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Title: The Expensive Halo
Author: Josephine Tey
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900331.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2009
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Expensive Halo
Author: Josephine Tey



The Expensive Halo
A Fable Without Moral
by
Josephine Tey


First published 1931




CHAPTER I


It had been raining all day, but now a wild red sunset flooded the town
with uncanny light, so that the dripping black buildings stood glorified
and the hurrying crowds turned their heads, half-consciously, in uneasy
wonder at the magnificent west.

Mary Ellis stood by the kitchen table in the basement window, and the
light, reflected from the wet pavement, shone round her with a mild
radiance very different from the disturbing crimson of the angry sky. It
lit her grey hair to a halo, and made her intent, secret-smiling face
that of a saint at her devotions. She was icing a cake. And as she piped
the pink sugar in careful preordained scrolls on the white plateau, her
mind was filled with a radiance which no sunset could produce. By the
cake lay a cardboard box containing twenty-four little candles. She had
had to buy twenty-four because they were sold by the box. But the little
Marsden girl could have the other three. There was no use in keeping
them, because never again would she put candles on a cake. Not until she
had a grandchild, and that might be never. She hoped Gareth wouldn't
think it babyish of her to do it this once. Babyish people often had an
eager nose for babyishness in others. She hadn't made a birthday cake for
many years now. The habit had been dropped during the war, when there was
nothing to make a cake with. And somehow, afterwards, people were less
overtly sentimental. Symbols counted less. The children had had treats on
their birthdays, but there had been no cake with little candles. It was a
practical age.

She laid aside the piping-bag and looked at her work with her still,
secret smile. A cake for Gareth's birthday: that's all it was. But it
was, too, the crowning of her own life, and she felt it in all her being.
To-morrow her baby was twenty-one; the baby she had not wanted; the baby
they had said she would never rear: and it seemed as if her whole
existence had been but a preparation for this moment. Her five other
children had each in turn achieved their majority and there had been
congratulation and pleasure in each event. But to-morrow Gareth would be
twenty-one, and her spirit rose up and overflowed in her at the thought.

She chose from the box the more perfect of the candles (it would not
matter to the Marsden baby that her three were a little chipped), and
began to set them in the cake, carefully because of the still-soft icing.
It was strange that the baby whose coming she had resented so
passionately should be more a part of her now than he had been to those
months before his birth. Even his name was hers. Alfred had said that the
baby was to have a Biblical name, like the others. No child of his should
have other than a Biblical name. Always on previous occasions, she had
agreed for the sake of peace, but this time she had fought him, weak,
determined and furious. Now that the puny brat was there she felt that
for once it should be hers to do as she liked with. She had borne it,
suffered for it, and she should mime it. It should be called Gareth.
Gareth was the name of the hero in a book which she had been reading, and
the word had sung itself through her head during those awful hours. She
did not like the name particularly, but that did not matter. All that
mattered was that it should be a name of her own choosing and that it
should have no Biblical associations.

And Alfred had given in. She had been surprised at the time but too
relieved and weary to marvel long. Afterwards she had discovered that the
doctor had spoken to Alfred as one man very rarely speaks to another. He
had, in his own phrase, put the fear of God in Alfred, and to Alfred,
that intimate of God, it was a new sensation. Alfred had agreed that Mary
should choose the name.

And he had, of course, changed his doctor. But as there were no more
babies that had not mattered very greatly.

Because he was hers in a sense that the others had never been, the
sickly, wailing baby had been taken to her heart. When they tried to warn
her that he might never make old bones her lips tightened in the little
movement with which all her children were familiar, and her chin lifted,
Fools! Of course he would live. He was hers, wasn't he? The only one to
be wholly hers. She would see to it that he lived. And it seemed that her
son had inherited her spirit, for he not only lived but, in spite of his
many illnesses, throve. Her hand hesitated a moment and she smiled at a
passing vision of Gareth at the age of seven; a battered little figure,
with thin scarred knees, red hair damp and tumbled, one eye dark where a
black eye was coming, and the other eye faintly green where a black eye
was going. She had marvelled often at the eager spirit which was housed
in his shoggly body. When anyone trailed a coat it was Gareth, her sickly
baby, who was there to step on it.

There was a tap on the kitchen door, and a girl's head appeared; a brown
head with laughing eyes. Mary glanced round and went on with her work.

"It's you, Molly," she said in her calm way. But there was welcome in the
words.

Molly came in and closed the door. "I just slipped in for a minute. Is it
done?"

"Very near."

There was silence in the room while the two women hung over the cake.
Mary turned it slowly round so that the girl could view it adequately.
"It's lovely!" the girl said, "just lovely;" and they went on looking at
it in the silence. The face of each was rapt, and in the quiet they were
in complete communion. To both of them the thing was not an erection of
cake and sugar, but a symbol.

"He hasn't come back yet?" Molly asked, still enjoying the white
perfection of the cake.

"No."

"So you don't know if he's got it?"

"No, but he may be in any minute."

"In that case, I'm off. If he's got it I'll hear about it soon enough,
and if he hasn't he won't want me here."

Mary turned to her with a smile in her grey eyes. "You put in the last
one," she said, and held out a little pink candle.

Molly took it quite solemnly, and, as gravely as though she were laying a
foundation stone, pressed the candle down into the bead of sugar waiting
for its reception. The circle was perfect.

"There!" she said, and looked a moment longer. Then "He'll be sick!" she
said, and ran laughing from the room. Her light footsteps pattered on the
stairs and died away. Mary lifted the cake on its stand, carried it into
the pantry, and locked it away in a cupboard. As she took out the key the
front door banged. Only two people banged the front door: Gareth and
Sara: and it was too early for Sara.

Mary wanted to run to the door and read the news in his face: to
embrace him whether it was good or bad. Instead, she turned again to
the table, brushing the crumbs of icing on to a plate and putting spoons
and knife into a bowl of hot water. She had never "spoiled" any of her
children. When they thought of her at all they thought of her as a stern
mother. She heard the clatter of his descent and turned to greet him, her
heart thumping like a girl's. The door was opened by something between a
kick and a shove and he stood on the threshold.

"Well, I've got it," he said. He tried to make his voice sound casual, as
if getting one's first real job were an everyday affair, but triumph
radiated from him.

"Isn't that fine!" was all she said, but he evidently found no anti-climax
in her reception.

"Not bad!" he said, and came over to the table, into the reflected light
of the sunset. He was going to be twenty-one to-morrow, but he looked
eighteen. Small-boned, slight, with sloping shoulders, and something of
the appealing immaturity of a lamb in his make-up. His red-fair hair
was water-waved over the top of his narrow head; large freckles were
sprinkled over his pale skin, and darkish blue eyes looked out from
folded eyelids. The eyelids and a slight sag of the flesh by the corners
of the mouth suggested ill-health, and the cheek-bones under the eyes
were flattened, a peculiarity which gave the face a worn, exhausted look.
Something in the slant of the eyelids and the flattened cheek-bones
caused the eyes in repose to have a tortured, searching expression which
was entirely misleading. Both his pale mouth and his delicate chin lacked
modelling, but his nose jutted at a brave and satisfying angle from his
perpendicular forehead, redeeming the face from mediocrity and making it
in profile curiously beautiful. In his rapt moments Gareth looked like a
tortured saint; medieval and stained-glass. When he came alive he became
suddenly a street urchin; individual and impudent.

"The pay's not much. Five a week. That's about half what his last one
got. But playing the fiddle for Regan is a good advertisement, you know.
And he's promised me more if I'm all right and I stay with him. I'll be
all right, of course, but I don't know about staying with him. Anyhow,
it's a good beginning. There's only one Regan, and he has only one
violinist, and I'm it. That's good enough for me."

In spite of the triumph in his bearing he sounded as if he were trying to
convince himself. She wanted to say: "This isn't what you wanted. You were
going to do such big things," so that she might uncover the hurt place,
and having uncovered soothe it. But if he chose to hide it she would say
nothing. Her heart yearned over him.

"I always said I'd be independent before I was twenty-one, didn't I! I
wonder what father will have to say now? It's a fine subject for a
sermon, but on the other hand he can't make it very strong any more, or
I'll just walk out. You can't bully a chap with five pounds a week.

"You mustn't talk like that about your father," she said mechanically.

Her heart missed a beat at the thought of Gareth walking out of the
family circle. The others had threatened often to go, but they stayed
because staying was convenient for them. Convenience would not weigh with
Gareth if he wanted to go. What he wanted to do he would make convenient.
He had all the headstrong common-sense of his Irish grandmother. The
thought of the house without Gareth was not to be borne. She pushed the
dreadful idea down below the surface of her mind and covered it up. She
was not going to meet trouble half-way. As a girl she had always seen
trouble when it was hull-down, and rushed with all her forces to meet it.
Sometimes there had been no trouble there, and she had had a bad time
explaining to her reserves why they should have been so unnecessarily
mobilised. Sometimes the trouble would have passed below the horizon but
for her eager antagonism. And after many years, scarred and wise, she had
learned that it is better to face trouble only when it is upon one.

"And, anyhow, it will soon be ten pounds a week." His eyes shone at the
prospect. No one would think that this was the boy who had agonised to
play music that was music as he understood the term. The boy who had gone
jobless for months because he believed in himself and his talent, and was
not going to prostitute them. Was the relief so great that he was really
glad about Regan's? It must, she thought sympathetically, be wonderful
not to have to struggle any longer; to turn back from the thin air and
the cold and the starvation of the heights to comfort and security.

Absent-mindedly he licked his slender fore-finger, picked up a crumb of
icing from the table, and put it in his mouth. His eyes, bright with the
thought of five pounds a week, awoke to a more immediate interest.

"What have you been making?" he demanded.

"Just a cake."

"Iced cake, though. Where is it?"

"You can't have a piece just now. I've just this minute put the finishing
touches to the icing."

"Well, let me have a look at it. Is it plum cake?"

When she had unlocked the cupboard and switched on the light so that they
might see, she turned anxiously to watch him. Was he going to play down
to her, be nice to her because she had been sentimental and mustn't be
let down? Or would he feel in his bones, as she did, that this was a
symbol of achievement?

She saw his careless eyes grow suddenly intent. There was a little pause.
"Mum!" he said, and turned to her smiling. As their eyes met his smile
faded, and they looked at each other for a moment curiously over the
chasm which separates one human being from another, reaching out to each
other. Then with a swift movement he clipped her neck in a boyish
embrace, and rubbed his cheek against hers.

"I wouldn't exchange you for anything," he said.

As he released her he stretched out his hand to pick off a little knob
of icing.

"Don't, Gareth!" she said sharply, the doting mother disappointing in the
outraged housewife. "It isn't set yet."

"Oh, you're a bully," he said, desisting. He pushed his hands into his
trousers pockets as if to keep them out of mischief. "Tea as usual? All
right. I'll be back in good time. It isn't sausages, by any chance, I
suppose?"

"I shouldn't be surprised."

"All right. Shan't be long." And he disappeared.

She knew where he was going: next door to tell Molly the news. But she
knew no jealousy at the thought. Some day these two would marry. From
their infancy they had wept and laughed and fought together, shielding
each other in delinquencies, cursing each other in discrepancies, but
always necessary to each other. When they married there would be little
disturbance of the family. She would never lose Gareth to Molly, because
the part of Gareth which was Molly's had always been Molly's. The part
which was hers would never be trespassed on now.

She turned happily to put the kettle on the stove.



CHAPTER II


Tea at number seventeen Sark Street was ostensibly at half-past six on
week days. In reality it was at the moment when Mr. Ellis arrived home.
If the members of his family arrived before him they waited for their
meal, no matter how tired and hungry they might be, until he arrived. If,
on the other hand, he arrived first, tea was set on the table with the
utmost dispatch, and his family, as they dribbled in, retrieved their
fish or sausage from the gas oven. As children this had seemed to them
the appropriate and fitting thing; they had taken it as a matter of
course; not because their father was the bread-winner, but because he was
Father. As one by one they became breadwinners, however, and self-respect
and independence rose in them, there was muted grumbling, and Sara,
always the kicker against pricks, had first uttered that unspeakable
heresy: "Father's selfishness." Inwardly dismayed but outwardly
forbidding, their mother had subdued them. Mary Ellis would allow none of
her brood to criticise their father. Another woman would have snubbed
them and forbidden the subject.

Mary took to cooking each person's share as they came in and having her
own tea in snatches, so that her family, exasperated and beaten, ordered
her to stop it, and thereafter fetched their share from the oven with as
good a grace as they could muster. The only exception to the rule was
Matt, the eldest. Matt had slipped from under his father's jurisdiction
in one adroit movement by becoming a reporter on the _Daily Clarion_. As
a newspaper man, his hours were incalculable, and no one could call him a
liar when he said he was on a job. He had meals when he came in, could
never go to Wednesday night prayer meeting (a fact which his baffled and
angry parent assured him would inevitably lead him to hell), and
very often managed to absent himself from even the Sunday meetings, an
achievement which in the Ellis family was equivalent to an escape from
Dartmoor together with the presentation of the freedom of the City of
London.

Alfred Ellis belonged to a sect which were a kind of superior Plymouth
Brethren. A very greatly superior kind, of course. They disapproved of
Plymouth Brethren, and were rather hurt and scornful when any analogy was
drawn between the beliefs and practices of their respective sects. But no
amount of explanation seemed to convince his acquaintances and the
customers who came to his shop of the essential differences between his
"meeting" and all others, and Alfred Ellis was filled with contempt for
the understanding of these unsaved and unenlightened. His father had been
a pillar of the local Congregational church; a shrewd old man, narrow in
his views but upright and fair-dealing; Mary remembered him with
gratitude. He had left Alfred a half share in the grocery business round
the corner (a business which was then suburban but which was now almost
in town) and the house in which they were now living. Within two years
Alfred, who had never liked having to consult other people, had bought
his younger brother out of the business. A monarchy was more desirable
than sharing a consulate. Besides, his brother and he had clashed several
times over the matter of business methods. His brother, poor fool, had
seemed not to realise that business and religion were two different
things. There had been a ghastly night when John had told him "exactly
what he thought"; among the things he thought being that their father
must be turning in his grave at Alfred's methods of making money. After
that Alfred decided that John must go.

It had been a tremendous strain on the business, the buying out of John,
but John had been willing to go (he said he wanted to go to Australia,
where they were all descendants of convicts, so he'd always heard, and
probably wouldn't bother to preach while they sanded the sugar), and so
Alfred had managed it. When their strained circumstances were revealed to
her, Mary had wanted to give up the big grey house in the terrace, which
had always seemed too big for themselves and their two children, and take
a little one further out. But Alfred had said no; that it was a
first-rate money maker, the house. They could keep lodgers. They would
turn a liability into an asset. The Lord had shown them the way.

Mary had wept in secret over the thought of having strangers in her
house; she had never dealt easily with strangers, and her house was
somehow sacred to herself and her two tiny sons; and it seemed to her
that the way the Lord had shown to Alfred was unbelievably hard and
flinty. But she had one overpowering motive in her life: her children's
good. She wanted to help Alfred, of course; she still loved Alfred,
because she had never analysed herself sufficiently to find out that she
didn't; but more than anything she wanted to give her children a future
that they might find sufficient. So there had been long years of paying
guests and child-bearing, the guests growing fewer as the growing family
needed more rooms; a state of affairs with which Alfred Ellis's superior
understanding seemed strangely unable to cope; each time they had to part
with a guest he had made it an occasion for loud wailing, threats of
bankruptcy, and ultimate bowing to God's will. And now, with five of her
six children alive and grown-up, there remained only one guest: the
Indian student on the first floor. And Mary sometimes smiled to remember
how she had hated the thought of Ratan Dastur's coming, and how she would
miss that gentle Parsee when at last he would go. At the time, Alfred had
forbidden her to take a heathen into the house, but when he heard that
the heathen was going to pay five shillings a week more than his
predecessor because for some, to Alfred, unfathomable reason he wanted
more baths, Alfred had said that perhaps it was God's will, and who were
they to gainsay it. It was almost like a reward, Mary thought sometimes,
that the last of her guests should be so lovable a being.

Alfred was eating his sausages when Gareth came back from talking to
Molly. He had already told his wife what he thought of his son's proposed
method of making money, and had, of course, laid the blame of his future
damnation on her. Hadn't he told her when Gareth wanted to go to the
Academy what the end would be? Hadn't he? And look what had come of it!
Playing vile African tunes while half-naked harlots disported themselves
in shameless attitudes! Dancing to hell!

Mary had listened almost indifferently (she was so used to this by now
that she could almost anticipate the phrases as they came to his tongue)
and marvelled mildly for the thousandth time at the relish Alfred took in
the matters of sex. Gareth's entrance was, she knew, the signal for the
tirade to begin again. She hoped that Gareth would be too pleased with
himself to care. The only way to deal with Alfred was to let him talk and
say nothing; let the torrent wash over you while you shut yourself inside
your mind until the storm was over.

"What's this I hear?" said Alfred, laying down his knife and fork, and
glaring.

"That I've got five pounds a week, I hope!"

"For what? For what! For pandering to the lowest in human nature. For
aiding and abetting the committing of sin. Sin, I tell you. It is sin!
You are taking the wages of the devil."

"Be quiet." He said it quite casually but distinctly, as one does to an
obstreperous child, and sat down with his plate of sausage.

"Gareth!" said his mother, aghast. "You mustn't speak to your father like
that!"

"What's to hinder me?"

"What's to hinder you!" shouted his father, purpling, and more surprised
than he had ever been in his life before. "I should have thought common
decency and gratitude would have hindered you, that's what! Haven't I
fed and clothed you all those years? Didn't I send you to the Academy
instead of putting you to a trade like the rest of your kind. And you
repay all the care and expense I've lavished on you by taking the
deliberate way to sin. And not content with that you speak to me
disrespectfully at my own table. I never thought I'd live to hear a son
of mine--" He choked, partly with rage, partly on a piece of sausage.

Gareth was blithe and unimpressed. "In the first place, if you hadn't fed
and clothed me you'd have been had up by the courts. In the second place,
it wasn't you who sent me to the Academy, it was mother. If you paid for
me it was sorely against your will, and you jolly well know it. I'll pay
you back that money because I'd hate to be in your debt for anything. And
if you don't like a sinner in the house I'll relieve you of my presence
any time you like."

Alfred changed his tone. "Oh, I see! That's the way the wind blows is it!
The minute you begin to make some money you would like to pretend you owe
nobody anything. You don't want any of your five pounds a week to be
claimed by the parents who have fed and clothed you. Is that it? Well,
you're making a mistake, my lad. You'll stay here and pay your share for
a change. We have put out a lot on you and we expect something in
return."

"Oh, if you don't mind taking the wages of sin I don't mind your having
them. I said I'd pay you back. And now that I'm earning my living perhaps
mum can have a new costume at last."

"Are you insinuating that your mother is not respectably clothed?"

Gareth winked comfortingly at his distressed mother. "She doesn't show
anything she shouldn't show, if that's what you mean by respectable. But
she hasn't had a new coat and skirt for years. Now, perhaps she can have
one."

The venom which showed in Alfred's stupid eyes spilled over. "Your mother
can have all the clothes she wants without you prostituting the talent
God gave you to play in a dance hall!"

Gareth's pale face was suddenly drained of all colour. His eyes, which
had been sparkling at this new play of baiting the family tyrant, grew
hard and dead as blue stones. He caught his breath in a queer little
sound, horrible to hear. His arm went back to push away his chair and he
half rose, his eyes fixed on his father's sneering face.

"Gareth!" cried his mother, in sharp appeal. Gareth hesitated, still
staring at his father. And perhaps the fear on his father's face stayed
him even more than his mother's cry. It was somehow shocking.

And then the door opened and Sara came in. Gareth sat down slowly,
suddenly limp and shaken. Sara came over to the table, carrying the plate
which she had fetched from the kitchen, and sat down without a word. She
had not looked at any of them, and was unaware that there was any crisis.
Sara was habitually wrapped up in her own thoughts. So self-absorbed was
she that not even the admiring stares of men in the streets and the
Underground roused her from her secret brooding.

"Had a tiring day, dear?" her mother asked, trying to bring her little
world back to some semblance of normality.

She must forget what she had seen on her son's face; must rub it out of
her mind before the impression became indelible.

"Oh, just the usual."

"Lady Nora's trousseau finished?" Alfred shouldn't have said that. Oh, he
shouldn't have said that!

"Yes. I don't know why madame bothers with it. They'll never see the
money for it. Pretty dear advertisement. Pass the salt, Gareth." She
caught sight of her brother's face. "What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I feel sick."

"No job yet?"

"Yes," his mother said, "he's got a job with Regan, the conductor."

"No! How much?"

"Not much," she said, when she heard. She herself earned only three
pounds and fifteen shillings a week, and knew what was much or little
with a pitiless clarity. "You should have made him give you more."

"I'll have more when he's had me a month," Gareth said boastfully. But
the jubilation had gone out of him. He was only a shell, dark and empty.

"Is that Mark I hear?" Mary asked, listening to the spatter of water in
the next room.

"Yes, he's in." Sara's beautiful, sullen mouth tightened in
exasperation. "_Must_ he wash himself at the kitchen sink! We do have a
bathroom."

"Oh, Sara, dear!"

"Well! It's slovenly and disgusting!" She was tired, and an immense
despair overwhelmed her. "We live like pigs in the basement when we might
be living in decency upstairs. All because we hang on to a paying guest
that we don't need!"

"Sara!" exclaimed her mother sharply. What was wrong with everyone
to-night! "Mr. Dastur's been with us four years. You know quite well
that none of us want him to go. He'll stay with us until he's finished at
the University."

"And then some excuse will be found for having another one. You'll see!"

"If you don't control your temper, miss," her father said, "you'll leave
the table."

"I'm not in a temper. I only want to know why we live as we do, and why
Mark--"

She stopped as the door opened. But it was not Mark, it was Matt. And
with his advent the charged atmosphere became suddenly clearer. Matt had
no sense of frustration to mar his outlook on life. Matt was free and
content. He knew what he wanted in life, and he knew the way to get it,
and his bright, watchful dark eyes were full of a careless good humour.

"'Lo, everyone. No, I don't want anything to eat. Just looked in for a
cup of tea in passing. You won't make it an extra on the bill, will you,
Mum? It's all right," as Mary made as if to rise, "I'll get a cup." He
fetched a cup and saucer from the cupboard. "They've got the chap who did
the postman in. Yes. This afternoon. The police needed that badly. You
wait and see the _Morning News_ throwing them bouquets to-morrow. After
panning them for months! Huh! Any word of a job, kid?"

"Yes, I'm going to play the fiddle for Regan. Start to-morrow."

"Good for you! Congratulations, kid! You'll be the famous one of the
family all in a bound. Playing for Regan is first-rate advertisement,
isn't it! There isn't a single member of the first hundred thousand who
won't know you by sight in a fortnight's time. I say, Mark," as his
brother came in, "congratulate the kid. He's been engaged by Regan. The
dance band, you know."

Mark's absent-minded grey eyes woke to animation and he smiled, a little
shyly, at his brother. "And will you like that?" he asked with interest.
To Mark the important thing in life was neither money nor fame, but the
ability to devote yourself to a job you were interested in. He spent his
days in a garage attending to invalid motors, and most of his evenings in
the same garage, experimenting. The world for Mark was bounded by the
internal combustion engine and what it might be capable of becoming. Even
on Sundays he was unmistakably a mechanic. There was a suggestion of
motor oil in his untidy dark hair, and his hands, in spite of assiduous
scrubbing, still looked very much as they had on Saturday evening. He
lived in a world of his own, not, like Sara, because of a lack of
sympathy with his surroundings, but because he did not notice his
surroundings until they were pointed out to him.

Matt, who lived in no world of his own, had become aware that Sara was on
the verge of tears and that Gareth looked ill and miserable for a
newly-engaged violinist, and he hastened to deal with Mark's question.
"Of course he'll like it," he said. "It'll be a great jape for him. You
can't do anything without advertisement nowadays, and he'll be getting
advertisement in dollops. And Regan's good to work with, anyhow. Of
course he'll like it!" He cast round in his mind for something else to
say. The kid had no right to be looking like that when he had just
reached down his first job. "And when he's made a little he can walk out
and do something else. With a little money you can do anything." Was that
what the kid was sore about? Not being able to play decent stuff? Or--oh,
yes, of course! That was it! Father had been holding forth again. He
looked for a moment at his parent, glowering and eating his tea with a
sulky ferocity at the head of the table. And he added deliberately: "With
money, kid, you can be independent of everyone but yourself. Everyone, do
you hear."

Alfred glanced quickly at his eldest son, but Matt's square face was
bland. If there was a challenge there Alfred ignored it. He was afraid of
Matt.

Mary was thinking: "By to-morrow this will have blown over and we can
have his birthday celebration without bad feeling." But she did not
analyse the thought too closely in case the wish was father to the
thought.

Sara was trying to keep back the tears which every now and then blurred
the sausages, and wondering why life so suddenly seemed unbearable the
minute she entered Number Seventeen. True, she did not find it happy
elsewhere, but if not happy it was at least supportable. Coming along the
street she had been pleased with the furious splendour of the sunset. It
had satisfied something hungry in her, and she had forgotten the petty
annoyance of having to wear her humping, heavy rubber boots when the rain
had long since ceased to fall. But as soon as the door had closed behind
her the old, obscure resentment and hopelessness had risen in a flood and
submerged her. The dark hall, with its mean, ugly hatstand and lifeless
atmosphere enraged her. She hated everything, and hated herself for her
hatred. When she snapped at her patient mother she loathed herself for
snapping and her mother for her patience. What was wrong with her? Why
hadn't she been born like Molly, content with her lot? Asking nothing of
life but the things she had known since babyhood. Why had she to be like
this!

When Matt rose to go, after having swallowed his tea, she debated with
herself whether she should go back to town with him. He might be
persuaded to go by bus, and now that the rain had stopped it would be
nice to sit on top of a bus and watch the lighted streets go by; and Matt
was a sensible creature and comforting to be with. He didn't suffer from
vague and enormous desires, but he _had_ realised the impossibility, the
damnable, constricting, suffocating impossibility of Seventeen Sark Street.
It would be soothing to be with Matt for a little and feel the fresh air
blowing. She raised her head to tell him that she would come with him,
and found that the thought of' having to climb the stairs of a bus was
more than she could face. She was tired to the marrow. And what was the
point of going bus-riding, anyhow? Going nowhere just to come back again.
Just like the rest of life. She let him go. And presently, leaving her
parents and Mark at the table (Gareth had disappeared), she climbed the
dim, shabby stairs to her room at the top of the house.

In the basement of Number Seventeen was the kitchen, looking out on the
street, and a living-room where the family took their meals, looking out
on a square of bedraggled grass. The front sitting-room on the ground
floor was occupied by Ratan Dastur, and the one behind it was the
Ellises' best room where they received visitors. On the first floor were,
in front, Dastur's bedroom and a room shared by Matt and Mark, and,
behind, the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis. The top floor was divided into
two attics; one was Sara's, and the other Gareth had shared with his
brother Joe until Joe had married and departed to work in a motor cycle
works in Coventry, leaving him in sole possession.

As Sara passed his door she noticed that Gareth was sitting on the edge
of his bed staring at nothing, and there was such woebegoneness in his
attitude that she hesitated, and then moved into the room. The only
tender spot in Sara's heart was reserved for her baby brother. As a small
girl she had looked after him when her mother was overburdened with
household affairs; washed him, dressed him, bullied him, and shielded
him, until, as he grew older he had, in a natural reaction, constituted
himself her protector and champion. At the age of eight he fought a boy
twice his size who had said that Sara, then nearly twelve, wore
second-hand clothes; and had suffered more or less in silence Sara's
exasperated shaking when she saw the state of his own garments, because
she might be hurt if she heard about the clothes.

She had meant to say something cheerful, but his resentment seemed to
become fused with her own, and she said bitterly: "It's a lovely life,
isn't it! What do you think we were born for?"

"Don't you know!" Gareth said, as one pained at an exhibition of
ignorance. "To help keep father, of course."

"I don't know how someone hasn't murdered father long ago. It makes me
sick, _sick_, to think that human beings are made like that, and sick to
think he's my father. The preaching hypocrite! Was he horrid about your
job?"

"Yes."

"Why do you think we all stay?"

"Joe didn't," Gareth said, going round the question.

"No, but Joe doesn't count. He always ran away from everything. He hadn't
even the spunk to get married before he went to Coventry. Did it on the
sly."

"Father always beat him more than the rest of us."

"Only because he was afraid of father and showed it. Hymn-bawling little
coward. Of course _he_ would get out! But why does Matt stay, and Mark,
and you now?"

"Don't know. Because of mother. I suppose. It would be awful for her if
we all went. Went just to live in digs, I mean."

"But, you know, mother is responsible for quite a lot of father's
awfulness. She'd be dreadfully hurt and all that if you said so to her,
but it's true. She's been a door-mat for him ever since they were
married. It makes me sick to see her fetching and carrying for him as if
he were a king or an invalid. She thinks she's being so noble when she
does it, and all she is doing is making him into the unbearable thing he
is. If mother had been another kind of woman father wouldn't be half so
awful as he is. He'd always have been a liar and a hypocrite, because he
was born that way, but he wouldn't have been so selfish or so bullying or
quite so--so--oh, so _ridiculous_ as he is. She's made him like that."

"I suppose she wanted a quiet life now and then."

"She could have got it in two weeks if she had stuck up to him in the
beginning. It disgusts me to see a woman kowtowing to her husband like
that. That's what mother thinks being a good wife is. I suppose. And she
would think you were awful if you told her that it was much more
degrading--_much_ more--than being a man's mistress. That kind of wife
loses her self-respect and ruins her husband at the same time."

"You'll never be that kind of wife," Gareth said, a faint amusement
showing.

"No, I won't." The faint amusement became reflected in her face. "Neither
will Molly, you know. Molly is easy-going, but she will tell you just
where you get off."

"You can't tell me anything I don't know about Molly."

"Any woman knows more about another woman than a man can ever know,
silly. But I don't suppose there is much about Molly you don't
know...Your future is all nice and simple and clear, isn't it, Gareth?
_You'll_ get out before long. You'll get married and leave Seventeen with
everyone's consent and blessing. Perhaps father will even give you a
fiver."

"That's the programme--though I'm not counting on the fiver. But I'm not
in any hurry. We're not going to marry until we've something decent to
live on. We're not going to pig it."

Sara looked for a moment quizzically at his serious, freckled, childish
countenance. And she smiled.

When Sara smiled one caught one's breath. The scornful brooding
loveliness melted suddenly into a shining wistfulness that squeezed one's
heart to see. One's mind exclaimed at the unexpectedness and poignancy of
it. It was a child's smile, shy, and innocent, and utterly lovely. Even
Gareth realised that Sara's smile was a precious thing. Sara smiled so
seldom.

"You're a canny little person for an artist, aren't you!"

"I don't have to be a fool because I play the fiddle," Gareth said,
hoping she would keep smiling. But the smile had died away as if
existence was too difficult for anything so fragile, so vulnerable. "When
we have enough to buy a house somewhere just out of London we'll get
married, and you'll come for every week-end. But I expect you'll be
married first."

"Married!" she said, and her tone disconcerted him. "Who'm I to marry?"

"There are queues, aren't there?"

"Maybe, but look at the queues! Who am I to marry out of that lot? Sidney
Webb? And have him being facetious from morning till night. Joshing
visitors when they don't want to be joshed, and being the bright lad all
over the place? Or Bert Tiller? And put up with his washing in the
kitchen like Mark, and making a noise when he drank? Do you see me
married to someone like that?"

"Not to those two, obviously!" Gareth said. "But some day you'll fall for
someone and you won't care a hoot about his washing at the sink and
you'll think the noise he makes with his tea is a symphony."

"Oh, no, I shan't. You're quite wrong about me. I couldn't fall in love
with anyone like that. And if by chance I did I shouldn't marry him. I
know too well what it would be like afterwards. I've seen too much
gingerbread with the gilt off to make a fool of myself that way. You're
busy trying to believe that I'm snobbish, but you know quite well that
you're the same, Gareth. You don't like this way of living any more than
I do. You want something better, too. It surely isn't snobbish to want to
have more--more--" she searched for a word--"Oh, less of the
feed-and-get-out way of living than we've been brought up to. You may not
hate it as I do, but the only reason you don't is because you've had your
music always--and Molly. I haven't had anything. The only way out for me
is marriage. And I won't marry a Webb or a Tiller."

Gareth was silent for a moment, a little surprised at his sister's
frankness. Sara so seldom discussed her affairs with anyone. He forgot
his own troubles temporarily in considering this phenomenon. Sara was so
unhappy that she was driven to talk about it! And she had been right
about his attitude to life at home. He had never thought about it much,
but he did want more graciousness, more beauty, more space in existence
than he had experienced so far. He hadn't worried his head about it much,
because at the back of his mind he knew that one day he would achieve all
that he wanted of beauty, and until then, as Sara said, there was his
music. But for Sara, with no certainty of power to hug deep in her soul,
with no future hanging like a constant star in front of her--it must be
pretty rough for Sara. Yes, he did understand.

"What about Seven A Brook Street?" he said lightly. "Isn't that a happy
hunting ground for you? If it's a wealthy marriage you want I should have
thought it would have been quite easy to bring it off that way!"

To his amazement she grew slowly crimson. "I suppose you're joking," she
said after a pause. "I don't want that kind of marriage any more than I
want the other kind." She tried to make it seem that her flush was due to
indignation at Gareth's suggestion, but Gareth felt that he had stubbed
his toe against something in the dark.

