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  • 1907
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friendly duty one owes.”

“I do not see Lord Mount Dunstan,” Betty answered. “Is he here?”

She had never denied to herself her interest in Mount Dunstan, and she had looked for him. Lord Dunholm hesitated a second, as his son had done at Miss Vanderpoel’s mention of the tabooed name. But, being an older man, he felt more at liberty to speak, and gave her a rather long kind look.

“My dear young lady,” he said, “did you expect to see him here?”

“Yes, I think I did,” Betty replied, with slow softness. “I believe I rather hoped I should.”

“Indeed! You are interested in him?”

“I know him very little. But I am interested. I will tell you why.”

She paused by a seat beneath a tree, and they sat down together. She gave, with a few swift vivid touches, a sketch of the red-haired second-class passenger on the Meridiana, of whom she had only thought that he was an unhappy, rough- looking young man, until the brief moment in which they had stood face to face, each comprehending that the other was to be relied on if the worst should come to the worst. She had understood his prompt disappearance from the scene, and had liked it. When she related the incident of her meeting with him when she thought him a mere keeper on his own lands, Lord Dunholm listened with a changed and thoughtful expression. The effect produced upon her imagination by what she had seen, her silent wandering through the sad beauty of the wronged place, led by the man who tried stiffly to bear himself as a servant, his unintended self-revelations, her clear, well-argued point of view charmed him. She had seen the thing set apart from its county scandal, and so had read possibilities others had been blind to. He was immensely touched by certain things she said about the First Man.

“He is one of them,” she said. “They find their way in the end–they find their way. But just now he thinks there is none. He is standing in the dark–where the roads meet.”

“You think he will find his way?” Lord Dunholm said. “Why do you think so? “

“Because I KNOW he will,” she answered. “But I cannot tell you WHY I know.”

“What you have said has been interesting to me, because of the light your own thought threw upon what you saw. It has not been Mount Dunstan I have been caring for, but for the light you saw him in. You met him without prejudice, and you carried the light in your hand. You always carry a light, my impression is,” very quietly. “Some women do.”

“The prejudice you speak of must be a bitter thing for a proud man to bear. Is it a just prejudice? What has he done?”

Lord Dunholm was gravely silent for a few moments.

“It is an extraordinary thing to reflect,”–his words came slowly–“that it may NOT be a just prejudice. _I_ do not know that he has done anything–but seem rather sulky, and be the son of his father, and the brother of his brother.”

“And go to America,” said Betty. “He could have avoided doing that–but he cannot be called to account for his relations. If that is all–the prejudice is NOT just.”

“No, it is not,” said Lord Dunholm, “and one feels rather awkward at having shared it. You have set me thinking again, Miss Vanderpoel.”

CHAPTER XXIX

THE THREAD OF G. SELDEN

The Shuttle having in its weaving caught up the thread of G. Selden’s rudimentary existence and drawn it, with the young man himself, across the sea, used curiously the thread in question, in the forming of the design of its huge web. As wool and coarse linen are sometimes interwoven with rich silk for decorative or utilitarian purposes, so perhaps was this previously unvalued material employed.

It was, indeed, an interesting truth that the young man, during his convalescence, without his own knowledge, acted as a species of magnet which drew together persons who might not easily otherwise have met. Mr. Penzance and Mount Dunstan rode over to see him every few days, and their visits naturally established relations with Stornham Court much more intimate than could have formed themselves in the same length of time under any of the ordinary circumstances of country life. Conventionalities lost their prominence in friendly intercourse with Selden. It was not, however, that he himself desired to dispense with convention. His intense wish to “do the right thing,” and avoid giving offence was the most ingenuous and touching feature of his broad cosmopolitan good nature.

“If I ever make a break, sir,” he had once said, with almost passionate fervour, in talking to Mr. Penzance, “please tell me, and set me on the right track. No fellow likes to look like a hoosier, but I don’t mind that half as much as–as seeming not to APPRECIATE.”

He used the word “appreciate” frequently. It expressed for him many degrees of thanks.

“I tell you that’s fine,” he said to Ughtred, who brought him a flower from the garden. “I appreciate that.”

To Betty he said more than once:

“You know how I appreciate all this, Miss Vanderpoel. You DO know I appreciate it, don’t you?”

He had an immense admiration for Mount Dunstan, and talked to him a great deal about America, often about the sheep ranch, and what it might have done and ought to have done. But his admiration for Mr. Penzance became affection. To him he talked oftener about England, and listened to the vicar’s scholarly stories of its history, its past glories and its present ones, as he might have listened at fourteen to stories from the Arabian Nights.

These two being frequently absorbed in conversation, Mount Dunstan was rather thrown upon Betty’s hands. When they strolled together about the place or sat under the deep shade of green trees, they talked not only of England and America, but of divers things which increased their knowledge of each other. It is points of view which reveal qualities, tendencies, and innate differences, or accordances of thought, and the points of view of each interested the other.

“Mr. Selden is asking Mr. Penzance questions about English history,” Betty said, on one of the afternoons in which they sat in the shade. “I need not ask you questions. You ARE English history.”

“And you are American history,” Mount Dunstan answered.

“I suppose I am.”

At one of their chance meetings Miss Vanderpoel had told Lord Dunholm and Lord Westholt something of the story of G. Selden. The novelty of it had delighted and amused them. Lord Dunholm had, at points, been touched as Penzance had been. Westholt had felt that he must ride over to Stornham to see the convalescent. He wanted to learn some New York slang.

He would take lessons from Selden, and he would also buy a Delkoff–two Delkoffs, if that would be better. He knew a hard-working fellow who ought to have a typewriter.

“Heath ought to have one,” he had said to his father. Heath was the house-steward. “Think of the letters the poor chap has to write to trades-people to order things, and un- order them, and blackguard the shopkeepers when they are not satisfactory. Invest in one for Heath, father.”

“It is by no means a bad idea,” Lord Dunholm reflected. “Time would be saved by the use of it, I have no doubt.”

“It saves time in any department where it can be used,” Betty had answered. “Three are now in use at Stornham, and I am going to present one to Kedgers. This is a testimonial I am offering. Three weeks ago I began to use the Delkoff. Since then I have used no other. If YOU use them you will introduce them to the county.”

She understood the feeling of the junior assistant, when he found himself in the presence of possible purchasers. Her blood tingled slightly. She wished she had brought a catalogue.

“We will come to Stornham to see the catalogue,” Lord Dunholm promised.

“Perhaps you will read it aloud to us,” Westholt suggested gleefully.

“G. Selden knows it by heart, and will repeat it to you with running comments. Do you know I shall be very glad if you decide to buy one–or two–or three,” with an uplift of the Irish blue eyes to Lord Dunholm. “The blood of the first Reuben Vanderpoel stirs in my veins–also I have begun to be fond of G. Selden.”

Therefore it occurred that on the afternoon referred to Lady Anstruthers appeared crossing the sward with two male visitors in her wake.

“Lord Dunholm and Lord Westholt,” said Betty, rising.

For this meeting between the men Selden was, without doubt, responsible. While his father talked to Mount Dunstan, Westholt explained that they had come athirst for the catalogue. Presently Betty took him to the sheltered corner of the lawn, where the convalescent sat with Mr. Penzance.

But, for a short time, Lord Dunholm remained to converse with Mount Dunstan. In a way the situation was delicate. To encounter by chance a neighbour whom one– for reasons–has not seen since his childhood, and to be equal to passing over and gracefully obliterating the intervening years, makes demand even upon finished tact. Lord Dunholm’s world had been a large one, and he had acquired experience tending to the development of the most perfect methods. If G. Selden had chanced to be the magnet which had decided his course this special afternoon, Miss Vanderpoel it was who had stirred in him sufficient interest in Mount Dunstan to cause him to use the best of these methods when he found himself face to face with him.

He beautifully eliminated the years, he eliminated all but the facts that the young man’s father and himself had been acquaintances in youth, that he remembered Mount Dunstan himself as a child, that he had heard with interest of his visit to America. Whatsoever the young man felt, he made no sign which presented obstacles. He accepted the eliminations with outward composure. He was a powerful-looking fellow, with a fine way of carrying his shoulders, and an eye which might be able to light savagely, but just now, at least, he showed nothing of the sulkiness he was accused of.

Lord Dunholm progressed admirably with him. He soon found that he need not be upon any strain with regard to the eliminations. The man himself could eliminate, which was an assistance.

They talked together when they turned to follow the others to the retreat of G. Selden.

“Have you bought a Delkoff?” Lord Dunholm inquired.

“If I could have afforded it, I should have bought one.”

“I think that we have come here with the intention of buying three. We did not know we required them until Miss Vanderpoel recited half a page of the catalogue to us.”

“Three will mean a `rake off’ of fifteen dollars to G. Selden,” said Mount Dunstan. It was, he saw, necessary that he should explain the meaning of a “rake off,” and he did so to his companion’s entertainment.

