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The imaginary marriage


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Title:TheImaginaryMarriage
Author:HenrySt.JohnCooper
ReleaseDate:February18,2005[EBook#15103]
Language:English

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THEIMAGINARYMARRIAGE
HenrySt.JohnCooper



CONTENTS
AMASTERFULWOMAN
INWHICHHUGHBREAKSTHENEWS
JOANMEREDYTH,TYPIST
FACETOFACE
"PERHAPSISHALLGOBACK"
"THEONLYPOSSIBLETHING"
MR.SLOTMANARRIVESATA
CHAPTERVII
MISUNDERSTANDING
CHAPTERVIII
THEDREAMGIRL
CHAPTERIX
THEPEACEMAKER
CHAPTERX
"INSPITEOFEVERYTHING"
CHAPTERXI
THEGENERALCALLSONHUGH
CHAPTERXII
"ITAKENOTONEWORDBACK"
CHAPTERXIII
THEGENERALCONFESSES
CHAPTERXIV
THEBEGINNINGOFTHETRAIL
CHAPTERXV
"TOTHEMANNERBORN"
CHAPTERXVI
ELLICE
CHAPTERXVII
UNREST
CHAPTERXVIII "UNGENEROUS"
CHAPTERXIX
THEINVESTIGATIONSOFMR.SLOTMAN
CHAPTERXX
"WHENIAMNOTWITHYOU"
CHAPTERXXI
"ISHALLFORGETHER"
CHAPTERXXII
JEALOUSY


CHAPTERXXIII "UNCERTAIN—COY"
CHAPTERXXIV "—TOGAIN,ORLOSEITALL"
CHAPTERXXV
INTHEMIRE
CHAPTERXXVI MR.ALSTONCALLS
CHAPTERXXVII THEWATCHER
CHAPTERXXVIII "HEDOESNOTLOVEMENOW"
CHAPTERI
CHAPTERII
CHAPTERIII
CHAPTERIV
CHAPTERV
CHAPTERVI


CHAPTERXXIX
CHAPTERXXX
CHAPTERXXXI
CHAPTERXXXII
CHAPTERXXXIII
CHAPTERXXXIV
CHAPTERXXXV
CHAPTERXXXVI
CHAPTER
XXXVII
CHAPTER
XXXVIII
CHAPTERXXXIX
CHAPTERXL
CHAPTERXLI
CHAPTERXLII
CHAPTERXLIII
CHAPTERXLIV
CHAPTERXLV
CHAPTERXLVI
CHAPTERXLVII
CHAPTERXLVIII

"WHYDOESSHETAKEHIMFROMME?"
"WAITING"
"IFYOUNEEDME"
THESPY
GONE
"FORHERSAKE"
CONNIEDECLARES
"HEHASCOMEBACK"
THEDROPPINGOFTHESCALES
"HERCHAMPION"
"THEPAYING"
"ISITTHEEND?"
MR.RUNDLETAKESAHAND
"WALLSWECANNOTBATTERDOWN"
"NOTTILLTHENWILLIGIVEUPHOPE"
POISON
THEGUIDINGHAND
"—SHEHASGIVEN!"
"ASWEFORGIVE—"
HERPRIDE'SLASTFIGHT


CHAPTERI
AMASTERFULWOMAN
"Don't talktome,miss," saidher ladyship."Idon'twanttohearanynonsense
fromyou!"
The pretty, frightened girl who shared the drawing-room at this moment with
Lady Linden of Cornbridge Manor House had not dared to open her lips. But
thatwasherladyship'sway,and"Don'ttalktome!"wasastockexpressionof
hers.Fewpeoplewerepermittedtotalkinherladyship'spresence.InCornbridge
theyspokeofherwithbatedbreathasa"raremasterfulwoman,"andtheyhad
goodcause.
MasterfulanddomineeringwasLadyLindenofCornbridge,yetshewaskindhearted,thoughshetriedtodisguisethefact.
InCornbridgeshereignedsupreme,menandwomentrembledatherapproach.
She penetrated the homes of the cottagers, she tasted of their foods, she rated
them on uncleanliness, drunkenness, and thriftlessness; she lectured them on
cooking.
OnmanyaSaturdaynightsheraided,single-handed,thePloughInnanddrove
forth the sheepish revellers, personally conducting them to their homes and
wives.
TheyrespectedherinCornbridgeasthereigningsovereignofhersmallestate,
andnonedidsherulemoreautocraticallyandcompletelythanherlittlenineteenyear-oldnieceMarjorie.
Apretty,timid,littlemaidwasMarjorie,withsoftyellowhair,asweetovalface,
withlargepatheticblueeyesandatimid,uncertainlittlerosebudofamouth.
"Araresweetmaidherbe,"theysaidofherinthevillage,"butterribultim'rous,
andIlayherladyshipdugivesheararetimeofit...."Whichwastrue.
"Don'ttalktome,miss!"herladyshipsaidtothesilentgirl."Iknowwhatisbest
for you; and I know, too, what you don't think I know—ha, ha!" Her ladyship
laughed terribly. "I know that you have been meeting that worthless young


