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The Masquerader
Katherine Cecil Thurston




I

Two incidents, widely different in character yet bound
together by results, marked the night of January the
twenty-third.  On that night the blackest fog within a four
years' memory fell upon certain portions of London, and also
on that night came the first announcement of the border
risings against the Persian government in the province of
Khorasan the announcement that, speculated upon, even smiled
at, at the time, assumed such significance in the light of
after events.

At eight o'clock the news spread through the House of Commons;
but at nine men in the inner lobbies were gossiping, not so
much upon how far Russia, while ostensibly upholding the Shah,
had pulled the strings by which the insurgents danced, as upon
the manner in which the 'St. Geotge's Gazette', the Tory
evening newspaper, had seized upon the incident and shaken it
in the faces of the government.

More than once before, Lakely--the owner and editor of the
'St. George's'--had stepped outside the decorous circle of
tradition and taken a plunge into modern journalism, but
to-night he essayed deeper waters than before, and under an
almost sensational heading declared that in this apparently
innocent border rising we had less an outcome of mere racial
antagonism than a first faint index of a long-cherished
Russian scheme, growing to a gradual maturity under the
"drift" policy of the present British government.

The effect produced by this pronouncement, if strong, was
varied.  Members of the Opposition saw, or thought they saw, a
reflection of it in the smiling unconcern on the Ministerial
benches; and the government had an uneasy sense that behind
the newly kindled interest on the other side of the House lay
some mysterious scenting of battle from afar off.  But though
these impressions ran like electricity through the atmosphere,
nothing tangible marked their passage, and the ordinary
business of the House proceeded until half-past eleven, when
an adjournment was moved.

The first man to hurry from his place was John Chilcote,
member for East Wark.  He passed out of the House quickly,
with the half-furtive quickness that marks a self-absorbed
man; and as he passed the policeman standing stolidly under
the arched door-way of the big court-yard he swerved a little,
as if startled out of his thoughts.  He realized his swerve
almost before it was accomplished, and pulled himself together
with nervous irritability.

"Foggy night, constables," he said, with elaborate carelessness.

"Foggy night, sir, and thickening up west," responded the man.

"Ah, indeed!" Chilcote's answer was absent.  The constable's
cheery voice jarred on him, and for the second time he was
conscious of senseless irritation.

Without a further glance at the man, he slipped out into the
court-yard and turned towards the main gate.

At the gate-way two cab lamps showed through the mist of
shifting fog like the eyes of a great cat, and the familiar
"Hansom, sir?" came to him indistinctly.

He paused by force of custom; and, stepping forward, had
almost touched the open door when a new impulse caused him to
draw back.

"No," he said, hurriedly.  "No.  I'll walk."

The cabman muttered, lashed his horse, and with a clatter of
hoofs and harness wheeled away; while Chilcote, still with
uncertain hastiness, crossed the road in the direction of
Whitehall.

About the Abbey the fog had partially lifted, and in the
railed garden that faces the Houses of Parliament the statues
were visible in a spectral way.  But Chilcote's glance was
unstable and indifferent; he skirted the railings heedlessly,
and, crossing the road with the speed of long familiarity,
gained Whitehall on the lefthand side.

There the fog had dropped, and, looking upward towards
Trafalgar Square, it seemed that the chain of lamps extended
little farther than the Horse Guards, and that beyond lay
nothing.

Unconscious of this capricious alternation between darkness
and light, Chilcote continued his course.  To a close observer
the manner of his going had both interest and suggestion; for
though he walked on, apparently self-engrossed, yet at every
dozen steps he started at some sound or some touch, like a
man whose nervous system is painfully overstrung.

Maintaining his haste, he went deliberately forward, oblivious
of the fact that at each step the curtain of darkness about
him became closer, damper, more tangible; that at each second
the passers-by jostled each other with greater frequency.  Then,
abruptly, with a sudden realization of what had happened, he
stood quite still.  Without anticipation or preparation he had
walked full into the thickness of the fog--a thickness so
dense that, as by an enchanter's wand, the figures of a moment
before melted, the street lamps were sucked up into the night.

His first feeling was a sense of panic at the sudden isolation,
his second a thrill of nervous apprehension at the oblivion
that had allowed him to be so entrapped.  The second feeling
outweighed the first.  He moved forward, then paused again,
uncertain of himself.  Finally, with the consciousness that
inaction was unbearable, he moved on once more, his eyes wide
open, one hand thrust out as a protection and guide.

The fog had closed in behind him as heavily as in front,
shutting off all possibility of retreat; all about him in
the darkness was a confusion of voices--cheerful, dubious,
alarmed, or angry; now and then a sleeve brushed his or a hand
touched him tentatively.  It was a strange moment, a moment of
possibilities, to which the crunching wheels, the oaths and
laughter from the blocked traffic of the road-way, made a
continuous accompaniment.

Keeping well to the left, Chilcote still beat on; there was a
persistence in his movements that almost amounted to fear
--a fear born of the solitude filled with innumerable sounds.
For a space he groped about him without result, then his
fingers touched the cold surface of a shuttered shop-front,
and a thrill of reassurance passed through him.  With renewed
haste, and clinging to his landmark as a blind man might, he
started forward with fresh impetus.

For a dozen paces he moved rapidly and unevenly, then the
natural result occurred.  He collided with a man coming in the
opposite direction.

The shock was abrupt.  Both men swore simultaneously, then
both laughed.  The whole thing was casual, but Chilcote was in
that state of mind when even the commonplace becomes abnormal.
The other man's exclamation, the other man's laugh, struck on
his nerves; coming out of the darkness, they sounded like a
repetition of his own.

Nine out of every ten men in London, given the same social
position and the same education, might reasonably be expected
to express annoyance or amusement in the same manner, possibly
in the same tone of voice; and Chilcote remembered this almost
at the moment of his nervous jar.

"Beastly fog!" he said, aloud.  "I'm trying to find Grosvenor
Square, but the chances seem rather small."

The other laughed again, and again the laugh upset Chilcote.
He wondered uncomfortably if he was becoming a prey to
illusions.  But the stranger spoke before the question had
solved itself.

"I'm afraid they are small," he said.  "It would be almost
hard to find one's way to the devil on a night like this."

Chilcote made a murmur of amusement and drew back against the
shop.

"Yes.  We can see now where the blind man scores in the matter
of salvation.  This is almost a repetition of the fog of six
years ago.  Were you out in that?"

It was a habit of his to jump from one sentence to another, a
habit that had grown of late.

"No."  The stranger had also groped his way to the shopfront.
"No, I was out of England six years ago."

"You were lucky." Chilcote turned up the collar of his coat.
"It was an atrocious fog, as black as this, but more
universal.  I remember it well.  It was the night Lexington
made his great sugar speech.  Some of us were found on Lambeth
Bridge at three in the morning, having left the House at
twelve."

Chilcote seldom indulged in reminiscences, but this
conversation with an unseen companion was more like a
soliloquy than a dialogue.  He was almost surprised into an
exclamation when the other caught up his words.

"Ah!  The sugar speech!" he said.  "Odd that I should have
been looking it up only yesterday.  What a magnificent
dressing-up of a dry subject it was!  What a career Lexington
promised in those days!"

Chilcote changed his position.

"You are interested in the muddle down at Westminster?" he
asked, sarcastically.

"I--?"  It was the turn of the stranger to draw back a step.
"Oh, I read my newspaper with the other five million, that is
all.  I am an outsider."  His voice sounded curt; the warmth
that admiration had brought into it a moment before had frozen
abruptly.

"An outsider!" Chilcote repeated.  "What an enviable word!"

"Possibly, to those who are well inside the ring.  But let us
go back to Lexington.  What a pinnacle the man reached, and
what a drop he had!  It has always seemed to me an extraordinary
instance of the human leaven running through us all.  What was
the real cause of his collapse?" he asked, suddenly.  "Was it
drugs or drink?  I have often wished to get at the truth."

Again Chilcote changed his attitude.

"Is truth ever worth getting at?" he asked, irrelevantly.

"In the case of a public man--yes.  He exchanges his privacy
for the interest of the masses.  If he gives the masses the
details of his success, why not the details of his failure?
But was it drink that sucked him under?"

"No." Chilcote's response came after a pause.

"Drugs?"

Again Chilcote hesitated.  And at the moment of his indecision
a woman brushed past him, laughing boisterously.  The sound
jarred him.

"Was it drugs?" the stranger went on easily.  "I have always
had a theory that it was."

"Yes.  It was morphia."  The answer came before Chilcote had
realized it.  The woman's laugh at the stranger's quiet
persistence had contrived to draw it from him.  Instantly he
had spoken he looked about him quickly, like one who has for a
moment forgotten a necessary vigilance.

There was silence while the stranger thought over the
information just given him.  Then he spoke again, with a new
touch of vehemence.

"So I imagined," he said.  "Though, on my soul, I never really
credited it.  To have gained so much, and to have thrown it
away for a common vice!"  He made an exclamation of disgust.

Chilcote gave an unsteady laugh.  "You judge hardly." he said.

The other repeated his sound of contempt.  "Justly so.  No man
has the right to squander what another would give his soul
for.  It lessens the general respect for power."

"You are a believer in power?"  The tone was sarcastic, but
the sarcasm sounded thin.

"Yes.  All power is the outcome of individuality, either past
or present.  I find no sentiment for the man who plays with
it."

The quiet contempt of the tone stung Chilcote.

"Do you imagine that Lexington made no fight?" he asked,
impulsively.  "Can't you picture the man's struggle while the
vice that had been slave gradually became master?"  He stopped
to take breath, and in the cold pause that followed it seemed
to him that the other made a murmur of incredulity.

"Perhaps you think of morphia as a pleasure?" he added.
"Think of it, instead, as a tyrant--that tortures the mind if
held to, and the body if cast off."  Urged by the darkness and
the silence of his companion, the rein of his speech had
loosened.  In that moment he was not Chilcote the member for
East Wark, whose moods and silences were proverbial, but
Chilcote the man whose mind craved the relief of speech.

"You talk as the world talks--out of ignorance and
self-righteousness," he went on.  "Before you condemn
Lexington you should put yourself in his place--"

"As you do?" the other laughed.

Unsuspecting and inoffensive as the laugh was, it startled
Chilcote.  With a sudden alarm he pulled himself up.

"I--?"  He tried to echo the laugh, but the attempt fell flat.
"Oh, I merely speak from--from De Quincey.  But I believe this
fog is shifting--I really believe it is shifting.  Can you
oblige me with a light?  I had almost forgotten that a man may
still smoke though he has been deprived of sight."  He spoke
fast and disjointedly.  He was overwhelmed by the idea that he
had let himself go, and possessed by the wish to obliterate
the consequences.  As he talked he fumbled; for his
cigarette-case.

His bead was bent as he searched for it nervously.  Without
looking up, he was conscious that the cloud of fog that held
him prisoner was lifting, rolling away, closing back again,
preparatory to final disappearance.  Having found the case, he
put a cigarette between his lips and raised his hand at the
moment that the stranger drew a match across his box.

For a second each stared blankly at the other's face, suddenly
made visible by the lifting of the fog.  The match in the
stranger's hand burned down till it scorched his fingers, and,
feeling the pain, he laughed and let it drop.

"Of all odd things!" he said.  Then he broke off.  The
circumstance was too novel for ordinary remark.

By one of those rare occurrences, those chances that seem too
wild for real life and yet belong to no other sphere, the two
faces so strangely hidden and strangely revealed were identical,
feature for feature.  It seemed to each man that he looked not
at the face of another, but at his own face reflected in a
flawless looking-glass.

Of the two, the stranger was the first to regain self-possession.
Seeing Chilcote's bewilderment, he came to his rescue with
brusque tactfulness.

"The position is decidedly odd," he said.  "But after all, why
should we be so surprised?  Nature can't be eternally
original; she must dry up sometimes, and when she gets a good
model why shouldn't she use it twice?"  He drew back,
surveying Chilcote whimsically.  "But, pardon me, you are
still waiting for that light!"

Chilcote still held the cigarette between his lips.  The paper
had become dry, and he moistened it as he leaned towards his
companion.

"Don't mind me," he said.  "I'm rather--rather unstrung
to-night, and this thing gave me a jar.  To be candid, my
imagination took head in the fog, and I got to fancy I was
talking to myself--"

"And pulled up to find the fancy in some way real?"

"Yes.  Something like that."

Both were silent for a moment.  Chilcote pulled hard at his
cigarette, then, remembering his obligations, he turned
quickly to the other.

"Won't you smoke?" he asked.

The stranger accepted a cigarette from the case held out to
him; and as he did so the extraordinary likeness to himself
struck Chilcote with added force.  Involuntarily he put out
his hand and touched the other's arm.

"It's my nerves!" he said, in explanation.  "They make me want
to feel that you are substantial.  Nerves play such beastly
tricks!"  He laughed awkwardly.

The other glanced up.  His expression on the moment was
slightly surprised, slightly contemptuous, but he changed it
instantly to conventional interest.  "I am afraid I am not an
authority on nerves," he said.

But Chilcote was preoccupied.  His thoughts had turned into
another channel.

"How old are you?" he asked, suddenly.

The other did not answer immediately.  "My age?" he said at
last, slowly.  "Oh, I believe I shall be thirty-six
to-morrow--to be quite accurate."

Chilcote lifted his head quickly.

"Why do you use that tone?" he asked.  "I am six months older
than you, and I only wish it was six years.  Six years nearer
oblivion--"

Again a slight incredulous contempt crossed the other's eyes.
"Oblivion?" he said.  "Where are your ambitions?"

"They don't exist."

"Don't exist?  Yet you voice your country?  I concluded that
much in the fog."

Chilcote laughed sarcastically.

"When one has voiced one's country for six years one gets
hoarse--it's a natural consequence."

The other smiled.  "Ah, discontent!" he said.  "The modern
canker.  But we must both be getting under way.  Good-night!
Shall we shake hands--to prove that we are genuinely
material?"

Chilcote had been standing unusually still, following the
stranger's words--caught by his self-reliance and impressed by
his personality.  Now, as he ceased to speak, he moved quickly
forward, impelled by a nervous curiosity.

"Why should we just hail each other and pass--like the
proverbial ships?" he said, impulsively.  "If Nature was
careless enough to let the reproduction meet the original, she
must abide the consequences."

The other laughed, but his laugh was short.  "Oh, I don't
know.  Our roads lie differently.  You would get nothing out
of me, and I--" He stopped and again laughed shortly.  "No,"
he said; "I'd be content to pass, if I were you.  The
unsuccessful man is seldom a profitable study.  Shall we
say good-night?"

He took Chilcote's hand for an instant; then, crossing the
footpath, he passed into the road-way towards the Strand.

It was done in a moment; but with his going a sense of loss
fell upon Chilcote.  He stood for a space, newly conscious of
unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar voices in the stream of
passersby; then, suddenly mastered by an impulse, he wheeled
rapidly and darted after the tall, lean figure so ridiculously
like his own.

Half-way across Trafalgar Square he overtook the stranger.  He
had paused on one of the small stone islands that break the
current of traffic, and was waiting for an opportunity to
cross the street.  In the glare of light from the lamp above
his head, Chilcote saw for the first time that, under a
remarkable neatness of appearance, his clothes were well
worn--almost shabby.  The discovery struck him with something
stronger than surprise.  The idea of poverty seemed incongruous
is connection with the reliance, the reserve, the personality
of the man.  With a certain embarrassed haste he stepped
forward and touched his arm.

"Look here," he said, as the other turned quietly.  "I have
followed you to exchange cards.  It can't injure either of us,
and I--I have a wish to know my other self."  He laughed
nervously as he drew out his card-case.

The stranger watched him in silence.  There was the same faint
contempt, but also there was a reluctant interest in his
glance, as it passed from the fingers fumbling with the case
to the pale face with the square jaw, straight mouth, and
level eyebrows drawn low over the gray eyes.  When at last the
card was held out to him he took it without remark and slipped
it into his pocket.

Chilcote looked at him eagerly.  "Now the exchange?" he said.

For a second the stranger did not respond.  Then, almost
unexpectedly, he smiled.

"After all, if it amuses you--" he said; and, searching in his
waistcoat pocket, he drew out the required card.

"It will leave you quite unenlightened," he added.  "The name
of a failure never spells anything."  With another smile,
partly amused, partly ironical, he stepped from the little
island and disappeared into the throng of traffic.

Chilcote stood for an instant gazing at the point where he had
vanished; then, turning to the lamp, he lifted the card and
read the name it bore: "Mr. John Loder, 13 Clifford's Inn."




II


On the morning following the night of fog Chilcote woke at
nine.  He woke at the moment that his man Allsopp tiptoed
across the room and laid the salver with his early cup of tea
on the table beside the bed.

For several seconds he lay with his eyes shut; the effort of
opening them on a fresh day--the intimate certainty of what he
would see on opening them--seemed to weight his lids.  The
heavy, half-closed curtains; the blinds severely drawn; the
great room with its splendid furniture, its sober coloring,
its scent of damp London winter; above all, Allsopp, silent,
respectful, and respectable--were things to dread.

A full minute passed while he still feigned sleep.  He heard
Allsopp stir discreetly, then the inevitable information broke
the silence:

"Nine o'clock, sir!"

He opened his eyes, murmured something, and closed them again.

The man moved to the window, quietly pulled back the curtains
and half drew the blind.

"Better night, sir, I hope?" he ventured, softly.

Chilcote had drawn the bedclothes over his face to screen
himself from the daylight, murky though it was.

"Yes," he responded.  "Those beastly nightmares didn't trouble
me, for once."  He shivered a little as at some recollection.
"But don't talk--don't remind me of them.  I hate a man who
has no originality."  He spoke sharply.  At times he showed an
almost childish irritation over trivial things.

Allsopp took the remark in silence.  Crossing the wide room,
he began to lay out his master's clothes.  The action affected
Chilcote to fresh annoyance.

"Confound it!" he said.  "I'm sick of that routine: I can see
you laying out my winding-sheet the day of my burial.  Leave
those things.  Come back in half an hour."

Allsopp allowed himself one glance at his master's figure
huddled in the great bed; then, laying aside the coat he was
holding, he moved to the door.  With his: fingers on the
handle he paused.

"Will you breakfast in your own room, sir--or down-stairs?"

Chilcote drew the clothes more tightly round his shoulders.
"Oh, anywhere--nowhere!" he said.  "I don't care."

Allsopp softly withdrew.

Left to himself, Chilcote sat up in bed and lifted the salver
to his knees.  The sudden movement jarred him physically; he
drew a handkerchief from under the pillow and wiped his
forehead; then he held his hand to the light and studied it.
The hand looked sallow and unsteady.  With a nervous gesture
he thrust the salver back upon the table and slid out of bed.

Moving hastily across the room, he stopped before one of the
tall wardrobes and swung the door open; then after a furtive
glance around the room he thrust his hand into the recesses of
a shelf and fumbled there.

The thing he sought was evidently not hard to find.  for
almost at once he withdrew his hand and moved from the
wardrobe to a table beside the fireplace, carrying a small
glass tube filled with tabloids.

On the table were a decanter, a siphon, and a water-jug.
Mixing some whiskey, he uncorked the tube, again he glanced
apprehensively towards the door, then with a very nervous hand
dropped two tabloids into the glass.

While they dissolved he stood with his hand on the table and
his eyes fixed on the floor, evidently restraining his
impatience.  Instantly they had disappeared he seized the
glass and drained it at a draught, replaced the bottle in the
wardrobe, and, shivering slightly in the raw air, slipped back
into bed.

When Allsopp returned he was sitting up, a cigarette between
his lips, the teacup standing empty on the salver.  The
nervous irritability had gone from his manner.  He no longer
moved jerkily, his eyes looked brighter, his pale skin more
healthy.

"Ah, Allsopp," he said, "there are some moments in life, after
all.  It isn't all blank wall."

"I ordered breakfast in the small morning-room, sir," said
Allsopp, without a change of expression.

Chilcote breakfasted at ten.  His appetite, always fickle, was
particularly uncertain in the early hours.  He helped himself
to some fish, but sent away his plate untouched; then, having
drunk two cups of tea, he pushed back his chair, lighted a
fresh cigarette, and shook out the morning's newspaper.

Twice he shook it out and twice turned it, but the reluctance
to fix his mind upon it made him dally.

The effect of the morphia tabloids was still apparent in the
greater steadiness of his hand and eye, the regained quiet of
his susceptibilities, but the respite was temporary and
lethargic.  The early days--the days of six years ago, when
these tabloids meant an even sweep of thought, lucidity of
brain, a balance of judgment in thought and effort--were days
of the past.  As he had said of Lexington and his vice, the
slave had become master.

As he folded the paper in a last attempt at interest, the door
opened and his secretary came a step or two into the room.

"Good-morning, sir!" he said.  "Forgive me for being so
untimely."

He was a fresh-mannered, bright-eyed boy of twenty-three.  His
breezy alertness, his deference, as to a man who had attained
what he aspired to, amused and depressed Chilcote by turns.

"Good-morning, Blessington.  What is it now?"  He sighed
through habit, and, putting up his hand, warded off a ray of
sun that had forced itself through the misty atmosphere as if
by mistake.

The boy smiled.  "It's that business of the Wark timber
contract, sir," he said.  "You promised you'd look into it
to-day; you know you've shelved it for a week already, and Craig,
Burnage are rather clamoring for an answer."  He moved forward
and laid the papers he was carrying on the table beside
Chilcote.  "I'm sorry to be such a nuisance," he added.  "I
hope your nerves aren't worrying you to-day?"

Chilcote was toying with the papers.  At the word nerves he
glanced up suspiciously.  But Blessington's ingenuous face
satisfied him.

"No," he said.  "I settled my nerves last night with--with a
bromide.  I knew that fog would upset me unless I took
precautions."

"I'm glad of that, sir--though I'd avoid bromides.  Bad habit
to set up.  But this Wark business--I'd like to get it under
way, if you have no objection."

Chilcote passed his fingers over the papers.  "Were you out in
that fog last night, Blessington?"

"No, sir.  I supped with some people at the Savoy, and we just
missed it.  It was very partial, I believe."

"So I believe."

Blessington put his hand to his neat tie and pulled it.  He
was extremely polite, but he had an inordinate sense of duty.

"Forgive me, sir," he said, "but about that contract--I know
I'm a frightful bore."

"Oh, the contract!" Chilcote looked about him absently.
"By-the-way, did you see anything of my wife yesterday?  What did
she do last night?"

"Mrs. Chilcote gave me tea yesterday afternoon.  She told me
she was dining at Lady Sabinet's, and looking in at one or two
places later."  He eyed his papers in Chilcote's listless
hand.

Chilcote smiled satirically.  "Eve is very true to society,"
he said.  "I couldn't dine at the Sabinets' if it was to make
me premier.  They have a butler who is an institution--a sort
of heirloom in the family.  He is fat, and breathes audibly.
Last time I lunched there he haunted me for a whole night."

Blessington laughed gayly.  "Mrs. Chilcote doesn't see ghosts,
sir," he said; "but if I may suggest--"

Chilcote tapped his fingers on the table.

"No.  Eve doesn't see ghosts.  We rather miss sympathy there."

Blessington governed his impatience.  He stood still for some
seconds, then glanced down at his pointed boot.

"If you will be lenient to my persistency, sir, I would like
to remind you--"

Chilcote lifted his head with a flash of irritability.

"Confound it, Blessington!" he exclaimed.  "Am I never to be
left in peace?  Am I never to sit down to a meal without
having work thrust upon me?  Work--work--perpetually work?  I
have heard no other word in the last six years.  I declare
there are times"--he rose suddenly from his seat and turned to
the window--"there are times when I feel that for sixpence
I'd chuck it all--the whole beastly round--"

Startled by his vehemence, Blessington wheeled towards him.

"Not your political career, sir?"

There was a moment in which Chilcote hesitated, a moment in
which the desire that had filled his mind for months rose to
his lips and hung there; then the question, the incredulity in
Blessington's face, chilled it and it fell back into silence.

"I--I didn't say that," he murmured.  "You young men jump to
conclusions, Blessington."

"Forgive me, sir.  I never meant to imply retirement.  Why,
Rickshaw, Vale, Cressham, and the whole Wark crowd would be
about your ears like flies if such a thing were even breathed
--now more than ever, since these Persian rumors.  By-the-way,
is there anything real in this border business? The 'St.
George's' came out rather strong last night."

Chilcote had moved back to the table.  His face was pale from
his outburst and his fingers toyed restlessly with the open
newspaper.

"I haven't seen the 'St. George's'," he said, hastily.
"Lakely is always ready to shake the red rag where Russia is
concerned; whether we are to enter the arena is another matter.
But what about Craig, Burnage?  I think you mentioned
something of a contract."

"Oh, don't worry about that, sir." Blessington had caught the
twitching at the corners of Chilcote's mouth, the nervous
sharpness of his voice.  "I can put Craig, Burnage off.  If
they have an answer by Thursday it will be time enough."  He
began to collect his papers, but Chilcote stopped him.

"Wait," he said, veering suddenly.  "Wait.  I'll see to it
now.  I'll feel more myself when I've done something.  I'll
come with you to the study."

He walked hastily across the room; then, with his hand on the
door, he paused.

"You go first, Blessington," he said.  "I'll--I'll follow you
in ten minutes.  I must glance through the newspapers first."

Blessington looked uncertain.  "You won't forget, sir?"

"Forget?  Of course not."

Still doubtfully, Blessington left the room and closed the
door.

Once alone, Chilcote walked slowly back to the table, drew up
his chair, and sat down with his eyes on the white cloth, the
paper lying unheeded beside him.

Time passed.  A servant came into the room to remove the
breakfast.  Chilcote moved slightly when necessary, but
otherwise retained his attitude.  The servant, having finished
his task, replenished the fire and left the room.  Chilcote
still sat on.

At last, feeling numbed, he rose and crossed to the fireplace.
The clock on the mantel-piece stared him in the face.  He
looked at it, started slightly, then drew out his watch.
Watch and clock corresponded.  Each marked twelve o'clock.
With a nervous motion he leaned forward and pressed the
electric bell long and hard.

Instantly a servant answered.

"Is Mr. Blessington in the study?" Chilcote asked.

"He was there, sir, five minutes back."

Chilcote looked relieved.

"All right!  Tell him I have gone out--had to go out.
Something important.  You understand?"

"I understand, sir."

But before the words had been properly spoken Chilcote had
passed the man and walked into the hall.




III


Leaving his house, Chilcote walked forward quickly and
aimlessly.  With the sting of the outer air the recollection
of last night's adventure came back upon him.  Since the hour
of his waking it had hung about with vague persistence, but
now in the clear light of day it seemed to stand out with a
fuller peculiarity.

The thing was preposterous, nevertheless it was genuine.  He
was wearing the overcoat he had worn, the night before, and,
acting on impulse, he thrust his hand into the pocket and drew
out the stranger's card.

"Mr. John Loder!"  He read the name over as he walked along,
and it mechanically repeated itself in his brain--falling into
measure with his steps.  Who was John Loder?  What was he?
The questions tantalized him till his pace unconsciously
increased.  The thought that two men so absurdly alike could
inhabit the same, city and remain unknown to each other faced
him as a problem: it tangled with his personal worries and
aggravated them.  There seemed to be almost a danger in such
an extraordinary likeness.  He began to regret his impetuosity
in thrusting his card upon the man.  Then, again, how he had
let himself go on the subject of Lexington!  How narrowly he
had escaped compromise!  He turned hot and cold at the
recollection of what he had said and what he might have said.
Then for the first time he paused in his walk and looked
about him.

On leaving Grosvenor Square he had turned westward, moving
rapidly till the Marble Arch was reached; there, still
oblivious to his surroundings, he had crossed the roadway to
the Edgware Road, passing along it to the labyrinth of shabby
streets that lie behind Paddington.  Now, as he glanced about
him, he saw with some surprise how far he had come.

The damp remnants of the fog still hung about the house-tops
in a filmy veil; there were no glimpses of green to break the
monotony of tone; all was quiet, dingy, neglected.  But to
Chilcote the shabbiness was restful, the subdued atmosphere a
satisfaction.  Among these sad houses, these passers-by, each
filled with his own concerns, he experienced a sense of
respite and relief.  In the fashionable streets that bounded
his own horizon, if a man paused in his walk to work out an
idea he instantly drew a crowd of inquisitive or contemptuous
eyes; here, if a man halted for half an hour it was nobody's
business but his own.

Enjoying this thought, he wandered on for close upon an hour,
moving from one street to another with steps that were
listless or rapid, as inclination prompted; then, still acting
with vagrant aimlessness, he stopped in his wanderings and
entered a small eating-house.

The place was low-ceiled and dirty, the air hot and steaming
with the smell of food, but Chilcote passed through the door
and moved to one of the tables with no expression of disgust,
and with far less furtive watchfulness than he used in his own
house.  By a curious mental twist he felt greater freedom,
larger opportunities in drab surroundings such as these than
in the broad issues and weighty responsibilities of his own
life.  Choosing a corner seat, he called for coffee; and
there, protected by shadow and wrapped in cigarette smoke, he
set about imagining himself some vagrant unit who had slipped
his moorings and was blissfully adrift.

The imagination was pleasant while it lasted, but with him
nothing was permanent.  Of late the greater part of his
sufferings had been comprised in the irritable fickleness of
all his aims--the distaste for and impossibility of sustained
effort in any direction.  He had barely lighted a second
cigarette when the old restlessness fell upon him; he stirred
nervously in his seat, and the cigarette was scarcely burned
out when he rose, paid his small bill, and left the shop.

Outside on the pavement he halted, pulled out his watch, and
saw that two hours stretched in front before any appointment
claimed his attention.  He wondered vaguely where he might go
to--what he might do in those two hours?  In the last few
minutes a distaste for solitude had risen in his mind, giving
the close street a loneliness that had escaped him before.

As he stood wavering a cab passed slowly down the street.  The
sight of a well-dressed man roused the cabman; flicking his
whip, he passed Chilcote close, feigning to pull up.

The cab suggested civilization.  Chilcote's mind veered
suddenly and he raised his hand.  The vehicle stopped and he
climbed in.

"Where, sir?" The cabman peered down through the roof-door.

Chilcote raised his head.  "Oh, anywhere near Pall Mall," he
said.  Then, as the horse started forward, he put up his hand
and shook the trap-door.  "Wait!" he called.  "I've changed my
mind.  Drive to Cadogan Gardens--No. 33."

The distance to Cadogan Gardens was covered quickly.  Chilcote
had hardly realized that his destination was reached when the
cab pulled up.  Jumping out, he paid the fare and walked
quickly to the hall-door of No. 33.

"Is Lady Astrupp at home?" he asked, sharply, as the door
swung back in answer to his knock.

The servant drew back deferentially.  "Her ladyship has almost
finished lunch, sir," he said.

For answer Chilcote stepped through the door-way and walked
half-way across the hall.

"All right," he said.  "But don't disturb her on my account.
I'll wait in the white room till she has finished."  And,
without taking further notice of the servant, he began to
mount the stairs.

In the room where he had chosen to wait a pleasant wood-fire
brightened the dull January afternoon and softened the thick,
white curtains, the gilt furniture, and the Venetian vases
filled with white roses.  Moving straight forward, Chilcote
paused by the grate and stretched his hands to the blaze;
then, with his usual instability, he turned and passed to a
couch that stood a yard or two away.

On the couch, tucked away between a novel and a crystal
gazing-ball, was a white Persian kitten, fast asleep.
Chilcote picked up the ball and held it between his eyes and
the fire; then he laughed superciliously, tossed it back into
its place, and caught the kitten's tail.  The little animal
stirred, stretched itself, and began to purr.  At the same
moment the door of the room opened.

Chilcote turned round.  "I particularly said you were not to
be disturbed," he began.  "Have I merited displeasure?"  He
spoke fast, with the uneasy tone that so often underran his
words.

Lady Astrupp took his hand with a confiding gesture and
smiled.

"Never displeasure," she said, lingeringly, and again she
smiled.  The smile might have struck a close observer as
faintly, artificial.  But what man in Chilcote's frame of mind
has time to be observant where women are concerned?  The
manner of the smile was very sweet and almost caressing
--and that sufficed.

"What have you been doing?" she asked, after a moment.  "I
thought I was quite forgotten."  She moved across to the
couch, picked up the kitten, and kissed it.  "Isn't this
sweet?" she added.

She looked very graceful as she turned, holding the little
animal up.  She was a woman of twenty-seven, but she looked a
girl.  The outline of her face was pure, the pale gold of her
hair almost ethereal, and her tall, slight figure still
suggested the suppleness, the possibility of future
development, that belongs to youth.  She wore a lace-colored
gown that harmonized with the room and with the delicacy of
her skin.

"Now sit down and rest--or walk about the room.  I sha'n't
mind which."  She nestled into the couch and picked up the
crystal ball.

"What is the toy for?" Chilcote looked at her from the
mantel-piece, against which he was resting.  He had never defined
the precise attraction that Lillian Astrupp held for him.  Her
shallowness soothed him; her inconsequent egotism helped him
to forget himself.  She never asked him how he was, she never
expected impossibilities.  She let him come and go and act as
he pleased, never demanding reasons.  Like the kitten, she was
charming and graceful and easily amused; it was possible that,
also like the kitten, she could scratch and be spiteful on
occasion, but that did not weigh with him.  He sometimes
expressed a vague envy of the late Lord Astrupp; but, even had
circumstances permitted, it is doubtful whether he would have
chosen to be his successor.  Lillian as a friend was
delightful, but Lillian as a wife would have been a different
consideration.

"What is the toy for?" he asked again.

She looked up slowly.  "How cruel of you, Jack!  It is my very
latest hobby."

It was part of her attraction that she was never without a
craze.  Each new one was as fleeting as the last, but to each
she brought the same delightfully insincere enthusiasm, the
same picturesque devotion.  Each was a pose, but she posed so
sweetly that nobody lost patience.

"You mustn't laugh!" she protested, letting the kitten slip to
the ground.  "I've had lessons at five guineas each from the
most fascinating person--a professional; and I'm becoming
quite an adept.  Of course I haven't been much beyond the
milky appearance yet, but the milky appearance is everything,
you know; the rest will come.  I am trying to persuade Blanche
to let me have a pavilion at her party in March, and gaze for
all you dull political people."  Again she smiled.

Chilcote smiled as well.  "How is it done?" he asked,
momentarily amused.

"Oh, the doing is quite delicious.  You sit at a table with
the ball in front of you; then you take the subject's hands,
spread them out on the table, and stroke them very softly
while you gaze into the crystal; that gets up the sympathy,
you know."  She looked up innocently.  "Shall I show you?"

Chilcote moved a small table nearer to the couch and spread
his hands upon it, palms downward.  "Like this, eh?" he said.
Then a ridiculous nervousness seized him and he moved away.
"Some other day," he said, quickly.  "You can show me some
other day.  I'm not very fit this afternoon."

If Lillian felt any disappointment, she showed none.  "Poor
old thing!" she said, softly.  "Try to sit here by me and we
won't bother about anything."  She made a place for him beside
her, and as he dropped into it she took his hand and patted it
sympathetically.

The touch was soothing, and he bore it patiently enough.
After a moment she lifted the hand with a little exclamation
of reproof.

"You degenerate person!  You have ceased to manicure.  What
has become of my excellent training?"

Chilcote laughed.  "Run to seed," he said, lightly.  Then his
expression and tone changed.  "When a man gets to my age," he
added, "little social luxuries don't seem worth while; the
social necessities are irksome enough.  Personally, I envy the
beggar in the street--exempt from shaving, exempt from
washing--"

Lillian raised her delicate eyebrows.  The sentiment was
beyond her perception.

"But manicuring," she said, reproachfully, "when you have such
nice hands.  It was your hands and your eyes, you know, that
first appealed to me."  She sighed gently, with a touch of
sentimental remembrance.  "And I thought it so strong of you
not to wear rings--it must be such a temptation."  She looked
down at her own fingers, glittering with jewels.

But the momentary pleasure of her touch was gone.  Chilcote
drew away his hand and picked up the book that lay between
them.

"Other Men's Shoes!" he read.  "A novel, of course?"

She smiled.  "Of course.  Such a fantastic story.  Two men
changing identities."

Chilcote rose and walked back to the mantel-piece.

"Changing identities?" he said, with a touch of interest.

"Yes.  One man is an artist, the other a millionaire; one
wants to know what fame is like, the other wants to know how
it feels to be really sinfully rich.  So they exchange
experiences for a month."  She laughed.

Chilcote laughed as well.  "But how?" he asked.

"Oh, I told you the idea was absurd.  Fancy two people so much
alike that neither their friends nor their servants see any
difference!  Such a thing couldn't be, could it?"

Chilcote looked down at the fire.  "No," he said, doubtfully.
"No.  I suppose not."

"Of course not.  There are likenesses, but not freak
likenesses like that."

Chilcote's head was bent as she spoke, but at the last words
he lifted it.

"By Jove!  I don't know about that!" he said.  "Not so very
long ago I saw two men so much alike that I--I--"  He stopped.

Lillian smiled.

He colored quickly.  "You doubt me?" he asked.

"My dear Jack!"  Her voice was delicately reproachful.

"Then you think that my--my imagination has been playing me
tricks?"

"My dear boy!  Nothing of the kind.  Come back to your place
and tell me the whole tale?"  She smiled again, and patted the
couch invitingly.

But Chilcote's balance had been upset.  For the first time he
saw Lillian as one of the watchful, suspecting crowd before
which he was constantly on guard.  Acting on the sensation, he
moved suddenly towards the door.

"I--I have an appointment at the House," he said, quickly.
"I'll look in another day when--when I'm better company.  I
know I'm a bear to-day.  My nerves, you know."  He came back
to the couch and took her hand; then he touched her cheek for
an instant with his fingers.

"Good-bye," he said.  "Take care of yourself--and the kitten,"
he added, with forced gayety, as he crossed the room.


That afternoon Chilcote's nervous condition reached its
height.  All day he had avoided the climax, but no evasion can
be eternal, and this he realized as he sat in his place on the
Opposition benches during the half-hour of wintry twilight
that precedes the turning-on of the lights.  He realized it in
that half-hour, but the application of the knowledge followed
later, when the time came for him to question the government
on some point relating to a proposed additional dry-dock at
Talkley, the naval base.  Then for the first time he knew that
the sufferings of the past months could have a visible as well
as a hidden side--could disorganize his daily routine as they
had already demoralized his will and character.

The thing came upon him with extraordinary lack of preparation.
He sat through the twilight with tolerable calm, his nervousness
showing only in the occasional lifting of his hand to his collar
and the frequent changing of his position; but when the lights
were turned on, and he leaned back in his seat with closed eyes,
he became conscious of a curious impression--a disturbing idea
that through his closed lids he could see the faces on the
opposite side of the House, see the rows of eyes, sleepy,
interested, or vigilant.  Never before had the sensation
presented itself, but, once set up, it ran through all his
susceptibilities.  By an absurd freak of fancy those varying
eyes seemed to pierce through his lids, almost through his
eyeballs.  The cold perspiration that was his daily horror
broke out on his forehead; and at the same moment Fraide, his
leader, turned, leaned over the back of his seat, and touched
his knee.

Chilcote started and opened his eyes.  "I--I believe I was
dozing," he said, confusedly.

Fraide smiled his dry, kindly smile.  "A fatal admission for a
member of the Opposition," he said.  "But I was looking for
you earlier in the day, Chilcote.  There is something behind
this Persian affair.  I believe it to be a mere first move on
Russia's part.  You big trading people will find it worth
watching."

Chilcote shrugged his shoulders.  "Oh, I don't know," he said.
"I scarcely believe in it.  Lakely put a match to the powder
in the 'St. George's', but 'twill only be a noise and a puff
of smoke."

But Fraide did not smile.  "What is the feeling down at Wark?"
he asked.  "Has it awakened any interest?"

"At Wark?  Oh, I--I don't quite know.  I have been a little
out of touch with Wark in the last few weeks.  A man has so
many private affairs to look to--"  He was uneasy under his
chief's scrutiny.

Fraide's lips parted as if to make reply, but with a certain
dignified reticence he closed them again and turned away.

Chilcote leaned back in his place and furtively passed his
hand over his forehead.  His mind was possessed by one
consideration--the consideration of himself.  He glanced down
the crowded, lighted House to the big glass doors; he glanced
about him at his colleagues, indifferent or interested; then
surreptitiously his fingers strayed to his waistcoat-pocket.

Usually he carried his morphia tabloids with him, but to-day
by a lapse of memory he had left them at home.  He knew this,
nevertheless he continued to search, while the need of the
drug rushed through him with a sense of physical sickness.  He
lost hold on the business of the House; unconsciously he half
rose from his seat.

The man next him looked up.  "Hold your ground, Chilcote," he
said.  "Rayforth is drying up."

With a wave of relief Chilcote dropped back into his place.
Whatever the confusion in his mind, it was evidently not
obvious in his face.

Rayforth resumed his seat, there was the usual slight stir and
pause, then Salett, the member for Salchester, rose.

With Salett's first words Chilcote's hand again sought his
pocket, and again his eyes strayed towards the doors, but
Fraide's erect head and stiff back just in front of him held
him quiet.  With an effort he pulled out his notes and
smoothed them nervously; but though his gaze was fixed on the
pages, not a line of Blessington's clear writing reached his
mind.  He glanced at the face of the Speaker, then at the
faces on the Treasury Bench, then once more he leaned back in
his seat.

The man beside him saw the movement.  "Funking the drydock?"
he whispered, jestingly.

"No"--Chilcote turned to him suddenly--"but I feel beastly
--have felt beastly for weeks."

The other looked at him more closely.  "Anything wrong?" he
asked.  It was a novel experience to be confided in by
Chilcote.

"Oh, it's the grind-the infernal grind." As he said it, it
seemed to him suddenly that his strength gave way.  He forgot
his companion, his position, everything except the urgent
instinct that filled mind and body.  Scarcely knowing what he
did, he rose and leaned forward to whisper in Fraide's ear.

Fraide was seen to turn, his thin face interested and
concerned, then he was seen to nod once or twice in
acquiescence, and a moment later Chilcote stepped quietly out
of his place.

One or two men spoke to him as he hurried from the House, but
he shook them off almost uncivilly, and, making for the
nearest exit, hailed a cab.

The drive to Grosvenor Square was a misery.  Time after time
he changed from one corner of the cab to the other, his acute
internal pains prolonged by every delay and increased by every
motion.  At last, weak in all his limbs, he stepped from the
vehicle at his own door.

Entering the house, he instantly mounted the stairs and passed
to his own rooms.  Opening the bedroom door, he peered in
cautiously, then pushed the door wide.  The light had been
switched on, but the room was empty.  With a nervous
excitement scarcely to be kept in check, he entered, shut and
locked the door, then moved to the wardrobe, and, opening it,
drew the tube of tabloids from the shelf.

His hand shook violently as he carried the tube to the table.
The strain of the day, the anxiety of the past hours, with
their final failure, had found sudden expression.  Mixing a
larger dose than any he had before allowed himself, he
swallowed it hastily, and, walking across the room, threw
himself, fully dressed, upon the bed.




IV


To those whose sphere lies in the west of London, Fleet Street
is little more than a name, and Clifford's Inn a mere dead
letter.  Yet Clifford's Inn lies as safely stowed away in the
shadow of the Law Courts as any grave under a country church
wall; it is as green of grass, as gray of stone, as
irresponsive to the passing footstep.

Facing the railed-in grass-plot of its little court stood the
house in which John Loder had his rooms.  Taken at a first
glance, the house had the deserted air of an office, inhabited
only in the early hours; but, as night fell, lights would be
seen to show out, first on one floor, then on another--faint,
human beacons unconsciously signalling each other.  The rooms
Loder inhabited were on the highest floor; and from their
windows one might gaze philosophically on the tree-tops,
forgetting the uneven pavement and the worn railing that
hemmed them round.  In the landing outside the rooms his name
appeared above his door, but the paint had been soiled by
time, and the letters for the most part reduced to shadows; so
that, taken in conjunction with the gaunt staircase and bare
walls, the place had a cheerless look.

Inside, however, the effect was somewhat mitigated.  The room
on the right hand, as one entered the small passage that
served as hall, was of fair size, though low-ceiled.  The
paint of the wall-panelling, like the name above the outer
door, had long ago been worn to a dirty and nondescript hue,
and the floor was innocent of carpet; yet in the middle of
the room stood a fine old Cromwell table, and on the plain
deal book-shelves and along the mantel-piece were some
valuable books--political and historical.  There were no
curtains on the windows, and a common reading-lamp with a
green shade stood on a desk.  It was the room of a man with
few hobbies and no pleasures--who existed because he was
alive, and worked because he must.

Three nights after the great fog John Loder sat by his desk in
the light of the green-shaded lamp.  The remains of a very
frugal supper stood on the centre-table, and in the grate a
small and economical-looking fire was burning.

Having written for close on two hours, he pushed back his
chair and stretched his cramped fingers; then he yawned, rose,
and slowly walked across the room.  Reaching the mantel-piece,
he took a pipe from the pipe-rack and some tobacco from the
jar that stood behind the books.  His face looked tired and a
little worn, as is common with men who have worked long at an
uncongenial task.  Shredding the tobacco between his hands, he
slowly filled the pipe, then lighted it from the fire with a
spill of twisted paper.

Almost at the moment that he applied the light the sound of
steps mounting the uncarpeted stairs outside caught his
attention, and he raised his head to listen.

Presently the steps halted and he heard a match struck.  The
stranger was evidently uncertain of his whereabouts.  Then the
steps moved forward again and paused.

An expression of surprise crossed Loder's face, and he laid
down his pipe.  As the visitor knocked, he walked quietly
across the room and opened the door.

The passage outside was dark, and the new-comer drew back
before the light from the room.

"Mr. Loder--?" he began, interrogatively.  Then all at once he
laughed in embarrassed apology.  "Forgive me," he said.  "The
light rather dazzled me.  I didn't realize who it was."

Loder recognized the voice as belonging to his acquaintance of
the fog.

"Oh, it's you!" he said.  "Won't you come in?"  His voice was
a little cold.  This sudden resurrection left him surprised
--and not quite pleasantly surprised.  He walked back to the
fireplace, followed by his guest.

The guest seemed nervous and agitated.  "I must apologize for
the hour of my visit," he said.  "My--my time is not quite my
own."

Loder waved his hand.  "Whose time is his own?" he said.

Chilcote, encouraged by the remark, drew nearer to the fire.
Until this moment he had refrained from looking directly at
his host; now, however, he raised his eyes, and, despite his
preparation, he recoiled unavoidably before the extraordinary
resemblance.  Seen here, in the casual surroundings of a badly
furnished and crudely lighted room, it was even more
astounding than it had been in the mystery of the fog.

"Forgive me," he said again.  "It is physical--purely
physical.  I am bowled over against my will."

Loder smiled.  The slight contempt that Chilcote had first
inspired rose again, and with it a second feeling less easily
defined.  The man seemed so unstable, so incapable, yet so
grotesquely suggestive to himself.

"The likeness is rather overwhelming," he said; "but not heavy
enough to sink under.  Come nearer the fire.  What brought you
here?  Curiosity?"  There was a wooden arm-chair by the
fireplace.  He indicated it with a wave of the hand; then
turned and took up his smouldering pipe.

Chilcote, watching him furtively, obeyed the gesture and sat
down.

"It is extraordinary!" he said, as if unable to dismiss the
subject.  "It--it is quite extraordinary!"

The other glanced round.  "Let's drop it," he said.  "It's so
confoundedly obvious."  Then his tone changed.  "Won't you
smoke?" he asked.

"Thanks." Chilcote began to fumble for his cigarettes.

But his host forestalled him.  Taking a box from the
mantel-piece, he held it out.

"My one extravagance!" he said, ironically.  "My resources
bind me to one; and I think I have made a wise selection.  It
is about the only vice we haven't to pay for six times over."
He glanced sharply at the face so absurdly like his own, then,
lighting a fresh spill, offered his guest a light.

Chilcote moistened his cigarette and leaned forward.  In the
flare of the paper his face looked set and anxious, but Loder
saw that the lips did not twitch as they had done on the
previous occasion that he had given him a light, and a look of
comprehension crossed his eyes.

"What will you drink?  Or, rather, will you have a whiskey?
I keep nothing else.  Hospitality is one of the debarred
luxuries."

Chilcote shook his head.  "I seldom drink.  But don't let that
deter you."

Loder smiled.  "I have one drink in the twenty-four hours
--generally at two o'clock, when my night's work is done.  A
solitary man has to look where he is going."

"You work till two?"

"Two--or three."

Chilcote's eyes wandered to the desk.  "You write?" he asked.

The other nodded curtly.

"Books?" Chilcote's tone was anxious.

Loder laughed, and the bitter note showed in his voice.

"No--not books," he said.

Chilcote leaned back in his chair and passed his hand across
his face.  The strong wave of satisfaction that the words woke
in him was difficult to conceal.

"What is your work?"

Loder turned aside.  "You must not ask that," he said,
shortly.  "When a man has only one capacity, and the capacity
has no outlet, he is apt to run to seed in a wrong direction.
I cultivate weeds--at abominable labor and a very small
reward."  He stood with his back to the fire, facing his
visitor; his attitude was a curious blending of pride,
defiance, and despondency.

Chilcote leaned forward again.  "Why speak of yourself like
that?  You are a man of intelligence and education."  He spoke
questioningly, anxiously.

"Intelligence and education!" Loder laughed shortly.  "London
is cemented with intelligence.  And education!  What is
education?  The court dress necessary to presentation, the wig
and gown necessary to the barrister.  But do the wig and gown
necessarily mean briefs?  Or the court dress royal favor?
Education is the accessory; it is influence that is essential.
You should know that."

Chilcote moved restlessly in his seat.  "You talk bitterly,"
he said.

The other looked up.  "I think bitterly, which is worse.  I am
one of the unlucky beggars who, in the expectation of money,
has been denied a profession--even a trade, to which to cling
in time of shipwreck; and who, when disaster comes, drift out
to sea.  I warned you the other night to steer clear of me.  I
come under the head of flotsam!"

Chilcote's face lighted.  "You came a cropper?" he asked.

"No.  It was some one else who came the cropper--I only dealt
in results."

"Big results?"

"A drop from a probable eighty thousand pounds to a certain
eight hundred."

Chilcote glanced up.  "How did you take it?" he asked.

"I?  Oh, I was twenty-five then.  I had a good many hopes and
a lot of pride; but there is no place for either in a working
world."

"But your people?"

"My last relation died with the fortune."

"Your friends?"

Loder laid down his pipe.  "I told you I was twenty-five," he
said, with the tinge of humor that sometimes crossed his
manner.  "Doesn't that explain things?  I had never taken
favors in prosperity; a change of fortune was not likely to
alter my ways.  As I have said, I was twenty-five."  He
smiled.  "When I realized my position I sold all my belongings
with the exception of a table and a few books--which I stored.
I put on a walking-suit and let my beard grow; then, with
my entire capital in my pocket, I left England without saying
good-bye to any one."

"For how long?"

"Oh, for six years.  I wandered half over Europe and through a
good part of Asia in the time."

"And then?"

"Then?  Oh, I shaved off the beard and came back to London!"
He looked at Chilcote, partly contemptuous, partly amused at
his curiosity.

But Chilcote sat staring in silence.  The domination of the
other's personality and the futility of his achievements
baffled him.

Loder saw his bewilderment.  "You wonder what the devil I came
into the world for," he said.  "I sometimes wonder the same
myself."

At his words a change passed over Chilcote.  He half rose,
then dropped back into his seat.

"You have no friends?" he said.  "Your life is worth nothing
to you?"

Loder raised his head.  "I thought I had conveyed that
impression."

"You are an absolutely free man."