The afternoon was a satisfactory one. They were all kind to G. Selden, and he on his part was an aid to them. In his innocence he steered three of them, at least, through narrow places into an open sea of easy intercourse. This was a good beginning. The junior assistant was recovering rapidly, and looked remarkably well. The doctor had told him that he might try to use his leg. The inside cabin of the cheap Liner and “little old New York” were looming up before him. But what luck he had had, and what a holiday! It had been enough to set a fellow up for ten years’ work. It would set up the boys merely to be told about it. He didn’t know what HE had ever done to deserve such luck as had happened to him. For the rest of his life he would he waving the Union Jack alongside of the Stars and Stripes.

Mr. Penzance it was who suggested that he should try the strength of the leg now.

“Yes,” Mount Dunstan said. “Let me help you.”

As he rose to go to him, Westholt good-naturedly got up also. They took their places at either side of his invalid chair and assisted him to rise and stand on his feet.

“It’s all right, gentlemen. It’s all right,” he called out with a delighted flush, when he found himself upright. “I believe I could stand alone. Thank you. Thank you.”

He was able, leaning on Mount Dunstan’s arm, to take a few steps. Evidently, in a short time, he would find himself no longer disabled.

Mr. Penzance had invited him to spend a week at the vicarage. He was to do this as soon as he could comfortably drive from the one place to the other. After receiving the invitation he had sent secretly to London for one of the Delkoffs he had brought with him from America as a specimen. He cherished in private a plan of gently entertaining his host by teaching him to use the machine. The vicar would thus be prepared for that future in which surely a Delkoff must in some way fall into his hands. Indeed, Fortune having at length cast an eye on himself, might chance to favour him further, and in time he might be able to send a “high- class machine” as a grateful gift to the vicarage. Perhaps Mr. Penzance would accept it because he would understand what it meant of feeling and appreciation.

During the afternoon Lord Dunholm managed to talk a good deal with Mount Dunstan. There was no air of intention in his manner, nevertheless intention was concealed beneath its courteous amiability. He wanted to get at the man. Before they parted he felt he had, perhaps, learned things opening up new points of view.

. . . . .

In the smoking-room at Dunholm that night he and his son talked of their chance encounter. It seemed possible that mistakes had been made about Mount Dunstan. One did not form a definite idea of a man’s character in the course of an afternoon, but he himself had been impressed by a conviction that there had been mistakes.

“We are rather a stiff-necked lot–in the country–when we allow ourselves to be taken possession of by an idea,” Westholt commented.

“I am not at all proud of the way in which we have taken things for granted,” was his father’s summing up. “It is, perhaps, worth observing,” taking his cigar from his mouth and smiling at the end of it, as he removed the ash, “that, but for Miss Vanderpoel and G. Selden, we might never have had an opportunity of facing the fact that we may not have been giving fair play. And one has prided one’s self on one’s fair play.”

CHAPTER XXX

A RETURN

At the close of a long, warm afternoon Betty Vanderpoel came out upon the square stone terrace overlooking the gardens, and that part of the park which, enclosing them, caused them, as they melted into its greenness, to lose all limitations and appear to be only a more blooming bit of the landscape.

Upon the garden Betty’s eyes dwelt, as she stood still for some minutes taking in their effect thoughtfully.

Kedgers had certainly accomplished much. His close- trimmed lawns did him credit, his flower beds were flushed and azured, purpled and snowed with bloom. Sweet tall spires, hung with blue or white or rosy flower bells, lifted their heads above the colour of lower growths. Only the fervent affection, the fasting and prayer of a Kedgers could have done such wonders with new things and old. The old ones he had cherished and allured into a renewal of existence– the new ones he had so coaxed out of their earthen pots into the soil, luxuriously prepared for their reception, and had afterwards so nourished and bedewed with soft waterings, so supported, watched over and adored that they had been almost unconscious of their transplanting. Without assistants he could have done nothing, but he had been given a sufficient number of under gardeners, and had even managed to inspire them with something of his own ambition and solicitude. The result was before Betty’s eyes in an aspect which, to such as knew the gardens well,–the Dunholms, for instance,–was astonishing in its success.

“I’ve had privileges, miss, and so have the flowers,” Kedgers had said warmly, when Miss Vanderpoel had reported to him, for his encouragement, Dunholm Castle’s praise. “Not one of ’em has ever had to wait for his food and drink, nor to complain of his bed not being what he was accustomed to. They’ve not had to wait for rain, for we’ve given it to ’em from watering cans, and, thank goodness, the season’s been kind to ’em.”

Betty, descending the terrace steps, wandered down the paths between the flower beds, glancing about her as she went. The air of neglect and desolation had been swept away. Buttle and Tim Soames had been given as many privileges as Kedgers. The chief points impressed upon them had been that the work must be done, not only thoroughly, but quickly. As many additional workmen as they required, as much solid material as they needed, but there must be a despatch which at first it staggered them to contemplate. They had not known such methods before. They had been accustomed to work under money limitation throughout their lives, and, when work must be done with insufficient aid, it must be done slowly. Economy had been the chief factor in all calculations, speed had not entered into them, so leisureliness had become a fixed habit. But it seemed American to sweep leisureliness away into space with a free gesture.

“It must be done QUICKLY,” Miss Vanderpoel had said. “If ten men cannot do it quickly enough, you must have twenty–or as many more as are needed. It is time which must be saved just now.”

Time more than money, it appeared. Buttle’s experience had been that you might take time, if you did not charge for it. When time began to mean money, that was a different matter. If you did work by the job, you might drive in a few nails, loiter, and return without haste; if you worked by the hour, your absence would be inquired into. In the present case no one could loiter. That was realised early. The tall girl, with the deep straight look at you, made you realise that without spoken words. She expected energy something like her own. She was a new force and spurred them. No man knew how it was done, but, when she appeared among them–even in the afternoon–“lookin’ that womany,” holding up her thin dress over lace petticoats, the like of which had not been seen before, she looked on with just the same straight, expecting eyes. They did not seem to doubt in the least that she would find that great advance had been made.

So advance had been made, and work accomplished. As Betty walked from one place to another she saw the signs of it with gratification. The place was not the one she had come to a few months ago. Hothouses, outbuildings, stables were in repair. Work was still being done in different places. In the house itself carpenters or decorators were enclosed in some rooms, and at their business, but exterior order prevailed. In the courtyard stablemen were at work, and her own groom came forward touching his forehead. She paid a visit to the horses. They were fine creatures, and, when she entered their stalls, made room for her and whinnied gently, in well-founded expectation of sugar and bread which were kept in a cupboard awaiting her visits. She smoothed velvet noses and patted satin sides, talking to Mason a little before she went her way.

Then she strolled into the park. The park was always a pleasure. She was in a thoughtful mood, and the soft green shadowed silence lured her. The summer wind hus-s-shed the branches as it lightly waved them, the brown earth of the avenue was sun-dappled, there were bird notes and calls to be heard here and there and everywhere, if one only arrested one’s attention a moment to listen. And she was in a listening and dreaming mood–one of the moods in which bird, leaf, and wind, sun, shade, and scent of growing things have part.

And yet her thoughts were of mundane things.

It was on this avenue that G. Selden had met with his accident. He was still at Dunstan vicarage, and yesterday Mount Dunstan, in calling, had told them that Mr. Penzance was applying himself with delighted interest to a study of the manipulation of the Delkoff.

The thought of Mount Dunstan brought with it the thought of her father. This was because there was frequently in her mind a connection between the two. How would the man of schemes, of wealth, and power almost unbounded, regard the man born with a load about his neck–chained to earth by it, standing in the midst of his hungering and thirsting possessions, his hands empty of what would feed them and restore their strength? Would he see any solution of the problem? She could imagine his looking at the situation through his gaze at the man, and considering both in his summing up.

“Circumstances and the man,” she had heard him say. “But always the man first.”

Being no visionary, he did not underestimate the power of circumstance. This Betty had learned from him. And what could practically be done with circumstance such as this? The question had begun to recur to her. What could she herself have done in the care of Rosy and Stornham, if chance had not placed in her hand the strongest lever? What she had accomplished had been easy–easy. All that had been required had been the qualities which control of the lever might itself tend to create in one. Given–by mere chance again–imagination and initiative, the moving of the lever did the rest. If chance had not been on one’s side, what then? And where was this man’s chance? She had said to Rosy, in speaking of the wealth of America, “Sometimes one is tired of it.” And Rosy had reminded her that there were those who were not tired of it, who could bear some of the burden of it, if it might be laid on their own shoulders. The great beautiful, blind-faced house, awaiting its slow doom in the midst of its lonely unfed lands–what could save it, and all it represented of race and name, and the stately history of men, but the power one professed to call base and sordid–mere money? She felt a sudden impatience at herself for having said she was tired of it. That was a folly which took upon itself the aspect of an affectation.

And, if a man could not earn money–or go forth to rob richer neighbours of it as in the good old marauding days– or accept it if it were offered to him as a gift–what could he do? Nothing. If he had been born a village labourer, he could have earned by the work of his hands enough to keep his cottage roof over him, and have held up his head among his fellows. But for such as himself there was no mere labour which would avail. He had not that rough honest resource. Only the decent living and orderly management of the generations behind him would have left to him fairly his own chance to hold with dignity the place in the world into which Fate had thrust him at the outset–a blind, newborn thing of whom no permission had been asked.