scamp,TomArundel!"
"Oh,aunt,heisnotworthless—"
"Financiallyheisn'tworthasou—andthat'swhatImean,anddon'tinterrupt.I
amyourguardian,youareentirelyinmycharge,anduntilyouarriveattheage
oftwenty-fiveIcanwithholdyourfortunefromyouifyoumarryinopposition
tomeandmywishes.Butyouwon't—youwon'tdoanythingofthekind.You
willmarrythemanIselectforyou,themanIhavealreadyselected—whatdid
yousay,miss?
"Andnow,notanotherword.HughAlstonisthemanIhaveselectedforyou.He
isinlovewithyou,thereisn'tafinerladliving.Hehaseightthousandayear,
and Hurst Dormer is one of the best old properties in Sussex. So that's quite
enough,andIdon'twanttohearanymorenonsenseaboutTomArundel.Isay
nothing against him personally. Colonel Arundel is a gentleman, of course,
otherwise I would not permit you to know his son; but the Arundels haven't a
pennypiece to fly with and—and now—Now I see Hugh coming up the drive.
Leaveme.Iwanttotalktohim.Gointothegarden,andwaitbythelily-pond.In
allprobabilityHughwillhavesomethingtosaytoyoubeforelong."
"Oh,aunt,I—"
"Shutup!"saidherladyshipbriefly.
Marjorie went out, with hanging head and bursting heart. She believed herself
themostunhappygirlinEngland.Sheloved;whocouldhelplovinghappy-golucky,handsomeTomArundel,whowell-nighworshippedthegroundherlittle
feettrodupon?Itwasthefirstloveandtheonlyloveofherlife,andofnights
she lay awake picturing his bright, young boyish face, hearing again all the
things he had said to her till her heart was well-nigh bursting with love and
longingforhim.
ButshedidnothateHugh.WhocouldhateHughAlston,withhischeerysmile,
hisringingvoice,hisbiggenerousheart,andhisfinemanliness?Notshe!But
fromthedepthsofherheartshewishedHughAlstonagreatdistanceawayfrom
Cornbridge.
"Hello,Hugh!"saidherladyship.Hehadcomein,amanoftwo-and-thirty,big
andbroad,withsuntannedfaceandeyesasblueasthetear-dimmedeyesofthe
girlwhohadgonemiserablydowntothelily-pond.


FairhairedwasHugh,ruddyofcheek,withnoparticularbeautytoboastof,save
thewholesomenessandcleanlinessofhisyoungmanhood.Heseemedtobring
into the room a scent of the open country, of the good brown earth and of the
cleanwindofheaven.
"Hello,Hugh!"saidLadyLinden.
"Hello, my lady," said he, and kissed her. It had been his habit from boyhood,
alsoithadbeenhislifelonghabittoloveandrespecttheolddame,andtofeel
nottheslightestfearofher.Inthishewassingular,andbecausehewastheone
personwhodidnotfearhershepreferredhimtoanyoneelse.
"Hugh," she said—she went straight to the point, she always did; as a hunter
goesatahedge,soherladyshipwithoutprevaricationwentatthemattershehad
inhand—"IhavebeentalkingtoMarjorieaboutTomArundel—"
Hischeeryfacegrewalittlegrave.
"Yes?"
"Well,itisabsurd—yourealisethat?"
"Isupposeso,but—"Hepaused.
"Itischildishfolly!"
"Do you think so? Do you think that she—" Again he paused, with a
nervousnessanddiffidenceusuallyforeigntohim.
"She'sonlyagel,"saidherladyship.HerladyshipwasSussexborn,andtalked
Sussexwhenshebecameexcited."She'sonlyagel,andgelshavetheirfancies.I
hadmyown—butblessyou,theydon'tlast.Shedon'tknowherownmind."
"He'sagoodfellow,"saidHughgenerously.
"Anicelad,buthewon'tsuitmeforMarjorie'shusband.Hugh,thegel'sinthe
garden, she is sitting by the lily-pond and believes her heart is broken, but it
isn't!Goandproveitisn't;gonow!"
Hemethereyesandflushedred."I'llgoandhaveatalktoMarjorie,"hesaid.
"Youhaven'tbeen—tooroughwithher,haveyou?"
"Rough!Iknowhowtodealwithgels.ItoldherthatIhadthecommandofher
money, her four hundred a year till she was twenty-five, and not a bob of it