"No man is free who works for his bread.  If things had been
different I might have been in such shoes as yours, sauntering
in legislative byways; my hopes turned that way once.  But
hopes, like more substantial things, belong to the past--"  He
stopped abruptly and looked at his companion.

The change in Chilcote had become more acute; he sat fingering
his cigarette, his brows drawn down, his lips set nervously in
a conflict of emotions.  For a space he stayed very still,
avoiding Loder's eyes; then, as if decision had suddenly come
to him, he turned and met his gaze.

"How if there was a future," he said, "as well as a past?"



V


For the space of a minute there was silence in the room, then
outside in the still night three clocks simultaneously chimed
eleven, and their announcement was taken up and echoed by half
a dozen others, loud and faint, hoarse and resonant; for all
through the hours of darkness the neighborhood of Fleet Street
is alive with chimes.

Chilcote, startled by the jangle, rose from his seat; then, as
if driven by an uncontrollable impulse, he spoke again.

"You probably think I am mad--" he began.

Loder took his pipe out of his mouth.  "I am not so
presumptuous," he said, quietly.

For a space the other eyed him silently, as if trying to gauge
his thoughts; then once more he broke into speech.

"Look here," he said.  "I came to-night to make a proposition.
When I have made it you'll first of all jeer at it--as I
jeered when I made it to myself; then you'll see its
possibilities--as I did; then,"--he paused and glanced round
the room nervously--"then you'll accept it--as I did."  In the
uneasy haste of his speech his words broke off almost
unintelligibly.

Involuntarily Loder lifted his head to retort, but Chilcote
put up his hand.  His face was set with the obstinate
determination that weak men sometime exhibit.

"Before I begin I want to say that I am not druuk--that I am
neither mad nor drunk."  He looked fully at his companion with
his restless glance.  "I am quite sane--quite reasonable."

Again Loder essayed to speak, but again he put up his hand.

"No.  Hear me out.  You told me something of your story.  I'll
tell you something of mine.  You'll be the first person, man
or woman, that I have confided in for ten years.  You say you
have been treated shabbily.  I have treated myself shabbily
--which is harder to reconcile.  I had every chance--and I
chucked every chance away."

There was a strained pause, then again Loder lifted his head.

"Morphia?" he said, very quietly.

Chilcote wheeled round with a scared gesture.  "How did you
know that?" he asked, sharply.

The other smiled.  "It wasn't guessing--it wasn't even
deduction.  You told me, or as good as told me, in the fog
--when we talked of Lexington.  You were unstrung that night,
and I--Well, perhaps one gets over-observant from living
alone."  He smiled again.

Chilcote collapsed into his former seat and passed his
handkerchief across his forehead.

Loder watched him for a space; then he spoke.  "Why don't you
pull up?" he said.  "You are a young man still.  Why don't you
drop the thing before it gets too late?"  His face was
unsympathetic, and below the question in his voice lay a note
of hard ness.

Chilcote returned his glance.  The suggestion of reproof had
accentuated his pallor.  Under his excitement he looked ill
and worn.

"You might talk till doomsday, but every word would be
wasted," he said, irritably.  "I'm past praying for, by
something like six years."

"Then why come here?" Loder was pulling hard on his pipe.
"I'm not a dealer in sympathy."

"I don't require sympathy." Chilcote rose again.  He was still
agitated, but the agitation was quieter.  "I want a much more
expensive thing than sympathy--and I am willing to pay for
it."

The other turned and looked at him.  "I have no possession in
the world that would be worth a fiver to you," he said,
coldly.  "You're either under a delusion or you're wasting my
time."

Chilcote laughed nervously.  "Wait," he said.  "Wait.  I only
ask you to wait.  First let me sketch you my position
--it won't take many words:

"My grandfather was a Chilcote of Westmoreland; he was one of
the first of his day and his class to recognize that there was
a future in trade, so, breaking his own little twig from the
family tree, he went south to Wark and
entered a ship-owning firm.  In thirty years' time he
died, the owner of one of the biggest trades in England,
having married the daughter of his chief.  My father was
twenty-four and still at Oxford when he inherited.  Almost his
first act was to reverse my grandfather's early move by going
north and piecing together the family friendship.  He married
his first cousin; and then, with the Chilcote prestige revived
and the shipping money to back it, he entered on his ambition,
which was to represent East Wark in the Conservative interest.
It was a big fight, but he won
--as much by personal influence as by any other.  He was an
aristocrat, but he was a keen business-man as well.  The
combination carries weight with your lower classes.  He never
did much in the House, but he was a power to his party in
Wark.  They still use his name there to conjure with."

Loder leaned forward interestedly.

"Robert Chilcote?" he said.  "I have heard of him.  One of
those fine, unostentatious figures--strong in action, a little
narrow in outlook, perhaps, but essential to a country's
staying power.  You have every reason to be proud of your
father."

Chilcote laughed suddenly.  "How easily we sum up, when a
matter is impersonal!  My father may have been a fine figure,
but he shouldn't have left me to climb to his pedestal."

Loder's eyes questioned.  In his newly awakened interest he
had let his pipe go out.

"Don't you grasp my meaning?" Chilcote went on.  "My father
died and I was elected for East Wark.  You may say that if I
had no real inclination for the position I could have kicked.
But I tell you I couldn't.  Every local interest, political
and commercial, hung upon the candidate being a Chilcote.  I
did what eight men out of ten would have done.  I yielded to
pressure."

"It was a fine opening!"  The words escaped Loder.

"Most prisons have wide gates!" Chilcote laughed again
unpleasantly.  "That was six years ago.  I had started on the
morphia tack four years earlier, but up to my father's death I
had it under my thumb--or believed I had; and in the
realization of my new responsibilities and the excitement of
the political fight I almost put it aside.  For several months
after I entered Parliament I worked.  I believe I made one
speech that marked me as a coming man." He laughed derisively.
"I even married--"

"Married?"

"Yes.  A girl of nineteen--the ward of a great statesman.  It
was a brilliant marriage--politically as well as socially.
But it didn't work.  I was born without the capacity for love.
First the social life palled on me; then my work grew irksome.
There was only one factor to make life endurable--morphia.
Before six months were out I had fully admitted that."

"But your wife?"

"Oh, my wife knew nothing--knows nothing.  It is the political
business, the beastly routine of the political life, that is
wearing me out."  He stopped nervously, then hurried on,
again.  "I tell you it's hell to see the same faces, to sit in
the same seat day in, day out, knowing all the time that you
must hold yourself in hand, must keep your grip on the reins--"

"It is always possible to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds."

"To retire?  Possible to retire?" Chilcote broke into a loud,
sarcastic laugh.  "You don't know what the local pressure of a
place like Wark stands for.  Twenty times I have been within
an ace of chucking the whole thing.  Once last year I wrote
privately to Vale, one of our big men there, and hinted that
my health was bad.  Two hours after he had read my letter he
was in my study.  Had I been in Greenland the result would
have been the same.  No.  Resignation is a meaningless word to
a man like me."

Loder looked down.  "I see," he said, slowly, "I see."

"Then you see everything--the difficulty, the isolation of the
position.  Five years ago--three--even two years ago--I was
able to endure it; now it gets more unbearable with every
month.  The day is bound to come when--when"--he paused,
hesitating nervously--"when it will be physically impossible
for me to be at my post."

Loder remained silent.

"Physically impossible," Chilcote repeated, excitedly.  "Until
lately I was able to calculate--to count upon myself to some
extent; but yesterday I received a shock--yesterday I
discovered that--that"--again he hesitated painfully--"that I
have passed the stage when one may calculate."

The situation was growing more embarrassing.  To hide its
awkwardness, Loder moved back to the grate and rebuilt the
fire, which had fallen low.

Chilcote, still excited by his unusual vehemence, followed
him, taking up a position by the mantelpiece.

"Well?" he said, looking down.

Very slowly Loder rose from his task.  "Well?" he reiterated.

"Have you nothing to say?"

"Nothing, except that your story is unique, and that I suppose
I am flattered by your confidence."  His voice was
intentionally brusque.

Chilcote paid no attention to the voice.  Taking a step
forward, he laid his fingers on the lapel of Loder's coat.

"I have passed the stage where I can count upon myself," he
said, "and I want to count upon somebody else.  I want to keep
my place in the world's eyes and yet be free--"

Loder drew back involuntarily, contempt struggling with
bewilderment in his expression.

Chilcote lifted his head.  "By an extraordinary chance," he
said, "you can do for me what no other man in creation could
do.  It was suggested to me unconsciously by the story of a
book--a book in which men change identities.  I saw nothing in
it at the time, but this morning, as I lay in bed, sick with
yesterday's fiasco, it came back to me--it rushed over my mind
in an inspiration.  It will save me--and make you.  I'm not
insulting you, though you'd like to think so."

Without remark Loder freed himself from the other's touch and
walked back to his desk.  His anger, his pride, and, against
his will, his excitement were all aroused.

He sat down, leaned his elbow on the desk and took his face
between his hands.  The man behind him undoubtedly talked
madness; but after five years of dreary sanity madness had a
fascination.  Against all reason it stirred and roused him.
For one instant his pride and his anger faltered before it,
then common-sense flowed back again and adjusted the balance.

"You propose," he said, slowly, "that for a consideration of
money I should trade on the likeness between us--and become
your dummy, when you are otherwise engaged?"

Chilcote colored.  "You are unpleasantly blunt," he said.

"But I have caught your meaning?"

"In the rough, yes."

Loder nodded curtly.  "Then take my advice and go home," he
said.  "You're unhinged."

The other returned his glance, and as their eyes met Loder was
reluctantly compelled to admit that, though the face was
disturbed, it had no traces of insanity.

"I make you a proposal," Chilcote repeated, nervously but with
distinctness.  "Do you accept?"

For an instant Loder was at a loss to find a reply
sufficiently final.  Chilcote broke in upon the pause.

"After all," he urged, "what I ask of you is a simple thing.
Merely to carry through my routine duties for a week or two
occasionally when I find my endurance giving way--when a
respite becomes essential.  The work would be nothing to a man
in your state of mind, the pay anything you like to name."  In
his eagerness he had followed Loder to the desk.  "Won't you
give me an answer?  I told you I am neither mad nor drunk."

Loder pushed back the scattered papers that lay under his arm.

"Only a lunatic would propose such a scheme." he said,
brusquely and without feeling.

"Why?"

The other's lips parted for a quick retort; then in a
surprising way the retort seemed to fail him.  "Oh, because
the thing isn't feasible, isn't practicable from any point of
view."

Chilcote stepped closer.  "Why?" he insisted.

"Because it couldn't work, man!  Couldn't hold for a dozen
hours."

Chilcote put out his hand and touched his arm.  "But why?" he
urged.  "Why?  Give me one unanswerable reason."

Loder shook off the hand and laughed, but below his laugh lay
a suggestion of the other's excitement.  Again the scene
stirred him against his sounder judgment; though his reply,
when it came, was firm enough.

"As for reasons--" he said.  "There are a hundred, if I had
time to name them.  Take it, for the sake of supposition, that
I were to accept your offer.  I should take my place in your
house at--let us say at dinnertime.  Your man gets me into
your evening-clothes, and there, at the very start, you have
the first suspicion set up.  He has probably known you for
years--known you until every turn of your appearance, voice,
and manner is far more familiar to him than it is to you.
There are no eyes like a servant's."

"I have thought of that.  My servant and my secretary can both
be changed.  I will do the thing thoroughly."

Loder glanced at him in surprise.  The madness had more method
than he had believed.  Then, as he still looked, a fresh idea
struck him, and he laughed.

"You have entirely forgotten one thing," he said.  "You can
hardly dismiss your wife."

"My wife doesn't count."

Again Loder laughed.  "I'm afraid I scarcely agree.  The
complications would be slightly--slightly--" He paused.

Chilcote's latent irritability broke out suddenly.  "Look
here," he said, "this isn't a chaffing matter, It may be
moonshine to you, but it's reality to me."

Again Loder took his face between his hands.

"Don't ridicule the idea.  I'm in dead earnest."

Loder said nothing.

"Think--think it over before you refuse."

For a moment Loder remained motionless; then h  rose suddenly,
pushing back his chair.

"Tush, man!  You don't know what you say.  The fact of your
being married bars it.  Can't you see that?"

Again Chilcote caught his arm.

"You misunderstand," he said.  "You mistake the position.  I
tell you my wife and I are nothing to each other.  She goes
her way; I go mine.  We have our own friends, our own rooms.
Marriage, actual marriage, doesn't enter the question.  We
meet occasionally at meals, and at other people's houses;
sometimes we go out together for the sake of appearances;
beyond that, nothing.  If you take up my life, nobody in it
will trouble you less than Eve--I can promise that."  He
laughed unsteadily.

Loder's face remained unmoved.

"Even granting that," he said, "the thing is still
impossible."

"Why?"

"There is the House.  The position there would be untenable.
A man is known there as he is known in his own club."  He drew
away from Chilcote's touch.

"Very possibly.  Very possibly."  Chilcote laughed quickly and
excitedly.  "But what club is without its eccentric member?  I
am glad you spoke of that.  I am glad you raised that point.
It was a long time ago that I hit upon a reputation for moods
as a shield for--for other things, and, the more useful it has
become, the more I have let it grow.  I tell you you might go
down to the House to-morrow and spend the whole day without
speaking to, even nodding to, a single man, and as long as you
were I to outward appearances no one would raise an eyebrow.
In the same way you might vote in my place ask a question, make
a speech if you wanted to--"

At the word speech Loder turned involuntarily For a fleeting
second the coldness of his manner dropped and his face
changed.

Chilcote, with his nervous quickness of perception, saw the
alteration, and a new look crossed his own face.

"Why not?" he said, quickly.  "You once had ambitions in that
direction.  Why not renew the ambitions?"

"And drop back from the mountains into the gutter?" Loder
smiled and slowly shook his head.

"Better to live for one day than to exist for a hundred!"
Chilcote's voice trembled with anxiety.  For the third time he
extended his hand and touched the other.

This time Loder did not shake off the detaining; hand; he
scarcely seemed to feel its pressure.

"Look here." Chilcote's fingers tightened.  "A little while
ago you talked of influence.  Here you can step into a
position built by influence.  You might do all you once hoped
to do--"

Loder suddenly lifted his head.  "Absurd!" he said.  "Absurd!
Such a scheme was never carried through."

"Precisely why it will succeed.  People never suspect until
they have a precedent.  Will you consider it?  At least
consider it.  Remember, if there is a risk, it is I who am
running it.  On your own showing, you have no position to
jeopardize."

The other laughed curtly.

"Before I go to-night will you promise me to consider it?"

"No."

"Then you will send me your decision by wire to-morrow.  I
won't take your answer now."

Loder freed his arm abruptly.  "Why not?" he asked.

Chilcote smiled nervously.  "Because I know men--and men's
temptations.  We are all very strong till the quick is
touched; then we all wince.  It's morphia with one man,
ambitions with another.  In each case it's only a matter of
sooner or later."  He laughed in his satirical, unstrung way,
and held out his hand.  "'You have my address," he said.  "Au
revoir."

Loder pressed the hand and dropped it.  "Goodbye," he said,
meaningly.  Then he crossed the room quietly and held the door
open.  "Good-bye," he said again as the other passed him.

As he crossed the threshold, Chilcote paused.  "Au revoir," he
corrected, with emphasis.

Until the last echo of his visitor's steps had died away Loder
stood with his hand on the door; then, closing it quietly, he
turned and looked round the room.  For a considerable space he
stood there as if weighing the merits of each object; then
very slowly he moved to one of the book-shelves, drew out
May's Parliamentary Practice, and, carrying it to the desk,
readjusted the lamp.



VI

All the next day Chilcote moved in a fever of excitement.  Hot
with hope one moment, cold with fever the next, he rushed with
restless energy into every task that presented itself--only to
drop it as speedily.  Twice during the morning he drove to the
entrance of Clifford's Inn, but each time his courage failed
him and he returned to Grosvenor Square--to learn that the
expected message from Loder had not come.

It was a wearing condition of mind; but at worst it was
scarcely more than an exaggeration of what his state had been
for months, and made but little obvious difference in his
bearing or manner.

In the afternoon he took his place in the House, but, though
it was his first appearance since his failure of two days ago,
he drew but small personal notice.  When he chose, his manner
could repel advances with extreme effect, and of late men had
been prone to draw away from him.

In one of the lobbies he encountered Fraide surrounded by a
group of friends.  With his usual furtive haste he would have
passed on; but, moving away from his party, the old man
accosted him.  He was always courteously particular in his
treatment of Chilcote, as the husband of his ward and
godchild.

"Better, Chilcote?" he said, holding out his hand.

At the sound of the low, rather formal tones, so
characteristic of the old statesman, a hundred memories rose
to Chilcote's mind, a hundred hours, distasteful in the living
and unbearable in the recollection; and with them the new
flash of hope, the new possibility of freedom.  In a sudden
rush of confidence he turned to his leader.

"I believe I've found a remedy for my nerves," he said.  "I
--I believe I'm going to be anew man."  He laughed with a
touch of excitement,

Fraide pressed his fingers kindly, "That is right," he said.
"That is right.  I called at Grosvenor Square this morning,
but Eve told me your illness of the other day was not serious.
She was very busy this morning--she could only spare me a
quarter of an hour.  She is indefatigable over the social side
of your prospects.  Chilcote.  You owe her a large debt.  A
popular wife means a great deal to a politician."

The steady eyes of his companion disturbed Chilcote.

He drew away his hand.

"Eve is unique," he said, vaguely.

Fraide smiled.  "That is right," he said again.  "Admiration
is too largely excluded from modern marriages."  And with a
courteous excuse he rejoined his friends.

It was dinner-time before Chilcote could desert the House, but
the moment departure was possible he hurried to Grosvenor
Square.

As he entered the house, the hall was empty.  He swore
irritably under his breath and pressed the nearest bell.
Since his momentary exaltation in Fraide's presence, his
spirits had steadily fallen, until now they hung at the lowest
ebb.

As he waited in unconcealed impatience for an answer to his
summons, he caught sight of his man Allsopp at the head of the
stairs.

"Come here!" he called, pleased to find some one upon whom to
vent his irritation.  "Has that wire come for me?"

"No, sir.  I inquired five minutes back."

"Inquire again."

"Yes, sir."  Allsopp disappeared.

A second after his disappearance the bell of the hall door
whizzed loudly.

Chileote started.  All sudden sounds, like all strong lights,
affected him.  He half moved to the door, then stopped himself
with a short exclamation.  At the same instant Allsopp
reappeared.

Chilcote turned on him excitedly.

"What the devil's the meaning of this?" he said.  "A battery
of servants in the house and nobody to open the hall door!"

Allsopp looked embarrassed.  "Crapham is coming directly, sir.
He only left the hall to ask Jeffries--"

Chilcote turned.  "Confound Crapham!" he exclaimed.  "Go and
open the door yourself."

Allsopp hesitated, his dignity struggling with his obedience.
As he waited, the bell sounded again.

"Did you hear me?" Chilcote said.

"Yes, sir."  Allsopp crossed the hall.

As the door was opened Chilcote passed his handkerchief from
one hand to the other in the tension of hope and fear; then,
as the sound of his own name in the shrill tones of a
telegraph-boy reached his ears, he let the handkerchief drop
to the ground.

Allsopp took the yellow envelope and carried it to his master.

"A telegram, sir," he said.  "And the boy wishes to know if
there is an answer."  Picking up Chilcote's handkerchief, he
turned aside with elaborate dignity.

Chilcote's hands were so unsteady that he could scarcely
insert his finger under the flap of the envelope.  Tearing off
a corner, he wrenched the covering apart and smoothed out the
flimsy pink paper.

The message was very simple, consisting of but seven words:

   "Shall expect you at eleven to-night.-LODER."

He read it two or three times, then he looked up.  "No
answer," he said, mechanically; and to his own ears the relief
in his voice sounded harsh and unnatural.

Exactly as the clocks chimed eleven Chilcote mounted the
stairs to Loder's rooms.  But this time there was more of
haste than of uncertainty in his steps, and, reaching the
landing, he crossed it in a couple of strides and knocked
feverishly on the door.

It opened at once, and Loder stood before him.

The occasion was peculiar.  For a moment neither spoke;
each involuntarily looked at the other with new eyes
and under changed conditions.  Each had assumed a fresh
stand-point in the other's thought.  The passing astonishment,
the half-impersonal curiosity that had previously tinged their
relationship, was cast aside,
never to be reassumed.  In each, the other saw himself
--and something more.

As usual, Loder was the first to recover himself.

"I was expecting you," he said.  "Won't you come in?"

The words were almost the same as his words of the night
before, but his voice had a different ring; just as his face,
when he drew back into the room, had a different expression--a
suggestion of decision and energy that had been lacking
before.  Chilcote caught the difference as he crossed the
threshold, and for a bare second a flicker of something like
jealousy touched him.  But the sensation was fleeting.

"I have to thank you!" he said, holding out his hand.  He was
too well bred to show by a hint that he understood the drop in
the other's principles.  But Loder broke down the artifice.

"Let's be straight with each other, since everybody else has
to be deceived," he said, taking the other's hand.  "You have
nothing to thank me for, and you know it.  It's a touch of the
old Adam.  You tempted me, and I fell."  He laughed, but below
the laugh ran a note of something like triumph--the curious
triumph of a man who has known the tyranny of strength and
suddenly appreciates the freedom of a weakness.

"You fully realize the thing you have proposed?" he added, in
a different tone.  "It's not too late to retract, even now."

Chilcote opened his lips, paused, then laughed in imitation of
his companion; but the laugh sounded forced.

"My dear fellow," he said at last, "I never retract."

"Never?"

"No."

"Then the bargain's sealed."

Loder walked slowly across the room, and, taking up his
position by the mantel-piece, looked at his companion.  The
similarity between them as they faced each other seemed
abnormal, defying even the closest scrutiny.  And yet, so
mysterious is Nature even in her lapses, they were subtly,
indefinably different.  Chilcote was Loder deprived of one
essential: Loder, Chilcote with that essential bestowed.  The
difference lay neither in feature, in coloring, nor in height,
but in that baffling, illusive inner illumination that some
call individuality, and others soul.

Something of this idea, misted and tangled by nervous
imagination, crossed Chilcote's mind in that moment of
scrutiny, but he shrank from it apprehensively.

"I--I came to discuss details," he said, quickly, crossing the
space that divided him from his host.  "Shall we--?  Are you--?"
He paused uneasily.

"I'm entirely in your hands." Loder spoke with abrupt decision.
Moving to the table, he indicated a chair, and drew another
forward for himself.

Both men sat down.

Chilcote leaned forward, resting elbows on the table.  "There
will be several things to consider--" he began, nervously,
looking across at the other.

"Quite so."  Loder glanced back appreciatively.  "I thought
about those things the better part of last night.  To begin
with, I must study your handwriting.  I guarantee to get it
right, but it will take a month."

"A month!"

"Well, perhaps three weeks.  We mustn't make a mess of
things."

Chilcote shifted his position.

"Three weeks!" he repeated.  "Couldn't you--?"

"No; I couldn't." Loder spoke authoritatively.  "I might never
want to put pen to paper, but, on the other hand, I might have
to sign a check one day."  He laughed.  "Have you ever thought
of that?--that I might have to, or want to, sign a check?"

"No.  I confess that escaped me."

"You risk your fortune that you, may keep the place it bought
for you?" Loder laughed again.  "How do you know that I am not
a blackguard?" he added.  "How do you know that I won't clear
out one day and leave you high and dry?  What is to prevent
John Chilcote from realizing forty or fifty thousand pounds
and then making himself scarce?"

"You won't do that," Chilcote said, with unusual decision.  "I
told you your weakness last night; and it wasn't money.  Money
isn't the rock you'll split over."

"Then you think I'll split upon some rock?  But that's beyond
the question.  To get to business again.  You'll risk my
studying your signature?"

Chilcote nodded.

"Right!  Now item two."  Loder counted on his: fingers.  "I
must know the names and faces of your men friends as far as I
can.  Your woman friends don't count.  While I'm you, you will
be adamant."  He laughed again pleasantly.  "But the men are
essential--the backbone of the whole business."

"I have no men friends.  I don't trust the idea of
friendship."

"Acquaintances, then."

Chilcote looked up sharply.  "I think we score there," he
said.  "I have a reputation for absent-mindedness that will
carry you anywhere.  They tell me I can look through the most
substantial man in the House as if he were gossamer, though I
may have lunched with him the same day."

Loder smiled.  "By Jove!" he exclaimed.  "Fate Must have been
constructing this before either of us was born.  It dovetails
ridiculously.  But I must know your colleagues--even if it's
only to cut them.  You'll have to take me to the House."

"Impossible!"

"Not at all!" Again the tone of authority fell to Loder.
"I can pull my hat over my eyes and turn up my coat-collar.
Nobody will notice me.  We can choose the fall of the
afternoon.  I promise you 'twill be all right."

"Suppose the likeness should leak out?  It's a risk."

Loder laughed confidently.  "Tush, man!  Risk is the salt of
life.  I must see you at your post, and I must see the men
you work with."  He rose, walked across the room, and took
his pipe from the rack.  "When I go in for a thing, I like
to go in over head and ears," he added, as he opened his
tobacco-jar.

His pipe filled, he resumed his seat, resting his elbows on
the table in unconscious imitation of Chilcote.

"Got a match?" he said, laconically, holding out his band.

In response Chilcote drew his match-box from his pocket and
struck a light.  As their hands touched, an exclamation
escaped him.

"By Jove!" he said, with a fretful mixture of disappointment
and surprise.  "I hadn't noticed that!"  His eyes were fixed
in annoyed interest on Loder's extended hand.

Loder, following his glance, smiled.  "Odd that we should both
have overlooked it!  It clean escaped my mind.  It's rather an
ugly scar."  He lifted his hand till the light fell more fully
on it.  Above the second joint of the third finger ran a
jagged furrow, the reminder of a wound that had once laid bare
the bone.

Chilcote leaned forward.  "How did you come by it?" he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders.  "Oh, that's ancient history."

"The results are present-day enough.  It's very awkward!  Very
annoying!"  Chilcote's spirits, at all times overeasily played
upon, were damped by this obstacle.

Loder, still looking at his hand, didn't seem to hear.
"There's only one thing to be done," he said.  "Each wear two
rings on the third finger of the left hand.  Two rings ought
to cover it."  He made a speculative measurement with the stem
of his pipe.

Chilcote still looked irritable and disturbed.  "I detest
rings.  I never wear rings."

Loder raised his eyes calmly.  "Neither do I," he said.  "But
there's no reason for bigotry."

But Chilcote's irritability was started.  He pushed back his
chair.  "I don't like the idea," he said.

The other eyed him amusedly.  "What a queer beggar you are!"
he said.  "You waive the danger of a man signing your checks
and shy at wearing a piece of jewelry.  I'll have a fair share
of individuality to study."

Chilcote moved restlessly.  "Everybody knows I detest jewelry."

"Everybody knows you are capricious.  It's got to be the rings
or nothing, so far as I make out."

Chilcote again altered his position, avoiding the other's
eyes.  At last, after a struggle with himself, he looked up.

"I suppose you're right!" he said.  "Have it your own way." It
was the first small, tangible concession to the stronger will.

Loder took his victory quietly.  "Good!" he said.  "Then it's
all straight sailing?"

"Except for the matter of the--the remuneration." Chilcote
hazarded the word uncertainly.

There was a faint pause, then Loder laughed brusquely.  "My
pay?"

The other was embarrassed.  "I didn't want to put it quite
like that."

"But that was what you thought.  Why are you never honest
--even with yourself?"

Chilcote drew his chair closer to the table.  He did not
attend to the other's remark, but his fingers strayed to his
waistcoat pocket and fumbled there.

Loder saw the gesture.  "Look here," he said, "you are
overtaxing yourself.  The affair of the pay isn't pressing;
we'll shelve it to another night.  You look tired out."

Chilcote lifted his eyes with a relieved glance.  "Thanks.  I
do feel a bit fagged.  If I may, I'll have that whiskey that I
refused last night."

"Why, certainly."  Loder rose at once and crossed to a
cupboard in the wall.  In silence he brought out whiskey,
glasses, and a siphon of soda-water.  "Say when!" he said,
lifting the whiskey.

"Now.  And I'll have plain water instead of soda, if it's all
the same."

"Oh, quite." Loder recrossed the room.  Instantly his back was
turned, Chilcote drew a couple of tabloids from his pocket and
dropped them into his glass.  As the other came slowly back he
laughed nervously.

"Thanks.  See to your own drink now; I can manage this."  He
took the jug unceremoniously, and, carefully guarding his
glass from the light, poured in the water with excited haste.

"What shall we drink to?" he said.

Loder methodically mixed his own drink and lifted the glass.
"Oh, to the career of John Chilcote!" he answered.

For an instant the other hesitated.  There was something
prophetic in the sound of the toast.  But he shook the feeling
off and held up his glass.

"To the career of John Chilcote!" he said, with another
unsteady laugh.



VII


It was a little less than three weeks since Chilcote and Loder
had drunk their toast, and again Loder was seated at his desk.

His head was bent and his hand moved carefully as he traced
line after line of meaningless words on a sheet of foolscap.
Having covered the page with writing, he rose, moved to the
centre-table, and compared his task with an open letter that
lay there.  The comparison seemed to please him; he
straightened his shoulders and threw back his head in an
attitude of critical satisfaction.  So absorbed was he that,
when a step sounded on the stairs outside, he did not notice
it, and only raised his head when the door was thrown open
unceremoniously.  Even then his interest was momentary.

"Hullo!" he said, his eyes returning to their scrutiny of his
task.

Chilcote shut the door and came hastily across the room.  He
looked ill and harassed.  As he reached Loder he put out his
hand nervously and touched his arm.

Loder looked up.  "What is it?" he asked.  "Any new
development?"

Chilcote tried to smile.  "Yes," he said, huskily; "it's
come."

Loder freed his arm.  "What?  The end of the world?"

"No.  The end of me."  The words came jerkily, the strain that
had enforced them showing in every syllable.

Still Loder was uncomprehending; he could not, or would not,
understand.

Again Chilcote caught and jerked at his sleeve.  "Don't you
see?  Can't you see?"

"No."

Chilcote dropped the sleeve and passed his handkerchief across
his forehead.  "It's come," he repeated.  "Don't you understand?
I want you."  He drew away, then stepped back again anxiously.
"I know I'm taking you unawares," he said.  "But it's not my
fault.  On my soul, it's not!  The thing seems to spring at me
and grip me--"  He stopped, sinking weakly into a chair.

For a moment Loder stood erect and immovable--then, almost
with reluctance, his glance turned to the figure beside him.

"You want me to take your place to-night--without preparation?"
His voice was distinct and firm, but it was free from contempt.

"Yes; yes, I do." Chilcote spoke without looking up.

"That you may spend the night in morphia--this and other
nights?"

Chilcote lifted a flushed, unsettled face.  "You have no right
to preach.  You accepted the bargain."

Loder raised his head quickly.  "I never--" he began; then
both his face and voice altered.  "You are quite right," he
said, coldly.  "You won't have to complain again."

Chilcote stirred uncomfortably.  "My dear chap," he said, "I
meant no offence.  It's merely--"

"Your nerves.  I know.  But come to business.  What am I to
do?"

Chilcote rose excitedly.  "Yes, business.  Let's come to
business.  It's rough on you, taking you short like this.  But
you have an erratic person to deal with.  I've had a horrible
day--a horrible day."  His face had paled again, and in the
green lamplight it possessed a grayish hue.  Involuntarily
Loder turned away.

Chilcote watched him as he passed to the desk and began
mechanically sorting papers.  "A horrible day!" he repeated.
"So bad that I daren't face the night.  You have read De
Quincey?" he asked, with a sudden change of tone.

"Yes."

"Then read him again and you'll understand.  I have all the
horrors--without any art.  I have no 'Ladies of Sorrow,' but I
have worse monsters than his 'crocodile'."  He laughed
unpleasantly.

Loder turned.  "Why in the devil's name--" he began; then
again he halted.  Something in Chilcote's drawn, excited face
checked him.  The strange sense of predestination that we
sometimes see in the eyes of another struck cold upon him,
chilling his last attempt at remonstrance.  "What do you want
me to do?" he substituted, in an ordinary voice.

The words steadied Chilcote.  He laughed a little.  The laugh
was still shaky, but it was pitched in a lower key.

"You--you're quite right to pull me up.  We have no time to
waste.  It must be one o'clock."  He pulled out his watch,
then walked to the window and stood looking down into the
shadowy court.  "How quiet you are here!" he said.  Then
abruptly anew thought struck him and he wheeled back into the
room.  "Loder," he said, quickly---"Loder, I have an idea!
While you are me, why shouldn't I be you?  Why shouldn't I be
John Loder instead of the vagrant we contemplated?  It covers
everything--it explains everything.  It's magnificent!  I'm
amazed we never thought of it before."

Loder was still beside the desk.  "I thought of it," he said,
without looking back.

"And didn't suggest it?"

"No."

"Why?"

Loder said nothing and the other colored.

"Jealous of your reputation?" he said, satirically.

"I have none to be jealous of."

Chilcote laughed disagreeably.  "Then you aren't so for gone
in philosophy as I thought.  You have a niche in your own good
opinion."

Again Loder was silent; then he smiled.  "You have an oddly
correct perception at times," he said.  "I suppose I have had
a lame sort of pride in keeping my name clean.  But pride like
that is out of fashion--and I've got to float with the tide."
He laughed, the short laugh that Chilcote had heard once or
twice before, and, crossing the room, he stood beside his
visitor.  "After all," he said, "what business have I with
pride, straight or lame?  Have my identity, if you want it.
When all defences have been broken down one barrier won't save
the town."  Laughing again, he laid his hand on the other's
arm.  "Come," he said, "give your orders.  I capitulate."

An hour later the two men passed from Loder's bed room, where
the final arrangements had been completed, back
into the sitting-room.  Loder came first, in faultless
evening-dress.  His hair was carefully brushed, the clothes he
wore fitted him perfectly.  To any glance, critical or casual,
he was the man who had mounted the stairs and entered the
rooms earlier in the evening.  Chilcote's manner of walking
and poise of the head seemed to have descended upon him with
Chilcote's clothes.  He came into the room hastily and passed
to the desk.

"I have no private papers," he said, "so I have nothing to
lock up.  Everything can stand as it is.  A woman named Robins
comes in the mornings to clean up and light the fire;
otherwise you must shift for yourself.  Nobody will disturb
you.  Quiet, dead quiet, is about the one thing you can count
on."

Chilcote, half halting in the doorway, made an attempt to
laugh.  Of the two, he was noticeably the more embarrassed.
In Loder's well-worn, well-brushed tweed suit he felt stranded
on his own personality, bereft for the moment of the familiar
accessories that helped to cloak deficiencies and keep the
wheel of conventionality comfortably rolling.  He stood
unpleasantly conscious of himself, unable to shape his
sensations even in thought.  He glanced at the fire, at the
table, finally at the chair on which he had thrown his
overcoat before entering the bedroom.  At the sight of the
coat his gaze brightened, the aimlessness forsook him, and he
gave an exclamation of relief.

"By Jove!" he said.  "I clean forgot."

"What?" Loder looked round.

"The rings."  He crossed to the coat and thrust his hand into
the pocket.  "The duplicates only arrived this afternoon.  The
nick of time, eh?"  He spoke fast, his fingers searching
busily.  Occupation of any kind came as a boon.

Loder slowly followed him, and as the box was brought to light
he leaned forward interestedly.

"As I told you, one is the copy of an old signet-ring, the
other a plain band--a plain gold band like a wedding-ring."
Chilcote laughed as he placed the four rings side by side on
his palm.  "I could think of nothing else that would be wide
--and not ostentatious.  You know how I detest display."

Loder touched the rings.  "You have good taste," he said.
"Let's see if they serve their purpose?"  He picked them up
and carried them to the lamp.

Chilcote followed him.  "That was an ugly wound," he said, his
curiosity reawakening as Loder extended his finger.  "How did
you come by it?"

The other smiled.  "It's a memento," he said.

"Of bravery?"

"No.  Quite the reverse."  He looked again at his hand, then
glanced back at Chilcote.  "No," he repeated, with an unusual
impulse of confidence.  "It serves to remind me that I am not
exempt--that I have been fooled like other men."

"That implies a woman?"

"Yes."  Again Loder looked at the scar on his finger.  "I
seldom recall the thing, it's so absolutely past.  But I
rather like to remember it to-night.  I rather want you to
know that I've been through the fire.  It's a sort of
guarantee."

Chilcote made a hasty gesture, but the other interrupted it.

"Oh, I know you trust me.  But you're giving me a risky post.
I want you to see that women are out of my line--quite out
of it."

"But, my dear chap--"

Loder went on without heeding.  "This thing happened eight
years ago at Santasalare," he said, "a little place between
Luna and Pistoria--a mere handful of houses wedged between two
hills.  A regular relic of old Italy crumbling away under
flowers and sunshine, with nothing to suggest the present
century except the occasional passing of a train round the
base of one of the hills.  I had literally stumbled upon the
place on a long tramp south from Switzerland, and had been
tempted into a stay at the little inn.  The night after my
arrival something unusual occurred.  There was an accident to
the train at the point where it skirted the village.

"There was a small excitement; all the inhabitants were
anxious to help, and I took my share.  As a matter of fact,
the smash was not disastrous; the passengers were hurt and
frightened, but nobody was killed."

He paused and looked at his companion, but, seeing him
interested, went on:

"Among these passengers was an English lady.  Of all concerned
in the business, she was the least upset.  When I came upon
her she was sitting on the shattered door of one of the
carriages, calmly rearranging her hat.  On seeing me she
looked up with the most charming smile imaginable.

"'I have just been waiting for somebody like you,' she said.
'My stupid maid has got herself smashed up somewhere in the
second-class carriages, and I have nobody to help me to find
my dog.'

"Of course, that first speech ought to have enlightened me,
but it didn't.  I only saw the smile and heard the voice; I
knew nothing of whether they were deep or shallow.  So I found
the maid and found the dog.  The first expressed gratitude;
the other didn't.  I extricated him with enormous difficulty
from the wreck of the luggage-van, and this was how he marked
his appreciation."  He held out his hand and nodded towards
the scar.

Chilcote glanced up.  "So that's the explanation?"

"Yes.  I tried to conceal the thing when I restored the dog,
but I was bleeding abominably and I failed.  Then the whole
business was changed.  It was I who needed seeing to, my new
friend insisted; I who should be looked after, and not she.
She forgot the dog in the newer interest of my wounded finger.
The maid, who was practically unhurt, was sent on to engage
rooms at the little inn, and she and I followed slowly.

"That walk impressed me.  There was an attractive mistiness of
atmosphere in the warm night, a sensation more than attractive
in being made much of by a woman of one's own class and
country after five years' wandering."  He laughed with a touch
of irony.  "But I won't take up your time with details.  You
know the progress of an ordinary love affair.  Throw in a few
more flowers and a little more sunshine than is usual, a man
who is practically a hermit and a woman who knows the world by
heart, and you have the whole thing.

"She insisted on staying in Santasalare for three days in
order to keep my finger bandaged; she ended by staying three
weeks in the hope of smashing up my life.

"On coming to the hotel she had given no name; and in our
first explanations to each other she led me to conclude her an
unmarried girl.  It was at the end of the three weeks that I
learned that she was not a free agent, as I had innocently
imagined, but possessed a husband whom she had left ill with
malaria at Florence or Rome.

"The news disconcerted me, and I took no pains to hide it.
After that the end came abruptly.  In her eyes I had become a
fool with middle-class principles; in my eyes--But there is no
need for that.  She left Santasalare the same night in a great
confusion of trunks and hat-boxes; and next morning I strapped
on my knapsack and turned my face to the south."

"And women don't count ever after?" Chilcote smiled, beguiled
out of himself.

Loder laughed.  "That's what I've been trying to convey.  Once
bitten, twice shy!"  He laughed again and slipped the two
rings over his finger with an air of finality.

"Now, shall I start?  This is the latch-key?"  He drew a key
from the pocket of Chilcote's evening-clothes.  "When I get to
Grosvenor Square I am to find your house, go straight in,
mount the stairs, and there on my right hand will be the door
of your--I mean my own--private rooms.  I think I've got it
all by heart.  I feel inspired; I feel that I can't go wrong."
He handed the two remaining rings to Chilcote and picked up
the overcoat.

"I'll stick on till I get a wire--," he said.  "Then I'll come
back and we'll reverse again."  He slipped on the coat and
moved back towards the table.  Now that the decisive moment
had come, it embarrassed him.

Scarcely knowing how to bring it to an end, he held out his
hand.

Chilcote took it, paling a little.  "'Twill be all right!" he
said, with a sudden return of nervousness.  "'Twill be all
right!  And I've made it plain about--about the remuneration?
A hundred a week--besides all expenses."

Loder smiled again.  "My pay?  Oh yes, you've made it clear as
day.  Shall we say good-night now?"

"Yes.  Good-night."

There was a strange, distant note in Chilcote's voice, but the
other did not pretend to hear it.  He pressed the hand he was
holding, though the cold dampness of it repelled him.

"Good-night," he said again.

"Good-night."

They stood for a moment, awkwardly looking at each other, then
Loder quietly disengaged his hand, crossed the room, and
passed through the door.

Chilcote, left standing alone in the middle of the room,
listened while the last sound of the other's footsteps was
audible on the uncarpeted stairs; then, with a furtive,
hurried gesture, he caught up the green-shaded lamp and passed
into Loder's bedroom.




VIII


To all men come portentous moments, difficult moments,
triumphant moments.  Loder had had his examples of all three,
but no moment in his career ever equalled in strangeness of
sensation that in which, dressed in another man's clothes, he
fitted the latchkey for the first time into the door of the
other man's house.

The act was quietly done.  The key fitted the lock smoothly
and his fingers turned it without hesitation, though his
heart, usually extremely steady, beat sharply for a second.
The hall loomed massive and sombre despite the modernity of
electric lights.  It was darkly and expensively decorated in
black and brown; a frieze of wrought bronze, representing
peacocks with outspread tails, ornamented the walls; the
banisters were of heavy iron-work, and the somewhat formidable
fireplace was of the same dark metal.

Loder looked about him, then advanced, his heart again beating
quickly as his hand touched the cold banister and he began his
ascent of the stairs.  But at each step his confidence
strengthened, his feet became more firm; until, at the head of
the stairs, as if to disprove his assurance, his pulses played
him false once more, this time to a more serious tune.  From
the farther end of a well-lighted corridor a maid was coming
straight in his direction.

For one short second all things seemed to whiz about him; the
certainty of detection overpowered his mind.  The indisputable
knowledge that he was John Loder and no other, despite all
armor of effrontery and dress, so dominated him that all other
considerations shrank before it.  It wanted but one word, one
simple word of denunciation, and the whole scheme was
shattered.  In the dismay of the moment, he almost wished that
the word might be spoken and the suspense ended.

But the maid came on in silence, and so incredible was the
silence that Loder moved onward, too.  He came within a yard
of her, and still she did not speak; then, as he passed her,
she drew back respectfully against the wall.

The strain, so astonishingly short, had been immense, but with
its slackening came a strong reaction.  The expected humiliation
seethed suddenly to a desire to dare fate.   Pausing quickly,
he turned and called the woman back.

The spot where he had halted was vividly bright, the ceiling
light being directly above his head; and as she came towards
him he raised his face deliberately and-waited.

She looked at him without surprise or interest.  "Yes, sir?"
she said.

"Is your mistress in?" he asked.  He could think of no other
question, but it served his purpose as a test of his voice.

Still the woman showed no surprise.  "She's not in sir," she
answered.  "But she's expected in half an hour."

"In half an hour?  All right!  That's all I wanted."  With a
movement of decision Loder walked back to the stair-head,
turned to the right, and opened the door of Chilcote's rooms.

The door opened on a short, wide passage; on one side stood
the study, on the other the bed, bath, and dressing-rooms.
With a blind sense of knowledge and unfamiliarity, bred of
much description on Chilcote's part, he put his hand on the
study door and, still exalted by the omen of his first
success, turned the handle.

Inside the room there was firelight and lamplight and a
studious air of peace.  The realization of this and a slow
incredulity at Chilcote's voluntary renunciation were his
first impressions; then his attention was needed for more
imminent things.

As he entered, the new secretary was returning a volume to its
place on the book-shelves.  At sight of him, he pushed it
hastily into position and turned round.

"I was making a few notes on the political position of
Khorasan," he said, glancing with slight apprehensiveness at
the other's face.  He was a small, shy man, with few social
attainments but an extraordinary amount of learning--the
antithesis of the alert Blessington, whom he had replaced.

Loder bore his scrutiny without flinching.  Indeed, it struck
him suddenly that there was a fund of interest, almost of
excitement, in the encountering of each new pair of eyes.  At
the thought he moved forward to the desk.

"Thank you, Greening," he said.  "A very useful bit of work."

The secretary glanced up, slightly puzzled.  His endurance had
been severely taxed in the fourteen days that he had filled
his new post.

"I'm glad you think so, sir," he said, hesitatingly.  "You
rather pooh-poohed the matter this morning, if you remember."

Loder was taking off his coat, but stopped in the operation.

"This morning?" he said.  "Oh, did I?  Did I?"  Then, struck
by the opportunity the words gave him, he turned towards the
secretary.  "You've got to get used to me, Greening," he said.
"You haven't quite grasped me yet, I can see.  I'm a man of
moods, you know.  Up to the present you've seen my slack side,
my jarred side, but I have quite another when I care to show
it.  I'm a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde affair."  Again he laughed,
and Greening echoed the sound diffidently.  Chilcote had
evidently discouraged familiarity.

Loder eyed him with abrupt understanding.  He recognized the
loneliness in the anxious, conciliatory manner.

"You're tired," he said, kindly.  "Go to bed.  I've got some
thinking to do.  Good-night."  He held out his hand.

Greening took it, still half distrustful of this fresh side to
so complex a man.

"Good-night, sir," he said.  "To-morrow, if you approve, I
shall go on with my notes.  I hope you will have a restful
night."

For a second Loder's eyebrows went up, but he recovered
himself instantly.

"Ah, thanks, Greening," he said.  "Thanks.  I think your hope
will be fulfilled."

He watched the little secretary move softly and apologetically
to the door; then he walked to the fire, and, resting his
elbows on the mantel-piece, he took his face in his hands.

For a space he stood absolutely quiet, then his hands dropped
to his sides and he turned slowly round.  In that short space
he had balanced things and found his bearings.  The slight
nervousness shown in his brusque sentences and overconfident
manner faded out, and he faced facts steadily.

With the return of his calmness he took a long survey of the
room.  His glance brightened appreciatively as it travelled
from the walls lined with well-bound books to the lamps
modulated to the proper light; from the lamps to the desk
fitted with every requirement.  Nothing was lacking.  All he
had once possessed, all he had since dreamed of, was here, but
on a greater scale.  To enjoy the luxuries of life a man must
go long without them.  Loder had lived severely--so severely
that until three weeks ago he had believed bimself exempt from
the temptations of humanity.  Then the voice of the world had
spoken, and within him another voice had answered, with a tone
so clamorous and insistent that it had outcried his surprised
and incredulous wonder at its existence and its claims.  That
had been the voice of suppressed ambition; and now as he stood
in the new atmosphere a newer voice lifted itself.  The joy of
material things rose suddenly, overbalancing the last remnant
of the philosophy he had reared.  He saw all things in a fresh
light--the soft carpets, the soft lights, the numberless
pleasant, unnecessary things that color the passing landscape
and oil the wheels of life.  This was power--power made
manifest.  The choice bindings of one's books, the quiet
harmony of one's surroundings, the gratifying deference of
one's dependants--these were the visible, the outward signs,
the things he had forgotten.

Crossing the room slowly, he lifted and looked at the
different papers on the desk.  They had a substantial feeling,
an importance, an air of value.  They were like the solemn
keys to so many vexed problems.  Beside the papers were a heap
of letters neatly arranged and as yet unopened.  He turned
them over one by one.  They were all thick, and interesting to
look at.  He smiled as he recalled his own scanty mail:
envelopes long and bulky or narrow and thin--unwelcome
manuscripts or very welcome checks.  Having sorted the letters,
he hesitated.  It was his task to open them, but he had never
in his life opened an envelope addressed to another man.

He stood uncertain, weighing them in his hand.

Then all at once a look of attention and surprise crossed his
face, and he raised his head.  Some one had unmistakably
paused outside the door which Greening had left ajar.

There was a moment of apparent doubt, then a stir of skirts, a
quick, uncertain knock, and the intruder entered.

For a couple of seconds she stood in the doorway; then, as
Loder made no effort to speak, she moved into the room.  She
had apparently but just returned from some entertainment, for,
though she had drawn off her long gloves, she was still
wearing an evening cloak of lace and fur.

That she was Chilcote's wife Loder instinctively realized the
moment she entered the room.  But a disconcerting confusion of
ideas was all that followed the knowledge.  He stood by the
desk, silent and awkward, trying to fit his expectations to
his knowledge.  Then, faced by the hopelessness of the task,
he turned abruptly and looked at her again.

She had taken off her cloak and was standing by the fire.  The
compulsion of moving through life alone had set its seal upon
her in a certain self-possession, a certain confidence of
pose; yet her figure, as Loder then saw it, backgrounded by
the dark books and gowned in pale blue, had a suggestion of
youthfulness that seemed a contradiction.  The remembrance of
Chilcote's epithets "cold" and "unsympathetic" came back to
him with something like astonishment.  He felt no uncertainty,
no dread of discovery and humiliation in her presence as he
had felt in the maid's; yet there was something in her face
that made him infinitely more uncomfortable.  A look he could
find no name for--a friendliness that studiously covered
another feeling, whether question, distrust, or actual dislike
he could not say.  With a strange sensation of awkwardness he
sorted Chilcote's letters, waiting for her to speak.

As if divining his thought, she turned towards him.  "I'm
afraid I rather intrude," she said.  "If you are busy--"

His sense of courtesy was touched; he had begun life with a
high opinion of women, and the words shook up an echo of the
old sentiment.

"Don't think that," he said, hastily.  "I was only looking
through--my letters.  You mustn't rate yourself below
letters."  He was conscious that his tone was hurried, that
his words were a little jagged; but Eve did not appear to
notice.  Unlike Greening, she took the new manner without
surprise.  She had known Chilcote for six years.

"I dined with the Fraides to-night," she said.  "Mr. Fraide
sent you a message."

Unconsciously Loder smiled.  There was humor in the thought of
a message to him from the great Fraide.  To hide his amusement
he wheeled one of the big lounge-chairs forward.

"Indeed," he said.  "Won't you sit down?"

They were near together now, and he saw her face more fully.
Again he was taken aback.  Chilcote had spoken of her as
successful and intelligent, but never as beautiful.  Yet her
beauty was a rare and uncommon fact.  Her hair was black
--not a glossy black, but the dusky black that is softer than
any brown; her eyes were large and of a peculiarly pure blue;
and her eyelashes were black, beautifully curved and of
remarkable thickness.

"Won't you sit down?" he said again, cutting short his
thoughts with some confusion.

"Thank you."  She gravely accepted the proffered chair.  But
he saw that without any ostentation she drew her skirts aside
as she passed him.  The action displeased him unaccountably.

"Well," he said, shortly, "what had Fraide to say?"  He walked
to the mantel-piece with his customary movement and stood
watching her.  The instinct towards hiding his face had left
him.  Her instant and uninterested acceptance of him almost
nettled him; his own half-contemptuous impression of Chilcote
came to him unpleasantly, and with it the first desire to
assert his own individuality.  Stung by the conflicting
emotions, he felt in Chilcote's pockets for something to
smoke.