“If I broke stones upon the highway for twelve hours a day, I might earn two shillings,” he had said to Betty, on the previous day. “I could break stones well,” holding out a big arm, “but fourteen shillings a week will do no more than buy bread and bacon for a stonebreaker.”

He was ordinarily rather silent and stiff in his conversational attitude towards his own affairs. Betty sometimes wondered how she herself knew so much about them–how it happened that her thoughts so often dwelt upon them. The explanation she had once made to herself had been half irony, half serious reflection.

“It is a result of the first Reuben Vanderpoel. It is because I am of the fighting commercial stock, and, when I see a business problem, I cannot leave it alone, even when it is no affair of mine.”

As an exposition of the type of the commercial fighting-stock she presented, as she paused beneath overshadowing trees, an aspect beautifully suggesting a far different thing.

She stood–all white from slim shoe to tilted parasol,–and either the result of her inspection of the work done by her order, or a combination of her summer-day mood with her feeling for the problem, had given her a special radiance. It glowed on lip and cheek, and shone in her Irish eyes.

She had paused to look at a man approaching down the avenue. He was not a labourer, and she did not know him. Men who were not labourers usually rode or drove, and this one was walking. He was neither young nor old, and, though at a distance his aspect was not attracting, she found that she regarded him curiously, and waited for him to draw nearer.

The man himself was glancing about him with a puzzled look and knitted forehead. When he had passed through the village he had seen things he had not expected to see; when he had reached the entrance gate, and–for reasons of his own –dismissed his station trap, he had looked at the lodge scrutinisingly, because he was not prepared for its picturesque trimness. The avenue was free from weeds and in order, the two gates beyond him were new and substantial. As he went on his way and reached the first, he saw at about a hundred yards distance a tall girl in white standing watching him. Things which were not easily explainable always irritated him. That this place–which was his own affair–should present an air of mystery, did not improve his humour, which was bad to begin with. He had lately been passing through unpleasant things, which had left him feeling himself tricked and made ridiculous–as only women can trick a man and make him ridiculous, he had said to himself. And there had been an acrid consolation in looking forward to the relief of venting one’s self on a woman who dare not resent.

“What has happened, confound it!” he muttered, when he caught sight of the girl. “Have we set up a house party?” And then, as he saw more distinctly, “Damn! What a figure!”

By this time Betty herself had begun to see more clearly. Surely this was a face she remembered–though the passing of years and ugly living had thickened and blurred, somewhat, its always heavy features. Suddenly she knew it, and the look in its eyes–the look she had, as a child, unreasoningly hated.

Nigel Anstruthers had returned from his private holiday.

As she took a few quiet steps forward to meet him, their eyes rested on each other. After a night or two in town his were slightly bloodshot, and the light in them was not agreeable.

It was he who spoke first, and it is possible that he did not quite intend to use the expletive which broke from him. But he was remembering things also. Here were eyes he, too, had seen before–twelve years ago in the face of an objectionable, long-legged child in New York. And his own hatred of them had been founded in his own opinion on the best of reasons. And here they gazed at him from the face of a young beauty–for a beauty she was.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed; “it is Betty.”

“Yes,” she answered, with a faint, but entirely courteous, smile. “It is. I hope you are very well.”

She held out her hand. “A delicious hand,” was what he said to himself, as he took it. And what eyes for a girl to have in her head were those which looked out at him between shadows. Was there a hint of the devil in them? He thought so–he hoped so, since she had descended on the place in this way. But WHAT the devil was the meaning of her being on the spot at all? He was, however, far beyond the lack of astuteness which might have permitted him to express this last thought at this particular juncture. He was only betrayed into stupid mistakes, afterwards to be regretted, when rage caused him utterly to lose control of his wits. And, though he was startled and not exactly pleased, he was not in a rage now. The eyelashes and the figure gave an agreeable fillip to his humour. Howsoever she had come, she was worth looking at.

“How could one expect such a delightful thing as this?” he said, with a touch of ironic amiability. “It is more than one deserves.”

“It is very polite of you to say that,” answered Betty.

He was thinking rapidly as he stood and gazed at her. There were, in truth, many things to think of under circumstances so unexpected.

“May I ask you to excuse my staring at you?” he inquired with what Rosy had called his “awful, agreeable smile.” “When I saw you last you were a fierce nine-year-old American child. I use the word `fierce’ because–if you’ll pardon my saying so–there was a certain ferocity about you.”

“I have learned at various educational institutions to conceal it,” smiled Betty.

“May I ask when you arrived?”

“A short time after you went abroad.”

“Rosalie did not inform me of your arrival.”

“She did not know your address. You had forgotten to leave it.”

He had made a mistake and realised it. But she presented to him no air of having observed his slip. He paused a few seconds, still regarding her and still thinking rapidly. He recalled the mended windows and roofs and palings in the village, the park gates and entrance. Who the devil had done all that? How could a mere handsome girl be concerned in it? And yet–here she was.

“When I drove through the village,” he said next, “I saw that some remarkable changes had taken place on my property. I feel as if you can explain them to me.”

“I hope they are changes which meet with your approval.”

“Quite–quite,” a little curtly. “Though I confess they mystify me. Though I am the son-in-law of an American multimillionaire, I could not afford to make such repairs myself.”

A certain small spitefulness which was his most frequent undoing made it impossible for him to resist adding the innuendo in his last sentence. And again he saw it was a folly. The impersonal tone of her reply simply left him where he had placed himself.

“We were sorry not to be able to reach you. As it seemed well to begin the work at once, we consulted Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard.”

“We?” he repeated. “Am I to have the pleasure,” with a slight wryness of the mouth, “of finding Mr. Vanderpoel also at Stornham?”

“No–not yet. As I was on the spot, I saw your solicitors and asked their advice and approval–for my father. If he had known how necessary the work was, it would have been done before, for Ughtred’s sake.”

Her voice was that of a person who, in stating obvious facts, provides no approach to enlightening comment upon them. And there was in her manner the merest gracious impersonality.

“Do I understand that Mr. Vanderpoel employed someone to visit the place and direct the work?”

“It was really not difficult to direct. It was merely a matter of engaging labour and competent foremen.”

An odd expression rose in his eyes.

“You suggest a novel idea, upon my word,” he said. “Is it possible–you see I know something of America–is it possible I must thank YOU for the working of this magic?”

“You need not thank me,” she said, rather slowly, because it was necessary that she also should think of many things at once. “I could not have helped doing it.”

She wished to make all clear to him before he met Rosy. She knew it was not unnatural that the unexpectedness of his appearance might deprive Lady Anstruthers of presence of mind. Instinct told her that what was needed in intercourse with him was, above all things, presence of mind.

“I will tell you about it,” she said. “We will walk slowly up and down here, if you do not object.”

He did not object. He wanted to hear the story as he could not hear it from his nervous little fool of a wife, who would be frightened into forgetting things and their sequence. What he meant to discover was where he stood in the matter–where his father-in-law stood, and, rather specially, to have a chance to sum up the weaknesses and strengths of the new arrival. That would be to his interest. In talking this thing over she would unconsciously reveal how much vanity or emotion or inexperience he might count upon as factors safe to use in one’s dealings with her in the future.

As he listened he was supported by the fact that he did not lose consciousness of the eyes and the figure. But for these it is probable that he would have gone blind with fury at certain points which forced themselves upon him. The first was that there had been an absurd and immense expenditure which would simply benefit his son and not himself. He could not sell or borrow money on what had been given. Apparently the place had been re-established on a footing such as it had not rested upon during his own generation, or his father’s. As he loathed life in the country, it was not he who would enjoy its luxury, but his wife and her child. The second point was that these people–this girl–had somehow had the sharpness to put themselves in the right, and to place him in a position at which he could not complain without putting himself in the wrong. Public opinion would say that benefits had been heaped upon him, that the correct thing had been done correctly with the knowledge and approval of the legal advisers of his family. It had been a masterly thing, that visit to Townlinson & Sheppard. He was obliged to aid his self-control by a glance at the eyelashes. She was a new sort of girl, this Betty, whose childhood he had loathed, and, to his jaded taste, novelty appealed enormously. Her attraction for him was also added to by the fact that he was not at all sure that there was not combined with it a pungent spice of the old detestation. He was repelled as well as allured. She represented things which he hated. First, the mere material power, which no man can bully, whatsoever his humour. It was the power he most longed for and, as he could not hope to possess it, most sneered at and raged against. Also, as she talked, it was plain that her habit of self-control and her sense of resource would be difficult to deal with. He was a survival of the type of man whose simple creed was that women should not possess resources, as when they possessed them they could rarely be made to behave themselves.

But while he thought these things, he walked by her side and both listened and talked smiling the agreeable smile.

“You will pardon my dull bewilderment,” he said. “It is not unnatural, is it–in a mere outsider?”

And Betty, with the beautiful impersonal smile, said:

“We felt it so unfortunate that even your solicitors did not know your address.”