shouldshetouchifshemarriedagainstmywish.Nowgoandtalktoher—and
talksense—"Shepaused."YouknowwhatImean—sense!"
Averyprettypicture,theslenderwhite-clad,droopingfigurewithitscrownof
golden hair made, sitting on the bench beside the lily-pond. Her hands were
clasped,hereyesfixedonthestagnantgreenwateroverwhichthedragon-flies
skimmed.
Comingacrossthesoundlessturf,hestoodforamomenttolookather.
HurstDormerwasafineoldplace,yetoflatetohimithadgrownsingularlydull
andcheerless.Hehadloveditallhislife,butlatterlyhehadrealisedthatthere
was something missing, something without which the old house could not be
hometohim,andinhisdreamswakingandsleepinghehadseenthissamelittle
white-cladfigureseatedatthefootofthegreattableinthedining-hall.
Hehadseenherinhismind'seyedoingthoselittlehousewifelydutiesthatthe
mistresses of Hurst Dormer had always loved to do, her slender fingers busy
withtherareanddelicateoldchina,orthelavender-scentedlinen,orelseinthe
wonderfuloldgarden,thegraciouslittlemistressofallandofhisheart.
And now she sat drooping like a wilted lily beside the green pond, because of
herloveforanotherman,andhishonestheartachedthatitshouldbeso.
"Marjorie!"hesaid.
Sheliftedatear-stainedfaceandheldoutherhand'tohimsilently.
Hepattedherhandgently,asonepatsthehandofachild."Is—isitsobad,little
girl?Doyoucareforhimsomuch?"
"Betterthanmylife!"shesaid."Oh,ifyouknew!"
"Isee,"hesaidquietly.Hesatstaringatthegreenwaters,stirrednowandagain
by the fin of a lazy carp. He realised that there would be no sweet girlish,
golden-haired little mistress for Hurst Dormer, and the realisation hurt him
badly.
The girl seemed to have crept a little closer to him, as for comfort and
protection.
"Shehasmadeupher mind,andnothingwill changeit. Shewants youto—to
marryme.She'stoldmesoahundredtimes.Shewon'tlistentoanythingelse;


shesaysyou—youcareforme,Hugh."
"Supposing I care so much, little girl, that I want your happiness above
everything in this world. Supposing—I clear out?" he said—"clear right away,
gotoAfrica,orsomewhereorother?"
"She would make me wait till you came back, and you'd have to come back,
Hugh,becausethereisalwaysHurstDormer.There'snowayoutforme,none.If
only—onlyyouweremarried;thatistheonlythingthatwouldhavesavedme!"
"ButI'mnot!"
Shesighed."Ifonlyyouwere,ifonlyyoucouldsaytoher,'Ican'taskMarjorie
tomarryme,becauseIamalreadymarried!'Itsoundsrubbish,doesn'tit,Hugh;
butifitwereonlytrue!"
"Supposing—Ididsayit?"
"Oh,Hugh,but—"Shelookedupathimquickly."Butitwouldbealie!"
"Iknow,butliesaren'talwaystheawfulthingstheyaresupposedtobe—ifone
toldalietohelpafriend,forinstance,suchaliemightbeforgiven,eh?"
"But—"Shewastrembling;shelookedeagerlyintohiseyes,intohercheekshad
comeaflush,intohereyesthebrightnessofanew,thoughasyetvague,hope.
"It—itsoundssoimpossible!"
"Nothingisactuallyimpossible.Listen,littlemaid.Shesentmeheretoyouto
talksense,assheputit.Thatmeantshesentmeheretoaskyoutomarryme,
andImeanttodoit.Ithinkperhapsyouknowwhy"—heliftedherhandtohis
lipsandkissedit—"butIshan'tnow,Inevershall.Littlegirl,we'regoingtobe
whatwe'vealwaysbeen,thebestandtruestoffriends,andI'vegottofindaway
tohelpyouandTom—"
"Hugh, if you told her that you were married, and not free, she wouldn't give
another thought to opposing Tom and me—it is only because she wants me to
marry you that she opposes Tom! Oh, Hugh, if—if—if you could, if it were
possible!"Shewastremblingwithexcitement,andthesweetcolourwascoming
andgoinginhercheeks.
"SupposingIdidit?"hesaid,andspokehisthoughtsaloud."Ofcourseitwould
beashocktoher,perhapsshewouldn'tbelieve!"


"Shewouldbelieveanythingyousaid..."
"It is rather a rotten thing to do," he thought, "yet...." He looked at the bright,
eagerface,itwouldmakeherhappy;heknewthatwhatshesaidwastrue—Lady
Linden would not oppose Tom Arundel if marriage between Marjorie and
himself was out of the question. It would be making the way clear for her: it
wouldbegivingherhappiness,doingherthegreatestservicethathecould.Of
hisownsacrifice,hisowndisappointmenthethoughtnotnow;realisationofthat
wouldcomelater.
Atfirstitseemedtohimamad,anonsensicalscheme,yetitwasonethatmight
soeasilybecarriedout.Ifonedoubtwasleftastowhetherhewoulddoit,itwas
gonethenextmoment.
"Hugh,wouldyoudo—wouldyoudothisforme?"
"ThereisverylittlethatIwouldn'tdoforyou,littlemaid,"hesaid,"andifIcan
helpyoutoyourhappinessIamgoingtodoit."
She crept closer to him; she laid her cheek against his shoulder, and held his
handinhers.
"Tellmejustwhatyouwillsay."
"Ihaven'tthoughtthatoutyet."
"Butyoumust."
"I know. You see, if I say I am married, naturally she will ask me a few
questions."
"When she gets—gets her breath!" Marjorie said with a laugh; it was the first
timeshehadlaughed,andhelikedtohearit.
"Thefirstwillprobablybe,HowlonghaveIbeenmarried?"
"Do you remember you used to come to Marlbury to see me when I was at
schoolatMissSkinner's?"
"Rather!"
"Thatwasthreeyearsago.Supposingyoumarriedaboutthen?"
"Fine,"Hughsaid."Imarriedthreeyearsago.Whatmonth?"