Eve saw and interpreted the action.  "Are these your cigarettes?"
She leaned towards a small table and took up a box made of
lizard-skin.

"Thanks."  He took the box from her, and as it passed from one
to the other he saw her glance at his rings.  The glance was
momentary; her lips parted to express question or surprise,
then closed again without comment.  More than any spoken words,
the incident showed him the gulf that separated husband and
wife.

"Well?" he said again, "what about Fraide?"

At his words she sat straighter and looked at him more
directly, as if bracing herself to a task.

"Mr. Fraide is--is as interested as ever in you," she began.

"Or in you?"  Loder made the interruption precisely as he felt
Chilcote would have made it.  Then instantly he wished the
words back.

Eve's warm skin colored more deeply; for a second the
inscrutable underlying expression that puzzled him showed in
her eyes, then she sank back into a corner of the chair.

"Why do you make such a point of sneering at my friends?" she
asked, quietly.  "I overlook it when you are nervous."  She
halted slightly on the word.  "But you are not nervous
tonight."

Loder, to his great humiliation, reddened.  Except for an
occasional outburst on the part of Mrs. Robins, his charwoman,
he had not merited a woman's displeasure for years.

"The sneer was unintentional," he said.

For the first time Eve showed a personal interest.  She looked
at him in a puzzled way.  "If your apology was meant," she
said, hesitatingly, "I should be glad to accept it."

Loder, uncertain of how to take the words, moved back to the
desk.  He carried an unlighted cigarette between his fingers.

There was an interval in which neither spoke.  Then, at last,
conscious of its awkwardness, Eve rose.  With one hand on the
back of her chair, she looked at him.

"Mr. Fraide thinks it's such a pity that"--she stopped to
choose her words--"that you should lose hold on things--lose
interest in things, as you are doing.  He has been thinking a
good deal about you in the last three weeks--ever since the
day of your--your illness in the House; and it seems to him,"
--again she broke off, watching Loder's averted head--"it
seems to him that if you made one real effort now, even now,
to shake off your restlessness, that your--your health might
improve.  He thinks that the present crisis would be"--she
hesitated--" would give you a tremendous opportunity.   Your
trade interests, bound up as they are with Persia, would
give any opinion you might hold a double weight."  Almost
unconsciously a touch of warmth crept into her words.

"Mr. Fraide talked very seriously about the beginning of your
career.  He said that if only the spirit of your first days
could come back--"  Her tone grew quicker, as though she
feared ridicule in Loder's silence.  "He asked me to use my
influence.  I know that I have little--none, perhaps--but I
couldn't tell him that, and so--so I promised."

"And have kept the promise?" Loder spoke at random.  Her
manner and her words had both affected him.  There was a
sensation of unreality in his brain.

"Yes," she answered.  "I always want to do--what I can."

As she spoke a sudden realization of the effort she was making
struck upon him, and with it his scorn of Chilcote rose in
renewed force.

"My intention--" he began, turning to her.  Then the futility
of any declaration silenced him.  "I shall think over what you
say," he added, after a minute's wait.  "I suppose I can't say
more than that."

Their eyes met and she smiled a little.

"I don't believe I expected as much," she said.  "I think I'll
go now.  You have been wonderfully patient."  Again she smiled
slightly, at the same time extending her hand.  The gesture
was quite friendly, but in Loder's eyes it held relief as well
as friendliness; and when their hands met he noticed that her
fingers barely brushed his.

He picked up her cloak and carried it across the room.  As he
held the door open, he laid it quietly across her arm.

"I'll think over what you've said," he repeated.

Again she glanced at him as if suspecting sarcasm then, partly
reassured, she paused.  "You will always despise your
opportunities, and I suppose I shall always envy them," she
said.  "That's the way with men and women.  Good-night!"  With
another faint smile she passed out into the corridor.

Loder waited until he heard the outer door close, then he
crossed the room thoughtfully and dropped into the chair that
she had vacated.  He sat for a time looking at the hand her
fingers had touched; then he lifted his head with a
characteristic movement.

"By Jove!" he said, aloud, "how cordially she detests tests
him!"




IX


Loder slept soundly and dreamlessly in Chilcote's canopied
bed.  To him the big room with its severe magnificence
suggested nothing of the gloom and solitude that it held in
its owner's eyes.  The ponderous furniture, the high ceiling,
the heavy curtains, unchanged since the days of Chilcote's
grandfather, all hinted at a far-reaching ownership that
stirred him.  The ownership was mythical in his regard, and
the possessions a mirage, but they filled the day.  And,
surely, sufficient for the day--

That was his frame of mind as he opened his eyes on the
following morning, and lay appreciative of his comfort, of the
surrounding space, even of the light that filtered through the
curtain chinks, suggestive of a world recreated.  With day,
all things seem possible to a healthy man.  He stretched his
arms luxuriously, delighting in the glossy smoothness of the
sheets.

What was it Chilcote had said?  Better live for a day than
exist for a lifetime!  That was true; and life had begun.  At
thirty-six he was to know it for the first time.

He smiled, but without irony.  Man is at his best at
thirty-six, he mused.  He has retained his enthusiasms and
shed his exuberances; he has learned what to pick up and what
to pass by; he no longer imagines that to drain a cup one must
taste the dregs.  He closed his eyes and stretched again, not
his arms only, but his whole body.  The pleasure of his mental
state insisted on a physical expression.  Then, sitting up in
bed, he pressed the electric bell.

Chilcote's new valet responded.

"Pull those curtains, Renwick!" he said.  "What's the time?"
He had passed the ordeal of Renwick's eyes the night before.

The man was slow, even a little stupid.  He drew back the
curtains carefully, then looked at the small clock on the
dressing-table.  "Eight o'clock, sir.  I didn't expect the
bell so early, sir."

Loder felt reproved, and a pause followed.

"May I bring your cup of tea, sir?"

"No.  Not just yet.  I'll have a bath first."

Renwick showed ponderous uncertainty.  "Warm, sir?" he
hazarded.

"No.  Cold."

Still perplexed, the man left the room.

Loder smiled to himself.  The chances of discovery in that
quarter were not large.  He was inclined to think that
Chilcote had even overstepped necessity in the matter of his
valet's dullness.

He breakfasted alone, following Chilcote's habit, and after
breakfast found his way to the study.

As he entered, Greening rose with the same conciliatory haste
that he had shown the night before.

Loder nodded to him.  "Early at work?" he said, pleasantly.

The little man showed instant, almost ridiculous relief.
"Good-morning, sir," he said; "you too are early.  I rather
feared your nerves troubled you after I left last night, for I
found your letters still unopened this morning.  But I am glad
to see you look so well."

Loder promptly turned his back to the light.  "Oh, last
night's letters!" he said.  "To tell you the truth, Greening,
my wife"--his hesitation was very slight--"my wife looked me
up after you left, and we gossiped.  I clean forgot the post."
He smiled in an explanatory way as he moved to the desk and
picked up the letters.

With Greening's eyes upon him, there was no time for scruples.
With very creditable coolness he began opening the envelopes
one by one.  The letters were unimportant, and he passed them
one after another to the secretary, experiencing a slight
thrill of authority as each left his hand.  Again the fact
that power is visible in little things came to his mind.

"Give me my engagement-book, Greening," he said, when the
letters had been disposed of.

The book that Greening handed him was neat in shape and bound,
like Chilcote's cigarette-case, in lizard-skin.

As Loder took it, the gold monogram "J.C." winked at him in
the bright morning light.  The incident moved his sense of
humor.  He and the book were cooperators in the fraud, it
seemed.  He felt an inclination to wink back.  Nevertheless,
he opened it with proper gravity and skimmed the pages.

The page devoted to the day was almost full.  On every other
line were jottings in Chilcote's irregular hand, and twice
among the entries appeared a prominent cross in blue
pencilling.  Loder's interest quickened as his eye caught the
mark.  It had been agreed between them that only engagements
essential to Chilcote's public life need be carried through
during his absence, and these, to save confusion, were to be
crossed in blue pencil.  The rest, for the most part social
claims, were to be left to circumstance and Loder's
inclination, Chilcote's erratic memory always accounting for
the breaking of trivial promises.

But Loder in his new energy was anxious for obligations; the
desire for fresh and greater tests grew with indulgence.  He
scanned the two lines with eagerness.  The first was an
interview with Cresham, one of Chilcote's supporters in Wark;
the other an engagement to lunch with Fraide.  At the idea of
the former his interest quickened, but at thought of the
latter it quailed momentarily.  Had the entry been a royal
command it would have affected him infinitely less.  For a
space his assurance faltered; then, by coincidence, the
recollection of Eve and Eve's words of last night came back to
him, and his mind was filled with a new sensation.

Because of Chilcote, he was despised by Chilcote's wife!
There was no denying that in all the pleasant excitement of
the adventure that knowledge had rankled.  It came to him now
linked with remembrance of the slight, reluctant touch of her
fingers, the faintly evasive dislike underlying her glance.
It was a trivial thing, but it touched his pride as a man.
That was how he put it to himself.  It wasn't that he valued
this woman's opinion--any woman's opinion; it was merely that
it touched his pride.  He turned again to the window and gazed
out, the engagement book still between his hands.  What if he
compelled her respect?  What if by his own personality cloaked
under Chilcote's identity he forced her to admit his
capability?  It was a matter of pride, after all--scarcely
even of pride; self-respect was a better word.

Satisfied by his own reasoning, he turned back into the room.

"See to those letters, Greening," he said.  "And for the rest
of the morning's work you might go on with your Khorasan
notes.  I believe we'll all want every inch of knowledge we
can get in that quarter before we're much older.  I'll see you
again later."  With a reassuring nod he crossed the room and
passed through the door.

He lunched with Fraide at his club, and afterwards walked with
him to Westminster.  The walk and lunch were both memorable.
In that hour he learned many things that had been sealed to
him before.  He tasted his first draught of real elation, his
first drop of real discomfiture.  He saw for the first time
how a great man may condescend--how unostentatiously, how
fully, how delightfully.  He felt what tact and kindness
perfectly combined may accomplish, and he burned inwardly with
a sense of duplicity that crushed and elated him alternately.
He was John Loder, friendless, penniless, with no present and
no future, yet he walked down Whitehall in the full light of
day with one of the greatest statesmen England has known.

Some strangers were being shown over the Terrace when he and
Fraide reached the House, and, noticing the open door, the old
man paused.

"I never refuse fresh air," he said.  "Shall we take  another
breath of it before settling down?"  He took
Loder's arm and drew him forward.  As they passed through the
door-way the pressure of his fingers tightened.  "I shall
reckon to-day among my pleasantest memories, Chilcote," he
said, gravely.  "I can't explain the feeling, but I seem to
have touched Eve's husband--the real you, more closely this
morning than I ever did before.  It has been a genuine
happiness."  He looked up with the eyes that, through all his
years of action and responsibility, had remained so bright.

But Loder paled suddenly, and his glance turned to the
river-wide, mysterious, secret.  Unconsciously Fraide had
stripped the illusion.  It was not John Loder who walked here;
it was Chilcote--Chilcote with his position, his constituency
--his wife.  He half extricated his arm, but Fraide held it.

"No," he said.  "Don't draw away from me.  You have always
been too ready to do that.  It is not often I have a pleasant
truth to tell.  I won't be deprived of the enjoyment."

"Can the truth ever be pleasant, sir?"  Involuntarily Loder
echoed Chilcote.

Fraide looked up.  He was half a head shorter than his
companion, though his dignity concealed the fact.  "Chilcote,"
he said, seriously, "give up cynicism!  It is the trade-mark
of failure, and I do not like it in my friends."

Loder said nothing.  The quiet insight of the reproof, its
mitigating kindness, touched him sharply.  In that moment he
saw the rails down which he had sent his little car of
existence spinning, and the sight daunted him.  The track was
steeper, the gauge narrower, than he had guessed; there were
curves and sidings upon which he had not reckoned.  He turned
his head and met Fraide's glance.

"Don't count too much on me, sir," he said, slowly.  "I might
disappoint you again."  His voice broke off on the last word,
for the sound of other voices and of laughter came to them
across the Terrace as a group of two women and three men
passed through the open door.  At a glance he realized that
the slighter of the two women was Eve.

Seeing them, she disengaged herself from her party and came
quickly forward.  He saw her cheeks flush and her eyes
brighten pleasantly as they rested on his companion; but he
noticed also that after her first cursory glance she avoided
his own direction.

As she came towards them, Fraide drew away his hand in
readiness to greet her.

"Here comes my godchild!" he said.  "I often wish, Chilcote,
that I could do away with the prefix."  He added the last
words in an undertone as he reached them; then he responded
warmly to her smile.

"What!" he said.  "Turning the Terrace into the Garden of Eden
in January!  We cannot allow this."

Eve laughed.  "Blame Lady Sarah!" she said.  "We met at lunch,
and she carried me off.  Needless to say I hadn't to ask
where."

They both laughed, and Loder joined, a little uncertainly.  He
had yet to learn that the devotion of Fraide and his wife was
a long-standing jest in their particular set.

At the sound of his tardy laugh Eve turned to him.  "I hope I
didn't rob you of all sleep last night," she said.  "I caught
him in his den," she explained, turning to Fraide, "and
invaded it most courageously.  I believe we talked till two."

Again Loder noticed bow quickly she looked from him to Fraide.
The knowledge roused his self-assertion.

"I had an excellent night," he said.  "Do I look as if I
hadn't slept?"

Somewhat slowly and reluctantly Eve looked back.  "No," she
said, truthfully, and with a faint surprise that to Loder
seemed the first genuine emotion she had shown regarding him.
"No, I don't think I ever saw you look so well."  She was
quite unconscious and very charming as she made the admission.
It struck Loder that her coloring of hair and eyes gained by
daylight--were brightened and vivified by their setting of
sombre river and sombre stone.

Fraide smiled at her affectionately; then looked at Loder.
"Chilcote has got anew lease of nerves, Eve," he said,
quietly.  "And I--believe--I have got a new henchman.  But I
see my wife beckoning to me.  I must have a word with her
before she flits away.  May I be excused?"  He made a
courteous gesture of apology; then smiled at Eve.

She looked after him as he moved away.  "I sometimes wonder
what I should do if anything were to happen to the Fraides,"
she said, a little wistfully.  Then almost at once she laughed,
as if regretting her impulsiveness.  "You heard what he said,"
she went on, in a different voice.  "Am I really to congratulate
you?"

The change of tone stung Loder unaccountably.  "Will you
always disbelieve in me?" he asked.

Without answering, she walked slowly across the deserted
Terrace and, pausing by the parapet, laid her hand on the
stonework.  Still in silence she looked out across the river.

Loder had followed closely.  Again her aloofness seemed a
challenge.  "Will you always disbelieve in me?" he repeated.

At last she looked up at him, slowly.

"Have you ever given me cause to believe!" she asked, in a
quiet voice.

To this truth he found no answer, though the subdued
incredulity nettled him afresh.

Prompted to a further effort, he spoke again.  "Patience is
necessary with every person and every circumstance," he said.
"We've all got to wait and see."

She did not lower her gaze as he spoke; and there seemed to
him something disconcerting in the clear, candid blue of her
eyes.  With a sudden dread of her next words, he moved forward
and laid his hand beside hers on the parapet.

"Patience is needed for every one," he repeated, quickly.
"Sometimes a man is like a bit of wreckage; he drifts till
some force stronger than himself gets in his way and stops
him."  He looked again at her face.  He scarcely knew what he
was saying; he only felt that he was a man in an egregiously
false position, trying stupidly to justify himself.  "Don't
you believe that flotsam can sometimes be washed ashore?" he
asked.

High above them Big Ben chimed the hour.

Eve raised her head.  It almost seemed to him that he could
see her answer trembling on her lips; then the voice of Lady
Sarah Fraide came cheerfully from behind them.


"Eve!" she called.  "Eve!  We must fly.  It's absolutely three
o'clock!"




X

In the days that followed Fraide's marked adoption of him
Loder behaved with a discretion that spoke well for his
qualities.  Many a man placed in the same responsible, and yet
strangely irresponsible, position might have been excused if,
for the time at least, he gave himself a loose rein.  But
Loder kept free of the temptation.

Like all other experiments, his showed unlooked-for features
when put to a working test.  Its expected difficulties
smoothed themselves away, while others, scarcely anticipated,
came into prominence.  Most notable of all, the physical
likeness between himself and Chilcote, the bedrock of the
whole scheme, which had been counted upon to offer most
danger, worked without a hitch.  He stood literally amazed
before the sweeping credulity that met him on every hand.  Men
who had known Chilcote from his youth, servants who had been
in his employment for years, joined issue in the unquestioning
acceptance.  At times the ease of the deception bewildered
him; there were moments when he realized that, should
circumstances force him to a declaration of the truth, he
would not be believed.  Human nature prefers its own eyesight
to the testimony of any man.

But in face of this astonishing success he steered a steady
course.  In the first exhilaration of Fraide's favor, in the
first egotistical wish to break down Eve's scepticism, he
might possibly have plunged into the vortex of action, let it
be in what direction it might; but fortunately for himself,
for Chilcote, and for their scheme, he was liable to strenuous
second thoughts--those wise and necessary curbs that go
further to the steadying of the universe than the universe
guesses.  Sitting in the quiet of the House, on the same day
that he had spoken with Eve on the Terrace, he had weighed
possibilities slowly and cautiously.  Impressed to the full by
the atmosphere of the place that in his eyes could never lack
character, however dull its momentary business, however prosy
the voice that filled it, he had sifted impulse from
expedience, as only a man who has lived within himself can
sift and distinguish.  And at the close of that first day his
programme bad been formed.  There must be no rush, no headlong
plunge, he had decided; things must work round.  It was his
first expedition into the new country, and it lay with fate to
say whether it would be his last.

He had been leaning back in his seat, his eyes on the
ministers opposite, his arms folded in imitation of Chilcote's
most natural attitude, when this final speculation had come to
him; and as it came his lips had tightened for a moment and
his face become hard and cold.  It is an unpleasant thing when
a man first unconsciously reckons on the weakness of another,
and the look that expresses the idea is not good to see.  He
had stirred uneasily; then his lips had closed again.  He was
tenacious by nature, and by nature intolerant of weakness.  At
the first suggestion of reckoning upon Chilcote's lapses, his
mind had drawn back in disgust; but as the thought came again
the disgust had lessened.

In a week--two weeks, perhaps--Chilcote would reclaim his
place.  Then would begin the routine of the affair.  Chilcote,
fresh from indulgence and freedom, would find his obligations
a thousand times more irksome than before; he would struggle
for a time; then--

A shadowy smile had touched Loder's lips as the idea formed
itself.

Then would come the inevitable recall; then in earnest he
might venture to put his hand to the plough.  He never
indulged in day-dreams, but something in the nature of a
vision had flashed over his mind in that instant.  He had seen
himself standing in that same building, seen the rows of faces
first bored, then hesitatingly transformed under his personal
domination, under the one great power he knew himself to
possess--the power of eloquence.  The strength of the
suggestion had been almost painful.  Men who have attained
self-repression are occasionally open to a perilous onrush of
feeling.  Believing that they know themselves, they walk
boldly forward towards the high-road and the pitfall alike.

These had been Loder's disconnected ideas and speculations on
the first day of his new life.  At four o'clock on the ninth
day he was pacing with quiet confidence up and down Chilcote's
study, his mind pleasantly busy and his cigar comfortably
alight, when he paused in, his walk and frowned, interrupted
by the entrance of a servant.

The man came softly into the room, drew a small table towards
the fire, and proceeded to lay an extremely fine and
unserviceable-looking cloth.

Loder watched him in silence.  He had grown to find silence a
very useful commodity.  To wait and let things develop was the
attitude he oftenest assumed.  But on this occasion he was
perplexed.  He had not rung for tea, and in any case a cup on
a salver satisfied his wants.  He looked critically at the
fragile cloth.

Presently the servant departed, and solemnly reentered
carrying a silver tray, with cups, a teapot, and cakes.
Having adjusted them to his satisfaction, he turned to Loder.

"Mrs. Chilcote will be with you in five minutes, sir," he
said.

He waited for some response, but Loder gave none.  Again he
had found the advantages of silence, but this time it was
silence of a compulsory kind.  He had nothing to say.

The man, finding him irresponsive, retired; and, left to
himself, Loder stared at the array of feminine trifles; then,
turning abruptly, he moved to the centre of the room.

Since the day they had talked on the Terrace, he had only seen
Eve thrice, and always in the presence e others.  Since the
night of his first coming, she has not invaded his domain, and
he wondered what this new departure might mean.

His thought of her had been less vivid in the last few days;
for, though still using steady discretion, he had been drawn
gradually nearer the fascinating whirlpool of new interests
and new work.  Shut his eyes as he might, there was no denying
that this moment, so personally vital to him, was politically
vital to the whole country; and that by a curious coincidence
Chilcote's position well-nigh forced him to take an active
interest in the situation.  Again and again the suggestion had
arisen that--should the smouldering fire in Persia break into
a flame, Chilcote's commercial interests would facilitate,
would practically compel, his standing in in the campaign
against the government.

The little incident of the tea-table, recalling the social
side of his obligations, had aroused the realization of
greater things.  As he stood meditatively in the middle of the
room he saw suddenly how absorbed he had become in these
greater things.  How, in the swing of congenial interests, he
had been borne insensibly forward--his capacities expanding,
his intelligence asserting itself.  He had so undeniably found
his sphere that the idea of usurpation had receded gently as
by natural laws, until his own personality had begun to color
the day's work.

As this knowledge came, he wondered quickly if it held a
solution of the present little comedy; if Eve had seen what
others, he knew, had observed--that Chilcote was showing a
grasp of things that he had not exhibited for years.  Then, as
a sound of skirts came softly down the corridor, he squared
his shoulders with his habitual abrupt gesture and threw his
cigar into the fire.

Eve entered the room much as she had done on her former visit,
but with one difference.  In passing Loder she quietly held
out her hand.

He took it as quietly.  "Why am I so honored?" he said.

She laughed a little and looked across at the fire.  "How like
a man!  You always want to begin with reasons.  Let's have tea
first and explanations after."  She moved forward towards the
table, and he followed.  As he did so, it struck him that her
dress seemed in peculiar harmony with the day and the room,
though beyond that he could not follow its details.  As she
paused beside the table he drew forward a chair with a faint
touch of awkwardness.

She thanked him and sat down.

He watched her in silence as she poured out the tea, and the
thought crossed his mind that it was incredibly long since he
had seen a woman preside over a meal.  The deftness of her
fingers filled him with an unfamiliar, half-inquisitive
wonder.  So interesting was the sensation that, when she held
his cup towards him, he didn't immediately see it.

"Don't you want any?" She smiled a little.

He started, embarrassed by his own tardiness.  "I'm afraid I'm
dull," he said.  "I've been so--"

"So keen a worker in the last week?"

For a moment he felt relieved.  Then, as a fresh silence fell,
his sense of awkwardness returned.  He sipped his tea and ate
a biscuit.  He found himself wishing, for almost the first
time, for some of the small society talk that came so
pleasantly to other men.  He felt that the position was
ridiculous.  He glanced at Eve's averted head, and laid his
empty cup upon the table.

Almost at once she turned, and their eyes met.

"John," she said, "do you guess at all why I wanted to have
tea with you?"

He looked down at her.  "No," he said, honestly and without
embellishment.

The curtness of the answer might have displeased another
woman.  Eve seemed to take no offence.

"I had a talk with the Fraides to-day," she said "A long talk.
Mr. Fraide said great things of you--things I wouldn't have
believed from anybody but Mr. Fraide."  She altered her
position and looked from Loder's face back into the fire.

He took a step forward.  "What things?" he said.  He was
almost ashamed of the sudden, inordinate satisfaction that
welled up at her words.

"Oh, I mustn't tell you!"  She laughed a little.  "But you
have surprised him."  She paused, sipped her tea, then looked
up again with a change of expression.

"John," she said, more seriously, "there is one point that
sticks a little.  Will this great change last?"  Her voice was
direct and even--wonderfully direct for a woman, Loder
thought.  It came to him with a certain force that beneath her
remarkable charm might possibly lie a remarkable character.
It was not a possibility that had occurred to him before, and
it caused him to look at her a second time.  In the new light
he saw her beauty differently, and it interested him differently.
Heretofore he had been inclined to class women under three
heads--idols, amusements, or encumbrances; now it crossed his
mind that a woman might possibly fill another place--the place
of a companion.

"You are very sceptical," he said, still looking down at her.

She did not return his glance.  "I think I have been made
sceptical," she said.

As she spoke the image of Chilcote shot through his mind.
Chilcote, irritable, vicious, unstable, and a quick compassion
for this woman so inevitably shackled to him followed it.

Eve, unconscious of what was passing in his mind, went on with
her subject.

"When we were married," she said, gently, "I had such a great
interest in things, such a great belief in life.  I had lived
in politics, and I was marrying one of the coming men--everybody
said you were one of the coming men--I scarcely felt there was
anything left to ask for.  You didn't make very ardent love,"
she smiled, "but I think I had forgotten about love.  I wanted
nothing so much as to be like Lady Sarah--married to a great man."
She paused, then went on more hurriedly: "For a while things went
right; then slowly things, went wrong.  You got your--your nerves."

Loder changed his position with something of abruptness.

She misconstrued the action.

"Please don't think I want to be disagreeable," she said,
hastily.  "I don't.  I'm only trying to make you understand
why--why I lost heart."

"I think I know," Loder's voice broke in involuntarily.
"Things got worse--then still worse.  You found interference
useless.  At last you ceased to have a husband."

"Until a week ago." She glanced up quickly.  Absorbed in her
own feelings, she had seen nothing extraordinary in his words.

But at hers, Loder changed color.

"It's the most incredible thing in the world," she said.
"It's quite incredible, and yet I can't deny it.  Against all
my reason, all my experience, all my inclination I seem to
feel in the last week something of what I felt at first." She
stopped with an embarrassed laugh.  "It seems that, as if by
magic, life has been picked up where I dropped it six years
ago."  Again she stopped and laughed.

Loder was keenly uncomfortable, but he could think of nothing
to say.

"It seemed to begin that night I dined with the Fraides," she
went on.  "Mr. Fraide talked so wisely and so kindly about
many things.  He recalled all we had hoped for in you; and
--and he blamed me a little."  She paused and laid her cup
aside.  "He said that when people have made what they call
their last effort, they should always make just one effort
more.  He promised that if I could once persuade you to take
an interest in your work, he would do the rest.  He said all
that, and a thousand other kinder things--and I sat and
listened.  But all the time I thought of nothing but their
uselessness.  Before I left I promised to do my best
--but my thought was still the same.  It was stronger than
ever when I forced myself to come up here--"  She paused
again, and glanced at Loder's averted head.  "But I came, and
then--as if by conquering myself I had compelled a reward, you
seemed--you somehow seemed different.  It sounds ridiculous, I
know."  Her voice was half amused, half deprecating.  "It
wasn't a difference in your face, though I knew directly that
you were free from--nerves."  Again she hesitated over the
word.  "It was a difference in yourself, in the things you
said, more than in the way you said them."  Once more she
paused and laughed a little.

Loder's discomfort grew.

"But it didn't affect me then."  She spoke more slowly.  "I
wouldn't admit it then.  And the next day when we talked on
the Terrace I still refused to admit it--though I felt it more
strongly than before.  But I have watched you since that day,
and I know there is a change.  Mr. Fraide feels the same, and
he is never mistaken.  I know it's only nine or ten days, but
I've hardly seen you in the same mood for nine or ten hours in
the last three years."  She stopped, and the silence was
expressive.  It seemed to plead for confirmation of her
instinct.

Still Loder could find no response.

After waiting for a moment, she leaned forward in her chair
and looked up at him.

"John," she said, "is it going to last?  That's what I came to
ask.  I don't want to believe till I'm sure; I don't want to
risk a new disappointment."  Loder felt the earnestness of her
gaze, though he avoided meeting it.

"I couldn't have said this to you a week ago, but to-day I
can.  I don't pretend to explain why--the feeling is too
inexplicable.  I only know that I can say it now, and that I
couldn't a week ago.  Will you understand--and answer?"

Still Loder remained mute.  His position was horribly
incongruous.  What could he say?  What dared he say?

Confused by his silence, Eve rose.

"If it's only a phase, don't try to hide it," she said.  "But
if it's going to last--if by any possibility it's going to
last--"  She hesitated and looked up.

She was quite close to him.  He would have been less than man
had he been unconscious of the subtle contact of her glance,
the nearness of her presence--and no one had ever hinted that
manhood was lacking in him.  It was a moment of temptation.
His own energy, his own intentions, seemed so near; Chilcote
and Chilcote's claims so distant and unreal.  After all, his
life, his ambitions, his determinations, were his own.  He
lifted his eyes and looked at her.

"You want me to tell you that I will go on?" he said.

Her eyes brightened; she took a step forward.  "Yes," she
said, "I want it more than anything in the world."

There was a wait.  The declaration that would satisfy her came
to Loder's lips, but he delayed it.  The delay, was fateful.
While he stood silent the door opened and the servant who had
brought in the tea reappeared.

He crossed the room and handed Loder a telegram.  "Any answer,
sir?" he said.

Eve moved back to her chair.  There was a flush on her cheeks
and her eyes were still alertly bright.

Loder tore the telegram open, read it, then threw it Into the
fire.

"No answer!" he said, laconically.

At the brusqueness of his voice, Eve looked up.  "Disagreeable
news?" she said, as the servant departed.

He didn't look at her.  He was watching the telegram withering
in the centre of the fire.

"No," he said at last, in a strained voice.  "No.  Only news
that I--that I had forgotten to expect."




XI


There was a silence--an uneasy break--after Loder spoke.  The
episode of the telegram was, to all appearances, ordinary
enough, calling forth Eve's question and his own reply as a
natural sequence; yet in the pause that followed it each was
conscious of a jar, each was aware that in some subtle way the
thread of sympathy had been dropped, though to one the cause
was inexplicable and to the other only too plain.

Loder watched the ghost of his message grow whiter and
thinner, then dissolve into airy fragments and flutter up the
chimney.  As the last morsel wavered out of sight, he turned
and looked at his companion.

"You almost made me commit myself," he said.  In the desire to
hide his feelings his tone was short.

Eve returned his glance with a quiet regard, but he scarcely
saw it.  He had a stupefied sense of disaster; a feeling of
bitter self-commiseration that for the moment outweighed all
other considerations.  Almost at the moment of justification
the good of life had crumbled in his fingers, the soil given
beneath his feet, and with an absence of logic, a lack of
justice unusual in him, he let resentment against Chilcote
sweep suddenly over his mind.

Eve, still watching him, saw the darkening of his expression,
and with a quiet movement rose from her chair.

"Lady Sarah has a theatre-party to-night, and I am dining with
her," she said.  "It is an early dinner, so I must think about
dressing.  I'm sorry you think I tried to draw you into
anything.  I must have explained myself badly."  She laughed a
little, to cover the slight discomfiture that her tone
betrayed, and as she laughed she moved across the room towards
the door.

Loder, engrossed in the check to his own schemes, incensed at
the suddenness of Chilcote's recall, and still more incensed
at his own folly in not having anticipated it, was oblivious
for the moment of both her movement and her words.  Then,
quite abruptly, they obtruded themselves upon him, breaking
through his egotism with something of the sharpness of pain
following a blow.  Turning quickly from the fireplace, he
faced the shadowy room across which she had passed, but
simultaneously with his turning she gained the door.

The knowledge that she was gone struck him with a sense of
double loss.  "Wait!" he called, suddenly moving forward.  But
almost at once he paused, chilled by the solitude of the room.

"Eve!" he said, using her name unconsciously for the first
time.

But the corridor, as well as the room, was empty; he was too
late.  He stood irresolute; then he laughed shortly, turned,
and passed back towards the fireplace.

The blow had fallen, the inevitable come to pass, and nothing
remained but to take the fact with as good a grace as
possible.  Chilcote's telegram had summoned him to Clifford's
Inn at seven o'clock, and it was now well on towards six.  He
pulled out his watch--Chilcote's watch he realized, with a
touch of grim humor as he stooped to examine the dial by the
light of the fire; then, as if the humor had verged to another
feeling, he stood straight again and felt for the electric
button in the wall.  His fingers touched it, and
simultaneously the room was lighted.

The abrupt alteration from shadow to light came almost as a
shock.  The feminine arrangement of the tea-table seemed
incongruous beside the sober books and the desk laden with
papers--incongruous as his own presence in the place.  The
thought was unpleasant, and he turned aside as if to avoid it;
but at the movement his eyes fell on Chilcote's cigarette-box
with its gleaming monogram, and the whimsical suggestion of
his first morning rose again.  The idea that the inanimate
objects in the room knew him for what he was--recognized the
interloper where human eyes saw the rightful possessor--returned
to his mind.  Through all his disgust and chagrin a smile forced
itself to his lips, and, crossing the room for the second time,
he passed into Chilcote's bedroom.

There the massive furniture and sombre atmosphere fitted
better with his mood than the energy and action which the
study always suggested.  Walking directly to the great bed, he
sat on its side and for several minutes stared straight in
front of him, apparently seeing nothing; then at last the
apathy passed from him, as his previous anger against Chilcote
had passed.  He stood up slowly, drawing his long limbs
together, and recrossed the room, passing along the corridor
and through the door communicating with the rest of the house.
Five minutes later he was in the open air and walking steadily
eastward, his hat drawn forward and his overcoat buttoned up.

As he traversed the streets he allowed himself no thought,
Once, as he waited in Trafalgar Square to find a passage
between the vehicles, the remembrance of Chilcote's voice
coming out of the fog on their first night made itself
prominent, but he rejected it quickly, guarding himself from
even an involuntary glance at the place of their meeting.  The
Strand, with its unceasing life, came to him as something
almost unfamiliar.  Since his identification with the new life
no business had drawn him east of Charing Cross, and his first
sight of the narrower stream of traffic struck him as garish
and unpleasant.  As the impression came he accelerated his
steps, moved by the wish to make regret and retrospection
alike impossible by a contact with actual forces.

Still walking hastily, he entered Clifford's Inn, but there
almost unconsciously his feet halted.  There was something in
the quiet immutability of the place that sobered energy, both
mental and physical.  A sense of changelessness--the
changelessness of inanimate things, that rises in such solemn
contrast to the variableness of mere human nature, which a new
environment, a new outlook, sometimes even a new presence, has
power to upheave and remould.  He paused; then with slower and
steadier steps crossed the little court and mounted the
familiar stairs of his own house.

As he turned the handle of his own door some one stirred
inside the sitting-room.  Still under the influence of the
stones and trees that he had just left, he moved directly
towards the sound, and, without waiting for permission,
entered the room.  After the darkness of the passage it seemed
well alight, for, besides the lamp with its green shade, a
large fire burned in the grate and helped to dispel the
shadows.

As he entered the room Chilcote rose and came forward, his
figure thrown into strong relief by the double light.  He was
dressed in a shabby tweed suit; his face looked pale and set
with a slightly nervous tension, but besides the look and a
certain added restlessness of glance there was no visible
change.  Reaching Loder, he held out his hand.

"Well?" he said, quickly.

The other looked at him questioningly.

"Well?  Well?  How has it gone?"

"The scheme?  Oh, excellently!"  Loder's manner was abrupt.
Turning from the restless curiosity in Chilcote's eyes, he
moved a little way across the room and began to draw off his
coat.  Then, as if struck by the incivility of the action, he
looked back again.  "The scheme has gone extraordinarily," he
said.  "I could almost say absurdly.  There are some things,
Chilcote, that fairly bowl a man over."

A great relief tinged Chilcote's face.  "Good!" he exclaimed.
"Tell me all about it."

But Loder was reticent.  The moment was not propitious.  It
was as if a hungry man had dreamed a great banquet and had
awakened to his starvation.  He was chary of imparting his
visions.

"There's nothing to tell," he said, shortly.  "All that you'll
want to know is here in black and white.  I don't think you'll
find I have slipped anything; it's a clear business record."
From an inner pocket he drew out a bulky note-book, and,
recrossing the room, laid it open on the table.  It was a
correct, even a minute, record of every action that had been
accomplished in Chilcote's name.  "I don't think you'll find
any loose ends," he said, as he turned back the pages.  "I had
you and your position in my mind all through."  He paused and
glanced up from the book.  "You have a position that
absolutely insists upon attention," he added, in a different
voice.

At the new tone Chilcote looked up as well.  "No moral
lectures!" he said, with a nervous laugh.  "I was anxious to
know if you had pulled it off--and you have reassured me.
That's enough.  I was in a funk this afternoon to know how
things were going-one of those sudden, unreasonable funks.
But now that I see you"--he cut himself short and laughed once
more "now that I see you, I'm hanged if I don't want to--to
prolong your engagement."

Loder glanced at him, then glanced away.  He felt a quick
shame at the eagerness that rose at the words--a surprised
contempt at his own readiness to anticipate the man's
weakness.  But almost as speedily as he had turned away he
looked back again.

"Tush, man!" he said, with his old, intolerant manner.
"You're dreaming.  You've had your holiday and school's begun
again.  You must remember you are dining with the Charringtons
to-night.  Young Charrington's coming of age--quite a big
business.  Come along!  I want my clothes."  He laughed, and,
moving closer to Chilcote, slapped him on the shoulder.

Chilcote started; then, suddenly becoming imbued with the
other's manner, he echoed the laugh.

"By Jove!" he said, "you're right!  You're quite right!  A man
must keep his feet in their own groove."  Raising his hand, he
began to fumble with his tie.

But Loder kept the same position.  "You'll find the
check-book in its usual drawer," he said. "I've made one entry
of a hundred pounds--pay for the first week.  The rest can
stand over until--"  He paused abruptly.

Chilcote shifted his position.  "Don't talk about that.  It
upsets me to anticipate.  I can make out a check to-morrow
payable to John Loder."

"No.  That can wait.  The name of Loder is better out of the
book.  We can't be too careful."  Loder spoke with unusual
impetuosity.  Already a slight, unreasonable jealousy was
coloring his thoughts.  Already he grudged the idea of
Chilcote with his unstable glance and restless fingers opening
the drawers and sorting the papers that for one stupendous
fortnight had been his without question.  Turning aside, he
changed the subject brusquely.

"Come into the bedroom," he said.  "It's half-past seven if
it's a minute, and the Charringtons' show is at nine." Without
waiting for a reply, he walked across the room and held the
door open.

There was no silence while they exchanged clothes.  Loder
talked continuously, sometimes in short, curt sentences,
sometimes with ironic touches of humor; he talked until
Chilcote, strangely affected by contact with another
personality after his weeks of solitude, fell under his
influence--his excitement rising, his imagination stirring at
the novelty of change.  At last, garbed once more in the
clothes of his own world, he passed from the bedroom back into
the sitting-room, and there halted, waiting for his companion.

Almost directly Loder followed.  He came into the room
quietly, and, moving at once to the table, picked up the
note-book.

"I'm not going to preach," he began, "so you needn't shut me
up.  But I'll say just one thing--a thing that will get said.
Try and keep your hold!  Remember your responsibilities--and
keep your hold!"  He spoke energetically, looking earnestly
into Chilcote's eyes.  He did not realize it, but he was
pleading for his own career.

Chilcote paled a little, as he always did in face of a
reality.  Then he extended his hand.

"My dear fellow," he said, with a touch of hauteur, "a man can
generally be trusted to look after his own life."

Extricating his hand almost immediately, he turned towards the
door and without a word of farewell passed into the little
hall, leaving Loder alone in the sitting-room.




XII


On the night of Chilcote's return to his own, Loder tasted the
lees of life poignantly for the first time.  Before their
curious compact had been entered upon he had been, if not
content, at least apathetic; but with action the apathy had
been dispersed, never again to regain its old position.

He realized with bitter certainty that his was no real
home-coming.  On entering Chilcote's house he had experienced
none of the unfamiliarity, none of the unsettled awkwardness,
that assailed him now.  There he had almost seemed the exile
returning after many hardships; here, in the atmosphere made
common by years, he felt an alien.  It was illustrative of the
man's character that sentimentalities found no place in his
nature.  Sentiments were not lacking, though they lay out of
sight, but sentimentalities he altogether denied.

Left alone in the sitting-room after Chilcote's departure,
his first sensation was one of physical discomfort and
unfamiliarity.  His own clothes, with their worn looseness,
brought no sense of friendliness such as some men find in an
old garment.  Lounging, and the clothes that suggested
lounging, had no appeal for him.  In his eyes the garb that
implies responsibility was symbolic and even inspiring.

And, as with clothes, so with his actual surroundings.  Each
detail of his room was familiar, but not one had ever become
intimately close.  He had used the place for years, but he had
used it as he might use a hotel; and whatever of his household
gods had come with him remained, like himself, on sufferance.
His entrance into Chilcote's surroundings had been altogether
different.  Unknown to himself, he had been in the position of
a young artist who, having roughly modelled in clay, is
brought into the studio of a sculptor.  To his outward vision
everything is new, but his inner sight leaps to instant
understanding.  Amid all the strangeness he recognizes the one
essential--the workshop, the atmosphere, the home.

On this first night of return Loder comprehended something of
his position; and, comprehending, he faced the problem and
fought with it.

He had made his bargain and must pay his share.  Weighing
this, he had looked about his room with a quiet gaze.  Then at
last, as if finding the object really sought for, his eyes had
come round to the mantel-piece and rested on the pipe-rack.
The pipes stood precisely as he had left them.  He had looked
at them for a long time, then an ironic expression that was
almost a smile had touched his lips, and, crossing the room,
he had taken the oldest and blackest from its place and slowly
filled it with tobacco.

With the first indrawn breath of smoke his attitude had
unbent.  Without conscious determination, he had chosen the
one factor capable of easing his mood.  A cigarette is for the
trivial moments of life; a cigar for its fulfilments, its
pleasant, comfortable retrospections; but in real distress--in
the solving of question, the fighting of difficulty--a pipe is
man's eternal solace,

So he had passed the first night of his return to the
actualities of life.  Next day his mind was somewhat settled
and outward aid was not so essential; but though facts faced
him more solidly, they were nevertheless very drab in shade.
The necessity for work, that blessed antidote to ennui, no
longer forced him to endeavor.  He was no longer penniless;
but the money, he possessed brought with it no desires.  When
a man has lived from hand to mouth for years, and suddenly
finds himself with a hundred pounds in his pocket, the result
is sometimes curious.  He finds with a vague sense of surprise
that he has forgotten how to spend.  That extravagance, like
other artificial passions, requires cultivation.

This he realized even more fully on the days that followed
the night of his first return; and with it was born a new
bitterness.  The man who has friends and no money may find
life difficult; but the man who has money and no friend to
rejoice in his fortune or benefit by his generosity is aloof
indeed.  With the leaven of incredulity that works in all
strong natures, Loder distrusted the professional beggar
--therefore the charity that bestows easily and promiscuously
was denied him; and of other channels of generosity he was
too self-contained to have learned the secret.

When depression falls upon a man of usually even temperament
it descends with a double weight.  The mercurial nature has a
hundred counterbalancing devices to rid itself of gloom--a
sudden lifting of spirit, a memory of other moods lived
through, other blacknesses dispersed by time; but the man of
level nature has none of these.  Depression, when it comes, is
indeed depression; no phase of mind to be superseded by another
phase, but a slackening of all the chords of life.

It was through such a depression as this that he labored
during three weeks, while no summons and no hint of
remembrance came from Chilcote.  His position was peculiarly
difficult.  He found no action in the present, and towards the
future he dared not trust himself to look.  He had slipped the
old moorings that familiarity had rendered endurable; but
having slipped them, he had found no substitute.  Such was his
case on the last night of the three weeks, and such his frame
of mind as he crossed Fleet Street from Clifford's Inn to
Middle Temple Lane.

It was scarcely seven o'clock, but already the dusk was
falling; the greater press of vehicles had ceased, and the
light of the street lamps gleamed back from the spaces of dry
and polished roadway, worn smooth as a mirror by wheels and
hoofs.  Something of the solitude of night that sits so ill on
the strenuous city street was making itself felt, though the
throngs of people on the pathway still streamed eastward and
westward and the taverns made a busy trade.

Having crossed the roadway, Loder paused for a moment to
survey the scene.  But humanity in the abstract made small
appeal to him, and his glance wandered from the passers-by to
the buildings massed like clouds against the dark sky.  As his
gaze moved slowly from one to the other a clock near at hand
struck seven, and an instant later the chorus was taken up by
a dozen clamorous tongues.  Usually he scarcely heard, and
never heeded, these innumerable chimes; but this evening their
effect was strange.  Coming out of the darkness, they seemed
to possess a personal note, a human declaration.  The
impression was fantastic, but it was strong; with a species of
revolt against life and his own personality, he turned slowly
and moved forward in the direction of Ludgate Hill.

For a space he continued his course, then, reaching Bouverie
Street, he turned sharply to the right and made his way down
the slight incline that leads to the Embankment.  There he
paused and drew a long breath.  The sense of space and
darkness soothed him.  Pulling his cap over his eyes, he
crossed to the river and walked on in the direction of
Westminster Bridge.

As he walked the great mass, of water by his side looked dense
and smooth as oil with its sweeping width and network of
reflected light.  On its farther bank rose the tall buildings,
the chimneys, the flaring lights that suggest another and an
alien London; close at hand stretched the solid stone parapet,
giving assurance of protection.

All these things he saw with his mental eyes, but with his
mental eyes only, for his physical gaze was fixed ahead where
the Houses of Parliament loomed out of the dusk.  From the
great building his eyes never wavered until the Embankment was
traversed and Westminster Bridge reached.  Then he paused,
resting his arms on the coping of the bridge.

In the tense quietude of the darkness the place looked vast
and inspiring.  The shadowy Terrace, the silent river, the
rows of lighted windows, each was significant.  Slowly and
comprehensively his glance passed from one to the other.  He
was no sentimentalist and no dreamer; his act was simply the
act of a man whose interests, robbed of their natural outlet,
turn instinctively towards the forms and symbols of the work
that is denied them.  His scrutiny was steady--even cold.  He
was raised to no exaltation by the vastness of the building,
nor was he chilled by any dwarfing of himself.  He looked at
it long and thoughtfully; then, again moving slowly, he
turned and retraced his steps.

His mind was full as he walked back, still oblivious of the
stone parapet of the Embankment, the bare trees, and the
flaring lights of the advertisements across the water.
Turning to the left, he regained Fleet Street and made for
his own habitation with the quiet accuracy that some men
exhibit in moments of absorption.

He crossed Clifford's Inn with the same slow, almost listless
step; then, as his own doorway came into view, he stopped.
Some one was standing in its recess.

For a moment he wondered if his fancy were playing him a
trick; then his reason sprang to certainty with so fierce a
leap that for an instant his mind recoiled.  For we more often
stand aghast at the strength of our own feelings than before
the enormity of our neighbor's actions.

"Is that you, Chilcote?" he said, below his breath.

At the sound of his voice the other wheeled round.  "Hallo!"
he said.  "I thought you were the ghost of some old
inhabitant.  I suppose I am very unexpected?"

Loder took the hand that he extended and pressed the fingers
unconsciously.  The sight of this man was like the finding of
an oasis at the point where the desert is sandiest, deadliest,
most unbearable.

"Yes, you are--unexpected," he answered.

Chilcote looked at him, then looked out into the court.  "I'm
done up," he said.  "I'm right at the end of the tether."  He
laughed as he said it, but in the dim light of the hall Loder
thought his face looked ill and harassed despite the flush
that the excitement of the meeting had brought to it.  Taking
his arm, he drew him towards the stairs.

"So the rope has run out, eh?" he said, in imitation of the
other's tone.  But under the quiet of his manner his own nerves
were throbbing with the peculiar alertness of anticipation; a
sudden sense of mastery over life, that lifted him above
surroundings and above persons--a sense of stature, mental and
physical, from which he surveyed the world.  He felt as if fate,
in the moment of utter darkness, had given him a sign.

As they crossed the hall, Chilcote had drawn away and was
already mounting the stairs.  And as Loder followed, it
came sharply to his mind that here, in the slipshod
freedom of a door that was always open and stairs that
were innocent of covering, lay his companion's panion's
real niche--unrecognized in outward avowal, but acknowledged
by the inward, keener sense that manifests the individual.

In silence they mounted the stairs, but on the first landing
Chilcote paused and looked back, surveying Loder from the
superior height of two steps.

"I did very well at first," he said.  "I did very well--I
almost followed your example, for a week or so.  I found
myself on a sort of pinnacle--and I clung on.  But in the last
ten days I've--I've rather lapsed."

"Why?"  Loder avoided looking at his face; he kept his eyes
fixed determinately on the spot where his own hand gripped the
banister.

"Why?" Chilcote repeated.  "Oh, the prehistoric tale--weakness
stronger than strength.  I'm-I'm sorry to come down on you like
this, but it's the social side that bowls me over.  It's the
social side I can't stick."

"The social side?  But I thought--"

"Don't think.  I never think; it entails such a constant
upsetting of principles and theories.  We did arrange for
business only, but one can't set up barriers.  Society pushes
itself everywhere nowadays--into business most of all.  I
don't want you for theatre-parties or dinners.  But a big
reception with a political flavor is different.  A man has to
be seen at these things; he needn't say anything or do
anything, but it's bad form if he fails to show up."

Loder raised his head.  "You must explain," he said, abruptly.

Chilcote started slightly at the sudden demand.

"I--I suppose I'm rather irrelevant," he said, quickly.  "Fact
is, there's a reception at the Bramfells' to-night.  You know
Blanche Bramfell--Viscountess Bramfell, sister to Lillian
Astrupp."  His words conveyed nothing to Loder, but he did not
consider that.  All explanations were irksome to him and he
invariably chafed to be done with them.

"And you've got to put in an appearance--for party reasons?"
Loder broke in.

Chilcote showed relief.  "Yes.  Old Fraide makes rather a
point of it--so does Eve."  He said the last words carelessly;
then, as if their sound recalled something, his expression
changed.  A touch of satirical amusement touched his lips and
he laughed.

"By-the-way, Loder," he said, "my wife was actually tolerant
of me for nine or ten days after my return.  I thought your
representation was to be quite impersonal?  I'm not jealous,"
he laughed.  "I'm not jealous, I assure you; but the burned
child shouldn't grow absentminded."

At his tone and his laugh Loder's blood stirred; with a
sudden, unexpected impulse his hand tightened on the banister,
and, looking up, he caught sight of the face above him--his
own face, it seemed, alight with malicious interest.  At the
sight a strange sensation seized him; his grip on the banister
loosened, and, pushing past Chilcote, he hurriedly mounted the
stairs.

Outside his own door the other overtook him.

"Loder!" he said.  "Loder!  I meant no harm.  A man must have
a laugh sometimes."

But Loder was facing the door and did not turn round.

A sudden fear shook Chilcote.  "Loder!" he exclaimed again,
"you wouldn't desert me?  I can't go back to-night.  I can't
go back."

Still Loder remained immovable.

Alarmed by his silence, Chilcote stepped closer to him.

"Loder!  Loder, you won't desert me?"  He caught hastily at
his arm.

With a quick repulsion Loder shook him off; then almost as
quickly he turned round.

"What fools we all are!" he said, abruptly.  "We, only differ
in degree.  Come in, and let us change our clothes."




XIII


The best moments of a man's life are the moments when, strong
in himself, he feels that the world lies before him.
Gratified ambition may be the summer, but anticipation is the
ardent spring-time of a man's career.

As Loder drove that night frown Fleet Street to Grosvenor
Square he realized this--though scarcely with any degree of
consciousness--for he was no accomplished self-analyst.  But
in a wave of feeling too vigorous to be denied he recognized
his regained foothold--the step that lifted him at once from
the pit to the pinnacle.