"I'm not going to be picked out of a dress shop for my looks any more
than I'm going to cook sausages for Sidney Webb to be funny about," she
said equably, her cheeks regaining their normal pallor. "And if you stay
up here any longer you'll get pneumonia and the house will be worse than
ever to live in. My feet are frozen already." She rose from where she had
been propped on the bed rail and made a small tattoo with her toes on the
floor. "What are you doing for the rest of the evening?"

"Going to take Molly to the movies. You come too."

"No, thanks. You can hold hands in peace. Thanks all the same. Tell Molly
that I'll come in and cut her frock on Sunday afternoon if that will be
all right for her."

"What! And help her down the road to hell! Do you know what you are
saying? Is Jehovah to be mocked with a pair of scissors and frivolous
thought on his Sabbath!"

"Oh, shut up," said Sara amiably. "I've had enough of father for one day.
And you don't have any frivolous thoughts when you're cutting out a this
year's model, take it from me!" She smiled faintly at him and went out to
her room next door.

Gareth sat for a minute longer, thinking about her, and then, remembering
that he would be late for the appointment with Molly, he glanced hastily
at his collar in the mirror, decided that it would do, and went tumbling
downstairs in his usual pell-mell fashion. He was feeling much better.
Molly, anyhow, had been gloriously glad about his job, and as long as he
kept his mind off his father things didn't look so bad. At least he had
five pounds a week.



CHAPTER III


Sara heard him go, and her face softened as she stood listlessly
unfastening her frock in front of her dressing-table in the chilly
attic. Gareth was grown-up now, but he would always be a small boy at
heart. She always thought of him, and sometimes spoke of him, as her
"little" brother. It wasn't only his appearance that made one think of
him as young; there was something in his lack of pose, in his
unselfconsciousness, that was child-like. And delightful. He was a
darling, Gareth. If one appealed to him to do a thing he did it as a
matter of course. He would do anything for anyone, from matching silk to
bearding a tax-collector.

She let her frock slide to the floor, picked it up, shook it out wearily
and hung it on a hanger behind a curtain. Why had she talked like that to
Gareth to-night? He must in some way be more grown up than she had ever
suspected; there had been a real sympathy between them for those few
minutes. She had had no consciousness, then, of her three years'
superiority. And why, oh why, had she blushed! If there had been any
adequate reason she might have forgiven herself. But there was no reason;
no reason whatever.

She took down a dressing-gown from the black iron hook at the back of the
door and put it on. It was made of fine bright silk of a motley pattern
which she had obtained cheaply from the workroom since it had been
rejected with contumely by the customer who had originally ordered it,
and who had pretended to faint with horror when she saw it in the process
of being made up. (The contretemps had been settled with satisfaction to
all parties since the customer had the joy of choosing all over again,
Madame Laurier had charged her half as much again as she had intended to,
and Sara had come by a thing of beauty.) On Sara the riot of peacock
greens and blues and iris yellows looked barbarically appropriate. Every
time her eye lighted on the splendour and the subtlety of them she had a
moment of pleasure, and each time her eye lighted on herself in the
splendour her pleasure was renewed. She was Egypt, she was Diana, she was
Circe. Sara's dressing-gown was one of the things that helped to make
life bearable for Sara.

She lay down on the bed (a black iron cot with a hollow in the middle),
pulled the worn quilt up over the peacock glories, and switched on the
electric lamp which Mark had rigged for her last birthday. There was a
library book on the table but she did not read it. She lay staring into
the pool of light which the lamp made on the dingy ceiling.

If Chitterne hadn't happened to come in that morning she wouldn't have
blushed at Gareth's idle remark to-night. It all boiled down to that. And
things were coming to a pretty pass when she felt self-conscious over a
man like Chitterne. The affair must be sorted out in her mind. That blush
had shocked her.

That morning made Chitterne's third visit to Madame Laurier's. Twice he
had come with his cousin, Daphne Conyers-Munford, and waited, serene and
amused, while she tried on hats; every hat in the shop, in fact, except
the bird's-nest affair which was on order for the Dowager Lady Appleby;
Daphne Conyers-Munford had never been known to spare anyone trouble if
she wanted something. It had been sheer chance that on the first occasion
Madge Sinclair, who was "hats," was on holiday, and Millie Burke, who was
"gowns," at lunch, and Sara had been in charge of the whole establishment
in front for an hour. Chitterne and his cousin had stayed nearly the
whole of that hour, and Sara had been radiant because she had sold two
hats; at least she had supposed that that was why she was radiant. On the
second occasion Sara had been in her proper place in the designing room
behind the scenes. But Miss Munford had wanted Chitterne to see the
period dress that she was going to wear at "Sandy's rag," and Sara had
brought it. It hadn't pleased Miss Conyers-Munford, seen limp and
shapeless in Sara's hands, so Sara had put it on for them and exhibited
it in all its beauty.

That had been a month ago. And then this morning Chitterne had arrived
alone and wanted "a piece of silk" to give as a present to his sister.
And Sara had been summoned from her work to deal with this strange
request. Chitterne had seemed to have very vague ideas as to what he
wanted; all that he was certain of was that it should be beautiful and
"out of the way."

"She likes things like that," he said. They had discussed textures and
colours for nearly half an hour, and although he seemed totally ignorant
of the subject, he had proved an appreciative listener, and Sara had
approved of his taste. Nothing in the Laurier stock was "out of the way"
enough, but Sara had known where to obtain what he wanted, and had
promised to find something for him within three days. As he was going
away he said: "It's awfully sporting of you to go to all this trouble."
Sara was about to say that there was no sport in business, but thought
that it might sound snubbing. She had put on her polite expression and
said that she was delighted.

"Then, I say," he said, "are you doing anything to-night?"

He said it quite nicely, almost diffidently, and for a moment Sara
hesitated. This sort of thing, in spite of film plots and library novels,
happened so seldom. To go out for the evening with anyone as famous and
as popular as Chitterne would be making history in Brook Street; and it
would be a marvellous experience. But she remembered with bitter clarity
what their relations would be: a pretty shop-girl treated to a night's
entertainment by an amused if slightly infatuated male; and she revolted.

"Yes, I am," she said politely; and visualised, with painful
distinctness, what she was doing: going home by Underground to high tea
in a basement room with a boring family. Queer, now that she came to
think of it, that she should set such high store by herself; queer and a
bit mad.

"I'm sorry. I thought perhaps you might come out and have dinner with me
somewhere, and perhaps go to a show and dance."

"That's very nice of you, but I'm engaged to-night."

Was he sorry for her? Or did he merely covet her? There could be only the
two reasons, and she hardly knew which she resented the more.

"Well, would you come some other night this week?"

"No, thank you very much."

"You don't want to come, is that it?"

"Well--you put it rather bluntly."

"Why don't you want to?"

"Because I don't know you."

"Oh, is that all?"

"It's a very good reason, I think."

"You're old-fashioned, aren't you?"

More lives have been wrecked and more morals disintegrated on the word
"old-fashioned" than on all the gilded temptations of the devil. Tell a
woman that she is faithless and she will be flattered, tell her that she
is a snob and she will be sorry for you, but tell her that she is
old-fashioned and watch her rushing headlong to the devil to prove that
she is no such thing! Chitterne brought out the old gibe with evident
faith in its efficacy. But he did not know Sara.

"I suppose I must be," she said sweetly, and held the door open for him.

He had gone then; more amused than abashed, it seemed. And Sara had gone
back to her work, a little disgusted to find herself regretful. Was it
ridiculous to be too proud to accept casual invitations?--in these days,
when all society was casual and without taboo. He had been very nice and
brotherly and unpresuming, and she had never been out to dinner at a
smart restaurant. But she was greatly fortified by the memory of his
remark about being old-fashioned. A man who said that should be slapped.

And after all that, she had blushed about him to-night! She, the
worldly-wise, self-contained, hard-headed, twenty-four-year-old
dress-designer of Laurier's! It shocked her anew.

Was she flattered that he had been interested in her? Of course! Any
woman is faintly flattered by the interest of even an octogenarian, and
Chitterne was young, good looking, presumably a connoisseur in women's
looks since he daily met the most beautiful women in the world. He was
famous as a gentleman rider, as the driver of a racing motor car, as the
owner of a racing stable and stud, as an amateur boxer, as the
perpetrator of various more or less astounding plays which had delighted
the West End, and his name was a household word in every home in Britain
where the penny Press is read. His father had been known to complain that
he, the Earl of Wilmington, appeared in print as "father of the famous
Chit." ("Chit" was Chitterne's nickname, and the penny Press is nothing
if not familiar.) Sober householders shook their heads over him, much as
they did over the National Debt, and opined that he had too much money
and too little sense. Policemen loved him and took his bribes with the
greatest goodwill. The men at the works, where he had spent three months
learning motor engineering after he left Harrow, thought him a first-rate
chap, his mechanic frankly worshipped him, and the great British Public
were vaguely conscious that he was a decorative and Corinthian addition
to the country's rather drab present.

But Sara, lying with her brooding eyes on the dirty ceiling, decided that
she had done well. She was spending the evening in her dreary attic when
she might be what the girls in Brook Street called seeing life. But she
was not going to be taken for granted by any young Corinthian. And that
remark about being old-fashioned had certainly been taking her for
granted. Kicking against the pricks, was she? Torturing herself for an
idea? Well, what did it matter? The only thing that counted to her was her
own opinion of herself. If that became smirched or spoiled there would be
nothing left.

And she would never blush about Chitterne again. She would see to that!



CHAPTER IV


Gareth hung about the railings of number Fifteen hoping that Molly would
come out to meet him and save him from having to go in. He didn't want to
see Molly's mother to-night, somehow. Mrs. Rayner knew, as well as any of
them, that this job of his was a come-down; that it was capitulation not
achievement. But she wouldn't pretend as well as the others. She would
smile at him, and perhaps pat him, but her small, inquisitive eyes would
be probing, quizzing, full of delighted curiosity. They would be like a
fork digging into him and turning over his emotions in search of the
interesting bits. He liked Mrs. Rayner all right (of course he liked her,
she was Molly's mother, wasn't she?) but there were times when the
rejoicing malice in the jewel-like eyes, stuck so incongruously in the
fat amiability of her face, made him uncomfortable. He didn't want to
have to face her to-night, and pretend.

Molly came running down the steps, still hatless. "You're coming in to
see mother, aren't you, Gareth? Oh, you must, just for a minute. She
hasn't seen you to congratulate you. She'll think it so funny if you
don't."

"To-morrow'll do, won't it? I'm sick of the subject. Let's buzz off and
be by ourselves."

"Yes, I've just to put my hat on. But you come in and see mother while I
put it on. Then you'll have it all over at once, and we can enjoy
ourselves. Mother's awfully pleased about it, and she'd be awfully dashed
if you didn't come in." The Rayner household was a boarding-house, which
Mrs. Rayner ran with the aid of her only daughter and a general servant
known as "the housemaid." Since she never took boarders who came in for
luncheon, she managed to achieve an existence of considerable leisure,
and to devote her afternoons to the bridge parties which constituted the
main interest of her life. She didn't like bridge very much because she
could never understand the game, and played very badly, but she secretly
considered that the playing of bridge gave "tone" to one's social
standing. She never got tired of saying: "You must come in for bridge one
afternoon." It had such a nice, casual, opulent sound, somehow. Once a
month she gave a real bridge party: and for a week beforehand all her
energies were concentrated in the narrow channel of considering the
details: what she would give them to eat, what she would wear; what
prizes she would give, what flowers she would have. And on the day itself
she devoted herself from eight o'clock onwards to arranging; her bridge
tea, while Molly ran the boarding-house; cooking, washing up, smoothing
down the outraged (there is always someone outraged in a boarding-house),
encouraging the depressed, urging on the dilatory, ordering from
tradespeople, answering the front door-bell when the maid was in the
attics, until, at half past six, she put a triumphant but exhausted
mother to bed with a headache, and descended into the basement to see to
the dinner.

To-night, as usual, Mrs. Rayner had impressed her three boarders into
making a four. Gareth found them sitting round a table in front of the
drawing-room fire. Molly had shoved him in and left him, so he made the
best of things. He knew the boarders (two school teachers and an elderly
woman who was foreign correspondent for a big business house) and they
did their best to be nice about his job, but he felt the eyes of the
school-mistresses to be cold and critical. There was something vaguely
antagonistic about these two; he was outside their world, and therefore
something to be distrusted, if not despised. The old correspondent said:
"I have a niece who plays in an orchestra in Sheffield. A very good job,
it is. I am glad you have such a fine opening, Mr. Ellis." And Mrs.
Rayner sat plump and solid in her chair, her sly smile enveloping him,
her eyes seeking him out. Depression rushed over him. The awfulness of
the future became excruciatingly plain. He was going to play syncopated
trash six nights a week and half the day for five pounds a week. It was
incredible. How could he ever have thought of it. He, Gareth Ellis.
Selling his soul for a mess of pottage. He wouldn't do it. He would go to
Regan to-morrow, to-night, and tell him that he had changed his mind. He
hadn't signed a contract yet. Regan would let him off.

"A nice fat cheque every week is a lot better than playing to a lot of
high-brows, eh, Gareth?" He hated the woman; yes, hated her, whether she
was Molly's mother or not. Her smug Scots voice, with its complacent
lilt, maddened him. He couldn't turn his head to look at her he hated her
so much. She was horrible. She would cry happily at funerals (he had seen
her), but when anyone was filled with rapture she pulled out a pin and
punctured them. Always when people were happy she found the little
pricking word which brought doubt. He remembered bringing her his fiddle,
as a small boy, and, very hot and shy, but proud, playing her his first
composition. She had listened, said that it was very nice, and asked him
if he had had a good school report this term. He knew the moment that his
eyes met hers that the question was mere form; she knew all about his bad
report. She was snubbing him. He could remember yet, feel yet, the agony
of humiliation which overwhelmed him because he had gone out of his way
to gain this woman's approval. It was not that she singled him out for
reprimand; she did it to everyone. The other day when Sara had been
exhibiting the new hair wave for which she had been saving up these last
three months, Mrs. Rayner had put a finger on her parting and said: "You
have a little bald bit there. You'll have to be careful to keep that
covered." Sara said she was a cat, but it was worse than that. She
actually hated to see people happy.

The mathematics mistress fidgeted. She liked bridge because she usually
won and could always tell the others why they had lost, and she did not
see why she should be expected to be interested because Molly Rayner's
young man had at last got himself a job.

"I'm interrupting," Gareth said, and turned away to where the evening
paper offered a refuge. He held the paper in front of him as a shield and
stared at a photograph on the wall. It was a photograph of the Duke of
Bude's country place. Mrs. Rayner, before her marriage, had been a
nursery governess (the uncharitable said a nurse-maid) in the Bude
household, and none of her acquaintances was allowed to forget the fact.
Her walls were hung with photographs of the Bude house, children,
stables, horses, gardens, park, avenue, lake and summer house, each taken
from every conceivable angle. On the piano was a signed photograph of the
Duchess in Court dress. Any aspersions cast on the ways of the _beau
monde_ Mrs. Rayner took as a slight to herself. If gossip was to be
provided, she would do the providing; if anyone else supplied it she
waited a moment for the silence to become uncomfortable, and then said
quietly but finally: "I think you can take it from me that that is not
true."

It was with relief that Gareth heard Molly coming running downstairs.
"Ready, Gareth!" she called from the hall, her voice young and happy and
fresh; and he made his adieux and joined her.

"Let's go to the Empire, shall we? Do you mind?" she asked, straightening
the seams of her stockings.

"No, anywhere you like."

She gave him a quick, enquiring glance. It was the look a mother bestows
on an infant when it shows signs of being sick; half apprehensive, half
sympathetic, wholly possessive. He was white and tired-looking, and his
mouth looked as if he were going to cry. Her mother had evidently been
giving with one hand and taking back with the other as usual. What a
nuisance! Now she would have to smooth him out again, and she wasn't
feeling any too bright herself. However, it was her own fault for
insisting on his being polite and coming in.

As they went down the street she slipped her fore-arm under his and ran
her hand into his coat pocket so that she could hold his hand there. He
squeezed her fingers accommodatingly, but his mind was obviously
elsewhere.

"If Regan lets me off," he was thinking, "what can I do instead?" He
would have to do something; that was obvious. He couldn't just come back
and tell them that he had no job after all. But what could he do? If he
gave up the job with Regan it meant giving up the thought of making his
living by playing. It would be easier to give it up altogether than to
play what Regan expected him to play. But what could he find to do
instead?

"I say, Molly, would you marry a salesman?"

"Is this a game?"

"No. Would you marry me if I was a salesman and not a violinist?"

"I'd probably marry you if you were a dustman. But why do you want to be
a salesman?"

She said it quite calmly, as if being a salesman was quite an ordinary
thing for a budding Heifetz to consider, and her matter-of-factness was
somehow soothing. Unconsciously, he felt a little less desperate.

"I don't want to be anything of the sort, but--well--"

"You don't like the job with Regan, is that it?"

"Yes. I think, perhaps, I'd rather do something that wasn't music at
all."

"I know what you mean. But, you know, being with Regan might be good
fun--if you considered it just as fun. And that's all it is. Playing
tricks with music. It isn't as if it was going to be for long."

She talked in her casual, considering way while they strolled to the bus
stop at the end of the street. But her heart was thumping nervously.
Gareth mustn't be allowed to throw away this chance. He had lost his
sense of humour, that was all, but if he didn't recover it by to-morrow
he was liable to do anything.

"And, you know, I sometimes think any job is better than no job at all. I
know I can't feel like you about music, but I think it gives you a sort
of confidence in yourself if you have money in your pocket; and that's
good for you. Even if the money is only for playing silly tunes for
Regan, you'll have the nice feeling that you're earning."

Gareth grunted non-committally. She was right about that. That is how he
had felt earlier in the evening. The glory of five pounds a week had
almost obliterated the bitter feeling in his heart. Why had he let it
rise again!

"It won't be long before Dolmetsky has an opening for you, you know; and
in the meantime you can have money, and see new things, and all that.
You'll meet a different kind of people, and all that. People you'll
probably never see again when you go to Dolmetsky."

"Dolmetsky will probably not want me after I've been with Regan. And,
anyhow, I don't want to meet people," Gareth said, but he sounded less
convinced. The idea of treating Regan's as a joke, as a kind of fling,
had not occurred to him. He had thought of it as a stop-gap, but not as a
stop-gap which might be enjoyed. "Of course, if you made some money and
got known to people you might be able to start recitals or something, run
a quartet or something like that, without staying in a symphony orchestra
for years, mightn't you?"

"Not if I got known to them as a fiddler in a dance band."

"Oh, but you're not going to stay long enough for that. Besides, we
needn't start here, when you'd made some money. We could go to America.
They like discovering people in America."

If that bus didn't come for five minutes, she would manage it.

"And then there's--"

Gareth listened, nodding now and again.

As she stepped on to the bus she knew that it was all right.

She sat down thankfully on the cushioned seat, and made a little
inelegant whew of relief to the glass of the window. Life really was a
whole-time job!



CHAPTER V


Ursula Deane's sitting-room, on the third floor of her father's town
house, looked out on the tree-tops of a square and a far vista of
higgledy-piggledy chimney pots; a typical London view which not even the
rapid advance of concrete and steel skyscrapers had been able to
penetrate. These casual, friendly chimney pots were the last rampart of
the old London, and the Deane family was firmly entrenched behind them.
Not that the Deanes had been entrenched long, as time is understood in a
London square. Ursula's grandfather, the first Lord Wilmington, had begun
life as a bottle-washer in a brewery, and it had always been a secret
source of amazement, as well as of satisfaction, to the old gentleman
that he, Bob Deane, should find himself in the home of the Delaunays. The
Delaunays, being in the beginning an acquisitive and aspiring race, had
come over before the Conqueror, and when William ultimately did arrive,
proved themselves so useful to him that he found it politic to forgive
their almost unforgivable impertinence in being ahead of him, and to shut
his eyes to the various snafflings which had taken place before his
arrival. So the Delaunays dug themselves in still further, and stayed
there. But eight hundred years of fighting, gaming, alliances, and
litigation had thinned their blood and dissipated their substance, and
the inevitable had come to pass when the Deanes, only two generations
from the soil, had stepped into their shoes. Sentiment had been satisfied
(and the Delaunays otherwise compensated) when Robert Deane's son had
married a Delaunay cousin. Not, perhaps, a Delaunay of the first water,
but anyhow a perfectly reputable and authentic Delaunay. And now Robert
Deane's son and the Delaunay cousin reigned in his stead. And Ursula
daily deplored her mother's Delaunay stupidity and her father's Deane
stubbornness. She stood now in the window, looking out at the well of
shimmering light which the square had become this frosty morning. Even
the ragged brown trees had lost their dolefulness, and floated, vague
jewelled patterns, in the shining haze. A glorious morning; radiant as a
bride and invigorating as a cocktail. But Ursula was wondering what on
earth she was going to do with it. She had ridden, alone, before
breakfast, because when she came in at four o'clock that morning she had
been too wide awake to go to bed. She had spent nearly two hours dawdling
over her bath, where she had composed five potted biographies à la
Bentley, all of which had seemed very funny indeed. The best was about
Bonjie, and as she had made up her mind to break off her engagement to
Bonjie sometime within the next three days, she had reminded herself to
present Bonjie's biography to her set at the earliest opportunity. The
biography was too good to waste, but it was also too barbed to be
disseminated when she would no longer have a proprietor's right of
criticism. Philip Sidney, when urged to prosecute, said: "If he was my
friend I would have done it." And Ursula subscribed to that code. She
couldn't be rude about Bonjie the rejected, therefore the squib should be
fired while yet he was an appropriate victim.

At six o'clock she had walked in the growing light to the stables, where
watering and grooming had been not long in progress. She had helped the
lad finish the grooming of her horse, since the morning was chilly and
her blood needed stimulation, and had discussed with him meanwhile the
chances of Blue Marine in the three o'clock at Derby, and the rival
merits of the pictures at the Regal and the Marble Arch to which he was
going to take his young lady that evening. She had ridden until eight,
and had enjoyed the ride. The world at that hour had been a Whistlerian
symphony in black and silver, a world deserted by all but policemen and
scavengers, the one motionless and the other moribund; she had felt
herself gloriously alive and potent among those half-tints. Now the
world was sparkling and the hum of traffic made a gentle but exciting
monotone on the bright air; and she was wondering, in a disgruntled
reaction, how she was going to fill the hours until luncheon. There were
a few things which she should do, and quite a number of things which she
might do, but none of them seemed attractive in her present frame of
mind. She decided that she might compose a letter of renunciation to
Bonjie. She felt just in the mood for it, and she needn't post it until
to-morrow. She turned away from the window towards her writing-table,
debating within herself whether she should tell Bonjie that she knew
about his week-end with Adela, or whether she should just say that she
had changed her mind. She began a letter on the blue notepaper, but
decided that it looked too mournful, and she wasn't in the least mournful
over Bonjie. She tore it up and began again on a piece of orange paper so
intense that one's eyes blurred as they rested on it. She would write a
note that was full and running over with pin-pricks, at which Bonjie
could neither squirm nor protest without giving himself away. Her face
became animated and amused at the prospect. Bonjie had earned one of her
very best notes.

She could, of course, tell him by word of mouth that she was not going to
marry him, but putting it down in orange and brown was much more
satisfactory for all parties concerned. There would be no awkwardness, no
loss of temper, no misunderstanding (by the time Bonjie had finished
reading her note he would be suffering from no lack of apprehension), and
the result would be perfect equanimity when next they met. There was no
need to be uncivilised because one was getting rid of a fiancé.

She had got half way through very successfully and was enjoying herself,
when there was a light tap on the door. It was Daphne Conyers-Munford.
"Oh, it's you!" Ursula said. "You're disgustingly energetic. It's only
eleven."

"I know, darling. But I couldn't sleep, so thought I might as well get
up. Those damned tablets aren't a bit of good. I took three, and it said
four was sudden death. And if it was a choice between sudden death and
getting up I thought I'd get up."

She was fair, and small, and slight, with a daintily carved face and a
wide thin mouth which gave her a cat-like look. Every detail of her
clothes, her make-up, and her atmosphere was the last word in the fashion
of the moment. When ingénues were the rage Daphne went about in a
metaphorical sun-bonnet; now that no woman would dream of looking
innocent, even in her coffin, Daphne was a sleek personification of all
the vices.

"What's happening downstairs? Got the brokers in?"

"No, only mother's charity ball. It's to-night."

"Oh, yes. The Jungle affair at the Grosvenor. You'd think there had been
murder and rape at the very least. Coggins is positively heated looking."

"I'm glad something makes him sweat. It's Miss Pick I'm sorry for.
Pulling that fool of a woman out of one of her messes must be like trying
to get an elephant out of a quicksand."

"Darling, don't be so disrespectful!"

"Darling, don't be so insincere!"

"Well, my sweet, she is your mother."

"And, would it were not so, she is a fool." Daphne moved languidly over
to the window and took a chair in the sun. "I went round to Madelon's to
see if she could give me a treatment--my face this morning would move
even Augustus John to tears--but she couldn't take me till half-past, so
I thought I'd park myself here for half an hour. Don't mind me, darling."

"I don't," said Ursula, writing.

"That was a perfectly hellish party of Connie's, wasn't it! Why does the
woman give parties? The food was simply loathsome. Clive said the caviare
tasted as if it had been spilt and then gathered up with a vacuum
cleaner. I noticed that you and Tim beat it early. Where did you go?"

"The Laurel Bush."

"Anyone interesting?"

"Depends what you call interesting."

"Darling, you know quite well that no one is interesting unless they're
where they shouldn't be. The Prime Minister at Number Ten is simply dull,
but the Prime Minister up someone else's apple tree would be screamingly
interesting."

"According to that prescription there was no one interesting."

"Was the evening completely dull, then?"

"No one slapped anyone else while we were there, anyhow."

"Darling, are you being sarcastic, by any chance?...Good heavens, Elenor
Brackett has a son!"

"Whose?"

"It doesn't say. And Jimmy Elder and the Goodson girl have got married. A
little superfluous, don't you think?"

"Original, though."

Daphne turned the page. "That seems to be all the news this morning. Two
murders and an article by James Douglas. It's a dear pennyworth, isn't
it? Have you seen the _Tatler_? There's a full page photograph of that
Bowers woman in the most awful--"

"Oh, shut up, Daphne. I can't think."

Daphne put down the paper and considered her cousin's back with interest.
"What's wrong with the telephone?" she asked.

"I thought it might be more polite to break it off by letter."

Daphne uttered a long whistle. "_Darling!_ you're making rather a habit
of it, aren't you?"

"A perfectly good habit."

"But, darling! Three times! Have you quarrelled with Bonjie?"

"Oh, no, we're the best of friends."

"Then what on earth is the matter?"

"I hate the way he gets into his coat. So much hoisting and flapping."

"He does make a business of things, but you've always known that."

"And he seems too much interested in Adela Everett."

"What! That--wireless mast!"

"I think she is rather pretty."

"Oh, don't be other-cheekish! She is a frump. Is he really falling for
that?"

"Well, I don't mind parties at her flat, but I draw the line at week-ends
in Brighton."

"Brighton!" Daphne stopped in the middle of lighting a cigarette, and sat
upright. "Did you say Brighton! My God! And I always thought Bonjie had
such excellent taste."

Outside in the corridor a high-pitched, excited voice approached in a
rapid crescendo, there was a sketchy knock at the door, the voice called,
"May I come in, darling?" and Lady Wilmington fluttered in.

To say that Lady Wilmington was butterfly-like is to use a simile so
jaded that one rebels. And yet no other word so conveys her
ineffectuality, her prettiness, her air of busy futility, her
restlessness, her fragility. Beside her pretty flutterings her daughter
had the poise and clean lines of a sea-gull. She had, too, the
artificiality of a butterfly. Nothing about Lilian Wilmington was her own
creation; her home, her bank balance, and her figure were the result of
others' genius. Her hair she owed to her coiffeur, her reputation as an
organiser to her secretary. The only expression of her own personality
which ever became visible were the "bits" with which she insisted on
embellishing creations which were the pride of their designers. She was
the despair of every couturier in London and Paris. Rolland was said to
have exclaimed on finishing a gown which had been his centre of existence
for a month: "And if you let Wilmington see that one I shall cut my
throat. She will stick a jabot of Carrickmacross on it." If these
meaningless little extras were her only symptom of originality they were
at least sufficiently expressive. This morning three necklaces seduced
the eye from the fine lines of her smart grey morning frock: a string of
pearls, a string of pale pink coral, and an uncut emerald on a thin gold
chain.

"Darling," she burst out, "you've got to be a serpent. You simply must be
a serpent and save my life. Oh, hullo, Daphne darling, how sweet you're
looking this morning. Darling," she went on, to Ursula, "the most awful
thing has happened. Mary Bidley has developed mumps, and the wretched
girl was the middle of the serpent tableau, and now I'm stranded, because
Cedric says he won't change the tableau--he cried with rage when I
suggested it, positively cried. He said it altered the whole balance and
rhythm of the thing. And no one can be found to take Mary's place.
Darling, you've simply got to be an angel and be a serpent for to-night.
It won't last longer than two hours, I promise you. Two and a half at the
most."

"I can't be a serpent for even five minutes. I'm going to dine and dance
with Tim Grierson."

"But you could put Tim off for once, couldn't you, darling?"

"Why, in heaven's name, should I? Don't be ridiculous, mother! There must
be dozens of people who'd be charmed to pose in the limelight for as long
as you want them."

Lady Wilmington sat down and wrung her hands. "But there aren't, I tell
you! You see, Mary wore that frock at the dress rehearsal yesterday, and
now she has mumps, and no one will touch the frock with a barge pole. In
fact, all the other serpents are busy feeling their wretched necks and
waiting for symptoms. I think it's most unfeeling of you to laugh. Here
I've worried myself almost to a shadow trying to make this affair a
success for those poor mites, and now it's all coming to pieces! I
suppose you couldn't come, Daphne, dear?"

Daphne said, firmly, that she was engaged, but spoke fair words of
comfort. "Even if one tableau isn't perfect," she finished, "I'm sure the
show will be a great success. In any case, everyone has paid their money
in advance, so the cause won't suffer. What is it for?"

"The Charles Street Hospital for Children. Such a deserving object. Of
course the money will be all right--the tickets have sold
wonderfully--but think of my reputation as an organiser. What will be
left of it if things come to pieces!"

"I thought the ball was for boys' club rooms in the East End," Ursula
said.

"Boys' club rooms? Oh, yes, so it is. It's the sale of work in Southwark
next week that's for the hospital. So stupid of me! Ursula, it is so
seldom I ask you to do anything for me that I think for once you might be
prepared to make a little sacrifice. I've always given you everything you
wanted. I've even given up a whole floor of my house to you for a flat.
And you won't be a serpent for an hour to please me."

"Couldn't you have another serpent frock, or whatever it is, rushed up,"
Daphne said, "and you would have queues for it."

"My dear, one of those serpent costumes takes two girls seven and a half
days to make, working eight hours a day. We always endeavour to stimulate
trade as well as support charitable objects, you know." That was an
extract from a recent speech. "The costumes are simply marvellous. Every
sequin sewn on by hand."

"But, surely," Ursula said, "in an emergency you could have something put
together that would look all right!"

"Oh, Cedric would never hear of it. He would faint at the very thought.
If I insisted he would simply throw up the whole thing. He is so
temperamental, and his costumes mean so much to him."

"Why can't Miss Pick be the serpent?"

"Oh, don't be silly, Ursula! I can't have Pick disporting herself in
tableaux. Someone must be free to see about things when my own tableau is
on."

"What are you?" Daphne asked.

Lady Wilmington, it appeared, was Morning Sun Among The Palms. "And
besides," she said, "what should I do for the next fortnight if Miss Pick
got mumps?"

Daphne choked. "Damn the smoke," she said thickly, and extinguished her
cigarette with unnatural care.

"And if I had mumps it wouldn't matter a bit, of course," Ursula said.

"Oh, darling, you know I didn't mean that. Besides, you've always been
terribly healthy. I'm sure you would never catch anything. You never even
had chicken-pox as a child. Oh, dear, I wish I had never undertaken the
thing. I get no thanks and very little help, and I always get the most
violent indigestion with worry, and I have to struggle with people and
fight my own weaknesses all at the same time. My doctor says I'm mad, but
someone must organise things or there would be no organisation. I feel
worn out. If it weren't for those poor mites--I mean, those dear lads,
I--"

"Surely Miss Pick can produce an extra serpent, with or without clothes!
Do you mean to say the Pick has failed!"

"I haven't seen her about it yet. That is why I came to you. Miss Pick
has gone round to pacify Maisie Billings about her costume. She
telephoned after the dress rehearsal to say that she would rather die
than wear something that made her look like an exploding sausage. Absurd!
As if Maisie Billings would ever look like anything else! I couldn't do
anything with her on the telephone, so Miss Pick's gone round to tell her
that she looks like Venus, or someone, coming out of the sea."

"Poor Miss Pick! She does get some rotten jobs!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Ursula! If she had gone round to tell her that she
looked like a charwoman coming out of a bath it might be a different
matter. Miss Pick didn't have to deal with Cedric at his worst, as I had.
I admire Cedric enormously, of course," she hastened to add, "but he is a
little bit difficult at times."

There was another knock at the door, and in answer to Ursula's invitation
there entered a little round woman exactly like a dutch doll. Her
circular face shone with the varnished brilliance of polished wood, a
spot of crimson glowing in isolated splendour in the middle of each
cheek. Her hair, dark and solid and shining, was worn in a fringe low on
her forehead, and her eyes were two brown beads on either side of her
amusing and quite inconsiderable nose. It was incredible that she should
move and speak at the bidding of a human brain somewhere in that
doll-like cranium. It was still more difficult to believe that it was to
this stupid-looking amiable image that the Countess of Wilmington owed
her reputation as an organiser on behalf of the more polite charities.