"June,"shesaid;"it'salovelymonth!"
"I was married in June, nineteen hundred and eighteen, my lady," said Hugh.
"Whereat,though?"
"Why,Marlbury,ofcourse!"
"Ofcourse!Splendidplacetogetmarriedin,delightfulromanticoldtown!"
"It is a hateful place, but that doesn't matter," said Marjorie. She seemed to
snuggle up a little closer to him, her lips were rippling with smiles, her bright
eyessawfreedomandlove,herheartwasverywarmwithgratitudetothisman
whowashelpingher.Butshecouldnotguess,howcouldshe,howinspiteofthe
laughteronhislipstherewasagreatacheandafeelingofemptinessathisheart.
"So now we have it all complete," he said. "I was married in June, nineteen
eighteenatMarlbury;mywifeandIdidnotgeton,weparted.Shehadatemper,
sohadI,amostunhappyaffair,andthereyouare!"Helaughed.
"Allsaveonething,"Marjoriesaid.
"Goodness,whathaveIforgotten?"
"Onlythelady'sname."
"Youareright.Shemusthaveanameofcourse,somethingniceandromantic—
Gladyssomething,eh?"
Marjorieshookherhead.
"Clementine,"suggestedHugh."No,won'tdo,eh?Nowyouputyourthinking
caponandinventaname,somethingromanticandpretty.Let'shearfromyou,
Marjorie."
"Doyoulike—JoanMeredyth?"shesaid.
"Splendid! What a clever little brain!" He shut his eyes. "I married Miss Joan
MeredythonthefirstofJune,orwasitthesecond,intheyearnineteenhundred
and eighteen? We lived a cat-and-dog existence, and parted with mutual
recriminations,sincewhenIhavenotseenher!Marjorie,doyouthinkshewill
swallowit?"
"Ifyoutellher;but,Hugh,willyou—willyou?"


"Littlegirl,isitgoingtohelpyou?"
"Youknowitis!"shewhispered.
"ThenIshalltellher!"
Marjorieliftedapairofsoftarmsandputthemabouthisneck.
"Hugh!"shesaid,"Hugh,if—ifIhadneverknownTom,I—"
"I know," he said. "I know. God bless you." He stooped and kissed her on the
cheek,androse.
Itwasamadthingthisthathewastodo,yetheneverconsidereditsmadness,its
folly.Itwouldhelpher,andHurstDormerwouldneverknowitsgolden-haired
mistress,afterall.


CHAPTERII
INWHICHHUGHBREAKSTHENEWS
LadyLindenhadjustcomeinfromoneofherusualandnumerousinspections,
duringwhichshehadfounditnecessarytoreproveoneoftheunder-gardeners.
Shehaddescribedhimtohimself,hischaracter,hisappearanceandhismethods
fromher own point of view, andhadleftthemanstupefiedandamazedatthe
extent of her vocabulary and her facility of expression. He was still scratching
hishead,dazedly,whenshecameintothedrawing-room.
"Hugh,youhere?WhereisMarjorie?"
"Downbythepond,Ithink,"hesaid,withanattemptatairiness.
"Inamomentyouwillmakemeangry.YouknowwhatIwishtoknow.Didyou
proposetoMarjorie,Hugh?"
"DidI—"Heseemedastonished."DidIwhat?"
"ProposetoMarjorie!Goodheavens,man,isn'tthatwhyIsentyouthere?"
"Icertainlydidnotproposetoher.HowonearthcouldI?"
"ThereisnoreasononearthwhyyoushouldnothaveproposedtoherthatIcan
see."
"ButthereisonethatIcansee."Hepaused."Amancan'tinviteayoungwoman
tomarryhim—whenheisalreadymarried!"
Itwasout!Hescarcelydaredtolookather.LadyLindensaidnothing;shesat
down.
"Hugh!"Shehadfoundbreathandwordsatlast."HughAlston!DidIhearyou
aright?"
"Ibelieveyoudid!"
"Youmeantotellmethatyou—youareamarriedman?"


