fielding. 'He resigns his seat; he gives up his
directorship; he is leaving England.'

Mrs. Willoughby's first look was of sheer incredulity. 'It's impossible!'
she exclaimed.

'I have just returned from his chambers. He has started from Charing
Cross already.'

Mrs. Willoughby sat down in the window-seat, and her look of incredulity
gradually changed to one of comprehension. 'And he took such delight in
London,' she said, with a break in her voice; 'just like a schoolboy.'

Fielding nodded gloomily. 'I did my best to dissuade him,' he said. 'I
practically told him he was a coward to run away. But you know the man.
He had made up his mind not to face the charge. And yet I can't believe
it's true.'

'Believe it!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, with a hint of something
dangerously near to scorn in her voice.

'I know, I know,' answered Fielding. 'Still Drake pleads guilty. He
sacrifices everything, an established position, unusual
prospects--everything, by pleading guilty. You see, that's the point. He
has every imaginable inducement to make him face the accusation, even if
he has only the merest chance of winning, and yet he runs away. He runs
away--Drake does. There's only one inference--'

'For the world to draw,' interrupted Mrs. Willoughby; 'and doubtless he
meant the world to draw it. But you and I should know him better.'

'Yes,' Fielding admitted. 'Yes.' He began to walk about the room. 'But
what's the reason? Drake's action, if this statement is a libel, is the
action of a madman.'

'A madman? Yes! Don Quixote was mad even in his century,' replied Mrs.
Willoughby. 'I can give you the reason. Clarice was with him yesterday

'Yesterday?' said Fielding. 'Why, I walked home with Drake from the
City myself.'

'But you didn't go in with him.'

'No; I left him alone to arrange his speech. He meant to mention this
very charge.'

Mrs. Willoughby started to her feet. 'Then that settles it,' she said.
'Clarice was waiting for him in his rooms. Oh, if you had only gone in
with him! You remember what I wrote to you, that he would lie in the
mud if he thought it would save her. Well, that is what he has done.
Clarice came here this very morning and told me what had happened. She
went to his chambers, determined never to return to her husband,
prepared to sacrifice--I give you her words, not mine--to sacrifice
herself, her name, and for his sake. But when she showed him the
_Meteor_ her suspicions were aroused by his manner, and she forced the
truth out of him.'

Fielding gave a short, contemptuous laugh. 'Forced the truth out of him!
She actually told you that?'

'And what's more, she believes it. Oh the waste, the waste of a man like
that upon a doll like her. I suppose there's nothing to be done?'

'Nothing; if he won't defend himself, our defence won't carry any
weight,' he went on, with a change of tone. 'But I don't see what real
good he does, even to her. She goes back to her husband now, but next
month or next year there'll be somebody else.'

'Yes,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; 'but I hardly fancy Stephen Drake would
consider that. I believe he would feel that he had no right to speculate
on what may not happen. He would just see this one clear, definite,
immediate thing to do, and simply do it.' She spoke the sentence with a
slow emphasis upon each word, and Fielding moved uneasily. It seemed to
strike an accusation at him. He braced himself to make the same
confession to Mrs. Willoughby which he had made that afternoon before to
Drake. But, before he could speak it, Mrs. Willoughby put to him a
question. 'Tell me, did he seem to mind much?'

'No,' Fielding answered with an air of relief. His confession was
deferred, if only for a minute. 'He seemed cheerful enough. The last
thing he did,' and he paused for a second, 'was to give me advice about
the management of the Matanga Company.'

'That's so like him,' she said gently. Then she looked up with a start of
interest. 'You are going to take his place?' she asked.

'He said I ought to. I know more about it than the other directors. Of
course they mayn't appoint me, but I expect they will.' Mrs. Willoughby
was silent. She moved away from the window and stood by the fireplace.
Fielding crossed to her. 'Drake gave me one other piece of advice,' he
said hesitatingly,--'not about business. It concerned me and just one
other person.' He pitched the remark in an interrogative key.

Mrs. Willoughby glanced quickly towards him with just the hint of a smile
dimpling about the corners of her lips. Fielding found it very difficult
to go on, but there was one clear, definite, immediate thing for him to
do as well, he said. 'Before I act on it there is something I ought to
tell you.' He paused for a second, and the trouble in his voice perplexed
Mrs. Willoughby. 'Whom do you think Mallinson got his knowledge about
Gorley from?'

Mrs. Willoughby took a step forward. 'Whom? Why,' and she gave a little
anxious laugh, 'from Clarice, of course.'


Mrs. Willoughby looked at him for a moment in silence. Then she drew back
again. 'You told him?' she asked with a quiet wonder. 'Yes,' Fielding
nodded. 'But I only told you,' she said, 'because I wanted your advice.
What made you tell him? There must have been some reason, some good
reason, some necessity.'

'No; there was no necessity, no good reason, no reason at all,' Fielding
replied doggedly. 'I told him because--' he stopped abruptly; the reason
seemed too pitiful for him even to relate.

'Well, because?' asked Mrs. Willoughby. There was a note of hardness
in the utterance. Fielding raised his eyes and glanced at her face.
'It comes too late,' he said unconsciously, and he was thinking of
Drake's advice.

'The reason!' she insisted, taking no notice of the sentence. 'The

'I told Mallinson at the time when I was always meeting him here.'

Mrs. Willoughby gave a start. 'And because of that?' she cried.

'Yes,' said he. 'I thought the knowledge might give him a fairer,' he
changed the word, 'a better, chance with Clarice.'

'Oh, how mean!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, not so much in anger as in
absolute disappointment. She turned away from him, and stood for a little
looking out of the window. Then she said, 'Good-bye.'

And Fielding took his hat and left the house. He went down to the office,
and was told that Drake wanted to see him.

'Drake!' he exclaimed. He pushed open the door of Drake's private office,
and the latter looked up from his papers.

'You called me a damned liar this morning,' he said, 'and you were

Fielding dropped into a chair. 'What do you mean?'

'That there's not a word of truth in the _Meteor's_ charges, and I am
prosecuting the editor. Did you post those letters?'

Fielding pulled them out of his pocket and threw them on to the table.
'Thanks,' said Drake, 'that's fortunate.'

Fielding did not inquire into the cause of Drake's change of purpose, and
it was some while before he understood it. For Mrs. Willoughby held no
further discussions with him in the drawing-room at Knightsbridge.


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