"So sorry, Lady Ursula," Miss Pick said in a neat little voice that
sounded as if it were being tapped out on a typewriter. "I thought I
might find Lady Wilmington here, and I did so much want to see her. It's
the telephone, Lady Wilmington. The _Morning News_ rang up to say they can
insert only half the material they have been given.

"What! Oh dear! Is it that horrid little man with the pink nose?"

"I couldn't tell."

"I'm sure it is! Just like a rabbit exactly. The brute! How dare he! What
did you say?"

"Well, I'm afraid there isn't anything we can do. We're not paying for
the space, so we have to take what they give us, I'm afraid. He said they
wanted the space for an obituary notice."

"Obituary notice! I don't believe it, not a word of it. If anyone had
died we'd have heard of it. Anyone of importance, I mean. You can't trust
those rabbity people. He was just being contrary. Oh, dear, what a life!
What did Lady Billings say?"

"Oh, it's all right about Lady Billings. She's quite pacified."

"How did you do it, Miss Pick," Ursula asked.

"I said Lady Louis Mountbatten wore a frock almost exactly like that last
month at the Pole Star Ball."

"I hope Lady Louis won't sue you!"

"Oh, it's a perfectly sweet costume really, Lady Ursula. It just doesn't
suit Lady Billings."

Lady Wilmington felt that this was a reflection on her organisation. "Not
suit her! Why not?"

"I suppose some women just haven't the art of wearing clothes, poor
things," Miss Pick said smoothly.

It was amply to be understood that Lady Wilmington was not one of those.
She was mollified.

"Well, thank goodness that's settled. Now you come downstairs and see if
you can think of some way out of the awful muddle we're in. Cedric
Byron's walking round and round the library with his eyes shut, tearing
his hair, and I dare not go near him without some kind of solution. You
see, Mary Bidley--"

She drew Miss Pick out of the room in the suction of her wake, and her
high explaining voice died away into the vast spaces of the house.

"Poor Pick!" Ursula said, having expelled her breath expressively.

"Oh, I don't know. It must be some consolation to be the power behind a
throne, you know."

"That's not being the power behind a throne. It's Atlas keeping a world
up." She damped the envelope lying on her desk and sealed it. "Well,
that's that!" she said.

"You're very light-hearted about it. You know, darling, I believe you're
just tired of Bonjie."

"Of course I am! Why do you think I'm breaking it off?"

"Well, you did mention the Everett girl."

"It's always best to have a scrap of paper to go to war about."

"You're not seriously intrigued with Tim Grierson, are you?"

"Good Heavens, no! That God-and-the-Regiment type bores me to tears."

"They last better than the Cedric Byrons, though."

"Who wants anything to last? You talk like a housewife buying calico!"
She yawned and looked out at the shining square with a faint distaste. "I
think I shall go down to Bleasham for a day or two."

"What on earth for? I thought you loathed cubbing!"

"There might be something refreshing in having to make way for a hound,
you know."

"Darling, I call that morbid! Do pull yourself together. As soon as
things are becoming really interesting you want to rush off and do
something else. I can't imagine why."

"Shall I tell you? It's because I have no spiritual home. My spirit, poor
thing, lives in its boxes. A week with the crowd who babble about planes
and curves and rhythms makes me fly to the crowd who talk about sprains
and curbs and spavins, and three days with them sends me ricocheting on
to another kind. I find them all attractive on the first day but even the
best of them cease to be amusing on the fifth. And I've tried them all."

"You've never tried politics."

"My worst enemies have never accused me of being a half-wit."

"Well, I manage to amuse myself without rushing away from things, and
where is my spiritual home!"

"Belgravia."

"Darling, you are in a bad way this morning! Let's go out and do
something."

"I thought you were due at Madelon's."

"Oh, yes, so I am. What a bore. I don't feel in the least like having my
face slapped about now. I'll telephone and cancel it--it will always save
a guinea--and we can do something amusing instead."

"With pleasure, but what?"

"We might look in at Lidiard's new show at the Grafton."

"I refuse to spend a morning like this pretending to a man like that that
his Euclid nightmares mean anything."

"But, darling, he's going to be the rage of the winter!"

"Yes, I can see that." Her voice was crisp and dry as a biscuit.

"Well, we might go and shop."

"For what?"

"Oh, anything. I can't buy anything because I'm broke again, and there
isn't a shop in the West End that would give me any more credit at the
moment. But you could buy something."

"I don't see much fun in buying something I don't want."

"It would be nice for me to watch, and good for industry."

"I don't feel philanthropic this morning."

"Then it's your turn to suggest now."

"We might walk."

"Walk!"

"Yes, I know it's queer, but we might do it. Just walk without any
object. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and just enjoy the
morning."

"If it will make you feel better, darling, I don't mind even doing that."

Ursula rang for her maid and fetched a hat and coat from her bedroom.
"I'm going down to Bleasham to-night, Florence," she said, arranging her
hair with the aid of the mirror in her bag. "Pack a suitcase for three
days. The new blue frock and two others. And the brown tweed. I'll wear
the mustard. Tell Cork that I'll drive myself down between tea and dinner
sometime, and ask him to give a look to the Cadillac before then."

"And what about poor Tim's dinner?" Daphne asked.

"Oh, he'll get someone else. Think of all the superfluous women there
are."

"Darling, you know quite well that they're superfluous only because no
one would dream of taking them out to dinner. That doesn't help Tim at
all."

"I'll telephone to him at lunch time. He's on duty till then."

As they went down the wide shallow stairs of the last flight, Lady
Wilmington hurried out of the library with a pile of papers and scraps of
material in her hand and a light of triumph on her face. There was even a
faint shine on her nose. She paused as she saw them. "It's all right
about the serpent, darling. Oh, hullo, Daphne darling, how sweet you're
looking this morning. But I saw you already, didn't I! Stupid of me.
Darling, Cedric's had a brain wave. Instead of the serpent in the middle
of the tableau he's going to have a symbolic figure: The Spirit of the
Apple Tree. The apple and the serpent, you see."

"But they don't have apples in the jungle!"

"Of course they do. Apples grow wild, don't they! We used to have some at
Bleasham when I was a girl."

"And who is going to be the spirit of the Apple Tree?" Daphne asked.

"Cedric thinks Ellen Bideford would be ideal. He says she has that air of
virginal depravity that he wants. So clever, don't you think?"

"Is it?" Ursula said. "Actionable, I should say." But her mother had
disappeared into the room which she called her office, and which, before
she had been overtaken by charitable impulses, had been her husband's
refuge.

They moved across the high dark hall and out into the sunlight.



CHAPTER VI


The road by the park was filled with long glancing shafts of light as the
cars flashed past. Where the two lines of movement crossed, directly in
front of one's eyes, there was a little intermittent explosion of
brilliance, which made a stimulating, irregular rhythm in the smooth
melody of those straight speeding lines. And now and again a great rosy
fire-ball of a bus thundered past. There was apparently no break in the
continuity. As far as one could see in either direction were the lines of
trees, the line of white houses, and the swift unbroken lines of traffic.

But there was a policeman opposite the park gates. Ursula, with a
complete faith in her own personality born of experience, stepped off the
pavement without hesitation. Her faith was justified. The policeman flung
himself at the traffic, and, Moses-like, created a passage. The traffic
parted, congealed, and froze, and Ursula Deane crossed to the other side
matter-of-factly. That was as it should be. If she, Ursula, wanted to
cross a street it was fitting that the traffic should wait. She smiled at
the officer and bade him good-morning. He saluted her, and wondered whom
she was sleeping with at the moment. She took her fun where she found it,
so he'd always heard. As he met her eyes squarely he wondered if all that
were true. You couldn't believe all you heard, of course. They said she
was cold, too. Led you a dance. The two things didn't go, now he came to
think of it. He waved an acquiescent arm at the traffic. Anyhow, she'd be
worth a man's while. Not like that other little bitch with the peroxide
hair.

The park was a great space of sunlight. Even the path under their feet
was shimmering and immaterial.

"It's like swimming in light, not walking," Ursula said.

"We ought to have brought a couple of prams," Daphne said, eyeing the
young matrons promenading their progeny. It was fashionable at the moment
to push one's own perambulator in the park and compare notes on
time-tables and feeding. There was comparison, too, of babies, but since
each mother was convinced of the superiority of her own child there was
no serious outbreak of ill-will.

"We haven't qualified," Ursula said.

"That's easy. Even rabbits do it. Darling, do look at Pauline with her
twins! Fancy reproducing Benny Richner in duplicate. Deplorable taste."

But Ursula was wondering why she should be so far removed from these
perambulator pushers. She had caught herself regarding them with a
good-natured contempt. Why? Because this maternity fashion was a refuge
for the brainless ones who had found the effort of being amusing a
strain, for the lazy ones who had at last found a reason for being
cow-like in peace, for the acquisitive ones who wheedled more out of
their partners as mothers of sons than they ever could as popular
gadabouts? Was that it? But there was Angela Lister; she was not
brainless, and she evidently liked being with her two brats this sunny
morning! But then Angela was in love with her husband. Ursula tried to
picture herself as the mother of Bonjie's children, and failed. Curious
that she had never thought of that before. There was no one, now she came
to think of it, never had been anyone, who had appealed to her as a
possible father of her children. The men who had attracted her, even the
men she had been engaged to, had appealed to her as lovers, and possibly
as husbands. The thought that her children might be reproductions of any
of them had not occurred to her. And looking them over in a retrospective
review she found the idea curiously revolting. Had they been such poor
things, then; these men who had been so amusing, such good companions?
She had certainly found them insufficient after a time, but she had
always taken it for granted that her critical attitude had been the
reaction natural to the death of their physical attraction for her. Had
it, perhaps, been the other way about? Had their physical attractions
proved insufficient because she had unconsciously asked more from them
than they were able to give? In her inmost heart she had always stood
apart from her lovers; stood and looked on at them. She realised it now.
She had never wanted to forget herself in any of them. Perhaps she had
never been in love?

That was a really amusing thought! If none of the sensations she had so
far experienced had been love, what on earth was love?

Tim Grierson's children, now she thought of it, would be nice ones.
Straight, lithe, fine-boned little Saxons. But Tim was so dull, so
devastatingly dull. A dear, and all that, but dull.

They walked for nearly an hour under the brown trees and across the dry,
pale, shining grass, Daphne uttering a thin stream of gossip and comment,
astringent as the morning, Ursula lost in nebulous webs of thought, and
came again to the traffic.

"It's only one o'clock," Ursula said. "What shall we do till luncheon.
You're going to Julia's, too, aren't you?"

"Yes, I don't mind what we do as long as we do it sitting."

"To listen to you," Ursula remarked, "you'd never think you could do a
five-mile point at a cracking pace and pull up without having turned a
hair."

"I can do anything sitting." Daphne rubbed one slim shin with the other
heel. "Easily foundered, that's what I am. Over-breeding. We should have
a bottle-washer in the family like you. It's no use going to Julia's yet,
because she won't be at home, and you can never get a cocktail there when
she isn't. Mean little beast. Let's have coffee somewhere."

Grosvenor Street was "up," and as Daphne, stepping daintily over the
uneven pavement narrowed by the wooden barriers, picked her way round the
corner into Bond Street, she ran her head into a man's waistcoat.

"Oh, darling," she said, readjusting her hat to its correct angle, "I
hope I haven't hurt your incipient corporation! The public would never
forgive me if anything happened to you."

His little dark eyes laughed at her.

"The public might be glad if you eliminated the corporation. Me, too. It
would save me such a lot on corsets, to say nothing of turkish baths, and
all those things you read about in the advertisements."

But he said it complacently. There was little sign of embonpoint under
the carefully fitted black overcoat.

"José," Ursula said, "you're holding up the traffic, and Daphne is dying
on her feet because we've been walking in the park. If she doesn't sit
down immediately she'll probably faint into that trench."

"Where are you going now, then?"

"We're going to have coffee somewhere. Come too, and help carry Daphne."

"I should like that, very much. But I can't, unfortunately. There are
seven men waiting for me right now. Tell you what, though. How would you
like to come along with me and hear my latest? No one's heard it yet. Not
a soul. The boys think it's a winner, and I know it is. Put off the
coffee and come along. I'll give you a couple of chairs. You don't want
coffee this hour of the morning. Come on. What about it?"

"Where is your--whatever it is?" Daphne asked. "Rehearsal rooms?
Leicester Square."

Daphne shrieked. "But that is hours away at this time of day!"

"Not with me driving. I was going for my car when you butted into me.
It's just down here. Come?"

"We'll come," said Daphne, "because of those two chairs. Don't imagine
anyone wants to hear your ridiculous little tune. We'll all be maddened
with it in a week's time, so I don't see why we should rush to encounter
it."

"Yes, my tunes do have clinging ways, don't they?" He led them back,
retrieved his car from the mews, and they sat reluctantly admiring while
he made good his boast about the excellence of his driving. The
insinuativeness, the opportunism, of his methods was an education.
Daphne, in the intervals, wondered what he was worth (in the monetary
sense) and Ursula admired the eloquence of the tilt of the hat over his
black bullet head.

José Regan had an ancestry as cosmopolitan as it was useful. His passport
gave his nationality as American, and it certainly was in America that he
had learned his business. (I say business because that is how José
himself thought of it. He never talked about art.) But he had been so
long in England and liked the country so well that when he said "we" he
usually meant England. His paternal grandfather had come from Ireland and
married a German-American. His mother was the daughter of a Mexican and
an Italian-Swiss. In looks he favoured his mother's people, but he had
all the Irish respect for money as money, and all the Swiss faculty for
making it. He was a man still young, rather short and well-built, with a
square, good-humoured face and shrewd black eyes. There was something
dogged about the way his neck grew up from his shoulders. No one had ever
seen him in a temper, but then, no one argued with him long enough to
test him. One didn't argue with Regan, somehow.

On the second floor of the Leicester Square building he led them into an
office. It was a strangely business-like office for a musician; a place
of filing cabinets and duplicators. And the secretary, tapping away at a
typewriter in the window, was a man.

"Good-morning, Mr. Regan," the man said, and handed him a little bundle
of telegrams. He glanced with restrained curiosity at the women, and went
on with his work.

Regan read the telegrams, sorted them into two lots, and set them down
beside the secretary. "No," he said, laying a short forefinger on one
pile. "Yes," he said, laying it on the other.

"Very good, Mr. Regan."

"And choke the Rigsby crowd off if you have to use six forms to do it."

"Very good, Mr. Regan."

Between the office and the faint sounds of musical instruments being
tested was a short corridor.

"Why do you have a man secretary?" Daphne asked as he led them down it.

"Oh, less trouble," Regan said; and Ursula thought: "He's pluming himself
on the way women make fools of themselves over him."

"Are women so troublesome?" Daphne said. "You know it was you who invited
us. We didn't want to come."

"Oh, I didn't mean that. I mean a man is more useful in flinging out all
the people who come here with tunes that are going to make their
fortunes. If I had a girl secretary there'd be an army camped on the
stairs."

He opened a door, and the noise of instruments and men's voices came out
to them in a rush. The rehearsal room was long and bare and light; a
queer birthplace for the seductive melodies which nightly helped to
thicken the air of Raoul's. There seemed to be nothing in the room except
a few chairs and the instruments. At the far end the wall was lined with
cabinets for sheet music. It was like a hospital board-room without the
oil portraits.

"A chair for the visitors, boys," Regan said as he forged in, and the men
stopped talking, laid down whatever they happened to be holding, and
hastened to grab a chair. The pianist got to Ursula first (it was
noticeable that all of them made first for Ursula) because he happened to
have been sitting on a chair at the moment, but the trombone player made
it almost a dead heat. Over their arguing heads Ursula could see Regan
talking to someone by the window. So one, at least, hadn't bothered about
a chair for her. She wondered a little.

"You know you can't play if you sit on any chair but your own, Hal," the
trombone player was saying. "Lady Ursula must have mine," and Hal was
forced to admit the truth of the argument. So Ursula had the
trombone-player's chair, and the trombone-player seemed to feel that he
had done a very good morning's work.

From where they sat, she and Daphne, at the side of the band, Ursula
could see down into the square and watch the taxis and the pedestrians
hurrying about. And suddenly the activities of everyone looked pathetic
and comical. Why were all these people rushing to and fro? Why were Regan
and his men up here labouring over worthless little melodies that would
be forgotten to-morrow? And would it be any better if they were labouring
over Beethoven? Not a bit. It was all futile. All human activity was
futile. People filled up their lives with silly things because if they
didn't they began to ask questions to which there was no answer. They
fooled themselves into thinking that some things mattered, and that
helped them to go through life with some kind of philosophy. That girl
there, jumping out of the taxi's path, and that taxi-driver--if you asked
them why they hurried they would say "to earn their bread." But it
wasn't that. There were other importances in their lives, like silk
stockings, and what the neighbours thought, and things like that.
Luncheon with Julia, and that taxi-driver's early morning rising, and
Regan's enthusiasm about the new tune: they were all dope. Something to
fill one's days. Only savages could lie and do nothing but think. That
was because they had a faith. No question pushed itself into their minds.
They had no doubt of the worth of existence. That hurrying world down
there was a world gone mad. Mad. A world that had wakened up from a dream
and was afraid to face the truth.

Regan's pipe-opener came to an end. He turned to them and said: "Now
that we've got warmed up, listen to this."

It was a good tune; a wheedling, teasing, wistful thing. Regan's face was
lighted with an almost holy joy, and the men played with the enthusiasm
of belief. Ursula, looking them over, became aware that there was
something wrong with the pattern which she knew so well. There was a
bright fair head that was new. Regan had a new violinist.

She looked with interest at the new-comer. Her first thought was: "How
quaint!" A pale slip of a boy with red hair. What a successor to the
flamboyant Tavender! A rather pathetic-looking little wretch. What on
earth would the habitués of Raoul's think of that. He was completely
absorbed in reading the music, which appeared to be strange to him. His
face had an anxious expression, and now and then his lips moved
uncertainly, as if he were counting. Counting! Regan's violinist. It was
an entrancing sight. He could play, though; his fiddle sounded suddenly
out of the welter of sound, mocking, laughing, enticing. Yes, he could
play. His eyes lifted in swift enquiry to Regan and she was startled to
find them so dark. Daphne was dancing with complete abandon behind the
band, and Regan was grinning with satisfaction, and egging her on. The
pianist, finding that hands and feet were insufficient to express himself
burst into song, and still found time to make two hands do the work of
four. "Oh, well done, Hal!" shouted Regan, "keep it up!" But the boy with
the bright hair remained aloof and anxious. And so they came to the last
chorus. And then, at some particularly frivolous achievement of Hal's, a
spasm of intense amusement shot into the boy's face. He raised his
eyebrows at Hal in a grimace of appreciative laughter, his mouth turning
upward at the corners abruptly, like a clown's. Ursula could not have
been more surprised if Correggio's St. Sebastian had put out his tongue.
She had been feeling sympathetic to him, had even been engaged in feeling
sorry for him; and she felt fooled. She considered him doubtfully. Which
was the real person: the intense devoté, or the laughing gamin?

The tune ended with a sob from the trombone and an expiring sigh from the
piano, both full of the mock emotion which was the motif of the tune.

"You've got a winner, boss," said Hal, suddenly as still and nonchalant
as though he cared for none of these things.

"Oh, marvellous! Simply too marvellous!" called Daphne, flushed and
breathless.

But José was looking at Ursula.

"It's too good, José. It's pearls before swine. To those people at
Raoul's it will be only another dance tune."

"And isn't it?"

"What is it called?"

"'Leaning on my window.'"

"I think it should be called 'Laughing up my sleeve.'"

Regan looked at her for a moment, curiously. "You are hardly canny," he
said.

"Never mind Ursula," Daphne called. "Play it again. It's simply
adorable!"

"I'll play it for you to-night," Regan said. "I'm afraid we've got to
work now."

Ursula thought: "Only Regan would have refused."

"Are you going to turn us out now?" she asked. "Do let us stay a little longer."

"Oh, stay as long as you like. Delighted. We don't mind. Only it won't be
exciting, you know." He turned away again to the men, and Daphne, the
excitement faded out of her, came up looking at her watch. She had quite
forgotten that she had ever been tired, but she was acutely conscious
that she was hungry. Now that she had heard the new thing she had lost
interest.

"Darling, have you forgotten that we're lunching at Julia's?"

"There's plenty of time."

"There isn't. It's ten to two now."

"Oh, sit down and wait a moment or two."

"But darling, you know quite well that the hors d'oeuvres is the only
thing that is ever eatable at Julia's. And Connie Markham is going to be
there. If we don't get in ahead of her we might as well not go at all.
She picks out all the nice bits and leaves the rest."

"Oh, run along then, and I'll come later."

But Daphne had no intention of paying for a taxi if she need not. "I had
no idea you were stuck on Regan," she said viciously. Ursula laughed at
her, and she sighed and sat down. The band were playing again. Ursula sat
and watched the childish, earnest face of the violinist, and forgot about
time. Daphne moaned now and then, but the thought of the taxi fare kept
her quiescent. It was not until Regan called a breathing-space that
Ursula rose, and Regan came out through the office with them, while his
men stretched and sighed and took out cigarette cases.

"I see you have a new violinist," Ursula said.

"Oh, yes. Ellis. Nice kid."

"He's very young, isn't he?"

"Not as young as he looks. He's twenty-one. And he's extraordinarily
good. He shouldn't be doing dance work at all, really. But I'm keeping
him humble at the moment, so don't say I said that."

"Well, when you were getting a new one you might have got a good-looking
one and not something that looks as if he had been wrung out," Daphne
said. "Tavender was simply adorable. I used to go night after night just
to look at him, and Clive got the address of his tailor. Things didn't
look so marvellous on Clive, though, unfortunately."

"It's not the slightest good going to Julia's now," she said, as they
went down the narrow stairs.

And Ursula, who was feeling happy, and a little guilty because of
Daphne's hungry condition, agreed and they crossed the square to
Toselli's. There, while Daphne was gloating over the menu and extracting
the latest gossip from Toselli, she made three telephone calls.

The first was to Julia, to whom she told the appropriate untruths.
"Darling, we _are_ so sorry..."

The second was to Tim Grierson. "We were going to the Laurel Bush
to-night, weren't we? Well, let's go to Raoul's instead, darling...No,
only that Regan has a brand new tune...That is sweet of you, darling.
Table for a quarter to nine? All right. 'Voir!"

The third was to her maid. She had changed her mind about going down to
Bleasham, so Florence needn't pack. She would wear the new Rolland model
for dinner.



CHAPTER VII


"Well, I always say that no life's a hard life when you haven't to get up
in the morning," said Mrs. Marsden, who had been told that the attics
could be done last instead of first to-day because Gareth was still
asleep. "I don't care 'ow late it might be before I was to stop work at
night, so as I could lie and snooze in the mornings." She said it as one
speaks of a vision of heaven. "The only time in me life I didn't 'ave to
get up in the morning was when I was in 'orspital with scarlet fever.
Thirteen, I was. And then they woke yer at five to wash yer face. Time we
'ad a noo banister brush, eh?"

It was now half-past nine and the day was already old for Mrs. Marsden.
She had given breakfast to her out-of-work husband and three-year-old
baby, tidied her two-roomed home, prepared a meal for Marsden to take at
mid-day, washed and dressed the child and taken it along to her sister's
to be cared for until she called for it on her way home, and walked a
further mile and a quarter to the Ellis household, where she would stay
until the mid-day dinner things were cleared up, about three o'clock. She
was twenty-five, and looked nearly forty. She had been married for five
years to a man of her own age, who had never in those five years kept a
job longer than was necessary to qualify for the dole. He had had a job
when they married, specially for the occasion, and had given it up a week
later. Mrs. Marsden talked about him with a weary tolerance, as one talks
of an old corn. She had four absorbing interests in life: contraception,
the price of boiling beef, the rent money, and the Duchess of York. For
her child she seemed to have no great affection; it stood in her mind for
a detachable part of her husband, a part for which he refused to be
responsible. She did her duty by it, and took a sort of melancholy pride
in the fact that it was well-dressed and clean, but to her it was merely
another responsibility, not an outlet for emotion. What emotion she
possessed was reserved for the Duchess; and Mrs. Marsden could tell you
what the Duchess liked in the way of table decoration, what her toilet
set was made of, what she had for breakfast, what she had said to the
Duke when he was late for her tea-party (very funny, that was; to think
of her telling off her husband just as if she was an ordinary woman), what
the little princesses wore underneath, and at what hour they went to bed.
The only occasions on which she had forgotten her duty to her family were
those on which it had been possible to see the Duchess in the flesh. That
had happened twice; the first time she had got a cold in the head through
having wet feet, and the second time she had ruined a pair of stockings
by getting them torn on the railings. But it had been worth it.

"I suppose he sees a lot of the nobs at that place? He's lucky, isn't he,
getting a billet like that!"

"Well--it isn't just what he wanted to do, Mrs. Marsden."

"Oh, I should worry! 'E's a real boy, that boy of yours, Mrs. Ellis, not
one of them long drinks of water that play on Sundays." This, presumably,
with memories of Albert Hall placards. "'E's no ninny in a velvet suit,
Gareth isn't. I'll bet 'e'll come to like playing with Regan just as if
'e was born to it. I should worry!"

"You'll be quiet upstairs, then, won't you? I do want him to get all the
sleep he can. He's always needed a lot of sleep ever since he was a
baby."

"Oh, you spoil that boy," Mrs. Marsden said indulgently. But she wound a
duster round the wooden part of her broom, and Mary, watching out of the
corner of her eye, was amused to think that her paint-work was going to
be saved after all those years merely because Gareth was not to be
wakened.

But Gareth was not asleep. Of a winter morning the cold in the attics of
Number Seventeen was so intense that only a swoon would have kept one
insensible to it, and although it was still only September the days were
frosty. Gareth had drawn his chilly toes nearer and nearer to the rest of
him, until his thin knees were directly under his chin. The discomfort
and the hopelessness of this impasse had finally forced him to face the
world he had been trying to ignore. As he opened his eyes on the dreary
grey room he felt that there was something nice that he wanted to
remember. As his eyes lighted on his violin case he remembered what it
was. It was Regan's.

And suddenly it struck him as rather amusing that he should be recalling
with pleasure his first night in the service of Mammon. But it was so.
There was no use denying it. He had enjoyed it; every minute of it. And
he was looking forward to to-night. It was a world he knew nothing of,
Regan's world, and it was amusing and full of colour. Molly had been
right; he was going to enjoy his "fling."

He had gone to that first rehearsal in a queer mixture of shyness and
what can only be described as "uppishness." He was a little afraid of his
new colleagues, and at the same time contemptuous of them. They had been
very kind to the new-comer, putting him at his ease, and showing no open
curiosity about him, throwing out bits of information with friendly
casualness. His shyness had been replaced by that brotherly feeling which
exists between members of a trade, and his feeling of superiority had
begun to wilt. It disappeared entirely when he heard Hal play. Hal had
"amused" himself while waiting for Regan, and Gareth, listening through
the hubbub to Hal communing with Bach, was shocked. Gareth, who was not
without humour, had no illusions about his own talent; he had never
imagined himself a genius. He had wanted to play music by the masters
because that is what he happened to like, not because it was the
appropriate vehicle for genius. But here at the piano was a far greater
master of his instrument than he would ever be. And he was Regan's
pianist. Gareth began to feel almost humble; a state of mind which was
very good for him.

He had learned, incidentally, that Tavender, his predecessor, had "walked
out on Regan, contract and all," because Regan had objected to his
passion for feminine admiration. "You keep your eyes for music, young
Ellis," they said; and Gareth had laughed, and felt pleasantly superior
to the poor fool Tavender, who had let his eyes wander. At eleven o'clock
that night he remembered Tavender with less superiority. He had caught
the eye of the girl who had come that morning to rehearsal; she was
dancing with a tall fair man, and his glance had lingered on them a
moment because they made such a perfect couple; she had met his eyes and
she had smiled at him. A friendly, involuntary smile it had been. Gareth
was so startled that he had not smiled back, and before her own smile
faded she had danced away in the crowd. At the back of his mind as he
played he kept thinking about that smile. Why should she smile at him?
And a smile like that; not coquettish or provocative, but merely a smile
of greeting, as one glad to see a friend. Perhaps she had mistaken him
for someone else. Or perhaps she remembered him from that morning and had
forgotten that she didn't know him. But it had been a very personal
smile. If it had meant anything at all it had meant: "Why, there you
are!" Unconsciously he watched for her to come round again; but when she
did she was talking to the good-looking man as though she had never had
another thought in the world. And Gareth had not seen her again (her
table was behind a projection) until when they were packing up he saw her
talking to Regan. They were only a few yards away, and Gareth, wrapping
up his fiddle, could hear quite distinctly.

"Come and have some bacon and eggs with us, José."

"I should love to, but there is my beauty sleep to be considered. You may
not need one, but I do."

"Eggs are very good for the complexion, and bacon is a wonderful tonic
for the muscles."

"But half an hour in bed is better. The boys are expected to go straight
to bed, and I can't expect them to do something if I don't do it myself,
can I?"

"Oh, but you're going to bring Mr. Ellis too. I want to meet him."

Mr. Ellis! So she knew his name. And she wanted to meet him!

"Now look here, Lady Ursula"--José's tone was one of good-humoured
expostulation--"I don't want another Tavender in the band."

"I don't think there is any danger of that. Really, José, you are
maddening. If you don't come I shall never invite you again."

"You don't call this an invitation, do you? It's a press-gang."

"Come on. Raoul is looking daggers at us. His corns are hurting and he
wants to get his shoes off. That's what that fixed smile means. We're
going down to The Laurel Bush."

And they had gone. He had been in a slight panic to begin with, wondering
what he should say to her; he couldn't say clever things. But as he went
down the narrow dark street alongside her, scared of the shining creature
at his elbow but a little pleased to be singled out by anyone so famous,
he found that she didn't expect him to make epigrams. She had asked about
himself, and they had chatted about music. She had talked about music
quite sensibly, as a musician might, with none of the gush and ecstasies
that he had come to expect from women on the subject. She didn't talk
about "that perfectly adorable thing of So-and-So.'" She was interested
when she learned that he had been a protégé of Dolmetsky.

"Funny old dear, Dolmetsky, isn't he? I travelled in a train with him
once--we were going to stay at the same house--and he swore all the time
because the creak the window made was in the wrong key. I don't suppose
he approves of your playing for José!"

"He doesn't know yet."

"Why aren't you playing for him now?" He noticed that she asked questions
directly, in a way that Sark Street would consider rude; Sark Street
hinted and suggested for their information.

"There's no vacancy at the moment. When a man gets a job with Dolmetsky
he settles down for life."

"What will he do when he knows about Regan?"

"Kill me, probably."

They had sat at right angles to each other at the bench-like table under
the staring yellow lights of The Laurel Bush, and had talked to each
other, while José and Captain Grierson and the Conyers-Munford girl and a
man called Clive Something had drowned their voices with argument on a
hypothetical National Theatre and whether the Conyers-Munford girl could
possibly be allowed to eat Irish stew at one in the morning. Gareth
decided that she was lovelier than anyone he had ever seen. Lovelier than
Sara, and he knew that Sara was beautiful. No photograph of her had ever
done her justice. He had seen lots. You couldn't pick up a paper without
seeing a photograph of Lady Ursula Deane. Her make-up was more obvious
than Sara's; Sara had to be discreet in her aids to beauty because of
father; but her face was more alive than Sara's, and although her mouth,
like Sara's, had a scornful curve, there was a wealth of laughter in her
eyes. It had been wonderful to sit so near her that he could watch the
changing expressions in those eyes.

Gareth, made reckless by the memory, turned over in the freezing sheets.
His cold upper cheek came to rest in the warm hollow where his head had
been. He savoured the exquisiteness of the sensation for a moment with
closed eyes. But the recollection of last night still sent little pricks
of exultation through him. The pricks multiplied, until he was a sort of
catherine wheel of emotions. He kicked aside the blankets and leaped into
the grey day. With one arm through his dressing-gown sleeve he undid his
violin. As he lifted it out he shoved his arm through the other. He began
to play, walking up and down on the hard carpet with bare feet.

His mother, four flights below, heard the faint sounds, and laid down the
pastry roller to put the kettle on. Twenty minutes later she appeared in
the doorway with a breakfast tray. But Gareth had by that time remembered
he was cold. He was half dressed, and fighting with his collar in a mood
that held little of rapture. It annoyed him that his mother should have
gone to all the trouble of bringing up a tray when she could have found
out first that he was getting up.

"What did you do that for!" he asked testily.

"I thought when you were playing that you weren't coming down yet. But it
doesn't matter. I can put it in the oven for a little. You won't be
long."

"Oh, won't I!" he said, wrenching at his collar.

"Let me do that," she said, and he submitted as if he had been a baby. He
noticed that she had made toast, and felt apologetic.

"You were very late last night. I heard you come in. Did you have a good
sleep?"

"Iphm."

"How did you get on?" The question was off hand, but her eyes watched him
fearfully.

"Oh, not bad," he said cheerfully.

He debated with himself for a moment whether he should tell her about the
supper at The Laurel Bush, about meeting Lady Ursula and that crowd.
There was no reason why he shouldn't tell her, and yet something held him
back. He wanted to tell her because it was, in a way, a feather in his
cap. But it was also something which for some reason he wanted to hug to
himself. He decided that he would not tell any of them.

"Oh, not half bad!" he said joyously.

"You can tell me all about it when you come down. It's cold up here."

She picked up the tray and carried it away, smiling, relieved. He hadn't
hated it after all. Things were going to be all right.