In that moment of realization he looked neither backward nor
forward.  The present was all-sufficing.  Difficulties might
loom ahead, but difficulties had but one object--the testing
and sharpening of a man's strength.  In the first deep surge
of egotistical feeling he almost rejoiced in Chilcote's
weakness.  The more Chilcote tangled the threads of his life,
the stronger must be the fingers that unravelled them.  He was
possessed by a great impatience; the joy of action was
stirring in his blood.

Leaving the cab, he walked confidently to the door of
Chilcote's house and inserted the latch-key.  Even in this
small act there was a grain of individual satisfaction.  Then
very quietly he opened the door and crossed the hall.

As he entered, a footman was arranging the fire that burned in
the big grate.  Seeing the man, he halted.

"Where is your mistress?" he asked, in unconscious repetition
of his first question in the same house.

The man looked up.  "She has just finished dinner, sir.  She
dined alone in her own room."  He glanced at Loder in the
quick, uncertain way that was noticeable in all the servants
of the household when they addressed their master.  Loder saw
the look and wondered what depth of curiosity it betrayed, how
much of insight into the domestic life that he must always be
content to skim.  For an instant the old resentment against
Chilcote tinged his exaltation, but he swept it angrily aside.
Without further remark he began to mount the stairs.

Gaining the landing, he did not turn as usual to the door that
shut off Chilcote's rooms, but moved onward down the corridor
towards Eve's private sitting-room.  He moved slowly till the
door was reached; then he, paused and lifted his hand.  There
was a moment's wait while his fingers rested on the handle;
then a sensation he could not explain--a reticence, a reluctance
to intrude upon this one precinct--caused his, fingers to relax.
With a slightly embarrassed gesture he drew back slowly and
retraced his steps.

Once in Chilcote's bedroom, he walked to the nearest bell and
pressed it.  Renwick responded, and at sight of him Loder's
feelings warmed with the same sense of fitness and familiarity
that the great bed and sombre furniture of the room had
inspired.

But the man did not come forward as he had expected.  He
remained close to the door with a hesitation that was unusual
in a trained servant.  It struck Loder that possibly his
stolidity had exasperated Chilcote, and that possibly Chilcote
had been at no pains to conceal the exasperation.  The idea
caused him to smile involuntarily.

"Come into the room, Renwick," he said.  "It's uncomfortable
to see you standing there.  I want to know if Mrs. Chilcote
has sent me any message about to-night."

Renwick studied him furtively as he came forward.  "Yes, sir,"
he said.  "Mrs. Chilcote's maid said that the carriage was
ordered for ten-fifteen, and she hoped that would suit you."
He spoke reluctantly, as if expecting a rebuke.

At the opening sentence Loder had turned aside, but now, as
the man finished, he wheeled round again and looked at him
closely with his keen, observant eyes.

"Look here," he said.  "I can't have you speak to me like
that.  I may come down on you rather sharply when my--my
nerves are bad; but when I'm myself I treat you--well, I treat
you decently, at any rate.  You'll have to learn to
discriminate.  Look at me now!"  A thrill of risk and of
rulership passed through him as he spoke.  "Look at me now!
Do I look as I looked this morning--or yesterday?"

The man eyed him half stupidly, half timidly.

"Well?" Loder insisted.

"Well, sir," Renwick responded, with some slowness; "you look
the same--and you look different.  A healthier color, perhaps,
sir--and the eye clearer."  He grew more confident under
Loder's half-humorous, half-insistent gaze.  "Now that I look
closer, sir--"

Loder laughed.  "That's it!" he said.  "Now that you look
closer.  You'll have to grow observant: observation is an
excellent quality in a servant.  Wheat you come into a
room in future, look first of all at me--and take your
cue from that.  Remember that serving a man with nerves
is  like serving two masters.  Now you can go; and tell
Mrs. Chilcote's maid that I shall be quite ready at a
quarter-past ten."

"Yes, sir.  And after that?"

"Nothing further.  I sha'n't want you again to-night."  He
turned away as he spoke, and moved towards the great fire that
was always kept alight in Chilcote's room.  But as the man
moved towards the door he wheeled back again.  "Oh, one thing
more, Renwick!  Bring me some sandwiches and a whiskey."  He
remembered for the first time that he had eaten nothing since
early afternoon.

At a few minutes after ten Loder left Chilcote's room,
resolutely descended the stairs, and took up his position in
the hall.  Resolution is a strong word to apply to such a
proceeding, but something in his bearing, in the attitude of
his shoulders and head, instinctively suggested it.

Five or six minutes passed, but he waited without impatience;
then at last the sound of a carriage stopping before the house
caused him to lift his head, and at the same instant Eve
appeared at the head of the staircase.

She stood there for a second, looking down on him, her maid a
pace or two behind, holding her cloak.  The picture she made
struck upon his mind with something of a revelation.

On his first sight of her she had appealed to him as a strange
blending of youth and self-possession--a girl
with a woman's clearer perception of life; later he had been
drawn to study her in other aspects--as a possible comrade and
friend; now for the first time he saw her as a power in her
own world, a woman to whom no man could deny consideration.
She looked taller for the distance between them, and the
distinction of her carriage added to the effect.  Her black
gown was exquisitely soft--as soft as her black hair; above
her forehead was a cluster of splendid diamonds shaped like a
coronet, and a band of the same stones encircled her neck.
Loder realized in a glance that only the most distinguished of
women could wear such ornaments and not have her beauty
eclipsed.  With a touch of the old awkwardness that had before
assailed him in her presence, he came slowly forward as she
descended the stairs.

"Can I help you with your cloak?" he asked.  And as he asked
it, something like surprise at his own timidity crossed his
mind.

For a second Eve's glance rested on his face.  Her expression
was quite impassive, but as she lowered her lashes a faint
gleam flickered across her eyes; nevertheless, her answer,
when it came, was studiously courteous.

"Thank you," she said,  "but Marie will do all I want."

Loder looked at her for a moment, then turned aside.  He was
not hurt by his rebuff; rather, by an interesting sequence of
impressions, he was stirred by it.  The pride that had refused
Chilcote's help, and the self-control that had refused it
graciously, moved him to admiration.  He understood and
appreciated both by the light of person experience.

"The carriage is waiting, sir," Crapham's voice broke in.

Loder nodded, and Eve turned to her maid.  "That will do,
Marie," she said.  "I shall want a cup of chocolate when I get
back--probably at one o clock."  She drew her cloak about her
shoulders and moved towards the door.  Then she paused and
looked back.  "Shall we start?" she asked, quietly.

Loder, still watching her, came forward at once.  "Certainly,"
he said, with unusual gentleness.

He followed her as she crossed the footpath, but made no
further offer of help; and when the moment came he quietly
took his place beside her in the carriage.  His last impression,
as the horses wheeled round, was of the open hall door--Crapham
in his sombre livery and the maid in her black dress, both
silhouetted against the dark background of the hall; then, as
the carriage moved forward smoothly and rapidly, he leaned back
in his seat and closed his eyes.

During the first few moments of the drive there was silence.
To Loder there was a strange, new sensation in this
companionship, so close and yet so distant.  He was so near to
Eve that the slight fragrant scent from her clothes might
almost have belonged to his own.  The impression was confusing
yet vaguely delightful.  It was years since he had been so
close to a woman of his own class--his own caste.  He
acknowledged the thought with a curious sense of pleasure.
Involuntarily he turned and looked at her.

She was sitting very straight, her fine profile cut clear
against the carriage window, her diamonds quivering in the
light that flashed by them from the street.  For a space the
sense of unreality that had pervaded  his first entrance into
Chilcote's life touched him again, then another and more
potent feeling rose to quell it.  Almost involuntarily as he
looked at her his lips parted.

"May I say something?" he asked.

Eve remained motionless.  She did not turn her head, as most
women would have done.  "Say anything you like," she said,
gravely.

"Anything?" He bent a little nearer, filled again by the
inordinate wish to dominate.

"Of course."

It seemed to him that her voice sounded forced and a little
tired.  For a moment he looked through the window at the
passing lights; then slowly his gaze returned to her face.

"You look very beautiful to-night," he said.  His voice was
low and his manner unemotional, but his words had the effect
he desired.

She turned her head, and her eyes met his in a glance of
curiosity and surprise.

Slight as the triumph was, it thrilled him.  The small scene
with Chilcote's valet came back to him; his own personality
moved him again to a reckless determination to make his own
voice heard.  Leaning forward, he laid his hand lightly on her
arm.

"Eve," he said, quickly--"Eve, do you remember?"  Then he
paused and withdrew his hand.  The horses had slackened speed,
then stopped altogether as the carriage fell into line outside
Bramfell House.




XIV


Loder entered Lady Bramfell's feeling far more like an actor
in a drama than an ordinary man in a peculiar situation.  It
was the first time he had played Chilcote to a purely social
audience, and the first time for many years that he had rubbed
shoulders with a well-dressed crowd ostensibly brought
together for amusement.  As he followed Eve along the corridor
that led to the reception-rooms he questioned the reality of
the position again and again; then abruptly, at the moment
when the sensation of unfamiliarity was strongest, a cheery
voice hailed him, and, turning, he saw the square shoulders,
light eyes, and pointed mustache of Lakeley, the owner of the
'St. George's Gazette'.

At the sight of the man and the sound of his greeting his
doubts and speculations vanished.  The essentials of life rose
again to the position they had occupied three weeks ago, in
the short but strenuous period when his dormant activities had
been stirred and he had recognized his true self.  He lifted
his head unconsciously, the shade of misgiving that had
crossed his confidence passing from him as he smiled at
Lakeley with a keen, alert pleasure that altered his whole
face.

Eve, looking back, saw the expression.  It attracted and held
her, like a sudden glimpse into a secret room.  In all the
years of her marriage, in the months of her courtship even,
she had never surprised the look on Chilcote's face.  The
impression came quickly.  and with it a strange, warm rush of
interest that receded slowly, leaving an odd sense of
loneliness.  But, at the moment that the feeling came and
passed, her attention was claimed in another direction.  A
slight, fair-haired boy forced his way towards her through the
press of people that filled the corridor.

"Mrs. Chilcote!" he exclaimed.  "Can I believe my luck in
finding you alone?"

Eve laughed.  It seemed that there was relief in her laugh.
"How absurd you are, Bobby!" she said, kindly.  "But you are
wrong.  My husband is here--I am waiting for him."

Blessington looked round.  "Oh!" he said.  "Indeed!"  Then he
relapsed into silence.  He was the soul of good-nature, but
those who knew him best knew that Chilcote's summary change of
secretaries had rankled.  Eve, conscious of the little jar,
made haste to smooth it away.

"Tell me about yourself," she said.  "What have you been
doing?"

Blessington looked at her, then smiled again, his buoyancy
restored.  "Doing?" he said.  "Oh, calling every other
afternoon at Grosvenor Square--only to find that a certain
lady is never at home."

At his tone Eve laughed again.  The boy, with his frank and
ingenuous nature, had beguiled many a dull hour for her in
past days, and she had missed him not a little when his place
had been filled by Greening.

"But I mean seriously, Bobby.  Has something good turned up?"

Blessington made a wry face "Something is on its way--that's
why I am on duty to-right.  Old Bramfell and the pater are
working it between them.  So if Lady Bramfell or Lady Astrupp
happen to drop a fan or a handkerchief this evening, I've got
to be here to pick it up.  See?"

"As you picked up my fans and handkerchiefs last year--and the
year before?" Eve smiled.

Blessington's face suddenly looked grave.  "I wish you hadn't
said that," he said.  Then he paused abruptly.  Out of the hum
of talk behind them a man's laugh sounded.  It was not loud, but
it was a laugh that one seldom hears in a London drawing-room
--it expressed interest, amusement, and in an inexplicable
may it seemed also to express strength.

Eve and Blessington both turned involuntarily.

"By Jove!" said Blessington

Eve said nothing.

Loder was parting with Lakely, and his was the laugh that had
attracted them both.  The interest excited by his talk was
still reflected in his face and bearing as he made his way
towards them.

"By Jove!" said Blessington again.  "I never realized that
Chilcote was so tall."

Again Eve said nothing.  But silently and with a more subtle
meaning she found herself echoing the words.

Until he was quite close to her, Loder did not seem to see
her.  Then he stopped quietly.

"I was speaking to Lakely," he said.  "He wants me to dine
with him one night at Cadogan Gardens."

But Eve was silent, waiting for him to address Blessington.
She glanced at him quickly, but though their eyes met he did
not catch the meaning that lay in hers.  It was a difficult
moment.  She had known him incredibly, almost unpardonably,
absent-minded, but it had invariably been when he was
suffering from nerves," as she phrased it to herself.  But
to-night he was obviously in the possession of unclouded
faculties.  She colored slightly and glanced under her lashes
at Blessington.  Had the same idea struck him, she wondered?
But he was studiously studying a suit of Chinese armor that
stood close by in a niche of the wall.

"Bobby has been keeping me amused while you talked to Mr.
Lakely," she said, pointedly.

Directly addressed, Loder turned and looked at Blessington.
"How d'you do?" he said, with doubtful cordiality.  The name
of Bobby conveyed nothing to him.

To his surprise, Eve looked annoyed, and Blessington's
fresh-colored face deepened in tone.  With a slow,
uncomfortable sensation he was aware of having struck a
wrong note.

There was a short, unpleasant pause.  Then, more by intuition
than actual sight, Blessington saw Eve's eyes turn from him to
Loder, and with quick tact he saved the situation.

"How d'you do, sir?" he responded, with a smile.  "I
congratulate you on looking so--so uncommon well.  I was just
telling Mrs. Chilcote that I hold a commission for Lady
Astrupp to-night.  I'm a sort of scout at present--reporting
on the outposts."  He spoke fast and without much meaning, but
his boyish voice eased the strain.

Eve thanked him with a smile.  "Then we mustn't interfere with
a person on active service," she said.  "Besides, we have our
own duties to get through."

She smiled again, and, touching Loder's arm, indicated the
reception-rooms.

When they entered the larger of the two rooms Lady Bramfell
was still receiving her guests.  She was a tall and angular
woman, who, except for a certain beauty of hands and feet and
a certain similarity of voice, possessed nothing in common
with her sister Lillian.  She was speaking to a group of
people as they approached, and the first sound of her sweet
and rather drawling tones touched Loder with a curious
momentary feeling--a vague suggestion of awakened memories.
Then the suggestion vanished as she turned and greeted Eve.

"How sweet of you to come!" she murmured.  And it seemed to
Loder that a more spontaneous smile lighted up her face.  Then
she extended her hand to him.  "And you, too!" she added.
"Though I fear we shall bore you dreadfully."

Watching her with interest, he saw the change of expression as
her eyes turned from Eve to him, and noticed a colder tone in
her voice as she addressed him directly.  The observation
moved him to self-assertion.

"That's a poor compliment to me," he said "To be bored is
surely only a polite way of being inane."

Lady Bramfell smiled.  "What!" she exclaimed.  "You defending
your social reputation?"

Loder laughed a little.  "The smaller it is, the more
defending it needs," he replied.

Another stream of arrivals swept by them as he spoke; Eve
smiled at their hostess and moved across the room, and he
perforce followed.  As he gained her side, the little court
about Lady Bramfell was left well in the rear, the great
throng at the farther end of the room was not yet reached, and
for the moment they were practically alone.

There was a certain uneasiness in that moment of companionship.
It seemed to him that Eve wished to speak, but hesitated.  Once
or twice she opened and closed the fan that she was carrying,
then at last, as if by an effort, she turned and looked at him.

"Why were you so cold to Bobby Blessington?" she asked.
"Doesn't it seem discourteous to ignore him as you did?"

Her manner was subdued.  It was not the annoyed manner that
one uses to a man when he has behaved ill; it was the
explanatory tone one might adopt towards an incorrigible
child.  Loder felt this; but the gist of a remark always came
to him first, its mode of expression later.  The fact that it
was Blessington whom he had encountered--Blessington to whom
he had spoken with vague politeness--came to him with a sense
of unpleasantness.  He was not to blame in the matter,
nevertheless he blamed himself.  He was annoyed that, he
should have made the slip in Eve's presence.

They were moving forward, nearing the press of people in the
second room, when Eve spoke, and the fact filled him with an
added sense of annoyance.  People smiled and bowed to her from
every side; one woman leaned forward as they passed and
whispered something in her ear.  Again the sensation of
futility and vexation filled him; again he realized how
palpable was the place she held in the world.  Then, as his
feelings reached their height and speech seemed forced upon
him, a small man with a round face, catching a glimpse of Eve,
darted from a circle of people gathered in one of the windows
and came quickly towards them.

With an unjust touch of irritation he recognized Lord
Bramfell.

Again the sense of Eve's aloofness stung him as their host
approached.  In another moment she would be lost to him among
this throng of strangers--claimed by them as by right.

"Eve--" he said, involuntarily and under his breath.

She half paused and turned towards him.  "Yes?" she said; and
he wondered if it was his imagination that made the word sound
slightly eager.

"About that matter of Blessington--" he began.  Then he
stopped, Bramfell had reached them.

The little man came up smiling and with an outstretched hand.
"There's no penalty for separating husband and wife, is there,
Mrs. Chilcote?  How are you, Chilcote?"  He turned from one to
the other with the quick, noiseless manner that always
characterized him.

Loder turned aside to hide his vexation, but Eve greeted their
host with her usual self-possessed smile.

"You are exempt from all penalties to-night," she said.  Then
she turned to greet the members of his party who had strolled
across from the window in his wake.

As she moved aside Bramfell looked at Loder.  "Well, Chilcote,
have you dipped into the future yet?" he asked, with a laugh.

Loder echoed the laugh but said nothing.  In his uncertainty
at the question he reverted to his old resource of silence.

Bramfell raised his eyebrows.  "What!" he said.  "Don't tell
me that my sister-in-law hasn't engaged you as a victim."
Then he turned in Eve's direction.  "You've heard of our new
departure, Mrs. Chilcote?"

Eve looked round from the lively group by which she was
surrounded.  "Lillian's crystal-gazing?  Why, of course!" she
said.  "She should make a very beautiful seer.  We are all
quite curious."

Bramfell pursed up his lips.  "She has a very beautiful tent
at the end of the conservatory.  It took five men as many days
to rig it up.  We couldn't hear ourselves talk, for hammering.
My wife said it made her feel quite philanthropic, it reminded
her so much of a charity bazaar."

Everybody laughed; and at the same moment Blessington came
quickly across the room and joined the group.

"Hallo!" he said.  "Anybody seen Witcheston?  He's next on my
list for the crystal business."

Again the whole party laughed, and Bramfell, stepping forward,
touched Blessington's arm in mock seriousness.

"Witcheston is playing bridge, like a sensible man," he said.
"Leave him in peace, Bobby."

Blessington made a comical grimace.  "But I'm working this on
commercial principles," he said.  "I keep the list, names and
hours complete, and Lady Astrupp gazes, in blissful ignorance
as to who her victims are.  The whole thing is great--simple
and statistical."

"For goodness' sake, Bobby, shut up!"  Bramfell's round eyes
were twinkling with amusement.

"But my system--"

"Systems!  Ah, we all had them when we were as young as you
are!"

"And they all had flaws, Bobby," Eve broke in.  "We were always
finding gaps that had to be filled up.  Never mind about Lord
Witcheston.  Get a substitute; it won't count--if Lillian
doesn't know."

Blessington wavered as she spoke.  His eyes wandered round the
party and again rested on Bramfell.

"Not me, Bobby!  Remember, I've breathed crystals--practically
lived on them--for the last week.  Now, there's Chilcote--"
Again his eyes twinkled.

All eyes were turned on Loder, though one or two strayed
surreptitiously to Eve.  She, seeming sensitive to the
position, laughed quickly.

"A very good idea!" she said.  "Who wants to see the future,
if not a politician?"

Loder glanced from her to Blessington.  Then, with a very
feminine impulse, she settled the matter beyond dispute.

"Please use your authority, Bobby," she said.  "And when
you've got him safely under canvas, come back to me.  It's
years since we've had a talk."  She nodded and smiled, then
instantly turned to Bramfell with some trivial remark.

For a second Loder waited, then with a movement of resignation
he laid his hand on Blessington's arm.  "Very well!" he said.
"But if my fate is black, witness it was my wife who sent me
to it."  His faint pause on the word wife, the mention of the
word itself in the presence of these people, had a savor of
recklessness.  The small discomfiture of his earlier slip
vanished before it; he experienced a strong reaction of
confidence in his luck.  With a cool head, a steady step, and
a friendly pressure of the fingers on Blessington's arm, he
allowed himself to be drawn across the reception-rooms,
through the long corridors, and down the broad flight of steps
that led to the conservatory.

The conservatory was a feature of the Bramfell townhouse, and
to Loder it came as something wonderful and unlooked-for--with
its clustering green branches, its slight, unoppressive scents,
its temperately pleasant atmosphere.  He felt no wish to speak
as, still guided by Blessington, he passed down the shadowy
paths that in the half-light had the warmth and mystery of a
Southern garden.  Here and there from the darkness came the
whispering of a voice or the sound of a laugh, bringing with
them the necessary touch of life.  Otherwise the place was still.

Absorbed by the air of solitude, contrasting so remarkably
with the noise and crowded glitter left behind in the
reception-rooms, he had moved half-way down the long, green
aisle before the business in hand came back to him with a
sudden sense of annoyance.  It seemed so paltry to mar the
quiet of the place with the absurdity of a side-show.  He
turned to Blessington with a touch of abruptness.

"What am I expected to do?" he asked.

Blessington looked up, surprised.  "Why, I thought, sir--" he
began.  Then he instantly altered his tone: "Oh, just enter
into the spirit of the thing.  Lady Astrupp won't put much
strain on your credulity, but she'll make a big call on your
solemnity."  He laughed.

He had an infectious laugh, and Loder responded to it.

"But what am I to do?" he persisted.

"Oh, nothing.  Being the priestess, she, naturally demands
acolytes; but she'll let you know that she holds the prior
place.  The tent is so fixed that she sees nothing beyond your
hands; so there's absolutely no delusion."  He laughed once
more.  Then suddenly he lowered his voice and slackened his
steps.  "Here we are!" he whispered, in pretended awe.

At the end of the path the space widened to the full breadth
of the conservatory.  The light was dimmer, giving an added
impression of distance; away to the left, Loder heard the
sound of splashing water, and on his right hand he caught his
first glimpse of the tent that was his goal.

It was an artistic little structure--a pavilion formed of
silky fabric that showed bronze in the light of an Oriental
lamp that hung above its entrance.  As they drew closer, a man
emerged from it.  He stood for a moment in uncertainty,
looking about him; then, catching sight of them, he came
forward laughing.

"By George!" he exclaimed, "it's as dark as limbo in there!  I
didn't see you at first.  But I say, Blessirigton, it's a
beastly shame to have that thunder-cloud barrier shutting off
the sorceress.  If she gazes at the crystal, mayn't we have
something to gaze at, too?"

Blessington laughed.  "You want too much, Galltry," he said.
"Lady Astrupp understands the value of the unattainable.  Come
along, sir!" he added to Loder, drawing him forward with an
energetic pressure of the arm.

Loder responded, and as he did so a flicker of curiosity
touched his mind for the first time.  He wondered for an
instant who this woman was who aroused so much comment.  And
with the speculation came the remembrance of how she had
assured Chilcote that on one point.  at least he was
invulnerable.  He had spoken then from the height of a past
experience--an experience so fully passed that he wondered now
if it had been as staple a guarantee as he had then believed.
Man's capacity for outliving is astonishingly complete.  The
long-ago incident in the Italian mountains had faded, like a
crayon study in which the tones have merged and gradually lost
character.  The past had paled before the present--as golden
hair might pale before black.  The simile came with apparent
irrelevance.  Then again Blessington pressed his arm.

"Now, sir!" he said, drawing away and lifting the curtain that
hung before the entrance of the tent.

Loder looked at the amused, boyish face lighted by the hanging
lamp, and smiled pleasantly; then, with a shrug of the
shoulders, he entered the pavilion and the curtain fell behind
him.



XV


On entering the pavilion, Loder's first feeling was one of
annoyed awkwardness at finding himself in almost total
darkness.  But as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, the
feeling vanished and the absurdity of the position came to his
mind.

The tent was small, heavily draped with silk and smelling of
musk.  It was divided into two sections by an immovable
curtain that hung from the roof to within a few feet of the
floor.  The only furniture on Loder's side was one low chair,
and the only light a faint radiance that, coming from the
invisible half of the pavilion; spread across the floor in a
pale band.  For a short space he stood uncertain, then his
hesitation was brought to an end.

"Please sit down," said a low, soft voice.

For a further moment he stood undecided.  The voice sounded so
unexpectedly near.  In the quiet and darkness of the place it
seemed to possess a disproportionate weight--almost the weight
of a familiar thing.  Then, with a sudden, unanalyzed touch of
relief, he located the impression.  It was the similarity to
Lady Bramfell's sweet, slow tones that had stirred his mind.
With a sense of satisfaction he drew the chair forward and sat
down.

Then, for the first time, he saw that on the other side of
the gauze partition, and below it by a few inches, was a
small table of polished wood, on which stood an open book, a
crystal ball, and a gold dish filled with ink.  These were
arranged on the side of the table nearest to him, the farther
side being out of his range of vision.  An amused interest
touched him as he made his position more comfortable.  Whoever
this woman was, she had an eye for stage management, she knew
how to marshal her effects.  He found himself waiting with
some curiosity for the next injunction from behind the
curtain.

"The art of crystal-gazing," began the sweet, slow voice after
a pause, "is one of the oldest known arts."  Loder sat forward.
The thought of Lady Bramfell mingled disconcertingly with some
other thought more distant and less easy to secure.

"To obtain the best results," went on the seer, "the subject
lays his uncovered hands outspread upon a smooth surface."  It
was evident that the invisible priestess was reading from the
open book, for when the word "surface" was reached there was a
slight stir that indicated the changing of position; and when.
the voice came again it was in a different tone.

"Please lay your hands, palms downward, upon the table."

Loder smiled to himself in the darkness.  He pictured Chilcote
with his nerves and his impatience going through this ordeal;
then in good-humored silence he leaned forward and obeyed the
command.  His hands rested on the smooth surface of the table
in the bar of light from the unseen lamp.

There was a second in which the seer was silent; then he
fancied that she raised her head.

"You must take off your rings," she said smoothly.  "Any metal
interferes with the sympathetic current."

At any other time Loder would have laughed; but the request so
casually and graciously made sent all possibility of irony far
into the background.  The thought of Chilcote and of the one
flaw in their otherwise flawless scheme rose to his mind.
Instinctively he half withdrew his hands.

"Where is the sympathetic current?" he asked, quietly.  His
thoughts were busy with the question of whether he would or
would not be justified in beating an undignified retreat.

"Between you and me, of course," said the voice, softly.  It
sounded languid, but very rational.  The idea of retreat
seemed suddenly theatrical.  In this world of low voices and
shaded lights people never adopted extreme measures--no
occasion made a scene practicable, or even allowable.  He
leaned back slowly, while he summed up the situation.  If by
any unlucky chance this woman knew Chilcote to have adopted
jewelry and had seen the designs of his rings, the sight of
his own scarred finger would suggest question and comment; if,
on the other hand, he left the pavilion without excuse, or if,
without apparent reason, he refused to remove the rings, he
opened up a new difficulty--a fresh road to curiosity.  It
came upon him with unusual quickness--the obstacles to, and
the need for, a speedy decision.  He glanced round the tent,
then unconsciously he straightened his shoulders.  After all,
he had stepped into a tight corner, but there was no need to
cry out in squeezing his way back.  Then he realized that the
soft, ingratiating tones were sounding once more.

"It's the passing of my hands over yours, while I look into
the crystal, that sets up sympathy"--a slender hand moved
swiftly into the light and picked up the ball--"and makes my
eyes see the pictures in your mind.  Now, will you please take
off your rings?"

The very naturalness of the request disarmed him.  It was a
risk.  But, as Chilcote had said, risk was the salt of life!

"I'm afraid you think me very troublesome."  The voice came
again, delicately low and conciliatory.

For a brief second Loder wondered uncertainly how long or how
well Chilcote knew Lady Astrupp; then he dismissed the
question.  Chilcote had never mentioned her until to-night,
and then casually as Lady Bramfell's sister.  What a coward he
was becoming in throwing the dice with Fate!  Without further
delay he drew off the rings, slipped them into his pocket, and
replaced his hands on the smooth table-top.

Then, at the moment that he replaced them, a peculiar thing
occurred.

From the farther side of the dark partition came the quick,
rustling stir of a skirt, and the slight scrape of a chair
pushed either backward or forward.  Then there was silence.

Now, silence can suggest anything, from profound thought to
imbecility; but in this case its suggestion was nil.  That
something had happened, that some change had taken place, was
as patent to Loder as the darkness of the curtain or the band
of light that crossed the floor, but what had occasioned it,
or what it stood for, he made no attempt to decide.  He sat
bitingly conscious of his hands spread open on the table under
the scrutiny of eyes that were invisible to him vividly aware
of the awkwardness of his position.  He felt with instinctive
certainty that a new chord had been struck; but a man seldom
acts on instinctive certainties.  If the exposure of his hands
had struck this fresh note, then any added action would but
heighten the dilemma.  He sat silent and motionless.

Whether his impassivity had any bearing on the moment he had
no way of knowing; but no further movement came from behind
the partition.  Whatever the emotions that had caused the
sharp swish of skirts and the sharp scrape of the chair, they
had evidently subsided or been dominated by other feelings.

The next indication of life that came to him was the laying
down of the crystal ball.  It was laid back upon the table
with a slight jerk that indicated a decision come to; and
almost simultaneously the seer's voice came to him again.  Her
tone was lower now than it had been before, and its extreme
ease seemed slightly shaken--whether by excitement, surprise,
or curiosity, it was impossible to say.

"You will think it strange--" she began.  "You will think--"
Then she stopped.

There was a pause, as though she waited for some help, but
Loder remained mute.  In difficulty a silent tongue and a cool
head are usually man's best weapons.

His silence was disconcerting.  He heard her stir again.

"You will think it strange--" she began once more.  Then quite
suddenly she checked and controlled her voice.  "You must
forgive me for what I am going to say," she added, in a
completely different tone, "but crystal-gazing is such an
illusive thing.  Directly you put your hands upon the table I
felt that there would be no result; but I wouldn't admit the
defeat.  Women are such keen anglers that they can never
acknowledge that any fish, however big, has slipped the hook."
She laughed softly.

At the soand of the laugh Loder shifted his position for the
first time.  He could not have told why, but it struck him
with a slight sense of confusion.  A precipitate wish to rise
and pass through the doorway into the wider spaces of the
conservatory came to him, though he made no attempt to act
upon it.  He knew that, for some inexplicable reason, this
woman behind the screen had lied to him--in the controlling of
her speech, in her charge of voice.  There had been one moment
in which an impulse or an emotion had almost found voice; then
training, instinct, or it might have been diplomacy, had
conquered, and the moment had passed.  There was a riddle in
the very atmosphere of the place--and he abominated riddles.

But Lady Astrupp was absorbed in her own concerns.  Again she
changed her position; and to Loder, listening attentively, it
seemed that she leaned forward and examined his hands afresh.
The sensation was so acute that he withdrew them
involuntarily.

Again there was a confused rustle; the crystal ball rolled
from the table, and the seer laughed quickly.  Obeying a
strenuous impulse, Loder rose.

He had no definite notion of what he expected or what he must
avoid.  He was only conscious that the pavilion, with its silk
draperies, its scent of musk, and its intolerable secrecy, was
no longer endurable.  He felt cramped and confused in mind and
muscle.  He stood for a second to straighten his limbs; then
he turned, and, moving directly forward, passed through the
portiere.

After the dimness of the pavilion the conservatory seemed
comparatively bright; but without waiting to grow accustomed
to the altered light he moved onward with deliberate haste.
The long, green alley, was speedily traversed; in his eyes it
no longer possessed greenness, no longer suggested freshness
or repose.  It was simply a means to the end upon which his
mind was set.

As he passed up the flight of steps he drew his rings from his
pocket and slipped them on again.  Then he stepped into the
glare of the thronged corridor.

Some one hailed him as be passed through the crowd, but with
Chilcote's most absorbed manner he hurried on.  Through the
door of the supper-room he caught sight of Blessington and
Eve, and then for the first time his expression changed, and
he turned directly towards them.

"Eve," he said, "will you excuse me?  I have a word to say to
Blessington."

She glanced at him in momentary surprise; then she smiled in
her quiet, self-possessed way.

"Of course!" she said.  "I've been wanting a chat with
Millicent Gower, but Bobby has required so much entertaining--"
She smiled again, this time at Blessington, and moved away
towards a pale girl in green who was standing alone.

Instantly she had turned Loder took Blessington's arm.

"I know you're tremendously busy," he began, in an excellent
imitation of Chilcote's hasty manner--"  I know you're
tremendously busy, but I'm in a fix."

One glance at Blessington's healthy, ingenuous face told him
that plain speaking was the method to adopt.

"Indeed, sir?"  In a moment Blessington was on the alert.

"Yes.  And I--I want your help."

The boy reddened.  That Chilcote should appeal to him stirred
him to an uneasy feeling of pride and uncertainty.

Loder saw his advantage and pressed it home.  "It's come about
through this crystal-gazing business.  I'm afraid I didn't
play my part--rather made an ass of myself; I wouldn't swallow
the thing, and--and Lady Astrupp--"  He paused, measuring
Blessington with a glance.  "Well, my dear boy, you--you know
what women are!"

Blessington was only twenty-three.  He reddened again, and
assumed an air of profundity.  "I know.  sir," he said, with a
shake of the head.

Loder's sense of humor was keen, but he kept a grave face.  "I
knew you'd catch my meaning; but I want you to do something
more.  If Lady Astrupp should ask you who was in her tent this
past ten minutes, I want you--" Again he stopped, looking at
his companion's face.

"Yes, sir?"

"I want you to tell an immaterial lie for me."

Blessington returned his glance; then he laughed a little
uncomfortably.  "But surely, sir--"

"She recognized me, you mean?" Loder's eyes were as keen as
steel.

Yes."

"Then you're wrong.  She didn't."

Blessington's eyebrows went up.

There was silence.  Loder glanced across the room.  Eve had
parted from the girl in green and was moving towards them,
exchanging smiles and greetings as she came.

"My wife is coming back," he said.  "Will you do this for me,
Blessington?  It--it will smooth things--"  He spoke quickly,
continuing to watch Eve.  As he had hoped, Blessington's eyes
turned in the same direction.  "'Twill smooth matters," he
repeated, "smooth them in--in a domestic way that I can't
explain."

The shot told.  Blessington looked round.

"Right, sir!" he said.  "You may leave it to me," And before
Loder could speak again he had turned and disappeared into the
crowd.




XVI


His business with Blessington over, Loder breathed more
freely.  If Lady Astrupp had recognized Chilcote by the rings,
and had been roused to curiosity, the incident would demand
settlement sooner or later--settlement in what proportion he
could hazard no guess; if, on the other hand, her obvious
change of manner had arisen from any other source he had a
hazy idea that a woman's behavior could never be gauged by
accepted theories--then he had safeguarded Chilcote's
interests and his own by his securing of Blessington's
promise.  Blessington he knew would be reliable and discreet.
With a renewal of confidence--a pleasant feeling that his
uneasiness had been groundless--he moved forward to greet Eve.

Her face, with its rich, clear coloring, seemed to his gaze to
stand out from the crowd of other faces as from a frame, and a
sense of pride touched him.  In every eye but his own her
beauty belonged to him.

His face looked alive and masterful as she reached his side.
"May I monopolize you?" he said, with the quickness of speech
borrowed from Chilcote.  "We see so little of each other."

Almost as if compelled, her lashes lifted and her eyes met
his.  Her glance was puzzled, uncertain, slightly confused.
There was a deeper color than usual in her cheeks.  Loder felt
something within his own consciousness stir in response.

"You know you are yielding," he said.

Again she blushed.

He saw the blush, and knew that it was he--his words, his
personality--that had called it forth.  In Chilcote's actual
semblance he had proved his superiority over Chilcote.  For
the first time he had been given a tacit, personal
acknowledgment of his power.  Involuntarily he drew nearer to
her.

"Let's get out of this crush."

She made no answer except to bend her head; and it came to him
that, for all her pride, she liked--and unconsciously yielded
to--domination.  With a satisfied gesture he turned to make a
passage towards the door.

But the passage was more easily desired than made.  In the few
moments since he had entered the supper-room the press of
people had considerably thickened--until a block had formed
about the door-way.  Drawing Eve with him, he moved forward
for a dozen paces, then paused, unable to make further
headway.

As they stood there, he looked back at her.  "What a study in
democracy a crowd always is!" he said.

She responded with a bright, appreciative glance, as if
surprised into naturalness.  He wondered sharply what she
would be like if her enthusiasms were really aroused.  Then a
stir in the corridor outside caused a movement inside the
room; and with a certain display of persistence he was enabled
to make a passage to the door.

There again they were compelled to halt.  But though tightly
wedged into his new position and guarding Eve with one arm,
Loder was free to survey the brilliantly thronged corridor
over the head of a man a few inches shorter than himself, who
stood directly in front of him.

"What are we waiting for?" he asked, good humoredly,
addressing the back of the stranger's head.

The man turned, displaying a genial face, a red mustache, and
an eye-glass.

"Hullo, Chilcote!" he said.  "Hope it's not on your feet I'm
standing."

Loder laughed.  "No," he said.  "And don't change the
position.  If you were an inch higher I should be blind as
well as crippled."

The other laughed.  It was a pleasant surprise to find
Chilcote amiable under discomfort.  He looked round again in
slight curiosity.

Loder felt the scrutiny.  To create a diversion he looked out
along the corridor.  "I believe we are waiting for something,"
he exclaimed.  "What's this?"  Then quite abruptly be ceased
to speak.

"Anything interesting?" Eve touched his arm.

He said nothing; he made no effort to look round.  His thought
as well as his speech was suddenly suspended.

The man in front of him let his eye-glass fall from his eye,
then screwed it in again.

"Jove!" he exclaimed.  "Here comes our sorceress.  It's like
the progress of a fairy princess.  I believe this is the
meaning of our getting penned in here," he chuckled
delightedly.

Loder said nothing.  He stared straight on over the other's
head.

Along the corridor, agreeably conscious of the hum of
admiration she aroused, came Lillian Astrupp, surrounded by a
little court.  Her delicate face was lit up; her eyes shone
under the faint gleam of her hair; her gown of gold embroidery
swept round her gracefully.  She was radiant and triumphant,
but she was also excited.  The excitement was evident in her
laugh, in her gestures, in her eyes, as they turned quickly in
one direction and then another.

Loder, gazing in stupefaction over the other man's head, saw
it--felt and understood it with a mind that leaped back over a
space of years.  As in a shifting panorama he saw a night of
disturbance and confusion in a far-off Italian valley--a
confusion from which one face shone out with something of the
pale, alluring radiance that filtered over the hillside from
the crescent moon.  It passed across his consciousness slowly
but with a slow completeness; and in its light the incidents
of the past hour stood out in a new aspect.  The echo of
recollection stirred by Lady Bramfell's voice, the re-echo of
it in the sister's tones; his own blindness, his own egregious
assurance--all struck across his mind.

Meanwhile the party about Lillian drew nearer.  He felt with
instinctive certainty that the supper-room was its
destination, but he remained motionless, held by a species of
fatalism.  He watched her draw near with an unmoved face, but
in the brief space that passed while she traversed the
corridor he gauged to the full the hold that the new
atmosphere, the new existence, had gained over his mind.  With
an unlooked-for rush of feeling he realized how dearly he
would part with it.

As Lillian came closer, the meaning of her manner became
clearer to him.  She talked incessantly, laughing now and
then, but her eyes were never quiet.  These skimmed the length
of the corridor, then glanced over the heads crowded in the
door-way.

"I'll have something quite sweet, Geoffrey," she was saying to
the man beside her, as she came within hearing.  "You know
what I like--a sort of snowflake wrapped up in sugar." As she
said the words her glance wandered.  Loder saw it rest
uninterestedly on a boy a yard or two in front of him, then
move to the man over whose head he gazed, then lift itself
inevitably to his face.

The glance was quick and direct.  He saw the look of
recognition spring across it; he saw her move forward suddenly
as the crowd in the corridor parted to let her pass.  Then he
saw what seemed to him a miracle.

Her whole expression altered, her lips parted, and she colored
with annoyance.  She looked like a spoiled child who, seeing a
bonbon-box, opens it--to find it empty.

As the press about the door-way melted to give her passage,
the red-haired man in front of Loder was the first to take
advantage of the space.  "Jove!  Lillian," he said, moving
forward, "you look as if you expected Chilcote to be somebody
else, and are disappointed to find he's only himself!"  He
laughed delightedly at his own joke.

The words were exactly the tonic that Lillian needed.  She
smiled her usual undisturbed smile as she turned her eyes upon
him.

"My dear Leonard, you're using your eye-glass; when that
happens you're never responsible for what you see."  Her words
came more slowly and with a touch of languid amusement.  Her
composure was suddenly restored.

Then for the first time Loder changed his position.  Moved by
an impulse he made no effort to dissect, he stepped back to
Eve's side and slipped his arm through hers--successfully
concealing his left hand.

The warmth of her skin through her long glove thrilled him
unexpectedly.  His impulse had been one of self-defence, but
the result was of a different character.  At the quick contact
the wish to fight for--to hold and defend--the position that
had grown so dear woke in renewed force.  With a new
determination he turned again towards Lillian.

"I caught the same impression--without an eyeglass," he said.
"Why did you look like that?"  He asked the question steadily
and with apparent carelessness, though, through it all, his
reason stood aghast--his common-sense cried aloud that it was
impossible for the eyes that had seen his face in admiration,
in love, in contempt, to fail now in recognition.  The air
seemed breathless while he spoke and waited.  His impression
of Lillian was a mere shimmering of gold dress and gold hair;
all that he was really conscious of was the pressure of his
hand on Eve's arm and the warmth of her skin through the soft
glove.  Then, abruptly, the mist lifted.  He saw Lillian's
eyes--indifferent, amused, slightly contemptuous; and a second
later he heard her voice.

"My dear Jack," she said, sweetly, "how absurd of you!  It was
simply the contrast of your eyes peering over Leonard's hair
It was like a gorgeous sunset with a black cloud overhead."
She laughed.  "Do you see what I mean, Eve?"  She affected to
see Eve for the first time.

Eve had been looking calmly ahead.  She turned now and smiled
serenely.  Loder felt no vibration of the arm he held, yet by
an instant intuition he knew that the two women were
antagonistic.  He experienced it with the divination that
follows upon a moment of acute suspense.  He understood it, as
he had understood Lillian's look of recognition when his
forehead, eyes, and nose had shown him to be himself; her
blank surprise when his close-shaven lip and chin had
proclaimed him Chilcote.

He felt like a man who has looked into an abyss and stepped
back from the edge, outwardly calm but mentally shaken.
The commonplaces of life seemed for the moment to hold deeper
meanings.  He did not hear Eve's answer, he paid
no heed to Lillian's next remark.  He saw her smile and turn
to the red-haired man; finally he saw her move on into the
supper-room, followed by her little court.  Then he pressed
the arm he was still holding.  He felt an urgent need of
companionship--of a human expression to the crisis he had
passed.

"Shall we get out of this?" he asked again.

Eve looked up.  "Out of the room?" she said.

He looked down at her, compelling her gaze.  "Out of the room
--and the house," he answered.  "Let us go-home."




XVII


The necessary formalities of departure were speedily got
through.  The passing of the corridors, the gaining of the
carriage, seemed to Loder to be marvellously simple
proceedings.  Then, as he sat by Eve's side and again felt the
forward movement of the horses, he had leisure for the first
time to wonder whether the time that had passed since last he
occupied that position had actually been lived through.

Only that night he had unconsciously compared one incident in
his life to a sketch in which the lights and shadows have been
obliterated and lost.  Now that picture rose before him,
startlingly and incredibly intact.  He saw the sunlit houses
of Santasalare, backgrounded by the sunlit hills--saw them as
plainly as when he himself had sketched them on his memory.
Every detail of the scene remained the same, even to the
central figure; only the eye and the hand of the artist had
changed.

At this point Eve broke in upon his thoughts.  Her first words
were curiously coincidental.

"What did you think of Lillian Astrupp to-night?" she asked.
"Wasn't her gown perfect?"

Loder lifted his head with an almost guilty start.  Then he
answered straight from his thoughts.

"I--I didn't notice it," he said; "but her eyes reminded me of
a cat's eyes--and she walks like a cat.  I never seemed to see
it--until to-night."

Eve changed her position.  "She was very artistic," she said,
tentatively.  "Don't you think the gold gown was beautiful
with her pale-colored hair?"

Loder felt surprised.  He was convinced that Eve disliked the
other and he was not sufficiently versed in women to
understand her praise.  "I thought--" he began.  Then he
wisely stopped.  "I didn't see the gown," he substituted.

Eve looked out of the window.  "How unappreciative men are!"
she said.  But her tone was strangely free from censure.

After this there was silence until Grosvenor Square was
reached.  Having left the carriage and passed into the house,
Eve paused for a moment at the foot of the stairs to give an
order to Crapham, who was still in attendance in the hall; and
again Loder had an opportunity of studying her.  As he looked,
a sharp comparison rose to his mind.

"A fairy princess!" he had heard the red-haired man say as
Lillian Astrupp came into view along the Bramfells' corridor,
and the simile had seemed particularly apt.  With her grace,
her delicacy, her subtle attraction, she might well be the
outcome of imagination.  But with Eve it was different.  She
also was graceful and attractive--but it was grace and
attraction of a different order.  One was beautiful with the
beauty of the white rose that springs from the hot-house and
withers at the first touch of cold; the other with the beauty
of the wild rose on the cliffs above the sea, that keeps its
petals fine and transparent in face of salt spray and wet
mist.  Eve, too, had her realm, but it was the realm of real
things.  A great confidence, a feeling that here one might
rely even if all other faiths were shaken, touched him suddenly.
For a moment he stood irresolute, watching her mount the stairs
with her easy, assured step.  Then a determination came to him.
Fate favored him to-night; he was in luck tonight.  He would put
his fortune to one more test.  He swung across the hall and ran
up the stairs.

His face was keen with interest as he reached her side.  The
hard outline of his features and the hard grayness of his eyes
were softened as when he had paused to talk with Lakely.
Action was the breath of his life, and his face changed under
it as another's might change under the influence of stirring
music or good wine.

Eve saw the look and again the uneasy expression of surprise
crossed her eyes.  She paused, her hand resting on the
banister.

Loder looked at her directly.  "Will you come into the study
--as you came that other night?  There's something I want to
say."  He spoke quietly.  He felt master of himself and of
her.

She hesitated, glanced at him, and then glanced away.

"Will you come?" he said again.  And as he said it his eyes
rested on the sweep of her thick eyelashes, the curve of the
black hair.

At last her lashes lifted, and the perplexity and doubt in her
blue eyes stirred him.  Without waiting for her answer, he
leaned forward.

"Say yes!" he urged.  "I don't often ask for favors."

Still she hesitated; then her decision was made for her.
With a new boldness he touched her arm, drawing her forward
gently but decisively towards Chilcote's rooms.

In the study a fire burned brightly, the desk was laden with
papers, the lights were nicely adjusted; even the chairs were
in their accustomed places.  Loder's senses responded to each
suggestion.  It seemed but a day since he had seen it last.
It was precisely as he had left it--the niche needing but the
man.

To hide his emotion he crossed the floor quickly and drew a
chair forward.  In less than six hours he had run up and down
the scale of emotions.  He had looked despair in the face,
till the sudden sight of Chilcote had lifted him to the skies;
since then, surprise had assailed him in its strongest form;
he had known the full meaning of the word "risk"; and from
every contingency he had come out conqueror.  He bent over the
chair as he pulled it forward, to hide the expression in his
eyes.

"Sit down," he said, gently.

Eve moved towards him.  She moved slowly, as if half afraid.
Many emotions stirred her--distrust, uncertainty, and a
curious half-dominant, half-suppressed questioning that it was
difficult to define.  Loder remembered her shrinking coldness,
her reluctant tolerance on the night of his first coming, and
his individuality, his certainty of power, kindled afresh.
Never had he been so vehemently himself; never had Chilcote
seemed so complete a shadow.

As Eve seated herself, he moved forward and leaned over the
back of her chair.  The impulse that had filled him in his
interview with Renwick, that had goaded him as he drove to the
reception, was dominant again.

"I tried to say something as we drove to the Bramfells'
to-night," he began.  Like many men who possess eloquence for
an impersonal cause, he was brusque, even blunt, in the
stating of his own case.  "May I hark back, and go on from
where I broke off?"

Eve half turned.  Her face was still puzzled and questioning.
"Of course."  She sat forward again, clasping her hands.

He looked thoughtfully at the back of her head, at the slim
outline of her shoulders, the glitter of the diamonds about
her neck.

"Do you remember the day, three weeks ago, that we talked
together in this room?  The day a great many things seemed
possible?"

This time she did not look round.  She kept her gaze upon the
fire.

"Do you remember?" he persisted, quietly.  In his college days
men who heard that tone of quiet persistence had been wont to
lose heart.  Eve heard it now for the first time, and, without
being aware, answered to it.

"Yes, I remember," she said.

"On that day you believed in me--"  In his earnestness he no
longer simulated Chilcote; he spoke with his own steady
reliance.  He saw Eve stir, unclasp and clasp her hands, but
he went steadily on.  "On that day you saw me in a new light.
You acknowledged me."  He emphasized the slightly peculiar
word.  "But since that day"--his voice quickened "since that
day your feelings have changed--your faith in me has fallen
away."  He watched her closely; but she made no sign, save to
lean still nearer to the fire.  He crossed his arms over the
back of her chair.  "You were justified," he said, suddenly.
"I've not been--myself since that day."  As he said the words
his coolness forsook him slightly.  He loathed the necessary
lie, yet his egotism clamored for vindication.  "All men have
their lapses," he went on; "there are times--there are days
and weeks when I--when  my--"  The word "nerves" touched his
tongue, hung upon it, then died away unspoken.

Very quietly, almost without a sound, Eve had risen and turned
towards him.  She was standing very straight, her face a
little pale, the hand that rested on the arm of her chair
trembling slightly.

"John," she said, quickly, "don't say that word?  Don't say
that hideous word `nerves'!  I don't feel that I can bear it
to-night--not just to-night.  Can you understand?"

Loder stepped back.  Without comprehending, he felt suddenly
and strangely at a loss.  Something in her face struck him
silent and perplexed.  It seemed that without preparation he
had stepped upon dangerous ground.  With an undefined
apprehension he waited, looking at her.

"I can't explain it," she went on with nervous haste, "I can't
give any reasons, but quite suddenly the--the farce has grown
unbearable.  I used not to think--used not even to care--but
suddenly things have changed--or I have changed."  She paused,
confused and distressed.  "Why should it be?  Why should
things change?"  She asked the question sharp.  ly, as if in
appeal against her own incredulity.

Loder turned aside.  He was afraid of the triumph, volcanic
and irrepressible, that her admission roused.

"Why?" she said again.

He turned slowly back.  "You forget that I'm not a magician,"
he said, gently.  "I hardly know what you are speaking of."

For a moment she was silent, but in that moment her eyes
spoke.  Pain, distress, pride, all strove for expression; then
at last her lips parted.

"Do you say that in seriousness?" she asked.

It was no moment for fencing, and Loder knew it.  "In
seriousness," he replied, shortly.