When, at length, they turned and strolled towards the house, a carriage was drawing up before the door, and at the sight of it, Betty saw her companion slightly lift his eyebrows. Lady Anstruthers had been out and was returning. The groom got down from the box, and two men-servants appeared upon the steps. Lady Anstruthers descended, laughing a little as she talked to Ughtred, who had been with her. She was dressed in clear, pale grey, and the soft rose lining of her parasol warmed the colour of her skin.

Sir Nigel paused a second and put up his glass.

“Is that my wife?” he said. “Really! She quite recalls New York.”

The agreeable smile was on his lips as he hastened forward. He always more or less enjoyed coming upon Rosalie suddenly. The obvious result was a pleasing tribute to his power.

Betty, following him, saw what occurred.

Ughtred saw him first, and spoke quick and low.

“Mother!” he said.

The tone of his voice was evidently enough. Lady Anstruthers turned with an unmistakable start. The rose lining of her parasol ceased to warm her colour. In fact, the parasol itself stepped aside, and she stood with a blank, stiff, white face.

“My dear Rosalie,” said Sir Nigel, going towards her. “You don’t look very glad to see me.”

He bent and kissed her quite with the air of a devoted husband. Knowing what the caress meant, and seeing Rosy’s face as she submitted to it, Betty felt rather cold. After the conjugal greeting he turned to Ughtred.

“You look remarkably well,” he said.

Betty came forward.

“We met in the park, Rosy,” she explained. “We have been talking to each other for half an hour.”

The atmosphere which had surrounded her during the last three months had done much for Lady Anstruthers’ nerves. She had the power to recover herself. Sir Nigel himself saw this when she spoke.

“I was startled because I was not expecting to see you,” she said. “I thought you were still on the Riviera. I hope you had a pleasant journey home.”

“I had an extraordinarily pleasant surprise in finding your sister here,” he answered. And they went into the house.

In descending the staircase on his way to the drawing-room before dinner, Sir Nigel glanced about him with interested curiosity. If the village had been put in order, something more had been done here. Remembering the worn rugs and the bald- headed tiger, he lifted his brows. To leave one’s house in a state of resigned dilapidation and return to find it filled with all such things as comfort combined with excellent taste might demand, was an enlivening experience–or would have been so under some circumstances. As matters stood, perhaps, he might have felt better pleased if things had been less well done. But they were very well done. They had managed to put themselves in the right in this also. The rich sobriety of colour and form left no opening for supercilious comment–which was a neat weapon it was annoying to be robbed of.

The drawing-room was fresh, brightly charming, and full of flowers. Betty was standing before an open window with her sister. His wife’s shoulders, he observed at once, had absolutely begun to suggest contours. At all events, her bones no longer stuck out. But one did not look at one’s wife’s shoulders when one could turn from them to a fairness of velvet and ivory. “You know,” he said, approaching them, “I find all this very amazing. I have been looking out of my window on to the gardens.”

“It is Betty who has done it all,” said Rosy.

“I did not suspect you of doing it, my dear Rosalie,” smiling. “When I saw Betty standing in the avenue, I knew at once that it was she who had mended the chimney-pots in the village and rehung the gates.”

For the present, at least, it was evident that he meant to be sufficiently amiable. At the dinner table he was conversational and asked many questions, professing a natural interest in what had been done. It was not difficult to talk to a girl whose eyes and shoulders combined themselves with a quick wit and a power to attract which he reluctantly owned he had never seen equalled. His reluctance arose from the fact that such a power complicated matters. He must be on the defensive until he knew what she was going to do, what he must do himself, and what results were probable or possible. He had spent his life in intrigue of one order or another. He enjoyed outwitting people and rather preferred to attain an end by devious paths. He began every acquaintance on the defensive. His argument was that you never knew how things would turn out, consequently, it was as well to conduct one’s self at the outset with the discreet forethought of a man in the presence of an enemy. He did not know how things would turn out in Betty’s case, and it was a little confusing to find one’s self watching her with a sense of excitement. He would have preferred to be cool–to be cold–and he realised that he could not keep his eyes off her.

“I remember, with regret,” he said to her later in the evening, “that when you were a child we were enemies.”

“I am afraid we were,” was Betty’s impartial answer.

“I am sure it was my fault,” he said. “Pray forget it. Since you have accomplished such wonders, will you not, in the morning, take me about the place and explain to me how it has been done?”

When Betty went to her room she dismissed her maid as soon as possible, and sat for some time alone and waiting. She had had no opportunity to speak to Rosy in private, and she was sure she would come to her. In the course of half an hour she heard a knock at the door.

Yes, it was Rosy, and her newly-born colour had fled and left her looking dragged again. She came forward and dropped into a low chair near Betty, letting her face fall into her hands.

“I’m very sorry, Betty,” she half whispered, “but it is no use.”

“What is no use?” Betty asked.

“Nothing is any use. All these years have made me such a coward. I suppose I always was a coward, but in the old days there never was anything to be afraid of.”

“What are you most afraid of now?”

“I don’t know. That is the worst. I am afraid of HIM– just of himself–of the look in his eyes–of what he may be planning quietly. My strength dies away when he comes near me.”

“What has he said to you?” she asked.

“He came into my dressing-room and sat and talked. He looked about from one thing to another and pretended to admire it all and congratulated me. But though he did not sneer at what he saw, his eyes were sneering at me. He talked about you. He said that you were a very clever woman. I don’t know how he manages to imply that a very clever woman is something cunning and debased–but it means that when he says it.

It seems to insinuate things which make one grow hot all over.”

She put out a hand and caught one of Betty’s.

“Betty, Betty,” she implored. “Don’t make him angry. Don’t.”

“I am not going to begin by making him angry,” Betty said. “And I do not think he will try to make me angry– at first.”

“No, he will not,” cried Rosalie. “And–and you remember what I told you when first we talked about him?”

“And do you remember,” was Betty’s answer, “what I said to you when I first met you in the park? If we were to cable to New York this moment, we could receive an answer in a few hours.”

“He would not let us do it,” said Rosy. “He would stop us in some way–as he stopped my letters to mother–as he stopped me when I tried to run away. Oh, Betty, I know him and you do not.”

“I shall know him better every day. That is what I must do. I must learn to know him. He said something more to you than you have told me, Rosy. What was it?”

“He waited until Detcham left me,” Lady Anstruthers confessed, more than half reluctantly. “And then he got up to go away, and stood with his hands resting on the chairback, and spoke to me in a low, queer voice. He said, `Don’t try to play any tricks on me, my good girl–and don’t let your sister try to play any. You would both have reason to regret it.’ “

She was a half-hypnotised thing, and Betty, watching her with curious but tender eyes, recognised the abnormality.

“Ah, if I am a clever woman,” she said, “he is a clever man. He is beginning to see that his power is slipping away. That was what G. Selden would call `bluff.’ “

CHAPTER XXXI

NO, SHE WOULD NOT

Sir Nigel did not invite Rosalie to accompany them, when the next morning, after breakfast, he reminded Betty of his suggestion of the night before, that she should walk over the place with him, and show him what had been done. He preferred to make his study of his sister-in-law undisturbed.

There was no detail whose significance he missed as they went about together. He had keen eyes and was a quite sufficiently practical person on such matters as concerned his own interests. In this case it was to his interest to make up his mind as to what he might gain or lose by the appearance of his wife’s family. He did not mean to lose–if it could be helped– anything either of personal importance or material benefit. And it could only be helped by his comprehending clearly what he had to deal with. Betty was, at present, the chief factor in the situation, and he was sufficiently astute to see that she might not be easy to read. His personal theories concerning women presented to him two or three effective ways of managing them. You made love to them, you flattered them either subtly or grossly, you roughly or smoothly bullied them, or you harrowed them with haughty indifference–if your love-making had produced its proper effect–when it was necessary to lure or drive or trick them into submission. Women should be made useful in one way or another. Little fool as she was, Rosalie had been useful. He had, after all was said and done, had some comparatively easy years as the result of her existence. But she had not been useful enough, and there had even been moments when he had wondered if he had made a mistake in separating her entirely from her family. There might have been more to be gained if he had allowed them to visit her and had played the part of a devoted husband in their presence. A great bore,

of course, but they could not have spent their entire lives at Stornham. Twelve years ago, however, he had known very little of Americans, and he had lost his temper. He was really very fond of his temper, and rather enjoyed referring to it with tolerant regret as being a bad one and beyond his control–with a manner which suggested that the attribute was the inevitable result of strength of character and masculine spirit. The luxury of giving way to it was a great one, and it was exasperating as he walked about with this handsome girl to find himself beginning to suspect that, where she was concerned, some self- control might be necessary. He was led to this thought because the things he took in on all sides could only have been achieved by a person whose mind was a steadily-balanced thing. In one’s treatment of such a creature, methods must be well chosen. The crudest had sufficed to overwhelm Rosalie. He tried two or three little things as experiments during their walk.

The first was to touch with dignified pathos on the subject of Ughtred. Betty, he intimated gently, could imagine what a man’s grief and disappointment might be on finding his son and heir deformed in such a manner. The delicate reserve with which he managed to convey his fear that Rosalie’s own uncontrolled hysteric attacks had been the cause of the misfortune was very well done. She had, of course, been very young and much spoiled, and had not learned self-restraint, poor girl.