CHAPTER VIII


As Mary made her happy way downstairs, Ursula was lying watching the
firelight flicker on her bedroom wall and wondering what she was going to
do about Gareth Ellis. It was the first time that she had ever paused to
examine a line of action. But then! Was she really going to make a fool
of herself over this boy? What in heaven's name was there in him to
attract her? His talent? She had known some of the greatest musicians in
the world. His looks? He was what Daphne had said: like something that
had been wrung out. He was a painfully ordinary little suburban fiddler,
with a cockney accent and badly waved hair. What on earth made her
interested in him!

And while her reasonable worldly mind behaved with such commendable
lucidity, she herself was remembering with a queer tenderness the way his
mouth moved irresolutely when he spoke, the little hollow below his cheek
bone, his funny, adorable freckles, the way his long eyes, so
unexpectedly dark, slid round to her in appreciation before he smiled at
what she had said, his thin boy's hands, his cheeky shyness. A dozen
times, while her mind recited his impossibilities, she went down that
street with him, slim and silent at her side. He had not been more than
an inch taller than she. She had been able to look straight across at his
profile, half-hidden between his upturned collar and the brim of his
black soft hat. And she had been filled with an eager happiness that was
strange and lovely.

Her mind, resenting her inattention, brought her up with a jab. Look
here: it said, what do you want with him? A lover? But she could not
imagine Gareth as her lover. A husband? That was merely funny. Then what?

She stared at the firelight patterns and could find no answer. All she
knew was that she wanted to go on thinking of Gareth; that she wanted to
see him again more than she had ever wanted to see anyone.

It was supremely ridiculous.

"Take away the damned tray, Florence, it's hurting my knees."

But she said it gaily, and Florence looked at her in approval. Not many
mistresses would look as nice as Lady Ursula after coming home in the
small hours. Glad to be rid of that Somers person, she supposed. Oh,
Florence had seen it coming, that she had, and Lady Ursula would be well
rid of him when she broke it off. She had heard things in the kitchen
about Mr. Bonamy Reginald Somers that made your hair curl. And Mrs.
Maitland, the housekeeper, had told her some more. No one had been able
to see why Lady Ursula liked him, except that he had a lot of back-chat.
But she hadn't stood for him long. They said she was changeable, but why
not own up when you'd made a mistake. People were nasty about her just
because they hadn't her courage. They tried to keep their mistakes down
instead of putting them up and getting them out of their system, and that
spoiled their judgement as well as their lives. Lady Ursula wouldn't be
like that. She'd give Mr. Somers the sack, and that would leave the way
free for Captain Grierson, who was a nice gentleman and very suitable.
Not much wonder that she was looking happy this morning.

Florence tweaked the lemon silk sheet out of its creases and moved the
unopened letters insinuatingly nearer on the embroidered counterpane. She
never ceased to marvel at the indifferent way the gentry treated their
letters. When she got a letter she couldn't wait to open it.

"Was the ball a success, Florence?"

"So they do say, my lady."

"Everyone come safely back?"

"Her ladyship got in about four, and Miss Pick she got in about half an
hour later. Mr. Byron was with her."

"Cedric Byron! What for?"

"Well, it seemed there was an accident to one of the costumes, and he was
feeling bad about it. Miss Pick was bucking him up, like."

"Florence! An accident! And you said it was a success. How could you?
_Poor_ Mr. Byron."

Florence grinned at the tone. "It seems the accident was the success of
the evening, my lady. There was one tableau that had the middle dress all
beads. Very long it was, and Lady Eames--it was her who was wearing
it--stepped on the hem, and before anyone knew that was happening beads
began to run everywhere and go scooting over the floor. It was at the
beginning of the procession part it happened, and by the time she got to
the end of the ball-room there was hardly any frock left, and everyone
was bursting themselves laughing."

"Poor--darling--Cedric!" said Ursula with joy. "I never did trust these
hand-made things myself. A good machine seam is what I swear by."

"Florence! What heresy! You who sew my things so beautifully."

"Oh, _my_ sewing's all right, but I wouldn't trust anyone else's. Not for
anything _important_." It was understood that Florence meant important
not in the matter of decoration but of decency. She flicked at the hearth
with a brush, and went away to answer a knock on the sitting-room door,
and Ursula heard her talking to Chitterne.

"Come in, Chit!" she called, and he came in, tall and shining and
well-soaped looking. "My God! Dressed, even to the hair on the
shoulder!" she said, leaning over as he sat down on the edge of the bed
and picking off a hair.

"If it's a hair, it's a mare's," he said. "I've just come up from
Newmarket. Been out on the Heath since six."

"Newmarket! When did you go down?"

He looked faintly embarrassed. "I had an urgent call to see a filly last
night."

"Darling, you do hate fancy dress balls, don't you!"

"Well, so do you!"

"Yes, but I don't have urgent calls. I say that I'm not going, and that's
that."

"Ah, but I haven't got your delicious gift of indifference to people's
feelings."

"You haven't my moral courage, you mean. As soon as things begin to be
difficult you resign."

"Depends what the things are. If I wanted something enough I wouldn't
resign."

"But you've never wanted anything enough. That's how you got your
reputation for good-nature. That's why you're popular, darling, and I'm
merely notorious."

"You wait. I'll surprise you one of these days. Before long, perhaps."

"What is it? Going into a monastery?"

He grinned. "Not exactly. What I came to say was that Double Bass is,
God willing, going to win the Duke of York's. I'm doing a commission this
morning while the price is decent. Do you want to have anything on? If
you do, I'll do it with mine."

"That is really lovely of you, Bobby. Fancy being philanthropic at this
hour of the morning!"

"Oh, that's not philanthropy, it's pure caution. I don't want two
commissions coming from the family at the same time. Laury will expect
one from me because it's my horse, but if you made a bet so early in the
proceedings that would be obviously inspired, and begin to spoil the
market."

"You might have avoided the danger altogether."

"How?"

"By not telling me that Double Bass was a good thing."

"I may be canny, but I'm not a cad."

"No, darling." She looked at him quizzically. "I sometimes think you're
a saint. Slightly damaged in the firing, but made from the authentic
clay. A 'seconds' saint, as it were. I'll have a pony on Double Bass,
please."

"Each way?"

"No, to win. I never liked consolation prizes."

"Right-ho." He made a note of it, shut his note-book with a snap, and
frowned at the weather. "It was wonderful on the Heath this morning,
and look at it now! When I go to the country I wonder why anyone stays
in town. And yet, d'you know, after a week I'm always glad to come
back."

"Do you feel like that, too? That's my special bugbear. We haven't any
roots, that's what's wrong with us."

"Perhaps. But there's nothing to hinder us growing some, I suppose."

"You might. You're an eminently reasonable soul. You ask less of people
than I do...When you go down would you put that letter," she indicated an
envelope lying on the table by her bed, "into the box?"

"Goodness, have you taken to _writing_ the fellow!" he said as he picked
up the envelope and saw the address.

"Only to tell him that I'm not going to marry him. I wrote it yesterday
and I think it might be posted now."

"Oh? Well, I never did care much for the chap."

"Didn't you, Chit? I never knew that."

"You never asked me. Well..." He prepared to go.

"Are you going to Gatwick this afternoon?"

"No, I'm going along to Stuart's to see if those chairs that Billy was
talking about are worth buying."

"Darling, you're almost _too_ all round, aren't you!" He flung a cushion
at her. "Would you like to take me to dinner at Raoul's? Tim's on duty
to-night."

"Sorry. I'm engaged."

"Oh, put it off. Give the public an eyeful for once. 'At the next table
to me at the famous Raoul's were the best-looking brother and sister in
Society. It is so rare to see a brother and sister dining together that
one--'"

"Can't be done. It's a matter of my soul's good. You wouldn't come
between a man and his salvation, would you?"

"My dear, most men's salvation is a pint of beer, or something like that.
But if you won't, you won't."

"Get some of the others to take you. Choose the first six in the running
and go with all of them. That will be nice for the Press. You might start
a new fashion for bodyguards. As a fashion it would have the advantage of
remaining exclusive. You can't buy a bodyguard at the stores."

"Oh, go away."

"I'll probably be going to Newbury on Friday, if you would like to come."

"Oh, Friday! Who knows what will have happened by Friday? But I'll file
the invitation for reference."

"So long, then. Not a word to anyone about Double Bass!"

"Not a word."

"That's one thing you've always been as good as a man at. Keeping a
secret."

"A prize specimen of the left-hander! Good-bye. I hope your 'soul's good'
proves amenable."

He made a face at her and shut the door.

She lay for a little trying to make Gareth's face materialise between her
and the shadowed ceiling. But Chitterne's irruption had broken the spell.

"Turn on the bath, Florence," she called, and began to open her letters.



CHAPTER IX


Tea at Seventeen Sark Street was over. Mr. Ellis had opened the evening
paper, settled himself comfortable in "his" chair (the only really
comfortably one in the room) and would for the next half-hour cease to
examine the consciences of his children while he absorbed the fascinating
details of the latest murder. When he had finished he would re-live the
pleasant sensations which these details roused in him by holding forth to
his wife on the iniquity of the world, while she sat mending his shirts.
It annoyed him sometimes that his wife had to get up so often to see
about the cooking of Dastur's supper; it stopped him in the middle of his
best periods quite often.

Mrs. Ellis was, at the moment, in the kitchen washing up the tea things,
and Sara, who usually helped to wash up, was crying on the dark stairs of
the second flight, having been too discouraged and weary to climb any
further. She had had a row with her mother. The tablecloth at tea had not
been over clean, and she had been outspoken about it. Her mother had
pointed out that if she had to wash the tablecloths she mightn't be so
particular. "But _you_ don't have to wash them!" she had cried. "That's
what I'm complaining about. Between us all we surely make enough to pay
for the laundry of more than two cloths a week." She had tried to hit at
her father, and had merely hurt her mother. She might have known that her
father wouldn't see any reason why her mother shouldn't do the washing at
home. He had held forth about the "good home that was provided for her"
and her "thanklessness." Her father had never been able to be relevant.
He had a mind like an idiot's; a silly, theatrical mind. She had answered
back, had wrangled with him, conscious all the time of the angry,
discouraged look on her mother's face. Sara hated a row. She felt unclean
after one. It was a betrayal of something in herself; she loathed herself
for having taken part in one. This was the second time this week that she
had lost hold of herself. She must be getting run down. When things got
on top of you it usually meant that you were run down. That week at
Brighton in May was a long time away. And it was still a long time to
those three days at Christmas. Perhaps she should try a tonic of some
sort. But it was very hard to spend your money on tonics when it was so
difficult to keep yourself in silk stockings, even at trade prices.

She hated the thought of her mother washing up by herself in the kitchen.
But each time the impulse to go and apologise was born in her it was
killed by resentment of her mother's feeble acceptance of her father's
tyranny and meanness. Torn between two emotions, and absorbed in her own
problem, she was startled to hear footsteps at the top of the first
flight of stairs. She lingered a moment. If it was her mother she would
make friends and at least have that off her chest.

But it was Ratan Dastur. As she turned to fly he switched on the light
and it was too late.

"Hullo, Mr. Dastur!" she said, turning to precede him upstairs so that
her face was hidden.

"Hullo, Miss Sara!"

"You do come in quietly."

"Did I startle you? I am sorry."

"No, I was only thinking."

They came to the landing outside his door and he paused. "You are not
happy," he said. "Can I do anything?"

He said it so simply that her habitually formidable defences fell.

"It's nothing," she said with a watery smile. "It's only that I'm tired,
and I've had a row with mother, and I went away without washing up, and
now I can't bring myself to go back and wash up after all."

"Let me go!" he said instantly. "I have never washed up dishes, and I
would love to wash up for your mother. She does everything for me.
Everything. I would be very happy to help her with the dishes."

"Oh, no, please! Mother would have a fit if you appeared in the kitchen."

"But I have many times been in the kitchen."

"Yes, I know, but not like that. It's awfully nice of you, but it
wouldn't do. You're a dear to suggest it."

"Oh, but I would like to. Please, I would. To do something for your
mother--and you. It would give me great happiness."

"Well, you have done something. You've made up my mind for me. I'm going
down now to finish the dishes myself." She paused. "You know, you're such
a dear that you make me ashamed." She stood a moment looking into the
eager brown eyes, so like those of a friendly dog, smiled her swift rare
smile, and ran away downstairs.

She came into the kitchen in a breeze, and said a muffled "Sorry, Mother"
as she took a dish towel from the rail.

"That's all right, dear," her mother said. "I'm glad you came back, but
there's not many dishes to-night, so you run away and have a rest."

"Oh, don't give me too much credit. If I didn't come someone else was
going to."

"Who?"

"Dastur."

"Dastur!"

"I told him I had stamped washing up, and he wanted to come down and help
you. I couldn't very well explain why it wouldn't be helping you at all,
so I came instead. One row is quite enough for one night."

She could not see her mother's face, but there was a long, eloquent
silence.

Mary Ellis was thinking: "It was clever of her to remind me of that. The
one thing I couldn't find an excuse for him in. He can be awful, there's
no denying it." And her thoughts went back to that time a year ago, when,
after she had nursed Ratan Dastur through a bad attack of influenza, he
had taken to bringing her flowers. It had touched her that he should
want, in his inarticulate way, to thank her. Because he was shy he did
not always give the flowers to her personally; sometimes he would slip
down while she was working in the sitting-room and leave the flowers on
the table inside the kitchen door. And it was there that Alfred had found
a bunch of lilies one day, and asked where they had come from. Dastur
brought them, she explained; and had been reduced to stunned dismay at
the outbreak which the harmless information had provoked from her
husband. He would have no man bringing flowers to his wife! She must have
been encouraging him or he would never have done it. She ought to have
stopped it the minute it started. She was a married woman and should know
her place. Encouraging a man--an Indian, a savage, a black man!--to bring
her flowers!

He shouted and raved like a madman. He grabbed the poor lilies, strode
through the kitchen and deposited them in the ash bin, ramming the lid on
with unchristian and uneconomical violence. She was to have no more of
these carryings-on, did she hear? It was to cease from this minute. She
was to understand that.

"But, Alfred!" she said, too amazed to find words easily, "he's only a
boy, a child. Don't be ridiculous."

But to call Alfred ridiculous was to call down lightning. He finished up
a further tirade by saying that she was to tell Dastur that very day that
he was to bring her no more flowers, no more presents of any sort.

"I can't do that," she said quietly.

He had banged the table and shouted that she had promised before God to
obey him, might he remind her. She was to tell that man at once that he
was to stop it. It should never have been allowed to begin. It was her
fault for encouraging him and she must stop it.

She had grown angry too, then. If he felt like that he could tell Dastur
himself. She was not going to have a hand in anything so disgusting and
ridiculous.

She knew he wouldn't. He would make her life a misery, but he would not
speak to Dastur about it. At least she would be spared that; his moral
cowardice would for once prove a blessing.

But life had been a misery. For nearly three months she had borne it;
neither concealing nor flaunting the flowers which the innocent Dastur
still brought her; while Alfred got even by processes of his own:
indulging in outbreaks of rage when they were alone, sulking when the
children were present so that they questioned her and she had to find
excuses, docking her housekeeping money by ten shillings a week under the
pretext of a bad run of business. In the previous two years she had saved
four pounds out of her inadequate housekeeping allowance (only she knew
how she had done it) and the whole of that sum went during those
miserable weeks. Any appeal to her family meant her own humiliation; she
could not do that. And then, at the end of three months, she had done the
thing she had always regretted and despised herself for. She had told
Dastur that he mustn't spend any more money on her; told him cheerfully
and naturally and kindly, but told him. He had said at once: "Have I done
something wrong?"

It was when she was still hot and sore with shame at having given in, at
perhaps having hurt the boy, that she had made her second mistake. She
had told Sara; had poured it all out to her. She had needed so
desperately to tell another woman, to have a woman's sympathy. And there
was no woman among her friends to whom she could tell a thing like that.
Only her daughter. She had been richly comforted at the time (it had been
lovely, the unaccustomed feel of Sara's young arms tight round her), but
afterwards she realised that she shouldn't have done it. Sara had always
been antagonistic to her father. Now it seemed that her antagonism had
turned to an active hatred.

Sara finished drying the last dish, and said: "I think I'll go to the
movies for a little. It's only half-past seven. If father asks say I've
gone for a walk."

Her mother shook her head in reproof, smiling a little sadly at this
daughter who was hers and yet so far away from her. Sara, seeing the
smile, hesitated on the way to the door.

"Father only did one good thing in his life," she said, "and that was
marrying you."

She blew her mother a kiss and went upstairs, feeling better now that she
and her mother were friends again. If only she had a little more pride
where her father was concerned! They talked about economic compulsion,
but that was no excuse. There was no _need_ for any woman to be to any
man what her mother was to her father.

She flung on a coat and hat, and went out of the house quietly. If her
father didn't know she had gone out it might save her mother having to
tell fibs. To Mr. Ellis a cinema was, if not the mouth of Hell, at least
a very flourishing suburb of it. Outside it was damp and fresh-smelling;
the frost and the mist of the day had gone; there was a soft west wind,
and stars very wet and bright in a very black sky. Down the street the
lamps were reflected on the pavement in golden smears. It was almost too
good a night to go and sit in a stuffy picture house, but she must sit
somewhere; she had stood more or less all day, and her one ambition at
the moment was to sit down somewhere where she would not have to consider
other people, and where she might forget herself for a little.

As she approached the corner she saw a familiar figure under the street
lamp; it was Sidney Webb. He was with another man and as she quickened
her steps a little she hoped that the presence of the other man would
prevent Sidney from offering to be her escort; Sidney was so
thick-skinned that nothing short of a gun would persuade him that he was
superfluous, and she was too tired to argue. She almost prayed, as she
came up to them, that the other man would keep him occupied. But as she
drew level Sidney moved in front of her.

"Hullo, Sara! Off for a walk?"

"No, I'm going to the movies."

"Let me detain you for just a moment, dear lady." He swung his hat on
again with a flourish, and, flinging out his arm in a burlesque gesture,
said: "May I present my friend, Lord Chitterne?"

There was a pause.

"How do you do?" said Chitterne.

"How do you do?" Sara said in a small voice. Her thoughts had suddenly
stopped. This night was proving too much for her. Her mind felt like
cotton-wool, where the thoughts stuck and refused to come to the surface.
It was a nightmare sensation. Perhaps in a minute she would waken and
find that it was a nightmare. The inconsequence of all this was the
inconsequence of a dream; Sidney Webb and Chitterne and the street lamps.
There were nearly always street lamps in her nightmares.

"Where is your picture house?" Chitterne said in the pause.

"About two streets away."

"May I walk down with you?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Well, fair lady, I shall take my leave. Urgent private affairs require
my presence elsewhere. See you later." And with another flourish Sidney
took his departure. Chitterne and Sara turned and walked along the street
in silence.

After a little he said: "I say, you have no excuse for being sore with me
now, you know. I've been introduced."

"But I'm not sore with you. It's only that you surprised me."

"What surprised you? My good detective work?"

"How did you get to know Sidney?"

"Oh, I didn't have to get to know Sidney. I've known Sidney a long time.
We worked together now and then in the motoring shop where I completed my
education. Perhaps it would be more correct to say where I began my
education."

"How did you connect him with me?"

"Do you remember running into him at Bond Street station about six
o'clock two nights ago?"

"Yes. We went down to the trains together."

"I happened to be standing at the bookstall."

"Oh?" Her tone sounded a little disappointed. It hadn't been so
miraculous after all.

"Yes, just luck. Perhaps I shouldn't have told you that my detective work
was so slight."

"It _was_ easier than one would think."

"It was up to that moment. The work started after that. You've no idea
what a time I had trying to persuade Webb to introduce me to you. I had
to convince him that my attentions were strictly honourable. And even
then he wanted a lot of bringing up to the fence. It was awfully sporting
of him to do it, you know. He's rather keen on you himself, isn't he? As
it is, I'm only on probation. If I don't behave myself he's going to
knock me out." His voice sank away into a silent laugh. "If I show any
signs of insulting you, I wish you'd warn me in time. I should hate to be
knocked out by Sidney." There was another silence. "What are we going to
see? The world's greatest love story? Or the world's greatest thrill?
It's always one or the other, isn't it?"

"But you're not coming with me! I've got a date."

"Oh, no, you haven't. You're going alone. Sidney told me a lot about
your horrible habits. I've been 'checking up on you,' you see."

The picture was called _Divine Barriers_, but they never found out what
it meant since the film appeared to have nothing to do with the title. It
was an English society drama as viewed by an American producer. The hero
was, they understood, a famous thruster in a famous hunt, and they were
given the hunt in full. There was also a "hunt breakfast," where the
whole field sat down to a large meal in a palatial room hung with French
chandeliers. The unbroken ranks of top hats would have gladdened the
heart of any provincial Master, but the effect was a little dimmed by the
cavalry breeches which the producer had presumably had had over from a
war film and could not find it in his heart to waste.

The suburban audience of tired women and pipe-smoking men knew as little
of hunting as the American producer, and so they accepted the film in
silence, except when now and then a more than usually glaring
improbability roused them to a murmur of amusement. Chitterne was so much
taller than Sara that he could watch her without turning his head, merely
by looking down on her, and so he saw little of the picture. She was
particularly lovely to-night, he thought; that exhausted, colourless look
left the beauty of her features in startling relief. Her eyes looked as
though she had been crying; and his heart contracted at the thought of
Sara crying. The thought of Sara in that gloomy house in that gloomy
street was intolerable. But he must go gently. She couldn't be rushed; he
had learned that from Webb. She had a mind of her own, Sidney had opined;
half proud, half resentful of Sara's mind. One would have to convince
Sara's mind as well as her heart, it seemed. Sidney had almost hinted
that she hadn't a heart; but girls who hadn't hearts didn't cry.

When the lights went up she said: "Are you patient, or interested, or
bored, or asleep, or what?"

"Why?"

"You're so still."

"I'm just pleased with myself."

"What a disgusting condition, and how I envy you!"

"Aren't you ever pleased with yourself?"

"No. I haven't anything to be pleased about. I'm all wrong. I'm a
misfit."

As soon as she said it her pride revolted. She shouldn't have said that;
he might think she was touting for sympathy. "At least I feel like that
to-night," she added, "because so many people were unreasonable to-day.
Two of the staff and four customers being unreasonable in one day is too
much for anyone. Sorry to talk shop."

"I've never been able to see why it was bad form to talk shop. Except in
an institution, you know, where there is a danger that the inmates won't
be able to talk about anything else. Army messes, and places like that.
Outside, where you are meeting strangers continually, surely shop is the
most interesting thing a person can talk about--the thing they know best.
What do you do when a woman has tried on everything in the shop and is
still unsatisfied? I've always wondered."

"I bring her the thing she tried on first and I say: 'Of _course_ you
_might_ care for this. It's rather out of the common, of course, and not
everyone's model, but--' And she usually forgets that she ever saw it
before, decides that she's out of the common, and that it suits her
beautifully."

"You know," he said seriously, "I couldn't do it! I'd bash them over the
head with the hand mirror and call a taxi to take away the body."

She smiled, and the joy he felt at having made Sara smile was as great as
he had ever known. As great as pulling in to the pits at Brooklands
knowing that he had broken a record; as great as seeing a horse he had
bred canter home ahead of a good field.

At half-past nine she said that she must go, and he took her back to the
corner of the street where he had met her. She would not allow him to
come to the door. Her father, it appeared, was queer. He was not even to
be told that she had been to the cinema, or there would be a row.
Chitterne had not imagined that any of that kind were still living, but
the expression on Sara's face when she talked about him left one in no
doubt.

"I say, you look as if some fresh air would do you good," he said.
"Wouldn't you let me take you somewhere on Saturday afternoon? That's
your half day, isn't it? We could go to the coast somewhere and get some
sea air. Will you?"

She hesitated.

"We'll ask Sidney and another girl, if you like."

She expressed in a grimace both her distaste for Sidney's company and her
appreciation of the motive behind his suggestion. "No, all right. I'll
come. Thank you."

They shook hands and parted.

Chitterne went away to see if he could get some dinner somewhere. He had
forgotten all about food. And Sara slipped into Number Seventeen, and in
the cold light of a naked electric examined the tweed she had made for
herself last spring to see if it would possibly do to wear on Saturday.



CHAPTER X


He was waiting for her, fifteen minutes after noon, round the corner in
Davies Street. He had been rather astonished to find what a sweat he had
been in about the weather. For the last two days he had been haunted by
the awful thought that it might be wet on Saturday. So persistent, so
obsessing, had been the fear, that even he, the least analytical of men,
had been forced to observe it and marvel. It was something new for Chit
to find himself in a sweat about anything. His anxiety had not been for
himself; after all, if it was wet they could be indoors somewhere
together; but he didn't want Sara to miss her day in the country. He had
felt like smashing up something this morning in sheer relief at sight of
the sunlight. "Where would you like to go?" he asked as he climbed in
beside her.

"I don't know. I don't know many places. I thought you'd decide."

"Well, you specify what you would like and I'll supply it."

"I'd like something that wasn't just like every other place. Something
that isn't just another edition of Brighton."

So he took her to Rye; and was pleased and touched by her joy in it. To
Chitterne its artificiality, its air of preciousness and preservation was
"amusing," but to Sara it was a fairy tale. From the moment that she saw
it, a rosy hill above the green levels of the marsh, Chitterne was aware
that he had a rival; it had been a mistake to take her there. She
explored every corner of the town, ecstatic and indefatigable, and
Chitterne accompanied her, a little jealous of Rye but gloating secretly
over the brightness of Sara's eyes, her happiness and self-forgetfulness.

"You know," she said, turning round to look at him striding with his
indifferent gait over the cobbles a pace or two behind her, "you're a
size too big for this place."

"One good kick would send it all out to sea," he said. "Aren't you ready
for tea?"

"Oh, just let's see what's down here." And he followed her, smiling and
wordless. She had been surprised to find him so quiet. She had
unconsciously expected a person with his highly-coloured reputation to be
highly-coloured, if not even parti-coloured, in private. Chitterne had
not been in the least "dashing," he was not even "breezy"; he was just
quiet, and very efficient, and very thoughtful.

There was a blazing fire on the inn hearth, and they had the place to
themselves. It was a little late in the year for golfers, and the
Americans had all gone home. They sat in the shadows, with their toes to
the fire, while the strip of pale sunlight on the floor by the open door
shortened and faded and died. She sat facing the window, and he marvelled
a little at the contrast between the elegant sophistication of her
appearance and the enchanting simplicity of her spirit. She looked as if
she should view life from the weary eminence of a throne, and she viewed
it like an eager child. He was sub-consciously aware of the significance
of the attitude of the inn-keeper and the waitress towards her.
Chitterne, in his twenty-seven years, had entertained all kinds of women
from all strata of society, and he was aware, without examining the
knowledge, that the inn people accepted her as his natural companion.
From all those subtle shades of manner which their kind employ to
customers they used the one they would have used to Ursula. Her clothes
were fashionable and well cut, of course; but clothes alone would not
have produced that tribute. There was an aloofness in her beauty, a
stillness, something that was almost scorn.

They talked about her people.

"When they started with Matthew and Mark why didn't they go on with Luke
and John?"

"They did, but Luke died, and when John arrived father remembered that
the brother he had quarrelled with was called John. The fact that he
hated his brother was much more important than that a disciple was called
John, so 'John' was called Joseph. I think even calling him Joseph didn't
make father forget that he was John by rights. He gave him a much worse
time than the rest of us."

"You don't like your father much, do you!"

"Like him! If I told you about him you would simply think I was making it
up."

"But he preaches, doesn't he?"

"Yes, once a week, and as often as they will allow him to on Sundays."

"They?"

"The other members of the meeting. They like to have a chance of
preaching too, you see. But father is a bully there just as he is at
home, so we have to put up with him about every third Sunday. It's awful
to have to sit there and listen to him. He talks such nonsense, and he
loves himself so."

"But you don't have to go if you don't want to, surely?"

"Yes, of course. We all have to go as long as we stay in his house. And
we stay for the sake of mother, more or less."

"I think Mark sounds interesting."

"You say that because he's a mechanic. Yes, Mark's all right, but the
youngest one is the nicest."

"What's his name?"

"Gareth. He's a dear. He's mother's favourite, too. She thinks we don't
know, but we all do, of course. Only Gareth's such a decent sort that
none of us mind."

"I'm not awfully well up in the Bible--I used to spend my time in chapel
reading the wrong bits--but I don't remember a Gareth."

"No, I don't think there is one. Mother sort of liked him on sight, I
think, and she chose his name. He's a sort of changeling, Gareth. He's
the only fair one in the family."

"What does he do?"

"He's the violinist in Regan's dance band."

"But--but that chap's name's Tavender."

"It might have been once upon a time, but Gareth's been it for a week
now. It was rather funny, really. We were all waiting for him to commit
suicide--he had wanted to be a sort of Kreisler, you see, and playing
'Waiting for you at twilight' and things like that was against his
principles. But he seems to be as happy as a lord. Are lords happy, by
the way?"

"Either that or tight, it seems."

When the sunlight had faded out of the doorway and the buttered muffins
were all gone, they went out once again to hang over the wall and watch
the sunset over the levels far below. Over the high pale-green sky to the
west were scattered every kind of cloud that has ever been seen: pale
pink fluffy bunches, mustard-yellow woolly things like the chickens in
Easter eggs, long greasy black trails like the smoke from railway
engines, lumps of sentimental mauve from celluloid Christmas cards,
shreds of flaming gold like clippings from a dressmaker's shears, grey,
delicate wisps like torn veils; all separate and distinct, like a lot of
samples thrown across the heavens. Below was the silver windings of the
Rother going to sea, and on either side the wide sands purpling in the
fading light. It was very quiet and windless; by the river a man hammered
at a boat, and two children called to each other in thin excited cries
like those of a sea bird. The sounds came through the evening air very
small and distinct, like things seen through the wrong end of a
telescope.

Sara was thinking: "Just now mother will be preparing tea and the street
will be beginning to get dark." But she found it difficult to believe in
the existence of Sark Street. In a world as lovely as this the thought of
it was incongruous, grotesque. What had her father's hypocrisies to do
with this wide quiet, so rich with colour, so rich with content? If only
she could stay here; stay in the quiet and not have to wrestle any more
with life; be alone and not have to worry about her relations to people,
be at peace and forget her own vague longings and fretfulness.

"I've never seen anything lovelier than this," she said aloud.

"No, it is good, isn't it? But there's lots of this in England. I know a
place further west in Sussex, in the downs, that is just as good as this.
Let's go there to-morrow."

"To-morrow! Oh, I couldn't. There'd be too much explanation. You see,
to-day I'm supposed to be out with one of the girls in Brook Street. I've
sometimes gone out on a Saturday with one or two of them. But that
explanation wouldn't do for Sunday."

"But why couldn't you say you were coming with me to-day? I'm not an
ogre!"

"Because father would make a row, and because mother would be worried.
Father would make a row on principle; he always objects to my going out
with anyone, even people like Sidney, that he knows. And mother would
worry because she would be suspecting the worst all the time. She
wouldn't understand that anyone like you would take a shop-girl out for
the day just for kindness. It's much better to tell a few fibs than have
all that happen." There was a pause. "Don't think I don't hate telling
them. I do. I loathe it. But I should loathe it far more if my day to-day
was going to be all ruined by a beastly, degrading row when I got home.
It may be degrading to have to fib about it, but not as degrading as
having something as--as lovely as this spoiled by having a lot of dirt
thrown over it."

He relented. "Then you have enjoyed it."

"Enjoyed it!"

"Come somewhere to-morrow, then, even if you have to tell a few fibs
about it."

"No amount of fibs would be any good to-morrow. I've got to go to evening
meeting. Nothing but pneumonia or sudden death would excuse me from
that."

"Oh, Lord!"

"It isn't often I hear anyone call on the Lord so heartfeltly. You'd be a
great success at the meetings."

"Well, you know, Sara, it's hardly credible. A tyranny like that in these
days. You're all grown up and earning money. You can surely please
yourselves in what you do!"

"Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. You couldn't
understand it unless you had been brought up with it. There is a limit to
one's capacity for rows, you know. There comes a time when you're only
too ready to sacrifice something for a quiet life. We're all sort of
keeping the peace until we can get out honourably. We'd all go now if it
weren't for mother. She's a victim too, but she has to stay, and it would
be sort of walking out on her if we all went. Joe ran away,
practically--he married a girl he had been too frightened to tell father
he was engaged to--but he was always the no-account one anyhow. Don't
let's talk about all that. It's spoiling this."

"But won't they know about me indirectly. Sidney might tell them."

"Oh, no, he won't. I've seen Sidney."

He smiled. "I'm afraid you're a practised deceiver."

"Of course I am. Everyone brought up in a house like ours is a past master
at that. It's inevitable." After a moment she turned to look at him where
he leaned smoking against the wall. "I promise never to tell you anything
that isn't true," she said.

"You darling!"

"I suppose it is time we went."

"There's no hurry. We can have dinner somewhere on the way up to town."

"No, I'm afraid we can't. I must get home at a normal hour. I mean, at an
hour I'd have got home at if I'd been out with Stella or one of the
others. I think we'd better go." She stood for a moment looking down on
the river and the flats and the darkening channel under the brilliant
sky, as if she were gathering them all in a last embrace. "Thank you for
the nice party," she said, and turned away.



CHAPTER XI


"Darling, who is Ursula's latest?" Julia Strange said, collapsing on the
couch beside Daphne, and meeting her excellent teeth through a sandwich
with an incisive snap which would have done credit to a crocodile.

"Latest? I don't know what you mean," said Daphne, who hated Julia and
had been given the wrong kind of cocktail.