Henodded.Herealisedthathewasnotagoodliar.
"Iwouldlikesomeparticulars,"shesaidcoldly."HughAlston,Ishouldbevery
interestedtoknowwheresheis!"
"Idon'tknow!"
"Youaremad.Whenwereyoumarried?"
"Junenineteeneighteen,"hesaidglibly.
"Where?"
"AtMarlbury!"
"Goodgracious!ThatiswhereMarjorieusedtogotoschool!"
"Yes,itwaswhenIwentdowntoseeherthere,and—"
"Youmetthiswomanyoumarried?Andhername?"
"Joan,"hesaid—"JoanMeredyth!"
"Joan—Meredyth!" saidLadyLinden. She closed her eyes;she leanedback in
herchair."Thatgirl!"
A chill feeling of alarm swept over him. She spoke, her ladyship spoke, as
thoughsuchagirlexisted,asthoughsheknewherpersonally.Andthenamewas
apureinvention!Marjoriehadinventedit—atleast,hebelievedso.
"You—youdon'tknowher?"
"Know her—of course I know her. Didn't Marjorie bring her here from Miss
Skinner'stwoholidaysrunning?Averybeautifulandbrilliantgirl,theloveliest
girlIthinkIeversaw!Really,HughAlston,thoughIamsurprisedandpainedat
yoursilenceandduplicity,Imustabsolveyou.Ialwaysregardedyouasmoreor
lessafool,butJoanMeredythisagirlanymanmightfallinlovewith!"
Hughsatgrippingthearmsofhischair.Whathadhedone,orratherwhathad
Marjoriedone?Whatdesperatemuddlehadthatlittlemaidledhiminto?Hehad
countedonthenamebeingapureinvention,andnow—
"Whereisshe?"demandedLadyLinden.
"Idon'tknow—we—weparted!"


"Why?"
"Wedidn'tgeton,yousee.She'dgotatemper,andso—"
"Of course she had a temper. She is a spirited gel, full of life and fire and
intelligence.Iwouldn'tgivetwopenceforawomanwithoutatemper—certainly
shehadatemper!Bah,don'ttalktome,sir—yousitthereandtellmeyouwere
contenttolethergo,letabeautifulcreaturelikethatgomerelybecauseshehad
atemper?"
"She—shewent.Ididn'tlethergo;shejustwent!"
"Yes," Lady Linden said thoughtfully, "I suppose she did. It is just what Joan
woulddo!She sawthat shewasnot appreciated;youwrangled,orsomefolly,
and she simply went. She would—so would I have gone! And now, where is
she?"
"ItellyouIdon'tknow!"
"You'veneversoughther?"
"Never!I—I—nowlookhere,"hewenton,"don'ttakeittohearttoomuch.She
isquiteallright—thatis,Iexpect—"
"You expect!" she said witheringly. "Here you sit; you have a beautiful young
wife, the most brilliant girl I ever met, and—and you let her go! Don't talk to
me!"
"No, I won't; let's drop it! We will discuss it some other time—it is a matter I
prefernottotalkabout!Naturallyitisrather—painfultome!"
"SoIshouldthink!"
"Yes,Imuchprefernottotalkaboutit.Let'sdiscussMarjorie!"
"ConfoundMarjorie!"
"Marjorieisthesweetestlittlesoulintheworld,and—"
"It'sapityyoudidn'tthinkofthatthreeyearsago!"
"AndTomArundelisafinefellow;noonecansayonewordagainsthim!"
"Idon'twishtodiscussthem!IfMarjorieisobsessedwiththisfollyaboutyoung


Arundel,itwillbehermisfortune.Ifshewantstomarryhimshewillprobably
regret it. I intended her to marry you; but since it can't be, I don't feel any
particularinterestinthematterofMarjorie'smarriageatthemoment!Nowtell
meaboutJoanatonce!"
"Believeme,I—Imuchprefernotto:itisasoresubject,amatterIneverspeak
about!"
"Oh,goawaythen—andleavemetomyself.Letmethinkitallout!"
Hewentgladlyenough;hemadehiswaybacktothelily-pond.
"Marjorie,"hesaidtragically,"whathaveyoudone?"
"Oh,Hugh!"Shewastremblingatonce.
"No,no,dear,don'tworry;itisnothing.Shebelieveseveryword,andIfeelsure
itwillbeallrightforyouandTom,but,ohMarjorie—thatname,Ithoughtyou
hadinventedit!"
Marjorieflushed."ItwasthenameofagirlatMissSkinner's:shewasagreat,
great friend of mine. She was two years older than I, and just as sweet and
beautifulashername,andwhenyouwerecastingaboutforoneI—Ijustthought
ofit,Hugh.Ithasn'tdoneanyharm,hasit?"
"Ihopenot,only,don'tyousee,you'vemademeclaimanexistingyoungladyas
mywife,andifsheturnedupsometimeorother—"
"Butshewon't!WhensheleftschoolshewentouttoAustraliatojoinheruncle
there,andshewillinallprobabilitynevercomebacktoEngland."
Hughdrewasighofrelief."That'sallrightthen!It'sallright,littlegirl;itisall
right.Ibelievethingsaregoingtobebrighterforyounow."
"Thankstoyou,Hugh!"
"Youknowthereisnothinginthisworld—"Helookeddownatthelovelyface,
alive with gratitude and happiness. His dreams were ended, the "might-havebeen" would never be, but he knew that there was peace in that little breast at
last.