It was at this point that Betty first realised a certain hideous thing. She must actually remain silent–there would be at the outset many times when she could only protect her sister by refraining from either denial or argument. If she turned upon him now with refutation, it was Rosy who would be called upon to bear the consequences. He would go at once to Rosy, and she herself would have done what she had said she would not do–she would have brought trouble upon the poor girl before she was strong enough to bear it. She suspected also that his intention was to discover how much she had heard, and if she might be goaded into betraying her attitude in the matter.

But she was not to be so goaded. He watched her closely and her very colour itself seemed to be under her own control. He had expected–if she had heard hysteric, garbled stories from his wife–to see a flame of scarlet leap up on the cheek he was admiring. There was no such leap, which was baffling in itself. Could it be that experience had taught Rosalie the discretion of keeping her mouth shut?

“I am very fond of Ughtred,” was the sole comment he was granted. “We made friends from the first. As he grows older and stronger, his misfortune may be less apparent. He will be a very clever man.”

“He will be a very clever man if he is at all like—-” He checked himself with a slight movement of his shoulders. “I was going to say a thing utterly banal. I beg your pardon. I forgot for the moment that I was not talking to an English girl.”

It was so stupid that she turned and looked at him, smiling faintly. But her answer was quite mild and soft.

“Do not deprive me of compliments because I am a mere American,” she said. “I am very fond of them, and respond at once.”

“You are very daring,” he said, looking straight into her eyes–“deliciously so. American women always are, I think.”

“The young devil,” he was saying internally. “The beautiful young devil! She throws one off the track.”

He found himself more and more attracted and exasperated as they made their rounds. It was his sense of being attracted which was the cause of his exasperation. A girl who could stir one like this would be a dangerous enemy. Even as a friend she would not be safe, because one faced the absurd peril of losing one’s head a little and forgetting the precautions one should never lose sight of where a woman was concerned–the precautions which provided for one’s holding a good taut rein in one’s own hands.

They went from gardens to greenhouses, from greenhouses to stables, and he was on the watch for the moment when she would reveal some little feminine pose or vanity, but, this morning, at least, she laid none bare. She did not strike him as a being of angelic perfections, but she was very modern and not likely to show easily any openings in her armour.

“Of course, I continue to be amazed,” he commented, “though one ought not to be amazed at anything which evolves from your extraordinary country. In spite of your impersonal air, I shall persist in regarding you as my benefactor. But, to be frank, I always told Rosalie that if she would write to your father he would certainly put things in order.”

“She did write once, you will remember,” answered Betty.

“Did she?” with courteous vagueness. “Really, I am afraid I did not hear of it. My poor wife has her own little ideas about the disposal of her income.”

And Betty knew that she was expected to believe that Rosy had hoarded the money sent to restore the place, and from sheer weak miserliness had allowed her son’s heritage to fall to ruin. And but for Rosy’s sake, she might have stopped upon the path and, looking at him squarely, have said, “You are lying to me. And I know the truth.”

He continued to converse amiably.

“Of course, it is you one must thank, not only for rousing in the poor girl some interest in her personal appearance, but also some interest in her neighbours. Some women, after they marry and pass girlhood, seem to release their hold on all desire to attract or retain friends. For years Rosalie has given herself up to a chronic semi-invalidism. When the mistress of a house is always depressed and languid and does not return visits, neighbours become discouraged and drop off, as it were.”

If his wife had told stories to gain her sympathy his companion would be sure to lose her temper and show her hand. If he could make her openly lose her temper, he would have made an advance.

“One can quite understand that,” she said. “It is a great happiness to me to see Rosy gaining ground every day. She has taken me out with her a good many times, and people are beginning to realise that she likes to see them at Stornham.”

“You are very delightful,” he said, “with your `She has taken me out.’ When I glanced at the magnificent array of cards on the salver in the hall, I realised a number of things, and quite vulgarly lost my breath. The Dunholms have been very amiable in recalling our existence. But charming Americans–of your order–arouse amiable emotions.”

“I am very amiable myself,” said Betty.

It was he who flushed now. He was losing patience at feeling himself held with such lightness at arm’s length, and at being, in spite of himself, somehow compelled to continue to assume a jocular courtesy.

“No, you are not,” he answered.

“Not?” repeated Betty, with an incredulous lifting of her brows.

“You are charming and clever, but I rather suspect you of being a vixen. At all events you are a spirited young woman and quick-witted enough to understand the attraction you must have for the sordid herd.”

And then he became aware–if not of an opening in her armour–at least of a joint in it. For he saw, near her ear, a deepening warmth. That was it. She was quick-witted, and she hid somewhere a hot pride.

“I confess, however,” he proceeded cheerfully, “that notwithstanding my own experience of the habits of the sordid herd, I saw one card I was surprised to find, though really” –shrugging his shoulders–“I ought to have been less surprised to find it than to find any other. But it was bold. I suppose the fellow is desperate.”

“You are speaking of—-?” suggested Betty.

“Of Mount Dunstan. Hang it all, it WAS bold!” As if in half-amused disgust.

As she had walked through the garden paths, Betty had at intervals bent and gathered a flower, until she held in one hand a loose, fair sheaf. At this moment she stooped to break off a spire of pale blue campanula. And she was–as with a shock –struck with a consciousness that she bent because she must– because to do so was a refuge–a concealment of something she must hide. It had come upon her without a second’s warning. Sir Nigel was right. She was a vixen–a virago. She was in such a rage that her heart sprang up and down and her cheek and eyes were on fire. Her long-trained control of herself was gone. And her shock was a lightning-swift awakening to the fact that she felt all this–she must hide her face–because it was this one man–just this one and no other–who was being dragged into this thing with insult.

It was an awakening, and she broke off, rather slowly, one– two–three–even four campanula stems before she stood upright again.

As for Nigel Anstruthers–he went on talking in his low- pitched, disgusted voice.

“Surely he might count himself out of the running. There will be a good deal of running, my dear Betty. You fair Americans have learned that by this time. But that a man who has not even a decent name to offer–who is blackballed by his county–should coolly present himself as a pretendant is an insolence he should be kicked for.”

Betty arranged her campanulas carefully. There was no exterior reason why she should draw sword in Lord Mount Dunstan’s defence. He had certainly not seemed to expect anything intimately interested from her. His manner she had generally felt to be rather restrained. But one could, in a measure, express one’s self.

“Whatsoever the `running,’ ” she remarked, “no pretendant has complimented me by presenting himself, so far–and Lord Mount Dunstan is physically an unusually strong man.”

“You mean it would be difficult to kick him? Is this partisanship? I hope not. Am I to understand,” he added with deliberation, “that Rosalie has received him here?”

“Yes.”

“And that you have received him, also–as you have received Lord Westholt?”

“Quite.”

“Then I must discuss the matter with Rosalie. It is not to be discussed with you.”

“You mean that you will exercise your authority in the matter?”

“In England, my dear girl, the master of a house is still sometimes guilty of exercising authority in matters which concern the reputation of his female relatives. In the absence of your father, I shall not allow you, while you are under my roof, to endanger your name in any degree. I am, at least, your brother by marriage. I intend to protect you.”

“Thank you,” said Betty.

“You are young and extremely handsome, you will have an enormous fortune, and you have evidently had your own way all your life. A girl, such as you are, may either make a magnificent marriage or a ridiculous and humiliating one. Neither American young women, nor English young men, are as disinterested as they were some years ago. Each has begun to learn what the other has to give.”

“I think that is true,” commented Betty.

“In some cases there is a good deal to be exchanged on both sides. You have a great deal to give, and should get exchange worth accepting. A beggared estate and a tainted title are not good enough.”

“That is businesslike,” Betty made comment again.

Sir Nigel laughed quietly.

“The fact is–I hope you won’t misunderstand my saying it–you do not strike me as being UN-businesslike, yourself.”

“I am not,” answered Betty.

“I thought not,” rather narrowing his eyes as he watched her, because he believed that she must involuntarily show her hand if he irritated her sufficiently. “You do not impress me as being one of the girls who make unsuccessful marriages. You are a modern New York beauty–not an early Victorian sentimentalist.” He did not despair of results from his process of irritation. To gently but steadily convey to a beautiful and spirited young creature that no man could approach her without ulterior motive was rather a good idea. If one could make it clear–with a casual air of sensibly taking it for granted– that the natural power of youth, wit, and beauty were rendered impotent by a greatness of fortune whose proportions obliterated all else; if one simply argued from the premise that young love was no affair of hers, since she must always be regarded as a gilded chattel, whose cost was writ large in plain figures, what girl, with blood in her veins, could endure it long without wincing? This girl had undue, and, as he regarded such matters, unseemly control over her temper and her nerves, but she had blood enough in her veins, and presently she would say or do something which would give him a lead.

“When you marry—-” he began.

She lifted her head delicately, but ended the sentence for him with eyes which were actually not unsmiling.