"Oh, _darling_, don't be sniffy and pretend you don't know. Connie
Markham said she saw them at the Wigmore Hall together, at Jan Vek's
recital, you know. _Too frightfully_ artistic, she said he was. I said if
it was the Wigmore Hall she saw them at he must be still on the lunging
rein. And then Connie turned peevish, of course, and shut up like a clam.
Connie is _too_ silly over music! And between you and me, darling, she
doesn't know a scherzo from a sonata. But I didn't mind. I knew you'd
know _all_ about it. Now, darling, _tell_ Julia. _Who_ is he, and _what_
does he do, _if_ anything, and _where_ did she pick him up?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's not the _slightest_ use making a mystery of it, darling. You can't
_possibly_ hide a thing like that for more than three days at the very
outside. And anyhow, Ursula never bothers to hide her _affaires_. If
anything, darling, you know she flaps them in your face like a flag. So
don't imagine you're being loyal to her or any Joan of Arc nonsense of
that sort, because it's quite redundant."

"What on earth has Joan of Arc to do with it?"

"I'm sure I don't know, darling."

"I wish you wouldn't use words you don't know the meaning of, and I wish
you wouldn't eat sandwiches in my face."

"If you think you're going to distract me by being rude, darling, you're
_frightfully_ off the mark. I want to know about Ursula's new one, and
I'm _going_ to find _out_."

"Well, why don't you go and ask her?"

"You might at least tell me if he's here. I've looked them all over
several times, but none seems to have that co-respondent look that Ursula
goes in for. And none of them looks the Wigmore Hall kind except Riscoe,
and it can't be Riscoe because no musician ever goes to hear another
play." Her big bright brown eyes darted over the scattered figures in
Ursula's lamp-lit sitting-room in search of one she might have missed.

It was between five and six o'clock; and the usual motley collection of
notabilities; notorieties and nonentities were gathered in Ursula's big
room, whiling away an hour until they should depart to get ready for the
evening's entertainment.

It was a delightful room to come into on an October evening;
pale-coloured and gracious, warm with firelight and sweet with the
scent of white lilac. A year or two previously, when the craze for
Victorian things had been at its height, the room had been the finest
museum of atrocities in London. People still talked with amused
appreciation of it. "_Do_ you remember Ursula's wallpaper?" they would
say. "With the chrysanthemums as big as cabbages! My dear, wasn't it a
_triumph!_" But Ursula had tired of the joke as soon as the last
antimacassar had been collected, and the crowd had helped her smash it
all up one glorious night, when they had all been drinking enough to
bring them to the god-like state of being indifferent to consequences.
There was still a slight inequality in one corner of the ceiling where
Cedric Byron had offered up the aspidistras on an altar made of the
green-and-crimson woollen crochet doileys from under the plant pots all
piled into a chafing-dish. Peter Ridson, the novelist, had recited an
impromptu ode (which to his chagrin he could not recall next morning)
while he poured a libation of neat brandy over the sacrifice; and Daphne,
having performed a ritual dance which was the apotheosis of burlesque,
put a taper to it. The result had been very satisfactory as a spectacle,
if rather bad for the ceiling. And next day the decorators had come in,
and the Victorian drawing-room gave place to the present room, in which
bare straight lines, and cool colours were a natural reaction. The
carpets, chairs and curtains were now a dove grey, the wall panelled in
cream and without pictures, and here and there were cushions of plain
silk, each one of an enchanting colour: blue or yellow or rose or green
or flame; colours as clear and pure as the hue of stones at the bottom of
a brook. They were completely unrelated, like beads run from a broken
string, but the eye found each with a new delight. Peter Hudson, on
viewing the new decorations for the first time; said that at last the
room had been allowed to express Ursula herself instead of a fashion. It
just _was_ Ursula: cold as a nun, but given to purple patches.

"You know, my chief objection to Ursula," Julia said, popping the last
piece of sandwich into her mouth with a snap, "is that she's always one
ahead of everyone. As soon as you think you've caught up with her you
find she's on ahead again. It can't be anyone we know or Connie would
have recognised him."

"Peter!" Daphne called across the width of the room to Hudson who was
talking to Ursula at the rear window and shaking a container, "bring me
something that tastes like a cocktail. That last thing was only fit for a
mothers' meeting."

"Don't you think you've had enough, darling?" Julia was beginning to be a
little frayed.

"I've never had enough. Thank you, darling," this to Clive Forrester, who
had brought her cocktail. "Now if you want to exercise that famous
Foreign Office tact, for God's sake take Julia away and give her another
sandwich to keep her tongue busy. She thinks she's Mata Hari."

"Hallucinations so early in the day?" asked Hudson, sitting down in the
place Julia vacated. "It's you who should be having hallucinations, you
know."

"Not me. I have a head like teak. I say, Peter, you're a great friend of
Grandison's, aren't you?"

"The editor, you mean?"

"Yes. Aren't you great friends?"

"Well, he would say so if I didn't."

"Be an angel and remind him that he promised me a contract for six
articles."

"Grandison would promise anyone anything after dinner."

"Indeed he wouldn't! It took me half an hour to bring him to the point.
And now he seems to have forgotten all about it."

"What were the articles going to be about?"

"Oh, anything. Drink, if you like."

"That's an idea! I didn't know you could write."

"I can't. Not even my name on a cheque at the moment."

"All right. I'll see what I can do."

"You are a lamb, Peter. When Lola gets divorced I'll send you a little
something to help pay the damages."

Peter glanced across the room to where Lola Kennet, thin and dark and
angular, like some rather wicked insect, was talking to Wilmer, the
trainer.

"You're post-dating the cheque rather, aren't you?"

"Not a bit of it. George Kennet may be a fool about Lola, but he's not an
everlasting fool. What's Wilmer doing here?"

"On his way home from Kempton. Wants to pump Ursula about Double Bass's
chance to-morrow, I suppose."

"He seems to have forgotten it," Daphne said maliciously, watching the
trainer's absorption in Lola.

"Oh, no, he hasn't," Peter said serenely. "That's camouflage. Wilmer's an
adept at it. He's never been known to look rattled in his life."

"I suppose we've all come _for_ something," Daphne said, her mind taking
a new flight on the wings of the spirit in her glass. "_I_ came for a
drink. What did you come for?"

"I came because Lola didn't want to go home yet."

"And Clive came because I should be here, and because, he likes to be
seen at the proper place at the proper time. Why did Mark Welby come, do
you think?"

"He's hoping Ursula will go into partnership with him in a flower shop
he's thinking about."

"Green carnations, I suppose! He needn't waste his time. Ursula's
strongest complex is being an individual. She hates being a partner."

"Why is Julia here?" Peter asked, liking the game.

"The usual, of course. Snooping."

"Well, we all do it. What does she want to find out at the moment?"

"Who Bonjie's successor is."

"And who is he?"

"He's a Russian refugé. Ursula picked up in the Berwick Market. She was
so fascinated by the fact that he wasn't a prince that she carried him
off there and then and gave him a meal. Ridoffsky's his name. He doesn't
dance, and he's never washed dishes for a living, and he hasn't lost a
fortune in Russia, and altogether he's absolutely unique. The only
drawback is that he doesn't talk English, and Russian is so difficult to
learn."

"Did you tell Julia that one? I don't wonder she was looking peeved."

"I don't see what's wrong with it. It's quite a good one, if Ursula
chooses to be interested in someone, I don't see why the whole world
should come rushing round like flies to treacle."

"You mean you don't see why she shouldn't tell you."

"Your psychology's marvellous, isn't it, darling?"

"Well, I'm a novelist, aren't I?"

"So your publishers say. Did you read the notices of Cedric's exhibition,
by the way?"

"Cedric bribed the critics with champagne," Clive said, overhearing.
"They were so tight they couldn't see, and couldn't admit it. So they had
to say everything was marvellous in case they said something more than
ordinarily foolish."

"Did you hear that he got the Duchess of Bride to fork out for the
expenses of the gallery?" Mark said from the fireplace, where he was
draped about the mantelpiece.

"Are you talking about Cedric Byron?" Lola asked, ceasing her efforts to
make Peter Hudson jealous. "So _that's_ why he put Ellen Bideford
into that serpent tableau at the Jungle Ball! I wondered what he had in
his eye when he chose Ellen. It was so patently not _Ellen!_"

'There was a little laugh.

"Darling, _did_ you see her at Raoul's last night with Freddie
Owen?" Julie said. "In a frock that looked like a telephone cover that
someone had sat on."

"What does she spend her money on?" someone asked.

"Cocaine," Lola said.

"Oh, is she trying _that_ now?"

"I expect she finds it difficult to get a kick out of anything at this
late stage," Mark said. "Yes. Saturated solution," agreed Peter.

"You _should_ have seen Freddie holding her as if he had picked
something out of the garbage can!"

"That shouldn't worry Freddie," someone said, and there was another
little laugh.

"Do we never say anything nice about anyone?" Ursula said.

At the tone of her voice there was a pause of astonishment.

"Darling, you haven't been saved, or anything have you?" Lola exclaimed.

"A soap box, please!" cried Mark. "Any gentleman provide a soap box?"

"I shouldn't, really, Ursula, you know. Hyde Park corner isn't your
style."

"What is my style?"

"More Borgia than Booth," Daphne said.

Ursula glanced across at her. "Cheap alliteration!" she said, but she
smiled. They saw the smile, and the conversation gathered itself together
and flowed on in its usual groove. For a moment they had almost thought
that Ursula was serious.

But the interruption in the tenor of their thoughts, slight though it had
been, allowed memories of outside affairs to seep in, and one by one they
began to take their departure, casually, with a shouted word of farewell
or a mere gesture of leave-taking.

Ursula, watching them go with an aloofness which was now conscious where
it had once been inherent, considered them with a good-natured cynicism.
Amusing, were they? Some of them. But what more? What more? Surely there
must be something in themselves, below that mask of clothes and prattle
and _savoir faire_.

There was Peter Hudson; he had made a reputation with his work; but that
belonged to what she thought of as the mask; that was all in the shop
window; what was Peter Hudson like himself? Would you rely on him in an
emergency? He would be very efficient and kind, of course; and afterwards
the incident would be found imbedded in one of his novels. And they were
all like that, weren't they? Their standards were as pitilessly selfish
as if they were a panicking mob tramping their fellows under their feet.
And they had not the excuse of panic. The only person on whom her mind in
its new mood rested with anything resembling approbation was Wilmer. He
at least was honest (as horsemen go) hard-working, healthy,
self-respecting; all the good dull virtues she had always professed to
find so boring. But Wilmer, although she knew him well, could hardly be
called a friend of hers. She had never belonged to a set, certainly; her
tastes were too catholic for that; but Wilmer was outside her general
daily round. She couldn't take any credit for Wilmer.

When her guests had drained away the residue proved to be Daphne, firmly
entrenched on the sofa, and Clive Forrester looking wistfully at Daphne
and longing to go.

Something in the wriggle of Daphne's shoulders against the cushion
indicated that she was settling down for a further session. Clive became
desperate.

"I say, Daphne, I'll have to go, I'm afraid. I've got to go to that
Roumanian dinner, and it's at seven-thirty."

"Good-bye, darling."

"But aren't you coming?"

"No, I'm going to have another cocktail and talk to Ursula."

"You may have six other cocktails, but you're not going to talk to
Ursula," Ursula said. "She's going to rest till dinner."

"Darling, I had no idea you were so decrepit! Have you gone through all
the ritual? 'Place the mirror in a good light and dispassionately examine
the countenance. Are there faint lines round the eyes? Is there a slight
sag in the flesh at the corners of the--'"

"I say, Daphne, I know seven-thirty is an ungodly hour to have dinner,
but it isn't my fault. Do let me see you home before I have to go and
climb into a boiled shirt."

"Oh, Clive, darling, do go away. You're exhausting."

Clive got to his feet (he made a queer straight-up-and-down effect when
he stood, rather like a perambulating column) and regarded her more in
sorrow than in anger. "Well, I shan't see you till to-morrow night."

"If then."

"But, Daphne! We're going to dine and dance to-morrow. You promised!"

"Oh, yes, so I did. But I may be dead of cholera by that time."

"You can only get cholera if--"

"If you argue any more, Clive, she'll call it off here and now. I should
beat it if I were you." Clive beat it.

"Fancy having that for your steady!" Daphne said elegantly as the door
shut behind him.

"Well, have your cocktail. There are glasses and a shaker behind you."

"I don't want a cocktail. What I want is a little information. Who is the
man you're keeping up your sleeve?"

"I!" Ursula turned from throwing a cigarette-end into the fire, and
stared. "I'm not in the habit of keeping things up my sleeve."

"I know you're not. That's why I'm wondering." She eyed Ursula through
narrowed lids.

"I'd rather be shot straight away without the third degree business."

"Well, tell me: who were you at the Wigmore Hall with yesterday?"

"The Ellis boy."

"Who's that?"

"Regan's violinist."

"What! That funny little boy with the red hair?"

"That's the one. Is that the man I'm supposed to be keeping up my
sleeve?"

"Oh, darling!" Daphne laughed a laugh of pure amusement, clear and
ringing, a rare demonstration on her part. "Oh, darling, I apologise!
It's all Julia's fault. Give Julia an inch and she'll make an 'ell of a
lot. And there's no one else on the tapis?"

"No one else."

"That sounds convincing enough! I think I'll catch Clive on the doorstep
if I hurry. No use paying for a taxi when there is someone handy to do it
for one. 'Bye, darling. Did you count whatsisname's freckles, by the way?
As big as sixpences, aren't they!"

"Now, if she meets him on the stairs," Ursula thought, amused, "she will
be given furiously to think again." And she wondered whether in that case
Daphne would have the nerve to come back for another cocktail. She
thought that she probably would. Daphne had nerve for anything.

But it was a quarter of an hour later that Florence opened the door and
said that there was a Mr. Ellis downstairs; should she show him up? And
presently Florence ushered him in. He stood shyly, a few steps inside the
room, his hat still in his hand, his dark overcoat unbuttoned and his
violin case tucked under his left arm. "A funny little boy with red
hair": Ursula thought, as she went to meet him. That is how a stranger
saw him. And to her he was so dear and so lovely that her heart melted
into a warm liquid place in her breast at the very memory of him.

"Throw your hat and coat down over there somewhere, and come over to the
fire."

"I'm afraid I'm late," he said. He did not tell her that he had wasted
almost ten minutes walking round the square trying to get up sufficient
courage to ring the bell.

"Just a little, but I'm glad you are. It gave me more time to get rid of
the tea-time crowd. Are you cold? What kind of cocktail do you like?"

"Oh, I won't have anything, thank you."

"But you must have something!"

"I'd rather not now, please. Perhaps after I've played."

She had said: "Play the things you like best," but he hesitated. He had
been told at college that his taste was outré to the point of being
bizarre, and to-night he wanted to play something that might please her.
She was his hostess, and--oh, well, he just wanted to please her. He
asked her what kind of music she liked.

"Anything except variations on a theme," she said.

"Don't you like variations?"

"I hate them. They're like--like fretwork. Niggling."

He laughed aloud. "You should have a debate with Dolmetsky," he said.
"They're his passion." He played some very safe Mozart, an elegie by
Faure, and a Sarasate jota. At first he was self-conscious, but presently
he forgot her. On his face came that intent look which had first charmed
her at Regan's rehearsal. When he looked like that, unconscious of
anything but his music, he seemed suddenly defenceless against the world,
like a person asleep, and one was moved to the same impersonal tenderness
as one is on watching someone asleep; he had discarded the shell of
artificiality which we wear in our awareness of the world, and had become
an absorbed child, his being laid bare for any passer-by to view. His
raptness had none of the self-induced trance of the platform performer;
it was the grave, self-forgetting interest of a child; Ursula had seen
the same look on the face of a small boy building bricks alone in a
nursery.

His head was silhouetted against the blue of the uncurtained window, and
the lamplight shone down on it and made it a flame. It was a completely
stained-glass effect; a young saint and martyr on a blue background. It
was a beautiful blue, the window; but sad, unsatisfying. A rush of pity
flooded her love for him; he was young and vulnerable, and life was
bitter, and someday he must die. The cruelty, oh, the cruelty of it! A
log fell, and the bitter tonic scent drowned the sweetness of the lilacs.
She mocked at herself. She was being maudlin. She, Ursula Deane. Gareth
was not in the least the fragile and defenceless martyr. He was a young
wretch who had not hesitated to make fun of Jan Vek; he was a
still-growing boy with a very healthy appetite for food. It was the
fragility which had first made her notice him certainly, but it was the
young wretch who had forced her interest that morning at Regan's. Funny
to think that if he had not grimaced at the pianist she might never have
thought any more about him. Or--would she?

He finished playing, and she was so enthusiastic that he said: "If you
are so fond of music why don't you go to the opera?"

"Opera gives me giggles. But how do you know I don't?"

"Well, I've seen your people there often, but I've never seen you. They
go a lot, don't they?"

"You mean mother goes and father is taken. Mother goes because the opera
is the only place in London nowadays where you can wear a diamond fender
without looking a fool. It's either that or entertaining your husband's
political party, and the opera is much cheaper and less exhausting."

Gareth looked amused. "You're exaggerating, aren't you? They _must_
like it to go so often."

"My dear man, mother doesn't know 'Rule Britannia' from 'God Save The
King,' and father's favourite instrument is a gong. You're too trusting,
you know. Don't imagine when you are a big pot and a crowded hall is
listening breathless to your playing that all these people came to hear
_you_. Everyone will be there because everyone else is, and they'll
be breathless only because they're afraid they're going to sneeze in the
pianissimo passages."

"I wish you didn't dislike us so much."

"You?"

"Musicians."

"Some of my best friends are musicians. It's the crowd who hang round
them I can't bear. Perhaps camp followers are always a despicable bunch.
Even a prostitute is better than a pimp, I suppose. Play me some more.
When you play so well it must be hellish to play dance stuff."

"Oh, it might be worse," Gareth said airily. "And after all, there are
lots of people like me. Look at Hal. It isn't any use grumbling. After
all, very few people are able to make their living doing the thing they
like best. And I can always do the thing I like best for nothing in my
spare time. Not many people can say that."

"But you are far too philosophical! No one gets anywhere by being
philosophical. You should be resentful and kick and make a row. Then
people take notice of you."

Gareth grinned. "Yes, they have you ejected."

"You look as if you would make an ideal martyr."

"Do I? It's the last thing I should like to be. I used to have ideas, of
course, about playing nothing that wasn't music, but I soon gave that up.
I found the only place where I could play the things I wanted was the
street, and--well, I'm not a martyr."

"But if you really--" Ursula began, and stopped. That had been a knock on
the door. It was Lady Wilmington.

Watching her mother cross to them Ursula thought that her mother was just
the type of woman who is murdered and no one can think why.

"Oh, darling! So sorry to interrupt. I didn't know you had visitors. But I
had to see you for a moment. I know you'll think I'm a plague, darling,
but I can't help it."

"Mother, this is Gareth Ellis, the violinist."

"How do you do, Mr. Ellis? I've heard such a lot about you. Delighted to
meet you. I expect you are a very busy man, Mr. Ellis, with your concerts
and things, but perhaps some day you'll find time to play for one of my
charities. Now don't say no! I know it is asking a lot to expect you to
play for us, but it is always for such a deserving object. We're having a
concert next Friday in aid of the Society for the Promotion of Better
Understanding Between nations, you know. And we are so hard up for
really first-rate performers--although Madame Buffel has consented to
sing for us. Now do you think you can come and play just for five minutes
or so?"

"Mother, you can hardly expect a musician whose normal fee is fifty
guineas to go and play at a wretched little charity concert for love!"

"But I don't expect it! Don't be ridiculous, Ursula! I've heard all about
your wonderful talent, Mr. Ellis, and I shouldn't dream of asking you to
_give_ us your services. But perhaps, since the object is so very
splendid you _could_ see your way to giving half your fee, perhaps,
to the cause. I think the organising fund would run to twenty-five
guineas if you would be really noble and come for that."

"I expect Mr. Ellis will make the sacrifice. Mr. Ellis is nothing if not
noble," Ursula said.

"Then shall I say ten minutes' performance?"

"Oh,--er--fifteen, if you like," Gareth began, "but, you know--"

"Then that's settled. Thank you a thousand times! I do so want this
concert to be a success. Janet Goddridge ran it last year and they made
only three hundred. Of course, she's hopeless at organising anything,
perfectly hopeless. _So_ charming of you to help me. And now,
Ursula. Darling, _would_ you come and judge the dresses at the
Children's Ball? Cedric is so hoping you will!

"Why me? I don't know anything about dresses?"

"No, but Cedric says you're the only person in London who won't care a
tinker's curse what people think of your decisions."

"How nice of him! But then, Cedric is always complimentary when he wants
something."

"It would mean such a lot off my shoulders if you would, darling."

Ursula hesitated.

"All right, I will," she said.

Her mother's surprise was almost touching. "You _will!_ Oh, darling,
how sweet of you! You know, I didn't dare hope you would, I promised
Cedric I'd ask you but I didn't think you'd say yes. It _is_ sweet
of you. It must be your music, Mr. Ellis. I see you've been playing."

"I'm the savage breast, you see," Ursula said to Gareth.

"Oh, darling! You know I didn't mean that. Well, I must fly. A thousand
thanks, Mr. Ellis. _Au revoir_ till next Friday."

"I say," Gareth said as the door closed behind her, "why did you--what
made you--"

"Are you backing out of your engagement?"

"No, but, you know, those people who are running the concert, they'll
find out that I'm not famous, and then what will happen?"

"Oh, no, they won't. No one will dare to say they never heard of you in
case they drop a brick. And by the time the affair is over you'll be well
on the way to being famous, if you play as you played to-night."

"Yes, but the committee who pay the twenty-five guineas. They'll ask
questions surely?"

"Mother is the committee, and the rest would as soon think of resigning
as questioning anything that mother may do. That is how she is allowed to
run round being idiotic. And once they hear you there won't be any need
of questions."

"I say, it's awfully good of you to--!" But she stopped him. "Play me
something else. It's early yet."

As he played the atmosphere, stirred up and troubled by Lady Wilmington's
hysterical animation and urgency, grew slowly still again. Ursula could
almost feel it settling; like dew. The scent of the lilac came out as
scents do on a still evening. He played something she did not know. At
the beginning it promised to be simple, like the expression of a faith.
But presently she found that phrases which one had expected to be
acquiescent floated away instead in strange wild aspirations. It was not
a statement; it was a crying voice in a wilderness. The music was full of
unexpected intervals, and yet the melody was there for even the most
obtuse to hear; only it was not the melody one expected. It sang and it
cried in the still room; and it ended in two little short notes that had
in them all the hopelessness of human endeavour, all the gladness of
being able to aspire.

There was an appreciable pause when he finished. "I've never heard that
before," Ursula said. "It's very modern, isn't it? What is it?"

"It's called 'Moth to a Star," Gareth said, his head bent over to listen
to the string he was tuning, so that his face was hidden.

"Whose is it?"

There was another pause, and she looked at his bent head with a new
interest.

"It's your own, isn't it?"

"Yes. Is it as bad as that!"

"You know very well that it isn't bad."

"Did you like it, then?"

"Very much."

"You say that as if you meant it."

"Of course I mean it! I shouldn't say so if I didn't."

"If you didn't," Gareth said, suddenly impish, "you would say that you
simply loved it. I was terribly afraid you were going to say you adored
it."

"Are you accusing me of hypocrisy?"

"That's not hypocrisy; just conventionality."

"Good God!" Ursula said, "have I lived to hear someone call me
conventional to my teeth!" They smiled at each other.

"How long is it since you composed that thing?" she asked as she poured
out two cocktails.

"The day before yesterday." There was moment's silence, and he hurried on
as if anxious to break it. "At least, the night before last. All my best
ideas come through the night."

"And do you get up there and then to play? How awful for your family!"

"Oh, no. It happens in my head. The family don't suffer."

"Tell me about your family."

Gareth drank his cocktail, and described without much interest the
members of his family. The household at Sark Street had not for him the
evil fascination of hatred that it held for Sara.

"Is your sister pretty?"

"Yes, I think she is."

"What does she do? Anything?"

"She dressmakes."

"Are you very good friends?"

"Yes. She's not very--what do you call it--demonstrative. But she's
always stuck up for me when things got hot. She's an awfully good sort.
She once took a spanking for me--without my knowing, of course."

"How funny!--Bobby--that's Chitterne, you know--once did that for me.
What had you done?"

"Let the cat into the kitchen."

"I put tadpoles in the nursery bath."

"Was that a dreadful thing to do?"

"Heinous. My nurse thought nature nasty. My thirst for knowledge was
always being frustrated when I was small. Perhaps that is why I have such
a passion for experiment now that I am grown-up. Do you and your sister
still do things together?"

"Well, now that we're both working it's different. But she and Molly are
very good friends."

"Who is Molly?"

"The girl I'm going to marry."

There was a little silence.

"Oh? You're engaged to be married?"

"Why didn't you tell me so thrilling a piece of information before?"
Ursula's tone was light, but her voice sounded like water dripping in a
shallow dish.

"What interest could it have held for you? And it isn't thrilling. We've
been engaged ever since we were in our teens."

"How--estimable!"

There was a slight pause. Gareth set down his glass. "I must go," he
said, and got to his feet. "No, don't go. I apologise. That was a horrid
thing to say. It was--cheap."

"Time's getting on. I must go."

"I've apologised for being petty. I can't do more. Don't be angry."

"I'm not. Why should I be?"

"Then stop looking like John Knox and bring me another cocktail."

Gareth crossed over to her, moving stiffly as if it were only by a
deliberate effort of the will that he made his limbs move. He took her
glass and carried it to the table.

"You know," Ursula said, "you're inclined to take things _au grand
sérieux_."

"I don't know any French, but I suppose you mean I haven't a sense of
humour."

"I don't mean that at all. I mean that you take some things too
seriously."

"Some things are serious."

"As what, for instance?"

"Earning your living. And being in love."

"That is a very life-is-real-life-is-earnest point of view for an artist
to take!"

"If you don't take something seriously you don't get any kick out of
life. If nothing matters to you what pep is there in existence?"

"Yes. Wilde said something like that--a little more elegantly--last
century. But it was just about as true as all the other would-be clever
things he said. It's a mistake to take anything seriously. You only get
hurt. Give me my cocktail."

He poured out the cocktail, and having poured out too much, carried the
glass over to her with an inelegant and infantile care, putting his heels
down first and breathing deeply.

"You know, I don't believe you're hard--hard--" He paused, anxious about
the liquid. "Boiled--? Hearted--? Don't leave me in suspense!"

"I've filled it too full. I don't believe you're really cynical. It's
what you said just now. You're afraid you'll get hurt."

"And what would hurt me?"

"Oh, life, I suppose."

"Then you admit it hurts?"

"Oh, sometimes, of course. But that isn't any reason for being cynical
about it. The things that hurt most are often the things you wouldn't
have missed for the world. Don't you believe in _anything?_"

"Nothing I can think of at the moment."

"You don't believe that there can be something--oh, something utterly
lovely, if you know what I mean, in life?"

"Nothing taken to bits is lovely. And I've always been a taker to bits.
What do you find lovely in life?"

"I don't know. To-day--and to-morrow coming."

"My dear!" she said, her voice suddenly tender, "how I envy you!" Then,
after a second, "Tell me about your fiancée. Is she fair or dark?"

"Sort of medium."

"Like me."

"Yes." He had given her the cocktail and was standing beside her, looking
down at her. "No. No, she isn't like you," he said slowly, as if the
words were pulled out of him. "She isn't beautiful. She doesn't talk the
way you do. Or--or do anything like you. Her eyes don't laugh the way
yours do, and her mouth doesn't--doesn't--"


"Doesn't what?"

Gareth leaned over and kissed her on the mouth. He did it without
expression, as if a compulsion outside him had bent his body over to her.
As he straightened himself realisation woke in him. "I'm sorry," he said
stupidly.

"You should never apologise for kissing a woman. It's adding insult to
injury. You've spilt my cocktail."

"I'm terribly sorry!" Gareth said desperately. "Really, I'm terribly
sorry!"

"It doesn't matter. I hate the frock anyhow."

"I didn't mean the frock."

"Well, you should have meant the frock." She looked up at him in the
process of rubbing the stain, and laughed. "My dear Gareth, don't look so
abashed. One would think you had never kissed anyone but your mother and
your fiancée!"

"I haven't."

"If it weren't for the practical demonstration I shouldn't believe it.
You'll have to take a course. I should speak to Molly, if I were you."

"Don't laugh at me!" Gareth burst out. "Don't laugh at me--please! I
can't bear it. I adore you. I can't think of anything but you since that
first night at Raoul's. I worship you, and you just think of me as a poor
little beast of a musician who amuses you because he's different. I can't
bear it. I wrote that thing for you, and hoped that that would get it off
my chest, but it just goes on getting worse. Every time I see you it
gets worse. At the concert yesterday I couldn't think of anything but
you. I knew you were just being nice to me. I knew I was a fool, but I
couldn't help it. And I didn't want to help it, somehow, because it was
so wonderful being with you. It was something that might never happen
again. I've never known anyone like you. I never meant to kiss you, or to
say all the things I'm saying now. I know I'm crazy, and I'm going before
you throw me out."

"Gareth, my dear--" she said, rising.

"Oh, don't be kind to me, for God's sake. That would be the last--"

"Gareth, be quiet." She caught him by the shoulders as he was turning
away, and swung him round to face her. "Listen to me. You are the
loveliest thing that ever happened in my life. If anything could make me
believe in the essential decency of things it would be you. Don't you
think I have felt all that too? Why, these last days the whole world has
been different. I've even suffered fools gladly because you happen to be
alive. When I walked into Regan's that morning, and saw you, something
happened to me that never happened before. And everything has been--new,
ever since. I've done all the old boring things and found them
beautiful, just because somewhere in London you were doing something
too."

"Ursula! It's not true."

"No? Do you think I'm being unmaidenly and immodest just for fun!"

"Do you mean--? Do you actually mean--"

His voice died away. It would be like blasphemy to say it aloud.

"Yes, I mean just that. Are you going to make a better job of it this
time?"

Gareth's arms went round her in a queer movement which had in it
something that was almost resignation. It was as if a swimmer who had
believed himself drowning saw rescue at hand and found it difficult to
drag himself back to the realisation of life. But as his mouth met hers
again the world not only swung back, but into a new perspective
altogether. A new-born dazzling world it seemed to him, with Ursula in
his arms.

They sat down side by side, Ursula smiling, Gareth serious. "Ursula," he
said, "you won't mind if I stick Ursula into everything I say, will you?
It's so wonderful to be able to say it. Ursula, I adore you. When can I
see you again?"

"Breakfast-time to-morrow, if you like."

"No, but seriously."

"Well, if you don't like the breakfast offer I can't see you for ages and
ages. Not till tea time."

"Where?"

"Here if you like."

"No; you come out with me somewhere." He hesitated. "The worst of it is
there are so few places where--"

"No, but there's always the top of a bus."

"Bus tops are not what they were."

"Well, there are those outside pieces that trams have at the back. If it
comes to that, I don't mind kissing you in the middle of Piccadilly."

"Oh, _you_ suggest a place."

"Let's go to a Lyons Corner House and practice looking vacantly at each
other."

"Be serious. It's time I went."

"How can I be serious when you love me?"

"That's terribly serious."

"No, just incredibly lovely. _Do_ let's sit stolidly in a Lyons and
look as if we'd quarrelled over the mid-day joint."

"We couldn't."

"Why not?"

"It will be Saturday. There's no joint on a Saturday."

"You know everything."

"I know that!"

"Well, I'll meet you at Borodin's, in Buckingham Palace Road. We won't see
anyone we know there, so we can be as abandoned as we like. Half-past
four."

"Not till then?"

"No. I'm going to lunch with a lot of fools. It makes me feel quite
Christian when I think how charitable I'm going to be to them. Play 'Moth
to a Star' once more for me before you go."

"No, I don't think so. I don't feel a bit like that now, you see. I'll
write you another one. I shall go away and write it now. I feel it coming
on."

"You talk as if it were a fit."

Gareth grinned. "It is, rather."

"Are you going to publish 'Moth to a Star'?"

Gareth stared a little. "No one would publish it," he said. "It isn't
dance music."

"But it's good!"

"You don't know music publishers!" he said grimly.

"No, but they don't know me. You let me have the manuscript, and I'll
talk to them. You haven't enough impudence, that's what is wrong with
you. I have lots. There are such a lot of things I am going to do for
you, Gareth!"

"I don't like you to say that," he said abruptly.

"Why not?"

"There is so little I can do for you."

"But it makes me so happy to do things for you. Don't you like that?"

"Not when I can't do anything in return."

"But you repay me by just being alive."

"That's no credit to me!"

"Silly!" She skated away from the thin place.

"Then let's say there are such a lot of things we are going to do
together. Have you ever seen the sun rise on the South Downs?"

He shook his head.

"Well, I'll show you that. What will you show me?"

"We could go to Boulogne for the day and eat snails."

"Oh, lovely! What else?"

"I shall take you to the hardest seat at Covent Garden and teach you to
like opera."

"Even opera would be bearable with you, but don't expect me to be solemn
about it. I wish it were spring."

"Why?"

"I have the most insane desire to sit hand in hand on a bank of daisies."

"Oh, Ursula, how I love you!"

"I think I'm a little mad, but you have no idea how wonderful it is to
think you know all there is to know about life, and then to come across
something glorious that you never imagined existed."

"What amazes me is that I went about London all those years and didn't
know you were there," Gareth said. "I feel I ought to have known you were
there, somehow."

"My difficulty is to believe you are here now. It's all much too good to
be true, Gareth. Aren't you afraid that something will happen, and we'll
find that--that we've only been having an anaesthetic or something?"

"And you know," Gareth said, still following his own train of thought,
"I've seen your photograph in the papers often, and just turned the page
over. That's funny, isn't it?"

"It's more than funny. It's incredible. I shall have to change my
photographer."