"Then I shall speak seriously, too."  Her voice shook slightly
and the color came back into her face, but the hand on the arm
of the chair ceased to tremble.  "For more than four years I
have known that you take drugs--for more than four years I
have acquiesced in your deceptions--in your meannesses--"

There was an instant's silence.  Then Loder stepped forward.

"You knew--for four years?" he said, very slowly.  For the
first time that night he remembered Chilcote and forgot
himself.

Eve lifted her head with a quick gesture--as if, in flinging
off discretion and silence, she appreciated to the full the
new relief of speech.

"Yes, I knew.  Perhaps I should have spoken when I first
surprised the secret, but it's all so past that it's useless
to speculate now.  It was fate, I suppose.  I was very young,
you were very unapproachable, and--and we had no love to make
the way easy."  For a second her glance faltered and she
looked away.  "A woman's--a girl's--disillusioning is a very
sad comedy--it should never have an audience."  She laughed a
little bitterly as she looked back again.  "I saw all the
deceits, all the subterfuges, all the--lies."  She said the
word deliberately, meeting his eyes.

Again he thought of Chilcote, but his face paled.

"I saw it all.  I lived with it all till I grew hard and
indifferent--till I acquiesced in your 'nerves' as readily as
the rest of the world that hadn't suspected and didn't know."
Again she laughed nervously.  "And I thought the indifference
would last forever.  If one lives in a groove for years, one
gets frozen up; I never felt more frozen than on the night Mr.
Fraide spoke to me of you--asked me to use my influence; then,
on that night--"

"Yes.  On that night?"  Loder's voice was tense.

But her excitement had suddenly fallen.  Whether his glance
had quelled it or whether the force of her feelings had worked
itself out it was impossible to say, but her eyes had lost
their resolution.  She stood hesitating for a moment, then she
turned and moved to the mantel-piece.

"That night you found me--changed?"  Loder was insistent.

"Changed--and yet not changed."  She spoke reluctantly, with
averted head.

"And what did you think?"

Again she was silent; then again a faint excitement tinged her
cheeks.

"I thought--" she began.  "It seemed--"  Once more she paused,
hampered by her own uncertainty, her own sense of puzzling
incongruity.  "I don't know why I speak like this," she went
on at last, as if in justification of herself, "or why I want
to speak.  But a feeling--an extraordinary, incomprehensible
feeling seems to urge me on.  The same feeling that came to me
on the day we had tea together--the feeling that made me--that
almost made me believe--"

"Believe what?"  The words escaped him without volition.

At sound of his voice she turned.  "Believe that a miracle had
happened," she said--"that you had found strength--had freed
yourself."

"From morphia?"

"From morphia."

In the silence that followed, Loder lived through a century of
suggestion and indecision.  His first feeling was for himself,
but his first clear thought was for Chilcote and their
compact.  He stood, metaphorically, on a stone in the middle
of a stream, balancing on one foot, then the other; looking to
the right bank, then to the left.  At last, as it always did,
inspiration came to him slowly.  He realized that by one
plunge he might save both Chilcote and himself!

He crossed quickly to the fireplace and stood by Eve.  "You
were right in your belief," he said.  "For all that time from
the night you spoke to me of Fraide to the day you had tea in
this room--I never touched a drug."

She moved suddenly, and he saw her face.  "John," she said,
unsteadily, "you--I--I have known you to lie to me--about
other things."

With a hasty movement he averted his head.  The doubt, the
appeal in her words shocked him.  The whole isolation of her
life seemed summed up in the one short sentence.  For the
instant he forgot Chilcote.  With a reaction of feeling he
turned to her again.

"Look at me!" he said, brusquely.

She raised her eyes.

"Do you believe I'm speaking the truth?"

She searched his eyes intently, the doubt and hesitancy still
struggling in her face.

"But the last three weeks?" she said, reluctantly.  "How can
you ask me to believe?"

He had expected this, and he met it steadily enough;
nevertheless his courage faltered.  To deceive this woman,
even to justify himself, had in the last halfhour become
something sacrilegious.

"The last three weeks must be buried," he said, hurriedly.
"No man could free himself suddenly from--from a vice."  He
broke off abruptly.  He hated Chilcote; he hated himself.
Then Eve's face, raised in distressed appeal, overshadowed all
scruples.  "You have been silent and patient for years," he
said, suddenly.  "Can you be patient and silent a little
longer?"  He spoke without consideration.  He was conscious of
no selfishness beneath his words.  In the first exercise of
conscious strength the primitive desire to reduce all elements
to his own sovereignty submerged every other emotion.  "I
can't enter into the thing," he said; "like you, I give no
explanations.  I can only tell you that on the day we talked
together in this room I was myself--in the full possession of
my reason, the full knowledge of my own capacities.  The man
you have known in the last three weeks, the man you have
imagined in the last four years, is a shadow, an unreality--a
weakness in human form.  There is a new Chilcote--if you will
only see him."

Ewe was trembling as he ceased; her face was flushed; there
was a strange brightness in her eyes She was moved beyond
herself.

"But the other you--the old you?"

"You must be patient." He looked down into the fire.  "Times
like the last three weeks will come again--must come again;
they are inevitable.  When they do come, you must shut your
eyes--you must blind yourself.  You must ignore them--and me.
Is it a compact?"  He still avoided her eyes.

She turned to him quietly.  "Yes--if you wish it," she said,
below her breath.

He was conscious of her glance, but he dared not meet it.  He
felt sick at the part he was playing, yet he held to it
tenaciously.

"I wonder if you could do what few men and fewer women are
capable of?" he asked, at last.  "I wonder if you could learn
to live in the present?"  He lifted his head slowly and met
her eyes.  "This is an--an experiment," he went on.  "And,
like all experiments, it has good phases and bad.  When the
bad phases come round I--I want you to tell yourself that you
are not altogether alone in your unhappiness--that I am
suffering too--in another way."

There was silence when he had spoken, and for a space it
seemed that Eve would make no response.  Then the last
surprise in a day of surprises came to him.  With a slight
stir, a slight, quick rustle of skirts, she stepped forward
and laid her hand in his.

The gesture was simple and very sweet; her eyes were soft and
full of light as she raised her face to his, her lips parted
in unconscious appeal.

There is no surrender so seductive as the surrender of a proud
woman.  Loder's blood stirred, the undeniable suggestion of
the moment thrilled and disconcerted him in a tumult of
thought.  Honor, duty, principle rose in a triple barrier; but
honor, duty, and principle are but words to a headstrong man.
Tho full significance of his position came to him as it had
never come before.  His hand closed on hers; he bent towards
her, his pulses beating unevenly.

"Eve!" he said.  Then at sound of his voice he suddenly
hesitated.  It was the voice of a man who has forgotten
everything but his own existence.

For an instant he stayed motionless; then very quietly he drew
away from her, releasing her hands.

"No," he said.  "No--I haven't got the right,"




XVIII


That night, for almost the first time since he had adopted his
dual role, Loder slept ill.  He was not a man over whom
imagination held any powerful sway--his doubts and misgivings
seldom ran to speculation, upon future possibilities;
nevertheless, the fact that, consciously or unconsciously, he
had adopted a new attitude towards Eve came home to him with
unpleasant force during the hours of darkness; and long before
the first hint of daylight had slipped through the heavy
window-curtains he had arranged a plan of action--a plan
wherein, by the simple method of altogether avoiding her, he
might soothe his own conscience and safeguard Chilcote's
domestic interests.

It was a satisfactory if a somewhat negative arrangement, and
he rose next morning with a feeling that things had begun to
shape themselves.  But chance sometimes has a disconcerting
knack of forestalling even our best-planned schemes.  He
dressed slowly, and descended to his solitary breakfast with
the pleasant sensation of having put last night out of
consideration by the turning over of a new leaf; but scarcely
had he opened Chilcote's letters, scarcely had he taken a
cursory glance at the morning's newspaper, than it was borne
in upon him that not only a new leaf, but a whole sheaf of new
leaves, had been turned in his prospects--by a hand infinitely
more powerful and arbitrary than his own.  He realized within
the space of a few moments that the leisure Eve might have
claimed, the leisure he might have been tempted to devote to
her, was no longer his to dispose of--being already demanded
of him from a quarter that allowed of no refusal.

For the first rumbling of the political earthquake that was
to shake the country made itself audible beyond denial
on that morning of March 27th, when the news spread
through England that, in view of the disorganized state
of the Persian army and the Shah's consequent inability
to suppress the open insurrection of the border tribes in
 the north-eastern districts of Meshed, Russia, with a great
show of magnanimity, had come to the rescue by
despatching a large armed force from her military station
at Merv across the Persian frontier to the seat of the
disturbance.

To many hundreds of Englishmen who read their papers on
that morning this announcement conveyed bat little.  That
there is such a country as Persia we all know, that English
interests predominate in the south and Russian interests
in the north we have all superficially understood from
childhood; but in this knowledge, coupled with the fact that
Persia is comfortably far away, we are apt to rest content.
It is only to the eyes that see through long-distance glasses,
the minds that regard the present as nothing more nor less
than an inevitable link joining the future to the past, that
this distant, debatable land stands out in its true political
significance.

To the average reader of news the statement of Russia's move
seemed scarcely more important than had the first report of
the border risings in January, but to the men who had watched
the growth of the disturbance it came charged with portentous
meaning.  Through the entire ranks of the opposition, from
Fraide himself downward, it caused a thrill of expectation
--that peculiar prophetic sensation that every politician has
experienced at some moment of his career.

In no member of his party did this feeling strike deeper root
than in Loder.  Imbued with a lifelong interest in the Eastern
question, specially equipped by personal knowledge to hold and
proclaim an opinion upon Persian affairs, he read the signs
and portents with instinctive insight.  Seated at Chilcote's
table, surrounded by Chilcote's letters and papers, he forgot
the breakfast that was slowly growing cold, forgot the
interests and dangers, personal or pleasurable, of the night
before, while his mental eyes persistently conjured up the map
of Persia, travelling with steady deliberation from Merv to
Meshed, from Meshed to Herat, from Herat to the empire of
India!  For it was not the fact that the Hazaras had risen
against the Shah that occupied the thinking mind, nor was it
the fact that Russian and not Persian troops were destined to
subdue them, but the deeply important consideration that an
armed Russian force had crossed the frontier and was encamped
within twenty miles of Meshed-Meshed, upon which covetous
Russian eyes have rested ever since the days of Peter the
Great.

So Loder's thoughts ran as he read and reread the news from
the varying political stand-points, and so they continued to
run when, some hours later, an urgent telephone message from
the 'St. George's Gazette' asked him to call at Lakely's
office.

The message was interesting as well as imperative, and he made
an instant response.  The thought of Lakely's keen eyes and
shrewd enthusiasms always possessed strong attractions for his
own slower temperament, but even had this impetus been
lacking, the knowledge that at the 'St. George's' offices, if
anywhere, the true feelings of the party were invariably
voiced would have drawn him without hesitation.

It was scarcely twelve o'clock when he turned the corner of
the tall building, but already the keen spirit that Lakely
everywhere diffused was making itself felt.  Loder smiled to
himself as his eyes fell on the day's placards with their
uncompromising headings, and passed onward from the string of
gayly painted carts drawn up to receive their first
consignment of the paper to the troop of eager newsboys
passing in and out of the big swing-doors with their
piled-up bundles of the early edition; and with a renewed
thrill of anticipation and energy he passed through the
doorway and ran up-stairs.

Passing unchallenged through the long corridor that led to
Lakely's office, he caught a fresh impression of action and
vitality from the click of the tape machines in the
subeditors' office, and a glimpse through the open door of the
subeditors themselves, each occupied with his particular task;
then without time for further observation he found himself at
Lakely's door.  Without waiting to knock, as he had felt
compelled to do on the one or two previous occasions that
business had brought him there, he immediately turned the
handle and entered the room.

Editors' offices differ but little in general effect.

Lakely's surroundings were rather more elaborate than is
usual, as became the dignity of the oldest Tory evening paper,
but the atmosphere was unmistakable.  As Loder entered he
glanced up from the desk at which he was sitting, but
instantly returned to his task of looking through and marking
the pile of early evening editions that were spread around
him.  His coat was off and hung on the chair behind him, axed
he pulled vigorously on a long cigar.

"Hullo!  That's right," he said, laconically.  "Make yourself
comfortable half a second, while I skim the 'St. Stephen's'."

His salutation pleased Loder.  With a nod of acquiescence he
crossed the office to the brisk fire that burned in, the
grate.

For a minute or two Lakely worked steadily, occasionally
breaking the quiet by an unintelligible remark or a vigorous
stroke of his pencil.  At last he dropped the paper with a
gesture of satisfaction and leaned back in his chair.

"Well," he said, "what d'you think of this?  How's this for a
complication?"

Loder turned round.  "I think," he said, quietly, "that we
can't overestimate it."

Lakely laughed and took a long pull at his cigar.  "And we
mustn't be afraid to let the Sefborough crowd know it, eh?"
He waved his hand to the poster of the first edition that hung
before his desk.

Loder, following his glance, smiled.

Lakely laughed again.  "They might have known it all along, if
they'd cared to deduce," he said.  "Did they really believe
that Russia was going to sit calmly looking across the Heri-Rud
while the Shah played at mobilizing?  But what became of you
last night?  We had a regular prophesying of the whole business
at Bramfell's; the great Fraide looked in for five minutes.  I
went on with him to the club afterwards and was there when the
news came in.  'Twas a great night!"

Loder's face lighted up.  "I can imagine it," he said, with an
unusual touch of warmth.

Lakely watched him intently for a moment.  Then with a quick
action he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk.

"It's going to be something more than imagination for you,
Chilcote," he said, impressively.  "It's going to be solid
earnest!"  He spoke rapidly and with rather more than his
usual shrewd decisiveness; then he paused to see the effect of
his announcement.

Loder was still studying the flaring poster.  At the other's
words he turned sharply.  Something in Lakely's voice,
something in his manner, arrested him.  A tinge of color
crossed his face.

"Reality?" he said.  "What do you mean?"

For a further space his companion watched him; then with a
rapid movement he tilted back his chair.

"Yes," he said.  "Yes; old Fraide's instincts are never far
out.  He's quite right.  You're the man!"

Still quietly, but with a strange underglow of excitement,
Loder left the fire, and, coming forward, took a chair at
Lakely's desk.

"Do you mind telling me what you're driving at?" he asked, in
his old, laconic voice.

Lakely still scrutinized him with an air of brisk
satisfaction; then with a gesture of finality he tossed his
cigar away.

"My dear chap," he said, "there's going to be a breach
somewhere--and Fraide says you're the man to step in and fill
it!  You see, five years ago, when things looked lively on the
Gulf and the Bundar Abbas business came to light, you did some
promising work; and a reputation like that sticks to a man
--even when he turns slacker!  I won't deny that you've slacked
abominably," he added, as Loder made an uneasy movement, "but
slacking has different effects.  Some men run to seed, others
mature.  I had almost put you down on the black list, but I've
altered my mind in the last two months."

Again Loder stirred in his seat.  A host of emotions were
stirring in his mind.  Every word wrung from Lakely was
another stimulus to pride, another subtle tribute to the
curious force of personality.

"Well?" he said.  "Well?"

Lakely smiled.  "We all know that Sefborough's ministry is
--well, top-heavy," he said.  "Sefborough is building his card
house just a story too high.  It's a toss-up what 'll upset
the balance.  It might be the army, of course, or it might be
education; but it might quite as well be a matter of foreign
policy!"

They looked at each other in comprehensive silence.

"You know as well as I that it's not the question of whether
Russia comes into Persia, but the question of whether Russia
goes out of Persia when these Hazaras are subdued!  I'll lay
you what you like, Chilcote, that within one week we hear that
the risings are suppressed, but that Russia, instead of
retiring, has advanced those tempting twenty miles and
comfortably ensconced herself at Meshed--as she ensconced
herself on the island of Ashurada.  Lakely's nervous,
energetic figure was braced, his light-blue eyes brightened,
by the intensity of his interest.

"If this news comes before the Easter recess," he went on,
"the first nail can be hammered in on the motion for
adjournment.  And if the right man does it in the right way,
I'll lay my life 'twill be a nail in Sefborough's coffin."

Loder sat very still.  Overwhelming possibilities had suddenly
opened before him.  In a moment the unreality of the past
months had become real; a tangible justification of himself
and his imposture was suddenly made possible.  In the stress
of understanding he, too, leaned forward, and, resting his
elbows on the desk, took his face between his hands.

For a space Lakely made no remark.  To him man and man's moods
came second in interest to his paper and his party politics.
That Chilcote should be conscious of the glories he had opened
up seemed only natural; that he should show that consciousness
in a becoming gravity seemed only right.  For some seconds he
made no attempt to disturb him; but at last his own
irrepressible activity made silence unendurable.  He caught up
his pencil and tapped impatiently on the desk.

"Chilcote," he said, quickly and with a gleam of sudden
anxiety, "you're not by any chance doubtful of yourself?"

At sound of his voice Loder lifted his face; it was quite pale
again, but the energy and resolution that had come into it
when Lakely first spoke were still to be seen.

"No, Lakely," he said, very slowly, "it's not the sort of
moment in which a man doubts himself,"




XIX


And so it came about that Loder was freed from one
responsibility to undertake another.  From the morning of
March 27th, when Lakely had expounded the political programme
in the offices of the 'St. George's Gazette', to the afternoon
of April 1st he found himself a central figure in the
whirlpool of activity that formed itself in Conservative
circles.

With the acumen for which he was noted, Lakely had touched the
key-stone of the situation on that morning; and succeeding
events, each fraught with its own importance, had established
the precision of his forecast.

Minutely watchful of Russia's attitude, Fraide quietly
organized his forces and strengthened his position with a
statesmanlike grasp of opportunity; and to Loder the
attributes displayed by his leader during those trying days
formed an endless and absorbing study.  Setting the thought of
Chilcote aside, ignoring his own position and the risks he
daily ran, he had fully yielded to the glamour of the moment,
and in the first freedom of a loose rein he had given
unreservedly all that he possessed of activity, capacity, and
determination to the cause that had claimed him.

Singularly privileged in a constant, personal contact with
Fraide, he learned many valuable lessons of tact and
organization in those five vital days during which the tactics
of a whole party hung upon one item of news from a country
thousands of miles away.  For should Russia subdue the
insurgent Hazaras and, laden with the honors of the
peacemaker, retire across the frontier, then the political
arena would remain undisturbed; but should the all-important
movement predicted by Lakely become an accepted fact before
Parliament rose for the Easter recess, then the first blow in
the fight that would rage during the succeeding session must
inevitably be struck.  In the mean time it was Fraide's
difficult position to wait and watch and yet preserve his
dignity.

It was early in the afternoon of March 29th that Loder, in
response to a long-standing invitation, lunched quietly with
the Fraides.  Being delayed by some communications from Wark,
he was a few minutes late in keeping his appointment, and on
being shown into the drawing-room found the little group of
three that was to make up the party already assembled--Fraide,
Lady Sarah--and Eve.  As he entered the room they ceased to
speak, and all three turned in his direction.

In the first moment he had a vague impression of responding
suitably to Lady Sarah's cordial greeting; but he knew that
immediately and unconsciously his eyes turned to Eve, while a
quick sense of surprise and satisfaction passed through him at
sight of her.  For an instant he wondered how she would mark
his avoidance of her since their last eventful interview; then
instantly he blamed himself for the passing doubt.  For,
before all things, he knew her to be a woman of the world.

He took Fraide's outstretched hand; and again he looked
towards Eve, waiting for her to speak.

She met his glance, but said nothing.  Instead of speaking she
smiled at him--a smile that was far more reassuring than any
words, a smile that in a single second conveyed forgiveness,
approbation, and a warm, almost tender sense of sympathy and
comprehension.  The remembrance of that smile stayed with him
long after they were seated at table; and far into the future
the remembrance of the lunch itself, with its pleasant private
sense of satisfaction, was destined to return to him in
retrospective moments.  The delightful atmosphere of the
Fraides' home life had always been a wonder and an enigma to
him; but on this day he seemed to grasp its meaning by a new
light, as he watched Eve soften under its influence and felt
himself drawn imperceptibly from the position of a speculative
outsider to that of an intimate.  It was a fresh side to the
complex, fascinating life of which Fraide was the master
spirit.

These reflections had grown agreeably familiar to his mind;
the talk, momentarily diverted into social channels, was
quietly drifting back to the inevitable question of the
"situation" that in private moments was never far from their
lips, when the event that was to mark and separate that day
from those that had preceded it was unceremoniously thrust
upon them.

Without announcement or apology, the door was suddenly flung
open and Lakely entered the room.

His face was brimming with excitement, and his eyes flashed.
In the first haste of the entry he failed to see that there
were ladies in the room, And, crossing instantly to Fraide,
laid an open telegram before him.

"This is official, sir," he said.  Then at last he glanced
round the table.

"Lady Sarah!" he exclaimed.  "Can you forgive me?  But I'd
have given a hundred pounds to be the first with this!"  He
glanced back at Fraide.

Lady Sarah rose and stretched out her hand.  "Mr. Lakely," she
said, "I more than understand!"  There was a thrill in her
warm, cordial voice, and her eyes also turned towards her
husband.

Of the whole party, Fraide alone was perfectly calm.  He sat
very still, his small, thin figure erect and dignified, as his
eyes scanned the message that meant so much.

Eve, who had sprung from her seat and passed round the table
at sound of Lakely's news, was leaning over his shoulder,
reading the telegram with him.  At the last word she lifted
her head, her face flushed with excitement.

"How splendid it must be to be a man!" she exclaimed.  And
without premeditation her eyes and Loder's met.


In this manner came the news from Persia, and with it Loder's
definite call.  In the momentary stress of action it was
impossible that any thought of Chilcote could obtrude itself.
Events had followed each other too rapidly, decisive action
had been too much thrust upon him, to allow of hesitation; and
it was in this spirit, under this vigorous pressure, that he
made his attack upon the government on the day that followed
Fraide's luncheon party.

That indefinable attentiveness, that alert sensation of
impending storm.  that is so strong an index of the
parliamentary atmosphere was very keen on that memorable first
of April.  It was obvious in the crowded benches on both sides
of the House--in the oneness of purpose that insensibly made
itself felt through the ranks of the Opposition, and found
definite expression in Fraide's stiff figure and tightly shut
lips--in the unmistakable uneasiness that lay upon the
ministerial benches.

But notwithstanding these indications of battle, the early
portion of the proceedings was unmarked by excitement, being
tinged with the purposeless lack of vitality that had of late
marked all affairs of the Sefborough Ministry; and it was not
until the adjournment of the House for the Easter recess had
at last been moved that the spirit of activity hovering in the
air descended and galvanized the assembly into life.  It was
then, amid a stir of interest, that Loder slowly rose.

Many curious incidents have marked the speech-making annals of
the House of Commons, but it is doubtful whether it has ever
been the lot of a member to hear his own voice raised for the
first time on a subject of vital interest to his party, having
been denied all initial assistance of minor questions asked or
unimportant amendments made.  Of all those gathered together
in the great building on that day, only one man appreciated
the difficulty of Loder's position
--and that man was Loder himself.

He rose slowly and stood silent for a couple of seconds, his
body braced, his fingers touching the sheaf of notes that lay
in front of him.  To the waiting House the silence was
effective.  It might mean over-assurance, or it might mean a
failure of nerve at a critical moment.  Either possibility had
a tinge of piquancy.  Moved by the same impulse, fifty pairs
o  eyes turned upon him with new interest; but up in the
Ladies' Gallery Eve clasped her hands in sudden apprehension;
and Fraide, sitting stiffly in his seat, turned and shot one
swift glance at the man on whom, against prudence and
precedent, he had pinned his faith.  The glance was swift but
very searching, and with a characteristic movement of his wiry
shoulders he resumed his position and his usual grave,
attentive attitude.  At the same moment Loder lifted his head
and began to speak.

Here at the outset his inexperience met him.  His voice,
pitched too low, only reached those directly near him.  It was
a moment of great strain.  Eve, listening intently, drew a
long breath of suspense and let her fingers drop apart; the
sceptical, watchful eyes that faced him, line upon line,
seemed to flash and brighten with critical interest; only
Fraide made no change of expression.  He sat placid, serious,
attentive, with the shadow of a smile behind his eyes.

Again Loder paused, but this time the pause was shorter.  The
ordeal he had dreaded and waited for was passed and he saw his
way clearly.  With the old movement of the shoulders he
straightened himself and once more began to speak.  This time
his voice rang quietly true and commanding across the floor of
the House.

No first step can be really great; it must of necessity
possess more of prophecy than of achievement; nevertheless it
is by the first step that a man marks the value, not only of
his cause, but of himself.  Following broadly on the lines
that tradition has laid down for the Conservative orator,
Loder disguised rather than displayed the vein of strong,
persuasive eloquence that was his natural gift.  The occasion
that might possibly justify such a display of individuality
might lie with the future, but it had no application to the
present.  For the moment his duty was to voice his party
sentiments with as much lucidity, as much logic, and as much
calm conviction as lay within his capacity.

Standing quietly in Chilcote's place, he was conscious with a
deep sense of gravity of the peculiarity of his position; and
perhaps it was this unconscious and unstudied seriousness that
lent him the tone of weight and judgment so essential to the
cause he had in hand.  It has always been difficult to arouse
the interest of the House on matters of British policy in
Persia.  Once aroused, it may, it is true, reach fever heat
with remarkable rapidity, but the introductory stages offer
that worst danger to the earnest speaker--the dread of an
apathetic audience.  But from this consideration Loder, by his
sharp consciousness of personal difficulties, was given
immunity.

Pitching his voice in that quietly masterful tone that beyond
all others compels attention, he took up his subject and dealt
with it with dispassionate force.  With great skill he touched
on the steady southward advance of Russia into Persian
territory from the distant days when, by a curious irony of
fate, Russian and British enterprise combined to make entry
into the country under the sanction of the Grand-Duke of
Moscovy, to the present hour, when this great power of Russia
--long since alienated by interests and desires from her former
co-operator--had taken a step which in the eyes of every
thinking man must possess a deep significance.  With quiet
persistence he pointed out the peculiar position of Meshed in
the distant province of Khorasan; its vast distance from the
Persian Gulf, round which British interests and influence
centre, and the consequently alarming position of hundreds of
traders who, in the security of British sovereignty, are
fighting their way upward from India, from Afghanistan, even
from England herself.

Following up his point, he dilated on these subjects of the
British crown who, cut off from adequate assistance, can only
turn in personal or commercial peril to the protective power
of the nearest consulate.  Then, quietly demanding the
attention of his hearers, he marshalled fact after fact to
demonstrate the isolation and inadequacy of a consulate so
situated; the all but arbitrary power of Russia, who in her
new occupation of Meshed had only two considerations to
withhold her from open aggression--the knowledge of England as
a very considerable but also a very distant power; the
knowledge of Persia as an imminent but wholly impotent factor
in the case.

Having stated his opinions, he reverted to the motive of his
speech--his desire to put forward a strong protest against the
adjournment of the House without an assurance from the
government that immediate measures would be taken to safeguard
British interests in Meshed and throughout the province of
Khorasan.


The immediate outcome of Loder's speech was all that his party
had desired.  The effect on the House had been marked; and
when, no satisfactory response coming to his demand, he had in
still more resolute and insistent terms called for a division
on the motion for adjournment, the result had been an
appreciable fall in the government majority.

To Loder himself, the realization that he had at last
vindicated and justified himself by individual action had a
peculiar effect.  His position had been altered in one
remarkable particular.  Before this day he alone had known
himself to be strong; now the knowledge was shared by others
and he was human enough to be susceptible to the change.

The first appreciation of it came immediately after the
excitement of the division, when Fraide, singling him out,
took his arm and pressed it affectionately.

"My dear Chilcote," he said, "we are all proud of you!" Then,
looking up into his face, he added, in a graver tone, "But
keep your mind upon the future; never be blinded by the
present--however bright it seems."

At the touch of his hand, at the spontaneous approval of his
first words, Loder's pride thrilled, and in a vehement rush of
ambition his senses answered to the praise.  Then, as Fraide
in all unconsciousness added his second sentence, the hot glow
of feeling suddenly chilled.  In a sweep of intuitive reaction
the meaning and the danger of his falsely real position
extinguished his excitement and turned his triumph cold.  With
an involuntary gesture he withdrew his arm.

"You're very good, sir," he said.  "And you're very right.  We
never should forget that there is--a future."

The old man glanced up, surprised by the tone.

"Quite so, Chilcote," he said, kindly.  "But we only advise
those in whom we believe to look towards it.  Shall we find my
wife?  I know she will want to bear you home with us."

But Loder's joy in himself and his achievement had dropped
from him.  He shrank suddenly from Lady Sarah's
congratulations and Eve's warm, silent approbation.

"Thanks, sir," he said, "but I don't feel fit for society.  A
touch of my--nerves, I suppose."  He laughed shortly.  "But do
you mind saying to Eve that I hope I have--satisfied her?" he
added this as if in half-reluctant after-thought.  Then, with
a short pressure of Fraide's hand, he turned, evading the many
groups that waited to claim him, and passed out of the House
alone.

Hailing a cab, he drove to Grosvenor Square.  All the
exaltation of an hour ago had turned to ashes.  His excitement
had found its culmination in a sense of futility and
premonition.

He met no one in the hall or on the stairs of Chilcote's
house, and on entering the study he found that also deserted.
Greening had been among the most absorbed of those who had
listened to his speech.  Passing at once into the room, he
crossed as if by instinct to the desk, and there halted.  On
the top of some unopened letters lay the significant yellow
envelope of a telegram--the telegram that in an unformed,
subconscious way had sprung to his expectation on the moment
of Fraide's congratulation.

Very quietly he picked it up, opened and read it, and, with
the automatic caution that had become habitual, carried it
across the room and dropped it in the fire.  This done, he
returned to the desk, read the letters that awaited Chilcote,
and, scribbling the necessary notes upon the margins, left
them in readiness for Greening.  Then, moving with the same
quiet suppression, he passed from the room, down the stairs,
and out into the street by the way he had come.



XX


On the fifth day after the momentous 1st of April on which he
had recalled Loder and resumed his own life Chilcote left his
house and walked towards Bond Street.  Though the morning was
clear and the air almost warm for the time of year, he was
buttoned into a long overcoat and was wearing a muffler and a
pair of doeskin gloves.  As he passed along the street he kept
close to the house fronts to avoid the sun that was everywhere
stirring the winterbound town, like a suffusion of young blood
through old veins.  He avoided the warmth because in this
instance warmth meant light, but as he moved he shivered
slightly from time to time with the haunting, permeating cold
that of late had become his persistent shadow.

He was ill at case as he hurried forward.  With each
succeeding day of the old life the new annoyances, the new
obligations became more hampering.  Before his compact with
Loder this old life had been a net about his feet; now the
meshes seemed to have narrowed, the net itself to have spread
till it smothered his whole being.  His own household--his own
rooms, even--offered no sanctuary.  The presence of another
personality tinged the atmosphere.  It was preposterous, but
it was undeniable.  The lay figure that he had set in his
place had proved to be flesh and blood--had usurped his life,
his position, his very personality, by sheer right of
strength.  As he walked along Bond Street in the first
sunshine of the year, jostled by the well-dressed crowd, he
felt a pariah.

He revolted at the new order of things, but the revolt was a
silent one-the iron of expediency had entered into his soul.
He dared not jeopardize Loder's position, because he dared not
dispense with Loder.  The door that guarded his vice drew him
more resistlessly with every indulgence, and Loder's was the
voice that called the "Open Sesame!"

He walked on aimlessly.  He had been but five days at home,
and already the quiet, grass-grown court of Clifford's Inn,
the bare staircase, the comfortless privacy of Loder's rooms
seemed a haven of refuge.  The speed with which this hunger
had returned frightened him.

He walked forward rapidly and without encountering a check.
Then, suddenly, the spell was broken.  From the slowly moving,
brilliantly dressed throng of people some one called him by
his name; and turning he saw Lillian Astrupp.

She was stepping from the door of a jeweller's, and as he
turned she paused, holding out her hand.

"The very person I would have wished to see!" she exclaimed.
"Where have you been these hundred years?  I've heard of
nobody but you since you've turned politician and ceased to be
a mere member of Parliament!"  She laughed softly.  The laugh
suited the light spring air, as she herself suited the
pleasant, superficial scene.

He took her hand and held it, while his eyes travelled from
her delicate face to her pale cloth gown, from her soft furs
to the bunch of roses fastened in her muff, The sight of her
was a curious relief.  Her cool, slim fingers were so casual,
yet so clinging, her voice and her presence were so redolent
of easy, artificial things.

"How well you look!" he said, involuntarily.

Again she laughed.  "That's my prerogative," she responded,
lightly.  "But I was serious in being glad to see you.
Sarcastic people are always so intuitive.  I'm looking for
some one with intuition."

Chilcote glanced up.  "Extravagant again?" he said, dryly.

She smiled at him sweetly.  "Jack!" she murmured with slow
reproach.

Chilcote laughed quickly.  "I understand.  You've changed your
Minister of Finance.  I'm wanted in some other direction."

This time her reproach was expressed by a glance.  "You are
always wanted," she said.

The words seemed to rouse him again to the shadowy
self-distrust that the sight of her had lifted.

"It's--it's delightful to meet you like this," he began, "and
I wish the meeting wasn't momentary.  But I'm--I'm rather
pressed for time.  You must let me come round one afternoon
--or evening, when you're alone."  He fumbled for a moment
with the collar of his coat, and glanced furtively upward
towards Oxford Street.

But again Lillian smiled--this time to herself.  If she
understood anything on earth it was Chilcote and his moods.

"If one may be careless of anything, Jack," she said, lightly,
"surely it's of time.  I can imagine being pressed for
anything else in the world.  If it's an appointment you're
worrying about, a motor goes ever so much faster than a cab--"
She looked at him tentatively, her head slightly on one side,
her muff raised till the roses and some of the soft fur
touched her cheek.

She looked very charming and very persuasive as Chilcote
glanced back.  Again she seemed to represent a respite
--something graceful and subtle in a world of oppressive
obligations.  His eyes strayed from her figure to the smart
motor-car drawn up beside the curb.

She saw the glance.  "Ever so much quicker," she insinuated;
and, smiling again, she stepped forward from the door of the
shop.  After a second's indecision Chilcote followed her.

The waiting car had three seats--one in front for the
chauffeur, two vis-a-vis at the back, offering pleasant
possibilities of a tete-a-tete.

"The Park--and drive slowly," Lillian ordered, as she stepped
inside, motioning Chilcote to the seat opposite.

They moved up Bond Street smoothly and rapidly.  Lillian was
absorbed in the passing traffic until the Marble Arch was
reached; then, as they glided through the big gates, she
looked across at her companion.  He had turned up the collar
of his coat, though the wind was scarcely perceptible, and
buried, himself in it to the ears.

"It is extraordinary!" she exclaimed, suddenly, as her eyes
rested on his face.  It was seldom that she felt drawn to
exclamation.  She was usually too indolent to show surprise.
But now the feeling was called forth before she was aware.

Chilcote looked up.  "What's extraordinary?" he said,
sensitively.

She leaned forward for an instant and touched his hand.

"Bear!" she said, teasingly.  "Did I rub your fur the wrong
way?"  Then, seeing his expression, she tactfully changed her
tone.  "I'll explain.  It was the same thing that struck me
the night of Blanche's party--when you looked at me over
Leonard Kaine's head.  You remember?"  She glanced away from
him across the Park to where the grass was already showing
greener.

Chilcote felt ill at ease.  Again he put his hand to his coat
collar.

"Oh yes," he said, hastily--"yes."  He wished now that he had
questioned Loder more closely on the proceedings of that
party.  It seemed to him, on looking back, that Loder had
mentioned nothing on the day of their last exchange but the
political complications that absorbed his mind.

"I couldn't explain then," Lillian went on.  "I couldn't
explain before a crowd of people that it wasn't your dark head
showing over Leonard's red one that surprised me, but the most
wonderful, the most extraordinary likeness--" She paused.

The car was moving slower; there was a delight in the easy
motion through the fresh, early air.  But Chilcote's
uneasiness had been aroused.  He no longer felt soothed.

"What likeness?" he asked, sharply.

She turned to him easily.  "Oh, a likeness I have noticed
before," she said.  "A likeness that always seemed strange,
but that suddenly became incredible at Blanche's party."

He moved quickly.  "Likenesses are an illusion," he said, "a
mere imagination of the brain!"  His manner was short; his
annoyance seemingly out of all proportion to its cause.
Lillian looked at him afresh in slightly interested surprise.

"Yet not so very long ago, you yourself--" she began.

"Nonsense!" he broke in.  "I've always denied likenesses.
Such things don't really exist.  Likeness-seeing is purely an
individual matter--a preconception."  He spoke fast; he was
uneasy under the cool scrutiny of her green eyes.  And with a
sharp attempt at self-control and reassurance he altered his
voice.  "After all, we're being very stupid!" he exclaimed.
"We're worrying over something that doesn't exist."

Lillian was still lazily interested.  To her own belief, she
had seen Chilcote last on the night of her sister's reception.
Then she had been too preoccupied to notice either his manner
or his health, though superficially it had lingered in her
mind that he had seemed unusually reliant, unusually well on
that night.  A remembrance of the impression came to her now
as she studied his face, upon which imperceptibly and yet
relentlessly his vice was setting its mark--in the dull
restlessness of eye, the unhealthy sallowness of skin.

Some shred of her thought, some suggestion of the comparison
running through her mind, must have shown in her face, for
Chilcote altered his position with a touch of uneasiness.  He
glanced away across the long sweep of tan-covered drive
stretching between the trees; then he glanced furtively back.

"By-the-way," he said, quickly, "you wanted me for something?"
The memory of her earlier suggestion came as a sudden boon.

She lifted her muff again and smelled her roses thoughtfully.
"Oh, it was nothing, really," she said.  "You sarcastic people
give very shrewd suggestions sometimes, and I've been rather
wanting a suggestion on an--an adventure that I've had." She
looked down at her flowers with a charmingly attentive air.

But Chilcote's restlessness had increased.  Looking up, she
suddenly caught the expression, and her own face changed.

"My dear Jack," she said, softly, "what a bore I am!  Let's
forget tedious things--and enjoy ourselves."  She leaned
towards him caressingly with an air of concern and reproach.

The action was not without effect.  Her soothing voice, her
smile, her almost affectionate gesture, each carried weight.
With a swift return of assurance he responded to her tone.

"Right!" he said.  "Right!  We will enjoy ourselves!"  He
laughed quickly, and again with a conscious movement lifted
his hand to his muffler.

"Then we'll postpone the advice?" Lillian laughed, too.

"Yes.  Right!  We'll postpone it."  The word pleased him and
he caught at it.  "We won't bother about it now, but we won't
shelve it altogether.  We'll postpone it."

"Exactly." She settled herself more comfortably.  "You'll dine
with me one night--and we can talk it out then.  I see so
little of you nowadays," she added, in a lower voice.

"My dear girl, you're unfair!" Chilcote's spirits had risen;
he spoke rapidly, almost pleasantly.  "It isn't I who keep
away--it's the stupid affairs of the world that keep me.  I'd
be with you every hour of the twelve if I had my way."

She looked up at the bare trees.  Her expression was a
delightful mixture of amusement, satisfaction, and scepticism.
"Then you will dine?" she said at last.

"Certainly."  His reaction to high spirits carried him
forward.

"How nice!  Shall we fix a day?"

"A day?  Yes.  Yes--if you like."  He hesitated for an
instant, then again the impulse of the previous moment
dominated his other feeling.  "Yes," he said, quickly.  "Yes.
After all, why not fix it now?"  With a sudden inclination
towards amiability he opened his overcoat, thrust his hand
into an inner pocket, and drew out his engagement-book--the
same long, narrow book fitted with two pencils that Loder had
scanned so interestedly on his first morning at Grosvenor
Square.  He opened it, turning the pages rapidly.  "What day
shall it be?  Thursday's full--and Friday--and Saturday.  What
a bore!" He still talked fast.

Lillian leaned across.  "What a sweet book!" she said.  "But
why the blue crosses?"  She touched one of the pages with her
gloved finger.

Chilcote jerked the book, then laughed with a touch of
embarrassment.  "Oh, the crosses?  Merely to remind me that
certain 'appointments must be kept.  You know my beastly
memory!  But what about the day?  Shall we fix the day?"  His
voice was in control, but mentally her trivial question had
disturbed and jarred him.  "What day shall we say?" he
repeated.  "Monday in next week?"

Lillian glanced up with a faint exclamation of disappointment.
"How horribly faraway!"  She spoke with engaging petulance,
and, leaning forward afresh, drew the book from Chilcote's
hand.  "What about to-morrow?" she exclaimed, turning back a
page.  "Why not to-morrow?  I knew I saw a blank space."

"To-morrow!  Oh, I--I--"  He stopped.          i

"Jack!" Her voice dropped.  It was true that she desired
Chilcote's opinion on her adventure, for Chilcote's opinion on
men and manners had a certain bitter shrewdness; but the
exercise of her own power added a point to the desire.  If the
matter had ended with the gain or loss of a tete-a-tete with
him, it is probable that, whatever its utility, she would not
have pressed it, but the underlying motive was the stronger.
Chilcote had been a satellite for years, and it was unpleasant
that any satellite should drop away into space.

"Jack!" she said again, in a lower and still more effective
tone; and, lifting her muff, she buried her face in her
flowers.  "I suppose I shall have to dine and go to a
music-hall with Leonard--or stay at home by myself," she
murmured, looking out across the trees.

Again Chilcote glanced over the long, tan-strewn ride.  They
had made the full circuit of the park.

"It's tiresome being by one's self," she murmured.

For a while he was irresponsive, then slowly his eyes returned
to her face.  He watched her for a second, and, leaning
quickly towards her, he took his book and scribbled something
in the vacant space.

She watched him interestedly; her face lighted up, and she
laid aside her muff.

"Dear Jack!" she said.  "How very sweet of you!"

Then, as he held the book towards her, her face fell.  "Dine
33 Cadogan Gardens, 8 o'c.  Talk with L.," she read.  "Why,
you've forgotten the essential thing!"

He looked up.  "The essential thing?"

She smiled.  "The blue cross," she said.  "Isn't it worth even
a little one?"

The tone was very soft.  Chilcote yielded.

"You have the blue pencil," he said, in sudden response to her
mood.

She glanced up in quiet pleasure at her Success, and, with a
charming affectation of seriousness, marked the engagement
with a big cross.  At the same moment the car slackened speed,
as the chauffeur waited for further orders.

Lillian shut the engagement-book and handed it back.  "Where
can I drop you?" she asked.  "At the club?"

The question recalled him to a sense of present things.  He
thrust the book into his pocket and glanced about him.

They had paused by Hyde Park corner.  The crowd of horses and
carriages had thinned as the hour of lunch drew near, and the
wide roadway of the park had an air of added space.  The
suggested loneliness affected him.  The tall trees, still
bereft of leaves, and the colossal gateway incomprehensively
stirred the sense of mental panic that sometimes seized him in
face of vastness of space or of architecture.  In one moment,
Lillian, the appointment he had just made, the manner of its
making--all left him.  The world was filled with his own
personality, his own immediate inclinations.

"Don't bother about me!" he said, quickly.  "I can get out
here.  You've been very good.  It's been a delightful
morning."  With a hurried pressure of her fingers he rose and
stepped from the car.

Reaching the ground, he paused for a moment and raised his
hat; then, without a second glance, he turned and walked
rapidly away.

Lillian sat watching him meditatively.  She saw him pass
through the gateway, saw him hail a hansom, then she
remembered the waiting chauffeur.




XXI


On the same day that Chilcote had parted with Lillian--but at
three o'clock in the afternoon--Loder, dressed in Chilcote's
clothes and with Chilcote's heavy overcoat slung over his arm,
walked from Fleet Street to Grosvenor Square.  He walked
steadily, neither slowly nor yet fast.  The elation of his
last journey over the same ground was tempered by feelings he
could not satisfactorily bracket even to himself.  There was
less of vehement elation and more of matured determination in
his gait and bearing than there had been on that night, though
the incidents of which they were the outcome were very
complex.

On reaching Chilcote's house he passed up-stairs; but, still
following the routine of his previous return, he did not halt
at Chilcote's door, but moved onward towards Eve's
sitting-room and there paused.

In that pause his numberless irregular thoughts fused into
one.

He had the same undefined sense of standing upon sacred ground
that had touched him on the previous occasion, but the outcome
of the sensation was different.  This time he raised his hand
almost immediately and tapped on the door.

He waited, but no voice responded to his knock.  With a sense
of disappointment he knocked again; then, pressing his
determination still further, he turned the handle and entered
the room.

No private room is without meaning--whether trivial or the
reverse.  In a room, perhaps more even than in speech, in
look, or in work, does the impress of the individual make
itself felt.  There, on the wax of outer things, the inner
self imprints its seal-enforces its fleeting claim to separate
individuality.  This thought, with its arresting interest,
made Loder walk slowly, almost seriously, half-way across the
room and then pause to study his surroundings.

The room was of medium size--not too large for comfort and not
too small for ample space.  At a first impression it struck
him as unlike any anticipation of a woman's sanctum.  The
walls panelled in dark wood; the richly bound books; the
beautifully designed bronze ornaments; even the flowers, deep
crimson and violet-blue in tone, had an air of sombre harmony
that was scarcely feminine.  With a strangely pleasant
impression he realized this, and, following his habitual
impulse, moved slowly forward towards the fireplace and there
paused, his elbow resting on the mantel-piece.

He had scarcely settled comfortably into his position,
scarcely entered on his second and more comprehensive study of
the place, than the arrangement of his mind was altered by the
turning of the handle and the opening of the door.

The new-comer was Eve herself.  She was dressed in outdoor
clothes, and walked into the room quickly; then, as Loder had
done, she too paused.

The gesture, so natural and spontaneous, had a peculiar
attraction; as she glanced up at him, her face alight with
inquiry, she seemed extraordinarily much the owner and
designer of her surroundings.  She was framed by them as
naturally and effectively as her eyes and her face were framed
by her black hair.  For one moment he forgot that his presence
demanded explanation; the next she had made explanation
needless.  She had been looking at him intently; now she came
forward slowly.

"John?" she said, half in appeal, half in question.

He took a step towards her.  "Look at me," he said, quietly
and involuntarily.  In the sharp desire to establish himself
in her regard he forgot that her eyes had never left his face.

But the incongruity of the words did not strike her.  "Oh!"
she exclaimed, "I--I believe I _knew_, directly I saw you
here."  The quick ring of life vibrating in her tone surprised
him.  But he had other thoughts more urgent than surprise.

In the five days of banishment just lived through, the need
for a readjustment of his position with regard to her had come
to him forcibly.  The memory of the night when weakness and he
had been at perilously close quarters had returned to him
persistently and uncomfortably, spoiling the remembrance of
his triumph.  It had been well enough to smother the thought
of that night in days of work.  But had the ignoring of it
blotted out the weakness?  Had it not rather thrown it into
bolder relief?  A man strong in his own strength does not turn
his back upon temptation; he faces and quells it.  In the
solitary days in Clifford's Inn, in the solitary night-hours
spent in tramping the city streets, this had been the
conviction that had recurred again and again, this the problem
to which, after much consideration, he had found a solution
--satisfactory at least to himself.  When next Chilcote called
him--It was notable that he had used the word "when" and not
"if." When next Chilcote called him he would make a new
departure.  He would no longer avoid Eve; he would
successfully prove to himself that one interest and one alone
filled his mind--the pursuance of Chilcote's political career.
So does man satisfactorily convince himself against himself.
He had this intention fully in mind as he came forward now.

"Well," he said, slowly, "has it been very hard to have faith
--these last five days?"  It was not precisely the tone he had
meant to adopt; but one must begin.

Eve turned at his words.  Her eyes were brimming with life,
her cheeks still touched to a deep, soft color by the keenness
of the wintry air.

"No," she answered, with a shy, responsive touch of
confidence.  "I seemed to keep on believing.  You know
converts make the best devotees."  She laughed with slight
embarrassment, and glanced up at him.  Something in the blue
of her eyes reminded him unexpectedly of spring skies--full of
youth and promise.

He moved abruptly, and crossed the room towards the window.
"Eve," he said, without looking round, "I want your help."

He heard the faint rustling of her dress as she turned towards
him, and he knew that he had struck the right chord.  All true
women respond to an appeal for aid as steel answers to the
magnet.  He could feel her expectancy in the silence.

"You know--we all know--that the present moment is very vital.
That it's impossible to deny the crisis in the air.  Nobody
feels it more than I do--nobody is more exorbitantly keen to
have a share--a part, when the real fight comes--" He stopped;
then he turned slowly and their eyes met.  "If a man is to
succeed in such a desire," he went on, deliberately, "he must
exclude all others--he must have one purpose, one interest,
one thought.  He must forget that--"

Eve lifted her head quickly.  "--that he has a wife," she
finished, gently.  "I think I understand."

There was no annoyance in her face or voice, no suggestion of
selfishness or of hurt vanity.  She had read his meaning with
disconcerting clearness, and responded with disconcerting
generosity.  A sudden and very human dissatisfaction with his
readjustment scheme fell upon Loder.  Opposition is the whip
to action; a too-ready acquiescence the slackened rein.

"Did I say that?" he asked, quickly.  The tone was almost
Chilcote's.

She glanced up; then a sudden, incomprehensible smile lighted
up her face.

"You didn't say, but you thought," she answered, gravely.
"Thoughts are the same as words to a woman.  That's why we are
so unreasonable."  Again she smiled.  Some idea, baffling and
incomprehensible to Loder, was stirring in her mind.

Conscious of the impression, he moved still nearer.  "You jump
to conclusions," he said, abruptly.  "What I meant to imply--"

"--was precisely what I've understood."  Again she finished
his sentence.  Then she laughed softly.  "How very wise, but
how very, very foolish men are!  You come to the conclusion
that because a woman is--is interested in you she is going to
hamper you in some direction, and after infinite pains you
summon all your tact and you set about saving the situation."

There was interest, even a touch of amusement, in her tone,
her eyes were still fixed upon his in an indefinable glance.
"You think you are being very diplomatic," she went on,
quietly, "but in reality you are being very transparent.  The
woman reads the whole of your meaning in your very first
sentence--if she hasn't known it before you began to speak."

Again Loder made an interruption, but again she checked him.
"No," she said, still smiling.  "You should never attempt such
a task.  Shall I tell you why?"

He stood silent, puzzled and interested.

"Because," she said, quickly, "when a woman really is
--interested, the man's career ranks infinitely higher in her
eyes than any personal desire for power."

For a moment their eyes met, then abruptly Loder looked away.
She had gauged his intentions incorrectly, yet with
disconcerting insight.  Again the suggestion of an unusual
personality below the serenity of her manner recurred to his
imagination.

With an impulse altogether foreign to him he lifted his head
and again met her glance.  Then at last he spoke, but only two
words.  "Forgive me!" he said, with simple, direct sincerity.




XXII


After his interview with Eve, Loder retired to the study and
spent the remaining hours of the day and the whole span of the
evening in work.  At one o'clock, still feeling fresh in mind
and body, he dismissed Greening and passed into Chilcote's
bedroom.  The interview with Eve, though widely different from
the one he had anticipated, had left him stimulated and alert.
In the hours that followed it there had been an added anxiety
to put his mind into harness, an added gratification in
finding it answer to the rein.

A pleasant sense of retrospection settled upon him as he
slowly undressed; and a pleasant sense of interest touched him
as, crossing to the dressing-table, he caught sight of
Chilcote's engagement-book--taken with other things from the
suit he had changed at dinner-time and carefully laid aside by
Renwick.

He picked it up and slowly turned the pages.  It always held
the suggestion of a lottery--this dipping into another man's
engagements and drawing a prize or a blank.  It was a
sensation that even custom had not dulled.