“When I marry, I shall ask something in exchange for what I have to give.”

“If the exchange is to be equal, you must ask a great deal,” he answered. “That is why you must be protected from such fellows as Mount Dunstan.”

“If it becomes necessary, perhaps I shall be able to protect myself,” she said.

“Ah!” regretfully, “I am afraid I have annoyed you– and that you need protection more than you suspect.” If she were flesh and blood, she could scarcely resist resenting the implication contained in this. But resist it she did, and with a cool little smile which stirred him to sudden, if irritated, admiration.

She paused a second, and used the touch of gentle regret herself.

“You have wounded my vanity by intimating that my admirers do not love me for myself alone.”

He paused, also, and, narrowing his eyes again, looked straight between her lashes.

“They ought to love you for yourself alone,” he said, in a low voice. “You are a deucedly attractive girl.”

“Oh, Betty,” Rosy had pleaded, “don’t make him angry –don’t make him angry.”

So Betty lifted her shoulders slightly without comment.

“Shall we go back to the house now?” she said. “Rosalie will naturally be anxious to hear that what has been done in your absence has met with your approval.”

In what manner his approval was expressed to Rosalie, Betty did not hear this morning, at least. Externally cool though she had appeared, the process had not been without its results, and she felt that she would prefer to be alone.

“I must write some letters to catch the next steamer,” she said, as she went upstairs.

When she entered her room, she went to her writing table and sat down, with pen and paper before her. She drew the paper towards her and took up the pen, but the next moment she laid it down and gave a slight push to the paper. As she did so she realised that her hand trembled.

“I must not let myself form the habit of falling into rages–or I shall not be able to keep still some day, when I ought to do it,” she whispered. “I am in a fury–a fury.” And for a moment she covered her face.

She was a strong girl, but a girl, notwithstanding her powers. What she suddenly saw was that, as if by one movement of some powerful unseen hand, Rosy, who had been the centre of all things, had been swept out of her thought. Her anger at the injustice done to Rosy had been as nothing before the fire which had flamed in her at the insult flung at the other. And all that was undue and unbalanced. One might as well look the thing straightly in the face. Her old child hatred of Nigel Anstruthers had sprung up again in ten-fold strength. There was, it was true, something abominable about him, something which made his words more abominable than they would have been if another man had uttered them–but, though it was inevitable that his method should rouse one, where those of one’s own blood were concerned, it was not enough to fill one with raging flame when his malignity was dealing with those who were almost strangers. Mount Dunstan was almost a stranger–she had met Lord Westholt oftener. Would she have felt the same hot beat of the blood, if Lord Westholt had been concerned? No, she answered herself frankly, she would not.

CHAPTER XXXII

A GREAT BALL

A certain great ball, given yearly at Dunholm Castle, was one of the most notable social features of the county. It took place when the house was full of its most interestingly distinguished guests, and, though other balls might be given at other times, this one was marked by a degree of greater state. On several occasions the chief guests had been great personages indeed, and to be bidden to meet them implied a selection flattering in itself. One’s invitation must convey by inference that one was either brilliant, beautiful, or admirable, if not important.

Nigel Anstruthers had never appeared at what the uninvited were wont, with derisive smiles, to call The Great Panjandrum Function–which was an ironic designation not employed by such persons as received cards bidding them to the festivity. Stornham Court was not popular in the county; no one had yearned for the society of the Dowager Lady Anstruthers, even in her youth; and a not too well-favoured young man with an ill-favoured temper, noticeably on the lookout for grievances, is not an addition to one’s circle. At nineteen Nigel had discovered the older Lord Mount Dunstan and his son Tenham to be congenial acquaintances, and had been so often absent from home that his neighbours would have found social intercourse with him difficult, even if desirable. Accordingly, when the county paper recorded the splendours of The Great Panjandrum Function–which it by no means mentioned by that name–the list of “Among those present ” had not so far contained the name of Sir Nigel Anstruthers.

So, on a morning a few days after his return, the master of Stornham turned over a card of invitation and read it several times before speaking.

“I suppose you know what this means,” he said at last to Rosalie, who was alone with him.

“It means that we are invited to Dunholm Castle for the ball, doesn’t it?”

Her husband tossed the card aside on the table.

“It means that Betty will be invited to every house where there is a son who must be disposed of profitably.

“She is invited because she is beautiful and clever. She would be invited if she had no money at all,” said Rosy daringly. She was actually growing daring, she thought sometimes. It would not have been possible to say anything like this a few months ago.

“Don’t make silly mistakes,” said Nigel. “There are a good many handsome girls who receive comparatively little attention. But the hounds of war are let loose, when one of your swollen American fortunes appears. The obviousness of it `virtuously’ makes me sick. It’s as vulgar–as New York.”

What befel next brought to Sir Nigel a shock of curious enlightenment, but no one was more amazed than Rosy herself. She felt, when she heard her own voice, as if she must be rather mad.

“I would rather,” she said quite distinctly, “that you did not speak to me of New York in that way.”

“What!” said Anstruthers, staring at her with contempt which was derision.

“It is my home,” she answered. “It is not proper that I should hear it spoken of slightingly.”

“Your home! It has not taken the slightest notice of you for twelve years. Your people dropped you as if you were a hot potato.”

“They have taken me up again.” Still in amazement at her own boldness, but somehow learning something as she went on.

He walked over to her side, and stood before her.

“Look here, Rosalie,” he said. “You have been taking lessons from your sister. She is a beauty and young and you are not. People will stand things from her they will not take from you. I would stand some things myself, because it rather amuses a man to see a fine girl peacocking. It’s merely ridiculous in you, and I won’t stand it–not a bit of it.”

It was not specially fortunate for him that the door opened as he was speaking, and Betty came in with her own invitation in her hand. He was quick enough, however, to turn to greet her with a shrug of his shoulders.

“I am being favoured with a little scene by my wife,” he explained. “She is capable of getting up excellent little scenes, but I daresay she does not show you that side of her temper.”

Betty took a comfortable chintz-covered, easy chair. Her expression was evasively speculative.

“Was it a scene I interrupted?” she said. “Then I must not go away and leave you to finish it. You were saying that you would not `stand’ something. What does a man do when he will not `stand’ a thing? It always sounds so final and appalling–as if he were threatening horrible things such as, perhaps, were a resource in feudal times. What IS the resource in these dull days of law and order–and policemen?”

“Is this American chaff?” he was disagreeably conscious that he was not wholly successful in his effort to be lofty.

The frankness of Betty’s smile was quite without prejudice.

“Dear me, no,” she said. “It is only the unpicturesque result of an unfeminine knowledge of the law. And I was thinking how one is limited–and yet how things are simplified after all.”

“Simplified!” disgustedly.

“Yes, really. You see, if Rosy were violent she could not beat you–even if she were strong enough–because you could ring the bell and give her into custody. And you could not beat her because the same unpleasant thing would happen to you. Policemen do rob things of colour, don’t they? And besides, when one remembers that mere vulgar law insists that no one can be forced to live with another person who is brutal or loathsome, that’s simple, isn’t it? You could go away from Rosy,” with sweet clearness, “at any moment you wished–as far away as you liked.”

“You seem to forget,” still feeling that convincing loftiness was not easy, “that when a man leaves his wife, or she deserts him, it is she who is likely to be called upon to bear the onus of public opinion.”

“Would she be called upon to bear it under all circumstances?”

“Damned clever woman as you are, you know that she would, as well as I know it.” He made an abrupt gesture with his hand. “You know that what I say is true. Women who take to their heels are deucedly unpopular in England.”

“I have not been long in England, but I have been struck by the prevalence of a sort of constitutional British sense of fair play among the people who really count. The Dunholms, for instance, have it markedly. In America it is the men who force women to take to their heels who are deucedly unpopular. The Americans’ sense of fair play is their most English quality. It was brought over in ships by the first colonists–like the pieces of fine solid old furniture, one even now sees, here and there, in houses in Virginia.”

“But the fact remains,” said Nigel, with an unpleasant laugh, “the fact remains, my dear girl.”

“The fact that does remain,” said Betty, not unpleasantly at all, and still with her gentle air of mere unprejudiced speculation, “is that, if a man or woman is properly ill- treated–PROPERLY–not in any amateurish way–they reach the point of not caring in the least–nothing matters, but that they must get away from the horror of the unbearable thing –never to see or hear of it again is heaven enough to make anything else a thing to smile at. But one could settle the other point by experimenting. Suppose you run away from Rosy, and then we can see if she is cut by the county.”

His laugh was unpleasant again.

“So long as you are with her, she will not be cut. There are a number of penniless young men of family in this, as well as the adjoining, counties. Do you think Mount Dunstan would cut her?”

She looked down at the carpet thoughtfully a moment, and then lifted her eyes.

“I do not think so,” she answered. “But I will ask him.”

He was startled by a sudden feeling that she might be capable of it.

“Oh, come now,” he said, “that goes beyond a joke. You will not do any such absurd thing. One does not want one’s domestic difficulties discussed by one’s neighbours.”

Betty opened coolly surprised eyes.