"You laugh at everything. I think that's why I love you. It isn't what
photographers like in you that makes me love you, Ursula. It isn't the
way your hair grows, or the shape of your mouth, or anything like that.
It's just you. I never met anyone like you."

"My dear!"

"I suppose I've got to go. It's late, isn't it?"

"I expect it is, but I feel so young that I think time must be just
beginning."

"You look about six when you smile like that."

"Six! My dear man! I am exactly--How long is it since you said you loved
me? I am exactly as old as that."

"If I go now, promise that you won't be any older when I see you at
tea-time to-morrow.

"I won't be a minute older. I'm only alive when you're there."



CHAPTER XII


Gareth went home by bus, although it took much longer than the
Underground, because he felt that he wanted the lights and the traffic as
an obbligato to the things which were singing in his head. He had a vague
feeling that if he had to endure the sepulchral atmosphere and mummified
figures of the Underground to-night he would burst. All the way home the
exultation in him span itself into music; mad, lovely music, as
triumphant as the buses which charged past within a foot of his nose, as
dancing as the lights, as full of power and radiance as the tall
buildings, flood-lit against the sky. So that it was not until he stepped
off the bus at the corner of Sark Street that he remembered Molly.

Ursula had never forgotten her for one moment; from the time that
Gareth's little careless sentence had hit her with the force of a bullet,
Molly had never ceased to be somewhere in her mind. But Gareth had been
so carried away that the world he knew had ceased to exist for him; he
had almost forgotten his own identity. Now he remembered it with a shock.
He was Gareth Ellis, and he had been unfaithful to Molly. Not unfaithful
in the modern sense, but unfaithful nevertheless.

"What!" said his other self. "Unfaithful because you happen to have
kissed another woman! Don't be silly!" But he knew it wasn't that. He was
unfaithful because Ursula filled his whole being to the exclusion of
everyone and everything else. Molly, kind pleasant little Molly, was a
pale shadow in the background. He might have kissed many women without
disturbing by a hair's breadth the small throne that was Molly's; but if
he had never kissed Ursula at all he would still have been hopelessly
unfaithful to Molly. He had never felt for Molly, never felt for anyone,
what he felt for Ursula. In those first days after he met her, when to
let his thoughts dwell on her had been an exquisite joy, he had stilled
the vague pricks of conscience by telling himself that he could worship
Ursula with impunity both to himself and to Molly, since she was a star
so far from his orbit that his admiration of her was no more harmful (and
much more helpful) than going to church and praying to God. He had taken
to walking through the square in the mornings on the way to rehearsal,
not so that he might see her but because it gave him a heady satisfaction
to tread the same pavement which she trod. He would remind himself as he
came nearer to the magic fifty yards in front of her house how quiet the
square was and how few people walked on that piece of pavement, so that
his feet might be resting exactly where hers had been the last to tread.
He did not glance at the house. He felt nearer to her without that. The
sight of the actual stones of her habitation, forbidding and palatial,
emphasised the barriers between them, and so he went past with his eyes
on the pavement, feeling her nearness as a sort of charm, walking in her
footsteps with a lifting of the heart.

His adoration of her had, up to that point, been bearable; it had been
merely a something which gave life a radiance it had never before
possessed. There had been no hunger in it, no sense of frustration, no
pain; it had been an iridescent happiness to him, waking and sleeping.
Then he had had supper with her again, in company with Regan and Tim
Grierson, and they had talked about Jan Vek, and she had asked him to go
with her to the Wigmore Hall next afternoon to hear him play. He had sat
beside her and tried to keep his thoughts on the music, but it had been
hopeless. Why listen to Jan Vek indulging in mere virtuosity when he
himself was taking part in a miracle? When Ursula Deane was here beside
him, his sole companion for a whole afternoon, his companion by her own
choice. It had made him a little light-headed. He was ruder about Jan Vek
than he meant to be, partly because he felt so superior to Jan Vek,
partly because he was still nervous and a little shy with Ursula. But she
had laughed and seemed to like his lack of reverence for Jan Vek. She
herself was irreverent by nature; most of her opinions, he noticed, were
barbed. "I like rebels," she said, apropos of something; and he thought
that she looked a rebel herself He could see her in one of those red caps
they wore in the French Revolution, leading an army to storm something.
At least, that is what she was like when she was animated; when she was
still she might equally be an aristo, contemptuous of the guillotine. She
was aristo first, really; she was contemptuous before she was rebellious.

When they were parting after the concert to keep their separate
appointments, she had said: "When will you come and play for me?
To-morrow?" and with his heart thumping furiously he had said that he
would. "Come about six, then," she had said. "I shall get rid of the
crowd by that time, and we can have the place to ourselves." That "we"
had stayed with him for the next twenty-four hours as a talisman.

And now, walking down Sark Street, he was facing the truth. He was in
love with Ursula Deane, and (incredible, oh! incredible) she was in love
with him. She had said so. And what was he going to do about Molly? He
had no idea. What _did_ one do in a situation like that?

What worried him most was that he wanted so dreadfully to tell Molly
about Ursula. Not because he was feeling guilty, but because he had
always told Molly everything, and it was strange and disconcerting not to
be able to tell her this.

Downstairs at Number Seventeen he found Sara still at table although it
was after half-past seven.

"Is this early breakfast or late tea?" he asked. Sara said that she had
been working late in Brook Street.

"Keep that for your husband," he said, and noticed, with the perception
which his own happiness had wakened in him, that Sara looked happy too.

Their mother came in with Gareth's tea.

"What on earth kept you, Gareth! I thought you were never coming," she
said with the testiness of a person who has been anxious without cause.

"Oh, Regan's a slave driver," Gareth said, and reached for the salt.

"Keep that for your wife," Sara said.

Her mother shook her head at her and went away again to the kitchen,
where she was cooking Ratan Dastur's supper. Brother and sister ate in
silence for a little, until Gareth, catching sight of his sister's face
in an unguarded moment, said abruptly: "What are you hugging to
yourself?"

"Me?" Sara looked up in exaggerated surprise. "Nothing."

"That extra work in Brook Street seems to have had a queerly refreshing
effect!"

"I really was detained in Brook Street, you know. Only it was an argument
that kept me, not work."

"The inadvisability of tariffs, I suppose," Gareth said, still
unbelieving.

"No, just where we should go to-morrow."

"And where are you going? Epping?"

Sara hesitated a moment. "Secret?" she asked, in the formula of their
childhood.

"Cross my heart," Gareth said, taking the oath.

"Kempton Park."

Gareth stopped chewing and stared at her. "Who with?" he said at length.

"A man I met at the shop. If you ever let it come out here that I was at
Kempton, I'll never forgive you, Gareth."

"I don't think you need have said that! Have I ever squeaked?"

"No, I know you haven't. But this is awfully important."

"I say, Sara, you'll watch your step, won't you?"

"Oh, yes, I can take care of myself."

"Is he--is he all right?"

"One of the best."

He grinned at her. "Well, you're critical enough to be a connoisseur, so
I suppose you must be fairly safe. Going to see the Duke of York's?"

"Yes. How did you know it was the Duke of York's to-morrow?"

"You don't have to live with your head in sheet music because you play
the fiddle," Gareth said. "I'm glad you're having some fun at last.
Happier now?"

"Yes, awfully happy."

There was something in the sound of her voice as she said that which
caused his smile to fade. "I say, Sara, it isn't serious, is it?"

"Not a bit. Neither marriage nor the other thing, so keep calm. I'm only
having a good time for once in my life. It will probably never happen
again, so I'm taking it while it's there. He happens to be decent and
that makes it possible, see? Just an enormous piece of luck, that's all."

Her words touched an echoing chord somewhere in Gareth. That was how he
was feeling. Strange that the same thing should have happened to Sara. He
wondered whether Sara was in love with her man the way he was in love
with Ursula. It didn't seem possible, somehow. Sara was always cold to
men. And no one could love anyone as he loved Ursula.

"Well, good luck!" he said. "Don't get kicked by a horse and taken to
hospital. That _would_ give the game away!"



CHAPTER XIII


Sara remembered her brother's warning as she leaned against the rail and
watched in a sort of dream the horses go by; so near that she could touch
them, so beautiful that they made a sore place round her heart, so
satisfying that she felt that all her life she had been waiting for this.
It _would_ be an anti-climax if a pair of those dainty heels flashed
into the sunlight and half-killed her.

"What are you amused about?" asked Chitterne who never missed any
expression on Sara's face.

Sara told him.

"I'm a little jealous of Gareth," Chitterne said.

"Of Gareth!" she said, amazed, turning to look at him.

"Yes; your voice changes completely when you talk about him."

"But what nonsense! We're a very ordinary brother and sister. We used to
be a lot together, because I was the only girl in the family and he was
the baby, but since we grew up we don't see very much of each other.
We're an unrelated family, if you know what I mean."

"Most families are nowadays. I think they probably always were, only
until now they didn't have the freedom to make it obvious. No one
imagines nowadays that you have to like your family just because they
happen to be your family. That is why I noticed the way you speak of your
brother, I suppose. I say, I want to go and see my bookie. Would you like
to come along, or will you wait here?"

Sara said that she would go and powder her nose, on which the excitement
of the first race had produced something which was nearly a shine. He
escorted her to the cloakroom in the stand, and promised to be waiting
for her there in ten minutes' time. Sara spent five minutes repairing the
ravages of emotion and fresh air, and another five watching the women who
came and went across the drawing-room, preening themselves in the large
mirrors with a lack of self-consciousness and a pitilessness of
self-criticism which no mere man could ever equal. Sara separated the
social sheep from the goats with the unerringness of a West End
dress-maker. The great majority were the regular racing crowd to be seen
in any Club stand clean cut, well mannered, confident, expensively and
quietly tailored; but there was a liberal sprinkling of fussily dressed
females, much befurred, with fancy shoes and an air of benevolent
opulence. "I never op anywhere without a spare pair of garters, dearie,"
one was confiding to her companion. Another in a rich Glasgow voice with
gaps where the T's should have been was discussing the fitness of a colt:
"He looks fa' to me, bu' Sco's runnin.' him an' Sco' shud know."
Wondering a little at such touching faith in the unknown Scott, Sara went
out again to the landing. On one hand the stairs descended to the back of
the stand; on the other was the balcony. There was no sign of Chitterne
at the bottom of the stairs yet, so she moved into the balcony. A few
women who were not sufficiently interested in selling races to appear in
the paddock before the handicap sat about on chairs, and before them, in
the October sunlight, spread a little bit of the England one remembers
with affection in distant places; a bit of England which not wars, nor
the ridicule of the intellectual, nor the fanaticism of the reformer can
destroy. Just over the horizon somewhere was London, but here in the
Thames valley it was as quiet and clear as though London had never
existed. The noise of the Ring was flung into the shining afternoon with
no more disturbance than the cawing of rooks would have made. The green
of field and course and the smudgy browns of the distant trees were
painted in flat washes like a hunting print; the white rails floated in
brightness. In the distance, two horses shrouded in clothing were being
led back to their quarters after the first race; their movements were
leisured and fastidious; they passed into the trees and disappeared. The
first of the horses for the second race began to canter down the course
from the paddock to the starting-gate; flashes of colour and flurry of
hoofs. The crowd on the lawn began to thicken.

Everything that was England was down there between the stands and the far
trees; and every type of man that made her was down there in the crowd:
saint and scallywag; and all the courage, optimism, and philosophy which
are common to both. Dip into the crowd blindfold and you could pick out
anything from a botanist to a pavement-artist.

Kempton Park. But it might have been any English racecourse on a Saturday
afternoon.

Sara turned to the stairs again. Chit was there this time, but he was
talking to someone: a little rosy-cheeked man with tightish trousers and
grey hair. She supposed that he was giving instructions to his trainer or
to the head lad. She paused half-way down, and stood watching the
procession of people who passed her on their way into the stand.
Chitterne had his back to her and was unaware that she was waiting, but
she caught the eye of the rosy man several times; his eyes had the
childish clearness which the eyes of sailors and horsemen have. Chit was
evidently bringing the conversation to an end, and as they moved apart
she went down the remaining steps to meet him. But before the farewell
was concluded Chit had hailed a man who was hurrying past and, running a
few steps after him, pulled out a _Racing-up-to-Date_ and engaged
him in talk. This left Sara awkwardly facing the trainer man, high and
dry; it was difficult to turn back up the steps and still more impossible
to walk past Chit and his acquaintance.

The little man lifted his hat in an abrupt, grumpy way. "Are you with
Chitterne?" he asked. "He won't be a minute. He always gets a little
heated when he has a horse running. Very silly, of course; but natural.
Natural."

"Do you think that Double Bass is going to win?"

"Probably. Very probably. Have you had a good bet?"

"Lord Chitterne put a pound on for me at five to one."

The little man pursed his lips in an amused fashion. "A pound! Chitterne
must be saving."

"That is all I would allow him put on for me," Sara said, a little
stiffly. Chitterne might be good friends with his trainer, but it was
rather impossible of the man to criticise him to a stranger. "Have you
seen the horse? No? Let me take you over now. Nice colt. Very. That is
where Chitterne is going when he has finished the little argument. He'll
follow."

A little surprised, but without words for polite refusal, she was led
past the arguing couple. "We're going over to the boxes," the little man
said to Chitterne as they passed, and Chitterne, after gaping for a
moment, grinned broadly, said "Right-ho" and went on talking.

The paddock was deserted, since nearly everyone was watching the running
of the second race, but away by the far boundary there were signs of
activity where the runners for the Duke of York's Handicap were being
made ready for the race. As they crossed to them the little man asked
Sara if she was interested in horses, and Sara explained that this was
her first race meeting and that she knew nothing at all about horses.

"Commendable frankness. Most commendable. I wish more people would admit
the fact. You must be the only person in this square mile who isn't an
authority on horseflesh. Personally I prefer pigs. I find pigs very
interesting. Breed 'em."

Sara thought this a little strange, but she supposed that even trainers
have their hobbies. She noticed that the waterproof which he wore in
spite of the sunny afternoon was shabby and frayed at the wrists. Perhaps
he wasn't the trainer; just the head lad, or something. He didn't talk
like a lad, but perhaps he had come down in the world; been a trainer and
failed, or something like that. He was a "character," but she liked him.

There were six or seven horses in the space of grass before them, and the
little man nodded at them.

"Which would you have, you who don't know anything about them?"

Sara considered for a little and then chose a bay filly. "The one by the
primrose rug," she said.

"I thought you didn't know anything about horses?"

"Have I chosen a good one? I had an Irish grandmother, but I expect it is
just a fluke."

"Have a second choice, then."

This time she chose a brown colt.

Before her companion could remark on her choice Chitterne appeared. "I
didn't know you knew each other," he said.

"We don't, officially," the little man said. "You left us stranded
together, and we picked each other up."

"Allow me to make amends. Father, this is Sara Ellis. Sara came down with
me to help my luck. Have you been showing her Double Bass?"

"Miss Ellis has a marvellous eye for a horse. Either that or it's black
art. She says she doesn't know a horse from a wheelbarrow. And first she
chooses Wilmer's filly, and then Double Bass."

"Oh, is the black one Double Bass?" Sara said, glad to have something to
talk about, in her confusion.

Chitterne said, yes, but they called that colour brown in a horse.

They moved nearer to see Double Bass saddled, standing in an attentive
little group just far enough away not to upset the colt, who laid back
his ears at any attempt at familiarity. The trainer and two lads were
busy with the paraphernalia: saddle, surcingle, girth, number sheet,
bucket, sponge, blanket and rug. Everything was done with the nicety, the
unhurrying expedition, of a surgical operation. It was very quiet there;
the sun warmed Sara's back, gilded the high-lights on Double Bass's dark
coat, and illuminated the brown, shrewd faces of the men. The air was
full of the sweet smell of crushed grass, the brave smell of leather and
horses. She was very happy. She forgot that she had taken Lord Wilmington
for a stable lad, forgot that she was Sara Ellis and must go back to
Seventeen Sark Street to-night; forgot everything but that she was there
among the horses in the sunlight with these two men whom she liked and
who liked her.

But presently people began to come from the stands; men and women whom
she did not know clustered round Chit to inspect the horse. She was
amused to notice that Lord Wilmington had been right: they were all
authorities. Double Bass was voted to be nearly everything that a horse
might be; too sloping in the fetlock, too upright in the shoulder, not
well let down, inclined to be over at the knee, a bit on the leg,
inclined to be back at the knee, sluggish, excitable, not bred for speed,
not bred to stay. Chitterne took it all smiling, his father with a bored
gravity; but Sara began to feel a little desolate and out of it all. The
extravagant praises of the women roused first contempt and then
antagonism in her. "Fools!" she thought, listening to their high,
over-accented, insincere accents; and despised herself for being led into
feeling anything at all for them. Why should she care that both Chit and
his father were surrounded and that no one spoke to her; it was not done
willingly; people came and went so rapidly that introductions were not
possible; it was contemptible of her to be thin-skinned. But she felt a
little desolate.

And then a very smart little American girl who was standing at her elbow
gazing at Double Bass said to her: "Say, tell me something to say about
him. Everyone seems to know the language but me." And Sara laughed and
felt better. The crowd of acquaintances faded away when they went back to
the stands to see the parade, and she found herself once more between
Chit and his father. Daphne Conyers-Munford, who had made one of the
admiring crowd, paused as she passed, to say: "Where's Ursula?"

"Don't know," Chitterne said. "She was coming, but something else turned
up." The Munford girl cast a mildly curious glance at Sara, but her main
interest seemed to lie in the betting book which she was clutching.

At the mention of Chitterne's sister the out-of-it feeling revived
unreasonably in Sara; she was depressed and a little weary. And very
angry with herself. Not even the glittering line of horses walking down
the course in front of the stands could take her mind away from the
argument she was having with herself. Why _should_ she expect to
feel at home with these people? And (the next moment) why
_shouldn't_ she? They were just human beings like herself. She
didn't look their inferior, why should she feel it? Her resentment of
them was merely inferiority complex. It was she who was wrong, not they.
She was probably tired. It was Saturday afternoon, and she had had a rush
to get away, and she had been standing about ever since she arrived.

The horses were coloured specks fading into the distance. Presently they
disappeared, and people devoted themselves to consolidating their
positions on the stands, or ran about in last minute attempts to back
their choice at a reasonable price. Sara stole a glance at Chitterne,
and was ashamed of her pettiness. There was nothing mean or small or
carping about Chit. But then, perhaps life had always been so easy for
him that he had found nothing to sour him. Would Chit have been "big" if
he had been brought up in Sark Street?

For the first part of the race the horses were not visible from the
stands. Then they appeared, a small patch of colour in the distance,
indistinguishable except to an expert. Sara stared with caught breath at
this scrap of motley hurling itself so smoothly yet so impetuously across
the landscape. Presently its advance was no longer smooth; one could see
the horses galloping, pick out the jockeys. The group opened out a
little; grew larger with incredible swiftness. They were coming, they
were almost here. Sara looked for Double Bass but could not see him;
there were several dark horses and the colours were such a muddle. At the
distance, however, she could see plainly. There were three horses in
front, and a gap between them and the rest of the field. The crowd had
begun to call the names of the horses, shouting in a growing excitement
until the names had merged into a continuous roar. Sara recognised the
horses now. One was the filly she had chosen in the paddock, one was
Double Bass, and the other was a roan. "Oh, please let Chit's horse win!"
she prayed with a fervour she had never used at the meetings. The filly
was in front on the rails, with the roan and Double Bass together a
length behind. The filly's jockey was riding her, but the boy on Double
Bass was sitting still. The roan had started to roll, but was still game.
The filly, unbalanced by her jockey's vigorous methods and tiring
rapidly, hung away from the rails for a moment. Double Bass's jockey
moved, and Double Bass shot into the gap on the rails. The crowd yelled
their admiration and fear. A quick recovery on the filly's part and
Double Bass would be finished. But he had done it. They were level now,
neck and neck. For one moment Sara wanted the filly to win; she was such
a gallant thing, struggling there, and she had chosen her out of the lot.
But she forgot all about the filly as Double Bass went sailing past the
post a clear length ahead, as easily as if he were taking part in an
exercise canter.

It was a popular victory. The horse had been thoroughly exposed and well
backed, and where the crowd was concerned Chitterne was a person almost
as well known and popular as the Prince of Wales. They looked on
Chitterne, as they looked on the Prince of Wales, as a personal
possession. It was almost like having a horse of their own win. There was
vociferous rejoicing in the cheaper stands, and much back-clapping in the
enclosure as the proud owner went down to meet Double Bass.

It was nearly half an hour later that Chitterne's car slid out of its
privileged position in the ranked car park; a position which his money
and his popularity invariably gained him, and which he took, as he took
the rest of life, as a matter of course. Healths had been drunk, bets
collected, congratulations said, and now they were alone together again
and the daylight was beginning to fade. The glow had gone out of
everything except Chitterne's face, which was still radiant. As they came
out of the gates he swung the car away from town, and she asked where
they were going.

"My luck's in to-day," he said. "I'm going to put it to one last test."

"But where are we going?"

"Up the river to have a meal somewhere," he said, and refused to say
more.

They had tea at a window which overlooked the river, misty now in the
twilight, and the rosy lamp on the checked cloth challenged the dusk with
its optimism. Over tea Chitterne talked about the doings of the
afternoon, and the future of Double Bass, but when he had lighted her
cigarette he said: "I say, I want to ask you something. Now don't say no
straight away as soon as I've put the proposition to you. Take a little
time and think it over."

"Yes?" she said, a little sadly. This was the end, then. There would be
no more afternoons in Sussex, and teas by inn fires. No more of the
companionship she had come to find so precious. The relationship had been
untenable, she supposed; this had been bound to come. But the time had
been so short. The happiest time of her life; perhaps the only really
happy time she would ever have. She looked across at Chitterne's earnest
grey eyes watching her over the lamp, and a pang shot through her. It
would be awful not to see him any more. Awful.

"Will you marry me, Sara?"

"_Marry_ you!" She stared at him.

"Don't say a word!" he warned. "I told you not to say no straight away.
Count a hundred before you say anything." He gave her a quick, eager
smile. "I know I'm the most notorious riotous liver in Britain, but
ninety-nine point nine per cent of that isn't true. Just newspaper
stuff. If you believed all you read in the papers you'd be justified in
thinking that I'm a bit mental. I'm not really a madcap, you know. I'm
quite dependable privately. If you married me I'd never let you down. I
promise you that. I've been in love with several women in my life--at
least, I thought I was in love with them--but I stopped when I came to
you. You're the only person I've ever felt like spending the rest of my
life with, and the thought that perhaps you won't say yes just takes my
breath away with terror. I didn't mean to ask you to-day. I meant to give
you a long time to get used to me, but my luck is so wonderful to-day
that it seemed criminal to waste it."

"But it's quite impossible," she gasped. "Quite. I'm not the kind of wife
you want."

"I'm the best judge of that, surely."

"Oh no, you're not. You're no judge at all at this moment. You're in love
with me, and all you know just now is that you want me."

"As my wife," he said smoothly.

"Yes, I know, but you're not thinking of the kind of wife I might be. You
don't know anything about me. Not a thing."

"Oh, yes, I do. You forget my long conclave with Sidney Webb. I knew a
tremendous amount about you before I ever met you. Inside information it
was, too. I wish you could have heard Sidney's unsolicited testimonial. I
fell in love with you when I saw you in the shop. I'd been in love with
you for weeks when I met Sidney. It isn't many men who fall in love with
an unknown girl and have a testimonial like Sidney's presented to them
about her. I decided then that I wanted to marry you. Now if you're going
to say no, just don't. Say nothing, and think it over."

"But you've got to understand. Thinking it over won't alter anything.
Won't make it any more possible. We belong to two different worlds. I
should be no good in yours. I don't know how to entertain or run a big
house, or any of the things you would expect your wife to know. It would
be a dreadful failure."

"Darling, you're making difficulties. There's no such thing as
entertaining. You tell the housekeeper how many are coming, and when they
come you say 'How interesting!' until they go, and that's that."

"But I don't _want_ that kind of life!" she cried. "I don't
understand it. I should have nothing in common with the people you know."

"Sara," he leaned over and caught her hand. "Sara," he said seriously,
"do you care for me at all? That's what I want to know."

"I care for you a great deal."

"Love me?"

"I--don't know. I've never been awfully in love. But if what I feel for
you is love then it is all I ever want."

Chitterne sat a moment looking at her, gave a big sigh, and released her
hand. "That's all right then," he said. "That's all I wanted to know. I
feel like a chap who's been reprieved at the last moment."

"But I can't marry you, Chit. I can't. It would be a hopeless failure."

"Why? We've been very happy together, haven't we? We were just made for
each other, and you know it."

"Yes, but if I married you there wouldn't be just us. There would be
other people to consider. It isn't you I'm afraid of, Chit, it's the life
you lead. If I married you I should have to lead a life I don't
understand, a life I should probably be a failure in because I should
hate it in my heart. When I marry I don't want an establishment. I want a
small home full of things I've bought myself, where one or two people
drop in now and then because they want to see me not because they're
looking for a meal, and where I shouldn't have to say 'How interesting!'
when I'm not interested." "And" she mentally added, "where I won't be an
interloper." Unconsciously her almost morbid pride was bolstered by the
memory of the lonely feeling of the afternoon. She was not going to be
the skeleton in any family, much as she cared for Chit.

She sat listening to herself talking, and marvelled. Chit had asked her
to marry him, and she was refusing! He had opened a way out of Seventeen
for her, and she wasn't taking it. Someone who wasn't herself was doing
the reasoning for her, but she knew that the other person was right, and
so she sat still and let them talk. To-night in the attic at Seventeen
she would probably call herself a fool, but she would have done the right
thing.

"But we could have a home like that. We can have any kind of home you
like!"

"That's just it! It would be make-believe. Nothing can alter the fact that
you're rich and the heir to your father and that you know half London,
and have nothing to do but amuse yourself. Think of your people and mine!
Think of--oh, it's impossible, I tell you!"

They argued long, but he could not move her from the belief that his
marriage to her would be a failure. "You'd be disappointed in me, Chit,
and I couldn't bear that."

"Well," he said at length, "do what I said at first--though I said it for
a different reason; I never thought you'd take this line! Think it over.
There's no need to decide yet. You'll find presently that all the
difficulties you are imagining are just shadows. As long as you don't
disapprove of me personally nothing in all the world matters."

As they went out to the car he suggested that she should come to the
celebration dinner that night, and meet some of his friends; but she
could not come. There would be too many explanations at home.

"Why can't I come and meet your people?" he asked reasonably. "Then there
would be no need for mystery when we went out together."

"Wouldn't there! You don't know father. Even if I was going to marry you
father would expect me to be in by eight, and make a row if I was five
minutes late."

"But you _are_ going to marry me," he said, and kissed her for the
first time. "Some day," he amended as he let in the clutch. "I'm going to
be like old Whatsisname and serve my seven years for you, if necessary."



CHAPTER XIV


It was the beginning of November, and Ursula was giving a party. Lady
Wilmington had gone to the country to assist in the organisation of a
charity ball where everyone was going to be some kind of fish, and her
husband had gone to earth in a remote part of the house with a bottle of
port and the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_, which, with the _Daily
Telegraph_ and the _Pig Breeder_, was his usual literary fare.
The party was a more elaborate affair than Ursula's usual entertainments,
which had, even the most forethought of them, an air of informality, a
charade-like spontaneity. This was what Ursula called a Coggins party;
that is, one at which all the servants from Coggins downwards assisted,
and the guests had the run of the house instead of being confined to
Ursula's flat. There was a definite programme of "turns," and there would
be dancing afterwards in the ball-room. Ursula "received" her guests
instead of greeting their arrival with a gesture from the middle
distance.

"Darling," said Daphne, who had been in Cannes for a fortnight with a
married sister, "you do it beautifully. I feel I ought to have a train.
You might have borrowed some of your mother's armour, though. That
breastplate thing with the ruby lion on it would have been frightfully
impressive. Oh, _darling!_" clutching Ursula's arm as a memory
struck her, "I almost forgot. Is it true?"

"On an odd chance I'd say not. But what are you talking about specially?"

"That Chit's sold his horses?"

"Yes, that's true."

"But, _darling_, has he gone mad?"

"I don't know. He talks about justifying his existence. He's going to
work."

"Work!" shrieked Daphne. "What at?"

"He's got a job on the _Morning News_."

"Darling, you're not serious."

"Quite. And so is he, apparently."

"But, darling, Chit doesn't imagine that he's going to turn out every day
to a job of that sort, does he?"

"He does. He says he's going to prove to himself that he can do it. He's
going to earn his bread for a change, he says."

"But the _Morning News_! Why couldn't he train horses or something
like that, if he wanted a job."

"He said that was no good. Said that would be just amusing himself. He
wants to work at something that feels like work. Mother wept, and spoiled
six-months-worth of face lifting in ten minutes. She wanted him to sell
cars if he felt he must do something idiotic. Bobby said he'd be damned
if he'd stand round all day in a lavender tie and hope, and she told him
not to be wanton, and wept afresh. Father said: 'Commendable. Very
commendable,' and ran away to his pigs in Berkshire."

"Darling, you don't sound very upset about it."

"I'm not. Why should I be? It won't do Chit any harm and will probably do
him a lot of good."

"But what's at the bottom of it all? I think it's simply ridiculous. He
isn't turning socialist, is he?"

"I haven't seen any signs of it."

"Then it's a girl."

"You're growing positively astute, Daphne."

"I suppose that she earns her living and he feels he has to show her that
he can too."

"Solomon, Cheiro, and Joanna Southcott rolled into one!"

"I do think you might have written and told me all about this when I was
being bored stiff listening to Hermione complaining about her husband's
habits. Who is she?"

"I never can be bothered to write letters. I don't know her name but she
works in a dressmaking shop. You'll see her to-night. Chit asked if he
might bring her."

"I hope I don't die suddenly, or anything, before she comes. Are they
engaged? I mean, do we bless them, or what?"

"Oh, goodness, no. She's refused him, I think."

"Don't be ridiculous," Daphne said mildly. It was beyond the bounds of
possibility that anyone had refused Chit. "I must say you've got a damned
dull crowd. What are all the bishops here for?"

There weren't any bishops, but there were more august "names" in the
party than Ursula usually bothered to collect. They were all friends of
hers, but many of them were not the type of friend who can be rung up on
the telephone at eight-thirty and asked to a party at nine.

"I want them to hear Gareth Ellis play. People have been talking about
him ever since that rotten little charity concert of mother's. I think if
they hear him once again they'll really begin to notice him."

"Darling, you're overdoing it. You're not in _love_ with the
creature, are you? Why didn't you get your mother to give a show for him?
I know she gives ghastly shows, but it's all the Ellis boy needs. How is
he here to-night, anyhow? Has he left Regan already?"

"No, I've begged him off with Regan."

Daphne said something unprintable.

"No, I just asked him nicely. How do you do, Herr Stüwe? So good of you
to come! Yes, I know it isn't often you go to anything so low as parties.
But I hope you won't be bored. I have one or two amusing things for you,
and at least one interesting one. No, I won't tell you. You'll recognise
it when it comes."

It was when Gareth was playing that Chitterne and Sara arrived. As they
came up the brightly lit, deserted stairs, she said nervously: "Why is
everything so quiet?" Then, as they came to the wide-open double doors
they heard the sound of the violin in the silence. They paused there,
looking over the heads of the seated guests to the player.

"Why, it's Gareth!" Sara said, and Chitterne turned to look at her,
surprised.

"Didn't you know?"

"No. You said once that your sister liked him, but I didn't know that he
was playing here to-night!"

"Secretive little devil."

"Not really. I haven't told him about you, you know. It's just the usual
family--in separate compartments."

They ceased whispering and listened. Ursula could see them from where she
sat, half way down the room, and felt a moment's pleased surprise at
sight of this girl of Chit's, standing so still and aloof in the doorway.
Ursula had been an assured beauty too long to cherish any pangs of
jealousy at sight of another's beauty, and she appreciated with the
detachedness of a connoisseur the way Sara's creamy skin contrasted with
her dark hair, the poise of neck and head, the lines of her body under
the beautifully cut, jewel-less, dull-red frock. But most of all she
appreciated her air. Then she forgot her. Presently she would go over and
be nice to her. Meanwhile nothing mattered but the fact that Gareth was
playing.

Gareth was playing, as an encore, the thing that had sung itself in his
head the night that Ursula had said she loved him. Ursula could not see
Stüwe's face from where she sat, but his head had not moved since Gareth
began to play. Did that augur boredom or extreme attention? She knew now
what anxious mothers went through when their brats were reciting
"Casabianca" at school prize-givings. She would never be funny about them
again.

Gareth's last triumphant chord flung itself into the silence like a
challenge, and as the clapping burst out she saw Stüwe get to his feet
and plough his way through the throng of people and chairs, straight to
Gareth. With a little happy sigh she turned away. It was all right, then:
he had been interested. She could safely leave them alone for a little.
If Stüwe wanted to talk to Gareth only God could prevent him, and all
those enthusiastic females must wait. She went over to meet Chitterne.

"This is Sara," Chitterne said, and Ursula made herself charming. She was
so happy that she would have been charming to her worst enemy, and
afterwards she never remembered what she had said, but Chit looked so
pleased that she was sure she was saying the right thing. Afterwards she
had an impression that Chit had tried to get a word in, to tell her
something, but she had been too excited to listen. In any case it
couldn't have been important.

Then Tim Grierson came up and she went away to dance with him. Everyone
was either dancing or eating (except Gareth and Stüwe, two black figures
away in the distance, half-hidden by the grand piano); Ursula had
calculated to a nicety how long they would sit still and yet be
entertained. Now the younger crowd were foxtrotting in the ball-room, and
the august were sampling the dishes at the buffet.

"I say, Ursula," Tim said, as they danced, "do you think me an awful
stick?"

