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,