“I did not understand it was a personal matter,” she remarked. “Where do the domestic difficulties come in?”

He stared at her a few seconds with the look she did not like, which was less likeable at the moment, because it combined itself with other things.

“Hang it,” he muttered. “I wish I could keep my temper as you can keep yours,” and he turned on his heel and left the room.

Rosy had not spoken. She had sat with her hands in her lap, looking out of the window. She had at first had a moment of terror. She had, indeed, once uttered in her soul the abject cry: “Don’t make him angry, Betty–oh, don’t, don’t!” And suddenly it had been stilled, and she had listened. This was because she realised that Nigel himself was listening. That made her see what she had not dared to allow herself to see before. These trite things were true. There were laws to protect one. If Betty had not been dealing with mere truths, Nigel would have stopped her. He had been supercilious, but he could not contradict her.

“Betty,” she said, when her sister came to her, “you said that to show ME things, as well as to show them to him. I knew you did, and listened to every word. It was good for me to hear you.”

“Clear-cut, unadorned facts are like bullets,” said Betty. “They reach home, if one’s aim is good. The shiftiest people cannot evade them.”

. . . . .

A certain thing became evident to Betty during the time which elapsed between the arrival of the invitations and the great ball. Despite an obvious intention to assume an amiable pose for the time being, Sir Nigel could not conceal a not quite unexplainable antipathy to one individual. This individual was Mount Dunstan, whom it did not seem easy for him to leave alone. He seemed to recur to him as a subject, without any special reason, and this somewhat puzzled Betty until she heard from Rosalie of his intimacy with Lord Tenham, which, in a measure, explained it. The whole truth was that “The Lout,” as he had been called, had indulged in frank speech in his rare intercourse with his brother and his friends, and had once interfered with hot young fury in a matter in which the pair had specially wished to avoid all interference. His open scorn of their methods of entertaining themselves they had felt to be disgusting impudence, which would have been deservedly punished with a horsewhip, if the youngster had not been a big-muscled, clumsy oaf, with a dangerous eye. Upon this footing their acquaintance had stood in past years, and to decide–as Sir Nigel had decided–that the oaf in question had begun to make his bid for splendid fortune under the roof of Stornham Court itself was a thing not to be regarded calmly. It was more than he could stand, and the folly of temper, which was forever his undoing, betrayed him into mistakes more than once. This girl, with her beauty and her wealth, he chose to regard as a sort of property rightfully his own. She was his sister-in-law, at least;
she was living under his roof; he had more or less the power to encourage or discourage such aspirants as appeared. Upon the whole there was something soothing to one’s vanity in appearing before the world as the person at present responsible for her. It gave a man a certain dignity of position, and his chief girding at fate had always risen from the fact that he had not had dignity of position. He would not be held cheap in this matter, at least. But sometimes, as he looked at the girl he turned hot and sick, as it was driven home to him that he was no longer young, that he had never been good-looking, and that he had cut the ground from under his feet twelve years ago, when he had married Rosalie! If he could have waited–if he could have done several other things–perhaps the clever acting of a part, and his power of domination might have given him a chance. Even that blackguard of a Mount Dunstan had a better one now. He was young, at least, and free–and a big strong beast. He was forced, with bitter reluctance, to admit that he himself was not even particularly strong–of late he had felt it hideously.

So he detested Mount Dunstan the more for increasing reasons, as he thought the matter over. It would seem, perhaps, but a subtle pleasure to the normal mind, but to him there was pleasure–support–aggrandisement–in referring to the ill case of the Mount Dunstan estate, in relating illustrative anecdotes, in dwelling upon the hopelessness of the outlook, and the notable unpopularity of the man himself. A confiding young lady from the States was required, he said on one occasion, but it would be necessary that she should be a young person of much simplicity, who would not be alarmed or chilled by the obvious. No one would realise this more clearly than Mount Dunstan himself. He said it coldly and casually, as if it were the simplest matter of fact. If the fellow had been making himself agreeable to Betty, it was as well that certain points should be–as it were inadvertently –brought before her.

Miss Vanderpoel was really rather fine, people said to each other afterwards, when she entered the ballroom at Dunholm Castle with her brother-in-law. She bore herself as composedly as if she had been escorted by the most admirable and dignified of conservative relatives, instead of by a man who was more definitely disliked and disapproved of than any other man in the county whom decent people were likely to meet. Yet, she was far too clever a girl not to realise the situation clearly, they said to each other. She had arrived in England to find her sister a neglected wreck, her fortune squandered, and her existence stripped bare of even such things as one felt to be the mere decencies. There was but one thing to be deduced from the facts which had stared her in the face. But of her deductions she had said nothing whatever, which was, of course, remarkable in a young person. It may be mentioned that, perhaps, there had been those who would not have been reluctant to hear what she must have had to say, and who had even possibly given her a delicate lead. But the lead had never been taken. One lady had even remarked that, on her part, she felt that a too great reserve verged upon secretiveness, which was not a desirable girlish quality.

Of course the situation had been so much discussed that people were naturally on the lookout for the arrival of the Stornham party, as it was known that Sir Nigel had returned home, and would be likely to present himself with his wife and sister-in-law. There was not a dowager present who did not know how and where he had reprehensibly spent the last months. It served him quite right that the Spanish dancing person had coolly left him in the lurch for a younger and more attractive, as well as a richer man. If it were not for Miss Vanderpoel, one need not pretend that one knew nothing about the affair–in fact, if it had not been for Miss Vanderpoel, he would not have received an invitation–and poor Lady Anstruthers would be sitting at home, still the forlorn little frump and invalid she had so wonderfully ceased to be since her sister had taken her in hand. She was absolutely growing even pretty and young, and her clothes were really beautiful. The whole thing was amazing.

Betty, as well as Rosalie and Nigel–knew that many people turned undisguisedly to look at them–even to watch them as they came into the splendid ballroom. It was a splendid ballroom and a stately one, and Lord Dunholm and Lord Westholt shared a certain thought when they met her, which was that hers was distinctly the proud young brilliance of presence which figured most perfectly against its background. Much as people wanted to look at Sir Nigel, their eyes were drawn from him to Miss Vanderpoel. After all it was she who made him an object of interest. One wanted to know what she would do with him–how she would “carry him off.” How much did she know of the distaste people felt for him, since she would not talk or encourage talk? The Dunholms could not have invited her and her sister, and have ignored him; but did she not guess that they would have ignored him, if they could? and was there not natural embarrassment in feeling forced to appear in pomp, as it were, under his escort?

But no embarrassment was perceptible. Her manner committed her to no recognition of a shadow of a flaw in the character of her companion. It even carried a certain conviction with it, and the lookers-on felt the impossibility of suggesting any such flaw by their own manner. For this evening, at least, the man must actually be treated as if he were an entirely unobjectionable person. It appeared as if that was what the girl wanted, and intended should happen.

This was what Nigel himself had begun to perceive, but he did not put it pleasantly. Deucedly clever girl as she was, he said to himself, she saw that it would be more agreeable to have no nonsense talked, and no ruffling of tempers. He had always been able to convey to people that the ruffling of his temper was a thing to be avoided, and perhaps she had already been sharp enough to realise this was a fact to be counted with. She was sharp enough, he said to himself, to see anything.

The function was a superb one. The house was superb, the rooms of entertainment were in every proportion perfect, and were quite renowned for the beauty of the space they offered; the people themselves were, through centuries of dignified living, so placed that intercourse with their kind was an easy and delightful thing. They need never doubt either their own effect, or the effect of their hospitalities. Sir Nigel saw about him all the people who held enviable place in the county. Some of them he had never known, some of them had long ceased to recall his existence. There were those among them who lifted lorgnettes or stuck monocles into their eyes as he passed, asking each other in politely subdued tones who the man was who seemed to be in attendance on Miss Vanderpoel. Nigel knew this and girded at it internally, while he made the most of his suave smile.

The distinguished personage who was the chief guest was to be seen at the upper end of the room talking to a tall man with broad shoulders, who was plainly interesting him for the moment. As the Stornham party passed on, this person, making his bow, retired, and, as he turned towards them, Sir Nigel recognising him, the agreeable smile was for the moment lost.

“How in the name of Heaven did Mount Dunstan come here?” broke from him with involuntary heat.

“Would it be rash to conclude,” said Betty, as she returned the bow of a very grand old lady in black velvet and an imposing tiara, “that he came in response to invitation?”

The very grand old lady seemed pleased to see her, and, with a royal little sign, called her to her side. As Betty Vanderpoel was a great success with the Mrs. Weldens and old Dobys of village life, she was also a success among grand old ladies. When she stood before them there was a delicate submission in her air which was suggestive of obedience to the dignity of their years and state. Strongly conservative and rather feudal old persons were much pleased by this. In the present irreverent iconoclasm of modern times, it was most agreeable to talk to a handsome creature who was as beautifully attentive as if she had been a specially perfect young lady-in-waiting.

This one even patted Betty’s hand a little, when she took it. She was a great county potentate, who was known as Lady Alanby of Dole–her house being one of the most ancient and interesting in England.

“I am glad to see you here to-night,” she said. “You are looking very nice. But you cannot help that.”