"Of course not, darling! I think you're adorable." Tim sighed. "Why the
sigh?"

"I know when you say it like that it doesn't mean anything. Funny, isn't
it? that I shouldn't like you to call me darling."

"Just because I use it to other people!"

"No. Because I've noticed when you like a person abnormally you never
call them darling. Calling a person darling nowadays seems to be the
equivalent of an admission of antipathy."

"What nonsense. I like you enormously, darling."

"But not enough. I meant to ask you to marry me, to-night, but I knew it
was no good as soon as I saw you."

"Tim! You're not becoming occult or anything, are you? It won't do you
any good in the army."

"No; you see, when I came you looked so--so--radiant's the word, and then
when you spoke it was in the kind way you'd talk to your lap-dog."

"If I had one. That's one thing I've never done."

"I knew then that it wasn't me you were radiant about."

There was a little silence, and then Ursula said in a gentler tone: "I
don't think I'm the marrying kind, Tim."

"You don't know till you try."

"Like everything proverbial, that is just nonsense. People with any
intelligence know most things before they try."

"But even intelligent people must be surprised sometimes. I suppose you
wouldn't consider being engaged to me just to see what it felt like?"

"It wouldn't be any good, Tim darling. We don't laugh at the same things,
and that would be fatal."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Everything. If you said a loud ha-ha in the wrong place I should
probably murder you."

"I shouldn't mind."

"Pale hands I loved, and all that sort of thing? No, Tim, really. It
would be carrying a hobby to an excess to break off a fourth engagement,
and that's all that would come of our being engaged. Daphne said the
other day that no man liked being treated like a ninepin, which was the
way I treated them. What makes you so keen to be another ninepin!"

"You know very well."

"Poor Timothy Andrew Grierson," she said gently.

He looked a little surprised. "You're more sympathetic to-night than I've
ever known you."

"Am I such a hard female?"

"No, not hard, but you're always so--so sure of yourself."

"I used to be," she said reflectively.

Sara was dancing with Chitterne and praising his sister to him. "I
expected she'd be cold but polite. The frozen mitt in the velvet glove,
you know. But she was just everyday and nice."

"Oh, no one can be ruder than Ursula when she wants to be, but she is
never rude gratuitously. She asked you, you know."

"I say," Sara said presently, "perhaps you'd better not tell your sister
that I'm Gareth's sister, 'm?"

"Why, in heaven's name, not?"

"Well, you know, she's been very nice to me, but she can't really approve
of me, and she does approve of Gareth. If she knew about me she might
stop being nice to Gareth."

"I don't know that that would be a tragedy for anyone," Chit said, a
little dryly.

"But she might be very useful to Gareth just at the beginning of his
career," Sara said, not following his thought.

"You mercenary little wretch!"

"I wouldn't like to spoil anything for Gareth," she said earnestly.

"By this time he's probably told Ursula all about you. He must have seen
you."

"He's probably seen me, but I think he'll say nothing in case _he's_
spoiling something for _me_. We've always hung together. He must be
just as surprised to see me as I was to see him."

"My head's beginning to buzz," Chitterne said. "The plot is thickening
beyond all decency. Let's have a cocktail."

But Sara would not have a cocktail, even a mild one. "Don't tell anyone,
but I'm not very fond of cocktails."

"Darling!" he said, smiling at her. "Then I'll have one."

"What, another!"

"I haven't had many so far."

"Oh, Chit, you have!"

"Don't you want me to have another one?"

"I don't mind, if you really want one so badly."

"I don't suppose I do want it badly," he said, reflectively. "Just habit.
You're reforming me, aren't you!"

At the end of the third dance Ursula went back to the drawing-room to
look for Gareth and Stüwe. They had surely had a sufficiently long
tête-à-tête. But they were not there.

"Have you seen Herr Stüwe, Coggins?" she asked.

"Herr Stüwe has gone, my lady."

"Gone!"

"Yes, my lady. He went some time ago, and Mr. Ellis with him. Mr. Ellis
left this note for your ladyship."

The "note" was a scrap of the lined, semi-transparent paper used in
pocket diaries. On it in pencil Gareth had written: "Is he mad? Anyhow,
I'm going quietly."

Ursula laughed outright. "Coggins, I adore you!" she said, and pushed the
tiny piece of paper down the bosom of her frock.

Coggins bowed accommodatingly, and Ursula went back to dance on air for
the rest of the evening. She had looked forward like a child to dancing
with Gareth, to having Gareth alone for a little after the party, but her
disappointment didn't matter if Stüwe felt like that about him. Nothing
mattered but Gareth.



CHAPTER XV


Sara let herself in with her mother's latch-key. She had shown her mother
Ursula's invitation, and begged for her co-operation. She would have
liked to tell her mother the whole truth; all about Chit, everything. But
she knew that the mention of Chit would excite her mother's alarm and
produce a lecture about keeping her place, and no latch-key. So she let
it be understood that Ursula was inviting her because she had seen her so
often in the shop and wanted to give her some pleasure. Mary Ellis was
touched that someone who was almost a stranger should have cared for her
daughter sufficiently to invite her to her party, and sympathised with
Sara's eagerness to go, but she was no fool. She handled the invitation
thoughtfully, and said: "You're telling me the truth about this, Sara?"

Sara had said: "Certainly," and thought: "It's your own fault if I've
left something out." But she had been grateful and a little moved by her
mother's willingness in planning the evasions which were to make the
party possible for her. Her father was to be left under the impression
that she was in bed; she often went early to bed, where she could read in
peace; and there would be no overt lies on her mother's part. At ten
o'clock she would say as usual: "Will you turn the latch in the door,
Father?" And the latch would be turned by her unsuspecting parent and
opened by Sara with her mother's latch-key when she came home.

It was strange to be sneaking into her own home in the middle of the
night. She had never done this before, and she found it pleasant and
exciting. She understood the fascinations of burglary now. She wondered
if her mother was lying awake listening for creaks on the stairs. But of
course she was! She could not imagine her mother going to sleep when
anything in the least out of the ordinary was happening to any of her
children. She might be a strict mother, but she was terribly fond of all
of them. It must have been difficult, all those years, torn between
father and them. In the warmth of her gratitude Sara loved her mother
consciously. As she crossed the hall and crept up the first flight of
stairs, she remembered some of the many times when her mother had come to
the rescue and lifted her out of the childish hells which her father had
lit for her. There was the time when she had been chosen to dance at a
drill display at school. She had had to have special shoes for it. But
her father, although the shoes were called drill shoes in his hearing and
not dance ones, had refused to produce the money for them. It was
"unhealthy vanity," "posturing with their bodies before the crowd,"
"encouraging them to think more about their bodies than their souls"; and
much more on the same theme. She was to tell her mistress that she
couldn't have the shoes, and that would be an end of it. Like many
another sensitive child in a similar position, Sara had contemplated
suicide. Even now, all those years after, she could feel the sick despair
rush over her as if it were yesterday. But her mother had bought the
shoes for her with money she had saved out of the house-keeping
allowance, and Sara had danced, not quite as happily as she might have,
perhaps (the glory had been smirched) but secure in the knowledge that
her mother would shield her if her father heard about it. She had
implicit faith in her mother.

She was climbing the stairs in the dark lest the light should shine below
her parents' door. They might think that it was Gareth, or Matt, but she
didn't want anyone coming out to investigate. She was still several steps
from the landing when she heard her parents' door open.

It opened gently, almost surreptitiously, and her first thought was that
it was her mother slipping out to see that she was safe.

"It's me, mum," she whispered.

The light was switched on, dazzling her; and directly in front of her at
the top of the stairs stood her father.

"I thought as much!" he said; and at the triumph in his silly, wheezing
voice she realised that he had somehow suspected and had been lying awake
all those hours, gloating over the prospect of her discomfiture. "I
thought as much, my lady! Where have you been? Eh? Where have you been,
and who were you with? Sneaking into a God-fearing house at this hour of
the night! Answer me, where have you been?"

He was a ludicrous sight, standing there in his nightshirt, his spindly
shanks bare, and the brown waisted overcoat he wore to business flaring
jauntily from the apologetic and depressed folds of the under-garment.
His skinny, chicken neck looked even more chicken-like without the whited
wall of semi-clerical collar which fenced it in the day-time. Sara's
heart was beating fast with shock and involuntary surrender to her old
childish terror of him. But her mind stood aloof, and marvelled that this
scarecrow figure should have had the power to make six persons' lives a
misery all those years.

"What clothes are these you've got on? Eh? Where did you get these
clothes? Where did you get the money to buy that sort of thing? What are
you thinking of; a daughter of mine, parading herself in the raiment of
the devil!" The sight of his daughter's shining figure standing out
against the drab, varnished wallpaper of the staircase seemed to madden
him.

Sara clutched more tightly the sleeves of her tissue coat (the coat she
had made with such love and joy) and clenched her teeth. Let him rave;
she would not be drawn.

And rave he did, his voice growing higher and higher, his vocabulary
becoming momentarily more biblical--and disgusting. At the sound of his
raised voice her mother appeared, and tried to interfere in her defence,
but she was greeted with a new tirade. Hadn't he told her to stay where
she was? Hadn't he? He would have a talk with her presently. She was
every bit as bad as this wanton here. Who had given the girl the key, eh?
This was why she couldn't produce it to-night! She was a traitor in the
house, a traitor to her marriage vows. She was--

"Hush, Father, oh hush, please!" Mary said. "Mr. Dastur must be hearing
every word. You're shaming us all!"

"Shaming you! You should have thought of that before bringing shame on my
house! Letting your daughter go out dressed like a street-woman. Traipsing
about London when God-fearing folk are behind locked doors, and sneaking
in like a thief with her guilt thick on her."

His wife took hold of his arm. "Father, I know where Sara was, and it's
all quite harmless. I allowed her to go, and I shouldn't have allowed her
if it wasn't harmless."

He shook her off. "_You_ allowed her! What right have _you_ to
allow her to do anything, I'd like to know! I'm master in this house, and
no one will indulge the flesh and consort with the devil while they live
in my house!"

A bubble of hysterical laughter rose in Sara. He was really too
ridiculous, gesticulating away there at the top of the stairs. "You've no
idea how funny you look," she said. "I wish you could see yourself." She
pointed a forefinger, unsteady with laughter, at his shirt tails.

He choked for a moment, words deserting him. Before Sara could move he
had descended the steps between them. He clutched at the collar of her
coat, and wrenched it down, exposing her bare arms and neck.

"You Jezebel! You wanton Jezebel!" His wheezy voice in its anger was like
the scream of escaping steam. "Showing your body for any man to look at!
Get out of my house this minute! Get out! And never let me see your face
again. To think that I brought you up in the fear of God and you repay me
by--by--Get out, I tell you, and never set foot in this house again!"

"I will, with the greatest willingness," Sara said. Her hysteria had
dropped from her at her father's touch. She was trembling violently and
struggling with a feeling of nausea.

"Alfred," her mother said, and although she said the word quietly he
turned to her. "Alfred, take care. If Sara goes, I go. There aren't any
babies to keep me now."

He stared a moment. "Don't be ridiculous! You have your duty to me.
You're my wife, and you'll oblige me by keeping it in mind. You go back
to bed where I told you to stay. I'll talk to _you_ presently."

"I haven't any duty to you if you order Sara out of the house because she
has been to a harmless party that her mother knew about. You're self-love
is making you crazy, Alfred. I warn you I shall go with Sara if she
goes."

Sara felt someone behind her, and out of the dark pit of the ground floor
came Gareth's surprised pale face.

"What on earth's all this about?"

"It's only father receiving the returned jezebel," Sara said.

Gareth slipped an arm round her waist and gave it a comforting squeeze.
"You mean bully," he said cheerfully, "can't I take Sara to a party
without you cutting up rough about it! We've stood a lot too much from
you all those years, and this is about the limit. Now don't say anything
insulting to me, or I'll just walk out. And if you try to thrash me it
won't be a thrashing but a free fight, and I know who'll get the worst of
it. I'm not fourteen now! You've had your own way a darn sight too long,
and this is the finish, see?"

Alfred Ellis spluttered incoherencies, but they sounded more baffled than
angry; and his eyes kept going uncertainly to his wife.

"I am surrounded with enemies in mine own house," he finished, with a
theatrical gesture of despair. "The Lord chastened me when he gave me
children forward and deceiving. Why didn't you tell me that you had been
out with your brother, girl? Eh? Why?"

"Why should I? Let me pass. I'm going to bed, and in the morning I'll see
about getting rooms somewhere."

"Oh, is it as bad as that?" Gareth said.

"Yes, he's ordered me out."

"I'll come too," Gareth said promptly. "Where shall we go? Hampstead's
rather nice."

"When I told you to go I didn't know you had been out with your brother.
That makes a difference."

"It may to you," Sara said, as they passed, "but not to me. I've had more
than enough of Seventeen."

She paused to throw her arms round her mother's neck and whisper: "Don't
worry, mum, we won't go. But make it hot for him." And she and Gareth
climbed the flight to their attic, leaving their parents staring after
them, their father still spluttering, their mother still and quiet except
for her twisting hands.

"Somewhere where we can have a view of London might be nice, don't you
think? A bit far out after Camden Town, but it might be worth it. And
with our combined screws we could manage quite a nice place." Gareth kept
it up until they were out of ear-shot.

At her door he stopped with a "whew!"

"Poor Sis!" he said, looking at her tired face, and added: "Isn't he a
swine!"

"There are times when I don't think he's quite sane," she said
uncertainly.

"Don't you worry! No one who can make the money he makes selling
groceries is anything but sane. You been out on the razzle? That's
something new for you!"

So he didn't know that she had been at the Deanes'! She debated with
herself for a moment whether to tell him everything or nothing. Years of
bitter training in the advisability of telling the minimum made her
decide to say nothing; to leave her relations with Chit and her knowledge
of his friendship with Ursula a secret. If he wanted to tell her about
Ursula's taking him up he would tell her himself. She would not butt in
where she was not wanted.

"Yes, Mum knew about it and let me have her key, and this is how it
turned out. It was lovely, and he's made it all beastly."

"What can you expect? Look at the mess he makes of God! Are you feeling
all right now? You don't look very chippy."

"Yes, I'm all right. _You're_ very happy to-night, aren't you?"
Perhaps he would tell her now.

"I'm sitting on top of the world, and terrified I'll slide off," he said.
But that was all.

Sara, disappointed and a little wondering (Why _shouldn't_ he tell
her?) said good night and turned to her room.



CHAPTER XVI


It was almost a week later that Sara began to suspect that Gareth's
happiness might have strange foundations. She had gone next door, to the
Rayners', with a remnant of silk which she had bought on Molly's behalf.
It was after dinner and Mrs. Rayner, foiled of her bridge by the
defection of the schoolmistresses, was considering patterns of coats and
wondering delightfully which would suit her best. She still thought of
herself as slim, and found it difficult to discard a style she liked
because she was "a little too plump for it." Sara asked where Molly was.

"Up in her bedroom, I think. She's always in her bedroom nowadays.
Headaches, she says. When I was her age I never had headaches. What do
you think of this for line? Rather nice, don't you think? I like that
flare there."

"Yes, it's nice. But I think you want something that gives you more
height. Flares are very shortening."

"Do you think?" She had great faith in Sara's taste; Sara designed
dresses for some of the best people in Britain. But that phrase about
giving her height lingered unpleasantly in her ears. Automatically her
mind flung out a sentence with a sting to it.

"We haven't seen very much of your brother lately."

"No, he's kept on the go. Regan rehearses at all hours of the day. Even
meals are nothing to him when he's rehearsing. Gareth eats when he can,
and we hardly see him at all."

She knew this to be truth, but she also knew Mrs. Rayner; and she
wondered at the back of her mind what the woman had meant to convey. She
had never liked Gareth much--surely the only person in the world who
didn't!--and she had always passively disapproved of Molly's engagement
to him. (Mr. Ellis was in trade, and their religion was of a distinctly
low brand; not much better than Hyde Park really.)

"I'll go up to Molly's room with the silk, then. I want to explain about
the flaw in it. That's why it's so cheap."

"A great bargain it seems, my dear. I only hope she'll be able to get the
width out of it without showing the flaw anywhere."

Molly had the attic at the back of the house which corresponded with
Gareth's at Number Seventeen. In fact, in times of stress they had
painfully communicated with each other by means of a home-made morse
rapped out on the dividing wall with a hair brush. As Sara came to the
door she heard something that sounded like the distant whine of a vacuum
sweeper, and wondered that the housewife Molly should reverse the day's
proceedings so drastically. But as she paused by the door she realised
that the sound was too small for anything like that. It was a human being
crying.

Her first impulse was to go away at once. Sara hated being mixed up in
emotions, either her own or another's. Tears moved her not to pity but to
embarrassment and exasperation. But there was something in the sound of
the crying, an abandonment of despair, that kept her rooted to the spot.
She could not go away without doing something. She retreated down the
last flight of stairs, and came up again whistling "Leaning on my window"
at the top of her breath and drumming with her feet on the stairs.
"Mol-lie!" she called, and beat a tattoo on the door.

After a moment there was a muffled "Come in" and she breezed in with a
bonhomie which she hoped Molly would be in no fit state to criticise;
bonhomie was so definitely not her habit. "Well, I've got the stuff for
you. I think it's a huge bargain--five and eleven the yard. But there's a
small flaw at the end of the first yard that will have--I say, what's the
matter?"

"Nothing," said Molly. She was sitting in a collapsed heap on the edge of
her bed, and a hollow on the pillow showed where she had been lying. "At
least, nothing to worry about. Only one of my beastly headaches."

"I never knew you had any."

"I hadn't until just lately. They're awful. 'Spose I must go and see a
doctor." She avoided Sara's eye. "Thanks awfully for getting me the silk.
It looks lovely. It's just what--"

"Look here, Molly, I don't believe you'd howl your eyes red like that for
a headache. What's really wrong? I wish you'd tell me."

There was a pause as if Molly was on the point of being frank, but she
evidently decided against it. "There isn't anything really. It's only
that I'm tired--I'm sick of this house and the work and everything, and
I've got a blazing headache. That's all."

And from that point Sara could not move her. She went away very
thoughtful. She had never associated Molly with strong emotions of any
sort. She was such an equable person. That was why she was such an ideal
partner for Gareth. When Gareth was up in the clouds Molly stood
underneath to break his fall, and when Gareth was down in the depths she
hauled him up, shook him, brushed him, and generally "set him to rights".
What could be worrying Molly to this extent? Gareth? But she had said
that she had had no row with Gareth. So what explanation was left?

She went home marvelling, to help her mother as usual with the tea
things. Several times she was on the point of asking her mother what
could be wrong with Molly; her mother and Molly were closer in some ways
than Molly and her own mother were. But each time the reluctance to
interfere in other people's business restrained her. As she stood working
beside her mother, it occurred to her that her mother, too, was looking
unhappy and weary. Father, probably, in her case. But it was a little
distressing that when she herself was so happy because Chit loved her the
other members of her family should seem so down on their luck.

"Why so gloomy, Mum?" she said. "Mrs. Marsden broken an egg-cup?"

But her mother did not smile. "I'm a bit worried," she said; and then, as
if she could no longer contain her trouble: "_terribly_ worried,
Sara. And I don't know where to turn for help." She lifted her hands,
dripping, out of the water and leaned against the sink in a helpless way
that was new and alarming in Mary Ellis.

"What is it, Mum? Don't worry. Is it money? I have heaps. I was saving
for a frock I've decided not to have."

"It isn't money, dear. It's Gareth."

"Gareth! Good heavens, what's wrong with him? I thought he was on top of
the world!"

"Yes. Yes, in a way that's what's wrong. I was so glad when he took that
job, so glad that he was happy about it. I was afraid he'd be miserable
in it, and I was so glad, so relieved, when he seemed so pleased after
all. I never thought, it never occurred to me at the time, that he might
meet people who'd--who'd--turn his head."

"Oh, Mother, what nonsense! Gareth is about the levellest-headed kid I
know. Look at all the praise he got at the Academy, and all he ever cared
about was sausages for tea!"

"I don't mean that way. I mean--Oh, dearie, don't you _see!_ He's
met some girl there, and he's just crazy about her. He hasn't more than
passed the time of day with Molly for more than a fortnight now. Not that
he's been nasty to her. Just avoiding her. He avoids me too. You and
Gareth have always been such good friends that I wonder you don't notice
it. He's avoiding you too."

"But what is there to notice? What makes you think that?"

"I don't think; I know. Twice the post's brought a note from her. He
couldn't hide what he felt about it. He's just a baby about things like
that. He tried to pretend they were notes anyone might get, but he
couldn't do it. _He_ isn't happy either. Not really happy. He
doesn't sleep at nights--I wonder you don't hear him pacing the floor. I
expect he's thinking about Molly."

"Mother," Sara begged, although the memory of Ursula was vivid in her
mind (of course it was Ursula; no one could be within hail of her without
falling in love with her) "aren't you exaggerating? Aren't you afraid of
that happening, and so you exaggerate little things till you think that
it must have happened?"

"Sara, dear, if you weren't so wrapped up in yourself you'd have seen
what was the matter long ago. Mollie going about looking like a ghost,
and Gareth avoiding everyone and going about looking strung up the way he
is!"

"Has Molly said anything?"

"No. We've been pretending to each other that there was nothing wrong. I
was hoping, you see, that it might all come right without anything
happening. Sometimes, before, I've worried myself nearly sick over things
and then found that there was nothing to worry about at all." She smiled,
a little wanly. "When he was at the Academy, I remember, he took to
shutting himself in his room for hours at a time, and I was very worried.
He kept one of his drawers locked, too, and I imagined all sorts of
things. And then one day he forgot to lock it, and I found a bottle of
stuff for taking off freckles, and that was all, and I felt so relieved
and foolish. But oh, Sara, this time I'm so afraid. I've had real trouble
in plenty in my life, but I've never been so afraid of one as I am of
this. Perhaps I'm growing too old to shake off things the way I used to.
Everything seemed settled so nicely--just like a dream coming true;
Gareth and Molly happy and all their lives in front of them. It was the
one thing I felt I had achieved properly in my life, if you know what I
mean. You haven't been happy the way I'd like you to have been, and the
other boys have been restless and looking for more than I could give
them. But I gave Gareth what he wanted--his music--and he didn't want
anything else but Molly, and Molly was there for him, and I felt,
somehow, that I'd justified my life because these two were happy. And
now"--her voice shook and she finished almost in a whisper--"it all
seems to be coming to pieces."

Sara comforted her awkwardly. It was seldom that her self-contained
mother sought help or consolation from her; and at the back of her mind
was the certainty, the sickening certainty, that her mother was right.
Gareth was in love with Ursula Deane. And, what was more important, and
infinitely more dismaying, Ursula Deane was interested in him.

Sara went to bed and lay awake, thinking about Gareth. She lay awake the
next night, too, having in the meantime talked to Gareth and learned all
she wanted to know, and in the middle of the night she came to a
decision.

It is not wise to come to a decision in the middle of the night. One's
decisions at that hour have a clarity, a quality of logic, which consorts
ill with the daytime atmosphere of muddle and conventionality in which
they are to be put to the test. But sometimes, once in a long while, one
of these midnight decisions has luck in the testing.



CHAPTER XVII


Florence was explaining to Ursula why she would never desert her, and
Ursula was tidying up the little lacquer secretaire in her bedroom.
Florence was thinking of marrying one Ernest, who attended to the grosser
wants of Captain Grierson, and she had been hoping (vainly) for some hint
that there might be a combined establishment in the near future.

"Of course, I'd never leave you in the lurch, my lady. I don't forget if
it hadn't been for you I'd still be in the scullery."

"If it hadn't been for your funny face, you mean. I could never have let
it waste its cuteness on the kitchen air."

She swept a heap of torn paper into the waste-paper basket.

"You like to put it like that, my lady, but I'm grateful all the same. It
altered my life a whole lot when you sent me to be trained. Altered my
whole life, it did."

"Come, it wasn't as drastic as that!"

"You don't know, my lady," Florence said darkly. "When I was in the
scullery I was mad keen on the coalman that used to come from Robertses.
Sort of engaged, we were. Just funny to look back on now, that is."

"I suppose you don't even see a coalman when you meet one nowadays."

"Oh, it wasn't just because I'd done well for myself. I'm not a snob, my
lady, say what you like. It was mostly because I forgot all about him.
just clean forgot him. Funny, isn't it? I don't even remember what colour
his eyes were. And I used nearly to suffocate with my heart beating when
I'd hear his boots on the area steps!"

Ursula paused with her hand over the waste-paper-basket, as if something
had arrested her attention. Then she dropped the pieces in with an
impatient movement.

"There's someone prowling about in the sitting-room, Florence," she said
with unwonted testiness. "See who it is and don't stand chattering
there."

It was Lady Wilmington.

"Hullo, darling. So glad to find you, I was afraid you might have gone
out. Such a fine morning and you're so energetic these days. I've had a
letter from William, the dear creature." She caught sight of herself in a
mirror. "Heavens, what a face! Lend me your lipstick, darling. And I
wanted to see you about it. Is yours carmine darling, I always forget?
It's an invitation. Florence, your cap isn't on straight."

"Would you mind beginning at the beginning again?" Ursula said mildly.
"And leave Florence alone. She's my maid, not yours, and I like the
rakish way she wears her caps."

"Well, well, my sweet. I only thought she might like to know. I should be
grateful to anyone who told me I had a smut on my nose."

"No, you wouldn't. You'd hate them, like the rest of us. What about Uncle
William?"

"He's taking the yacht to the eastern Mediterranean for the winter and he
wants us both to go."

"What for?"

"Company, of course."

"Well, father bores me sometimes, but his brother bores me all the time."

"Oh, darling, William is a sweet thing!"

"You're going, I see."

"Well, my dear, it would be nice. You know, it will be almost like doing
a rest cure, and much less expensive. It might even save me a
face-lifting. I should most certainly need one before May if I spent the
winter in town. Besides, I think we should be nice to William. I always
think it must have been such a disappointment to him when your father got
better that time. He's a nice thing, William. I'm very fond of him. Don't
you think it would be nice for you to have a month or two in the Aegean
Islands, darling?"

"I'd as soon go to St. Kilda."

"But you won't be vegetating, darling. There are all those fascinating
risky places to go to along the coast."

"I've been. They're about as fascinating as porridge. Besides, I'm going
for a voyage on my own."

"Where?"

"Down the river to Greenwich and back. It costs ninepence, I believe."

"Don't be silly, darling. You won't be bored on the _Foreland_, I
promise you. There's quite an amusing party, on the whole."

"Party? This is the first I've heard of a party."

"Darling, they'd need someone aboard if it was only for ballast."

"And who are the ballast?"

"There's Lilian Muncaster, Babs Buckley, Teddy Lunn, and George Osborne."

"And--? You've left it an odd number."

"Oh, there's young Torbridge."

There was an expressive silence.

"He isn't nearly as idiotic as he looks, darling," Lady Wilmington said
pleadingly.

"I wondered why you showed such an unusual eagerness for my company!"

"And Torbridge Abbey really is a wonderful place."

"Oh, don't be silly, Mother."

"I don't want to seem brutal, darling, but it _is_ time you showed
some signs of settling down. All these engagements aren't doing you any
good. People are beginning to look askance. And you know there wasn't
anything really wrong with Bonjie!"

"When I think of Bonjie now," Ursula said slowly, "I get sick at the
stomach."

"Darling, don't be so coarse. It's just that you're hard to please. You
ask too much of people. And Torbridge is a very nice boy, if not very
bright."

"Thank Uncle William for me but tell him that
nothing--_nothing_--would induce me to leave town this winter."

"Darling, aren't you _ever_ going to settle down?"

"Dying to be rid of me? Well, I'm seriously thinking of it."

"Darling!"

"But I warn you, when I settle down I may settle with a bump."

"Darling, I expect that means you have something dreadful up your sleeve.
But I suppose you'll go your own way whatever I say. I only hope it isn't
an organ-grinder, or something like that. It's bad enough to have one of
my children trying to break my heart, without having the other doing it
too. You know, I think if Chitterne hadn't gone to Fleet Street he
wouldn't have got all those stupid ideas of equality. The Press is
riddled with socialism, just riddled. I expect it's having to work at
nights. If Chitterne wanted to work he should have taken a farm and
worked like a gentleman."

"I think Fleet Street is doing him a lot of good. Besides, he wants to
make his own living, and there's no money in farming nowadays."

"No money in farming! What nonsense! I met a man at dinner the other
night who had sold his to a golf-club for thirty thousand. What are you
laughing at? Darling, I hope you won't do anything scandalous while I am
away."

"That would be the best time to do it, surely. When are you going?"

"The end of next week, I think. Do you think I look better in navy blue
or grey? I must get a couple of coats and skirts."

"As long as you don't wear a yachting cap I'm sure you'll look all right
in either."

"Darling, you know I never wear a yachting cap! So ageing! never forget
Janet Goddridge at Cowes last year. Such a sight. It must have been the
chauffeur's. The cap, I mean. I'll have them both navy blue, I think. The
coats and skirts, I mean. It shows up the skin best. _Au revoir_,
darling. I think it's scandalously mean of you not to give young
Torbridge a chance."

When she had gone Florence returned, furtively assuring herself that her
cap was straight, to say that there was a young lady from Laurier's
waiting in the sitting-room with patterns for the blouse part of the
cinnamon suit.

"All right. Tell her I'll be in in a minute," said Ursula, who had come
across Stüwe's note, written on the night of the party, and was smiling
over it again. It was an atrociously written document, executed on cheap
hotel notepaper, and liberally sprinkled with German letters among the
English. He thanked his dear lady for the surprise, which had indeed been
a good one. The little boy could play not too badly at all. It did not
take the skin off one's soul to listen to him, and that could not be said
for many people. Presently, when he had worked harder, he might even be a
little good. But that was immaterial. He would never be a master.

What was important was that he could compose music that was his own and
no one else's. He was quite original and did not know it, and as such his
price was above rubies. "I have talked to him long in my room here. I go
back to Germany to-morrow and I have wanted to take him with me, but he
is horrified at the thought of leaving London. You English! I do not know
how you have conquered the world!"

She folded up the untidy scrawl, and locked it away in one of the
pigeon-holes. Then she went through to the sitting-room to consider the
question of the cinnamon suit. Perhaps it had been a mistake to have the
cinnamon? Cinnamon was so--

"Good morning. I hope you have brought every possible pattern? I want the
blouse part to match the--Hul-lo!" She stopped, staring at Sara. "It's
you! How funny! Are you at Laurier's then? How is it I've never run
across you?"

"I'm in the workroom mostly, you see. I cut and design. I don't usually
see customers in front. And when you come, Madame usually does the
fitting herself. But to-day I asked Madame if I might see you myself
about the stuff for the suit. I wanted to speak to you, and I thought
that this would be a good way of seeing you without everyone knowing."

"I see. I'm glad you came. I was hoping you'd come to tea with me one
day, so that we might get to know each other better."

"That's awfully nice of you." Sara appeared awkward and ill at ease.
"Will you settle about the stuff before I talk to you?"

"You sound very serious. Chit hasn't been running amok, has he?"

"Oh, no. Chit's all right."

"Is something else the matter, then?"

"Will you decide about the material first? You see, I'm supposed to be on
business."

They discussed the patterns which she had brought, and after a little
argument Sara persuaded her to take the one which she (Sara) thought
would look best in the end.

"Well, that's that. Do sit down. Will you have a cocktail or something?"

Sara said no, that she felt braver without.

"Brave! What do you want bucking up about?"

"You see, I've come to talk about Gareth."

Ursula stared.

"Yes. I'm Gareth's sister."

"_You_ are." The antagonism which had shown itself on Ursula's face at
the mention of Gareth's name faded into delight. "What a funny world! My
dear, how nice. But why on earth didn't you tell me before? Why hasn't
Chit told me? Didn't he know? But he must have known!"

"Yes, Chit knew, of course. He wanted to tell you, but I asked him not
to. You see, I knew you wouldn't approve very much of me, and I was
afraid that if you knew Gareth was my brother you might stop taking an
interest in him and being nice to him. I thought that you could do such a
lot for Gareth if you were interested in him, and I didn't want to spoil
anything for him."

"Is that all! Well, you did me two injustices. I don't disapprove of you.
I think Chit is nearly as lucky as he thinks he is, and a lot more than
he deserves to be. And in the second place it would take more than a
sister to make me drop Gareth. If that's all that's worrying you, cheer
up, and come to tea with me next Saturday."

"But that's not it. That's not it at all," Sara said, distressed. "It's
something quite different. When I first found out that Gareth knew you I
thought you were just taking him up because you admired his playing. He
does play well, you know."

"Yes, I know."

"Then I found that you were--well, that you were seriously interested in
him."

"That I was in love with him, in fact."

"Yes, and that he's in love with you."

"Well, what difference does that make?"

"It makes this difference; that before, you were helping him, and now
you're ruining him."

"Ruining? What do you mean?"

"Just what I say. You're taking away everything he has and giving him
nothing worth while in return."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous. My _dear_ Sara! I can do more for Gareth
than he ever dreamed of achieving. I can make him famous."

"And then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"What will you do with him when he is famous?"

"I don't understand."

"You know quite well that nothing interests you for long. You know quite
well that Gareth is just another _affaire_ to you. What is going to
become of him when you are tired of him? You'll have taken away the
things that make him happy now, you'll have made him like things he can't
go on having, he'll be all alone when you've finished with him. What good
will it be to him then that a few hundred people know his name?"

"It is you who don't understand. I'm not having an _affaire_, as you
call it, with Gareth. I love him."

"So does Molly."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Ursula lightly, but disconcerted.

"Molly would have made him happy all his life. She knows him and
understands him. And you're taking Molly away from him. What do you think
you can do for him that will make up for that?"