CHAPTERIII
JOANMEREDYTH,TYPIST
Mr.PhilipSlotmantouchedtheelectricbuzzeronhisdeskandthenwatchedthe
door. He was an unpleasant—looking man, strangely corpulent as to body,
considering his face was cast in lean and narrow mould, the nose large,
prominentandhooked,thelipsfull,fleshy,andofcherry—likeredness,theeyes
small,mean,closetogetheranddeepset.Theover—corpulentbodywasattired
lavishly. It was dressed in a fancy waistcoat, a morning coat, elegantly striped
trousers of lavender hue and small pointed—toed, patent—leather boots, with
bright tan uppers. The rich aroma of an expensive cigar hung about the
atmosphereofMr.Slotman'soffice.Thisandhisclothes,andthelargediamond
ringthattwinkledonhisfinger,proclaimedhimapersonofopulence.
Thedooropenedandagirlcamein;shecarriedanotebookandherheadvery
high.Shetrodlikeayoungqueen,andinspiteofthepoorblacksergedressshe
wore, there was much of regal dignity about her. Dark brown hair that waved
back from a broad and low forehead, a pair of lustrous eyes filled now with
contempt and aversion, eyes shielded by lashes that, when she slept, lay like a
silkenfringeuponhercheeks.Hernosewasredeemedfromthepurelyclassical
by the merest suggestion of tip-tiltedness, that gave humour, expression and
tendernesstothewholeface—tendernessandsweetnessthatwithstrengthwas
further betrayed by the finely cut, red-lipped mouth and the strong little chin,
carriedsoproudlyonthewhitecolumnofherneck.
Herfigurewasthatofayounggoddess,andagoddessshelookedassheswept
disdainfullyintoMr.PhilipSlotman'soffice,shorthandnotebookinherhand.
"I want you to take a letter to Jarvis and Purcell, Miss Meredyth," he said.
"Pleasesitdown.Er—hum—'DearSirs,Withregardtoyourlastcommunication
receivedonthefourteenthinstant,Ibeg—'"
Mr.Slotmanmoved,apparentlynegligently,fromhisleather-coveredarmchair.
Herose,hesaunteredaroundthedesk,thensuddenlyheflungoffallpretenceat
lethargy,andwithaquickstepputhimselfbetweenthegirlandthedoor.
"Now,mydear,"hesaid,"you'vegottolistentome!"


"Iamlisteningtoyou."Sheturnedcontemptuousgreyeyesonhim.
"Hangtheletter!Idon'tmeanthat.You'vegottolistenaboutotherthings!"
Hestretchedouthishandtotouchher,andshedrewback.Sherose,andhereyes
flashed.
"Ifyoutouchme,Mr.Slotman,Ishall—"Shepaused;shelookedabouther;she
pickedupaheavyebonyrulerfromhisdesk."Ishalldefendmyself!"
"Don'tbeafool,"hesaid,yettookastepbackwards,fortherewasdangerinher
eyes.
"Look here, you won't get another job in a hurry, and you know it. Shorthand
typistsarenotwantedthesedays,theschoolsareturningoutthousandsof'em,
all more or less bad; but I—I ain't talking about that, dear—" He took a step
towardsher,andthenrecoiled,seeingherknucklesshinewhitelyasshegripped
theruler."Come,besensible!"
"Are you going to persist in this annoyance of me?" she demanded. "Can't I
makeyouunderstandthatIamheretodomyworkandfornootherpurpose?"
"Supposing,"hesaid,"supposing—I—Iaskedyoutomarryme?"
Hehadnevermeanttosaythis,yethehadsaidit,forthefascinationofherwas
onhim.
"Supposing you did? Do you think I would consent to marry such a man as
you?"Sheheldherheadveryproudly.
"Doyoumeanthatyouwouldrefuse?"
"Ofcourse!"
Heseemedstaggered;helookedabouthimasoneamazed.Hehadkeptthisback
as the last, the supreme temptation, the very last card in his hand; and he had
playedit,andbehold,itprovedtobenotrump.
"Iwouldneithermarryyounorgooutwithyou,nordoIwishtohaveanything
tosaytoyou,exceptsofarasbusinessisconcerned.Asthatseemsimpossible,it
willbebetterformetogiveyouaweek'snotice,Mr.Slotman."
"You'llbesorryforit,"hesaid—"infernallysorryforit.Itain'tpleasanttostarve,
mygirl!"


"Ihadtodoit,Ihadto,orIcouldnothaverespectedmyselfanylonger,"thegirl
thought,asshemadeherwayhomethateveningtotheboarding-house,where
fortwopoundsaweekshewasfedandlodged.Buttobeworkless!Ithadbeen
thenightmareofherdreams,thehauntingfearofherwakinghours.
Inherroomatthebackofthehouse,towhichthejingleoftheboarding-house
pianocouldyetpenetrate,shesatforatimeindeepthought.Thepasthadhelda
few friends, folk who had been kind to her. Pride had held her back; she had
neveraskedhelpofanyofthem.ShethoughtoftheAustralianunclewhohad
invitedhertocomeouttohimwhensheshouldleaveschool,andthenhadfor
some reason changed his mind and sent her a banknote for a hundred pounds
instead. She had felt glad and relieved at the time, but now she regretted his
decision. Yet there had been a few friends; she wrote down the names as they
occurredtoher.
TherewasoldGeneralBartholomew,whohadknownherfather.TherewasMrs.
Ransome.No,shebelievednowthatshehadheardthatMrs.Ransomewasdead;
perhapstheGeneraltoo,yetshewouldriskit.TherewasLadyLinden,Marjorie
Linden'saunt.Sheknewbutlittleofher,butrememberedherasatheartakindly,
though an autocratic dame. She remembered, too, that one of Lady Linden's
hobbies had been to establish Working Guilds and Rural Industries, Village
Crafts,andsuchlikeinhervillage.Inconnectionwithsomeofthesetheremight
beworkforher.
Shewrotetoallthatshecouldthinkof,aletterofwhichshemadesixfacsimile
copies. It was not a begging appeal, but a dignified little reminder of her
existence.
"IfyoucouldassistmetoobtainanyworkbywhichImightlive,youwouldbe
puttingmeunderadeepdebtofgratitude,"shewrote.
Beforeshesleptthatnightallsixletterswereinthepost.Shewishedthemgood
luckonebyoneasshedroppedthemintotheletter-box,thesixspratsthathad
beenflungintotheseaoffortune.Wouldoneofthemcatchforheramackerel?
Shewondered.
"You'dbesttakebackthatnotice,"Slotmansaidtoherthenextmorning."You
won'tfinditsopreciouseasytofindajob,mygirl;and,afterall,whathaveI
done?"