Betty asked permission to present her sister and brother-in- law. Lady Alanby was polite to both of them, but she gave Nigel a rather sharp glance through her gold pince-nez as she greeted him.

“Janey and Mary,” she said to the two girls nearest her, “I daresay you will kindly change your chairs and let Lady Anstruthers and Miss Vanderpoel sit next to me.”

The Ladies Jane and Mary Lithcom, who had been ordered about by her from their infancy, obeyed with polite smiles. They were not particularly pretty girls, and were of the indigent noble. Jane, who had almost overlarge blue eyes, sighed as she reseated herself a few chairs lower down.

“It does seem beastly unfair,” she said in a low voice to her sister, “that a girl such as that should be so awfully good-looking. She ought to have a turned-up nose.”

“Thank you,” said Mary, “I have a turned-up nose myself, and I’ve got nothing to balance it.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean a nice turned-up nose like yours,” said Jane; “I meant an ugly one. Of course Lady Alanby wants her for Tommy.” And her manner was not resigned.

“What she, or anyone else for that matter,” disdainfully, “could want with Tommy, I don’t know,” replied Mary.

“I do,” answered Jane obstinately. “I played cricket with him when I was eight, and I’ve liked him ever since. It is AWFUL,” in a smothered outburst, “what girls like us have to suffer.”

Lady Mary turned to look at her curiously.

“Jane,” she said, “are you SUFFERING about Tommy?”

“Yes, I am. Oh, what a question to ask in a ballroom! Do you want me to burst out crying?”

“No,” sharply, “look at the Prince. Stare at that fat woman curtsying to him. Stare and then wink your eyes.”

Lady Alanby was talking about Mount Dunstan.

“Lord Dunholm has given us a lead. He is an old friend of mine, and he has been talking to me about it. It appears that he has been looking into things seriously. Modern as he is, he rather tilts at injustices, in a quiet way. He has satisfactorily convinced himself that Lord Mount Dunstan has been suffering for the sins of the fathers–which must be annoying.”

“Is Lord Dunholm quite sure of that?” put in Sir Nigel, with a suggestively civil air.

Old Lady Alanby gave him an unencouraging look.

“Quite,” she said. “He would be likely to be before he took any steps.”

“Ah,” remarked Nigel. “I knew Lord Tenham, you see.”

Lady Alanby’s look was more unencouraging still. She quietly and openly put up her glass and stared. There were times when she had not the remotest objection to being rude to certain people.

“I am sorry to hear that,” she observed. “There never was any room for mistake about Tenham. He is not usually mentioned.”

“I do not think this man would be usually mentioned, if everything were known,” said Nigel.

Then an appalling thing happened. Lady Alanby gazed at him a few seconds, and made no reply whatever. She dropped her glass, and turned again to talk to Betty. It was as if she had turned her back on him, and Sir Nigel, still wearing an amiable exterior, used internally some bad language.

“But I was a fool to speak of Tenham,” he thought. “A great fool.”

A little later Miss Vanderpoel made her curtsy to the exalted guest, and was commented upon again by those who looked on. It was not at all unnatural that one should find ones eyes following a girl who, representing a sort of royal power, should have the good fortune of possessing such looks and bearing.

Remembering his child bete noir of the long legs and square, audacious little face, Nigel Anstruthers found himself restraining a slight grin as he looked on at her dancing. Partners flocked about her like bees, and Lady Alanby of Dole, and other very grand old or middle-aged ladies all found the evening more interesting because they could watch her.

“She is full of spirit,” said Lady Alanby, “and she enjoys herself as a girl should. It is a pleasure to look at her. I like a girl who gets a magnificent colour and stars in her eyes when she dances. It looks healthy and young.”

It was Tommy Miss Vanderpoel was dancing with when her ladyship said this. Tommy was her grandson and a young man of greater rank than fortune. He was a nice, frank, heavy youth, who loved a simple county life spent in tramping about with guns, and in friendly hobnobbing with the neighbours, and eating great afternoon teas with people whose jokes were easy to understand, and who were ready to laugh if you tried a joke yourself. He liked girls, and especially he liked Jane Lithcom, but that was a weakness his grandmother did not at all encourage, and, as he danced with Betty Vanderpoel, he looked over her shoulder more than once at a pair of big, unhappy blue eyes, whose owner sat against the wall.

Betty Vanderpoel herself was not thinking of Tommy. In fact, during this brilliant evening she faced still further developments of her own strange case. Certain new things were happening to her. When she had entered the ballroom she had known at once who the man was who stood before the royal guest–she had known before he bowed low and withdrew. And her recognition had brought with it a shock of joy. For a few moments her throat felt hot and pulsing. It was true–the things which concerned him concerned her. All that happened to him suddenly became her affair, as if in some way they were of the same blood. Nigel’s slighting of him had infuriated her; that Lord Dunholm had offered him friendship and hospitality was a thing which seemed done to herself, and filled her with gratitude and affection; that he should be at this place, on this special occasion, swept away dark things from his path. It was as if it were stated without words that a conservative man of the world, who knew things as they were, having means of reaching truths, vouched for him and placed his dignity and firmness at his side.

And there was the gladness at the sight of him. It was an overpoweringly strong thing. She had never known anything like it. She had not seen him since Nigel’s return, and here he was, and she knew that her life quickened in her because they were together in the same room. He had come to them and said a few courteous words, but he had soon gone away. At first she wondered if it was because of Nigel, who at the time was making himself rather ostentatiously amiable to her. Afterwards she saw him dancing, talking, being presented to people, being, with a tactful easiness, taken care of by his host and hostess, and Lord Westholt. She was struck by the graceful magic with which this tactful ease surrounded him without any obviousness. The Dunholms had given a lead, as Lady Alanby had said, and the rest were following it and ignoring intervals with reposeful readiness. It was wonderfully well done. Apparently there had been no past at all. All began with this large young man, who, despite his Viking type, really looked particularly well in evening dress. Lady Alanby held him by her chair for some time, openly enjoying her talk with him, and calling up Tommy, that they might make friends.

After a while, Betty said to herself, he would come and ask for a dance. But he did not come, and she danced with one man after another. Westholt came to her several times and had more dances than one. Why did the other not come? Several times they whirled past each other, and when it occurred they looked–both feeling it an accident–into each other’s eyes.

The strong and strange thing–that which moves on its way as do birth and death, and the rising and setting of the sun– had begun to move in them. It was no new and rare thing, but an ancient and common one–as common and ancient as death and birth themselves; and part of the law as they are. As it comes to royal persons to whom one makes obeisance at their mere passing by, as it comes to scullery maids in royal kitchens, and grooms in royal stables, as it comes to ladies-in-waiting and the women who serve them, so it had come to these two who had been drawn near to each other from the opposite sides of the earth, and each started at the touch of it, and withdrew a pace in bewilderment, and some fear.

“I wish,” Mount Dunstan was feeling throughout the evening, “that her eyes had some fault in their expression–that they drew one less–that they drew ME less. I am losing my head.”

“It would be better,” Betty thought, “if I did not wish so much that he would come and ask me to dance with him– that he would not keep away so. He is keeping away for a reason. Why is he doing it?”

The music swung on in lovely measures, and the dancers swung with it. Sir Nigel walked dutifully through the Lancers once with his wife, and once with his beautiful sister-in-law. Lady Anstruthers, in her new bloom, had not lacked partners, who discovered that she was a childishly light creature who danced extremely well. Everyone was kind to her, and the very grand old ladies, who admired Betty, were absolutely benign in their manner. Betty’s partners paid ingenuous court to her, and Sir Nigel found he had not been mistaken in his estimate of the dignity his position of escort and male relation gave to him.

Rosy, standing for a moment looking out on the brilliancy and state about her, meeting Betty’s eyes, laughed quiveringly.

“I am in a dream,” she said.

“You have awakened from a dream,” Betty answered.

From the opposite side of the room someone was coming towards them, and, seeing him, Rosy smiled in welcome.

“I am sure Lord Mount Dunstan is coming to ask you to dance with him,” she said. “Why have you not danced with him before, Betty?”

“He has not asked me,” Betty answered. “That is the only reason.”

“Lord Dunholm and Lord Westholt called at the Mount a few days after they met him at Stornham,” Rosalie explained in an undertone. “They wanted to know him. Then it seems they found they liked each other. Lady Dunholm has been telling me about it. She says Lord Dunholm thanks you, because you said something illuminating. That was the word she used–`illuminating.’ I believe you are always illuminating, Betty.”

Mount Dunstan was certainly coming to them. How broad his shoulders looked in his close-fitting black coat, how well built his whole strong body was, and how steadily he held his eyes! Here and there one sees a man or woman who is, through some trick of fate, by nature a compelling thing unconsciously demanding that one should submit to some domineering attraction. One does not call it domineering, but it is so. This special creature is charged unfairly with more than his or her single share of force. Betty Vanderpoel thought this out as this “other one” came to her. He did not use the ballroom formula when he spoke to her. He said in rather a low voice:

“Will you dance with me?”

“Yes,” she answered.