At first he turned the pages slowly, then by degrees his
fingers quickened.  Beyond the fact that this present evening
was free, he knew nothing of his promised movements.  The
abruptness of Chilcote's arrival at Clifford's Inn in
the afternoon had left no time for superfluous questions.  He
skimmed the writing with a touch of interested haste, then all
at once he paused and smiled.

"Big enough for a tombstone!" he said below his breath as his
eyes rested on a large blue cross.  Then he smiled again and
held the book to the light.

"Dine 33 Cadogan Gardens, 8 o'c.  Talk with L," he read, still
speaking softly to himself.

He stood for a moment pondering on the entry, then once more
his glance reverted to the cross.

"Evidently meant it to be seen," he mused; "but why the deuce
isn't he more explicit?"  As he spoke, a look of comprehension
suddenly crossed his face and the puzzled frown between his
eyebrows cleared away.

With a feeling of satisfaction he remembered Lakely's frequent
and pressing suggestion that he should dine with him at
Cadogan Gardens and discuss the political outlook.

Lakely must have written during his absence, and Chilcote,
having marked the engagement, felt no further responsibility.
The invitation could scarcely have been verbal, as Chilcote,
he knew, had lain very low in the five days of his return
home.

So he argued, as he stood with the book still open in his
hands, the blue cross staring imperatively from the white
paper.  And from the argument rose thoughts and suggestions
that seethed in his mind long after the lights had been
switched off, long after the fire had died down and he had
been left wrapped in darkness in the great canopied bed.

And so it came about that he took his second false step.  Once
during the press of the next morning's work it crossed his
mind to verify his convictions by a glance at the directory.
But for once the strong wish that evolves a thought conquered
his caution.  His work was absorbing; the need of verification
seemed very small.  He let the suggestion pass.

At seven o'clock he dressed carefully.  His mind was full of
Lakely and of the possibilities the night might hold; for more
than once before, the weight of the 'St. George's Gazette',
with Lakely at its back, had turned the political scales.  To
be marked by him as a coming man was at any time a favorable
portent; to be singled out by him at the present juncture was
momentous.  A thrill of expectancy, almost of excitement,
passed through him as he surveyed his appearance preparatory
to leaving the house.

Passing down-stairs, he moved at once to the hall door; but
almost as his hand touched it he halted, attracted by a
movement on the landing above him.  Turning, he saw Eve.

She was standing quite still, looking down upon him as she had
looked once before.  As their eyes met, she changed her
position hastily.

"You are going out?" she asked.  And it struck Loder quickly
that there was a suggestion, a shadow of disappointment in the
tone of her voice.  Moved by the impression, he responded with
unusual promptness.

"Yes," he said.  "I'm dining out--dining with Lakely."

She watched him intently while he spoke; then, as the meaning
of his words reached her, her whole face brightened.

"With Mr. Lakely?" she said.  "Oh, I'm glad--very glad.  It is
quite--quite another step."  She smiled with a warm, impulsive
touch of sympathy.

Loder, looking up at her, felt his senses stir.  At sound of
her words his secret craving for success quickened to stronger
life.  The man whose sole incentive lies within may go forward
coldly and successfully; but the man who grasps a double
inspiration, who, even unconsciously, is impelled by another
force, has a stronger impetus for attack, a surer, more vital
hewing power.  Still watching her, he answered
instinctively--

"Yes," he said, slowly, "a long step."  And, with a smile of
farewell, he turned, opened the door, and passed into the
road.

The thrill of that one moment was still warm as he reached
Cadogan Gardens and mounted the steps of No. 33--so vitally
warm that he paused for an instant before pressing the
electric bell.  Then at last, dominated by anticipation, he
turned and raised his hand.

The action was abrupt, and it was only as his fingers pressed
the bell that a certain unexpectedness, a certain want of
suitability in the aspect of the house, struck him.  The door
was white, the handle and knocker were of massive silver.  The
first seemed a disappointing index of Lakely's private taste,
the second a ridiculous temptation to needy humanity.  He
looked again at the number of the house, but it stared back at
him convincingly.  Then the door opened.

So keen was his sense of unfitness that, still trying to fuse
his impression of Lakely with the idea of silver
door-fittings, he stepped into the hall without the usual
preliminary question.  Suddenly realizing the necessity, he
turned to the servant; but the man forestalled him:

"Will you come to the white room, sir?  And may I take your
coat?"

The smooth certainty of the man's manner surprised him.  It
held another savor of disappointment--seeming as little in
keeping with the keen, business-like Lakely as did the house.
Still struggling with his impression, he allowed himself to be
relieved of his hat and coat and in silence ushered up the
shallow staircase.

As the last step was reached it came to him again to mention
his host's name; but simultaneously with the suggestion the
servant stepped forward with a quick, silent movement and
threw open a door.

"Mr. Chilcote!" he announced, in a subdued, discreet voice.

Loder's first impression was of a room that seemed unusually
luxurious, soft, and shadowed.  Then all impression of
inanimate things left him suddenly.

For the fraction of a second he stood in the door-way, while
the room seemed emptied of everything, except a figure that
rose slowly from a couch before the fire at sound of
Chilcote's name; then, with a calmness that to himself seemed
incredible, he moved forward into the room.

He might, of course, have beaten a retreat and obviated many
things; but life is full of might-have-beens, and retreat
never presents itself agreeably to a strong man.  His impulse
was to face the difficulty, and he acted on the impulse.

Lillian had risen slowly; and as he neared her she held out
her hand.

"Jack!" she exclaimed, softly.  "How sweet of you to
remember!"

The voice and words came to him with great distinctness,
and as they came one uncertainty passed forever from his mind
--the question as to what relation she and Chilcote held to
each other.  With the realization came the thought of Eve, and
in the midst of his own difficulty his face hardened.

Lillian ignored the coldness.  Taking his hand, she smiled.
"You're unusually punctual," she said.  "But your hands are
cold.  Come closer to the fire."

Loder was not sensible that his hands were cold, but he
suffered himself to be drawn forward.

One end of the couch was in firelight, the other in shadow.
By a fortunate arrangement of chance Lillian selected the
brighter end for herself and offered the other to her guest.
With a quick sense of respite he accepted it.  At least he
could sit secure from detection while he temporized with fate.

For a moment they sat silent, then Lillian stirred.  "Won't
you smoke?" she asked.

Everything in the room seemed soft and enervating--the subdued
glow of the fire, the smell of roses that hung about the air,
and, last of all, Lillian's slow, soothing voice.  With a
sense of oppression he stiffened his shoulders and sat
straighter in his place.

"No," he said, "I don't think I shall smoke."

She moved nearer to him.  "Dear Jack," she said, pleadingly,
"don't say you're in a bad mood.  Don't say you want to
postpone again."  She looked up at him and laughed a little in
mock consternation.

Loder was at a loss.

Another silence followed, while Lillian waited; then she
frowned suddenly and rose from the couch.  Like many indolent
people, she possessed a touch of obstinacy; and now that her
triumph over Chilcote was obtained, now that she had
vindicated her right to command him, her original purpose came
uppermost again.  Cold or interested, indifferent or
attentive, she intended to make use of him.

She moved to the fire and stood looking down into it.

"Jack," she began, gently, "a really amazing thing has
happened to me.  I do so want you to throw some light."

Loder said nothing.

There was a fresh pause while she softly smoothed the silk
embroidery that edged her gown.  Then once more she looked up
at him.

"Did I ever tell you," she began, "that I was once in a
railway accident on a funny little Italian railway, centuries
before I met you?"  She laughed softly; and with a pretty air
of confidence turned from the fire and resumed her seat.

"Astrupp had caught a fever in Florence, and I was rushing
away for fear of the infection, when our stupid little train
ran off the rails near Pistoria and smashed itself up.
Fortunately we were within half a mile of a village, so we
weren't quite bereft.  The village was impossibly like a toy
village, and the accommodation what one would expect in a
Noah's Ark, but it was all absolutely picturesque.  I put up
at the little inn with my maid and Ko Ko--Ko Ko was such a
sweet dog--a white poodle.  I was tremendously keen on poodles
that year."  She stopped and looked thoughtfully towards the
fire.

"But to come to the point of the story, Jack, the toy village
had a boy doll!"  She laughed again.  "He was an Englishman
--and the first person to come to my rescue on the night of the
smash-up.  He was staying at the Noah's Ark inn; and after
that first night I--he--we--Oh, Jack, haven't you any
imagination?"  Her voice sounded petulant and sharp.  The man
who is indifferent to the recital of an old love affair
implies the worst kind of listener.  "I believe you aren't
interested," she added, in another and more reproachful tone.

He leaned forward.  "You're wrong there," he said, slowly.
"I'm deeply interested."

She glanced at him again.  His tone reassured her, but his
words left her uncertain; Chilcote was rarely emphatic.  With
a touch of hesitation she went on with her tale:

"As I told you, he was the first to find us--to find me, I
should say, for my stupid maid was having hysterics farther up
the line, and Ko Ko was lost.  I remember the first thing I
did was to send him in search of Ko Ko--"

Notwithstanding his position, Loder found occasion to smile.
"Did he succeed?" he said, dryly.

"Succeed?  Oh yes, he succeeded."  She also smiled involuntarily.
"Poor Ko Ko was stowed away under the luggage-van; and after
quite a lot of trouble he pulled him out.  When it was all done
the dog was quite unhurt and livelier than ever, but the
Englishman had his finger almost bitten through.  Ko Ko was a
dear, but his teeth and his temper were both very sharp!"  She
laughed once more in soft amusement.

Loder was silent for a second, then he too laughed--Chilcote's
short, sarcastic laugh.  "And you tied up the wound, I suppose?"

She glanced up, half displeased.  "We were both staying at the
little inn," she said, as though no further explanation could
be needed.  Then again her manner changed.  She moved
imperceptibly nearer and touched his right hand.  His left,
which was farther away from her, was well in the shadow of the
cushions.

"Jack," she said, caressingly, "it isn't to tell you this
stupid old story that I've brought you here; it's really to
tell you a sort of sequel."  She stroked his hand gently once
or twice.  "As I say, I met this man and we--we had an affair.
You understand?  Then we quarrelled--quarrelled quite badly
--and I came away.  I've remembered him rather longer than I
remember most people--he was one of those dogged individuals
who stick in one's mind.  But he has stayed in mine for
another reason--"  Again she looked up.  "He has stayed
because you helped to keep him there.  You know how I have
sometimes put my hands over your mouth and told you that your
eyes reminded me of some one else?  Well, that some one else
was my Englishman.  But you mustn't be jealous; he was a
horrid, obstinate person, and you--well, you know what I think
of you--"  She pressed his hand.  "But to come to the end of
the story, I never saw this man since that long-ago time,
until--until the night of Blanche's party !"  She spoke
slowly, to give full effect to her words; then she waited for
his surprise.

But the result was not what she expected.  He said nothing;
and, with an abrupt movement, he drew his hand from between
hers.

"Aren't you surprised?" she asked at last, with a delicate
note of reproof.

He started slightly, as if recalled to the necessity of the
moment.  "Surprised?" he said.  "Why should I be surprised?
One person more or less at a big party isn't astonishing.
Besides, you expect a man to turn up sooner or later in his
own country.  Why should I be surprised?"

She lay back luxuriously.  "Because, my dear boy," she said,
softly, "it's a mystery!  It's one of those fascinating
mysteries that come once in a lifetime."

Loder made no movement.  "You must explain," he said, very
quietly.

Lillian smiled.  "That's just what I want to do.  When I was
in my tent on the night of Blanche's party, a man came to be
gazed for.  He came just like anybody else, and laid his hands
upon the table.  He had strong, thin hands like--well, rather
like yours But he wore two rings on the third finger of his
left hand--a heavy signet-ring and a plain gold one."

Loder moved his hand imperceptibly till the cushion covered
it.  Lillian's words caused him no surprise, scarcely even any
trepidation.  He felt now that he had expected them, even
waited for them, all along.

"I asked him to, take off his rings," she went on, "and just
for a second he hesitated--I could feel him hesitate; then he
seemed to make up his mind, for he drew them off.  He drew
them off, Jack, and guess what I saw!  Do guess!"

For the first time Loder involuntarily drew back into his
corner of the couch.  "I never guess," he said, brusquely.

"Then I'll tell you.  His hands were the hands of my
Englishman!  The rings covered the scar made by Ko Ko's teeth.
I knew it instantly--the second my eyes rested on it.  It was
the same scar that I had bound up dozens of times--that I had
seen healed before I left Santasalare."

"And you?  What did you do?"  Loder felt it singularly
difficult and unpleasant to speak.

"Ah, that's the point.  That's where I was stupid and made my
mistake.  I should have spoken to him on the moment, but I
didn't.  You know how one sometimes hesitates.  Afterwards it
was too late."

"But you saw him afterwards--in the rooms?"  Loder spoke
unwillingly.

"No, I didn't--that's the other point.  I didn't see him in
the rooms, and I haven't seen him since.  Directly he was
gone, I left the tent--I pretended to be hungry and bored;
but, though I went through every room, he was nowhere to be
found.  Once--" she hesitated and laughed again--" once I
thought I had found him, but it was only you--you, as you
stood in that door-way with your mouth and chin hidden by
Leonard Kaine's head.  Wasn't it a quaint mistake?"

There was an uncertain pause.  Then Loder, feeling the need of
speech, broke the silence suddenly.  "Where do I come in?" he
asked abruptly.  "What am I wanted for?"

"To help to throw light on the mystery!  I've seen Blanche's
list of people, and there wasn't a man I couldn't place--no
outsider ever squeezes through Blanche's door.  I have
questioned Bobby Blessington, but he can't remember who came
to the tent last.  And Bobby was supposed to have kept count!"
She spoke in deep scorn; but almost immediately the scorn
faded and she smiled again.  "Now that I've explain ed, Jack,"
she added, "what do you suggest?"

Then for the first time Loder knew what his presence in the
room really meant; and at best the knowledge was
disconcerting.  It is not every day that a man is called upon
to unearth himself.

"Suggest?" he repeated, blankly.

"Yes.  I'd rather have your idea of the affair than anybody
else's.  You are so dear and sarcastic and keen that you can't
help getting straight at the middle of a fact."

When Lillian wanted anything she could be very sweet.  She
suddenly dropped her half-petulant tone; she suddenly ceased
to be a spoiled child.  With a perfectly graceful movement she
drew quite close to Loder and slid gently to her knees.

This is an attitude that few women can safely assume; it
requires all the attributes of youth, suppleness, and a
certain buoyant ease.  But Lillian never acted without
justification, and as she leaned towards Loder her face
lifted, her slight figure and pale hair softened by the
firelight, she made a picture that it would have been
difficult to criticise.

But the person who should have appreciated it stared steadily
beyond it to the fire.  His mind was absorbed by one question
--the question of how he might reasonably leave the house
before discovery became assured.

Lillian, attentively watchful of him, saw the uneasy look, and
her own face fell.  But, as she looked, an inspiration came to
her--a remembrance of many interviews with Chilcote smoothed
and facilitated by the timely use of tobacco.

"Jack," she said, softly, "before you say another word I
insist on your lighting a cigarette."  She leaned forward.
resting against his knee.

At her words Loder's eyes left the fire.  His attention was
suddenly needed for a new and more imminent difficulty.
"Thanks!" he said, quickly.  "I have no wish to smoke."

"It isn't a matter of what you wish but of what I say."  She
smiled.  She knew that Chilcote with a cigarette between his
lips was infinitely more tractable than Chilcote sitting idle,
and she had no intention of ignoring the knowledge.

But Loder caught at her words.  "Before you ordered me to
smoke," he said, "you told me to give you some advice.  Your
first command must have prior claim."  He grasped
unhesitatingly at the less risky theme.

She looked up at him.  "You're always nicer when you smoke,"
she persisted, caressingly.  "Light a cigarette--and give me
one."

Loder's mouth became set.  "No," he said, "we'll stick to this
advice business.  It interests me."

"Yes--afterwards."

"No, now.  You want to find out why this Englishman from Italy
was at your sister's party, and why he disappeared?"

There are times when a malignant obstinacy seems to affect
certain people.  The only answer Lillian made was to
pass her hand over Loder's waistcoat, and, feeling his
cigarette-case, to draw it from the pocket.

He affected not to see it.  "Do you think he recognized you in
that tent?" he insisted, desperately.

She held out the case.  "Here are your cigarettes.  You know
we're always more social when we smoke."

In the short interval while she looked up into his face
several ideas passed through Loder's mind.  He thought of
standing up suddenly and so regaining his advantage; he
wondered quickly whether one hand could possibly suffice for
the taking out and lighting of two cigarettes.  Then all need
for speculation was pushed suddenly aside.

Lillian, looking into his face, saw his fresh look of
disturbance, and from long experience again changed her
tactics.  Laying the cigarette-case on the couch, she put one
hand on his shoulder, the other on his left arm.  Hundreds of
times this caressing touch had quieted Chilcote.

"Dear old boy!" she said, soothingly, her hand moving slowly
down his arm.

In a flash of understanding the consequences of this position
came to him.  Action was imperative, at whatever risk.  With
an abrupt gesture he rose.

The movement was awkward.  He got to his feet precipitately;
Lillian drew back, surprised and startled, catching
involuntarily at his left hand to steady her position.

Her fingers grasped at, then held his.  He made no effort to
release them.  With a dogged acknowledgment, he admitted
himself worsted.

How long she stayed immovable, holding his hand, neither of
them knew.  The process of a woman's instinct is so subtle, so
obscure, that it would be futile to apply to it the
commonplace test of time.  She kept her hold tenaciously, as
though his fingers possessed some peculiar virtue; then at
last she spoke.

"Rings, Jack?" she said, very slowly.  And under the two short
words a whole world of incredulity and surmise made itself
felt.

Loder laughed.

At the sound she dropped his hand and rose from her knees.
What her suspicions, what her instincts were she could not
have clearly defined, but her action was unhesitating.
Without a moment's uncertainty she turned to the fireplace,
pressed the electric button, and flooded the room with light.

There is no force so demoralizing as unexpected light.  Loder
took a step backward, his hand hanging unguarded by his side;
and Lillian, stepping forward, caught it again before he could
protest.  Lifting it quickly, she looked scrutinizingly at the
two rings.

All women jump to conclusions, and it is extraordinary how
seldom they jump short.  Seeing only what Lillian saw, knowing
only what she knew, no man would have staked a definite
opinion; but the other sex takes a different view.  As she
stood gazing at the rings her thoughts and her conclusions
sped through her mind like arrows--all aimed and all tending
towards one point.  She remembered the day when she and
Chilcote had talked of doubles, her scepticism and his
vehement defence of the idea; his sudden interest in the book
'Other Men's Shoes', and his anathema against life and its
irksome round of duties.  She remembered her own first
convinced recognition of the eyes that had looked at her in
the doorway of her sister's house; and, last of all, she
remembered Chilcote's unaccountable avoidance of the same
subject of likenesses when she had mentioned it yesterday
driving through the Park--and with it his unnecessarily curt
repudiation of his former opinions.  She reviewed each item,
then she raised her head slowly and looked at Loder.

He was prepared for the glance and met it steadily.

In the long moment that her eyes searched his face it was she
and not he who changed color.  She was the first to speak.
"You were the man whose hands I saw in the tent," she said.
She made the statement in her usual soft tones, but a slight
tremor of excitement underran her voice.  Poodles, Persian
kittens, even crystal gazing-balls, seemed very far away in
face of this tangible, fabulous, present interest.  "You are
not Jack Chilcote," she said, very slowly.  "You are wearing
his clothes, and speaking in his voice but you are not Jack
Chilcote."  Her tone quickened with a touch of excitement.
"You needn't keep silent and look at me," she said.  "I know
quite well what I am saying--though I don't understand it,
though I have no real proof--"  She paused, momentarily
disconcerted by her companion's silent and steady gaze, and in
the pause a curious and unexpected thing occurred.

Loder laughed suddenly--a full, confident, reassured laugh.
All the web that the past half-hour had spun about him, all
the intolerable sense of an impending crash, lifted suddenly.
He saw his way clearly--and it was Lillian who had opened his
eyes.

Still looking at her, he smiled--a smile of reliant
determination, such as Chilcote had never worn in his life.
And with a calm gesture he released his hand.

"The greatest charm of woman is her imagination," he said,
quietly.  "Without it there would be no color in life; we
would come into and drop out of it with the same uninteresting
tone of drab reality."  He paused and smiled again.

At his smile, Lillian involuntarily drew back, the color
deepening in her cheeks.  "Why do you say that?" she asked.

He lifted his head.  With each moment he felt more certain of
himself.  "Because that is my attitude," he said.  "As a man I
admire your imagination, but as a man I fail to follow your
reasoning."

The words and the tone both stung her.  "Do you realize the
position?" she asked, sharply.  "Do you realize that, whatever
your plans are, I can spoil them?"

Loder still met her eyes.  "I realize nothing of the sort," he
said.

"Then you admit that you are not Jack Chilcote?"

"I neither deny nor admit.  My identity is obvious.  I can get
twenty men to swear to it at any moment that you like.  The
fact that I haven't worn rings till now will scarcely interest
them."

"But you do admit--to me, that you are not Jack?"

"I deny nothing--and admit nothing.  I still offer my
congratulations."

"Upon what?"

"The same possession--your imagination."

Lillian stamped her foot.  Then, by a quick effort, she
conquered her temper.  "Prove me to be wrong!" she said, with
a fresh touch of excitement.  "Take off your rings and let me
see your hand."

With a deliberate gesture Loder put his hand behind his back.
"I never gratify childish curiosity," he said, with another
smile.

Again a flash of temper crossed her eyes.  "Are you sure," she
said, "that it's quite wise to talk like that?"

Loder laughed again.  "Is that a threat?"

"Perhaps."

"Then it's an empty one."

"Why?"

Before replying he waited a moment, looking down at her.

"I conclude," he began, quietly, "that your idea is to spread
this wild, improbable story--to ask people to believe that
John Chilcote, whom they see before them, is not John
Chilcote, but somebody else.  Now you'll find that a harder
task than you imagine.  This is a sceptical world, and people
are absurdly fond of their own eyesight.  We are all
journalists nowadays--we all want facts.  The first thing you
will be asked for is your proof.  And what does your proof
consist of?  The circumstance that John Chilcote, who has
always despised jewelry, has lately taken to wearing rings!
Your own statement, unattended by any witnesses, that with
those rings off his finger bears a scar belonging to another
man!  No; on close examination I scarcely imagine that your
case would hold."  He stopped, fired by his own logic.  The
future might be Chilcote's but the present was his; and this
present--with its immeasurable possibilities
--had been rescued from catastrophe.  "No," he said, again.
"When you get your proof perhaps we'll have another talk; but
till then--"

"Till then?" She looked up quickly; but almost at once her
question died away.

The door had opened, and the servant who had admitted Loder
stood in the opening.

"Dinner is served!" he announced, in his deferential voice.




XXIII


And Loder dined with Lillian Astrupp.  We live in an age when
society expects, even exacts, much.  He dined, not through
bravado and not through cowardice, but because it seemed the
obvious, the only thing to do.  To him a scene of any
description was distasteful; to Lillian it was unknown.  In
her world people loved or hated, were spiteful or foolish,
were even quixotic or dishonorable, but they seldom made
scenes.  Loder tacitly saw and tacitly accepted this.

Possibly they ate extremely little during the course of the
dinner, and talked extraordinarily much on subjects that
interested neither; but the main point at least was gained.
They dined.  The conventionalities were appeased; the silent,
watchful servants who waited on them were given no food for
comment.  The fact that Loder left immediately after dinner,
the fact that he paused on the door-step after the hall door
had closed behind him, and drew a long, deep breath of relief,
held only an individual significance and therefore did not
count.

On reaching Chilcote's house he passed at once to the
study and dismissed Greening for the night.  But scarcely
had he taken advantage of his solitude by settling into an
arm-chair and lighting a cigar, than Renwick, displaying an
unusual amount of haste and importance, entered the room
carrying a letter.

Seeing Loder, he came forward at once.  "Mr. Fraide's man
brought this, sir," he explained.  "He was most particular to
give it into my hands--making sure 'twould reach you.  He's
waiting for an answer, sir."

Loder rose and took the letter, a quick thrill of speculation
and interest springing across his mind.  During his time of
banishment he had followed the political situation with
feverish attention, insupportably chafed by the desire to
share in it, apprehensively chilled at the thought of
Chilcote's possible behavior.  He knew that in the
comparatively short interval since Parliament had risen no act
of aggression had marked the Russian occupation of Meshed, but
he also knew that Fraide and his followers looked askance at
that great power's amiable attitude, and at sight of his
leader's message his intuition stirred.

Turning to the nearest lamp, he tore the envelope open and
scanned the letter anxiously.  It was written in Fraide's own
clear, somewhat old-fashioned writing, and opened with a
kindly rebuke for his desertion of him since the day of his
speech; then immediately, and with characteristic clearness,
it opened up the subject nearest the writer's mind.

Very slowly and attentively Loder read the letter; and with
the extreme quiet that with him invariably covered emotion, he
moved to the desk, wrote a note, and handed it to the waiting
servant.  As the man turned towards the door he called him.

"Renwick!" he said, sharply, "when you've given that letter to
Mr. Fraide's servant, ask Mrs. Chilcote if she can spare me
five minutes."

When Renwick had gone and closed the door behind him, Loder
paced the room with feverish activity.  In one moment the
aspect of life had been changed.  Five minutes since he had
been glorying in the risk of a barely saved situation; now
that situation with its merely social complications had become
a matter of small importance.

His long, striding steps had carried him to the fireplace, and
his back was towards the door when at last the handle turned.
He wheeled round to receive Eve's message; then a look of
pleased surprise crossed his face.  It was Eve herself who
stood in the doorway.

Without hesitation his lips parted.  "Eve," he said, abruptly,
"I have had great news!  Russia has shown her teeth at last.
Two caravans belonging to a British trader were yesterday
interfered with by a band of Cossacks.  The affair occurred a
couple of miles outside Meshed; the traders remonstrated, but
the Russians made summary use of their advantage.  Two
Englishmen were wounded and one of them has since died.
Fraide has only now received the news--which cannot be overrated.
It gives the precise lever necessary for the big move at the
reassembling."  He spoke with great earnestness and unusual
haste.  As he finished he took a step forward.  "But that's not
all!" he added.  "Fraide wants the great move set in motion by
a great speech--and he has asked me to make it."

For a moment Eve waited.  She looked at him in silence; and in
that silence he read in her eyes the reflection of his own
expression.

"And you?" she asked, in a suppressed voice.  "What answer did
you give?"

He watched her for an instant, taking a strange pleasure in
her flushed face and brilliantly eager eyes; then the joy of
conscious strength, the sense of opportunity regained, swept
all other considerations out of sight.

"I accepted," he said, quickly.  "Could any man who was merely
human have done otherwise?"

That was Loder's attitude and action on the night of his
jeopardy and his success, and the following day found his mood
unchanged.  He was one of those rare individuals who never
give a promise overnight and regret it in the morning.  He was
slow to move, but when he did the movement brushed all
obstacles aside.  In the first days of his usurpation he had
gone cautiously, half fascinated, half distrustful; then the
reality, the extraordinary tangibility of the position had
gripped him when, matching himself for the first time with men
of his own caliber, he had learned his real weight on the day
of his protest against the Easter adjournment.  With that
knowledge had been born the dominant factor in his whole
scheme--the overwhelming, insistent desire to manifest his
power.  That desire that is the salvation or the ruin of every
strong man who has once realized his strength.  Supremacy was
the note to which his ambition reached.  To trample out
Chilcote's footmarks with his own had been his tacit instinct
from the first; now it rose paramount.  It was the whole
theory of creation--the survival of the fittest--the deep,
egotistical certainty that he was the better man.

And it was with this conviction that he entered on the vital
period of his dual career.  The imminent crisis, and his own
share in it, absorbed him absolutely.

In the weeks that followed his answer to Fraide's proposal he
gave himself ungrudgingly to his work.  He wrote, read, and
planned with tireless energy; he frequently forgot to eat, and
slept only through sheer exhaustion; in the fullest sense of
the word he lived for the culminating hour that was to bring
him failure or success.

He seldom left Grosvenor Square in the days that followed,
except to confer with his party.  All his interest, all his
relaxation even, lay in his work and what pertained to it.
His strength was like a solid wall, his intelligence was sharp
and keen as steel.  The moment was his; and by sheer mastery
of will he put other considerations out of sight.  He forgot
Chilcote and forgot Lillian--not because they escaped his
memory, but because he chose to shut them from it.

Of Eve he saw but little in this time of high pressure.  When
a man touches the core of his capacities, puts his best into
the work that in his eyes stands paramount, there is little
place for, and no need of, woman.  She comes before--and after.
She inspires, compensates, or completes; but the achievement,
the creation, is man's alone.  And all true women understand
and yield to this unspoken precept.

Eve watched the progress of his labor, and in the depth of her
own heart the watching came nearer to actual living than any
activity she had known.  She was an on-looker--but an on-looker
who stood, as it were, on the steps of the arena, who, by a
single forward movement, could feel the sand under her feet,
the breath of the battle on her face; and in this knowledge
she rested satisfied.

There were hours when Loder seemed scarcely conscious of
her existence; but on those occasions she smiled in her serene
way--and went on waiting.  She knew that each day, before the
afternoon had passed, he would come into her sitting-room, his
face thoughtful, his hands full of books or papers, and,
dropping into one of the comfortable, studious chairs, would
ask laconically for tea.  This was her moment of triumph and
recompense--for the very unconsciousness of his coming doubled
its value.  He would sit for half an hour with a preoccupied
glance, or with keen, alert eyes fixed on the fire, while his
ideas sorted themselves and fell into line.  Sometimes he was
silent for the whole half-hour, sometimes he commented to
himself as he scanned his notes; but on other and rarer
occasions he talked, speaking his thoughts and his theories
aloud, with the enjoyment of a man who knows himself fully in
his depth, while Eve sipped her tea or stitched peacefully at
a strip of embroidery.

On these occasions she made a perfect listener.  Here and
there she encouraged him with an intelligent remark, but she
never interrupted.  She knew when to be silent and when to
speak; when to merge her own individuality and when to make it
felt.  In these days of stress and preparation he came to her
unconsciously for rest; he treated her as he might have
treated a younger brother--relying on her discretion, turning
to her as by right for sympathy, comprehension, and friendship.
Sometimes, as they sat silent in the richly colored, homelike
room, Eve would pause over her embroidery and let her thoughts
spin momentarily forward--spin towards the point where, the
brunt of his ordeal passed, he must, of necessity, seek
something beyond mere rest.  But there her thoughts would
inevitably break off and the blood flame quickly into her cheek.

Meanwhile Loder worked persistently.  With each day that
brought the crisis of Fraide's scheme nearer, his activity
increased--and with it an intensifying of the nervous strain.
For if he had his hours of exaltation, he also had his hours
of black apprehension.  It is all very well  to exorcise a
ghost by sheer strength of will, but one  has also to eliminate
the idea that gave it existence.  Lillian Astrupp, with her
unattested evidence and her ephemeral interest, gave him no real
uneasiness; but Chilcote and Chilcote's possible summons were
matters of graver consideration; and there were times when they
loomed very dark and sinister: What if at the very moment of
fulfilment--?  But invariably he snapped the thread of the
supposition and turned with fiercer ardor to his work of
preparation.

And so the last morning of his probation dawned, and for the
first time he breathed freely.

He rose early on the day that was to witness his great effort
and dressed slowly.  It was a splendid morning; the spirit of
the spring seemed embodied in the air, in  the pale-blue sky,
in the shafts of cool sunshine that danced from the mirror to
the dressing-table, from the dressing-table to the pictures
on the walls of Chilcote's vast room.  Inconsequently with its
dancing rose a memory  of the distant past--a memory of
long-forgotten days when, as a child, he had been bidden to
watch the same sun  perform the same fantastic evolutions.  The
sight and the thought stirred him curiously with an unlooked-for
sense of youth.  He drew himself together with an added touch of
decision as he passed out into the corridor; and as he walked
down-stairs he whistled a bar or two of an inspiriting tune.

In the morning-room Eve was already waiting.  She looked up,
colored, and smiled as he entered.  Her face looked very fresh
and young and she wore a gown of the same pale blue that she
had worn on his first coming.

She looked up from an open letter as he came into the room,
and the sun that fell through the window caught her in a shaft
of light, intensifying her blue eyes, her blue gown, and the
bunch of violets fastened in her belt.  To Loder, still under
the influence of early memories, she seemed the embodiment of
some youthful ideal--something lost, sought for, and found
again.  Realization of his feeling for her almost came to him
as be stood there looking at her.  It hovered about him; it
tipped him, as it were, with its wings; then it rose again and
soared away.  Men like him--men keen to grasp an opening where
their careers are concerned, and tenacious to hold it when once
grasped--are frequently the last to look into their own hearts.
He glanced at Eve, he acknowledged the stir of his feeling, but
he made no attempt to define its cause.  He could no more have
given reason for his sensations than he could have told the
precise date upon which, coming down-stairs at eight o'clock, he
had first found her waiting breakfast for him.  The time when
all such incidents were to stand out, each to a nicety in its
appointed place, had not yet arrived.  For the moment his
youth had returned to him; he possessed the knowledge of work
done, the sense of present companionship in a world of
agreeable things; above all, the steady, quiet conviction of
his own capacity.  All these things came to him in the moment
of his entering the room, greeting Eve, and passing to the
breakfast-table; then, while his eyes still rested contentedly
on the pleasant array of china and silver, while his senses
were still alive to the fresh, earthly scent of Eve's violets,
the blow so long dreaded--so slow in coming fell with
accumulated force.




XXIV


The letter through which the blow fell was not voluminous.  It
was written on cheap paper in a disguised hand, and the
contents covered only half a page.  Loder read it slowly,
mentally articulating every word; then he laid it down, and as
he did so he caught Eve's eyes raised in concern.  Again he
saw something of his own feelings reflected in her face, and
the shock braced him; he picked up the letter, tearing it into
strips.

"I must go out," he said, slowly.  "I must go now--at once."
His voice was hard.

Eve's surprised, concerned eyes still searched his.  "Now
--at once?" she repeated.  "Now--without breakfast?"

"I'm not hungry."  He rose from his seat, and, carrying the
slips of paper across the room, dropped them into the fire.
He did it, not so much from caution, as from an imperative
wish to do something, to move, if only across the room.

Eve's glance followed him.  "Is it bad news?" she asked,
anxiously.  It was unlike her to be insistent, but she was
moved to the impulse by the peculiarity of the moment.

"No," he said shortly.  "It's--business.  This was written
yesterday; I should have got it last night."

Her eyes widened.  "But nobody does business at eight in the
morning--" she began, in astonishment; then she suddenly broke
off.

Without apology or farewell, Loder had left the fireplace and
walked out of the room.

He passed through the hall hurriedly, picking up a hat as he
went; and, reaching the pavement outside, he went straight
forward until Grosvenor Square was left behind; then he ran.
At the risk of reputation, at the loss of dignity, he ran
until he saw a cab.  Hailing it, he sprang inside, and, as the
cabman whipped up and the horse responded to the call, he
realized for the first time the full significance of what had
occurred.

Realization, like the need for action, came to him slowly, but
when it came it was with terrible lucidity.  He did not swear
as he leaned back in his seat, mechanically watching the
stream of men on their way to business, the belated cars of
green produce blocking the way between the Strand and Covent
Garden.  He had no use for oaths; his feelings lay deeper than
mere words.  But his mouth was sternly set and his eyes looked
cold.

Outside the Law Courts he dismissed his cab and walked forward
to Clifford's Inn.  As he passed through the familiar entrance
a chill fell on him.  In the clear, early light it seemed more
than ever a place of dead hopes, dead enterprises, dead
ambitions.  In the onward march of life it had been forgotten.
The very air had a breath of unfulfilment.

He crossed the court rapidly, but his mouth set itself afresh
as he passed through the door-way of his own house and crossed
the bare hall.

As he mounted the well-known stairs, he received his first
indication of life in the appearance of a cat from the
second-floor rooms.  At sight of him, the animal came forward,
rubbed demonstratively against his legs, and with affectionate
persistence followed him up-stairs.

Outside his door he paused.  On the ground stood the usual
morning can of milk--evidence that Chilcote was not yet awake
or that, like himself, he had no appetite for breakfast.  He
smiled ironically as the idea struck him, but it was a smile
that stiffened rather than relaxed his lips.  Then he drew out
the duplicate key he always carried, and, inserting it
quietly, opened the door.  A close, unpleasant smell greeted
him as he entered the small passage that divided the bed and
sitting rooms--a smell of whiskey mingling with the odor of
stale smoke.  With a quick gesture he pushed open the bedroom
door; then on the threshold he paused, a look of contempt and
repulsion passing over his face.

In his first glance he scarcely grasped the details of the
scene, for the half-drawn curtains kept the light dim, but as
his eyes grew accustomed to the obscurity he gathered their
significance.

The room had a sleepless, jaded air--the room that under his
own occupation had shown a rigid, almost monastic severity.
The plain dressing-table was littered with cigarette ends and
marked with black and tawny patches where the tobacco had been
left to burn itself out.  On one corner of the table a carafe
of water and a whiskey-decanter rested one against the other,
as if for support, and at the other end an overturned tumbler
lay in a pool of liquid.  The whole effect was sickly and
nauseating.  His glance turned involuntarily to the bed, and
there halted.

On the hard, narrow mattress, from which the sheets and
blankets had fallen in a disordered heap, lay Chilcote.  He
was fully dressed in a shabby tweed suit of Loder's; his
collar was open, his lip and chin unshaven; one hand was
limply grasping the pillow, while the other hung out over the
side of the bed.  His face, pale, almost earthy in hue, might
have been a mask, save for the slight convulsive spasms that
crossed it from time to time, and corresponded with the faint,
shivering starts that passed at intervals over his whole body.
To complete his repellent appearance, a lock of hair had
fallen loose and lay black and damp across his forehead.

Loder stood for a space shocked and spellbound by the sight.
Even in the ghastly disarray, the likeness--the extraordinary,
sinister likeness that had become the pivot upon which he
himself revolved--struck him like a blow.  The man who lay
there was himself-bound to him by some subtle, inexplicable
tie of similarity.  As the idea touched him he turned aside
and stepped quickly to the dressing-table; there, with
unnecessary energy, he flung back the curtains and threw the
window wide; then again he turned towards the bed.  He had one
dominant impulse--to waken Chilcote, to be free of the
repulsive, inert presence that chilled him with so personal a
horror.  Leaning over the bed, he caught the shoulder nearest
to him and shook it.  It was not the moment for niceties, and
his gesture was rough.

At his first touch Chilcote made no response--his brain,
dulled by indulgence in his vice, had become a laggard in
conveying sensations; but at last, as the pressure on his
shoulder increased, his nervous system seemed suddenly to jar
into consciousness.  A long shudder shook him; he half lifted
himself and then dropped back upon the pillow.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, in a trembling breath.  "Oh!"  The sound
seemed drawn from him by compulsion.

Its uncanny tone chilled Loder anew.  "Wake up, man!" he said,
suddenly.  "Wake up!  It's I--Loder."

Again the other shuddered; then he turned quickly and
nervously.  "Loder?" he said, doubtfully.  "Loder?"  Then his
face changed.  "Good God!" he exclaimed, "what a relief!"

The words were so intense, so spontaneous and unexpected, that
Loder took a step back.

Chilcote laughed discordantly, and lifted a shaky hand to
protect his eyes from the light.

"It's--it's all right, Loder!  It's all right!  It's only that
I--that I had a beastly dream.  But, for Heaven's sake, shut
that window!"  He shivered involuntarily and pushed the lock
of damp hair from his forehead with a weak touch of his old
irritability.

In silence Loder moved back to the window and shut it.  He was
affected more than he would own even to himself by the obvious
change in Chilcote.  He had seen him moody, restless,
nervously excited; but never before had he seen him entirely
demoralized.  With a dull feeling of impotence and disgust he
stood by the closed window, looking unseeingly at the roofs of
the opposite houses.

But Chilcote had followed his movements restlessly; and now,
as he watched him, a flicker of excitement crossed his face.
"God!  Loder," he said, again, "'twas a relief to see you!  I
dreamed I was in hell--a horrible hell, worse than the one
they preach about."

He laughed to reassure himself, but his voice shook pitiably.

Loder, who had come to fight, stood silent and inert.

"It was horrible--beastly," Chilcote went on.  "There was no
fire and brimstone, but there was something worse.  It was a
great ironic scheme of punishment by which every man was
chained to his own vice--by which the thing he had gone to
pieces over, instead of being denied him, was made compulsory.
You can't imagine it."  He shivered nervously and his voice
rose.  "Fancy being satiated beyond the limit of satiety,
being driven and dogged by the thing you had run after all
your life!"

He paused excitedly, and in the pause Loder found resolution.
He shut his ears to the panic in Chilcote's voice, he closed
his consciousness to the sight of his shaken face.  With a
surge of determination he rallied his theories.  After all, he
had himself and his own interests to claim his thought.  At
the moment Chilcote was a wreck, with no desire towards
rehabilitation; but there was no guarantee that in an hour or
two he might not have regained control over himself, and with
it the inclination that had prompted his letter of the day
before.  No; he had himself to look to.  The survival of the
fittest was the true, the only principle.  Chilcote had had
intellect, education, opportunity, and Chilcote had
deliberately cast them aside.  Fortifying himself in the
knowledge, he turned from the window and moved slowly back to
the bed.

"Look here," he began, "yon wrote for me last night--"  His
voice was hard; he had come to fight.

Chilcote glanced up quickly.  His mouth was drawn and there
was anew anxiety in his eyes.  "Loder!" he exclaimed, quickly.
"Loder, come here!  Come nearer!"

Reluctantly Loder obeyed.  Stepping closer to the side of the
bed, he bent down.

The other put up his hand and caught his arm.  His fingers
trembled and jerked.  "I say, Loder," he said, suddenly, "I
--I've had such a beastly night--my nerves, you know--"

With a quick, involuntary disgust Loder drew back.  "Don't you
think we might shove that aside?" he asked.

But Chilcote's gaze had wandered from his face and strayed to
the dressing-table; there it moved feverishly from one object
to another.

"Loder," he exclaimed, "do you see--can you see if there's a
tube of tabloids on the mantel-shelf--or on the dressing-table?"
He lifted himself nervously on his elbow and his eyes wandered
uneasily about the room.  "I--I had a beastly night; my nerves
are horribly jarred; and I thought--I think--"  He stopped.

With his increasing consciousness his nervous collapse became
more marked.  At the first moment of waking, the relief of an
unexpected presence had surmounted everything else; but now,
as one by one his faculties stirred, his wretched condition
became patent.  With a new sense of perturbation Loder made
his next attack.

"Chilcote--" he began, sternly.

But again Chilcote caught his arm, plucking at the
coat-sleeve.  "Where is it?" he said.  "Where is the tube of
tabloids--the sedative?  I'm--I'm obliged to take something
when my nerves go wrong--"  In his weakness and nervous tremor
he forgot that Loder was the sharer of his secret.  Even in
his extremity his fear of detection clung to him limply--the
lies that had become second nature slipped from him without
effort.  Then suddenly a fresh panic seized him; his fingers
tightened spasmodically, his eyes ceased to rove about the
room and settled on his companion's face.  "Can you see it,
Loder?" he cried.  "I can't--the light's in my eyes.  Can you
see it?  Can you see the tube?"  He lifted himself higher, an
agony of apprehension in his face.

Loder pushed him back upon the pillow.  He was striving hard
to keep his own mind cool, to steer his own course straight
through the chaos that confronted him.  "Chilcote," he began
once more, "you sent for me last night, and I came the first
thing this morning to tell you--"  But there he stopped.

With an excitement that lent him strength, Chilcote pushed
aside his hands.  "God!" he said, suddenly, "suppose 'twas
lost--suppose 'twas gone!"  The imaginary possibility gripped
him.  He sat up, his face livid, drops of perspiration showing
on his forehead, his whole shattered system trembling before
his thought.

At the sight, Loder set his lips.  "The tube is on the
mantel-shelf," he said, in a cold, abrupt voice.

A groan of relief fell from Chilcote and the muscles of his
face relaxed.  For a, moment he lay back with closed eyes;
then the desire that tortured him stirred afresh.  He lifted
his eyelids and looked at his companion.  "Hand it to me," he
said, quickly.  "Give it to me.  Give it to me, Loder.  Quick
as you can!  There's a glass on the table and some whiskey and
water.  The tabloids dissolve, you know--"  In his new
excitement he held out his hand.

But Loder stayed motionless.  He had come to fight, to demand,
to plead--if need be--for the one hour for which he had lived;
the hour that was to satisfy all labor, all endeavor, all
ambition.  With dogged persistence he made one more essay.

"Chilcote, you wrote last night to recall me--"  Once again he
paused, checked by a new interruption.  Sitting up again,
Chilcote struck out suddenly with his left hand in a rush of
his old irritability.

"Damn you!" he cried, suddenly, "what are you talking about?
Look at me!  Get me the stuff.  I tell you it's imperative."
In his excitement his breath failed and he coughed.  At the
effort his whole frame was shaken.

Loder walked to the dressing-table, then back to the bed.  A
deep agitation was at work in his mind.

Again Chilcote's lips parted.  "Loder," he said, faintly
--"Loder, I must--I must have it.  It's imperative."  Once
more he attempted to lift himself, but the effort was futile.

Again Loder turned away.

"Loder--for God's sake--"

With a fierce gesture the other turned on him.  "Good heavens!
man--" he began.  Then unaccountably his voice changed.  The
suggestion that had been hovering in his mind took sudden and
definite shape.  "All right!" he said, in a lower voice.  "All
right!  Stay as you are."

He crossed to where the empty tumbler stood and hastily mixed
the whiskey and water; then crossing to the mantel-piece where
lay the small glass tube containing the tightly packed
tabloids, he paused and glanced once more towards the bed.
"How many?" he said, laconically.

Chilcote lifted his head.  His face was pitiably drawn, but
the feverish brightness in his eyes had increased.  "Five," he
said, sharply.  "Five.  Do you hear, Loder?"

"Five?"  Involuntarily Loder lowered the hand that held the
tube.  From previous confidences of Chilcote's he knew the
amount of morphia contained in each tabloid, and realized that
five tabloids, if not an absolutely dangerous, was at least an
excessive dose, even for one accustomed to the drug.  For a
moment his resolution failed; then the dominant-note of his
nature--the unconscious, fundamental egotism on which his
character was based--asserted itself beyond denial.  It might
be reprehensible, it might even be criminal to accede to such
a request, made by a man in such a condition of body and mind;
yet the laws of the universe demanded self-assertion--prompted
every human mind to desire, to grasp, and to hold.  With a
perception swifter than any he had experienced, he realized
the certain respite to be gained by yielding to his impulse.
He looked at Chilcote with his haggard, anxious expression,
his eager, restless eyes; and a vision of himself followed
sharp upon his glance.  A vision of the untiring labor of the
past ten days, of the slowly kindling ambition, of the
supremacy all but gained.  Then, as the picture completed
itself, he lifted his hand with an abrupt movement and dropped
the five tabloids one after another into the glass.




XXV


Having taken a definite step in any direction, it was not in
Loder's nature to wish it retraced.  His face was set, but set
with determination, when he closed the outer door of his own
rooms and passed quietly down the stairs and out into the
silent court.  The thought of Chilcote, his pitiable
condition, his sordid environments, were things that required
a firm will to drive into the background of the imagination;
but a whole inferno of such visions would not have daunted
Loder on that morning as, unobserved by any eyes, he left the
little court-yard with its grass, its trees, its pavement--all
so distastefully familiar--and passed down the Strand towards
life and action.

As he walked, his steps increased in speed and vigor.  Now,
for the first time, he fully appreciated the great mental
strain that he had undergone in the past ten days--the
unnatural tension; the suppressed, but perpetual, sense of
impending recall; the consequently high pressure at which
work, and even existence, had been carried on.  And as he
hurried forward the natural reaction to this state of things
came upon him in a flood of security and confidence--a strong
realization of the temporary respite and freedom for which no
price would have seemed too high.  The moment for which he had
unconsciously lived ever since Chilcote's first memorable
proposition was within reach at last--safeguarded by his own
action.

The walk from Clifford's Inn to Grosvenor Square was long
enough to dispel any excitement that his interview had
aroused; and long before the well-known house came into view
he felt sufficiently braced mentally and physically to seek
Eve in the morning-room--where he instinctively felt she would
still be waiting for him.

Thus he encountered and overpassed the obstacle that had so
nearly threatened ruin; and, with the singleness of purpose
that always distinguished him, he was able, once having passed
it, to dismiss it altogether from his mind.  From the moment
of his return to Chilcote's house no misgiving as to his own
action, no shadow of doubt, rose to trouble his mind.  His
feelings on the matter were quite simple.  He had inordinately
desired a certain opportunity; one factor had arisen to debar
that opportunity, and he, claiming the right of strength, had
set the barrier aside.  In the simplicity of the reasoning lay
its power to convince; and were a tonic needed to brace him
for his task, he was provided with one in the masterful sense
of a difficulty set at nought.  For the man who has fought and
conquered one obstacle feels strong to vanquish a score.

It was on this day, at the reassembling of Parliament, that
Fraide's great blow was to be struck.  In the ten days since
the affair of the caravans had been reported from Persia
public feeling had run high, and it was upon the pivot of this
incident that Loder's attack was to turn; for, as Lakely was
fond of remarking, "In the scales of public opinion, one dead
Englishman has more weight than the whole Eastern Question!"
It had been arranged that, following the customary procedure,
Loder was to rise after questions at the morning sitting and
ask leave to move the adjournment of the House on a definite
matter of urgent public importance; upon which--leave having
been granted by the rising of forty members in his support
--the way was to lie open for his definite attack at the
evening sitting.  And it was with a mind attuned to this plan
of action that he retired to the study immediately he had
breakfasted, and settled to a final revision of his speech
before an early party conference should compel him to leave
the house.  But here again circumstances were destined to
change his programme.  Scarcely had he sorted his notes and
drawn his chair to Chilcote's desk than Renwick entered the
room with the same air of important haste that he had shown on
a previous occasion.

"A letter from Mr. Fraide, sir.  But there's no answer," he
said, with unusual brevity.

Loder waited till he had left the room, then he tore the
letter open.  He read:


"MY DEAR CHILCOTE,--Lakely is the recipient of special and
very vital news from Meshed--unofficial, but none the less
alarming.  Acts of Russian aggression towards British traders
are reported to be rapidly increasing, and it is stated that
the authority of the Consulate is treated with contempt.
Pending a possible confirmation of this, I would suggest that
you keep an open mind on the subject of to-night's speech.
By adopting an anticipatory--even an unprepared--attitude
you may find your hand materially strengthened.  I shall put
my opinions before you more explicitly when we meet.

                         "Yours faithfully,
                                 HERBERT FRAIDE."


The letter, worded with Fraide's usual restraint, made a
strong impression on its recipient.  The thought that his
speech might not only express opinions already tacitly held,
but voice a situation of intense and national importance,
struck him with full force.  For many minutes after he had
grasped the meaning of Fraide's message he sat neglectful of
his notes, his elbows resting on the desk, his face between
his hands, stirred by the suggestion that here might lie a
greater opportunity than any he had anticipated.

Still moved by this new suggestion, he attended the party
conclave that Fraide had convened, and afterwards lunched with
and accompanied his leader to the House.  They spoke very
little as they drove to Westminster, for each was engrossed by
his own thoughts.  Only once did Fraide allude to the incident
that was paramount in both their minds.  Then, turning to
Loder with a smile of encouragement, he had laid his fingers
for an instant on his arm.