"Annoyed me, insulted me ever since I came here," she said quietly. "And of
courseIshallnotstay!"
"Insultedyou!Isitaninsulttoaskyoutobemywife?"
"Itseemssotome,"shesaidquietly."Ifyouhadmeantthat—atfirst—itwould
havebeendifferent;nowitisonlyaninsult!"
Threedayspassed,andtherecameanswers.Shehadbeenright,Mrs.Ransome
wasdead,andtherewasnoonewhocoulddoanythingforMissMeredyth.
GeneralBartholomewwasatHarrogate,andherletterhadbeensentontohim
there,wroteapolitesecretary.Andthentherecamealetterthatwarmedthegirl's
heartandbroughtbackallherbeliefandfaithinhumannature.
"MYDEARESTCHILD,
"Yourlettercameasawelcomesurprise—tothinkthatyouare
lookingforemployment!Well,wemustseetothis—Ipromiseyou,
youwillnothavefartolook.Comeheretomeatonce,andbesure
thateverythingwillbeputrightandallmisunderstandingswiped
out.Iamkeepingyourletterasecretfromeveryone,evenfrom
Marjorie,thatyourcomingshallbethemoreunexpected,andthe
greatersurpriseandpleasure.Butcomewithoutdelay,andbelieve
metobe,
"Yourveryaffectionatefriend,
"HARRIETLINDEN."
"P.S.—Isuggestthatyouwiremethedayandthetrain,sothatIcan
meetyou.Don'tloseanytime,andbesurethatallpastunhappiness
canbeended,andthefuturefacedwiththecertaintyofbrighterand
happierdays."
OverthisletterJoanMeredythponderedagreatdeal.Itwasawarm-heartedand
affectionateresponsetohersomewhatstiltedlittleappeal.Yetwhatdidtheold
ladymean,towhatdidtheveiledreferenceapply?
"Soyoumeangoing,then?"Slotmanasked.
"ItoldyouIwouldgo,andIshall.Ileaveto-morrow."


"You'llbegladtocomeback,"hesaid.Helookedather,andtherewaseagerness
inhiseyes."Joan,don'tbeafool,stay.Icouldgiveyouagoodtime,and—"
Butshehadturnedherbackonhim.
ShehadwrittentoLadyLindenthankingherforherkindlyletter.
"IshallcometoyouonSaturdayfortheweek-end,ifImay.Ifind
thereisatrainataquarter-pastthree.Ishallcomebythatto
CornbridgeStation.
"Believeme,
"Yoursgratefullyandaffectionately,
"JOANMEREDYTH."
TherewasasubduedexcitementaboutLadyLindenduringtheThursdayandthe
Friday,andanirritatingairofsecretiveness.
"Foolish,foolishyoungpeople!Bothsogoodandsoworthyintheirway—the
girlbeautifulandclever,themanasfineandhonestanduprightayoungfellow
as ever trod this earth—donkeys! Perhaps they can't be driven—very often
donkeyscan't;buttheycanbeled!"
ToHughAlston,atHurstDormer,sevenmilesaway,LadyLindenhadwritten.
"MYDEARHUGH,
"IwantyoutocomehereSaturday;itisamatterofvital
importance."(Shehadahabitofunderliningherwordstogivethem
emphasis,andsheunderscored"vital"threetimes.)"Iwantyouto
timeyourarrivalforhalf-pastfive,anicetimefortea.Don'tbe
earlier,anddon'tbelater.And,aboveall,don'tfailme,orIwill
neverforgiveyou."
"Iexpect,"Hughthought,"thatsheisgoingtomakeapublicannouncementof
theengagementbetweenMarjorieandTomArundel."
Itwaspreciselyathalf-pastfivethatHughsteppedoutofhistwo-seatercarand
demandedadmittanceatthedooroftheManorHouse.
"Oh,Mr.Alston,"thefootmansaid,"myladyisexpectingyou.Shetoldmeto
showyoustraightintothedrawing-room,andsheand—"Themanpaused.