"Surely I can do all that Molly could for him, and much more!"

"When you talk about doing things for him you think only of things like
pushing him on the world, and making love, and things like that. Things
you like doing yourself. Would you do things you didn't like for him,
that's the question. Would you put up with his tantrums? You haven't seen
Gareth in a tantrum yet, have you?"

"No."

"Well, Gareth's a darling, but he's no angel. When he came in tired and
touchy and said something silly that he didn't mean in the least, you'd
just walk away somewhere and enjoy yourself and leave him to it."

"And very good for him, too."

"No, it wouldn't. He would just get miserable and discouraged and angry
with himself and all the world. Molly wouldn't walk away. She'd cook his
supper and josh him out of it inside ten minutes. She'd make him happy, I
tell you. And keep him happy. They were just made for each other."

"I expect that is why he fell in love with me. Preordained things are apt
to be dull."

"He fell in love with you because you dazzled him. He hadn't met anyone
like you before."

"Then it was wonderful luck for both of us. Much better than
preordination."

"You're making fun of it! You can't care for him if you can make fun of
it."

"I should have thought that it was the other way about. One is only
serious when the thing doesn't matter."

"But that is nonsense! You are just trying to put me off. But I'm not
going to be put off. It isn't a thing to be flippant about. It's Gareth's
whole future."

"To my mind Gareth's future never looked as rosy as it does at the
moment. If it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me when I met
Gareth, I don't think I flatter myself unduly in believing that it was
also the luckiest thing that happened to Gareth. Would you prefer that he
spent his life struggling to get dance engagements and things like that,
when he might be living in comfort, able to go anywhere and do anything
that he wants to? Do you want to have him bowing all his life to a few
fat women who have stopped eating long enough to applaud his rendering of
'O Sole Mio'? What good would it be that he was comfortable in the
evenings if all day he had to keep doing things he hated?"

"But he wouldn't hate it as much as that! Gareth doesn't hate anything
very strenuously. The things that make him miserable are not the things
he has to do, but the things people do to him. If he was happy at home he
would be happy almost whatever he had to do."

"And with me he will be happy on both counts."

"For a little. He would be deliriously happy for a little, I don't doubt
that. It would be like heaven on earth. But think of the awful crash
afterwards. You wouldn't be interested in him once you were tired of him.
You know you wouldn't! You'll wonder what you saw in him. You'll probably
think him childish, and--and common. You'll be a little sorry for him,
but you'll want to forget him as soon as possible. And then what?"

"Do you always think so far ahead when you are planning your own
existence? It must be rather exhausting."

"I don't think I plan mine at all. It just happens."

"And wouldn't you feel rather resentful if someone stepped in and tried
to alter your life behind your back, as it were? That is what you are
doing to Gareth?"

"Do you think I haven't been nearly crazy with thinking before I brought
myself to the point of coming here like this? Do you think I wanted to
come! I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I loathe meddling in
other people's affairs. I tried all sorts of excuses with myself to get
out of it. But somehow I had to come. If I didn't there was no one else.
I thought that at least I'd put it openly to you and show you what you're
doing. You probably never gave it a moment's thought. Someone had to
explain things to you, and there was only me."

"Don't you think Gareth can take care of himself? He isn't a piece of
merchandise to be bargained for. You're treating him as if he were a
fool."

"No, he's no fool. But he's impressionable. You encouraged him, and you
could discourage him."

Ursula stared. "Are you suggesting that I should give him up?"

"Yes, that is what I'm suggesting." Sara gripped the arms of her chair
until the knuckles showed white.

"Then you're wasting your time."

"I knew you didn't love him!"

"Not love him!"

"No. You're in love with him, and you just grab what you want whether
it's going to destroy him or not."

"Oh, don't be so melodramatic."

"If you loved him what would matter to you would be his happiness, not
yours."

"But I tell you, I can make him happy."

"For how long? For how long?"

Ursula lifted a shoulder. "Who knows? How long does any love last? As
long as that."

"You see! You know it won't last! You know it yourself!"

"My dear girl, you didn't expect me to say 'for ever and ever,' like a
child, did you? Who can say how long they will love anything or anyone? I
don't think it's any use prolonging this discussion, do you? Gareth and I
are in love with each other, and we're both happy beyond words, and I
don't see what you expect to gain from upsetting our happiness."

"I want to keep you both from making an awful mistake. I want to keep you
from ruining Gareth's life. Don't you see how urgent it is! If he gives
up Molly he'll be giving up something that he'll never get back. And
nothing that you can give him will take the place of it. Molly won't sit
and wait for him to come back, you know. She isn't that sort. She'll
marry someone else inside six months just to make believe she doesn't
mind. Then when you're tired of him and he wakens up there'll be no one.
He'll have lost the thing he depended most on. You'll go on to something
else, but what will he do?"

"Go on to something else too, I expect. I shouldn't worry, if I were you.
It's all so far in the future. I've never understood people who spend
their lives saving for their funerals."

"Look here," Sara said, "I know you don't want me to marry Chit, even
though you were nice about it. Well, if you give up Gareth, I'll give up
Chit." She noticed Ursula's astonishment. "You don't believe me? I'll
give you my word on oath that if you let Gareth go I'll never see Chit
again."

"You talk as if I were hanging on to him!"

"You are."

"But he's in love with me."

"Yes, but you could stop it. You must know how to disillusion people when
you're tired of them. It will hurt him a bit, but not as much as it would
later on. If you do it quick he'll still have Molly."

Ursula gave a short, hard laugh, and sat still, considering her. "You
know, you're almost incredible. You come here with the most amazing
proposition just as if you were asking two sixpenny-pieces for a
shilling."

"You think it cheek, my coming here."

"Ill-considered, shall we say," Ursula said after a pause.

"But I'm terribly fond of Gareth. I couldn't bear for him to be unhappy.
I've told you, I'll even give up Chit if it would persuade you--"

"But do you realise what you are asking me to do? I care for Gareth more
than I've ever cared for anyone--more than I ever thought I could care.
Do you think I'm going to give him up just because you have an idea that
someone else would be better for him?"

"No, not because _I_ have an idea. I thought I might be able to make you
see for yourself that it would be better. If you loved him the way you
say you do, you _would_ see."

Ursula swung forward suddenly so that her elbows rested on her knees, her
cynical attitude gone. "But I do love him, Sara. Don't misunderstand
about that. He's a whole new world to me, a whole new possibility of
existence. Something I never hoped for. I'm not just playing with him. He
matters to me tremendously."

"Yes," Sara said slowly, after scanning her, "I think you do love him.
But not enough to give him up."

Ursula sat back again, and there was a little silence.

"You've never given up anything in your life, have you?" Sara said.

"Only fats and carbo-hydrates."

"And you've never listened to anyone's advice, have you?"

"Oh, yes--but never acted on it that I can remember."

"I don't know how to appeal to you!" Sara cried, desperately. "I don't
know what matters to you. I thought that if I offered to give up Chit,
that would--that would--"

"But I don't _want_ you to give up Chit! I think you will be just as
good for Chit as you think I shall be bad for Gareth. As a bribe that was
no good. As a guarantee of good faith it was rather more valuable."

"What can I say? Won't you believe that I know best this once? It matters
so terribly."

Her voice shook and she reached for a handkerchief. "I wouldn't have
dreamed of coming here and making a scene if it hadn't been so terribly
important." She wiped her eyes hastily and surreptitiously. "I'm sorry to
be such a fool, but it took such a lot of courage to come, and it all
seems no use."

"You know," Ursula said, "considering the way you've pitched into me this
morning, it's amazing how I like you."

"Like me!" Sara said drearily. "What's the good of your liking me if I
can't persuade you--if I can't make you see--" She twisted round abruptly
in her chair and began to cry silently into her handkerchief, utterly
unnerved.

Ursula watched her for a moment or two with a curious pity when she
rose and crossed to the cocktail cabinet.

"I think you had better have a cocktail after all," she said.

As she mixed the cocktail she saw in front of her, as one sees, after
staring at a bright thing, its image in front of one wherever one looks,
that untidy scribble of Stüwe's. And somehow that sheet of paper was no
longer a charm but an accusation. In her heart was a horrible feeling,
half guilt, half terror. How much of what that girl said was true? She
_was_ hanging on to him, wasn't she? No! what nonsense! She could
give him a whole world of happiness and success. She could make his very
dreams come true. But--some day she would no longer love him (Robert
Deane's grand-daughter had always faced facts) and when that incredible,
inevitable moment came, what--as that girl said--would happen? Would this
incipient guilty feeling have grown so large that it would shout at her?
Would she really have destroyed him with her love like some melodramatic
Circe? But she would have given him a career! With her position and her
money he could--She saw Stüwe's note again. Gareth didn't need her
influence and her money. She was making that an excuse. Now that Stüwe
knew about him Gareth could rise by himself. She had given him that, but
could she in the future ever do anything so vital for him again? Gareth's
future was with Stüwe. And that being so, her only excuse for hanging on
to him was that. But surely that was justification enough. Oh, surely,
surely, that was justification enough! But--if she was to be justified
she must _bring_ something; not just grab. Was what she could bring
of as much worth as that Molly girl--damn her soul--could give him? Was
it? Why did she feel guilty? She had gone out of her way to meet him,
certainly, but she wasn't a cradle-snatcher. Gareth was only two years
younger than she was, wasn't he? And they loved each other. A spasm of
impatience shook her. What was she worrying about? What was the matter
with her that she should be examining her conscience like a penitent! Why
should she, Ursula Deane, who had the princes of the world at her feet,
fret over the possible hurt of a little fiddler? But the fiddler was
Gareth--_Gareth_. And if any harm came to Gareth through her--Oh,
God, what a muddle one got into when one fell in love!

She brought the cocktail over to Sara, and stood over her for a moment,
compassionately. "Don't cry, Sara. It is I who should be crying."

"You! Why?"

"Because in my heart of hearts I'm afraid you're right."

"What! Are you--? Do you--?"

"Here! Drink this."

"But do you mean--?"

"Be quiet, and drink this."

"I don't much like cocktails."

"Doctor's orders."

Sara blew her nose vigorously and took the cocktail.

"Go on, drink it."

"Is it all right?" Sara asked, doubtfully. "I've got to go back to Brook
Street, you know."

"Oh, it's quite a mild one."

Sara sipped it gingerly, her stained eyes searching Ursula's face with a
pathetic hope.

"Were you ever scared stiff?" Ursula asked.

"Yes, often."

"So scared that your inside was a jelly?"

"Yes, I know the feeling."

"That's what I am now."

"You! Afraid! What of?"

"That I'm going to do the right thing. Such an unheard-of thing to do!"

"You'll never regret it if you do, never!" Sara said passionately.

"Oh, yes, I shall. That's what's so awful about doing the right thing. It
hurts like hell at the time, and ever afterwards you think what a fool
you were. You have one moment's clear vision, and it leads you up the
garden."

"But you have the consolation of knowing that you did the decent thing!"

"The martyr's crown? It isn't a headgear I ever aspired to."

"Wouldn't even the knowledge that Gareth was happy, and that you'd done
that for him, make you--"

"_Gareth_ happy!" Ursula burst out. "But we were going to be so
happy together! Why did you come and spoil it all with doubts and
jeremiads?"

"I came because I couldn't help it. I hated coming. _Hated_ it."

"I wonder if Gareth would do as much for you as you were prepared to do
for him?" Ursula said, her anger gone.

"Oh, no. But then, men don't."

"You're not much of a modern woman, are you?"

"I would have been with Chit, but somehow Gareth is more like my son than
my brother."

"Why do you say 'would have been' about Chit?" Ursula said sharply.

"I don't know. I wasn't thinking," Sara said confused.

"You're not going to leave Chit in the lurch, are you?"

"I don't know...Oh, I don't _know!_ It's all such a mess."

"I don't see much mess about it, except for me. The idea is that I freeze
Gareth off, you marry Chit, I continue my rackety career, and everyone is
happy. Quite simple."

"It sounds so brutal when you put it like that."

"It is brutal."

"Then you won't do it?"

"Oh, yes, I think I shall. I might as well try a halo on for once. But
don't imagine it is going to make any difference to your contract with
Chit. I have a brother, too. I may not feel like a mother to him, but I
quite like the creature."

"But you know, you'll hate me after this. And--oh, the situation would be
awful impossible."

"You'll have to get used to impossible situations in this family. You've
created this one, anyhow, so you'll have to put up with it. Is that
understood?"

"You know," Sara said, with an hysterical catch in her throat, "when I
came in here I was going to promise to give up Chit, and now you're
asking me to promise that I won't!"

"And do you?"

"It's going to be all right about Gareth, isn't it?" Sara asked
hesitating.

"All right _for_ Gareth, you mean. Yes."

"Then I promise. You can hate me as much as you like."

"I probably shan't as much as that," Ursula said, dryly. "But look here,
Sara, I can't do it all of a sudden. That's more than even a first-class
martyr should be asked to do, and I'm the merest amateur. I must have
time. Do you think you can keep the paragon Molly from getting herself
engaged to anyone else for the next three weeks or so?"

"You're a darling to do it when you feel like that about it," Sara said,
her gratitude overcoming her.

"Yes, aren't I? I hope Gareth is worth it."

"I know now why Gareth fell in love with you. It wasn't just because
you're beautiful. You're--different."

"Thank you. I expect gratitude is affecting your retina, though."

"I never dared to hope that I'd be able to persuade you, and I thought
I'd be off my head with joy if I did. But I just feel--miserable at the
mess."

"Well, as a nation we take our pleasures sadly."

"I wish you didn't have to hate me like that. But I've earned it."

"I've told you, I rather like you. But at the moment I hate the whole
world, and you're unfortunately included."

"Then I'll go. But I wish there was something big that I could do for you
in return."

"You can make Bobby a good wife, and keep him up to the collar."

"That won't be difficult. I'd like to do something that--"

There was a knock at the door, and in answer to Ursula's invitation
Daphne Conyers-Munford appeared. Ursula had a spasm of relief that Sara
was standing with her back to the light, so that her face was in shadow.

"Hullo, darling," Daphne said. "Busy?"

"Not too busy to listen to the latest scandal."

"Darling, I wish I was sure you meant that nicely!"

"Have you met Chit's fiancée?"

"Yes, we met at that party of Ursula's, didn't we?" Daphne said, shaking
hands. "Let me see, your name's--don't tell me!--Rachel."

"No, Sara."

"I knew it was something Biblical. Something nicely Biblical, I mean. Not
Sapphira, or anything like that."

"Well, I must get back to the workroom with these patterns, I suppose,"
Sara said, anxious to get away.

"Sara's making a suit for me. She's just bullied me into taking the stuff
I like least."

"Congratulations, darling. No one in history has ever done that to Ursula
before. Do you make clothes, then? I wish you'd have a look at my nile
green frock and tell me why I look like a radish in it! I paid Jane Barr
twenty-five guineas for it--at least, I owe Jane that for it--and I hate
the thing."

Sara said that she would be delighted, and took her leave. As she said
good-bye to Ursula, she said: "I don't think you'll ever regret your
decision. Good-bye and thank you."

"I hope you're right. Don't forget to tell Madame that I want the suit by
the end of the week."

"I won't. And it will be the loveliest thing you ever wore."

"That will be a great consolation," Ursula said, and Sara, hastily
powdering her nose on the landing before facing Coggins, ached for her.
It must be dreadful not to be able to have a good howl on the rare
occasions when one wanted to and needed one. Ursula would have to be
polite to the Mumford girl now until the Munford girl moved on somewhere.
And then there would probably be someone else. It wasn't much good having
money if you couldn't cry in peace when you wanted to.



CHAPTER XVIII


"Is the affair settled, then?" Daphne asked, when the door had shut
behind Sara.

"Oh, yes; she's going to marry Chit."

"You don't seem to be particularly distressed."

"I'm not. He might have married Betty Crawley."

"And what would have been wrong with that? She belongs to the crowd,
anyhow."

"Yes, and she is as promiscuous as a cat. I don't want Bobby to be a
cuckold as soon as he's a groom. That girl's decent, and Chit's decent.
There's more Deane than Delaunay in him. They'll make a good
couple--happy and clean-living."

"Darling, you say the queerest things these days!"

"I expect I'm due for a change of air. I've been nearly two months in the
one place."

"Well, I don't see why your needing a change of air should make you
deliberately cruel. You leave that thing open," she indicated the
cocktail cabinet "and never as much as say have one."

"I never knew you waited to be asked."

"Perhaps I'm reforming too."

"Too?"

"Yes, aren't you reforming?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Well, all this preoccupation with the more noble attributes of the human
soul--"

"Oh, that's just natural curiosity about other people's belongings."

"Darling, you really are--! I don't mind a rake--thank you, darling--but
a morbid rake is really--!" She made a face at her cocktail. "It's a
horribly mild one, darling. I can hardly taste it."

"I made it for Sara."

Daphne sighed. "And coming along the street I was hoping for a Gunner's
Joy."

"I was afraid you hadn't come to see me for love!"

There was a tap at the door and Chitterne put his head in. "I say,
Ursula, what was the name of the stuff the Sidgwick woman was wearing the
other night? Oh, hullo, Daphne."

"Hullo, darling. I've hardly seen you since you blossomed into a Press
baron. D'you know, since you've been a gossip person you've never once
mentioned me on your page."

"You shouldn't be so unmentionable."

"Darling, nothing's unmentionable nowadays. In print, anyhow. You
mightn't get a licence to perform me, but there's nothing to hinder your
printing me."

"Well, I might give you a word one of these days. What would you like it
to be about? Your dresses, your debts, or your devotés?"

"You can say that Cochran has asked me to be the Elaine in his Maid of
Astolat."

"I say! Has he?"

"No, but it might put the idea into his head. I'm just the type, and I
could do with some money."

"I'll say you're the best little gold-digger in Britain. I say, Ursula,
what was that stuff called, white stuff that looked as if she had spilt
the champagne down it?"

"I think Lucile calls it peau de lys."

"How do you spell it?" Chit asked, taking out his notebook. "I wish they
had taught me French at Harrow."

"Why are you giving the Sidgwick woman a par?" Daphne asked. "She's of no
importance to anyone."

"No, but she gave the paper some information a week or two ago, and this
is a sort of _quid pro quo_. That's journalism."

"Do you like it, darling?"

"Once you get used to the rules it's fascinating."

"Rules?"

"Yes, once you don't expect the rules to be the same as cricket. I
wouldn't have missed it for worlds. I don't think I've ever enjoyed
anything so much. And I'm a success, mark you. I've only been ticked off
twice in the past week. Everyone is ticked off once a day on principle."

Daphne snorted. "That's merely because you're a lord, darling. You
needn't apportion yourself any credit for that."

"Being a lord in our office is a liability not an asset. I'm engaged in
living it down. Excelsior, and all that. Thanks awfully, Ursula. I don't
know what my budding career would be without you. Further application
will be made in due course. 'Voir."

"If I can't have quality could I have quantity?" Daphne said, holding out
her empty glass.

"He seems very pleased with himself. Perfectly ridiculous, of course,
doing a man out of a job so that he can save his highly problematical
soul. I forgot to congratulate him, by the way, but it will keep. What is
Sara's other name?"

"Ellis."

"Ellis! No relation of your present follower, I suppose?"

"She's Gareth's sister."

"No! My dear! How--complicating!"

"I don't see why."

"Oh, I don't know. Rather cramps one's style to have holy matrimony
sitting heavily at one's right hand, I should think."

"But Gareth and I--" Ursula began, and remembered. "Oh, shut up, Daphne!"

"Talking of holy matrimony, Clive proposed to me yesterday."

"And what did you say?"

"Mentally I said: 'Good Lord deliver us'. Actually, I said the modern
equivalent of 'This is so sudden, George!' Whereupon Clive said (she
mimicked Clive's heavy manner): It is a serious matter, Daphne. I don't
want to hurry you'."

"Poor Clive."

"Poor Clive? Poor me, you mean!"

"Are you going to marry him, then?"

"Well, Jane Barr was simply beastly about that bill. I'll have to do
something."

"Couldn't you cut down expenses?" Ursula said; while her mind said:
"Don't imagine that you can cover it up by talking about footling things;
you're going to get rid of Gareth, you're going to choke him off!"

"That would be drastic, but not so drastic as marrying Clive."


"My dear, I can't. I've tried that often. I never save a half-crown but I
celebrate the occasion by spending it. Clive is the only solution. It
will be such a relief to be able to gold-dig legitimately."

"You'll have to blast it out of Clive."

"Yes, he is a little tight. But with the blessing of the church I think I
can manage it. Besides, he is besotted about me--as far as anything like
the Nelson Column can be besotted."

"Poor Clive!"

"If I didn't think your 'Poor Clive!' was more contempt than pity, I
should be angry with you. Clive is getting a very good bargain."

"As long, as you keep him in that belief all will be well."

"Oh, I'll make it worth his while."

"If you feel like that why didn't you accept him on the spot?"

"Darling, would _you_ accept anyone on the spot? Besides, at that
moment, Jane's bill didn't look nearly as bad as Clive's stupidity. I'm
going to have a frightful time restraining myself from slapping Clive."

"Never mind. Jane makes such delicious sleeves that they'll keep your
arms in the proper place, I expect."

Daphne made a face at her. "At any rate, I shall be safe from one wrecker
of marriages--disillusion. I know the worst about Clive."

"But is it mutual?"

"Oh, I expect so. Since people stopped having inhibitions everyone knows
everything about everyone. I don't suppose Clive imagines I'm a plaster
saint. And he was there the day Freddy Owen pulled me out of the river,
so he knows what I look like in the mornings."

"Well, my dear, if you've made up your mind, good luck to you!"

"And God help Clive, I suppose you mean!"

"Oh, God will do that in any case. He likes stupid people. It should be:
whom the gods love are born stupid. Never to see round a corner, or two
sides to a question. The comfort of it! The peace of it!"

"If it's comfort you're pining for, you must be ageing."

"I'm not so much getting aged as educated."

"Mr. Ellis is here, my lady," Florence's voice said behind her. "Shall I
send him up?"

There was an instant's silence which seemed to Ursula minute-long. It was
as if a catastrophe which would ordinarily happen in a few seconds
postponed its climax so that she could realise the imminence of disaster
without any hope of preventing it. She felt as if she were standing below
a cliff, and was watching it turn over, and knew that in a moment that
slowly curving wall would obliterate her for ever.

"Oh, no. I can't!" she heard herself say. "Tell him that I can't see him
till this evening."

She knew that it was a strange, abrupt message to send to Gareth, but she
could not think properly. All she knew was that she must avoid a meeting
with Gareth until she had grown a little used to the situation, until she
had conned her part.

"Gareth's charms wearing thin already?" Daphne asked, amused.

"A little, perhaps," Ursula said, her voice hard with effort.

She saw Daphne's eyes widen at the door, and wheeled round. In the
doorway stood Gareth; and Florence, unequal to the occasion when she
found that he had followed her up, was disappearing, backwards into the
passage with an appealing apologetic glance at her mistress.

After a pause Ursula said expressionlessly: "I didn't know you had come
up."

"No," he said, equally without expression.

There was a silence. Ursula felt stupid and inadequate, for once in her
life unequal to a situation. She had a feeling of helplessness; a
certainty that the fates were fighting against her. "Well, if you two are
going to squabble, I'm going," Daphne said. "I have enough squabbles of
my own. Don't congratulate Clive till you hear from me, darling. I'm
going to keep him wondering for a day or two. _Au revoir_, Gareth,
darling. Don't make it too protracted. Ursula's going out to luncheon,
aren't you, my dear?"

The door closed behind her with a little click. It sounded like the
safety catch of a revolver being pressed back; an ominous sound. Ursula
knew a moment's rebellion at the sheer wantonness of things. Why had
Gareth to appear this very morning of all mornings? Why had he to come in
that moment out of all the possible millions of moments?

"I didn't expect you this morning," she said.

"Evidently."

"You said this evening."

"Yes. I couldn't come this evening. That's what I came to tell you."

"Oh."

"I heard what you said. Did you mean it?"

"No, of course I didn't!" Meaning and emotion began to come back to their
even voices.

"Then why did you say it?"

"Oh, one of those silly things one is always saying."

"Is one?"

"Oh, don't be silly, Gareth dear. Of course one often says things one
doesn't mean in the least."

"You told her you were tired of me. Why couldn't you see me just now? You
were going to turn me away like a beggar. Ursula, what does it mean?"

"It doesn't mean anything except that you're making a mountain out of a
mole-hill."

"A mole-hill! When you turn me away as casually as you would a canvasser!
That's what you really think of me, isn't it? I've been a fool, haven't
I?"

"Gareth, don't. I couldn't see you just now because--well, for a
perfectly good and sufficient reason, and you're being childish to think
it of such importance."

"Did you have a perfectly good reason for telling her that you were tired
of me? And do you think that of no importance?"

"I tell you I didn't mean it!"

"You did mean it!" Gareth cried, his self-control breaking as conviction
grew. "I heard it in your voice. My charms are wearing thin, are they?
God, what a fool I've been! What a fool! I thought you felt the way I
did. I thought you were in earnest. And all the time you were just
amusing yourself. And you're tired already. How long have you been
acting? Were you acting yesterday?" He paused, as if faced with a new
horror. "Ursula!" he repeated with a despairing urgency, "were you acting
yesterday?"

"I've never been acting. You're quite wrong, I tell you."

"I'm not wrong," he said with renewed conviction. "I've been a fool. I've
heard what you said. I've heard the way you talk about me behind my back.
You're just what everyone says you are--heartless and vain. You can't
explain away what you said, what I heard you say, can you?"

"I can only give you my word that it meant nothing."

"Why should I take your word? What is there you could say? What
explanation could there be? I know now where I stand. You took me up
because you thought I would be a new amusement, didn't you? A poor little
beast of a musician who would dance to your piping for a little. I wasn't
your sort, and you were interested in experiments! Do you remember that?
You said that yourself. And I was one of your experiments. You made me
love you--no, that's not true but you made me tell you I loved you, you
let me make love to you, you even let me think that--that some day--Oh,
God, Ursula, was even that just amusement for you!"

"I tell you I haven't been amusing myself!" Why couldn't she think? Why
was she borne down by this sense of futility. She had to lose him, but
she need not lose him yet; not like this. Why couldn't she make something
of the situation instead of standing there like a fool?

"I was never more in earnest over anything in my life. I loved you,
Gareth!"

"_Loved_ me? Then you are tired of me!"

She realised that her moment was here.

"Oh, Gareth, how can I!"

"How can you what?" he said impatiently.

"You're tired of me, aren't you?"

She turned away so that she mightn't see his face.

"Well, nothing lasts for ever, you know," she said.

"No, not even for a month, it seems. And you call that love! It makes me
sick. I took your fancy and you took me up till you were bored." Ursula
moved. "Yes, I put it crudely, don't I? I know I haven't any of the
graces. I can't be flippant about things that matter. My sense of humour
doesn't run to making fun of people who care for me. I haven't any of the
aristocratic qualities. I suppose that is why you tired of me so soon. If
I hadn't come in just then perhaps you would have told the Daphne woman
how amusingly crude I was! I could kill you when I think what you've done
to me. Do you realise what you've done? You've made me fall in love with
someone who never existed. I was a fool, and you fooled me to the top of
my bent. I didn't fall in love with you because you were beautiful. I
loved you because you were lovely--you yourself. And now I know there
isn't any you!" He paused. The courage born of his anger ebbed at the
realisation of losing her. "Ursula, that hurts unbearably. It's much
worse than someone dying, to know that you never existed. I just can't
bear it. Do tell me that what you said just now meant something else. If
I've been hasty I'm sorry. You were just fooling, weren't you?" A
silence. "Ursula!"

"You forget that I refused to see you, too." He made an inarticulate
sound. "I'm not tired of you, Gareth. But I'm going to the Mediterranean
next week for most of the winter. By the time I come back I expect we
shall both be interested in other things, shan't we?"

"Ursula! What's wrong? I don't recognise you."

"I hardly recognise myself," she said in bitter amusement.

"Why are you going away? You said nothing yesterday about going away. You
were planning all sorts of things that we were going to do together."

"Yes, but I've been invited to join a yachting party in the
Mediterranean, and I think I shall go. It sounds attractive."

"Why are you trying to make yourself as bad as possible?" he said
suspiciously.

"If you're being disillusioned you might as well undergo the process
thoroughly."

"You don't want me hanging round hopefully when you come back, is that
it?" he said instantly. "Don't worry. You won't see me again. When I
think of the fool I've been for the last month I could throw myself in
the river. And when I think of you as I thought you were, I--I--" His
voice died away. "I can't believe it, Ursula. It just isn't believable. I
never believed in anyone the way I believed in you. For those last weeks
life was simply wonderful because you were there. And now there's
nothing."

"There's your hate for me. That will occupy your emotions for a little."

"I can't even hate you properly. You're just the person everyone said you
were. The Ursula Deane whose photographs are so popular. The Ursula Deane
who takes her fun where she finds it. If I was fool enough to provide
your fun, why should I hate you? It's myself I hate. I know now what
Circe's swine felt like--unclean."

"Well, my Ulysses, you will have the consolation of Penelope's arms. They
will make you feel better." She had not meant to say that. It was torn
out of her.

"Leave Molly out of this! Because I've been a fool and a blackguard
doesn't make you free to make fun of Molly. You're not fit to tie her
shoes. You, with your--" He met her eyes squarely, and stopped. The anger
fell from him. "Ursula," he said slowly, in a kind of wonderment. "I'll
never be able to connect that other Ursula with you. She was so lovely. I
suppose I should be grateful to you for showing me anything so lovely,
even if it was a fake. But wakening out of a dream is always terrible. I
would rather not have dreamt."

He stood for a moment looking at her, and turned away to the door.

"No, Gareth, no!" she said suddenly. "I don't want it to end like that!
Not that way."

He swung round on her, his anger and frustration and hurt flaming into
passionate protest. "What do you want to keep on fooling me for! You've
had your amusement, haven't you? You've done what you set out to do,
haven't you? Then stop the play-acting, damn you. And I hope to God I
never see you again!"

"Amen, my dear. Let me give you one last word. Don't take anything
seriously. It's a great mistake. Believe me, I know."

His lips parted in the little irresolute movement which she knew so well;
but he changed his mind. He turned abruptly on his heel, flung out of the
room, and banged the door behind him.

She stood quite still, listening to the echo of the door in her mind. She
was glad that he had behaved like an angry boy. If he had been lost and
pathetic in his hurt she could not have done it. He would be going down
the stairs now. Out of her life. Funny to think that she should care so
terribly what he thought of her. She, Ursula Deane, who had never cared
what anyone thought. It was unthinkable enough to let him go out of her
life, but to let him go like that, believing that of her! He would be
going out of the door now. She had planned to do it gradually--to bring
him to the point of admitting that perhaps they had made a mistake. But
perhaps a clean cut was best after all. Razors didn't hurt much, so they
said...

She was still standing in the middle of the floor when Florence came in
to say that Captain Grierson was waiting downstairs because she was going
to luncheon with him.

"Tell Captain Grierson I'm very sorry but I can't--No, wait. All right,
Florence, I'm coming. Bring me my things."



CHAPTER XIX


At ten minutes to seven that evening three things were happening
simultaneously within the same square mile of London.

Chitterne and Sara were arguing as they stepped off a bus at the corner
of Sark Street. Chitterne wanted to come home with her and be introduced
to her people. It was ridiculous, he said, to make a secret of it any
longer. She had a passion for secrets that amounted to a complex.

"Chit, believe me, it's more than ever impossible to-night. You'll have
to trust me. You don't know what my people are like, and you don't
know--oh, lots of things that have a bearing on our being engaged."

"Tell me what they are, then. You promised you would never have any
secrets from me."

"_I_ did! When?"

"At Rye, looking over the levels, after tea."

"I said I would never tell you a lie! And I won't. I've been perfectly
frank with you even to telling you that I had secrets. I can't let you
come to-night, but I'll make you a promise. A month to-day you can come,
and we'll tell them."

"Make it three weeks," Chitterne said automatically. Long acquaintance
with bookmakers' offers and the prices of horses had taught him that
everyone offers a price which they are willing to reduce.

"If you knew father you wouldn't be so eager," Sara said with a grimace.
"I say a month, and when I say a thing I mean it."

"Lord, what a bullied life I'm in for!" he said, and since there was no
one in sight, kissed her. "But if I find that it's possible before that,
I'll let you know," she added.

Gareth was in the kitchen of Number Fifteen, where Molly was
superintending the dinner while the maid set the table upstairs. The
kitchen was full of the steam of cooking, and Molly, flushed and busy,
paused in her activities to say: "Oh, Gareth, you would come in and talk
about important things at a time like this!" But her face was radiant
although her words were impatient.

She rushed at him with a saucepan which she had lifted off the stove, and
as he skipped out of her way he said: "But I've told you! I've got to go
to work, and I couldn't go to Raoul's without seeing you. I know I've
been a beast to you, Molly, and I'm sorry. I went off my head for a
little, that was all. It's all right now, though, isn't it? And you'll
marry me as soon as Regan lets me off, and come to Germany with me?"

Molly shoved a kettle at him. "Fill that for me, like an angel. Yes, of
course I'll marry you," she said, snatching up a wooden spoon and lifting
the lid from the soup pot. He kissed the back of her neck where the short
hairs curled. "You're a darling, Moll!" he said, and went away to fill
the kettle.

Ursula, in the process of dressing for dinner, had just ordered Florence
to add a whole bottle of perfume to her bath.

"But, my lady," Florence protested, standing with the little carved flask
in her hand, "it's the Anguran, and you said we could never have any
more."

"For God's sake, don't argue, Florence," Ursula said. "I always had
expensive tastes."

"Even in haloes," she added.



THE END





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