"Chilcote," he had said, "when the time comes, remember you
have all my confidence."

Looking back upon that day, Loder often wondered at the
calmness with which he bore the uncertainty.  To sit
apparently unmoved, and wait without emotion for news that
might change the whole tenor of one's action, would have tried
the stoicism of the most experienced; to the novice it was
wellnigh unendurable.  And it was under these conditions, and
fighting against these odds, that he sat through the long
afternoon in Chilcote's place, obeying the dictates of his
chief.  But if the day was fraught with difficulties for him,
it was fraught with dulness and disappointment for others; for
the undercurrent of interest that had stirred at the Easter
adjournment, and risen with added force on this first day of
the new session, was gradually but surely threatened with
extinction, as hour after hour passed, bringing no suggestion
of the battle that had on every side been tacitly expected.
Slowly and unmistakably speculation and dissatisfaction crept
into the atmosphere of the House, as moment succeeded moment,
and the Opposition made no sign.  Was Fraide shirking the
attack?  Or was he playing a waiting game?  Again and again
the question arose, filling the air with a passing flicker of
interest; but each time it sprang up only to die down again,
as the ordinary business of the day dragged itself out.

Gradually, as the afternoon wore on, daylight began to fade.
Loder, sitting rigidly in Chilcote's place, watched with
suppressed inquiry the faces of the men who entered through
the constantly swinging doors; but not one face, so eagerly
scanned, carried the message for which he waited.
Monotonously and mechanically the time passed.  The
Government, adopting a neutral attitude, carefully skirted all
dangerous subjects; while the Opposition, acting under
Fraide's suggestion, assisted rather than hindered the
programme of postponement.  For the moment the, eagerly
anticipated reassembling threatened dismal failure; and it was
with a universal movement of weariness and relief that at last
the House rose to dine.

But there are no possibilities so elastic as those of
politics.  At half-past seven the House rose in a spirit of
boredom and disappointment; and at eight o'clock the lobbies,
the dining-room, the entire space of the vast building, was
stirred into activity by the arrival of a single telegraphic
message.

The new development for which Fraide had waited came indeed, but
it came with a force he had little anticipated.  With a thrill of
awe and consternation men heard and repeated the astounding news
that--while personally exercising his authority on behalf of
British traders--Sir William Brice-Field, Consul-General at
Meshed, had been fired at by a Russian officer and instantly
killed.

The interval immediately following the receipt of this news
was too confused for detailed remembrance.  Two ideas made
themselves slowly felt--a deep horror that such an event could
obtrude itself upon our high civilization, and a strong
personal dismay that so honored, distinguished, and esteemed a
representative as Sir William Brice-Field could have been
allowed to meet death in so terrible a manner.

It was in the consciousness of this feeling--the consciousness
that, in his own person, he might voice, not only the feelings
of his party, but those of the whole country--that Loder rose
an hour later to make his long-delayed attack.

He stood silent for a moment, as he had done on an earlier
occasion; but this time his motive was different.  Roused
beyond any feeling of self-consciousness, he waited as by
right for the full attention of the House; then quietly, but
with self-possessed firmness, he moved the motion for
adjournment.

Like a match to a train of powder, the words set flame to the
excitement that had smouldered for weeks; and in an atmosphere
of stirring activity, a scene of such tense and vital
concentration as the House has rarely witnessed, he found
inspiration for his great achievement.

To give Loder's speech in mere words would be little short of
futile.  The gift of oratory is too illusive, too much a
matter of eye and voice and individuality, to allow of cold
reproduction.  To those who heard him speak on that night of
April 18th the speech will require no recalling; and to those
who did not hear him there would be no substitute in bare
reproduction.

In the moment of action it mattered nothing to him that his
previous preparations were to a great extent rendered useless
by this news that had come with such paralyzing effect.  In
the sweeping consciousness of his own ability, he found added
joy in the freedom it opened up.  He ceased to consider that
by fate he was a Conservative, bound by traditional
conventionalities: in that great moment he knew himself
sufficiently a man to exercise whatever individuality instinct
prompted.  He forgot the didactic methods by which he had
proposed to show knowledge of his subject--both as a past and
a future factor in European politics.  With his own strong
appreciation of present things, he saw and grasped the vast
present interest lying beneath his hand.

For fifty minutes he held the interest of the House, speaking
insistently, fearlessly, commandingly on the immediate need of
action.  He unhesitatingly pointed out that the news which had
just reached England was not so much an appalling fact as a
sinister warning to those in whose keeping lay the safety of
the country's interests.  Lastly, with a fine touch of
eloquence, he paid tribute to the steadfast fidelity of such
men as Sir William Brice-Field, who, whatever political
complications arise at home, pursue their duty unswervingly on
the outposts of the empire.

At his last words there was silence--the silence that marks a
genuine effect--then all at once, with vehement, impressive
force, the storm of enthusiasm broke its bounds.

It was one of those stupendous bursts of feeling that no
etiquette, no decorum is powerful enough to quell.  As
he resumed his seat, very pale, but exalted as men are exalted
only once or twice in a lifetime, it rose about him--clamorous,
spontaneous, undeniable.  Near at hand were the faces of his
party, excited and triumphant; across the house were the faces
of Sefborough and his Ministry, uncomfortable and disturbed.

The tumult swelled, then fell away; and in the partial lull
that followed Fraide leaned over the back of his seat.  His
quiet, dignified expression was unaltered, but his eyes were
intensely bright.

"Chilcote," he whispered, "I don't congratulate you--or
myself.  I congratulate the country on possessing a great
man!"

The remaining features of the debate followed quickly one upon
the other; the electric atmosphere of the House possessed a
strong incentive power.  Immediately Loder's ovation had
subsided, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs rose and in
a careful and non-incriminating reply defended the attitude of
the Government.

Next came Fraide, who, in one of his rare and polished
speeches, touched with much feeling upon his personal grief at
the news reported from Persia, and made emphatic indorsement
of Loder's words.

Following Fraide came one or two dissentient Liberals, and
then Sefborough himself closed the debate.  His speech was
masterly and fluent; but though any disquietude he may have
felt was well disguised under a tone of reassuring ease, the
attempt to rehabilitate his position--already weakened in more
than one direction--was a task beyond his strength.

Amid extraordinary excitement the division followed--and with
it a Government defeat.

It was not until half an hour after the votes had, been taken
that Loder, freed at last from persistent congratulations,
found opportunity to look for Eve.  In accordance with a
promise made that morning, he was to find her waiting outside
the Ladies' Gallery at the close of the debate.

Disengaging himself from the group of men who had surrounded
and followed him down the lobby, he discarded the lift and ran
up the narrow staircase.  Reaching the landing, he went
forward hurriedly; then with a certain abrupt movement he
paused.  In the doorway leading to the gallery Eve was waiting
for him.  The place was not brightly lighted, and she was
standing in the shadow; but it needed only a glance to assure
his recognition.  He could almost have seen in the dark that
night, so vivid were his perceptions.  He took a step towards
her, then again he stopped.  In a second glance he realized
that her eyes were bright with tears; and it was with the
strangest sensation he had ever experienced that the knowledge
flashed upon him.  Here, also, he had struck the same note
--the long-coveted note of supremacy.  It had rung out full and
clear as he stood in Chilcote's place dominating the House; it
had besieged him clamorously as he passed along the lobbies
amid a sea of friendly hands and voices; now in the quiet of
the deserted gallery it came home to him with deeper meaning
from the eyes of Chilcote's wife.

Without a thought he put out his hands and caught hers.

"I couldn't get away," he said.  "I'm afraid I'm very late."

With a smile that scattered her tears Eve looked up.  "Are
you?" she said, laughing a little.  "I don't know what the
time is.  I scarcely know whether it's night or day."

Still holding one of her hands, he drew her down the stairs;
but as they reached the last step she released her fingers.

"In the carriage!" she said, with another little laugh of
nervous happiness.

At the foot of the stairs they were surrounded.  Men whose
faces Loder barely knew crowded about him.  The intoxication
of excitement was still in the air--the instinct that a new
force had made itself felt, a new epoch been entered upon,
stirred prophetically in every mind.

Passing through the enthusiastic concourse of men, they came
unexpectedly upon Fraide and Lady Sarah surrounded by a group
of friends.  The old statesman came forward instantly, and,
taking Loder's arm, walked with him to Chilcote's waiting
brougham.  He said little as they slowly made their way to the
carriage, but the pressure of his fingers was tense and an
unwonted color showed in his face.  When Eve and Loder had
taken their seats he stepped to the edge of the curb.  They
were alone for the moment, and, leaning close to the carriage,
he put his hand through the open window.  In silence he took
Eve's fingers and held them in a long, affectionate pressure;
then he released them and took Loder's hand.

"Good-night, Chilcote," he said.  "You have proved yourself
worthy of her.  Good-night."  He turned quickly and rejoined
his waiting friends.  In another second the horses had wheeled
round, and Eve and Loder were carried swiftly forward into the
darkness.

In the great moments of man's life woman comes before--and
after.  Some shadow of this truth was in, Eve's mind as she
lay back in her seat with closed eyes, and parted lips.  It
seemed that life came to her now for the first time--came in
the glad, proud, satisfying tide of things accomplished.  This
was her hour: and the recognition of it brought the blood to
her face in a sudden, happy rush.  There had been no need to
precipitate its coming; it had been ordained from the first.
Whether she desired it or no, whether she strove to draw it
nearer or strove to ward it off, its coming had been
inevitable.  She opened her eyes suddenly and looked out into
the darkness--the darkness throbbing with multitudes of lives,
all awaiting, all desiring fulfilment.  She was no longer
lonely, no longer aloof; she was kin with all this pitiful,
admirable, sinning, loving humanity.  Again tears of pride and
happiness filled her eyes.  Then suddenly the thing she had
waited for came to pass.

Loder leaned close to her.  She was conscious of his nearer
presence, of his strong, masterful personality.  With a thrill
that caught her breath, she felt his arm.  about her shoulder
and heard the sound of his voice.

"Eve," he said,--"I love you.  Do you understand I love you."
And drawing her close to him he bent and kissed her.

With Loder, to do was to do fully.  When he gave, he gave
generously; when he swept aside a barrier he left no stone
standing.  He had been slow to recognize his capacities
--slower still to recognize his feelings.  But now that the
knowledge came he received it openly.  In this matter of newly
comprehended love he gave no thought to either past or future.
That they loved and were alone was all he knew or questioned.
She was as much Eve--the one woman--as though they were
together in the primeval garden; and in that spirit he claimed
her.

He neither spoke nor behaved extravagantly in that great
moment of comprehension.  He acted quietly, with the
completeness of purpose that he gave to everything.  He had
found a new capacity within himself, and he was strong enough
to dread no weakness in displaying it.

Holding her close to him, he repeated his declaration again
and again, as though repetition ratified it.  He found no need
to question her feeling for him--he had divined it in a flash
of inspiration as she stood waiting in the doorway of the
gallery; but his own surrender was a different matter.

As the carriage passed round the corner of Whitehall and
dipped into the traffic of Piccadilly he bent down again until
her soft hair brushed his face; and the warm personal contact,
the slight, fresh smell of violets so suggestive of her
presence, stirred' him afresh.

"Eve," he said, vehemently, "do you understand?  Do you know
that I have loved you always--from the very first?"  As he
said it he bent still nearer, kissing her lips, her forehead,
her hair.

At the same moment the horses slackened speed and then stopped,
arrested by one of the temporary blocks that so often occur in
the traffic of Piccadillv Circus.

Loder, preoccupied with his own feelings, scarcely noticed the
halt, but Eve drew away from him laughing.

"You mustn't!" she said, softly.  "Look!"

The carriage had stopped beside one of the small islands that
intersect the place; a group of pedestrians were crowded upon
it, under the light of the electric lamp--wayfarers who, like
themselves, were awaiting a passage.  Loder took a cursory
glance at them, then turned back to Eve.

"What are they, after all, but men and women?" he said.
"They'd understand--every one of them."  He laughed in his
turn; nevertheless he withdrew his arm.  Her feminine thought
for conventionalities appealed to him.  It was an
acknowledgment of dependency.

For a while they sat silent, the light of the street lamp
flickering through the glass of the window, the hum of voices
and traffic coming to them in a continuous rise and fall of
sound.  At first the position was interesting; but, as the
seconds followed each other, it gradually became irksome.
Loder, watching the varying expressions of Eve's face, grew
impatient of the delay, grew suddenly eager to be alone again
in the fragrant darkness.

Impelled by the desire, he leaned forward and opened the
window.

"Let's find the meaning of this," he said.  "Is there nobody
to regulate the traffic?"  As he spoke he half rose and leaned
out of the window.  There was a touch of imperious annoyance
in his manner.  Fresh from the realization of power, there was
something irksome in this commonplace check to his desires.

"Isn't it possible to get out of this?" Eve heard him call to
the coachman.  Then she heard no more.

He had leaned out of the carriage with the intention of
looking onward towards the cause of the delay; instead,
by that magnetic attraction that undoubtedly exists, he looked
directly in front of him at the group of people waiting on the
little island--at one man who leaned against the lamp-post in
an attitude of apathy--a man with a pallid, unshaven face and
lustreless eyes, who wore a cap drawn low over his forehead.

He looked at this man, and the man saw and returned his
glance.  For a space that seemed interminable they held each
other's eyes; then very slowly Loder drew back into the
carriage.

As he dropped into his seat, Eve glanced at him anxiously.

"John," she said, "has anything happened?  You look ill."

He turned to her and tried to smile.

"It's nothing," he said.  "Nothing to worry about."  He spoke
quickly, but his voice had suddenly become flat.  All the
command, all the domination had dropped away from it.

Eve bent close to him, her face lighting up with anxious
tenderness.  "It was the excitement," she said, "the strain of
tonight."

He looked at her; but he made no attempt to press the fingers
that clasped his own.

"Yes," he said, slowly.  "Yes.  It was the excitement of
to-night--and the reaction."





XXVI


The next morning at eight o'clock, and again without
breakfast, Loder covered the distance between Grosvenor Square
and Clifford's Inn.  He left Chilcote's house hastily--with a
haste that only an urgent motive could have driven him to
adopt.  His steps were quick and uneven as he traversed the
intervening streets; his shoulders lacked their decisive pose,
and his pale face was marked with shadows beneath the eyes
--shadows that bore witness to the sleepless night spent in
pacing Chilcote's vast and lonely room.  By the curious effect
of circumstances the likeness between the two men had never
been more significantly marked than on that morning of April
19th, when Loder walked along the pavements crowded with early
workers and brisk with insistent news-venders already alive
to the value of last night's political crisis.

The irony of this last element in the day's concerns came to
him fully when one newsboy, more energetic than his fellows,
thrust a paper in front of him.

"Sensation in the 'Ouse, sir!  Speech by Mr. Chilcote!
Government defeat!"

For a moment Loder stopped and his face reddened.  The tide of
emotions still ran strong.  His hand went instinctively to his
pocket; then his lips set.  He shook his head and walked on.

With the same hard expression about his mouth, he turned into
Clifford's Inn, passed through his own doorway, and mounted
the stairs.

This time there was no milk-can on the threshold of his rooms
and the door yielded to his pressure without the need of a
key.  With a strange sensation of reluctance he walked into
the narrow passage and paused, uncertain which room to enter
first.  As he stood hesitating a voice from the sitting-room
settled the question.

"Who's there?" it called, irritably.  "What do you want?"

Without further ceremony the intruder pushed the door open and
entered the room.  As he did so he drew a quick breath
--whether of disappointment or relief it was impossible to
say.  Whether he had hoped for or dreaded it, Chilcote was
conscious.

As Loder entered he was sitting by the cheerless grate, the
ashes of yesterday's fire showing charred and dreary where the
sun touched them.  His back was to the light, and about his
shoulders was an old plaid rug.  Behind him on the table stood
a cup, a teapot, and the can of milk; farther off a kettle was
set to boil upon a tiny spirit-stove.

In all strong situations we are more or less commonplace.
Loder's first remark as he glanced round the disordered room
seemed strangely inefficient.

"Where's Robins?" he asked, in a brusque voice.  His mind
teemed with big considerations, yet this was his first
involuntary question.

Chilcote had started at the entrance of his visitor; now he
sat staring at him, his hands holding the arms of his chair.

"Where's Robins?" Loder asked again.

"I don't know.  She--I--We didn't hit it off.  She's gone
--went yesterday."  He shivered and drew the rug about him.

"Chilcote--" Loder began, sternly; then he paused.  There was
something in the other's look and attitude that arrested him.
A change of expression passed over his own face; he turned
about with an abrupt gesture, pulled off his coat and threw it
on a chair; then crossing deliberately to the fireplace, he
began to rake the ashes from the grate.

Within a few minutes he had a fire crackling where the bed of
dead cinders had been, and, having finished the task, he rose
slowly from his knees, wiped his hands, and crossed to the
table.  On the small spirit-stove the kettle had boiled and
the cover was lifting and falling with a tinkling sound.
Blowing out the flame, Loder picked up the teapot, and with
hands that were evidently accustomed to the task set about
making the tea.

During the whole operation he never spoke, though all the
while he was fully conscious of Chilcote's puzzled gaze.  The
tea ready, he poured it into the cup and carried it across the
room.

"Drink this!" he said, laconically.  "The fire will be up
presently."

Chilcote extended a cold and shaky hand.  "You see--" he began.

But Loder checked him almost savagely.  "I do--as well as
though I had followed you from Piccadilly last night!  You've
been hanging about, God knows where, till the small hours of
the morning; then you've come back--slunk back, starving for
your damned poison and shivering with cold.  You've settled
the first part of the business, but the cold has still to be
reckoned with.  Drink the tea.  I've something to say to you."
He mastered his vehemence, and, walking to the window, stood
looking down into the court.  His eyes were blank, his face
hard; his ears heard nothing but the faint sound of Chilcote's
swallowing, the click of the cup against his teeth.

For a time that seemed interminable he stood motionless; then,
when he judged the tea finished, he turned slowly.  Chilcote
had drawn closer to the fire.  He was obviously braced by the
warmth; and the apathy that hung about him was to some extent
dispelled.  Still moving slowly, Loder went towards him, and,
relieving him of the empty cup, stood looking down at him.

"Chilcote," he said, very quietly, "I've come to fell you that
the thing must end."

After he spoke there was a prolonged pause; then, as if shaken
with sudden consciousness, Chilcote rose.  The rug dropped
from one shoulder and hung down ludicrously; his hand caught
the back of the chair for support; his unshaven face looked
absurd and repulsive in its sudden expression of scared
inquiry.  Loder involuntarily turned away.

"I mean it," he said, slowly.  "It's over; we've come to the
end."

"But why?" Chilcote articulated, blankly.  "Why?  Why?"  In
his confusion he could think of no better word.

"Because I throw it up.  My side of the bargain's off!"

Again Chilcote's lips parted stammeringly.  The apathy caused
by physical exhaustion and his recently administered drug was
passing from him; the hopelessly shattered condition of mind
and body was showing through it like a skeleton through a thin
covering of flesh.

"But why?" he said again.  "Why?"

Still Loder avoided the frightened surprise of his, eyes.
"Because I withdraw," he answered, doggedly.

Then suddenly Chilcote's tongue was loosened.  "Loder," he
cried, excitedly, "you can't do it!  God!  man, you can't do
it!"  To reassure himself he laughed--a painfully thin echo of
his old, sarcastic laugh.  "If it's a matter of greater
opportunity--" he began, "of more money--"

But Loder turned upon him.

"Be quiet!" he said, so menacingly that the other stopped.
Then by an effort he conquered himself, "It's not a matter of
money, Chilcote," he said, quietly; "it's a matter of
necessity."  He brought the word out with difficulty.

Chilcote glanced up.  "Necessity?" he repeated. "How?  Why?"

The reiteration roused Loder.  "Because there was a great
scene in the House last night," he began, hurriedly; "because
when you go back you'll find that Sefborough has smashed up
over the assassination of Sir William Brice-Field at Meshed,
and that you have made your mark in a big speech; and because
--"  Abruptly he stopped.  The thing he had come to say--the
thing he had meant to say--would not be said.  Either his
tongue or his resolution failed him, and for the instant he
stood as silent and almost as ill at ease as his companion.
Then all at once inspiration came to him, in the suggestion of
a wellnigh forgotten argument by which he might influence
Chilcote and save his own self-respect.  "It's all over,
Chilcote," he said, more quietly; "it has run itself out."
And in a dozen sentences he sketched the story of Lillian
Astrupp--her past relations with himself, her present
suspicions.  It was not what he had meant to say; it was not
what he had come to say; but it served the purpose--it saved
him humiliation.

Chilcote listened to the last word; then, as the other
finished, he dropped nervously back into his chair.  "Good
heavens!  man," he said, "why didn't you tell me--why didn't
you warn me, instead of filling my mind with your political
position?  Your political position!"  He laughed unsteadily.
The long spells of indulgence that had weakened his already
maimed faculties showed in the laugh, in the sudden breaking
of his voice.  "You must do something, Loder!" he added,
nervously, checking his amusement; "you must do something!"

Loder looked down at him.  "No," he said, decisively.  "It's
your turn now.  It's you who've got to do something."

Chilcote's face turned a shade grayer.  "I can't," he said,
below his breath.

"Can't?  Oh yes, you can.  We can all do--anything.  It's not
too late; there's just sufficient time.  Chilcote," he added,
suddenly, "don't you see that the thing has been madness all
along--has been like playing with the most infernal explosives?
You may thank whatever you have faith in that nobody has been
smashed up!  You are going back.  Do you understand me?  You
are going back--now, to-day, before it's too late."  There was
a great change in Loder; his strong, imperturbable face was
stirred; he was moved in both voice and manner.  Time after
time he repeated his injunction--reasoning, expostulating,
insisting.  It almost seemed that he fought some strenuous
invisible force rather than the shattered man before him.

Chilcote moved nervously in his seat.  It was the first real
clash of personalities.  He felt it--recognized it by
instinct.  The sense of domination had fallen on him; he knew
himself impotent in the other's hands.  Whatever he might
attempt in moments of solitude, he possessed no voice in
presence of this invincible second self.  For a while he
struggled--he did not fight, he struggled to resist--then,
lifting his eyes, he met Loder's.  "And what will you do?" he
said, weakly.

Loder returned his questioning gaze; but almost immediately he
turned aside.  "I?" he said.  "Oh, I shall leave London."




XXVII


But Loder did not leave London.  And the hour of two on the
day following his dismissal of Chilcote found him again in his
sitting-room.

He sat at the centre-table surrounded by a cloud of smoke; a
pipe was between his lips and the morning's newspapers lay in
a heap beside his elbow.  To the student of humanity his
attitude was intensely interesting.  It was the attitude of a
man trammelled by the knowledge of his strength.  Before him,
as he sat smoking, stretched a future of absolute nothingness;
and towards this blank future one portion of his consciousness
--a struggling and as yet scarcely sentient portion--pushed
him inevitably; while another--a vigorous, persistent, human
portion--cried to him to pause.  So actual, so clamorous was
this silent mental combat that had raged unceasingly since
the moment of his renunciation that at last in physical
response to it he pushed back his chair.

"It's too late!" he said, aloud.  "I'm a fool.  It's too
late!"

Then abruptly, astonishingly, as though in direct response to
his spoken thought, the door opened and Chilcote walked into
the room.

Slowly Loder rose and stared at him.  The feeling he
acknowledged to himself was anger; but below the anger a very
different sensation ran riotously strong.

And it was in time to this second feeling, this sudden,
lawless joy, that his pulses beat as he turned a cold face on
the intruder.

"Well?" he said, sternly.

But Chilcote was impervious to sternness.  He was mentally
shaken and distressed, though outwardly irreproachable, even
to the violets in the lapel of his coat--the violets that for
a week past had been brought each morning to the door of
Loder's rooms by Eve's maid.  For one second, as Loder's eyes'
rested on the flowers, a sting of ungovernable jealousy shot
through him; then as suddenly it died away, superseded by
another feeling--a feeling of new, spontaneous joy.  Worn by
Chilcote or by himself, the flowers were a symbol!

"Well?" he said again, in a gentler voice.

Chilcote had walked to the table and laid down his hat.  His
face was white and the muscles of his lips twitched nervously
as he drew off his gloves.

"Thank Heaven, you're here!" he said, shortly.  "Give me
something to drink."

In silence Loder brought out the whiskey and set it on the
table; then instinctively he turned aside.  As plainly as
though he saw the action, he mentally figured Chilcote's
furtive glance, the furtive movement of his fingers to his
waistcoat-pocket, the hasty dropping of the tabloids into the
glass.  For an instant the sense of his tacit connivance came
to him sharply; the next, he flung it from him.  The human,
inner voice was whispering its old watchword.  The strong man
has no time to waste over his weaker brother!

When he heard Chilcote lay down his tumbler he looked back
again.  "Well, what is it?" he said.  "What have you come
for?"  He strove resolutely to keep his voice severe, but, try
as he might, he could not quite subdue the eager force that
lay behind his words.  Once again, as on the night of their
second interchange, life had become a phoenix, rising to fresh
existence even while he sifted its ashes.  "Well?" he said,
once again.

Chilcote had set down his glass.  He was nervously passing his
handkerchief across his lips.  There was something in the
gesture that attracted Loder.  Looking at him more attentively,
he saw what his own feelings and the other's conventional dress
had blinded him to--the almost piteous panic and excitement
in his visitor's eyes.

"Something's gone wrong!" he said, with abrupt intuition.

Chilcote started.  "Yes--no--that is, yes," he stammered.

Loder moved round the table.  "Something's gone wrong," he
repeated.  "And you've come to tell me."

The tone unnerved Chilcote; he suddenly dropped into a chair.
"It--it wasn't my fault," he began.  "I--I have had a horrible
time!"

Loder's lips tightened.  "Yes," he said, "yes--I understand."

The other glanced up with a gleam of his old suspicion "'Twas
all my nerves, Loder--"

"Of course.  Yes, of course."  Loder's interruption was curt.

Chilcote eyed him doubtfully.  Then recollection took the
place of doubt, and a change passed over his expression.  "It
wasn't my fault," he began, hastily.  "On my soul, it wasn't!
It was Crapham's beastly fault for showing her into the
morning-room--"

Loder kept silent.  His curiosity had flared into sudden life
at the other's words, but he feared to break the shattered
train of thought even by a word.

In the silence Chilcote moved uneasily.  "You see," he went
on, at last, "when I was here with you I--I felt strong.  I
--I--"  He stopped.

"Yes, yes.  When you were here with me you felt strong."

"Yes, that's it.  While I was here, I felt I could do the
thing.  But when I went home--when I went up to my rooms--"
Again he paused, passing his handkerchief across his forehead.

"When you went up to your rooms?"  Loder strove hard to keep
his control.

"To my room--?  Oh, I--I forget about that.  I forget about
the night"  He hesitated confusedly.  "All I remember is the
coming down to breakfast next morning--this morning--at twelve
o'clock--"

Loder turned to the table and poured himself out some whiskey.
"Yes," he acquiesced, in a very quiet voice.

At the word Chilcote rose from his seat.  His disquietude was
very evident.  "Oh, there was breakfast on the table when I
came down-stairs--breakfast with flowers and a horrible,
dazzling glare of sun.  It was then, Loder, as I stood and
looked into the room, that the impossibility of it all came to
me--that I knew I couldn't stand it--couldn't go on."

Loder swallowed his whiskey slowly.  His sense of overpowering
curiosity held him very still; but he made no effort to prompt
his companion.

Again Chilcote shifted his position agitatedly.  "It, had to
be done," he said, disjointedly.  "I had to do it--then and
there.  The things were on the bureau--the pens and ink and
telegraph forms.  They tempted me."

Loder laid down his glass suddenly.  An exclamation rose to
his lips, but he checked it.

At the slight sound of the tumbler touching the table Chilcote
turned; but there was no expression on the other's face to
affright him.

"They tempted me," he repeated, hastily.  "They seemed like
magnets--they seemed to draw me towards them.  I sat at the
bureau staring at them for a long time; then a terrible
compulsion seized me--something you could never understand
--and I caught up the nearest pen and wrote just what was in
my mind.  It wasn't a telegram, properly speaking--it was more
a letter.  I wanted you back and I had to make myself plain.
The writing of the message seemed to steady me; the mere
forming of the words quieted my mind.  I was almost cool when
I got up from the bureau and pressed the bell--"

"The bell?"

"Yes.  I rang for a servant.  I had to send the wire myself,
so I had to get a cab."  His voice rose to irritability.  "I
pressed the bell several times; but the thing had gone wrong
--'twouldn't work.  At last I gave it up and went into the
corridor to call some one."

"Well?"  In the intense suspense of the moment the word
escaped Loder.

"Oh, I went out of the room; but there at the door, before I
could call anybody, I knocked up against that idiot Greening.
He was looking for me--for you, rather--about some beastly
Wark affair.  I tried to explain that I wasn't in a state for
business; I tried to shake him off, but he was worse than
Blessington.  At last, to be rid of the fellow, I went with
him to the study--"

"But the telegram?" Loder began; then again he checked
himself.  "Yes--yes--I understand," he added, quietly.

"I'm getting to the telegram!  I wish you wouldn't jar me with
sudden questions.  I wasn't in the study more than a minute
--more than five or six minutes--"  His voice became confused;
the strain of the connected recital was telling upon him.
With nervous haste he made a rush for the end of his story.
"I wasn't more than seven or eight minutes in the study; then,
as I came down-stairs, Crapham met me in the hall.  He told me
that Lillian Astrupp had called and wished to see me.  And
that he had shown her into the morningroom--"

"The morning-room?"  Loder suddenly stepped back from the
table.  "The morning-room?  With your telegram lying on the
bureau?"

His sudden speech and movement startled Chilcote.  The blood
rushed to his face, then died out, leaving it ashen.  "Don't
do that, Loder!" he cried.  "I--I can't bear it!"

With an immense effort Loder controlled himself.  "Sorry!" he
said.  "Go on!"

"I'm going on!  I tell you I'm going on.  I got a horrid shock
when Chapham told me.  Your story came clattering through my
mind.  I knew Lillian had come to see you--I knew there was
going to be a scene--"

"But the, telegram?  The telegram?"

Chilcote paid no heed to the interruption.  He was following
his own train of ideas.  "I knew she had come to see you--I
knew there was going to be a scene.  When I got to the
morning-room my hand was shaking so that I could scarcely turn
the handle; then, as the door opened, I could have cried out
with relief.  Eve was there as well!"

"Eve?"

"Yes.  I don't think I was ever so glad to see her in my
life."  He laughed almost hysterically.  "I was quite civil to
her, and she was--quite sweet to me--"  Again he laughed.

Loder's lips tightened.

"You see, it saved the situation.  Even if Lillian wanted to
be nasty, she couldn't, while Eve was there.  We talked for
about ten minutes.  We were quite an amiable trio.  Then
Lillian told me why she'd called.  She wanted me to make a
fourth in a theatre party at the 'Arcadian' to-night, and I
--I was so pleased and so relieved that I said yes!"  He
paused and laughed again unsteadily.

In his tense anxiety, Loder ground his heel into the floor.
"Go on!" he said, fiercely.  "Go on!"

"Don't!" Chilcote exclaimed.  "I'm going on--I'm going on."
He passed his handkerchief across his lips.  "We talked for
ten minutes or so, and then Lillian left.  I went with her to
the hall door, but Chapham was there too--so I was still safe.
She laughed and chatted and seemed in high spirits as we
crossed the hall, and she was still smiling as she waved to me
from her motor.  But then, Loder--then, as I stood in the
hall, it all came to me suddenly.  I remembered that Lillian
must have been alone in the morning-room before Eve
found her!  I remembered the telegram!  I ran back to the
room, meaning to question Eve as to how long Lillian had been
alone, but she had left the room.  I ran to the bureau
--but the telegram wasn't there!"

"Gone?"

"Yes, gone.  That's why I've come straight here."

For a moment they confronted each other.  Then, moved by a
sudden impulse, Loder pushed Chilcote aside and crossed the
room.  An instant later the opening and shutting of doors, the
hasty pulling out of drawers and moving of boxes, came from
the bedroom.

Chilcote, shaken and nervous, stood for a minute where his
companion had left him; at last, impelled by curiosity, he too
crossed the narrow passage and entered the second room.

The full light streamed in through the open window; the keen
spring air blew freshly across the house-tops; and on the
window-sill a band of grimy, joyous sparrows twittered and
preened themselves.  In the middle of the room stood Loder.
His coat was off, and round him on chairs and floor lay an
array of waistcoats, gloves, and ties.

For a space Chilcote stood in the doorway staring at him; then
his lips parted and he took a step forward.  "Loder--" he
said, anxiously.  "Loder, what are you going to do?"

Loder turned.  His shoulders were stiff, his face alight with
energy.  "I'm going back," he said, "to unravel the tangle you
have made."




XXVIII


Loder's plan of action was arrived at before he reached
Trafalgar Square.  The facts of the case were simple.
Chilcote had left an incriminating telegram on the bureau in
the morning-room at Grosvenor Square; by an unlucky chance
Lillian Astrupp had been shown up into that room, where she
had remained alone until the moment that Eve, either by
request or by accident, had found her there.  The facts
resolved themselves into one question.  What use had Lillian
made of those solitary moments?  Without deviation, Loder's
mind turned towards one answer.  Lillian was not the woman to
lose an opportunity, whether the space at her command were
long or short.  True, Eve too had been alone in the room,
while Chilcote had accompanied Lillian to the door; but of
this he made small account.  Eve had been there, but Lillian
had been there first.  Judging by precedent, by personal
character, by all human probability, it was not to be supposed
that anything would have been left for the second comer.

So convinced was he that, reaching Trafalgar Square, he
stopped and hailed a hansom.

"Cadogan Gardens!" he called.  "No. 33."

The moments seemed very few before the cab drew up beside the
curb and he caught his second glimpse of the enamelled door
with its silver fittings.  The white and silver gleamed in the
sunshine; banks of cream colored hyacinths clustered on the
window-sills, filling the clear air with a warm and fragrant
scent.  With that strange sensation of having lived through
the scene before, Loder left the cab and walked up the steps.
Instantly he pressed the bell the door was opened by Lillian's
discreet, deferential man-servant.

"Is Lady Astrupp at home?" he asked.

The man looked thoughtful.  "Her ladyship lunched at home,
sir--" he began, cautiously.

But Loder interrupted him.  "Ask her to see me," he said,
laconically.

The servant expressed no surprise.  His only comment was to
throw the door wide.

"If you'll wait in the white room, sir," he said, "I'll inform
her ladyship."  Chilcote was evidently a frequent and a
favored visitor.

In this manner Loder for the second time entered the house so
unfamiliar--and yet so familiar in all that it suggested.
Entering the drawing-room, he had leisure to look about him.
It was a beautiful room, large and lofty; luxury was evident
on every hand, but it was not the luxury that palls or
offends.  Each object was graceful, and possessed its own
intrinsic value.  The atmosphere was too effeminate to appeal
to him, but he acknowledged the taste and artistic delicacy it
conveyed.  Almost at the moment of acknowledgment the door
opened to admit Lillian.

She wore the same gown of pale-colored cloth, warmed and
softened by rich furs, that she had worn on the day she and
Chilcote had driven in the park.

She was drawing on her gloves as she came into the room; and
pausing near the door, she looked across at Loder and, laughed
in her slow, amused way.

"I thought it would be you," she said, enigmatically.

Loder came forward.  "You expected me?" he said, guardedly.  A
sudden conviction filled him that it was not the evidence of
her eyes, but something at once subtler and more definite,
that prompted her recognition of him.

She smiled.  "Why should I expect you?  On the contrary, I'm
waiting to know why you're here?"

He was silent for an instant; then he answered in her own
light tone.  "As far as that goes," he said, "let's make it my
duty call-having dined with you.  I'm an old-fashioned
person."

For a full second she surveyed him amusedly; then at last she
spoke.  "My dear Jack"--she laid particular stress on the
name--"  I never imagined you punctilious.  I should have
thought bohemian would have been more the word."

Loder felt disconcerted and annoyed.  Either, like himself,
she was fishing for information, or she was deliberately
playing with him.  In his perplexity he glanced across the
room towards the fireplace.

Lillian saw the look.  "Won't you sit down?" she said,
indicating the couch.  "I promise not to make you smoke.  I
sha'n't even ask you to take off your gloves!"

Loder made no movement.  His mind was unpleasantly upset.  It
was nearly a fortnight since he had seen Lillian, and in the
interval her attitude had changed, and the change puzzled him.
It might mean the philosophy of a woman who, knowing herself
without adequate weapons, withdraws from a combat that has
proved fruitless; or it might imply the merely catlike desire
to toy with a certainty.  He looked quickly at the delicate
face, the green eyes somewhat obliquely set, the unreliable
mouth; and instantly he inclined to the latter theory.  The
conviction that she possessed the telegram filled him
suddenly, and with it came the desire to put his belief to the
test--to know beyond question whether her smiling unconcern
meant malice or mere entertainment.

"When you first came into the room," he said, quietly, "you
said 'I thought it would be you.'  Why did you say that?"

Again she smiled--the smile that might be malicious or might
be merely amused.  "Oh," she answered at last, "I only meant
that though I had been told Jack Chilcote wanted me, it wasn't
Jack Chilcote I expected to see!"

After her statement there was a pause.  Loder's position was
difficult.  Instinctively convinced that, strong in the
possession of her proof, she was enjoying his tantalized
discomfort, he yet craved the actual evidence that should set
his suspicions to rest.  Acting upon the desire, he made a new
beginning.

"Do you know why I came?" he asked.

Lillian looked up innocently.  "It's so hard to be certain of
anything in this world," she said.  "But one is always at
liberty to guess."

Again he was perplexed.  Her attitude was not quite the
attitude of one who controls the game, and yet--He looked at
her with a puzzled scrutiny.  Women for him had always spelled
the incomprehensible; he was at his best, his strongest, his
surest in the presence of men.  Feeling his disadvantage, yet
determined to gain his end, he made a last attempt.

"How did you amuse yourself at Grosvenor Square this morning
before Eve came to you?" he asked.  The effort was awkwardly
blunt, but it was direct.

Lillian was buttoning her glove.  She did not raise her head
as he spoke, but her fingers paused in their task.  For a
second she remained motionless, then she looked up slowly.

"Oh," she said, sweetly, "so I was right in my guess?  You did
come to find out whether I sat in the morning-room with my
hands in my lap--or wandered about in search of entertainment?"

Loder colored with annoyance and apprehension.  Every look,
every tone of Lillian's was distasteful to him.  No microscope
could have revealed her more fully to him than did his own
eyesight.  But it was not the moment for personal antipathies;
there were other interests than his own at stake.  With new
resolution he returned her glance.

"Then I must still ask my first question, why did you say, 'I
thought it would be you?'"  His gaze was direct--so direct
that it disconcerted her.  She laughed a little uneasily.

"Because I knew."

"How did you know?"

"Because--" she began; then again she laughed.  "Because," she
added, quickly, as if moved by a fresh impulse, "Jack Chilcote
made it very obvious to any one who was in his morning-room at
twelve o'clock today that it would be you and not he who would
be found filling his place this afternoon!  It's all very well
to talk about honor, but when one walks into an empty room and
sees a telegram as long as a letter open on a bureau--"

But her sentence was never finished.  Loder had heard what he
came to hear; any confession she might have to offer was of no
moment in his eyes.

"My dear girl," he broke in, brusquely, "don't trouble!  I
should make a most unsatisfactory father confessor."  He spoke
quickly.  His color was still high, but not of annoyance.  His
suspense was transformed into unpleasant certainty; but the
exchange left him surer of himself.  His perplexity had dropped
to a quiet sense of self-reliance; his paramount desire was for
solitude in which to prepare for the task that lay before him;
the most congenial task the world possessed--the unravelling
of Chilcote's tangled skeins.  Looking into Lillian's eyes, he
smiled.  "Good-bye!" he said, holding out his hand.  "I think
we've finished--for to-day."

She slowly extended her fingers.  Her expression and attitude
were slightly puzzled--a puzzlement that was either
spontaneous or singularly well assumed.  As their hands
touched she smiled again.

"Will you drop in at the 'Arcadian' to-night?" she said.
"It's the dramatized version of 'Other Men's Shoes!'  The
temptation to make you see it was too irresistible--as you
know."

There was a pause while she waited for his answer--her head
inclined to one side, her green eyes gleaming.

Loder, conscious of her regard, hesitated for a moment.  Then
his face cleared.  "Right!" he said, slowly.  "'The Arcadian'
tonight!"




XXIX


Loder's frame of mind as he left Cadogan Gardens was peculiar.
Once more he was living in the present--the forceful,
exhilarating present, and the knowledge braced him.  Upon one
point his mind was satisfied.  Lillian Astrupp had found the
telegram, and it remained to him to render her find valueless.
How he proposed to do this, how he proposed to come out
triumphant in face of such a situation, was a matter that as
yet was shapeless in his mind; nevertheless, the danger--the
sense of impending conflict--had a savor of life after the
inaction of the day and night just passed.  Chilcote in his
weakness and his entanglement had turned to him; and he in his
strength and capacity had responded to the appeal.

His step was firm and his bearing assured as he turned into
Grosvenor Square and walked towards the familiar house.

The habit of self-deceit is as insidious and tenacious as any
vice.  For one moment on the night of his great speech, as he
leaned out of Chilcote's carriage and met Chilcote's eyes,
Loder had seen himself--and under the shock of revelation had
taken decisive action.  But in the hours subsequent to that
action the plausible, inner voice had whispered unceasingly,
soothing his wounded self-esteem, rebuilding stone by stone
the temple of his egotism; until at last when Chilcote,
panic-stricken at his own action, had burst into his rooms
ready to plead or to coerce, he had found no need for either
coercion or entreaty.  By a power more subtle and effective
 than any at his command, Loder had been prepared for his
coming--unconsciously ready with an acquiescence before
his appeal had been made.  It was the fruit of this preparation,
the inevitable outcome of it, that strengthened his step and
steadied his hand as he mounted the steps and opened the hall
door of Chilcote's house on that eventful afternoon.

The, dignity, the air of quiet solidity, impressed him as it
never failed to do, as he crossed the large hall and ascended
the stairs--the same stairs that he had passed down almost as
an outcast not so many hours before.  He was filled with the
sense of things regained; belief in his own star lifted him as
it had done a hundred times before in these same surroundings.

He quickened his steps as the sensation came to him.  Then,
reaching the head of the stairs, he turned directly towards
Eve's sitting-room, and, gaining the door, knocked.  The
strength of his eagerness, the quick beating of his pulse as
he waited for a response, surprised him.  He had told himself
many times that his passion, however strong, would never again
conquer as it had done two nights ago--and the fact that he
had come thus candidly to Eve's room was to his mind a proof
that temptation could be dared.  Nevertheless there was
something disconcerting to a strong man in this merely
physical perturbation; and when Eve's voice came to him,
giving permission to enter, he paused for an instant to steady
himself; then with sudden decision he opened the door and
walked into the room.

The blinds were partly drawn, there was a scent of violets in
the air, and a fire glowed warmly in the grate.  He noted
these things carefully, telling himself that a man should
always be alertly sensible of his surroundings; then all at
once the nice balancing of detail suddenly gave way.  He
forgot everything but the one circumstance that Eve was
standing in the window--her back to the light, her face
towards him.  With his pulses beating faster and an unsteady
sensation in his brain, he moved forward holding out his hand.

"Eve--?" he said below his breath.

But Eve remained motionless.  As he came into the room she had
glanced at him--a glance of quick, searching question; then
with equal suddenness she had averted her eyes.  As he drew
close to her now, she remained immovable.

"Eve--" he said again.  "I wanted to see you--I wanted to
explain about yesterday and about this morning."  He paused,
suddenly disturbed.  The full remembrance of the scene in the
brougham had surged up at sight of her--had risen a fierce,
unquenchable recollection.  "Eve--" he began again in a new,
abrupt tone.

And then it was that Eve showed herself in a fresh light.
From his entrance into the room she had stayed motionless,
save for her first glance of acute inquiry; but now her
demeanor changed.  For almost the first time in Loder's
knowledge of her the vitality and force that he had vaguely
apprehended below her quiet, serene exterior sprang up like a
flame within whose radius things are illuminated.  With a
quick gesture she turned towards him, her warm color
deepening, her eyes suddenly alight.

"I understand," she said, "I understand.  Don't try to explain!
Can't you see that it's enough to--to see you as you are--?"

Loder was surprised.  Remembering their last passionate scene,
and the damper Chilcote's subsequent presence must inevitably
have cast upon it, he had expected to be doubtfully received;
but the reality of the reception left him bewildered.  Eve's
manner was not that of the ill-used wife; its vehemence, its
note of desire and depreciation, were more suggestive of his
own ardent seizing of the present, as distinguished from past
or future.  With an odd sense of confusion he turned to her
afresh.

"Then I am forgiven?" he said.  And unconsciously, as he moved
nearer, he touched her arm.

At his touch she started.  All the yielding sweetness, all the
submission, that had marked her two nights ago was gone; in
its place she was possessed by a curious excitement that
stirred while it perplexed.

Loder, moved by the sensation, took another step forward.
"Then I am forgiven?" he repeated, more softly.

Her face was averted as he spoke, but he felt hen arm quiver;
and when at last she lifted her head, their eyes met.  Neither
spoke, but in an instant Loder's arms were round her.

For a long, silent space they stood holding each other closely.
Then, with a sharp movement, Eve freed Herself.  Her color was
still high, her eyes still peculiarly bright, but the bunch of
violets she had worn in her belt had fallen to the ground.

"John--" she said, quickly; but on the word her breath caught.
With a touch of nervousness she stooped to pick up the
flowers.

Loder noticed both voice and gesture.  "What is it?" he said.
"What were you going to say?"

But she made no answer.  For a second longer she searched for
the violets; then, as he bent to assist her, she stood up
quickly and laughed--a short, embarrassed laugh.

"How absurd and nervous I am!" she exclaimed.  "Like a
schoolgirl instead of a woman of twenty-four.  You must help
me to be sensible."  Her cheeks still burned, her manner was
still excited, like one who holds an emotion or an impulse at
bay.

Loder looked at her uncertainly.  "Eve--" he began afresh with
his odd, characteristic perseverance, but she instantly
checked him.  There was a finality, a faint suggestion of
fear, in her protest.

"Don't!" she said.  "Don't!  I don't want explanations.  I
want to--to enjoy the moment without having things analyzed or
smoothed away.  Can't you understand?  Can't you see that I'm
wonderfully, terribly happy to--to have you--as you are!"
Again her voice broke--a break that might have been a laugh or
a sob.

The sound was an emotional crisis, as such a sound invariably
is.  It arrested and steadied her.  For a moment she stood
absolutely still; then, with something very closely resembling
her old repose of manner, she stooped again and quietly picked
up the flowers still lying at her feet.

"Now," she said, quietly, "I must say what I've wanted to say
all along.  How does it feel to be a great man?"  Her manner
was controlled, she looked at him evenly and directly; save
for the faint vibration in her voice there was nothing to
indicate the tumult of a moment ago.

But Loder was still uncertain.  He caught her hand, his eyes
searching hers.

"But Eve--" he began.

Then Eve played the last card in her mysterious game.
Laughing quickly and nervously, she freed her hand and laid it
over his mouth.

"No!" she said.  "Not one word!  All this past fortnight has
belonged to you; now it's my turn.  To-day is mine."




XXX


And so, once again, the woman conquered.  Whatever Eve's
intentions were, whatever she wished to evade or ward off, she
was successful in gaining her end.  For more than two hours
she kept Loder at her side.  There may have been moments in
those two hours when the tension was high, when the efforts
she made to interest and hold him were somewhat strained.
But if this was so, it escaped the notice of the one person
concerned; for it was long after tea had been served, long
after Eve had offered to do penance for her monopoly of him
by driving him to Chilcote's club, that Loder realized with
any degree of distinctness that it was she and not he who
had taken the lead in their interview; that it was she and
not he who had bridged the difficult silences and given a
fresh direction to dangerous channels of talk.  It was long
before he recognized this; but it was still longer before
he realized the far more potent fact that, without any
coldness, without any lessening of the subtle consideration
she always showed him, she had given him no further
opportunity of making love.

Talking continuously, elated with the sense of conflict still
to come, he drove with her to the club.  Considering that
drive in the light of after events, his own frame of mind
invariably filled him with incredulity.

In the eyes of any sane man his position was not worth an
hour's purchase; yet in the blind self-confidence of the
moment he would not have changed places with Fraide himself.
The great song of Self was sounding in his ears as he drove
through the crowded streets, conscious of the cool, crisp air,
of Eve's close presence, of the numberless infinitesimal
things that went to make up the value of life.  It was this
acknowledgment of personality that upheld him; the
personality, the power that had carried him unswervingly
through eleven colorless years; that had impelled him towards
this new career when the new career had first been opened to
him; that had hewn a way for him in this fresh existence
against colossal odds.  The indomitable force that had
trampled out Chilcote's footmarks in public life, in private
life--in love.  It was a triumphant paean that clamored in his
ears, something persistent and prophetic with an undernote of
menace.  The cry of the human soul that has dared to stand
alone.

His glance was keen and bright as he waited for a moment at
the carriage door and took Eve's hand before entering the
club.

"You're dining out to-night?" he said.  His fingers, always
tenacious and masterful, continued to hold hers.  The
compunction that had driven him temporarily towards sacrifice
had passed.  His pride, his confidence, and with them his
desire, had flowed back in full measure.

Eve, watching him attentively, paled a little.  "Yes," she
said, "I'm dining with the Bramfells."

"What time will you get home?"  He scarcely realized why he
put the question.  The song of Self still sounded
triumphantly, and he responded without reflection.

His eyes held hers, his fingers pressed her hand; the intense
mastery of his will passed through her in a sudden sense of
fear.  Her lips parted in deprecation, but he--closely
attentive of her expression--spoke again quickly.

"When can I see you?" he asked, very quietly.

Again she was about to speak.  She leaned forward, as if some
thought long suppressed trembled on her lips; then her courage
or her desire failed her.  She leaned back, letting her lashes
droop over her eyes.  "I shall be home at eleven," she said
below her breath.

Loder dined with Lakely at Chilcote's club; and so absorbing
were the political interests of the hour--the resignation of
Sir Robert Sefborough, the King's summoning of Fraide, the
probable features of the new ministry--that it was after nine
o'clock when at last he freed himself and drove to the
"Arcadian" Theatre.

The sound of music came to him as he entered the theatre
--light, measured music suggestive of tiny streams, toy
lambs, and painted shepherdesses.  It sounded singularly
inappropriate to his mood--as inappropriate as the theatre
itself with its gay gilding, its pale tones of pink and blue.
It was the setting of a different world--a world of laughter,
light thoughts, and shallow impulses, in which he had no
part.  He halted for an instant outside the box to which the
attendant had shown him; then, as the door was thrown open, he
straightened himself resolutely and stepped forward.

It was the interval between the first and second acts.

The box was in shadow, and Loder's first impression was of
voices and rustling skirts, broken in upon by the murmur of
frequent, amused laughter; later, as his eyes grew accustomed
to the light, he distinguished the occupants--two women and a
man.  The man was speaking as he entered, and the story he was
relating was evidently interesting from the faint exclamations
of question and delight that punctuated it in the listeners'
higher, softer voices.  As the new-comer entered they all
three turned and looked at him.

"Ah, here comes the legislator!" exclaimed Leonard Kaine.  For
it was he who formed the male element in the party.