"Herladyshipwillbewithyouinafewmoments,sir."
"Thereisfestivalintheairhere,Perkins,andmysteryandsecrecytoo,eh?"
"Yes,sir,thankyou,sir,"themansaid."Thisway,Mr.Alston."
Andnowinthedrawing-roomHughwascoolinghisheels.
Whythismystery?WherewasMarjorie?Whydidn'thisauntcome?
Thensomeonecame,thedooropened.Intotheroomsteppedatallgirl—agirl
withthemostbeautifulfacehethoughthehadeverseeninhislife.Shelooked
athimcalmlyandcasually,andseemedtohesitate;andthenbehindherappeared
LadyLinden,flushed,andevidentlyagitated.
"There,"shesaid,"there,mydears—Ihavebroughtyoutogetheragain,andnow
everythingmustbemadequiteallright!Joan,darling,hereisyourhusband!Go
tohim,forgivehimifthereisaughttoforgive.Askforgiveness,child,inyour
turn,andthen—thenkissandbefriends,ashusbandandwifeshouldbe."
She beamed on them both, then swiftly retreated, and the door behind Joan
Meredythquicklyclosed.


CHAPTERIV
FACETOFACE
Itwas,HughAlstondecided,themostbeautifulfacehehadeverseeninhislife
and the coldest, or so it seemed to him. She was looking at him with cool
questioninginhergreyeyes,herlipsdrawntoahardline.
Hesawherasshestoodbeforehim,andashesawhernow,sowouldhecarry
thememoryofthepictureshemadeinhismindformanyadaytocome—tall,
perhapsalittletallerthantheaveragewoman,tallbycomparisonwithMarjorie
Linden,brownofhairandgreyofeye,withadisdainfullyenquiringlookabout
her.
He was not a man who usually noticed a woman's clothes, yet the picture
impressedonhismindofthisgirlwasaverycompleteone.Shewaswearinga
dressthatinstincttoldhimwasofsomecheapmaterial.Shemighthavebought
it ready-made, she might have made it herself, or some unskilled dressmaker
mighthaveturneditoutcheaply.Povertywasthenoteitstruck,herbootswere
smallandneat,well-worn.Yes,povertywasthekeynotetoitall.
Itwasshe,womanlike,whobrokethesilence.
"Well? I am waiting for some explanation of all the extraordinary things that
havebeensaidtomesinceIhavebeeninthishouse.You,ofcourse,heardwhat
LadyLindensaidassheleftus?"
"Iheard,"hesaid.Hischeeksturnedred.Waseveramaninaworseposition?
The questioning grey eyes stared at him so coldly that he lost his head. He
wanted to apologise, to explain, yet he knew that he could not explain. It was
Marjoriewhohadbroughthimintothis,buthemustrespectthegirl'ssecret,on
whichsomuchdependedforher.
"Please answer me," Joan Meredyth said. "You heard Lady Linden advise us,
youandmyself,tomakeupaquarrelthathasnevertakenplace;youheardher
—"Shepaused,agreatflushsuddenlystoleoverherface,addingenormouslyto
herattractiveness,butquicklyasitcame,itwent.


Whatcouldhesay?Vainlyherackedhisbrains.Hemustsaysomething,orthe
girlwouldbelievehimtobefoolaswellasknave.Ideas,excuses,liesentered
hismind,heputthemasideinstantly,asbeingunworthyofhimandofher,yet
hemusttellher—something.
"When—when I used your name, believe me, I had no idea that it was the
propertyofalivingwoman—"
"Whenyouusedmyname?Idon'tunderstandyou!"
"IclaimedthatIwasmarriedtoaMissJoanMeredyth—"
"I still don't understand you. You say you claimed that you were married—are
youmarriedtoanyone?"
"No!"
"Then—then—" Again the glorious flush came into her cheeks, but was gone
again,leavingherwhiter,colderthanbefore,onlyhereyesseemedtoburnwith
thefireofangerandcontempt.
"Iambeginningtounderstand,forsomereasonofyourown,youusedmyname,
youinformedLadyLindenthatyou—andIwere—married?"
"Yes,"hesaid.
"And it was, of course, a vile lie, an insolent lie!" Her voice quivered. "It has
subjected me to humiliation and annoyance. I do not think that a girl has ever
beenplacedinsuchafalsepositionasIhavebeenthroughyour—cowardlylie."
Hehadprobablyneverknownactualfearinhislife,norasenseofshamesuch
asheknewnow.Hehadnothingtosay,hewantedtoexplain,yetcouldnot,for
Marjorie's sake. If Lady Linden knew how she had been deceived, she would
naturallybefuriouslyangry,andthebruntofherangerwouldfallonMarjorie,
andthismustnotbe.
So, silent, unable to speak a word in self-defence, he stood listening, shamefaced,whilethegirlspoke.Everywordsheutteredwascuttingandcruel,yetshe
shewednotemper.Hecouldhavebornewiththat.
"Youprobablyknewofme,andknewthatIwasaloneintheworldwithnoone
tochampionme.YouknewthatIwaspoor,Mr.Alston,andsoafitbuttforyour
cowardly jest. My poverty has brought me into contact with strange people,


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