"The Revolutionary, Lennie!" Lillian corrected, softly.
"Bramfell says he has changed the whole face of things--"
She laughed softly and meaningly as she closed her fan.  "So
good of you to come, Jack!" she added.  "Let me introduce you
to Miss Esseltyn; I don't think you two have met.  This is
Mr. Chilcote, Mary--the great, new Mr. Chilcote."  Again she
laughed.

Loder bowed and moved to the front of the box, nodding to
Kaine as he passed.

"It's only for an hour," he explained to Lillian.  "I
have an appointment for eleven."  He turned and bowed
to the third occupant of the box--a remarkably young and
well-dressed girl with wide-awake eyes and a retrousse
nose.

"Only an hour!  Oh, how unkind!  How should I punish him,
Lennie?"  Lillian looked round at Kaine with a lingering,
caressing glance.

He bent towards her in quick response and answered in a
whisper.

She laughed and replied in an equally low tone.

Loder, to whom both remarks had been inaudible dropped into
the vacant seat beside Mary Esseltyn.  He had the unsettled
feeling that things were not falling out exactly as he had
calculated.

"What is the play like?" he hazarded as he looked towards his
companion.  At all times social trivialities bored him;
to-night they were intolerable.  He had come to fight, but all at
once it seemed that there was no opponent.  Lillian's attitude
disturbed him; her careless graciousness, her evident ignoring
of him for Kaine, might mean nothing--but also it might mean
much.

So he speculated as he put his question and spurred his
attention towards the girl's answer; but with the speculation
came the resolve to hold his own--to meet his enemy upon
whatever ground she chose to appropriate.

The girl looked at him with interest.  She, too, had heard of
his triumph.

"It is a good play," she responded.  "I like it better than
the book.  You've read the book, of course?"

"No."  Loder tried hard to fix his thoughts.

"It's amusing--but far-fetched."

"Indeed?"  He picked up the programme lying on the edge of the
box.  His ears were strained to catch the tone of Lillian's
voice as she laughed and whispered with Kaine.

"Yes; men exchanging identities, you know."

He looked up and caught the girl's self-possessed glance.
"Oh?" he said.  "Indeed?"  Then again he looked away.  It was
intolerable this feeling of being caged up!  A sense of anger
crept through his mind.  It almost seemed that Lillian had
brought him there to prove that she had finished with him--had
cast him aside, having used him for the day's excitement as
she had used her poodles, her Persian cats, her crystal-gazing.
All at once the impotency and uncertainty of his position
goaded him.  Turning swiftly in his seat, he glanced back to
where she sat, slowly swaying her fan, her pale, golden
hair and her pale-colored gown delicately silhouetted against
the background of the box.

"What's your idea of the play, Lillian?" he said, abruptly.
To his own ears there was a note of challenge in his voice.

She looked round languidly.  "Oh, it's quite amusing," she
said.  "It makes a delicious farce--absolutely French."

"French?"

"Quite.  Don't you think so, Lennie?"

"Oh, quite," Kaine agreed.

"They mean that it's so very light--and yet so very subtle,
Mr. Chilcote," Mary Esseltyn explained.

"Indeed?" he said.  "Then my imagination was at fault.  I
thought the piece was serious."

"Serious!" Lillian smiled again.  "Why, where's your sense of
humor?  The motive of the play debars all seriousness."

Loder looked down at the programme still between his hands.
"What is the motive?" he asked.

Lillian waved her fan once or twice, then closed it softly.
"Love is the motive," she said.

Now the balancing--the adjusting of impression and
inspirationis, of all processes in life, the most deli.
cately fine.  The simple sound of the word "love" coming
at that precise juncture changed the whole current of
Loder's thought.  It fell like a seed; and like a seed in
ultra-productive soil, it bore fruit with amazing rapidity.

The word itself was small and the manner in which it was
spoken trivial, but Loder's mind was attracted and held by it.
The last time it had met his ears his environment had been
vastly different; and this echo of it in an uncongenial
atmosphere stung him to resentment.  The vision of Eve, the
thought of Eve, became suddenly dominant.

"Love?" he repeated, coldly.  "So love is the motive?"

"Yes."  This time it was Kaine who responded in his
methodical, contented voice.  "The motive of the play is
love, as Lillian says.  And when was love ever serious in a
 three-act comedy--on or off the stage?"  He leaned forward
in his seat, screwed in his eye-glass, and lazily scanned the
stalls.

The orchestra was playing a Hungarian dance--its erratic
harmonies and wild alternations of expression falling abruptly
across the pinks and blues, the gilding and lights of the
pretty, conventional theatre.  Something in the suggestion of
unfitness appealed to Loder.  It was the force of the real as
opposed to the ideal.  With a new expression on his face, he
turned again to Kaine.

"And how does it work?" he said.  "This treatment that you
find so--French?"

His voice as well as his expression had changed.  He still
spoke quietly, but he spoke with interest.  He was no longer
conscious of his vague and uneasiness; a fresh chord had been
struck in his mind, and his curiosity had responded to it.
For the first time it occurred to him that love--the
dangerous, mysterious garden whose paths had so suddenly
stretched out before his own feet--was a pleasure-ground that
possessed many doors--and an infinite number of keys.  He was
stirred by the desire to peer through another entrance than
his own, to see the secret, alluring byways from another
stand-point.  He waited with interest for the answer to his
question.

For a second or two Kaine continued to survey the house; then
his eye-glass dropped from his eye and he turned round.

"To understand the thing," he said, pleasantly, "you must have
read the book.  Have you read the book?"

"No, Mr. Kaine," Mary Esseltyn interrupted, "Mr. Chilcote
hasn't read the book."

Lillian laughed.  "Outline the story for him, Lennie," she
said.  "I love to see other people taking pains."

Kaine glanced at her admiringly.  "Well, to begin with," he
said, amiably, "two men, an artist and a millionaire, exchange
lives.  See?"

"You may presume that he does see, Lennie."

"Right!  Well, then, as I say, these beggars change identities.
They're as like as pins; and to all appearances one chap's the
other chap--and the other chap's the first chap.  See?"

Loder laughed.  The newly quickened interest was enhanced by
treading on dangerous ground.

"Well, they change for a lark, of course, but there's one fact
they both overlook.  They're men, you know, and they forget
these little things!"  He laughed delightedly.  "They overlook
the fact that one of 'em has got a wife!"

There was a crash of music from the orchestra.  Loder sat
straighter in his seat; he was conscious that the blood had
rushed into his face.

"Oh, indeed?" he said, quickly.  "One of them had a wife?"

"Exactly!" Again Kaine chuckled.  "And the point of the joke
is that the wife is the least larky person under the sun.
See?"

A second hot wave passed over Loder's face; a sense of mental
disgust filled him.  This, then, was the wonderful garden seen
from another stand-point!  He looked from Lillian, graceful,
sceptical, and shallow, to the young girl beside him, so
frankly modern in her appreciation of life.  This, then, was
love as seen by the eyes of the world--the world that accepts,
judges, and condemns in a slang phrase or two!  Very slowly
the blood receded from his face.

"And the end of the story?" he asked, in a strained voice.

"The end?  Oh, usual end, of course.  Chap makes a mess of
things and the bubble bursts."

"And the end of the wife?"

"The end of the wife?" Lillian broke in, with a little laugh.
"Why, the end of all stupid people who, instead of going
through life with a lot of delightfully human stumbles, come
just one big cropper.  She naturally ends in the divorce
court!"

They all laughed boisterously.  Then laughter, story, and
denouement were all drowned in a tumultuous crash of music.
The orchestra ceased; there was a slight hum of applause; and
the curtain rose on the second act of the comedy.




XXXI


A few minutes before the curtain fell on the second act of
'Other Men's Shoes' Loder rose from his seat and made his
apologies to Lillian.

At any other moment he might have pondered over her manner of
accepting them--the easy indifference with which she let him
go.  But vastly keener issues were claiming his attention,
issues whose results were wide and black.

He left the theatre, and, refusing the overtures of cabmen,
set himself to walk to Chilcote's house.  His face was hard
and emotionless as he hurried forward, but the chaos in his
mind found expression in the unevenness of his pace.  To a
strong man the confronting of difficulties is never alarming
and is often fraught with inspiration; but this applies
essentially to the difficulties evolved through the weakness,
the folly, or the force of another; when they arise from
within the matter is of another character.  It
is in presence of his own soul--and in that presence alone
--that a man may truly measure himself.

As Loder walked onward, treading the whole familiar length of
traffic-filled street, he realized for the first time that he
was standing before that solemn tribunal that the hour had
come when he must answer to himself for himself.  The longer
and deeper an oblivion the more painful the awakening.  For
months the song of self had beaten about his ears, deadening
all other sounds; now abruptly that song had ceased--not
considerately, not lingeringly, but with a suddenness that
made the succeeding silence very terrible.

He walked onward, keeping his direction unseeingly.  He was
passing through the fire as surely as though actual flames
rose about his feet; and whatever the result, whatever the
fibre of the man who emerged from the ordeal, the John Loder
who had hewn his way through the past weeks would exist no
more.  The triumphant egotist--the strong man--who, by his own
strength, had kept his eyes upon one point, refusing to see in
other directions, had ceased to be.

Keen though it was, his realization of this crisis in his life
had come with characteristic slowness.  When Lillian Astrupp
had given her dictum, when the music of the orchestra had
ceased and the curtain risen on the second act of the play,
nothing but a sense of stupefaction had filled his mind.  In
that moment the great song was silenced, not by any portentous
episode, not by any incident that could have lent dignity to
its end, but--with the full measure of life's irony--by a
trivial social commonplace.  In the first sensation of blank
loss his faculties had been numbed; in the quarter of an hour
that followed the rise of the curtain he had sat staring at
the stage, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, filled with the
enormity of the void that suddenly surrounded him.  Then, from
habit, from constitutional tendency, he had begun slowly and
perseveringly to draw first one thread and then another from
the tangle of his thoughts--to forge with doubt and difficulty
the chain that was to draw him towards the future.

It was upon this same incomplete and yet tenacious chain that
his mind worked as he traversed the familiar streets and at
last gained the house he had so easily learned to call home.

As he inserted the latch-key and felt it move smoothly in the
lock, a momentary revolt against his own judgment, his own
censorship swung him sharply towards reaction.  But it is only
the blind who can walk without a tremor on the edge of an
abyss, and there was no longer a bandage across his eyes.  The
reaction flared up like a strip of lighted paper; then, like a
strip of lighted paper, it dropped back to ashes.  He pushed
the door open and slowly crossed the hall.

The mounting of a staircase is often the index to a man's
state of mind.  As Loder ascended the stairs of Chilcote's
house his shoulders lacked their stiffness, his head was no
longer erect; he moved as though his feet were weighted.  He
had ceased to be the man of achievement whose smallest opinion
compels consideration; in the privacy of solitude he was the
mere human flotsam to which he had once compared himself--the
flotsam that, dreaming it has found a harbor, wakes to find
itself the prey of the incoming tide.

He paused at the head of the stairs to rally his resolutions;
then, still walking heavily, he passed down the corridor to
Eve's room.  It was suggestive of his character that, having
made his decision, he did not dally over its performance.
Without waiting to knock, he turned the handle and walked into
the room.

It looked precisely as it always looked, but to Loder the
rich, subdued coloring of books and flowers--the whole air of
culture and repose that the place conveyed--seemed to hold a
deeper meaning than before; and it was on the instant that his
eyes, crossing the inanimate objects, rested on their owner
that the true force of his position, the enormity of the task
before him, made itself plain.  Realization came to him with
vivid, overwhelming force; and it must be accounted to his
credit, in the summing of his qualities, that then, in that
moment of trial, the thought of retreat, the thought of
yielding did not present itself.

Eve was standing by the mantel-piece.  She wore a beautiful
gown, a long string of diamonds was twisted about her neck,
and her soft, black hair was coiled high after a foreign
fashion, and held in place by a large diamond comb.  As he
entered she turned hastily, almost nervously, and looked at
him with the rapid, searching glance he had learned to expect
from her; then, almost directly, her expression changed to one
of quick concern.  With a faint exclamation of alarm she
stepped forward.

"What has happened?" she said.  "You look like a ghost."

Loder made no answer.  Moving into the room, he paused by the
oak table that stood between the fireplace and the door.

They made an unconscious tableau as they stood there--he with
his hard, set face, she with her heightened color, her
inexplicably bright eyes.  They stood completely silent for a
space--a space that for Loder held no suggestion of time;
then, finding the tension unbearable, Eve spoke again.

"Has anything happened?" she asked.  "Is any thing wrong?"

Had he been less engrossed the intensity of her concern might
have struck him; but in a mind so harassed as his there was
only room for one consideration--the consideration of himself.
The sense of her question reached him, but its significance
left him untouched.

"Is anything wrong?" she reiterated for the second time.

By an effort he raised his eyes.  No man, he thought, since
the beginning of the world was ever set a task so cruel as
his.  Painfully and slowly his lips parted.

"Everything in the world is wrong," he said, in a slow, hard
voice.

Eve said nothing but her color suddenly deepened.

Again Loder was unobservant.  But with the dogged resolution
that marked him he forced himself to his task.

"You despise lies," he said, at last.  "Tell me what you would
think of a man whose whole life was one elaborated lie?"  The
words were slightly exaggerated, but their utterance, their
painfully brusque sincerity, precluded all suggestion of
effect.  Resolutely holding her gaze he repeated his question.

"Tell me!  Answer me!  I want to know."

Eve's attitude was difficult to read.  She stood twisting the
string of diamonds between her fingers.

"Tell me?" he said again.

She continued to look at him for a moment; then, as if some
fresh impulse moved her, she turned away from him towards the
fire.

"I cannot," she said.  "We--I--I could not set myself to
judge--any one."

Loder held himself rigidly in hand.

"Eve," he said, quietly, "I was at the `Arcadian' to-night.
The play was 'Other Men's Shoes.'  I suppose you've read the
book 'Other Men's Shoes'?"

She was leaning on the mantel-piece and her face was invisible
to him.  "Yes, I have read it," she said, without looking
round.

"It is the story of an extraordinary likeness between two men.
Do you believe such a likeness possible?  Do you think such a
thing could exist?"  He spoke with difficulty; his brain and
tongue both felt numb.

Eve let the diamond chain slip from her fingers.  "Yes," she
said, nervously.  "Yes, I do believe it.  Such things have
been--"

Loder caught at the words.  "You're quite right," he said,
quickly.  "You're quite right.  The thing is possible--I've
proved it.  I know a man so like me that you, even you, could
not tell us apart."

Eve was silent, still averting her face.

In dire difficulty he labored on.  "Eve," he began once more,
"such a likeness is a serious thing--a terrible danger--a
terrible temptation.  Those who have no experience of it
cannot possibly gauge its pitfalls--"  Again he paused, but
again the silent figure by the fireplace gave him no help.

"Eve," he exclaimed, suddenly, "if you only knew, if you only
guessed what I'm trying to say--"  The perplexity, the whole
harassed suffering of his mind showed in the words.  Loder,
the strong, the resourceful, the self-contained, was palpably,
painfully at a loss.  There was almost a note of appeal in the
vibration of his voice.

And Eve, standing by the fireplace, heard and understood.  In
that moment of comprehension all that had held her silent, all
the conflicting motives that had forbidden speech, melted away
before the unconscious demand for help.  Quietly and yet
quickly she turned, her whole face transfigured by a light
that seemed to shine from within
--something singularly soft and tender.

"There's no need to say anything," she said, simply, "because
I know."

It came quietly, as most great revelations come.  Her voice
was low and free from any excitement, her face beautiful in
its complete unconsciousness of self.  In that supreme moment
all her thought, all her sympathy was for the man--and his
suffering.

To Loder there was a space of incredulity; then his brain
slowly swung to realization.  "You know?" he repeated,
blankly.  "You know?"

Without answering she walked to a cabinet that stood in the
window, unlocked a drawer, and drew out several sheets of
flimsy white paper, crumpled in places and closely covered
with writing.  Without a word she carried them back and held
them out.

He took them in silence, scanned them, then looked up.

In a long, worthless pause their eyes met.  It was as if each
looked speechlessly into the other's heart, seeing the
passions, the contradictions, the shortcomings that went to
the making of both.  In that silence they drew closer together
than they could have done through a torrent of words.  There
was no asking of forgiveness, no elaborate confession on
either side; in the deep, eloquent pause they mutually saw and
mutually understood.

"When I came into the morning-room to-day," Eve said, at last,
"and saw Lillian Astrupp reading that telegram, nothing could
have seemed further from me than the thought that I should
follow her example.  It was not until afterwards; not until
--he came into the room; until I saw that you, as I believed,
had fallen back again from what I respected to what I
despised--that I knew how human I really was.  As I watched
them laugh and talk I felt suddenly that I was alone again
--terribly alone.  I--I think--I believe I was jealous in that
moment--"  She hesitated.

"Eve!" he exclaimed.

But she broke in quickly on the word.  "I felt different in
that moment.  I didn't care about honor--or things like honor.
After they had gone it seemed to me that I had missed
something--something that they possessed.  Oh, you don't know
what a woman feels when she is jealous!"  Again she paused.
"It was then that the telegram, and the thought of Lillian's
amused smile as she had read it, came to my mind.  Feeling as
I did--acting on what I felt--I crossed to the bureau and
picked it up.  In one second I had seen enough to make it
impossible to draw back.  Oh, it may have been dishonorable,
it may have been mean, but I wonder if any woman in the world
would have done otherwise!  I crumpled up the papers just as
they were and carried them to my own room."

From the first to the last word of Eve's story Loder's eyes
never left her face.  Instantly she had finished his voice
broke forth in irrepressible question.  In that wonderful
space of time he had learned many things.  All his deductions,
all his apprehensions had been scattered and disproved.  He
had seen the true meaning of Lillian Astrupp's amused
indifference--the indifference of a variable, flippant nature
that, robbed of any real weapon for mischief, soon tires of a
game that promises to be too arduous.  He saw all this and
understood it with a rapidity born of the moment;
nevertheless, when Eve ceased to speak the question that broke
from him was not connected with this great discovery--was not
even suggestive of it.  It was something quite immaterial to
any real issue, but something that overshadowed every
consideration in the world.

"Eve," he said, "tell me your first thought?  Your first
thought after the shock and the surprise--when you remembered
me?"

There was a fresh pause, but one of very short duration; then
Eve met his glance fearlessly and frankly.  The same pride and
dignity, the same indescribable tenderness that had responded
to his first appeal shone in her face.

"My first thought was a great thankfulness," she said, simply.
"A thankfulness that you--that no man--could ever understand."




XXXIII


As she finished speaking Eve did not lower her eyes.  To her
there was no suggestion of shame in her thoughts or her words;
but to Loder, watching and listening, there was a perilous
meaning contained in both.

"Thankfulness?" he repeated, slowly.  From his newly stirred
sense of responsibility pity and sympathy were gradually
rising.  He had never seen Eve as he saw her now, and his
vision was all the clearer for the long oblivion.  With a
poignant sense of compassion and remorse, the knowledge of her
youth came to him--the youth that some women preserve in the
midst of the world, when circumstances have permitted them to
see much but to experience little.

"Thankfulness?" he said again, incredulously.

A slight smile touched her lips.  "Yes," she answered, softly.
"Thankfulness that my trust had been rightly placed."

She spoke simply and confidently, but the words struck Loder
more sharply than any accusation.  With a heavy sense of
bitterness and renunciation he moved slowly forward.

"Eve," he said, very gently, "you don't know what you say."

She had lowered her eyes as he came towards her; now again she
lifted them in a swift, upward glance.  For the first time
since he had entered the room a slight look of personal doubt
and uneasiness showed in her face.  "Why?" she said.  "I--I
don't understand."

For a moment he answered nothing.  He had found his first
explanation overwhelming; now suddenly it seemed to him that
his present difficulty was more impossible to surmount.  "I
came here to-night to tell you something," he began, at last,
"but so far I have only said half--"

"Half?"

"Yes, half." He repeated the word quickly, avoiding the
question in her eyes.  Then, conscious of the need for
explanation, he plunged into rapid speech.

"A fraud like mine," he said, "has only one safeguard, one
justification--a boundless audacity.  Once shake that audacity
and the whole motive power crumbles.  It was to make the
audacity impossible--to tell you the truth and make it
impossible--that I came to-night.  The fact that you already
knew made the telling easier--but it altered nothing."

Eve raised her head, but he went resolutely on.

"To-night," he said, "I have seen into my own life, into my
own mind, and my ideas have been very roughly shaken into new
places.

"We never make so colossal a mistake as when we imagine that
we know ourselves.  Months ago, when your husband first
proposed this scheme to me, I was, according to my own
conception, a solitary being vastly ill-used by Fate, who,
with a fine stoicism, was leading a clean life.  That was what
I believed; but there, at the very outset, I deceived myself.
I was simply a man who shut himself up because he cherished a
grudge against life, and who lived honestly because he had a
constitutional distaste for vice.  My first feeling when I saw
your husband was one of self-righteous contempt, and that has
been my attitude all along.  I have often marvelled at the flood
of intolerance that has rushed over me at sight of him--the
violent desire that has possessed me to look away from his
weakness and banish the knowledge of it; but now I understand.

"I know now what the feeling meant.  The knowledge came to me
to-night.  It meant that I turned away from his weakness
because deep within myself something stirred in recognition of
it.  Humanity is really much simpler than we like to think,
and human impulses have an extraordinary fundamental
connection.  Weakness is egotism--but so is strength.
Chilcote has followed his vice; I have followed my ambition.
It will take a higher judgment than yours or mine to say which
of us has been the more selfish man."  He paused and looked at
her.

She was watching him intently.  Some of the meaning in his
face had found a pained, alarmed reflection in her own.  But
the awe and wonder of the morning's discovery still colored
her mind too vividly to allow of other considerations
possessing their proper value.  The thrill of exultation with
which the misgivings born of Chilcote's vice had dropped away
from her mental image of Loder was still too absorbing to be
easily dominated.  She loved, and as if by a miracle her love
had been justified!  For the moment the justification was
all-sufficing.  Something of confidence--something of the
innocence that comes not from ignorance of evil but from a
mind singularly uncontaminated--blinded her to the danger of
her position.

Loder, waiting apprehensively for some aid, some expression of
opinion, became gradually conscious of this lack of realization.
Moved by a fresh impulse, he crossed the small space that
divided them and caught her hands.

"Eve," he said, gently, "I have been trying to analyze myself
and give you the results; but I sha'n't try any more; I shall
be quite plain with you.

"From the first moment I took your husband's place I was
ambitious.  You unconsciously aroused the feeling when you
brought me Fraide's message on the first night.  You aroused
it by your words--but more strongly, though more obscurely, by
your underlying antagonism.  On that night, though I did not
know it, I took up my position--I made my determination.  Do
you know what that determination was?"

She shook her head.

"It was the desire to stamp out Chilcote's footmarks with my
own--to prove that personality is the great force capable of
everything.  I forgot to reckon that when we draw largely upon
Fate she generally extorts a crushing interest.

"First came the wish for your respect; then the desire to
stand well with such men as Fraide--to feel the stir of
emulation and competition--to prove myself strong in the one
career I knew myself really fitted for.  For a time the second
ambition overshadowed the first, but the first was bound to
reassert itself; and in a moment of egotism I conceived the
notion of winning your enthusiasm as well as your respect--"

Eve's face, alert and questioning, suddenly paled as a  doubt
crossed her mind.

"Then it was only--only to stand well with me?"

"I believed it was only the desire to stand well with you; I
believed it until the night of my speech--if you can credit
anything so absurd--then on that night, as I came up the
stairs to the gallery and saw you standing there, the
blindness fell away and I knew that I loved you."  As he said
the last words he released her hands and turned aside, missing
the quick wave of joy and color that crossed her face.

"I knew it, but it made no difference; I was only moved to a
higher self-glorification.  I touched supremacy that night.
But as we drove home I experienced the strangest coincidence
of my life.  You remember the block in the traffic at
Piccadilly?"

Again Eve bent her head.

"Well, when I looked out of the carriage window to discover
its cause the first man I saw was--Chilcote."

Eve started slightly.  This swift, unexpected linking of
Chilcote's name with the most exalted moment of her life
stirred her unpleasantly.  Some glimmering of Loder's
intention in so linking it, broke through the web of disturbed
and conflicting thoughts.

"You saw him on that night?"

"Yes; and the sight chilled me.  It was a big drop from
supremacy to the remembrance of--everything."

Involuntarily she put out her hand.

But Loder shook his head.  "No," he said, "don't pity me!  The
sight of him came just in time.  I had a reaction in that
moment, and, such as it was, I acted on it.  I went to him
next morning and told him that the thing must end.  But then
--even then--I shirked being honest with myself.  I had meant
to tell him that it must end because I had grown to love you,
but my pride rose up and tied my tongue.  I could not humiliate
myself.  I put the case before him in another light.  It was a
tussle of wills--and I won; but the victory was not what it
should have been.  That was proved to-day when he returned to
tell me of the loss of this telegram.  It wasn't the fear that
Lady Astrupp had found it; it wasn't to save the position that
I jumped at the chance of coming back; it was to feel the joy
of living, the joy of seeing you--if only for a day!"  For one
second he turned towards her, then as abruptly he turned away
again.

"I was still thinking of myself," he said.  "I was still
utterly self-centred when I came to this room today and
allowed you to talk to me--when I asked you to see me
to-night as we parted at the club.  I sha'n't tell you the
thoughts that unconsciously were in my mind when I asked that
favor.  You must understand without explanation.

"I went to the theatre with Lady Astrupp ostensibly to find
out how the land lay in her direction--really to heighten my
self-esteem.  But there Fate--or the power we like to call by
that name--was lying in wait for me, ready to claim the first
interest in the portion of life I had dared to borrow."  He
said this slowly, as if measuring each word.  He did not
glance towards Eve as he had done in his previous pause.  His
whole manner seemed oppressed by the gravity of what he had
still to say.

"I doubt if a man has ever seen more in half an hour than I
have to-night," he said.  "I'm speaking of mental seeing, of
course.  In this play, 'Other Men's Shoes,' two men change
identities--as Chilcote and I have done--but in doing so they
overlook one fact--The fact that one of them has a wife!  That's
not my way of putting it; it's the way it was put to me by one
of Lady Astrupp's party."

Again Eve looked up.  The doubt and question in her eyes had
grown unmistakably.  As he ceased to speak her lips parted
quickly.

"John," she said, with sudden conviction, "you're trying to
say something--something that's terribly hard."

Without raising his head, Loder answered her.  "Yes," he
answered, "the hardest thing a man ever said--"

His tone was short, almost brusque, but to ears sharpened by
instinct it was eloquent.  Without a word Eve took a step
forward, and, standing quite close to him, laid both hands on
his shoulders.

For a space they stood silent, she with her face lifted, he
with averted eyes.  Then very gently he raised his hands and
tried to unclasp her fingers.  There was scarcely any color
visible in his face, and by a curious effect of emotion it
seemed that lines, never before noticeable, had formed about
his mouth.

"What is it?" Eve asked, apprehensively.  "What is it?"

By a swift, involuntary movement she had tightened the
pressure of her fingers; and, without using force, it was
impossible for Loder to unloose them.  With his hands pressed
irresolutely over hers, he looked down into her face.

"As I sat in the theatre to-night, Eve," he said, slowly, "all
the pictures I had formed of life shifted.  Without desiring
it, without knowing it, my whole point of view was changed.  I
suddenly saw things by the world's search-light instead of by
my own miserable candle.  I suddenly saw things for you
--instead of for myself."

Eve's eyes widened and darkened, but she said nothing.

"I suddenly saw the unpardonable wrong that I have done you
--the imperative duty of cutting it short."  He spoke very
slowly, in a dull, mechanical voice.

Eve--her eyes still wide, her face pained and alarmed
--withdrew her hands from his shoulders.  "You mean," she
said, with difficulty, "that it is going to end?  That you are
going away?  That you are giving everything up?  Oh, but you
can't!  You can't!" she exclaimed, with sudden excitement, her
fears suddenly overmastering her incredulity.  "You can't!
You mustn't!  The only proof that could have interfered--"

"I wasn't thinking of the proof."

"Then of what?  Of what?"

Loder was silent for a moment.  "Of our love," he said,
steadily.

She colored deeply.  "But why?" she stammered; "why?  We
have done no wrong.  We need do no wrong.  We would be
friends--nothing more; and I--oh, I so need a friend!"

For almost the first time in Loder's knowledge of her, her
voice broke, her control deserted her.  She stood before him
in all the pathos of her lonely girlhood--her empty life.

The revelation touched him with sudden poignancy; the real
strength that lay beneath his faults, the chivalry buried
under years of callousness, stirred at the birth of a new
emotion.  The resolution preserved at such a cost, the
sacrifice that had seemed wellnigh impossible, all at once
took on a different shape.  What before had been a barren duty
became suddenly a sacred right.  Holding out his arms, he drew
her to him as if she had been a child.

"Eve," he said, gently, "I have learned to-night how fully a
woman's life is at the mercy of the world--and how scanty that
mercy is.  If circumstances had been different, I believe--I
am convinced--I would have made you a good husband--would have
used my right to protect you as well as a man could use it.
And now that things are different, I want--I should like--"
He hesitated a very little.  "Now that I have no right to
protect you--except the right my love gives--I want to guard
you as closely from all that is sordid as any husband could
guard his wife.

"In life there are really only two broad issues--right and
wrong.  Whatever we may say, whatever we may profess to
believe, we know that our action is always a choice between
right and wrong.  A month ago--a week ago--I would have
despised a man who could talk like this--and have thought
myself strong for despising him.  Now I know that strength is
something more than the trampling of others into the dust that
we ourselves may have a clear road; that it is something much
harder and much less triumphant than that--that it is standing
aside to let somebody else pass on.  Eve," he exclaimed,
suddenly, "I'm trying to do this for you.  Don't you see?
Don't you understand?  The easy course, the happy course,
would be to let things drift.  Every instinct is calling to
me to take that course--to go on as I have gone, trading on
Chilcote's weakness and your generosity.  But I won't do it!
I can't do it!"  With a swift impulse he loosed his arms and
held her away from him.  "Eve, it's the first time I have put
another human being before myself!"

Eve kept her head bent.  Painful, inaudible sobs were shaking
her from head to foot.

"It's something in you--something unconscious--something high
and fine, that holds me back--that literally bars the way.
Eve, can't you see that I'm fighting--fighting hard?"

After he had spoken there was silence--a long, painful
silence--during which Eve waged the battle that so many of her
sex have waged before; the battle in which words are useless
and tears of no account.  She looked very slight, very young,
very forlorn, as she stood there.  Then, in the oppressive
sense of waiting that filled the whole room, she looked up at
him.

Her face was stained with tears, her thick, black lashes were
still wet with them; but her expression, as her eyes met
Loder's, was a strange example of the courage, the firmness,
the power of sacrifice that may be hidden in a fragile vessel.

She said nothing, for in such a moment words do not come
easily, but with the simplest, most submissive, most eloquent
gesture in the world she set his perplexity to rest.

Taking his hand between hers, she lifted it and for a long,
silent space held it against her lips.




XXXIII


For a while there was silence; then Loder, bitterly aware that
he had conquered, poignantly conscious of the appeal that Eve's
attitude made, found further endurance impossible.  Gently
freeing his hand, he moved away from her to the fireplace,
taking up the position that she had first occupied.

"Eve," he said, slowly, "I haven't finished yet.  I haven't
said everything.  I'm going to tax your courage further."

With a touch of pained alarm, Eve lifted her head. "Further?"
she said.

Loder shrank from the expression on her face.  "Yes," he said,
with difficulty.  "There's still another point to be faced.
The matter doesn't end with my going back.  To have the
situation fully saved, Chilcote must return--Chilcote must be
brought to realize his responsibilities."

Eve's lips parted in dumb dismay.

"It must be done," he went on hurriedly, "and we have got to
do it--you and I."  He turned and looked at her.

"I?  I could do nothing.  What could I do?"  Her voice failed.

"Everything," he said, "you could do everything.  He is
morally weak, but he has one sensitive point--the fear of a
public exposure.  Once make it plain to him that you know his
secret, and you can compel him to whatever course of action
you select.  It was to ask you to do this--to beg you to do
this--that I came to you to-night.  I know that it's demanding
more than a woman's resolution--more than a woman's strength.
But you are like no woman in the world!

"Eve!" he cried, with sudden vehemence, "can't you see that
it's imperative--the one thing to save us both?"

He stopped abruptly as he had begun, and again a painful
silence filled the room.  Then, as before, Eve moved
instinctively towards him, but this time her steps were slow
and uncertain.  Nearing his side, she put out her hand as if
for comfort and support; and, feeling his fingers tighten
round it, stood for a moment resting in the contact.

"I understand," she said at last, very slowly.  "I understand.
When will you take me to him?"

For a moment Loder said nothing, not daring to trust his
voice; then he answered, low and abruptly.  "Now!" he said.
"Now, at once!  Now, this moment, if I may.  And--and remember
that I know what it costs you."  As if imbued with fear that
his courage might fail him, he suddenly released her hand,
and, crossing the room to where a long, dark cloak lay as she
had thrown it on her return home, he picked it up, walked to
her side, and silently wrapped it about her.  Then, still
acting automatically, he moved to the door, opened it, and
stood aside while she passed out into the corridor.

In complete silence they descended the stairs and passed to
the hall door.  There Crapham, who had returned to his duties
since Loder's entrance, came quickly forward with an offer of
service.

But Loder dismissed him curtly; and with something of the
confusion bred of Chilcote's regime, the man drew back towards
the staircase.

With a hasty movement Loder stepped forward, and, opening the
door, admitted a breath of chill air.  Then on the threshold
he paused.  It was his first sign of hesitation
--the one instant in which nature rebelled against the
conscience so tardily awakened.  He stood motionless for a
moment, and it is doubtful whether even Eve fully fathomed the
bitterness of his renunciation--the blackness of the night
that stretched before his eyes.

Behind him was everything; before him, nothing.  The
everything symbolized by the luxurious house, the eagerly
attentive servants, the pleasant atmosphere of responsibility;
the nothing represented by the broad public thoroughfare, the
passing figures, each unconscious of and uninterested in his
existence.  As an interloper he had entered this house; as an
interloper--a masquerader--he had played his part, lived his
hour, proved himself; as an interloper he was now passing back
into the dim world of unrealized hopes and unachieved
ambitions.

He stood rigidly quiet, his strong figure silhouetted against
the lighted hall, his face cold and set; then, with a touch of
fatality, Chance cut short his struggle.

An empty hansom wheeled round the corner of the square; the
cabman, seeing him, raised his whip in query, and involuntarily
he nodded an acquiescence.  A moment later he had helped Eve
into the cab.

"Middle Temple Lane!" he directed, pausing on the step.

"Middle Temple Lane is opposite to Clifford's Inn," he
explained as he took his place beside her.  "When we get out
there we have only to cross Fleet Street."

Eve bent her head in token that she understood, and the cab
moved out into the roadway.

Within a few minutes the neighborhood of Grosvenor Square was
exchanged for the noisier and more crowded one of Piccadilly,
but either the cabman was overcautious or the horse was below
the average, for they made but slow progress through the more
crowded streets.  To the two sitting in silence the pace was
wellnigh unbearable.  With every added movement the tension
grew.  The methodical care with which they moved seemed like
the tightening of a string already strained to breaking-point,
yet neither spoke--because neither had the courage necessary
for words.

Once or twice as they traversed the Strand, Loder made a
movement as if to break the silence, but nothing followed it.
He continued to lean forward with a certain dogged stiffness,
his clasped hands resting on the doors of the cab, his eyes
staring straight ahead.  Not once, as they threaded their way,
did he dare to glance at Eve, though every movement, every
stir of her garments, was forced upon his consciousness by his
acutely awakened senses.

When at last they drew up before the dark archway of Middle
Temple Lane, he descended hastily.  And as he mechanically
turned to protect Eve's dress from the wheel, he looked at her
fully for the first time since their enterprise had been
undertaken.  As he looked he felt his heart sink.  He had
expected to see the marks of suffering on her face, but the
expression he saw suggested something more than mere mental
pain.

All the rich color that usually deepened and softened the
charm of her beauty had been erased as if by a long illness;
and against the new pallor of her skin her blue eyes, her
black hair and eyebrows, seemed startlingly dark.  A chill
colder than remorse, a chill that bordered upon actual fear,
touched Loder in that moment.  With the first impulsive
gesture he had allowed himself, he touched her arm.

"Eve--" he began, unsteadily; then the word died off his lips.

Without a sound, almost without a movement, she returned his
glance, and something in her eyes checked what he might have
said.  In that one expressive look he understood all she had
desired, all she had renounced--the full extent of the ordeal
she had consented to, and the motive that had compelled her
consent.  He drew back with the heavy sense that repentance
and pity were equally futile--equally out of place.

Still in silence she stepped to the pavement and stood aside
while Loder dismissed the cab.  To both there was something
symbolic, something prophetic, in the dismissal.  Without
intention and almost unconsciously they drew closer together
as the horse turned, its hoofs clattering on the roadway, its
harness jingling; and, still without realization, they looked
after the vehicle as it moved away down the long, shadowed
thoroughfare towards the lights and the crowds that they had
left.  At last involuntarily they turned towards each other.

"Come!" Loder said, abruptly.  "It's only across the road."

Fleet Street is generally very quiet, once midnight is passed;
and Eve had no need of guidance or protection as they crossed
the pavement, shining like ice in the lamplight.  They crossed
it slowly, walking apart; for the dread of physical contact
that had possessed them in the cab seemed to have fallen on
them again.

Inquisitiveness has little place in the region of the city,
and they gained the opposite footpath unnoticed by the casual
passer-by.  Then, still holding apart, they reached and
entered Clifford's Inn.

Inside the entrance they paused, and Eve shivered involuntarily.
"How gray it is!" she said, faintly.  "And how cold!  Like a
graveyard."

Loder turned to her.  Far one moment control seemed shaken;
his blood surged, his vision clouded; the sense that life and
love were still within his reach filled him overwhelmingly.
He turned towards Eve; he half extended his hands.  Then,
stirred by what impulse, moved by what instinct, it was
impossible to say, he let them drop to his sides again.

"Come!" he said.  "Come!  This is the way.  Keep close to me.
Put your hand on my arm."

He spoke quietly, but his eyes were resolutely averted from
her face as they crossed the dim, silent court.

Entering the gloomy door-way that led to his own rooms, he
felt her fingers tremble on his arm, then tighten in their
pressure as the bare passage and cheerless stairs met her
view; but he set his lips.

"Come!" he repeated, in the same strained voice.  "Come!  It
isn't far--three or four flights."

With a white face and a curious expression in her eyes, Eve
moved forward.  She had released Loder's arm as they crossed
the hall; and now, reaching the stairs, she put out her hand
gropingly and caught the banister.  She had a pained, numb
sense of submission--of suffering that had sunk to apathy.
Moving forward without resistance, she began to mount the
stairs.

The ascent was made in silence.  Loder went first, his
shoulders braced, his head held erect; Eve, mechanically
watchful of all his movements, followed a step or two behind.
With weary monotony one flight of stairs succeeded another;
each, to her unaccustomed eyes, seeming more colorless, more
solitary, more desolate than the preceding one.

Then at last, with a sinking sense of apprehension, she
realized that their goal was reached.

The knowledge broke sharply through her dulled senses; and,
confronted by the closeness of her ordeal, she paused, her
head lifted, her hand still nervously grasping the banister.
Her lips parted as if in sudden demand for aid; but in the
nervous expectation, the pained apprehension, of the moment no
sound escaped them.  Loder, resolutely crossing the landing,
knew nothing of the silent appeal.

For a second she stood hesitating; then her own weakness, her
own shrinking dismay, were submerged in the interest of his
movements.  Slowly mounting the remaining steps, she followed
him as if fascinated towards the door that showed dingily
conspicuous in the light of an unshaded gas-jet.

Almost at the moment that she reached his side he extended his
hand towards the door.  The action was decisive and hurried,
as though he feared to trust himself.

For a space he fumbled with the lock.  And Eve, standing close
behind him, heard the handle creak and turn under his
pressure.  Then he shook the door.

At last, slowly, almost reluctantly, he turned round.  "I'm
afraid things aren't quite quite right," he said, in a low
voice.  "The door is locked and I can see no light."

She raised her eyes quickly.  "But you have a key?" she
whispered.  "Haven't you got a key?"  It was obvious that, to
both, the unexpected check to their designs was fraught with
danger.

"Yes, but--"  He looked towards the door.  "Yes--I have a key.
Yes, you're right!" he added, quickly.  "I'll use it.  Wait,
while I go inside."

Filled with a new nervousness, oppressed by the loneliness,
the silence about her, Eve drew back obediently.  The sense of
mystery conveyed by the closed door weighed upon her.  Her
susceptibilities were tensely alert as she watched Loder
search for his key and insert it in the lock.  With mingled
dread and curiosity she saw the door yield, and gape open like
a black gash in the dingy wall; and with a sudden sense of
desertion she saw him pass through the aperture and heard him
strike a match.

The wait that followed seemed extraordinarily long.  Listening
intently, she heard him move softly from one room to the
other.  And at last, to her acutely nervous susceptibilities,
it seemed that he paused in absolute silence.  In the
intensity of listening, she heard her own faint, irregular
breathing, and the sound filled her with panic.  The quiet,
the solitude, the vague, instinctive apprehension, became
suddenly unendurable.  Then all at once the tension was
relieved..  Loder reappeared.

He paused for a second in the shadowy door-way; then he turned
unsteadily, drew the door to, and locked; it.

Eve stepped forward.  Her glimpse of him had been momentary
--and she had not heard his voice--yet the consciousness of his
bearing filled her with instinctive alarm.  Abruptly, and
without reason, their hands turned cold, her heart began to
beat violently. "John--" she said below her breath.

For answer, he moved towards her.  His face was bereft of
color; there was a look of consternation in his eyes.  "Come!"
he said.  "Come at once!  I must take you home."  He spoke in
a shaken, uneven voice.

Eve, looking up at him, caught his hand.  "Why?  Why?" she
questioned.  Her tone was low and scared.

Without replying, he drew her imperatively towards the stairs.
"Go very softly," he commanded.  "No one must see you here."

In the first moment she obeyed him instinctively; then,
reaching the head of the stairs, she stopped.  With one hand
still clasping his, the other clinging nervously to the
banister, she refused to descend.  "John," she whispered, "I'm
not a child.  What is it?  What has happened?  I must know."

For a moment Loder looked at her uncertainly; then, reading
the expression in her eyes, he yielded to her demand.

"He's dead," he said, in a very low voice.  "Chilcote is
dead,"




XXXIV


To fully appreciate a great announcement we must have time at
our disposal.  At the moment of Loder's disclosure time was
denied to Eve; for scarcely had the words left his lips before
the thought that dominated him asserted its prior claim.
Blind to the incredulity in her eyes, he drew her swiftly
forward, and--half impelling, half supporting her--forced her
to descend the stairs.

Never in after-life could he obliterate the remembrance of
that descent.  Fear, such as he could never experience in his
own concerns, possessed him.  One desire overrode all others
--the desire that Eve's reputation, which he himself had so
nearly imperilled, should remain unimperilled.  In the shadow
of that urgent duty, the despair of the past hours, the
appalling fact so lately realized, the future with its
possible trials, became dark to his imagination.  In his new
victory over self, the question of her protection
predominated.

Moving under this compulsion, he guided her hastily and
silently down the deserted stairs, drawing a breath of deep
relief as, one after another, the landings were successively
passed; and still actuated by the suppressed need of haste, he
passed through the door-way that they had entered under such
different conditions only a few minutes before.

To leave the quiet court, to gain the Strand, to hail a
belated hansom was the work of a moment.  By an odd contrivance
of circumstance, the luck that had attended every phase of
his dual life was again exerted in his behalf.  No one had
noticed their entry into Clifford's Inn; no one was moved to
curiosity by their exit.  With an involuntary thrill of feeling
he gave expression to his relief.

"Thank God, it's over!" he said, as a cab drew up.  "You don't
know what the strain has been."

Moving as if in a dream, Eve stepped into the cab.  As yet the
terrible denouement to their enterprise had made no clear
impression upon her mind.  For the moment all that she was
conscious of, all that she instinctively acknowledged, was the
fact that Loder was still beside her.

In quiet obedience she took her place, drawing aside her
skirts to make room for him; and in the same subdued manner,
he stepped into the vehicle.  Then, with the strange sensation
of reliving their earlier drive, they were aware of the
tightened rein and of the horse's first forward movement.

For several seconds neither spoke.  Eve, shutting out all
other thoughts, sat close to Loder, clinging tenaciously to
the momentary comforting sense of protection; Loder, striving
to marshal his ideas, hesitated before the ordeal of speech.
At last, realizing his responsibility, he turned to her
slowly.

"Eve," he said, in a low voice and with some hesitation, "I
want you to know that in all this--from the moment I saw him
--from the moment I understood--I have had you in my thoughts
--you and no one else."

She raised her eyes to his face.

"Do you realize--?" he began afresh.  "Do you know what this
--this thing means?"

Still she remained silent.

"It means that after to-night there will be no such person in
London as John Loder.  To-morrow the man who was known by that
name will be found in his rooms; his body will be removed, and
at the post-modern examination it will be stated that he died
of an overdose of morphia.  His charwoman will identify him as
a solitary man who lived respectably for years and then
suddenly went down-hill with remarkable speed.  It will be
quite a common case.  Nothing of interest will be found in his
rooms; no relation will claim his body; after the usual time
he will be given the usual burial of his class.  These details
are horrible; but there are times when we must look at the
horrible side of life--because life is incomplete without it.

"These things I speak of are the things that will meet the
casual eye; but in our sight they will have a very different
meaning.

"Eve," he said, more vehemently, "a whole chapter in my life
has been closed to-night, and my first instinct is to shut the
book and throw it away.  But I'm thinking of you.  Remember,
I'm thinking of you!  Whatever the trial, whatever the
difficulty, no harm shall come to you.  You have my word for
that!

"I'll return with you now to Grosvenor Square; I'll remain
there till a reasonable excuse can be given for Chilcote's
going abroad; I will avoid Fraide, I will cut politics
--whatever the cost; then, at the first reasonable moment, I
will do what I would do now, to-night if it were possible.
I'll go away, start afresh; do in another country what I have
done in this."

There was a long silence; then Eve turned to him.  The apathy
of a moment before had left her face.  "In another country?"
she repeated.  "In another country?"

"Yes; a fresh career in a fresh country.  Something clean to
offer you.  I'm not too old to do what other men have done."

He paused, and for a moment Eve looked ahead at the gleaming
chain of lamps; then, still very slowly, she brought her
glance back again.  "No," she said very slowly.  "You are
not too old.  But there are times when age--and things like
age--are not the real consideration.  It seems to me that your
own inclination, your own individual sense of right and wrong,
has nothing to do with the present moment.  The question is
whether you are justified in going away"--she paused, her eyes
fixed steadily upon his--"whether you are free to go away, and
make a new life--whether it is ever justifiable to follow a
phantom light when--when there's a lantern waiting to be
carried."  Her breath caught; she drew away from him,
frightened and elated by her own words.

Loder turned to her sharply.  "Eve!" he exclaimed; then his
tone changed.  "You don't know what you're saying," he added,
quickly; "you don't understand what you're saying."

Eve leaned forward again.  "Yes," she said, slowly, "I do
understand."  Her voice was controlled, her manner convinced.
She was no longer the girl conquered by strength greater than
her own: she was the woman strenuously demanding her right to
individual happiness.

"I understand it all," she repeated.  "I understand every
point.  It was not Chance that made you change your identity,
that made you care for me, that brought about--his death.  I
don't believe it was Chance; I believe it was something much
higher.  You are not meant to go away!"

As Loder watched her the remembrance of his first days as
Chilcote rose again; the remembrance of how he had been dimly
filled with the belief that below her self-possession lay a
strength--a depth--uncommon in woman.  As he studied her now,
the instinctive belief flamed into conviction.  "Eve!" he said
involuntarily.

With a quick gesture she raised her head.  "No!" she
exclaimed.  "No; don't say anything!  You are going to see
things as I see them--you must do so--you have no choice.  No
real man ever casts away the substance for the shadow!"  Her
eyes shone--the color, the glow, the vitality, rushed back
into her face.

"John," she said, softly, "I love you--and I need you--but
there is something with a greater claim--a greater need than
mine.  Don't you know what it is?"

He said nothing; he made no gesture.

"It is the party--the country.  You may put love aside, but
duty is different.  You have pledged yourself.  You are not
meant to draw back."

Loder's lips parted.

"Don't!" she said again.  "Don't say anything!  I know all
that is in your mind.  But, when we sift things right through,
it isn't my love--or our happinees--that's really in the
balance.  It is your future!"

Her voice thrilled.  "You are going to be a great man, and a
great man is the property of his country.  He has no right to
individual action."

Again Loder made an effort to speak, but again she checked
him.

"Wait!" she exclaimed.  "Wait!  You believe you have acted
wrongly, and you are desperately afraid of acting wrongly
again.  But is it really truer, more loyal for us to work out
a long probation in grooves that are already overfilled than
to marry quietly abroad and fill the places that have need of
us?  That is the question I want you to answer.  Is it really
truer and nobler?  Oh, I see the doubt that is in your mind!
You think it finer to go away and make a new life than to live
the life that is waiting you--because one is independent and
the other means the use of another man's name and another
man's money--that is the thought in your mind.  But what is it
that prompts that thought?"  Again her voice caught, but her
eyes did not falter.  "I will tell you.  It is not self-sacrifice
--but pride!"  She said the word fearlessly.

A flush crossed Loder's face.  "A man requires pride," he said
in a low voice.

"Yes, at the right time.  But is this the right time?  Is it
ever right to throw away the substance for the shadow?  You
say that I don't understand--don't realize.  I realize more
to-night than I have realized in all my life.  I know that you
have an opportunity that can never come again--and that it's
terribly possible to let it slip--"

She paused.  Loder, his hands resting on the closed doors of
the cab, sat very silent, with averted eves and bent head.

"Only to-night," she went on, "you told me that everything was
crying to you to take the easy, pleasant way.  Then it was
strong to turn aside; but now it is not strong.  It is far
nobler to fill an empty niche than to carve one for yourself.
John--"  She suddenly leaned forward, laying her hands over
his.  "Mr. Fraide told me to-night that in his new ministry
my--my husband was to be Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs!"

The words fell softly.  So softly that to ears less
comprehending than Loder's their significance might have been
lost--as his rigid attitude and unresponsive manner might have
conveyed lack of understanding to any eyes less observant than
Eve's.

For a long space there was no word spoken.  At last, with a
very gentle pressure, her fingers tightened over his hands.

"John--" she began, gently.  But the word died away.  She drew
back into her seat, as the cab stopped before Chilcote's
house.

Simultaneously as they descended, the hall door was opened and
a flood of warm light poured out reassuringly into the
darkness.

"I thought it was your cab, sir," Crapham explained
deferentially as they passed into the hall.  "Mr. Fraide has
been waiting to see you this half-hour.  I showed him into the
study."  He closed the door; softly and retired.

Then, in the warm light, amid the gravely dignified
surroundings that had marked his first entry into this
hazardous second existence, Eve turned to Loder for the
verdict upon which the future hung.

As she turned, his face was still hidden from her, and his
attitude betrayed nothing.

"John," she said, slowly, "you know why he is here.' You know
that he has come to personally offer you this place; to
personally receive your refusal--or consent."

She ceased to speak; there was a moment of suspense; then
Loder turned.  His face was still pale and grave with the
gravity of a man who has but recently been close to death, but
beneath the gravity was another look--the old expression of
strength and self-reliance, tempered, raised, and dignified by
a new humility.

Moving forward, he held out his hands.

"My consent or refusal," he said, very quietly, "lies with
--my wife."



THE END





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